A Poor Wise Man by Mary Roberts Rinehart
The discovery that Lily had left his house threw Jim Doyle into a frenzy. The very manner of her going filled him with dark suspicion. Either she had heard more that morning than he had thought, or - In his cunning mind for weeks there had been growing a smoldering suspicion of his wife. She was too quiet, too acquiescent. In the beginning, when Woslosky had brought the scheme to him, and had promised it financial support from Europe, he had taken a cruel and savage delight in outlining it to her, in seeing her cringe and go pale.
He had not feared her then. She had borne with so much, endured, tolerated, accepted, that he had not realized that she might have a breaking point.
The plan had appealed to his cynical soul from the first. It was the apotheosis of cynicism, this reducing of a world to its lowest level. And it had amused him to see his wife, a gentlewoman born, bewildered before the chaos he depicted.
"But-it is German!" she had said.
"I bow before intelligence. It is German. Also it is Russian. Also it is of all nations. All this talk now, of a League of Nations, a few dull diplomats acting as God over the peoples of the earth!" His eyes blazed. "While the true league, of the workers of the world, is already in effect!"
But he watched her after that, not that he was afraid of her, but because her re-action as a woman was important. He feared women in the movement. It had its disciples, fervent and eloquent, paid and unpaid women agitators, but he did not trust them. They were invariably women without home ties, women with nothing to protect, women with everything to gain and nothing to lose. The woman in the home was a natural anti-radical. Not the police, not even the army, but the woman in the home was the deadly enemy of the great plan.
He began to hate Elinor, not so much for herself, as for the women she represented. She became the embodiment of possible failure. She stood in his path, passively resistant, stubbornly brave.
She was not a clever woman, and she was slow in gathering the full significance of a nation-wide general strike, that with an end of all production the non-producing world would be beaten to its knees. And then she waited for a world movement, forgetting that a flame must start somewhere and then spread. But she listened and learned. There was a great deal of talk about class and mass. She learned that the mass, for instance, was hungry for a change. It would welcome any change. Woslosky had been in Russia when the Kerensky regime was overthrown, and had seen that strange three days when the submerged part of the city filled the streets, singing, smiling, endlessly walking, exalted and without guile.
No problems troubled them. They had ceased to labor, and that was enough.
Had it not been for its leaders, the mass would have risen like a tide, and ebbed again.
Elinor had struggled to understand. This was not Socialism. Jim had been a Socialist for years. He had believed that the gradual elevation of the few, the gradual subjection of the many, would go on until the majority would drag the few down to their own level. But this new dream was something immediate. At her table she began to hear talk of substituting for that slow process a militant minority. She was a long time, months, in discovering that Jim Doyle was one of the leaders of that militant minority, and that the methods of it were unspeakably criminal.
Then had begun Elinor Doyle's long battle, at first to hold him back, and that failing, the fight between her duty to her husband and that to her country. He had been her one occupation and obsession too long to be easily abandoned, but she was sturdily national, too. In the end she made her decision. She lived in his house, mended his clothing, served his food, met his accomplices, and - watched.
She hated herself for it. Every fine fiber of her revolted. But as time went on, and she learned the full wickedness of the thing, her days became one long waiting. She saw one move after another succeed, strike after strike slowing production, and thus increasing the cost of living. She saw the growing discontent and muttering, the vicious circle of labor striking for more money, and by its own ceasing of activity making the very increases they asked inadequate. And behind it all she saw the ceaseless working, the endless sowing, of a grim-faced band of conspirators.
She was obliged to wait. A few men talking in secret meetings, a hidden propaganda of crime and disorder - there was nothing to strike at. And Elinor, while not clever, had the Cardew shrewdness. She saw that, like the crisis in a fever, the thing would have to come, be met, and defeated.
She had no hope that the government would take hold. Government was aloof, haughty, and secure in its own strength. Just now, too, it was objective, not subjective. It was like a horse set to win a race, and unconscious of the fly on its withers. But the fly was a gadfly.
Elinor knew Doyle was beginning to suspect her. Sometimes she thought he would kill her, if he discovered what she meant to do. She did not greatly care. She waited for some inkling of the day set for the uprising in the city, and saved out of her small house allowance by innumerable economies and subterfuges. When she found out the time she would go to the Governor of the State. He seemed to be a strong man, and she would present him facts. Facts and names. Then he must act - and quickly.
Cut off from her own world, and with no roots thrown out in the new, she had no friends, no one to confide in or of whom to ask assistance. And she was afraid to go to Howard. He would precipitate things. The leaders would escape, and a new group would take their places. Such a group, she knew, stood ready for that very emergency.
On the afternoon of Lily's departure she heard Doyle come in. He had not recovered from his morning's anger, and she heard his voice, raised in some violent reproof to Jennie. He came up the stairs, his head sagged forward, his every step deliberate, heavy, ominous. He had an evening paper in his hand, and he gave it to her with his finger pointing to a paragraph.
"You might show that to the last of the Cardews," he sneered.
It was the paragraph about Louis Akers. Elinor read it. "Who were the masked men?" she asked. "Do you know?"
"I wish to God I did. I'd - Makes him a laughing stock, of course. And just now, when - Where's Lily?"
Elinor put down the paper.
"She is not here, She went home this afternoon."
He stared at her, angrily incredulous.
She passed him and went out into the hall. But he followed her and caught her by the arm as she reached the top of the staircase.
"What made her go home?"
"I don't know, Jim."
"She didn't say?"
"Don't hold me like that. No."
She tried to free her arm, but he held her, his face angry and suspicious.
"You are lying to me," he snarled. "She gave you a reason. What was it?"
Elinor was frightened, but she had not lost her head. She was thinking rapidly.
"She had a visitor this afternoon, a young man. He must have told her something about last night. She came up and told me she was going."
"You know he told her something, don't you?"
"Yes." Elinor had cowered against the wall. "Jim, don't look like that. You frighten me. I couldn't keep her here. I - "
"What did he tell her?"
"He accused you."
He was eyeing her coldly, calculatingly. All his suspicions of the past weeks suddenly crystallized. "And you let her go, after that," he said slowly. "You were glad to have her go. You didn't deny what she said. You let her run back home, with what she had guessed and what you told her to-day. You - "
He struck her then. The blow was as remorseless as his voice, as deliberate. She fell down the staircase headlong, and lay there, not moving.
The elderly maid came running from the kitchen, and found him half-way down the stairs, his eyes still calculating, but his body shaking.
"She fell," he said, still staring down. But the servant faced him, her eyes full of hate.
"You devil!" she said. "If she's dead, I'll see you hang for it."
But Elinor was not dead. Doctor Smalley, making rounds in a nearby hospital and answering the emergency call, found her lying on her bed, fully conscious and in great pain, while her husband bent over her in seeming agony of mind. She had broken her leg. He sent Doyle out during the setting. It was a principle of his to keep agonized husbands out of the room.