openly avowed to herself of lying down upon the bed and, for an hour or two, feeling as sorry for herself as she could, she found an appalling strangeness about its very familiarity that pulled her up short. The abyss she stared into between herself and the Mary Wollaston whose image was so sharply evoked by the ridiculously unchanged paraphernalia of that Mary’s life, turned her giddy. Even the face which looked back at her from the frame of that mirror seemed the other Mary’s rather than her own.
From the doorway she stood, for a moment, staring. Then she managed a smile (it was the only possible attitude to take) at Sir Galahad, above the bed. The notion of flinging herself down for a self-pitying revel upon that bed,–the other Mary’s virginal little narrow bed–had become unthinkable. The thing to do was to stop thinking. Quickly.
She stripped off her suit and blouse, slipped on a pongee kimono that she got out of her hand-bag, unlocked her trunk and began discharging its contents all about the room. She covered the chairs with them, the bed, the narrow table–that had never had anything upon it but that Fra Angelico triptych and the two candlesticks–the round table with the reading lamp, the writing desk in the corner, the floor. Then, a little out of breath, she paused.
Which among two or three possible frocks should she wear for the party to-night? What sort of party was it going to be anyhow? It was curious, considering the fact that they had done nothing but sit and talk all the morning, how vague her ideas about it were. Her father had said something out in the car about having a few old friends in for dinner. Paula was going to sing and professed herself frightened by the prospect. Also she had cited it as the reason for an unusually and almost strenuously unoccupied day. On the other hand it was keeping Aunt Lucile distractedly busy.
Was it the chance result of their preoccupation with other things that she had been given no more intelligible account of it, or was it something that all three of them, her father, Paula and Aunt Lucile, were walking round the edge of? The nub of some seriously trivial quarrel? Was that why Paula was so elaborately disengaged and Aunt Lucile so portentous? Was it even perhaps why her father had so abruptly fled this morning without coming into the house?
She treated this surmise kindly. It was something to think about anyhow; something to sharpen her wits upon, just as a cat stretches her claws in the nap of the drawing-room rug. She rescued from oblivion half a dozen remarks heard during the morning, whose significance had gone over her head, and tentatively fitted them together like bits of a picture puzzle. She hadn’t enough to go on but she believed there was something there. And when a little later in the afternoon, she heard, along with a knock on her door, her aunt asking if she might come in, she gave her an enthusiastic welcome, scooped an armful of things out of a chair and cleared a sitting space for herself at the foot of the bed.
“Would this blue thing do for to-night?” she asked, “or isn’t it enough of an affair? What sort of party is it anyhow?”
“Goodness knows,” said Lucile. “Between your father and Paula I find it rather upsetting.”
Mary had reached out negligently for her cigarette case, lighted one and letting it droop at a rather impossible angle, supported by the lightest pressure of her lips so that the smoke crept up over her face into her lashes and her hair, folded her hands demurely in her lap and waited for her aunt to go on. She was mischievously half aware of the disturbing effect of this sort of thing upon Lucile.
“What has there been between them?” Mary asked, when it became clear that her aunt needed prompting. “Between father and Paula, I mean. Not a row?”
Mary never used language like this except provocatively. It worked on her aunt as she had meant it to.
“There has been nothing between them,” she said, “that requires a rowdy word like that to express. It has not been even a quarrel. But they have been for the last day or two, a little–at …”
“Outs?” Mary suggested.
This had been the word on Lucile’s tongue. “At cross purposes,” she amended and paused again. But Mary seeing that she was fairly launched waited, economically, meanwhile, inhaling all the smoke from her cigarette. “I suppose after all, it’s quite natural,” Lucile began, “that Paula should attract geniuses, since she’s rather by way of being one herself.”
Mary took the cigarette in her fingers so that she could speak a little more crisply than was possible around it. “Who is the genius she’s attracting now? Doesn’t father like him? And is he being not asked to the party? I’m sorry, aunt, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“He is being asked which, it appears, is what Paula objects to; only not until after dinner. That she insisted upon. Really,” she went on, in response to her niece’s perplexed frown, “I shall be much more intelligible If you’ll let me begin at the beginning.”
“Please do,” said Mary. “Where did Paula find him?”
“I found him,” said Miss Wollaston. “Paula discovered him a little later. I found him on a bench in the park and told him he might come to tune the drawing-room piano. Paula had him tune her piano instead and spent what must have been a rather mad day with him over it. He brought round some songs the next day for her to try and she and Portia Stanton’s husband have been practising them with hardly any intermission since. The idea was that when they had ‘got them up’ as they say, the man,–March his name is, Anthony March, I think,–should be invited round to hear Paula sing them. Paula insists, absurdly it seems to me, that he never has heard a note of them himself; that he can’t even play them upon the piano. How he could compose them without playing them on the piano first, is beyond me. But she is inclined to be a little emotional, I think, over the whole episode. Quite naturally–even Paula can’t deny that–your father thought he would like to be present when the songs were sung and it was arranged that it should be this evening.”
“She may not have been able to deny that it was natural,” Mary observed, “but I’d bet she didn’t like it.”
“It’s only fair to Paula to say,” Miss Wollaston insisted, “that she did nothing to exhibit a feeling of that sort. But when, at John’s suggestion, I spoke of the possibility of having in the Cravens and the Blakes,–the Cravens are very musical, you know–and Wallace Hood who would be really hurt if we left him out, Paula came nearer to being downright rude than she often allows herself to be. She said among other things that she didn’t propose to have March subjected to a ‘suffocating’ affair like that. She said she wanted him free to interrupt as often as he liked and tell them how rotten they were. That was her phrase. When I observed that Mr. March didn’t impress me as the sort of person who could conceivably wish to be rude as that she said he could no more remember to be polite when he heard those songs for the first time than she herself could sing them in corsets. She summed it up by saying that it wasn’t going to be a polite affair and the fewer polite people there were, hanging about, the better. There was, naturally, nothing I could say to that.”
“I should think not,” Mary agreed, exhaling rather explosively an enormous cloud of smoke. “Poor Aunt Lucile!” Her commiseration didn’t sound more than skin deep.
“The matter rested there,” the elder woman went on, “until your father received Rush’s telegram that you were coming to-day. Then he took matters into his own hands and gave me a list of the people he wanted asked. There are to be about a dozen besides ourselves at dinner and perhaps as many more are to come after.”
“I can see Paula when you told her that,” Mary reflected. “Or did you make dad tell her himself? Yes, of course you did! Only what I can’t understand is why Paula didn’t say, ‘All right. Have your party, and I’ll sing if you want me to. Only not–what’s his name?–March’s songs.’ And have him all to herself, as she wanted him, later. That would have been mate in one move, I should think.”
Then, at the fleeting look she caught in the act of vanishing from her aunt’s face, she cried, “You mean she _did_ say that? And that father turned to ice, the way he can and–made a point of it? You know it’s serious, if he’s done that.”
With a vigor meant to compensate for a sad lack of conviction, Miss Wollaston protested against this chain of unwarranted assumptions. But she admitted, at last, that her own surmise accorded with that of her niece. John certainly had said to her at breakfast that he saw no reason for foregoing the musical feature of the evening simply because an audience was to be present to hear it. Paula’s only comment had been a dispassionate prediction that it wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t be fair to say she sulked; her rather elaborate detachment had been too good-humored for that. Her statement, at lunch, that she was to be turned on like a Victrola at half past nine, was a fair sample.
“What’s he like, this genius of hers?” Mary wanted to know. “Young and downy and helpless, I suppose. With a look as if he was just about to burst into tears. I met one like that last winter.” She knew exactly how to get results out of her aunt.
“He’s not in the least like that! If he had been I should never have brought him home, not even to tune the piano. He’s quite a well behaved, sensible-appearing young man, a little over thirty, I should say. And he does speak nicely, though I think Paula exaggerates about that.”
“Sensible or not, he’s fallen wildly in love with her, of course,” Mary observed. “The more so they are the more instantaneously they do it.”
But this lead was one Miss Wollaston absolutely declined to follow. “If that clock’s right,” she exclaimed, gazing at a little traveling affair Mary had brought home with her, “I haven’t another minute.” It was not right, for it was still keeping New York time, but the diversion served. “Wallace Hood spoke of coming in to see you about tea-time,” she said from the doorway. “I’m going to be to busy even to stop for a cup, so do be down if you can.”
JOHN MAKES A POINT OF IT
Mary was warmly touched by the thought of Wallace’s coming to see her in that special sort of way when he was certain of finding her at dinner an hour or two later. Her feelings about him were rather mixed but he dated back to the very earliest of her memories, and his kindly affectionate attitude toward her had never failed, even during those periods when she had treated him most detestably. Even as a little girl, she had been aware of his sentimental attachment to her mother and perhaps in an instinctive way had resented it, though her actual indictment against Wallace in those days had always been that he made her naughty; incited her by his perpetual assumption that she was the angelic little creature she looked, to one desperate misdemeanor after another, for which her father usually punished her. Mary had, superficially anyhow, her mother’s looks along with her father’s temper.
But for two years after Mrs. Wollaston’s death, she and Wallace had been very good friends. She was grateful to him for treating her like a grown-up, for talking to her, as he often did, about her mother and how much she had meant to him. (She owed it, indeed, largely to Wallace that her memories of this sentimental, romantic, passionless lady with whom in life she had never been completely in sympathy, were as sweet and satisfactory as they were.) He had taken infinite pains with her, guiding her reading and her enjoyment of pictures in the paths of good taste. He took her to concerts sometimes, too, though at this point her docility ceased. She wouldn’t be musical for anybody. He gave her much-needed advice in dealing with social matters which her sudden prematurity forced her to cope with. And with all this went a placidity which had no part at all in her relations with her father.
She got the idea, during this period, that he meant, when she was a little older, to ask her to marry him, and she sometimes speculated whether, if he did, she would. There would be something beautifully appropriate about it;–like the Professor’s Love Story. Usually, though, she terminated the scene with a tender refusal.
She had long known, of course, how unreal all this was. Wallace had faded into complete invisibility at the time when she fell in love with Captain Burch and quarreled with her father about him. She couldn’t remember afterward whether he had even been on the scene or not. But the savor of their friendship, though mild, was a pleasant one and there was none of her old acquaintances she’d rather have looked forward to to-day at tea-time in the drawing-room. She knew exactly what he would be like; just what they would say to each other. The only doubt in her mind was whether he’d bring her chocolates or daffodils.
She guessed wrong. It was a box of candied strawberries that he gave her as soon as their double hand-shake set him free. But nothing else came at once to the surface to falsify her prevision. She remembered how he liked his tea and was able to get an affectionate warmth into her voice, that sounded real though strangely enough it wasn’t, in agreeing with him how like old times this was and how good it seemed to be home. Then came the joy of having Rush back again, and the war, and the Peace Conference,–only we weren’t going to talk about things like that. And then Alan Seeger, Rupert Brooke, Conningsby Dawson.
But oddly enough, she felt herself going back to still older times, to the abominable little girl who had yielded to irresistible desires such as making faces at him and rubbing the nap of his silk hat the wrong way. She repressed, vigorously, this lawless vein. She was determined for this one day to be just as nice as he tried, so hard, to think she was. But with this resolution occupying her mind the talk presently ran rather thin, her contribution to it for whole minutes drying up entirely. It was after a rather blank silence that he said he supposed Paula was lying down, resting for to-night’s performance. His inflection struck Mary as a little too casual and reminded her that it was his first mention of her stepmother’s name. This roused her attention.
“Oh, Paula’s off playing with Rush,” she said. “I believe they went to a matinee.”
He exclaimed at that, over Paula’s stores of energy and her reckless ways of spending them. He said she gave him the impression of being absolutely tireless, superimposing a high speed society existence which John Wollaston and he, in relays, could hardly keep up with, upon the heavy routine of work in her studio. He illustrated this with a schedule of her activities during the last three days. “Oh, yes,” he threw in, in parenthesis, “I’m as much in the family as ever. When your father can’t do escort duty, they call on me.” He added in conclusion that he was glad she had already made a start toward getting acquainted with Rush.
Was this relief, Mary wondered–at learning that she was not at this moment engaged less domestically somewhere with Anthony March? But she doubted whether this was a good guess. If he did feel any such relief, it was not, at all events, from a personal jealousy; for the illuminating conviction had come over her that Wallace could not possibly be one of Paula’s conquests. A man still capable of cherishing as the most beautiful event of his life, that sentimental platonic friendship he had enjoyed with her mother, would be immune against Paula’s spells.
She wondered if he wasn’t a little afraid of Paula. If he did not, in his heart, actually dislike her. But if this were true, why did he willingly devote so many of his hours to squiring her about, substituting for her husband? (She told herself, as one discovering a great truth, that a substitute was exactly what Heaven had ordained Wallace Hood to be.) She kept him going about Paula easily enough, as a sort of obbligato to these meditations and her name was on Wallace’s lips when John Wollaston came into the room.
“Where is she?” he asked Mary. “I hoped I’d find her resting for to-night.” Evidently he had been up to her room to see. The relief was plainly legible in his face when he got Mary’s answer.
“She and Rush, eh,” he said. “I’m glad they’ve made a start together, but they ought to be back by now. They drove, didn’t they?”
She couldn’t inform him as to that and by way of getting him to come to anchor, offered him his tea.
“Oh, I’ll wait for the others,” he said. “They can’t be much later than this.–I’m glad she’s taken a vacation from those songs,” he went on presently from the fireplace. “She told me last night she’d been working all day with Novelli over them. Only sent him home about half an hour before it was time for her to dress for dinner. Do you suppose,”–this to Wallace–“that they’re as wonderful as she thinks they are?”
It was obvious to Mary that Hood’s reply was calculated to soothe; his attitude was indulgent. He talked to Mary about March as just another of Paula’s delightful extravagances. March’s indignant refusal, at first, to tune the Circassian grand, his trick of sitting on the floor under Paula’s piano while she played for him, his forgetting to be paid, though he had not, in all probability, a cent in his pockets, were exhibited as whimsicalities, such as Wallace’s favorite author, J.M. Barrie, might have invented. It was just like Paula to take him up as she had done, to work away for days at his songs, proclaiming the wonder of them all the while. “We’re all hoping, of course,” he concluded, “that when she’s finished with them to-night, she’ll sing us some of the old familiar music we really love.”
The neat finality of all this, produced, momentarily, the effect of ranging Mary on the other side, with Paula and her musician. But just at this point, she lost her character of disinterested spectator, for Wallace, having put March back in his box and laid him deliberately on the shelf, abruptly produced, by way of diversion, another piece of goods altogether.
“I hope Mary’s come home to stay,” he said to John. “We can’t let her go away again, can we?”
Afterward, she was able to see that it was a natural enough thing for him to have said. It would never have occurred to him, pleasant, harmless sentimentalist that he was, that John’s second marriage might be a disturbing factor in his relation with Mary and that the question so cheerfully asked as an escape from the more serious matter that he had been talking about, struck straight into a ganglion of nerves.
But at the time, no such excuse for him presented itself. She stared for a moment, breathless, paled a little and locked her teeth so that they shouldn’t chatter; then, a wave of bright anger relaxed her stiffened muscles. She did not look at her father but was aware that he was fixedly not looking at her.
“I don’t know whether I am going to stay or not,” she said casually enough. “There isn’t any particular reason why I should, unless I can find something to do. You haven’t a job for me, have you?”
“A job?” Wallace gasped.
“In your office,” she explained. “Filing and typing, or running the mimeograph. It seems to be a choice between something like that and–millinery.”
“That’s an extravagant idea,” her father said, trying for, but not quite able to manage, a tone that matched hers. “Good lord, Wallace, don’t sit there looking as if you thought she meant it!”
“You do look perfectly–consternated,” she said with a pretty good laugh. “Never mind; I shan’t do anything outrageous for a week or two. Oh, here they come. Will you ring, dad? I want some more hot water.”
Rush came into the drawing-room alone, Paula having lingered a moment, probably before the mirror in the hall. Mere professional instinct for arranging entrances for herself, Mary surmised this to be. And she may have been right for Paula was not one of those women who are forever making minute readjustments before a glass. But when she came in, just after Wallace Hood had accomplished his welcome of the returned soldier, it was hard to believe that she was concerned about the effect she produced upon the group about the tea-table. She didn’t, indeed, altogether join it, gave them a collective nod of greeting with a faint but special smile for her husband on the end of it and then deliberately seated herself with a “No, don’t bother; this is all right,” at the end of the little sofa that stood in the curve of the grand piano, rather in the background.
When Mary asked her how she wanted her tea, she said she didn’t think she’d have any; and certainly no cakes. No, not even one of Wallace’s candied strawberries. There was an exchange of glances between her and Rush over this.
“They have been having tea by themselves, those two,” Mary remarked.
“No,” said Rush, “not what you could call tea.”
Paula smiled vaguely but didn’t throw the ball back, did not happen, it appeared, to care to talk about anything. Presently the chatter among the rest of them renewed itself.
Only it would have amused an invisible spectator to note how those three Wollastons, blonde, dolichocephalic, high-strung, magnetically susceptible, responded, as strips of gold-leaf to the static electricity about a well rubbed amber rod, to the influence that emanated from that silent figure on the sofa. Rush, in and out of his chair a dozen times, to flip the ash from his cigarette, to light one for Mary, to hand the strawberries round again, was tugging at his moorings like a captive balloon. When he answered a question it was with the air of interrupting an inaudible tune he was whistling. John still planted before the fireplace, taking, automatically, a small part in the talk just as he went through the minimum of business with his tea, seemed capable of only one significant action, which he repeated at short, irregular intervals. He turned his head enough to enable him to see into a mirror which gave him a reflection of his wife’s face; then turned away again, like one waiting for some sort of reassurance and not getting it. Mary, muscularly relaxed, indeed, drooping over the tea-table, had visible about her, nevertheless, a sort of supernormal alertness. Every time her father looked into the mirror she glanced at him, and she rippled, like still water, at all of her brother’s sudden movements.
As for Wallace Hood, one look at him sitting there, as unresponsive to the spell as the cup from which he was sipping its third replenishment of tea, would have explained his domestication in that household;–the necessity, in fact, for domesticating among them some one who was always buoyantly upon the surface, whose talk, in comfortably rounded sentences, flowed along with a mild approximation to wit, whose sentiments were never barbed with passion;–who was, to sum him up in one embracing word, appropriate.
Mary, in addition to feeling repentant over her outbreak just before Paula came in, experienced a sort of gratitude to him for being able to sit squarely facing the sofa, untroubled by the absent thoughtful face and the figure a little languorously disposed that confronted him. His bright generalities were addressed to her as much as to the rest of them; his smile asked the same response from her and nothing more.
Nothing short of an explosion that shattered all their surfaces at once could have got a single vibration out of him. By that same token, when the explosion did occur, he was the most helpless person there, the only one of them who could really be called panic-stricken.
John had, at last, crossed the room and seated himself beside his wife. He spoke to her in a low voice but her full-throated reply was audible everywhere in the room.
“No, I’m not tired and I really don’t want any tea. I’ve gone slack on purpose because that’s how I want to be till nine o’clock. I’ve just eaten an enormous oyster stew with Rush. That’s what we waited for.”
John frowned. “My dear, you’ll have ruined your appetite for dinner.”
“I hope so,” she said, “because I’m not to have any.”
At that, from the other two men, there began an expostulatory–“No dinner!” “You don’t mean …!” but it was silenced by John’s crisp–“You’re planning not to come down to dinner, then?”
“Oh, I’ll come down,” said Paula, “and I’ll sit. But I don’t mean to eat anything. Unless you think that will be too much like a–what is it?–skeleton at the feast.”
“I think it would seem somewhat-exaggerated,” he said.
“Well,” Paula retorted, drawing the rest of the room into it again just as Wallace was making a gallant effort to start a subsidiary conversation to serve as a screen, “that’s because you haven’t heard those songs. If there’s a singer in the world who’d dare–cut loose with them right after eating the sort of dinner Lucile will have to-night for Mary and Rush, I’d like to see him try it.”
“I didn’t mean to imply that they were not difficult. I dare say they are all but impossible. But it does seem to me that you are taking the occasion of singing them–a little too–emotionally.”
The tone he was trying for was meant to have nothing in it–for other ears than hers, at least, beyond mere good-humored remonstrance. But her reply tore all pretense aside. She let him have it straight.
“You’re the one who’s being emotional about it,” she said.
The blood leaped into his face at that but he did not reply.
“Look here, John,” she went on–and her big voice swept away the polite convention that the others were not listening, “I’ve told you that this won’t work and you must see now that that’s true. There’s still time to call up March and tell him that it’s to-morrow instead of to-day. Because of Rush and Mary. Won’t you let me do that?”
It is just possible that if he had been alone with her, he might have acknowledged the issue, might have admitted that this new composer whose works she had been so absorbed in, frightened him, figured in his mind as the present manifestation of a force that was trying to take her away from him. And having let her see that, he could safely enough have said, “Have your own way about it. You know what will work and what won’t. Only make it as easy for me as you can.” But in the presence of his children–it was they, rather than Wallace, that he minded–he was at once evasive and domineering.
“I thought we’d already disposed of that suggestion,” he said. “If the situation is as it has been made to appear to me there is not the smallest reason why March should be put off; why Mary and Rush and the friends we have asked in to meet them, shouldn’t be permitted to hear his songs; or why I shouldn’t myself. I think we’ll consider that settled.”
Paula rose all in one piece. “Very well,” she said–to the audience, “it is settled. Also it’s settled that I shall not come down to dinner. As for what people will think, I’ll leave that to you. You can make any explanation you like. But I shall sing those songs to March–and for him–for all they’re worth. I don’t care who else is there or whether they like it or not.–A lot of patronizing amateurs! Bring them up to the music room about nine o’clock, if you like. I’ll be there.”
She left behind her, in that Victorian drawing-room, a silence that tingled.
A crisis of this sort was just what the Wollastons needed to tune them up. The four of them, for Lucile had to be counted in, met the enemy–which is to say their arriving guests–with an unbroken front. They explained Paula’s non-appearance with good-humored unconcern. She was afraid if she sat down to Lucile’s dinner that she would forget her duty and eat it and find herself fatally incapacitated for cutting loose on Mr. March’s songs afterward. They must be rather remarkable songs that required to be approached in so Spartan a manner. Well, Paula assured us that they were. The family declined all responsibility in the matter, not having themselves heard a note of them, but if you wanted to you might ask Mr. Novelli, over there. He’d been working over them with Paula for days. As for the composer, he was as much a mystery as his songs. He wasn’t coming to the dinner but was expected to appear from somewhere afterward.
Novelli, as it happened, was not very productive of information. Half an hour before the dinner, his wife had telephoned Lucile to ask if he might bring a guest of his own, a certain Monsieur LaChaise, who was one of the conductors at the Metropolitan and was to have the direction of the summer opera out here at Ravinia this year. Portia added with the falsely deprecatory air of a mother apologizing for a child’s prank, that Pietro had in fact, already invited him to the dinner and had only just informed her of the fact. Lucile had assured her, of course, that this addition to the company would cause not the slightest inconvenience, served on the contrary to bring it up to the number that had originally been counted upon.
When LaChaise arrived the discovery that he talked no English at all beyond a few rudimentary phrases, a fact which normally would have seemed calamitous, was now merely treated as an added feature of the evening. He and Novelli were in the midst of an animated discussion when they arrived. They stuck together in the drawing-room as if locked in the same pair of handcuffs and seating arrangements were hastily revised so that they might go on talking in untroubled mutual absorption straight through the dinner. Rush being placed handily by, where he could come to the rescue in case of need.
It was only the extremest surface of Mary sitting at the head of the table in Paula’s place (which once had been her own) that was engaged with her unforeseen duties as hostess. And yet in a way, the whole of her consciousness had been drawn to the surface. The strong interior excitement that had been burning in her during all this day of her home-coming, the rising conviction that life at home might turn out to be something very different indeed from the thing that it had, down in New York, looked like, the blend of foreboding with anticipation that accompanied it, and finally a sense of the imminence of something important, not quite to be accounted for by the quarrel between her father and his wife,–all this emotional reaction found its outlet during the long dinner in a quite unusual vivacity. Her sphere of influence spread down the table until it embraced a full half the length of it on both sides and those just beyond the reach of it, aware that they were missing something, listened but distractedly to the talk of their more remote partners. And while she was doing all this she managed with her left hand, as it were, to, keep going a vivid little confidential flirtation with the Stannard boy, Graham, a neighbor and a contemporary of hers just back from service on a destroyer.
The thing that stimulated her to all this was a consciousness of her father’s intense awareness of her. She had been deliberately evasive of him since his quarrel with Paula. What he wanted of her she knew as well as if he had expressed the need of it in so many words. He had turned to her for it as soon as Paula had gone up-stairs and Rush had accompanied the thoroughly demoralized Wallace into the hall. She had found a certain hard satisfaction in denying it to him, in not nestling up into the arms that happened, for the moment, to be vacant of Paula. This was so imperative an instinct that she had not even reproached herself for it, though she supposed she would later.
The sense that something in some way or other decisive was going to happen to-night, quickened her pulse as she mounted, along with the last of their guests to the music room, in response to Paula’s message that Mr. March had come and that the “rehearsal” was about to begin. She looked about eagerly for a man who might be March but could not discover him anywhere. Was he, perhaps, she absurdly wondered, sitting once more under the piano?
Novelli drooped over the keyboard. LaChaise was half hidden in a deep chair in one of the dormers. Paula, her back to the little audience, stood talking to Novelli. Mary allowed herself a faint smile over the expression in those faces that Paula wouldn’t look at. The half-concealed impatience, the anticipatory boredom, showed through so unfaltering a determination to do and express to the end the precisely correct thing. Even her father’s anger looked out through a mask like that.
LaChaise, from his corner said something in French that Mary didn’t catch. Novelli straightened his back. And in that instant before a note was sounded, Mary’s excitement mounted higher. The absorption of those three musicians, the intensity of their preoccupation, told her that the something she had expected was going to happen–now. But she did not know that it was going to happen to her.
Long ago the family had acquiesced in Mary’s assertion that she was not in the least musical and in her stubborn refusal to “take” anything, even the most elementary course of lessons on the piano. She had been allowed to grow up in an ignorance almost unique in these days, of the whole mystery of musical notation and phraseology, an ignorance that might be reckoned the equivalent of a special talent.
Later, indeed, she had made the discovery–or what would have been a discovery if she had fully admitted it to herself–that music sometimes exerted a special power over her emotions. Whether it was a certain sort of music that created the mood or a certain sort of mood that was capable of responding to music, she had never seriously inquired. The critical jargon of the wiseacres always irritated her. She supposed it meant something because they seemed intelligible to each other but she rather enjoyed indulging the presumption that it did not. When she went to concerts, she liked to go alone, or at least to be let alone, to sit back passively and allow the variegated tissue of sound to envelop her spirit as it would. If it bored her, as it frequently did, there was no harm done, no pretense to make. If, as more rarely happened, it stole somehow into complete possession, floated her away upon strange voyages, she was at least immune from analysis and inquisition afterward.
So it was with no critical expectancy that she listened when Novelli began to play; indeed, in the active sense, she did not listen at all. She forgot to be amused by the composed faces about her; she forgot, presently, whose music it was and whose voice she heard. What she felt was a disentanglement, an emergence into more open, wider spaces,–cold ethereal spaces. It seemed, though, that it was her own mood the music fitted into, rather than the other way about.
She heard the talk that followed the polite rustle of applause at the first intermission, without being irritated by it, without even listening to what it meant, though here and there a phrase registered itself upon her ear. Henry Craven’s “Very modern, of course. No tonality at all, not a cadence in it,” and Charlotte Avery’s “No form either. And hardly to be called a song. A tone poem, really, with a part written into it for the voice.”
The music began again, and now was given ungrudging credit for the recreation of her mood. Only its admitted beauty created a longing which it did not serve to satisfy. The cold open sky with its mysterious interstellar spaces, the flow of the black devouring clouds, the reemergence of the immortal Pleiades, remote, inhuman, unaware, brought no tranquillity but only a forlorn human loneliness.
On that note it ended, but Paula, with a nod to Novelli, directed him to go straight on to the love song. The two do not form a sequence in the poem; indeed the love song occurs very early in it and the Burial of the Stars comes afterward, nearly at the end. But I think, as March did, that Paula’s instinct was sound in using the unearthly Schubert-like beauty of the Burial of the Stars as a prelude to the purely human passion of the love song.
It is, I suppose, one of the supreme lyric expressions in the English language of the passion of love. Furthermore, Whitman’s free unmetered swing, the glorious length of his stride, fell in with March’s rhythmic idiom as though they had been born under the same star.
The result is one of those happy marriages so rare as to be almost unique, in which the emotional power of a great song is enhanced by its musical setting, and where, conversely, a great piece of lyric music gains rather than loses by its words.
March did not use the whole poem. His setting begins on the line “Low hangs the moon,” and ends with the “Hither, my love! Here I am! Here!” Why he elected not to go on with it, I don’t know. Possibly, because his own impulse was spent before Whitman’s; possibly, because he did not wish to impose the darker melancholy of the latter stanzas upon the clear ecstasy of that last call.
It lost something, of course, from the inadequacy of the piano transcription, for it was conceived and written orchestrally. Paula, too, has given finer performances of it;–indeed, she sang it better a little later that same evening. But spurred as she was by the knowledge that the composer was listening to it and by her determination to win a victory for it, she flung herself into it with all the power and passion she had.
I doubt whether any other auditor ever is more completely overwhelmed by it than Mary was. It was so utterly her own, the cry of it so verily the unacknowledged cry of her own heart, that the successive stanzas buried themselves in it like unerring arrows. The intensity of its climax was more poignant, more nearly intolerable, than anything in all the music she had ever heard. Limp, wet, breathless, trembling all over, she sat for a matter of minutes after that last ineffable yearning note had died away.
There was a certain variety in the emotions of the rest of the audience, but they met on common ground in the feeling of not knowing where to look or what to say. Their individualities submerged in a great crowd, they might–most of them–have allowed themselves to be carried away, especially if they’d come in the expectation–founded on the experience of other audiences–that they would be carried away. But to sit like this, all very much aware of each other while a woman they knew, the wife of a man they had long known, proclaimed a naked passion like that, was simply painful. What they didn’t know you see–there was no program to tell them–was whether the thing was inspired or merely dreadful, and when it was over they sat in stony despair, waiting, like the children of Israel, for a sign.
It was LaChaise who broke the spell by crossing the room and unceremoniously displacing Novelli at the piano. He turned back to the beginning of the score and began reading it, at first silently, then humming unintelligible orchestral parts as he was able to infer them from the transcription; finally with noisy outbursts upon the piano, to which din Novelli contributed with one hand reached down over the conductor’s shoulder. Paula standing in the curve of the instrument, her elbows on the lid, followed them from her copy of the score. It got to the audience that an alert attitude of attention was no longer required of them. That in fact, so far as the three musicians were concerned, nothing was required of them, not even silence. As an audience they ceased to exist. They were dissolved once more into their social elements and began a little feverishly to talk.
The realization broke over Mary with the intensity of panic that some one of them might speak to her. She rose blindly and slipped out into the hall, but even there she did not feel safe. Some of them, any of them, might follow her. She wanted to hide. There was a small room adjoining the studio–it had been the nurse’s bedroom when the other had been the nursery–and its door now stood ajar. She slipped within and closed it very softly behind her.
Here in the grateful half-dark she was safe enough although the door into the studio was also part way open. There was nothing in here but lumber–an old settee, a bookcase full of discarded volumes from the library and an overflow of Paula’s music. No one would think of looking for her in here.
But as she turned her back upon the door that she had just closed, she saw that some one was here, a man in khaki sitting on the edge of that old settee, leaning forward a little, his hands clasped between his knees. She had come in so quietly he had not heard her.
It seemed to her afterward that she must have had two simultaneous and contradictory ideas as to who he was. She knew,–she must have known, instantly–that he was Anthony March, but his uniform suggested Rush and drew her over toward him just as though she had actually believed him to be her brother. And then as he became aware of her and glanced up, Paula in the other room began singing the last song over again, her great broad voice submerging the buzz of talk like the tide rushing in over a flat. Without a word Mary dropped down beside him on the settee.
In the middle of a phrase the music stopped.
“A vous le tour!” they heard LaChaise say to Novelli. “Je ne suis pas assez pianiste. Maintenant! Recommencons, n’est-ce-pas?”
The song resumed. March’s frame stiffened.
“Oh night! do I not see my love fluttering out among the breakers?
What is that little black thing I see there in the white?”
“Now then,” March whispered. “Quicker! My God, can’t they pick it up?” Like an echo came LaChaise’s “Plus vite! _Stringendo_, jusque au bout!” and with a gasp the composer greeted the quickened tempo. Then as the song swept to its first tempestuous climax he clutched Mary’s arm. “That’s it,” he cried. “Can’t you see that’s it?”
“Loud! loud! loud!
Loud I call to you, my love!
High and clear I shoot my voice over the waves, Surely you must know who is here, is here, You must know who I am, my love.”
He let go her arm. The song went on.
What is that dusky spot in your brown yellow? O it is the shape, the shape of my mate! Oh moon, do not keep me from her any longer.”
From there, without interruption it swept along to the end.
It was during the ecstatic pianissimo just before the final section that their hands clasped. Which of them first sought the contact neither of them knew but they sat linked like that, tingling, breathless during the lines:–
“… somewhere I believe I heard my mate responding to me, So faint I must be still, be still to listen, But not altogether still, for then she might not come immediately to me.”
On the last “Hither, my love! Here I am! Here!” the clasp tightened, convulsively. But it was not until the circuit was broken that the spark really leaped across the gap.
There was no applause in the other room when the song ended for the second time, but it won a clear half minute of breathless silence before the eddies of talk began again. During that tight-stretched moment the pair upon the settee, their hands just unclasped, sat motionless, fully aware of each other for the first time, almost unendurably aware, thrilling with the just-arrived sense of the amazing intimacy of the experience they had shared. Neither of them was innocent but neither had ever known so complete a fusion of his identity with another as this which the spell of his music had produced.
They sat side by side but not very close, not so close that there was contact anywhere between them and neither made any move to resume it. Both were trembling uncontrollably and each knew that the other was.
The hum of talk in the other room rose louder and finally became articulate in Charlotte Avery’s crisp, “Good night, my dear Paula, we’ve had a most interesting evening. I shall hope to hear more of your discovery. And see him too sometime if you make up your mind to exhibit him.”
March started from his seat at that. “Don’t make any noise,” Mary whispered, rising too, and laying a detaining hand on him. “Nobody will come in here. They’ll all go now. We must wait.”
He obeyed tractably enough, only turned toward her now and gazed at her with undissimulated intensity; not, though, as if speculating who she might be, rather as if wondering whether she were really there.
“Don’t you want them to find you, either?” he asked.
“N-not after that,” she stammered; and added instantly, “We mustn’t talk.”
So silent once more, they waited while the late audience defiled in irregular, slow moving groups down the hall toward the stairs. Mary distinguished her father’s voice, her brother’s, her aunt’s, all taking valiantly just the right social note. They were covering the retreat in good order. And she heard Portia Stanton taking her husband home. But the music room was not yet deserted. There were sounds of relaxation in there, the striking of a match, the sound of a heavy body–that of LaChaise, probably–dropping into an easy chair.
“And now,” Mary heard him say to Paula–“Now fetch out your composer. Where have you had him hidden all this while?”
“He’s in there. I was just waiting until they were really gone. I’ll get him now, though. No, sit still; I’d rather, myself.”
March, however, didn’t move; not even when they could hear Paula coming toward the door. He stood gazing thoughtfully at Mary, his eyes luminous in the dark. It occurred to her that the conversation in the other room had been in French and that he had not understood it.
“Oh, go–quickly!” she had just time to breathe. Then she crowded back, close against the partition wall. The door opened that way, so that when Paula flung it wide it screened her a little.
The singer stood there, a golden glowing thing in the light she had brought in with her. “Where are you?” she asked. Then she came up to March and took him by the arms. “Was it good?” she asked. “Was it–a little–as you meant it to sound?”
When he did not speak, she laughed,–a rich low laugh that had a hint of tears in it, pulled him up to her and kissed his cheek. “You don’t have to answer, my dear,” she said. “Come in and hear what LaChaise has got to say about it.”
Without effort, irresistibly, she swept him along with her into the music room.
Mary, when they were gone, let herself out by the other door as softly as she had come in. She fled down one flight of the stairs and a moment later had locked the door of her own room behind her. She switched on the light, gave a ragged laugh at Sir Galahad; then lay down, just as she was, on the little white bed, her face in the pillow, and cried.
It was hours later, well along toward one o’clock in the morning when Rush coming into his room saw a light under the door communicating with his sister’s and, knocking, was told he might come in.
He found her in bed for the night, reclining against a stack of pillows as if she had been reading, but from the way she blinked at the softened light from the lamp on her night table, it appeared that she had switched it on only when she heard him coming. She might have been crying though she looked composed enough now;–symmetrically composed, indeed, a braid over each shoulder, her hands folded, her legs straight down the middle of the bed making a single ridge that terminated in a little peak where her feet stuck up (the way heroines lie, it occurred to Rush, in the last act of grand operas, when they are dead) and this effect was enhanced by the new-laundered whiteness of the sheet, neatly folded back over the blankets and the untumbled pillows.
“You always look so nice and clean,” he told her, and, forbearing to sit on the edge of the bed as a pat of her hand invited him to, pulled up a chair instead. It was going to be a real talk, not just a casual good-night chat.
“We were wondering what had become of you,” he said. “Poor Graham was worried.”
“Graham!” But she did not follow that up. “I decided we’d had temperament enough for one evening,” she explained in a matter-of-fact tone, “so when I saw I was going to explode I came away quietly and did it in here. By the time it was over I thought I might as well go to bed.”
“It doesn’t look as if you’d exploded very violently,” he observed.
“Oh, I’ve cleared away the ruins,” she said. “I hate reminders of a mess.”
It was like her exquisiteness to do that and it tightened his throat to think about it. He’d have liked to make sure what the cause of the explosion had been, but thought he’d better wait a while for that. All he ventured in the way of sympathetic approbation was to reach out and pat the ridge that extended down the middle of the bed. “It certainly has been one devil of an evening,” he said.
“I suppose it has,” she agreed, thoughtfully. Then, noticing that this had rather thrown him off his stride, she went on, “Tell me all that’s been happening since I ran away. How did Paula act when it was over?”
“I haven’t seen her,” he said. “She never came down at all. Of course it must have been–well, in a way, a devil of an evening for her, too. Though I can’t believe our being there cramped her style very much in singing those songs. If it did, I’d hate to think what she would have done if we hadn’t been. I hope March liked his own stuff. He was there all the while, you know. She must have had him tucked away in that little old room of Annie’s that opened off the nursery. Somewhere anyhow, because long after every one else had gone, he came down-stairs with the Frenchman. I got one surprise just then all right. He’s a private soldier, did you know that? Just a plain doughboy.”
“Overseas?” Mary asked.
“As far as Bordeaux, with the Eighty-sixth. Saxaphone player with one of the artillery bands. In a way I’m rather glad of it. That that’s what he turns out to be, I mean.”
“Why?” Mary made the word rather crisply.
“Oh, well,” Rush explained uncomfortably, “you know what it had begun to look like. Paula quarreling with father about him and not going down to dinner; and–cutting loose like that over his music. But of course there couldn’t be anything of that sort–with a chap like that.”
“What is the lowest military rank,” Mary inquired, “that you think Paula could fall in love with?”
The satirical import of her question was not lost upon him but he held his ground. “It may sound snobbish but it’s true just the same,” he insisted. “A doughboy’s a doughboy, and Paula wouldn’t get mixed up with one–any more than you would.”
There was a silence after that.
“His music didn’t sound to me like doughboy music,” Mary observed at last. “Nor his going to Walt Whitman to get the words.”
“Was that Walt Whitman? It sounded to me as if he was making it up as he went along.” He had the grace to grin at himself over that admission, however. “Oh, well,” he concluded, “Paula’s all right anyhow. I think she’s–wonderful, myself. Only poor old dad! He is a peach, Mary. It’s funny how differently I remember him. He acted like one real sport to-night.”
“Afterward, you mean.” Mary, it seemed, would not have characterized her father’s behavior earlier in the evening in just that way. “Tell me all about it. Only reach me a cigarette first.”
He obeyed the latter injunction with an air of protest. “It’s the only thing you do that I wish you didn’t,” he said.
“Why? Do you think it’s bad for me?”
He wouldn’t commit himself by answering that. The retort it offered her was obvious. “It doesn’t seem like you,” he explained.
“Very well,” she said, taking a light from his match, “then I shall go on just to keep you reminded that I’m not plaster of Paris. I like to have somebody around who doesn’t think that.”
“Father doesn’t,” Rush asserted, and got so eager a look of inquiry from her that he regretted having nothing very substantial to satisfy it with. “Oh, down there in the hall,” he said, “after everybody but March and the Frenchman had gone. Aunt Lucile began fussing about you. She was rather up in the air, anyway. She’d done the nonchalant, all right,–overdone it a bit in fact–as long as there was any one around to play up to. But when we had got rid of the Novellis–they were the last–she did a balloon ascension. She had a fit or two in general and then came round to wondering about you. Wanted to know when we’d last seen you–what _could_ have happened to you,–that sort of thing. I’d been having a little talk with Graham so I supposed I knew. But of course I said nothing about that.”
He was looking rather fixedly away from her and so missed her frown of incomprehension. “Well, but father?” she asked.
It had been coming over him that what his father had said was not just what he wanted to report to Mary. Not while she felt about him as she had confessed, down there in New York, she did. But he had let himself in for it.
“Why, it wasn’t much,” he said; “just that nothing could have happened to you; that you wouldn’t ‘fall off anything and break.’ What you said about plaster of Paris made me think of it. He was only trying to get Aunt Lucile quieted down.”
“While he had Paula on his mind, he didn’t want to be bothered about me. That’s natural enough, of course.” Her dry brittle tone was anything but reassuring. Still without looking at her, he hurried on.
“Well, it _is_ natural that he should be worried about Paula. I know how I’d feel about a thing like that. It was rather weird while we waited after Aunt Lucile went up to bed for those two to come down. Old Nat was fussing around the drawing-room, shutting up and putting things to rights. Dad sent him to bed, too, told him we’d do the locking up ourselves. I got the idea that he was expecting Paula to come sailing down, with March, you know, and perhaps didn’t want any one around. So I made a bluff of going to bed myself. But he told me to stick; said we’d settle down and have a smoke presently. I don’t know how long it was before we heard LaChaise and March coming but it seemed a deuce of a while.
“Dad was right on the job then, calm as a May morning. He introduced March and me and said something polite about his music, never a word about his having been hiding all the evening.
“Then LaChaise spoke to dad in French. Said there was some business he wanted to talk with him about and that he’d like an appointment. I wasn’t sure that dad quite got him so I crashed in and interpreted.
“Dad reached out and took hold of me, as if he was sort of glad that I was there, and told me to tell Mr. LaChaise that we had plenty of time right now, and if there was anything to discuss the sooner we got at it, the better.
“I handed that on in French–I tried not to lose any of the kick out of it–and while I was doing that March made a move to go.
“Dad told him not to. I wish you could have been there. I remember he said after inviting him to stay, ‘I imagine you are as much concerned in this as any one.’ It didn’t faze March though. He said that he didn’t believe that what Mr. LaChaise had to say concerned him. Then he made a stiff little bow for good night and went off down the hall to get his hat. Oh, that wasn’t like a doughboy, I’ll admit. I went to the door with him and we made a little conversation there for a minute or two just to–take off the edge. That’s when I found out where he’d been.
“Father had taken LaChaise into the drawing-room when I got back but I don’t believe either of them had said three words. They were waiting for me. Dad led off by asking what he thought of March, and LaChaise told him, though you could see that wasn’t what was on his mind. He said March had a very strong and original talent and that he believed he had operas in him. There was one about finished that he was going to look at to-morrow. Then he pulled up short and said it was Paula he wanted to talk about.
“Dad caught that all right without waiting for me to translate it. What he wanted to get at, right at the jump off, was whether Paula knew LaChaise had come down to talk about her. Was he to consider Mr. LaChaise her emissary? I took a chance on _emissaire_ for that and it worked all right.
“Well, the Frenchman said, as cool as you please, that he was. Said he wouldn’t have ventured to intrude otherwise:–and dad froze to ice right there. But LaChaise went on and spoke his piece just the same. He said he’d come to-night to verify the enthusiastic reports he had heard of her singing but that she had outdone them all. He said the voice itself was unusual, of great power and of beautiful quality, adequate in range for anything that could be expected of her. But he said that was only the beginning of it. The important things were that she was a real musician in the first place and a woman with real passions in the second.
“I didn’t know whether to translate that to dad or to shut the Frenchman up myself right there. I would have liked to take a punch at him. But, of course, you’re nothing but a part of the machinery when you are interpreting, so I handed it on, without looking at dad. All he said was, ‘We’ll get to the point, if you please, Monsieur.’
“LaChaise understood that without waiting for me. He said he had had no hesitation in offering Paula a contract to sing the leading dramatic soprano roles at Ravinia this summer and that he had told her if it worked anywhere near as well as he expected it to there was no doubt of her getting a good Metropolitan engagement next season. He finished up by saying he had had to ask her to make a decision as soon as possible because he was at that moment negotiating with some one else who couldn’t be put off very long.
“Dad asked then whether Paula had given him an answer to-night. LaChaise told him she had accepted–subject to his obtaining dad’s consent. Then he finished up with a full-dress bow. ‘That is the point you have asked me to come to, Monsieur,’ he said.
“Dad never said a word for a minute. You could see it must have been ghastly for him. I guess LaChaise must have seen it himself, for he went on and tried to soften it down a bit. Said he didn’t want to seem to _brusque_ the affair. All he wanted to ask dad to-night was that he should agree to consider the matter, bearing in mind that a real artist like _madame_, his wife, couldn’t be kept shut up in a brass tower indefinitely.
“Dad cut him off rather short on that. He said that from a legal or business point of view, which was all that could possibly concern LaChaise, his consent wasn’t necessary. If his wife signed a contract he would put no obstacles in the way of her fulfilling it. Beyond that he had obviously nothing to say.
“Well, that was about all. They both put on all the trimmings saying good night to each other and LaChaise thanked me very handsomely for interpreting. I chucked him into his overcoat and let him out the front door.–And bolted it after him, you bet! Lord, but I hated to go back to dad after that.
“I needn’t have worried though. When we sat down for our smoke in the library, it was exactly as if nothing had happened. I’d have been tearing my hair but old dad…. He certainly is a peach.”
Rush paused there for some comment from her and when she made none, looked around at her. Her hands were lightly clasped across her breast, her eyelids nearly closed. Save for her barely perceptible breathing, she lay dead still.
“Have I talked you to sleep?” he asked.
“No,” she said, “I was thinking what a mixed-up thing life is. The way you can’t help liking and admiring the people you wish you could hate and hating and hurting the ones you love.” Then her eyes came open with a smile and she held out a hand toward him. “You don’t have to answer that. It’s the sort of silly thing people say when they have been drinking gin. What I was really wondering was whether there will be anything about Mr. March’s opera in that contract Paula signs with LaChaise?”
This startled him. “I never thought of that,” he answered. “Do you suppose that’s it? Oh, it can’t be! She wouldn’t chuck dad for that doughboy piano tuner. Not Paula!”
“Oh, no,” said Mary. “She wouldn’t do that. It wouldn’t look to her like that, anyhow. She’s got enough, don’t you see, for everybody; for dad and–and the doughboy as well. Father wouldn’t have any less, if he could just make up his mind that he didn’t have to have it all. And as for the other, why, it might be the greatest thing that could possibly happen to him;–being in love with Paula and writing operas for her and having her sing them the way she sang those songs to-night. I suppose that’s what a genius needs. And you couldn’t blame her exactly. At least there always have been people like that and the world hasn’t blamed them–no matter how moral it pretends to be. It’s the other sort of people, the ones who won’t take anything unless they can have it all and who can’t give anything unless they can give it all–those that haven’t but one thing to give–that are–no good.”
He didn’t more than half understand her, which was fortunate, since he was rather horrified as it was. He put it down broadly as the same sort of nervous crisis that he had encountered in New York, a sort of hypersensitiveness due to the strain of war work–the thing he had amused her by speaking of as shell-shock.
“I think perhaps I know what has upset you to-night,” he said uncomfortably. “At least Graham told me about it.”
She looked at him with a puzzled frown. It was the third time that he had brought up the Stannard boy’s name. What in the world…?
“He’s terribly distressed about it,” Rush went on. In his embarrassment he wasn’t looking at her and she composed her face. “He didn’t mean to shock you or–or offend you. He says he gave you reason enough to be offended, but only because you didn’t understand. He says he has always–cared for you a lot. He said he thought you were the most–well, about the most perfect thing in the world. Only to-night he said he got carried off his feet and went further than he had any right to. And he simply can’t bear to have you think that he meant anything–disrespectful. He felt he had to apologize to you before he went home, but you didn’t come down so finally he told me about it and made me promise that I’d tell you to-night. Of course, I don’t know what he did,” Rush concluded, “but I can tell you this. Graham Stannard’s a white man; they don’t make them whiter than that.”
Her reply, although it was unequivocally to the effect that it was all right–Graham needn’t worry–failed, altogether, to reassure him. Was this, after all, he wondered, what she had exploded about? She prevented further inquiry, however, by an abrupt change of the subject, demanding to be told what it was that he and his father, all these hours, had been talking about.
He took up the topic with unforced enthusiasm. He had been surprised and deeply touched over the discovery that his father did not require to be argued out of the project either to send him back to Harvard or to start him in at the bottom in Martin Whitney’s bank. “If he’d just been through it all himself, he couldn’t have understood any better how I feel about it.”
“Did you tell him about the farm?” Mary asked.
This was an idea of Graham’s which she and Rush had been developing with him during the half hour in the drawing-room before they had gone down to dinner. Young Stannard, during his two years on a destroyer, had conceived an extraordinary longing for Mother Earth, and had filled in his dream in tolerably complete detail. What he wanted was an out-of-door life which should not altogether deprive him of the pleasures of an urban existence; and he accomplished this paradox by premising a farm within convenient motoring distance of Chicago, on one of the hard roads. Somewhere in the dairy belt, out Elgin way perhaps. You could have wonderful week-end house parties in a place like that, even in winter, with skiing and skating for amusements, and in summer it would be simply gorgeous. And, of course, one could always run into town for the night if there was anything particular to come for.
Mary had volunteered to keep house for them and they had talked a lot of amusing nonsense as to what her duties should be. Graham, too, had a kid sister, only seventeen, who fitted admirably into the picture. She loved the country, simply lived in riding breeches and rode like a man–a sight better than most men–and drove a car like a young devil. There was nothing, in fact, she couldn’t do.
Graham was altogether serious about it. He had been scouting around during the fortnight since his return and had his eyes on two or three places that might do. There was one four-hundred-acre property that was altogether desirable, ideal in fact, except for the one painful particular that the cost of it was just about twice as much as Graham’s father was willing to run to. But if Rush would go in with him they need seek no further. The thing was as good as settled.
“I did talk to father about it,” Rush now told Mary. “The thing is a real idea. Graham and I talked seriously about it while we were smoking before we went up-stairs. The scheme is to run a dairy, hog and poultry combination on a manufacturing basis and then sell our whole product direct to two or three customers in town, one or two of the clubs–perhaps a hotel. Deliver by motor truck every day, you see, and leave the middleman out entirely. It’s the only way to beat the game. Father saw it like a shot. He said it would take a lot of money, of course, but he thought he could manage my share.”
Mary relaxed just perceptibly deeper in the pillows and her eyelids drooped again. “It’s getting awfully late,” Rush said; “don’t you want to go to sleep?” But he needed no urging to go on when she asked him to tell her all about it, and for another half hour he elaborated the plan.
He was still breezing along on the full tide of the idea, when, happening to glance at her little traveling clock, he pulled himself up short, took away her extra pillows, switched off her night lamp and ordered her to go to sleep at once. Her apparent docility did not altogether satisfy him and two or three times during the hour before he himself fell asleep, he sat up to look under the door and see whether she had turned the light on again.
He was right about that, of course. The enforced calm Mary had imposed upon herself as a penance for the tempest of emotion she had indulged–she had lain without moving, hardly a finger, from the time she remade that bed and crept back into it until hearing Rush coming she switched on the light–had had a sort of hypnotic effect upon her. So long as her body did not move, it ceased to exist altogether and set her spirit free, like a pale-winged luna moth from its chrysalis to adventure into the night. The light it kept fluttering back to was that blinding experience with March while the music of his song had surged through her and her hand had been crushed in his.
Rush’s coming in had brought her back to that tired still body of hers again; his voice soothed, his presence comforted her; at his occasional touch she was able to relax. (If only there were some one who loved her, who would hold her tight–tight–) She hoped he would go on talking to her; on and on. Because while he talked she could manage to stop thinking–by the squirrel-like process of storing away all the ideas he was suggesting to her for consideration later.
But when the respite was over and she lay back in the dark again, she made no effort to deny admission to the thoughts that came crowding so thickly. She must think; she must, before the ordeal of the next breakfast table, have taken thought. She must have decided if not what she should do, at least what she could hope for. She was much clearer and saner for the little interlude with Rush.
Suppose in the first place;–suppose that Paula’s rebellion was serious. Suppose the Tower of Brass violated and the Princess carried away by the _jinn_ or upon the magic carpet–whichever it was–to a world where none of them could follow her. Suppose John Wollaston bereft again. Would not Mary’s old place be hers once more? Would not everything be just as it had been during those two years before her father went to Vienna?
But some instinct in her revolted utterly at that. It was an instinct that she could not completely reason out. But she knew that if such a calamity befell, her old place would not exist or would be intolerable if it did.
Suppose again:–suppose that Paula’s rebellion could be somehow frustrated. Would it be possible to save Paula for her father by saving March from Paula? In plain words, by diverting him from Paula to herself.
That was a disgustingly vulgar way of putting it. But wasn’t it what she meant? And if she couldn’t be honest with her own thoughts…. Well then, were her powers of attraction great enough, even if they were consciously exerted to the utmost, to outpull Paula’s with a musician, with a man whose songs she could sing as she had sung to-night?
That moment in Annie’s old bedroom off the nursery supplied concretely enough the answer to her question. They had been soul to soul in there, they two. There was no language to describe the intimacy of it, except perhaps the hackneyed phrases of the wedding service which had lost all their meaning. And while they had stood together in the half dark, Paula had opened the door, bringing the light in with her. She had taken him confidently in her strong hands and kissed him and led him away without one hesitating backward thought.
And the truth seemed clear enough, incandescent, now she looked back at it, that it was Paula who had possessed him all along. That moment which she had called her own had been Paula’s. Mary had got it because she had happened to come in and sit down beside him. She had, as it were, picked his pocket. She stood convicted the moment the rightful owner appeared. That was how much her chance of “saving” March from Paula amounted to.
What a hypocrite she had been to use that phrase even in her thoughts. Save him from Paula, indeed! Paula could give him, even if she gave only the half loaf, all he needed. She could inspire his genius, float it along on the broad current of her own energy. Compared to that, what could Mary give? What would it, her one possible gift, amount to?
She pulled herself up short. Wallowing again! No more of that. She’d leave March alone, and on that resolution she’d stop thinking about him. She’d think about Rush and Graham and the farm.
Graham! They didn’t come, Rush had said, any whiter than that. Probably he was right about it. It was a wonderful quality, that sort of whiteness. What was it he had done (she didn’t even remember!) that had caused him such bitter self-reproach? You couldn’t help liking him. It ought not to be hard to fall sufficiently in love with him. And out on a farm… A farmer’s wife certainly had enough to do to keep her from growing restless. With a lot of children, four to half a dozen,–no one could call that a worthless life.
And it was practicable. With an even break in the luck, she could accomplish the whole of it. A man like Graham she could make happy. Her one gift would be enough for him; all he’d want. What was it he had told Rush to-night? That he had always thought her the most perfect…
At that, appallingly, she was seized in the cold grip of an unforeseen realization. She couldn’t marry a boy like that–she couldn’t marry any man who regarded her like that–without first telling him what she was; what she was not! She would have to make clear to him–there was simply no escape from that–the nature of the thing that had happened in that tiny flat in New York where she had lived alone so long.
It was possible, of course, oh, more than that, probable even, that after hearing the story he would still want to marry her. That he might regard her, no matter what she said, as having been wronged; her innocence, though once taken advantage of by a scoundrel, intact. His love would be reenforced by pity. He’d think of nothing, in the stress of that moment, but the desire to protect her, to provide a fortress for her.
But would she dare, on these terms, marry him, or any other man for that matter, no matter how ardently he professed forgiveness? It wouldn’t be until after the marriage was an accomplished thing, its first desires satisfied, its first tension relaxed, that the story of her adventure would begin to loom black and thunderous over the horizon of his mind. (Who was the man? How could it have happened? In what mood of madness could she have done such a thing? Might it ever,–when might it not–happen again?) No! Marriage was difficult enough without being handicapped additionally by a perennial misgiving like that. No thoroughfare again!
She started once more around the circle, but one can not keep at that sort of thing forever. About sunrise she fell asleep.
THE DUMB PRINCESS
None of his own family knew quite what to make of Anthony March. All of them but his mother disapproved of him, on more or less mutually contradictory grounds. Disapproved of him more than they did of one another, though he occupied a sort of middle ground between them. It is a possible explanation to the paradox that each of them regarded him as a potential ally and so spent more time trying to change his ways, scolding at him, pointing out his derelictions and lost opportunities, than it was worth while spending on the others who were hopeless.
I shall be a little more intelligible, perhaps, if I tell you briefly who they were. The father, David March, and Eveline, his wife, were New Englanders. They both came, as a matter of fact, from within ten miles of Glastonbury, Connecticut, though they didn’t discover this fact until after they’d met a number of times in the social and religious activities of the Moody Institute. The lives of both had been woven in the somber colors of Evangelical religion. With him this ran close to fanaticism and served as an outlet for a very intense emotional life. She was not highly energized enough to go to extremes in anything, but she acquiesced in all his beliefs and practises, made him in short, a perfectly dutiful wife according to the Miltonian precept, “He for God only, she for God in him.”
Back in New England she probably would not have married him for she was a cut or more above him socially, the played-out end of a very fine line, as her beautiful speech would have made evident to any sensitive ear. But in Chicago, the disheveled, terrifying Chicago of the roaring eighties, to all intents and purposes alone, clinging precariously to a school-teacher’s job which she had no special equipment for, she put up only the weakest resistance to David March’s determination that she should be his wife.
He was a skilled artisan, a stringer and chipper in a piano factory (chipping, if you care to be told, is the tuning a piano gets before its action is put in). One would hardly have predicted then, considering the man’s energy and intelligence, that he would remain just that, go on working at the same bench for thirty-five years. But, as I have said, his energy found its main outlet in emotional religion.
Their first child, born in 1886, was a girl whom they named Sarah. Anthony came two years later and for twelve years there were no more. Then came the late baby, whom they appropriately named Benjamin and allowed a somewhat milder bringing up than the iron rule the elder ones had been subjected to.
It was the dearest wish of David’s life to make a preacher of Anthony and he must have got by way of answers to his prayers, signs which reconciled him to the sheer impossibility of this project. The boy’s passion for music manifested itself very early and with this David compromised by training him for the higher reaches of his own craft. He got employment for Anthony in the piano factory for a year or two after his graduation from high school and then sent him on for a liberal two years in a school in Boston where the best possible instruction in piano tuning was to be had.
Sarah was half-way through high school when her brother Benjamin was born and for two years after she graduated, her mother’s ill health, the familiar breakdown of the middle forties, kept her at home. Then she defied her father and took a job in a down-town office. What he objected to, of course, was not her going to work but the use she made of the independence with which self-support provided her. The quarrel never came to a real break though often enough it looked like doing so, and except for the brief period of her marriage Sarah always lived at home.
When Anthony came back from Boston, he revolted, too. He had not been a prodigal; indeed, during his second year in the East, he had in one way or another, earned his own living and he had learned even beyond his father’s hopes to tune pianos. But he did it at an incredibly small expense in time and energy. What his heart went into during those two years was the study of musical theory and composition, and, thanks to a special aptitude which rose to the pitch of genius, he managed to make the comparatively meager training he could get in so short a time, suffice to give him the technical equipment he needed.
He came home armed, too, with a discovery. The discovery that a man not enslaved by a possessive sense, a man whose self-respect is not dependent upon the number of things he owns, a man able therefore to thumb his nose at all the maxims of success, occupies really a very strong position.
He didn’t like the factory, though he gave it what he considered a fair trial. He didn’t like the way they tuned pianos in a factory. The dead level of mechanical perfection which they insisted upon was a stupid affront to his ear. And, of course, the strict regimentation of life at home, the, once more, dead level of the plateau upon which life was supposed to be lived, was distasteful to one with a streak of the nomad and the adventurer in him.
Thanks to his discovery he was able to construct an alternative to a life like that. A skillful piano tuner could earn what money he needed anywhere and could earn enough in a diligent week to set him free, his simple wants provided for, for the rest of the month.
But even a wanderer needs a base, a point of departure for his wanderings, and his father’s house could not be made to serve that purpose, so Anthony domiciled himself, after a long quest, in the half story above a little grocery just off North LaSalle Street and not far from the river.
It happened when Anthony had been living there a year or more that the grocer, with whom he was on the friendliest of terms, got, temporarily, into straits at precisely the time that Anthony had three hundred dollars. He had won a prize of that amount offered by a society for the encouragement of literature for the minor orchestral instruments, with a concerto for the French horn. The grocer offered his note for it, but Anthony thought of something better. He bought his room. It was to be his to live in, rent free, for as long as time endured.
He took a childlike pleasure in this lair of his. It accumulated his miscellaneous treasures like a small boy’s pocket. He made a mystery of it. He never gave it as his address. Not even his family knew where it was, nor, more than vaguely, of its existence. The address he had given Paula was the one he gave every one else, his father’s house out on the northwest side, just off Fullerton Avenue. This room, in a sense seldom attained, was his own. When he came back from France, the day Lucile saw him sitting on the bench in the park, he found it exactly–save for a heavy coating of dust–as he had left it, in 1917, when he went down to Camp Grant.
A good philosophy, so John Wollaston with a touch of envy had admitted–if you can make it work. Where it breaks down with most young men who set out so valiantly with it, is the point where one sees the only girl in the world and recognizes the imperious necessity of winning her, of holding out lures for her, of surrounding her, once won, with the setting her superlative worth demands. That this did not happen to Anthony March was due to the fact that the young woman he–not so much saw as gradually perceived, was his sister Sarah’s friend, Jennie MacArthur.
Independence had been forced upon Jennie so early that she never was called upon to decide whether she liked it or not. She had an inquiring mind–perhaps experimental would be the better word for it–abundant self-confidence and a good stiff backbone. It was easy to make the mistake of thinking her hard. She was not a pretty woman, with her sandy hair and rather striking freckles, but she was well formed, she dressed always with that crisp cleanliness which is the extravagant standard of young women who work in good offices, and her voice had an attractive timbre.
To Sarah March (who, having fought for independence, was a little at a loss what to do with it) Jennie’s experience and her rather interesting range of friends were a Godsend. It was at one of Jennie’s parties in the tiny pair of rooms where she lived alone that Sarah met Walter Davis, a mechanical draftsman by day and an ardent young Socialist by night, whom she afterward married.
On the other hand, the home which Sarah was sometimes rather dubious about the advantage of possessing, was to Jennie a delightful place to be a familiar visitor in. She liked old David, who was a surprisingly charming person when he had no authority over you, she liked Mrs. March, she adored little Ben–young Ben he was now rapidly growing up to be–and finally, she began taking an interest which eventually outweighed all the rest, in the family black sheep, Anthony.
The intimacy between them which began around the time of Sarah’s marriage continued intermittently for nearly four years. It had not, indeed, been definitely broken off when he went into the army.
When the attraction faded as it had definitely begun to do some months before he went to Camp Grant, it left their friendship unimpaired, enriched on the contrary. He could talk to her more easily, confide his thoughts to her more freely than to any one else he knew.
This ability to be confided in and depended upon was one of her special talents. She had emerged, years before, from the crowded stenographers’ room in a big engineering concern into the private office of the chief. He was an erratic genius, brilliant, irritable, exacting, tireless, all but impossible to maintain any consistent relation with but one of bitter enmity. He had about made up his mind that a fresh stenographer every morning was all he could hope for, when Jennie became his Scheherazade. By the time the war broke out she was as indispensable to him as his hands. He had made her an officer of the company and paid her a salary of six thousand dollars a year, but she went on remembering his engagements, writing his letters and soothing the outraged feelings of his clients just as she had done in humbler days. She was, in the good, old-fashioned sense, his better half. Her amusement was the stock market and she played it cannily and with considerable success with his rather diabolic encouragement.
She was in New York when March got home, and he saw her for the first time since his return at his father’s house on a Sunday morning more than a fortnight after the evening at the Wollastons’ when Paula had sung his songs.
It was his first appearance anywhere since the afternoon in Novelli’s studio when he had shown his opera to La Chaise and Paula. It had been agreed among them that with certain important changes, it would make an admirable vehicle for Paula’s return to the operatic stage, and being a small affair from the producer’s point of view, involving only one interior set, would be practicable for production during the summer at Ravinia in case the project for Paula’s singing there went through. March had agreed to the changes and withdrawn into his stronghold over the grocery store with a determination not more than to come up for air until he had worried the thing into the shape they wanted.
He didn’t know it was Sunday–having attributed the peacefulness he found pervading Fullerton Avenue to his own good conscience, a purely subjective phenomenon–until in the parlor of his father’s house the sight of his brother Ben at the piano playing a soundless tune upon the tops of the keys, brought it home to him. When he inquired for the rest of the family, he learned that they were up-stairs getting ready for church.
“I hope,” he said, with a grin at his younger brother, “that you aren’t suffering from that old hebdomadal sore throat of yours.”
“No, it’s all right,” Ben said, declining though to be amused. “I’ve got a gentleman’s agreement with Sarah. Every other Sunday. Father’s well enough satisfied now if he gets one of us. When they’re all gone, I can slip out and buy a Sunday paper–jazz up the piano–have a regular orgy. Every other Sunday! Gee, but it’s fierce!”
“It’s pathetic,” March said. “Poor father! I don’t suppose there’s any help for it.”
What struck him was the pitiful futility of his father’s persistence in trying to impose his ways, his beliefs, his will, upon one so rapidly growing into full independence. The only sanction he had was a tradition daily becoming more fragile. He was in for the bitterness of another disappointment. That was what there was no help for.
Naturally young Ben didn’t interpret it this way. “You’re a nice one to talk like that,” he said resentfully. “You’ve always done whatever you pleased.”
“There’s nothing to prevent you from doing the same thing if you look at it that way,” Anthony observed. “You’ve got a job a man could live on, haven’t you?”
“Live on? Fifteen dollars a week?”
And it may be admitted that Ben’s sense of outrage had some foundation. Years ago he had made up his small young mind that he would never work in the factory and he settled the question by getting himself a job in one of the piano salesrooms on Wabash Avenue. He wasn’t precisely a salesman yet, he might perhaps have been spoken of by an unkind person as an office boy. But it was essential that he look like a salesman and act like a salesman, even in the matter of going to lunch. Some day soon, he was going to succeed in completing a sale before some one else came around and took it out of his hands, and he could then strike for a regular commission.
In the meantime with shoes and socks and shirts and neckties costing what they did, the suggestion that his salary was adequate to provide a bachelor’s independence was fantastic and infuriating.
“Yes,” he grumbled, “if I wanted to live in a rat hole and look like a tramp.”
“My rat hole isn’t so bad to live in,” Anthony said, “but I’d be sorry to think I looked like a tramp. Do I, for a fact? I haven’t had this suit on since I went into the army but I thought it looked all right.”
“Oh, there’s a big rip in the back of the shoulder where the padding is sticking through and your cuffs are frayed and your necktie’s got a hole worn plumb through it where the wing of your collar rubs. You don’t look like a tramp, of course, because you look clean and decent. It would be all right if you had to be like that. Only it’s all so darned unnecessary. You could make good money if you’d only live like a regular person. Every day or two, somebody telephones to know if you aren’t home and if there isn’t some way we can get word to you, and it’s kind of humiliating to have to say there isn’t;–that we don’t know where you are, haven’t seen you for a week,–things like that. Of course, it’s none of my business, but _I’m_ trying to pull out of this. I’d like to _be_ somebody someday and it would be a darn sight easier if you were trying to pull the same way instead of queering us all the time.”
“Yes, I know,” Anthony said thoughtfully. “But then there’s Sarah on the other hand who can’t forgive me for not putting on a red necktie and going Bolshevik. She’d have me put in my time trying to upset the bourgeois applecart altogether.”
Ben grinned. “You ought to have heard her go on about the limousine that came and left a note for you the other day. Lady inside, chauffeur in a big fur coat. He came up to the door and asked whether you were home and left the note when Sarah said you weren’t. Last Thursday, I think that was, just before supper. It’s over there on the mantel, I guess. Sarah’s afraid you’re going to turn into a little brother of the rich.”
“You tell Sarah,” Anthony said off the top of his mind, the rest of it obviously engaged with the note,–“you tell Sarah there’s nothing capitalistic about this. This is from her Doctor Wollaston’s wife. Certainly he earns his living if anybody does.”
“Do they want their piano tuned again?” Ben asked.
“They don’t mention it. They want to know if I’ll come to lunch to-day. I’m going to telephone to see if the invitation has expired.”
“Good lord!” said Ben, “what have you got to wear? You can’t go looking like that!” He meant to go into particulars when his brother came back from the telephone. But by that time he had something of nearer concern to himself to think about. Anthony found him staring out the window with an expression of the liveliest dismay.
“Oh, look who’s here!” he said. “Can you beat it?”
Anthony looked and saw a little Ford coupe pulling up to the curb in front of the house; looked more closely at the person at the wheel and blinked.
“Jennie MacArthur! I thought she was still in New York. But what’s she doing in that car?”
“Oh, she bought it last fall,” Ben said. “She’s getting rich. But can’t you see what it means? She’s coming around to see Sarah and that’ll give Sarah an excuse for staying home from church. And that means that _I’ll_ have to go.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Anthony said, catching up his hat. “I’ll head her off. Tell mother I’ll be around to-night.”
He intercepted Jennie at the car door, caught both her hands and pressed them tight, pushed her back into her seat as he did so, climbed in and sat down beside her. “I’m supposed to be saving Ben from the horrible fate of getting dragged to church when it’s really Sarah’s Sunday,” he said. “If you’ll just drive me around the corner, I’ll explain.”
But she prevented him with a little laugh when he would have begun. “This is good enough for me. I don’t want any explanation.”
“It’s pretty good,” he agreed. “Stop a minute now we’re safely around the corner and let me have a look at you.”
She obeyed him, literally, pulling up to the curb again, accorded him the look he wanted and took, meanwhile, one of her own at him. Neither of them, however, seemed to find just the phrase in which to announce the result of this scrutiny. She started on again presently and he relaxed against the cushion. “This is more like being home again than anything that’s happened yet,” he said. “Are we to have a real visit?”
She was free till lunch she told him, and he, after saying “Well, that’s something,” admitted his own engagement. “However, that’s the best part of two hours. The thing is not to waste any of it.”
Naturally enough they wasted a good deal of it. They talked about the little car they were riding in, how she had learned to drive, why she had bought it; how Mr. Ferris, her boss, had said he wouldn’t be any good for the day after coming down-town in a tight jammed elevated train and how, having tried the new method of transportation she had agreed with him; how it was as easy to run as a typewriter.
A few minutes more of that, she thought, and she’d begin telling Ford jokes, so she wrenched around to a new subject and asked him how much he’d seen of France; what he thought of the French; how long he’d been home; and what it seemed like to be in civilian clothes again;–topics upon which he enlarged as well as he could. She had driven meanwhile, north to Diversey Boulevard and had then turned west, around the ring. They were out in the middle of Garfield Park when she said after a hard, tight silence, “Isn’t this perfectly ghastly?”
“It’s awful,” he agreed. “I don’t know what’s the matter with us–or whose fault it is. But I certainly didn’t mean to get started like this.”
“I expect that’s it,” she told him. “Haven’t you been trying to treat me just exactly right? Make me feel perfectly comfortable? Haven’t you been–being tactful, with all your might, ever since we started? Because I have.”
“Well, then, for heaven’s sake,” he said, “let’s quit! Quit trying so infernally hard, I mean. It’s too nice a morning to spoil. You know, if the sun manages to come out, as it’s trying to, it will be a very handsome April day.”
“I don’t think talking about the weather is much of an improvement,” she commented. “Tony, let’s give it up, for to-day I mean. We’ll try again sometime from a fresh start. This is perfectly hopeless.”
He tried to pretend that she didn’t mean it but she made it clear even with a touch of asperity that she did. “Oh, all right,” he growled and reached for the handle to the door.
“Don’t be silly,” she commanded. “I’m not going to leave you out here in the wilds of Garfield Park. Where do you want to go? Is it too early for your lunch?”
“Mrs. Wollaston told me to come at one,” he said. “You aren’t supposed to be ahead of time for a thing like that, are you? Anyhow, I’ve got to go back to my room first.”
She caught up the name. “Sarah told me about your going there. First to tune the piano and then the evening when she sang your songs. Sarah’s quite eloquent about it.”
“Yes, poor Sarah, I know. Ben was quoting her this morning. However, that won’t make the least difference with what I’m going to do.”
“What are you going to do?” she asked.
“Why, I suppose,” he said, “that I’m going to do what people speak of as settling down. What they mean by that is taking an interest in consequences–more of an interest in what things lead to than in what they are. Well, that’s what I’m at now.”
“That’s a change, all right, for you,” she said.
He agreed with her. “I knew when it happened,” he added. “It happened when I heard Paula Carresford sing one of my songs. Do you remember the story that used to be in the school reader about the tiger that tasted blood and ate up the princess? You know, Jennie, it’s practically true that up to that night I’d never heard any of my music at all–except mutilated fragments of it as I played it myself. And I’ll tell you it was a staggering experience. The queerest experience I ever had in my life, too. I’ll tell you about that sometime. But I changed right there, just the way the tiger did. I don’t happen to want a fur overcoat nor an automobile nor an apartment on the Drive. I honestly don’t want them. They aren’t a part of my dreams–never were. But I do want to hear my own music. I want to hear it done for all it’s worth. I want to hear orchestras play it and singers as good as Paula Carresford sing it. And in order to do that I’ve got to look ahead a little. I’ve got to stop doing always exactly as I damned please. I’ve got to do things because somebody besides myself wants them done.”
“Have you got something like that to do to-day–with an eye to the consequences?” she asked.
He looked sharply around at her. She was very intent on her driving just then. “That’s a remarkably good guess in a way,” he said. “I dread going to that house to lunch. A month ago I’d have refused–or pretended I hadn’t got the invitation until too late. And I’d have pretended to myself that it was because I didn’t care to play the social game; didn’t want to take on obligations of a kind I couldn’t meet. But now I’ve told Mrs. Wollaston I’d come, I know the real reason why I don’t want to.
“I said just now I didn’t want a fur overcoat nor an automobile, and that’s eighty percent true. And yet, there’s a crawly little snob inside me that’s in a panic right now because I haven’t got proper clothes to wear and because I’m going to have to sit down in front of a lot of funny shaped forks that I don’t know the special uses of.
“Oh, there’s more to it than that of course. It’s rather a cross-grained situation. Wollaston doesn’t like me. He thinks I’m responsible for his wife’s having kicked over the traces and signed up to sing at Ravinia this summer. In a way, I suppose I am. She’s planning to use that opera of mine, you remember,–_The Outcry_ we called it–for a novelty, provided they like the way I’ve padded up her part. The big role in it is really for the baritone, of course. That’s what I’ve been slaving over for the last two weeks. If she makes a hit with it, she’ll take it to the Metropolitan next winter. Of course, there’s no reason in God’s world why she shouldn’t do that if she can get away with it. She hasn’t any children to look after; she told me she didn’t even keep house for her husband. All the same he regards me as a sort of potential homewrecker.”
“You can’t quite blame him for that, can you?” Jennie suggested. “If you began reading a story about a beautiful young opera singer who left her husband to go back on the stage again and sing an opera by a musical genius she’d discovered, wouldn’t you expect them to fall in love with each other?”
“That shows what nonsense stories are,” he said. “That couldn’t happen to us in a thousand years. She’s beautiful, and kindly, and affectionate. She’s got temperament enough to blow the cork out of any bottle you tried to hold it down in. But I couldn’t fall in love with her if I tried. It doesn’t happen on that basis. Besides which, it’s my belief that she’s altogether in love with her husband. All the same, she’s taken me up. She means to push me for all she’s worth and let her husband like it or lump it as he pleases. She’s got some plans, I don’t know just what, for showing me off to one or two of the ‘right’ people to-day. You can imagine what it will be like, can’t you?”
“I should think it would be rather good fun–that sort of game,” she commented.
“That’s where the forks come in,” he said. “And not having a proper coat. That sort of social skill is the suit of armor those people wear. I’ve got to go back to my room and sew up the rip Ben told me about and trim my cuffs and try to tie my necktie so that the worn-out spots won’t show-and make them do.”
It was but a few minutes later–they had been silent ones–that she stopped her car in front of the little grocery store where the rickety outside stair led up to his door.
“I’ll come in with you and sew up the rip in your coat,” she said.
She wouldn’t have made that offer, indeed would hardly have driven him up to his own door, if she had not been a young woman with steady nerves and a level head, and an abundant confidence in both. Because that dingy little wooden building with its outside stair to his attic, was the nucleus of memories that had by no means lost their poignancy. It was not, after all, so many years ago that she had mounted that stair for the first time, and it couldn’t be considered strange that her heart quickened a little as she climbed it now.
The room startled her by being so utterly unchanged. Not only the major articles in it; the stove, the iron bed, the deal table he wrote at, the carpenter’s bench, the half invented musical typewriter that he had once attempted to convert an old square piano into, the hollow-backed easy chair,–but the quite minor and casual trifles as well. On top of the set of home-made shelves that served for his music and his books was a sort of still-life composed of a meerschaum pipe with a broken stem and an empty goblet of pressed glass, standing upon a yellow paper-covered copy of Anatole France’s _Thais_, that had been just like that the last time she was here. She had stuck a bunch of sweet peas she was wearing into that goblet. It made an uncannily short bridge to the past, a trivial reminder like that.
Evidently he felt it, too. Perhaps he had followed her glance toward that dusty shelf corner. Because, a moment after he had shut the door behind them, opened a window and taken a look at the fire, he came hesitantly and a little awkwardly up to her and took her by the shoulders as if to draw her into an embrace. He was very gentle about it.
Also he was ludicrously tentative. If she’d wanted to let herself go she could have laughed rather hysterically about that. She disengaged herself from his hands, decisively, indeed, yet without any air of pique.
“Oh, no, my dear,” she said. “Take off your coat and let me get to work. Where’s your sewing kit?”
He produced it instantly (the room was not in real disorder; it only looked like that to one who did not understand its system), gave her his coat, wandered restlessly about for a few minutes and presently came to rest at the deal table where he had spent the greater part of the last fortnight, turning over, discontentedly, the sheets of score paper he had left there.
Over her sewing she let her mind run free, forgetting this present Sunday with its problems, mixing a pleasant amalgam of the past. She wasn’t heartbroken, you know, hardly regretful. She had life about as she wanted it. She never had been in love with March in the accepted meaning of the phrase–she had never even thought she was–and it is altogether probable that if she had found him eager to resume the old relation, she would have felt a certain reluctance about taking it up again. Life changed with the years and some of its old urgencies quieted down–for the time anyhow. Still the night when she had worn those sweet peas remained a fragrant memory. She was recalled to the present by the violent gesture he made over the score on his work table.
“This damned thing is rotten,” he said with angry conviction. “I knew it,–I knew it while I wrote it. It may be what they want, but it’s rotten. Straight into the stove is where it ought to go.”
“Is that what you’re writing for Mrs. Wollaston?” she asked.
He nodded. “I was trying to make up my mind whether to take this with me to-day or not. If she’s the musician I think she is, she’ll tell me to carry it out to the ash can.”
“Well, that will be better than putting it in the stove yourself,” she observed, going back with an air of placidity to her sewing, “because then you’ll know it’s bad and if you burn it up now, you won’t. You haven’t even heard it.”
“I heard it before I wrote it,” he argued. “I hear it again when I read it. That’s a silly argument. Of course I know it.”
“You said a little while ago that you’d never heard any of your music until Mrs. Wollaston sang those songs. They sounded better than you thought they would.”
“That’s different,” he protested. “I knew they were good, damned good. Only I didn’t quite realize how good they were. I suppose I won’t realize until I hear her sing this how rotten it is. But I don’t need to. I know well enough right now.”
He went on turning the pages back and forth with gloomy violence, reading a passage here and another there and failing to get the faintest ray of comfort out of any of it, even out of the old soiled quires which belonged obviously to the original score.
“Is it all bad?” she asked. “Or just the new part.”
“The whole thing,” he grunted.
“That’s that Belgian thing, isn’t it?”
“That’s the one.”
“Well,” she pointed out to him, “you thought that was good once. If it all looks alike to you this morning, perhaps what you’ve just been writing is as good as that, and it’s just your mood to-day that makes it look rotten.”
He closed the score and slapped his hand down upon it with a gesture of dismissal. Then he rose and leaned back against the edge of the table. “That’s good logic, my dear,” he conceded, “but it doesn’t cover the ground. The old stuff was good in a way. I really meant it and felt it and I managed to get it down on paper. And the new stuff is like it, in that it’s a damned clever imitation of it. I had to do it that way because I couldn’t get back into the old mood. I’m sick of atrocities and horrors–everything that’s got the name of war in it, even though I was never under fire myself. Well, writing the imitation has made me hate the thing I was trying to imitate. I stuck at it for the reason I told you this morning. But, good God, when it results in stuff like this…! Jennie, what shall I do about it? Shall I take this thing now and chuck it into the stove and then tell La Chaise and Mrs. Wollaston to go to the devil? Or shall I tuck it under my arm like a good little boy and see if I can get away with it?”
She looked at him thoughtfully. “What is the new thing you want to write?” she asked.
He smiled. “You’re a wonder, Jennie,” he said. “There is a new thing. I’m simply swamped in it. It won’t let me alone. It’s been driving me pretty nearly crazy. That’s why it’s been such perfect hell sticking to this other thing. Jennie, it’s another opera. A big one, full size. A romantic fairy opera. I haven’t got it in order yet. It isn’t fit to talk about. But it’s about a princess, a little blue-eyed, pale-haired princess, who is under a spell. She’s dumb. She’s dumb except in the presence of her true lover. Do you see? They are trying to cure her and they can’t. But mysteriously in the night they hear her singing. Her lover is with her, and they try to solve the mystery. Maybe they kill him, I don’t know. Or maybe they make him faithless to her. I don’t know whether there is a fairy story like that or whether I just made it up. And I haven’t worked it out at all. I haven’t any words for it, no book, nor anything. But I tell you it comes in waves, whole scenes from it. I’d like a hundred hands to write it down with. I’d like to take one header into it and never come up. And meanwhile I’m slugging away at that other damned thing because Mrs. Wollaston and LaChaise want it,–because it’s the main chance.”
She asked why he didn’t tell them about the new idea and get them to adopt it instead, but he greeted this suggestion with an impatient laugh.
“It would be absolutely impossible for Ravinia in the first place,” he said. “The thing would need as big a production as, oh, _Pelleas and Melisande_. And then this woman could never sing it. She isn’t the type. This is different altogether from anything she could do. Oh, no, it’s quite hopeless until after I’ve succeeded with something else. But, oh, my God, Jennie, if you could hear it!”
She had finished her repairs on his coat and rising now held it up to him. While he was groping for the sleeves, she asked quietly, “Who is the princess, Tony? The dumb little princess with the blue eyes.”
For a second he stood just as he was, like one suddenly frozen, then he settled into his coat, walked over to his work chair and dropped into it, leaning forward and propping up his head with his hands. “Yes,” he said. “In a way, perhaps, there is some one. That’s what I was going to tell you about. She came in as quiet as a little ghost, just as Mrs. Wollaston was beginning to sing and she sat down beside me without a word. And somehow while we listened, we–we were the same person. I can’t make you understand that. It never happened to me before, nothing in the least like it, nothing so–intimate. I felt that song go vibrating right through her. She didn’t speak at all, even after it was over, except to