On a transatlantic voyage, a man fills with rage as his wife fusses over her makeup, filling their cramped cabin with powders, oils, and discarded clothes. It would be fine if he could open the porthole, but the porter has ordered it shut—lest a German submarine spot the light.
Back in America, an old man with failing health stares out his window and worries about the world. And the wife of a serial philanderer realizes, to her surprise, that she has finally grown tired of her husband’s humiliating displays.
These are the people of Mary Roberts Rinehart’s short fiction. Young and old, beautiful and ugly, joyous and downtrodden—they are ordinary people, consumed with the pains and privations of everyday life. Created with Rinehart’s impeccably light touch, they are more than characters on a page—they are a mirror in which we may recognize ourselves.
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About the Author
Among her dozens of novels are The Amazing Adventures of Letitia Carberry (1911), which began a six-book series, and The Bat (originally published in 1920 as a play), which was among the inspirations for Bob Kane’s Batman. Credited with inventing the phrase “The butler did it,” Rinehart is often called an American Agatha Christie, even though she began writing much earlier than Christie, and was much more popular during her heyday.
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Stories of People You Know
By Mary Roberts Rinehart
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1941 Mary Roberts Rinehart
All rights reserved.
One Hour of Glory
Tony was rather amused when he received the letter from Grandfather Rogers. It was sent to him at the State Department, where Tony was something or other in a division called Protocol; that is, he helped the governors of states to lay wreaths hither and yon, and even now and then had appeals from frantic hostesses who had made a mistake in an important dinner party.
"But you can't ask an ambassador and the Chief Justice together," Tony would say. "They rank the same."
"How are they ever to meet, if they can't go to the same dinner?"
"They don't meet," Tony would reply cheerfully. "That's what keeps the Supreme Court free from foreign influences. Better get sick, Mrs. Jones. It can't be done."
All in all, Tony had his place in a great democracy. Aside from that, he was a cheerful young man, who wore a morning coat and top hat quite well, could hold a teacup in one hand and a piece of chocolate layer cake in the other without disaster, had been married for some years to a pretty and highly social young woman named Muriel, and had the usual if vague hope for a foreign post. An ambition which, to tell the truth, was largely Muriel's.
It is hardly surprising, then, that Muriel was not amused at the news.
"Look," Tony said. "We're going to have a visitor, darling."
"Not Aunt Emma," wailed Muriel. "I couldn't bear it, Tony. I really couldn't."
"Not Aunt Emma," said Tony. "It's my Grandfather Rogers."
"Grandfather Rogers?" she said vaguely. "I thought he was dead or something." Then the thing burst on her in full force, so to speak. "Good heavens, Tony, that one! He must be a hundred."
"He's in his nineties; but I gather from his letter that he's still pretty spry."
Muriel looked at him helplessly. "In his nineties!" she said. "What on earth am I to do with him? I can't nurse him. In the very middle of the season, too. You've got to put him off, Tony. You've got to. We're out almost every night. And I don't like old men. At the best they talk too much, and at the worst they're deaf as a post."
"Not Grandfather Rogers, even if he is ninety-six," said Tony calmly. "Now listen to me, my girl. He's the last relative I've got, and he's making a sort of pilgrimage. He wants to see Father's grave and Harry's, over in Arlington. And he wants to see Washington, where he camped in 'sixty-three, and hasn't been since. And I think, incidentally, that he wants to see me. I'm the only one he has left."
Muriel brightened slightly. She was not mercenary; but Tony's job did cost money—clothes and cars and dinner parties, and so on. "Has he anything to leave you?" she inquired with interest.
"My rapacious darling!" said Tony fondly. "No, he hasn't. He has his pension and a small farm. I used to go there when I was a kid. He's rather a grand old boy; but all you'll get out of him will be some eggs and butter. He'll probably bring them with him."
Which was precisely what Grandfather Rogers did bring when Tony met him at the station. At first Tony did not know him. He had remembered a tall, elderly figure, erect and soldierly, with a full set of quite dreadful white-porcelain teeth. As a matter of fact, had it not been for the teeth, Tony might have passed him by. But he caught a glimpse of them as they got out of the day coach, and found a cheerful but very old man more or less behind them. He still stood erect, but he had shrunk. There was, however, nothing senile about the faded blue eyes of Grandfather Rogers.
"I expect you're Tony," he said, in a cracked but not feeble voice. "Wait till I say good-bye to the conductor. He's a nice fellow. Had a father in my old regiment."
He left Tony for a moment and shook hands with the conductor. "Look me up while I'm here, Ed," he said. "This is my grandson. He'll be glad to see you."
"Thanks. Maybe I will. Have a good time."
Tony gave a quick thought to Muriel and then, so to speak, tossed her overboard. For it was evident that Grandfather Rogers had, in the course of the last eight hours, made a good many friends. They crowded around him, and when he was finally extricated, Tony was clutching an ancient suitcase, and Grandfather Rogers had a large basket covered with a napkin.
"If it's not too far, we can walk," he said. "I'd like to stretch my legs."
Tony chuckled. "It's quite a way," he said. "Anyhow, I've got my car here."
But getting Grandfather Rogers out of the station was still not simple. He stopped at the locomotive and looked up at the engineer in the cab.
"Made a good run, son," he said. "Right on the minute, too."
The engineer put a finger to his peaked cap in salute.
"Glad you liked it," he said, and smiled.
Tony gave the old suitcase to a porter; but they were still not ready to go. At the entrance to the station Grandfather Rogers stopped and gazed toward the Capitol. It was dusk by that time, and the great dome rose, white and luminous, straight across the plaza. It was always impressive, even to Tony. He turned to the old man, to find him standing at salute. But when he spoke, his voice was matter-of-fact enough.
"Looks like the place is changed some since I saw it in 'sixty-three," he said casually. "Brought some eggs and butter. Thought your wife might like them. Every woman likes fresh eggs to cook with. Some of them were warm when I packed them."
He eyed Sam, the chauffeur, rather suspiciously when he took the basket. "Who are you?"
"I'm the chauffeur," said that colored gentleman. "Name's Sam."
"All right, Sam," said Grandfather Rogers. "You watch those eggs. There's a heap of nourishment in them."
Sam grinned, and Tony got the old man into the car. Seated, he seemed almost small. He gazed out the car window, and once he passed his hand over his eyes, as though the noise and lights confused him. Almost all he said was to ask if Arlington Cemetery was near.
"Thought I'd go and see the graves," he said. "Won't see them again, you know. I'm getting on."
"You look pretty husky for your age."
"Well, I've seen a lot of living," he said, and lapsed into silence.
Tony was a trifle anxious when they reached the house, and Grandfather Rogers was obliged to relinquish the basket to Henry, the butler. But Muriel was a good girl. She came into the hall and kissed the old man on his withered cheek, and she did not so much as blush when, his overcoat removed, he was revealed as wearing a red-flannel chest protector, tied with strings around the neck.
"Katie makes me wear it since I had pneumonia," he explained. "Katie's my housekeeper. You'd think to hear her I was getting childish in my old age."
Muriel dutifully smiled; but she cast a rather desperate look at Tony, who ignored it.
She had ordered the butler to serve tea by the fire in the library, and she kept a determined smile on her face even when Grandfather Rogers brought up the subject of the war. The State Department did not talk about the war except behind closed doors. But Grandfather Rogers, after eating everything in sight—the teeth were at least useful—sat back, replete at last, and brought the subject up.
"What's this mess in Europe, Tony? Are we going to get into it?"
"Not if we can help it," answered Tony carefully.
"Help it? How can we help it? If it keeps up, we'll go in to stop it, because we can't stand any more murder. That's America, son."
"Well, perhaps it is," said Tony pacifically. It was quite a long time since he had considered what America really was, his mind mostly having been turned to the happenings abroad.
Grandfather Rogers put down his third cup of tea and got up. It was a slow process, but he made it.
"I guess maybe, if you don't mind, I'll go to bed," he said. "It's been a long day."
"Bed?" said Muriel blankly. "Won't you want some dinner? We're in tonight."
"Dinner? Great Scott, what have I just had?"
"Tea," said Muriel, not looking at Tony, who was grinning delightedly. "We always have tea at five o'clock. Dinner's at eight."
"That's bedtime on the farm," said Grandfather Rogers, "but I guess I'll make it."
He did make it, but the evening was not a success. He seemed slightly oppressed by Henry, the butler, and by the ritual of the table. He looked away when Muriel lighted a cigarette, and sometime after the meal he made the startling discovery that she was wearing pajamas. After that he was careful not to look at her legs. At nine-thirty he yawned, and Tony suggested bed to him. He got up gratefully.
"See you at breakfast," he said, and made a formal good night, still avoiding Muriel's legs.
Muriel and Tony had quite a talk after he had gone. That is, Muriel talked, and Tony listened. She said quite firmly that she was willing to make the old man comfortable, but that he was impossible otherwise.
"I'm thinking of your career, Tony," she said. "He would ruin it. If you are proposing to exhibit him around Washington, I'll go to Aiken. That's flat."
"What's the matter with him? He's a gentleman, even if he doesn't like your pants," said Tony cheerfully. "As a matter of fact, I hadn't thought of exhibiting him. He'd hate it."
On which truce of sorts they went to bed.
Grandfather Rogers was also in bed. His teeth were in a glass of water beside him, and he lay in Muriel's guest bed under Muriel's pink silk eiderdown comfort and felt extremely lonely. When Henry, the butler, looked in later to see if he was all right, Grandfather Rogers hailed him as a friend.
"Come in and sit down," he said. "I'd like to talk to you. Sit down, man, I won't bite you. If you'll look at that glass on the table, you'll see why."
Henry gave a rather sickly smile. He sat down, although he looked like a kangaroo ready to leap at the least alarm.
"I've been watching you tonight," said Grandfather Rogers. "Englishman, eh? Been a soldier, haven't you?"
"Most of my life, sir."
"Must seem queer to be passing plates, eh?"
Henry smiled. "It's better than starving," he said.
Grandfather Rogers learned quite a lot about Henry that night, including his possession of the Victoria Cross. The old man was highly interested.
"I got a medal myself once," he said, in his cracked old voice. "Katie's got it tucked away somewhere. Never did me any good that I can see."
But he fell asleep quite suddenly in the middle of Henry's retreat from Mons, and Henry put out the lights and raised the window before he tiptoed out.
When Grandfather Rogers opened his eyes again, Henry was standing by the bed, and the old man blinked at him.
"Sorry," he said. "Must have dozed off for a minute."
Henry smiled. "It's morning, sir. I've brought your breakfast."
Grandfather Rogers sat up in bed and looked. It was certainly morning, and there was a tray on a table. Moreover, Henry showed every indication of placing it on the bed. Grandfather Rogers eyed it indignantly.
"Great Scott," he said. "I'm not paralyzed, am I? You take that down and tell the hired girl I've been up for my breakfast ever since my mother weaned me. What time is it?"
He ate his breakfast downstairs that morning, to the annoyance of the household. Also he went up later and made his own bed, thus greatly embarrassing the chambermaid. When he came down again, he found Muriel in the hall, dressed to go out. She greeted him without enthusiasm.
"Tony wants you to have Sam and the car today," she said. "I do hope you can amuse yourself."
"I thought I'd go to Arlington."
As this definitely was not amusement, Muriel felt uncomfortable. She was still more uncomfortable when Grandfather Rogers, having donned his chest protector and old overcoat, shook Henry's hand before leaving the house.
"Maybe you don't know it," he said to Muriel, "but this fellow here's got quite a war record. Get him to show you his medal."
Henry looked unhappy, but Muriel rallied and took it in her stride. "You must do that sometime, Henry," she said brightly. "I had no idea you were a soldier."
The old man went out, leaving what amounted to domestic chaos behind him. Henry apologized gravely.
"I'm sorry, madam," he said. "The old gentleman seemed lonely last night, and he wanted to talk. It won't happen again."
And then something, which under the State Department veneer was really Muriel, emerged and surprised her. "I understand, Henry. I—I really would like to see your medal someday. And I'm sure Mr. Rogers would, too."
Henry, however, was back, so to speak, in the Division of Protocol. He merely bowed. "Thank you, madam," he said, and called a taxi for her.
So Grandfather Rogers had the car that day. He sat in front beside Sam and by and large Sam learned a good bit about the Civil War. Also Grandfather Rogers learned a lot about Washington. They cruised first among the great stone buildings; but Grandfather Rogers seemed unimpressed. Only at the Lincoln Memorial, when Sam had helped him up the steps, he stood for a long time gazing up with his old eyes into the tragic, kindly face. Then he saluted, and, turning smartly, marched out again. Sam was waiting, and the old man looked out over the city.
"Wonder how he'd have liked it, Sam?" he said. "He wasn't much for show."
He was a little tired and more than a little cold when they reached the cemetery.
"I've got a son and a grandson here," he told Sam. "Tom died of typhoid in the Spanish War, and they brought his boy back from France and put him here, too. That was Tony's brother. My wife died when that happened. She'd banked a lot on Harry."
"Sure tough," said Sam.
The old man was silent after that. He was seeing Millie when the news came about Tom. She was sick, and he couldn't leave her. But she had wanted Tom in Arlington, and so they had buried him there. Millie had gone about like a ghost for months. Then she had pulled out of it, although she never forgot. It was Harry's death that had finished her. She'd fallen over with a heart attack when the telegram came.... Three graves, he thought. That was what a man had left if he lived long enough. Millie lay over the hill from the farm, and he had missed her every day for more than twenty years.
He had some difficulty in locating his graves. He found Tom's first and stood bareheaded beside it.
"Here he is, Millie," he said. "If you can hear me, he's here, and he's all right. Either he's busy somewhere else, or he's just asleep. You know how he liked to sleep."
But he stood longer beside Harry's, among that marching army of small white headstones. All these boys, he thought. Young once and full of life, and now lying there lost, and men and women still missing them. To what end? That he and others like him should stand there on a winter hillside, at the end of their lives and alone.
He was shivering when he went back to the car, and his ancient legs were not too steady.
"Better go home, sir," said Sam, tucking the rug about him. "Kind of a strain, all this. And it's cold, too."
But Grandfather Rogers wanted to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and it was there that he first saw the Moselys. Not that they were the Moselys to him then. They were merely a boy and a girl, standing hand in hand, watching the sentry on his endless patrol. It was the expression on their faces that caught his attention. They looked, he thought, like lost children. They did not even speak until an elderly woman got out of an old car, laid some carnations at the foot of the tomb, and after standing a moment in silence, went away again. Then the boy stirred.
"So that's war and glory," he said. "A bunch of flowers freezing against a piece of marble."
"It's more than that," said the girl quietly. "To fight to save the country—"
"If it's worth saving," said the boy bitterly, and moved abruptly away.
It upset Grandfather Rogers. They were too young for that sort of thing. In their early twenties, probably—just the age Harry had been when he went to France. When he got into the car, he was shivering with cold, and Sam tucked him up carefully. The old man did not notice. He was gazing out over the city across the river. Then, halfway down the hill, he saw the young couple again. They were still hand in hand, and on an impulse he stopped the car.
"How about a lift into town?" he inquired. "Kind of cold for walking."
They hesitated, as though somehow kindness was unexpected. Then the girl smiled and agreed. They got in, and he saw that they were both thinly clad and pinched with cold.
"Thanks a lot," she said. "What a nice car! I never expected to ride in one like it."
"It's not mine," said Grandfather Rogers hastily. "Belongs to my grandson. I have an old one myself. Kind of willful, but goes now and then."
"We had one like that," said the girl. "We sold it for twenty-five dollars."
They were easier after that. They introduced themselves—John and Margery Mosely— and said they were in town for only a little while. Then for some reason they became silent, and Grandfather Rogers saw the boy take the girl's hand under the robe and hold it. But they accepted his offer of a hot drink at a drugstore, and when they separated, Margery thanked him nicely.
"You've been very kind," she said. "When I saw you at the Tomb, I thought you looked kind."
Excerpted from Familiar Faces by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Copyright © 1941 Mary Roberts Rinehart. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
- I ONE HOUR OF GLORY
- II THE YOUNG VISITOR
- III THE DOG IN THE ORCHARD
- IV THE PHILANDERER'S WIFE
- V ONE NIGHT IN SPRING
- VI THE DOOR THAT WOULD NOT STAY CLOSED
- VII THE EMPIRE BUILDERS
- VIII LILY COMES HOME AT LAST
- IX DOROTHY DRESSES FOR DINNER
- X MR. CASWELL LOOKS OUT THE WINDOW
- XI MR. COHEN TAKES A WALK