An American Tragedy Chapter 10

At point a maid announced that supper was served and instantly Gilbert took his departure. At the same time the family arose and Mrs. Griffiths asked the maid: “Has Bella telephoned yet?”

“No, ma’am,” replied the servant, “not yet.”

“Well, have Mrs. Truesdale call up the Finchleys and see if she’s there. You tell her I said that she is to come home at once.”

The maid departed for a moment while the group proceeded to the dining room, which lay to the west of the stairs at the rear. Again, as Clyde saw, this was another splendidly furnished room done in a very light brown, with a long center table of carved walnut, evidently used only for special occasions. It was surrounded by high-backed chairs and lighted by candelabras set at even spaces upon it. In a lower ceilinged and yet ample circular alcove beyond this, looking out on the garden to the south, was a smaller table set for six. It was in this alcove that they were to dine, a different thing from what Clyde had expected for some reason.

Seated in a very placid fashion, he found himself answering questions principally as to his own family, the nature of its life, past and present; how old was his father now? His mother? What had been the places of their residence before moving to Denver? How many brothers and sisters had he? How old was his sister, Esta? What did she do? And the others? Did his father like managing a hotel? What had been the nature of his father’s work in Kansas City? How long had the family lived there?

Clyde was not a little troubled and embarrassed by this chain of questions which flowed rather heavily and solemnly from Samuel Griffiths or his wife. And from Clyde’s hesitating replies, especially in regard to the nature of the family life in Kansas City, both gathered that he was embarrassed and troubled by some of the questions. They laid it to the extreme poverty of their relatives, of course. For having asked, “I suppose you began your hotel work in Kansas City, didn’t you, after you left school?” Clyde blushed deeply, bethinking himself of the incident of the stolen car and of how little real schooling he had had. Most certainly he did not like the thought of having himself identified with hotel life in Kansas City, and more especially the Green-Davidson.

But fortunately at this moment, the door opened and Bella entered, accompanied by two girls such as Clyde would have assumed at once belonged to this world. How different to Rita and Zella with whom his thought so recently had been disturbedly concerned. He did not know Bella, of course, until she proceeded most familiarly to address her family. But the others—one was Sondra Finchley, so frequently referred to by Bella and her mother—as smart and vain and sweet a girl as Clyde had ever laid his eyes upon—so different to any he had ever known and so superior. She was dressed in a close-fitting tailored suit which followed her form exactly and which was enhanced by a small dark leather hat, pulled fetchingly low over her eyes. A leather belt of the same color encircled her neck. By a leather leash she led a French bull and over one arm carried a most striking coat of black and gray checks—not too pronounced and yet having the effect of a man’s modish overcoat. To Clyde’s eyes she was the most adorable feminine thing he had seen in all his days. Indeed her effect on him was electric—thrilling—arousing in him a curiously stinging sense of what it was to want and not to have—to wish to win and yet to feel, almost agonizingly that he was destined not even to win a glance from her. It tortured and flustered him. At one moment he had a keen desire to close his eyes and shut her out—at another to look only at her constantly—so truly was he captivated.

Yet, whether she saw him or not, she gave no sign at first, exclaiming to her dog: “Now, Bissell, if you’re not going to behave, I’m going to take you out and tie you out there. Oh, I don’t believe I can stay a moment if he won’t behave better than this.” He had seen a family cat and was tugging to get near her.

Beside her was another girl whom Clyde did not fancy nearly so much, and yet who, after her fashion, was as smart as Sondra and perhaps as alluring to some. She was blonde—tow-headed—with clear almond-shaped, greenish-gray eyes, a small, graceful, catlike figure, and a slinky feline manner. At once, on entering, she sidled across the room to the end of the table where Mrs. Griffiths sat and leaning over her at once began to purr.

“Oh, how are you, Mrs. Griffiths? I’m so glad to see you again. It’s been some time since I’ve been over here, hasn’t it? But then Mother and I have been away. She and Grant are over at Albany to-day. And I just picked up Bella and Sondra here at the Lamberts’. You’re just having a quiet little supper by yourselves, aren’t you? How are you, Myra?” she called, and reaching over Mrs. Griffiths’ shoulder touched Myra quite casually on the arm, as though it were more a matter of form than anything else.

In the meantime Bella, who next to Sondra seemed to Clyde decidedly the most charming of the three, was exclaiming: “Oh, I’m late. Sorry, Mamma and Daddy. Won’t that do this time?” Then noting Clyde, and as though for the first time, although he had risen as they entered and was still standing, she paused in semi-mock modesty as did the others. And Clyde, oversensitive to just such airs and material distinctions, was fairly tremulous with a sense of his own inadequacy, as he waited to be introduced. For to him, youth and beauty in such a station as this represented the ultimate triumph of the female. His weakness for Hortense Briggs, to say nothing of Rita, who was not so attractive as either of these, illustrated the effect of trim femininity on him, regardless of merit.

“Bella,” observed Samuel Griffiths, heavily, noting Clyde still standing, “your cousin, Clyde.”

“Oh, yes,” replied Bella, observing that Clyde looked exceedingly like Gilbert. “How are you? Mother has been saying that you were coming to call one of these days.” She extended a finger or two, then turned toward her friends. “My friends, Miss Finchley and Miss Cranston, Mr. Griffiths.”

The two girls bowed, each in the most stiff and formal manner, at the same time studying Clyde most carefully and rather directly, “Well, he does look like Gil a lot, doesn’t he?” whispered Sondra to Bertine, who had drawn near to her. And Bertine replied: “I never saw anything like it. He’s really better-looking, isn’t he—a lot?”

Sondra nodded, pleased to note in the first instance that he was somewhat better-looking than Bella’s brother, whom she did not like—next that he was obviously stricken with her, which was her due, as she invariably decided in connection with youths thus smitten with her. But having thus decided, and seeing that his glance was persistently and helplessly drawn to her, she concluded that she need pay no more attention to him, for the present anyway. He was too easy.

But now Mrs. Griffiths, who had not anticipated this visitation and was a little irritated with Bella for introducing her friends at this time since it at once raised the question of Clyde’s social position here, observed: “Hadn’t you two better lay off your coats and sit down? I’ll just have Nadine lay extra plates at this end. Bella, you can sit next to your father.”

“Oh, no, not at all,” and “No, indeed, we’re just on our way home ourselves. I can’t stay a minute,” came from Sondra and Bertine. But now that they were here and Clyde had proved to be as attractive as he was, they were perversely interested to see what, if any, social flair there was to him. Gilbert Griffiths, as both knew, was far from being popular in some quarters—their own in particular, however much they might like Bella. He was, for two such self-centered beauties as these, too aggressive, self-willed and contemptuous at times. Whereas Clyde, if one were to judge by his looks, at least was much more malleable. And if it were to prove now that he was of equal station, or that the Griffiths thought so, decidedly he would be available locally, would he not? At any rate, it would be interesting to know whether he was rich. But this thought was almost instantly satisfied by Mrs. Griffiths, who observed rather definitely and intentionally to Bertine: “Mr. Griffiths is a nephew of ours from the West who has come on to see if he can make a place for himself in my husband’s factory. He’s a young man who has to make his own way in the world and my husband has been kind enough to give him an opportunity.”

Clyde flushed, since obviously this was a notice to him that his social position here was decidedly below that of the Griffiths or these girls. At the same time, as he also noticed, the look of Bertine Cranston, who was only interested in youths of means and position, changed from one of curiosity to marked indifference. On the other hand, Sondra Finchley, by no means so practical as her friend, though of a superior station in her set, since she was so very attractive and her parents possessed of even more means—re-surveyed Clyde with one thought written rather plainly on her face, that it was too bad. He really was so attractive.

At the same time Samuel Griffiths, having a peculiar fondness for Sondra, if not Bertine, whom Mrs. Griffiths also disliked as being too tricky and sly, was calling to her: “Here, Sondra, tie up your dog to one of the dining-room chairs and come and sit by me. Throw your coat over that chair. Here’s room for you.” He motioned to her to come.

“But I can’t, Uncle Samuel!” called Sondra, familiarly and showily and yet somehow sweetly, seeking to ingratiate herself by this affected relationship. “We’re late now. Besides Bissell won’t behave. Bertine and I are just on our way home, truly.”

“Oh, yes, Papa,” put in Bella, quickly, “Bertine’s horse ran a nail in his foot yesterday and is going lame to-day. And neither Grant nor his father is home. She wants to know if you know anything that’s good for it.”

“Which foot is it?” inquired Griffiths, interested, while Clyde continued to survey Sondra as best he might. She was so delicious, he thought—her nose so tiny and tilted—her upper lip arched so roguishly upward toward her nose.

“It’s the left fore. I was riding out on the East Kingston road yesterday afternoon. Jerry threw a shoe and must have picked up a splinter, but John doesn’t seem to be able to find it.”

“Did you ride him much with the nail, do you think?”

“About eight miles—all the way back.”

“Well, you had better have John put on some liniment and a bandage and call a veterinary. He’ll come around all right, I’m sure.”

The group showed no signs of leaving and Clyde, left quite to himself for the moment, was thinking what an easy, delightful world this must be—this local society. For here they were without a care, apparently, between any of them. All their talk was of houses being built, horses they were riding, friends they had met, places they were going to, things they were going to do. And there was Gilbert, who had left only a little while before—motoring somewhere with a group of young men. And Bella, his cousin, trifling around with these girls in the beautiful homes of this street, while he was shunted away in a small third-floor room at Mrs. Cuppy’s with no place to go. And with only fifteen dollars a week to live on. And in the morning he would be working in the basement again, while these girls were rising to more pleasure. And out in Denver were his parents with their small lodging house and mission, which he dared not even describe accurately here.

Suddenly the two girls declaring they must go, they took themselves off. And he and the Griffiths were once more left to themselves—he with the feeling that he was very much out of place and neglected here, since Samuel Griffiths and his wife and Bella, anyhow, if not Myra, seemed to be feeling that he was merely being permitted to look into a world to which he did not belong; also, that because of his poverty it would be impossible to fit him into—however much he might dream of associating with three such wonderful girls as these. And at once he felt sad—very—his eyes and his mood darkening so much that not only Samuel Griffiths, but his wife as well as Myra noticed it. If he could enter upon this world, find some way. But of the group it was only Myra, not any of the others, who sensed that in all likelihood he was lonely and depressed. And in consequence as all were rising and returning to the large living room (Samuel chiding Bella for her habit of keeping her family waiting) it was Myra who drew near to Clyde to say: “I think after you’ve been here a little while you’ll probably like Lycurgus better than you do now, even. There are quite a number of interesting places to go and see around here—lakes and the Adirondacks are just north of here, about seventy miles. And when the summer comes and we get settled at Greenwood, I’m sure Father and Mother will like you to come up there once in a while.”

She was by no means sure that this was true, but under the circumstances, whether it was or not, she felt like saying it to Clyde. And thereafter, since he felt more comfortable with her, he talked with her as much as he could without neglecting either Bella or the family, until about half-past nine, when, suddenly feeling very much out of place and alone, he arose saying that he must go, that he had to get up early in the morning. And as he did so, Samuel Griffiths walked with him to the front door and let him out. But he, too, by now, as had Myra before him, feeling that Clyde was rather attractive and yet, for reasons of poverty, likely to be neglected from now on, not only by his family, but by himself as well, observed most pleasantly, and, as he hoped, compensatively: “It’s rather nice out, isn’t it? Wykeagy Avenue hasn’t begun to show what it can do yet because the spring isn’t quite here. But in a few weeks,” and he looked up most inquiringly at the sky and sniffed the late April air, “we must have you out. All the trees and flowers will be in bloom then and you can see how really nice it is. Good night.”

He smiled and put a very cordial note into his voice, and once more Clyde felt that, whatever Gilbert Griffiths’ attitude might be, most certainly his father was not wholly indifferent to him.