Meredith Nicholson.

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Printed in the United States of America

Published September, 1922









As the train sped through the night Grace Durland decided that after
all it didn’t matter so much!

She had parted tearfully from the girls at the sorority house and
equally poignant had been the goodbyes to her friends among the
faculty; but now that it was all over she was surprised and a little
mystified that she had so quickly recovered from her disappointment.
Bitterness had welled in her heart at the first reading of her mother’s
letter calling her home. Her brother Roy, always the favored one, was
to remain at the University to finish the law course, for which he had
shown neither aptitude nor zeal, and this hurt a little. And they might
have warned her of the impending crisis in the family fortunes before
she left home to begin the fall term, only a month earlier.

But her resentment had passed. The spirit of adventure beat in her
breast with strong insistent wing. With the fatalism of imaginative
youth she was already assuring herself that some force beyond her
control had caught her up and was bearing her on irresistibly.

She lay back at ease in her seat in the day coach, grateful that there
were no acquaintances on the train to interrupt her reveries. She was
twenty-one, tall, slightly above medium height and bore every mark
of sound health and wholesome living - a fair representative of the
self-reliant American girls visible on the campus of all Mid-Western
colleges. The excitement of her hasty packing and leave-taking had
left a glow in her olive cheeks. Her hair, where it showed under her
sport hat, was lustrous black; her eyes were brown, though in shadow
they changed to jade, - variable, interesting eyes they were, that
arrested attention by their quick play of emotion. They expressed her
alert intelligence, her frank curiosity, her sympathetic and responsive

When the train reached Indianapolis she left her trunk check with the
transfer agent and boarded a street-car. At Washington street, she
transferred to the trolley line that ran down New York street, where
the Durland home faced Military Park. New York street between the old
canal and the western end of the park had once been a fashionable
quarter of the town, and the old houses still stood though their
glory of the Civil War time and the years immediately succeeding had
departed. The Durlands lived in a big square brick house, set well back
in a yard that rose a little above the street. The native forest trees
in the lots all along the block added to the impression of age imparted
by the houses themselves. Under the branches of the big walnut in the
Durland front yard the neighborhood children of Grace’s generation
had gathered to play. The tree was identified with her earliest
recollections; it had symbolized the stability of the home itself.

She pushed open the iron gate and hurried up the brick walk. Her ring
brought her mother to the door, clutching a newspaper.

“Why, _Grace_! I had no _idea_ - - ”

She caught the girl in her arms, then held her away, looked into her
eyes and kissed her.

“I’m so sorry, dear! I know what it means to you. It’s a terrible
disappointment to all of us.”

“Oh, I understand everything, mother.”

“But I didn’t expect you so soon. I don’t see how you managed it. I
thought you’d probably wait till Saturday.”

“Oh, I couldn’t have done that, mother.”

“How’s Roy? He didn’t write at all last week.”

“He’s flourishing and sent his love to everybody. He promises to work
harder than ever now.”

“I’m sure he will. I know he was sorry to see you leave; he’d know what
a wrench it would be for you.”

They had been talking in the hall, with Grace’s suitcase and tennis
racket lying on the floor where she had dropped them. She pushed them
out of the way at the foot of the old-fashioned stair that rose steeply
just inside the door.

“Don’t bother about your things now, Grace. Your father’s in the
sitting room and Ethel’s up in the spare room sewing. Have you had your
supper? There’s some cold baked chicken in the ice-box and I can make
you some hot tea.”

“Oh, I had supper before I left, mother.”

Mrs. Durland lifted her head and called her older daughter’s name
and from some remote place Ethel answered. Mrs. Durland was as dark
as Grace, but cast in a larger mold, and while there were points of
resemblance in their faces there was a masculine vigor in the mother
that the girl lacked. Mrs. Durland’s iron-gray hair was brushed back
smoothly from her low broad forehead. She wore an authoritative air,
suggesting at once managerial capacity; a woman, one would say,
strongly independent in her thinking; self-assertive and obstinate, but
of kind and generous impulses.

Grace was already in the sitting room, where she tip-toed up behind her
father, who was absorbed in a book that he read as it lay on the table
before him. His bent shoulders suggested that this was his habitual
manner of managing a book. Grace passed her hands over his thick shock
of disordered hair and patted his cheek; then bent and laid her face
against his.

“Well, here I am, daddy!”

“Not home, Grace!” he exclaimed looking up at her bewilderedly. “They
didn’t tell me you were coming.”

“I’m a surprise! Nobody knew I was coming tonight!”

“Well, well; I didn’t know there was a train at this hour. It’s nice to
see you, Grace.”

He turned to the open volume with an absent confused air, as though
uncertain whether anything further was expected of him, then pushed his
chair back from the table. Mrs. Durland had come in, followed quickly
by Ethel carrying a work-basket and a blouse that she had been at work
on when interrupted by the announcement of her sister’s arrival.

Ethel was twenty-seven, an indefinite blonde, and not so tall as Grace.
Her mother said that she was a Durland, specifically like one of her
husband’s sisters in Ohio, a person for whom Mrs. Durland had never
evinced any great liking. Mrs. Durland was a Morley and the Morleys
were a different stock, with the Kentucky background so precious in
the eyes of many Indianians. Mrs. Durland’s father had been a lawyer
of small attainments in a southern Indiana county, but it was in
her grandfather Josiah B. Morley, who sat in the Constitutional
Convention of 1851, and was later a speaker of the Indiana house of
representatives, that her pride concentrated. She had married Durland
in Rangerton, where as a young man he had begun with Isaac Cummings
the manufacture of a few mechanical specialties, removing shortly to
Indianapolis with a number of Durland’s inventions and Cummings’s small
capital as the foundation of their fortune.

“Things have changed some since you left, Grace. And I’m sorry you had
to quit school,” Durland was saying, while Ethel, having greeted her
sister, sat down by the smoldering coal fire and resumed her sewing.

“It’s all right, father,” said Grace, who had taken off her hat and
coat. “I came back as soon as I got the news so you and mother would
know it’s all right with me. We’re all going to put up a cheerful
front, no matter what happens.”

“Of course we’ve all got to do that,” murmured Ethel without looking up.

“It’s hard on you children,” said Durland. “It’s all my fault; I’ve got
nobody to blame but myself, Grace. Cummings always seemed willing for
me to go on as I did for twenty years, trying to improve on the old
patents and develop new ideas. But ideas don’t come as fast as they
used to. I guess he thought he’d got everything I was ever likely to
have to offer.”

“It was certainly unkind, after all the years you’d been together. But
I don’t believe for a minute your work’s done. You’ll strike something
bigger than any of your old inventions.”

“That’s what I’ve been telling father,” said Ethel. “A man who’s spent
years inventing things is likely to find something big any time. Of
course, without the shop father can’t work as well, but he’s going to
have a shop of his own.”

“Oh, that’s fine, father!” exclaimed Grace. “Where is the new place
going to be?”

“It’s not much of a place,” Durland answered apologetically. “I rented
a little room in the Billings Power Building and am going to run a
pattern and model shop. I hope to get enough work right away to pay the

“I’m sure you will. Everybody who knows anything about the machinery
business knows you’re the inventor of the only good things
Cummings-Durland make.”

“They’ve changed the name of the company now,” Ethel remarked. “They’ve
cut father’s name out.”

“They changed the name in reorganizing the company,” Durland explained
patiently in his colorless tone. “I had some loans the bank wouldn’t
carry any longer; stock I put up as collateral had to be sold and
Cummings bought it.”

“A man who will do a thing like that will be punished for it; he won’t
prosper,” said Ethel in a curious, strained voice.

Durland frowned at his older daughter. Evidently her remark was
distasteful to him; he found no consolation in the prediction that
unseen powers would punish Cummings for his perfidy.

“I’d probably have done the same thing if I’d been in his place.
Everything he turned down - my new ideas, I mean - proved to be no good
when I put my own money into ’em on the side. You’ve got to be fair
about it.”

It was clear that he set great store by the new shop. The fact that
he still had a place to work preserved his self-respect. With a place
in which to continue his experiments he was not utterly condemned to
the scrap heap. He lifted his head and his jaws tightened. Grace noted
with pity these manifestations of a resurgence of his courage. His
laborious life, his few interests outside the shop or more accurately
the private laboratory he had maintained for years in a corner of the
Cummings-Durland plant; his evenings at home poring over scientific
books and periodicals; his mild unquestioning assent to everything his
wife proposed with reference to family affairs, all had their pathos.
She had always been aware that he had a fondness for her that was not
shared by Roy and Ethel. Grace imagined that it was a disappointment
to her father that Roy had not manifested a mechanical bent. In his
gentle, unassertive fashion, Durland had tried to curb the lad’s
proneness to seek amusement, to skimp his lessons - this in Roy’s high
school days; but Mrs. Durland had always been quick to defend Roy; in
her eyes he could do no wrong.

Ethel and her father were almost equally out of sympathy. Ethel was
intensely religious, zealous in attendance upon a down-town church, a
teacher in its Sunday school and active in its young people’s society.
While Mrs. Durland had long been a member of a West End church she
was not particularly religious; she believed there was good in all
churches; but she was proud of Ethel’s prominence in a church whose
membership was recruited largely from the prosperous. Ethel was on
important committees and she was now and then a delegate to conventions
of church workers in other cities; the pastor called upon her
frequently and she had been asked to dinner at the houses of wealthy
members of the congregation, though usually some church business
inspired the invitation. In a day when the frivolity of the new
generation was a subject of general lamentation, Ethel could be pointed
to as a pattern of sobriety and rectitude. Durland had ceased going to
church shortly after his marriage and his wife had accounted to his
children for his apostacy on the ground of his scientific learnings. He
never discussed religion; indeed, he rarely debated any question that
rose in the family.

Mrs. Durland came bustling in carrying an apron which she was
hemstitching and the talk at once became more animated.

“The Cummings are in their new house on Washington Boulevard, Grace.
They’ve left the house on Meridian they bought when they moved away
from here. They haven’t sold their place; they’ve leased it for
ninety-nine years to an automobile company. We’re the only people on
this block who were here when your father bought this house.”

Ethel and her mother engaged in a long discussion of the Cummings
family, not neglecting to abuse Isaac Cummings for his ungenerous
conduct in dropping Durland from the business. Meanwhile Durland
crossed and recrossed his short thin legs to express his impatience
or disapproval. Nothing interested him less than the Cummings family
history; and his elimination from the old company was a closed incident.

“Bob Cummings’s wife is certainly a pretty woman,” continued Ethel.
“She’s very popular, too. You see her name nearly every day in the
society column. Bob was always so quiet; I wonder how he likes being
dragged about so much.”

“I shall always think,” remarked Mrs. Durland expansively, “that if the
Cummings hadn’t moved away when they did Bob and Grace might - well, I
always thought he liked you particularly, Grace, and you were fond of
him. Of course, he’s five years older, but when you were still in high
school and he was in Yale he always came to see you and took you places
when he was home. But when they moved away everything changed.”

“Oh, that didn’t amount to anything, mother,” Grace replied carelessly.
“He was always shy as a boy and I suppose he still is. After they moved
away he didn’t know the girls out there so he hung on to me for a
while. He just used me to cover up his diffidence among strange young
people at country club dances, and other places where he didn’t know
many people. When he got acquainted out there he didn’t need me any

“It would be like Hetty Cummings to tell him he’d better cut his West
End friends,” said Mrs. Durland tartly. “Even back in Rangerton she
was always setting up to be better than most folks. It must have been
in their minds when they moved away that they were going to force your
father out of the business and burn all the old bridges.”

“The canal bridge,” remarked Grace with a little laugh which the others

“Now, Allie,” said Durland in mild protest, “they didn’t force me out.
It was losing my stock in the company that put me out.”

“It was merciless,” said Ethel, her voice rising, “Cummings took
advantage of you. He always knew you were not a business man.
Everything he’s got came through your genius.”

“I guess he thought my genius was worn out, - and he may be right about
it,” said Durland.

“Don’t be so foolish, daddy,” said Grace gently. “Any day you may have
an inspiration that will be worth a lot of money.”

“It’s always possible, of course,” said Mrs. Durland with a little sigh
susceptible of the interpretation that she had no great confidence in
her husband’s further inspirations. “Ethel,” she continued, “tell Grace
about your work.”

“Yes, please do, sis,” said Grace.

“Well, I’ve just begun,” Ethel replied primly. “I don’t know much about
it myself. I’m in the Gregg and Burley company; they’re one of the
biggest insurance agencies in town. Mr. Burley’s been ever so nice to
me. His little girl’s in my Sunday-school class. Mrs. Burley asked me
to a birthday party they had for Louise last summer, so I really feel
that I know the family. I’m handling the telephone calls and doing
other little things till I get the run of the office. I’ve started at
eighteen a week but Mr. Burley says they’ll raise me just as soon as
I’m worth more. There are six other girls in the office and one who’s
been there ten years get fifty a week and I don’t see how they ever
could get along without her. She knows more about the details of the
business than the members of the firm.”

“That sounds good,” said Grace warmly. “I suppose there are women
in business here who make large salaries, far more than high school
teachers or teachers in colleges.”

“I never thought my girls would have to battle for their bread,” said
Mrs. Durland. “I’ve always clung to the old-fashioned idea that girls
should stay with their mothers till they married. Of course thousands
of splendid girls are at work in every kind of business, but it’s hard
for me to get used to it.”

“I don’t see why women shouldn’t work if they need to or want to,” said
Grace, “I think that’s one of the things that’s settled; women can do
anything they please these days.”

“I can’t bring myself to see it,” Mrs. Durland replied, “I remember
that it seemed queer when my father employed a woman stenographer in
his office.”

“Well, times have changed, mother,” Grace remarked. “I have an idea
that I can sell things; I read an article in a magazine about the
psychology of salesmanship, and I have a strong hunch that that would
be a good field for me. The big stores must be taking on more help at
this season. I think I’ll see what the chances are.”

“Grace, surely you’re not in earnest!” cried Mrs. Durland. “Of course
we will need your help, but it would be a lot better, considering your
education, for you to take up teaching or go into an office as Ethel’s
doing. It’s so much more in keeping with your bringing up. It would
break my heart to see you behind a counter!”

Durland shifted uncomfortably in his chair as the matter was discussed.
For years he had lived his own life, his thoughts centered constantly
upon mechanical projects. He was now confronted by the fact that as the
result of his intense preoccupation with tools, metals and wood and his
inattention and incapacity in business he was hardly a factor in family
affairs. He listened almost as though he were a stranger in a strange
house, his guilt heavy upon him. He started when Grace addressed him

“Well, daddy, don’t you think I’m right about trying my arts of
persuasion as a saleslady? I’ve always loved that word! I think it
would be fascinating.”

“You make it sound interesting,” said Durland cautiously, after a timid
glance at his wife. “I want you to know it hurts me to think that you
girls have got to go to work. But as long as it can’t be helped I want
you to do the best you can for yourselves. You ought to be sure you get
into something where you’ll have a chance to forward yourself.”

“Yes, daddy,” said Grace kindly. “I want to make my time count. If I’m
going to be a business woman I mean to play the game for all I’m worth.”

“I simply couldn’t be reconciled to having you in a store,” said Mrs.
Durland. “An office would be much more dignified.”

“I guess Grace can take care of herself,” Durland ventured.

“Of course!” replied Mrs. Durland quickly, “we can trust our girls
anywhere. I was only thinking of the annoyances. I’ve seen girls
humiliated by floor-walkers - right before customers, and it always
makes me boil. And I’m ashamed to say there are women who are perfectly
hateful to the clerks who wait on them.”

“Well, who’s afraid!” said Grace cheerfully. “School teachers have a
hard time too, with principals and supervisors pecking at them all the
time. Now that I’m going out into the world I’m not going to ask any
special favors because I’m a woman. The day for that’s all passed.”

“And it’s a pity it’s so!” declared Mrs. Durland.

“Oh, mother, I’m for taking the world as I find it!” She glanced
laughingly at her father who smiled at her approvingly. In his
undemonstrative way he was relieved that Grace was meeting family
misfortunes so bravely. His courage was strengthened by her very
presence in the house. Prematurely aged as he was, he rejoiced in
her youth, her radiant vitality, her good humor and high spirits. He
followed her with admiring eyes as she moved about the room. She bent
for a moment over the book he had been reading, asked questions about
it, drawing him out as to its nature and merits. He was as happy as a
boy when a sympathetic grown-up manifests an intelligent interest in
his toys.

“I hope you won’t be in too much of a hurry about going to work,
Grace,” said Mrs. Durland. “It’s a serious matter for you and all of
us. Perhaps Ethel could make some suggestions. Some of her church
friends might be able to help you.”

“I shall be glad to do anything I can,” Ethel murmured without looking
up from her sewing.

“Oh, thanks; I’ll certainly call on you if I see any place where
you can help. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I got mother’s
letter, and I believe I’ll call up Irene Kirby right now and make an
appointment to see her tomorrow. She’s been in Shipley’s ever since she
left high school.”

“Now, Grace, please don’t do that,” protested Mrs. Durland, “you must
take time to consider your future. Irene’s people are very ordinary and
I never liked your intimacy with her when you went to school together.”

“Why, mother, Irene’s one of the finest girls I ever knew! She was a
good student in high school and certainly behaved herself. She can tell
me all about Shipley’s and the chances of getting in there.”

“I don’t like it at all, Grace,” replied Mrs. Durland. “It’s bad enough
having my daughters going down town to work but I’d hate having you ask
favors of a girl like Irene Kirby. I don’t see why you can’t wait a
little and let Ethel help you find something more suitable.”

“But it won’t do any harm to see Irene and talk to her.”

They heard her voice at the telephone in the hall and caught scraps of
her lively talk with Irene.

“Grace is so headstrong,” Mrs. Durland sighed. “And you never can
tell how anything’s going to strike her. I’m always amazed at her
inconsistencies. She’s the last girl in the world you’d think would
want to work in a department store. She isn’t that type at all.
Stephen, I wish you’d put your foot down.”

Durland looked at his wife blankly, trying to recall any other instance
where he had been asked to put his foot down. If he had been a man of
mirth he might have laughed.

“Grace ain’t going to do anything foolish; you can trust Grace,” he

“What did Irene say?” asked Ethel when Grace came back from the

“Oh, I am going to have lunch with her tomorrow at the store and she’ll
tell me everything,” said Grace carelessly. “Well, daddy, it’s about
time for the regular evening apple.”

There was a plate of apples on the table with a knife beside it, and
Durland, pleased that she remembered his habit of eating an apple
before going to bed, took one she chose for him and peeled it with
care, tossing the unbroken peeling into the grate.


As Grace and her mother washed the dishes and made the beds the next
morning Mrs. Durland recurred to the ill fortune that had brought
Grace home from the university. Repetition was a habit with her, and
she explained again and with more detail the manner in which Cummings
had thrust her husband out of Cummings-Durland. She praised the
spirit in which Ethel had met the situation - all this as a prelude
to another plea that Grace should plan her future with care and not
take the first employment that offered. One of these days the right
man would come along and she would marry; Mrs. Durland hoped that both
her daughters would marry good men and keep up the traditions of the
American home.

“Oh, I’ve never felt that I’d marry,” Grace replied. “The reason I went
to college was to fit myself to be something in the world; and now that
I’ve got to begin over again I’m going to experiment a little. I may

Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonBroken barriers → online text (page 1 of 27)