Mr. Hapgood's Gospel

I.

THE door between Hapgood’s own den and the outer office was slightly ajar. Hapgood sat in his shirt sleeves, his big shoulders rounded over the desk. Now and then, in absent-minded impatience, he lifted his left arm and mopped his perspiring brow with the red-and-bluechecked sleeve of his shirt. Again he put up a heavy hand, and gave a hard twist to the close-cut brown mustache in which there were a few lines of gray.

Abruptly he straightened up in his chair. His large, powerful eyes turned to the door with a stare. The new, gay sound of voices in the outer room was perfectly audible. Occasionally he caught a word. One voice was that of his wife. Another was Teddy Fairchild’s. He waited in a pleasurable expectancy, which gradually faded into a kind of stubborn bitterness. Apparently Marion was not looking for him. He turned to the work ; but his mind fumbled aimlessly over it. In his pained helplessness, he knew by the sound of the voices that the ladies were going out. An impulse to step forth, to intercept her, surged strongly forward within him; but he only dulled his eyes a little.

“ Well, then I shall look for you, Teddy.”

That was Marion ; and that was the click of the outer door closing behind her. Hapgood had a poignant sense of desertion, and he stared dully back at his work. What was this strange, new enemy which he was called upon to fight ? In the turmoil and suffering there was still an underconsciousness in which he remotely asked himself whether it was not the inevitable price a man must pay for having a beautiful wife, and loving her — more than was quite reasonable, perhaps. The six months of his married life had been so fine; but recently —

The mere shape of some figures he had made on the sheet of paper obtruded. The sheer, blind will within him began fighting grimly up, and exerting its slow, stubborn strength. He went on with his figures. Presently he touched an electric button.

When Teddy appeared at the door, Hapgood looked up with a face perfectly clear and composed. He took a certain personal note of the younger man,—a tall, slender figure, with an effect of distinction in the clothes which was beyond Hapgood’s simple sartorial imagining.

“ Here ’s business for you, Ted,” he said cheerily.

He saw that the young man’s eyes were downcast, that they steadily avoided his own, and that pained him. Hapgood’s glance was frank, his voice cool and good-humored, as who would say : “ Look up, my boy ; here is all free light and air.”

II.

Driving over from the station, Teddy had a view of the golf links nearly the whole way. He kept looking furtively for that one figure, and when he identified it he quickly averted his eyes, lest she should see and hail him. But why had he come ? Surely this house was the last place.

He was aware that she had discovered his approach, and when he alighted before the broad porch Mrs. Hapgood was coming across the lawn. They walked down the porch to a cluster of willow chairs. An upland, very still and spacious under the lowering, ardent September sun, spread before them. There was the golf club house in the left foreground of the picture, in the middle distance a farm and clump of trees, and a haze over the low wooded hills at the further side. Mrs. Hapgood wore a wide, jaunty straw hat and a red jacket. Her dark eyes danced at him. The dimple came in her white, firm left cheek, and her small, even teeth gleamed when she smiled. Yes ; it was precisely the scenery, the setting of that dim, rich land of the future, spacious, serene, charming, into which he had been ever about to step.

“ We miss things by so little ! ” He brushed the long hair out of his eyes, and looked around at her with an odd, mournful, whimsical smile. “ It’s all there, you know. The garden is right before you, — bulbul and the rose, saki, the twilight glow, everything. You can hear the bird and smell the flower. Saki is pulling the corks with a mellow sound. But just when you might step in, the man at the gate has been called away. You have left the ticket in your other clothes. You miss it by a mere inadvertence. But — you miss it.”

He drew a tremulous breath. You miss it! The words echoed ominously in his mind. The dreadful sickness at his heart, which her presence had a little charmed away, grew up again. Why had he come here, of all places ? The poetic glow faded. The very pillars of the porch stood out in a kind of brutish, uncompromising reality. His mind began again sickly turning around and around in that helpless coil: the speculation — how well it had promised ! — the excitement — the taking of those certain certificates out of Hapgood’s tin box. There was the slight, stiff creaking of the hinges of the box, the dusty smudge on his thumb ; there was his own raging apprehension, not over the theft, but lest somebody should come in and interrupt him, — lest he should be prevented. Why had he done that? It seemed incredible that the thing should be so irrevocable ; that he could not some way slip back and undo it, and face to-morrow with a smile. How many tomorrows he had lived up to and through, — just days, days, days, bright or dreary. Surely it was not possible that this one to-morrow should be so dreadfully different from all its predecessors.

But such tension could not last. Little overwhelmed bubbles of hope floated up in his mind. After all, he might not be the loser. Hapgood might have lost the speculation, after all. Only this morning the newspaper had cast a sinister glance at a nameless “ steel magnate,” who was said to be “ involved.”

“ Fancy the newspaper saying John would fail! ”

The man quailed at the touch; but his dry lips managed to say, “ Well, stranger things than that have happened.”

“ What! Stranger than that! Oh no ! Of course, I don’t know any of the details ; but, you see, I know John ! ” She nodded it at him sagely. In a moment she bent forward a little, confidentially, and added, “ You see, it’s come to that, Teddy ! ” so that at once he felt anew their singular intimacy, coming of their almost lifelong propinquity, of their relationship, even of that indefinite something which had been between them when they got of that age, — a “ something ” the issues of which might be found in the fact that now she liked to call him Teddy, while he called her neither Marion, as of old, nor Mrs. Hapgood, as, all things considered, he should.

“ It is n’t your garden, perhaps,” she was going on ; “ but a big, strong house, with plenty of room in it, where you can come and go as you please, and you feel it will always be the same for you, — open, unchangeable, secure. That’s John! ”

“ Yes,” Teddy murmured. The air of that strong house seemed to blow upon him and to wither him. He felt again Hapgood’s powerful effect, and he could not tell just how it blent into a knowledge of his physical approachHe did know of the physical approach a long second before Hapgood’s voice sounded from the roadway. The voice itself was like a summons. In a moment’s ecstasy of fear and pain he clutched Marion’s hand, staring at her with a twisted face. It may have been to confess, to tell her everything. It may have been a kind of agony of farewell. There was no definable thought in his mind. It was simply a wild, panicky impulse, and it was so strong that he held her hand, staring strickenly at her, during the fraction of a minute that it took Hapgood to run up the steps and come upon the porch.

Hapgood, seeing the hand clasp, paused a mere instant, nodded at them ; then called, “ Hello, Marion ! ” as he turned to the house. When he emerged a moment later, Teddy was descending the steps, and he did not look back, although the master of the house again paused.

Mrs. Hapgood was bending across the arm of her chair, awaiting him, and Hapgood went over to her. He took the seat which Teddy had vacated.

“John,” she began eagerly, “ tell me about this stock affair.”

Hapgood looked at her with a kind of slowness. “ Well,” he said absently, “ I’ve got ’em laid out cold.”

“ You mean — you’ve won ? ”

“ Yes,” he said, in the same absent way.

“ But — how much do you make ? ”

Her husband looked at her an instant, as though the question perplexed him. “ I suppose a couple of hundred thousand,” he answered.

“ But are n’t you glad ? ” she demanded, with a touch of indignation.

He pulled himself together. “ Why, yes, of course,” he assented, as though he meant it. He smiled at her with good humor. “ Of course it’s bully to win a good fight! ” He laughed easily. His strong eyes were shining at her. “ It was a good fight. I was pretty hard up with taking over that West Side mill. Harding and Dent and their clique knew it, too, when they started in to oust me. Money was tight, and when they began throwing the stock on the market it looked as though they stood about an even chance to win. Well, I found the money, and took the stock as fast as they sold, and now they ’re in a corner. I was n’t looking for it. They made the game and made me play it — and — well, naturally I hope I’ve given ’em all they wanted of it.”

“ I knew you’d win ! ” Mrs. Hapgood declared. “ But even Teddy ” — She stopped.

Hapgood looked into his lap. “Teddy was n’t sure, eh ? ” he suggested.

“ Well, you know, Teddy is such a dreadful pessimist.”

“ Is he ? ” Hapgood asked, his eyes downcast. He rose, and stood for an instant looking sombrely down at his feet. “ I believe I ’ll take a turn in the stables,” he said.

III.

When Teddy returned to the porch, Mrs. Hapgood, from the hall, called gayly to him, “ You were wrong ! ”

He opened the screen door and stepped inside.

“ Probably,” he said; “ but what about ? ”

“ Why, about John. He’s won. All the people that sold his stock are — are laid out cold ! ”

Teddy got over to the bench. Mrs. Hapgood sat beside him, and elaborated what her husband had said of the stock market affair. He leaned against the wall, watching her in a singular sort of abeyant idleness. He scarcely minded what she said. His faculties were absorbed in remembering that the line of her chin and throat had always been just like that; that this nose, these eyebrows, were precisely the same, — as though, in some queer way, he was taking out the pieces of his heart and looking at them, and admiring the niceness with which they fitted one another.

“ So the men who sold this stock must lose,” she said, with a sense of the inevitable punishment of the wicked.

“ Precisely; and I’m one of those men,” said he.

“ You ! Why, Ted ! You ! ” she exclaimed.

“ You see, Marion, I ’d never done anything all my life worth speaking of,” he explained. “ And — well ” —his whimsical smile flickered wanly up — “I guess I 've done it now. Yes, I sold the stock. I even helped myself to some securities in your husband’s box, — embezzlement, I believe they call it.”

He had a poor little instant of pride in his cynicism. Then he saw her straighten away from him, staring at him with all her eyes.

“ Oh ! Oh ! ” she wailed, and the suspiration of her breath caught with a little gasping sob. All the sweetness and sex of her voice were in that little sobbing sound. He bowed his head and covered his face with his hands.

“ Oh, Teddy ! Teddy ! How could you ! ”

His eyes burned, and there was a hot lump at the base of his throat.

“ Oh, Teddy, how could you ! ” She flung her arm across his bowed shoulders and drew him toward her. “ It’s too bad, Ted ! It’s too bad, dear! ” Again there was the little sobbing catch in her voice. The man’s shoulders shook ; tears ran from his eyes.

Hapgood, returning and mounting the steps, his eyes sombrely on the ground, crossed the porch, stood at the hall door, and saw the figures on the bench, — barely saw them ; then whirled around and took a dozen steps up the porch, swiftly, as though he were fleeing from something, — as though a monster that had been lurking dimly in the caves of his mind, long fought back and fought back, had at last suddenly sprung out and confronted him. His mouth was open; his eyes were staring ; his faculties were jarred and shaken together. He felt it at last face to face with him.

But he took only a dozen steps; then stopped. The ends of his fingers clutched into his palms. Endless detestable and bloody thoughts, which his mind had not engendered, seemed to roll over him. But there was something in the turmoil that he was holding to with all his force. He turned around and went back, his chin up, his face composed, his eyes straight ahead. He was marching; and he marched through the door into the hall. His wife looked up.

“ Oh, John! Teddy’s in dreadful trouble ! ” she cried out. “ He’s made an awful mistake.”

What Hapgood saw was that there was not a shadow of self-consciousness on her face ; that, with her arm over the man’s bowed shoulders, she was trying to pull him to his feet.

Teddy stood up, his head bent, his hands fallen to his side.

“ I 've stolen some of your certificates. I was in this stock market,” he muttered, with a sort of fierceness.

“ But I’m sure he did n’t mean to, John ! ” Marion cut in, with a kind of storminess.

“ Why, I’m sure it was a mistake, Ted,” said Hapgood quietly and gently. “ Don’t worry. I ’ll see you through for Marion’s sake, anyway.”

“ I knew you would, John! ” The storminess broke out again. She flung herself against her husband’s breast. “I knew you would, for he’s good, anyway ! ” A little burst of weeping choked her voice.

Hapgood put his arm over his wife’s shoulders. “We’ll talk it over, Ted, and see what’s to be done,” Hapgood went on steadily.

“Oh! some other time!” Teddy cried, and with a wide gesture he bolted from the room.

“ I knew you’d do it, John ! ” Mrs. Hapgood exclaimed, struggling with her tears, and in that tender storminess. “ But how could he ! How could he have done it! ” she wailed. “ It was all that wretched stock business. I wish you’d never been in any stock business. But it was splendid of you, John ! I knew you’d do it, but I did n’t know you ’d do it so finely. I was never so proud of you. You deserve to win, John ! ”

“ Do I ? Do I deserve to win ? ” he demanded eagerly. He caught both her hands and stooped, his face shining down at her. “ Because I have won ! ” he declared. “ I have won ! ” Abruptly he threw up his head and laughed.

“ Why, John ! ” she protested, in astonishment.

“ I can’t help laughing, because I 've won, you see ! ” he crowed. He laughed again. “ See here, Marion — it’s silly, I know. I always did know it was silly ; but that did n’t seem to help it any. I could n’t half like Teddy. Oh, I know no man ever had less real cause, so far as you are concerned. But, you see, you’d known him so long, and in so many ways he was so much more of your sort than I was, that sometimes he seemed nearer to you than I was. And I liked you so much, my girl, that — well, sometimes the devil himself got into me.”

“ Me — and Teddy ! ” she gasped.

“ Oh, I know it was foolish, but to save my soul I could n’t just help it. And it might have turned out bad, for me, you see. But now — what is it the Bible says about everything else shall be added unto you ? ”

“ Well, I ’m sure it’s nothing about this,” said Mrs. Hapgood vaguely.

‘'Yes, it is,” he insisted, “exactly about this, — or it ought to be. Don’t it say, if you have faith, all things shall be added unto you, everything shall come your way ? ”

“ But that’s quite different,” she expostulated.

“No, it isn’t,” he declared eagerly. “ Or, if it means a different sort, it might just as well mean this sort, — faith in general, I mean. You see, it’s just this : if you have faith ; if you set your face right straight ahead, and won’t be turned aside, and won’t doubt, and won’t have any suspicions, why, everything — that is, you ’ll win out, sure ! ”

Mrs. Hapgood gave a contented sigh. “ It is n’t at all good gospel, John,” she said. “ But I love you because you ’re that sort of a man.”

Will Payne.