Could this happen to you?
"WHAT’S the idea of pan-handling? Did it never occur to you to work for a living?”
There was asperity in Barton Grimley’s voice, and he intended the tones to be slightly cutting. To him, on this bright October day, the sudden spectacle of the gaunt-eyed, ragged-cheeked one stepping in front of him and looking up into his face with unmistakable tragedy written upon every line of his dulled features was an unwarranted blow at the joy of living.
“Please, sir, there is no work to be had.
If you could only help me—a little.” Yet the voice seemed even more frightened than the eyes.
Then the man plunged on, doggedly, like one who has no alternative but to speak, yet who shrinks from .the stark humiliation of it all.
For a time Grimley heard the words, then, caught in a subconscious wave of compassion—perhaps even understanding—he plunged one hand into his pocket and emptied it of change; but the tremble of tears in the bleary eyes forced his other hand into a swift movement which brought forth bills.
“May fortune bless you,” the man could scarcely mumble the simple words, “and may you never come to this.”
Barton Grimley moved on, with a squarer set to his shoulders and with a righteous glow about the region of the heart.
“Thank the stars,” he muttered to himself, “that I do not have to do that. I have kept clear of that,” Grimley muttered again; then, with a slight modification of that glint of righteousness, he added, “I wonder what can ever bring creatures to such a pass? Shiftlessness. Bootlegger poison, I suppose; though he wouldn’t tell me about such faults as that.”
He enumerated his own rewards, pridefully, rewards which were the harvest of an ambition carefully nurtured upon all those aforesaid characteristics of application and integrity. It would make a long story, that climb of his along the slippery runway of ambition, that upward climb from among the struggling masses at his feet, until now, with much complacency and a little cautious pride, he could look back and thank himself that he was not just one of the rut-worn toilers.
HIS rewards? Yes, there was this five-thousand-dollar-a-year job of his; and that was the crux of it all. It was this job, climbed to and held on to through the years, which had made possible that delightful house upon the avenue—a home just a trifle lofty, perhaps, for one of his means, yet delightful just the same—it was this job of his which had made it possible for him to leave a handsome motor in front of the door for Mary to drive that pair of boys to school.
And such boys they were! The mere thought of them made Grimley’s grey eyes sparkle with delight. Ted, careless, light-hearted Ted, with all the carelessness of untroubled years of ten ; Bob, solemn-eyed Bob, with thirteen years behind him, and with a gift almost of genius which made him happiest when his fingers were toying with the strings and the bow of the violin.
Grimley nodded to no one in particular. He would put that boy Bob through to the end, to the very top, ,
until the acclaim of vast audiences......
Again Grimley shivered. For the shadowy memory of that gaunt-eyed one had thrust itself across the radiance of his paintings of the future, almost like the threat of augury.
“Of course the poor old wretch never worked, and he has himself to blame,” Grimley digressed from his castle-building, “but, I wonder. I didn’t ask him. ... if he had boys like Bob and Ted. ...”
That sobered Grimley for a time and left him pondering that, to him, almost unimaginable thing known as a future without a job. It was quite true that the charming house upon the avenue was not entirely paid for, Bob’s violin lessons were a trifle behind, wife Mary owed a garage bill and daughter Isobel still had fees due at the boarding school. But the next month's check would clear up the little things, and a few years of modest economy should see the last scratch wiped off the debit account of that delightful home.
Longreen was not a quibbler.
“I am sorry, Grimley,” he came straight to the point, “but we are compelled to dispense with your
services at the end of the month...... Turner’s
has got overstocked on a rising market......we
are compelled to retrench.
“You are not alone,” Longreen’s voice went on, with a faint suggestion of pity behind it.......
That ragged-cheeked face in front of him again. . . .
“It all does depend upon the job,” Grimley conceded to himself, argumentatively, “but it’s only the no-accounts who lose their jobs. Things like that don’t happen to a person who works, particularly if he has a five thousand dollar job at Turner’s. Why don’t those poor devils start young and work up? But the booze gets them, I suppose, or they’re lazy. . . .won’t turn a hand over except when the wolf starts barking. Now, I might have been just that ' same kind of a wretch, except.....”
He paused in front of Turner’s departmental store and gazed up at the lofty structure of its commercialism with a proprietary air of reverence. He, in his own small way, had helped to make Turner’s what it was. He had seen it grow for the past twenty years, and though he knew little else in the world of commerce but the way of Turner’s, he was still pridefully content.
The sight of the scurrying boys and girls, of the more sedately hustling men and women, in their dash to beat out the time clock by the fraction of a minute, brought a warm flush of pride to Grimley’s heart. He didn’t have to race with the time clock. . . .for he had helped to build Turner’s.
The thought of that quite drove from his mind all memory of the gaunt-eyed one, so that when he reached his desk in the offices on the fifth floor the chief thing in his mind was the mystery of the music of commerce as the hum of it crept up through the many floors and reached him here in this den of his. A delightful spot, this cosy retreat, almost as charm-
ing as that home upon the avenue. A quiet, restful room, where he might sit and plot out those coups—the bazaars, the fashion displays, the Easter festivals, the Christmas lures—which had helped to push Turner’s to the top through the passing of the years.
Came a slight knocking at the door, a jerky sound, like that coming from the hand of a man whose brain has suffered a shock.
“Come in," Grimley called pleasantly.
A figure slipped through, and though Grimley recognized Burlington, the assistant European buyer, he experienced a sudden dulling to the keenness of his content at the mere sight of the man’s face.
“What’s wrong. Burlington?” he asked, rather quickly.
“Heaven only knows,” Burlington’s voice came back thickly. “But young Dibble, the chief's secretary, you know, has just tipped me off that there’s a dozen of us on the carpet this morning. Men high up in our departments, every one of us. The old man must have gone crazy. . . ” “I'm awfully sorry for you, old chap.” Grimley began.
• • • • Burlington laughed, but the sound, when
set against the whiteness of his countenance, was a mockery.
“You’d better be,” the voice came thicker still. “Dibble says you are one of the dozen. Thought I’d get you ready. See if you can’t find a little note on your desk. . . from old Longreen. I got one. . . .”
Burlington’s manner compelled Grimley to search, yet when he found the message among the casual correspondence upon his desk it was only a polite summons to call upon Longreen at ten.
At ten o’clock precisely, Grimley went, quietly, unflurried, because Burlington could tell him nothing. Some trifling difficulty, he presumed, but it could be nothing serious.
In the corridor leading to Longreen’s den he met Tudhope, assistant manager of the drygoods department. The man appeared to walk past without seeing him, and because of that, Grimley lost a trifle of his aplomb as he stepped into the office and found young Dibble waiting with his hand on Longreen’s door.
A moment more, and Grimley found himself staring back at the cool-faced Longreen, the all-powerful caliph of Turner’s, who was regarding him as impersonally as though he were a specimen bolt of cloth, and as though they had not known each other through the years.
Longreen was not a quibbler.
“I am sorry, Grimley,” he came straight to the point, “but we a-e compelled to dispense with your services at the end of the month. Turner’s, for the past six months, has been having a terrible pull. We got overstocked on the rising market, and now, with the market falling every day and getting more and more into the customer’s hands, we have to retrench, or crash. We have chosen to retrench. Every stick of decorative employment is being cut out of the store.....”
Through the deadening blur of his thoughts, Grimley recognized that there was much more of it. There was such a shattering mass of it, so clearly and logically put, and so deftly handled by Longreen’s subtle tongue, that when it was through, Grimley found scarcely a word to say.
He did begin to raise his voice, but Longreen shocked him into silence.
“You are not alone,” Longreen’s voice went on, with a faint suggestion of pity back of it. “There are a dozen going now, and we picked you, partly because your positions were not totally essential, and partly because, having drawn high salaries for so many years, you should be better able to weather the gale than the lowsalaried men. It was a case of choose between you, for instance, Grimley, and three other men in the lowsalary class. You are well fixed; or should be. The others are not. ...”
By having it put that way, Grimley felt that he could not even complain. He still felt that way when he came out into the dulling street at night and made his way lifelessly up through the raucous city to that avenue where he knew a delightful home would be glimmering and beckoning with lights.
Through that evening the spectre of the gaunt-eyed one was constantly with him. It left him scarcely for a moment when Mary was chattering about the costume which Isobel must have for the masquerade at the college; it mocked him viciously when she recited the innocuous incidents of Mrs. Burger’s afternoon tea and while she glowed with the prospect of next week’s session of the bridge club to be held in this same delightful home; it cut through the surface of all things else and stood there a glowering thing when Ted's trusting voice reminded him of those accoutrements of the forthcoming winter joys which were to be his; but it seemed like a stab to the very heart when solemn-eved Bob got out his violin and dreamed his way through some of those age-old melodies which have a knack of stealing their way into the emotions under any conditions whatever.
Continued on page 39
Continued, from page 25
THAT spectre was like the flapping of figures harping their way through some vivid nightmare, and reminding him that chance and fortune, more fickle than the winds of springtime, oft-times strike here and there with wilful abandon, and in their striking, carry down the strong as well as the weak.
“Away w’ith you, boys. Scoot. The sandman’s at the door,” Mary’s voice was brisk, but there was a worried, backward glance over her shoulder as she made her way through to the kitchen.
When she returned quietly, treading so lightly that her footsteps made scarcely a sound through the deep moss of the carpeted floor, she found Grimley with his face buried in his hands. Mary, the mother of those two wonderful boys, slipped down to the arm of the chair, and she put a hand upon the drooping shoulders.
“What is it, Bart?” she whispered. “You know you have always told me everything, every little thing. . . .”
The man looked up and he tried to smile, but it broke in the middle and his lips quivered. How could he bring this shock to Mary, who had trusted him always, who had ever looked up to him as the great, big, strong man standing between | her and the brutalities of the world? The man who had given her all these things, j these deep-mossed carpets, this furniture ' whose artistic lines were restful to the eye, this altogether fascinating setting : which made her sought by those who know the ways of refinement! .
“Please, Bart, you must tell,” she whispered, as she shook him playfully, though there was a little fright in her voice.
“Mary, I don’t know how I can tell you, but. ...”
The sympathetic light in her eyes became an encouragement.
“. . . but, I’ve lost my job at Turner’s.”
NOW that it was out, Grimley knew that a part of his suffering had come from the fear as to just how Mary would take the sudden shock of it all. But he might have known that he was the fool even to doubt her in thought. There had been so little adversity in their later years that it was restful now, in this strange and unknown blank of their days, to feel her arms about his neck. She did not even whisper so much as a complaint, once she knew the reason why.
“In one way, Mr. Longreen was right ” she tried to cheer his drooping senses. “If it was a matter of choosing between one man and three, then the one man should go. We can get along nicely for awhile, and some of those others might have been driven to actual suffering. We will cut down expenses, at once, Bart. Let us work it out to-night. . . .”
The undoubted loyalty of Mary drove the droop from his shoulders; it brought the vague suggestion of a smile back to his lips.
“All right, girlie, we will do that. But if I have found another job. . . perhaps better. . . . before the end of the month, we can just hand our suggestions along to someone else.”
“Of course you will have another job, Bart, before you are through at Turner’s. Any firm would want an experienced man like you. . . ” . ,
That, of course, was cheering, though Grimley knew it could not be entirely true. That unfortunate feature of his life was that he had given it to Turner’s, and that, in building commercial castles upon the supposedly solid foundation of Turner’s, he had learned little about the other human vagaries for hewing out an existence.
“Certainly it will be easy, if everybody else hasn’t got the same idea as Longreen,” Grimley humored the cheerfulness of Mary's mood. “Now just where can we start to cut expenses, in case. . . in case, you know. . . I shouldn’t get that other job?”
“Right here in the house, Mary returned promptly, “for that is where the most of the expense lies.”
That, of course, hurt, to think that Mary should lose any of those things which it had been his pride to give her. His hurried words conveyed a part of that, and his manner told the rest.
“Now don’t be foolish, Bart,” Mary laughed softly, though with an effort. “We have been that long enough. We have been living right up to our means, and when you get the new joh we will never do I that: again. I am going to start right in now. Why, Bart, when I come to think of it, J must have been frightfully wasteful. . or we have been. . . ”
“No more than the Dicksons, or the Longbottoms, or Mrs. Berger, or. . . ”
"Now that doesn’t matter one little bit, ’ Mary began to run her fingers through his hair, playfully, in the way she had done so many years ago. “We start, this instapt. Bart, there is that maid; she really isn’t worth much anyway. I will let her go and do all my own work but the heavy washing, and that will save ten dollars a week. Then there is that car. It just eats up money, so we will leave it in the garage, and that is another ten dollars a week saved. The weekly theatre night, five dollars more. Chocolates. . . And I’ll make Isobel s costume dress from one of my old gowns, and. . . Get some paper, Bart, and we will figure it out right now. . . ”
EpROM the manner in which Mary went
at that painful process of cutting down expenses, trimming the frills out of her hitherto luxury-ridden life, adding burdens to her shoulders, and doing it all with a smile, Grimley might have fancied that it was some new and fascinating game which she was playing. It turned her into that old Mary he had known those long years ago when this economic watchfulness had been the keynote of earlier struggles. It was a game, as Mary played it, which ran through the hours past midnight, and when the new budget had been finally struck and passed upon by a unanimous vote of the house, it was found that thirty-five dollars in weekly frills had been trimmed from the expense account.
It is really astonishing, to think I have been wasting that much,” Mary declared, with puckered brows. “But what are you grinning about, Bart?”
Grimley continued to smile.
“Two things,” he informed. “First, about what a trump you are, and secondly, about the way you have done it without hitting at the juniors upstairs. I will have to tell them some day, when they are old enough to understand. . . .”
Mary’s eyes were shining with some of the spirit of sacrifice which, perhaps, through their years of luxury, had been in part denied to her. Then she laughed softly, confidently, and Grimley joined in that pleasant sound, for the world suddenly seemed a much brighter place than it had been j ust a few hours ago.
TT SEEMED brighter still, in the glimA mer of the clear autumn morning, and it remained bright through the day, up to the noon hour. At that climactic moment Grimley’s first punishment began. He denied himself the twenty-cent cigar which through the custom of the years, had grown to bring mellowness into his life and in its place he substituted a five-cent tongue-blisterer. He saved three-quarters of an hour and a dollar bill by taking his place among the struggling humanity which customarily lines up at the quicklunch emporiums, at which point he made the astonishing discovery that he could get an ample stock of wholesome food for approximately the amount he would have left with a waiter at the big hotel across the way, just for the mere sake of maintaining his dignity.
“It’s me for this joint every day ” Grimley chuckled to himself, and promptly wondered why his elbowing neighbor
Then, later, with the five-cent shocker getting in its preliminary jabs at the fringes of his tongue, Grimley sauntered over in the direction of Forsythe’s, the rival establishment whose progressiveness had always kept him, as well as the whole of the Turner’s staff, upon their toes He knew young Luxton, son-in-law of old Forsythe, and Luxton would be just decent enough to tip him off to any openings in the rival store.
Luxton did tip him off as to the situation, hesitatingiy at first, yet firmly in the end.
You re a good sort, I know, Grimley,” was young Luxton’s greeting, “and I know why you are here before you sit down. Burlington dropped in this forenoon, so it’s no secret. And since you are no longer interested in Turner’s I want to
tell you, Grimley, that we are just hanging on by our teeth. It’s a customers’ market, as you know, and at the end of the week we will be unfortunately compelled to follow Turner’s example. ...”
The five-center, which had formerly had some suggestion of fragrance about it, suddenly became a weed as bitter as the voices of those who condemn it. For Forsythe's, having learned of Turner’s retrenchments, were hurrying to drop into line. There were a lot of reasons for it. Luxton, the son-in-law, was overflowing with them; but Grimley was not particularly keen upon getting down to the skeleton. What he wanted was an opportunity to use his remaining twenty minutes for another call.
Grimley did make that other call, and in the days which followed before his month of grace had run out at Turner’s, he made scores of just such calls. But the greetings were such distressingly monotonous things. Of course, everybody was polite. Everybody in the store line, from the biggest departmental outfit to the shrinking two-flat structure, knew Grimley’s sterling worth, but. . . those nasty customers were taking the bit in their teeth; they were refusing to buy, except at reduced prices, so everywhere there was retrenchment, the slashing of staffs, and an increasingly large number of gentlemen standing around the exteriors of the offices which he visited.
“Well, the month is up, and I haven’t got that job,” he reported to Mary somewhat discouragingly, as he handed her the last check from Turner’s. “That will clear up the outstanding accounts, but it won’t leave us anything to live on. We will have to go easy for a few weeks, but now that I have all day, every day, to look for a job, it won’t take long. I really didn’t have a chance to look around while at Turner’s.”
'T'HAT was accompanied by a smile; A but Grimley knew that Mary guessed that the smile was mostly on the outside. For there was no use trying to deceive himself. He might take in others with a jaunty air; but that composite something which was his prompting brain told him most frankly that he knew perfectly well that he had canvassed every possible store in the whole city. Further, other cities, where he was unknown, were said to be just as timid.
“We must cut some more,” Mary declared promptly, as sheeasily read pastthat false mask of a smile. “Bart, we have got to get right down to it this time. Surely you haven’t forgotten that a payment of five hundred dollars is due on the mortgage on the house at the end of next month?” The worried way in which he shook his head betrayed the fact that he had not forgotten, but that he had not wanted to summon up that spectre before Mary’s eyes.
“No,” he said slowly. “And we may as well face the fact. You are right, Mary. There is little use in trying to dodge things. The prospects of getting a job in my line will be far from bright all winter, but they will open up in the spring.”
“In the meantime, we must live,” Mary reflected, “and pay off that five hundred dollars in some way. Thank goodness, there are no taxes until spring, but I was looking over your life insurance premiums this afternoon and there will be a hundred dollars due on that short term policy in February. ...”
Through a silence which was not without its phantoms, Grimley stared into the future. It was there, and it had to be met,
job or no job.
“Yes, Mary, I know that,” Grimley agreed. “And I have been thinking. I hate to do it, but the car must be sold. Thank goodness, that is paid for, though it did strip me of my last Victory bond.
It cost three thousand just a little over a year ago, so we should be able to realize two thousand on it. I’ll advertise it tomorrow, Mary.”
“How long before you should be able to sell?” Mary asked reflectively. “But even then, Bart, we will need to be careful, for if yçu should not get a position until spring there will be those other payments. . . . Yes. . . It hurts, Bart, but Isobel will have to come home from Donegal Heights.”
/GRIMLEY opened his lips hurriedly A1 to protest, then closed them again without speaking. Mary was right. This was a cold, stark, financial fact which faced him now, and sentiment, though it
aside3* heart~strin8s> must be tl
The fact that he nodded, instea speaking, told Mary just how he felt a it ,hat n?d seemed to tell her, as ' that his pride was suffering, that it 1 this big, strong man in many ways to k: that he could no longer stand entirely tween those he loved and the buffeting the world.
But Bob will go on with his vit lessons, Mary hurried to add, to save man some of the hurt. “His work is much more promising. It means a futí for him, while Isobel is just taking on polish which doesn’t matter nearly much. . . ”
I will have that car sold in a week he broke in swiftly, to hide his keen thought. “You just see if I don’t, Mai girl.”
It looks bad,” he informed Mary in worried way, at the end of a week devote almost entirely to attempts to saddle tha car upon some other individual. “I didn’ appreciate the situation. The car marke: is pretty well smashed. Everybody k trying to sell; no buyers in sight.” Then his eyes grew more troubled still. “I don’t know quite what we are going to do. Perhaps the Capital Trust people will extend the mortgage. . . ”
That idea seemed like an inspiration to Grimley. Of course they would recognize that his embarrassment was but temporary. They knew the value of the house, that he had never dodged before, and that in a few months things would be running smoothly again.
So, while the morning throngers were still congesting the business streets, Grimley assumed an air of confidence, and dr°PPed in upon the manager of the Capital Trust. Gilmour’s features were Somewhat worried, haggard, and there was a solemn atmosphere of . depression about him.
“I would like to oblige you, if I could see any possible way to do it,” Gilmour spoke frankly, when Grimley had told his story of passing financial strain, and had treated it lightly. “But, Grimley, it is the same all over the city. We had two requests just like that yesterday, though that wouldn’t stop us from helping you out. But the banks are pressing us. You see, we got in heavier than we intended in the boom days. ...”
Grimley nodded. He found that it had become something of a habit to fall back upon that gesture to conceal those undercurrents of fear which were stealing upon him with more and more frequency through the passing of the days.
JUTE COULDN’T beg of Gilmour. So he A A went out with redoubled efforts to dispose of that car. Ten days later he did get it off his hands, by sheer chance, and it was with a sigh of relief that he paid mental tribute to fortune.
“Got rid of it,” he exclaimed gladly, as Mary met him just inside the front doorway. “There’s a sinker goes with it. But still it isn’t so bad. Just happened to meet Lumsden, of Forsythe’s, on the street. He knew it was a daisy car, and when I told him I simply had to sell, he took it at fifteen hundred. . . I know, Mary. . .It is a pretty big cut. ... He paid six hundred down. . . The rest comes once a month in hundred dollar lots. . . ”
“Isn’t that fine?” Mary’s enthusiasm verged upon excitement. “I just knew you would win out, Bart boy. Six hundred whole dollars in money?”
This time Grimley’s nod was one of prideful gladness.
“Just look at it, Mary. Doesn't it make the eyes green.”
“I could hug you,” Mary exclaimed delightedly. “Isn’t it great? That lets us pay off that mortgage instalment, and gives us a hundred dollars a month right through the winter. Excuse the slang, Bart, but we’re ‘up to our knees in clover’. Watch me dance. ...”
Mary did go so far as to give a few sportive imitations of careless youth, and she was still delighting Grimley’s eyes with her infectious gayety, when Bob slipped through the front door with his violin case in his hands. Though Bob scarcely appreciated the situation, he joined in the dance, and when it was over, he announced: “Two boys dropped out of the class today, Mumsie. And it’s too bad, because that Wheatley boy is just a dandy player.” Grimley exchanged a glance with Mary over the boy’s head, and instantly he knew that Mary knew, in spite of her vivacity, that the grim spectre had not yet been driven back to its rightful limbo.
AFTER that, it was a case of making Tl. the dreary rounds in search for employment. It was tramp, tramp, from morning until night, from one end of the city to the other, but wherever he went there appeared to be the same list of waiting men. With the passing of the days, the army of the workless grew and magnified, until it seemed to Grimley a vast mystery to know that there was such a thing as work left in the whole city. There were factories closing each week, and as they drew into the first snow-flecked days of Winter the situation appeared to grow rapidly strained. There were no office positions open, for with the closing of factories and plants, the clerical staffs were being weeded out surely but firmly; while the list of his friends had long since been canvassed and had been found helpless.
THAT night when he returned, with the weariness of the day’s futile search upon him, he could see the glitter of light from the front room reaching far down the avenue. Visitors, of course. For a part of the rigid expenditure trimming had been a determination to cut down that electric light bill. Visitors? Expense? Grimley shuddered. Partly from the thought of the cost of unreckoned entertainment, partly from the consciousness of how far he had wandered from those care-free, liberalhanded days of prosperity.
Yet once inside the house he gave a sigh of relief. It was only Lumsden, of Forsythe’s, who had helped him out by taking that motor. Still, Lumsden’s face ’ csstrikingly cheerless.
“I am sorry, Grimley,” Lumsden began, somewhat feverishly, “I won’t be able to make those payments on the car. Forsythe’s made another cut in their staff today, and I’m caught with the rest. . .
Grimley tried to keep a firm grip upon himself while he discussed that slumbering tragedy with Lumsden. He felt even that he created a passable impression of dignity when they finally concurred that Lumsden really could not pay, and that the car would have to be turned over to one of those already overly-clogged second-hand agencies on the marginal hope that something could be salvaged from it before his financial fever reached its height.
“It really looks like a hard winter,” he tried to speak with emotion-concealing calm as Lumsden left; but the droop was there, behind the surface, when he turned about and found Mary’s worried eyes upon
“We will just have to sell the house,” Mary decreed, when the new menace had been probed from its every angle. “That is all there is to it. The Lumsdens evidently have been living up to their means and haven’t the money. We will put it in the hands of two or three real estate agents to-morrow and have it well advertised. It is such a beautiful house that I just know it will be snapped up at once.”
Mary spoke cheerfully, confidently; but Grimley knew that her outward vigor was only a mask with which to cloak those secret longings which were still wrapped about this home he had built for her and the juniors.
“Or can you think of another way?” Mary’s briskness continued.
But Grimley had only a thin hope. The stark necessity for raising money was now upon him, money needed for the bare essentials of living.
“I am afraid we will have to let it go,” he admitted, “unless we can get some advance on my life insurance. Some of the companies let you borrow on that, though I saw Burlington this afternoon and he told me that the concern he is insured with have ■ stopped it. There were so many demands.”
IT WAS restful now to see the quick A brightness which flashed to Mary’s face. She even ventured a laugh.
“Insurance first, and if that fails, the house after,” she decided, so unhesitatingly as to betray the bonds of sentiment which were clinging to this home of theirs. “Now, Bart, there is another thing. I have been thinking that when spring comes the man who has the best chance of getting a position early will be the man who can do the most things. What else can you do besides run a fancy feature section in a departmental store?”
For a moment he hesitated, then at length he caught the drift of her thoughts. He considered the matter solemnly before
“There doesn’t seem to be much. I am afraid I never learned to be versatile. I have given the most of my time to Turner’s, started at the bottom and worked up. I know that one job better than I know myself, but. . . ”
“Your first job at Turner’s was bookkeeping,” Mary recalled. “You were a top-notch one, and wore studying accoun-
Grimley agreed with that, but he failed quite to catch the point. Office work, at this particular moment, was as elusive as all other varieties of manly labor.
But Mary smiled with relief.
“Then, since you know" book-keeping, and are going to have a lot of spare time this winter, you are going on to study some more accountancy,” she decided, with a smile. “And when spring comes, just think, you will have two chances to one.” “What a great little schemer you are,” Grimley began effusive compliments which stretched on and on until once more the world blossomed with the faintest tinge of brightness.
WITH this new enthusiasm upon him, Grimley prowled about the library until he found some dog-eared books with which to begin his preliminary brushing-up in an all-but-forgotten art, and that remote gleam of brightness was not driven from his immediate environs through the whole evening, which, as it went on, seemed to take upon itself an added sheen of hopefulness.
But by the following noon that new glimmer of hope was vastly needed as a landward anchor to hold him from sinking into the morass of despond.
For the insurance people had informed him that they really could not think of loaning to any more of their customers; and three real estate agents had all puckered their brows and shrugged their shoulders in a manner which, to say the least, was not even the fag-end of encouragement.
“They say hardly anybody is buying now,” Grimley found himself forced to report to Mary, with what cheer he could. “Everybody is waiting in the hope that houses will be cheaper in the spring, and the types which do sell are the small, lowpriced ones. No one wants an expensive house like ours now, unless you practically give it away. I suppose we could sacrifice it at half its value and get enough to keep the wolf away. They all said they would do their best, but. . . .”
There was a hardness in the man’s voice when he broke off, and he was vaguely astonished to see an old gleam in Mary’s eyes, a gleam so much a remnant of those far-off struggling days that he had almost forgotten that it could live again. In those days he had called it the battling fire, and now it was there once more, in Mary’s eyes. Yet when she spoke, her voice was
“You go on with your study,” she said quietly, and then she left him to face that problem and himself alone.
Three days later, Isobel returned from Donegal Heights, and whatever she may have thought, there was too much of the Mary in her for even the fragment of a reproach to be spoken within his hearing. It was that same night when he first noticed that Mary was studying the daily paper with greater care than he had ever known her to display before.
At the end of several nights, this new habit of Mary’s prompted him to rise up and peer across her shoulder. She had been studying the Want Ad. section, but as he came and stood there, she turned about until her eyes met his challengingly. Then her finger ran slowly down one of the columns of ads, and came to a pause at a particular item.
“Gad, Mary. Do you really mean it?” he exclaimed.
Mary’s chin was set in a determined way. “Yes, Bart, I do,” she replied evenly. “I have seen you looking at all this fine furniture of ours for weeks now, and I knew what you were thinking.”
“That is just what I have been thinking,” Grimley interrupted hurriedly. “I have felt all along that some of it would have to go; but it seemed somehow to be yours. Everything seems to be yours. If it had only been some toy of my own.”
“You mustn’t feel like that any more Bart, boy, for it is ours, together, to be used as we can use it best to look after thejuniors. I know we will have to sacrifice in prices, but I figured that by catching theChristmas demand the gramophone should1 bring enough to keep that insurance policy going, and the piano will meet the next mortgage payment. A few other things will keep up Bob’s violin lessons, and meet other calls. Fnnny, isn’t it, that we who in one sense are really well-to-do, with a fifteen thousand dollar house nearly paid for, have to sell furniture to keep alive?”
That brought a smile to Grimley’s lips-, and when he smiled Mary leaned forward impulsively and whispered;
“That isn’t all I have had to do to assert my rights in my own house. To-morrow we have some guests arriving. Now don’t hold up yoür hands in horror. They are paying guests. Two fairly nice young ladies. They are taking the two front rooms upstairs, and I had to let them have your den as well. I couldn’t afford not to let them have their way, for I have been advertising for two weeks and they are the only ones who answered. Not having a telephone counted against us; but it means ten dollars * week, and that is a whole lot
It was so much that Grimley’s dominating mood for the balance of that evening was one of humility. (
YITHEN the ladies in question arrived,
' ’ Grimley knew that it was only sobereyed charity which would have defined them as being really nice. But they were respectable; they were even presentable when they were not chewing gum, and chief of all, they .paid a week’s rental in advance. Still, the sight and thought of them kept Grimley upon the street for such long hours that he actually landed a week’s work behind Forsythe’s counters during the Christmas rush. But that was only sporadic. After the rush had died out, the real slump began and the streets became steadily more populous with the workless.
Mary actually disposed of the gramophone, piano and odds and ends of furnishings, and he knew that the more pressing bills were being paid. At first, when he missed some trifle of furniture, Grimley would wonder openly, but after catching a betraying glance from Mary’s eyes he no longer pondered why those choice bits should always vanish during his absence.
“The insurance, payment on the house, coal, Bob’s lessons, and the worst of the bills are cared for,” Mary confided, around the middle of February. “But there is another five hundred dollar payment on the house on the first of May.”
“By that time Lumsden should get something from the car,” Grimley turned the situation over and found a bright side. “Besides, see what a wonderful accountant I am becoming. Just think of the job I will have before the first of May.”
Grimley was really working hard through the evenings, so hard that when Mary came to him a week later she had to speak twice before she could get his attention long enough to inform him that the two “fairly nice” young ladies were three weeks behind with their room rent and had just made the astonishing confession that they had not been working since the New Year and were totally stripped of funds. One of them had even been presumptuous enough to make a flat-footed call for & loan, upon the strength of the job she was to get in the spring.
“They say, if we turn them out, they haven’t a place to go,” Mary’s voice was just a trifle sympathetic, though it was plain that the loss of that deferred revenue was a serious blow, “I suppose it means more furniture. . . ”
It did. Likewise, the fairly nice young ladies stayed on, but no longer as paying guests.
TT WAS through those dark days of A February and early March that the spectre of the gaunt-eyed one returned the most often to torment Grimley. The hovering menace of the man’s pallid face seemed to loom up before him wherever he turned.
Could it ever be possible that he, after the passing of many years. ... ?
Always yet he had been able to drive that nagging thought from him, though with an increasing effort.
But the spectre would not leave. It was always with him, glowering and gibbering and mocking him, as though with evil intent, when he took his place daily among that army of eager workless waiting feverishly about the newspaper offices. There was a miniature army there, ready to do battle even for the first papers from the press, in order that they, perhaps, might be the first to race into the presence of some prospective employer who had made his wants known through the Want Ads. At first he shrank from that motley throng. But now he could struggle with them and race with the strongest; and he wondered, at times, if that were a sign that the spectre of the bleary-eyed one was steadily and surely growing to dominate
TT WAS a night in early March when he *■ returned home to find Mary absent, and to find Isobel attempting to adopt an air of secrecy. But Isobel could not control herself, and whether it was admiration or excitement, Grimley could not say.
C “Mumsie got a position to day downtown,” the girl announced. “It’s just a dandy job, in the post office, on the de-
Îiartment of a man she used to work for a ong, long time ago. Isn’t it wonderful, Daddy? She is to get twenty whole dollars a week, and she says that is lots and lots to keep us going until you can find just the kind of a position you want. Isn’t Mumsie wonderful, old Daddy?”
For the first time since the spectre began to dog him, Grimley found that his emotions were threatening to sweep him beyond control. His wife, his Mary, working for him. . . .to keep him and the juniors fron» starvation. . . from losing that home of theirs!
Grimley buried his face in the girl’s hair, and it remained there so long that at last she drew away and looked up into his face in wonder.
“Why, Daddy,” she exclaimed, “aren’t you glad?”
“Glad, little woman, of course I’m glad,” he proclaimed firmly, with a flash back to his old control. “And Mumsie is wonderful, a hundred times more than wonderful.”
Yet when Mary returned, she was calm and businesslike. She accepted the situation coolly, with no suggestion of superiority, as was her right; and somehow or other she quickly made him feel that she was doing no more than any other woman of firm fibre would do with just that kind of a hand dealt to her from the whimsical fingers of Fate.
That job of Mary’s was really the turning of the tide of fortune from ebb to flow. She had accepted it, she insisted, simply that he might not be compelled to take “any old kind of a job” which might crop up in the spring; and Mary, as time established, was right.
When the first verdant paintings of springtime began to force their way through the drab mantle of Winter, Grimley was conscious of a change.
There was a returning confidence among those firms whose courage had faltered through the past months, and just as Mary had predicted, it was not wise for him to take the first opening which offered. Mary had also been right about that study of accountancy, for whether through chance or the inspiration of her brain, she had chosen for him the proper work. The stiffness of the winter had forced so many firms to the wall that the accountants’ offices, in a struggle to straighten out the commercial tangles, now became suddenly the busiest of them all. And because of that, towards the middle of April, Grimley, by a little cautious angling and with the confidence of Mary’s income behind him, was able to step into one of those accountancy openings.
“And at the kingly salary of fifty dollars a week, when other fellows are glad to get thirty or forty,” he announced, with some of the old stiffening to his shoulders. “Mary, except for you. . . .”
“No time to talk about that now,” Mary checked him, with a laugh, “too many other things to think about. I am quitting my position at the end of the week, because I simply must have some time to look around for a nice, cheap little cottage on the outskirts of the city.”
The thought of leaving the delightful home upon the avenue sobered him quite. It was a point to be deliberated.
“After getting this job, I went in to two of the real estate offices this afternoon,” Grimley followed Mary’s idea through to what he believed to be its logical end. “They tell me things are brightening
up a lot in the business, though' they say this house is too high-priced to be in the regular grade for quick selling. So I told them to let it go if they could get out of it as much as we put in. . . .’
' I 'HEN Man,' took a surprising stand.
-*• “You are going right back to-morrow,” she declared, “and tell them not to sell. No, Bart, we have fought for this house all winter, so we are not going to sell. It’s our own, and we are going to hold right on. I couldn’t think of letting it go now, after the fight we have had to put up. . . .”
Grimley stared through a puzzled moment.
“I know, little woman, you have put up the gamest fight in the world, and it is your right to say just what we are to do. But, to run this house on fifty dollars a week, even without that second mortgage coming along in two years—Mary, it can’t be done.”
Mary laughed with some of the freedom of the old care-free days.
“Of course it can’t,” she agreed. “But we don’t have to sell it. We can do as the Lumsdens are doing. . . rent it. I, too, have been making inquiries, Bart, and the real estate men tell me we should get a hundred and fifty a month rent, if we don’t try to hurry too much. Think of that. . In two years the house will carry itself and pay off that mortgage. . . ”
“Wonderful Mary,” Grimley murmured in admiration. “Not a word to say about it, except this. . . Why didn’t I let you take charge long ago?”
For the most part, Mary was right once more. There was that five hundred dollar payment due in fifteen days, but the Capital Trust people had evidently gone through some mental transformations which brought them out of the crucible of doubt with renewed confidence. They informed Grimley that it was due to the bank getting a cooler grip upon itself and releasing the pressure; but whatever the real spur might be, they had become willing to smile when Grimley suggested a delayed payment. Of course they would accept Lumsden’s notes on the car, and further, they would guarantee to rent that house upon the avenue for a hundred and twenty-five a month.
Except for the excitement of finding themselves once again on the safe side of the financial balance, those are the details of the Grimleys’ readjustment.
Mary found that cottage, on the outskirts of the city. Trust Mary for that.
“It’s the cutest little spot you ever saw,” she informed Grimley, with manifest excitement in her manner, “only thirty-five dollars a month rent, and a garden. Bart, you should see that garden. We will raise every speck of vegetable stuff we need this year; . . .”
Grimley knew it must be cute, or Mary would never have picked it; and the prospect of grubbing around in the bare soil had its own appeal.
“. ; . .and we move out the first Saturday in May,” Mary rushed on. “The agents didn’t want to let us have it so soon, but I told them they just had to, that we had to let these other people take over our own house the middle of the month.”
\/fARY’S sigh was one of huge relief.
The whole burden seemed to have slipped aside, while the old fantastic and glittering colors of promise were once more painting their way into the future. Bob’s violin sounded softly from the adjoining room as Mary cuddled down upon the arm of Grimley’s chair, and the melody, though touched with tenderness, seemed somehow or other to be founded upon the strong notes of courage.
“It has been a struggle,” Mary whispered, “but we have won out, Bart. We have had to readjust our scale of living, but we are not alone in that. Thousands of others have had to do it, and thousands more will go through it yet. . . or go down. I hate to think of those who will go down. Bart. ...”
The man nodded in sympathy, for in that instant the spectre of the bleary-eyed one flashed to his mind again, but this time it was in flight and fading into the far-off shadows.
“. . . but we have learned much, Bart,” Mary’s voice went on. “We have learned things which it will not do us a speck of harm to know, and which will help us to climb back all the faster to this home of ours, if we ever want to come. . . .”