Bread by Joseph Hergesheimer
The train rolling rapidly over the broad salt meadows thunderously
entered the long shed of the terminal at the sea. August Turnbull rose
from his seat in the Pullman smoking compartment and took down the coat
hanging beside him. It was gray flannel; in a waistcoat his shirt
sleeves were a visible heavy mauve silk, and there was a complication
of gold chains about his lower pockets. Above the coat a finely woven
Panama hat with a narrow brim had rested, and with that now on his head
he moved arrogantly toward the door.
He was a large man, past the zenith of life, but still vigorous in
features and action. His face was full, and, wet from the heat, he
mopped it with a heavy linen handkerchief. August Turnbull's gaze was
steady and light blue; his nose was so heavy that it appeared to droop
a little from sheer weight, almost resting on the mustache brushed out
in a horizontal line across prominent lips; while his neck swelled in a
glowing congestion above a wilting collar.
He nodded to several men in the narrow corridor of the car; men like
himself in luxurious summer clothes, but for the most part fatter; then
in the shed, looking about in vain for Bernard, his son-in-law, he
proceeded to the street, where his automobile was waiting. It was a
glittering landaulet, folded back and open. Thrusting a wadded evening
paper into a crevice he sank in an upholstered corner while his
chauffeur skillfully worked out through a small confusion of similar
motor activity. Before him a carved glass vase set in a bracket held
smilax and yellow rosebuds, and he saw on the floor a fallen gold
Picking it up his face was suffused by a darker tide; this was the
result of stooping and the angry realization that in spite of his
prohibition Louise had been using the landaulet again. She must be made
to understand that he, her father, had an absolute authority over his
family and property. Marriage to Bernard Foster did not relieve her
from obedience to the head of the house. Bernard had a car as well as
himself; yet August Turnbull knew that his son-in-law—at heart a
stingy man—encouraged her to burn the parental gasoline in place of
his own. Turned against the public Bernard's special quality was
admirable; he was indeed more successful, richer, than August had been
at the other's age; but Louise and her husband would have to recognize
They were moving faster now on a broad paved avenue bound with steel
tracks. A central business section was left for a more unpretentious
region—small open fruit and fish stands, dingy lodging places, drab
corner saloons, with, at the intervals of the cross streets, fleet
glimpses of an elevated boardwalk and the luminous space of the sea.
Though the day was ending there was no thinning of the vaporous heat,
and a sodden humanity, shapeless in bathing suits, was still
reluctantly moving away from the beach.
Groups of women with their hair in trailing wet wisps and short
uneven skirts dripping on the pavements, gaunt children in scant
haphazard garb surged across the broad avenue or with shrill
admonishments stood in isolated helpless patches amid the swift and
shining procession of automobiles.
August Turnbull was disturbed by the sudden arrest of his progress,
and gazing out saw the insignificant cause of delay. He had again
removed his hat and a frown drew a visible heavy line between his eyes.
“More police are needed for these crossings,” he complained to the
chauffeur; “there is the same trouble every evening. The city shouldn't
encourage such rabbles; they give the place a black eye.”
All the immediate section, he silently continued, ought to be torn
down and rebuilt in solid expensive structures. It made him hot and
uncomfortable just to pass through the shabby quarter. The people in it
were there for the excellent reason that they lacked the ambition, the
force to demand better things. They got what they deserved.
August Turnbull made an impatient movement of contempt; the world,
success, was for the strong men, the men who knew what they wanted and
drove for it in a straight line. There was a great deal of foolishness
in the air at present—the war was largely responsible; though, on the
other hand, the war would cure a lot of nonsense. But America in
particular was rotten with sentimentality; it was that mainly which had
involved them here in a purely European affair. Getting into it had
been bad business.
Nowhere was the nation's failing more evident than in the attitude
toward women. It had always been maudlin; and now, long content to use
their advantages in small ways, women would become a serious menace to
the country generally. He had admitted their economic value—they
filled every possible place in the large establishment of the Turnbull
Bakery; rather, they performed all the light manual labor. There they
were more satisfactory than men, more easily controlled—yes, and
cheaper. But in Congress, voting, women in communities reporting on
factory conditions were a dangerous nuisance.
He had left the poorer part, and the suavity of the succeeding
streets rapidly increased to a soothing luxury. Wide cottages occupied
velvet- green lawns, and the women he saw were of the sort he
approved—closely skirted creatures with smooth shoulders in
transparent crepe de Chine. They invited a contemplative eye, the thing
for which they were created—a pleasure for men; that and maternity.
The automobile turned toward the sea and stopped at his house midway
in the block. It was a square dwelling painted white with a roof of
tapestry slate, and broad awning-covered veranda on the sea. A
sprinkler was flashing on the lawn, dripping over the concrete pavement
and filling the air with a damp coolness. No one was visible and,
leaving his hat and coat on a chair in an airy hall furnished in black
wicker and flowery chintz hangings on buff walls, he descended to the
basement dressing rooms.
In his bathing suit he presented a figure of vigorous glowing well-being. Only the silvering hair at his temples, the fatty bulge across
the back of his neck, and a considerable stomach indicated his
multiplying years. He left by a lower door, and immediately after was
on the sand. The tide was out, the lowering sun obscured in a haze, and
the sea undulated with a sullen gleam. Two men were swimming, and
farther at the left a woman stood in the water with arms raised to her
head. It was cold, but August Turnbull marched out without hesitation
and threw himself forward with an uncompromising solid splash.
He swam adequately, but he had not progressed a dozen feet before he
was conscious of a strong current sweeping him up the beach, and he
regained his feet with an angry flourish. The other men came nearer,
and he recognized Bernard Foster, his son-in-law, and Frederick Rathe,
whose cottage was directly across the street from the Turnbulls'.
Like August they were big men, with light hair and eyes. They were
very strong and abrupt in their movements, they spoke in short harsh
periods, and fingered mustaches waxed and rolled into severe points.
“A gully has cut in above,” Bernard explained, indicating a point
not far beyond them; “it's over your head. Watch where you swim.” They
were moving away.
“Are you coming over to dinner?” August Turnbull called to Bernard.
“Can't,” the latter shouted; “Victorine is sick again. Too many
Left alone, August dived and floated until he was thoroughly cooled;
then he turned toward the beach. The woman, whose existence he had
forgotten, was leaving at the same time. She approached at an angle,
and he was admiring her slim figure when he realized that it was Miss
Beggs, his wife's companion. He had never seen her in a bathing suit
before. August Turnbull delayed until she was at his side.
“Good evening.” Her voice was low, and she scarcely lifted her gaze
from the sand.
He wondered why—she had been in his house for a month—he had
failed completely to notice her previously. He decided that it had been
because she was so pale and quiet. Ordinarily he didn't like white
cheeks; and then she had been deceptive; he had subconsciously thought
of her as thin.
She stopped and took off her rubber cap, performing that act slowly,
while her body, in wet satin, turned like a faultless statue of
glistening black marble.
“Do you enjoy bathing in the ocean?” he asked.
A momentary veiled glance accompanied her reply. “Yes,” she said;
“though I can't swim. I like to be beaten by the waves. I like to fight
She hesitated, then fell definitely back; and he was forced to walk
His wife's companion! With the frown once more scoring the line
between his eyes he satirically contrasted Miss Beggs, a servant
really, and Emmy.
His room occupied the front corner on the sea, Emmy's was beyond;
the door between was partly open and he could hear her moving about,
but with a cigarette and his hair-brushes he made no acknowledgment of
The sun was now no more than a diffused gray glow, the sea like
unstirred molten silver. The sound of the muffled gong that announced
dinner floated up the stairs.
Below, the damask was lit both by rose silk-shaded candles and by
the radiance of a suspended alabaster bowl. August Turnbull sat at the
head of a table laden with silver and crystal and flowers. There were
individual pepper mills—he detested adulterated or stale spices—
carved goblets for water, cocktail glasses with enameled roosters, ruby
goblets like blown flowers and little gilt-speckled liqueur glasses;
there were knives with steel blades, knives all of silver, and gold
fruit knives; there were slim oyster forks, entree forks of solid
design, and forks of filigree; a bank of spoons by a plate that would
be presently removed, unused, for other filled plates.
Opposite him Emmy's place was still empty, but his son, Morice, in
the olive drab and bar of a first lieutenant, together with his wife,
was already present. August was annoyed by any delay: one of the marks
of a properly controlled household, a house admirably conscious of the
importance of order—and obedience—was an utter promptness at the
table. Then, silent and unsubstantial as a shadow, Emmy Turnbull
slipped into her seat.
August gazed at her with the secret resentment more and more
inspired by her sickness. At first he had been merely dogmatic—she
must recover under the superlative advice and attention he was able to
summon for her. Then his impatience had swung about toward all
doctors—they were a pack of incompetent fools, medicine was nothing
more than an organized swindle. They had tried baths, cures,
innumerable infallible treatments—to no purpose. Finally he had given
up all effort, all hope; he had given her up. And since then it had
been difficult to mask his resentment.
The butler, a white jacket taking the place of the conventional
somber black, poured four cocktails from a silver mixer and placed four
dishes of shaved ice, lemon rosettes and minute pinkish clams before
August Turnbull, Morice and his wife, and Miss Beggs, occupying in
solitude a side of the table. Then he set at Mrs. Turnbull's hand a
glass of milk thinned with limewater and an elaborate platter holding
three small pieces of zwieback.
She could eat practically nothing.
It was the particular character of her state that specially upset
August Turnbull. He was continually affronted by the spectacle of Emmy
seated before him sipping her diluted milk, breaking her dry bread, in
the midst of the rich plenty he provided. Damn it, he admitted, it got
on his nerves!
The sting of the cocktail whipped up his eagerness for the iced
tender clams. His narrowed gaze rested on Emmy; she was actually seven
years older than he, but from her appearance she might be a hundred, a
million. There was nothing but her painfully slow movements to
distinguish her from a mummy.
The plates were again removed and soup brought on, a clear steaming
amber-green turtle, and with it crisp wheat rolls. Morice's wife gave a
sigh of satisfaction at the latter.
“My,” she said, “they're elegant! I'm sick and tired of war bread.”
She was a pinkish young woman with regular features and abundant
coppery hair. Marriage had brought her into the Turnbull family from
the chorus of a famous New York roof beauty show. August had been at
first displeased, then a certain complacency had possessed him—Morice,
who was practically thirty years old, had no source of income other
than that volunteered by his father, and it pleased the latter to keep
them depending uncertainly on what he was willing to do. It insured
just the attitude from Rosalie he most enjoyed, approved, in a youthful
and not unhandsome woman. He liked her soft scented weight hanging on
his arm and the perfumed kiss with which she greeted him in the
Nevertheless, at times there was a gleam in her eyes and an
expression at odds with the perfection of her submission; on several
occasions Morice had approached him armed with a determination that he,
August, knew had been injected from without, undoubtedly by Rosalie.
Whatever it had been he quickly disposed of it, but there was a
possibility that she might some day undertake a rebellion; and there
was added zest in the thought of how he would totally subdue her.
“It's a wonder something isn't said to you,” she continued. “They're
awfully strict about wheat now.”
“That,” August Turnbull instructed her heavily, “is a subject we
The truth was that he would permit no interference with what so
closely touched his comfort. He was not a horse to eat bran. His
bakery—under inspection—conformed rigidly with the Government
requirements; but he had no intention of spoiling his own dinners. Any
necessary conservation could be effected at the expense of the riffraff
through which he had driven coming from the station. Black bread was no
new experience to them.
He saw that Miss Beggs' small white teeth were crushing salted
cashew nuts. Noticing her in detail for the first time he realized that
she enormously appreciated good food. Why in thunder, since she ate so
heartily, didn't she get fat and rosy! She was one of the thin kind—
yet not thin, he corrected himself. Graceful. Why, she must weigh a
hundred and twenty-five pounds; and she wasn't tall.
The butler filled his ruby goblet from a narrow bottle of Rhine
wine. It was exactly right, not sweet but full; and the man held for
his choice a great platter of beef, beautifully carved into thick
crimson slices; the bloodlike gravy had collected in its depression and
he poured it over his meat.
“A piece of this,” he told Emmy discontentedly, “would set you right
up; put something in your veins besides limewater.”
She became painfully upset at once and fumbled in her lap, with her
face averted, as the attention of the table was momentarily directed at
her. There was an uncontrollable tremor of her loose colorless mouth.
What a wife for him, August Turnbull! The stimulants and rich
flavors and roast filled him with a humming vitality; he could feel his
heart beat—as strong, he thought, as a bell. In a way Emmy had
deceived him —she probably had always been fragile, but was careful to
conceal it from him at their marriage. It was unjust to him. He wished
that she would take her farcical meals in her room, and not sit here—a
skeleton at the feast. Positively it made him nervous to see
her—spoiled his pleasure.
It had become worse lately; he had difficulty in putting her from
his mind; he imagined Emmy in conjunction with the bakery, of her
slowly starving and the thousands of loaves he produced in a day. There
was something unnatural in such a situation; it was like a mockery at
A vision of her came to him at the most inopportune moments,
lingering until it drove him into a hot rage and a pounding set up at
the back of his neck.
The meat was brought back, and he had more of a sweet boiled
huckleberry pudding. A salad followed, with a heavy Russian dressing.
August Turnbull's breathing grew thicker, he was conscious of a
familiar oppression. He assaulted it with fresh wine.
“I saw Bernard on the beach” he related; “Victorine is sick once
more. Chocolate sundaes, Bernard said. She is always stuffing herself
at soda-water counters or with candy. They oughtn't to allow it; the
child should be made to eat at the table. When she is here she touches
nothing but the dessert. When I was ten I ate everything or not at all.
But there is no longer any discipline, not only with children but
“There is a little freedom, though,” Rosalie suggested.
His manner clearly showed displeasure, almost contempt, and he
turned to Miss Beggs. “What do you think?” he demanded. “I understand
you have been a school-teacher.”
“Oh, you are quite right,” she responded; “at least about children,
and it is clear from them that most parents are idiotically lax.” A
blaze of discontent, loathing, surprisingly invaded her pallid face.
“A rod of iron,” August recommended.
The contrast between his wife and Miss Beggs recurred,
intensified—one an absolute wreck and the other as solidly slender as
a birch tree. Fate had played a disgusting trick on him. In the prime
of his life he was tied to a hopeless invalid. It put an unfair tension
on him. Women were charming, gracious—or else they were nothing. If
Emmy's money had been an assistance at first he had speedily justified
its absorption in the business. She owed him, her husband, everything
possible. He suddenly pictured mountains of bread, bread towering up
into the clouds, fragrant and appetizing; and Emmy, a thing of bones,
gazing wistfully at it. August Turnbull, with a feeling like panic,
brushed the picture from his mind.
The dessert was apparently a bomb of frozen coffee, but the center
revealed a delicious creamy substance flaked with pistache. The cold
sweet was exactly what he craved, and he ate it rapidly in a curious
mounting excitement. With the coffee he fingered the diminutive glass
of golden brandy and a long dark roll of oily tobacco. He lighted this
carefully and flooded his head with the coiling bluish smoke. Rosalie
was smoking a cigarette—a habit in women which he noisily denounced.
She extinguished it in an ash tray, but his anger lingered, an
unreasoning exasperation that constricted his throat. Sharply aware of
the sultriness of the evening he went hastily out to the veranda.
Morice following him with the evening paper volunteered, “I see
German submarines are operating on the Atlantic coast.”
His father asserted: “This country is due for a lesson. It was
anxious enough to get into trouble, and now we'll find how it likes
some severe instruction. All the news here is bluff—the national
asset. What I hope is that business won't be entirely ruined later.”
“The Germans will get the lesson,” Rosalie unexpectedly declared at
“You don't know what you're talking about,” he replied decidedly.
“The German system is a marvel, one of the wonders of civilization.”
She turned away, lightly singing a line from one of her late
numbers: “I've a Yankee boy bound for Berlin.”
Morice stirred uneasily. “They got a Danish tanker somewhere off
Nantucket,” he continued impotently.
August Turnbull refused to be drawn into further speech; he inhaled
his cigar with a replete bodily contentment. The oppression of dinner
was subsiding. His private opinion of the war was that it would end
without a military decision—he regarded the German system as
unsmashable—and then, with France deleted and England swamped in
internal politics, he saw an alliance of common sense between Germany
and the United States. The present hysteria, the sentimentality he
condemned, could not continue to stand before the pressure of
mercantile necessity. After all, the entire country was not made up of
Morice and his wife wandered off to the boardwalk, and he, August,
must have fallen asleep, for he suddenly sat up with a sensation of
strangeness and dizzy vision.
He rose and shook it off. It was still light, and he could see
Bernard at his automobile, parked before the latter's cottage.
The younger man caught sight of August at the same moment and
called: “We are going to a cafe with the Rathes; will you come?”
He was still slightly confused, his head full, and the ride, the
gayety of the crowd, he thought, would do him good.
“Be over for you,” the other added; and later he was crowded into a
rear seat between Louise, his daughter, and Caroline Rathe.
Louise was wearing the necklace of platinum and diamonds Bernard
Foster had given her last Christmas. It was, August admitted to
himself, a splendid present, and must have cost eighteen or twenty
thousand dollars. The Government had made platinum almost prohibitive.
In things of this kind—the adornment of his wife, of, really, himself,
the extension of his pride—Bernard was extremely generous. It was in
the small affairs such as gasoline that he was prudent.
Both Caroline Rathe and Louise were handsome women handsomely
dressed; he was seated in a nest of soft tulle and ruffled embroidery,
of pliant swaying bodies. Their satin-shod feet had high sharp insteps
in films of black lace and their fingers glittered with prismatic
stones. Bernard was in front with the chauffeur, and Frederick Rathe
occupied a small seat at the knees of the three others. He had not made
his money, as had August and Bernard, but inherited it with a huge
brewery. Frederick was younger than the other men too; but his manner
was, if anything, curter. He said things about the present war that
made even August Turnbull uneasy.
He was an unusual youth, not devoted to sports and convivial
pleasures —as any one might infer, viewing his heavy frame and
wealth—but something of a reader. He quoted fragments from
philosophical books about the will-to-power and the Uebermensch
that stuck like burrs in August Turnbull's memory, furnishing him with
labels, backing, for many of his personally evolved convictions and
They were soon descending the steps to the anteroom of the cafe,
where the men left their hats and sticks. As they entered the
brilliantly lighted space beyond a captain hurried forward. “Good
evening, gentlemen,” he said servilely; “Mr. Turnbull——”
He ushered them to a table by the rope of an open floor for dancing
and removed a reserved card. There he stood attentively with a waiter
at his shoulder.
“What will you have?” Frederick Rathe asked generally. “For me
nothing but beer. Not the filthy American stuff.” He turned to the
servants. “If you still have some of the other. You understand?”
“No beer for me!” Louise exclaimed.
“Champagne,” the captain suggested.
She agreed, but Caroline had a fancy for something else. August
Turnbull preferred a Scotch whisky and soda. The cafe was crowded;
everywhere drinking multiplied in an illuminated haze of cigarettes. A
slight girl in an airy slip and bare legs was executing a furious dance
with a powdered youth on the open space. The girl whirled about her
partner's head, a rigid shape in a flutter of white.
They stood limply answering the rattle of applause that followed. A
woman in an extravagantly low-cut gown took their place, singing. There
was no possibility of mistaking her allusions; August smiled broadly,
but Louise and Caroline Rathe watched her with an unmoved sharp
curiosity. In the same manner they studied other women in the cafe;
more than once August Turnbull hastily averted his gaze at the
discovery that his daughter and he were intent upon the same
“The U-boats are at it again,” Bernard commented in a lowered voice.
“And, though it is war,” Frederick added, “every one here is
squealing like a mouse. 'Ye are not great enough to know of hatred and
envy,'“ he quoted. “'It is the good war which halloweth every cause.'“
“I wish you wouldn't say those things here,” his wife murmured.
“'Thou goest to women?'“ he lectured her with mock solemnity. “'Do
not forget thy whip!'“
The whisky ran in a burning tide through August Turnbull's senses.
His surroundings became a little blurred, out of focus; his voice
sounded unfamiliar, as though it came from somewhere behind him. Fresh
buckets of wine were brought, fresh, polished glasses. His appetite
revived, and he ordered caviar. Beyond, a girl in a snake-like dress
was breaking a scarlet boiled lobster with a nut cracker; her cigarette
smoked on the table edge. Waiters passed bearing trays of steaming
food, pitchers of foaming beer, colorless drinks with bobbing sliced
limes, purplish sloe gin and sirupy cordials. Bernard's face was dark
and there was a splash of champagne on his dinner shirt. Louise was
uncertainly humming a fragment of popular song. The table was littered
with empty plates and glasses. Perversely it made August think of Emmy,
his wife, and acute dread touched him at the mockery of her wasting
The following morning, Thursday, August Turnbull was forced to go
into the city. He drove to the Turnbull Bakery in a taxi and dispatched
his responsibilities in time for luncheon uptown and an early afternoon
train to the shore. The bakery was a consequential rectangle of brick,
with the office across the front and a court resounding with the
shattering din of ponderous delivery trucks. All the vehicles, August
saw, bore a new temporary label advertising still another war bread;
there was, too, a subsidiary patriotic declaration: “Win the War With
He was, as always, fascinated by the mammoth trays of bread, the
enormous flood of sustenance produced as the result of his energy and
ability. Each loaf was shut in a sanitary paper envelope; the popular
superstition, sanitation, had contributed as much as anything to his
marked success. He liked to picture himself as a great force, a granary
on which the city depended for life; it pleased him to think of
thousands of people, men, women and children, waiting for his loaves or
perhaps suffering through the inability to buy them.
August left a direction for a barrel of superlative flower to be
sent to his cottage, and then with a curious feeling of expectancy he
departed. He was unable to grasp the cause of his sudden impatience to
be again at the sea. On the train, in the Pullman smoking compartment,
his coat swinging on a hook beside him, the vague haste centered
surprisingly about the person of Miss Beggs. At first he was annoyed by
the reality and persistence of her image; then he slipped into an
unquestioning consideration of her.
Never had he seen a more healthy being, and that alone, he told
himself, was sufficient to account for his interest. He liked marked
physical well-being; particularly, he added, in women. A sick wife, for
example, was the most futile thing imaginable; a wife should exist for
the comfort and pleasure of her husband. What little Miss Beggs—her
name, he now remembered from the checks made out for her, was Meta
Beggs—had said was as vigorous as herself. He realized that she had a
strong, even rebellious personality. That, in her, however, should not
be encouraged—an engaging submission was the becoming attitude for her
He proceeded immediately into the ocean, puffing strenuously and
gazing about. No women could be seen. They never had any regularity of
habit, he complained silently. After dinner—a surfeit of tenderloin
Bordelaise—he walked up the short incline to the boardwalk, where on
one of the benches overlooking the sparkling water he saw a slight
familiar figure. It was Miss Beggs. Her eyes dwelt on him momentarily
and then returned to the horizon.
“You are a great deal alone,” he commented on the far end of the
“It's because I choose to be,” she answered sharply.
An expression of displeasure was audible in his reply, “You should
have no trouble.”
“I ought to explain,” she continued, her slim hands clasped on
shapely knees; “I mean that I can't get what I want”
“So you prefer nothing?”
“That's different,” August Turnbull declared. “Anybody could see
you're particular. Still, it's strange you haven't met—well, one that
“What good would it do me—a school-teacher, and now a companion!”
“You might be admired for those very things.”
“Yes, by old ladies, male and female. Not men. There's just one
attraction for them.”
She turned now and faced him with a suppressed bitter energy.
“Clothes,” she said.
“That's nonsense!” he replied emphatically. “Dress is only
“When did you first notice me?” she demanded. “In bathing. That
bathing suit cost more than any two of my dresses. It is absolutely
right.” August was confused by the keenness of her perception. It
wasn't proper for a woman to understand such facts. He was at a loss
for a reply. “Seven men spoke to me in it on one afternoon. It is no
good for you to try to reassure me with platitudes; I know better. I
ought to, at least.”
August Turnbull was startled by the fire of resentment smoldering
under her still pale exterior. Why, she was like a charged battery. If
he touched her, he thought, sparks would fly. She was utterly different
from Emmy, as different as a live flame from ashes.
It was evident that having at last spoken she intended to unburden
herself of long-accumulated passionate words.
“All my life I've had to listen to and smile sweetly at ridiculous
hypocrisies. I have had to teach them and live them too. But now I'm so
sick of them I can't keep it up a month longer. I could kill some one,
easily. In a world where salvation for a woman is in a pair of slippers
I have to be damned. If I could have kept my hair smartly done up and
worn sheer batiste do you suppose for a minute I'd be a companion to
Mrs. Turnbull? I could be going out to the cafes in a landaulet.”
“And looking a lot better than most that do,” he commented without
She glanced at him again, and he saw that her eyes were gray,
habitually half closed and inviting.
“I've had frightfully bad luck,” she went on; “once or twice when it
seemed that I was to have a chance, when it appeared brighter—
everything went to pieces.”
“Perhaps you want too much,” he suggested.
“Perhaps,” she agreed wearily; “ease and pretty clothes and—a man.”
She added the latter with a more musical inflection than he had yet
“Of course,” he proceeded importantly, “there are not a great many
men. At least I haven't found them. As you say, most people are
incapable of any power or decision. I always maintain it's something in
the country. Now in——” He stopped, re-began: “In Europe they are
different. There a man is better understood, and women as well.”
“I have never been out of America,” Miss Beggs admitted.
“But you might well have been,” he assured her; “you are more
Continental than any one else I can think of.”
He moved toward the middle of the bench and she said quickly: “You
must not misunderstand. I am not cheap nor silly. It might have been
better for me.” She addressed the fading light on the sea. “Silly
women, too, do remarkably well. But I am not young enough to change
now.” She rose, gracefully drawn against space; her firm chin was
elevated and her hands clenched. “I won't grow old this way and shrivel
like an apple,” she half cried.
It would be a pity, he told himself, watching her erect figure
diminish over the boardwalk. He had a feeling of having come in contact
with an extraordinarily potent force. By heaven, she positively
crackled! He smiled, thinking of the misguided people who had employed
her, ignorant of all that underlay that severe prudent manner. At the
same time he was flattered that she had confided in him. It was clear
she recognized that he, at least, was a man. He was really sorry for
her—what an invigorating influence she was!
She had spoken of being no longer young—something over thirty-five
he judged—and that brought the realization that he was getting on. A
few years now, ten or twelve, and life would be behind him. It was a
rare and uncomfortable thought. Usually he saw himself as at the most
desirable age—a young spirit tempered by wisdom and experience. But in
a flash he read that his prime must depart; every hour left was
The best part of this must be dedicated to a helpless invalid; a
strong current of self-pity set through him. But it was speedily lost
in a more customary arrogance. August Turnbull repeated the favorite
aphorisms from Frederick Rathe about the higher man. If he believed
them at all, if they applied to life in general they were equally true
in connection with his home; in short—his wife. Emmy Turnbull couldn't
really be called a wife. There should be a provision to release men
from such bonds.
It might be that the will-to-power would release itself. In theory
that was well enough, but practically there were countless small
difficulties. The strands of life were so tied in, one with another.
Opinion was made up of an infinite number of stupid prejudices. In
short, no way presented itself of getting rid of Emmy.
His mind returned to Meta Beggs. What a woman she was! What a
triumph to master her contemptuous stubborn being!
At least, August reflected with a degree of comfort at breakfast,
Emmy didn't come down in the morning; she hadn't enough strength. He
addressed himself to the demolishment of a ripe Cassaba melon. It
melted in his mouth to the consistency of sugary water. His coffee cup
had a large flattened bowl, and pouring in the ropy cream with his free
hand he lifted the silver cover of a dish set before him. It held
spitted chicken livers and bacon and gave out an irresistible odor.
There were, too, potatoes chopped fine with peppers and browned; and
hot delicately sweetened buns. He emptied two full spits, renewed his
coffee and finished the potatoes.
With a butter ball at the center of a bun he casually glanced at the
day's paper. The submarines, he saw, were operating farther south. A
small passenger steamer, the Veronica had been torpedoed outside
the Delaware Capes.
A step sounded in the hall, and Louise entered the dining room, clad
all in white with the exception of a closely fitting yellow hat. After
a moment Victorine, a girl small for her age, with a petulant satiated
“It's a shame,” Louise observed, “that with Morice and his wife in
the cottage you have to breakfast alone. I suppose all those theatrical
people get up at noon.”
“Not quite,” Rosalie told her from the doorway.
Louise made no reply other than elevating her brows. Victorine
looked at the other with an exact mirroring of her mother's disdain.
“Good morning,” Morice said indistinctly, hooking the collar of his
uniform. “It's a bloody nuisance,” he asserted. “Why can't they copy
the English jacket?”
“It is much better looking,” Louise added.
“Well,” Rosalie proclaimed, “I'm glad to see Morice in any; even if
it means nothing more than a desk in the Quartermaster's Department.”
“That is very necessary,” August Turnbull spoke decidedly.
“Perhaps,” she agreed.
“I think it is bad taste to raise such insinuations.” Louise was
“An army,” August put in, “travels on its stomach. As Louise
suggests— we must ask you not to discuss the question in your present
tone.” Morice's wife half-audibly spoke into her melon, and his face
reddened. “What did I understand you to say?” he demanded.
“Oh, 'Swat the fly!'“ Rosalie answered hardily.
“Not at all!” he almost shouted. “What you said was 'Swat the
“Well, swat him!”
“It was evident, also, that you did not refer to the Emperor of
Germany—but to me.”
“You said it,” she admitted vulgarly. “If any house ever had a
Hohenzollern this has.”
“Shut up, Rosalie!” her husband commanded, perturbed; “you'll spoil
“It might be better if she continued,” Louise Foster corrected him.
“Perhaps then we'd learn something of this—this beauty.”
“I got good money for my face anyhow,” Rosalie asserted. “And no
cash premium went with it either. As for going on, I'll go.” She turned
to August Turnbull: “I've been stalling round here for nearly a year
with Morice scared to death trying to get a piece of change out of you.
Now I'm through; I've worked hard for a season's pay, but this is
slavery. What you want is an amalgamated lady bootblack and nautch
dancer. You're a joke to a free white woman. I'm sorry for your wife.
She ought to slip you a bichloride tablet. If it was worth while I'd
turn you over to the authorities for breaking the food regulations.”
She rose, unceremoniously shoving back her chair. “For a fact, I'm
tired of watching you eat. You down as much as a company of good boys
on the march. Don't get black in the face; I'd be afraid to if I were
August Turnbull's rage beat like a hammer at the base of his head.
He, too, rose, leaning forward with his napkin crumpled in a pounding
“Get out of my house!” he shouted.
“That's all right enough,” she replied; “the question is—is Morice
coming with me? Is that khaki he has on or a Kate Greenaway suit?”
Morice looked from one to the other in obvious dismay. He had a
pleasant dull face and a minute spiked mustache on an irresolute mouth.
“If you stay with me,” she warned him further, “I'll have you out of
that grocery store and into a trench.”
“Pleasant for you, Morice,” Louise explained.
“Things were so comfortable, Rosalie,” he protested despairingly.
“What in the name of sense made you stir this all up? The governor
won't do a tap for us now.”
His wife stood by herself, facing the inimical Turnbull front, while
Morice wavered between.
“If you'll get along,” the former told him, “I can make a living
till you come back. We can do without any Truebner money. I'm not a lot
at German, but I guess you can understand me,” she again addressed
August. “Not that I blame you for the change, such as it is.”
“I'll have to go with her,” Morice unhappily declared.
August Turnbull's face was stiff with congestion. The figures before
him wavered in a sort of fog. He put out a hand, supporting himself on
the back of his chair.
“Get out of my house,” he repeated in a hoarse whisper.
Fortunately Morice's leave had come to an end, and Rosalie and he
withdrew in at least the semblance of a normal departure. August's rage
changed to an indignant surprise, and he established himself with a
rigid dignity on the veranda. There, happening on a cigar that burned
badly, he was reduced to a state of further self-commiseration. That
is, he dwelt on the general deterioration of the world about him. There
was no discipline; there was no respect; authority was laughed at. All
this was the result of laxness, of the sentimentality he condemned; a
firmer hand was needed everywhere.
He turned with relief to the contemplation of Meta Beggs; she was
enormously satisfactory to consider. August watched her now with the
greatest interest; he even sat in his wife's room while her companion
moved silently and gracefully about. Miss Beggs couldn't have noticed
this, for scarcely ever did her gaze meet his; she had a habit of
standing lost in thought, her slimness a little drooping, as if she
were weary or depressed. She was in his mind continually—Miss Beggs
and Emmy, his wife.
The latter had a surprising power to disturb him; lately he had even
dreamed of her starving to death in the presence of abundant food. He
began to be superstitious about it, to think of her in a ridiculous
nervous manner as an evil design on his peace and security. She seemed
unnatural with her shrunken face bowed opposite him at the table. His
feeling for her shifted subconsciously to hatred. It broke out publicly
in sardonic or angry periods under which she would shrink away,
incredibly timid, from his scorn. This quality of utter helplessness
gave the menace he divined in her its illusive air of unreality. She
seemed—she was—entirely helpless; a prematurely aged woman, of the
mildest instincts, dying of malnutrition.
Miss Beggs now merged into all his daily life, his very fiber. He
regarded her in an attitude of admirable frankness. “Still it is
extraordinary you haven't married.”
The tide was out, it was late afternoon, and they were walking over
the hard exposed sand. Whenever she came on a shell she crushed it with
a sharp heel.
“There were some,” she replied indifferently.
He nodded gravely. “It would have to be a special kind of man,” he
agreed. “An ordinary individual would be crushed by your personality.
You'd need a firm hand.”
Her face was inscrutable. “I have always had the misfortune to be
too late,” she told him.
“I wish I had known you sooner!” he exclaimed.
Her arms, in transparent sleeves, were like marble. His words
crystallized an overwhelming realization of how exactly she was suited
to him. The desire to shut her will in his hand increased a
“Yes,” she said, “I would have married you. But there's no good
discussing it.” She breathed deeply with a sinking forward of her
rounded shoulders. All her vigor seemed to have left her. “I have been
worried about Mrs. Turnbull lately,” she went on. “Perhaps it's my
imagination—does she look weaker to you?”
“I haven't noticed,” he answered brusquely.
Curiously he had never thought of Emmy as dying; she appeared
eternal, without the possibility of offering him the relief of such
freedom as yet remained. Freedom for—for Meta Beggs.
“The doctor was at the cottage again Thursday,” she informed him. “I
didn't hear what he said.”
“Humbugs,” August Turnbull pronounced.
A sudden caution invaded him. It would be well not to implicate
himself too far with his wife's companion. She was a far shrewder woman
than was common; there was such a thing as blackmail. He studied her
privately. Damn it, what a pen he had been caught in! Her manner, too,
changed immediately, as though she had read his feeling.
“I shall have to go back.”
She spoke coldly. A moment before she had been close beside him, but
now she might as well have been miles away.
The fuse of the electric light in the dining room burned out, and
dinner proceeded with only the illumination of the silk-hooded candles.
In the subdued glow Meta Beggs was infinitely attractive. His wife's
place was empty. Miss Beggs had brought apologetic word from Emmy that
she felt too weak to leave her room. A greater degree of comfort
possessed August Turnbull than he had experienced for months. With no
one at the table but the slim woman on the left and himself a positive
geniality radiated from him. He pressed her to have more champagne—he
had ordered that since she preferred it to Rhine wine—urged more
duckling, and ordered the butler to leave the brandy decanter before
She laughed—a rare occurrence—and imitated, for his intense
amusement, Mrs. Frederick Rathe's extreme cutting social manner. He
drank more than he intended, and when he rose his legs were insecure.
He made his way toward Meta Beggs. She stood motionless, her thin lips
like a thread of blood on her tense face.
“What a wife you'd make!” he muttered.
There was a discreet cough at his back, and swinging about he saw a
maid in a white starched cap and high cuffs.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said; “Mrs. Turnbull wants to know would you
please come up to her room.”
He swayed slightly, glowering at her with a hot face in which a vein
throbbed persistently at his temple. Miss Beggs had disappeared.
“Very well,” he agreed heavily.
Mounting the stairs he fumbled for his cigar case, and entered the
chamber beyond his, clipping the end from a superlative perfecto.
Emmy was in bed, propped up on a bank of embroidered pillows. A
light from one side threw the shadow of her head on a wall in an
animated caricature of life.
“I didn't want to disturb you, August.”
Her voice was weak and apologetic. He stood irritably beside her.
“It's hot in here.” His wife at once detected whatever assaulted his
complete comfort. She fell into a silence that strained his patience to
When at last she spoke it was in a tone of voice he had never heard
from her—impersonal, with at the same time a note of fear like the
flutter of a bird's wing.
“The doctor has been here two or three times lately. I didn't want
to bother you, and he said——”
She broke off, and her hand raised from her side in a gesture of
seeking. He held it uncomfortably, wishing that the occasion would
“August, I've—I've got to leave you.”
He did not comprehend her meaning, and stood stupidly looking down
at her spent face. “I'm going to die, August, almost any time now. I
wanted to tell you first when we were quietly together; and then Louise
and Bernard must know.”
His sensations were so confused, the mere shock of such an
announcement had so confounded him that he was unable to penetrate the
meaning of the sudden expansion of his blood. His attention strayed
from the actuality of his wife to the immaterial shadow wavering on the
wall. There Emmy's profile, grotesquely enlarged and sharpened,
grimaced at him. August Turnbull's feelings disentangled and grew
clearer, there was a conventional memory of his wife as a young woman,
the infinitely sharper realization that soon he must be free, a vision
of Meta Beggs as she had been at dinner that night, and intense relief
from nameless strain.
He moved through the atmosphere of suspense that followed the
knowledge of Emmy's condition with a feeling of being entirely apart
from his family. Out of the chaos of his emotions the sense of release
was most insistent. Naturally he couldn't share it with any one else,
not at present. He avoided thinking directly of Meta Beggs, partly from
the shreds of the superstitious dread that had once colored his
attitude toward his wife and partly from the necessity to control what
otherwise would sweep him into a resistless torrent. However, most of
his impatience had vanished—a little while now, and in a discreet
manner he could grasp all that he had believed so hopelessly removed.
Except for the occasions of Louise's informal presence he dined
alone with Miss Beggs. They were largely silent, attacking their plates
with complete satisfaction. On the day of her monthly payment he drew
the check for a thousand dollars in place of the stipulated hundred,
and gave it to her without comment. She nodded, managing to convey
entire understanding and acceptance of what it forecast. Once, at the
table, he called her Meta.
She deliberated a reply—he had asked her opinion about British
bottled sauces—but when she answered she called him Mr. Turnbull.
This, too, pleased him. She had an unerring judgment in the small
affairs of deference. Dinner had been better than usual, and he
realized he had eaten too much. His throat felt constricted, he had
difficulty in swallowing a final gulp of coffee; the heavy odors of the
dining room almost sickened him.
“We'll get out on the beach,” he said abruptly; “a little air.”
They proceeded past the unremitting sprinklers on the strip of lawn
to the wide gray sweep of sand. At that hour no one else was visible,
and a new recklessness invaded his discomfort. “You see,” he told her,
“that bad luck of yours isn't going to hold.”
“It seems incredible,” she murmured. She added without an appearance
of the least ulterior thought: “Mrs. August Turnbull.”
“Exactly,” he asserted.
A triumphant conviction of pleasure to come surged through him like
a subtle exhilarating cordial.
“I'll take no nonsensical airs from Louise or the Rathes,” he
“Don't let that worry you,” she answered serenely.
He saw that it need not, and looked forward appreciatively to a
scene in which Meta would not come off second.
Above them the long curve of the boardwalk was empty, with, behind
it, the suave ornamental roofs of the cottages. A wind quartering from
the shore had smoothed the ocean into the semblance of a limitless and
placid lake. Minute waves ruffled along the beach with a continuous
whispering, and the vault of the west, from which the sun had just
withdrawn, was filled with light the color of sauterne wine.
It was inconceivable to August Turnbull that soon Emmy would be gone
out of his life. He shook his thick shoulders as if by a gesture to
unburden himself of her unpleasant responsibility. He smiled slightly
at the memory of how he had come to fear her. It had been the result of
the strain he was under; once more the vision of mountainous bread and
Emmy returned. The devil was in the woman!
“What are you smiling at?” Meta asked.
“Perhaps it was because my luck, as well, has changed,” he admitted.
She came close up to him, quivering with emotion.
“I want everything!” she cried in a vibrant hunger; “everything! Do
you understand? Are you willing? I'm starved as much as that woman up
in her bed. Can you give me all the gayety, all the silks and emeralds
there are in the world?”
He patted her shoulder. “You'll look like a Christmas tree. When
this damned war is over we will go to Europe, to Berlin and Munich.
They have the finest streets and theaters and cafes in the world. There
things are run by men for men. The food is the best of all—no French
fripperies, but solid rare cuts. Drinking is an art——”
“What is that out in the water?” she idly demanded.
He gazed impatiently over the unscored tide and saw a dark
“I have been watching it for a long while,” she continued. “It's
coming closer, I think.”
He again took up his planning.
“We'll stay two or three years; till things get on their feet here.
Turn the bakery into a company. No work, nothing but parties.”
“Do look!” she repeated. “It's coming in—a little boat. I suppose
it is empty.”
The blot was now near enough for him to distinguish its outline. As
Meta said, no one was visible. It was drifting. Against his wish his
gaze fastened on the approaching boat. It hesitated, appeared to swing
away, and then resumed the progress inshore.
“I believe it will float into that cut in the beach below,” he told
His attention was divided between the craft and the image of all the
pleasures he would introduce to Meta—Turnbull. It was a lucky
circumstance that he had plenty of money, for he realized that she
would not marry a poor man. This was not only natural but commendable.
Poor men were fools, too weak for success; only the strong ate white
bread and had fine women, only the masterful conquered circumstance.
“Come,” she said, catching his hand; “it's almost here.”
She half pulled him over the glistening wet sand to where the deeper
water thrust into the beach. Her interest was now fully communicated to
“We must drag it safely up,” he articulated, out of breath from her
eagerness. The bow swept into the onward current, it moved more
swiftly, and then sluggishly settled against the bottom. Painted on its
blistering white side was a name, “Veronica,” and “Ten persons.”
There was a slight movement at the rail, and a sharp unreasoning horror
gripped August Turnbull.
“Something in it,” he muttered. He wanted to turn away, to run from
the beach; but a stronger curiosity dragged him forward. Not conscious
of stepping through shallow water he advanced.
A hunger-ravished dead face was turned to him from the bottom, a
huddle of bony joints, dried hands. There were others—all dead,
starved. In a red glimmer he saw the incredible travesty of a child, a
lead-colored woman, shriveled and ageless from agony.
He fell back with a choking cry, “Emmy!”
There was a dull uproar in his head, and then a violent shock at the
back of his brain. August Turnbull's body slid down into the tranquil
ripples that ran along the boat's side.