Emma sank down on the edge of the couch with a little sigh of weariness. Gratefulness was in it, too. She looked up at him—at the wrinkled, kindly, ape-like face, and he looked down at her.
“William,” she said, “war is a filthy, evil, vile thing, but it bears wonderful white flowers.”
“Yas’m!” agreed William, genially, and smiled all over his rubbery, gray-black countenance. “Yas’m!”
And who shall say he did not understand?
Old Ben Westerveld was taking it easy. Every muscle taut, every nerve tense, his keen eyes vainly straining to pierce the blackness of the stuffy room—there lay Ben Westerveld in bed, taking it easy. And it was hard. Hard. He wanted to get up. He wanted so intensely to get up that the mere effort of lying there made him ache all over. His toes were curled with the effort. His fingers were clenched with it. His breath came short, and his thighs felt cramped. Nerves. But old Ben Westerveld didn’t know that. What should a retired and well-to-do farmer of fifty-eight know of nerves, especially when he has moved to the city and is taking it easy?
If only he knew what time it was. Here in Chicago you couldn’t tell whether it was four o’clock or seven unless you looked at your watch. To do that it was necessary to turn on the light. And to turn on the light meant that he would turn on, too, a flood of querulous protest from his wife, Bella, who lay asleep beside him.
When for forty-five years of your life you have risen at four-thirty daily, it is difficult to learn to loll. To do it successfully you must be a natural-born loller to begin with, and revert. Bella Westerveld was and had. So there she lay, asleep. Old Ben wasn’t and hadn’t. So there he lay, terribly wide-awake, wondering what made his heart thump so fast when he was lying so still. If It had been light, you could have seen the lines of strained resignation in the sagging muscles of his patient face.
They had lived in the city for almost a year, but it was the same every morning. He would open his eyes, start up with one hand already reaching for the limp, drab, work-worn garments that used to drape the chair by his bed. Then he would remember and sink back while a great wave of depression swept over him. Nothing to get up for. Store clothes on the chair by the bed. He was taking it easy.
Back home on the farm in southern Illinois he had known the hour the instant his eyes opened. Here the flat next door was so close that the bedroom was in twilight even at midday. On the farm he could tell by the feeling—an intangible thing, but infallible. He could gauge the very quality of the blackness that comes just before dawn. The crowing of the cocks, the stamping of the cattle, the twittering of the birds in the old elm whose branches were etched eerily against his window in the ghostly