The patient, an old-fashioned man, thought the nurse made a mistake in keeping both of the windows open, and her sprightly disregard of his protests added something to his hatred of her. Every evening he told her that anybody with ordinary gumption ought to realize that night air was bad for the human frame. The human frame wont stand everything, Miss Perry, he warned her, resentfully. Even a child, if it had just ordinary gumption, ought to know enough not to let the night air blow on sick people yes, nor well people, either! Keep out of the night air, no matter how well you feel. Thats what my mother used to tell me when I was a boy. Keep out of the night air, Virgil, shed say. Keep out of the night air.
I expect probably her mother told her the same thing, the nurse suggested.
Of course she did. My grandmother
Oh, I guess your GRANDmother thought so, Mr. Adams! That was when all this flat central country was swampish and hadnt been drained off yet. I guess the truth must been the swamp mosquitoes bit people and gave em malaria, especially before they began to put screens in their windows. Well, we got screens in these windows, and no mosquitoes are goin to bite us; so just you be a good boy and rest your mind and go to sleep like you need to.
Sleep? he said. Likely!
He thought the night air worst of all in April; he hadnt a doubt it would kill him, he declared. Its miraculous what the human frame WILL survive, he admitted on the last evening of that month. But you and the doctor ought to both be taught it wont stand too dang much! You poison a man and poison and poison him with this April night air
Cant poison you with much more of it, Miss Perry interrupted him, indulgently. To-morrow itll be May night air, and I expect thatll be a lot better for you, dont you? Now lets just sober down and be a good boy and get some nice sound sleep.
She gave him his medicine, and, having set the glass upon the center table, returned to her cot, where, after a still interval, she snored faintly. Upon this, his expression became that of a man goaded out of overpowering weariness into irony.
Sleep? Oh, CERTAINLY, thank you!
However, he did sleep intermittently, drowsed between times, and even dreamed; but, forgetting his dreams before he opened his eyes, and having some part of him all the while aware of his discomfort, he believed, as usual, that he lay awake the whole night long. He was conscious of the city as of some single great creature resting fitfully in the dark outside his windows. It lay all round about, in the damp cover of its night cloud of smoke, and tried to keep quiet for a few hours after midnight, but was too powerful a growing thing ever to lie altogether still. Even while it strove to sleep it muttered with digestions of the day before, and these already merged with rumblings of the morrow. Owl cars, bringing in last passengers over distant trolley-lines, now and then howled on a curve; faraway metallic stirrings could be heard from factories in the sooty suburbs on the plain outside the city; east, west, and south, switch-engines chugged and snorted on sidings; and everywhere in the air there seemed to be a faint, voluminous hum as of innumerable wires trembling overhead to vibration of machinery underground.
In his youth Adams might have been less resentful of sounds such as these when they interfered with his nights sleep: even during an illness he might have taken some pride in them as proof of his citizenship in a live town; but at fifty-five he merely hated them because they kept him awake. They pressed on his nerves, as he put it; and so did almost everything else, for that matter.
He heard the milk-wagon drive into the cross-street beneath his windows and stop at each house. The milkman carried his jars round to the back porch, while the horse moved slowly ahead to the gate of the next customer and waited there. Hes gone into Pollocks, Adams thought, following this progress. I hope itll sour on em before breakfast. Delivered the Andersons. Now hes getting out ours. Listen to the darn brute! Whats HE care who wants to sleep! His complaint was of the horse, who casually shifted weight with a clink of steel shoes on the worn brick pavement of the street, and then heartily shook himself in his harness, perhaps to dislodge a fly far ahead of its season. Light had just filmed the windows; and with that the first sparrow woke, chirped instantly, and roused neighbours in the trees of the small yard, including a loud-voiced robin. Vociferations began irregularly, but were soon unanimous.
Sleep? Dang likely now, aint it!
Night sounds were becoming day sounds; the far-away hooting of freight-engines seemed brisker than an hour ago in the dark. A cheerful whistler passed the house, even more careless of sleepers than the milkmans horse had been; then a group of coloured workmen came by, and although it was impossible to be sure whether they were homeward bound from night-work or on their way to day-work, at least it was certain that they were jocose. Loose, aboriginal laughter preceded them afar, and beat on the air long after they had gone by.
The sick-room night-light, shielded from his eyes by a newspaper propped against a water-pitcher, still showed a thin glimmering that had grown offensive to Adams. In his wandering and enfeebled thoughts, which were much more often imaginings than reasonings, the attempt of the night-light to resist the dawn reminded him of something unpleasant, though he could not discover just what the unpleasant thing was. Here was a puzzle that irritated him the more because he could not solve it, yet always seemed just on the point of a solution. However, he may have lost nothing cheerful by remaining in the dark upon the matter; for if he had been a little sharper in this introspection he might have concluded that the squalor of the night-light, in its seeming effort to show against the forerunning of the sun itself, had stimulated some half-buried perception within him to sketch the painful little synopsis of an autobiography.
In spite of noises without, he drowsed again, not knowing that he did; and when he opened his eyes the nurse was just rising from her cot. He took no pleasure in the sight, it may be said. She exhibited to him a face mismodelled by sleep, and set like a clay face left on its cheek in a hot and dry studio. She was still only in part awake, however, and by the time she had extinguished the night-light and given her patient his tonic, she had recovered enough plasticity. Well, isnt that grand! Weve had another good night, she said as she departed to dress in the bathroom.
Yes, you had another! he retorted, though not until after she had closed the door.
Presently he heard his daughter moving about in her room across the narrow hall, and so knew that she had risen. He hoped she would come in to see him soon, for she was the one thing that didnt press on his nerves, he felt; though the thought of her hurt him, as, indeed, every thought hurt him. But it was his wife who came first.
She wore a lank cotton wrapper, and a crescent of gray hair escaped to one temple from beneath the handkerchief she had worn upon her head for the night and still retained; but she did everything possible to make her expression cheering.
Oh, youre better again! I can see that, as soon as I look at you, she said. Miss Perry tells me youve had another splendid night.
He made a sound of irony, which seemed to dispose unfavourably of Miss Perry, and then, in order to be more certainly intelligible, he added, She slept well, as usual!
But his wifes smile persisted. Its a good sign to be cross; it means youre practically convalescent right now.
Oh, I am, am I?
No doubt in the world! she exclaimed. Why, youre practically a well man, Virgilall except getting your strength back, of course, and that isnt going to take long. Youll be right on your feet in a couple of weeks from now.
Oh, I will?
Of course you will! She laughed briskly, and, going to the table in the center of the room, moved his glass of medicine an inch or two, turned a book over so that it lay upon its other side, and for a few moments occupied herself with similar futilities, having taken on the air of a person who makes things neat, though she produced no such actual effect upon them. Of course you will, she repeated, absently. Youll be as strong as you ever were; maybe stronger. She paused for a moment, not looking at him, then added, cheerfully, So that you can fly around and find something really good to get into.
Something important between them came near the surface here, for though she spoke with what seemed but a casual cheerfulness, there was a little betraying break in her voice, a trembling just perceptible in the utterance of the final word. And she still kept up the affectation of being helpfully preoccupied with the table, and did not look at her husbandperhaps because they had been married so many years that without looking she knew just what his expression would be, and preferred to avoid the actual sight of it as long as possible. Meanwhile, he stared hard at her, his lips beginning to move with little distortions not lacking in the pathos of a sick mans agitation.
So thats it, he said. Thats what youre hinting at.
Hinting? Mrs. Adams looked surprised and indulgent. Why, Im not doing any hinting, Virgil.
What did you say about my finding something good to get into? he asked, sharply. Dont you call that hinting?
Mrs. Adams turned toward him now; she came to the bedside and would have taken his hand, but he quickly moved it away from her.
You mustnt let yourself get nervous, she said. But of course when you get well theres only one thing to do. You mustnt go back to that old hole again.
Old hole? Thats what you call it, is it? In spite of his weakness, anger made his voice strident, and upon this stimulation she spoke more urgently.
You just mustnt go back to it, Virgil. Its not fair to any of us, and you know it isnt.
Dont tell me what I know, please!
She clasped her hands, suddenly carrying her urgency to plaintive entreaty. Virgil, you WONT go back to that hole?
Thats a nice word to use to me! he said. Call a mans business a hole!
Virgil, if you dont owe it to me to look for something different, dont you owe it to your children? Dont tell me you wont do what we all want you to, and what you know in your heart you ought to! And if you HAVE got into one of your stubborn fits and are bound to go back there for no other reason except to have your own way, dont tell me so, for I cant bear it!
He looked up at her fiercely. Youve got a fine way to cure a sick man! he said; but she had concluded her appealfor that timeand instead of making any more words in the matter, let him see that there were tears in her eyes, shook her head, and left the room.
Alone, he lay breathing rapidly, his emaciated chest proving itself equal to the demands his emotion put upon it. Fine! he repeated, with husky indignation. Fine way to cure a sick man! Fine! Then, after a silence, he gave forth whispering sounds as of laughter, his expression the while remaining sore and far from humour.
And give us our daily bread! he added, meaning that his wifes little performance was no novelty.
In fact, the agitation of Mrs. Adams was genuine, but so well under her control that its traces vanished during the three short steps she took to cross the narrow hall between her husbands door and the one opposite. Her expression was matter-of-course, rather than pathetic, as she entered the pretty room where her daughter, half dressed, sat before a dressing-table and played with the reflections of a three-leafed mirror framed in blue enamel. That is, just before the moment of her mothers entrance, Alice had been playing with the mirrors reflectionsposturing her arms and her expressions, clasping her hands behind her neck, and tilting back her head to foreshorten the face in a tableau conceived to represent sauciness, then one of smiling weariness, then one of scornful toleration, and all very piquant; but as the door opened she hurriedly resumed the practical, and occupied her hands in the arrangement of her plentiful brownish hair.
They were pretty hands, of a shapeliness delicate and fine. The best things shes got! a cold-blooded girl friend said of them, and meant to include Alices mind and character in the implied list of possessions surpassed by the notable hands. However that may have been, the rest of her was well enough. She was often called a right pretty girltemperate praise meaning a girl rather pretty than otherwise, and this she deserved, to say the least. Even in repose she deserved it, though repose was anything but her habit, being seldom seen upon her except at home. On exhibition she led a life of gestures, the unkind said to make her lovely hands more memorable; but all of her usually accompanied the gestures of the hands, the shoulders ever giving them their impulses first, and even her feet being called upon, at the same time, for eloquence.
So much liveliness took proper place as only accessory to that of the face, where her vivacity reached its climax; and it was unfortunate that an ungifted young man, new in the town, should have attempted to define the effect upon him of all this generosity of emphasis. He said that the way she used her cute hazel eyes and the wonderful glow of her facial expression gave her a mighty spiritual quality. His actual rendition of the word was spirichul; but it was not his pronunciation that embalmed this outburst in the perennial laughter of Alices girl friends; they made the misfortune far less his than hers.
Her mother comforted her too heartily, insisting that Alice had plenty enough spiritual qualities, certainly more than possessed by the other girls who flung the phrase at her, wooden things, jealous of everything they were incapable of themselves; and then Alice, getting more championship than she sought, grew uneasy lest Mrs. Adams should repeat such defenses outside the family; and Mrs. Adams ended by weeping because the daughter so distrusted her intelligence. Alice frequently thought it necessary to instruct her mother.
Her morning greeting was an instruction to-day; or, rather, it was an admonition in the style of an entreaty, the more petulant as Alice thought that Mrs. Adams might have had a glimpse of the posturings to the mirror. This was a needless worry; the mother had caught a thousand such glimpses, with Alice unaware, and she thought nothing of the one just flitted.
For heavens sake, mama, come clear inside the room and shut the door! PLEASE dont leave it open for everybody to look at me!
There isnt anybody to see you, Mrs. Adams explained, obeying. Miss Perrys gone downstairs, and
Mama, I heard you in papas room, Alice said, not dropping the note of complaint. I could hear both of you, and I dont think you ought to get poor old papa so upsetnot in his present condition, anyhow.
Mrs. Adams seated herself on the edge of the bed. Hes better all the time, she said, not disturbed. Hes almost well. The doctor says so and Miss Perry says so; and if we dont get him into the right frame of mind now we never will. The first day hes outdoors hell go back to that old holeyoull see! And if he once does that, hell settle down there and itll be too late and well never get him out.
Well, anyhow, I think you could use a little more tact with him.
I do try to, the mother sighed. It never was much use with him. I dont think you understand him as well as I do, Alice.
Theres one thing I dont understand about either of you, Alice returned, crisply. Before people get married they can do anything they want to with each other. Why cant they do the same thing after theyre married? When you and papa were young people and engaged, hed have done anything you wanted him to. That must have been because you knew how to manage him then. Why cant you go at him the same way now?
Mrs. Adams sighed again, and laughed a little, making no other response; but Alice persisted. Well, WHY cant you? Why cant you ask him to do things the way you used to ask him when you were just in love with each other? Why dont you anyhow try it, mama, instead of ding-donging at him?
Ding-donging at him, Alice? Mrs. Adams said, with a pathos somewhat emphasized. Is that how my trying to do what I can for you strikes you?
Never mind that; its nothing to hurt your feelings. Alice disposed of the pathos briskly. Why dont you answer my question? Whats the matter with using a little more tact on papa? Why cant you treat him the way you probably did when you were young people, before you were married? I never have understood why people cant do that.
Perhaps you WILL understand some day, her mother said, gently. Maybe you will when youve been married twenty-five years.
You keep evading. Why dont you answer my question right straight out?
There are questions you cant answer to young people, Alice.
You mean because were too young to understand the answer? I dont see that at all. At twenty-two a girls supposed to have some intelligence, isnt she? And intelligence is the ability to understand, isnt it? Why do I have to wait till Ive lived with a man twenty-five years to understand why you cant be tactful with papa?
You may understand some things before that, Mrs. Adams said, tremulously. You may understand how you hurt me sometimes. Youth cant know everything by being intelligent, and by the time you could understand the answer youre asking for youd know it, and wouldnt need to ask. You dont understand your father, Alice; you dont know what it takes to change him when hes made up his mind to be stubborn.
Alice rose and began to get herself into a skirt. Well, I dont think making scenes ever changes anybody, she grumbled. I think a little jolly persuasion goes twice as far, myself.
A little jolly persuasion! Her mother turned the echo of this phrase into an ironic lament. Yes, there was a time when I thought that, too! It didnt work; thats all.
Perhaps you left the jolly part of it out, mama.
For the second time that morningit was now a little after seven oclocktears seemed about to offer their solace to Mrs. Adams. I might have expected you to say that, Alice; you never do miss a chance, she said, gently. It seems queer you dont some time miss just ONE chance!
But Alice, progressing with her toilet, appeared to be little concerned. Oh, well, I think there are better ways of managing a man than just hammering at him.
Mrs. Adams uttered a little cry of pain. Hammering, Alice?
If youd left it entirely to me, her daughter went on, briskly, I believe papad already be willing to do anything we want him to.
Thats it; tell me I spoil everything. Well, I wont interfere from now on, you can be sure of it.
Please dont talk like that, Alice said, quickly. Im old enough to realize that papa may need pressure of all sorts; I only think it makes him more obstinate to get him cross. You probably do understand him better, but thats one thing Ive found out and you havent. There! She gave her mother a friendly tap on the shoulder and went to the door. Ill hop in and say hello to him now.
As she went, she continued the fastening of her blouse, and appeared in her fathers room with one hand still thus engaged, but she patted his forehead with the other.
Poor old papa-daddy! she said, gaily. Every time hes better somebody talks him into getting so mad he has a relapse. Its a shame!
Her fathers eyes, beneath their melancholy brows, looked up at her wistfully. I suppose you heard your mother going for me, he said.
I heard you going for her, too! Alice laughed. What was it all about?
Oh, the same danged old story!
You mean she wants you to try something new when you get well? Alice asked, with cheerful innocence. So we could all have a lot more money?
At this his sorrowful forehead was more sorrowful than ever. The deep horizontal lines moved upward to a pattern of suffering so familiar to his daughter that it meant nothing to her; but he spoke quietly. Yes; so we wouldnt have any money at all, most likely.
Oh, no! she laughed, and, finishing with her blouse, patted his cheeks with both hands. Just think how many grand openings there must be for a man that knows as much as you do! I always did believe you could get rich if you only cared to, papa.
But upon his forehead the painful pattern still deepened. Dont you think weve always had enough, the way things are, Alice?
Not the way things ARE! She patted his cheeks again; laughed again. It used to be enough, maybe anyway we did skimp along on itbut the way things are now I expect mamas really pretty practical in her ideas, though, I think its a shame for her to bother you about it while youre so weak. Dont you worry about it, though; just think about other things till you get strong.
You know, he said; you know it isnt exactly the easiest thing in the world for a man of my age to find these grand openings you speak of. And when youve passed half-way from fifty to sixty youre apt to see some risk in giving up what you know how to do and trying something new.
My, what a frown! she cried, blithely. Didnt I tell you to stop thinking about it till you get ALL well? She bent over him, giving him a gay little kiss on the bridge of his nose. There! I must run to breakfast. Cheer up now! Au voir! And with her pretty hand she waved further encouragement from the closing door as she departed.
Lightsomely descending the narrow stairway, she whistled as she went, her fingers drumming time on the rail; and, still whistling, she came into the dining-room, where her mother and her brother were already at the table. The brother, a thin and sallow boy of twenty, greeted her without much approval as she took her place.
Nothing seems to trouble you! he said.
No; nothing much, she made airy response. Whats troubling yourself, Walter?
Dont let that worry you! he returned, seeming to consider this to be repartee of an effective sort; for he furnished a short laugh to go with it, and turned to his coffee with the manner of one who has satisfactorily closed an episode.
Walter always seems to have so many secrets! Alice said, studying him shrewdly, but with a friendly enough amusement in her scrutiny. Everything he does or says seems to be acted for the benefit of some mysterious audience inside himself, and he always gets its applause. Take what he said just now: he seems to think it means something, but if it does, why, thats just another secret between him and the secret audience inside of him! We dont really know anything about Walter at all, do we, mama?
Walter laughed again, in a manner that sustained her theory well enough; then after finishing his coffee, he took from his pocket a flattened packet in glazed blue paper; extracted with stained fingers a bent and wrinkled little cigarette, lighted it, hitched up his belted trousers with the air of a person who turns from trifles to things better worth his attention, and left the room.
Alice laughed as the door closed. Hes ALL secrets, she said. Dont you think you really ought to know more about him, mama?
Im sure hes a good boy, Mrs. Adams returned, thoughtfully. Hes been very brave about not being able to have the advantages that are enjoyed by the boys hes grown up with. Ive never heard a word of complaint from him.
About his not being sent to college? Alice cried. I should think you wouldnt! He didnt even have enough ambition to finish high school!
Mrs. Adams sighed. It seemed to me Walter lost his ambition when nearly all the boys hed grown up with went to Eastern schools to prepare for college, and we couldnt afford to send him. If only your father would have listened
Alice interrupted: What nonsense! Walter hated books and studying, and athletics, too, for that matter. He doesnt care for anything nice that I ever heard of. What do you suppose he does like, mama? He must like something or other somewhere, but what do you suppose it is? What does he do with his time?
Why, the poor boys at Lamb and Companys all day. He doesnt get through until five in the afternoon; he doesnt HAVE much time.
Well, we never have dinner until about seven, and hes always late for dinner, and goes out, heaven knows where, right afterward! Alice shook her head. He used to go with our friends boys, but I dont think he does now.
Why, how could he? Mrs. Adams protested. That isnt his fault, poor child! The boys he knew when he was younger are nearly all away at college.
Yes, but he doesnt see anything of em when theyre here at holiday-time or vacation. None of em come to the house any more.
I suppose hes made other friends. Its natural for him to want companions, at his age.
Yes, Alice said, with disapproving emphasis. But who are they? Ive got an idea he plays pool at some rough place down-town.
Oh, no; Im sure hes a steady boy, Mrs. Adams protested, but her tone was not that of thoroughgoing conviction, and she added, Life might be a very different thing for him if only your father can be brought to see
Never mind, mama! It isnt me that has to be convinced, you know; and we can do a lot more with papa if we just let him alone about it for a day or two. Promise me you wont say any more to him untilwell, until hes able to come downstairs to table. Will you?
Mrs. Adams bit her lip, which had begun to tremble. I think you can trust me to know a FEW things, Alice, she said. Im a little older than you, you know.
Thats a good girl! Alice jumped up, laughing. Dont forget its the same as a promise, and do just cheer him up a little. Ill say good-bye to him before I go out.
Where are you going?
Oh, Ive got lots to do. I thought Id run out to Mildreds to see what shes going to wear to-night, and then I want to go down and buy a yard of chiffon and some narrow ribbon to make new bows for my slippersyoull have to give me some money
If hell give it to me! her mother lamented, as they went toward the front stairs together; but an hour later she came into Alices room with a bill in her hand.
He has some money in his bureau drawer, she said. He finally told me where it was.
There were traces of emotion in her voice, and Alice, looking shrewdly at her, saw moisture in her eyes.
Mama! she cried. You didnt do what you promised me you wouldnt, did youNOT before Miss Perry!
Miss Perrys getting him some broth, Mrs. Adams returned, calmly. Besides, youre mistaken in saying I promised you anything; I said I thought you could trust me to know what is right.
So you did bring it up again! And Alice swung away from her, strode to her fathers door, flung it open, went to him, and put a light hand soothingly over his unrelaxed forehead.
Poor old papa! she said. Its a shame how everybody wants to trouble him. He shant be bothered any more at all! He doesnt need to have everybody telling him how to get away from that old hole hes worked in so long and begin to make us all nice and rich. HE knows how!
Thereupon she kissed him a consoling good-bye, and made another gay departure, the charming hand again fluttering like a white butterfly in the shadow of the closing door.
Mrs. Adams had remained in Alices room, but her mood seemed to have changed, during her daughters little more than momentary absence.
What did he SAY? she asked, quickly, and her tone was hopeful.
Say? Alice repeated, impatiently. Why, nothing. I didnt let him. Really, mama, I think the best thing for you to do would be to just keep out of his room, because I dont believe you can go in there and not talk to him about it, and if you do talk well never get him to do the right thing. Never!
The mothers response was a grieving silence; she turned from her daughter and walked to the door.
Now, for goodness sake! Alice cried. Dont go making tragedy out of my offering you a little practical advice!
Im not, Mrs. Adams gulped, halting. Im justjust going to dust the downstairs, Alice. And with her face still averted, she went out into the little hallway, closing the door behind her. A moment later she could be heard descending the stairs, the sound of her footsteps carrying somehow an effect of resignation.
Alice listened, sighed, and, breathing the words, Oh, murder! turned to cheerier matters. She put on a little apple-green turban with a dim gold band round it, and then, having shrouded the turban in a white veil, which she kept pushed up above her forehead, she got herself into a tan coat of soft cloth fashioned with rakish severity. After that, having studied herself gravely in a long glass, she took from one of the drawers of her dressing-table a black leather card-case cornered in silver filigree, but found it empty.
She opened another drawer wherein were two white pasteboard boxes of cards, the one set showing simply Miss Adams, the other engraved in Gothic characters, Miss Alys Tuttle Adams. The latter belonged to Alices Alys periodmost girls go through it; and Alice must have felt that she had graduated, for, after frowning thoughtfully at the exhibit this morning, she took the box with its contents, and let the white shower fall from her fingers into the waste-basket beside her small desk. She replenished the card-case from the Miss Adams box; then, having found a pair of fresh white gloves, she tucked an ivory-topped Malacca walking-stick under her arm and set forth.
She went down the stairs, buttoning her gloves and still wearing the frown with which she had put Alys finally out of her life. She descended slowly, and paused on the lowest step, looking about her with an expression that needed but a slight deepening to betoken bitterness. Its connection with her dropping Alys forever was slight, however.
The small frame house, about fifteen years old, was already inclining to become a new Colonial relic. The Adamses had built it, moving into it from the Queen Anne house they had rented until they took this step in fashion. But fifteen years is a long time to stand still in the midland country, even for a house, and this one was lightly made, though the Adamses had not realized how flimsily until they had lived in it for some time. Solid, compact, and convenient were the instructions to the architect, and he had made it compact successfully. Alice, pausing at the foot of the stairway, was at the same time fairly in the living-room, for the only separation between the living room and the hall was a demarcation suggested to willing imaginations by a pair of wooden columns painted white. These columns, pine under the paint, were bruised and chipped at the base; one of them showed a crack that threatened to become a split; the hard-wood floor had become uneven; and in a corner the walls apparently failed of solidity, where the wall-paper had declined to accompany some staggerings of the plaster beneath it.
The furniture was in great part an accumulation begun with the wedding gifts; though some of it was older, two large patent rocking-chairs and a footstool having belonged to Mrs. Adamss mother in the days of hard brown plush and veneer. For decoration there were pictures and vases. Mrs. Adams had always been fond of vases, she said, and every year her husbands Christmas present to her was a vase of one sort or anotherwhatever the clerk showed him, marked at about twelve or fourteen dollars. The pictures were some of them etchings framed in gilt: Rheims, Canterbury, schooners grouped against a wharf; and Alice could remember how, in her childhood, her father sometimes pointed out the watery reflections in this last as very fine. But it was a long time since he had shown interest in such thingsor in anything much, as she thought.
Other pictures were two water-colours in baroque frames; one being the Amalfi monk on a pergola wall, while the second was a yard-wide display of iris blossoms, painted by Alice herself at fourteen, as a birthday gift to her mother. Alices glance paused upon it now with no great pride, but showed more approval of an enormous photograph of the Colosseum. This she thought of as the only good thing in the room; it possessed and bestowed distinction, she felt; and she did not regret having won her struggle to get it hung in its conspicuous place of honour over the mantelpiece. Formerly that place had been held for years by a steel-engraving, an accurate representation of the Suspension Bridge at Niagara Falls. It was almost as large as its successor, the Colosseum, and it had been presented to Mr. Adams by colleagues in his department at Lamb and Companys. Adams had shown some feeling when Alice began to urge its removal to obscurity in the upstairs hall; he even resisted for several days after she had the Colosseum charged to him, framed in oak, and sent to the house. She cheered him up, of course, when he gave way; and her heart never misgave her that there might be a doubt which of the two pictures was the more dismaying.
Over the pictures, the vases, the old brown plush rocking-chairs and the stool, over the three gilt chairs, over the new chintz-covered easy chair and the gray velure sofaover everything everywhere, was the familiar coating of smoke grime. It had worked into every fibre of the lace curtains, dingying them to an unpleasant gray; it lay on the window-sills and it dimmed the glass panes; it covered the walls, covered the ceiling, and was smeared darker and thicker in all corners. Yet here was no fault of housewifery; the curse could not be lifted, as the ingrained smudges permanent on the once white woodwork proved. The grime was perpetually renewed; scrubbing only ground it in.
This particular ugliness was small part of Alices discontent, for though the coating grew a little deeper each year she was used to it. Moreover, she knew that she was not likely to find anything better in a thousand miles, so long as she kept to cities, and that none of her friends, however opulent, had any advantage of her here. Indeed, throughout all the great soft-coal country, people who consider themselves comparatively poor may find this consolation: cleanliness has been added to the virtues and beatitudes that money can not buy.
Alice brightened a little as she went forward to the front door, and she brightened more when the spring breeze met her there. Then all depression left her as she walked down the short brick path to the sidewalk, looked up and down the street, and saw how bravely the maple shade-trees, in spite of the black powder they breathed, were flinging out their thousands of young green particles overhead.
She turned north, treading the new little shadows on the pavement briskly, and, having finished buttoning her gloves, swung down her Malacca stick from under her arm to let it tap a more leisurely accompaniment to her quick, short step. She had to step quickly if she was to get anywhere; for the closeness of her skirt, in spite of its little length, permitted no natural stride; but she was pleased to be impeded, these brevities forming part of her show of fashion.
Other pedestrians found them not without charm, though approval may have been lacking here and there, and at the first crossing Alice suffered what she might have accounted an actual injury, had she allowed herself to be so sensitive. An elderly woman in fussy black silk stood there, waiting for a streetcar; she was all of a globular modelling, with a face patterned like a frost-bitten peach; and that the approaching gracefulness was uncongenial she naively made too evident. Her round, wan eyes seemed roused to bitter life as they rose from the curved high heels of the buckled slippers to the tight little skirt, and thence with startled ferocity to the Malacca cane, which plainly appeared to her as a decoration not more astounding than it was insulting.
Perceiving that the girl was bowing to her, the globular lady hurriedly made shift to alter her injurious expression. Good morning, Mrs. Dowling, Alice said, gravely. Mrs. Dowling returned the salutation with a smile as convincingly benevolent as the ghastly smile upon a Santa Claus face; and then, while Alice passed on, exploded toward her a single compacted breath through tightened lips.
The sound was eloquently audible, though Mrs. Dowling remained unaware that in this or any manner whatever she had shed a light upon her thoughts; for it was her lifelong innocent conviction that other people saw her only as she wished to be seen, and heard from her only what she intended to be heard. At home it was always her husband who pulled down the shades of their bedroom window.
Alice looked serious for a few moments after the little encounter, then found some consolation in the behaviour of a gentleman of forty or so who was coming toward her. Like Mrs. Dowling, he had begun to show consciousness of Alices approach while she was yet afar off; but his tokens were of a kind pleasanter to her. He was like Mrs. Dowling again, however, in his conception that Alice would not realize the significance of what he did. He passed his hand over his neck-scarf to see that it lay neatly to his collar, smoothed a lapel of his coat, and adjusted his hat, seeming to be preoccupied the while with problems that kept his eyes to the pavement; then, as he came within a few feet of her, he looked up, as in a surprised recognition almost dramatic, smiled winningly, lifted his hat decisively, and carried it to the full arms length.
Alices response was all he could have asked. The cane in her right hand stopped short in its swing, while her left hand moved in a pretty gesture as if an impulse carried it toward the heart; and she smiled, with her under lip caught suddenly between her teeth. Months ago she had seen an actress use this smile in a play, and it came perfectly to Alice now, without conscious direction, it had been so well acquired; but the pretty hands little impulse toward the heart was an original bit all her own, on the spur of the moment.
The gentleman went on, passing from her forward vision as he replaced his hat. Of himself he was nothing to Alice, except for the gracious circumstance that he had shown strong consciousness of a pretty girl. He was middle-aged, substantial, a family man, securely married; and Alice had with him one of those long acquaintances that never become emphasized by so much as five minutes of talk; yet for this inconsequent meeting she had enacted a little part like a fragment in a pantomime of Spanish wooing.
It was not for himnot even to impress him, except as a messenger. Alice was herself almost unaware of her thought, which was one of the running thousands of her thoughts that took no deliberate form in words. Nevertheless, she had it, and it was the impulse of all her pretty bits of pantomime when she met other acquaintances who made their appreciation visible, as this substantial gentleman did. In Alices unworded thought, he was to be thus encouraged as in some measure a champion to speak well of her to the world; but more than this: he was to tell some magnificent unknown bachelor how wonderful, how mysterious, she was.
She hastened on gravely, a little stirred reciprocally with the supposed stirrings in the breast of that shadowy ducal mate, who must be somewhere waiting, or perhaps already seeking her; for she more often thought of herself as waiting while he sought her; and sometimes this view of things became so definite that it shaped into a murmur on her lips. Waiting. Just waiting. And she might add, For him! Then, being twenty-two, she was apt to conclude the mystic interview by laughing at herself, though not without a continued wistfulness.
She came to a group of small coloured children playing waywardly in a puddle at the mouth of a muddy alley; and at sight of her they gave over their pastime in order to stare. She smiled brilliantly upon them, but they were too struck with wonder to comprehend that the manifestation was friendly; and as Alice picked her way in a little detour to keep from the mud, she heard one of them say, Lady got cane! Jeez!
She knew that many coloured children use impieties familiarly, and she was not startled. She was disturbed, however, by an unfavourable hint in the speakers tone. He was six, probably, but the sting of a criticism is not necessarily allayed by knowledge of its ignoble source, and Alice had already begun to feel a slight uneasiness about her cane. Mrs. Dowlings stare had been strikingly projected at it; other women more than merely glanced, their brows and lips contracting impulsively; and Alice was aware that one or two of them frankly halted as soon as she had passed.
She had seen in several magazines pictures of ladies with canes, and on that account she had bought this one, never questioning that fashion is recognized, even in the provinces, as soon as beheld. On the contrary, these staring women obviously failed to realize that what they were being shown was not an eccentric outburst, but the bright harbinger of an illustrious mode. Alice had applied a bit of artificial pigment to her lips and cheeks before she set forth this morning; she did not need it, having a ready colour of her own, which now mounted high with annoyance.
Then a splendidly shining closed black automobile, with windows of polished glass, came silently down the street toward her. Within it, as in a luxurious little apartment, three comely ladies in mourning sat and gossiped; but when they saw Alice they clutched one another. They instantly recovered, bowing to her solemnly as they were borne by, yet were not gone from her sight so swiftly but the edge of her side glance caught a flash of teeth in mouths suddenly opened, and the dark glisten of black gloves again clutching to share mirth.
The colour that outdid the rouge on Alices cheek extended its area and grew warmer as she realized how all too cordial had been her nod and smile to these humorous ladies. But in their identity lay a significance causing her a sharper smart, for they were of the family of that Lamb, chief of Lamb and Company, who had employed her father since before she was born.
And know his salary! Theyd be SURE to find out about that! was her thought, coupled with another bitter one to the effect that they had probably made instantaneous financial estimates of what she wore though certainly her walking-stick had most fed their hilarity.
She tucked it under her arm, not swinging it again; and her breath became quick and irregular as emotion beset her. She had been enjoying her walk, but within the space of the few blocks she had gone since she met the substantial gentleman, she found that more than the walk was spoiled: suddenly her life seemed to be spoiled, too; though she did not view the ruin with complaisance. These Lamb women thought her and her cane ridiculous, did they? she said to herself. That was their parvenu blood: to think because a girls father worked for their grandfather she had no right to be rather striking in style, especially when the striking WAS her style. Probably all the other girls and women would agree with them and would laugh at her when they got together, and, what might be fatal, would try to make all the men think her a silly pretender. Men were just like sheep, and nothing was easier than for women to set up as shepherds and pen them in a fold. To keep out outsiders, Alice thought. And make em believe I AM an outsider. Whats the use of living?
All seemed lost when a trim young man appeared, striding out of a cross-street not far before her, and, turning at the corner, came toward her. Visibly, he slackened his gait to lengthen the time of his approach, and, as he was a stranger to her, no motive could be ascribed to him other than a wish to have a longer time to look at her.
She lifted a pretty hand to a pin at her throat, bit her lipnot with the smile, but mysteriouslyand at the last instant before her shadow touched the stranger, let her eyes gravely meet his. A moment later, having arrived before the house which was her destination, she halted at the entrance to a driveway leading through fine lawns to the intentionally important mansion. It was a pleasant and impressive place to be seen entering, but Alice did not enter at once. She paused, examining a tiny bit of mortar which the masons had forgotten to scrape from a brick in one of the massive gate-posts. She frowned at this tiny defacement, and with an air of annoyance scraped it away, using the ferrule of her cane an act of fastidious proprietorship. If any one had looked back over his shoulder he would not have doubted that she lived there.
Alice did not turn to see whether anything of the sort happened or not, but she may have surmised that it did. At all events, it was with an invigorated step that she left the gateway behind her and went cheerfully up the drive to the house of her friend Mildred.
Adams had a restless morning, and toward noon he asked Miss Perry to call his daughter; he wished to say something to her.
I thought I heard her leaving the house a couple of hours agomaybe longer, the nurse told him. Ill go see. And she returned from the brief errand, her impression confirmed by information from Mrs. Adams. Yes. She went up to Miss Mildred Palmers to see what shes going to wear to-night.
Adams looked at Miss Perry wearily, but remained passive, making no inquiries; for he was long accustomed to what seemed to him a kind of jargon among ladies, which became the more incomprehensible when they tried to explain it. A mans best course, he had found, was just to let it go as so much sound. His sorrowful eyes followed the nurse as she went back to her rocking-chair by the window, and her placidity showed him that there was no mystery for her in the fact that Alice walked two miles to ask so simple a question when there was a telephone in the house. Obviously Miss Perry also comprehended why Alice thought it important to know what Mildred meant to wear. Adams understood why Alice should be concerned with what she herself wore to look neat and tidy and at her best, why, of course shed want to, he thoughtbut he realized that it was forever beyond him to understand why the clothing of other people had long since become an absorbing part of her life.
Her excursion this morning was no novelty; she was continually going to see what Mildred meant to wear, or what some other girl meant to wear; and when Alice came home from wherever other girls or women had been gathered, she always hurried to her mother with earnest descriptions of the clothing she had seen. At such times, if Adams was present, he might recognize organdie, or taffeta, or chiffon, as words defining certain textiles, but the rest was too technical for him, and he was like a dismal boy at a sermon, just waiting for it to get itself finished. Not the least of the mystery was his wifes interest: she was almost indifferent about her own clothes, and when she consulted Alice about them spoke hurriedly and with an air of apology; but when Alice described other peoples clothes, Mrs. Adams listened as eagerly as the daughter talked.
There they go! he muttered to-day, a moment after he heard the front door closing, a sound recognizable throughout most of the thinly built house. Alice had just returned, and Mrs. Adams called to her from the upper hallway, not far from Adamss door.
What did she SAY?
She was sort of snippy about it, Alice returned, ascending the stairs. She gets that way sometimes, and pretended she hadnt made up her mind, but Im pretty sure itll be the maize Georgette with Malines flounces.
Didnt you say she wore that at the Pattersons? Mrs. Adams inquired, as Alice arrived at the top of the stairs. And didnt you tell me she wore it again at the
Certainly not, Alice interrupted, rather petulantly. Shes never worn it but once, and of course she wouldnt want to wear anything to-night that people have seen her in a lot.
Miss Perry opened the door of Adamss room and stepped out. Your father wants to know if youll come and see him a minute, Miss Adams.
Poor old thing! Of course! Alice exclaimed, and went quickly into the room, Miss Perry remaining outside. Whats the matter, papa? Getting awful sick of lying on his tired old back, I expect.
Ive had kind of a poor morning, Adams said, as she patted his hand comfortingly. I been thinking
Didnt I tell you not to? she cried, gaily. Of course youll have poor times when you go and do just exactly what I say you mustnt. You stop thinking this very minute!
He smiled ruefully, closing his eyes; was silent for a moment, then asked her to sit beside the bed. I been thinking of something I wanted to say, he added.
What like, papa?
Well, its nothingmuch, he said, with something deprecatory in his tone, as if he felt vague impulses toward both humour and apology. I just thought maybe I ought tove said more to you some time or other aboutwell, about the way things ARE, down at Lamb and Companys, for instance.
Now, papa! She leaned forward in the chair she had taken, and pretended to slap his hand crossly. Isnt that exactly what I said you couldnt think one single think about till you get ALL well?
Well he said, and went on slowly, not looking at her, but at the ceiling. I just thought maybe it wouldnt been any harm if some time or other I told you something about the way they sort of depend on me down there.
Why dont they show it, then? she asked, quickly. Thats just what mama and I have been feeling so much; they dont appreciate you.
Why, yes, they do, he said. Yes, they do. They began histing my salary the second year I went in there, and theyve histed it a little every two years all the time Ive worked for em. Ive been head of the sundries department for seven years now, and I could hardly have more authority in that department unless I was a member of the firm itself.
Well, why dont they make you a member of the firm? Thats what they ought tove done! Yes, and long ago!
Adams laughed, but sighed with more heartiness than he had laughed. They call me their oldest stand-by down there. He laughed again, apologetically, as if to excuse himself for taking a little pride in this title. Yes, sir; they say Im their oldest stand-by; and I guess they know they can count on my departments turning in as good a report as they look for, at the end of every month; but they dont have to take a man into the firm to get him to do my work, dearie.
But you said they depended on you, papa.
So they do; but of course not sos they couldnt get along without me. He paused, reflecting. I dont just seem to know how to put itI mean how to put what I started out to say. I kind of wanted to tell youwell, it seems funny to me, these last few years, the way your mothers taken to feeling about it. Id like to see a better established wholesale drug business than Lamb and Company this side the AlleghaniesI dont say bigger, I say better establishedand its kind of funny for a man thats been with a business like that as long as I have to hear it called a hole. Its kind of funny when you think, yourself, youve done pretty fairly well in a business like that, and the men at the head of it seem to think so, too, and put your salary just about as high as anybody could consider customarywell, what I mean, Alice, its kind of funny to have your mother think its mostly justmostly just a failure, so to speak.
His voice had become tremulous in spite of him; and this sign of weakness and emotion had sufficient effect upon Alice. She bent over him suddenly, with her arm about him and her cheek against his. Poor papa! she murmured. Poor papa!
No, no, he said. I didnt mean anything to trouble you. I just thought He hesitated. I just wonderedI thought maybe it wouldnt be any harm if I said something about how things ARE down there. I got to thinking maybe you didnt understand its a pretty good place. Theyre fine people to work for; and theyve always seemed to think something of me;the way they took Walter on, for instance, soon as I asked em, last year. Dont you think that looked a good deal as if they thought something of me, Alice?
Yes, papa, she said, not moving.
And the works right pleasant, he went on. Mighty nice boys in our department, Alice. Well, they are in all the departments, for that matter. We have a good deal of fun down there some days.
She lifted her head. More than you do at home some days, I expect, papa! she said.
He protested feebly. Now, I didnt mean thatI didnt want to trouble you
She looked at him through winking eyelashes. Im sorry I called it a hole, papa.
No, no, he protested, gently. It was your mother said that.
No. I did, too.
Well, if you did, it was only because youd heard her.
She shook her head, then kissed him. Im going to talk to her, she said, and rose decisively.
But at this, her fathers troubled voice became quickly louder: You better let her alone. I just wanted to have a little talk with you. I didnt mean to start anyyour mother wont
Now, papa! Alice spoke cheerfully again, and smiled upon him. I want you to quit worrying! Everythings going to be all right and nobodys going to bother you any more about anything. Youll see!
She carried her smile out into the hall, but after she had closed the door her face was all pity; and her mother, waiting for her in the opposite room, spoke sympathetically.
Whats the matter, Alice? What did he say thats upset you?
Wait a minute, mama. Alice found a handkerchief, used it for eyes and suffused nose, gulped, then suddenly and desolately sat upon the bed. Poor, poor, POOR papa! she whispered.
Why? Mrs. Adams inquired, mildly. Whats the matter with him? Sometimes you act as if he werent getting well. Whats he been talking about?
Mamawell, I think Im pretty selfish. Oh, I do!
Did he say you were?
Papa? No, indeed! What I mean is, maybe were both a little selfish to try to make him go out and hunt around for something new.
Mrs. Adams looked thoughtful. Oh, thats what he was up to!
Mama, I think we ought to give it up. I didnt dream it had really hurt him.
Well, doesnt he hurt us?
Never that I know of, mama.
I dont mean by SAYING things, Mrs. Adams explained, impatiently. There are more ways than that of hurting people. When a man sticks to a salary that doesnt provide for his family, isnt that hurting them?
Oh, it provides for us well enough, mama. We have what we needif I werent so extravagant. Oh, I know I am!
But at this admission her mother cried out sharply. Extravagant! You havent one tenth of what the other girls you go with have. And you CANT have what you ought to as long as he doesnt get out of that horrible place. It provides bare food and shelter for us, but whats that?
I dont think we ought to try any more to change him.
You dont? Mrs. Adams came and stood before her. Listen, Alice: your fathers asleep; thats his trouble, and hes got to be waked up. He doesnt know that things have changed. When you and Walter were little children we did have enoughat least it seemed to be about as much as most of the people we knew. But the town isnt what it was in those days, and times arent what they were then, and these fearful PRICES arent the old prices. Everything else but your father has changed, and all the time hes stood still. He doesnt know it; he thinks because theyve given him a hundred dollars more every two years hes quite a prosperous man! And he thinks that because his children cost him more than he and I cost our parents he gives themenough!
But Walter Alice faltered. Walter doesnt cost him anything at all any more. And she concluded, in a stricken voice, Its allme!
Why shouldnt it be? her mother cried. Youre youngyoure just at the time when your life should be fullest of good things and happiness. Yet what do you get?
Alices lip quivered; she was not unsusceptible to such an appeal, but she contrived the semblance of a protest. I dont have such a bad time not a good DEAL of the time, anyhow. Ive got a good MANY of the things other girls have
You have? Mrs. Adams was piteously satirical. I suppose youve got a limousine to go to that dance to-night? I suppose youve only got to call a florist and tell him to send you some orchids? I suppose youve
But Alice interrupted this list. Apparently in a single instant all emotion left her, and she became businesslike, as one in the midst of trifles reminded of really serious matters. She got up from the bed and went to the door of the closet where she kept her dresses. Oh, see here, she said, briskly. Ive decided to wear my white organdie if you could put in a new lining for me. Im afraid itll take you nearly all afternoon.
She brought forth the dress, displayed it upon the bed, and Mrs. Adams examined it attentively.
Do you think you could get it done, mama?
I dont see why not, Mrs. Adams answered, passing a thoughtful hand over the fabric. It oughtnt to take more than four or five hours.
Its a shame to have you sit at the machine that long, Alice said, absently, adding, And Im sure we ought to let papa alone. Lets just give it up, mama.
Mrs. Adams continued her thoughtful examination of the dress. Did you buy the chiffon and ribbon, Alice?
Yes. Im sure we oughtnt to talk to him about it any more, mama.
Well, well see.
Lets both agree that well NEVER say another single word to him about it, said Alice. Itll be a great deal better if we just let him make up his mind for himself.
With this, having more immediately practical questions before them, they dropped the subject, to bend their entire attention upon the dress; and when the lunch-gong sounded downstairs Alice was still sketching repairs and alterations. She continued to sketch them, not heeding the summons.
I suppose wed better go down to lunch, Mrs. Adams said, absently. Shes at the gong again. In a minute, mama. Now about the sleeves And she went on with her planning. Unfortunately the gong was inexpressive of the mood of the person who beat upon it. It consisted of three little metal bowls upon a string; they were unequal in size, and, upon being tapped with a padded stick, gave forth vibrations almost musically pleasant. It was Alice who had substituted this contrivance for the brass dinner-bell in use throughout her childhood; and neither she nor the others of her family realized that the substitution of sweeter sounds had made the life of that household more difficult. In spite of dismaying increases in wages, the Adamses still strove to keep a cook; and, as they were unable to pay the higher rates demanded by a good one, what they usually had was a whimsical coloured woman of nomadic impulses. In the hands of such a person the old-fashioned dinner-bell was satisfying; life could instantly be made intolerable for any one dawdling on his way to a meal; the bell was capable of every desirable profanity and left nothing bottled up in the breast of the ringer. But the chamois-covered stick might whack upon Alices little Chinese bowls for a considerable length of time and produce no great effect of urgency upon a hearer, nor any other effect, except fury in the cook. The ironical impossibility of expressing indignation otherwise than by sounds of gentle harmony proved exasperating; the cook was apt to become surcharged, so that explosive resignations, never rare, were somewhat more frequent after the introduction of the gong.
Mrs. Adams took this increased frequency to be only another manifestation of the inexplicable new difficulties that beset all housekeeping. You paid a cook double what you had paid one a few years before; and the cook knew half as much of cookery, and had no gratitude. The more you gave these people, it seemed, the worse they behaveda condition not to be remedied by simply giving them less, because you couldnt even get the worst unless you paid her what she demanded. Nevertheless, Mrs. Adams remained fitfully an optimist in the matter. Brought up by her mother to speak of a female cook as the girl, she had been instructed by Alice to drop that definition in favour of one not an improvement in accuracy: the maid. Almost always, during the first day or so after every cook came, Mrs. Adams would say, at intervals, with an air of triumph: I believeof course its a little soon to be surebut I do really believe this new maid is the treasure weve been looking for so long! Much in the same way that Alice dreamed of a mysterious perfect mate for whom she waited, her mother had a fairy theory that hidden somewhere in the universe there was the treasure, the perfect maid, who would come and cook in the Adamses kitchen, not four days or four weeks, but forever.
The present incumbent was not she. Alice, profoundly interested herself, kept her mother likewise so preoccupied with the dress that they were but vaguely conscious of the gongs soft warnings, though these were repeated and protracted unusually. Finally the sound of a hearty voice, independent and enraged, reached the pair. It came from the hall below.
I says goo-BYE! it called. Dass all!
Then the front door slammed.
Why, what Mrs. Adams began.
They went down hurriedly to find out. Miss Perry informed them.
I couldnt make her listen to reason, she said. She rang the gong four or five times and got to talking to herself; and then she went up to her room and packed her bag. I told her she had no business to go out the front door, anyhow.
Mrs. Adams took the news philosophically. I thought she had something like that in her eye when I paid her this morning, and Im not surprised. Well, we wont let Mr. Adams know anythings the matter till I get a new one.
They lunched upon what the late incumbent had left chilling on the table, and then Mrs. Adams prepared to wash the dishes; she would have them done in a jiffy, she said, cheerfully. But it was Alice who washed the dishes.
I DONT like to have you do that, Alice, her mother protested, following her into the kitchen. It roughens the hands, and when a girl has hands like yours
I know, mama. Alice looked troubled, but shook her head. It cant be helped this time; youll need every minute to get that dress done.
Mrs. Adams went away lamenting, while Alice, no expert, began to splash the plates and cups and saucers in the warm water. After a while, as she worked, her eyes grew dreamy: she was making little gay-coloured pictures of herself, unfounded prophecies of how she would look and what would happen to her that evening. She saw herself, charming and demure, wearing a fluffy idealization of the dress her mother now determinedly struggled with upstairs; she saw herself framed in a garlanded archway, the entrance to a ballroom, and saw the people on the shining floor turning dramatically to look at her; then from all points a rush of young men shouting for dances with her; and she constructed a superb stranger, tall, dark, masterfully smiling, who swung her out of the clamouring group as the music began. She saw herself dancing with him, saw the half-troubled smile she would give him; and she accurately smiled that smile as she rinsed the knives and forks.
These hopeful fragments of drama were not to be realized, she knew; but she played that they were true, and went on creating them. In all of them she wore or carried flowersher mothers sorrow for her in this detail but made it the more importantand she saw herself glamorous with orchids; discarded these for an armful of long-stemmed, heavy roses; tossed them away for a great bouquet of white camellias; and so wandered down a lengthening hothouse gallery of floral beauty, all costly and beyond her reach except in such a wistful day-dream. And upon her present whole horizon, though she searched it earnestly, she could discover no figure of a sender of flowers.
Out of her fancies the desire for flowers to wear that night emerged definitely and became poignant; she began to feel that it might be particularly important to have them. This might be the night! She was still at the age to dream that the night of any dance may be the vital point in destiny. No matter how commonplace or disappointing other dance nights have been this one may bring the great meeting. The unknown magnifico may be there.
Alice was almost unaware of her own reveries in which this being appearedreveries often so transitory that they developed and passed in a few seconds. And in some of them the being was not wholly a stranger; there were moments when he seemed to be composed of recognizable fragments of young men she knewa smile she had liked, from one; the figure of another, the hair of anotherand sometimes she thought he might be concealed, so to say, within the person of an actual acquaintance, someone she had never suspected of being the right seeker for her, someone who had never suspected that it was she who waited for him. Anything might reveal them to each other: a look, a turn of the head, a singular wordperhaps some flowers upon her breast or in her hand.
She wiped the dishes slowly, concluding the operation by dropping a saucer upon the floor and dreamily sweeping the fragments under the stove. She sighed and replaced the broom near a window, letting her glance wander over the small yard outside. The grass, repulsively besooted to the colour of coal-smoke all winter, had lately come to life again and now sparkled with green, in the midst of which a tiny shot of blue suddenly fixed her absent eyes. They remained upon it for several moments, becoming less absent.
It was a violet.
Alice ran upstairs, put on her hat, went outdoors and began to search out the violets. She found twenty-two, a bright omensince the number was that of her yearsbut not enough violets. There were no more; she had ransacked every foot of the yard.
She looked dubiously at the little bunch in her hand, glanced at the lawn next door, which offered no favourable prospect; then went thoughtfully into the house, left her twenty-two violets in a bowl of water, and came quickly out again, her brow marked with a frown of decision. She went to a trolley-line and took a car to the outskirts of the city where a new park had been opened.
Here she resumed her search, but it was not an easily rewarded one, and for an hour after her arrival she found no violets. She walked conscientiously over the whole stretch of meadow, her eyes roving discontentedly; there was never a blue dot in the groomed expanse; but at last, as she came near the borders of an old grove of trees, left untouched by the municipal landscapers, the little flowers appeared, and she began to gather them. She picked them carefully, loosening the earth round each tiny plant, so as to bring the roots up with it, that it might live the longer; and she had brought a napkin, which she drenched at a hydrant, and kept loosely wrapped about the stems of her collection.
The turf was too damp for her to kneel; she worked patiently, stooping from the waist; and when she got home in a drizzle of rain at five oclock her knees were tremulous with strain, her back ached, and she was tired all over, but she had three hundred violets. Her mother moaned when Alice showed them to her, fragrant in a basin of water.
Oh, you POOR child! To think of your having to: work so hard to get things that other girls only need; lift their little fingers for!
Never mind, said Alice, huskily. Ive got em and I AM going to have a good time to-night!
Youve just got to! Mrs. Adams agreed, intensely sympathetic. The Lord knows you deserve to, after picking all these violets, poor thing, and He wouldnt be mean enough to keep you from it. I may have to get dinner before I finish the dress, but I can get it done in a few minutes afterward, and its going to look right pretty. Dont you worry about THAT! And with all these lovely violets
I wonder Alice began, paused, then went on, fragmentarily: I supposewell, I wonderdo you suppose it would have been better policy to have told Walter before
No, said her mother. It would only have given him longer to grumble.
But he might
Dont worry, Mrs. Adams reassured her. Hell be a little cross, but he wont be stubborn; just let me talk to him and dont you say anything at all, no matter what HE says.
These references to Walter concerned some necessary manoeuvres which took place at dinner, and were conducted by the mother, Alice having accepted her advice to sit in silence. Mrs. Adams began by laughing cheerfully. I wonder how much longer it took me to cook this dinner than it does Walter to eat it? she said. Dont gobble, child! Theres no hurry.
In contact with his own family Walter was no squanderer of words.
Is for me, he said. Got date.
I know you have, but theres plenty of time.
He smiled in benevolent pity. YOU know, do you? If you made any coffeedont bother if you didnt. Get some down-town. He seemed about to rise and depart; whereupon Alice, biting her lip, sent a panic-stricken glance at her mother.
But Mrs. Adams seemed not at all disturbed; and laughed again. Why, what nonsense, Walter! Ill bring your coffee in a few minutes, but were going to have dessert first.
Some lovely peaches.
Doe want ny canned peaches, said the frank Walter, moving back his chair. G-night.
Walter! It doesnt begin till about nine oclock at the earliest.
He paused, mystified. What doesnt?
Why, Mildred Palmers dance, of course.
Walter laughed briefly. Whats that to me?
Why, you havent forgotten its TO-NIGHT, have you? Mrs. Adams cried. What a boy!
I told you a week ago I wasnt going to that ole dance, he returned, frowning. You heard me.
Walter! she exclaimed. Of COURSE youre going. I got your clothes all out this afternoon, and brushed them for you. Theyll look very nice, and
They wont look nice on ME, he interrupted. Got date down-town, I tell you.
But of course youll
See here! Walter said, decisively. Dont get any wrong ideas in your head. Im just as liable to go up to that ole dance at the Palmers as I am to eat a couple of barrels of broken glass.
Walter was beginning to be seriously annoyed. Dont Walter me! Im no sciety snake. I wouldnt jazz with that Palmer crowd if they coaxed me with diamonds.
Didnt I tell you its no use to Walter me? he demanded.
My dear child
At this Mrs. Adams abandoned her air of amusement, looked hurt, and glanced at the demure Miss Perry across the table. Im afraid Miss Perry wont think you have very good manners, Walter.
Youre right she wont, he agreed, grimly. Not if I haf to hear any more about me goin to
But his mother interrupted him with some asperity: It seems very strange that you always object to going anywhere among OUR friends, Walter.
YOUR friends! he said, and, rising from his chair, gave utterance to an ironical laugh strictly monosyllabic. Your friends! he repeated, going to the door. Oh, yes! Certainly! Good-NIGHT!
And looking back over his shoulder to offer a final brief view of his derisive face, he took himself out of the room.
Alice gasped: Mama
Ill stop him! her mother responded, sharply; and hurried after the truant, catching him at the front door with his hat and raincoat on.
Told you had a date down-town, he said, gruffly, and would have opened the door, but she caught his arm and detained him.
Walter, please come back and finish your dinner. When I take all the trouble to cook it for you, I think you might at least
Now, now! he said. That isnt what youre up to. You dont want to make me eat; you want to make me listen.
Well, you MUST listen! She retained her grasp upon his arm, and made it tighter. Walter, please! she entreated, her voice becoming tremulous. PLEASE dont make me so much trouble!
He drew back from her as far as her hold upon him permitted, and looked at her sharply. Look here! he said. I get you, all right! Whats the matter of Alice GOIN to that party by herself?
She just CANT!
It makes things too MEAN for her, Walter. All the other girls have somebody to depend on after they get there.
Well, why doesnt she have somebody? he asked, testily. Somebody besides ME, I mean! Why hasnt somebody asked her to go? She ought to be THAT popular, anyhow, I shd thinkshe TRIES enough!
I dont understand how you can be so hard, his mother wailed, huskily. You know why they dont run after her the way they do the other girls she goes with, Walter. Its because were poor, and she hasnt got any background.
Background? Walter repeated. Background? What kind of talk is that?
You WILL go with her to-night, Walter? his mother pleaded, not stopping to enlighten him. You dont understand how hard things are for her and how brave she is about them, or you COULDNT be so selfish! Itd be more than I can bear to see her disappointed to-night! She went clear out to Belleview Park this afternoon, Walter, and spent hours and hours picking violets to wear. You WILL
Walters heart was not iron, and the episode of the violets may have reached it. Oh, BLUB! he said, and flung his soft hat violently at the wall.
His mother beamed with delight. THATS a good boy, darling! Youll never be sorry you
Cut it out, he requested. If I take her, will you pay for a taxi?
Oh, Walter! And again Mrs. Adams showed distress. Couldnt you?
No, I couldnt; Im not goin to throw away my good money like that, and you cant tell what time o night itll be before shes willin to come home. Whats the matter you payin for one?
I havent any money.
She shook her head dolefully. I got some from him this morning, and I cant bother him for any more; it upsets him. Hes ALWAYS been so terribly close with money
I guess he couldnt help that, Walter observed. Were liable to go to the poorhouse the way it is. Well, whats the matter our walkin to this rotten party?
In the rain, Walter?
Well, its only a drizzle and we can take a streetcar to within a block of the house.
Again his mother shook her head. It wouldnt do.
Well, darn the luck, all right! he consented, explosively. Ill get her something to ride in. It means seventy-five cents.
Why, Walter! Mrs. Adams cried, much pleased. Do you know how to get a cab for that little? How splendid!
Taint a cab, Walter informed her crossly. Its a tin Lizzie, but you dont haf to tell her what it is till I get her into it, do you?
Mrs. Adams agreed that she didnt.
Alice was busy with herself for two hours after dinner; but a little before nine oclock she stood in front of her long mirror, completed, bright-eyed and solemn. Her hair, exquisitely arranged, gave all she asked of it; what artificialities in colour she had used upon her face were only bits of emphasis that made her prettiness the more distinct; and the dress, not rumpled by her mothers careful hours of work, was a white cloud of loveliness. Finally there were two triumphant bouquets of violets, each with the stems wrapped in tin-foil shrouded by a bow of purple chiffon; and one bouquet she wore at her waist and the other she carried in her hand.
Miss Perry, called in by a rapturous mother for the free treat of a look at this radiance, insisted that Alice was a vision. Purely and simply a vision! she said, meaning that no other definition whatever would satisfy her. I never saw anybody look a vision if she dont look one to-night, the admiring nurse declared. Her papall think the same I do about it. You see if he doesnt say shes purely and simply a vision.
Adams did not fulfil the prediction quite literally when Alice paid a brief visit to his room to show him and bid him good-night; but he chuckled feebly. Well, well, well! he said.
You look mighty fineMIGHTY fine! And he waggled a bony finger at her two bouquets. Why, Alice, whos your beau?
Never you mind! she laughed, archly brushing his nose with the violets in her hand. He treats me pretty well, doesnt he?
Must like to throw his money around! These violets smell mighty sweet, and they ought to, if theyre going to a party with YOU. Have a good time, dearie.
I mean to! she cried; and she repeated this gaily, but with an emphasis expressing sharp determination as she left him. I MEAN to!
What was he talking about? her mother inquired, smoothing the rather worn and old evening wrap she had placed on Alices bed. What were you telling him you mean to?
Alice went back to her triple mirror for the last time, then stood before the long one. That I mean to have a good time to-night, she said; and as she turned from her reflection to the wrap Mrs. Adams held up for her, It looks as though I COULD, dont you think so?
Youll just be a queen to-night, her mother whispered in fond emotion. You mustnt doubt yourself.
Well, theres one thing, said Alice. I think I do look nice enough to get along without having to dance with that Frank Dowling! All I ask is for it to happen just once; and if he comes near me to-night Im going to treat him the way the other girls do. Do you suppose Walters got the taxi out in front?
Hehes waiting down in the hall, Mrs. Adams answered, nervously; and she held up another garment to go over the wrap.
Alice frowned at it. Whats that, mama?
Itsits your fathers raincoat. I thought youd put it on over
But I wont need it in a taxicab.
You will to get in and out, and you neednt take it into the Palmers. You can leave it in thein theIts drizzling, and youll need it.
Oh, well, Alice consented; and a few minutes later, as with Walters assistance she climbed into the vehicle he had provided, she better understood her mothers solicitude.
What on earth IS this, Walter? she asked.
Never mind; itll keep you dry enough with the top up, he returned, taking his seat beside her. Then for a time, as they went rather jerkily up the street, she was silent; but finally she repeated her question: What IS it, Walter?
Its a ottomobile.
I meanwhat kind is it?
Havent you got eyes?
Its too dark.
Its a second-hand tin Lizzie, said Walter. Dyou know what that means? It means a flivver.
Got ny bjections?
Why, no, dear, she said, placatively. Is it yours, Walter? Have you bought it?
Me? he laughed. I couldnt buy a used wheelbarrow. I rent this sometimes when Im goin out among em. Costs me seventy-five cents and the price o the gas.
That seems very moderate.
I guess it is! The feller owes me some money, and this is the only way Id ever get it off him.
Is he a garage-keeper?
Not exactly! Walter uttered husky sounds of amusement. Youll be just as happy, I guess, if you dont know who he is, he said.
His tone misgave her; and she said truthfully that she was content not to know who owned the car. I joke sometimes about how you keep things to yourself, she added, but I really never do pry in your affairs, Walter.
Oh, no, you dont!
Indeed, I dont.
Yes, youre mighty nice and cooing when you got me where you want me, he jeered. Well, I just as soon tell you where I get this car.
Id just as soon you wouldnt, Walter, she said, hurriedly. Please dont.
But Walter meant to tell her. Why, theres nothin exactly CRIMINAL about it, he said. It belongs to old J. A. Lamb himself. He keeps it for their coon chauffeur. I rent it from him.
From Mr. LAMB?
No; from the coon chauffeur.
Walter! she gasped.
Sure I do! I can get it any night when the coon isnt goin to use it himself. Hes drivin their limousine to-nightthat little Henrietta Lambs goin to the party, no matter if her father HAS only been dead lessn a year! He paused, then inquired: Well, how dyou like it?
She did not speak, and he began to be remorseful for having imparted so much information, though his way of expressing regret was his own. Well, you WILL make the folks make me take you to parties! he said. I got to do it the best way I CAN, dont I?
Then as she made no response, Oh, the cars CLEAN enough, he said. This coon, hes as particular as any white man; you neednt worry about that. And as she still said nothing, he added gruffly, Id of had a better car if I could afforded it. You neednt get so upset about it.
I dont understand she said in a low voiceI dont understand how you know such people.
Such people as who?
Oh, look here, now! he protested, loudly. Dont you know this is a democratic country?
Not quite that democratic, is it, Walter?
The trouble with you, he retorted, you dont know theres anybody in town except just this silk-shirt crowd. He paused, seeming to await a refutation; but as none came, he expressed himself definitely: They make me sick.
They were coming near their destination, and the glow of the big, brightly lighted house was seen before them in the wet night. Other cars, not like theirs, were approaching this center of brilliance; long triangles of light near the ground swept through the fine drizzle; small red tail-lights gleamed again from the moist pavement of the street; and, through the myriads of little glistening leaves along the curving driveway, glimpses were caught of lively colours moving in a white glare as the limousines released their occupants under the shelter of the porte-cochere.
Alice clutched Walters arm in a panic; they were just at the driveway entrance. Walter, we mustnt go in there.
Whats the matter?
Leave this awful car outside.
Stop! she insisted, vehemently. Youve got to! Go back!
The little car was between the entrance posts; but Walter backed it out, avoiding a collision with an impressive machine which swerved away from them and passed on toward the porte-cochere, showing a mans face grinning at the window as it went by. Flivver runabout got the wrong number! he said.
Did he SEE us? Alice cried.
Did who see us?
Harvey Malonein that foreign coupe.
No; he couldnt tell who we were under this top, Walter assured her as he brought the little car to a standstill beside the curbstone, out in the street. Whats it matter if he did, the big fish?
Alice responded with a loud sigh, and sat still.
Well, want to go on back? Walter inquired. You bet Im willing!
Well, then, whats the matter our drivin on up to the porte-cochere? Theres room for me to park just the other side of it.
What you expect to do? Sit HERE all night?
No, leave the car here.
I dont care where we leave it, he said. Sit still till I lock her, so none o these millionaires around herell run off with her. He got out with a padlock and chain; and, having put these in place, offered Alice his hand. Come on, if youre ready.
Wait, she said, and, divesting herself of the raincoat, handed it to Walter. Please leave this with your things in the mens dressing-room, as if it were an extra one of your own, Walter.
He nodded; she jumped out; and they scurried through the drizzle.
As they reached the porte-cochere she began to laugh airily, and spoke to the impassive man in livery who stood there. Joke on us! she said, hurrying by him toward the door of the house. Our car broke down outside the gate.
The man remained impassive, though he responded with a faint gleam as Walter, looking back at him, produced for his benefit a cynical distortion of countenance which offered little confirmation of Alices account of things. Then the door was swiftly opened to the brother and sister; and they came into a marble-floored hall, where a dozen sleeked young men lounged, smoked cigarettes and fastened their gloves, as they waited for their ladies. Alice nodded to one or another of these, and went quickly on, her face uplifted and smiling; but Walter detained her at the door to which she hastened.
Listen here, he said. I suppose you want me to dance the first dance with you
If you please, Walter, she said, meekly.
How long you goin to hang around fixin up in that dressin-room?
Ill be out before youre ready yourself, she promised him; and kept her word, she was so eager for her good time to begin. When he came for her, they went down the hall to a corridor opening upon three great rooms which had been thrown open together, with the furniture removed and the broad floors waxed. At one end of the corridor musicians sat in a green grove, and Walter, with some interest, turned toward these; but his sister, pressing his arm, impelled him in the opposite direction.
Whats the matter now? he asked. Thats Jazz Louie and his half-breed bunchthree white and four mulatto. Lets?
No, no, she whispered. We must speak to Mildred and Mr. and Mrs. Palmer.
Speak to em? I havent got a thing to say to THOSE berries!
Walter, wont you PLEASE behave?
He seemed to consent, for the moment, at least, and suffered her to take him down the corridor toward a floral bower where the hostess stood with her father and mother. Other couples and groups were moving in the same direction, carrying with them a hubbub of laughter and fragmentary chatterings; and Alice, smiling all the time, greeted people on every side of her eagerlya little more eagerly than most of them respondedwhile Walter nodded in a noncommittal manner to one or two, said nothing, and yawned audibly, the last resource of a person who finds himself nervous in a false situation. He repeated his yawn and was beginning another when a convulsive pressure upon his arm made him understand that he must abandon this method of reassuring himself. They were close upon the floral bower.
Mildred was giving her hand to one and another of her guests as rapidly as she could, passing them on to her father and mother, and at the same time resisting the efforts of three or four detached bachelors who besought her to give over her duty in favour of the dance-music just beginning to blare.
She was a large, fair girl, with a kindness of eye somewhat withheld by an expression of fastidiousness; at first sight of her it was clear that she would never in her life do anything incorrect, or wear anything incorrect. But her correctness was of the finer sort, and had no air of being studied or achieved; conduct would never offer her a problem to be settled from a book of rules, for the rules were so deep within her that she was unconscious of them. And behind this perfection there was an even ampler perfection of what Mrs. Adams called background. The big, rich, simple house was part of it, and Mildreds father and mother were part of it. They stood beside her, large, serene people, murmuring graciously and gently inclining their handsome heads as they gave their hands to the guests; and even the youngest and most ebullient of these took on a hushed mannerliness with a closer approach to the bower.
When the opportunity came for Alice and Walter to pass within this precinct, Alice, going first, leaned forward and whispered in Mildreds ear. You DIDNT wear the maize georgette! Thats what I thought you were going to. But you look simply DARLING! And those pearls
Others were crowding decorously forward, anxious to be done with ceremony and get to the dancing; and Mildred did not prolong the intimacy of Alices enthusiastic whispering. With a faint accession of colour and a smile tending somewhat in the direction of rigidity, she carried Alices hand immediately onward to Mrs. Palmers. Alices own colour showed a little heightening as she accepted the suggestion thus implied; nor was that emotional tint in any wise decreased, a moment later, by an impression that Walter, in concluding the brief exchange of courtesies between himself and the stately Mr. Palmer, had again reassured himself with a yawn.
But she did not speak of it to Walter; she preferred not to confirm the impression and to leave in her mind a possible doubt that he had done it. He followed her out upon the waxed floor, said resignedly: Well, come on, put his arm about her, and they began to dance.
Alice danced gracefully and well, but not so well as Walter. Of all the steps and runs, of all the whimsical turns and twirlings, of all the rhythmic swayings and dips commanded that season by such blarings as were the barbaric product, loud and wild, of the Jazz Louies and their half-breed bunches, the thin and sallow youth was a master. Upon his face could be seen contempt of the easy marvels he performed as he moved in swift precision from one smooth agility to another; and if some too-dainty or jealous cavalier complained that to be so much a stylist in dancing was not quite like a gentleman, at least Walters style was what the music called for. No other dancer in the room could be thought comparable to him. Alice told him so.
Its wonderful! she said. And the mystery is, where you ever learned to DO it! You never went to dancing-school, but there isnt a man in the room who can dance half so well. I dont see why, when you dance like this, you always make such a fuss about coming to parties.
He sounded his brief laugh, a jeering bark out of one side of the mouth, and swung her miraculously through a closing space between two other couples. You know a lot about what goes on, dont you? You probly think theres no other place to dance in this town except these frozen-face joints.
Frozen face? she echoed, laughing. Why, everybodys having a splendid time. Look at them.
Oh, they holler loud enough, he said. They do it to make each other think theyre havin a good time. You dont call that Palmer family frozen-face berries, I spose. No?
Certainly not. Theyre just dignified and
Yeuh! said Walter. Theyre dignified, specially when you tried to whisper to Mildred to show how IN with her you were, and she moved you on that way. SHES a hot friend, isnt she!
She didnt mean anything by it. She
Ole Palmers a hearty, slap you-on-the-back ole berry, Walter interrupted; adding in a casual tone, All Id like, Id like to hit him.
Walter! By the way, you mustnt forget to ask Mildred for a dance before the evening is over.
Me? He produced the lop-sided appearance of his laugh, but without making it vocal. You watch me do it!
She probably wont have one left, but you must ask her, anyway.
Why must I?
Because, in the first place, youre supposed to, and, in the second place, shes my most intimate friend.
Yeuh? Is she? Ive heard you pull that most-intimate-friend stuff often enough about her. Whats SHE ever do to show she is?
Never mind. You really must ask her, Walter. I want you to; and I want you to ask several other girls afterwhile; Ill tell you who.
Keep on wanting; itll do you good.
Oh, but you really
Listen! he said. Im just as liable to dance with any of these fairies as I am to buy a bucket o rusty tacks and eat em. Forget it! Soon as I get rid of you Im goin back to that room where I left my hat and overcoat and smoke myself to death.
Well, she said, a little ruefully, as the frenzy of Jazz Louie and his half-breeds was suddenly abated to silence, you mustntyou mustnt get rid of me TOO soon, Walter.
They stood near one of the wide doorways, remaining where they had stopped. Other couples, everywhere, joined one another, forming vivacious clusters, but none of these groups adopted the brother and sister, nor did any one appear to be hurrying in Alices direction to ask her for the next dance. She looked about her, still maintaining that jubilance of look and manner she felt so necessaryfor it is to the girls who are having a good time that partners are attractedand, in order to lend greater colour to her impersonation of a lively belle, she began to chatter loudly, bringing into play an accompaniment of frolicsome gesture. She brushed Walters nose saucily with the bunch of violets in her hand, tapped him on the shoulder, shook her pretty forefinger in his face, flourished her arms, kept her shoulders moving, and laughed continuously as she spoke.
You NAUGHTY old Walter! she cried. ARENT you ashamed to be such a wonderful dancer and then only dance with your own little sister! You could dance on the stage if you wanted to. Why, you could made your FORTUNE that way! Why dont you? Wouldnt it be just lovely to have all the rows and rows of people clapping their hands and shouting, Hurrah! Hurrah, for Walter Adams! Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
He stood looking at her in stolid pity.
Cut it out, he said. You better be givin some of these berries the eye so theyll ask you to dance.
She was not to be so easily checked, and laughed loudly, flourishing her violets in his face again. You WOULD like it; you know you would; you neednt pretend! Just think! A whole big audience shouting, Hurrah! HURRAH! HUR
The placell be pulled if you get any noisier, he interrupted, not ungently. Besides, Im no muley cow.
A COW? she laughed. What on earth
I cant eat dead violets, he explained. So dont keep tryin to make me do it.
This had the effect he desired, and subdued her; she abandoned her unsisterly coquetries, and looked beamingly about her, but her smile was more mechanical than it had been at first.
At home she had seemed beautiful; but here, where the other girls competed, things were not as they had been there, with only her mother and Miss Perry to give contrast. These crowds of other girls had all done their best, also, to look beautiful, though not one of them had worked so hard for such a consummation as Alice had. They did not need to; they did not need to get their mothers to make old dresses over; they did not need to hunt violets in the rain.
At home her dress had seemed beautiful; but that was different, too, where there were dozens of brilliant fabrics, fashioned in new wayssome of these new ways startling, which only made the wearers centers of interest and shocked no one. And Alice remembered that she had heard a girl say, not long before, Oh, ORGANDIE! Nobody wears organdie for evening gowns except in midsummer. Alice had thought little of this; but as she looked about her and saw no organdie except her own, she found greater difficulty in keeping her smile as arch and spontaneous as she wished it. In fact, it was beginning to make her face ache a little.
Mildred came in from the corridor, heavily attended. She carried a great bouquet of violets laced with lilies of-the-valley; and the violets were lusty, big purple things, their stems wrapped in cloth of gold, with silken cords dependent, ending in long tassels. She and her convoy passed near the two young Adamses; and it appeared that one of the convoy besought his hostess to permit cutting in; they were doing it other places of late, he urged; but he was denied and told to console himself by holding the bouquet, at intervals, until his third of the sixteenth dance should come. Alice looked dubiously at her own bouquet.
Suddenly she felt that the violets betrayed her; that any one who looked at them could see how rustic, how innocent of any florists craft they were I cant eat dead violets, Walter said. The little wild flowers, dying indeed in the warm air, were drooping in a forlorn mass; and it seemed to her that whoever noticed them would guess that she had picked them herself. She decided to get rid of them.
Walter was becoming restive. Look here! he said. Cant you flag one o these long-tailed birds to take you on for the next dance? You came to have a good time; why dont you get busy and have it? I want to get out and smoke.
You MUSTNT leave me, Walter, she whispered, hastily. Somebodyll come for me before long, but until they do
Well, couldnt you sit somewhere?
No, no! There isnt any one I could sit with.
Well, why not? Look at those ole dames in the corners. Whats the matter your tyin up with some o them for a while?
PLEASE, Walter; no!
In fact, that indomitable smile of hers was the more difficult to maintain because of these very elders to whom Walter referred. They were mothers of girls among the dancers, and they were there to fend and contrive for their offspring; to keep them in countenance through any trial; to lend them diplomacy in the carrying out of all enterprises; to be background for them; and in these essentially biological functionings to imitate their own matings and renew the excitement of their nuptial periods. Older men, husbands of these ladies and fathers of eligible girls, were also to be seen, most of them with Mr. Palmer in a billiard-room across the corridor. Mr. and Mrs. Adams had not been invited. Of course papa and mama just barely know Mildred Palmer, Alice thought, and most of the other girls fathers and mothers are old friends of Mr. and Mrs. Palmer, but I do think she might have ASKED papa and mama, anywayshe neednt have been afraid just to ask them; she knew they couldnt come. And her smiling lip twitched a little threateningly, as she concluded the silent monologue. I suppose she thinks I ought to be glad enough she asked Walter!
Walter was, in fact, rather noticeable. He was not Mildreds only guest to wear a short coat and to appear without gloves; but he was singular (at least in his present surroundings) on account of a kind of coiffuring he favoured, his hair having been shaped after what seemed a Mongol inspiration. Only upon the top of the head was actual hair perceived, the rest appearing to be nudity. And even more than by any difference in mode he was set apart by his look and manner, in which there seemed to be a brooding, secretive and jeering superiority and this was most vividly expressed when he felt called upon for his loud, short, lop-sided laugh. Whenever he uttered it Alice laughed, too, as loudly as she could, to cover it.
Well, he said. How long we goin to stand here? My feet are sproutin roots.
Alice took his arm, and they began to walk aimlessly through the rooms, though she tried to look as if they had a definite destination, keeping her eyes eager and her lips parted;people had called jovially to them from the distance, she meant to imply, and they were going to join these merry friends. She was still upon this ghostly errand when a furious outbreak of drums and saxophones sounded a prelude for the second dance.
Walter danced with her again, but he gave her a warning. I dont want to leave you high and dry, he told her, but I cant stand it. I got to get somewhere I dont haf to hurt my eyes with these berries; Ill go blind if I got to look at any more of em. Im goin out to smoke as soon as the music begins the next time, and you better get fixed for it.
Alice tried to get fixed for it. As they danced she nodded sunnily to every man whose eye she caught, smiled her smile with the under lip caught between her teeth; but it was not until the end of the intermission after the dance that she saw help coming.
Across the room sat the globular lady she had encountered that morning, and beside the globular lady sat a round-headed, round-bodied girl; her daughter, at first glance. The family contour was also as evident a characteristic of the short young man who stood in front of Mrs. Dowling, engaged with her in a discussion which was not without evidences of an earnestness almost impassioned. Like Walter, he was declining to dance a third time with sister; he wished to go elsewhere.
Alice from a sidelong eye watched the controversy: she saw the globular young man glance toward her, over his shoulder; whereupon Mrs. Dowling, following this glance, gave Alice a look of open fury, became much more vehement in the argument, and even struck her knee with a round, fat fist for emphasis.
Im on my way, said Walter. Theres the music startin up again, and I told you
She nodded gratefully. Its all rightbut come back before long, Walter.
The globular young man, red with annoyance, had torn himself from his family and was hastening across the room to her. Cn I have this dance?
Why, you nice Frank Dowling! Alice cried. How lovely!
They danced. Mr. Dowling should have found other forms of exercise and pastime.
Nature has not designed everyone for dancing, though sometimes those she has denied are the last to discover her niggardliness. But the round young man was at least vigorous enoughtoo much so, when his knees collided with Alicesand he was too sturdy to be thrown off his feet, himself, or to allow his partner to fall when he tripped her. He held her up valiantly, and continued to beat a path through the crowd of other dancers by main force.
He paid no attention to anything suggested by the efforts of the musicians, and appeared to be unaware that there should have been some connection between what they were doing and what he was doing; but he may have listened to other music of his own, for his expression was of high content; he seemed to feel no doubt whatever that he was dancing. Alice kept as far away from him as under the circumstances she could; and when they stopped she glanced down, and found the execution of unseen manoeuvres, within the protection of her skirt, helpful to one of her insteps and to the toes of both of her slippers.
Her cheery partner was paddling his rosy brows with a fine handkerchief. That was great! he said. Lets go out and sit in the corridor; theyve got some comfortable chairs out there.
Welllets not, she returned. I believe Id rather stay in here and look at the crowd.
No; that isnt it, he said, chiding her with a waggish forefinger. You think if you go out there youll miss a chance of someone else asking you for the next dance, and so youll have to give it to me.
How absurd! Then, after a look about her that revealed nothing encouraging, she added graciously, You can have the next if you want it.
Great! he exclaimed, mechanically. Now lets get out of hereout of THIS room, anyhow.
Why? Whats the matter with
My mother, Mr. Dowling explained. But dont look at her. She keeps motioning me to come and see after Ella, and Im simply NOT going to do it, you see!
Alice laughed. I dont believe its so much that, she said, and consented to walk with him to a point in the next room from which Mrs. Dowlings continuous signalling could not be seen. Your mother hates me.
Oh, no; I wouldnt say that. No, she dont, he protested, innocently. She dont know you more than just to speak to, you see. So how could she?
Well, she does. I can tell.
A frown appeared upon his rounded brow. No; Ill tell you the way she feels. Its like this: Ella isnt TOO popular, you knowits hard to see why, because shes a right nice girl, in her wayand mother thinks I ought to look after her, you see. She thinks I ought to dance a whole lot with her myself, and stir up other fellows to dance with herits simply impossible to make mother understand you CANT do that, you see. And then about me, you see, if she had her way I wouldnt get to dance with anybody at all except girls like Mildred Palmer and Henrietta Lamb. Mother wants to run my whole programme for me, you understand, but the trouble of it isabout girls like that, you see well, I couldnt do what she wants, even if I wanted to myself, because you take those girls, and by the time I get Ella off my hands for a minute, why, their dances are always every last one taken, and where do I come in?
Alice nodded, her amiability undamaged. I see. So thats why you dance with me.
No, I like to, he protested. I rather dance with you than I do with those girls. And he added with a retrospective determination which showed that he had been through quite an experience with Mrs. Dowling in this matter. I TOLD mother I would, too!
Did it take all your courage, Frank?
He looked at her shrewdly. Now youre trying to tease me, he said. I dont care; I WOULD rather dance with you! In the first place, youre a perfectly beautiful dancer, you see, and in the second, a man feels a lot more comfortable with you than he does with them. Of course I know almost all the other fellows get along with those girls all right; but I dont waste any time on em I dont have to. I like people that are always cordial to everybody, you seethe way you are.
Thank you, she said, thoughtfully.
Oh, I MEAN it, he insisted. There goes the band again. Shall we?
Suppose we sit it out? she suggested. I believe Id like to go out in the corridor, after allits pretty warm in here.
Assenting cheerfully, Dowling conducted her to a pair of easy-chairs within a secluding grove of box-trees, and when they came to this retreat they found Mildred Palmer just departing, under escort of a well-favoured gentleman about thirty. As these two walked slowly away, in the direction of the dancing-floor, they left it not to be doubted that they were on excellent terms with each other; Mildred was evidently willing to make their progress even slower, for she halted momentarily, once or twice; and her upward glances to her tall companions face were of a gentle, almost blushing deference. Never before had Alice seen anything like this in her friends manner.
How queer! she murmured.
Whats queer? Dowling inquired as they sat down.
Who was that man?
Havent you met him?
I never saw him before. Who is he?
Why, its this Arthur Russell.
What Arthur Russell? I never heard of him. Mr. Dowling was puzzled. Why, THATS funny! Only the last time I saw you, you were telling me how awfully well you knew Mildred Palmer.
Why, certainly I do, Alice informed him. Shes my most intimate friend.
Thats what makes it seem so funny you havent heard anything about this Russell, because everybody says even if she isnt engaged to him right now, she most likely will be before very long. I must say it looks a good deal that way to me, myself.
What nonsense! Alice exclaimed. Shes never even mentioned him to me.
The young man glanced at her dubiously and passed a finger over the tiny prong that dashingly composed the whole substance of his moustache.
Well, you see, Mildred IS pretty reserved, he remarked. This Russell is some kind of cousin of the Palmer family, I understand.
Yessecond or third or something, the girls say. You see, my sister Ella hasnt got much to do at home, and dont read anything, or sew, or play solitaire, you see; and she hears about pretty much everything that goes on, you see. Well, Ella says a lot of the girls have been talking about Mildred and this Arthur Russell for quite a while back, you see. They were all wondering what he was going to look like, you see; because he only got here yesterday; and that proves she must have been talking to some of em, or else how
Alice laughed airily, but the pretty sound ended abruptly with an audible intake of breath. Of course, while Mildred IS my most intimate friend, she said, I dont mean she tells me everythingand naturally she has other friends besides. What else did your sister say she told them about this Mr. Russell?
Well, it seems hes VERY well off; at least Henrietta Lamb told Ella he was. Ella says
Alice interrupted again, with an increased irritability. Oh, never mind what Ella says! Lets find something better to talk about than Mr. Russell!
Well, IM willing, Mr. Dowling assented, ruefully. What you want to talk about?
But this liberal offer found her unresponsive; she sat leaning back, silent, her arms along the arms of her chair, and her eyes, moist and bright, fixed upon a wide doorway where the dancers fluctuated. She was disquieted by more than Mildreds reserve, though reserve so marked had certainly the significance of a warning that Alices definition, my most intimate friend, lacked sanction. Indirect notice to this effect could not well have been more emphatic, but the sting of it was left for a later moment. Something else preoccupied Alice: she had just been surprised by an odd experience. At first sight of this Mr. Arthur Russell, she had said to herself instantly, in words as definite as if she spoke them aloud, though they seemed more like words spoken to her by some unknown person within her: There! Thats exactly the kind of looking man Id like to marry!
In the eyes of the restless and the longing, Providence often appears to be worse than inscrutable: an unreliable Omnipotence given to haphazard whimsies in dealing with its own creatures, choosing at random some among them to be rent with tragic deprivations and others to be petted with blessing upon blessing.
In Alices eyes, Mildred had been blessed enough; something ought to be left over, by this time, for another girl. The final touch to the heaping perfection of Christmas-in-everything for Mildred was that this Mr. Arthur Russell, good-looking, kind-looking, graceful, the perfect fiance, should be also VERY well off. Of course! These rich always married one another. And while the Mildreds danced with their Arthur Russells the best an outsider could do for herself was to sit with Frank Dowlingthe one last course left her that was better than dancing with him.
Well, what DO you want to talk about? he inquired.
Nothing, she said. Suppose we just sit, Frank. But a moment later she remembered something, and, with a sudden animation, began to prattle. She pointed to the musicians down the corridor. Oh, look at them! Look at the leader! Arent they FUNNY? Someone told me theyre called Jazz Louie and his half-breed bunch. Isnt that just crazy? Dont you love it? Do watch them, Frank.
She continued to chatter, and, while thus keeping his glance away from herself, she detached the forlorn bouquet of dead violets from her dress and laid it gently beside the one she had carried.
The latter already reposed in the obscurity selected for it at the base of one of the box-trees.
Then she was abruptly silent.
You certainly are a funny girl, Dowling remarked. You say you dont want to talk about anything at all, and all of a sudden you break out and talk a blue streak; and just about the time I begin to get interested in what youre saying you shut off! Whats the matter with girls, anyhow, when they do things like that?
I dont know; were just queer, I guess.
I say so! Well, whatll we do NOW? Talk, or just sit?
Suppose we just sit some more.
Anything to oblige, he assented. Im willing to sit as long as you like.
But even as he made his amiability clear in this matter, the peace was threatenedhis mother came down the corridor like a rolling, ominous cloud. She was looking about her on all sides, in a fidget of annoyance, searching for him, and to his dismay she saw him. She immediately made a horrible face at his companion, beckoned to him imperiously with a dumpy arm, and shook her head reprovingly. The unfortunate young man tried to repulse her with an icy stare, but this effort having obtained little to encourage his feeble hope of driving her away, he shifted his chair so that his back was toward her discomfiting pantomime. He should have known better, the instant result was Mrs. Dowling in motion at an impetuous waddle.
She entered the box-tree seclusion with the lower rotundities of her face hastily modelled into the resemblance of an over-benevolent smile a contortion which neglected to spread its intended geniality upward to the exasperated eyes and anxious forehead.
I think your mother wants to speak to you, Frank, Alice said, upon this advent.
Mrs. Dowling nodded to her. Good evening, Miss Adams, she said. I just thought as you and Frank werent dancing you wouldnt mind my disturbing you
Not at all, Alice murmured.
Mr. Dowling seemed of a different mind. Well, what DO you want? he inquired, whereupon his mother struck him roguishly with her fan.
Bad fellow! She turned to Alice. Im sure you wont mind excusing him to let him do something for his old mother, Miss Adams.
What DO you want? the son repeated.
Two very nice things, Mrs. Dowling informed him. Everybody is so anxious for Henrietta Lamb to have a pleasant evening, because its the very first time shes been anywhere since her fathers death, and of course her dear grandfathers an old friend of ours, and
Well, well! her son interrupted. Miss Adams isnt interested in all this, mother.
But Henrietta came to speak to Ella and me, and I told her you were so anxious to dance with her
Here! he cried. Look here! Id rather do my own
Yes; thats just it, Mrs. Dowling explained. I just thought it was such a good opportunity; and Henrietta said she had most of her dances taken, but shed give you one if you asked her before they were all gone. So I thought youd better see her as soon as possible.
Dowlings face had become rosy. I refuse to do anything of the kind.
Bad fellow! said his mother, gaily. I thought this would be the best time for you to see Henrietta, because it wont be long till all her dances are gone, and youve promised on your WORD to dance the next with Ella, and you mightnt have a chance to do it then. Im sure Miss Adams wont mind if you
Not at all, Alice said.
Well, I mind! he said. I wish you COULD understand that when I want to dance with any girl I dont need my mother to ask her for me. I really AM more than six years old!
He spoke with too much vehemence, and Mrs. Dowling at once saw how to have her way. As with husbands and wives, so with many fathers and daughters, and so with some sons and mothers: the man will himself be cross in public and think nothing of it, nor will he greatly mind a little crossness on the part of the woman; but let her show agitation before any spectator, he is instantly reduced to a cowards slavery. Women understand that ancient weakness, of course; for it is one of their most important means of defense, but can be used ignobly.
Mrs. Dowling permitted a tremulousness to become audible in her voice. It isnt veryvery pleasantto be talked to like that by your own sonbefore strangers!
Oh, my! Look here! the stricken Dowling protested. I didnt say anything, mother. I was just joking about how you never get over thinking Im a little boy. I only
Mrs. Dowling continued: I just thought I was doing you a little favour. I didnt think it would make you so angry.
Mother, for goodness sake! Miss Adamsll think
I suppose, Mrs. Dowling interrupted, piteously, I suppose it doesnt matter what I think!
Alice interfered; she perceived that the ruthless Mrs. Dowling meant to have her way. I think youd better go, Frank. Really.
There! his mother cried. Miss Adams says so, herself! What more do you want?
Oh, gracious! he lamented again, and, with a sick look over his shoulder at Alice, permitted his mother to take his arm and propel him away. Mrs. Dowlings spirits had strikingly recovered even before the pair passed from the corridor: she moved almost bouncingly beside her embittered son, and her eyes and all the convolutions of her abundant face were blithe.
Alice went in search of Walter, but without much hope of finding him. What he did with himself at frozen-face dances was one of his most successful mysteries, and her present excursion gave her no clue leading to its solution. When the musicians again lowered their instruments for an interval she had returned, alone, to her former seat within the partial shelter of the box-trees.
She had now to practice an art that affords but a limited variety of methods, even to the expert: the art of seeming to have an escort or partner when there is none. The practitioner must imply, merely by expression and attitude, that the supposed companion has left her for only a few moments, that she herself has sent him upon an errand; and, if possible, the minds of observers must be directed toward a conclusion that this errand of her devising is an amusing one; at all events, she is alone temporarily and of choice, not deserted. She awaits a devoted man who may return at any instant.
Other people desired to sit in Alices nook, but discovered her in occupancy. She had moved the vacant chair closer to her own, and she sat with her arm extended so that her hand, holding her lace kerchief, rested upon the back of this second chair, claiming it. Such a preemption, like that of a travellers bag in the rack, was unquestionable; and, for additional evidence, sitting with her knees crossed, she kept one foot continuously moving a little, in cadence with the other, which tapped the floor. Moreover, she added a fine detail: her half-smile, with the under lip caught, seemed to struggle against repression, as if she found the service engaging her absent companion even more amusing than she would let him see when he returned: there was jovial intrigue of some sort afoot, evidently. Her eyes, beaming with secret fun, were averted from intruders, but sometimes, when couples approached, seeking possession of the nook, her thoughts about the absentee appeared to threaten her with outright laughter; and though one or two girls looked at her skeptically, as they turned away, their escorts felt no such doubts, and merely wondered what importantly funny affair Alice Adams was engaged in. She had learned to do it perfectly.
She had learned it during the last two years; she was twenty when for the first time she had the shock of finding herself without an applicant for one of her dances. When she was sixteen all the nice boys in town, as her mother said, crowded the Adamses small veranda and steps, or sat near by, cross-legged on the lawn, on summer evenings; and at eighteen she had replaced the boys with the older men. By this time most of the other girls, her contemporaries, were away at school or college, and when they came home to stay, they came outthat feeble revival of an ancient custom offering the maiden to the ceremonial inspection of the tribe. Alice neither went away nor came out, and, in contrast with those who did, she may have seemed to lack freshness of lustrejewels are richest when revealed all new in a white velvet box. And Alice may have been too eager to secure new retainers, too kind in her efforts to keep the old ones. She had been a belle too soon.
The device of the absentee partner has the defect that it cannot be employed for longer than ten or fifteen minutes at a time, and it may not be repeated more than twice in one evening: a single repetition, indeed, is weak, and may prove a betrayal. Alice knew that her present performance could be effective during only this interval between dances; and though her eyes were guarded, she anxiously counted over the partnerless young men who lounged together in the doorways within her view. Every one of them ought to have asked her for dances, she thought, and although she might have been put to it to give a reason why any of them ought, her heart was hot with resentment against them.
For a girl who has been a belle, it is harder to live through these bad times than it is for one who has never known anything better. Like a figure of painted and brightly varnished wood, Ella Dowling sat against the wall through dance after dance with glassy imperturbability; it was easier to be wooden, Alice thought, if you had your mother with you, as Ella had. You were left with at least the shred of a pretense that you came to sit with your mother as a spectator, and not to offer yourself to be danced with by men who looked you over and rejected younot for the first time. Not for the first time: there lay a sting! Why had you thought this time might be different from the other times? Why had you broken your back picking those hundreds of violets?
Hating the fatuous young men in the doorways more bitterly for every instant that she had to maintain her tableau, the smiling Alice knew fierce impulses to spring to her feet and shout at them, You IDIOTS! Hands in pockets, they lounged against the pilasters, or faced one another, laughing vaguely, each one of them seeming to Alice no more than so much mean beef in clothes. She wanted to tell them they were no better than that; and it seemed a cruel thing of heaven to let them go on believing themselves young lords. They were doing nothing, killing time. Wasnt she at her lowest value at least a means of killing time? Evidently the mean beeves thought not. And when one of them finally lounged across the corridor and spoke to her, he was the very one to whom she preferred her loneliness.
Waiting for somebody, Lady Alicia? he asked, negligently; and his easy burlesque of her name was like the familiarity of the rest of him. He was one of those full-bodied, grossly handsome men who are powerful and active, but never submit themselves to the rigour of becoming athletes, though they shoot and fish from expensive camps. Gloss is the most shining outward mark of the type. Nowadays these men no longer use brilliantine on their moustaches, but they have gloss bought from manicure-girls, from masseurs, and from automobile-makers; and their eyes, usually large, are glossy. None of this is allowed to interfere with business; these are good business men, and often make large fortunes. They are men of imagination about two thingswomen and money, and, combining their imaginings about both, usually make a wise first marriage. Later, however, they are apt to imagine too much about some little woman without whom life seems duller than need be. They run away, leaving the first wife well enough dowered. They are never intentionally unkind to women, and in the end they usually make the mistake of thinking they have had their moneys worth of life. Here was Mr. Harvey Malone, a young specimen in an earlier stage of development, trying to marry Henrietta Lamb, and now sauntering over to speak to Alice, as a time-killer before his next dance with Henrietta.
Alice made no response to his question, and he dropped lazily into the vacant chair, from which she sharply withdrew her hand. I might as well use his chair till he comes, dont you think? You dont MIND, do you, old girl?
Oh, no, Alice said. It doesnt matter one way or the other. Please dont call me that.
So thats how you feel? Mr. Malone laughed indulgently, without much interest. Ive been meaning to come to see you for a long time honestly I havebecause I wanted to have a good talk with you about old times. I know you think it was funny, after the way I used to come to your house two or three times a week, and sometimes oftenerwell, I dont blame you for being hurt, the way I stopped without explaining or anything. The truth is there wasnt any reason: I just happened to have a lot of important things to do and couldnt find the time. But I AM going to call on you some eveninghonestly I am. I dont wonder you think
Youre mistaken, Alice said. Ive never thought anything about it at all.
Well, well! he said, and looked at her languidly. Whats the use of being cross with this old man? He always means well. And, extending his arm, he would have given her a friendly pat upon the shoulder but she evaded it. Well, well! he said. Seems to me youre getting awful tetchy! Dont you like your old friends any more?
Not all of them.
Whos the new one? he asked, teasingly. Come on and tell us, Alice. Who is it you were holding this chair for?
Well, all Ive got to do is to sit here till he comes back; then Ill see who it is.
He may not come back before you have to go.
Guess you got me THAT time, Malone admitted, laughing as he rose. Theyre tuning up, and Ive got this dance. I AM coming around to see you some evening. He moved away, calling back over his shoulder, Honestly, I am!
Alice did not look at him.
She had held her tableau as long as she could; it was time for her to abandon the box-trees; and she stepped forth frowning, as if a little annoyed with the absentee for being such a time upon her errand; whereupon the two chairs were instantly seized by a coquetting pair who intended to sit out the dance. She walked quickly down the broad corridor, turned into the broader hall, and hurriedly entered the dressing-room where she had left her wraps.
She stayed here as long as she could, pretending to arrange her hair at a mirror, then fidgeting with one of her slipper-buckles; but the intelligent elderly woman in charge of the room made an indefinite sojourn impracticable. Perhaps I could help you with that buckle, Miss, she suggested, approaching. Has it come loose? Alice wrenched desperately; then it was loose. The competent woman, producing needle and thread, deftly made the buckle fast; and there was nothing for Alice to do but to express her gratitude and go.
She went to the door of the cloak-room opposite, where a coloured man stood watchfully in the doorway. I wonder if you know which of the gentlemen is my brother, Mr. Walter Adams, she said.
Yesm; I know him.
Could you tell me where he is?
Nom; I couldnt say.
Well, if you see him, would you please tell him that his sister, Miss Adams, is looking for him and very anxious to speak to him?
Yesm. Sholy, sholy!
As she went away he stared after her and seemed to swell with some bursting emotion. In fact, it was too much for him, and he suddenly retired within the room, releasing strangulated laughter.
Walter remonstrated. Behind an excellent screen of coats and hats, in a remote part of the room, he was kneeling on the floor, engaged in a game of chance with a second coloured attendant; and the laughter became so vehement that it not only interfered with the pastime in hand, but threatened to attract frozen-face attention.
I cain hep it, man, the laughter explained. I cain hep it! You sutny the beatines white boy n is city!
The dancers were swinging into an encore as Alice halted for an irresolute moment in a doorway. Across the room, a cluster of matrons sat chatting absently, their eyes on their dancing daughters; and Alice, finding a refugees courage, dodged through the scurrying couples, seated herself in a chair on the outskirts of this colony of elders, and began to talk eagerly to the matron nearest her. The matron seemed unaccustomed to so much vivacity, and responded but dryly, whereupon Alice was more vivacious than ever; for she meant now to present the picture of a jolly girl too much interested in these wise older women to bother about every foolish young man who asked her for a dance.
Her matron was constrained to go so far as to supply a tolerant nod, now and then, in complement to the girls animation, and Alice was grateful for the nods. In this fashion she supplemented the exhausted resources of the dressing-room and the box-tree nook; and lived through two more dances, when again Mr. Frank Dowling presented himself as a partner.
She needed no pretense to seek the dressing-room for repairs after that number; this time they were necessary and genuine. Dowling waited for her, and when she came out he explained for the fourth or fifth time how the accident had happened. It was entirely those other peoples fault, he said. They got me in a kind of a corner, because neither of those fellows knows the least thing about guiding; they just jam ahead and expect everybody to get out of their way. It was Charlotte Thoms diamond crescent pin that got caught on your dress in the back and made such a
Never mind, Alice said in a tired voice. The maid fixed it so that she says it isnt very noticeable.
Well, it isnt, he returned. You could hardly tell thered been anything the matter. Where do you want to go? Mothers been interfering in my affairs some more and Ive got the next taken.
I was sitting with Mrs. George Dresser. You might take me back there.
He left her with the matron, and Alice returned to her picture-making, so that once more, while two numbers passed, whoever cared to look was offered the sketch of a jolly, clever girl preoccupied with her elders. Then she found her friend Mildred standing before her, presenting Mr. Arthur Russell, who asked her to dance with him.
Alice looked uncertain, as though not sure what her engagements were; but her perplexity cleared; she nodded, and swung rhythmically away with the tall applicant. She was not grateful to her hostess for this alms. What a young hostess does with a fiance, Alice thought, is to make him dance with the unpopular girls. She supposed that Mr. Arthur Russell had already danced with Ella Dowling.
The loan of a lover, under these circumstances, may be painful to the lessee, and Alice, smiling never more brightly, found nothing to say to Mr. Russell, though she thought he might have found something to say to her. I wonder what Mildred told him, she thought. Probably she said, Dearest, theres one more girl youve got to help me out with. You wouldnt like her much, but she dances well enough and shes having a rotten time. Nobody ever goes near her any more.
When the music stopped, Russell added his applause to the hand-clapping that encouraged the uproarious instruments to continue, and as they renewed the tumult, he said heartily, Thats splendid!
Alice gave him a glance, necessarily at short range, and found his eyes kindly and pleased. Here was a friendly soul, it appeared, who probably liked everybody. No doubt he had applauded for an encore when he danced with Ella Dowling, gave Ella the same genial look, and said, Thats splendid!
When the encore was over, Alice spoke to him for the first time.
Mildred will be looking for you, she said. I think youd better take me back to where you found me.
He looked surprised. Oh, if you
Im sure Mildred will be needing you, Alice said, and as she took his arm and they walked toward Mrs. Dresser, she thought it might be just possible to make a further use of the loan. Oh, I wonder if you she began.
Yes? he said, quickly.
You dont know my brother, Walter Adams, she said. But hes somewhere I think possibly hes in a smoking-room or some place where girls arent expected, and if you wouldnt think it too much trouble to inquire
Ill find him, Russell said, promptly. Thank you so much for that dance. Ill bring your brother in a moment.
It was to be a long moment, Alice decided, presently. Mrs. Dresser had grown restive; and her nods and vague responses to her young dependents gaieties were as meager as they could well be. Evidently the matron had no intention of appearing to her world in the light of a chaperone for Alice Adams; and she finally made this clear. With a word or two of excuse, breaking into something Alice was saying, she rose and went to sit next to Mildreds mother, who had become the nucleus of the cluster. So Alice was left very much against the wall, with short stretches of vacant chairs on each side of her. She had come to the end of her picture-making, and could only pretend that there was something amusing the matter with the arm of her chair.
She supposed that Mildreds Mr. Russell had forgotten Walter by this time. Im not even an intimate enough friend of Mildreds for him to have thought he ought to bother to tell me he couldnt find him, she thought. And then she saw Russell coming across the room toward her, with Walter beside him. She jumped up gaily.
Oh, thank you! she cried. I know this naughty boy must have been terribly hard to find. Mildredll NEVER forgive me! Ive put you to so much
Not at all, he said, amiably, and went away, leaving the brother and sister together.
Walter, lets dance just once more, Alice said, touching his arm placatively. I thoughtwell, perhaps we might go home then.
But Walters expression was that of a person upon whom an outrage has just been perpetrated. No, he said. Weve stayed THIS long, Im goin to wait and see what they got to eat. And you look here! He turned upon her angrily. Dont you ever do that again!
Send somebody after me that pokes his nose into every corner of the house till he finds me! Are you Mr. Walter Adams? he says. I guess he must asked everybody in the place if they were Mr. Walter Adams! Well, Ill bet a few iron men you wouldnt send anybody to hunt for me again if you knew where he found me!
Where was it?
Walter decided that her fit punishment was to know. I was shootin dice with those coons in the cloak-room.
And he saw you?
Unless he was blind! said Walter. Come on, Ill dance this one more dance with you. Supper comes after that, and THEN well go home.
Mrs. Adams heard Alices key turning in the front door and hurried down the stairs to meet her.
Did you get wet coming in, darling? she asked. Did you have a good time?
Just lovely! Alice said, cheerily, and after she had arranged the latch for Walter, who had gone to return the little car, she followed her mother upstairs and hummed a dance-tune on the way.
Oh, Im so glad you had a nice time, Mrs. Adams said, as they reached the door of her daughters room together. You DESERVED to, and its lovely to think
But at this, without warning, Alice threw herself into her mothers arms, sobbing so loudly that in his room, close by, her father, half drowsing through the night, started to full wakefulness.
On a morning, a week after this collapse of festal hopes, Mrs. Adams and her daughter were concluding a three-days disturbance, the Spring house-cleaningpostponed until now by Adamss long illnessand Alice, on her knees before a chest of drawers, in her mothers room, paused thoughtfully after dusting a packet of letters wrapped in worn muslin. She called to her mother, who was scrubbing the floor of the hallway just beyond the open door,
These old letters you had in the bottom drawer, werent they some papa wrote you before you were married?
Mrs. Adams laughed and said, Yes. Just put em back where they wereor else up in the atticanywhere you want to.
Do you mind if I read one, mama?
Mrs. Adams laughed again. Oh, I guess you can if you want to. I expect theyre pretty funny!
Alice laughed in response, and chose the topmost letter of the packet. My dear, beautiful girl, it began; and she stared at these singular words. They gave her a shock like that caused by overhearing some bewildering impropriety; and, having read them over to herself several times, she went on to experience other shocks.
This time yesterday I had a mighty bad case of blues because I had not had a word from you in two whole long days and when I do not hear from you every day things look mighty down in the mouth to me. Now it is all so different because your letter has arrived and besides I have got a piece of news I believe you will think as fine as I do. Darling, you will be surprised, so get ready to hear about a big effect on our future. It is this way. I had sort of a suspicion the head of the firm kind of took a fancy to me from the first when I went in there, and liked the way I attended to my work and so when he took me on this business trip with him I felt pretty sure of it and now it turns out I was about right. In return I guess I have got about the best boss in this world and I believe you will think so too. Yes, sweetheart, after the talk I have just had with him if J. A. Lamb asked me to cut my hand off for him I guess I would come pretty near doing it because what he says means the end of our waiting to be together. From New Years on he is going to put me in entire charge of the sundries dept. and what do you think is going to be my salary? Eleven hundred cool dollars a year ($1,100.00). Thats all! Just only a cool eleven hundred per annum! Well, I guess that will show your mother whether I can take care of you or not. And oh how I would like to see your dear, beautiful, loving face when you get this news.
I would like to go out on the public streets and just dance and shout and it is all I can do to help doing it, especially when I know we will be talking it all over together this time next week, and oh my darling, now that your folks have no excuse for putting it off any longer we might be in our own little home before Xmas.
Would you be glad?
Well, darling, this settles everything and makes our future just about as smooth for us as anybody could ask. I can hardly realize after all this waiting lifes troubles are over for you and me and we have nothing to do but to enjoy the happiness granted us by this wonderful, beautiful thing we call life. I know I am not any poet and the one I tried to write about you the day of the picnic was fearful but the way I THINK about you is a poem.
Write me what you think of the news. I know but write me anyhow.
Ill get it before we start home and I can be reading it over all the time on the tram.
Your always loving
The sound of her mothers diligent scrubbing in the hall came back slowly to Alices hearing, as she restored the letter to the packet, wrapped the packet in its muslin covering, and returned it to the drawer. She had remained upon her knees while she read the letter; now she sank backward, sitting upon the floor with her hands behind her, an unconscious relaxing for better ease to think. Upon her face there had fallen a look of wonder.
For the first time she was vaguely perceiving that life is everlasting movement. Youth really believes what is running water to be a permanent crystallization and sees time fixed to a point: some people have dark hair, some people have blond hair, some people have gray hair. Until this moment, Alice had no conviction that there was a universe before she came into it. She had always thought of it as the background of herself: the moon was something to make her prettier on a summer night.
But this old letter, through which she saw still flickering an ancient starlight of young love, astounded her. Faintly before her it revealed the whole lives of her father and mother, who had been young, after allthey REALLY hadand their youth was now so utterly passed from them that the picture of it, in the letter, was like a burlesque of them. And so she, herself, must pass to such changes, too, and all that now seemed vital to her would be nothing.
When her work was finished, that afternoon, she went into her fathers room. His recovery had progressed well enough to permit the departure of Miss Perry; and Adams, wearing one of Mrs. Adamss wrappers over his night-gown, sat in a high-backed chair by a closed window. The weather was warm, but the closed window and the flannel wrapper had not sufficed him: round his shoulders he had an old crocheted scarf of Alices; his legs were wrapped in a heavy comfort; and, with these swathings about him, and his eyes closed, his thin and grizzled head making but a slight indentation in the pillow supporting it, he looked old and little and queer.
Alice would have gone out softly, but without opening his eyes, he spoke to her: Dont go, dearie. Come sit with the old man a little while.
She brought a chair near his. I thought you were napping.
No. I dont hardly ever do that. I just drift a little sometimes.
How do you mean you drift, papa?
He looked at her vaguely. Oh, I dont know. Kind of pictures. They get a little mixed upold times with times still ahead, like planning what to do, you know. Thats as near a nap as I getwhen the pictures mix up some. I suppose its sort of drowsing.
She took one of his hands and stroked it. What do you mean when you say you have pictures like planning what to do? she asked.
I mean planning what to do when I get out and able to go to work again.
But that doesnt need any planning, Alice said, quickly. Youre going back to your old place at Lambs, of course.
Adams closed his eyes again, sighing heavily, but made no other response.
Why, of COURSE you are! she cried. What are you talking about?
His head turned slowly toward her, revealing the eyes, open in a haggard stare. I heard you the other night when you came from the party, he said. I know what was the matter.
Indeed, you dont, she assured him. You dont know anything about it, because there wasnt anything the matter at all.
Dont you suppose I heard you crying? Whatd you cry for if there wasnt anything the matter?
Just nerves, papa. It wasnt anything else in the world.
Never mind, he said. Your mother told me.
She promised me not to!
At that Adams laughed mournfully. It wouldnt be very likely Id hear you so upset and not ask about it, even if she didnt come and tell me on her own hook. You neednt try to fool me; I tell you I know what was the matter.
The only matter was I had a silly fit, Alice protested. It did me good, too.
Because Ive decided to do something about it, papa.
That isnt the way your mother looks at it, Adams said, ruefully. She thinks its our place to do something about it. Well, I dont knowI dont know; everything seems so changed these days. Youve always been a good daughter, Alice, and you ought to have as much as any of these girls you go with; shes convinced me shes right about THAT. The trouble is He faltered, apologetically, then went on, I mean the question ishow to get it for you.
No! she cried. I had no business to make such a fuss just because a lot of idiots didnt break their necks to get dances with me and because I got mortified about WalterWalter WAS pretty terrible
Oh, me, my! Adams lamented. I guess thats something we just have to leave work out itself. What you going to do with a boy nineteen or twenty years old that makes his own living? Cant whip him. Cant keep him locked up in the house. Just got to hope hell learn better, I suppose.
Of course he didnt want to go to the Palmers, Alice explained, tolerantlyand as mama and I made him take me, and he thought that was pretty selfish in me, why, he felt he had a right to amuse himself any way he could. Of course it was awful that thisthat this Mr. Russell should In spite of her, the recollection choked her.
Yes, it was awful, Adams agreed. Just awful. Oh, me, my!
But Alice recovered herself at once, and showed him a cheerful face. Well, just a few years from now I probably wont even remember it! I believe hardly anything amounts to as much as we think it does at the time.
Wellsometimes it dont.
What Ive been thinking, papa: it seems to me I ought to DO something.
She looked dreamy, but was obviously serious as she told him: Well, I mean I ought to be something besides just a kind of nobody. I ought to She paused.
Welltheres one thing Id like to do. Im sure I COULD do it, too.
I want to go on the stage: I know I could act. At this, her father abruptly gave utterance to a feeble cackling of laughter; and when Alice, surprised and a little offended, pressed him for his reason, he tried to evade, saying, Nothing, dearie. I just thought of something. But she persisted until he had to explain.
It made me think of your mothers sister, your Aunt Flora, that died when you were little, he said. She was always telling how she was going on the stage, and talking about how she was certain shed make a great actress, and all so on; and one day your mother broke out and said she ought a gone on the stage, herself, because she always knew she had the talent for itand, well, they got into kind of a spat about which oned make the best actress. I had to go out in the hall to laugh!
Maybe you were wrong, Alice said, gravely. If they both felt it, why wouldnt that look as if there was talent in the family? Ive ALWAYS thought
No, dearie, he said, with a final chuckle. Your mother and Flora werent different from a good many others. I expect ninety per cent. of all the women I ever knew were just sure theyd be mighty fine actresses if they ever got the chance. Well, I guess its a good thing; they enjoy thinking about it and it dont do anybody any harm.
Alice was piqued. For several days she had thought almost continuously of a career to be won by her own genius. Not that she planned details, or concerned herself with first steps; her picturings overleaped all that. Principally, she saw her name great on all the bill-boards of that unkind city, and herself, unchanged in age but glamorous with fame and Paris clothes, returning in a private car. No doubt the pleasantest development of her vision was a dialogue with Mildred; and this became so real that, as she projected it, Alice assumed the proper expressions for both parties to it, formed words with her lips, and even spoke some of them aloud. No, I havent forgotten you, Mrs. Russell. I remember you quite pleasantly, in fact. You were a Miss Palmer, I recall, in those funny old days. Very kind of you, Im shaw. I appreciate your eagerness to do something for me in your own little home. As you say, a reception WOULD renew my acquaintanceship with many old friendsbut Im shaw you wont mind my mentioning that I dont find much inspiration in these provincials. I really must ask you not to press me. An artists time is not her own, though of course I could hardly expect you to understand
Thus Alice illuminated the dull time; but she retired from the interview with her father still manfully displaying an outward cheerfulness, while depression grew heavier within, as if she had eaten soggy cake. Her father knew nothing whatever of the stage, and she was aware of his ignorance, yet for some reason his innocently skeptical amusement reduced her bright project almost to nothing. Something like this always happened, it seemed; she was continually making these illuminations, all gay with gildings and colourings; and then as soon as anybody else so much as glanced at themeven her father, who loved herthe pretty designs were stricken with a desolating pallor. Is this LIFE? Alice wondered, not doubting that the question was original and all her own. Is it life to spend your time imagining things that arent so, and never will be? Beautiful things happen to other people; why should I be the only one they never CAN happen to?
The mood lasted overnight; and was still upon her the next afternoon when an errand for her father took her down-town. Adams had decided to begin smoking again, and Alice felt rather degraded, as well as embarrassed, when she went into the large shop her father had named, and asked for the cheap tobacco he used in his pipe. She fell back upon an air of amused indulgence, hoping thus to suggest that her purchase was made for some faithful old retainer, now infirm; and although the calmness of the clerk who served her called for no such elaboration of her sketch, she ornamented it with a little laugh and with the remark, as she dropped the package into her coat-pocket, Im sure itll please him; they tell me its the kind he likes.
Still playing Lady Bountiful, smiling to herself in anticipation of the joy she was bringing to the simple old negro or Irish follower of the family, she left the shop; but as she came out upon the crowded pavement her smile vanished quickly.
Next to the door of the tobacco-shop, there was the open entrance to a stairway, and, above this rather bleak and dark aperture, a sign-board displayed in begrimed gilt letters the information that Frinckes Business College occupied the upper floors of the building. Furthermore, Frincke here publicly offered personal instruction and training in practical mathematics, bookkeeping, and all branches of the business life, including stenography, typewriting, etc.
Alice halted for a moment, frowning at this signboard as though it were something surprising and distasteful which she had never seen before. Yet it was conspicuous in a busy quarter; she almost always passed it when she came down-town, and never without noticing it. Nor was this the first time she had paused to lift toward it that same glance of vague misgiving.
The building was not what the changeful city defined as a modern one, and the dusty wooden stairway, as seen from the pavement, disappeared upward into a smoky darkness. So would the footsteps of a girl ascending there lead to a hideous obscurity, Alice thought; an obscurity as dreary and as permanent as death. And like dry leaves falling about her she saw her wintry imaginings in the May air: pretty girls turning into withered creatures as they worked at typing-machines; old maids taking dictation from men with double chins; Alice saw old maids of a dozen different kinds taking dictation. Her minds eye was crowded with them, as it always was when she passed that stairway entrance; and though they were all different from one another, all of them looked a little like herself.
She hated the place, and yet she seldom hurried by it or averted her eyes. It had an unpleasant fascination for her, and a mysterious reproach, which she did not seek to fathom. She walked on thoughtfully to-day; and when, at the next corner, she turned into the street that led toward home, she was given a surprise. Arthur Russell came rapidly from behind her, lifting his hat as she saw him.
Are you walking north, Miss Adams? he asked. Do you mind if I walk with you?
She was not delighted, but seemed so. How charming! she cried, giving him a little flourish of the shapely hands; and then, because she wondered if he had seen her coming out of the tobacco-shop, she laughed and added, Ive just been on the most ridiculous errand!
What was that?
To order some cigars for my father. Hes been quite ill, poor man, and hes so particularbut what in the world do I know about cigars?
Russell laughed. Well, what DO you know about em? Did you select by the price?
Mercy, no! she exclaimed, and added, with an afterthought, Of course he wrote down the name of the kind he wanted and I gave it to the shopman. I could never have pronounced it.
In her pocket as she spoke her hand rested upon the little sack of tobacco, which responded accusingly to the touch of her restless fingers; and she found time to wonder why she was building up this fiction for Mr. Arthur Russell. His discovery of Walters device for whiling away the dull evening had shamed and distressed her; but she would have suffered no less if almost any other had been the discoverer. In this gentleman, after hearing that he was Mildreds Mr. Arthur Russell, Alice felt not the slightest personal interest; and there was yet to develop in her life such a thing as an interest not personal. At twenty-two this state of affairs is not unique.
So far as Alice was concerned Russell might have worn a placard, Engaged. She looked upon him as diners entering a restaurant look upon tables marked Reserved: the glance, slightly discontented, passes on at once. Or so the eye of a prospector wanders querulously over staked and established claims on the mountainside, and seeks the virgin land beyond; unless, indeed, the prospector be dishonest. But Alice was no claim-jumperso long as the notice of ownership was plainly posted.
Though she was indifferent now, habit ruled her: and, at the very time she wondered why she created fictitious cigars for her father, she was also regretting that she had not boldly carried her Malacca stick down-town with her. Her vivacity increased automatically.
Perhaps the clerk thought you wanted the cigars for yourself, Russell suggested. He may have taken you for a Spanish countess.
Im sure he did! Alice agreed, gaily; and she hummed a bar or two of LaPaloma, snapping her fingers as castanets, and swaying her body a little, to suggest the accepted stencil of a Spanish Dancer. Would you have taken me for one, Mr. Russell? she asked, as she concluded the impersonation.
I? Why, yes, he said. ID take you for anything you wanted me to.
Why, what a speech! she cried, and, laughing, gave him a quick glance in which there glimmered some real surprise. He was looking at her quizzically, but with the liveliest appreciation. Her surprise increased; and she was glad that he had joined her.
To be seen walking with such a companion added to her pleasure. She would have described him as altogether quite stunning-looking; and she liked his tall, dark thinness, his gray clothes, his soft hat, and his clean brown shoes; she liked his easy swing of the stick he carried.
Shouldnt I have said it? he asked. Would you rather not be taken for a Spanish countess?
That isnt it, she explained. You said
I said Id take you for whatever you wanted me to. Isnt that all right?
It would all depend, wouldnt it?
Of course it would depend on what you wanted.
Oh, no! she laughed. It might depend on a lot of things.
Well She hesitated, having the mischievous impulse to say, Such as Mildred! But she decided to omit this reference, and became serious, remembering Russells service to her at Mildreds house. Speaking of what I want to be taken for, she said;Ive been wondering ever since the other night what you did take me for! You must have taken me for the sister of a professional gambler, Im afraid!
Russells look of kindness was the truth about him, she was to discover; and he reassured her now by the promptness of his friendly chuckle. Then your young brother told you where I found him, did he? I kept my face straight at the time, but I laughed afterwardto myself. It struck me as original, to say the least: his amusing himself with those darkies.
Walter IS original, Alice said; and, having adopted this new view of her brothers eccentricities, she impulsively went on to make it more plausible. Hes a very odd boy, and I was afraid youd misunderstand. He tells wonderful darky stories, and hell do anything to draw coloured people out and make them talk; and thats what he was doing at Mildreds when you found him for mehe says he wins their confidence by playing dice with them. In the family we think hell probably write about them some day. Hes rather literary.
Are you? Russell asked, smiling.
I? Oh She paused, lifting both hands in a charming gesture of helplessness. Oh, Im justme!
His glance followed the lightly waved hands with keen approval, then rose to the lively and colourful face, with its hazel eyes, its small and pretty nose, and the lip-caught smile which seemed the climax of her decorative transition. Never had he seen a creature so plastic or so wistful.
Here was a contrast to his cousin Mildred, who was not wistful, and controlled any impulses toward plasticity, if she had them. By George! he said. But you ARE different!
With that, there leaped in her such an impulse of roguish gallantry as she could never resist. She turned her head, and, laughing and bright-eyed, looked him full in the face.
From whom? she cried.
Fromeverybody! he said. Are you a mind-reader?
How did you know I was thinking you were different from my cousin, Mildred Palmer?
What makes you think I DID know it?
Nonsense! he said. You knew what I was thinking and I knew you knew.
Yes, she said with cool humour. How intimate that seems to make us all at once!
Russell left no doubt that he was delighted with these gaieties of hers. By George! he exclaimed again. I thought you were this sort of girl the first moment I saw you!
What sort of girl? Didnt Mildred tell you what sort of girl I am when she asked you to dance with me?
She didnt ask me to dance with youId been looking at you. You were talking to some old ladies, and I asked Mildred who you were.
Oh, so Mildred DIDNT Alice checked herself. Who did she tell you I was?
She just said you were a Miss Adams, so I
A Miss Adams? Alice interrupted.
Yes. Then I said Id like to meet you.
I see. You thought youd save me from the old ladies.
No. I thought Id save myself from some of the girls Mildred was getting me to dance with. There was a Miss Dowling
Poor man! Alice said, gently, and her impulsive thought was that Mildred had taken few chances, and that as a matter of self-defense her carefulness might have been well founded. This Mr. Arthur Russell was a much more responsive person than one had supposed.
So, Mr. Russell, you dont know anything about me except what you thought when you first saw me?
Yes, I know I was right when I thought it.
You havent told me what you thought.
I thought you were like what you ARE like.
Not very definite, is it? Im afraid you shed more light a minute or so ago, when you said how different from Mildred you thought I was. That WAS definite, unfortunately!
I didnt say it, Russell explained. I thought it, and you read my mind. Thats the sort of girl I thought you wereone that could read a mans mind. Why do you say unfortunately youre not like Mildred?
Alices smooth gesture seemed to sketch Mildred. Because shes perfectwhy, shes PERFECTLY perfect! She never makes a mistake, and everybody looks up to heroh, yes, we all fairly adore her! Shes like some big, noble, cold statueway above the rest of usand she hardly ever does anything mean or treacherous. Of all the girls I know I believe shes played the fewest really petty tricks. Shes
Russell interrupted; he looked perplexed. You say shes perfectly perfect, but that she does play SOME
Alice laughed, as if at his sweet innocence. Men are so funny! she informed him. Of course girls ALL do mean things sometimes. My own careers just one long brazen smirch of em! What I mean is, Mildreds perfectly perfect compared to the rest of us.
I see, he said, and seemed to need a moment or two of thoughtfulness. Then he inquired, What sort of treacherous things do YOU do?
I? Oh, the very worst kind! Most people bore me particularly the men in this townand I show it.
But I shouldnt call that treacherous, exactly.
Well, THEY do, Alice laughed. Its made me a terribly unpopular character! I do a lot of things they hate. For instance, at a dance Id a lot rather find some clever old woman and talk to her than dance with nine-tenths of these nonentities. I usually do it, too.
But you danced as if you liked it. You danced better than any other girl I
This flattery of yours doesnt quite turn my head, Mr. Russell, Alice interrupted. Particularly since Mildred only gave you Ella Dowling to compare with me!
Oh, no, he insisted. There were othersand of course Mildred, herself.
Oh, of course, yes. I forgot that. Well She paused, then added, I certainly OUGHT to dance well.
Why is it so much a duty?
When I think of the dancing-teachers and the expense to papa! All sorts of fancy instructorsI suppose thats what daughters have fathers for, though, isnt it? To throw money away on them?
You dont Russell began, and his look was one of alarm. You havent taken up
She understood his apprehension and responded merrily, Oh, murder, no! You mean youre afraid I break out sometimes in a piece of cheesecloth and run around a fountain thirty times, and then, for an encore, show how much like snakes I can make my arms look.
I SAID you were a mind-reader! he exclaimed. Thats exactly what I was pretending to be afraid you might do.
Pretending? Thats nicer of you. No; its not my mania.
Oh, nothing in particular that I know of just now. Of course Ive had the usual one: the one that every girl goes through.
Good heavens, Mr. Russell, you cant expect me to believe youre really a man of the world if you dont know that every girl has a time in her life when shes positive shes divinely talented for the stage! Its the only universal rule about women that hasnt got an exception. I dont mean we all want to go on the stage, but we all think wed be wonderful if we did. Even Mildred. Oh, she wouldnt confess it to you: youd have to know her a great deal better than any man can ever know her to find out.
I see, he said. Girls are always telling us we cant know them. I wonder if you
She took up his thought before he expressed it, and again he was fascinated by her quickness, which indeed seemed to him almost telepathic. Oh, but DONT we know one another, though! she cried.
Such things we have to keep secretthings that go on right before YOUR eyes!
Why dont some of you tell us? he asked.
We cant tell you.
Too much honour?
No. Not even too much honour among thieves, Mr. Russell. We dont tell you about our tricks against one another because we know it wouldnt make any impression on you. The tricks arent played against you, and you have a soft side for cats with lovely manners!
What about your tricks against us?
Oh, those! Alice laughed. We think theyre rather cute!
Bravo! he cried, and hammered the ferrule of his stick upon the pavement.
Whats the applause for?
For you. What you said was like running up the black flag to the masthead.
Oh, no. It was just a modest little sign in a pretty flower-bed: Gentlemen, beware!
I see I must, he said, gallantly.
Thanks! But I mean, beware of the whole bloomin garden! Then, picking up a thread that had almost disappeared: You neednt think youll ever find out whether Im right about Mildreds not being an exception by asking her, she said. She wont tell you: shes not the sort that ever makes a confession.
But Russell had not followed her shift to the former topic. Mildreds not being an exception? he said, vaguely. I dont
An exception about thinking she could be a wonderful thing on the stage if she only cared to. If you asked her Im pretty sure shed say, What nonsense! Mildreds the dearest, finest thing anywhere, but you wont find out many things about her by asking her.
Russells expression became more serious, as it did whenever his cousin was made their topic. You think not? he said. You think shes
No. But its not because she isnt sincere exactly. Its only because she has such a lot to live up to. She has to live up to being a girl on the grand style to herself, I mean, of course. And without pausing Alice rippled on, You ought to have seen ME when I had the stage-fever! I used to play Juliet all alone in my room. She lifted her arms in graceful entreaty, pleading musically,
O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
She broke off abruptly with a little flourish, snapping thumb and finger of each outstretched hand, then laughed and said, Papa used to make such fun of me! Thank heaven, I was only fifteen; I was all over it by the next year.
No wonder you had the fever, Russell observed. You do it beautifully. Why didnt you finish the line?
Which one? Lest thy love prove likewise variable? Juliet was saying it to a MAN, you know. She seems to have been ready to worry about his constancy pretty early in their affair!
Her companion was again thoughtful. Yes, he said, seeming to be rather irksomely impressed with Alices suggestion. Yes; it does appear so.
Alice glanced at his serious face, and yielded to an audacious temptation. You mustnt take it so hard, she said, flippantly.
It isnt about you: its only about Romeo and Juliet.
See here! he exclaimed. You arent at your mind-reading again, are you? There are times when it wont do, you know!
She leaned toward him a little, as if companionably: they were walking slowly, and this geniality of hers brought her shoulder in light contact with his for a moment. Do you dislike my mind-reading? she asked, and, across their two just touching shoulders, gave him her sudden look of smiling wistfulness. Do you hate it?
He shook his head. No, I dont, he said, gravely. Its quite pleasant. But I think it says, Gentlemen, beware!
She instantly moved away from him, with the lawless and frank laugh of one who is delighted to be caught in a piece of hypocrisy. How lovely! she cried. Then she pointed ahead. Our walk is nearly over. Were coming to the foolish little house where I live. Its a queer little place, but my fathers so attached to it the family have about given up hope of getting him to build a real house farther out. He doesnt mind our being extravagant about anything else, but he wont let us alter one single thing about his precious little old house. Well! She halted, and gave him her hand. Adieu!
I couldnt, he began; hesitated, then asked: I couldnt come in with you for a little while?
Not now, she said, quickly. You can come She paused.
Almost any time. She turned and walked slowly up the path, but he waited. You can come in the evening if you like, she called back to him over her shoulder.
As soon as you like! She waved her hand; then ran indoors and watched him from a window as he went up the street. He walked rapidly, a fine, easy figure, swinging his stick in a way that suggested exhilaration. Alice, staring after him through the irregular apertures of a lace curtain, showed no similar buoyancy. Upon the instant she closed the door all sparkle left her: she had become at once the simple and sometimes troubled girl her family knew.
What is going on out there? her mother asked, approaching from the dining-room.
Oh, nothing, Alice said, indifferently, as she turned away. That Mr. Russell met me downtown and walked up with me.
Mr. Russell? Oh, the one thats engaged to Mildred?
WellI dont know for certain. He didnt seem so much like an engaged man to me. And she added, in the tone of thoughtful preoccupation: Anyhownot so terribly!
Then she ran upstairs, gave her father his tobacco, filled his pipe for him, and petted him as he lighted it.
After that, she went to her room and sat down before her three-leaved mirror. There was where she nearly always sat when she came into her room, if she had nothing in mind to do. She went to that chair as naturally as a dog goes to his corner.
She leaned forward, observing her profile; gravity seemed to be her mood. But after a long, almost motionless scrutiny, she began to produce dramatic sketches upon that ever-ready stage, her countenance: she showed gaiety, satire, doubt, gentleness, appreciation of a companion and love-in-hidingall studied in profile first, then repeated for a three-quarter view. Subsequently she ran through them, facing herself in full.
In this manner she outlined a playful scenario for her next interview with Arthur Russell; but grew solemn again, thinking of the impression she had already sought to give him. She had no twinges for any underminings of her most intimate friendin fact, she felt that her work on a new portrait of Mildred for Mr.
Russell had been honest and accurate. But why had it been her instinct to show him an Alice Adams who didnt exist?
Almost everything she had said to him was upon spontaneous impulse, springing to her lips on the instant; yet it all seemed to have been founded upon a careful design, as if some hidden self kept such designs in stock and handed them up to her, ready-made, to be used for its own purpose. What appeared to be the desired result was a false-coloured image in Russells mind; but if he liked that image he wouldnt be liking Alice Adams; nor would anything he thought about the image be a thought about her.
Nevertheless, she knew she would go on with her false, fancy colourings of this nothing as soon as she saw him again; she had just been practicing them. Whats the idea? she wondered. What makes me tell such lies? Why shouldnt I be just myself? And then she thought, But which one is myself?
Her eyes dwelt on the solemn eyes in the mirror; and her lips, disquieted by a deepening wonder, parted to whisper:
Who in the world are you?
The apparition before her had obeyed her like an alert slave, but now, as she subsided to a complete stillness, that aspect changed to the old mockery with which mirrors avenge their wrongs. The nucleus of some queer thing seemed to gather and shape itself behind the nothingness of the reflected eyes until it became almost an actual strange presence. If it could be identified, perhaps the presence was that of the hidden designer who handed up the false, ready-made pictures, and, for unknown purposes, made Alice exhibit them; but whatever it was, she suddenly found it monkey-like and terrifying. In a flutter she jumped up and went to another part of the room.
A moment or two later she was whistling softly as she hung her light coat over a wooden triangle in her closet, and her musing now was quainter than the experience that led to it; for what she thought was this, I certainly am a queer girl! She took a little pride in so much originality, believing herself probably the only person in the world to have such thoughts as had been hers since she entered the room, and the first to be disturbed by a strange presence in the mirror. In fact, the effect of the tiny episode became apparent in that look of preoccupied complacency to be seen for a time upon any girl who has found reason to suspect that she is a being without counterpart.
This slight glow, still faintly radiant, was observed across the dinner-table by Walter, but he misinterpreted it. What YOU lookin so self-satisfied about? he inquired, and added in his knowing way, I saw you, all right, cutie!
Whered you see me?
This afternoon, you mean, Walter?
Yes, this afternoon, I mean, Walter, he returned, burlesquing her voice at least happily enough to please himself; for he laughed applausively. Oh, you never saw me! I passed you close enough to pull a tooth, but you were awful busy. I never did see anybody as busy as you get, Alice, when youre towin a barge. My, but you keep your hands goin! Looked like the air was full of em! Thats why Im onto why you look so tickled this evening; I saw you with that big fish.
Mrs. Adams laughed benevolently; she was not displeased with this rallying. Well, what of it, Walter? she asked. If you happen to see your sister on the street when some nice young man is being attentive to her
Walter barked and then cackled. Whoa, Sal! he said. You got the parts mixed. Its little Alice that was being attentive. I know the big fish she was attentive to, all right, too.
Yes, his sister retorted, quietly. I should think you might have recognized him, Walter.
Walter looked annoyed. Still harpin on THAT! he complained. The kind of women I like, if they get sore they just hit you somewhere on the face and then theyre through. By the way, I heard this Russell was supposed to be your dear, old, sweet friend Mildreds steady. What you doin walkin as close to him as all that?
Mrs. Adams addressed her son in gentle reproof, Why Walter!
Oh, never mind, mama, Alice said. To the horrid all things are horrid.
Get out! Walter protested, carelessly. I heard all about this Russell down at the shop. Young Joe Lambs such a talker I wonder he dont ruin his grandfathers business; he keeps all us cheap help standin round listening to him nine-tenths of our time. Well, Joe told me this Russells some kin or other to the Palmer family, and hes got some little money of his own, and hes puttin it into ole Palmers trust company and Palmers goin to make him a vice-president of the company. Sort of a keep-the-money-in-the-family arrangement, Joe Lamb says.
Mrs. Adams looked thoughtful. I dont see she began.
Why, this Russells supposed to be tied up to Mildred, her son explained. When ole Palmer dies this Russell will be his son-in-law, and all hell haf to doll be to barely lift his feet and step into the ole mans shoes. Its certainly a mighty fat hand-me-out for this Russell! You better lay off o there, Alice. Pick somebody thats got less to lose and youll make better showing.
Mrs. Adamss air of thoughtfulness had not departed. But you say this Mr. Russell is well off on his own account, Walter.
Oh, Joe Lamb says hes got some little of his own. Didnt know how much.
Walter laughed his laugh. Cut it out, he bade her. Alice wouldnt run in fourth place.
Alice had been looking at him in a detached way, as though estimating the value of a specimen in a collection not her own. Yes, she said, indifferently. You REALLY are vulgar, Walter.
He had finished his meal; and, rising, he came round the table to her and patted her good-naturedly on the shoulder. Good ole Allie! he said. HONEST, you wouldnt run in fourth place. If I was you Id never even start in the class. That frozen-face gang will rule you off the track soon as they see your colours.
Walter! his mother said again.
Well, aint I her brother? he returned, seeming to be entirely serious and direct, for the moment, at least. I like the ole girl all right. Fact is, sometimes Im kind of sorry for her.
But whats it all ABOUT? Alice cried. Simply because you met me down-town with a man I never saw but once before and just barely know! Why all this palaver?
Why? he repeated, grinning. Well, Ive seen you start before, you know! He went to the door, and paused. I got no date to-night. Take you to the movies, you care to go.
She declined crisply. No, thanks!
Come on, he said, as pleasantly as he knew how.
Give me a chance to show you a better time than we had up at that frozen-face joint. Ill get you some chop suey afterward.
All right, he responded and waved a flippant adieu. As the barber says, The better the advice, the worse its wasted! Good-night!
Alice shrugged her shoulders; but a moment or two later, as the jar of the carelessly slammed front door went through the house, she shook her head, reconsidering. Perhaps I ought to have gone with him. It might have kept him away from whatever dreadful people are his friendsat least for one night.
Oh, Im sure Walters a GOOD boy, Mrs. Adams said, soothingly; and this was what she almost always said when either her husband or Alice expressed such misgivings. Hes odd, and hes picked up right queer manners; but thats only because we havent given him advantages like the other young men. But Im sure hes a GOOD boy.
She reverted to the subject a little later, while she washed the dishes and Alice wiped them. Of course Walter could take his place with the other nice boys of the town even yet, she said. I mean, if we could afford to help him financially. They all belong to the country clubs and have cars and
Lets dont go into that any more, mama, the daughter begged her. Whats the use?
It COULD be of use, Mrs. Adams insisted. It could if your father
But papa CANT.
Yes, he can.
But how can he? He told me a man of his age CANT give up a business hes been in practically all his life, and just go groping about for something that might never turn up at all. I think hes right about it, too, of course!
Mrs. Adams splashed among the plates with a new vigour heightened by an old bitterness. Oh, yes, she said. He talks that way; but he knows better.
How could he know better, mama?
HE knows how!
But what does he know?
Mrs. Adams tossed her head. You dont suppose Im such a fool Id be urging him to give up something for nothing, do you, Alice? Do you suppose Id want him to just go groping around like he was telling you? That would be crazy, of course. Little as his work at Lambs brings in, I wouldnt be so silly as to ask him to give it up just on a CHANCE he could find something else. Good gracious, Alice, you must give me credit for a little intelligence once in a while!
Alice was puzzled. But what else could there be except a chance? I dont see
Well, I do, her mother interrupted, decisively. That man could make us all well off right now if he wanted to. We could have been rich long ago if hed ever really felt as he ought to about his family.
What! Why, how could
You know how as well as I do, Mrs. Adams said, crossly. I guess you havent forgotten how he treated me about it the Sunday before he got sick.
She went on with her work, putting into it a sudden violence inspired by the recollection; but Alice, enlightened, gave utterance to a laugh of lugubrious derision. Oh, the GLUE factory again! she cried. How silly! And she renewed her laughter.
So often do the great projects of parents appear ignominious to their children. Mrs. Adamss conception of a glue factory as a fairy godmother of this family was an absurd old story which Alice had never taken seriously. She remembered that when she was about fifteen her mother began now and then to say something to Adams about a glue factory, rather timidly, and as a vague suggestion, but never without irritating him. Then, for years, the preposterous subject had not been mentioned; possibly because of some explosion on the part of Adams, when his daughter had not been present. But during the last year Mrs. Adams had quietly gone back to these old hints, reviving them at intervals and also reviving her husbands irritation. Alices bored impression was that her mother wanted him to found, or buy, or do something, or other, about a glue factory; and that he considered the proposal so impracticable as to be insulting. The parental conversations took place when neither Alice nor Walter was at hand, but sometimes Alice had come in upon the conclusion of one, to find her father in a shouting mood, and shocking the air behind him with profane monosyllables as he departed. Mrs. Adams would be left quiet and troubled; and when Alice, sympathizing with the goaded man, inquired of her mother why these tiresome bickerings had been renewed, she always got the brooding and cryptic answer, He COULD do itif he wanted to. Alice failed to comprehend the desirability of a glue factoryto her mind a father engaged in a glue factory lacked impressiveness; had no advantage over a father employed by Lamb and Company; and she supposed that Adams knew better than her mother whether such an enterprise would be profitable or not. Emphatically, he thought it would not, for she had heard him shouting at the end of one of these painful interviews, You can keep up your dang talk till YOU die and I die, but Ill never make one Gods cent that way!
There had been a culmination. Returning from church on the Sunday preceding the collapse with which Adamss illness had begun, Alice found her mother downstairs, weeping and intimidated, while her fathers stamping footsteps were loudly audible as he strode up and down his room overhead. So were his endless repetitions of invective loudly audible: That woman! Oh, that woman; Oh, that danged woman!
Mrs. Adams admitted to her daughter that it was the old glue factory and that her husbands wildness had frightened her into a solemn promise never to mention the subject again so long as she had breath. Alice laughed. The glue factory idea was not only a bore, but ridiculous, and her mothers evident seriousness about it one of those inexplicable vagaries we sometimes discover in the people we know best. But this Sunday rampage appeared to be the end of it, and when Adams came down to dinner, an hour later, he was unusually cheerful. Alice was glad he had gone wild enough to settle the glue factory once and for all; and she had ceased to think of the episode long before Friday of that week, when Adams was brought home in the middle of the afternoon by his old employer, the great J. A. Lamb, in the latters car.
During the long illness the glue factory was completely forgotten, by Alice at least; and her laugh was rueful as well as derisive now, in the kitchen, when she realized that her mothers mind again dwelt upon this abandoned nuisance. I thought youd got over all that nonsense, mama, she said.
Mrs. Adams smiled, pathetically. Of course you think its nonsense, dearie. Young people think everythings nonsense that they dont know anything about.
Good gracious! Alice cried. I should think I used to hear enough about that horrible old glue factory to know something about it!
No, her mother returned patiently. Youve never heard anything about it at all.
No. Your father and I didnt discuss it before you children. All you ever heard was when hed get in such a rage, after wed been speaking of it, that he couldnt control himself when you came in. Wasnt I always quiet? Did I ever go on talking about it?
No; perhaps not. But youre talking about it now, mama, after you promised never to mention it again.
I promised not to mention it to your father, said Mrs. Adams, gently. I havent mentioned it to him, have I?
Ah, but if you mention it to me Im afraid you WILL mention it to him. You always do speak of things that you have on your mind, and you might get papa all stirred up again about Alice paused, a light of divination flickering in her eyes. Oh! she cried. I SEE!
What do you see?
You HAVE been at him about it!
Not one single word!
No! Alice cried. Not a WORD, but thats what youve meant all along! You havent spoken the words to him, but all this urging him to change, to find something better to go intoits all been about nothing on earth but your foolish old glue factory that you know upsets him, and you gave your solemn word never to speak to him about again! You didnt say it, but you meant itand he KNOWS thats what you meant! Oh, mama!
Mrs. Adams, with her hands still automatically at work in the flooded dishpan, turned to face her daughter. Alice, she said, tremulously, what do I ask for myself?
I say, What do I ask for myself? Do you suppose I want anything? Dont you know Id be perfectly content on your fathers present income if I were the only person to be considered? What do I care about any pleasure for myself? Id be willing never to have a maid again; I dont mind doing the work. If we didnt have any children Id be glad to do your fathers cooking and the housework and the washing and ironing, too, for the rest of my life. I wouldnt care. Im a poor cook and a poor housekeeper; I dont do anything well; but it would be good enough for just him and me. I wouldnt ever utter one word of com
Oh, goodness! Alice lamented. What IS it all about?
Its about this, said Mrs. Adams, swallowing. You and Walter are a new generation and you ought to have the same as the rest of the new generation get. Poor Walterasking you to go to the movies and a Chinese restaurant: the best he had to offer! Dont you suppose I see how the poor boy is deteriorating? Dont you suppose I know what YOU have to go through, Alice? And when I think of that man upstairs The agitated voice grew louder. When I think of him and know that nothing in the world but his STUBBORNNESS keeps my children from having all they want and what they OUGHT to have, do you suppose Im going to hold myself bound to keep to the absolute letter of a silly promise he got from me by behaving like a crazy man? I cant! I cant do it! No mother could sit by and see him lock up a horn of plenty like that in his closet when the children were starving!
Oh, goodness, goodness me! Alice protested. We arent precisely starving, are we?
Mrs. Adams began to weep. Its just the same. Didnt I see how flushed and pretty you looked, this afternoon, after youd been walking with this young man thats come here? Do you suppose hed LOOK at a girl like Mildred Palmer if you had what you ought to have? Do you suppose hed be going into business with her father if YOUR father
Good heavens, mama; youre worse than Walter: I just barely know the man! DONT be so absurd!
Yes, Im always absurd, Mrs. Adams moaned. All I can do is cry, while your father sits upstairs, and his horn of plenty
But Alice interrupted with a peal of desperate laughter. Oh, that horn of plenty! Do come down to earth, mama. How can you call a GLUE factory, that doesnt exist except in your mind, a horn of plenty? Do lets be a little rational!
It COULD be a horn of plenty, the tearful Mrs. Adams insisted. It could! You dont understand a thing about it.
Well, Im willing, Alice said, with tired skepticism. Make me understand, then. Whered you ever get the idea?
Mrs. Adams withdrew her hands from the water, dried them on a towel, and then wiped her eyes with a handkerchief. Your father could make a fortune if he wanted to, she said, quietly. At least, I dont say a fortune, but anyhow a great deal more than he does make.
Yes, Ive heard that before, mama, and you think he could make it out of a glue factory. What Im asking is: How?
How? Why, by making glue and selling it. Dont you know how bad most glue is when you try to mend anything? A good glue is one of the rarest things there is; and it would just sell itself, once it got started. Well, your father knows how to make as good a glue as there is in the world.
Alice was not interested. What of it? I suppose probably anybody could make it if they wanted to.
I SAID you didnt know anything about it. Nobody else could make it. Your father knows a formula for making it.
What of that?
Its a secret formula. It isnt even down on paper. Its worth any amount of money.
Any amount? Alice said, remaining incredulous. Why hasnt papa sold it then?
Just because hes too stubborn to do anything with it at all!
How did papa get it?
He got it before you were born, just after we were married. I didnt think much about it then: it wasnt till you were growing up and I saw how much we needed money that I
Yes, but how did papa get it? Alice began to feel a little more curious about this possible buried treasure. Did he invent it?
Partly, Mrs. Adams said, looking somewhat preoccupied. He and another man invented it.
Then maybe the other man
Then his family
I dont think he left any family, Mrs. Adams said. Anyhow, it belongs to your father. At least it belongs to him as much as it does to any one else. Hes got an absolutely perfect right to do anything he wants to with it, and it would make us all comfortable if hed do what I want him toand he KNOWS it would, too!
Alice shook her head pityingly. Poor mama! she said. Of course he knows it wouldnt do anything of the kind, or else hed have done it long ago.
He would, you say? her mother cried. That only shows how little you know him!
Poor mama! Alice said again, soothingly. If papa were like what you say he is, hed bewhy, hed be crazy!
Mrs. Adams agreed with a vehemence near passion. Youre right about him for once: thats just what he is! He sits up there in his stubbornness and lets us slave here in the kitchen when if he wanted toif hed so much as lift his little finger
Oh, come, now! Alice laughed. You cant build even a glue factory with just one little finger.
Mrs. Adams seemed about to reply that finding fault with a figure of speech was beside the point; but a ringing of the front door bell forestalled the retort. Now, who do you suppose that is? she wondered aloud, then her face brightened. Ahdid Mr. Russell ask if he could
No, he wouldnt be coming this evening, Alice said. Probably its the great J. A. Lamb: he usually stops for a minute on Thursdays to ask how papas getting along. Ill go.
She tossed her apron off, and as she went through the house her expression was thoughtful. She was thinking vaguely about the glue factory and wondering if there might be something in it after all. If her mother was right about the rich possibilities of Adamss secretbut that was as far as Alices speculations upon the matter went at this time: they were checked, partly by the thought that her father probably hadnt enough money for such an enterprise, and partly by the fact that she had arrived at the front door.
The fine old gentleman revealed when she opened the door was probably the last great merchant in America to wear the chin beard. White as white frost, it was trimmed short with exquisite precision, while his upper lip and the lower expanses of his cheeks were clean and rosy from fresh shaving. With this trim white chin beard, the white waistcoat, the white tie, the suit of fine gray cloth, the broad and brilliantly polished black shoes, and the wide-brimmed gray felt hat, here was a man who had found his style in the seventies of the last century, and thenceforth kept it. Files of old magazines of that period might show him, in woodcut, as, Type of Boston Merchant; Nast might have drawn him as an honest statesman. He was eighty, hale and sturdy, not aged; and his quick blue eyes, still unflecked, and as brisk as a boys, saw everything.
Well, well, well! he said, heartily. You havent lost any of your good looks since last week, I see, Miss Alice, so I guess Im to take it you havent been worrying over your daddy. The young fellers getting along all right, is he?
Hes much better; hes sitting up, Mr. Lamb. Wont you come in?
Well, I dont know but I might. He turned to call toward twin disks of light at the curb, Be out in a minute, Billy; and the silhouette of a chauffeur standing beside a car could be seen to salute in response, as the old gentleman stepped into the hall. You dont suppose your daddys receiving callers yet, is he?
Hes a good deal stronger than he was when you were here last week, but Im afraid hes not very presentable, though.
Presentable? The old man echoed her jovially. Pshaw! Ive seen lots of sick folks. I know what they look like and how they love to kind of nest in among a pile of old blankets and wrappers. Dont you worry about THAT, Miss Alice, if you think hed like to see me.
Of course he wouldif Alice hesitated; then said quickly, Of course hed love to see you and hes quite able to, if you care to come up.
She ran up the stairs ahead of him, and had time to snatch the crocheted wrap from her fathers shoulders. Swathed as usual, he was sitting beside a table, reading the evening paper; but when his employer appeared in the doorway he half rose as if to come forward in greeting.
Sit still! the old gentleman shouted. What do you mean? Dont you know youre weak as a cat? Dyou think a man can be sick as long as you have and NOT be weak as a cat? What you trying to do the polite with ME for?
Adams gratefully protracted the handshake that accompanied these inquiries. This is certainly mighty fine of you, Mr. Lamb, he said. I guess Alice has told you how much our whole family appreciate your coming here so regularly to see how this old bag o bones was getting along. Havent you, Alice?
Yes, papa, she said; and turned to go out, but Lamb checked her.
Stay right here, Miss Alice; Im not even going to sit down. I know how it upsets sick folks when people outside the family come in for the first time.
You dont upset me, Adams said. Ill feel a lot better for getting a glimpse of you, Mr. Lamb.
The visitors laugh was husky, but hearty and re-assuring, like his voice in speaking. Thats the way all my boys blarney me, Miss Alice, he said. They think Ill make the work lighter on em if they can get me kind of flattered up. You just tell your daddy its no use; he doesnt get on MY soft side, pretending he likes to see me even when hes sick.
Oh, Im not so sick any more, Adams said. I expect to be back in my place ten days from now at the longest.
Well, now, dont hurry it, Virgil; dont hurry it. You take your time; take your time.
This brought to Adamss lips a feeble smile not lacking in a kind of vanity, as feeble. Why? he asked. I suppose you think my department runs itself down there, do you?
His employers response was another husky laugh. Well, well, well! he cried, and patted Adamss shoulder with a strong pink hand. Listen to this young feller, Miss Alice, will you! He thinks we cant get along without him a minute! Yes, sir, this daddy of yours believes the whole works ll just take and run down if he isnt there to keep em wound up. I always suspected he thought a good deal of himself, and now I know he does!
Adams looked troubled. Well, I dont like to feel that my salarys going on with me not earning it.
Listen to him, Miss Alice! Wouldnt you think, now, hed let me be the one to worry about that? Why, on my word, if your daddy had his way, I wouldnt be anywhere. Hed take all my worrying and everything else off my shoulders and shove me right out of Lamb and Company! He would!
It seems to me Ive been soldiering on you a pretty long while, Mr. Lamb, the convalescent said, querulously. I dont feel right about it; but Ill be back in ten days. Youll see.
The old man took his hand in parting. All right; well see, Virgil. Of course we do need you, seriously speaking; but we dont need you so bad well let you come down there before youre fully fit and able. He went to the door. You hear, Miss Alice? Thats what I wanted to make the old feller understand, and what I want you to kind of enforce on him. The old place is there waiting for him, and itd wait ten years if it took him that long to get good and well. You see that he remembers it, Miss Alice!
She went down the stairs with him, and he continued to impress this upon her until he had gone out of the front door. And even after that, the husky voice called back from the darkness, as he went to his car, Dont forget, Miss Alice; let him take his own time. We always want him, but we want him to get good and well first. Good-night, good-night, young lady!
When she closed the door her mother came from the farther end of the living-room, where there was no light; and Alice turned to her.
I cant help liking that old man, mama, she said. He always sounds sowell, so solid and honest and friendly! I do like him.
But Mrs. Adams failed in sympathy upon this point. He didnt say anything about raising your fathers salary, did he? she asked, dryly.
No. I thought not.
She would have said more, but Alice, indisposed to listen, began to whistle, ran up the stairs, and went to sit with her father. She found him bright-eyed with the excitement a first caller brings into a slow convalescence: his cheeks showed actual hints of colour; and he was smiling tremulously as he filled and lit his pipe. She brought the crocheted scarf and put it about his shoulders again, then took a chair near him.
I believe seeing Mr. Lamb did do you good, papa, she said. I sort of thought it might, and thats why I let him come up. You really look a little like your old self again.
Adams exhaled a breathy Ha! with the smoke from his pipe as he waved the match to extinguish it. Thats fine, he said. The smoke I had before dinner didnt taste the way it used to, and I kind of wondered if Id lost my liking for tobacco, but this one seems to be all right. You bet it did me good to see J. A. Lamb! Hes the biggest man thats ever lived in this town or ever will live here; and you can take all the Governors and Senators or anything theyve raised here, and put em in a pot with him, and they wont come out one-two-three alongside o him! And to think as big a man as that, with all his interests and everything hes got on his mindto think hed never let anything prevent him from coming here once every week to ask how I was getting along, and then walk right upstairs and kind of CALL on me, as it were well, it makes me sort of feel as if I wasnt so much of a nobody, so to speak, as your mother seems to like to make out sometimes.
How foolish, papa! Of COURSE youre not a nobody.
Adams chuckled faintly upon his pipe-stem, what vanity he had seeming to be further stimulated by his daughters applause. I guess there arent a whole lot of people in this town that could claim J. A. showed that much interest in em, he said. Of course I dont set up to believe its all because of merit, or anything like that. Hed do the same for anybody else thatd been with the company as long as I have, but still it IS something to be with the company that long and have him show he appreciates it.
Yes, indeed, it is, papa.
Yes, sir, Adams said, reflectively. Yes, sir, I guess thats so. And besides, it all goes to show the kind of a man he is. Simon pure, thats what that man is, Alice. Simon pure! Theres never been anybody work for him that didnt respect him more than they did any other man in the world, I guess. And when you work for him you know he respects you, too. Right from the start you get the feeling that J. A. puts absolute confidence in you; and thats mighty stimulating: it makes you want to show him he hasnt misplaced it. Theres great big moral values to the way a man like him gets you to feeling about your relations with the business: it aint all just dollars and centsnot by any means!
He was silent for a time, then returned with increasing enthusiasm to this theme, and Alice was glad to see so much renewal of life in him; he had not spoken with a like cheerful vigour since before his illness. The visit of his idolized great man had indeed been good for him, putting new spirit into him; and liveliness of the body followed that of the spirit. His improvement carried over the night: he slept well and awoke late, declaring that he was pretty near a well man and ready for business right now. Moreover, having slept again in the afternoon, he dressed and went down to dinner, leaning but lightly on Alice, who conducted him.
My! but you and your mother have been at it with your scrubbing and dusting! he said, as they came through the living-room. I dont know I ever did see the house so spick and span before! His glance fell upon a few carnations in a vase, and he chuckled admiringly. Flowers, too! So THATS what you coaxed that dollar and a half out o me for, this morning!
Other embellishments brought forth his comment when he had taken his old seat at the head of the small dinner-table. Why, I declare, Alice! he exclaimed. I been so busy looking at all the spick-and-spanishness after the house-cleaning, and the flowers out in the parlourliving room I suppose you want me to call it, if I just GOT to be fashionableI been so busy studying over all this so-and-so, I declare I never noticed YOU till this minute! My, but you ARE all dressed up! Whats goin on? Whats it about: you so all dressed up, and flowers in the parlour and everything?
Dont you see, papa? Its in honour of your coming downstairs again, of course.
Oh, so thats it, he said. I never would a thought of that, I guess.
But Walter looked sidelong at his father, and gave forth his sly and knowing laugh. Neither would I! he said.
Adams lifted his eyebrows jocosely. Youre jealous, are you, sonny? You dont want the old man to think our young ladyd make so much fuss over him, do you?
Go on thinkin its over you, Walter retorted, amused. Go on and think it. Itll do you good.
Of course Ill think it, Adams said. It isnt anybodys birthday. Certainly the decorations are on account of me coming downstairs. Didnt you hear Alice say so?
Sure, I heard her say so.
Walter interrupted him with a little music. Looking shrewdly at Alice, he sang:
I was walkin out on Monday with my sweet thing. Shes my neat thing, My sweet thing: Ill go round on Tuesday night to see her. Oh, how well spoon
Walter! his mother cried. WHERE do you learn such vulgar songs? However, she seemed not greatly displeased with him, and laughed as she spoke.
So thats it, Alice! said Adams. Playing the hypocrite with your old man, are you? Its some new beau, is it?
I only wish it were, she said, calmly. No. Its just what I said: its all for you, dear.
Dont let her con you, Walter advised his father. Shes got expectations. You hang around downstairs a while after dinner and youll see.
But the prophecy failed, though Adams went to his own room without waiting to test it. No one came.
Alice stayed in the living-room until half-past nine, when she went slowly upstairs. Her mother, almost tearful, met her at the top, and whispered, You mustnt mind, dearie.
Mustnt mind what? Alice asked, and then, as she went on her way, laughed scornfully. What utter nonsense! she said.
Next day she cut the stems of the rather scant show of carnations and refreshed them with new water. At dinner, her father, still in high spirits, observed that she had again dressed up in honour of his second descent of the stairs; and Walter repeated his fragment of objectionable song; but these jocularities were rendered pointless by the eventless evening that followed; and in the morning the carnations began to appear tarnished and flaccid.
Alice gave them a long look, then threw them away; and neither Walter nor her father was inspired to any rallying by her plain costume for that evening. Mrs. Adams was visibly depressed.
When Alice finished helping her mother with the dishes, she went outdoors and sat upon the steps of the little front veranda. The night, gentle with warm air from the south, surrounded her pleasantly, and the perpetual smoke was thinner. Now that the furnaces of dwelling-houses were no longer fired, life in that city had begun to be less like life in a railway tunnel; people were aware of summer in the air, and in the thickened foliage of the shade-trees, and in the sky. Stars were unveiled by the passing of the denser smoke fogs, and to-night they could be seen clearly; they looked warm and near. Other girls sat upon verandas and stoops in Alices street, cheerful as young fishermen along the banks of a stream.
Alice could hear them from time to time; thin sopranos persistent in laughter that fell dismally upon her ears. She had set no lines or nets herself, and what she had of expectations, as Walter called them, were vanished. For Alice was experienced; and one of the conclusions she drew from her experience was that when a man says, Id take you for anything you wanted me to, he may mean it or, he may not; but, if he does, he will not postpone the first opportunity to say something more. Little affairs, once begun, must be warmed quickly; for if they cool they are dead.
But Alice was not thinking of Arthur Russell. When she tossed away the carnations she likewise tossed away her thoughts of that young man. She had been like a boy who sees upon the street, some distance before him, a bit of something round and glittering, a possible dime. He hopes it is a dime, and, until he comes near enough to make sure, he plays that it is a dime. In his mind he has an adventure with it: he buys something delightful. If he picks it up, discovering only some tin-foil which has happened upon a round shape, he feels a sinking. A dulness falls upon him.
So Alice was dull with the loss of an adventure; and when the laughter of other girls reached her, intermittently, she had not sprightliness enough left in her to be envious of their gaiety. Besides, these neighbours were ineligible even for her envy, being of another caste; they could never know a dance at the Palmers, except remotely, through a newspaper. Their laughter was for the encouragement of snappy young men of the stores and offices down-town, clerks, bookkeepers, what notsome of them probably graduates of Frinckes Business College.
Then, as she recalled that dark portal, with its dusty stairway mounting between close walls to disappear in the upper shadows, her mind drew back as from a doorway to Purgatory. Nevertheless, it was a picture often in her reverie; and sometimes it came suddenly, without sequence, into the midst of her other thoughts, as if it leaped up among them from a lower darkness; and when it arrived it wanted to stay. So a traveller, still roaming the world afar, sometimes broods without apparent reason upon his family burial lot: I wonder if I shall end there.
The foreboding passed abruptly, with a jerk of her breath, as the street-lamp revealed a tall and easy figure approaching from the north, swinging a stick in time to its stride. She had given Russell upand he came.
What luck for me! he exclaimed. To find you alone!
Alice gave him her hand for an instant, not otherwise moving. Im glad it happened so, she said. Lets stay out here, shall we? Do you think its too provincial to sit on a girls front steps with her?
Provincial? Why, its the very best of our institutions, he returned, taking his place beside her. At least, I think so to-night.
Thanks! Is that practice for other nights somewhere else?
No, he laughed. The practicing all led up to this. Did I come too soon?
No, she replied, gravely. Just in time!
Im glad to be so accurate; Ive spent two evenings wanting to come, Miss Adams, instead of doing what I was doing.
What was that?
Dinners. Large and long dinners. Your fellow-citizens are immensely hospitable to a newcomer.
Oh, no, Alice said. We dont do it for everybody. Didnt you find yourself charmed?
One was a mens dinner, he explained. Mr. Palmer seemed to think I ought to be shown to the principal business men.
What was the other dinner?
My cousin Mildred gave it.
Oh, DID she! Alice said, sharply, but she recovered herself in the same instant, and laughed. She wanted to show you to the principal business women, I suppose.
I dont know. At all events, I shouldnt give myself out to be so much feted by your fellow-citizens, after all, seeing these were both done by my relatives, the Palmers. However, there are others to follow, Im afraid. I was wonderingI hoped maybe youd be coming to some of them. Arent you?
I rather doubt it, Alice said, slowly. Mildreds dance was almost the only evening Ive gone out since my fathers illness began. He seemed better that day; so I went. He was better the other day when he wanted those cigars. Hes very much up and down. She paused. Id almost forgotten that Mildred is your cousin.
Not a very near one, he explained. Mr. Palmers father was my great-uncle.
Still, of course you are related.
Yes; that distantly.
Alice said placidly, Its quite an advantage.
He agreed. Yes. It is.
No, she said, in the same placid tone. I mean for Mildred.
I dont see
She laughed. No. You wouldnt. I mean its an advantage over the rest of us who might like to compete for some of your time; and the worst of it is we cant accuse her of being unfair about it. We cant prove she showed any trickiness in having you for a cousin. Whatever else she might plan to do with you, she didnt plan that. So the rest of us must just bear it!
The rest of you! he laughed. Its going to mean a great deal of suffering!
Alice resumed her placid tone. Youre staying at the Palmers, arent you?
No, not now. Ive taken an apartment. Im going to live here; Im permanent. Didnt I tell you?
I think Id heard somewhere that you were, she said. Do you think youll like living here?
How can one tell?
If I were in your place I think I should be able to tell, Mr. Russell.
Why, good gracious! she cried. Havent you got the most perfect creature in town for youryour cousin? SHE expects to make you like living here, doesnt she? How could you keep from liking it, even if you tried not to, under the circumstances?
Well, you see, theres such a lot of circumstances, he explained; Im not sure Ill like getting back into a business again. I suppose most of the men of my age in the country have been going through the same experience: the War left us with a considerable restlessness of spirit.
You were in the War? she asked, quickly, and as quickly answered herself, Of course you were!
I was a left-over; they only let me out about four months ago, he said. Its quite a shake-up trying to settle down again.
You were in France, then?
Oh, yes; but I didnt get up to the front muchonly two or three times, and then just for a day or so. I was in the transportation service.
You were an officer, of course.
Yes, he said. They let me play I was a major.
I guessed a major, she said. Youd always be pretty grand, of course.
Russell was amused. Well, you see, he informed her, as it happened, we had at least several other majors in our army. Why would I always be something pretty grand?
Youre related to the Palmers. Dont you notice they always affect the pretty grand?
Then you think Im only one of their affectations, I take it.
Yes, you seem to be the most successful one theyve got! Alice said, lightly. You certainly do belong to them. And she laughed as if at something hidden from him. Dont you?
But youve just excused me for that, he protested. You said nobody could be blamed for my being their third cousin. What a contradictory girl you are!
Alice shook her head. Lets keep away from the kind of girl I am.
No, he said. Thats just what I came here to talk about.
She shook her head again. Lets keep first to the kind of man you are. Im glad you were in the War.
Oh, I dont know. She was quiet a moment, for she was thinking that here she spoke the truth: his service put about him a little glamour that helped to please her with him. She had been pleased with him during their walk; pleased with him on his own account; and now that pleasure was growing keener. She looked at him, and though the light in which she saw him was little more than starlight, she saw that he was looking steadily at her with a kindly and smiling seriousness. All at once it seemed to her that the night air was sweeter to breathe, as if a distant fragrance of new blossoms had been blown to her. She smiled back to him, and said, Well, what kind of man are you?
I dont know; Ive often wondered, he replied. What kind of girl are you?
Dont you remember? I told you the other day. Im just me!
But who is that?
You forget everything; said Alice. You told me what kind of a girl I am. You seemed to think youd taken quite a fancy to me from the very first.
So I did, he agreed, heartily.
But how quickly you forgot it!
Oh, no. I only want YOU to say what kind of a girl you are.
She mocked him. I dont know; Ive often wondered! What kind of a girl does Mildred tell you I am? What has she said about me since she told you I was a Miss Adams?
I dont know; I havent asked her.
Then DONT ask her, Alice said, quickly.
Because shes such a perfect creature and Im such an imperfect one. Perfect creatures have the most perfect way of ruining the imperfect ones.
But then they wouldnt be perfect. Not if they
Oh, yes, they remain perfectly perfect, she assured him. Thats because they never go into details. Theyre not so vulgar as to come right out and TELL that youve been in jail for stealing chickens. They just look absent-minded and say in a low voice, Oh, very; but I scarcely think youd like her particularly; and then begin to talk of something else right away.
His smile had disappeared. Yes, he said, somewhat ruefully. That does sound like Mildred. You certainly do seem to know her! Do you know everybody as well as that?
Not myself, Alice said. I dont know myself at all. I got to wondering about thatabout who I wasthe other day after you walked home with me.
He uttered an exclamation, and added, explaining it, You do give a man a chance to be fatuous, though! As if it were walking home with me that made you wonder about yourself!
It was, Alice informed him, coolly. I was wondering what I wanted to make you think of me, in case I should ever happen to see you again.
This audacity appeared to take his breath. By George! he cried.
You mustnt be astonished, she said. What I decided then was that I would probably never dare to be just myself with younot if I cared to have you want to see me againand yet here I am, just being myself after all!
You ARE the cheeriest series of shocks, Russell exclaimed, whereupon Alice added to the series.
Tell me: Is it a good policy for me to follow with you? she asked, and he found the mockery in her voice delightful. Would you advise me to offer you shocks as a sort of vacation from suavity?
Suavity was yet another sketch of Mildred; a recognizable one, or it would not have been humorous. In Alices hands, so dexterous in this work, her statuesque friend was becoming as ridiculous as a fine figure of wax left to the mercies of a satirist.
But the lively young sculptress knew better than to overdo: what she did must appear to spring all from mirth; so she laughed as if unwillingly, and said, I MUSTNT laugh at Mildred! In the first place, shes youryour cousin. And in the second place, shes not meant to be funny; it isnt right to laugh at really splendid people who take themselves seriously. In the third place, you wont come again if I do.
Dont be sure of that, Russell said, whatever you do.
Whatever I do? she echoed. That sounds as if you thought I COULD be terrific! Be careful; theres one thing I could do that would keep you away.
I could tell you not to come, she said. I wonder if I ought to.
Why do you wonder if you ought to?
Dont you guess?
Then lets both be mysteries to each other, she suggested. I mystify you because I wonder, and you mystify me because you dont guess why I wonder. Well let it go at that, shall we?
Very well; so long as its certain that you DONT tell me not to come again.
Ill not tell you thatyet, she said. In fact She paused, reflecting, with her head to one side. In fact, I wont tell you not to come, probably, until I see thats what you want me to tell you. Ill let you out easilyand Ill be sure to see it. Even before you do, perhaps.
That arrangement suits me, Russell returned, and his voice held no trace of jocularity: he had become serious. It suits me better if youre enough in earnest to mean that I can comeoh, not whenever I want to; I dont expect so much!but if you mean that I can see you pretty often.
Of course Im in earnest, she said. But before I say you can come pretty often, Id like to know how much of my time youd need if you did come whenever you want to; and of course you wouldnt dare make any answer to that question except one. Wouldnt you let me have Thursdays out?
No, no, he protested. I want to know. Will you let me come pretty often?
Lean toward me a little, Alice said. I want you to understand. And as he obediently bent his head near hers, she inclined toward him as if to whisper; then, in a half-shout, she cried,
He clapped his hands. By George! he said. What a girl you are!
Well, for the first reason, because you have such gaieties as that one. I should think your father would actually like being ill, just to be in the house with you all the time.
You mean by that, Alice inquired, I keep my family cheerful with my amusing little ways?
Yes. Dont you?
There were only boys in your family, werent there, Mr. Russell?
I was an only child, unfortunately.
Yes, she said. I see you hadnt any sisters.
For a moment he puzzled over her meaning, then saw it, and was more delighted with her than ever. I can answer a question of yours, now, that I couldnt a while ago.
Yes, I know, she returned, quietly.
But how could you know?
Its the question I asked you about whether you were going to like living here, she said. Youre about to tell me that now you know you WILL like it.
More telepathy! he exclaimed. Yes, that was it, precisely. I suppose the same things been said to you so many times that you
No, it hasnt, Alice said, a little confused for the moment. Not at all. I meant She paused, then asked in a gentle voice, Would you really like to know?
Well, then, I was only afraid you didnt mean it.
See here, he said. I did mean it. I told you it was being pretty difficult for me to settle down to things again. Well, its more difficult than you know, but I think I can pull through in fair spirits if I can see a girl like you pretty often.
All right, she said, in a business-like tone. Ive told you that you can if you want to.
I do want to, he assured her. I do, indeed!
How often is pretty often, Mr. Russell?
Would you walk with me sometimes? To-morrow?
Sometimes. Not to-morrow. The day after.
Thats splendid! he said. Youll walk with me day after to-morrow, and the night after that Ill see you at Miss Lambs dance, wont I?
But this fell rather chillingly upon Alice. Miss Lambs dance? Which Miss Lamb? she asked.
I dont knowits the one thats just coming out of mourning.
Oh, Henriettayes. Is her dance so soon? Id forgotten.
Youll be there, wont you? he asked. Please say youre going.
Alice did not respond at once, and he urged her again: Please do promise youll be there.
No, I cant promise anything, she said, slowly. You see, for one thing, papa might not be well enough.
But if he is? said Russell. If he is youll surely come, wont you? Or, perhaps He hesitated, then went on quickly, I dont know the rules in this place yet, and different places have different rules; but do you have to have a chaperone, or dont girls just go to dances with the men sometimes? If they do, would youwould you let me take you?
Alice was startled. Good gracious!
Whats the matter?
Dont you think your relativesArent you expected to go with Mildredand Mrs. Palmer?
Not necessarily. It doesnt matter what I might be expected to do, he said. Will you go with me?
INo; I couldnt.
I cant. Im not going.
Papas not really any better, Alice said, huskily. Im too worried about him to go to a dance. Her voice sounded emotional, genuinely enough; there was something almost like a sob in it. Lets talk of other things, please.
He acquiesced gently; but Mrs. Adams, who had been listening to the conversation at the open window, just overhead, did not hear him. She had correctly interpreted the sob in Alices voice, and, trembling with sudden anger, she rose from her knees, and went fiercely to her husbands room.
He had not undressed, and he sat beside the table, smoking his pipe and reading his newspaper. Upon his forehead the lines in that old pattern, the historical map of his troubles, had grown a little vaguer lately; relaxed by the complacency of a man who not only finds his health restored, but sees the days before him promising once more a familiar routine that he has always liked to follow.
As his wife came in, closing the door behind her, he looked up cheerfully, Well, mother, he said, whats the news downstairs?
Thats what I came to tell you, she informed him, grimly.
Adams lowered his newspaper to his knee and peered over his spectacles at her. She had remained by the door, standing, and the great greenish shadow of the small lamp-shade upon his table revealed her but dubiously. Isnt everything all right? he asked. Whats the matter?
Dont worry: Im going to tell you, she said, her grimness not relaxed. Theres matter enough, Virgil Adams. Matter enough to make me sick of being alive!
With that, the markings on his brows began to emerge again in all their sharpness; the old pattern reappeared. Oh, my, my! he lamented. I thought maybe we were all going to settle down to a little peace for a while. Whats it about now?
Its about Alice. Did you think it was about ME or anything for MYSELF?
Like some ready old machine, always in order, his irritability responded immediately and automatically to her emotion. How in thunder could I think what its about, or who its for? SAY it, and get it over!
Oh, Ill say it, she promised, ominously. What Ive come to ask you is, How much longer do you expect me to put up with that old man and his doings?
Whose doings? What old man?
She came at him, fiercely accusing. You know well enough what old man, Virgil Adams! That old man who was here the other night.
Yes; Mister Lamb! She mocked his voice. What other old man would I be likely to mean except J. A. Lamb?
Whats he been doing now? her husband inquired, satirically. Whered you get something new against him since the last time you
Just this! she cried. The other night when that man was here, if Id known how he was going to make my child suffer, Id never have let him set his foot in my house.
Adams leaned back in his chair as though her absurdity had eased his mind. Oh, I see, he said. Youve just gone plain crazy. Thats the only explanation of such talk, and it suits the case.
Hasnt that man made us all suffer every day of our lives? she demanded. Id like to know why it is that my life and my childrens lives have to be sacrificed to him?
How are they sacrificed to him?
Because you keep on working for him! Because you keep on letting him hand out whatever miserable little pittance he chooses to give you; thats why! Its as if he were some horrible old Juggernaut and I had to see my childrens own father throwing them under the wheels to keep him satisfied.
I wont hear any more such stuff! Lifting his paper, Adams affected to read.
Youd better listen to me, she admonished him. You might be sorry you didnt, in case he ever tried to set foot in my house again! I might tell him to his face what I think of him.
At this, Adams slapped the newspaper down upon his knee. Oh, the devil! Whats it matter what you think of him?
It had better matter to you! she cried. Do you suppose Im going to submit forever to him and his family and what theyre doing to my child?
What are he and his family doing to your child?
Mrs. Adams came out with it. That snippy little Henrietta Lamb has always snubbed Alice every time shes ever had the chance. Shes followed the lead of the other girls; theyve always all of em been jealous of Alice because she dared to try and be happy, and because shes showier and better-looking than they are, even though you do give her only about thirty-five cents a year to do it on! Theyve all done everything on earth they could to drive the young men away from her and belittle her to em; and this mean little Henrietta Lambs been the worst of the whole crowd to Alice, every time she could see a chance.
What for? Adams asked, incredulously. Why should she or anybody else pick on Alice?
Why? What for? his wife repeated with a greater vehemence. Do YOU ask me such a thing as that? Do you really want to know?
Yes; Id want to knowI would if I believed it.
Then Ill tell you, she said in a cold fury. Its on account of you, Virgil, and nothing else in the world.
He hooted at her. Oh, yes! These girls dont like ME, so they pick on Alice.
Quit your palavering and evading, she said. A crowd of girls like that, when they get a pretty girl like Alice among them, they act just like wild beasts. Theyll tear her to pieces, or else theyll chase her and run her out, because they know if she had half a chance shed outshine em. They cant do that to a girl like Mildred Palmer because shes got money and family to back her. Now you listen to me, Virgil Adams: the way the world is now, money IS family. Alice would have just as much family as any of em every single bitif you hadnt fallen behind in the race.
How did I
Yes, you did! she cried. Twenty-five years ago when we were starting and this town was smaller, you and I could have gone with any of em if wed tried hard enough. Look at the people we knew then that do hold their heads up alongside of anybody in this town! WHY can they? Because the men of those families made money and gave their children everything that makes life worth living! Why cant we hold our heads up? Because those men passed you in the race. They went up the ladder, and youyoure still a clerk down at that old hole!
You leave that out, please, he said. I thought you were going to tell me something Henrietta Lamb had done to our Alice.
You BET Im going to tell you, she assured him, vehemently. But first Im telling WHY she does it. Its because youve never given Alice any backing nor any background, and they all know they can do anything they like to her with perfect impunity. If she had the hundredth part of what THEY have to fall back on shed have made em sing a mighty different song long ago!
How would she?
Oh, my heavens, but youre slow! Mrs. Adams moaned. Look here! You remember how practically all the nicest boys in this town used to come here a few years ago. Why, they were all crazy over her; and the girls HAD to be nice to her then. Look at the difference now! Therell be a whole month go by and not a young man come to call on her, let alone send her candy or flowers, or ever think of TAKING her any place and yet shes prettier and brighter than she was when they used to come. It isnt the childs fault she couldnt hold em, is it? Poor thing, SHE tried hard enough! I suppose youd say it was her fault, though.
No; I wouldnt.
Then whose fault is it?
Oh, mine, mine, he said, wearily. I drove the young men away, of course.
You might as well have driven em, Virgil. It amounts to just the same thing.
How does it?
Because as they got older a good many of em began to think more about money; thats one thing. Moneys at the bottom of it all, for that matter. Look at these country clubs and all such things: the other girls families belong and we dont, and Alice dont; and she cant go unless somebody takes her, and nobody does any more. Look at the other girls houses, and then look at our house, so shabby and old-fashioned shed be pretty near ashamed to ask anybody to come in and sit down nowadays! Look at her clothesoh, yes; you think you shelled out a lot for that little coat of hers and the hat and skirt she got last March; but its nothing. Some of these girls nowadays spend more than your whole salary on their clothes. And what jewellery has she got? A plated watch and two or three little pins and rings of the kind peoples maids wouldnt wear now. Good Lord, Virgil Adams, wake up! Dont sit there and tell me you dont know things like this mean SUFFERING for the child!
He had begun to rub his hands wretchedly back and forth over his bony knees, as if in that way he somewhat alleviated the tedium caused by her racking voice. Oh, my, my! he muttered. OH, my, my!
Yes, I should think you WOULD say Oh, my, my! she took him up, loudly. That doesnt help things much! If you ever wanted to DO anything about it, the poor child might see some gleam of hope in her life. You dont CARE for her, thats the trouble; you dont care a single thing about her.
No; you dont. Why, even with your miserable little salary you could have given her more than you have. Youre the closest man I ever knew: its like pulling teeth to get a dollar out of you for her, now and then, and yet you hide some away, every month or so, in some wretched little investment or other. You
Look here, now, he interrupted, angrily. You look here! If I didnt put a little by whenever I could, in a bond or something, where would you be if anything happened to me? The insurance doctors never passed me; YOU know that. Havent we got to have SOMETHING to fall back on?
Yes, we have! she cried. We ought to have something to go on with right now, too, when we need it. Do you suppose these snippets would treat Alice the way they do if she could afford to ENTERTAIN? They leave her out of their dinners and dances simply because they know she cant give any dinners and dances to leave them out of! They know she cant get EVEN, and thats the whole story! Thats why Henrietta Lambs done this thing to her now.
Adams had gone back to his rubbing of his knees. Oh, my, my! he said. WHAT thing?
She told him. Your dear, grand, old Mister Lambs Henrietta has sent out invitations for a large partya LARGE one. Everybody that is anybody in this town is asked, you can be sure. Theres a very fine young man, a Mr. Russell, has just come to town, and hes interested in Alice, and hes asked her to go to this dance with him. Well, Alice cant accept. She cant go with him, though shed give anything in the world to do it. Do you understand? The reason she cant is because Henrietta Lamb hasnt invited her. Do you want to know why Henrietta hasnt invited her? Its because she knows Alice cant get even, and because she thinks Alice ought to be snubbed like this on account of only being the daughter of one of her grandfathers clerks. I HOPE you understand!
Oh, my, my! he said. OH, my, my!
Thats your sweet old employer, his wife cried, tauntingly. Thats your dear, kind, grand old Mister Lamb! Alice has been left out of a good many smaller things, like big dinners and little dances, but this is just the same as serving her notice that shes out of everything! And its all done by your dear, grand old
Look here! Adams exclaimed. I dont want to hear any more of that! You cant hold him responsible for everything his grandchildren do, I guess! He probably doesnt know a thing about it. You dont suppose hes troubling HIS head over
But she burst out at him passionately. Suppose you trouble YOUR head about it! Youd better, Virgil Adams! Youd better, unless you want to see your child just dry up into a miserable old maid! Shes still young and she has a chance for happiness, if she had a father that didnt bring a millstone to hang around her neck, instead of what he ought to give her! You just wait till you die and God asks you what you had in your breast instead of a heart!
Oh, my, my! he groaned. Whats my heart got to do with it?
Nothing! You havent got one or youd give her what she needed. Am I asking anything you CANT do? You know better; you know Im not!
At this he sat suddenly rigid, his troubled hands ceasing to rub his knees; and he looked at her fixedly. Now, tell me, he said, slowly. Just what ARE you asking?
You know! she sobbed.
You mean youve broken your word never to speak of THAT to me again?
What do I care for my word? she cried, and, sinking to the floor at his feet, rocked herself back and forth there. Do you suppose Ill let my word keep me from struggling for a little happiness for my children? It wont, I tell you; it wont! Ill struggle for that till I die! I will, till I die till I die!
He rubbed his head now instead of his knees, and, shaking all over, he got up and began with uncertain steps to pace the floor.
Hell, hell, hell! he said. Ive got to go through THAT again!
Yes, you have! she sobbed. Till I die.
Yes; thats what you been after all the time I was getting well.
Yes, I have, and Ill keep on till I die!
A fine wife for a man, he said. Beggin a man to be a dirty dog!
No! To be a MANand Ill keep on till I die!
Adams again fell back upon his last solace: he walked, half staggering, up and down the room, swearing in a rhythmic repetition.
His wife had repetitions of her own, and she kept at them in a voice that rose to a higher and higher pitch, like the sound of an old well-pump. Till I die! Till I die! Till I DIE!
She ended in a scream; and Alice, coming up the stairs, thanked heaven that Russell had gone. She ran to her fathers door and went in.
Adams looked at her, and gesticulated shakily at the convulsive figure on the floor. Can you get her out of here?
Alice helped Mrs. Adams to her feet; and the stricken woman threw her arms passionately about her daughter.
Get her out! Adams said, harshly; then cried, Wait!
Alice, moving toward the door, halted, and looked at him blankly, over her mothers shoulder. What is it, papa?
He stretched out his arm and pointed at her. She saysshe says you have a mean life, Alice.
Mrs. Adams turned in her daughters arms. Do you hear her lie? Couldnt you be as brave as she is, Virgil?
Are you lying, Alice? he asked. Do you have a mean time?
He came toward her. Look at me! he said. Things like this dance nowis that so hard to bear?
Alice tried to say, No, papa, again, but she couldnt. Suddenly and in spite of herself she began to cry.
Do you hear her? his wife sobbed. Now do you
He waved at them fiercely. Get out of here! he said. Both of you! Get out of here!
As they went, he dropped in his chair and bent far forward, so that his haggard face was concealed from them. Then, as Alice closed the door, he began to rub his knees again, muttering, Oh, my, my! OH, my, my!
There shone a jovial sun overhead on the appointed day after to-morrow; a day not cool yet of a temperature friendly to walkers; and the air, powdered with sunshine, had so much life in it that it seemed to sparkle. To Arthur Russell this was a day like a gay companion who pleased him well; but the gay companion at his side pleased him even better. She looked her prettiest, chattered her wittiest, smiled her wistfulest, and delighted him with all together.
You look so happy its easy to see your fathers taken a good turn, he told her.
Yes; he has this afternoon, at least, she said. I might have other reasons for looking cheerful, though.
Exactly! she said, giving him a sweet look just enough mocked by her laughter. For instance!
Well, go on, he begged.
Isnt it expected? she asked.
Of you, you mean?
No, she returned. For you, I mean!
In this style, which uses a word for any meaning that quick look and colourful gesture care to endow it with, she was an expert; and she carried it merrily on, leaving him at liberty (one of the great values of the style) to choose as he would how much or how little she meant. He was content to supply mere cues, for although he had little coquetry of his own, he had lately begun to find that the only interesting moments in his life were those during which Alice Adams coquetted with him. Happily, these obliging moments extended themselves to cover all the time he spent with her. However serious she might seem, whatever appeared to be her topic, all was thou-and-I.
He planned for more of it, seeing otherwise a dull evening ahead; and reverted, afterwhile, to a forbidden subject. About that dance at Miss Lambssince your fathers so much better
She flushed a little. Now, now! she chided him. We agreed not to say any more about that.
Yes, but since he IS better
Alice shook her head. He wont be better to-morrow. He always has a bad day after a good one especially after such a good one as this is.
But if this time it should be different, Russell persisted; wouldnt you be willing to come if hes better by to-morrow evening? Why not wait and decide at the last minute?
She waved her hands airily. What a pother! she cried. What does it matter whether poor little Alice Adams goes to a dance or not?
Well, I thought Id made it clear that it looks fairly bleak to me if you dont go.
Oh, yes! she jeered.
Its the simple truth, he insisted. I dont care a great deal about dances these days; and if you arent going to be there
You could stay away, she suggested. You wouldnt!
Unfortunately, I cant. Im afraid Im supposed to be the excuse. Miss Lamb, in her capacity as a friend of my relatives
Oh, shes giving it for YOU! I see! On Mildreds account you mean?
At that his face showed an increase of colour. I suppose just on account of my being a cousin of Mildreds and of
Of course! Youll have a beautiful time, too. Henriettall see that you have somebody to dance with besides Miss Dowling, poor man!
But what I want somebody to see is that I dance with you! And perhaps your father
Wait! she said, frowning as if she debated whether or not to tell him something of import; then, seeming to decide affirmatively, she asked: Would you really like to know the truth about it?
If it isnt too unflattering.
It hasnt anything to do with you at all, she said. Of course Id like to go with you and to dance with youthough you dont seem to realize that you wouldnt be permitted much time with me.
Oh, yes, I
Never mind! she laughed. Of course you wouldnt. But even if papa should be better to-morrow, I doubt if Id go. In fact, I know I wouldnt. Theres another reason besides papa.
Yes. The truth is, I dont get on with Henrietta Lamb. As a matter of fact, I dislike her, and of course that means she dislikes me. I should never think of asking her to anything I gave, and I really wonder she asks me to things SHE gives. This was a new inspiration; and Alice, beginning to see her way out of a perplexity, wished that she had thought of it earlier: she should have told him from the first that she and Henrietta had a feud, and consequently exchanged no invitations. Moreover, there was another thing to beset her with little anxieties: she might better not have told him from the first, as she had indeed told him by intimation, that she was the pampered daughter of an indulgent father, presumably able to indulge her; for now she must elaborately keep to the part. Veracity is usually simple; and its opposite, to be successful, should be as simple; but practitioners of the opposite are most often impulsive, like Alice; and, like her, they become enmeshed in elaborations.
It wouldnt be very nice for me to go to her house, Alice went on, when I wouldnt want her in mine. Ive never admired her. Ive always thought she was lacking in some things most people are supposed to be equipped withfor instance, a certain feeling about the death of a father who was always pretty decent to his daughter. Henriettas father died just, eleven months and twenty-seven days before your cousins dance, but she couldnt stick out those few last days and make it a year; she was there.
Alice stopped, then laughed ruefully, exclaiming, But this is dreadful of me!
Blackguarding her to you when shes giving a big party for you! Just the way Henrietta would blackguard me to youheaven knows what she WOULDNT say if she talked about me to you! It would be fair, of course, butwell, Id rather she didnt! And with that, Alice let her pretty hand, in its white glove, rest upon his arm for a moment; and he looked down at it, not unmoved to see it there. I want to be unfair about just this, she said, letting a troubled laughter tremble through her appealing voice as she spoke. I wont take advantage of her with anybody, except justyou! Id a little rather you didnt hear anybody blackguard me, and, if you dont mindcould you promise not to give Henrietta the chance?
It was charmingly done, with a humorous, faint pathos altogether genuine; and Russell found himself suddenly wanting to shout at her, Oh, you DEAR! Nothing else seemed adequate; but he controlled the impulse in favour of something more conservative.
Imagine any one speaking unkindly of younot praising you!
Who HAS praised me to you? she asked, quickly.
I havent talked about you with any one; but if I did, I know theyd
No, no! she cried, and went on, again accompanying her words with little tremulous runs of laughter. You dont understand this town yet. Youll be surprised when you do; were different. We talk about one another fearfully! Havent I just proved it, the way Ive been going for Henrietta? Of course I didnt say anything really very terrible about her, but thats only because I dont follow that practice the way most of the others do. They dont stop with the worst of the truth they can find: they make UP thingsyes, they really do! And, oh, Id RATHER they didnt make up things about meto you!
What difference would it make if they did? he inquired, cheerfully. Id know they werent true.
Even if you did know that, theyd make a difference, she said. Oh, yes, they would! Its too bad, but we dont like anything quite so well thats had specks on it, even if weve wiped the specks off;its just that much spoiled, and some things are all spoiled the instant theyre the least bit spoiled. What a man thinks about a girl, for instance. Do you want to have what you think about me spoiled, Mr. Russell?
Oh, but thats already far beyond reach, he said, lightly.
But it cant be! she protested.
Because it never can be. Men dont change their minds about one another often: they make it quite an event when they do, and talk about it as if something important had happened. But a girl only has to go down-town with a shoe-string unfastened, and every man who sees her will change his mind about her. Dont you know thats true?
Not of myself, I think.
There! she cried. Thats precisely what every man in the world would say!
So you wouldnt trust me?
WellIll be awfully worried if you give em a chance to tell you that Im too lazy to tie my shoe-strings!
He laughed delightedly. Is that what they do say? he asked.
Just about! Whatever they hope will get results. She shook her head wisely. Oh, yes; we do that here!
But I dont mind loose shoe-strings, he said. Not if theyre yours.
Theyll find out what you do mind.
But suppose, he said, looking at her whimsically; suppose I wouldnt mind anythingso long as its yours?
She courtesied. Oh, pretty enough! But a girl whos talked about has a weakness thats often a fatal one.
What is it?
Its this: when shes talked about she isnt THERE. Thats how they kill her.
Im afraid I dont follow you.
Dont you see? If Henriettaor Mildredor any of emor some of their mothersoh, we ALL do it! Well, if any of em told you I didnt tie my shoe-strings, and if I were there, so that you could see me, youd know it wasnt true. Even if I were sitting so that you couldnt see my feet, and couldnt tell whether the strings were tied or not just then, still you could look at me, and see that I wasnt the sort of girl to neglect my shoe-strings. But that isnt the way it happens: theyll get at you when Im nowhere around and cant remind you of the sort of girl I really am.
But you dont do that, he complained. You dont remind me you dont even tell methe sort of girl you really are! Id like to know.
Lets be serious then, she said, and looked serious enough herself. Would you honestly like to know?
Well, then, you must be careful.
Careful? The word amused him.
I mean careful not to get me mixed up, she said. Careful not to mix up the girl you might hear somebody talking about with the me I honestly try to make you see. If you do get those two mixed upwell, the whole showll be spoiled!
What makes you think so?
Because its She checked herself, having begun to speak too impulsively; and she was disturbed, realizing in what tricky stuff she dealt. What had been on her lips to say was, Because its happened before! She changed to, Because its so easy to spoil anythingeasiest of all to spoil anything thats pleasant.
That might depend.
No; its so. And if you care at all aboutabout knowing a girl whod like someone to know her
Just someone? Thats disappointing.
Wellyou, she said.
Tell me how careful you want me to be, then!
Well, dont you think it would be nice if you didnt give anybody the chance to talk about me the waythe way Ive just been talking about Henrietta Lamb?
With that they laughed together, and he said, You may be cutting me off from a great deal of information, you know.
Yes, Alice admitted. Somebody might begin to praise me to you, too; so its dangerous to ask you to change the subject if I ever happen to be mentioned. But after all She paused.
After all isnt the end of a thought, is it?
Sometimes it is of a girls thought; I suppose men are neater about their thoughts, and always finish em. It isnt the end of the thought I had then, though.
What is the end of it?
She looked at him impulsively. Oh, its foolish, she said, and she laughed as laughs one who proposes something probably impossible. But, WOULDNT it be pleasant if two people could ever just keep themselves TO themselves, so far as they two were concerned? I mean, if they could just manage to be friends without people talking about it, or talking to THEM about it?
I suppose that might be rather difficult, he said, more amused than impressed by her idea.
I dont know: it might be done, she returned, hopefully. Especially in a town of this size; its grown so its quite a huge place these days. People can keep themselves to themselves in a big place better, you know. For instance, nobody knows that you and I are taking a walk together today.
How absurd, when here we are on exhibition!
No; we arent.
Not a bit of it! she laughed. We were the other day, when you walked home with me, but anybody could tell that had just happened by chance, on account of your overtaking me; people can always see things like that. But were not on exhibition now. Look where Ive led you!
Amused and a little bewildered, he looked up and down the street, which was one of gaunt-faced apartment-houses, old, sooty, frame boarding-houses, small groceries and drug-stores, laundries and one-room plumbers shops, with the sign of a clairvoyant here and there.
You see? she said. Ive been leading you without your knowing it. Of course thats because youre new to the town, and you give yourself up to the guidance of an old citizen.
Im not so sure, Miss Adams. It might mean that I dont care where I follow so long as I follow you.
Very well, she said. Id like you to keep on following me at least long enough for me to show you that theres something nicer ahead of us than this dingy street.
Is that figurative? he asked.
Might be! she returned, gaily. Theres a pretty little park at the end, but its very proletarian, and nobody you and I know will be more likely to see us there than on this street.
What an imagination you have! he exclaimed. You turn our proper little walk into a Parisian adventure.
She looked at him in what seemed to be a momentary grave puzzlement. Perhaps you feel that a Parisian adventure mightnt please youryour relatives?
Why, no, he returned. You seem to think of them oftener than I do.
This appeared to amuse Alice, or at least to please her, for she laughed. Then I can afford to quit thinking of them, I suppose. Its only that I used to be quite a friend of Mildredsbut there! we neednt to go into that. Ive never been a friend of Henrietta Lambs, though, and I almost wish she werent taking such pains to be a friend of yours.
Oh, but shes not. Its all on account of
On Mildreds account, Alice finished this for him, coolly. Yes, of course.
Its on account of the two families, he was at pains to explain, a little awkwardly. Its because Im a relative of the Palmers, and the Palmers and the Lambs seem to be old family friends.
Something the Adamses certainly are not, Alice said. Not with either of em; particularly not with the Lambs! And here, scarce aware of what impelled her, she returned to her former elaborations and colourings. You see, the differences between Henrietta and me arent entirely personal: I couldnt go to her house even if I liked her. The Lambs and Adamses dont get on with each other, and weve just about come to the breaking-point as it happens.
I hope its nothing to bother you.
Why? A lot of things bother me.
Im sorry they do, he said, and seemed simply to mean it.
She nodded gratefully. Thats nice of you, Mr. Russell. It helps. The break between the Adamses and the Lambs is a pretty bothersome thing. Its been coming on a long time. She sighed deeply, and the sigh was half genuine; this half being for her father, but the other half probably belonged to her instinctive rendering of Juliet Capulet, daughter to a warring house. I hate it all so! she added.
Of course you must.
I suppose most quarrels between families are on account of business, she said. Thats why theyre so sordid. Certainly the Lambs seem a sordid lot to me, though of course Im biased. And with that she began to sketch a history of the commercial antagonism that had risen between the Adamses and the Lambs.
The sketching was spontaneous and dramatic. Mathematics had no part in it; nor was there accurate definition of Mr. Adamss relation to the institution of Lamb and Company. The point was clouded, in fact; though that might easily be set down to the general haziness of young ladies confronted with the mysteries of trade or commerce. Mr. Adams either had been a vague sort of junior member of the firm, it appeared, or else he should have been made some such thing; at all events, he was an old mainstay of the business; and he, as much as any Lamb, had helped to build up the prosperity of the company. But at last, tired of providing so much intelligence and energy for which other people took profit greater than his own, he had decided to leave the company and found a business entirely for himself. The Lambs were going to be enraged when they learned what was afoot.
Such was the impression, a little misted, wrought by Alices quick narrative. But there was dolorous fact behind it: Adams had succumbed.
His wife, grave and nervous, rather than triumphant, in success, had told their daughter that the great J. A. would be furious and possibly vindictive. Adams was afraid of him, she said.
But what for, mama? Alice asked, since this seemed a turn of affairs out of reason. What in the world has Mr. Lamb to do with papas leaving the company to set up for himself? What right has he to be angry about it? If hes such a friend as he claims to be, I should think hed be gladthat is, if the glue factory turns out well. What will he be angry for?
Mrs. Adams gave Alice an uneasy glance, hesitated, and then explained that a resignation from Lambs had always been looked upon, especially by that old man, as treachery. You were supposed to die in the service, she said bitterly, and her daughter, a little mystified, accepted this explanation. Adams had not spoken to her of his surrender; he seemed not inclined to speak to her at all, or to any one.
Alice was not serious too long, and she began to laugh as she came to the end of her decorative sketch. After all, the whole thing is perfectly ridiculous, she said. In fact, its FUNNY! Thats on account of what papas going to throw over the Lamb business FOR! To save your life you couldnt imagine what hes going to do!
I wont try, then, Russell assented.
It takes all the romance out of ME, she laughed. Youll never go for a Parisian walk with me again, after I tell you what Ill be heiress to. They had come to the entrance of the little park; and, as Alice had said, it was a pretty place, especially on a day so radiant. Trees of the oldest forest stood there, hale and serene over the trim, bright grass; and the proletarians had not come from their factories at this hour; only a few mothers and their babies were to be seen, here and there, in the shade. I think Ill postpone telling you about it till we get nearly home again, Alice said, as they began to saunter down one of the gravelled paths. Theres a bench beside a spring farther on; we can sit there and talk about a lot of thingsthings not so sticky as my dowrys going to be.
Sticky? he echoed. What in the world She laughed despairingly.
A glue factory!
Then he laughed, too, as much from friendliness as from amusement; and she remembered to tell him that the project of a glue factory was still an Adams secret. It would be known soon, however, she added; and the whole Lamb connection would probably begin saying all sorts of things, heaven knew what!
Thus Alice built her walls of flimsy, working always gaily, or with at least the air of gaiety; and even as she rattled on, there was somewhere in her mind a constant little wonder. Everything she said seemed to be necessary to support something else she had said. How had it happened? She found herself telling him that since her father had decided on making so great a change in his ways, she and her mother hoped at last to persuade him to give up that foolish little house he had been so obstinate about; and she checked herself abruptly on this declivity just as she was about to slide into a remark concerning her own preference for a country place. Discretion caught her in time; and something else, in company with discretion, caught her, for she stopped short in her talk and blushed.
They had taken possession of the bench beside the spring, by this time; and Russell, his elbow on the back of the bench and his chin on his hand, the better to look at her, had no guess at the cause of the blush, but was content to find it lovely. At his first sight of Alice she had seemed pretty in the particular way of being pretty that he happened to like best; and, with every moment he spent with her, this prettiness appeared to increase. He felt that he could not look at her enough: his gaze followed the fluttering of the graceful hands in almost continual gesture as she talked; then lifted happily to the vivacious face again. She charmed him.
After her abrupt pause, she sighed, then looked at him with her eyebrows lifted in a comedy appeal. You havent said you wouldnt give Henrietta the chance, she said, in the softest voice that can still have a little laugh running in it.
He was puzzled. Give Henrietta the chance?
YOU know! Youll let me keep on being unfair, wont you? Not give the other girls a chance to get even?
He promised, heartily.
Alice had said that no one who knew either Russell or herself would be likely to see them in the park or upon the dingy street; but although they returned by that same ungenteel thoroughfare they were seen by a person who knew them both. Also, with some surprise on the part of Russell, and something more poignant than surprise for Alice, they saw this person.
All of the dingy street was ugly, but the greater part of it appeared to be honest. The two pedestrians came upon a block or two, however, where it offered suggestions of a less upright character, like a steady enough workingman with a naughty book sticking out of his pocket. Three or four dim shops, a single story in height, exhibited foul signboards, yet fair enough so far as the wording went; one proclaiming a tobacconist, one a junk-dealer, one a dispenser of soft drinks and cigars. The most credulous would have doubted these signboards; for the craft of the modern tradesman is exerted to lure indoors the passing glance, since if the glance is pleased the feet may follow; but this alleged tobacconist and his neighbours had long been fond of dust on their windows, evidently, and shades were pulled far down on the glass of their doors. Thus the public eye, small of pupil in the light of the open street, was intentionally not invited to the dusky interiors. Something different from mere lack of enterprise was apparent; and the signboards might have been omitted; they were pains thrown away, since it was plain to the world that the business parts of these shops were the brighter back rooms implied by the dark front rooms; and that the commerce there was in perilous new liquors and in dice and rough girls.
Nothing could have been more innocent than the serenity with which these wicked little places revealed themselves for what they were; and, bound by this final tie of guilelessness, they stood together in a row which ended with a companionable barbershop, much like them. Beyond was a series of soot-harried frame two-story houses, once part of a cheerful neighbourhood when the town was middle-aged and settled, and not old and growing. These houses, all carrying the label. Rooms, had the worried look of vacancy that houses have when they are too full of everybody without being anybodys home; and there was, too, a surreptitious air about them, as if, like the false little shops, they advertised something by concealing it.
One of themthe one next to the barber-shophad across its front an ample, jig-sawed veranda, where aforetime, no doubt, the father of a family had fanned himself with a palm-leaf fan on Sunday afternoons, watching the surreys go by, and where his daughter listened to mandolins and badinage on starlit evenings; but, although youth still held the veranda, both the youth and the veranda were in decay. The four or five young men who lounged there this afternoon were of a type known to shady pool-parlours. Hats found no favour with them; all of them wore caps; and their tight clothes, apparently from a common source, showed a vivacious fancy for oblique pockets, false belts, and Easter-egg colourings. Another thing common to the group was the expression of eye and mouth; and Alice, in the midst of her other thoughts, had a distasteful thought about this.
The veranda was within a dozen feet of the sidewalk, and as she and her escort came nearer, she took note of the young men, her face hardening a little, even before she suspected there might be a resemblance between them and any one she knew. Then she observed that each of these loungers wore not for the occasion, but as of habit, a look of furtively amused contempt; the mouth smiled to one side as if not to dislodge a cigarette, while the eyes kept languidly superior. All at once Alice was reminded of Walter; and the slight frown caused by this idea had just begun to darken her forehead when Walter himself stepped out of the open door of the house and appeared upon the veranda. Upon his head was a new straw hat, and in his hand was a Malacca stick with an ivory top, for Alice had finally decided against it for herself and had given it to him. His mood was lively: he twirled the stick through his fingers like a drum-majors baton, and whistled loudly.
Moreover, he was indeed accompanied. With him was a thin girl who had made a violent black-and-white poster of herself: black dress, black flimsy boa, black stockings, white slippers, great black hat down upon the black eyes; and beneath the hat a curve of cheek and chin made white as whitewash, and in strong bilateral motion with gum.
The loungers on the veranda were familiars of the pair; hailed them with cacklings; and one began to sing, in a voice all tin:
Then my skirt, Sal, and me did go Right straight to the moving-pitcher show. OH, you bashful vamp!
The girl laughed airily. God, but you guys are wise! she said.
Come on, Wallie.
Walter stared at his sister; then grinned faintly, and nodded at Russell as the latter lifted his hat in salutation. Alice uttered an incoherent syllable of exclamation, and, as she began to walk faster, she bit her lip hard, not in order to look wistful, this time, but to help her keep tears of anger from her eyes.
Russell laughed cheerfully. Your brother certainly seems to have found the place for colour today, he said. That girls talk must be full of it.
But Alice had forgotten the colour she herself had used in accounting for Walters peculiarities, and she did not understand. What? she said, huskily.
Dont you remember telling me about him? How he was going to write, probably, and would go anywhere to pick up types and get them to talk?
She kept her eyes ahead, and said sharply, I think his literary tastes scarcely cover this case!
Dont be too sure. He didnt look at all disconcerted. He didnt seem to mind your seeing him.
Thats all the worse, isnt it?
Why, no, her friend said, genially. It means he didnt consider that he was engaged in anything out of the way. You cant expect to understand everything boys do at his age; they do all sorts of queer things, and outgrow them. Your brother evidently has a taste for queer people, and very likely hes been at least half sincere when hes made you believe he had a literary motive behind it. We all go through
Thanks, Mr. Russell, she interrupted. Lets dont say any more.
He looked at her flushed face and enlarged eyes; and he liked her all the better for her indignation: this was how good sisters ought to feel, he thought, failing to understand that most of what she felt was not about Walter. He ventured only a word more. Try not to mind it so much; it really doesnt amount to anything.
She shook her head, and they went on in silence; she did not look at him again until they stopped before her own house. Then she gave him only one glimpse of her eyes before she looked down. Its spoiled, isnt it? she said, in a low voice.
Our walkwell, everything. Somehow it alwaysis.
Always is what? he asked.
Spoiled, she said.
He laughed at that; but without looking at him she suddenly offered him her hand, and, as he took it, he felt a hurried, violent pressure upon his fingers, as if she meant to thank him almost passionately for being kind. She was gone before he could speak to her again.
In her room, with the door locked, she did not go to her mirror, but to her bed, flinging herself face down, not caring how far the pillows put her hat awry. Sheer grief had followed her anger; grief for the calamitous end of her bright afternoon, grief for the end of everything, as she thought then. Nevertheless, she gradually grew more composed, and, when her mother tapped on the door presently, let her in. Mrs. Adams looked at her with quick apprehension.
Oh, poor child! Wasnt he
Alice told her. You see how ithow it made me look, mama, she quavered, having concluded her narrative. Id tried to cover up Walters awfulness at the dance with that story about his being literary, but no story was big enough to cover this upand oh! it must make him think I tell stories about other things!
No, no, no! Mrs. Adams protested. Dont you see? At the worst, all HE could think is that Walter told stories to you about why he likes to be with such dreadful people, and you believed them. Thats all HED think; dont you see?
Alices wet eyes began to show a little hopefulness. You honestly think it might be that way, mama?
Why, from what youve told me he said, I KNOW its that way. Didnt he say he wanted to come again?
N-no, Alice said, uncertainly. But I think he will. At least I begin to think so now. He She stopped.
From all you tell me, he seems to be a very desirable young man, Mrs. Adams said, primly.
Her daughter was silent for several moments; then new tears gathered upon her downcast lashes. Hes justdear! she faltered.
Mrs. Adams nodded. Hes told you he isnt engaged, hasnt he?
No. But I know he isnt. Maybe when he first came here he was near it, but I know hes not.
I guess Mildred Palmer would LIKE him to be, all right! Mrs. Adams was frank enough to say, rather triumphantly; and Alice, with a lowered head, murmured:
The words were all but inaudible.
Dont you worry, her mother said, and patted her on the shoulder. Everything will come out all right; dont you fear, Alice. Cant you see that beside any other girl in town youre just a perfect QUEEN? Do you think any young man that wasnt prejudiced, or something, would need more than just one look to
But Alice moved away from the caressing hand. Never mind, mama. I wonder he looks at me at all. And if he does again, after seeing my brother with those horrible people
Now, now! Mrs. Adams interrupted, expostulating mournfully. Im sure Walters a GOOD boy
You are? Alice cried, with a sudden vigour. You ARE?
Im sure hes GOOD, yesand if he isnt, its not his fault. Its mine.
No, its true, Mrs. Adams lamented. I tried to bring him up to be good, God knows; and when he was little he was the best boy I ever saw. When he came from Sunday-school hed always run to me and wed go over the lesson together; and he let me come in his room at night to hear his prayers almost until he was sixteen. Most boys wont do that with their mothersnot nearly that long. I tried so hard to bring him up rightbut if anythings gone wrong its my fault.
How could it be? Youve just said
Its because I didnt make your father thisthis new step earlier. Then Walter might have had all the advantages that other
Oh, mama, PLEASE! Alice begged her. Lets dont go over all that again. Isnt it more important to think whats to be done about him? Is he going to be allowed to go on disgracing us as he does?
Mrs. Adams sighed profoundly. I dont know what to do, she confessed, unhappily. Your fathers so upset aboutabout this new step hes takingI dont feel as if we ought to
No, no! Alice cried. Papa mustnt be distressed with this, on top of everything else. But SOMETHINGS got to be done about Walter.
What can be? her mother asked, helplessly. What can be?
Alice admitted that she didnt know.
At dinner, an hour later, Walters habitually veiled glance lifted, now and then, to touch her furtively;he was waiting, as he would have said, for her to spring it; and he had prepared a brief and sincere defense to the effect that he made his own living, and would like to inquire whose business it was to offer intrusive comment upon his private conduct. But she said nothing, while his father and mother were as silent as she. Walter concluded that there was to be no attack, but changed his mind when his father, who ate only a little, and broodingly at that, rose to leave the table and spoke to him.
Walter, he said, when youve finished I wish youd come up to my room. I got something I want to say to you.
Walter shot a hard look at his apathetic sister, then turned to his father. Make it to-morrow, he said. This is Satady night and I got a date.
No, Adams said, frowning. You come up before you go out. Its important.
All right; Ive had all I want to eat, Walter returned. I got a few minutes. Make it quick.
He followed his father upstairs, and when they were in the room together Adams shut the door, sat down, and began to rub his knees.
Rheumatism? the boy inquired, slyly. That what you want to talk to me about?
No. But Adams did not go on; he seemed to be in difficulties for words, and Walter decided to help him.
Hop ahead and spring it, he said. Get it off your mind: Ill tell the world I should worry! You arent goin to bother ME any, so why bother yourself? Alice hopped home and told you she saw me playin around with some pretty gay-lookin berries and you
Alice? his father said, obviously surprised. Its nothing about Alice.
Didnt she tell you
I havent talked with her all day.
Oh, I see, Walter said. She told mother and mother told you.
No, neither of em have told me anything. What was there to tell?
Walter laughed. Oh, its nothin, he said. I was just startin out to buy a girl friend o mine a rhinestone buckle I lost to her on a bet, this afternoon, and Alice came along with that big Russell fish; and I thought she looked sore. She expects me to like the kind she likes, and I dont like em. I thought shed probly got you all stirred up about it.
No, no, his father said, peevishly. I dont know anything about it, and I dont care to know anything about it. I want to talk to you about something important.
Then, as he was again silent, Walter said, Well, TALK about it; Im listening.
Its this, Adams began, heavily. Its about me going into this glue business. Your mothers told you, hasnt she?
She said you were goin to leave the old place down-town and start a glue factory. Thats all I know about it; I got my own affairs to tend to.
Well, this is your affair, his father said, frowning. You cant stay with Lamb and Company.
Walter looked a little startled. What you mean, I cant? Why not?
Youve got to help me, Adams explained slowly; and he frowned more deeply, as if the interview were growing increasingly laborious for him. Its going to be a big pull to get this business on its feet.
Yes! Walter exclaimed with a sharp skepticism. I should say it was! He stared at his father incredulously. Look here; arent you just a little bit sudden, the way youre goin about things? Youve let mother shove you a little too fast, havent you? Do you know anything about what it means to set up a new business these days?
Yes, I know all about it, Adams said. About this business, I do.
How do you?
Because I made a long study of it. Im not afraid of going about it the wrong way; but its a hard job and youll have to put in all whatever sense and strength youve got.
Walter began to breathe quickly, and his lips were agitated; then he set them obstinately. Oh; I will, he said.
Yes, you will, Adams returned, not noticing that his sons inflection was satiric. Its going to take every bit of energy in your body, and all the energy I got left in mine, and every cent of the little Ive saved, besides something Ill have to raise on this house. Im going right at it, now Ive got to; and youll have to quit Lambs by the end of next week.
Oh, I will? Walters voice grew louder, and there was a shrillness in it. I got to quit Lambs the end of next week, have I? He stepped forward, angrily. Listen! he said. Im not walkin out o Lambs, see? Im not quittin down there: I stay with em, see?
Adams looked up at him, astonished. Youll leave there next Saturday, he said. Ive got to have you.
You dont anything o the kind, Walter told him, sharply. Do you expect to pay me anything?
Id pay you about what you been getting down there.
Then pay somebody else; I dont know anything about glue. You get somebody else.
No. Youve got to-
Walter cut him off with the utmost vehemence. Dont tell me what I got to do! I know what I got to do bettern you, I guess! I stay at Lambs, see?
Adams rose angrily. Youll do what I tell you. You cant stay down there.
Why cant I?
Because I wont let you.
Listen! Keep on not lettin me: Ill be there just the same.
At that his father broke into a sour laughter. THEY wont let you, Walter! They wont have you down there after they find out Im going.
Why wont they? You dont think theyre goin to be all shot to pieces over losin YOU, do you?
I tell you they wont let you stay, his father insisted, loudly.
Why, what do they care whether you go or not?
Theyll care enough to fire YOU, my boy!
Look here, then; show me why.
Theyll do it!
Yes, Walter jeered; you keep sayin they will, but when I ask you to show me why, you keep sayin they will! That makes little headway with ME, I can tell you!
Adams groaned, and, rubbing his head, began to pace the floor. Walters refusal was something he had not anticipated; and he felt the weakness of his own attempt to meet it: he seemed powerless to do anything but utter angry words, which, as Walter said, made little headway. Oh, my, my! he muttered, OH, my, my!
Walter, usually sallow, had grown pale: he watched his father narrowly, and now took a sudden resolution. Look here, he said. When you say Lambs is likely to fire me because youre goin to quit, you talk like the people that have to be locked up. I dont know where you get such things in your head; Lamb and Company wont know youre gone. Listen: I can stay there long as I want to. But Ill tell you what Ill do: make it worth my while and Ill hook up with your old glue factory, after all.
Adams stopped his pacing abruptly, and stared at him. Make it worth your while? What you mean?
I got a good use for three hundred dollars right now, Walter said. Let me have it and Ill quit Lambs to work for you. Dont let me have it and I SWEAR I wont!
Are you crazy?
Is everybody crazy that needs three hundred dollars?
Yes, Adams said. They are if they ask ME for it, when I got to stretch every cent I can lay my hands on to make it look like a dollar!
You wont do it?
Adams burst out at him. You little fool! If I had three hundred dollars to throw away, besides the pay I expected to give you, havent you got sense enough to see I could hire a man worth three hundred dollars more to me than youd be? Its a FINE time to ask me for three hundred dollars, isnt it! What FOR? Rhinestone buckles to throw around on your girl friends? Shame on you! Ask me to BRIBE you to help yourself and your own family!
Ill give you a last chance, Walter said. Either you do what I want, or I wont do what you want. Dont ask me again after this, because
Adams interrupted him fiercely. Ask you again! Dont worry about that, my boy! All I ask you is to get out o my room.
Look here, Walter said, quietly; and his lopsided smile distorted his livid cheek. Look here: I expect YOU wouldnt give me three hundred dollars to save my life, would you?
You make me sick, Adams said, in his bitterness. Get out of here.
Walter went out, whistling; and Adams drooped into his old chair again as the door closed. OH, my, my! he groaned. Oh, Lordy, Lordy! The way of the transgressor
He meant his own transgression and his own way; for Walters stubborn refusal appeared to Adams just then as one of the inexplicable but righteous besettings he must encounter in following that way. Oh, Lordy, Lord! he groaned, and then, as resentment moved himThat dang boy! Dang idiot Yet he knew himself for a greater idiot because he had not been able to tell Walter the truth. He could not bring himself to do it, nor even to state his case in its best terms; and that was because he felt that even in its best terms the case was a bad one.
Of all his regrets the greatest was that in a moment of vanity and tenderness, twenty-five years ago, he had told his young wife a business secret. He had wanted to show how important her husband was becoming, and how much the head of the universe, J. A. Lamb, trusted to his integrity and ability. The great man had an idea: he thought of branching out a little, he told Adams confidentially, and there were possibilities of profit in glue.
What he wanted was a liquid glue to be put into little bottles and sold cheaply. The kind of thing that sells itself, he said; the kind of thing that pays its own small way as it goes along, until it has profits enough to begin advertising it right. Everybody has to use glue, and if I make mine convenient and cheap, everybodyll buy mine. But its got to be glue thatll STICK; its got to be the best; and if we find how to make it weve got to keep it a big secret, of course, or anybody can steal it from us. There was a man here last month; he knew a formula he wanted to sell me, sight unseen; but he was in such a hurry I got suspicious, and I found hed managed to steal it, working for the big packers in their glue-works. Weve got to find a better glue than that, anyhow. Im going to set you and Campbell at it. Youre a practical, wide-awake young feller, and Campbells a mighty good chemist; I guess you two boys ought to make something happen.
His guess was shrewd enough. Working in a shed a little way outside the town, where their cheery employer visited them sometimes to study their malodorous stews, the two young men found what Lamb had set them to find. But Campbell was thoughtful over the discovery. Look here, he said. Why aint this just about yours and mine? After all, it may be Lambs money thats paid for the stuff weve used, but it hasnt cost much.
But he pays US, Adams remonstrated, horrified by his companions idea. He paid us to do it. It belongs absolutely to him.
Oh, I know he THINKS it does, Campbell admitted, plaintively. I suppose weve got to let him take it. Its not patentable, and hell have to do pretty well by us when he starts his factory, because hes got to depend on us to run the making of the stuff so that the workmen cant get onto the process. You better ask him the same salary I do, and mines going to be high.
But the high salary, thus pleasantly imagined, was never paid. Campbell died of typhoid fever, that summer, leaving Adams and his employer the only possessors of the formula, an unwritten one; and Adams, pleased to think himself more important to the great man than ever, told his wife that there could be little doubt of his being put in sole charge of the prospective glue-works. Unfortunately, the enterprise remained prospective.
Its projector had already become inveigled into another side-line, as he told Adams. One of his sons had persuaded him to take up a cough-lozenge, to be called the Jalamb Balm Trochee; and the lozenge did well enough to amuse Mr. Lamb and occupy his spare time, which was really about all he had asked of the glue project. He had all the MONEY anybody ought to want, he said, when Adams urged him; and he could start up this little glue side-line at any time; the formula was safe in their two heads.
At intervals Adams would seek opportunity to speak of the little glue side-line to his patron, and to suggest that the years were passing; but Lamb, petting other hobbies, had lost interest. Oh, Ill start it up some day, maybe. If I dont, I may turn it over to my heirs: its always an asset, worth something or other, of course. Well probably take it up some day, though, you and I.
The sun persistently declined to rise on that day, and, as time went on, Adams saw that his rather timid urgings bored his employer, and he ceased to bring up the subject. Lamb apparently forgot all about glue, but Adams discovered that unfortunately there was someone else who remembered it.
Its really YOURS, she argued, that painful day when for the first time she suggested his using his knowledge for the benefit of himself and his family. Mr. Campbell might have had a right to part of it, but he died and didnt leave any kin, so it belongs to you.
Suppose J. A. Lamb hired me to saw some wood, Adams said. Would the sticks belong to me?
He hasnt got any right to take your invention and bury it, she protested. What good is it doing him if he doesnt DO anything with it? What good is it doing ANYBODY? None in the world! And what harm would it do him if you went ahead and did this for yourself and for your children? None in the world! And what could he do to you if he WAS old pig enough to get angry with you for doing it? He couldnt do a single thing, and youve admitted he couldnt, yourself. So whats your reason for depriving your children and your wife of the benefits you know you could give em?
Nothing but decency, he answered; and she had her reply ready for that. It seemed to him that, strive as he would, he could not reach her mind with even the plainest language; while everything that she said to him, with such vehemence, sounded like so much obstinate gibberish. Over and over he pressed her with the same illustration, on the point of ownership, though he thought he was varying it.
Suppose he hired me to build him a house: would that be MY house?
He didnt hire you to build him a house. You and Campbell invented
Look here: suppose you give a cook a soup-bone and some vegetables, and pay her to make you a soup: has she got a right to take and sell it? You know better!
I know ONE thing: if that old man tried to keep your own invention from you hes no better than a robber!
They never found any point of contact in all their passionate discussions of this ethical question; and the question was no more settled between them, now that Adams had succumbed, than it had ever been. But at least the wrangling about it was over: they were grave together, almost silent, and an uneasiness prevailed with her as much as with him.
He had already been out of the house, to walk about the small green yard; and on Monday afternoon he sent for a taxicab and went down-town, but kept a long way from the wholesale section, where stood the formidable old oblong pile of Lamb and Company. He arranged for the sale of the bonds he had laid away, and for placing a mortgage upon his house; and on his way home, after five oclock, he went to see an old friend, a man whose term of service with Lamb and Company was even a little longer than his own.
This veteran, returned from the days work, was sitting in front of the apartment house where he lived, but when the cab stopped at the curb he rose and came forward, offering a jocular greeting. Well, well, Virgil Adams! I always thought you had a sporty streak in you. Travel in your own hired private automobile nowadays, do you? Pamperin yourself because youre still layin off sick, I expect.
Oh, Im well enough again, Charley Lohr, Adams said, as he got out and shook hands. Then, telling the driver to wait, he took his friends arm, walked to the bench with him, and sat down. I been practically well for some time, he said. Im fixin to get into harness again.
Bein sick has certainly produced a change of heart in you, his friend laughed. Youre the last man I ever expected to see blowin yourselfor anybody else to a taxicab! For that matter, I never heard of you bein in ANY kind of a cab, lessn it might be when you been pall-bearer for somebody. Whats come over you?
Well, I got to turn over a new leaf, and thats a fact, Adams said. I got a lot to do, and the only way to accomplish it, its got to be done soon, or I wont have anything to live on while Im doing it.
What you talkin about? What you got to do except to get strong enough to come back to the old place?
Well Adams paused, then coughed, and said slowly, Fact is, Charley Lohr, I been thinking likely I wouldnt come back.
What! What you talkin about?
No, said Adams. I been thinking I might likely kind of branch out on my own account.
Well, Ill be doggoned! Old Charley Lohr was amazed; he ruffled up his gray moustache with thumb and forefinger, leaving his mouth open beneath, like a dark cave under a tangled wintry thicket. Why, thats the doggonedest thing I ever heard! he said. I already am the oldest inhabitant down there, but if you go, there wont be anybody else of the old generation at all. What on earth you thinkin of goin into?
Well, said Adams, I rather you didnt mention it till I get started of course anybodyll know what it is by thenbut I HAVE been kind of planning to put a liquid glue on the market.
His friend, still ruffling the gray moustache upward, stared at him in frowning perplexity. Glue? he said. GLUE!
Yes. I been sort of milling over the idea of taking up something like that.
Handlin it for some firm, you mean?
No. Making it. Sort of a glue-works likely.
Lohr continued to frown. Let me think, he said. Didnt the ole man have some such idea once, himself?
Adams leaned forward, rubbing his knees; and he coughed again before he spoke. Well, yes. Fact is, he did. That is to say, a mighty long while ago he did.
I remember, said Lohr. He never said anything about it that I know of; but seems to me I recollect we had sort of a rumour around the place how you and that manles see, wasnt his name Campbell, that died of typhoid fever? Yes, that was it, Campbell. Didnt the ole man have you and Campbell workin sort of private on some glue proposition or other?
Yes, he did. Adams nodded. I found out a good deal about glue then, too.
Been workin on it since, I suppose?
Yes. Kept it in my mind and studied out new things about it.
Lohr looked serious. Well, but see here, he said. I hope it aint anything the ole manll think might infringe on whatever he had you doin for HIM. You know how he is: broad-minded, liberal, free-handed man as walks this earth, and if he thought he owed you a cent hed sell his right hand for a pork-chop to pay it, if that was the only way; but if he got the idea anybody was tryin to get the better of him, hed sell BOTH his hands, if he had to, to keep em from doin it. Yes, at eighty, he would! Not that I mean I think you might be tryin to get the better of him, Virg. Youre a mighty close ole codger, but such a thing aint in you. What I mean: I hope there aint any chance for the ole man to THINK you might be
Oh, no, Adams interrupted. As a matter of fact, I dont believe hell ever think about it at all, and if he did he wouldnt have any real right to feel offended at me: the process Im going to use is one I expect to change and improve a lot different from the one Campbell and I worked on for him.
Well, thats good, said Lohr. Of course you know what youre up to: youre old enough, God knows! He laughed ruefully. My, but it will seem funny to medown there with you gone! I expect you and I both been gettin to be pretty much dead-wood in the place, the way the young fellows look at it, and the only one thatd miss either of us would be the other one! Have you told the ole man yet?
Well Adams spoke laboriously. No. No, I havent. I thoughtwell, thats what I wanted to see you about.
What can I do?
I thought Id write him a letter and get you to hand it to him for me.
My soul! his friend exclaimed. Why on earth dont you just go down there and tell him?
Adams became pitiably embarrassed. He stammered, coughed, stammered again, wrinkling his face so deeply he seemed about to weep; but finally he contrived to utter an apologetic laugh. I ought to do that, of course; but in some way or other I just dont seem to be able toto manage it.
Why in the world not? the mystified Lohr inquired.
I could hardly tell youlessn it is to say that when you been with one boss all your life its soso kind of embarrassingto quit him, I just cant make up my mind to go and speak to him about it. No; I got it in my head a letters the only satisfactory way to do it, and I thought Id ask you to hand it to him.
Well, of course I dont mind doin that for you, Lohr said, mildly. But why in the world dont you just mail it to him?
Well, Ill tell you, Adams returned. You know, like that, itd have to go through a clerk and that secretary of his, and I dont know who all. Theres a couple of kind of delicate points I want to put in it: for instance, I want to explain to him how much improvement and so on Im going to introduce on the old process I helped to work out with Campbell when we were working for him, sot hell understand its a different article and no infringement at all. Then theres another thing: you see all during while I was sick he had my salary paid to me it amounts to considerable, I was on my back so long. Under the circumstances, because Im quitting, I dont feel as if I ought to accept it, and so Ill have a check for him in the letter to cover it, and I want to be sure he knows it, and gets it personally. If it had to go through a lot of other people, the way it would if I put it in the mail, why, you cant tell. So what I thought: if youd hand it to him for me, and maybe if he happened to read it right then, or anything, it might be youd notice whatever hed happen to say about itand you could tell me afterward.
All right, Lohr said. Certainly if youd rather do it that way, Ill hand it to him and tell you what he says; that is, if he says anything and I hear him. Got it written?
No; Ill send it around to you last of the week. Adams moved toward his taxicab. Dont say anything to anybody about it, Charley, especially till after that.
And, Charley, Ill be mighty obliged to you, Adams said, and came back to shake hands in farewell. Theres one thing more you might doif youd ever happen to feel like it. He kept his eyes rather vaguely fixed on a point above his friends head as he spoke, and his voice was not well controlled. I beenI been down there a good many years and I may not a been so much use lately as I was at first, but I always tried to do my best for the old firm. If anything turned out sos they DID kind of take offense with me, down there, why, just say a good word for meif youd happen to feel like it, maybe.
Old Charley Lohr assured him that he would speak a good word if opportunity became available; then, after the cab had driven away, he went up to his small apartment on the third floor and muttered ruminatively until his wife inquired what he was talking to himself about.
Ole Virg Adams, he told her. Hes out again after his long spell of sickness, and the way it looks to me hed better stayed in bed.
You mean he still looks too bad to be out?
Oh, I expect hes gettin his HEALTH back, Lohr said, frowning.
Then whats the matter with him? You mean hes lost his mind?
My goodness, but women do jump at conclusions! he exclaimed.
Well, said Mrs. Lohr, what other conclusion did you leave me to jump at?
Her husband explained with a little heat: People can have a sickness that AFFECTS their mind, cant they? Their mind can get some affected without bein LOST, cant it?
Then you mean the poor mans mind does seem affected?
Why, no; Id scarcely go as far as that, Lohr said, inconsistently, and declined to be more definite.
Adams devoted the latter part of that evening to the composition of his lettera disquieting task not completed when, at eleven oclock, he heard his daughter coming up the stairs. She was singing to herself in a low, sweet voice, and Adams paused to listen incredulously, with his pen lifted and his mouth open, as if he heard the strangest sound in the world. Then he set down the pen upon a blotter, went to his door, and opened it, looking out at her as she came.
Well, dearie, you seem to be feeling pretty good, he said. What you been doing?
Just sitting out on the front steps, papa.
All alone, I suppose.
No. Mr. Russell called.
Oh, he did? Adams pretended to be surprised. What all could you and he find to talk about till this hour o the night?
She laughed gaily. You dont know me, papa!
Youve never found out that I always do all the talking.
Didnt you let him get a word in all evening?
Oh, yes; every now and then.
Adams took her hand and petted it. Well, what did he say?
Alice gave him a radiant look and kissed him. Not what you think! she laughed; then slapped his cheek with saucy affection, pirouetted across the narrow hall and into her own room, and curtsied to him as she closed her door.
Adams went back to his writing with a lighter heart; for since Alice was born she had been to him the apple of his eye, his own phrase in thinking of her; and what he was doing now was for her.
He smiled as he picked up his pen to begin a new draft of the painful letter; but presently he looked puzzled. After all, she could be happy just as things were, it seemed. Then why had he taken what his wife called this new step, which he had so long resisted?
He could only sigh and wonder. Life works out pretty peculiarly, he thought; for he couldnt go back now, though the reason he couldnt was not clearly apparent. He had to go ahead.
He was out in his taxicab again the next morning, and by noon he had secured what he wanted.
It was curiously significant that he worked so quickly. All the years during which his wife had pressed him toward his present shift he had sworn to himself, as well as to her, that he would never yield; and yet when he did yield he had no plans to make, because he found them already prepared and worked out in detail in his mind; as if he had long contemplated the step he believed himself incapable of taking.
Sometimes he had thought of improving his income by exchanging his little collection of bonds for a small rental property, if he could find a good buy; and he had spent many of his spare hours rambling over the enormously spreading city and its purlieus, looking for the ideal buy. It remained unattainable, so far as he was concerned; but he found other things.
Not twice a crows mile from his own house there was a dismal and slummish quarter, a decayed industrial district of earlier days. Most of the industries were small; some of them died, perishing of bankruptcy or fire; and a few had moved, leaving their shells. Of the relics, the best was a brick building which had been the largest and most important factory in the quarter: it had been injured by a long vacancy almost as serious as a fire, in effect, and Adams had often guessed at the sum needed to put it in repair.
When he passed it, he would look at it with an interest which he supposed detached and idly speculative. Thatd be just the thing, he thought. If a fellow had money enough, and took a notion to set up some new business on a big scale, this would be a pretty good placeto make glue, for instance, if that wasnt out of the question, of course. It would take a lot of money, though; a great deal too much for me to expect to handleeven if Id ever dream of doing such a thing.
Opposite the dismantled factory was a muddy, open lot of two acres or so, and near the middle of the lot, a long brick shed stood in a desolate abandonment, not happily decorated by old coatings of theatrical and medicinal advertisements. But the brick shed had two wooden ells, and, though both shed and ells were of a single story, here was empty space enough for a modest enterprisespace enough for almost anything, to start with, Adams thought, as he walked through the low buildings, one day, when he was prospecting in that section. Yes, I suppose I COULD swing this, he thought. If the process belonged to me, say, instead of being out of the question because it isnt my propertyor if I was the kind of man to do such a thing anyhow, here would be something I could probably get hold of pretty cheap. Theyd want a lot of money for a lease on that big building over the waybut this, why, I should think itd be practically nothing at all.
Then, by chance, meeting an agent he knew, he made inquiriesmerely to satisfy a casual curiosity, he thoughtand he found matters much as he had supposed, except that the owners of the big building did not wish to let, but to sell it, and this at a price so exorbitant that Adams laughed. But the long brick shed in the great muddy lot was for sale or to let, or pretty near to be given away, he learned, if anybody would take it.
Adams took it now, though without seeing that he had been destined to take it, and that some dreary wizard in the back of his head had foreseen all along that he would take it, and planned to be ready. He drove in his taxicab to look the place over again, then down-town to arrange for a lease; and came home to lunch with his wife and daughter. Things were moving, he told them.
He boasted a little of having acted so decisively, and said that since the dang thing had to be done, it was going to be done RIGHT! He was almost cheerful, in a feverish way, and when the cab came for him again, soon after lunch, he explained that he intended not only to get things done right, but also to get em done quick! Alice, following him to the front door, looked at him anxiously and asked if she couldnt help. He laughed at her grimly.
Then let me go along with you in the cab, she begged. You dont look able to start in so hard, papa, just when youre barely beginning to get your strength back. Do let me go with you and see if I cant helpor at least take care of you if you should get to feeling badly.
He declined, but upon pressure let her put a tiny bottle of spirits of ammonia in his pocket, and promised to make use of it if he felt faint or anything. Then he was off again; and the next morning had men at work in his sheds, though the wages he had to pay frightened him.
He directed the workmen in every detail, hurrying them by example and exhortations, and receiving, in consequence, several declarations of independence, as well as one resignation, which took effect immediately. Yous capitalusts seem to think a mans got nothin to do but break his back pdoosin wealth fer yous to squander, the resigning person loudly complained. You look out: the toilers day is a-comin, and it aint so fur off, neither! But the capitalist was already out of hearing, gone to find a man to take this orators place.
By the end of the week, Adams felt that he had moved satisfactorily forward in his preparations for the simple equipment he needed; but he hated the pause of Sunday. He didnt WANT any rest, he told Alice impatiently, when she suggested that the idle day might be good for him.
Late that afternoon he walked over to the apartment house where old Charley Lohr lived, and gave his friend the letter he wanted the head of Lamb and Company to receive personally. Ill take it as a mighty great favour in you to hand it to him personally, Charley, he said, in parting. And you wont forget, in case he says anything about itand remember if you ever do get a chance to put in a good word for me later, you know
Old Charley promised to remember, and, when Mrs. Lohr came out of the kitchenette, after the door closed, he said thoughtfully, Just skin and bones.
You mean Mr. Adams is? Mrs. Lohr inquired.
Whod you think I meant? he returned. One o these partridges in the wall-paper?
Did he look so badly?
Looked kind of distracted to me, her husband replied. These little thin fellers can stand a heap sometimes, though. Hell be over here again Monday.
Did he say he would?
No, said Lohr. But he will. Youll see. Hell be over to find out what the big boss says when I give him this letter. Expect Id be kind of anxious, myself, if I was him.
Why would you? Whats Mr. Adams doing to be so anxious about?
Lohrs expression became one of reserve, the look of a man who has found that when he speaks his inner thoughts his wife jumps too far to conclusions. Oh, nothing, he said. Of course any man starting up a new business is bound to be pretty nervous a while. Hell be over here to-morrow evening, all right; youll see.
The prediction was fulfilled: Adams arrived just after Mrs. Lohr had removed the dinner dishes to her kitchenette; but Lohr had little information to give his caller.
He didnt say a word, Virgil; nary a word. I took it into his office and handed it to him, and he just sat and read it; thats all. I kind of stood around as long as I could, but he was sittin at his desk with his side to me, and he never turned around full toward me, as it were, so I couldnt hardly even tell anything. All I know: he just read it.
Well, but see here, Adams began, nervously. Well
Well what, Virg?
Well, but what did he say when he DID speak?
He didnt speak. Not so long I was in there, anyhow. He just sat there and read it. Read kind of slow. Then, when he came to the end, he turned back and started to read it all over again. By that time there was three or four other men standin around in the office waitin to speak to him, and I had to go.
Adams sighed, and stared at the floor, irresolute. Well, Ill be getting along back home then, I guess, Charley. So youre sure you couldnt tell anything what he might have thought about it, then?
Not a thing in the world. Ive told you all I know, Virg.
I guess so, I guess so, Adams said, mournfully. I feel mighty obliged to you, Charley Lohr; mighty obliged. Good-night to you. And he departed, sighing in perplexity.
On his way home, preoccupied with many thoughts, he walked so slowly that once or twice he stopped and stood motionless for a few moments, without being aware of it; and when he reached the juncture of the sidewalk with the short brick path that led to his own front door, he stopped again, and stood for more than a minute. Ah, I wish I knew, he whispered, plaintively. I do wish I knew what he thought about it.
He was roused by a laugh that came lightly from the little veranda near by. Papa! Alice called gaily. What are you standing there muttering to yourself about?
Oh, are you there, dearie? he said, and came up the path. A tall figure rose from a chair on the veranda.
Papa, this is Mr. Russell.
The two men shook hands, Adams saying, Pleased to make your acquaintance, as they looked at each other in the faint light diffused through the opaque glass in the upper part of the door. Adamss impression was of a strong and tall young man, fashionable but gentle; and Russells was of a dried, little old business man with a grizzled moustache, worried bright eyes, shapeless dark clothes, and a homely manner.
Nice evening, Adams said further, as their hands parted. Nice time o year it is, but we dont always have as good weather as this; thats the trouble of it. Well He went to the door. WellI bid you good evening, he said, and retired within the house.
Alice laughed. Hes the old-fashionedest man in town, I suppose and frightfully impressed with you, I could see!
What nonsense! said Russell. How could anybody be impressed with me?
Why not? Because youre quiet? Good gracious! Dont you know that youre the most impressive sort? We chatterers spend all our time playing to you quiet people.
Yes; were only the audience.
Only! she echoed. Why, we live for you, and we cant live without you.
I wish you couldnt, said Russell. That would be a new experience for both of us, wouldnt it?
It might be a rather bleak one for me, she answered, lightly. Im afraid Ill miss these summer evenings with you when theyre over. Ill miss them enough, thanks!
Do they have to be over some time? he asked.
Oh, everythings over some time, isnt it?
Russell laughed at her. Dont lets look so far ahead as that, he said. We dont need to be already thinking of the cemetery, do we?
I didnt, she said, shaking her head. Our summer evenings will be over before then, Mr. Russell.
Why? he asked.
Good heavens! she said. THERES laconic eloquence: almost a proposal in a single word! Never mind, I shant hold you to it. But to answer you: well, Im always looking ahead, and somehow I usually see about how things are coming out.
Yes, he said. I suppose most of us do; at least it seems as if we did, because we so seldom feel surprised by the way they do come out. But maybe thats only because life isnt like a play in a theatre, and most things come about so gradually we get used to them.
No, Im sure I can see quite a long way ahead, she insisted, gravely. And it doesnt seem to me as if our summer evenings could last very long. Somethingll interferesomebody will, I meantheyll SAY something
What if they do?
She moved her shoulders in a little apprehensive shiver. Itll change you, she said. Im just sure something spitefuls going to happen to me. Youll feel differently aboutthings.
Now, isnt that an idea! he exclaimed.
It will, she insisted. I know something spitefuls going to happen!
You seem possessed by a notion not a bit flattering to me, he remarked.
Oh, but isnt it? Thats just what it is! Why isnt it?
Because it implies that Im made of such soft material the slightest breeze will mess me all up. Im not so like that as I evidently appear; and if its true that were afraid other people will do the things wed be most likely to do ourselves, it seems to me that I ought to be the one to be afraid. I ought to be afraid that somebody may say something about me to you that will make you believe Im a professional forger.
No. We both know they wont, she said. We both know youre the sort of person everybody in the world says nice things about. She lifted her hand to silence him as he laughed at this. Oh, of course you are! I think perhaps youre a little flirtatiousmost quiet men have that one sly way with emoh, yes, they do! But you happen to be the kind of man everybody loves to praise. And if you werent, I shouldnt hear anything terrible about you. I told you I was unpopular: I dont see anybody at all any more. The only man except you whos been to see me in a month is that fearful little fat Frank Dowling, and I sent word to HIM I wasnt home. Nobodyd tell me of your wickedness, you see.
Then let me break some news to you, Russell said. Nobody would tell me of yours, either. Nobodys even mentioned you to me.
She burlesqued a cry of anguish. That IS obscurity! I suppose Im too apt to forget that they say the populations about half a million nowadays. There ARE other people to talk about, you feel, then?
None that I want to, he said. But I should think the size of the place might relieve your mind of what seems to insist on burdening it. Besides, Id rather you thought me a better man than you do.
What kind of a man do I think you are?
The kind affected by whats said about people instead of by what they do themselves.
No, Im not, he said. If you want our summer evenings to be over youll have to drive me away yourself.
Nobody else could?
She was silent, leaning forward, with her elbows on her knees and her clasped hands against her lips. Then, not moving, she said softly:
She was silent again, and he said nothing, but looked at her, seeming to be content with looking. Her attitude was one only a graceful person should assume, but she was graceful; and, in the wan light, which made a prettily shaped mist of her, she had beauty. Perhaps it was beauty of the hour, and of the love scene almost made into form by what they had both just said, but she had it; and though beauty of the hour passes, he who sees it will long remember it and the hour when it came.
What are you thinking of? he asked.
She leaned back in her chair and did not answer at once. Then she said:
I dont know; I doubt if I was thinking of anything. It seems to me I wasnt. I think I was just being sort of sadly happy just then.
Were you? Was it sadly, too?
Dont you know? she said. It seems to me that only little children can be just happily happy. I think when we get older our happiest moments are like the one I had just then: its as if we heard strains of minor music running through themoh, so sweet, but oh, so sad!
But what makes it sad for YOU?
I dont know, she said, in a lighter tone. Perhaps its a kind of useless foreboding I seem to have pretty often. It may be thator it may be poor papa.
You ARE a funny, delightful girl, though! Russell laughed. When your fathers so well again that he goes out walking in the evenings!
He does too much walking, Alice said. Too much altogether, over at his new plant. But there isnt any stopping him. She laughed and shook her head. When a man gets an ambition to be a multi-millionaire his family dont appear to have much weight with him. Hell walk all he wants to, in spite of them.
I suppose so, Russell said, absently; then he leaned forward. I wish I could understand better why you were sadly happy.
Meanwhile, as Alice shed what further light she could on this point, the man ambitious to be a multi-millionaire was indeed walking too much for his own good. He had gone to bed, hoping to sleep well and rise early for a long days work, but he could not rest, and now, in his nightgown and slippers, he was pacing the floor of his room.
I wish I DID know, he thought, over and over. I DO wish I knew how he feels about it.
That was a thought almost continuously in his mind, even when he was hardest at work; and, as the days went on and he could not free himself, he became querulous about it. I guess Im the biggest dang fool alive, he told his wife as they sat together one evening. I got plenty else to bother me, without worrying my head off about what HE thinks. I cant help what he thinks; its too late for that. So why should I keep pestering myself about it?
Itll wear off, Virgil, Mrs. Adams said, reassuringly. She was gentle and sympathetic with him, and for the first time in many years he would come to sit with her and talk, when he had finished his days work. He had told her, evading her eye, Oh, I dont blame you. You didnt get after me to do this on your own account; you couldnt help it.
Yes; but it dont wear off, he complained. This afternoon I was showing the men how I wanted my vats to go, and I caught my fool self standing there saying to my fool self, Its funny I dont hear how he feels about it from SOMEbody. I was saying it aloud, almostand it IS funny I dont hear anything!
Well, you see what it means, dont you, Virgil? It only means he hasnt said anything to anybody about it. Dont you think youre getting kind of morbid over it?
Maybe, maybe, he muttered.
Why, yes, she said, briskly. You dont realize what a little bit of a thing all this is to him. Its been a long, long while since the last time you even mentioned glue to him, and hes probably forgotten everything about it.
Youre off your base; it isnt like him to forget things, Adams returned, peevishly. He may seem to forget em, but he dont.
But hes not thinking about this, or youd have heard from him before now.
Her husband shook his head. Ah, thats just it! he said. Why HAVENT I heard from him?
Its all your morbidness, Virgil. Look at Walter: if Mr. Lamb held this up against you, would he still let Walter stay there? Wouldnt he have discharged Walter if he felt angry with you?
That dang boy! Adams said. If he WANTED to come with me now, I wouldnt hardly let him, What do you suppose makes him so bull-headed?
But hasnt he a right to choose for himself? she asked. I suppose he feels he ought to stick to what he thinks is sure pay. As soon as he sees that youre going to succeed with the glue-works hell want to be with you quick enough.
Well, he better get a little sense in his head, Adams returned, crossly. He wanted me to pay him a three-hundred-dollar bonus in advance, when anybody with a grain of common sense knows I need every penny I can lay my hands on!
Never mind, she said. Hell come around later and be glad of the chance.
Hell have to beg for it then! I wont ask him again.
Oh, Walter will come out all right; you neednt worry. And dont you see that Mr. Lambs not discharging him means theres no hard feeling against you, Virgil?
I cant make it out at all, he said, frowning. The only thing I can THINK it means is that J. A. Lamb is so fair-mindedand of course he IS one of the fair-mindedest men alive I suppose thats the reason he hasnt fired Walter. He may know, Adams concluded, moroselyhe may know thats just another thing to make me feel all the meaner: keeping my boy there on a salary after Ive done him an injury.
Now, now! she said, trying to comfort him. You couldnt do anybody an injury to save your life, and everybody knows it.
Well, anybody ought to know I wouldnt WANT to do an injury, but this world isnt built sot we can do just what we want. He paused, reflecting. Of course there may be one explanation of why Walters still there: J. A. maybe hasnt noticed that he IS there. Theres so many I expect he hardly knows him by sight.
Well, just do quit thinking about it, she urged him. It only bothers you without doing any good. Dont you know that?
Dont I, though! he laughed, feebly. I know it bettern anybody! How funny that is: when you know thinking about a thing only pesters you without helping anything at all, and yet you keep right on pestering yourself with it!
But WHY? she said. Whats the use when you know you havent done anything wrong, Virgil? You said yourself you were going to improve the process so much it would be different from the old one, and youd REALLY have a right to it.
Adams had persuaded himself of this when he yielded; he had found it necessary to persuade himself of itthough there was a part of him, of course, that remained unpersuaded; and this discomfiting part of him was what made his present trouble. Yes, I know, he said. Thats true, but I cant quite seem to get away from the fact that the principle of the process is a good deal the samewell, its moren that; its just about the same as the one he hired Campbell and me to work out for him. Truth is, nobody could tell the difference, and I dont know as there IS any difference except in these improvements Im making. Of course, the improvements do give me pretty near a perfect right to it, as a person might say; and thats one of the things I thought of putting in my letter to him; but I was afraid hed just think I was trying to make up excuses, so I left it out. I kind of worried all the time I was writing that letter, because if he thought I WAS just making up excuses, why, it might set him just so much more against me.
Ever since Mrs. Adams had found that she was to have her way, the depths of her eyes had been troubled by a continuous uneasiness; and, although she knew it was there, and sometimes veiled it by keeping the revealing eyes averted from her husband and children, she could not always cover it under that assumption of absent-mindedness. The uneasy look became vivid, and her voice was slightly tremulous now, as she said, But what if he SHOULD be against youalthough I dont believe he is, of courseyou told me he couldnt DO anything to you, Virgil.
No, he said, slowly. I cant see how he could do anything. It was just a secret, not a patent; the thing aint patentable. Ive tried to think what he could dosupposing he was to want tobut I cant figure out anything at all that would be any harm to me. There isnt any way in the world it could be made a question of law. Only thing he could dod be to TELL people his side of it, and set em against me. I been kind of waiting for that to happen, all along.
She looked somewhat relieved. So did I expect it, she said. I was dreading it most on Alices account: it might havewell, young men are so easily influenced and all. But so far as the business is concerned, what if Mr. Lamb did talk? That wouldnt amount to much. It wouldnt affect the business; not to hurt. And, besides, he isnt even doing that.
No; anyhow not yet, it seems. And Adams sighed again, wistfully. But I WOULD give a good deal to know what he thinks!
Before his surrender he had always supposed that if he did such an unthinkable thing as to seize upon the glue process for himself, what he would feel must be an overpowering shame. But shame is the rarest thing in the world: what he felt was this unremittent curiosity about his old employers thoughts. It was an obsession, yet he did not want to hear what Lamb thought from Lamb himself, for Adams had a second obsession, and this was his dread of meeting the old man face to face. Such an encounter could happen only by chance and unexpectedly; since Adams would have avoided any deliberate meeting, so long as his legs had strength to carry him, even if Lamb came to the house to see him.
But people do meet unexpectedly; and when Adams had to be down-town he kept away from the wholesale district. One day he did see Lamb, as the latter went by in his car, impassive, going home to lunch; and Adams, in the crowd at a corner, knew that the old man had not seen him. Nevertheless, in a street car, on the way back to his sheds, an hour later, he was still subject to little shivering seizures of horror.
He worked unceasingly, seeming to keep at it even in his sleep, for he always woke in the midst of a planning and estimating that must have been going on in his mind before consciousness of himself returned. Moreover, the work, thus urged, went rapidly, in spite of the high wages he had to pay his labourers for their short hours. It eats money, he complained, and, in fact, by the time his vats and boilers were in place it had eaten almost all he could supply; but in addition to his equipment he now owned a stock of raw material, raw indeed; and when operations should be a little further along he was confident his banker would be willing to carry him.
Six weeks from the day he had obtained his lease he began his glue-making. The terrible smells came out of the sheds and went writhing like snakes all through that quarter of the town. A smiling man, strolling and breathing the air with satisfaction, would turn a corner and smile no more, but hurry. However, coloured people had almost all the dwellings of this old section to themselves; and although even they were troubled, there was recompense for them. Being philosophic about what appeared to them as in the order of nature, they sought neither escape nor redress, and soon learned to bear what the wind brought them. They even made use of it to enrich those figures of speech with which the native impulses of coloured people decorate their communications: they flavoured metaphor, simile, and invective with it; and thus may be said to have enjoyed it. But the man who produced it took a hot bath as soon as he reached his home the evening of that first day when his manufacturing began. Then he put on fresh clothes; but after dinner he seemed to be haunted, and asked his wife if she noticed anything.
She laughed and inquired what he meant.
Seems to me as if that glue-works smell hadnt quit hanging to me, he explained. Dont you notice it?
No! What an idea!
He laughed, too, but uneasily; and told her he was sure the dang glue smell was somehow sticking to him. Later, he went outdoors and walked up and down the small yard in the dusk; but now and then he stood still, with his head lifted, and sniffed the air suspiciously. Can YOU smell it? he called to Alice, who sat upon the veranda, prettily dressed and waiting in a reverie.
Smell what, papa?
That dang glue-works.
She did the same thing her mother had done: laughed, and said, No! How foolish! Why, papa, its over two miles from here!
You dont get it at all? he insisted.
The idea! The air is lovely to-night, papa.
The air did not seem lovely to him, for he was positive that he detected the taint. He wondered how far it carried, and if J. A. Lamb would smell it, too, out on his own lawn a mile to the north; and if he did, would he guess what it was? Then Adams laughed at himself for such nonsense; but could not rid his nostrils of their disgust. To him the whole town seemed to smell of his glue-works.
Nevertheless, the glue was making, and his sheds were busy. Guess were stirrin up this ole neighbourhood with more than the smell, his foreman remarked one morning.
Hows that? Adams inquired.
That great big, enormous ole dead butterine factory across the street from our lot, the man said. Nothin like settin an example to bring real estate to life. That place is full o carpenters startin in to make a regular buildin of it again. Guess you ought to have the credit of it, because you was the first man in ten years to see any possibilities in this neighbourhood.
Adams was pleased, and, going out to see for himself, heard a great hammering and sawing from within the building; while carpenters were just emerging gingerly upon the dangerous roof. He walked out over the dried mud of his deep lot, crossed the street, and spoke genially to a workman who was removing the broken glass of a window on the ground floor.
Here! Whats all this howdy-do over here?
Goin to fix her all up, I guess, the workman said. Big job it is, too.
Sh think it would be.
Yes, sir; a pretty big joba pretty big job. Got men at it on all four floors and on the roof. Theyre doin it RIGHT.
Whos doing it?
Lord! I d know. Some o these here big manufacturing corporations, I guess.
Whats it going to be?
They tell ME, the workman answeredthey tell ME shes goin to be a butterine factory again. Anyways, I hope she wont be anything to smell like that glue-works you got over there not while Im workin around her, anyways!
That smells all right, Adams said. You soon get used to it.
You do? The man appeared incredulous. Listen! I was over in France: its a good thing them Dutchmen never thought of it; wed of had to quit!
Adams laughed, and went back to his sheds. I guess my foreman was right, he told his wife, that evening, with a little satisfaction. As soon as one man shows enterprise enough to found an industry in a broken-down neighbourhood, somebody else is sure to follow. I kind of like the look of it: itll help make our place seem sort of more busy and prosperous when it comes to getting a loan from the bankand I got to get one mighty soon, too. I did think some that if things go as well as theres every reason to think they OUGHT to, I might want to spread out and maybe get hold of that old factory myself; but I hardly expected to be able to handle a proposition of that size before two or three years from now, and anyhow theres room enough on the lot I got, if we need more buildings some day. Things are going about as fine as I could ask: I hired some girls to-day to do the bottlingcoloured girls along about sixteen to twenty years old. Afterwhile, I expect to get a machine to put the stuff in the little bottles, when we begin to get good returns; but half a dozen of these coloured girls can do it all right now, by hand. Were getting to have really quite a little plant over there: yes, sir, quite a regular little plant!
He chuckled, and at this cheerful sound, of a kind his wife had almost forgotten he was capable of producing, she ventured to put her hand upon his arm. They had gone outdoors, after dinner, taking two chairs with them, and were sitting through the late twilight together, keeping well away from the front porch, which was not yet occupied, however Alice was in her room changing her dress.
Well, honey, Mrs. Adams said, taking confidence not only to put her hand upon his arm, but to revive this disused endearment;its grand to have you so optimistic. Maybe some time youll admit I was right, after all. Everythings going so well, it seems a pity you didnt take thisthis steplong ago. Dont you think maybe so, Virgil?
Wellif I was ever going to, I dont know but I might as well of. I got to admit the proposition begins to look pretty good: I know the stuffll sell, and I cant see a thing in the world to stop it. It does look good, and ifif He paused.
If what? she said, suddenly anxious.
He laughed plaintively, as if confessing a superstition. Its funnywell, its mighty funny about that smell. Ive got so used to it at the plant I never seem to notice it at all over there. Its only when I get away. Honestly, cant you notice?
Virgil! She lifted her hand to strike his arm chidingly. Do quit harping on that nonsense!
Oh, of course it dont amount to anything, he said. A person can stand a good deal of just smell. It dont WORRY me any.
I should think not especially as there isnt any.
Well, he said, I feel pretty fair over the whole thinga lot bettern I ever expected to, anyhow. I dont know as theres any reason I shouldnt tell you so.
She was deeply pleased with this acknowledgment, and her voice had tenderness in it as she responded: There, honey! Didnt I always say youd be glad if you did it?
Embarrassed, he coughed loudly, then filled his pipe and lit it. Well, he said, slowly, its a puzzle. Yes, sir, its a puzzle.
Pretty much everything, I guess.
As he spoke, a song came to them from a lighted window over their heads. Then the window darkened abruptly, but the song continued as Alice went down through the house to wait on the little veranda. Mi chiamo Mimi, she sang, and in her voice throbbed something almost startling in its sweetness. Her father and mother listened, not speaking until the song stopped with the click of the wire screen at the front door as Alice came out.
My! said her father. How sweet she does sing! I dont know as I ever heard her voice sound nicer than it did just then.
Theres something that makes it sound that way, his wife told him.
I suppose so, he said, sighing. I suppose so. You think
Shes just terribly in love with him!
I expect thats the way it ought to be, he said, then drew upon his pipe for reflection, and became murmurous with the symptoms of melancholy laughter. It dont make things less of a puzzle, though, does it?
In what way, Virgil?
Why, here, he saidhere we go through all this muck and moil to help fix things nicer for her at home, and whats it all amount to? Seems like shes just gone ahead the way shed a gone anyhow; and now, I suppose, getting ready to up and leave us! Aint that a puzzle to you? It is to me.
Oh, but things havent gone that far yet.
Why, you just said
She gave a little cry of protest. Oh, they arent ENGAGED yet. Of course they WILL be; hes just as much interested in her as she is in him, but
Well, whats the trouble then?
You ARE a simple old fellow! his wife exclaimed, and then rose from her chair. That reminds me, she said.
What of? he asked. Whats my being simple remind you of?
Nothing! she laughed. It wasnt you that reminded me. It was just something thats been on my mind. I dont believe hes actually ever been inside our house!
I actually dont believe he ever has, she said. Of course we must She paused, debating.
We must what?
I guess I better talk to Alice about it right now, she said. He dont usually come for about half an hour yet; I guess Ive got time. And with that she walked away, leaving him to his puzzles.
Alice was softly crooning to herself as her mother turned the corner of the house and approached through the dusk.
Isnt it the most BEAUTIFUL evening! the daughter said. WHY cant summer last all year? Did you ever know a lovelier twilight than this, mama?
Mrs. Adams laughed, and answered, Not since I was your age, I expect.
Alice was wistful at once. Dont they stay beautiful after my age?
Well, its not the same thing.
Isnt it? Not ever?
You may have a different kind from mine, the mother said, a little sadly. I think you will, Alice. You deserve
No, I dont. I dont deserve anything, and I know it. But Im getting a great deal these daysmore than I ever dreamed COULD come to me. ImIm pretty happy, mama!
Dearie! Her mother would have kissed her, but Alice drew away.
Oh, I dont mean She laughed nervously. I wasnt meaning to tell you Im ENGAGED, mama. Were not. I meanoh! things seem pretty beautiful in spite of all Ive done to spoil em.
You? Mrs. Adams cried, incredulously. What have you done to spoil anything?
Little things, Alice said. A thousand little sillyoh, whats the use? Hes so honestly what he isjust simple and good and intelligentI feel a tricky mess beside him! I dont see why he likes me; and sometimes Im afraid he wouldnt if he knew me.
Hed just worship you, said the fond mother. And the more he knew you, the more hed worship you.
Alice shook her head. Hes not the worshiping kind. Not like that at all. Hes more
But Mrs. Adams was not interested in this analysis, and she interrupted briskly, Of course its time your father and I showed some interest in him. I was just saying I actually dont believe hes ever been inside the house.
No, Alice said, musingly; thats true: I dont believe he has. Except when weve walked in the evening weve always sat out here, even those two times when it was drizzly. Its so much nicer.
Well have to do SOMETHING or other, of course, her mother said.
I was thinking Mrs. Adams paused. Well, of course we could hardly put off asking him to dinner, or something, much longer.
Alice was not enthusiastic; so far from it, indeed, that there was a melancholy alarm in her voice. Oh, mama, must we? Do you think so?
Yes, I do. I really do.
Couldnt wewell, couldnt we wait?
It looks queer, Mrs. Adams said. It isnt the thing at all for a young man to come as much as he does, and never more than just barely meet your father and mother. No. We ought to do something.
But a dinner! Alice objected. In the first place, there isnt anybody I want to ask. There isnt anybody I WOULD ask.
I didnt mean trying to give a big dinner, her mother explained. I just mean having him to dinner. That mulatto woman, Malena Burns, goes out by the day, and she could bring a waitress. We can get some flowers for the table and some to put in the living-room. We might just as well go ahead and do it to-morrow as any other time; because your fathers in a fine mood, and I saw Malena this afternoon and told her I might want her soon. She said she didnt have any engagements this week, and I can let her know to-night. Suppose when he comes you ask him for to-morrow, Alice. Everythingll be very nice, Im sure. Dont worry about it.
Wellbut Alice was uncertain.
But dont you see, it looks so queer, not to do SOMETHING? her mother urged. It looks so kind of poverty-stricken. We really oughtnt to wait any longer.
Alice assented, though not with a good heart. Very well, Ill ask him, if you think weve got to.
That matters settled then, Mrs. Adams said. Ill go telephone Malena, and then Ill tell your father about it.
But when she went back to her husband, she found him in an excited state of mind, and Walter standing before him in the darkness. Adams was almost shouting, so great was his vehemence.
Hush, hush! his wife implored, as she came near them. Theyll hear you out on the front porch!
I dont care who hears me, Adams said, harshly, though he tempered his loudness. Do you want to know what this boys asking me for? I thought hed maybe come to tell me hed got a little sense in his head at last, and a little decency about whats due his family! I thought he was going to ask me to take him into my plant. No, maam; THATS not what he wants!
No, it isnt, Walter said. In the darkness his face could not be seen; he stood motionless, in what seemed an apathetic attitude; and he spoke quietly, No, he repeated. That isnt what I want.
You stay down at that place, Adams went on, hotly, instead of trying to be a little use to your family; and the only reason youre ALLOWED to stay there is because Mr. Lambs never happened to notice you ARE still there! You just wait
Youre off, Walter said, in the same quiet way. He knows Im there. He spoke to me yesterday: he asked me how I was getting along with my work.
He did? Adams said, seeming not to believe him.
Yes. He did.
What else did he say, Walter? Mrs. Adams asked quickly.
Nothin. Just walked on.
I dont believe he knew who you were, Adams declared.
Think not? He called me Walter Adams.
At this Adams was silent; and Walter, after waiting a moment, said:
Well, are you going to do anything about me? About what I told you I got to have?
What is it, Walter? his mother asked, since Adams did not speak.
Walter cleared his throat, and replied in a tone as quiet as that he had used before, though with a slight huskiness, I got to have three hundred and fifty dollars. You better get him to give it to me if you can.
Adams found his voice. Yes, he said, bitterly. Thats all he asks! He wont do anything I ask HIM to, and in return he asks me for three hundred and fifty dollars! Thats all!
What in the world! Mrs. Adams exclaimed. What FOR, Walter?
I got to have it, Walter said.
But what FOR?
His quiet huskiness did not alter. I got to have it.
But cant you tell us
I got to have it.
Thats all you can get out of him, Adams said. He seems to think itll bring him in three hundred and fifty dollars!
A faint tremulousness became evident in the husky voice. Havent you got it?
NO, I havent got it! his father answered. And Ive got to go to a bank for more than my pay-roll next week. Do you think Im a mint?
I dont understand what you mean, Walter, Mrs. Adams interposed, perplexed and distressed. If your father had the money, of course hed need every cent of it, especially just now, and, anyhow, you could scarcely expect him to give it to you, unless you told us what you want with it. But he hasnt got it.
All right, Walter said; and after standing a moment more, in silence, he added, impersonally, I dont see as you ever did anything much for me, anyhow either of you.
Then, as if this were his valedictory, he turned his back upon them, walked away quickly, and was at once lost to their sight in the darkness.
Theres a fine boy tove had the trouble of raising! Adams grumbled. Just crazy, thats all.
What in the world do you suppose he wants all that money for? his wife said, wonderingly. I cant imagine what he could DO with it. I wonder She paused. I wonder if he
If he what? Adams prompted her irritably.
If he COULD have badassociates.
God knows! said Adams. I dont! It just looks to me like he had something in him I dont understand. You cant keep your eye on a boy all the time in a city this size, not a boy Walters age. You got a girl pretty much in the house, but a boyll follow his nature. I dont know what to do with him!
Mrs. Adams brightened a little. Hell come out all right, she said. Im sure he will. Im sure hed never be anything really bad: and hell come around all right about the glue-works, too; youll see. Of course every young man wants moneyit doesnt prove hes doing anything wrong just because he asks you for it.
No. All it proves to me is that he hasnt got good sense asking me for three hundred and fifty dollars, when he knows as well as you do the position Im in! If I wanted to, I couldnt hardly let him have three hundred and fifty cents, let alone dollars!
Im afraid youll have to let ME have that muchand maybe a little more, she ventured, timidly; and she told him of her plans for the morrow. He objected vehemently.
Oh, but Alice has probably asked him by this time, Mrs. Adams said. It really must be done, Virgil: you dont want him to think shes ashamed of us, do you?
Well, go ahead, but just let me stay away, he begged. Of course I expect to undergo a kind of talk with him, when he gets ready to say something to us about Alice, but I do hate to have to sit through a fashionable dinner.
Why, it isnt going to bother you, she said; just one young man as a guest.
Yes, I know; but you want to have all this fancy cookin; and I see well enough youre going to get that old dress suit out of the cedar chest in the attic, and try to make me put it on me.
I do think you better, Virgil.
I hope the moths have got in it, he said. Last time I wore it was to the banquet, and it was pretty old then. Of course I didnt mind wearing it to the banquet so much, because that was what you might call quite an occasion. He spoke with some reminiscent complacency; the banquet, an affair now five years past, having provided the one time in his life when he had been so distinguished among his fellow-citizens as to receive an invitation to be present, with some seven hundred others, at the annual eating and speech-making of the citys Chamber of Commerce. Anyhow, as you say, I think it would look foolish of me to wear a dress suit for just one young man, he went on protesting, feebly. Whats the use of all so much howdy-do, anyway? You dont expect him to believe we put on all that style every night, do you? Is that what youre after?
Well, we want him to think we live nicely, she admitted.
So thats it! he said, querulously. You want him to think thats our regular gait, do you? Well, hell know better about me, no matter how you fix me up, because he saw me in my regular suit the evening she introduced me to him, and he could tell anyway Im not one of these moving-picture sporting-men thats always got a dress suit on. Besides, you and Alice certainly have some idea hell come AGAIN, havent you? If they get things settled between em hell be around the house and to meals most any time, wont he? You dont hardly expect to put on style all the time, I guess. Well, hell see then that this kind of thing was all show-off, and bluff, wont he? What about it?
Oh, well, by THAT time She left the sentence unfinished, as if absently. You could let us have a little money for to-morrow, couldnt you, honey?
Oh, I reckon, I reckon, he mumbled. A girl like Alice is some comfort: she dont come around acting as if shed commit suicide if she didnt get three hundred and fifty dollars in the next five minutes. I expect I can spare five or six dollars for your show-off if I got to.
However, she finally obtained fifteen before his bedtime; and the next morning went to market after breakfast, leaving Alice to make the beds. Walter had not yet come downstairs. You had better call him, Mrs. Adams said, as she departed with a big basket on her arm. I expect hes pretty sleepy; he was out so late last night I didnt hear him come in, though I kept awake till after midnight, listening for him. Tell him hell be late to work if he doesnt hurry; and see that he drinks his coffee, even if he hasnt time for anything else. And when Malena comes, get her started in the kitchen: show her where everything is. She waved her hand, as she set out for a corner where the cars stopped. Everythingll be lovely. Dont forget about Walter.
Nevertheless, Alice forgot about Walter for a few minutes. She closed the door, went into the living-room absently, and stared vaguely at one of the old brown-plush rocking-chairs there. Upon her forehead were the little shadows of an apprehensive reverie, and her thoughts overlapped one another in a fretful jumble. What will he think? These old chairstheyre hideous. Ill scrub those soot-streaks on the columns: it wont do any good, though. That long crack in the columnnothing can help it. What will he think of papa? I hope mama wont talk too much. When he thinks of Mildreds house, or of Henriettas, or any of em, beside thisShe said shed buy plenty of roses; that ought to help some. Nothing could be done about these horrible chairs: cant take em up in the attica rooms got to have chairs! Might have rented some. No; if he ever comes again hed see they werent here. If he ever comes againoh, it wont be THAT bad! But it wont be what he expects. Im responsible for what he expects: he expects just what the airs Ive put on have made him expect. What did I want to pose so to him foras if papa were a wealthy man and all that? What WILL he think? The photograph of the Colosseums a rather good thing, though. It helps someas if wed bought it in Rome perhaps. I hope hell think so; he believes Ive been abroad, of course. The other night he said, You remember the feeling you get in the Sainte-Chapelle.Theres another lie of mine, not saying I didnt remember because Id never been there. What makes me do it? Papa MUST wear his evening clothes. But Walter
With that she recalled her mothers admonition, and went upstairs to Walters door. She tapped upon it with her fingers.
Time to get up, Walter. The rest of us had breakfast over half an hour ago, and its nearly eight oclock. Youll be late. Hurry down and Ill have some coffee and toast ready for you. There came no sound from within the room, so she rapped louder.
Wake up, Walter!
She called and rapped again, without getting any response, and then, finding that the door yielded to her, opened it and went in. Walter was not there.
He had been there, however; had slept upon the bed, though not inside the covers; and Alice supposed he must have come home so late that he had been too sleepy to take off his clothes. Near the foot of the bed was a shallow closet where he kept his other suit and his evening clothes; and the door stood open, showing a bare wall. Nothing whatever was in the closet, and Alice was rather surprised at this for a moment. Thats queer, she murmured; and then she decided that when he woke he found the clothes he had slept in so mussy he had put on his other suit, and had gone out before breakfast with the mussed clothes to have them pressed, taking his evening things with them. Satisfied with this explanation, and failing to observe that it did not account for the absence of shoes from the closet floor, she nodded absently, Yes, that must be it; and, when her mother returned, told her that Walter had probably breakfasted down-town. They did not delay over this; the coloured woman had arrived, and the baskets disclosures were important.
I stopped at Worligs on the way back, said Mrs. Adams, flushed with hurry and excitement. I bought a can of caviar there. I thought wed have little sandwiches brought into the living-room before dinner, the way you said they did when you went to that dinner at the
But I think that was to go with cocktails, mama, and of course we havent
No, Mrs. Adams said. Still, I think it would be nice. We can make them look very dainty, on a tray, and the waitress can bring them in. I thought wed have the soup already on the table; and we can walk right out as soon as we have the sandwiches, so it wont get cold. Then, after the soup, Malena says she can make sweetbread pates with mushrooms: and for the meat course well have larded fillet. Malenas really a fancy cook, you know, and she says she can do anything like that to perfection. Well have peas with the fillet, and potato balls and Brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts are fashionable now, they told me at market. Then will come the chicken salad, and after that the ice-creamshes going to make an angel-food cake to go with itand then coffee and crackers and a new kind of cheese I got at Worligs, he says is very fine.
Alice was alarmed. Dont you think perhaps its too much, mama?
Its better to have too much than too little, her mother said, cheerfully. We dont want him to think were the kind that skimp. Lord knows we have to enough, though, most of the time! Get the flowers in water, child. I bought em at market because theyre so much cheaper there, but theyll keep fresh and nice. You fix em any way you want. Hurry! Its got to be a busy day.
She had bought three dozen little roses. Alice took them and began to arrange them in vases, keeping the stems separated as far as possible so that the clumps would look larger. She put half a dozen in each of three vases in the living-room, placing one vase on the table in the center of the room, and one at each end of the mantelpiece. Then she took the rest of the roses to the dining-room; but she postponed the arrangement of them until the table should be set, just before dinner. She was thoughtful; planning to dry the stems and lay them on the tablecloth like a vine of roses running in a delicate design, if she found that the dozen and a half she had left were enough for that. If they werent she would arrange them in a vase.
She looked a long time at the little roses in the basin of water, where she had put them; then she sighed, and went away to heavier tasks, while her mother worked in the kitchen with Malena. Alice dusted the living-room and the dining-room vigorously, though all the time with a look that grew more and more pensive; and having dusted everything, she wiped the furniture; rubbed it hard. After that, she washed the floors and the woodwork.
Emerging from the kitchen at noon, Mrs. Adams found her daughter on hands and knees, scrubbing the bases of the columns between the hall and the living-room.
Now, dearie, she said, you mustnt tire yourself out, and youd better come and eat something. Your father said hed get a bite down-town to-dayhe was going down to the bankand Walter eats down-town all the time lately, so I thought we wouldnt bother to set the table for lunch. Come on and well have something in the kitchen.
No, Alice said, dully, as she went on with the work. I dont want anything.
Her mother came closer to her. Why, whats the matter? she asked, briskly. You seem kind of pale, to me; and you dont lookyou dont look HAPPY.
Well Alice began, uncertainly, but said no more.
See here! Mrs. Adams exclaimed. This is all just for you! You ought to be ENJOYING it. Why, its the first time weveweve entertained in I dont know how long! I guess its almost since we had that little party when you were eighteen. Whats the matter with you?
Nothing. I dont know.
But, dearie, arent you looking FORWARD to this evening?
The girl looked up, showing a pallid and solemn face. Oh, yes, of course, she said, and tried to smile. Of course we had to do itI do think itll be nice. Of course Im looking forward to it.
She was indeed looking forward to that evening, but in a cloud of apprehension; and, although she could never have guessed it, this was the simultaneous condition of another personnone other than the guest for whose pleasure so much cooking and scrubbing seemed to be necessary. Moreover, Mr. Arthur Russells premonitions were no product of mere coincidence; neither had any magical sympathy produced them. His state of mind was rather the result of rougher undercurrents which had all the time been running beneath the surface of a romantic friendship.
Never shrewder than when she analyzed the gentlemen, Alice did not libel him when she said he was one of those quiet men who are a bit flirtatious, by which she meant that he was a bit susceptible, the same thingand he had proved himself susceptible to Alice upon his first sight of her. There! he said to himself. Whos that? And in the crowd of girls at his cousins dance, all strangers to him, she was the one he wanted to know.
Since then, his summer evenings with her had been as secluded as if, for three hours after the falling of dusk, they two had drawn apart from the world to some dear bower of their own. The little veranda was that glamorous nook, with a faint golden light falling through the glass of the closed door upon Alice, and darkness elsewhere, except for the one round globe of the street lamp at the corner. The people who passed along the sidewalk, now and then, were only shadows with voices, moving vaguely under the maple trees that loomed in obscure contours against the stars. So, as the two sat together, the back of the world was the wall and closed door behind them; and Russell, when he was away from Alice, always thought of her as sitting there before the closed door. A glamour was about her thus, and a spell upon him; but he had a formless anxiety never put into words: all the pictures of her in his mind stopped at the closed door.
He had another anxiety; and, for the greater part, this was of her own creating. She had too often asked him (no matter how gaily) what he heard about her, too often begged him not to hear anything. Then, hoping to forestall whatever he might hear, she had been at too great pains to account for it, to discredit and mock it; and, though he laughed at her for this, telling her truthfully he did not even hear her mentioned, the everlasting irony that deals with all such human forefendings prevailed.
Lately, he had half confessed to her what a nervousness she had produced. You make me dread the day when Ill hear somebody speaking of you. Youre getting me so upset about it that if I ever hear anybody so much as say the name Alice Adams, Ill run! The confession was but half of one because he laughed; and she took it for an assurance of loyalty in the form of burlesque.
She misunderstood: he laughed, but his nervousness was genuine.
After any stroke of events, whether a happy one or a catastrophe, we see that the materials for it were a long time gathering, and the only marvel is that the stroke was not prophesied. What bore the air of fatal coincidence may remain fatal indeed, to this later view; but, with the haphazard aspect dispelled, there is left for scrutiny the same ancient hint from the Infinite to the effect that since events have never yet failed to be law-abiding, perhaps it were well for us to deduce that they will continue to be so until further notice.
. . . On the day that was to open the closed door in the background of his pictures of Alice, Russell lunched with his relatives. There were but the four people, Russell and Mildred and her mother and father, in the great, cool dining-room. Arched French windows, shaded by awnings, admitted a mellow light and looked out upon a green lawn ending in a long conservatory, which revealed through its glass panes a carnival of plants in luxuriant blossom. From his seat at the table, Russell glanced out at this pretty display, and informed his cousins that he was surprised. You have such a glorious spread of flowers all over the house, he said, I didnt suppose youd have any left out yonder. In fact, I didnt know there were so many splendid flowers in the world.
Mrs. Palmer, large, calm, fair, like her daughter, responded with a mild reproach: Thats because you havent been cousinly enough to get used to them, Arthur. Youve almost taught us to forget what you look like.
In defense Russell waved a hand toward her husband. You see, hes begun to keep me so hard at work
But Mr. Palmer declined the responsibility. Up to four or five in the afternoon, perhaps, he said. After that, the young gentleman is as much a stranger to me as he is to my family. Ive been wondering who she could be.
When a mans preoccupied there must be a lady then? Russell inquired.
That seems to be the view of your sex, Mrs. Palmer suggested. It was my husband who said it, not Mildred or I.
Mildred smiled faintly. Papa may be singular in his ideas; they may come entirely from his own experience, and have nothing to do with Arthur.
Thank you, Mildred, her cousin said, bowing to her gratefully. You seem to understand my characterand your fathers quite as well!
However, Mildred remained grave in the face of this customary pleasantry, not because the old jest, worn round, like what preceded it, rolled in an old groove, but because of some preoccupation of her own. Her faint smile had disappeared, and, as her cousins glance met hers, she looked down; yet not before he had seen in her eyes the flicker of something like a questiona question both poignant and dismayed. He may have understood it; for his own smile vanished at once in favour of a reciprocal solemnity.
You see, Arthur, Mrs. Palmer said, Mildred is always a good cousin. She and I stand by you, even if you do stay away from us for weeks and weeks. Then, observing that he appeared to be so occupied with a bunch of iced grapes upon his plate that he had not heard her, she began to talk to her husband, asking him what was going on down-town.
Arthur continued to eat his grapes, but he ventured to look again at Mildred after a few moments. She, also, appeared to be occupied with a bunch of grapes though she ate none, and only pulled them from their stems. She sat straight, her features as composed and pure as those of a new marble saint in a cathedral niche; yet her downcast eyes seemed to conceal many thoughts; and her cousin, against his will, was more aware of what these thoughts might be than of the leisurely conversation between her father and mother. All at once, however, he heard something that startled him, and he listenedand here was the effect of all Alices forefendings; he listened from the first with a sinking heart.
Mr. Palmer, mildly amused by what he was telling his wife, had just spoken the words, this Virgil Adams. What he had said was, this Virgil Adamsthats the mans name. Queer case.
Who told you? Mrs. Palmer inquired, not much interested.
Alfred Lamb, her husband answered. He was laughing about his father, at the club. You see the old gentleman takes a great pride in his judgment of men, and always boasted to his sons that hed never in his life made a mistake in trusting the wrong man. Now Alfred and James Albert, Junior, think they have a great joke on him; and theyve twitted him so much about it hell scarcely speak to them. From the first, Alfred says, the old chaps only repartee was, You wait and youll see! And theyve asked him so often to show them what theyre going to see that he wont say anything at all!
Hes a funny old fellow, Mrs. Palmer observed. But hes so shrewd I cant imagine his being deceived for such a long time. Twenty years, you said?
Yes, longer than that, I understand. It appears when this manthis Adamswas a young clerk, the old gentleman trusted him with one of his business secrets, a glue process that Mr. Lamb had spent some money to get hold of. The old chap thought this Adams was going to have quite a future with the Lamb concern, and of course never dreamed he was dishonest. Alfred says this Adams hasnt been of any real use for years, and they should have let him go as dead wood, but the old gentleman wouldnt hear of it, and insisted on his being kept on the payroll; so they just decided to look on it as a sort of pension. Well, one morning last March the man had an attack of some sort down there, and Mr. Lamb got his own car out and went home with him, himself, and worried about him and went to see him no end, all the time he was ill.
He would, Mrs. Palmer said, approvingly. Hes a kind-hearted creature, that old man.
Her husband laughed. Alfred says he thinks his kind-heartedness is about cured! It seems that as soon as the man got well again he deliberately walked off with the old gentlemans glue secret. Just calmly stole it! Alfred says he believes that if he had a stroke in the office now, himself, his father wouldnt lift a finger to help him!
Mrs. Palmer repeated the name to herself thoughtfully. AdamsVirgil Adams. You said his name was Virgil Adams?
She looked at her daughter. Why, you know who that is, Mildred, she said, casually. Its that Alice Adamss father, isnt it? Wasnt his name Virgil Adams?
I think it is, Mildred said.
Mrs. Palmer turned toward her husband. Youve seen this Alice Adams here. Mr. Lambs pet swindler must be her father.
Mr. Palmer passed a smooth hand over his neat gray hair, which was not disturbed by this effort to stimulate recollection. Oh, yes, he said. Of coursecertainly. Quite a good-looking girlone of Mildreds friends. How queer!
Mildred looked up, as if in a little alarm, but did not speak. Her mother set matters straight. Fathers ARE amusing, she said smilingly to Russell, who was looking at her, though how fixedly she did not notice; for she turned from him at once to enlighten her husband. Every girl who meets Mildred, and tries to push the acquaintance by coming here until the poor child has to hide, isnt a FRIEND of hers, my dear!
Mildreds eyes were downcast again, and a faint colour rose in her cheeks. Oh, I shouldnt put it quite that way about Alice Adams, she said, in a low voice. I saw something of her for a time. Shes not unattractive in a way.
Mrs. Palmer settled the whole case of Alice carelessly. A pushing sort of girl, she said. A very pushing little person.
I Mildred began; and, after hesitating, concluded, I rather dropped her.
Fortunate youve done so, her father remarked, cheerfully. Especially since various members of the Lamb connection are here frequently. They mightnt think youd show great tact in having her about the place. He laughed, and turned to his cousin. All this isnt very interesting to poor Arthur. How terrible people are with a newcomer in a town; they talk as if he knew all about everybody!
But we dont know anything about these queer people, ourselves, said Mrs. Palmer. We know something about the girl, of courseshe used to be a bit too conspicuous, in fact! However, as you say, we might find a subject more interesting for Arthur.
She smiled whimsically upon the young man. Tell the truth, she said. Dont you fairly detest going into business with that tyrant yonder?
What? YesI beg your pardon! he stammered.
You were right, Mrs. Palmer said to her husband. Youve bored him so, talking about thievish clerks, he cant even answer an honest question.
But Russell was beginning to recover his outward composure. Try me again, he said. Im afraid I was thinking of something else.
This was the best he found to say. There was a part of him that wanted to protest and deny, but he had not heat enough, in the chill that had come upon him. Here was the first mention of Alice, and with it the reason why it was the first: Mr. Palmer had difficulty in recalling her, and she happened to be spoken of, only because her fathers betrayal of a benefactors trust had been so peculiarly atrocious that, in the view of the benefactors family, it contained enough of the element of humour to warrant a mild laugh at a club. There was the deadliness of the story: its lack of malice, even of resentment. Deadlier still were Mrs. Palmers phrases: a pushing sort of girl, a very pushing little person, and used to be a bit TOO conspicuous, in fact. But she spoke placidly and by chance; being as obviously without unkindly motive as Mr. Palmer was when he related the cause of Alfred Lambs amusement. Her opinion of the obscure young lady momentarily her topic had been expressed, moreover, to her husband, and at her own table. She sat there, large, kind, serenea protest might astonish but could not change her; and Russell, crumpling in his strained fingers the lace-edged little web of a napkin on his knee, found heart enough to grow red, but not enough to challenge her.
She noticed his colour, and attributed it to the embarrassment of a scrupulously gallant gentleman caught in a lapse of attention to a lady. Dont be disturbed, she said, benevolently. People arent expected to listen all the time to their relatives. A high colours very becoming to you, Arthur; but it really isnt necessary between cousins. You can always be informal enough with us to listen only when you care to.
His complexion continued to be ruddier than usual, however, throughout the meal, and was still somewhat tinted when Mrs. Palmer rose. The mans bringing you cigarettes here, she said, nodding to the two gentlemen. Well give you a chance to do the sordid kind of talking we know you really like. Afterwhile, Mildred will show you whats in bloom in the hothouse, if you wish, Arthur.
Mildred followed her, and, when they were alone in another of the spacious rooms, went to a window and looked out, while her mother seated herself near the center of the room in a gilt armchair, mellowed with old Aubusson tapestry. Mrs. Palmer looked thoughtfully at her daughters back, but did not speak to her until coffee had been brought for them.
Thanks, Mildred said, not turning, I dont care for any coffee, I believe.
No? Mrs. Palmer said, gently. Im afraid our good-looking cousin wont think youre very talkative, Mildred. You spoke only about twice at lunch. I shouldnt care for him to get the idea youre piqued because hes come here so little lately, should you?
No, I shouldnt, Mildred answered in a low voice, and with that she turned quickly, and came to sit near her mother. But its what I am afraid of! Mama, did you notice how red he got?
You mean when he was caught not listening to a question of mine? Yes; its very becoming to him.
Mama, I dont think that was the reason. I dont think it was because he wasnt listening, I mean.
I think his colour and his not listening came from the same reason, Mildred said, and although she had come to sit near her mother, she did not look at her. I think it happened because you and papa She stopped.
Yes? Mrs. Palmer said, good-naturedly, to prompt her. Your father and I did something embarrassing?
Mama, it was because of those things that came out about Alice Adams.
How could that bother Arthur? Does he know her?
Dont you remember? the daughter asked. The day after my dance I mentioned how odd I thought it was in himI was a little disappointed in him. Id been seeing that he met everybody, of course, but she was the only girl HE asked to meet; and he did it as soon as he noticed her. I hadnt meant to have him meet herin fact, I was rather sorry Id felt I had to ask her, because she oh, well, shes the sort that tries for the new man, if she has half a chance; and sometimes they seem quite fascinatedfor a time, that is. I thought Arthur was above all that; or at the very least I gave him credit for being too sophisticated.
I see, Mrs. Palmer said, thoughtfully. I remember now that you spoke of it. You said it seemed a little peculiar, but of course it really wasnt: a new man has nothing to go by, except his own first impressions. You cant blame poor Arthurshes quite a piquant looking little person. You think hes seen something of her since then?
Mildred nodded slowly. I never dreamed such a thing till yesterday, and even then I rather doubted ittill he got so red, just now! I was surprised when he asked to meet her, but he just danced with her once and didnt mention her afterward; I forgot all about itin fact, I virtually forgot all about HER. Id seen quite a little of her
Yes, said Mrs. Palmer. She did keep coming here!
But Id just about decided that it really wouldnt do, Mildred went on. She isntwell, I didnt admire her.
No, her mother assented, and evidently followed a direct connection of thought in a speech apparently irrelevant. I understand the young Malone wants to marry Henrietta. I hope she wont; he seems rather a gross type of person.
Oh, hes just one, Mildred said. I dont know that he and Alice Adams were ever engagedshe never told me so. She may not have been engaged to any of them; she was just enough among the other girls to get talked aboutand one of the reasons I felt a little inclined to be nice to her was that they seemed to be rather edging her out of the circle. It wasnt long before I saw they were right, though. I happened to mention I was going to give a dance and she pretended to take it as a matter of course that I meant to invite her brotherat least, I thought she pretended; she may have really believed it. At any rate, I had to send him a card; but I didnt intend to be let in for that sort of thing again, of course. Shes what you said, pushing; though Im awfully sorry you said it.
Why shouldnt I have said it, my dear?
Of course I didnt say shouldnt. Mildred explained, gravely. I meant only that Im sorry it happened.
Yes; but why?
MamaMildred turned to her, leaning forward and speaking in a lowered voiceMama, at first the change was so little it seemed as if Arthur hardly knew it himself. Hed been lovely to me always, and he was still lovely to me butoh, well, youve understoodafter my dance it was more as if it was just his nature and his training to be lovely to me, as he would be to everyone a kind of politeness. Hed never said he CARED for me, but after that I could see he didnt. It was clearafter that. I didnt know what had happened; I couldnt think of anything Id done. Mamait was Alice Adams.
Mrs. Palmer set her little coffee-cup upon the table beside her, calmly following her own motion with her eyes, and not seeming to realize with what serious entreaty her daughters gaze was fixed upon her. Mildred repeated the last sentence of her revelation, and introduced a stress of insistence.
Mama, it WAS Alice Adams!
But Mrs. Palmer declined to be greatly impressed, so far as her appearance went, at least; and to emphasize her refusal, she smiled indulgently. What makes you think so?
Henrietta told me yesterday.
At this Mrs. Palmer permitted herself to laugh softly aloud. Good heavens! Is Henrietta a soothsayer? Or is she Arthurs particular confidante?
No. Ella Dowling told her.
Mrs. Palmers laughter continued. Now we have it! she exclaimed. Its a game of gossip: Arthur tells Ella, Ella tells Henrietta, and Henrietta tells
Dont laugh, please, mama, Mildred begged. Of course Arthur didnt tell anybody. Its roundabout enough, but its true. I know it! I hadnt quite believed it, but I knew it was true when he got so red. He lookedoh, for a second or so he lookedstricken! He thought I didnt notice it. Mama, hes been to see her almost every evening lately. They take long walks together. Thats why he hasnt been here.
Of Mrs. Palmers laughter there was left only her indulgent smile, which she had not allowed to vanish. Well, what of it? she said.
Yes, said Mrs. Palmer. What of it?
But dont you see? Mildreds well-tutored voice, though modulated and repressed even in her present emotion, nevertheless had a tendency to quaver. Its true. Frank Dowling was going to see her one evening and he saw Arthur sitting on the stoop with her, and didnt go in. And Ella used to go to school with a girl who lives across the street from here. She told Ella
Oh, I understand, Mrs. Palmer interrupted. Suppose he does go there. My dear, I said, What of it?
I dont see what you mean, mama. Im so afraid he might think we knew about it, and that you and papa said those things about her and her father on that accountas if we abused them because he goes there instead of coming here.
Nonsense! Mrs. Palmer rose, went to a window, and, turning there, stood with her back to it, facing her daughter and looking at her cheerfully. Nonsense, my dear! It was perfectly clear that she was mentioned by accident, and so was her father. What an extraordinary man! If Arthur makes friends with people like that, he certainly knows better than to expect to hear favourable opinions of them. Besides, its only a little passing thing with him.
Mama! When he goes there almost every
Yes, Mrs. Palmer said, dryly. It seems to me Ive heard somewhere that other young men have gone there almost every! She doesnt last, apparently. Arthurs gallant, and hes impressionablebut hes fastidious, and fastidiousness is always the check on impressionableness. A girl belongs to her family, tooand this one does especially, it strikes me! Arthurs very sensible; he sees more than youd think.
Mildred looked at her hopefully. Then you dont believe hes likely to imagine we said those things of her in any meaning way?
At this, Mrs. Palmer laughed again. Theres one thing you seem not to have noticed, Mildred.
It seems to have escaped your attention that he never said a word.
Mightnt that mean? Mildred began, but she stopped.
No, it mightnt, her mother replied, comprehending easily. On the contrary, it might mean that instead of his feeling it too deeply to speak, he was getting a little illumination.
Mildred rose and came to her. WHY do you suppose he never told us he went there? Do you think hesdo you think hes pleased with her, and yet ashamed of it? WHY do you suppose hes never spoken of it?
Ah, that, Mrs. Palmer said,that might possibly be her own doing. If it is, shes well paid by what your father and I said, because we wouldnt have said it if wed known that Arthur She checked herself quickly. Looking over her daughters shoulder, she saw the two gentlemen coming from the corridor toward the wide doorway of the room; and she greeted them cheerfully. If youve finished with each other for a while, she added, Arthur may find it a relief to put his thoughts on something prettier than a trust companyand more fragrant.
Arthur came to Mildred.
Your mother said at lunch that perhaps youd
I didnt say perhaps, Arthur, Mrs. Palmer interrupted, to correct him. I said she would. If you care to see and smell those lovely things out yonder, shell show them to you. Run along, children!
Half an hour later, glancing from a window, she saw them come from the hothouses and slowly cross the lawn. Arthur had a fine rose in his buttonhole and looked profoundly thoughtful.
That morning and noon had been warm, though the stirrings of a feeble breeze made weather not flagrantly intemperate; but at about three oclock in the afternoon there came out of the southwest a heat like an affliction sent upon an accursed people, and the air was soon dead of it. Dripping negro ditch-diggers whooped with satires praising hell and hot weather, as the tossing shovels flickered up to the street level, where sluggish male pedestrians carried coats upon hot arms, and fanned themselves with straw hats, or, remaining covered, wore soaked handkerchiefs between scalp and straw. Clerks drooped in silent, big department stores, stenographers in offices kept as close to electric fans as the intervening bulk of their employers would let them; guests in hotels left the lobbies and went to lie unclad upon their beds; while in hospitals the patients murmured querulously against the heat, and perhaps against some noisy motorist who strove to feel the air by splitting it, not troubled by any foreboding that he, too, that hour next week, might need quiet near a hospital. The hot spell was a true spell, one upon mens spirits; for it was so hot that, in suburban outskirts, golfers crept slowly back over the low undulations of their club lands, abandoning their matches and returning to shelter.
Even on such a day, sizzling work had to be done, as in winter. There were glowing furnaces to be stoked, liquid metals to be poured; but such tasks found seasoned men standing to them; and in all the city probably no brave soul challenged the heat more gamely than Mrs. Adams did, when, in a corner of her small and fiery kitchen, where all day long her hired African immune cooked fiercely, she pressed her husbands evening clothes with a hot iron. No doubt she risked her life, but she risked it cheerfully in so good and necessary a service for him. She would have given her life for him at any time, and both his and her own for her children.
Unconscious of her own heroism, she was surprised to find herself rather faint when she finished her ironing. However, she took heart to believe that the clothes looked better, in spite of one or two scorched places; and she carried them upstairs to her husbands room before increasing blindness forced her to grope for the nearest chair. Then, trying to rise and walk, without having sufficiently recovered, she had to sit down again; but after a little while she was able to get upon her feet; and, keeping her hand against the wall, moved successfully to the door of her own room. Here she wavered; might have gone down, had she not been stimulated by the thought of how much depended upon her;she made a final great effort, and floundered across the room to her bureau, where she kept some simple restoratives. They served her need, or her faith in them did; and she returned to her work.
She went down the stairs, keeping a still tremulous hand upon the rail; but she smiled brightly when Alice looked up from below, where the woodwork was again being tormented with superfluous attentions.
Alice, DONT! her mother said, commiseratingly. You did all that this morning and it looks lovely. Whats the use of wearing yourself out on it? You ought to be lying down, sos to look fresh for to-night.
Hadnt you better lie down yourself? the daughter returned. Are you ill, mama?
Certainly not. What in the world makes you think so?
You look pretty pale, Alice said, and sighed heavily. It makes me ashamed, having you work so hardfor me.
How foolish! I think its fun, getting ready to entertain a little again, like this. I only wish it hadnt turned so hot: Im afraid your poor fatherll sufferhis things are pretty heavy, I noticed. Well, itll do him good to bear something for styles sake this once, anyhow! She laughed, and coming to Alice, bent down and kissed her. Dearie, she said, tenderly, wouldnt you please slip upstairs now and take just a little teeny nap to please your mother?
But Alice responded only by moving her head slowly, in token of refusal.
Do! Mrs. Adams urged. You dont want to look worn out, do you?
Ill LOOK all right, Alice said, huskily. Do you like the way Ive arranged the furniture now? Ive tried all the different ways itll go.
Its lovely, her mother said, admiringly. I thought the last way you had it was pretty, too. But you know best; I never knew anybody with so much taste. If youd only just quit now, and take a little rest
Thered hardly be time, even if I wanted to; its after five but I couldnt; really, I couldnt. How do you think we can manage about Walterto see that he wears his evening things, I mean?
Mrs. Adams pondered. Im afraid hell make a lot of objections, on account of the weather and everything. I wish wed had a chance to tell him last night or this morning. Id have telephoned to him this afternoon exceptwell, I scarcely like to call him up at that place, since your father
No, of course not, mama.
If Walter gets home late, Mrs. Adams went on, Ill just slip out and speak to him, in case Mr. Russells here before he comes. Ill just tell him hes got to hurry and get his things on.
Maybe he wont come home to dinner, Alice suggested, rather hopefully. Sometimes he doesnt.
No; I think hell be here. When he doesnt come he usually telephones by this time to say not to wait for him; hes very thoughtful about that. Well, it really is getting late: I must go and tell her she ought to be preparing her fillet. Dearie, DO rest a little.
Youd much better do that yourself, Alice called after her, but Mrs. Adams shook her head cheerily, not pausing on her way to the fiery kitchen.
Alice continued her useless labours for a time; then carried her bucket to the head of the cellar stairway, where she left it upon the top step; and, closing the door, returned to the living-room; Again she changed the positions of the old plush rocking-chairs, moving them into the corners where she thought they might be least noticeable; and while thus engaged she was startled by a loud ringing of the door-bell. For a moment her face was panic-stricken, and she stood staring, then she realized that Russell would not arrive for another hour, at the earliest, and recovering her equipoise, went to the door.
Waiting there, in a languid attitude, was a young coloured woman, with a small bundle under her arm and something malleable in her mouth. Listen, she said. You folks expectin a coloured lady?
No, said Alice. Especially not at the front door.
Listen, the coloured woman said again. Listen. Say, listen. Aint they another coloured lady awready here by the day? Listen. Aint Miz Malena Burns here by the day this evenin? Say, listen. This the number house she give ME.
Are you the waitress? Alice asked, dismally.
Yesm, if Malena here.
Malena is here, Alice said, and hesitated; but she decided not to send the waitress to the back door; it might be a risk. She let her in. Whats your name?
Me? Im name Gertrude. Miss Gertrude Collamus.
Did you bring a cap and apron?
Gertrude took the little bundle from under her arm. Yesm. Im all fix.
Ive already set the table, Alice said. Ill show you what we want done.
She led the way to the dining-room, and, after offering some instruction there, received by Gertrude with languor and a slowly moving jaw, she took her into the kitchen, where the cap and apron were put on. The effect was not fortunate; Gertrudes eyes were noticeably bloodshot, an affliction made more apparent by the white cap; and Alice drew her mother apart, whispering anxiously,
Do you suppose its too late to get someone else?
Im afraid it is, Mrs. Adams said. Malena says it was hard enough to get HER! You have to pay them so much that they only work when they feel like it.
Mama, could you ask her to wear her cap straighter? Every time she moves her head she gets it on one side, and her skirts too long behind and too short in frontand oh, Ive NEVER seen such FEET! Alice laughed desolately. And she MUST quit that terrible chewing!
Never mind; Ill get to work with her. Ill straighten her out all I can, dearie; dont worry. Mrs. Adams patted her daughters shoulder encouragingly. Now YOU cant do another thing, and if you dont run and begin dressing you wont be ready. Itll only take me a minute to dress, myself, and Ill be down long before you will. Run, darling! Ill look after everything.
Alice nodded vaguely, went up to her room, and, after only a moment with her mirror, brought from her closet the dress of white organdie she had worn the night when she met Russell for the first time. She laid it carefully upon her bed, and began to make ready to put it on. Her mother came in, half an hour later, to fasten her.
IM all dressed, Mrs. Adams said, briskly. Of course it doesnt matter. He wont know what the rest of us even look like: How could he? I know Im an old SIGHT, but all I want is to look respectable. Do I?
You look like the best woman in the world; thats all! Alice said, with a little gulp.
Her mother laughed and gave her a final scrutiny. You might use just a tiny bit more colour, dearieIm afraid the excitements made you a little pale. And you MUST brighten up! Theres sort of a look in your eyes as if youd got in a trance and couldnt get out. Youve had it all day. I must run: your father wants me to help him with his studs. Walter hasnt come yet, but Ill look after him; dont worry, And you better HURRY, dearie, if youre going to take any time fixing the flowers on the table.
She departed, while Alice sat at the mirror again, to follow her advice concerning a tiny bit more colour. Before she had finished, her father knocked at the door, and, when she responded, came in. He was dressed in the clothes his wife had pressed; but he had lost substantially in weight since they were made for him; no one would have thought that they had been pressed. They hung from him voluminously, seeming to be the clothes of a larger man.
Your mothers gone downstairs, he said, in a voice of distress.
One of the buttonholes in my shirt is too large and I cant keep the dang thing fastened. I dont know what to do about it! I only got one other white shirt, and its kind of ruined: I tried it before I did this one. Do you spose you could do anything?
Ill see, she said.
My collars got a frayed edge, he complained, as she examined his troublesome shirt. Its a good deal like wearing a saw; but I expect itll wilt down flat pretty soon, and not bother me long. Im liable to wilt down flat, myself, I expect; I dont know as I remember any such hot night in the last ten or twelve years. He lifted his head and sniffed the flaccid air, which was laden with a heavy odour. My, but that smell is pretty strong! he said.
Stand still, please, papa, Alice begged him. I cant see whats the matter if you move around. How absurd you are about your old glue smell, papa! There isnt a vestige of it, of course.
I didnt mean glue, he informed her. I mean cabbage. Is that fashionable now, to have cabbage when theres company for dinner?
That isnt cabbage, papa. Its Brussels sprouts.
Oh, is it? I dont mind it much, because it keeps that glue smell off me, but its fairly strong. I expect you dont notice it so much because you been in the house with it all along, and got used to it while it was growing.
It is pretty dreadful, Alice said. Are all the windows open downstairs?
Ill go down and see, if youll just fix that hole up for me.
Im afraid I cant, she said. Not unless you take your shirt off and bring it to me. Ill have to sew the hole smaller.
Oh, well, Ill go ask your mother to
No, said Alice. Shes got everything on her hands. Run and take it off. Hurry, papa; Ive got to arrange the flowers on the table before he comes.
He went away, and came back presently, half undressed, bringing the shirt. Theres ONE comfort, he remarked, pensively, as she worked. Ive got that collar offfor a while, anyway. I wish I could go to table like this; I could stand it a good deal better. Do you seem to be making any headway with the dang thing?
I think probably I can
Downstairs the door-bell rang, and Alices arms jerked with the shock.
Golly! her father said. Did you stick your finger with that fool needle?
She gave him a blank stare. Hes come!
She was not mistaken, for, upon the little veranda, Russell stood facing the closed door at last. However, it remained closed for a considerable time after he rang. Inside the house the warning summons of the bell was immediately followed by another sound, audible to Alice and her father as a crash preceding a series of muffled falls. Then came a distant voice, bitter in complaint.
Oh, Lord! said Adams. Whats that?
Alice went to the top of the front stairs, and her mother appeared in the hall below.
Mrs. Adams looked up. Its all right, she said, in a loud whisper. Gertrude fell down the cellar stairs. Somebody left a bucket there, and She was interrupted by a gasp from Alice, and hastened to reassure her. Dont worry, dearie. She may limp a little, but
Adams leaned over the banisters. Did she break anything? he asked.
Hush! his wife whispered. No. She seems upset and angry about it, more than anything else; but shes rubbing herself, and shell be all right in time to bring in the little sandwiches. Alice! Those flowers!
I know, mama. But
Hurry! Mrs. Adams warned her. Both of you hurry! I MUST let him in!
She turned to the door, smiling cordially, even before she opened it. Do come right in, Mr. Russell, she said, loudly, lifting her voice for additional warning to those above. Im SO glad to receive you informally, this way, in our own little home. Theres a hat-rack here under the stairway, she continued, as Russell, murmuring some response, came into the hall. Im afraid youll think its almost TOO informal, my coming to the door, but unfortunately our housemaids just had a little accidentoh, nothing to mention! I just thought we better not keep you waiting any longer. Will you step into our living-room, please?
She led the way between the two small columns, and seated herself in one of the plush rocking-chairs, selecting it because Alice had once pointed out that the chairs, themselves, were less noticeable when they had people sitting in them. Do sit down, Mr. Russell; its so very warm its really quite a trial just to stand up!
Thank you, he said, as he took a seat. Yes. It is quite warm. And this seemed to be the extent of his responsiveness for the moment. He was grave, rather pale; and Mrs. Adamss impression of him, as she formed it then, was of a distinguished-looking young man, really elegant in the best sense of the word, but timid and formal when he first meets you. She beamed upon him, and used with everything she said a continuous accompaniment of laughter, meaningless except that it was meant to convey cordiality. Of course we DO have a great deal of warm weather, she informed him. Im glad its so much cooler in the house than it is outdoors.
Yes, he said. It is pleasanter indoors. And, stopping with this single untruth, he permitted himself the briefest glance about the room; then his eyes returned to his smiling hostess.
Most people make a great fuss about hot weather, she said. The only person I know who doesnt mind the heat the way other people do is Alice. She always seems as cool as if we had a breeze blowing, no matter how hot it is. But then shes so amiable she never minds anything. Its just her character. Shes always been that way since she was a little child; always the same to everybody, high and low. I think characters the most important thing in the world, after all, dont you, Mr. Russell?
Yes, he said, solemnly; and touched his bedewed white forehead with a handkerchief.
Indeed it is, she agreed with herself, never failing to continue her murmur of laughter. Thats what Ive always told Alice; but she never sees anything good in herself, and she just laughs at me when I praise her. She sees good in everybody ELSE in the world, no matter how unworthy they are, or how they behave toward HER; but she always underestimates herself. From the time she was a little child she was always that way. When some other little girl would behave selfishly or meanly toward her, do you think shed come and tell me? Never a word to anybody! The little thing was too proud! She was the same way about school. The teachers had to tell me when she took a prize; shed bring it home and keep it in her room without a word about it to her father and mother. Now, Walter was just the other way. Walter would But here Mrs. Adams checked herself, though she increased the volume of her laughter. How silly of me! she exclaimed. I expect you know how mothers ARE, though, Mr. Russell. Give us a chance and well talk about our children forever! Alice would feel terribly if she knew how Ive been going on about her to you.
In this Mrs. Adams was right, though she did not herself suspect it, and upon an almost inaudible word or two from him she went on with her topic. Of course my excuse is that few mothers have a daughter like Alice. I suppose we all think the same way about our children, but SOME of us must be right when we feel weve got the best. Dont you think so?
Yes. Yes, indeed.
Im sure I am! she laughed. Ill let the others speak for themselves. She paused reflectively. No; I think a mother knows when shes got a treasure in her family. If she HASNT got one, shell pretend she has, maybe; but if she has, she knows it. I certainly know I have. Shes always been what people call the joy of the householdalways cheerful, no matter what went wrong, and always ready to smooth things over with some bright, witty saying. You must be sure not to TELL weve had this little chat about hershed just be furious with mebut she IS such a dear child! You wont tell her, will you?
No, he said, and again applied the handkerchief to his forehead for an instant. No, Ill He paused, and finished lamely: Illnot tell her.
Thus reassured, Mrs. Adams set before him some details of her daughters popularity at sixteen, dwelling upon Alices impartiality among her young suitors: She never could BEAR to hurt their feelings, and always treated all of them just alike. About half a dozen of them were just BOUND to marry her! Naturally, her father and I considered any such idea ridiculous; she was too young, of course.
Thus the mother went on with her biographical sketches, while the pale young man sat facing her under the hard overhead light of a white globe, set to the ceiling; and listened without interrupting. She was glad to have the chance to tell him a few things about Alice he might not have guessed for himself, and, indeed, she had planned to find such an opportunity, if she could; but this was getting to be altogether too much of one, she felt. As time passed, she was like an actor who must improvise to keep the audience from perceiving that his fellow-players have missed their cues; but her anxiety was not betrayed to the still listener; she had a valiant soul.
Alice, meanwhile, had arranged her little roses on the table in as many ways, probably, as there were blossoms; and she was still at it when her father arrived in the dining-room by way of the back stairs and the kitchen.
Its pulled out again, he said. But I guess theres no help for it now; its too late, and anyway it lets some air into me when it bulges. I can sit sos it wont be noticed much, I expect. Isnt it time you quit bothering about the looks of the table? Your mothers been talking to him about half an hour now, and I had the idea he came on your account, not hers. Hadnt you better go and
Just a minute. Alice said, piteously. Do YOU think it looks all right?
The flowers? Fine! Hadnt you better leave em the way they are, though?
Just a minute, she begged again. Just ONE minute, papa! And she exchanged a rose in front of Russells plate for one that seemed to her a little larger.
You better come on, Adams said, moving to the door.
Just ONE more second, papa. She shook her head, lamenting. Oh, I wish wed rented some silver!
Because so much of the plating has rubbed off a lot of it. JUST a second, papa. And as she spoke she hastily went round the table, gathering the knives and forks and spoons that she thought had their plating best preserved, and exchanging them for more damaged pieces at Russells place. There! she sighed, finally.
Now Ill come. But at the door she paused to look back dubiously, over her shoulder.
Whats the matter now?
The roses. I believe after all I shouldnt have tried that vine effect; I ought to have kept them in water, in the vase. Its so hot, they already begin to look a little wilted, out on the dry tablecloth like that. I believe Ill
Why, look here, Alice! he remonstrated, as she seemed disposed to turn back. Everythingll burn up on the stove if you keep on
Oh, well, she said, the vase was terribly ugly; I cant do any better. Well go in. But with her hand on the door-knob she paused. No, papa. We mustnt go in by this door. It might look as if
As if what?
Never mind, she said. Lets go the other way.
I dont see what difference it makes, he grumbled, but nevertheless followed her through the kitchen, and up the back stairs then through the upper hallway. At the top of the front stairs she paused for a moment, drawing a deep breath; and then, before her fathers puzzled eyes, a transformation came upon her.
Her shoulders, like her eyelids, had been drooping, but now she threw her head back: the shoulders straightened, and the lashes lifted over sparkling eyes; vivacity came to her whole body in a flash; and she tripped down the steps, with her pretty hands rising in time to the lilting little tune she had begun to hum.
At the foot of the stairs, one of those pretty hands extended itself at full arms length toward Russell, and continued to be extended until it reached his own hand as he came to meet her. How terrible of me! she exclaimed. To be so late coming down! And papa, tooI think you know each other.
Her father was advancing toward the young man, expecting to shake hands with him, but Alice stood between them, and Russell, a little flushed, bowed to him gravely over her shoulder, without looking at him; whereupon Adams, slightly disconcerted, put his hands in his pockets and turned to his wife.
I guess dinners moren ready, he said. We better go sit down.
But she shook her head at him fiercely, Wait! she whispered.
What for? For Walter?
No; he cant be coming, she returned, hurriedly, and again warned him by a shake of her head. Be quiet!
Oh, well he muttered.
He was thoroughly mystified, but obeyed her gesture and went to the rocking-chair in the opposite corner, where he sat down, and, with an expression of meek inquiry, awaited events.
Meanwhile, Alice prattled on: Its really not a fault of mine, being tardy. The shameful truth is I was trying to hurry papa. Hes incorrigible: he stays so late at his terrible old factoryterrible new factory, I should say. I hope you dont HATE us for making you dine with us in such fearful weather! Im nearly dying of the heat, myself, so you have a fellow-sufferer, if that pleases you. Why is it we always bear things better if we think other people have to stand them, too? And she added, with an excited laugh: SILLY of us, dont you think?
Gertrude had just made her entrance from the dining-room, bearing a tray. She came slowly, with an air of resentment; and her skirt still needed adjusting, while her lower jaw moved at intervals, though not now upon any substance, but reminiscently, of habit. She halted before Adams, facing him.
He looked plaintive. What you want o me? he asked.
For response, she extended the tray toward him with a gesture of indifference; but he still appeared to be puzzled. What in the world? he began, then caught his wifes eye, and had presence of mind enough to take a damp and plastic sandwich from the tray. Well, Ill TRY one, he said, but a moment later, as he fulfilled this promise, an expression of intense dislike came upon his features, and he would have returned the sandwich to Gertrude. However, as she had crossed the room to Mrs. Adams he checked the gesture, and sat helplessly, with the sandwich in his hand. He made another effort to get rid of it as the waitress passed him, on her way back to the dining-room, but she appeared not to observe him, and he continued to be troubled by it.
Alice was a loyal daughter. These are delicious, mama, she said; and turning to Russell, You missed it; you should have taken one. Too bad we couldnt have offered you what ought to go with it, of course, but
She was interrupted by the second entrance of Gertrude, who announced, Dinner serve, and retired from view.
Well, well! Adams said, rising from his chair, with relief. Thats good! Lets go see if we can eat it. And as the little group moved toward the open door of the dining-room he disposed of his sandwich by dropping it in the empty fireplace.
Alice, glancing back over her shoulder, was the only one who saw him, and she shuddered in spite of herself. Then, seeing that he looked at her entreatingly, as if he wanted to explain that he was doing the best he could, she smiled upon him sunnily, and began to chatter to Russell again.
Alice kept her sprightly chatter going when they sat down, though the temperature of the room and the sight of hot soup might have discouraged a less determined gayety. Moreover, there were details as unpropitious as the heat: the expiring roses expressed not beauty but pathos, and what faint odour they exhaled was no rival to the lusty emanations of the Brussels sprouts; at the head of the table, Adams, sitting low in his chair, appeared to be unable to flatten the uprising wave of his starched bosom; and Gertrudes manner and expression were of a recognizable hostility during the long period of vain waiting for the cups of soup to be emptied. Only Mrs. Adams made any progress in this direction; the others merely feinting, now and then lifting their spoons as if they intended to do something with them.
Alices talk was little more than cheerful sound, but, to fill a desolate interval, served its purpose; and her mother supported her with ever-faithful cooings of applausive laughter. What a funny thing weather is! the girl ran on. Yesterday it was coolangels had charge of itand to-day they had an engagement somewhere else, so the devil saw his chance and started to move the equator to the North Pole; but by the time he got half-way, he thought of something else he wanted to do, and went off; and left the equator here, right on top of US! I wish hed come back and get it!
Why, Alice dear! her mother cried, fondly. What an imagination! Not a very pious one, Im afraid Mr. Russell might think, though! Here she gave Gertrude a hidden signal to remove the soup; but, as there was no response, she had to make the signal more conspicuous. Gertrude was leaning against the wall, her chin moving like a slow pendulum, her streaked eyes fixed mutinously upon Russell. Mrs. Adams nodded several times, increasing the emphasis of her gesture, while Alice talked briskly; but the brooding waitress continued to brood. A faint snap of the fingers failed to disturb her; nor was a covert hissing whisper of avail, and Mrs. Adams was beginning to show signs of strain when her daughter relieved her.
Imagine our trying to eat anything so hot as soup on a night like this! Alice laughed. What COULD have been in the cooks mind not to give us something iced and jellied instead? Of course its because shes equatorial, herself, originally, and only feels at home when Mr. Satan moves it north. She looked round at Gertrude, who stood behind her. Do take this dreadful soup away!
Thus directly addressed, Gertrude yielded her attention, though unwillingly, and as if she decided only by a hairs weight not to revolt, instead. However, she finally set herself in slow motion; but overlooked the supposed head of the table, seeming to be unaware of the sweltering little man who sat there. As she disappeared toward the kitchen with but three of the cups upon her tray he turned to look plaintively after her, and ventured an attempt to recall her.
Here! he said, in a low voice. Here, you!
What is it, Virgil? his wife asked.
Whats her name?
Mrs. Adams gave him a glance of sudden panic, and, seeing that the guest of the evening was not looking at her, but down at the white cloth before him, she frowned hard, and shook her head.
Unfortunately Alice was not observing her mother, and asked, innocently: Whats whose name, papa?
Why, this young darky woman, he explained. She left mine.
Never mind, Alice laughed. Theres hope for you, papa. She hasnt gone forever!
I dont know about that, he said, not content with this impulsive assurance. She LOOKED like she is. And his remark, considered as a prediction, had begun to seem warranted before Gertrudes return with china preliminary to the next stage of the banquet.
Alice proved herself equal to the long gap, and rattled on through it with a spirit richly justifying her mothers praise of her as always ready to smooth things over; for here was more than long delay to be smoothed over. She smoothed over her father and mother for Russell; and she smoothed over him for them, though he did not know it, and remained unaware of what he owed her. With all this, throughout her prattlings, the girls bright eyes kept seeking his with an eager gayety, which but little veiled both interrogation and entreatyas if she asked: Is it too much for you? Cant you bear it? Wont you PLEASE bear it? I would for you. Wont you give me a sign that its all right?
He looked at her but fleetingly, and seemed to suffer from the heat, in spite of every manly effort not to wipe his brow too often. His colour, after rising when he greeted Alice and her father, had departed, leaving him again moistly pallid; a condition arising from discomfort, no doubt, but, considered as a decoration, almost poetically becoming to him. Not less becoming was the faint, kindly smile, which showed his wish to express amusement and approval; and yet it was a smile rather strained and plaintive, as if he, like Adams, could only do the best he could.
He pleased Adams, who thought him a fine young man, and decidedly the quietest that Alice had ever shown to her family. In her fathers opinion this was no small merit; and it was to Russells credit, too, that he showed embarrassment upon this first intimate presentation; here was an applicant with both reserve and modesty. So far, he seems to be first rate a mighty fine young man, Adams thought; and, prompted by no wish to part from Alice but by reminiscences of apparent candidates less pleasing, he added, At last!
Alices liveliness never flagged. Her smoothing over of things was an almost continuous performance, and had to be. Yet, while she chattered through the hot and heavy courses, the questions she asked herself were as continuous as the performance, and as poignant as what her eyes seemed to be asking Russell. Why had she not prevailed over her mothers fear of being skimpy? Had she been, indeed, as her mother said she looked, in a trance? But above all: What was the matter with HIM? What had happened? For she told herself with painful humour that something even worse than this dinner must be the matter with him.
The small room, suffocated with the odour of boiled sprouts, grew hotter and hotter as more and more food appeared, slowly borne in, between deathly long waits, by the resentful, loud-breathing Gertrude. And while Alice still sought Russells glance, and read the look upon his face a dozen different ways, fearing all of them; and while the straggling little flowers died upon the stained cloth, she felt her heart grow as heavy as the food, and wondered that it did not die like the roses.
With the arrival of coffee, the host bestirred himself to make known a hospitable regret, By George! he said. I meant to buy some cigars. He addressed himself apologetically to the guest. I dont know what I was thinking about, to forget to bring some home with me. I dont use em myselfunless somebody hands me one, you might say. Ive always been a pipe-smoker, pure and simple, but I ought to remembered for kind of an occasion like this.
Not at all, Russell said. Im not smoking at all lately; but when I do, Im like you, and smoke a pipe.
Alice started, remembering what she had told him when he overtook her on her way from the tobacconists; but, after a moment, looking at him, she decided that he must have forgotten it. If he had remembered, she thought, he could not have helped glancing at her. On the contrary, he seemed more at ease, just then, than he had since they sat down, for he was favouring her father with a thoughtful attention as Adams responded to the introduction of a mans topic into the conversation at last. Well, Mr. Russell, I guess youre right, at that. I dont say but what cigars may be all right for a man that can afford em, if he likes em better than a pipe, but you take a good old pipe now
He continued, and was getting well into the eulogium customarily provoked by this theme, when there came an interruption: the door-bell rang, and he paused inquiringly, rather surprised.
Mrs. Adams spoke to Gertrude in an undertone:
Just say, Not at home.
If its callers, just say were not at home.
Gertrude spoke out freely: You mean you astin me to tend you front do fer you?
She seemed both incredulous and affronted, but Mrs. Adams persisted, though somewhat apprehensively. Yes. Hurryuhplease. Just say were not at home if you please.
Again Gertrude obviously hesitated between compliance and revolt, and again the meeker course fortunately prevailed with her. She gave Mrs. Adams a stare, grimly derisive, then departed. When she came back she said:
He say he wait.
But I told you to tell anybody we were not at home, Mrs Adams returned. Who is it?
Say he name Mr. Law.
We dont know any Mr. Law.
Yesm; he know you. Say he anxious to speak Mr. Adams. Say he wait.
Tell him Mr. Adams is engaged.
Hold on a minute, Adams intervened. Law? No. I dont know any Mr. Law. You sure you got the name right?
Say he name Law, Gertrude replied, looking at the ceiling to express her fatigue. Law. S all he tell me; s all I know.
Adams frowned. Law, he said. Wasnt it maybe Lohr?
Law, Gertrude repeated. S all he tell me; s all I know.
Whats he look like?
He aint much, she said. Bout you age; got brustly white moustache, nice eye-glasses.
Its Charley Lohr! Adams exclaimed. Ill go see what he wants.
But, Virgil, his wife remonstrated, do finish your coffee; he might stay all evening. Maybe hes come to call.
Adams laughed. He isnt much of a caller, I expect. Dont worry: Ill take him up to my room. And turning toward Russell, Ahif youll just excuse me, he said; and went out to his visitor.
When he had gone, Mrs. Adams finished her coffee, and, having glanced intelligently from her guest to her daughter, she rose. I think perhaps I ought to go and shake hands with Mr. Lohr, myself, she said, adding in explanation to Russell, as she reached the door, Hes an old friend of my husbands and its a very long time since hes been here.
Alice nodded and smiled to her brightly, but upon the closing of the door, the smile vanished; all her liveliness disappeared; and with this change of expression her complexion itself appeared to change, so that her rouge became obvious, for she was pale beneath it. However, Russell did not see the alteration, for he did not look at her; and it was but a momentary lapse the vacation of a tired girl, who for ten seconds lets herself look as she feels. Then she shot her vivacity back into place as by some powerful spring.
Penny for your thoughts! she cried, and tossed one of the wilted roses at him, across the table. Ill bid more than a penny; Ill bid tuppenceno, a poor little dead rose a rose for your thoughts, Mr. Arthur Russell! What are they?
He shook his head. Im afraid I havent any.
No, of course not, she said. Who could have thoughts in weather like this? Will you EVER forgive us?
Making you eat such a heavy dinnerI mean LOOK at such a heavy dinner, because you certainly didnt do more than look at iton such a night! But the crime draws to a close, and you can begin to cheer up! She laughed gaily, and, rising, moved to the door. Lets go in the other room; your fearful duty is almost done, and you can run home as soon as you want to. Thats what youre dying to do.
Not at all, he said in a voice so feeble that she laughed aloud.
Good gracious! she cried. I hadnt realized it was THAT bad!
For this, though he contrived to laugh, he seemed to have no verbal retort whatever; but followed her into the living-room, where she stopped and turned, facing him.
Has it really been so frightful? she asked.
Why, of course not. Not at all.
Of course yes, though, you mean!
Not at all. Its been most kind of your mother and father and you.
Do you know, she said, youve never once looked at me for more than a second at a time the whole evening? And it seemed to me I looked rather nice to-night, too!
You always do, he murmured.
I dont see how you know, she returned; and then stepping closer to him, spoke with gentle solicitude: Tell me: youre really feeling wretchedly, arent you? I know youve got a fearful headache, or something. Tell me!
Not at all.
You are illIm sure of it.
Not at all.
On your word?
Im really quite all right.
But if you are she began; and then, looking at him with a desperate sweetness, as if this were her last resource to rouse him, Whats the matter, little boy? she said with lisping tenderness. Tell auntie!
It was a mistake, for he seemed to flinch, and to lean backward, however, slightly. She turned away instantly, with a flippant lift and drop of both hands. Oh, my dear! she laughed. I wont eat you!
And as the discomfited young man watched her, seeming able to lift his eyes, now that her back was turned, she went to the front door and pushed open the screen. Lets go out on the porch, she said. Where we belong!
Then, when he had followed her out, and they were seated, Isnt this better? she asked. Dont you feel more like yourself out here?
He began a murmur: Not at
But she cut him off sharply: Please dont say Not at all again!
You do seem sorry about something, she said. What is it? Isnt it time you were telling me whats the matter?
Nothing. Indeed nothings the matter. Of course one IS rather affected by such weather as this. It may make one a little quieter than usual, of course.
She sighed, and let the tired muscles of her face rest. Under the hard lights, indoors, they had served her until they ached, and it was a luxury to feel that in the darkness no grimacings need call upon them.
Of course, if you wont tell me she said.
I can only assure you theres nothing to tell.
I know what an ugly little house it is, she said. Maybe it was the furnitureor mamas vases that upset you. Or was it mama herselfor papa?
Nothing upset me.
At that she uttered a monosyllable of doubting laughter. I wonder why you say that.
Because its so.
No. Its because youre too kind, or too conscientious, or too embarrassedanyhow too somethingto tell me. She leaned forward, elbows on knees and chin in hands, in the reflective attitude she knew how to make graceful. I have a feeling that youre not going to tell me, she said, slowly. Yeseven that youre never going to tell me. I wonderI wonder
Yes? What do you wonder?
I was just thinkingI wonder if they havent done it, after all.
I dont understand.
I wonder, she went on, still slowly, and in a voice of reflection, I wonder who HAS been talking about me to you, after all? Isnt that it?
Not at he began, but checked himself and substituted another form of denial. Nothing is it.
Are you sure?
How curious! she said.
Because all evening youve been so utterly different.
But in this weather
No. That wouldnt make you afraid to look at me all evening!
But I did look at you. Often.
No. Not really a LOOK.
But Im looking at you now.
Yesin the dark! she said. Nothe weather might make you even quieter than usual, but it wouldnt strike you so nearly dumb. Noand it wouldnt make you seem to be under such a strainas if you thought only of escape!
But I havent
You shouldnt, she interrupted, gently. Theres nothing you have to escape from, you know. You arent committed toto this friendship.
Im sorry you think he began, but did not complete the fragment.
She took it up. Youre sorry I think youre so different, you mean to say, dont you? Never mind: thats what you did mean to say, but you couldnt finish it because youre not good at deceiving.
Oh, no, he protested, feebly. Im not deceiving. Im
Never mind, she said again. Youre sorry I think youre so differentand all in one daysince last night. Yes, your voice SOUNDS sorry, too. It sounds sorrier than it would just because of my thinking something you could change my mind about in a minute so it means youre sorry you ARE different.
But disregarding the faint denial, Never mind, she said. Do you remember one night when you told me that nothing anybody else could do would ever keep you from coming here? That if youif you left me it would be because I drove you away myself?
Yes, he said, huskily. It was true.
Are you sure?
Indeed I am, he answered in a low voice, but with conviction.
Then She paused. Wellbut I havent driven you away.
And yet youve gone, she said, quietly.
Do I seem so stupid as all that?
You know what I mean. She leaned back in her chair again, and her hands, inactive for once, lay motionless in her lap. When she spoke it was in a rueful whisper:
I wonder if I HAVE driven you away?
Youve done nothingnothing at all, he said.
I wonder she said once more, but she stopped. In her mind she was going back over their time together since the first meetingfragments of talk, moments of silence, little things of no importance, little things that might be important; moonshine, sunshine, starlight; and her thoughts zigzagged among the jumbling memories; but, as if she made for herself a picture of all these fragments, throwing them upon the canvas haphazard, she saw them all just touched with the one tainting quality that gave them coherence, the faint, false haze she had put over this friendship by her own pretendings. And, if this terrible dinner, or anything, or everything, had shown that saffron tint in its true colour to the man at her side, last night almost a lover, then she had indeed of herself driven him away, and might well feel that she was lost.
Do you know? she said, suddenly, in a clear, loud voice. I have the strangest feeling. I feel as if I were going to be with you only about five minutes more in all the rest of my life!
Why, no, he said. Of course Im coming to see youoften. I
No, she interrupted. Ive never had a feeling like this before. Itsits just SO; thats all! Youre GOINGwhy, youre never coming here again! She stood up, abruptly, beginning to tremble all over. Why, its FINISHED, isnt it? she said, and her trembling was manifest now in her voice. Why, its all OVER, isnt it? Why, yes!
He had risen as she did. Im afraid youre awfully tired and nervous, he said. I really ought to be going.
Yes, of COURSE you ought, she cried, despairingly. Theres nothing else for you to do. When anythings spoiled, people CANT do anything but run away from it. So good-bye!
At least, he returned, huskily, well onlyonly say good-night.
Then, as moving to go, he stumbled upon the veranda steps, Your HAT! she cried. Id like to keep it for a souvenir, but Im afraid you need it!
She ran into the hall and brought his straw hat from the chair where he had left it. You poor thing! she said, with quavering laughter. Dont you know you cant go without your hat?
Then, as they faced each other for the short moment which both of them knew would be the last of all their veranda moments, Alices broken laughter grew louder. What a thing to say! she cried. What a romantic partingtalking about HATS!
Her laughter continued as he turned away, but other sounds came from within the house, clearly audible with the opening of a door upstairsa long and wailing cry of lamentation in the voice of Mrs. Adams. Russell paused at the steps, uncertain, but Alice waved to him to go on.
Oh, dont bother, she said. We have lots of that in this funny little old house! Good-bye!
And as he went down the steps, she ran back into the house and closed the door heavily behind her.
Her mothers wailing could still be heard from overhead, though more faintly; and old Charley Lohr was coming down the stairs alone.
He looked at Alice compassionately. I was just comin to suggest maybe youd excuse yourself from your company, he said. Your mother was bound not to disturb you, and tried her best to keep you from hearin how shes takin on, but I thought probably you better see to her.
Yes, Ill come. Whats the matter?
Well, he said, I only stepped over to offer my sympathy and services, as it were. I thought of course you folks knew all about it. Fact is, it was in the evening paperjust a little bit of an item on the back page, of course.
What is it?
He coughed. Well, it aint anything so terrible, he said. Fact is, your brother Walters got in a little troublewell, I suppose you might call it quite a good deal of trouble. Fact is, hes quite considerable short in his accounts down at Lamb and Company.
Alice ran up the stairs and into her fathers room, where Mrs. Adams threw herself into her daughters arms. Is he gone? she sobbed. He didnt hear me, did he? I tried so hard
Alice patted the heaving shoulders her arms enclosed. No, no, she said. He didnt hear youit wouldnt have matteredhe doesnt matter anyway.
Oh, POOR Walter! The mother cried. Oh, the POOR boy! Poor, poor Walter! Poor, poor, poor, POOR
Hush, dear, hush! Alice tried to soothe her, but the lament could not be abated, and from the other side of the room a repetition in a different spirit was as continuous. Adams paced furiously there, pounding his fist into his left palm as he strode. The dang boy! he said. Dang little fool! Dang idiot! Dang fool! Whynt he TELL me, the dang little fool?
He DID! Mrs. Adams sobbed. He DID tell you, and you wouldnt GIVE it to him.
He DID, did he? Adams shouted at her. What he begged me for was money to run away with! He never dreamed of putting back what he took. What the dangnation you talking aboutaccusing me!
He NEEDED it, she said. He needed it to run away with! How could he expect to LIVE, after he got away, if he didnt have a little money? Oh, poor, poor, POOR Walter! Poor, poor, poor
She went back to this repetition; and Adams went back to his own, then paused, seeing his old friend standing in the hallway outside the open door.
AhIll just be goin, I guess, Virgil, Lohr said. I dont see as theres any use my tryin to say any more. Ill do anything you want me to, you understand.
Wait a minute, Adams said, and, groaning, came and went down the stairs with him. You say you didnt see the old man at all?
No, I dont know a thing about what hes going to do, Lohr said, as they reached the lower floor. Not a thing. But look here, Virgil, I dont see as this calls for you and your wife to take on so hard aboutanyhow not as hard as the way youve started.
No, Adams gulped. It always seems that way to the other party thats only looking on!
Oh, well, I know that, of course, old Charley returned, soothingly. But look here, Virgil: they may not catch the boy; they didnt even seem to be sure what train he made, and if they do get him, why, the ole man might decide not to prosecute if
HIM? Adams cried, interrupting. Him not prosecute? Why, thats what hes been waiting for, all along! He thinks my boy and me both cheated him! Why, he was just letting Walter walk into a trap! Didnt you say theyd been suspecting him for some time back? Didnt you say theyd been watching him and were just about fixing to arrest him?
Yes, I know, said Lohr; but you cant tell, especially if you raise the money and pay it back.
Every cent! Adams vociferated. Every last penny! I can raise itI GOT to raise it! Im going to put a loan on my factory to-morrow. Oh, Ill get it for him, you tell him! Every last penny!
Well, ole feller, you just try and get quieted down some now. Charley held out his hand in parting. You and your wife just quiet down some. You AINT the healthiest man in the world, you know, and you already been under quite some strain before this happened. You want to take care of yourself for the sake of your wife and that sweet little girl upstairs, you know. Now, good-night, he finished, stepping out upon the veranda. You send for me if theres anything I can do.
Do? Adams echoed. There aint anything ANYBODY can do! And then, as his old friend went down the path to the sidewalk, he called after him, You tell him Ill pay him every last cent! Every last, dang, dirty PENNY!
He slammed the door and went rapidly up the stairs, talking loudly to himself. Every dang, last, dirty penny! Thinks EVERYBODY in this family wants to steal from him, does he? Thinks were ALL yellow, does he? Ill show him! And he came into his own room vociferating, Every last, dang, dirty penny!
Mrs. Adams had collapsed, and Alice had put her upon his bed, where she lay tossing convulsively and sobbing, Oh, POOR Walter! over and over, but after a time she varied the sorry tune. Oh, poor Alice! she moaned, clinging to her daughters hand. Oh, poor, POOR Alice to have THIS come on the night of your dinnerjust when everything seemed to be going so wellat lastoh, poor, poor, POOR
Hush! Alice said, sharply. Dont say poor Alice! Im all right.
You MUST be! her mother cried, clutching her. Youve just GOT to be! ONE of us has got to be all rightsurely God wouldnt mind just ONE of us being all rightthat wouldnt hurt Him
Hush, hush, mother! Hush!
But Mrs. Adams only clutched her the more tightly. He seemed SUCH a nice young man, dearie! He may not see this in the paperMr. Lohr said it was just a little bit of an itemhe MAY not see it, dearie
Then her anguish went back to Walter again; and to his needs as a fugitiveshe had meant to repair his underwear, but had postponed doing so, and her neglect now appeared to be a detail as lamentable as the calamity itself. She could neither be stilled upon it, nor herself exhaust its urgings to self-reproach, though she finally took up another theme temporarily. Upon an unusually violent outbreak of her husbands, in denunciation of the runaway, she cried out faintly that he was cruel; and further wearied her broken voice with details of Walters beauty as a baby, and of his bedtime pieties throughout his infancy.
So the hot night wore on. Three had struck before Mrs. Adams was got to bed; and Alice, returning to her own room, could hear her fathers bare feet thudding back and forth after that. Poor papa! she whispered in helpless imitation of her mother. Poor papa! Poor mama! Poor Walter! Poor all of us!
She fell asleep, after a time, while from across the hall the bare feet still thudded over their changeless route; and she woke at seven, hearing Adams pass her door, shod. In her wrapper she ran out into the hallway and found him descending the stairs.
Hush, he said, and looked up at her with reddened eyes. Dont wake your mother.
I wont, she whispered. How about you? You havent slept any at all!
Yes, I did. I got some sleep. Im going over to the works now. I got to throw some figures together to show the bank. Dont worry: Ill get things fixed up. You go back to bed. Good-bye.
Wait! she bade him sharply.
Youve got to have some breakfast.
Dont want ny.
You wait! she said, imperiously, and disappeared to return almost at once. I can cook in my bedroom slippers, she explained, but I dont believe I could in my bare feet!
Descending softly, she made him wait in the dining-room until she brought him toast and eggs and coffee. Eat! she said. And Im going to telephone for a taxicab to take you, if you think youve really got to go.
No, Im going to walkI WANT to walk.
She shook her head anxiously. You dont look able. Youve walked all night.
No, I didnt, he returned. I tell you I got some sleep. I got all I wanted anyhow.
Here! he interrupted, looking up at her suddenly and setting down his cup of coffee. Look here! What about this Mr. Russell? I forgot all about him. What about him?
Her lip trembled a little, but she controlled it before she spoke. Well, what about him, papa? she asked, calmly enough.
Well, we could hardly Adams paused, frowning heavily. We could hardly expect he wouldnt hear something about all this.
Yes; of course hell hear it, papa.
Well, what? she asked, gently.
You dont think hed be thethe cheap kind itd make a difference with, of course.
Oh, no; he isnt cheap. It wont make any difference with him.
Adams suffered a profound sigh to escape him. WellIm glad of that, anyway.
The difference, she explainedthe difference was made without his hearing anything about Walter. He doesnt know about THAT yet.
Well, what does he know about?
Only, she said, about me.
What you mean by that, Alice? he asked, helplessly.
Never mind, she said. Its nothing beside the real trouble were inIll tell you some time. You eat your eggs and toast; you cant keep going on just coffee.
I cant eat any eggs and toast, he objected, rising. I cant.
Then wait till I can bring you something else.
No, he said, irritably. I wont do it! I dont want any dang food! And look herehe spoke sharply to stop her, as she went toward the telephoneI dont want any dang taxi, either! You look after your mother when she wakes up. I got to be at WORK!
And though she followed him to the front door, entreating, he could not be stayed or hindered. He went through the quiet morning streets at a rickety, rapid gait, swinging his old straw hat in his hands, and whispering angrily to himself as he went. His grizzled hair, not trimmed for a month, blew back from his damp forehead in the warm breeze; his reddened eyes stared hard at nothing from under blinking lids; and one side of his face twitched startlingly from time to time;children might have run from him, or mocked him.
When he had come into that fallen quarter his industry had partly revived and wholly made odorous, a negro woman, leaning upon her whitewashed gate, gazed after him and chuckled for the benefit of a gossiping friend in the next tiny yard. Oh, good Satan! Whassa matter that ole glue man?
Who? Him? the neighbour inquired. What he do now?
Talkin to his ole sef! the first explained, joyously. Look like gone distractedole glue man!
Adamss legs had grown more uncertain with his hard walk, and he stumbled heavily as he crossed the baked mud of his broad lot, but cared little for that, was almost unaware of it, in fact. Thus his eyes saw as little as his body felt, and so he failed to observe something that would have given him additional light upon an old phrase that already meant quite enough for him.
There are in the wide world people who have never learned its meaning; but most are either young or beautifully unobservant who remain wholly unaware of the inner poignancies the words convey: a rain of misfortunes. It is a boiling rain, seemingly whimsical in its choice of spots whereon to fall; and, so far as mortal eye can tell, neither the just nor the unjust may hope to avoid it, or need worry themselves by expecting it. It had selected the Adams family for its scaldings; no question.
The glue-works foreman, standing in the doorway of the brick shed, observed his employers eccentric approach, and doubtfully stroked a whiskered chin.
Well, they aint no putticular use gettin so upset over it, he said, as Adams came up. When a thing happens, why, it happens, and thats all there is to it. When a things so, why, its so. All you can do about it is think if theres anything you CAN do; and thats what you better be doin with this case.
Adams halted, and seemed to gape at him. Whatcase? he said, with difficulty. Was it in the morning papers, too?
No, it aint in no morning papers. My land! It dont need to be in no papers; look at the SIZE of it!
The size of what?
Why, great God! the foreman exclaimed. He aint even seen it. Look! Look yonder!
Adams stared vaguely at the mans outstretched hand and pointing forefinger, then turned and saw a great sign upon the facade of the big factory building across the street. The letters were large enough to be read two blocks away.
AFTER THE FIFTEENTH OF NEXT MONTH THIS BUILDING WILL BE OCCUPIED BY THE J. A. LAMB LIQUID GLUE CO. INC.
A gray touring-car had just come to rest before the principal entrance of the building, and J. A. Lamb himself descended from it. He glanced over toward the humble rival of his projected great industry, saw his old clerk, and immediately walked across the street and the lot to speak to him.
Well, Adams, he said, in his husky, cheerful voice, hows your glue-works?
Adams uttered an inarticulate sound, and lifted the hand that held his hat as if to make a protective gesture, but failed to carry it out; and his arm sank limp at his side. The foreman, however, seemed to feel that something ought to be said.
Our glue-works, hell! he remarked. I guess we wont HAVE no glue-works over here not very long, if we got to compete with the sized thing you got over there!
Lamb chuckled. I kind of had some such notion, he said. You see, Virgil, I couldnt exactly let you walk off with it like swallering a pat o butter, now, could I? It didnt look exactly reasonable to expect me to let go like that, now, did it?
Adams found a half-choked voice somewhere in his throat. Do youwould you step into my office a minute, Mr. Lamb?
Why, certainly Im willing to have a little talk with you, the old gentleman said, as he followed his former employee indoors, and he added, I feel a lot more like it than I did before I got THAT up, over yonder, Virgil!
Adams threw open the door of the rough room he called his office, having as justification for this title little more than the fact that he had a telephone there and a deal table that served as a desk. Just step into the office, please, he said.
Lamb glanced at the desk, at the kitchen chair before it, at the telephone, and at the partition walls built of old boards, some covered with ancient paint and some merely weatherbeaten, the salvage of a house-wrecker; and he smiled broadly. So these are your offices, are they? he asked. You expect to do quite a business here, I guess, dont you, Virgil?
Adams turned upon him a stricken and tortured face. Have you seen Charley Lohr since last night, Mr. Lamb?
No; I havent seen Charley.
Well, I told him to tell you, Adams began;I told him Id pay you
Pay me what you expect to make out o glue, you mean, Virgil?
No, Adams said, swallowing. I mean what my boy owes you. Thats what I told Charley to tell you. I told him to tell you Id pay you every last
Well, well! the old gentleman interrupted, testily. I dont know anything about that.
Im expecting to pay you, Adams went on, swallowing again, painfully. I was expecting to do it out of a loan I thought I could get on my glue-works.
The old gentleman lifted his frosted eyebrows. Oh, out o the GLUE-works? You expected to raise money on the glue-works, did you?
At that, Adamss agitation increased prodigiously. Howd you THINK I expected to pay you? he said. Did you think I expected to get money on my own old bones? He slapped himself harshly upon the chest and legs. Do you think a bankll lend money on a mans ribs and his broken-down old knee-bones? They wont do it! You got to have some BUSINESS prospects to show em, if you havent got any property nor securities; and what business prospects have I got now, with that sign of yours up over yonder? Why, you dont need to make an OUNCE o glue; your signs fixed ME without your doing another lick! THATS all you had to do; just put your sign up! You neednt to
Just let me tell you something, Virgil Adams, the old man interrupted, harshly. I got just one right important thing to tell you before we talk any further business; and thats this: theres some few men in this town made their money in off-colour ways, but there arent many; and those there are have had to be a darn sight slicker than you know how to be, or ever WILL know how to be! Yes, sir, and they none of them had the little gumption to try to make it out of a man that had the spirit not to let em, and the STRENGTH not to let em! I know what you thought. Here, you said to yourself, heres this ole fool J. A. Lamb; hes kind of worn out and in his second childhood like; I can put it over on him, without his ever
I did not! Adams shouted. A great deal YOU know about my feelings and all what I said to myself! Theres one thing I want to tell YOU, and thats what Im saying to myself NOW, and what my feelings are this MINUTE!
He struck the table a great blow with his thin fist, and shook the damaged knuckles in the air. I just want to tell you, whatever I did feel, I dont feel MEAN any more; not to-day, I dont. Theres a meaner man in this world than I am, Mr. Lamb!
Oh, so you feel better about yourself to-day, do you, Virgil?
You bet I do! You worked till you got me where you want me; and I wouldnt do that to another man, no matter what he did to me! I wouldnt
What you talkin about! Howve I got you where I want you?
Aint it plain enough? Adams cried. You even got me where I cant raise the money to pay back what my boy owes you! Do you suppose anybodys fool enough to let me have a cent on this business after one look at what you got over there across the road?
No, I dont.
No, you dont, Adams echoed, hoarsely. Whats more, you knew my house was mortgaged, and my
I did not, Lamb interrupted, angrily. What do I care about your house?
Whats the use your talking like that? Adams cried. You got me where I cant even raise the money to pay what my boy owes the company, sot I cant show any reason to stop the prosecution and keep him out the penitentiary. Thats where you worked till you got ME!
What! Lamb shouted. You accuse me of
Accuse you? What am I telling you? Do you think I got no EYES? And Adams hammered the table again. Why, you knew the boy was weak
I did not!
Listen: you kept him there after you got mad at my leaving the way I did. You kept him there after you suspected him; and you had him watched; you let him go on; just waited to catch him and ruin him!
Youre crazy! the old man bellowed. I didnt know there was anything against the boy till last night. Youre CRAZY, I say!
Adams looked it. With his hair disordered over his haggard forehead and bloodshot eyes; with his bruised hands pounding the table and flying in a hundred wild and absurd gestures, while his feet shuffled constantly to preserve his balance upon staggering legs, he was the picture of a man with a mind gone to rags.
Maybe I AM crazy! he cried, his voice breaking and quavering. Maybe I am, but I wouldnt stand there and taunt a man with it if Id done to him what youve done to me! Just look at me: I worked all my life for you, and what I did when I quit never harmed youit didnt make two cents worth o difference in your life and it looked like itd mean all the difference in the world to my familyand now look what youve DONE to me for it! I tell you, Mr. Lamb, there never was a man looked up to another man the way I looked up to you the whole o my life, but I dont look up to you any more! You think you got a fine day of it now, riding up in your automobile to look at that signand then over here at my poor little works that youve ruined. But listen to me just this one last time! The cracking voice broke into falsetto, and the gesticulating hands fluttered uncontrollably. Just you listen! he panted. You think I did you a bad turn, and now you got me ruined for it, and you got my works ruined, and my family ruined; and if anybodyd a told me this time last year Id ever say such a thing to you Id called him a dang liar, but I DO say it: I say youve acted toward me likelike aa doggone meanman!
His voice, exhausted, like his body, was just able to do him this final service; then he sank, crumpled, into the chair by the table, his chin down hard upon his chest.
I tell you, youre crazy! Lamb said again. I never in the world But he checked himself, staring in sudden perplexity at his accuser. Look here! he said. Whats the matter of you? Have you got another of those? He put his hand upon Adamss shoulder, which jerked feebly under the touch.
The old man went to the door and called to the foreman.
Here! he said. Run and tell my chauffeur to bring my car over here. Tell him to drive right up over the sidewalk and across the lot. Tell him to hurry!
So, it happened, the great J. A. Lamb a second time brought his former clerk home, stricken and almost inanimate.
About five oclock that afternoon, the old gentleman came back to Adamss house; and when Alice opened the door, he nodded, walked into the living-room without speaking; then stood frowning as if he hesitated to decide some perplexing question.
Well, how is he now? he asked, finally.
The doctor was here again a little while ago; he thinks papas coming through it. Hes pretty sure he will.
Something like the way it was last spring?
Not a bit of sense to it! Lamb said, gruffly. When he was getting well the other time the doctor told me it wasnt a regular stroke, so to speakthis cerebral effusion thing. Said there wasnt any particular reason for your father to expect hed ever have another attack, if hed take a little care of himself. Said he could consider himself well as anybody else long as he did that.
Yes. But he didnt do it!
Lamb nodded, sighed aloud, and crossed the room to a chair. I guess not, he said, as he sat down. Bustin his health up over his glue-works, I expect.
I guess so; I guess so. Then he looked up at her with a glimmer of anxiety in his eyes. Has he came to yet?
Yes. Hes talked a little. His minds clear; he spoke to mama and me and to Miss Perry. Alice laughed sadly. We were lucky enough to get her back, but papa didnt seem to think it was lucky. When he recognized her he said, Oh, my goodness, tisnt YOU, is it!
Well, thats a good sign, if hes getting a little cross. Did hedid he happen to say anythingfor instance, about me?
This question, awkwardly delivered, had the effect of removing the girls pallor; rosy tints came quickly upon her cheeks. Heyes, he did, she said. Naturally, hes troubled aboutabout She stopped.
About your brother, maybe?
Yes, about making up the
Here, now, Lamb said, uncomfortably, as she stopped again. Listen, young lady; lets dont talk about that just yet. I want to ask you: you understand all about this glue business, I expect, dont you?
Im not sure. I only know
Let me tell you, he interrupted, impatiently. Ill tell you all about it in two words. The process belonged to me, and your father up and walked off with it; theres no getting around THAT much, anyhow.
Isnt there? Alice stared at him. I think youre mistaken, Mr. Lamb. Didnt papa improve it so that it virtually belonged to him?
There was a spark in the old blue eyes at this. What? he cried. Is that the way he got around it? Why, in all my life I never heard of such a But he left the sentence unfinished; the testiness went out of his husky voice and the anger out of his eyes. Well, I expect maybe that was the way of it, he said. Anyhow, its right for you to stand up for your father; and if you think he had a right to it
But he did! she cried.
I expect so, the old man returned, pacifically. I expect so, probably. Anyhow, its a question thats neither here nor there, right now. What I was thinking of sayingwell, did your father happen to let out that he and I had words this morning?
Well, we did. He sighed and shook his head. Your fatherwell, he used some pretty hard expressions toward me, young lady. They werent SO, Im glad to say, but he used em to me, and the worst of it was he believed em. Well, I been thinking it over, and I thought Id just have a kind of little talk with you to set matters straight, so to speak.
Yes, Mr. Lamb.
For instance, he said, its like this. Now, I hope you wont think I mean any indelicacy, but you take your brothers case, since we got to mention it, why, your father had the whole thing worked out in his mind about as wrong as anybody ever got anything. If Id acted the way your father thought I did about that, why, somebody just ought to take me out and shoot me! Do YOU know what that man thought?
Im not sure.
He frowned at her, and asked, Well, what do you think about it?
I dont know, she said. I dont believe I think anything at all about anything to-day.
Well, well, he returned; I expect not; I expect not. You kind of look to me as if you ought to be in bed yourself, young lady.
I guess you mean Oh, yes; and I wont keep you long, but theres something we got to get fixed up, and Id rather talk to you than I would to your mother, because youre a smart girl and always friendly; and I want to be sure Im understood. Now, listen.
I will, Alice promised, smiling faintly.
I never even hardly noticed your brother was still working for me, he explained, earnestly. I never thought anything about it. My sons sort of tried to tease me about the way your fatherabout his taking up this glue business, so to speakand one day Albert, Junior, asked me if I felt all right about your brothers staying there after that, and I told himwell, I just asked him to shut up. If the boy wanted to stay there, I didnt consider it my business to send him away on account of any feeling I had toward his father; not as long as he did his work rightand the report showed he did. Well, as it happens, it looks now as if he stayed because he HAD to; he couldnt quit because hed a been found out if he did. Well, hed been covering up his shortage for a considerable timeand do you know what your father practically charged me with about that?
No, Mr. Lamb.
In his resentment, the old gentlemans ruddy face became ruddier and his husky voice huskier. Thinks I kept the boy there because I suspected him! Thinks I did it to get even with HIM! Do I look to YOU like a man thatd do such a thing?
No, she said, gently. I dont think you would.
No! he exclaimed. Nor HE wouldnt think so if he was himself; hes known me too long. But he must been sort of brooding over this whole businessI mean before Walters trouble he must been taking it to heart pretty hard for some time back. He thought I didnt think much of him any moreand I expect he maybe wondered some what I was going to DOand theres nothing worsen that state of mind to make a man suspicious of all kinds of meanness. Well, he practically stood up there and accused me to my face of fixing things sot he couldnt ever raise the money to settle for Walter and ask us not to prosecute. Thats the state of mind your fathers brooding got him into, young ladycharging me with a trick like that!
Im sorry, she said. I know youd never
The old man slapped his sturdy knee, angrily. Why, that dang fool of a Virgil Adams! he exclaimed. He wouldnt even give me a chance to talk; and he got me so mad I couldnt hardly talk, anyway! He might a known from the first I wasnt going to let him walk in and beat me out of my ownthat is, he might a known I wouldnt let him get ahead of me in a business matternot with my boys twitting me about it every few minutes! But to talk to me the way he did this morningwell, he was out of his head; thats all! Now, wait just a minute, he interposed, as she seemed about to speak. In the first place, we arent going to push this case against your brother. I believe in the law, all right, and business men got to protect themselves; but in a case like this, where restitutions made by the family, why, I expect its just as well sometimes to use a little influence and let matters drop. Of course your brotherll have to keep out o this state; thats all.
Butyou said she faltered.
Yes. Whatd I say?
You said, where restitutions made by the family. Thats what seemed to trouble papa so terribly, becausebecause restitution couldnt
Why, yes, it could. Thats what Im here to talk to you about.
I dont see
Im going to TELL you, aint I? he said, gruffly. Just hold your horses a minute, please. He coughed, rose from his chair, walked up and down the room, then halted before her. Its like this, he said. After I brought your father home, this morning, there was one of the things he told me, when he was going for me, over yonderit kind of stuck in my craw. It was something about all this glue controversy not meaning anything to me in particular, and meaning a whole heap to him and his family. Well, he was wrong about that two ways. The first one was, it did mean a good deal to me to have him go back on me after so many years. I dont need to say any more about it, except just to tell you it meant quite a little more to me than youd think, maybe. The other way he was wrong is, that how much a thing means to one man and how little it means to another aint the right way to look at a business matter.
I suppose it isnt, Mr. Lamb.
No, he said. It isnt. Its not the right way to look at anything. Yes, and your father knows it as well as I do, when hes in his right mind; and I expect thats one of the reasons he got so mad at mebut anyhow, I couldnt help thinking about how much all this thing HAD maybe meant to him;as I say, it kind of stuck in my craw. I want you to tell him something from me, and I want you to go and tell him right off, if hes able and willing to listen. You tell him I got kind of a notion he was pushed into this thing by circumstances, and tell him Ive lived long enough to know that circumstances can beat the best of usyou tell him I said the BEST of us. Tell him I havent got a bit of feeling against himnot any moreand tell him I came here to ask him not to have any against me.
Yes, Mr. Lamb.
Tell him I said The old man paused abruptly and Alice was surprised, in a dull and tired way, when she saw that his lips had begun to twitch and his eyelids to blink; but he recovered himself almost at once, and continued: I want him to remember, Forgive us our transgressions, as we forgive those that transgress against us; and if he and I been transgressing against each other, why, tell him I think its time we QUIT such foolishness!
He coughed again, smiled heartily upon her, and walked toward the door; then turned back to her with an exclamation: Well, if I aint an old fool!
What is it? she asked.
Why, I forgot what we were just talking about! Your father wants to settle for Walters deficit. Tell him well be glad to accept it; but of course we dont expect him to clean the matter up until hes able to talk business again.
Alice stared at him blankly enough for him to perceive that further explanations were necessary. Its like this, he said. You see, if your father decided to keep his works going over yonder, I dont say but he might give us some little competition for a time, specially as hes got the start on us and about ready for the market. Then I was figuring we could use his plantits small, but itd be to our benefit to have the use of itand hes got a lease on that big lot; it may come in handy for us if we want to expand some. Well, Id prefer to make a deal with him as quietly as possible-no good in every Tom, Dick and Harry hearing about things like thisbut I figured he could sell out to me for a little something moren enough to cover the mortgage he put on this house, and Walters deficit, tooTHAT dont amount to much in dollars and cents. The way I figure it, I could offer him about ninety-three hundred dollars as a totalor say ninety-three hundred and fiftyand if he feels like accepting, why, Ill send a confidential man up here with the papers soons your fathers able to look em over. You tell him, will you, and ask him if he sees his way to accepting that figure?
Yes, Alice said; and now her own lips twitched, while her eyes filled so that she saw but a blurred image of the old man, who held out his hand in parting. Ill tell him. Thank you.
He shook her hand hastily. Well, lets just keep it kind of quiet, he said, at the door. No good in every Tom, Dick and Harry knowing all what goes on in town! You telephone me when your papas ready to go over the papersand call me up at my house to-night, will you? Let me hear how hes feeling?
I will, she said, and through her grateful tears gave him a smile almost radiant. Hell be better, Mr. Lamb. We all will.
One morning, that autumn, Mrs. Adams came into Alices room, and found her completing a sober toilet for the street; moreover, the expression revealed in her mirror was harmonious with the business-like severity of her attire. What makes you look so cross, dearie? the mother asked. Couldnt you find anything nicer to wear than that plain old dark dress?
I dont believe Im cross, the girl said, absently. I believe Im just thinking. Isnt it about time?
Time for what?
Time for thinkingfor me, I mean?
Disregarding this, Mrs. Adams looked her over thoughtfully. I cant see why you dont wear more colour, she said. At your age its becoming and proper, too. Anyhow, when youre going on the street, I think you ought to look just as gay and lively as you can manage. You want to show em youve got some spunk!
How do you mean, mama?
I mean about Walters running away and the mess your father made of his business. It would help to show em youre holding up your head just the same.
All these other girls that
Not I! Alice laughed shortly, shaking her head. Ive quit dressing at them, and if they saw me they wouldnt think what you want em to. Its funny; but we dont often make people think what we want em to, mama. You do thus and so; and you tell yourself, Now, seeing me do thus and so, people will naturally think this and that; but they dont. They think something elseusually just what you DONT want em to. I suppose about the only good in pretending is the fun we get out of fooling ourselves that we fool somebody.
Well, but it wouldnt be pretending. You ought to let people see youre still holding your head up because you ARE. You wouldnt want that Mildred Palmer to think youre cast down aboutwell, you know you wouldnt want HER not to think youre holding your head up, would you?
She wouldnt know whether I am or not, mama. Alice bit her lip, then smiled faintly as she said:
Anyhow, Im not thinking about my head in that waynot this morning, Im not.
Mrs. Adams dropped the subject casually. Are you going down-town? she inquired.
Just something I want to see about. Ill tell you when I come back. Anything you want me to do?
No; I guess not to-day. I thought you might look for a rug, but Id rather go with you to select it. Well have to get a new rug for your fathers room, I expect.
Im glad you think so, mama. I dont suppose hes ever even noticed it, but that old rug of hiswell, really!
I didnt mean for him, her mother explained, thoughtfully. No; he dont mind it, and hed likely make a fuss if we changed it on his account. No; what I meantwell have to put your father in Walters room. He wont mind, I dont expectnot much.
No, I suppose not, Alice agreed, rather sadly. I heard the bell awhile ago. Was it somebody about that?
Yes; just before I came upstairs. Mrs. Lohr gave him a note to me, and he was really a very pleasant-looking young man. A VERY pleasant-looking young man, Mrs. Adams repeated with increased animation and a thoughtful glance at her daughter. Hes a Mr. Will Dickson; he has a first-rate position with the gas works, Mrs. Lohr says, and hes fully able to afford a nice room. So if you and I double up in here, then with that young married couple in my room, and this Mr. Dickson in your fathers, well just about have things settled. I thought maybe I could make one more place at table, too, so that with the other people from outside wed be serving eleven altogether. You see if I have to pay this cook twelve dollars a weekit cant be helped, I guesswell, one more would certainly help toward a profit. Of course its a terribly worrying thing to see how we WILL come out. Dont you suppose we could squeeze in one more?
I suppose it COULD be managed; yes.
Mrs. Adams brightened. Im sure itll be pleasant having that young married couple in the house and especially this Mr. Will Dickson. He seemed very much of a gentleman, and anxious to get settled in good surroundings. I was very favourably impressed with him in every way; and he explained to me about his name; it seems it isnt William, its just Will; his parents had him christened that way. Its curious. She paused, and then, with an effort to seem casual, which veiled nothing from her daughter: Its QUITE curious, she said again. But its rather attractive and different, dont you think?
Poor mama! Alice laughed compassionately. Poor mama!
He is, though, Mrs. Adams maintained. Hes very much of a gentleman, unless Im no judge of appearances; and itll really be nice to have him in the house.
No doubt, Alice said, as she opened her door to depart. I dont suppose well mind having any of em as much as we thought we would. Good-bye.
But her mother detained her, catching her by the arm. Alice, you do hate it, dont you!
No, the girl said, quickly. There wasnt anything else to do.
Mrs. Adams became emotional at once: her face cried tragedy, and her voice misfortune. There MIGHT have been something else to do! Oh, Alice, you gave your father bad advice when you upheld him in taking a miserable little ninety-three hundred and fifty from that old wretch! If your fatherd just had the gumption to hold out, theyd have had to pay him anything he asked. If hed just had the gumption and a little manly COURAGE
Hush! Alice whispered, for her mothers voice grew louder. Hush! Hell hear you, mama.
Could he hear me too often? the embittered lady asked. If hed listened to me at the right time, would we have to be taking in boarders and sinking DOWN in the scale at the end of our lives, instead of going UP? You were both wrong; we didnt need to be so panickythat was just what that old man wanted: to scare us and buy us out for nothing! If your fatherd just listened to me then, or if for once in his life hed just been half a MAN
Alice put her hand over her mothers mouth. You mustnt! He WILL hear you!
But from the other side of Adamss closed door his voice came querulously. Oh, I HEAR her, all right!
You see, mama? Alice said, and, as Mrs. Adams turned away, weeping, the daughter sighed; then went in to speak to her father.
He was in his old chair by the table, with a pillow behind his head, but the crocheted scarf and Mrs. Adamss wrapper swathed him no more; he wore a dressing-gown his wife had bought for him, and was smoking his pipe. The old story, is it? he said, as Alice came in. The same, same old story! Well, well! Has she gone?
Got your hat on, he said. Where you going?
Im going down-town on an errand of my own. Is there anything you want, papa?
Yes, there is. He smiled at her. I wish youd sit down a while and talk to me unless your errand
No, she said, taking a chair near him. I was just going down to see about some arrangements I was making for myself. Theres no hurry.
What arrangements for yourself, dearie?
Ill tell you afterwardsafter I find out something about em myself.
All right, he said, indulgently. Keep your secrets; keep your secrets. He paused, drew musingly upon his pipe, and shook his head. Funnythe way your mother looks at things! For the matter o that, everythings pretty funny, I expect, if you stop to think about it. For instance, let her say all she likes, but we were pushed right spang to the wall, if J. A. Lamb hadnt taken it into his head to make that offer for the works; and theres one of the things I been thinking about lately, Alice: thinking about how funny they work out.
What did you think about it, papa!
Well, Ive seen it happen in other peoples lives, time and time again; and now its happened in ours. You think youre going to be pushed right up against the wall; you cant see any way out, or any hope at all; you think youre GONEand then something you never counted on turns up; and, while maybe you never do get back to where you used to be, yet somehow you kind of squirm out of being right SPANG against the wall. You keep on goingmaybe you cant go much, but you do go a little. See what I mean?
Yes. I understand, dear.
Yes, Im afraid you do, he said. Too bad! You oughtnt to understand it at your age. It seems to me a good deal as if the Lord really meant for the young people to have the good times, and for the old to have the troubles; and when anybody as young as you has trouble theres a big mistake somewhere.
Oh, no! she protested.
But he persisted whimsically in this view of divine error: Yes, it does look a good deal that way. But of course we cant tell; were never certain about anythingnot about anything at all. Sometimes I look at it another way, though. Sometimes it looks to me as if a bodys troubles came on him mainly because he hadnt had sense enough to know how not to have anyas if his troubles were kind of like a boys getting kept in after school by the teacher, to give him discipline, or something or other. But, my, my! We dont learn easy! He chuckled mournfully. Not to learn how to live till were about ready to die, it certainly seems to me dang tough!
Then I wouldnt brood on such a notion, papa, she said.
Brood? No! he returned. I just kind o mull it over. He chuckled again, sighed, and then, not looking at her, he said, That Mr. Russellyour mother tells me he hasnt been here againnot since
No, she said, quietly, as Adams paused. He never came again.
Well, but maybe
No, she said. There isnt any maybe. I told him good-bye that night, papa. It was before he knew about WalterI told you.
Well, well, Adams said. Young people are entitled to their own privacy; I dont want to pry. He emptied his pipe into a chipped saucer on the table beside him, laid the pipe aside, and reverted to a former topic. Speaking of dying
Well, but we werent! Alice protested.
Yes, about not knowing how to live till youre through livingand THEN maybe not! he said, chuckling at his own determined pessimism. I see Im pretty old because I talk this wayI remember my grandmother saying things a good deal like all what Im saying now; I used to hear her at it when I was a young fellowshe was a right gloomy old lady, I remember. Well, anyhow, it reminds me: I want to get on my feet again as soon as I can; I got to look around and find something to go into.
Alice shook her head gently. But, papa, he told you
Never mind throwing that dang doctor up at me! Adams interrupted, peevishly. He said Id be good for SOME kind of light jobif I could find just the right thing. Where there wouldnt be either any physical or mental strain, he said. Well, I got to find something like that. Anyway, Ill feel better if I can just get out LOOKING for it.
But, papa, Im afraid you wont find it, and youll be disappointed.
Well, I want to hunt around and SEE, anyhow.
Alice patted his hand. You must just be contented, papa. Everythings going to be all right, and you mustnt get to worrying about doing anything. We own this house its all clearand youve taken care of mama and me all our lives; now its our turn.
No, sir! he said, querulously. I dont like the idea of being the landladys husband around a boarding-house; it goes against my gizzard. I know: makes out the bills for his wife Sunday morningsworks with a screw-driver on somebodys bureau drawer sometimestends the furnace maybeone the boarders gives him a cigar now and then. Thats a FINE life to look forward to! No, sir; I dont want to finish as a landladys husband!
Alice looked grave; for she knew the sketch was but too accurately prophetic in every probability. But, papa, she said, to console him, dont you think maybe there isnt such a thing as a finish, after all! You say perhaps we dont learn to live till we die but maybe thats how it is AFTER we die, toojust learning some more, the way we do here, and maybe through trouble again, even after that.
Oh, it might be, he sighed. I expect so.
Well, then, she said, whats the use of talking about a finish? We do keep looking ahead to things as if theyd finish something, but when we get TO them, they dont finish anything. Theyre just part of going on. Ill tell youI looked ahead all summer to something I was afraid of, and I said to myself, Well, if that happens, Im finished! But it wasnt so, papa. It did happen, and nothings finished; Im going on, just the same only She stopped and blushed.
Only what? he asked.
Well She blushed more deeply, then jumped up, and, standing before him, caught both his hands in hers. Well, dont you think, since we do have to go on, we ought at least to have learned some sense about how to do it?
He looked up at her adoringly.
What I think, he said, and his voice trembled;I think youre the smartest girl in the world! I wouldnt trade you for the whole kit-and-boodle of em!
But as this folly of his threatened to make her tearful, she kissed him hastily, and went forth upon her errand.
Since the night of the tragic-comic dinner she had not seen Russell, nor caught even the remotest chance glimpse of him; and it was curious that she should encounter him as she went upon such an errand as now engaged her. At a corner, not far from that tobacconists shop she had just left when he overtook her and walked with her for the first time, she met him to-day. He turned the corner, coming toward her, and they were face to face; whereupon that engaging face of Russells was instantly reddened, but Alices remained serene.
She stopped short, though; and so did he; then she smiled brightly as she put out her hand.
Why, Mr. Russell!
Im soIm so glad to have thisthis chance, he stammered. Ive wanted to tell youits just that going into a new undertakingthis business lifeone doesnt get to do a great many things hed like to. I hope youll let me call again some time, if I can.
Yes, do! she said, cordially, and then, with a quick nod, went briskly on.
She breathed more rapidly, but knew that he could not have detected it, and she took some pride in herself for the way she had met this little crisis. But to have met it with such easy courage meant to her something more reassuring than a momentary pride in the serenity she had shown. For she found that what she had resolved in her inmost heart was now really true: she was through with all that!
She walked on, but more slowly, for the tobacconists shop was not far from her nowand, beyond it, that portal of doom, Frinckes Business College. Already Alice could read the begrimed gilt letters of the sign; and although they had spelled destiny never with a more painful imminence than just then, an old habit of dramatizing herself still prevailed with her.
There came into her mind a whimsical comparison of her fate with that of the heroine in a French romance she had read long ago and remembered well, for she had cried over it. The story ended with the heroines taking the veil after a death blow to love; and the final scene again became vivid to Alice, for a moment. Again, as when she had read and wept, she seemed herself to stand among the great shadows in the cathedral nave; smelled the smoky incense on the enclosed air, and heard the solemn pulses of the organ. She remembered how the novices father knelt, trembling, beside a pillar of gray stone; how the faithless lover watched and shivered behind the statue of a saint; how stifled sobs and outcries were heard when the novice came to the altar; and how a shaft of light struck through the rose-window, enveloping her in an amber glow.
It was the vision of a moment only, and for no longer than a moment did Alice tell herself that the romance provided a prettier way of taking the veil than she had chosen, and that a faithless lover, shaking with remorse behind a saints statue, was a greater solace than one left on a street corner protesting that hed like to call some timeif he could! Her pity for herself vanished more reluctantly; but she shook it off and tried to smile at it, and at her romantic recollectionsat all of them. She had something important to think of.
She passed the tobacconists, and before her was that dark entrance to the wooden stairway leading up to Frinckes Business Collegethe very doorway she had always looked upon as the end of youth and the end of hope.
How often she had gone by here, hating the dreary obscurity of that stairway; how often she had thought of this obscurity as something lying in wait to obliterate the footsteps of any girl who should ascend into the smoky darkness above! Never had she passed without those ominous imaginings of hers: pretty girls turning into old maids taking dictationold maids of a dozen different types, yet all looking a little like herself.
Well, she was here at last! She looked up and down the street quickly, and then, with a little heave of the shoulders, she went bravely in, under the sign, and began to climb the wooden steps. Half-way up the shadows were heaviest, but after that the place began to seem brighter. There was an open window overhead somewhere, she found; and the steps at the top were gay with sunshine.
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