FICTION

All There Was

The love story of a girl who was baffled by success and a man who thought that the road to ambition achieved led to happiness

TIM PRIDGEN July 1 1937
FICTION

All There Was

The love story of a girl who was baffled by success and a man who thought that the road to ambition achieved led to happiness

TIM PRIDGEN July 1 1937

All There Was

The love story of a girl who was baffled by success and a man who thought that the road to ambition achieved led to happiness

TIM PRIDGEN

MAIDA WINSTON was primitive and predatory, a silken-bodied feline of the jungle. Hers, admittedly to herself alone, was the quivering spirit of the stalking tigress. One unguarded moment in Kirk Sands’ indifference and she would spring like satin lightning. She had so planned it. With incredible patience she waited. Her desperation was born of the knoWlddge that she, herself, molded him to the form and helplessly saw him harden in it.

In an hour the board of directors would elect him president of Toole, Inc. It was now ten o’clock. She sat across the desk from him, her knees crossed, leaning forward, trim and secretarial and thirty. If her ink-blue eyes pulsed softly as they observed him it was quite all right, for they were hazed with deep-lying smoke which was a heaven-sent screen. Her eyes, her dark hair, her ivory skin, made her feel fully adequate to the consideration of allure, but that was not the question. Kirk Sands had proved to be immune to her charms, it was true, but the same thing applied to all womankind. She was baffled and desperate; particularly now, because today was the end of an era and the time was crucial.

She watched his grey eyes stabbing fiercely at the pages of figures she had just handed him. He was chill and hardbitten, a man of steel who had driven himself, her, all of Toole, mercilessly. His young, long face was prematurely lined, and his jaw muscles curved down and out to the chin as if chiselled there. She was the mother of those jaw muscles and took pride in them, but they mocked her.

She remembered the first time she saw them bulge. It was in this office on July eighth, 1932, at four p.m. It then was. and still was, the shabbiest little office of all the Toole suites. At that time he was assistant sales manager, recently appointed, and for the first time he rated a stenographer. Naturally, he had selected her. There was a reason for that.

Two years before he had been a lanky and amiable stock clerk and she a typist in the same department. It was his pleasure to sit on her desk and tell her in an eager drawl that without her his life would be as wormwood. She liked to go swimming with him, to see the show's, but she had no idea of teaming for life with a stock clerk.

Kirk Sands particularly.

He took orders too well.

But one day she made a great discovery. “Maida, my heart.” he bent over her machine and wheedled, “let’s see a show tonight.”

“You’re so do-less,” she snapped. “Things are going to pot over in raw materials. The directors are all lathered. Somebody’s going to be fired. If you had any spunk . .

She had not intended to say that, merely to think it. He whitened all the way down to his collar, and she did not see him again for three tense days. When he did return he was still angry, but he vented his ire upon her thrillingly. He delivered an avalanche of deadly fact and logic about raw materials accusingly. She had to prod him again

before he strode out defiantly to lay his information before the officials.

Even then he did not get the job, but it was a beginning.

A long w'hile before he suspected her purpose she had seen the rewards of ambition gleaming. He had it in him, needing but incentive to go places. Those in the organization thought he was an upstart to be thwarted and derided. But she knew that his surges were his desperate attempts to surmount obstacles in his path to her. Her part merely was to keep him at arm’s length, to keep him driving for a goal. Then she would reward him, for now she loved him.

^\N THAT day in July, 1932, he had just been elevated to the position of assistant sales manager, and assigned to an office—this office. He had chosen her as his stenographer. One afternoon in the first week he flung aside his record sheets impatiently. Something newly masterful and richly pleading rang in his voice.

“Maida—you’ve held me off so long. Let’s get married.”

She tingled. She remembered that yet. But she stifled it.

“Calm yourself, tall boy,” she answered flippantly. “We re hardly more than clerks. We’ve a long way to go yet.”

He stared at her queerly, and his face paled as if something stunning had just been revealed to him. He arose and reached for his hat. She could see it yet. Even his hand was white, but it was steady.

“So that's it!”

He gave his hat a jerk and his eyes grew hard. His jaw muscles swelled out under his skin. It was the first time she had seen that.

“If that’s all you want, I’ll make you the president’s secretary.”

She had seen him angry many times, but never like this. She sprang up to repair the damage, but he strode out, very godlike.

The next morning she swung into the office cheerfully. She knew Kirk, how to handle him.

He was working at his desk. She saw with a start that he must have been there for hours.

“Good morning, Maida.” He was crisply impersonal, giving a hearty, well-meaning greeting from boss to stenographer. She raised her eyebrows.

He spoke without waiting for her to answer, without noticing her raised eyebrows.

“We’re going under pressure.” he said, and she stopped to listen. She did not wish to, but she did. “I’d like to have the late dictation out of the way each morning by tenthirty. Eleven o’clock will be satisfactory—this morning.”

“But. Kirk !” she protested. “I haven’t been getting those letters out until after lunch.”

“After this I’ll want them at ten-thirty.”

“You can’t have them then.”

He spoke slowly and each word was like a mallet tap.

“I said. I want those letters at ten-thirty.”

She looked at him to reply and met his grey gaze. She did not speak, but rushed out of the office. Later she came back silently and got the letters out—at ten-thirty.

Thus in one vicious stride he had escaped her. After that she was merely the hard-working, hard-driven stenographer. She dared not leave him. He, himself, was a madman of energy. He left no department untouched. He gathered reams of statistics and studied them with the persistence of a scientist. Officials resented his scrutin es and complained of them, but benign old President Baucum soothed them and made no effort to restrain him. He may have had a prescience of what was to come and knew that nothing mattered.

Within a few months department heads were starting guiltily when they were summoned to the president’s office. Their reports each week grew worse and worse. Other businesses for more than a year had been crashing, but Toole’s was a staunch old concern which had weathered all storms. The directors sent down threats of reorganization, and after that even they forgot to condemn. The situation was hopeless.

The directors named a day to decide on the details of the bankruptcy. The time arrived, the directors went into session, and Toole, Inc., that day was like a wounded dumb animal.

“Bring those papers,” Kirk Sands said to Maida. himself gathering up a load of books and reports. He strode out and she followed him along the corridors until they invaded the directors’ meeting without invitation or notice.

P* HAIRMAN HART sat at the head of the table. Old V“> Man Paynesworth, Old Man Van Peel, Old Man Halevy and the others, all nine of them, sat as mourners at a funeral. Toole, Inc., had provided them with wealth and station, them and their fathers. President Baucum was reading typed pages to them, evidence of the inevitable.

Kirk Sands dumped his papers on the table and took charge. The directors looked at him curiously, but were too depressed for the moment to challenge him.

“I understand that Toole is about to go bust,” Kirk said. “That won’t do. We mustn’t permit it.”

Doughty Old Man Van Peel rose up flushing.

“Young man, who are you? Why are you here? Get out !”

Kirk’s face twitched impatiently.

“Will you please be quiet?”

They glared across the table. Van Peel grew purple. Kirk’s jaw muscles set.

“Sitting here—quitting!” he spat. “When the fight’s just begun.”

Big, hard-framed Chairman Hart leaned forward in his chair.

“Stop it!” he demanded, rapping the table with his knuckles. “Explain yourself, sir!”

“Exactly what I came for. Now listen !”

The glaring directors watched him pick up a sheaf of papers from the pile. He was intent, clear-thoughted—this tall, fierce young man. Department by department, they learned far more than they had ever known of Toole, Inc. They lost their antagonism. They melted back into their chairs. They listened. The figures flowed on, clear and illuminating. No wonder Toole had been unable to hold together.

Night came and they still listened; Maida, now frightened, now thrilled, always amazed, with them. They sent out for sandwiches and coffee, and Kirk Sands’ voice, husky but still militant, shot them facts and analyses, while they munched and sipped and looked at him in surprised respect.

Finally his long fingers flipped over the last paper. It was late.

“There, gentlemen, is your picture,” he said. “It would be a crime to permit Toole to fold up. It has the business. In the nature of things it will continue to have sufficient volume to operate not far in the red. It must shed its dead weight, and executives and employees alike must make it a religion to come through.”

The directors looked at each other a long time, uncertainly. They had come to disband the business. This was something unexpected. Chairman Hart turned to President Baucum.

“What do you think?” he murmured.

“I couldn’t do it.”

“I could!” It was Kirk.

The directors stiffened at the challenge.

“I’ll say this,” Old Man Van Peel declared. “We couldn’t be in worse shape later than now, except the bust

would be bigger. I say give it to him and let him do his

best.”

And so it was that when the meeting adjourned, Kirk Sands was the new executive vice-president and vibrations began running through Toole, Inc. So it was that their shabby little office became known as the “dictator’s” office. And so it was that Toole, Inc., forsook its staid and plodding dignity and became the lean and hard-muscled foxhound in the race for survival.

AND SO it was, that first night, that Maida laughed into her mirror hysterically, and remembered that it started from Kirk’s insane ambition for the revenge of making her the president’s secretary. Now. she knew\ that in the place of his warm and eager desire she must be content with the tension of drawn steel and unleashed energy. Well—she had started it. She’d stick.

After the nightmare months of desperation came returning better times, and Toole went to peaks it never before had attained. President Baucum, who had held on as a sort of balance wheel, one day revealed to Kirk that he was about to retire.

Maida heard it and grew cold, for she knew that Kirk would be chosen president in his place. That would mean that he w'ould select her as his secretary, and that the announcement would come in chill, clipped tones as a matter of routine.

He was looking across the desk at her now, absently stacking the leaves of the report, tapping their edges sharply on the desk.

He arose. He was tremendously tall.

“By the way,” he said. “Have a ix>rter move your papers and personal things into the president’s suite this morning. The board will elect me president, I’m told.”

“Congratulations. I’m not surprised, but I’m glad.”

“Thanks.”

She stumbled in her thoughts. She ought to say something.

“And I’m to be your secretary?” was the best she could do.

He looked at her quickly.

“Of course,” he smiled. It was a queer, quiet little smile, as if he had just recollected something funny about her being the president’s secretary. “Certainly.”

He turned away indifferently, and she felt as if she had been struck. It was a curt, unfeeling thing he said, but she had a strange sense of elation. It was the first time in five years that he had said anything even remotely referring to their last personal conversation.

She gave instructions for the removal of her filing cases and went, suddenly weary and hoixdess now that the flash of elation had passed, to the president’s office, and saw' to it that the desk was dusted and the place tidied. She sent out fora single rose and placed it, lingeringly, in a vase upon the desk. She walked about the spacious, richly-appointed room, with its dark-framed portraits of distinguished presidents on the w alls, thinking that some day—some far day—Kirk’s picture w'ould also be there.

Out the window, over the tops of the wharves, the smokestacks of ships protruded, and distantly over the island the curve of the river snuggled like something vaguely alive against the horizon. A liner was cautiously picking its way toward its berth.

Something in the picture caught Maida. She clutched her notebook to her breast. In a little mirror between windows she saw that her smoky blue eyes had a haunted look and she turned away.

She sighed and went into the directors’ room. It was a very jovial meeting of the board, and with good reason. The first dividend in six years was to be declared. Even the white and stumpy-whiskered Old Man Van Peel sat at the corner of the long table and chewed at his cigar in grim joviality.

Old Man Hart, the chairman, was broad and expansive in his good humor, as if, Maida thought, lie were responsible for the dividend. The others, pompous and important, were spilling cigar ashes over their vests. Old Man Paynesworth, as usual, was giving her the all over as she went to her desk, grouching for his lost youth.

“Explain these figures, Kirk!”

Mr. Hart spoke. The other directors straightened in their chairs respectfully. To Kirk !

CHE OPENED her notebook, placed three pencils, ^ sharpened at both ends, in a row, leaned back in her chair and waited to take the record. She looked up at Kirk. She wanted to smile, to cry. but she mustn’t. She must be very prim and correct and unnoticed. She mustn’t spoil his show. It was his big moment.

She liked those terribly long creases in his trousers, and his dark coat with a flower in the buttonhole. He looked good. More than all, she liked his steady grey eyes, his lean face, those fine jaw muscles.

“Well, gentlemen . . .”

Maida jammed her soft fist against her mouth. She suddenly thought of Kirk’s hairy, spindling legs in those expensive pants. She hadn’t seen them since they used to go swimming together—back in ’31.

“. . .1 think we are justified in some pride in this table of production costs ...”

Words as close-cropped as the little mustache upon his lip. They flowed smoothly and confidently. Maida’s eyes shone. He continued to speak, and when he looked at her he spouted figures just the same as if she were a director.

She drew a little circle in her notebook. Then she put a dot in the middle of it. After which she drew radiating lines from the dot, then she merely waited while the torrent of figures swept on.

Old Man Paynesworth, frankly bored, went to sleep. Old Man Van Peel objected. “Why do we have to listen to all this arithmetic? Kirk’s running the business. Let’s declare the dividend. How much is it, Hart?”

“Five per cent.”

“Move we declare a five per cent dividend.” “Second,” Old Man Paynesworth woke up to chirp. “Moved and seconded declare five per cent dividend, any discussion? All in favor say aye, all opposed no, ayes have it and it is so ordered, write it up Miss Winston.”

“Move we adjourn.”

Maida broke a pencil point. They hadn’t elected Kirk yet.

Chairman Hart laughed. “Don’t be so fast. You’ve got to have a president.”

“Yes,” Old Man Van Peel protested, “but I want us to adjourn now and meet tonight at my place up the river. Elect him there—give it a sort of social flavor.”

Continued on page 38

Continued from page 13—Starts on page 12

Maida‘s eyes widened. “Darn!” she said to herself. The Van Peel estate was a gold-lined paradise. Nobody entered but the triple-elect.

“Elect him now,” Hart insisted. “We’ll come to your party just the same.”

"Very well—move Kirk Sands be elected president, and I’ll have a launch at the company wharf at five.”

“Second,” said Old Man Halevy, “and I don’t like your darned boats. I’ll drive up in my own car.”

“Heard the motion, any discussion, all those in favor say aye, opposed no, motion’s carried, write it up Miss Winston, unanimous, been moved and seconded and carried we adjourn at the call of the chairman, write it up Miss Winston, and by the way, Van Peel, Miss Winston’s been our right-hand man around here. She should go too.”

“Absolutely,” said Old Man Van Peel.

“Second your motion,” said Old Man Paynesworth.

She murmured her thanks, left. Kirk was speaking again, less formally now that the meeting was over. She wanted to be away, alone. Something was tearing at her inside. She sped down the corridor to the president’s secretary’s office. They were giving Kirk a reception—introducing him to their social group—making him one of them—taking him to themselves, to their beautiful, wealthy, charming women.

It may have been—Maida suspected it was—Georgia Van Peel Hopedell Sydney’s own connivance, this reception. She was a divorcee and married again, perhaps ready for another romance. Maida sat at her desk and her head dropped into her hands. Oh, lord ! She couldn’t give him up.

But she was sitting upright and correct when Kirk came in twenty minutes later.

“Maida!”

She started. She had to stop that. She couldn’t be jumpy.

“Put out a bulletin to the department heads to meet me at ten tomorrow. After that—you’d best take the day off. It’s to be quite tony tonight. I suppose. You’ll need time to get ready.”

He turned and was gone. Not a smile. It was as if he had said to himself. “Here’s a wheel to turn,” and gave it a whirl, and went on to the next wheel.

rT'HE BOAT swung in a graceful arc from

the wharf, and pointed its sharp, milkwhite prow against the current. It throbbed eagerly, fighting the water, and presently it was satisfied and speeding. Fanlike spray leaped to either side of the knife edge and dropped back to the surface, lacing the boiling wake.

Great ships loomed awesomely above them, and the little people who leaned on the rails looked down at their small white launch.

Maida, forgetting Old Man Hart leaning

ahead of her in the cushions, and the perky little Director Gwathmey, even forgetting Kirk up front rhythmically hammering two right fingers to the left palm, driving home to Director Hauss the imperative necessity of something or other —all this faded and in her imagination she was one of the little people leaning against white rails up there in the sky.

From up there she looked upon a thrillingly blue Mediterranean. There was no war, of course. Monte Carlo, Crete, Port Said, Singapore—far-flung distances of blue and white and green—strange people in strange lands bringing rare and beautiful wares for her choice—and Kirk Sands stood with her.

The boat swung in to the Van Peel landing, and as they went up the concrete steps Kirk joined her and took her arm. They went together up the winding walkways, across the terraces and to the solid old mansion. Both, perhaps, were a bit intimidated by it. Maida, certainly, saw it with resentment. Behind the great door, she was sure, lovely women waited to pounce upon Kirk. It wasn’t fair, she thought, and the thought lingered like a wail.

There was the flurry of greeting inside the hall. Maida saw Georgia coming—tall, colorful, smiling with assurance—everything she had dreaded.

“I heard you were alone with this mob of men,” Georgia said. “I came to rescue you.”

“But it was thrilling, coming up the river,” Maida said as Georgia led her up the grand stairway.

“I suppose so. I suppose any girl would be thrilledwith that beastly handsome Kirk Sands along. Before we go to your room let’s visit my baby—she’s here.”

In the nursery Georgia bent over the pink blankets, but Maida hesitated, held back and then unbent. In a moment the baby, the mother and Maida were all cooing together. Maida was no longer afraid of Georgia.

In her room. Maida found her bag already there and her things spread out expertly. A maid was waiting.

“We’ll ring, Millie,” Georgia said and the maid left.

Women either know each other or they don’t, and Maida and Georgia did, almost instantly, and were friends.

“Tell me.” Georgia smiled, “why you’ve let so magnificent a brute as Kirk Sands escape you?”

Maida laughed, not too steadily. She envied Georgia her poise and felt herself somehow off balance.

“Well—we’ve all been so busy—the times have been so trying ...” Maida paused abruptly, angry at herself for answering, and at Georgia for asking. What right had this woman to enquire into her relations with Kirk?

But Georgia, too, was in a mood for accusation.

“Do you mean to say,” she demanded, ’ood-humored but severe, “that you’ve done all this just for good old Toole, Incorporated?”

“I—I—” Maida’s brained picked up that thought and went racing with it. Five needless years of strain and unhappiness. For what? For Toole? It boiled down to that.

Georgia laughed easily.

“You love him, of course?”

A/fAIDA LAUGHED, too. It was -*-*-*• impossible to be angry with one so amiably frank. Georgia, somehow, made it so normal to love Kirk Sands. She had the sudden feeling of unutterable longing. Things were giving way in her.

“I’m going to—to cry, darn it!” she quavered, and reached for her handkerchief, trying to laugh.

Georgia looked at her steadily for a moment.

“I know your trouble,” she said, and reached for the telephone. Then she was speaking.

“Is that you, Lanier? ... I need you . . . Positively, no. You are not going to the city tonight . . . Yes, at dinner . . . Come prepared for instant and ardent love. It will be easy . . .Yes, hated rival . . . It’s a game. Us gals are framing a guy . . . Get the idea? . . . Nice boy!”

Georgia turned to Maida, laughing.

“That was Lanier Hunger ford. He is tall and dark and very soulful. Do you mind?”

An hour later, adventurously, they went down to the library to join the guests. They struck Maida, despite the rich setting, as being rather like other people waiting to eat, a little stuffy perhaps, forcing themselves to small talk. She had the satisfaction of seeing Kirk look up at her with a start. He had never seen her in an evening gown before.

Lanier Hunger ford, a suave thing of black and white, was upon them eagerly. His dark eyes caressed her cheek and her deep blue eyes, and lingered upon the grace of her shoulder line and approved the sweep of her wine-colored frock. He was too genuinely surprised to be acting.

“Lanier!” Georgia murmured. “Take her.”

Kirk was the event of the evening, of course. This new president whose endurance and sagacity had made it possible for the Van Peels and the Halevys and the Paynesworths to continue to live happily was someone to honor. Georgia sat at his side at dinner. Maida knew that he was uncomfortable. He was not accustomed to those spotlights which he did not achieve by fighting. But he carried himself well; heavily, perhaps, but creditably. After all, she thought, one who had struggled through with the almost impossible weight of Toole on his shoulders might be expected to be less than lightfooted.

He looked at her and at Lanier Hungerford murmuring in her ear, to see them and to note their presence, but displaying no more interest in them than in the others.

After dinner Maida danced with him several times. He was not the flash of grace that was Lanier Hungerford. He hadn’t the spirit of it. He said, “You are very beautiful, Maida,” and he said it in the exact tone of a moment later when he commented: “The Van Peels have a

wonderful house.”

Lanier was having a delightful time. He mistook Kirk’s silences and studied

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speeches for cold jealousy and became zealously suitorish.

Georgia went to the car with her and bade her an understanding good night.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

Maida rode back to the city silently between Mr. Hart and Mr. Paynesworth, and the flat, dull truth crept in. Kirk Sands was not for her. She might have had him once, but not now.

Tomorrow she would resign. She was the president’s secretary now—ye gods! -—and there were no more heights to climb, no more peaks to aspire to, hopeful of love. She would tell him tomorrow. She would speak calmly, impersonally, as one machine to another. She mustn’t stammer or weep or rush madly from the room. She mustn’t mention the seven years they had been together. Merely resign and get out.

r"PIIE NEXT morning she arranged her papers with mechanical precision, numbly. The department heads would assemble at ten o’clock—just a pep talk. Some of them might want to make speeches. Half an hour, perhaps. Following that would be a Government man. Fully an hour. At eleven-thirty, a shippers’ association man. Half an hour. After that she would make an appointment for herself. At noon she would tell him.

He came in just then.

“Nice, last night,” he stated.

“Yes, indeed.”

“Please notify everyone, after the department heads come in, that I can’t be

seen.”

“Very well.”

“I’d like to have you in the meeting.”

She nodded. She could resign immediately after. Strange. She had no regrets. She anticipated it with relief. She desired to be away, to be to herself, to think and not remember.

The heads of departments soon came marching in, some frightened, some stoical, some nervous, some nonchalant, each according to his disposition. Maida went in with them and took her seat at the corner of Kirk’s big desk, spreading out her notebook. They merged in a group beyond the desk, and Maida was foggily aware that, unconsciously to them, it was a farewell party. Kirk was standing before them, his hands in his ]X)ckets informally.

“There’s nothing to say, really,” he said. “You’ve heard, doubtless, that the directors have given me a new title and a big shiny office to go along with it. I’ve called you here chiefly to tell you not to pay a bit of attention to that. We’ll pursue the same old routine and the same old policies. Wages already are back up to scale and will be kept there. There are no changes in personnel to announce. We’ve been doing too well to change anything. I just wanted to bid you welcome to this office, and to tell you to keep up the good work. As for myself, I’m going to Europe to rest. Two months, maybe three, and I’ll bid you good-by now, and good luck!”

The department heads came forward enthusiastically. They congratulated him. They assured him. They wished him well. They yes-yessed quite a lot. They went back to their work.

Maida, disconcerted, sat still, looking at him. She should, she told herself severely, be thinking up words to say to him when she resigned. But she was thinking of what he said and how he said it, of how the men kx>ked up to him in admiration, of his being in Europe—in Paris—on the Riviera—alone.

He strolled about the office, looking at the pictures, abstractedly.

“Funny old birds, with the whiskers,” he commented.

She looked up wearily at the funny old birds. This, probably, was the last time she was ever to see Kirk Sands. She ought, she supposed, to remain during his absence. It would be letting him down to leave now. He was depending on her to handle the confidential routine while he was away. But she couldn’t. She would collapse. She must be careful to speak steadily, like a businesswoman. No sobs. No scenes.

She considered him for a moment, fighting back a frantic impulse to leave the room. She spoke easily, surprised at herself.

"I am leaving too,” she said brightly. “Uh?” He did not turn, but continued to look out at the sea.

“I said I am leaving too—permanently.” “Yes. Of course,” absently.

"Today.”

"Yes.”

She looked at him sharply. Hadn’t he understood? She went over and stood beside him.

“I don’t know whether you heard me,” she insisted. "I said I was resigning.” lie continued preoccupied.

"Yes. I understood. I expected it. I’m sorry, but I don’t blame you.”

“I I don’t understand what you mean.” She felt herself faltering and braced against it.

T-JE TURNED from the window and A *■ gave her his attention now. He was smiling grimly and kindly and perhaps a bit bitterly.

"This conversation isn’t as we planned it five years ago, is it, Maida?”

She turned steadily wooden. She wanted to cry out, to scream, to move. She could not.

He went on, smiling at the irony of it. making her feel the dull disappointment which he felt. He discussed it as he might speak of a sales promotion plan which went awry.

"You made a gallant fight of it, girl,” he said with sympathy, and as if he were speaking of two other people. “You failed to take into consideration one factor, and that smashed your plan.

"It was unfortunate that you hit upon the scheme of putting ambition before romance. It put me in the president’s chair, all right—but the thing ends there. And I believe, truly, that I would have made a pretty fair husband back then, before I got, you might say, punch drunk, in this depression business.”

Maida was looking at him in still-eyed amazement, every nerve quivering.

“So,” he said, waving his hand, “I don’t blame you. I’d go where I could find

happiness. After all, it’s the greatest— ah—asset in life.”

Somebody’s bright white yacht was threading that narrow strip of river they could see over the island. Both paused and looked at it. It was a relief from words that came stubbornly.

"I knew about it,” Kirk said, "when I tried one time to repeat what I said to you in the old office. I said: ‘Maida, you’ve held me off so long. Let’s get married.’ I don’t know whether you remember that. Those were my words. I put good spirit in them, too. I had it in me in those days.

"But now, when I try to repeat them, it is as dull and flat as the multiplication table. No spirit. No life. No fervor. That’s how I know that for a husband for a grand girl like you, I’d be a washout. You made a great play, young lady,” he said, trying to smile, "but you lost.”

Kirk was losing his poise. His eyes were troubled, not steely. Maida had him by the lapels of his coat.

"Say it!” she said fiercely, straining her eyes into his.

"Sav what?”

"What you said—years ago.”

"You mean: ‘Maida you’ve held me off so long. Let’s get married’? ”

"Yes. Say it.” She was tugging at his lapels, her voice sibilant with insistence.

Kirk repeated it monotonously, as a child reading from a book: "Maida, you’ve held me off so long. Let’s get married.” “Say it.”

“Maida, you’ve held ...”

Tears filled her eyes and ran unchecked upon her cheek while she jerked at his lapels, feeling that it was hopeless, that she couldn’t wring from him the steel barrier between them.

"Say it!” she wept.

“. . . . me off so long. Let’s ...” “Maida!” Kirk was solidly disbelieving, and shouting his disbelief. “Could you—as I am now?”

“Oh my lord, yes,” she moaned. Awkwardly he took her in his arms and, abashed, he kissed her.

Her head lay against his breast and she sighed as the wind might sigh as the storm leaves. It was not all that she had dreamed of, but it was all there was.