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tunate contacts with people who may not be wholly
desirable acquaintances," suggested Ethel.

Grace frowned. It was ungracious of Ethel to
draw John into the discussion of a subject that had
been a matter of contention in the family. But John,
having convinced Mrs. Durland of his appreciation
of her hospitality by accepting a second helping of
the pudding, met the situation promptly.

"Well, now Miss Durland, who's going to draw
the line between the desirable and undesirable? Now
I'm not saying that we haven't a right to choose our
friends; but for me, I like all kinds. Why, on that
farm in Kansas where I slept in the hay mow for the
sake of the ventilation and to study the constellations
through the cracks, a fugitive burglar crawled in
one night and we nearly scared each other to death!
But I made a friend of that poor chap. Tucked him
away and fed him for a couple of days. Had a let-
ter from him last week. He's away up in Canada
working in a lumber camp. Now sleeping in the hay
with that poor devil didn't do me any harm. Maybe
I did him some good! He swore he wasn't guilty,
so my conscience was easy about not calling up the
sheriff and turning him over. Give everybody the
benefit of the doubt; that's my idea!"

It was not Ethel's way to give any one the bene-
fit of the doubt. Mr. Durland covered a queer little
chuckle by pretending to cough. Grace tried to change
the subject; but Ethel was not to be thwarted in
her attempt to elicit from John an expression of dis-
approval of Grace's course in becoming a salesgirl.

"That's a good story, Mr. Moore, but when you
think of a girl like Grace, being numbered and put


in with girls who've had nothing like her advantages
that's what I meant. Not that Grace won't be
equal to the test, but "

"Well," John interrupted, "I've never been in these
big stores much but this morning while I was trying
to get my eye on Grace I saw all those girls stepping
round and I thought what a fine looking lot they
were! And all busy and right on the job! Now there's
that Miss Kirby was that the name, Grace?"

"Yes," Grace answered, strongly inclined to giggle,
now that the innocent and well-meaning John had
brought Irene to the table.

"You take a girl like that," said John warming to
his work, "moving around like a duchess, and with
that way about her that makes you know she's onto
her job! I'll bet there's lots of 'em just like her. I
say you've got to hand it to 'em. I tell you, Mrs. Dur-
land, while we've got girls like Miss Kirby and Grace
Durland I'll say America's safe! Wasn't it nice,
Grace, the way Miss Kirby fixed it for you to get
off. You could see she was pleased clear through to
have the authority!"

"I don't think " began Ethel; but scenting bat-
tle, Mrs. Durland rose from the table.

"You and Mr. Moore go into the parlor, Grace.
Ethel and I will straighten up out here."

"Not on your tin-type!" John protested. "I just
love to dry dishes. You just let me take a hand.
I'll pay for every plate I smash!"

As he refused to be denied Grace found an apron
for him and they made merry over the dishwashing.

While they were in the midst of it Ethel came to
the door to say that Grace was wanted on the tele-
phone. Ethel's manner of conveying the information
prepared Grace for Irene's voice.


"Can you talk a minute? I had a telegram from
some friends of ours this afternoon. They wanted to
be remembered to you; that's all. I think your par-
ticular friend will stop on his way east. Tell me, did
you get in bad?"

"Oh, it's all right now," Grace replied. "I've got
company and we mustn't talk."

"I understand perfectly. I'm spending an evening
at home for a change and I just thought I'd let you
know our gay cavaliers hadn't forgotten us. Is your
company exciting?"

"Just nice. You met him this morning."

"I'd guessed it And you took him home for sup-
per, like the good little girl you are! Well, it's a joy
to meet one of the unvarnished occasionally. I may
try to take him away from you; just hand him that!"


THE repentant mood induced by the spectacle of
the football game and John Moore's visit still lay
upon Grace the next morning when she went down
to the Durland eight o'clock Sunday breakfast.

"I'm sorry you hurried down," said her mother
cheerily. "I don't want you girls to come into the
kitchen Sunday mornings; you're both tired from your
week's work and I want you to make the Sabbath a
real day of rest."

"Oh, I'm for getting up when I wake up," Grace
answered. "I'm feeling fine. Let me do the toast,
Ethel. I just love toasting."

She led the talk at the table, recurring to the foot-
ball game, exploring the newspaper for the sporting
page to clarify her impressions of certain points in
the contest.

"John was simply a scream! He talked of every-
thing under the sun. You might have thought he
didn't want me to know what was going on at all!"

John was the safest of topics; they had all liked
him; and Grace related many stories illustrative of
the young man's determination to refuse no task by
which he could earn the dollars he needed to lodge,
clothe and feed himself while gaining his education.
Now that they had seen him at their own table they
could the better enjoy Grace's enumeration of John's
sturdy qualities.

This was the happiest breakfast the Durlands had



known since Grace came home. It was in her heart
to do her full share in promoting the cheer of the
household. The unfortunate revelation of her du-
plicity of Friday night would no doubt be forgotten
if she behaved herself; and she had no intention of
repeating the offense. Nevertheless she was glad that
she had asserted herself. It had done no harm to
declare her right to independent action and the ex-
ercise of her own judgment in the choice of friends;
she would have had no peace, she assured herself, if
she hadn't taken a stand against an espoinage that
would have been intolerable. She persuaded herself
that her mother and sister were treating her with much
more respect now that she had shown that she couldn't
be frightened or cowed by their criticisms.

Before breakfast was over Ethel asked quite casu-
ally whether Grace wouldn't go to church with her,
and Mrs. Durland promptly approved the invitation.

"You can go as well as not, Grace. Ethel has her
Sunday school class first, but she can meet you right
afterwards. I don't want you girls bothering with the
Sunday dinner."

Grace didn't question that this matter had been
canvassed privately by Ethel and her mother; very
likely it had been Ethel's suggestion; but she decided
instantly that it would be good policy to go. Her
church-going had always been desultory and her
mother had ceased to insist on it. But the situation
called for a concession on her part.

"Why, yes; thank you ever so much, Ethel/' she
said. "I haven't been hi ages. I'd meant to do some
sewing but that can wait."

"I think," said Mrs. Durland, "we all need the
help and inspiration of the church. Stephen, wouldn't
you like to go with the girls? I don't believe you've


ever heard Dr. Ridgley; he's very liberal and a stimu-
lating speaker."

Durland mumbled an incoherent rejection of the
idea;- then looked up from his reading to explain
that he had some things to attend to at the shop.
There was nothing surprising in the explanation. He
always went to his shop on Sunday mornings. Even
in the old days of his identification with Cummings-
Durland he had betaken himself every Sunday to the
factory to ponder his problems.


As the congregation assembled Grace yielded herself
to the spell of the organ, whose inspiring strains gave
wings to her imagination. Always impressionable, she
felt that she had brought her soul humbled and
chastened into the sanctuary. Here were the evi-
dences of those more excellent things that had been
pointed out to her from her earliest youth. The
service opened spiritedly with the singing of a
familiar hymn which touched chords in her heart that
had long been silent. She joined in the singing and
in the responsive reading of a selection of the Psalms.
She had read somewhere that the church, that Chris-
tianity indeed, was losing its hold upon the mind and
the conscience of mankind. But this church was
filled; many men and women must still be finding a
tangible help in the precepts and example of Jesus.

Ethel, sitting beside her, certainly found here some-
thing that brought her back Sunday after Sunday, and
made her a zealous helper in the church activities.
Bigoted and intolerant, unkind and ungenerous as
Ethel was, there was something in her devotion to the
church that set her a little apart, spoke for something


fine in her, that for the moment caused Grace a
twinge of envy. In her early youth she had "joined"
the West End church that her mother attended;
but before she left high school the connection
had ceased to interest her. Dr. Ridgley's congrega-
tion was composed largely of the prosperous and
well-to-do. Did these people about her really order
their lives in keeping with the teachings of Jesus?
Was the Christian life a possible thing? Were these
women in their smart raiment really capable of living
in love and charity with their neighbors, eager to help,
to serve, to save? Absorbed in her own thoughts she
missed the text; found herself studying the minister,
a young man of quiet manner and pleasing voice.
Then detached sentences arrested her truant thoughts,
and soon she was giving his utterances her complete

. . . "Leaving God out of the question," he was
saying, "what excuse have we to offer ourselves if
we fail to do what we know to be right? We must
either confess to a weakness in our own fibre, or lay
the burden on some one else. We must be either
captain or slave. . . . We hear much about the
changed spirit of the time. It is said that the old bar-
ricades no longer shield us from evil; that the checks
upon our moral natures are broken down; that many
of the old principles of uprightness and decent living
have been superseded by something new, which makes
it possible for us to do very much as we please with-
out harm to our souls. Let us not be deceived by
such reasoning. There's altogether too much talk
about the changes that are going on. There are no
new temptations; they merely wear a new guise. The
soul and its needs do not change; the God who ever
lives and loves does not change. . . . There's a


limit upon our capacity for self-deception. We may
think we are free, but at a certain point we find that
after all we are the prisoners of conscience.

"The business of life is a series of transactions be-
tween the individual soul and God. We can change
that relationship only by our own folly. We can de-
ceive ourselves with excuses; but the test of an ex-
cuse is whether it will pass muster with God. God
is not mocked; we can't 'just get by' with God. We
may be sure that we are pretty close to a realization
of the Christian life when we feel that we have an
excuse for any sin or failure that we dare breathe
into a prayer. There's hope for all of us as long as
our sins are such that we're not ashamed to carry them
to God. . . . Let us live on good terms with
ourselves first of all and with God be the rest. Let
us keep in harmony with that power above us and
beyond us which in all ages has made for righteous-
ness." ...

The minister was uttering dearly and forcibly the
thoughts that had been creeping through her own
mind like tired heralds feebly crying warning to a
threatened fortress. Captain or slave, that was the
question. She had told Trenton that she was afraid
of the answers to vexed problems of life and conduct.
She saw now the cowardice of this. Her intelli-
gence she knew to be above the average, and her con-
science had within twenty-four hours proved itself
to be uncomfortably sensitive and vigilant. There
might be breaks in the old moral barriers but if this
were really true it would be necessary for her to
stumble over the debris to gain the inviting freedom
of the territory beyond. No; there would be no ex-
cuse for her if she failed to fashion something fine
and noble of her life.


In the vestibule Ethel introduced her to the min-
ister, who greeted her warmly and praised Ethel; she
was one of his standbys he said. While he and Ethel
were conferring about some matter connected with
the young people's society Grace was accosted by a
lady whom she identified at once as her first customer
at Shipley's.

"Do I know you or not?" demanded Miss Reynolds
pleasantly. "Hats make such a difference, but I
thought I recognized you. I've been away so many
years that I look twice at every one I meet. I was
caught in England by the war and just stayed on. It
gives you a queer feeling to find yourself a stranger in
your native town. It was silly of me to stay away
so long. Well, how are things going with you?"

"Just fine," Grace answered, noting that Miss Rey-
nolds wore one of the suits she had sold her, and
looked very well in it.

The old lady (the phrase was ridiculous in the case
of one so alert and spirited) caught the glance; indeed
nothing escaped the bright eyes behind Beulah Rey-
nolds' spectacles. She bent toward Grace and whis-
pered: "This suit's very satisfactory I" And then:
"Well, we've caught each other in a good place. My
grandfather was one of the founders of this church,
so I dropped in to have a look. Haven't seen more
than a dozen people I used to know. There was a
good deal of sense in that sermon; the best I've heard
in years. They don't scatter fire and brimstone the
way they used to."

One would have thought from her manner that
she was enormously relieved to find that fire and
brimstone had been abandoned as a stimulus to the
Christian life.

"I'm not a member," said Grace, "but my sister


is. I never heard Dr. Ridgley before. I liked his
sermon; I think I needed it."

Grace was smiling but something a little wistful
in her tone caused Miss Reynolds to regard her with
keen scrutiny.

"Do you know, you've come into my mind fre-
quently since our meeting at the store? I've thought
of you uncommercially, I mean, if that's the way to
put it! I'd like to know you better."

"Oh, thank you, Miss Reynolds; I've thought of
you, too, and have hoped you'd come into Shipley's

"Oh, clothes don't interest me a particle; I may
not visit Shipley's again for years! But that doesn't
mean I shan't see you. I wonder if you'd come to my
house some evening for dinner just ourselves. Would
that bore you?"

"It certainly wouldn't!" Grace responded smilingly.

"The sooner the better then! Tomorrow evening
shall we say? Don't think of dressing. Come direct
from your work. Here's my address on this card.
I'll send my motor for you."

"Please don't trouble to do that! I can easily come
out on the street car."

"Suit yourself. It's almost like kidnapping and it
just occurs to me that I don't really know your name!"
Her ignorance of Grace's name greatly amused Miss
Reynolds. "For all you know this might be a scheme
to snare you to my house and murder you!"

"I'll cheerfully take the chance!" laughed Grace,
and gave her name. The minister had now finished
with Ethel, and Grace introduced her sister to Miss
Reynolds, who did not, however, include Ethel in her
invitation to dinner.

"She charmingly eccentric," Ethel remarked as


Miss Reynolds turned away. "And awfully rich; one
of the richest woman taxpayers in the state.

"Yes; I understand she is," said Grace without
enthusiasm. "But we needn't hold that against her."
And then, recalling Ethel's complacent tone in men-
tioning any social recognition by her church friends,
Grace remarked carelessly, "She's invited me to dine
with her tomorrow night. I'm to be the only guest.
She seems to have a crush on me! "

At the midday dinner Ethel disclosed Miss Rey-
nolds' partiality for Grace with all impressiveness.

"Why, Grace!" exclaimed Mrs. Durland, "do you
fully appreciate what that means?"

"It means that a very nice lady has invited me to
share her dinner," Grace answered.

"I hope you realize," said Ethel, "what a great com-
pliment that is. Why, she can do worlds for you! "

"Here's hoping she keeps a good cook!" Grace re-
torted, irritated that they were attributing so much
importance to what she preferred to look upon as
no more than an act of spontaneous kindness in a
generous hearted woman.

"Miss Reynolds represents the old conservative
element here," Mrs. Durland remarked in a tone that
implied her deep reverence for that element of the pop-
ulation "the people who always stood for the best
things of life. Her father was a colonel in the
Civil War. They always had money. A woman like
that can make herself felt. Now that she's back, I*
hope she'll see that she has a work to do. She has no
ties and with her position and wealth she can make
herself a power for good in checking the evil tendencies
so apparent in our city."

"She's so quaint; so deliciously old-fashioned,"
added Ethel, "and you can see from her clothes that


she's an independent character. I'm going to ask
Dr. Ridgely to invite her to take the chairmanship
of our girl's club committee."

"That would be splendid, Ethel," exclaimed Mrs.
Durland, "perhaps you could say a word to her about
it, Grace. You know better than Ethel the dangers
and temptations of the girl wage-earner."

"I don't know why I should," Grace replied.
"Please don't talk to me as though I had a monopoly
of all the wickedness in the world."

"Grace, dear, I didn't mean "

"All right, mother. But I have my feelings, you

"The old Reynolds house on Meridian Street has
been turned into a garage," said Ethel; "it's too bad
those old homes had to go. Miss Reynolds has bought
a house not far from where Bob Cummings built."

Any mention of the Cummingses, no matter how
inadvertent, inevitably precipitated a discussion of
that family from some angle. Mrs. Durland said for
the hundredth time that they didn't deserve their pros-
perity; she doubted very much whether they were

"Bob's the best one of the family," she continued.
"Tom and Merwin haven't amounted to anything and
they never will. It must have been a blow to the
family when Merwin married a girl who was nobody,
or worse. She worked in some automobile office."

Ethel challenged the statement that the girl Mer-
win Cummings married worked in an automobile of-
fice. It was a railroad office, and though it didn't
matter particularly with which method of transporta-
tion the young woman was identified before her mar-
riage, Mrs. Durland and Ethel debated the question
for several minutes. Mrs. Durland had only heard


somewhere ' that Mrs. Merwin Cummings had been
a stenographer for an automobile agent while Ethel
was positive that a railroad office had been the scene
of the girl's labors, her authority being another girl
who worked in the same place.

"Jessie didn't speak any too highly of her," Ethel
added; "not that there was anything really wrong with
the girl. She ran around a good deal, and usually
had two or three men on the string."

"A good many very nice girls keep two or three
men on the string," said Grace. "I don't see that
there's anything so terrible in that."


The next day at noon Grace went to a trust com-
pany where she kept an account that represented the
aggregate of small gifts of cash she had received
through a number of years at Christmas and on her
birthdays. As she waited at the window for her pass-
book, Bob Cummings crossed the lobby on his way to
the desk of one of the officers. She wondered how he
would greet her if they met, and what her attitude to-
ward him ought to be in view of the break between her
father and Isaac Cummings. She found a certain
mild excitement as she pondered this, her eyes occa-
sionally turning toward Cummings as he leaned
against the railing that enclosed the administrative
offices of the company. Grace had always liked and
admired him; and it had hurt her more than she ever
confessed that after the removal of the Cummingses
from the old neighborhood Bob had gradually ceased
his attentions. Perhaps his family had interferred as


her mother had hinted; but it made no difference now
that he had married and passed completely out of her

Cummings had finished his errand and was walking
quickly toward the door when he caught sight of her.

"Hello, Grace! I'm mighty glad to see you," he
said cordially. "Why " He checked himself and
the smile left his face abruptly as he remembered that
their friendly status had changed since their last

Grace relieved his embarrassment promptly by
smilingly putting out her hand.

"I'm very glad to see you, Bob," she said. "It's
really been a long time, almost three years 1"

"Just about," he answered slowly.

"Old Father Time has a way of romping right on!"
she remarked lightly.

They were in the path of customers intent upon
reaching the cages and she took a step toward the
door when he said, glancing toward a long bench at
the side of the room, "If you're not in a rush let's sit
down a minute. There's something I'd like to say to

"Oh, very well," she assented, surprised but not

He was the son of a man who had dismissed her
father from the concern in which their names had
long been identified; but in so public a place there
could be no harm in talking to him. Her old liking
for him at once outweighed any feeling she had against
his father. He was a big boy when she was still a
small girl and he was her first hero. He was always
quiet, thoughtful and studious, with a chivalrous re-
gard for the rights and feelings of others. They had
been chums, confiding their troubles to each other.


It was to her that he had revealed his succession of
boyish ambitions, and she had encouraged his fond-
ness for music when other youngsters twitted him
for taking piano lessons like a girl. He had never
thought he would like business; he wanted to be a
musician, with the leadership of an orchestra as his
ultimate goal. It was because his brother Merwin
had from an early age shown a refractory spirit that
the parental authority had thwarted Bob's aspira-
tions; one of the sons at least had to go into the
business and Bob was now a vice-president of the re-
organized Cummings Manufacturing Company.

"I've been hoping for a chance to see you, Grace.
It's not easy to speak of it but I want you to know
I'm sorry things turned out as they did. About your
father and the business, I mean. You must all of you
feel pretty hard about it. I hope it doesn't mean any
change in your plans for finishing at the university.
I know how you'd counted on that."

"I've given it up; I'm home to stay," she answered.
"But you needn't feel badly about it. Of course it
must have been necessary about father and the busi-
ness, I mean."

He was embarrassed by her cheerful acceptance of
the situation, and stammered, leaving one or two
sentences unfinished before he got hold of himself.

"I want you to know I did all I could to prevent the
break. It seemed a pity after your father and mine
had been together so long. But for some time the
plant had needed an active superintendent; just trust-
ing the foremen of the shops wouldn't serve any
longer, and you won't mind my saying it but your
father never liked executive work. I suggested an-
other way of handling it that would have made Mr.
Durland a vice-president and free to go on with his


experiments, but I couldn't put it through. I did my
best; honestly I did, Grace!"

There was the old boyish eagerness in this appeal.
He regarded her fixedly, anxious for some assurance
that she understood. She understood only too well
that her father had become an encumbrance, and that
in plain terms the company couldn't afford to keep him
at his old salary any longer. It was unnecessary for
Bob to apologize; but it was like him to seize the first
possible moment to express his sympathy. She had
always felt the gentleness in him, which was denoted
in his blue eyes, which just now shone with the re-
flection of his eagerness to set himself right with her.
He turned his hat continually in his hands they were
finely shaped, with long supple fingers. At the base of

Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonBroken barriers → online text (page 8 of 27)