An American Tragedy Chapter 30

But Roberta’s return to Lycurgus and her room at the Gilpins’ Christmas night brought no sign of Clyde nor any word of explanation. For in connection with the Griffiths in the meantime there had been a development relating to all this which, could she or Clyde have known, would have interested both not a little. For subsequent to the Steele dance that same item read by Roberta fell under the eyes of Gilbert. He was seated at the breakfast table the Sunday morning after the party and was about to sip from a cup of coffee when he encountered it. On the instant his teeth snapped about as a man might snap his watch lid, and instead of drinking he put his cup down and examined the item with more care. Other than his mother there was no one at the table or in the room with him, but knowing that she, more than any of the others, shared his views in regard to Clyde, he now passed the paper over to her.

“Look at who’s breaking into society now, will you?” he admonished sharply and sarcastically, his eyes radiating the hard and contemptuous opposition he felt. “We’ll be having him up here next!”

“Who?” inquired Mrs. Griffiths, as she took the paper and examined the item calmly and judicially, yet not without a little of outwardly suppressed surprise when she saw the name. For although the fact of Clyde’s having been picked up by Sondra in her car sometime before and later been invited to dinner at the Trumbulls’, had been conveyed to the family sometime before, still a society notice in The Star was different. “Now I wonder how it was that he came to be invited to that?” meditated Mrs. Griffiths who was always conscious of her son’s mood in regard to all this.

“Now, who would do it but that little Finchley snip, the little smart aleck?” snapped Gilbert. “She’s got the idea from somewhere—from Bella for all I know—that we don’t care to have anything to do with him, and she thinks this is a clever way to hit back at me for some of the things I’ve done to her, or that she thinks I’ve done. At any rate, she thinks I don’t like her, and that’s right, I don’t. And Bella knows it, too. And that goes for that little Cranston show-off, too. They’re both always running around with her. They’re a set of show-offs and wasters, the whole bunch, and that goes for their brothers, too—Grant Cranston and Stew Finchley—and if something don’t go wrong with one or another of that bunch one of these days, I miss my guess. You mark my word! They don’t do a thing, the whole lot of them, from one year’s end to the other but play around and dance and run here and there, as though there wasn’t anything else in the world for them to do. And why you and Dad let Bella run with ’em as much as she does is more than I can see.”

To this his mother protested. It was not possible for her to entirely estrange Bella from one portion of this local social group and direct her definitely toward the homes of certain others. They all mingled too freely. And she was getting along in years and had a mind of her own.

Just the same his mother’s apology and especially in the face of the publication of this item by no means lessened Gilbert’s opposition to Clyde’s social ambitions and opportunities. What! That poor little moneyless cousin of his who had committed first the unpardonable offense of looking like him and, second, of coming here to Lycurgus and fixing himself on this very superior family. And after he had shown him all too plainly, and from the first, that he personally did not like him, did not want him, and if left to himself would never for so much as a moment endure him.

“He hasn’t any money,” he declared finally and very bitterly to his mother, “and he’s hanging on here by the skin of his teeth as it is. And what for? If he is taken up by these people, what can he do? He certainly hasn’t the money to do as they do, and he can’t get it. And if he could, his job here wouldn’t let him go anywhere much, unless some one troubled to pay his way. And how he is going to do his work and run with that crowd is more than I know. That bunch is on the go all the time.”

Actually he was wondering whether Clyde would be included from now on, and if so, what was to be done about it. If he were to be taken up in this way, how was he, or the family, either, to escape from being civil to him? For obviously, as earlier and subsequent developments proved, his father did not choose to send him away.

Indeed, subsequent to this conversation, Mrs. Griffiths had laid the paper, together with a version of Gilbert’s views before her husband at this same breakfast table. But he, true to his previous mood in regard to Clyde, was not inclined to share his son’s opinion. On the contrary, he seemed, as Mrs. Griffiths saw it, to look upon the development recorded by the item as a justification in part of his own original estimate of Clyde.

“I must say,” he began, after listening to his wife to the end, “I can’t see what’s wrong with his going to a party now and then, or being invited here and there even if he hasn’t any money. It looks more like a compliment to him and to us than anything else. I know how Gil feels about him. But it rather looks to me as though Clyde’s just a little better than Gil thinks he is. At any rate, I can’t and I wouldn’t want to do anything about it. I’ve asked him to come down here, and the least I can do is to give him an opportunity to better himself. He seems to be doing his work all right. Besides, how would it look if I didn’t?”

And later, because of some additional remarks on the part of Gilbert to his mother, he added: “I’d certainly rather have him going with some of the better people than some of the worse ones—that’s one thing sure. He’s neat and polite and from all I hear at the factory does his work well enough. As a matter of fact, I think it would have been better if we had invited him up to the lake last summer for a few days anyhow, as I suggested. As it is now, if we don’t do something pretty soon, it will look as though we think he isn’t good enough for us when the other people here seem to think he is. If you’ll take my advice, you’ll have him up here for Christmas or New Year’s, anyhow, just to show that we don’t think any less of him than our friends do.”

This suggestion, once transferred to Gilbert by his mother, caused him to exclaim: “Well, I’ll be hanged! All right, only don’t think I’m going to lay myself out to be civil to him. It’s a wonder, if Father thinks he’s so able, that he don’t make a real position for him somewhere.”

Just the same, nothing might have come of this had it not been that Bella, returning from Albany this same day, learned via contacts and telephone talks with Sondra and Bertine of the developments in connection with Clyde. Also that he had been invited to accompany them to the New Year’s Eve dance at the Ellerslies’ in Schenectady, Bella having been previously scheduled to make a part of this group before Clyde was thought of.

This sudden development, reported by Bella to her mother, was of sufficient import to cause Mrs. Griffiths as well as Samuel, if not Gilbert, later to decide to make the best of a situation which obviously was being forced upon them and themselves invite Clyde for dinner—Christmas Day—a sedate affair to which many others were bid. For this as they now decided would serve to make plain to all and at once that Clyde was not being as wholly ignored as some might imagine. It was the only reasonable thing to do at this late date. And Gilbert, on hearing this, and realizing that in this instance he was checkmated, exclaimed sourly: “Oh, all right. Invite him if you want to—if that’s the way you and Dad feel about it. I don’t see any real necessity for it even now. But you fix it to suit yourself. Constance and I are going over to Utica for the afternoon, anyhow, so I couldn’t be there even if I wanted to.”

He was thinking of what an outrageous thing it was that a girl whom he disliked as much as he did Sondra could thus via her determination and plottings thrust his own cousin on him and he be unable to prevent it. And what a beggar Clyde must be to attempt to attach himself in this way when he knew that he was not wanted! What sort of a youth was he, anyhow?

And so it was that on Monday morning Clyde had received another letter from the Griffiths, this time signed by Myra, asking him to have dinner with them at two o’clock Christmas Day. But, since this at that time did not seem to interfere with his meeting Roberta Christmas night at eight, he merely gave himself over to extreme rejoicing in regard to it all now, and at last he was nearly as well placed here, socially, as any one. For although he had no money, see how he was being received—and by the Griffiths, too—among all the others. And Sondra taking so great an interest in him, actually talking and acting as though she might be ready to fall in love. And Gilbert checkmated by his social popularity. What would you say to that? It testified, as he saw it now, that at least his relatives had not forgotten him or that, because of his recent success in other directions, they were finding it necessary to be civil to him—a thought that was the same as the bays of victory to a contestant. He viewed it with as much pleasure almost as though there had never been any hiatus at all.