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Author Theodore Dreiser Country United States - 54


the railroad running from Fonda to Utica, with Roberta stepping
down from the train which came south from Biltz to await Clyde, for
the train that was to take them to Utica was not due for another
half hour. And fifteen minutes later Clyde himself coming from a
side street and approaching the station from the south, from which
position Roberta could not see him but from where, after turning
the west corner of the depot and stationing himself behind a pile
of crates, he could see her. How thin and pale indeed! By
contrast with Sondra, how illy-dressed in the blue traveling suit
and small brown hat with which she had equipped herself for this
occasion--the promise of a restricted and difficult life as
contrasted with that offered by Sondra. And she was thinking of
compelling him to give up Sondra in order to marry her, and from
which union he might never be able to extricate himself until such
time as would make Sondra and all she represented a mere
recollection. The difference between the attitudes of these two
girls--Sondra with everything offering all--asking nothing of him;
Roberta, with nothing, asking all.

A feeling of dark and bitter resentment swept over him and he could
not help but feel sympathetic toward that unknown man at Pass Lake
and secretly wish that he had been successful. Perhaps he, too,
had been confronted by a situation just like this. And perhaps he
had done right, too, after all, and that was why it had not been
found out. His nerves twitched. His eyes were somber, resentful
and yet nervous. Could it not happen again successfully in this
case?

But here he was now upon the same platform with her as the result
of her persistent and illogical demands, and he must be thinking
how, and boldly, he must carry out the plans which, for four days,
or ever since he had telephoned her, and in a dimmer way for the
ten preceding those, he had been planning. This settled course
must not be interfered with now. He must act! He must not let
fear influence him to anything less than he had now planned.

And so it was that he now stepped forth in order that she might see
him, at the same time giving her a wise and seemingly friendly and
informative look as if to say, "You see I am here." But behind the
look! If only she could have pierced beneath the surface and
sensed that dark and tortured mood, how speedily she would have
fled. But now seeing him actually present, a heavy shadow that was
lurking in her eyes lifted, the somewhat down-turned corners of her
mouth reversed themselves, and without appearing to recognize him,
she nevertheless brightened and at once proceeded to the window to
purchase her ticket to Utica, as he had instructed her to do.

And she was now thinking that at last, at last he had come. And he
was going to take her away. And hence a kind of gratefulness for
this welling up in her. For they were to be together for seven or
eight months at the least. And while it might take tact and
patience to adjust things, still it might and probably could be
done. From now on she must be the very soul of caution--not do or
say anything that would irritate him in any way, since naturally he
would not be in the best mood because of this. But he must have
changed some--perhaps he was seeing her in a more kindly light--
sympathizing with her a little, since he now appeared at last to
have most gracefully and genially succumbed to the unavoidable.
And at the same time noting his light gray suit, his new straw hat,
his brightly polished shoes and the dark tan suitcase and (strange,
equivocal, frivolous erraticism of his in this instance) the tripod
of a recently purchased camera together with his tennis racquet in
its canvas case strapped to the side--more than anything to conceal
the initials C. G.--she was seized with much of her old-time mood
and desire in regard to his looks and temperament. He was still,
and despite his present indifference to her, her Clyde.

Having seen her secure her ticket, he now went to get his own, and
then, with another knowing look in her direction, which said that
everything was now all right, he returned to the eastern end of the
platform, while she returned to her position at the forward end.

(Why was that old man in that old brown winter suit and hat and
carrying that bird cage in a brown paper looking at him so? Could
he sense anything? Did he know him? Had he ever worked in
Lycurgus or seen him before?)

He was going to buy a second straw hat in Utica to-day--he must
remember that--a straw hat with a Utica label, which he would wear
instead of his present one. Then, when she was not looking, he
would put the old one in his bag with his other things. That was
why he would have to leave her for a little while after they
reached Utica--at the depot or library or somewhere--perhaps as was
his first plan, take her to some small hotel somewhere and register
as Mr. and Mrs. Carl Graham or Clifford Golden or Gehring (there
was a girl in the factory by that name) so if they were ever traced
in any way, it would be assumed that she had gone away with some
man of that name.

(That whistle of a train afar off. It must be coming now. His
watch said twelve-twenty-seven.)

And again he must decide what his manner toward her in Utica must
be--whether very cordial or the opposite. For over the telephone,
of course, he had talked very soft and genial-like because he had
to. Perhaps it would be best to keep that up, otherwise she might
become angry or suspicious or stubborn and that would make it hard.

(Would that train never get here?)

At the same time it was going to be very hard on him to be so very
pleasant when, after all, she was driving him as she was--expecting
him to do all that she was asking him to do and yet be nice to her.
Damn! And yet if he weren't?--Supposing she should sense something
of his thoughts in connection with this--really refuse to go
through with it this way and spoil his plans.

(If only his knees and hands wouldn't tremble so at times.)

But no, how was she to be able to detect anything of that kind,
when he himself had not quite made up his mind as to whether he
would be able to go through with it or not? He only knew he was
not going away with her, and that was all there was to that. He
might not upset the boat, as he had decided on the day before, but
just the same he was not going away with her.

But here now was the train. And there was Roberta lifting her bag.
Was it too heavy for her in her present state? It probably was.
Well, too bad. It was very hot to-day, too. At any rate he would
help her with it later, when they were where no one could see them.
She was looking toward him to be sure he was getting on--so like
her these days, in her suspicious, doubtful mood in regard to him.
But here was a seat in the rear of the car on the shady side, too.
That was not so bad. He would settle himself comfortably and look
out. For just outside Fonda, a mile or two beyond, was that same
Mohawk that ran through Lycurgus and past the factory, and along
the banks of which the year before, he and Roberta had walked about
this time. But the memory of that being far from pleasant now, he
turned his eyes to a paper he had bought, and behind which he could
shield himself as much as possible, while he once more began to
observe the details of the more inward scene which now so much more
concerned him--the nature of the lake country around Big Bittern,
which ever since that final important conversation with Roberta
over the telephone, had been interesting him more than any other
geography of the world.

For on Friday, after the conversation, he had stopped in at the
Lycurgus House and secured three different folders relating to
hotels, lodges, inns and other camps in the more remote region
beyond Big Bittern and Long Lake. (If only there were some way to
get to one of those completely deserted lakes described by that
guide at Big Bittern--only, perhaps, there might not be any row-
boats on any of these lakes at all!) And again on Saturday, had he
not secured four more circulars from the rack at the depot (they
were in his pocket now)? Had they not proved how many small lakes
and inns there were along this same railroad, which ran north to
Big Bittern, to which he and Roberta might resort for a day or two
if she would--a night, anyhow, before going to Big Bittern and
Grass Lake--had he not noted that in particular--a beautiful lake
it had said--near the station, and with at least three attractive
lodges or country home inns where two could stay for as low as
twenty dollars a week. That meant that two could stay for one
night surely for as little as five dollars. It must be so surely--
and so he was going to say to her, as he had already planned these
several days, that she needed a little rest before going away to a
strange place. That it would not cost very much--about fifteen
dollars for fares and all, so the circulars said--if they went to
Grass Lake for a night--this same night after reaching Utica--or on
the morrow, anyhow. And he would have to picture it all to her as
a sort of honeymoon journey--a little pleasant outing--before
getting married. And it would not do to succumb to any plan of
hers to get married before they did this--that would never do.

(Those five birds winging toward that patch of trees over there--
below that hill.)

It certainly would not do to go direct to Big Bittern from Utica
for a boat ride--just one day--seventy miles. That would not sound
right to her, or to any one. It would make her suspicious, maybe.
It might be better, since he would have to get away from her to buy
a hat in Utica, to spend this first night there at some inexpensive,
inconspicuous hotel, and once there, suggest going up to Grass Lake.
And from there they could go to Big Bittern in the morning. He
could say that Big Bittern was nicer--or that they would go down to
Three Mile Bay--a hamlet really as he knew--where they could be
married, but en route stop at Big Bittern as a sort of lark. He
would say that he wanted to show her the lake--take some pictures of
her and himself. He had brought his camera for that and for other
pictures of Sondra later.

The blackness of this plot of his!

(Those nine black and white cows on that green hillside.)

But again, strapping that tripod along with his tennis racquet to
the side of his suitcase, might not that cause people to imagine
that they were passing tourists from some distant point, maybe, and
if they both disappeared, well, then, they were not people from
anywhere around here, were they? Didn't the guide say that the
water in the lake was all of seventy-five feet deep--like that
water at Pass Lake? And as for Roberta's grip--oh, yes, what about
that? He hadn't even thought about that as yet, really.

(Those three automobiles out there running almost as fast as this
train.)

Well, in coming down from Grass Lake after one night there (he
could say that he was going to marry her at Three Mile Bay at the
north end of Greys Lake, where a minister lived whom he had met),
he would induce her to leave her bag at that Gun Lodge station,
where they took the bus over to Big Bittern, while he took his with
him. He could just say to some one--the boatman, maybe, or the
driver, that he was taking his camera in his bag, and ask where the
best views were. Or maybe a lunch. Was that not a better idea--to
take a lunch and so deceive Roberta, too, perhaps? And that would
tend to mislead the driver, also, would it not? People did carry
cameras in bags when they went out on lakes, at times. At any rate
it was most necessary for him to carry his bag in this instance.
Else why the plan to go south to that island and from thence
through the woods?

(Oh, the grimness and the terror of this plan! Could he really
execute it?)

But that strange cry of that bird at Big Bittern. He had not liked
that, or seeing that guide up there who might remember him now. He
had not talked to him at all--had not even gotten out of the car,
but had only looked out at him through the window; and in so far as
he could recall the guide had not even once looked at him--had
merely talked to Grant Cranston and Harley Baggott, who had gotten
out and had done all the talking. But supposing this guide should
be there and remember him? But how could that be when he really
had not seen him? This guide would probably not remember him at
all--might not even be there. But why should his hands and face be
damp all the time now--wet almost, and cold--his knees shaky?

(This train was following the exact curve of this stream--and last
summer he and Roberta. But no--)

As soon as they reached Utica now this was the way he would do--and
must keep it well in mind and not get rattled in any way. He must
not--he must not. He must let her walk up the street before him,
say a hundred feet or so between them, so that no one would think
he was following her, of course. And then when they were quite
alone somewhere he would catch up with her and explain all about
this--be very nice as though he cared for her as much as ever now--
he would have to--if he were to get her to do as he wanted. And
then--and then, oh, yes, have her wait while he went for that extra
straw hat that he was going to--well, leave on the water, maybe.
And the oars, too, of course. And her hat--and--well--

(The long, sad sounding whistle of this train. Damn. He was
getting nervous already.)

But before going to the hotel, he must go back to the depot and put
his new hat in the bag, or better yet, carry it while he looked for
the sort of hotel he wanted, and then, before going to Roberta,
take the hat and put it in his bag. Then he would go and find her
and have her come to the entrance of the hotel he had found and
wait for him, while he got the bags. And, of course, if there was
no one around or very few, they would enter together, only she
could wait in the ladies' parlor somewhere, while he went and
registered as Charles Golden, maybe, this time. And then, well, in
the morning, if she agreed, or to-night, for that matter, if there
were any trains--he would have to find out about that--they could
go up to Grass Lake in separate cars until they were past Twelfth
Lake and Sharon, at any rate.

(The beautiful Cranston Lodge there and Sondra.)

And then--and then--

(That big red barn and that small white house near it. And that
wind-mill. So like those houses and barns that he had seen out
there in Illinois and Missouri. And Chicago, too.)

And at the same time Roberta in her car forward thinking that Clyde
had not appeared so very unfriendly to her. To be sure, it was
hard on him, making him leave Lycurgus in this way, and when he
might be enjoying himself as he wished to. But on the other hand,
here was she--and there was no other way for her to be. She must
be very genial and yet not put herself forward too much or in his
way. And yet she must not be too receding or weak, either, for,
after all, Clyde was the one who had placed her in this position.
And it was only fair, and little enough for him to do. She would
have a baby to look after in the future, and all that trouble to go
through with from now on. And later, she would have to explain to
her parents this whole mysterious proceeding, which covered her
present disappearance and marriage, if Clyde really did marry her
now. But she must insist upon that--and soon--in Utica, perhaps--
certainly at the very next place they went to--and get a copy of
her marriage certificate, too, and keep it for her own as well as
the baby's sake. He could get a divorce as he pleased after that.
She would still be Mrs. Griffiths. And Clyde's baby and hers would
be a Griffiths, too. That was something.

(How beautiful the little river was. It reminded her of the Mohawk
and the walks she and he had taken last summer when they first met.
Oh, last summer! And now this!)

And they would settle somewhere--in one or two rooms, no doubt.
Where, she wondered--in what town or city? How far away from
Lycurgus or Biltz--the farther from Biltz the better, although she
would like to see her mother and father again, and soon--as soon as
she safely could. But what matter, as long as they were going away
together and she was to be married?

Had he noticed her blue suit and little brown hat? And had he
thought she looked at all attractive compared to those rich girls
with whom he was always running? She must be very tactful--not
irritate him in any way. But--oh, the happy life they could have
if only--if only he cared for her a little--just a little . . .

And then Utica, and on a quiet street Clyde catching up with
Roberta, his expression a mixture of innocent geniality and good-
will, tempered by worry and opposition, which was really a mask for
the fear of the deed that he himself was contemplating--his power
to execute it--the consequences in case he failed.

Chapter 47

And then, as planned that night between them--a trip to Grass Lake
the next morning in separate cars, but which, upon their arrival
and to his surprise, proved to be so much more briskly tenanted
than he anticipated. He was very much disturbed and frightened by
the evidence of so much active life up here. For he had fancied
this, as well as Big Bittern, would be all but deserted. Yet here
now, as both could see, it was the summer seat and gathering place
of some small religious organization or group--the Winebrennarians
of Pennsylvania--as it proved with a tabernacle and numerous
cottages across the lake from the station. And Roberta at once
exclaiming:

"Now, there, isn't that cute? Why couldn't we be married over
there by the minister of that church?"

And Clyde, puzzled and shaken by this sudden and highly unsatisfactory
development, at once announced: "Why, sure--I'll go over after a
bit and see," yet his mind busy with schemes for circumventing her.
He would take her out in a boat after registering and getting
settled and remain too long. Or should a peculiarly remote and
unobserved spot be found . . . but no, there were too many people
here. The lake was not large enough, and probably not very deep.
It was black or dark like tar, and sentineled to the east and north
by tall, dark pines--the serried spears of armed and watchful
giants, as they now seemed to him--ogres almost--so gloomy,
suspicious and fantastically erratic was his own mood in regard to
all this. But still there were too many people--as many as ten on
the lake.

The weirdness of it.

The difficulty.

But whisper:--one could not walk from here through any woods to
Three Mile Bay. Oh, no. That was all of thirty miles to the south
now. And besides this lake was less lonely--probably continually
observed by members of this religious group. Oh, no--he must say--
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