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off to a ball game that way with an old sweetheart. A crowd of boys, women and men, going through a cattle-gate into Heffler's field, tramping through the dust, young men with their sweethearts, a few gray-haired women, mothers of boys who belonged to the team, Lillian and he sitting in the rickety grand-stand in the hot sun.
Once it had been-how they had felt, he and Lillian, sitting there together! It had been rather hard to keep the attention centered on the players in the field. One could n't ask a neighbor, "Who 's ahead now, Caxton or Yerington?" Lillian's hands lay in her lap. What white, delicate, expressive hands they were! Once that was just before he went away to live in the city with his uncle and but a month after his mother died—he and Lillian went to the ball-field together at night. His father had died when he was a young lad, and he had no relatives left in the town. Going off to the ball-field at night was maybe a risky thing for Lillian to do,-risky for her reputation if any one found it out,--but she had seemed willing enough. You know how small-town girls of that age are?
Her father owned a retail shoestore in Caxton and was a good, respectable man; but the Holdens John's father had been a lawyer.
After they got back from the ballfield that night-it must have been after midnight-they went to sit on the front porch before her father's house. He must have known. A daughter cavorting about half the night with a young man that way! They had clung to each other with a sort of queer, desperate feeling neither understood. She did not go into the house until after three o'clock,
and went then only because he insisted. He had n't wanted to ruin her reputation. Why, he might haveShe was like a little frightened child at the thought of his going away. He was twenty-two then, and she must have been about eighteen.
Eighteen and twenty-two are forty. John Holden was forty on the day when he sat at lunch at the hotel in the town ten miles from Caxton.
Now, he thought, he might be able to walk through the streets of Caxton to the ball-park with Lillian with a certain effect. You know how it is. One has to accept the fact that youth is gone. If there should turn out to be such a ball game and Lillian would go with him, he would leave the car in the garage and ask her to walk. One saw pictures of that sort of thing in the movies-a man coming back to his native village after twenty years; a new beauty taking the place of the beauty of youth-something like that. In the spring the leaves on maple-trees are lovely, but they are even more lovely in the fall-a flame of color; manhood and womanhood.
After he had finished his lunch John did not feel very comfortable. The road to Caxton-it used to take nearly three hours to travel the distance with a horse and buggy, but now, and without any effort, the distance could be made in twenty minutes.
He lit a cigar and went for a walk not in the streets of Caxton, but in the streets of the town ten miles away. If he got to Caxton in the evening, just at dusk, say, now—
With an inward pang John realized that he wanted darkness, the kindliness of soft evening lights. Lillian, Joe, Herman, and the rest. It had been eighteen years for the others as
well as for himself. Now he had succeeded, a little, in twisting his fear of Caxton into fear for the others, and it made him feel somewhat better; but at once he realized what he was doing and again felt uncomfortable. One had to look out for changes, new people, new buildings, middle-aged people grown old, youth grown middleaged. At any rate, he was thinking of the other now; he was n't, as when he wrote letters home eighteen years before, thinking only of himself. "Am I?" It was a question.
An absurd situation, really. had sailed along so gaily through upper New York State, through western Pennsylvania, through eastern Ohio. Men were at work in the fields and in the towns, farmers drove into towns in their cars, clouds of dust arose on some distant road, seen across a valley. Once he had stopped his car near a bridge and had gone for a walk along the banks of a creek where it wound through a wood.
He was liking people. Well, he had never before given much time to people, to thinking of them and their affairs. "I had n't time," he told himself. He had always realized that, while he was a good enough architect, things move fast in America. New men were coming on. He could n't take chances of going on forever on his uncle's reputation. A man had to be always on the alert. Fortunately, his marriage had been a help. It had made valuable connections for him.
Twice he had picked up people on the road. There was a lad of sixteen from some town of eastern Pennsylvania, working his way westward toward the Pacific coast by picking up rides in cars-a summer's adventure. John had carried him all of one day
and had listened to his talk with keen pleasure. And so this was the younger generation. The boy had nice eyes and an eager, friendly manner. He smoked cigarettes, and once, when they had a puncture, he was very quick and eager about changing the tire. "Now, don't you soil your hands, Mister; I can do it like a flash,” he said, and he did. The boy said he intended working his way overland to the Pacific coast, where he would try to get a job of some kind on an ocean freighter, and that, if he did, he would go on around the world. "But do you speak any foreign languages?" The boy did not. Across John Holden's mind flashed pictures of hot Eastern deserts, crowded Asiatic towns, wild half-savage mountain countries. As a young architect, and before his uncle died, he had spent two years in foreign travel, studying building in many countries; but he said nothing of this thought to the boy. Vast plans entered into with eager boyish abandon, a world tour undertaken as he, when a young man, might have undertaken to find his way from his uncle's house in East Eighty-first Street downtown to the Battery. "How do I know-perhaps he will do it," John thought. The day in company with the boy had been very pleasant, and he had been on the alert to pick him up again the next morning; but the boy had gone on his way, had caught a ride with some earlier riser. Why had n't John invited him to his hotel for the night? The notion had n't come to him until too late.
Youth, rather wild and undisciplined, running wild, eh? I wonder why I never did it, never wanted to do it.
If he had been a bit wilder, more
reckless-that night, that time when he and Lillian- "It 's all right being reckless with yourself, but when some one else is involved, a young girl in a small town, you yourself lighting out"- He remembered sharply that on the night, long before, as he sat with Lillian on the porch before her father's house his hand-It had seemed as though Lillian, on that evening, might not have objected to anything he wanted to do. He had thought-well, he had thought of the consequences. Women must be protected by men, all that sort of thing. Lillian had seemed rather stunned when he walked away, even though it was three o'clock in the morning. She had been rather like a person waiting at a railroad station for the coming of a train. There is a blackboard, and a strange man comes out and writes on it, "Train Number 287 has been discontinued"-something like that.
Well, it had been all right, everything had been all right.
Later, four years later, he had married a New York woman of good family. Even in a city like New York, where there are so many people, her family had been well known. They had connections.
After marriage, sometimes, it is true, he had wondered. Gertrude used to look at him sometimes with an odd light in her eyes. That boy he picked up in the road-once during the day when he said something to the boy, the same queer look came into his eyes. It would be rather upsetting if one knew that the boy had purposely avoided him next morning. There had been Gertrude's cousin. Once, after his marriage, John heard a rumor that Gertrude had wanted to marry that cousin, but of course he had said
nothing to her. Why should he have? She was his wife. There had been, he had heard, a good deal of family objection to the cousin. He was reputed to be wild, a gambler and drinker.
Once the cousin came to the Holden apartment at two in the morning, drunk and demanding that he be allowed to see Gertrude, and she slipped on a dressing-gown and went down to him. That was in the hallway of the apartment, down-stairs, where almost any one might have come in and seen her. As a matter of fact, the elevator boy and the janitor did see her. She had stood in the hallway below talking for nearly an hour. What about? He had never asked Gertrude directly, and she had never told him anything. When she came up-stairs again and had got into her bed, he lay in his own bed trembling, but remained silent. He had been afraid that if he spoke he might say something rude; better keep still. The cousin had disappeared. John had a suspicion that Gertrude later supplied him with money. He went out West somewhere.
Now Gertrude was dead. She had always seemed very well, but suddenly she was attacked by a baffling kind of slow fever that lasted nearly a year. Sometimes she seemed about to get better, and then suddenly the fever grew worse. It might be that she did not want to live. What a notion! John had been at the bedside with the doctor when she died. It was at night, and as the boy was asleep, he was not called. There was something of the same feeling he had that night of his youth when he went with Lillian to the ball-field, an odd sense of futility, of inadequacy. There was
no doubt that in some subtle way both women had accused him.
Of what? There had always been, in some vague, indefinable way, a kind of accusation in the attitude toward him of his uncle, the architect, and of his aunt. They had left him their money, but It was as though the uncle had said, as though Lillian during that night long ago had said—
Had they all said the same thing, and was Gertrude his wife saying it as she lay dying? A smile. "You have always taken such good care of yourself, haven't you, John dear? You have observed the rules. You have taken no chances for yourself or the others." She had actually said something of that sort to him once in a moment of anger.
In the small town ten miles from Caxton there was n't any park to which a man could go to sit. If one stayed about the hotel, some one from Caxton might come in. "Hello, what are you doing here?" It would be inconvenient to explain: "I did n't want to go to Caxton in the daylight. I want the kindliness of evening light for myself and the people I may see there."
John Holden's boy-he was but twelve-one might say his character had not begun to form yet. One felt in him sometimes a sort of unconscious and casual selfishness, an unwareness of others, a rather unhealthy sharpness about getting the best of others. It was a thing that should be corrected in him and at once. John Holden had got himself into a small panic. "I must write him a letter at once. Such a habit gets fixed in a boy and then in the man, and it cannot later be
shaken off. There are such a lot of people living in the world! Every man and woman has his own point of view. To be civilized, really, is to be aware of the others, their hopes, their gladnesses, their disillusionments in life."
John Holden was now walking along a residence street of a small Ohio town composing in fancy a letter to his son in the boys' camp up in Vermont. He was a man who wrote to his son every day. "I think a man should," he told himself. "One should remember that now the boy has no mother."
He had come to an outlying railroad station. It was neat, with grass and flowers growing in a round bed in the very center of a lawn. Some man, the station agent and telegraph operator perhaps, passed him and went inside the station. John followed him in. On the wall of the waiting-room there was a framed copy of the time-table, and he stood studying it. A train went to Caxton at five. Another train came from Caxton and passed through the town he was now in at seven-fortythree, the seven-nineteen out of Caxton. The man in the small business section of the station opened a slidingpanel and looked at him. The two men just stared at each other without speaking, and then the panel was slid shut again.
John looked at his watch. Twotwenty-eight. At about six he could drive over to Caxton and dine at the hotel there. After he had dined, it would be evening, and people would be coming into the main street.
The seven-nineteen would come in. When John was a lad, sometimes, he, Joe, Herman, and often several other lads climbed on the front of the baggage- or mail-car and stole a ride to the
very town he was now in. What a thrill, crouched down in the gathering darkness on the platform as the train ran the ten miles, the car rocking from side to side! When it got a little dark, in the fall or spring, the fields beside the track were lighted up when the fireman opened his fire-box to throw in coal. Once John saw a rabbit running along in the glare of light beside the track. He could have reached down and caught it with his hand. In the neighboring town the boys went into saloons and played pool and drank beer. They could depend upon catching a ride back home on the local freight that got to Caxton at about ten-thirty. On one of the adventures John and Herman got drunk, and Joe had to help them into an empty coalcar and later get them out at Caxton. Herman got sick, and when they were getting off the freight at Caxton, he stumbled and came very near falling under the wheels of the moving train. John was n't as drunk as Herman. When the others were n't looking, he had poured several of the glasses of beer into a spittoon. In Caxton he and Joe had to walk about with Herman for several hours, and when John finally got home, his mother was still awake and was worried. He had to lie to her. "I drove out into the country with Herman, and a wheel broke. We had to walk home." The reason Joe could carry his beer so well was because he was German. His father owned the town meat-market, and the family had beer on the table at home. No wonder it did not knock him out as it did Herman and John.
There was a bench at the side of the railroad station, in the shade, and John sat there for a long time-two
hours, three hours. Why had n't he brought a book? In fancy he composed a letter to his son and in it he spoke of the fields lying beside the road outside the town of Caxton, of his greeting old friends there, of things that had happened when he was a boy. He even spoke of his former sweetheart, of Lillian. If he now thought out just what he was going to say in the letter, he could write it in his room at the hotel over in Caxton in a few minutes without having to stop and think what he was going to say. You can't always be too fussy about what you say to a young boy. Really, sometimes, you should take him into your confidence, into your life, make him a part of your life.
It was six-twenty when John drove into Caxton and went to the hotel, where he registered, and was shown to a room. On the street as he drove into town he saw Billy Baker, who, when he was a young man, had a paralyzed leg that dragged along the sidewalk when he walked. Now he was getting old; his face seemed wrinkled and faded, like a dried lemon, and his clothes had spots down the front. People, even sick people, live a long time in small Ohio towns. It is surprising how they hang on.
John had put his car, of a rather expensive make, into a garage beside the hotel. Formerly, in his day, the building had been used as a livery-barn. There used to be pictures of famous trotting and pacing horses on the walls of the little office at the front. Old Dave Grey, who owned race-horses of his own, ran the livery-barn then, and John occasionally hired a rig there. He hired a rig and took Lillian for a ride into the country, along moonlit roads. By a lonely farm-house a dog