Not in Our Stars
Nearly every office has its Mitch —and its Whittaker
POOR Bill Whittaker. As he lay asleep beside his wife in the room which had been gold and now was merely yellow there were troubles waiting for him. There were always troubles. They had made his face thin and his eyes unfriendly, and it was too bad, because Millicent was friendly enough even if she had forgotten about being ardent.
The clock beside the bed was at one minute to seven and the alarm clucked stealthily, drawing its breath for the hour. The cluck wakened Bill Whittaker. He pounced upon the thing, pushed over the stop lever with the deftness of long habit, and lay there looking at the room with apathetic eyes. He was going through the process, which was becoming regular with him, of wondering whether, this morning, he would say he felt sick. It made him feel sick to think about the office.
He waited until twenty after seven and then, as usual, put his feet on the floor, shuffled for his slippers, and walked to the bathroom where he brushed his teeth and drank three glasses of hot water with deliberate courage.
Millicent remained asleep. Even when Bill, leaving the coat of hi3 pyjamas in the bathroom, returned to place himself before the open window she did not move. She used to watch Bill when he did his exercises. She had liked to see him, hands on hips, crouch upon his heels and twist his trunk from left to right and back again: she used to like to hear the three glasses of water gurgle faintly within and see the sweat shining on his shoulders. He seemed pleasantly strong and animalish, watching him like that.
But Bill had stopped most of it. All he did now was deep breathing, and he would have been glad to stop that, too. He was as tired of it as Millicent was of watching.
He stood in front of the window, eyes fixed on the city hall clock a mile and a half down Bay Street, and drew breath with a flinging out of lean, rigid arms. The city hall clock always started him thinking about Toronto, and hating it. He had begun his day that way for quite a long time now and each morning it was worse. This morning was the worst of all. He felt almost a nausea rise within him: smug, holy, selfish, terribly stupid Toronto. Nobody could do anything in Toronto unless he was a
bluffer or a smirker, an Orangeman or a good Methodist. All the leading citizens were either in the city hall crowd, or they were like Mr. Mitch.
Mitch. Mr. Mitch, of the Mitch Machinery Company, in which the name Whittaker represented a desk and a filing cabinet and forty-five dollars on the pay list. He could see Mitch sitting there in his office, plump shoulders, back of stiff red neck, back of fat bald head, rising above the glass partition, and on the walls, Victory loan banner to prove his patriotism, Rotary emblem to tell his fellowship, Board of Trade certificate to testify to his success, welfare drive poster to speak his charity. Always when Bill turned his head from his desk that was what he found through the glass, almost beside him, neck, head, trophies: Mitch.
Soft of voice and sadly sweet was Mr. Mitch when he spoke with customers, but sharp and sour and like an executioner within his office. There were no confidences there, in that fog of uncertainty and suspicion. Nobody not even poor old Biddle, the head clerk, who had worked more than twenty years, was certain of approval or his job. And in it all, good business was being thrown away. Bill had heard Mitch complain and quarrel with a salesman for an hour over a twenty dollar expense account while real business waited to be done; he had seen idea after new idea knocked flat and thrown out, because they came from somebody else. Mitch. Mr. Mitch. He demanded virtue in all and found it in none. To Bill he personified Toronto, and Toronto was Canada, and the whole thing made him sick.
When Bill walked into the kitchen his breakfast was waiting, and so was Millicent. She always got up to get Bill’s breakfast. She had done so in the eagerness of the first year and was afraid to stop now lest it be construed as evidence of waning interest. Careful half orange, two pieces of dry toast and egg, boiled, as Bill discovered, to exactly the correct and usual degree.
Millicent’s kiss of greeting was like the egg, the apron over her kimona was crisp and cool, her cheeks were pink and firm, her short brown hair was sleek, sleeker far than Bill’s, which was really no color at all and had thin patches at the temples.
As he buttered the first piece of toast Bill announced again that he was going to write to Dune. Thomson in Chicago.
“Oh, that again. Well, I don’t care, Bill. But I know you won’t. You always think you’re going to, but you don’t do it.”
“I know. But I’m going to this time. I’m really fed up, this time. I’m going to write this morning and inside a month, maybe, we’ll be over in Chicago and start getting some real money. Old Dune. Thomson. If he can do it, I can. It’s this country that keeps a young man down.” “Perhaps he won’t want you now.” “Want me? Oh, yes, I think he’ll want me, Mil. You know what he said.”
“Yes. Well, never mind, Bill.”
“You think I’m not going to, but I am. I’ve got a good notion to send him a telegram even. That would show him I mean business.”
“Sure. I know.”
“Well, you wait. I will then. I will send a telegram. I’ll do it this morning. You wait.”
“Wait. That’s right. I’ll wait.”
He didn’t like the way she said it and he thought about it all the way down on the Bay car. He would show her about waiting. He got off the car at Adelaide and walked over to Yonge and down to the telegraph office at King and up to the counter with hard, important steps.
He was the keen, young executive deciding about that million dollar contract as he grasped pad and pencil and dashed off the apparently impromptu words which he had put together so carefully on the car and which, he knew, would come to exactly nine:
‘Can come next month if offer still open. Write.’
The voice of authority with which he found himself addressing the clerk was magnificent. He liked it. He slammed the door as an important man should, and kept his voice when the new vigor of his stride overtook Dickie Good at the corner. Dickie wras also in the machinery business, with Sharpe and Chalmers.
“Hey,” said Dickie, “you’re feeling pretty full of beans this morning, for an old feller. What’s going on?”
“Oh, nothing. I was just sending a wire. To Chicago.”
“Chicago, eh? Got a girl over there? Shame!”
“Oh no. Nothing like that. I’m going over there, you know. To live.”
“Well, well. Whittaker, the big Chicago bootlegger. What are you going into?”
“Well-uh, I can’t say much about it just now, you know. It’s a pretty good offer, though. I’ve just accepted . . . Been thinking it over for a long time. At least quite a while.”
“Oh, an offer, eh? Pretty lucky. I wish some of those big firms would come after me with a big offer, like that.”
“Well,” said Bill, modestly, “you’ve got to keep your eye open. You don’t want to stay in this country. There’s no chance for you in this country.”
He favored the newly-admiring Mr. Good with a newly-magnetic smile and wheeled along Wellington Street to the Mitch Building.
TUTE DIDN’T tell Mil. he had sent the telegram. She would get a big surprise. He waited a whole week before Dune. Thomson’s letter came, but all the time he waited he said nothing more to Mil. about Chicago and she said nothing to him. It was just as it had been so many times before when he had talked about Chicago, talked and then done nothing. But then the letter came and it was all right. It was a great letter all right.
Mil listened while he read it over half a dozen times at breakfast. From the fire of his enthusiasm a little wave of warmth flushed her cheeks and made her eyes look shiny. But when she felt it she drew back, reluctant to be fooled again. Bill went off down town with the climb to four thousand dollars a year spinning his head, and fierce hot things tingling 1 is heart.
He strode into the elevator like that, and there was Mr. Mitch.
Mitch looked at Bill and then at his watch. Five years ago, when Bill had come into the office fresh from university with a scholarship, Mitch would have smiled and wished him good morning. Wished him good morning in a manner that inferred Bill was a clever young man whom it was nice to have around. But now he looked at his watch and frowned. It was twelve minutes after nine. Shocking! Mr. Mitch gave Bill a look of sorrowful reproach. Reliable order clerks were supposed to be taking orders at twelve minutes after nine.
Bill nodded cheerfully, stared at the opposite wall. He pulled out a flattened package of cigarettes, and got a match, and held cigarette and match in his fingers, ready to light as soon as he got out of the elevator. Obviously, Mr. Mitch was embarrassed. He was being ignored and he was not used to being ignored. He looked away and edged uncomfortably toward the door. Bill leaned a shoulder into his corner of the car, and waited. For the first time, in Mr. Mitch’s presence, he f elt perfectly at ease.
Mr. Mitch seemed to have something on his mind that morning. Several times he left his desk and stood looking
out through the glass partition that separated his room from the main office. After a while he walked out from behind the partition and over to Biddle’s desk. Bill was talking on the telephone and Biddle was listening with evident amusement.
Bill’s voice was clear and positive and full of authority, and it was saying things that had not been heard inside that office in years.
“If you don’t like that,” deliberately, “you can do the other thing. That’s the lowest we’ll go. You don’t think we’re in this business for our health, do you?”
Silence, while Bill listened. Mitch braced himself against Biddle’s desk.
“Well,” finished Bill, “I knew you’d come through. I couldn’t let you get away with a bluff like that. Deliver? Yes, It’ll be there. G’bye.”
Click! Slap! The telephone went back into place. Bill scribbled some words on an order form, leaned back in his chair, stretched comfortably.
“My dear young man,” said Mitch at last. “Who was that you were speaking to?”
“Leopold and Son.”
“But really, Mr. Whittaker. That way of speaking. It won’t do. It won’t do at all.”
“Oh, they’re always bluffing, those people.”
“Perhaps so, but my goodness, it will lose us business to talk like that.”
“Do you think so, sir? Well,” holding out the order form, “I think that’s the best we’ve had from Leopold’s for a good many months. They know there’s no fooling. But just as you say, of course, Mr. Mitch.”
Mitch walked back to his office, looking flustered, and more uncomfortable than before.
After that morning there was a change.
To Mitch, young Whittaker seemed to bob up at every turn. Biddle was always quoting him now as an authority; a man mentioned him at the National Club; people seemed to come into the office and ask for him; out at the factory, even, they referred to him.
The rest of the office noticed the difference. Biddle found Bill developing an impatience which pushed swiftly through great piles of work. He seemed to want to get it all out of the way and have a clear desk, and then he would sit back with his arms folded tightly, thinking things that made his eyes narrow shrewdly and dart with interest, and his mouth go set in a firm, clenched line.
Bill seemed to have a new dignity. The stenographers began to notice the way he would go to the counter now when there was a man waiting and say: “My name is Whittaker . . .Perhaps I can be of some assistance, in the absence of Mr. Mitch and Mr. Biddle?”
At noons, too, they noticed Bill did not seem to be rushing to the drug store counter and cut again in five minutes. He began to have people ccme in to go to lunch, with him and one day Biddle saw him coming out of the University Club with an important looking man. It was just a day or so afterwards that Bill came down to the office wearing a bowler hat instead of his fedora. And nobody teased him.
When Mil. telephoned him now at the office Bill did not get confused. He said: “Hello, dear” boldly, so that everybody could hear it, and sometimes now he told the switchboard girl to “please call Mrs. Whittaker for me.”
"DILL’S new urge for promptness became so pronounced that it worried Biddle. It put the rest of the office out of kilter. It worked all right fer Bill, but not for the others. There was one night Mr. Mitch stayed late. It was nearly ten to six when he came out of his room and started for the elevator. He thought everybody had gone long ago but down at one end of the long office sat Katie Cromer, tapping at her typewriter. He asked her:
“What on earth are you doing here, Miss Cromer?”
“I have some letters to finish, sir.”
“Oh. Who for?’’.
“For Mr. Whittaker,” as if she said Mr. Rockefeller.
“I see. Yes. I see. Did he ask you to wait?”
“No, sir. He said I didn’t need to, but I know he wants to get them away.”
Mitch nodded stiffly and marched out to the elevator. He felt huffy. Nobody ever wanted to stay and finish his letters. Mister Whittaker, eh? WTho was this young Whittaker getting to be, anyway?
Bill could not have told anybody who he was getting to be, but he was an adventurer. He felt free, and he had never felt free before, and so he was a dashing, daring fellow who wanted worlds to conquer. It was not, of course, Bill Whittaker of the Mitch Machinery Company who cut and thrust through his day’s work in a morning, and impressed the customers, and fretted at the mud-
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dling delays in the office system, and sat there thinking exciting things. It was Wilson Whittaker, of Chicago, Mr. R. Wilson Whittaker, the assured, decisive, young Chicago executive. He was pitting himself against Toronto, as he planned presently to pit himself against Chicago, and the effect was the same. These days were rehearsal for Chicago days.
They were great days at home, and Mil. was tempted to be very happy.
It was exciting to have Bill come home at night and slap the newel post at the turn in his rush upstairs as he used to do a long time ago, and get in her way in the kitchen, and make that dreadful uproar in the bathroom every morning. He thought he was singing, but she had to stop him one morning on a high note of Annie Laurie.
“Bill. Good heavens! The neighbors will really be complaining. It was all right to make a noise like that over on Gibson Avenue because people are kind to newly-weds, but you can’t get away with it now. You don’t want to be telling people you’re a newly-wed again, do you?”
Bill came to the door and snapped a towel at her, ferociously, and pretended to be very insulted, indeed.
But she couldn’t be happy all the way through. She feared another disappointment, and the happier she let herself be now the harder it would be in the end. Poor Bill. She knew him so well. She knew how the Chicago thing would end again. It was wonderful for Bill to be like this, but it could not last. She pretended it would, but she knew better.
She wanted to ask more about Chicago, yet she dreaded to find out. She waited for more than a week before she asked him:
“When are you going to tell them at the office?”
“Well, they pay by the week, and I’m going to give them exactly the week’s notice they’re entitled to. That’ll be about a week from next Wednesday. Yes, I’ll tell them a week from next Wednesday, and a week after that we’ll be on our way, or soon after that, anyway.”
“What about the lease?”
“I’ll look after that. We can sub-let. Don’t worry, Mil.”
“And all this furniture, too.”
He looked around the room. Already he had taken down some of the pictures and piled them in the hall. The room seemed scanty and poor. All this furniture, Mil had said. Well, there wasn’t much, really. All their possessions put together didn’t make much, everything they owned. But they soon would.
He turned back to Mil, with a shrewd, competent look.
“We can store the whole business,” he said, disdaining it. “Don’t you fuss about things, Mil. All you need to do is pack your clothes.”
But a week from Wednesday things went wrong. Bill knew something was wrong when Biddle came out of Mitch’s office, very red of face, and went over to .the large map that hung on the end wall. He traced a line with his finger, measured something with a small ruler, and went back to Mitch’s room, redder of face than ever. Through the glass Bill saw Mitch getting nastier every minute. Then Biddle came out again and up to Bill’s desk and said:
“Look here, Mr. Whittaker, we’re in a fine old mess. You know Ericson, out at Big Lake, Alberta. Well, all that oil equipment of his is knocked higher than a kite. We promised him delivery for the fifteenth sure, but between Mr. Mitch and me nobody arranged anything with the railway and now they say they can’t possibly give delivery at Big Lake until the twenty-eighth. Ericson will be hopping. He’ll probably cancel the whole thing on us, but we want to send him a wire in your name, see, saying both
Mr. Mitch and myself are away and will he give us a few days’ grace.”
“The twenty-eighth. That would¡¿be thirteen days.”
“Yes. But we wouldn’t tell him that right off the bat.”
“Well, I don’t think much of that. Why don’t we go ahead and get the stuff out to him?”
“We can’t, I told you. The railway says they can’t.”
“Well, there’s some way.”
“That sounds fine, but it’s mostly sound. You’d better tell that to Mr. Mitch.”
“I will if you wish me to. I don’t mind.” In they marched to Mitch, who looked at them as an early Christian martyr might have surveyed his betrayers. Biddle was indignant. He said:
“Mr. Whittaker doesn’t seem very keen about that telegram, Mr. Mitch, so I brought him in. He seems to think we ought to put a gun up against the railway’s head, or something.”
Bill conceded Biddle a smile. “Not at all,” he said. “All I say is that there must be a way to get the job done. Why don’t we try the other line?”
Mitch was glad of the chance he saw. “It just so happens, my dear, young Mr. Whittaker,” he explained, “that the other line doesn’t come within fifty miles of Big Lake. You measured it, didn’t you, Mr. Biddle?”
“Yes. Fifty miles. Nearly sixty.” “Well,” said Bill, impatiently, “I don’t know the details. But still I don’t like the idea of sending a telegram like that. We promised to have the machinery there on the fifteenth and it seems to be up to us to find a way to do it. That’s the thing. There must be a way.”
“You think so?” said Mitch, nastily. “Well, you go right ahead and find the way during the morning some time, and just mention it to Mr. Biddle. Fix it up between you. I’m so glad I don’t have to bother with it. Anyway, it’s only a thirty thousand dollar order from a man we’ve been trying to land for the last two years.” “Look here,” said Bill, in a queer, quiet voice,* ‘I didn’t ask to be pulled in on this thing. It’s not my mistake. It’s just another piece of fumbling and I’m fed up with being mixed up with fumbling all the time. I’ll fix this thing for you, and no bluffing, but if I’m to do it I don’t want anyone else monkeying around. If you want me to do it, I’ll wait and see it through. But it must be agreed that I’ll have it alone.”
“What did you say?”
“I said I’d do it.”
“I thought,” said Mitch, jarred with sudden suspicion, “that you said something about waiting. I didn’t know what you would mean.” He paused, looking at Bill with new speculation. “Oh, well, you’re a very cocksure young man, but I don’t care. If you can find a way, go ahead. And dear me, don’t let Mr. Biddle or me disturb you. Mr. Biddle you mustn’t disturb Mr. Whittaker. He wants to think.”
Bill studied the map and then got his hat and went out. He went to the railway offices and got more maps. By noon he had his plan.
The tie-up lay in the eastern end of the C. & N.; there was no difficulty from the west. One hundred miles west of Big Lake was Cedar Junction, where the C. & P. main line cut across. They could make Cedar Junction over the C. & P. from Toronto by the tenth, and Burns of the C. & N. had jumped at the chance to pick up the three cars there, from the west, and put them back east into Big Lake next day. Ericson would get delivery four days ahead Of the promise.
It was so simple Bill was almost ashamed.
“Why didn’t you think of that, Mr.
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Biddle?” complained Mitch. “Surely you could have seen a thing like that.” “Well, so could you,” ventured Biddle, and hastily: “Of course, we were both thinking about the one railway, you know. That was why, I expect. Yes.” The two men looked at Bill.
Mitch said: “Well, well. Well, it’s very creditable, anyway, Mr. Whittaker. Yes, quite creditable.”
“You’re all right, young man,” Biddle said.
"DILL went home in an exultant glow.
That was the stuff. That was certainly the stuff to give them. Wait till he told Mil. about this. He was nearly home before he remembered again that he had been going to give notice.
But Mil. hadn’t forgotten. Before he could start his story at all, she asked him: “What did they say? Were they surprised?”
She was really wondering if he had told them?
“Eh?” stalled Bill. “Oh, Well, look here, Mil., I didn’t get a chance to tell them to-day.”
Mil. put a quick hand to her lips, and pressed them. She knew it.
Bill hurried on: “Listen, Mil. I got into a big job to-day. Let me tell you.”
He spread out paper on the table, found pencil, sketched his map to showher Big Lake and Cedar Junction, and what was going on. “So you see,” when he had finished, “I’ve started this thing, and I want to see it through. They may get balled up on assembling or loading or a dozen things. You can never tell. It’s a thirty thousand dollar job, and a good one for me. I want to get it done right.”
“Oh, it’s all right, Bill.”
“It’s only a difference of a couple of weeks,” he assured her again. “I thought I’d write to Dune, to-night and tell him two weeks more. That’ll give you a better chance with packing, too. You want to go right ahead with your packing, Mil. Three weeks from to-day we’ll be on our way. It’ll be here in no time. Two weeks from to-day I’ll tell them for sure.”
Bill thoroughly enjoyed himself during the next two weeks. He read about Alberta, talked to oil men, studied maps, exchanged letters with Ericson, was invited to lunch and complimented by the C. & P. man, felt life moving in a larger world. Alberta, that was certainly some big country out there, and Ericson, he knew his job all right. No fumbling there. He went after Ericson’s business for him with an unforgiving efficiency that had the factory foremen growling but respectful and brought deferential clerks to see him every day or so from both railways.
In the office, now, they were paying more attention to Bill than they did to Biddle. Several times, when Mitch was out, the switchboard girl gave his calls to Bill with Biddle sitting right there at his desk.
Around town in other machinery companies there was talk now about young Whittaker and the Big Lake deal, and cracks at Mitch. In the office of Sharpe and Chalmers, Dickie Good was in his element. He was an authority. He knew Bill Whittaker, knew him well. He had a good notion to go after his job when Bill left for Chicago. He outlined the probability of his new affluence to a couple of the girls in his office. At noon one of them saw Katie Cromer in the cafeteria and commiserated with her. Mr. Whittaker seemed so nice. It was too bad. Hadn’t Katie heard? Why, my dear! A big Chicago millionaire after him for months and months. Yes, very soon now. Six thousand a year at least. Well, Katie had always said Mr. Whittaker was clever.
He wasn’t in the office when she got back and the coast was clear. Within ten minutes the committee had been formed to collect the money and approach Mr. Biddle about the presentation. It was all very secret and exciting, but when they
told Mr. Biddle it was no fun at all, because he just stared at Katie, turned suddenly without a word, and was in with Mr. Mitch before they could arrange anything.
Bill hadn’t been in the office since eleven o’clock. He went out then and met Mil. and they arranged with the storage people and bought another trunk. They had lunch together, not in the old scramble of the cafeteria but at the Green Bird. They were Mr. and Mrs. Whittaker.
They were quiet sitting at lunch. Mil. was almost able to believe that something was happening to them, with packing almost finished, and new clothes, and the wardrobe trunk. She had always wanted a wardrobe trunk. She felt a little breathless about everything, and nervous. It might all be so cruel to her.
She watched Bill speaking to the waitress. He was a different Bill, a wonderful Bill. Was it just Chicago had made him like this? How could just thinking about Chicago have made him in love with her again? She wondered if being in Chicago would keep him in love, and what it would be like over there. She examined him.
Bill turned quickly from the waitress and caught her at it and they became very conscious of each other.
Bill liked it in the Green Bird. He liked the flowers and the music and the white cloth and Mil’s fingers, and the string of pearls she wore, and that place in her neck, and her teeth. She was alive and so was he.
He wondered if it was just eating up here, instead of at the cafeteria, that made them see like this. Or what was it? It was funny how surroundings seemed to make them different. He pictured them in Chicago. Chicago would certainly make them different all right. But they were different now. Could it be in himself? Or Mil?
He scuffed around under the table and caught Mil’s feet between his, an old trick. She smiled at him. He looked at her.
She asked him: “It’s to-day, isn’t it?”
“Yes. This afternoon. As soon as I go in. I think I’ll tell Biddle first. He’s a decent old codger in a way. No, I guess I’d better go right to Mr. Mitch. He’ll certainly get a jolt.”
“And sorry, too, I’ll bet, Bill.”
“Aw, not much. Not Mitch.”
She looked at him and adored.
BILL was wrong about Mr. Mitch being surprised. He was sitting in his chair, square and braced and watchful, when Bill walked in. He was Mr. Whittaker, of Chicago. Mitch said to Mr. Whittaker, of Chicago:
“Sit down, Bill.”
Bill. He had never called him Bill before. That was a funny one. Before he could say anything, Mitch went on, smoothly:
“I’m glad you came in, Bill. I was wanting to speak to you soon. Mr. Biddle and I have been talking about you lately. We think your work has been very meritorious lately. Yes, indeed. We think perhaps the time has come for us to speak of advancement. How would you like that, eh, Bill?”
Bill felt all right now. So that was the idea; they had heard. The old devil, trying to bluff like that. He said: “Just a minute, Mr. Mitch. I must tell you, right now, that I’m going to leave. In a week. I dare say you’ve heard.”
Mitch hadn’t expected such a frontal attack, but he was ready. “Well,” he said, “there was a rumor of some sort around I believe, but I didn’t take it very seriously, you know. Dear, dear. Just a moment! Let us have Mr. Biddle in here.” He pressed a worn white button on the edge of his desk and Biddle came trotting in, looking guiltily innocent. He tried hard to be surprised when Mitch said: “Mr. Biddle, our young friend Bill here tells us he’s thinking, about leaving the home nest. We can’t have that, can we?”
“Oh, no,” agreed Biddle, valiantly, “No, sir, we certainly can’t have that.” He turned to Bill. “Why Mr. Mitch and I were talking about you just recently
Bill stopped him: “Yes. I know about that.” It was a bit sickening, this.
Mitch was sad. “You know,” he complained, “it’s so discouraging to have you even suggest anything of this sort, Bill. Here I’ve spent all these years, five now,”—Biddle had coached him at noon —“training you in my business principles. We took you as a green boy, just out of school. And now you are trained and getting valuable to us. You really can’t desert us now.”
Bill looked out the window over Biddle’s shoulder and gritted his teeth. Yes. A lot of training he had got. That was pretty hot. He said nothing.
“And desert the country,” prompted Biddle, “He’s too patriotic for that.” Mitch leaped at the cue: “Yes, that’s right, Mr. Biddle. These boys who were at the war, the country means so much more to them. Mr. Biddle had a boy in the army, too, you know, Bill. A fine boy. And you’re a returned man, too, but you have no bad habits, you are really one of our heroes, you know. The country needs its heroes in peace just as in war.” Bill eyed the two old men arrayed against him. At Mitch, suave and crafty and successful. At Biddle, defeated by the years. Poor old Biddle, trying now to make him like himself.
It was the same old line that old men always handed out to young men. It was pretty sickening all right. Well, he was going to be hard-boiled.
Bill got out finally an hour later, without making a fool of himself, chiefly because at the end he could not speak very well. Katie Cromer and all the girls were consumed with curiosity. He looked so queer sitting there at his desk: his face was red and he wasn’t looking at anything at all.
He wanted very badly to get home to Mil. He couldn’t wait until five o’clock and all the way up Bay Street the car was a crawling thing, and all the people on it were stupid and ugly, and the damned conductor was a fool. It was pretty nice to have Mil. It wouldn’t be any fun without Mil. He was surging so inside that his muscles felt big and his neck was thick and he ran up the street and round to the side door and crept into the kitchen.
The house was quiet. No Mil. He crept again out into the hall, and cautiously onto the stairs. Then there was a quick little flurry from the living-room behind him and she cried:
“You big, silly thing. What on earth are you trying to do, crawling like that? You frightened me. And you’re home early. Bill, did you tell them?”
He flopped down on the step and sprawled there, looking at her, puffing, a whimsical look in his eyes.
“Zowie. Talk about fright. You frightened me. Sneakin’ up on a fellow from behind like that.”
“Bill. Did you?”
“Tell them? Well, in a way I did, I guess. But not exactly.”
He bumped down a step, as a small boy slides down stairs. But Mil. didn’t laugh. Her eyes were anxious.
“I think you’re a pig,” she said. “Tell me what they said. Are we going to Chicago, or not?”
“Well, no. Not just now, anyway.” There it was. Again. Oh, again. She wanted to cry. She shouldn’t have counted on it, she shouldn’t, she never should. Her heart swelled inside her and her eyes felt hot and she saw Bill slipping away back again somewhere into a gray indifference that smothered all the years. Bill watched her.
“Do you.feel badly, Mil? I didn’c know you cared so about Chicago.”
She knew quickly what she had wondered about at the Green Bird. She said: “It isn’t Chicago. I don’t think it’s Chicago. Oh well. It’s nothing. And we’re all packed, and everything, too.”
“Packing’s all right. You don’t need to 1 unpack. At least not everything. We’ll need clothes.”
“For going away.”
“But you said we’re not going.”
“Not to Chicago.”
“Well where? What is it, Bill?”
“Out West.” He came down and stood beside her, grinning, happy. “I’ll tell you, Mil. They want me to take a trip out through Manitoba and Saskatchewan and Alberta, and maybe right to Vancouver. And you’re to come along.”
“I’m to study it out there, and see if we had better open up a western office.That’s a swell country, out there, Mil. And if we do—’
“I’ll be the guy. The main guy.”
She felt a little better, but not much better.
“Well, that’s certainly very nice, Bill. But is that how they put you off? A trip? Do you think that’s better than doing something?”
“Well, we just couldn’t afford to take that Chicago thing now, Mil.” ,
“How do you mean?”
“We’d be losing money on it.”
“Bill. You’re being so funny. You’ve got something else. What is it, Bill?” “Money. Great wealth.”
“Not a raise.”
“Yep!” He giggled.
“Bill. How much?”
“I don’t know. To fifty.”
“Oh, Bill. Not seventy-five?”
“Oh, have a heart! That’s a jump. Forty-five to seventy-five. Have a heart!” He was so happy he was wriggling.
“Well, sixty-five? Tell me, Bill.”
He drew a great breath. He looked behind him. Mysteriously. Then he shouted:
Doubled. She whispered: “Ninety.”
She could not say anything at all. But she looked at him. Then she was around his neck, where it was comfortable, and she belonged, and she could cry properly.
Over her shoulder Bill looked into the hall mirror. It was funny, seeing himself like that, hugging Mil. Not such a bad looking chap after all, and different, somehow, from the fellow he used to know. A lot different from six weeks ago.
You couldn’t change much in six weeks, but there he was. What had made him change? Chicago? Old Mitch? No, not Chicago! Not old Mitch! It hadn’t been old Mitch, either, all these years. It hadn’t been Toronto. It hadn’t been Canada. Canada? Why, Alberta, Ericson, long trail of steel, another ocean, adventurous things, young men things, love, laughter, Mil. all that was Canada.
Not Mitch, not Toronto, not Canada, not anything at all but the foolish timid fellow who once had dwelt within him.
‘The fault, dear Brutus’, he remembered, ‘is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.’ That was it. Not his stars. Not Mitch. Not Canada. Himself. That was the right dope. Himself.
He put cheek against Mil’s head, and pushed hard. He was exalted. He said: “Don’t shake like that, silly. We’re going to have a darned good time.”