A Son of Eli
In which bewildered Youth discovers that broken bridges can be desperate things to mend
W. G. HARDY
Illustrated by E. J. DINSMORE
BOOK III—The Fleeting Years
“ . . . and having writ moves on” —Omar Khayyam.
The Story: Paul Honey, farm-bred in Ontario, meets Nettie Noice, daughter of Old Man Noice, a hellfire-threatening neighbor of his father. Nettie is utterly downtrodden at home, and Paul makes love to her in boyish pity as much as for any other reason. The old man comes upon them, whirls Nettie away, marries her almost at once to a rough farmer in the district and
next year she dies, but does not pass altogether from Paul’s memory. Between Noice and Paul’s father there is enmity, and Noice revenges himself for Honey’s having overreached him in a land deal by resorting to the primitive ceremony of “churching”—testifying against him in open meeting. Nothing comes of it, however, since Honey is well prepared to meet his charges.
Meantime Paul has met Eileen Ainsley, a girl of his own age, at collegiate in the nearby town, and a friendship has sprung up between them. Paul goes to Toronto to attend University, where he meets several other girls but remains faithful to Eileen. He undergoes the doubts and difficulties characteristic of fledgling youth.
It is war-time, and Mr. Honey does not approve of enlistment. Consequently Paul remains out of the army, until a quarrel with Eileen, who is favoring another boy already in uniform, makes up his mind for him, and he enlists. The quarrel, however, is sufficiently sharp to estrange Eileen and Paul, and the latter, meeting Gladys Powell, a Toronto girl, and carried away by her and the emotional stress of war-time “last leave,” marries her secretly before going to France. While he is overseas his father is jailed as a pacifist, and his mother has a stroke in consequence. Eileen visits Mr. Honey while he is in prison and it is largely due to her that he is ultimately released.
Paul returns from the war, more than doubtful of the reality of his love for Gladys, and the story continues from this point.
CIVILIAN clothes still seemed strange to Paul, almost as strange as civilian life. His trousers felt so loose, his coat touched him only here and there. He was conscious of himself, and still more conscious of Gladys as they sat on the chesterfield.
“And so, honeybunch,” she was saying, snuggling up closer to him, “you see it will be wiser to wait a bit before we have our real wedding. It would look funny, our being tied up just as soon as you landed, wouldn’t it, big boy?”
“I don’t like it,” Paul answered stubbornly enough, holding himself rigid.
“Why not, toodles?” she purred. “I know why, of course ...” coquettish, this was.
She did not as a matter of fact, Paul reflected, know why. She couldn’t know that he wanted a public avowal of their marriage as a crutch upon which to lean. There was Thornton, insistent with his offers to him to come into a business that was thriving, and there was Eileen phoning him, eager to see him, and there was
himself possessed by a desire to accede to both of them—to Eileen and Thornton. No, she didn’t know why. “All the same,” she was going on, seeing him still distrait, “you have got to admit it’s better, dear. We can make it look so natural. You come up here for a few weeks, take me out, be seen with me everywhere. They’ll whisper of an
old romance, and then our engagement. After that; well, we can see. I’ll make dad give you a good job.” “And what about this dance tomorrow night?” Paul burst in. “Are you going with Eardley?” She laughed, a little silvery laugh.
“Silly,” she said, “as if I cared a bit for him. But it would look funny if I stopped all at once. Besides,” she pressed closer to him and drew his head down toward her, “you aren’t going to be a Turk, are you, honey-bunch? I expect to have lots of men friends— always.”
Paul wanted to argue the point, to tell her that it wasn’t fair, to say something, too, of the chances to go with girls he’d passed up overseas, to explain that married folks shouldn’t do these things. But somehow you couldn’t argue with a soft body pressing in against you, with the starved knowledge that this was your wife and that it was all right to make love to her. He caught hold of her and forgot his argument.
"DUT back in his room—he had one in Burwash until -L' he got his affairs straightened up—he found Eileen’s number posted for him. He'd better ring her up, he decided.
“Hello. Is that you, Eileen?” “Oh, hello, Paul.”
They chatted a moment or two. It developed that Eileen had been asked to bring a man to a party tomorrow night—down to a movie first and then back to Lila’s for a dance. He might as well go, he decided. He couldn’t see Gladys, anyway.
He hung up the receiver, went to his room, and sat down to reflect.
It was three weeks now since he had come home discharged. Three weeks, and he hadn’t done much. There had been the group to meet him at the station— Gladys, Eileen, Thornton, and one or two others. It had seemed a little strange meeting them, strange but very comforting, until he had realized with a little shock that coming home did not make Gladys seem any the less an alien to him. She was attractive, he could see that; but it was surface attractiveness like those gay young things he had marvelled at and envied, seeing them dancing in the London night clubs. Another world than his, a world of which he had tried, that winter with the actors, to become a part; a world in which he now realized he would always be a stranger, an interloper.
It was not in him, he saw at last, to be like these folks —gay, insolent, with the unconscious arrogance of wealth and good looks, heedless of all the forces that made them what they were. Careless of the man down under. He couldn’t be like that. The poverty of early days, those long hours spent on the soil, all that stood between. He had taken Gladys’ kiss with a feeling akin to panic. And even after tonight? She was lovely, he tried to tell himself, so feminine, so intoxicating. But yet—
Thornton, though—a warm glow came over him. How fine it had been to see him limping up to greet him, his face alive, his lips quiet. Just the grip of his hand, and he had felt all the gap of the months of war pass away. If it weren’t for Gladys—that “bond” business. Why, to be with Thornton, to think his sort of thoughts, to live his kind of life—that, Paul realized staring gloomily out of the window, that would have been fulfillment.
Reluctantly his thoughts turned to Eileen. There had been the greatest revelation. Why hadn’t he remembered how beautiful she was, a beauty not like the prettiness of Gladys, but deeper, more abiding? That frank directness of hers, that tall, clear-eyed cleanness. No little awkwardnesses about her now. There was a permanence, a quiet sureness about her, akin, he half-fancied, to that permanence which the soil had put into himself. They could understand each other now; could, he knew, live together facing the world with unclouded eyes.
His own eyes were dark, unhappy. He moved in his chair a little.
“Why hadn’t he had the sense to see this before?” he asked himself. A fool he had been — making that petty hurt to his pride into a mountain, lacking the sense to comprehend her point of view, maiming himself and her. For she cared for him. He could see that. Cold fact, not masculine vanity. Unfortunate fact. So difficult it was, caring for her as he did, to avoid her without hurting her.
If he could only tell her.
He toyed with the thought. He’d like to, but there was Gladys to consider. Why was it that in life there were always two sides or more to a question ; that one couldn’t have an issue clear, one thing right, the other wrong? Instead, right and wrong were always so inextricably mixed up. Never simple and clear as he had used to believe.
He had wondered as a boy how grown-ups could make mistakes.
With their wisdom, he had thought, decisions ought to be so easy. Now he saw how it was. You blundered on through darkness, bumping your head
here, cracking your shin there, fancying you saw a bright light yonder, distracted by will-o’-the-wisps, led into morasses. Only behind you was the path clear.
Every day, he felt, he came to understand more his father’s way of looking at things, his quietness, his acceptance of the inevitable. Even acceptance of that humiliation of his. Jail had left no bitterness in him. At least, not for others to see. Paul remembered how his home-coming had been. It had been strange to walk into an unfamiliar house. Strange, too, to see his father, stooped, rheumatic, grey hair on his head; to see his mother lying there on the sofa lifting up eager hands to him, unable to rise, scarcely able to talk—so different from what he had dreamed.
Nothing turns out, he reflected, as one expects. There was his mother—so active, she had been, so independent—lying there helpless, dependent on others, waiting with eyes fixed on vacancy for the next stroke, the final one. His father waiting, too, with her. You would have thought that they had deserved better of life than this.
But his father did not seem to feel that way.
“I’ve had my life, son,” he had said, in one of his rare moods of intimacy. “A good life, a full life, doing things. All I could. If some things didn’t turn out as I wanted, if I’ve been beaten now and then, at least I’ve tried. That’s all that matters, to my notion. Keep trying.”
And, after all, Paul reflected, old Noice was dead. Thrown out of his rig by a skittish mare he had bought who wotildn’t stand the whip. Strange that dad had shown no resentment about him.
“A good man,” he had said, “according to his lights.”
Paul hadn’t felt that way.
“Didn’t you ever tell him off?” he had asked.
“No,” his father had answered. “What good would that have done?”
And when they went back to Eldad for church on Sunday, folks had treated his father with respect, and been eager to have him notice them. Perhaps, he told himself, his father's way was better. But how would his folks feel about Gladys?
He finished his pipe and knocked out the ashes. It was nonsensical to be thinking like this. Of course, he told himself, as he got up from his chair, he was fed up. All
the fellows he knew who had been in the army were fed up—at loose ends. You couldn’t put a fellow through hell, pitchfork him back into ordinary life, and then expect him to act normally. Nerves jangling, the commonplace things of life seeming so petty. And folks who’d stayed at home so smug, so prosperous. Pat you on the back. “Stout fellow.” But as to your interfering with their neat little scheme of life—no wonder he and the rest were fed up.
He cursed. What was the good of going on thinking like this. Being fed up didn’t excuse him. Didn’t excuse him either for giving in to Gladys. He’d better cut it and get to sleep.
He got off his clothes, slipped on his pyjamas and turned out the light. For an instant before getting into bed, he looked out over the quadrangle of Victoria College. Great trees and the dark pile of the college beyond. Something of permanence there. Why beat at life so valiantly, it suggested—only bruise your wings.
HTHE party was over and Paul and Eileen were walking toward the house in which she roomed. There was a bitterness about it for Paul. Never had Eileen seemed so desirable as tonight. She had been so vivacious, and yet so free from coquetry; such a welcome relief, his mind whispered, from Gladys. No need, though, to worry about Gladys. She was out dancing with someone else. Eardley would kiss her when he brought her home. This promiscuous kissing—his grip tightened on Eileen’s arm. He had kissed many girls himself, but it had never become a casual thing to him. There was always something exciting about it—the excitement of doing something one shouldn’t do. Something romantic, too. But as for his wife—or his girl—doing it!
“The double standard,” he said aloud.
“What was that, Paul?”
“Nothing. I was just thinking how curious it was that in spite of all this talk about the unreasonableness of the double standard idea—one code for men and another for women—there’s something in it after all.”
“That it seems different to me to think of my having kissed a lot of girls, and of a girl I liked having done the same thing—I mean, having kissed a lot of men.”
“Don’t you suppose girls feel the same way?” Eileen asked, a little edge to her voice.
“Not many,” Paul said, a little glumly, thinking of Gladys.
“Some do,” Eileen answered him.
“I didn’t know you felt that way,” Paul told her. They had reached her boardingplace by this time, and were in the darkness of the hall.
“I suppose you’re thinking,” she said in a low voice, “of that foolish time when I tried to lecture you.” “I was,” Paul admitted.
“Is that always going to come between us?” she burst out in a sudden vehemence. “Can’t one ever bury the past and be sure that it’s down so deep that no ghost can ever break through?” “Why,” Paul answered her, “I realized that you were right. Long ago. I was just an unlicked cub then, not understanding what I was suggesting utterly selfish, not seeing things any fool should have understood. You were right, absolutely right. Only I was so—so utterly in love.”
“And has it gone now?” she breathed a little sharply. “All of it?
“No!” said Paul in a whisper. “No!” His arms closed around her as she seemed to melt against him. Her lips were searching blindly, his own felt tears on her face before they found her mouth.
She was sobbing when he released her.
“Oh! Paul . . . so long . . . so long!”
“Poor dear!” he soothed her. “Poor dear!”
“But it’s all right now,” she said, with a little sigh. “All . . . right . . . now.”
How could he tell her? Not tonight. Let tonight be perfect anyhow. Let suffering wait, wait until the morrow . . .
THORNTON met Gladys down town shopping. He looked on her with disfavor and asked her to tea. Over the teacups he suddenly leaned toward her.
“I’ve known you a long time, Gladys,” he said, “and now I’m going to be rude.”
“Really!” said Gladys. “How unusual!”
“It’s about young Honey,” went on Thornton, steadily. “Why can’t you leave him alone?”
“Why should I?” Gladys was disdainful, smiling a little secret smile. She liked to see Thornton on the rack a bit, liked to see him squirm, him and his superior air.
“Well,” Thornton said, “for several reasons. Take this bond business in your father’s firm. It’s an attractive offer, I admit—from the monetary standpoint. But it will be death for Honey—for all that’s worth while in him.”
“I don’t see why,” countered Gladys.
“Perhaps you don’t,” Thornton replied and smiled. It infuriated Gladys.
“It’s just as good as your old publishing business,” she said. “It’s just because you want his brains for yourself.” “You’ve found me out,” Thornton admitted. “But I know it’s better for Paul, too. Look here!” He leaned forward again. “That boy’s got imagination, got fire in him. Stick him at selling bonds—like clamping a damper on him.”
“Well, it’s his affair,” said Gladys. “I don’t see why I should worry about it.”
“But you influence him a lot,” Thornton said. “I wish you’d let him alone.”
“Why should I?” she asked again. “He’s free, isn’t he —and twenty-one.”
“Well,” Thornton replied, looking ill at ease, “it’s more than in business, though that’s bad enough. There’s a girl—one he’s known for years. Paul came over to my room today, desperate. It appears he’s—well, he’s in love with her and she with him.”
“O-oh!” said Gladys. Her eyes flashed venomously, but with a venom not directed, Thornton could see, at him.
“O-oh!” she repeated, “and if they are in love, what’s in their road?”
“You,” said Thornton.
“I don’t just know,” replied Thornton, noticing that Gladys sat back, relaxing a little. “But I know that Paul feels himself bound to you in some way.”
“I should think he would.” She paused a moment, looking him over and made her decision. “He’s married to me,” she said casually, then laughed merrily at the blank look of consternation on his face. “Yes, married,” she repeated, pulling out her compact. “Put that in your pipe,” she said, arrranging her hat, “and smoke it!” Thornton had recovered as she got up.
“Wait a moment,” he said, rising, too. “Can you explain the secrecy?”
“Oh! It was Paul,” she told him. “His funny notions. Wanted to keep it dark; and now, we might as well wait till he’s got a decent salary. That’s why he’s taking on bonds, in spite of the publishing. As for this romantic sweetheart of his ...” She paused reflectively. “Maybe we might advance our wedding a little.”
“Oh!” said Thornton a little grimly. “Another wedding?”
She nodded lightly. “Why not? Some folks enjoy them. I do. So why not have them? More and brighter weddings.”
“So many thanks for the tea.” She started to go, stopped. “Of course,” she said, “it’s all in confidence, you know.”
But Thornton looked after her sternly. “In confidence,” he repeated to himself. “Well, that won’t prevent my sailing into Paul about this.”
"KÆARRIED !” Eileen whispered. She gripped the arms of her chair and let herself sink back slowly, cautiously. The room, she noted dully, seemed to have lost its cheeriness.
Paul standing there nodded. He could not look at Eileen. He had known that it would be hard to tell her. But just how hard . . . The laugh of a girl passing on the street floated into the quiet room. He seemed to be sinking into an abyss of misery. He made himself look at Eileen. She was sitting back in her chair as if all the vivid life had gone out of her. Paul couldn’t stand it. He took a step toward her. “Divorce?” he whispered.
Eileen did not appear to hear. Paul took another step. “Divorce?” he asked again.
Eileen stirred like a sleeper who shakes off a dream. She looked at him. Paul forced his voice to a louder key. “Divorce!” he exclaimed.
Eileen shook her head, slowly, decisively. “No,” she said. Her voice was still and even. “No!”
Paul stared at her. For the first time his marriage with Gladys was real. It stood between them like a wall. “But why?” he demanded, his voice breaking.
Her voice was still even and very tired. “Because,” she said, “you’re married to her. You’ve got to go on.”
Her hands, Paul saw, were gripping the arms of her chair. The sight moved him to desperation. With a swift movement he broke down the wall. He gathered her from the chair into his arms. “No!” he whispered fiercely. “No!” and pressed his lips against her hair.
For a long moment she rested against him. Blinded sobs were shaking her, and each sob seemed to Paul to be torn from himself. He lifted his head. “No !” he exclaimed again.
He felt her body grow tense against his arms. Her sobs stopped. She lifted her head to speak to him. “Let me go, Paul,” she said.
Paul looked at her. Her eyes were bright with tears. But she meant it. He released her. She stepped back and met his eyes steadily. “It’s no use,” she told him. “It’s no use. I’ve got to face it. We’ve both got to face it. You’re married.”
Paul was desperate. “But it’s you I love. It’s you I love.” He stepped toward her.
Eileen did not move. “Please,” she said, and he stopped. Time did not move as he stared at her. Married ... his own act . . . Eileen . . .
“I’ll . . . I’ll phone tomorrow,” he burst out.
Eileen shook her head. “Can’t you see,” she said, “that it’s the end?”
“The end!” Paul moved abruptly, grasped her and crushed his lips on hers. “I’ll phone,” he declared, releasing her.
Eileen seemed to sway where she stood. “Don’t,” she whispered, each word spaced and slow, “don’t make it harder, Paul.”
Paul’s face was grey. Poor girl—and he couldn’t help her. That wall between them. His voice had an odd break in it. “Please remember, dear, remember that I’ll never forget and if any time, anywhere . . .promise you’ll let me know . . . promise.”
Eileen had closed her eyes.
“Promise,” he begged.
She nodded. “Yes . . . I promise.”
Paul drew a long breath. He had to go. To kiss those lips? He must not. Blindly he bent his head and found her head. His kisses were salt to his lips. “Good-by,” he whispered, and somehow he was out of the house and walking along the street. What should he do? Where could he go? Thornton? Thornton couldn’t help him now . . .
"DUT the next morning Thornton telephoned him.
“What’s this,” he asked harshly, “that I hear about you and Gladys?”
Paul’s voice was just as harsh. “I’ll come right over,” he said, and he hung up the receiver.
They had been arguing interminably. Thornton for once was excited. He had tried everything he knew and this grim-faced boy wouldn’t be moved. What could he do to stir him?
“Out with it,” he commanded roughly. “Why won’t you get a divorce?”
Paul stirred. “It’s Eileen,” he said slowly. “She won’t hear of it.”
“Oh,” said Thornton. He put his pipe back into his mouth. “Oh.” He turned on Paul. “Why?” he asked abruptly.
“I don’t know,” Paul answered. “But she won’t.” Not even to Thornton, he was thinking, could he tell all of that parting. There are moments too poignant to tell.
“Oh,” Thornton said again, baffled. He limped back and forth across the room and stopped again.
“I’m going to see her,” he announced. “What’s her number?”
For an instant hope showed itself on Paul’s face. Then it passed, leaving him drearier than before. “I’ll tell you,” he said, “but it won’t do any good.”
Thornton looked at him grimly. “We’ll see.” He smoked furiously. “Has Gladys?” he demanded.
“Not a word. But she’s set the date for our marriage.” He corrected himself, smiling crookedly. “For our second marriage.”
“A month from now.”
“Don’t let her rush you,” Thornton exploded.
Paul shrugged his shoulders. “Might as well,” he said. “What’s the difference?”
“Fool,” Thornton commented.
Paul shrugged his shoulders again. What did anything matter? he asked himself. He was married. And after last night . . . the sooner the better . . .
'“THEY sat in two of the big leather chairs at the Prince George. To those who went by they looked at ease, a girl at whom you glanced twice and a dark-faced, eager man. But their words were tense.
“You see,” Thornton argued, “Gladys isn’t the girl for Paul. She’s just a gold-digger.”
“Perhaps,” Eileen Ainsley’s eyes, Thornton thought, looked liquid, as if they had been washed in tears. “Perhaps. But he’s married to her.”
“Married!” Thornton exploded. A man in the lobby glanced curiously at him and he lowered his voice. “That doesn’t signify. Not in these days. The day for thinking that just because you’re married to a misfit you’re tied for life, is gone. We’re more sensible now.” Eileen’s lips were pressed together. She fingered the arm of her chair.
“Get a divorce,” Thornton urged.
Eileen spoke. “I’m afraid,” she said, “that it isn’t so simple as that.”
“After all,” Eileen went on slowly, “they’re married. And they ought to try to make it go. How do they know yet if they suit each other?”
“Anyone can see it,” Thornton urged. “You know it now really, don’t you, Miss Ainsley? Face it. You know that you love Paul more than Gladys Powell does, that you could do more than she can for him?”
Eileen did not answer. Her eyes would not meet his. Thornton pressed his advantage. “And you know Paul is in love with you?”
Eileen looked at him—one glance only, but Thornton felt abruptly as if he were seeing what no one but Paul should see. If a woman were to think that much of him . . . He hesitated, gathered his forces and spoke very gently. “Well, then, can’t you see that it’s better in the long run for him, that it’s better for both of you to cut it —to start again?”
Eileen came to a decision. “You see, Mr. Thornton,” —her voice was very still—“it isn’t that. But it’s . . . it’s Paul. He married her. He’s hers. Not mine.” Thornton tried once more. “But,” he said, his voice faltering, “but ...”
Eileen rose from her chair. Her lips, he saw, were quivering. “I’m afraid,” she said, “I’m afraid I can’t stand talking about it—not now.”
Thornton got up hurriedly. “I’m sorry,” he said. Eileen tried to smile. “No,” she said. “It’s not your fault. It was kind of you. But ... I can’t.”
He couldn’t let her go like this. “Could I,” he begged, “see you sometime?”
She looked at him as if she were seeing him for the first time. “Not for a while,” she answered. “Perhaps . . . later.” She was gone.
“There,” said Thornton, as he stared after her, “there’s a woman . . . and Paul’s a fool.”
SO,” Thornton went on, “I had no luck.”
Paul nodded. His face hadn’t changed a muscle. “I’m sorry,” Thornton said.
“Not your fault,” Paul answered. He looked out of his window at the trees in the quadrangle. “It’s mine.” Thornton was baffled. He didn’t like it. There was nothing to do. Unless Paul ... He turned to him abruptly.
“Get a divorce anyway,” he urged. “Then you’ll be free.”
Paul shook his head. “What’s the use? Eileen would not have me.” He regarded Thornton challengingly. “Would she?”
Thornton pondered. “Perhaps,” he said uncertainly. Paul smiled. He did not need to answer. Why make any more trouble, he was thinking to himself.
“A month, you said?” Thornton asked.
Paul nodded. “I tried to get it put off,” he explained. “But she wouldn’t. Not a word about . . . about Eileen. But she wouldn’t.”
“And,” Paul added, staring out of the window again, “I’m going into bonds.”
Paul was impelled to go on. “After all,” he said, “I’ll be all right. Gladys is pretty. And she loves me. I’ll be all right.”
They were both silent, thinking about Eileen.
Paul broke the silence. “You’ll look after her,” he asked Thornton, facing him, “won’t you?”
A month later Paul stood up in uniform beside Gladys, flowers banked about them, glitter and glare of dress, crowds of people, while a preacher intoned what to Paul seemed meaningless words. It all seemed unreal, fantastic, of a piece with all this senseless life since the war. What did this second marriage matter, after all? He hadn’t seen Eileen again, would never, he supposed, see her again. What did anything matter? He took Gladys’ hand to put on the ring.
nriEIR honeymoon was an exotic dream. Their first marriage had given them but a few moments of intimacy snatched in haste from hours of regret and anxiety. But now Gladys herself seemed to be transformed to something more gracious, more desirable than he had dreamed. It was not strange that in those drugged days Paul almost forgot about Thornton and Eileen; that when thoughts of them did obtrude he banished them. For this was Lotus Land and in Lotus Land grow the flowers of forgetfulness.
Nor was the dream dispelled by their return at the end of June to Toronto. The glamor of the first days of married life was still upon them both. Paul still moved in a mist of unreality.
It was in this mood that he occupied the house that Gladyk’ father had given them, and that he entered Mr. Powell’s office to begin to learn how to sell bonds. It was in this mood, too, that he strove to accustom himself to Gladys’ friends and to try to learn to enjoy the amusements her set enjoyed—to drink and dance and laugh. There was no time to worry about Eileen or to think of Thornton. Nor did he try. The days slipped by unheeded, piling up with staggering rapidity until two months more were swallowed in the maw of the past. For the wind still blew from Lotus Land and its breath was heavy laden with scent of flowers.
But one morning, a hot September sun scorching the streets, Gladys informed him that she had invited Thornton over for dinner that evening. Paul said nothing. Gladys hadn’t mentioned Thornton
or Eileen since that first night. But he knew, he told himself, that she had not forgotten. He went through the day at the office with a growing sense of uneasiness. He didn’t want to face Thornton— not yet. It would only tear open old wounds that he was trying to forget; had almost, he fancied, succeeded in forgetting. And yet the very act of realizing that he was going to see Thornton led his thoughts inevitably to Eileen. For the first time he could not banish her face. He moved uneasily in his chair as Robertson, the head salesman, thundered on in one of his “pep” talks to the staff, remembering how she had looked and what she had said. “Don’t make it harder, Paul.” Poor girl . . . and what, he wondered, could he say when Thornton’s eyes met his and asked if he had forgotten her?
“And what—” like an echo, Robertson’s voice invaded his consciousness—• “what would you do in a case like that, Honey?”
Paul didn’t know what the case was. but he kept silent. He had already learned that, given time, Robertson would answer himself.
' I 'HORNTON was already there when
Paul reached home that evening. He seemed to Paul as he stood there, darkfaced, sullen-looking—Gladys had left them while she gave orders about the dinner—like a ghost come out of his dead past to trouble him. He could not find anything about which to talk.
“How’s the publishing?” he asked inanely.
“Fine. How’s the bonds?” Thornton countered.
“Fine.” They were both silent. Their friendship, Paul realized, was dying and both of them were watching it struggle.
He must, he told himself, do something to help it. He turned to Thornton impulsively . . .
“Dinner is ready.” It was Gladys in her blonde loveliness parting the curtains, and Paul stepped back to allow Thornton to go ahead.
They ate and the mime played itself out. Gladys and he and Thornton talked about trivialities, while underneath the smooth veneer their thoughts crossed and clashed.
“Did you see the Shakespeare plays?” and Paul was asking, “Why did you ever come?” and Thornton was replying, “It wasn’t my fault,” and Gladys was triumphing, “See, I’ve got him now. You and that girl. But I’ve got him.” For once the wind from Lotus Land blew feebly and almost stopped.
Nor was it any better when, dinner over, they moved into the living room. They still talked interminably, Paul and Thornton afraid to let conversation drop, handling it as if it were a hot plate, while Gladys sat and smiled and watched them. Abruptly Paul realized again what was happening. He couldn’t let it happen. Thornton and he . . . their friendship
. . the long hours when they had talked the morning in and had not found it dull ... he couldn’t let all that escape him. He rose from his chair. Gladys sat up.
“Come on down to the cellar,” he invited. “We’ll pick out your favorite brand.”
But Gladys was quick. “And I’ll come, too,” she said prettily, jumping up. “That is, unless you don’t want me?”
Thornton had risen, too. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but I’m afraid I’ll have to go.”
“So soon?” Gladys tried to sound surprised.
“Yes. I’m afraid I must.”
“Well, we mustn’t keep you. But come in again.” She slid her arm through Paul’s and snuggled against him. “I want,” she said, “Paul’s friends to feel free to come always, any time.”
Thornton mumbled a polite reply, said good-by, and moved toward the hall. Paul disengaged his arm abruptly and followed him. Neither of them said anything as Thornton got his hat and Paul opened the door. But the grip that he gave Paul’s hand hurt.
When Paul came back into the room Gladys was curled in soft abandon on the chesterfield. Paul stood looking at her. She was pretty. He took a step toward her. She lifted her arms behind her head and yawned voluptuously like a kitten that has had a full dish of cream.
“Well, big boy,” she said lazily, “that’s over.”
Paul’s eyes lost their softness. He stood still. “Thornton was my friend,” he said.
“Well, what of it?” She laughed an amused laugh. “Don’t be a thundercloud.” She stretched out her arms and pursed her lips. “Kiss?” she purred.
But Paul had put his hands in his pockets. “Why?” he asked.
Gladys dropped her arms and sat up faintly annoyed. “What’s eating you anyway?” she demanded.
Paul shifted his feet. It was foolish to blame her or to think that it was all her fault. But he must say something. “Well, why don’t you like Thornton?” he asked.
“Thornton?” Gladys laughed and leaned back against the cushions. “Oh, lots of reasons. Too high and mighty for one thing. And besides,” she looked at him speculatively, “besides,” she said slowly, “he tried to talk to me once . . about you . . . you and that girl.” There was a sneer in her voice.
The blood rushed to Paul’s face. “Let’s leave her,” he said in a low voice, “out of this.”
Gladys’ eyes snapped. She sat up again. “Leave her out?” A hint of shrillness was in her tone. “Leave her out?” She laughed angrily. “Thought you’d got away with it, didn’t you?” she gibed. “You and her ...”
She broke off, seeing Paul’s face white and his hands clenched. With a lithe movement she was away from the chesterfield and against him. “Forgive me, dear,” she whispered. She pressed against him. “Forgive me, dear. It’s because because I love you so.” Paul’s arms crept round her. The wind blew from Lotus Land again.
"DUT that dinner had recalled memories ■L' to Paul which he could no longer banish. His face was clouded as he boarded the street car the next morning. Gladys, he told himself as he captured a strap and hung there, had done more than she knew.
He got off the car at Richmond Street and looked at his watch. Late again. He began to hurry eastward with the hurrying crowd. Stand on his own feet. And yet, he realized, he hadn’t done much with bonds yet. Look at Johnson. Look at the bonds he had sold since he had started two months ago. Yes, he’d have to wake up.
Robertson spoke to him as he entered the office. “Oh, Mr. Honey, Mr. Powell wants to speak to you.”
“All right,” Paul answered. What did Mr. Powell want, he wondered, as he hurried toward the door of his office. Mr. Powell, he had found, might be self-effacing in his home but in his office you’d never know him for the same man. He
knocked at the door, heard Mr. Powell’s “Come in,” and stepped inside.
Mr. Powell looked up with those disconcertingly sharp eyes of his. “Oh, it’s you, Honey. Sit down.”
Paul sat down. Mr. Powell looked him over.
“You know, I suppose,” he began abruptly, “that you’re not doing so well.”
“I know you’re just married,” Mr. Powell went on, “but it’s time you woke up.”
Paul nodded again.
Mr. Powell studied him for a moment. “You see, Honey,” he said, “you’ve got to succeed. You’re my son-in-law, and you must succeed. There’s a junior partnership some day. But I must have something to go on.” He waited.
“I ... I understand,” Paul said.
“The trouble with you,” Mr. Powell continued dispassionately, “is that you’re too sensitive. You’re beaten before you start. When a man says ‘No,’ you stop. That’s when you ought to begin.”
He got up and emphasized each point with his pencil, almost, Paul thought to himself irrelevantly, as if he was nailing each statement to Paul’s waistcoat. “It’s our business,” he said, “to know what our customers want better than they know themselves. That’s service. What’s more, it takes brains. And what’s more it takes finesse. You have to study your customers, to figure out the best means of approach. Above all you must know bonds. And that means work.”
“I see,” Paul said.
“And, finally,” Mr. Powell concluded, “in this business it’s every man for himself. Sink or swim. You’re lucky to have someone to throw you a lifeline. But you want to stand on your own feet, don’t you? Not get on just because you’re my son-in-law?”
Paul wanted to tell him that he had already realized this, but the best he could manage was another nod.
Mr. Powell sat down. “Here,” he said, “is a list of prospects I’ve compiled for you. There are some tough nuts in it. It’s your job to crack them.” He held out the list.
Paul took it and got up. “It’s going to go, Mr. Powell,” he said quietly, and went out.
"pROM that day Paul flung himself into
the selling of bonds. He studied them until his head ached. He ate bonds, drank bonds, slept bonds. Gladys started to complain that he had no time for her, but for once she could not win him over.
Nor would he accept the car that Gladys coaxed from Mr. Powell.
“When we can stand on our own feet,” he told her, and she could not get him to change his mind, although she unmasked all her batteries, stormed at him, twitted him about Eileen, wept on his shoulder. Paul would not move. His pride had been too deeply touched.
His efforts, however, began to bring him success. He learned how to approach his clients, how to persist without offending them, how to marshal his arguments —how, even, to make the social connections that his life with Gladys gave him, count for something. Bonds, too, he found, were more interesting than he had ever imagined. It was like a hunt, he told himself, a gigantic hunt, with prospects for the quarry and bonds for ammunition. He achieved a real thrill when, in the first weeks of December, his sales volume passed that of Johnson, and a still greater thrill when, just before Christmas, he sold a prospect whom even Robertson hadn’t downed.
Mr. Powell looked upon him with a great approval. “There’s stuff in him,” he told Robertson.
“You put it there, sir,” Robertson answered with that deference which he showed to Mr. Powell alone.
Paul had had no time to think of Eileen or of Thornton. Nor was he eager to. Action was an anodyne to replace the scent of Lotus Land.
But in the week between Christmas and New Year Thornton telephoned to him at the office.
“Can you have lunch with me today?” he asked.
Paul mentally consigned a noon prospect to oblivion. “Yes,” he answered.
“All right. At the Beachy Head. Twelve-thirty suit you?”
“Yes.” It was great, Paul thought, as he hung up the receiver, to hear Thornton’s voice again.
CITTING in the raftered room of the
Beachy Head in a nook near the fire that crackled on the hearth, Paul felt as if the months of his marriage had passed away. Somehow here, away from Gladys’ presence, Thornton and he were at one again. Conversation came easily. Halfsentences filled in by eachother’s thoughts, anecdotes told by Thornton, a modest hinting by Paul about his success in bonds—it was all like a healing wind, like rest to bodies bruised and weary.
Yet one thing did hover between them. A dozen times her name was on the tip of Paul’s tongue, and a dozen times he shied from it.
Abruptly as he lit his pipe Thornton broke the ice. “I’ve seen a lot of Eileen lately,” he said.
Paul looked down at his plate. “How is she?” he asked.
It was funny, Paul thought, to be talking about her with Thornton and to be craving for news of her when once she and himself ... A quick jealousy stabbed at him. Were she and Thornton ... He fought the feeling down.
“I’d like,” he said diffidently, “I’d like to see her.”
It was Thornton’s turn to look troubled. He took the pipe out of his mouth, put it back again and decided to speak.
“Do you think,” he said carefully, “that that would be wise?”
Paul flushed. Gladys? “I suppose not,” he agreed.
“After all,” Thornton went on, just as carefully, “you’ve got to consider Eileen.”
Paul could hear her voice, “Don’t make it harder, Paul.” “That’s true,” he said, in a low voice.
They got up to leave. Thornton paid the bill. They stepped outside. The street was full of the hurrying holiday crowd, a cold keen sun shone down cynically on them. Paul turned to Thornton.
“This has been great,” he said boyishly. “Would you . . . would you have lunch with me sometime?”
Thornton nodded. “Glad to,” he said.
“It will have to wait a week,” said Paul, “because we’re going down home tomorrow to my home, to Stanton, for a day or so. But when we come back . .
Thornton nodded. “Any time,” he said.
rT"'HE visit to Stanton was not a success.
For the first time Paul was uncomfortable with his people. They could not, he realized, understand Gladys, and she made no effort to understand them. A dull anger smoldered in him as he watched her patronizing way with Jean and her husband, as he saw her indifference to his father and his mother. It made him himself more tender than ever toward them, toward Jean and her two children, toward his mother in her helplessness, and toward his father who was so eager to be on his old familiar plane of intimacy with his son. Paul talked a great deal about the old days, about the hours in the bright harvest fields, about the dinners in the shelter of the woods in Christmas holidays.
But his resentment against Gladys did not lessen. If it had been Eileen, he told himself, and, although he dismissed the thought as disloyal, he turned on Gladys angrily the second night when she complained again that their bedroom was cold and that there were no conveniences.
“What do you expect?” he asked her savagely. “The King Edward?”
The quarrel that followed was not patched up until they were in Toronto again.
U VEN in Toronto, however, Paul began to see flaws in her. It was not her refusal to have children—Paul had never imagined Gladys and him having children —nor was it her anger and jealousy when she found out that he was seeing Thornton again. He did not blame her either when she started to hint about Eileen. These things, he felt, were part of married life. He’d made his bed; he’d have to lie on it.
But he began to notice uneasily, as the winter passed and as her first pleasure and surprise in married life started to fade, that Gladys was beginning to be, so it seemed to him, very free and easy with the men in their set. Paul didn’t like it. He had never liked it. Married folks there was still a strain of Puritanism in him. He hadn’t liked her going about with Eardley before their second marriage. And he didn’t like it now. But he didn’t say anything. To harbor the thought seemed to him to savor of disloyalty toward her. After all, she was his wife and, after all, she belonged to him alone. Beside, the spell of the first weeks of his married life kept coming back over him. How could you feel anything but affection, but tenderness toward the woman that you held in your arms? How could you be disloyal toward her? And how could she be disloyal to you? It wasn’t possible.
Yet he was getting tired of the continual round of parties to which they went. They weren’t sensible, he told himself, as he sat in a corner at the Mainwarings’ one evening, watching the crowd enjoy themselves. How hollow this “good time”—■ his mind put the quotation marks around the words—was. The same crowd doing the same things in the same way. Fellows carrying flasks, gibing at prohibition, boasting where they got them, whispering what sort of a sport so and so was; girls underdressed, drinking, laughing at suggestive stories, dancing provocatively. Fellows and girls disappearing to the line of parked cars outside. Petting parties. What would his mother think of them? He knew.
He knew, too, that he couldn’t become a part of it. He’d tried. But the farm, the habits and notions that clung to him from his early life, tattered though they were, stood between. Besides, he reflected, one evening, one luncheon with Thornton was worth a dozen parties like this. He remembered his last visit with him . . . how they had talked . . . although his visits with him were few and far between. Bonds were exacting masters. And he was a whirlwind at bonds—now. Talk bonds, drink bonds, eat bonds. Lord, he was getting sick of them—in spite of his success. It was all getting too easy, too mechanical—as much of a routine as ploughing had been. But if he had been in with Thornton . . .
He got up as a young fellow came up to him, laughed dutifully at the story he told and took a drink. Bonds were bonds and you never knew whom you might be trying to sell tomorrow. Besides, so long as he was in with this set, he had to look natural. That was what life was ... a long-drawn-out mime in which you postured with the rest.
Where was Gladys anyway? he wondered as the fellow left him. He strolled out to the reception room to look for her. The music was blaring away—full of disharmonies, of galloping sounds, of barbarisms. A girl, Connie Moorhouse— her husband was in wholesale shoes, he remembered mechanically—came weaving up to him and put her arm around his neck. Without a word they started to dance. Why was Connie so keen on dancing with him anyway? he asked himself. She’d been hanging around him a lot since Christmas. He controlled himself and smiled mechanically as
Gladys came up with Eardley to greet them.
But, he said to himself, as the four of them walked back into the house, this couldn’t go on. He wasn’t to blame for Connie. Men always went the pace women set. He hadn’t been asking for it. But Gladys had. Married folks! He wouldn’t have it. He’d talk to Gladys when they got home.
IT WASN’T so easy to talk about it, however, when they did get home. For one thing Gladys didn’t make the answers he had anticipated.
“What of it?” she wanted to know, as she sat in her light négligée in front of the mirror. “Eardley? I’ve known him for ages. It’s nothing serious. If you had some wives.”
How pretty she looked, Paul thought as he stood behind her.
“But when you’re married,” he persisted.
“Oh, come off your perch. What about you and that girl.”
Paul’s face was sullen.
“Or,” Gladys continued on a lighter note, “what about you and Connie Moorhouse?”
“She’s nothing to me,” Paul retorted. “And you know it.”
Gladys laughed suddenly, merrily. With a swift supple movement she turned round from the mirror to clasp Paul around the waist. “Of course she isn’t, silly,” she whispered, looking up at him, her chin against him. “How could she be?”
rT'HE winter had run out its term in flurries of wind and snow, and spring came on the stage. Its arrival, as always, stirred Paul. It made him think of the farm even in the midst of selling bonds. As he sat in his office—he had a small one to himself now—hearing the click of typewriters about and listening to Robertson talking interminably, religiously, about some new issue of bonds, a picture would come before him of the fields about Eldad, of plow and cultivator and harrow tearing up the soil He would see himself plodding along behind the seed drill, keeping the nigh wheel in the last drill mark in the black earth, shouting to the team, catching fugitive glimpses of the first leaves coming in McAdoo’s woods. It made him sick of bonds. He could hardly make the effort to smile at people or even to be decently genial. He must, he told himself, take a holiday and run down to see his folks. He could afford to, now, the way he’d been selling bonds.
Besides, he reflected, as he made his way one evening along the packed street to catch a Yonge car—they were getting an auto in May—besides, his folks weren’t going to last much longer. No use shutting his eyes to that. Mother had been so feeble at Christmas and dad not much better. Yes, he ought to go down.
He had achieved a precarious footing on the outer edge of the bottom step and was hurtling along with the street car, hanging on by one hand like a dangling manikin. But he wouldn’t take Gladys, he decided. Look at the way she had spoiled his Christmas trip. No, he’d go alone this time.
That week-end, with the feeling of a schoolboy on holiday, he boarded the afternoon train for Stanton and Glennville. His whole being relaxed as he settled in his seat and began to watch the shacks of outer Toronto replace the streets, to see in turn the shacks thin out and the open country unfold itself. He looked out at the hills, the trees, the fields with the slow teams crawling up and down in them. He had a sense of once familiar friends. A longing for the peace of it all gripped him. Here was no worry, he told himself, remembering only the quietness, the restfulness of the farm. No haste, no problems. Why hadn’t he stayed on the farm?
Yet the peace of it lulled him so that even his regret seemed pleasant and
restful. He began to listen to the conductor calling out the old familiar stops, to count them off, to reckon how long it would be before he reached Stanton and found dad there to meet him. An aching tenderness for the two of them, for his mother and father, possessed him. How he wished he could show it to them. Presents? They didn’t mean much. But if he could stay a little. He would, he decided, stay a week.
ÜAUL never forgot that week at home.
It made him realize how superficial his hard-boiled shell of business was, how little bonds mattered—or success. There was his mother scarcely able to speak, but content just to have him sitting beside her, talking to her, telling her of the bright things in his life, of his success at bonds, while the dim light of the kerosene lamp flickered like her life; his father so pathetically eager to discuss things with him, to show him his garden, to try to impress upon him so forcibly things about his early life and his people. It was a happy time, but a time tinged with regret, with the end of the week so inexorably approaching. Almost like last leave.
“I’ll be down again soon,” he called from the steps of his coach.
But when he came down again, it was to his mother’s funeral. Terribly unreal it seemed to Paul, the coffin there in the parlor, the face so peaceful. He couldn’t believe that she was dead. He felt as if a part of himself were gone, almost as if the last link that bound him to his old life was cut, as if he were flung adrift at last to fend for himself. He couldn’t realize it, not even when the minister, head uncovered in the hot sun, droned the last words; when he and Bruce—he didn’t see the others—lowered that closed coffin into the gaping hole. “Dust to dust.” But afterwards he thought of her again and again, when the winds blew and the rain came, when the snow swept down—wondering how she felt, what she thought.
VET life went on as before. Paul stopped resentfully again and again before the realization of it. “Sorry to hear about your mother,” a man would say conventionally, and in the next moment with a warmer interest, “What price is that last issue selling at?” Relentless, Paul told himself, life was. A great behemoth that moved on, stolidly crushing your hopes out, treading the folks that mattered most to you underfoot, stamping you with its pattern one moment, to fling you into the garbage heap the next. Death was only an incident to it. Less than an incident. It fed on death. To think, he thought rebelliously, that within a generation his mother would only be a name, a memory. Within another even that would be forgotten.
Yet it forced you on, and held the whip over you. Food and sex. You had to sell bonds to make money, to spend money. An inexorable circle and Paul visioned himself padding round it year after year, until death tossed him out of the ring for a new slave to take his place.
And if you rebelled? Life was still more relentless then. The stamp of the pattern was your only safeguard, your only protection. Tear it off and the slave-pack turned on you and tore you to pieces.
Gladys found him very moody for a time. She hadn’t gone to the funeral herself. “I hate funerals,” she had said, rebelliously, drawing her cloak around her. Nor had Paul wanted her to go. She wouldn’t have him wear mourning either. Not that Paul needed much persuading. Mourning, he felt, was ostentation. If you didn’t feel it inside yourself .
But Gladys couldn’t get him to go to parties.
“It’ll do you good,” she would urge. “Pep you up. Going about like a death’s head.”
But Paul refused to be persuaded. Later, perhaps, but not just now. Not while he felt like this.