小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 英文短篇小说 » I Walked in Arden » Chapter Five I ENTER DEEP HARBOR SOCIETY
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
Chapter Five I ENTER DEEP HARBOR SOCIETY
"Don't you think it is about time we got to know some of the important people in town—social stuff—country club and so on?" said Knowlton one evening as he looked at me through his cigar smoke with one of his quizzical grins.

"I'm not very keen about it," I growled, for I was tired and sulky from a hard day, and Deep Harbor was resting somewhat heavily upon my nerves. "We've been here three months now, and not a solitary person has spoken to us except in the way of business."

Knowlton went on: "Still, I think it's bad business to keep away from them; we've got to know them. They haven't chased after us, so we must chase after them."

"Is there ever any other motive in your mind than a business one?" I exploded in disgust. This merely produced a particularly fiendish grin from Knowlton.

"Little inclined to kick over the traces tonight, aren't you, Ted? I don't blame you. You've had too long a dose without the right kind of relaxation. There must be plenty of nice people here if we could only get in touch with them. Better get out your Tuxedo and have it pressed. We'll open a social campaign."

I paid little attention to Knowlton's latest plan; he was full of new schemes each day, all aimed at extending the scope of our business connections. Several days passed, and, as I heard no more of his calculated social ambitions, I concluded that pressure of more important affairs had mercifully excluded this new idea from his mind. Then one afternoon my call sounded on the buzzer, and I reported at the office.

Knowlton greeted me with the customary grin. "Busy out in the laboratory?"

"No more than usual," I replied noncommittally. I had learned that when Knowlton introduced a subject with a prelude of this kind it usually meant extra work was about to be proposed.

"No experiment that will keep you this evening?" he queried. Should I start one as a measure of self-protection and then say "Yes," or should I chance whatever new plan Knowlton had on foot and step into his obvious trap? I decided on the latter course for the sake of variety.

"No," I answered. "I shall close down with the whistle."

"Good. Then I have a dinner invitation for you—now, you are to go, Ted, it's no use putting your back up. I've practically accepted."

"Are you going?" I asked suspiciously.

"Why no, Ted, I'm not. In the first place I haven't been invited; and, second, they are not so much in my line."

"Who, where, when?" I tried to make this scornfully ironic, but I only drew a broader grin than before from Knowlton.

"You owe the honour of this invitation to Mr. Hemphill, of our office staff."

I snorted, this time with anger.

"That fat old bore!" I exclaimed.

Knowlton interrupted me. "Hush, Teddy. While I recognize a certain truth in your description, still you are to know that our Mr. Hemphill, although hard up, belongs to one of the first families of Deep Harbor. His wife helps run the social plant in this burg—she's superintendent of it, in fact, and issues or cancels all permits to circulate through the labyrinth. I've only recently made this important discovery. Hence your bid to dinner." Knowlton grinned triumphantly.

Hemphill was a particularly disagreeable figure in the outer office, for he always buttonholed one to listen to a tiresome anecdote.

"It's the wife, Ted, who runs the works—not old Charlie. I agree with you about him. Believe me, he's kept on his good behaviour at home." Knowlton pressed his buzzer. "I'll have him in and tell him you've accepted."

I saw it was useless to protest. Hemphill appeared at the door, and I looked more closely than heretofore at my prospective host. Across his fat red face there spread an oily smile which sank on each side into a coarse iron-grey stubble. His forehead was high and greasy above two small blue eyes, beneath which were pouches of red skin. His hair, stiff and grey like the growth on his face, was worn pompadour and trimmed to make his head appear flat on top. Over the most conspicuously Falstaffian detail of his anatomy hung a heavy gold watch chain carrying many seals indicative of his membership in fraternal organizations. In the lapel of his coat was an enameled button as further proof of his fellowship.

"Mr. Hemphill," said Knowlton, "Ted accepts with pleasure your invitation to dine at your house this evening."

"That's fine, Mr. Jevons," he replied. "That certainly helps us out of a hole." I pricked up my ears. "Mrs. Hemphill was terrible put out because one of her regular young men was called to Pittsburgh to look after a pig-iron contract. His going kind of bust up the dinner party. I didn't think it mattered much myself, but you know what women are about such things. Wouldn't do to have one of the girls left without a beau, so I says, to make peace in the family, 'How about asking young Teddy out to the works?' Of course Sally—that's my wife—didn't care much about ringing in a stranger that way, but I said to her, says I, 'Shucks, Teddy's all right—nice, quiet boy, European education, and quite a swell where he comes from, according to what I've heard.' Well, that sort of quieted her, and finally she says to me—'Go ahead and ask him. I can't have my dinner party spoiled.' So that's how I came to put the proposition up to you," he concluded.

I saw Knowlton playing with his paper knife and making desperate efforts not to catch my eye or grin. My indignation all but boiled over.

"I'm deeply flattered"—I began, but at this point Knowlton pressed his buzzer. A stenographer hurried in. "Get me New York on the 'phone," he commanded. "That's all, Teddy. Be there at quarter of seven," and both Hemphill and I found ourselves dismissed without further ceremony. I surrendered in despair. What was the use of fighting? But I made up my mind to be so silent a partner in the evening's proceedings that never again would my services be in demand for filling a gap at a dinner table. Really my rage at being patronized by such people made my hands shake so that my work in the laboratory was useless for the rest of the afternoon. I tingled all over and longed for some way to square the score. I was going to my first dinner party in Deep Harbor like a man from Blankley's—practically hired out for the evening.

I left at ten minutes before six to allow myself a larger margin for dressing. I stopped at the office, but the wise Knowlton had eluded me by going home at half-past five. There was no one with whom I could lodge a final protest.

I dressed in a savage mood. Many caustic epigrams occurred to me as I brushed my hair. I hoped I could remember them for later use that evening. One never can remember a rehearsed conversation; it's like trying to use a handy phrase-book in a foreign country. The other side never leads up to one's cues. At last I was ready, and punctually at a quarter before seven I presented myself before the door of a large old-fashioned house set amid the maples of Myrtle Boulevard, Deep Harbor's most fashionable residential street. The house had been built, I judged, about or immediately after the period of the Civil War. It was square, with a door in the middle flanked on either side by long oval-topped windows. Projecting from the door and coming to meet one in a flight of brown stone steps, was a porch heavily ornamented with what appeared to be a Turco-Bulgarian style of design. In any event, this feature of the house was compounded of strange samples of the carpenter's craft, turned in oriental arabesques such as an architect might dream of after a hasty reading of Kubla Khan. Apart from the wanton outburst of the approach, the house was most solemn and dignified, with severe lines, its flat roof topped off by a little square cupola from which I fancied it would be fun to watch for Malbrouck's return from the wars. My curiosity to see within was fully aroused by the time I rang the doorbell. It was always a bother to remember that one was supposed to be angry; I had forgotten my chosen r?le and caught myself anticipating the evening.

Hemphill himself opened the black walnut front door with its silver plated knobs. As he did so a feminine voice called imperiously "Charles, Mary Ellen will answer the door!" "Alas for Charles," thought I, "the warning has come too late—the deed is done and I am within." Mary Ellen was visible on the horizon of the passage which ran straight through the centre line of the house. Upon seeing what had happened she fled to the rear with a report of the situation at the front. Hemphill, much embarrassed and evidently suffering some anxiety concerning the immediate future, helped me off with my coat. He hung it up upon a black walnut hatrack with which its designer had incorporated a slab of white marble. We entered a room upon the right with an extraordinarily high ceiling. The room was perfect early Victorian down to the last detail of crocheted anti-macassars on the backs of dull red plush chairs. To my great delight an engraving of The Monarch of the Glen and of Dignity and Impudence occupied the positions of honour upon the walls. There was also a scene in Venice, by Ruskin. Over all, however, was the shabbiness of respectable poverty which descends upon great possessions when they become relics of a vanished prosperity. I was so absorbed with my delight in the room—I decided on the spot to put it into a novel some day—that I overlooked for a moment the assembly gathered there. But I was soon aware of a tall, stern-lipped woman in an evening dress corresponding to the period of the room, bearing down upon me.

"Mother," said Hemphill (I was certain this was a tactless epithet), "this is Teddy."

She shook hands icily as she surveyed me. My evening clothes were London made; I felt quite calm about this ordeal. I noticed a perceptible thaw, although nothing excessive, when she greeted me after inspection. Behind her came a tall girl of about nineteen, who was already a pale replica of her mother—the same angularity, particularly about the neck and shoulders, but in her eyes her father's meekness in the presence of authority. It was not a house of divided counsels, I decided, after another glance at the mother.

"My daughter Edith," mama announced. Edith dropped her eyes and modestly resisted my efforts to shake hands with her. "My sister, Mrs. Martin," was the next in line—a stout elderly lady in alpaca and cameos, who walked with the aid of an ivory stick. She wasn't unlike the Queen, taking her in silhouette. I was much struck by the similarity in types all the way from Windsor to Deep Harbor. I murmured something, intended as a compliment, to Mrs. Martin about the resemblance.

"Good gracious, I hope I'm not so old or so fat as all that!" came the crushing retort. Evidently the path of tact in a new country was going to be strewn with unforeseen difficulties. I reddened. It was disconcerting to break a cucumber frame as soon as one entered the garden. "Miss Helen Claybourne," I heard Mrs. Hemphill continue. I looked up, hope abandoned, to encounter two large serious grey eyes gazing at me with frank curiosity. I started, for they were beautiful eyes set wide apart beneath a high, well-modelled brow, over which soft light brown hair waved most alluringly. A straight nose and firm chin completed a face that was not only full of character, but also good to look upon. I was enough of a snob to note that her clothes were right and that her athletic figure carried them magnificently. She shook hands heartily and frankly; her grasp was warm and pleasant, strong as a boy's, but womanly too. My rout was complete; I could find words in the gaze of those grey eyes which seemed to say "We believe in the truth." I felt humble and apologetic; one should first crave audience before daring to speak to those eyes. The next reaction was one of anger that a girl—she couldn't be over eighteen—had so abashed me.

There were others present, both men and women, but they did not exist for me. I heard their names mentioned and could not remember them; I went around the room shaking hands and trying to repeat the necessary conventional phrases, but I stammered and stuttered and bumped into the furniture. Everywhere I felt two large grey eyes burning holes in the middle of my back. It was a great relief when we filed into the dining room. I was half hopeful and half fearful that I should be given Miss Claybourne to take down; I wasn't. My seat was next to Mrs. Martin for safe keeping, while grey eyes sat across from me and talked to an aggressive looking saphead in a watered silk waistcoat. My conversation was nil; my earlier break with Mrs. Martin discouraged me there, while she was now most absorbed in her food. I tried to hear something of what was said across the table, but in vain. Occasionally grey eyes looked in my direction, but without friendliness or even recognition. I sank into gloom and despair. Early in the dinner I hoped for a glass of wine to cheer me up. There was a slender empty glass beside the iced water at my plate. That hope was dashed when Mary Ellen filled these slender glasses with mineral water from a bottle most artfully concealed in a napkin. Occasionally, Hemphill burst into anecdote, but usually these sallies of his were sternly suppressed by the voice of the skipper at the other end of the table. The latter carried on a marvellous sign language with the harassed Mary Ellen, to whom dinner parties on this scale were obviously a novelty. When she wasn't signalling Mary Ellen in a code of frowns and nods, Mrs. Hemphill spent her time searching with one foot for a mysterious bell that was concealed somewhere beneath the table. At last the dinner was over, and we all adjourned to the front room. There was no smoking for the men; I was thus bereft of my last hoped-for consolation.

In the drawing room little tables were set out, and Mrs. Hemphill announced that we would now play hearts. We were given beribboned tags with our table number on them, and this time luck smiled upon me; I drew grey eyes as my partner. Miss Hemphill, pale and wan as a tallow candle, was also at our table. The other man I have forgotten, I tried to be light-hearted and amusing from the start, but made such a sad mess of it that grey eyes began to look at me with unmistakable disapproval.

"Have you been in Deep Harbor long?" she asked me just as I made an atrocious misplay. In some way this harmless-seeming question implied censure. Like Benedick, I thought "There is a double meaning in that." I retorted rather sharply: "Only three months." Grey eyes lifted her eyebrows the merest fraction. I regretted bitterly the tone of my reply, but it was too late.

"How does it happen that no one has met you?" she questioned quite calmly, without any apparent trace of rudeness in her voice. The effect was withering upon me; no school-girl could patronize me or cast doubts upon my social eligibility—at least, not in Deep Harbor. She knew I was angry and turned with some laughing remark to the other man, thus effectually squelching my intended retort, for which, however, I was still groping. The hand soon ended, and partners were changed. Although grey eyes was my opponent for another game, she did not address any but necessary remarks to me, while I continued to play badly and silently. With the conclusion of this game she progressed to another table, and Mrs. Martin once more descended upon me. The old lady took ample revenge upon me for likening her to the Queen. She commented adversely upon each play I made, and in between times lectured me upon might-have-beens. The result was that I remained at the bottom table all the evening.

At ten o'clock the orgy was suspended, and to my amazement I saw grey eyes approaching me. I scrambled hastily to my feet, determined to make all possible amends. She handed me a little package tied with tissue paper and ribbon.

"I have been asked to present you with the booby prize," she said with a dangerous twinkle in the grey eyes. My chagrin almost choked me. Suddenly I felt lonely; I wanted her to be friendly with me. I wanted to beg her for a kind word. Instead I bowed and took my prize from her hands, feeling I had richly earned it.

"And now," said her soft, gentle voice, "you may take me into the dining room and get me some ice-cream."

My heart leaped with gratitude; the kind word had come unsought. She took my arm quite as if we had been good friends for some time, and I floated into the other room with her, trailing, as it were, a cloud of glory. We found ice-cream, coffee, and marvelous rich cake oozing chocolate! There was a couch over by a bay window, and without more words we ensconced ourselves snugly on it. Her profile was almost severely beautiful—a classic outline like that of a Greek Venus. I studied it with delight for along with its serene beauty was an intellectual charm, easily recognizable, but impossible to describe in specific terms. For twenty blessed minutes we talked—of nothing important; yet learned to know one another with bewildering speed. I have no recollection of what we said; words came and were approved on both sides. Sympathetic echoes were felt rather than expressed. We were a little formal, not quite sure as yet that such sympathy was real and not a dream. Then we were aware that the dinner party were beginning to bid the hostess good-bye. With unspoken reluctance we came out of our corner.

"May I see you home?" I whispered with anxious heartbeats.

"Yes," she smiled, "I live just across the street."

Mrs. Hemphill must have been amazed at the gratitude I showered upon her for her invitation. I wrung Mr. Hemphill's hand with enthusiasm, as Helen glided up to me and took my arm. It was an exit in triumph.

Across the street we paused for a moment outside her front door.

"Good-night," I said. "Dream true."

"I'm not yet the Duchess of Towers," came her reply, as she vanished through the door. So she knew Peter Ibbetson!

Turning toward my little flat on the other side of the town came to me the bitter after the sweet. She had not invited me to call! I had not liked to ask, held back by a kind of stupid pride. Besides, I had been most certain she would ask me, and she hadn't. The rest of my walk was deep in gloom again.

Knowlton was sitting up for me. He made free of my rooms whenever he liked.

"Well," he greeted me, "how do you like the F. F.'s of Deep Harbor?"

"The dinner party was rather mixed, but on the whole not bad."

"From that I infer that the mixture contained at least one charming ingredient."

This shot was too near home for comfort; therefore I did not deign a reply.

"Don't forget to make your party call," grinned Knowlton at me as I undressed.

"I am not in the habit of overlooking dinner calls," I snapped back at him.

After Knowlton had grinned himself out of my rooms I sat on the edge of my bed and meditated. It was good to have pleasant thoughts again and to believe that a large part of the world was contained in a pair of grey eyes. "I am not in love," I considered, as I struggled, with the aid of a fountain pen, to say something appropriate in my diary. The devil of diaries is, unless one is a Mr. Pepys, that all the appropriate things are said on the uneventful, unemotional days. "No, it isn't love—it's recognition of kinship"—like some one in an old Greek story, after many wanderings I had, quite by chance, stumbled upon a woman, and when we had compared the tokens each of us carried, behold, they fitted perfectly! "I am not yet the Duchess of Towers," she said. "Not yet"—then I again thought of Benedick and the dangers of inference founded upon feminine remarks. I had not been asked to call. For all I knew it was over. I might never see her again. I took down a copy of William Morris's "The Sundering Flood," for I remembered the heroine had grey eyes. All of William Morris's heroines had, I reflected. It was part of the pre-Raphaelite scheme of interior decorating; nevertheless it was comforting to read of grey-eyed beauty, especially as the pages of the diary blankly refused to be written upon. It grew late, and it was hard to separate my thoughts, my dreams, and what I was reading from the other. Indeed, they blended most deliciously—a sort of sentimental intoxication giving me a glimpse of the earthly paradise. Yet Reason kept whispering that it wasn't love; that I was mistaking sentimental self-deception for reality. "What a colossal and ridiculous structure you are erecting upon nothing," said Reason. "Upon a pair of grey eyes," I retorted. "Empires have been built upon less." "Ah," came back Reason, "that pair of grey eyes cared nothing for you, or they would have asked you to call." That was, for the moment, unanswerable. I was annoyed at Reason for waking me up, and for spite decided to write a poem. I was not in the habit of writing verses, for I had an abominable ear for rhythm. Nevertheless, writing a sonnet was the most efficient way of banishing Reason for that night. I got as far as the idea—something about two travellers in the desert of life meeting by chance at a well-rim, only to part again—when, mercifully, sleep overcame me; disgustingly sound, dreamless sleep, and I knew no more until next morning's alarm.

I got up to find Reason, reinforced by her auxiliary, bright sunshine, most firmly in the saddle. Ahead loomed a factory and a seven-o'clock whistle; gone were the magic shadows of the night and all the enchanted garden of sentimental fancies. I attacked my test tubes in a frenzy of efficiency. My eye was clear and my hand steady; ideas flowed fast. Reason was triumphant. Then came a telephone call for me; Reason came a nasty cropper under Instinct's sudden leap. I knew what the call meant before I took the receiver down. Knowlton's cynical eye was upon me as I answered; I cared nothing for him this time.

"This is Helen Claybourne," came a soft voice over the wire.

"Yes, I know," I said; not perhaps the right words.

"I am glad you remember"—I felt her smile, half na?ve, half mischievous. "I meant last evening to ask you to call, and I forgot." Reason's forces fled in a panic, scattered by the wild surge of my blood. "Mother will be pleased to have you next Thursday, if that is convenient."

"I'm awfully grateful," I stammered feebly. Why wouldn't words come?

"Until Thursday, then," the heavenly voice said calmly, and there was a click in my ear. The receiver had been hung up at the other end.

"Gratitude is a feeling I never before heard you express," commented Knowlton drily, as I turned away with a sigh, tingling from head to foot. I was reckless with a wild, joyous insanity.

"Philosophy is a fool, Knowlton," I exclaimed gaily, "as you recall Hamlet long ago pointed out to Horatio, not in just these words. Nor does a peripeteia necessarily carry with it a tragic catastrophe, Aristotle notwithstanding."

"You crazy idiot," remarked Knowlton, "I'm not going to send you to any more parties if you come back with a hangover. You certainly have a hell of a classic education for a chemist," he added, "and how you like to show it off! What was that word you used—perry what?"

"Peripeteia, you mean," I condescended. "It is a reversal of fortune, marking the turning point of a Greek tragedy."

"Well, I'll show you a first-class American tragedy if you don't go back to your lab and work," he grinned. "I don't admire the influence of the female sex upon you, Ted."

"You are generalizing from a single example," I flung back as I left the room.

It was Tuesday, and Thursday seemed further away than does the week-end viewed from Monday morning. Knowlton pursued me remorselessly, trying to make me confess who my new friend was. All his cross-examinations were in vain. I took delight in hugging my happiness to myself, and in answering Knowlton's questions in the most extravagant and flambuoyant language I could think of. In the end I could not tell whether he was amused or annoyed. I worked night and day in the laboratory to pass the time. My hopes were soaring so high that I trembled for fear that Reason's sunbeams would melt the wax of their wings and send us crashing down. And with my work Knowlton was content. Industry was the sure pass to his favour.

On Thursday at the noon hour, however, Knowlton exploded a bombshell.

"We are going to work the plant twenty-four hours a day, Ted," he announced, "and I've put you in charge of the night-shift, beginning tonight."

My throat went dry. Which of the seven devils of hell had led him to choose this night of all nights?

"It's tough on you, Ted, for you'll have to work right through the whole twenty-four hours the first day. But I want you to let the lab go tonight and simply act as superintendent. You'll be able to snatch some sleep in the office."

"I have an engagement this evening—it's very awkward," I began.

"Well, you've got two now, and the one at the factory is the one you'll keep."

In spite of Knowlton's decisiveness, we reached a compromise. He agreed to let me off from six o'clock until midnight, provided I would make up the time later, a concession which I eagerly accepted.

A few minutes after eight found me walking out Myrtle Boulevard, Deep Harbor's street of streets, toward the Claybourne residence. I had dressed in dinner clothes with exceeding care; no one could have guessed that my business for most of the night was to superintend the night-shift at a factory. The latter task was infinitely remote; if it crossed my mind at all, it was only as something mechanical, to be wound up later and left to run by itself. The important matter in hand was to verify first impressions concerning a pair of grey eyes.

A maid opened the door of a pleasant oak-panelled hallway, and before I had time to get my bearings the grey eyes were introducing me to "Mother." In an instant I had the feeling that the latter was not prepared to be enthusiastic. Strange young men from the outlands, of unknown origin, were evidently to be resisted. I looked at her closely, as I made my best and politest bow, hoping that my manners might carry a little conviction. Mrs. Claybourne was short and sallow, the latter caused, as I was later to learn, by her mania for tinkering with her health. She was a little fretful, with a tendency to imply that the world was not very considerate. "I told Helen I was too tired tonight to be very entertaining," was her wail, as I shook hands, "but she would ask you."

"We are not going to bother you at all, mother dear," Helen, as I dared think of her, interposed hastily. "Now do sit down in your big chair and read your magazine. We are going out on the side porch."

"Mr. Claybourne is at the club playing cards. I must apologize for his not being here—but then he seldom is," Mrs. Claybourne went on plaintively. "Helen, this room is so untidy it's a positive disgrace. I do think you might have Jane straighten it up a little when you expect callers. No one ever thinks of me. My nerves make me a very poor housekeeper, Mr. Jevons."

The room appeared to me most comfy and home-like. There were books and magazines and the atmosphere of a place in which people really lived. I murmured some deprecatory reply as Helen took me out on to the side porch. The latter was a heavenly place shut in by vines heavy with the odour of honeysuckle. There were deep wicker-basket chairs and a marvellous couch-like hammock. Unlike the Deep Harbor with which I was familiar, this spot was quiet and restful. The early October air was tinged with a delicious hint of frosts to come; the stars shone large and clear; the Milky Way seemed fairly to romp across the sky.

"You mustn't mind mother," said Helen, as we sat in two of the large chairs. "She isn't quite happy unless she has a grievance."

I laughed. It was so like the comment I had hoped her capable of making. "I'm afraid I'm her grievance tonight—I wish I thought a happy one."

"I'm afraid that's partly true," Helen replied. "Mother is an extreme stickler for the conventions. She complains that no one knows who you are. It was useless for me to tell her that I knew you and didn't care who you are—Mother says I am hopelessly of this generation—and regards that as an argument against you. I finally told her you were coming anyway—and, well—," she laughed,—"here you are."

So she had defended me and fought for me! My invitation to call was therefore no mere empty social form such as common politeness toward a stranger, but an offer of friendship.

"I really can set your mother's mind at rest," I said. "I belong to one or two decent clubs—so does my father—"

"Please don't—I'm not asking for a passport," she interrupted. "As for mother, she will get used to you in time."

This was encouraging, for it deliberately implied other calls to come. Of course, the upshot was that I told her all about myself, pouring out the pent-up loneliness accumulated since my arrival. She listened as only a sympathetic girl can listen to a man talking endlessly about himself. At times there came delicious silences during which we stared at the stars, and again a gentle question from her would start me off once more. It was with a shock that we suddenly noticed "mother" silhouetted in the doorway.

"Helen!" came the complaining voice. "It's half past ten." "Good Lord," I groaned inwardly, "I might have stayed all night." I rose hastily, Helen more deliberately.

"Very well, mother," her soft voice said, "Ted is just going." It was the first time she had called me Ted. I fell over a wicker tabouret in my delirium. As we passed into the living room, Mrs. Claybourne buttonholed me.

"Have you a grandfather, young man?"

Helen's shocked "Mother!" was unheeded.

"Yes, Mrs. Claybourne, I had. He was colonel of one of your northern regiments in the Civil War. His sword hangs over my desk. I shall be pleased to show it you some day at tea."

"Mother! How could you?" again from Helen, and she laid her hand, just for a second, ever so lightly, on my arm.

The effect of my statement I observed to be favourable. The "good-night" Mrs. Claybourne gave me was less chilly than the earlier "good evenings." Helen went with me to the door.

"Do you ride?" she asked, with a change of subject that surprised me.

"Yes—or, rather, I did before coming to Deep Harbor."

"Then get a horse and be here at nine next Sunday morning. Good-night, Ted."

"Good-night, Helen. Thank you for tonight."

I left in such entranced good humour with the world that I forgot to change my clothes before reporting at the factory; and so it happened that the superintendent of the first night-shift performed his duties in what my tailor had informed me were "faultless" evening clothes. The result was to make Knowlton's grin wider than usual when I appeared to relieve him.

"Ted, you've got more nerve than I gave you credit for, if you face our gang in a clawhammer. However, lots of folks have original ideas when they try suicide. If you are lynched before morning don't forget I warned you."

"You need not worry," I said with dignity. "I'm fairly good friends with most of our men."

"All right, Ted. Some get theirs shooting tigers; others falling off the Alps; still others by being just plain damn fools. I'm thinking you'll look a little strange on your way to breakfast aboard the seven-five trolley."

At this I turned a little pale; I had not thought of the journey back by broad daylight. It was too late to back out. I went down to the machine shop with my fortitude somewhat shaken, only to discover my fears groundless and Knowlton's warning unnecessary. No one but an occasional apprentice or mechanic's helper so much as bothered to look at me, much less make any comment. The office might always have worn similar regalia, as far as outward signs were concerned.

Until about one in the morning I found the factory by night a picturesque place. Every machine was running at full capacity. Overhead blinking white arc lamps, whose rays were shot through with spluttering purple, danced and hissed. At the lathes grey-headed mechanics, fine-looking shrewd-faced men most of them, bent and peered at the Medusa-like tresses of steel the tools sheered off from the castings. Helpers leaned over them with wire-enclosed electric bulbs, lighting up the faces of the chief actors as in a theatre. Belts raced and flapped from nosy shafts along the ceiling—a steady, uninterrupted din. An occasional machine would shriek or groan in the agony of its task. Further down the shop the compressed air chisels were beating a devil's tattoo against the rougher castings. Boys trundled trucks piled with metal parts on their way from one machine to another. Foremen, pad and pencil in hand, went about keeping a record of each machine's progress. The place smelt of hot oil, of grimy cotton waste, and of sweaty human bodies.

As the novelty of the picture wore off I became sleepy and bored. By two o'clock it was clear that as superintendent I had a sinecure. This automaton of a factory was quite capable of running itself. No one referred any questions to me or asked my advice. I lingered hopefully here and there when I saw a machine slow down or stop for a moment, but whatever the reason of these stoppages, I was not consulted.

Upstairs to the laboratory I went, leaving word with the chief foreman where I was to be found. Work was out of the question; I was too sleepy. I tried my hand at a few pages in the diary—to recapitulate my thoughts on the subject of grey eyes. As usual when I most wanted to write or felt that I had a topic worth writing about, no words would come. I fell asleep in my chair once, with my feet upon my desk, to wake with a horrible start when they slid off with a thump. "Six weeks of this"—I thought with a shudder—"only the other nights will not be quite so bad, because I am to do my regular work at night and sleep by day." A dreadful inversion of one's normal life, whichever way one looked at it. It meant bringing a midnight supper for one thing—and where was the restaurant in Deep Harbor to prepare a tempting supper? Then I was annoyed at myself because my mind had seized upon such a petty factor as a question of supper to magnify into importance.

I tried to get back to grey eyes, but I was too sleepy to be sentimental. What was it we were to do Sunday? Oh, yes—go for a ride. Where? I wondered. Heavens! I had no riding clothes! I scribbled a hasty memorandum and heard the town hall clock strike three. "Take a look around once an hour," Knowlton had said. "To make sure, punch the clock in the front office each time you pass." To punch a clock was to register one's number on a circular mechanism which also recorded the time as well. My number was seven. As I had rather resented being numbered, Knowlton allowed me to choose my own. His was one. I remember chosing seven because it was lucky. At this point I pulled myself together and started another tour.

Hour by hour the endless night went by; the dawn, turning the lake to mauve and next to gold, gave promise that soon the factory gates would open to let me pass. I was tired—too tired to think or care for anything but bed. I had still to report to Knowlton when I successfully passed the ordeal of going down-town in evening clothes. Fortunately I was able to borrow a raincoat.

"Run home and get all the sleep you can. You are off until six this evening."

At two in the afternoon I awoke; and, try as I would, further sleep was impossible. I got up, had a shower, and telephoned Helen. Of course her mother answered. It appeared that Helen was out, nor, to judge from her mother's explanations, did there seem any likelihood Helen would ever be home again. "Something will have to be done about mama," I reflected. What was it I must do today? Oh, yes—riding clothes. I hurried out in search of a tailor who would engage himself on his honour to make me riding clothes by Sunday morning. Two declared it could not be done by mortal man, since it was now Friday afternoon; one was doubtful. He had heard of things done in such haste, but was skeptical concerning results. I insulted him into accepting the commission. Our contract was finally settled on the basis of midnight Saturday or no pay. "Where does one obtain horses in this town?" I pondered, strolling down State Street, which was respectable for four blocks and most ragged and disreputable top and bottom. At Frazee's famous soda-water-and-candy store whom should I see inside but Helen! After all, the coincidence was not so remarkable, I muttered. If one were out at all in Deep Harbor one was limited to State Street's four blocks of stores or to Myrtle Boulevard. The rest of the town was chiefly built up of slums and factories, except for one or two lesser streets on which people lived, but never walked. I went in to Frazee's and only needed Helen's welcoming smile to join her at the little marble-topped table.

"What on earth are you eating?" I asked, not very polite, as I pointed at a little mess in a dish before her.

"That is a chocolate nut sundae," she laughed. "Won't you try one?"

"Are they very sweet?" I inquired doubtfully.

"Of course!" and she presented a brimming spoon to me to taste. I was honored by the compliment, but the sickeningly sweet compound all but did for me. I had not yet eaten, for I was too tired in the morning and had forgotten about it after I got up. Helen was delighted with the face I made over it.

"I think I prefer more solid food," I apologized. "My education stopped with ice-cream sodas."

"I think it's a great lark meeting you here like this! Mother would be furious!"

"Isn't it done?" I asked in all seriousness, looking about at Frazee's unlimited display of white marble, enamel, and nickel trimmings. It seemed a harmless looking place to me.

"Of course not, you silly Ted. What do you suppose Deep Harbor would say if we did this very often?"

"Is Deep Harbor loquacious?"

"Extremely."

"But the place is full of young couples—just like ourselves."

Helen laughed. "If I explain, you'll think me snobbish, Ted, and I'm not, even if mother is. Don't you see—all these boys and girls—well that's what Deep Harbor is like."

"I understand perfectly, now I think it over. I should be very careful where I took you to tea at home—and we'd have to have official sanction to go at all ... Deep Harbor is like the rest of the world."

Again she laughed, and her grey eyes danced. "Ted, you really must give up thinking we are strange aborigines. But I feel the same way you do when I come back from boarding school—until I settle down again."

"I suppose it's the old prejudice against the new and strange," I said.

"You've just said Deep Harbor is like the rest of the world, Ted."

"It is," I said, looking at her until she dropped her eyes.

"Always conceding that you know the world, Ted," she added slyly, looking up suddenly from under her lashes.

"I've seen quite a lot of it."

"Is that the same as knowing it?"

"No, but it's a start."

"Goodness me, Teddy, I ought to be home by now," she exclaimed, springing up. Women are apt to break off a conversation just as it is getting interesting.

"May I walk home with you?"

"That would never do, Teddy."

I looked so disappointed that she softened. "You may come part way. That will be enough for Myrtle Boulevard for one afternoon."

"What do you mean?"

"The porches are full at this time, Ted, and I know every living soul on Myrtle Boulevard."

I walked a few paces in silence.

"I must see your father—I can show him some letters—"

"Ted, you won't do anything so insanely silly."

"But what can I do?"

"If I were you," she remarked demurely, "I'd try staying on my very best behaviour." Her eyes flashed mischief as she said this.

"Does every inquisitive idiot in Deep Harbor know me by sight?"

"Be careful, Ted, how you refer to our upper circles," she laughed. "Of course they know you, silly boy. You buy a factory from one of our prominent business men, come all the way from London, speak to no one, live a mysterious life all by yourself, with a strange piratey-looking cutthroat—"

"Prospero!" I exclaimed.

"Prospero! Delicious name!" she echoed. "Well, you do all these things and then imagine you are invisible. Could any one but a man be so stupid?"

"There does seem to be something in what you say," I gurgled humbly. Her laugh this time was loud and joyous enough to add to Myrtle Boulevard's suspicions.

"Any one with any common sense would have presented his letters of introduction at the beginning."

"How do you know I have any?"

"Oh, dad had the bank look up all your connections, of course, when you borrowed money for the pay roll. He's a director. He told me all about it."

"This is a chatty little village"—I said with a very feeble effort at withering sarcasm.

"So you see, Ted, dad and I know you are all right,—only mother and the rest rather stick at your not presenting yourself properly. It will take a lot of grandfather to get around that!"—and she went off again into peals of laughter.

"Helen, you don't believe—"

She cut me off. "Ted. I make friends with whom I please, and no explanations are necessary, unless I ask for them."

"But there wasn't—"

"That will do, Teddy. You must turn back now," and she went on, leaving me with one last protest hanging in mid-air. I looked at my watch, as one always does in the street to cover embarrassment. It was quarter to six! By dashing up a side street and running after an electric car I arrived at the office exactly with the whistle.



欢迎访问英文小说网http://novel.tingroom.com

©英文小说网 2005-2010

有任何问题,请给我们留言,管理员邮箱:tinglishi@gmail.com  站长QQ :点击发送消息和我们联系56065533

鲁ICP备05031204号