A Poor Wise Man by Mary Roberts Rinehart - HTML preview

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Chapter 23

 

To old Anthony the early summer had been full of humiliations, which he carried with an increased arrogance of bearing that alienated even his own special group at his club.

"Confound the man," said Judge Peterson, holding forth on the golf links one Sunday morning while Anthony Cardew, hectic with rage, searched for a lost ball and refused to drop another. "He'll hold us up all morning, for that ball, just as he tries to hold up all progress." He lowered his voice. "What's happened to the granddaughter, anyhow?"

Senator Lovell lighted a cigarette. "Turned Bolshevist," he said, briefly. The Judge gazed at him.

"That's a pretty serious indictment, isn't it?"

"Well, that's what I hear. She's living in Jim Doyle's house. I guess that's the answer. Hey, Cardew! D'you want these young cubs behind us to play through, or are you going to show some sense and come on?"

Howard, fighting his father tooth and nail, was compelled to a reluctant admiration of his courage. But there was no cordiality between them. They were in accord again, as to the strike, although from different angles. Both of them knew that they were fighting for very life; both of them felt that the strikers' demands meant the end of industry, meant that the man who risked money in a business would eventually cease to control that business, although if losses came it would be he, and not the workmen, who bore them. Howard had gone as far as he could in concessions, and the result was only the demand for more. The Cardews, father and son, stood now together, their backs against a wall, and fought doggedly.

But only anxiety held them together.

His father was now backing Howard's campaign for the mayoralty, but he was rather late with his support, and in private he retained his cynical attitude. He had not come over at all until he learned that Louis Akers was an opposition candidate. At that his wrath knew no bounds and the next day he presented a large check to the campaign committee.

Mr. Hendricks, hearing of it, was moved to a dry chuckle.

"Can't you hear him?" he demanded. "He'd stalk into headquarters as important as an office boy who's been sent to the bank for money, and he'd slam down his check and say just two words."

"Which would be?" inquired Willy Cameron.

"'Buy 'em'," quoted Mr. Hendricks. "The old boy doesn't know that things have changed since the 80's. This city has changed, my lad. It's voting now the way it thinks, right or wrong. That's why these foreign language papers can play the devil with us. The only knowledge the poor wretches have got of us is what they're given to read. And most of it stinks of sedition. Queer thing, this thinking. A fellow can think himself into murder."

The strike was going along quietly enough. There had been rioting through the country, but not of any great significance. It was in reality a sort of trench warfare, with each side dug in and waiting for the other to show himself in the open. The representatives of the press, gathered in the various steel cities, with automobiles arranged for to take them quickly to any disturbance that might develop, found themselves with little news for the telegraph, and time hung heavy on their hands.

On an evening in July, Howard found Grace dressing for dinner, and realized with a shock that she was looking thin and much older. He kissed her and then held her off and looked at her.

"You've got to keep your courage up, dear," he said. "I don't think it will be long now."

"Have you seen her?"

"No. But something has happened. Don't look like that, Grace. It's not - "

"She hasn't married that man?”

"No. Not that. It only touches her indirectly. But she can't stay there. Even Elinor - " he checked himself. "I'll tell you after dinner."

Dinner was very silent, although Anthony delivered himself of one speech rather at length.

"So far as I can make out, Howard," he said, "this man Hendricks is getting pretty strong. He has a young fellow talking for him who gets over pretty well. It's my judgment that Hendricks had better be bought off. He goes around shouting that he's a plain man, after the support of the plain people. Although I'm damned if I know what he means by that."

Anthony Cardew was no longer comfortable in his own house. He placed the blame for it on Lily, and spent as many evenings away from home as possible. He considered that life was using him rather badly. Tied to the city in summer by a strike, his granddaughter openly gone over to his enemy, his own son, so long his tool and his creature, merely staying in his house to handle him, an income tax law that sent him to his lawyers with new protests almost daily! A man was no longer master even in his own home. His employees would not work for him, his family disobeyed him, his government held him up and shook him. In the good old days -

"I'm going out," he said, as he rose from the table. "Grace, that chef is worse than the last. You'd better send him off."

"I can't get any one else. I have tried for weeks. There are no servants anywhere."

"Try New York."

"I have tried - it is useless."

No cooks, either. No servants. Even Anthony recognized that, with the exception of Grayson, the servants in his house were vaguely hostile to the family. They gave grudging service, worked short hours, and, the only class of labor to which the high cost of food was a negligible matter, demanded wages he considered immoral.

"I don't know what the world's coming to," he snarled. "Well, I'm off. Thank God, there are still clubs for a man to go to."

"I want to have a talk with you, father."

"I don't want to talk.”

"You needn't. I want you to listen, and I want Grace to hear, too."

In the end he went unwillingly into the library, and when Grayson had brought liqueurs and coffee and had gone, Howard drew the card from his pocket.

"I met young Denslow to-day," he said. "He came in to see me. As a matter of fact, I signed a card he had brought along, and I brought one for you, sir. Shall I read it?"

"You evidently intend to."

Howard read the card slowly. Its very simplicity was impressive, as impressive as it had been when Willy Cameron scrawled the words on the back of an old envelope. Anthony listened.

"Just what does that mean?"

"That the men behind this movement believe that there is going to be a general strike, with an endeavor to turn it into a revolution. Perhaps only local, but these things have a tendency to spread. Denslow had some literature which referred to an attempt to take over the city. They have other information, too, all pointing the same way."

"Strikers?"

"Foreign strikers, with the worst of the native born. Their plans are fairly comprehensive; they mean to dynamite the water works, shut down the gas and electric plants, and cut off all food supplies. Then when they have starved and terrorized us into submission, we'll accept their terms."

"What terms?"

"Well, the rule of the mob, I suppose. They intend to take over the banks, for one thing."

"I don't believe it. It's incredible."

"They meant to do it in Seattle."

"And didn't. Don't forget that.”

"They may have learned some things from Seattle," Howard said quietly.

"We have the state troops.”

"What about a half dozen similar movements in the state at the same time? Or rioting in other places, carefully planned to draw the troops and constabulary away?"

In the end old Anthony was impressed, if not entirely convinced. But he had no faith in the plain people, and said so. "They'll see property destroyed and never lift a hand," he said. "Didn't I stand by in Pittsburgh during the railroad riots, and watch them smile while the yards burned? Because the railroads meant capital to them, and they hate capital."

"Precisely," said Howard, "but after twenty-four hours they were fighting like demons to restore law and order. It is" - he fingered the card - "to save that twenty-four hours that this organization is being formed. It is secret. Did I tell you that? And the idea originated with the young man you spoke about as supporting Hendricks - you met him here once, a friend of Lily's. His name is Cameron - William Wallace Cameron."

Old Anthony remained silent, but the small jagged vein on his forehead swelled with anger. After a time:

"I suppose Doyle is behind this?" he asked.

"It sounds like him."

"That is the supposition. But they have nothing on him yet; he is too shrewd for that. And that leads to something else. Lily cannot continue to stay there."

"I didn't send her there."

"Actually, no. In effect - but we needn't go into that now. The situation is very serious. I can imagine that nothing could fit better into his plans than to have her there. She gives him a cachet of respectability. Do you want that?"

"She is probably one of them now. God knows how much of his rotten doctrine she has absorbed."

Howard flushed, but he kept his temper.

"His theories, possibly. His practice, no. She certainly has no idea ... it has come to this, father. She must have a home somewhere, and if it cannot be here, Grace and I must make one for her elsewhere."

Probably Anthony Cardew had never respected Howard more than at that moment, or liked him less.

"Both you and Grace are free to make a home where you please."

"We prefer it here, but you must see yourself that things cannot go on as they are. We have waited for you to see that, all three of us, and now this new situation makes it imperative to take some action."

"I won't have that fellow Akers coming here."

"He would hardly come, under the circumstances. Besides, her friendship with him is only a part of her revolt. If she comes home it will be with the understanding that she does not see him again."

"Revolt?" said old Anthony, raising his eyebrows.

"That is what it actually was. She found her liberty interfered with, and she staged her own small rebellion. It was very human, I think."

"It was very Cardew," said old Anthony, and smiled faintly. He had, to tell the truth, developed a grudging admiration for his granddaughter in the past two months. He saw in her many of his own qualities, good and bad. And, more than he cared to own, he had missed her and the young life she had brought into the quiet house. Most important of all, she was the last of the Cardews. Although his capitulation when it came was curt, he was happier than he had been for weeks.

"Bring her home," he said, "but tell her about Akers. If she says that is off, I'll forget the rest."

On her way to her room that night Grace Cardew encountered Mademoiselle, a pale, unhappy Mademoiselle, who seemed to spend her time mostly in Lily's empty rooms or wandering about corridors. Whenever the three members of the family were together she would retire to her own quarters, and there feverishly with her rosary would pray for a softening of hearts. She did not comprehend these Americans, who were so kind to those beneath them and so hard to each other.

"I wanted to see you, Mademoiselle," Grace said, not very steadily. "I have good news for you."

Mademoiselle began to tremble. "She is coming? Lily is coming?”

"Yes. Will you have some fresh flowers put in her rooms in the morning?" Suddenly Mademoiselle forgot her years of repression, and flinging her arms around Grace's neck she kissed her. Grace held her for a moment, patting her shoulder gently.

"We must try to make her very happy, Mademoiselle. I think things will be different now."

Mademoiselle stood back and wiped her eyes.

"But she must be different, too," she said. "She is sweet and good, but she is strong of will, too. The will to do, to achieve, that is one thing, and very good. But the will to go. one's own way, that is another."

"The young are always headstrong, Mademoiselle."

But, alone later on, her rosary on her knee, Mademoiselle wondered. If youth were the indictment against Lily, was she not still young? It took years, or suffering, or sometimes both, to break the will of youth and chasten its spirit. God grant Lily might not have suffering.

It was Grace's plan to say nothing to Lily, but to go for her herself, and thus save her the humiliation of coming back alone. All morning housemaids were busy in Lily's rooms. Rugs were shaken, floors waxed and rubbed, the silver frames and vases in her sitting room polished to refulgence. And all morning Mademoiselle scolded and ran suspicious fingers into corners, and arranged and re-arranged great boxes of flowers.

Long before the time she had ordered the car Grace was downstairs, dressed for the street, and clad in cool shining silk, was pacing the shaded hall. There was a vague air of expectation about the old house. In a room off the pantry the second man was polishing the buttons of his livery, using a pasteboard card with a hole in it to save the fabric beneath. Grayson pottered about in the drawing room, alert for the parlor maid's sins of omission.

The telephone in the library rang, and Grayson answered it, while Grace stood in the doorway.

"A message from Miss Lily," he said. "Mrs. Doyle has telephoned that Miss Lily is on her way here."

Grace was vaguely disappointed. She had wanted to go to Lily with her good news, to bring her home bag and baggage, to lead her into the house and to say, in effect, that this was home, her home. She had felt that they, and not Lily, should take the first step.

She went upstairs, and taking off her hat, smoothed her soft dark hair. She did not want Lily to see how she had worried; she eyed herself carefully for lines. Then she went down, to more waiting, and for the first time, to a little doubt.

Yet when Lily came all was as it should have been. There was no doubt about her close embrace of her mother, her happiness at seeing her. She did not remove her gloves, however, and after she had put Grace in a chair and perched herself on the arm of it, there was a little pause. Each was preparing to tell something, each hesitated. Because Grace's task was the easier it was she who spoke first.

"I was about to start over when you telephoned, dear," she said. "I - we want you to come home to us again."

There was a queer, strained silence. "Who wants me?" Lily asked, unsteadily.

"All of us. Your grandfather, too. He expects to find you here to-night. I can explain to your Aunt Elinor over the telephone, and we can send for your clothes."

Suddenly Lily got up and walked the length of the room. When she came back her eyes were filled with tears, and her left hand was bare.

"It nearly kills me to hurt you," she said, "but - what about this?" She held out her hand. Grace seemed frozen in her chair. At the sight of her mother's face Lily flung herself on her knees beside the chair.

"Mother, mother," she said, "you must know how I love you. Love you both. Don't look like that. I can't bear it."

Grace turned away her face.

"You don't love us. You can't. Not if you are going to marry that man."

"Mother," Lily begged, desperately, "let me come home. Let me bring him here. I'll wait, if you'll only do that. He is different; I know all that you want to say about his past. He has never had a real chance in all his life. He won't belong at first, but - he's a man, mother, a strong man. And it's awfully important. He can do so much, if he only will. And he says he will, if I marry him."

"I don't understand you," Grace said coldly. "What can a man like that do, but wreck all our lives?"

Resentment was rising fast in Lily, but she kept it down. "I'll tell you about that later," she said, and slowly got to her feet. "Is that all, mother? You won't see him? I can't bring him here? Isn't there any compromise? Won't you meet me half-way?"

"When you say half-way, you mean all the way, Lily."

"I wanted you so," Lily said, drearily, "I need you so just now. I am going to be married, and I have no one to go to. Aunt Elinor doesn't understand, either. Every way I look I find - I suppose I can't come back at all, then.”

"Your grandfather's condition was that you never see this Louis Akers again." Lily's resentment left her. Anger was a thing for small matters, trivial affairs. This that was happening, an irrevocable break with her family, was as far beyond anger as it was beyond tears. She wondered dully if any man were worth all this. Perhaps she knew, sub-consciously, that Louis Akers was not. All her exaltation was gone, and in its stead was a sort of dogged determination to see the thing through now, at any cost; to re-make Louis into the man he could be, to build her own house of life, and having built it, to live in it as best she could.

"That is a condition I cannot fulfill, mother. I am engaged to him."

"Then you love him more than you do any of us, or all of us.”

"I don't know. It is different," she said vaguely.

She kissed her mother very tenderly when she went away, but there was a feeling of finality in them both. Mademoiselle, waiting at the top of the stairs, heard the door close and could not believe her ears. Grace went upstairs, her face a blank before the servants, and shut herself in her room. And in Lily's boudoir the roses spread a heavy, funereal sweetness over the empty room.