Rose had no illusions as to what its acceptance would mean. It would mean gripping life again with the full strength of both hands. It would mean many anxious days and sleepless nights. It would mean spurring herself to a high degree of competency. You didn't get fifty dollars a week for anything that was easy to do. She knew that now, by hard experience. And then the transplantation to New York would mean an end of the cool healing peace of her present life. Things would begin happening to her that she couldn't foresee nor control. Feelings would begin happening to her; the kind of feelings that scorched and terrified you. They wouldn't happen to her here in Centropolis.
She fell asleep that night under the persuasion that the thing wasn't decided; that the safe, quiet, peaceful way was still open to her. But when she awakened in the morning, she knew it was not.
"I surmise," said Miss Gibbons that morning at breakfast, "that you're figuring to go away."
Rose smiled and sighed. "I don't know how you guess things like that," she said, "but it's true. I must be in New York on the first of July."
"Well, the sooner the quicker," said Miss Gibbons dryly. "You came all at once and I guess it's just as well you should go the same way. I guess neither of us is sorry you came, and I hope you'll never be sorry you went."
That was her nearest approach to an affectionate farewell. Rose managed to express her affection and gratitude a little more adequately, but not much. "It isn't the end of us, you know," she concluded. "You're coming to see me in New York."
Miss Gibbons smiled with good-humored skepticism at that.
Rose telegraphed Galbraith that morning, and she took the noon train for St. Louis. She needed a day or two there to make the modest supplements to her wardrobe that her savings permitted.
The Real Adventure
THE TUNE CHANGES
John Williamson's doctor packed him off to Carlsbad just about the time that Rose achieved the conquest of Centropolis (along in April, 1914, that was). Violet and their one child, a girl of twelve, went along with him to keep him company; at rather long range, it seemed, because they were both in Paris on the first of August, when the war broke out, and John spent six frantic days getting into Switzerland and out again into France, before his attempt to join them was successful. They had run the full gamut of refugees' experiences, by the time they got to England and secured accommodations on a liner to New York, and the tale got an added touch from the stratagem Violet employed in successfully bringing off all her new French frocks.
It took just two hours' steady talking to tell the story, and Violet figured that during the first week after her return to Chicago, she told it on an average of three times a day. So that by the time she could manage a day for motoring out to Lake Forest to see Constance Crawford, she was ready to talk about something else.
Constance had lately had her fourth—and she asserted, last—baby, and wasn't seeing anybody yet, except intimates, one at a time; and she relaxed a little deeper, with a sigh of relief, into her cushioned chair, when Violet said:
"The same things happened to us that happened to everybody else, so you don't have to hear them. Oh, it was nice, in a way, being separated from poor John when the thing happened, because—well, he hasn't got over it yet. He's still more as he was when we were first engaged, than he's ever been since. And at thirty-seven that's something! And then it's a satisfaction about the clothes. It seems as if I must have had a premonition that something was going to happen, because I bought absolutely everything I wanted.
"Of course it was an awful moment when John said we couldn't take anything but hand-luggage. But I got three perfectly enormous straw-telescopes—you know the kind—about four feet long, and then we left everything else behind, except a tooth-brush and a comb apiece. And what with that and the biggest hat box in the world—my, but it's lucky hats are small!—we managed it.
"But all the stuff about having your automobile taken away and riding in a cart, and thinking you're going to be arrested as a spy, and living for days on milk-chocolate and vin ordinaire, you've heard it all a hundred times already, so we'll talk about something else."
"I never heard anything so heroic in my life," Constance said. "But you don't need to be, because I'm perishing for details.—Unless," she went on, "it isn't heroism at all, but something else you want to talk about."
"Just my luck!" said Violet. "I thought I was going to get away with that. There is something I'm frantic with curiosity about, and you're the first person I've seen I could ask. I spent two hours trying to get up my courage with Frederica, but I couldn't. Do you know anything about them—Rose and Rodney? Does any one know anything about her since she disappeared from the Globe?"
"Why, I fancy they do," said Constance, "Rodney and Frederica. I don't know just why I think so. Frank sees Rodney every day or two at lunch time at the club; says he seems all right. He's working terribly hard. And the money he's making! Frank says he's a regular robber in the fees he asks—and gets. He says he speaks of Rose once in a while, and not—at least not exactly, as if she were dead. You know what I mean! Just in that maddening, matter-of-course way, as if everybody knew all about her.
"Frederica won't talk about her at all. I mean, she won't start the subject, and nobody has the nerve to start it with her. Freddy can be like that, you know. She'd make a perfectly wonderful queen—did you ever think of that? Of England. Harriet's the only one who'd talk, and of course she's gone back. You knew that, didn't you? Oh, but naturally, since you've talked to Freddy."
Violet nodded. "It all sounded so exactly like Harriet," she said, "as Freddy told about it. No confidences, no flutters. She didn't even seem interested until the day England went in. And then at lunch that day, she said to Frederica, 'I've just cabled Tony that I'm coming back on the next boat. And I telephoned Rodney just now, to find out what the next boat for Genoa was, or Naples, and get me a stateroom. Lend me Marie, will you, to help pack? Because I'll probably have to take the five-thirty.' Harriet all over. Well, on the whole, I'm glad."
"Oh, yes," said Constance. "She'd always be at a loose end in this country. She doesn't believe in divorce. She might, of course, if she fell in love with another man over here. But that's not likely to happen. And she can't stand America any more. So even an unsuccessful marriage over there, especially if Italy gets drawn into the war, and her man gets ..."
"Constance!" cried Violet, horrified.
"Oh, not necessarily killed," Constance went on. "Crippled or something, or even if he really got interested in the profession of being a soldier. She's done well to go back to him."
"Anyway, that wasn't what I meant," said Violet. "I meant I was glad for Rodney and—Rose. Mind you, I don't know a single thing. But I've just got a hunch that with Harriet off the board, it will be a little more possible for those two to get together."
Constance looked at her intently. "You've changed your tune," she said. "I thought you were through with Rose for good and all. I thought what you were rooting for was a divorce and a fresh start for Rodney."
"I thought so, too," said Violet, "until I saw her."
"Saw her!" Constance cried. "Where? When?"
"In New York on the way home," said Violet.
"Well—tell me all about it," said Constance, when she saw Violet wasn't going on of her own accord. "You, pretending you wanted to know about everything, and pretending to be a heroine for not telling me all about being a refugee! What is she doing? What did she look like? What did she say?"
"You've changed your tune, too," said Violet. "Because you were through with her just as much as I was. You didn't want to hear anything more about her. Of course she could ran away and go on the stage if she liked, you said, but she'd better not try to come back."
Constance pointed out that she hadn't, as yet, expressed the hope that Rodney would make it up with her. But she pleaded guilty to a strong curiosity.
"Well, I can't tell you much," said Violet. "John and I were coming down Fifth Avenue in a taxi one afternoon, and were stopped by the traffic at Forty-fourth Street. And right there, in another taxi, was Rose. I didn't see her till just as we got the whistle to go ahead. I was so surprised I could only grab John and tell him to look. I did shriek at her at last, and she saw us and lighted up and smiled. Just that old smile of hers, you know. But her car was turning west, down past Sherry's, and we were going straight ahead and we weren't quick enough to tell the chauffeur to turn, too. We did turn on Forty-third and came around the block, and of course we missed her.
"We went to three musical shows in the next two days, in the hope of spotting her in the chorus. But she wasn't in any of them, and then I simply dragged John home. There was no way of finding her of course, nor of her finding us, because John's given up the Holland House at last and taken to the Vanderbilt. But it was rather maddening."
"Well, I don't know," said Constance. "Oh, yes, maddening of course, because one would be curious. But that sort of curiosity might prove pretty expensive if you gratified it. Talk about the clutch of a drowning person! It's nothing to the clutch of a declassee woman. And if she's been somebody once who really mattered, and somebody you were really fond of ... Because it is no use. They can't ever come back."
Violet stirred in her chair. "Of course we're all perfectly good Christians," she observed ironically. "And once a week we say 'Forgive us our debts,' besides teaching it to the kids."
Constance broke in on her hotly. "Oh, come, Violet! You know it's not a question of forgiveness. I don't claim any moral superiority over Rose. I'm just talking about her social possibility. A person who does an outrageous thing, knowing it's outrageous, just because he—or she—wants to do it, can be downright immoral without being impossible. But a person who's done the other sort of thing, a shabby thing—and what Rose did was shabby—will always be on the defensive about it. They can't let it alone. They're always making references you can't ignore; always seeing references in perfectly harmless things that other people say. And the only society where they're ever happy, is that of a lot of other people with shady, shabby things that they're on the defensive about. And they all get together and call it Bohemia. And they sprawl around in studios and talk about sex and try to feel superior and emancipated. Well, maybe they are. All I say is they don't belong with us. Oh, you know it's true! You hate that as much as I do."
"Oh, yes," said Violet. "Only, since I've seen Rose—even for that minute—it doesn't seem possible to apply it to her. You know, I don't believe she's on the stage any more."
Constance asked with good-humored satire, "Why? From the way she looked in the taxi-cab?"
"Yes," said Violet. "Just from that. There she was in an open taxi, on Fifth Avenue, at half past four in the afternoon, and she didn't look somehow, as if how she looked mattered. She wasn't on parade a bit. She looked smart and successful, but busy. Not exactly irritated at being held up in the block, but keen to get out of it. The way Frank or John would look on the way to a directors' meeting. And the way she smiled when she saw us ... It's not quite exactly her old smile, either, but it's just as fascinating. It pleased her to see us all right. But as for her caring a rap what we thought—well, you couldn't imagine it. Defensive indeed! And poor old John just about went out of his head with disappointment when we lost her."
"Oh, I'll never deny she's a charmer," said Constance. "All the same ..."
"You wait till you see her!" said Violet.
Violet's report of the glimpse she had had of Rose, together with what were felt to be the rather amusingly extravagant set of deductions she had made from it, spread in diminishing ripples of discussion through all their circle. And then, concentrically, into wider circles. Most of their own intimate group took Constance's attitude. Forced to concede a lively curiosity as to what had become of Rose, they still professed that the way of discretion lay not in gratifying it; at least not at first-hand. When they were in New York, they kept an eye open for a sight of her, on the stage and elsewhere, and an alert ear for news, finding a sort of fearful joy in wondering what they would do if an encounter took place. They were mildly derisive with Violet over her volte-face.
Secretly, Violet was a good deal closer to agreeing with them than she'd admit. For, as the effect of her encounter lost its vividness, with the recession of the encounter itself, she began to suspect that she had gone unwarranted lengths in her interpretations from it. But under fire, she stuck to her guns. Her husband, who delighted in her public attitude, was amazed when she rounded upon him in their domestic sanctuary, and emphatically took the other side. In his disgust, he made a very penetrating observation, whose cogency Violet realized, though she loftily ignored it at the time it was uttered. But three or four nights later, at an opera dinner at the Heaton-Duncans, she fired it off shamelessly, as a shot out of her own locker.
"It's all very well," she exploded, "to say that Rose can't come back. But as a matter of fact she's never been out of it. At least the hole she left has never closed up. You all agree that she's to be forgotten and treated as a regrettable incident, but you keep on talking about her. It's like Roosevelt. There she is all the time."
She didn't dare catch John's eye for the next twenty minutes, but she knew precisely, without looking, the exasperated quality of his stare.
It was true. They couldn't let her alone. Speculation flared up again, and this time with a justifiable basis, when it became known that Rodney had bought the McCrea house; bought it outright, for cash, with its complete contents.
Of course everybody knew that Rodney was getting rich. And he was doing it, as Frank Crawford pointed out to Constance, with precisely the same contemptuous disregard of money that he had shown before his marriage.
"He doesn't care what he charges, and he didn't care then. Only then it was out of the little end of the horn, and now it's out of the big. And the thing that seems to make him particularly wild is that the higher the price he puts on his opinions, the more people there are who think that nobody's opinion but his is any good. So he just grins at them and goes up another notch. He's no better a lawyer, he says, than he was when his practise brought him in ten thousand a year. Of course he is a better lawyer. He's getting better all the time. He does deliver the goods. And fighting out these great big cases really educates a man. You can't be really first-class unless you've got first-class things to do. And down inside Rodney knows that as well as anybody.
"Only, with all his money, after the way he's talked about that house—the way he's damned it and made fun of it, what did he want to go and buy it for?"
Constance had an idea he'd got it at a bargain. The McCreas had made a flying trip home just to sell it. Their investments had gone off, it seemed, still further, and besides, Florence had at last found something in the world to be in earnest about, and that was in France; the American hospital. Florence had already taken an emergency training course in nursing. Her husband, whose one marked talent was that of a chauffeur, was going to drive a motor ambulance, and they were both on fire to get back to Paris into the thick of things. Almost any round sum, in absolutely spot cash, would satisfy them. So Rodney, too busy with other things to take the trouble to invest his money, would have been in a position to get the house cheap. It was Constance's opinion that he had.
"Do you know anybody in the world," her husband demanded, "less likely to be interested in a bargain than Rodney? Or to pick a thing up because it is cheap?"
"Well, then," Constance said, "you must think he's expecting Rose, sometime or other, to come back to him. Because if he meant to get a divorce and marry some one else, he certainly wouldn't want to live in that house with her. He'd want as few reminders as possible, not as many. And yet, it was Rose herself, according to Harriet, who was so anxious, toward the last, to get rid of the place. So there you are! It's a mystery any way you take it."
John Williamson said he understood, though when Violet pressed him for an explanation he was a little vague.
"Why," he said, "it's just a polite way of telling us all to go to the devil. He knows we're all talking our heads off about him, and sympathizing with him, and wondering what he's going to do, and he buys that house to serve notice that he's going to stay put. Business as usual at the old stand. I shouldn't be surprised if he meant the same message for Rose. That is to say, that the place will always be there for her to come back to."
Outside their immediate circle, no such imaginative explanations were resorted to. Rose was coming back of course. And the interesting theme for speculation was what would happen to her when she did. Would she try to take her old place; ignore the past; treat that outrageous escapade with the Globe chorus as if it had never happened? And if she did try to do that, could she succeed? It all depended on what a few people did. If they, the three or four supremely right ones, were to acquiesce in this treatment of the situation, Rose could, more or less, get away with it. Although even then, things could never be quite the same.
But the sterility of these speculations gradually became apparent as the winter months slipped away and Rose did not come back. It was felt, though such a feeling would have looked absurd if put into words, that by failing to come when the stage was set for her, as by Rodney's act in purchasing the McCrea house it was, missing her cue like that, letting them, with such a lot of solemn thought, discuss and prepare their attitudes toward her, all in vain, she had, somehow, aggravated her original offense in running away.
And, just as suddenly as they had begun talking about her, they stopped. Rodney and the twins, living alone in the perfect house, under the ministrations of a housekeeper, a head nurse and an undiminished corps of servants, came to be accepted as a fact that could be mentioned without any string of commiserations tied to it. Their world wagged on as usual. If, as John Williamson said, the hole where Rose had been torn out of it had never been closed up, people managed to walk around the edge of it with an apparently complete unawareness that it was there. There were fresher themes for gossip:
Hermione Woodruff's amazing marriage, for example, to a dapper little futurist painter named Bunting, ten years, the uncharitable said, younger than she was. And then the Randolphs! After all the thrilling events of their romance, were they drifting on the reefs? There were straws that indicated the wind was blowing that way.
This was the state of things when Jimmy Wallace threw his bomb.
There was always a warm, corner in Jimmy Wallace's bachelor heart for youth, and innocence, and enthusiasm. Especially for young girls who were innocent and enthusiastic. But since he suspected himself of a tendency to idealize these qualities, even to sentimentalize upon them, he generally kept a cautious distance off. Rose, with the bloom that was on her, and the glow that radiated from her the night he was introduced to her at a dinner party at the Williamsons', had struck him—he was unconscious of this mental process no doubt—as a person whom it would be difficult, at close range, to remain quite level-headed about.
Consequently, though his and Rodney's common friendship for the Lakes had drawn him rather intimately into their circle, his attitude toward Rose herself throughout had remained deliberately detached and impersonal. He was not in the least priggish about it. He was quite willing to let it appear that he liked her and to admit that she liked him. But their talk had always been not only objective, but about objects comparatively remote; chorus-girls, for example, and Norse sagas, to take at random two of his wide assortment of hobbies.
He never felt himself in any danger of idealizing Violet Williamson or Bella Forrester, and they, along with their respective husbands, were the nearest approach to intimates he had in that segment of society which gets itself spelled with a capital S.
Violet's attitude toward Rose, as revealed to him at the little dinner following the Williamsons' discovery of Rose in the Globe chorus, had not in the least surprised him. For, with her husband he had recognized in her biting contempt of the thing the girl had done, the typical attitude of her class. He didn't do Society very much, but he dipped expertly now and then. He understood the class—loyalty that is woven into all their traditions, and knew how violently it was outraged by Rose's inexplicable bolt.
But, as I said, he went home after that dinner, rather mournful over Violet's failure to see an aspect of the thing which, it seemed to him, should have been apparent to anybody: this was Rose's courage in actually doing the thing. The idea that had evidently prompted the act was a perfectly familiar guest at their tea-tables. Rose wouldn't have had to go to "that votes-for-women mother of hers" to pick up the notion of the desirability of economic independence for women. But, instead of playing with the idea, Rose had gripped it in both hands and gone through with it; and at what cost of resolution and courage Jimmy was perhaps the only one of her friends capable of forming an adequate conception. But he'd have thought that even Violet might be expected to see that a mere petulant restlessness wouldn't have carried her through; might have admitted, if only in parenthesis, the gameness the girl had shown.
She'd made no attempt to get the cards stacked in her favor, as she might so easily have done. She must have thought of coming to him for advice and help; must have known how gladly he'd give it. A note from him to Goldsmith would have spared her untold terrors and uncertainties. Yet she had denied herself that help; gone ahead and done the thing on her own.
He could imagine the sort of test Galbraith had put her to before giving her a job at all. He'd seen inexperienced girls applying for positions in the chorus. He knew the sort of work that lay behind her advancement to the sextette. He knew that her presence there on the stage of the Globe the opening night, unrecognized by any one in the company as anybody except Doris Dane of nowhere, represented a solid achievement that a girl with Rose's background and training might be proud of.
For Jimmy it had stamped her, once and for all, as sterling metal; as one who, however mistaken her judgments, or misguided her actions—admitting for the sake of argument that they were misguided—must be taken seriously; admitted to be the real thing. She'd given indisputable guarantees of good faith.
There was no good, of course, getting warm over the flippant cynicisms of her former friends. There was no use even in trying to make them understand how the thing looked to him. But there crystallized in him a wish that he might some day see Rose's critics fluttering about her and, as it were, eating out of her hand. He used to amuse himself by arranging all sorts of extravagant settings for this picture. He never included Rodney in this vengeance, although he felt sure—indeed Rodney had practically admitted as much to him—that it had been her husband's disapproval, rather than the miscellaneous gossip of society at large, which had driven her from the security and promise of the Globe to the exiguities of a fly-by-night road company. Rodney never brought up the subject again after his return from Dubuque, though it soon became plain enough without that, that his journey had accomplished nothing.
Jimmy kept track of the company's route after that, through the list of bookings printed in his theater weekly, and when he learned that the tour had been abandoned, he dropped in one night at the Globe on the off-chance that she might have come back and got herself reinstated in the Number One company, which was still doing a prosperous business.
He didn't expect to find her there; hardly hoped to. A somewhat better chance was that he might find Alec McEwen in the lobby, and that if little Alec were properly primed with alcohol and led to a discussion of the collapse of the road company, he might volunteer some scrap of information about her.
Little Alec was found in the lobby, right enough, and properly primed in the bar next door, and he described very vigorously, the disgust of Block's brother-in-law over the lemon the astute partners had sold him; for real money, too. But not a word did little Alec offer about Rose.
It was Jimmy's practise to make two professional visits to New York every year; one in the autumn, one in the spring, in order that he might have interesting matters to write about when the local theatrical doings had been exhausted.
On his first trip after Rose's disappearance, he went faithfully to every musical show in New York, and, as far as Rose was concerned, drew blank. He'd have taken more active measures for finding her; would have made inquiries of people he knew, had it not been for a sort of morbid delicacy about interfering in a concern that not only was none of his, but that was supremely the concern of Rodney Aldrich, his friend.
But from his spring pilgrimage, he came back wearing a deep-lying and contented smile, and a few days later, after a talk over the telephone with Rodney, he headed a column of gossip about the theater, with the following paragraph:
"Come On In, as the latest of the New York revues is called, is much like all the others. It contains the same procession of specialty-mongers, the same cacophony of rag-time, the same gangway out into the audience which refreshes tired business men with a thrilling, worm's-eye view of dancing girls' knees au naturel. And up and down this straight and narrow pathway of the chorus there is the customary parade of the same haughty beauties of Broadway. Only in one item is there a deviation from the usual formula: the costumes. For several years past, the revues at this theater (the Columbian) have been caparisoned with the decadent colors and bizarre designs of the exotic Mr. Grenville Melton. I knew there had been a change for the better as soon as I saw the first number, for these dresses have the stimulating quality of a healthy and vigorous imagination, as well as a vivid decorative value. They are exceedingly smart, of course, or else they would never do for a Broadway revue, but they are also alive, while those of Mr. Melton were invariably sickly. Curiously enough, the name of the new costume designer has a special interest for Chicago. She is Doris Dane, who participated in The Girl Up-stairs at the Globe. Miss Dane's stage experience here was brief, but nevertheless her striking success in her new profession will probably cause the formation of a large and enthusiastic 'I-knew-her-when' club."
Jimmy expected to produce an effect with it. But what he did produce exceeded his wildest anticipations. The thing came out in the three o'clock edition, and before he left the office that afternoon (he stayed a little late, it is true, and it wasn't his "At home" to press agents either) he had received, over the telephone, six invitations to dinner; three of them for that night.
He declined the first two on the ground of an enormous press of work incident to his fresh return from a fortnight in New York. But when Violet called up and said, with a reference to a previous engagement that was shamelessly fictitious:
"Jimmy, you haven't forgotten you're dining with us to-night, have you? It's just us, so you needn't dress," he answered:
"Oh, no, I've got it down on my calendar all right. Seven-thirty?"
Violet snickered and said: "You wait!—Or rather, don't wait. Make it seven."
Jimmy was glad to be let off that extra half-hour of waiting. He was impatient for the encounter with Violet—a state of mind most rare with him. He meant to wring all the pleasure out of it he could by way of compensating himself for that other dinner when Violet had decided that all Rodney's most intimate friends ought really to be told what Rose had done, in order that they might be scrupulous enough in avoiding subjects which he might take as a reference to his disgrace.
Violet said, the moment he appeared in the drawing-room doorway, "John made me swear not to let you tell me a word until he came in. He's simply burbling. He's out in the pantry now mixing some extra-special cocktails—with his own hands, you know—to celebrate the event. But there's one thing he won't mind your telling me, and that's her address. I'm simply perishing to write her a note and tell her how glad we are."
Jimmy made a little gesture of regret. He'd have spoken too, but she didn't give him time.
"You don't mean to tell me," she cried, "that you didn't find out where she lived while you were right there in New York!"
John came in just then with the cocktails and Violet, turning to him tragically, repeated, "He doesn't even know where she lives!"
"Oh, I'm a boob, I know," said Jimmy. "Give me a cocktail. A telephone's the driest thing in the world to talk into. But, as I told the other five ..."
Violet frowned as she echoed, "The other five—what?"
Jimmy turned to John Williamson with a perfectly electric grin.
"The other five of Rose Aldrich's friends—and yours," he said, "who called me up this afternoon and invited me to dinner, and asked for her address so that they could write her notes and tell her how glad they were."
John said, "Whoosh!" all but upset his tray and slammed it down on the piano, in order to leave himself free to jubilate properly. With solemn joy he ceremoniously shook hands with Jimmy.
Violet stood looking at them thoughtfully. A little flush of color was coming up into her face.
"You two men," she said, "are trying to act as if I weren't in this; as if I weren't just as glad as you are, and hadn't as good a right to be. John here," this was to Jimmy, "has been gloating ever since he came home with the paper. And you ... Did you mean me by that snippy little thing you said about the 'I-knew-her-when' club? Oh, it was fair enough. I'm glad you said it. Because some people we know have been downright catty about her. But you both know perfectly well that I've stood up for her ever since last fall when we came through New York."
John grinned. "When you saw her," he pointed out, "riding down Fifth Avenue in a taxi, in an expensive dress...."
"It wasn't. I didn't see what she had on. I just saw that she looked ..."
"Successful," John interrupted. But, meeting her eye, he apologized hastily and withdrew the word. His gale of spirits had blown him a little too far.
"I saw," said Violet with dignity, "that she looked busy and cheerful, as if she knew, in her own mind, that she was all right. And I was glad for her, and for us. Because you can say what you like, you can't do anything with the people who have made mistakes and know it, and are always on the defensive about them. When I saw she didn't feel like that, that was enough for me. And," she fairly impaled John Williamson now with her eye, "and you know it."
It was an able summary of her public attitude since the encounter on Fifth Avenue, and her look at her husband relegated any private observations of hers at variance with it into the limbo, not of things forgotten, but of things undone, unsaid, dissolved by the sheer force of their unfitness to exist, into the breath that begot them.
"You're quite right about it," said Jimmy. "We men are sentimentalists, as long as things don't come home. But when they do, we're as uncomfortable about penitents as anybody, and we give them as wide a berth."
"You're my friend, Jimmy," she said. "There's dinner! But you won't be allowed to eat. You'll have to begin at the beginning and tell us all about her! Though I don't see," she went on, "how you can know very much more than you put in the paper, if you didn't even find out where she lived."
Jimmy, his effect produced, his long meditated vengeance completed by the flare of color he'd seen come up in Violet's cheeks, settled down seriously to the telling of his tale, stopping occasionally to bolt a little food just before his plate was snatched away from him, but otherwise without intermission.
He'd suspected nothing about the costumes on that opening night of Come On In, until a realization of how amazingly good they were, made him search his program. The line "Costumes by Dane," had lighted up in his mind a wild surmise of the truth, though he admitted it had seemed almost too good to be true. Because the costumes were really wonderful. He tried to tell them how wonderful they were, but Violet seemed to regard this as a digression. She wanted facts.
"Anyhow," he put in in confirmation, "there wasn't a single paper the next day that didn't feature the costumes in speaking of the performance. They were the one unqualified hit of the show."
He cast about in his mind, he said, for some way of finding out who Dane really was. And having learned that Galbraith was putting on the show at the Casino, and having reflected that he was as likely to know about Rose as anybody, he looked him up.
"Galbraith, you know," he explained, "is the man who put on The Girl Up-stairs here at the Globe, winter before last."
Galbraith proved a mine of information—no, not a mine, because you had to dig to get things out of a mine. Galbraith was more like one of those oil-wells that is technically known as a gusher. He simply spouted facts about Rose and couldn't be stopped. She was his own discovery. He'd seen her possibilities when she designed and executed those twelve costumes for the sextette in The Girl Up-stairs. He'd brought her down to New York to act as his assistant. She worked for Galbraith the greater part of last season. Jimmy had never known of anybody having just that sort of job before. Galbraith, busy with two or three productions at once, had put over a lot of the work of conducting rehearsals on her shoulders. He'd get a number started, having figured out the maneuvers the chorus were to go through, the steps they'd use and so on, and then Rose would actually take his place; would be in complete charge of the rehearsal as the director's representative, while he was off doing something else.
It must have been an extraordinarily interesting job, Jimmy thought, and evidently she'd got away with it, since Galbraith spoke of the loss of her with unqualified regret.
The costuming, last season, had been a side issue, at the beginning at least, but she'd done part of the costumes for one of his productions, and they were so strikingly successful that Abe Shuman had simply snatched her away from him.
"The funny thing is the way she does them," Jimmy said. "Everybody else who designs costumes, just draws them; dinky little water-colored plates, and the plates are sent out to a company like The Star Costume Company, and they execute them. But Rose can't draw a bit. She got a manikin—not an ordinary dressmaker's form, but a regular painter's manikin with legs, and made her costumes on the thing; or at least cut out a sort of pattern of them in cloth. But somehow or other, the designing of them and the execution are more mixed up together by Rose's method than by the orthodox one. She wanted to get some women in to sew for her, and see the whole job through herself; deliver the costumes complete, and get paid for them. But it seems that the Shumans, on the side, owned The Star Company and raked off a big profit on the costumes that way. I don't know all the details. I don't know that Galbraith did. But, anyhow, the first thing anybody knew, Rose had financed herself. She got one of those rich young bachelor women in New York to go into the thing with her, and organized a company, and made Abe Shuman an offer on all the costumes for Come On In. Galbraith thinks that Abe Shuman thought she was sure to lose a lot of money on it and go broke and that then he could put her to work at a salary, so he gave her the job.
"But she didn't lose. She evidently made a chunk out of it, and her reputation at the same time."
Violet was immensely thrilled by this recital. "Won't she be perfectly wonderful," she exclaimed, "for the Junior League show, when she comes back!"
Jimmy found an enormous satisfaction in saying, "Oh, she'll be too expensive for you. She's a regular robber, she says."
"She says!" cried Violet. "Do you mean you've talked with her?"
"Do you think I'd have come hack from New York without?" said Jimmy. "Galbraith told me to drop in at the Casino that same afternoon. Some of the costumes were to be tried on, and either 'Miss Dane' or some one of her assistants would be there. Probably she herself, though he knew she was dreadfully busy.
"Well, and she came. I almost fell over her out there in the dark, because of course the auditorium wasn't lighted at all. I'll admit she rather took my breath, just glancing up at me, and peering to make out who I was, and then her face going all alight with that smile of hers. I didn't know what to call her, and was stammering over a mixture of Miss Dane and Mrs. Aldrich, when she laughed and held out a hand to me and said she didn't remember whether I'd ever called her Rose or not, but she'd like to hear some one call her that, and wouldn't I begin."
"And of course," said Violet, "you fell in love with her on the spot."
"No, that wasn't the spot," said Jimmy. "It was where she stood on the Globe stage, the opening night of The Girl Up-stairs, when she caught my eye and gave a sort of little gasp, and then went on with her dance as if nothing had happened that mattered to her. I saw then that she had more sand than I knew was in the world."
"And all your pretending that night you were here, then," said Violet, "all that stuff about an amazing resemblance and a working hypothesis ..."
"All bunk," said Jimmy. "I'd have gone a lot further if there'd been any use."
"All right," said Violet. "I'll forgive you, if you'll tell me every word she said."
Jimmy explained that there hadn't been any chance to talk much. The costumes began coming up on the stage just then (on chorus-girls, of course) and she was up over the runway in a minute, talking them over with Galbraith. "When she'd finished, she came down to me again for a minute, but it was hardly longer than that really. She said she wished she might see me again, but that she couldn't ask me to come to the studio, because it was a perfect bedlam, and that there was no use asking me to come to her apartment, because she was never there herself these days, except for about seven hours a night of the hardest kind of sleep. If I could stay around till her rush was over ... But then, of course, she knew I couldn't."
"And you never thought of asking her," Violet wailed, "where the apartment was, so that the rest of us, if we were in New York, could look her up, or write to her from here?"
"No," said Jimmy. "I never thought of asking for her address. But it's the easiest thing in the world to get it. Call up Rodney. He knows. That's what I told the other five."
"What makes you think he knows?" Violet demanded. "We thought he knew about that other thing, but I don't believe he did."
"Well, for one thing," said Jimmy, "when Rose was asking for news of all of you, she said 'I hear from Rodney regularly. Only he doesn't tell me much gossip.'"
"Hears from him!" gasped Violet. "Regularly!" She was staring at Jimmy in a dazed sort of way. "Well, does she write to him? Has she made it up with him? Is she coming back?"
"I suppose you can just hear me asking her all those questions? Casually, in the aisle of a theater, while she was getting ready for a running jump into a taxi?"
The color came up into Violet's face again. There was a maddening sort of jubilant jocularity about these men, the looks and almost winks they exchanged, the distinctly saucy quality of the things they said to her.
"Of course," she said coolly, "if Rose had told me that she heard from Rodney regularly, although he didn't send her much of the gossip, I shouldn't have had to ask her those questions I'd have known from the way she looked and the way her voice sounded, whether she was writing to Rodney or not and whether she meant to come back to him or not; whether she was ready to make it up if he was—all that. Any woman who knew her at all would. Only a man, perfectly infatuated, grinning ... See if you can't tell what she looked like and how she said it."
Jimmy, meek again, attempted the task.
"Well," he said, "she didn't look me in the eye and register deep meanings or anything like that. I don't know where she looked. As far as the inflection of her voice went, it was just as casual as if she'd been telling me what she'd had for lunch. But the quality of her voice just—richened up a bit, as if the words tasted good to her. And she smiled just barely as if she knew I'd be staggered and didn't care a damn. There you are! Now interpret unto me this dream, oh, Joseph."
Violet's eyes were shining. "Why, it's as plain!" she said. "Can't you see that she's just waiting for him; that she'll come like a shot the minute he says the word? And there he is, eating his heart out for her, and in his rage charging poor John perfectly terrific prices for his legal services, when all he's got to do is to say 'please,' in order to be happy."
There was a little silence after that. Then:
"Don't you suppose," she went on, "there's something we can do?"
A supreme contentment always made John Williamson silent. He'd been beaming at Jimmy all through the dinner, guarding him tenderly against interruptions, with pantomimic instructions to the servants. If the vague look in Jimmy's eyes suggested the want of a cigarette, John nodded one up for him. He didn't ask a question. Evidently, between Jimmy and Violet, the story was being elicited to his satisfaction. But it was amazing how quickly that last words of his wife's snatched him out of that beatific abstraction.
"No, there is not," he said.
The tone of his voice was a good deal more familiar to his fellow directors in some of his enterprises, than it was to his wife. She looked at him as if she couldn't quite believe she'd understood.
"There is not what?" she asked.
"There is not a thing that we can do or are going to do about Rose and Rodney. We did something once before and made a mess of it. This time we're going to let them alone. They're both of age and of sound mind, and they've got each other's addresses. If they want to get together again, they will."
* * * * *
"I've had a perfectly bang-up evening," said Jimmy to Violet a little later when he took his leave.
"I know you have," she said dryly. Then, with a change of manner, "But I have, too, Jimmy. You believe that, don't you?"
"Sure I do," he said, and shook hands with her all over again. Violet was a good sort.
Riding home in the elevated train, Jimmy Wallace hummed what he conceived to be a tune. And when he did that ...!
A BROKEN PARALLEL
None of the speculative explanations Rodney's friends advanced for his having bought that precious solemn house of the McCreas, together with all its rarified esthetic furniture, exactly covered the ground. He didn't buy it in the expectation that Rose was coming back to live in it, and still less with the even remote notion of finding a successor to her. He hadn't bought it because it was a bargain. He had very little idea whether it was a bargain or not. And if there was a grain of truth in John Williamson's explanation, Rodney was only vaguely aware of it.
He'd have said, if he'd set about formulating an explanation, that he bought the house as a result of eliminating the alternatives to buying it. Florence meant to sell it to somebody, and if he didn't buy it, he'd have to move out. Rather disingenuously, he represented to himself that his dislike of moving out sprang from the trouble that would be involved in finding some other place to live in, furnishing it, reorganizing his establishment. Really, he hadn't time for that. Frederica would have done it for him in a minute, but he ignored that possibility.
Down underneath these shallow practical considerations, lay the fact that such a reorganization would have been a tacit acknowledgment of defeat; not only an acknowledgment to the world, which he'd have liked to pretend didn't matter much, but an acknowledgment of defeat to himself. What he had been trying to do ever since his return from that maddening talk with Rose in Dubuque, had been just to sit tight; to go on living a day at a time; to take the future in as small doses as he could manage.
Had he been the sort of person who finds comfort in mottoes, he'd have laid in a stock, such as, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof"; "Holdfast is the only dog"; "Don't cross your bridges until you come to them." As the period between the night of his discovery of Rose on the Globe stage and the day of his return from Dubuque receded, and as the fierceness of the pain of it died away again (because such pains do die away. They can't keep screwed up into an ecstasy of torment forever) the part he'd played in the events of it, seemed to him less and less worthy of the sort of man he'd always considered himself to be; a self-controlled, self-disciplined adult. He'd acted for a while there, with the savage egotism of a distracted boy; thrown his dignity to the winds; made a holy show of himself. Well, that period was over at all events. Whatever the future might confront him with, he could promise himself, he thought, to keep his head.
But for a while, he didn't want to be confronted with anything, let alone to start anything; not until he could get his breath; not until he had time to think everything out; discover, if possible, where the whole miserable trouble had begun. He'd go back to the beginning, sometime, and try to work it all out. It went, probably, a long way back of the night when that hasty speech of his about not jeopardizing the children's lives to gratify his wife's whims had set the match to her resolution to leave him and the babies and live a life for herself.
But, though he told himself every day that he must begin ordering his old memories, analyzing them, in search of the clue, he didn't begin the process. Spiritually, he just held himself rigidly still. He might have compared himself to a man standing off a pack of wolves, knowing that his slightest move would precipitate a rush upon him. Or, perhaps more nearly, to a man just recovering consciousness after an accident, afraid to stir lest the smallest movement might reveal more serious injuries than he suspected.
His mind had never worked so brilliantly as it was working now. The problems involved in his clients' affairs were child's play to him. He took them apart and put them together again with a careless, confident, infallible perspicacity that amazed his colleagues and his opponents. And, as Frank Crawford had pointed out, he took a savagely contemptuous pleasure in making those clients pay through the nose.
But he could look neither back at Rose, nor forward to her. He could not, by any stretch of resolution, have nerved himself to the point of giving up that house that had nearly all his memories of her associated with it. There hadn't been a change of a single piece of furniture in it since she went away. Her bedroom and her dressing-room were just as she had left them. Her clothes were just as they had been left after the packing of that small trunk. She might have been off spending a week-end somewhere.
The attitude couldn't be kept up forever, he knew. Some time or other he'd have to cross the next bridge; come to some more definite understanding with Rose than that inconclusive ridiculous scene there in Dubuque had left him with. (What a fool he had been that day!) There were the twins coming along. For the present, their nurse (It wasn't Mrs. Ruston. He'd taken the first reasonable excuse for supplanting her.) and the pretty little snub-nosed nurse-maid Rose had liked, could supply their wants well enough. But the time wasn't so far ahead when they'd need a mother. What would he do then; let Rose have them half the time and keep them half the time himself? He'd read a perfectly beastly book once,—he couldn't remember the title of it—about a child who had been brought up that way. But, at all events, he needn't do anything yet.
Meanwhile, it healed his lacerated pride to march along and keep the routine going. It was with a perfectly immense relief that he snatched at the chance to buy the McCrea house, and by so doing make the permanency of his way of life a little more secure. He could keep what he had, anyway. And he could show the world, and Rose, that he wasn't the broken frantic creature he knew she'd seen, and suspected it had glimpsed. John Williamson's explanation wasn't altogether wrong.
Perhaps, had it been possible for Jimmy Wallace to tell him, just as he told Violet and John Williamson, how Rose's voice "richened up as if the words tasted good to her," when she mentioned the fact that she heard from her husband "regularly but not much," he might have drawn the same favorable augury from it that Violet did. But from her answering communications, though he drew comfort, he got no hope.
It was Rose herself who began this correspondence, within a month of her arrival in New York. And Rodney, when he finished reading her letter, tore it to pieces and flung it into the fire, in a transport of disappointment and anger. The sight of her writing on the envelope had brought his heart into his mouth, of course. And when his shaking fingers had got it open and he saw that it indeed contained a letter from her, beginning "Dear Rodney," and signed "Rose," the wild surge of hope that swept over him actually turned him giddy, so that it was two or three minutes before he could read it.
But the thing ran like another instalment of the talk they had had in Dubuque. She knew he had been distressed over the shabbiness of her surroundings, knocking about with that road company, and she was afraid that in spite of the assurance she had then given him, he was still worried about her. She was sure he'd be glad to know that she'd quit the stage for good, as an active performer on it, at least; that she was earning an excellent salary, fifty dollars a week, doing a highly congenial kind of work that had good prospects of advancement in it. She had a very comfortable little apartment (she gave him the address of it) and was living in a way that—she had written "even Harriet," but scratched this out—Frederica, for example, would consider entirely respectable. So he needn't feel another moment's anxiety about her. She'd have written sooner, but had wanted to get fully settled in her new job and be sure she was going to be able to keep it, in order that she might have something definitely reassuring to tell him. And she hoped he and the babies were well.
It was not until hours afterward, when the letter was an indistinguishable fluff of white ash in the fireplace, that it occurred to him that it had no satirical intent whatever and that the purpose of it had been, quite simply, what it had pretended to be; namely, to reassure him and put an end to his anxieties.
As he had read it in the revulsion from that literally sickening hope of his, it had seemed about the most mordant piece of irony that had ever been launched against him. The assumption of it had seemed to be that he was the most pitiable snob in the world; that all he'd cared for had been that she'd disgraced him by going on the stage. He'd be glad to know that she was once more "respectable."
Well—this was the question which, as I said, he did not ask himself until hours later—wasn't she justified in believing that? Certainly that night, in her little room on North Clark Street, he'd given her reason enough for thinking so. But later, in Dubuque—well, hadn't he quoted Harriet to her? Hadn't he offered to help her as a favor to himself, because he couldn't endure it that she should live like this? Had he exhibited anything to her at all in their two encounters, but an uncontrolled animal lust and a perfectly contemptible vanity?
He bitterly regretted having destroyed the letter. But the tone of it, he was sure, except for that well merited jibe about Harriet, which had been erased, was kindly. Yet he had acted once more, like a spoiled child about it.
Could he write and thank her? In Dubuque she had asked him not to come back. Did that prohibition cover writing? Her letter did not explicitly revoke it. She asked him no questions. But he remembered now a post-script, which, at the time of reading, he'd taken merely as a final barb of satire. "I am still Doris Dane down here, of course," it had read. If she hadn't meant that for a sneering assurance that his precious name wasn't being taken in vain—and had he ever heard Rose sneer at anybody?—what could have been the purpose of it except to make sure that a letter from him wouldn't come addressed "Rose Aldrich," and so fail to be delivered to her.
It was due only to luck that, in his first disappointment, he hadn't destroyed her address with the letter. But she had duplicated it on the flap of the envelope, and the envelope was not thrown in the fire.
He spent hours composing a reply. And the thing he finally sent off, once it was committed to the post, seemed quite the worst of all his efforts. His impulse was to send another on the heels of it. But he waited a week, then wrote again. And this time, the stiffness of self-consciousness was not quite so paralyzing. He managed to give her a little real information about the condition of the twins and the household. About himself, he stated that he was well, though busier than he liked to be.
He experienced a very vague, faint satisfaction, two days later, over the reflection that this letter was in her hands, and he came presently to the audacious resolution that until she forbade him, he would go on writing to her every week. She'd see that she needn't answer and it would no doubt add something—how much he didn't dare to try to estimate—to her happiness, to know that all was going well in the home that she had left.
She began pretty soon to answer these letters with stiff little notes, strictly limited to a bulletin of her own activities and a grateful acknowledgment of the latest one he had sent her. Invariably, every Tuesday morning, one of these notes arrived. And this state of things continued, unchanged, for months.
He experienced a bewildering mixture of emotions over these letters of hers. They drove him, sometimes, into outbursts of petulant rage. Often the knowledge that one of them was to be expected in the morning, delivered him up, against all the resistance he could make, to a flood of tormenting memories of her. And across the mood the letter would find him in, its cool little commonplaces would sting like the cut of a whip.
The mere facts her letters recounted aroused contradictory emotions in him, too. They all spelled success and assurance, and almost from week to week they marked advancement. The first effect of this was always to make his heart sink; to make her seem farther away from him; to make the possibility of any future need of him that would give him his opportunity, seem more and more remote. The other feeling, whose glow he was never conscious of till later—a feeling so surprising and irrational that he could hardly call it by name, was pride. What in God's name had he to be proud of? Was she a possession of his? Could he claim any credit for her success? But the glow persisted in spite of these questions.
His satisfaction in his own letters to her was less mixed. They must, he thought, gradually be restoring in her mind, the image of himself as a man who, as Harriet said, could take his medicine without making faces; who could endure pain and punishment without howling about it. Perhaps, in time, those letters would obliterate the memory of the vain beast he'd been that night....
If Rodney had done an unthinkable thing; if he had kept copies of his letters to Rose, along with her answers, in a chronological file the way Miss Beach kept his business correspondence, he would have made the discovery that the stiffness of them had gradually worn away and that they were now a good deal more than mere pro forma bulletins. There had crept into them, so subtly and so gently that between one of them and the next no striking difference was to be observed, a friendliness, quite cool, but wonderfully firm. She was frankly jubilant over the success of her costumes in Come On In and she enclosed with her letter a complete set of newspaper reviews of the piece. They reached him a day or two before Jimmy Wallace telephoned, and this fact perhaps had something to do with the gruff good humor with which he told Jimmy to go as far as he liked in his newspaper paragraph.
It was a week later that she wrote:
"I met James Randolph coming up Broadway yesterday afternoon, about five o'clock. I had a spare half-hour and he said he had nothing else but spare half-hours; that was what he'd come to New York for. So we turned into the Knickerbocker and had tea. He's changed, somehow, since I saw him last; as brilliant as ever, but rather—lurid. Do you suppose things are going badly between him and Eleanor? I'd hate to think that, but I shouldn't be surprised. He spoke of calling me up again, but this morning, instead, I got a note from him saying he was going back to Chicago. He told me he hadn't seen you forever. Why don't you drop in on him?"
* * * * *
It was quite true that Rodney had seen very little of the Randolphs since Rose went away. His liking for James had always been an affair of the intelligence. The doctor's mind, with its powers of dissecting and coordinating the phenomena of every-day life, its luminous flashes, its readiness to go all the way through to the most startling conclusions, had always so stimulated and attracted his own, that he'd never stopped to ask whether or not he liked the rest of the man that lay below the intelligence.
When it came to confronting his friends, in the knowledge that they knew that Rose had left him for the Globe chorus, he found that James Randolph was one he didn't care to face. He knew too damned much. He'd be too infernally curious; too full of surmises, eager for experiments.
The Rodney of a year before, intact, unscarred, without, he'd have said, a joint in his harness, could afford to enjoy with no more than a deprecatory grin, the doctor's outrageous and remorseless way of pinning out on his mental dissecting board, anything that came his way. The Rodney who came back from Dubuque couldn't grin. He knew too much of the intimate agony that produced those interesting lesions and abnormalities. Even in the security, if it could have been had, that his own situation wouldn't be scientifically dissected and discussed, he'd still have wanted to keep away from James Randolph.
But Rose's letter put a different face on the matter. He felt perfectly sure that Randolph hadn't been analyzing her during that spare half-hour at the Knickerbocker. The shoe, it appeared, had been on the other foot. The fact that she'd put him, partly at least, in possession of what she had observed and what she guessed, gave him a sort of shield against the doctor. He told himself that his principal reason for going was to get a little bit more information about Rose than her letters provided him with. But the anticipation he dwelt on with the greatest pleasure, really, was of saying, "Oh, yes. Rose wrote that she'd seen you."
So one evening, after keeping up the pretense through his solitary dinner and the cigar that followed it, that he meant presently to go up to his study and correct galley proofs on an enormous brief, he slipped out about nine o'clock, and walked around to the Randolphs' new house.
This latest venture of Eleanor's had attracted a good deal of comment among her friends. Somebody called it, with a rather cruel double entendre, Bertie Willis' last word. In the obvious sense of the phrase, this was true. Eleanor had given him a free hand, and he had gone his limit. He'd been working slowly backward from Jacobean, through Tudor. But this thing was perfect Perpendicular. You could, as John Williamson said, kid yourself into the notion, when you walked under the keel-shaped arch to their main doorway, that you were going to church. And the style was carried out with inexorable rigor, down to the most minute details. But since everybody knew that the latest thing, the inevitably coming thing, was the pure unadulterated ugliness of Georgian, a style that Bertie had opposed venomously (because he couldn't build it, the uncharitable said); and because even Bertie's carefully preserved youth was felt to have gone a little stale and it was no longer fashionable to consider his charms irresistible, the phrase, "his last word," was instantly understood, as I said, to have a secondary sense.
No one, of course, could tell Eleanor anything about what the coming styles were going to be, in architecture or anything else. She was one of these persons with simply a sixth sense for fashions, and her having gone to Bertie Willis, instead of to young Mellish of the historic New York firm, McCleod, Hill, Stone & Black, who was doing such delightfully hideous things in Georgian, caused, among her friends, a good deal of comment. Her explanation that medicine was a medieval profession and that she had to have a medieval house to go with James, was felt to be a mere evasion.
It was recognized that one had to flirt with Bertie while he was building her house. And in the days when everybody else had been doing it, too, it didn't matter. But now that the celebrated hareem had ceased to exist, it was felt that one would do well to be a little careful; at least, to put a more or less summary end to the flirtation when the house was finished. But Eleanor hadn't done that. She was playing with him more exclusively than ever.
Rodney hadn't been in the house before, and he reflected, as he stood at the door, after ringing the bell, that his own house was quite meek and conventional alongside this. The grin that this consideration afforded him, was still on his lips when, a servant having opened the door, he found himself face to face with the architect.
Bertie, top-coated and hat in hand, was waiting for Eleanor, who was coming down the stairs followed by a maid with her carriage coat. He returned Rodney's nod pretty stiffly, as was natural enough, since Rodney's grin had distinctly brightened up at sight of him.
Eleanor said, rather negligently, "Hello, Rod. We're just dashing off to the Palace to see a perfectly exquisite little dancer Bertie's discovered down there. She comes on at half past nine, so we've got to fly. Want to come?"
"No," Rodney said. "I came over to see Jim. Is he at home?"
The maid was holding out the coat for Eleanor's arms, Bertie was fussing around ineffectually, hooking his stick over his left arm to give him a free right hand to do something with, he didn't quite know what. But Eleanor, at Rodney's question, just stood for a second quite still. She wasn't looking at anybody, but the expression in her eyes was sullen.
"Yes, he's at home," she said at last.
"Busy, I suppose;" said Rodney. Her inflection had dictated this reply.
"Yes, he's busy," she repeated absently and in a tone still more coldly hostile, though Rodney perceived that the hostility was not meant for him. And so plainly did the tone and the look and the arrested attitude proclaim that she was following out a train of thought and hadn't as yet got to the end of it, that he stood as still as she was.
Bertie, irreproachably correct as always, settled his shoulders inside his coat, and took his stick in his right hand again. Eleanor now looked around at him.
"Wait two minutes," she said, "if you don't mind." Then, to Rodney, "Come along." And she led the way up the lustrous, velvety teakwood stair.
He followed her. But arrived at the drawing-room floor, he protested.
"Look here!" he said. "If Jim's busy ..."
"You've never been in here before, have you?" she asked. "How's Rose? Jim saw her, you know, in New York."
"Yes," he said. "Rose wrote to me she'd seen him, and I thought I'd drop around for a chat. But if he's busy ..."
"Oh, don't be too dense, Rodney!" she said. "A man has to be busy when he's known to be in the house and won't entertain his wife's guests. Go up one flight more and to the door that corresponds to that one. It won't do you any good to knock. He'll either not answer or else tell you to go to hell. Just sing out who you are and go right in."
She gave him a nod and a hard little smile, and went down-stairs again to Bertie.
Rodney stood where she had left him, in two minds whether to carry out her instructions or to wait until he heard her and Bertie go out and then quietly follow them. It was a beastly situation, dragged into a family quarrel like that; forced to commit an intrusion that was so plainly labeled in advance. And on the other hand, it was a decidedly interesting situation. If Eleanor was as reckless as that with facts most women keep to themselves as long as possible, what would her outspoken husband be. But if he were full of his grievances, he probably wouldn't talk about Rose.
What really determined his action was Eleanor's discovery, or pretended discovery down in the hall below, that her gloves weren't what she wanted and her instructions to the maid to go up and get her a fresh pair. It would be too ridiculous to be caught there—lurking.
So he mounted the next flight, found the door Eleanor had indicated, knocked smartly on it, and to forestall his getting told to go to hell, sang out at the same time, "This is Rodney Aldrich. May I come in?"
"Come in, of course," Randolph called. "I'm glad to see you," he added, coming to meet his guest. "But do you mind telling me how the devil you got in here? Some poor wretch will lose his job, you know, if Eleanor finds out about this. When I'm in this room, sacred to reflection and research, it's a first-class crime to let me be disturbed."
It didn't need his sardonic grin to point the satire of his words. The way he had uttered "sacred to reflection and research," was positively savage.
Rodney said curtly, "Eleanor sent me up herself. I didn't much want to come, to tell the truth, when I heard you were busy."
"Eleanor!" her husband repeated. "I thought she'd gone out—with her poodle."
Rodney said, with unconcealed distaste, "They were on the point of going out when I came in. That's how Eleanor happened to see me."
With a visible effort, Randolph recovered a more normal manner. "I'm glad it happened that way," he said. "Get yourself a drink. You'll find anything you want over there, I guess, and something to smoke; then we'll sit down and have an old-fashioned talk."
The source of drinks he indicated was a well-stocked cellarette at the other side of the room. But Rodney's eye fell first on a decanter and siphon on the table, within reach of the chair Randolph had been sitting in. His host's glance followed his.
"This is Bourbon I've got over here," he added. "I suppose you prefer Scotch."
"I don't believe I want anything more to drink just now," Rodney said. And as he turned to the smoking table to get a cigar, Randolph allowed himself another sardonic grin.
The preliminaries were gone through rather elaborately; chairs drawn up and adjusted, ash-trays put within reach; cigars got going satisfactorily. But the talk they were supposed to prepare the way for didn't at once begin.
Randolph took another stiffish drink and settled back into a dull sullen abstraction.
Rodney wanted to say, "I hear from Rose you had a little visit with her in New York." But, with his host's mood what it was, he shrank from introducing that topic. Finally, for the sake of saying something, he remarked:
"This is a wonderful room, isn't it?"
Randolph roused himself. "Never been in here before?" he asked.
"I've never been in the house before, I'm ashamed to say."
"What!" Randolph cried. "My God! Well, then, come along."
Rodney resisted a little. He was comfortable. They could look over the house later. But Randolph wouldn't listen.
"That's the first thing to do," he insisted. "Indispensable preliminary. You can't enjoy the opera without a libretto. Come along."
It was a remarkable house. Before the first fifteen minutes of their inspection were over, Rodney had come to the conclusion that though Bertie Willis might be an ass, was indeed an indisputable ass, he was no fool. It was almost uncannily clever, the way all the latest devices for modern comfort wore, so demurely, the mask of a perfectly consistent medievalism. And there were some effects that were really magnificent. The view of the drawing-room, for instance, from the recessed dais at the far end of it, where the grand piano stood—a piano that contrived to look as if it might have been played upon by the second wife of Henry VIII,—down toward the magnificent stone chimney at the other; the octagonal dining-room with the mysterious audacity of its lighting; the kitchen with its flag floor (only they were not flags, but an artful linoleum), its great wrought-iron chains and hoods beneath which all the cooking was done—by electricity.
Randolph took him over the whole thing from bottom to top. Through it all, he kept up the glib patter of a showman; the ironic intent of it becoming more and more marked all the while.
They brought up at last in the study they had started from.
"Oh, but wait a moment!" Randolph said. "Here's two more rooms for you to see."
The first one explained its purpose at a glance, with a desk and typewriter, and filing cabinets around the walls.
"Rubber floor," Randolph pointed out, "felt ceiling; absolutely sound-proof. Here's where my stenographer sits all day, ready,—like a fireman. And this," he concluded, leading the way to the other room, "is the holy of holies."
It had a rubber floor, too, and Rodney supposed, a felt ceiling. But its only furniture was one straight-back chair and a canvas cot.
"Sound-proof too," said Randolph. "But sounding-boards or something in all the walls. I press this button, start a dictaphone, and talk in any direction, anywhere. It's all taken down. Here's where I'm supposed to think, make discoveries, and things. No distractions. One hundred per cent. efficient. My God! I tried it for a while. Felt like a fool actor in a Belasco play. Do you remember? The one with the laboratory and the doctor?"
They went back into the study.
"Clever beasts, though—poodles," he remarked, as he nodded Rodney to his chair and poured himself another drink. "Learn their tricks very nicely. But good Heavens, Aldrich, think of him as a man! Think what our American married women are up against, when they want somebody to play off against their husbands and have to fall back on tired little beasts like that. In all the older countries there are plenty of men, real men who've got something, that a married woman can fall back on. But think of a woman of Eleanor's attractions having to take up a thing like that. There's nothing else for her. Would you come around and hold her hand and make love to her, or any other man like you? Not once in a thousand times. Eleanor doesn't mean anything. She's trying to make me jealous. That's her newest experiment. But it's downright pitiful, I say."
Rodney got up out of his chair. It wasn't a possible conversation.
"I'll be running along, I think," he said. "I've a lot of proof to correct to-night, and you've got work of your own, I expect."
"Sit down again," said Randolph sharply. "I'm just getting drunk. But that can wait. I'm going to talk. I've got to talk. And if you go, I swear I'll call up Eleanor's butler and talk to him. You'll keep it to yourself, anyway."
He added, as Rodney hesitated, "I want to tell you about Rose. I saw her in New York, you know."
Rodney sat down again. "Yes," he said, "so she wrote. Tell me how she looked. She's been working tremendously hard, and I'm a little afraid she's overdoing it."
"She looks," Randolph said very deliberately, "a thousand years old." He laughed at the sharp contraction of Rodney's brows. "Oh, not like that! She's as beautiful as ever. More. Facial planes just a hair's breadth more defined perhaps—a bit more of what that painter Burton calls edge. But not a line, not a mark. Her skin's still got that bloom on it, and she still flushes up when she smiles. She's lost five pounds, perhaps, but that's just condition. And vitality! My God!—But a thousand years old just the same."
"I'd like to know what you mean by that," said Rodney. He added, "if you mean anything," but the words were unspoken.
Randolph did mean something.
"Why, look here," he said. "You know what a kid she was when you married her. Schoolgirl! I used to tell her things and she'd listen, all eyes—holding her breath! Until I felt almost as wise as she thought I was. She was always game, even then. If she started a thing, she saw it through. If she said, 'Tell it to me straight,' why she took it, whatever it might be, standing up. She wasn't afraid of anything. Courage of innocence. Because she didn't know.
"Well, she's courageous now, because she knows. She's been through it all and beaten it all, and she knows she can beat it again. She understands—I tell you—everything.
"Why, look here! We all but ran into each other on the corner, there, of Broadway and Forty-second Street; shook hands, said howdy-do. How long was I here for? Was Eleanor with me? And so on. If I had a spare half-hour, would I come in and have tea with her at the Knickerbocker? She'd nodded at two or three passing people while we stood there. And then somebody said, 'Hello, Dane,' and stopped. A miserable, shabby, shivering little painted thing. Rose said, 'Hello,' and asked how she was getting along. Was she working now? She said no; did Rose know of anything? Rose said, 'Give me your address and if I can find anything, I'll let you know.' The horrible little beast told where she lived and went away. Rose didn't say anything to me, except that she was somebody who'd been out in a road company with her. But there was a look in her eyes ...! Oh, she knew—everything. Knew what that kid was headed for. Knew there was nothing to be done about it. She had no flutters about it, didn't pull a long face, didn't, as I told you, say a word. But there was a look in her eyes, behind her eyes, somehow, that understood and faced—God!—everything. And then we went in and had our tea.
"I had a thousand curiosities about her. I'd have found out anything I could. But it was she who did the finding out. Beyond inquiring about you, how lately I'd seen you, and so on, she hardly asked a question; talked about indifferent things: New York, the theaters, how we passed the time out here, I don't know what. But pretty soon I saw that she understood me, saw right into me like through an open window into a lighted room. As easily as that. She knew what was the matter with me; knew what I'd made of myself. And by God, Aldrich, she didn't even despise me!
"I came back here to kick this damned thing to pieces, give myself a fresh start. And when I got here, I hadn't the sand. I get drunk instead."
He poured himself another long drink and sipped it slowly. "Everybody knows," he said at last, "that prostitutes almost invariably take to drugs or drink. But I know why they do."
That remark stung Rodney out of his long silence. During the whole of Randolph's recital of his encounter with Rose, he'd never once lifted his eyes from the gray ash of his cigar, and the violet filament of smoke that arose from it. He didn't want to look at Randolph, nor think about him. Just wanted to remember every word he said, so that he could carry the picture away intact. Now that the picture was finished, he wanted to get out of that room, with it; out into the dark and loneliness of the streets, where he could walk and think.
There was something peculiarly horrifying to him in the exhibition Randolph was making of himself. He'd never in his life taken a drink, except convivially, and then he took as little as would pass muster. He'd always found it hard to be sensibly tolerant of the things men said and did in liquor, even when their condition had overtaken them unawares. Going off alone and deliberately fuddling one's self as a means of escaping unpleasant realities, struck him as an act of the basest cowardice. Whether Randolph's revelation of himself were true or distorted by alcohol, didn't seem much to matter. But for that picture of Rose, he'd have gone long ago and left the man to his bemused reflections. Only ...
He'd said that Rose understood everything and didn't despise him. A drunken fancy likely enough. She had seen something though. Her letter proved that. And having seen it, she'd asked him to drop in on the doctor for a visit. Did she mean she wanted him to try to help?
He tried, though not very successfully, to conceal his violent disrelish of the task, when he said:
"Look here, Jim! What the devil is the matter with you? Are you sober enough to tell me?"
Randolph put down his glass. "I have told you," he said. "It's a thing that can be told in one word. I'm a prostitute. I'm Eleanor's kept man. Well kept, oh, yes. Beautifully kept. I'm nothing in God's world but a possession of hers! A trophy of sorts, an ornament. I'm something she's made. I have a hell of a big practise. I'm the most fashionable doctor in Chicago. They come here, the women, damn them, in shoals. That's Eleanor's doing. I'm a faker, a fraud, a damned actor. I pose for them. I play up. I give them what they want. And that's her doing. They go silly about me; fancy they're in love with me. That's what she wants them to do. It increases my value for her as a possession.
"I haven't done a lick of honest work in the last year. I can't work. She won't let me work. She—smothers me. Wherever I turn, there she is, smoothing things out, trying to making it easy, trying to anticipate my wants. I've only one want. That's to be let alone. She can't do that. She's insatiable. She can't help it. There's something drives her on so that she never can feel sure that she possesses me completely enough. There's always something more she's trying to get, and I'm always trying to keep something away from her, and failing.
"And why? Do you want to know why, Aldrich? That's the cream of the thing. Because we're so damnably in love with each other. She wants me to live on her love. To have nothing else to live on. Do you know why she won't have any children? Because she's jealous of them. Afraid they'd get between us. She tries to make me jealous with that poodle of hers—and she succeeds. With that! I'd like to wring his neck.
"Do you want to know what my notion of Heaven is? It would be to go off alone, with one suit of clothes in a handbag, oh, and fifty or a hundred dollars in my pocket—I wouldn't mind that; I don't want to be a tramp—to some mining town, or mill town, or slum, where I could start a general practise; where the things I'd get would be accident cases, confinement cases; real things, urgent things, that night and day are all alike to. I'd like to start again and be poor; get this stink of easy money out of my nostrils. I'd like to see if I could make good on my own; have something I could look at and say, 'That's mine. I did that. I had to sweat for it.'
"I've been thinking about that for two years. It makes quite a fancy-picture. There are a million details I can fill into it. A rotten little office over a drug-store somewhere; people coming in with real ills, and I curing them up and charging them a dollar, and sending them away happy. I smoke a pipe because I can't afford cigars; get my meals at lunch-counters. I sit up here—in this room—and think about it.
"I came back from New York, after that look at Rose, meaning to do it; meaning to talk it out with Eleanor and tell her why, and then go. Well, I talked. Talk's cheap. But I didn't go. I'll never go. I'll go on getting softer and more of a fake; more dependent. And Eleanor will go on eating me up, until the last thing in me that's me myself, is gone. And then, some day, she'll look at me and see that I'm nothing. That I have nothing left to love her with."
Then, with suddenly thickened speech (an affectation, perhaps) he looked up at Rodney and demanded:
"What the hell are you looking so s-solemn about? Can't you take a joke? Come along and have another drink. The night's young."
"No," Rodney said, "I'm going. And you'd better get to bed."
"A couple more drinks," Randolph said, "to put the cap on a jolly evening. Always get drunk th-thoroughly. Then in the morning, you wake up a wiser man. Wise enough to forget what a damned fool you've been. You don't want to forget that, Aldrich. You've been drunk and you've talked like a damned fool. And I've been drunk and I've talked like a damned fool. But we'll both be wiser in the morning."
Rodney walked home that night like a man dazed. The vividness of one blazing idea blinded him. The thing that Randolph had seen and lacked the courage to do; the thing Rodney despised him for a coward for having failed to do, that thing Rose had done. Line by line, the parallel presented itself to him, as the design comes through in a half-developed photographic plate.
Without knowing it, yielding to a blind, unscrutinized instinct, he'd wanted Rose to live on his love. He'd tried to smooth things out for her, anticipate her wants. He'd wanted her soft, helpless, dependent. As a trophy? That was what Randolph had said. Had he been as bad as that? From what other desire of his than that could have come the sting of exasperation he'd always felt when she'd urged him to let her work for him; help him to economize, dust and make beds, so that he could go on writing his book? She'd seen, even then, something he'd been blind to—something he'd blinded himself to; that love, by itself, was not enough. That it could poison, as well as feed.
And, seeing, she had the courage ... He pressed his hands against his eyes.
When there could be friendship as well as love between them, she said, she'd come back. Would she come back now, even for his friendship? He doubted it. Dared not hope. There came up before him that face of frozen agony that had confronted him in the room on Clark Street, and he remembered what she'd said then—with a shudder—about it all ending "like this." Ending!
His love had played her false; had tried, instinctively, to smother her, and defeated at that, had outraged and tortured her. She couldn't possibly look at it any way but that. And now that she was free, self-discovered, victorious, was it likely she would submit to its blind caprices again? The thing Randolph had said was his notion of Heaven, she'd triumphantly attained. Wouldn't it be her notion of Heaven too?
But she had won, among the rest of her spoils of victory, the thing she had originally set out to get. His friendship and respect. Friendship, he remembered her saying, was a thing you had to earn. When you'd earned it, it couldn't be withheld from you. Well, it was right she should be told that; made to understand it to the full. He couldn't ask her to come back to him. But she must know that her respect was as necessary now to him, as she'd once said his was to her. He must tell her that. He must see her and tell her that.
He stopped abruptly in his walk. His bones, as the Psalmist said, turned to water. How should he confront that gaze of hers, which knew so much and understood so deeply—he with the memory of his two last ignominious encounters with her, behind him?
Except for the vacuum where the core and heart of it all ought to have been, Rose's life in New York during the year that put her on the high road to success as a designer of costumes for the theater, was a good life, broadening, stimulating, seasoning. It rested, to begin with, on a foundation of adequate material comfort which the unwonted physical privations of the six months that preceded it—the room on Clark Street, the nightmare tour on the road, and even the little back room in Miss Gibbons' apartment over the drug-store in Centropolis—made seem like positive luxury.
After a preliminary fortnight in a little hotel off Washington Square, which she had heard Jane Lake speak of once as a possible place for a respectable young woman of modest means to live in, she found an apartment in Thirteenth Street, not far west of Sixth Avenue. It was in a quiet block of old private residences. But this building was clean and new, with plenty of white tile and modern plumbing, and an elevator. Her apartment had two rooms in it, one of them really spacious to poor Rose after what she'd been taking for granted lately, besides a nice white bathroom and a kitchenette. She paid thirty-seven dollars a month for it, and five dollars a month for a share in a charwoman who came in every day and made her bed and washed up dishes.
The extensiveness of this domestic establishment frightened her a little at first. But she reassured herself with the reflection that under the rule Gertrude Morse had quoted to her, one week's pay for one month's rent, she still had a comfortable margin. She furnished it a bit at a time, with articles chosen in the order of their indispensability, and she went on, during the summer, to buy some things which were not indispensable at all. But not very many. Like most persons with a highly specialized creative talent for one form of beauty (in her case this was clothes) she was more or less indifferent about others. Witness how little interest she had taken in the labored beauties of Florence McCrea's house, even in the unthinking days before she had begun worrying about the expense of that establishment. Her indifference had always made Portia boil. Also it may be noted, that Florence McCrea herself, always went about looking a perfect frump.
So that, by the time Rose's apartment was furnished to the point of adequate comfort and decency, she took it for granted and stopped there. For her, the temptations of old brass, mezzo-tints, and Italian majolica—Fourth Avenue generally—simply did not exist.
She bought real china to eat her breakfasts out of, and the occasional suppers she had at home. She had had enough of thick cups and plates in the last six months to last her the rest of her life. And it is probable that she ate up, literally, the margin she had under Gertrude Morse's rule, in somewhat better restaurants than she need have patronized.
She did save money though, and put it away in a safe bank. But she never saved quite so much as she was always meaning to, and she carried along, for months after she went to work for Galbraith, an almost guilty sense of luxury. In spite of the fact that she was working very hard and of the further fact that her hours of labor were largely coincident with the leisure hours of other people, she made a good many friends. The first of these was Gertrude Morse, and it was through her, directly or indirectly, that she acquired the others.
Gertrude was Abe Shuman's confidential secretary and you can get a fairly good working notion of her by conceiving the type of person likely to be found in the borderland of theatrical enterprises, and then, in all respects, taking the exact antithesis of it. She was a brisk, prim-mannered, snub-nosed little thing, who wore her hair brushed down as flat as possible and showed an affection for mannish clothes. She had a level head, a keen and rather biting wit, which had the effect of making her constant acts of kindness always unexpected; and an education which, in her surroundings, seemed almost fantastic. She was a Radcliff Master of Arts.
Every one who had any dealings with Abe Shuman perforce knew Gertrude, and Rose got acquainted with her the first day. Galbraith introduced them in Shuman's office, and Rose found herself being investigated by a bright, penetrating and decidedly complex look which she interpreted—pretty accurately as she found out later—as saying, "Well, you're about what I expected; ornamental and enthusiastic; just what an otherwise sane and successful man of fifty would pick out for an 'assistant.' Aren't they just children at that age! But you're welcome. They deserve it. Good luck to you!"
But when Rose returned the look with a comprehending smile which said good-naturedly, "All right! You wait and see," Gertrude's expression altered into a frankly questioning frown. Two or three days later she dropped in at a rehearsal, ostensibly with a message from Shuman to Galbraith. He was on the point of leaving and had turned over the rehearsal to Rose. Gertrude, when he had gone, settled down comfortably in the back of the auditorium and watched through a solid hour, obviously under instructions from Abe to bring back a report as to whether Galbraith's infatuation should be tolerated or suppressed. At the end of the hour, during a brief lull in the rehearsal, she came down the aisle and stopped beside Rose who still had her eye on the stage.
"I apologize," she said.
Rose grinned around at her. It was not necessary to ask what for. "Much obliged," she said.
"I didn't know that a woman could do that," Gertrude went on. "Didn't think she'd have the—drive. But you've got it, all right. I don't suppose you've got an idea when you'll be free for lunch?"
Rose hadn't, but it was not many days before they got together for that meal at a business woman's club down on Fortieth Street, and from then on their acquaintance progressed rapidly. She helped Rose find the little apartment on Thirteenth Street, entertaining her during the search with a highly instructive disquisition on the social topography of New York, and on the following Sunday she ran in, she said, to see if she could help her get settled. There was no settling to do, but she sat down and talked—most of the time—for an hour or so. It was a theory of Gertrude's that the way to find out about people was to talk to them.
"You can't tell much," she used to say, "by the things people say to you. Perhaps they've just heard somebody else say them. Maybe they've got a repertory that it will take you weeks to get to the end of. Or they may not be able to show you at all what's really inside them. But from how they take the things you say to them—the things they light up at and the things they look blank about, the things they're too anxious to show you they understand, and the things they dare admit they never heard of—you can tell every time. Find out all you want to know about anybody in an hour!"
Rose, it seemed, reacted satisfactorily to her tests, since she was introduced as rapidly thereafter as their scanty leisure made possible, to Gertrude's more immediate circle of friends.
During that first winter, she enjoyed them immensely. They were all interesting; all "did things"; widely various things, yet, somehow, related. There was a red-haired fire-brand whose specialty seemed to be bailing out girls arrested for picketing and whose Sunday diversion consisted in going down to Paterson, New Jersey, making the police ridiculous and unhappy for an hour or so, delivering herself of a speech in defiance of their preventive efforts and finally escaping arrest by a hair's breadth. They got her finally but since she enjoyed the privilege of addressing as Uncle a man whose name was uttered with awe about the corner of Broad Street and Exchange Place, they had to let her go.
There was a young woman lawyer, associated with Gertrude in an organization for getting jobs for girls who had just been let out of jail, a level-headed enterprise, which by conserving its efforts for those who really wished to benefit by them, managed to accomplish a good deal. One of their circle was associate editor of a popular magazine and another wrote short stories, mostly about shop-girls. The last one of them for Rose to meet, she having been out of town all summer, was Alice Perosini. She was the daughter of a rich Italian Jew, a beautiful—really a wonderful person to look at—but a little unaccountable, especially with the gorgeous clothes she wore, in their circle. Rose took her time about deciding that she liked her but ended by preferring her to all the rest. She never talked much; would smoke and listen, making most of her comments in pantomime, but she had a trick of capping a voluble discussion with a hard-chiseled phrase which, whether you felt it precisely fitted or not, you found it difficult to escape from.
What forced Rose to a realization of her preference for Alice was the impulse to tell her who she really was and the suddenly following reflection that she never had wanted to tell any of the others; that she had taken care to avoid all reference to the husband and the babies she had fled from in search of a life of her own.
She never tried to explain to herself the feeling that imposed this reticence on her, until the discovery that it didn't exist toward Alice. She couldn't have feared that they would not approve of what she had done; it squared so exactly with all their ideas. Indeed the one real bond between them was a common revolt against the traditional notion that the way for a woman to effect her will in the world was by "influencing" a man. They wanted to hold the world in their own hands. They contemned the "feminine" arts of cajolery. They wanted no odds from anybody. There wasn't a real man-hater in the crowd, they were too normal and healthy for that. But they didn't talk much about men; never, as far as Rose knew, about men—as such. Was the topic suppressed, she wondered, or was it just that they didn't think about them?
That question made her realize how little she knew of any of them; how limited was the range of their intercourse. It was as if they met in a sort of mental gymnasium, fenced with one another, did callisthenics. Oh, that was going too far, of course; it was more real than that. But it was true that it was only their minds that met. And it seemed to be true that in the realm of mind they were content to live. Had they, like herself, deep labyrinthine, half-lit caverns down underneath those north-lighted, logically ordered apartments where Rose always found them? If they had they never let her or one another suspect it.
They'd be capable of deciding the great issue between herself and Rodney, if ever they were told the story, in a half dozen brisk sentences. Rose would be held to have been right and Rodney wrong, demonstrably. Rose, illogically, perhaps, shrank from that conclusion or at least from having it reached that way. There was more to it than that. There were elements in the situation they wouldn't know how to allow for.
But Alice Perosini, she thought, was different. She'd be able to make some of those allowances. Rose didn't tell her the story but she felt that at a pinch she could and this feeling was enough to establish Alice on a different basis from the others. It was with Alice that she discussed the more personal sort of problems that arose in connection with her new job. (One of these, as you are to be told, was highly personal.) And when the question came up of finding the capital that would enable her to make the Shumans a bid on all the costumes for Come On In it was Alice, who, with all the sang-froid in the world, sketched out the articles of partnership and brought her in a certified check for three thousand dollars.
The fact that they had become partners served, somehow, to divert a relation between them which might otherwise have developed into a first-class friendship. Not that they quarreled or even disappointed each other in the close contacts of the day's work. They were admirably complementary. Alice had the business acumen, the executive grasp, the patient willingness to master details, which were needed to set Rose free for the more imaginative part of the enterprise. Both were immensely determined on success. Alice couldn't have been keener about it if every cent she had in the world had been embarked in the business.