Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter XL

One day late in May, Clayton, walking up-town in lieu of the golf he had been forced to abandon, met Doctor Haverford on the street, and found his way barred by that rather worried-looking gentleman.

"I was just going to see you, Clayton," he said. "About two things. I'll walk back a few blocks with you."

He was excited, rather exalted.

"I'm going in," he announced. "Regimental chaplain. I've got a year's leave of absence. I'm rather vague about what a chaplain does, but I rather fancy he can be useful."

"You'll get over, of course. You're lucky. And you'll find plenty to do."

"I've been rather anxious," Doctor Haverford confided. "I've been a clergyman so long that I don't know just how I'll measure up as a man. You know what I mean. I am making no reflection on the church. But I've been sheltered and - well, I've been looked after. I don't think I am physically brave. It would be a fine thing," he said wryly, "if the chaplain were to turn and run under fire!"

"I shouldn't worry about that."

"My salary is to go on. But I don't like that, either. If I hadn't a family I wouldn't accept it. Delight thinks I shouldn't, anyhow. As a matter of fact, there ought to be no half-way measures about our giving ourselves. If I had a son to give it would be different."

Clayton looked straight ahead. He knew that the rector had, for the moment, forgotten that he had a son to give and that he had not yet given.

"Why don't you accept a small allowance?" he inquired quietly. "Or, better still, why don't you let me know how much it will take and let me do it? I'd like to feel that I was represented in France - by you," he added.

And suddenly the rector remembered. He was most uncomfortable, and very flushed.

"Thanks. I can't let you do that, of course."

"Why not?"

"Because, hang it all, Clayton, I'm not a parasite. I took the car, because it enabled me to do my parish work better. But I'm not going to run off to war and let you keep my family."

Clayton glanced at him, at his fine erect old figure, his warmly flushed face. War did strange things. There was a new light in the rector's once worldly if kindly eyes. He had the strained look of a man who sees great things, as yet far away, and who would hasten toward them. Insensibly he quickened his pace.

"But I can't go myself, so why can't I send a proxy?"

Clayton asked, smiling. "I've an idea I'd be well represented."

"That's a fine way to look at it, but I can't do it. I've saved something, not much, but it will do for a year or two. I'm glad you made the offer, though. It was like you, and - it showed me the way. I can't let any man, or any group of men, finance my going."

And he stuck to it. Clayton, having in mind those careful canvasses of the congregation of Saint Luke's which had every few years resulted in raising the rector's salary, was surprised and touched. After all, war was like any other grief. It brought out the best or the worst in us. It roused or it crushed us.

The rector had been thinking.

"I'm a very fortunate man," he said, suddenly. "They're standing squarely behind me, at home. It's the women behind the army that will make it count, Clayton."

Clayton said nothing.

"Which reminds me," went on the rector, "that I find Mrs. Valentine has gone away. I called on her to-day, and she has given up her apartment. Do you happen to know where she is? She has left no address."

"Gone away?" Clayton repeated. "Why, no. I hadn't heard of it."

There in the busy street he felt a strange sense of loneliness. Always, although he did not see her, he felt her presence. She walked the same streets. For the calling, if his extremity became too great, he could hear her voice over the telephone. There was always the hope, too, of meeting her. Not by design. She had forbidden that. But some times perhaps God would be good to them both, if they earned it, and they could touch hands for a moment.

But - gone!

"You are certain she left no address?"

"Quite certain. She has stored her furniture, I believe."

There was a sense of hurt, then, too. She had made this decision without telling him. It seemed incredible. A dozen decisions a day he made, and when they were vital there was always in his mind the question as to whether she would approve or not. He could not go to her with them, but mentally he was always consulting with her, earning her approbation. And she had gone without a word.

"Do you think she has gone to France?" He knew his voice sounded stiff and constrained.

"I hope not. She was being so useful here. Of course, the draft law - amazing thing, the draft law! Never thought we'd come to it. But it threw her out, in a way, of course."

"What has the draft law to do with Mrs. Valentine?"

"Why, you know what she was doing, don't you?"

"I haven't seen her recently."

The rector half-stopped.

"Well!" he said. "Let me tell you, Clayton, that that girl has been recruiting men, night after night and day after day. She's done wonders. Standing in a wagon, mind you, in the slums, or anywhere; I heard her one night. By George, I went home and tore up a sermon I had been working on for days."

Why hadn't he known? Why hadn't he realized that that was exactly the sort of thing she would do? There was bitterness in his heart, too. He might easily have stood unseen in the crowd, and have watched and listened and been proud of her. Then, these last weeks, when he had been working, or dining out, or sitting dreary and bored in a theater, she had been out in the streets. Ah, she lived, did Audrey. Others worked and played, but she lived. Audrey! Audrey!

" - in the rain," the rector was saying. "But she didn't mind it. I remember her saying to the crowd, 'It's raining over here, and maybe it's raining on the fellows in the trenches. But I tell you, I'd rather be over there, up to my waist in mud and water, than scurrying for a doorway here.' They had started to run out of the shower, but at that they grinned and stopped. She was wonderful, Clayton."

In the rain! And after it was over she would go home, in some crowded bus or car, to her lonely rooms, while he rolled about the city in a limousine! It was cruel of her not to have told him, not to have allowed him at least to see that she was warm and dry.

"I've been very busy. I hadn't heard," he said, slowly. "Is it - was it generally known?"

Had Natalie known, and kept it from him?

"I think not. Delight saw her and spoke to her, I believe."

"And you have no idea where she is now."

"None whatever."

He learned that night that Natalie had known, and he surprised a little uneasiness in her face.

"I - heard about it," she said. "I can't imagine her making a speech. She's not a bit oratorical."

"We might have sent out one of the cars for her, if I'd known."

"Oh, she was looked after well enough."

"Looked after?"

Natalie had made an error, and knew it.

"I heard that a young clergyman was taking her round," she said, and changed the subject. But he knew that she was either lying or keeping something from him. In those days of tension he found her half-truths more irritating than her rather childish falsehoods. In spite of himself, however, the thought of the young clergyman rankled.

That night, stretched in the low chair in his dressing-room, under the reading light, he thought over things carefully. If he loved her as he thought he did, he ought to want her to be happy. Things between them were hopeless and wretched. If this clergyman, or Sloane, or any other man loved her, and he groaned as he thought how lovable she was, then why not want for her such happiness as she could find?

He slept badly that night, and for some reason Audrey wove herself into his dreams of the new plant. The roar of the machinery took on the soft huskiness of her voice, the deeper note he watched for and loved.

Mary Roberts Rinehart