The Gray Dawn by Stewart Edward White
Having personally delivered the deeds to the recorder's office, Keith went home. In the relief from pressure, the triumph, and the exaltation, his instinct carried him to the actual background of his life--his genuine but preoccupied affection for Nan. The constraint, that had been so real to her, had never been anything but nebulous to him.
He burst into the house, capered around the room boyishly, seized her, and waltzed her gayly about. Quite taken by surprise, Nan's first thought was that he had been drinking too much; so naturally she failed to rise instantly to the occasion.
"Stop it, Milton!" she cried. "What has got into you! You're tearing me to ribbons!"
He laughed heartily.
"You must think I'm crazy," he acknowledged. "Sit down here, and learn what a great man your husband is." He poured out the story of the transaction, omitting no details of the clever schemes by which it had been worked. He was, above all, proud of his legal address and acumen--there was something in Eastern training, after all; this lay right under their noses, but none of them saw it until he came along and picked it up. "And there are some pretty smart men out here, too, let me tell you that," he added. "They're from all parts of the world, and they've had a hard practical education, their eye teeth are cut!" His egotism over being keener than the acknowledged big men was very fresh and charming. The money gained he mentioned as an afterthought, only when the other aspect of the situation had been exhausted. "The cold hard dollars are pretty welcome just now," he told her. "There's about a quarter million in those lots--and we can realize on all or part of them at any time. All came out of here!" He tapped his forehead, and paused in his rapid pacing to and fro to look down at her In the easy chair, "We are well off now. We needn't scrimp and save"--it did not for the moment occur to him that they had not been doing so--"I'm going to get you eight new gowns, and twelve new hats, and a bushel of diamonds----"
"I'm glad, very glad!" she cried, catching his enthusiasm, her mind for the first time occupying itself seriously with the mechanism of the deal. At first, when he had been explaining, she had not thrown off the impression that he had been drinking, and so had paid little attention to his explanations. "It sounds like magic. Tell me again--how you did it,"
Nothing loath, he went over it again, making clear the double clouding of the titles.
But Nan, being much alone, had the habit, shared with few women of that time, of reading the newspapers. She had followed Rowlee's campaign, and she had taken seriously the editor's diatribes, Rowlee had been talking for effect. The ideals of ultimate civic honesty were yet fifty years in the future, but he had stumbled on their principle. Nan's mind, untrained in any business ethics, caught them; and her sure natural instincts had accepted their essential justice. In recognizing Milton's connection as promoter with just this deal, she was suddenly called upon to make adjustments for which there was no time. She knew Milton would do nothing wrong, and yet--he was waiting in triumph for her response.
"It was very clever. And yet, somehow, it doesn't sound right--" she puzzled, "Are you sure it's honest?"
"Honest?" he snorted, halted in mid-career, "Of course it's honest! Why isn't it honest?"
Confronted with the direct question, she really did not know. She groped, proffering tentatively some of the arguments half remembered from Rowlee's editorial columns. But she confronted now a lawyer, sure of himself. Keith explosively, and contemptuously demolished her contentions. Everything was absolutely legal, every step of it. If a man hadn't a right to buy in property at any sale and sell it again where he wanted, where in thunder was our boasted liberty? Just the kind of fool notion women get! Keith in his honest pride and triumph had come for sympathy and admiration. Turned back on himself, he became vaguely resentful, and shortly left the house.
Hardly had the front door closed after him when Nan burst into tears. She had not meant it to come out that way at all. Of course she had had no real thought that Milton would do anything dishonest; how absurd of him to take it that way! She had simply expressed a queer instinctive thought that had flashed across her mind; and now she could not for the life of her guess how she had come to do so. Miserably and passionately she realized that she had bungled it.