The Heart of the Loaf
THE HEART OF THE LOAF
By Earl Derr Biggers
THE night had been warm in Lower Ten, and Bob Dana's mouth was dry and his head noticeably overweight as he fastened his suitcase preparatory to leaving the train. He set his bag in the aisle and dropped down again on the green plush seat. Outside the window old familiar scenes were flashing by, fields where he had played, a brook where he had gone swimming, and his heart was suddenly touched, for it often happens that the traveler is never so homesick as on coming home at last.
The train stopped and Bob followed the porter to the door and down into the bright June sunshine. Five exciting years had gone by since he last stood on this narrow platform, stared at the unwashed windows and the rotting roof of the ancient C. P. & D. station. Mayfield again, sleepy old Mayfield. The New York-Chicago express paused but briefly; already it was slipping past him as he walked along, carrying his heavy bag. When he reached the platform's end the train was no more, and he had an unobstructed view up Main Street to the green of the courthouse park beyond.
"Well, stranger, where you want to go?" said a familiar voice at his elbow.
Bob turned. There stood Clay Harkins, town hackman for thirty years and more.
"Stranger, Clay?" the young man smiled. "Where do you get that stuff?"
Clay stared for a long moment into the lean tanned face that was nearly two feet above him. "Well, I be darned," he said at last. "If it isn't little Bobby Dana."
"Little Bobby, sure enough," answered the young man. "But, Clay—I don't see the band."
"The band to play Hail, the Conquering Hero Comes as I ride up Main Street in an open barouche with the mayor. And say, look here—I don't see the mayor either."
"You must be joking, Bobby," responded Clay tolerantly. "Well, boy, you sure have changed. What you doin' back in Mayfield?"
"I came here to do a job of work."
"A job? Why, I heard you was a painter. Messed round with little pictures."
"Well, Clay, that's the truth."
The old man pondered. "Somebody in Mayfield want his house painted?" he asked.
"No, not his house. His father."
"His father! Well, I be darned." Clay stepped closer and seized one of the lapels of the young man's coat. "Where'd ye git the suit, Bobby?"
Bob laughed. "It was made for me by Jimmy Breen, an English tailor on the Promenade des Anglais, at Nice. Does it intrigue you, Clay?"
"Pretty good stuff," Clay admitted. "Not so good as this one I got on, though." He stepped back to permit a more comprehensive survey. "Bought her twelve years ago at the Racket Store, an' she's just as good as she ever was."
"Twelve years," repeated Bob solemnly. "Almost time to have her cleaned and pressed. Don't you think so, Clay?"
"Not much," Clay answered. "You know what they charge for that now? Seventy-five cents. Yes, sir! Well, Bobby, is they any place you'd like to go?"
The young man leaned against a telegraph post and lighted a cigarette. "Dozens of places," he announced. "The Orient, for example. China. Want to sit on the Great Wall and paint the remnants of an ancient civilization. And after that——"
Clay cut in on this nonsense. "Take you anywhere in Mayfield for fifty cents."
"It used to be a quarter."
"Sure it did. But they's been a war. Maybe you heard about it?"
"Heard about it? Clay, old scout, I was nearer than that. I heard it." He blew a cloud of smoke toward the blazing sky. "But you don't want the story of my adventures, do you? Nobody ever does. Coming down to cases, I suppose the Mayfield House is still doing business at the old stand?"
A frail white-haired little man with gold-rimmed eyeglasses came hopping along the platform—Will Varney, the Mayfield Enterprise's publisher, editor and star reporter, all in one. He stopped.
"Why, it's Bobby Dana! Hello, Bob. You back again?"
"Hello, Mr. Varney. I seem to be back, that's a fact. Mayfield's worst penny."
"Wouldn't say that," smiled the editor. "Going up street?"
"Yes, I guess so." The young man turned and saw disappointment clouding Clay's battered face. "Think I'll walk, Clay. Do me good. But here's the half dollar, just the same." He nodded toward his bag. "You take that young trunk up to the Mayfield House and leave it there. And here's a check for his older brother. You might deliver that too."
"Sure, Bobby; sure."
The returning traveler fell into step beside the editor.
"Well, boy, you're quite a stranger," Varney remarked.
"Five years. I believe you were at the station when I went away."
Varney nodded. "Yes, I guess so. That's been my rôle in the drama, Bob. At the station, watching others go. Watching them—with envy."
"Like to travel yourself, eh?" said Bob. "Well, why not? Can't you get away?"
"No, I can't," answered Varney. "But it's not because I'm too busy. It's because I'm too poor. Journalism's a genteel profession, my boy. That's about all you can say for it." They walked on up Main Street in silence for a moment. "Eugene Benedict was telling me yesterday he'd sent for you," the editor continued. "Wants you to do a portrait of the old man, I understand?"
"Yes. It's kind of hack work, but I need the money. Painting is also a genteel profession."
Will Varney's eyes twinkled. "Well, I don't suppose you know it, but you're going to stir up a hornet's nest with your picture. You're certainly going to start something in this town."
"Great Scott. You don't think it will be as bad as all that."
"That's not what I meant."
"Then what did you mean?"
"Reckon I'll let 'Gene explain it to you. Where do you aim to put up?"
"Mayfield House, I suppose."
"Heaven help you! You must come up to our place for supper—often. Mother'll be happy to have you."
"That's kind of you," Bob Dana said. "I take it the Mayfield House hasn't changed."
"Nothing has changed," answered Will Varney, with just a trace of bitterness in his gentle voice. "Same old Mayfield. Eight thousand population when you went away, eight thousand or even less today. Sound asleep, this town is. All up and down the valley—I guess you saw 'em when you came along— steel mills, blast furnaces——"
"Smoke and grime."
"Prosperity, Bob. Life. Every town around here has grown and thrived, touched by the magic fingers of the steel industry. But slow old Mayfield——"
"You're writing an editorial," Bob laughed.
"I've written it," Varney said. "Time and again. Yes, I've blown the horn, but not a sleeper waked. A lot of old mossbacks—that's what has ailed poor Mayfield. I tell you, what this town's needed has been a few big funerals. And we're getting 'em at last. Quite a group of our leading citizens have gone this past winter—old Henry Benedict, Judge Samuel Ward. They're dropping off. You needn't look at me," he added smilingly. "I'm feeling fine."
"Hope so, I'm sure," Bob answered. "Don't feel so well myself."
"What's the trouble?"
"No breakfast yet. Silly little habit of mine."
They were now in the very heart of the town's oldest business section, and on the signs about him Bob Dana read many a name familiar to his youth. He glanced across the brick-paved street to a shabby one-story building built of wood. Gilt letters against a black background announced this as the establishment of Herman Schall, the Baker, and on the window in white letters were the words: "Schall's Bread—Fresh Every Hour." In the doorway stood a portly bespectacled old German with a white apron draped across his ponderous middle.
"Well, well," Bob cried. "There's old Herman Schall! Used to buy cookies from him—years and years ago."
"Yes, Herman's still on the job," Varney said. "Tiptoeing round the kitchen turning down the gas, just as he used to count the lumps of coal in the days before gas ranges. A penny saved is a penny earned. Leave it to Herman!"
Suddenly Bob Dana felt a glow of friendliness for the old man across the street. "I think I'll go over and ask him for some coffee and rolls," he announced. "Good place as any for breakfast, I guess. See you later." He stopped. "Say, what in the world did you mean—about this portrait I'm going to do stirring up trouble?"
Varney laughed. "Don't you worry, boy. The row won't concern you. Come in when you get a chance and tell me about your travels."
"I sure will."
"That's a promise," the little editor reminded him.
Bob crossed the street and stood before Herman Schall, impassive as a statue in his doorway. "Hello, Herman," he said.
The old man peered at him through thick lenses. "Excuse, please. The eyes ain't so good."
"Herman, you old rascal. Don't you know me? Dana. Bob Dana."
"Little Bobby Dana!" cried the old man. "Sure I know you. Sure!"
"I should hope so. How about a bite of breakfast, Herman? Just coffee and rolls."
"Coffee and rolls, hey? Come in, Bobby, and take a chair."
Bob followed him inside. The place had a run-down air, prosperity had passed, an old man was left to putter round the scene of his life's activities. Two small tables stood against the wall, their covers faded and patched, but clean.
The young man hung his hat on a rack and sat down. He watched the baker enter the kitchen at the rear, heard his instant cry: "Louie, Louie—turn down dot gas!" Heavy footsteps resounded—Herman saving the pennies. After a time the old man reappeared, carrying two rolls on a plate, and a steaming cup, muttering and protesting to himself: "Oh, dot Louie! In the poorhouse he will have me yet." He set the dishes down before his customer.
"And butter," Bob suggested. "Any butter on the program?"
The old baker ambled off. Bob broke open one of the rolls. The crust was brown and crisp, but the inside was soggy. However, he was young and reckless—and hungry—and when Herman returned with a thin slice of butter he set to.
While he ate, Herman hovered aimlessly near by. "They tell me you was in the old country," he said presently. "Maybe you was in Germany—maybe."
"Off and on," Bob told him. "Mostly in Paris and Rome—Florence too. Studying, you know. Trying to be a painter."
"A painter? Artist, hey? Is dot so?" He pondered this for a time, standing and blinking down on Bob's brown head. "My nephew in Stuttgart—he would be an artist, too, now, maybe. Only the war " The old face clouded. He wandered uncertainly away.
His brief meal finished, Bob stood with Herman in the solemn presence of the cash register. "You had enough, hey?" the old man inquired. "Twenty cents, then."
"How's business?" Bob asked as he paid.
"Business ain't so good," sighed Herman. "Us old merchants, we get crowded out. Strangers they come and take our trade. Too much competition."
"I'm sorry," the young man answered. "But you can't complain. For years you were the only baker in Mayfield. I guess I've seen your wagon standing in front of every house in town—all the big bugs on Maple Avenue. You had things all your own way then."
"Sure, sure; but not no more." Herman shuffled from behind the counter, gathered the dishes from the table, turned toward the kitchen. "Good-by, Bobby." As Bob reached for his hat he heard the querulous old voice: "Louie—ach, would you have me in the poorhouse yet?"
The clock in the courthouse was striking nine; Main Street was astir with life. Bob Dana cut across under the elms of the park. Suddenly before him loomed the dingy outlines of the Mayfield House, a three-story building of brick with a pretentious cupola on one corner. Back in the '80's when it was built Will Varney's father had spoken of it in the Enterprise as "the finest hotel building in any town of comparable size between New York and Chicago. A modern hostelry in every sense of the word."
But in thirty years the most modern of hostelries may alter sadly. The marble lobby was soiled and battered, Bob noted, as he crossed it and engaged a room from the somewhat seedy stranger at the desk. His bag lay on the floor. A bell boy seized it and led the way through swinging doors at the rear into a dark and smelly cave. Bob stumbled after him up the stairs and finally out into the light of a big room on the second floor front.
"There's a bath here, isn't there?" he inquired.
"Sure, there's a bath," the boy answered proudly. He flung open a door. "Right in here. Only room in the house that's got one. Used to belong to Mr. Cornell."
Bob remembered; old man Cornell, who sat for years before the hotel, his hands crossed on his cane, his watery eyes staring off into space. "Where's Mr. Cornell now?"
"Dead," said the boy. "Last winter."
"Who runs the hotel since he's gone?"
"Oh, I don't know. It just seems to run itself. Your trunk's downstairs; I'll send it up."
Left alone, Bob tossed his clothes on to old man Cornell's bed and filled old man Cornell's tin tub with cold water, half of which he obtained from a faucet plainly marked "Hot." After his bath he arrayed himself in his best, and lighting a pipe sat down to read a Cleveland paper he had bought on the train. He had drawn an easy-chair into the big bay window, and after a few moments the paper fell from his hand and he sat staring out at his town.
Here he had been born and spent his youth; across the park that dozed under the elms he had gone a thousand times to and from high school; under that very tree he had stood one afternoon in 1906 and watched the old courthouse burn. Suppose God had not given him his inexplicable talent with the brush, the never-satisfied ambition that went with it. He would still be a part of Mayfield, perhaps this young mechanic driving a flivver down Market Street; or that brisk young business man hurrying to the bank for his day's cash; or even that hopeless figure out of work and lolling on a bench in the park.
But he was none of these, he was Bob Dana who wanted to be an artist and was on his way. That way had led him far from Mayfield, perhaps in the future it would lead him farther still. But this remained his town, these were his people. There was nothing but kindness in his eyes as he sat staring out through old man Cornell's window. Let others belittle the environment that had molded them. Bob Dana was one of those faithful souls who, having once given their affection, can not take it back.
A narrow, mean little town? Some people might call it that. Certainly there were narrow, mean folks in it, as in all towns; big cities too. And certainly it was, as Will Varney had said, a town that slept. All the way from Pittsburgh that morning Bob had ridden under the pall of the steel mills' smoke; up and down the valley Mayfield's neighbors prospered, but here the old order remained, the conservatives had made good their slogan, "Keep the strangers out." They had triumphed, the mossbacks. And was it such a pity, after all?
The courthouse clock was striking ten when Bob rose from his chair, brushed scattered ashes from his coat, and sought the street.
The First National Bank stood, as in former days, on the corner of Market and Park, its home a worn old business block with the figures "1888" cut in the stone at the front. On the opposite corner, Bob Dana noticed, an ambitious project was under way, a six-story office building not quite completed.
He went into the First National and asked for the president. As he entered that official's private office Eugene Benedict jumped up to greet him. A ruddy, prosperous little man, Eugene, with a flower in his buttonhole and the unlined face of a baby. He had never had a worry in his life save the presumption of the working classes and, these later years, Bolshevism.
"Hello, Bob!" he cried. "Thought it was about time for you to breeze in. How are you, anyhow?"
"Great," said Bob. He banished his smile temporarily. "Seems strange not to see your father here."
Eugene sought to be solemn too. "Yes, poor father. Passed away in April, as I wrote you. A sick man for months, but insisted on coming down here up to the day he died. Just wouldn't give up, you know."
"Ah, yes—he had that reputation." Bob Dana was sorely tempted, but he refrained from saying it.
"A great pity," Eugene went on. "If only he could have lived until we moved into our new building across the street."
"Oh—is that yours?"
"You bet. Six stories. Finest office building for a town this size anywhere between New York and Chicago."
"Pretty daring for Mayfield, isn't it?" Bob inquired.
"Oh, I don't think so. Mayfield is going to pick up. Forge ahead. 'Twenty thousand by the next census'—that's our slogan now. Got a chamber of commerce and a Rotary Club and everything. Bound to boom."
"Seems about time," said Bob. "But about our little job of work. When do I hang up my hat and begin?"
"Sooner the better. You know, it was a great surprise to me to find you could paint a portrait of father now. Really, the whole idea came from Della——"
"Oh, yes—Della. How is she?"
"Fine. Just came home from college last week. Graduated."
"That so? The last time I saw Dell was at the senior dance after high-school commencement. I stepped on her skirt and tore it. I believe we parted more in anger than in sorrow."
"No? Well, they're wearing 'em shorter now. But as I was saying, I was surprised to know you could paint a portrait of a man who had—er—passed on."
"Oh, sure. Of course they're not quite so satisfactory as those painted from life. But they serve. Resurrection portraits, we call them."
"Resurrection portraits! Well, that's expressive. Now, we'll help you all we can."
"You've a lot of old photographs, you wrote me."
"Well, we've several. And one crayon enlargement. And about the color of the eyes and hair and all that—I'll watch you as you go along and keep you straight. We all will."
"That will be lovely," shuddered Bob Dana. "Did Dell recommend me for this job?"
"Come to think of it, I guess she did. Now about the financial end of it. A thousand dollars, I think you said. Need any of it in advance?"
"Well, I'm just back from Europe. To be frank with you——"
"Sure, Bob—that's all right. I'll write a check. How about three hundred? Or"—he was, after all, Henry Benedict's son—"perhaps two hundred would be enough?"
"Oh, plenty," Bob told him. He took Eugene's check. "Mighty kind of you."
"Not at all. Now, Bob, I haven't told you anything of what's behind all this. In the first place I want a cracking good portrait of father—a speaking likeness. And I want it finished inside of four weeks, which is about the stretch before we open our new banking quarters across the street. You see, I intend to hang it in a prominent place in the main banking room, and I want it there the day the doors are thrown open to the public."
"That's all right. You'll have it."
"Good! I'm going to hang it there, and underneath I'm going to put an inscription. Just a few innocent words, but they'll stir up something in this town, or I'm a liar."
"Why—what words?" asked Bob Dana, startled.
"Simply this: 'Henry Benedict; born 1858, died 1922. Banker and leading citizen, who more than any of his contemporaries influenced the life of his times and left his impress on the town.'"
"And then what?" Bob wanted to know.
"Nothing more. Just that."
"But I don't see anything explosive about that."
"No? You haven't kept up with things round here of course. Well, I want you to understand just what we're working toward. Can you spare me a few minutes?"
"Sure. All I've got."
Eugene Benedict rose and put on his hat. "Better if I let you see for yourself," he announced. He led the way outside to his car, which was parked across from the bank.
"Jump in," he ordered. "I'm taking you out to the cemetery."
"That's nice," said Bob Dana. "You've got sort of mysterious since I saw you last, Mr. Benedict."
"Oh, no," protested Benedict. "It's simple enough—or will be when I show you." The car sped along Market Street and in a few moments turned in at the cemetery gates. "Maybe you heard," said the banker—"Judge Samuel Ward passed away last winter too."
"Somebody mentioned it. Sort of unhealthy climate you've got round here, it seems to me."
"Not at all. Three score and ten—man's usual span." Eugene stopped the car before an imposing marble obelisk. "Get out here. This is the judge's grave. I want you to read the inscription on that monument."
Bob Dana alighted and followed the banker. He stood in front of the monument and read:
SAMUEL CLARK WARD
Who More Than Any of His Contemporaries Influenced
the Life of His Times and Left His Impress on the Town
"Oh," said Bob Dana. "I get you now."
"I thought you would," Eugene replied. "Jump in. We'll go back." He stepped on the gas. "I want to tell you this thing has made me mad—hopping mad. It's a direct slap at father. Sam Ward was a good man in his way, but an obstructionist—an old grouch. He sat on every progressive movement that's been attempted round here. His decisions from the bench were sour and prejudiced. Of course father was a conservative too, but his conservatism was based on a sound business instinct."
"Of course," smiled Bob.
"You've been away from Mayfield a long time, but if you think back you'll realize that inscription is a lie. 'More than any of his contemporaries.' Ha! Who says so? Clarence Ward; and not another soul in town. Everybody will tell you that my father was Mayfield's leading citizen, that he financed every project that came up, that he led the way for years. Yes, sir, if anybody influenced the life of his times father was the man. And if Clarence Ward thinks he can put an inscription like that on his father's tombstone and not hear from me by return mail—well, he's got another think coming, that's all."
"I guess your come-back will give him pause," said Bob Dana.
"It ought to. Right in our main banking room. No one ever visits a cemetery if he can help it. But father's memorial will be where hundreds will see it every day—hundreds, mind you—everybody in Mayfield who counts."
"Ought to start a nice little row."
"I hope not. Unless it starts a good big row I'll be disappointed. I want this thing thrashed out now for all time. I know who will win." He brought the car to a stop before the bank. "You can see now that I've got to have the portrait on time, and that it must be good enough to be taken seriously. Where were you thinking of doing the work?"
"Why—at the hotel, I suppose."
"Nonsense! We won't hear of it. I've talked it over with Mrs. Benedict; we'll find you a place to work up at the house. Good thing to paint right there in the atmosphere where father lived. Catch his spirit better."
"All right." Bob accompanied the banker inside.
"Tell you what you do—go up to the house this afternoon. Delia and her mother will help you pick out a room. Want the right light and all that, I suppose. We'll clear it out and you can start slinging paint in the morning."
"That's a go," Bob Dana agreed. "I'll be up about three."
Eugene disappeared into his office and Bob stopped at the paying teller's window, where an old acquaintance cashed his check.
As he stepped again on to the hot sidewalk he was saying to himself: "And they're all going to help. Won't that be nice? Happy days ahead." He walked on toward the Mayfield House. "But at that, these little greenbacks sure do feel grateful to the touch."
For an hour he sat around the lobby of the hotel, hoping for a glimpse of some familiar face, but none appeared. When the dining-room doors were thrown open for lunch he went over and glanced inside. One look discouraged him—that, and the weird uncomfortable feeling in his chest. For his health didn't seem just right, his genial spirits of the morning had evaporated, he felt depressed and gloomy. He went upstairs and lay down on the bed.
At three that afternoon he crossed the park and set out up Maple Avenue. His mood had not improved. He was conscious of a silly irritation over nothing, a sudden dissatisfaction with the world which he was accustomed to regard through cheerful, approving eyes. What, he wondered, ailed him anyhow.
Under the tallest elms in town lay Maple Avenue, unchanged. Here were the houses of the town's elite, outmoded piles of brick or stone standing in the midst of beautiful lawns. He came shortly to the Benedict mansion, the finest of all; in the old days it had represented for him wealth and the aristocracy. He smiled to himself as he entered the big gate and strolled up the front walk past a well-remembered cast-iron deer.
Delia Benedict was reading a novel on the front porch, and Bob felt a little better at sight of her. Another link with his past, and assuredly a link that had greatly improved since he last saw her. He had always liked Dell, though he remembered her as a nervous, spindling girl who moved in a constant whirlwind of energy that was decidedly wearing. He had never thought her pretty, but time and an eastern college had changed her mightily. Her slenderness was now a rather alluring item in her favor, she had seemingly gained in repose, and you might almost call her—well, if not pretty, at least charming, and alive.
"Hello, Dell," he said.
"Hello, Bob." She gazed at him approvingly.
"Little Bobby's grown up. Not so bad, either—as far as you've gone."
"I'm not going any farther, Dell. Got to like me as I am." He dropped into a chair beside her. "You've changed, Dell. But you're still wearing it, I see."
"Little old freckle on the end of your nose. I was wondering if it would still be there."
"What an eye for trifles," she laughed.
"Trifles," he said solemnly, "make perfection, and perfection is no trifle. Got that straight from Mike Angelo. Studied under him in Italy."
"Oh, yes—you and Angelo. Famous artist now, aren't you?"
"Who says so?"
"I read about you in a newspaper. It said you had a lot of talent."
"Did it say I had a lot of money too? You can't believe all you read in the newspapers, my child. By the way, did that article move you to recommend me for this job?"
"Did I do that?"
"I don't know—I forget. Anyhow it isn't much of a job—not for you."
"My dear girl, it's a life saver, and I'm mighty grateful. Even the most talented of us must eat now and then. I'll give this assignment my best, to justify your recommendation. And I may add that I'm going to enjoy the row."
"Oh," she smiled. "Father told you."
"Yes. Gave me a free ride to the cemetery and everything. The old story of the Montagues and Capulets. By the way, who's playing Romeo? Clarence Ward had a precious son if I'm not mistaken."
"Herb Ward," she answered. "Just graduated from law school—Harvard."
"Oh, yes—little Herb. Pale young shrimp with curls and the air of a crown prince. Used to ride around town in a pony cart. Nearly ran over a dog of mine once, and I pulled him out of the cart and blacked his eye. Them was the happy days."
"You always did have such brutal instincts," she reminded him. "Even now you look more like a boiler maker than an artist. It's hard to believe. Are you sure you're the Bob Dana who paints?"
"Lead me to my new studio and I'll prove it to you. By the way, your father said——"
"Oh, yes. Come inside." She led him into a big cool hall. "You're the white-haired boy round here—any room in the house you want. That's orders. Anybody who happens to be established there must be dropped from the window."
"Look out or I'll take your room." He followed her up the stairs and they made the rounds of the second floor. His selection fell on a large guest room with a good north light not too impeded by the trees. "Move everything out—rugs and all," he said. "Just a kitchen chair and maybe a little table."
"It shall be done, O rajah," laughed Dell. They returned to the upper hall. The girl snapped on an electric light, illuminating a dark corner. "By the way, you'd better take a look at that," she said.
She pointed to a crayon portrait of a tired, dyspeptic-looking man in middle age. His lips were a thin line on a thin face, his eyes fishy, his entire aspect chill and bleak and seemingly lacking in all human feeling.
"Oh, yes—your grandfather," said Bob Dana, and his heart sank. For a long moment he and Henry Benedict stared at each other.
"I know what you're thinking," Dell said. "You're thinking, 'There's old Eight-per-cent Benedict. I've got to resurrect him, and gosh, how I dread it!'"
"You wrong me," Bob smiled. "I was just wondering—how do we get from him to you? No connection that I can see."
"Thanks for the ad. Well, the least said about poor Grandfather the soonest mended. As a tyrant he made the Kaiser look weak. However, do the best you can."
"Your father says he wants a speaking likeness."
"Heaven forbid!" said Dell. She snapped off the light, and Henry Benedict receded into the shadows. "I moved him up here myself. Some battle, but I won. We've got a few other photographs—an old tintype, and one of him on his wedding day. He looked quite human then."
"Oh, I'll make out," Bob told her. "Your father has promised to keep a sharp watch on me and tell me when I'm wrong."
"You poor thing—I'm afraid he will. Pretty tough for you."
"That's all right," he assured her as he followed her downstairs. "I've got a strong constitution and a cheerful disposition. At least I always did have—up to today. Somehow I feel terribly depressed and mean this afternoon."
"I can't make out." He held the screen door for her and they returned to the porch. A shaft of sunlight fell across her hair. "Honey!" Bob Dana cried.
"What?" she inquired, surprised.
"Honey," he repeated enthusiastically. "The color of your hair, I mean. I've been trying ever since I saw you again to think what that shade reminded me of. I know now. It's honey—the sort of honey I used to have for breakfast at a little pension in Rome. Lots of butter, and this honey, and delicious hot rolls—— Oh, my lord!"
"What now? Bob, you are absurd."
"No, I'm not. I just remembered what's wrong with me. This depressed, sad feeling. This wave of bitter regret. I ate two of Herman Schall's rolls for breakfast, and the darned things weren't half baked."
"Oh," said Dell, "that's too bad. But you'll get over it. Only keep off Herman Schall's bread. Do you really like my hair?"
"Like it? It's lovely! As a matter of fact—I don't want to spoil you, Dell—but you're quite wonderful. I wish it was your portrait I was going to paint."
"Well, I'm father's favorite child. There are no others, of course, but I'm well in the lead. Maybe after you do grandfather you'll get an order to do me."
"No," he said, sternly shaking his head. "I couldn't consider it. Sorry—something else I just remembered. Artist, you know. Can't support myself, let alone a—— What I mean is, I've got to keep my mind off girls. Not so much as look at one. Dangerous. First thing I knew——"
"What are you talking about? You don't for a minute think that I——"
"No, Dell; no, I mean to say, might get to know you, like you, think better of your whole sex. Go right on from bad to worse, meet some little flapper, fall for the wedding idea—another artist gone wrong!"
"You're in no danger here, my lad," said Dell. "Shall I tell Father you'll punch the time clock in the morning?"
"Expect me at nine."
"All right. I'm afraid you'll have to put up with me around the house; I live here, you know. But I want to set your mind at rest, so I'll tell you a little secret. Keep it dark. This thing is more like the Capulets and Montagues than you imagined. I'm engaged to Herbert Ward."
"What! Little Herb Ward?"
"Yes. He's not so bad. The curls are gone and he drives a racing car now."
"Well, I'm glad," said Bob grimly.
"Thanks. I knew you would be."
"You don't understand. I mean I'm glad I blacked his eye that time. I only wish it had been permanent."
"You—an artist!" she said derisively. "With all those brutal instincts struggling inside you."
"Ain't any brutal instincts struggling inside me," he told her. "Just the little old indigestion I bought from Herman Schall."
And he went from her down the walk, as solemn as the cast-iron deer.
" TOMORROW morning at ten o'clock," said the Evening Tribune some weeks later, "the doors of the First National Bank's new home will be thrown open to the public. The citizens of Mayfield may be pardoned a keen pride in what they will behold. It is doubtful if any city of similar size between New York and Chicago can boast finer banking-rooms. Pillars, partitions and walls of marble, mahogany paneled rooms for the directors and the president, in the basement safety deposit vaults of the newest design and construction—all in all a revelation in modern banking quarters. To the strains of sweet music discoursed by the Mayfield Silver Clarinet Band the directors and officers will be happy to meet their friends and show them about. It is understood that the chef d'œuvre of the main banking room is to be a portrait of Henry Benedict, the late president of the institution, painted by our talented and up-and-coming young townsman, Robert Dana, son of the late Melville Dana, well and favorably known to all our people. 'Come one, come all' is the invitation extended by the bank."
At about the time Will Varney's words were being read by the citizens of Mayfield Bob Dana sat before his finished job of work in his studio on the second floor of the Benedict house. He looked at the moment neither up nor coming, but rather down and out. The feeling of hopelessness, of doubt concerning his own ability, that all true artists experience at the moment of final achievement was his, and the remarks of the small but select group of spectators gathered at his back did little to dispel it.
"Well, I don't know," Eugene Benedict was saying dubiously. "What do you think, Nellie?"
He appealed to his wife, a haughty beauty in her time, but somewhat faded now. She adjusted her glasses and stared—a stare famous in Mayfield, where she had long been the social arbiter.
"I don't know either," she admitted. "Sometimes I think it looks like Father—and sometimes I don't."
"My case exactly," said Eugene. "Around the chin—somehow. Did you make the chin fuller, Bob, as I suggested?"
"I think it's just wonderful," Dell announced.
Bob gave her a grateful look. "I've done my best," he said to Eugene. "I've changed it and changed it and changed it, day after day, as your opinions altered. Sometimes I think—you'll pardon my saying it—that the thing would have been better if I hadn't listened to you quite so much."
"But we knew Father better than you did," Mrs Benedict reminded him.
"Yes," Bob sighed wearily. "Yet you never did agree on the color of his hair. And as for the eyes—one of you said gray, and another green, and another light blue. It's what always happens on this sort of portrait. I've done my best, as I said, and if you don't like it I'll be happy to draw a knife through it now, and pay you back that advance when I can."
"No, Bob, no!" cried Benedict, alarmed. "It's not so bad as that, my boy. Perhaps we've given you a wrong impression. We were so close to Father, of course we'd be over-critical. It's not bad—not bad at all—I'll be mighty glad to hang it. Besides," he added with the usual tact of the layman discussing an artist's work, "the inscription is to be the important thing, after all."
Bob and Delia exchanged a long, understanding look. "Sure," Bob said. "That's the way to look at it. The inscription will takeoff the curse."
"Now let's get down to dinner," Eugene ordered. "I've got a busy night ahead at the bank. Will you stay, Bob?"
"Not tonight, thank you," Bob answered.
"Well, I'll take the picture down in the car tomorrow morning. Drop in about nine and help me hang it. Now, Nellie, let's get along, Della!"
The two older people left the room. Bob picked up his coat.
"Don't you mind them," smiled Dell. "They don't know anything about art—not even what they like."
"It does resemble the old boy, Dell?"
"Bob—it's uncanny. I'm darn glad it's going to hang in the bank, and not up here. It would make me nervous."
"Then maybe that newspaper was right. I mean—perhaps I have a little talent."
"A little? Bob—what ails you?"
"Oh, I always feel like this just after I've finished a thing. Gloomy."
"Then you ought always to have some one around—some one who thinks you're—wonderful."
He stood staring into her eyes. He had been staring into them a great deal of late—in the intervals of work; at luncheon, which he had been taking daily with the Benedicts; sometimes at dinner, too; and in the evenings. There had been a period when Eugene urged him warmly to look into Dell's eyes, Eugene's feeling being that they somewhat resembled Henry Benedict's. After a thorough investigation Bob denied this.
But now the portrait was finished. Bob Dana held open the door of the guest-room studio.
"You're wanted at dinner," he smiled.
Dell followed him out on to the front porch. "I suppose you'll be going back East soon?" she inquired.
"Yes; in a few days. Got some unexpected business to look after first. Poor Father left me a little plot of land on the north side—the only thing he owned after a long hard struggle. They're thinking of a factory there, and I may sell it for fabulous wealth. All the money in the world—six thousand dollars."
"Good luck," she said. "You must come up often until you go."
"I'll come for my things," he told her. "But"—he shook his head—"that'll be about all, Dell. That had better be about all."
"Della!" her mother called.
"Good-by," said Dell. "And the portrait, Bob—it's wonderful. I'll tell the world."
"Thanks," he smiled. "The same goes for you. You've helped me through; I'd have quit cold long ago if you hadn't been hanging around. You see, I'm sort of silly and temperamental in many ways—even if I do look like a boiler maker. Good-by, Dell."
He endured dinner at the Mayfield House, and passed a solemn evening with a magazine in the apartments of the late Mr. Cornell. Promptly at nine in the morning he appeared at the First National Bank. Entering the big front doors he found himself in a fragrant bower of roses and other blooms.
"Well, things certainly look festive," he remarked when he encountered the perspiring president. He took hold of the tag on a big basket of roses. "Compliments of the Mayfield Lumber Company," he read.
Eugene smiled. "Yes, everybody whose notes we hold has come across," he remarked. "And yet some people say there is no sentiment in business." Bob looked at him in sudden wonder. Had little Eugene a sense of humor, after all? The banker pointed to the spot where the portrait was to hang. "Pretty good light, eh? That brass plate shows up fine. I'm glad I had it in big letters. 'More than any of his contemporaries influenced the life of his times and left his impress on the town.' That ought to hold Clarence Ward for a while. Now, boys, bring the ladder." He picked up the portrait and turned to Bob. "All the fellows have looked this over. They're delighted with it. Say it's Father to the life. Congratulations."
Bob saw the portrait hung, and collected a check for eight hundred dollars.
"Like to have you stay and meet our leading citizens," Eugene suggested. "Might interest you to hear their comments on the picture."
Bob was alarmed. "You don't insist on that?"
"Oh, no, of course not."
"Then I think I'd—I'd rather not."
"Funny fellows, these artists," thought Eugene Benedict.
Bob left the bank just as the Mayfield band began to discourse sweet music and the eager citizens were crowding in. From others later he heard of that day's happenings. The opening proved a big success, and no small part of the interest shown was accorded Henry Benedict's portrait. But the painting itself, Bob judged, figured only incidentally in the excitement. It was the sentiment on the brass plate underneath that won most comment. Every one recognized it at once for what it was, a direct challenge to the Ward family. The non-combatants were amused and warmed at once to the fray; arguments arose. The spirit seemed to be: "Is this a private fight, or can anybody get into it?"
Clarence Ward, slim, dignified, gray-haired, with the manner of the law courts, came, all unsuspecting, into the bank about noon. He was standing before the portrait of old Henry Benedict when Eugene emerged from his office on the way to lunch. There, just as the sweet music came to a sudden stop, the two met. The spectators held their breath.
"Hello, Clarence," said Eugene breezily. "What do you think of our new home?"
"Very fine," admitted Mr. Ward coldly. "I have just been reading the inscription under your father's portrait."
"Ah, yes," said Eugene, smiling sweetly.
"You ought to write fiction, Eugene," Mr. Ward advised. "Fiction, I believe, is mostly lies."
Eugene flushed. "I am not aware of any inaccuracy in that inscription," he said.
"A pinch-penny banker!" sneered Mr. Ward. "Eight-per-cent Benedict, I believe they called him, though I don't recall that he was ever satisfied with that modest rate."
"That will do!" Eugene cried.
"You have insulted the memory," Mr. Ward went on, flushing, too, "of one of the finest men who ever lived, an incorruptible judge, an honored member of Congress——"
"A country lawyer with a mind as broad as a knife blade!" Eugene cut in. "A millstone round the neck of progress!"
"Enough!" shouted Mr. Ward.
"You started it," the banker said. "Boasting on your dead father's tombstone. Did you think you could get away with that fairy story? Not likely!"
"I intend," interrupted Mr. Ward, "to withdraw my personal account from this bank. I shall also withdraw all funds of which I am trustee."
"Withdraw, and be damned to you!" roared Eugene.
He turned and walked from the bank. Mr. Ward glared after him. The feud was on.
That evening, the warmest of the summer, to date, Bob Dana walked the streets of his native town. His dominant emotion was joy. Henry Benedict was finished; never again need he stare at that horrible crayon portrait, never again writhe in his chair over the problem of Henry's eyes. He had eight hundred dollars in his pocket, he was twenty-five, life stretched before him gay and wonderful.
At the corner of Park Avenue and Market Street he narrowly escaped being hit by an automobile.
He awoke in time, however, and leaped nimbly to safety. The car ran up to the curb, stopped, and a familiar voice called "Whoo-oo!"
"What's the idea?" asked Dell as he went up to her. "Trying to end it all? You gave me a turn, I'll say."
"Sorry," he apologized. "Just one of those boneheaded pedestrians. You should have run me down. World's better without my sort. Better for motorists, I mean."
"Hop in," she ordered. "I'll give you a spin. It will cool your fevered brow."
"Thanks." He climbed into the seat at her side, and seized his hat just in time as she shot the car off into the night. The cushions were soft, the breeze rushed over him pleasantly. "This is elegant," he said. "And it's an old story to you. Curse the rich!"
"Cut out the cursing," Dell answered. "We had plenty of that at dinner. Father held forth on the subject of Clarence Ward."
"That so? I heard there was quite a little grapple at the bank."
"Sure was! Father's inscription did the work. He asked for a row, and now he's got it. I hope he's satisfied."
"Well, the lad's jazzed things up. Give him credit. Say, I rather like the moon. Take a look at it."
"No, thanks. I was doing just that when I nearly ran over you. Better keep my eyes on the job."
"All right. I'll look at it for you and report. It's a grand old moon, Dell. Same moon I've seen shining on the Arno and on the roses that bloom on the long road up to Fiesole. I've seen it shining on the Colosseum and on the Seine and on lovers in the Luxembourg, and from the Embankment watched it silver the roofs of Parliament and Big Ben in his tower. I've seen it shining on the Atlantic in the wake of a ship when the band was playing an old-fashioned waltz—and now I've seen it shining on your hair."
"Still fond of honey?"
"Oh, Dell! If I could only get up in the morning and have those rolls in Rome—melt in your mouth, they would, and the golden butter, and that honey! Life, Dell, life has possibilities."
"You sound rather happy tonight," she said.
"Why not? Eight hundred hard-earned dollars in my pocket. Going to put over a big real-estate deal in a day or two. Then—there are a few places I haven't caught that old moon shining, and thank God the boats still run."
"I wish I were a man!" Dell said suddenly.
"Well, you're mighty nice as you are," he told her. "But of course—there are advantages. Now, take my own case. So many interesting things I can do. First of all, I ought to find a place to do a bit of work before I wander off again. Know what I'm planning? Little cottage out on the end of Cape Cod, in Provincetown. Exhilarating spot, air like good red licker, sea spray in your face when you go down to watch the fishing boats come in. I can get it for twenty-eight hundred cash. Going to buy it, fill it with my traps, work there when the spirit moves, pull out when the soles itch again. Good idea, eh, Dell?"
"Splendid!" she answered gayly.
"When I'm hard up," he went on, "I can eat fish. They give 'em away. Fish aren't so bad, you know."
"I know," she said softly.
"Little half acre I can call my own. Every man ought to have a place like that. Go there and paint. And when I get blue and lonely, discouraged——"
"I can hit the old trail again." They drove along in silence for a time. "Say, Dell," he inquired presently, "have you told your father you're engaged to Herb Ward?"
"No, I haven't," said Dell.
Bob suddenly noticed where they were. She had swung into the Benedict drive and now she brought the car to a stop under an old-fashioned porte-cochère.
Perhaps she had remembered that the front porch was in shadow, that the air was filled with the odor of syringa, and the moon so highly spoken of was tracing fantastic patterns on the close-cropped lawn. Perhaps.
The touch of her strong slender hand gave him a thrill as he helped her to alight, and as he followed her across the lawn he was saying to himself: "Be careful, you fool. Man in your position can't marry. Silly thing to do, spoils everything, travel all over, nose to the grindstone. Watch your step!"
They went side by side up on to the dark porch. A figure emerged promptly from the shadows to greet them, a rather frail figure in white flannels.
"Why—hello, Herbert," said Delia. "What are you doing here?"
"Hello, Dell. Oh, that's you, Bob. Say, Dell, if you don't mind I must see you alone—right away."
"Well, good night," Bob Dana said. "Had a fine ride, Dell."
"Don't go," Dell protested. "Herb just wants to talk about the family feud."
"None of my business," Bob answered briskly. "Must run along. See you before I leave town."
He walked rapidly, like a man seeking to get out from under some overhanging menace. Through the big gate, down Maple Avenue under the tallest elms in town.
"My boy, my boy," he thought, "that was a narrow one! Another minute and I'd have said something rash. She might have taken me too; women are foolish at times. Me married! Dreadful, dreadful! Herb, old boy, you saved my life. You certainly popped up in the nick of time. Often wondered what the lad was good for—now I know." He stopped for a moment under the trees. "Dell's darn sweet," he admitted. "Darn sweet. If only I had a prosperous hardware business or something of that sort. No use wishing, though. But I wonder is this Ward boy good enough for her?"
His way led him past the office of the Mayfield Enterprise. Inside, under a green shaded lamp, he saw Will Varney bending over his desk. He went in.
"I want to thank you for what you wrote about me in the paper tonight," he said. "That about the picture, you know. Did you really mean it?"
"With all my heart," Will Varney answered. His pale, kindly face lighted with enthusiasm. "You're a genius, Bob. You'll make little old Mayfield mighty proud some day."
"I hope so, I'm sure," Bob told him. "But I guess it was the inscription under my latest effort that made the big hit this morning. I hear the riot's on."
Will Varney laughed and tapped a little pile of letters at his elbow. "Here they are," he said. "The first fruits of the controversy."
"What do you mean?"
"Who did the most to influence the life of his times and leave his impress on the town? The letter writers are limbering up. This bunch came in the evening mail. It's just a beginning. Some say Ward, some Benedict, and some have other candidates. Here's a letter from poor old Mrs. Hughes. She thinks her husband, Reverend Elan Hughes—you remember, he preached at the First Church for years—should be elected. Sour old Elan—a gloomy view of the hereafter he expounded. And the Masters family wants to edge in. Their vote goes solid to Fred Masters. But these are also-rans. The main race will be between Benedict and Ward."
"Funny thing to get excited about," commented Bob.
"Isn't it?" Will Varney agreed. "Look about you. Why should any man want to see his father get the credit for sleepy old Mayfield? I can't figure it. And, thinking it over—there's my own father. You remember him, Bob. Year after year, in this paper, he chronicled the history of the town and shaped its opinions. I guess if any man can lay claim—— But, Great Scott, I'm afraid I'm as bad as any of them!"
"Looks that way," Bob laughed. He stood up. "I didn't mean to interrupt. Just came in to say thank you. I'm leaving in a day or two."
"No?" Varney's face clouded. "I'll be sorry, Bob. You'll never know how I've enjoyed our talks here. All those things you told me about Europe—it was almost as good as though I'd had the trip myself. And about as near as I'll ever get, I guess." He was silent for a moment, thinking of his frustrated ambitions. "Well, I've got my job here." He turned to the pile of copy paper on his desk. "By the way, how do you spell Stuttgart? You know, that town in Germany. Two 't's' in the middle of it, or one?"
"Two, I believe," Bob told him. "But what are you doing in Stuttgart?"
"Why, that was Herman Schall's birthplace," Varney explained. "I've just been writing his obituary. You know Herman left us this afternoon."
" WITH regard to the controversy now disrupting Mayfield," Will Varney wrote two days later, "it must be understood that the position of this newspaper is strictly neutral. We have been accused of favoritism by both sides, which is the best proof of our disinterest. Samuel Ward was a splendid type of the old-school jurist, and Henry Benedict was well known up and down the valley as a conservative banker of the highest integrity. The question as to which exerted the largest influence on Mayfield seems to us an academic one impossible of solution, but we love excitement and we have furthered the discussion by printing all letters received, save for a few that were anonymous and abusive. Seventeen epistles written by the Ward faction have appeared in print, as have fourteen from the Benedict side. Such is the box score as we go to press. Let the battle rage."
Obligingly the battle did just that. Clarence Ward and Eugene Benedict fought the main engagement in full view of the populace, cutting each other in public, each discovering daily some new means by which to embarrass or belittle the other. Here and there minor skirmishes took place between lesser dependents of the rival houses. Nor did the women hesitate to enter the arena. Few who were present will forget the afternoon meeting of the Ladies' Guild of the First Church, when Mrs. Clarence and Mrs. Eugene encountered each other and demonstrated the possibility of fighting a war with no weapon save the human eye.
Dell Benedict and Herbert Ward alone of the two rival camps remained on friendly terms. Meeting Bob Dana on the street the morning after his abrupt departure when he found Herb Ward among those present on the porch, Dell explained the situation.
"Herb had just dropped over to discuss the great war," she said. "We decided not to let it make any difference between us."
"That's the sensible view to take," Bob approved heartily.
"I knew you'd think so," said Dell with amazing sweetness.
"Oh, absolutely. Silly row anyhow. How can you decide a thing like that? Then you and Herb are still engaged?"
"More so than ever. Herb's been awfully sweet." She held up her hand, displaying a diamond-and-platinum ring. "We told our people all about it. Sort of had to, under the circumstances."
"Must have been good news for your father."
"He nearly passed out. But he knows better than to interfere. Well, that's that. I wanted to tell you—just to make you comfortable in your mind,"
"I'm mighty glad you're happy, Dell. That is, of course—if you are happy?"
"Delirious." She smiled up at him. "Come and see me before you leave."
"I sure will."
In the bright light of the morning, with his thoughts traveling the highroad of common sense, on which no moon may shine, this seemed to him excellent news. Good old Herb! The lad was showing a surprisingly level head. But for Herb he might by now be painfully entangled, his career endangered, his wanderings ended. Herb was his insurance, his protection.
"Ought to invite Herb to lunch," he thought. "Show my appreciation somehow."
The following Tuesday night, when he wandered out to the country club to the regular weekly dance, he felt the same way. His business had dragged on longer than he had expected, but it was practically settled now, and he could leave May field very soon. He sat on the club veranda, staring in at the dancers. The orchestra was playing a popular song that referred in sentimental strain to the moment "when it's moonlight in Kalua."
Kalua. Sounded like Hawaii. That was the direction in which he would travel next. The South Seas, on Gauguin's trail, and Stevenson's. He promised himself many a languorous afternoon on some white bathing beach, many a calm, breathless night with the Southern Cross flaming overhead.
Through the open window he caught sight of Dell Benedict dancing in Herb Ward's arms. Dependable old Herb! He watched them approvingly. Dell was lovely, and no mistake. Sometimes, when he was lonely and discouraged, he would think sadly of what might have been. That would, in the last analysis, be much more satisfactory than if what might have been had been. "He travels fastest who travels alone." True talk.
He was still musing gently in this strain when, ten minutes later, Dell appeared, somewhat breathless, before him.
"Bob—I want you to take me home," she said.
He jumped to his feet. "Sure. But I thought—you came with Herb Ward."
"Herb and I have just had the most frightful row," she explained. Bob saw that her eyes were flashing, her cheeks flushed. "He said you'd done a speaking likeness of Grandfather, and that several people had heard it say distinctly: 'Pay up tomorrow or I'll put you on the street.'"
"Pretty snappy for Herb."
"And I told him that his old fossil of a grandfather—— Oh, I don't know what I said! I was furious! I may have my own opinion of my family, but no one else can knock it and live." She drew her cloak about her white shoulders. "Come on, Bob."
Bob started nervously. "The ring's gone!" he cried.
"You bet it's gone! Forever!"
"Well, now, Dell—you ought not to get drawn into this foolish argument. It's beneath you. If you'll take my advice——"
"All right. I can go home alone." She walked briskly away.
"Hold on! Wait a minute! Wait till I get my hat." He dashed into the club. When he reappeared Dell was far down the drive, going strong despite high-heeled dancing pumps. He caught up with her. "I'm mighty sorry, Dell—I have no car. I came by trolley."
"That's the way I'm going home."
"May I—er—come along?"
Dell hadn't a penny with her, and his company was rather essential. But all she said was, "If you think you can choke off your fatherly advice."
Conversation sort of languished in the moonlight. He helped her on to the trolley and climbed up beside her. "Not so soft as the seat of Herb's car," he suggested.
"If you can't talk about anything but Herb, don't talk."
He subsided, hurt. Oh, well, women were like this, of course. All sorts of moods and whims and fancies. Sunshine and shadow. Keep a lad stirred up all the time. Better hang on to that precious freedom of his. "When it's moonlight in Kalua"—couldn't get the insidious thing out of his head. "Because you are—not there." Just as well too.
He glanced sideways at Dell's haughty countenance. In spite of himself he could not smother his approval. "Your profile's pure Greek," he said admiringly.
"Grandfather didn't start with a fruit-stand, if that's what you mean," said Dell.
Well, if she wanted to be cross, let her be cross. He'd keep his future thoughts to himself.
In silence they alighted from the street car and crossed the park; still with no word spoken they passed on up the avenue and through the big gate. The porch lay calm in shadow, syringa bloomed on the lawn. Dell held out her hand.
"Thanks for bringing me home. Good-by—if I don't see you again."
"But, Dell—look here—of course you'll see me. I'll come round."
She was gone inside the door—hadn't even asked him to stop a minute. Treated him like a rather tiresome stranger. Women, inexplicable women!
He strolled along down the avenue. Certainly did act haughty, that girl. He pictured her now in her room, head held high, eyes flashing.
Which was all he knew about it. In her room Dell had flung herself across the bed and was weeping bitterly. For Herb, and all the lost glories of romance? Herb, of course.
Will Varney's light was burning. Looking through the window, Bob saw the little editor bending above his pile of exchanges. He went inside.
"See here, Mr. Varney—something's got to be done."
"What do you mean, Bob?"
"This silly feud between the Montagues and Capulets. It's gone far enough. Hearts are being broken, young lovers wrenched apart."
"I suppose so. Such is life in the feud country."
"You know," Bob told him, "before I leave town I'd like to settle this foolish argument once for all. Just naturally kill it."
"Easier said than done. Unless you have an idea."
"Well—something flashed through my mind the other day. I don't know—it seems reasonable. I'll sit down if you don't mind."
"Sure, Bob; sure. Push those papers off the chair—that's right."
Bob Dana sat and crossed his long legs. "You know, when I'm away from Mayfield and think about the town I always remember the amazing amount of sickness here. My mother was never very well, and I used to go to the doctor for her—in the evenings mostly. And I can still picture Doc Cunningham's office, every chair taken, people standing along the walls—dreary, discouraged-looking people."
"Yes." Will Varney nodded. "Always been a surprising lot of doctoring here. Doctoring for this and that. You've noticed Cunningham's big house on Maple Avenue. Doctoring built that."
"Precisely. Now, Mr. Varney, tell me—what sort of men were the leading citizens here—the ones who ran the town?"
Will Varney smiled.
"You mean Ward and Benedict and that crowd? Take a look at Mayfield for your answer. Twenty years behind the times, this town is; you've heard me say so before. Lying here sound asleep through the biggest boom this valley has ever known. Benedict and Ward and their gang did that—conservative, suspicious of everything new, shouting their selfish slogan 'Keep the strangers out.'"
"I thought so," Bob Dana said. "Sour old parties, as I remember them. Looked at life through jaundiced eyes. Depressed and irritable and grouchy."
"You've said it," Varney agreed. "And their dispositions molded this town. I could give you a thousand examples, and Benedict would figure in a lot of them. We might have been on the main line of the railroad, but Benedict got a stubborn spell over some land he owned that was necessary to the scheme. Oh, he was a lovely old chap. I can still see him sitting in that little office of his, looking at prospective borrowers through those cold fishy eyes. Heaven help the man who had to go to Benedict for a loan! It didn't take long for the word to spread that the banking interests here were unfriendly, so new business gave this town a wide berth." The little editor leaned back in his chair; it creaked faintly beneath him. "And Ward! The Turner steel mills might have located here, but Judge Ward blocked the move. Said it would bring in a lot of dirty foreigners. I think of him as he sat on the bench—never dishonest, I don't mean that—but severe. Too blamed severe. Mercy wasn't in his vocabulary. He wrecked a great many lives that a little sympathy and understanding would have carried along to happiness. I tell you, Bob, this town owes a lot to Ward and Benedict and their gang," Will Varney finished. "A lot they're not boasting about now, wherever they may be."
"Rather mean old men," Bob Dana said. "That's how I picture them. Mean and dissatisfied and bitter." He leaned forward suddenly. "I'll bet both Ward and Benedict suffered tortures from dyspepsia," he added.
"Most people do—most middle-aged people," Varney replied. "In Mayfield, at any rate. For years we've had a lot of trouble with hired girls here—eating has been a rather catch-as-catch-can affair. Now you mention it, Ward and Benedict did have dyspepsia. Yes, both of 'em had it mighty bad,"
Bob Dana laughed, and stood up. "That's all I want to know."
Will Varney gave him a long look. "By Gad," he cried, "I begin to get you!" He leaped enthusiastically to his feet. "And you're right, boy, you're dead right!"
"I'm going to hop on a train and run up to Cleveland in the morning," Bob told him. "I can get what I need up there. A modest supply of modeling clay."
"Modeling clay," Varney chuckled. "Yes, that's what you want."
"You'll help me with this?" Bob asked.
"Will I?" The little editor's eyes twinkled. "You bet your life I will!"
For three days Bob Dana was not much in evidence on the streets of Mayfield. The hotel help reported that he seemed to be extremely busy in his room.
On Saturday morning Eugene Benedict drove down to the bank about eight-thirty, as was his custom. The sun lay blazing hot on the brick pavement of Maple Avenue, and Eugene sped over it savagely, for he was feeling hot himself.
He had just seen Clarence and Herbert Ward strolling down to their law office, and the sight of them nowadays tended to infuriate him.
As Eugene approached the corner of the park at Main and Market Streets he was surprised to see a crowd gathered on the lawn in open violation of the notice, posted everywhere: "Keep Off the Grass!" He slowed down his car. An old friend caught sight of him and waved.
"Come here, 'Gene," he shouted. "This will interest you."
His curiosity suddenly aroused, Eugene parked his car at the curb and pushed his way through the crowd. It parted to give him gangway, a favor he accepted as due to the president of the First National Bank. In another moment he came upon the center of Mayfield's interest.
On a cheap oak pedestal that suggested the Mayfield Furniture Store he beheld a figure about three feet high. It was modeled in clay and took the form of a short, heavy man in middle age. The face was flat and on a pudgy little nose spectacles rested. The generous stomach was covered by what appeared to be an apron; a cap rested on the head. It was a tribute to Bob Dana's skill that Eugene, like all the other spectators, recognized the figure at first glance. As the banker stood there staring he could almost hear the querulous, cracked voice: "Louie—Louie—turn down dot gas!"
Hanging about the feet of the figure was a placard that might have been printed in the job department of the Mayfield Evening Enterprise. Eugene read:
ERECTED IN MEMORY OF
HERMAN SCHALL THE BAKER
Who Gave All His Contemporaries Indi-
gestion and Thus More Than Any
Other Man Influenced the Life
of His Times and Left His Impress
on the Town
We Asked for Bread and He Gave Us a Stone
While the citizens of Mayfield grinned and nudged one another Eugene Benedict read the placard a second time.
AT six o'clock that evening Bob Dana sat in old man Cornell's easy-chair with the last edition of the Tribune before him. In his leading editorial, entitled Herman Schall, Will Varney ably seconded Bob's efforts of the morning. He began with the Herman of fifty years before, a young man newly arrived from Germany, who came to Mayfield and started the town's first bakeshop. He carried him along until the time, years later, when Herman's delivery wagon stood before the houses of both high and low, and Herman's bread was the daily diet of all Mayfield.
"Such bread!" Will Varney wrote. "Herman had the habit of thrift. To the outward view his product was O.K., but the heart of the loaf was only partially baked, still fermenting, indigestible. Those who ate it experienced very shortly a deep and dark depression, their outlook on life turned gloomy.
"Herman never figured as a leading citizen of Mayfield. Other men were in the limelight, directing the destinies of the town. But back of these men were a number of vital influences, and not the least of these, moving on tiptoe through his dim kitchen, doling out the coal or turning down the gas, was Herman Schall the baker. It is not at all improbable that to Herman's bread may be traced a thousand heartaches and tragedies—divorces, business failures, meannesses and wrongs.
"The editor of this newspaper has thought things over, and he has no hesitation in announcing that, in so far as his columns are concerned, the controversy that has been raging hereabouts for some days is settled for all time.
"Settled by the election of Herman Schall to the post of honor that stood as the ultimate prize."
Bob dropped the paper and sat staring out across the park. His telephone rang.
"Hello," he said. "Hello, Dell. What's the good word?"
"Seems to be Schall," she answered. "Started a lot of excitement, didn't you?"
"Think so? How is your father feeling?"
"Oh, he'll recover. As a matter of fact the old dear seems to have a sense of humor, after all. His dignity was outraged for a while, but he's come round. He's just talked with Clarence Ward over the telephone."
"No! An armistice?"
"Permanent peace, I fancy. They agreed that maybe you're right. Father is going to take down that inscription and replace it with a simple plate—just grandfather's name and the dates. Clarence Ward is wondering how you edit a tombstone. You see, that famous sentiment won't sound anything but ridiculous round here for a long time to come."
"Well, Dell, I'm certainly glad to hear all this. It's what I was trying to do, you know. Put an end to the feud."
"I gathered that."
Silence over the wire.
"Er—have you called up Herb and waved the white flag?"
"Me? Say, Bob, you certainly know all about girls. An open book to you."
"Well, has he called you up?"
"I don't know. I've been out. Mighty kind of you to take such an interest."
"Not at all. Want the young people to be happy."
"Old Grandpa Fixit. Leaving soon?"
"Been packing all afternoon. Pull out tomorrow."
"Well, good-by—if I don't see you again."
"Dell—where do you get that stuff? I'll be up this evening to say good-by."
"Sweet of you to trouble. I'll try to have Herb on hand."
"Oh, never mind Herb."
"I'll have him here. Want you to be happy, too, old lad. See you later."
Bob ate one final dinner at the Mayfield House. His pockets bulged with money, life was beckoning, rumor had it that the boats still ran. But somehow he wasn't feeling so elated after all.
At eight o'clock he came abreast of the cast-iron deer on the Benedict lawn, and three seconds later Dell gave him her hand at the top of the steps. An amazingly lovely Dell, starry-eyed in the dusk, gentle and calm and restful.
Bob looked anxiously about. "I don't see young Herb."
"No," said Dell. "Herb hasn't called up. Pity, isn't it?"
"Oh, don't worry. He'll come round. Herb's no fool."
"I'm not worrying. Have you time to sit down?"
"Sure." Bob dropped into a chair. Life was certainly mighty peaceful, there in the shadow on the porch. He leaned back and heaved a sigh of deep content. The syringa was still in blossom, lilies nodded in the distance, roses climbed a trellis. Roses with the moon on them, recalling the fragrant walls on the long road up to Fiesole.
"Are you really leaving tomorrow?" Dell asked. "I'd begun to think you were never going."
"That's true hospitality. But don't fret—I'm off this time."
"Provincetown, I believe you said."
"Yes—Provincetown," he answered. "I've wired a friend to get me an option on that cottage. Going to be just the place for me."
"Sounds like it, I'm sure." Her tone was brisk and cheerful. "I love the roar of the surf. Some people find it disturbing. Restful, I call it."
"That's good. You'll get a lot of work done, I hope."
"I'll certainly have a try at it. And afterward—well, look to the East for me. The South Seas. China. Pick up all in a minute some bright morning. Just lock the door and go."
"It must be wonderful," Dell said. "I mean—to have no ties. Nothing to hold you. Just yourself." Somewhere in the house a telephone rang.
"Yes—pretty good feeling," Bob assured her.
A maid appeared. "It's that Mr. Ward again, miss."
"I'll go," said Dell. "If you'll excuse me, Bob."
She was away some time. When she reappeared, Bob Dana was anxious.
"Young Herb, eh? Fix everything up?"
"Count on me. It's all fixed. Nothing to worry about."
"Sensible thing to do, of course," said Bob.
"Of course," Dell agreed.
He tipped back his chair, leaned his head against the cool bricks of the house. After a long silence he spoke: "That cottage only has three rooms."
"Three ought to be plenty for you," said Dell.
"For me—yes. But I've been thinking—times when I've just finished a picture—sort of depressed—need somebody round who thinks I'm wonderful."
"How about a dog?"
"Some people prefer cats," Dell said.
Another silence. "Dell," he said, "I don't know what ails me.
"Something ail you?" she inquired politely.
"Seems to. My head's all wrong. Mind's affected. Keep thinking to myself how almighty sweet you are."
"Better stop it," Dell advised. "Spoil all your fun, a girl would."
"Oh, I don't know. Depend a lot on the girl. If she happened to be a good scout—ready to pick up and go at a minute's notice——"
"Ain't no such animal," said Dell.
"How'd you like fish, Dell? As a steady diet, I mean?"
"I'd hate 'em."
He pondered. "Sorry to hear that. There's one room in that cottage—you'd love it. Looks right over at Spain."
"Spain—where the boats run? You'll travel faster alone. For your own sake, Bob—try to be sensible."
Again the telephone rang. The two on the porch waited in silence. In a moment the maid reappeared, and Dell rose. Bob stood beside her.
"It was only Mr. Ward, miss. I hung up the receiver—just the way you did."
The girl vanished into the dim hall. Bob turned slowly toward Dell. He seized her hand.
"Look here, Dell—you never intended to take him!"
"Who says so?"
"I do. Well, this settles it." He held her close. "And maybe it won't be so bad. You didn't really mean that—about hating fish?"
"I—I guess not, Bob."
"Dell! And that bright morning—just before we lock the door. It won't take you long to pack?"
"Five minutes. Only an overnight bag."
"That's the talk!"
He kissed her. He was a little breathless. "Hard luck for you, Dell. I mean—marrying me."
"Oh, I don't know," Dell whispered. "I believe I'm going to like it."