LIFE OR LOVE
Wherein Destiny dictates an answer to the riddle of the rolling stone
C. J. EUSTACE
GROVER was massive even when we were boys together. His face was tanned as if by some tropical sun. His clothes were mixed up in the queerest manner. He wore light waistcoats and dark coats, with pants of a different material. His tie was always black, and his collar was of that stiff, terribly square style even then completely out-of-date. His hair was never brushed, but Nature fortunately had adapted it neatly to fit his head. His eyes were brown and remained clear and childlike like those of a boy until the end. His voice was deep, and he was attractive to women. He was a most cultured man, one of God’s natural gentlemen.
“Do you believe in astrology?” he asked me one day after we had lunched together. Without waiting for an answer, he went on, “I do. I was born in June, under the sign of the Gemini. All Gemini people are versatile', but they don’t stick long enough at anything to make good. Do you believe in it?”
Grover’s absurd questions always required an answer, so I replied:
“I don’t know much about it. I suppose there’s something in it.”
“You bet there is,” he replied sententiously. “I believe in it implicitly. Any man who goes against his stars is asking for trouble. Sooner or later he’ll get it.” I had to laugh at him then.
“What do you intend to do about your stars?” I asked him.
“Have a try at everything. The stars say that I’m versatile. All right,! I shall learn this and that, go from one place to the other; you know the idea—savoring life.”
‘A rolling stone,” I warned him. “You know the old adage.”
He laughed scornfully.
“We’re not out to gather moss, we Gemini. We want something more than moss, something always just out of our reach. Some day one of us may find it.”
There was something grimly fatalistic in Grover’s attitude, and I tried to remember what he had been studying for at college. Life is more or less mapped out in advance for some of us. Whether or not we are the lucky ones I don’t know. When Grover and I parted that afternoon he had no idea what he was going to do with himself. My career was already planned along conventional lines. I was to be a doctor.
T DID not see him until seven years later, when I came
face to face with him in the old Union Station. His face was more tanned than I had ever seen it. It was a dark brick-red in color, and he seemed to have put on weight and to be so massive that I felt quite insignificant standing beside him.
“My dear Reynolds,” he cried, sticking out his hand, “delighted, absolutely delighted. What are you doing with yourself nowadays?”
I told him that I had bought a small practice in the city, and that it kept me pretty busy.
“But I like being busy, Grover,” I assured him smugly. “And I like my work. I hope to make enough money to retire modestly by the time I am fifty or so.”
He shook his head at me sadly.
“Wouldn’t do for me, old man. By the way, are you married?”
He seemed to wait eagerly for my reply.
“Not yet,” I smiled. “Why?”
He hesitated for a moment. Then he took me by the arm, holding me in a viselike grip with his colossal hand, and piloted me to the station restaurant.
“You’ve got a moment, haven’t you? Come over and have a bite with me. I’ve got a yarn to tell you.”
I looked at my watch. I had a few minutes before the train went, and decided to accept his invitation.
“What’ll you have?” he asked, waving his hand over the forbidding-looking glass-covered sandwiches. “I want a cup of tea, waitress. That’s all. Bring this gentleman the same.”
He sipped his tea and smoked, gesturing graphically as he related his yarn to me.
“Let’s see; it must be seven years since we had oui last little talk,” he said. “You remember I said that I was going away? Well, I went to Ceylon and worked on a tea plantation near Colombo.”
“Chief foreman, Grover?” I smiled.
“Yes, superintendent of native labor. Lovely place, but reeking hot. No work to do; pretty women and tennis over the week-ends. Enjoyed myself enormously there. Got along fairly well with the boss, a red-headed devil with a charming wife.” He glanced at me sideways. “It didn’t take me long to see that this fellow wasn’t getting the work out of the natives. He was too soft. I made ’em work, and how they hated me before I left! The boss appreciated it, though, and I raised enough cash to come home. Here I am.”
He looked at me perfectly seriously across the table. Outside, the steam screamed through the valves of an engine.
“Is that all?” I asked, knowing well that it wasn’t. “No,” he said. “The chief reason for bringing you in here was to unburden myself. I want you to give me your opinion. I’ve fallen in, and out, of love.”
He peered at me with his eyes as clear as a babe’s, his mouth like a scarlet slit.
“But, my dear Grover,” I exclaimed, with difficulty keeping a straight face. “You can’t have fallen really in love and out of it at the same time. These affairs are supposed to show their marks. And I must say,” I concluded grimly, “that I have seldom seen anyone look so disgustingly fit as you do.”
“Well, I fell for her anyway,” he declared obstinately, “And I want your advice on what happened afterward.” His eyes refused to meet mine now, roaming around restlessly.
“I met her at a party the week after I came back from Ceylon. I don’t often go to these awful social affairs, but I was caught napping in this case. I—I can’t explain the beginnings of the affair to you, because I don’t understand it myself. What is love, Reynolds?” He shook his head at me like a shaggy Newfoundland dog.
“Nobody knows,” I assured him. “Not even those who have experienced the malady.” “There was nothing particularly attractive about her,” he went on ruminatively, “brown hair, blue eyes— the usual thing. But I came an awful cropper, and like the fool I am, I proposed marriage Reynolds, she accepted me.” Following this momentous declaration he stared at me solemnly. It may have been unwise, but for the life of me I could not help bursting into helpless laughter.
“For heaven’s sake,” he exclaimed, “I don’t see anything amusing in that.”
“Go on,” I gasped. “What happened?”
But the end of his story was quite different to what I had supposed.
“Nothing happened,” he admitted truculently, “Except that after I said good night to her, I realized what a great fool I’d made of myself. I had little or no money, and no job. I’d given up the tea-planting job for good when I left Ceylon. Also, I didn’t feel like settling down here. Can you imagine me as a family man, Reynolds? Loving arms and the babies for a night’s entertainment. Not for me. I couldn’t do it. So in the morning I just packed up my things and left the city.” “Left the city?” I repeated, “without leaving any word for your—your fiancée?”
He had stated his fact so calmly that for a moment it seemed logical. Of course he wasn t a family man. And
yet_the girl .1 stared at him in amazement.
“Precisely,” he said. “I left the city. She wasn’t exactly my—my fiancée. We hadn’t got as far as that. Anyway, she’ll never be bothered with me again.”
It was hard to realize that he was serious. But he was. I knew Grover. His eyes were perfectly guileless as they met mine. He thought that he had done something noble in leaving his girl like that. Poor, fatuous Grover! And the girl? She was weeping her eyes out probably at that very moment. For Grover was not a man whom a woman might easily forget.
And for a woman who had once been in his arms—or so I imagined—forgetfulness would be practically impossible.
“Well, what do you think of it?” he broke in on my musings. “Was I wise?
I thought carefully before I replied.
It never occurred to poor, innocent Grover that there might have been something cowardly in his conduct. I must be careful not to offend him.
“How do you feel about it yourself?”
“It hurt,” he replied simply. “It hurt like the devil. But I think I was right now. You see, Reynolds, I’m not cut out for respectability and a quiet job. Perhaps it’s something to do with the stars, the Gemini under which I was born. I love the smell of the sea,
Reynolds, and the dim places in cities after dark. There’s something about this old life which gets in my bones and makes me itch all over for action.” He smiled at me quaintly, as if excusing himself. “I wonder if you understand, you queer old Reynolds?”
“I do, Grover,” I answered seriously.
“But you mustn’t overlook the fact that you're not growing younger each day.
And there is a place for a woman in each man’s heart.”
He shook his head, grinning from ear to ear. sensed that my words had struck home.
“She’ll get over it,” he declared, “as quickly as I did.” “I don’t know, Grover,” I said gravely then. “Women are different from men in some ways. And they remember some things longer than we do. I hope she gets over it—for her sake.”
A bell ringing outside reminded me of my train. I had three minutes to catch it.
“I must fly,” I cried, getting up from the table. “Here’s my card. Look me up some time, Grover, when you’re in town again. Good-by.”
“So long,” he called after me, as I hurried away.
"^[OT many months after my conversation with Grover about women, I married. I was far from being the whirlwind lover he claimed to be, for it took me several months of patient courting to win Betty. I can never forget the night of my proposal because, for some odd reason, something Grover had said during our talk, returned to me.
It was after Betty had accepted me that Grover’s words crept into my mind . . . “Something always
just out of our reach. Some day one of us may find it.” “Betty,” I asked her then, “are you quite sure that you can be contented with me? Don’t laugh at me, but am I the sort of man you’ve always looked for?”
I remember the way she laughed at me, her face puckered up with tiny creases.
“Have you ever visualized an ideal woman, Jack?” she challenged. “I’m quite sure you haven’t, or at least, if you have, that you can’t describe her.’’
“You’re my ideal woman,” I persisted grimly.
She stared at me brutally.
“Well, I’m sure that my ideal wasn’t anything like you. Besides,” she added thoughtfully, “ideals are often disappointing.”
Just before the war I met Grover again. I was taking a short cut up Centre Avenue to the General Hospital, a steady drizzle making that district doubly depressing. For some distance I walked behind the figure of a colossal
man arrayed in a raincoat and cap. It was not until he turned half sideways to follow with his eyes the figure of an unusually pretty girl, that I thought I recognized his face. Not being quite sure, I quickened my pace and soon drew level with him. Then he looked at me straightly, and I knew.
“Grover,” I exclaimed.
“Well, well, my dear chap,” he cried, wringing my hand so that it tingled. “Delighted, absolutely delighted. Haven’t seen you for ages, for years and years. How is everything? What are you doing now?”
I smiled, for he was exactly like the old Grover. He had not changed a particle.
“I’m still at the old job,” I told him, “I suppose that that must seem very dreary to you. But that’s all I’m good for, Grover—doctoring.”
“Very nice, too,” he boomed in his hearty voice. “Since I met you last I’ve been in China and Russia. All over the place, in fact. By the way,” he looked around him in a bewildered way, “what’s the time? Are you lunching anywhere?”
I looked at my watch. It was ten minutes past one, and my next appointment was at two. I looked at Grover again. His collar was soiled, and there were cracks in his boots. His coat, too, showed signs of wear. Poor old Grover. My heart warmed toward him.
“Look here,” I suggested. “How about lunching with me? You’re not going anywhere in particular, are you?”
“That’s very nice of you,” he said, eyeing me suspiciously, as if I might have some ulterior motive in asking him out to lunch. “No, I’m not going anywhere. As a matter of fact I have nowhere to go.”
I took him by the arm, and we turned off toward Yonge Street. I knew of a little place—Chinese—but serving excellent food.
“We’ll go in here,” I said, and he followed me like a lamb.
“Now,” I said, when we had seated ourselves at a table conveniently screened from the eyes of the curious, “tell me what you have been doing with yourself.”
In spite of his shabby clothes he had the ease of a man of culture as he leaned back in his chair, his big round eyes fixed on me with unwinking stare as he delved into his adventures of the past few years.
“When I left you that day on the station,” he commenced, “I had exactly 150 dollars on me. They lasted me for a month. I could get no work, so finally I decided that I wanted to travel again. I went up North prospecting. It’s a great country, Reynolds, with air that blows the cobwebs out of your lungs.” He looked around eagerly as our waiter approached with the soup. I believe he was hungry.
“Anyway,” he went on, shaking salt vigorously over the broth, “after a few months up there I quit prospecting. Met another chap of a roving disposition like myself, and we went into partnership, went out to China and started up a little newspaper at a place called Tsien-Lo, north of Harbin.”
His eyes took on an absent look as they gazed over the top of his soup spoon. The rise and fall of his wrist from the plate to his mouth was automatic. His mind was away on the China seas. Only his big, lumbering body was being fed with thick broth in a Chinese restaurant.
“We didn’t last long,” he continued, amusement twinkling in his grave eyes. “There weren’t enough people to read the thing. I sold out to my partner, and got a job as mate of a ship on one of the China runs.”
He brought his eyes back to the present with a jerk.
“I’ve been into all the coast cities, Reynol ds. From Shanghai to Vladivostok, and up the rivers, even on Chinese-owned ships. I went across to Kobe and Yokohama, and Continued on page 66
Continued on page 66
Continued from page 19
I’ve been a tide-waiter in Hongkong. D’you know this new Morse code they’ve got on the boats? I fell in with a chap who knew the whole system. It’s not difficult to learn, once you get on to it. It was two years, though, before I got a job as assistant Marconi operator with the P. and O. boats.”
“But, Grover,” I gasped, “you’ve been everywhere.”
“Yes, they get around the world all right,” he said, kindling. “That’s the life—travel. I’ve been all over—Calcutta, Port Said, Gibraltar. Once you get on the boats it’s easy enough to shift around. Last voyage I made was only to Hamburg. But I’m sick of travelling now. I want something else.”
He grinned at me and said, as if reading my thoughts: “Quite a career, eh? But it’s the only life for me. There’s such a lot to learn about everything. Remember what I said about the Gemini? Drifting from one thing to another?”
“But are you getting anywhere, Grover?”
“Getting anywhere?” he echoed. “What do you mean? If you mean, am I enjoying life, I am. Most emphatically. I don’t think that I’m missing much.”
“I remember you said once that you were always looking for something, something just out of your reach.”
“Yes,” he nodded, smiling, “I haven’t found it yet. Perhaps I’ve missed it. I don’t know. But tell me something about yourself. Your wife?”
“I’ve been married for some time,” I smiled, “and my wife is well. I hope that you will meet her one of these days.” He shrugged his shoulders.
“Thanks, Reynolds. Hope I do, too. Life’s so awfully uncertain nowadays. Looks like a Balkan bust-up, doesn’t it? If there is I shall go over and join the Turkish Army. At present I don’t know what I shall do. You don’t happen to know of anything, do you? Any old line, you know.”
I thought over my list of possible jobs. There was nothing Grover would fit. It wasn’t that he couldn’t do the work. It was—that he was just Grover. Yet while I was racking my brains to think of something suitable, I thought of the girl, and the idea came to me that there might still be time.
“I don’t want you to think I’m butting in on your private life, Grover,” I ventured, “but that girl you once mentioned to me I thought perhaps . . now
you might think of settling down. Marriage is a great incentive,” I ended, more comfortably.
He shook his head at me.
“No thanks,” he grinned ruefully. “I know you wish me all the best, Reynolds. But women are not a part of my life. And she has forgotten me by now.” “If you looked her up again,” I suggested, “you might find quite the contrary.”
“Well,^ thanks,” he grinned, as we stood outside the little restaurant afterward. “Much obliged for the lunch. Hope to do the same for you some day. Good-by.”
He strode away, hands flapping in the pockets of his coat, a grotesque, ungainly figure.
'“PHE war came then, and with it an A avalanche of terror. Doctors were in great demand in those days, and it was under the white glare of swaying arc lamps in France, gazing upon red-stained horrors, that I commenced to wonder if Grover, after all, had not been right. It seemed best to take life casually and not to worry about the morrow.
After the war I returned to Toronto. My practice increased enormously, and I took on a young graduate to help me
out. One day, about three years after the Armistice, he came into my office, announcing that a man wanted to see me.
“He’s very shabby but he speaks with a refined voice,” he explained. “I should guess he is a veteran out of work. Shall I send him away?”
“I’ll see him,” I said laconically.
When the man came in he proved to be, of course, Grover.
“Reynolds,” he cried, holding out his hand to me as he came across the room. “That upstart of yours wouldn’t let me in. You must have become infernally exclusive. But I had to see you, if only for five minutes. Excuse the togs, won’t you?”
He took the seat I offered him. I could scarcely keep my eyes off him, for he was a weird sight. His clothes were literally in rags. His shirt was torn, and his trousers had holes in them above the knee. But he sprawled in my chair in the old, easy manner, and it was evident that he was not at all abashed by his appearance.
“Good lord,” I exclaimed, “but this is terrible, Grover. Have you no money?”
He laughed harshly.
“Only what I earn by playing the accordion. Nice occupation for a gentleman who’s served his king and country, eh?” This was the only occasion on which I ever heard him bitter. It was the last time, too. “Things might be worse, Reynolds. I eke out a bare living—with other heroes.”
He smiled at me grimly, and suddenly I noticed his two active service ribbons, and a dull, plain crimson ribbon pinned beside them. Seeing this I leaned forward, peering at him.
“But, Grover,” I cried, “surely that ribbon you’re wearing ”
I stared at him speechless, for my sudden outburst had abashed him.
“It was nothing,” he said softly. “Any of the other fellows deserved it as much as I did.”
I said nothing, but I knew better. He was wearing the highest award for valor: it is not every man who gets the Victoria Cross.
“I’ve been offered an opportunity,” he broke in on my thoughts. “I want enough money to buy decent clothes. I swear I’ll pay you back, if it’s the last thing I do.”
I held up my hand in protest.
“I don’t want you to pay me back, Grover,” I said. “I’m glad to do it for friendship’s sake.”
“That’s decent of you, Reynolds,” he said, and stuck out his grimy hand, which I took.
I went over to my desk, and took out five ten-dollar bills which I handed him.
“These will be easier to cash than a cheque,” I said.
He was really thankful as he took them, and insisted on shaking my hand again and again, also explaining that the opportunity he had was with a tea firm in India which wanted a traveller who knew brands. He had picked up this specialized knowledge when he was in Ceylon previously.
“There’s plenty of opportunity for those who want to work,” he said cheerily as he left. But his looks belied his words, and a great pity for him entered my heart. For I knew now that Grover would never acknowledge that he had made a wrong choice.
rT'HIS was the last time I saw Grover
for another five years. And then, just the other day, I saw him again. Betty and I had been out to lunch at the Royal. When we entered the hotel the sun was shining warmly, but when we came out giant storm clouds were poised for their spring. We had hardly come out on to Front Street when the rain
began to fall in torrents. Betty had on a light summer dress, and I knew that she would be annoyed if we didn’t get home dry, so I looked about for a taxi.
The street was crowded with a hooting mass of traffic.
Just at that moment a heavy truck struck the fenders of a taxi which crowded up to us, too close to the curb. The taxi driver got out to remonstrate, and the sound of his voice reached us clearly. At the sound of it my gaze became rivetted on the speaker : . . “My dear old chap,” said the voice, “why the devil don’t you look where you’re going. This car doesn’t belong to me, you know.”
In a flash I knew him. I realized also, that he had seen me.
"Coming, sir,” he called, without looking our way.
The voice was Grover’s.
My first inclination was to turn tail and flee, dragging Betty with me. But when I saw that he had turned toward us, I had to remain. As he got out to open the door for us, his face gave me no sign of recognition. Nor, when I followed Betty into the interior, did he venture a single glance. He scrambled up in front again.
“Where to, sir?”
I gave him our address, and we started off slowly through the mêlée of traffic. As we picked our way along, my mind was busy with all sorts of thoughts. Poor Grover. This time he was visibly changed. His cheeks were thin, and he showed signs of privation. I made up my mind to do something for him. But I didn’t want Betty to see him. A woman’s presence might add to his humiliation. For surely by this time he would admit his mistake.
It seemed no time before we slowed up outside our house in Forest Hill. I opened the door for Betty.
“Run in, dear,” I advised. “It’s raining hard.”
She went without another word, and the front door closed behind her. I got out to settle my fare.
“Grover,” I cried, staring up through the rain at him.
“A dollar, sir, please,” he said, with no sign of recognition in his voice.
“Come off that seat,” I said then. “I want to speak to you.”
He got out, slowly and unwillingly. “Well,” he demanded truculently, “what do you want?”
“Good heavens, Grover, this is terrible. Have you no money?”
He shrugged his shoulders. There was a strange look in his eyes which I had never seen before.
“I don’t want money, Reynolds. If you want to help me, though, I’ve got one suggestion. You asked me once if I would like to meet your wife. Well, I would. I’d like to come to dinner.” “My dear man,” I exclaimed, wringing his hand, “any night you please. Come tonight, if you like.”
“I want to do it decently,” he said, “and I have no dress clothes.”
“I’ll lend you a suit,” I said; “come tonight at about six o’clock. Tell my man that you want to see me.”
He seemed absurdly grateful, wringing my hand. I pressed a ten dollar note into his hand as he went, which he accepted ruefully.
“You’ll never see it again, old chap,” he grinned.
When I told Betty that I had invited a friend to dinner, she seemed quite disturbed that we had not prepared anything elaborate. I wondered what old Grover would think if he could have seen her anxiously telephoning for flowers.
He arrived punctually at six. I took him up to my dressing room without arousing any suspicion. Betty was down in the kitchen at the time. I had laid out a spare dress suit, which I thought would fit him now, for he was much shrunken. And I showed him where the bathroom was. Dinner was at seven.
Ten minutes before the hour I saw him comfortably ensconced in my den. Then
I went up to Betty’s room, and announced the arrival of our visitor.
She betrayed no sign of interest at the mention of the name Grover, but when I introduced him to her I sensed that they had met before. I knew, too, that Grover had been prepared for this.
It was a queer meal. Betty was at all times the perfect hostess, and her dinner was faultless. Grover had not forgotten his manners, and he paid compliments with unusual prettiness. An unaccustomed glow tinted Betty’s cheeks, but I surprised a strange look in her eyes several times.
“You are not a stranger to Toronto, Mr. Grover?” she enquired halfway through the meal.
“Not exactly, Mrs. Reynolds,” he laughed, “although I have spent most of my life wandering about the globe.” “How interesting,” she exclaimed. “I’ve a ways wanted to travel.”
Grover’s eyes took on a far-away expression. He seemed almost to be explaining something as he said: “I think that the wanderlust is born in some of us. I’ve knocked about the globe ever since I was eighteen. I’ve been around the world seven times. I’ve been a miner up in the North country. I’ve planted tea in Ceylon. I’ve been to China. I’ve been newspaper correspondent in Russia. I’ve fought in the Turkish army during the Balkan wars. I’ve sold everything from insurance to motor cars. I remember telling your husband many years ago, Mrs. Reynolds, that I believed that I was destined to be a rolling stone. I have been. Perhaps it’s because I’m a believer in astrology.”
Betty’s eyes met mine over the table. “You never told me, Jack,” she murmured.
“I was born under the Gemini,” explained Grover, “in the month of June. The Gemini are the heavenly twins, Castor and Pollux. Gemini are very unstable people. They are really quite unsuitëd to the steady routine of life. They are never quite satisfied with anything, always looking for something just round the corner—and never finding it.” “And never finding it, Mr. Grover?” queried Betty softly. “Perhaps they never really look for it.”
I had never seen her eyes quite so shining. And when she looked at Grover then, a little stab of jealousy shot through me. I noticed an expression on Grover’s face, too, which I had never seen there before. It was dreadfully pathetic, half ashamed, half pleading, as if he might be trying to convey something to Betty. At all events, as soon as dinner was over, I made some excuse and left them alone together.
T''* ROVER had gone. I never saw him again.
Betty was quiet that night, and I wondered if she would tell me. She did, and in her own way, about an hour later. We were in our room together.
“Do you remember once asking me about my ideal, Jack?” she asked.
As I nodded, I saw a little smile curving her lips. She stroked my hair like some women do before making a confession.
“Will you be angry if I tell you that Mr. Grover was once my ideal? He was in love with me.”
“My dear,” I told her gently, “I guessed that. He is still.”
“You noticed?” she cried.
I nodded shamefacedly.
“I suspected when I saw him looking at you,” I said. I told her Grover’s story then.
When I had brought it right up to date, she whispered; “But can’t you help him now, Jack?”
“It’s part of his policy of life not to take help,” I explained.
Then something else seemed to occur to her, for she sat up and looked at me in alarm.
“You’re not a Gemini, are you?”
“No, my dear,” I assured her. “I’m an August bird.”