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AT YOUR AGE


by


F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)


Saturday Evening Post (17 August 1929)



Tom Squires came into the drug store to buy a toothbrush, a can of
talcum, a gargle, Castile soap, Epsom salts and a box of cigars.
Having lived alone for many years, he was methodical, and while
waiting to be served he held the list in his hand.  It was
Christmas week and Minneapolis was under two feet of exhilarating,
constantly refreshed snow; with his cane Tom knocked two clean
crusts of it from his overshoes.  Then, looking up, he saw the
blonde girl.

She was a rare blonde, even in that Promised Land of Scandinavians,
where pretty blondes are not rare.  There was warm color in her
cheeks, lips and pink little hands that folded powders into papers;
her hair, in long braids twisted about her head, was shining and
alive.  She seemed to Tom suddenly the cleanest person he knew of,
and he caught his breath as he stepped forward and looked into her
gray eyes.

"A can of talcum."

"What kind?"

"Any kind. . . .  That's fine."

She looked back at him apparently without self-consciousness, and,
as the list melted away, his heart raced with it wildly.

"I am not old," he wanted to say.  "At fifty I'm younger than most
men of forty.  Don't I interest you at all?"

But she only said "What kind of gargle?"

And he answered, "What can you recommend? . . .  That's fine."

Almost painfully he took his eyes from her, went out and got into
his coupé.

"If that young idiot only knew what an old imbecile like me could
do for her," he thought humorously--"what worlds I could open out
to her!"

As he drove away into the winter twilight he followed this train of
thought to a totally unprecedented conclusion.  Perhaps the time of
day was the responsible stimulant, for the shop windows glowing
into the cold, the tinkling bells of a delivery sleigh, the white
gloss left by shovels on the sidewalks, the enormous distance of
the stars, brought back the feel of other nights thirty years ago.
For an instant the girls he had known then slipped like phantoms
out of their dull matronly selves of today and fluttered past him
with frosty, seductive laughter, until a pleasant shiver crawled up
his spine.

"Youth!  Youth!  Youth!" he apostrophized with conscious lack of
originality, and, as a somewhat ruthless and domineering man of no
morals whatsoever, he considered going back to the drug store to
seek the blonde girl's address.  It was not his sort of thing, so
the half-formed intention passed; the idea remained.

"Youth, by heaven--youth!" he repeated under his breath.  "I want
it near me, all around me, just once more before I'm too old to
care."

He was tall, lean and handsome, with the ruddy, bronzed face of a
sportsman and a just faintly graying mustache.  Once he had been
among the city's best beaus, organizer of cotillions and charity
balls, popular with men and women, and with several generations of
them.  After the war he had suddenly felt poor, gone into business,
and in ten years accumulated nearly a million dollars.  Tom Squires
was not introspective, but he perceived now that the wheel of his
life had revolved again, bringing up forgotten, yet familiar,
dreams and yearnings.  Entering his house, he turned suddenly to a
pile of disregarded invitations to see whether or not he had been
bidden to a dance tonight.

Throughout his dinner, which he ate alone at the Downtown Club, his
eyes were half closed and on his face was a faint smile.  He was
practicing so that he would be able to laugh at himself painlessly,
if necessary.

"I don't even know what they talk about," he admitted.  "They pet--
prominent broker goes to petting party with débutante.  What is a
petting party?  Do they serve refreshments?  Will I have to learn
to play a saxophone?"

These matters, lately as remote as China in a news reel, came alive
to him.  They were serious questions.  At ten o'clock he walked up
the steps of the College Club to a private dance with the same
sense of entering a new world as when he had gone into a training
camp back in '17.  He spoke to a hostess of his generation and to
her daughter, overwhelmingly of another, and sat down in a corner
to acclimate himself.

He was not alone long.  A silly young man named Leland Jaques, who
lived across the street from Tom, remarked him kindly and came over
to brighten his life.  He was such an exceedingly fatuous young man
that, for a moment, Tom was annoyed, but he perceived craftily that
he might be of service.

"Hello, Mr. Squires.  How are you, sir?"

"Fine, thanks, Leland.  Quite a dance."

As one man of the world with another, Mr. Jaques sat, or lay, down
on the couch and lit--or so it seemed to Tom--three or four
cigarettes at once.

"You should of been here last night, Mr. Squires.  Oh, boy, that
was a party and a half!  The Caulkins.  Hap-past five!"

"Who's that girl who changes partners every minute?" Tom asked. . . .
"No, the one in white passing the door."

"That's Annie Lorry."

"Arthur Lorry's daughter?"

"Yes."

"She seems popular."

"About the most popular girl in town--anyway, at a dance."

"Not popular except at dances?"

"Oh, sure, but she hangs around with Randy Cambell all the time."

"What Cambell?"

"D. B."

There were new names in town in the last decade.

"It's a boy-and-girl affair."  Pleased with this phrase, Jaques
tried to repeat it:  "One of those boy-and-girls affair--boys-and-
girl affairs--"  He gave it up and lit several more cigarettes,
crushing out the first series on Tom's lap.

"Does she drink?"

"Not especially.  At least I never saw her passed out. . . .
That's Randy Cambell just cut in on her now."

They were a nice couple.  Her beauty sparkled bright against his
strong, tall form, and they floated hoveringly, delicately, like
two people in a nice, amusing dream.  They came near and Tom
admired the faint dust of powder over her freshness, the guarded
sweetness of her smile, the fragility of her body calculated by
Nature to a millimeter to suggest a bud, yet guarantee a flower.
Her innocent, passionate eyes were brown, perhaps; but almost
violet in the silver light.

"Is she out this year?"

"Who?"

"Miss Lorry."

"Yes."

Although the girl's loveliness interested Tom, he was unable to
picture himself as one of the attentive, grateful queue that
pursued her around the room.  Better meet her when the holidays
were over and most of these young men were back in college "where
they belonged."  Tom Squires was old enough to wait.

He waited a fortnight while the city sank into the endless northern
midwinter, where gray skies were friendlier than metallic blue
skies, and dusk, whose lights were a reassuring glimpse into the
continuity of human cheer, was warmer than the afternoons of
bloodless sunshine.  The coat of snow lost its press and became
soiled and shabby, and ruts froze in the street; some of the big
houses on Crest Avenue began to close as their occupants went
South.  In those cold days Tom asked Annie and her parents to go as
his guests to the last Bachelors' Ball.

The Lorrys were an old family in Minneapolis, grown a little
harassed and poor since the war.  Mrs. Lorry, a contemporary of
Tom's, was not surprised that he should send mother and daughter
orchids and dine them luxuriously in his apartment on fresh caviar,
quail and champagne.  Annie saw him only dimly--he lacked
vividness, as the old do for the young--but she perceived his
interest in her and performed for him the traditional ritual of
young beauty--smiles, polite, wide-eyed attention, a profile held
obligingly in this light or in that.  At the ball he danced with
her twice, and, though she was teased about it, she was flattered
that such a man of the world--he had become that instead of a mere
old man--had singled her out.  She accepted his invitation to the
symphony the following week, with the idea that it would be uncouth
to refuse.

There were several "nice invitations" like that.  Sitting beside
him, she dozed in the warm shadow of Brahms and thought of Randy
Cambell and other romantic nebulosities who might appear tomorrow.
Feeling casually mellow one afternoon, she deliberately provoked
Tom to kiss her on the way home, but she wanted to laugh when he
took her hands and told her fervently he was falling in love.

"But how could you?" she protested.  "Really, you musn't say such
crazy things.  I won't go out with you any more, and then you'll be
sorry."

A few days later her mother spoke to her as Tom waited outside in
his car:

"Who's that, Annie?"

"Mr. Squires."

"Shut the door a minute.  You're seeing him quite a bit."

"Why not?"

"Well, dear, he's fifty years old."

"But, mother, there's hardly anybody else in town."

"But you musn't get any silly ideas about him."

"Don't worry.  Actually, he bores me to extinction most of the
time."  She came to a sudden decision:  "I'm not going to see him
any more.  I just couldn't get out of going with him this
afternoon."

And that night, as she stood by her door in the circle of Randy
Cambell's arm, Tom and his single kiss had no existence for her.

"Oh, I do love you so," Randy whispered.  "Kiss me once more."

Their cool cheeks and warm lips met in the crisp darkness, and,
watching the icy moon over his shoulder, Annie knew that she was
his surely and, pulling his face down, kissed him again, trembling
with emotion.

"When'll you marry me then?" he whispered.

"When can you--we afford it?"

"Couldn't you announce our engagement?  If you knew the misery of
having you out with somebody else and then making love to you."

"Oh, Randy, you ask so much."

"It's so awful to say good night.  Can't I come in for a minute?"

"Yes."

Sitting close together in a trance before the flickering, lessening
fire, they were oblivious that their common fate was being coolly
weighed by a man of fifty who lay in a hot bath some blocks away.


II


Tom Squires had guessed from Annie's extremely kind and detached
manner of the afternoon that he had failed to interest her.  He had
promised himself that in such an eventuality he would drop the
matter, but now he found himself in no such humor.  He did not want
to marry her; he simply wanted to see her and be with her a little;
and up to the moment of her sweetly casual, half passionate, yet
wholly unemotional kiss, giving her up would have been easy, for he
was past the romantic age; but since that kiss the thought of her
made his heart move up a few inches in his chest and beat there
steady and fast.

"But this is the time to get out," he said to himself.  "My age; no
possible right to force myself into her life."

He rubbed himself dry, brushed his hair before the mirror, and, as
he laid down the comb, said decisively:  "That is that."  And after
reading for an hour he turned out the lamp with a snap and repeated
aloud:  "That is that."

In other words, that was not that at all, and the click of material
things did not finish off Annie Lorry as a business decision might
be settled by the tap of a pencil on the table.

"I'm going to carry this matter a little further," he said to
himself about half-past four; on that acknowledgment he turned over
and found sleep.

In the morning she had receded somewhat, but by four o'clock in the
afternoon she was all around him--the phone was for calling her, a
woman's footfalls passing his office were her footfalls, the snow
outside the window was blowing, perhaps, against her rosy face.

"There is always the little plan I thought of last night," he said
to himself.  "In ten years I'll be sixty, and then no youth, no
beauty for me ever any more."

In a sort of panic he took a sheet of note paper and composed a
carefully phrased letter to Annie's mother, asking permission to
pay court to her daughter.  He took it himself into the hall, but
before the letter slide he tore it up and dropped the pieces in a
cuspidor.

"I couldn't do such an underhand trick," he told himself, "at my
age."  But this self-congratulation was premature, for he rewrote
the letter and mailed it before he left his office that night.

Next day the reply he had counted on arrived--he could have guessed
its very words in advance.  It was a curt and indignant refusal.

It ended:


I think it best that you and my daughter meet no more.

                           Very Sincerely Yours,

                                          MABEL TOLLMAN LORRY.


"And now," Tom thought coolly, "we'll see what the girl says to
that."  He wrote a note to Annie.  Her mother's letter had
surprised him, it said, but perhaps it was best that they should
meet no more, in view of her mother's attitude.

By return post came Annie's defiant answer to her mother's fiat:
"This isn't the Dark Ages.  I'll see you whenever I like."  She
named a rendezvous for the following afternoon.  Her mother's short-
sightedness brought about what he had failed to achieve directly;
for where Annie had been on the point of dropping him, she was now
determined to do nothing of the sort.  And the secrecy engendered
by disapproval at home simply contributed the missing excitement.
As February hardened into deep, solemn, interminable winter, she
met him frequently and on a new basis.  Sometimes they drove over
to St. Paul to see a picture or to have dinner; sometimes they
parked far out on a boulevard in his coupé, while the bitter sleet
glazed the windshield to opacity and furred his lamps with ermine.
Often he brought along something special to drink--enough to make
her gay, but, carefully, never more; for mingled with his other
emotions about her was something paternally concerned.

Laying his cards on the table, he told her that it was her mother
who had unwittingly pushed her toward him, but Annie only laughed
at his duplicity.

She was having a better time with him than with anyone else she had
ever known.  In place of the selfish exigency of a younger man, he
showed her a never-failing consideration.  What if his eyes were
tired, his cheeks a little leathery and veined, if his will was
masculine and strong.  Moreover, his experience was a window
looking out upon a wider, richer world; and with Randy Cambell next
day she would feel less taken care of, less valued, less rare.

It was Tom now who was vaguely discontented.  He had what he wanted--
her youth at his side--and he felt that anything further would be
a mistake.  His liberty was precious to him and he could offer her
only a dozen years before he would be old, but she had become
something precious to him and he perceived that drifting wasn't
fair.  Then one day late in February the matter was decided out of
hand.

They had ridden home from St. Paul and dropped into the College
Club for tea, breaking together through the drifts that masked the
walk and rimmed the door.  It was a revolving door; a young man
came around in it, and stepping into his space, they smelt onions
and whisky.  The door revolved again after them, and he was back
within, facing them.  It was Randy Cambell; his face was flushed,
his eyes dull and hard.

"Hello, beautiful," he said, approaching Annie.

"Don't come so close," she protested lightly.  "You smell of
onions."

"You're particular all of a sudden."

"Always.  I'm always particular."  Annie made a slight movement
back toward Tom.

"Not always," said Randy unpleasantly.  Then, with increased
emphasis and a fractional glance at Tom:  "Not always."  With his
remark he seemed to join the hostile world outside.  "And I'll just
give you a tip," he continued:  "Your mother's inside."

The jealous ill-temper of another generation reached Tom only
faintly, like the protest of a child, but at this impertinent
warning he bristled with annoyance.

"Come on, Annie," he said brusquely.  "We'll go in."

With her glance uneasily averted from Randy, Annie followed Tom
into the big room.

It was sparsely populated; three middle-aged women sat near the
fire.  Momentarily Annie drew back, then she walked toward them.

"Hello, mother . . . Mrs. Trumble . . . Aunt Caroline."

The two latter responded; Mrs. Trumble even nodded faintly at Tom.
But Annie's mother got to her feet without a word, her eyes frozen,
her mouth drawn.  For a moment she stood staring at her daughter;
then she turned abruptly and left the room.

Tom and Annie found a table across the room.

"Wasn't she terrible?" said Annie, breathing aloud.  He didn't
answer.

"For three days she hasn't spoken to me."  Suddenly she broke out:
"Oh, people can be so small!  I was going to sing the leading part
in the Junior League show, and yesterday Cousin Mary Betts, the
president, came to me and said I couldn't."

"Why not?"

"Because a representative Junior League girl mustn't defy her
mother.  As if I were a naughty child!"

Tom stared on at a row of cups on the mantelpiece--two or three of
them bore his name.  "Perhaps she was right," he said suddenly.
"When I begin to do harm to you it's time to stop."

"What do you mean?"

At her shocked voice his heart poured a warm liquid forth into his
body, but he answered quietly:  "You remember I told you I was
going South?  Well, I'm going tomorrow."

There was an argument, but he had made up his mind.  At the station
next evening she wept and clung to him.

"Thank you for the happiest month I've had in years," he said.

"But you'll come back, Tom."

"I'll be two months in Mexico; then I'm going East for a few
weeks."

He tried to sound fortunate, but the frozen city he was leaving
seemed to be in blossom.  Her frozen breath was a flower on the
air, and his heart sank as he realized that some young man was
waiting outside to take her home in a car hung with blooms.

"Good-by, Annie.  Good-by, sweet!"

Two days later he spent the morning in Houston with Hal Meigs, a
classmate at Yale.

"You're in luck for such an old fella," said Meigs at luncheon,
"because I'm going to introduce you to the cutest little traveling
companion you ever saw, who's going all the way to Mexico City."

The lady in question was frankly pleased to learn at the station
that she was not returning alone.  She and Tom dined together on
the train and later played rummy for an hour; but when, at ten
o'clock, standing in the door of the stateroom, she turned back to
him suddenly with a certain look, frank and unmistakable, and stood
there holding that look for a long moment, Tom Squires was suddenly
in the grip of an emotion that was not the one in question.  He
wanted desperately to see Annie, call her for a second on the
phone, and then fall asleep, knowing she was young and pure as a
star, and safe in bed.

"Good night," he said, trying to keep any repulsion out of his
voice.

"Oh!  Good night."

Arriving in El Paso next day, he drove over the border to Juarez.
It was bright and hot, and after leaving his bags at the station he
went into a bar for an iced drink; as he sipped it a girl's voice
addressed him thickly from the table behind:

"You'n American?"

He had noticed her slumped forward on her elbows as he came in;
now, turning, he faced a young girl of about seventeen, obviously
drunk, yet with gentility in her unsteady, sprawling voice.  The
American bartender leaned confidentially forward.

"I don't know what to do about her," he said.  "She come in about
three o'clock with two young fellows--one of them her sweetie.
They had a fight and the men went off, and this one's been here
ever since."

A spasm of distaste passed over Tom--the rules of his generation
were outraged and defied.  That an American girl should be drunk
and deserted in a tough foreign town--that such things happened,
might happen to Annie.  He looked at his watch, hesitated.

"Has she got a bill?" he asked.

"She owes for five gins.  But suppose her boy friends come back?"

"Tell them she's at the Roosevelt Hotel in El Paso."

Approaching, he put his hand on her shoulder.  She looked up.

"You look like Santa Claus," she said vaguely.  "You couldn't
possibly be Santa Claus, could you?"

"I'm going to take you to El Paso."

"Well," she considered, "you look perfectly safe to me."

She was so young--a drenched little rose.  He could have wept for
her wretched unconsciousness of the old facts, the old penalties of
life.  Jousting at nothing in an empty tilt yard with a shaking
spear.  The taxi moved too slowly through the suddenly poisonous
night.

Having explained things to a reluctant night clerk, he went out and
found a telegraph office.

"Have given up Mexican trip," he wired.  "Leaving here tonight.
Please meet train in the St. Paul station at three o'clock and ride
with me to Minneapolis, as I can't spare you for another minute.
All my love."

He could at least keep an eye on her, advise her, see what she did
with her life.  That silly mother of hers!

On the train, as the baked tropical lands and green fields fell
away and the North swept near again with patches of snow, then
fields of it, fierce winds in the vestibule and bleak, hibernating
farms, he paced the corridors with intolerable restlessness.  When
they drew into the St. Paul station he swung himself off like a
young man and searched the platform eagerly, but his eyes failed to
find her.  He had counted on those few minutes between the cities;
they had become a symbol of her fidelity to their friendship, and
as the train started again he searched it desperately from smoker
to observation car.  But he could not find her, and now he knew
that he was mad for her; at the thought that she had taken his
advice and plunged into affairs with other men, he grew weak with
fear.

Drawing into Minneapolis, his hands fumbled so that he must call
the porter to fasten his baggage.  Then there was an interminable
wait in the corridor while the baggage was taken off and he was
pressed up against a girl in a squirrel-trimmed coat.

"Tom!"

"Well, I'll be--"

Her arms went up around his neck.  "But, Tom," she cried, "I've
been right here in this car since St. Paul!"

His cane fell in the corridor, he drew her very tenderly close and
their lips met like starved hearts.


III


The new intimacy of their definite engagement brought Tom a feeling
of young happiness.  He awoke on winter mornings with the sense of
undeserved joy hovering in the room; meeting young men, he found
himself matching the vigor of his mind and body against theirs.
Suddenly his life had a purpose and a background; he felt rounded
and complete.  On gray March afternoons when she wandered
familiarly in his apartment the warm sureties of his youth flooded
back--ecstasy and poignancy, the mortal and the eternal posed in
their immemorially tragic juxtaposition and, a little astounded, he
found himself relishing the very terminology of young romance.  But
he was more thoughtful than a younger lover; and to Annie he seemed
to "know everything," to stand holding open the gates for her
passage into the truly golden world.

"We'll go to Europe first," he said.

"Oh, we'll go there a lot, won't we?  Let's spend our winters in
Italy and the spring in Paris."

"But, little Annie, there's business."

"Well, we'll stay away as much as we can anyhow.  I hate
Minneapolis."

"Oh, no."  He was a little shocked.  "Minneapolis is all right."

"When you're here it's all right."

Mrs. Lorry yielded at length to the inevitable.  With ill grace she
acknowledged the engagement, asking only that the marriage should
not take place until fall.

"Such a long time," Annie sighed.

"After all, I'm your mother.  It's so little to ask."

It was a long winter, even in a land of long winters.  March was
full of billowy drifts, and when it seemed at last as though the
cold must be defeated, there was a series of blizzards, desperate
as last stands.  The people waited; their first energy to resist
was spent, and man, like weather, simply hung on.  There was less
to do now and the general restlessness was expressed by surliness
in daily contacts.  Then, early in April, with a long sigh the ice
cracked, the snow ran into the ground and the green, eager spring
broke up through.

One day, riding along a slushy road in a fresh, damp breeze with a
little starved, smothered grass in it, Annie began to cry.
Sometimes she cried for nothing, but this time Tom suddenly stopped
the car and put his arm around her.

"Why do you cry like that?  Are you unhappy?"

"Oh, no, no!" she protested.

"But you cried yesterday the same way.  And you wouldn't tell me
why.  You must always tell me."

"Nothing, except the spring.  It smells so good, and it always has
so many sad thoughts and memories in it."

"It's our spring, my sweetheart," he said.  "Annie, don't let's
wait.  Let's be married in June."

"I promised mother, but if you like we can announce our engagement
in June."

The spring came fast now.  The sidewalks were damp, then dry, and
the children roller-skated on them and boys played baseball in the
soft, vacant lots.  Tom got up elaborate picnics of Annie's
contemporaries and encouraged her to play golf and tennis with
them.  Abruptly, with a final, triumphant lurch of Nature, it was
full summer.

On a lovely May evening Tom came up the Lorrys' walk and sat down
beside Annie's mother on the porch.

"It's so pleasant," he said, "I thought Annie and I would walk
instead of driving this evening.  I want to show her the funny old
house I was born in."

"On Chambers Street, wasn't it?  Annie'll be home in a few minutes.
She went riding with some young people after dinner."

"Yes, on Chambers Street."

He looked at his watch presently, hoping Annie would come while it
was still light enough to see.  Quarter of nine.  He frowned.  She
had kept him waiting the night before, kept him waiting an hour
yesterday afternoon.

"If I was twenty-one," he said to himself, "I'd make scenes and
we'd both be miserable."

He and Mrs. Lorry talked; the warmth of the night precipitated the
vague evening lassitude of the fifties and softened them both, and
for the first time since his attentions to Annie began, there was
no unfriendliness between them.  By and by long silences fell,
broken only by the scratch of a match or the creak of her swinging
settee.  When Mr. Lorry came home Tom threw away his second cigar
in surprise and looked at his watch; it was after ten.

"Annie's late," Mrs. Lorry said.

"I hope there's nothing wrong," said Tom anxiously.  "Who is she
with?"

"There were four when they started out.  Randy Cambell and another
couple--I didn't notice who.  They were only going for a soda."

"I hope there hasn't been any trouble.  Perhaps--Do you think I
ought to go and see?"

"Ten isn't late nowadays.  You'll find--"  Remembering that Tom
Squires was marrying Annie, not adopting her, she kept herself from
adding:  "You'll get used to it."

Her husband excused himself and went up to bed, and the
conversation became more forced and desultory.  When the church
clock over the way struck eleven they both broke off and listened
to the beats.  Twenty minutes later just as Tom impatiently crushed
out his last cigar, an automobile drifted down the street and came
to rest in front of the door.

For a minute no one moved on the porch or in the auto.  Then Annie,
with a hat in her hand, got out and came quickly up the walk.
Defying the tranquil night, the car snorted away.

"Oh, hello!" she cried.  "I'm so sorry!  What time is it?  Am I
terribly late?"

Tom didn't answer.  The street lamp threw wine color upon her face
and expressed with a shadow the heightened flush of her cheek.  Her
dress was crushed, her hair was in brief, expressive disarray.  But
it was the strange little break in her voice that made him afraid
to speak, made him turn his eyes aside.

"What happened?" Mrs. Lorry asked casually.

"Oh, a blow-out and something wrong with the engine--and we lost
our way.  Is it terribly late?"

And then, as she stood before them, her hat still in her hand, her
breast rising and falling a little, her eyes wide and bright, Tom
realized with a shock that he and her mother were people of the
same age looking at a person of another.  Try as he might, he could
not separate himself from Mrs. Lorry.  When she excused herself he
suppressed a frantic tendency to say, "But why should you go now?
After sitting here all evening?"

They were alone.  Annie came up to him and pressed his hand.  He
had never been so conscious of her beauty; her damp hands were
touched with dew.

"You were out with young Cambell," he said.

"Yes.  Oh, don't be mad.  I feel--I feel so upset tonight."

"Upset?"

She sat down, whimpering a little.

"I couldn't help it.  Please don't be mad.  He wanted so for me to
take a ride with him and it was such a wonderful night, so I went
just for an hour.  And we began talking and I didn't realize the
time.  I felt so sorry for him."

"How do you think I felt?"  He scorned himself, but it was said
now.

"Don't, Tom.  I told you I was terribly upset.  I want to go to
bed."

"I understand.  Good night, Annie."

"Oh, please don't act that way, Tom.  Can't you understand?"

But he could, and that was just the trouble.  With the courteous
bow of another generation, he walked down the steps and off into
the obliterating moonlight.  In a moment he was just a shadow
passing the street lamps and then a faint footfall up the street.


IV


All through that summer he often walked abroad in the evenings.  He
liked to stand for a minute in front of the house where he was
born, and then in front of another house where he had been a little
boy.  On his customary routes there were other sharp landmarks of
the 90's, converted habitats of gayeties that no longer existed--
the shell of Jansen's Livery Stables and the old Nushka Rink, where
every winter his father had curled on the well-kept ice.

"And it's a darn pity," he would mutter.  "A darn pity."

He had a tendency, too, to walk past the lights of a certain drug
store, because it seemed to him that it had contained the seed of
another and nearer branch of the past.  Once he went in, and
inquiring casually about the blonde clerk, found that she had
married and departed several months before.  He obtained her name
and on an impulse sent her a wedding present "from a dumb admirer,"
for he felt he owed something to her for his happiness and pain.
He had lost the battle against youth and spring, and with his grief
paid the penalty for age's unforgivable sin--refusing to die.  But
he could not have walked down wasted into the darkness without
being used up a little; what he had wanted, after all, was only to
break his strong old heart.  Conflict itself has a value beyond
victory and defeat, and those three months--he had them forever.





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