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Gangelin, Paul; Hanson, Earl; Gregory, Horace (ed.) / The Wisconsin literary magazine
Volume XXI, Number 6 (March 1922)

Gregory, Horace
Falling behind,   pp. 148-149


Page 148

WISCONSIN LITERARY -MAGAZINE
Falling Behind
HORACE GREGORY.
Peter Webb knew that he was unable to keep up
the social pace that he had set for himself twenty
years ago. He was falling behind,-that was why
he was forced to accept an eleventh-hour invitation
to the Van Dyke affair, the last of its kind this sea-
son. The Van Dyke's had forgotten him during the
entire winter and now  . . . he was shaving; he
winced as his beard resisted the pull of the blade, then
noted the depth of the lines around his mouth, lines
which were partially concealed by a carefully waxed
moustache. He was old and tired,-tired because
he had been through a nerve wracking day at the
store. A rush of post-Lenten trade had multiplied
his duties as manager of a "fashionable" retail drug
establishment to such an extent that he was left in a
state of nervous exhaustion at the end of a ten-hour
day.
Yes, he was falling behind. For the last two years
he had been entertaining discarded wall flowers, irri-
table old dowagers, awkward debutantes,-then a
long dark winter with no invitations at all. The Van
Dyke's were giving him a last opportunity, a last lonely
straw at which a drowning man may grasp in hopes
of a miraculous rescue
The cab, which he had ordered from a livery near
by, was already waiting at the door, yet Webb dressed
slowly, with unusual care. The shabby furnishings
of the room stood out in marked contrast to the per-
fection of his evening clothes.
Alice Macleroy would be there tonight. He had
seen her name in the advance notices of the Van Dyke
German in the society columns of the morning paper.
Alice had just "come out" three months ago. She
was barely eighteen, but Webb had known her for six
years,-a little girl sitting in the Macleroy carriage in
front of the store while her mother vacillated over a
choice between French and Persian perfumes
When he had met Alice this winter at an informal
dinner, he had realized with something of a shock that
she had suddenly grown up into a poiseful young
woman.
On the way to the Van Dyke's, Webb made up his
mind in regard to Alice. He would propose to her at
the end of the last waltz. He would have to act to-
night; the Macleroys were going to Europe within the
next week . . . It was true that Stephen Macle-
roy, her father, was a millionaire, and Webb had
nothing but his salary to offer; yet Webb had intro-
duced him into the Van Dyke circle twenty years ago,
which had aided materially in old Stephen's success
as a lawyer. Webb had played the part of a foster-
uncle to Alice, a part by which he gained admittance
to the Macleroy household and served as a slender
thread of contact to the Van Dyke set within the last
year.
The cab came to a halt before a large, florid mass
of brick and stone, the Van Dyke residence. The
light from the doorway magnified the broad outlines
of the two open-jawed sandstone lions which crouched
on either side of the entrance, at the head of a short
flight of steps. Peter Webb consulted his watch (a
gift from the Miacleroys) by the light of the street
lamp-forty-five minutes after nine. Just the right
time; he had never been a moment too early. He
gave brief instructions to the cab man and entered the
house.
Half an hour later, Webb almost ran into the over-
developed person of Mrs. Van Dusen, widow of the
late colonel. She had been spending the last five
years in New York and had returned to the Middle
West for a short visit. She was a vigorous, keen-
minded woman, well over sixty, who maintained her
right of arrogant superiority by virtue of her late hus-
band's skill in the management of the Van Dusen
foundry.
"Good evening, Peter Webb, are you lost? Ah.
I've dropped my fan. Thank you. There's no use
your asking me for a waltz. The music is abomin-
able, and I'm too old to dance. Sit down, Peter;
were you looking for someone?"
Webb sat down. He was silent for a moment;
his usual self-possession had left him. He smiled
bravely.
"Yes, Madame Van Dusen, you and Miss Macle-
roy.
"Oh, you mean Alice. She's here somewhere.
Last time I saw her she was with my nephew, How-
ard; He's one of those young know~it-alls, just out
of Harvard. An educated fool, like his mother.
Did you hear of that affair in New York? I told
John, my brother-in-law, that he'd ruin the boy.
Howard got mixed up in an affair with a chorus girl,
March, 1922


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