The winter which preceded the entrance of the United States into the war was
socially an extraordinary one. It was marked by an almost feverish gayety, as
though, having apparently determined to pursue a policy dictated purely by self
interest, the people wished to forget their anomalous position. Like a woman who
covers her shame with a smile. The vast number of war orders from abroad had
brought prosperity into homes where it had long been absent. Mills and factories
took on new life. Labor was scarce and high.
It was a period of extravagance rather than pleasure. Peaple played that they
might not think. Washington, convinced that the nation would ultimately be
involved, kept its secret well and continued to preach a neutrality it could not
enforce. War was to most of the nation a great dramatic spectacle, presented to
them at breakfast and in the afternoon editions. It furnished unlimited
conversation at dinner-parties, led to endless wrangles, gave zest and point to
the peace that made those dinner parties possible, furnished an excuse for
retrenchment here and there, and brought into vogue great bazaars and balls for
the Red Cross and kindred activities.
But although the war was in the nation's mind, it was not yet in its soul.
Life went on much as before. An abiding faith in the Allies was the foundation
stone of its complacency. The great six-months battle of the Somme, with its
million casualties, was resulting favorably. On the east the Russians had made
some gains. There were wagers that the Germans would be done in the Spring.
But again Washington knew that the British and French losses at the Somme had
been frightful; that the amount of lost territory regained was negligible as against
the territory still held; that the food problem in the British Islands was acute; that
the submarine sinkings were colossal. Our peace was at a fearful cost.
And on the edge of this volcano America played.
When Graham Spencer left the mill that Tuesday afternoon, it was to visit Marion
Hayden. He was rather bored now at the prospect. He would have preferred
going to the Club to play billiards, which was his custom of a late afternoon. He
drove rather more slowly than was his custom, and so missed Marion's invitation
to get there before the crowd.
Three cars before the house showed that she already had callers, and indeed
when the parlor-maid opened the door a burst of laughter greeted him. The
Hayden house was a general rendezvous. There were usually, by seven o'clock,
whiskey-and-soda glasses and tea-cups on most of the furniture, and half-
smoked cigarets on everything that would hold them, including the piano.
Marion herself met him in the hall, and led him past the drawing-room door.
"There are people in every room who want to be left alone," she volunteered. "I
kept the library as long as I could. We can sit on the stairs, if you like."
Which they proceeded to do, quite amiably. From various open doors came
subdued voices. The air was pungent with tobacco smoke permeated with a faint
scent of late afternoon highballs.