thirty seconds no one moved.An
odd sort of paralysis seemed to have gripped every one in the
room,—paralysis of the mind as well as of the body.Then
puzzled, wondering looks were exchanged.A
man sitting near the fireplace glanced sharply, apprehensively at
huge beams in the ceiling and muttered:
was it! Sounded as though something had smashed in the roof.
a tremendous wind. It may have got that big tree at the corner of
been thunder,—not at this time of the year,” said one of the
women, sending a nervous, frightened look at her husband who
ungracefully in a big Morris chair at the end of a table littered
with newspapers and magazines.
did you feel the house rock?” exclaimed he, sitting up suddenly,
his eyes narrowing as with pain. “Like an earthquake.
been an earthquake,” interrupted his wife, starting up from her
couldn’t it?” he demanded crossly, and then glanced around at the
other occupants of the room,—ten or a dozen men and women seated in
a wide semi-circle in front of the huge logs blazing in the
fireplace. “What do you think it was, Zimmie?”
find part or all of the roof gone,” answered the man addressed. As
he spoke, he rose quickly and started across the room in the
direction of the door leading to the steward’s pantry. “I’ll
have a look from the back of the—”He
stopped short. The dull, ripping crash that had startled them was
repeated, this time a little louder and more prolonged than before.
The club-house shook. Several of the men sprang to their feet in
alarm. A look of comprehension shot among them.
Gad! An explosion!” cried one of them. “The damned beasts!”
Reynolds Works!” cried another, gripping the back of his chair with
tense fingers. “Sure as you’re alive! It’s only a few miles
from here. Nothing else could have—”
go home, Ned. The children—something may have happened—you never
get excited, Betty,” cried the man in the Morris chair. She was
shaking his arm. “The children are in New York, twenty miles away.
They’re all right, old girl. Lord! What a smash it was!”The
group was silent, waiting with bated breath for the third and
more shocks to come.The
club steward came into the room, bearing a tray of bottles and
glasses. His face was ashen; there was a set expression about it,
one who controls his nerves with difficulty.
you hear it, Peter?” was the innocuous inquiry of one of the men, a
dapper young fellow in corduroys.
Mr. Cribbs. I thought at first it was the roof, sir. The chef said
was the big chimney—”
mind the drinks, Peter,” said a tall, greyish man as the steward
placed the glasses on the table. “We’ve lost what little thirst
we had. Where are the Reynolds Works from here?”Peter
looked surprised. “South, sir,—beyond the hills. About five
miles, I should say, Mr. Carstairs.”
which way is south?” inquired one of the women. “I am always
turned around when I am in the country.” She was a singularly
pallid, clear-featured woman of perhaps forty-five. One might
that at twenty she had been lovely, even exquisite.
way, Mrs. Carstairs,” said the steward, starting toward the windows
at the lower end of the lounge.The
man who had been addressed as Zimmie was already at one of the
windows, peering out into the black, windy night.
see a thing,” he said, as the others crowded about him. “The
shops are off there in a direct line with the home green, I should
happen to know that the Allies have a fifteen million dollar
with the Reynolds people,” said Carstairs, looking hard into the
they’d string up a few of these infernal—There! See the glow
coming up over the hill? She’s afire! And with this wind,—‘gad,
she’ll go like waste paper! My God, I wish the whole German Army
was sitting on top of those buildings right now.” It was little Mr.
Cribbs who spoke. He was shaking like a leaf.
rather see a million or two of these so-called German-Americans
sitting there, Cribbs,” said Carstairs, between his teeth. “There’d
be some satisfaction in that.”His
wife nudged him sharply. He turned and caught the warning look in
eye and the slight movement of her head in the direction of the man
that’s all right,” cried Carstairs carelessly. “You needn’t
punch me, dear. Zimmie ‘s as good an American as any of us. Don’t
think for a moment, Zimmie, old chap, that I include you in the
I’d like to see sitting on that pile of shells over there.”The
man at the window turned, and smiled affably.
old man. Being, as you say, as good an American as any of you, I
be permitted to return the compliment. I shouldn’t like to see Mrs.
Carstairs sitting on that pile of shells.”Carstairs
flushed. An angry light leaped to his eyes, but it was banished
almost instantly. Mrs. Carstairs herself replied.
can’t imagine anything more distasteful,” she drawled.
Mrs. Carstairs isn’t a German,” put in little Mr. Cribbs,
somewhat tartly for him.
always saying the wrong thing, Cribbs,—or the right thing at the
wrong time,” said Carstairs. “Mrs. Carstairs is not German. Her
father and mother were, however. She’s in the same fix as
Zimmerlein, and she isn’t ashamed of it any more than Zimmie
had—er—no idea that Mrs. Carstairs was—”
were your parents, Mr. Cribbs?” asked Mrs. Carstairs calmly.
said Cribbs, stiffening. “My grandfather was a Welshman.”
so you have absolutely nothing to reproach yourself with,” said
she. “How fortunate in these days.”
sorry, Mrs. Carstairs, if I—”
was born in the United States,” she said, without a trace of
annoyance, “but not in Nebraska. You have the advantage of me
there, I fear. And of poor Mr. Zimmerlein, too. He was born in
Boston,—were you not?”
Marlborough Street,” said Zimmerlein, drily. “My father was
Irish, as you can tell by me name, and me poor mither was Irish
Her name before marriage was Krausshof.” Mr. Cribbs’s face was
scarlet. To cover his confusion, he wedged his way a little closer
the windows and glared at the dull red light that crept slowly out
the darkness off to the south. The crests of the hills were
to take shape against a background shot with crimson.
the same,” he muttered, “I’d like to see the men who are
responsible for that fire over there burning in hell.”
think we can agree on that point, at least, Mr. Cribbs,” said
Zimmerlein, with dignity.
wants to run over there with me in my car?” cried the other,
excitedly. “It’s only a few miles, and it must be a wonderful
sight. I can take six or seven—”
where you are, Cribbs,” said Carstairs sharply. “When those
shells begin to go off—Why, man alive, there’s never been
anything on the French front that could hold a candle to it. Don’t
forget what happened when Black Tom pier was blown up. Pray do not
alarmed, ladies. There isn’t the slightest danger here. The shells
they are making at the Reynolds plant are comparatively small.
safely out of range.”
size shells were they making, Carstairs?” inquired one of the
inch, I believe—and smaller. A lot of machine-gun ammunition, too.
Cox, the general manager, dined with us the other night. He talked
little too freely, I thought,—didn’t you, Frieda?”
boasted, if that is what you mean,” said Mrs. Carstairs.
said a big, red-faced man on the outer edge of the group, “it’s
time some of these blooming fools learned how to keep their mouths
shut. The country’s full of spies,—running over with ‘em. You
never know when you’re talking to one.”Silence
followed his remark. For some time they all stood watching the
crimson cloud in the distance, an ever-changing, pulsing shadow
throbbed to the temper of the wind.They
represented the reluctant element of a large company that had spent
the afternoon and early evening at the Black Downs Country
element that is always reluctant to go home. There had been many
intimate little dinner parties during the evening. New York was
twenty miles or more away, and there was the Hudson in between. The
clock above the huge fireplace had struck eleven a minute or two
before the first explosion took place. Chauffeurs in the
were sullenly cursing their employers. All but two or three waiters
had gone off to the railway station not far away, and the musicians
had made the 10:30 up-train. Peter, the steward, lived on the
premises with the chef and several house employes.The
late-staying guests were clad in sport clothes, rough and warm and
smart,—for it was one of the smartest clubs in the Metropolitan
fierce October gale was whining, cold and bitter and relentless,
across the uplands; storm-warnings had gone out from the Weather
Bureau; coast-wise vessels were scurrying for harbours and farmers
all over the land had made snug their livestock against the
it turned out to be true that the vast Reynolds munitions plant had
been blown up, the plotters could not have chosen a more auspicious
night for their enterprise. No human force could combat the flames
a night like this; caught on the wings of the wind there would be
stopping them until the ashes of ruin lay wet and sodden where the
flight had begun.Mrs.
Carstairs was the first to turn away from the windows. She
a little. A pretty, nervous young wife sidled up to her, and laid a
trembling hand on her arm.
it be dreadful if there were a lot of people at work over there
when—when it happened?” she cried, in a tense, strained voice.
“Just think of it.”
think about it, Alice dear. Think of what they are going through in
France and Belgium.”
we really aren’t fighting them yet,” went on the other,
plaintively. “Why should they blow up our factories? Oh, these
dreadful, terrible Germans.” Then suddenly, in confusion: “I—I
beg your pardon.”Mrs.
Carstairs smiled pleasantly. “That’s all right, my dear. A good
many of us suffer for the sins of the fathers. Besides, we are in
war, and have been for six months or more.”
all hate the Kaiser, don’t we?” pleaded the younger woman.Mrs.
Carstairs pressed her arm. “None more so than those of us whose
parents left Germany to escape such as he.”
glad to hear you say that.”
pardon,” said Peter the steward, at Mrs. Carstairs’ elbow. “I
think this is yours. You dropped it just now.”
you, Peter,” said she, taking the crumpled handkerchief he handed
her. “I shan’t drop it again,” she went on, smiling as she
stuffed it securely in the gold mesh bag she was carrying.
is such a splendid man, isn’t he?” said her young companion,
lowering her voice. “So much more willing and agreeable than old
Crosby. We’re all so glad the change was made.”
is most efficient,” said Mrs. Carstairs.The
admirable Peter approached Mr. Carstairs and Zimmerlein, who were
pouring drinks for themselves at the table.
is the word of the hour,” Carstairs was saying, as he raised his
glass. “It’s a long, cold ride home.”
me, gentlemen, shall I call up Central at Bushleigh and see if they
can give us any news!” asked Peter.
might try. I don’t believe you can get a connection, however.
Everything must be knocked galley-west over on that side of the
think your wife is signalling you, Car-stairs,” said Zimmerlein,
looking over the other’s shoulder.Carstairs
tossed off the contents of the glass, and reached out his hand for
the check. Zimmerlein already had it in his fingers.
sign it, old chap,” he said. “Give me your pencil, Peter.”
of that, Zimmie. I ordered the—”
along, old man, your wife—He’s coming, Mrs. Carstairs,” called
Carstairs turned away, Zimmerlein scratched his name across the
check, and handed it back to the steward.
no circumstances are you to call up Bushleigh,” fell in low,
distinct tones from his lips. “Do you understand?”Peter’s
hand shook. His face was livid.
sir,” he muttered. “What shall I say to Mr. Carstairs?”
that no one answers,” said the other, and walked away.The
company had recovered its collective and individual power of
Every one was talking,—loudly, excitedly, and in some cases
violently. Some were excoriating the Germans, others were bitterly
criticizing the Government for its over-tenderness, and still
were blaming themselves for not taking the law in their own hands
making short work of the “soap-boxers,” the “pacifists,” and
the “obstructionists.” Little Mr. Cribbs was the most violent of
them all. He was for organizing the old-time Vigilantes, once so
efficacious in the Far West, and equipping them with guns and ropes
and plenty of tar and feathers.
would please me more than to lead such a gang,” he proclaimed.
“Lead ‘em right into these foul nests where——What’s that,
repeat—How old are you, Cribbs?”
I guess I’m old enough to shoot a gun, or pull a rope or carry a
bucket of tar,” retorted the young man.
put it the other way. How young are you?”
see. And how did you escape the draft?”
haven’t reached my number yet,” said Mr. Cribbs, with
that’s good. There’s still hope,” said the Judge, grimly. “They
need just such fire-eaters as you over there in France with
turned to Zimmerlein, who was being helped into his fur-coat by one
of the attendants.
we take you to the city, Zimmerlein? There is plenty of room in the
thank you, Carstairs. I’m going in by train. Mr. and Mrs. Prior
will drop me at the station. Good night. Oh, here’s Peter. What did
could get no answer, Mr. Zimmerlein,” said the steward steadily.
“Wires may be down, sir.”
night, Mrs. Carstairs.” Zimmerlein held out his hand. She hesitated
an instant, and then took it. Her gaze was fixed, as if fascinated,
on his dark, steady eyes.