Sara Ware Bassett.

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not anxious to hurry matters, you may be sure of that.
Peggy is the only pal I have and when she goes '

" But I thought you said Lambeth was to give up the
London business and come here that it was one of the
conditions on which you consented to the match."

" Oh, there's no hitch about that. Archie has agreed
to come all right and take out his citizen papers too.
Peggy isn't goixig to leave the country. On the other
hand, she isi<ft going to want to live with her old dad
when once she is married, I know that. She will want
a home of her own. All girls do."

" Perhaps not."

" But she will, I tell you. I know something of
women," asserted Wilmot, toying moodily with his
watch fob. " She will want her own things and her in-
dependence. It is perfectly natural. And if she doesn't,
Lambeth will. If he gives up everything and comes over
here to marry her, something vyill bt due him."

" I suppose so," Hamilton admitted.

" You must remember that it is a mighty condescen-
sion for an Englishman born and bred in London to tear
up and come to America to live, anyway especially one
who is not young any more."

" He is Margaret's senior, isn't he ! ' commented
Hamilton. ' I keep forgetting that. Sometimes I have
thought it odd that she should care for a man so much
older than herself."



108 GRANITE AND CLAY

" Oh, it came about naturally enough," was the tranquil
response. " You see, her mother's death threw her with
me from the time she was a child. We became great
chums and I'm afraid that quite unconsciously I cut her
off from making younger friends. Where I went she
went, and as a result her circle of acquaintances became
more or less limited to the persons whom I knew. She
was always a rather shy, grave little thing who did not
care much for frivolity. I fairly had to push her to
join in with her own set. She'd rather be with the old
folks and with me. Consequently it followed that when-
ever we were in London she saw a great deal of Lambeth
and also when he came here for he usually stayed at the
house. He is an attractive chap one whose attentions
would be flattering to any woman. I suppose they were
to Margaret. There is no denying the match pleased me
at the time, for Archie is a clever fellow and knows the
ins and outs of the company from A to Z. I figure that
if he came over here I could take him into partnership
and he could relieve me of some of the office routine."
Mr. Wilmot tapped the toe of his boot reflectively with
the stick he carried.

" But during the last two years, Gordon, I have some-
times wondered if I did right to bring about the engage-
ment for I'll admit I did bring it about. At eighteen
a girl is almost too young to know her own mind and be
intelligent as to whom she wants to marry. Besides,
Margaret had seen very few men. These international
marriages do not always turn out well, either. The very
fundamentals of the parties are different. Then, too,
since the war I have found myself becoming keener on
my own countrymen. I did not half appreciate what a
fine lot of young thoroughbreds we were raising in
America until I saw some of them up against it. You
cannot match them the world over. I have one of them



A RED-LETTER DAY 109

with me now down at State Street learning high finance,
a boy from the Cape, who, although he has not a cent to
his name, has a brain that is better than money. Unless
I have lost my youthful skill at picking a winner, he is
going to land at the top some day."

" He isn't the fellow who came back on the steamer
with you ? '

" Why, yes ! ' nodded W r ilmot, his face lighting with
pleasure. " You met him at the dock the day you came
to welcome us home, didn't you ? '

' No, but I knew some man was with you and Margaret.
He was busy chasing up trunks."

Wilmot laughed.

" I'll bet he was, the young beggar ! ' chuckled he.
" You can count on Dick being Johnnie on the spot every
time. You know it was he who performed the impossible
and rescued Margaret from that bombing outrage at
Neuilly. I told him afterward that I should never
forget it and I do not mean to. Anything that
money, opportunity, or influence can accomplish shall be
his."

" Of your two creditors I should pronounce him the
greater."

" In contrast with the Englishman, you mean ? Well,
rather! The American has earned his reward while the
Britisher, in true English fashion, only gets his good
fortune by right of inheritance."

" How do you think Peggy feels about Lambeth ? '

Hamilton's sharp scrutiny was directed to his friend's
countenance.

" Oh, I guess Peggy is contented enough. She does
not seem possessed of any of my qualms or if she is
she conceals it nicely. Lambeth saw us off at Southhamp-
ton when we sailed for home and everything was merry
as a marriage bell. But he has aged a lot since the war.



110 GRANITE AND CLAY

Jove! I was shocked to see the change in him. You
know he was stationed at some munitions post near the
front. The experience must have taken hold of him
frightfully for he looks ten years older than I, instead
of being ten years my junior."

Wilmot rose from the leather chair in which he had
been sitting.

" I don't know why I bother you with all this guff,
Gordon," said he apologetically. " It is not my custom
to unload my personal worries on you in such selfish
fashion. But you knew Alice, poor girl, and were fond
of her ; and I know you care a lot for Margaret."

" God knows I do ! ' Hamilton burst out and then,
biting his lips, he colored.

" She's tremendously fond of you, too, Gordon," re-
plied Mr. Wilmot serenely, noting neither the other's con-
fusion nor the flush that had mounted to his forehead.
" Of all my friends she likes you best."

There was no response.

And that reminds me," went on the speaker briskly,
that I am almost forgetting to deliver her message.
She wanted me to ask you to dine with us to-morrow
evening."

Gordon Hamilton's face became radiant, then clouded
as Wilmot added :

" She is having my protege from the office, I believe,
and some men she met over-seas."

" I am afraid ' began Hamilton. But his friend
checked him.

" Oh, come now," interpolated he, ' ' do not disappoint
the child and her dad, too. You have hardly been to
see us since we got home, Gordon. I guess ypu can spare
one evening."

I've been busy," was the lame explanation.

Busy? That is all rot! Don't tell me you work



et

a



a

t



A RED-LETTER DAY 111

.

nights as well as days, for I know better. What on earth
can keep you so busy at home ? '

" I read manuscript until two o'clock last evening," was
the retort, made with self-conscious dignity.

" Great Scott ! Isn't such devotion to literature some-
thing new ? '

" Why eh yes. I don't often keep at it so
steadily nowadays/' answered Hamilton lightly.

Billy Wilmot, however, took the matter seriously, say-
ing with genuine concern :

" You'll have to stop a practice like that, old chap.
It's too much of a good thing. Nobody can burn the
candle at both ends. The next thing you know you will
be breaking down, going blind, and becoming old before
your time."

" I'm old already, Billy/' Hamilton asserted sadly.

"Nonsense! Nonsense! You? Why, you are in
the very prime of life. What are you talking about? I
am sure I do not consider myself old and I have a three
years' start of you."

" Years do not constitute age."
You're right there," agreed Wilmot promptly.

Nevertheless, they have a darn lot to do with it. In my
opinion, however, the printer's strike has more to do with
your sudden antiquity than anything else/'

Hamilton smiled at the shrewdness of the observation.

" Perhaps it has," admitted he.

" Are you still holding out for the open shop ? '

"You bet your life!"

" That's right ! Stick to it. It is sure to come. So
far as I'm concerned, I would rather go without almost
anything than yield to those fellows. It is not that I
want to beat them. It is their un- Americanism that gets
me. They are trying to shackle everybody's freedom
and do away with the liberty of the individual, and hav-



"
"



112 GRANITE AND CLAY

ing a Plymouth Rock ancestry, I've no use for such a
creed."



' I'm not strong for it either."



Well, I admire your nerve in fighting for a principle.
If every employer would be equally disinterested and
self-sacrificing there would soon be an end to this
tyranny. Now about Peggy's dinner you will come,
won't you ? '

" Yes, thank you."

" Bravo ! That's the stuff, old man ! "

" At what time do you dine ? '

" Seven-thirty."

" I'll be on hand, Billy."

" That's fine ! And you will let up on reading manu-
script all night, won't you ? ' pleaded Wilmot with affec-
tionate solicitude.

Yes, I give you my word that for the present I won't
take home another thing," was Hamilton's reply. A
whimsical smile lingered on his lips. He could afford to
make the glib promise. Penelope Turner would not be
submitting another story immediately.



CHAPTER XIII

TANGLED WEBS

THE Wilmot house, a residence of mellowed red brick
with trimmings of green and an entrance whose prim
paneling and fan-shaped glass was reminiscent of colonial
Boston, stood near the head of Chestnut Street.
Through a vista of similar doorways one glimpsed at the
foot of the hill the dancing blue of the river and at sun-
set, against a glory of crimson, the bridge that spanned it.
But the bridge with its rush of traffic was so distant as
to be only viewed in miniature; and the nearby houses,
like protecting bulwarks, walled out the din of the city's
turmoil until nothing but its rumbling echoes stole in to
drone a faint accompaniment to the stillness brooding
over the place. Nevertheless, despite its seclusion, Chest-
nut Street was not actually cut off from the whirl of
present-day life for before many an old-time residence
motor cars panted, and fashionably dressed men and
women peopled the sidewalks.

Indeed there was an odd incongruity between the man-
sions and those who dwelt within them. An onlooker
might well have declared hoops and stiff brocades, cocked
hats and powdered coiffures fitter company for such a
setting. And if the exteriors of the houses were thus at
odds with their owners how much more justly did the
interiors, with their inviting Chippendale sofas, gate-
legged tables, canopied beds and cupboards crowded with
pink luster, merit the criticism. Possibly beneath this



114 GRANITE AND CLAY

atmosphere of perpetuated antiquity there may, to be
honest, have lurked a certain degree of the artificial, but
if so the artistry creating it was cunningly, even rever-
ently employed.

It was in such a home as this that Margaret Wilmot
lived. She had always lived there and her father and
mother, her grandfather and grandmother before her.
There had never been a time since the house was built
that some descendant of Peter Wilmot had not trodden
the broad, white-banistered stairway; lingered beneath
the great branching chandelier of crystal; or sat at the
head of the dim mahogany dining-table. It was not
alone for its history, however, that Margaret loved the
stately old house. Ever since she could remember she
had presided over it, taking care that the brasses, worn
to satin smoothness by cycles of polishing, were always
bright; that the dark wood of the furniture showed no
dust; that flowers filled the vases; and that the freshness
and daintiness which had been her mother's delight
reigned throughout the home.

For the training to assume these unlooked-for duties
the girl had her parents' conservatism to thank. Hers
had been the austere education of the New England
housewife, and in consequence from the time she was a
child she was able to bake and brew, stitch and seam,
sweep and dust. The fact that there were in the house-
hold several family servants who had been handed down
from one generation to another had not been permitted
to act as a hindrance to the program the mother had so
conscientiously outlined.

Hence it followed that when affliction came with
ghostly footfall to the old Beacon Hill dwelling and the
daughter was left to preside over her father's table, she
slipped into the niche with an ease and dignity far in
advance of her years. To her father her poise and quiet



TANGLED WEBS 115

capability came as a shock, bringing with it the initial
realization that the child he had petted, played with, and
indulged was in reality a woman. The two had always
been congenial companions but now, under the poignancy
of a great sorrow, they turned to each other in far closer
and more intimate comradeship than ever before. In
fact, there was pathos in the helplessness with which the
man, formerly so strong and self-sufficient, clung to his
child. She became his solace from loneliness; the pri-
mary interest of his life. The State Street office, which
during his wife's life had to a great extent absorbed him, (
now became important only as it ministered to Mar-
garet's needs and assured her of financial tranquillity for'
the future. Had it not been for the war's masterly
sweeping aside of personal interests Wilmot might have
remained the recluse he was fast becoming. But his
country called, and like the others of his race and gener-
ation he answered that cry with all he had, his fortune,
his career, even his child. He was not so old but that
a former military training won him a place with the
armies in France, and leaving his business in the care of
subordinates, he sailed with his daughter from America.

The girl was both mature and executive and as she also
spoke French readily she had no difficulty in finding a
position with the Red Cross in Paris. It seemed a post
sheltered enough, yet one of undeniable usefulness; and
her father had left her there with a sigh of thankfulness
that although he was lending his dearest possession to
the cause of liberty, he was not being called upon to sacri-
fice it. As for his own part in the coming struggle he
did not anticipate encountering actual danger. The
front-line trenches were miles away and while he did not
shrink from peril there seemed slight prospect that his
regiment would be sent forward.

When, however, Destiny's veil was lifted she showed a



116 GRANITE AND CLAY

very different face from the one William Wilmot had
pictured. She seemed like a goddess who, angered by
half-hearted devotion, now grimly demanded that he who
knelt before her shrine offer up all that he had withheld.
Wilmot' s own life was nothing. That he was ordered
into action and faced the inevitable knowledge that there
was but scant chance of his return troubled him not a
whit. It was- only on his child's- account that he dreaded
the possible issue.

But when he learned that Margaret, who like himself
had dedicated her life to the nation, must leave her posi-
tion of safety and confront inescapable danger, his an-
guish of soul was scarcely to be endured.

Why had he brought her across the sea, he asked him-
self for the hundredth time. It had not been compul-
sory that she should come. In fact, both of them might
perfectly well have remained on American soil. And
then, even as he made the declaration, he knew that
neither of them could have remained and been content.

" I am only a woman, Dad ; but like you I am an
American and I must go ! '

Ah, her cry had been the cry of the Wilmot blood!
A son of his, had heaven blessed him with one, would
have answered thus-, and in lieu of the son the daughter
had spoken. Margaret Wilmot would have rated herself
a craven to have tarried at home in safety while the land
that had given her birth Cried for aid. And so he had
kissed her and hand in hand they had set forth for
France. If neither of them ever returned, so be it. Or
God was good if He but let her remain. But should it
fall to Wilmot's lot to come back alone ah, that was a
thing unthinkable! He prayed on his knees, he be-
seeched, that he might be spared such a blow. And he
had been spared. Heaven had been merciful and al-
though calamity had threatened and even come so close



TANGLED WEBS 117

that its breath had. scorched, its touch had been averted by
the heroism of Richard Morton.

Could the father even cease to bless that name ? Was
existence long enough, or the gifts he had to bestow great
enough ever to cancel the debt such a service entailed?
Then and there Wilmot had registered a vow that so long
as life remained to him the deed this man had wrought
should be remembered with gratitude.

And he had been true to his word. The war had ended
and on the same boat with the reunited father and
daughter Dick Morton had sailed for America; and if
those long days of companionship at sea worked ill rather
than good, who was to blame? Surely not the Colonel
who foresaw no possible harm in this intimacy with the
young captain who served under him. Surely not Mar-
garet herself, pledged to a distant lover. Surely not
Richard Morton, devoted to his superior, all homage and
respect to the daughter, and hastening home to the
woman who awaited his coming. None of the three
could beheld responsible* for the pranks Fate played.

Chance, however, with malicious eye, saw them his
dupes and laughed; and when the ship that bore them
hither reached her destination, the trio parted thought-
fully, each meditating in secret on what was and what
might have been. They were innocent enough imagin-
ings, only backward glances tinged with, shadowy regret,
a regret too vague to be formulated, and that merely
lurked like a specter in the subconscious. Each was
happy in his hopes for the future and loyal to them ; and
each struggled to stifle as unworthy any suggestion of
dissatisfaction or unrest at the burden his fetters imposed.

Colonel Wilmot had never before experienced the
slightest disquietude concerning Margaret's approaching
marriage to Archibald Lambeth. Not only had the two
men been business associates over a span of years but



118 GRANITE AND CLAY

they were warm friends as well. Barring the difference
in years, there was not an objection to be raised against
the match; and in the face of the girl's maturity that
flaw seemed only a slight one.

Then the war, that melting-pot of race and creed and
sect ; that leveler of wealth and rank ; that mighty creator
of fellowship had come, and with its camaraderie and
freer mingling of the sexes a new Margaret Wilmot had
emerged. Uneasily the father studied his child. How
would she wear the old bonds now? And was she pre-
pared to make good the promises she had uttered before
her reincarnation? To the anxious parent the future
presented a far less serene aspect than it had done before
this drastic upheaval.

If, however, Margaret shared her father's misgivings
she at least betrayed no sign. Perhaps she herself was
unable to analyze the magic wrought by the hitherto un-
known contact of youth with youth. All she sensed was
that she was exhilarated by an overwhelming gladness;
that she* exulted in a fresh beauty of the universe ; and
looked with awakened vision on life and its potential-
ities. The portals that had formerly shut her within
herself were r"ent asunder and with a resurrection of
body, mind, and soul she had stepped forth with the wide-
eyed wonder of the newly born.

She now saw youth with the eagerness of youth; she
delighted in her womanhood with its wealth of beauty
and charm; she thrilled under strange pulsations of sex.
She had gone to France a child and blind; she had re-
turned a woman, seeing.

And hand in hand with this realization of her powers
had come the desire to use them. She hungered to mingle
in the onrushing current of affairs as she had during
the war. Ah, that sensation of being busy, and useful,
and wholesomely tired how satisfying it was ! And



TANGLED WEBS 119

the joy of looking into other eyes, young like her own,
and seeing reflected in them the same haunting but elu-
sive hopes and dreams she experienced ! The wonder of
it banished every other thought. As for Richard Mor-
ton, she did not consciously connect him with the miracle
that had taken J>lace within her. He was only a factor
in the engulfing and transforming tide. Thus in all sin-
cerity reasoned Margaret Wilmot.

And Richard himself argued in something the same
fashion. The war had been a mighty adventure whose
mark would ever rest upon him. Those who had not
shared in it were like men treading the earth with band-
aged eyes and ears that were stopped. They would never
know nor could words paint for them the horrors, griefs,
beauties, glories, that he and his comrades had beheld.
It was as if one had stood upon a mountain peak and
looked down on the world with its brutality, its cruelty,
its selfishness, its patience, its heroism and its God-given
love. What marvel that a gulf yawned twixt those who
had glimpsed this wonder and those who had not? It
was only natural that he should gravitate toward those
who had been granted the great revelation. The Wil-
mots were of his kin. That was why he delighted in
them. No disloyalty to Penelope mixed with his af-
fection for these new friends. Was he not returning
to her? And was she not the woman of his choice?

He could not, to be sure, regard her quite as he did
those who had been through the tragedy in which he had
played a part. She, together with every one else in the
tiny hamlet where he had been born seemed like children
to whom the realities o life were a closed book. Of
course they were not to blame for this; nevertheless it
was unavoidable that he should regard them with pity
and a degree of patronage. Belleport seemed a realm
asleep when contrasted with the vividness and turmoil of



120 GRANITE AND CLAY

the land he had left behind. How trivial its little self-
centered round of interest ! How cramped its outlook !

With the cries of a destitute and suffering universe
still ringing in his ears; with the specters of nakedness
and famine before his eyes until he could scarcely sleep
at night he had returned to Penelope, and in her mis-
taken grief how petty her attitude had appeared ! Why,
she might have been accomplishing endless good during
those idle hours of mourning! The world need was
great and time all too short to repair the ravages the con-
flict had wrought. With every back bent to the burden
there were none too many to help. And Penelope had
wasted precious hours, days, months! Before he real-
ized it his wrath and scorn had burst bounds and he had
voiced a denunciation that he could not with honesty dis-
claim.

Afterward in soberer mind he had cursed himself
roundly for the words he had spoken. How was a girl
to know of the hell to which she might have extended a
succoring hand ? It was unjust to expect it. All Amer-
ica was as ignorant as she. It ate, drank, piped and
danced with as much abandon as if there were no such
things as children without food ; families without homes ;
women bereft of husbands and. sons. If those of broad
intelligence, if even government officials lacked a realiza-
tion of what humanity had undergone, what right had
he to accuse a girl of Penelope's limited vision of igno-
rance? He had been grossly unfair.

Nevertheless there were women who, like pure-eyed
angels, had looked on- the world as it was and had seen
the good and evil without having their shining robes sul-
lied. Margaret Wilmot was one of those. She under-
stood. He wished Penelope had been willing to listen
instead of being angered at* his censure. But she had
proudly dismissed him without lending ear to his apol-



TANGLED WEBS 121

ogies or arguments, and while her treatment of him still
rankled, and the sting of mortification still throbbed, in
his heart of hearts Richard Morton knew not whether
to be glad or sorry for the freedom she had given him.



CHAPTER XIV

PEGGY

ON the evening of her dinner party Margaret Wilmot
stood alone in the living room of the old Chestnut Street
house, arranging in a great luster pitcher an armful of
Ophelia roses. Already the interior, glowing softly in
the light from the shaded' candles and a rosy reflection
from the hearth, was fragrant with their perfume.

The girl was in white with arms and neck bare, and
about her firm throat a curious necklace of topaz, whose
facets caught and held the firelight, flashed and sparkled.
She was not pretty and yet she made a beautiful picture
standing against the golden brown of the hangings. For
the moment she was smiling with a faint, upward curve
of lips that smiled rarely and therefore with the more
fascination. Brow and eyes were grave, however, and


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Online LibrarySara Ware BassettGranite and clay → online text (page 8 of 21)