Chapter IX
 

Clayton did not care to tell Natalie of Chris's flight. She would learn it soon enough, he knew, and he felt unwilling to discuss the affair as Natalie would want to discuss it. Not that he cared about Chris, but he had begun to feel a protective interest in Audrey Valentine, an interest that had in it a curious aversion to hearing her name in connection with Chris's sordid story.

He and Natalie met rarely in the next few days. He dined frequently at his club with men connected in various ways with the new enterprise, and transacted an enormous amount of business over the dinner or luncheon table. Natalie's door was always closed on those occasions when he returned, and he felt that with the stubbornness characteristic of her she was still harboring resentment against him for what he had said at the hospital.

He knew she was spending most of her days at Linndale, and he had a vague idea that she and Rodney together had been elaborating still further on the plans for the house. It was the furtiveness of it rather than the fact itself that troubled him. He was open and straightforward himself. Why couldn't Natalie be frank with him?

It was Mrs. Haverford, punctually paying her dinner-call in an age which exacts dinner-calls no longer - even from its bachelors - who brought Natalie the news of Chris's going. Natalie, who went down to see her with a mental protest, found her at a drawing-room window, making violent signals at somebody without, and was unable to conceal her amazement.

"It's Delight," explained Mrs. Haverford. "She's driving me round. She won't come in, and she's forgotten her fur coat. And it's simply bitter outside. Well, my dear, how are you?"

Natalie was well, and said so. She was conscious that Mrs. Haverford was listening with only half an ear, and indeed, a moment later she had risen again and hurried to the window.

"Natalie!" she cried. "Do come and watch. She's turning the car. We do think she drives wonderfully. Only a few days, too."

"Why won't she come in?"

"I'm sure I don't know. Unless she is afraid Graham may be here."

"What in the world has Graham got to do with it?" Natalie's voice was faintly scornful.

"I was going to ask you that, Natalie. Have they quarreled, or anything?"

"I don't think they meet at all, do they?"

"They met once since Clayton gave Doctor Haverford the car. Graham helped her when she had got into a ditch, I believe. And I thought perhaps they had quarreled about something."

"That would imply a degree of intimacy that hardly exists, does it?" Natalie said, sharply.

But Mrs. Haverford had not fought the verbal battles of the parish for twenty years in vain.

"It was the day of that unfortunate incident at the country club, Natalie."

Natalie colored. "Accident, rather than incident."

"How is the poor child?"

"He is quite well again," Natalie said impatiently "I can not understand the amount of fuss every one makes over the boy. He ran in front of where Graham was driving and got what he probably deserved."

"I understand Clayton has given him a position."

"He has made him an office boy."

"How like dear Clayton!" breathed Mrs. Haverford, and counted the honors as hers. But she had not come to quarrel. She had had, indeed, a frankly benevolent purpose in coming, and she proceeded to carry it out at once.

"I do think, my dear," she said, "that some one ought to tell Audrey Valentine the stories that are going about."

"What has she been doing?" Natalie asked, with her cool smile. "There is always some story about Audrey, isn't there?"

"Do you mean to say you haven't heard?"

"I don't hear much gossip."

Mrs. Haverford let that pass.

"You know how rabid she has been about the war. Well, the story is," she went on, with a certain unction, "that she has driven Chris to enlisting in the Foreign Legion, or something. Anyhow, he sailed from Halifax last week."

Natalie straightened in her chair.

"Are you certain?"

"It's town talk, my dear. Doctor Haverford spoke to Clayton about it some days ago. He rather gathered Clayton already knew."

That, too, was like dear Clayton, Natalie reflected bitterly. He had told her nothing. In her heart she added secretiveness to the long list of Clayton's deficiencies toward her.

"Personally, I imagine they were heavily in debt," Mrs. Haverford went on. "They had been living beyond their means, of course. I like Mrs. Valentine, but I do think, to drive a man to his death, or what may be his death - "

"I don't believe it. I don't believe he went to fight, anyway. He was probably in some sort of a scrape."

"She has sold her house."

Natalie's impulse of sympathy toward Audrey was drowned in her rising indignation. That all this could happen and Audrey not let her know was incredible.

"I haven't seen her recently," she said coldly.

"Nobody has. I do think she might have seen her clergy-man. There is a time when only the church can give us the comfort we need, my dear."

And whatever Mrs. Haverford's faults, she meant that quite simply.

"And you say Clay knew?"

"It's rather likely he would. They were golfing together, weren't they, when that caddie was hurt?"

Natalie was not a jealous woman. She had, for years, taken Clay's faithfulness for granted, and her own complacency admitted no chance of such a possibility. But she was quick to realize that she had him at a disadvantage.

"How long have you known it?" she asked him that night, when, after the long dinner was over, she sat with her elbows on the table and faced him across the candles.

He was tired and depressed, and his fine face looked drawn. But he roused and smiled across at her. He had begun to have a feeling that he must make up to Natalie for something - he hardly knew for what.

"Known what, dear?"

"About Chris and Audrey?"

He was fundamentally honest, so he answered her directly.

"Since the day Chris left."

"When was that?"

"The day we dined there."

"And Audrey told you?"

"She had to, in a way. I'm sure she'll tell you herself. She's been rather hiding away, I imagine."

"Why did she have to tell you?"

"If you want the exact truth, she borrowed a small sum from me, as the banks were closed, naturally. There was some emergency - I don't know what."

"She borrowed from you!"

"A very small amount, my dear. Don't look like that, Natalie. She knew I generally carried money with me."

"Oh, I'm not jealous! Audrey probably thinks of you as a sort of grandfather, anyhow. It's not that. It is your keeping the thing from me."

"It was not my secret."

But Natalie was jealous. She had that curious jealousy of her friends which some women are cursed with, of being first in their regard and their confidence. A slow and smoldering anger against Audrey, which had nothing whatever to do with Clayton, darkened her eyes.

"I'm through with Audrey. That's all," she said.

And the man across regarded her with a sort of puzzled wonder.

Her indignation against Clayton took the form of calculation; and she was quick to pursue her advantage. In the library she produced the new and enlarged plans for the house.

"Roddie says he has tried to call you at the mill, but you are always out of your office. So he sent these around to-day."

True to the resolution he had made that night in the hospital, he went over them carefully. And even their magnitude, while it alarmed him, brought no protest from him. After all the mill and the new plant were his toys to play with. He found there something to fill up the emptiness of his life. If a great house was Natalie's ambition, if it gave her pleasure and something to live for, she ought to have it.

She had prepared herself for a protest, but he made none, even when the rather startling estimate was placed before him.

"I just want you to be happy, my dear," he said. "But I hope you'll arrange not to run over the estimate. It is being pretty expensive as it is. But after all, success doesn't mean anything, unless we are going to get something out of it."

They were closer together that evening than they had been for months. And at last he fell to talking about the mill. Natalie, curled up on the chaise longue in her boudoir, listened attentively, but with small comprehension as he poured out his dream, for himself now, for Graham later. A few years more and he would retire. Graham could take hold then. He might even go into politics. He would be fifty then, and a man of fifty should be in his prime. And to retire and do nothing was impossible. A fellow went to seed.

Eyes on the wood fire, he talked on until at last, roused by Natalie's silence, he glanced up. She was sound asleep.

Some time later, in his dressing-gown and slippers, he came and roused her. She smiled up at him like a drowsy child.

"Awfully tired," she said. "Is Graham in?"

"Not yet."

She held up her hands, and he drew her to her feet.

"You've been awfully dear about the house," she said. And standing on tiptoe, she kissed him on the cheek. Still holding both her hands, he looked down at her gravely.

"Do you really think that, Natalie?"

"Of course."

"Then - will you do something in return?"

Her eyes became shrewd, watchful.

"Anything in reason."

"Don't, don't, dear, make Graham afraid of me."

"As if I did! If he is afraid of you, it is your own fault"

"Perhaps it is. But I try - good God, Natalie, I do try. He needs a curb now and then. All boys do. But if we could only agree on it - don't you see how it is now?" he asked, trying to reason gently with her. "All the discipline comes from me, all the indulgence from you. And - I don't want to lose my boy, my dear."

She freed her hands.

"So we couldn't even have one happy evening!" she said. "I won't quarrel with you, Clay. And I won't be tragic over Graham. If you'll just be human to him, he'll come out all right."

She went into her bedroom, the heavy lace of her negligee trailing behind her, and closed the door.

Clayton had a visitor the next morning at the mill, a man named Dunbar, who marked on his visitors' slip, under the heading of his business with the head of the concern, the words, "Private and confidential."

Clayton, looking up, saw a small man, in a suit too large for him, and with ears that projected wide on either side of a shrewd, rather humorous face.

"Mr. Spencer?"

"Yes. Sit down, please."

Even through the closed window the noise of the mill penetrated. The yard-engine whistled shrilly. The clatter of motor-trucks, the far away roar of the furnaces, the immediate vicinity of many typewriters, made a very bedlam of sound. Mr. Dunbar drew his chair closer, and laid a card on the desk.

"My credentials," he explained.

Clayton read the card.

"Very well, Mr. Dunbar. What can I do for you?"

Dunbar fixed him with shrewd, light eyes, and bent forward.

"Have you had any trouble in your mill, Mr. Spencer?"

"None whatever."

"Are you taking any measures to prevent trouble?"

"I had expected to. Not that I fear anything, but of course no one can tell. We have barely commenced to get lined up for our new work."

"May I ask the nature of the precautions?"

Clayton told him, with an uneasy feeling that Mr. Dunbar was finding them childish and inefficient.

"Exactly," said his visitor. "And well enough as far as they go. They don't go far enough. The trouble with you manufacturers is that you only recognize one sort of trouble, and that's a strike. I suppose you know that the Kaiser has said, if we enter the war, that he need not send an army here at all. That his army is here already, armed and equipped."

"Bravado," said Clayton. "I wonder!"

Mr. Dunbar reached into his breast pocket, and produced a long typed memorandum.

"You might just glance at that."

Clayton read it carefully. It was a list of fires, mostly in granaries and warehouses, and the total loss was appalling.

"All German work," said his visitor. "Arson, for the Fatherland. All supplies for the Allies, you see. I've got other similar lists, here, all German deviltry. And they're only commencing. If we go into the war - "

The immediate result of the visit was that Clayton became a member of a protective league which undertook, with his cooperation, to police and guard the mill. But Mr. Dunbar's last words left him thinking profoundly.

"We're going to be in it, that's sure. And soon. And Germany's army is here. It's not only Germans either. It's the I.W.W., for one thing. We've got a list through the British post-office censor, of a lot of those fellows who are taking German money to-day. They're against everything. Not only work. They're against law and order. And they're likely to raise hell."

He rose to leave.

"How do your Germans like making shells for the Allies?" he asked.

"We haven't a great many. We've had no trouble. One man resigned - a boss roller. That's all."

"Watch him. He's got a grievance."

"He's been here a long time. I haven't an idea he'd do us any harm. It was a matter of principle with him."

"Oh, it's a matter of principle with all of them. They can justify themselves seven ways to the ace. Keep an eye on him, or let us do it for you."

Clayton sat for some time after Dunbar had gone. Was it possible that Klein, or men like Klein, old employees and faithful for years, could be reached by the insidious wickedness of Germany? It was incredible. But then the whole situation was incredible; that a peaceful and home-loving people, to all appearances, should suddenly shed the sheep skin of years of dissimulation, and appear as the wolves of the world.

One of his men had died on the Lusitania, a quiet little chap, with a family in the suburbs and a mania for raising dahlias. He had been in the habit of bringing in his best specimens, and putting them in water on Clayton's desk. His pressed glass vase was still there, empty.

Then his mind went back to Herman Klein. He had a daughter in the mill. She was earning the livelihood for the family now, temporarily. And the Germans were thrifty. If for no other reason he thought Klein would not imperil either his daughter's safety or her salary.

There was a good bit of talk about German hate, but surely there was no hate in Klein.

Something else Dunbar had said stuck in his mind.

"We've got to get wise, and soon. It's too big a job for the regular departments to handle. Every city in the country and every town ought to have a civilian organization to watch and to fight it if it has to. They're hiding among us everywhere, and every citizen has got to be a sleuth, if we're to counter their moves. Every man his own detective!"

He had smiled as he said it, but Clayton had surmised a great earnestness and considerable knowledge behind the smile.