The Ancient Grudge/Chapter 22
DIFFICULTIES OF A MAN OF TASTE
Soon after Stewart's call upon Floyd, he received a formal invitation to submit plans in the competition for the Rebecca Halket Hospitals. The invitation was signed by the three executors of Colonel Halket's estate; it specified the last day of September as the time when the competition would be closed. This allowed a little more than three months for the preparation of plans. The evening newspapers announced the names of the architects to whom invitations had been sent; Stewart read the list with displeasure. There were four in New York, two in Boston, two in Philadelphia, all of the highest eminence in the profession. In Avalon there had been invited besides himself the firm of Bennett & Durant—the only firm, he acknowledged to himself, that he could feel absolutely confident of beating, notwithstanding all his confidence in his plans. Even in the moment of making this secret acknowledgment, he did not acquit Floyd of an intention both unfriendly and ungenerous.
The invitation to submit plans was accompanied by the announcement of the committee who would make the award. The architect was one of the New York men most eminent in the profession; the surgeon was Dr. Edwards of Avalon, who had the largest general practice in the city; Floyd was the third member. Stewart sought out Lydia's cousin, Bob Dunbar, who was a promising young physician, and asked for information about Dr. Edwards.
"Oh, he's a splendid man," Dunbar said. "Absolutely the best that could have been chosen. He's progressive and painstaking, and sure to insist on having things done in the most modern and approved way. He won't be content with what he himself knows about the requirements—though that's a lot;—he'll get the advice of experts. I hear that he and Floyd are going on to New York next week to consult the superintendents and staff officers of hospitals there; that's the right way to deal with such a thing as this. Uncle George and the other executors made a wise move when they put Edwards on the committee."
"In short, he's intensely practical," said Stewart, with disgust.
What with her father's chagrin and her husband's sense of grievance, Lydia was made sufficiently aware of the altered feeling in the family toward Floyd. Of the two men her father was the more outspoken. He declared that nothing but a sense of duty to a trust detained him at a task in the execution of which he was often overruled and humiliated. He had been slighted by Floyd; Barstow had supported Floyd—"for with Barstow it's off with the old master, on with the new," said Mr. Dunbar cynically. "Floyd thinks he can at once fill Colonel Halket's shoes," he added. "But Colonel Halket was a good deal bigger man than his grandson will ever grow to be." Mr. Dunbar was in fact smarting under disappointment. His modest, worthy ambition to wear the mantle of the first citizen of Avalon, which had so long adorned Colonel Halket's shoulders, seemed now unlikely of fulfillment—and Floyd was the obstacle. Floyd was depriving him of the importance and eminence which as the senior executor of Colonel Halket's estate he should have enjoyed. If he had been permitted, as in the ordinary decencies of life he should have been, to display himself as the principal figure in disposing of Colonel Halket's benefactions, it would have harmed no one and it would have been to his own innocent aggrandizement. But egotism or jealousy or some such petty motive had denied him this—denied him a place on the committee of judges; Floyd had installed himself there instead. Mr. Dunbar had long been preparing to shine forth some day the patron of the arts and the apostle of progress; now he felt that the opportunity which his old friend had kindly left him as a legacy was being ruthlessly closed by the machinations of a selfish and ambitious man of a younger generation. In the family circle his bitterness was not to be disguised; and though it seemed mainly to derive its source from the ill treatment which had been accorded to Stewart, it concerned itself in fact with his own hard usage.
Stewart, although more guarded in expression, exhibited his wound to Lydia if not to others. She could do nothing to heal it, and the daily inspection of it caused her pain. Stewart perceived this, but a subtle motive impelled him nevertheless to keep the wound open. He wished her to share his bitterness, his sense of resentment. The demand that she should not nourish a warmer friendship for any man than that which he himself entertained was one that his pride imposed upon her; he watched her silently to make sure that she was acceding to it. Her liking for Floyd had never awakened any jealousy in his heart, and it was no such personal motive as jealousy that now prompted his suspicious surveillance. He was inspired merely by a high sensitiveness to convention; should she try to create for Floyd a different atmosphere from that which he tacitly prescribed, she would be putting either herself or him in the wrong. To Stewart it seemed axiomatic that a wife should never excel her husband in devotion to his friends. Lydia's conduct hardly satisfied Stewart's rigorous requirements.
She sympathized with him in his disappointment; that was well enough. But he desired that she should commit herself to the support of his grievance by some outspoken word against Floyd. He had himself given her the opportunity when he had said to her, "I never thought that Floyd could treat a friend so shabbily." She had made no answer, and he was not altogether displeased at that. He knew that her gratitude for what Floyd had done years before had been enshrined in her heart as a sacred sentiment and that a word in Floyd's disparagement was not to be easily drawn from her lips. That a woman should be reluctant to admit a flaw in the character of one to whom she owed all and to whom she had been steadfast in her loyalty, was fitting—especially when the man was he whose name she had given to her own little son. The delicacy of such reluctance was a feminine quality that Stewart prized. But he waited for the time when the devotion of the wife to the husband should break down this loyalty of the woman to the friend and permit the utterance of a word in censure—though it were only the lightest; this ultimately must be required to show that she held the friend in error and not the husband; this Stewart required as a definite demonstration that her devotion to him transcended the most sacred of her other sentiments. But she never spoke the word for which he watched and waited.
"Stewart, dear, think how much greater satisfaction it will be to you to win the award in competition," she said to him one day when he had been airing his grievance in the hope that she would respond. "For you will win it, I know—when you feel so sure of your plans."
"No thanks to Floyd if I win," muttered Stewart cheerlessly.
"Ah, but that's what you want, is n't it?" said Lydia, laying a light hand upon his. "You've been talking, have n't you, of the unpleasantness of being under obligations—feeling you're at a disadvantage because of them—and of course if Floyd had given you this commission right off, there would have been one more thank you to say—a thing which you seem to hate, in spite of your generally good manners. But when you win the competition you won't have obligations to anybody."
"Yes—when I win the competition!" Stewart said sarcastically. "Here I've got to stay in town all the rest of the summer—just to touch up my plans for a competition that they will be too good to win. Yes, exactly that. Whereas, if I'd been given the chance that I had a right to expect,—I could have allowed myself a decent vacation and elaborated my plans at leisure."
"I'm perfectly ready to stay here and keep house for you, Stewart, if that would make it a little more pleasant for you."
"No, I should n't think of it. You'll go next week—and I'll stay and be as miserable as I can, slaving for a thing that there's no possibility of my winning."
"Oh, if you talk that way! Faint heart ne'er won fair competition."
"There's no such thing as a fair competition," declared Stewart. "It's always one of three things that determines the award in a competition. It's prejudice or compromise or ignorance. It's never merit. It's a fact; I've never known the best set of plans to win a competition."
"Then spend the summer making yours just bad enough to win," suggested Lydia. She laughed and kissed him, and then stood by his chair and passed her hand back and forth over his forehead. "Now we've smoothed it out," she said after a moment, in a tone of triumph. "Now we've chased away the frown."
Stewart accepted the consolations of her humorous spirit, and at the same time felt they were not the best that she could have bestowed. If she had taken this matter seriously and shown a little animus, it would have been more sympathetic. Since the most that she could do for his relief was to urge him on lightly to the competition, he began to suspect that she held Floyd justified in his refusal and that she had, therefore, not cooled by the fraction of a degree in her friendship for Floyd. This unseemly tenacity of hers, as he regarded it, irritated him as much as the exoneration of Floyd which it presupposed. When Stewart was with his wife her personal charm could indeed operate to smooth out the frown; but away from the influence of this he was possessed often by a glum reproach of her for her failure to judge justly and to sympathize with her whole heart. It was the first time since his marriage that he had felt a lingering soreness against his wife.
She had at least—so far as he knew—been guilty of no overt act of friendship for Floyd since the rupture. She had had the good taste, for instance, not to suggest asking Floyd to come in and dine with them some evening before she should go away. Stewart felt a certain relief at having fixed so early a date for her departure; it was a safeguard against any unduly premature attempt on her part to renew the informal hospitality to Floyd which had for so long been the habit of the household, and which, now that Floyd was left alone, would naturally be offered more freely than ever. Stewart was not in favor of permanently doing away with these friendly relations, but he was sternly of the opinion that for a period of probation Floyd should be held at arm's length. And instinctively he felt that Lydia's withdrawal from the scene at this juncture might prevent a disagreeable domestic clash.
The day before Lydia and her father were to leave, Stewart came home from his office earlier than usual. Lydia called to him from the drawing-room, and he entered, to find Floyd sitting beside her on the sofa, with one finger in the grasp of the baby, whom she was holding.
"Hello, Stewart," said Floyd cheerfully. "I can't get up, you see."
"How are you, Floyd?" Stewart replied. The lack of cordiality in his greeting and the stiff manner in which he stood, with his hands clasped behind him, caused both Lydia and Floyd to flush. Floyd moved a little and Lydia unclasped the baby's hand from his finger, saying quietly, "Let go of uncle, baby." "Uncle" was the term of address for Floyd that the baby was being brought up to adopt.
Floyd rose and said, "Mr. Dunbar told me that Lydia and he and the small boy were leaving to-morrow. thought I'd drop in to bid them good-by." He gently pinched the wide-eyed baby's cheek. "Good-by, little one. Good-by, Lydia."
She rose and gave him her hand. "Good-by, Floyd."
"I don't need to say good-by to you, Stewart? You're going to stay a while?"
"Yes," said Stewart coldly. "I have some work to do for a competition."
"I wish you luck," Floyd answered. "Good-by, Lydia."
After he had passed out, Lydia stood for a moment looking at her husband reproachfully. Then with the baby in her arms she walked up to him and laid her hand on his shoulder. He met her look of appeal rather sullenly, more discomfited by it than he would have been by a flash of temper. "Stewart," she said, "ah, Stewart! Be magnanimous!"
She did not wait for him to reply; she patted his shoulder gently with her hand and then left the room.
Stewart's glance fell on a baby's plaything lying on the table beside the sofa—a bright new jumping-jack, collapsed now in helpless dislocation. Stewart picked it up and jerked the strings idly, causing it to dance; he was engaged in this employment when Lydia returned, having given the baby in charge of the nurse. She stood by for a moment, watching the gyrations of the wooden figure.
"Floyd brought it this afternoon," she said presently. "He said he was afraid the baby would be bored by the journey—so he brought this to amuse him."
"Oh," said Stewart. He laid the toy down, and as he did so his eyes fell upon a book, a specially and handsomely bound book, which struck him as unfamiliar. He picked it up; it was a copy of Keats.
"Did Floyd bring this also to keep the baby from being bored on the journey?" he asked.
A sharp light sprang from Lydia's gray eyes, "Stewart," she said, "your tone and your manner make that question very offensive—though you may have meant it to be amusing. Floyd brought me the book; I had no intention of concealing the fact from you."
"I think," Stewart said, and his voice was quiet and deliberate, "that as matters stand it would have been in better taste for Floyd not to make any gifts."
She looked at him; the flash of anger had faded from her face, leaving surprised and scornful contempt.
"Stewart! How can you be so bitter—so unfair! It hurts me to go away knowing that there is such unkindness in your heart."
"There is no unkindness in my heart," replied Stewart "But when I have had reason to expect generosity and receive instead injustice and injury, I cannot dissemble what I feel and think. You urge me to be magnanimous; that is easy when one has the upper hand. But when one has been unkindly dealt with, it is not well to be too readily magnanimous, for then it is not magnanimity at all; it is just a mean and cringing spirit. I would suggest, my dear, that you examine the matter a little more carefully before you make sure that your sympathy is properly bestowed."
Lydia did not reply; she felt that to protract the discussion could only enlarge the possibilities for unhappiness, and already it had made her unhappy enough. It was a forlorn and silent dinner through which the husband and wife sat, and it was an uncomfortable evening that followed. At last Lydia kissed Stewart good-night and went up to bed; when some time later, he entered the room, he found her lying still awake. She asked him to come to her, and then when he was sitting by her side, she reached up and put her arm about his neck. Her gentle soul had yielded under the pressure of her unhappiness.
"Stewart, dear," she said, "I can't go away feeling that there is something rankling between us. It would spoil my summer—and if anything should happen and you or I should have to remember always that we had parted without—without as much affection as we might have shown,—I—should never forgive myself. Stewart, dear,"—he bent down at the gentle pressure and kissed her, and she murmured,—"I'm sorry if I've said anything to hurt you—I'm sorry if I have n't seemed to sympathize."
"It's all right, dear," said Stewart, caressing her. "I'm sorry, too, if I've seemed touchy. But you must know I love you just as much as ever—I love you more every day—and when it comes to your going away from me to-morrow—instead of my being too angry to say good-by, as you seem to be afraid, it's—it's a good deal more likely that I shan't be able to trust my voice to speak."
He said this with an emotional little laugh that touched her heart, and her own voice trembled as she answered,—
"I feel very happy now, Stewart. Now I can go to sleep."
The next morning Stewart bade Mr. Dunbar and Lydia good-by at the station, and, looking into her face bright with love yet sad too at the parting, he felt how much he should miss her; tears filled his eyes.
"I—I told you I should n't be able to trust my voice," he said, with a faint smile. He kissed her quickly and then the baby, and hurried away.
He lunched and dined at the club and delayed till late in the evening the return to his house; he feared the first forlorn chill of its loneliness. When he entered it finally, he turned on the lights in the drawing-room and stood dismally surveying the orderly arrangement of swathed furniture and pictures which Lydia had left for him. The room seemed to hold the spirit of her active, cheerful personality even in this dormant state; the books on the table were disarranged as if at the last moment she had scattered them in a hasty search. Moved by a sudden curiosity, Stewart looked over them; the copy of Keats was not there, nor was the wooden toy.
Stewart turned out the lights and went upstairs to his room, stung by a disappointment and chagrin that dulled the softer sense of melancholy. Lydia, in spite of what had seemed her repentant and appealing surrender, had taken with her the book and the toy that Floyd had given to beguile the tedium of the journey. If she had declined to avail herself of his gifts, she would have shown, Stewart felt, a better spirit, a more loyal support of her husband. The discovery made clear to him the fact which he had ignored—that, after all, his difference with Lydia had not been settled, but merely glossed over at their parting.
Stewart set himself rather leisurely to the task of completing his plans. Three months seemed plenty of time in which to elaborate ideas already definite; besides, he had a good start over the other competitors. He felt, therefore, that the important thing was to keep himself from going stale, not to work with a feverish haste, but to take his time and keep his mind free, and not neglect exercise; there was nothing to be gained by risking a break-down in the hot weather. So for the first month he left the office early in the afternoons and played golf or billiards, or sat in the club at the game of poker that was fairly continuous there. "Great Scott, Lee," one of his friends observed one day, "if I had your leisure, I'd go away for the summer."
"I do more work than you think," Stewart replied in an injured tone. "But I've been so steadily at it for weeks that I've got to have a little relaxation,—or I'd simply get fat-witted. Midsummer is the deuce of a time to hold a competition."
If it had not been for his constant meetings with Floyd and Bennett, this bachelor summer would have been quite tolerable; but the encounters with these two men, which took place nearly every day at one club or the other, kept Stewart in a state of intermittent irritation. To Floyd it became quite clear that he was still under the ban of Stewart's displeasure. After asking Stewart twice to come home and dine with him—and he put the invitation rather wistfully,—and being repulsed with the thin excuse that Stewart liked to dine downtown every night in order to be able afterwards to drop into his office and work on his plans, Floyd desisted from conciliatory efforts. He began to think that the only thing which could terminate Stewart's ill feeling towards him would be a favorable issue to the competition. Floyd hoped for this with all his heart; but the more he saw of Stewart sitting in the club or tramping upon the golf links and the more he considered the manner in which his friend's character was revealing itself, the less promising did Stewart's chance of success appear. And though Floyd was innocent both of the intention and of the fact, he seemed to Stewart the embodiment of the spirit of reproach—mild, sorrowful, uncomplaining, altogether maddening.
Bennett, toward whom Stewart had always maintained an air of cold reserve, was disagreeably good-natured and insistent upon the establishment of friendlier relations, now that they were rivals in an important competition. He would sit down at Stewart's table at the club and smoke a cigar and chat about the problems involved; and Stewart was so much on his dignity at these moments that he never observed the shrewd, cynical eyes with which Bennett was studying him or the meditative smile that slanted upward from Bennett's cigar.
"I suppose," Bennett said to him once, "we're both of us fools—wasting our summer here in this way. With all that New York talent entered, a local man doesn't stand much chance—and we might as well make up our minds to it now, you and I, that we're going to have our labor for our pains."
"It's something of an advantage to be on the ground," Stewart said indifferently.
"Well, I don't see how you can work a pull in a competition like this," Bennett remarked crudely, but with subtle* intention. He was amused by Stewart's look of disdain and his reply.
"When I spoke of the advantage of being on the ground, I had no reference to 'a pull.' I was n't considering the increased facilities for using underhand methods. I simply meant, of course, the obvious thing—that there is an advantage in being thoroughly familiar with the site."
"Oh yes, I suppose maybe we ought to throw ourselves into the spirit of the thing a little better than the outsiders," Bennett agreed. "By the way, I can't thank you enough, Lee, for letting go of Durant; that fellow's a whole team; at least I find him so. Funny thing how men run, is n't it—how a fellow will be of absolutely no use to one man and the long-lost brother to another?"
"I'm glad to hear Durant is doing so well—succeeding so well," said Stewart, rising from the table. "I feel a certain interest in his career; you remember, Mr. Bennett," and he smiled quite good-naturedly, "you never found him so useful until after he'd been with me."
"Oh, there's no doubt about it; your training was an excellent thing for him—excellent," Bennett conceded. "You put a polish on him that he would n't have acquired otherwise—and his resourcefulness in matters of detail has developed amazingly. I'm very much tickled over a little inspiration of his, last week—in these competition drawings; it cleared up a difficulty that we'd been bothering over for days—and made that plan as clean as a whistle. Sorry I can't tell you just what it was—I think you'd be amused by the cleverness of it."
"Yes, he's a clever fellow," Stewart said.
He separated himself from this man, who both bored and annoyed him, and went back to his office. Bennett had chosen a particularly unfortunate moment to enlarge on Durant's peculiar gifts,—a moment when Stewart was finding himself very much in need of those faculties for neat economical arrangement which his former draughtsman possessed. The drawings which 3tewart had brooded over with such affection and confidence had been only those for the exterior general scheme of the buildings, and he had allowed a month to glide by without bringing them much nearer completion. The straightening out of little difficulties which confronted him at the outset seemed too tedious and mechanical a task for him to undertake; and he had assigned this work to his assistants. Now after a month of labor they had brought him results that plainly would not do; and after severely censuring them for the glaring imperfections and hearing their defense, which was that the restrictions he had imposed made awkwardness, inconvenience, and wastefulness of arrangement necessary, he had set about solving by his own ingenuity the perplexities for which his assistants were unequal. It was uncongenial work, and more difficult than he had supposed. Although he had no doubt of his ultimate ability, it was unpleasant at this juncture to be reminded of the knack of his former draughtsman of whom he had been despoiled. Bennett, however, had means of keeping in touch with what took place in Stewart's office and could judge very nicely the most effective moment for administering a prick. His son was one of his draughtsmen and was a friend of one of Stewart's assistants.
The summer wore on, and Stewart felt at last that he had extricated himself creditably from his difficulties—the more creditably since he had depended on no one but himself. He knew that there were one or two weak spots, but they did not seem to him important; and the original beauty of the design had been preserved. So sure was he that only minor points remained to be dealt with that he wrote to Lydia saying that in a week or ten days she would see him at Chester. She sent him a letter in reply, rejoicing over the news and especially over the indication that he had finished his work and found it so satisfactory. "And now that it's all done, I'm sure it will win," she wrote.
In order that he might meet any small technical objection that could be raised against his plans, Stewart asked Bob Dunbar to examine them. Dunbar gave up a morning to the task, and Stewart went over the plans with him in detail. He was rather discouraged at the number of Dunbar's running criticisms; he was dismayed at the end when the doctor said,—
"Of course it's hard for me to speak definitely—just from seeing the plans; but it seems to me, Stewart, that while the buildings will be very good to look at, they'll be pretty impracticable. You have n't made nearly enough provision for light in any of the buildings; the first requisite of a hospital nowadays is light, and your windows are too small and too few to be adequate. You ought to have double the number in the wards. Then in the General Hospital you've given the amphitheatre the wrong exposure; the amphitheatre ought always to have a north light, and it's quite a serious matter when you put it on the south side as you've done. It's not only a matter of light; there's the heat in summer to be considered; it's a very important thing."
So he went on, pointing out one defect after another, while Stewart sat by gloomily.
"Dr. Parsons, whom I consulted, never mentioned any of these things as essential," Stewart said at last.
"Oh, well. Parsons is an old-fashioned family doctor; he has very little hospital work; he's a good man, but he'd hardly be up to date in such matters."
"I've studied a good many hospitals," Stewart said, "and the interior arrangement of a number of them is much like mine."
"It's faulty, though; there are lots of hospitals that aren't fit to be hospitals, they're so inconveniently planned," declared Dunbar.
"I should think doctors and nurses could put up with a little inconvenience without great cost of life," was Stewart's sarcastic comment.
"Oh, I don't know about cost of life," replied Dunbar cheerfully. "But a hospital's the last place where one ought to put up with inconvenience."
"As for enlarging the windows or increasing the number of them, that would simply ruin the buildings architecturally," said Stewart. "More light is out of the question."
"There is n't enough," insisted Dunbar.
"I suppose I can perhaps make some alterations," Stewart continued reluctantly. "But I've worked over these things till I'm sick of them; I'd been looking forward to joining Lydia next week and giving myself a good month's rest. From an architectural point of view the plans are all right, just as they are; I couldn't improve them if I worked over them the rest of my life.—But you think that for practical reasons they could n't be adopted?"
"I should feel almost certain that there would be more practical plans submitted," said Dunbar. "I don't know how the judges will feel; they may not regard the utmost practicability as essential. With a man like Edwards on the committee, though, I should think you'd better sit up nights—even about such matters as wash-bowls and chandeliers and ventilating-shafts."
That evening two windows on the twelfth floor of the great building glowed until after midnight, the loftiest lights in the city street. Within the one illuminated room, above all the dark and empty tiers of offices, Stewart sat at his great drawing-table with plans spread out before him and others lying beside his chair on the floor. He was without coat or collar; his shirt was open at the throat, his sleeves were rolled up above his elbows. He had begun one sketch after another, and pushed them all aside unfinished, and now with his head on his hands he sat wearily looking at the work of which he had been so proud. And as he gazed at it, the beauty of it all became to him more than ever convincing; he saw in his mind those buildings all completed, with the embellishment given by trees and gardens. They seemed to him as beautiful as the Greek temples from which they were derived; and the thought that he might forever be debarred from expressing in stone and marble this noble conception came upon him in his loneliness after the profitless labors of the night and filled him with a sudden anger and grief.
"To have created that—only to carry it in my brain—the best work I've ever done, the best I'll ever do!"
Floyd's inexorable figure interposed itself between him and fruition. A committee of architects, a committee of two architects and one doctor might make an award without being unduly influenced by the stern demands of the practical; but upon the committee of Floyd's choice beauty and nobility of design would be sacrificed. Floyd and the doctor would be found allied on every contention; the member of the committee who understood architecture would be overruled. Floyd was a Philistine and a materialist; his few years at college—where he had pursued only the most utilitarian studies—had done little for his development. And Floyd would be more impressed by an argument showing the inadequate size of wash-bowls than by one demonstrating that the lines of the proposed building had the grace of the Parthenon.
Stewart, sitting discouraged in the midst of his futile efforts at revision, asked himself what he should do. Should he hand in his drawings as they were, doomed to be rejected, and, with the consciousness that he had done his best, free himself from the drudgery which was chafing him, from a place which had grown hateful, and go to his wife and the sea for the rest that he had earned? Or should he with a stubborn spirit bend himself day after day, night after night, upon the dreary task of trying to improve that which could not be improved, even of building up a whole new set of plans, which could not, like these, be inspired—should he work till the last hour simply to satisfy the spirit of fight which had awakened in him, and to hold out till the end assailing the impossible? He rose and went to the open window and stood looking out upon the flashing city below him and upon the diadem of lights that rimmed the encircling hills. He was conscious now of what in his absorbed solitude he had not before heard, though it must have been continuous all through the night and drumming gently on his senses—the faint reverberation of the mighty hammers pounding, pounding in the forges, urged on from time to time in their drudging task by the shrill, stimulating whistle of steam. Dull, patient, and persistent—that was the spirit of the place; by night as well as by day its cumbrous potency was fashioning tools for the world from the sternest of metals. On Stewart standing at the window and listening to the sluggish reverberation of the pounding hammers and the driving, derisive shriek of steam, the spirit that was vital in the place laid its hand; he turned after a time from the window in sullen, unrecognizing obedience.
He seated himself again at the table, but not to work; he wrote a short letter to his wife, saying that he should not leave Avalon until the competition was closed. "Bob Dunbar finds fault with some details in my plans, and I shall stay and see if I can render them more practical. Now that I am in for it, no matter how poor my chances are, I have decided that my only course is to work on the job up to the very end."
He prided himself on the avoidance of heroics, but he hoped that Lydia would show a consciousness of his martyrdom. In this she did not disappoint him; her next letter to him expressed her admiration. "I shall miss you awfully, Stewart, dear," she wrote; "especially since I've been counting on seeing you so soon. And I can't help feeling sorry for you; it must be so forlorn! But still I'm glad; it's splendid for you to show so much determination. And I'm more sure than ever that you'll win; with the plans all that they were before and the little improvements in detail that Bob can suggest to you and that you can make in a month, I know you'll win. And won't it be fun to have you triumphing over all those New York architects! I'm sure Floyd will be just as glad as I if you get it; you feel a little better towards Floyd now, don't you? How is he? Don't let him get lonely, Stewart; this summer he must be pretty sad."
Stewart felt that an undue proportion of Lydia's sympathy was directed to Floyd.
He had tabulated all the small details which Dunbar had specified, and distributed them among his draughtsmen for revision and remedy. The more fundamental difficulties, such as the unsuitable arrangement of the amphitheatre in the General Hospital and the lack of sufficient light in the wards of the three buildings, he had reserved to grapple with himself. His draughtsmen did not know what problem he was working over; they could not imagine what defect in the plans kept him night after night in the office after they had gone. They only knew that he was growing more irritable and returned to them with sour censure their bungling attempts to provide substitutes for the details that had to be sacrificed. Twice one of these harassed assistants had undertaken to spend the evening working over the rejected effort, but each time he had been dismissed. "I want to have the office to myself this evening, Hopkins," Stewart had said. "If you are very anxious to work, you may take your drawings home."
Day by day, night by night, Stewart pored over the plans, and no helpful suggestion came to his mind. It was apparent to him that to give the amphitheatre the proper exposure would mean reversing entirely the scheme of the building, and this seemed impossible. Equally out of the question was it to provide more windows for the wards; they would make the buildings grotesque and ridiculous. An intolerable restlessness seized him after he had thus been confronted all day long and every night with problems o which his mind could offer no solution; it was a restlessness not to be assuaged by pacing round and round the littered table, or even by going outdoors and walking the streets. In his impotence he had always the impulse to establish himself somehow by violence; unprofitable toil produced in him, not peace of mind, but an ugly wrath, which could be loosed upon no object; there were moments when he felt it not improbable that he should sometime fill himself with rum and take three or four days off forgetting his troubles. He knew that in a violent, prolonged debauch he might find relief; but in his married life he had in that respect been above reproach, and his pride was strong enough to curb the reckless impulse. His bitterness, however, gained intensity from repression. Occasionally Lydia's letters applauded his persistence and determination; one such letter he tore to pieces on the spot. "Persistence! Determination!" he thought savagely. "People prate about its improving influence on character! My God, how people prate!"
One afternoon early in September he was gazing from his high window when there seemed to float into his mind a tangible idea relating to the arrangement of the amphitheatre. He sat down at his table and tried to seize and examine the elusive thought. It involved the reconstruction of the interior with no external alteration, and he was yielding to an excited hope that this was practicable when his office boy entered with a card. It bore the name of Mr. Andrew Delafield, whom Stewart knew as a man of position, a retired merchant of considerable wealth. With some annoyance at the interruption, Stewart consented to see Mr. Delafield. The visitor stated that he was about to invest a hundred thousand dollars in building a storage warehouse on some land which he owned, and that he wished to retain Stewart as architect. "A good, substantial, useful building is what I want," he said. "I don't want to spend money on the outside."
Stewart considered a moment; then he replied, "I'm sorry, Mr. Delafield, but I don't do that sort of work. I don't build warehouses; I may say frankly I don't care to build them; they don't interest me. If you'll allow me, I would suggest that you go to Bennett & Durant; it's the sort of work that they're best qualified to undertake."
"But I'd rather have you do it," said Mr. Delafield.
"Thank you; I appreciate your wish; I'm sorry I can't respond. But I have decided to do nothing of that kind."
"Why, it's simple enough,—it ought to be!" cried the client in perplexity. "You can do it, I know, if you want to,—and there's no disgrace in building a warehouse, is there? And the commission ought to be worth while."
"It is n't a matter of being able to do it, or even of the commission; it's merely that the idea does n't interest me, and I'm making it a rule only to work on things that do."
Mr. Delafield good-naturedly expressed his inability to understand such a point of view, "especially when you have this large office force to work for you. But it's very creditable to your conscience, I'm sure, to refuse all work in which you can't feel a personal interest. And you'd recommend Bennett & Durant?"
"For work of this kind, yes. If you are good enough, you might say to Bennett that I made the suggestion."
They parted amiably; the visitor showed himself sensible of Stewart's courtesy, and expressed again his respect for so high a standard of professional conduct as that which the architect displayed. "Sometime maybe I'll be wanting to build something that you'll think is worth while," he suggested genially.
"Thank you," said Stewart,—"if you care to give me another chance. And if you will mention my name to Bennett—"
Mr. Delafield promised as he passed out and left Stewart to the enjoyment of malicious glee. How wrathful Bennett would be to learn that Stewart had contemptuously put aside a hundred thousand dollar job and recommended him for it,—as a fairly competent warehouse architect! Stewart returned to his work with some unction. But the idea which to his vague apprehension had seemed so promising only led him from one difficulty into a worse, and at the end of a trying afternoon he had nothing more hopeful to gaze upon than his original plans.
Two days later Bennett came over to him as he sat at luncheon in the club.
"I believe I'm indebted to you for a client, Lee," Bennett said. "Mr. Andrew Delafield; he'd gone to you, he told me, but you were too busy or something—with the hospital competition, I presume."
"No, not too busy," Stewart answered. "I told him that warehouses were not in my line and I believed they were in yours; that was all."
"It's true," laughed Bennett; "I never turned up my nose at any kind of a job yet, and never expect to. As it happens, this thing fits in very nicely; we've just about finished our competition drawings and we're quite ready for the next big job. So I'm much obliged; do the same thing for you some time."
Stewart was irritated to find that Bennett could take a thrust with so good a grace. He more than half wished now that he had kept the warehouse for himself, especially as the glimmer of light which had temporarily illumined the hospital plans had faded. It would at least have been something to do in which he could mark progress; and he was feeling the need of this desperately.
The twenty-third of September came and passed; one week was left him in which to meet the practical objections to his plans.