« PreviousContinue »
defeat it. The one thing of which his Obviously the poetic activity of our breadth of vision seems unconscious is passing hour is unusually large and that men once called this same dream varied. It is, obviously also, a little of a blissful world-state the New Jeru- hard here, a little cold there, now too
. salem descended from God,' and defied 'cosmic' and now too rigidly objective, the world, the flesh, and the devil to sometimes too contentedly complacent compass its defeat.
and self-willed. Even where it is noIt is worth noting - though no man blest and finest, as perhaps in the Vican say what is the exact significance sion of War, it nevertheless fails to anof the fact—that poetic activity with swer the deepest cry of the soul of man. a concurrent tendency to freedom in By these signs it is not yet great poetry. verse-form is likely to be synchronous But, and this is the innermost joy of it, with the gestation of war. Whitman's it is the plasma of which great poetry work lies well within the field of force is made. Without committing ourselves that played about our Civil War; so too freely to any of the new poets we also does the Transcendentalist move- may delight in their achievement and ment in New England, which surely look forward with certainty to the was a vehement attempt at putting coming of others whom they mutely poetry into practice. ‘Free verse,' this, prophesy. “There is more day to dawn. indeed, the freest of all and the finest! The sun is but a morning star.'
BY CHARLES CALDWELL DOBIE
The night was unusually warm. As I
he opened the garden window, pungent Ar an unearthly hour in the morning odors of dry stubble wet with a late John Scidmore sat up suddenly in his October dew floated toward him. He bed and remembered Julia Norris's leaned out and drew in a deep breath, telephone message. He rose at once, but his attempts at calmness failed switched on the shaded light on the utterly. bureau, and looked at his watch: the He knew that it was absurd to fret; minute hand had just swung past three he might just as well go back to bed and o'clock.
sleep peacefully. One could not place a Undisturbed by her husband's noc- line of insurance at three o'clock in the turnal prowling, Kitty Scidmore slept morning. Upon what day had Julia with almost childish naturalness. He Norris telephoned? Was it last Friday? plunged the room into darkness again Yes, he remembered now, perfectly. and felt his way out into the hall and He had been busy with a peevish cusdown the short flight of stairs to the tomer who haggled about a twentydining-room.
five-cent overcharge. In the midst of
the controversy, in her characteristic- Julia's Norris's orders. First, because ally impulsive way, Julia Norris had she was his wife's friend; second, berung up:
cause a ten-thousand-dollar order to ‘Oh John! is that you, John? Place his credit was not an everyday occurten thousand dollars with the Falcon rence; and third, because the circumInsurance Company on my flats in the stance that had overshadowed it was Richmond District.'
relatively of so little importance. He had recognized her voice even be- For over a week, then, Julia Norris's fore she gave her name. And he had property had gone without insurance been so sure he would not forget. Why, protection. What if it had burned up? he had been so very sure that he had What if it were burning up at this very not troubled to make a memorandum. moment? He sat down suddenly. And to think that the excitement of He got up again, fumbled about, and arguing a twenty-five-cent overcharge found cigarettes and a box of matches. should have so completely put to rout Two cigarettes quieted him. He began Julia Norris's order!
to think that he was a silly fool, moonA sudden rage at his carelessness ing about when he should have been seized him. How he loathed his life, his sleeping. In the morning he would work, and the soul-killing routine and take an early train to San Francisco cramped vision of the figurative count- and place the line without further ado. ing-house! He switched on the light Yes, after all, he was as silly and noand peered into the mirror over the tional as a young schoolgirl. He put mantel, smiling satirically at the reflec- down the window, turned off the lights, tion greeting him, — the reflection of and crawled upstairs to bed. plain Johnny Scidmore, insurance broker's clerk, a commonplace, rather
II undersized, law-abiding citizen just turning forty, whose face showed the True to his resolve, John Scidmore lack of that forceful ability necessary took an early train to San Francisco to convert opportunity into success. next morning, although he could not
As he drew back from the glass with have said why. It was as impossible to a shrug of disgust, the futility of his place insurance at eight-thirty as it life flashed over him. He still could re- was at three A.M., since no self-respectmember the time when he went blithe ing insurance office opened until nine. ly to the day's work, buoyed by youth's Still there is a certain comfort in even intangible hope of better things. But futile activity when one has the fidgets. the years soon took their toll of enthu- It was a beautiful October morning siasm, and there were days when John such as often veils the Berkeley hills in Scidmore went through his paces like faint purple and draws a soft glamour a trick horse urged by the whip of ne- over the city of San Francisco; and as cessity. Lately he had been worried Scidmore walked briskly down the elmto find how easily he was forgetting shaded streets of Berkeley toward the things - telephone messages, instruc- train he felt elusively happy, notwithtions from his chief, orders to place in- standing the ripples below the surface surance. So far nothing very impor- of his content. tant had slipped by him, but now he The office-boy was taking books out felt quite sure that he could never trust of the safe when he arrived at the office. himself again. There were many rea- In a corner by the wash-basin one of sons why he should have remembered the stenographers stood, fluffing up her
hair. A janitor dusted the desks with must have thought we were rather incasual attention.
or slow.' As Scidmore entered he noticed a She shook her head. 'I forgot the woman sitting near the counter. She whole transaction until this mornrose instantly, lifting her veil, smiling a ing. Rice 'phoned me at eight o'clock.' welcome at him. He crossed over to ‘But there may still be a chance,' her it was Julia Norris. His heart Scidmore suggested, shamed by the began to beat violently, but the next very ease with which he was escaping. moment he had recovered himself and 'Perhaps another clerk got the message. was able to smile back at her in perfect I'll question them all. Or — maybe self-control.
you rang up the Falcon's office direct.' 'You are early,' he said, offering her She laid a gloved hand on his arm as his hand.
she shrugged. ‘Yes, and I'm in trouble. You know He shook his head. You can't imthose flats I insured last week — they agine how this bothers me,' he went on. burned down early this morning. They He
He began to feel a certain boldness, tell me there is n't a stick left standing.' such as thieves feel when they put over
His hand fell as if a blow had wilted a sharp trick. He wanted to prolong it. "The flats you insured last week the discussion, to dally with danger. he echoed, sparring for time. 'I don't 'To think that in trying to be of servbelieve I - understand.'
ice to me you should have gone astray. 'Why, did n't you get my telephone I would n't have had it happen for — message? I 'phoned last Tuesday. I Let me see, what was the amount of thought I talked to you. I was sure it your order?' was your voice. Could I have rung up "Ten thousand dollars.' the wrong office?'
Ten thousand dollars! That's a lot Her uncertainty steadied him. Un- of money.' consciously she opened a door of es- ! 'Yes,' she admitted slowly, as she cape. Scidmore laid his hat on the moved toward the door. 'I'm pretty
. counter. Julia Norris fluttered back to comfortable, but nobody likes to throw her seat and he sat down beside her. money into the street.'
'I suppose I've bungled things He thrust his hands into his pockets again,' she went on. 'Usually I leave in an effort at nonchalance. He could everything to Mr. Rice, but this insur- feel his temples throbbin . But his ance matter I took into my own hands. confusion cleared before Julia NorI wanted you to have the business, so I ris's unruffled smile, deepening a growleft positive instructions with Mr. Rice ing sense of irritation. She was not to let me know when the next insur- greatly concerned, first, because she
, ance policy expired. That was last Fri- did not have to be, and second, because day. I 'phoned you at once. I can't her faith in his integrity was unshaken. imagine —
Her complacency and trustfulness enAs she rattled on, pointing an accus- raged him. What was ten thousand ing finger at herself, John Scidmore dollars to her? grew surer and surer of his next step. In the midst of his musings, her There was not the faintest note of cal- voice, curiously remote, roused him. culation in his attitude; confused and 'I'm going to have lunch with Kitdazed he merely followed her lead. ty,' she said, almost gayly.
And you never received any policy?' 'Lunch with Kitty?' he echoed. he questioned. 'Not after a week? You Then, floundering with mingled con
sternation and embarrassment, he fin- quite the hero of the hour a very ished, 'Oh, yes, - won't that be fine!important personage, whose ten-thouYes, by all means do!'
sand-dollar client had come to grief. It And yet, unnerved as he was, he went was years since he had figured in a through the conventional motions of question of office policy. Gradually the courtesy, bowing her to the door, press- uniqueness of his position pushed Julia ing her hand cordially, sweeping her Norris and her loss into a hazy backa good-bye with exaggerated warmth. ground. Even when she was gone her unper- He returned to his routine work with turbed smile mocked him. She did not a gay spirit. Several times during the have the slightest suspicion of his un- morning the manager called him for worthiness, and therein lay the essence further conference and inquiry. Finalof the sudden and unqualified hate hely a letter was drafted to Mrs. Julia began to feel for her.
Norris, to the effect that the California
exceedingly to inform her that upon III
closer examination no trace could be John Scidmore questioned all the found of her telephone message. They clerks as they entered the office. Had could only conclude that she inadvertany one received a telephone message ently had rung up the wrong office. Inabout a week ago from Mrs. Julia Nor- quiry at the Falcon Company's office, ris? He was playing his game so earn- however, developed that no such insurestly that he would not have been sur- ance had been placed, even by a rival prised to find somebody acknowledging firm. They hoped that this unfortuthe transaction. The manager came in nate occurrence would not stand in the at ten o'clock; Scidmore even present- way of other favors at her hands, and ed the case to him: Mrs. Julia Norris, a client of his, had telephoned an order John Scidmore signed the letter with for insurance over a week ago. Nobody
a flourish. remembered it. The property to be in- All morning the fiction of Julia Norsured had burned up. Of course, Mrs. ris's mistake still persisted. Why had Norris might have been mistaken (she she not taken greater precautions? The admitted as much), but there was just idea of telephoning in a line of insura chance
ance and not inquiring the name of the The manager, instantly interested, person who took the message! Comadjusted his glasses. A ten-thousand- mon sense would dictate such a course. dollar line neglected! Incredible! He He began to feel abused, as if Julia began to investigate personally, call. Norris had betrayed him in some way. ing up one clerk after another, while Scidmore listened like a highwayman,
IV tempting chance from a spirit of sheer bravado. Nobody remembered, even It was not until John Scidmore had under the most searching cross-exam
scrambled aboard the ferryboat on his ination. The private exchange oper- way home and sat himself down in ator, who was usually very keen about his usual place, under the pilot-house, such matters, could not place the call. that his inflated spirits began to col
Then came a discussion of how to lapse. The afternoon had been spent prevent such a lapse should one occur. in a mad rush of business, an avaScidmore sat at the manager's desk, lanche of petty orders and details such
as periodically afflicts an insurance bro- dollars did n't matter, and besides, she ker's office.
was Kitty's friend. Had he the right The sense of security which had en- to purchase a quiet conscience at the veloped him all day fell away before a expense of Kitty's pride? vague uneasiness. Before an audience, What had he given Kitty in the fifhe had played his part spiritedly; with- teen years of their wedded life? Had out the spur of interested auditors his he played the game boldly and well? performance lagged. There was an ele- Did she hold her head high at the menment of excitement in serving moral tion of his name? No, he had fallen fiction to unsuspecting listeners, but short of his own standards. How much hoodwinking himself proved a bore- more must he have fallen short of her some task. The boldest highwayman hopes for him. And now he was lacking had a cleaner record: at least such an the courage to swallow his medicine. outlaw made bold plays and took great He was ready to whimper and whine at chances. He had not risked so much as the load which his own inefficiency had his little finger on his enterprise, and forced upon his conscience. He argued his victim's cheek was still warm with that strong men made bold plays and the kiss of betrayal. Lies, thieverydamned the consequence; in other murder -- one by one these suggestions words, they took a chance. But his of outlawry mentally passed in review soul was tricking itself out in a dramaand sank into insignificance before this tic subterfuge. What he really had dissinister word — betrayal. In all the cal- covered was something to excuse his endar of human weaknesses, John weakness, and this something loomed Scidmore could recall none that served up conveniently in the person of Kitty so contemptible an end as betrayal. Scidmore, his wife. And he, John Scidmore, had been guilty of this crowning meanness.
V If the memory of Julia Norris's confidence stabbed him, what of the atti- When Scidmore arrived home, he tude of his superiors at the office? They went directly to his room and closed the had never even thought of questioning door. The thought of meeting Kitty him. As he looked back on the events troubled him. But after he had slipped of the morning he was appalled. It on an old coat and freshened up, he felt seemed that all these years he had built better. up barriers of moral responsibility only At the dinner table he noticed a tired, to see them swept away before a freshet pinched look about his wife's mouth. of fears.
Julia Norris was every day as old as his A tramping of feet warned him that wife, but time had dealt kindly with the boat was swinging into the slip. He her. Her face was still fresh and rosy; rose mechanically. The exertion of fol- there was not even a glint of gray in her lowing the scrambling crowd and find- hair. Resentment began to move him, ing himself a seat on the train inter- resentment at Julia Norris, at her forrupted his self-accusation. By the time tune, at her friendship for his wife, at he was comfortably settled again, he every detail connected with his memmentally had begun his defense.
ory of her. Why should he make such an absurd Kitty began to talk. Scidmore sat fuss over confessing his fault to Julia silent, crumbling his bread. Finally Norris? She was rich; her husband had the dread subject came to life. Kitty left her a cool million. Ten thousand looked up and said,