“You shan’t talk like that!” she said. “You shan’t think like that! I won’t endure it. It’s morbid. It’s horrible.”
“Oh, no, it’s not,” he said easily. “The morbidity is in being afraid to look at it. It was morbid to struggle frantically, the way I did all the spring, trying to resist the irresistible thing that was drawing you along your true path. It was a cancerous egotism of mine that was trying to eat you up, live you up into myself. That, thank God, has been cut out of me! I think it has. Don’t misunderstand me, though. I’m not going to relinquish anything of you that I can keep;–that I ever had a chance to keep.”
He took her hands and gently–coolly–kissed them.
“Then don’t relinquish anything,” she said. “It’s all yours. Can’t you believe that, John?”
He released her hands and sank back slackly in his chair. “Victory!” he said, a note of inextinguishable irony in his voice. “A victory I’d have given five years of my life for last March. Yet I could go on winning them–a whole succession of them–and they could lead me to nothing but disaster.”
She left him abruptly and the next moment he heard her fling herself down upon his bed. When he rose and disengaged himself from his rug, she said, over an irrepressible sob or two, that he wasn’t to mind nor come to her. She wasn’t going to cry-not more than a minute.
He came, nevertheless, settled himself on the edge of the bed and took possession of her hands again.
“I wouldn’t have told you all this,” he said–“for you don’t need any lessons in arithmetic, child–if I dared trust myself to remember, after the other thing had come back. Now I’m committed–don’t you see?–not to play the fool, tragically or ludicrously, as the case might be, trying to dispute the inevitable. And I shall contrive to keep a lot, my dear. More than you think.”
Later, the evening of that same day, he asked her what was in the letter that had provoked their talk. Did they want her back in Chicago for rehearsals or consultations? Because if they did there was no reason in the world why she should not go. At the rate at which he was gaining strength there would not be the slightest reason–he gave her his professional word of honor–why she should not go back in a day or two.
“I should have to go back,” she said, “if I were going to sing March’s opera. There is such a lot of work about a new production that there would be no time to spare.”
“But,” he asked, “isn’t March’s opera precisely what you are going to sing?”
“No,” she said rebelliously. “It’s not. There wasn’t anything in the contract about that. I’ll carry out the contract this summer. I’ll keep my word and yours, since that is what you want me to do. But I won’t sing ‘Dolores’ for anybody.”
He did not press her for the reason.
After a little silence, she said, “Lucile thought I’d fallen in love with him. So did Rush, I guess,–and poor old Nat. Did you, John?”
“I tried to, hard enough,” he confessed.
She stared. “Tried to!”
“That would have been the easier thing to fight,” he said. “There’s nothing inevitable about a man,–any man. I’d have stood a chance at least, of beating him, even though he had a twenty-year handicap or so. But the other thing,–well, that was like the first bar of the Fifth Symphony, you know; Fate knocking at the door. Clear terror that is until one can get the courage to open the door and invite Fate in.”
THE END OF IT
About a week later–just at the beginning of June, this was–Paula did go back to Chicago, leaving her husband to go on gaining the benefit, for another ten days or so, of that wine-like mountain air. It was an unwelcome conviction that he really wanted her to go, rather than any crying need for her at Ravinia that decided her to leave him. The need would not be urgent for at least another fortnight since it had been decided between her and LaChaise that she should make her debut in _Tosca_, an opera she had sung uncounted times.
Since their momentous conversation in which John had attempted to revise the fundamentals of their life together, they had not reverted to the main theme of it; had clarified, merely, one or two of its more immediate conclusions. Paula was to carry out in spirit as well as in letter the terms of her Ravinia contract exactly as if it were still to be regarded as the first step of her reopened career. What she should do about the second step in case it offered itself to her was a bridge not to be crossed until they came to it.
John had professed himself content to let it remain at that, but she divined that there was something hollow in his profession. It was possible, of course, that his restlessness represented nothing more than a new stage in his convalescence. It didn’t seem possible that after the candors of that talk he could still be keeping something back from her. Yet that was an impression she very clearly got. Anyhow, her presence was doing him no good, and on that unwelcome assurance, she bade him a forlorn farewell and went home.
It was a true intuition. John heaved a sigh of relief when she was gone. In his present enfeebled state she was too much for him. The electrical vitality of her overpowered him. Even before his illness he had had moments–I think I have recorded one of them–when her ardent strength paralyzed him with a sort of terror and these moments were more frequent now.
There was, too, a real effort involved in presenting ideas to her (intellectual ideas, if they may be so distinguished from emotional ones). He didn’t know, now, whether she had fully understood what he had been driving at that day; whether anything had really got through to her beyond a melancholy realization that his love had cooled. He had always been aware of this effort, but in the days of his strength he hadn’t minded making it.
Now he was conscious of wishing for some one like Mary,–indeed, for Mary herself. They talked the same language, absolutely. Their minds had the same index of refraction, so that thoughts flashed back and forth between them effortlessly and without distortion. He thought of her so often and wished for her so much during the first two days of his solitude that it seemed almost a case for the psychical research people when he got a telegram from her.
It read: “Aunt Lucile worried you left alone especially traveling. Shall you mind or will Paula if I come down and bring you back, Mary.”
There was a situation made clear, at all events. He grinned over it as he despatched his wire to her. “Perfectly unnecessary but come straight along so that we can play together for a week or two before starting home.”
Play together is just what they did. Enough of his strength soon came back to make real walks possible and during the second week, with a two-horse team and a side-bar buggy, they managed, without any ill effect upon him, an excursion across the valley and up the opposite mountainside to a log cabin road-house where they had lunch.
Mary, a born horsewoman, did the driving herself, thus relieving them of the impediment to real companionship which a hired driver would have been. In an inconsecutive, light-hearted way difficult to report intelligibly, they managed to tell each other a lot. She let him see, with none of the rhetorical solemnities which a direct statement would have involved, her new awareness of his professional eminence. A dozen innuendoes, as light as dandelion feathers, conveyed it to him; swift brush-strokes of gesture and inflection sketched the picture in; an affectionate burlesque of awe completed it, so that he could laugh at her for it as she had meant he should.
She told him during their drive what the source of her illumination was; described Anthony March’s visit on that most desperate day of all, the vividness of his concern over the outcome of the fight and his utter unconcern about the effect of it upon his own fortunes. She had been reading Kipling aloud, out at the farm, to the boys and Aunt Lucile and a memory of it led her to make a comparison–heedless of its absurdity–between the composer and Kirn’s lama. “He isn’t, anyhow, tied to the ‘wheel of things’ any more than that old man was.”
“I’d like to have come down that day and heard him talk,” John said. “Because it’s the real thing, with him. Not words. He wouldn’t be a bad person to go to,” he added musingly, “if one had got himself into a real _impasse_–or what looked like one. Paula has chucked his opera, you know.”
She nodded, evidently not in the least surprised and, no more, perturbed by this intelligence. “He won’t mind that,” she explained. “The only thing he really needs, in the world, is to hear his music, but this, you see, wasn’t his any more. He had been trying to make it Paula’s. He had been working over it rather hopelessly, because he had promised, but it was like letting him out of school when he found that she had forgotten all about him;–didn’t care if she never saw him again.”
She caught, without an explanatory word, the meaning of the glance her father turned upon her, and went straight on. “Oh, it seems a lot, I know, to have found out about him in one short talk, but there’s nothing–personal in that. He doesn’t, I mean–save himself up for special people. He’s there for anybody. Like a public drinking fountain, you know. That’s why he would be such a wonderful person–to go to, as you said. No one could possibly monopolize him.”
She added, after a silence, “It seems a shame, when he wants so little that he can’t have that. Can’t hear, for example, that opera of his the way he really wrote it.”
“We owe him something,” her father said thoughtfully. “He got rather rough justice from Paula, anyhow. I suppose a thing like that could, perhaps, be managed–if one put his back into it.”
She understood instantly, as before, and quite without exegesis, the twinge of pain that went across his face. “You _will_ have a back to put into things again, one of these days. It wants only courage to wait for it, quite patiently until it comes. You’ve plenty of that. That’s one of he things Mr. March told me about you,” she added with the playful purpose of surprising him again. “Only I happened to know that for myself.”
“It’s more than I can be sure of,” he said. “I’ve been full of bravado with Paula, telling her how soon I was going to be back in harness again; cock-sure and domineering as ever, so that she’d better make hay while the sun shone. But it was I, nevertheless, who made her go home so that she could start to work–when the whistle blew. Some one was going to have to support the family, I told her, and it didn’t look as if it were going to be me.”
This speech, though it ended in jest, had begun, she knew, in earnest. He meant her to understand that, and left her to judge for herself where the dividing line fell. She answered in a tone as light as his, “Paula could do it easily enough.” But she was not satisfied with the way he took it. The mere quality of the silence must have told her something. She turned upon him with sudden intensity and said, “Don’t tell me you’re worrying–about three great healthy people like us. You have been, though. Whatever put it into your mind to spend half a thought on that?”
“Why, it was a letter from Martin Whitney,” he said. “Oh, the best meant thing in the world. Nothing but encouragement in it from beginning to end, only it was so infernally encouraging, it set me off. No, let me talk. You’re quite the easiest person in the world to tell things to. I’ve been remiss, there’s no getting away from that. I’ve never taken money-making very seriously, it came so easily. I’ve spent my earnings the way my friends have spent their incomes. Well, if I’d died the other day, there wouldn’t have been much left. There would have been my life insurance for Paula, and enough to pay my debts, including my engagements for Rush, but beyond that, oh, a pittance merely. Of course with ten years’ health, back at my practise, even with five, I could improve the situation a lot.”
She urged as emphatically as she dared–she wanted to avoid the mistake of sounding encouraging–that the situation needed no improvement. The income of fifty thousand dollars would take care of Paula, and beyond that,–well, if there were ever two healthy young animals in the world concerning whom cares and worries were superfluous, they were herself and Rush.
He told her thoughtfully that this was where she was; wrong. “Rush, to begin with, isn’t a healthy young animal. That’s what I couldn’t make Martin Whitney understand. He’s one of the war’s sacrifices precisely as much as if he had had his leg shot off. He needs support; will go on needing it for two or three years, financial as well as moral. He mustn’t be allowed to fail. That’s the essence of it. He’s–spent, you see; depleted. One speaks of it in figurative terms, but it’s a physiological thing–if we could get at it–that’s behind the lassitude of these boys. It all comes back to that. That they’re restless, irresolute. That they need the stimulus of excitement and can’t endure the drag of routine. They need a generous allowance, my dear,–even for an occasional failure in self-command, those two boys out at Hickory Hill.”
She had nothing to say to that, though his pause gave her opportunity. A sudden surmise as to the drift of that last sentence, silenced her. And it was a surmise that leaped, in the next instant, to full conviction. He was pleading Graham’s cause with her! Why? Was it something that had been as near his heart as that, all along? Or had some one–Rush–or even Graham himself–engaged his advocacy?
She said at last, rather breathlessly (it was necessary to say something or he would perceive that his stratagem had betrayed itself): “Well, at the gloomy worst, Rush is taken care of. And as for me, I’m not a war sacrifice, anyhow. That’s not a possible conception–even for a worried convalescent. Did you ever _see_ anything as gorgeous as that tree, even in an Urban stage setting?”
“No,” he said, “the war wasn’t what you were sacrificed to.”
She held her breath until she saw he wasn’t going on with that. But he seemed willing to follow her lead to lighter matters, and for the rest of their excursion they carried out the pretense that there was nothing like a cloud in their sky.
That evening, though, after she had bidden him good night, she changed her mind and came back into his room. There had been something wistful about his kiss that, determined her.
“Which of them wrote to you about me?” she asked.
“Both,” he told her. “Of course I should have known you’d guess. Forgive me for having tried to–manage you. I’ll show you both their letters if you like. It’s a breach of confidence, of course, but I don’t know that I could do better.”
“I’ll read Rush’s,” she said. “Not the other.”
She carried it over to the lamp, and for a while after she had taken in its easily grasped intent she went on turning its pages back and forth while she sought for an end of the tangled skein of her thoughts to hold on by.
Finally, “Do you want me to marry him, dad?” she asked. Then, before he could answer she hurried on. “I mean, would it relieve you from some nightmare worry about me if I did?–This has to be plain talk, doesn’t it, if it is to get us anywhere?”
“That’s a fair question of yours,” he said. But he wasn’t ready at once with an answer. “It _would_ be such a relief, provided you really wanted to marry him. That goes to the bottom of it, I think. My responsibility is to make it possible for you to–follow your heart. To marry or not as you wish. To marry a poor man if you wish. But if Graham is your choice and all that holds you back from him is some remediable misunderstanding–or failure to understand …”
“I don’t know whether it’s remediable or not,” she said; and added, “I told him I would marry him if I could. Did he tell you that?”
It was a mistake to have quoted that expression to her father. He took it just as Graham had. Of course! What else could he think? She sat with clenched hands and a dry throat, listening while he tried to enlighten what he took to be her innocent misunderstanding.
They had never spoken, she realized, about matters of sex. For anything he really knew to the contrary she might have been as ignorant as a child. He was actually talking as one talks to a child;–kindly, tolerantly, tenderly, but with an unconscious touch of patronage, like one trying to explain away–misgivings about Santa Claus! There were elements, inevitably, in a man’s love for a woman, that a young girl could not understand. Nothing but experience could bring that understanding home to her. This was what in one way after another, he was trying to convey.
But the intuition which, in good times or bad, always betrayed their emotions to each other, showed him that he was, somehow missing the mark. Her silence through his tentative little pauses disconcerted him heavily. He ran down at last like an unwound clock.
It was only after a long intolerably oppressive silence that she found her voice. “The misunderstanding isn’t what you think,” she said. “Nor what Graham thinks. It’s his misunderstanding, not mine. He thinks that I am–a sort of innocent angel that he’s not good enough for. And the fact is that I’m not–not innocent enough for him. Not an angel at all. Not even quite–good.”
But she got no further. The plea for comprehension, for an ear that would not turn away from her plain story, never was made. In a smother of words he halted her. Affectionately, with a gentleness that achieved absolute finality. She was overwrought. She carried paradox too far. In her innocence she used a form of speech that she didn’t know the meaning of, and should be careful to avoid. Her troubles, with patience, would work themselves out in the end. Meanwhile let her as far as possible stop thinking about them.
But she had got, during the intaken breath before he began to speak, a sensation,–as sharp and momentary as the landscape revealed in a lightning flash,–of a sudden terror on his part; as of one finding himself on the edge of an abyss of understanding. For that one glaring instant before he had had time to turn his face away he had known what she meant. But he never would look again. Never would know.
Ravinia is one of Chicago’s idiosyncrasies, a ten-weeks’ summer season of grand opera with a full symphony orchestra given practically out-of-doors. Its open pavilion seats from fifteen hundred to two thousand people and on a warm Saturday night, you will find twice as many more on the, “bleachers” that surround it or strolling about under the trees in the park. The railroad runs special trains to it all through the season from town, and crammed and groaning interurbans collect their toll for miles from up and down the shore.
It had begun as an amusement park with merry-go-rounds, Ferris-wheels and such–to the scandalized indignation of numerous super-urban persons whose summer places occupied most of the district roundabout. They took the enterprise into their own hands, abolished the calliope, put a symphony orchestra into the bandstand and, eventually, transformed the shell into a stage and went in for opera; opera popularized with a blue pencil so that no performance was ever more than two hours long, and at the modest price of fifty cents.
Its forces, recruited chiefly from among the younger stars at the Metropolitan, give performances that want no apologetic allowance from anybody. It has become an institution of which the town and especially the North Shore is boastful.
Paula foresaw no easy conquest here. Her social prestige, part of which she enjoyed as John Wollaston’s wife and part of which she had earned during the last four years for herself, counted as much against her as it did in her favor. It was evident from the way the announcements of her prospective appearance at Ravinia had been elaborated in the society columns of the newspapers that it would arouse a lot of curiosity. It would be one of the topics that everybody, in the social-register sense of the word, would be talking about and in order to talk authoritatively everybody–four or five hundred people this is to say–would have to attend at least one of her performances.
Nothing less than a downright unmistakable triumph would convince them. She was a professional in the grain and yet in this adventure she would be under the curse of an amateur’s status, a thing she hated as all professionals do.
It was evidently from an instinct to cut herself off as completely as possible from these social connections of hers that she rented for the summer, a furnished house in the village of Ravinia, within a mile or so of the park. John was rather disconcerted over this when she told him about it. She greeted him with it as an accomplished fact upon his return to Chicago with Mary. She made a genuine effort to explain the necessity, but explanations were not in Paula’s line and she didn’t altogether succeed.
She made it clear enough, though, that she didn’t want to be fussed by the attentions of friends or family, of her husband least of all. She didn’t want to be congratulated nor encouraged. She didn’t want to be asked to little suppers or luncheons nor to be made the objective of personally conducted tourist parties back stage. She didn’t want to be called to the telephone, ever, except on matters of professional business by her Ravinia colleagues.
All of this, John pointed out, could be accomplished at home. He, himself, could deal with the telephoners and the tourists. This was about all apparently that he was going to be good for this summer; but a watchdog’s duties he could perform in a highly efficient manner.
“But a home and a husband are the very first things I’ve got to forget about,” cried Paula. “Oh, can’t you see!”
Darkly and imperfectly, he did. The atmosphere of the home in which one has been guarded and pampered as a priceless possession was–must be–enervating, and to one who was screwing up her powers to their highest pitch for a great effort like this, it would be poisonous–malarial! He would have been clearer about it, though, but for the misgiving that, consciously or not, Paula was punishing him for having insisted that she carry her contract through. Or–if that were too harsh a way of putting it,–that she was coquetting with him. Having told her down there in the South that he didn’t care for her in a loverlike way, he might now have an opportunity of proving that he did–over obstacles!
It gave him a twinge, for a fact, but he managed to ask good-humoredly if this meant that he was to be barred from the whole show, from performances as well as from rehearsals and the Ravinia house.
“I won’t care,” she said with a laugh of desperation, “after I’ve once got my teeth in. But until then… Oh, I know it sounds horrible but I don’t want even to–feel you; not even in the fringe of it.
“I’ll tell you who I would like, though,” she went on over a palpable hesitation and with a flush of color rising to her cheeks. “I can’t live all alone up there of course. I could get along with just a maid, but it would be easier and nicer if I could have some one for a–companion. And the person I’d choose, if she’d do it, is Mary.”
He said, not quite knowing whether to be pleased or not, that they could ask her about it at all events. They were rather counting on her out at Hickory Hill but he didn’t know that that need matter. Only wasn’t Mary–family, herself, a reminder of home?
“Not a bit,” said Paula, with a laugh. “Not but what she likes me well enough,” she went on, trying to account for her preference (these Wollastons were always concerned about the whys of things) “but she stands off a little and looks on; without holding her breath, either. And then, well, she’d be a sort of reminder of you, after all.”
Put that way, he couldn’t quarrel with it, though there was a challenge about it that chilled him a little. Watched over by his own daughter (this was what it came to) Paula would be beyond suspicion–even of Lucile.
Mary, when the scheme was put up to her was no less surprised than John had been, but she was pleased clear through, and with a clean-cutting executive skill he had hardly credited her with, she thought out the details of the plan and revised the rest of their summer arrangements to fit.
The Dearborn Avenue house should be closed and her father should move out to the farm. The apple house was now remodeled to a point where it would accommodate him as well as Aunt Lucile very comfortably. The boys and the servants could live around in tents and things. She’d want only one maid for the cottage at Ravina and the small car which she’d drive herself.
The sum of all the activities that Mary proposed for herself added up to a really exacting job; housekeeper, personal maid, chauffeur, chaperon and secretary. It was with a rather mixed lot of emotions that John thought of delivering her over to be tied to Paula’s chariot wheels like that. One of the two women who loved him serving the other in a capacity so nearly menial! The thought of it gave him an odd sort of thrill even while he shrank from it. Certainly, he would not have assented to it, had it not been so unmistakably what Mary herself wanted. Her reasons for wanting it he couldn’t feel that he had quite fathomed.
There was, as a matter of fact, nothing fine-spun about them. It was a job in the first place and gave her, therefore, she mordantly told herself, an excuse for continuing to exist. It was an escape from Hickory Hill. (Clear cowardice this was, she confessed. That situation would have to be met and settled one way or the other before long; but her dread of both the possible alternatives had mounted since her frustrated attempt to confide in her father.) The third reason which she avowed to everybody, was simple excited curiosity for a look into a new world. The mystery and the glamour of it attracted her. Paula’s proposal gave her the opportunity to see what these strange persons were like when they were not strutting their little while upon the stage.
Paula, of course, was, fundamentally, one of them. It was remarkable how that simple discovery interpreted her. When you saw her surrounded by them, working and quarreling with them, talking that horrible polyglot of French, Italian and English, which she slipped into so easily, you realized how exotic the environment of the Dearborn Avenue house must have been to her and how strong a thing her passion for John Wollaston, to enable her to endure five years of it,–of finikin social observances,–of Aunt Lucile’s standards of propriety!
Mary took real comfort in her companionship; found an immense release from emotional pressure in it. One might quarrel furiously with Paula (and it happened Mary very nearly did, as shall be related presently, before they had been in the cottage three days), but one couldn’t possibly worry one’s self about her, couldn’t torture one’s self feeling things with Paula’s nerves. That was the Wollaston trick. What frightful tangles the thing that goes by the name of unselfishness, the attempt to feel for others, could lead a small group like a family into!
Another thing that helped was that during the fortnight of rehearsal before the season opened, there wasn’t time to think. They were pelted by perfectly external events, a necessity for doing this, an appointment to do that, an engagement somewhere else. It was like being caught out in a driving rain. You scuttled along-snatched a momentary shelter where you could.
Even getting the clothes Paula needed would have filled the time of a woman of leisure to the brim. A bridal trousseau would have been nothing to it. But with Paula these activities had to be sandwiched in with daily rehearsals,–long ones, too,–hours with Novelli while she memorized half-forgotten parts, interviews with reporters, struggles with photographers, everything that the diabolic ingenuity of the publicity man could contrive. He, by the way, regarded Paula as his best bet and lavished his efforts upon her in a way that stirred her colleagues (rivals, of course), to a frenzied exasperation, over his sinister partiality to this “society amateur.”
(They all but enjoyed a terrible revenge, for as poetic justice narrowly missed having it, the extent of her advance publicity and the beauty of her clothes proved to be the rocks she went aground on. Only a lucky wave came along and floated her off again.)
Mary’s quarrel with Paula, though it never came off,–never for that matter got through to Paula’s consciousness, even as an approach to one,–had, all the same, a chain of consequences and so deserves to be recorded. The opera management was supposed to supply Paula with a piano and they found one already installed in the Ravinia house when they moved in, a small grand of a widely advertised make. Paula dug half a dozen vicious arpeggios out of it and condemned it out of hand. Then in the midst of a petulant outburst which had, nevertheless, a humorous savor (the management would promise and pretend till kingdom come. They’d even take real trouble to get out of complying with her simple request for a new piano), she pulled herself up short and stared at Mary.
“What idiots we are! I am, anyhow. I’d forgotten all about March. He can make a piano out of anything. When he’s tuned this, I won’t want another. I’ve got his telephone number somewhere. You don’t happen to remember it, do you?–Why? What makes you look like that?”
For Mary was staring at her–speechless. Paula’s affairs had driven her own pretty well out of her mind. She had stopped thinking about Graham. She’d given over worrying about Rush. But she had not forgotten Anthony March. The alternative possibility that Paula might have gone on with his opera, that he might have been, but for what her father spoke of as rough justice, attending rehearsals of it, hearing that big orchestra making a reality of its unheard melodies, had been much in her mind. She had wondered whether it was not really in Paula’s. Along with a regret for his downcast hopes. He was, in a way, the ladder she had climbed by. Hearing her sing those wonderful songs of his was what had led LaChaise to offer her this opportunity. And Paula didn’t know, Mary was sure, of anything that mitigated his disappointment. To her, he was merely one who had tried and, pitiably, failed. She must, it seemed, have felt sorry about it and Mary had considerately avoided all reference to him.
Now it appeared that Paula had blankly forgotten all about him. Remembered him only when she wanted him to tune the piano. She callously proposed to exact this service of him, and if possible, over the telephone!
“I suppose,” Mary said, when she had found her voice, “that I look the way I feel. Paula, you _wouldn’t_ do that!”
“Why not?” Paula demanded. And then with a laugh, “I wouldn’t forget to pay him this time. And it would be nice to see him again, too. Because I really liked him a lot.”
“Well, if you do like him, you wouldn’t, would you, want to do anything–cruel to him? Anything that he might take as–a willful insult? Because it could be taken like that, I should think.”
She spoke with a good deal of effort. Paula’s surprise, the incredulous way she had echoed the word cruel, the fact that there was still an unshaken good humor in the look of curiosity that she directed upon her stepdaughter, all but overwhelmed Mary with a sudden wave of helpless anger.
What could one do with a selfishness as insolent as that? What was there to say?
Paula got up, still looking at her in that puzzled sort of way, came over to her chair, sat down on the arm of it and took her by the shoulders.
“You’re trembling!” she said. “I suspect I am working you too hard. You mustn’t let me do that, you know. John will never forgive me if I do. Why, about March, did you mean because I wouldn’t sing his opera? He knew all the time I wouldn’t unless he could get it right. And he knew he wasn’t getting it right. He wanted to give it up long before he did, only I wouldn’t let him. But as for being insulted, bless you, he isn’t like that. And perhaps if he came I could get him all the pianos out here to keep in tune. There must be dozens!”
At that Mary laughed in a recoil of genuine amusement. She could imagine that Anthony March would laugh himself. In one particular Paula was unquestionably right. He wouldn’t feel insulted. He was just the last person in the world to be accessible to such a petty emotion.
She returned Paula’s hug and extricated herself from the chair.
“You needn’t worry about me, at all events,” she said. “I’m not tired a bit. But could we worry a little about Mr. March? About his opera, I mean? Don’t you suppose we could get Mr. LaChaise to put it on? The way he originally wrote it.–I mean for somebody else to sing.”
“Fournier could sing it in a rather interesting way,” Paula remarked speculatively. “Only I don’t believe he’d sing in English. Certainly there’s nobody else.”
“Perhaps if he saw the score …” Mary began.
“Gracious!” Paula broke in, a little startled, not much. “I haven’t an idea where that score is. I may have sent it back to him, but I don’t believe I did.”
“No,” Mary told her. “It’s here. When I closed up the house, I brought it along. He might be interested enough in it I should think,” she persisted, “if you and Mr. LaChaise told him how good it was,–to learn it in English. Or it might, I suppose,–the whole thing I mean,–be translated into French. There might, anyhow, prove to be something we could do.”
“Good heavens, child!” Paula said, “we’re up to the eyes now, all three of us. Will be for weeks as far as that goes. We simply couldn’t think of it.” Through a yawn she added, “Not that it wouldn’t be a nice thing to do if we had time.”
Paula’s notion of getting March to come up and tune her piano was not damped at all by the wet blanket of Mary’s objection to it. From town that day, Mary having driven her in for more fittings and photographers, Paula telephoned to the Fullerton Avenue house and later told Mary in an acutely dissatisfied manner that she had got simply nowhere with the person with whom she had talked. “She pretends,–oh, it was his sister or his mother, I suppose,–that they don’t know anything whatever about him. Haven’t seen him for ever so long. Haven’t an idea how to get word to him. If only I had time to drive out there … But I haven’t a minute of course.”
Mary observed that she didn’t see what good it would do to be told in person what Paula had just learned over the telephone. She could drive out there herself if there was any point in it, during the hour when Paula was engaged with her dressmaker.
Paula jumped at this suggestion. She was one of those persons whom telephones never quite convince. So Mary, rather glad of the errand, though convinced of its futility so far as Paula’s designs were concerned, drove out to the Fullerton Avenue house and presently found herself in a small neat parlor talking to a neat old lady who was not, perhaps, as old as she looked, about Anthony March.
For anything that bore upon the obtainability of his service for the Ravinia piano the telephone conversation would have done as well. His mother had seen him for only a short time, a little more than a week ago and judged from what he then said that he was upon the point of going away, though not for a long absence–a month, perhaps. She had not asked where he meant to go and he had volunteered nothing. It was possible that he did not know himself.
Mary remained in doubt, for the first five minutes or so of her call, whether the stiff guarded precision of this was a mark of hostility to the whole Wollaston clan or whether it was nothing but undiluted New England reserve. She ventured a tentative, “I suppose he didn’t say especially why he was going,” and on getting a bare negative in reply, went on, a little breathlessly:–“I didn’t mean that impertinently;–only all of us were very much interested in him and we liked him too well, especially father and I, to be content to lose track of him. I hope he wasn’t ill;–didn’t go away because of that.”
“He told me that he was not,” Mrs. March answered. “Though if I might have had my way with him, I would have put him to bed for a week. However,” she added, with a fine smile, “I never did have my way with him and neither has his father had his. And I judge it to be as well that we have not.”
No, there was no hostility about it. She perceived the genuineness in her visitor’s concern and was perhaps really touched by it. But even so she was sparing of details. Anthony had never lived a life regulated by rule and habit. He worked at his music much too hard when the call, as she termed it, was upon him, and obviously quite forgot to take proper care of himself. And then he went away, as on this occasion, to recuperate in his own manner.
Mary adventured again just as she was getting up to take her leave. “It must want a good courage,” she said, “to let him go like that; not to keep trying, at least, to hold him back in sheltered ways.”
She got a nod of acknowledgment of the truth of this, but no words at all. But she found herself, afterward, in possession of an impression so clear that one would think it must have needed a long exchange of unreserved confidences to have produced it. The man’s mother loved him, of course; one might take that for granted. And was proud of him; of course–perhaps–again. But beyond all that, she rejoiced in him; in his emancipation from the line and precept which had so tightly confined her; in his very vagabondage.
She was not much in his confidence, though. Mary had made that out from the way she had received her own resume of the status of his opera. His mother had known nothing of his hopes, neither when Paula raised them up nor later when she cast them down. It was odd about that–and rather pitiable. She would have welcomed her son’s confidences, Mary was sure, with so real a sympathy, if he could only have believed it. But the crust of family tradition was too thick, she supposed, to make even the attempt possible.
This failure of his fully to understand the person traditionally the nearest and dearest to him in all the world had, upon Mary’s mind, the effect of, somehow, solidifying him; making him more completely human to her–where it might have been expected to work the other way. It proved the last touch she needed to quicken the concern she had from the beginning felt for him into an entirely real thing, a motivating principle. If it was possible to get that opera of his produced, she was going to do it.
She stopped at the Dearborn Avenue house on her way down-town to get her little portable typewriter and carry it out to Ravinia with her. In the odd hours of the next few days she copied March’s libretto in English, triple spaced, out of his score and this, with a lead pencil, she took to carrying around with her to Paula’s rehearsals, to her dressing-room, everywhere. A phrase at a time, syllable by syllable, she began putting it into French.
On the last Saturday night in June the Ravinia season opened with _Tosca_ sung in Italian; Paula singing the title part and Fournier as “Scarpia.” A veteran American tenor, Wilbur Hastings, an old Ravinia favorite, sang “Cavaradossi.” Taken as a whole, the performance was quite as good as any one has a right to expect any opening night to be. The big audience which went away good-naturedly satisfied, had had its moments of really stirring enthusiasm. Fournier scored a well deserved triumph with a “Scarpia” that was characterized by a touch of really sinister distinction. Hastings, incapable as he was of subtleties or refinements, did as usual all the obvious things pretty well and got the welcome he had so rightly counted upon. But Paula fell unmistakably short of winning the smashing success she had so ardently hoped for.
She did not, of course, fail. Wallace Hood, to take him for a sample of her admiring friends, went home assuring himself that her success had been all he or any of the rest of them could have wished. And he wrote that same night a letter to John Wollaston out at Hickory Hill saying as much. Her beauty, he told John, had been a revelation even to him and there could be no doubt that the audience had been deeply moved by it. Her acting also had taken him by surprise. It was a talent he had not looked for in her and he was correspondingly delighted by this manifestation of it. In the great scene with Fournier when he stated the terms of his abominable bargain to her, Wallace had hardly been able to realize it was Paula that he saw on the stage.
When it came to her singing (he knew John would want his most impartial honest judgment)–here where he had been surest of her, she came nearest to disappointing him. It was a shame, of course, to subject a lovely voice like hers to singing in the great vacancy of all outdoors, to say nothing of forcing it into competition with a shouter and bellower like Hastings. But he felt sure when she was a little better accustomed to her surroundings, she would rise superior even to these drawbacks.
This was somewhere near the facts, though stated with a strong friendly bias. Paula was nervous, never really got into the stride of her acting at all. The strong discrepancy between Fournier’s methods and Hastings’ served perhaps to prevent her getting into step with either. And she sang all but badly. There had been only one rehearsal in the pavilion and at that she had been content merely to sketch her work in, singing off the top of her voice. When she really opened up at the performance, the unfamiliar acoustics of the place frightened her into forcing, with the result that she was constantly singing sharp.
Paula herself, though disappointed, didn’t feel too badly about it, knowing that all her difficulties were merely matters of adjustment, until she read what the critics said about her in the papers the next morning. What they said was not on the face of it, severe;–came, indeed, to much the same thing as Wallace Hood’s verdict. But the picture between the lines which they unanimously presented, was of a spoiled beauty, restless for the publicity that private life deprived her of, offering in a winning manner to a gullible public, a gold brick.
Paula was furiously angry over this, justifiably, too. Her work had been professional even in its defects and deserved professional judgment. The case was serious, too, for if that notion of her once got fairly planted in the minds of her public, it would be almost impossible to eradicate it.
But Anthony March had not been mistaken when he spoke of her as a potential tamer of wild beasts. Her anger was no mere gush of emotions, to spend itself and leave her exhausted. It was a sort that hardened in an adamantine resolution. The next chance she got, she’d show them! Unluckily, she wasn’t billed to sing again until toward the end of the week. It happened, however, that the Sunday papers, taking away with one hand, gave in a roundabout but effective fashion with the other.
The opera billed for that night was _Pagliacci_. A young American baritone with a phenomenal high A, was to sing “Tonio” and a new Spanish soprano was cast for “Nedda.” When this young woman saw the Sunday papers she, too, went into a violent rage. Her knowledge of English was not sufficient to enable her to draw any comfort from the subtle cruelties which the critics had inflicted on Paula in the news section. But the music and drama supplements which had been printed days before, devoted as they were to the opening of the season, simply made Paula the whole thing. The Spanish young lady’s rage was of a different quality from Paula’s. She wept and stormed. She demanded like Herodias, the head of that press agent on a charger. Simply that and nothing more. And when she failed to get it, she went to bed.
The management, disconcerted but by no means at the end of its resources, decreed a change of the bill to _Lucia_. They were ready to go on with _Lucia_ which had been billed for Tuesday night. All they needed was to bring the scenery out from town in a truck. This they ordered done; but at five o’clock, about two miles south of the park, the truck went through a bridge culvert and rolled all the way to the bottom of a ravine. The driver escaped with his life but the production of _Lucia_ was smashed to splinters.
Mary chanced upon this piece of information and brought it straight to Paula. “Tell them to go ahead with _Pagliacci_, then,” Paula said. “I’ll sing ‘Nedda’ myself. Get LaChaise on the phone and let me talk to him.”
She did sing it without any rehearsal at all. And she gave a performance which for most of the persons who saw it, made her the, and the only, “Nedda”; though–or perhaps, because–she didn’t give the part quite its traditional characterization; adapted it with the unscrupulousness of the artist to her own purpose.
Paula’s “Nedda” was a sulky slattern, indifferent, lazy, smoldering with passion,–dangerous. The sensuous quality of her beauty had never been more apparent than it was in the soiled cheap mountebank fineries which she had worn for so many performances of the part in Europe. And this beauty, of course, did a lot of the work for her. Explained the tragedy all by itself. And, indeed, tragedy hung visibly over her from the moment of her first entrance upon the stage in the donkey cart. She was the sort of woman men kill and are killed for.
She played the part with an extreme economy of movement, with a kind of feline stillness which made her occasional explosions into action, as when she attacked Tonio with the whip, literally terrifying. She sang it carelessly and therefore in a manner absolutely gorgeous. She swept them all, critics as well as the immense audience, clean off their feet.
Also, by way of a foot-note, the managerial announcement that Madame Carresford had volunteered for the part at six o’clock, to rescue them from the necessity of closing the park and was to sing it absolutely without rehearsal, exploded for all time the notion that there was anything of the amateur about her.
“You can do anything,” LaChaise told her as she came out into the wings. And he kissed her on both cheeks rather solemnly, in the manner of one conferring a decoration. In full measure pressed down and running over, that was how Paula’s success came to her.
By the time Paula had got back to her dressing-room after the long series of tumultuous curtain calls was over, the rush of her friends to express their congratulations in person had begun. After the _Tosca_, performance she had been adamant about seeing anybody but to-night with a laugh she said, “I don’t care. For a few minutes. If they’re people I really know.”
So Mary took her station beside the Rhadamanthus at the stockade gate–in a proper opera-house, he would have been the stage door-keeper–to pick out the sheep from the goat-like herd of the merely curious who, but for firm measures, would have stormed the place. Those who came down again, pushed out by the weight of new arrivals, lingered about the gate talking things over with Mary. It amused her to see how radically their attitude had changed. Such people as the Averys, the Cravens and the Byrnes, who in a social way had known Paula well, seemed to regard her now as a personage utterly remote, translated into another world altogether. And when they asked about John Wollaston, as most of them did, there was an undertone almost of commiseration about their inquiries, though on the surface this didn’t go beyond an expressed regret that he hadn’t been here to witness the triumph.
Mary drove them all away at last, even the lingerers in Paula’s dressing-room, left her safely in the hands of her dresser and went out into the automobile park to get her car. Coming up softly across the grass and reaching in to turn on the lights, she was startled to discover that there was a man in it. But before she had time more than to gasp, she recognized him as her father.
“I didn’t want to push my way in with the mob,” he explained, after apologizing for having frightened her. “The car, when I spotted it, seemed a safe place to wait. And the privacy of it,” he added, “will be grateful, too, since I’m not perfectly sure that Paula won’t refuse outright to see me.”
Mary smiled at this and said she hoped he hadn’t missed the performance.
“No,” he told her somberly, “I didn’t miss–any of it.” Then on a different note, “Now we’ll see whether those dogs of critics won’t change their tune.”
“Paula herself changed the tune,” Mary observed. Then, “She’s longing to see you, of course. And there’s no reason why you should wait. No one’s with her now except her dresser.”
She led the way, without giving him a chance to demur, to the gate to the stockade and turned him over to the gatekeeper.
“Please take Doctor Wollaston up to his wife’s dressing-room,” she said. And with a momentary pleasure in having evaded introducing him as Madame Carresford’s husband, she turned away and went back to the car.
For the moment the spectacle of her father in the role of a young lover touched her no more acutely than with a mild half-humorous melancholy. She even paid the tribute of a passing smile to the queer reversal of their roles, her own and his. She was more like a mother brooding over the first love-affair of an adolescent son. It was so young of him, younger, she believed, than any act she herself could be capable of, to have come to Paula’s performance without letting her know and waited shyly alone in the dark while the herd of her acquaintances crowded in and monopolized her. Pathetically young, almost intolerably pathetic in a man in his middle fifties. She wondered if he had come up for _Tosca_ the night before and gone away without a word.
She had spoken quite without authority in assuring him of Paula’s welcome. Paula had not, she thought, spoken of him once either in connection with her disappointment the night before or with her triumph to-night. Yet that he would get a lover’s welcome she had very little doubt. It was his moment certainly. Paula left alone up there at last, sated with an overwhelming success, tired, relaxed…
With an effort of will Mary settled herself a little more deeply in the seat behind the wheel and lighted a cigarette. She hated having to wait, having to be found waiting when they came down together. She wished she could just–disappear. It wasn’t possible, of course.
It was not very long before they came down. “She says I may stay two days,” John told Mary as they squeezed into their seats in the little roadster. “Then, relentlessly, she’s going to turn me out.” But his voice was beyond disguise that of a lover who has prospered.
Mary drove them in almost unbroken silence all the way, down the ravine road and up through the woods to the house in the village. Then she went on with the car to their garage which stood in a yard of a neighbor, two or three doors away. She rejected with curt good-humor her father’s offer to help her with this job. It was what she always did by herself, she said, and took a momentary perverse pleasure, which she despised herself for, in the obvious fact that this troubled him.
Back in the cottage living-room, ten minutes later perhaps, she found him alone and heard then, the explanation of his having come. They had got the Sunday papers out at Hickory Hill as usual in the middle of the morning but had found no reference to the performance of _Tosca_ the night before. John had spent a good part of the day fretting over the absence of any news as to how Paula’s venture had succeeded and puzzling over the lack of it in the papers. Then the obvious explanation had struck one of the boys, that the papers that came out to Hickory Hill on Sunday were an early edition.
He had had old Pete drive him straight into town, at that, and there he had found the news-stand edition containing the criticisms. The unfairness of them had disturbed him greatly. Orders or no orders, he hadn’t been able to endure the thought of leaving Paula to suffer under the sting of a sneer like that without making at least an effort to comfort her. He had driven out to Ravinia without any idea that she was to sing again that night; had been told of it at the park where he had stopped for the purpose of picking up some one who could conduct him to her house. Learning that she was about to sing again, he had exerted all his will power and waited until this second ordeal should be over.
“It was as much one for me as it could have been for her,” he concluded. “I don’t know what stage fright is, but vicarious stage fright is the devil. I never was so terrified in my life. I hope nobody I knew saw me. I took pains they shouldn’t, for I must have looked like a ghost.”
“There’s nothing the matter with your looks now,” she told him. “Hickory Hill must be just the place for you.”
“It would be,” he assented, “if it were possible for me to be whole-heartedly there. By the way, we’ve got a visitor. Anthony March.”
She felt herself flush at that with clear pleased surprise. “Oh, that’s as nice as possible,” she said. “But how in the world did it happen? How did you find him? Paula was trying to and couldn’t.”
“Was she?” Her father’s voice, she thought, flattened a little on the question. “Why, he found us. He turned up on foot–Friday morning, it must have been–with a knapsack on his shoulders; came to the farm-house door and asked if he should tune the piano. Luckily, I happened to be about and caught him before he could get away. He was combining a walking trip, he said, with his own way of earning a living and I persuaded him to stay for a few days and make us a visit.”
The last part of that sentence, Paula, coming down into the room from up-stairs, heard.
“Who?” she asked. “Who’s the visitor you’ve been persuading?”
It was just a good-natured way of showing her interest in anything that her husband might happen to be talking about. But when he answered, “Anthony March,” she came into focus directly.
“Thank goodness, you’ve found him!” she said. “I had about given him up.–And I really need him.”
“I thought,” said John, “that you had given him up. Are you going to do his opera, after all?”
“Opera!” said Paula blankly, as if she had never heard of such a thing. “No, I want him to see if he can fix this beastly piano they’ve given me so that it’s fit to work with.”
And John, after a moment-laughed.
It was a shattering sort of laugh to Mary. She stared at the man who uttered it as if he were–what he had for the moment become–a stranger. He was not, certainly, the man who, down in North Carolina had talked about March with her, regretted the “rough justice” he had had from Paula and considered the possibility of repairing it. That momentary blank look of his had shown that he perceived the insensitive egotism of his wife’s attitude. Not even now that her success was an established thing had she a regretful thought for the man who had hoped to share it with her. She had forgotten those hopes. All she remembered now about Anthony March was that he could tune pianos better than any one else.
This Mary’s father saw and yet he laughed. A cruel laugh. He had felt for the moment a recurrence of the old jealousy. In his relief from it, he, a reassured lover, triumphed in the humiliation of one he had supposed his rival.
Mary managed to hide her face from him–superfluously because he wasn’t looking at her–and thought up, desperately, a few more questions about how they were getting on at Hickory Hill.
But she went on feeling from moment to moment more horribly in the way, and at last with a simulated yawn she said she was going to bed. “This–vicarious success is rather tiring,” she told her father; “almost as bad as vicarious stage fright.” And then to Paula, “Is there any reason, if you’re going to keep father here for two days, why I shouldn’t steal a holiday?”
“Go away, do you mean?” Paula asked with a faint flush. “Why,–where would you go?”
“I could drive over to Hickory Hill,” Mary said, “either by myself in the little car or with Pete in the big one. Whichever you wouldn’t rather have here.”
“I think that’s a capital idea,” John said. “Oh, you’d better take the big car with Pete. It would be rather a long drive for you all by yourself in the little one.”
This was not the real reason, of course. He wouldn’t want a chauffeur under foot while he was honeymooning about with Paula.
Owing to a late start and an errand which at the last moment Paula wanted done in Chicago, it was getting on toward four o’clock when Pete drove Mary up to the loading platform of the old apple house at Hickory Hill. The farm Ford was standing there idling in a syncopated manner and apparently on the point of departure somewhere. Where, was explained a moment later by the emergence of Sylvia Stannard in her conventional farm costume of shirt and breeches with a two-gallon jug in each hand.
“Oh,” she said, “then the big car can take Miss Wollaston over to Durham, can’t it?–so she won’t have to ride in the Ford which she hates. How do you do? I’m awfully glad you’ve come. We weren’t expecting you, were we? Was anybody, I mean?”
Mary allowed herself a laugh at this young thing with her refreshing way of saying first whatever first came into her head and letting this serve as a greeting, said she was sure the big car and Pete were equal to taking her aunt to the four-miles-distant village.
“That’s all right then. I won’t have to wait for her,” said Sylvia, letting down her jugs into the tonneau of the Ford. “I’ll run straight along with this. They must be simply perishing for it. Isn’t it hot, though!”
Mary wanted to know who they were and what they were perishing for.
“Lemonade,” said Sylvia, “for the boys out in the hay field. It’s perfectly gorgeous out there but hot enough to frizz your hair.”
“Where is the hay field?” Mary asked. “Is it very far?”
“It’s just over in the northeast eighty,” said Sylvia, with a rather conscious parade of her mastery of bucolic vernacular. “But you don’t want to walk. It would be awfully jolly if you would come along with me.”
“Wait two minutes until I’ve said hello to Aunt Lucile and I will,” said Mary, and turned to go into the house.
“Don’t step on any of the piano,” Sylvia called after her. “It’s spread all over the place.”
They had made a good many changes in the apple house since Mary had gone to Ravinia, but the thing that drew a little cry of surprise from her was this old square piano. The case of it stood snugly in the corner of the west wall. But the works were spread about the room in a manner which made Sylvia’s warning less far-fetched than it seemed.
The feeling that caught Mary at sight of it was more than just surprise. Its dismantled condition brought to her a half-scared but wholly happy reassurance that Anthony March was really here.
Her journey to Hickory Hill had been, so she had told herself at intervals during the day, merely a flight from her father and Paula. There was no real reason for thinking that she would find March at the end of it. Week-end visits usually ended Monday morning, and it was probable that he would have gone hours before she arrived. She was conscious now of having commanded herself not to be silly when she was fretting over the late start from Ravinia and Paula’s errand in town. It _would_ be nice to see him again! He was probably out in the hay field with the others.
She gave her aunt a rather absent-minded greeting and a highly condensed summary of her news. Her father was well and was stopping on with Paula for a day or two.
“He’s taken over my job,” she concluded mischievously, “maid, chauffeur and chaperon. Paula doesn’t mind now that she’s made such an enormous hit and she doesn’t sing again until Thursday. Pete will take you in the big car to Durham.”
“Well, that’s Heaven’s mercy,” exclaimed Miss Wollaston. “I don’t like to drive with Sylvia in any car and I don’t like riding in a Ford no matter who drives. But Sylvia driving a Ford–her own car’s broken down somehow–is simply frightful.”
“She’s waiting for me now,” said Mary, “to take me out to the hay field. I must run before she grows any more impatient.”
And run was precisely what she did, down the slope to where Sylvia awaited her, a lighter-hearted creature altogether than she had supposed this morning that it was possible for her to be.
She got an explanation of the piano from Sylvia. She had gone with Rush and Mr. March to an auction sale late Saturday afternoon at a farm three or four miles away. Just for a lark. They hadn’t meant seriously to buy anything. But this old piano, Mr. March having sworn that he would make it play despite the fact that half the keys wouldn’t go down at all and the rest when they did made only the most awful noises, they had bought for eleven dollars, and had fetched home in the truck on Sunday.
“I think he’s terribly nice,” Sylvia confided. “You know him, don’t you? He’s quite old, of course.–Well, over thirty he says; but he’s awfully–don’t you know–well preserved. There are a whole lot of things he can do.”
Mary laughed. “That is remarkable. How old are you, you nice young thing? Going on six? Lookout! You’ll smash the lemonade!”
“We’re going to surprise them,” Sylvia announced when they had arrived, miraculously without disaster, at the northeast eighty. They had careened through the wagon gate and halted under an oak tree at the edge of the field. “I’ll go and tell them I’ve brought the lemonade, but I won’t say anything about you. You keep out of sight behind the tree. Then Graham won’t want to go and brush his hair.”
It startled Mary to realize that she had forgotten all about Graham. Not even the sight of his sister had recalled the–highly special nature of the state of things between them nor suggested the need for preparing an attitude to greet him with. At all events she wouldn’t follow Sylvia’s suggestion and pop out at him from behind a tree.
He was, it happened, the first person the child encountered in her flight across the field; the others, indistinguishable at that distance, were in a group a little farther away. Mary walked out to meet him when she saw him coming toward her and competently gave the encounter its tone by beginning to talk to him–about how hot it was and how nice the hay smelled and how good it seemed to be back here at Hickory Hill–while they were still a good twenty paces apart. You couldn’t strike any sort of sentimental note very well when you had to begin at a shout. Then she led him back to the lemonade, gave him a cigarette and answered at length and with a good deal of spontaneous vivacity his obligatory questions about Paula and the opening of the Ravinia season.
She was in the full tide of this–and was, since she had sat down upon a small boulder Graham had insisted she take possession of, screened by the trunk of the tree–when Sylvia hailed her brother from, not very far away with the statement that Rush wouldn’t stop for anything or anybody until once more around the field. It was March, then, who was audibly coming along with her. Mary rose, broke off about Paula, and moved the single step it needed to give her sight of him.
She saw nothing else but him. She saw his head go back as from the actual impact of the sight of her. She saw the look, unmistakable as a blast from a trumpet, that flamed into his face. And then her world swam. Paula wasn’t singing now, “Hither, my love! Here I am! Here!” Nor could Paula come upon him now, from anywhere, and take him by the shoulders and kiss his cheek and lead him away with her. This moment was not Paula’s–whatever the other had been.
And the rest, standing there looking on, hadn’t seen the bolt fall! They were talking as idly and easily as if this were nothing but a hot summer afternoon in the hay field.
“I told him,” she heard Sylvia saying, “that there was another nice old person he knew here with the lemonade, who thought I was only about six.–Were you surprised when you saw who she was?–I’m going to take him back to the apple house with us, now that Mary’s come, so that he can have the piano ready to dance by to-night.” This last, apparently, to Graham.
She even heard herself join in,–the voice was hers anyhow–when Graham, commenting upon the view across the field, remarked that it was so intensely farm-like that it had almost the look of a stage setting.
“It is like something,” she said then. “It’s like the first act of _Le Chemineau_. We ought to have a keg of cider instead of two jugs of lemonade and we should have brought it in a wheelbarrow instead of in the Ford.”
“Well, we couldn’t take Mr. March back in a wheelbarrow,” Sylvia said, “so I’m glad it isn’t the first act of whatever-you-call-it. Because he’s simply got to fix the piano well enough for jazz.”
Mary couldn’t remember that he spoke a word, but he got into the back seat of the Ford with her when Sylvia slid under the wheel.
“If you’ll promise,” Sylvia said to March at the end of the breathless mile back to the apple house, “if you’ll promise to go straight to work at it and never stop until it’ll play the _Livery Stable Blues_, then I’ll go back to the hay field and see that Rush gets some of the lemonade before those laborers drink it all up. You’ll see to him, won’t you, Mary? Stand right over him and be severe, so that we can dance to-night. You aren’t as excited about it as you ought to be. I think I’ll come in and start him.”
And this she did while the Ford executed a little jazz rhythm of its own outside. She didn’t stay more than a minute or two though. When she saw him fairly occupied, tools in hand, over his task, she darted away again with a last injunction to severity upon Mary.
She had seen nothing. The two were left alone.
Mary sat where she could watch his fine skilled hands at work. The negligent precision with which they accomplished their varied tasks occupied her, made it possible to continue for a while the silence she needed until her world should have stopped swimming; until the blindness of that revelation should have passed.
She had been wrong about him again. He was not an Olympian. (But, of course, Olympians themselves weren’t, if it came to that; not always.) He could never, she had been telling herself since that day when they had had their one talk together, belong to any one. He did not–save himself up for special people. He was just there, the same for everybody, like, she had half humorously observed to her father, a public drinking fountain.
If that was the rule, she, Mary Wollaston, was the exception to it. Not Paula with her opulent armory, but she who had listened with him, clinging to him, while Paula sang; she, who had talked to him while Paula fought for her husband’s life; she, whom he had come upon in the shade of the oak tree at the edge of the hay field; she who sat near him, silent now. This was the meager total that outweighed those uncounted hours of Paula’s. Somehow she had acquired a special significance for him.
Was she trying to evade saying that he had fallen in love with her. What was the good–except that it sounded sweet–of using a phrase which could be packed like a hand-bag with anything you chose to put into it? Graham was in love with her. That boy in New York, whom she had found in a panic of lonely terror lest he should prove a coward in the great ordeal he was facing overseas had been for a few hours in love with her. What would be the content of the phrase for a man like this?
Was she in love with him? Her thoughts up to now had been deep, submerged, almost formless, but this question came to the surface and touched her lips with a smile. Well, and what did the phrase mean to her?
All she could think of as she sat so still watching him, was those fine hands of his, working as skillfully and swiftly as her father’s ever worked but at this humble task. She kept her eyes away for just a little longer from his face. She wanted those hands. She wanted them with an intensity that made it impossible at last to let the silence endure any longer.
“Paula…” she said, and stopped in sheer surprise that her voice had come at all; then began again, “Paula wanted you to tune her piano. At Ravinia. I was angry, at that, until she reminded me that you wouldn’t be.”
His hand laid down the small, odd shaped tool it held, but the next moment picked it up again.
“I shouldn’t have minded tuning her piano,” he told her.
“I know,” she said. “I knew as soon as I had had a minute in which to–gather you up. And when I had done that, I helped her try to find you. I had a special reason, a different one from Paula’s, for hoping that we could. And for my reason,” she went on, trembling a little and finding it harder to make her words come steadily, “it isn’t–yet, too late.
“You see if you were there with her where she could see you every day–there’d be a lot of pianos there she said; enough to keep you going–she’d remember you again. She is like that. Lots of people are, I suppose. When she doesn’t see you, she forgets. But if she remembered how much she liked you and how good your opera was,–the real one, the one you wrote for yourself–she might do something about it.–To get it played–so that you could hear it. Now that she’s had a great success, she could do almost anything quite easily, I think. Infinitely more than I. I’ve been trying, but I haven’t got very far.”
He laid down the tool once more and locked his hands together. “You have been trying?” he repeated. The tension, like the grip of his hands, was drawing up almost unbearably.
“There’s a French baritone there, Fournier, who could play your officer’s part. As you meant it to be played, I think. But he doesn’t sing in English. I thought it might be possible, if you didn’t mind its being sung in French, to translate it. That’s one of the things I’ve been–trying to do.”
And then with a gasp and a sob, “Oh, don’t,–don’t hurt them like that!” she reached out and took the hands she wanted.
He responded to the caress, as before, so quickly that one could hardly have known where it began; only Mary did know. She looked up then into his face, steadily, open-eyed, though she could not see much for the blur.
“This time,” he said, laboriously,–“this time it isn’t the song.”
She shook her head.
“I couldn’t have waited, like that,” he told her, three breaths later, “except for being afraid that if I tried to touch you, you wouldn’t be there at all. Like a fairy story;–or a dream. I have never been sure that the other time wasn’t.”
“It’s real enough,” she said. “You’re sure now, aren’t you?”
His answer, the one she meant him to make, was to draw her up into a deep embrace, his lips upon hers.
“What does it mean?” he asked, when they had drawn back from it.
She smiled at that. “You don’t need ask. That’s the Wollaston trick, to ask for meanings and reasons.” She added, a moment later, “It means whatever it says to your heart.”
It was at her half-humorous suggestion that he went back, presently, to work at the piano. She settled contentedly near him where with an outstretched hand she could occasionally respond to his touch. They hadn’t, either of them, very much to say.
Once the work was interrupted, when he asked, rather tensely, “Do you want me to come to Ravinia?”
She found herself at a loss for a categorical reply. She’d have thought that a whole-hearted yes would have been the only thing she could say.
“I don’t want you–tortured any more with unheard melodies,” she answered after a moment’s reflection.
His nod, decisive as it was, struck her as equivocal. But she was too happy to probe into anything this afternoon. There would be plenty of time; unstinted hours. It was with no more than a mild regret that she heard, under the windows, the return of the big car with Aunt Lucile. This inextinguishable happiness expressed itself in the touch of impudent mischief with which she slipped up close behind Anthony March and, in the last possible instant before her aunt’s entrance into the room, bent down and kissed him; then flashed back to her decorously distant chair.
It was funny how calm she was. This day that was closing down over the hill behind the apple house couldn’t be, it seemed, the same that had dawned over the lake at Ravinia. The whole Ravinia episode, even as she told Lucile and March about it, seemed remote, like something out of a book; but became for that very reason, rather pleasant to dwell upon. Sylvia came in pretty soon for a critical survey of what March had accomplished with the piano, volunteered to help and attempted to. But having pled some of Anthony’s arrangements of loose parts, she was sacked off the job and sent back to the hay field to bring the boys in for supper.
After supper the excitement over the piano increased. They all gathered round March like people watching a conjurer’s trick when he slid the action into place and proved, chromatically, that every hammer would strike and every key return.
“But it isn’t tuned at all,” Sylvia wailed. “It will be hours before you can play on it.”
“Minutes,” March corrected with a grin. And they watched, amazed,–but less so really than an ordinary piano tuner would have been,–at the way he caught octaves, fifths and fourths, sixths and thirds up and down that keyboard like a juggler keeping seven tennis balls in the air.
“There you are,” he said suddenly, before it seemed that he could be half-way through and began playing a dance.
“But you can play tunes!” cried Sylvia. “I thought you only did terribly high-brow things. That’s what Rush said.”
“I was pianist in the best jazz orchestra in Bordeaux,” March told her.
He stayed there at the piano quite contentedly for more than an hour. Some of the musical jokes he indulged in (his sense of humor expressed itself more easily and impudently in musical terms than in any other) were rather over his auditors’ heads. Parodies whose originals they failed to recognize, experiments in the whole-tone scale that would have interested disciples of Debussy, but his rhythms they understood and recognized as faultless.
And Mary danced. With Graham when she must, with Rush when she could. The latter happened oftener than you would have supposed.
“Those Wollastons can certainly dance,” Sylvia remarked to her brother. “I wonder they’ll have anything to do with us. Let’s just watch them for a minute.–Here, we’ll turn the piano around so Mr. March can see, too.”
It was queer, Mary reflected, how easy it was for her and also, she was sure, for her lover, to acquiesce in a spending of the hours like that; how little impatient she was of the presence of these others that kept them apart. She gave no thought to any maneuver, practicable or fantastic, for stealing away with him, not even when, as the party broke up for the night it became evident that chance was not going so to favor them.
She realized afterward that there had been something factitious about her tranquillity. What he had said in the moment before their first embrace had been on that same note. He had been afraid to touch her for fear that–as in a fairy story, or a dream,–she wouldn’t be there. All that afternoon and evening, despite an ineffable security in their miracle, she had walked softly and so far as the future was concerned, avoided trying to look.
Something in his gaze when he said good night to her, gave her a momentary foreboding, though she told herself on the way up to the tent she was to share with Sylvia that this was nothing but the scare that always comes along with a too complete happiness.
But in the morning when her aunt told her that March had gone, she realized that it had been more than that.
It was in the presence of the others who had gathered in the apple house for breakfast that she heard the news, and this was perhaps a mercy; for the effort she had to make to keep from betraying herself rallied her forces and prevented a rout.
To the others his having gone like that seemed natural enough,–likably characteristic of him, at any rate. In his note to Miss Wollaston he had merely said that he realized that he must be off and wished to make the most of the cool of the morning. He hoped she would understand and pardon his not having spoken of his intention last night.
“It’s the crush Sylvia had on him that accounts for that,” Graham observed. “He was afraid of the row she’d make if he let on.”
Sylvia’s riposte to this was the speculation that Mary had scared him away, but one could see that her brother’s explanation pleased her.
“Anyhow,” she concluded, “he was good while he lasted.”
What held Mary together was the obvious fact that none of them saw–no more than they had seen–anything. Not one curious or questioning glance was turned her way. A sense she was not until later able to find words for, that she was guarding something, his quite as much as her own, from profaning eyes, gave her the resolution it needed to carry on like that until she could be alone. Naturally,–or at all events plausibly–alone. She wouldn’t run away from anybody.
Toward eleven o’clock chance befriended her. She hid herself in the old orchard, lay prone upon the warm grass, her cheek upon her folded forearms, and let herself go. She did not cry even now. Grief was not what she felt, still less resentment.
She was lonely as she had never been before, and frightened by her loneliness. All the familiar things of her life seemed far away, unreal. She wanted a hand to hold;–his–oh, one of his!–until she could find her way into a path again.
She had known, she reflected,–somewhere in the depths of her she had known–from the first moment of their meeting, that he would go away. This was why she had been so careful not to look beyond the moments as they came; not to tempt Nemesis by asking nor trying for too much.
There happened to be, rather uncannily, a genuine proof that this was true. While she had been still dazed with that first look of his, there in the oak shade at the edge of the field, she had said that it was like the first act of _Le Chemineau_. That had been speaking all but with the tongue of prophecy. Deeply as the story had impressed her when she heard it, she had spoken with no conscious sense of the likeness between that wayfarer–whom neither love nor interest nor security could tempt away from the open road which called him,–and Anthony March. It was an inner self that knew and found a chance to speak. It was that same self who had answered for her when he asked whether she wanted him to come to Ravinia.
He had come to his decision then, with just that nod of the head. And she, forlorn, was glad he had cast this temptation aside. That he was plodding now sturdily along his highway. She flushed with shame at the thought of him, ubiquitous among those egotists at Ravinia, enlisting their interest, reminding Paula how much she liked him.
Why had he not hated her for suggesting such a thing? He had loved her for it, she knew, because he understood the longing to comfort and protect him which lay behind it. But that sort of comfort was not for him. The torture of the unheard melodies, instead.
He did love her. This, utterly, she knew. His going away, even with no farewell at all, cast no flaw upon the miraculous certainty of that. Their one unreserved embrace remained the symbol of it.
She pressed her hands to her face and with a long indrawn breath surrendered to the memory of it. It was hers–for always.
The family were sitting at dinner when she came down to the apple house, and after a rather startled look at her, demanded to know where she had been.
“Asleep in the orchard,” she said. “And not altogether awake yet.”
But she knew she must get away from them. The look she saw in Graham’s face would have decided that.
A CASE OF NECESSITY
She told Rush when they left the table, that she had some shopping to do in town for Paula and meant to go on the afternoon train. She was expected back at Ravinia to-morrow anyhow. Beyond trying to persuade her to let Pete drive her in he made no protest, but she could see that he was troubled about it and she wasn’t much surprised to find Wallace Hood waiting on the station platform when her train got in.
She didn’t, very much, mind Wallace. There was no appearance of his being there in the role of guardian because she wasn’t considered safe to leave to herself. You could always trust Wallace to do a thing like that perfectly.
It was a great piece of luck for him he told her. He had called up Hickory Hill to congratulate John upon Paula’s enormous success; had learned from Rush of Mary’s visit and that she was even then on the way to Chicago. He had just dropped round at the station in the hope of being able to pick her up for dinner. She had some shopping to do he understood and he wouldn’t detain her now.
“Oh, nothing that matters a bit,” said Mary. “It was an excuse merely, for running away from Hickory Hill.”
There was something to be said for a man like Wallace as a confidant. He was perfectly safe not to guess anything on his own account. He seemed touched by her candor and hugged her arm against his side as they walked along, a gesture of endearment such as he hadn’t indulged in for half a dozen years.
“So if you have nothing better to do,” she went on, “we can begin our evening now. Though I suppose I had better find, first, a place to sleep.”
“Frederica Whitney’s in town for a day or two, just for a flying visit to Martin. She’d be glad to take you in, I’m sure.”
“Oh, I think not,” said Mary. “Not if I can get anything with four walls at the Blackstone.”
She thought from his glance at her that he attached some special significance to her unwillingness to go to the Whitney house and hastened to assure him this was not the case.
“Frederica’s a dear. Only I just happen to feel like not being anybody’s guest to-night. Oh, and I didn’t mean you by that either.”
“It’s nice to be nobody in that sense,” he said.
His next suggestion was that he get his car, start north up the shore with her, have dinner at one of the taverns along the road and deliver her in good season for a night’s sleep in the cottage at Ravinia.
But this suggestion was declined rather more curtly.
“To-morrow is as soon as I want to go there,” she said. “Pete’s going over then to get father so I shall go on duty. But meanwhile I’ll let him enjoy his holiday in peace.”
He made no further demur to telephoning over to the Blackstone.
On his coming back presently with the news that he had a room for her, she said, “Then we’ve nothing on our minds, have we? Except finding a place for dinner that’s quiet and–not too romantic. I _am_ glad you came to meet me.”
She was quite sincere about this. It would have been ghastly she reflected, to have spent the evening alone in a hotel bedroom with her own thoughts, if those she had entertained on the train coming in were a fair sample.
He was being just as nice to her as possible. By his old-fashioned standards, no hotel was a proper place for a young girl to spend a night in alone. Yet beyond offering two alternative suggestions, he forbore trying to dissuade her. So when he chose the Saddle and Cycle as their anchorage for the evening, she endorsed his choice with the best appearance of enthusiasm she could muster, though she’d rather have gone to a place where three out of four of the other diners wouldn’t in all probability be known to her.
Arriving, however, in the unclassified hour between tea and dinner, they found they had the place pretty much to themselves and settled down in a secluded angle of the veranda for a leisurely visit. They began on Paula, of course, her retrieved failure and her sensational success. How sorry Wallace was not to have been there for her “Nedda.” (He didn’t go in much for Sunday entertainments of any sort, Mary remembered.) Well, it had been just as splendid as everybody said it was. That was one thing, at any rate, that had been put beyond discussion. Even the pundits were, for the moment anyhow, silenced.
He was curious as to how the intimate details of this strange life she had a chance to observe, struck her. How she liked Paula’s colleagues; to what extent the glamour evaporated when one was behind the scenes.
She satisfied him as well as she could, though her opportunities, she said, were a good deal narrower than he took them to be. She had, herself, so much to do as Paula’s factotem that there wasn’t much leisure for loafing about. And this launched her into a humorously exaggerated account of what was involved in being secretary, chauffeur and chaperon to a successful opera star. But she pulled up when she saw he was taking it seriously.
“It’s shocking she should work you like that,” he said in a burst of undisguised indignation. “Of course, it’s precisely what Paula would do. She has very little common consideration, I’m afraid, for anybody.”
Mary could not remember having heard him speak like that, in all the years she’d known him, of anybody; she was sure he never had so spoken of any one who bore the name of Wollaston. Taken aback as she was she changed her tune altogether and tried to reassure him.
“But that’s what I’m there for, Wallace dear! To be worked. And you’ve no idea how I like having something to do which amounts, in a small way, to a job.”
“It’s too hard for you, though,” he persisted. “It isn’t what you were trained for. And it’s rather, as I said,–shocking. If it was all understood from the first, then so much the worse for the understanding. I hope your father, when he went up there, didn’t discover what your duties were supposed to be.”
“No,” Mary said rather dryly, “I don’t believe he did.”
“Well,” he said thoughtfully, at the end of a short silence, “I am profoundly thankful that she’s made so–solid a success.”
Up to this moment none of their talk had been quite real to Mary. She had betrayed no inattention to him and when it had come her turn to carry on the conversational stream she had done so adequately and even with a certain vivacity. But it had meant no more than an occupation; something that passed the time and held her potential thoughts at bay.
This last observation of his, though, struck a different note. He had done full justice to his pleasure in Paula’s success at the very beginning of their talk. Now he meant something by it. Leaning forward a little for a keener look at him, she asked what it was that he meant.
He was a little surprised to be brought to book like that, but he made hardly an effort to fence with her. “I was glad, I meant, for purely non-sentimental reasons. Her success may prove, I suppose, a practical solution of some difficulties.”
“Practical?” she echoed. “You don’t mean,–yes, I suppose you do mean,–money difficulties. Do you mean that Paula’s going to be invited to support the family now?” She finished with a little laugh and he winced at it. “Father said something like that to me one day while I was down south with him,” she explained. “Only he said it as a joke,–a sort of joke. That’s why I laughed.”
“He talked to you then about his affairs?” Wallace asked. “May I … Do you mind telling me what he said?”
“Of course not, if I can remember. He’d been remiss, he said, about making money. He said that if he had died, then when he was so ill, there wouldn’t have been, beyond his life insurance which was for Paula, much more than enough to pay his debts. Practically nothing for Rush and me is what that came to. I pointed out to him that we could take care of ourselves, and he said that anyway as soon as he could get back into practise, he’d begin to make a lot of money and save. It must be a good deal worse,–the whole situation I mean–than I took it to be, for you to mean that seriously about Paula.”
She had managed an appearance of composure but in truth she was badly shaken. Money matters was just about the one real taboo that she respected and to break over this habitual reticence even with an old friend like Wallace troubled her delicacy. The notion she got from the look in his face that there was something dubious about her father’s solvency, was terrifying. She hid her hands under the table so that he shouldn’t see they were trembling. She wanted the truth from him now, rather than vaguely comforting generalties, and if she betrayed her real feelings, these latter were what she would drive him back upon.
“Can you tell me,” she asked after a pause, “exactly how bad it is?”
He couldn’t furnish details. He told her though that there couldn’t be any doubt her father’s affairs were more involved than his summary of them had made them appear. “He isn’t a very good bookkeeper, of course,–never was; and he has never taken remonstrances very seriously. Why, about all I know is that Martin Whitney is worried. He tried to dissuade John from going in anywhere near so heavily on the Hickory Hill project.–And that, of course, was before we had any reason to suppose that his ability to earn money was going to be …”
It was apparent that he discarded the word that came to his tongue here and cast about for another; “interfered with,” was what he finally hit upon. “Then he’s your aunt’s trustee and I believe that complicates the situation, though just how much I don’t know. Rush didn’t get a letter from Martin this morning, did he?”
“I don’t know,” Mary said numbly.
“I thought perhaps,” he explained, “that might be the reason why you didn’t want to go to their house tonight. Rush doesn’t quite understand Martin’s position nor do justice to it. Martin wants to have a really thorough talk with him I know, as soon as possible.”
“Wallace …” Mary asked, after another silence, “what was the word you didn’t say when you spoke of father’s earning power being–interfered with? Was it–cut off? Do you mean that father isn’t–ever going to be well?”
Startled as he was, he did not attempt a total denial; answered her, though with an effort, candidly.
“It’s not hopeless, at all,” he assured her. “It really is not. If he’ll rest, live an outdoor life for the next year or two, he has a good chance to become a well man again. It’s probable that he will,–practically so. But if he attempts to take up his practise in the autumn it will simply be, so Darby declares, suicide.”
“That means tuberculosis, I suppose,” she said.
He nodded; then involuntarily he reached his hands out toward her, a gesture rare with him and eloquent equally of sympathy and consternation. He hadn’t in the least meant to tell her all that–nor indeed any of it. Her hands met his with a warm momentary pressure and then withdrew. He had, for a fact, pretty well forgotten where they were.
“If you knew,” she said, “how kind you’ve been not to try to–spare me. No, don’t bother. I’m not going to cry. Just give me a minute…”
It was less than that before she asked, in a tone reassuringly steady, “Does father know, himself?”
“He’s been warned, but he’s skeptical. Steinmetz says there’s nothing surprising about that. It’s his all but universal experience with men of his own profession. Of course this summer out at Hickory Hill is so much to the good. And if he can get sufficiently interested to stay there the year round, why, there’s no knowing. The investment in that farm may prove the wisest one he ever made.”
“If it were only possible,”–she was quoting what her father had said to her the other night at Ravinia,–“for him to be whole-heartedly there! And he could be–for it’s a place one can’t help loving and he and Rush are wonderful companions–he could be whole-heartedly there if it weren’t for Paula.”
It was precisely at this point, he indicated to her, that Paula could come in by relieving him of the necessity of getting back into practise. Martin would look out for the fixed indebtedness on the farm. He would probably be willing, in case John made it his home and put his own mature judgment at the disposal of the two young partners, to finance still further increases in the investment. But for the ordinary expenses of living during the next year or two, Paula should cease being a burden and become a support. “Do you think,” he finished by asking, “that she has any idea what the situation really is?”
Mary replied to this question a little absently. “Father insisted that she carry out the Ravinia contract. She told me so herself and seemed, I don’t know why, just a little resentful about it. But I’m sure she can’t have any idea that there was a need for money at the back of it. It has irritated her rather whenever she has caught me economizing up there. And father will never tell her any more pointedly than he has, you can be sure. Some one of us will have to do it.”
“You’re on very good terms with her, aren’t you?” Wallace asked. He added instantly, though with an effort, “I’m willing to tell her if you wish me to.”
She smiled very faintly at that for she knew how terrifying such a prospect would be to him. “Whoever told Paula,” she said, “she’d eventually attribute it, I think, back to me. So I may as well, and rather better, do it directly.”
The tension slackened between them for a while after that. The talk became casual. Wallace, it was easy to see, was enormously relieved. Mary had been put in unreserved possession of the facts and had endured them better than he could possibly have hoped. He began chatting about the farm again, not now as an incubus but as a hopeful possibility. Both the boys had real mettle in them and might be expected to buckle down and show it. Rush would forget the disillusionment of his holiday hopes when the necessities of the case were really brought home to him. And as for Graham …
Wallace broke off short there, flushed, and made a rather panicky effort to retrieve the slip. He was in the family enough to be a part of the Graham conspiracy. Poor Graham, distracted by her innocent inability to make up her mind to marry him! He would be all right as soon as her maidenly hesitations should have come to an end, and she’d made him the happiest man in the world with the almost inevitable yes.
She had gone rather white by the end of a long silence. Finally:
“Wallace,” she began in a tone so tense that he waited breathlessly for her to go on, “do you remember I asked you once, the day I came home from New York, if you couldn’t find me a job? I know you didn’t think I meant it and I did not altogether–then. But I mean it now. I need it–desperately.–Wallace, I can’t ever marry Graham. I know I can’t. And I can’t go on being dependent on father while he’s dependent on Paula.”
He caught at a straw. “Paula is really very fond of you,” he said.
“Yes, in a way,” Mary agreed; “though she sometimes has regarded me a little dubiously. But if she ever saw me–coming between her and father, or father turning ever so little away from her–toward me, whether it was any of my doing or not, she’d–hate me with her whole heart. It may not be very logical but it’s true.”
Then she brought him back from the digression. “Anyhow, it’s on my own account, not Paula’s–nor even father’s–that I want a job. Father will feel about it, of course, as you do and so will Rush and–and the rest. And I don’t want it to hurt anybody more than necessary. I’d rather stay here but I suppose on their account I’d better go away. And you know so many people–in so many places. There’s your sister in Omaha. I remember how much trouble you said she had finding a nursery governess. I’d be pretty good at that I think. I could teach French and–I’d be nice to children.”
For a moment she wildly thought she had won him. She saw the tears come into his eyes.
“Anything I have in the world, my dear, or anything I can command is yours. On any terms you like.”
But there he disposed of the tears and got himself together, as if he’d remembered some warning. She could imagine Rush over the telephone, “Of course, she’s terribly run down with that damned war work of hers; not quite her real self, you know.”
She saw him summon a resolute smile and heard the familiar note of encouragement in his voice. “We’ll think about it,” he told her. “After all, things aren’t, probably, as black as they look. And sometimes when they look darkest it’s only the sign that they’re about to change their faces altogether. Anyhow, we’ve stared at them long enough to-night, haven’t we? And all I meant was to take you out for a jolly evening! Don’t you think we might save it, even yet? Is there anything at the theatres you’d like to see?”
“Some musical show?” she asked. “Yes, I’d like that very much. Thank you.”
Mary returned to Ravinia–went on duty, as she put it to Wallace–the following afternoon rather taut-drawn in her determination to have things out with Paula at once. But the mere attitude and atmosphere of the place, as before, let her down a little.
It was restful to have her days filled up with trivial necessary duties; an hour’s errand running in the small car; a pair of soiled satin slippers to clean with naptha; a stack of notes to answer from such unknown and infatuate admirers as managed to escape the classification feebleminded and were entitled therefore to have the fact recognized (this at a little desk in the corner while Novelli at the piano and Paula ranging about the room, ran over her part in half-voice in the opera she had rehearsed yesterday with the orchestra and was to sing to-night), a run to the park for a visit to Paula’s dressing-room in the pavilion in order to make sure, in conference with her dresser, that all was in order for to-night; a return to the cottage in time to heat Paula’s milk (their maid of all work couldn’t be trusted not to boil it); then at seven, driving Paula to the park for the performance, spending the evening in her dressing-room or in the wings chatting sometimes with other members of the force whom she found it possible to get acquainted with; occasional incursions into the front of the house to note how something went or, more simply, just to hear something she liked; driving Paula home again at last, undressing her; having supper with her–the most substantial meal of the day–talking it over with her; and so, like Mr. Pepys–to bed.
It might shock Wallace Hood, a schedule like that, but there were days when to Mary it was a clear God-send.
She decided within the first twenty-four hours to wait for some sort of lead from Paula before plunging into a discussion of her father’s affairs. It would take the edge off if the thing weren’t too glaringly premeditated. Paula just now was doing all she could. Mary opened all her mail and would know if any offer came in that involved future plans. She accepted the respite gratefully.
She had a use to put it to. For the first two or three days after her return, she had not been able to turn to anything that associated itself with Anthony March without such an emotional disturbance as prevented her from thinking at all. The mere physical effect of those sheets of score paper was, until she could manage to control it, such as to make any continuance of the labor of translating his opera, impossible.
By a persistent effort of will she presently got herself in hand however and went on not only with her translation but with the other moves in her campaign to get _The Outcry_ produced. Her first thought was that something might be accomplished directly through LaChaise. Her simple plan had been to make friends with him so that when she urged the arguments for producing this work, they’d be–well–lubricated by his liking for her.
She began saying things to him on a rather more personal note, things with a touch of challenge in them. There was no gradual response to this but suddenly–a week or ten days after her return from Hickory Hill this was–he seemed to perceive her drift. He turned a look upon her, the oddest sort of look, startled, inquiring, lighted up with a happy though rather incredible surmise. It was an exclamatory look which one might interpret as saying, “What’s this! Do you really mean it!”
Mary got no further than that. She didn’t mean it, of course, a serious love-affair with LaChaise, and she tried for a while to feel rather indignant against an attitude toward women which had only two categories; did she offer amorous possibilities or not. An attitude that had no half lights in it, no delicate tints of chivalry nor romance. LaChaise would do nothing for the sake of her blue eyes. He had no interest whatever in that indeterminate, unstable emotional compound that goes, between men and women, by the name of friendship.
She tried to call this beastly and feel indignant about it, but somehow that emotion didn’t respond. She had more real sympathy for and understanding of an attitude like that than she had for one like Graham’s. It was simpler and more natural. It involved you in no such labyrinths of farfetched absurdities and exasperating cross-purposes as Graham’s did.
It was characteristically,–wasn’t it?–a Latin attitude; or would it be fairer to say that its antithesis as exemplified by Graham was a northern specialty? She extracted quite a bit of amusement from observing some of the results of individual failures to understand this fundamental difference, all the more after she had Jimmy Wallace to share observations with. He was a dramatic critic, but he consented to take a fatherly, or better avuncular, interest in the Ravinia season during the month of his musical colleague’s vacation.
The special episode they focused upon was Violet Williamson’s flirtation with Fournier. She was a pretty woman, still comfortably on the east side of forty, socially one of the inner ring, spoiled, rather, by an enthusiastic husband but not, thanks to her own good sense, very seriously. James Wallace was an old and very special friend of hers and she commandeered his services as soon as he appeared at Ravinia, in her campaign for possession of the French baritone.
Mary had reflected over this and talked it out pretty thoroughly with Jimmy before it occurred to her that she might be able to turn it to her own account–or rather to her lover’s. For that matter, why not, while she had him under her hand, recruit Jimmy as an aid in the campaign?
“Do you mind being used for ulterior purposes?” she asked him.
He intimated that he did not if they were amusing, as any of Mary’s were pretty sure to be.
“I’m interested in an opera,” she told him, “or rather, I’m very much interested in a man who has written one. Father and I have agreed that he’s a great person and everybody seems willing to admit that he’s a musical genius. Paula considered the opera, but gave it up after she had kept him working over it for weeks because the soprano part wasn’t big enough. It would be just the thing for Fournier.”
Jimmy raised the language difficulty. “The book’s in English, I suppose,” he said.
“It’s been translated into French,” Mary said, and then admitted authorship by adding, “after a fashion; as well as an amateur like me could do it.” She didn’t mind a bit how much Jimmy knew. Not that he wasn’t capable of very acute surmises but that whatever he brought up he wouldn’t have the flutters over.
“Does Fournier like it himself?” he wanted to know. “Does he see the personal possibilities in it, I mean?”
“I haven’t shown it to him yet,” Mary said. “I want him to hear about it in just the right way first. If Paula would only say just the right thing! She means to but she forgets. LaChaise would back her up, I think, if she took the lead. Otherwise … well, he isn’t looking for trouble, I suppose, and of course, it would mean a lot.”
“Somebody has to put his back into an enterprise of that sort,” Jimmy observed.
“I can’t, directly,” she said, “not with LaChaise nor with Mr. Eckstein. But you see,” she went on, “if Violet happened to hear, from somebody who