This is not the story of Theodora Duke and Stacy Lindstrom, but
of a traveling bag with silver fittings, a collection of cloisonné,
a pile of ratty school-books, and a fireless cooker that did not
Long before these things were acquired, when Theo was a girl and
her father, Lyman Duke, was a so-so dealer in cut-over lands, there
was a feeling of adventure in the family. They lived in a small
brown house which predicated children and rabbits in the back yard,
and a father invariably home for supper. But Mr. Duke was always
catching trains to look at pine tracts in northern Minnesota. Often
his wife went along and, in the wilds, way and beyond Grand Marais
and the steely shore of Lake Superior, she heard wolves howl and
was unafraid. The Dukes laughed much those years, and were eager to
see mountains and new kinds of shade trees.
Theo found her own freedom in exploring jungles of five-foot
mullein weeds with Stacy Lindstrom. That pale, stolid little
Norwegian she chose from her playmates because he was always ready
to try new games.
The city of Vernon was newer then—in 1900. There were no
country clubs, no fixed sets. The pioneers from Maine and York
State who had appropriated lumber and flour were richer than the
newly come Buckeyes and Hoosiers and Scandinavians, but they were
friendly. As they drove their smart trotters the leading citizens
shouted “Hello, Heinie,” or “Evenin’,
Knute,” without a feeling of condescension. In preferring
Stacy Lindstrom to Eddie Barnes, who had a hundred-dollar bicycle
and had spent a year in a private school, Theo did not consider
herself virtuously democratic. Neither did Stacy!
The brown-haired, bright-legged, dark-cheeked, glowing girl was
a gorgeous colt, while he was a fuzzy lamb. Theo’s father had
an office, Stacy’s father a job in a planing mill. Yet Stacy
was the leader. He read books, and he could do things with his
hands. He invented Privateers, which is a much better game than
Pirates. For his gallant company of one privateers he rigged a
forsaken dump cart, in the shaggy woods on the Mississippi bluffs,
with sackcloth sails, barrel-hoop cutlasses, and a plank for
victims to walk. Upon the request of the victims, who were Theo, he
added to the plank a convenient handrail.
But anyone could play Ship—even Eddie Barnes. From a
territorial pioneer Stacy learned of the Red River carts which,
with the earthquaking squawk of ungreased wheels and the glare of
scarlet sashes on the buckskin-shirted drivers, used to come
plodding all the redskin-haunted way from the outposts of the Free
Trappers, bearing marten and silver fox for the throats of
princesses. Stacy changed the privateers’ brigantine into a
Red River cart. Sometimes it was seven or ten carts, and a
barricade. Behind it Stacy and Theo kept off hordes of Dakotas.
After voyaging with Stacy, Theo merely ya-ah’d at Eddie
Barnes when he wanted her to go skating. Eddie considered a figure
eight, performed on the ice of a safe creek, the final
accomplishment of imaginative sport, while Stacy could from
immemorial caverns call the Wizard Merlin as servitor to a little
playing girl. Besides, he could jump on ski! And mend a bike! Eddie
had to take even a dirty sprocket to the repair shop.
The city, and Theo, had grown less simple-hearted when she went
to Central High School. Twenty-five hundred boys and girls gathered
in those tall gloomy rooms, which smelled of water pails and chalk
and worn floors. There was a glee club, a school paper, a debating
society and dress-up parties. The school was brisk and sensible,
but it was too large for the intimacy of the grade buildings. Eddie
Barnes was conspicuous now, with his energy in managing the
athletic association, his beautifully combed hair and his real gold
watch. Stacy Lindstrom was lost in the mass.
It was Eddie who saw Theo home from parties. He was a man of the
world. He went to Chicago as calmly as you or I would go out to the
St. Croix River to spear pickerel.
Stacy rarely went to parties. Theo invited him to her own, and
the girls were polite to him. Actually he danced rather better than
Eddie. But he couldn’t talk about Chicago. He couldn’t
talk at all. Nor did he sing or go out for sports. His father was
dead. He worked Saturdays and three nights a week in an upholstery
shop— a dingy, lint-blurred loft, where two old Swedes kept
up as a permanent institution a debate on the Lutheran Church
versus the Swedish Adventist.
“Why don’t you get a good live job?” Eddie
patronizingly asked Stacy at recess, and Theo echoed the question;
but neither of them had any suggestions about specific good live
Stacy stood from first to fifth in every class. But what, Eddie
demanded, was the use of studying unless you were going to be a
school teacher? Which he certainly was not! He was going to
college. He was eloquent and frequent on this topic. It
wasn’t the darned old books, but the association with the
fellows, that educated you, he pointed out. Friendships.
Fraternities. Helped a fellow like the dickens, both in society and
business, when he got out of college.
“Yes, I suppose so,” sighed Theo.
Eddie said that Stacy was a longitudinal, latitudinous,
isothermic, geologic, catawampaboid Scandahoofian. Everybody
admired the way Eddie could make up long words. Theo’s older
sister, Janet, who had cold, level eyes, said that Theo was a fool
to let a shabby, drabby nobody like that Stacy Lindstrom carry her
books home from school. Theo defended Stacy whenever he was
mentioned. There is nothing which so cools young affection as
having to defend people.
After high school Eddie went East to college, Stacy was a clerk
in the tax commissioner’s department of the
railroad—and the Dukes became rich, and immediately ceased to
Iron had been found under Mr. Duke’s holdings in northern
Minnesota. He refused to sell. He leased the land to the
iron-mining company, and every time a scoop brought up a mass of
brown earth in the open pit the company ran very fast and dropped
twenty-five cents in Mr. Duke’s pocket. He felt heavy with
silver and importance; he bought the P. J. Broom mansion and became
the abject servant of possessions.
The Broom mansion had four drawing rooms, a heraldic limestone
fireplace and a tower and a half. The half tower was merely an
octagonal shingle structure with a bulbous Moorish top; but the
full tower, which was of stone on a base of brick, had cathedral
windows, a weather vane, and a metal roof down which dripped
decorative blobs like copper tears. While the mansion was being
redecorated the Duke senior took the grand tour from Miami to Port
Said, and brought home a carload of treasures. There was a
ready-made collection of cloisonné, which an English baron had
spent five years in gathering in Japan and five hours in losing at
Monte Carlo. There was a London traveling bag, real seal, too
crammed with silver fittings to admit much of anything else, and
too heavy for anyone save a piano mover to lift. There were rugs,
and books, and hand-painted pictures, and a glass window from
Nuremberg, and ushabti figures from Egypt, and a pierced brass lamp
in the shape of a mosque.
All these symbols of respectability the Dukes installed in the
renovated Broom mansion, and settled down to watch them.
Lyman Duke was a kindly man, and shrewd, but the pride of
ownership was a germ, and he was a sick man. Who, he meditated, had
such a lamp? Could even the Honorable Gerard Randall point to such
glowing rods of book backs?
Mrs. Duke organized personally conducted excursions to view the
Axminster rug in the library. Janet forgot that she had ever stood
brushing her hair before a pine bureau. Now she sat before a
dressing table displaying candlesticks, an eyelash pencil, and a
powder-puff box of gold lace over old rose. Janet moved graciously,
and invited little sister Theo to be cordially unpleasant to their
grubby friends of grammar-school days.
The accumulation of things to make other people envious is
nothing beside their accumulation because it’s the thing to
do. Janet discovered that life would be unendurable without an
evening cloak. At least three evening cloaks were known to exist
within a block of the Broom mansion. True, nobody wore them. There
aren’t any balls or plays except in winter, and during a
Vernon winter you don’t wear a satin cloak—you wear a
fur coat and a muffler and a sweater and arctics, and you brush the
frozen breath from your collar, and dig out of your wraps like a
rabbit emerging from a brush pile. But if everybody had them Janet
wasn’t going to be marked for life as one ignorant of the
niceties. She used the word “niceties” frequently and
She got an evening cloak. Also a pair of fifteen-dollar pumps,
which she discarded for patent leathers as soon as she found that
everybody wore those—everybody being a girl in the next
block, whose house wasn’t anywhere near as nice as
Theo was only half glad of their grandeur. Oh, undoubtedly she
was excited about the house at first, and mentioned it to other
girls rather often, and rang for maids she didn’t need. But
she had a little pain in the conscience. She felt that she
hadn’t kept up defending Stacy Lindstrom very pluckily.
She was never allowed to forget Stacy’s first call at the
mansion. The family were settled in the house. They were anxious
for witnesses of their nobility. The bell rang at eight one
Saturday evening when they were finishing dinner. It was hard to be
finishing dinner at eight. They had been used to starting at
six-thirty-one and ending the last lap, neck and neck, at
six-fifty— two. But by starting at seven, and having a salad,
and letting Father smoke his cigar at the table, they had stretched
out the ceremony to a reasonably decent length.
At the sound of the buzz in the butler’s pantry Janet
squeaked: “Oh, maybe it’s the Garlands! Or even the
Randalls!” She ran into the hall.
“Janet! Jan-et! The maid will open the door!” Mrs.
“I know, but I want to see who it is!”
Janet returned snapping: “Good heavens, it’s only
that Stacy Lindstrom! Coming at this early hour! And he’s
bought a new suit, just to go calling. It looks like sheet
Theo pretended she had not heard. She fled to the distant
library. She was in a panic. She was ashamed of herself, but she
didn’t trust Stacy to make enough impression. So it was Mr.
Duke who had the first chance at the audience:
“Ah, Stacy, glad to see you, my boy. The girls are round
some place. Theo!”
“Lyman! Don’t shout so! I’ll send a maid to
find her,” remonstrated Mrs. Duke.
“Oh, she’ll come a-running. Trust these girls to
know when a boy’s round!” boomed Mr. Duke.
Janet had joined Theo in the library. She veritably hissed as
she protested: “Boys-s-s-s-s! We come running for a
commonplace railway clerk!”
Theo made her handkerchief into a damp, tight little ball in her
lap, smoothed it out, and very carefully began to tear off its
Afar Mr. Duke was shouting: “Come see my new collection
while we’re waiting.”
“I hate you!” Theo snarled at Janet, and ran into
the last of the series of drawing rooms. From its darkness she
could see her father and Stacy. She felt that she was protecting
this, her brother, from danger; from the greatest of
dangers—being awkward in the presence of the stranger, Janet.
She was aware of Janet slithering in beside her.
“Now what do you think of that, eh?” Mr. Duke was
demanding. He had unlocked a walnut cabinet, taken out an enameled
Stacy was radiant. “Oh, yes. I know what that stuff is.
I’ve read about it. It’s cloysoan.” He had
pronounced it to rime with moan.
“Well, not precisely! Cloysonnay, most folks would call
it. Culwasonnay, if you want to be real highbrow. But cloysoan,
that’s pretty good! Mamma! Janet! The lad says this is
cloysoan! Ha, ha! Well, never mind, my boy. Better folks than you
and I have made that kind of a mistake.”
Janet was tittering. The poisonous stream of it trickled through
all the rooms. Stacy must have heard. He looked about uneasily.
Suddenly Theo saw him as a lout, in his new suit that hung like
wood. He was twisting a button and trying to smile back at Mr.
The cloisonné plate was given to Stacy to admire. What he saw
was a flare of many-colored enamels in tiny compartments. In the
center a dragon writhed its tongue in a field of stars, and on the
rim were buds on clouds of snow, a flying bird, and amusing symbols
among willow leaves.
But Mr. Duke was lecturing on what he ought to have seen:
“This is a sara, and a very fine specimen. Authorities
differ, but it belonged either to the Shi sinwo or the
Monzeki—princely monks, in the monastery of Nin-na-ji. Note
the extreme thinness of the cloisons, and the pastes are very
evenly vitrified. The colors are remarkable. You’ll notice
there’s slate blue, sage green, chrome yellow,
and—uh—well, there’s several other colors. You
see the ground shows the kara kusa. That bird there is a ho-ho in
flight above the branches of the kiri tree.”
Stacy had a healthy suspicion that a few months before Mr. Duke
had known no more about Oriental art than Stacy Lindstrom. But he
had no Japanese words for repartee, and he could only rest his
weight on the other foot and croak “Well, well!”
Mr. Duke was beatifically going on: “Now this chat-subo,
you’ll notice, is not cloisonné at all, but champlevé. Very
important point in studying shippo ware. Note the unusually fine
kiku crest on this chawan.”
“I see. Uh—I see,” said Stacy.
“Just a goat, that’s all he is, just a giddy
goat,” Janet whispered to Theo in the dark room beyond, and
It was five minutes before Theo got up courage to rescue Stacy.
When she edged into the room he was sitting in a large leather
chair and fidgeting. He was fidgeting in twenty different but
equally irritating ways. He kept re-crossing his legs, and every
time he crossed them the stiff trousers bagged out in more hideous
folds. Between times he tapped his feet. His fingers drummed on the
chair. He looked up at the ceiling, licking his lips, and hastily
looked down, with an artificial smile in acknowledgment of Mr.
Duke’s reminiscences of travel.
Theo swooped on Stacy with hands clapping in welcome, with a
flutter of white muslin skirts about young ankles.
“Isn’t the house comfy? When we get a pig we can
keep him under that piano! Come on, I’ll show you all the
hidey holes,” she crowed.
She skipped off, dragging him by the hand—but she realized
that she was doing altogether too much dragging. Stacy, who had
always been too intent on their games to be self-conscious, was
self-conscious enough now. What could she say to him?
She besought: “I hope you’ll come often. We’ll
have lots of fun out of—”
“Oh, you won’t know me any more, with a swell place
like this,” he mumbled.
As women do she tried to bandage this raw, bruised moment. She
snapped on the lights in the third drawing room, and called his
attention to the late Mr. P. J. Broom’s coat of arms carved
on the hulking stone fireplace. “I got the decorator to
puzzle it out for me, and as far as he could make out, if Pat Broom
was right he was descended from an English duke, a German general
and a Serbian undertaker. He didn’t miss a trick
“Well, it’s a pretty fine fireplace,” Stacy
interrupted. He looked away, his eyes roving but dull, and dully he
added: “Too fine for me, I guess.”
Not once could she get him to share her joy in the house. He
seemed proud of the virtue of being poor. Like a boast sounded his
repeated “Too darned fine for me—don’t belong in
with all these doo-dads.” She worked hard. She showed him not
only the company rooms but the delightful secret passage of the
clothes chute which led from an upstairs bedroom to the laundry;
the closet drawers which moved on rollers and could be drawn out by
the little finger; the built-in clock with both Trinity and
Westminster chimes; the mysterious spaces of the basement, with the
gas drier for wet wash, and the wine cellar which—as it so
far contained only a case of beer and seven bottles of ginger
ale—was chiefly interesting to the sense of make-believe.
Obediently he looked where she pointed; politely he repeated
that everything was “pretty fine”; and not once was he
her comrade. The spirit of divine trust was dead, horribly mangled
and dead, she panted, while she caroled in the best
nice-young-woman tone she could summon: “See, Stace.
Isn’t this cun-ning?”
It is fabled that sometimes the most malignant ghosts are souls
that in life have been the most kindly and beloved. Dead though
this ancient friendship seemed, it had yet one phase of horror to
manifest. After having implied that he was a plain honest fellow
and glad of it, Stacy descended to actual boasting. They sat
uneasily in the smallest of the drawing rooms, their eyes fencing.
Theo warned herself that he was merely embarrassed. She wanted to
be sorry for him. But she was tired—tired of defending him to
others, tired of fighting to hold his affection.
“I certainly am eating the work in the tax
commissioner’s office. I’m studying accounting systems
and banking methods evenings, and you want to watch your Uncle
Stacy. I’ll make some of these rich fellows sit up! I know
the cashier at the Lumber National pretty well now, and he as much
as said I could have a job there, at better money, any time I
He did not say what he wished to put into the railroad and the
bank—only what he wished to get out of them. He had no plans,
apparently, to build up great institutions for Vernon, but he did
have plans to build up a large salary for Stacy Lindstrom.
And one by one, as flustered youth does, he dragged in the names
of all the important men he had met. The conversation had to be
bent distressingly, to get them all in.
He took half an hour in trying to make an impressive exit.
“I hate him! He expects me to be snobbish! He made it so
hard for me to apologize for being rich. He—Oh, I hate
him!” Theo sobbed by her bed.
Not for a week did she want to see the boy again; and not for a
month did he call. By that time she was used to doing without him.
Before long she was used to doing without most people. She was left
lonely. Janet had gone East to a college that wasn’t a
college at all, but a manicurist’s buffer of a school, all
chamois, celluloid, and pink powder—a school all roses and
purring and saddle horses and pleasant reading of little manuals
about art. Theo had admired her older sister. She had been eager
when Janet had let her wash gloves and run ribbons. She missed the
joy of service. She missed too the conveniences of the old brown
house— the straw-smelling dog house in the back yard, with
the filthy, agreeable, gentlemanly old setter who had resided
there; and the tree up which a young woman with secret sorrows
could shin resentfully.
Not only Janet and Eddie Barnes but most of Theo’s friends
had escaped domestic bliss and gone off to school. Theo wanted to
follow them, but Mrs. Duke objected: “I wouldn’t like
to have both my little daughters desert me at once.” At the
age halfway between child and independent woman Theo was alone. She
missed playing; she missed the achievements of housework.
In the old days, on the hired girl’s night out, Theo had
not minded splashing in rainbow-bubbled suds and polishing the
water glasses to shininess. But now there was no hired girl’s
night out, and no hired girls. There were maids instead, three of
them, with a man who took care of the furnace and garden and put on
storm windows. The eldest of the maids was the housekeeper-cook,
and she was a straight-mouthed, carp-eyed person named Lizzie.
Lizzie had been in the Best Houses. She saw to it that neither the
other servants nor the Dukes grew slack. She would have fainted at
the sight of Sunday supper in the kitchen or of Theo washing
Mr. Duke pretended to be glad that they had a furnace man; that
he no longer had to put on overalls and black leather gloves to
tend the furnace and sift the ashes. That had been his
before-supper game at the shabby brown house. As a real-estate man,
he had been mediocre. As a furnace man, he had been a surgeon, an
artist. He had operated on the furnace delicately, giving lectures
on his technic to a clinic of admiring young. You mustn’t, he
had exhorted, shake for one second after the slivers of hot coal
tumble through the grate. You must turn off the draft at exactly
the moment when the rose-and-saffron flames quiver above the sullen
mound of coal.
His wife now maintained that he had been dreadfully bored and
put upon by chores. He didn’t contradict. He was proud that
he no longer had to perch on a ladder holding a storm window or
mightily whirling the screw driver as the screws sunk unerringly
home. But with nothing to do but look at the furnace man, and gaze
at his collections of jugs and bugs and rugs, he became slow of
step and foggy of eye, and sometimes, about nothing in particular,
Whenever they had guests for dinner he solemnly showed the
cloisonné and solemnly the guests said, “Oh,” and
“Really?” and “Is it?” They didn’t
want to see the cloisonné, and Mr. Duke didn’t want to show
it, and of his half-dozen words of Japanese he was exceedingly
weary. But if one is a celebrated collector one must keep on
collecting and showing the collections.
These dinners and private exhibits were part of a social system
in which the Dukes were entangled. It wasn’t an easy-fitting
system. It was too new. If we ever have professional gentlemen in
this country we may learn to do nothing and do it beautifully. But
so far we want to do things. Vernon society went out for
businesslike activities. There was much motoring, golf and the
discussion of golf, and country-club dances at which the
men’s costumes ran from full evening dress through dinner
coats to gray suits with tan shoes.
Most of the men enjoyed these activities honestly. They danced
and motored and golfed because they liked to; because it rested
them after the day in the office. But there was a small exclusive
set in Vernon that had to spend all its time in getting recognized
as a small exclusive set. It was social solitaire. By living in a
district composed of a particular three blocks on the Boulevard of
the Lakes Mr. Duke had been pushed into that exclusive
set—Mrs. Duke giving a hand in the pushing.
Sometimes he rebelled. He wanted to be back at work. He had
engaged a dismayingly competent manager for his real-estate office,
and even by the most ingenious efforts to find something wrong with
the books or the correspondence he couldn’t keep occupied at
the office for more than two hours a day. He longed to discharge
the manager, but Mrs. Duke would not have it. She enjoyed the
ownership of a leisure-class husband.
For rich women the social system in Vernon does provide more
games than for men. The poor we have always with us, and the
purpose of the Lord in providing the poor is to enable us of the
better classes to amuse ourselves by investigating them and
uplifting them and at dinners telling how charitable we are. The
poor don’t like it much. They have no gratitude. They would
rather be uplifters themselves. But if they are taken firmly in
hand they can be kept reasonably dependent and interesting for
The remnants of the energy that had once taken Mrs. Duke into
the woods beyond the end of steel now drove her into poor-baiting.
She was a committeewoman five deep. She had pigeonholes of
mysteriously important correspondence, and she hustled about in the
limousine. When her husband wanted to go back and do real work she
“That’s the trouble with the American man. He really
likes his sordid office. No, dearie, you just enjoy your leisure
for a while yet. As soon as we finish the campaign for censoring
music you and I will run away and take a good trip—San
Francisco and Honolulu.”
But whenever she actually was almost ready to go even he saw
objections. How ridiculous to desert their adorable house, the beds
soft as whipped cream, the mushrooms and wild rice that only Lizzie
could cook, for the discomforts of trains and hotels! And was it
safe to leave the priceless collections? There had been a burglar
scare—there always has just been a burglar scare in all
cities. The Dukes didn’t explain how their presence would
keep burglars away, but they gallantly gave up their lives to
guarding the cloisonné while they talked about getting a caretaker,
and never tried to get him.
Thus at last was Lyman Duke become a prison guard shackled to
the things he owned, and the longest journey of the man who had
once desired new peaks and softer air was a slow walk down to the
Commercial Club for lunch.
When Janet and Eddie Barnes and the rest of Theo’s friends
came back from college; when the sons went into their
fathers’ wholesale offices and clubs, and the daughters
joined their mothers’ lecture courses and societies, and
there was an inheriting Younger Set and many family plans for
marriages—then Theo ceased to be lonely, and remembered how
to play. She had gone to desultory dances during their absence, but
only with people too old or too young. Now she had a group of her
own. She danced with a hot passion for music and movement; her
questioning about life disappeared in laughter as she rose to the
rushing of people and the flashing of gowns.
Stacy Lindstrom was out of existence in this colored world.
Stacy was now chief clerk in the railroad tax commissioner’s
office, and spoken of as future assistant cashier in the Lumber
National Bank. But he was quite insignificant. He was
thin—not slim. He was silent—not reserved. His clothes
were plain—not cleverly inconspicuous. He wore eyeglasses
with a gold chain attached to a hoop over one ear; and he totally
failed to insist that he was bored by the vaudeville which
everybody attended and everybody sneered at. Oh, he was ordinary,
through and through.
Thus with boarding-school wisdom Janet dissected the unfortunate
social problem known as Stacy Lindstrom. Theo didn’t protest
much. It was not possible for youth to keep on for five years very
ardently defending anybody who changed as little as Stacy. And Theo
Not only to dances did Janet lead her, but into the delights of
being artistic. Janet had been gapingly impressed by the Broom
mansion when the family had acquired it, but now, after vacation
visits to Eastern friends, she saw that the large brown velvet
chairs were stuffy, and the table with the inlaid chessboard of
mother-of-pearl a horror. What Janet saw she also expressed.
In one of the manuals the girls had been tenderly encouraged to
glance through at Janet’s college it was courageously stated
that simplicity was the keynote in decoration. At breakfast,
dinner, and even at suppers personally abstracted from the ice box
at two A. M., Janet clamored that their ratty old palace ought to
be refurnished. Her parents paid no attention. That was just as
Otherwise Janet would have lost the chance to get into her
portable pulpit and admonish: “When I have a house it will be
absolutely simple. Just a few exquisite vases, and not one chair
that doesn’t melt into the environment.
Things—things—things—they are so dreadful! I
shan’t have a thing I can’t use. Use is the test of
Theo knew that the admirable Janet expressed something which she
had been feeling like a dull, unplaced pain. She became a member of
an informal art association consisting of herself, Janet, Eddie
Barnes, and Harry McPherson, Janet’s chief suitor. It is true
that the art association gave most of its attention to sitting
together in corners at dances and giggling at other people’s
clothes, but Janet did lead them to an exhibit at the Vernon Art
Institute, and afterward they had tea and felt intellectual and
peculiar and proud.
Eddie Barnes was showing new depths. He had attended a great
seaboard university whose principal distinction, besides its
athletics, was its skill in instructing select young gentlemen to
discuss any topic in the world without having any knowledge of it
whatever. During Janet’s pogrom against the Dukes’
mosque-shaped brass lamp Eddie was heard to say a number of
terribly good things about the social value of knowing wall
When Janet and Harry McPherson were married Eddie was best man,
Janet had furnished her new house. When Theo had accompanied
Janet on the first shopping flight she had wanted to know just what
sort of chairs would perform the miracle of melting into the
environment. She wondered whether they could be found in department
stores or only in magic shops. But Janet led her to a place only
too familiar—the Crafts League, where Mrs. Duke always bought
candle shades and small almond dishes.
Janet instantly purchased a hand-tooled leather box for playing
cards, and a desk set which included a locked diary in a morocco
cover and an ingenious case containing scissors, magnifying glass,
pencil sharpener, paper cutter, steel ink eraser, silver penknife.
This tool kit was a delightful toy, and it cost thirty-seven
dollars. The clerk explained that it was especially marked down
from forty-five dollars, though he did not explain why it should be
especially marked down.
Theo wailed: “But those aren’t necessary! That last
thingumajig has four different kinds of knives, where you only need
one. It’s at least as useless as Papa’s
“I know, but it’s so amusing. And it’s
entirely different from Papa’s old stuff. It’s the
newest thing out!” Janet explained.
Before she had bought a single environment-melting chair Janet
added to her simple and useful furnishings a collection of glass
fruit for table centerpiece, a set of Venetian glass bottles, a
traveling clock with a case of gold and platinum and works of tin.
For her sensible desk she acquired a complicated engine consisting
of a tiny marble pedestal, on which was an onyx ball, on which was
a cerise and turquoise china parrot, from whose back, for no very
clear anatomical reason, issued a candlestick. But not a stick for
candles. It was wired for electricity.
As she accepted each treasure Janet rippled that it was so
amusing. The clerk added “So quaint,” as though it
rimed with amusing. While Theo listened uncomfortably they two sang
a chorus of disparagement of Mid–Victorian bric-a-brac and
praise of modern clever bits.
When Janet got time for the miraculous chairs—
She had decided to furnish her dining room in friendly, graceful
Sheraton, but the clerk spoke confidentially of French lacquer, and
Theo watched Janet pledge her troth to a frail red-lacquered
dining-room set of brazen angles. The clerk also spoke of
distinguished entrance halls, and wished upon Janet an enormous
Spanish chair of stamped leather upholstery and dropsical gilded
legs, with a mirror that cost a hundred and twenty dollars, and a
chest in which Janet didn’t intend to keep anything.
Theo went home feeling that she was carrying on her shoulders a
burden of gilded oak; that she would never again run free.
When Janet’s house was done it looked like a sale in a
seaside gift shop. Even her telephone was covered with a brocade
and china doll. Theo saw Janet spending her days vaguely
endeavoring to telephone to living life through brocade dolls.
After Janet’s marriage Theo realized that she was tired of
going to parties with the same group; of hearing the same Eddie
tell the same stories about the cousin of the Vanderbilts who had
almost invited him to go yachting. She was tired of Vernon’s
one rich middle-aged bachelor; of the bouncing girl twins who
always rough-housed at dances. She was peculiarly weary of the same
salads and ices which all Vernon hostesses always got from the same
caterer. There was one kind of cake with rosettes of nuts which
Theo met four times in two weeks—and expected to meet till
the caterer passed beyond. She could tell beforehand how any given
festivity would turn out. She knew at just what moment after a
luncheon the conversation about babies would turn into uneasy
yawns, and the hostess would, inevitably, propose bridge. Theo
desired to assassinate the entire court of face cards.
Stacy Lindstrom had about once a year indicated a shy desire to
have her meet his own set. He told her that they went skiing in
winter and picnicking in summer; he hinted how simply and frankly
they talked at dinners. Theo went gladly with him to several
parties of young married people and a few unmarried sisters and
cousins. For three times she enjoyed the change in personnel. As
she saw the bright new flats, with the glassed-in porches, the
wicker furniture, the colored prints and the davenports; as she
heard the people chaff one another; as she accompanied them to a
public skating rink and sang to the blaring band—she felt
that she had come out of the stupidity of stilted social sets and
returned to the naturalness of the old brown house.
But after three parties she knew all the jokes of the husbands
about their wives, and with unnecessary thoroughness she knew the
opinions of each person upon movies, Chicago, prohibition, the I.
W. W., Mrs. Sam Jenkins’ chronic party gown, and
Stacy’s new job in the Lumber National. She tried to enliven
the parties. She worked harder than any of her hostesses. She
proposed charades, music. She failed. She gave them one gorgeous
dance, and disappeared from their group forever.
She did go with Stacy on a tramp through the snow, and enjoyed
it— till he began to hint that he, too, might have a great
house and many drawing rooms some day. He had very little to say
about what he hoped to do for the Lumber National Bank in
Then did Theo feel utterly deserted. She blamed herself. Was
something wrong with her that she alone found these amusements so
agonizingly unamusing? And feeling thus why didn’t she do
something about it? She went on helping her mother in the gigantic
task of asking Lizzie what orders Lizzie wanted them to give her.
She went on planning that some day she would read large books and
know all about world problems, and she went on forgetting to buy
the books. She was twenty-six, and there was no man to marry except
the chattering Eddie Barnes. Certainly she could not think
romantically about that Stacy Lindstrom whose ambition seemed to be
to get enough money to become an imitation chattering Eddie
Then America entered the war.
Eddie Barnes went to the first officers’ training camp,
and presently was a highly decorative first lieutenant in a
hundred-dollar uniform. Stacy Lindstrom made his savings over to
his mother, and enlisted. While Eddie was still stationed at a
cantonment as instructor Stacy was writing Theo ten-word messages
from France. He had become a sergeant, and French agriculture was
interesting, he wrote.
Stacy’s farewell had been undistinguished. He
called—a slight, commonplace figure in a badly fitting
private’s uniform. He sat on the piano stool and mouthed:
“Well, I have a furlough. Then we get shipped across.
Well—don’t forget me, Theo.”
At the door Stacy kissed her hand so sharply that his teeth
bruised her skin, and ran down the steps, silent.
But Eddie, who came up from the cantonment at least once a
month, at least that often gave a long, brave farewell to Theo.
Handsome, slim, erect, he invariably paced the smallest drawing
room, stopped, trembled, and said in a military tone, tenor but
resolute: “Well, old honey, this may be the last time I see
you. I may get overseas service any time now. Theo dear, do you
know how much I care? I shall take a picture of you in my heart,
and it may be the last thing I ever think of. I’m no hero,
but I know I shall do my duty. And, Theo, if I don’t come
The first two times Theo flared into weeping at this point, and
Eddie’s arm was about her, and she kissed him. But the third,
fourth and fifth times he said good-by forever she chuckled,
“Cheer up, old boy.” It was hard for her to feel tragic
about Eddie’s being in the service, because she was in the
At last there was work that needed her. She had started with
three afternoons a week at Red Cross; chatty afternoons, with her
mother beside her, and familiar neighbors stopping in the middle of
surgical dressings to gurgle: “Oh, did you hear about how
angry George Bangs was when Nellie bought a case of toilet soap at
a dollar a cake? Think of it. A dollar! When you can get a very
nice imported soap at twenty-five cents.”
Theo felt that there was too much lint on the conversation and
too little on their hands. She found herself one with a dozen girls
who had been wrens and wanted to be eagles. Two of them learned
motor repairing and got across to France. Theo wanted to go, but
her mother refused. After a dignified protest from Mrs. Duke, Theo
became telephone girl at Red Cross headquarters, till she had
learned shorthand and typing, and was able to serve the head of the
state Red Cross as secretary. She envied the motor-corps women in
their uniforms, but she exulted in power—in being able to
give quick, accurate information to the distressed women who came
fluttering to headquarters.
Mrs. Duke felt that typing was low. Theo was protected by her
“Good thing for the girl to have business training,”
he kept insisting, till the commanding officer of the house
It was the American Library Association collection which turned
Theo from a dim uneasiness about the tyranny of possessions to
active war. She bounced into the largest drawing room one dinner
time, ten minutes late, crying: “Let’s go over all our
books tonight and weed out a dandy bunch for the
Mrs. Duke ruled: “Really, my dear, if you would only try
to be on time for your meals! It’s hard enough on Lizzie and
myself to keep the house running—”
“Come, come, come! Get your hat off and comb your hair and
get ready for dinner. I’m almost starved!” grumbled Mr.
Theo repeated the demand as soon as she was seated. The
soldiers, she began, needed—
“We occasionally read the newspapers ourselves! Of course
we shall be very glad to give what books we can spare. But there
doesn’t seem to be any necessity of going at things in
this—this—hit-or-a-miss! Besides, I have some letters
to write this evening,” stated Mrs. Duke.
“Well, I’m going over them anyway!”
“I wish to see any books before you send them
With Theo visualizing herself carrying off a carload of books,
the Dukes ambled to the library after finishing dinner—and
finishing coffee, a cigar and chocolate peppermints, and a
discussion of the proper chintz for the shabby chairs in the guest
room. Theo realized as she looked at the lofty, benign, and
carefully locked bookcases that she hadn’t touched one of the
books for a year; that for six months she hadn’t seen anyone
enter the room for any purpose other than sweeping.
After fifteen minutes spent in studying every illustration in a
three-volume history Mrs. Duke announced: “Here’s
something I think we might give away, Lym. Nobody has ever read it.
A good many of the pages are uncut.”
Mr. Duke protested: “Give that away? No, sir! I been
meaning to get at that for a long time. Why, that’s a
valuable history. Tells all about modern Europe. Man ought to read
it to get an idea of the sources of the war.”
“But you never will read it, Papa,” begged Theo.
“Now, Theo,” her mother remonstrated in the D. A. R.
manner, “if your father wishes to keep it that’s all
there is to be said, and we will make no more words about
it.” She returned the three volumes to the shelf.
“I’ll turn it over to you just as soon as I’ve
read it,” her father obliged. Theo reflected that if any
soldiers in the current conflict were to see the history they would
have to prolong the war till 1950.
But she tried to look grateful while her father went on:
“Tell you what I was thinking, though, Mother. Here’s
these two shelves of novels—none of ’em by standard
authors—all just moonshine or blood and thunder. Let’s
clear out the whole bunch.”
“But those books are just the thing for a rainy
day—nice light reading. And for guests. But now
this—this old book on saddlery. When we had horses you used
to look at it, but now, with motors and all—”
“I know, but I still like to browse in it now and
Theo fled. She remembered piles of shabby books in the attic.
While the Dukes were discovering that after all there wasn’t
one of the four hundred volumes in the library which they
weren’t going to read right away Theo heaped the dining-room
table with attic waifs. She called her parents. The first thing
Mrs. Duke spied was a Tennyson, printed in 1890 in a type doubtless
suitable to ants, small sand-colored ants, but illegible to the
human eye. Mrs. Duke shrieked: “Oh! You weren’t
thinking of giving that handsome Tennyson away! Why, it’s a
very handsome edition. Besides, it’s one of the first books
your father and I ever had. It was given to us by your Aunt
“But Moth-er dear! You haven’t even seen the book
“Well, I’ve thought of it often.”
“How about all these Christmas books?”
“Now, Theodora, if you wouldn’t be so impatient, but
kindly give your father and me time to look them
Two hours and seventeen minutes after dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Duke
had almost resignedly agreed to present the following literary
treasures to the soldiers of these United States for their
edification and entertainment:
One sixth-grade geography. One Wild Flowers of Northern
Wisconsin. Two duplicate copies of Little Women. The Congressional
Record for part of 1902. One black, depressed, religious volume
entitled The Dragon’s Fight With the Woman for 1260 Prophetic
Days, from which the last seven hundred days were missing, leaving
the issue of the combat in serious doubt. Four novels, all by
women, severally called Griselda of the Red Hand, Bramleigh of
British Columbia, Lady Tip–Tippet, and Billikins’
Theo looked at them. She laughed. Then she was sitting by the
table, her head down, sobbing. Her parents glanced at each other in
“I can’t understand the girl. After all the pains we
took to try to help her!” sighed Mrs. Duke later, when they
“O-o-o-oh,” yawned Mr. Duke as he removed his collar
from the back button—with the slight, invariable twinge in
his rheumatic shoulder blades. “Oh, she’s nervous and
tired from her work down at that Red Cross place. I’m in
favor of her having a little experience, but at the same time
there’s no need of overdoing. Plenty of other people to help
He intended to state this paternal wisdom to Theo at breakfast,
but Theo at breakfast was not one to whom to state things
paternally. Her normally broad shining lips were sucked in. She
merely nodded to her parents, then attended with strictness to her
oatmeal and departed—after privily instructing Lizzie to give
the smaller pile of books in the dining room to the junk
Three novels from the pile she did take to the public library
for the A. L. A. To these she added twenty books, mostly
trigonometries, bought with her own pocket money. Consequently she
had no lunch save a glass of milk for twenty days. But as the Dukes
didn’t know that, everybody was happy.
The battle of the books led to other sanguinary skirmishes.
There was the fireless cooker.
It was an early, homemade fireless cooker, constructed in the
days when anything in the shape of one box inside another, with any
spare scraps of sawdust between, was regarded as a valuable
domestic machine. Aside from the fact that it didn’t cook,
the Dukes’ cooker took up room in the kitchen, gathered a
film of grease which caught a swamp of dust, and regularly banged
Lizzie’s shins. For six years the Dukes had talked about
having it repaired. They had run through the historical,
scientific, and financial aspects of cookers at least once a
“I’ve wondered sometimes if we couldn’t just
have the furnace man take out the sawdust and put in something else
or—Theo, wouldn’t you like to run into Whaley &
Baumgarten’s one of these days, and price all of the new
fireless cookers?” beamed Mrs. Duke.
In a grieved, spacious manner Mrs. Duke reproved: “Well,
my dear, I certainly am too busy, what with the party for the new
rector and his bride—”
“Call up the store. Tell ’em to send up a good
cooker on trial,” said Theo.
“But these things have to be done with care and
Theo was stalking away as she retorted: “Not by me they
She was sorry for her rudeness afterward, and that evening she
was gay and young as she played ballads for her father and did her
mother’s hair. After that, when she was going to bed, and
very tired, and horribly confused in her thinking, she was sorry
because she had been sorry because she had been rude.
The furnace went wrong, and its dissipations were discussed by
Mr. Duke, Mrs. Duke, Mrs. Harry McPherson née Duke, Lizzie, the
furnace man, and the plumber, till Theo ran up to her room and bit
the pillow to keep from screaming. She begged her father to install
a new furnace: “The old one will set the house
afire—it’s a terrible old animal.”
“Nonsense. Take a chance on fire,” said he.
“House and everything well insured anyway. If the house did
burn down there’d be one good thing—wouldn’t have
to worry any more about getting that twelve tons of coal
we’re still shy.”
When Mr. Duke was summoned to Duluth by the iron-mining company
Mrs. Duke sobbingly called Theo home from the midst of tearing
Theo arrived in terror. “What is it? What’s happened
“Happened? Why, nothing. But he didn’t have a chance
to take a single thing to Duluth, and he simply won’t know
what to do without his traveling bag—the one he got in
London—all the fittings and everything that he’s used
to, so he could put his hand on a toothbrush right in the
“But, Mother dear, I’m sure bathrooms in Duluth have
electric lights, so he won’t need to put his hand on
tooth-brushes in the dark. And he can get nice new lovely brushes
at almost any drug store and not have to fuss—”
“Fuss? Fuss? It’s you who are doing the fussing. He
just won’t know what to do without his traveling
While she helped her mother and Lizzie drag the ponderous bag
down from the attic; while her mother, merely thinking aloud,
discussed whether “your father” would want the madras
pajamas or the flannelette; while, upon almost tearful maternal
request, Theo hunted all through the house for the missing
cut-glass soap case, she was holding herself in. She disliked
herself for being so unsympathetic. She remembered how touched she
had been by exactly the same domestic comedy two years before. But
unsympathetic she was, even two days later, when her mother
triumphantly showed Mr. Duke’s note: “I can’t
tell you how glad I was to see good old bag showing up here at
hotel; felt lost without it.”
“Just the same, my absence that afternoon cost the Red
Cross at least fifty dollars, and for a lot less than that he could
have gone out and bought twice as good a bag—lighter, more
convenient. Things! Poor Dad is the servant of that cursed pig-iron
bag,” she meditated.
She believed that she was being very subtle about her rebellion,
but it must have been obvious, for after Mr. Duke’s return
her mother suddenly attacked her at dinner.
“So far as I can make out from the way you’re
pouting and sulking and carrying on, you must have some sort of a
socialistic idea that possessions are unimportant. Now you
“Anarchist, do you mean, Mother dear?”
“Kindly do not interrupt me! As I was saying: It’s
things that have made the world advance from barbarism. Motor cars,
clothes you can wash, razors that enable a man to look neat, canned
foods, printing presses, steamers, bathrooms—those are what
have gotten men beyond living in skins in horrid damp
“Of course. And that’s why I object to people
fussing so about certain things, and keeping themselves from
getting full use of bigger things. If you’re always so busy
arranging the flowers in the vase in a limousine that you never
have time to go riding, then the vase has spoiled the motor
“I don’t get your logic at all. I certainly pay very
little attention to the flowers in our car. Lizzie arranges them
for me!” triumphed Mrs. Duke.
Theo was charging on. She was trying to get her own ideas
straight. “And if a man spends valuable time in tinkering
with a worn-out razor when he could buy a new one, then he’s
keeping himself in the damp cave and the bearskin undies. That
isn’t thrift. It’s waste.”
“I fancy that people in caves, in prehistoric times, did
not use razors at all, did they, Lyman?” her mother
“Now you always worry about Papa’s bag. It was nice
once, and worth caring for, but it’s just a bother now. On
your principle a factory would stop running for half the year to
patch up or lace up the belting, or whatever it is they do, instead
of getting new belting and thus—Oh, can’t you see? Buy
things. Use ’em. But throw them away if they’re more
bother than good. If a bag keeps you from enjoying
traveling—chuck it in the river! If a man makes a tennis
court and finds he really doesn’t like tennis, let the court
get weedy rather than spend glorious free October afternoons in
mowing and raking—”
“Well, I suppose you mean rolling it,” said her
mother domestically. “And I don’t know what tennis has
to do with the subject. I’m sure I haven’t mentioned
tennis. And I trust you’ll admit that your knowledge of
factories and belting is not authoritative. No. The trouble is,
this Red Cross work is getting you so you can’t think
straight. Of course with this war and all, it may be permissible to
waste a lot of good time and money making dressings and things for
a lot of green nurses to waste, but you girls must learn the great
principle of thrift.”
“We have! I’m practicing it. It means—oh, so
much, now. Thrift is doing without things you don’t need, and
taking care of things as long as they’re useful. It
distinctly isn’t wasting time and spiritual devotion over
things you can’t use—just because you happen to be so
unfortunate as to own ’em. Like our eternal fussing over that
clock in the upper hall that no one ever looks at—”
Not listening, her mother was placidly rolling on: “You
seem to think this house needs too much attention. You’d like
it, wouldn’t you, if we moved to a couple of rooms in the
Dakota Lodging House!”
Theo gave it up.
Two days later she forgot it.
Creeping into her snug life, wailing for her help, came a
yellow-faced apparition whose eyes were not for seeing but mere
gashes to show the suffering within. It was—it had
been—one Stacy Lindstrom, a sergeant of the A. E. F.
Stacy had lain with a shattered shoulder in a shell pit for
three days. He had had pneumonia. Four distinct times all of him
had died, quite definitely died—all but the desire to see
His little, timid, vehemently respectable mother sent for Theo
on the night when he was brought home, and despite Mrs.
Duke’s panicky protest Theo went to him at eleven in the
“Not going to die for little while. Terribly weak, but all
here. Pull through—if you want me to. Not asking you to like
me. All I want—want you to want me to live. Made ’em
send me home. Was all right on the sea. But weak. Got touch of
typhoid in New York. Didn’t show up till on the train. But
all right and cheerful—Oh! I hurt so. Just hurt, hurt, hurt,
every inch of me. Never mind. Well, seen you again. Can die now.
Guess I will.”
Thus in panting words he muttered, while she knelt by him and
could not tell whether she loved him or hated him; whether she
shrank from this skinny claw outstretched from the grave or was
drawn to him by a longing to nurse his soul back to a desire for
life. But this she knew: Even Red Cross efficiency was nothing in
the presence of her first contact with raw living life—most
rawly living when crawling out from the slime of death.
She overruled Mrs. Lindstrom; got a nurse and Doctor
Rollin— Rollin, the interior medicine specialist.
“Boy’s all right. Hasn’t got strength enough
to fight very hard. Better cheer him up,” said Doctor Rollin.
“Bill? My bill? He’s a soldier, isn’t he?
Don’t you suppose I wanted to go into the army too? Chance to
see beautiful cases for once. Yes. Admit it. Like to have fool
salutes too. Got to stay home, nurse lot of dam-fool women. Charge
a soldier? Don’t bother me,” he grumbled, while he was
folding up his stethoscope, and closing his bag, and trying to find
his hat, which Mrs. Lindstrom had politely concealed.
Every day after her work Theo trudged to the Lindstrom
house—a scrubbed and tidied cottage in whose living room was
a bureau with a lace cover, a gilded shell, and two photographs of
stiff relatives in Norway. She watched Stacy grow back into life.
His hands, which had been yellow and drawn as the talons of a
starved Chinaman, became pink and solid. The big knuckles, which
had been lumpy under the crackly skin, were padded again.
She had been surprised into hot pity for him. She was saved
equally by his amusement over his own weakness, and by his
irritableness. Though he had called for her, during the first week
he seemed to dislike her and all other human beings save his nurse.
In the depths of lead-colored pain nothing mattered to him save his
own comfort. The coolness of his glass of water was more to him
than the war. Even when he became human again, and eager at her
coming, there was nothing very personal in their talk. When he was
able to do more than gasp out a few words she encouraged in him the
ambition to pile up money which she detested.
Uncomfortably she looked at him, thin against a plump pillow,
and her voice was artificially cheery as she declared:
“You’ll be back in the bank soon. I’m sure
they’ll raise you. No reason why you shouldn’t be
president of it some day.”
He had closed his pale eyelids. She thought he was discouraged.
Noisily she reassured, “Honestly! I’m sure you’ll
make money—lots of it.”
His eyes were open, blazing. “Money! Yes! Wonderful
“Buys tanks and shells, and food for homeless babies. But
for me— I just want a living. There isn’t any Stacy
Lindstrom any more.” He was absorbed in that bigger thing
over there, in that Nirvana—a fighting Nirvana!
“I’ve got ambitions, big ‘uns, but not to see
myself in a morning coat and new gloves on Sunday!”
He said nothing more. A week after, he was sitting up in bed,
reading, in a Lindstromy nightgown of white cotton edged with red.
She wondered at the book. It was Colloquial French.
“You aren’t planning to go back?” she asked
“Yes. I’ve got it straight now.” He leaned
back, pulled the bedclothes carefully up about his neck and said
quietly, “I’m going back to fight. But not just for the
duration of the war. Now I know what I was meant for. I can do
things with my hands, and I get along with plain folks. I’m
going back on reconstruction work. We’re going to rebuild
France. I’m studying—French, cottage architecture,
cabbages. I’m a pretty good farmer—‘member how I
used to work on the farm, vacations?”
She saw that all self-consciousness was gone from him. He was
again the Stacy Lindstrom who had been lord of the Red River carts.
Her haunted years of nervousness about life disappeared, and
suddenly she was again too fond of her boy companion to waste time
considering whether she was fond of him. They were making plans,
laughing the quick curt laughs of intimates.
A week later Mrs. Lindstrom took her aside.
Mrs. Lindstrom had always, after admitting Theo and nodding
without the slightest expression in her anæmic face, vanished
through the kitchen doorway. Tonight, as Theo was sailing out, Mrs.
Lindstrom hastened after her through the living room.
“Miss! Miss Duke! Yoost a minute. Could you speak
“Dis—ay—da boy get along pretty gude, eh? He
seem werry gude, today. Ay vish you should—” The little
woman’s face was hard. “Ay don’t know how to say
it elegant, but if you ever—I know he ain’t your fella,
but he always got that picture of you, and maybe now he ban pretty
brave soldier, maybe you could like him better, but—I know I
yoost ban Old Country woman. If you and him marry—I keep
away, not bother you. Your folks is rich and—Oh, I gif, I gif
him to you—if you vant him.”
Mrs. Lindstrom’s sulky eyes seemed to expand, grow misty.
Her Puritanical chest was terribly heaving. She sobbed: “He
always talk about you ever since he ban little fella. Please excuse
me I spoke, if you don’t vant him, but I vanted you should
know, I do anyt’ing for him. And you.”
She fled, and Theo could hear the scouring of a pot in the
kitchen. Theo fled the other way.
It was that same evening, at dinner, that Mrs. Duke delicately
attempted social homicide.
“My dear, aren’t you going to see this Lindstrom boy
rather oftener than you need to? From what you say he must be
convalescing. I hope that your pity for him won’t lead you
into any foolish notions and sentiment about him.”
Theo laughed. “No time to be sentimental about anything
these days. I’ve canned the word—”
“‘Canned’! Oh, Theo!”
“—‘sentiment’ entirely. But if I
hadn’t, Stace wouldn’t be a bad one to write little
poems about. He used to be my buddy when—”
And Theo, however you may regard Stacy, kindly do stop and think
how Mrs. Lindstrom would look in this house!”
The cheerful, gustatory manner died in Theo. She rose. She said
with an intense, a religious solemnity: “This house! Damn
The Lindstroms were not mentioned again. There was no need. Mrs.
Duke’s eyebrows adequately repeated her opinions when Theo
came racing in at night, buoyant with work and walking and fighting
over Stacy’s plans.
Theo fancied that her father looked at her more sympathetically.
She ceased to take Mr. Duke as a matter of course, as one more
fixed than the radiators. She realized that he spent these autumn
evenings in staring at the fire. When he looked up he smiled, but
his eyes were scary. Theo noticed that he had given up making
wistful suggestions to Mrs. Duke that he be permitted to go back to
real work, or that they get a farm, or go traveling. Once they had
a week’s excursion to New York, but Mrs. Duke had to hasten
back for her committees. She was ever firmer with her husband; more
ready with reminders that it was hard to get away from a big house
like this; that men oughtn’t to be so selfish and just expect
Lizzie and her—
Mr. Duke no longer argued. He rarely went to his office. He was
becoming a slippered old man.
Eddie Barnes was back in Vernon on the sixth of his positively
last, final, ultimate farewells.
Theo yelled in joy when he called. She was positively blowzy
with healthy vulgarity. She had won an argument with Stacy about
teaching the French to plant corn, and had walked home almost at a
“Fine to see you! Saying an eternal farewell again?”
she brutally asked Eddie.
For one of the young samurai Eddie was rather sheepish. He
stalked about the largest drawing room. His puttees shone. Eddie
really had very nice legs, the modern young woman reflected.
“Gosh, I’m an awful fareweller. Nope, I’m not
going to do a single weep. Because this time—I’ve got
my orders. I’ll be in France in three weeks. So I just
thought—I just thought—maybe—I’d ask you if
you could conveniently—Ouch, that tooth still aches; have to
get this bridge finished tomorrow sure. Could you marry
“Ungh!” Theo flopped into a chair.
“You’ve queered all my poetic tactics by your rude
merry mirth. So just got to talk naturally.”
“Glad you did. Now let me think. Do I want to marry
“We get along bully. Listen—wait till I get back
from France, and we’ll have some celebration. Oh, boy!
I’ll stand for the cooties and the mud till the job’s
done, but when I get back and put the Croix de Guerre into the
safe-deposit I’m going to have a drink of champagne four
quarts deep! And you and I—we’ll have one time! Guess
you’ll be pretty sick of Red Cross by—”
“No. And I know a man who thinks that when the war is over
then the real work begins.”
Eddie was grave, steady, more mature than he had ever seemed.
“Yes. Stacy Lindstrom. See here, honey, he has big advantages
over me. I’m not picturesque. I never had to work for my
bread and butter, and I was brought up to try to be amusing, not
noble. Nothing more touching than high ideals and poverty. But if I
try to be touching, you laugh at me. I’m—I may get
killed, and I’ll be just as dead in my expensible first
lieut’s pants as any self-sacrificing private.”
“I hadn’t thought of that. Of course. You have
disadvantages. Comfort isn’t dramatic. But
still—It’s the champagne and the big time.
“See here, honey, you’d be dreadfully bored by
poverty. You do like nice things.”
“That’s it. Things! That’s what I’m
afraid of. I’m interested in tractors for France, but not in
the exact shade of hock glasses. And beauty—It’s the
soul of things, but it’s got to be inherent, not just painted
on. Nice things! Ugh! And—If I married you what would be your
plans for me? How would I get through twenty-four hours a
“Why—uh—why, how does anybody get through
’em? You’d have a good time—dances, and
playin’ round and maybe children, and we’d run down to
“Yes. You’d permit me to go on doing what I always
did till the war came. Nope. It isn’t good enough. I want to
work. You wouldn’t let me, even in the house. There’d
be maids, nurses. It’s not that I want a career. I
don’t want to be an actress or a congresswoman. Perfectly
willing to be assistant to some man. Providing he can really use me
in useful work. No. You pre-war boys are going to have a frightful
time with us post-war women.”
“But you’ll get tired—”
“Oh, I know, I know! You and Father and Mother will wear
me out. You-all may win. You and this house, this horrible sleek
warm house that Mrs.—that she isn’t fit to come into!
She that gave him—”
Her voice was rising, hysterical. She was bent in the big chair,
curiously twisted, as though she had been wounded.
Eddie stroked her hair, then abruptly stalked out.
Theo sat marveling: “Did I really send Eddie away? Poor
Eddie. Oh, I’ll write him. He’s right. Nice to think of
brave maiden defiantly marrying poor hero. But they never do. Not
in this house.”
The deep courthouse bell awakening Theo to bewildered staring at
the speckled darkness—a factory whistle fantastically
tooting, then beating against her ears in long, steady waves of
sound—the triumphant yelping of a small boy and the quacking
of a toy horn—a motor starting next door, a cold motor that
bucked and snorted before it began to sing, but at last roared away
with the horn blaring—finally the distant “Extra!
Her sleepy body protestingly curled tighter in a downy ball in
her bed on the upper porch, but her mind was frantically awake as
the clamor thickened. “Is it really peace this time? The
armistice really signed?” she exulted.
In pleasant reasonable phrases the warm body objected to the
cold outside the silk comforter. “Remember how you were
fooled on Thursday. Oo-oo! Bed feels so luxurious!” it
She was a practical heroine. She threw off the covers. The
indolent body had to awaken, in self-defense. She merely squeaked
“Ouch!” as her feet groped for their slippers on the
cold floor. She flung downstairs, into rubbers and a fur coat, and
she was out on the walk in time to stop a bellowing newsboy.
Yes. It was true. Official report from Washington. War over.
“Hurray!” said the ragged newsboy, proud of being
out adventuring by night; and “Hurray!” she answered
him. She felt that she was one with awakening crowds all over the
country, from the T Wharf to the Embarcadero. She wanted to make
The news had reached the almost-Western city of Vernon at three.
It was only four, but as she stood on the porch a crush of motor
cars swept by, headed for downtown. Bumping behind them they
dragged lard cans, saucepans, frying pans. One man standing on a
running board played Mr. Zip on a cornet. Another dashing for a
trolley had on his chest a board with an insistent electric bell.
He saw her on the porch and shouted, “Come on, sister!
Downtown! All celebrate! Some carnival!”
She waved to him. She wanted to get out the electric and drive
down. There would be noise—singing.
Four strange girls ran by and shrieked to her, “Come on
Suddenly she was asking herself: “But do they know what it
means? It isn’t just a carnival. It’s sacred.”
Sharply: “But do I know all it means, either? World-wide.
History, here, now!” Leaning against the door, cold but not
conscious that she was cold, she found herself praying.
As she marched back upstairs she was startled. She fancied she
saw a gray figure fleeing down the upper hall. She stopped. No
“Heavens, I’m so wrought up! All jumpy. Shall I give
Papa the paper? Oh, I’m too trembly to talk to
While the city went noise-mad it was a very solemn white small
figure that crawled into bed. The emotion that for four years had
been gathering burst into sobbing. She snuggled close, but she did
not sleep. Presently: “My Red Cross work will be over soon.
What can I do then? Come back to packing Papa’s
She noticed a glow on the windows of the room beside the
sleeping porch. “They’re lighting up the whole city.
Wonder if I oughtn’t to go down and see the fun? Wonder if
Papa would like to go down? No, Mother wouldn’t let him! I
want the little old brown shack. Where Stacy could come and play.
Mother used to give him cookies then.
“I wish I had the nerve to set the place afire. If I were
a big fighting soul I would. But I’m a worm. Am I being bad
to think this way? Guess so—committed mental arson, but
hadn’t the nerve— My God, the house IS
She was too frightened to move. She could smell smoke, hear a
noise like the folding of stiff wrapping paper. Instantly,
apparently without ever having got out of bed, she was running by a
bedroom into which flames were licking from the clothes chute that
led to the basement. “That dratted old furnace!” She
was bursting into her parents’ room, hysterically shaking her
“Get up! Get up!”
With a drowsy dignity her mother was saying, “Yes—I
know—peace— get paper morning—let me
“It’s fire! Fire! The house is afire!”
Her mother sat up, a thick gray lock bobbing in front of one
eye, and said indignantly, “How perfectly
Already Mr. Duke was out of bed, in smoke-prickly darkness,
flapping his hands in the air. “Never could find that globe.
Ought to have bedside light. Come, Mother, jump up! Theo, have you
got on a warm bathrobe?” He was cool. His voice trembled, but
only with nervousness.
He charged down the back hall, Theo just behind. Mrs. Duke
remained at the head of the front stairs, lamenting,
“Don’t leave me!”
The flames were darting hissing heads into the hall. As Theo
looked they caught a box couch and ran over an old chest of
drawers. The heat seemed to slap her face.
“Can’t do anything. Get out of this. Wake the
servants. You take your mother down,” grumbled Mr. Duke.
Theo had her mother into a loose gown, shoes, and a huge fleecy
couch cover, and down on the front porch by the time Mr. Duke
appeared driving the maids—Lizzie a gorgon in curl
“Huh! Back stairs all afire,” he grunted, rubbing
his chin. His fingers, rubbing then stopping, showed that for a
split second he was thinking, “I need a shave.”
“Theo! Run down to the corner. Turn in alarm. I’ll
try to phone. Then save things,” he commanded.
Moved by his coolness to a new passion of love Theo flung her
arm, bare as the sleeve of her bathrobe fell from it, about his
seamed neck, beseeching: “Don’t save anything but the
cloisonné. Let ’em burn. Won’t have to go in there,
risk your life for things. Here— let me phone!”
Unreasoning she slammed the front door, bolted him out. She
shouted their address and “Fire—hustle alarm!” at
the telephone operator. In the largest drawing room she snatched
bit after bit of cloisonné from the cabinet and dumped them into a
wastebasket. Now the lower hall, at her back, was boiling with
flame-tortured smoke. The noise expanded from crackling to a
The window on the porch was smashed. Her father’s arm was
reaching up to the catch, unlocking the window. He was crawling in.
As the smoke encircled him he puffed like a man blowing out water
after a dive.
Theo ran to him. “I didn’t want you here! I have the
As calmly as though he were arguing a point at cards he mumbled,
“Yes, yes, yes! Don’t bother me. You forgot the two big
saras in the wall safe.”
While the paint on the balusters in the hall bubbled and
charred, and the heat was a pang in her lungs, he twirled the knob
of the safe behind the big picture and drew out two cloisonné
plates. Flames curled round the door jamb of the room like fingers
closing on a stick.
“We’re shut off!” Theo cried.
“Yep. Better get out. Here. Drop that basket!”
Mr. Duke snatched the cloisonné from her, dropped it, hurled
away his two plates, shoved her to the window he had opened, helped
her out on the porch. He himself was still in the burning room. She
gripped his arm when he tried to dart back. The cloisonné was
already hidden from them by puffs of smoke.
Mr. Duke glanced back. He eluded her; pulled his arm free;
disappeared in the smoke. He came back with a cheap china vase that
for a thing so small was monumentally ugly. As he swung out of the
window he said, “Your mother always thought a lot of that
vase.” Theo saw through eyes stinging with smoke that his
hair had been scorched.
Fire engines were importantly unloading at the corner, firemen
running up. A neighbor came to herd the Dukes into her house, and
into more clothes.
Alone, from the room given to her by the neighbor, Theo watched
her home burn. The flames were leering out of all the windows on
the ground floor. Her father would never read the three-volume
history that was too valuable for soldiers. Now the attic was
glaring. Gone the elephant of a London traveling bag. Woolly smoke
curled out of the kitchen windows as a fireman smashed them. Gone
the fireless cooker that would not cook. She laughed.
“It’s nicely cooked itself! Oh, I’m beastly. Poor
Mother. All her beautiful marked linen—”
But she did not lose a sensation of running ungirdled, of
breathing Maytime air.
Her father came in, dressed in the neighbor-host’s
corduroy hunting coat, a pair of black dress trousers and red
slippers. His hair was conscientiously combed, but his fingers
still querulously examined the state of his unshaven chin.
She begged: “Daddy dear, it’s pretty bad, but
don’t worry. We have plenty of money. We’ll make
He took her arms from about his neck, walked to the window. The
broken skeleton of their home was tombed in darkness as the firemen
controlled the flames. He looked at Theo in a puzzled way.
He said hesitatingly: “No, I won’t worry. I guess
it’s all right. You see—I set the house
She was silent, but her trembling fingers sought her lips as he
went on: “Shoveled hot coals from the furnace into kindling
bin in the basement. Huh! Yes. Used to be good furnace tender when
I was a real man. Peace bells had woke me up. Wanted to be free.
Hate destruction, but—no other way. Your mother
wouldn’t let me sell the house. I was going mad, sticking
there, waiting—waiting for death. Now your mother will be
willing to come. Get a farm. Travel. And I been watching you. You
couldn’t have had Stacy Lindstrom, long as that house bossed
us. You almost caught me, in the hall, coming back from the
basement. It was kind of hard, with house afire, to lie there in
bed, quiet, so’s your mother wouldn’t ever
know—waiting for you to come wake us up. You almost
didn’t, in time. Would have had to confess. Uh, let’s
go comfort your mother. She’s crying.”
Theo had moved away from him. “But it’s criminal!
We’re stealing— robbing the insurance
The wrinkles beside his eyes opened with laughter.
“No. Watched out for that. I was careful to be careless,
and let all the insurance run out last month. Huh! Maybe I
won’t catch it from your mother for that, though! Girl! Look!