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Title: Young People's Pride: A Novel
Author: Benét, Stephen Vincent
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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YOUNG PEOPLE’S PRIDE

_A NOVEL_

By Stephen Vincent Benêt

Illustrations By Henry Raleigh

Copyright, 1922 By Henry Holt And Company

_First printing, August 1922_


TO ROSEMARY

  If I were sly, I’d steal for you that cobbled hill, Montmartre,
  Josephine’s embroidered shoes, St. Louis’ oriflamme,
  The river on grey evenings and the bluebell-glass of Chartres,
  And four sarcastic gargoyles from the roof of Notre Dame.

  That wouldn’t be enough, though, enough nor half a part;
  There’d be shells because they’re sorrowful, and pansies since
  they’re wise,
  The smell of rain on lilac-bloom, less fragrant than your heart,
  And that small blossom of your name, as steadfast as your
  eyes.

  Sapphires, pirates, sandalwood, porcelains, sonnets, pearls,
  Sunsets gay as Joseph’s coat and seas like milky jade,
  Dancing at your birthday like a mermaid’s dancing curls
  --If my father’d only brought me up to half a decent trade!

  Nothing I can give you--nothing but the rhymes--
  Nothing but the empty speech, the idle words and few,
  The mind made sick with irony you helped so many times,
  The strengthless water of the soul your truthfulness kept true.

  Take the little withered things and neither laugh nor cry
  --Gifts to make a sick man glad he’s going out like sand--
  They and I are yours, you know, as long as there’s an I.
  Take them for the ages. Then they may not shame your
  hand.

  “... For there groweth in great abundance
  in this land a small flower, much blown about
  by winds, named ‘Young People’s Pride’...”

  DYCER’S _Herbal_



YOUNG PEOPLES PRIDE



I

It is one of Johnny Chipman’s parties at the Harlequin Club, and as
usual the people the other people have been asked to meet are late
and as usual Johnny is looking hesitatingly around at those
already collected with the nervous kindliness of an absent-minded
menagerie-trainer who is trying to make a happy family out of a wombat,
a porcupine, and two small Scotch terriers because they are all very
nice and he likes them all and he can’t quite remember at the moment
just where he got hold of any of them. This evening he has been making
an omelet of youngest. K. Ricky French, the youngest Harvard playwright
to learn the tricks of C43, a Boston exquisite, impeccably correct from
his club tie to the small gold animal on his watch-chain, is almost
coming to blows with Slade Wilson, the youngest San Francisco cartoonist
to be tempted East by a big paper and still so new to New York that no
matter where he tries to take the subway, he always finds himself buried
under Times Square, over a question as to whether La Perouse or Foyot’s
has the best _hors-d’oeuvres_ in Paris.

The conflict is taking place across Johnny’s knees, both of which are
being used for emphasis by the disputants till he is nearly mashed like
a sandwich-filling between two argumentative slices of bread, but he
is quite content. Peter Piper, the youngest rare-book collector in the
country, who, if left to himself, would have gravitated naturally toward
French and a devastating conversation in monosyllables on the pretty
failings of prominent débutantes, is gradually warming Clark Stovall,
the youngest star of the Provincetown Players out of a prickly silence,
employed in supercilious blinks at all the large pictures of celebrated
Harlequins by discreet, intelligent questions as to the probable future
of Eugene O’Neill.

Stovall has just about decided to throw Greenwich Village omniscience
overboard and admit privately to himself that people like Peter can
be both human and interesting even if they do live in the East Sixties
instead of Macdougal Alley when a page comes in discreetly for Johnny
Chipman. Johnny rises like an agitated blond robin who has just spied
the very two worms he was keeping room for to top off breakfast. “Well”
 he says to the world at large. “They’re only fifteen minutes late apiece
this time.”

He darts out into the hall and reappears in a moment, a worm on either
side. Both worms will fit in easily with the youthful assortment already
gathered--neither can be more than twenty-five.

Oliver Crowe is nearly six feet, vividly dark, a little stooping,
dressed like anybody else in the Yale Club from hair parted in the
middle to low heavyish brown shoes, though the punctured patterns on
the latter are a year or so out of date. There is very little that is
remarkable about his appearance except the round, rather large head that
shows writer or pugilist indifferently, brilliant eyes, black as black
warm marble under heavy tortoise-shell glasses and a mouth that is not
weak in the least but somehow burdened by a pressure upon it like a
pressure of wings, the pressure of that kind of dream which will not
release the flesh it inhabits always and agonizes often until it is
given perfect body and so does not release it until such flesh has
ceased. At present he is not the youngest anything, except, according
to himself ‘the youngest failure in advertising,’ but a book of nakedly
youthful love-poetry, which in gloomy moments he wishes had never been
written, although the _San Francisco Warbler_ called it as ‘tensely
vital as the Shropshire Lad,’ brought him several column reviews and
very nearly forty dollars in cash at twenty-one and since then many
people of his own age and one or two editors have considered him “worth
watching.”

Ted Billett is dark too, but it is a ruddy darkness with high clear
color of skin. He could pass anywhere as a College Senior and though his
clothes seem to have been put on anyhow with no regard for pressing
or tailoring they will always raise a doubt in the minds of the
uninstructed as to whether it is not the higher carelessness that has
dictated them rather than ordinary poverty--a doubt that, in many cases,
has proved innocently fortunate for Ted. His hands are a curious mixture
of square executive ability and imaginative sensitiveness and his
surface manners have often been described as ‘too snotty’ by delicate
souls toward whom Ted was entirely unconscious of having acted with
anything but the most disinterested politeness. On the other hand a
certain even-tempered recklessness and capacity for putting himself
in the other fellow’s place made him one of the few popularly lenient
officers to be obeyed with discipline in his outfit during the war. As
regards anything Arty or Crafty his attitude is merely appreciative--he
is finishing up his last year of law at Columbia.

Johnny introduces Oliver and Ted to everybody but Peter--the three were
classmates--shepherds his flock with a few disarmingly personal insults
to prevent stiffness closing down again over the four that have already
got to talking at the arrival of the two newcomers, and marshals them
out to the terrace where they are to have dinner. Without seeming
to try, he seats them so that Ted, Peter and Oliver will not form an
offensive-defensive alliance against the three who are strangers to them
by retailing New Haven anecdotes to each other for the puzzlement of
the rest and starts the ball rolling with a neat provocative attack on
romanticism in general and Cabell in particular.



II

“Johnny’s strong for realism, aren’t you, Johnny?”

“Well, yes, Ted, I am. I think ‘Main Street’ and ‘Three Soldiers’ are
two of the best things that ever happened to America. You can say it’s
propaganda--maybe it is, but at any rate it’s real. Honestly, I’ve
gotten so tired, we all have, of all this stuff about the small Middle
Western Town being the backbone of the country--”

“Backbone? Last vertebra!”

“As for ‘Main Street,’ it’s--”

“It’s the hardest book to read through without fallin’ asleep where you
sit, though, that I’ve struck since the time I had to repeat Geology.”
 Peter smiles. “But, there, Johnny, I guess I’m the bone-head part of the
readin’ public--”

“That’s why you’re just the kind of person that ought to read books like
that, Peter. The reading public in general likes candy laxatives, I’ll
admit--Old Nest stuff--but you--”

“‘Nobody else will ever have to write the description of a small Middle
Western Town’” quotes Oliver, discontentedly. “Well, who ever wanted to
write the description of a small Middle Western Town?” and from Ricky
French, selecting his words like flowers for a _boutonniere_.

“The trouble with ‘Main Street’ is not that it isn’t the truth but that
it isn’t nearly the whole truth. Now Sherwood Anderson--”

“Tennyson. Who _was_ Tennyson? He died young.”

“Well, if _that_ is Clara Stratton’s idea of how to play a woman who
did.”

The two sentences seem to come from no one and arrive nowhere. They are
batted out of the conversation like toy balloons.

“Bunny Andrews sailed for Paris Thursday,” says Ted Billett longingly.
“Two years at the Beaux Arts,” and for an instant the splintering of
lances stops, like the hush in a tournament when the marshal throws down
the warder, at the shine of that single word.

“All the same, New York is the best place to be right now if you’re
going to do anything big,” says Johnny uncomfortably, too much as if he
felt he just had to believe in it, but the rest are silent, seeing the
Seine wind under its bridges, cool as satin, grey-blue with evening,
or the sawdust of a restaurant near the quais where one can eat
Rabelaisiantly for six francs with wine and talk about anything at all
without having to pose or explain or be defensive, or the chimneypots of
La Cité branch-black against winter sky that is pallor of crimson when
the smell of roast chestnuts drifts idly as a student along Boulevard
St. Germain, or none of these, or all, but for each one nostalgic aspect
of the city where good Americans go when they die and bad ones while
they live--to Montmartre.

“New York _is_ twice as romantic, really,” says Johnny firmly.

“If you can’t get out of it,” adds Oliver with a twisted grin.

Ted Billett turns to Ricky French as if each had no other friend in the
world.

“You were over, weren’t you?” he says, a little diffidently, but his
voice is that of Rachel weeping for her children.

“Well, there was a little café on the Rue Bonaparte--I suppose you
wouldn’t know--”



III

The party has adjourned to Stovall’s dog-kennel-sized apartment on
West Eleventh Street with oranges and ice, Peter Piper having suddenly
remembered a little place he knows where what gin is to be bought is
neither diluted Croton water nor hell-fire. The long drinks gather
pleasantly on the table, are consumed by all but Johnny, gather again.
The talk grows more fluid, franker.

“Phil Sellaby?---oh, the great Phil’s just had a child--I mean his wife
has, but Phil’s been having a book all winter and it’s hard not to get
‘em mixed up. Know the girl he married?”

“Ran Waldo had a necking acquaintance with her at one time or another,
I believe. But now she’s turned serious, I hear--_tres serieuse--tres
bonne femme_--”

“I bet his book’ll be a cuckoo, then. Trouble with women. Can’t do any
art and be married if you’re in love with your wife. Instink--instinct
of creation--same thing in both cases--use it one way, not enough
left for other--unless, of course, like Goethe, you--” “Rats! Look at
Rossetti--Browning---Augustus John--William Morris--”

_“Browning!_ Dear man, when the public knows the _truth_ about the
Brownings!”

Ricky French is getting a little drunk but it shows itself only in a
desire to make every sentence unearthly cogent with perfect words.

“Unhappy marriage--ver’ good--stimula-shion,” he says, carefully but
unsteadily, “other thing--tosh!”

Peter Piper jerks a thumb in Oliver’s direction.

“Oh, beg pardon! Engaged, you told me? Beg pardon--sorry--very. Writes?”

“Uh-huh. Book of poetry three years ago. Novel now he’s trying to sell.”

“Oh, yes, yes, yes. Remember. ‘Dancers’ Holiday’--he wrote that? Good
stuff, damn good. Too bad. Feenee. Why will they get married?”

The conversation veers toward a mortuary discussion of love. Being
young, nearly all of them are anxious for, completely puzzled by and
rather afraid of it, all at the same time. They wish to draw up one
logical code to cover its every variation; they look at it, as it is at
present with the surprised displeasure of florists at a hollyhock that
will come blue when by every law of variation it should be rose. It is
only a good deal later that they will be able to give, not blasphemy
because the rules of the game are always mutually inconsistent, but
tempered thanks that there are any rules at all. Now Ricky French
especially has the air of a demonstrating anatomist over an anesthetized
body. “Observe, gentlemen--the carotid artery lies here. Now, inserting
the scalpel at this point--”

“The trouble with Art is that it doesn’t pay a decent living wage unless
you’re willing to commercialize--”

“The trouble with Art is that it never did, except for a few chance
lucky people--”

“The trouble with Art is women.”

“The trouble with women is Art.”

“The trouble with Art--with women, I mean--change signals! What do I
mean?”



IV

Oliver is taking Ted out to Melgrove with him over Sunday for suburban
fresh-air and swimming, so the two just manage to catch the 12.53 from
the Grand Central, in spite of Slade Wilson’s invitation to talk
all night and breakfast at the Brevoort. They spend the rattling,
tunnel-like passage to 125th Street catching their breath again, a
breath that seems to strike a florid gentlemen in a dirty collar ahead
of them with an expression of permanent, sorrowful hunger. Then Ted
remarks reflectively,

“Nice gin.”

“Uh-huh. Not floor varnish anyway like most of this prohibition stuff.
What think of the people?”

“Interesting but hardly conclusive. Liked the Wilson lad. Peter, of
course, and Johnny. The French person rather young Back Bay, don’t you
think?”

Oliver smiles. The two have been through Yale, some of the war and much
of the peace together, and the fact has inevitably developed a certain
quality of being able to talk to each other in shorthand.

“Well, Groton plus Harvard--it always gets a little inhuman especially
Senior year--but gin had a civilizing influence. Lucky devil!”

“Why?”

“Baker’s newest discovery--yes, it does sound like a patent medicine.
Don’t mean that, but he has a play on the road--sure-fire, Johnny
says--Edward Sheldon stuff--Romance--”

“The Young Harvard Romantic. An Essay Presented to the Faculty of Yale
University by Theodore Billett for the Degree of--”

“Heard anything about your novel, Oliver?”

“Going to see my pet Mammon of Unrighteousness about it in a couple of
weeks. Oh _Lord!_”

“Present--not voting.”

“Don’t be cheap, Ted. If I could only make some money.”

“Everybody says that there is money in advertising,” Ted quotes
maliciously. “Where _have_ I heard that before?”

_“That’s_ what anybody says about anything till they try it. Well,
there is--but not in six months for a copy-writer at Vanamee and Co.
Especially when the said copy-writer has to have enough to marry on.”
 “And will write novels when he ought to be reading, ‘How I Sold
America on Ossified Oats’ like a good little boy. Young people are _so_
impatient.”

“Well, good Lord, Ted, we’ve been engaged eight months already and we
aren’t getting any furtherer--”

“Remember the copybooks, my son. The love of a pure, good woman and the
one-way pocket--that’s what makes the millionaires. Besides, look at
Isaac.”

“Well, I’m no Isaac. And Nancy isn’t Rebekah, praises be! But it is
an--emotional strain. On both of us.”

“Well, all you have to do is sell your serial rights. After that--pie.”

“I know. The trouble is, I can see it so plain if everything happens
right--and then--well--”

Ted is not very consoling.

“People get funny ideas about each other when they aren’t close by. Even
when they’re in love,” he says rather darkly; and then, for no apparent
reason, “Poor Billy. See it?”

Oliver has, unfortunately--the announcement that the engagement between
Miss Flavia Marston of Detroit and Mr. William Curting of New York has
been broken by mutual consent was an inconspicuous little paragraph in
the morning papers. “That was all--just funny ideas and being away. And
then this homebred talent came along,” Ted muses.

“Well, you’re the hell of a--”

Ted suddenly jerks into consciousness of what he has been saying.

“Sorry” he says, completely apologetic, “didn’t mean a word I said,
just sorry for Billy, poor guy. ‘Fraid it’ll break him up pretty bad
at first.” This seems to make matters rather worse and he changes
the subject abruptly. “How’s Nancy?” he asks with what he hopes seems
disconnected indifference.

“Nancy? All right. Hates St. Louis, of course.”

“Should think she might, this summer. Pretty hot there, isn’t it?”

“Says it’s like a wet furnace. And her family’s bothering her some.”

“Um, too bad.”

“Oh, _I_ don’t mind. But it’s rotten for her. They don’t see the point
exactly--don’t know that I blame them. She could be in Paris, now--that
woman was ready to put up the money. My fault.”

“Well, she seems to like things better the way they are--God knows
why, my antic friend! If it were _my_ question between you and a year
studying abroad! Not that you haven’t your own subtle attractions,
Ollie.” Ted has hoped to irritate Oliver into argument by the closing
remark, but the latter only accepts it with militant gloom.

“Yes, I’ve done her out of that, too,” he says abysmally, “as well as
sticking her in St. Louis while I stay here and can’t even drag down
enough money to support her--”

“Oh, Ollie, snap out of it! That’s only being dramatic. You know
darn well you will darn soon. I’ll be saying ‘bless you, my children,
increase and multiply,’ inside a month if your novel goes through.”

“If! Oh well. Oh hell. I think I’ve wept on your shoulder long enough
for tonight, Ted. Tell me your end of it--things breaking all right?”

Ted’s face sets into lines that seem curiously foreign and aged for the
smooth surface.

“Well--you know my trouble,” he brings out at last with some difficulty.
“You ought to, anyhow--we’ve talked each other over too much when we
were both rather planko for you not to. I’m getting along, I think. The
work--_ca marche assez bien_. And the restlessness--can be stood. That’s
about all there is to say.”

Both are completely serious now.

“Bon. Very glad,” says Oliver in a low voice.

“I can stand it. I was awful afraid I couldn’t when I first got back.
And law interests me, really, though I’ve lost three years because of
the war. And I’m working like a pious little devil with a new assortment
of damned and when you haven’t any money you can’t go on parties in New
York unless you raise gravy riding to a fine art. Only sometimes--well,
you know how it is--”

Oliver nods.

“I’ll be sitting there, at night especially, in that little tin Tophet
of a room on Madison Avenue, working. I _can_ work, if I do say it
myself--I’m hoping to get through with school in January, now. But it
gets pretty lonely, sometimes when there’s nobody to run into that you
can really talk to--the people I used to play with in College are out
of New York for the summer--even Peter’s down at Southampton most of the
time or out at Star Bay--you’re in Melgrove--Sam Woodward’s married and
working in Chicago--Brick Turner’s in New Mexico--I’ve dropped out of
the Wall Street bunch in the class that hang out at the Yale Club--I’m
posted there anyhow, and besides they’ve all made money and I haven’t,
and all they want to talk about is puts and calls. And then you remember
things.

“The time my pilot and I blew into Paris when we thought we were hitting
somewhere around Nancy till we saw that blessed Eiffel Tower poking out
of the fog. And the Hotel de Turenne on Rue Vavin and getting up in the
morning and going out for a café cognac breakfast, and everything being
amiable and pleasant, and kidding along all the dear little ladies that
sat on the _terrasse_ when they dropped in to talk over last evening’s
affairs. I suppose I’m a sensualist--”

“Everybody is.” from Oliver.

“Well, that’s another thing. Women. And love. Ollie, my son, you don’t
know how very damn lucky you are!”

“I think I do, rather,” says Oliver, a little stiffly.

“You don’t. Because I’d give everything I have for what you’ve got and
all you can do is worry about whether you’ll get married in six months
or eight.”

“I’m worrying about whether I’ll ever get married at all,” from Oliver,
rebelliously.

“True enough, which is where I’m glowingly sympathetic for you, though
you may not notice it. But you’re one of the few people I know--officers
at least--who came out of the war without stepping all through their
American home ideas of morality like a clown through a fake glass
window. And I’m--Freuded--if I see how or why you did.”

“Don’t myself--unless you call it pure accident” says Oliver, frankly.
“Well, that’s it--women. Don’t think I’m in love but the other thing
pulls pretty strong. And I want to get married all right, but what girls
I know and like best are in Peter’s crowd and most of them own their
own Rolls Royces--and I won’t be earning even a starvation wage for two,
inside of three or four years, I suppose. And as you can’t get away
from seeing and talking to women unless you go and live in a cave--well,
about once every two weeks or oftener I’d like to chuck every lawbook I
have out of the window on the head of the nearest cop--go across again
and get some sort of a worthless job--I speak good enough French to do
it if I wanted--and go to hell like a gentleman without having to worry
about it any longer. And I won’t do that because I’m through with it and
the other thing is worth while. So there you are.”

“So you don’t think you’re in love--eh Monsieur Billett?” Oliver puts
irritatingly careful quotation marks around the verb. Ted twists a
little.

“It all seems so blamed impossible,” he says cryptically.

“Oh, I wouldn’t call Elinor Piper _that_ exactly.” Oliver grins. “Even
if she is Peter’s sister. Old Peter. She’s a nice girl.”

“_A nice girl?_” Ted begins rather violently. “She’s--why she’s--” then
pauses, seeing the trap.

“Oh very well--that’s all I wanted to know.”

“Oh don’t look so much like a little tin Talleyrand, Ollie! I’m _not_
sure--and that’s rather more than I’d even hint to anybody else.”

“Thanks, little darling.” But Ted has been stung too suddenly, even by
Oliver’s light touch on something which he thought was a complete and
mortuary secret, to be in a mood for sarcasm.

“Oh, well, you might as well know. I suppose you do.”

“All I know is that you seem to have been visiting--Peter--a good deal
this summer.”

“Well, it started with Peter.”

“It does so often.”

“Oh Lord, now I’ve _got_ to tell you. Not that there’s
anything--definite--to tell.” He pauses, looking at his hands.

“Well, I’ve just been telling you how I feel--sometimes. And other
times--being with Elinor--she’s been so--kind. But I don’t know, Ollie,
honestly I don’t, and that’s that.”

“You see,” he begins again, “the other thing--Oh, _Lord_, it’s so
tangled up! But it’s just this. It sounds--funny--probably--coming from
me--and after France and all that--but I’m not going to--pretend
to myself I’m in love with a girl--just because I may--want to get
married--the way lots of people do. I can’t. And I couldn’t with a girl
like Elinor anyway--she’s too fine.”

“She is rather fine,” says Oliver appreciatively. “Selective
reticence--all that.”

“Well, don’t you see? And a couple of times--I’ve been nearly sure. And
then something comes and I’m not again--not the way I want to be. And
then--Oh, if I were, it wouldn’t be much--use--you know--”

“Why not?”

“Well, consider our relative positions--”

“Consider your grandmother’s cat! She’s a girl--you’re a man. She’s a
lady--you’re certainly a gentleman--though that sounds like Jane Austen.
And--”

“And she’s--well, she isn’t the wealthiest young lady in the country,
but the Pipers _are_ rich, though they never go and splurge around
about it. And I’m living on scholarships and borrowed money from the
family--and even after I really start working I probably won’t make
enough to live on for two or three years at least. And you can’t ask a
girl like that--”

“Oh, Ted, this is the twentieth century! I’m not telling you to hang up
your hat and live on your wife’s private income--” “That’s fortunate,”
 from Ted, rather stubbornly and with a set jaw.

“But there’s no reason on earth--if you both really loved each other and
wanted to get married--why you couldn’t let her pay her share for
the first few years. You know darn well you’re going to make money
sometime--”

“Well--yes.”

“Well, then. And Elinor’s sporting. She isn’t the kind that needs six
butlers to live--she doesn’t live that way now. That’s just pride, Ted,
thinking that--and a rather bum variety of pride when you come down to
it. I hate these people who moan around and won’t be happy unless they
can do everything themselves--they’re generally the kind that give their
wives a charge account at Lucile’s and ten dollars a year pocket money
and go into blue fits whenever poor spouse runs fifty cents over her
allowance.”

Ted pauses, considering. Finally,

“No, Ollie--I don’t think I’m quite that kind of a fool. And almost thou
convincest me--and all that. But--well--that isn’t the chief difficulty,
after all.”

“Well, what _is_?” from Oliver, annoyedly.

Ted hesitates, speaking slowly.

“Well--after the fact that I’m not sure--France,” he says at last, and
his mouth shuts after the word as if it never wanted to open again.

Oliver spreads both hands out hopelessly.

“Are you _never_ going to get over that, you ass?”

“You didn’t do the things I did,” from Ted, rather difficultly. “If you
had--”

“If I had I’d have been as sorry as you are, probably, that I’d knocked
over the apple cart occasionally. But I wouldn’t spend the rest of
my life worrying about it and thinking I wasn’t fit to go into decent
society because of what happened to most of the A.E.F. Why you sound as
if you’d committed the unpardonable sin. And it’s nonsense.”

“Well--thinking of Elinor--I’m not too darn sure I didn’t,” from Ted,
dejectedly.

“That comes of being born in New England and that’s all there is to it.
Anyhow, it’s over now, isn’t it?”

“Not exactly--it comes back.”

“Well, kick it every time it does.”

“But you don’t understand. That and--people like Elinor--” says Ted
hopelessly.

“I do understand.”

“You don’t.” And this time Ted’s face has the look of a burned man.

“Well--” says Oliver, frankly puzzled. “Well, that’s it. Oh, it doesn’t
matter. But if there was another war--”

“Oh, leave us poor people that are trying to write a couple of years
before you dump us into heroes’ graves by the Yang tse Kiang!”

“Another war--and bang! into the aviation.” Ted muses, his face gone
thin with tensity. “It could last as long as it liked for me, providing
I got through before it did; you’d be living anyhow, living and
somebody, and somebody who didn’t give a plaintive hoot how things
broke.”

He sighs, and his face smooths back a little.

“Well, Lord, I’ve no real reason to kick, I suppose,” he ends. “There
are dozens of ‘em like me--dozens and hundreds and thousands all over
the shop. We had danger and all the physical pleasures and as much money
as we wanted and the sense of command--all through the war. And then
they come along and say ‘it’s all off, girls,’ and you go back and
settle down and play you’ve just come out of College in peace-times
and maybe by the time you’re forty you’ll have a wife and an income if
another scrap doesn’t come along. And then when we find it isn’t as easy
to readjust as they think, they yammer around pop-eyed and say ‘Oh, what
wild young people--what naughty little wasters! They won’t settle down
and play Puss-in-the-corner at all--and, oh dear, oh dear, how they
drink and smoke and curse ‘n everything!’”

“I’m awful afraid they might be right as to what’s the trouble with us,
though,” says Oliver, didactically. “We _are_ young, you know.”

“Melgrove!” the conductor howls, sleepily. “Melgrove! Melgrove!”



V

The Crowe house was both small and inconveniently situated--it was
twenty full minutes walk from the station and though a little box of a
garage had been one of the “all modern conveniences” so fervidly painted
in the real estate agent’s advertisement, the Crowes had no car. It was
the last house on Undercliff Road that had any pretense to sparse grass
and a stubbly hedge--beyond it were sand-dunes, delusively ornamented by
the signs of streets that as yet only existed in the brain of the owner
of the “development,” and, a quarter of a mile away, the long blue
streak of the Sound.

Oliver’s key clicked in the lock--this was fortunately one of the
times when four-year-old Jane Ellen, who went about after sunset in a
continual, piteous fear of “black men wif masks,” had omitted to put
the chain on the door before being carried mutinously to bed. Oliver
switched on the hall light and picked up a letter and a folded note from
the card tray.

“Ted, Ollie and Dickie will share that little bijou, the sleeping porch,
unless Ted prefers the third-story bathtub,” the note read. “Breakfast
at convenience for those that can get it themselves--otherwise at nine.
And DON’T wake Dickie up.

“MOTHER.”


Oliver passed it to Ted, who read it, grinned, and saluted, nearly
knocking over the hatrack.

“For _God’s_ sake!” said Oliver in a piercing whisper, “Jane Ellen will
think that’s Indians!”

Both listened frantically for a moment, holding their breath. But there
was no sound from upstairs except an occasional soft rumbling. Oliver
had often wondered what would happen if the whole sleeping family
chanced to breathe in and out in unison some unlucky night. He could
see the papery walls blown apart like scraps of cardboard--Aunt Elsie
falling, falling with her bed from her little bird-house under the
eaves, giving vent to one deaf, terrified “Hey--what’s that?” as she
sank like Lucifer cast from Heaven inexorably down into the laundry
stove, her little tight, white curls standing up on end....

Ted had removed his shoes and was making for the stairs with the
exaggerated caution of a burglar in a film.

“‘Night!” called Oliver softly.

“G’ night! Where’s my bed--next the wall? Good--then I won’t step
on Dickie. And if you fall over me when you come in, I’ll bay like a
bloodhound!”

“I’ll look out. Be up in a minute myself. Going to write a letter.”

“So I’d already deduced, Craig Kennedy, my friend. Well, give her my
love!”

He smiled like a bad little boy and disappeared round the corner. A
stair creaked--they were the kind of stairs that always creaked like old
women’s bones, when you tried to go up them quietly. There was the
sound of something soft stubbing against something hard and a muffled
“_Sonofa--_”

“What’s matter?”

“Oh, nothing. Blame near broke my toe on Jane Ellen’s doll’s porcelain
head. ‘S all right. ‘Night.”

“‘Night.” Then in an admonitory sotto-voce, “Remember, if you wake
Dickie, you’ve got to tell him stories till he goes to sleep again, or
he’ll wake up everybody else!”

“If he wakes, I’ll garotte him. ‘Night.”

“‘Night.”



VI


Oliver paused for a few minutes, waiting for the crash that would
proclaim that Ted had stumbled over something and waked Dickie beyond
redemption. But there was nothing but a soft gurgling of water from the
bathroom and then, after a while, a slight but definite addition to
the distant beehive noises of sleep in the house. He smiled, moved
cautiously into the dining room, sat down at the small sharp-cornered
desk where all the family correspondence was carried on and from which
at least one of the family a day received a grievous blow in the side
while attempting to get around it; lit the shaded light above it and sat
down to read his letter.

It was all Nancy, that letter, from the address, firm and straight as
any promise she ever gave, but graceful as the curl of a vine-stem,
gracile as her hands, with little unsuspected curlicues of humor and
fancy making the stiff “t’s” bend and twisting the tails of the “e’s,”
 to the little scrunched-up “Love, Nancy” at the end, as if she had
squeezed it there to make it look unimportant, knowing perfectly that it
was the one really important thing in the letter to him. Both would take
it so and be thankful without greediness or a longing for sentimental
“x’s,” with a sense that the thing so given must be very rich in little
like a jewel, and always newly rediscovered with a shiver of pure wonder
and thanking, or neither could have borne to have it written so small.

It was Nancy just as some of her clothes were Nancy, soft clear blues
and first appleblossom pinks, the colors of a hardy garden that has
no need for the phoenix-colors of the poppy, because it has passed the
boy’s necessity for talking at the top of its voice in scarlet and
can hold in one shaped fastidious petal, faint-flushed with a single
trembling of one serene living dye, all the colors the wise mind knows
and the soul released into its ecstasy has taken for its body invisible,
its body of delight most spotless, as lightning takes bright body of
rapture and agony from the light clear pallor that softens a sky to
night.

Oliver read the letter over twice--it was with a satisfaction like that
when body and brain are fed at once, invisibly, by the same lustre of
force, that he put it away. One part of it, though, left him humanly
troubled enough.

“Miss Winters, the old incubus, came around and was soppy to mother as
usual yesterday--the same old business--I might be studying in Paris,
now, instead of teaching drawing to stupid little girls, if I hadn’t
‘formed’ what she will call ‘that unfortunate attachment.’ Not that I
minded, really, though I was angry enough to bite her when she gave
a long undertaker’s list of Penniless Authors’ Brides. But it worries
mother--and that worries me--and I wish she wouldn’t. Forgive me,
Ollie--and then that Richardson complex of mother’s came up again--”

“Waiting hurts, naturally,--and I’m the person who used to wonder about
girls making such a fuss about how soon they got married--but, then,
Ollie, of course, I never really wanted to get married before myself
and somehow that seems to make a difference. But that’s the way things
go--and the only thing I wish is that I was the only person to be hurt.
We will, sooner or later, and it will be all the better for our not
having grabbed at once--at least that’s what all the old people with no
emotions left are always so anxious to tell you. But they talk about
it as if anybody under thirty-five who wanted to get married was acting
like a three-year-old stealing jam--and that’s annoying. And anyhow, it
wouldn’t be bad, if I weren’t so silly, I suppose--”

“Waiting hurts, naturally,” and that casual sentence made him chilly
afraid. For to be in love, though it may force the lover to actions of
impossible courage does not make him in the least courageous of himself,
but only drives him by the one large fear of losing this love like a
soldier pricked from behind by a bayonet over the bodies of smaller
fears, or like a thief who has stolen treasure, and, hearing the cry
at his heels, scales a twenty foot wall with the agile gestures of a
madman. All the old-wives’ and young men’s club stories of everything
from broken engagements to the Generic and Proven Unfaithfulness of the
Female Sex brushed like dirty cobwebs for an instant across his mind.
They tightened about it like silk threads--a snaky web--and for one
scared instant he had a sense of being smothered in dusty feathers,
whispering together and saying, “When you’re a little older and a great
deal wiser. When you’ve come to my age and know that all girls are
the same. When you realize that long engagements seldom mean marriage.
When--”

He put the cobwebs aside with a strain of will, for he was very tired in
body, and settled himself to write to Nancy. It was not the cobwebs that
hurt. The only thing that mattered was that she had been hurt on his
account--was being hurt now on his account--would be hurt, and still and
always on his account, not because he wanted to hurt her but because
it was not within his power, but Life’s, to hurt her in that respect or
not.

“Oh, felicitous Nancy!” the pen began to scratch. “Your letter--”

Stupid to be so tired when he was writing to Nancy. Stupid not to find
the right things to say at once when you wanted to say them so much. He
dropped the pen an instant, sat back, and tried to evoke Nancy before
him like a small, clear picture seen in a lens, tried to form with his
will the lifeless air in front of him till it began to take on
some semblance and body of her that would be better than the tired
remembrances of the mind.

Often, and especially when he had thought about her intensely for a
long time, the picture would not come at all or come with tantalizing
incompleteness, apparently because he wanted it to be whole so much--all
he could see would be a wraith of Nancy, wooden as a formal photograph,
with none of her silences or mockeries about her till he felt like a
painter who has somehow let the devil into his paintbox so that each
stroke he makes goes a little fatally out of true from the vision in
his mind till the canvas is only a crazy-quilt of reds and yellows. Now,
perhaps, though, she might come, even though he was tired. He pressed
the back of a hand against his eyes. She was coming to him now. He
remembered one of their walks together--a walk they had taken some eight
months ago, when they had been only three days engaged. Up Fifth Avenue;
Forty-second Street, Forty-third, Forty-fourth, the crosstown glitter
of lights, the reflected glow of Broadway, spraying the sky with dim
gold-dust, begins to die a little behind them. Past pompous expensive
windows full of the things that Oliver and Nancy will buy when Oliver’s
novel has gone into its first fifty thousand, content with the mere
touch of each other’s hands, they are so sure of each other now. Past
people, dozens of people, getting fewer and fewer as Forty-sixth Street
comes, Forty-seventh, Forty-eighth, always a little arrogantly because
none of the automatic figures they pass have ever eaten friendly bread
together or had fire that can burn over them like clear salt water or
the knowledge that the only thing worth having in life is the hurt
and gladness of that fire. Buses pass like big squares of honeycomb on
wheels, crowded with pale, tired bees--the stars march slowly from the
western slope to their light viewless pinnacle in the center of the
heavens, walking brightly like strong men in silvered armor--the stars
and the buses, the buses and the stars, either and both of as little and
much account--it would not really surprise either Oliver or Nancy if
the next green bus that passes should start climbing into the sky like a
clumsy bird.

The first intoxication is still upon them--they have told nobody except
anyone who ever sees them together--they walk tactfully and never too
close, both having a horror of publicly amatory couples, but like the
king’s daughter--or was it Solomon’s Temple?--they are all glorious
within. Fifty-fifth, Fifty-sixth, Fifty-seventh--the square in front of
the Plaza--that tall chopped bulky tower lit from within like a model
in a toyshop window--motors purring up to its door like thin dark cats,
motors purring away. The fountain with the little statue--the pool a
cool dark stone cracked with the gold of the lights upon it, and near
the trees of the Park, half-hidden, gold Sherman, riding, riding,
Victory striding ahead of him with a golden palm.

Ahead of them too goes Victory, over fear, over doubt, over littleness,
her gold shoes ring like the noise of a sparkling sword, her steps are
swift. They stand for an instant, hands locked, looking back at the
long roller-coaster swoop of the Avenue, listening to the roll of tired
wheels, the faint horns, the loud horns. They know each other now--their
hands grip tighter--in the wandering instant the whole background of
streets and tall buildings passes like breath from a mirror--for the
instant without breath or clamor, they exist together, one being, and
the being has neither flesh to use the senses too clumsily, nor human
thoughts to rust at the will, but lives with the strength of a thunder
and the heedlessness of a wave in a wide and bright eternity of the
unspoken.

“All the same,” says Nancy, when the moment passes, lifting a shoe with
the concern of a kitten that has just discovered a thorn in its paw,
“New York pavements are certainly _hard_ on loving feet.”



VII

So the picture came. And other pictures like it. And since the living
that had made them was past for a little they were both fainter and in
a measure brighter with more elfin colors than even that living had been
which had made them glow at first. White memory had taken them into her
long house of silence where everything is cool with the silver of Spring
rain on leaves, she had washed from them the human pettiness, the human
separateness, the human insufficiency to express the best that must come
in any mortal relationship that lasts longer than the hour. They
were not better in memory than they had been when lived, for the best
remembrance makes only brilliant ghosts, but they were in their dim
measure nearer the soul’s perfection, for the tricks of the sounding
board of the mind and the feckless instrument of the body had been put
away. “We’ve had infinites already--infinites,” thought Oliver, and
didn’t care about the ludicrous ineptness of the words. He smiled,
turning back to the unwritten letter. If they hadn’t had infinites
already--he supposed they wouldn’t want more so badly right now. He
smiled, but this time without humor. It had all seemed so easy at first.

Nancy had been in Paris at fourteen before “business reverses” of the
kind that mild, capable-looking men like Mr. Ellicott seem to attract,
as a gingerbread man draws wasps, when they are about fifty, had reduced
him to a position as chief bookkeeper and taken Nancy out of her
first year in Farmington. Oliver had spent nine months on a graduate
scholarship in Paris and Provence in 1919. Both had friends there and
argued long playful hours planning just what sort of a magnificently
cheap apartment on the _Rive Gauche_ they would have when they went
back.

For they were going back--they had been brilliantly sure of it--Oliver
had only to finish his novel that was so much better already than any
novel Nancy had ever read--sell a number of copies of it that seemed
absurdly small in proportion to the population of America--and then they
could live where they pleased and Oliver could compose Great Works
and Nancy get ahead with her very real and delicate talent for etching
instead of having to do fashion-drawings of slinky simperers in Lucile
dresses or appetite-arousing paintings of great cans of tomato soup.
But that had been eight months ago. Vanamee and Company’s--the neat
vice-president talking to Oliver--“a young hustler has every chance in
the world of getting ahead here, Mr. Crowe. You speak French? Well,
we have been thinking for some time of establishing branch-offices in
Europe.” The chance of a stop-gap job in St. Louis for Nancy, where she
could be with her family for a while--she really ought to be with them a
couple of months at least, if she and Oliver were to be married so soon.
The hopeful parting in the Grand Central--“But, Nancy, you’re sure you
wouldn’t mind going across second-class?”

“Why Ollie, dear, how silly! Why, what would it matter?” “All right,
then, and remember, I’ll wire _just_ as soon as things really start to
break--”

And then for eight months, nothing at all but letters and letters,
except two times, once in New York, once in St. Louis, when both had
spent painful savings because they simply had to see each other again,
since even the best letters were only doll-house food you could look
at and wish you could eat--and both had tried so hard to make each
disappearing minute perfect before they had to catch trains again that
the effort left them tired as jugglers who have been balancing too
many plates and edgy at each other for no cause in the world except the
unfairness that they could only have each other now for so short a time.
And the people, the vast unescapable horde of the dull-but-nice or
the merely dull who saw in their meetings nothing either particularly
spectacular or pitiful or worth applause.

And always after the parting, a little crippled doubt tapping its
crutches along the alleys of either mind. “Do I _really?_ Because if I
do, how can I be so tired sometimes with her, with him? And why can’t I
say more and do more and be more when he, when she? And everybody says.
And they’re older than we are--mightn’t it be true? And--” And then,
remorsefully, the next day, all doubt burnt out by the clear hurt of
absence. “Oh how could I! When it is real--when it is like that--when it
is the only thing worth while in the world!”

But absence and meetings of this sort told on them inescapably, and both
being, unfortunately, of a rather high-strung intelligence and youth,
recognized it, no matter how much consciousness might deny it, and
wondered sometimes, rather pitiably, why they couldn’t be always at one
temperature, like lovers in poetry, and why either should ever worry
or hurt the other when they loved. Any middle-aged person could and
did tell them that they were now really learning something about
love--omitting the small fact that Pain, though he comes with the
highest literary recommendations is really not the wisest teacher of
all in such matters--all of which helped the constant nervous and
psychological strain on both as little as a Latin exorcism would help
a fever. For the very reason that they wished to be true in their love,
they said things in their letters that a spoken word or a gesture would
have explained in an instant but that no printed alphabet could; and
so they often hurt each other while meaning and trying to help all they
could.

Not quite as easy as it had seemed at first--oh, not on your life not,
thought Oliver, rousing out of a gloomy muse. And then there was the
writing he wanted to do--and Nancy’s etching--“our damn careers” they
had called them--but those _were_ the things they did best--and neither
had had even tolerable working conditions recently--

Well, sufficient to the day was the evil thereof--that was one of those
safe Bible-texts you seemed to find more and more use for the older you
grew. Bible-texts. It was lucky tomorrow was Sunday when slaves of the
alarm-clock had peace. Oliver straightened his shoulders unconsciously
and turned back to the blank paper. He did love Nancy. He did love
Nancy. That was all that counted.

  “Oh, felicitous Nancy!
  Your letter was--”



VIII

The water was a broken glass of blue, sunstruck waves--there were few
swimmers in it where the two friends went in next morning, for the beach
proper with its bath-houses and float was nearly a quarter of a mile
down. Oliver could see Margaret’s red cap bobbing twenty yards out as he
tried the water cautiously with curling toes, and, much farther out, a
blue cap and the flash of an arm going suddenly under. Mrs. Severance,
the friend Louise had brought out for the week-end, he supposed; she
swam remarkably for a woman. He swam well enough himself and couldn’t
give her two yards in the hundred. Ted stood beside him, both tingling a
little at the fresh of the salt air. “Wow!” and they plunged.

A mock race followed for twenty yards--then Oliver curved off to duck
Margaret, already screaming and paddling at his approach, while Ted kept
on.

He swam face deep, catching short breaths under the crook of his arm,
burying himself in the live blue running sparkle, every muscle stretched
as if he were trying to rub all the staleness that can come to the mind
and the restless pricklings that will always worry the body clean from
him, like a snake’s cast skin, against the wet rough hands of the water.
There--it was working--the flesh was compact and separate no longer--he
felt it dissolve into the salt push of spray--become one with that long
blue body of wave that stretched fluently radiant for miles and miles
till it too was no more identity but only sea, receiving the sun,
without thought, without limbs, without pain. He sprinted with the last
breath he had in him to annihilation in that light lustrous firmament.
Then his flung-out hand struck something firm and smooth. With the
momentary twinge of a jarred toe, he stopped in the middle of a stroke,
grabbed at the firm thing unthinkingly, felt it slip away from him, trod
water and came up gasping.

“Oh, I’m _horribly_ sorry!” Gurgle and choke at water gone the wrong
way. “Honestly--what a dumb-bell trick! but I didn’t see you at _all_
and with the whole Sound to swim in I thought I was safe--”

He rubbed the water out of his eyes. A woman in a blue cap. Pretty,
too--not one of the pretty kind that look like drenched paper-dolls in
swimming.

“Don’t apologize--it’s all my fault, really. I should have heard you
coming, I suppose, but I was floating and my ears were under water--and
this cap! You did scare me a little, though; I didn’t know there was
anyone else in miles--”

She smiled frankly. Ted got another look at her and decided that pretty
was hardly right. Beautiful, perhaps, but you couldn’t tell with her
hair that way under her cap.

“You’re Mr. Billett, aren’t you? Louise said last night that her brother
was bringing a friend over Sunday. She also said that she’d introduce
us--but we seem to have done that.”

“Rather. Introduction by drowning. The latest cleverness in Newport
circles--see ‘Mode.’ And you’re Mrs. Severance.”

“Yes. Nice water.”

“Perfect.”

A third look--a fairly long one--left Ted still puzzled. Age--thirty?
thirty-five? Swims perfectly. On “Mode.” Wide eyes, sea-blue,
sea-changing. An odd nose that succeeded in being beautiful in spite of
itself. A rather full small mouth, not loose with sense nor rigid with
things controlled, but a mouth that would suck like a bee at the last
and tiniest drop of any physical sweet which the chin and the eyes had
once decided to want. The eyes measure, the mouth asks, the cleft chin
finds the way. A face neither content, nor easily to be contented--in
repose it is neither happy nor unhappy but only matured. Louise’s
friend--that was funny--Louise had such an ideal simplicity of mind.
Well--

“If you float--after a while you don’t know quite where you’re
floating,” said Mrs. Severance’s voice detachedly.

Ted made no answer but turned over, spreading out his arms. For a few
moments they lay like corpses on the blue swelling round of the water
looking straight through infinite distance into the thin faint vapor of
the sky.

“Yes, I see what you mean.”

“We might be clouds, almost, mightn’t we?” with a slow following note of
laughter.

Ted looked deeper into the sky, half-closing his eyelids. It seemed
to take his body from him completely, to leave him nothing but a naked
soothed consciousness, rising and falling, a petal on a swinging bough,
in the heart of blue quietude like the quiet of an open place in a
forest empty with evening.

“Clouds,” said Mrs. Severance’s voice, turning the word to a sound
breathed lightly through the curled and husky gold of a forest-horn.

Through the midst of his sea-drowsiness a queer thought came to
Ted. This had happened before, in sleep perhaps, in a book he had
read--Oliver’s novel, possibly, he thought and smiled. Lying alone on
a roof of blue water, and yet not lying alone, for there was that slow
warm voice that talked from time to time and came into the mind on
tiptoe like the creeping of soft-shoed, hasteless, fire. You stretched
your hands to the fire and let it warm you and soon your whole body was
warm and pleased and alive. That was when you were alive past measure,
when all of you had been made warm as a cat fed after being hungry,
and the cat arose from its warmth and went walking on velvet paws,
stretching sleek legs, sleek body, slowly and exquisitely under the
firelight, heavy with warmth, but ready at the instant signal of the
small burning thing in its mind to turn like a black butterfly and dance
a slow seeking dance with the shadows of the fire that flickered like
leaves in light wind, desirable, impalpable and wavering, never to be
quite torn down from the wall and eaten and so possessed. But there was
an odd thirsty satisfaction in trying to tear the shadows.

Fantastic. He had not been so fantastic for a long time.

“And tomorrow there’s ‘Mode.’ And fashion-plates. _And_ Greenwich
Villagers,” said the voice of Mrs. Severance. He made some reply
impatiently, disliking the sound of his own voice--hers fitted with the
dream. When had he been this before?

The Morte d’Arthur--the two with a sword between.

He sank deeper, deeper, into the glow of that imagined firelight--the
flame was cooler than water to walk through--that time he had almost
taken a turning shadow into his hand. The sword between--only here there
was no sword. If he reached out his hand he knew just how the hand that
he touched would feel, cool and firm, like that flame. Cool and silent.

There must have been something, somewhere, to make him remember....

He remembered.

A minute later Oliver had splashed up to them, shouting “A rescue! A
rescue! Guests Drown While Host Looks On Smilingly! What’s the matter,
Ted, you look as if you wanted to turn into a submarine? Got cramp?”



IX

Mrs. Crowe relaxed a little for the first tired minute of her day.
Sunday dinner was nearly over, and though, in one way, the best meal in
the week for her because all her children were sure to be at home,
it was apt to be pure purgatory on a hot day, with Sheba dawdling and
grumbling and Rosalind spilling pea-soup on her Sunday dress, and
Aunt Elsie’s deafness increased by the weather to the point of mild
imbecility.

She had been a little afraid today, especially with two guests and the
grandchildren rampant after church, and the extra leaf in the table that
squeezed Colonel Crowe almost into the sideboard and herself nearly out
of the window and made the serving of a meal a series of passings of
over-hot plates from hand to hand, exposed to the piracies of Jane
Ellen. But it had gone off better than she could have hoped. Colonel
Crowe had not absent-mindedly begun to serve vegetables with a teaspoon,
Aunt Elsie had not dissolved in tears and tottered away from the table
at some imagined rudeness of Dickie’s, and Jane Ellen had not once had a
chance to take off her drawers.

“Ice tea!” said the avid voice of Jane Ellen in her ear. “Ice tea!”

Mrs. Crowe filled the glass and submitted a request for “please”
 mechanically. She wondered, rather idly, if she would spend her time in
purgatory serving millions of Jane Ellens with iced tea.

“Ahem!” That was Colonel Crowe. “But you should have known us in the
days of our greatness, Mrs. Severance. When I was king of Estancia--”

“I’d rather have you like this, Colonel Crowe, really. I’ve always
wanted big families and never had one to live in--”

“Heard from Nancy recently, Oliver?” from Margaret, slightly satiric.

“Why yes, Margie, now and then. Not as often as you’ve heard from Stu
Winthrop probably but--”

“Motha, can I have some suga on my booberrish? Motha, can I have some
suga on my booberrish? Motha--_peesh!_”

“Oh, hush a minute, Rosalind dear. I don’t know, Oliver. I’ll speak
to Mr. Field about it if you like. I should think they’d take little
sketches like a couple of those Nancy showed you--though they aren’t
quite smart-alecky enough for ‘Mode’--” “Grandfather, Grandfather! How
old would you be if you were as old as Methusaleh? Are you older than he
is? _Grandfather!_”

Entrance and exit of a worried Sheba with the empty dish of blueberries,
marred only by Jane Ellen’s sudden cries of “Stop thief!”

Mrs. Crowe tried to think a little ahead. Tomorrow. Ice. Butter.
Laundry. Oliver’s breakfast early again. Louise--poor Louise--two years
and a half since Clifford Lychgate died. How curious life was; how
curious and careless and inconsecutive. The thought of how much she
hoped Oliver’s novel would succeed and the question as to whether the
Thebes grocer who delivered by motor-truck would be cheaper than the
similar Melgrove bandit in the long run mixed uneasily in her mind.

Rosalind had seemed droopy that morning--more green crab-apples
probably. Aunt Elsie’s gout. Oliver’s marriage--she had been so relieved
about Nancy ever since she had met her, though it had been hard to
reconcile domestic virtues with Nancy’s bobbed hair. She would make
Oliver happy, though, and that was the main thing. She was really
sweet--a sweet girl. Long engagements. Too bad, too bad. Something
_must_ be done about the stair carpet, the children were tearing it to
pieces. “Ice tea! Ice tea!”

“No, Jane Ellen.”

“Yash.”

“No, darling.”

“Peesh yash?”

“No. Now be a good little girl and run out and play quietly, not right
in the middle of the broiling sun.”

“And so Lizzie said, ‘Very well, but if I do take that medicine my death
will be wholly on your responsibility!’” with a sense of climax.

“But I really would like to, Mrs. Severance, if you can ever spare the
time.”

Ted and Louise’s friend seemed to be getting along very well. That was
nice--so often Oliver’s friends and Louise’s didn’t. It seemed odd that
Mrs. Severance should be working on “Mode”--surely a girl of her obvious
looks and intelligence left with no children to support--some nice
man--A lady, too, by her voice, though there was a trifle of something--

She only hoped Mrs. Severance didn’t think them all too crowded
and noisy. It was a little hard on the three children to have such
an--intimate--home when they brought friends.

“I think we’d better have coffee out on the porch, don’t you?” That
meant argument with Sheba later but an hour’s cool and talk without
having to shout across the dear little children was worth the argument.

Everybody got up, Ted being rather gallant to Mrs. Severance. Oliver
looked worried today, worried and tired. She hoped it wasn’t about Nancy
and the engagement. What a miserable thing money was to make so much
difference.

“Mrs. Severance--”

“Mr. Billett--”

Louise’s friend was certainly attractive. That wonderful red-gold
hair--“setter color” her sister had always called it of her own. She
must write her sister. Mrs. Severance--an odd name. She rather wished,
though, that her face wouldn’t turn faintly hard like that sometimes.

“No, Dickie. No chocolate unless your mother says you can have it. No,
Rosalind, if mother says not, you _certainly_ cannot go over and play at
the Rogers’,--they have a paralytic grandmother who is very nervous.”

Well, that was over. And now, for a few brief instants there would be
quiet and a chance to relax and really see something of Oliver. Mrs.
Crowe started moving slowly towards the door. Ted and Mrs. Severance
blocked the way, talking rather intimately, she thought, for people who
had only known each other a few hours; but then that was the modern way.
Then Ted saw her and seemed to wake up with a jump from whatever mild
dream possessed him, and Mrs. Severance turned toward her.

“It’s so _comfortable_ being out here, always,” she said very naturally
and kindly, but Mrs. Crowe did not reply at once to the pretty speech.
Instead she flushed deeply and bent over something small and white on
the chair with the dictionary in it that had been next to hers. Jane
Ellen had finally succeeded in taking off her drawers.



X

Ted and Oliver were down at the beach at Southampton two Sundays
later--week-end guests of Peter Piper--the three had been classmates
at Yale and the friendship had not lapsed like so many because Peter
happened to be rich and Ted and Oliver poor. And then there was always
Elinor, Peter’s sister--Ted seemed, to Oliver’s amused vision, at least,
to be looking at Elinor with the hungry eyes of a man seeing a delicate,
longed-for dream made flesh just at present instead of a girl he had
known since she first put up her hair. How nice that would be if it
happened, thought Oliver, match-makingly--how very nice indeed! Best
thing in the world for Ted--and Elinor too--if Ted would only get away
from his curiously Puritan idea that a few minor lapses from New England
morality in France constituted the unpardonable sin, at least as far as
marrying a nice girl was concerned. He stretched back lazily, digging
elbows into the warm sand.

The day had really been too hot for anything more vigorous than “just
lying around in the sun like those funny kinds of lizards,” as Peter put
it, and besides, he and Oliver had an offensive-defensive alliance of
The Country’s Tiredest Young Business Men and insisted that their only
function in life was to be gently and graciously amused. And certainly
the spectacle about them was one to provide amusement in the extreme for
even the most mildly satiric mind.

It was the beach’s most crowded hour and the short strip of sand in
front of the most fashionable and uncomfortable place to bathe on Long
Island was gay as a patch of exhibition sweet-peas with every shade
of vivid or delicate color. It was a triumph of women--the whole
glittering, moving bouquet of stripes and patterns and tints that
wandered slowly from one striped parasol-mushroom to the next--the
men, in their bathing suits or white flannels seemed as unimportant if
necessary furniture as slaves in an Eastern court. The women dominated,
from the jingle of the bags in the hands of the dowagers and the faint,
protesting creak of their corsets as they picked their way as delicately
as fat, gorgeous macaws across the sand, to the sound of their
daughters’ voices, musical as a pigeon-loft, as they chattered
catchwords at each other and their partners, or occasionally, very
occasionally, dipped in for a three-minute swim. Moreover, and
supremely, it was a triumph of ritual, and such ritual as reminded
Oliver a little of the curious, unanimous and apparently meaningless
movements of a colony of penguins, for the entire assemblage had arrived
around, twelve o’clock and by a quarter past one not one of them would
be left. That was law as unwritten and unbreakable as that law which
governs the migratory habits of wild geese. And within that little more
than an hour possibly one-third of them would go as far as wetting
their hands in the water--all the rest had come for the single reason of
seeing and being seen. It was all extremely American and, on the whole,
rather superb, Oliver thought as he and Peter moved over nearer to the
parasol that sheltered Elinor and Ted.

“I wish it was Egypt,” said Peter languidly. “Any more peppermints left,
El? No--well, Ted never could restrain himself when it came to food. I
wish it was Egypt,” he repeated, making Elinor’s left foot a pillow for
his head.

“Well, it’s hot enough,” from Oliver, dozingly. “Ah--oo--it’s _hot_!”

“I know, but just think,” Peter chuckled. “Clothes,” he explained
cryptically, “Mrs. Willamette in a Cleopatra nightie--what sport! And
besides, I should make a magnificent Egyptian. Magnificent.” He yawned
immensely. “In the first place, of course, I should paint myself a
brilliant orange--”

The Egyptians. An odd wonder rose in Ted--a wonder as to whether one
of those stripped and hook-nosed slaves of the bondage before Moses had
ever happened to stand up for a moment to wipe the sweat out of his eyes
before he bent again to his task of making bricks without straw and seen
a princess of the Egyptians carried along past the quarries.

“Tell us a story, El,” from Oliver in the voice of one who is
sleep-walking. “A nice quiet story--the Three Bears or Giant the Jack
Killer--oh heaven, I _must_ be asleep--but you know, anything like
that--”

“You really want a story?” Elinor’s voice was reticently mocking. “A
story for good little boys?”

“Oh, _yes!_” from Peter, his clasped hands stretched toward her in
an attitude of absurd supplication. “All in nice little words of one
syllable or we won’t understand.”

“Well, once there were three little girls named Elsie, Lacie and Tillie
and they lived in the bottom of a well.”



[ILLUSTRATION: “WELL, ONCE THERE WERE THREE LITTLE GIRLS”] “What _kind_
of a well?” Oliver had caught the cue at once.

“A treacle well--”

       *       *       *       *       *

She went on with the Dormouse’s Tale, but Ted, for once, hardly heard
her--his mind was too busy with its odd, Egyptological dream.

The princess who looked like Elinor. Her slaves would come first--a fat
bawling eunuch, all one black glisten like new patent-leather, striking
with a silver rod to clear dogs and crocodiles and Israelites out of the
way. Then the litter--and a flash between curtains blown aside for an
instant--and Hook Nose gazing and gazing--all the fine fighting curses
of David on the infidel, that he had muttered sourly under breath all
day, blowing away from him like sand from the face of a sphinx.

Pomp sounding in brass and cries all around the litter like the boasting
color of a trumpet--but in the litter not pomp but fineness passing.
Fineness of youth untouched, from the clear contrast of white skin and
crow-black hair to the hands that had the little stirrings of moon-moths
against the green robe. Fineness of mind that will not admit the
unescapable minor dirts of living, however much it may see them, a mind
temperate with reticence and gentleness, seeing not life itself but its
own delighted dream of it, a heart that had had few shocks as yet, and
never the ones that the heart must be mailed or masked to withstand. The
thing that passed had been continually sheltered, exquisitely guarded
from the stronger airs of life as priests might guard a lotus, and yet
it was neither tenderly unhealthy nor sumptuously weak. A lotus--that
was it--and Hook Nose stood looking at the lotus--and because it was
innocent he filled his eyes with it. And then it passed and its music
went out of the mind.

“_Ted_!”

“What? What? Oh, yeah--sorry, Elinor, I wasn’t paying proper attention.”

“You mean you were asleep, you big cheese!” from Peter.

“I wasn’t--just thinking,” and seeing that this only brought raucous
mirth from both Peter and Oliver, “Oh, shut up, you apes! Were you
asking me something, El?”

It was rather a change to come back from Elinor in scarab robes being
carried along in a litter to Elinor sitting beside him in a bathing
suit. But hardly an unpleasant change.

“I’ve forgotten how it goes on--the Dormouse--after ‘Well in.’ Do you
remember?”

“Nope. Look it up when we get back. And anyhow--” “What?”

“Game called for to-day. The Lirrups have started looking
important--that means it’s about ten minutes of, they always leave on
the dot. Well--” and Peter rose, scattering sand. “We must obey our
social calendar, my prominent young friends--just think how awful it
would be if we were the last to go. Race you half-way to the float and
back, Ted.”

“You’re on,” and the next few minutes were splashingly athletic.

Going back to the bath-house, though, Ted laughed at himself rather
whimsically. That extraordinary day-dream of the slave and the
Elinor Princess! It helped sometimes, to make pictures of the very
impossible--even of things as impossible as that. If Elinor had only
been older before the war came along and changed so much.

He saw another little mental photograph, the kind of photograph, he
mused, that sleekly shabby Frenchmen slip from under views of the
Vendome Column and Napoleon’s Tomb when they are trying to sell tourists
picture post-cards outside the Café de la Paix. Judged by American
standards the work would be called rather frank. It was all
interior--the interior of a room in a Montmartre hotel--and there were
two people in it to help out the composition--and the face of one seemed
somehow to be rather deathly familiar--

That, and Elinor. Why, Hook Nose could “reform” all the rest of his
life in accordance with the highest dictionary standards--and still he
wouldn’t be fit to look at his princess, even from inside a cage.

Also, if you happened to be of a certain analytic temperament you could
see what was happening to yourself all the while quite plainly--oh, much
too plainly!--and yet that seemed to make very little difference in its
going on happening. There was Mrs. Severance, for instance. He had been
seeing quite a good deal of Mrs. Severance lately.

“Oh, Ted!” from Peter next door. “Snap it up, old keed, or we’ll all of
us be late for lunch.”

They had just sat down to lunch and Peter was complaining that
the whipped cream on the soup made him feel as if he were eating
cotton-batting, when a servant materialized noiselessly beside Oliver’s
chair.

“Telephone for you, Mr. Crowe. Western Union calling.”

Oliver jumped up with suspicious alacrity. “Oh, love, love, love!”
 crooned Peter. “Oh, love, love, love!” Oliver flushed. “Don’t swipe all
my butter, you simple cynic!” He knew what it was, of course.

“This is Oliver Crowe talking. Will you give me the telegram?”

Nancy and Oliver, finding Sunday mails of a dilatory unsatisfactoriness,
had made a compact to use the wire on that day instead. And even now
Oliver never listened to the mechanical buzz of Central’s voice in his
ear without a little pulse of the heart. It seemed to bring Nancy nearer
than letters could, somehow. Nancy had an imperial contempt for boiling
down attractive sentences to the necessary ten or twenty words. This
time, though, the telegram was short.

“Mr. Oliver Crowe, care Peter Piper, Southampton,” clicked Central
dispassionately. “I hate St. Louis. I would give anything in the world
if we could only see each other for twenty-four hours. Love. Signed,
Nancy.”

And Oliver, after hanging up the receiver, went back to the dining-room
with worry barking and running around his mind like a spoiled puppy,
wondering savagely why so many rocking-chair people took a _crêpey_
pleasure in saying it was good for young people in love to have to wait.



XI

Tea for two at the Gondolier, that newest and quotation-marked
“Quaintest” of Village tea rooms. The chief points in the Gondolier’s
“quaintness” seem to be that it is chopped up into as many little
partitions as a roulette wheel and that all food has to be carried up
from a cellar that imparts even to orange marmalade a faint persuasive
odor of somebody else’s wash. Still, during the last eight months, the
Gondolier has been a radical bookstore devoted to bloody red pamphlets,
a batik shop full of strange limp garments ornamented with decorative
squiggles, and a Roumanian Restaurant called “The Brodska” whose menu
seemed to consist almost entirely of old fish and maraschino cherries.

The wispy little woman from Des Moines who conducts the Gondolier at
present in a series of timid continual flutters at actually leading the
life of the Bohemian untamed, and who gives all the young hungry-looking
men extra slices of toast because any one of them might be Vachel
Lindsay in disguise, will fail in another six weeks and then the
Gondolier may turn into anything from a Free Verse Tavern to a Meeting
Hall for the Friends of Slovak Freedom. But at present, the tea is much
too good for the price in spite of its inescapable laundry tang,
and there is a flat green bowl full of Japanese iris bulbs in the
window--the second of which pleases Mrs. Severance and the first Ted.

Besides like most establishments on the verge of bankruptcy, it is such
a quiet place to talk--the only other two people in it are a boy with
startled hair and an orange smock and a cigaretty girl called Tommy, and
she is far too busy telling him that that dream about wearing a necklace
of flying-fish shows a dangerous inferiority complex even to comment
caustically on strangers from uptown who _will_ intrude on the dear
Village.

“Funny stuff--dreams,” says Ted uneasily, catching at overheard phrases
for a conversational jumping-off place. His mind, always a little on
edge now with work and bad feeding, has been too busy since they came in
comparing Rose Severance with Elinor Piper, and wondering why, when one
is so like a golden-skinned August pear and the other a branch of winter
blackberries against snow just fallen, it is not as good but somehow
warmer to think of the first against your touch than the second, to
leave him wholly at ease.

“Yes--funny stuff,” Mrs. Severance’s voice is musically quiet. “And
then you tell them to people who pretend to know all about what they
mean--and then--” She shrugs shoulders at the Freudian two across the
shoulder-high partition.

“But you don’t believe in all this psycho-analysis tosh, do you?”

She hesitates. “A little, yes. Like the old woman and ghosts. I may not
believe in it but I’m afraid of it, rather.”

She gives him a steady look--her eyes go deep. It is not so much the
intensity of the look as its haltingness that makes warmth go over him.

“Shall we tell our dreams--the favorite ones, I mean? Play fair if we
do, remember,” she adds slowly.

“Not if you’re really afraid.”

“I? But it’s just because I am afraid that I really should, you know.
Like going into a dark room when you don’t want to.”

“But they can’t be as scary as _that_, surely.” Ted’s voice is a little
false. Both are watching each other intently now--he with a puzzled
sense of lazy enveloping firelight.

“Well, shall I begin? After all this _is_ tea in the Village.”

“I should be very much interested indeed, Mrs. Severance,” says Ted
rather gravely. “Check!” “How official you sound--almost as if you had
a lot of those funny little machines all the modern doctors use and were
going to mail me off to your pet sanatorium at once because you’d asked
me what green reminded me of and I said ‘cheese’ instead of ‘trees.’
And anyhow, I never have any startling dreams--only silly ones--much too
silly to tell--”

“Please go on.” Ted’s voice has really become quite clinical.

“Oh very well. They don’t count when you only have them once--just when
they keep coming back and back to you--isn’t that it?”

“I believe so.”

Mrs. Severance’s eyes waver a little--her mouth seeking for the proper
kind of dream.

“It’s not much but it comes quite regularly--the most punctual,
old-fashioned-servant sort of a dream.

“It doesn’t begin with sleep, you know--it begins with waking. At
least it’s just as if I were in my own bed in my own apartment and then
gradually I started to wake. You know how you can feel that somebody
else is in the room though you can’t see them--that’s the feeling.
And, of course being a normal American business woman, my first idea
is--burglars. And I’m very cowardly for a minute. Then the cowardice
passes and I decide to get up and see what it is.

“It _is_ somebody else--or something--but nobody I think that I ever
really knew. And at first I don’t want to walk toward it--and then I do
because it keeps pulling me in spite of myself. So I go to it--hands out
so I won’t knock over things.

“And then I touch it--or him--or her--and I’m suddenly very, very happy.

“That’s all.

“And now, Dr. Billett, what would you say of my case?”

Ted’s eyes are glowing--in the middle of her description his heart has
begun to knock to a hidden pulse, insistent and soft as the drum of
gloved fingers on velvet. He picks words carefully.

“I should say--Mrs. Severance--that there was something you needed and
wanted and didn’t have at present. And that you would probably have
it--in the end.”

She laughs a little. “Rather cryptic, isn’t that, doctor? And you’d
prescribe?”

“Prescribe? ‘It’s an awkward matter to play with souls.’”

“‘And trouble enough to save your own,’” she completes the quotation.
“Yes, that’s true enough--though I’m sorry you can’t even tell me to use
this twice a day in half a glass of water and that other directly after
each meal. I think I’ll have to be a little more definite when it comes
to your turn--if it does come.”

“Oh it will.” But instead of beginning, he raises his eyes to her again.
This time there is a heaviness like sleep on both, a heaviness that
draws both together inaudibly and down, and down, as if they were
sinking through piled thickness on thickness of warm, sweet-scented
grass. Odd faces come into both minds and vanish as if flickered off a
film--to Rose Severance, a man narrow and flat as if he were cut out of
thin grey paper, talking, talking in a voice as dry and rattling as a
flapping windowblind of their “vacation” together and a house with
a little garden where she can sew and he can putter around,--to Ted,
Elinor Piper, the profile pure as if it were painted on water, passing
like water flowing from the earth in springs, in its haughty temperance,
its retired beauty, its murmurous quiet--other faces, some trembling
as if touched with light flames, some calm, some merely grotesque with
longing or too much pleasure--all these pass. A great nearness, fiercer
and more slumbrous than any nearness of body takes their place. It wraps
the two closer and closer, a spider spinning a soft web out of petals,
folding the two with swathes and swathes of its heavy, fragrant silk.

“Oh--mine--isn’t anything,” says Ted rather unsteadily, after the
moment. “Only looking at firelight and wanting to take the coals in my
hands.”

Rose’s voice is firmer than his but her mouth is still moved with
content at the thing it has desired being brought nearer.

“I really can’t prescribe on as little evidence as that,” she says with
music come back to her voice in the strength of a running wave. “I can
only repeat what you told me. That there was something you needed--and
wanted”--she is mocking now--“and didn’t have at present. And that you
would probably--what was it?--oh yes--have it, in the end.”

The wispy little woman has crept up to Ted’s elbow with an illegible
bill. Rose has spoken slowly to give her time to get there--it is always
so much better to choose your own most effective background for really
affecting scenes.

“And now I really must be getting back,” she cuts in briskly, her
fingers playing with a hat that certainly needs no rearrangement, when
Ted, after absent-mindedly paying the bill, is starting to speak in the
voice of one still sleep-walking.

“But it _was_ delightful, Mr. Billett--I love talking about myself and
you were really very sweet to listen so nicely.” She has definitely
risen. Ted must, too. “We must do it again some time soon--I’m going to
see if there aren’t any of those books with long German names drifting
around ‘Mode’ somewhere so that I’ll be able to simply stun you with my
erudition the next time we talk over dreams.”

They are at the door now, she guiding him toward it as imperceptibly and
skillfully as if she controlled him by wireless.

“And it isn’t fair of me to let you give all the parties--it
simply isn’t. Couldn’t you come up to dinner in my little apartment
sometime--it really isn’t unconventional, especially for anyone who’s
once seen my pattern of an English maid--”

Sunlight and Minetta Lane again--and whatever Ted may want to say out
of his walking trance--this is certainly no place where any of it can be
said.



XII

Oliver Crowe, at his desk in the copy-department of Vanamee and Co.’s,
has been spending most of the afternoon twiddling pencils and reading
and rereading two letters out of his pocket instead of righteously
thinking up layouts for the new United Steel Frame Pulley Campaign. He
realizes that the layouts are important--that has been brought to his
attention already by several pink memoranda from Mr. Délier, the head
of the department--but an immense distaste for all things in general and
advertising in particular has overwhelmed him all day. He looks
around the big, brightly lighted room with a stupefied sort of
loathing--advertising does not suit him--he is doing all he can at it
because of Nancy--but he simply does not seem to get the hang of the
thing even after eight months odd and he is conscious of the fact that
the Powers that be are already looking at him with distrustful eyes,
in spite of his occasional flashes of brilliance. If he could only get
_out_ of it--get into something where his particular kind of mind and
training would be useful--oh well--he grunts and turns back to his
private affairs.

The letter from Easten of Columbiac Magazines--kindly enough--but all
hope of selling the serial rights of his novel gone glimmering because
of it--Easten was the last chance, the last and the best. “If you could
see your way to making short stories out of the incidents I have named,
I should be very much interested--” but even so, two short stories
won’t bring in enough to marry on, even if he can do them to Easten’s
satisfaction--and the novel couldn’t come out as a book now till late
spring--and Oliver has too many friends who dabble in writing to have
any more confidence in book royalties than he would have in systems for
beating the bank at roulette. Well, _that’s_ over--and a year’s work
with it--and all the dreams he and Nancy had of getting married at once.

Those pulley layouts have to be fixed up sometime. What can you say
about a pulley--what _can_ you say? “The United Steel Frame Pulley--Oh
Man, There’s a Hog for Work!” Oliver turns the cheap phrase in his mind,
hating its shoddiness, hating the fact that such shoddiness is the only
stuff with which he can deal.

Sanely considered, he supposes he hasn’t any business using up a month’s
meagre savings and three small checks for poems that he has hoarded
since April in going out to St. Louis Friday. Mr. Alley wasn’t too
pleased with letting him take Saturday and half Monday off to do it,
too. But then there was that telegram ten days ago. “I’d give anything
in the world if we could only see each other--” and after other letters
unsatisfactorily brief, the letter that came Monday “I have such grand
news, Ollie dear, at least it may be grand if it works out--but oh,
dear, I do want to see you about it without tangling it up in letters
that don’t really explain. Can’t you make it--even a few hours would be
long enough to talk it all over--and I do so want to see you and really
talk! Please wire me, if you can.”

Grand news--what kind he wondered--and dully thought that he couldn’t
see her, of course, and then suddenly knew that he must. After all,
there didn’t seem to be much use in saving for the sake of saving when
all the saving you could possibly do didn’t bring you one real inch
nearer to what you really wanted. _Apres moi le deluge--apres ca
le deluge_--it might even come to that this time, they were both so
tired--and he viewed the prospect as a man mortally hurt might view the
gradual failing of sun and sky above him, with hopelessness complete
as a cloud in that sky, but with heart and brain too beaten now to be
surprised with either agony or fear. They must see each other--they
were neither of them quiet people who could love forever at a distance
without real hope. Great Lord, if he and Nancy could ever have one
definite basis to work on, one definite hope of money in the future no
matter how far off that was--But the present uncertainty--They couldn’t
keep on like this--no two people in the world could be expected to keep
on.

Nancy. He is seeing Nancy, the way she half-lifts her head when she has
been teasing and suddenly becomes remorseful and wants him to know how
much she does love him instead.



XIII

A hot night in the Pullman---too hot to sleep in anything but a series
of uneasy drowsings and wakings. Smell of blankets and cinders and
general unwashedness--noise of clacketing wheels and a hysterical
whistle--anyhow each sweaty hour brings St. Louis and Nancy nearer.
St. _Nancy_, St. _Nancy_, St. _Nancy_, says the sleepless racket of the
wheels, but the peevish electric fan at the end of the corridor keeps
buzzing to itself like a fly caught in a trap. “And then I got married
you see--and then I got married you see--and when you get married you
aren’t a free lance--you aren’t a free lance--you’re _settled_!”

It will have to be pretty grand news indeed that Nancy has to make up
for this last week and the buzz of the electric fan, thinks Oliver,
twisting from one side of his stuffy berth to the other like an uneasy
sardine.



XIV

“More beans, Oliver,” says Mrs. Ellicott in a voice like thin syrup,
her “generous” voice. The generous voice is used whenever Mrs. Ellicott
wants to show herself a person of incredibly scrupulous fairness before
that bodiless assemblage of old women in black that constitute the They
who Say--and so it is used to Oliver nearly all the time.

“No thank you, Mrs. Ellicott.” Oliver manages to look at her politely
enough as he speaks but then his eyes go straight back to Nancy and
stay there as if they wished to be considered permanent attachments.
All Oliver has been able to realize for the last two hours is the mere
declarative fact that she is _there_.

“Nancy!”

“No, thanks, mother.”

And Nancy in her turn looks once swiftly at her mother, sitting there
at the end of the table like a faded grey sparrow whose feathers make it
uncomfortable. It isn’t feathers, though, really--its only Oliver.
Why can’t mother get reconciled to Oliver--why _can’t_ she--and if
she can’t, why doesn’t she come out and say so instead of trying to be
generous to Oliver when she doesn’t want to while he’s there and then
saying mean things when he’s away because she can’t help it?

“Stanley?”

“Why, no, my dear--no--yes, a few, perhaps--I might reconsider--only a
few, my dear,”--his voice does not do anything as definite as cease--it
merely becomes ineffectual as Mrs. Ellicott heaps his plate. He then
looks at the beans as if he hadn’t the slightest idea where they came
from but supposes as long as they are there they must be got away with
somehow, and starts putting them into his mouth as mechanically as if
they were pennies and he a slot-machine.

It is hot in the Ellicotts’ dining-room--the butter was only brought
in a little while ago, but already it is yellow mush. There are little
drops on the backs of Mr. Ellicott’s hands. Oliver wants to help Nancy
take away the dishes and bring in the fruit--they have started to make a
game out of it already when Mrs. Ellicott’s voice enforces order.

“No, Oliver. No, please. Please sit still. It is so seldom we have a
_guest_ that Nancy and I are apt to forget our _manners_--”

Oliver looks to Nancy for guidance, receives it and subsides into his
chair. That’s just the trouble, he thinks rather peevishly--if only
Mrs. Ellicott would stop acting as if he were a guest--and not exactly
a guest by choice at that but one who must be the more scrupulously
entertained in public, the less he is liked in private.

The fruit. Mrs. Ellicott apologizing for it--her voice implies that she
is quite sure Oliver doesn’t think it good enough for him but that
he ought to feel himself very lucky indeed that it isn’t his deserts
instead. Mr. Ellicott absent-mindedly squirting orange juice up his
sleeve. Oliver and Nancy looking at each other.

“Are you the same?” say both kinds of eyes, intent, absorbed with the
wish that has been starved small through the last three months, but now
grows again like a smoke-tree out of a magicked jar, “Really the same
and really loving me and really glad to be here?” But they can get no
proper sort of answer now--there are too many other Ellicotts around,
especially Mrs. Ellicott.

Dinner is over with coffee and cigarettes that Mrs. Ellicott has bought
for Oliver because no one shall ever say she failed in the smallest
punctilio of hospitality, though she offers them to him with a gesture
like that of a missionary returning his baked-mud idol to a Bushman too
far gone in sin to reclaim. Mr. Ellicott smoked cigarettes before his
marriage. For twenty years now he has been a contributing member of the
Anti-Tobacco League.

And now all that Oliver knows is that unless he can talk to Nancy soon
and alone, he will start being very rude. It is not that he wants to be
rude--especially to Nancy’s family--but the impulse to get everyone but
Nancy away by any means from sarcasm to homicidal mania is as reasonless
and strong as the wish to be born. After all he and Nancy have not seen
each other wakingly for three months--and there is still her “grand
news” to tell, the grandness of which has seemed to grow more and more
dubious the longer she looked at Oliver. Now is the time for Mr. and
Mrs. Ellicott to disappear as casually and completely as clouds over the
edge of the sky and first of all, not to mention the fact that they are
going. But Mrs. Ellicott has far too much tact ever to be understanding.

She puts Mr. Ellicott’s hat on for him and takes his arm as firmly as
if she were police, and he accepts the grasp with the meekness of an
old offender who is not quite sure what particular crime he is being
arrested for this time but has an uncomfortable knowledge that it may be
any one of a dozen.

“Now we old people are going to leave you, children alone for a little
while” she announces, fair to the last, her voice sweeter than ever.
“We know you have such a great many important _affairs_ to talk
over--particularly the _splendid_ offer that has just come to Nancy--my
little girl hasn’t told you about it yet, has she, Oliver?’

“No, Mrs. Ellicott.”

“Well, her father and myself consider it quite _remarkable_ and we have
been _urging_--very _strongly_--her acceptance, though of course” this
with a glacé smile, “we realize that we are only her _parents_. And,
as Nancy knows, it has always been our dearest wish to have her decide
matters affecting her happiness entirely _herself_. But I feel sure that
when both of you have talked it _well_ over, we can trust you both to
come to a most _reasonable_ decision.” She breathes heavily and moves
with her appurtenance to the door, secure as an ostrich in the
belief that Oliver thinks her impartial, even affectionate. Her
conscientiousness gives her a good deal of applause for leaving the two
young people so soon when they have all one evening and another morning
to be together--but subconsciously she knows that she has done her best
by her recent little speech to make this talking-it-over a walk through
a field full of small pestilent burrs, for both Oliver and Nancy.
They say _au revoir_ very politely--all four--the door shuts on Mr.
Ellicott’s meek back.

Mrs. Ellicott is not very happy, going downstairs. She knows what has
undoubtedly happened the moment the door was shut--and a little twinge
of something very like the taste of sour grapes goes through her as she
thinks of those two young people so reprehensibly glad at being even for
the moment in each other’s arms.



XV

An hour later and still the grand news hasn’t been told. In fact very
little that Mrs. Ellicott would regard as either sensible or reasonable
has happened at all. Though they do not know it the conversation has
been oddly like that of two dried desert-travellers who have suddenly
come upon water and for quite a while afterwards find it hard to think
of anything else. But finally:

“Dearest, dearest, what was the grand news?” says Oliver half-drowsily.
“We must talk it over, dear, I suppose, I guess, oh, we must--oh, but
you’re so sweet--” and he relapses again into speechlessness.

They are close together, he and she now. Their lips meet--and meet--with
a sweet touch--with a long pressure--children being good to each
other--cloud mingling with gleaming cloud.

“Ollie dear.” Nancy’s voice comes from somewhere as far away and still
as if she were talking out of a star. “Stop kissing me. I can’t think
when you kiss me, I can only feel you be close. If you want to hear
about that news, that is,” she adds, her lips hardly moving.

All that Oliver wants to do is to hold her and be quiet--to make out of
the stuffy room, the nervous rushing of noise under the window, the air
exhausted with heat, a place in some measure peaceful, in some measure
retired, where they can lie under lucent peace for a moment as shells
lie in clear water and not be worried about anything any more. But
again, the time they are to have is too short--Oliver really must be
back Monday afternoon--already he is unpleasantly conscious of the
time-table part of his mind talking trains at him. He takes his arms
from around Nancy--she sits up rubbing her eyes with the back of her
hand as if to take the dream that was so glittering in them away now she
and Oliver have to talk business-affairs.

“Oh, my _hair_--lucky it’s bobbed, that’s all--I’d have lost all the
hairpins I ever had in it by now--Well, Ollie--”

Her hand goes over to his uneasily, takes hold. For a moment the dream
comes back and she forgets entirely what she was going to say.

“Oh _dear_!”

“Nancy, Nancy, Nancy!”

But she will be firm about their talking. “No, we mustn’t really, we
mustn’t, or I can’t tell you anything at all. Well, it’s this.

“I didn’t tell you about it at all--didn’t even imagine it would come
to anything. But that old geology specimen Mrs. Winters knows the
art-editor of “The Bazaar” and she happened to say so once when she was
here being gloomy with mother, so I wormed a letter out of her to her
friend about me. And I sent some things in and the poor man seemed to be
interested--at least he said he wanted to see more--and then we started
having a real correspondence. Until finally--it was that Friday because
I wrote you the letter right away--he goes and sends me a letter saying
to come on to New York--that I can have a regular job with them if I
want to, and if they like my stuff well enough, after a couple of months
they’ll send me to Paris to do fashions over there and pay me a salary I
can more than live on and everything!”

Nancy cannot help ending with a good deal of triumph, though there is
anxiety behind the triumph as well. But to Oliver it seems as if the
floor had come apart under his feet.

When he has failed so ludicrously and completely, Nancy has succeeded
and succeeded beyond even his own ideas of success. She can go to Paris
and have all they ever planned together, now; it has all bent down to
her like an apple on a swinging bough, all hers to take, from lunch at
Prunier’s and sunset over the river to that perfect little apartment
they know every window of by heart--and he is no nearer it than he was
eight months ago. He has felt the pride in her voice and knows it as
most human and justified, but because he is young and unreasonable
that pride of hers hurts his own. And then there is something else. All
through what she was saying it was “I” that said, not “we.”

“That’s fine, Nancy,” he says uncertainly. “That’s certainly fine!”

But she knows by his voice in a second.

“Oh, Ollie, Ollie, of course I won’t take it if it makes you feel that
way, dear. Why, I wouldn’t do anything that would hurt you--but Ollie I
don’t see how this can, how this could change things any way at all. I
only thought it would bring things nearer--both of us getting jobs and
my having a Paris one and--”

Her voice might be anything else in the world, but it is not wholly
convinced. And its being sure beyond bounds is the only thing that could
possibly help Oliver. He puts his hands on her shoulders.

“I couldn’t do anything but tell you to take it, dearest, could I? When
it’s such a real chance?” He is hoping with illogical but none the less
painful desperation that she will deny him. But she nods instead.

“Well then, Nancy dear, listen. If you take it, we’ve got to face
things, haven’t we?”

She nods a little rebelliously.

“But why is it so _serious_, Ollie?” and again her voice is not true.

“You know. Because I’ve failed--God knows when I’ll make enough money
for us to get married now--with the novel gone bust and everything.
And I haven’t any right to keep you like this when I’m not sure of ever
being able to marry you--and when you’ve got a job like this and can
go right ahead on the things you’ve always been crazy to do. Nancy, you
_want_ to take it--even if it meant our not getting married for another
year and your being away--don’t you, don’t you? Oh, Nancy, you’ve _got_
to tell me--it’ll only bust everything we’ve had already if you don’t!”

And now they have come to a point of misunderstanding that only a trust
as unreasonable as belief in immortality will help. But that trust could
never be bothered with the truth of what it was saying at the
moment--it would have to reach into something deeper than any transitory
feeling--and they have an unlucky tradition of always trying to tell
each other what is exactly true. And so Nancy nods because she has to,
though she couldn’t bear to put what that means into words.

“Well, you take it. And I’m awful sorry we couldn’t make it go, dear.
I tried as hard as I could to make it go but I guess I didn’t have the
stuff, that’s all.”

He has risen now and his face seems curiously twisted--twisted as if
something hot and hurtful had passed over it and left it so that it
would always look that way. He can hardly bear to look at Nancy, but she
has risen and started talking hurriedly--fright, amazement, concern and
a queer little touch of relief all mixing in her voice.

“But Ollie, if you can’t _trust_ me about something as little as that.”

“It isn’t that,” he says beatenly and she knows it isn’t. And knowing,
her voice becomes suddenly frightened--the fright of a child who has let
something as fragile and precious as a vessel of golden glass slip out
of her hands.

“But, Ollie dear! But, Ollie, I never meant it that way. But Ollie, I
love you!”

He takes her in his arms again and they kiss long. This time though
there is no peace in the kiss, only the lost passion of bodies tired
beyond speech. “Do you love me, Nancy?”

Again she has to decide--and the truth that will not matter for more
than the hour wins. Besides, he has hurt her.

“Oh, Ollie, Ollie, yes, but--”

“You’re not sure any more?”

“It’s different.”

“It’s not being certain?”

“Not the way it was at first--but, Ollie, we’re neither of us the
same--”

“Then you _aren’t_ sure?”

“I can’t--I haven’t--oh, Ollie, I don’t know, I don’t know!”

“That means you know.”

Again the kiss but this time their lips only hurt against each
other--Oliver feels for a ghastly instant as if he were kissing Nancy
after she had died. It seems to him that everything in him has made
itself into a question as discordant and unanswered as the tearing cry
of a puppy baying the moon, struck out of his senses by that swimming
round silver above him, ineffably lustrous, ineffably removed, none of
it ever coming to touch him but light too pale to help at all. He is
holding a girl in his arms--he can feel her body against him--but it is
not Nancy he is holding--it never will be Nancy any more. He releases
her and starts walking up and down in a series of short, uneasy strides,
turning mechanically to keep out of the way of chairs. Words come out of
him, words he never imagined he could ever say, he thinks dizzily that
it would feel like this if he were invisibly bleeding to death--that
would come the same way in fiery spurts and pauses that tore at the
body.

“Don’t you see, dear, don’t you _see_? It’s been eight months now and
we aren’t any nearer getting married than we were at first and it isn’t
honest to say we will be soon any more--I can’t see any prospect--I’ve
failed in everything I thought would go--and we can’t get married on
my job for _years_--I’m not good enough at it--and I _won’t_ have you
hurt--I _won’t_ have you tied to me when it only means neither of us
doing what we want and both of us getting, older and our work not done.
Oh, I love you, Nancy--if there was any hope at all I’d go down on my
knees to ask you to keep on but there isn’t--they’ve beaten us--they’ve
beaten us--all the fat old people who told us we were too poor and
too young. All we do is go on like this both of us getting worked up
whenever we see each other and both of us hurting each other and nothing
happening--Oh, Nancy, I thought we could help each other always and now
we can’t even [Illustration: AND THEN THE QUEER MAN HAD GONE OUT OF THE
DOOR] a little any more. You remember when we promised that if either of
us stopping loving each other we’d tell?”

Nancy is very silent and rather white.

“Yes, Ollie.”

“Well, Nancy?”

“Well--”

They look at each other as if they were watching each other burn.

“Good-by darling, darling, darling!” says Ollie through lips like a
marionette’s.

Then Nancy feels him take hold of her again--the arms of somebody else
in Oliver’s body--and a cold mouth hurting her cheek--and still she
cannot speak. And then the queer man who was walking up and down so
disturbingly has gone out of the door.



XVI

Oliver finds himself walking along a long street in a city. It is not a
distinguished street by any means--there are neither plate-glass shops
nor ‘residences’ on it--just an ordinary street of little stores and
small houses and occasionally an apartment building named for a Pullman
car. In a good many houses the lights are out already--it is nearly
eleven o’clock and this part of St. Louis goes to bed early--only the
drugstores and the moving-picture theatres are still flaringly awake.
His eyes read the sign that he passes mechanically, “Dr. Edwin K.
Buffinton--Chiropractor,” “McMurphy and Kane’s,” “The Rossiter,” with
its pillars that look as if they had been molded out of marbled soap.

Thought. Memory. Pain. Pain pressing down on his eyeballs like an iron
thumb, twisting wires around his forehead tighter and tighter till it’s
funny the people he passes don’t see the patterns they make on his skin.

Somebody talking in his mind, quite steadily and flatly, repeating and
repeating itself like a piece of cheap music played over and over
again on a scratched phonograph record, talking in the voice that is
a composite of a dozen voices; a fat man comfortable on a club lounge
laying down the law as if he were carefully smearing the shine out
of something brilliant with a flaccid heavy finger; a thin sour woman
telling children playing together “don’t, don’t, don’t,” in the whine of
a nasty nurse.

“All for the best, you know--all for the best, we’re all of us sure of
that. Love doesn’t last--doesn’t last--doesn’t last--as good fish in
the sea as ever were caught out of it--nobody’s heart could break at
twenty-five. You think you’re happy and proud--you think you’re lovers
and friends--but that doesn’t last, doesn’t last, doesn’t last--none of
it lasts at all.”

If he only weren’t so _tired_ he could do something. But instead he
feels only as a man feels who has been drinking all day in the instant
before complete intoxication--his body is as distinct from him as if
it were walking behind him with his shadow--all the colors he sees seem
exaggeratedly dull or brilliant, he has little sense of distance, the
next street corner may be a block or a mile away, it is all the same,
his feet will take him there, his feet that keep going mechanically,
one after the other, one after the other, as if they marched to a clock.
There is no feeling in him that stays long enough to be called by any
definite word--there is only a streaming parade of sensations like blind
men running through mist, shapes that come out of fog and sink back to
it, without sight, without number, without name, with only continual
hurry of feet to tell of their presence.

A slinky man comes up at his elbow and starts to talk out of the side of
his mouth.

“Say, mister--”

“Oh, _go_ to hell!” and the man fades away again, without even looking
startled, to mutter “Well, you needn’ be so damn peeved about
it--I’ll say you needn’ be so damn peeved--whatcha think you are,
anyhow--Marathon Mike?” as Oliver’s feet take Oliver swiftly away from
him.

Nancy. The first time he ever kissed her when it was question and answer
with neither of them sure. And then getting surer and surer--and then
when they kissed. Never touching Nancy, never. Never seeing her again
never any more. That song the Glee Club used to harmonize over--what was
it?

  We won’t go there any more,
  We won’t go there any more
  We won’t go there any mo-o-ore----

He lifts his eyes for a moment. A large blue policeman is looking at him
fixedly from the other side of the street, his nightstick twirling in a
very prepared sort of way. For an instant Oliver sees himself going over
and asking that policeman for his helmet to play with. That would be the
cream of the jest--the very cream--to end the evening in combat with a
large blue policeman after having all you wanted in life break under you
suddenly like new ice.

He had been walking for a very long time. He ought to go to bed. He
had a hotel somewhere if he could only think where. The policeman might
know.

The policeman saw a young man with staring eyes coming toward him,
remarked “hophead” internally and played with his nightstick a little
more. The nearer Oliver came the larger and more unsympathetic the
policeman seemed to him. Still, if you couldn’t remember what your hotel
was yourself it was only sensible to ask guidance on the question. His
mind reacted suddenly toward grotesqueness. One had to be very polite
to large policemen. The politeness should, naturally, increase as the
square of the policeman.

“I wonder if you could tell me where my hotel is, officer?” Oliver
began. “What hotel?” said the policeman uninterestedly. Oliver noticed
with an inane distinctness that he had started to swirl his nightstick
as a large blue cat might switch its tail. He wondered if it would be
tactful to ask him if he had ever been a drum major. Then he realized
that the policeman had asked him a question--courtesy demanded a prompt
response.

“What?” said Oliver.

“I said ‘What hotel?’” The policeman was beginning to be annoyed.

Oliver started to think of his hotel. It was imbecile not to remember
the name of your own hotel--even when your own particular material and
immaterial cosmos had been telescoped like a toy train in the last three
hours. The Rossiter was all that he could think of.

“The Rossiter,” he said firmly.

“No hotel Rossiter in _this_ town.” The policeman’s nightstick was
getting more and more irritated. “Rossiter’s a lotta flats. You live
there?”

“No. I live in a hotel.”

“Well, what hotel?”

“Oh, I tell you I don’t remember,” said Oliver vaguely. “A big one with
a lot of electric lights.”

The policeman’s face became suddenly very red.

“Well, you move on, buddy!” he said in a tone of hoarse displeasure.
“You move right on! You don’t come around me with any of your funny
cracks--I know whatsa matter with you, all right, all right. I know
whatsa matter with you.”

“So do I.” Oliver was smiling a little now, the whole scene was so
arabesque. “I want to go to my hotel.”

“You move on. You move on _quick_!” said the policeman vastly. “It’s a
long walk down to the hoosegow and _I_ don’t want to take you there.”

“I don’t want to go there,” said Oliver. “But my hotel--”

“_Quit arguin’”_! said the policeman in a bark like a teased bulldog.

Oliver turned and walked two steps away. Then he turned again. After all
why not? The important part of his life was over anyhow--and before the
rest of it finished he might be able to tell one large policeman just
what he thought of him.

“Why, you big blue boob,” he began abruptly with a sense of pleasant
refreshment better than drink, “You great heaving purple ice wagon--”
 and then he was stopped abruptly for the policeman was taking the
necessary breath away.



XVII

About which time Nancy had finished crying--raging at herself all the
time, she hated to cry so--and was sitting up straight on the couch
looking at the door which Oliver had shut as if by looking it very hard
indeed she could make it turn into Oliver.

It _couldn’t_ end this way. If it did it just meant that all the
last year wasn’t real--hadn’t any more part in reality than charity
theatricals. And they’d both of them been so sure that it was the chief
reality that they had ever known.

He wasn’t _reasonable_. She hadn’t wanted the darned old job, she’d
wanted to marry him, but as long as they hadn’t seemed to get very far
in the last eight months when he’d been trying to work it--why couldn’t
_she_ try----

Then ‘Oh Nancy, be honest!’ to herself. No, that wasn’t true.
She’d wanted the job, wanted to get it, hadn’t thought about Oliver
particularly when she’d tried for it except to be a little impatient
with him for not using more judgment when he picked out his job. Did
that mean that she didn’t love him? Oh Lord, it was all so mixed up.

Starting out so clearly at first and everything being so perfect--and
then the last four months and both getting tireder and tireder and all
the useless little misunderstandings that made you wonder how could you
if you really cared. And now this.

For an instant of mere relief from strain Nancy saw herself in Paris,
studying as she had always wanted to study, doing some real work, all
Paris hers to play with like a big gray stone toy, never having to worry
about loving, about being loved, about people you loved. Being free.
Like taking off your hot, hot clothes and lying in water when you were
too hot and tired even to think of sleeping. Oliver too--she’d leave him
free--he’d really work better without her--without having her to take
care of and make money for and worry about always----

The mind turned the other way. But what would doing anything be like
with Oliver out of it when doing things together had been all that
mattered all the last year?

They couldn’t decide things like this on a prickly hot August night when
both of them were nearly dead with fatigue. It wasn’t _real_. Even after
Oliver had shut the door she’d been sure he’d come back, though she
hoped he wouldn’t just while she was crying; she never had been,
she thought viciously, one of those happy people who look like
rain-goddesses when they cry.

He must come back. She shut her eyes and told him to as hard as she
could. But he didn’t.

All very well to be proud and dignified when both of you lived near each
other. But Oliver was going back to New York tomorrow--and if he went
back while they were still like this--She knew his train--the ten seven.

She tried being proud in a dozen different expressive attitudes for ten
minutes or so: Then she suddenly relaxed and went over to the telephone,
smiling rather ashamedly at herself.

“Hotel Rosario?”

“Yes.”

“Can I speak to Mr. Oliver Crowe? He is staying there isn’t he?”

A pause full of little jingling sounds.

“Yes, he’s staying here but he hasn’t come in yet this evening. Do you
wish to leave a message?”

Nancy hesitates.

“N-no.” That would be just a little too humble.

“Or the name of the party calling?” He will know, of course. Still,
had she better say? Then she remembers the need of punishing him just
a little. After all--it is hardly fair she should go all the way toward
making up when he hasn’t even started.

“No--no name. But tell him somebody called, please.”

“Very well.”

And Nancy goes back to wonder if the reason Oliver hasn’t gone back
to the hotel is that he is returning here in an appropriate suit of
sackcloth. She hopes he _will_ come before mother and father get back.

But even while she is hoping it, the large blue policeman is saying
something about “‘Sturbance of the peace” to the desk-sergeant, and
Oliver is going down on the blotter as Donald Richardson.



XVIII

“You simply must not worry yourself about it so, Nancy, my darling,”
 says Mrs. Ellicott brightly. “Lovers’ quarrels are only lovers’ quarrels
you know and they seem very small indeed to people a little older and
more experienced though I daresay they may loom terribly large just at
present. Why your father and myself used to have--ahem--our little times
over _trifles_, darling, mere _trifles _” and Mrs. Ellicott takes a
pinch of air between finger and thumb as if to display it as a specimen
of those mere trifles over which Mr. and Mrs. Ellicott used to become
proudly enraged at each other in the days before she had faded him so
completely.

Nancy, after a night of intensive sleeplessness broken only by dreams of
seeing Oliver being married to somebody else in the lobby of the Hotel
Rosario can only wonder rather dully when it could ever have been that
poor father was allowed enough initiative of his own to take even
the passive part in a quarrel over a trifle and why mother thinks the
prospect implied in her speech of her daughter’s marriage being like
unto hers can be so comforting. Nancy made one New Year’s resolution the
second day of her engagement, “If I ever find myself starting to act to
Ollie the way mother does to father I’ll simply have to leave him and
never see him again.” But Mrs. Ellicott goes on.

“If Oliver is at all the sort of young man we must hope he is, he will
certainly come and apologize at once. And if he should not--well Nancy,
my little girl,” she adds hieroglyphically “there are many trials that
seem hard to bear at first which prove true blessings later when we see
of what false materials they were first composed.”

Mr. Ellicott thinks it is time for him to go to the office. It is five
minutes ahead of his usual time but Mrs. Ellicott has been looking at
him all the way through her last speech until he feels uneasily that he
must be composed of very false material indeed. He stops first though to
give an ineffective pat to Nancy’s shoulder.

“Cheer up, Chick,” he says kindly. “Always sun somewhere you know, so
don’t treat the poor boy too hard,” and he shuffles rapidly away before
his wife can look all the way through him for the vague heresy implicit
in his sentence.

“It is all very well for your father to say such things, but, Nancy,
darling, you shall not be put upon by Tramplers” proceeds Mrs. Ellicott
in her most cryptically perfect tones. “Oliver is a man--he must
apologize. A man, I say, though little more than a boy. And otherwise
you would now be pursuing your Art in Paris due to dear kind Mrs.
Winters who has always stood our truest friend and now this other
opportunity has come also but I would never be the first to say that
even such should not be sacrificed most gladly for the love of a true
kind husband and dear little children though marriage is but a lottery
at best and especially when affections are fixed upon their object in
early youth.”

All this without a pause, pouring over the numbed parts of Nancy’s mind
like thin sweetish oil. Nancy considers wearily. Yes, Oliver should
apologize. Yes, it is only being properly dignified not to call up the
Rosario again to find if he is there. Yes, if he truly loves her, he
will call--he will come--and the clock hands are marching on toward
ten-seven and his train like stiff little soldiers and mother is
talking, talking--

“Not that I wish or have wished to influence your mind in any way, my
darling, but environment and propinquity count for mountains in such
first youthful attachments and sometimes when we are older to be looked
back upon with such regret. Nor would I ever have Words Spoken that
should seem to injure the choice of my daughter’s heart--but when young
men cannot provide even Hovels for their _fiancées_ a reasonable time
having been given, it is only just that they should release them and you
looking like death all these last two months. Never wishing that my own
daughter should act in Ways dishonorable in the slightest but time is
the Test in such matters and if such tests are not to be survived it is
best they should end and no one can deny that the young man talks very
queerly and was often quite disrespectful to you though you may say that
was joking but it would not have been joking in my day and young men
with queer nervous eyes and hands I never have nor will quite trust--”

But it’s Oliver that’s doing this, Oliver who turned funny and white
when she cut her finger with the breadknife making sandwiches and wanted
her to put all sorts of things on it. Oliver who was always so sweet
when she was unreasonable and always the first to come looking unhappy
after they’d quarrelled even a little and say it was all his fault. Why
the very last letter she got from him was the one that said if she ever
stopped loving him he knew he’d die.

“And when things are ended it is better that such things should be
though doubtless not necessary to put an announcement in the paper yet
since God in his infinite wisdom arranges all things for the best.
And with such a splendid position opening before her it would be only
dignified to bring the young man to his senses for it would not be right
to let unreasonable young men stand in the way of advantages offered by
Foreign Travel and study and these things are soon forgotten, my dear,
and if nervous young men will not admit like gentlemen that they are in
the wrong when only engaged what kind of husbands will they make when
married forever? And is not a broken engagement better than lifelong
unhappiness when there are so many too many sinful people divorcing each
other every day and all men who write for their living use stimulants,
my dear, such is literary history and my dearest have your cry out on
mother’s shoulder.”

The sweetish oil has risen about Nancy relentlessly--it is up to her
waist now and still it keeps talking and flowing and creeping higher.
Very soon when the fatter black soldier on the clock-face has only
hitched himself along a little, it will be over her head and the roving
Nancy, the sparkling Nancy, the Nancy that fell in love will be under it
like a calm body, never to rise or run or be kissed with light seeking
kisses on the soft of her throat again. There will only be a dignified
Nancy, a sensible Nancy, a Nancy going to Paris to study and be
successful, a Nancy who, sooner or later will marry “Some good, clean
man.”

A little tinkle of chimes from the clock. Six minutes more. The Nancy
that was stands on tiptoe, every eager and tameless bit of her hoping,
hoping. If mother weren’t there that Nancy would have been at the
telephone an hour ago in spite of young people’s pride and old people’s
self-respect and all the thousand and one knife-faced fetishes that all
the correct and common-sensible people hug close and worship because
they hurt.

She can see the train sliding out of the station. Ollie is in it and
his face is stiff with surprise and unforgiveness like the face of some
horrible stranger you went up to and spoke to by mistake, thinking he
was your friend. By the time the train is well started he will have
begun talking to that fluffy girl in the other half of the Pullman--no,
that isn’t worthy, he wouldn’t--but oh Ollie, Ollie!

Half an hour later the telephone rings. Nancy is finishing the breakfast
dishes--her hands jump as she hears it--a slippery plate slops back into
the water and as she dives after it she realizes painfully that the new
water is much too hot.

“What _is_ it, mother?” For an instant the Nancy who has no real
self-respect is talking again.

“Just a minute, Isabella. Mrs. Winters, dear. Don’t you want to speak to
her?”

“Oh.”

Then----

“Not right now. When I’m through with these. But will you ask her if
she’s going to be in this afternoon--I want to tell her about my taking
the New York job.”

Satisfied oil pouring back into the telephone with a pleased, thin
chuckle.

“Yes, Nancy has decided. Well, dear, I think she had better tell you
herself--”

Nancy is looking dolefully down at her thumb. Foolish not to have cooled
off that water a little--she has really burned herself. For an instant
she hears Oliver’s voice in her ears, low and concerned, sees Oliver
kissing it, making it well. But these things don’t happen to sensible,
self-respecting modern girls with experienced mothers, especially when
all the former have now quite made up their own minds.



XIX

It was with some nightmare surprise that Oliver on waking regarded his
tidy cell. Then he remembered and in spite of the fact that yesterday
evening with all that belonged to it kept hurting wherever it was that
most of him lived with the stiff repeating ache of a nerve struck again
and again by the same soft hammer, he couldn’t help laughing a little.
The popular college remedy for disprized love had always been an
instantaneous mingling of conflicting alcohols--calling a large
policeman a big blue boob seemed to produce the same desired result of
bringing one to one’s senses by first taking one completely out of them
without the revolving stomach and fuzzed mind of the first instance. He
tried to think of yesterday evening airily. Silly children quarreling
about things that didn’t matter at all. Of course Nancy should have the
job if she wanted--of course he’d apologize, apologize like Ecclesiastes
even for being alive at all if it was necessary--and then everything
would be _all_ right, just all right and fixed. But the airy attitude
somehow failed to comfort--it was a little too much like trying to
shuffle a soft-shoe clog on a new grave. Nancy _had_ been unreasonable.
Nancy _had_ said or hadn’t denied that she wasn’t sure she loved him any
more. He _had_ released her from the engagement and told her good-by.
He stared at the facts--they sprang up in front of him like choking
thorns--thorns he had to clear away with his hands before he could even
touch Nancy again. Was he sure--even now? All the airiness dropped from
him like a clown’s false face. As he thought of what would happen if
Nancy had really meant it about not loving him, it seemed to him that
somebody had taken away the pit of his stomach and left nothing in its
place but air.

Anyhow the first thing to do was to get out of this place--he examined
the neat bars in the door approvingly and wondered how the devil you
acted when you wanted to be let out. There wasn’t any way of opening
a conversation about it with no one to talk to--and the corridor was
merely a length of empty steel--and, damn it, his train left at Ten
Seven and he had to see Nancy and explain everything in the world before
it left--and if he didn’t get back to New York in time he might lose his
job. There must be some way of explaining to the people in charge that
he hadn’t done anything but kid a policeman--that he must get out.

He went over to the door and tried it tentatively--no inside doorknob,
of course, this wasn’t a hotel. He looked through the bars--nothing but
corridor and the cell on the other side. Should he call? For an instant
the fantastic idea of crying “Waiter!” or “Please send up my breakfast!”
 tugged at him hard, but fantasy had got him into much too much trouble
as it was, he reflected savagely. It made you feel ridiculously
self-conscious, standing behind bars like this and shouting into
emptiness. Still he had to get out. He cleared his throat.

“Hey,” he remarked in a pleasant conversational tone. “Hey!”

No answer, he grew bolder.

_“Hey!”_ This time the conversational tone was italicized. A rustle of
voices somewhere rewarded him--that must be people talking. Well, if
they talked, they could listen.

“HEY!” and now his voice was emphatic enough for headline capitals.

The rustle of voices ceased. There was a moment of stupefied silence.
Then,

“SHUT UP!” came from the end of the corridor in a roar that made Oliver
feel as if he had been cooing. The roar irritated him--they might be a
little more mannerly. He clutched the bars and discovered to his pleased
surprise that they would rattle. He shook them as hard as he could like
a monkey asking for peanuts.

“Hey there! I want to get out!” and though he tried to make his voice as
impressive as possible it seemed to him to pipe like a canary’s in that
long steel emptiness.

“I’ve got to catch a train!” he added desperately and then had to stuff
his coat sleeve into his mouth to keep from spoiling his dramatics with
most unseasonable mirth.

There were noises from the end of the corridor--the noises of strong men
at bitter war with something stronger than they, strange rumblings and
snortings and muffled whoops. Then the voice came again and this time
its words were slow and deliberately spaced so as to give it time to
master whatever rocked it between whiles.

“Say--you--_humorist_” said the voice and here it rose sharply
into an undignified squawk of laughter, “You--innercent
child--comedian--you--Charlie--Chaplin--of the--hoosegow--you
 _shut_ up--or I’ll come down there and--bend--something--over--your
merry little face--_understand?_” “Yes sir,” said Oliver subduedly.

“Ah right. Now go bye-bye--mama’ll call you when she’s ready to take you
walking” then explosively “I got to catch a train! Oh Holy Mike!”

Oliver left the window and went back toward his bunk, considerably
chastened. As he did so a bundle of second-hand clothes on the floor
rolled over and disclosed a red and unshaven face.

“Wup!” said Oliver--he had almost stepped on it.

“Wha’?” said the bundle, opening sick eyes.

“Oh nothing. I only said good morning.”

“Wha’?”

“Good morning.”

“Wha’?”

“Good morning.”

After incredible difficulties, the bundle attained a sitting position.

“You kid’n me?” it demanded thickly, looking at Oliver with as much
surprise as if he had just grown up out of the floor like a plant.

“Oh no. No.”

“You’re _nah_ kid’n me?”

“No.”

“Ah ri’. ‘S countersign. Pass. Fren’.”

It attempted a military gesture but succeeded merely in hitting its
mouth with its hand. It then looked at the hand as if the latter had
done it on purpose and became sunk in profound cogitation.

“Not feeling very well today?” Oliver ventured.

It looked at him.

“_Well?_” it said briefly. Then, after a silence devoted to trying to
find where its hands were.

“Hoosh.”

“What?” said Oliver.

“_Hoosh_. Goo’ hoosh. Gran’ hoosh. Oh, _hoosh!_” and as if the mention
of the word had stricken it back into clothes again it slid slowly down
on its back, closed its eyes and began to snore.

Oliver, perched on his bunk for what comfort there was, sat and
considered. He looked at the bundle--the bars--the bars--the bundle. The
bundle wheezed apoplectically--no sound of footsteps came from beyond
the bars. Oliver wondered if Nancy loved him. He wondered if he would
ever catch that Ten Seven. But most of all he wondered why on earth he
had happened to get in here and how on earth he was ever going to get
out.



XX

The sky had been a blue steam all day, but at night it quieted, there
were faint airs. From the window of the apartment on Riverside Drive you
could see it grow gentle, fade from a strong heat of azure through gray
gauze into darkness, thick-soft as a sable’s fur at first, then uneasily
patterned all at once with idle leopard-spottings and strokes of light.
The lights fell into the river and dissolved, the dark wash took them
and carried them into streaks of lesser, more fluid light. Even so, if
there could have been country silence for five minutes at a time, the
running river, the hills so disturbed with light beyond, might have worn
some aspect of peace. But even in the high bird’s nest of the apartment
there was no real silence, only a pretending at silence, like the forced
quiet of a child told to keep still in a corner--the two people dining
together could talk in whispers, if they wanted, and still be heard,
but always at the back of the brain of either ran a thin pulsation of
mumbling sound like the buzz of a kettle-drum softly struck in a passage
of music where the orchestra talks full-voiced--the night sound of the
city, breathing and moving and saying words.

They must have been married rather contentedly for quite a while now,
they said so little of importance at dinner and yet seemed so quietly
pleased at having dinner together and so neat at understanding half
sentences without asking explanations. That would have been the first
conclusion of anybody who had been able to take out a wall and watch
their doll-house unobserved. Besides, though the short, decided man with
the greyish hair must be fifty at least, the woman who stood his own
height when she rose from the table was too slimly mature for anything
but the thirties. Not a highly original New York couple by any means--a
prospering banker or president of a Consolidated Toothpick Company with
a beautiful wife, American matron-without-children model, except for her
chin which was less dimpled than cleft with decisiveness and the wholly
original lustre of her hair, a buried lustre like the shine of “Murray’s
red gold” in a Border ballad. A wife rather less society-stricken than
the run of such wives since she obviously preferred hot August in a New
York apartment with her husband’s company to beach-picnics at Greenwich
or Southampton without it. Still the apartment, though compact as an
army mess-kit, was perfectly furnished and the maid who had served
the cool little dinner an efficient effacedness of the race that
housekeepers with large families and little money assert passed with the
Spanish War. Money enough, and the knowledge of how to use it without
blatancy or pinching--that would have been the second conclusion.

They were sitting in deep chairs in the living room now, a tall-stemmed
reading lamp glowing softly between them, hardly speaking. The tiredness
that had been in the man’s face like the writing in a ‘crossed’ letter
began to leave it softly. He reached over, took the woman’s hand and
held it--not closely or with greediness but with a firm clasp that had
something weary like appeal in it and something strong like a knowledge
of rest.

“Always like this, at home,” he said slowly.

“It _is_ rather sweet.” Her voice had the gentleness of water running
into water. Her eyes looked at him once and left him deliberately
but not as if they didn’t care. It must have been a love-match in the
beginning then--her eyes seemed so infirm.

“You’ll read a little?”

“Yes.”

“Home,” he said. He seemed queerly satisfied to say the word, queerly
moved as if even after so much reality had been lived through together,
he couldn’t quite believe that it was reality.

“And I’ve been waiting for it--five days, six days, this time?”

She must have been at the seashore after all--tan or lack of it meant
little these days, especially to a woman who lived in this kind of an
apartment. The third conclusion might have been rather sentimental, a
title out of a moving picture--something about Even in the Wastes of the
Giant City the Weary Heart Will Always Turn To--Just Home.

A doll on a small table began to buzz mysteriously in its internals. The
man released the woman’s hand--both looking deeply annoyed.

“I thought we had a private number here,” said the man, the tiredness
coming back into his face like scribbles on parchment.

She crossed to the telephone with a charming furtiveness--you could see
she was playing they had just been found behind the piano together in a
game of hide-and-seek. The doll was disembowelled of its telephone.

“No--No--Oh very well--”

“What was it?”

She smiled.

“Is this the Eclair Picture Palace?” she mimicked. [Illustration: THE
TIREDNESS THAT HAD BEEN IN THE MAN’S FACE BEGAN TO LEAVE IT] Both seemed
almost childishly relieved. So in spite of his successful-business-man
mouth, he wasn’t the kind that is less a husband than a
telephone-receiver, especially at home. Still, she would have made a
difference even to telephone-receivers, that could be felt even without
the usual complement of senses.

“That was--bothersome for a minute.” His tone lent the words a quaint
accent of scare.

“Oh, well--if you have one at all--the way the service is now--”

“There won’t be any telephone when we take our vacation together, that’s
_settled_.”

She had been kneeling, examining a bookcase for books. Now she turned
with one in her hand, her hair ruddy and smooth as ruddy amber in the
reflected light.

“No, but _telegrams_. And wireless,” she whispered mockingly, the more
mockingly because it so obviously made him worried as a worried boy.
She came over and stood smoothing his ear a moment, a half-unconscious
customary gesture, no doubt, for he relaxed under it and the look of
rest came back. Then she went to her chair, sat down and opened the
book.

“No use borrowing trouble now, dear. Now listen. Cigar?” “Going.”

“Ashtray?”

“Yes.”

“And remember not to knock it over when you get excited. Promise?”

“Um.”

“Very well.”

Mrs. Severance’s even voice began to flow into the stillness.

“As I was getting too big for Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt--”



XXI

“And that’s the end of the chapter.” Mrs. Severance’s voice trailed off
into silence. She closed the book with a soft sound. The man whom it
might be rather more convenient than otherwise to call Mr. Severance
opened his eyes. He had not been asleep, but he had found by a good deal
of experience that he paid more attention to Dickens if he closed his
eyes while she read.

“Thank you dear.”

“Thank you. You know I love it. Especially Pip.”

He considered.

“There was a word one of my young men used the other day about Dickens.
Gusto, I think--yes, that was it. Well, I find that, as I grow older,
that seems to be the thing I value rather more than most men of my age.
Gusto.” He smiled “Though I take it more quietly, perhaps,--than I did
when I was young,” he added.

“You _are_ young” said Mrs. Severance carefully.

“Not really, dear. I can give half-a-dozen youngsters I know four
strokes in nine holes and beat them. I can handle the bank in half
the time and with half the worry that some of my people take to one
department. And for a little while more, Rose, I may be able to satisfy
you. But” and he passed a hand lightly over his hair. “It’s grey, you
know,” he ended.

“As if it mattered,” said Mrs. Severance, a little pettishly.

“It does matter, Rose.” His eyes darkened with memory--with the sort of
memory that hurts more to forget than even to remember. “Do you realize
that I am sixteen years older than you are?” he said a little hurriedly
as if he were trying to scribble the memory over with any kind of words.

“But my dear” and she smiled, “you were sixteen years older six years
ago--remember? There’s less real difference between us now than there
was then.”

“Yes, I certainly wasn’t as young in some ways--six years ago.” He
seemed to speak almost as if unconsciously, almost as if the words were
being squeezed out of him in sleep by a thing that had pressed for a
long time with a steady weight on his mind till the mind must release
itself or be broken. “But then nobody could be with you, for a month
even, and not feel himself turn younger whether he wanted to or not.”
 “So that’s settled.” She was trying to carry it lightly, to take the
darkness out of his eyes. “And once you’ve bought our steamer tickets we
can leave it all behind at the wharf and by the time we land we’ll be
so disgracefully young that no one will recognize us--just think--we can
keep going back and back till I’m putting my hair up for the first time
and you’re in little short trousers--and then babies, I suppose and
the other side of getting born--” but her voice, for once, turned
ineffectually against his centeredness of gaze, that seemed now as if it
had turned back on itself for a struggling moment and regarded neither
what was nor what might be, but only what was past.

“Six years ago” he said with the same drowsy thoughtfulness. “Well,
Rose, I shall always be--most grateful--for those six years.”

She started to speak but he checked her.

“I think I would be willing to make a substantial endowment to any
Protestant Church that still really believed in hell,” he said, “because
that was very like hell--six years ago.”

Intensity began to come into his voice like a color of darkness, though
he still spoke slowly.

“You can stand nearly everything in life but being tired of yourself.
And six years ago I was tired--tired to death.”

Her hand reached over and touched him medicinally.

“I suppose I had no right” he began again and then stopped. “No, I think
the strong man tires less easily but more wholly than the weak one when
he does tire. And I was strong enough.

“I’d played a big game, you know. When my father died we hadn’t much
left but position--and that was going. I don’t blame my father--he
wasn’t a business man--he should have been a literary critic--that
little book of essays of his still sells, you know; not much but there’s
a demand for a dozen copies every year and that’s a good deal for an
American who’s been dead for thirty. Well, that’s where the children get
their liking for things like that--I’ve got it too, a little--I could
have done something there if I’d had time. But I never had time.

“I could have done it when I got out of Harvard--drifted along like half
a dozen people I know, played at law, played at writing, played always
and forever at being a gentleman--ended up as an officer of the Century
Club with what little money I had in an annuity. But I couldn’t stand
the idea of just scraping along. And for nearly ten years I put those
things aside.

“You know about my going West and the way I lived there. It wasn’t
easy when I’d been at Harvard and gone everywhere in New York and
Boston--starting in so far below the bottom that you couldn’t even see
the bottom unless you squinted your eyes. But I never took a job with
more money if I thought I could learn anything in a job with less--and
every place I went I stayed until I could handle the job of the man two
places ahead of me--and if I didn’t get his job when I asked for it I
went somewhere else. I don’t think I read a book except a technical one
for the first five years. And after that, when the chain-stores started
going they asked me back to New York--a big offer too--but it wasn’t the
kind I wanted and I threw it down. I knew just how I wanted to come back
to New York and that’s the way I came.

“I don’t suppose my morals were too edifying those years. But they were
as good as the men I went with and I kept myself in hand. I saw men go
to pieces with drink--and I didn’t drink. I saw men go to pieces over
women--and I kept away from that kind of woman. A man has to have women
in his life no matter how much you talk about it--but I took the kind
with the price-tag because when you paid them you were through. I could
have married a dozen times if I’d wanted but I didn’t want--that old
hocus-pocus of tradition was still with me, stronger than death--I
thought I knew the kind of wife I wanted and she was in the East.

“Then the partnership with Jessup came and I took it. And after a year
I was made. I wasn’t the last of one of the penniless old families
that give each other dinners once a month and pretend they’re the
real society because they haven’t money enough to trail in the present
society game--even by then I was--what did that last newspaper story
say? ‘a figure of nation-wide importance.’ Then it must be just about
time, I thought, that this figure of nation-wide importance began to
look around a little and married the wife he’d been waiting for and
started to pick up all the things he hadn’t had for twelve years.

“Well--Mary. And I was so careful about Mary,” his lips twisted, half
whimsically, half painfully. “I was so damn sure. I was so damn sure I
knew everything about women.

“She had the qualities I’d said to myself I wanted--beauty, position,
breeding, a good enough mind, some common sense. She hadn’t money, but
there I thought I could help her--the way she ran things for her father
on what they had showed what she could do with more. We weren’t in
love with each other--oh dear no--but that I considered on the whole an
advantage--she attracted me and it’s fair enough to say that beside most
of the men she’d been seeing my combination of having been Old New York
and being one of the young big coming men from the West dazzled her
rather. And anyhow I didn’t want--passion--exactly. I thought it would
take too much time when I was only in the middle of my game and getting
as much real solid fun out of it as a kid gets out of cooking his own
dinner in camp. I wanted a partner and a home and children and somebody
to sit at the head of my table when I wanted to be--public--and yet
somebody you could be at home with when you wanted to be at home. And
I thought I had them all in Mary--I thought I was being about the most
sensible man in the world.

“Well, up till after both children were born I think I tried pretty
hard. I gave her all I could think of--materially at least. And then I
found out in spite of myself that you can’t be married to a woman--even
bearably--and neither be lovers nor friends with her. And Mary and I
never got beyond the social acquaintance stage.

“It wasn’t all Mary’s fault either--I can see that now. A good deal was
in the way she’d been brought up--they weren’t modern about the blisses
of ignorance in the nineties. But the rest of it was Mary and she
couldn’t have changed it any more than she could have been rude to
a servant or raised her voice more than usual when she really wanted
something done.

“She’d been brought up never to be demonstrative--that was one thing.
But that wasn’t the main trouble--the main trouble was her most curious,
most frigid self-sufficiency. Until her children came she was the most
wholly self-sufficient person I’ve ever known. She was really only happy
when she was entirely alone, always. It wasn’t egotism exactly--she’s
always had a very-well-mannered conviction of her own relative
unimportance--it was just that in spite of the fact that she seemed
so perfectly healthy and calm and composed whenever she was with other
people they’d be sure to hurt her a little somehow or other without
meaning to--the only person she could genuinely depend on never to hurt
her was herself.

“As for men, she’d formed one crystallized opinion of men in the first
weeks of our marriage and she’s kept it ever since. She looks at them
as if they were a kind of tame wolf about the house--something you must
never show you’re afraid of, something you must feed and look after and
be publicly amiable to because you must be just--but something you
never never would bring in the house of your own accord or touch without
feeling that you, that you had to preserve so jealously against all
the things that could possibly hurt it, start to shrink and be pained
inside.

“Then the children came--she did and does love them. She lives for them.
But they’re part of herself too, you see, an essential part, and as she
can’t give herself to anybody but herself, she can’t give them to me
even in the easiest kind of partnership, really. You don’t leave small
children alone with even the tamest kind of wolf--and she’s the kind of
woman whose children are always six to her. And she’s their mother--and
so she has her way.

“That’s the way it got worse. Right up to six years ago.

“I’d done my job--I was President of the Commercial. And I’d made my
money, and the money still kept coming in as if it didn’t make any
difference what I did with it. I’d won my game. And what was there in it
for me?

“I didn’t have a home--I had a place where I ate and slept. I didn’t
have a wife--I had an acquaintance who kept house for me. I had
children--at school and college. I didn’t have real hobbies--I hadn’t
had time for them. And I was forty-nine. All I could do was go on making
money till I died.

“Well, you changed that,” his voice shook a little.

“You came and I saw and knew and took you. And I’m not sorry. Because
you’ve made me alive again. And I’m going to be alive now till I die.

“Funny--I was never so anxious about anything happening as I have been
about--our approaching mutual disappearance. Especially the last six
months when I’ve been planning. But now that’s settled.

“Mary will have more than enough and the children are grown. They won’t
know--I still have brains enough to settle that and money will do nearly
everything. It’ll be a nine days’ wonder. ‘Sudden Disappearance of
Prominent Financier--Foul Play Suspected’ and that’ll be all.

“As for the Commercial--I haven’t come to my age without finding
out that nobody in the world is indispensable. If a taxi ran over me
tomorrow they’d have to do without me--and Harris and the young men can
handle things.

“But you know where there’ll be an elderly gentleman retired from
business with a country house and a garden he can putter around in
all his worst clothes. And a wife that reads Dickens to him in the
evening--oh yes, Rose, we’ll take Dickens along. And he’ll be pretty
contented as things go--that retired old gentleman.”

The darkness had passed from his eyes--he was smiling now.

“Be nice--eh Rose?”

He took her hand--the warm touch was still strong, still reassuring.
Only the eyes that he was not looking at now seemed singularly unsure,
as if they had seen something they had pondered over lightly, as a mere
possibility, years ago, take on sudden impatient body and demand to be
heard.

She let her hand lie lightly in his for a moment. Then she rose.

“Half past twelve” she said a little stiffly. “Time for two such genuine
antiques as we are to think of being put away in our cases for the
night.”



XXII

It was three in the afternoon before Oliver walked into the Hotel
Rosario again and when he did it was with the feeling that the house
detective might come up at any moment, touch him quietly on the shoulder
and remark that his bag _might_ be sent down to the station after him
if he paid his bill and left quietly and at once. An appearance before a
hoarse judge who fined him ten dollars in as many seconds had not helped
his self-confidence though he kept wondering if there was a sliding
scale of penalties for improper language applied to the police of St.
Louis and just what would have happened if he had called the large blue
policeman anything out of his A.E.F. vocabulary. Also the desk, when he
called there for his key, reminded him twingingly of the dock, and the
clerk behind it looked at him so knowingly as he made the request that
Oliver began to construct a hasty moral defence of his whole life from
the time he had stolen sugar at eight, when he was reassured by the
clerk’s merely saying in a voice like a wink. “Telephone call for you
last night, Mr. Crowe.”

_Nancy!_

With a horrible effort to keep impassive, “Yes? Who was it?”

“Party didn’t leave a name.”

“Oh. When?”

“‘Bout ‘leven o’clock.”

“And she didn’t leave any message?” Then Oliver turned pink at having
betrayed himself so easily.

“No-o--_she_ didn’t.” The clerk’s eyelid drooped a trifle. Those collegy
looking boys were certainly hell with women.

“Oh, well--” with a vast attempt to seem careless. “Thanks. Where’s the
‘phone?”

“Over there” and Oliver followed the direction of the jerked thumb to
shut himself up in a booth with his heart, apparently, bent upon doing
queer interpretative dances and his mind full of all the most apologetic
words in or out of the dictionary. “Hello. Hello. _Is this Nancy_?”

“This is Mrs. S. R. Ellicott.” The voice seems extremely detached.

“Oh, good morning, Mrs. Ellicott. This is Oliver--Oliver Crowe, you
know. Is Nancy there?”

Nor does it appear inclined toward lengthy conversation--the voice at
the other end. “No.”

“Well, when will she be in? I’ve got to take the five o’clock train Mrs.
Ellicott--I’ve simply got to--I may lose my job if I don’t--but I’ve got
to talk to her first--I’ve got to explain--”

“There can be very little good, I think, in your talking to her Mr.
Crowe. She has told me that you both consider the engagement at an end.”

“But that’s impossible, Mrs. Ellicott--that’s too absurd” Oliver felt
too much as if he were fighting for life against something invisible to
be careful about his words. “I know we quarrelled last night--but it
was all my fault, I didn’t mean anything--I was going to call her up the
first thing this morning but you see, they wouldn’t let me out--”

Then he stopped with a grim realization of just what it was that he had
said. There was a long fateful pause from the other end of the wire.

“I’m afraid I don’t quite understand, Mr. Crowe.”

“They wouldn’t let me out. I was--er--detained--ah--kept in.”

“Detained?” The inflection is politely inquisitive.

“Yes, detained. You see--I--you--oh dammit, I was in jail.” This time
the pause that follows had to Oliver much of the quality of that little
deadly hush that will silence all earth and sky in the moment before
Last Judgment. Then--

“_In jail_,” said the voice with an accent of utter finality.

“Yes--yes--oh it wasn’t anything--I could explain in five seconds if I
saw her--it was all a misunderstanding--I called the policeman a boob
but I didn’t mean it--I don’t see yet why he took offence--it was
just--”

He was stifling inside the airless booth--he trickled all over. This was
worse than being court-martialled. And still the voice did not speak.

“Can’t you understand?” he yelled at last with more strength of lung
than politeness.

“I quite understand, Mr. Crowe. You were in jail. No doubt we shall read
all about it in tomorrow’s papers.”

“No you won’t--I gave somebody else’s name.”

“Oh.” Mrs. Ellicott was ticking off the data gathered so far on
her fingers. The brutal quarrel with Nancy. The rush to the nearest
blind-tiger. The debauch. The insult to Law. The drunken struggle.
The prison. The alias. And now the attempt to pretend that nothing had
happened--when the criminal in question was doubtless swigging from a
pocket-flask at this very moment for the courage to support his flagrant
impudence in trying to see Nancy again. All this passed through Mrs.
Ellicott’s mind like a series of colored pictures in a Prohibition
_brochure_.

“But I can explain that too. I can explain everything. Please, Mrs.
Ellicott--”

“Mr. Crowe, this conversation has become a very painful one. Would it
not be wiser to close it?”

Oliver felt as if Mrs. Ellicott had told him to open his bag and when he
did so had pointed sternly at a complete set of burglar’s tools on top
of his dress-shirts.

“Can-I-see-Nancy?” he ended desperately, the words all run together:

But the voice that answered was very firm with rectitude.

“Nancy has not the slightest desire to see you, Mr. Crowe. Now or
ever.” Mrs. Ellicott asked pardon inwardly for the lie with a false
humility--if Nancy will not save herself from this young man whom she
has always disliked and who has just admitted to being a jailbird in
fact and a drunkard by implication, she will.

“I should think you would find it easier hearing this from me than you
would from her. She has found it easier to say.” “But, Mrs. Ellicott--”

“There are things that take a little too much explaining to explain, Mr.
Crowe.” The meaning seemed vague but the tone was doomlike enough. “And
in any case” the voice ended with a note of flat triumph, “Nancy will
not be home until dinnertime so you could not possibly telephone her
before the departure of your train.”

“Oh.”

“Good-by, Mr. Crowe,” and a click at the other end showed that Mrs.
Ellicott had hung up the receiver, leaving him to shriek “But listen--”
 pitiably into the little black mouthpiece in front of him until Central
cut in on him angrily with “Say, whatcha tryin’ to do, fella? Break my
ear?”



XXIII

After cindery hours in a day coach--the fine and the loss of his Pullman
reservation have left him with less than three dollars in cash--Oliver
crawls into Vanamee and Company’s about four in the afternoon. Everybody
but Mrs. Wimple and Mr. Tickler is out of Copy for the moment and the
former greets him with coy wit.

“Been taking your vacation at Newport, Crowie? Or didja sneak the Frisco
account away from Brugger’s Service when you were out West?”

“Oh, no, got jugged--that was all,” says Oliver quite truthfully if
tiredly and Mrs. Wimple crows at the jest with high laughter. Oliver
marvels at the fact that everybody should seem to think it so humorous
to be jailed.

“Why, Crowie, you naughty little boy! Oh mischief, mischief!” and she
scrapes one index finger over the other at him in a try for errant
childishness. Then she and her perfume come closer and this time she
looks around before she speaks and there is some little real concern in
her voice.

“Listen, Crowie--you better watch your step, boy--I’m telling
you straight. Old Man Alley was real sore when you didn’t blow in
yesterday--it was one of Vanamee’s bad days when his eye gets twitchy
and he was rearing around cursing everybody out and giving an oration
on office discipline that’d a made a goat go laugh itself ill. And then
Alley got hold of Délier and they are both talking about you--I know
because Délier said ‘Oh give him another chance’ and Alley said ‘What’s
the use, Deller--he’s been here eight months and he doesn’t seem to
really get the hang of things,’ in that snippy little way and then ‘I
can’t stand breaches of discipline like this.’ You know how nervous
it gets him if as much as a fastener is out of place on his desk--and
Winslow’s got a kid cousin he wants to put in here and if you don’t act
like mama’s darling for a while--”

She is ready to go on indefinitely, but Oliver thanks her
abstractedly--it is decent of the old girl after all--grunts “Guess I
better start in looking busy now, Mrs. Wimple!” and sits down at his
desk.

A note from Deller with five pencil sketches attached of the new trade
figures for Brittlekin--two bloated looking children with inkblot eyes
looking greedily at an enormous bar of peanut candy. “Dear Crowe: Will
you give me copy on these as soon as possible--something snappy this
time.--E. B. D.” A memorandum, “Mr. Piper called you 4 P.M. Monday.
Wishes you to call him as soon as possible.” The United Steel Frame
Pulley layouts and another note from Deller, “This is LATE. DO
something.” Back to pulleys again and the crowded sweat-box of the copy
room and twenty-five dollars a week with the raise gone glimmering now--

And Nancy is lost.

Oliver sits looking at the layouts for United Steel Frame Pulleys for
half-an-hour without really doing anything but sharpen and resharpen a
pencil. Mrs. Wimple wonders if he’s sick--he ain’t white or anything
but he looks just like Poppa did the time he came back and told Momma,
“Momma the bank has bust and our funds has went.” She watches him
eagerly--gee, it’d be exciting if he fainted or did anything queer! He
said he’d been in jail too--Mrs. Wimple shivers--but he’s so comical you
never can tell what he really means--that way he looks may be just what
she saw in a movie once about “the pallid touch of the prison.” If it’s
indigestion, though, he ought to try Pepsolax--that certainly eases you
up right--

Finally Oliver stacks all the layouts together in a careful pile and
goes in to see Mr. Alley. That precise and toothy little sub-deity does
not seem extremely enthusiastic over his return.

“Well, Mr. Crowe, so you got back? What detained you?”

“Police” says Oliver with a faint smile and Mr. Alley laughs dutifully
enough though rather in a “here, here, we must get down to business”
 way. Then he fusses with his pencil a little.

“I’m glad you came in, Crowe. I wanted to see you about that matter. It
is not so much that we begrudge--but in a place like this where
everyone must work shoulder to shoulder--and purely as a point of office
discipline--Mr. Vanamee is rather rigid in regard to that and your work
so far has really hardly justified--”

“Oh that’s all right, Mr. Alley” breaks in Oliver, though not rudely,
he is much too fagged to be rude, “I’m leaving at the end of the week if
it’s convenient to you.”

“Well, _really_, Mr. Crowe.” But in spite of his diplomatic surprise he
hardly seems distressfully perturbed. “I hope it is not because you
feel we have treated you unfairly--” he begins again a little
anxiously--under all his feathers of fussiness he is essentially kindly.

“Oh no, I’m just leaving.”

There are more diplomatic exchanges but when they have ended Oliver goes
back to Copy, remarks “Quitting Saturday, Mrs. Wimple,” gets his hat and
goes off a quarter of an hour earlier than he ever has before, leaving
the rest of Copy to match pennies and opinions till closing time on the
question as to whether he fired himself or was fired.



XXIV

Jane Ellen swayed back and forth in the porch hammock, hugging herself
with fat arms. All her dolls lay spread out wretchedly on the floor
beneath her, she had stripped them of every rag and they had the
dejected appearance of victims ready for sacrifice to Baal. “The
Choolies are mad!” she sang to herself, “The Choolies are mad!”

It had been a perfectly sensible idea to try and water the flowers on
the parlor carpet with her doll’s watering pot--those flowers hadn’t
had any water for an awful long time. But Mother had punished her in
the Third Degree which was by hairbrush and Aunt Elsie had taken the
watering-pot away and Rosalind and Dickie had put on such offensively
virtuous expressions as soon as they heard her being punished that
she was mad at them all. And not ordinarily mad--not mad just by
herself--the Choolies were divinely incensed as well.

“The Choolies are mad!” she hummed again like a battle-cry “Choolies are
dolls and all the Choolies are mad!”

The Choolies were only mad on rare occasions. It took something
genuinely out of the ordinary to turn an inoffensive pink celluloid doll
with one of its legs off into an angry Choolie. But when they were mad
the family had discovered by painful experience that the only thing to
do was to leave Jane Ellen quite entirely alone.

“The Choolies are mad, mad, mad!” she chanted end chanted, her plump
legs swinging, her mouth set like a prophet’s calling down lightnings on
Babylon the splendid.

Then she stopped swinging. Somebody was coming up the path--any of the
people she was mad at?--no--only Uncle Ollie. Were the Choolies mad at
Uncle Ollie? She considered a moment.

“Hello, Jane Ellen, how goes it?”

The small mouth was full of rebellion.

“Um mad!”

“Oh--sorry. What about?”

Defiantly

“Um _mad_. And the Choolies are mad--they’re mad--they’re mad--”

Oliver looked at her a moment but was much too wise to smile.

“They aren’t mad at you, but they’re mad at Motha and Aunt Elsie and Ro
and Dickie and oh--evvabody!” Jane Ellen stated graciously.

“Well, as long as they aren’t mad at me--Any letters for me, Jane
Ellen?” “Yash.”

Oliver found them on the desk, looked them over, once, twice. A letter
from Peter Piper. Two advertisements. A letter with a French stamp.
Nothing from Nancy.

He went out on the porch again to read his letters, to the accompaniment
of Jane Ellen’s untirable chant. “The Choolies are mad” buzzed in his
ears, “The Choolies, the Choolies are mad.” For a moment he saw the
Choolies; they were all women like Mrs. Ellicott but they stood up in
front of him taller than the sky and one of them had hidden Nancy away
in her black silk pocket--put her somewhere, where he never would see
her again.

“Ollie, you look at me sternaly--_don’t_ look at me so sternaly,
Ollie--the Choolies aren’t mad at you--” said Jane Ellen anxiously. “Fy
do you look at me so sternaly?”

He grinned his best at her. “Sorry, Jane Ellen. But my girl’s chucked me
and I’ve chucked my job--and consequently all _my_ choolies are mad--”



XXV

That night was distinguished by four uneasy meals in different
localities. The first was Oliver’s and he ate it as if he were consuming
sawdust while the Crowes talked all around him in the suppressed voices
of people watching a military funeral pass to its muffled drums. Mrs.
Crowe was too wise to try and comfort him in public except by silence
and even Dickie was still too surprised at Oliver’s peevish “Oh _get_
out, kid” when he tried to drag him into their usual evening boxing
match to do anything but confide despondently to his mother that he
doesn’t see why Oliver has to act so _queer_ about any girl.

The second meal was infinitely gayer on the surface though a certain
kind of strainedness a little like the strainedness in the pauses of a
perfectly friendly football game when both sides are too evenly matched
to score ran through it. Still, whatever strainedness there was could
hardly have been Mrs. Severance’s fault.

The impeccable Elizabeth showed no surprise at being told she could
have the day and needn’t be back till breakfast tomorrow. She might have
thought that there seemed to be a good deal of rather perishable food
in the icebox to be wasted, if Mrs. Severance were going to have dinner
out. But Elizabeth had always been one of the rare people who took pride
in “knowing when they were suited” and the apartment on Riverside Drive
had suited her perfectly for four years. She was also a great deal too
clever to abstract any of those fragile viands to take to her widowed
sister on Long Island--Mrs. Severance is so good at finding uses for all
sorts of odd things--Elizabeth felt quite sure she would find some use
or other for these too.

Ted Billett certainly found a good deal of use for some of it, thought
Mrs. Severance whimsically. It had hardly been a Paolo and Francesca
_diner-a-deux_--both had been much too frankly hungry when they came to
it and Ted’s most romantic remarks so far had been devoted to a vivid
appreciation of Mrs. Severance’s housekeeping. But all men are very much
like hungry little boys every so often, Mrs. Severance reflected.

Ted really began to wonder around nine-thirty. At first there had been
only coming in and finding Rose just through setting the table and then
they had been too busy with dinner and their usual fence of talk to
allow for any unfortunate calculations as to how Mrs. Severance could
do it on her salary. But what a perfect little apartment--and even
supposing all the furniture and so forth were family inheritances, and
they fitted each other much too smoothly for that, the mere upkeep of
the place must run a good deal beyond any “Mode” salary. Mr. Severance?
Ted wasn’t sure. Oh, well he was too comfortable at the moment to look
gift horses of any description too sternly in the mouth.

Rose _was_ beautiful--it was Ted and Rose by now. He would like to see
someone paint her sometime as Summer, drowsy and golden, passing through
fields of August, holding close to her rich warm body the tall sheaves
of her fruitful corn. And again the firelight crept close to him, and
under its touch all his senses stirred like leaves in light wind, glad
to be hurt with firelight and then left soothed and heavy and warm.

Only now he had a charm against what the firelight meant--what it had
been meaning more and more these last few weeks with Rose Severance. It
was not a very powerful-looking charm--a dozen lines of a letter from
Elinor Piper asking him to come to Southampton, but it began “Dear Ted”
 and ended “Elinor” and he thought it would serve.

That ought to be enough--that small thing only magical from what you
made it mean against what it really was--that wish that nobody could
even nickname hope--to keep you cool against the waves of firelight that
rose over you like the scent of a harvest meadow. It was, almost.

Rose had been telling him how unhappy she was all evening. Not
whiningly--and not, as he remembered later, with any specific
details--but in a way that made him feel as if he, as part of the world
that had hurt her, were partly responsible. And to want exceedingly to
help. And then the only way he could think of helping was to put himself
like kindling into the firelight, and he mustn’t do that. “Elinor” he
said under his breath like an exorcism, but Rose was very breathing and
good to look at and in the next chair.

His fingers took a long time getting his watch.

“I’ve _got_ to go Rose, really.”

“Must you? What’s the time--eleven?--why heavens, I’ve kept you here
ages, haven’t I, and done nothing but moan about my troubles all the
time.”

“You know I liked it.” Ted’s voice was curiously boyishly honest in a
way he hated but a way that was one of Rose’s reasons why he was here
with her.

“Well, come again,” she said frankly. “It was fun. I loved it.” “I
will--Lord knows I thank you enough--after 252A Madison Avenue it was
simply perfect. And Rose--”

“Well?”

“I’m awful damn sorry. I wish I could help.”

He thought she was going to laugh. Instead she turned perfectly grave.

“I wish you could, Ted.”

They shook hands--it seemed to Ted with a good deal of effort to do only
that. Then they stood looking at each other.

There was so little between them--only a charm that nobody could say was
even partly real--but somewhere in Ted’s brain it said “Elinor” and he
managed to shake hands again and get out of the door.

Mrs. Severance waited several minutes, listening, a faint smile curling
her mouth with intentness and satisfaction. No, this time he wouldn’t
come back--nor next time, maybe--but there would be other times---

Then she went into the pantry and started heating water for the dishes
that she had explained reassuringly to Ted they were leaving for
Elizabeth. There was no need at all of Elizabeth’s knowing any more than
was absolutely necessary.



XXVI

Mr. Severance--the courtesy title at least is due him--seems to be a
man with quite a number of costly possessions. At least here he is with
another house, a dinner-table, servants, guests, another Mrs. Severance
or somebody who seems to fill her place very adequately at the opposite
end of the table, all as if Rose and the Riverside Drive apartment and
reading Dickens aloud were only parts of a doll-house kept in one locked
drawer of his desk.

The dinner is flawless, the guests importantly jeweled or stomached,
depending on their sex, the other Mrs. Severance an admirable
hostess--and yet in spite of it all, Mr. Severance does not seem to be
enjoying himself as he should. But this may be due to a sort of minstrel
give-and-take of dialogue that keeps going on between what he says for
publication and what he thinks.

“Well, Frazee, I’ll be ready to go into that loan matter with you
inside a month,” says his voice, and his mind “Frazee, you slippery old
burglar, it won’t be a month before you’ll be spreading the news that
my disappearance means suicide and that the Commercial is rotten, lock,
stock and barrel.”

“Yes, dear,” in answer to a relayed query from the other Mrs. Severance.
“The children took the small car to go to the dance.” “And, Mary, if
they’d ever been our children instead of your keeping them always
yours, there wouldn’t be that little surprise in store for you that I’ve
arranged.”

“Cigar, Winthrop?” “Better take two, my friend--they won’t be as good
after Mary has charge of that end of the house.”

So it goes--until Mr. Severance has dined very well indeed. And yet
Winthrop, chatting with Frazee, just before they go out of the door,
finds it necessary to whisper to him for some reason--half a dozen words
under cover of a discussion of what the Shipping Board’s new move will
mean to the mercantile marine. “I told you so, George. See his hands?
The old boy’s failing.”



XXVII

The fourth meal is Nancy’s and it doesn’t seem very happy. When it is
over and Mr. Ellicott has rustled himself away from intrusion behind the
evening paper.

“Nobody--‘phoned today--did they, mother?”

“No, dear.” The voice is not as easy as it might be, but Nancy does not
notice.

“Oh.”

Nor does Nancy notice how hurriedly her mother’s next question comes.

“Did you see Mrs. Winters, darling?”

“Oh yes--I saw her.”

“And you’re going on to New York?”

“Yes--next week, I think.”

“With her. And going to stay with her?”

“I suppose so.”

Mrs. Ellicott sighs relievedly.

“That’s so nice.”

Nancy will be safe now--as safe as if she were under an anesthetic. Mrs.
Winters will take care of that. She must have a little talk with dear
Isabella Winters. But that night Nancy is alone in her room--doing up
her engagement ring and Oliver’s letters in a wobbly package. She is not
quite just, though, she keeps one letter--the first.



XXVIII

Margaret Crowe, who, having just come to her seventeenth birthday in
this present day and generation, felt it her official family duty
to season the general conversation with an appropriate pepper of
heartlessness, had really put it very well. She had said that while she
didn’t suppose one house party over Labor Day would more than partially
rivet a broken heart, it honestly was a relief for everybody else to get
Oliver out of the house for a while, and mother needn’t look at her that
way because she was as sorry as any of the rest of them for poor old
Oliver but when people went about like walking cadavers and nearly bit
you any time you mentioned anything that had to do with marriage, it was
time they went somewhere else for a while and stayed there till they got
over it.

And Mrs. Crowe, though dutifully rebuking her for her flippant treatment
of a brother’s pain, agreed with the sense of her remarks, if not with
the wording. It had taken a good deal of quiet obstinacy on the part of
the whole family to get Oliver to accept Peter Piper’s invitation--Mrs.
Crowe, who was understanding, knew at what cost--the cost of a man
who has lost a hand’s first appearance in company with the stump
unbandaged--but anything would be better than the mopey Oliver of the
last two weeks and a half, and Mrs. Crowe had been taught by a good
deal of living the aseptic powers of having to go through the motions
of ordinary life in front of a casual audience, even when it seemed
that those motions were no longer of any account. So Oliver took clean
flannels and a bitter mind to Southampton on the last day of August,
and, as soon as he got off the train, was swung into a reel of
consecutive amusements that, fortunately, allowed him little time to
think.

When he did, it was only to wonder rather frigidly if this fellow with
glasses who played tennis and danced and swam and watched and commented
athletically on the Davis Cup finals, sitting between Elinor Piper and
Juliet Bellamy whom he had taken to dances off and on ever since he had
had his first pair of pumps, could really be he. The two people didn’t
feel in the least the same.

The two Mr. Crowes, he thought. “Mr. Oliver Crowe--meet Mr. Oliver
Crowe.” “On our right, ladies and gentlemen, we have one of the
country’s greatest curiosities--a young gentleman who insists upon going
on existing when there is nothing at all that makes his existence useful
or interesting or proud. A very realistic wax figure that will toddle,
shoot a line and play almost any sort of game until you might easily
believe it to be genuinely alive. Mr. Oliver Crowe.”

The house-party was to last a week, except for Ted Billett who would
have to go back after Labor Day--and before eight hours of it were over,
Oliver was watching Ted with grandmotherly interest, a little mordant
jealousy, and humor, that, at times, verged toward the hysterical.
Nancy--and especially the loss of her--had made him sensitive as
a skinless man to the winds and vagaries of other young people in
love--and while Ted could look at and talk with Elinor Piper and think
himself as safe as a turtle under its shell from the observations and
discoveries of the rest of the party he could no more hide himself or
his intentions from Oliver’s painful scrutiny than he could have hidden
the fact that he had suddenly turned bright green. So Oliver, a little
with the sense of his own extreme generosity, but sincerely enough
in the main, began to play kind shepherd, confidante, referee
and second-between-the-rounds to Ted’s as yet quite unexpressed
strivings--and since most of him was only too willing to busy itself
with anything but reminiscences of Nancy, he began to congratulate
himself shortly that under his entirely unacknowledged guidance things
really seemed to be getting along very well.

And here too his streak of ineradicable humor--that bright plaything
made out of knives that is so fine to juggle with light-handedly until
the hand meets it in its descent a fraction of a second too soon--came
often and singularly to his aid. He could see himself in a property
white beard stretching feeble hands in blessing over a kneeling and
respectful Elinor and Ted. “Bless you my dear, dear children--for
though my own happiness has gone with yester-year, at least I have made
you--find each other--and perhaps, when you sit at evening among the
happy shouts of your posterity--” but here Oliver broke off into a snort
of laughter.

Of course Ted had confided nothing formally as yet--but then, thought
Oliver sourly out of his own experience, he wouldn’t; that was the way
you always felt; and Ted had never been a person of easy confidences.
The most he had done had been to take Oliver grimly aside from the dance
they had gone to last night and explain in one ferocious and muffled
sentence delivered half at Oliver and half at a large tree that if Hinky
Selvage didn’t stop dancing with Elinor that way he, Ted, would carry
him unobtrusively behind a bush and force him to swallow most of his
own front teeth. And again Oliver, looking back as a man might to the
feverish details of a major operation, realized with cynic mirth that
that was a very favorable symptom indeed. Oh everything was going along
simply finely for Ted, if the poor fool only knew it. But that he would
no more believe of course than you would a dentist who told you
he wasn’t going to hurt. People in love _were_ poor fools--damn
fools--unutterably lucky, unutterably perfect--fools.

Ted and Oliver must have one talk though before it all happened beyond
redemption and Ted started wearing that beautiful anesthetized smile and
began to concoct small kindly fatal conspiracies with Elinor and Oliver
and some nice girl. They hadn’t had a real chance to talk since Oliver
came back from St. Louis, and shortly--oh very shortly indeed by the way
things looked--the only thing they would be able to talk about would be
Elinor and how wonderful she and requited love and young happy marriage
were--and however glad Oliver might be for Ted and his luck--he really
wouldn’t be able to stand that, under the present circumstances, for
very long at a time. Ted would be gone into fortune--into a fortune that
Oliver would have to be the last person on earth to grudge him--but that
meant the end of eight years of fighting mockery and friendship together
as surely as if those years were marbles and Elinor were dropping them
down a well. They could pick it up later--after Ted had been married a
year say--but it would have changed then, it wouldn’t be the same.

Oliver smiled rather wryly. He wondered if that was at all like what Ted
might have thought when he and Nancy--But that wasn’t comparable in the
least. But Nancy and he were different. _Nancy_--and with that, the pain
came so dazzlingly for a minute that Oliver had to shut his eyes to
bear it--and something that wasn’t just stupidly rude had to be said to
Juliet Bellamy in answer to her loud clear question as to whether he was
falling asleep.

All up to and through Labor Day Oliver bluffed and manoeuvered like the
head of a small but vicious Balkan State in an International Congress
for Ted and Elinor, and towards tea-time, decided sardonically that it
was quite time his adopted infants took any further responsibilities off
his shoulders. There was no use delaying conclusions any longer--Oliver
felt as he looked at his victims like a workmanlike god who simply must
finish the rough draft of the particular world he is fussing with before
sunset, in spite of all rebellious or slipshod qualities in its clay.
There would be a dance that evening. There would be, Oliver thought with
some proprietary pride, a large sentimental moon. A few craftily casual
words with Elinor before dinner--a real talk with Ted in one of the
intermissions of the dance--a watchdog efficiency in guarding the two
from intrusion while they got the business over with neatly in any one
of several very suitable spots that Oliver had picked out already in his
mind’s eye. And then, having thoroughly settled Ted for the rest of his
years in such a solid and satisfactory way--perhaps the queer gods
that had everyone in charge, in spite of their fatal leaning toward
practical-joking where the literary were concerned, might find enough
applause in their little tin hearts for Oliver’s acquired and vicarious
merit to give him in some strange and painful way another chance to be
alive again and not merely the present wandering spectre-of-body that
people who knew nothing about it seemed to take so unreasonably for
Oliver Crowe.

So he laid his snares, feeling quite like Nimrod the mighty, though
outwardly he was only kneeling on the Piper porch, waiting for the
dice to come around to him in a vociferous game of crap that Juliet
had organized--he seldom shot without winning now he noticed with
superstitious awe. And tea passed to a sound of muffled crumpets, and
everyone went up to dress for dinner.



XXIX

Mrs. Winters’ little apartment on West 79th Street--she heads letters
from it playfully “The Hen Coop” for there is almost always some member
of her own sex doing time with the generous Mrs. Winters. Mrs. Winters
is quite celebrated in St. Louis for her personally-conducted tours of
New York with stout Middle-Western matrons or spectacled school girls
east for visits and clothes--Mrs. Winters has the perfectly-varnished
manners, the lust for retailing unimportant statistics and the
supercilious fixed smile of a professional guide. Mrs. Winters’ little
apartment, that all the friends who come to her to be fed and bedded
and patronized tell her is so charmingly New Yorky because of her dear
little kitchenette with the asthmatic gas-plates, the imitation English
plate-rail around the dining-room wall, the bookcase with real books--a
countable number of them--and on top of it the genuine signed photograph
of Caruso for which Mrs. Winters paid the sum she always makes you guess
about, at a charity-bazaar.

Mrs. Winters herself--the Mrs. Winters who is _so_ interested in young
people as long as they will do exactly what she wants them to--every
inch of her from her waved white hair to the black jet spangles on
her dinner gown or the notes of her “cultivated” voice as frosted and
glittery and artificial as a piece of _glacé_ fruit. And with her,
Nancy, dressed for dinner too, because Mrs. Winters feels it to be one’s
duty to oneself to dress for dinner always, no matter how much one’s
guests may wish to relax--Nancy as much out of place in the apartment
whose very cushions seem to smell of that modern old-maidishness that
takes itself for superior feminist virtue as a crocus would be in an
exhibition of wool flowers--a Nancy who doesn’t talk much and has faint
blue stains under her eyes.

“So everything went very satisfactorily indeed today, dear Nancy?”

Mrs. Winters’ voice implies the uselessness of the question. Nancy is
staying with Mrs. Winters--it would be very strange indeed if even the
least important accompaniments of such a visit were not of the most
satisfactory kind.

“Yes, Mrs. Winters. Nothing particularly happened, that is--but they
like my work.”

“Yes, dear,” Mrs. Winters croons at her, she is being motherly. The
effect produced is rather that of a sudden assumption of life and
vicarious motherhood on the part of a small, brightly-painted porcelain
hen.

“Then they will be sending you over shortly, no doubt? Across the wide
wide sea--” adds Mrs. Winters archly, but Nancy is too tired-looking to
respond to the fancy.

“I suppose they will when they get ready,” she answers briefly and
returns to her chicken-croquette with the thought that in its sleekness,
genteelness, crumblingness, and generally unnourishing qualities it is
really rather like Mrs. Winters. An immense desire, after two weeks of
Mrs. Winters’ mental and physical cuisine for something as hearty
and gross as the mere sight of a double planked steak possesses her
achingly--but Mrs. Winters was told once that she “ate like a bird.”

“Well, in that case, dear Nancy, you certainly must not leave New
York indefinitely without making the most of your opportunities,” Mrs.
Winters’ tones are full of genteel decision. “I have made out a little
list, dear Nancy, of some things which I thought, in my funny old way,
might possibly be worth your while. We will talk it over after dinner,
if you like--”

“Thank you so much, dear Mrs. Winters” says Nancy with dutiful
hopelessness. She is only too well acquainted with Mrs. Winters’ little
lists. “As an _artist_, as an _artist_, dear Nancy, especially.” Mrs.
Winters breathes somewhat heavily, “Things That Should Interest you.
Nothing Bizarre, you understand, Nothing Merely Freakish--but some of
the Things in New York that I, Personally, have found Worth While.”

The Things that Mrs. Winters Has Found Personally Worth While include
a great many public monuments. She will give Nancy a similar list of
Things Worth While in Paris, too, before Nancy sails--and Nancy smiles
acceptably as each one of them is mentioned.

Only Mrs. Winters cannot see what Nancy is thinking--for if she did she
might become startlingly human at once as even the most perfectly poised
of spinsters is apt to do when she finds a rat in the middle of her
neat white bed. For Nancy is thinking quite freely of various quaint and
everlasting places of torment that might very well be devised for Mrs.
Winters--and of the naked fact that once arrived in Paris it will
matter very little to anybody what becomes of her and least of all
to herself--and that Mrs. Winters doesn’t know that she saw a chance
mention of Mr. Oliver Crowe, the author of “Dancer’s Holiday” today in
the “Bookman” and that she cut it out because it had Oliver’s name in
it and that it is now in the smallest pocket of her bag with his creased
and recreased first letter and the lucky piece she had from her nicest
uncle and a little dim photograph of Mr. Ellicott and half a dozen other
small precious things.



XXX

The dance is at the Piper’s this time--the last Piper dance of the
Southampton season and the biggest--other people may give dances
after it but everybody who knows will only think of them as relatively
pleasant or useless addenda. The last Piper Dance has been the official
period to the Southampton summer ever since Elinor’s _début_--and this
time the period is sure to be bigger and rounder than ever since it
closes the most successful season Southampton has ever had.

Nothing very original about its being a masquerade, from Mr. Piper
a courteously grey-haired mandarin in jade-green robes beside Mrs.
Piper--lovely Mary Embree that was--in the silks of a Chinese empress,
heavy and shining and crusted as the wings of a jeweler’s butterfly,
her reticent eyes watching the bright broken patterns of the dancing as
impassively as if she were viewing men being tortured or invested with
honor from the Dragon Throne, to Oliver, a diffident Pierrot who has
discovered no even bearably comfortable way of combining spectacles and
a mask, and Peter who [Illustration: THE LAST PIPER DANCE HAS BEEN THE
OFFICIAL PERIOD TO THE SOUTHAMPTON SUMMER] is gradually turning purple
under the furs of a dancing bear. Nothing much out of the ordinary in
the tunes and the three orchestras and the fact that a dozen gentlemen
dressed as the Devil are finding their tails very inconvenient as
regards the shimmy and a dozen Joans of Arc are eying each other with
looks of dumb hatred whenever they pass. Nothing singular about the
light-heart throb of the music, the smell of powder and scent and heat
and flowers, the whole loose drifting garland of the dancers, blowing
over and around the floor in the idle designs of sand, floating like
scraps of colored paper through a smooth wind heavy with music as the
hours run away like light water through the fingers. But outside the
house the Italian gardens are open, little lanterns spot them like
elf-lights, shining on hedge-green, pale marble; the night is pallid
with near and crowded stars, the air warm as Summer water, sweet as dear
youth.

The unmasking is to take place at midnight and it is past eleven when
Oliver drops back into the stag line after being stuck for a dance and
a half with a leaden-footed human flower-basket who devoted the entire
time to nervous giggles and the single coy statement that she just knew
he never could guess who she was but she recognized him perfectly. He
starts looking around for Ted. There he is, scanning the clown’s parade
with the eyes of an anxious hawk, disgruntled nervousness plain in every
line of his body. Then Oliver remembers that he saw a slim Chinese girl
in loose blue silks go off the floor ten minutes or so ago with a tall
musketeer. He goes over and touches Ted on a particolored arm--the
latter is dressed as a red and gilt harlequin--and feels the muscles he
touches twitch under his hand.

“Cigarette? It’s getting hotter than cotton in here--they’ll have to
open more windows--”

“What?” Then recognizing voice and glasses “Oh yeah--guess so--awful
mob, isn’t it?” and they thread their way out into the cool.

They wander down from the porch and into the gardens, past benches where
the talk that is going on seems to be chiefly in throaty undertones and
halts nervously as their steps crunch past.

“The beautiful and damned!” says Oliver amusedly, then a little louder
_“Amusez vous bien, mes enfants_” at a small and carefully modulated
shriek that comes from the other side of the low hedge, “The night’s
still young. But Good Lord, isn’t there _any_ place in the whole works
where two respectable people can sit without feeling like chaperones?”

They find one finally--it is at the far end of the gardens--a seat the
only reason for whose obvious desertion seems to be, comments Oliver,
that some untactful person has strung a dim but still visible lantern
directly above it--and relapses upon it silently. It is not until the
first cigarettes of both are little red dying stars on the grass beside
them that either really starts to talk.

“Cool,” says Oliver, stretching his arms. The night lies over them light
as spray--a great swimming bath and quietness of soft black, hushed
silver--above them the whole radiant helmet of heaven is white with its
stars. From the house they have left, glowing yellow in all its windows,
unreal against the night as if it were only a huge flat toy made out
of paper with a candle burning behind it, comes music, blurred but
insistent, faint as if heard over water, dull and throbbing like
horse-hoofs muffled with leather treading a lonely road.

“Um. Good party.”

“Real Piper party, Ted. And, speaking of Pipers, friend Peter certainly
seems to be enjoying himself--”

“Really?”

“Third bench on the left as we came down. Never go to a costume-party
dressed as a dancing-bear if you want to get any quiet work in on the
side. Rule One of Crowe’s Social Code for Our Own First Families.”

Ted chuckles uneasily and there is silence for another while as they
smoke. Both are in very real need of talking to each other but must feel
their way a little carefully because they are friends. Then--

“I,” says Ted and--

“You,” says Oliver, simultaneously. Both laugh and the little tension
that has grown up between them snaps at once.

“I suppose you know that Nancy’s and my engagement went bust about three
weeks ago,” begins Oliver with elaborate calm, his eyes fixed on his
shoes.

Ted clears his throat.

“Didn’t _know_. Afraid it was something like that though--way you were
looking,” he says, putting his words one after the other, as slowly as
if he were building with children’s blocks. “What was it? Don’t tell me
unless you want to, of course--_you_ know---”

“Want to, rather.” Ted knows that he is smiling, and how, though he is
not looking at his face. “After all--old friends, all that. My dear old
College chum,” but the mockery breaks down. “My fault, I guess,” he says
in a voice like metal.

“It was, Ted. Acted like a fool. And then, this waiting business--not
much use going over that, now. But it’s broken. Got my--property--such
as it was all back in a neat little parcel two weeks ago. That’s why I
quit friend Vanamee--you ought to have known from that.”

“Did, I suppose, only I hoped it wasn’t. I’m damn sorry, Ollie.

“Thanks, Ted.”

They shake hands, but not theatrically.

“Oh well--oh hell--oh dammit, you know how blasted sorry I am. That’s
all I can say, I guess--”

“Well, so am I. And it was my fault, chiefly. And that’s all I can say.”

“Look here, though.” Ted’s voice is doing its best to be logical in
spite of the fact that two things, the fact that he is unutterably
sorry for Oliver and the fact that he mustn’t show it in silly ways, are
fighting in him like wrestlers. “Are you sure it’s as bad as all that?
I mean girls---” Ted flounders hopelessly between his eagerness to
help and his knowledge that it will take ungodly tact. “I mean,
Nancy’s different all right--but they change their minds--and they come
around--and--”

Oliver spreads out his hands. It is somehow queerly comforting not
to let himself be comforted in any degree. “What’s the use? Tried
to explain--got her mother--Nancy was out but she certainly left a
message--easier if we never saw each other again--well--Then she
sent back everything--she knew I’d tried to phone her--tried to
explain--never a word since then except my name and address on the
package--oh it’s over, Ted. Feenee. But it’s pretty well smashed me. For
the present, at least.”

“But if you started it,” Ted says stubbornly.

“Oh I did, of course--gentlemanly supposition anyhow--that’s why--don’t
you see?”

“Can’t say I do exactly.”

“Well?”

“Well?”

“We’re both of us too proud, Ted. And too poor. And starting
again--can’t you--visualize--it wouldn’t be the way it was--only both
of us thinking about _that_ all the time--and _still_ we couldn’t get
married. I’ve got less right than ever, now--oh, but how _could_ we
after what we’ve said--” and this time his voice has lost all the
attitudes of youth, it is singularly older and seems to come from the
center of a place full of pain.

“I wish I could help, though, Ollie. You know,” says Ted.

“Wish you could.” Then later, “Thanks.” “Welcome.”

Both smoke and are silent for a time, remembering small things out of
the last eight years.

“But what are you going to do, Ollie, now you’ve kissed the great god
Advertising a fond good-by?”

Ollie stirs uneasily.

“Dunno--exactly. I told you about those two short stories Easten wanted
me to take out of my novel? Well, I’ve done it and sent ‘em in--and
he’ll buy ‘em all right.”

“That’s fine!”

“It’s a little money, anyhow. And then--remember Dick Lamoureux?”

“Yes.”

“Got a letter from him right after--I came back from St. Louis.
Well, he’s got a big job with the American Express in Paris--European
Advertising Manager or something like that--he’s been crazy to have
either of us come over ever since that idea of the three of us getting
an apartment on the _Rive Gauche_ fell through. Well, he says, if I can
come over, he’ll get me some sort of a job--not much to go on at
first but they want people who are willing to stay--enough to live on
anyway--I want to get out of the country, Ted.”

“Should think you would. Good Lord--Paris! Why you lucky, lucky Indian!”
 says Ted affectionately. “When’ll you leave?” “Don’t know. He said cable
him if I really decided--think I will. They need men and I can get a
fair enough letter from Vanamee. I’ve been thinking it over ever since
the letter came--wondering if I’d take it. Think I will now. Well.”

“Well, I wish I was going along, Crowe.”

And this time Oliver is really able to smile.

“No, you don’t.”

“Oh well--but, honestly--well, no, I suppose I don’t. And I suppose
_that’s_ something you know all about, too, you--private detective!”

“Private detective! Why, you poor ass, if you haven’t noticed how I’ve
been playing godmother to you all the way through this house-party--”

“I have. I suppose I’d thank anybody else. Coming from you, though, I
can only say that such was both my hope and my expectation.”

“Oh, you _perfect_ ass!” Both laugh, a little unsteadily.

“Well, Ollie, what think?” says Ted, finding some difficulty with his
words for some reason or other.

“Think? Can’t tell, my amorous child. Coldly considered, I think you’ve
got a good show--and I’m very strong for it, needless to say--and if you
don’t go and put it over pretty soon I’ll be intensely annoyed--one of
the pleasures I’ve promised myself for years and years has been getting
most disgracefully fried at your wedding, Ted.”

“Well, tonight is going to be zero hour, I think.” Ted proceeds with a
try at being flippant and Oliver cackles with mirth.

“I knew it. I knew it. Old Uncle Ollie, the Young Proposer’s Guide and
Pocket Companion.” Then his voice changes. “Luck,” he says briefly.

“Thanks. Need it.”

“Of course I’m not worthy,” Ted begins diffidently but Oliver stops him.

“They never are. I wasn’t. But that doesn’t make any difference. You’ve
got to--_n’est-ce pas?_”

“You old bum! Yes. But when I think of it---”

“Don’t”

“But leaving out everything else--it seems so damned _cheeky!_ When
Elinor’s got everything, including all the money in the world, and I--”

“We talked that over a long time ago, remember? And remember what we
decided--that it didn’t matter, in this year and world at least. Of
course I’m assuming that you’re really in love with her--”

“I am,” from Ted very soberly. “Oh I am, all right.”

“Well then, go ahead. And, Theodore, I shall watch your antic motions
with the greatest sarcastic delight, both now and in the future--either
way it breaks. Moreover I’ll take anybody out of the action that you
don’t want around--and if there were anything else I could do--”

“Got to win off my own service,” says Ted. “You know. But thanks all the
same. Only when I think of--some incidents of Paris--and how awful near
I’ve come to making a complete fool of myself with that Severance woman
in the last month--well--”

“Look here, Ted.” Oliver is really worried. “You’re not going to let
that--interfere--are you? Right now?”

“I’ve got to tell her.” Ted’s smile is a trifle painful. “Got to, you
know. Oh not that. But France. The whole business.”

“But good heavens, man, you aren’t going to make it the start of the
conversation?”

“Well--maybe not. But it’s all got to be--explained. Only way I’ll ever
feel decent--and I don’t suppose I’ll feel too decent then.”

“But Ted--oh it’s your game, of course. Only I don’t think it’s
being--fair--to either of you to tell her just now.”

“Can’t help it, Ollie.” Ted’s face sets into what Oliver once christened
his “mule-look.” “I’ve thought it over backwards and sideways and
all around the block--and I can’t squirm out of it because it’ll be
incredibly hard to do. As a matter of fact,” he pauses, “it’ll tell
itself, you know, probably,” he ends, more prophetically than he would
probably care to know.

“Well, I simply _don’t_ see--”

“_Must_,” and after that Oliver knows there is very little good of
arguing the point much further. He has known Ted for eight years
without finding out that a certain bitter and Calvinistic penchant for
self-crucifixion is one of his ruling forces--and one of those least
easily deduced from his externals. Still he makes a last effort.

“Now don’t start getting all tied up about that. Keep your mind on
Elinor.”

“That’s not--hard.”

“Good--I see that you have all the proper reactions. And you’ll excuse
me for saying that _I_ don’t think she’s too good for you--and even if
she were she’d have to marry somebody, you know--and when you put it,
put it straight, and let Paris and everything else you’re worrying about
go plumb to hell! And that’s good advice.”

“I know it. I’ll tell you of course.”

“Well, I should _think_ you would!”

Oliver looks at his watch. “Great Scott--they’ll be unmasking in twenty
minutes. And I’ve got to go back and cut Juliet out of the herd and take
her to supper--”

They rise and look at each other. Then

“Hope this is the last time, Ted, old fel--which isn’t any reflection on
the last eight years odd,” says Oliver slowly, and their hands grip once
and hard. Then they both start talking fast as they walk back to the
house to cover the unworthy emotion. But just as they are going in the
door, Oliver hisses into Ted’s ear, an advisory whisper,

“Now go and eat all the supper you can, you idiot--it always helps.”



XXXI

The parti-colored harlequin and the young Chinese lady in blue silks are
walking the Italian gardens, talking about nothing in particular.
Ted has managed to discuss the moon--it is high now, a round white
lustre--the night, which is warm--the art of garden decoration, French,
English and Italian--the pleasantness of Southampton after New York--all
with great nervous fluency but so completely as if he had met Elinor for
the first time ten minutes ago that she is beginning to wonder why,
if he dislikes her as much as that, he ever suggested leaving the
dance-floor at all.

Ted, meanwhile, is frantically conscious of the fact that they have
reached the end of the garden, are turning back, and still he is so
cripplingly tongue-tied about the only thing he really wishes to say
that he cannot even get the words out to suggest their sitting down. It
is not until he stumbles over a pebble while passing a small hard marble
seat set back in a nest of hedge that he manages to make his first
useful remark of the promenade.

“Ah--a bench!” he says brightly, and then, because that sounded so
completely imbecile, plunges on.

“Don’t you want to sit down a minute, Elinor?--I--you--it’s so cool--so
warm, I mean--” He closes his mouth firmly--what a _ghastly_ way to
begin!

But Elinor says “Yes” politely and they try to adapt themselves to the
backless ornamental bench, Ted nervously crossing and recrossing his
legs until he happens to think that Elinor certainly never would marry
anybody with St. Vitus’ Dance.

“Can’t tell you how nice it’s been this time, Elinor. And you’ve been--”
 There, things are going better--at least, he has recovered his voice.

“Why, you know how much we love to have you, Ted,” says Elinor and Ted
feels himself turn hot and cold as he was certain you never really did
except in diseases. But then she adds, “You and Ollie and Bob Templar,
and, oh, all Peter’s friends.”

He looks at her steadily for a long moment--the blue silks of her
costume suit her completely. She is there, black hair and clear eyes,
small hands and mouth pure as the body of a dream and elvish with
thoughts like a pansy--all the body of her, all that people call her.
And she is so delicately removed from him--so clean in all things where
he is not--that he knows savagely within him that there can be no real
justice in a world where he can even touch her lightly, and yet he must
touch her because if he does not he will die. All the things he meant to
say shake from him like scraps of confetti, he does not worry any more
about money or seeming ridiculous or being worthy, all he knows at all
in the world is his absolute need of her, a need complete as a child’s
and so choosing any words that come.

“Listen--do you like me?” says the particolored harlequin and all the
sharp leaves of the hedge begin to titter as wind runs over them at one
of the oldest and least sensible questions in the world.

The young Chinese lady turns toward the harlequin. There is some
laughter in her voice and a great deal of surprise.

“Why, Ted, of course--why, why shouldn’t I?--You’re Peter’s friend
and--”

“Oh, I don’t mean _that_!” The harlequin’s hands twist at each other
till the knuckles hurt, but he seems to have recovered most voluble if
chaotic powers of speech.

“That was silly, asking that--but it’s hard--when you care for anybody
so much you can’t _see_--when you love them till they’re the only
thing there _is_ you care about--and you know you’re not fit to touch
them--not worthy of them--that they’re thousands of times too good for
you but--oh, Elinor, Elinor, I just can’t stand it any more! Do you love
me, Elinor, because I love you as I never loved anything else in the
world?”

The young Chinese lady doesn’t seem to be quite certain of just what is
happening. She has started to speak three times and stopped each time
while the harlequin has been waiting with the suspense of a man hanging
from Heaven on a pack-thread. But then she does speak.

“I think I do, Ted---oh, Ted, I know I do,” she says uncertainly--and
then Oliver, if he were there, would have stepped forward to bow like an
elegant jack-knife at the applause most righteously due him for perfect
staging, for he really could not have managed better about the kiss
that follows if he had spent days and days showing the principals how to
rehearse it.

And then something happens that is as sudden as a bubble’s going to
pieces and most completely out of keeping with any of Oliver’s ideas
on how love should be set for the theatre. For “Oh, what am I _doing_?”
 says the harlequin in the voice of a man who has met his airy double
alone in a wood full of ghosts and seen his own death in its face, and
he crumples into a loose bag of parti-colored silks, his head in his
hands. [Illustration: The Young Chinese Lady is Shrinking Inside
Her Silks] It would be nothing very much to any sensible person, no
doubt--the picture that made itself out of cold dishonorable fog in the
instant of peace after their double release from pain. It was only the
way that Elinor looked at him after the kiss--and remembering the last
time he saw his own diminished little image in the open eyes of a girl.

The young Chinese lady is shrinking inside her silks as if frost had
touched her--all she knows is that she doesn’t understand. And then
there is the harlequin looking at her with his face gone suddenly
pinched and odd as if he had started to torture himself with his own
hands; and the fact that he will not touch her, and what he says.

“Oh, Elinor, darling. Oh, I can’t tell you, I can’t.”

“But what _is_ it, Ted?”

“It’s this--it’s what I meant to tell you before I ever told you I loved
you--what I haven’t any right not to tell you--and I guess that the fact
I didn’t, shows pretty well what sort of a fellow I am. Do you really
think you know about me, dear--do you really think you do?”

“Why, of course, Ted.” The voice is still a little chill with the fright
he gave her, but under that it is beautifully secure.

“Well, you don’t. And, oh Lord, why couldn’t it have happened before I
went to France!--because then it would have been all different and I’d
have had some sort of a right--not a right, maybe--but anyhow, I could
have come to you--straight. I can’t now, dear, that’s all.”

The voice halts as if something were breaking to pieces inside of it.

“I can’t bring you what you’d bring me. Oh, it isn’t
anything--physically--dangerous--that way--I--was--lucky.” The words
space themselves as slowly as if each one of them burnt like acid as
it came. “It’s--just--that. Just that--while I was in France--I went
over--all the hurdles--and then a few more, I guess--and I’ve got
to--tell you about it--because I love you--and because I wouldn’t dare
love you, even--if I didn’t--tell you the truth. You see. But, oh my
God, I never thought it would--hurt so!” and the parti-colored body of
the harlequin is shaken with a painful passion that seems ridiculously
out of keeping with his motley. But all that the young Chinese lady
feels is that for a single and brittle instant she and somebody else
had a star in their hands that covered them with light clean silver, and
that now the conjuror who made the star out of nothing and gave it to
her is showing her just why there never was any star. Moreover, she has
only known she was in love for the last five minutes--and that is hardly
long enough for her to discover that love itself is too living to be
very much like any nice girl’s dreams of it--and the shock of what Ted
has said has brought every one of her mother’s reticent acid hints on
the general uncleanliness of Man too prickling-close to her mind. And
she can’t understand--she never will understand, she thinks with dull
pain.

“Oh how _could_ you, Ted? How _could_ you?” she says as he waits as a
man walking the plank might wait for the final gentle push that will
send him overboard.

“Oh, I know it was fine of you to tell me--but it’s just spoiled
everything forever. Oh, Ted, how _could_ you?” and then she is
half-running, half-walking, up the path toward the porch and all she
knows is that she must get somewhere where she can be by herself. The
harlequin does not follow her.



XXXII

Oliver, in the middle of a painfully vivid dream in which he has just
received in the lounge of a Yale Club crowded with whispering, pointing
spectators the news that Miss Nancy Ellicott of St. Louis has eloped
with the Prince of Wales, wakes, to hear someone stumbling around the
room in the dark.

“That you, Ted?”

“Yes. Go to bed.”

“Can’t--I’m there. What’s time?”

“‘Bout five, I guess.” Ted doesn’t seem to want to be very
communicative.

“Um.” A pause while Oliver remembers what it was he wanted to ask Ted
about and Ted undresses silently.

“Well--congratulations?”

Ted’s voice is very even, very controlled.

“Sorry, Ollie. Not even with all your good advice.”

“_Honestly_?”

“Uh-huh.” “Well, look here--better luck next time, anyway. It’s all--”

“It’s all over, Ollie. I’m getting out of here tomorrow before most of
them are up. Special breakfast and everything--called back to town by
urgent legal affairs.” He laughs, rather too barkingly for Oliver to
like it.

“Oh, Hell!”

“Correct.”

“Well, she’s--”

“She’s an angel, Ollie. But I had to tell her--about France. That broke
it. D’you wonder?”

“Oh, you poor, damn, honorable, simple-minded, blessed, blasted fool!
_Before_ you’d really begun?”

Ted hesitates. “Y-yes.”

“Oh, hell!”

“Well, if all you can do is to lie back in bed there and call on your
Redeemer when---Sorry, Ollie. But I’m not feeling too pleasant tonight.”

“Well, I ought to know--”

“Forgot. You ought. Well--you do.”

“But I don’t see anything yet that--”

“She does.”

“But--”

“Oh, Ollie, what’s the use? We can both of us play Job’s comforter to
the other because we’re pretty good friends. But you can see how my
telling her would--oh well there isn’t much percentage in hashing it
over. I’ve done what I’ve done. If I’d known I’d have to pay for it this
way, I wouldn’t have--but there, we’re all made like that. There’s one
thing I can’t do--and that is get away with a thing like that on false
pretences--I’d rather shoot the works on one roll and crap than use the
sort of dice that behave. I went into the thing with my eyes open--now
I’ve got to pay for it--well, what of it? It wouldn’t make all the
difference to a lot of girls, perhaps--a lot of the best--but it does
to Elinor and she’s the only person I want. If I can’t have her, I don’t
want anything--but if I’ve made what all the Y.M.C.A. Christians that
ever sold nickel bars of chocolate for a quarter would call a swine out
of myself--well, I’m going to be a first-class swine. So put on my glad
rags, Josie, I’m going to Rector’s and hell!”

All this has been light enough toward the end but the lightness is not
far from a very real desperation, all the same.

“Meaning by which?” Oliver queries uneasily.

“Meaning by which that some of my address for the next two-three weeks
will be care of Mrs. Rose Severance, 4th floor, the Nineveh, Riverside
Drive, New York--you know the place, I showed it to you once from a
bus-top when we were talking the mysterious lady over. And that I don’t
think Mr. Theodore Billett will graduate _cum laude_ from Columbia Law
School. In fact, I think it very possible that Mr. Billett will join
Mr. Oliver Crowe, the celebrated unpublished novelist on a pilgrimage
to Paris for to cure their broken hearts and go to the devil like
gentlemen. Eh, Ollie?”

“Well, that’s all right for _me_,” says Oliver combatively. “And I
always imagined we’d find each other in hell. I’m not trying to be
inhospitable with my own pet red-hot gridiron, but all the same--”

“Now, Crowe, for Pete’s sake, it’s five o’clock in the morning and I’m
catching the 7.12--”

And Oliver is too sleepy to argue the point. Besides he knows quite well
that any arguments he can use will only drive Ted, in his present
state of mind, a good deal farther and faster along the road he has so
dramatically picked out for himself. So, between trying to think of
some means of putting either sense or the fear of God into Elinor Piper,
whatever Ted may say about it, and wondering how the latter would take
a suggestion to come over to Melgrove for a while instead of starting an
immoral existence with that beautiful but possessive friend of Louise’s,
he drops off to sleep.



XXXIII

Oliver had depended on Ted’s noisy habits in dressing and packing to
wake him and give them a chance to talk before Ted left--but when he
woke it was to hear a respectful servantly voice saying “Ten o’clock,
sir!” and his first look around the room showed him that Ted’s bed was
empty and Ted’s things were gone. There was a scribbled note propped up
against the mirror, though.

  “Dear Ollie:

  “So long--and thanks for both good advice
  and sympathy. The latter helped if the former
  didn’t. Drop me a message at 252A as soon
  as you decide on this French proposition. I’m
  serious about it.                    TED.”

By the time he had read this through, Oliver began to feel rather
genuinely alarmed.

He could not believe that the whole affair between Ted and Elinor Piper
had gone so utterly wrong as the note implied--he had had a whimsical
superstition that it must succeed because he was playing property man to
it after his own appearance as Romeo had failed--but he knew Ted and
the two years’ fight against the struggling nervous restlessness and
discontent with everything that didn’t have either speed or danger in
it that the latter, like so many in his position, had had to make. His
mouth tightened--no girl on earth, even Nancy, could realize exactly
what that meant--the battle to recover steadiness and temperance and
sanity in a temperament that was in spite of its poised externals
most brilliantly sensitive, most leapingly responsive to all strong
stimuli--a temperament moreover that the war and the armistice between
them had turned wholly toward the stimuli of fever--and Ted had made
it with neither bravado nor bluster and without any particular sense
of doing very much--and now this girl was going to smash it and him
together as if she were doing nothing more important than playing with
jackstones.

He remembered a crowd of them talking over suicide one snowy night up
in Coblenz--young talk enough but Ted had been the only one who really
meant it--he had got quite vehement on picking up your proper cue for
exit when you knew that your part was through or you were tired of the
part. He remembered café hangers-on in Paris--college men--men who could
talk or write or teach or do any one of a dozen things--but men who had
crumbled with intention or without it under the strain of the war
and the snatches of easy living to excess, and now had about them in
everything they said or wore a faint air of mildew; men who stayed in
Paris on small useless jobs while their linen and their language verged
more and more toward the soiled second-hand--who were always meaning to
go home but never went. If Ted went to Paris--with his present mind. Why
Ted was his best friend, Oliver realized with a little queer shock in
his mind--it was something they had never just happened to say that way.
And therefore. Far be it from Oliver to be rude to the daughter of his
hostess, but some things were going to be explained to Miss Elinor Piper
if they had to be explained by a public spanking in the middle of the
Jacobean front hall.

But then there was breakfast, at which few girls appeared, and Elinor
was not one of the few. And then Peter insisted on going for a swim
before lunch--and then lunch with Elinor at the other end of the table
and Juliet Bellamy talking like a mechanical piano into Oliver’s ear
so that he had to crane his neck to see Elinor at all. What he saw,
however, reassured him a little--for he had always thought Elinor one
of the calmest young persons in the world, and calm young persons do not
generally keep adding spoonfuls of salt abstractedly to their clam-broth
till the mixture tastes like the bottom of the sea.

But even at that it was not till just before tea-time that Oliver
managed to cut her away from the vociferous rest of the house-party that
seemed bent on surrounding them both with the noise and publicity of a
private Coney Island. Peter has expressed a fond desire to motor over
to a little tea-room he knows where you can dance and the others had
received the suggestion with frantic applause. Oliver was just starting
downstairs after changing his shoes, cursing house-party manners in
general and Juliet Bellamy in particular all over his mind when Elinor’s
voice came up to him from below.

“No, really, Petey. No, I know it’s rude of me but honestly I am _tired_
and if I’m going to feel like anything but limp _tulle_ this evening.
No, I’m _perfectly_ all right, I just want to rest for a little while
and I promise I’ll be positively incandescent at dinner. No, Juliet
dear, I wouldn’t keep you or anybody else away from Peter’s nefarious
projects for the world--”

That was quite enough for Oliver--he tiptoed back and hid in his own
closet--wondering mildly how he was going to explain his presence there
if a search party opened the door. He heard a chorus of voices calling
him from below, first warningly, then impatiently--heard Peter bounce up
the stairs and yell “Ollie! Ollie, you slacker!” into his own room--and
then finally the last motor slurred away and he was able to creep out of
his shell.

He met Elinor on the stairs--looking encouragingly droopy, he thought.

“Why Ollie, what’s the matter? The pack was howling for you all over the
house--they’ve all gone over to the Sharley--look, I’ll get you a car--”
 She went down a couple of steps toward the telephone.

Oliver immediately and without much difficulty put on his best
expression of blight.

“Sorry, El--must have dropped off to sleep,” he said unblushingly.
“Lay down on my bed to sort of think some things over--and that’s what
happens of course. But don’t bother--”

“It’s no trouble. I could take you over myself but I was so sort of
fagged out--that’s why I didn’t go with them,” she added--a little
uncertainly he noticed.

“And--oh it’s just being silly and tired I suppose, but all of them
together--”

“I know,” said Oliver and hoped his voice had sounded appropriately
bitter. “No reflections on you or Peter, El, you both understand and
you’ve both been too nice for words--but some of the others sometimes--”

“Oh I’m _sorry_,” said Elinor contritely, and Oliver felt somewhat as if
he were swindling her out of sympathy she probably needed for herself by
deliberately calling attention to his own cut finger. But it had to
be done--there wasn’t any sense in both of them, he and Ted, walking
crippled when one of them might be able to doctor the other up by just
giving up a little pride. He went on.

“So I thought--I’d just stay around here with a book or something--get
some tea from your mother, later, if she were here--”

“Why, I can do that much for you, Ollie, anyway. Let’s have it now.”

“But look here, if you were going to do anything--” knowing that after
that she could hardly say so, even if she were.

“Oh no. And besides, with both of us here and both of us blue it would
be silly if we went and were melancholy at each other from opposite
sides of the house.” She tried to be enthusiastic. “And there’s
strawberry jam and muffins somewhere--the kind that Peter makes himself
such a pig about--”

“Well, Elinor, you certainly are a friend--”

A little later, in a quiet corner of the porch with the tea-steam
floating pleasantly from the silver nose of its pot and a decorous
scarlet and yellow still-life of muffins and jam between them, Oliver
felt that so far things had slid along as well as could be expected.
Elinor’s manners in the first place and her genuine liking for him
in the second had come to his help as he knew they would--she was too
concerned now with trying to comfort him in small unobtrusive ways to be
on her guard herself about her own troubles. All he had to do, he knew,
was to sit there and look ostentatiously brokenhearted to have the
conversation move in just the directions he wished and that, though it
made him feel shameless was not exactly difficult--all he required was
a single thought of the last three weeks to make his acting sour
perfection itself. “Greater love hath no man than this,” he thought
with a grotesque humor--he wondered if any of the celebrated story-book
patterns of friendship from Damon and Jonathan on would have found
things quite so easy if they had had to take not their lives but most of
their most secret and painful inwards and put them down on a tea-table
like a new species of currant bun under the eyes of a friendly
acquaintance to help their real friends.

“I can’t tell you how awfully decent it was of you and Peter,” he began
finally after regarding a buttered muffin for several minutes as if it
were part of the funeral decorations for dead young love. “Asking me out
here, just now. Oh I’ll write you a charming bread-and-butter letter
of course--but I wanted to tell you really--” He stopped and let the
sentence hang with malice aforethought. Elinor’s move. Trust Elinor.
And the trust was justified for she answered as he wanted her to, and at
once.

“Why Ollie, as if it was anything--when we’ve all of us more or less
grown up together, haven’t we--and you and Peter--” She stopped--oh
what was the use of being tactful! “I suppose it sounds--put
on--and--sentimental and all that--saying it,” she laughed nervously,
“but we--all of us--Peter and myself--we’re so really _sorry_--if
you’ll believe us--only it was hard to know if you wanted to have us say
so--how awfully sorry we were. And then asking you out here with this
howling mob doesn’t seem much like it, does it? but Peter was going
to be here--and Ted--and I knew what friends you’d been in college--I
thought maybe--but I just didn’t want you to think it was because we
didn’t care--”

“I know--and--and--thanks--and I do appreciate, Elinor.” Oliver noticed
with some slight terror that his own voice seemed to be getting a little
out of control. But what she had just said took away his last doubt as
to whether she was really the kind of person Ted ought to marry--and in
spite of feeling as if he were trapping her into a surgical operation
she knew nothing about, he kept on.

“It gets pretty bad, sometimes,” he said simply and waited. Last
night--if things came out right later--will have been just what Elinor
needed most, he decided privately. She had always struck him as being a
little too aloof to be quite human--but she was changing under his eyes
to a very human variety of worried young girl.

“Well, isn’t there something we can really _do_?” she said diffidently,
then changing,

“Oh I mean it--if you don’t think it’s only--probing--asking that?” as
she changed again.

“Not a thing I’m afraid, Elinor, though I really do thank you.” He hated
his voice--it sounded so brave. “It’s just finished, that’s all. Can’t
kick very well. Oh no,” as she started to speak, “it doesn’t hurt to
talk about, really. Helps, more. And Peter and Ted help too--especially
Ted.”

He watched her narrowly--changing color like that must mean a good deal
with Elinor.

Then “Why Ted?” she said, almost as if she were talking to herself
and then started to try and make him see that that didn’t matter--a
spectacle to which he remained gratifiedly blind. He addressed his next
remarks at the dish of jam so that she wouldn’t be able to catch his
eye.

“Oh, I’m not slamming Peter’s sympathetic soul, El, you know I’m
not--but Ted and I just happened to go through such a lot of the war and
after it together--and then Ted saw a good deal more of Nancy. Peter’s
delightful. And kind. But he does assume that because lots of people get
engaged and disengaged again all over the lot these days as if they were
cutting for bridge-partners there isn’t anything particularly serious in
things like that. Nothing to really make you make faces and bust,
that is. Well, ours happened to be one of the other kind--that’s the
difference. And Peter, well, Peter isn’t exactly the soul of constancy
when it comes to such matters--”

“Peter--oh Peter--if you knew the millions of girls that Peter’s kept
pictures of--”

“Well, I’ve heard all about the last hundred thousand or so, I think.
But there’s perfect safety in thousands. It’s when you start being so
stalwart and sure and manly about one--”

Oliver spread out his hands. Elinor’s color--the way it fluctuated
at least--was most encouraging. So was the fact that she had tried to
butter her last muffin with the handle of her knife. “But I don’t see
_how_ if a girl really cared about a man she could let anything--” she
said and then stopped with a burning flush. And now Oliver knew that
he had to be very careful. He looked over his tools and decided that
infantile bitterness was best.

“Girls are girls,” he said shortly, stabbing a muffin. “They tell you
they do and then they tell you they don’t--that’s them.”

“Oliver Crowe, I never heard such a nasty, childish seventeen-year-old
idea from you in my whole life!” Oh what would calm Mrs. Piper say
if she could see Elinor, eyes cloudy with anger, leaning across the
tea-wagon and emphasizing her points by waves of a jammy knife as she
defends constancy and romance! “They do _not_! When a girl cares for a
man--and she knows he cares for her--she doesn’t care about _anything_
else, she--”

“That’s what Nancy said,” remarked Oliver placidly out of his muffin.
“And then--”

“Well, you know I’m sorry for you--you know I’m just as sorry for you as
I can be,” went on Elinor excitedly. “But all the same, my dear Ollie,
you have no right in the least to say that just because one girl has
broken her engagement with you, all girls are the same. I know dozens of
girls--” “So do I,” from Oliver, quietly. “Dozens. And they’re just the
same.”

“They _aren’t_. And I haven’t the slightest wish to suggest that it was
_your_ fault, Oliver--but no girl as sweet and friendly and darling as
Nancy Ellicott, the little I knew of her that is, but other girls can
tell, and she certainly thought you were the person that made all the
stars come out in the sky and twinkle, would go and break her engagement
_entirely_ of her own accord--you _must_ have--”

And now Oliver looked at her with a good deal of sorrowful pity--she had
delivered herself so completely into his hands.

“I never said it was her fault, Elinor,” he said gently, keeping the
laughter back by a superb effort of will. “It was mine, I am sure,” and
then he added most sorrowfully, “All mine.”

“_Well!_”

For a moment he forgot that he was there playing checkers with himself
and Elinor for Ted.

“You’ve never been through it, have you?” he said rather fiercely. “You
can’t have--you couldn’t talk like that if you had. When you’ve put
everything you’ve got in mind or body or soul completely in one person’s
hands and then, just because of a silly misunderstanding we neither of
us meant--they drop it--and you drop with it and the next thing you
know you’re nothing but a _mess_ and all you can wonder is if even the
littlest part of you will ever feel whole again--” He realized that he
was very nearly shouting, and then, suddenly, that if he kept on this
way the game was over and lost. He must think about Ted, not Nancy. Ted,
Ted. Mr. Theodore Billett, Jr.

“She’d forgiven me such a lot,” he ended rather lamely. “I thought she’d
keep on.”

But his outburst had only made Elinor feel the sorrier for him--he felt
like a burglar as he saw the kindness in her eyes.

“I don’t imagine she ever had such an awful lot to forgive, Ollie,” she
said gently.

Then the lie he had been leading up to all the way came at last,
magnificently hesitant.

“She had, Elinor. I was in France you know.”

He was afraid when he had said it--it sounded so much like a title out
of a movie--but he looked steadily at her and saw all the color go out
of her face and then return to it burningly.

“Well, that wasn’t anything to be--forgiven about exactly--was it?” she
said unsteadily.

He spoke carefully, in broken sentences, only the knowledge that this
was the only way he could think of to help things nerving his mind. “It
wasn’t being in France, Elinor. It was--the adjuncts. I don’t suppose I
was any worse than most of my outfit--but that didn’t make it any easier
when I had to tell her I hadn’t been any better. I felt,” his voice
rose, his literary trick of mind had come to his rescue now and made him
know just how he would have felt if it had really happened, “I felt
as if I were in hell. Really. But I had to tell her. And when she’d
forgiven me that--and said that it was all right--that it didn’t make
any real difference now--I thought she was about the finest person in
the world--for telling me such nice lies. And after that--I was so sure
that it was all right--that because of her knowing and still being able
to care--it would last--oh well--”

He stopped, waiting for Elinor but Elinor for a person so voluble a
little while ago seemed curiously unwilling to speak.

“Lord knows why I’m telling you this--except that we started arguing
and you’re nice enough to listen. It’s not tea-table conversation, or
it wouldn’t have been ten years ago--and if I’ve shocked you, I’m sorry.
But after that, as I said--I didn’t think there was anything that could
separate us--really I didn’t--and then just one little time when we
didn’t quite understand each other and--over. Sorry to spoil your
illusions, Elinor, but that’s the way people do.”

“But how could she?” and this time there was nothing but pure hurt
questioning in Elinor’s voice and the words seemed to hurt her as if she
were talking needles. “Why Ollie--she couldn’t possibly--if she really
cared--”

All he wondered was which of them would break first.

“She could,” he said steadily, in spite of the fact that everything in
his mind kept saying “No. No. No.” “Any girl could--easily. Even you,
Elinor--if you’ll excuse my being rude--”

For a moment he thought that his carefully plotted scenario was going
to break up into melodrama with the reticent, composed and sympathetic
Elinor’s suddenly rising and slapping his face. Then he heard her say in
a voice of utter anger,

“How can you say anything like that, how can you? You are being the most
hateful person that ever lived. Why if I really cared for anyone--if
I ever really cared--” and then she began to cry most steadily and
whole-heartedly into her napkin and Oliver in spite of all the generous
plaudits he was receiving from various parts of his mind for having
carried delicate business successfully to a most dramatic conclusion,
wondered what in the name of Hymen his cue was now. Some remnants of
diplomacy however kept him from doing anything particularly obtrusive
and, after he had received an official explanation of nervous headache
with official detachment, the end of tea found them being quite cheerful
together. Neither alluded directly to what both thought about most but
in spite of that each seemed inwardly convinced of being completely
if cryptically understood by the other and when the noise of the first
returning motor brought a friendly plotter’s “You talk to them--they
mustn’t see me this way,” from Elinor and a casual remark from Oliver
that he felt sure he would have to run into town for dinner--family
had forwarded a letter from an editor this morning--so if she wanted
anything done--they seemed to comprehend each other very thoroughly.

He babbled with the returning jazzers for a quarter of an hour or so,
tactfully circumvented Peter into offering him the loan of a car since
he had to go into New York, and intimated that he would drop back and in
at the Rackstraws’ dance as soon as possible, after many apologies for
daring to leave at all. Then he went slowly upstairs, humming loudly as
he did so. Elinor met him outside his door.

“Ollie--as long as you’re going in--I wonder if you’d mind--” Her tone
was elaborately careless but her eyes were dancing as she gave him a
letter, firmly addressed but unstamped.

“No, glad to--” And then he grinned. “You’ll be at the Rackstraws’.”

“Yes, Ollie.”

“Well--we’ll be back by ten thirty or try to. Maybe earlier,” he said
at her back and she turned and smiled once at him. Then he went into his
room.

“Mr. Theodore Billett,” said the address on the letter, “252A Madison
Ave., N. Y. C.,” and down in the lower corner, “Kindness of Mr. Oliver
Crowe.”

He thought he might very well ask for the latter phrase on Ted’s and
Elinor’s wedding invitations. He passed a hand over his forehead--that
had been harder than walking a tight-rope with your head in a sack--but
the chasm had been crossed and nothing was left now but the fireworks
on the other side. How easy it was to tinker other people’s love-affairs
for them--for oneself the difficulties were somehow a little harder to
manage, he thought. And then he began considering how long it would take
from Southampton to New York in the two-seater and just where Ted would
most likely be.



XXXIV

A long-distance telephone conversation about six o’clock in the
afternoon between two voices usually so even and composed that the
little pulse of excitement beating through both as they speak now seems
perilous, unnatural. One is Mr. Severance’s thin cool speech and the
other--most curious, that--seems by every obsequious without being
servile, trained and impassive turn and phrase to be that of that
treasure among household treasures, Elizabeth.

“My instructions were that I was to call you, sir, whenever I was next
given an evening out.”

“Yes, Elizabeth. Well?”

“I have been given an evening out tonight, sir.”

“Yes.”

“Mrs. Severance has told me that I am on no account to return till
tomorrow morning, sir.”

“Yes. Go on.”

“There are the materials of a small but quite sufficient meal for two
persons in the refrigerator, sir. Mrs. Severance is dining out, sir--she
said.” “Yes. Any further information?”

“Mrs. Severance received a telephone call this morning, sir, before she
went out. It was after that that she told me I was to have the evening.”

“You did not happen to--overhear--the conversation, did you, Elizabeth?”

“Oh no, sir. Mrs. Severance spoke very low. The only words that I could
catch were ‘You’ at the beginning and ‘Please come’ near the end. The
words ‘please come’ were rather--affectionately--spoken if I might make
so bold, sir.”

“You have done very well, Elizabeth.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“There is nothing else?”

“No, sir. Should you wish me to ‘phone you again before tomorrow
morning, sir?”

“No, Elizabeth.”

“Thank you, sir. Good-by, sir.”

“Good-by, Elizabeth.”



XXXV

The rest of the party has scattered to the gardens or the porch--Oliver
has wandered into the library alone to wait for Peter who is bringing
around the two-seater himself. It is a big dim room with books all the
way up to the ceiling and a comfortable leather lounge upon which he
sinks, picks up a magazine from a little table beside it and starts
ruffling the pages idly. The chirrup of a telephone bell that seems to
come out of the wall beside him makes him jump.

Then he remembers--that must be Mr. Piper’s office through the closed
door there. He remembers, as well, Peter joking with his father once
about his never getting away from business even in the country and
pointing at the half dozen telephones on top of the big flat desk with
a derisive gesture while detailing to Oliver the fondness that Sargent
Piper has for secretive private wires and the absurd precautions he
takes to keep them intensely private. “Why he went and had all his
special numbers here changed once just because I found out one of them
by mistake and called him up on it for a joke--the cryptic old person!”
 Peter had said with mocking affection.

The telephone chirrups again and Oliver gets up and goes toward the door
of the office with a vague idea of answering it since there seem to be
no servants about. Then he remembers something else--Peter’s telling him
that nothing irritates his father more than having anyone else answer
one of his private wires--and stops with his hand on the door that has
swung inward an inch or so already under his casual pressure. It doesn’t
matter anyhow--there--somebody has answered it--Mr. Piper probably, as
there is another door to the office and both of them are generally
kept locked. Mr. Piper like all great business men has his petty
idiosyncrasies.

Oliver is just starting to turn away when a whisper of sound that seems
oddly like “Mrs. Severance” comes to his ear by some trick of acoustics
through the door. He hesitates--and stays where he is, wondering all the
time why he is doing anything so silly and unguest-like--and also what
on earth he could say if Mr. Piper suddenly flung open the door. But Ted
has told him a good deal at various times of the more mysterious aspects
of Mrs. Severance, and her name jumping out at him this way from the
middle of Mr. Piper’s private office makes it rather hard to act like a
copybook gentleman--especially with his last conversation with Ted still
plain in his mind.

The voices are too low for him to hear anything distinctly but again one
of the speakers says “Mrs. Severance”--of that he is entirely sure. The
receiver clicks back and Oliver regains the lounge in three long soft
strides, thanking his carelessness that he is still wearing rubber-soled
sport-shoes. He is very much absorbed in an article on “Fishing for
Tuna” when Peter comes in.

“Well, Oliver, everything ready for you. Awfully sorry you have to rush
in this way--”

“Yes, nuisance all right, but it’s my one best editor and that may mean
something real--terribly cheeky thing for me to do, Pete--bumming your
car like this--”

“Oh rats, you know you’re welcome--and anyhow I’m lending it to you
because you’ll have to bring it back, and that means you’ll come back
yourself--”

“Well look, Pete, _please_ make all the excuses you can for me to
your mother. And I’ll run back here and change and then go over to the
Rackstraws’, as soon as I can--Elinor told you about Ted?”

“Yes. Sounds sort of simple to me asking him back tonight for that beach
picnic tomorrow when he absolutely had to leave this morning--but I
never could keep all Elinor’s social arrangements straight. Certainly
hope he can get off.”

“So do I,” says Oliver non-committally and then the door of Mr. Piper’s
office opens and Mr. Piper comes out looking as well-brushed and
courteous as usual but with a face that seems as if it had been touched
all over lightly with a grey painful stain.

“Hello, Father? Anything up from Secret Headquarters?”

“No, boy,” and Oliver is surprised at the effort with which Mr. Piper
smiles. “Winthrop called up a few minutes ago about those Hungarian
bonds but it wasn’t anything important--” and again Oliver is very much
surprised indeed, though he does not show it.

“Is your mother here, Peter?”

“Upstairs dressing, I think, Father.”

Mr. Piper hesitates.

“Well, you might tell her--it’s nothing of consequence but I must go in
to town for a few hours--I shall have them give me a sandwich or so now
and catch the 7.03, I think.”

“But look, Father, Oliver has to go in too, for dinner--he’s taking
the two-seater now. Why don’t you let him take you too--that would save
time--” “Perfectly delighted to, Mr. Piper, of course, and--”

Mr. Piper looks full at Oliver--a little strangely, Oliver thinks.

“That would be--” Mr. Piper begins, and then seems to change his mind
for no apparent reason. “No, I think the train would be better, I do not
wish to get in too early, though I thank you, Oliver,” he says with an
old-fashioned bob of his head. “And now I must really--a little food
perhaps”--and he escapes before either Oliver or Peter has time to argue
the question. Oliver turns to Peter.

“Look here, Pete, if I’m--”

“You’re not. Oh _I’d_ think it’d be a lot more sensible of Father to let
you take him in, but you never can tell about Father. Something must be
up, though, in spite of what he says--he’s supposed to be on a vacation
and I haven’t seen him look the way he does tonight since some of the
tight squeezes in the war.”



XXXVI

It all started by having too much Mrs. Winters at a time, Nancy
decided later. Mrs. Winters went down with comparative painlessness in
homeopathic doses but Mrs. Winters day in and day out was too much like
being forcibly fed with thick raspberry syrup. And then there had been
walking up the Avenue from the Library alone the evening before--and
remembering walks with Oliver--and coming across that copy of the
“Shropshire Lad” in Mrs. Winters’ bookcase and thinking just how
Oliver’s voice had sounded when he read it aloud to her--a process of
some difficulty, she recalled, because he had tried to read with an arm
around her. And then all the next day as she tried to work nothing but
Oliver, Oliver, running through her mind softshoed like a light and
tireless runner, crumbling all proper dignity and good resolutions away
from her, little hard pebble by little hard pebble, till she had finally
given up altogether, called up Vanamee and Company on the telephone and
asked, with her heart in her mouth, if Mr. Oliver Crowe were there. The
reply that came seemed unreal somehow--she had been so sure he would be
and every nerve in her body had been so strung to wonder at what she was
going to say or do when he finally answered, that the news that he had
left three weeks before brought her down to earth as suddenly as if she
had been tripped. All she could think of was that it must be because of
her that Oliver had left the company--and illogically picture a starving
Oliver painfully wandering the streets of New York and gazing at the
food displayed in restaurant windows with lost and hopeless eyes.

Then she shook herself--what nonsense--he must be at Melgrove. She
couldn’t call him up at Melgrove, though, he mightn’t be there when she
‘phoned and then his family would answer and what his family must think
of her now, when they’d been so perfectly lovely when she and Oliver
were first engaged--she shivered a little--no, that wouldn’t do. And
letters never really said things--it mustn’t be letters--besides, she
thought, humbly, it would be so awful to have Oliver send letters back
unopened. Two weeks of pure Mrs. Winters had chastened Nancy to an
unusual degree.

For all that though, it was not until Mrs. Winters had left her alone
for the evening after offering her an invitation to attend a little
discussion group that met Wednesday evenings and read literary papers at
each other, an invitation which Nancy somewhat stubbornly declined, that
she finally made up her mind. Then she sighed and went to the telephone
again.

“Mr. Oliver Crowe? He is away on a visit just at present but we expect
him back tomorrow afternoon.” Margaret is pretending for her own
satisfaction over the wire that the Crowes have a maid. “Who is calling,
please?”

Rather shakily, “A f-friend.”

Briskly. “I understand. Well, he will be back tomorrow. Is that all that
you wished to inquire? No message?”

“Good-by then,” and again Nancy thinks that things simply will not be
dramatic no matter how hard she tries.

She decides to take a small walk however--small because she simply must
get to bed before Mrs. Winters comes back and starts talking at
her improvingly. The walk seems to take her directly to the nearest
Subway--and so to the Pennsylvania Station, where, after she has
acquired a timetable of trains to Melgrove, she seems to be a good deal
happier than she has been for some time. At least as she is going up the
cake-colored stairs to the Arcade again she cannot help taking the last
one with an irrepressible skip.



XXXVII

Oliver had quite a little time to think things over as the two-seater
purred along smooth roads toward New York. The longer he thought them
over, the less amiable some few of the things appeared. He formed and
rejected a dozen more or less incredible hypotheses as to what possible
connection there could be between Mrs. Severance and Sargent Piper--none
of them seemed to fit entirely and yet there must be something perfectly
simple, perfectly easy to explain--only what on earth could it be?

He went looking through his mind for any scraps that might possibly
piece together--of course he hadn’t known Peter since College without
finding out that in spite of their extreme politeness toward each other,
Peter’s mother and father really didn’t get on. Club-stories came to him
that he had tried to get away from--the kind of stories that were told
about any prominent man, he supposed--a little leering paragraph in
“Town Gossip”--a dozen words dropped with the easy assuredness of tone
that meant the speakers were alluding to something that everyone knew
by people who hadn’t realized that he was Peter’s friend. A caustically
frank discussion of Mrs. Severance with Ted in one of Ted’s bitter
moods--a discussion that had given Oliver a bad half-hour later with
Louise.

But things like that didn’t _happen_--people whose houses you stayed
at--people your sister brought home over the week-end--the fathers of
your own friends. And then Oliver winced as he remembered the afternoon
when all the New Haven evening papers had screamed with headlines over
the Witterly divorce suit--and Bob Witterly’s leaving College because he
couldn’t stand it--that had been people you knew all right--and everyone
had always had such a good time at the Witterlys’ too.

It was all perfectly incredible of course--but he would have to find Ted
just as soon as possible, no matter where he had to go to find him--and
as the little reel of the speedometer began to hitch toward the left and
into higher figures, Oliver felt very relieved indeed that he had the
two-seater and that Mr. Piper wasn’t coming into town till the 7.03.

He got into New York to find he hadn’t made as good time as he’d
thought--a couple of traffic blocks had kept him back for valuable
minutes--though of course the minutes couldn’t be valuable exactly when
it was all bosh about his having to get in so quickly after all. He went
first to 252A Madison Avenue, hoping most heartily that Ted would be
there on the fifth floor with his eyeshade over his eyes and large
law-books crowding his desk, but the door was locked and knockings
brought no response except a peevish voice from the other side of the
narrow hall requesting any gentleman that was a gentleman to shut up for
Gawd’s sake. The Yale Club next--there was just a chance that Ted might
be there--

Oliver went through the Yale Club a good deal more thoroughly than most
pages, from the lobby to the upstairs dining-room. He even invaded the
library to the suspicious annoyance of some old uncle who was pretending
to read a book held upside down in his lap in order to camouflage his
pre-prandial nap. No Ted--though half-a-dozen acquaintances who insisted
on saying hello and taking up time. Back to the street and a slight
dispute with a policeman as regarded the place where Oliver had parked
his car. He looked at his watch just before poking the self-starter--Mr.
Piper’s train must be halfway to New York by now. He set his lips and
turned down 44th Street toward the Avenue.

Fourth floor Ted had said. The elevator went much too quickly for
Oliver--he was standing in front of a most non-committal door-bell
before he had arranged the racing tumult of thought in his mind enough
to be in any measure sure of just what the devil he was going to say.

Moreover he was oppressed by a familiar and stomachless sensation--the
sensation he always had when he tried to high-dive and stood looking
gingerly down from a shaky platform at water that seemed a thousand
miles away and as flat and hard as a blue steel plate. There wasn’t any
guide in any Manual of Etiquette he had ever heard of on What to Say
When Interrupting a Tete-a-Tete between Your Best Friend and a Dangerous
And Beautiful Woman. He wondered idly if Ted would ever speak to him
again--Mrs. Severance certainly wouldn’t--and he rather imagined that
even if Ted and Elinor did get married he would hardly be the welcome
guest he had always expected to be there.

Well, that was what you get for trying to pull a Jonathan when the Saul
in question was behaving a good deal more like David in the affair with
Uriah the Hittite’s spouse--and it wasn’t safe and Biblical and all
done with a couple of thousand years ago but abashingly real and now
happening directly under your own astonished eyes. He licked his lips a
little nervously--they seemed to be rather dry. No use standing outside
the door like a wooden statue of Unwelcome Propriety anyhow--the thing
had to be done, that was all--and he pushed the bell-button with all the
decision he could force into his finger.

The fact that it was not answered at once helped him a good deal by
giving him a certain strength of annoyance. He pushed again.

It was Mrs. Severance who answered it finally--and the moment he saw her
face he knew with an immense invisible shock of relief how right he had
been, for it was composed as an idol’s but under the composure there was
emotion, and, the moment she saw him, anger, as strong and steady and
impassive as the color of a metal that is only white because it has
been possessed to extremity already with all the burning heat that its
substance can bear. She was dressed in some stuff that moved with
her and was part of her as wholly as if it and her body had been made
together out of light and gilded cloud--he had somehow never imagined
that she could be as--lustrous--as that--it gave him the sensation
that he had only seen her before when she was unlighted like an empty
lantern, and that now there was such fire of light in her that the very
glass that contained it seemed to be burning of itself. And then
he realized that she had given him good-evening with an exquisite
politeness, shaken hands and now was obviously waiting, with a little
tired look of surprise around her mouth, to find out exactly why he was
there at all.

He gathered his wits--it wasn’t fair, somehow, for her to be wearing
that air of delicate astonishment at an unexpected call at dinner-time
when he hadn’t been invited--it forced him into being so casually
polite.

“Sorry to break in on you like this, Mrs. Severance,” he said with a
ghastly feeling that after all he might be entirely wrong, and another
that it was queer to have to be so formal, in the afternoon tea
sense, with his words when his whole mind was boiling with pictures of
everything from Ted as a modern Tannhauser in a New York Venusberg to
triangular murder. “I hope I’m not--disturbing you?”

“Oh no. No,” and he suddenly felt a most complete if unwilling
admiration for the utter finish with which she was playing her side of
the act.

“Only you see,” and this was Oliver doing his best at the ingenuous boy,
“Ted Billett, you know--he said he might be having dinner with you
this evening--and I’ve got a very important letter for him--awful
nuisance--don’t see why it couldn’t have gone in the mail by itself--but
the man was absolutely insistent on my delivering it by hand.” “A
letter? Oh yes. And they want an answer right away?” Again Oliver
realized grudgingly that whatever Mrs. Severance might be she was
certainly not obvious. For “I’m so glad you came then,” she was saying
with what seemed to be perfect sincerity. “Won’t you come in?”

That little pucker that came and went in the white brow meant that she
was sure that she could manage him, sure she could carry it off, Oliver
imagined--and he was frank enough with himself to admit that he was not
at all sure that she couldn’t.

“Oh Ted--” he heard her say, very coolly but also with considerable
distinctness, as if her voice had to carry, “there’s a friend of yours
here with a letter for you--”

And then she had brought him inside and was apologizing for having the
front room so badly lighted but one had to economize on light-bills,
didn’t one, even for a small apartment, and besides didn’t it give one a
little more the real feeling of evening? And Oliver was considering why,
when if as he pressed the bell, he had felt so much like a modern
St. George and wholly as if he were doing something rather fine and
perilous, he should feel quite so much like a gauche seventeen-year-old
now. He thought that he would not enjoy playing chess with Mrs.
Severance. She was one of those people who smiled inoffensively at the
end of a game and then said they thought it would really be a little
evener if they gave you both knights.

Ted reassured him though. Ted, stumbling out of the dining-room, with
a mixture of would-be unconcern, compound embarrassment and complete
though suppressed fury at Oliver on his face. It was hardly either just
or moral, Oliver reflected, that Mrs. Severance should be the only one
of them to seem completely at her ease.

“Hello, Ollie,” in the tone of “And if you’d only get the hell out as
quickly as possible.” “Mrs. Severance--” a stumble over that. “You’ve
got a letter for me?”

“Yes. It’s important,” said Oliver as firmly as he could. He gave it,
and, as Ted sat down near a lamp to read it, Oliver saw by one sudden
momentary flash that passed over Mrs. Severance’s face that she had seen
the address and known instantly that the handwriting was not that of a
man. And then Oliver began to think that he might have been right
when he had thought of the present expedition as something rather
perilous--he found that he had moved three steps away from Mrs.
Severance without his knowing it, very much as he might have from an
unfamiliar piece of furniture near which he was standing and which had
instantaneously developed all the electric properties of a coil of live
wire. Then he looked at Ted’s face--and what he saw there made him want
to kick himself for looking--because it is never proper for even the
friendliest spectator to see a man’s private soul stripped naked as a
grass-stalk before his own eyes. It was horribly like watching Ted lose
balance on the edge of a cliff that he had been walking unconcernedly
and start to fall without crying out or any romantic gestures, with only
that look of utter surprise struck into his face and the way his hands
clutched as if they would tear some solid hold out of the air. Oliver
kept his eyes on him in a frosty suspense while he read the letter all
through three times and then folded it and put it carefully away in his
breast pocket--and then when he looked at Mrs. Severance Oliver could
have shouted aloud with immense improper joy, for he knew by the way
Ted’s hands moved that they were going back in the car together.

Ted was on his feet and his voice was as grave as if he were
apologizing for having insulted Mrs. Severance in public, but under the
meaninglessness of his actual words it was wholly firm and controlled.

“I’m awfully sorry--I’ve got to go right away. You’ll think me immensely
rude but it’s something that’s practically life-and-death.” “Really?”
 said Mrs. Severance and Oliver could have clapped his hands at her
accent. Now that the battle had ended bloodlessly, he supposed he might
be permitted to applaud, internally at least. And “I’m sorry--but this
is over,” said every note in Ted’s voice and “Lost have I? Well then--”
 every note in hers.

It occurred to Oliver that things were badly arranged--all this--and he
was the only audience.

Life seemed sudden lavish in giving him benefit performances of other
people’s love-affairs--he supposed it was all part of the old and
deathless jest.

And then, like a prickling of cold, there passed over him once more
that little sense of danger. Mrs. Severance and Ted were both standing
looking at each other and neither was saying anything--and Ted looked by
his face as if he were walking in his sleep.

“The car’s down below, old boy,” said Oliver helpfully, and then, a
little louder “Peter’s car, you know,” and whatever cobwebs had been
holding Ted for the last instant broke apart. He went over to Mrs.
Severance. “Good-by.”

“Good-by,” and he started making apologies again while she merely looked
and Oliver was suddenly fretting like a weary hostess whose callers have
stayed hours too long, to have him down in the car and the car pointed
again with its nose toward Southampton.

And then he heard, through Ted’s last apologia, the whir of a mounting
elevator.

The elevator couldn’t stop at the fourth floor--it couldn’t. But it did,
and there was the noise of the gate slung back and “_What’s that?_”
 said Mrs. Severance sharply, her politeness broken to bits for the first
time.

They were all standing near the door, and, with a complete disbelief in
all that he was hearing and seeing, Oliver heard Mrs. Severance’s voice
in his ear, “The kitchen--fire-escape--” saw her push Ted toward him
as if she were shifting a piece of cumbrous furniture, and obeyed
her orders implicitly because he was too surprised to think of doing
anything else.

He hurried himself and the still half-somnambulistic Ted through the
dining-room curtains, just in time to catch a last glimpse of Mrs.
Severance softly pressing with all her weight and strength against
her side of the door of the apartment as a man’s quick short footsteps
crossed the hall in two strides, and after a second’s pause, a key
clicked into the lock.



XXXVIII

Mrs. Severance, her whole weight against the door, felt it push at her
fiercely without opening, and, even in the midst of her turmoil, smiled.
Mr. Severance had never been exactly what one would call an athlete--

She slackened her pressure, little by anxious little. Her hand crept
down to the knob, then she jerked it sharply and stood back and Mr.
Piper came stumbling into the room, a little too fast for dignity. He
had to catch to her to save himself from falling but as soon as he had
recovered his balance he jerked his hands away from her as if they had
taken hold of something that hurt him and when he stood up she saw
that his face was grey all over and that his breath came in little hard
sniffs through his nose.

“Sorry, Sargent,” she said easily. “I heard your key but that silly old
door is sticking again. You didn’t hurt yourself, did you?”

For an instant she thought that everything was going to be perfectly
simple--his face had changed so, with an intensity of relief almost
childish, at the sound of her accustomed voice. Then the greyness came
back.

“Do you mind--introducing me--Rose--to the gentleman--you are dining
with tonight?” he said with a difficulty of speech as if actual words
were not things he was accustomed to using. “I merely--called--to be
quite sure.”

She managed to look as puzzled as possible.

“The gentleman?”

“Oh yes, the gentleman.” He seemed neither to be particularly disgusted
nor murderously angry--only so utterly tired in body and spirit that she
thought oddly that it seemed almost as if any sudden gesture or movement
might crumble him into pieces of fine grey paper at her feet.

“Oh, there isn’t any use in pretending, Rose--any more. I have my
information.”

“Yes? From whom?”

“What on earth does it matter? Elizabeth--since you choose to know.”

“Elizabeth,” said Mrs. Severance softly. She could not imagine how time,
even when successfully played for and gained, could help the situation
very much--but that was the only thing she could think of doing, and she
did it, therefore, with every trick of deliberation she knew, as if any
instant saved before he went into the dining-room might bring salvation.

“Do you know, I was always a little doubtful about Elizabeth. She was a
little too beautifully incurious about everything to be quite real--and
a little too well satisfied with her place, even on what we paid
her. But of course is she has been supplementing her salary with
private-detective work for you--”

She shrugged her shoulders.

“I suppose you were foolish enough to give her one of your private
numbers,” she said a trifle acidly. “Which will mean that you will be
paying her a modest blackmail all the rest of your life, and you’ll
probably have to provide for her in your will. Oh, I know Elizabeth!
She’ll be perfectly secret--if she’s paid for it--she’ll never make you
willing to risk the scandal by asking for more than just enough. But
if this is the way you carry on all your confidential investigations,
Sargent--well, it’s fortunate you have large means--”

“She doesn’t know who I am.”

“Oh Sargent, Sargent! When all she has to do is to subscribe to ‘Town
and Country.’ Or call up the number you gave her, some time, and ask
where it is.”

“There are the strictest orders about nobody but myself ever answering
the telephones in my private office.”

“And servants are always perfectly obedient--and there are no stupid
ones--and accidents never happen. Sargent, really--”

“That doesn’t matter. I didn’t come here to talk about Elizabeth.”
 “Really? I should think you might have. I could have given you all
the information you required a good deal less expensively--and now, I
suppose, I’ll have to think up some way of getting rid of Elizabeth as
well. I can’t pay her off with one of my new dresses this time--”

“_Who is he?_”

“Suppose we start talking about it from the beginning, Sargent--?”

“_Where_ is he?”

“In the dining-room, I imagine. It wouldn’t be very well bred of anyone,
would it, to come out and be introduced in the middle of this very loud,
very vulgar quarrel that you are making with me--”

“I’m going to see.”

“No, Sargent.”

“Let me pass, Rose!”

“I will not. Sargent, I will not let you make an absolute fool of
yourself before my friends before you give me a chance to explain--”

“I will, I tell you! I will! _Let me go!_”

They were struggling undignifiedly in the center of the room, her firm
strong hands tight over his wrists as he pawed at her, trying to wrench
himself away. Mr. Piper was a gentleman no longer--nor a business
man--nor a figure of nation-wide importance--he was only a small furious
figure with a face as grey and distorted as a fighting ape’s who was
clutching at the woman in front of him as if he would like to tear her
with his hands. A red swimming had fallen over his eyes--all he knew was
that the woman-person in front of him had fooled him more bitterly and
commonly than anyone had been fooled since Adam--and that if he could
not get loose in some way or other from the hateful strength that was
holding him, he would burst into the disgusting tears of a vicious small
boy who is being firmly held down and spanked by an older girl. Grammar,
manners and sense had gone from him as completely as if he had never
possessed them.

“Lemme go! oh damn you, damn you--you _woman_--you _devil--lemme_ go!”

“Be _quiet,_ Sargent! Oh shut up, you _fool, shut up!”_

A noise came from the kitchen--a noise like the sound of a man falling
over boxes. Mr. Piper struggled furiously--Paris was crawling out of the
window--Paris, the sleek, sly chamberer, the gay hateful cuckoo of his
private nest was getting away! Mrs. Severance turned her head toward the
noise a second. Mr. Piper fought like a crippled wrestler.

“Grr-ah! Ah, would you, would you?”

He had wrenched one hand free for an instant--it went to his pocket and
came out of it with something that shone and was hard like a new metal
toy.

_“Now_ will you lemme go?” But Mrs. Severance tried to grab for the
hand with the revolver in it instead, and succeeded only in striking
the barrel a little aside. There was a noise that sounded like a
cannon-cracker bursting in Mr. Piper’s face--it was so near--and then he
was standing up, shaking all over, but free and a man ready to explain a
number of very painful things to Paris as soon as he caught him. He took
one step toward the dining-room, sheer rage tugging at his body as high
wind tugs at a bough. Now that woman was out of the way----

And then he saw that she was out of the way indeed. She could not have
fallen without his hearing her fall--how could she?--but she was lying
on the floor in a crumple of clothes and one of her arms was thrown
queerly out from her side as if it did not belong to her body any
longer. He stood looking at her for what seemed one long endless wave of
uncounted time and that firecracker noise he had heard kept echoing and
echoing through his head like the sound of loud steps along a long and
empty corridor. Then he suddenly dropped the pistol and knelt clumsily
beside her.

“Rose! Rose!” he started calling huskily, his hands feeling with frantic
awkwardness for her pulse and her heart, as Oliver Crowe ran into the
room through the curtains.



XXXIX

Oliver thought that he had never been quite so sure of anything as
he was that he must be insane. He was insane. Very shortly some heavy
person in uniform would walk into the tidy kitchen where he and Ted were
crouching like moving-picture husbands and remark with a kind smile that
the Ahkoond of Whilom was giving a tea-party in the Mountains of the
Moon that afternoon and that unless Oliver (or, as he was probable
better known) St. Oliver, came back at once in the nice private car
with the wire netting over its windows, everybody from God the Father
Almighty to Carrie Chapman Catt would be highly displeased. For a moment
Oliver thought of lunatic asylums almost lovingly--they had such fine
high walls and smooth green lawns and you were so perfectly safe there
from anything ever happening that was real. Then he jumped--that must be
Mrs. Severance opening the door.

“What are we going to _do_?” he said to Ted in a fierce whisper.

Ted looked at him stupidly. “Do? When I don’t know whether I’m on my
feet or my head?” he said. His drugged passiveness showed Oliver with
desolating clarity that anything that could be done would have to be
done by himself. He crept over toward the window with a wild wish that
black magic were included in a Yale curriculum--the only really sensible
thing he could think of doing would be for both of them to vanish
through the wall.

“Look! Fire-escape!”

“What?”

“_Fire-escape_!”

“All right. You take it.”

Oliver had been sliding the window up all the while, cursing softly and
horribly at each damnatory creak. Yes--there it was--and people thought
fire-escapes ugly. Personally, Oliver had seldom seen anything in his
life which combined concrete utility with abstract beauty so ideally
as that little flight of iron steps leading down the entry outside the
window into blackness.

“You first, Ted.”

“Can’t.” The word seemed to come despairingly out of the bottom of his
stomach.

“Came here. Own accord. Got to see it through. Take my medicine.”

“You fool, she doesn’t want you here! Think of Elinor!” For a moment
Oliver thought Ted was going to blaze into more blind rage. Then he
checked himself.

“I am. But listen to that.”

The voices that came to them from the living-room were certainly both
high and excited--and the second that Oliver heard one of them he knew
that all his most preposterous suppositions on the drive down from
Southampton had come preposterously and rather ghastly true.

“Well, _listen_ to it! Do you know who the man is now? And will you get
out on the fire-escape, you _fool_?”

Ted listened intently for the space of a dozen seconds. Then “Oh my
God!” he said and his head went into his hands. Oliver crept over to
him.

“Ted, listen--oh listen, damn you! What’s the use of acting the
chivalrous fool, _now_? Don’t you see? Don’t you understand? Don’t you
get it that if you leave she can explain it some way or other--that all
you’re doing by staying is ruining yourself and Elinor for a point of
honor that hasn’t any honor _to_ it?”

“Oh sure. Sure. But listen to him--why great God, Ollie, if he has a gun
he might kill her--probably will--Don’t you see it’s just because I hate
the whole business now--and her--and myself--th’at I’ve got to stick it
out? You go, Ollie, it’s none of your business--”

“You go. You blessed idiot, there’s no use of both of us smashing. If
anybody’s got to stay--I can bluff it out a good deal better than you
can--trust me--”

“Oh rats. Not that it isn’t very decent of you, Ollie, it is--and you’d
do it--but I wouldn’t even be a _person_ to let you--”

They were both on their feet, talking in jerks, ears strained for every
sound from that other room.

“It’s _perfectly_ simple--nobody’s going to pull any gunplay--good
Lord, imagine poor old Mr. Piper--” said Oliver uncertainly, and then as
noises came to them that meant more than just talking, “_Get down that
fire-escape_!”

“I can’t. Let go of me, Ollie. I mustn’t Listen--something’s
up--something bad! Get out of the way there, Ollie, I’ve got to go in!
It _isn’t_ your funeral!”

“Well, it isn’t going to be yours!” said Oliver through shut
teeth--Ted’s last remark had, somehow been a little too irritating. He
thought savagely that there was only one way of dealing with completely
honorable fools--Ted shouldn’t, by the Lord!---Oliver had gone to just
a little too much trouble in the last dozen hours to build Ted a happy
home to let any of Ted’s personal wishes in the matter interrupt him
now. He stepped back with a gesture of defeat but his feet gripped at
the floor like a boxer’s and his eyes fixed burningly on the point of
Ted’s jaw. Wait a split-second--he wasn’t near enough--now--_there_!

His fist landed exactly where he had meant it to and for an instant he
felt as if he had broken all the bones in his hand. Ted was back against
the wall, his mouth dropping open, his whole face frozen like a face
caught in a snapshot unawares to a sudden glare of immense and ludicrous
astonishment. Then he began to give at the knees like a man who has
been smitten with pie in a custard-comedy and Oliver recovered from his
surprise at both of them sufficiently to step in and catch him as he
slumped, face forward.

He laid him carefully down on the floor, trying feverishly to remember
how long a knockout lasted. Not nearly long enough, anyway. Ropes. A
gag. His eyes roved frantically about the kitchen. _Towels_!

He was filling Ted’s mouth with clean dish-rag and thinking dully that
it was just like handling a man in the last stages of alcohol--the body
had the same limp refractory heaviness all over--when he heard something
that sounded like the bursting of a large blown-up paper bag from the
other room. He accepted the fact with neither surprise nor curiosity.
Mr. Piper had shot Mrs. Severance. Or Mrs. Severance had shot Mr. Piper.
That was all.

As soon as he had safely disposed of Ted--for an eery moment he
had actually considered stowing him away in a drawer of the
kitchen-cabinet--it might be well to go in and investigate the murder.

And then either Mrs. Severance or Mr. Piper--whichever it was of the two
that remained alive--might very well shoot him unless he or she had
shot himself or herself first. It seemed to Oliver that the latter event
would save everyone a great deal of trouble.

He did not relish the idea of being left alone in a perfectly strange
apartment with two corpses and one gagged, bound and unconscious best
friend--but he liked the picture of himself trying to make explanations
to either his hostess or Mr. Piper when, in either case, the other party
to the argument would be in possession of a loaded revolver, still
less. He hoped that if Mrs. Severance were the survivor she had had a
sufficiently Western upbringing at least to know how to shoot. He had no
particular wish to die--but anything was better than being mangled--and
a reminiscence of Hedda Gabler’s poet’s technique with firearms caused
his stomach to contract quite painfully as he tightened the knots
around Ted’s ankles. Ted was the devil and all to get out on the
fire-escape--and then you had to tie him so that he wouldn’t roll off.

He crawled back through the window, dusted his trousers, and settled his
necktie as carefully as if he were going to be married. Married. And
he had hoped, he thought rather pitiably, that even though Nancy had
so firmly decided to blight him forever she might have a few pleasant
memories of their engagement at least. Instead--well, he could see the
headlines now. “Big Financier, Youth and Mystery Woman Die in Triple
Slaying.” “_Dead_--Oliver Crowe, Yale 1917, of Melgrove, L. I.”

It hadn’t been his job, damn it, it hadn’t been his job at all. It was
now, though, with Ted perfectly helpless on the fire-escape where any
crazy person could take pot-shots at him as if he were a plaster pipe
in a shooting gallery. The idea of escape had somehow never seriously
occurred to him--what had happened in the evening already had impressed
him so with a sense of inane fatality that he could not even conceive of
the possibility of any-thing’s coming right. In any event, Ted, tied
up the way he was, was too heavy and clumsy to carry down even the most
ordinary flight of stairs--and if he were going to be shot, he somehow
preferred to gasp his last breaths out on a comfortably carpeted floor
rather than clinging like a disreputable spider to the iron web of a
fire-escape.

Oliver sighed--Nancy’s firmness had admittedly quite ruined all the
better things in life--but even the merest sort of mere existence had
got to be, at times, a rather pleasant convention--how pleasant, he
felt, he had never quite realized somehow until just now. Then, with a
vague idea of getting whatever was to happen over with as quickly and
decently as possible, he settled his tie once more and trotted meekly
through the dining-room and beyond the curtains.



XL

“Why, Mr. Piper!” was Oliver’s first and wholly inane remark.

It was not what he had intended to say at all--something rather more
dramatic and on the lines of “Shoot if you must this old grey head,
but if you will only listen to a reasonable explanation--” had been
uppermost in his mind. But the sight of Peter’s father crouched over
what must be Mrs. Severance’s body, his weak hands fumbling for her
wrist and heart, his voice thin with a senile sorrow as if he had
been stricken at once and in an instant with a palsy of incurable age,
brought the whole world of Southampton and house-parties and reality
that Oliver thought he had lost touch with forever, back to him so
vividly that all he could do was gape at the tableau on the floor.

Mr. Piper looked up and for a second of relief Oliver thought that the
staring eyes had not recognized him at all. Then he realized from the
look in them that who or what he was made singularly little difference
now to Mr. Piper. “Water!” croaked Mr. Piper. “Water! I’ve shot her.
Oh, poor Rose, poor Rose!” and he was plucking at her dress again with
absorbed, incapable fingers.

Oliver looked around him. The gun. There must have been a gun. Where? Oh
_there_--and as he picked it up from under a chair he did so with much
inward reverence in spite of the haste he took to it, for he felt as if
it were all the next forty years of his life made little into something
cold and small and of metal that he was lifting like a doll from the
floor.

“Water,” said Mr. Piper again and quite horribly. “Water for Rose.”

It was only when he had gone back to the kitchen and started looking
for glasses that he realized that Mrs. Severance might very possibly be
dying out there in the other room. Till then the mere fact that he was
not dying himself had been too large in his vision to give him time
to develop proper sympathy for others. When he did, though, he hurried
bunglingly, in spite of a nervous flash in which after accidentally
touching the revolver in his pocket he almost threw it through the pane
of the nearest window before he considered. A moment, though, and he was
back with a spilling tumbler.

“Water,” said Mr. Piper with querulous satisfaction. “Give her water.”
 Oliver hesitated. “Where’s she shot?” he said sharply.

“I don’t know. Oh, I don’t know. But I shot her. I shot her. Poor Rose.”

It was certainly odd, there being no blood about, thought Oliver
detachedly. Internal wounds? Possibly, but even so. He dipped his
fingers in the glass of water, bent over Mrs. Severance and sprinkled
the drops as near her closed eyelids as possible. No sound came from her
and not a muscle of her body moved, but the delicate skin of the eyelids
shivered momentarily. Oliver drew a long breath and stepped back.

“She’s dead,” said Mr. Piper. “She’s dead.” And he began to weep, very
quietly with a mouselike sound and the slow horrible tears of age. “No
use trying water on her,” said Oliver loudly, and again he thought
he saw the skin of the eyelids twitch a little. “Is there any brandy
here--anything like that, Mr. Piper?”

“K-kitchen,” said Mr. Piper with a sniff and one of his hands came away
from Mrs. Severance to fumble for a key.

“I’ll go get it,” said Oliver, still rather loudly, and took one step
away. Then he bent down again swiftly and poured the whole contents of
the tumbler he was holding into the little hollow of Mrs. Severance’s
throat just above the collar-bone. _“Oh!”_ said the dead Mrs. Severance
in the tone of one who has turned on the cold in a shower unexpectedly,
and she opened her eyes.

“Rose!” said Mr. Piper snifflingly. “You aren’t dead? You aren’t dead,
dear? Rose! Rose!”

“Oh,” said Mrs. Severance again, but this time tinily and with a flavor
of third acts about her, and she started to relax rather beautifully
into a Dying Gladiator pose.

“I’ll get some more water, Mr. Piper,” said Oliver briskly, and Mrs.
Severance began to sit up again.

“I--fainted--silly of me,” she said with a consummate dazedness.
“Somebody was firing revolvers--”

“I tried--I tried--I--t-tried to s-shoot you, Rose,” came from the damp
little heap on the floor that was Mr. Piper.

“Really, Sargent--” said Mrs. Severance comfortably. Then she turned
her head and made what Oliver was always to consider her most perfect
remark. “You must think us very queer people indeed, Mr. Crowe?” she
said smiling questioningly up at him.

Oliver’s smile in answer held relief beyond words. It wasn’t the
ordinary cosmos again--quite yet--but at least from now on he felt
perfectly sure that no matter how irregular anyone’s actions might
become, in speech at least, every last least one of the social
conventions would be scrupulously observed.

“I think--if you could help me, Sargent--” said Mrs. Severance
delicately.

“Oh yes, yes, yes,” from Mr. Piper very eagerly and with Oliver’s and
his assistance Mrs. Severance’s invalid form was aided into a deep
chair.

“And I think, now,” she went on, “that if I could have just a little--”
 She let the implication float in the air like a pretty bubble.
“Perhaps--it might help us all--”

“Oh _certainly,_ dear,” from Mr. Piper. “I--”

“In the kitchen, you said, Mr. Piper. And you must let _me,”_ from
Oliver with complete decision. He hadn’t bargained for that. Mr. Piper
might not notice Ted on the fire-escape--but then again he might--and
if he did he would certainly investigate--mute bound bodies were not
ordinary or normal adjuncts of even the most illegal of Riverside Drive
apartments. And then. Oliver’s hand went down over the revolver in his
pocket--if necessary he stood perfectly ready to hold up Mr. Piper
at the point of his own pistol to preserve the inviolability of that
kitchen.

But Mrs. Severance saved him the bother.

“If you would be so kind?” she said simply. “It’s in the small
cupboard---the brown one--Sargent, you have the key?”

“Oh, yes, Rose.” Mr. Piper was looking, Oliver thought, rather more
embarrassed than it was fair for any man to have to look and live.
His eyes kept going pitifully and always to Mrs. Severance and then
creeping, away. He produced the key, however, and gave it to Oliver
silently and Oliver took the first opportunity when he was through the
curtains of giving whatever fates had presided over the insanities of
the evening a long cheer with nine Mrs. Severances on the end.

He carefully stayed in the kitchen fifteen minutes--devoting most of
the time to a cautious examination of Ted, who seemed to be gradually
recovering consciousness. At least he stirred a little when poked by
Oliver’s foot.

“Sleeps just like a baby--oh, the sweet little fellow--the dear little
fellow--” hummed Oliver wildly as he made a few last additions to the
curious network of string and towels with which he had wound Ted
into the fire-escape as if he had been making him a cocoon.
“Well--well--_well_--what a night we’re having! What a night we’re
having and what _will_ we have next?” Then he remembered the reason for
his journey and removed a bottle of brandy from the brown cup-board,
found appropriate glasses and, in the ice-chest, club-soda and ginger
ale. He poured himself a drink reminiscent of Paris--not that he felt
he needed it for the reaction from bracing himself to die like a Pythias
had left him elvishly grotesque in mind--gathered the bottles tenderly
in his arms like small glass babies and went back to the living-room.



XLI

And this time he was forced to pay internal high compliment to Mr. Piper
as well as to Mrs. Severance. The pitiful grey image, its knees rumpled
from the floor, its features streaked like a cheap paper mask with
ludicrous dreadful tears, had turned back into the President of the
Commercial Bank with branches in Bombay and Melbourne and all the
business-capitals of the world. Not that Mr. Piper was at ease again,
exactly--to be at ease under the circumstances would merely have proved
him brightly inhuman--but he looked as Oliver thought he might have
on one of the Street’s Black Mondays when only complete firmness and
complete audacity in one could keep even the Commercial afloat at a time
when the Stock Exchange had turned into a floor-full of well-dressed
maniacs and houses that everyone had thought as solid as granite went to
pieces like sand castles.

Oliver set down the bottles and opened them with a feeling both that
he had never known Mr. Piper at all before, only Peter’s father, and,
spookily, that neither Peter’s father nor the terrible old man who
had wept on the floor beside Mrs. Severance could have any real
existence--this was such a complete and unemotional Mr. Piper he had
before him, a Mr. Piper, too, in spite of all the oddities of the
present situation, so obviously at home in his own house.

None of them said anything in particular until the mixture in the
glasses had sunk about half-way down. Then Mr. Piper remarked in a
pleasant voice, “I don’t often permit myself--seldom even before the
country adopted prohibition--but the present circumstances seem to
be--er--unusual enough--to warrant--” smiled cheerfully and lifted his
glass again. When he had set it down he looked at Mrs. Severance, then
at Oliver, and then started to speak.

Oliver listened with some tenseness, knowing only that whatever he might
possibly have imagined might happen, what would happen, to judge from
the previous events of the evening, would be undoubtedly so entirely
different that prophecy was no use at all. But, even so, he was not
entirely prepared for the unexpectedness of Mr. Piper’s first sentence.

“I feel that I owe you very considerable apologies, Oliver,” the
President of the Commercial began with a good deal of stateliness. “In
fact I really owe you so many that it leaves me at rather a loss ‘as to
just how to begin.” He smiled a little shyly.

“Rose has explained everything,” he said, and Oliver looked at Mrs.
Severance with stupefied wonder--_how?_

“But even so, there remains the difficulty--of my putting myself into
words.”

“Silly boy,” said Mrs. Severance easily, and Oliver noted with fresh
amazement that the term seemed to come from her as naturally and almost
conventionally as if she had every legal American right to use it. “Let
me, dear.” And Oliver felt his head begin to go round like a pinwheel.

But then--but she really _couldn’t_ be married to Mr. Piper--and yet
somehow she seemed so much more married to him than Mrs. Piper ever had
been--Oliver’s thoughts played fantastically for an instant over the
proposition that she and Mr. Piper had been secretly converted to
Mohammedanism together and he looked at Mr. Piper’s grey head almost as
if he expected to see a large red fez suddenly drop down upon it from
the ceiling.

“No, Rose,” and again Mr. Piper’s voice was stately. “This is
my--difficulty. No matter how hard it may be.”

“Of course I did not understand--how could I?--that Rose--was such a
very good friend of your sister’s and all your family’s. Rose had
told me something about it, I believe--but I was so--foolishly
disturbed--when I came in--that really, I--well I must admit that even
if I had seen you when I first came in that would hardly have been the
thought uppermost in my mind at the time.” He spoke in the same tone
of kindly reproof toward himself that he would have used if business
worries had made him commit a small but definite act of inhospitality
toward one of his guests.

“And naturally--you will think me very ignorant indeed of my son’s
affairs--and those of his friends--but while I had heard from Peter--of
the breaking of your engagement--you will pardon me, I hope, if I touch
upon a subject that must be so painful to you--I had no idea of the fact
that you were--intending to leave the country--and knowing Rose thought
that with her present position on ‘Mode’--” he paused.

“It was very kind indeed of Mrs. Severance to offer to do what she could
for me,” said Oliver non-committally. He thought he got the drift of
the story now--a sheer one enough but with Mr. Piper’s present reaction
toward abasement and his obvious wish to believe whatever he could, it
had evidently sufficed.

“I know it was silly of me having Oliver to dinner here alone--” said
Mrs. Severance with the air of one ready to apologize for a very minor
impropriety. “Silly and wrong--but Louise was coming too until she
telephoned about Jane Ellen’s little upset--and I thought we could have
such fun getting supper together with Elizabeth away. I get a little
tired of _always_ entertaining my friends in restaurants, Sargent,
especially when I want to talk to them without having to shout. And
_really_ I never _imagined_--”

She looked steadily at Mr. Piper and he seemed to shrink a little under
her gaze.

“As for Elizabeth,” he said with hurried vindictiveness, “Elizabeth
shall leave tomorrow morning. She--”

“Oh, we might as well keep her, Sargent,” said Mrs. Severance placidly.
“You will have to pay her blackmail, of course--but after all that’s
really your fault a little, isn’t it?--and it seems as if that was more
or less what you had to do with any kind of passable servant nowadays.
And Elizabeth is perfection--as a servant. As police--” she smiled a
little cruelly. “Well, we shan’t go into that, but I think it would be
so much better to keep her. Then we’ll be getting something out of her
in return for our blackmail, don’t you see?”

“Perhaps. Still we have no need of discussing that now. I can only
say that if Elizabeth is to stay, she will have to--” “Reform? My
dear Sargent! When everything she did was from the most rigidly moral
motives? I had no idea she was such a _clever_ cat, though--”

“She will have ample opportunities of exercising her cleverness in
jail if I can find any means of getting her there, and I think I can.
Really,” said Mr. Piper reflectively, “really when I think--”

Then he stopped.

“But you’re still waiting for an--explanation--aren’t you, Oliver?”

“Having been very nearly assassinated because of Elizabeth’s abilities
in telephone conversation, I should think he might very well be
interested in knowing what is going to happen to her. However--”

“Yes,” and Mr. Piper’s face became very sober. He looked at his glass as
if he would be willing to resign the Presidency of the Commercial in its
favor if it would only explain to Oliver for him.

“You were saying, Sargent?” said Mrs. Severance implacably.

“I was. Well, I,” he began, and then “You,” and stopped, and then he
began again.

“I said that it would be--difficult--for me to explain matters to you
fully, Oliver; I find it to be--even more difficult than I had supposed.
I--it is rather hard for a man of my age to defend his manner of life
to one of your age, even when he himself is wholly convinced that that
manner is not---unrighteous. And in this particular case, to one of his
son’s best friends.”

He twisted his fingers around the rim of his glass. Oliver started to
speak but Mr. Piper put up his hand. “No--please--it will be so much
easier if I finish what I have to say first,” he said rather pleadingly.

“Well--the situation here between Rose and myself--must be plain to you
now.” Oliver nodded, he hoped in not too knowing a way. “Plain. How that
situation arose--is another matter. And a matter that would take a good
deal too long to tell. Except that, given the premises from which we
set forth--what followed was perhaps as inevitable as most things are in
life.

“That situation has been known to no other person on earth but
ourselves--all these years. And now it is known. Well, Oliver, there you
have it. And you happen to have us also--entirely in your hands. Because
of a spying, greedy servant--and my own stupidity and distrust--we have
been completely found out. And by one of my son’s best friends.

“I wish that I could apologize for--all the scene before this. Better.
I hope that you will believe that I am trying to do so now. But I seldom
make apologies, Oliver, even when I am evidently in the wrong--and this
hasn’t been one of my easiest to make. And now.”

He sat back and waited, his fingers curled round his glass. And, as
he looked at him, Oliver felt a little sickish, for, on the whole, he
respected Mr. Piper a good deal more than his irreverent habit of mind
permitted him to respect most older people, and at the same time felt
pitifully sorry for him--it must be intensely humiliating to have to
explain this way--and yet the only thing Oliver could do was to take
the largest advantage possible of his very humiliation and
straightforwardness--the truth could still do nothing at all but wreck
everybody concerned.

“I give you my word of honor, Mr. Piper, to keep everything I know
entirely and completely secret,” said Oliver, slowly, trying to make the
large words seem as little magniloquent as possible. “That’s all I can
say, I guess--but it’s true--you can really depend on it.”

“Thank you,” said Mr. Piper quite simply. “I believe you, Oliver,” and
again Oliver felt that little burn of shame in his mind.

“Thank you,” said Mrs. Severance, copying Mr. Piper finished his drink
and rose. “And now, I do not wish you to misunderstand me,” he said.
“I have not come to my age without realizing that there are certain
services that cannot be paid for. But you have done me a very great
service, Oliver--a service for which I should have been glad to give
nearly everything material that I possess. I merely wish you to know
that in case you should ever need--assistance--from an older man---in
any way--that is clumsily put, but I can think of no other suitable word
at the moment--I am entirely at your disposal. Entirely so.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Oliver a little stiffly. Mr. Piper was certainly
heaping coals of fire. Then he wondered for an instant just what Mrs.
Ellicott would think if she could have heard the President of the
Commercial say that to him--

Mr. Piper was moving slowly toward the door, and the politeness that had
been his at the beginning of the conversation was nothing to his supreme
politeness now.

“And now,” he said, as if he were asking everybody’s pardon for an
entirely unintentional intrusion, “I really must be getting back to
Southampton--and you and Rose I imagine have still quite a bit to talk
over--”

“But--” said Oliver clumsily, “but Mr. Piper--” and “Must you really,
dear?” said Mrs. Severance in the softest tones of conventional wifely
reproach.

Her manner was ideal but Oliver somehow and suddenly felt all the
admiration he had ever had for her calm power blow away from him like
smoke. He could not help extremest appreciation of her utter poise--he
never would be able to, he supposed--but from now on it would be the
somewhat shivery appreciation that anyone with sensitive nerves might
give to the smooth mechanical efficiency of a perfectly-appointed
electric-chair.

“No,” said Mr. Piper perfectly, “I insist. You certainly could not have
finished your discussion before I came and for the present--well--it
seems to me that I have intruded quite long enough. I wish it,” he added
and Oliver understood.

“You are staying with us, over tomorrow, Oliver, are you not?” said Mr.
Piper calmly, and Oliver assented. “I suppose we shall see each other at
breakfast then?”

“Oh yes, sir.” And then Oliver tried to rise to Mr. Piper’s magnificence
of conventionality in remark. “By the way, sir, I’m driving back in
Peter’s car--as soon as Mrs. Severance and I have finished our talk--I
couldn’t pick you up anywhere, sir, could I?”

Mr. Piper smiled, consulting his watch. “There is an excellent train at
10.33--an excellent one--” he said, and again Oliver was dumfounded
to realize that the whole march of events in the apartment had taken
scarcely two hours.

“Thank you, Oliver, but I think I had better take that. Not that I
distrust your driving in the least, but it will be fairly slow going, I
imagine, over some of those roads at night--and this was one evening on
which I had really intended to get a good night’s sleep.”

He smiled again very quaintly.

“You’ll be dancing as soon as you get back, I suppose? I understand
there is to be a dance this evening?”

“Yes, sir--at least, I guess so. Told Peter I’d show up.”

“Youth,” said Mr. Piper. “Youth.” There was a certain accent of
dolefulness in the way he said it.

“And now I shall call a taxi,” he said briskly.

“Can’t I take you down--?” Oliver began, but

“No, no. I insist,” said Mr. Piper a little irritatedly, and then Oliver
understood that though he might be quixotic on occasion, he was both
human and--Oliver hesitated over the words, they seemed so odd to
his youth to be using of a man who was certainly old enough to be his
father--really in love with Mrs. Severance after all. So, until Mr.
Piper’s taxi came they chatted of indifferent matters much as they might
have while watching people splashing about in the water from the porch
of the swimming pool at Bar Harbor--and Oliver felt exceedingly in the
way. These last dozen minutes were the hardest to get through of the
whole evening, he thought rather dizzily; up till now he had almost
forgotten about Ted, but it would be quite in keeping with everything
else that had happened if just as Mr. Piper were leaving, a formal
farewell on his lips and everything straightened out to everyone’s
conspiratorial or generously befooled satisfaction, Ted should stagger
into the room like the galvanized corpse of a Pharoah wrapped in towels
instead of mummy-cloth and everything from revolver-shots to a baring of
inmost heart-histories would have to be gone through with again.

So when Oliver heard the telephone ring again he knew it was too good
to be true, and, even when Mr. Piper started to answer it, was struck
chilly with a hopeless fear that it might be police. But Fate had
obviously got a trifle bored of her sport with them, or very possibly
tired out by the intricacy of her previous combinations--for it was only
the taxi after all and Mr. Piper was at the door.

“No use saying good-by to you now, is there, Oliver?” he said quietly,
but held out his hand nevertheless.

“Well, good-by, Rose,” as he scrupulously shook hands with Mrs.
Severance.

“Good-by, Sargent,” and then the door he had had such difficulty
in opening two hours before had shut behind him and Oliver and Mrs.
Severance were left looking at each other.

“Well,” said Mrs. Severance with a small gasp.

“Well,” said Oliver. “Well, well!”

“Excuse me,” said Oliver, and he walked over to the table and poured
himself what he thought as he looked at it was very like the father and
mother of all drinks.

“You might--do something like that for me--” said Mrs. Severance
helplessly. “If you did--I think--I might be able to think--oh, _well_!”

“Well,” repeated Oliver like a toast as he tipped the bottle and the
drink which he poured for Mrs. Severance was so like unto his drink that
it would have taken a fine millimeter-gauge to measure the difference
between them.

Mrs. Severance went back to her chair and Oliver sank into the chair
that had been previously occupied by Mr. Piper. As he stretched back
luxuriously something small and hard and bulging made him aware of
itself in his pocket. “Oh Lord, I forgot I still had that gun of Mr.
Piper’s!” said Oliver inconsequentially.

“Have you?” said Mrs. Severance. The fact did not seem to strike her as
being of any particular importance. They both drank long and frankly and
thirstily, as if they were drinking well-water after having just come
in from a hot mountain trail. And again, and for a considerable time,
neither spoke.

“I suppose,” said Mrs. Severance finally, with a blur of delicate scorn,
“I suppose our friend Mr. Billett--got away safely?”

Her words brought up a picture of Ted to Oliver,--Ted netted like a fish
out there on the fire-escape, swaddled up like a great papoose in all
the towels and dish-cloths Oliver had been able to find. The release
was too sudden, too great--the laughter came--the extreme laughter--the
laughter like a giant. He swayed in his chair, choking and beating his
knees and making strange lion-like sounds.

“Ted,” he gasped. “Ted! Oh, no, Mrs. Severance, Ted didn’t get away!
He didn’t get away at all--Ted didn’t! He didn’t because you see he
_couldn’t_. He’s out on the fire-escape now--oh, wait till you see him,
oh Ted, oh Glory, oh what a night, what a night, what a night!”



XLII

It took a good deal of explaining, however, to make Ted understand. He
was still tightly bound, though very angrily conscious when they found
him and his language when Oliver removed the improvised gag was at first
of such an army variety that Oliver wondered doubtfully if he hadn’t
better replace it until he got Ted alone. Also Oliver was forced to
curse himself rather admiringly for the large number of unnecessary
knots he had used, when he started to unravel his captive.

When they finally got him completely untangled Ted’s first remarks were
hardly those of gratitude. He declared sulkily that his head felt as if
it were going to split open, that he must have a bump on the back of it
as big as a squash and that it wasn’t Oliver’s fault if he hadn’t caught
pneumonia out on that fire-escape--the air, believe him, was _cold_!

Mrs. Severance, however, and as usual, rose to the occasion and produced
a bottle of witch-hazel from the bathroom with which she insisted on
bathing the bump till Ted remarked disgruntledly that he smelt like
a hospital. Oliver watched the domestic scene with frantic laughter
tearing at his vitals--this was so entirely different and unromantic an
end to the evening from that from which Oliver had set out to rescue Ted
like a spectacled Mr. Grundy and which Ted in his gust of madness had so
bitterly and grandiosely planned.

Then they moved back into the living-room and the story was related
consecutively, by Oliver with fanciful adornments, by Mrs. Severance
with a chill self-satisfaction that Oliver noticed with pleasure was
like touching icicles to Ted. Ted gave his version--which only amounted
to waking up on the fire-escape, trying to shout and succeeding
merely in getting mouthfuls of towels--Oliver preened himself a little
there--and lying there stoically and getting more and more furious until
he was rescued. And while he told it he kept looking everywhere in the
room but at Rose. And then Oliver remembered Mr. Piper and looked at his
watch--11.04. He rose and gazed at Mrs. Severance.

“Well,” he said, and then caught her eye. It was chilly, doubtless, and
even by Oliver’s unconventional standards he could not think of her as
anything but a highly dangerous and disreputable woman--but that eye
was alive with an irony and humor that seemed to him for a moment more
perfect than those in any person he had ever seen. “_Must_ you go?” she
said sweetly. “It’s been _such_ an interesting party--so _original_,”
 she hesitated. “Isn’t that the word? Of course,” she shrugged, “I can
see that you’re simply dying to get away and yet you can hardly complain
that I haven’t been an entertaining hostess, can you?”

“Hardly,” said Oliver meekly, and Ted said nothing--he merely looked
down as if his eyes were augers and his only concern in life was
screwing them into the floor.

“_Must_ you go?” she repeated with merciless mocking. “When it _has_
been fun--and I don’t suppose we’ll ever see each other again in all
our lives? For I can hardly come out to Melgrove now, can I, Oliver? And
after you’ve had a quiet brotherly talk with her, I suppose I’ll even
have to give up lunching with Louise. And as for Ted--poor Ted--poor Mr.
Billett with all his decorations of the Roller Towel, First Class--Mr.
Billett must be a child that has been far too well burnt this evening,
not, in any imaginable future to dread the fire?”

Both flushed, Ted deeper perhaps than Oliver, but neither answered.
There really did not seem to be anything for them to say. She moved
gently toward the door--the ideal hostess. And as she moved she talked
and every word she said was a light little feathered barb that fell on
them softly as snowflakes and stuck like tar.

“I hope you won’t mind if I send you wedding presents--both of you--oh,
of course I’ll be quite anonymous but it will be such a pleasure--if
you’ll both of you only marry nice homey girls!” Ted started at this as
if he had been walking barefoot and had stepped on a wasp and she caught
him instantly.

“Dear, dear, so Mr. Billett has serious intentions also--and I thought a
little while ago that I was really in Mr. Billett’s confidence--it
only shows how little one can tell. As for Oliver, he of course
is blighted--at present--but I’m sure that that will not last very
long--one always finds most adequate consolation sooner or later though
possibly not in the way in which one originally supposed.” She sighed
elfinly as Oliver muttered under his breath.

“What was that, Oliver? Oh, no, I am not at all the sort of person that
writes anonymous letters to one’s wife--or family--or sister,” a spaced
little pause between each noun. “And besides it wouldn’t be much use
in me, would it? for of course you young gentlemen will tell the young
ladies you marry _everything_ about yourselves--all honorable young
people do. And then too,” she spread out her hands, “to be frank. We’ve
all been so beautifully frank about ourselves tonight--that’s one thing
I _have_ liked so much about the evening--well, it would hardly be worth
my while to take lessons in blackmailing from Elizabeth if the only
subjects on which I could apply them were two impecunious young men.
And, oh, I realize most perfectly--and please don’t misunderstand
me!--that we’re all of us thieves together so to speak and only getting
along on each other’s sufferance. But then, if one of us ever starts
telling, even a little, he or she can hardly do so in any way that
will redound to anything but his or her discredit and social
obliteration--how nicely I’ve put that!--so I don’t think any of us will
be very anxious to tell.

“_Good_-by, Mr. Billett--and when you do marry, please send me an
invitation--oh I shan’t come, I’ve been far too well brought-up--but I
must send--appreciations--and so must have the address. We have had a
pleasant acquaintanceship together, haven’t we?--perhaps a little more
pleasant on my side than on yours--but even so it’s _so_ nice to think
that nothing has ever happened that either of us could really regret.

“Just remember that the only person I could incriminate you to would be
Mr. Piper, and not even there very much, due to Sargent’s melodramatic
appearance in the middle of dinner. But I shan’t even there--it would
mean incriminating myself a little too much too, don’t you know? and
even if the apartment here does get a trifle lonely one evening and
another, I have got to be extraordinarily fond of it and I couldn’t have
nearly as nice a one--or as competent an Elizabeth--on what they pay me
on ‘Mode.’ So I’ll keep it, I think, if you don’t mind.

“But that may make you a little more comfortable when you think things
over--and I’m sure we all deserve to be very comfortable indeed for
quite a long while after the very trying time we’ve just been through.

“_Good_-by, and I assure you that even if I shall never be able to think
of you in the future except as all wrapped up in the middle of
those absurd towels, I shall think of you quite kindly though rather
ridiculously nevertheless. And now if you will just run away a minute
and wait down in that car of Sargent’s that Oliver--borrowed--so
effectively--because I must have one motherly word with Oliver alone
before we part forever! Thank you so _much_! _Good_-by!”



XLIII

So Oliver was left alone with her, he didn’t know why. He noticed,
however, that when she came to talk to him, though it was still with
lightness, she was at no particular effort any longer to make the
lightness anything but a method of dealing with wounds.

“Mr. Billett does not seem quite to appreciate exactly how much your
timely pugilistics did for him,” she observed. “Or exactly how they
might have affected you.”

Oliver set his jaw, rather. He was hardly going to discuss what Ted
might or might not owe him with Mrs. Severance. Hardly.

“No, I suppose you wouldn’t,” she said uncannily. Then she spoke
again and this time if the tone was airy it was with the airiness of a
defeated swordsman apologizing for having been killed by such a clumsy
stroke of fence.

“But I have some--comprehension--of just what you did. And besides--I
seem to have a queer foible for telling the truth just now. Odd, isn’t
it, when I’ve been lying so successfully all evening?”

“Very successfully,” said Oliver, and, to his astonishment, saw her
wince.

“Yes--well. Well, I don’t know quite why I’m keeping you here--though
there was something I wanted to say to you, I believe--in a most serious
and grandmotherly manner too--the way of a grown woman as Sargent would
put it--poor Sargent--” She laughed.

“Oh yes, I remember now. It was only that I don’t think you
need--worry--about Mr. Billett any more. You see?”

“I think so,” said Oliver with some incomprehension.

“Seeing him done up that way in towels,” she mused with a flicker of
mirth. “And the way he looked at me when I was telling about things
afterwards--oh it wouldn’t do, you know, Oliver, it wouldn’t do! Your
friend is--essentially--a--highly--Puritan--young man,” she added
slowly. Oliver started--that was one of the things so few people knew
about Ted.

“Oh yes--wholly. Even in the way he’d go to the devil. He’d do it with
such a religious conviction--take it so _hard_. It would eat him up.
Completely. And it isn’t--amusing--to go to the devil with anybody
whose diabolism would be so efficiently pious--a reversed kind of
Presbyterianism. We wouldn’t do that, you know--you or myself,” and
for an instant as she spoke Oliver felt what he characterized as a most
damnable feeling of kinship with her.

It was true. Oliver had been struck with that during his army
experiences--things somehow had never seemed to stick to him the way
they had seemed to with Ted.

“Which is one reason that I feel so sure Mr. Billett will get on very
well with Sargent’s daughter--if his Puritan principles don’t make him
feel too much as if he were linking her for life to a lost soul,” went
on Mrs. Severance.

“_Wha-a-at!_”

“My dear Oliver, whatever my failings may be, I have some penetration.
Mr. Billett was garrulous at times, I fear--young men are so apt to
be with older women. Oh _no_--he was beautifully sure that he was not
betraying himself--the dear ostrich. And that letter--really that was
clumsy of both of you, Oliver--when I could see the handwriting--all
modern and well-bred girls seem to write the same curly kind of hand
somehow--and then Sargent’s address in embossed blue letters on the
back. And I _couldn’t_ have suspected him of carrying on an intrigue
with Mrs. Piper!” and Oliver was forced to smile at her tinkle of
laughter. Then she grew a little earnest.

“I don’t suppose it was--Mr. Billett--I wanted so--exactly,” she mused.
“It was more--Mr. Billett’s age--Mr. Billett’s undeniable freshness--if
you see. I’m not quite a Kipling vampire--no--a vampire that wants to
crunch the bones--or do vampires crunch bones? I believe they only act
like babies with bottles--nasty of them, isn’t it?--But one gets to
a definite age--and Sargent’s a dear but he has all the defects of a
husband--and things begin slipping away, slipping away--”

She made a motion of sifting between her hands, letting fall light
grains of a precious substance that the hands were no longer young
enough to keep.

“And life goes so queerly and keeps moving on like a tramp in front of
a policeman till you’ve started being gray and taking off your corset
every time you’re alone because you like being comfortable better than
having a waist-line--and you’ve never had anything to settle you,” her
face twitched, “not children--nor even the security of marriage--nothing
but work that only interests part of you--and this--”

She spread her hands at the apartment.

“Well--what a lot of nonsense I’m talking--and keeping Mr. Billett out
in the car when he’s sure he has pneumonia already--how unkind of me.
You must think me a very immoral old woman, don’t you, Oliver?”

“I think you’re very sporting,” said Oliver, truthfully.

“Not very. If I really _wanted_ Mr. Billett, you see.” Her eyes
sparkled. “I’m afraid you wouldn’t think me sporting at all--in that
case. But then I don’t think you’d have been able to--save--anybody I
really wanted as you did Mr. Billett.” She spoke slowly. “Even with that
very capable looking right hand. But in case you’re still worried--”

“I’m not, really.”

She paid no attention.

“In case you’re still worried--what I told Mr. Billett was true. In the
first place, Sargent would never believe me, anyway. In the second place
it would mean breaking with Sargent--and do you know I’m rather fond of
Sargent in my own way?--and a thing like that--well, you saw how he
was tonight--it would mean more things like revolvers and I _hate_
revolvers. And hurting Sargent--and ruining Mr. Billett who is a
genuinely nice boy and can’t help being a Puritan, though I never shall
forget the way he looked in those towels. Still, I’m rather fond of him
too--oh, I’m perfectly unashamed about it, it’s quite in an aunty way
now and he’ll never see me again if he can help it.

“And making Sargent’s daughter--who must be charming from what I hear of
her--but charming or not, she happens to be a woman and I have a feeling
that, being a woman, life will hurt her quite sufficiently without
my adding my wholly vicarious share. Oh, I’m perfectly harmless now,
Oliver,” she made a pretty gesture with her hands. “You and Sargent and
the fire-escape between you have drawn my fangs.”

“I can’t exactly--thank you,” said Oliver, “but I do repeat--you’re
sporting.”

“Never repeat a compliment to a woman over twenty and seldom then.” She
looked at him reflectively. “The same woman, that is. There is such a
great deal I could teach you though, really,” she said. “You’re much
more teachable than Mr. Billett, for instance,” and Oliver felt a little
shudder of terror go through him for a moment at the way she said it.
But she laughed again.

“I shouldn’t worry. And besides, you’re blighted, aren’t you?--and
they’re unteachable till they recover. Well.

“Oh, yes, there was something else I meant to be serious about. Sargent
said something about our--disappearing, and all that. Well, Sargent has
always been enamored of puttering around a garden somewhere in an
alias and old trousers with me to make him lemonade when he gets
overheated--and so far I’ve humored him--but I’ve really never thought
very much of the idea. That would be--for me--a particularly stupid way
of going to seed.” She was wholly in earnest now. “And I haven’t the
slightest intention of going to seed with Sargent or anybody else for
a very long time yet. If it ever comes definitely to that I shall break
with Sargent; you can depend on my selfishness--arrogance--anything you
like for that. Quite depend.

“Tonight,” she hesitated. “Tonight has really made a good many
things--clear to me. Things that were moving around in my mind, though
I didn’t know quite what to call them. For one thing, it has made
me--realize,” her eyes darkened, “that my time for really being--a
woman--not in the copybook sense--is diminishing. Getting short. Oh, you
and Mr. Billett will have to reconcile your knowledge of Sargent’s
and my situation with whatever moral ideas you may happen to have on
fathers-in-law and friends’ fathers for some time yet--I’m sure I don’t
know how you’re going to do it, especially Mr. Billett, and I can’t
honestly say that I particularly care. But that will not be--permanent,
I imagine. You understand?” She put her hand on the door-knob to imply
that the audience was over.

“I shall miss Louise, though,” she said, frankly.

“Louise will miss you.” Oliver saw no need for being politic now. He
added hesitatingly, “After all--”

“Oh, no. No,” she said lightly but very firmly. “I couldn’t very well,
now, could I?” and Oliver, in spite of all the broadmindedness upon
which he prided himself, was left rather dumb.

“Oh, it won’t be--difficult,” she added. “We can keep up--in the
office--yes?”

“Yes,” said Oliver hastily. He might be signing a compact with all the
powers of darkness, but even so.

“For the rest, I am--used to things like that,” she added, and once
again her face grew suddenly bright with pain. Then she recovered
herself.

“Well--our next merry meeting and so forth,” she said airily. “Because
when it happens, if it does, I may be so stodgily respectable you’ll
be very glad to ask me to dinner, you know. Or I may be--completely
disreputable--one never knows. But in any case,” and she gave her hand.

“Mr. Billett must be freezing to death in that car,” she murmured.
“Good-by, Oliver, and my best if wholly unrespectable good wishes.”
 “Thanks and--good luck to you.”

She turned on him swiftly.

“Oh, no. All the happiness in the world and _no_ luck---that’s better,
isn’t it? _Good_-by.”

“Good-by.”

And then Oliver was out in the hall, pressing the button that would
summon a sleepy, disgruntled elevator-boy to take him down to Ted and
the car. He decided as he waited that few conversations he had ever had
made him feel quite so inescapably, irritatingly young; that he saw to
the last inch of exactitude just why Mr. Piper completely and Ted very
nearly had fallen in love with Mrs. Severance; that she was one of the
most remarkable individuals he had ever met; and that he hoped from the
bottom of his heart he never, never saw her again.



XLIV

Ted and he had little conversation going back in the car. The most
important part of it occurred when they had left New York behind and
were rushing along cool moon-strewn roads to Southampton. Then--

“Thanks,” said Ted suddenly and fervently and did not seem to be able to
say anything more.

The events of the evening had come too close, at moments, to grotesque
tragedy for Oliver to pretend to misunderstand him.

“Oh, that’s all right. And anyhow I owed you one for that time with the
gendarmes in Brest.”

“Maybe,” but Ted didn’t seem to be convinced. “That was jocose though.
Even at the worst.” The words came with effort. “This was--serious. I
owe you about everything, I guess.”

“Oh, go take a flying leap at a galloping goose!”

“Go do it yourself. Oh, Oliver, you ass, I _will_ be pretty and polite
about your saving my life.” And both laughed and felt easier. “Saved a
good deal more than that as a matter of fact--or what counts for
more with me,” Ted added soberly. “Then the letter I brought _was_
satisfactory?”

“Satisfactory? Gee!” said Ted intensely, and again they fell silent.

Some miles later Oliver added casually

“You won’t have any trouble with our late hostess, by the way. Though
she knows all about it.”

“She knows?”

Oliver couldn’t resist.

“And quite approves. But she’s--a sport.” Then for Ted’s sake, “Besides,
you see, it would crab her game completely.”

“I’ll tell Elinor, though,” said Ted, stubbornly.

“About her father? You can’t.”

“Oh, Lord, no. About myself. Don’t have to give names and addresses.”

“Afterwards.”

“Well, yes--afterwards. Though it makes me feel like a swine.”

“Nobody our age who hasn’t been one or felt like one--some of the
time--except Christers and the dead,” said Oliver, and they proceeded
for several minutes on the profundity of that aphorism. The silence was
broken by Ted’s saying violently,

“I _will_ marry her! I don’t give a damn what’s happened.”

“Good egg. Of course you will.” Oliver chuckled.

Ted turned to him anxiously after another silence.

“Look Ollie, that bump on my head--you’ve seen the size it is. Well, is
it going to just show up like _thunder_ at this silly dance?”



XLV

Half-past five in the morning and Oliver undressing wearily by the light
of a pale pink dawn.

Now and then he looks at his bed with a gloating expression that almost
reaches the proportions of a lust--he is so tired he can hardly get off
his clothes. The affairs of the last twenty-four hours mix in his mind
like a jumble of colored postcards, all loose and disconnected and
brightly unreal. Ted--Elinor--Mrs. Severance--Mr. Piper--the dance he
has just left--sleep--oh--sleep!

Where is Ted? Somewhere with Elinor of course--it doesn’t matter--both
were looking suspiciously starry when he last saw them across the
room--engagements--marriages--sleep--Mr. Piper’s revolver--sleep. How
will he return Mr. Piper’s revolver? Can’t do it tactfully--can’t leave
it around to be lost, the servants are too efficient--send it to Ted and
Elinor as a wedding present--no, that’s not tactful either--what silly
thoughts--might have been dead by this time--rather better, being
alive--and in bed--and asleep--and asleep. Oh, _bed!_ and he falls into
it as if he were diving into butter and though he murmurs “Nancy” once
to himself before his head sinks into pillows, in two seconds he is
drugged with such utter slumber that it is only the blind stupefied face
of a man under ether that he is able to lift from his haven when
Ted comes in half an hour later and announces, in the voice of one
proclaiming a new revelation, that Elinor is the finest person that ever
lived and that everything is most wholly and completely all right.



XLVI

“A letter for you, dear Nancy.”

Mrs. Winters gestures at it refinedly--she never points--as Nancy comes
in to breakfast looking as if whatever sleep she had had not done her
very much good.

“From your dear, dear mother, I should imagine,” she adds in sugared
watery tones.

Nancy opens it without much interest--Mother, oh, yes, Mother. Six
crossed pages of St. Louis gossip and wanderingly fluent advice. She
sets herself to read it, though, dutifully enough--she is under Mrs.
Winters’ eyes.

Father’s usual September cold. The evil ways of friends’ servants.
Good wishes to Mrs. Winters. “Heart’s Gold--such a really _inspiring_
moving-picture.” Advice. Advice. Then, half-way down the next to last
page Nancy stops puzzledly. She doesn’t quite understand.

“And hope, my daughter, that now you are really cured though you may
have passed through bitter waters but all such things are but God’s
divine will to chasten us. And when the young man told me of his
_escapade_ I felt that even over the telephone he might have”

She sets herself wearily to decode some sort of definite meaning out
of Mother’s elliptic style. An escapade. Of Oliver? and over the
telephone--what was that? Mother hadn’t said anything--

She finishes the letter and then rereads all the parts of it that seem
to have any bearing on the cryptogram, and finally near the end, and
evidently connected with the “telephone,” she comes upon the phrase
“that day.”

There is only one day that Mother alludes to as “That Day” now. Before
her broken engagement “That Day” was when Father failed.

But Oliver _hadn’t_ telephoned--she’d asked Mother _particularly_ if
he had, and he hadn’t. But surely if he had telephoned, surely, surely,
Mother would have told her about it--Mother would have known that there
were a few things where she really hadn’t any right to interfere.

Mother had never liked Oliver, though she’d pretended. Never.

Nancy remembers back and with fatally clear vision. It is fortunate
that Mrs. Ellicott cannot turn over with Nancy that little shelf-full
of memories--all the small places where she was not quite truthful
with Nancy, where she was not quite fair, where she “kept things from
her”--Mrs. Ellicott has always been the kind of woman who believes in
“keeping things from” people as long as possible and then “breaking them
gently.” Almost any sort of things.

It is still more fortunate that Mrs. Ellicott cannot see Nancy’s eyes as
she reviews all the tiny deceptions, all the petty affairs about which
she was never told or trusted--and all for her own best interests, my
dear, Mrs. Ellicott would most believingly assure her--but when parents
stand so much in Loco Dei to nearly all children--and when the children
have long ago found out that their God is not only a jealous God but one
that must be wheedled and propitiated like an early Jehovah because that
is the only thing to be done with Gods you can’t trust--

Nancy doesn’t _want_ to believe. She keeps telling herself that she
won’t, she absolutely won’t unless she absolutely has to. But she is
lucky or unlucky enough to be a person of some intuition--she knows
Oliver, and, also, she knows her mother--though now she is beginning to
think with an empty feeling that she really doesn’t know the latter at
all.

What facts there are are rather like Mrs. Ellicott’s handwriting--vague
and crossed and illegibly hard to read. But Nancy stares at them all
the time that she is eating her breakfast and responding mechanically to
Mrs. Winters’ questions. And then, suddenly, she _knows_.

Mrs. Ellicott like many inexperienced criminals, has committed the
deadly error of letting her mind dwell too long on the _mise-en-scene_
of her crime. And her pen--that tell-tale pen that all her life she has
taken a delight almost sensual in letting run on from unwieldy sentence
to pious formless sentence, has at last betrayed her completely. There
is genuine tragedy in store for Mrs. Ellicott--Nancy in spite of being
modern, is Nancy and will forgive her--but Nancy, for all her trying,
will never quite be able to respect her again.

Nancy doesn’t finish her breakfast as neatly as Mrs. Winters would have
wished. She goes into the next room to telephone.

“Business, dear?” says Mrs. Winters brightly from the midst of a last
piece of toast and “Yes--something Mother wants me to do” from Nancy,
unfairly.

Then she gives the number--it is still the same number she and Oliver
used when they used to talk after he had caught the last train back to
Melgrove and both by all principles that make for the Life Efficient
should have gone to bed--though to Nancy’s mind that seems a great while
ago. “Can I speak to Mrs. Crowe, please?” The explaining can be as awful
as it likes, Nancy doesn’t care any more. An agitated rustle comes to
her ears--that must be Mrs. Winters listening.

“Mrs. Crowe? This--is--Nancy--Ellicott.”

She says it very loudly and distinctly and for Mrs. Winters to hear.



XLVII

Oliver wakes around one o’clock with a dim consciousness that noisy
crowds of people have been talking very loudly at him a good many too
many times during the past few hours, but that he has managed to fool
them, many or few, by always acting as much like a Body as possible. His
chief wish is to turn over on the other side and sleep for another seven
hours or so, but one of those people is standing respectfully beside
his bed and though Oliver blinks eyes at him reproachfully, he will
not vanish back into his proper nonentity--he remains standing
there--obsequious words come out of his mouth.

“Ten minutes to one, sir. Lunch is at one, sir.”

Oliver stares at the blue waistcoat gloomily. “What’s that?”

“Ten minutes to one, sir. Lunch is at one, sir.”

“Lunch?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then I’d better get up, I suppose. Ow-_ooh!_” as he stretches.

“Yes, sir. A bath, sir?” “Bath?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh, yes, bath. No--don’t bother--I mean, I’ll take it myself. You
needn’t watch me.”

“Certainly _not_, sir. Thank you, sir. There have been several telephone
calls for you, sir.”

Oliver sighs--he is really awake now--it will be less trouble to get
up than to try and go back to sleep. Besides, if he tries, that
brass-buttoned automaton in front of him will probably start shaking him
gently in its well-trained English way.

“Telephone calls? Who telephone-called?”

“The name was Crowe, sir. The lady who was calling said she would call
again around lunch time. She said you were to be sure to wait until she
called, sir.”

“Oh, yes, certainly.” Politely, “And now I think I’ll get up, if you
don’t mind?”

“Oh, no, sir,” rather scandalizedly. “You are in need of nothing, sir?”

Oliver thinks of replying, “Oh, just bring me a little more sleep if you
have it in the house,” but then thinks better of it.

“No, thanks.”

“Very good, sir,” and the automaton pussyfoots away.

Oliver still half asleep manages to rise and find slippers and a wrapper
and then pads over to an empty bathroom where he disports himself like
a whale. To his surprise he discovers himself whistling--true, the
sunlight has an excellent shine to it this morning and the air and the
sky outside seem blue and crisp with first fall--but even so.

“Nancy,” he murmurs and frowns and finishes his bath rather gloomily--a
gloom which is in no wise diminished when he goes downstairs to find
everybody nearly through lunch and Ted and Elinor, as far away from
each other at the table as possible, quite sure that they are behaving
exactly as usual while the remnants of the house-party do their best to
seem tactfully unconcerned.

Oliver, while managing to get through a copious and excellent lunch in
spite of his sorrows, regards them with the morose pity of a dyspeptic
octogenarian for healthy children. It is all very well and beautiful
for them now, he supposes grimly, but sooner or later even such babes as
they will have to Face Life--Come Up Against Facts--

He is having a second piece of blueberry pie when he is summoned to the
telephone. Rather tiresome of Mother, really, he thinks as he goes out
of the dining-room--something about his laundry again most probably--or
when he is coming back.

“Hello, Oliver?” “Hello, dear. Anything important?”

Mrs. Crowe’s voice has a tiny chuckle in it--a chuckle that only comes
when Mrs. Crowe is being very pleased indeed.

“Well, Oliver, that depends--”

“Well, Mother, _honestly_! I’m right in the middle of lunch--”

“Oh, I’ll call up again, if you’d rather, Oliver dear.” But Mrs. Crowe
for private reasons doesn’t seem to be at all ashamed of taking up so
much of her son’s very valuable time.

“Only I _did_ think it would interest you--that you’d like to know as
soon as possible.”

Impatiently, “Yes. Well?”

“Well--a friend of yours is coming to see you on the three o’clock. A
_rather_ good friend. We thought you’d be back by then, you see, and
so--”

Oliver’s heart jumps queerly for an instant.

“_Who_?”

But the imp of the perverse has taken complete charge of Mrs. Crowe.

“Oh--a friend. Not a childhood one--oh, no--but a--good--one, though you
haven’t seen each other for--more than three weeks now, isn’t it? You
should just be able to make it, I should think, if somebody brought you
over in a car, but of course, if you’re so busy--” “_Mother_!”

Then Oliver jangles the little hook of the telephone frantically up and
down.

“Mother! Listen! Listen! Who is it? Is it--honestly?”

But Mrs. Crowe has hung up. Shall he get the connection again? But that
means waiting--and Mother said he would just be able to make it--and
Mother isn’t at all the kind that would fool him over a thing like this
no matter how much she wanted to tease. Oliver bounds back toward the
dining-room and nearly runs into Elinor Piper. He grabs her by the
shoulders.

“Listen, El!” he says feverishly. “Oh, I’ll congratulate you properly
and all that some time but this is utterly everything--I’ve got to
go home right away--this minute--toot sweet--and no, by gum, I won’t
apologize _this_ time for asking you to get somebody to take me over in
a car!”



XLVIII

She was sitting on the porch of the house--a small figure in the close
blue hat he knew, a figure that seemed as if it had come tired from a
long journey. She had been talking with his mother, but as soon as the
car drew up, Mrs. Crowe rose quickly and went into the house.

Then they were together again.

The instant paid them for all. For the last weeks’ bitterness and the
human doubt, the human misunderstandings that had made it. And even as
it opened before them a path some corners and resting-places of which
seemed almost too proud with living for them to dare to be alive on
it--both knew that that fidelity which is intense and of the soul had
ended between them forever an emptier arrogance that both had once
delighted in like bright colors--a brittle pride that lives only by the
falser things in being young.

They had thought they were sure of each other in their first weeks
together--they had said many words about it and some of them clever
enough. But their surety now had no need of any words at all--it had
been too well tempered by desolation to find any obligation for speech
or the calling of itself secure.

They kissed--not as a pleasant gesture, and no fear of looking publicly
ridiculous stopped them.

The screen door behind Nancy pushed open. Jane Ellen appeared, Jane
Ellen, by the look of her, intent upon secret and doubtful business, a
large moth-eaten bear dangling by its leg from one of her plump hands.
She was too concerned with getting her charge through the door to notice
what was happening at first but as soon as she was fairly out on the
porch she looked about her. The bear dropped from her fingers--her eyes
grew rounder than buttons and very large.

“Why it’s Oliver and he’s kissing Aunt _Nancy_!” she squeaked in a small
voice of reproachful surprise.



XLIX

Whatever the number was of the second-class stateroom on the _Citric_,
it was rather too far down in the belly of that leviathan to have suited
fashionable people. But Oliver and Nancy had stopped being fashionable
some time before and they told each other that it was _much_ nicer than
first-class on one of the small liners with apparent conviction and
never got tired of rejoicing at their luck in its being an outside.
It was true that the port-hole might most of the time have been wholly
ornamental for all the good it did them, for it was generally splashed
with grey October sea, but, at least, as Nancy lucently explained, you
could see things--once there had actually been a porpoise--and that
neither of them, in their present condition, would have worried very
much about it if their cabin had been an aquarium was a fact beyond
dispute.

“Time to get up, dear!” This is Oliver a little sternly from the upper
berth. “That was your bath that came in a minute ago and said something
in Cockney. At least I _think_ it was--mine’s voice is a good deal more
like one of Peter’s butlers--” “But, Ollie, I’m so _comfortable_!”

“So am I. But think of breakfast.”

“Well--breakfast is a point.” Then she chuckles, “Oh, Ollie, wouldn’t it
have been _awful_ if we’d either of us been bad sailors!”

“We couldn’t have been,” says Oliver placidly. “We have too much luck.”

“I know but--that awful woman with the face like a green pea--oh, Ollie,
you’d have hated me--we are lucky, darling.”

Oliver has thought seriously enough about getting up to be dangling his
legs over the edge of his shelf by now.

“Aren’t we?” he says soberly. “I mean I am.”

“_I_ am. And everybody’s being so nice about giving us checks we can use
instead of a lot of silly things we wouldn’t know what to do with.” She
smiles. “Those are your feet,” she announces gravely.

“Yes. Well?”

“Oh, nothing. Only I’m going to tickle them.”

“You’re not? Ouch--Nancy, you _little devil_!” and Oliver slides hastily
to the floor. Then he goes over to the port-hole.

“A very nice day!” he announces in the face of a bull’s eye view of dull
skies and oily dripping sea.

“Is it? How kind of it! Ollie, I must get up.” “Nancy, you must.” He
goes over and kneels awkwardly by the side of her berth--an absurd
figure enough no doubt in tortoise-shell spectacles and striped pajamas,
but Nancy doesn’t think so. As for him he simply knows he never will get
used to having her with him this way all the time; he takes his breath
delicately whenever he thinks of it, as if, if he weren’t very careful
always about being quiet she might disappear any instant like a fairy
back into a book.

He kisses her.

“Good morning, Nancy.”

Her arms go round him.

“Good morning, dearest.”

“It isn’t that I don’t want to get up, really,” she explains presently.
“It’s only that I like lying here and thinking about all the things that
are going to happen.”

“We are lucky, you know. Lordy bless the American Express.”

“And my job.” She smiles and he winces.

“Oh, Ollie, _dear_.”

“I was so damn silly,” says Oliver muffledly.

“Both of us. But now it doesn’t matter. And we’re both of us going to
work and be very efficient at it--only now we’ll have time and together
and Paris to do all the things we really wanted to do. You _are_ going
to be a great novelist, Oliver, you know--”

“Well, you’re going to be the foremost etcher--or etcheress--since
Whistler--there. But, oh, Nancy, I don’t care if I write great
novels--or any novels--or anything else--just now.”

She mocks him pleasantly. “Why, Ollie, Ollie, Your Art?”

“Oh, _damn_ my art--I mean--well, I don’t quite mean that. But this is
life.”

“Just as large and twice as natural,” says Nancy quoting, but for once
Oliver is too interested with living to be literary.

“Life,” he says, with an odd shakiness, an odd triumph, “Life,” and his
arms go round her shoulders.

THE END





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