Part 5 out of 7
was in the way of getting inside information, about a small opera that
had a sensational part for a baritone, she'd work it and make her husband
too, and since he's one of the real backers and a friend of Mr.
Eckstein's, they'd be likely to accomplish something."
"Lead me to it," said Jimmy. "Give me your inside information and leave
Violet to me."
He got a little overflow from the fulness of her heart at that that would
have rewarded him amply for a more arduous and less amusing prospect than
he was committed to. It was always touch and go whether this summer
plunge into musical criticism wouldn't bore him frightfully. Pretentious
solemnities of any kind were hard for him to tolerate and an opera season
is, of course, stuffed with these, even a democratized blue-penciled
out-of-doors affair like this. It was a great relief to find him a mind
as free from sentimental resonances as Mary Wollaston's swimming about in
it. They saw eye to eye over a lot of things.
They were in whole-hearted agreement for example about a certain
impresario, Maxfield Ware, who created a sensation among the company and
staff by turning up ostentatiously unaccounted for from New York and
looking intensely enigmatical whenever any one asked him any questions.
He was a sufficiently well-known figure in that world for surmises to
spring up like round-eyed dandelions wherever he trod.
It wasn't long before everybody knew, despite the concealments which his
ponderous diplomacy never cast aside, that his objective was Paula. She
divined this before he had made a single overt move in her direction and
pointed it out to Mary with a genuine pleasure sounding through the tone
of careless amusement she chose to adopt.
"You wouldn't have anything to do with a person like that, would you?"
Mary was startled into exclaiming. "Of course, if he were genuinely what
he pretends to be and the things he boasts were true...."
"Oh, he's genuine enough," said Paula. "A quarter to a half as good as he
pretends and that's as well as the whole of that lot will average. Though
he isn't the sort you and John would take to, for a fact."
It was not the first time Mary had found herself bracketed with her
father in just this way. It wasn't a sneering way, hardly hostile. But
Mary by the second or third repetition began reading an important
significance into it. Paula in her instinctive fashion was beginning to
weigh alternatives, one life against the other, a thing it wasn't likely
she had ever attempted before.
There was a tension between John and Paula which Mary saw mounting daily
over the question of his next visit to Ravinia. Paula wanted him, was
getting restless, moody, as nearly as it was possible for her to be
ill-natured over his abstention. Yet it was evident enough that she had
not invited him to come; furthermore, that she meant not to invite him.
Once Mary would have put this down to mere coquetry but this explanation
failed now to satisfy altogether. There was something that lay deeper
than that. Some sort of strain between them dating back, she surmised, to
the talk her father had referred to down in North Carolina in the jocular
assertion that he had told Paula she would have to begin now supporting
the family. Had the same topic come up again during his visit to Ravinia?
The perception of this strain in their relation increased Mary's
reluctance to bring the topic up herself, in default of a lead from
Paula, out of nowhere. It almost seemed as if Paula consciously avoided
giving her such a lead, sheered away whenever she found they were
"getting warm" in that direction.
There were hours when the undertaking she had committed herself to with
Wallace Hood seemed fantastic. Between two persons like her father and
Paula a meddler could make such an incalculable amount of mischief. All
the current maxims of conduct would support her in a refusal to
interfere. It was exclusively their affair, wasn't it? Why not let them
settle it in their own way?
Yet there were other hours when she put her procrastinations down to
sheer cowardice. This occurred whenever she got a letter from her aunt at
Miss Wollaston was a dutiful but exceedingly cautious correspondent, but
beneath the surface of her brisk little bulletins were many significant
implications. Rush had made two or three trips to town for consultations
with Martin Whitney ... Doctor Steinmetz, presence unaccounted for, had
been a guest one day at lunch... Graham's father had come out one
Saturday and after he had been exhaustively shown over the place the men
had talked until all hours.... The building program was to be curtailed
for the present; to be resumed, perhaps when prices weren't so high nor
labor so hard to get.... The new Holstein calves had come. Mary had been
told, hadn't she, of the decision to constitute the herd in this manner
instead of buying all milking cows.... Sylvia, declaring that Rush and
Graham had got too solemn to live with, had finally obeyed her mother
and gone home to the Stannards' summer place at Lake Geneva.
Mary read these letters to Paula as they came in the hope of provoking
some question that would make it possible to tell John Wollaston's wife
the tale of his necessities, but nothing of the sort happened. Paula did
observe (a little uneasily?) apropos of Steinmetz' visit:
"John says he's taken quite a fancy to him. He told me he was going to
get him to come out if he could."
The other casts brought up nothing whatever.
As it happened Mary paid dear for her procrastination. Paula sent her
into town one day with a long list of errands, a transparently factitious
list, which, taken in connection with an unusual interest she displayed
in the item of lunch, made it more than sufficiently plain to Mary that
for the day she wasn't wanted at Ravinia.
She concealed, successfully she thought, the shock she felt at these new
tactics of Paula's, studied the list and said she thought she should be
able to return on the three o'clock train. She made a point however of
not coming back until the four-fifteen. It was nearly six before she got
back to the cottage, but the contented lazy tone in which Paula from
up-stairs answered her hail, made it plain that her tardiness had not
been remarked. However Paula had spent her day, the upshot of it was
"Shall I come up?" Mary asked.
"Come along," Paula answered. "I'm not asleep or anything and besides I
want to talk to you."
"I think I got everything you want," Mary said from Paula's doorway, "or
if not exactly, what will do just about as well."
Paula, stretched out on the bed rather more than half undressed, with the
contented languor of a well fed lioness yet with some passion or other
smoldering in her eyes, made no pretense at being interested in Mary's
success in executing her commissions.
"I had Max to lunch to-day," she said. "I knew you hated him and then it
was complicated enough anyway. I suppose it might have been better if I'd
told you so right out instead of making up all those things for you to do
in town, but I couldn't quite find the words to put it in somehow and I
had to have it out with him. He's been nagging at me for a week and he's
going away to-morrow. He's given me until then to think it over."
There was no use trying to hurry Paula. Mary took off her hat, lighted a
cigarette and settled herself in the room's only comfortable chair before
she asked, "Think what over?"
"Oh, the whole thing," said Paula. "What he's been harping on for the
last week.--He _is_ a loathsome sort of beast," she conceded after a
little pause. "But he's right about this. Absolutely."
Was her father ever fretted, Mary wondered, by this sort of thing? Did
his nerves draw tight, and his muscles, too, waiting for the idea behind
these perambulations to emerge?
"I can imagine a lot of things that Mr. Maxfield Ware would be right
about," she observed. "Which one is this?"
"About me," said Paula. "About what I'd have to do if I wanted to get
anywhere. He thinks I've a good chance to get into the very first class,
along with Garden and Farrar and so on. And unless I can do that, there's
no good going on. I'd never be happy as a second rater. Well, that's
true. And my only chance of getting to the top, he says, is in being
managed just right. I guess that's true, too. He says that if I take this
Metropolitan contract that LaChaise has been talking about, go down to
New York as one of their 'promising young American sopranos' to sing on
off-nights and fill in and make myself generally useful, I simply won't
have a chance. They wouldn't get excited about me whatever happened.
They'd go on patronizing me and yawning in my face no matter how good I
was. I'd do just as well, he says, so far as my career is concerned, to
stay right here in Chicago and get Campanini to give me two or three
appearances a season;--make a sort of amateur night of it for the gold
coast to buzz about. I'd have a lot easier time that way and it would
come to the same thing in the end. And he says that unless I want to go
in for his scheme, that's what I'd better do. Well, and he's right. I can
see that, plainly enough."
Mary refrained from asking what Max's scheme was. She'd learn, no doubt,
in her stepmother's own good time. She nodded a tentative assent to Max's
general premises and waited.
"He certainly was frank enough," Paula went on after a while. "He wants
to make a real killing he says. Something he's never quite brought off
before. He says the reason he's always failed before is that he's had to
go and mix a love-affair up with it somehow. He's either fallen in love
with the woman or she with him or if it was a man he was managing, they
both went mad over the same woman. Something always happened anyhow to
make a mess of it. But he says he isn't interested in me in the least in
that way and that he can see plainly enough that I'm not in him. But
imagine five years with him!"
She broke off with a shudder, not a real shudder though. The sort one
makes over a purely imaginary prospect. Some expression of her feeling
must have betrayed itself in Mary's face, for Paula, happening to look at
her just then, sat up abruptly.
"Oh, I know," she said. "It's all very well, but that's the sort of
person you have to go in with and that's the sort of scheme you have to
go into if you're going to get anywhere. Something of the sort anyhow,--I
never heard of one exactly like this. But this is what he proposes: we're
each to put up twenty thousand dollars. That's easy enough as far as I'm
concerned because what I put up isn't to be spent at all. It's just to be
turned over to somebody--some banker like Martin Whitney--as a guarantee
that I won't break my contract. He says he wouldn't take on anybody in my
position without a guarantee like that. He's to spend the money he puts
up for publicity and other things but he's to get paid back out of what I
earn. He's to be my manager absolutely. I'm to go wherever he says; carry
out any contracts he makes for me. He's to pay my expenses and guarantee
me ten thousand a year beyond that. If he doesn't pay me that much, then
it's he that breaks the contract. And of course, he can't make me do
anything that would ruin my voice or my health. He says he's going to
work me like a dog. That's what he thinks I need. He says he can get me
in with the Chicago company for their road tour before their regular
season opens here. He won't let me sing either in Chicago or New York
until I've landed, but he wants me to go to New York this winter and
coach with Scotti, if we can get him. Then go to Mexico City in the
spring and then down to Buenos Aires for their winter season there.
That's July and August, of course, when it's summer up here. By that time
he thinks we'll be ready for Europe; London or Paris. He's rather in
favor of London. He knows all the ropes and he'll buy the people that
have to be bought and square the people that have to be squared and work
the publicity. He says he's the best publicity man in the world and I
guess he knows. Then after a year or two over there, he thinks we'll be
ready to come back to the Metropolitan and clean up."
"And what," asked Mary, "is his share of the clean-up to be?"
"Oh, a half," said Paula; "we'd be equal partners. That's fair enough, I
suppose. I sat there all through lunch while he was talking, hating him;
hating his big blue chin, and his necktie and his great shiny
finger-nails and the way he ate, and feeling, of course, perfectly
frightfully unhappy. I told him I'd let him know what I would do sometime
before to-morrow noon, and as soon as I could I got rid of him. And then
I came up here and cried and cried. And that's something I haven't done
for a long while. I felt as if he was a big spider that had been running
about all over me tying me up in his web. And as if I was a fly and
couldn't get out. There is something spidery about him, you know. The way
he goes back and forth and the way he's so patient and indirect about it
all. It seemed like the end of the world to me before he finished, as if
I never was going to see John again. Oh, I cried my eyes out. Well, and
then about an hour ago I came to. I realized that I hadn't signed his
horrible contract and that I needn't. And that when this beastly season
was over,--and it isn't going to last much longer, thank goodness,--I
could go home to John and lock up the piano and never look at a score
again. It was like coming out of a nightmare."
Mary dared not stop to think. She took the plunge.
"There's something about father you've got to be told. I promised Wallace
Hood weeks ago that I'd tell you. I guess he and Martin Whitney think you
know about it by now."
"Something I've got to be told about John?" Paula echoed incredulously.
"Why, I was talking with him over the telephone not ten minutes before
you came in."
"Oh, I know. It's nothing like that," Mary said. "But they say he has
tuberculosis. Not desperately, not so that he can't get well if he takes
care of it. If he lives out-of-doors and doesn't worry or try to work.
But if he takes up his practise again this fall, they say,--Doctor
Steinmetz says,--that it will be--committing suicide. That's one thing.
And the other is that he's practically bankrupt. Anyhow, that for a year
or two, until he can get back into practise, he'll need help. That's why
Wallace and Mr. Whitney wanted you told about it."
There hadn't been a movement nor a sound from Paula. Mary, at the end of
that speech was breathless and rather frightened.
Finally Paula asked, "Does he know about it?--his health I mean."
"He's been told," Mary answered, "but he doesn't believe it. They nearly
always are skeptical, Doctor Steinmetz says."
"He's probably right to be. He's a better doctor than six of Steinmetz
will ever be."
Another pause; then, once more from Paula, "Did he tell you about the
other thing,--about his money troubles,--when you were down in North
Carolina with him?"
Mary flushed at the hostile ring there was to that. "He told me a
little," she said, "but not much more, I thought, than he had already
"Told me?" Paula swung herself off the bed and on to her feet in one
movement. "He told me nothing."
"He urged you to carry out your Ravinia contract, didn't he?" Mary asked,
as steadily as she could.
Paula stood over her staring. "Oh," she exclaimed, and, a moment later
she repeated the ejaculation in a drier tone and with a downward
inflection. She added presently, "I'm not clever the way you are at
taking hints. That's the thing it will be just as well for you both to
remember." She began bruskly putting on her dressing-gown. "I'm going
down-stairs to telephone to Max," she explained. "He's got the paper all
drawn up, not the final contract but an agreement to sign one of the sort
I told you about. I'm going to tell him that if he will bring it back
with him now, I'll sign it."
Mary stood between her and the door. "Don't you think it would be--fairer
to wait?" she asked; "before you signed a thing like that. Until at
least, you were no longer angry with me for having told you too much or
with father because he had told you too little."
Paula pulled up at that and stood looking at her stepdaughter with a
thoughtful expression that was almost a smile. "I am angry," she
admitted, "or I was, and just exactly about that. It's queer the way you
Wollastons, you and your father, anyhow, are always--getting through to
things like that. What you say is fair enough. I guess you're always
fair. Can't help being, somehow. But I can't put off telephoning to Max.
You see I called up John at Hickory Hill an hour ago. I told him I had
made up my mind to stop singing. I told him I didn't want any career.
That I just wanted to--belong to him. And I asked him to come to me as
fast as he could. He's on the way now. So it's important, you see, that
Max should get here first."
TWO WOMEN AND JOHN
Paula seemed calm enough after that one explosion but she moved along
toward the accomplishment of her purpose, to get herself thoroughly
committed to Max before John's arrival, with the momentum of a liner
leaving its pier. Mary made two or three more attempts at dissuasion but
their manifest futility kept her from getting any real power into them.
She was, to tell the truth, in a panic over the prospect of that
evening;--her father arriving triumphant in Paula's supposed surrender to
find Maxfield Ware with his five years' contract in his pocket. And the
responsibility for the disaster would be attributed to herself; was
indeed so attributable with a kind of theatrical completeness seldom, to
be found in life. It didn't often happen that any one was as entirely to
blame for a calamity to some one else as Mary was for this _volte-face_
She did not run away altogether. Paula, indeed, didn't know that she had
fled at all, for Maxfield Ware's tardiness about coming back the second
time supplied her with a pretext.
It was nearly eight o'clock before he came and Paula, who was momentarily
expecting John's arrival by then, was in an agony of impatience to sign
his papers and get him out of the house again. Ware may have divined her
wish and loitered out of mischievous curiosity as to the cause of it. Or
he may, merely, have been prolonging an experience which he found
agreeable. Anyhow, he wouldn't be hurried and he wouldn't go. But Paula
finally turned a look of despairing appeal upon Mary who thereupon
announced her intention of going to to-night's performance in the park.
She would drive, of course, and would be glad to take Mr. Ware along.
Or, for that matter, she would set him down first wherever he might want
to go. He smiled upon her with the fatuous smile of one who finds he has
made an unexpected conquest and said he would be delighted to accompany
Miss Wollaston anywhere.
She took him, driving pretty fast, to the Moraine Hotel and was glad the
distance was not greater, for after various heavy-handed and unquenchable
preliminaries he kissed her as nearly on the mouth as possible, clinging
to a half-lit cigar the while, just before she whipped around into the
hotel drive. She avoided a collision with one of the stone posts narrowly
enough to startle him into releasing her,--he hadn't realized the turn
was so close--and stopped at the lighted carriage door with a jerk that
left him no option but to get out at once.
She nodded a curt good night and drove back to the park; went to one of
the dressing-rooms and washed her face. Then she came around in front to
hear Edith Mason sing _Romeo and Juliet_. She didn't get just the effect
she anticipated from this lovely performance because Polacco, who is Miss
Mason's husband, came and sat down beside her--there was nothing spidery
about him, thank goodness--and in a running and vivacious commentary
expressed his lively contempt for this opera of Gounod's. At its best it
was bad _Faust_. Its least intolerable melodies were quotations from
_Faust_,--an assertion which he proved from time to time by singing, and
not very softly either, the original themes to the wrath of all who sat
within a twenty-five foot radius of them.
Mary felt grateful to him for giving her something that was not
maddening to think about and after the performance went with him and his
wife to supper so that it was well after midnight before she returned to
It was an ineffable relief to find it dark. Her habit on warm nights was
to sleep on the gloucester swing in the screened veranda and she made it
her bed to-night, though beyond a short uneasy doze of two, she didn't
sleep at all.
At half past eight or so, just after she had sat down to breakfast,
she heard her father coming down the stairs. She tried to call to him
but could command no voice and so waited, frozen, until he appeared in
"I thought I heard you stirring down here and that it perhaps meant
breakfast. Paula won't be down, I suppose, for hours. She fell asleep
about four o'clock and has been sleeping quietly ever since."
This was exactly like Paula, of course. She was the vortex of the
whole tempest, but when she had thoroughly exhausted the emotional
possibilities of it she sank into peaceful slumber like a baby after
a hard cry.
No wonder she was too much for these two Wollastons who sat now with dry
throats and tremulous hands over the mockery of breakfast! Mary, although
she knew, asked her father whether he wanted his coffee clear or with
cream in it and having thus broken the spell, went on with a gasp:
"I'm glad Paula isn't coming down. It gives you a better chance to tell
me just how you feel about my having interfered. I did run away last
night. You guessed that, I suppose. But it wasn't to evade it altogether.
My--whipping, you know."
It had an odd effect on both of them, this reference to her childhood;
her hand moved round the table rim and covered his which rested on the
edge of it.
"Did your mother ever punish you?" he asked. "Corporeally? It's my
recollection that she did not. I was always the executioner. I doubt now
if that was quite fair."
"Perhaps not," she asserted dubiously. "In general it isn't fair of
course. It probably wasn't in the case of Rush. But with me,--I don't
think I could have borne it to have mother beat me. It would have seemed
an insufferable affront. I'd have hated her for it. But there was a sort
of satisfaction in having you do it."
After another moment of silence she smiled and added, "I suppose a
Freudian would carry off an admission like that to his cave and gnaw over
it for hours."
He stared at her, shocked, incredulous. "What do you know about Freud?"
"One couldn't live for two years within a hundred yards of Washington
Square without knowing at least as much about it as that," she told
him,--and was glad of the entrance of the maid with another installment
the breakfast. There was no more talk between them during the meal. But
at the end of it she faced him resolutely.
"We must have this out, dad. And isn't now as good a time as any?"
He followed her out into the veranda but the sounds from the dining-room,
where the maid had come in to clear away the breakfast, disturbed him so
Mary suggested a walk.
"Get your hat and we'll go over to the lake. I know a nice place not far,
an open field right at the edge of the bluff with one big tree to make it
shady. At this hour of the morning we are sure to have it all to
He said as they walked along, "I've no reproaches for you. Not this
morning. I've thought over a lot of ground since four o'clock."
He said nothing more to the point until they reached the spot which Mary
had selected as their destination--it lived up handsomely to all her
promises--and settled themselves under the shade of the big tree.
"I suppose," he added then, "that I ought to forgive Whitney and Hood.
Their intentions were the best and kindest, of course. But I find that
harder to do."
He sat back against the trunk of the tree, facing out over the lake;
she disposed herself cross-legged on the grass near by just within
reaching distance. She offered him her cigarette case but he declined.
Of late years, since his marriage to Paula, he had smoked very little.
As a substitute, now, he picked up a forked bit of branch, and began
"I'm as much to blame as they are," she said, presently. "More, really.
Because, if I hadn't procrastinated-o-ut of cowardice, mostly,--until
yesterday, when she was half-way over the edge, it might never have come
to Maxfield Ware at all. After the situation had dramatized itself like
that, there was only one thing she could do. Of course, they didn't
foresee that five years' contract, any more than I did."
He nodded assent, though rather absently to this. "I'm not much
interested in the abstract ethics of it," he said. "It's disputable, of
course, how far any one can be justified in making a major interference
in another's life; one that deprives him of the power of choice. That's
what you have done to me--the three of you. If the premises are right,
and the outcome prosperous, there's something to be said for it. But in
this case ..."
"They aren't mistaken, are they, dad? Wallace and Mr. Whitney?--Or Doctor
"Why, it's reasonable to suppose that Whitney understands my financial
condition better than I do. I mean that. It's not a sneer. But what he
and Hood don't allow for is that I've never tried to make money.
They've no idea what my earning power would be if I were to turn to and
make that a prime consideration. A year of it would take me out of the
woods, I think."
She waited, breathless, for him to deal with the third name. She was
pretty well at one with Paula in the relative valuation she put upon her
father's opinion and that of the throat and lung specialist.
"Oh, as for Steinmetz," John Wollaston said, after a pause, querulously,
"he's a good observer. There's nothing to be said against him as a
laboratory man. But he has the vice of all German scientists; he doesn't
understand imponderables. Never a flash of intuition about him. He
managed to intimidate Darby into agreeing with him. Neither of them takes
my recuperative powers into account."
He seemed to feel that this wasn't a very strong line to take and the
next moment he conceded as much.
"But suppose they were right," he flashed round at her. "Am I not still
entitled to my choice? I've lived the greater part of my life. I've
pulled my weight in the boat. It should be for me to choose whether I
spend the life I have left in two years or in twenty. If they want to
call that suicide, let them. I've no religion that's real enough to make
a valid argument against my right to extinguish myself if I choose."
She wasn't shocked. It was characteristic of their talks together, this
free range among ethical abstractions, especially on his part.
"You act on the other theory though," she pointed out to him. "Think of
the people you've patched together just so that they can live at most
another wretched year or two."
"That's a different thing," he said. "Or rather it comes to the same
thing. The question of shortening one's life is one that nobody has a
right to decide except for himself."
Then he asked abruptly. "What sort of person is Maxfield Ware?"
She attempted no palliations here.
"He kissed me last night," she said, "taking his cigar out of his mouth
for the purpose. He's not a sort of person I can endure or manage. Paula
hates him as much as I do, but she can manage him. He'd never try to
kiss her like that."
"Oh, God!" cried John. "It's intolerable." He flung away his stick, got
to his feet and walked to the edge of the bluff. "Think of her working,
traveling,--living almost,--with a man like that! You say she can manage
him; that she can prevent him from trying to make love to her. Well, what
does that mean, if you're right, but that she--understands him; his talk;
his ideas; his point of view. You can't make yourself intelligible to a
man like that; she can. It's defilement to meet his mind anywhere--any
angle of it. She's given him carte blanche, she says, to manage the
publicity for her. Do you realize what that means? He's licensed to try
to make the public believe anything that he thinks would heighten their
interest in her. That she dresses indecently; that she's a frivolous
extravagant fool; that she has lovers. You know how that game is played."
Mary did know. She ran over a list of the great names and opposite every
one of them there sprang into her mind the particular bit of vulgar
reclame that had been in its day some press agent's masterpiece. She was
able further to see that Paula would regard the moves of this game with a
large-minded tolerance which would be incomprehensible to John. After
all, that was the way to take it. If you were a real luminary, not just a
blank white surface, all the mud that Mr. Maxfield Ware could splash
wouldn't matter. You burnt it off. None of those great names was soiled.
She tried to say something like this to her father, but didn't feel sure
that she quite had his attention. He did quiet down again however and
resumed his seat at the foot of the tree. Presently he said:
"She's doing it for me. Because my incompetence has forced it upon her.
She'd have taken the other thing; had really chosen it." Then without a
pause, but with a new intensity he shot in a question. "That's true,
isn't it? She meant what she said over the telephone?" As Mary hesitated
over her answer he added rather grimly, "You can be quite candid about
it. I don't know which answer I want."
"She meant every word she said over the telephone," Mary assured him.
"You couldn't doubt that if you had seen her as I did afterward."
She didn't pretend though that this was the complete answer. The
reflective tone in which she spoke made it clear that there was more to
it than that.
"Go on," John said, "tell me the rest of it. I think, perhaps, you
understand her better than I do."
Mary took her time about going on and she began a little doubtfully. "I
always begin by being unjust to Paula," she said. "That's my instinct, I
suppose, reproaching her for not doing what she would do if she were
like me. But afterward when I think her out, I believe I understand her
"Paula exaggerates," she went on after another reflective pause. "She
must see things large in order to move among them in a large way. Her
gestures, those of her mind I mean, are--sweeping. If she weren't so
good-natured, our--hair-splitting ways would annoy her. Then it's
necessary for her to feel that she's--conquering something."
That last word was barely audible and the quality of the silence which
followed it drew John Wollaston's gaze which had been straying over the
lake, around to the speaker. She had been occupying her hands while she
talked, collecting tiny twigs and acorn cups that happened to be within
reach but now she was tensely still and paler than her wont, he thought.
"You needn't be afraid to say what's in your mind," he assured her.
"It wasn't that," she told him. "I realized that I had been quoting
somebody else. Anthony March said once of Paula that if she had not been
an artist she might have been a _dompteuse_."
John settled himself more comfortably against his tree trunk. A contact
like this with his daughter's mind must have been inexpressibly
comforting to him after a night like the one he had just spent. Its
rectitude; its sensitiveness; the mere feel and texture of it, put his
jangling nerves in tune.
"Is Ware the wild beast she has an inclination to tame in this
instance?" he asked.
"He's nothing but a symbol of it," Mary said. Then she managed to get the
thing a little clearer. "What she'd have done if she'd been like us and
what we'd have had her do--Mr. Whitney and Wallace and I,--would have
been to make a sort of compromise between her position as your wife and a
career as Paula Carresford. We'd have had her sign a contract to sing a
few times this winter with the Metropolitan or the Chicago company, go on
a concert tour perhaps for a few weeks, even give singing lessons or sing
in a church choir. That would probably have been Mr. Whitney's idea.
Rather more than enough to pay her way and at the same time leave as much
of her to you as possible.
"But that's the last thing in the world it would be possible for Paula to
do. She must see a great career on one side,--see herself as Geraldine
Farrar's successor,--and on the other side she must see a perfect
unflawed life with you. So that whichever she chooses she will have a
sense of making the greatest possible sacrifice. She couldn't have said
to you what she did over the telephone if Mr. Ware hadn't convinced her
that a great career was open to her and she couldn't have signed his
contract if it had not involved sacrificing you."
She propped herself back against her hands with a sigh of fatigue.
"There's some of the hair-splitting Paula talks about," she observed.
"It may be fine spun," her father said thoughtfully, "but it seems to me
to hold together. Isn't there any more of it?"
"Well, it was balanced like that, you see," Mary went on; "set for the
climax, like the springs in a French play, when I came along at just the
moment and with just the word, to topple it over. Being Paula, she
couldn't help doing exactly what she did. So, however it comes out, I
shall be the one person she won't be able to forgive."
She knew from the startled look he turned upon her that this last shot
had come uncannily close. She fancied she must almost literally have
echoed Paula's words. If she needed any further confirmation she would
have found it in the rather panicky way in which he set about trying to
convince her that she was mistaken, if not in the fact at least in the
permanence of it.
She insisted no further, made indeed no further attempt at all to carry
the theme along and though she listened and made appropriate replies when
they were called for, she let her wordless thought drift away to a dream
that it was Anthony March who shared this shade and sunshine with her and
that veiled blue horizon yonder. It was easier to do since her father had
drifted into a reverie of his own. They need not have lingered for they
had sufficiently talked away all possible grounds of misunderstanding,
even if they had not reconciled their disagreement.
It occurred to her to suggest that they go back, but she dismissed the
impulse with no more than a glancing thought. It was his burden, not
hers, that remained to be shouldered at the cottage and it might be left
to him to choose his own time for taking it up. Paula seldom came down
much before noon anyhow.
As for John Wollaston, he was very tired. Paula's volcanic moments always
exhausted him. He never could derationalize his emotions, cut himself
free; and while he felt just as intensely as she did, he had to carry the
whole superstructure of himself along on those tempestuous voyages. In
the mood Paula had left him in this morning, there was nothing in the
world that could have satisfied and restored him as did his daughter's
companionship. The peace of this wordless prolongation of their talk
together was something he lacked, for a long while, the will to break.
It was not far short of noon when they came back into the veranda
together. He had walked the last hundred yards, after a look at his
watch, pretty fast and after a glance into both the down-stairs rooms, he
called up-stairs to his wife in a voice that had an edge of sudden
anxiety in it. Then getting no response, he went up, two at a time.
Mary dropped down, limp with a sudden premonition, upon the gloucester
swing in the veranda. The maid of all work, who had heard his call, came
from the kitchen just as he was returning down the stairs. Mrs. Wollaston
had gone away, she said. Pete had reported with the big car at eleven
o'clock and Paula, who apparently had been waiting for him, had driven
off at once having left word that she would not be back for lunch.
"All right," John said curtly. "You may go."
He was so white when he rejoined Mary in the veranda that she sprang up
with an involuntary cry and would have had him lie down, where she had
been sitting. But the fine steely ring in his voice stopped her short.
"Have you any idea," he asked, "where she has gone or what she has gone
to do? She came down," he went on without waiting for her answer,--"and
looked for me. Waited for me. And thanks to that--walk we took, I wasn't
here. Well, can you guess what she's done?"
"It's only a guess," Mary said, "but she may have gone to see
"Martin Whitney?" he echoed blankly. "What for? What does she want of
"She spoke of him," Mary said, "in connection with the money, the twenty
He broke in upon her again with a mere blank frantic echo of her words
and once more Mary steadied herself to explain.
"Her agreement with Mr. Ware required her to put up twenty thousand
dollars in some banker's hands as a guarantee that she would not break
the contract. She mentioned Martin Whitney as the natural person to
hold it. So I guessed that she might have gone to consult him about
it;--or even to ask him to lend it to her. As she said, it wouldn't
have to be spent."
"That's the essence of the contract then. It's nothing without that.
Until she gets the money and puts it up. Yet you told me nothing of it
until this moment. If you had done so--instead of inviting me to go for a
walk--and giving her a chance to get away..."
He couldn't be allowed to go on. "Do you mean that you think I did
that--for the purpose?" she asked steadily.
He flushed and turned away. "No, of course I don't. I'm half mad
He walked abruptly into the house and a moment later she heard him at the
telephone. She stayed where she was, unable to think; stunned rather than
hurt over the way he had sprung upon her.
He seemed a little quieter when he came out a few minutes later.
"Whitney left half an hour ago for Lake Geneva," he said. "So she's
missed him if that's where she went. There's nothing to do but wait."
He was very nervous however. Whenever the telephone rang, as it did of
course pretty often, he answered it himself, and each time his
disappointment that it was not Paula asking for him, broke down more or
less the calm he tried to impose upon himself. He essayed what amends
good manners enabled him to make to Mary for his outrageous attack upon
her. It went no deeper than that. The discovery that Paula was gone and
simultaneously that he need not have lost her obliterated--or rather
reversed--the morning's mood completely.
It was after lunch that he said, dryly, "I upset your life for you, half
a dozen years ago. Unfairly. Inexcusably. I've always been ashamed of it.
But it lends a sort of poetic justice to this."
She made no immediate reply, but not long afterward she asked if she
might not go away without waiting for Paula's return. "It would be too
difficult, don't you think?--for the three of us, in a small house
He agreed with manifest relief. He asked if it was not too late to drive
that afternoon to Hickory Hill, but she said she'd prefer to go by train
anyhow. That was possible she thought.
He did not ask, in so many words, if this was where she meant to go.
There was no other place for her that he could think of.
It was a good guess of Mary's that Paula had gone to borrow the twenty
thousand dollars but it was to Wallace Hood, not to Martin Whitney, that
she went for it; and thereby illustrated once more how much more
effective instinct is than intelligence.
Martin, rich and generous as he was, originator as he was of the edict
that Paula must go to work, would never have been stampeded as Wallace
was in a talk that lasted less than half an hour, into producing
securities to the amount that Paula needed and offering them up in escrow
for the life of Maxfield Ware's contract.
Wallace was only moderately well off and he was by nature, cautious. His
investments were always of the most conservative sort. This from habit
as well as nature because his job--the only one he had ever had--was
that of estate agent. But Paula's instinct told her that he wouldn't
find it possible to refuse. I think it told her too, though this was a
voice that did not make itself fairly heard to her conscious ear, that
he would be made very fluttered and unhappy by it whether he granted her
request or not.
What he would hate, she perceived, was the suddenness of the demand and
the irrevocable committal to those five years; the blow it was to those
domesticities and proprieties he loved so much. The fact that he would be
made sponsor for those unchartered excursions to Mexico, to South
America, and so on, under the direction of a libidinous looking
cosmopolite like Maxfield Ware.
Why she wanted to put Wallace into the flutters she couldn't have told.
She was, as I say, not quite aware that she did. But he had been running
up a score in very minute items that was all of five years old. The fact
that all these items went by the name of services, helpful little acts of
kindness, made the irritation they caused her all the more acute.
I don't agree with Lucile Wollaston's diagnosis, that Paula could not
abide Wallace merely because he refused to lose his head over her, but
there was a grain of truth in it. What she unconsciously resented was the
fundamental unreality of his attitude to her. Actually, he did not like
her, but the relation he had selected as appropriate to the first Mrs.
Wollaston's successor was one of innocent devotion and he stuck,
indefatigably, to the pose. So the chance to put his serviceability to
the proof in consternating circumstances like these, afforded her a
subtle satisfaction. He'd brought it upon himself, hadn't he? At least it
was he and no other who had put Mary up to the part she had played.
None of this, of course, came to the surface at all in the scene between
them. She was gentler than was her wont with him, very appealing, subdued
nearer to his own scale of manners than he had ever seen her before. But
she did not, for a fact, allow him much time to think.
He asked her, with a touch of embarrassment, whether John was fully in
her confidence concerning this startling project, and if she had won his
assent to it.
"He knows all about it," she said--and with no consciousness of a
_suppressio veri_ here. "We hardly talked of anything else all last
night. I didn't get to sleep till four. He doesn't like it, but then you
couldn't expect he would. For that matter neither do I. Oh, you don't
know how I hate it! But I think he sees it has to be. Anyhow, he didn't
try very hard to keep me from going on with it--And Mary, of course, is
Even his not very alert ear caught something equivocal in those last
sentences, and he looked at her sharply.
"Oh, I'm worn to ribbons over it!" she exclaimed, and this touch of
apology served for the tearing edge there had been in her voice. "I
couldn't let him see how I feel about it. It would be a sort of relief to
have it settled. That's why I came straight to you to-day."
He tried, but rather feebly, to temporize. We mustn't let haste drive us
farther than we really wanted to go. The matter of drawing the formal
contract, for instance, must be attended with all possible legal
safe-guards, especially when we were dealing with a person whose honor
was perhaps dubitable.
"I thought we might go round to see Rodney Aldrich about it, now," she
said. "He's about the best there is in that line, isn't he? Why don't you
telephone to his office and find out if he's there."
This seemed as good a straw as any to clutch at. The chance of catching
as busy a man as Aldrich with a leisure half hour was very slim. The
recording angel who guarded his wicket gate would probably give them an
appointment for some day next week, and this would leave time for a
confirmatory talk with John. But, unluckily, Rodney was there and would
be glad to see Mrs. Wollaston as soon as she could be brought round.
"Then, that's all right," Paula said with a sigh of relief. "So if you
really believe I'll keep my word and don't mind putting up the money for
me, it's as good as settled."
There was one more question on his tongue. "Does John know that you have
come to me for it?" But this, somehow, he could not force himself to ask.
Implicitly she had already answered it--hadn't she?
"Of course I believe, in you, in everything, my dear Paula. And I'm very
much--touched, that you should have come to me. And my only hope is that
it may turn out to have been altogether for the best."
And there was that.
It was not until late that night that his misgivings as to the part Mary
might have played in this drama really awoke, but when they did he
marveled that they had not occurred to him earlier. He recalled that Mary
had prophesied during their talk at the Saddle and Cycle that Paula would
attribute to her the suggestion--whoever might make it--that an operatic
career for John's wife was desirable and necessary for financial reasons.
She had said too, in that serious measured way of hers, "If Paula ever
saw me coming between her and father, whether it was my doing or not, she
would hate me with her whole heart."
Had that prediction been justified? There were half a dozen phrases that
Paula had allowed herself to use this afternoon, which added up to a
reasonable certainty that it was altogether justified. It was not easy
for him to admit to himself that he didn't like Paula; that he knew her
and had long known her for a person incapable of following any lead save
that of her own primitive straightforward desires.
His self-communings reached down deeper into him than they had done for
many a long year. He convicted himself, before his vigil was over, of
flagrant cowardice in having allowed Mary to undertake the burden of that
revelation. What harm would it have done any one, even himself, beyond an
hour's discomfort, to have drawn down Paula's lightnings on his own head?
Her enmity, even though it were permanent, could not seriously have
changed the tenor of his ways.
But to Mary, such a thing could easily be a first-class disaster. Could
John be relied upon to come whole-heartedly to her defense. No, he could
not. Indeed--this was the thought that made Wallace gasp as from a dash
of cold water in the face--John's anger at this interference with his
affairs and at the innocent agent of it was likely to be as hot as his
wife's. Momentarily anyhow. What a perfectly horrible situation to have
forced the girl into;--that fragile sensitive young thing!
And now above all other times, when, for some reason not fully known to
him, she was finding her own life an almost impossibly difficult thing to
manage. He remembered the day she had come back from New York; how she
had flushed and gone pale and asked him in a moment of suddenly tense
emotion if he couldn't find her a job. It had been that very night,
hadn't it?--when Paula had given that recital of Anthony March's
songs--that she had disappeared out of the midst of things and never come
back during the whole evening. When one considered her courage a flight
like that told a good deal.
Then there had been that something a little short of an engagement with
Graham Stannard, which must have distressed her horribly;--any one with a
spirit as candid as hers and with as honest a hatred of all that was
equivocal. The family had seemed to think that it would all come out
right in the end somehow, yet the last time she had talked with him she
had said, cutting straight through the disguise his thought had hidden
itself behind, "I know I can't ever marry Graham."
And it was a young girl harassed with perplexities like these, whom he
had permitted in his stead to beard the lioness. Well, if there was
anything in the world, any conceivable thing, that he could do to repair
the consequences of his fault, he would do it. If that lovers'
misunderstanding with Graham could, after all, be cleared away it would
be the happy, the completely desirable solution of the problem. But if it
could not ... A day-dream that it was he who stood in Graham Stannard's
shoes, offering her harbor and rest and a life-long loyalty, formed the
bridge over which he finally fell asleep.
She called him to the telephone the next morning while he was at
breakfast; just to tell him she was in town, she said, and to ask him if
he had heard anything from his sister in Omaha as to whether she wanted a
nursery governess. He had to admit, of course, that he had not even
written to her, and felt guiltier and more miserable than ever.
"Do write to-day, though, won't you?" she urged. "And give me the best
character you can. Because I am going to get some sort of job just as
soon as possible."
In reply to the inarticulate noise of protest he made at this she went
on, "Our family has simply exploded. I fled for my life last night. So
you see I'm really in earnest about going to work now."
"I want to come and see you at once," he said. "Where are you?"
"At home," she answered, "but I'm going out this minute for the day. If
you'd like a picnic tea here at half past five, though, come and I'll
tell you what I've been doing."
He asked if this meant that she was staying all by herself in the
Dearborn Avenue house without even a servant, and at his lively horror
over this she laughed with an amusement which sounded genuine enough to
reassure him somewhat. She ended the conversation by telling him that she
had left her father with the impression that she was going straight to
Hickory Hill. She was writing Aunt Lucile a note saying she meant to stay
in town for a few days. "But if you get any frantic telephone calls in
the meantime, tell them I'm all right."
He wondered a good deal, as his hours marched past in their accustomed
uneventful manner, what she could be doing with hers. It was an odd
locution for her to have employed that she was "going out for the day."
He couldn't square it with any sort of social activity. The thing that
kept plaguing his mind despite his impatient attempts to dismiss it as
nonsense, was the possibility that she was actually looking for that job
she'd talked about. Answering advertisements!
Toward four, when he had stopped trying to do anything but wait for his
appointment with her, Rush and Graham came in, precipitately, and asked
for a private talk with him. He took them into his inner office, relieved
a little at the arrival of reenforcements but disappointed too.
"If you're anxious about Mary," he began by saying, "I can assure you
that she is all right. She's at the Dearborn Avenue house, or was last
night and will be again later this afternoon. I talked to her on the
phone this morning."
"Thank God!" said Rush.
Graham dropped into a chair with a gesture of relief even more
Rush explained the cause of their alarm. Old Pete had driven in to
Hickory Hill around two o'clock with a letter, addressed to Mary, from
Paula, and on being asked to explain offered the disquieting information
that she had left Ravinia for the farm, the afternoon before. They had
driven straight to town and to Wallace as the likeliest source of
In the emotional back-lash from his profound disquiet about his sister,
suddenly reassured that there was nothing--well, tragic to be
apprehended, Rush allowed himself an outburst of brotherly indignation.
He'd like to know what the devil Mary meant by giving them a fright like
that. Why hadn't she telephoned last night? Nothing was easier than
that. Or more to the point still, why hadn't she come straight out to
the farm as she had told her father she meant to do, instead of spending
the night in town?
Wallace would have let him go on, since it gave him a little time he
wanted for deciding what line to take. But Graham, it seemed,
couldn't stand it.
"Shut up, Rush!" he commanded. (You are to remember that he was three
years his partner's senior.) "Mary never did an--inconsiderate thing in
her life. If she seems to have forgotten about us, you can be dead sure
there's a reason."
"I agree with Stannard," Wallace put in, "that she wants to be dealt
with--gently. She must have been having a rather rotten time."
He hadn't yet made up his mind how far to take them into his confidence
as to what he knew and guessed, but Rush made an end of his hesitation.
"Tell us, for heaven's sake, what it's all about.--Oh, you needn't
mind Graham. He's as much in it as any of us. I suppose you know how
Wallace was conscious of an acute wish that they had not turned up until
he'd had a chance to see Mary, but somehow he felt he couldn't go behind
an assurance like that. So he told them what he had pieced together.
Rush grunted and blushed and said he'd be damned, but it was not a
theme--this contention between his father and his stepmother--that he
could dwell upon. He got hold at last of something that he could be
articulate about, and demanded to know why, in these circumstances, Mary
hadn't come straight to them at Hickory Hill instead of camping out, for
the night, all by herself in the Dearborn Avenue house.
"She has an idea she must find a job for herself," Wallace said, feeling
awkwardly guilty as if he had betrayed her; but the way Rush leaped upon
him, demanding in one breath what the deuce he meant and what sort of job
he was talking about, made it impossible to pull up.
He recounted the request Mary had made of him, concerning his sister in
Omaha, and, last of all, stated his own misgiving--nothing but the merest
guess of course--that she had been putting in this day answering
advertisements. "She said she'd give me a picnic tea at five-thirty and
tell me what she'd been doing."
"Well, it'll be no picnic for her," Rush exploded angrily. "I'll see her
at five-thirty myself. She must be plumb out of her head if she thinks
she'll be allowed to do a thing like that."
Once more, before Wallace could speak, it was Graham who intervened. "I
want you to leave this to me," he said gravely. "I don't know whether I
can settle it or not, but I'd like to try." He turned to Wallace.
"Would you mind, sir, letting me go to tea with her at half past five
in your place?"
It is possible that, but for Wallace's day-dream of himself offering
Mary the shelter and the care she so obviously needed, he might have
persisted in seeing her first and assuring her that he was to be
regarded as an ally whatever she decided to do. Her voice as she had
said, "I know I can never marry Graham" echoed forlornly in his mind's
ear. But a doubt faint and vague as it was, of his own disinterestedness
held him back. Graham was young; he was in love with her. That gave him
right of way, didn't it?
So he assented. It was agreed that Rush should dine with Wallace at his
apartment. Graham, if he had any news for them should communicate it by
THE FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCE
The instinct to conceal certain moods of depression and distress together
with the histrionic power to make the concealment possible may be a
serious peril to a woman of Mary Wollaston's temperament. She had managed
at the telephone that morning to deceive Wallace pretty completely. Even
her laugh had failed to give her away.
She was altogether too near for safety to the point of exhaustion. She
had endured her second night without sleep. She had not really eaten an
adequate meal since her lunch in town the day Paula had engineered her
out of the way for that talk with Maxfield Ware.
There was nothing morbid in her resolution to find, at the earliest
possible moment, some way of making herself independent of her father's
support. Having pointed out Paula's duty as a bread winner she could not
neglect her own, however dreary the method might be, or humble the
results. In any mood, of course, the setting out in search of employment
would have been painful and little short of terrifying to one brought up
the way Mary had been.
A night's sleep though and a proper breakfast would have kept the thing
from being a nightmare. As it was, she felt, setting out with her
clipping from the help-wanted columns of a morning paper, a good deal
like the sole survivor of some shipwreck, washed up upon an unknown
coast, venturing inland to discover whether the inhabitants were
cannibals. Even the constellations in her sky were strange.
Where, then, was Anthony March? Nowhere above her horizon, to-day at all
events. The memory of him had been with her much of the two last
sleepless nights. She had told over the tale of her moments with him
again and again. (Did any one, she might have wondered, ever love as
deeply with so small a treasury of golden hours for memory to draw upon?)
But she could not, somehow, relate him at all to her present or her
future. Her love for him was an out-going rather than an in-coming thing.
At least, her thoughts had put the emphasis upon that side of it; upon
the longing to comfort and protect him, to be the satisfaction to all his
wants. Not--passionately not--to cling heavily about his neck, drag at
his feet, steal his wayfarer's liberty,--no, not the smallest moment of
it! This present helplessness of hers then, which heightened her need for
him, served also to bolt the doors of her thoughts against him.
Her recollection of the next few hours, though it contained some
vignettes so sharp and deeply bitten in as to be, she fancied,
ineffaceable, was in the main confused. She must have called upon ten or
a dozen advertisers in various suburban districts of the city (she
avoided addresses that were too near home and names where she suspected
hers might be known). Her composite impression was of flat thin voices
which she could imagine in excitement becoming shrill; of curious
appraising stares; of a vast amount of garrulous irrelevancy; of a note
of injury that one who could profess so little equipment beyond good will
should so disappoint the expectation her first appearance had aroused.
The background was a room--it seemed to have been in every case the
same--expensively overfurnished, inexpressive, ill-fitting its uses, like
a badly chosen ready-made coat. The day was not without its humors, or
what would have been humors if her spirit could have rebounded to them.
Chiefly, the violent antagonism she found aroused in two or three cases
by the color of her hair.
The residuum of her pilgrimages was three addresses where she might call
about the middle of next week, in person or by telephone, to learn the
advertiser's decision. Well it would convince Wallace Hood that she was
in earnest. That was something.
Wallace's coming to tea became, as the day wore on, more and more
something to look forward to. All the things about him which in more
resilient hours she had found irritating or absurd, his neutrality, his
appropriateness, his steady unimaginative way of going always one step
at a time, seemed now precisely his greatest merits. The thought of tea
in his company even aroused a faint appetite for food in her and lent
zest to her preparations for it. When she stopped at the neighborhood
caterer's shop for supplies she bought some tea cakes in addition to the
sandwiches she had ordered in the morning. She had managed to get home
in good enough season to restore the drawing-room somewhat to its
inhabited appearance, to set out her tea table, put on her kettle, and
then go up-stairs and change her dress for something that was not wilted
by the day's unusual heat. She was ready then to present before Wallace
an _ensemble_ which should match pretty well her tone at the telephone
But when she answered the ring she supposed was his and flinging open the
door saw Graham Stannard there instead, she got a jarring shock which her
overstrung nerves were in no condition to endure.
"I persuaded Mr. Hood to let me come to tea in his place," he said.
"It was rather cheeky of me to ask him, I'm afraid. I hope you will
The arrest of all her processes of thought at sight of him lasted only
the barest instant. Then her mind flashed backward through a surmise
which embraced the whole series of events. An alarm at Hickory Hill over
her failure to arrive (which somehow they had been led to expect), a
dash by Graham (Rush not available, perhaps), into town for news. To
Wallace Hood, of course. And Wallace had betrayed her. In the interest of
romantic sentiment. The happy ending given its chance. A rich young
adoring husband instead of a job as nursery governess in Omaha!
It took no longer for all that to go through her mind than Graham needed
for his little explanatory speech on the door-step. There he stood
waiting for her answer. The only choice she had was between shutting the
door in his face without a word, or graciously inviting him to come in
and propose to her--for the last time, at all events. It was not, of
course, a choice at all.
"I'm afraid it's a terribly hot day for tea," she said, moving back from
the doorway to make room for him to come in. "Wallace likes it, though. I
might make you something cold if only I had ice, but of course there
isn't any in the house. It's nice and cool, though, isn't it; from having
been shut up so long?"
Anything,--any frantic thing that could be spun into words to cover the
fact that she had no welcome for him at all, not even the most wan little
beam of friendly tenderness. She had seen the hurt look come into his
eyes, incipient panic at the flash of anger which had not been meant for
him. She must float him inside, somehow, and anchor him to the tea table.
There she could get herself together and deal with him--decently.
He came along, tractably enough, sat in the chair that was to have
been Wallace's, and talked for a while of the tea, and how hot it was
this afternoon, and how beautifully cool in here. It was hot, too, out
at Hickory Hill but one thought little of it. The air was drier for
one thing. He and Rush had commented on the difference as they drove
"Oh, Rush came in with you, did he?" she observed.
He flushed and stammered over the admission and it was easy to guess why.
The fact that her brother, as well as Wallace, was lurking in the
background somewhere waiting for results gave an official cast to his
call that was rather--asinine. She came to the rescue.
"I suppose he and Wallace had something they wanted to talk about," she
commented easily, and he made haste to assent.
She steadied herself with a breath. "Did Wallace tell you," she asked,
"about our explosion at Ravinia over Paula's new contract? And how
furious both father and Paula are with me about it? And how I'm out
looking for a job? He didn't say anything about his sister, did he;
whether he'd written to her to-day or not?"
"Not whether he'd written. But he told us the rest. How you wanted to go
to work. As a nursery governess."
He paused there but she did not break in upon it. She had given him all
the lead he needed. With the deliberate care that a suddenly tremulous
hand made necessary he put down his teacup and spoke as if addressing it.
"I think you're the bravest--most wonderful person in the world. Of
course, I've known that always. Not just since I came back last spring.
But this, that Mr. Hood told us this afternoon, somehow--caps the climax.
I can't tell you how it--got me, to think of your being ready to do--a
thing like that."
The last thing she would have done voluntarily was to put any obstacles
in his way. Her program, on the contrary was to help him along all she
could to his declaration, make a refusal that should be as gentle as was
consistent with complete finality, and then get rid of him before
anything regrettably--messy ensued. But to have her courage rhapsodized
over like this was a thing she could not endure.
"It's nothing," she said rather dryly, "beyond what most girls do
nowadays as a matter of course. I'm being rather cowardly about it, I
think--on account of some silly ideas I've been more or less brought up
with perhaps, but..."
"What if they do?" he broke in; "thousands of them at the stores and in
the offices. It's bad enough for them--for any sort of woman. But it's
different with you. It's horrible. You aren't like them."
She tried to check herself but couldn't. "What's the difference? I'm
healthy and half-educated and fairly young. I have the same sort, pretty
much, of thoughts and feelings. I don't believe I like being clean and
warm and well-fed and amused and admired any better than the average girl
does. I ought to have found a job months ago, instead of letting Rush
bring me home from New York. Or else gone to work when I came home. But
every one was so horrified..."
"They were right to be," he interrupted. "It is a horrible idea. Because
you aren't like the others. You _haven't_ the same sort of thoughts and
feelings. A person doesn't have to be in love with you to see that. Your
father and Rush and Mr. Hood all see it. And as for me--well, I couldn't
endure it, that's all. Oh, I know, you can act like anybody else; laugh
and dance and talk nonsense and make a person forget sometimes. But the
other thing is there all the while--shining through--oh, it can't be
talked about!--like a light. Of--of something a decent man _wants_ to be
guided by, whatever he does. And for you to go out into the world with
that, where there can't be any protection at all ... I can't stand it,
Mary. That's why I came to-day instead of Mr. Hood."
She went very white during that speech and tears came up into her eyes.
Tears of helpless exasperation. It was such a cruelly inhuman thing to
impose an ideal like that upon a woman. It was so smug, so utterly
satisfactory to all romantic sentimentalists. Wallace would approve every
word of it. Wallace had sent him to say just this;--was waiting now to be
told the good news of his success.
The fact is worth recalling, perhaps, that away back in her childhood
Wallace had sometimes reduced her to much this sort of frantic
exasperation by his impregnable assumption that she was the white-souled
little angel she looked. Sitting here in this very room he had goaded her
into committing freakish misdemeanors.
She was resisting now an impulse of much the same sort, though the
parallel did not, of course, occur to her. It was just a sort of
inexplicable panic which she was reining in with all her might by telling
herself how fond she really was of Graham and how terrible a thing it
would be if she hurt him unnecessarily. She dared not attempt to speak so
she merely waited. She was sitting relaxed, her head lowered, her chin
supported by one hand. This stillness and relaxation she always resorted
to in making any supreme demand upon her self-control.
He looked at her rather helplessly once or twice during the silence. Then
arose and moved about restlessly.
"I know you don't love me. I've gone on hoping you could after I suppose
I might have seen it wasn't possible. You've tried to and you can't. I
don't know if one as white as you could love any man--that way. Well, I'm
not going to ask any more for that. I want to ask, instead, that we be
friends. I haven't spoiled the possibility of that, have I?"
She was taken utterly by surprise. It didn't seem possible that she had
even heard aright and the face he turned to, as he asked that last
question, was of one pitiably bewildered, yet lighted too by a gleam of
"You really mean that, Graham?" she asked in a very ragged voice. "Is
that what you came to-day to tell me?"
"I mean it altogether," he said earnestly. "I mean it without
any--reservations at all. You must believe that because it's the--basis
for everything else."
She repeated "everything else?" in clear interrogation; then dropped back
rather suddenly into her former attitude. Everything else! What else was
there to friendship but itself?
He turned back to the window. "I've come to ask you to, marry me, Mary,
just the same. I couldn't be any good as a friend, couldn't take care of
you and try to make you happy, unless in the eyes of the world I was your
husband. But I wouldn't ask,--I promise you I wouldn't ask
anything,--anything at all. You do understand, don't you? You'd be just
as--sacred to me ..."
Then he cried out in consternation at the sight of her, "Mary!
What is it?"
The tension had become too great, that was all. Her self-control,
slackened by the momentarily held belief that it was not needed,
"I understand well enough," she said. "You would say good night at my
bedroom door and good morning at the breakfast table. I've read of
arrangements like that in rather nasty-minded novels, but I didn't
suppose they existed anywhere else. I can't think of an existence more
degradingly sensual than that;--to go on for days and months and years
being 'sacred' to a man; never satisfying the desires your nearness
tortured him with--to say nothing of what you did with your own!
"But that such a thing should be offered to me because I'm too good to
love a man honestly.... You see, I'm none of the things you think I am,
Graham. Nor that you want me to be. Not white, not innocent. Not a 'good'
woman even, let alone an angel. That's what makes it so--preposterous."
He had been staring at her, speechless, horrified. But at this it was as
if he understood. "I ought not to have worried you to-day," he said,
suddenly gentle. "I know how terribly overwrought you are. I meant--I
only meant to make things easier. I'm going away now. I'll send Rush to
you. He'll come at once. Do you mind being alone till then?"
She answered slowly and with an appearance of patient
reasonableness, "It's not that. It's not what Rush calls
shell-shock. There is many a shabby little experimental flirt who
has managed to keep intact an-innocence which I don't possess. That
is the simple-physiological truth."
Then, after a silence, with a gasp, "I'm not mad. But I think I shall be
if you go on looking at me like that. Won't you please go?"
Graham Stannard made his well-meant but disastrous proposal to Mary at
half past five or so on a Friday afternoon. It was a little more than
twenty-four hours later, just after dark on Saturday evening, that she
came in, unheralded, more incredibly like a vision than ever, upon
Anthony March in his secret lair above the grocery.
He was sitting at his work-table scoring a passage in the third act of
_The Dumb Princess_ for the wood-wind choir when her knock, faint as it
was, breaking in upon the rhythm of his theme, caused his pen to leap
away from the paper and his heart to skip a beat. But had it actually
been a knock upon his door? Such an event was unlikely enough.
He uttered a tentative and rather incredulous "Come in" as one just
awakened speaks, humoring the illusion of a dream.
But the door opened and the Dumb Princess stood there, pallid, wistful,
just as she had looked before her true lover climbed the precarious ivy
to her tower and tore away the spell that veiled her.
March sat debating with himself,--or so it seemed to him afterward; it
was a matter of mere seconds, of course,--why, since she was a vision,
did she not look as she had on one of the occasions when he had seen her.
The night of the Whitman songs; the blazing afternoon in the hay field.
She was different to-night, and very clearly defined, in a plain
little frock of dark blue--yet not quite what one ordinarily meant by
dark blue--cut out in an unsoftened square around the neck, and a
small hat of straw, the color of the warmer sort of bronze. These
austerities of garb, dissociated utterly with all his memories, gave
her a poignancy that was almost unbearable. Why had the vision of her
come to him like that?
She smiled then and spoke. "It is really I. I've come with a
message for you."
Until she spoke he could do nothing but stare as one would at an
hallucinatory vision; but her voice, the first articulate syllable of it,
brought him to his feet and drew him across the room to where she stood.
He was almost suffocated by a sudden convulsion of the heart, half
exultation, half terror. The exultation was accountable enough. The high
Gods had given him another chance. Why he should be terrified he did not
at the time know, but he was--from that very first moment.
He came to her slowly, not knowing what he was to do or say. All his
mental powers were for the moment quite in abeyance. But when he got
within hand's reach of her it was given to him to take both of hers and
stoop and kiss them. He'd have knelt to her had his knees ever been
habituated to prayer. Then he led her to his big hollow-backed easy chair
which stood in the dormer where the breeze came in, changed its position
a little and waited until, with a faintly audible sigh, she had let
herself sink into it.
How tired she was! He had become aware of that the moment he touched her
hands. Whatever her experience during the last days or weeks had been, it
had brought her to the end of her powers.
He felt another pang of that unaccountable terror as he turned away, and
he put up an unaddressed prayer for spiritual guidance. It was a new
humility for him. He moved his own chair a little nearer, but not close,
and seated himself.
"I can conceive of no message,"--they were the first words he had
spoken, and his voice was not easily manageable,--"no message that would
be more than nothing compared with the fact that you have come." Rising
again, he went on, "Won't you let me take your hat? Then the back of that
chair won't be in the way."
It was certainly a point in his favor that she took it off and gave it to
him without demur. That meant that there would be time; yet her very
docility frightened him. She seemed quite relaxed now that her head could
lie back against the leather cushion, and her gaze traveled about the
dingy littered room with a kind of tender inquisitiveness as if she were
memorizing its contents.
He gazed at her until a gush of tears blinded his eyes and he turned,
blinking them away, to the untidy quires of score paper which he had
tried to choose instead. It could not be that it was too late to alter
that choice. The terror, for a moment, became articulate. She believed
that it was too late. That was why she had come.
She spoke reflectively. "It would be called an accident, I suppose, that
I came. I wrote to you but there was more to the message than would go
easily in a note so I took it myself to your house. There was just a
chance, I thought, that I'd find you there. I didn't find you, but I
found Miss MacArthur. That was the only thing about it that could be
called accidental. Your mother and sister were worried about you. They
said it had been much longer than such periods usually were since they
had heard from you. So I left my note and was coming away. Miss
MacArthur said she would come with me and offered to drive me back to
town. When we got into her car she said she thought she knew where you
were and would take me to you. She did not say anything more nor ask any
questions until she had stopped outside here at the curb, when she
looked up and saw the lighted windows and said you were surely here.
Then she pointed out the place in the dark where the stairs were and
told me how to find your door. She waited, though, to make sure before
she drove away. I heard her go."
He had no word to say in the little pause she made there. He felt the
pulse beating in his temples and clutched with tremulous hands the wooden
arms of his chair. Until she had mentioned Jennie MacArthur's name it had
not occurred to him to wonder how she had been enabled to come to him. It
could only have been through Jennie, of course. Jennie was the only
person who knew. But why had Jennie disclosed his secret (her own at the
same time, he was sure; she never would have expected Mary's clear eyes
even to try to evade the unescapable inference)--why had she revealed to
Mary, whom she had never seen before, a fact which she had guarded with
so impregnable a loyalty all these many years?
The only possible answer was that Jennie had divined, under the girl's
well-bred poise, the desperation which was now terrifying him. It was no
nightmare then of his own overwrought imagination. Jennie had perceived
the emergency--the actual life-or-death emergency--and with courageous
inspiration had done, unhesitatingly, the one thing that could possibly
meet the case. She had given him his chance. Jennie!
He arrived at that terminus just as Mary finished speaking. In the pause
that followed she did not at first look at him. Her gaze had come to rest
upon that abortive musical typewriter of his. Not quite in focus upon it,
but as if in some corner of her mind she was wondering what it might be.
But as the pause spun itself out, her glance, seeking his face, moved
quickly enough to catch the look of consternation that it wore. She read
it--misread it luckily--and her own lighted amazingly with a beam of pure
"I suppose it is rather overwhelming," she said; "a conjunction like
that. I mean, that it should have been she who brought me here. But
really, unless one accepts all the traditional motives and explanations
that one finds in books, it shouldn't be surprising that she should
undertake a friendly service for some one else she saw was fond of you,
too. Not when one considers the wonderful person she is."
If his sheer adoration of her were enough to save her then she was safe,
whatever the peril. But he doubted if it would be enough.
"Jennie and I were lovers once," he said. "But that came to an end for
both of us a good while ago. Two or three years. And the last time she
came to this room--one day in April it was--I told her about you and
about _The Dumb Princess_." He laid his hand upon the stack of
manuscript. "This. I had come home from that night at your father's house
when you and I heard that song together, with my head full of it. I went
nearly mad fighting it out of my head while I tried to make over that
other opera for Paula."
"_The Dumb Princess_...?"
He nodded. "You see you hardly spoke that night, only at the end to say
we mustn't talk. So I came away thinking of some one under a spell. A
princess, the fairy sort of princess who could not speak until her true
lover came to her. But instead of that I tried to go on working at that
Belgian horror and stuck at it until it was unendurable. And then, when I
came to the house to tell Paula so, it was you who came to me again, the
first time since that night."
There had come a faintly visible color into her cheeks and once more she
smiled, reflectively. "That's what you meant then," she mused. "I
couldn't make it out. You said just before you went away, 'That's why it
was so incredible when you came down the stairs instead.'"
She had remembered that!
"I ran away," he confessed, "the moment I had said it, for fear of
betraying myself. And I went to work on _The Dumb Princess_ that day."
"You've done all that, a whole opera, since the fourteenth of May?"
"I worked on it," he said, "until I had to stop for the little vacation
that--that ended at Hickory Hill. And I came straight back to it from
there. I've been working at it all the time since. Now, except for the
scoring in the second part of the third act, it's finished. I thought it
was the thing I wanted more than anything else in the world. Just to get
it written down on paper, the thing which that moment with you up in that
little anteroom started. I've pretty well done it. As far as the music
itself is concerned, I think I have done it."
He paused there and pressed his lips together. Then he went on speaking,
stiffly, one word at a time. "And I was saying to myself when you knocked
that I would tear it up, every sheet of it, and set it alight in the
stove yonder if it would take me back to that hour we had together at
The tenderness of her voice when she replied (it had some of the
characteristic qualities of his beloved woodwinds) did not preclude a
bead of humor, almost mischief, from gilding the salient points of
"I know," she said. "I can guess what that feeling must be; the perfect
emptiness and despair of having a great work done. I suspect there aren't
many great masterpieces that one couldn't have bought cheap by offering
the mess of pottage at the right moment. Oh, no, I didn't mean a sneer
when I said cheap. I really understand. That very next morning out in the
orchard, thinking over it, I managed to be glad you'd gone--alone. Your
own way, rather than back with me to Ravinia. But--I'm glad I came
to-night and I'm glad I know about--_The Dumb Princess_."
Watching her as her unfocused reminiscent gaze made it easy for him to
do, he saw her go suddenly pale, saw the perspiration bead out on her
forehead as if some thought her mind had found itself confronting
actually sickened her. He waited an instant, breathless in an agony of
doubt whether to notice or to go on pretending to ignore. After a moment
the wave passed.
"I know that was a figure of speech," she resumed,--her voice was
deadened a little in timbre but its inflections were as light as before.
"But I wish--I'd really be ever so much--happier--if you'd give me a
promise; a perfectly serious, solemn,"--she hesitated for a word and
smiled,--"death-bed promise, that you never will burn up _The Dumb
Princess_. At least until she's all published and produced. And I wish
that as soon as you've got a copy made, you'd put this manuscript in a
really safe place."
He turned away from her, baffled, bewildered. She had evaded the issue he
had tried to confront her with. She had taken the passionate declaration
of his wish to retrieve the great error of his life as a passing emotion
familiar to all creative artists at certain stages in their work. It was
a natural, almost inevitable, way of looking at it! He sat for a moment
gazing abstractedly at his littered table, clutching the edges of it with
both hands, resisting a momentary vertigo of his own.
She left her chair and came and stood beside him. She picked up one of
the quires of manuscript, opened it and gazed a while at the many-staved
score. He was aware of a catch in her breathing, like an inaudible sob,
but presently she spoke, quite steadily.
"I wish I could sit here to-night and read this. I wish it made even
unheard melodies to me. I'm not dumb but I am deaf to this. _There's_ a
spell beyond your powers to lift, my dear."
She laid her hand lightly upon his shoulder and at her touch his
taut-drawn muscles relaxed into a tremulous weakness. After a
"Now give me my promise," she said.
He did not immediately answer and the hand upon his shoulder took hold.
Under its compulsion, "I'll promise anything you ask," he said.
She spoke slowly as if measuring her words. "Never to destroy this work
of yours that you call _The Dumb Princess_ whatever may conceivably
happen, however discouraged you may be about it."
"Very well," he said, "I won't."
"Say it as a promise," she commanded. "Quite explicitly."
So he repeated a form of words which satisfied her. She held him tight in
both hands for an instant. Then swiftly went back to her chair.
"Don't think me too foolish," she apologized. "I haven't been sleeping
much of late and I couldn't have slept to-night with a misgiving like
that to wonder about."
His own misgiving obscurely deepened. He did not know whether it was the
reason she had offered for exacting that promise from him or the mere
tone of her voice which was lighter and more brittle than he felt it
should have been. She must have read the troubled look in his face for
she said at once and on a warmer note:
"Oh, my dear, don't! Don't let my vagaries trouble you. Let me tell you
the message I came with. It's about the other opera. They want to put it
on at once up at Ravinia. With Fournier as the officer and that little
Spanish soprano as 'Dolores.' Just as you wrote it without any of the
terrible things you tried to put in for Paula. It will have to be sung
in French of course, because neither of them sings English. They want you
there just as soon as you can come, to sign the contract and help with
Once more with an utterly unexpected shift she left him floundering,
He had forgotten _The Outcry_ except for his nightmare efforts to revamp
it for Paula; had charged it off his books altogether. What Mary had told
him at Hickory Hill about her labors in its behalf had signified simply,
how rapturously delicious it was that she should have been so concerned
for him. The possibility of a successful outcome to her efforts hadn't
occurred to him.
She said, smiling with an amused tenderness over his confusion, "I
haven't been too officious, have I?"
He knew he was being mocked at and he managed to smile but he had
to blink and press his hand to his eyes again before he could see
"It's not astonishing that you can work miracles," he said. "The wonder
would be if you could not."
"There was nothing in the least miraculous about this," she declared. "It
wasn't done by folding my wings and weaving mystic circles with a wand.
Besides making that translation,--oh, terribly bad, I'm afraid,--into
French, I've cajoled and intrigued industriously for weeks like one of
those patient wicked little spiders of Henri Fabre's. I found a silly
flirtation between Fournier and a married woman I knew and I encouraged
it, helped it along and made it useful. I've used everybody I could lay
my hands on."
What an instrument of ineffable delight that voice of hers was,--its
chalumeau tenderness just relieved with the sparkle of irony. But he was
smitten now with the memory of his own refusal to go to Ravinia so that
Paula would remember him again. He blurted out something of his
contrition over this but she stopped him.
"It was only because I wanted you there. I would not for any conceivable
advantage in the world have let you--oh, even touch these devices that
I've been concerned with. But I've reveled in them myself. In doing them
for you, even though I could not see that they were getting anywhere.
"Everything seemed quite at a standstill when I left Ravinia Thursday,
but on Thursday night the Williamsons dined with Mr. Eckstein and went to
the park with him; and they all went home with father and Paula
afterward, Fournier and LaChaise, too; and everything happened at once. I
got a note from Paula this morning written yesterday, asking where my
translation was, but not telling me anything. And as she wasn't at home
when I telephoned to answer her question I didn't know until to-night.
"But about six o'clock James Wallace telephoned from the park and told
me all about it. He wanted you found and sent to Ravinia at once. Having
wasted half the season and more, they're now quite frantic over the
thought of losing a minute. And Jimmy says immensely enthusiastic. So,
all you have to do now is to go up there and lord it over them. You'll
hear it sung; you'll hear the orchestra play it. You will make a
beginning toward coming into your own, my dear. Because even if you
don't care for it as you did, it will be a step toward--the princess,
She dropped back against the cushion as from weariness, and sudden tears
brimmed into her eyes and spilled down her cheeks. He came to her at that
in spite of the gesture that would have held him away.
"You must believe--it's nothing--but happiness," she gasped.
He sat down upon the arm of the chair and a little timidly took her in
his hands, caressed her eyes and her wet face until at last she met his
lips in a long kiss and sank back quieted.
He stayed on the chair arm however and their hands remained clasped
through a recollecting silence. She said presently:
"There are two or three practical things for you to remember. You mustn't
be irritated with Violet Williamson. She has let herself become a little
more sentimental about Fournier than I think in the beginning she meant
to be and you may find her under foot more than you like. You mustn't
mind that. And you'll find a very friendly helper in James Wallace. There
is something a little caustic about his wit, and he suspects musicians on
principle; but he will like you and he's thoroughly committed to _The
Outcry_. He is a very good French scholar and over difficulties with the
translation, where passages have to be changed, he'll be a present help."
He took her face in both his hands and turned it up to him. "Mary," he
demanded when their eyes met, "why are you saying good-by to me?"
THE WHOLE STORY
The shot told. The harried, desperate look of panic with which she gazed
at him and tried, tugging at his hands, to turn away, revealed to him
that he had leaped upon the truth. Part of it anyhow. He closed his
eyes, for an instant, for another unaddressed prayer that he might not
falter nor let himself be turned aside until he had sounded the full
depth of it.
When he looked at her again she had recovered her poise. "It was silly,"
she said, "to think that I could hide that from you. I am going
away--to-morrow. For quite a long while."
"Are you going away--physically? In the ordinary literal sense, I mean;
or is it that you are just--going away from me?"
Once more it was as if a trap had been sprung upon her. But this time he
ignored the gasp and the sudden cold slackness of the hands he held and
went on speaking with hardly a pause.
"I asked that question, put it that way, thinking perhaps I understood
and that I could make it easier for you to tell me." He broke off, there,
for an instant to get his voice under control. Then he asked, steadily,
"Are you going to marry Graham Stannard?"
She gasped again, but when he looked up at her there was nothing in her
face but an incredulous astonishment.
So there was one alternative shorn away; one that he had not conceived as
more than a very faint possibility. It was not into matrimony that her
long journey was to take her. He pulled himself up with a jerk to
answer--and it must be done smoothly and comfortably--the question she
had just asked him. How in the world had he ever come to think of a thing
"Why, it was in the air at Hickory Hill those days before you came.
And then Sylvia was explicit about it, as something every one was
"Was that why you went away?" she asked with an intent look into his
face. "Because he had a--prior claim, and it wouldn't be fair to--poach
upon his preserves?"
He gave an ironic monosyllable laugh. "I tried, for the next few days to
bamboozle myself into adopting that explanation but I couldn't. The truth
was, of course, that I ran away simply because I was frightened. Sheer
panic terror of the thing that had taken hold of me. The thought of
meeting you that next morning was--unendurable."
She too uttered a little laugh but it sounded like one of pure happiness.
She buried her face in his hands and touched each palm with her lips. "I
couldn't have borne it if you'd said the other thing," she told him. "But
I might have trusted you not to. Because you're not a sentimentalist.
You're almost the only person I know who is not."
She added a moment later, with a sudden tightening of her grip upon his
hands, "Have you, too, discovered that sentimentality is the crudest
thing in the world? It is. It is perfectly ruthless. It makes more
tragedies than malice. Ludicrous tragedies--which are less endurable than
the other sort. Unless one were enough of an Olympian so that he could
laugh." She relaxed again and made a nestling movement toward him. "I
thought for a while of you that way."
He managed to speak as if the idea amused him. "As an Olympian? No, if
I had a mountain it wouldn't be that one. But I like the valleys
"I know," she said contentedly. Then her voice darkened. "I'm just at
the beginning of you--now..." The sentence ended unnaturally, though he
had done nothing to interrupt it.
Deliberately he startled her. "What time does your train go, to-morrow?"
he asked. "Or haven't you selected one? You haven't even told me where it
is you are going."
Through his hands which held her he felt the shock, the momentary agony
of the effort to recover the threatened balance, the resolute relaxation
of the muscles and the steadying breath she drew.
"Oh, there are plenty of trains," she said. "You mustn't bother.--Why,
Wallace Hood has a sister living in Omaha. (Wallace Hood, not James
Wallace. It would be terrible if you confused them.) She's been trying
for months to find a nursery governess. And I've been trying--perhaps you
didn't know; the family have been very unpleasant about it--to find a
job.--Oh, for the most realistic of reasons, among others. Well, it
occurred to me the other day that Wallace's sister and I might be looking
for each other."
There she paused, but only for a moment. Then she added, very explicitly,
"So I'm going to Omaha to-morrow."
Even her lying she had to do honestly. She preferred, he saw, that he
should remember she had lied to having him recall that she had tricked
him by an evasion.
One need not invoke clairvoyance to account for his incandescent
certainty that she had lied. The mere unconscious synthesis of the things
she had said and left unsaid along the earlier stages of their talk,
would have amounted to a demonstration. Her moment of panic over his
discovery that she was saying good-by, her irrespressible shudder at the
question whether she was going away in the ordinary literal sense of the
phrase; finally, her pitiful attempt to avoid, in answer to his last
question, a categorical untruth and then her acceptance of it as, after
all, preferable to the other. But it was by no such pedestrian process
as this that he reached the truth.
He knew, now, why he had been terrified from the moment she came into the
room. He knew why she had wrung that promise from him--a death-bed
promise she had dared with a smile to call it--that he would not,
whatever happened, destroy _The Dumb Princess_. It would be a likely
enough thing for him to do, she had perceived, when he learned the truth.
She could not--sleep, she had told him, until that surmise was laid.
There were, as she had said, plenty of trains to that unknown destination
of hers, but he thought that that word sleep offered the true clue. She
was a physician's daughter; there must be, somewhere in that house, a
chest or cupboard that would supply what she needed. They'd find her in
her own bed, in that room he had once cast a glance into on his way
up-stairs to Paula.
The conviction grew upon him that she had her plans completely laid; yes,
and her preparations accomplished. That quiet leisureliness of hers would
not have been humanly possible if either her resolution or the means for
executing it had remained in doubt. It was likely that she had whatever
it was--a narcotic, probably; morphine; she wouldn't, conceivably, resort
to any of the corrosives--upon her person at this moment. In that little
silken bag which hung from her wrist.
He clenched the finger-nails into the palms of his hands. This thing was
a nightmare. He had fallen asleep over his table; had only to wake
himself.--It would not do to play with an idea like that. Nor with the
possibility that he had misread her mind. He knew. He was not mistaken.
Let him never glance aside from that.
For one moment he thought wildly of trying to call in help from outside,
of frustrating her design by sheer force. But that could not be done. As
between them, he would be reckoned the madman. Her project might be
deferred by that means, perhaps. It could not be prevented.
It was that terrible self-possession of hers that gave the last turn to
the screw. She could not be dealt with as one frantic, beside herself, to
be wooed and quieted back into a state of sanity. She was at this moment
as sane as he. She was not to be held back, either, by a mere assurance
of his love for her. She had never, it appeared, lacked that assurance.
But her life, warmed even as it was by their love, presented itself to
her somehow as something that it was not possible to go on with.
This was very strange. All of its externals that were visible to him
made up, one would have said, a pattern singularly gracious and
untroubled. Buried in it somewhere there must be some toxic focus that
poisoned everything. He must meet her on her own ground. He must show
her another remedy than the desperate one she was now resolved upon. And
before he could find the remedy he must discover the virus. The only
clue he had was the thing she said about sentimentalists, and the
tragedies they caused. More tragedies than malice was responsible for.
He thought she was probably right about that. It was some such tragedy
anyhow, ludicrous, unendurable, that had driven her to this acquiescence
He said, in as even a tone as he could manage, "I asked about trains
because I wondered whether there was anything to hurry you to-night.
Packing to do or such a matter; or whether we mightn't have a really
leisurely visit. I haven't much idea what time it is except that I don't
think I've eaten anything since around the middle of the day. Have you?
If you'd stay and have supper with me ... But I suppose you're expected
She smiled ironically at this, then laughed at herself. "It happens
rather funnily that I haven't been so little expected or looked after,
since I came home from New York, as I am to-night. I'm not--in a hurry at
all. I'll stay as long as you like."
"Is that a promise?" he asked. "As long as I liked would be a long
"I'll stay," she said, "as long as I can see I'm making you happy. When I
find myself beginning to be a--torment to you, I shall--vanish."
He was almost overmastered by the temptation to forget everything except
his love for her; to let himself be persuaded that his ghastly surmise
was a product of his own fatigue and sleepless nights. Even supposing
there were a basis for it, could he not keep her safe by just holding her
fast in his arms?
He dashed the thought out of his mind. She would surrender to his
embrace, how eagerly he already knew. For a matter of moments, for a few
swift hours she might forget. She had perhaps come to him meaning to
forget for a while in just that way. But no embrace could be eternal.
He'd have to let her go at last and nothing would be changed save that
she would have a memory of him to take with her into her long sleep.
No, love must wait. That obscure unendurable nightmare tragedy of hers
must be brought out into the light first and shorn of its horrors.
So he managed for the moment a lighter note. He would not let her help in
the preparation of the meager little meal which was all that his
immediate resources ran to. He hadn't quite realized how exiguous it was
going to be when he spoke of it as supper. It was nothing but a slice of
Swiss cheese, a fresh carton of biscuits and a flagon of so-called
Chianti illicitly procured from the Italian grocery downstairs.
He cleared his work table and anchored her in the easy chair at the
same time by putting into her lap the bulky manuscript of _The Dumb
Princess_, and it was this they talked about while he laid the cloth--a
clean towel--and set out his scanty array of dishes. He feared when they
drew up to the table that she was not going to be able to eat at all,
and he was convinced that she was even more in need of food than he. But
the wine, thin and acidulous as it was, helped, and he saw to it that
for a while she had no chance to talk. He told her the story of _The
Dumb Princess_ in detail and dwelt a little upon the half formulated
symbolism of it.
When at last he paused, she said, "I think I know why the princess was
dumb. Because when she tried to speak no one wanted to hear what she had
to say. They insisted on keeping her an image merely, so that they could
go on attributing to her just the thoughts they wished her to think and
just the desires they wanted her to feel. That's the spell that has made
many a woman dumb upon all the essentials."
He gripped his hands together between his knees, leaned a little forward,
drew a steadying breath and said, "There's something I wish you'd do for
me just while we're sitting quietly like this. It has been so momentary,
this life of ours together,--the times I mean when we've been bodily
together. The whole of it could be reckoned quite easily in minutes.
There has been more packed into them, of course, than into many a lover's
months and years, but one effect it has had on me has been to make you,
when you aren't here physically with me, like this, where by merely
reaching out I can touch you, a little--visionary to me. I confuse you
with the Dumb Princess over there whom you made me create. I get
misgivings that you're just a sort of wraith. Well, if you're going away
and we aren't to be within--touching distance of each other again for a
long while--perhaps months, I want more of you, that my memory can hold
on by. The real every-day person that you are instead, as you say, of the
image I've had to make of you. So I wish you'd tell me as nearly as you
can remember everything that you've done--everything that has happened to
That last word was like the touch of a spur. She shuddered as she cried,
He did not press for a reason and the next moment she went on in her
natural manner again. "That's a strange thing for you to wish. At least
the strangeness of it strikes me after some of the things that have been
happening lately. Yet I don't believe it happens often that a lover asks
as specifically as that to be--disillusioned. And that is what you would
be. Because the complete story of a day,--any day,--with no
suppressions, nothing tucked decently away out of sight, would be a
pretty searching test."
"That's why I asked for it," he said, "I'd like to be disillusioned; just
as completely as possible."
"That's because you're so sure you wouldn't be." The raggedness of her
voice betrayed a strong emotion. With a leap of the pulse he told himself
that it was as if she were crying out against some unforeseen hope. "You
think it would merely be that lovely little image of yours--the Dumb
Princess, coming to life."
"I'd rather have the reality," he told her, "whatever it is. I think I
can make you see that that must be true. The person I love is you who are
sitting there across the table from me. I don't believe that any one in
the world was ever more completely and utterly adored than you are being
adored at this moment. I love the things I know you by. The things I've
come to recognize as yours. I know some of your qualities that way; your
sensitiveness, your uprightness, your fastidious honesty that makes you
hate evasions and substitutes,--everything you mean when you say
sentimentality. And I know your resolution that carries you along even
when you are afraid,--when your sensitiveness makes you afraid. I admire
all those qualities, but it isn't their intrinsic worth that makes me
love them. I love them because they're the things I know you by. I can't
be mistaken about them because I've felt them. Just as I've felt your
hands and your mouth and your hair. Well, then, whatever your days have
been, one day after another, they have in the end produced you sitting
there as you sit now. Whatever your--ingredients are they're your
ingredients. The total works out to you. Whereas my illusions work out to
nothing better than my little image of the Dumb Princess."
"Would it surprise you," she asked, "to know that I could be cruel? I
mean exactly what the word means. Like a little boy who tears the legs
off a beetle. Can you imagine me hurting some one frightfully, whom I
needn't have hurt at all? Some one who was trying in his own way to be
kind to me?"
He smiled. "I can imagine your being cruel to a sentimentalist," he said.
"Not deliberately, of course. Only after you had been hounded, like a
little white cat, into a corner. By some one who wanted you for an image,
merely, that he himself could attribute all the appropriate thoughts and
desires to. I can imagine you turning, at last, and rending him;--limb
from limb, if you like."
She gazed at him, wide-eyed, for a long moment; then she drooped forward
over the table and cradled her head in her arms. With his hands he tried
to comfort her but he felt that they were clumsy and ineffectual.
"I've hurt you horribly," he said, when he could command his voice.
"Probing in like that."
This must be the unendurable tragedy she had referred to a while ago.
She was speaking, voicelessly and he bent down to listen.