Clayton's first impulse was to take the cable to Natalie, to brush aside the absurd
defenses she had erected, and behind which she cowered, terrified but obstinate.
To say to her,
"He is living. He is going to live. But this war is not over yet. If we want him to
come through, we must stand together. We must deserve to have him come back
But by the time he reached the top of the stairs he knew he could not do it. She
would not understand. She would think he was using Graham to further a
reconciliation; and, after her first joy was over, he knew that he would see again
that cynical smile that always implied that he was dramatizing himself.
Nothing could dim his strong inner joy, but something of its outer glow faded. He
would go to her, later. Not now. Nothing must spoil this great thankfulness of his.
He gave Madeleine the cable, and went down again to the library.
After a time he began to go over the events of the past eighteen months. His
return from the continent, and that curious sense of unrest that had followed it,
the opening of his eyes to the futility of his life. His failure to Natalie and her
failure to him. Graham, made a man by war and by the love of a good woman.
Chris, ending his sordid life in a blaze of glory, and forever forgiven his tawdry
sins because of his one big hour.
War took, but it gave also. It had taken Joey, for instance, but Joey had had his
great moment. It was better to have one great moment and die than to drag on
through useless years. And it was the same way with a nation. A nation needed
its hour. It was only in a crisis that it could know its own strength. How many of
them, who had been at that dinner of Natalie's months before, had met their crisis
bravely! Nolan was in France now. Doctor Haverford was at the front. Audrey
was nursing Graham. Marion Hayden was in a hospital training-School. Rodney
Page was still building wooden barracks in a cantonment in Indiana, and was
making good. He himself -
They could never go back, none of them, to the old smug, complacent, luxurious
days. they could no more go back than Joey could return to life again. War was
the irrevocable step, as final as death itself. And he remembered something
Nolan had said, just before he sailed.
"We have had one advantage, Clay. Or maybe it is not an advantage, after all.
Do you realize that you and I have lived through the Golden Age? We have seen
it come and seen it go. The greatest height of civilization, since the world began,
the greatest achievements, the most opulent living. And we saw it all crash. It will
be a thousand years before the world will be ready for another."
"I suppose every life has its Golden Age. Generally we think it is youth. I'm not so
sure. Youth is looking ahead. It has its hopes and its disappointments. The
Golden Age in a mah's life ought to be the age of fulfillment. It's nearer the forties
than the twenties."