wouldn’t be a contemptible job for anybody.–Oh, well, we can talk that out later. But you needn’t be afraid for me, my dear.”
“That’s what I said to Wallace Hood,” she told him; “just before lunch. When I was trying to decide to tell you what he’d been saying.–About your room that they’re turning you out of.”
With that, she repeated the whole of the talk with Wallace and the serio-fantastic idea that it had led up to.
He grinned over it a while in silence, then asked, “Are you willing to leave it entirely to me?”
“Of course,” she said.
“Well, then,” he decided, “if I’ve still got that paper–and I think I have … I copied it, I remember, out of an old law-book, and to satisfy Luigi’s passion for the picturesque and the liturgical we took it to a notary and got it sealed with a big red wafer–Well, if I’ve got it and it’s any good, I’ll let Aldrich,–is that his name?–make what he can of it. I’ll square it with Luigi afterward of course.”
“It’s a compromise for you,” she said gravely. “You wouldn’t have done that two weeks ago.”
He laughed. “Folks use the word uncompromising as if it were always a praiseworthy thing to be. But it hardly ever is, if you stop to think. Certainly if life’s an art, like composing music or painting pictures, then compromise is in the very fabric of it. Getting different themes or colors that would like to be contradictory, to work together; developing a give and take. What’s the important thing? To have a life that’s full and good and serviceable, or to mince along through it with two or three sacred attitudes?–Wait a minute.”
She waited contentedly enough, watching him with a misty smile as he lay upon the grass beside her wrestling with his idea.
“All right,” he said presently. “Here’s the test that I’ll agree to. I’ll agree to do things or to leave them undone, to the end that when I’m–sixty, say, I’ll have packed more of real value into my life–my life as your husband and the father of your children–than that vagabond you’re so concerned about would have had in his if–if …”
“If I hadn’t gone to him a week ago last night?” She said it steadily enough, where he could not say it at all.
“Yes,” he said. “That’s what I mean.”
He reached out for her hand and she gave it to him. Presently his face brightened once more into a grin. “I’ll even promise to write more music. Lord, if I’ve really got anything, you couldn’t stop me. Come along. Father and mother will be looking for us before very long now.”
The critics agreed that the _premiere_ of March’s opera was a “distinct success,” and then proceeded to disagree about everything else. The dean of the corps found it somewhat too heavily scored in the orchestra and the vocal parts rather ungrateful, technically. The reactionary put up his regular plaintive plea for melody but supposed this was too much to ask, these days. The chauvinist detected German influence in the music (he had missed the parodic satire in March’s quotations), and asked Heaven to answer why an American composer should have availed himself of a decadent French libretto.
The audience showed a friendly bias toward it at the beginning and were plainly moved by the dramatic power of it as it progressed, but they seemed shocked and bewildered by the bludgeon blows of the conclusion and the curtain fell upon a rather panicky silence. Then they rallied and gave both the performers and the composer what would pass in current journalese for an ovation.
The Wollastons’ friends, who were out in pretty good force, crowded forward to be introduced to Mary’s fiance and to offer him their double congratulations. They found him rather unresponsive and decided that he was temperamental (a judgment which did him no serious disservice with most of them), though the kindlier ones thought he might be shy. Mary herself found something not quite accountable in his manner, but she forbore to press for an explanation and let him off, good-humoredly enough, from the little celebration of his triumph which she had had in mind.
The fact was that he had come through the experience, which no one who has not shared it with him can possibly understand, of discovering the enormous difference between the effect of a thing on paper, or even in its last rehearsal, and the effect of it when it is performed before an audience which has paid to see it. It was no wonder he was dazed, for the opera he found himself listening to seemed like a changeling.
He worked all night over it and told LaChaise the next morning that he had made serious alterations in it and would need more rehearsals. The opera had been billed in advance for a repetition on the following Saturday night, the understanding among the powers being that if it failed to get a sufficient measure of favor the bill should be changed. It was touch and go, but the final decision was that it should have another chance.
So LaChaise agreed to March’s request, ran over the composer’s revised manuscript with a subtle French smile, sent for the timpani player, who was an expert copyist, and put him to work getting the altered parts ready, instanter. March told Mary he was making a few changes and asked her to stay away from rehearsals so that on Saturday night, from out in front, she might get the full effect.
Really, as it turned out, he did not need any individual testimony, for one could have learned the effect of the new ending from half a mile away. When he came back into the wings from his fourth recall he saw her face shining with joy through her tears. But his heart sank when he saw, standing beside her, Paula. He thanked his gods that Mary had a sense of humor.
Paula was smiling in high satisfaction, and she spoke first. “Well, stupid,” she demanded, “what have you got to say for yourself, now?”
“Not a word,” he answered, smiling too, “except that we have to live to learn.”
Then he explained to Mary. “That ending–having the girl come back to life again, to sing some more after she’d been shot–was one of the things Paula was trying to make me do, all the while. And some of the other changes were, too.”
“But not that trumpet,” said Paula, and he could only blush.
In a moment of dead silence, just before the crash that accompanied the descent of the curtain, he had scored for the C trumpet, muted and pianissimo, a phrase in the rhythm of the first three bars of the _Marsellaise_, but going up on the open tones and sustaining the high G, so that it carried also, a suggestion of _The Star Spangled Banner_. A flagrant trick, but it had served to remind the audience, bruised by the horror of abomination it had just witnessed, of the vengeance which, afar off, was gathering.
“I’d like to know what you’d have said to me,” Paula went on, “if I’d asked you to do that!”
Mary laughed, and pushed her lover toward the stage. “Oh, go back,” she said. “They want you again, my dear.”
They gave _The Outcry_ two more performances during the next week, one of them being the closing performance of the season, and by that time, so far as a single success could be said to establish any one, March was established. He and Mary discussed this rather soberly as they drove home in the small car after the convivial wind-up supper at the Moraine, where this fact had been effusively dwelt upon. Their wedding was now less than a month off.
“I know,” she admitted, “it looks as if I were all wrong. To go on being afraid of–harness and millstones and all that. But just the same … Oh, you can live my sort of life. That’s been made plain enough. But I wish I could think of some way of making you sure that I could live yours, as well. Your old one; the _Chemineau_ one. The way it was when you came to Hickory Hill.”
A few minutes later she gave a sudden laugh. “Tony,” she said, “will you swear you will do something for me–without knowing what it is? Oh, it’s nothing very serious. It’s about our honeymoon. A girl has a right to decide about that, hasn’t she?”
“You’ve got something up your sleeve, all right,” he said dubiously; but she remained severely silent until he gave in and promised.
“Well, then,” she said, “this is what our honeymoon is going to be. We’ll take one of the farm Fords-Rush can spare one, I’m sure, in October-and we’ll get some camping things and start out–oh, along any one of your old routes–without one single cent of money. And we’ll tune pianos as we go. We’ll live off the country. Really and honestly take to the road. For a month. If we can’t find any pianos we’ll go hungry–or beg! The one thing we won’t do, whatever happens, is to telegraph. After we’ve done that we’ll come back and be–regular people. And I won’t mind, then. Because, don’t you see, you’ll know. And if it’s ever necessary to do it again, we’ll do it again.”
“There’s no one in the world,” he remarked in a voice that wanted to break, “–no one in the world who’d have thought of that but you. But, my dear, I don’t need any reassurance like that.”
“Tony, dearest, don’t be solemn,” she admonished him. “Won’t it be _fun_!”