Dangerous Days by Mary Roberts Rinehart
There was no moral to be adduced from Graham's waking the next morning. He roused, reluctantly enough, but blithe and hungry. He sang as he splashed in his shower, chose his tie whistling, and went down the staircase two steps at a time to a ravenous breakfast.
Clayton was already at the table in the breakfast room, sitting back with the newspaper, his coffee at his elbow, the first cigarette of the morning half smoked. He looked rather older in the morning light. Small fine threads had begun to show themselves at the corners of his eyes. The lines of repression from the nostrils to the corners of the mouth seemed deeper. But his invincible look of boyishness persisted, at that.
There was no awkwardness in Graham's "Morning, dad." He had not forgotten the night before, but he had already forgiven himself. He ignored the newspaper at his plate, and dug into his grapefruit.
"Anything new?" he inquired casually.
"You might look and see," Clayton suggested, good-naturedly.
"I'll read going down in the car. Can't stand war news on an empty stomach. Mother all right this morning?"
"I think she is still sleeping."
"Well, I should say she needs it, after last night. How in the world we manage, with all the interesting people in the world, to get together such a dreary lot as that - Lord, it was awful."
Clayton rose and folded his paper.
"The car's waiting," he said. "I'll be ready in five minutes."
He went slowly up the stairs. In her pink bedroom Natalie had just wakened. Madeleine, her elderly French maid, had brought her breakfast, and she was lying back among the pillows, the litter of the early mail about her and a morning paper on her knee. He bent over and kissed her, perfunctorily, and he was quick to see that her resentment of the evening before bad survived the night.
"Sleep well?" he inquired, looking down at her. She evaded his eyes.
"Any plans for to-day?"
"I'll just play around. I'm lunching out, and I may run out with Rodney to Linndale. The landscape men are there today."
She picked up the newspaper as though to end the discussion. He saw then that she was reading the society news, and he rather more than surmised that she had not even glanced at the black headings which on the first page announced the hideous casualties of the Somme.
"Then you've given the planting contract?"
"Some things have to go in in the fall, Clay. For heaven's sake, don't look like a thunder cloud."
"Have you given the landscape contract?"
"Yes. And please go out. You make my head ache."
"How much is it to be?"
"I don't know. Ask Rodney."
"I'll do nothing of the sort, my dear. This is not Rodney's investment."
"Nor mine, I suppose!"
"All I want you to do, Natalie, is to consult me. I want you to have a free hand, but some one with a sense of responsibility ought to check up these expenditures. But it isn't only that. I'd like to have a hand in the thing myself. I've rather looked forward to the time when we could have the sort of country place we wanted."
"You don't like any of the strings to get out of your fingers, do you?"
"I didn't come up to quarrel, Natalie. I wish you wouldn't force it on me."
"I force it on you," she cried, and laughed in a forced and high-pitched note. "Just because I won't be over-ridden without a protest! I'm through, that's all. I shan't go near the place again."
"You don't understand," he persisted patiently. "I happen to like gardens. I had an idea - I told you about it - of trying to duplicate the old garden at home. You remember it. When we went there on our honeymoon - "
"You don't call that a garden?"
"Of course I didn't want to copy it exactly. It was old and out of condition. But there were a lot of old-fashioned flowers - However, if you intend to build an Italian villa, naturally - "
"I don't intend to build anything, or to plant anything." Her voice was frozen. "You go ahead. Do it in your own way. And then you can live there, if you like. I won't."
Which was what he carried away with him that morning to the mill. He was not greatly disturbed by her threat to keep her hands off. He knew quite well, indeed, that the afternoon would find her, with Rodney Page, picking her way in her high-heeled shoes over the waste that was some day to bloom, not like the rose of his desire but according to the formal and rigid blueprint which Rodney would be carrying. But in five minutes he had put the incident out of his mind. After all, if it gave her happiness and occupation, certainly she needed both. And his powers of inhibition were strong. For many years he had walled up the small frictions of his married life and its disappointments, and outside that wall had built up an existence of his own, which was the mill.
When he went down-stairs he found that Graham had ordered his own car and was already in it, drawing on his gloves.
"Have to come back up-town early, dad," he called in explanation, and drove off, going at the reckless speed he affected.
Clayton rode down alone in the limousine. He had meant to outline his plans of expansion to Graham, but he had had no intention of consulting him. In his own department the boy did neither better nor worse than any other of the dozens of young men in the organization. If he had shown neither special aptitude for nor interest in the business, he had at least not signally failed to show either. Now, paper and pencil in hand, Clayton jotted down the various details of the new system in their sequence; the building of a forging plant to make the rough casts for the new Italian shells out of the steel from the furnaces, the construction of a new spur to the little railway which bound the old plant together with its shining steel rails. There were questions of supplies and shipping and bank credits to face, the vast and complex problems of the complete new munition works, to be built out of town and involving such matters as the housing of enormous numbers of employees. He scrawled figures and added them. Even with the size of the foreign contract their magnitude startled him. He leaned back, his mouth compressed, the lines from the nostrils to the corners deeper than ever.
He had completely forgotten Natalie and the country house.
Outside the gates to the mill enclosure he heard an early extra being called, and bought it. The Austrian premier had been assassinated. The successful French counter-attack against Verdun was corroborated, also. On the center of the front page was the first photograph to reach America of a tank. He inspected it with interest. So the Allies had at last shown same inventive genius of their own! Perhaps this was but the beginning. Even at that, enough of these fighting mammoths, and the war might end quickly. With the tanks, and the Allied offensive and the evidence of discontent in Austria, the thing might after all be over before America was involved.
He reflected, however, that an early peace would not be an unmixed blessing for him. He wanted the war to end: he hated killing. He felt inarticulately that something horrible was happening to the world. But personally his plans were premised on a war to last at least two years more, until the fall of 1918. That would let him out, cover the cost of the new plant, bring renewals of his foreign contracts, justify those stupendous figures on the paper in his hand.
He wondered, rather uncomfortably, what he would do, under the circumstances, if it were in his power to declare peace to-morrow.
In his office in the mill administration building, he found the general manager waiting. Through the door into the conference room beyond he could see the superintendents of the various departments, with Graham rather aloof and detached, and a sprinkling of the most important foremen. On his desk, neatly machined, was the first tentative shell-case made in the mill machine-shop, an experiment rather than a realization.
Hutchinson, the general manager, was not alone. Opposite him, very neatly dressed in his best clothes, his hat in his hand and a set expression on his face, was one of the boss rollers of the steel mill, Herman Klein. At Clayton's entrance he made a motion to depart, but Hutchinson stopped him.
"Tell Mr. Spencer what you've been telling me, Klein," he said curtly.
Klein fingered his hat, but his face remained set.
"I've just been saying, Mr. Spencer," he said, in good English, but with the guttural accent which thirty years in America had not eliminated, "that I'll be leaving you now."
"Because of that l" He pointed, without intentional drama, at the shell-case. "I can't make those shells for you, Mr. Spencer, and me a German."
"You're an American, aren't you?"
"I am, sir. It is not that. It iss that I - " His face worked. He had dropped back to the old idiom, after years of painful struggle to abandon it. "It iss that I am a German, also. I have people there, in the war. To make shells to kill them - no."
"He is determined, Mr. Spencer," said Hutchinson. "I have been arguing with him, but - you can't argue with a German."
Clayton was uneasily aware of something like sympathy for the man.
"I understand how you feel, Klein," he observed. "But of course you know, whether you go or stay, the shells will be made, anyhow."
"I know that."
"You are throwing up a good position."
"I'll try to get another."
The prospective loss of Klein was a rather serious one. Clayton, seated behind his great desk, eyed him keenly, and then stooped to bribery. He mentioned a change in the wage scale, with bonuses to all foremen and rollers. He knew Klein's pride in the mill, and he outlined briefly the growth that was about to be developed. But the boss roller remained obdurate. He understood that such things were to be, but it was not necessary that he assist Germany's enemies against her. Against the determination in his heavy square figure Clayton argued in vain. When, ten minutes later, he went into the conference room, followed by a secretary with a sheaf of papers, the mill was minus a boss roller, and there was rankling in his mind Klein's last words.
"I haf no objection, Mr. Spencer, to your making money out of this war, but I will not."
There had been no insolence in his tone. He had gone out, with his heavy German stolidity of mien unchanged, and had closed the door behind him with quiet finality.