An American Tragedy Chapter 28

Six-thirty the following morning. And Clyde, after but a single hour’s rest after his return from Gloversville, rising, his mind full of mixed and troubled thoughts as to how to readjust his affairs in connection with Roberta. She was going to Biltz to-day. He had promised to go as far as Fonda. But now he did not want to go. Of course he would have to concoct some excuse. But what?

Fortunately the day before he had heard Whiggam tell Liggett there was to be a meeting of department heads after closing hours in Smillie’s office to-day, and that he was to be there. Nothing was said to Clyde, since his department was included in Liggett’s, but now he decided that he could offer this as a reason and accordingly, about an hour before noon, he dropped a note on her desk which read:

“HONEY: Awfully sorry, but just told that I have to be at a meeting of department heads downstairs at three. That means I can’t go to Fonda with you, but will drop around to the room for a few minutes right after closing. Have something I want to give you, so be sure and wait. But don’t feel too bad. It can’t be helped. See you sure when you come back Wednesday.


At first, since she could not read it at once, Roberta was pleased because she imagined it contained some further favorable word about the afternoon. But on opening it in the ladies’ rest room a few minutes afterwards, her face fell. Coupled as this was with the disappointment of the preceding evening, when Clyde had failed to appear, together with his manner of the morning which to her had seemed self-absorbed, if not exactly distant, she began to wonder what it was that was bringing about this sudden change. Perhaps he could not avoid attending a meeting any more than he could avoid going to his uncle’s when he was asked. But the day before, following his word to her that he could not be with her that evening, his manner was gayer, less sober, than his supposed affection in the face of her departure would warrant. After all he had known before that she was to be gone for three days. He also knew that nothing weighed on her more than being absent from him any length of time.

At once her mood from one of hopefulness changed to one of deep depression—the blues. Life was always doing things like this to her. Here it was—two days before Christmas, and now she would have to go to Biltz, where there was nothing much but such cheer as she could bring, and all by herself, and after scarcely a moment with him. She returned to her bench, her face showing all the unhappiness that had suddenly overtaken her. Her manner was listless and her movements indifferent—a change which Clyde noticed; but still, because of his sudden and desperate feeling for Sondra, he could not now bring himself to repent.

At one, the giant whistles of some of the neighboring factories sounding the Saturday closing hours, both he and Roberta betook themselves separately to her room. And he was thinking to himself as he went what to say now. What to do? How in the face of this suddenly frosted and blanched affection to pretend an interest he did not feel—how, indeed, continue with a relationship which now, as alive and vigorous as it might have been as little as fifteen days before, appeared exceedingly anemic and colorless. It would not do to say or indicate in any way that he did not care for her any more—for that would be so decidedly cruel and might cause Roberta to say what? Do what? And on the other hand, neither would it do, in the face of his longings and prospects in the direction of Sondra to continue in a type of approach and declaration that was not true or sound and that could only tend to maintain things as they were. Impossible! Besides, at the first hint of reciprocal love on the part of Sondra, would he not be anxious and determined to desert Roberta if he could? And why not? As contrasted with one of Sondra’s position and beauty, what had Roberta really to offer him? And would it be fair in one of her station and considering the connections and the possibilities that Sondra offered, for her to demand or assume that he should continue a deep and undivided interest in her as opposed to this other? That would not really be fair, would it?

It was thus that he continued to speculate while Roberta, preceding him to her room, was asking herself what was this now that had so suddenly come upon her—over Clyde—this sudden indifference, this willingness to break a pre-Christmas date, and when she was about to leave for, home and not to see him for three days and over Christmas, too, to make him not wish to ride with her even so far as Fonda. He might say that it was that meeting, but was it? She could have waited until four if necessary, but something in his manner had precluded that—something distant and evasive. Oh, what did this all mean? And, so soon after the establishing of this intimacy, which at first and up to now at least had seemed to be drawing them indivisibly together. Did it spell a change—danger to or the end even of their wonderful love dream? Oh, dear! And she had given him so much and now his loyalty meant everything—her future—her life.

She stood in her room pondering this new problem as Clyde arrived, his Christmas package under his arm, but still fixed in his determination to modify his present relationship with Roberta, if he could—yet, at the same time anxious to put as inconsequential a face on the proceeding as possible.

“Gee, I’m awfully sorry about this, Bert,” he began briskly, his manner a mixture of attempted gayety, sympathy and uncertainty. “I hadn’t an idea until about a couple of hours ago that they were going to have this meeting. But you know how it is. You just can’t get out of a thing like this. You’re not going to feel too bad, are you?” For already, from her expression at the factory as well as here, he had gathered that her mood was of the darkest. “I’m glad I got the chance to bring this around to you, though,” he added, handing the gift to her. “I meant to bring it around last night only that other business came up. Gee, I’m sorry about the whole thing. Really, I am.”

Delighted as she might have been the night before if this gift had been given to her, Roberta now put the box on the table, all the zest that might have been joined with it completely banished.

“Did you have a good time last night, dear?” she queried, curious as to the outcome of the event that had robbed her of him.

“Oh, pretty good,” returned Clyde, anxious to put as deceptive a face as possible on the night that had meant so much to him and spelled so much danger to her. “I thought I was just going over to my uncle’s for dinner like I told you. But after I got there I found that what they really wanted me for was to escort Bella and Myra over to some doings in Gloversville. There’s a rich family over there, the Steeles—big glove people, you know. Well, anyhow, they were giving a dance and they wanted me to take them over because Gil couldn’t go. But it wasn’t so very interesting. I was glad when it was all over.” He used the names Bella, Myra and Gilbert as though they were long and assured intimates of his—an intimacy which invariably impressed Roberta greatly.

“You didn’t get through in time then to come around here, did you?”

“No, I didn’t, ’cause I had to wait for the bunch to come back. I just couldn’t get away. But aren’t you going to open your present?” he added, anxious to divert her thoughts from this desertion which he knew was preying on her mind.

She began to untie the ribbon that bound his gift, at the same time that her mind was riveted by the possibilities of the party which he had felt called upon to mention. What girls beside Bella and Myra had been there? Was there by any chance any girl outside of herself in whom he might have become recently interested? He was always talking about Sondra Finchley, Bertine Cranston and Jill Trumbull. Were they, by any chance, at this party?

“Who all were over there beside your cousins?” she suddenly asked.

“Oh, a lot of people that you don’t know. Twenty or thirty from different places around here.”

“Any others from Lycurgus beside your cousins?” she persisted.

“Oh, a few. We picked up Jill Trumbull and her sister, because Bella wanted to. Arabella Stark and Perley Haynes were already over there when we got there.” He made no mention of Sondra or any of the others who so interested him.

But because of the manner in saying it—something in the tone of his voice and flick of his eyes, the answer did not satisfy Roberta. She was really intensely troubled by this new development, but did not feel that under the circumstances it was wise to importune Clyde too much. He might resent it. After all he had always been identified with this world since ever she had known him. And she did not want him to feel that she was attempting to assert any claims over him, though such was her true desire.

“I wanted so much to be with you last night to give you your present,” she returned instead, as much to divert her own thoughts as to appeal to his regard for her. Clyde sensed the sorrow in her voice and as of old it appealed to him, only now he could not and would not let it take hold of him as much as otherwise it might have.

“But you know how that was, Bert,” he replied, with almost an air of bravado. “I just told you.”

“I know,” she replied sadly and attempting to conceal the true mood that was dominating her. At the same time she was removing the paper and opening the lid to the case that contained her toilet set. And once opened, her mood changed slightly because never before had she possessed anything so valuable or original. “Oh, this is beautiful, isn’t it?” she exclaimed, interested for the moment in spite of herself. “I didn’t expect anything like this. My two little presents won’t seem like very much now.”

She crossed over at once to get her gifts. Yet Clyde could see that although his gift was exceptional, still it was not sufficient to overcome the depression which his indifference had brought upon her. His continued love was far more vital than any present.

“You like it, do you?” he asked, eagerly hoping against hope that it would serve to divert her.

“Of course, dear,” she replied, looking at it interestedly. “But mine won’t seem so much,” she added gloomily, and not a little depressed by the general outcome of all her plans. “But they’ll be useful to you and you’ll always have them near you, next your heart, where I want them to be.”

She handed over the small box which contained the metal Eversharp pencil and the silver ornamental fountain pen she had chosen for him because she fancied they would be useful to him in his work at the factory. Two weeks before he would have taken her in his arms and sought to console her for the misery he was now causing her. But now he merely stood there wondering how, without seeming too distant, he could assuage her and yet not enter upon the customary demonstrations. And in order so to do he burst into enthusiastic and yet somehow hollow words in regard to her present to him.

“Oh, gee, these are swell, honey, and just what I need. You certainly couldn’t have given me anything that would come in handier. I can use them all the time.” He appeared to examine them with the utmost pleasure and afterwards fastened them in his pocket ready for use. Also, because for the moment she was before him so downcast and wistful, epitomizing really all the lure of the old relationship, he put his arms around her and kissed her. She was winsome, no doubt of it. And then when she threw her arms around his neck and burst into tears, he held her close, saying that there was no cause for all this and that she would be back Wednesday and all would be as before. At the same time he was thinking that this was not true, and how strange that was—seeing that only so recently he had cared for her so much. It was amazing how another girl could divert him in this way. And yet so it was. And although she might be thinking that he was still caring for her as he did before, he was not and never would again. And because of this he felt really sorry for her.

Something of this latest mood in him reached Roberta now, even as she listened to his words and felt his caresses. They failed to convey sincerity. His manner was too restless, his embraces too apathetic, his tone without real tenderness. Further proof as to this was added when, after a moment or two, he sought to disengage himself and look at his watch, saying, “I guess I’ll have to be going now, honey. It’s twenty of three now and that meeting is for three. I wish I could ride over with you, but I’ll see you when you get back.”

He bent down to kiss her but with Roberta sensing once and for all, this time, that his mood in regard to her was different, colder. He was interested and kind, but his thoughts were elsewhere—and at this particular season of the year, too—of all times. She tried to gather her strength and her self-respect together and did, in part—saying rather coolly, and determinedly toward the last: “Well, I don’t want you to be late, Clyde. You better hurry. But I don’t want to stay over there either later than Christmas night. Do you suppose if I come back early Christmas afternoon, you will come over here at all? I don’t want to be late Wednesday for work.”

“Why, sure, of course, honey, I’ll be around,” replied Clyde genially and even wholeheartedly, seeing that he had nothing else scheduled, that he knew of, for then, and would not so soon and boldly seek to evade her in this fashion. “What time do you expect to get in?”

The hour was to be eight and he decided that for that occasion, anyhow, a reunion would be acceptable. He drew out his watch again and saying, “I’ll have to be going now, though,” moved toward the door.

Nervous as to the significance of all this and concerned about the future, she now went over to him and seizing his coat lapels and looking into his eyes, half-pleaded and half-demanded: “Now, this is sure for Christmas night, is it, Clyde? You won’t make any other engagement this time, will you?”

“Oh, don’t worry. You know me. You know I couldn’t help that other, honey, but I’ll be on hand Tuesday, sure,” he returned. And kissing her, he hurried out, feeling, perhaps, that he was not acting as wisely as he should, but not seeing clearly how otherwise he was to do. A man couldn’t break off with a girl as he was trying to do, or at least might want to, without exercising some little tact or diplomacy, could he? There was no sense in that nor any real skill, was there? There must be some other and better way than that, surely. At the same time his thoughts were already running forward to Sondra and New Year’s Eve. He was going with her to Schenectady to a party and then he would have a chance to judge whether she was caring for him as much as she had seemed to the night before.

After he had gone, Roberta turned in a rather lorn and weary way and looked out the window after him, wondering as to what her future with him was to be, if at all? Supposing now, for any reason, he should cease caring for her. She had given him so much. And her future was now dependent upon him, his continued regard. Was he going to get tired of her now—not want to see her any more? Oh, how terrible that would be. What would she—what could she do then? If only she had not given herself to him, yielded so easily and so soon upon his demand.

She gazed out of her window at the bare snow-powdered branches of the trees outside and sighed. The holidays! And going away like this. Oh! Besides he was so high placed in this local society. And there were so many things brighter and better than she could offer calling him.

She shook her head dubiously, surveyed her face in the mirror, put together the few presents and belongings which she was taking with her to her home, and departed.