A Poor Wise Man by Mary Roberts Rinehart - HTML preview

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Chapter 17

 

But there was a truce for a time. Lily came and went without interference, and without comment. Nothing more was said about Newport. She motored on bright days to the country club, lunched and played golf or tennis, rode along the country lanes with Pink Denslow, accepted such invitations as came her way cheerfully enough but without enthusiasm, and was very gentle to her mother. But Mademoiselle found her tense and restless, as though she were waiting.

And there were times when she disappeared for an hour or two in the afternoons, proffering no excuses, and came back flushed, and perhaps a little frightened. On the evenings that followed those small excursions she was particularly gentle to her mother. Mademoiselle watched and waited for the blow she feared was about to fall. She felt sure that the girl was seeing Louis Akers, and that she would ultimately marry him. In her despair she fell back on Willy Cameron and persuaded Grace to invite him to dinner. It was meant to be a surprise for Lily, but she had telephoned at seven o'clock that she was dining at the Doyles'.

It was that evening that Willy Cameron learned that Mr. Hendricks had been right about Lily. He and Grace dined alone, for Howard was away at a political conference, and Anthony had dined at his club. And in the morning room after dinner Grace found herself giving him her confidence.

"I have no right to burden you with our troubles, Mr. Cameron," Grace said, "but she is so fond of you, and she has great respect for your judgment. If you could only talk to her about the anxiety she is causing. These Doyles, or rather Mr. Doyle - the wife is Mr. Cardew's sister - are putting all sorts of ideas into her head. And she has met a man there, a Mr. Akers, and - I'm afraid she thinks she is in love with him, Mr. Cameron."

He met her eyes gravely.

"Have you tried not forbidding her to go to the Doyles?"

"I have forbidden her nothing. It is her grandfather.”

"Then it seems to be Mr. Cardew who needs to be talked to, doesn't it?" he said. "I wouldn't worry too much, Mrs. Cardew. And don't hold too tight a rein.

He was very down-hearted when he left. Grace's last words placed a heavy burden on him.

"I simply feel," she said, "that you can do more with her than we can, and that if something isn't done she will ruin her life. She is too fine and wonderful to have her do that."

To picture Lily as willfully going her own gait at that period would be most unfair. She was suffering cruelly; the impulse that led her to meet Louis Akers against her family's wishes was irresistible, but there was a new angle to her visits to the Doyle house. She was going there now, not so much because she wished to go, as because she began to feel that her Aunt Elinor needed her.

There was something mysterious about her Aunt Elinor, mysterious and very sad. Even her smile had pathos in it, and she was smiling less and less. She sat in those bright little gatherings, in them but not of them, unbrilliant and very quiet. Sometimes she gave Lily the sense that like Lily herself she was waiting. Waiting for what?

Lily had a queer feeling too, once or twice, that Elinor was afraid. But again, afraid of what? Sometimes she wondered if Elinor Doyle was afraid of her husband; certainly there were times, when they were alone, when he dropped his unctuous mask and held Elinor up to smiling contempt.

"You can see what a clever wife I have," he said once. "Sometimes I wonder, Elinor, how you have lived with me so long and absorbed so little of what really counts."

"Perhaps the difficulty," Elinor had said quietly, "is because we differ as to what really counts."

Lily brought Elinor something she needed, of youth and irresponsible chatter, and in the end the girl found the older woman depending on her. To cut her off from that small solace was unthinkable. And then too she formed Elinor's sole link with her former world, a world of dinners and receptions, of clothes and horses and men who habitually dressed for dinner, of the wealth and panoply of life. A world in which her interest strangely persisted.

"What did you wear at the country club dance last night?" she would ask.

"A rose-colored chiffon over yellow. It gives the oddest effect, like an Ophelia rose."

Or: "At the Mainwarings? George or Albert?"

"The Alberts."

"Did they ever have any children?"

One day she told her about not going to Newport, and was surprised to see

Elinor troubled.

"Why won't you go? It is a wonderful house."

"I don't care to go away, Aunt Nellie." She called her that sometimes. Elinor had knitted silently for a little. Then: "Do you mind if I say something to you?"

"Say anything you like, of course.”

"I just - Lily, don't see too much of Louis Akers. Don't let him carry you off your feet. He is good-looking, but if you marry him, you will be terribly unhappy."

"That isn't enough to say, Aunt Nellie," she said gravely.

"You must have a reason."

Elinor hesitated.

"I don't like him. He is a man of very impure life."

"That's because he has never known any good women." Lily rose valiantly to his defense, but the words hurt her. "Suppose a good woman came into his life? Couldn't she change him?"

"I don't know," Elinor said helplessly. "But there is something else. It will cut you off from your family."

"You did that. You couldn't stand it, either. You know what it's like."

"There must be some other way. That is no reason for marriage." "But-suppose I care for him?" Lily said, shyly.

"You wouldn't live with him a year. There are different ways of caring, Lily. There is such a thing as being carried away by a man's violent devotion, but it isn't the violent love that lasts."

Lily considered that carefully, and she felt that there was some truth in it. When Louis Akers came to take her home that night he found her unresponsive and thoughtful.

"Mrs. Doyle's been talking to you," he said at last. "She hates me, you know."

"Why should she hate you?”

"Because, with all her vicissitudes, she's still a snob," he said roughly.

"My family was nothing, so I'm nothing."

"She wants me to be happy, Louis." "And she thinks you won't be with me.”

"I am not at all sure that I would be." She made an effort then to throw off the strange bond that held her to him. "I should like to have three months, Louis, to get a - well, a sort of perspective. I can't think clearly when you're around, and - "

"And I'm always around? Thanks." But she had alarmed him. "You're hurting me awfully, little girl," he said, in a different tone. "I can't live without seeing you, and you know it. You're all I have in life. You have everything, wealth, friends, position. You could play for three months and never miss me. But you are all I have."

In the end she capitulated

Jim Doyle was very content those days. There had been a time when Jim Doyle was the honest advocate of labor, a flaming partizan of those who worked with their hands. But he had traveled a long road since then, from dreamer to conspirator. Once he had planned to build up; now he plotted to tear down.

His weekly paper had enormous power. To the workers he had begun to preach class consciousness, and the doctrine of being true to their class. From class consciousness to class hatred was but a step. Ostensibly he stood for a vast equality, world wide and beneficent; actually he preached an inflammable doctrine of an earth where the last shall be first. He advocated the overthrow of all centralized government, and considered the wages system robbery. Under it workers were slaves, and employers of workers slave-masters. It was with such phrases that he had for months been consistently inflaming the inflammable foreign element in and around the city, and not the foreign element only. A certain percentage of American-born workmen fell before the hammer-like blows of his words, repeated and driven home each week.

He had no scruples, and preached none. He preached only revolt, and in that revolt defiance of all existing laws. He had no religion; Christ to him was a pitiful weakling, a historic victim of the same system that still crucified those who fought the established order. In his new world there would be no churches and no laws. He advocated bloodshed, arson, sabotage of all sorts, as a means to an end.

Fanatic he was, but practical fanatic, and the more dangerous for that. He had viewed the failure of the plan to capture a city in the northwest in February with irritation, but without discouragement. They had acted prematurely there and without sufficient secrecy. That was all. The plan in itself was right. And he had watched the scant reports of the uprising in the newspapers with amusement and scorn. The very steps taken to suppress the facts showed the uneasiness of the authorities and left the nation with a feeling of false security.

The people were always like that. Twice in a hundred years France had experienced the commune. Each time she had been warned, and each time she had waited too long. Ever so often in the life of every nation came these periodic outbursts of discontent, economic in their origin, and ran their course like diseases, contagious, violent and deadly.

The commune always followed long and costly wars. The people would dance, but they revolted at paying the piper.

The plan in Seattle had been well enough conceived; the city light plant was to have been taken over during the early evening of February 6, and at ten o'clock that night the city was to have gone dark. But the reign of terrorization that was to follow had revolted Jim Osborne, one of their leaders, and from his hotel bedroom he had notified the authorities. Word had gone out to "get" Osborne.

If it had not been for Osborne, and the conservative element behind him, a flame would have been kindled at Seattle that would have burnt across the nation.

Doyle watched Gompers cynically.. He considered his advocacy of patriotic cooperation between labor and the Government during the war the skillful attitude of an opportunist. Gompers could do better with public opinion behind him than without it. He was an opportunist, riding the wave which would carry him farthest. Playing both ends against the middle, and the middle, himself. He saw Gompers, watching the release of tension that followed the armistice and seeing the great child he had fathered, grown now and conscious of its power, - watching it, fully aware that it had become stronger than he.

Gompers, according to Doyle, had ceased to be a leader and become a follower, into strange and difficult paths.

The war had made labor's day. No public move was made without consulting organized labor, and a certain element in it had grown drunk with power. To this element Doyle appealed. It was Doyle who wrote the carefully prepared incendiary speeches, which were learned verbatim by his agents for delivery. For Doyle knew one thing, and knew it well. Labor, thinking along new lines, must think along the same lines. Be taught the same doctrines. Be pushed in one direction There were, then, two Doyles, one the poseur, flaunting his outrageous doctrines with a sardonic grin, gathering about him a small circle of the intelligentsia, and too openly heterodox to be dangerous. And the other, secretly plotting against the city, wary, cautious, practical and deadly, waiting to overthrow the established order and substitute for it chaos. It was only incidental to him that old Anthony should go with the rest.

But he found a saturnine pleasure in being old Anthony's Nemesis. He meant to be that. He steadily widened the breach between Lily and her family, and he watched the progress of her affair with Louis Akers with relish. He had not sought this particular form of revenge, but Fate had thrust it into his hands, and he meant to be worthy of the opportunity.

He was in no hurry. He had extraordinary patience, and he rather liked sitting back and watching the slow development of his plans. It was like chess; it was deliberate and inevitable. One made a move, and then sat back waiting and watching while the other side countered it, or fell, with slow agonizing, into the trap.

A few days after Lily had had her talk with Elinor, Doyle found a way to widen the gulf between Lily and her grandfather. Elinor seldom left the house, and Lily had done some shopping for her. The two women were in Elinor's bedroom, opening small parcels, when he knocked and came in.

"I don't like to disturb the serenity of this happy family group," he said, "but I am inclined to think that a certain gentleman, standing not far from a certain young lady's taxicab, belongs to a certain department of our great city government. And from his unflattering lack of interest in me, that he - "

Elinor half rose, terrified. "Not the police, Jim?”

"Sit down," he said, in a tone Lily had never heard him use before. And to Lily, more gently: "I am not altogether surprised. As a matter of fact, I have known it for some time. Your esteemed grandfather seems to take a deep interest in your movements these days.".

"Do you mean that I am being followed?"

"I'm afraid so. You see, you are a very important person, and if you will venture in the slums which surround the Cardew Mills, you should be protected. At any time, for instance, Aunt Elinor and I may despoil you of those pearls you wear so casually, and - "

"Don't talk like that, Jim," Elinor protested. She was very pale.

"Are you sure he is watching Lily?"

He gave her an ugly look.

"Who else?" he inquired suavely.

Lily sat still, frozen with anger. So this was her grandfather's method of dealing with her. He could not lock her up, but he would know, day by day, and hour by hour, what she was doing. She could see him reading carefully his wicked little notes on her day. Perhaps he was watching her mail, too. Then when he had secured a hateful total he would go to her father, and together they would send her away somewhere. Away from Louis Akers. If he was watching her mail too he would know that Louis was in love with her. They would rake up all the things that belonged in the past he was done with, and recite them to her. As though they mattered now!

She went to the window and looked out. Yes, she had seen the detective before. He must have been hanging around for days, his face unconsciously impressing itself upon her. When she turned:

"Louis is coming to dinner, isn't he?"

"Yes.”

"If you don't mind, Aunt Nellie, I think I'll dine out with him somewhere. I want to talk to him alone."

"But the detective - "

"If my grandfather uses low and detestable means to spy on me, Aunt Nellie, he deserves what he gets, doesn't he?"

When Louis Akers came at half-past six, he found that she had been crying, but she greeted him calmly enough, with her head held high. Elinor, watching her, thought she was very like old Anthony himself just then.