A Son of Eli
In which disillusioned Yuth finds the Land of Lost Content at Rainbow's End
W. G. HARDY
PAUL was more immersed in bonds than ever since that afternoon at the Grange. He had flung himself into them with the desperation of a drowning man catching at a straw. There was only one cure for his disease . . . action. Fill each day to overflowing. Give yourself no time to think. He didn’t try to see Thornton. He didn’t want to see anyone who would remind him of Eileen. Besides, Thornton, he heard casually one day, had gone off to Europe. Paul did not know why. And he was content not to know. Bonds and still more bonds —and his success was astounding. His junior partnership, Mr. Powell told him one morning, was not far off. Paul did not care particularly. But Gladys, he knew, would be pleased. Somehow he felt that he owed this to her at least. Success—and Gladys seemed quite content that he was too busy to pay much attention to her. He saw her one afternoon coming out from The Peacock Inn with Eardley. But he did not seem to care. When he achieved that junior partnership, then, perhaps, they might talk out their future, arrange to travel, to see Europe. But for the present—action, bonds. As June ended Gladys went off to holiday at Lake Simcoe, and he was left alone with them.
At first Paul scarcely noticed her absence. But when a week or two had gone by he began to get tired of bachelorhood. After all, you couldn’t sell bonds all the time. There were moments when life became a vacuum in which you sat as he had sat on Armistice Day, with hands dangling, helpless. And he didn’t want to think. He tried poker parties, movies, and started taking a drink now and then to jack him up.
But none of these devices quite hit the spot. And then, one afternoon, business done for the day, as he strolled along Yonge Street, he met Connie Moorhouse.
“Well, babe in the wood,” she said, “are you still looking?”
“Looking for what?” Paul asked her.
“For Paradise Lost,” she told him, and added, “I’ve been looking for someone to take me to tea.” She hooked her arm through his.
Paul suffered himself to be led along and into The Peacock Inn.
From that time on he seemed to be meeting her continually. She began to interest him. He had tea with her once or twice, and occasionally drove her up to her home in the new car that Gladys and he had bought that spring. Unconsciously he started to find a relaxation in her quick-swerving wit and in the challenge she mockingly offered him. She was a new type to him and somehow it did something to dull the ache of the vacuum. It was as if he set up another barrier between himself and Eileen.
"DUT with Gladys’ return in September his life slipped back into its normal routine. Her coming back, too, after this absence, seemed for the moment to renew the days of their honeymoon. Once again he recaptured something of the marvel which had held him drugged the year before. Once again he felt almost content with life, and the phantoms which his sight of Eileen had conjured up slipped away from his immediate consciousness. He began to consider seeing Thornton again. He must be back by now, and it was silly to toss away their resurrected friendship because of something that could not be helped. Moreover, although he never allowed this thought to come starkly before him, he had a secret desire again to hear about Eileen. Perhaps even if he were to see her more often no blow is so severe the second time.
His feeling led him finally to telephone Thornton. Thornton was back but, Paul sensed, not very anxious to see him. Paul insisted, and they met for luncheon again at the Beachy Head.
Thornton, however, seemed different. He was moody
and fitful. He talked vividly under Paul’s questioning about what he had seen, making Paul marvel that he could see so much where he and others had seen so little. But that moodiness sat on his shoulders like a cloak. Paul studied him.
“What’s the matter, old man?” he asked him affectionately.
“Matter? What put that into your head?”
Paul felt rebuffed. He cast about for another approach.
“I suppose Eileen’s teaching at the same school?” he suggested.
“No. She isn’t.”
“She’s gone out West ... to Edmonton.”
“Edmonton!” Paul repeated.
Edmonton, Paul thought, that spot away up on the map. And she hadn’t let him know. He got up from the table blindly. He hadn’t, he realized, understood how much it had meant to him to know that she was in Toronto, to hear about her now and then, to cherish the secret hope that some day he might meet her on the street.
“She’s teaching?” he said.
They were out in the street. Paul got into his car. “See you again,” he said to Thornton.
“Right.” And Thornton walked off.
"DUT Paul turned his car to the north. He could not go back to the office. There was an imperative necessity on him to be by himself.
The streets of Toronto were behind him, and he was driving down the twisting road. Below him he could look down through the trees to the depths of the cool ravine, could even see the bridge. Beyond him the line of trees ran to the point to turn back on itself and fringe the opposite side. Not a house in view, not a living person in sight. He threw off his hat and flung himself face downward in the grass. A dragonfly darted for a moment with whirring wings above him to flash away the next; a bumblebee, heavy with spoil and age, blundered enquiringly around him. But Paul lay there, nose pressed into the bruised grass and clover, his thoughts awake.
To think that Eileen was so far away. And she hadn’t let him know—although that had been her way. No chance, he reminded himself, of seeing her now.
The bumblebee hummed still nearer, a warm, menacing sound, and he stirred to scare it away. What could he do anyway? He was married. Thornton had been right. He should have got a divorce, and shouldn’t have gone through with that second wedding. Gladys and he, he admitted to himself, didn’t have the same point of view. And the glamor of her was passing. Those ways he had thought so attractive, so cute at first, were wearing thin. You could not, he told himself, live on sex. You must have a better basis than that to live together.
But what other basis could he find with Gladys? He’d have to try. But there was that affair of hers with Eardley. He had come in only the evening before to hear her telephoning him. Quite unashamed. She had laughed at him when he mentioned it.
“Silly,” she had said. “Don’t be jealous. You’re busy, and someone has to take me out to tea. Besides, you haven’t been very bright yourself, you know.”
“But folks are talking,” he had countered, thinking of Connie Moorhouse.
She had laughed again and had come over to sit on his knee. “Let them,” she had declared. “Talking! That doesn’t hurt anybody. Don’t be foolish. Folks will talk about anything. Do nothing and they’ll talk about you.” She tickled him under the chin.
“But I don’t like it,” he had insisted.
“Country boy,” she had laughed. “There’s nothing in it. He is just a trained puppy, that’s all. Besides, you aren’t going to be a Turk?”
He didn’t like it, though, he told himself, as he lay there. Married folks . . . they shouldn’t philander. Take himself and Eileen . . . although, he stirred
uneasily, there was himself and Connie. But that was different.
Still ... he sat up . . . perhaps he had been to blame. He had been rather gloomy since his mother died. And Gladys wasn’t such a bad sort. He’d have to do better, go out to more things, be bright and merry. If she’d forget, Eardley, perhaps they could make a go of It. They could find something else for a basis of life
together. Other people did. Perhaps if they had a child.
He thought of Thornton. Did Thornton really care? He almost thought he did. And Thornton such a friend to him. If he was spoiling two lives . He wasn’t worth it. Much better make a go of it with Gladys. He’d have a talk with her.
He looked at his watch. High time to get back to the office. He jumped up and brushed himself off. Bonds. He had no more than time for a quick glance at the ravine, at the little field with the crows cawing round the tops of the evergreens that fringed its farther side. Time for them to start to congregate, to get ready to leave. And he must leave. He got into his car and drove out on to the road, to rush down town into the clamor and the crowds again-.
UT he had no success with Gladys.
“Silly,” she laughed at him. “Eardley’s just a puppy, a trained puppy.”
Paul was silent.
Gladys blew a kiss at him. “Sobersides,” she said, “why don’t you step out yourself? You’re like a death’s head at our parties. Why don’t you let yourself go?” “I don’t see,” Paul said, moved to contrariety, “that we need to go to so many parties.”
“What would we do?” Gladys demanded. “We can’t sit at home like bumps on a log. It isn’t modern.” “Well,” said Paul, “there’s reading. Or we could plan to travel.”
“Mid-Victorian,” Gladys jeered.
“Or,” said Paul carefully, “we might have a child.” Gladys got angry. “Want to spoil my looks, don’t you?” she flashed out. “Not if I know it. And as for Eardley . . . this isn’t Turkey.”
AT CHRISTMASTIME Paul’s junior partnership came through. Gladys was delighted when she heard of it.
“Lot’s of money now,” sheexclaimed, doing a pirouette in the living room. “Just watch my smoke!” She danced across to Paul as he sat on the chesterfield watching her, an indulgent smile on his face . . she was cute like a kitten . . . and perched on his knee. “Just watch my smoke,” she repeated, and kissed him.
Paul was pleased, too. It was a goal achieved, the stamp of his success at bonds. He knew he would like the new deference people were showing him. But it would not, he realized, make much difference to his style of life. It would be harder if anything. Bonds and more
bonds—an endless chain of them, he thought the next morning, as he leaned back in his chair in his new office for a moment’s relaxation—leading him nowhere. The more money he made the more they’d spend he
knew Gladys. More parties, too, if that were possible. He heaved a sigh. How long was it since he had read a book .a really good book? How long since he’d tried to write any verse? He couldn’t say. But that Paul of a year and a half ago was becoming a dim wraith to him now.
He marvelled, looking back over the months at that stranger. Full of eager desires, of ambitions, and yet fed up; thinking that money didn’t count, torn by love of Eileen—Eileen so far away now—not able to make up his mind about anything. Doctors, he remembered, said that you changed every seven years. Doctors were fools. You could change much faster than that.
And those revolts of his . . . they had, he supposed, been his old self dying. For he was caught in the prisonhouse now. Business, success in business had put its brand on him . . . success and marriage. Although his marriage wasn’t so bad. Gladys could be so awfully nice . . . when she had her own way. And she had her own way now . . . even about Eardley.
A little frown marred his forehead. He stared out across the street to where, hung like his own high above the traffic, another office window looked mechanically and vacantly at him. He still couldn’t reconcile himself to Eardley. The way he and Gladys were carrying on ... It was only yesterday that, full of the news about his partnership, he had hurried home to find him having tea with Gladys. Nothing wrong about it, of course. He refused to suspect Gladys. But it had rather damped his good spirits. He had had to wait until Eardley had gone—which he had done soon enough—to tell his news.
His telephone rang. It was Thornton.
“How about lunch today?” he was asking.
“I’m sorry,” Paul told him. “There’s a conference.”
They talked a moment or two desultorily before they stopped. Paul sat back in his chair again. He had not had time to see much of Thornton lately. These infernal bonds. And Thornton himself still seemed different. So moody and reserved . . . as if something was worrying him. Was it Eileen? Yes, there was a barrier building itself up between them. He must, Paul decided, staring at a calendar above his desk, make an effort to break it down. He couldn’t have that . . . when Thornton had been so decent to him.
The picture on the calendar made its way into his consciousness. It was, he saw, a voyageur shooting down a foaming river between precipitous banks that were splashed with bright-hued trees. It made him think of other Christmases . . of those days in Ackhurst’s bush, his axe ringing clear in the frosty air, the fresh, clean tang of the trees, cedar and hemlock and white-papered birch about him.
He would have to make time, he decided, to run down to see his father, his father and Jean with whom he was staying now. He closed his eyes and imagined himself in the old passageway in the old barn, the cattle champing at their turnips, the metallic clink of their chains, the strong familiar odors of the stable. Why, he could almost smell them. He and dad and Bruce. Bruce, he remembered, would be through his course in law soon. He rather envied him. Not married yet. But a girl in Glennville. And down to see her these holidays. Christmastime. How many years was it since he had gone down there at Christmastime to see Eileen . . . stars in her eyes . . .
The phone rang again. He lifted the receiver from the hook.
“We’re all fixed for New Year’s,” Gladys’ voice said, “A real big party.”
'T'HE New Year’s Eve party was hectic. The crowd
tore from house to house to stop for an hour, to dance, to drink, to dance again. Everyone was noisy, hilarious, shouting to each other, singing, kissing each other under the mistletoe. Eardley, Paul noticed, kissed Gladys at every house he came to . . . and Gladys laughed. He gritted his teeth, and kissed a few girls himself. If she didn’t mind . . . Connie Moorhouse, too, had fastened on him, piling into his car while Gladys jumped into Eardley’s.
Midnight had come and gone long ago. The party went on. “What about home?” Paul suggested in one of the frequent moments when he came up to Gladys.
“Silly!” She laughed at him dancing away. “Don’t you know? ‘We won’t go home till morning.’ ”
The group around Paul took up the refrain. They seemed to have settled down, Paul realized, at the Moorhouses’. They had all, he told himself morosely, had far too much to drink. He looked at them with a vast distaste.
“We’ll have breakfast here,” Connie announced, and the crowd cheered.
Breakfast. He didn’t want any breakfast.
He watched Gladys. She was noisy. He’d better speak to her. He pushed through the crowd to remonstrate with her. But she would have none of him.
“Look out for yourself, old dear,” she called out merrily, dancing away again. “This is my night off.”
Paul felt his moroseness increasing. He turned to go back to his corner and bumped into Connie. “Drown dull care,” she insisted. He might as well. He emptied the glass. Quite suddenly he felt witty, clever, bright thoughts rising to his head. He began to talk. A group gathered round him. They were laughing. He felt inspired. Why worry about Gladys?
Just as suddenly as his effervescence had come it went away. It was as if there had been a light burning in his head and someone had doused it. He must, he told himself, as the group began to break up, have been making a holy show of himself.
He’d better get away from this gang, get out and have some fresh air. That would clear his head. He made his way to the French windows, pushed them open, and stepped out into the cool air, the crust on the snow of the lawn crunching crisply under his feet. It had been thawing yesterday. Connie, he noticed, had come out with him and was hanging on his arm.
“You go back,” he ordered. “You’ll catch your death of cold. In that dress.”
She laughed at him mockingly. “It isn’t cold,” she told him, “sobersides!”
There was nothing, he told himself, that he could do about it. He stood looking around him. The dawn, he saw, had come. It couldn’t be that late. But it was. It felt unearthly. Down there on the road between the black trees in the ravine the lights were winking feebly, trying ineffectually to combat the day. It was visibly lighter. He strolled around to the front of the house, Connie still hanging like an unwanted bundle on his arm. He stood and looked at the line of parked cars along the driveway. Some of them, he noticed with a detached feeling, had couples petting in them, oblivious of the light, forgetful that they could be seen. Lucky it wasn’t cold. He started to wander along the line of them toward the house. Connie giggled. What was she tittering about, he wondered in annoyance.
“Look there,” she said laughing, “Eardley’s car.”
Paul looked. It was, he saw, Gladys and Eardley. They were in each other’s arms. This was too much. All his moroseness, his annoyance at this foolish party flamed into a torch of anger. He’d stop this. He started for the car. Connie tried to arrest him. But he jerked away from her, stepped to the car, and wrenched open the door. Gladys lifted a startled face. “Why, Paul!”
But Paul reached past her, pulled Eardley out, and flung him crashing on to the driveway ... a crowd, he realized, had gathered, all excited, jabbering, grabbing at him. He flung their arms off. Making a scene? He didn’t care. He turned to Gladys.
“Get the rest of your things on,” he ordered. “We’re going home.”
Paul didn’t talk to her that morning. You couldn’t talk to a crying woman. But later on, he went to her room and looked at her as she lay on the bed. She wasn’t very attractive, but she was his wife. He’d give her another chance.
“You and Eardley,” he said to her grimly, “you’re through.”
She raised herself on her elbow. “Why Paul !” she said.
“That’s final,” Paul went on just as grimly, looking down on her.
Gladys sat up. With that quick supple movement of hers she twisted over to put her arms around his waist. “I’m sorry, Paul,” she whispered, looking up at him, “and it wasn’t anything serious. Just kissing.”
But Paul was unmoved. “That’s all right,” he said. “But from now on we’re cutting it out.”
“Cutting out what?” she asked, releasing him.
“Cutting out booze,” Paul told her. “Cutting out parties, too.”
“But, Paul, what’ll we do?”
“Oh, we’ll go out,” Paul answered. “But not so much. Not with that crowd.”
“But we can’t, Paul. We can’t drop out.” She was sobbing now. “Think how it’ll look, what folks will say.”
Paul relented a little. He could see the force of her argument. Folks would think something really had happened. He couldn’t have that.
“Well, not all at once,” he conceded. “But there’s going to be a change.”
“All right,” she sobbed.
Paul hesitated. He’d better make it clear. “And Eardley,” she said, “either you cut him out or else . . .” she looked up at him—the words came out of his mouth of their own volition. “Or else . . . I’m through. Understand?”
He waited a moment and then, as she made no answer, he turned and left. This would, he promised himself as he went down stairs, make a difference. He was going to get some time to himself now. He was going to have a chance to see more of Bruce when he came back. He’d see something more of Thornton, too. Read, write, if he could. And, as soon as he could, he was going to Stanton. Yes, they had reached the turning of the road.
Back in her room, Gladys put up her handkerchief and started to reflect. She would, she told herself, have to lie low for a little. Till this blew over. Paul, she realized, had never been so unmoved by her before. But she’d get him back. And he was worth keeping. Going to be a rich man, a really rich man. Besides, she told herself, he was rather a dear. She liked to feel that she held him, that he couldn’t get away from her. But she’d have to lie low a little. Go easy in parties. Till this blew over.
Eardley? Cut him out? She pouted a little, rebelliously, made a moue at herself in the mirror. No, she wasn’t going to do that. Why should she? He was a habit, Eardley was. Who would she have to take her out to tea, to dance with her? And he danced so well. Not like Paul. No, she wouldn’t cut him out.
She yawned luxuriously, her thinking done, curled up in the bedclothes like a sleepy kitten, ready to purr. Paul getting so excited. Fun to see him stirred up. I wonder, she asked herself drowsily as she drifted off, where Eileen Ainsley is.
Y\ TELL,” said Thornton, holding out his hand, “Congratulations. You’ve certainly got on.”
Paul looked at him. “Oh, that partnership,” he said. “Thanks.”
They stood on the sidewalk in a silence which was becoming a little awkward. The snow was whirling and eddying between the narrow walls of Yonge Street and gleaming white in the bright lights. The street cars rattled up and down, the automobiles honked impatiently, and the homeward-bound crowd jostled and pushed at them.
There was that little barrier between himself and Thornton, Paul thought uncomfortably. He ransacked his brain. What could he talk about?
“How’s the publishing?” he queried to gain time.
“Fine.” Thornton looked at him a trifle sardonically. “How’s Gladys?” he asked.
Paul flushed. Had Thornton heard about that New Year’s party. Everyone had been talking about it. “Fine,” he answereed defensively.
“Thought she looked fine,” Thornton came back. “I saw her having tea this afternoon.”
Paul looked at him quickly. What did he mean? That ironical smile on his lips. Had Gladys been having tea with Eardley? And did Thornton know? Abruptly he
felt sick of it. That barrier again. He’d be frank with him.
“I don’t give a hoot about bonds,” he burst out defiantly, “or that partnership. You ought to know that.”
Thornton glanced at him swiftly. His ironical smile disappeared. “Don’t you?” he asked.
Paul looked behind him. There was an alcove there, made by a shop front. He stepped back into it and turned to face Thornton. “Not a thing,” he said earnestly. “I’m sick of them. I’d chuck them in a canyon deep as Hades . . if I could.”
Thornton’s face was serious. He cleared his throat, tapped at the sidewalk with his cane and looked up. “If you ever do . . he hinted almost unwillingly.
Paul’s face brightened. This was friendship, he thought gratefully. “That’s great of you,” he said. He looked at the shop windows, at the caps, the gaudy scarves. He felt impelled to further confidence. Why shouldn’t he? Thornton was his friend.
“You know,” he said swiftly, still looking in the window, “you were right. I should have got a divorce.” Had he said too much? He turned abruptly. “Well, I must be going. So long.” He flashed a smile at Thornton and left.
Thornton left, too, but his limp was very pronounced as he walked down street. There was something in Paul yet, he told himself. He wasn’t dead yet. If he felt that way after his success in bonds. Maybe he would cut free.
And Gladys . . . That had been Eardley with whom she had been taking tea. And folks had told him about that New Year’s party, Paul sending Eardley crashing, forbidding, people said, Gladys ever to be seen with him again. Supposing Paul found out? Divorce? He must have been thinking about it to mention it as he had done. Maybe he would cut free from her.
But if he did? Thornton felt a chill strike him. Where would he, Thornton, be? Eileen ... If Paul got free. What would he, Thornton, do? The wind tore at his hat, the swirling snow dashed in his face. She’d said she’d come home this summer to give him his answer. It would, he guessed, be favorable . . . with Paul tied.
Ought he, he asked himself, to tell her about Paul, to tell her that he was coming to the end of the road? Ought he?
Why should he? Paul had had his chance, had given his gold for shoddy. Why should he get another chance? Why shouldn’t he, Thornton, have his, lay hold on happiness? He knew what Eileen was worth, knew it far better than Paul. He knew how she ought to be loved; he’d give her happiness.
Happiness ! He remembered the look in her eyes when they had talked about Paul, when they’d seen him at the Grange.
Thornton’s face was carved into gloomy lines. Her happiness after all. He’d tell her.
PAUL’S thoughts, too, were busy as he edged his car
through the traffic and the snow on his way home. Seeing Thornton had brought back so many things. Suppose he had gone in with him? Where would he be now? Probably, he told himself as he stopped at the policeman’s whistle, no better than that poor beggar in that play of Barrie’s he’d seen. A second chance had not done him much good. But he was going to see more of Thornton, even if he was so busy. He’d make time. He felt that warm glow of friendship again.
The traffic started. Paul swung over to miss a veering car. Why hadn’t somebody made Yonge Street wider than a cattle track?
Who had Gladys been taking tea with, he wondered. It couldn’t be Eardley. She wouldn’t dare. After what he’d said. Besides, he told himself, she’d done what he wanted. No fuss either. Although, they were, he realized, still travelling with the same bunch. And these last two weeks, he told himself, they had been going out almost as much as ever. It was hard to cut loose. Folks might talk. Wait till summer, Gladys had urged. That seemed sensible.
But, he told himself, as he swung from Yonge over to Jarvis and began to speed up the wide street, he’d have to look out and watch his step. Or they’d be back where they were before.
If that had been Eardley. His jaws tightened, he pressed his foot down on the accelerator. She’d find out. No more fooling. She’d find out he wasn’t the easy-going boy he had been. Not this time.
He ought, he told himself as he turned off Jarvis toward his home, to be ashamed of himself. No use being suspicious. Some girl friend. He’d ask her casually.
He couldn’t, he remembered, do that tonight. Bruce was coming to dinner. He wished he could have asked Thornton, too. But he and Bruce would have a nice chat around the hearth fire, about home, about Glennville.
He swung up the driveway to his garage.
At dinner Bruce, across from him, fresh, unspoiled, with that ingenuous air of the world being hie oyster still on him; Gladys, bright, smiling, a perfect hostess as the maid came in noiselessly with the dishes . . . Paul felt
content. It was comfortable and cosy in here, while the wind roared outside and snow whirled and dashed against the window. He loved to hear Bruce talk. He was telling again about his trip at Christmas.
“Dad,” he said, “you’d never know him. He’s looking fine. You’d think he had a new lease of life.”
Paul was cheered. “I’ll have to get down,” he told Bruce. “Though with this partnership, there’s not much time.”
“And Jean,” Bruce went on. “You should see the kiddies.” Paul shot a quick look at Gladys, her smile was a little mechanical, but obstinate. She’d not spoil her good time, Paul imagined, she was saying to herself.
“I told you Fred’s Sunday School superintendent now, didn’t I?” Bruce went on.
“Well, he is.”
Gladys, Paul thought in amusement, wouldn’t comprehend how much that meant. No wonder she was beginning to look bored. She didn’t know the farm. While Bruce . . . Paul studied him as he went on talking. He and Bruce were akin. So many things they’d done together. That night in the meadow, when the two of them had coiled hay into great handshakings until nine o’clock, while the thunder threatened and muttered in the west over the black bulk of MacNab’s hill. How tired they had felt! Paul wished he could feel that kind of tiredness again, the hot tang of the hay in their nostrils, the frogs croaking in the creek, the little ripply splashes of a fish making its way up stream, the crickets chirping. And they hurrying for fear it would rain and ruin the hay. How important that had seemed. But it hadn’t rained.
Or in the fall, Paul’s mind went off on another tangent, topping turnips in the schoolhouse field. Paul could almost hear, as he sat there smoking his after-dinner cigar, the juicy sound as the green leaves were sliced off, could almost feel the crispness of the morning air, could almost see Bruce and himself starting one of their foolish races. “Neck or nothing,” he would shout, and the race was on, while their father behind them would call out unheeded, “Watch that topping, boys. Don’t take too much off.” Yet his father had been kind, letting them jump over the old log fence when the school bell rang for recess, to play for fifteen hectic minutes, at prisoner’s base or pull-a-way. Kinder than most farmers.
He was lost in reverie. He roused as Gladys started to get up from the table. He would, he told himself, have a little fun with Bruce.
“And how’s Glennville?” he asked jokingly.
Bruce blushed like a girl and looked down. Great to be in love like that again.
“Oh, all right,” Bruce said.
“What’s this?” Gladys broke in, scenting romance. “A girl, Bruce? I’m surprised at you.” She badgered him. “What’s she like.”
“She’s all right,” Bruce muttered.
“Bet she’s homely,” Gladys teased.
“You needn’t talk,” Bruce lashed back unexpectedly. “I saw you down town today.”
Gladys’ face, Paul saw, was scarlet. His cigar dropped from his fingers. He stooped to picked it up. That must have been Eardley, he told himself. Eardley!
Gladys had recovered. “Oh, yes,” she said, with composure. “You mean Mr. Moorhouse. I ran into him down town.”
Lies—Paul told himself—lies. But he couldn’t say anything. He must get away from her.
“Let’s go into the den,” he suggested to Bruce.
It was hard, however, to get back into that feeling of intimacy again. His mind kept leading him to Eardley. Why should he be so jealous of him, he asked himself. It wasn’t that he cared so much for Gladys.
Eardley had, he realized, come to be the crux, the symbol of that ceaseless conflict between Gladys and himself, between what he wanted to do and what she wished. It was all summed up in Eardley . . . like . . . like Verdun in the war ... to compare, he told himself cynically, small things with great. But he felt that if he gave in about Eardley, then he was beaten, was done. It wasn’t Eardley, it was what he stood for.
He wouldn’t be beaten, he told himself fiercely.
It was almost with relief that he saw Bruce get up to go.
“See you again soon, old man,” he said, and showed him out.
"DUT he didn’t get far with Gladys. It would be no good to come right out and ask her.
“Did you see Thornton today?” he asked her casually.
“Why, no,” she answered, a little flicker in her eyes. “Why?”
“Oh, I saw him down town, and he said he’d seen you having tea.”
“Oh,” said Gladys. She turned away and started powdering her nose, elaborately unconcerned. “That must have been with Jim Moorhouse,” she said over her shoulder.
“Oh,” said Paul. He couldn’t, he realized, accuse her of having tea with Eardley. She knew he didn’t know, or he would have come right out. How to bring it in. He went up, put his hands on her shoulders.
“Things have been going better, haven’t they,” he said, “since Christmas?”
“I guess so,” Gladys answered, and then relenting, she leaned her head back against his shoulder and waited for his kiss. He couldn’t, Paul told himself as he kissed her, prove anything. But she’d better watch her step.
TT SEEMED like a long time, Eileen
thought, since she had come to Edmonton. That had been September. It was March now.
The sun was bright and strong, pools of water lay in the wide streets as the snow melted. It would soon be spring. April, May, June . . . and then home ! She took a deep breath of the winelike air. Home! How she longed for the tall trees, the hills, the tidy little towns of Ontario. How she longed for Glennville.
Though Edmonton wasn’t bad. Think of that great valley of the Saskatchewan with its tree-lined banks that cut the city in two as if some giant had put forth a lazy finger and trailed a gigantic crooked furrow in the dust. No, it wasn’t so bad. Not even the winter. You didn’t mind the cold, she told herself, and smiled. How Etta would laugh when she told her that. But it was true. The dry air, the sudden chinooks, the bright sun. You could stand the cold. But she would hate to stay here all summer. To think of going home!
She picked her way carefully across the street, waited a second for a passing auto to splash through the water, noticing subconsciously how rapidly the furrows its wheels made were filled, how soon it was as if the pool had never been disturbed . . . like life and your passage through it.
What would she tell Thornton when she did get home? she asked herself. She supposed it would be yes. Why not? There was no hope of Paul. Married and successful. Forgetful all about her,
likely. And she didn’t want to spend her life teaching, to grow old teaching. So few unmarried women, she told herself, grew old gracefully. Besides, it would make Thornton happy. So why not? They would, she knew, have a happy life, a companionable life. He was so fine, so tender, so understanding. Yes, they would be happy, would grow old together gracefully, even although she couldn’t give him love. Not all her love. He knew that. One couldn’t love twice. Not in the same way. But that old love was dead. At least it might as well be. Paul married ! She fought down the suffering the thought always caused in her. She’d settled that. Coming to Edmonton had been the right thing. It had helped her to forget. She couldn’t put off those moments of loneliness altogether, those hours when there seemed to be nothing left worth living for. But she could stifle them and fight them down. And if she married Thornton . .
She had reached the place where she was staying. As she opened the door a letter fell. She picked it up. It was, she saw, for her from Thornton. She carried it into her room and sat down to read it. Why, it was about Paul!
When she had finished she sat quite still, looking out of the window unseeingly. Some youngsters were playing noisily on the street, their fresh, eager voices coming in clearly to her. Just when she had thought things were settled, finished. She took up the letter to read it again. Paul, sick of bonds in spite of his success, Paul, she could read between the lines, sick of his marriage and finding it almost impossible to go on. Gladys . . . the idiot . . going out with another man and letting Paul down. The end of the road coming, perhaps. Divorce . . .
What would she tell Thornton now, she asked herself. She still ought to tell him yes ... a thousand times yes ... a good sport like this. But could she? If there were any hope . . . divorce? It didn’t seem so terrible now. And if Paul . . . Would Paul be the same now? She wondered. Would he be changed, not worth loving? No, he’d never be that. Not for her. You couldn’t love twice. No, if he were free . . . But how could she tell Thornton?
She wouldn’t, she decided, getting up, tell him anything. Not now. It was too uncertain. She mustn’t let herself get all worked up again. Not, she told herself while fingering some examination papers restlessly, until there was something definite. Maybe Paul and Gladys would get along all right; maybe there wouldn’t be any break. And if there wasn’t . . .
She wouldn’t, she said to herself again resolutely, get worked up thinking about it. She wouldn’t go through all that agony again. Not yet. She’d put it out of her mind and let things wait till summer.
Women, she thought rebelliously as she drew up her chair to her desk and opened an examination paper, always had to wait. This man-made world! But she’d wait. And perhaps . . .
Her cheeks were hot. It seemed shameful, waiting for a divorce, hoping for a divorce. Where was her pride, her sense of decency? She had, she realized, scrapped them both. But it was shameful. She forced herself to look at the examination paper. She’d forget, about it, she’d work.
What was this girl writing about? “The chief products of Siam are ...”
rT'HE spring had come and gone so quickly that Paul scarcely had had time to realize its passing. He had never imagined that he would be kept so busy. He seemed to be working day and night with no space to think of anything. When he was free he went out with Gladys. He ought, he felt, to give her a fair deal.
Women’s lives were so empty anyway. All day in the house at trivial things. Not strange that they craved excitement at night. It wasn’t like women on the farm.
For that matter, he told himself one Sunday afternoon in the last week of June as he strolled through the vale of Avoca— Gladys asleep and he with a brief hour before a conference at the office—for that matter he didn’t really know what Gladys was doing. He had no time to worry about her or to wonder if she was seeing Eardley. No one suggested it either. Not since that day in winter. The two of them seemed to have reached—he thought fleetingly as he stopped at the bottom of the steep hill on the rustic bridge which spanned the stream which ran through the valley—that compromise so many married folks seemed to reach. Live your own life, think your own thoughts, be strangers to one another except for brief moments of intimacy. No reason either that it should not go on. So long as she stayed away from Eardley.
The water down there looked clear and fresh as it sluiced over the pebbles. It made him think of the little creek at home, of Bruce and him fishing along it, of the time when, as a little youngster of six, he had fallen in at the bridge and got his clothes wet. Mother had made him put on an old flannel shirt that hung down to his heels, and Aunt Mabel had laughed. He remembered how hurt he had felt, how he had run off to hide, how he had planned to run away and cried, thinking of how sad his folks would feel when he didn’t come home and they knew that he was out in the rain and the dark. He smiled. How funny kids were. But how he’d like to be one again, playing with Bruce and Jean.
He must, he told himself, get down to see Jean. Jean and dad. Bruce was all right. Still in the city. But'he hadn’t seen Jean and dad—why, for ages. And he’d been planning to go since Christmas. This cursed business.
It would, he reflected, slacken soon. The July sun, a week before its time, had laid a pall of heat on Toronto and sent folks scurrying to the country and the lake resorts. Business would ease up. He’d get down soon. Besides, there was a man he had to see in Glennville.
He knocked his pipe out on the railing, and watched the ashes float in greyish specks lingeringly down to settle on the water. No hurry about them. But he must hurry. Didn’t those willows, though, look lovely, their feathery branches drooping above the water like a longhaired woman bending with brooding lips over a mystic pool? But he hadn’t time to think about that. He must hurry.
He put his pipe in his pocket and started the stiff climb up the hill. In spite of it all, he remembered, body bent forward at a bizarre and ugly angle, he was seeing more of Thornton. Their intimacy was established once more. Those evenings in Thornton’s rooms, talking, chatting—He’d even done some verse—if he had more time—still, he was succeeding.
He thought a little more about Thornton. Their friendship was re-established, but there was still something curious about him. He was more restless than ever. Always asking him how Gladys was. Almost, Paul imagined, a little look of relief on Thornton’s face when he heard everything was all right. Why? Did he know something he wasn’t telling? Still, it was all right, Paul told himself. Fine to be friends with him again. He had reached the top of the hill,
"pILEEN and Thornton sat facing each other across a table in the dining room of the King Edward. Eilçen, Thornton thought hungrily, had never looked so desirable. So cool in spite of the heat and her long train journey, so poised, her cheeks so red. And glad to see him.
He hesitated, like a man about to jump a precipice, took a run at it. “I suppose,” he asked, “you haven’t made up your mind yet?”
The smile left Eileen’s face. She fingered her fork absently, and shoved her food into a little heap in one corner of her plate. She had known it must come. Better to face it. She looked up.
“I can’t tell, Thornton,” she said. “Not yet.”
Thornton said nothing.
“Since you sent that letter,” she hurried on (Why did he have to suffer?) “I’ve been puzzling it over.” She made a swift gesture. “Hundreds of times.”
“Yes!” Thornton knocked the ash off his cigarette.
“And it comes to this.” She hesitated. She had to be frank. She owed him that. “I love Paul,” she admitted. “I can’t ever love anyone else. Not the same way. And if he did get free . . if .” her face flushed. “If without any hint, any suggestion from anyone, he did get free . why then . . .” She made a little gesture again, rested her hand on the table.
Thornton nodded. “I see,” he said. He offered her a cigarette, lit another and drew on it viciously.
“I don’t want to raise any hopes,” Eileen went on desperately. “But if he doesn’t, if he goes on. If, say, by the end of the summer . .”
Thornton shook his head decisively. “Don’t set a time limit, dear,” he said. “It isn’t fair to you. Wait. Besides . . .”
“Yes?” Eileen leaned forward.
“Besides, I know it’s coming sooner or later.”
Eileen leaned back in her chair, a bright spot of color in her cheeks. “Oh,” she breathed.
“Yes, it’s coming,” Thornton went on. “I’m sure of it. Paul’s adamant on one thing ... on her going out with that chap I mentioned. I don’t know why, or rather I can guess. It’s because, I think,” he was frowning intently, his mind on the problem. “Because that sort of sums up the whole conflict between them. That’s his last ditch. He’s given in about everything else. But about that ... I don’t think he will.”
“Oh,” Eileen said again.
“Just like lots of folks,” Thornton went on. “They keep yielding and yielding. But they hang on to one thing. Crush that and they’re dead. Touch that, and it may be trivial, but all they’ve held in and bottled up comes rushing out. After all,” he waved his holder, smiled, “as they say ‘it’s a long worm that has no turning.’ ”
“I see,” Eileen said slowly. She wasn’t comfortable.
“And so,” said Thornton briskly, “it’s going to happen. She’s going out with him a lot. And she’s getting bolder. Since Paul has been so busy. He’s bound to tumble to it. It may be a week . . or it
may be a year. But it’ll come out. And when it does . . . ” he waved his holder again.
Eileen’s cheeks were flaming. “It seems disgraceful,” she burst out, “to be waiting for it. I can’t stand it. It seems so shameful. I’d sooner . . .” She bit her lip. “I’ll marry you right off,” she offered, “if you say so.”
Thornton leaned forward. “No, dear,” he said. “You won’t.” He smiled at her. “Don’t be foolish,” he went on. “Be frank with yourself. Why do you feel that way? It’s pride. Pride and conventionality. It isn’t as if you were trying, as if you had ever tried, to get Paul away from Gladys. You’ve stayed away from him. You haven’t written to him, you’ve given her every chance. It isn’t your fault if she loses Paul, if she drives him away. He’s warned her. She knows what she’s fooling
with. It’ll be her own doing. Not yours.” Eileen was silent.
He put out his hand to cover hers as it lay on the table. “Don’t be foolish,” he said quietly. “Don’t let your pride stand in the way. Paul’s worth waiting for.” Eileen’s eyes were full of tears. She turned her hand to clasp his. Thornton smiled and returned the pressure of her hand. This was something—anyway.
“Only one thing,” Eileen said after a moment.
“You mustn’t tell Paul I’m east. You mustn’t tell him anything about me. He’s not to know that there’s any chance. He’s got to make up his own mind. Promise.” “I promise,” Thornton agreed.
VLTHERE are you going?” Gladys * * asked. Paul stopped.
“Over to see Thornton,” he said.
Gladys pouted a little. “I had thought,” she said, “of ringing up the Moorhouses and having them in for bridge. Since you’ve got an evening free.”
“It’s not altogether free,” Paul explained, coming into the room. “I’ve a man to meet at ten-thirty. Down at the office. He’ll keep me till twelve anyway.” Gladys’ eyes were speculative. “At ten-thirty?”
“Yes.” Paul glanced at his watch. “And it’s nine now.” He looked at her. After all—“You can have them in,” he offered. “I’ll phone that man. It isn’t terribly important.”
“I’ll phone him, too.”
Gladys made up her mind. “No, run along,” she said. “I mustn’t interfere with business.”
Paul hesitated. “It’s not important,” he repeated.
“No. Run along.” She gave him a playful push. “I’ve got a book.”
Paul reached the door, stopped. “By the way,” he remarked, “remember I’m driving to Glennville early in the morning. You don’t need to get up.”
Paul stepped out the door, started to walk to the garage, and checked himself. It wasn’t so far to Thornton’s. And it was cool tonight after the rain. Suppose he walked? He needed the exercise. He could take a taxi to the office. Taxi? He smiled a little as he started off. Not so long ago, when he couldn’t have afforded one.
He swung along the sidewalk in long strides, squaring his shoulders, and drawing in deep lungfuls of the cool air. The wet pavements were glistening in the light of the lamps, the tires of the autos made a smacking, ripping sound as they tore over them. It was a physical comfort to be alive.
Like the flick of a camera’s shutter another scene came alive for him—a summer night in France after a rain. The black night was lit with ghastly spasmodic flashes, men were crowding together in the trenches, sloshing in the mud. He could almost smell it again, the acrid odor of explosives, the stench, and filtering through it all, like a flower in hell, a faint taint of freshness, of greenness. His nose wrinkled as he thought of it. Funny how every now and then little bits of the war came back so real, so vivid .a street in London . . . or a bit of trench etched, he supposed, by unforgettable horror. The men he had known, too. A gallery of ghosts.
Uncomfortable! All the world forgetting! He’d forget. He threw off the memory and squared his shoulders again. After all it was good to be alive. Good to be going to see Thornton. They had seemed to get along better than ever this July. Thornton seemed so eager to talk, and to sound him out. They had met quite a few times at lunch and in the evenings like this.
If only, he reflected, his stride slackening, he could get him to talk about Eileen. He’d like to know something about her and he didn’t like to ask anybody else. But Thornton wouldn’t. Maybe, Paul told himself, he’d find out about her tomorrow, in Glennville.
Were she and Thornton, he wondered as he reached Thornton’s door, going to get married? Somehow tonight he didn’t seem to care so much. It seemed so long ago now back to that time when he had kissed Eileen—his lips, he remembered, for one bitter instant tasting her tears. So long ago. Yet only two years. What changes two years could make. Gladys and he, they were getting along all right now, tied for life.
He rang the doorbell and was admitted to the old familiar room. Thornton seemed glad to see him, almost, Paul imagined, as if his coming was a relief to Thornton’s thoughts. They began to chat, Paul sitting in the old leather chair, Thornton standing by the mantelpiece, pipe in his mouth, face eager in the shadow. All sorts of things they talked about, about Thornton’s new book, about the publishing, about a young chap Thornton had discovered.
“Inarticulate,” Thornton explained. “Can’t say a word. All hands and feet. But how he can write!”
And then suddenly breaking off, “How’s Gladys?”
“Fine,” Paul said, dismissing the subject.
Thornton looked at him reflectively, seemed about to speak, changed his mind.
“Going down to Glennville tomorrow, you said?” he asked.
“Yes,” Paul agreed. If only he could ask about Eileen. He smoked away at his pipe. “Going to spend the day with dad,” he volunteered. “Run out to Eldad, too, to see Jean. My appointment in Glennville isn’t until evening. Though it won’t be the same . . . Eldad I mean . . . without dad and mother.”
Thornton made a sympathetic sound.
“Funny,” Paul went on reflectively, “to think of mother as dead. I can’t really think of it that way. I can remember her as she looked in her coffin. But my mind puts that aside, calls up little pictures of her as she was, as she used to be, moving about the house.
“Immortality?” Thornton suggested.
“Maybe,” Paul agreed. “But I don’t feel sure. Somehow I can’t. It’s this life after all. No,” he went on, “immortality comes too pat with what we’d like to be true. To judge from my life at least.” He laughed. “Things never come true for me . . . the things I thought I’d be.”
Thornton struck a match. “The old Paul,” he thought.
“No,” Paul continued. “I don’t worry about that. But when she died ... it hit me hard. I felt as if the last of my permanent background had been smashed down.” He leaned forward in his chair. “You know,” he said, “when you’re a kid you see older folks around you, who, you imagine, have always been there. You never think of them as not having existed, or of them ever going out of your life. They’re like the sun and sky . . . accepted facts. Then death comes. It’s an awful shock.”
“Knocks a hole,” Thornton suggested, “in your permanent background.”
“Yes. And when mother died it brought the whole thing down, left me bare, unprotected as it were.”
They smoked in silence.
The sound of the great clock in the city hall striking made him look at his watch. Why, it was eleven ! He’d missed his man. He stood up and told Thornton about it.
“Don’t go,” Thornton urged.
Paul stood undecided. “I guess I’d better,” he said. “Now I’ve missed my man I might as well go home and get some sleep. It’ll be a heavy day tomorrow.” He got his hat. “Cheerio,” he said and moved to the door.
“By the way,” Thornton remarked unexpectedly. “If you ever want to try coming in with me . . . the door’s still open.”
“Thanks,” Paul told him. “But I guess bonds have got a stranglehold on me.” He grinned and went out the door. A wonderful fellow, Thornton, he thought, as he walked home. He always set him up, made him resolve to stick to the things he didn’t like, to carry on. One of the best.
T-TE STROLLED on toward his home, noticing the lights in the windows of the houses, smiling at a couple who, oblivious of everything, bumped into him and looked so startled. Great to be in love like that.
There was only a dim light in the living room, he noticed as he reached his home. Gladys must be in bed. He’d try not to waken her. He went up the walk quietly, opened the door silently, and snapped on the light.
Eardley and Gladys, he saw with a curious detachment, were on the chesterfield. They seemed frightened of him, frozen into immobility. Life a tableau. What was he to do? He must do something.
With a frantic leap as if all his senses had returned in one vivid burst, Eardley jumped from the chesterfield. Paul heard him dash through the dining room, bang through the kitchen, tear at the back door, heard his running steps deadened by the grass. Well, that was over.
“Paul . Paul,” Gladys was stammering stupidly, “you said you wouldn’t be home.”
Paul turned automatically and went up the stairs to his room and began to pick up his things to put them into his suitcase. His mind hadn’t realized yet what had happened.
He heard Gladys at the door.
“Paul,” she was near hysteria, he could see, “what are you going to do?”
His mind came alive.
“I’m going,” he told her in a matter-offact voice, “to a hotel.”
“But . .
“After tonight,” Paul informed her, “I’m through. I told you I would be. You’ve brought it on yourself.”
“You can’t do that,” she exclaimed. “You’re my husband.”
Paul swept the rest of his stuff into his suitcase and snapped it shut.
“Divorce?” Gladys whispered.
Paul looked at her. Poor thing, it wasn’t her fault. She’d never seen it as he did. “It’s no use, Gladys,” he told her kindly. “We don’t suit, you and I. I’ve known it. You’ve known it. What’s the use of going on. You’d be much happier with Eardley.”
“Eardley!” she laughed hysterically.
“I don’t want him.” She came suddenly to put her arms around him. “Forgive me, Paul,” she begged, “and I’ll never see him again. I promise.”
Paul looked down at her. Her arms felt like chains. If he weakened now! “You should have thought of that,” he told her, “before.”
She released him. “But if I won’t let you get a divorce,” she threatened.
Paul’s face got grim. He took a step toward her. “You’d better,” he told her.
As he looked at her, she broke down and flung herself on the bed sobbing. Paul studied her puzzled. But if he weakened now! He went to the maid’s room to get her up. She came out pale and frightened. “Look after your mistress,” he told her. Picking up his bags he left the room and went down the stairs. At the door he hesitated. After all, this had been home. And he had been happy at times. And Gladys crying. He looked into the living room and saw the chesterfield.
If he weakened now! He opened the door, picked up his bags and went out.
"DAUL sat on MacNab’s Hill the next evening. His car was down there on the road. He had spent the afternoon with dad in Stanton, had driven out to Jean’s for supper, drinking in the old familiar scenes, watching the slow-gaited cows come in for milking, listening to the prattle of Jean’s children, talking to her herself. Then on his way to Glennville, mastered by an overpowering impulse, he had parked his car on the road in front of his old home, and had walked across the alsike stubble to climb MacNab’s hill.
He sat there now on a boulder, chin in his hands, looking down over his old home, the house in the orchard, the barn, and beyond, the fields framed by the background of woods, McAdoo’s and Russell’s. Mutilated, Russell’s was. The acre to the right, the one in which the towering elms had arched into perfect Gothic pillars, had been sold, cut down. But the rest of it was the same, bathed there by the last rays of the setting sun, a light not of the earth over it. He repeated softly to himself;
“That is the land of lost content I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.”
No, lie could never come again, could never relive those “dear, dead days” when he had been a child there, unthinking, warmed by the sun, chilled by the cold, each day seeming an eternity. Father and mother, too . . . what would he not give if they were inside those walls, those walls that a stranger now inhabited ! He never wanted to enter the house again. He had a picture of it as he had seen it last. But if . . the old bromide if time could move back, if we could move back through time! Why did we have to learn life while living it, and then have no life left to live what we had learned? Why couldn’t we go back to the days of twenty with the wisdom of forty?
His mother dead in the cemetery. His father in Stanton, his life almost over. Another generation or so, and their very names would be forgotten—far more so they themselves. What did the little circle of their lives amount to—dad coming out from England to Stanton as a young man, striving there, making a way for himself, falling in love, marrying, buying the farm, sweating over it, loving it, earning it for himself, making it his own by the work of his hands that strangers might inhabit it; mother born in Stanton, moving out here to Eldad as a girl, to love and live and bring up her children, watching them grow up, yearning over them, powerless to prevent them making mistakes, seeing them forced, too, to learn life by living it, and then, when all of them had flitted, going back to Stanton, there to fall into slow decay and die? The wheel come full circle again.
He himself? Down there he had been born, had toiled, had got the soil into his blood. Still, at night when very tired, he found himself here, back among these familiar scenes, familiar faces around him. It was in his blood, ineradicable. All the things that mattered to him, really, centred here. Nettie . . . over to the left he could see the church by which she lay, to the right could glance at the home of her father, that terrible old man . dead, too, with his fiery lusts and hate, so much fire gone out like a sputtering spark when death came. Within these bounds had been the narrow limits of Nettie’s life, save for that last yea, of suffering. Born to suffer. And on the farm in front of him he had puzzled about her, had wondered at her, had not known love when it came to him. How her death had thrown him into turmoil, made him so fierce against religion! He felt more kindly toward it now; he was free from it, could look at it from the outside, be tolerant.
The shadow of MacNab’s hill started to fall on the house in front of him. How many times he had paused from work or play there in the twilight to drink in the beauty of things, to think thoughts called up by the stillness, the coolness, that came on as if the earth were dropping her clothes, preparing for rest after the day. How often he had thought of Eileen, more sensitive to beauty because of her, as on that spring evening so long ago when he had sat there on the verandah steps.
Eileen, his first love and his last! No summer’s dream as his feeling for Nettie had been, until disaster made that dream a tragedy. So long a time since he had seen Eileen. Would he ever see her again? Could they pick up the threads if they did meet? Or had she forgotten? Very natural if she had. Quite probably she had. Quite probably she was going to marry Thornton. Why not? He couldn’t expect her to spoil her life for him. All this time with him grinding at bonds . . being successful at bonds, so people said. But nothing had gone really well with him. He had never achieved . not really. Not to worth-while things, if there were any such. Olive Schreiner’s words came to him so apposite, “A striving and a striving, and an ending in nothing.”
At any rate he was through with it. He settled his chin more firmly in his cupped hands. He’d straighten up this business in Glennville. But when he got back to Toronto he’d tell Mr. Powell. He’d chuck bonds. Folks would call him crazy. But it was his own life he had to live. He’d see Thornton, tell him he’d enter that door . . . if he still wanted him. Nothing seemed sure tonight.
Probably, he moved restlessly, probably he wouldn’t be any good at it. Probably he’d lost the spark—stifled it with bonds. But he’d try anyway. Like his father. Never give up. And he wouldn’t be satisfied until he’d tried. Surely, he said to himself, surely he’d seen enough of life to know something now, surely he wouldn’t make the same mistakes. Like Gladys.
What was she thinking about now, he wondered. He felt sorry for her. But he oouldn’t stick it any longer. And if he did, it wouldn’t be any better. He’d threshed that all out again and again last night. It wouldn’t be any better for her either. She’d just go on the same way. She’d soon get over it anyway, he told himself uncomfortably. She was well off, and he could settle a good bit on her. Start his new life clean. Yes, she’d soon get over it. See Eardley again—or find another Eardley. No, he didn’t need to worry about her. Although it was funny, he thought, shifting his position on the rough stone, how a woman you had lived with left her mark on you. You couldn't get entirely free. He would, he supposed, remember every now and then, bits about her, about their life together. You couldn’t come out of it fresh and unspoiled. If he were Bruce getting
married this fall. He sighed. If he had Bruce’s chance.
Well, he informed himself, he’d had his cnance . . and spoiled it. He’d have to step out now and do the best he could with what he had left. Keep trying. And he wasn’t so old.
He peered at his watch. Time to go. He got up a little stiffly from his seat, stared once more at the home of his early years . . . vague in the darkness now. Night was on it. “Sleep, twin brother of death.” So quiet, so changeless, the earth.
“Funny mortals!” it said, he imagined. “So busy, so active. Learn from me.”
How few learned! But he himself, he fancied, had learned. He had reached the end of the road. And yet—his pessimism came back to him as he made his way down the hill and across the field to his car —probably he wouldn’t be any good to Thornton. Probably he was a fool. You couldn’t turn the clock back.
Profound depression was on him as he got into his car and sat back in the seat to take one last look at his home. Above him the elms were stirring mournfully in the night breeze. There was a light in the
window of the house. Strangers in there! He was an exile.
Well, he couldn’t wait any longer. He was due in Glennville soon. He started the car. He must hurry. Hurry, speed, all the things the soil taught you not to do. He pressed his foot on the accelerator and watched the speedometer climb. The moon, he noticed as he drove down toward the school, was rising, a face of red and yellow, in the east. Would he, he wondered, hear anything of Eileen in Glennville?
ALL along the road to Glennville
^-memories had crowded in on Paul. Each turning of the road had been familiar; every farmhouse, vague shapes all of them in the dim light, had brought back recollections to him; even the rail fences running parallel to the road or leading back in crooked lines into the distance with the dark shadows of bush and tree along them had seemed to belong to that old life of which he, so long a time ago, had been a part.
And yet was it so long, he asked himself, as he reached the hospital which marked the beginning of Glennville’s main street and slackened his pace. What was life anyway? A fleck of foam on the tossing sea, a flicker of mist drifting across the sun, coming it knows not whence and going it knows not whither. A few more years, and he, too, would find his dark abiding-place and would become a name and the shadow of a name and a forgotten blank. What was the use of it all, of his love and his hot anger and his ceaseless striving? Live for the present? Even that, he told himself, as he passed the collegiate and saw it towering motionless behind its dark fringe of sheltering trees; even that was torn from you by memory, by the dead hands from the past that still had power to grasp and wound. That sense of the futility of life which overwhelms one who at long last comes to a place once familiar, was heavy upon him as he came out into the glare and the lights of the shops of Glennville.
But the lights recalled him to his business. He slowed up still more and looked at his watch. He was early for his appointment, he saw. There would be time, he decided suddenly, to drop into the old Olymp for a moment. He drew into the curb in front of the place. It was strange, he thought as he got out of his auto, for him, Paul Honey, to be coming into Glennville in his own car. There was, he noticed, the familiar Saturday night crowd on the street, farmers and their wives come in to shop, young fellows and their sweethearts, townsfolk moving along with a faintly superior air. Nothing had changed. It was he, Paul Honey, who had changed. He pushed his way through the stream of people and entered the Olymp. There was, he saw, a change here. A new counter ran along the side, and the back of it was a palm garden now, dimly lit, and with the tin-pan notes of a mechanical piano blaring from it. Paul cast a cursory glance around. It was strange to remember how excited he had felt as a boy whenever he had come in here, how he had thought it the last word in sophistication . . .
He turned to the counter. “Root beer,” he ordered, smiling at himself.
The white-coated youngster brought it to him. “From the city?” he asked respectfully.
Paul nodded. He was flattered and amused at himself for being so. But such a change in himself from the raw country
boy . . .
He finished his drink, took the check, and went over to the opposite side to pay for it. Two women, he noticed casually, were coming out of the palm room. He glanced at them and forgot his change. It was Eileen.
Mechanically he took a step forward to meet them. “Hello,” he said.
Eileen had already seen him. “Hello, Paul,” she answered quietly. But there was a spot of color in each cheek.
“Why! It’s Paul Honey!” Madge exclaimed. She held out her hand. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
Paul shook hands with her. “An appointment,” he explained. “Business.”
He waited while they paid their check and accompanied them out the door.”
“Can I drive you home?” he asked.
“It isn’t far,” Eileen said.
“Well, I’ll walk up with you,” he answered.
“There’s your appointment.”
“It can wait.”
They went up the crowded street and turned off at the familiar corner, chatting about trivial things, how Eileen had liked the West, how Paul had got along, what Madge was doing . Above them the trees rustled softly and the dim lights blinked and wavered. Paul had a lightheaded feeling that he had done this all before, that he was a dream-man walking in a remembered past. A sentence of Eileen’s caught his attention. She was talking about having had lunch with Thornton. What might that not mean? He was still wondering as they reached the entrance to her home.
Eileen stopped. She was hesitating, Paul could see with that queer sense of this all having happened before, as to whether she should ask him in or not. But then she didn’t know.
“I’ll come in for a moment,” he heard himself saying. “If you don’t mind.”
“Do,” Madge said, and led the way up the steps and into the living room. Paul looked around it. Nothing had changed It was just the same, even to the Mona Lisa still smiling above the piano. The ghost of himself stood here. But here . . here was a chance to try again. Thornton? There was no space to think of Thornton now.
He turned to Madge. “I’d like to have a chat with Eileen,” he said.
Madge lifted her chin. “Oh, all right.” She was gone.
Eileen had sat down on the chesterfield, her hand fluttering to her throat. Now that she saw Paul ... all that misery An instinct of self-protection moved
“There’s . . . there’s your appointment,” she said.
“It can wait,” Paul repeated. He sat down facing her and began deliberately; “I’ve a lot to tell you ...”
AND SO,” he concluded, “we’re getting *-a divorce . . no matter ... no matter what happens.”
Eileen said nothing. Paul hesitated. “Were she and Thornton . . No
matter. He had to know.
“I wanted to find out,” he said slowly, “if after the divorce . if I were to come and see you . ” His voice died away.
Eileen was still silent. Paul got up, crushing his hat in his hands.
“Of course,” he said, “I’m not worth much. I’ve made a mess of it. It’s not fair to you. And if you and Thornton . . . Why, it’s all right.”
Eileen was still immobile. Nothing, she was thinking, ever turns out just as you expect it to. Here she was sitting here . . . And Thornton . Though Thornton . . Thornton faced realities and smiled. But she hadn’t been prepared. It hadn’t happened as she had expected. She couldn’t feel. Her thoughts wouldn’t come. She was numbed, congealed. What was it Paul was saying?
“I understand,” Paul was telling her. He, too, she noticed, was smiling. He reached out and took her hand. “I wish you,” he said, “the best of luck.”
The touch of his hand . . the last time he’d touched her hand . . . Sentimental fool . but . She caught his hand in both of hers. Tears were in her eyes. She looked up at him, her lips trembling.
“You’re sure, Paul?” she whispered. “Sure?”
The moments had passed unregarded. Eileen and Paul were still talking, but more soberly now.
“You mustn’t see me again,” Eileen was saying. “Not until it’s all over. I’ll go out West again.”
“But next summer?” Paul said.
“Next summer,” Eileen repeated, looking down.