The actress stared past Sam's shoulder to where a group of young men sat about a table drinking and talking loudly. Sam began telling an anecdote of an Irish baggage man in Caxton. When he had finished he looked at her and laughed.
"As that shoemaker looked to Jerry Donlin so you, as the colonel's wife, looked to me," he said. "I had to make you get out of my flower bed."
A gleam of resolution came into the wandering eyes of Luella London and she took the purse from the back of the chair and brought out the roll of bills.
"I'm a sport," she said, "and I'm going to lay a bet on the best horse I ever saw. You may trim me, but I always would take a chance."
Turning, she called a waiter and, handing him a bill from her purse, threw the roll on the table.
"Take the pay for the spread and the wine we have had out of that," she said, handing him the loose bill and then turning to Sam. "You ought to beat the world. Anyway your genius gets recognition from me. I pay for this party and when you see the colonel say good-bye to him for me."
The next day, at his request, Sue Rainey called at the offices of the Arms Company and Sam handed her the paper signed by Luella London. It was an agreement on her part to divide with Sam, half and half, any money she might be able to blackmail out of Colonel Rainey.
The colonel's daughter glanced from the paper to Sam's face.
"I thought so," she said, and a puzzled look came into her eyes. "But I do not understand this. What does this paper do and what did you pay for it?"
"The paper," Sam answered, "puts her in a hole and I paid ten thousand dollars for it."
Sue Rainey laughed and taking a checkbook from her handbag laid it on the desk and sat down.
"Do you get your half?" she asked.
"I get it all," answered Sam, and then leaning back in his chair launched into an explanation. When he had told her of the talk in the restaurant she sat with the checkbook lying before her and with the puzzled look still in her eyes.
Without giving her time for comment, Sam plunged into the midst of what had been in his mind to say to her.
"The woman will not bother the colonel any more," he declared; "if that paper won't hold her something else will. She respects me and she is afraid of me. We had a talk after she had signed the paper and she gave me the ten thousand dollars to invest for her. I promised to double it for her within a year and I want to make good. I want you to double it now. Make the check for twenty thousand."
Sue Rainey wrote the check, making it payable to bearer, and pushed it across the table.
"I cannot say that I understand yet," she confessed. "Did you also fall in love with her?"
Sam grinned. He was wondering whether he would be able to get into words just what he wanted to tell her of the actress soldier of fortune. He looked across the table at her frank grey eyes and then on an impulse decided that he would tell it straight out as though she had been a man.
"It's like this," he said. "I like ability and good brains and that woman has them. She isn't a good woman, but nothing in her life has made her want to be good. All her life she has been going the wrong way, and now she wants to get on her feet and squared around. That's what she was after the colonel for. She did not want to marry him, she wanted to make him give her the start she was after. I got the best of her because somewhere there is a snivelling little whelp of a man who has taken all the good and the fineness out of her and who now stands ready to sell her out for a few dollars. I imagined there would be such a man when I saw her and I bluffed my way through to him. But I do not want to whip a woman, even in such an affair, through the cheapness of some man. I want to do the square thing by her. That's why I asked you to make that check for twenty thousand."
Sue Rainey rose and stood by the desk looking down at him. He was thinking how wonderfully clear and honest her eyes.
"And what about the colonel?" she asked. "What will he think of all this?"
Sam walked around the desk and took her hand.
"We'll have to agree not to consider him," he said. "We really did that you know when we started this thing. I think we can depend upon Miss London's putting the finishing touches on the job."
And Miss London did. She sent for Sam a week later and put tweny-five hundred dollars into his hand.
"That's not to invest for me," she said, "that's for yourself. By the agreement I signed with you we were to split anything I got out of the colonel. Well, I went light. I only got five thousand dollars."
With the money in his hand Sam stood by the side of a little table in her room looking at her.
"What did you tell the colonel?" he asked.
"I called him up here to my room last night and lying here in bed I told him that I had just discovered I was the victim of an incurable disease. I told him that within a month I would be in bed for keeps and asked him to marry me at once and to take me away with him to some quiet place where I could die in his arms."
Coming over to Sam, Luella London put a hand upon his arm and laughed.
"He began to beg off and make excuses," she went on, "and then I brought out his letters to me and talked straight. He wilted at once and paid the five thousand dollars I asked for the letters without a murmur. I might have made it fifty and with your talent you ought to get all he has in six months."
Sam shook hands with her and told her of his success in doubling the money she had put into his hands. Then putting the twenty-five hundred dollars in his pocket he went back to his desk. He did not see her again and when, through a lucky market turn, he had increased the twenty thousand dollars she had left with him to twenty-five, he placed it in the hands of a trust company for her and forgot the incident. Years later he heard that she was running a fashionable dressmaking establishment in a western city.
And Colonel Tom Rainey, who had for months talked of nothing but factory efficiency and of what he and young Sam McPherson were going to do in the way of enlarging the business, began the next morning a tirade against women that lasted the rest of his life.
Sue Rainey had long touched the fancy of the youths of Chicago society who, while looking at her trim little figure and at the respectable size of the fortune behind it, were yet puzzled and disconcerted by her attitude toward themselves. On the wide porches at golf clubs, where young men in white trousers lounged and smoked cigarettes, and in the down-town clubs, where the same young men spent winter afternoons playing Kelly pool, they spoke of her, calling her an enigma. "She'll end by being an old maid," they declared, and shook their heads at the thought of so good a connection dangling loosely in the air just without their reach. From time to time, one of the young men tore himself loose from the group that contemplated her, and, with an opening volley of books, candy, flowers and invitations to theatres, charged down upon her, only to have the youthful ardour of his attack cooled by her prolonged attitude of indifference. When she was twenty-one, a young English cavalry officer, who came to Chicago to ride in the horse show had, for some weeks, been seen much in her company and a report of their engagement had been whispered through the town and talked of about the nineteenth hole at the country clubs. The rumour proved to be without foundation, the attraction to the cavalry officer having been a certain brand of rare old wine the colonel had stored in his cellar and a feeling of brotherhood with the swaggering old gun maker, rather than the colonel's quiet little daughter.
After the beginning of his acquaintanceship with her, and all during the days when he stirred things up in the offices and shops of the gun company, tales of the assiduous and often needy young men who were camped on her trail reached Sam's ears. They would be in at the office to see and talk with the colonel, who had several times confided to Sam that his daughter Sue was already past the age at which right-minded young women should marry, and in the absence of the father two or three of them had formed a habit of stopping for a word with Sam, whom they had met through the colonel or Jack Prince. They declared that they were "squaring themselves with the colonel." Not a difficult thing to do, Sam thought, as he drank the wine, smoked the cigars, and ate the dinners of all without prejudice. Once, at luncheon, Colonel Tom discussed these young men with Sam, pounding on a table so that the glasses jumped about, and calling them damned upstarts.
For his own part, Sam did not feel that he knew Sue Rainey, and although, after their first meeting one evening at the Rainey house, he had been pricked by a mild curiosity concerning her, no opportunity to satisfy it had presented itself. He knew that she was athletic, travelled much, rode, shot, and sailed a boat; and he had heard Jack Prince speak of her as a woman of brains, but, until the incident of the colonel and Luella London threw them for the moment into the same enterprise and started him thinking of her with real interest, he had seen and talked with her for but brief passing moments brought about by their mutual interest in the affairs of her father.
After Janet Eberly's sudden death, and while he was yet in the midst of his grief at her loss, Sam had his first long talk with Sue Rainey. It was in Colonel Tom's office, and Sam, walking hurriedly in, found her sitting at the colonel's desk and staring out of the window at a broad expanse of flat roofs. A man, climbing a flag pole to replace a slipped rope, caught his attention and standing by the window looking at the minute figure clinging to the swaying pole, he began talking of the absurdity of human endeavour.
The colonel's daughter listened respectfully to his rather obvious banalities and getting up from her chair came to stand beside him. Sam turned slyly to look at her firm brown cheeks as he had looked on the morning when she had come to see him about Luella London and was struck by the thought that she in some faint way reminded him of Janet Eberly. In a moment, and rather to his own surprise, he burst into a long speech telling of Janet, of the tragedy of her loss and something of the beauty of her life and character.
The nearness of his loss and the nearness also of what he thought might be a sympathetic listener spurred him and he found himself getting a kind of relief for the aching sense of loss for his dead comrade by heaping praises upon her life.
When he had finished saying what was in his mind, he stood by the window feeling awkward and embarrassed. The man who climbed the flag pole having put the rope through the ring at the top slid suddenly down the pole and thinking for the moment that he had fallen Sam made a quick clutch at the air with his hand. His gripping fingers closed over Sue Rainey's hand.
He turned, amused by the incident, and began making a halting explanation. There were tears in Sue Rainey's eyes.
"I wish I had known her," she said and drew her hand from between his fingers. "I wish you had known me better that I also might have known your Janet. They are rare—such women. They are worth much to know. Most women like most men—"
She made an impatient gesture with her hand and Sam, turning, walked toward the door. He felt that he might not trust himself to answer her. For the first time since coming to manhood he felt that tears might at any moment come into his eyes. Grief for the loss of Janet surged through him disconcerting and engulfing him.
"I have been doing you an injustice," said Sue Rainey, looking at the floor. "I have thought of you as something different from what you are. There is a story I heard of you which gave me a wrong impression."
Sam smiled. Having conquered the commotion within himself, he laughed and explained the incident of the man who had slid down the pole.
"What was the story you heard?" he asked.
"It was a story a young man told at our house," she explained hesitatingly, refusing to be carried away from her mood of seriousness. "It was about a little girl you saved from drowning and a purse made up and given you. Why did you take the money?"
Sam looked at her squarely. The story was one that Jack Prince had delight in telling. It concerned an incident of his early business life in the city.
One afternoon, when he was still in the employ of the commission firm, he had taken a party of men for a trip on an excursion steamer on the lake. He had a project into which he wanted them to go with him and had taken them aboard the steamer to get them together and present the merits of his scheme. During the trip a little girl had fallen overboard and Sam, springing after her, had brought her safely aboard the boat.
On the excursion steamer a cheer had arisen. A young man in a broad- brimmed cowboy hat ran about taking up a collection. People crowded forward to grasp Sam's hand and he had accepted the money collected and had put it in his pocket.
Among the men aboard the boat were several who, while they did not draw back from going into Sam's project, had thought his taking the money not manly. They had told the story, and it had come to the ears of Jack Prince, who never tired of repeating it and always ended the story with the request that the listener ask Sam why he had taken the money.
Now in Colonel Tom's office facing Sue Rainey, Sam made the explanation that had so delighted Jack Prince.
"The crowd wanted to give me the money," he said, slightly perplexed. "Why shouldn't I have taken it? I did not save the little girl for the money, but because she was a little girl; and the money paid for my ruined clothes and the expenses of the trip."
With his hand on the doorknob he looked steadily at the woman before him.
"And I wanted the money," he announced, a ring of defiance in his voice. "I have always wanted money, any money I could get."
Sam went back to his own office and sat down at his desk. He had been surprised by the cordiality and friendliness Sue Rainey had shown toward him. On an impulse, he wrote a letter, defending his position in the matter of the money taken on the excursion steamer and setting forth something of the attitude of his mind toward money and business affairs.
"I cannot see myself believing in the rot most business men talk," he wrote at the end of the letter. "They are full of sentiment and ideals which are not true. Having a thing to sell they always say it is the best, although it may be third rate. I do not object to that. What I do object to is the way they have of nursing a hope within themselves that the third rate thing is first rate until the hope becomes a belief. In the talk I had with that actress Luella London I told her that I myself flew the black flag. Well, I do. I would lie about goods to sell them, but I would not lie to myself. I will not stultify my own mind. If a man crosses swords with me in a business deal and I come out of the affair with the money, it is no sign that I am the greater rascal, rather it is a sign that I am the keener man."
With the note lying before him on the desk Sam wondered why he had written it. It seemed to him an accurate and straightforward statement of the business creed he had adopted for himself, but a rather absurd note to write to a woman. And then, not allowing himself time to reconsider his action, he addressed an envelope and going out into the general offices dropped it into the mail chute.
"It will let her know where I stand anyway," he thought, with a return of the defiant mood in which he had told her the motive of his action on the boat.
Within the next ten days after the talk in Colonel Tom's office Sam saw Sue Rainey several times coming to or going from her father's office. Once, meeting in the little lobby by the office entrance, she stopped and put out her hand which Sam took awkwardly. He had a feeling that she would not have regretted an opportunity to continue the sudden little intimacy that had sprung up between them in the few minutes' talk of Janet Eberly. The feeling did not come from vanity but from a belief in Sam that she was in some way lonely and wanting companionship. Although she had been much courted she lacked, he thought, the talent for comradeship or quick friendliness. "Like Janet she is more than half intellect," he told himself, and felt a pang of regret for the slight disloyalty of the further thought that there was in Sue a something more substantial and solid than there had been in Janet.
Suddenly Sam began wondering whether or not he would like to marry Sue Rainey. His mind played with the idea. He took it with him to bed, and it went with him all day in his hurried trips through offices and shops. The thought having come to him persisted, and he began seeing her in a new light. The odd half awkward little movements of her hands, and their expressiveness, the brown fine texture of her cheeks, the clearness and honesty of her grey eyes, the quick sympathy and understanding of his feeling for Janet, and the subtle flattery of the notion he had got that she was interested in him—all of these things came and went in his mind while he ran through columns of figures and laid plans for the expansion of the business of the Arms Company. Unconsciously he began to make her a part of his plans for the future.
Later, Sam discovered that during the days after the first talk together the thought of a marriage between them was in Sue's mind also. After the talk she went home and stood for an hour before the glass studying herself and she once told Sam that in her bed that night she shed tears because she had never been able to arouse in a man the note of tenderness that had been in his voice when he talked to her of Janet.
And then two months after the first talk they had another. Sam, who had not allowed his grief over the loss of Janet or his nightly efforts to drown the sting of it in hard drinking, to check the big forward movement that he felt he was getting into the work of the offices and shops, sat one afternoon deeply absorbed in a pile of factory cost sheets. His shirt sleeves were rolled to the elbow, showing his white muscular forearms. He was absorbed, intent upon the sheets.
"I stepped in," said a voice above his head.
Glancing up quickly, Sam sprang to his feet. "She must have been there some minutes looking down at me," he thought, and had a thrill of pleasure in the thought.
Into his mind came the contents of the letter he had written her, and he wondered if after all he had been a fool, and whether the thoughts of a marriage with her were but vagaries. "Perhaps it would not be attractive to either her or myself when we came up to it," he decided.
"I stepped in," she began again. "I have been thinking. Some things you said—in the letter and when you talked of your friend Janet who died— some things of men and women and work. You may not remember them. I—I got interested. I—are you a socialist?"
"I believe not," Sam answered, wondering what had given her that thought. "Are you?"
She laughed and shook her head.
"Just what are you?" she went on. "What do you believe? I am curious to know. I thought your note—you will pardon me—I thought it a kind of pretence."
Sam winced. A shadow of doubt of the sincerity of his business philosophy crossed his mind accompanied by the swaggering figure of Windy McPherson. He came around the desk and leaning against it looked at her. His secretary had gone out of the room and they were alone together. Sam laughed.
"There was a man in the town where I was raised used to say that I was a little mole working underground, intent upon worms," he said, and then, waving his arms toward the papers on the desk, added, "I am a business man. Isn't that enough? If you could go with me through some of these cost sheets you would agree they are needed."
He turned and faced her again.
"What should I be doing with beliefs?" he asked.
"Well, I think you have them—some kind of beliefs," she insisted, "you must have them. You get things done. You should hear the men talk of you. Sometimes at the house they are quite foolish about what a wonderful fellow you are and what you are doing here. They say that you drive on and on. What drives you? I want to know."
For the moment Sam half suspected that she was secretly laughing at him. Finding her quite serious he started to reply and then stopped, regarding her.
The silence between them went on and on. A clock on the wall ticked loudly.
Sam stepped nearer to her and stood looking down into the face she slowly turned up to his.
"I want to have a talk with you," he said, and his voice broke. He had the illusion of a hand gripping at his throat.
In a flash he had definitely decided that he would try to marry her. Her interest in the motives of his life had clinched the sort of half decision he had made. In an illuminating moment during the prolonged silence between them he had seen her in a new light. The feeling of vague intimacy brought to him by his thoughts of her became a fixed belief that she belonged to him—was a part of him—and he was charmed with her manner, and her person, standing there, as with a gift given him.
And then into his mind came a hundred other thoughts, clamouring thoughts, come out of the hidden parts of him. He began to think that she could lead the way on a road he wanted to travel. He thought of her wealth and what it would mean to a man filled with his hunger for power. And through these thoughts shot others. Something in her had taken hold of him—something that had been also in Janet. He was curious concerning her curiosity about his beliefs, and wanted to question her concerning her own beliefs. He could see none of Colonel Tom's blustering incompetence in her and thought her filled with truth as a deep spring is filled with clear water. He believed she would give him something, something that all his life he had been wanting. An old aching hunger that had haunted his nights as a boy came back and he thought that at her hand it might be fed.
"I—I must read a book about socialism," he said lamely.
Again they stood in silence, she looking at the floor, he past her head and out at the window. He could not bring himself to speak again of the proposed talk. He had a boyish dread of having her notice the tremor in his voice.
Colonel Tom came into the room, bursting with an idea Sam had given him at the lunch hour and which in working its way into his mind had become to the colonel's entirely honest belief an idea of his own. The interruption brought to Sam an intense feeling of relief and he began talking of the colonel's idea as though it had taken him unawares.
Sue, walking to a window, began tying and untying the curtain cord. When Sam, raising his eyes, looked at her, he caught her eyes watching him intently and she smiled, continuing to look at him squarely. It was his eyes that first broke away.
From that day Sam's mind was afire with thoughts of Sue Rainey. In his room he sat, or going into Grant Park stood by the lake, looking at the silent, moving water as he had looked in the days when he first came to the city. He did not dream of having her in his arms or of kissing her lips; he thought, instead, with a glowing heart, of a life lived with her. He wanted to walk beside her through the streets, to have her come suddenly in at his office door, to look into her eyes and to have her question him, as she had questioned, concerning his beliefs and his hopes. He thought that in the evening he would like to go to a house of his own and find her sitting there waiting for him. All the charm of his aimless, half-dissolute way of life died in him, and he believed that with her he could begin to live more fully and completely. From the moment when he had definitely decided that he wanted Sue as a wife, Sam stopped overdrinking, going to his room or walking through the streets or in the parks instead of seeking his old companions in the clubs and drinking places. Sometimes pushing his bed to the window overlooking the lake, he would undress immediately after dinner and opening the window would spend half the night watching the lights of boats far away over the water and thinking of her. He would imagine her in the room, moving here and there, and coming occasionally to put her hand in his hair and look down at him as Janet had done, helping by her sane talk and quiet ways to get his life straightened out for good living.
And when he had fallen asleep the face of Sue Rainey came to visit his dreams. One night he thought she had become blind and sat in the room with sightless eyes saying over and over like one demented, "Truth, truth, give me back the truth that I may see," and he awoke sick with horror at the thought of the look of suffering that had been in her face. Never did Sam dream of having her in his arms or of raining kisses on her lips and neck as he had dreamed of other women who in the past had won his favour.
For all that he thought of her so constantly and built so confidently his dream of a life to be spent with her, months passed before he saw her again. Through Colonel Tom he learned that she had gone for a visit to the East and he went earnestly about his work, keeping his mind on his business during the day and only in the evening allowing himself to become absorbed in thoughts of her. He had a feeling that although he had said nothing she knew of his desire for her and that she wanted time to think it over. Several times in the evening in his room he wrote her long letters filled with minute, boyish explanations of his thoughts and motives, letters which after writing he immediately destroyed. A woman of the west side, with whom he had once had an affair, met him one day on the street, and put her hand familiarly on his arm and for the moment reawakened in him an old desire. After leaving her he did not go back to the office, but taking a south-bound car, spent the afternoon walking in Jackson Park, watching the children at play on the grass, sitting on benches under the trees, getting out of his body and his mind the insistent call of the flesh that had come back to him.
Then in the evening, he came suddenly upon Sue riding a spirited black horse in a bridle path at the upper end of the park. It was just at the grey beginning of night. Stopping the horse, she sat looking at him and going to her he put a hand on the bridle.
"We might have that talk," he said.
She smiled down at him and the colour began to rise in her brown cheeks.
"I have been thinking of it," she said, the familiar serious look coming into her eyes. "After all what have we to say to each other?"
Sam watched her steadily.
"I have a lot of things to say to you," he announced. "That is to say— well—I have, if things are as I hope." She got off the horse and they stood together by the side of the path. Sam never forgot the few minutes of silence that followed. The wide prospects of green sward, the golf player trudging wearily toward them through the uncertain light, his bag upon his shoulder, the air of physical fatigue with which he walked, bending slightly forward, the faint, soft sound of waves washing over a low beach, and the intense waiting look on the face she turned up to him, made an impression on his mind that stayed with him through life. It seemed to him that he had arrived at a kind of culmination, a starting point, and that all the vague shadowy uncertainties that had, in reflective moments, flitted through his mind, were to be brushed away by some act, some word, from the lips of this woman. With a rush he realised how consistently he had been thinking of her and how enormously he had been counting on her falling in with his plans, and the realisation was followed by a sickening moment of fear. How little he actually knew of her and of her way of thought. What assurance had he that she would not laugh, jump back upon the horse, and ride away? He was afraid as he had never been afraid before. Dumbly his mind groped about for a way to begin. Expressions he had caught and noted in her strong serious little face when he had achieved but a mild curiosity concerning her came back to visit his mind and he tried desperately to build an instant idea of her from these. And then turning his face from her he plunged directly into his thoughts of the past months as though she had been sharing talking to the colonel."
"I have been thinking we might marry, you and I," he said, and cursed himself for the blundering bluntness of the declaration.
"You do get things done, don't you?" she replied, smiling.
"Why should you have been thinking anything of the sort?"
"Because I want to live with you," he said; "I have been talking to the colonel."
"About marrying me?" She seemed about to begin laughing.
He hurried on. "No, not that. We talked about you. I could not let him alone. He might have known. I kept making him talk. I made him tell me about your ideas. I felt I had to know."
Sam faced her.
"He thinks your ideas absurd. I do not. I like them. I like you. I think you are beautiful. I do not know whether I love you or not, but for weeks I have been thinking of you and clinging to you and saying over and over to myself, 'I want to live my life with Sue Rainey.' I did not expect to go at it this way. You know me. What you do not know I will tell you."
"Sam McPherson, you are a wonder," she said, "and I do not know but that I will marry you in the end, but I can't tell now. I want to know a lot of things. I want to know if you are ready to believe what I believe and to live for what I want to live."
The horse, growing restless, began tugging at the bridle and she spoke to him sharply. She plunged into a description of a man she had seen on the lecture platform during her visit to the East and Sam looked at her with puzzled eyes.
"He was beautiful," she said. "He was past sixty but looked like a boy of twenty-five, not in his body, but in an air of youth that hung over him. He stood there before the people talking, quiet, able, efficient. He was clean. He had lived clean, body and mind. He had been companion and co- worker with William Morris, and once he had been a mine boy in Wales, but he had got hold of a vision and lived for it. I did not hear what he said, but I kept thinking, 'I want a man like that.'
"Can you accept my beliefs and live for what I want to live?" she persisted.
Sam looked at the ground. It seemed to him that he was going to lose her, that she would not marry him.
"I am not accepting beliefs or ends in life blindly," he said stoutly, "but I want them. What are your beliefs? I want to know. I think I haven't any myself. When I reach for them they are gone. My mind shifts and changes. I want something solid. I like solid things. I want you."
"When can we meet and talk everything over thoroughly?"
"Now," answered Sam bluntly, some look in her face changing his whole viewpoint. Suddenly it seemed as though a door had been opened, letting in a strong light upon the darkness of his mind. His confidence had come back to him. He wanted to strike and keep on striking. The blood rushed through his body and his brain began working rapidly. He felt sure of ultimate success.
Taking her hand, and leading the horse, he began walking with her along the path. Her hand trembled in his and as though answering a thought in his mind she looked up at him and said,
"I am not different from other women, although I do not accept your offer. This is a big moment for me, perhaps the biggest moment of my life. I want you to know that I feel that, though I do want certain things more than I want you or any other man."
There was a suggestion of tears in her voice and Sam had a feeling that the woman in her wanted him to take her into his arms, but something within him told him to wait and to help her by waiting. Like her he wanted something more than the feel of a woman in his arms. Ideas rushed through his head; he thought that she was going to give him some bigger idea than he had known. The figure she had drawn for him of the old man who stood on the platform, young and beautiful, the old boyish need of a purpose in life, the dreams of the last few weeks—all of these were a part of the eager curiosity in him. They were like hungry little animals waiting to be fed. "We must have it all out here and now," he told himself. "I must not let myself be swept away by a rush of feeling and I must not let her be.
"Do not think," he said, "that I haven't tenderness for you. I am filled with it. But I want to have our talk. I want to know what you expect me to believe and how you want me to live."
He felt her hand stiffen in his.
"Whether or not we are worth while to each other," she added.
"Yes," he said.
And then she began to talk, telling him in a quiet steady voice that steadied something in him what she wanted to make out of her life. Her idea was one of service to mankind through children. She had seen girl friends of hers, with whom she had gone to school, grow up and marry. They had wealth and education, fine well-trained bodies, and they had been married only to live lives more fully devoted to pleasure. One or two who had married poor men had only done so to satisfy a passion in themselves, and after marriage had joined the others in the hungry pursuit of pleasure.
"They do nothing at all," she said, "to repay the world for the things given them, the wealth and well-trained bodies and the disciplined minds. They go through life day after day and year after year wasting themselves and come in the end to nothing but indolent, slovenly vanity."
She had thought it all out and had tried to plan for herself a life with other ends, and wanted a husband in accord with her ideas.
"That isn't so difficult," she said, "I can find a man whom I can control and who will believe as I believe. My money gives me that power. But I want him to be a real man, a man of ability, a man who does things for himself, one fitted by his life and his achievements to be the father of children who do things. And so I began thinking about you. I got the men who come to the house to talk of you."
She hung her head and laughed like a bashful boy.
"I know much of the story of your early life out in that Iowa town," she said. "I got the story of your life and your achievements out there from some one who knew you well."
The idea seemed wonderfully simple and beautiful to Sam. It seemed to add tremendously to the dignity and nobility of his feeling for her. He stopped in the path and swung her about facing him. They were alone in that end of the park. The soft darkness of the summer night had settled over them. In the grass at their feet a cricket sang loudly. He made a movement to take her into his arms.
"It is wonderful," he said.
"Wait," she demanded, putting her hand against his shoulder. "It isn't so simple. I am wealthy. You are able and you have a kind of undying energy in you. I want to give both my wealth and your ability to children—our children. That will not be easy for you. It means giving up your dreams of power. Perhaps I shall lose courage. Women do after two or three have come. You will have to furnish that. You will have to make a mother of me and keep making a mother of me. You will have to be a new kind of father with something maternal in you. You will have to be patient and studious and kind. You will have to think of these things at night instead of thinking of your own advancement. You will have to live wholly for me because I am to be their mother, giving me your strength and courage and your good sane outlook on things. And then when they come you will have to give all these things to them day after day in a thousand little ways."
Sam took her into his arms and for the first time in his memory the hot tears stood in his eyes.
The horse, unattended, wheeled, threw up his head and trotted off down the path. They let him go, walking along after him hand in hand like two happy children. At the entrance to the park they came up to him, held by a park policeman. She got on the horse and Sam stood beside her looking up.
"I'll tell the colonel in the morning," he said.
"What will he say?" she murmured, musingly.
"Damned ingrate," Sam mimicked the colonel's blustering throat tones.
She laughed and picked up the reins. Sam laid his hand on hers.
"How soon?" he asked.
She put her head down near his.
"We'll waste no time," she said, blushing.
And then in the presence of a park policeman, in the street by the entrance to the park with the people passing up and down, Sam had his first kiss from Sue Rainey's lips.
After she rode away Sam walked. He had no sense of the passing of time, wandering through street after street, rearranging and readjusting his outlook on life. What she had said had stirred every vestige of sleeping nobility in him. He thought that he had got hold of the thing he had unconsciously been seeking all his life. His dreams of control of the Rainey Arms Company and the other big things he had planned in business seemed, in the light of their talk, so much nonsense and vanity. "I will live for this! I will live for this!" he kept saying over and over to himself. He imagined he could see the little white things lying in Sue's arms, and his new love for her and for what they were to accomplish together ran through him and hurt him so that he felt like shouting in the darkened streets. He looked up at the sky and saw the stars and thought they looked down on two new and glorious beings living on the earth.
At a corner he turned and came into a quiet residence street where frame houses stood in the midst of little green lawns and thoughts of his boyhood in the Iowa town came back to him. And then his mind moving forward, he remembered nights in the city when he had stolen away to the arms of women. Hot shame burned in his cheeks and his eyes felt hot.
"I must go to her—I must go to her at her house—now—tonight—and tell her all of these things, and beg her to forgive me," he thought.
And then the absurdity of such a course striking him he laughed aloud.
"It cleanses me! this cleanses me!" he said to himself.
He remembered the men who had sat about the stove in Wildman's grocery when he was a boy and the stories they sometimes told. He remembered how he, as a boy in the city, had run through the crowded streets fleeing from the terror of lust. He began to understand how distorted, how strangely perverted, his whole attitude toward women and sex had been. "Sex is a solution, not a menace—it is wonderful," he told himself without knowing fully the meaning of the word that had sprung to his lips.
When, at last, he turned into Michigan Avenue and went toward his apartment, the late moon was just mounting the sky and a clock in one of the sleeping houses was striking three.
One evening, six weeks after the talk in the gathering darkness in Jackson Park, Sue Rainey and Sam McPherson sat on the deck of a Lake Michigan steamer watching the lights of Chicago blink out in the distance. They had been married that afternoon in Colonel Tom's big house on the south side; and now they sat on the deck of the boat, being carried out into darkness, vowed to motherhood and to fatherhood, each more or less afraid of the other. They sat in silence, looking at the blinking lights and listening to the low voices of their fellow passengers, also sitting in the chairs along the deck or strolling leisurely about, and to the wash of the water along the sides of the boat, eager to break down a little reserve that the solemnity of the marriage service had built up between them.
A picture floated in Sam's mind. He saw Sue, all in white, radiant and wonderful, coming toward him down a broad stairway, toward him, the newsboy of Caxton, the smuggler of game, the roisterer, the greedy moneygetter. All during those six weeks he had been waiting for this hour when he should sit beside the little grey-clad figure, getting from her the help he wanted in the reconstruction of his life. Without being able to talk as he had thought of talking, he yet felt assured and easy in his mind. In the moment when she had come down the stairway he had been half overcome by a feeling of intense shame, a return of the shame that had swept over him that night when she had given her word and he had walked hour after hour through the streets. It had seemed to him that from among the guests standing about should arise a voice crying, "Stop! Do not go on! Let me tell you of this fellow—this McPherson!" And then he had seen her holding to the arm of swaggering, pretentious Colonel Tom and he had taken her hand to become one with her, two curious, feverish, strangely different human beings, taking a vow in the name of their God, with the flowers banked about them and the eyes of people upon them.
When Sam had gone to Colonel Tom the morning after that evening in Jackson Park, there had been a scene. The old gun maker had blustered and roared and forbidden, pounding on his desk with his fist. When Sam remained cool and unimpressed, he had stormed out of the room slamming the door and shouting, "Upstart! Damned upstart!" and Sam had gone smiling back to his desk, mildly disappointed. "I told Sue he would say 'Ingrate,'" he thought, "I am losing my skill at guessing just what he will do and say."
The colonel's rage had been short-lived. Within a week he was boasting of Sam to chance callers as "the best business man in America," and in the face of a solemn promise given Sue was telling news of the approaching marriage to every newspaper man he knew. Sam suspected him of secretly calling on the telephone those newspapers whose representatives had not crossed his trail.
During the six waiting weeks there had been little of love making between Sue and Sam. They had talked instead, or, going into the country or to the parks, had walked under the trees consumed with a curious eager passion of suspense. The idea she had given him in the park grew in Sam's brain. To live for the young things that would presently come to them, to be simple, direct, and natural, like the trees or the beasts of the field, and then to have the native honesty of such a life illuminated and ennobled by a mutual intelligent purpose to make their young something finer and better than the things in Nature by the intelligent use of their own good minds and bodies. In the shops and on the streets the hurrying men and women took on a new significance to him. He wondered what secret mighty purpose might be in their lives, and read a newspaper report of an engagement or a marriage with a little jump of the heart. He looked at the girls and the women at work over the typewriting machines in the office, with questioning eyes, asking himself why they did not seek marriage openly and determinedly, and saw a healthy single woman as so much wasted material, as a machine for producing healthy new life standing idle and unused in the great workshop of the universe. "Marriage is a port, a beginning, a point of departure, from which men and women go forth upon the real voyage of life," he told Sue one evening as they walked in the park. "All that goes before is but a preparation, a building. The pains and the triumphs of all unmarried people are but the good oak planks being driven into place to make the vessel fit for the real voyage." Or, again, one night when they were in a rowboat on the lagoon in the park and all about them in the darkness was the plash of oars in the water, the screams of excited girls, and the sound of voices calling, he let the boat float in against the shores of a little island and crept along the boat to kneel, with his head in her lap and whisper, "It is not the love of a woman that grips me, Sue, but the love of life. I have had a peep into the great mystery. This —this is why we are here—this justifies us."
Now that she sat beside him, her shoulder against his own, being carried away with him into darkness and privacy, the personal side of his love for her ran through Sam like a flame and, turning, he drew her head down upon his shoulder.
"Not yet, Sam," she whispered, "not with these hundreds of people sleeping and drinking and thinking and going about their affairs almost within touch of our hands."
They got up and walked along the swaying deck. Out of the north the clean wind called to them, the stars looked down upon them, and in the darkness in the bow of the boat they parted for the night silently, speechless with happiness and with a dear, unmentioned secret between them.
At dawn they landed at a little lumbering town, where boat, blankets, and camping kit had gone before. A river flowed down out of the woods passing the town, going under a bridge and turning the wheel of a sawmill that stood by the shore of the river facing the lake. The clean sweet smell of the new-cut logs, the song of the saws, the roar of the water tumbling over a dam, the cries of the blue-shirted lumbermen working among the floating logs above the dam, filled the morning air, and above the song of the saws sang another song, a breathless, waiting song, the song of love and of life singing in the hearts of husband and wife.
In a little roughly-built lumberman's hotel they ate breakfast in a room overlooking the river. The proprietor of the hotel, a large red-faced woman in a clean calico dress, was expecting them and, having served the breakfast, went out of the room grinning good naturedly and closing the door behind her. Through the open window they looked at the cold swiftly- flowing river and at a freckled-faced boy who carried packages wrapped in blankets and put them in a long canoe tied to a little wharf beside the hotel. They ate and sat staring at each other like two strange boys, saying nothing. Sam ate little. His heart pounded in his breast.
On the river he sank his paddle deep into the water, pulling against the current. During the six weeks' waiting in Chicago she had taught him the essentials of the canoeist's art and, now, as he shot the canoe under the bridge and around a bend of the river out of sight of the town, a superhuman strength seemed in his arms and back. Before him in the prow of the boat sat Sue, her straight muscular little back bending and straightening again. By his side rose towering hills clothed with pine trees, and piles of cut logs lay at the foot of the hills along the shore.
At sunset they landed in a little cleared space at the foot of a hill and on the top of the hill, with the wind blowing across it, they made their first camp. Sam brought boughs and spread them, lapped like feathers in the wings of a bird, and carried blankets up the hill, while Sue, at the foot, near the overturned boat, built a fire and prepared their first cooked meal out of doors. In the failing light, Sue got out her rifle and gave Sam his first lesson in marksmanship, his awkwardness making the lesson half a jest. And then, in the soft stillness of the young night, with the first stars coming into the sky and the clean cold wind blowing into their faces, they went arm in arm up the hill under the trees to where the tops of the trees rolled and pitched like the stormy waters of a great sea before their eyes, and lay down together for their first long tender embrace.
There is a special kind of fine pleasure in getting one's first knowledge of the great outdoors in the company of a woman a man loves and to have that woman an expert, with a keen appetite for the life, adds point and flavour to the experience. In his busy striving, nickel-seeking boyhood in the town surrounded by hot cornfields, and in his young manhood of scheming and money hunger in the city, Sam had not thought of vacations and resting places. He had walked on country roads with John Telfer and Mary Underwood, listening to their talk, absorbing their ideas, blind and deaf to the little life in the grass, in the leafy branches of the trees and in the air about him. In clubs, and about hotels and barrooms in the city, he had heard men talk of life in the open, and had said to himself, "When my time comes I will taste these things."
And now he did taste them, lying on his back on the grass along the river, floating down quiet little side streams in the moonlight, listening to the night call of birds, or watching the flight of frightened wild things as he pushed the canoe into the quiet depths of the great forest about them.
At night, under the little tent they had brought, or beneath the blankets under the stars, he slept lightly, awakening often to look at Sue lying beside him. Perhaps the wind had blown a wisp of hair across her face and her breath played with it, tossing it about; perhaps just the quiet of her expressive little face charmed and held him, so that he turned reluctantly to sleep again thinking that he might, with pleasure, go on looking at her all night.
For Sue the days also passed lightly. She also awoke in the night and lay looking at the man sleeping beside her, and once she told Sam that when he awoke she feigned sleep dreading to rob him of the pleasure that she knew these secret love passages gave to both.
They were not alone in those northern woods. Everywhere along the rivers and on the shores of little lakes they found people, to Sam a new kind of people, who dropped all the ordinary things of life, and ran away to the woods and the streams to spend long happy months in the open. He discovered with surprise that these adventurers were men of modest fortunes, small manufacturers, skilled workingmen, retail merchants. One with whom he talked was a grocer from a town in Ohio, and when Sam asked him if the coming to the woods with his family for an eight-weeks stay did not endanger the success of his business he agreed with Sam that it did, nodding his head and laughing.
"But there would be a lot more danger in not leaving it," he said, "the danger of having my boys grow up to be men without my having any real fun with them."
Among all of the people they met Sue passed with a sort of happy freedom that confounded Sam, as he had formed a habit of thinking of her always as one shut within herself. Many of the people they saw she knew, and he came to believe that she had chosen the place for their love making because she admired and held in high favour the lives of these people of the out-of- doors and wanted her lover to be in some way like them. Out of the solitude of the woods, along the shores of little lakes, they called to her as she passed, demanding that she come ashore and show her husband, and among them she sat talking of other seasons and of the inroads of the lumber men upon their paradise. "The Burnhams were this year on the shores of Grant Lake, the two school teachers from Pittsburgh would come early in August, the Detroit man with the crippled son was building a cabin on the shores of Bone River."
Sam sat among them in silence, renewing constantly his admiration for the wonder of Sue's past life. She, the daughter of Colonel Tom, the woman rich in her own right, to have made her friends among these people; she, who had been pronounced an enigma by the young men of Chicago, to have been secretly all of these years the companion and fellow spirit of these campers by the lakes.
For six weeks they led a wandering, nomadic life in that half wild land, for Sue six weeks of tender love making, and of the expression of every thought and impulse of her fine nature, for Sam six weeks of readjustment and freedom, during which he learned to sail a boat, to shoot, and to get the fine taste of that life into his being.
And then one morning they came again to the little lumber town at the mouth of the river and sat upon the pier waiting for the Chicago boat. They were bound once more into the world, and to that life together that was the foundation of their marriage and that was to be the end and aim of their two lives.
If Sam's life from boyhood had been, on the whole, barren and empty of many of the sweeter things, his life during the next year was strikingly full and complete. In the office he had ceased being the pushing upstart tramping on the toes of tradition and had become the son of Colonel Tom, the voter of Sue's big stock holdings, the practical, directing head and genius of the destinies of the company. Jack Prince's loyalty had been rewarded, and a huge advertising campaign made the name and merits of the Rainey Arms Company's wares known to all reading Americans. The muzzles of Rainey-Whittaker rifles, revolvers, and shotguns looked threateningly out at one from the pages of the great popular magazines, brown fur-clad hunters did brave deeds before one's eyes, kneeling upon snow-topped crags preparing to speed winged death to waiting mountain sheep; huge open- mouthed bears rushed down from among the type at the top of the pages and seemed about to devour cool deliberate sportsmen who stood undaunted, swinging their trusty Rainey-Whittakers into place, and presidents, explorers, and Texas gun fighters loudly proclaimed the merits of Rainey- Whittakers to a gun-buying world. It was for Sam and for Colonel Tom a time of big dividends, mechanical progress, and contentment.
Sam stayed diligently at work in the offices and in the shops, but kept within himself a reserve of strength and resolution that might have gone into the work. With Sue he took up golf and morning rides on horseback, and with Sue he sat during the long evenings, reading aloud, absorbing her ideas and her beliefs. Sometimes for days they were like two children, going off together to walk on country roads and to sleep in country hotels. On these walks they went hand in hand or, bantering each other, raced down long hills to lie panting in the grass by the roadside when they were out of breath.
Near the end of the first year she told him one night of the realisation of their hopes and they sat through the evening alone by the fire in her room, filled with the white wonder of it, renewing to each other all the fine vows of their early love-making days.
Sam never succeeded in recapturing the flavour of those days. Happiness is a thing so vague, so indefinite, so dependent on a thousand little turns of the events of the day, that it only visits the most fortunate and at rare intervals, but Sam thought that he and Sue touched almost ideal happiness constantly during that time. There were weeks and even months of their first year together that later passed out of Sam's memory entirely, leaving only a sense of completeness and well being. He could remember, perhaps, a winter walk in the moonlight by the frozen lake, or a visitor who sat and talked an evening away by their fire. But at the end he had to come back to this: that something sang in his heart all day long and that the air tasted better, the stars shone more brightly, and the wind and the rain and the hail upon the window panes sang more sweetly in his ears. He and the woman who lived with him had wealth, position, and infinite delight in the presence and the persons of each other, and a great idea burned like a lamp in a window at the end of the road they travelled.
Meanwhile, in the world about him events came and went. A president was elected, the grey wolves were being hunted out of the Chicago city council, and a strong rival to his company flourished in his own city. In other days he would have been down upon this rival fighting, planning, working for its destruction. Now he sat at Sue's feet, dreaming and talking to her of the brood that under their care should grow into wonderful reliant men and women. When Lewis, the talented sales manager of the Edwards Arms Company, got the business of a Kansas City jobber, he smiled, wrote a sharp letter to his man in that territory, and went for an afternoon of golf with Sue. He had completely and wholly accepted Sue's conception of life. "We have wealth for any emergency," he said to himself, "and we will live our lives for service to mankind through the children that will presently come into our house."
After their marriage Sam found that Sue, for all her apparent coldness and indifference, had in Chicago, as in the northern woods, her own little circle of men and women. Some of these people Sam had met during the engagement, and now they began gradually coming to the house for an evening with the McPhersons. Sometimes there would be several of them for a quiet dinner at which there was much good talk, and after which Sue and Sam sat for half the night, continuing some vein of thought brought to them. Among the people who came to them, Sam shone resplendent. In some indefinable way he thought they paid court to him and the thought flattered him immensely. The college professor who had talked brilliantly through an evening turned to Sam for approval of his conclusions, a writer of tales of cowboy life asked him to help him over a difficulty in the stock market, and a tall black-haired painter paid him the rare compliment of repeating one of Sam's remarks as his own. It was as though, in spite of their talk, they thought him the most gifted of them all, and for a time he was puzzled by their attitude. Jack Prince came, sat at one of the dinner parties, and explained.
"You have got what they want and cannot get—the money," he said.
After the evening when Sue told him the great news they gave a dinner. It was a sort of welcoming party for the coming guest, and, while the people at the table ate and talked, Sue and Sam, from opposite ends of the table, lifted high their glasses and, looking into each other's eyes, drank off the health of him who was to come, the first of the great family, the family that was to have two lives lived for its success.
At the table sat Colonel Tom with his broad white shirt front, his white, pointed beard, and his grandiloquent flow of talk; at Sue's side sat Jack Prince, pausing in his open admiration of Sue to cast an eye on the handsome New York girl at Sam's end of the table or to puncture, with a flash of his terse common sense, some balloon of theory launched by Williams of the University, who sat on the other side of Sue; the artist, who hoped for a commission to paint Colonel Tom, sat opposite him bewailing the dying out of fine old American families; and a serious-faced little German scientist sat beside Colonel Tom smiling as the artist talked. The man, Sam fancied, was laughing at them both, perhaps at all of them. He did not mind. He looked at the scientist and at the other faces up and down the table and then at Sue. He saw her directing and leading the talk; he saw the play of muscles about her strong neck and the fine firmness of her straight little body, and his eyes grew moist and a lump came into his throat at the thought of the secret that lay between them.
And then his mind ran back to another night in Caxton when first he sat eating among strange people at Freedom Smith's table. He saw again the tomboy girl and the sturdy boy and the lantern swinging in Freedom's hand in the close little stable; he saw the absurd housepainter trying to blow the bugle in the street; and the mother talking to her boy of death through the summer evening; the fat foreman making the record of his loves on the walls of his room, the narrow-faced commission man rubbing his hands before a group of Greek hucksters, and then this—this home with its safety and its secret high aim and him sitting there at the head of it all. Like the novelist, it seemed to him that he should admire and bow his head before the romance of destiny. He thought his station, his wife, his country, his end in life, when rightly seen, the very apex of life on the earth, and to him in his pride it seemed that he was in some way the master and maker of it all.
Late one evening, some weeks after the McPhersons had given the dinner party in secret celebration of the future arrival of what was to be the first of the great family, they came together down the steps of a north side house to their waiting carriage. They had spent, Sam thought, a delightful evening. The Grovers were people of whose friendship he was particularly proud and since his marriage with Sue he had taken her often for an evening to the house of the venerable surgeon. Doctor Grover was a scholar, a man of note in the medical world, and a rapid and absorbing talker and thinker on any subject that aroused his interest. A certain youthful enthusiasm in his outlook on life had attracted to him the devotion of Sue, who, since meeting him through Sam, had counted him a marked addition to their little group of friends. His wife, a white- haired, plump little woman, was, though apparently somewhat diffident, in reality his intellectual equal and companion, and Sue in a quiet way had taken her as a model in her own effort toward complete wifehood.
During the evening, spent in a rapid exchange of opinions and ideas between the two men, Sue had sat in silence. Once when he looked at her Sam thought that he had surprised an annoyed look in her eyes and was puzzled by it. During the remainder of the evening her eyes refused to meet his and she looked instead at the floor, a flush mounting her cheeks.
At the door of the carriage Frank, Sue's coachman, stepped on the hem of her gown and tore it. The tear was slight, the incident Sam thought entirely unavoidable, and as much due to a momentary clumsiness on the part of Sue as to the awkwardness of Frank. The man had for years been a loyal servant and a devoted admirer of Sue's.
Sam laughed and taking Sue by the arm started to help her in at the carriage door.
"Too much gown for an athlete," he said, pointlessly.
In a flash Sue turned and faced the coachman.
"Awkward brute," she said, through her teeth.
Sam stood on the sidewalk dumb with astonishment as Frank turned and climbed to his seat without waiting to close the carriage door. He felt as he might have felt had he, as a boy, heard profanity from the lips of his mother. The look in Sue's eyes as she turned them on Frank struck him like a blow and in a moment his whole carefully built-up conception of her and of her character had been shaken. He had an impulse to slam the carriage door after her and walk home.
They drove home in silence, Sam feeling as though he rode beside a new and strange being. In the light of passing street lamps he could see her face held straight ahead and her eyes staring stonily at the curtain in front. He didn't want to reproach her; he wanted to take hold of her arm and shake her. "I should like to take the whip from in front of Frank's seat and give her a sound beating," he told himself.
At the house Sue jumped out of the carriage and, running past him in at the door, closed it after her. Frank drove off toward the stables and when Sam went into the house he found Sue standing half way up the stairs leading to her room and waiting for him.
"I presume you do not know that you have been openly insulting me all evening," she cried. "Your beastly talk there at the Grovers—it was unbearable—who are these women? Why parade your past life before me?"
Sam said nothing. He stood at the foot of the stairs and looked up at her and then, turning, just as she, running up the stairs, slammed the door of her own room, he went into the library. A wood fire burned in the grate and he sat down and lighted his pipe. He did not try to think the thing out. He felt that he was in the presence of a lie and that the Sue who had lived in his mind and in his affections no longer existed, that in her place there was this other woman, this woman who had insulted her own servant and had perverted and distorted the meaning of his talk during the evening.
Sitting by the fire filling and refilling his pipe, Sam went carefully over every word, gesture, and incident of the evening at the Grovers and could get hold of no part of it that he thought might in fairness serve as an excuse for the outburst. In the upper part of the house he could hear Sue moving restlessly about and he had satisfaction in the thought that her mind was punishing her for so strange a seizure. He and Grover had perhaps been somewhat carried away, he told himself; they had talked of marriage and its meaning and had both declared somewhat hotly against the idea that the loss of virginity in women was in any sense a bar to honourable marriage, but he had said nothing that he thought could have been twisted into an insult to Sue or to Mrs. Grover. He had thought the talk rather good and clearly thought out and had come out of the house exhilarated and secretly preening himself with the thought that he had talked unusually forcefully and well. In any event what had been said had been said before in Sue's presence and he thought that he could remember her having, in the past, expressed similar ideas with enthusiasm.
Hour after hour he sat in the chair before the dying fire. He dozed and his pipe dropped from his hand and fell upon the stone hearth. A kind of dumb misery and anger was in him as over and over endlessly his mind kept reviewing the events of the evening.
"What has made her think she can do that to me?" he kept asking himself.
He remembered certain strange silences and hard looks from her eyes during the past weeks, silences and looks that in the light of the events of the evening became pregnant with meaning.
"She has a temper, a beast of a temper. Why shouldn't she have been square and told me?" he asked himself.
The clock had struck three when the library door opened quietly and Sue, clad in a dressing gown through which the new roundness of her lithe little figure was plainly apparent, came into the room. She ran across to him and putting her head down on his knee wept bitterly.
"Oh, Sam!" she said, "I think I am going insane. I have been hating you as I have not hated since I was an evil-tempered child. A thing I worked years to suppress in me has come back. I have been hating myself and the baby. For days I have been fighting the feeling in me, and now it has come out and perhaps you have begun hating me. Can you love me again? Will you ever forget the meanness and the cheapness of it? You and poor innocent Frank—Oh, Sam, the devil was in me!"
Reaching down, Sam took her into his arms and cuddled her like a child. A story he had heard of the vagaries of women at such times came back to him and was as a light illuminating the darkness of his mind.
"I understand now," he said. "It is a part of the burden you carry for us both."
For some weeks after the outbreak at the carriage door events ran smoothly in the McPherson house. One day as he stood in the stable door Frank came round the corner of the house and, looking up sheepishly from under his cap, said to Sam: "I understand about the missus. It is the baby coming. We have had four of them at our house," and Sam, nodding his head, turned and began talking rapidly of his plans to replace the carriages with automobiles.
But in the house, in spite of the clearing up of the matter of Sue's ugliness at the Grovers, a subtle change had taken place in the relationship of the two. Although they were together facing the first of the events that were to be like ports-of-call in the great voyage of their lives, they were not facing it with the same mutual understanding and kindly tolerance with which they had faced smaller things in the past—a disagreement over the method of shooting a rapid in a river or the entertainment of an undesirable guest. The inclination to fits of temper loosens and disarranges all the little wires of life. The tune will not get itself played. One stands waiting for the discord, strained, missing the harmony. It was so with Sam. He began feeling that he must keep a check upon his tongue and that things of which they had talked with great freedom six months earlier now annoyed and irritated his wife when brought into an after-dinner discussion. To Sam, who, during his life with Sue, had learned the joy of free, open talk upon any subject that came into his mind and whose native interest in life and in the motives of men and women had blossomed in the large leisure and independence of the last year, this was trying. It was, he thought, like trying to hold free and open communion with the people of an orthodox family, and he fell into a habit of prolonged silences, a habit that later, he found, once formed, unbelievably hard to break.
One day in the office a situation arose that seemed to demand Sam's presence in Boston on a certain date. For months he had been carrying on a trade war with some of the eastern manufacturers in his line and an opportunity for the settlement of the trouble in a way advantageous to himself had, he thought, arisen. He wanted to handle the matter himself and went home to explain to Sue. It was at the end of a day when nothing had occurred to irritate her and she agreed with him that he should not be compelled to trust so important a matter to another.
"I am no child, Sam. I will take care of myself," she said, laughing.
Sam wired his New York man asking him to make the arrangements for the meeting in Boston and picked up a book to spend the evening reading aloud to her.
And then, coming home the next evening he found her in tears and when he tried to laugh away her fears she flew into a black fit of anger and ran out of the room.
Sam went to the 'phone and called his New York man, thinking to instruct him in regard to the conference in Boston and to give up his own plans for the trip. When he had got his man on the wire, Sue, who had been standing outside the door, rushed in and put her hand over the mouthpiece of the 'phone.
"Sam! Sam!" she cried. "Do not give up the trip! Scold me! Beat me! Do anything, but do not let me go on making a fool of myself and destroying your peace of mind! I shall be miserable if you stay at home because of what I have said!"
Over the 'phone came the insistent voice of Central and putting her hand aside Sam talked to his man, letting the engagement stand and making some detail of the conference answer as his need of calling.
Again Sue was repentant and again after her tears they sat before the fire until his train time, talking like lovers.
To Buffalo in the morning came a wire from her.
"Come back. Let business go. Cannot stand it," she had wired.
While he sat reading the wire the porter brought another.
"Please, Sam, pay no attention to any wire from me. I am all right and only half a fool."
Sam was irritated. "It is deliberate pettiness and weakness," he thought, when an hour later the porter brought another wire demanding his immediate return. "The situation calls for drastic action and perhaps one good stinging reproof will stop it for all time."
Going into the buffet car he wrote a long letter calling her attention to the fact that a certain amount of freedom of action was due him, and saying that he intended to act upon his own judgment in the future and not upon her impulses.
Having begun to write Sam went on and on. He was not interrupted, no shadow crossed the face of his beloved to tell him he was hurting and he said all that was in his mind to say. Little sharp reproofs that had come into his mind but that had been left unsaid now got themselves said and when he had dumped his overloaded mind into the letter he sealed and mailed it at a passing station.
Within an hour after the letter had left his hands Sam regretted it. He thought of the little woman bearing the burden for them both, and things Grover had told him of the unhappiness of women in her condition came back to haunt his mind so that he wrote and sent off to her a wire asking her not to read the letter he had mailed and assuring her that he would hurry through the Boston conference and get back to her at once.
When Sam returned he knew that in an evil moment Sue had opened and read the letter sent from the train and was surprised and hurt by the knowledge. The act seemed like a betrayal. He said nothing, going about his work with a troubled mind and watching with growing anxiety her alternate fits of white anger and fearful remorse. He thought her growing worse daily and became alarmed for her health.
And, then, after a talk with Grover he began to spend more and more time with her, forcing her to take with him daily, long walks in the open air. He tried valiantly to keep her mind fixed on cheerful things and went to bed happy and relieved when a day ended that did not bring a stormy passage between them.
There were days during that period when Sam thought himself near insanity. With a light in her grey eyes that was maddening Sue would take up some minor thing, a remark he had made or a passage he had quoted from some book, and in a dead, level, complaining tone would talk of it until his head reeled and his fingers ached from the gripping of his hands to keep control of himself. After such a day he would steal off by himself and, walking rapidly, would try through pure physical fatigue to force his mind to give up the remembrance of the persistent, complaining voice. At times he would give way to fits of anger and strew impotent oaths along the silent street, or, in another mood, would mumble and talk to himself, praying for strength and courage to keep his own head during the ordeal through which he thought they were passing together. And when he returned from such a walk and from such a struggle with himself it often occurred that he would find her waiting in the arm chair before the fire in her room, her mind clear and her little face wet with the tears of her repentance.
And then the struggle ended. With Doctor Grover it had been arranged that Sue should be taken to the hospital for the great event, and they drove there hurriedly one night through the quiet streets, the recurring pains gripping Sue and her hands clutching his. An exalted cheerfulness had hold of them. Face to face with the actual struggle for the new life Sue was transfigured. Her voice rang with triumph and her eyes glistened.
"I am going to do it," she cried; "my black fear is gone. I shall give you a child—a man child. I shall succeed, my man Sam. You shall see. It will be beautiful."
When the pain gripped she gripped at his hand, and a spasm of physical sympathy ran through him. He felt helpless and ashamed of his helplessness.
At the entrance to the hospital grounds she put her face down upon his knees so that the hot tears ran through his hands.
"Poor, poor old Sam, it has been horrible for you."
At the hospital Sam walked up and down in the corridor through the swinging doors at the end of which she had been taken. Every vestige of regret for the trying months now lying behind had passed, and he paced up and down the corridor feeling that he had come to one of those huge moments when a man's brain, his grasp of affairs, his hopes and plans for the future, all of the little details and trivialities of his life, halt, and he waits anxious, breathless, expectant. He looked at a little clock on a table at the end of the corridor, half expecting it to stop also and wait with him. His marriage hour that had seemed so big and vital seemed now, in the quiet corridor, with the stone floor and the silent white- clad, rubber-shod nurses passing up and down and in the presence of this greater event, to have shrunk enormously. He walked up and down peering at the clock, looking at the swinging door and biting at the stem of his empty pipe.
And then through the swinging door came Grover.
"We can get the child, Sam, but to get it we shall have to take a chance with her. Do you want to do that? Do not wait. Decide."
Sam sprang past him toward the door.
"You bungler," he cried, and his voice rang through the long quiet corridor. "You do not know what this means. Let me go."
Doctor Grover, catching him by the arm, swung him about. The two men stood facing each other.
"You stay here," said the doctor, his voice remaining quiet and firm; "I will attend to things. Your going in there would be pure folly now. Now answer me—do you want to take the chance?"
"No! No!" Sam shouted. "No! I want her—Sue—alive and well, back through that door."
A cold gleam came into his eyes and he shook his fist before the doctor's face.
"Do not try deceiving me about this. By God, I will——"
Turning, Doctor Grover ran back through the swinging door leaving Sam staring blankly at his back. A nurse, one whom he had seen in Doctor Grover's office, came out of the door and taking his arm, walked beside him up and down the corridor. Sam put his arm around her shoulder and talked. An illusion that it was necessary to comfort her came to him.
"Do not worry," he said. "She will be all right. Grover will take care of her. Nothing can happen to little Sue."
The nurse, a small, sweet-faced, Scotch woman, who knew and admired Sue, wept. Some quality in his voice had touched the woman in her and the tears ran in a little stream down her cheeks. Sam continued talking, the woman's tears helping him to regain his grip upon himself.
"My mother is dead," he said, an old sorrow revisiting him. "I wish that you, like Mary Underwood, would be a new mother to me."
When the time came that he could be taken to the room where Sue lay, his self-possession had returned to him and his mind had begun blaming the little dead stranger for the unhappiness of the past months and for the long separation from what he thought was the real Sue. Outside the door of the room into which she had been taken he stopped, hearing her voice, thin and weak, talking to Grover.
"Unfit—Sue McPherson unfit," said the voice, and Sam thought it was filled with an infinite weariness.
He ran through the door and dropped on his knees by her bed. She turned her eyes to him smiling bravely.
"The next time we'll make it," she said.
The second child born to the young McPhersons arrived out of time. Again Sam walked, this time through the corridor of his own house and without the consoling presence of the sweet-faced Scotch woman, and again he shook his head at Doctor Grover who came to him consoling and reassuring.
After the death of the second child Sue lay for months in bed. In his arms, in her own room, she wept openly in the presence of Grover and the nurses, crying out against her unfitness. For several days she refused to see Colonel Tom, harbouring in her mind the notion that he was in some way responsible for her physical inability to bear living children, and when she got up from her bed, she remained for months white and listless but grimly determined upon another attempt for the little life she so wanted to feel in her arms.
During the days of her carrying the second baby she had again the fierce ugly attacks of temper that had shattered Sam's nerves, but having learned to understand, he went quietly about his work, trying as far as in him lay to close his ears to the stinging, hurtful things she sometimes said; and the third time, it was agreed between them that if they were again unsuccessful they would turn their minds to other things.
"If we do not succeed this time we might as well count ourselves through with each other for good," she said one day in one of the fits of cold anger that were a part of child bearing with her.
That second night when Sam walked in the hospital corridor he was beside himself. He felt like a young recruit called to face an unseen enemy and to stand motionless and inactive in the presence of the singing death that ran through the air. He remembered a story, told when he was a child by a fellow soldier who had come to visit his father, of the prisoners at Andersonville creeping in the darkness past armed sentries to a little pool of stagnant water beyond the dead line, and felt that he too was creeping unarmed and helpless in the neighbourhood of death. In a conference at his house between the three some weeks before, it had been decided, after tearful insistence on the part of Sue and a stand on the part of Grover, who declared that he would not remain on the case unless permitted to use his own judgment, that an operation should be performed.
"Take the chances that need be taken," Sam had said to Grover after the conference; "she will never stand another defeat. Give her the child."
In the corridor it seemed to Sam that hours had passed and still he stood motionless waiting. His feet felt cold and he had the impression that they were wet although the night was dry and a moon shone outside. When, from a distant part of the hospital, a groan reached his ears he shook with fright and had an inclination to cry out. Two young interns clad in white passed.
"Old Grover is doing a Caesarian section," said one of them; "he is getting out of date. Hope he doesn't bungle it."
In Sam's ears rang the remembrance of Sue's voice, the Sue who that first time had gone into the room behind the swinging doors with the determined smile on her face. He thought he could see again the white face looking up from the wheeled cot on which they had taken her through the door.
"I am afraid, Dr. Grover—I am afraid I am unfit," he had heard her say as the door closed.
And then Sam did a thing for which he cursed himself the rest of his life. On an impulse, and maddened by the intolerable waiting, he walked to the swinging doors and, pushing them open, stepped into the operating room where Grover was at work upon Sue.
The room was long and narrow, with floors, walls and ceiling of white cement. A great glaring light, suspended from the ceiling, threw its rays directly down on a white-clad figure lying on a white metal operating table. On the walls of the room were other glaring lights set in shining glass reflectors. And, here and there through an intense, expectant atmosphere, moved and stood silently a group of men and women, faceless, hairless, with only their strangely vivid eyes showing through the white masks that covered their faces.
Sam, standing motionless by the door, looked about with wild, half-seeing eyes. Grover worked rapidly and silently, taking from time to time little shining instruments from a swinging table close at his hand. The nurse standing beside him looked up toward the light and began calmly threading a needle. And in a white basin on a little stand at the side of the room lay the last of Sue's tremendous efforts toward new life, the last of their dreams of the great family.
Sam closed his eyes and fell. His head, striking against the wall, aroused him and he struggled to his feet.
Without stopping his work, Grover began swearing.
"Damn it, man, get out of here."
Sam groped with his hand for the door. One of the white-clad, ghoulish figures started toward him. And then with his head reeling and his eyes closed he backed through the door and, running along the corridor and down a flight of broad stairs, reached the open air and darkness. He had no doubt of Sue's death.
"She is gone," he muttered, hurrying bareheaded along the deserted streets.
Through street after street he ran. Twice he came out upon the shores of the lake, and, then turning, went back into the heart of the city through streets bathed in the warm moonlight. Once he turned quickly at a corner and stepping into a vacant lot stood behind a high board fence as a policeman strolled along the street. Into his head came the idea that he had killed Sue and that the blue-clad figure walking with heavy tread on the stone pavement was seeking him to take him back to where she lay white and lifeless. Again he stopped, before a little frame drugstore on a corner, and sitting down on the steps before it cursed God openly and defiantly like an angry boy defying his father. Some instinct led him to look at the sky through the tangle of telegraph wires overhead.
"Go on and do what you dare!" he cried. "I will not follow you now. I shall never try to find you after this."
Presently he began laughing at himself for the instinct that had led him to look at the sky and to shout out his defiance and, getting up, wandered on. In his wanderings he came to a railroad track where a freight train groaned and rattled over a crossing. When he came up to it he jumped upon an empty coal car, falling as he climbed, and cutting his face upon the sharp pieces of coal that lay scattered about the bottom of the car.
The train ground along slowly, stopping occasionally, the engine shrieking hysterically.
After a time he got out of the car and dropped to the ground. On all sides of him were marshes, the long rank marsh grasses rolling and tossing in the moonlight. When the train had passed he followed it, walking stumblingly along. As he walked, following the blinking lights at the end of the train, he thought of the scene in the hospital and of Sue lying dead for that—that ping livid and shapeless on the table under the lights.
Where the solid ground ran up to the tracks Sam sat down under a tree. Peace came over him. "This is the end of things," he thought, and was like a tired child comforted by its mother. He thought of the sweet-faced nurse who had walked with him that other time in the corridor of the hospital and who had wept because of his fears, and then of the night when he had felt the throat of his father between his fingers in the squalid little kitchen. He ran his hands along the ground. "Good old ground," he said. A sentence came into his mind followed by the figure of John Telfer striding, stick in hand, along a dusty road. "Here is spring come and time to plant out flowers in the grass," he said aloud. His face felt swollen and sore from the fall in the freight car and he lay down on the ground under a tree and slept.
When he woke it was morning and grey clouds were drifting across the sky. Within sight, down a road, a trolley car went past into the city. Before him, in the midst of the marsh, lay a low lake, and a raised walk, with boats tied to the posts on which it stood, ran down to the water. He went down the walk, bathed his bruised face in the water, and boarding a car went back into the city.
In the morning air a new thought took possession of him. The wind ran along a dusty road beside the car track, picking up little handfuls of dust and playfully throwing them about. He had a strained, eager feeling like some one listening for a faint call out of the distance.
"To be sure," he thought, "I know what it is, it is my wedding day. I am to marry Sue Rainey to-day."
At the house he found Grover and Colonel Tom standing in the breakfast room. Grover looked at his swollen, distorted face. His voice trembled.
"Poor devil!" he said. "You have had a night!"
Sam laughed and slapped Colonel Tom on the shoulder.
"We will have to begin getting ready," he said. "The wedding is at ten. Sue will be getting anxious."
Grover and Colonel Tom took him by the arm and began leading him up the stairs, Colonel Tom weeping like a woman.
"Silly old fool," thought Sam.
When, two weeks later, he again opened his eyes to consciousness Sue sat beside his bed in a reclining chair, her little thin white hand in his.
"Get the baby!" he cried, believing anything possible. "I want to see the baby!"
She laid her head down on the pillow.
"It was gone when you saw it," she said, and put an arm about his neck.
When the nurse came back she found them, their heads together upon the pillow, crying weakly like two tired children.
The blow given the plan of life so carefully thought out and so eagerly accepted by the young McPhersons threw them back upon themselves. For several years they had been living upon a hill top, taking themselves very seriously and more than a little preening themselves with the thought that they were two very unusual and thoughtful people engaged upon a worthy and ennobling enterprise. Sitting in their corner immersed in admiration of their own purposes and in the thoughts of the vigorous, disciplined, new life they were to give the world by the combined efficiency of their two bodies and minds they were, at a word and a shake of the head from Doctor Grover, compelled to remake the outline of their future together.
All about them the rush of life went on, vast changes were impending in the industrial life of the people, cities were doubling and tripling their population, a war was being fought, and the flag of their country flew in the ports of strange seas, while American boys pushed their way through the tangled jungles of strange lands carrying in their hands Rainey- Whittaker rifles. And in a huge stone house, set in a broad expanse of green lawns near the shores of Lake Michigan, Sam McPherson sat looking at his wife, who in turn looked at him. He was trying, as she also was trying, to adjust himself to the cheerful acceptance of their new prospect of a childless life.
Looking at Sue across the dinner table or seeing her straight, wiry body astride a horse riding beside him through the parks, it seemed to Sam unbelievable that a childless womanhood was ever to be her portion, and more than once he had an inclination to venture again upon an effort for the success of their hopes. But when he remembered her still white face that night in the hospital, her bitter, haunting cry of defeat, he turned with a shudder from the thought, feeling that he could not go with her again through that ordeal; that he could not again allow her to look forward through weeks and months toward the little life that never came to lie upon her breast or to laugh up into her face.
And yet Sam, son of that Jane McPherson who had won the admiration of the men of Caxton by her ceaseless efforts to keep her family afloat and clean handed, could not sit idly by, living upon the income of his own and Sue's money. The stirring, forward-moving world called to him; he looked about him at the broad, significant movements in business and finance, at the new men coming into prominence and apparently finding a way for the expression of new big ideas, and felt his youth stirring in him and his mind reaching out to new projects and new ambitions.
Given the necessity for economy and a hard long-drawn-out struggle for a livelihood and competence, Sam could conceive of living his life with Sue and deriving something like gratification from just her companionship, and her partnership in his efforts—here and there during the waiting years he had met men who had found such gratification—a foreman in the shops or a tobacconist from whom he bought his cigars—but for himself he felt that he had gone with Sue too far upon another road to turn that way now with anything like mutual zeal or interest. At bottom, his mind did not run strongly toward the idea of the love of women as an end in life; he had loved, and did love, Sue with something approaching religious fervour, but the fervour was more than half due to the ideas she had given him and to the fact that with him she was to have been the instrument for the realisation of those ideas. He was a man with children in his loins and he had given up his struggles for business eminence for the sake of preparing himself for a kind of noble fatherhood of children, many children, strong children, fit gifts to the world for two exceptionally favoured lives. In all of his talks with Sue this idea had been present and dominant. He had looked about him and in the arrogance of his youth and in the pride of his good body and mind had condemned all childless marriages as a selfish waste of good lives. With her he had agreed that such lives were without point and purpose. Now he remembered that in the days of her audacity and daring she had more than once expressed the hope that in case of a childless issue to their marriage one or the other of them would have the courage to cut the knot that tied them and venture into another effort at right living at any cost.
In the months after Sue's last recovery, and during the long evenings, as they sat together or walked under the stars in the park, the thought of these talks was often in Sam's mind and he found himself beginning to speculate on her present attitude and to wonder how bravely she would meet the idea of a separation. In the end he decided that no such thought was in her mind, that face to face with the tremendous actuality she clung to him with a new dependence, and a new need of his companionship. The conviction of the absolute necessity of children as a justification for a man and woman living together had, he thought, burned itself more deeply into his brain than into hers; to him it clung, coming back again and again to his mind, causing him to turn here and there restlessly, making readjustments, seeking new light. The old gods being dead he sought new gods.
In the meantime he sat in his house facing his wife, losing himself in the books recommended to him years before by Janet, thinking his own thoughts. Often in the evening he would look up from his book or from his preoccupied staring at the fire to find her eyes looking at him.
"Talk, Sam; talk," she would say; "do not sit there thinking."
Or at another time she would come to his room at night and putting her head down on the pillow beside his would spend hours planning, weeping, begging him to give her again his love, his old fervent, devoted love.
This Sam tried earnestly and honestly to do, going with her for long walks when the new call, the business had begun to make to him, would have kept him at his desk, reading aloud to her in the evening, urging her to shake off her old dreams and to busy herself with new work and new interests.
Through the days in the office he went in a kind of half stupor. An old feeling of his boyhood coming back to him, it seemed to him, as it had seemed when he walked aimlessly through the streets of Caxton after the death of his mother, that there remained something to be done, an accounting to be made. Even at his desk with the clatter of typewriters in his ears and the piles of letters demanding his attention, his mind slipped back to the days of his courtship with Sue and to those days in the north woods when life had beat strong within him, and every young, wild thing, every new growth renewed the dream that filled his being. Sometimes on the street, or walking in the park with Sue, the cries of children at play cut across the sombre dulness of his mind and he shrank from the sound and a kind of bitter resentment took possession of him. When he looked covertly at Sue she talked of other things, apparently unconscious of his thoughts.