Copyright
Meredith Nicholson.

Broken barriers online

. (page 7 of 27)
Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonBroken barriers → online text (page 7 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


92 BROKEN BARRIERS

washed and put away in the pantry Grace hung up
her apron and went to her room. She made her bed
and straightened up her dressing table and had put
on her hat and coat when Ethel appeared in the
door.

"Grace, I want you to know how sorry I am if I
said anything to hurt you. You know that not for
worlds would I be unkind or unjust to my own sis-
ter."

"Oh, that's all right, Ethel; just forget it," Grace
replied indifferently.

She bade her mother good-bye with all the cheer
she could muster.

"Good-bye, Grace," called Mrs. Durland from the
window where she was scanning the newspaper. "I
hope you'll have a good day."

"Thank you, mother."

II

As the trolley bore her townward she decided that
all things considered she had come off fairly well
in the encounter; but she was not jubilant. She had
probably established her right to go and come as
she pleased, but the victory brought her no happi-
ness. Ethel's conciliatory words meant nothing; it
was her sister's way to manifest forbearance and
tolerance, to smoothe things over when there had been
a clash between them. Grace had for her mother
a real affection, sincerely admiring the effort she
made to keep in touch with the best thought of the
world a pet phrase of Mrs. Durland's. Mrs. Dur-
land was kind, unselfish, well-meaning. She meant
to live up to her ideal of motherhood. It was
despicable to lie to her. Grace's conscience was now



93

busy tearing down the defenses behind which she had
excused herself for going to Kemp's party. Any
uncertainty as to Irene's relations with the manufac-
turer were dispelled by the visit to The Shack. The
fact that Kemp's money made it possible to surround
the relationship with a degree of glamour did not
mitigate the ugly fact. It might be that the people
who talked so dolefully of the new generation and
the low ebb to which old fashioned morals had sunk
were right. Irene's affair with Kemp presented a
situation which, if greatly multiplied, would mean
the destruction of all that made womanhood precious.

Could she, Grace Durland, ever be like that? What
was to prevent her from doing exactly what Irene
was doing or falling even lower? Nothing, she pon-
dered, but her own will and innate sense of righteous-
ness. She would have no excuse for following Irene's
example. The home she had just left really stood
for all those things she had been taught to believe
were essential to right living. Her mother, with all
her failings and weaknesses, had labored hard to im-
plant in her children the principles of honor and recti-
tude. And her father, pitiful figure though he was,
was a man of ideals and a pattern cf morality. He
believed in her; he was her friend and it would be
shameful to do aught to bring disgrace upon him.
And with an accession of generosity as she pondered,
Grace saw Ethel, too, in a different light. With all
her offensive assumption of saintly airs Ethel's ideas
of human conduct were sound. Ethel was a disagree-
able person to live with, but nevertheless she was
not always wrong. She had indubitably been right
about Irene Kirby.

As Grace left the car she saw by a street clock
that she still had ten minutes in which to report at



94 BROKEN BARRIERS

the store and she loitered, eager to remain in the open
as long as possible. And she rather dreaded meeting
Irene.



Ill



Happily for her peace of mind the day opened
briskly. She had disposed of a rapid succession of
customers before Irene, who had arrived late, passed
her in the salesroom with a careless nod and smile.
At half-past nine Grace espied John Moore, the un-
witting cause of the exposure of her truancy from
the French class, standing in the entrance. So many
other thoughts had filled her mind since she left
the breakfast table that she had forgotten about
Moore and the football game. She was carrying a
gown she "had just sold flung over her arm when the
sight of the young man, who was clearly dismayed
by the unfamiliar scene, brought a smile to her face.
He sprang forward beaming when he caught sight
of her.

"I was just about to run; I'm scared to death!"
he exclaimed.

In his joy at finding her he dropped his hat as he
grasped her hand. He was big of frame but trained
fine, and the deep tan of his summer on a Kansas
farm had not yet worn off. His gray suit was only
saved from shabbiness by a recent careful pressing.
His lean cheeks were neatly shaven and his thick
brown hair was evenly parted and smoothly brushed,
though a wisp of it persisted in slipping down over
his forehead. Twenty-seven or thereabouts, John
Barton Moore as he was written on the university
books seemed older with the maturity of one who
begins early to plan and fashion his life.



BROKEN BARRIERS 95

"I'm awfully glad to see you, John!" she cried.
"Up for the game, of course! I was terribly sorry not
to be home when you called. The trouble was that
I cut my French lesson at the last minute to go to
a party."

"Perfectly all right, Grace. I ought to have writ-
ten you a note to say I was coming up."

He glanced about anxiously. "Am I blocking the
wheels of commerce?" he asked with the drawl that
proclaimed him one of those children of Indiana
whose ancestors reached the Wabash country by way
of North Carolina and Kentucky.

"Nothing like that! Just a minute till I send this
dress to be packed."

She motioned him to a chair but he remained stand-
ing like a soldier at attention till she came back.

"Now then! Let's proceed to business."

"Well, I. U. needs all her children to root this
afternoon, though I think we're going to win. And
you've got to go. Got good seats and everything's
all set."

"Why, John, I'm afraid I can't go. Saturdays are
busy days here. I don't like to ask to get off."

"Oh, you can fix it somehow. And besides I want
to talk. I've got about a million things to tell you.
You left in such a hurry I didn't know you were gone
till Roy told me the next day. I've certainly missed
our talks."

"Well, we'll have some more; I'm starving for a
talk with you!"

"Well, this is a fearsome place and I mustn't keep
you. So please see your boss and tell him or her this
is a matter of life and death."

At this moment Irene swept by with a valued
customer and Grace appealed to her.



96 BROKEN BARRIERS

"Miss Kirby, Mr. Moore. Irene, Mr. Moore is an
old friend of mine from I. U. and he wants me to
go to the game. Would I be shot if I asked to get
off?"

Irene surveyed Moore carefully and weighed the
question for an instant.

"What do I get if I fix it?" she asked, giving the
young man the benefit of her handsome eyes.

"I might offer a bushel of hickory-nuts," said
Moore. "I counted a lot on seeing the game with
Grace."

"I think," said Irene with mock gravity, "I think
it can be arranged. Miss Boardman sent word this
morning that she's ill and won't be down, so I'm in
charge. We're likely to have a busy afternoon, but
you run along, Grace."

"Well, that's mighty nice of you, Miss Kirby"; and
Moore thrust out his hand. It was evidently his habit
to express all manner of emotion with a handshake.
He was regarding Irene with a frank curiosity mani-
fest in his steady gray eyes. The grand manner of
the Irenes of the world, one would have assumed, was
new to him.

"I wish you could go along too," he said. "It's
likely to be a lively scrap. If you say the word, Miss
Kirby, I'll get another seat right away."

"Oh, thank you so much! But with Miss Board-
man away it can't be done. It's nice of you to ask
me though."

If she was to him a puzzling type, alien to all his
experience, he was equally of an unfamiliar species
to her. Grace noted with secret amusement the in ;
terest they apparently awakened in each other.

"Excuse me; I must run along," said Irene. "Have
a good time! " She left them with her queenliest air.



BROKEN BARRIERS 97

"I told you it could be fixed all right," said Moore.
"Fine girl; Miss Kirby."

"It was mighty nice of her to do it. I'd hardly
have had the nerve to tackle Miss Boardman."

"Well, I mustn't keep you. There's lots of folks
on the streets. Looks like the whole of the grand old
Hoosier State was in town. Where can I meet you?"

"At the main entrance of this emporium at one
o'clock. You get your lunch first and I'll snatch
something in the tea room. We'll want to get out
early to see the crowd gather. I'm that thrilled,
John!"

Grace greeted her next customer with a smile that
was not wholly inspired by the hope of making a sub-
stantial sale. John had been one of her best friends
at the university, where everyone knew and liked him.
Even the governor of the State knew Moore and re-
ferred to him indirectly in public addresses as a justi-
fication for taxing the people to place higher educa-
tion within reach of the humblest.

Moore was born on a farm and his parents dying
just as he finished the common schools, he had worked
his way through college, doing chores during the
school terms and spending his vacations on farms
wherever employment offered. In like fashion he was
now plodding his way through the law school. His
good humor was unfailing and his drolleries were
much quoted in the university town. When urged in
his undergraduate days to take up football he pleaded
important engagements, not scrupling to explain that
they were the most solemn pledges to saw wood or
cut grass for his clients or drive the truck on Satur-
days for a grocer. He called his employers his noble
patrons and praised them for their consideration and
generosity. He enjoyed music, and possessing a good



98 BROKEN BARRIERS

baritone voice he had been enrolled in the glee club.
He never had danced until, in his senior year, a num-
ber of co-eds conspired to instruct him. He was the
star performer of the debating society and had sev-
eral times represented the university in the contests
of the Inter-State Association.

Though she had so quickly overcome her disappoint-
ment at leaving the University, Grace found that the
sight of Moore awoke in her a keen regret that her col-
lege days were over. She was far less sure of herself
than she had been before her evening at The Shack.
She clutched at memories of her happy care-free yes-
terdays. A band in the street was playing the air of the
college song, which was punctuated by the familiar
yell from the throats of a mighty phalanx of under-
graduates. Young women from all the state colleges
were coming into the store for hurried purchases. Two
members of her sorority, girls she had lived with for
two years, dropped in to see her cheery, hopeful
young women, eagerly flinging at her scraps of col-
lege news and giving a sharper edge to her homesick-
ness for the campus and all it connoted. She was
beset with serious doubts as to her fitness to meet
the problems of life; the conceit was gone out of her.
She recalled what a lecturer had once said at a stu-
dent's convocation, that the great commonwealth of
Indiana stood behind them, eager to serve them, to
put them in the way of realizing the abundant prom-
ise of life. In her mood of contrition she reflected
that not only had the arm of the State been with-
drawn, but that she had gone far toward estranging
those to whom she was bound by the closest ties, who
had every right to expect the best of her. If it had
been in her power she would have elected to join the
throng of young men and women who, victor or van-



BROKEN BARRIERS 99

quished, would go back to the university that night
singing songs which echoed in her memory now and
made a continuing little ache in her heart.

Moore's pride in her was manifest as he hung to
a strap and bent over her in the crowded street car
on the way to the battlefield. Grace was a pretty
girl, and John was not unmindful of the fact that she
attracted attention. He talked steadily of univer-
sity affairs, of their friends among the students.

"Did Roy come up?" she asked.

"I haven't seen him. He may have come up with
the bunch this morning. But you might overlook the
king of England in this crowd."

"Roy's not terribly enthusiastic about the law," she
suggested leadingly.

"Well, maybe not just what you'll call crazy about
it; but he'll come along all right. There's good stuff
in Roy."

Moore was usually so candid that his equivocal an-
swer did not escape her. Grace had the greatest
misgivings as to her brother's future. He had wanted
to leave the university when she was summoned home.
He had won his A. B. by the narrowest margin and
had gone into the law school only because of his moth-
er's obsession that he was destined to a career similar
to that of her father and grandfather, whose attain-
ments at the bar and services to the State provided
what Mrs. Durland called a background for her
children.



IV



Arriving early at the ball park they found their
seats and John continued talking as the crowd as-



100 BROKEN BARRIERS

sembled. On many Sunday afternoons they had taken
long tramps, discussing all manner of things. Moore
was a prodigious reader of poetry and made it his
practice to commit to memory a certain number of
lines every day. Politics, too, interested him seri-
ously. He always spoke with deepest reverence of the
founders of the republic, referring to them familiarly
as though they were still living. Between the cheers
to which he vociferously contributed his own voice,
he rambled on comfortably and happily, satisfied that
he had a sympathetic auditor.

"There's Bill Trumbull hello there, Bill! Well,
to tell the truth, Grace, I don't get much out of this
new poetry. Flimsy stuff; doesn't satisfy you some-
how. The times call for another old Walt Whit-
man. That bird had ideas. He certainly hit some
grand old truths. 'Produce great men,' he says;
'the rest follows.' Just as easy! Wow! There's
our team coming out now!" (prolonged cheer-
ing) "Well, there's the old saying that the time brings
the man. Can't tell but there's a future president
right here in this crowd!"

"It might be you, John!" remarked Grace, laugh-
ing at the serenity with which he returned to his
subject after joining in the uproar.

"No, Grace; I've chosen the chief justiceship!" he
said, swinging round at her. "Isn't that Daisy Mar-
tin? Fred Ragsdale with her. Hello, Fred! and if,
there aint old Pop Streeter! Greetings Pop! No, sir;
the times call for men and we're going to produce a
fine new crop right out of this generation here pres-
ent."

Moore was enjoying himself; there was no question
of it. And Grace was experiencing a grateful sense



BROKEN BARRIERS 101

of security in John's company. He was paying her
his highest compliment, and she knew that the money
for his excursion to the capital had been earned by
his own labor. Her girl friends at the university had
tormented her a good deal about John's attentions,
which were marked by the shy deference and instinc-
tive courtesy with which he treated all women. He
was not a person to be flirted with; Grace had never
in the prevalent phrase "teased him along." She re-
spected him too much for that, and, moreover, he was
not fair game. Any attempt to practice on him the
usual cajoleries and coquetries would have sent him
away running. When a girl visitor at the university,
meeting John at a dance, had referred to him as a
hick, Grace had resented it on the spot, informing
the surprised offender that John Moore was the finest
gentleman on the campus.

John was not wholly silenced by the spirited open-
ing of the game.

"Too bad Crump's not here. Hurt his leg last
week in practice. Thought he'd make it. Break his
heart not to be in the game. Thompson in his place.
You know Thompy? He's a wonder on the trap
drum. Wow! Illinois got the ball. Where was I?
Oh, yes! I read Landor last summer Walter Sav-
age; a theological student from New York, working
along with me out in Kansas, put me on to Landor.
Quite a man Landor, I mean. The theolog's a bully
chap, too, for that matter. Look at that! No; send-
ing 'em back. Wow! That's first blood for us! Well,
you might like Landor if you took a whack at him.
That referee's awful fussy. Wonder where they got
him. Remember that day we read 'The Passing of
Arthur,' sitting on a log by that gay little creek in
the woods? I've thought a lot about that and the way



102 BROKEN BARRIERS

you cried. Yes; you did, Grace; and I guess I shed
a few tears myself! . . ."

In moments of despair when Indiana's fortunes
were low, John's optimism evoked laughter from his
neighbors, for he possessed in good measure the
homely humor which is indigenous to the corn belt.

Before the game ended it had occurred to Grace
to ask John to go home with her for supper. After
they had joined in the demonstration for the victori-
ous Hoosier team and had made their way to the
street she went into a drugstore and called her mother
on the telephone. Mrs. Durland replied cordially
that she would be delighted to see John; it was too
late to put on any extras but any friend of Grace's was
always welcome. It would serve to ease the situation
she had left behind her to take John home, Grace re-
flected, and moreover, she was glad of an excuse for
seeing more of him.

"Of course I'll be glad to break bread with you.
I'll be glad to see your folks again. If you're not
too tired, let's walk. Fine zippy air! Well, that was
sure some game! I nearly died an unnatural death
about seven times in the last quarter, but we man-
aged to pull through. Let's see, what were we talking
about?"

He let her into a great secret as they crossed the
park toward the Durland house. He had seen Judge
Sanders, the senior member of one of the best law
firms in the capital and a university trustee, who had
offered to take him into his office.

"Wants me to come in January," John explained.
"Says they'll guarantee my board and keep for run-
ning errands and attending to collections; and I can
go on studying and be ready for my exams in the
spring just the same. So I'll be in the city for keeps



BROKEN BARRIERS 103

after Christmas. Grand man, the Judge. Found I
was washing automobiles at night to pay for my room
over Westlake's garage and he just couldn't stand
it. There's a friend, I say!"

He waited for her to laugh and laughed with
her. It was enormously funny that among other
jobs he washed automobiles on his way to the chief
justiceship!

"Nothing can keep you back, John. You're like
the men we read about, who strike right out for the
top and get there and plant their flag on the battle-
ments."

"Don't say a word! There's luck as well as hard
work in this business of getting on. All summer I
used to think about it out in the fields in Kansas.
A big, hot harvest field's a grand place for healthy
thought. I say, Grace, life's a lot more complicated
than it used to be. Things all sort o' mixed up since
the war."

"You really believe the world's so different, John?
Everybody's saying that and the papers and maga-
zines are full of stuff about the changes and knocking
our generation."

"Don't let that talk throw you! It's up to all
of us to sit tight on the toboggan and wait till she
slows down. There's a lot of good in this grand old
world yet. By the way, it was hard luck you had
to quit college. Excuse me for mentioning it, but
I just wanted you to know I was sorry you left."

"Oh, it's all right, John. I miss the good times but
there's no use crying. I'm ashamed now, though, to
think how I just fooled along. I ought to have got
more out of it than I did."

"You don't know how much you got," he replied
quickly. "Kind of a mystery what we get and what



104 BROKEN BARRIERS

we don't. We got to keep braced for anything we
bump into. When the war came along I thought that
was the end of me so far as going into the law was
concerned, but being shot at by the Kaiser sort o'
made me mad. I wasn't going to let a little thing like
that stop me; so my life being providentially spared,
I thought it all out on the ship coming home on the
deck at night with the stars blinking at me. I've got
health and a fair second-rate head and I'm going to
give the world a good wrestle before I quit."

"Fine!" she exclaimed, noting the lifting of his
head as he swung along in the gathering dusk. "You
make me ashamed of myself, John. I think I've
begun to drift I don't know what I'm headed for."

"We all think we're drifting when we're not!" It's
in the back of our minds all the time that we're aim-
ing for something," he replied; "we don't fool our-
selves there!"

"I hope you're right," she said, pensively. "But I've
wondered a lot lately about myself. Do you suppose
there's anything wrong with me lack of ambition,
maybe?"

He paused abruptly the more emphatically to dis-
pose of her question, which had a deeper meaning
than he knew.

"Don't be foolish, Grace! You could keep up your
college work if you wanted to there's a way of do-
ing that, and get your degree. Suppose you thought
of that and teaching?"

"Yes. But I don't feel any strong pull that way.
I'm in a French class and I mean to keep that up.
But before I was off the campus I was all keyed up
to jump right into things. I want experiences not
teaching or anything like that but to be as close to
the heart of things as I can get!"



BROKEN BARRIERS 105

"Not a bit of fault with that! I'd trust you to
find yourself anywhere. You're too fine a girl ever
to get lost in the shuffle. I guess you'll learn a lot
in Shipley's; you see all kinds of people there every
day, and as Aleck Pope says the proper study of man-
kind is man also woman!"

In spite of herself the unhappiness with which the
day had begun had stolen into her heart again. It
had betrayed itself in her speech, the eagerness with
which she appealed to Moore for approval and sym-
pathy. She was contrasting what he was saying with
what Trenton had said the previous night. No two
men could be more unlike Trenton the man of the
world, with a hint of cynicism in his attitude toward
life; John Moore, a son of the soil, with all his ideals
intact, viewing life with hope and confidence.



Grace had not been mistaken in thinking that John's
presence would exert a cheering influence on the
household. It was clearly written in the faces of
Mrs. Durland and Ethel that they believed Grace was
not beyond redemption so long as she was capable
of appreciating the sterling worth of a high minded
and ambitious young man like Moore. John was not
without a sense of the fitness of things. When Mrs.
Durland and Ethel showed a disposition to maintain
the conversation on lofty heights John indulged them
for a time and then concentrated upon Stephen
Durland. Farm machinery seemed to John a sub-
ject likely to interest the silent head of the house.
Durland was soon painstakingly answering Moore's
questions as to the possibility of further reducing
the man power required in crop production.



106 BROKEN BARRIERS

"I've hopped the clods since I could reach a plow
handle," said John, " and it does seem to me that with
the tractor coming in "

Durland delivered what amounted to a condensed
lecture on the subject, spurred on by John's sincere
interest and practical questions.

"Thank you, Mr. Durland. I've been wanting to
get an expert opinion on those points for a long time.
I tell you," he said glancing round at the others, "it
does tickle me to run into a man who really knows"

"Father's an authority on those things," said Grace
proudly. "He reads everything that's written on me-
chanics."

"Stephen ought to know!" remarked Mrs. Durland
with a sigh which Grace translated as signifying that
it was too bad that his knowing really profited him
so little.

"We're so sorry," said Mrs. Durland, when the
cold ham, baked potatoes and canned peas had re-
ceived attention and Ethel brought in a bread pudding
"it's a great grief to all of us that Grace had to leave
college. It meant so much to her. But her spirit
about it all has been fine."

"Well," remarked John, after he had met Ethel's
apology for the pudding with the assurance that it
was his favorite of all desserts "Well, I'm not sure
it isn't a good thing for Grace to go into business
for awhile. I argue that things somehow work out for
good in the long run. Her English and the sociology
courses were what interested her most; and being in
a big place like Shipley's and running into all sorts
and conditions of folks the way she's got to is bound to
have a broadening effect. It's right along the line
of things she's keenest about."



BROKEN BARRIERS 107

"But, Mr. Moore, what we don't like is the unfor-



Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonBroken barriers → online text (page 7 of 27)