Payment After Date
Life brings fresh problems when a man becomes a grandfather
SAMUEL TUPPER, JR.
AT FIRST Judge Marshall tried to receive his butler's news lightly. He had just returned from church, and now placed on the marble-topped hall table a glistening high hat, a gold-headed cane, and fleckless grey gloves with black stitching. In the cool dim house, with white roses in the sunlight and the servants' fried chicken sizzling in the kitchen, disaster seemed distant as mountain thunder. The judge's gay blue eyes shone as he listened, stroking his grey mustache. "Now, now, Andrew, I can't be bothered! Your Mr. Harry's over thirty years old, and he should know by now what time civilized people eat Sunday dinner. What's he been up to this time? Murder?" Andrew looked over his spectacles, his leather-brown face solemn from long habit of expecting the worst. He was a tall, erect, grey-haired old man, who copied his master's most impressive courtroom manner. In his church circle he was even called Jedge, to the real judge's glee. "Nah, sah, don't reckon it dat bad, but sho is some'p'm wrong. Dey say fer you to hurry to de apartment right `way. Dey say don't `phome, jest hurry." "~VeIl, it's like their impudence! When I'm having dinner at Mrs. Clark's today---" "I don't reckon Mr. harry knowed dat." "Oh, trust you to take his part !" said Harry's father. Now he was pacing, hands beneath cutaway tails, grey brows making a single worried line. "But what else did he say? Are they sick . . . or is there anything wrong with the boy? Come on, Andrew, I know you. You've practically brought up Mr. Harry ever since his poor mother died, and you know ten times as much about his doings as I do. You'd never let him leave the telephone without telling you more than that." "Nah, sah, I sho wouldn't! But it wa'n't Mr. Harry dat called. It was her. his wife." Andrew's lips barely moved. "And she say jest tell you to hurry, and den hanged up." Suddenly the eyes of these two grey, powerful, experi enced men met in a glance that confessed fears never buried very deep. Judge Marshall pulled out his big gold watch as the grandfather clock struck outside. His broad shoulders straightened. "If anything's wrong this time I'm going to bring little Bob back with me. that's all. All right, have Jesse bring the car around. Then he can drive me on to Mrs. Clark's. I'll telephone you if anything's really wrong. But don't worry. It's certain to be just more confounded foolishness." "Mr. Flurry he don't set out to do no wrong. He-" "Nor any right, either. All right, call Jesse." `TOSSED BY REAL fears, judge Marshall clutched 1 at straws of annoyance. Taking up hat, stick and gloves, he stood between the two tall white columns of the porch while Jesse, Andrew's stove-black nephew, brought the car around. As they drove out he looked back wl8tfully at the boxwood hedge, the white sand walk. Peace, permanence, such as his son never knew. At sixty-one Judge Marshall. in the house where he was born, lived a life ordered as a pattern yet spacious with an almost bachelor freedom. Twice he had enjoyed this freedom, first as one of Atlanta's gayest young men, then after his wife's death when Ilarry was ten. The boy, solemn like his mother, had shutiled moodily about the house until his father decided that boarding school would be the wisest course. \Vhy did that sad young presence reproach him? Of course he missed Elvira, so pious, so serious and watch fully devotedbut he was still young! Not yet forty. The discovery had come like a shock. To his astonishment, a delightful life awaited him. Youth surged back, old friends and new sprang about him. Always someone wanted him for the Kentucky Derby, or Palm Beach, or motoring in Virginia. When his hair turned grey he became strikingly handsome, so
that now the ruddy face was a strange harmony of youth and age. It had wrinkles and tiny purple veins, but the gently mocking smile was still young. Young, above all, were his blue eyes, candid as a boy’s.
During those gay years, so far apart ran the streams of their lives that he seldom saw his son without a start. He gave him everything, then amiably forgot him. Growing boys wanted no interference, he said. They led their own mysterious lives. When these two met, conversation barely trickled.
One evening they dined at home alone, the pleasant greying father and the handsome. dark, moody son. Harry gulped down his peach pie and slouched downward, tapping a crystal goblet with his knife. The judge looked up, half humorously annoyed.
‘‘Disarm yourself, son! Dinner’s a ceremony, not just laying in for a hard winter.”
‘‘Sir? Oh—sorry, father.” ‘
“Wrong?” The knife clattered. “Oh — no, sir.”
But later, coming downstairs for his evening stroll around the block, he found Harry crouched alone. Gently his cane tapped the bent young shoulders.
“Come on, boy, what is it? Not been shipped, as you call it?”
“Oh—that. Lord, no! Wish it was.” “What then?” The judge chuckled. “You’ve been up to no good. I can see. I '11 try not to be too hard on you. Tell me, and I’ll haul you over the coals and get it over. Let’s have it now, even if it’s something really wrong. A woman?” Silence. A match scratching. By its flare the heavy brows and full young lips twitched as the cigarette was lighted. Judge Marshall became really alarmed. “For heaven’s sake, out with it !”
“Wellyou see—I want to get married.” The father could have laughed with relief. He took the match box from the cold young hand and lighted a fragrant cigar.
“As bad as that? Come now, how old are you? Nineteen? Oh, nearly twentyone, eli? Well, my boy, you’ll never be that old again. Stay free and enjoy life until you’re a bit younger. That’s the advice of your aged parent.”
Harry’s voice interrupted, now weary and a little scornful.
“I knew you’d just laugh. Well, you’ll have to know some time. You remember Ethel Jones? You saw her just last week at the movies with me ! Wellwe’re married.” “Married? Oh, no, son ! You don’t mean already?”
“Since April,” Harry said dully. “One Sunday a bunch of us drove over to South Carolina and—well, that’s about all. I guess I’ll have to quit school.”
After this he had no trouble remembering his son’s existence. He seldom thought about him except to worry, but that was often enough. He found him a job in a bond house and made him an allowance.
Rather to his surprise, his son had married a very pretty girl. She was petite, with a face like an impudent flower, and blue eyes decorated with unbelievable black lashes. At eighteen a veteran of the business world, she now renounced her latest job of telephone operator to become a settled matron. Other jobs she had left because people “took liberties.” Explaining this in her sharp little voice, her temper gleamed a moment wickedly. The judge observed all proprieties, kissed her orangedaubed cheek, helped find an apartment, arranged for the baby’s christening several months later. Sometimes he invited them to meals, but not to stay in the house. Never !
Mrs. Clark gave Ethel a luncheon at the Driving Club, although the girl showed her hostility from the first. She seemed to look for condescension from this kind lady, and
sparks of hostility leaped between them. Emmy Clark, taught self-control by a long dreary marriage, ignored them.
“But, child, you’re letting me ask only my friends’ daughters to this luncheon! Isn’t there someone you’d care to have?”
“Nobody you’d care to have, thanks just the same. There’s not really anybody since mamma married again and moved off to Memphis, and I never was the kind to have many girl friends. So just whoever suits you, it's immaterial with me.”
The girls told their hostess that Ethel was cute, adorable, darling; that they could hardly wait to look her up. Yet wait they did. They waited for ever. For all her scorn, Ethel’s eyes shot to the card tray when she returned from the movies every afternoon. Usually an immaculate silver surface shone back. At last she began to telephone people she had known before her marriage. No snobs here. They were the kind, she declared, who liked you “for what you were.” They saw everything from door mat to ice box; they brought their own liquor, and with them Harry solemnly caroused. How much more deeply dutiful drinkers plunged than real pleasure lovers, the judge reflected. Harry was like Elvira gone wrong, if such a vision were possible.
He might have forgiven them their dingy foolish life but for young Bob. What a way to bring up a fine boy ! Cocktail shakers and milk bottles clinking at dawn, raucous laughter, neighbors complaining, pals who would give you their last shirt turned enemies in a flash. Quarrels, slammed doors, nights spent on the divan. Then cold daybreak, slapping slippers, pick-me-ups. short answers. This was life in the yellow brick apartment, its façade soot-streaked from rainy gutters, where the car now stopped.
JUDGE MARSHALL never came here without being depressed to despair, to a feeling grey as guilt. The hail was gloomily clean, but with tattered linoleum. He pushed the silent bell, rapped with his cane.
He was prepared to dislike anyone, and made no exception of the dark, smiling, sinuously slim young man who opened the door. Such glittering neatness should have pleased against the clutter of half-empty glasses, musty ash trays, and furniture scarred by glass rims and forgotten cigarettes. But to Judge Marshall he seemed only a more newly varnished piece of the same cheap furniture. Everything about him was pointed -nose, eyebrows, chin, sharp white teeth, shoes, coat lapels, creases in white trousers. Brilliant points lodged in the sliding black eyes.
"Come right in, judge, and make yourself at home.” Cordially he welcomed him into the apartment whose rent he paid. “McCulley's my name—Leo McCulley. I don’t guess that name means much to you yet, but I'm quite a close friend of Ethel's and Harry’s.”
“If I’ve met you and forgotten,” Judge Marshall said courteously, “I must ask you to excuse an old man’s memory. But is my son here?”
“Well no, he’s not. I guess the best thing is for you to talk to Ethel right away, so—”
“Tell me what’s wrong. Is anybody hurt?”
“No. no!” Hastily McCulley ixitted the rigid arm. “Nothing like that. Now don’t get excited. Wait till I call Ethel—”
Judge Marshall’s tense fingers crushed his white boutonnière, tore it to shreds. The other vanished, cautious as a cat. In a moment he returned leading Bob by the arm. But the boy shrugged scornfully away. Silently he came and stood beside his grandfather, whose florid face squared, hardened at the thought of taking him away.
Bob was a handsome, well-grown boy of nine with a curly head set above level shoulders. A buttonless shirt gaped wide from frayed corduroy pants that hung down his bare brown legs. Despite this and the decades between them, his resemblance to the judge was striking. He had the same square chin, short straight nose, and unafraid blue eyes, set wide under straight brows. Give him a grey wig and mustache -or half a century of life -and they would be duplicates. They stood together facing McCulley, their single glance making him an alien.
His smile gleamed at them. It had, paradoxically, a sinister sweetness.
“Well, judge, Ethel’s coming so I guess I’ll be leaving you now. If there’s anything at all I can do, why I’ll be only too glad. Good-by. So glad to have met you.”
He adjusted a spotless panama and departed. To hide the fury, fear and curiosity that stung him, Judge Marshall pulled the boy down beside him on the divan. He smoothed his own forehead, forced his voice to be cheerful.
“Well, Bob, how are you? Had any breakfast?”
“Hang, yes! Long ago. Mamma got up and fixed me some and then went back to bed. Grandad, why is it all old people want to stay in bed all day—except you?”
“All of them don’t, son,” the judge answered wryly. Then genially: “Buckle up those breeches. I don’t like to see you slouching about on Sunday.”
“There ain’t any buckles.”
Continued on page 38
Continued from page 13 -
“Aren’t any, Bob. Well, go and find some pins. And ask your mother please to hurry or I’ll be late to dinner.”
But before he could obey Ethel came in, wearing black pyjamas and a flowered kimono, blue mules clattering. Above brooded a sullen little face, less flowerlike than when it had first turned Harry’s way. A look of perpetual resentment marred the pert little features; between extravagant lashes the blue eyes looked with cold suspicion. But the curly brown hair still was beautiful, even in its untidy long bob. On the street she still caught masculine eyes, but at home she was a rose that had known soot and grey, shattering rain.
Seeing her mood, Judge Marshall forced his voice to be calm.
“That’s what I’d like to know.” The red pointed nails drummed the table. “Wherever he goes is immaterial with me, though. He says he’s not coming back—so that’s that.”
“Wait!” The judge turned and spoke rapidly. “Run along now, Bob. Get those pins and run outside awhile. I want to talk to your mother. Quick, I’ve told you once.”
THE BOY slipped away. A fretful frown deepened between plucked eyebrows as Ethel poked out one bare leg, lost a mule, recovered it.
“No use talking to him that way, judge. And no use sending him out. He would be dumb if he didn’t already know just about all there is to know. Can’t help it in a twoby-four hole like this.”
“Well, he shouldn’t know it. Suppose you tell me instead.”
“Well, the main thing is just this: Harry’s gone away. And what’s more, Harry’s not coming back. That’s all.”
“Now, Ethel. He must come back, whatever you two decide later. He can be decent at least. He can’t simply leave his wife and boy with nothing—”
“Oh, he can’t? Well, it’s what he’s done, anyway. Ask Bob or Leo. Last night he packed up on me—this time for good, he says. And I said ‘good’ is right !”
“Ethel, if you’d just drop that bored tone and tell me everything. There, I didn’t mean to be cross. I know you’re feeling jangled, but let’s have a straight account.” “Oh, well, let’s see. It started with this party I had last night when he was out. At least, you’d hardly call it a party—just some people having a few friendly drinks. No fighting or anything. Well, in the middle of everything in he comes and wouldn’t hardly speak to anybody.”
“I’m glad he did that much. What happened next?”
“Oh, he waited till after they’d gone to start anything. And then he started bawling me out for one thing and another. Well, I never was the kind to take that, so I gave him as good as he sent. I told him that whatever he did was all right with me, and if that was the way he felt—”
If Judge Marshall had followed his first impulse, he would have shaken her thoroughly. Instead, he rose and stood behind a chair, steady eyes cross-examining her. The lawyer in him, cool, logical, was listening intently.
“Yes, I know. But what have you two really quarrelled about this time?”
“Oh, nothing much. Leo mainly.”
“The young man who let me in?” The judge’s smile was a trifle malicious. “You may well say nothing much !”
As he had expected, fury flashed from her. Unmoved, he listened. His face had the peaceful expression of a violinist drawing out expected notes.
“You don’t know' one thing about him. Not a single thing. At least you can’t prove —Listen, you just ask anybody that knows him! Anybody but Harry, I mean—” Suddenly she became very dignified, drawing
her kimono about her. “Well, we won’t discuss it. After all, it hasn’t anything to do with anybody but Leo and me.”
“And your son,” he added softly. “And Harry, since you’re still married to him.” “Well, judge, I must say it looks like that’s pretty much up to me. After Harry walked out on us. He said himself he’d give me any grounds just to get rid of me. He didn’t say it before witnesses, but I swear he said it.”
“I don’t think he’ll deny the statement. But where has he gone?”
“New York, he says. And that’s all I know. Well, I just thought I’d tell you. He said you’d attend to everything.”
She rose, yawning behind one baby hand. Not until she turned to leave the room did he lose all patience. He could hardly credit his sight. This discourtesy was new, even from her. His palm struck the table a sharp crack.
“Come back at once!” He spoke low. “I’m not your servant, to send for and dismiss! You seem to resent the whole family this morning, Ethel, but I strongly advise you to be more polite if you want my help. I’ve been diplomatic long enough with you and Harry. Sit down!”
Defiant yet somewhat awed, she leaned against a chair.
“Now tell me this. How much cause for jealousy have you given Harry?”
“Listen here ! I don’t have to—”
“Don’t lose your temper with me, Ethel.” Coldly he stared back. “I’ve heard your views on the marriage tie, time and again. I’m accusing you of nothing. Did you go about with this McCulley?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I think you do. Answer me.”
“Well—not except just in the crowd, and if I happened to meet him down town and things like that—”
“Hm ! I see I must be definite. Very well. Were you silly with him before Harry?”
He spoke baldly, caring nothing for her anger. His tone had subdued her, but now she blazed up again. The thin little voice leapt several notes up the scale, became shrill.
“Depends on what you call silly. All those years you let Harry run here and yonder without asking; you had your fun—and you were plenty older than I am now, too! It’s no more silly than your affair with Emmy Clark all those years before her husband died—”
“My friendship with Mrs. Clark, you mean.”
“Call it whatever suits you. Everybody knows you’re getting ready to marry her. And not any too soon.”
At first the judge missed the meaning of her last words. Then swiftly, blindingly, he knew the first white-hot rage of his life. His stiff white collar choked him. Above it his crimson face was mottled with purple, swollen veins. Too old, far too old for this ! With dilated eyes he stepped toward her. She glided back.
“Don’t you touch me ! Don’t you—”
“I’m not going to.” He was whispering with rage. Still she shrank. “If you want this McCulley, have him. But expect no help from me !”
“We’ll see about that! When you want to see Bob, and come begging me—”
“Be quiet ! I’ll come and discuss arrangements with you later. But not until your manner has changed a great deal. Remember that! I’ll call you when I feel able to see you.”
Over him coursed currents that had slept for years. Carefully he took up his hat. dropped his stick with a clatter, bent panting to retrieve it. Softly the door clicked behind him. Ethel’s moving lips stopped. She began to shiver.
"POOR ENOCH,” said Emmy Clark.
“You’re not eating a thing.”
“Take some mo’ cake, jedge!” Black Hattie, serving dessert, suddenly joined the
conversation. “I baked it fer you myself. Take dat outside piece.”
"No, thank you, Hattie, but it's mighty good—”
“Take dat piece dere !”
She pointed sternly, and he obeyed, being well accustomed to such commands. Hattie proposed to stand no nonsense. When Miss Emmy married she expected enough trouble from Andrew without the judge turning hard-headed about his eating. Queer old Andrew, ordering white folks around like he owned them ! She brought coffee to the sun parlor.
“At least drink your coffee,” pleaded Mrs. Clark. “Try to believe this is for the best with Harry. The other couldn’t go on. Two lumps? And light one of those nice cigars.” Appreciatively he watched her charming face with the fresh skin, brown eyes, and tumed-up nose with just a dash too much powder. This was her utmost concession to the modem craze for make-up. Her taste in clothes naturally ran to gay-flowered chiffons, but today she wisely wore a plain blue dress. At fifty-six she was still a pretty woman, with only a little silver sprinkling her wavy light hair.
“You do make people comfortable. Emmy. It’s so good to think of your being with me always. Soon now. After waiting twenty years. You know, I sometimes wonder—”
“Cream? Wonder what?”
“You’ll not be offended? I still feel queer speaking of poor Alvin, now he’s been dead a year. But I sometimes wonder how much he guessed—about my feeling for you. You guessed, although I didn’t speak of it until much later.”
“Oh, yes, I knew from the first. Knowing that was as easy as—as putting my own heart before a mirror. But what was the use of talking and making things tragic and all? You were free but I wouldn’t have left Alvin—poor thing. He wouldn’t have been so cross to me ifthat asthma hadn’t made his life a torment. And he was good about not minding your taking me out sometimes in the evenings while he played chess. He was glad to have you, when I was so giddy and wanted to go everywhere. If he ever heard gossip he never spoke of it. ”
“I doubt if there was any—much. I never called you anything more scandalous than Miss Emmy for years. I suppose Ethel would think such decorous behavior shows we couldn’t be happy or unhappy about anything. But oh, it was hard sometimes ! Waiting for you—more than twenty years.” “Whatever the all-wise Ethel says, I’m very happy now. I don’t envy those intense young things with no humor or self-control. Notabit. Do you?”
“Ah, of course. We both envy their youth, the years and years they still have. There’s no denying that—we’ve missed the peaks. I wanted them. But we should have years of being happy yet. Yes, I’m much happier, for all my regrets, than any old fellow has a right to be.”
She contradicted him about his age as he wished, and he took her ringed white hand. For an instant real youth glimmered across their faces. Then, twisting the heavy gold watch chain across his broad chest, he gave her a troubled look.
“Emmy, did I neglect Harry very badly all those years? Tell me honestly—or make me think you are. Ethel said something that stuck.”
Her smooth brow wrinkled.
“Well no, Enoch, not badly. After your wife’s death I thought you knew—well, perhaps not quite enough about the crowd he ran around with. But it was hard for you. Harry didn’t suit you, so self-centred and solemn. You were fond of him, but he bored you. Yes, he did. You’ve tried hard ever since, but you’ve no instinct to help you. Just a sense of duty.”
“That’s it exactly. Lord, how you know me!”
“I know you were happiest in your bachelor days. And you never really felt like a father until you were a grandfather. Bob is all you truly care about—besides me.” She pressed his hand. “I don’t think you could have done much. Boys like Harry, once they
get tiresome notions about society girls being all heartless and working girls all noble— goodness! Ethel couldn’t have missed catching him blindfolded !”
“You do help me. And you’re right. I can’t help feeling that Harry and Ethel are too flimsy to help much. Bob is the one worth saving. I’d do anything for that boy. I’m the only one who ever trains him, but what chance have I against that mother of his? If she divorces Harry and marries her —what do you call them? Gig-something.” “Gigolo. Oh, is he one? I thought they were just in Paris cafés. What’s he like?” “He’s like a cat, always rubbing against you for what he can get out of you. I tell you, I’m worried sick when I think of Bob living with him. and . . . Emmy ... I wonder . . .I’d leave it all up to you, but would you mind if Bob lived with us after we’re married? He’d be no trouble. I shouldn’t ask you, but—”
“But without his mother, you mean?” “Good heavens, yes! I’d rather die than have her in the house.”
Emmy looked down, smiling thoughtfully, twisting her wedding ring.
“How funny it would be, bringing up a boy at my age, when I used to want one so long and then—oh, yes, my dear, I’d try. Gladly. But Ethel would never consent.” A twinge of anger pierced him as he remembered the morning.
“She’d consent to anything if I paid her enough.”
“I can’t stand her either,” admitted Emmy, “but very few women are unnatural enough to give up their children. If you do try the plan, wait until she’s happily involved with this man and thinking less about her child. Wait until she buys a newdress or does her hair a new' way. Oh, I hope you’re not disappointed. But come now for a little drive. At our age we shouldn’t take things so hard.”
Andrew w'as waiting in the kitchen when he came home. When he had heard all, the old man uttered a pathetic little moan.
“Oh, jedge, please go get him! Listen—” “But, Andrew, I can’t.”
“Yassah, you kin! You so smart, sho’ly you kin think of some’p’m. Mr. Harry, he never set out to do no wrong.”
“No, Andrew. I’m not saying he’s bad. But when he unloads all his responsibilities on me—”
“You his pa, ain’t you?” A stem note entered Andrew’s voice. He went on darkly: “You go find him, jedge !”
“Where would I look? And if I knew where, w'hat could I do?”
“You could do some’p’m,” Andrew insisted obstinately.
He began sweeping the clean kitchen floor, his face averted in accusing silence. Do mortals ever believe when gods deny their own power? Judge Marshall started to speak, then turned away.
HE PUT OFF seeing Ethel. Once he sent her a cheque for household expenses, once they spoke briefly over the telephone. The nasal little voice, honeyed again, froze him with distaste.
Then one evening as he sat smoking in the library, he heard her thin voice.
“Andrew, give Bob tonight’s funny paper and keep him in the sitting room. I don’t want him back here yet. And ask Miss Ethel to—oh, there she is now. Good evening, Ethel.”
“You've got to be such a stranger that Bob and myself got to wondering where you were keeping yourself, so we just came to see.”
She spoke as if nothing had happened. To his dismay, she came toward him with uplifted face. He kissed her cheek, amused by her coolness. Why be petty? Shrewdly he studied her face, which for once was animated and almost childishly young.
“New dress and new way of doing your hair,” Judge Marshall remarked genially, “You look very pretty, Ethel. Sit down there. That chair’s most comfortable.” Ethel never was backward about taking the most comfortable of anything. He sat forward on the leather lounge, remembering Emmy’s advice. He must be careful.
“I was going to call you tomorrow about something I wanted to talk over with you. But it can wait, because you have something to tell me. 1 can see by your face.”
“But how -judge, you defeat me. You really do. Don’t you ever miss anything? Well, to tell you the truth, there is something. You see. I heard from Harry today. From New York.”
“What did he want?”
“Oh, he didn’t want anything, I’ll say that for him. I mean, nothing but a divorce. There, I meant to break it sort of gradually.
I know you won’t like it, having old-fashioned ideas and all. I mean, you’re entitled to them. But, honestly, it’s best for all concerned for us to part ...”
He answered briskly.
“I entirely agree. Do my modem notions shock you? Well. I’m entitled to them, too, and I say the sooner the better. You and Mr. McCulley have probably decided on a lawyer already, eh? Someone not too expensive. I should think Mr. McCulley would know more than one. Is he on Edgewood or Marietta Street?”
“Marietta,” she gasped through slack lips. “But how—listen, he must have called you ! And I made him promise not to. I told him you were in the law business yourself until you became a judge.”
For a moment he enjoyed her confusion. A sense of exultant power began tp fill him. He said pleasantly:
“You look as if I’d pulled a rabbit from a hat. That address was only guesswork, so don’t be afraid of the old witch doctor. You must tell me the rest. Do you plan to marry Mr. McCulley when you’re free?” "Well—yes and no. We’ve been sort of thinking it over—but nothing definite, if you see what I mean.”
“Oh, plenty of time for that. And if Bob doesn’t take to the new arrangement, maybe I can help you. Meanwhile, it must be a pleasant change to look forward to enough to live on. Your young man looks prosperous. Tell me, what business is he in?”
She looked up quickly, suspiciously. His face was guileless.
"Well, he—he works in a department store down town. It’s in—now isn’t that dumb of me! I can’t think which one. but it’s one of the big ones. No fooling, it really is !’’
“Good! What department is he in? Personnel?”
“No, I don’t think it was that. I’m not sure just which.” Again she looked into the interested face. "Listen, it’s awfully broadminded of you to take such an interest. Considering the circumstances. So I’m going to tell you the truth.”
"I know it, Ethel.” He spoke gently, almost kindly.
“I know your young man’s in the shipping department and makes very little.” He smiled. “You should have told me at the first. Now maybe 1 can help you—-a little.” “Help me? Judge, you’re right about him. But I don't care. I’ll try anything with him, because--I’ve been that way about him nearly six months now. How do you mean you’re going to help me?”
But her thoughts were not on his answer: all were for this man. The judge regarded her in mild astonishment. Stripped of its bitter shrewdness, her face glowed almost to real beauty. However crude and simple, this was real feeling. He looked, mastering his own excitement, feeling a little sorry for her and for Harry, who had never brought this glowing look.
Confusedly she began peering into her mirror, elaborately making up her face. Her fingers slipped and daubed lipstick on her soft chin. Now was his chance, now !
"I’m glad you care for him enough to risk it on no money. But you know, and 1 know, that money is a great help to making marriage a success. So what would you say if I helped you out with a little every month?”
NOW HE HAD her attention. She stared blankly, then actually laughed with joy.
“You don’t mean it! Oh, judge, 1 knew
you'd do the right thing. Because it’s onlyfair to Leo. having Bob there. If you knew the load this takes off my mind! Look, I promise you I’ll use every bit of that for Bob -every bit.”
“No.” He shook his head smiling. “That’s not my motive. There’s a condition to my offer. I ’ll give you the allowance I gave you and Harry, with perhaps a little more—if you’ll let Bob come and live with me.”
The words were said. He could not look at her. Trembling all over, looking at the rug, he waited for her reply.
He saw a face drawn tight with anger. “No, thank you.” Ethel’s voice scraped. “No, my child’s not for sale, now or ever!” “No, Ethel—now wait!” His words hurried out. “I’m not asking you to sell him. Just to give him a decent chance. You know' that the life you led with Harry was no life for him—up all night and asleep all day—and you know perfectly wrell it’ll be the same thing over now'. And wdth me there w'ould alw'ays be a quiet home. And think what I’d give him! A pony, and swimming and camps now, and later the best schools—”
“And I suppose you think that would take the place of his mother!”
“You could see him whenever you w'anted. It would simply mean having him w'hen you wanted and—out of the way when you didn’t. Believe me, Ethel, my arrangement will suit your Leo much better—and Boo, too. Ask him. Ethel.
She looked about, irresolute, then sat down again. In the silence he could hear his own panting breath. He was gaining ground ; he must keep calm. When she opened her lips, he raised his hand.
“We really want him here. Mrs. Clark wants him, too.”
“Oh, she does!” Suddenly her face w'as ugly. “Well, you tell her from me she can’t have him ! Here, let me out of here. Let me—”
“Ethel, if you don’t listen to me now, you may never have another chance.”
“I don’t w'ant it! Let me out!”
Both were on their feet now, their faces close. She spoke wdth narrowed eyes, shrewishly.
“All your life you’ve had everything you wanted. Well, here’s where things are different. A boy’s place is with his mother. You can’t have that woman and my boy. too. No! Never! I’d let him die first.” “Very well, keep him and ruin his life. But hear me!” the judge said sternly. “If you think I’ll pay you to live with this fellow and see you make Boh into something like him, you’re very much mistaken. Get what you can from Harry. It’ll be little or nothing. Scrape along somehow with this McCulley until he leaves you. And have Bob despise you at the last. But not another penny from me.”
“I w'ouldn’t touch it!”
“Then good-by.” He opened the door. “I don’t want to see Bob again. I—couldn’t stand it.”
But he listened to the strong boyish voice protesting as she stormily gathered him up. The front door crashed behind them. He listened a moment, then dropped to the creaking lounge.
ANDREW’S ANXIOUS face peered in. -LV“Lawd !” he exclaimed almost admiringly. "Can’t Miss Ethel’s voice carry a long ways!”
“I’m afraid it’ll not carry far in my direction now. Andrew'. She’s going away and taking him wdth her. I don’t suppose we’ll ever see Bob any more now.”
Andrew's grey head w'agged sadly. Whether he had listened outside or whether he knew simply by his rich primitive intuition. Andrew understood.
“I dunno which is worser off, Mr. Harry or Bob. Havin’ no mamma at all, or havin’ one dat has mean folks in de house all de time.”
“I’m afraid there’s very little doubt which is worse off.” The judge spoke sharply. “Harry had as good chances as anyone. Certainly I did my best.” He looked up imperiously. “Didn’t I?”
Andrew looked over his spectacles, seem-
ing not to hear. Tension shot into the white mans voice.
“What else could I have done? Didn’t I give him good schools? And -and enough money to enjoy himself?”
‘‘Yassah. Reckon you done de best you knowed how.”
“Then what else!” He spoke in a rapid, strained voice, hands locked together. “You think I let him go off on the wrong track when he was young, don’t you? Well, maybe I did. I suppose I spent too much time with my friends without knowing about his. Is that it? And all the time he was with a flashy set that didn’t care anything about him except what he spent. That’s what you think! And I didn’t know what was going on, and then he met her, and his whole life was ruined—I know! That’s what you’re thinking all the time. Is that it?”
His look was wild. At last Andrew’s pitying face made him pause. He stared down as though looking at himself. For a moment he hardly realized that Andrew was not speaking, not accusing. He was accusing himself.
“All right, Andrew.” He spoke flatly. “You know you need never be afraid of me. Tell me everything you think.”
“Well, jedge. Mr. Harry always was a mighty peculiar child. So sad and quiet, and when his mamma died—my lawd !”
“Yes, I know. He took it so hard that I sent him away to get over it. At least I did that much.”
“Yassah, reckon so. But he wa’n’t no better when he come home dat next summer. Used to set around lookin’ so sad and peaked, and walk all around de house like he lost some’p’m, and sometimes I’d find him cry in’—”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
He struck the arm of his chair in anguish. Andrew looked troubled.
“Well, jedge, he made me promise not to. He was ’shamed. And he was scared of dem peoples you had here—dey was all de time laughin’, and he couldn’t tell why. He was scared.”
The judge’s grey brows knitted.
“Afraid of what? I don’t understand.” “Nah, sah, reckon you wouldn’t. You ain’t never been scared of nobody. But wid yo’ friends, looked like he never could find nothin’ to say fer hisself. And same way wid young folks when he commenced goin’ to parties. Till he got in wid dem others. Dey knowed how to make him feel set up wid hisself. Never was any use me tellin’ him dey wa’n’t no good. And befo’ I could make up my mind to tell you, he met Miss Ethel. And fust thing you know dey was married.”
He broke off with a little sound of pity at the judge’s stricken face.
“I don’t know what to do,” the judge whispered. “I don’t know what to do.”
That night he hardly slept. Moonlight spilled on the dresser and on the old cedar chest that had been his wife’s, making him really see her for the first time in years. Always the house had seemed his alone, but now the darkness seemed full of her reproach. Emmy seemed far away. He lay staring at darkness until crickets scraped in the first grey light. Then, unrefreshed, he rose to go down town.
That evening he came home in the first windy flurry of autumn. As he put down his hat in the hall he heard voices from the sitting room. With a questioning look at Andrew, he went inside.
Ethel, in hat and furs, sat facing the door. She looked like a wounded bird of passage. Her face seemed infinitely older and harder. At her feet sprawled Bob, square little chin on fists, scanning a jig-saw puzzle. At sight of his grandfather he sprang up with a cry.
“We’ve come to see you ! We’ve come to see you !”
Less for affection than support, he gripped the boy’s shoulder. Together they went toward Ethel. And as with Leo, they seemed two kinsmen facing an alien.
“Well, judge,” she remarked, “now’s your chance to say, ‘I told you so.’ Why don’t you say it?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that Leo backed out when he
heard you wouldn’t give us anything. Very buttery about it. but I sent him packing. I hate him. He wanted me to do your way and give up Bob. And he'll grow up into another one. Men are all alike.”
“Hush!” He shook his head sternly. “If I’m going to help you. you’re not to talk this way before Bob. It's not decent.”
“Oh, you can give the orders now. I’m through. There’s nobody but you to look after us.”
He saw she had been crying. Her large eyes were almost shut, lier small face swollen until all expression was gone. No, there was an expression. It was the terrible bitterness of a woman who feels herself cheated by life. With sad bewilderment he looked on this woman who would fight tooth and claw for her child, yet who would not be ordinarily decent for him.
Feeling on the verge of something inevitable, he sat down.
“You’d better stay here, for the present at least. I’ll send Jesse over for your things tonight.”
“Are we going to stay here, granddad?” Boh half rose, his hand on the judge’s knee.
“I don’t know, son.” Then, looking down into the eager face, he dimly smiled. “I wouldn’t be surprised.”
His face looked old.
EMMY’S STRICKEN CALM was worse than Ethel’s sobbing. As he talked, her face became drawn and resigned. Like the judge, she looked old in a moment.
“Yes, Enoch, I see,” she kept repeating. “Yes, you’re perfectly right.”
“You see how it is, Emmy. She’s not good enough nor bad enough to give him up. And when she’s her old self again I must be there to counteract what she might do to him. And, of course, I couldn’t ask you to live there, too.”
He looked up with a last irrational flicker of hope. She shook her head, smiling, her eyes brimming.
“No, my dear. No. There’s no house big enough for Ethel and me. She hates me and I bring out the worst in her, but with you maybe there’s a chance. You’re perfectly right to try, and I'm so proud of you. ”
“I must try,” he answered. “I suppose I let Harry ruin his life, so this is a kind of payment a long time after the date due. And, compared to Bob, an old man shouldn’t matter so much. Emmy, maybe some day she’ll marry again—”
"No, Enoch, let’s face it.” She put away her tiny lace handkerchief. “You talk as if we had lots of time. No, I couldn’t bear any more tense waiting. If I’m not to have my little bit at the last—we must just be friends as before.”
She controlled her bitterness, tried to smile. He left her.
A week later he rose from the dinner table and turned to his daughter-in-law.
“Would you care to walk around the block with me, Ethel?”
“Not tonight.” She began working on her face. She worked as if empires hung on the act. “You see, a girl friend of mine and her husband and this friend of theirs are coming by to take me to a show. I thought I’d make myself take a little diversion—not that I feel like it. We’re going to the early show because this fellow they’re bringing for me works in a dairy. Why, there they are! Lookit that new car!”
A horn sounded. Jamming cn her beret, calling, she ran down the walk. The judge strolled to the porch, where he found his grandson straddling the bannister and eating tea cakes. He had just been told at dinner that he was to have a pony, and he had come out here to realize such joy. Whenever he thought about it, a little shiver of bliss would nearly topple him from the bannister. “Walk around the block, Bob?”
“Yes, sir! Wait a sec!” He came back, swinging the gold-headed cane in the judge's most jaunty manner. He looked up, beaming through crumbs. “Let me carry it just a little way—just to the comer!”
Together, in perfect step, their feet rang on the sidewalk.