George Barr McCutcheon (July 26, 1866 – October 23, 1928) was an American popular novelist and playwright. His best known works include the series of novels set in Graustark, a fictional East European country, and the novel Brewster's Millions, which was adapted into a play and several films.
McCutcheon was born in Tippecanoe County, Indiana. His father, despite his own lack of formal education, stressed the value of literature and encouraged his sons to write. During McCutcheon's childhood, his father had a number of jobs that required travel around the county. McCutcheon studied at Purdue University and was a roommate of future humorist George Ade. During his college years, he was editor of the Lafayette Daily Courier and wrote a serial novel of satire about Wabash River life.
Although McCutcheon became famous for the Graustark series (the first novel was published in 1901), he hated the characterization of being a Romantic and preferred to be identified with his playwriting.
He was the older brother of noted cartoonist John T. McCutcheon and died in Manhattan, New York City, New York.
McCutcheon, along with a number of other Indiana writers of the same period, is considered to be part of the Golden Age of Indiana Literature.
For thirty seconds no one moved.
An odd sort of paralysis seemed to have gripped every one in the room, paralysis of the mind as well as of the body.
Then puzzled, wondering looks were exchanged.
A man sitting near the fireplace glanced sharply, apprehensively at the huge beams in the ceiling and muttered:
“What was it! Sounded as though something had smashed in the roof. There’s a tremendous wind. It may have got that big tree at the corner of the locker room.”
“It couldn’t have been thunder, not at this time of the year,” said one of the women, sending a nervous, frightened look at her husband who sprawled ungracefully in a big Morris chair at the end of a table littered with newspapers and magazines.
“‘Gad, did you feel the house rock?” exclaimed he, sitting up suddenly, his eyes narrowing as with pain. “Like an earthquake.
“It couldn’t have been an earthquake,” interrupted his wife, starting up from her chair.
“Why couldn’t it?” he demanded crossly, and then glanced around at the other occupants of the room, ten or a dozen men and women seated in a wide semi-circle in front of the huge logs blazing in the fireplace. “What do you think it was, Zimmie?”
“We’ll find part or all of the roof gone,” answered the man addressed. As he spoke, he rose quickly and started across the room in the direction of the door leading to the steward’s pantry. “I’ll have a look from the back of the...”
He stopped short. The dull, ripping crash that had startled them was repeated, this time a little louder and more prolonged than before. The club-house shook. Several of the men sprang to their feet in alarm. A look of comprehension shot among them.
“By Gad! An explosion!” cried one of them. “The damned beasts!”
“The Reynolds Works!” cried another, gripping the back of his chair with tense fingers. “Sure as you’re alive! It’s only a few miles from here. Nothing else could have”
“Let’s go home, Ned. The children, something may have happened, you never can tell”
“Don’t get excited, Betty,” cried the man in the Morris chair. She was shaking his arm. “The children are in New York, twenty miles away. They’re all right, old girl. Lord! What a smash it was!”
The group was silent, waiting with bated breath for the third and perhaps more shocks to come.
The club steward came into the room, bearing a tray of bottles and glasses. His face was ashen; there was a set expression about it, as one who controls his nerves with difficulty.
“Did you hear it, Peter?” was the innocuous inquiry of one of the men, a dapper young fellow in corduroys.
“Yes, Mr. Cribbs. I thought at first it was the roof, sir. The chef said it was the big chimney”
“Never mind the drinks, Peter,” said a tall, greyish man as the steward placed the glasses on the table. “We’ve lost what little thirst we had. Where are the Reynolds Works from here?”
Peter looked surprised. “South, sir, beyond the hills. About five miles, I should say, Mr. Carstairs.”
“And which way is south?” inquired one of the women. “I am always turned around when I am in the country.” She was a singularly pallid, clear-featured woman of perhaps forty-five. One might surmise that at twenty she had been lovely, even exquisite.
“This way, Mrs. Carstairs,” said the steward, starting toward the windows at the lower end of the lounge.
The man who had been addressed as Zimmie was already at one of the broad windows, peering out into the black, windy night.
“Can’t see a thing,” he said, as the others crowded about him. “The shops are off there in a direct line with the home green, I should say.”
“I happen to know that the Allies have a fifteen million dollar contract with the Reynolds people,” said Carstairs, looking hard into the blackness.
“If they’d string up a few of these infernal. There ! See the glow coming up over the hill? She’s afire! And with this wind, - ‘gad, she’ll go like waste paper! My God, I wish the whole German Army was sitting on top of those buildings right now.” It was little Mr. Cribbs who spoke. He was shaking like a leaf.
“I’d rather see a million or two of these so-called German-Americans sitting there, Cribbs,” said Carstairs, between his teeth. “There’d be some satisfaction in that.”
His wife nudged him sharply. He turned and caught the warning look in her eye and the slight movement of her head in the direction of the man called Zimmie.
“Oh, that’s all right,” cried Carstairs carelessly. “You needn’t punch me, dear. Zimmie ‘s as good an American as any of us. Don’t think for a moment, Zimmie, old chap, that I include you in the gang I’d like to see sitting on that pile of shells over there.”
The man at the window turned, and smiled affably.
“Thanks, old man. Being, as you say, as good an American as any of you, I may be permitted to return the compliment. I shouldn’t like to see Mrs. Carstairs sitting on that pile of shells.”
Carstairs flushed. An angry light leaped to his eyes, but it was banished almost instantly. Mrs. Carstairs herself replied.
“I can’t imagine anything more distasteful,” she drawled.
“But Mrs. Carstairs isn’t a German,” put in little Mr. Cribbs, somewhat tartly for him.
“You’re always saying the wrong thing, Cribbs, or the right thing at the wrong time,” said Carstairs. “Mrs. Carstairs is not German. Her father and mother were, however. She’s in the same fix as Zimmerlein, and she isn’t ashamed of it any more than Zimmie is.”
“I had...er....no idea that Mrs. Carstairs was”
“What were your parents, Mr. Cribbs?” asked Mrs. Carstairs calmly.
“Nebraskans,” said Cribbs, stiffening. “My grandfather was a Welshman.”
“And so you have absolutely nothing to reproach yourself with,” said she. “How fortunate in these days.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Carstairs, if I...”
“I was born in the United States,” she said, without a trace of annoyance, “but not in Nebraska. You have the advantage of me there, I fear. And of poor Mr. Zimmerlein, too. He was born in Boston, were you not?”
“In Marlborough Street,” said Zimmerlein, drily. “My father was Irish, as you can tell by me name, and me poor mither was Irish too. Her name before marriage was Krausshof.” Mr. Cribbs’s face was scarlet. To cover his confusion, he wedged his way a little closer to the windows and glared at the dull red light that crept slowly out of the darkness off to the south. The crests of the hills were beginning to take shape against a background shot with crimson.
“Just the same,” he muttered, “I’d like to see the men who are responsible for that fire over there burning in hell.”
“I think we can agree on that point, at least, Mr. Cribbs,” said Zimmerlein, with dignity.
“Who wants to run over there with me in my car?” cried the other, excitedly. “It’s only a few miles, and it must be a wonderful sight. I can take six or seven ”
“Stay where you are, Cribbs,” said Carstairs sharply. “When those shells begin to go off. Why, man alive, there’s never been anything on the French front that could hold a candle to it. Don’t forget what happened when Black Tom pier was blown up. Pray do not be alarmed, ladies. There isn’t the slightest danger here. The shells they are making at the Reynolds plant are comparatively small. We’re safely out of range.”
“What size shells were they making, Carstairs?” inquired one of the men.
“Three inch, I believe and smaller. A lot of machine-gun ammunition, too. Cox, the general manager, dined with us the other night. He talked a little too freely, I thought, didn’t you, Frieda?”
“He boasted, if that is what you mean,” said Mrs. Carstairs.
“Well,” said a big, red-faced man on the outer edge of the group, “it’s time some of these blooming fools learned how to keep their mouths shut. The country’s full of spies, running over with ‘em. You never know when you’re talking to one.”
Silence followed his remark. For some time they all stood watching the crimson cloud in the distance, an ever-changing, pulsing shadow that throbbed to the temper of the wind.
They represented the reluctant element of a large company that had spent the afternoon and early evening at the Black Downs Country Club, the element that is always reluctant to go home. There had been many intimate little dinner parties during the evening. New York was twenty miles or more away, and there was the Hudson in between. The clock above the huge fireplace had struck eleven a minute or two before the first explosion took place. Chauffeurs in the club-garage were sullenly cursing their employers. All but two or three waiters had gone off to the railway station not far away, and the musicians had made the 10:30 up-train. Peter, the steward, lived on the premises with the chef and several house employes.
The late-staying guests were clad in sport clothes, rough and warm and smart, for it was one of the smartest clubs in the Metropolitan district.
A fierce October gale was whining, cold and bitter and relentless, across the uplands; storm-warnings had gone out from the Weather Bureau; coast-wise vessels were scurrying for harbours and farmers all over the land had made snug their livestock against the uncertain elements.
If it turned out to be true that the vast Reynolds munitions plant had been blown up, the plotters could not have chosen a more auspicious night for their enterprise. No human force could combat the flames on a night like this; caught on the wings of the wind there would be no stopping them until the ashes of ruin lay wet and sodden where the flight had begun.
Mrs. Carstairs was the first to turn away from the windows. She shuddered a little. A pretty, nervous young wife sidled up to her, and laid a trembling hand on her arm.
“Wouldn’t it be dreadful if there were a lot of people at work over there when it happened?” she cried, in a tense, strained voice. “Just think of it.”
“Don’t think about it, Alice dear. Think of what they are going through in France and Belgium.”
“But we really aren’t fighting them yet,” went on the other, plaintively. “Why should they blow up our factories? Oh, these dreadful, terrible Germans.” Then suddenly, in confusion: “I beg your pardon.”
Mrs. Carstairs smiled pleasantly. “That’s all right, my dear. A good many of us suffer for the sins of the fathers. Besides, we are in the war, and have been for six months or more.”
“We all hate the Kaiser, don’t we?” pleaded the younger woman.
Mrs. Carstairs pressed her arm. “None more so than those of us whose parents left Germany to escape such as he.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that.”
“Beg pardon,” said Peter the steward, at Mrs. Carstairs’ elbow. “I think this is yours. You dropped it just now.”
“Thank you, Peter,” said she, taking the crumpled handkerchief he handed her. “I shan’t drop it again,” she went on, smiling as she stuffed it securely in the gold mesh bag she was carrying.
“Peter is such a splendid man, isn’t he?” said her young companion, lowering her voice. “So much more willing and agreeable than old Crosby. We’re all so glad the change was made.”
“He is most efficient,” said Mrs. Carstairs.
The admirable Peter approached Mr. Carstairs and Zimmerlein, who were pouring drinks for themselves at the table.
“Preparedness is the word of the hour,” Carstairs was saying, as he raised his glass. “It’s a long, cold ride home.”
“Excuse me, gentlemen, shall I call up Central at Bushleigh and see if they can give us any news!” asked Peter.
“You might try. I don’t believe you can get a connection, however. Everything must be knocked galley-west over on that side of the ridge.”
“I think your wife is signalling you, Car-stairs,” said Zimmerlein, looking over the other’s shoulder.
Carstairs tossed off the contents of the glass, and reached out his hand for the check. Zimmerlein already had it in his fingers.
‘“I’ll sign it, old chap,” he said. “Give me your pencil, Peter.”
“None of that, Zimmie. I ordered the...”
“Run along, old man, your wife ...He’s coming, Mrs. Carstairs,” called out Zimmerlein.
As Carstairs turned away, Zimmerlein scratched his name across the check, and handed it back to the steward.
“Under no circumstances are you to call up Bushleigh,” fell in low, distinct tones from his lips. “Do you understand?”
Peter’s hand shook. His face was livid.
“Yes, sir,” he muttered. “What shall I say to Mr. Carstairs?”
“Say that no one answers,” said the other, and walked away.
The company had recovered its collective and individual power of speech. Every one was talking,—loudly, excitedly, and in some cases violently. Some were excoriating the Germans, others were bitterly criticizing the Government for its over-tenderness, and still others were blaming themselves for not taking the law in their own hands and making short work of the “soap-boxers,” the “pacifists,” and the “obstructionists.” Little Mr. Cribbs was the most violent of them all. He was for organizing the old-time Vigilantes, once so efficacious in the Far West, and equipping them with guns and ropes and plenty of tar and feathers.
“Nothing would please me more than to lead such a gang,” he proclaimed. “Lead ‘em right into these foul nests where...What’s that, Judge?”
“I repeat: How old are you, Cribbs?”
“Oh, I guess I’m old enough to shoot a gun, or pull a rope or carry a bucket of tar,” retorted the young man.
“I’ll put it the other way. How young are you?”
“I see. And how did you escape the draft?”
“They haven’t reached my number yet,” said Mr. Cribbs, with dignity.
“Well, that’s good. There’s still hope,” said the Judge, grimly. “They need just such fire-eaters as you over there in France with Pershing.”
Carstairs turned to Zimmerlein, who was being helped into his fur-coat by one of the attendants.
“Can’t we take you to the city, Zimmerlein? There is plenty of room in the car.”
“No, thank you, Carstairs. I’m going in by train. Mr. and Mrs. Prior will drop me at the station. Good night. Oh, here’s Peter. What did you hear?”
“I could get no answer, Mr. Zimmerlein,” said the steward steadily. “Wires may be down, sir.”
“Good night, Mrs. Carstairs.” Zimmerlein held out his hand. She hesitated an instant, and then took it. Her gaze was fixed, as if fascinated, on his dark, steady eyes.
Hoarse, raucous-voiced newsboys were crying the “extras” soon after midnight. They were doing a thriving business. The destruction of the great Reynolds plant, more spectacular and more appalling than any previous deed perpetrated by the secret enemies of the American people, was to drive even the most sanguine and indifferent citizen to a full realizaton of the peril that stalked him and his fellow-man throughout the land. Complacent security was at last to sustain a shock it could not afford to scorn. Up there in the hills of Jersey a bombardment had taken place that rivalled in violence, if not in human toll, the most vivid descriptions of shell-carnage on the dripping fronts of France.
Huge but vague headlines screamed into the faces of quick-breathing men and wide-eyed women the first details of the great disaster across the River.
Night-farers, threading the streets, paused in their round of pleasure to gulp down the bitter thing that came up into their throats—a sick thing called Fear. From nearly every doorway in the city, some one issued forth, bleak-eyed and anxious, to hail the scurrying newsboys. The distant roar of the shells had roused the millions in Manhattan; windows rattled, the frailer dwellings rocked on thin foundations. It was not until the clash of heavy artillery swept up to the city on the wind from the west that the serene, contemptuous denizens of the greatest city in the world cast off their mask of indifference and rose as one person to ask the vital question: Are the U-Boats in the Harbour at last?
An elderly man, two women, and a sallow-faced man of thirty sat by the windows at the top of a lofty apartment building on the Upper West Side. For an hour they had been sitting there, listening, and looking always to the west, out over the dark and sombre Hudson. Father, mother, daughter and son. The first explosion jarred the great building in which they were securely housed.
“Ah!” sighed the old man, and it was a sigh of relief, of satisfaction. The others turned to him and smiled for the first time in hours. The tension was over.
Farther down-town two men in one of the big hotels silently shook hands, bade each other a friendly good-night for the benefit of chance observers, and went off to bed. The waiting was over.
Two night watchmen met in front of one of the biggest office buildings in New York, within hearing of the bells of Trinity and almost within sound of the sobbing waters of the Bay. Their faces, rendered almost invisible behind the great collars that protected them from the shrill winds coming up the canyons from the sea, were tense and drawn and white, but their eyes glittered brightly, fiercely, in the darkness. They too had been waiting.
In a dingy apartment in Harlem, three shifty-eyed, nervous men, and a pallid, tired, frightened woman rose suddenly from the lethargy of suspense and grinned evilly, not at each other but at the rattling, dilapidated window looking westward across the sagging roofs of the squalid district. One of the men stretched forth a quivering hand and, with a hoarse laugh of exultation, seized in his fingers a strange, crudely shaped metallic object that stood on the table nearby. He lifted it to his lips and kissed it! Then he put it down, carefully, gingerly, with something like fear in his eyes. Scraps of tin, pieces of iron and steel, strands of wire, wads of cotton and waste, and an odd assortment of tools littered the table. Harmless appearing cans, and bottles, and dirty packages, with a mortar and pestle, a small chemist’s scales, funnels and graduates stood in innocent array along a shelf attached to the wall, guarded, so it seemed, by sinister looking tubes and retorts.
The woman, her eyes gleaming with a malevolent joy that contrasted strangely with the dread that had been in them a moment before, lifted her clenched hands and hissed out a single word:
They, too, had been waiting.
Thousands there were in the great city whose eyes glistened that night, thousands who had not been waiting, for they knew nothing of the secret that lay secure and safe in the breasts of the few who were allowed to strike. Thousands who rejoiced, for they knew that a great and glorious deed had been done! They only knew that devastation had fallen somewhere with appalling force, it mattered not to them where, so long as it had fallen in its appointed place!
Many a glass, many a stein, was raised in stealthy tribute to the hand that had rocked the city of New York! And in the darkness of the night they hid their gloating faces, and whispered a song without melody.
Rich man, poor man, beggar-man, thief! In spirit, at least, they touched hands and thrilled with a common exaltation!
It was after one o’clock when the Carstairs’ motor crept out of the ferry-house at 130th Street, and whirled up the hill toward the Drive. A rough-looking individual who loitered unmolested in the lee of the ferry-house, peered intently at the number of the car as it passed, and jotted it down in a little book. He noted in the same way the license numbers of other automobiles. When he was relieved hours afterward, he had in his little book the number of every car that came in from Jersey between half past eleven at night and seven o’clock in the morning. It was not his duty to stop or question the occupants of these cars. He was merely exercising the function of the mysterious Secret Eyes of the United States Government.
Mr. and Mrs. Carstairs were admitted to their Park Avenue apartment by a tall, beautiful girl, who threw open the door the instant the elevator stopped at the floor.
“Thank goodness!” she cried, a vibrant note of relief in her voice “We were so dreadfully”
“What are you doing up, Louise?” cried Mrs. Carstairs quickly. Her husband frowned, as with annoyance.
“Where is Hodges?” he demanded. He stood stock-still for a moment before following his wife into the foyer.
“He went out some time ago to get an ‘extra.’ The boys were in the street calling new ones. He asked if he might go out. How terrible it is, Uncle Dawy. And it was so near the Club, I, oh, I was dreadfully worried. The papers say the shells fell miles away...Why, I couldn’t go to bed, Aunt Frieda. We have been trying for hours to get the Club on the telephone.” She was assisting Mrs. Carstairs in removing her rich chinchilla coat. Carstairs studied the girl’s white face with considerable anxiety as he threw off his own fur coat. The worried frown deepened.
“Could you hear the explosions over here, Louise?” he asked.
“Hear them? Why, Uncle dear, we all thought the city was being bombarded by warships in the river, it sounded so near and so terrible. Alfie and I ran to the windows. It was just after eleven, I think. He called up Central at once, but the girl was so frightened she could hardly speak. She didn’t know what had happened, but she was sure the Germans were destroying the city. She said another girl had seen the Zeppelins. Alfie went out at once. Oh, dear, I am so glad you are home. I was so anxious”
“My dear child, you should be in bed,” began her uncle, taking her hand in his. He laid his other hand against her cheek, and was relieved to find it cool. “You say Alfred went out at eleven?”
“A few minutes after eleven. He waited until all the noise had ceased. I assured him I was not the least bit nervous. He had been working so hard all evening in your study over those stupid physics.”
“And he hasn’t returned? Confound him, he shouldn’t have gone off and left you all alone here for two solid hours ”
“Don’t be angry with him, Uncle Dawy,” pleaded the girl. “He was so excited, poor boy, he simply couldn’t sit here without knowing what had happened. Besides, Hodges and two of the maids were up, so I wasn’t all alone.” She followed them into the brilliantly lighted drawing-room. “Here are the first extras. The doorman sent them up to me.”
Mrs. Carstairs dropped heavily into a chair. Her face was very white.
“How terrible,” she murmured, glancing at the huge headlines.
“I say, Frieda,” exclaimed her husband; “it’s been too much for you. A drop of brandy, my dear,”
“Nothing, thank you, Davenport. I am quite all right. The shock, you know. We were so near the place, Louise, don’t you see? Really, it was appalling.”
“What beasts! What inhuman beasts they are!” cried the girl, in a sort of frenzy. “They ought to be burned alive, burned and tortured for hours. The last extra says that the number of dead and mutilated is beyond”
“Now, now!” said Carstairs, gently. “Don’t excite yourself, child. It isn’t good for you. You’ve been too ill, my dear. Run along to bed, there’s a sensible girl. We’ll have all the details by tomorrow, and, believe me, things won’t be as bad as they seem tonight. It’s always the case, you know. And you, too, Frieda, get to bed. Your nerves are all shot to pieces, and I’m not surprised. I will wait for”
A key grated in the door.
“Here he is now. Hello, Alfred, what’s the latest?”
His son came into the room without removing his overcoat or hat. His dark eyes, wet from the sharp wind without, sought his mother’s face.
“Are you all right, Mother? I’ve been horribly worried thank the Lord! It’s a relief to see that smile! You’re all right? Sure?”
He kissed his mother quickly, feverishly. She put her arm around his neck and murmured in his ear.
“I am frightfully upset, of course, dear. Who wouldn’t be?”
He stood off and looked long and intently into her eyes. Then he straightened up and spoke to his father.
“I might have known you wouldn’t let anything happen to her, sir. But I was horribly worried, just the same. Those beastly shells went everywhere, they say. The Club must have been”
“Nowhere near the Club, so far as I know,” said his father cheerfully. “We were all perfectly safe. Have they made any arrests? Of course, it wasn’t accidental.”
“I’ve been downtown, around the newspaper offices,” said the young man, throwing his coat and hat on a chair. “There are all sorts of wild stories. People are talking about lynchings, and all that sort of rot. Nothing like that ever happens, though. We do a lot of talking, and that’s all. It all blows over as soon as the excitement dies down. That’s the trouble with us Americans.”
“America will wake up one of these days, Alfred,” said his father slowly, “and when she does, there will be worse things than lynchings to talk about.”
“Are your feet cold, Alfred dear?” inquired his mother, a note of anxiety in her voice. “You’ve been tramping about the streets, and You must have a hot water bottle when you go to bed. There is so much pneumonia”
“Always mothering me, aren’t you, good Frieda?” he said, lovingly. He pronounced it as if it were Friday. It was his pet name for her in the bosom of the family. “Warm as toast,” he added. He turned to Louise. “You didn’t mind my running away and leaving you, did you, Louise?”
“Not a bit, Alfie. I tried to get Derrol on the long distance, but they said at the Camp it was impossible to call him unless the message was very important. I so asked the man if there had been any kind of an accident out there and he said no, there hadn’t. I asked him if Captain Steele was in bed, and he said he should hope so. Don’t laugh, Alfie! I know it was silly, but it might have been an ammunition depot or something at the Camp. We didn’t know”
“Ammunition, your granny! They haven’t sufficient ammunition in that Camp, or in any of ‘em, for that matter, to make a noise loud enough to be heard across the street. How can you expect me to keep a straight face when you suggest an explosion in an Army Camp?”
“It’s high time we stopped talking about explosions and went to bed,” said Carstairs, arising. He put his arm across his wife’s shoulders. “We’ve had all the explosions we can stand for one night, haven’t we, dear? Come along, everybody. Off with you!”
“Hodges should be back any moment with the latest ‘extra,’” said Louise. “Can’t we wait just a few minutes, Uncle Dawy? He has been gone over an hour.”
The telephone bell in Mr. Carstairs’ study rang. So taut were the nerves of the four persons in the adjoining room that they started violently. They looked at each other in some perplexity.
“Probably Hodges,” said Alfred, after a moment. “Shall I go, dad?”
“See who it is,” said Carstairs.
“Wrong number, more than likely,” said his wife, wearily. “Central has been unusually annoying of late. It happens several times every day. The service is atrocious.”
Young Carstairs went into the study and snatched up the receiver. Moved by a common impulse, the others followed him into the room, the face of each expressing not only curiosity hut a certain alarm.
“Yes, this is Mr. Carstairs’ residence.... What?... All right.” He sat down on the edge of the library table and turned to the others. “Must be long distance. They’re getting somebody.”
Alfred Carstairs was a tall, well-built young fellow of twenty. He bore a most remarkable, though perhaps not singular, resemblance to his mother. His eyes were dark, his thick hair a dead black, growing low on his forehead. The lips were full and red, with a whimsical curve at the corners denoting not merely good humour but a certain contempt for seriousness in others. He was handsome in a strong, hold way despite a strangely colourless complexion, a complexion that may be described as pasty, for want of a nobler word. His voice was deep, with the guttural harshness of youth; loud, unmusical, not yet fixed by the processes of maturity. A big, dominant, vital boy making the last turn before stepping into full manhood. He was his mother’s son, his mother’s boy.
His father, a Harvard man, had been thwarted in his desire to have his son follow him through the historic halls at Cambridge, as he had followed his own father and his grandfather.
Sentiment was not a part of Alfred’s makeup. He supported his mother when it came to the college selection. Together they agreed upon Columbia. She frankly admitted her selfishness in wanting to keep her boy at home, but found other and less sincere arguments in the protracted discussions that took place with her husband. She fought Harvard because it was not democratic, because it bred snobbishness and contempt, because it deprived the youth of this practical age of the breadth of vision necessary to success among men who put ability before sentiment and a superficial distinction. She urged Columbia because it was democratic, pulsating, practical.
In the end, Carstairs gave in. He wanted to be fair to both of them. But he was not deceived. He knew that her chief reason, though spoken softly and with almost pathetic simpleness, was that she could not bear the separation from the boy she loved so fiercely, so devotedly. He was not so sure that filial love entered into Alfred’s calculations. If the situation had been reversed, he was confident, or reasonably so, that Alfred would have chosen Harvard.
He had the strange, unhappy conviction that his son opposed him in this, as in countless other instances, through sheer perversity. His mother’s authority always had been supreme. She had exercised it with an iron-handed firmness that not only surprised but gratified the father, who knew so well the tender affection she had for her child. Her word was law. Alfred seldom if ever questioned it, even as a small and decidedly self-willed lad. Paradoxically, she both indulged and disciplined him by means of the same consuming force: her mother-love.
On the other hand, Carstairs, a firm and positive character, received the scantiest consideration from the boy on the rare occasions when he felt it necessary to employ paternal measures. Alfred either sulked or openly defied him. Always the mother stepped into the breach. She never temporized. She either promptly supported the father’s demand or opposed it. No matter which point of view she took, the youngster invariably succumbed. In plain words, it was her command that he obeyed and not his father’s.
As time went on, Carstairs came to recognize the resistless combination that opposed him, and, while the realization was far from comforting, his common-sense ordered him to accept the situation, especially as nothing could be clearer than the fact that she was bringing her son up with the most rigid regard for his future. She had her eyes set far ahead; she was seeing him always as a man and not as a boy. That much, at least, Carstairs conceded, and was more proud of her than he cared to admit, even to himself. He watched the sturdy, splendid, earnest development of his boy under the influence of a force stronger than any he could have exercised.
Sometimes he wondered if it was the German in her that made for the rather unusual strength which so rarely rises above the weakness of a mother’s pity. Once he laughingly had inquired what she would have done had their child been born a girl.
“I should have been content to let you bring her up,” said she, with a twinkle in her eye.
While she was resolute, almost unyielding in regard to her growing son, her attitude toward her husband was in all other respects amazingly free from assertiveness or arrogance. On the contrary, she was submissive almost to the point of humility. He was her man. He was her law. A simple, unwavering respect for his strength, his position, his authority in the home of which he was the head, rendered her incapable of opposing his slightest wish. An odd timidity, singularly out of keeping with her physical as well as her mental endowments, surrounded her with that pleasing and, to all men, gratifying atmosphere of femininity so dear to the heart of every lord and master. She made him comfortable.
And she was, despite her social activities, a good and capable house-wife, one of the old-fashioned kind who thinks first of her man’s comfort and, although in this instance it was not demanded, of his purse. He was her man; it was her duty to serve him.
As her boy merged swiftly, almost abruptly into manhood, her long-maintained grip of iron relaxed. Carstairs, noting the change, was puzzled. He was a long time in arriving at the solution. It was very simple after all: she merely had admitted another man into her calculations. Her boy had become a man, a strong, dominant man, and she was ready, even willing, to relinquish the temporary power she had exerted over him.
She was no longer free to command. Alfred had come into his own. He was a man. She was proud of him. The time had come for her to be humble in the light of his glory, and she was content to lay aside the authority with which she had cloaked her love and ambition for so long. His word had become her law. She had two men in her family now. Slowly but surely she was giving them to understand that she was their woman, and that she knew her place. She had been for twenty-two years the wife of one of them, and for twenty years the mother of the other.
Carstairs was rich. He was a man of affairs, a man of power and distinction in the councils of that exalted class known as the leaders of finance. He represented one of the soundest vertebrae in the back-bone of the nation in these times of war. With a loyalty that incurred a tremendous amount of self-sacrifice, he had offered all of his vital energy, all of his heart, to the cause of the people. He was on many boards, he was in touch with all the great enterprises that worked for the comfort, the support and the encouragement of those who went forth to give their lives if need be in the turmoil’ of war. Davenport Carstairs stood for all that was fine and strong in practical idealism, which, after all, is the basis of all things truly American.
As he stood inside the study door, watching with some intensity the face of his son, he was suddenly conscious of a feeling of dread, not associated with the recent grave event, but something new that was creeping, as it were, along the wire that reached its end in the receiver glued to Alfred’s ear. He glanced at his wife. She suddenly exhaled the breath she was holding and smiled faintly into his concerned eyes.
“Yes,” said Alfred, impatiently, after a long pause,“Yes, this is Mr. Carstairs’ home.... I am his son.... What?... Yes, he’s here, but can’t you give me the message?... Who are you?... What?... Certainly I’ll call him, but... Here, father; it’s some one who insists on speaking to you personally.”
He set the receiver down on the table with a sharp bang, and straightened up to his full height as if resenting an indignity.
Carstairs took up the receiver. He realized that his hand trembled. He had never known it to happen before, even in moments of great stress.
“Yes, this is Davenport Carstairs. Who are you, please?” He started slightly at the crisp, business-like reply. “Bellevue Hospital? Police surgeon - What? Just a moment, please. Now, go ahead.” He had seated himself in the great library chair at the end of the table. “Yes; my butler’s name is Hodges.... An Englishman.... What?... What has happened, officer?... Good God!... I...Why, certainly, I shall come down at once if necessary. I can identify him, of course.... Yes, tomorrow morning will suit me better.... Hold the wire a moment, please.”
He turned to the listeners. “Hodges has been injured by an automobile,” he said quietly. “I gather he is unconscious. You are nervous and upset, Frieda, so you’d better retire. Leave this to”
“Is he dead, Davenport?” she asked in a low horror-struck voice.
“Run along, Louise, skip off to bed. I’ll get the details and tell you in the morning.” The girl swayed slightly. Her eyes were wide with anguish.
“I shouldn’t have allowed him to go out,” she stammered. “I...Oh, Uncle Dawy!”
Mrs. Carstairs put her arm about the girl’s waist and led her from the room. Carstairs looked up at his son.
“I guess you can stand it, Alfred. He’s dead. Instantly killed.” He spoke into the transmitter. “Tell me how it happened, please.”
He hung up the receiver a moment or two later.
“Run down at the corner of Madison Avenue and 48th Street. There were two witnesses, and both say that he was standing in the street waiting for a car. The automobile was going forty miles an hour. He never knew what hit him. Poor devil! Have you ever heard him mention his family, Alfred? We must notify some one, of course.”
“No, sir,” said his son. “He seemed a quiet sort. The other servants may know. Mother says his references were of the highest order, that’s all I know. What a terrible thing to have”
“We must not worry your mother with this tonight, my son. She’s had enough for today.”
“I should say so,” exclaimed Alfred, clenching his hands. He choked up, and said no more.