Two things helped greatly to restore Clayton to a more normal state of mind
during the next few days. One of them undoubtedly was the Valentine situation.
Beside Audrey's predicament and Chris's wretched endeavor to get away and yet
prove himself a man, his own position seemed, if not comfortable, at least
tenable. He would have described it, had he been a man to put such a thing into
words, as that "he and Natalie didn't exactly hit it off."
There were times, too, during those next few days, when he wondered if he had
not exaggerated their incompatibility. Natalie was unusually pleasant. She spent
some evening hours on the arm of his big chair, talking endlessly about the
Linndale house, and he would lean back, smiling, and pretend to a mad interest
in black and white tiles and loggias.
He made no further protest as to the expense.
"Tell me," he said once, "what does a fellow wear in this - er - Italian palace? If
you have any intention of draping me in a toga and putting vine leaves in my hair,
or whatever those wreaths were made of -!"
Natalie had no sense of humor, however. She saw that he meant to be amusing,
and she gave the little fleeting smile one gives to a child who is being rather silly.
"Of course," he went on, "we'll have Roman baths, and be anointed with oil
afterwards by lady Greek slaves. Perfumed oil."
"Don't be vulgar, Clay." And he saw she was really offended.
While there was actually no change in their relationship, which remained as it
had been for a dozen years, their surface life was pleasanter. And even that
small improvement cheered him greatly. He was thankful for such a peace, even
when he knew that he had bought it at a heavy price.
The other was his work. The directorate for the new munition plant had been
selected, and on Thursday of that week he gave a dinner at his club to the
directors. It had been gratifying to him to find how easily his past reputation
carried the matter of the vast credits needed, how absolutely his new board
deferred to his judgment. The dinner became, in a way, an ovation. He was
vastly pleased and a little humbled. He wanted terribly to make good, to justify
their faith in him. They were the big financial men of his time, and they were
agreeing to back his judgment to the fullest extent.
When the dinner was over, a few of the younger men were in no mood to go
home. They had dined and wined, and the night was young. Denis Nolan, who
had been present as the attorney for the new concern, leaned back in his chair
and listened to them with a sort of tolerant cynicism.
"Oh, go home, you fellows," he said at last. "You make me sick. Enough's
enough. Why the devil does every dinner like this have to end in a debauch?"
In the end, however, both he and Clayton went along, Clayton at least frankly
anxious to keep an eye on one or two of them until they started home. He had
the usual standards, of course, except for himself. A man's private life, so long as
he was not a bounder, concerned him not at all. But this had been his dinner. He