The Second Generation
By David Graham Phillips
Public Domain Books
Chapter XXVII - The Door Ajar
Judge Torrey succeeded Whitney as chairman of the overseers of Tecumseh and in the vacant trusteeship of the Ranger bequest. Soon Dr. Hargrave, insisting that he was too old for the labors of the presidency of such a huge and varied institution as the university had become, was made honorary president, and his son, still in Europe, was elected chairman of the faculty. Toward the middle of a fine afternoon in early September Dr. Hargrave and his daughter-in-law drove to the railway station in the ancient and roomy phaeton which was to Saint X as much part of his personality as the aureole of glistening white hair that framed his majestic head, or as the great plaid shawl that had draped his big shoulders with their student stoop every winter day since anyone could remember. Despite his long exposure to the temptation to sink into the emasculate life of unapplied intellect, mere talker and writer, and to adopt that life’s flabby ideals, he had remained the man of ideas, the man of action. His learning was all but universal, yet he had the rugged, direct vigor of the man of affairs. His was not the knowledge that enfeebles, but the knowledge that empowers. As his son, the new executive of the university–with the figure of a Greek athlete, with positive character, will as well as intellect, stamped upon his young face–appeared in the crowd, the onlookers had the sense that a “somebody” had arrived. Dory’s always was the air an active mind never fails to give; as Judge Torrey once said: “You’ve only got to look at him to see he’s the kind that does things, not the kind that tells how they used to be done or how they oughtn’t to be done.” Now there was in his face and bearing the subtly but surely distinguishing quality that comes only with the strength a man gets when his fellows acknowledge his leadership, when he has seen the creations of his brain materialize in work accomplished. Every successful man has this look, and shows it according to his nature–the arrogant arrogantly; the well-balanced with tranquil unconsciousness.
As he moved toward his father and Adelaide, her heart swelled with pride in him, with pride in her share in him. Ever since the sending of the cablegram to recall him, she had been wondering what she would feel at sight of him. Now she forgot all about her once-beloved self-analysis. She was simply proud of him, enormously proud; other men seemed trivial beside this personage. Also she was a little afraid; for, as their eyes met, it seemed to her that his look of recognition and greeting was not so ardent as she was accustomed to associate with his features when turned toward her. But before she could be daunted by her misgiving it vanished; for he impetuously caught her in his arms and, utterly forgetting the onlookers, kissed her until every nerve in her body was tingling in the sweeping flame of that passion which his parting caress had stirred to vague but troublesome restlessness. And she, too, forgot the crowd, and shyly, proudly gave as well as received; so there began to vibrate between them the spark that clears brains and hearts of the fogs and vapors and keeps them clear. And it was not a problem in psychology that was revealed to those admiring and envying spectators in the brilliant September sunshine, but a man and a woman in love in the way that has been “the way of a man with a maid” from the beginning; in love, and each looking worthy of the other’s love–he handsome in his blue serge, she beautiful in a light-brown fall dress with pale-gold facings, and the fluffy, feathery boa close round her fair young face. Civilization has changed methods, but not essentials; it is still not what goes on in the minds of a man and woman that counts, but what goes on in their hearts and nerves.
The old doctor did not in the least mind the momentary neglect of himself. He had always assumed that his son and Del loved each other, there being every reason why they should and no reason why they shouldn’t; he saw only the natural and the expected in this outburst which astonished and somewhat embarrassed them with the partial return of the self-consciousness that had been their curse. He beamed on them from eyes undimmed by half a century of toil, as bright under his shaggy white brows as the first spring flowers among the snows. As soon as he had Dory’s hand and his apparent attention, he said: “I hope you’ve been getting your address ready on the train, as I suggested in my telegram.”
“I’ve got it in my bag,” replied Dory.
In the phaeton Del sat between them and drove. Dory forgot the honors he had come home to receive; he had eyes and thoughts only for her, was impatient to be alone with her, to reassure himself of the meaning of the blushes that tinted her smooth white skin and the shy glances that stole toward him from the violet eyes under those long lashes of hers. Dr. Hargrave resumed the subject that was to him paramount. “You see, Theodore, your steamer’s being nearly two days late brings you home just a day before the installation. You’ll be delivering, your address at eleven to-morrow morning.”
“So I shall,” said Dory absently.
“You say it’s ready. Hadn’t you better let me get it type-written for you?”
Dory opened the bag at his feet, gave his father a roll of paper. “Please look it over, and make any changes you like.”
Dr. Hargrave began the reading then and there. He had not finished the first paragraph when Dory interrupted with, “Why, Del, you’re passing our turning.”
Del grew crimson. The doctor, without looking up or taking his mind off the address, said: “Adelaide gave up Mrs. Dorsey’s house several weeks ago. You are living with us.”
Dory glanced at her quickly and away. She said nothing. “He’ll understand,” thought she–and she was right.
Only those who have had experience of the older generation out West would have suspected the pride, the affection, the delight hiding behind Martha Skeffington’s prim and formal welcome, or that it was not indifference but the unfailing instinct of a tender heart that made her say, after a very few minutes: “Adelaide, don’t you think Dory’d like to look at the rooms?”
Del led the way, Dory several feet behind her–deliberately, lest he should take that long, slender form of hers in his arms that he might again feel her bosom swelling and fluttering against him, and her fine, thick, luminous hair caressing his temple and his cheek. Miss Skeffington had given them the three large rooms on the second floor–the two Dory used to have and one more for Del. As he followed Del into the sitting room he saw that there had been changes, but he could not note them. She was not looking at him; she seemed to be in a dream, or walking with the slow deliberate steps one takes in an unfamiliar and perilous path.
“That is still your bedroom,” said she, indicating one of the doors. “A stationary stand has been put in. Perhaps you’d like to freshen up a bit.”
“A stationary stand,” he repeated, as if somewhat dazed before this practical detail. “Yes–I think so.”
She hesitated, went into her room, not quite closing the door behind her. He stared at it with a baffled look. “And,” he was thinking, “I imagined I had trained myself to indifference.” An object near the window caught his eye–a table at which he could work standing. He recalled that he had seen its like in a big furniture display at Paris when they were there together, and that he had said he would get one for himself some day. This hint that there might be more than mere matter in those surroundings set his eyes to roving. That revolving bookcase by the desk, the circular kind he had always wanted, and in it the books he liked to have at hand–Montaigne and Don Quixote, Shakespeare and Shelley and Swinburne, the Encyclopedia, the statistical yearbooks; on top, his favorites among the magazines. And the desk itself–a huge spread of cleared surface–an enormous blotting pad, an ink well that was indeed a well–all just what he had so often longed for as he sat cramped at little desks where an attempt to work meant overflow and chaos of books and papers. And that big inlaid box–it was full of his favorite cigarettes; and the drop-light, and the green shade for the eyes, and the row of pencils sharpened as he liked them–
He knocked at her door. “Won’t you come out here a moment?” cried he, putting it in that form because he had never adventured her intimate threshold.
No answer, though the door was ajar and she must have heard.
“Please come out here,” he repeated.
A pause; then, in her voice, shy but resolute, the single word, “Come!”