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cheated at the monotonous row of blind- Findlay backed his car as noiselessly as drawn, bay - windowed houses. The possible into the basement of his shabby newsboy had come and gone, even the home, the final argument that his wife baker's cart had departed. At each had put forth in a hopeless battle against doorstep lay a carefully twisted news the car's purchase suddenly recurred. paper and a loaf of bread.
"You might injure somebody," she Peter Findlay's home street was an had Aashed out, in futile triumph. old-fashioned affair. The houses were “And you know what that means. two-storied, with square, uncompro- Damages and lawsuits and everything. mising head-pieces like women of the You remember how much it cost Careighties who gloried in false fronts. rington when he ran down that old Flights of dark-blue steps bridged the woman at Market and Third Streets." distance between sidewalk and the first “Carrington was a fool!" Findlay floors; the front doors were grained in had snapped back. "Any man with imitation of oak; fuchsias were growing sense who runs a car takes out a liability on either side of the basement windows. insurance policy."
It had never occurred to Peter Find That was what he had intended doing, lay to live anywhere else in San Fran until he inquired into the cost. Liabilicisco, although all the old neighbors had ity insurance was expensive, so Peter long since moved away. He didn't like Findlay decided to take a chance. flats; he wouldn't live in apartments;
“Why should I need liability insurhe had installed electric lights under ance?" he had demanded of himself. protest. His father had lived there be
a joy-rider. I'm careful. fore him when the Western Addition There's nothing reckless or rattlewas considered the last word in civic brained about me. expansion, and Findlay liked to fancy It was curious, he reflected, that these that there was a commendable senti ideas of lawsuits and damages and lack ment, a certain stamina, in denying the of insurance had not occurred to him at lure of steam heat, and hardwood floors, the precise moment of the accident. If and ceilings lowered to genial coziness. they had he would have been able to Yes, Peter Findlay had decided con put his finger on the impulse that had victions about his home, as well as urged Alight. No, he had been moved about the rules that should govern the by no mercenary impulse, he thanked conduct of a gentleman. Besides, his Heaven, as he clambered out of the salary of one hundred and fifty dollars car and drew off his gloves. But he adfor taking charge of the note depart- mitted that there was added reason for ment of the Fidelity Bank did not per secrecy. Of course, he had not been mit of many extravagances—not for a in the least responsible for the accident, man with a wife and two children; and but courts and juries were notoriously an old-fashioned, two-storied, bay-win- unfriendly to defendants who owned dowed house, with fuchsias hugging the cars and winged the common people basement walls, that nobody in his with their driving. Besides, his wife did right senses would think of buying, not know that her husband had neghelped out considerably.
lected the safeguard of insurance. He There were inconsistencies, of course, might not be compelled to pay damages, in the cautious economies of the Find but he might be called upon to defend lay family. There was the automobile, a suit, and he did not relish the idea for instance. Peter Findlay had argued of admitting to his wife his penny-wise himself into this luxury on the score and pound-foolish economy. Somehow of needing fresh air. His wife had ob- the legal possibilities back of the situajected a bit wistfully, as if the adventtion reduced the circumstance to an imof a car postponed indefinitely her hopes personal, documentary affair. The misfor a modern dwelling-place filled with hap seemed suddenly shorn of its primivacuum cleaners, and fireless cookers, tiveness, its headlong terror, its tragic and electric toasters, and all such in- intensity. He stopped thinking of the animate recruiters for women's clubs. accident in terms of passionate feeling.
On this August morning, as Peter “Well, if worst comes to worst,” he
muttered, “they can't touch the house. cold water upon his face, Peter Findlay It's always a safe thing to have the tiptoed to these two bedrooms to conhome in the wife's name.”
firm his hopes. There was not a soul
in either place. Peter Findlay did not bother to take He went down-stairs, peering into the his keys from his pocket as he climbed parlor, into the shaded dining-room, into up to the front door. He was quite the immaculate kitchen. A loaf of sure that his wife's eagerness would bread lay half cut' upon the table, on catch the first sound of footfalls, and the gas-range three saucepans testified he looked forward to a suddenly opened to preparations for a meal, an abandoor and a cry of relieved delight. But doned apron clung limply to a chair. the expected did not happen. Even his Findlay lifted the saucepan lids. Pofumbling at the lock brought no evi tatoes covered with water lay in one, dence of any stirring within. News carrots and string-beans filled the other paper and bread lay where they had two. He leaned back against the kitchbeen unceremoniously dropped upon the en table, folding his arms. What did it door-mat, and a bottle of milk stood in all mean? a corner just under the electric push Gertrude and the two children gone! button. He picked up these three evi- And they had left hurriedly, too, in the dences of morning somnolence and gent midst of preparations for the evening ly closed the door. The house was si meal. Could it be possible that their lent. Could it be possible that his going was connected in some vague way wife had slept on through the night with the accident of yesterday? The undisturbed by his curious absence? thought flashed through Findlay's mind Or had she dropped off into an exhausted with the briefest of Aights. The accident doze with the coming of daybreak? He of yesterday! For the moment he had set the bottle of milk and the bread almost forgotten about it. and the tightly twisted newspaper upon a He roused himself from inactivity and chair near the hat-rack and went up the went over the house again, peering into thickly carpeted stairs to the second Hoor. every room with a vague, futile hope
Long before he reached the landing that he would find them crouched in he saw that the front bedroom door was some corner in an endeavor to tease open. This was unusual; he quickened him into anxiety. When he finally dehis steps. He tramped heavily past the cided that they were not to be found bathroom and came to the second sur he sat down upon the stairs, resting his prise of the morning. His wife was not chin in an upturned hand. The fact in their bedroom; indeed, the bed was that Gertrude and the two children were not even rumpled. Peter Findlay was not at home was in itself not so disturbpuzzled.
ing; he could think of a dozen reasons He crossed over to the massive for their being away. But he could not marble-topped bureau and instinctively fathom the apparent unpreparedness of began to brush his hair. He was not their departure. Something urgent must exactly troubled, but he was unmis have pulled Gertrude so suddenly away takably nonplussed. Then suddenly from her household tasks. In the midst the truth dawned upon him. Gertrude of cutting a loaf of bread she had been had been lonely and unnerved and she called to some stirring duty. But why had decided to snuggle in with one of the children? There were a half-dozen the children.
neighbors who would have been deThe children occupied the two small lighted to drop over and stay all night sleeping-rooms at the back of the house. with the children. Then why-whyDick, the boy, had the smaller room of He rose to his feet with a gesture the two, having chivalrously yielded the of confused irritation. larger room to his sister when she had Why the children? He kept repeatbecome old enough for the distinction ing this phrase over and over again as of her own little corner in the Findlay he stood with one hand upon the newelhousehold.
post, the other thrust deeply into his Having freshened up with a dash of pocket. Why the children, unless
Was it possible that little Grace- No, of sheer expediency had forced upon accidents rarely happened to girls—they him. It did not matter, in the final were too cautious. But how about Dick? analysis, whether he had been snared Suppose that Dick- Boys were no by either the loaded or the empty pistol toriously careless, and, what was worse, of Fate; the realization that the pistol even daring. Take the boy yesterday, had been empty, that his surrender had for instance. It was ridiculous to think been futile and uncalled for, added to that any boy could have been so reck the irony, but it did not change the less! Fancy running head-on into a values. leisurely driven car! There was This dead boy had parents-a father the slightest reason for it. Of course, and a mother, a man and a woman, no nothing of the kind had happened to doubt, very much in the circumstances Dick, yet he would give him a serious of him and Gertrude. The father was talking to later in the day. He didn't away at his business at the time of the want his boy brought home dead or accident, the mother, of course, at home mangled. That was the worst of rais -at home getting the dinner, preparing ing a family. Always the anxiety that her evening meal. He thought of Gerperhaps
trude, on that very night, cutting the And suddenly Peter Findlay thought loaf of bread. He reconstructed the for the first time of the father and picture; there was something symbolic mother of the boy that he had killed and fine about this maternal figure bendyesterday. Death was instantaneous! ing slightly over the homely, humdrum
The memory of the trite newspaper task. Then suddenly some startling statement fell like a blow upon him; he word had come. He saw the harried sat down again. He tried to picture face of the woman, the quick whipping the situation reversed - his boy shat off of her apron, the hasty preparations tered and abandoned, brought home for departure. But it was the whippingdead in the arms of some kindly stranger. off of the kitchen apron that stood so Why hadn't he thought of this before? clearly forth as a symbol of motherly What was there about instinctive, primi- alarm. How many times in his life had tive self-preservation that swamped so this quick shedding of the badge of utterly all the finer impulses? Yester- housewifely service been the sure foreday he had thought only of fight, cow runner of disaster! How many times ardly, headlong Aight. In the fraction had he not seen his own mother answer of a second all the safeguards of acquired the call to stirring service by the simple social obligation had been swept away Ainging aside of her blue gingham apron! Peter Findlay might have been a stark . And yet, not until now had the full force and conscienceless savage, fleeing from of so homely an act borne down on him. the wrath of a rival tribe bent on a lust In thousands of homes at that moment ful revenge, for all the reasoning that
as many aprons were being tossed aside lay back of his performance. But he to meet supreme tests. And
And upon the had a feeling that the sway of reason paved streets of the city ruthless chance in such matters was not the ultimate waited patiently an opportunity to try test of fineness. Did there not exist in out the souls of the unsuspecting. Peter men the instinctive impulse for generous Findlay had been standing upon the action, the fine upstanding quality of mountain-top of his egotism, straining gallantry, the will to be courageous, toward a far horizon for the heroic without calculation or according to for- things of life; and all this time the big mula and rule? Yes, there were such issues were crouching close at hand, men, Peter Findlay told himself, but he planning to spring at the throat of his did not belong in their ranks. Even if self-esteem. reason had urged him to turn back after He went back into the kitchen. Yes, the first mad impulse, he would have this kitchen might have been the very been no less the craven. Indeed, he kitchen of the mother whom he, Peter would have been a despicable com Findlay, had robbed of her child. The promiser, a man returning in the guise carefully covered saucepans waiting for of charity to do the service that a sense the lighted gas-flame, the half-cut loaf
upon the white table-top, the apron
Aloud he rehearsed this cry of justiclinging limply to a chair-here were fication. But his words condemned him mute evidences of the ordinary channels utterly. Already he felt himself shrivof life dammed up by relentless cir- eling before her accusing finger, withcumstance.
ered utterly by her scorn. He picked up the apron and held it He dragged up the stairs to his bedat arm’s-length. It seemed incredible room and Aung himself prone upon the that a blue gingham apron could be the bed. symbol of anything dramatic in life. Peter Findlay let the apron slip from his Peter Findlay lay for some time in a fingers to the floor and covered his eyes. stupor of retrospection. With his face For in that moment he was blinded by buried in a pillow and the yellow light a sudden realization. What if this of morning shut out completely, this apron did belong to the mother he had
daze was succeeded by distempered robbed? He stood in the center of the sleep. It was the sound of his own deserted kitchen clenching his hands, thick breathing that finally awakened not daring to open his eyes to the truth. him. He got up at once.
The sun was Yesterday he had killed a boy. Any- beating into the front windows; the body's boy? Somebody's boy? His room was stilling. He did not have to boy? Had he killed his boy yesterday grope for the key to his predicament; and ridden on, leaving tender services to even while he slept realization had strangers? Oh no, of course it had not gripped him hard. But already reacbeen Dick! It couldn't have been tion was setting in, and instinctively he Dick! What did the newspaper report began to think again in terms of custom say? Surely there had been a name and routine. It was nine o'clock, time given. There must have been a name to go down to the office. He wondered given. But he had been too interested what he had better do. How was he to in the phrase "Death was instantane- locate Gertrude? Would it be best to ous,” to pay any attention to less stir make inquiries about the neighborhood ring details. Then he remembered. or endure the strain a little longer and There had been no name. An unknown await the natural developments? Should boy! That was what the newspaper he go to the office or stay at home? At had said an unknown boy.
which place would Gertrude be likely There was a horrible fascination about to look for him? This boy that had the idea-it knit the tragedy so closely been killed Findlay stopped short, together. Like a story-it was like a arrested by the fact that for the mostory. He repeated this phrase over ment he had not identified this boy as and over. He tried to rally from the
An unknown boy! He took shock of his fears. He tried to tell him courage. The accident had happened self that it was all incredible, preposter at five o'clock. Gertrude had left in ous, too precisely arranged to be real. the midst of preparations for dinner. If But slowly, hopelessly, he succumbed to the boy was unknown to the ferrets of the inevitable. His boy was dead, the daily press, how was it possible for killed by his own hand; but the tragedy Gertrude to be called away so promptly? lay deeper than the mere fact of death.
not possible! Peter Findlay If he had only come to this terrible raised the window and let in the air. trick of Fate with clean hands! If he And as he did so he laughed. In an had turned back! What answer could instant the main thread of a distempered he make to Gertrude at that moment fancy had answered the sharp pull of when she discovered that her husband reason, and his elaborate pattern of fears had ridden away and left their child was unraveled, destroyed. He had no dead in the gutter? For that moment cause for dismay. His wife had left for would come, he told himself. There was
some good and sufficient reason that had no shadow in the whole world that no connection with the tragedy of yescould hide the truth from the searching terday. If he looked carefully he would gaze of a mother's vindictive grief. no doubt find a note telling why she
“But I didn't know it was our child!" had gone. He felt, suddenly, a great