A Poor Wise Man by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Dominant family traits have a way of skipping one generation and appearing in the next. Lily Cardew at that stage of her life had a considerable amount of old Anthony's obstinacy and determination, although it was softened by a long line of Cardew women behind her, women who had loved, and suffered dominance because they loved. Her very infatuation for Louis Akers, like Elinor's for Doyle, was possibly an inheritance from her fore-mothers, who had been wont to overlook the evil in a man for the strength in him. Only Lily mistook physical strength for moral fibre, insolence and effrontery for courage.
In both her virtues and her faults, however, irrespective of heredity, Lily represented very fully the girl of her position and period. With no traditions to follow, setting her course by no compass, taught to think but not how to think, resentful of tyranny but unused to freedom, she moved ahead along the path she had elected to follow, blindly and obstinately, yet unhappy and suffering.
Her infatuation for Louis Akers had come to a new phase of its rapid development. She had reached that point where a woman realizes that the man she loves is, not a god of strength and wisdom, but a great child who needs her. It is at that point that one of two things happens: the weak woman abandons him, and follows her dream elsewhere. The woman of character, her maternal instinct roused, marries him, bears him children, is both wife and mother to him, and finds in their united weaknesses such strength as she can.
In her youth and self-sufficiency Lily stood ready to give, rather than to receive. She felt now that he needed her more than she needed him. There was something unconsciously patronizing those days in her attitude toward him, and if he recognized it he did not resent it. Women had always been "easy" for him. Her very aloofness, her faint condescension, her air of a young grande dame, were a part of her attraction for him.
Love sees clearly, and seeing, loves on. But infatuation is blind; when it gains sight, it dies. Already Lily was seeing him with the critical eyes of youth, his loud voice, his over-fastidious dress, his occasional grossnesses. To offset these she placed vast importance on his promise to leave his old associates when she married him.
The time was very close now. She could not hold him off much longer, and she began to feel, too, that she must soon leave the house on Cardew Way. Doyle's attitude to her was increasingly suspicious and ungracious. She knew that he had no knowledge of Louis's promise, but he began to feel that she was working against him, and showed it.
And in Louis Akers too she began to discern an inclination not to pull out until after the election. He was ambitious, and again and again he urged that he would be more useful for the purpose in her mind if he were elected first.
That issue came to a climax the day she had seen her mother and learned the terms on which she might return home. She was alarmed by his noisy anger at the situation.
"Do sit down, Louis, and be quiet," she said. "You have known their attitude all along, haven't you?"
"I'll show them," he said, thickly. "Damned snobs!" He glanced at her then uneasily, and her expression put him on his guard. "I didn't mean that, little girl. Honestly I didn't. I don't care for myself. It's you."
"You must understand that they think they are acting for my good. And I am not sure," she added, her clear eyes on him, "that they are not right. You frighten me sometimes, Louis."
But a little later he broke out again. If he wasn't good enough to enter their house, he'd show them something. The election would show them something. They couldn't refuse to receive the mayor of the city. She saw then that he was bent on remaining with Doyle until after the election.
Lily sat back, listening and thinking. Sometimes she thought that he did not love her at all. He always said he wanted her, but that was different.
"I think you love yourself more than you love me, Louis," she said, when he had exhausted himself. "I don't believe you know what love is."
That brought him to his knees, his arms around her, kissing her hands, begging her not to give him up, and once again her curious sense of responsibility for him triumphed.
"You will marry me soon, dear, won't you?" he implored her. But she thought of Willy Cameron, oddly enough, even while his arms were around her; of the difference in the two men. Louis, big, crouching, suppliant and insistent; Willy Cameron, grave, reserved and steady, taking what she now knew was the blow of her engagement like a gentleman and a soldier.
They represented, although she did not know it, the two divisions of men in love, the men who offer much and give little, the others who, out of a deep humility, offer little and give everything they have.
In the end. nothing was settled. After he had gone Lily, went up to Elinor's room. She had found in Elinor lately a sort of nervous tension that puzzled her, and that tension almost snapped when Lily told her of her visit home, and of her determination to marry Louis within the next few days. Elinor had dropped her sewing and clenched her hands in her lap.
"Not soon, Lily!" she said. "Oh, not soon. Wait a little - wait two months."
"Two months?" Lily said wonderingly. "Why two months?"
"Because, at the end of two months, nothing would make you marry him," Elinor said, almost violently. "I have sat by and waited, because I thought you would surely see your mistake. But now - Lily, do you envy me my life?"
"No," Lily said truthfully; "but you love him."
Elinor sat, her eyes downcast and brooding.
"You are different," she said finally. "You will break, where I have only bent."
But she said no more about a delay. She had been passive too long to be able to take any strong initiative now. And all her moral and physical courage she was saving for a great emergency.
Cardew Way was far from the center of town, and Lily knew nothing of the bomb outrages of that night.
When she went down to breakfast the next morning she found Jim Doyle pacing the floor of the dining room in a frenzy of rage, a newspaper clenched in his hand. By the window stood Elinor, very pale and with slightly reddened eyes. They had not heard her, and Doyle continued a furious harangue.
"The fools!" he said. "Damn such material as I have to work with! This isn't the time, and they know it. I've warned them over and over. The fools!"
Elinor saw her then, and made a gesture of warning. But it was too late. Lily had a certain quality of directness, and it did not occur to her to dissemble.
"Is anything wrong?" she asked, and went at once to Elinor. She had once or twice before this stood between them for Elinor's protection.
"Everything is as happy as a May morning," Doyle sneered. "Your Aunt Elinor has an unpleasant habit of weeping for joy."
Lily stiffened, but Elinor touched her arm.
"Sit down and eat your breakfast, Lily," she said, and left the room.
Doyle stood staring at Lily angrily. He did not know how much she had heard, how much she knew. At the moment he did not care. He had a reckless impulse to tell her the truth, but his habitual caution prevailed. He forced a cold smile.
"Don't bother your pretty head about politics," he said.
Lily was equally cold. Her dislike of him had been growing for weeks, coupled to a new and strange distrust.
"Politics? You seem to take your politics very hard."
"I do," he said urbanely. "Particularly when I am fighting my wife's family. May I pour you some coffee?"
And pour it he did, eyeing her furtively the while, and brought it to her.
"May I give you a word of advice, Lily?" he said. "Don't treat your husband to tears at breakfast - unless you want to see him romping off to some other woman."
"If he cared to do that I shouldn't want him anyhow."
"You're a self-sufficient child, aren't you? Well, the best of us do it, sometimes."
He had successfully changed the trend of her thoughts, and he went out, carrying the newspaper with him.
Nevertheless, he began to feel that her presence in the house was a menace. With all her theories he knew that a word of the truth would send her flying, breathless with outrage, out of his door. He could quite plainly visualize that home-coming of hers. The instant steps that would be taken against him, old Anthony on the wire appealing to the governor, Howard closeted with the Chief of Police, an instant closing of the net. And he was not ready for the clash.
No. She must stay. If only Elinor would play the game, instead of puling and mouthing! In the room across the hall where his desk stood he paced the floor, first angrily, then thoughtfully, his head bent. He saw, and not far away now, himself seated in the city hall, holding the city in the hollow of his hand. From that his dreams ranged far. He saw himself the head, not of the nation - there would be no nation, as such - but of the country. The very incidents of the night before, blundering as they were, showed him the ease with which the new force could be applied.
He was drunk with power.