February and March were peaceful months, on the surface. Washington was
taking stock quietly of national resources and watching for Germany's next move.
The winter impasse in Europe gave way to the first fighting of spring, raids and
sorties mostly, since the ground was still too heavy for the advancement of
artillery. On the high seas the reign of terror was in full swing, and little tragic
echoes of the world drama began again to come by cable across the Atlantic.
Some of Graham's friends, like poor Chris, found the end of the path of glory.
The tall young Canadian Highlander died before Peronne in March. Denis
Nolan's nephew was killed in the Irish Fusileers.
One day Clayton came borne to find a white-faced Buckham taking his overcoat
in the ball, and to learn that he had lost a young brother.
Clayton was uncomfortable at dinner that night. He wondered what Buckham
thought of them, sitting there around the opulent table, in that luxurious room. Did
he resent it? After dinner he asked him if he cared to take a few days off, but the
old butler shook his head.
"I'm glad to have my work to keep me busy, sir," he said. "And anyhow, in
England, it's considered best to go on, quite as though nothing had happened.
It's better for the troops, sir."
There was a new softness and tolerance in Clayton that early spring. He had
mellowed, somehow, a mellowing that had nothing to do with his new prosperity.
In past times he had wondered how he would stand financial success if it ever
came. He had felt fairly sure he could stand the other thing. But success - Now
he found that it only increased his sense of responsibility. He was, outside of the
war situation, as nearly happy as he had been in years. Natalie's petulant moods,
when they came, no longer annoyed him. He was supported, had he only known
it, by the strong inner life he was living, a life that centered about his weekly
meetings with Audrey.
Audrey gave him courage to go on. He left their comradely hours together better
and stronger. All the week centered about that one hour, out of seven days,
when he stood on her hearth-rug, or lay back in a deep chair, listening or talking -
such talk as Natalie might have heard without resentment.
Some times he felt that that one hour was all he wanted; it carried so far, helped
so greatly. He was so boyishly content in it. And then she would make a gesture,
or there would be, for a second, a deeper note in her voice, and the mad instinct
to catch her to him was almost overwhelming.
Some times he wondered if she were not very lonely, not knowing that she, too,
lived for days on that one hour. She was not going out, because of Chris's death,
and he knew there were long hours when she sat alone, struggling determinedly
with the socks she was knitting.
Only once did they tread on dangerous ground, and that was on her birthday. He
stopped in a jeweler's on his way up-town and brought her a black pearl on a thin
almost invisible chain, only to have her refuse to take it.
"I can't Clay!"