HE HAD the tried tail to drown himself from the tail of a Jersey ferryboat; and it was as shocking, to everyone who knew him, as if the Woolworth Building had staggered down Broadway and thrown itself weeping into the bay. It was impossible that he could have done such a thing—and yet there was no doubt that he had done it with forethought. Faced by this dilemma, most of his friends and all his relatives acted like the man who has seen a ghost at midnight and wakes next morning to the defensive conviction that it was a dream. They never spoke of it; they never thought of it; they tried to behave toward him, and about him, as if it had never happened.
And they did that although he was never the same man afterward. For twenty years he had scarcely missed a day’s work. He had frequently been in his office Sundays and holidays. He had once eaten and slept there for a week. Now, having been hooked out of the water by the crew of a tugboat and taken to the hospital in an ambulance, he never returned to his desk. So far as his business was concerned, his mind appeared to be a smiling blank. He left his affairs wholly to his son, and retired with his wife to his country place on the Jersey hills behind Findellen, and devoted himself to planting trees, making roads, building stone fences, breeding fancy chickens, and stocking his streams with trout.
HE WAS a large and solid man, with a large and solid fortune in real estate which he had made chiefly by buying suburban tracts of land wholesale and selling them retail to commuters’ colonies. He had begun with Findellen Heights, on a farm that belonged to his wife. He had followed Findellen Heights with Rosedale, Colbrook Hills, Clayden Park and Mountara—on the Jersey Central between Findellen and New York—locating them, clearing them, laying them out, building them up, and leasing or selling them, lot by lot and house after house, through years of creative activity so intelligent and farsighted, so firmly based and carefully financed, that it seemed like a process of nature and industrial growth rather than a land speculation. He had added to his appearance of inevitability by his silent absorption in the business, which he seemed to follow rather than direct, with no expression of interest except such as might be implied by his consistent dissatisfaction with everything that anybody did for him.
“I used to lie awake nights, hating that man,” Corwin, his lawyer, once admitted, “because no matter how hard I worked for him, nothing was ever good enough. He simply glowered at it and let it go—as if it was useless to complain. He did that even when he made one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars on the turnover of his Dey Street properties—and I was certain he hadn’t expected to make a hundred thousand. By gosh, do you know, he poisoned the first five years of my practice! There wasn’t a day that I didn’t want to tell him to go to hell—and I couldn’t afford to.” He dropped his voice confidentially. “I don’t know whether he ever really tried to kill himself, but I do know that I often longed to do it for him.”
But when Corwin said, confidentially, “I don’t know whether he ever really tried to kill himself,” Corwin was not telling the truth. He knew only too well; for it was to Corwin’s office that Grimsby’s son came looking for him when Grimsby was actually on his way to the ferry-boat from which he jumped.
He had motored downtown that morning—a sunny April morning. On the pretense of consulting his lawyer, he had got out of his car at the door of Corwin’s building, and sent his son, Chal, on to his office without him. Corwin knew nothing of the proposed consultation until Chai ’phoned to ask whether his father was still there. Corwin replied that Grimsby had not been there at all and had no appointment to come there; and Chal was worried. He hurried over to Corwin’s office to explain, and neither he nor Corwin could decide what to do.
It was then nearly two hours since Grimsby had entered the door of Corwin’s building and disappeared, but his disappearance was obviously planned, and voluntary; he had not come upstairs to ask for Corwin in Corwin’s outer office; neither the elevator boys nor the starters had seen him; he had presumably walked through the building to the Cortlandt Street door and gone elsewhere.
Chai Grimsby did not dare to ’phone the police, to call up his mother, or to inquire for news of street accidents at any of the hospitals. “If I do,” he said, “and then there’s nothing wrong, he’ll be furious.” He was a timid, fat young man, much in awe of his father. On Corwin’s advice, he went back to his office to wait. “If you don’t hear from him after lunch,” Corwin said, “ ’phone me and I’ll get busy.”
An hour or so later a newspaper reporter called up Corwin to inquire whether he knew a man named Grimsby.
“A young man about thirty?” Corwin asked.
“No,” he replied. “An old man about fifty.”
“I don’t place him,” Corwin said. “Why?”
“He jumped off a Jersey ferry, and he’s up here at the Lincoln hospital. They say he’s asking for you.” “What is this? Some sort of practical joke?”
“No, really. There’s a man here--”
“Well, get off the line and let me call the hospital.
I don’t know anyone--” He cut himself off, as if ill-tempered, and rang up young Grimsby and gave him the news.
When the reporter ’phoned again, Corwin replied that he was still waiting to hear from the hospital, and waiting in vain.
“I thought you said you were going to call them,” the reporter complained.
“You must have misunderstood me. If they have a man up there who wants me, they’ll let me know.”
“They weren’t sure what Corwin it was.”
“Well, they haven’t notified me. I guess there must be some mistake. Maybe somebody’s kidding you.”
And he maintained that attitude of incredulity even when the papers came out with the news that John C. Grimsby had tried to drown himself. “I don’t believe it,” he said. “He may have fallen overboard, but I wouldn’t believe that unless I saw it happen. Did you ever take a good look at John C. Grimsby? If you can imagine that man jumping—or falling—or even being shoved—off a ferry boat, you ought to subscribe for a correspondence course in film writing. You have a fine movie mind.
WHY does a mature man or woman so often feel like attempting flight or suicide? The man in this story had a million dollars, was forty-eight, in good health, fond of his family, and didn’t drink. Why should he try to drown himself? When he was pulled out of the water, was he crazy? Or, for the first time in his life, was he sane?
“And besides,” he argued, “there’s no reason for it. Grimsby’s worth at least a million dollars. He hasn’t had a money worry in years. He’s fond of his family and devoted to his wife. He doesn’t drink. He’s in perfect health. I tell you absolutely he hasn’t missed a day at his office in the fifteen years I’ve known him. I don’t believe he tried to drown himself. I wouldn’t believe it if he told me so himself. And that’s all there is to that.”
BUT, of course, that was not quite all there was to it. Thirty years before, on the Fourth of July, John C. Grimsby had been sulkily hoeing corn in the Washington Valley behind Findellen. He was then “Johnny” Grimsby, about eighteen years old, a big, stolid, brooding clod of a boy; and the corn that he was hoeing grew in the lower field of his father’s farm, on the edge of the wood-lot that still covers that part of the banks of Rat Creek. His mother was dead; his father was a quick-tempered little human hornet; and his young life was a round of field labor, barnyard chores, kitchen service and general house-work—because his father and he lived alone in their shabby old farmhouse without any, “hired help” or any needy relative who would work for them for board and keep.
There was a church picnic celebrating Independence Day in a shaded meadow further down the creek, and Johnny could hear their voices, their laughter, the explosions of their firecrackers, and the inviting squeals of terrified maidenhood as the girls among them fled from adolescent gunpowder plots. He could see his father tedding hay in the upper field behind the house; and it was his father who had kept him from going to the picnic and forced him to work.
Ordinarily he would have attacked the weeds with the slow religious ardor of the righteous soul combating evil. And he would have had a sense of physical well-being from the exercise, the sunny heat, and the sweat that kept him somehow cool. But to-day he chopped dully, with his worn hoe, at the Jersey “red shell” that had baked itself a crust as hard as earthenware since the last rain; and it was in a hopeless bitterness against injustices that he uprooted chickweed, ragweed, wild carrot, summer grass and all the hardy pests that suck the life out of a defenseless cornfield; and there was something weak and pitiful to him in the perspiration that ran down his forehead under his sun-purpled felt hat, down his sides under his cotton shirt, down his haunches in winter trousers that were belted around his waist with a harness strap, and down his legs into the top boots that he wore without socks.
He had to wear boots; he could not go barefooted; the woods and hedges were full of poison ivy, and he had never become immune to it. He had been ashamed of that susceptibility, because his father held it against him as a proof that he would never be a real farmer. Now, he was no longer ashamed of it; it pleased him.
As he worked slowly to and fro across the field, following the rows of corn, he moved down into a hollow where he was hidden from the house. He pretended not to notice that; he did not glance up to assure himself that his father was out of sight; but at the end of a row he paused to regard the horizon innocently, and then he searched the clear sky for a sign of rain. There was not a cloud anywhere. Having dropped his hoe, as if from a hand that had forgotten it, he began to brush slowly through the remaining corn on his way to the wood-lot and the creek, intending to approach the picnickers through the underbrush until he had reached a point where he could watch them unseen. He did not hurry, though his heart raced. He went deliberately, though he was planning only to take a guilty peep at them and return at once.
He struck a cow-path through the blackberry brambles at the edge of the lot, and he followed it to the bank of the creek. There the path turned along the edge of the stream, among the trees, through the underbrush, on the crest of a mounded embankment that had been built to hold the waters in a mill-race— years ago, before the first Independence Day. Now, for generations, there had not been enough water to turn a mill-wheel—except during the spring freshets —and only one side of the stone foundation of the old mill remained.
He was approaching this obliterated ruin through a grove of cedar trees when he saw a girl ahead of him wading in the stream.
SHE was alone. She came idling up the creek bed, her head bent to watch what was going on in the water, now up to her knees in a pool, now only ankle-deep among the stones of a little rapids. She was a blond girl, bare headed; and her hair bloomed like golden glow in the sunlight of the open spaces and changed to a tint of canary green in the shade of the trees that overhung the water. She was dressed in starched and ruffled Sunday white. Having looked behind her to see that she was not followed, she had pulled her skirts and her underclothes high above her knees; and with her sturdy round legs glistening in the sun, she moved along the creek quite unaware of the boy.
He dropped softly behind the embankment, took off his hat, and lying on the slope under a bush, he watched her with set unblinking animal eyes, red faced in guilty excitement and swallowing painfully every now and then as if his mouth watered. He knew her—Rose Hayden— and he knew that he ought not to be spying on her, but he could no more look away from her than a cat that sees a bird in a cage hung high out of its reach.
She was as old as he, but small and delicate. He had thought of her as sickly, and it struck him as a revelation that her legs were plump and knee-dimpled. He saw, with surprise, that she had grown pretty. Her hair was no longer a bleached and lifeless tow; it was as bright as corn-silk. She carried herself with a swaying, balanced grace over the stones, and the simple embroideries that she showed were an alluring coquetry.
The pool in front of him was a swimming hole, and she came along the far side of it, near the shallow edge of clay and water-arum. Mud and slime had settled there, and she went daintily, smiling at the minnows and the tadpoles that darted around her feet. He had known her at school and ignored her. He had not seen her for a year or more, because she lived on the opposite slope of the valley, nearer Findellen, and went to the Findellen High School, and did not come to the village church or the village store. He felt that she had become a city girl. And she acted like a city girl who had returned to the early delights of her country days, exploring the brook that she had known in her childhood.
Suddenly she screamed and jumped, holding up one foot as if she had been bitten by a water snake; and then she began to hop and limp splashing toward the bank, slipping in the clay, but always keeping her muslins away from her wet legs. She plumped down on the grass—having caught up her skirts so that she did not sit on them—and she drew one mud-smeared foot up on her bare knee to look at the sole of it. Blood was pouring from a gash in her instep. She stiffened and kicked the foot away from her, and put a hand to her mouth, frightened. He thought that she was going to yell for help; instead, she gave a sort of sickened cough, pressing the back of her hand against her lips. She looked seasick. She closed her eyes on the sight of blood, and made as if to raise herself on a trembling arm. It crumpled under her. She fell slowly over, on her face, in the grass.
He guessed that she had stepped on a broken bottle which some hunters had used as a target as it floated down the stream. She lay there a long time before he realized that she had fainted. It was evident that she might bleed to death if she were not helped.
He put his hat on doubtfully, while he was making up his mind; and then, as if putting it on had been a part of his decision to come out into the open, he rose and stepped through the bushes, and slid down the bank to the water’s edge, and pulled off his boots, and waded in. His father did not allow him to go swimming; he had, himself, a dread of the water, although he knew how to swim; and as the pool deepened, he tried to circle around it to her, instead of striking out across its depths; but when he stumbled over a sunken boulder and fell sprawling, he kicked out in a direct line toward her, swimming with a breast stroke, his eyes fixed on her.
Her foot, plastered with blood-covered clay, looked as if it were a mass of gore as he came nearer.
She had not moved. He crawled up to her, dripping, and with a careful thumb and forefinger he pulled her skirts down to cover her, even before he examined her foot. She looked by this time as if she had been wading in blood—it had spread so quickly on her wet skin. He ripped the torn sleeve out of his shirt and made a countrified tourniquet out of a strip of the cotton with a twig to tighten it; and this he twisted around her leg above the ankle-bone, to stop the bleeding. Her ankle, in his hand, was as smooth and round and white as an egg, and the skin seemed to shine like an egg-shell with a soft polish. The word “Leghorn” kept coming into his mind.
She shuddered as the twist of cotton cut into her flesh, but she did not come to.
He dipped a hatful of water out of the pool and began to wash off her foot and bandage it with the remnant of his shirt sleeve. She moaned. “ ’S all right,” he said, in a voice that sounded unexpectedly hoarse and deep to him.
He coughed and went on with his bandaging. His mother had taught him; she knew everything. He had helped to nurse her in her last illness; and when he had finished his bandaging, he put a hand under the girl’s shoulder and turned her over on her back, as he had often turned his mother.
She opened her blue eyes in a wavering and unfocused stare at him. How incredibly thin and delicate her eyelids were! “ ’S all right,” he said. “The blood’s stopped, ’S nothin’— on’y a cut. I gotta get back. I’m hoein’ corn.” He withdrew a little from her on his knees, still dripping.
She sat up and gazed around her, bewildered. “Oh,” she said, as she remembered. She looked at her bandaged foot. “Did you—did you do that?”
He nodded. He was rubbing the palms of his hands on his soaked knees as if he expected to shake hands with her and wished to clean the mud from them first.
She blinked over it. “I must have—I was dizzy.” She looked frightened. She asked in an awed voice: “Did I—was I—fainted?”
He nodded with a sideways jerk of the head toward the other bank of the creek. “I swum acrost.” And then he remembered himself hiding in the bushes to spy on her, and he was afraid that she might ask how he had come to find her. He said hastily: “I gotta get back. I’m hoein' corn. You’re all right.” He took up his ridiculous hat and rose awkwardly, backing away. “ ’T ain’t bleedin’. You kin take that there off yer ankle— purty soon.”
“But I can’t walk!” she wailed. “My foot’s asleep. I--”
“ ’S all right,” he mumbled. “Here’s someone comin’.”
Two girls were wading up the stream, evidently in search of her. He splashed into the water, swam back to his boots, and scrambled up the bank with them, into the bushes, without so much as a glance over his shoulder at her. On the other side of the embankment he sat down to pull the heavy boots on again— his feet still slippery with wet clay—and then he ran, as if he were in an obstacle race, crashing through the underbrush, towards the corn-field.
AT SUNSET he was standing among the final - stalks of corn, leaning on his hoe, gazing at the piled clouds on the skyline, and very carefully avoiding any thought of the girl. Clouds solemnly delighted him. In his infancy he had believed that they were Heaven and the throne of God; and he had watched them in the hopes of catching a glimpse perhaps of an angel soaring around one of their high white mountain tops. Later, when he understood that angels were invisible, except in Bible pictures, he still saw the clouds as their dwelling-place, and he raised his eyes to them when he prayed, as he saw everyone else doing. After his brother had been drowned, swimming down by the old dam below the village, it was a consolation for him to see clouds overhead and feel that Jimmy was up there watching him. He wilfully returned to that make-believe when his mother died—because of the comfort that he got from it; and at night, in his room over the kitchen, he used to kneel down at the window and say his prayers with his eyes on the clouds in which the moon floated.
Of all this there remained, now, only a sort of special feeling for the weather. When the sky was clear and blue he was always unaccountably desolate and lonely. He liked a cloudy, shut-in day, as one might like a low ceiling. He still said his prayers at night, but he said them to a Divinity who had receded into limitless heights of space beyond any special concern for a farmboy—a Divinity as indifferent as his father to all except the duties which he demanded, and only watching to punish any resentment of life’s daily injustices You bore those with a thick-skinned indifference that passed for resignation; and you said nothing and you thought nothing—that could be seized on as an offense.
It was for this reason that he was careful not to let himself think of the girl. Such thoughts were sinful, and he had already one transgression on his conscience—he had gone in swimming. He had not been allowed in the water since his brother drowned; and he had never been tempted to go in after his mother’s death. He had been so lonely and unhappy without her that he had wished that he too might be drowned—so as to join her and Jimmy and night after night he had imagined himself sinking into a dark stream as he fell asleep. In time this deathwish passed, but it left him with a dread of water and a fear of drowning.
The clouds, as he watched them, were touched with lovely colors, but he liked them best where they were white. It was the white of white Leghorn chickens, but not the smooth and polished white of their eggs. Well, he had to take the cows home from the pasture, and gather the eggs in the hen-house, and get supper ready while his father milked.
He shouldered his hoe and wandered across fields to the pasture-lot, to let the cows into the lane. They were waiting for him at the bars of the pole-gate, as they had waited for him every summer evening since the days when he had been scarcely big enough to shift the poles. Ho threw down the bars for them, with no more suspicion than they that this was the last time he would ever do it ; and he followed them up the lane, staring thoughtfully at the white flanks of a Jersey heifer ahead of him and thinking of nothing.
He was tired. He planned to get the supper over as quickly as possible and shut himself in his room. It was as if he had something in his pocket which he could not look at until he was safely alone behind a closed door.
He put his hoe in the tool-house before he went to open the stable door, and the tool-house was as orderly as a museum; his father was a Puritan precisionist. Johnny let the cows into their stalls and saw that their heads were through the stanchions; his father would feed and milk them. He went to gather the eggs from the hen-house, in his hat; his father fed the chickens, too, and watched all the feed-bins as suspiciously as a housewife watches her food shelves. His father! His father!
HIS father had been a country minister, but he had quarreled with his congregation and the church authorities—years before— and retired from the pulpit to work the farm that belonged to his wife. He still wore side-whiskers of a clerical cut, and his mouth was set in a stern self-consciousness, and he worked in a waistcoat and a soiled white shirt—put on clean every Sunday— without a collar in the midday heat and with his shirtsleeves rolled up, but with an air of having only temporarily changed into rough clothes and come into the fields from his study. Since his wife’s death all the rooms in the house had been closed, except the kitchen and two bedrooms; and on Sunday, having ordered Johnny off to church, he retired to the darkened parlor and remained there until supper, behind drawn blinds, engaged in what mysterious rites Johnny did not know. Their conversation, on any day, consisted almost wholly of “Tidy that up,” from the father, and “Yes’r,” from the son; but he did not insist on any neatness of dress and Johnny went clothed like a refugee.
His hat had been his father’s and his high boots, too.
He crossed the road from the barn to the house as his father brought the unhitched team down to the stable from the upper field.
They passed each other without speaking. Johnny had forgotten his grievance against the arbitrary authority that had denied him a holiday on the Fourth of July, but his father could hardly be expected to know that. He glanced sternly .at Johnny as he went by, and Johnny seemed to be pretending that he had eyes only for the eggs in his hat, which he carried with exaggerated carefulness.
Sulking, no doubt. And to the minister sulkiness was a form of disobedience that had to be punished—as his God punished a lack of humility and resignation— with a recurrence of the chastening affliction.
He was not a successful farmer. He kept his farm beautifully neat, but it seemed like the neatness of decent poverty, for he never made it pay as it should. He spent too much time on unprofitable details; and new, while he was feeding and bedding the horses, and feeding and milking the cows, Johnny had time to wash up the noon dishes, clean the kitchen, set the table, brew fresh coffee, fry the corn meal mush left over from breakfast, and boil six eggs.
He did not wait for his father; he began his meal absent-mindedly alone; and when the implacable little man arrived, Johnny was finishing his three eggs from a cup.
Three others waited beside his father’s plate. “Who told you to cook those eggs?”
Johnny looked at his three white egg-shells with surprise. He had not been really aware that he had cooked and eaten eggs. He turned to stare at the three brownish eggs that he had served for his father. And there was nothing that he could say.
He rose to get his father's coffee from the stove, in an embarrassed silence.
EGGS were a Sunday dish, a holiday extravagance; and the father saw them on the table as an evidence of Johnny's disobedient revolt against making the Fourth of July a workday. He watched the boy cross to the stove, barefooted--for he had taken off his hot boots.
"Where'd you get that clay on your feet?"
Johnny stiffened guiltily and stood still, with his hand on the coffee pot.
"Have you been swimming?'
It was the voice of parental doom, and Johnny tried helplessly to face it.
"Look at me."
He got his eyes as high as the ministerial mouth, but no higher. He remained watching, in fearful fascination, those tight lips from which judicial sentence was to issue.
"Have you been in swimming?"
He asked it with his teeth clenched, as if ready to bite. And when Johnny nodded miserably, he sucked a hissing breath through his teeth, in a mannerism that he had when he was angry. It sounded like the breath of pain drawn in by a diaphragm that trembled with rage.
“Give me that belt.”
Johnny put a hand to his belt buckle, as if to release it —and then he stopped.
The breath hissed and shuddered again in an agony of infuriated self-control. “Give me that belt!” And when Johnny did not move, he took two furious strides toward the boy and grasped the belt buckle.
And Johnny caught his hand.
It was no more than a movement of instinctive fright, but at the touch of his father’s flesh a physical revulsion struck through him like a jerk of horror and his fingers closed on his father’s wrist in a crushing grip. He was a big, bony muscular boy. The strength of his hand was ominous.
The father raised his other arm as if to strike and Johnny, tearing the fingers from his belt in a frenzy, jumped back and doubled up his fists.
They stared at each other, equally horrified. The arm that had been raised for a blow made a gesture to the door. “Get out!”
Johnny went to the boots which he had left by the threshold.
“No! Those are mine. Get out!”
And Johnny stumbled out, barefooted and bareheaded, into the clear twilight.
He was pale with nausea. He had laid a violent hand on his father, and the memory of that hard dry wrist in his grasp was as physically shocking as if he had clutched a snake. He wavered down the old flag stones of the path to the road, and turned uncertainly toward the last green glow of the sunset, as blind and as driven as if he were an outcast who had been found guilty of the unpardonable sin.
AND this proved to be the tragic beginning of the romance of John C. Grimsby’s life.
He arrived, about nine o’clock that night, at the doorstep of the Widow Hayden’s kitchen, on the road to Findellen; and when she went to answer his timid knock on the wooden frame of the screen door, she was so struck by his look of a lost soul in search of shelter that she stood gazing at him through the wire netting, her lamp breast-high in front of her, her hand shielding her eyes from the light.
“It’s me,” he said to the lamp-flame. “Johnny Grimsby.”
“Yes, I know.” She unhooked the screen door to let him in. “What do you — what has happened?”
She did not understand the country folk — the young ones especially. They seemed to her to have the silent furtiveness of imperfectly domesticated animals.
He made no move to enter. He did not take his sorrowful dumb eyes from the lamp. “Kin I stay here till tomorrah?”
“Why, yes, of course,” she assured him. “What has happened?”
He moved in mechanically and stepped aside to let the wire door swing past his sunburned arm—still bare to the shoulder in his torn shirt—and stood with his hands on his belt, looking down at his bare feet. “What has happened?” He shook his head. He said, at last: “Dad’s kicked me out.”
She knew, of course, that it was he who had bandaged her daughter’s foot. (Rose, now in bed, with a poultice on the wound, had given her a long excited account of all that.) And she understood the impulse that had brought him to them for shelter. It was an appeal to her gratitude to which she instantly replied. “Come in here,” she said hospitably. “Come in and—and sit down.”
He followed her into their living-room, a cool and bare room with ruffled white curtains on the fly-screened windows and a clean odor of scrubbed floor. She put the lamp on the gate-legged center-table and offered him an old May-flower rocker. He sat down, hunched forward on the edge of his seat, still looking at his feet— one foot on top of the other on an oval rag rug. “What are you going to do?”
He thought over that a long time. She waited for him, standing with her hands clasped rather primly at the waistband of her kitchen apron—a tall and angular woman with a strong face—studying him. “I gotta get work some’hurs,” he said. She replied, “Well you can stay here and work for me.”
SHE was the youngish widow of old Colonel Hayden, a Civil War veteran whom she had brought to this wooded farm with some idea of eking out his pension by working the land on shares. The Colonel was dead before she learned for a certainty that none of her neighbors would work for a woman. She spent a year then, trying to find a hired man who was not merely a drunken derelict; and she failed. For the past three years she had been endeavoring to sell the place for more than she had paid for it, and that had been equally impossible, because she had paid too much. Meanwhile, the whole farm had been running down—the fields washing away in gullies, the fences rotting and falling, the fruit trees choking up with suckers, the pasture smothering in brush and brambles and sumach and little cedar trees. Consequently, she rose to Johnny’s “gotta get work some’hurs” like a castaway sighting a sail. Help! It was help!
“I’ll give you two dollars a week and your board.”
He said listlessly, “Aw right.”
He was not interested. And he did not really know what had brought him to this house rather than to some other. His mind was still wholly occupied with the emotions of his quarrel with his father, which kept repeating itself before his memory like a moving picture.
He followed Mrs. Hayden into the kitchen, and helped her to fill a little tin tub with hot water, and washed his feet in it with a stupid stolidity that made her wonder whether she had hired a half-wit. And when she had given him a candle and led him upstairs to a dormer-windowed bedroom in the attic—with one of the late Colonel’s nigh'shirts over his arm--;he stood in the middle of the room looking at the candle in his hand with such an air of being deaf and dumb and generally insensate that she was reluctant to leave him alone for fear he might burn the house down.
He was still standing there when he heard voices through the papered wall of the room, and one of the voices was Rose Hayden’s. He looked up, startled. Instantly he blew out his candle. And with whatever impulse he had done that--; guiltily and on the spur of the moment--; he did not correct it. He went to bed, in the dark, as quietly as a cat.
NEXT morning the widow began to realize what a jewel had come to her. He was up at dawn, to light the kitchen fire, carry in water from the well and start the breakfast coffee. “You don’t need to do this,” she remonstrated.
“ ’S all right,” he said. “I allus did it at home. Kin you loan me a pair o’ shoes?”
She found him a pair of the Colonel’s cavalry boots and some woollen socks; and he was strutting around on high heels when Rose came down in the blue flannel bathrobe that she used as a dressing-gown. He scarcely looked at her. He ate his breakfast in a shy silence, unable to raise his eyes from his plate; and as soon as he had finished he said, “Well, I guess I’ll getta work,” and hurried off.
Mrs. Hayden waited to see what he would do. When she heard him sharpening something on the grindstone in the woodshed, she said to her daughter: “I hope he doesn’t think we need him to chop wood--;at this time of year.” Rose smiled slightingly; he had seemed awful dumb.
Later in the morning her mother went in search of him and found him busy in the gullies. He had cut and stripped a number of cedar trees, and he was making a sort of dry-weir in one of the washouts by setting stakes across it in a row and catching the branches between them, with the butts of the branches pointing up the gully and their foliage bushing out below the stakes, tie did not offer any explanations; he supposed that she understood; and she did not wish to expose her ignorance by asking questions. She went away convinced that he knew what he was about.
“I don’t believe he’s as stupid as he looks,” she told her daughter.
And indeed he attacked the disorder and decay of the farm with all the fervent intelligence of a pioneer in the wilderness making a home for his bride. Having no horse to plow with, he spaded up a garden patch to plant it in late vegetables, turned the sod around the roots of the fruit trees, rescued gooseberry bushes, rhubarb plants, an asparagus bed and a row of vines from the weeds in which they had been lost, and thinned out a plum thicket so that the trees might bear. He wanted chickens; Mrs. Hayden gave him money to buy a white Leghorn hen and a clutch of eggs; and he repaired the old chicken-coop and stretched new wire for a chicken run. He found the posts of a pig-pen standing behind the barn, and he renewed the fence between them and bought a little pig out of his wages. This so touched Mrs. Hayden that when he had a stall ready for a cow she made no difficulty about buying him an old Jersey that was cheap--;because it had starved to the bone--;and he fattened it miraculously and doubled its yield of milk. Finally, she let him get an antique white farmhorse that could still pull a plow if you did not try to make too deep a furrow and the whole place began to hum.
He had apparently forgotten all about his father. He never referred to their quarrel. There was a field above the house from which he could see his home below him, across the valley, as if in a tiny model of itself; but he always crossed that field looking down at his feet; and if he worked there, it was with his eyes on the widow’s house, watching for a glimpse of Rose. To Rose herself he scarcely spoke. He was still, as it were, guiltily hidden in his thoughts and spying on her, so that he was shy and silent with her, confused by his emotion and the dilated beating of his heart. But he escaped from this distress into a devoted labor that was for her alone; and working for her in the fields, always on the lookout for a sight of her in the garden or around the house, he was as happy as a young poet writing verses to his lady love though he does not dare to admit that they are written to here--; as happy as an ill-treated dog that has found a good home to defend and a decent master to obey--; as happy as any devotee who has peacefully lost his egotism in the service of an ideal.
HE ASKED for nothing, and he did not get very much. Mrs. Hayden made no increase in his wages, though she outfitted him from the late colonel’s trunks. She treated him always with a condescending kindness, but she never admitted him to the family circle except at meals. There it was impossible not to see that he was full of a dog-eyed feeling for her daughter, but Mrs. Hayden pretended to ignore it. She watched it without letting either of them know that she was aware of it. And she watched Rose.
At first the girl was embarrassed and a little frightened; she avoided Johnny, and she did not look at him at the table, having once met the deep adoration of his bashful eyes. By September she had begun to be amused at his devotion and she tried to draw him out; he could only grin and redden like a bumpkin. By January she had given him up; she accepted his presence with a complacent indifference; and she and her mother profited by his labors without remark.
They lived through that severe winter as if they were romantically marooned on a snug island, with only Johnny and his white horse to keep them in touch with the mainland. He brought in wood by the cord, and piled it into the stoves and fireplaces, and rose at night to replenish the fires, and had the house as warm as an oven for breakfast. He produced milk and eggs out of the snowdrifts, and churned the butter, and rode the white horse to Findellen for groceries. He painted and patched the house and the barn, pruned fruit trees and cleared out brush, as busy all winter as a sailor in a storm. With the first soft days of spring he was plowing; and by June they were living on a model farm, with crops growing, fruit trees blooming, a cow tethered, chickens clucking, a red barn and a white house freshly painted, and two comfortable women sitting on the kitchen porch to peel vegetables.
One day in July, when Johnny was hoeing corn in a back field that he had reclaimed from bush and brambles, he heard voices in the orchard and saw Mrs. Hayden showing some strangers over the farm. He pretended that he did not see them--;because he supposed that they were merely admiring the place and he was too modest to face their praises. She did not mention them at mealtime. Next day she drove in the old buckboard with Rose to Findellen, and he supposed that they had gone to shop. That night she said at supper: “Well, Johnny, I’ve sold the farm, but I don’t suppose that need make any difference to you. They’ll be glad to have you stay. Rose and I are going out to St. Louis, where my brother--"
She did not get any further with her explanations. Johnny had raised to her a horrified and frightened stare. He turned from her to Rose, who was self-consciously pretending to be busy with her plate. He looked down at his own food as if he had found poison in it, put there by them. He rose heavily, with both hands on the table, as if the poison had already struck his knees. And if they had really poisoned him they could not have been more guiltily unable to speak or to move.
He had reached the kitchen before Mrs. Hayden found her voice. “Johnny!” she cried, hurrying after him.
He let the screen door of the kitchen close behind him with a bang that was like a slap in the face. Her accusation against herself changed instantly into anger against him. She stood in the doorway and watched him disappear down the garden path to the darkened road. “Well!” she said. “That’s gratitude for you!”
WHEN Mrs. Willie Smith saw him, about midnight, on the river bridge below Findellen, she thought that he was drunk; but having had some experience with drunkenness--; in the person of her late husband--; she did not pass him by as self-righteously as her fellow-citizens. She had come to realize that much of her husband’s success in real estate had been due to the friendships he made at the bar of the local saloon; it was there especially that he learned, from the drivers of the station hacks, what farms in the neighborhood were being visited by prospective buyers. And in trying to carry on the business since his death she had found that her sobriety was as great a handicap as her sex.
She was driving home, discouraged, from an unsuccessful attempt to make a deal for the sale of a farm several miles down the river. She had lost her way among the backroads of the township. She was worrying about her four-year-old boy, whom she had left alone in the house since supper-time. She had concluded anew that she would have to take a man into partnership with her if she was ever to make a living in real estate, and she decided that if he proved to be a drinking man she would have more sense about him than she had had about her husband.
Softened by these considerations as she walked her horse across the bridge, she approached Johnny Grimsby’s shameful exhibition of masculine weakness with something more intelligent than disgusted pity. A moon was shining in the clear sky overhead; the timbers of the old triangular truss bridge were painted white; and he stood out clearly against them, hatless and coatless, clinging to one of the iron rods that connected the upper and lower chords of the truss.
He seemed to be swaying drunkenly, leaning over the rail, but when she saw that he was in his stocking feet she understood that he was trying to jump into the river without being able to climb over the railing. She knew that if he heard her coming it might startle him into some sudden action that would be fatal, so she pulled up her horse at a little distance from him, climbed out of the buggy and ran forward on tiptoe to catch him by the back of his leather belt.
“Now!” she said. “What are you doing?” She had been a school-teacher before she married Smith, and she spoke in the voice of authority. “You ought to be ashamed!”
With this attack on him, from behind, he made a desperate effort to get away from her over the railing; but he tried to do it without letting go of the iron rod—as if his legs were willing that he should' drown himself but his hand was not. She was a firm young woman, in her late twenties. She took him roughly around the neck, tore his hand away from the rod, and dragged him back as if he were a fighting schoolboy. His legs gave under him and he collapsed in her arms.
“There! Now!” she panted. “What are you trying to do?”
He had wanted to go to sleep—to sink to sleep in a warm dark stream. His legs ached for it; his mind was a miserable dull confusion in which the desire for peace and oblivion was also a desire for revenge upon his father, Rose, her mother, and the whole world that had ill-treated him. (They would be sorry. He would look down at them—with Jimmy and his mother—and see them weep.) He fought against the hands that held him back, in a sort of nightmare of bodily weakness; and when they overpowered him, it was not only his body that broke down. Something seemed to give way in his brain, and he fainted.
SHE staggered back, under his unexpected weight, and stooped with him till he was half lying in her arms. She turned him to get a knee under his shoulder and knelt beside him, his head fallen back over her elbow. His upturned face was pale and exhausted, not swollen with alcohol, wet with a cold sweat of suffering and horribly marked with emotion. His mouth was bleeding; he had bitten his lips. She began at once to cry; and the tears having blinded her so that she could no longer see his face, she was able to think of something to do for him.
She had a flask of whisky in the buggy —put there in a desperate idea that she might be able to imitate her husband by making the farmer drink. She had never come within thinking distance of producing the whisky, of course; it would have been too ridiculous in a woman. She lowered the boy till he was flat on his back on the planks of the sidewalk; and leaving him, with a funny frantic gesture of the hands, she ran whimpering to get the flask. When she came back to him she took his head in her lap and held the bottle to his mouth as if he were an infant.
It was raw whisky and it stung his wounded lips and burned his throat, but it brought him to, choking. She forced more of it into his mouth, murmuring a sort of distracted baby talk. He drank helplessly, with his eyes closed, as if he were taking medicine from his mother. “Now,” she whispered, “you’ll have to get up. I’ll take you home. You can go to bed there.” He opened his eyes, but he did not seem to see her. When she had helped him to his feet, it was evident that he could not stand without her support. She had intended to pick up the flask and bring it with her; instead she moved it with her foot to the edge of the bridge walk, and then kicked it into the river, while she still held him. When she saw his shoes where he had left them on the sidewalk, she got rid of those in the same practical way. “Come along now. That’s a good boy,” she coaxed, with her arm around him.
It was a job to get him into the carriage, because he could not raise his leg. She had to lift his foot to the carriage step and then hoist and push him in. Fortunately the hood was up, and they were hidden when she got beside him on the seat. He fell over against her. She propped him against the iron frame of the hood, braced him with her shoulder, and began to drive at a slow walk that could not jolt him.
She was a fair little woman, with a mouth that might have looked determined if it had been larger. It had the expression of a tiny clenched hand. It seemed merely ineffectively peevish. Yet it was set in a resolution that was masterful enough; she needed a man in her life, and she proposed to train Johnny for the place. It was evident to her that, if he had done anything criminal, he had sufficiently repented of it. She liked his looks. And she planned to take him home and hide him until she could'find out what he had done and how he might escape the consequences.
She lived in an old Dutch colonial frame house on the corner of Church Street, with a little office on the Union Street side of the property and an alley entrance to the barn. She drove the horse and buggy in on the barn floor and closed the doors before she lit her lantern and unhitched her horse. Then having reconnoitered the silence of the night and the darkness of the neighboring houses, she unlocked her back door and returned to get Johnny out of the buggy'—as she had got him in—and to support him across the back yard and up the backstairs to a spare bedroom as secretly as if she were rescuing a royalist victim of some reign of terror. He went like a sleep-walker with his eyes open. _ The room was stuffily dark—the windows closed and the blinds down—but she got him undressed and into bed in the darkness before she lit a lamp. The light showed her more red and breathless than her physical efforts could account for, and when she had put the lamp on the table she sat on the side of the bed and leaned over the unconscious boy with a queer expression of mixed rapacity and tenderness. The whisky had brought the color back to his face, and he had sunk into a deep sleep that loosened the lines of suffering. She whispered, “Is the poor boy missable?” and stroked his hair like a mother, and patted his cheek. And all the time she was thinking: “I’m not much older than he is. He must be nearly twenty.”
HE SLEPT till the following midday—when she woke him to make him drink an egg-nogg and to find out from him what had happened the night before. Naturally he was not very clear about it and he was reluctant to confess. He rolled over to turn his back on her as if he were sulking, as soon as she began to coax him with little motherly hints and questions; but before the egg-nogg took effect and he fell asleep again she had learned enough to assure herself that he had done nothing criminal. She kept him like that, in bed, on an invalid diet and fuddled with alcohol for two days, until she had pretty well got his whole story from him. Then she made a visit to the Hayden farm on the pretext of wishing to buy it; and when she learned that Rose and her mother had left for St. Louis, she returned triumphantly to carry out her plans for Johnny’s future.
First, she hired him to look after her horse and her stable, installing him in the little office building, where he slept on a couch that her husband had often used. Then she offered him an interest in the business if he would work for it; and on the pretense of teaching him the mysteries of real estate, she undertook his general education and opened a private night school for him and her infant son. She corrected his English and his enunciation, and bought him good clothes and taught him table manners and prepared him to take charge of her book-keeping and her correspondence. She had a plan for cutting up into building lots a farm that she owned on the slope of Mountain Avenue; now she decided to build a number of bungalows on it and to sell these to the commuters 'whom the suburban trolley lines were spreading over the hills; and she made Johnny overseer of the building operations and responsible for the contractors.
He struggled somberly to acquit himself according to her expectations, working his brain as ploddingly as if he were plowing a field—silent, and frowning heavily with his dark eye-brows—his shyness disguised as a dignified reserve by the massiveness of his physique—and slowly mastering the details of financing building loans, executing mortgages and leases, figuring costs, learning about materials, acquiring a solid sense of property values and studying the speculative chances of land booms.
She put him forward tactfully as the real head of the business. She deferred to him in public and in private with a convincing air of womanly deference. As the business became profitable, she dressed him in the formal black of a man of substance and hats that were too old for him; and he carried it all off with the dignity of his imposing hulk. At the same time she slowly got herself out of mourning into young and pretty clothes, so that when she married him—two years later—he looked older than she did.
THEY left Findellen as soon as their development of Findellen Heights succeeded, and they went to live, free of their past, on the edge of their Rosedale property, in the first house that they built in that fashionable and “restricted” colony. By the time the Rosedale venture was paying a profit she had withdrawn from any public part in her husband’s affairs, though she still kept a wifely eye on him.
It was due to her taste that the houses in Colbrook Hills were of such a charming colonial design. She dimly foresaw the effect of the automobile on suburban life, and she encouraged him to locate Clayden Park where land was cheap, at a distance from the railroad. She grasped the possibilities of the duplex apartment in New York before anyone but the artists who invented it—because they needed high-ceilinged studios—and she had Grimsby building duplex apartment houses on Park Avenue, years ahead of the Park Avenue boom. But she wisely left to him the formation and financing of the development companies that carried out his schemes, and she never intruded on his personal relations with contractors, promoters and lawyers. It was here that he showed a peculiar ability.
He had gone into the business as the victim of some domestic disaster might sit down to a poker game in order to keep his mind off his troubles. He played with an intense application that was somewhat indifferent and contemptuous. It was difficult to bluff him and impossible to talk him out of a pot, because he seemed to be deaf to any personal appeal, his egotism uninvolved in the contest, only thinking mechanically of the cards in his hands and gazing absent-mindedly at the faces that tried to deceive him.
He had no friendships to sway him, no enmities to blind him, no apparent emotions of any sort to confuse his judgment, and no outside interests to take his mind off the game. He read nothing but his newspaper, and that only in the mornings. He showed a strong aversion to any music or any stage plays that emotionalized him; and when he went to the theatre at all, it was to musical comedies. He took no real part in the life of his home. And he was a monstrous success.
He had only two peculiarities to indicate that he was perhaps still human. As a commuter he had hated crossing the ferry and always sat in the smoking-room with his back to the windows. And he allowed the girls in his office to impose on his good nature and neglect their work, even while he was always impatient and dissatisfied with the' men.
SO, AT the age of forty-eight, he was sitting one spring day at his desk, dictating to his stenographer, humped over the arms of his swivel chair with his back turned to her, his eyes on the baseboard of the partition wall that he faced. “Mr. Grimsby,” she said suddenly, “if you don’t mind, I’d like to get off early this afternoon.” He did not turn to look at her. He kept his gaze fixed, as it were, on what she had said—which was one of his mannerisms. “It’s nearly four o’clock,” she added, “and it’ll take me an hour to get all this out.”
He nodded—to the baseboard. “All right. Never mind the rest. They can wait.”
She gathered up the letters that he had given her answers for—with the secret rustling excitement of a schoolgirl who has been permitted to escape her lesson— and when she had gone, he saw on the floor beside her chair what he took to be some letters and an envelope that she had dropped. He picked them up and reached out for the pushbutton, to ring for her. He did not ring.
What he had thought was an envelope proved to be a snapshot of a pretty blonde girl wading in a brook with her white skirts and her underclothes pulled up high above her knees. Grimsby peered at it. The hand in which he held it began to shake with the dilated beating of his heart. He swallowed painfully, with an expression of boyish guilt.
He did not know why. He had not entirely forgotten Rose Hayden; if anyone had mentioned her name, he could have recalled her clearly enough. But he could not have recalled seeing her wading Rat Creek; he had put that out of his mind at the time as a thing to be ashamed of, and he had never thought of it since.
When the stenographer missed the letters from her pile and came back to get them, she found him looking at the photograph, but she did not notice anything unusual in his manner, because she was blinded by an emotion of her own at the sight of the picture.
He asked: “Who is that?”
And she answered hoarsely, “It’s —it was my sister. She’s dead—last December.”
He said “Oh.” She took the picture and retreated hastily. He turned to some contracts that had been submitted to him for his signature, but after a moment they failed to interest him. He put them aside and went to his window and looked at the sky as if for sign of rain. It was a clear bright day. He felt suddenly depressed.
Horribly depressed. He did not know why. It had come upon him like an illness, and it seemed as if his heart would stop beating in a pure physical despair. He turned back to his desk, intending to sit down at it, exhausted; but the sight of it nauseated him. He hated it. He hated the whole office, and he translated that hatred into a desire to get out into the open air. He took his hat and his coat from the rack, breathing open-mouthed. Air, that was what he needed. He hurried to the outer office, past his son’s door—his stepson’s rather, though Chal passed everywhere as his son—and he was conscious that his feeling against the office included Chal. His secretary at her typewriter was wiping her eyes. “When the car comes for me,” he said, savagely, “tell them I’ve gone home.” He hated people who cried.
He got down to the street without being noticed by anyone, and he began to walk up Broadway at a slow, despairing crawl. And as he walked his feeling changed from a mere physical depression to a conscious and rationalized despair. In a horrible reverie he looked at the life he was living and at all the people who lived it with him. and he saw nothing but emptiness and futility in everything and everybody around him. Of what use was it? What was the good of it? Why did he do it?
He stood on the curb of a cross-street, so sunken in despondency that it did not seem worth while even to walk any further. He could not make his feet go on. A scouting taxi-cab drew up beside him, and he got in. “All right,” he said. “Up town somewhere. I don’t care where. Drive me around Central Park.” And he said that because he could not face the thought of his home; it seemed as hateful as his office. A moment later the cab itself was so unendurably depressing that he gave the driver the number of his house on Eighty-sixth Street. “I’m sick.” he told himself. “That’s what’s the matter. I’m sick.” And he sat back weakly and closed his eyes.
HE WAS relieved to find that his wife was not at home, and he retreated to the only room in the house that was indisputably his own— his bedroom. When she arrived, she found him in bed, with his face to the wall. “I’ve got a touch of grip,” he said sulkily. “Leave me alone.” She had been accustomed to handle his grouches with humor. Indeed, in all their relations, she had come to be affectionately ironical and amused. “Well, Mr. Grimsby,” she would greet him at the breakfast table, “how are we this morning?” And it was in an angry expectation of this manner of hers that he had turned his face to the wall.
He did not realize what an unprecedented thing it was for him to be ill. She said at once, alarmed: “I’ll call the doctor.” And though he raged inwardly, with his eyes closed—and his mouth only opened to emit grudging monosyllables to the physician’s questions—he had to endure an intolerable amount of fussing and unnecessary solicitude. He wanted to sleep. He wanted to sink comfortably into the warm, dark stream of sleep. “Leave me alone. I’m all right,” he told the doctor. “Make them leave me alone.”
He had no temperature. His pulse was only slightly subnormal. “He has been overworking,” the doctor told Mrs. Grimsby in the hall. “Let him rest. I’ve given him something to make him sleep. Don’t let anyone disturb him, and I’ll call to see him in the morning—early. I think we’ll find that he needs nothing but a holiday.”
She looked in on him several times during the night, but he seemed to be sleeping quietly; and when she woke next morning, rather late, he was already downstairs at breakfast, with Chal, who had called to see how he was. She followed in a negligee and found him, as usual, absorbed in his newspaper, frowning and absent-minded.
“Well, Mr. Grimsby,” she greeted him, “your doctor tells me we need a holiday.”
He winced at the “Well, Mr. Grimsby.”
“I’m all right,” he said.
“No, but really—” She was an extremely young-looking woman in spite of her gray hair, very bright, very animated. She proceeded to rally him with a playfulness that usually won him to at least a grim suppression of a smile. He gave her a queer spiteful look and rose abruptly.
“I’m all right,” he said, as if he were saying it more to reassure himself than her. And he had a dazed expression that frightened her.
She let him go out to the hall without a word. “There’s something worrying him,” she told her son. “Find out what it is. I’m sure he’s going to be ill. These doctors! Go with him. Don’t let him get away. Find out what it is.”
Chal hurried out after him. She remained at the table, still seeing the ugly look that he had given her.
AND when she found him in bed in the hospital, the first thing she noticed was the change in his expression. He was ruddy and unworried; he looked years younger; and he greeted her with a smile. (“My God,” she thought, “he’s lost his mind!”) It was a triumph of reassuring duplicity that she concealed her horror.
“Look here,” he said, in a sort of shy boyish eagerness, “we still own the farm that used to be my father’s, don’t we? Well, listen. Sit down here. I’ve got a scheme to buy down to the creek from there, and then buy up the hillside to connect with a piece of property that belonged to a woman named Hayden. And that would hook up with our place on the Heights. It’d make an estate of six or 'seven hundred acres, and I’ll bet I could make it pay. There’s some fine fruit land on it, on the Hayden place, if it hasn’t gullied out, and if it has, I know how to stop it.”
She was sitting on his bedside, patting his hand and trying desperately to smile at him. He was still the same massive and imposing John C. Grimsby, and he spoke in Grimsby’s deep grumbling voice, but she smiled to cover her increasing conviction that he had gone insane. “Why of course!” she said. “What a wonderful idea!”
“Did you come in the car?” he asked. “Well, then, we’ll drive right out there. I’ll be dressed in five minutes. I want to show you what I mean.”
“They’ve taken his clothes downstairs,” the nurse said as if he could not hear her.
Mrs. Grimsby silenced her with a gesture. “Chal is here. I’ll send him to the house for everything you’ll need. Wait for me. I’ll be back.”
“I want a pair of hunting boots,” he said. “You know. High ones that lace up the front.”
“Yes,” she promised, “we’ll buy a pair.” She went to her son, outwardly calm and reassuring. “He’s quite all right He’s had a shock, but he’s quite all right. You get his things for him from the house. I’m taking him to the country for a rest. I’ll leave you here to arrange matters with the hospital, and see the reporters. I don’t know what to say to them. You’ll have to do that. Don’t worry about him. I’ll take care of him.”
She got him dressed and into the car, humoring him as if he were a child starting out on a picnic excursion. He did not notice that she drew down the curtains of the limousine; he did not seem to notice anything that went on around him; he was wholly occupied with his farm plans. He wanted chickens—white Leghorns —they were the best layers. And a Jersey cow, because a Holstein might give more milk, but a Jersey gave the thicker cream. And plow horses were better than tractors, because these old farms needed a lot more manure than you could buy. And so forth, endlessly. He did not even notice when they crossed the ferry, and he did not then—or ever afterwards—make any reference to his attempt to drown himself.
SHE listened to him and encouraged him with a smiling patience that was tragical. It was so tragical that she has since laughed at herself when she remembers it. She felt as if she were on her way with him to an insane asylum, and she almost wept over him when they stopped in Newark to buy him the pair of hunting boots and he was as pleased with them as a boy. She intended to keep him shielded and secluded on their country place, as if it were a sanitarium; and the eagerness with which he climbed out of the car, when he arrived at his prison, was all but heartbreaking to her.
It took her a month to realize that he had not so much lost his mind as violently changed it. He had become affectionate and cheerful. He was inexhaustibly active, well, and happy. He was rational enough about all the things that interested him— and sane enough in his interest in them— though they were not the things that had concerned him for so many years. Having signed away his business to her and Chal, he never referred to it. He clean forgot it, apparently. He never spoke of New York or of anything that had ever happened to him there. He devoted every working minute and every conscious thought to his farm; he managed it like a county squire with a peculiar sort of simple-minded efficiency; and he was as respected and as popular as a kindly lord of the manor. He put on his high laced boots eagerly every morning, and he took them off with regret when he undressed to go to bed. His eyes rested on them fondly when he was lolling in front of the fireplace—especially if his wife had week-end guests who talked of business or politics or any town affairs. Then he said nothing and admired his feet.
“They’re a fine pair of boots,” he told her one day. “I’ve never had as much comfort out of a pair of boots in my life. I don’t see why everybody doesn’t wear boots like that.”
“Neither do I,” she said. “I’ve been happier with you in them than I ever was in my life before. Aren’t things funny?”
“Why everything! Life — people — everything. I think all people are sort of queer except you and me—and I’m a bit queer, Mr. Grimsby. I suspect I’m a bit queer.”
He patted her hand. “Not a bit of it,” he said. “All you needed was a holiday.” He is fatherly and affectionate with Chal for the first time in his life; and he fairly dotes on Chal’s young daughter, for whom he has built a swimming pool where the old mill once stood on the bank of Rat Creek. He does not swim himself, but he loves to watch the young people having a good time in the water.
“YOU can say he went insane, if you like,” Corwin will argue, “but it seems to me he was a good deal crazier in the old days than he is now. I don’t see anything wrong with him. I think he merely decided that we were all living like a bunch of fools and decided to quit it. If you ask me, I think he was right.”