Chapter XXIV
 

When war was not immediately declared the rector, who on the Sunday following that eventful Saturday of the President's speech to Congress had preached a rousing call to arms, began to feel a bit sheepish about it.

"War or no war, my dear," he said to Delight, "it made them think for as much as an hour. And I can change it somewhat, and use it again, if the time really comes."

"Second-hand stuff!" she scoffed. "You with your old sermons, and Mother with my old dresses! But it was a good sermon," she added. "I have hardly been civil to that German laundress since."

"Good gracious, Delight. Can't you remember that we must love our enemies?"

"Do you love them? You know perfectly well that the moment you get on the other side, if you do, you'll be jerking the cross off your collar and bullying some wretched soldier to give you his gun."

He had a guilty feeling that she was right.

It was February then, and they were sitting in the parish house. Delight had been filling out Sunday-school reports to parents, an innovation she detested. For a little while there was only the scratching of her pen to be heard and an occasional squeal from the church proper, where the organ was being repaired. The rector sat back in his chair, his fingertips together, and whistled noiselessly, a habit of his when he was disturbed. Now and then he glanced at Delight's bent head.

"My dear," he commented finally.

"Just a minute. That wretched little Simonton girl has been absent three Sundays out of four. And on the fourth one she said she had a toothache and sat outside on the steps. Well, daddy?"

"Do you see anything of Graham Spencer now?"

"Very little." She looked at him with frank eyes. "He has changed somehow, daddy. When we do meet he is queer. I sometimes think he avoids me."

He fell back on his noiseless whistling. And Delight, who knew his every mood, got up and perched herself on the arm of his chair.

"Don't you get to thinking things," she said. And slipped an arm around his neck.

"I did think, in the winter - "

"I'll tell you about that," she broke in, bravely. "I suppose, if he'd cared for me at all, I'd have been crazy about him. It isn't because he's good looking. I - well, I don't know why. I just know, as long as I can remember, I - however, that's not important. He thinks I'm a nice little thing and lets it go at that. It's a good bit worse, of course, than having him hate me."

"Sometimes I think you are not very happy."

"I'm happier than I would be trying to make him fall in love with me. Oh, you needn't be shocked. It can be done. Lots of girls do it. It isn't any moral sense that keeps me from it, either. It's just pride."

"My dear!"

"And there's another angle to it. I wouldn't marry a man who hasn't got a mind of his own. Even if I had the chance, which I haven't. That silly mother of his - she is silly, daddy, and selfish - Do you know what she is doing now?"

"We ought not to discuss her. She - "

"Fiddlesticks. You love gossip and you know it."

Her tone was light, but the rector felt that arm around his neck tighten. He surmised a depth of feeling that made him anxious.

"She is trying to marry him to Marion Hayden."

The rector sat up, almost guiltily.

"But - are you sure she is doing that?"

"Everybody says so. She thinks that if he is married, and there is a war, he won't want to go if he has a wife." She was silent for a moment. "Marion will drive him straight to the devil, daddy."

The rector reached up and took her hand. She cared more than she would admit, he saw. She had thought the thing out, perhaps in the long night - when he slept placidly. Thought and suffered, he surmised. And again he remembered his worldly plans for her, and felt justly punished.

"I suppose it is hard for a father to understand how any one can know his little girl and not love her. Or be the better for it."

She kissed him and slid off the arm of his chair.

"Don't you worry," she said cheerfully. "I had to make an ideal for myself about somebody. Every girl does. Sometimes it's the plumber. It doesn't really matter who it is, so you can pin your dreams to him. The only thing that hurts is that Graham wasn't worth while."

She went back to her little cards, but some ten minutes later the rector, lost in thought, heard the scratching of her pen cease.

"Did you ever think, daddy," she said, "of the influence women have over men? Look at the Spencers. Mrs. Spencer spoiling Graham, and making her husband desperately unhappy. And - "

"Unhappy? What makes you think that?"

"He looks unhappy."

The rector was startled. He had an instant vision of Clayton Spencer, tall, composed, handsome, impeccably clothed. He saw him in the setting that suited him best, the quiet elegance of his home. Clayton unhappy! Nonsense. But he was uneasy, too. That very gravity which he had noticed lately, that was certainly not the gravity of an entirely happy man. Clayton had changed, somehow. Was there trouble there? And if there were, why?

The rector, who reduced most wretchedness to terms of dollars and cents, of impending bills and small deprivations found himself at a loss.

"I am sure you are wrong," he objected, rather feebly.

Delight eyed him with the scorn of nineteen for fifty.

"I wonder what you would do," she observed, "if mother just lay around all day, and had her hair done, and got new clothes, and never thought a thought of her own, and just used you as a sort of walking bank-account?"

"My dear, I really can not - "

"I'll tell you what you'd do," she persisted. "You'd fall in love with somebody else, probably. Or else you'd just naturally dry up and be made a bishop."

He was extremely shocked at that, and a little hurt. It took her some time to establish cheerful relations again, and a very humble apology. But her words stuck in the rector's mind. He made a note for a sermon, with the text: "Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her."

He went quietly into the great stone building and sat down. The organist was practicing the Introit anthem, and half way up the church a woman was sitting quietly.

The rector leaned back, and listened to the music. He often did that when he had a sermon in his mind. It was peaceful and quiet. Hard to believe, in that peace of great arches and swelling music, that across the sea at that moment men were violating that fundamental law of the church, "Thou shalt not kill."

The woman turned her bead, and he saw that it was Audrey Valentine. He watched her with kindly, speculative eyes. Self-reliant, frivolous Audrey, sitting alone in the church she had so casually attended - surely that was one of the gains of war. People all came to it ultimately. They held on with both hands as long as they could, and then they found their grasp growing feeble and futile, and they turned to the Great Strength.

The organist had ceased. Audrey was kneeling now. The rector, eyes on the gleaming cross above the altar, repeated softly:

"Save and deliver us, we humbly beseech Thee, from the hands of our enemies; that we, being armed with Thy defense, may be preserved evermore from all perils."

Audrey was coming down the aisle. She did not see him. She had, indeed, the fixed eyes of one who still looks inward. She was very pale, but there was a new look of strength in her face, as of one who has won a victory.

"To glorify Thee, who are the only giver of all victory, through the merits of thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord," finished the rector.