HotFreeBooks.com
The Real Adventure
by Henry Kitchell Webster
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

But at the end of the day's work they tended to fly apart rather than to stick together. Both were charged with the same kind of static electricity. It was an instinct they were sensible enough to follow. Both realized that they were more efficient as partners from not going too intimately into each other's outside affairs.

But when the winter had passed and the early spring had brought its triumph, with the success of her costumes in Come On In, and when the inevitable reaction from the burst of energy that had won that triumph had taken possession of her, Rose found herself in need of a friendship that would grip deeper, understand more. And with the realization of the need of it she found she had it. It was a friendship that had grown in the unlikeliest soil in the world, the friendship of a man who had wanted to be her lover. The man was John Galbraith.

For the first month after she came to New York to work for him she had found Galbraith a martinet. She never once caught that twinkling gleam of understanding in his eye that had meant so much to her during the rehearsals of The Girl Up-stairs. His manner toward her carried out the tone of the letter she'd got from him in Centropolis. It was stiff, formal, severe. He seldom praised her work and never ungrudgingly. His censure was rare too, to be sure, but this obviously was because Rose almost never gave him an excuse for it. Of course she was up to her work, but, well, she had better be. This, in a nutshell, was his attitude toward her. Nothing but the undisputable fact that she was up to her work (Gertrude was comforting here, with her reticent but convincing reports of Abe Shuman's satisfaction with her) kept Rose from losing confidence. Even as it was, working for Galbraith in this mood gave her the uneasy sensation one experiences when walking abroad under a sultry overcast sky with mutterings and flashes in it. And then one night the storm broke.

They had lingered in the theater after the dismissal of a rehearsal, to talk over a change in one of the numbers Rose had been working on. It refused to come out satisfactorily. Rose thought she saw a way of doing it that would work better and she had been telling him about it. Eagerly, at first, and with a limpid directness which, however, became clouded and troubled when she felt he wasn't paying attention. It was a difficulty with him she had encountered before. Some strong preoccupation she could neither guess the nature of nor lure him away from.

But to-night after an angry turn down the aisle and back he suddenly cried out, "I don't know. I don't know what you've been talking about. I don't know and I don't care." And then confronting her, their faces not a foot apart, for by now she had got to her feet, his hands gripped together and shaking, his teeth clenched, his eyes glowing there in the half-light of the auditorium, almost like an animal's, he demanded, "Can't you see what's the matter with me? Haven't you seen it yet? My God!"

Of course she saw it now, plainly enough. She sat down again, managing an air of deliberation about it, and gripped the back of the orchestra chair in front of her. He remained standing over her there in the aisle.

When the heightening tension of the silence that followed this outburst had grown absolutely unendurable she spoke. But the only thing she could find to say was almost ludicrously inadequate.

"No, I didn't see it until now. I'm sorry."

"You didn't see it," he echoed. "I know you didn't. You've never seen me at all, from the beginning, as anything but a machine. But why haven't you? You're a woman. If I ever saw a woman in my life you're one all the way through. Why couldn't you see that I was a man? It isn't because I've got gray hair, nor because I'm fifty years old. You aren't like that. I don't believe you're like that. But even back there in Chicago, the night we walked down the avenue from Lessing's store—or the night we had supper together after the show...."

"I suppose I ought to have seen," she said dully. "Ought to have known that that was all there was to it. That there couldn't be anything else in the world. But I didn't."

"Well, you see it now," he said savagely fairly, and strode away up the aisle and then back to her. He sat down in the seat in front of her and turned around. "I want to see your face," he said. "There's something I've got to know. Something you've got to tell me. You said once, back there in Chicago, that there was only one person who really mattered to you. I want to know who that one person is. What he is. Whether he's still the one person who really matters. If he isn't I'll take my chance. I'll make you love me if it's the last thing I ever do in the world."

Remembering the scene afterward Rose was a little surprised that she'd been able to answer him as she did, without a hesitation or a stammer, and with a straight gaze that held his until she had finished.

"The only person in the world," she said, "who ever has mattered to me, or ever will matter, is my husband. I fell in love with him the day I met him. I was in love with him when I left him. I'm in love with him now. Everything I do that's any good is just something he might be proud of if he knew it. And every failure is just something I hope I could make him understand and not despise me for. It's months since I've seen him but there isn't a day, there isn't an hour in a day, when I don't think about him and—want him. I don't know whether I'll ever see him again but if I don't it won't make any difference with that. That's why I didn't see what I might have seen about you. It wasn't possible for me to see. I'd never have seen it if you hadn't told me in so many words, like this. Do you see now?"

He turned away from her with a nod and put his hands to his face. She waited a moment to see whether he had anything else to say, for the habit of waiting for his dismissal was too strong to be broken even in a situation like this. But finding that he hadn't she rose and walked out of the theater.

There was an hour after she had gained the haven of her own apartment, when she pretty well went to pieces. So this was all, was it, that she owed her illusory appearance of success to? The amorous desires of a man old enough to be her father! Once more, she blissfully and ignorantly unsuspecting all the while, it was love that had made her world go round. The same long-circuited sex attraction that James Randolph long ago had told her about. But for that attraction she'd never have got this job in New York, never have had the chance to design those costumes for Goldsmith and Block. Never, in all probability, have got even that job in the chorus of The Girl Up-stairs. All she'd accomplished in that bitter year since she left Rodney had been to make another man fall in love with her!

But she didn't let herself go like that for long. The situation was too serious for the indulgence of an emotional sprawl. Here she was in an apartment that cost her thirty-seven dollars a month. She'd got to earn a minimum of thirty dollars a week to keep on with it. Of course she couldn't go on working for Galbraith. The question was, what could she do? Well, she could do a good many things. Whatever Galbraith's motives had been in giving her her chance, she had taken that chance and made the most of it. Gertrude Morse knew what she could do. For that matter, so did Abe Shuman himself. The thing to do now was to go to bed and get a night's sleep and confront the situation with a clear mind in the morning.

It was a pretty good indication of the way she had grown during the last year that she was able to conquer the shuddering revulsion that had at first swept over her, get herself in hand again, eat a sandwich and drink a glass of milk, re-read a half dozen chapters of Albert Edwards' A Man's World, and then put out her light and sleep till morning.

It was barely nine o'clock when Galbraith called her up on the telephone. She hadn't had her breakfast yet and had not even begun to think out what the day's program must be.

He apologized for calling her so early. "I wanted to be sure of catching you," he said, "before you did anything. You haven't yet, have you? Not written to Shuman throwing up your job, or anything like that?"

Even over the telephone his manner was eloquent with relief when she told him she had not. "I want to talk with you," he said. "It's got to be somewhere where we won't be interrupted." He added, "I shan't say again what I said last night. You'll find me perfectly reasonable."

Somehow his voice carried entire conviction. The man she visualized at the other telephone was neither the distracted pleader she had left last night, nor the martinet she had been working for during the last month here in New York, but the John Galbraith she had known in Chicago.

"All right," she said, "I don't know any better place than here in my apartment, if that's convenient for you."

"Yes," he said, "that's all right. When may I come? The sooner the better of course."

"Can you give me an hour?" she asked, and he said he could.

It occurred to her, as the moment of his arrival drew near, that she might better have thought twice before appointing their meeting here in her apartment. Discretion perhaps would have suggested a more neutral rendezvous. But she didn't take this consideration very seriously and with the first real look she got into his face after she had let him in, she dismissed it utterly. They shook hands and said, "Good morning," and she asked him to sit down, all as if nothing had happened the night before. But he wasted no time in getting to the point.

"There's one idea you'll have got, from what I said last night, that's a mistake and that's got to be set right before we go any further. That is, that you owe your position here, as my assistant, to the fact that I'd fallen in love with you. That's not true. In fact, it's the opposite of the truth. That feeling of mine has worked against you instead of for you. I'll have to explain that a little to make you understand it. And if you won't mind I'll have to talk pretty straight." She gave him a nod of assent, but he did not immediately go on. It was a reflective pause, not an embarrassed one.

"I've always despised;" he said, "a man who mixed up his love-affairs with his business. In my business, perhaps, there's a certain temptation to do that and I've always been on guard against it. I've had love-affairs, more or less, all along. But in my vacations. You can't do decent honest work when your mind's on that sort of thing, and I care more about my work than anything else.

"Well, that night in Chicago, after the opening of The Girl Up-stairs, when I took you out to supper, I didn't know what I wanted. That's the truth. I'd been fighting my interest in you, my personal interest that is, calling myself all kinds of an old fool. I'd never had a thing get me like that before and I didn't know what to make of it. Well, the business was over, of course. I was entitled to a little vacation. I suppose, that night, if you'd shown the least sense of how I felt, even if it was just by seeming frightened, I might have flared up and made love to you. But you didn't see it at all. You had some sort of—fence around you that held me off. And for a while you even made me forget that I was in love with you. Forget that you were anything but the cleverest person I had known at catching my ideas and putting them over. I saw how enormously valuable you'd be to me, in this job you've got now, and I offered it to you.

"And then, all in a wave the other feeling came back. On my way to New York I decided that as long as I felt like that I'd have nothing more to do with you. A man couldn't possibly do any decent work with a woman he was in love with, either after he'd got her or while he was trying to get her. That's why you didn't hear from me within a month after I'd got back to New York. But as time went on I forgot how strong my feeling had been. I decided. I'd got over it. I'd been looking for some one else to take the place I'd designed for you and I couldn't find anybody.

"I might have got a man, but I didn't want a man, because if he were clever enough to be any good he'd be out after my job from the very first day. It would suit Abe Shuman down to the ground to have me teach a man all I know in two years and then put him in my place at half my pay. As for women, well, I've never seen a woman yet with just your combination of qualities, your drive and your knack. So I persuaded myself that it would be all right. That I could get along without thinking about you the other way. And I sent for you.

"But the minute I saw you I knew I'd have to look out. I've tried to; you know that. I've been treating you like a sweep since you've been down here. I didn't mean to but I couldn't help it. I was in such a rage with myself for going on like a sentimental fool about you. And the way you took it, always good-humored and never afraid, made me all the more ashamed of myself and all the more in love with you. And so last night I burst. In a way I'm glad I did. I think perhaps it will clear the air. But I'll come to that later. I want to know now whether you're convinced that what I said is true. That the fact that I fell in love with you has been against you and not in your favor."

"Yes," Rose said, "I'm convinced of that and I want to thank you for telling me. Because the other feeling was pretty—discouraging."

"All right," he said with a nod, "that's understood. Now, here's my proposition. That you go on working for me exactly as if nothing had happened."

"Oh, but that's impossible!" she said, and when he put in "Why is it?" she told him he had just said so himself. That it was impossible for a man to do decent work with a woman he was in love with.

"That's what I thought last night when I blew up," he admitted, "but I've got things a bit straighter since. In the first place, we have been doing decent work all this last month. We've been doing, between us, the work of two high-priced directors."

She said, "Yes, but I didn't know ..."

"Understanding's better than ignorance," he interrupted, "any time. Between people of sense, that is. We'd get on better together, not worse. Look at us now. We're talking together sensibly enough, aren't we? And we're here in your sitting-room, talking about the fact that I fell in love with you. Couldn't we talk just as sensibly in the theater, about whether a song or number was in the right place or not? Of course we could."

The truth of this argument rather stumped Rose. It didn't seem reasonable, but it was true. Instead of embarrassing and distressing her, this talk with Galbraith was doing her good, restoring her confidence. The air between them was easier to breathe than it had been for weeks.

"You seem different this morning, somehow," she said.

"Why," he told her, "I am different. Permanently different toward you. I am convinced of it. I don't pretend to understand it myself, but somehow—I'm relieved. For one thing, I never wanted to fall in love with you. It was quite against my will that I did it. And then I've always been tortured with curiosity about you. I've wondered. Were you as unconscious of me as you seemed? Was it possible that you didn't know. And if you did know, was it possible that you were—waiting? That it only needed a word of mine to put everything between us on a different basis? I couldn't get rid of that idea. It kept nagging at me. But after what you told me last night—and you certainly told it straight—that idea's exploded. What you said explains everything about you. I know now that I haven't a chance in the world. From now on, I imagine, I'll be able to treat you like a human being. Well, are you willing to try it?"

Up to now they'd been sitting quietly in their two chairs with most of the width of the room between them. But at this last question of his she got up and walked over to the window.

"I don't know," she said at last. "It seems dangerous, somehow; like courting trouble. I know ..." She hesitated, but then decided to say what was in her mind. "I know how terribly strong those feelings are and I've found out how little they've got to do with what it's so easy to decide is reasonable." Now she turned and faced him.

"Don't you think it would be more sensible for me to find another job? So that we could—well, take a fresh start?"

"Child," he said, "don't you know there's no such thing in the world as a fresh start? Or a new leaf? That's a comfortable delusion for cowards. The situation's in a mess, is it? All right, run away. Begin again with a clean slate. But the first thing written down on that slate is that you've just run away. Besides, suppose you do get another job, working, say, for another director. How do you know that he won't fall in love with you?"

That last sentence went by unheard. She was staring at him, almost in consternation. "That's true," she said. "That's perfectly true. That about running away. I—I never thought of it before." She went back to her chair and dropped into it rather limply. She sat there through a long silence, still thinking over his words and apparently almost frightened over her own implications from them.

At last he said, "You've no cause for worry over that, I should think. I don't believe you've ever run away from anything yet."

"I don't know," she answered thoughtfully. "I don't know whether I did or not."

"Well," he came out at last, getting to his feet, "how about it? What shall we do this time? Shall we tackle the situation and try to make the best of it, or ..."

"Yes, that's what we'll do," she said. "And, well, I'm much obliged to you for putting me right."

"I made all the trouble in the first place," said Galbraith, with a rueful sort of grin. "It was up to me to think of something."

And after the elevator she'd escorted him to had carried him down, she stood there in the hallway smiling, with the glow of a quite new friendliness for him warming her heart.

It was natural, of course, that the relation between them after that day should not prove quite so simple and manageable a thing as it had looked that morning. There were breathless days when the storm visibly hung in the sky; there were strained, stiff, self-conscious moments of rigidly enforced politeness. Things got said despite his resolute repression that had, as resolutely, to be ignored.

But in the intervals of these failures there emerged, and endured unbroken for longer periods, the new thing they sought—genuine friendliness, partnership.

It was just after Christmas that Abe Shuman took her away from him and put her to work exclusively on costumes. And the swift sequence of events within a month thereafter launched her in an independent business; the new partnership with Alice Perosini, with the details of which, through Jimmy Wallace, you are already sufficiently acquainted. By the time that happened the friendship had gone so far that Rose's chief reluctance in making the change sprang from a fear that the change would interrupt it.

But the thing worked the other way. Released from the compulsory relation of employer and employee, they frankly sought each other as friends, and found that they got more out of a half-hour together over a hasty lunch than a whole day's struggle over a common task had given them.

There were long stretches of days, of course, when they saw nothing of each other, and Rose, so long as she had plenty to do, was never conscious of missing him. She never, in the course of her own day's work, made an unconscious reference to him, as she was always making them to Rodney. But the prospect of an empty Sunday morning, for instance, was always enormously brightened if he called up to say that it was empty for him, too, and shouldn't they go for a walk or a ferry ride somewhere.

He did the greater part of the talking. Told her, a good deal to his own surprise, stories of his early life in London—a chapter he'd never been willing to refer to, except in the vaguest terms, to anybody else. He told her, too, with more and more freedom and explicitness, as he discovered how straight and honest her mind was, how eager it was for facts instead of for sentimental refractions of them, about certain emotional adventures of his as he was emerging into manhood, and of the marks they had left on him.

All told, she learned more about men, as such, from him than ever she had learned, consciously at least, from Rodney. She'd never been able to regard her husband as a specimen. He was Rodney, sui generis, and it had never occurred to her either to generalize from him to other men, or to explain any of the facts she had noted about him, on the mere ground of his masculinity. She began doing that now a little, and the exercise opened her eyes.

In many ways Galbraith and her husband were a good deal alike. Both were rough, direct, a little remorseless, and there was in both of them, right alongside the best and finest and clearest things they had, an unaccountable vein of childishness. She'd never been willing to call it by that name in Rodney. But when she saw it in Galbraith, too, she wondered. Was that just the man of it? Were they all like that; at least all the best of them? Did a man, as long as he lived, need somebody in the role of—mother? The thought all but suffocated her.

She did not return Galbraith's confidences with any detailed account of her own life, and the one great emotional experience of it that seemed to have absorbed all the rest and drawn it up into itself. But she had a comforting sense that, scanty as was the framework of facts he had to go on, he knew, somehow, all about it; all the essentials of it; knew infinitely more about her than Alice Perosini did, although from time to time she had told Alice a good deal.

Spring came on them with a rush that year; swept a vivid flush of green over the parks and squares, all in a day; pumped the sap up madly into the little buds, so that they could hardly swell fast enough, and burst at last into a perfectly riotous fanfare through the shrubberies. It pumped blood, too, as well as sap, and made hearts flutter to strange irregular rhythms with the languorous insolence of its perfumes, and the soft caressing pressures of its south wind.

It worried Rose nearly mad. She was bound to have gone slack anyway; to have experienced the well-earned, honest lassitude of a finished struggle and an achieved victory. Dane & Company had any amount of work in sight, to be sure—a success of such triumphant proportions as they had had with Come On In, made that inevitable—but it would be months before any of the new work was wanted.

Alice, who could see plainly enough that something was the matter, kept urging Rose to run away somewhere for a long vacation. Why not, if it came to that, put in a few weeks in London and Paris? She was almost sure to pick up some valuable ideas over there. Rose declined that suggestion almost sharply. If she'd had any practical training as a nurse, she'd go over to Paris and stay, but to use that magnificently courageous tragic city as a source of ideas for a Shuman revue was out of the question. As for the quiet place in the Virginia mountains, which Alice had suggested as an alternative, Rose would die of ennui there within three days. The only thing to do was to stick to her routine as well as she could, and worry along.

These weren't reasons that she gave Alice, they were excuses. The reason, which she tried to avoid stating, even to herself, was that she couldn't bear the thought of going one step farther away from Rodney than she was already.

A letter from him was always in the first Saturday morning delivery and she never left for her atelier till she got it. She had perceived, what he had not, the steadily growing friendliness of these letters. It wasn't a made-up thing, either. He was not telling her things because he thought she'd like to be told, but because it had insensibly become a need of his to tell her.

A year ago those letters would have made her wildly happy; would have filled her with the confidence that the end she sought was in sight at last. Now they drove her half mad with disappointment. She never opened one of those dearly familiar envelopes without the irrepressible hope that it contained a love-letter; a passionate demand that she come back to him; leave all she had and come back to him; his woman to her man. And her disappointment and inconsistency bewildered her.

Her two chance encounters, first with Jimmy Wallace in the theater, and later with James Randolph, made her restlessness more nearly unendurable. The thought that they were going back to Chicago and would, no doubt, within a few days after their talks with her, see and talk with him, was like the cup of Tantalus. And if she could encounter them by chance, like that, why mightn't she encounter him? Why mightn't he come to New York on business? She never walked anywhere, nowadays, without watching for him.

She didn't yield, passively, to these thoughts and feelings. She fought them relentlessly, methodically. She went to a women's gymnasium every evening, threw a medicine ball around for a while, and then played a hard game of squash, in the sometimes successful attempt to get tired enough so that she'd have to sleep. Also she tried riding in the park, mornings, but that didn't work so well, and she gave it up.

There came a Saturday morning, toward the end of May, which brought no letter from Rodney, and she stayed in all day, from one delivery to the next, waiting for it. She tried to disguise her excitement over its failure to arrive, as a fear lest something might have gone wrong with him or with the twins, but did not succeed. If anything had gone wrong she knew she'd have heard. The thing that kept clutching at her heart was hope. The hope that the letter wouldn't come at all; that there'd be a telephone call instead—and Rodney's voice.

The telephone did ring just before noon, but the voice was Galbraith's. He wanted to know if she wouldn't come over to his Long Island farm the following morning and spend the day.

She had visited the place two or three times and had always enjoyed it immensely there. It wasn't much of a farm, but there was a delightful old Revolutionary farmhouse on it, with ceilings seven feet high and casement windows, and the floors of all the rooms on different levels; and Galbraith, there, was always quite at his best. His sister and her husband, whom he had brought over from England when he bought the place, ran it for him. They were the simplest sort of peasant people who had hardly stirred from their little Surrey hamlet until that meteoric brother of theirs had summoned them on their breath-taking voyage to America, and for whom now, on this little Long Island farm, New York might have been almost as far away as London. Mrs. Flaxman did all the work of the house and farmyard without the aid of a servant, and her husband raised vegetables for the New York market.

What the pair really thought of the life John Galbraith led, or of the guests he sometimes brought out for week-end visits, no one knew. But the pleasant sort of homely hospitality one always found there was extremely attractive to Rose, and with Rodney's regular Saturday letter at hand she'd have accepted the invitation eagerly. As it was, she answered almost shortly that she couldn't come. Then, contrite, she hastened to dilute her refusal with an elaboration of regrets and hastily contrived reasons.

"All right," he said good-humoredly, "I shan't ask any one else, but if you happen to change your mind call me on the phone in the morning. Tell me what train you're coming down on and I'll meet you."

She didn't expect to change her mind, but a phonograph did it for her. This instrument was domesticated across the court somewhere—she had never bothered to discover just which pair of windows the sound of it issued from—and it was addicted to fox-trots, comic recitations in negro dialect, and the melodies of Mr. Irving Berlin. It was jolly and companionable and Rose regarded it as a friend. But on this Saturday night, perversely enough, perhaps because its master was in Pittsburgh on a business trip and hadn't come home as expected, the thing turned sentimental. It sang I'm on My Way to Mandalay, under the impression that Mandalay was an island somewhere. It played The Rosary, done as a solo on the cornet; and over and over again it sang, with the thickest, sirupiest sentiment that John McCormack at his best is capable of,

"Just a little love, a li—ttle kiss, Just an hour that holds a world of bliss, Eyes that tremble like the stars above me, And the little word that says you love me."

It was a song that had tormented Rose before with the abysmal fatuity of its phrases, its silly sloppy melody, and yet—this was the infuriating thing—the way it had of getting into her, somehow, reaching bare nerves and setting them all aquiver.

To-night it broke her down. She closed the windows, despite the sultriness of the night, but the tune, having once got in, couldn't be shut out. Whether she heard it or only fancied she did, didn't matter. The words bored their way into her brain.

"Just a little love, a little kiss, I would give you all my life for this, As I hold you fast and bend above you ..."

It was a white night for Rose. The morning sun had been streaming into her bedroom for an hour before she finally fell asleep. And at nine o'clock, when she wakened, she heard the phonograph going again. It was now on its way to Mandalay, but John McCormack was no doubt waiting in the background. She went to the telephone and called up Galbraith, telling him she'd come by the first train she could get.

He met her with a dog-cart and a fat pony, and when they had jogged their way to their destination they spent what was left of the morning looking over the farm. Then there was a midday farm dinner that Rose astonished herself by dealing with as it deserved and by feeling sleepy at the conclusion of. Galbraith caught her biting down a yawn and packed her off to the big Gloucester swing in the veranda, the one addition he'd built on the place, for a nap; and obediently she did as he bade her.

Coming into the veranda about four o'clock, and finding her awake, he suggested that they go for a walk. She had dressed, in anticipation of this, in a short skirt and heavy walking boots, so they set out across the fields. Two hours later, having swung her legs over a stone wall that had a comfortably inviting flat top, she remained sitting there and let her gaze rest, unfocused, on the pleasant farm land that lay below them.

After a glance at her he leaned back against the wall at her side and began filling his pipe. She dropped her hand on his nearer shoulder. After all these months of friendship it was the first approach to a caress that had passed between them.

"You're a good friend," she said, and then the hand that had rested on him so lightly suddenly gripped hard. "And I guess I need one," she ended.

He went on filling his pipe. "Anything special you need one for?" he asked quietly.



She gave a ragged little laugh. "I guess not. Just somebody strong and steady to hold on to like this."

"Well," he said very deliberately, "you want to realize this: You say I'm a friend and I am, but if there is anything in this friendship which can be of use to you you're entitled to it; to everything there is in it. Because you made it."

"One person can't make a friendship," she said. "Even two people can't. It's got to—grow out of them somehow."

He assented with a nod. "But in this case who gave it a chance to grow? Where would it have been if I'd had my way? If you hadn't pulled me up and set me straight?"

"For that matter," she said, "where would it have been if I had had mine? If I'd run away and tried for a fresh start, as I'd have done if you hadn't set me right?"

"Make it so," he said. "Say we've equal rights in it. Still you needn't worry about my not getting my share of the benefits."

"You are content with it, aren't you? Like this? I haven't—cheated? Used you? It's easy for a woman to do that, I think. It isn't ...?" She asked that last question by taking her hand off his shoulder.

"No, put it back," he said. "It's all right." He smoked in silence for a minute; then went on. "Why, 'content' is hardly the word for it. When I think what it was I wanted and what you've given me instead ...! It wasn't self-denial or any other high moral principle that kept me from flaring up when you took hold of me just now. It's because I've got a better thing. Something I wouldn't trade for all the love in the world. 'Content'!"

"I'd like to believe it was a better thing," she said; "but I'm afraid I can't."

"Neither could I when I was—how old are you?—twenty-four. Perhaps when you're fifty-one you can."

"I suppose so," she said absently. "Perhaps if it were a question of choosing between a love that hadn't any friendship in it and a friendship ... But it can't be like that!—Can it? Can't one have both? Can't a man—love a woman and be her friend and partner all at the same time?"

"I can't answer for every man," he said reflectively. "There are all kinds of men. And that's not mentioning the queers, who aren't real men at all. Take a dozen sound, normal, healthy men and if you could find out the truth about them, which it would be pretty hard to do, you'd find immense differences in their wants, habits, feelings; in the way things took them. But I've a notion that nine out of the dozen, if you could get down to the actual bedrock facts about them, would own up that if they were in love with a woman—really, you know, all the way—they wouldn't want her for a partner, and wouldn't be able to see her as a friend. That's just a guess, of course. But there's one thing I know, and that is that I couldn't."

She gave a little shiver. "Oh, what a mess it is!" she said. "What a perfectly hopeless blunder it is!" She slid down from the wall. "Come; let's walk."

He fell in beside her and they tramped sturdily along for a while in silence. At last she said, "Can you tell me why? Suppose there hadn't been any one else with me; suppose I'd felt toward you the way you did toward me, then; why couldn't you have gone on being my friend and partner as well as my lover? You'd have known I was worth it; have known I understood the things you were interested in and—yes, and was able to help you to work them out. Why would all that have had to go?"

"Oh, I don't know that I can explain it," he said. "But I don't think I'd call it a blunder that a strip of spring steel can't bend in your fingers like copper and still go on being a spring. You see, a man wants his work and then he wants something that isn't his work; that's altogether apart from his work; doesn't remind him of it. Love's about as far away as anything he can get. So that the notion of our working ourselves half to death over the same job, and then going home together ..."

"Yes," she admitted. "I can see that. But that doesn't cover friendship."

He owned that it didn't. "But when I'm in love with a woman—this isn't a fact I'm proud of, but it's true—I'm jealous of her. Not of other men alone, though I'm that, too, but jealous of everything. I want to be all around her. I want to be everything to her. I want her to think there's nobody like me; that nobody else could be right and I be wrong. And I want to be able to think the same of her. I want her to hide, from me, the things about herself that I wouldn't like. When I ask her what she thinks about something, I want her to say—what I want her to think. I know what I want her to think, and if she doesn't say it she hurts my feelings."

He thought it over a bit longer and then went on. "No, I've been in love with women I could suspect of anything. Women I thought were lying to me, cheating me; women I've hated; women I've known hated me. But I've never been in love with a woman who was my friend. I'd never figured it out before, but it's so."

In the process of figuring it out he'd more or less forgotten Rose. He had been tramping along communing with his pipe; thinking aloud. If he'd been watching her face he wouldn't have gone so far.

"Well, if it's like that," she said, and the quality of her voice drew his full attention instantly—"if love has to be like that, then the game doesn't seem worth going on with. You can't live with it, and you can't live—without it." Her voice dropped a little, but gained in intensity. "At least I can't. I don't believe I can." She stopped and faced him. "What can one do?" she demanded. "Wait, I suppose you'll say, till you're fifty. Well, you're fifty, and the thing can still torment you; spring on you when you aren't looking; twist you about." She turned away with a despairing gesture and stood gazing out, tear-blinded, over the little valley the hilltop they had reached commanded.

"You want to remember this," he said at last. "I've been talking about myself. I haven't even pretended to guess for more than nine of those twelve men. That leaves three who are, I am pretty sure, different. I might have been different myself, a little anyway, if I'd got a different sort of start. If my first love-affair had been an altogether different thing. If it had been the kind that gave me a home and kids. So you don't want to take what I've said for anything more than just the truth about me. And I'm not, thank God, a fair sample."

He stood behind her, miserably helpless to say or do anything to comfort her. An instinct told him she didn't want his hands on her just then, and he couldn't unsay the things he had told her any further than he had already.

Presently she turned back to him, slid her hand inside his arm, and started down the road with him. "My love-affair brought me a home and—kids," she said. "There are two of them—twins—a year and a half old now; and I went off and left them; left him. And all I did it for was to make myself over, into somebody he could be friends with, instead of just—as I said then—his mistress. I'd never known a woman then who was a man's mistress, really, and I didn't see why he should be so angry over my using the word. I thought it was fair enough. And the day I left his house I came to you and got a job in the chorus in The Girl Up-stairs. I thought that by earning my own way, building a life that he didn't—surround, as you say—I could win his friendship. And have his love besides. I don't suppose you would have believed there could be such a fool in the world as I was to do that."

He took a while digesting this truly amazing statement of hers, a half-mile perhaps of steady silent tramping. But at last he said, "No, I wouldn't call you a fool. I call a fool a person who thinks he can get something for nothing. You didn't think that. You were willing to pay—a heavy price it must have been, too—for what you wanted. And I've an idea, you know, that you never really pay without getting something; though you don't always get what you expect. You've got something now. A knowledge of what you can do; of what you are worth; and I don't believe you'd trade it for what you had the day before you came to me for a job."

"I don't know," she said raggedly. "Perhaps ..." A sob clutched at her throat and she did not try to conclude the sentence.

"As to whether you did right or wrong in leaving him," he went on, "you've got to figure it this way. It isn't fair to say, 'Knowing what I know now and being what I am now, but in the situation I was in then, I'd have done differently.' The thing you've got to take into account is, being what you were then, suppose you hadn't gone? You thought then that you were just his mistress, not knowing what a real mistress was like; and you thought that by going away you could make yourself his friend. You thought that was your great chance. Well, you couldn't have stayed without feeling that you had thrown away your chance; without knowing that you'd had your big thing to do and had been afraid to do it. And that knowledge would have gone a long way toward making you the thing you thought you were.

"Well, you did your big thing. And a person who's done that has stayed alive anyway; and he knows that when his next big thing comes along he'll do that too. I don't pretend that you'll always come out right in the end if you do the big thing, but I'm pretty sure of this; that you never come out at all if you refuse it."

His amazement over what she had done increased as he thought about it and was testified to every now and then by grunts and snorts and little exclamations, but he made no more articulate comment.

There was a seven-thirty train she thought she ought to take back to town and as their walk had led in that direction they finished it at the station, where he waited with her for the train to come in.

"It's been a good day," she said. "I feel as if you'd somehow pulled me through."

"And I," he said, "feel like a wind-bag. I've talked and talked; smug comfortable preaching."

"No, it's helped," she insisted. "Or something has. Just having you there, perhaps. I feel better, anyway."

But after she'd got her last look at him on the platform, when the train had carried her off, an observer, seeing the way the color faded out of her face, and the look in the eyes, which, so wide open and so unseeing, stared straight ahead, would have said that the benefit hadn't lasted long. There was about her the look of somber terror, just verging on panic, which you have seen in a child's face when he has been sent up-stairs to bed alone in the dark.

Fragments of Galbraith's talk came back to her. It was by ceasing to be her lover and her partner that he had become her friend. Rodney, it seemed from his letters, was becoming her friend too. Was it because he, too, had ceased to be her lover? if ever she stood face to face with him again would she search in vain for that look of hunger—of ages-old hunger and need—that she'd last seen when they stood face to face in her little room on Clark Street?

She walked down-town to her apartment from the Pennsylvania station end, though the natural effect of fatigue was to quicken her pace, and though she was indubitably tired, she walked slowly; slowly, and still more slowly. She found she dreaded going back to that apartment of hers and shutting herself in for the night, alone.

She found two corners of white projecting from under her door. And when she'd unlocked and opened it she stooped and picked them up, a visiting card and a folded bit of paper. She turned the card over and gave a little half-suffocated cry.

It was Rodney's card and on it he'd written, "Sorry to have missed you. I'll come back at eight."

Her shaking fingers fumbled pitifully over the folds of the note, but she got it open at last. It was from him too. It read:

"DEAR ROSE:

"This is hard luck. I suppose you're off for a week-end somewhere. I want very much to see you. When you come back and have leisure for me, will you call me up? I know how busy you are so I'll wait until I hear from you.

"RODNEY."

Her heart felt like lead when she'd read it. Dazedly, a little giddily, she pulled her door shut, went into her room and sat down.

He was in New York! He'd been to see her this afternoon—and left a card! And the note he'd written after his second visit was what Howard West might have written, or any other quite casual, slightly over-polite acquaintance. And it was from Rodney to her!

She couldn't see him if he felt like that; couldn't stand it to see him if he felt like that! Bitterness, contempt, hatred, anything would be easier to bear than that. She was to call up his hotel, was she? Well, she wouldn't!

And then suddenly she spread the note open again and read it once more. Turned it over and scrutinized the reverse side of the paper, and uttered a little sobbing laugh. If he'd been as cool, unmoved, self-possessed, as that note had tried to sound, would he have forgotten to tell her at what hotel she was to call him up?

Then, with a gasp, she wondered how she could call him up. He'd think she knew where he was; he'd wait; and after he'd waited a while, in default of word from her, wouldn't he take her silence for an answer and go back to Chicago?

She clenched her hands at that and tried to think. Well, the obvious thing to do seemed to be the only one. She must try one hotel after another until she found him. After all, there probably weren't more than a dozen to choose among. It wouldn't be easy looking up numbers with everything dancing before her eyes like this, but if she took the likeliest ones first she mightn't have to go very far. And, indeed, at a third attempt she found him.

When the telephone girl switched her to the information desk, and the information clerk said, "Mr. Rodney Aldrich? Just a moment," and then; "Mr. Aldrich is in fifteen naught five," the dry contraction in her throat made it impossible for her to speak.

But the switchboard girl had evidently been listening in and plugged her through, because she heard the throb of another ring, a click of a receiver and then—then Rodney's voice.

She couldn't answer his first "Hello," and he said it again, sharply, "Hello, what is it?"

And then suddenly her voice came back. A voice that startled her with its distinctness. "Hello, Rodney," she said; "this is Rose."

There was a perfectly blank silence after that and, then the crisp voice of an operator somewhere—"Waiting?"

"Yes," she heard Rodney say, "get off the line." And then to her. "I came to see you this afternoon and again to-night."

"Yes, I know," she said. "I just this minute got in. Can't you come back again now?"

How in the world, she had wondered, could she manage her voice like that! From the way it sounded she might have been speaking to Alice Perosini; and yet her shaking hand could hardly hold the receiver. She heard him say:

"It's pretty late, isn't it? I don't want to ... You'll be tired and ..."

"It's not too late for me," she said, "only you might come straight along before it gets any later."

She managed to wait until she heard him say, "All right," before she hung up the receiver. Then a big racking sob, not to be denied any longer, pounced on her and shook her.



CHAPTER IV

COULEUR-DE-ROSE

The fact that the length of time it would take a taxi to bring him down from his hotel to her apartment was not enough to decide anything in, plan anything in, was no more than enough, indeed, to give her a chance to stop crying and wash her face, was a saving factor in the situation.

In the back of her mind, as with a hairpin or two she righted her hair and decided, glancing down over herself, against attempting to change even her tumbled blouse or her dusty boots, was an echoing consciousness of something Galbraith had said that afternoon—"And you know when your next big thing comes along you will do that too."

Without actually quoting those words to herself, she experienced a sudden confidence that was almost serene. In a few minutes now, not more than five, probably—she hoped not more than that—something incalculable, tremendous, was going to begin happening to her. A thing whose issue would in all likelihood determine the course of her whole life. There might be a struggle, a tempest, but she made no effort to foresee the nature of it. She just relaxed physical and spiritual muscles and waited. Only she hoped she wouldn't have to wait long.

No—there was the bell.

It was altogether fortunate for Rose that she had attempted no preparation, because the situation she found herself in when she'd opened the door for her husband, shaken hands with him, led him into her sitting-room and asked him to sit down, was one that the wildest cast of her imagination would never have suggested as a possible one for her and Rodney. And it lasted—recurred, at least, whenever they were together—almost unaltered, for two whole days.

It was his manner, she felt sure, that had created it; and yet, so prompt and automatic had been her response that she couldn't be sure, not for the first half-hour or so, anyway, that he wasn't attributing it to her. It wasn't so much the first words he said, when, opening her door, she saw him standing in the hallway, as it was his attitude; his rather formal attitude; the way he held his hat; the fact—this was absurd, of course, but she reconstructed the memory very clearly afterward—that his clothes were freshly pressed. It was the slightly anxious, very determined attitude of an estimable and rather shy young man making his first call on a young lady, on whom he is desperately desirous of making a favorable impression.

What he said was something not very coherent about being very glad and its being very good of her, and almost simultaneously she gasped out that she was glad, and wouldn't he come in. She held out her hand to him, politely, and he, compensating for an imperceptible hesitation with a kind of clumsy haste, took it and released it almost as hastily. She showed him where to hang his coat and hat, conducted him into her sitting-room and invited him to sit down. And there they were.

And he was Rodney, and she was Rose! It was like an absurd dream.

For a while she talked desperately, under the same sort of delirious conviction one has in dreams that if he desists one moment from some grotesquely futile form of activity a cosmic disaster will instantly take place. A moment of silence between them would be, she felt, something unthinkably terrible. It was not a fear of what might emerge from such a silence, the sudden rending of veils and the confrontation of two realities; it was a dread, purely, of the silence itself. But the feeling did not last very long.

"Won't you smoke?" she asked suddenly; and hurried on when he hesitated, "I don't do it myself, but most of my friends do, and I keep the things." From a drawer in her writing-desk she produced a tin box of cigarettes. "They're your kind—unless you've changed," she commented, and went over to the mantel shelf for an ash-tray and a match-safe. The match-safe was empty and she left the room to get a fresh supply from her kitchenette.

On the inner face of her front door was a big mirror, and in it, as she came back through the unlighted passage, she saw her husband. He was sitting just as she'd left him, and as his face was partly turned away from her, it could not have been from the expression of it that she got her revelation. But she stopped there in the dark and caught her breath and leaned back against the wall and squeezed the tears out of her eyes.

Perhaps it was just because he was sitting so still, a thing it was utterly unlike him to do. The Rodney of her memories was always ranging about the rooms that confined him. Or the grip of the one hand she could see upon the chair-arm it rested on may have had something to do with it. But it was not, really, a consciously deductive process at all; just a clairvoyant look—into him, and a sudden, complete, utterly confident understanding.

He had come down here to New York to make another beginning. He meant to assert no rights, not even in their common memories, he would make no appeal. But something that he felt he had forfeited he was going to try to earn back. What was the thing he sought—her friendship, or her love? She knew! No plea that the inspired rhetoric of passion could be capable of could have convinced her of his love for her and of his need for her love as did the divine absurdity of this attempt of his to show her that she need give him—nothing. She knew. Oh, how she knew!

She stole back into her little kitchen and shut the door and leaned giddily against it, trying to get her breath to coming steadily again. At last she straightened up and wiped her eyes. A smile played across her lips; the smile of deep maternal tenderness. Then she picked up her box of matches and carried them to him in the sitting-room.

He stayed that first evening a little less than an hour, and when he got up to go, she made no effort to detain him. The thing had been, as its unbroken surface could testify, a highly successful first call. Before she let him go, though, she asked him how long he was going to be in New York, and on getting a very indeterminate answer that offered a minimum of "two or three days" and a maximum that could not even be guessed at, she said:

"I hope you're not going to be too dreadfully busy for us to see a lot of each other. I wish we might manage it once every day."

That shook him; for a moment, she thought the lightning was going to strike and stood very still holding her breath, waiting for it.

But he steadied himself, said he could certainly manage that if she could, and as the elevator came up in response to her ring, said that he would call her up in the morning at her office.

She puzzled a little during the intermittent processes of undressing, over why she had let him go like that. She found it easy to name some of the things that were not the reason. It was not—oh, a thousand times it was not!—that she wasn't quite sure of him. There was no expressing the completeness of her certainty that, with a look, a sudden holding out of the hands to him, the release of one little love-cry from her lips, a half-articulate, "Come and take me, Roddy! That's all I want!" she could have shattered, annihilated, that brittle restraint of his; released the full tempest of his passion; found herself—lost herself—in his embrace.

Certainly it was no doubt of that that had held her back. And, no more than doubt, was it pride or modesty. The one thing her whole being was crying out for was a complete surrender to him.

But the real reason seemed rather absurd, when she tried to state it to herself. She had felt that it would be a brutal thing to do. Really, her feeling toward him was that of a mother toward a child who, having, he thinks, merited her displeasure, offers her, by way of atonement, some dearly prized possession; an iron fire-engine, a woolly sheep. What mother wouldn't accept an offering like that gravely!

This thing that Rodney had offered her, the valiant, heart breaking pretense that she needn't give him anything—to her, whose aching need was to give him everything she had!—was just as absurd as the child's toy could have been. But it had cost him.... Oh, what must it not have cost him in struggle and sacrifice, to construct that pitiful, transparent pretense!—to maintain that manner! And the struggle and the sacrifice must not be cheapened, made absurd by a sudden shattering demonstration that they'd been unnecessary. His pretense must be melted, not shattered. And until it could be melted, that aching need of hers must wait.

And then she realized that the ache was gone—the tormenting restless hunger for him that had been nagging at her ever since the first rush of spring was somehow appeased. She'd have said, twenty-four hours ago, that to be with him, have him near her, in any other relation than that of her lover, would be unendurable. Twenty-four hours ago! She thought of that as she was winding her watch. It seemed incredible that it was no longer than that since the saccharine little sob in John McCormack's voice as he had sung "Just a little love, a li-ttle ki-iss," had driven her frantic.

She turned out her light and opened her bedroom window. The phonograph across the court was going again. But now, evidently, its master had come back from Pittsburgh, for it was singing lustily, "That's why I wish again that I was in Michigan, back on the farm."

Rose smiled her old wide smile, and cuddled her cheek into the pillow. She was the happiest person in the world.

When he called her up the next morning, she asked him to come down to the premises of Dane & Company (it was a loft on lower Fifth Avenue) about noon and go out to lunch with her, and she made no secret of her motive in selecting their rendezvous. "I'd like to have you see what our place is like;" she said, "though it isn't like anything much just now, between seasons this way. Still you can get an idea."

He said he would be immensely interested to see the place, and from the cadence of his voice was apparently prepared to let the conversation end there. But she prolonged it a little.

"Do you hear from—Chicago while you're down here, Roddy?" she asked. "Whether everything's all right—at home, I mean?"

It was a second or two before he answered, but when he did, his voice was perfectly steady.

"Yes," he said. "I get a night-letter every morning from Miss French. (This was Mrs. Ruston's successor.) It's—everything's all right."

"Good-by, then, till noon," she said. And if he could have seen the smile that was on her lips, and the brightness that was in her eyes as she said it ...!

It was a part, you see, of his Quixotic determination to make no claims, that he had not said a word, during his evening call, about the twins—her babies!

On the stroke of twelve his card was brought to her, and she went out into their bare little waiting-room to meet him.

"We aren't a regular dressmaking establishment, you see," she said. "The people we have to impress aren't the ones we make the clothes for. So we can be as shabby down here as we please, and Alice says—Alice Perosini, you know—that our shabbiness really does impress them. Shows we don't care what they think.

"You're sure you've plenty of time to see around in?" she went on. "That it won't cut into your time for lunch?"

He made it plain that he had plenty of time, and she took him into her own studio, a big north-lighted room at the back of the building, with the painter's manikins that Jimmy Wallace had told about, standing about in it, and some queer-looking electric-light fixtures suggestive of the stage; a big tin-lined box with half a dozen powerful tungsten lamps in it, and grooves in the mouth of it for the reception of colored slides. And a sort of search-light that swung on a pivot. There was a high cutting-table with a deep indentation in it, in which Rose could stand with her work all around her. On a shelf in a corner he noticed two or three little figures twelve inches high or so that he'd have thought of as dolls had it not been that their small heads gave them the scale of adults. Rose followed his glance.

"I play with those," she said. "Dress them in all sorts of things—tissue-paper mostly. It seems easier to catch an idea small in the tips of my fingers, and then let it grow up. You have to find out for yourself how you can do things, don't you?"

Then she took him out into the workroom, where there were more cutting-tables and power-driven sewing-machines.

"'It never rains but it pours,' is the motto of this business," she told him. "Nobody ever knows what he wants until the very last minute, and then he wants it the next, and everybody wants it at once. And then this place is like a madhouse. We simply go out of our heads. It was like that when Jimmy Wallace was down here. I hadn't a minute for him."

She added deliberately, "I'm glad you didn't come down then," and went swiftly on to explain to him a sort of pantograph arrangement which could be set with reference to the measurements of the manikin Rose had designed the costume upon, and those of the girl who was going to wear it, so that the pattern for the costume itself, as distinct from Rose's master-pattern, was cut almost automatically to fit.

"It's not really automatic, of course," she said. "No costume's done until I have seen it on the girl who's going to wear it. But it does save time."

Alice Perosini came in just then, and a breath-taking spectacle she'd have been to most men in the frock she had on. But it was not Rodney who gasped. It was Alice herself who almost did, when Rose introduced him to her, without explanations, as Mr. Aldrich and said she was going out to lunch with him.

"And there's no telling when I'll be back," she added, "so if there's anything to talk about, you'd better seize the chance and tell me now."

Alice couldn't be blamed if her face was a study. She knew that Aldrich was the name of Rose's abandoned husband, and it would have been natural to believe that this highly impressive-looking person, whom Rose so casually introduced, was he. But the matter-of-fact way in which Rose was trotting him about the shop, and spoke of carrying him off to lunch, seemed to make such a conclusion fantastic.

There was nothing casual about the man, though, she reflected afterward. He'd taken his part, adequately and politely, of course, in the introduction and the fragmentary word or two of small-talk that had followed it, but Alice doubted if he'd really seen her at all. And when a man didn't see Alice—this was a line of reasoning she was quite candidly capable of—it meant an intensity of preoccupation that one might call monstrous—portentous, anyway.

Rose asked him if he minded the Brevoort, which was near by and airy, on a warm spring day like this, and he assented to it with enthusiasm. He hadn't been there in years, he said. She wished, a little later, that she had thought twice and had taken him somewhere else, where she wasn't quite so obviously well acquainted. The cordial salutation of the head waiter, the number of people who nodded at her from this table or that, might well have been dispensed with on an occasion like this. And the climax was when the table waiter, well accustomed to having her bring guests of either sex to lunch with her, and on confidential terms with her gustatory preferences, handed her a menu—as a matter of form—told her what he thought she'd like to-day, and, getting out his pencil and his card, prepared to write it down. She saw Rodney looking pretty blank, so she checked the waiter and said:

"I think I did ask you to lunch with me, but if you'd rather I lunched with you ... You can have it whichever way you like."

He hesitated just an instant; then said he'd like to lunch with her. And somehow their eyes met over that in a way that, once more, made Rose hold her breath. But the lightning didn't strike that time.

Even so, their hour wasn't wasted on the polite topics of custom-made conversation, as, for a while, she had feared it would be; because he asked her, presently—and she could see he really wanted to know—how she had got started in this costuming business. It was evidently a thing she had a genius for, but how had she found it out, and how had she worked out that technique which, even to the eyes of his ignorance, was clearly extraordinary?

And Rose, beginning a little timidly, because she knew there were rocks ahead for him, told him the tale that had its beginning in Lessing's store; the story of Mrs. Goldsmith and her bad taste, of the Poiret model that had suggested her great idea, of the offer she had made Galbraith, the way she had bought her dressmaker's form and her bolts of paper-cambric out of the Christmas rush, and had cut out her patterns in the dead of nights after rehearsals, up in her little room on Clark Street. She told him of the wild rush with which the costumes themselves got made down under the stage at the Globe; of Galbraith's enthusiasm, of the bargain she'd driven with Goldsmith and Block—the unwittingly good bargain that had left her a profit of over two hundred dollars. She told him how Goldsmith and Block had driven a good bargain of their own, hiring her at her chorus-girl's salary for the last two delirious weeks; how insanely hard she'd worked, and how, at last, after the opening performance, Galbraith had offered her a job in New York when he should be ready for her.

Somehow, while she told it, though it was only occasionally that she glanced up at him—somehow, as she told it, she seemed to be hearing it with his ears—to be thinking, actually, the very thoughts that were going through his mind.

The central cord of it all, that everything else depended from, was, she knew, the reflection that this triumphant narrative he was listening to now, had been waiting on her lips to be told to him that night in the room on Clark Street, and that the smoking smoldering fires of his outraged pride and masculine sense of possession, had made the telling impossible—had made everything impossible but that dull outcry of hers that it had ended—like this.

But he never winced. Indeed, now and then when she tried to run ahead in a way to elide this incident or that, he asked questions that brought out all the details, and at the end he said with undisguised gravity, but quite steadily:

"So after the play opened you were just waiting for Galbraith to send for you. Why—why did you go on the road, instead of to New York?"

"He hadn't sent for me yet, and I'd made up my mind, by that time, that he meant not to. And I was too tired just then to come down here and try for anything else. I went on the road for a sort of rest-cure."

He sat for a good while after that in a reflective silence. And, at the end of it, deliberately introduced a new and entirely harmless topic of conversation. She knew why he did that. She understood now that there was more on his program than his manner last night had indicated. That had been a preliminary, but the past wasn't to be ignored forever. A time was coming when the issue between them should be brought up and settled. But the time was not now, nor the place this crowded restaurant.

She was perfectly docile to his new conversational lead, but the fact that she yielded, that she knew it would be beyond her powers to force that issue until he was ready for it, thrilled her—brought the blood into her cheeks. The thing he was doing might be absurd, but his way of doing it was not absurd. He had changed, somehow, or something had changed between them. She engaged all his powers. If there should be a struggle now, his mind would not betray him.

Just before they left the restaurant he asked her if she would dine with him some night and go to a show afterward, and when she said she would he asked what night would be convenient to her.

Her inflection was perfectly demure and even casual, but nothing could keep the sudden "richening" that Jimmy Wallace had tried to describe out of her voice, and the light of mischief danced openly in her eyes when she said:

"Why, to-night's all right for me." She added, "If that's not too soon for you."

He flushed and dropped his hands from the edge of the table where they'd been resting, but he answered evenly enough:

"No, it's not too soon for me."

And then force of habit betrayed Rose into a stupid blunder that almost precipitated a small quarrel.

"Tell me what you'd like to see," she said, "and I'll telephone for the seats."

Then, at his horrified stare, she gasped out an explanation. "Roddy, I didn't mean buy the seats! I don't have to buy seats at any theater. And at this time of year they're so glad to have somebody to give them to that it seems sort of—wicked to pay real money."

"It's my mistake," he said. "Naturally, going to the theater wouldn't be much of a—treat to you. I'd forgotten that."

"Going with you would be a treat to me," she said earnestly. "That's why I didn't think about the other part of it. But I needn't have been so stupid as that. Will you forget I said it, please?"

He smiled now at himself, the first smile of genuine amusement she had seen on his lips for—how long?

"And I needn't have been quite so horrified," he admitted. "All the same, I hope I may manage to hit on a restaurant up-town somewhere, where the waiter won't hand you the check."

It was on this note that he parted from her at Dane & Company's doorway.

But the ice didn't melt so fast as she had expected it would, and she went to bed that night, after he'd brought her home in a taxi and, having told the chauffeur to wait, formally escorted her to her elevator, in a state of mind not quite so serenely happy as that of the night before. She had held her breath a good many times during the dinner, and even in the theater, where certain old memories and associations sprang at them both, as it were, from ambush. But always, at the breaking point, he managed to summon up unexpected reserves for resistance, intrenched himself in the manner of his first call.

Rose both smiled and wept over her review of this evening, and was a long while getting off to sleep. She felt she couldn't stand this state of things much longer.

But it was not required of her. With the last of the next day's light, the ice broke up and the floods came.

She had taken him to a studio tea in the upper sixties just off West End Avenue, the proprietors of the studio being a tousled, bearded, blond anarchist of a painter and his exceedingly pretty, smart, frivolous-looking wife—who had more sense than she was willing to let appear. They had lived in Paris for years, but the fact that he had a German-sounding name had driven them back to New York. It was through Gertrude that Rose had got acquainted with them—she having wrung from Abe Shuman permission for the painter to prowl around back-stage and make notes for a series of queerly lighted pictures of chorus-girls and dancers—"Degas—and then some," as his admirers said. Gertrude was at the tea and two or three others. It wasn't a party.

The two men had instinctively drawn controversial swords almost at sight of each other and for the hour and a half that they were together the combat raged mightily, to the unmixed satisfaction of both participants. The feelings of the bystanders were perhaps more diverse, but Rose, at least, enjoyed herself thoroughly, not only over seeing her husband's big, formidable, finely poised mind in action again, but over a change that had taken place in the nature of some of his ideas. The talk, of course, ranged everywhere: Socialism, feminism, law and its crimes, art and the social mind. Gertrude took a hand in it now and then, and it was something Rodney said to her, in answer to a remark about dependent wives, that really made Rose sit up.

"Wives aren't dependents," he said, "except as they let their husbands make them think they are. Or only in very rare cases. Certainly I don't know of a wife who doesn't render her husband valuable economic services in exchange for her support. I can hardly imagine one. Of course if they don't recognize that these services are valuable, they can be made to feel dependent all right."

Gertrude demurred. She was willing to admit that a wife who took care of a husband's house, cooked his meals, brought up his children, did him an economic service and that if she didn't feel that she was earning her way in the world it was because she had been imposed on. But here in New York, anyway—she didn't know how it might be out in Chicago—one didn't have to resort to his imagination to conjure up a wife who rendered none of these services whatever. "They live, thousands of them, in smart up-town apartments, don't do a lick of work, choke up Fifth Avenue with their limousines in the afternoon, dress like birds of paradise, or as near to it as they can come, dine with their husbands in the restaurants, go to the first nights, eat lobster Newburg afterward, and spend the next morning in bed getting over it. Those that can't afford that kind of life scrape along giving the best imitation of it they know how. Thousands of them—thousands and thousands. If they aren't dependents ..."

"They're not, though," said Rodney. "Not a bit of it. They're giving their husbands an economic service of a peculiarly indispensable sort. The first requisite for success to the husbands of women who live like that is the appearance of success. Their status, their front, is the one thing they can't do without. Well, and it's a curious fact that a man can't keep up his own front. If he tries to dress extravagantly, wear diamonds, spend his money on himself, he doesn't look prosperous. He looks a fool. People won't take him seriously. If he can get a wife who's ornamental, who has attractive manners, who can convey the appearance of being expensive without being vulgar, she's of a perfectly enormous economic advantage to him. She'd only have to quit buying the sort of clothes he could parade her in, and begin spoiling her looks with a menial domestic routine, to draw howls of protest from him. Only, so long as she doesn't call his bluff, she leaves him free to think that he's doing it all for her and that except for her extravagance—extravagance, mind you, that nine times out of ten he's absolutely rammed down her throat—he'd be as rich, really, as he has to try to pretend he is. He tells her so, with perfect sincerity—and she believes it." Rose enjoyed the look in Gertrude's face as she listened to that.

It was half past six or thereabout when they left the studio, and the late May afternoon was at its loveliest. It was the sort of day, as Rodney said, that convicted you, the minute you came out of it, of abysmal folly in having wasted any of it indoors.

"I want to walk," said Rose, "after that tea, if I'm ever to want any dinner."

He nodded a little absently, she thought, and fell in step beside her. There was no mention at any time, of their destination.

It was a good while before Rose got the key to his preoccupation. They had turned into the park at Sixty-sixth Street, and were half-way over to the Fifth Avenue corner at Fifty-ninth, before he spoke out.

"On a day like this," he said, "to have sat there for two or three mortal hours arguing about stale ideas! Threshing over the straw—almost as silly an occupation as chess—when we might have been out here, being alive! But it must have seemed natural to you to hear me going on like that." And then with a burst, before she could speak:

"You must remember me as the most blindly opinionated fool in the world!"

She caught her breath, then said very quietly, with a warm little laugh in her voice, "That's not how I remember you, Rodney."

She declined to help him when he tried to scramble back to the safe shores of conventional conversation. That sort of thing had lasted long enough. She just walked along in step with him and, for her part, in silence. It wasn't long before he fell silent too.

A thing that Rose hadn't counted on was the effect produced on both of them just by walking along like this together, side by side, in step. Just the rhythm of it established a sort of communion—and it was a communion fortified by many associations. Practically the whole of their courtship, from the day when he dropped off the street-car with her in the rain and walked her over to the elevated and kept her note-books, down to the day on the bridge over the Drainage Canal in the swirl of that March blizzard, when she'd felt his first embrace, had been on foot like this, tramping along side by side; miles and miles and miles, as she'd told her mother. And there had been other walks since. Do you remember the last time they had walked together? It was from the stage door of the Globe theater to her little room on North Clark Street. Rose remembered it and she felt sure that he did. The same singing wire of memories and associations that had vibrated between them then was vibrating between them now and drawing up palpably tighter with every half-mile they walked. Their pace quickened a little.

Straight down Fifth Avenue they walked to the corner of Thirteenth Street, and then west. And when they stopped and faced each other in the entrance to the gray brick building where Rose's apartment was, it was at the end of a mile or more of absolutely unbroken silence. And facing each other there, all that was said between them was her:

"You'll come in, won't you?" and his, "Yes."

But the gravity with which she'd uttered the invitation and the tenseness of his acceptance of it, the square look that passed between them, marked an end of something and the beginning of something new.

She left him in her sitting-room while she went through into her bedroom to take off her hat and jacket and take a glance into her mirror. When she came back, she found him standing at her window looking out. He didn't turn when she came in, but almost immediately he began speaking. She went rather limp at the sound of his voice and dropped down on a cushioned ottoman in front of the fireplace, and squeezed her hands together between her knees.

"I don't know how much you will have understood," he began, "probably a good deal. You told me in Dubuque—as you were quite right to tell me—that I mustn't come back to you. And now I've disobeyed you and come. What I hope you will have guessed is that I wouldn't have come except that I'd something to tell you—something different from the—idiocies I tormented you with in Dubuque;—something I felt you were entitled to be told. But I felt—this is what you won't have understood—I felt that I hadn't any right to speak to you at all, about anything vital, about anything that concerned us, until I'd given you some sort of guarantee—until I'd shown you that I was a person it was possible to deal reasonably with."

She smiled, then pressed her hands suddenly to her eyes.

"I understood," she said.

"Well, then ..." But he didn't at once go on. Stood there a while longer at the window, then crossed the room and brought up before her book-shelves, staring blindly at the titles. He hadn't looked at her even as he crossed the room.

"Oh, it's a presumptuous thing to try to say," he broke out at last, "a pitifully unnecessary thing to say, because you must know it without my telling you. But when you went away you said—you said it was because you hadn't—my—friendship! You said that was the thing you wanted and that you were going to try to earn it. And in Dubuque you told me that I'd evidently never be able to understand that you could have been happy in that room on Clark Street, that I'd wanted to 'rescue' you from; that I'd never be able to see that the thing you were doing there was a fine thing, worth doing, entitled to my respect. Well, the things I'd been saying to you and the things I'd been doing, justified you in thinking that. But what I've come down here to say is—is that now—at last—I do see it."

She would have spoken then if she could have commanded her voice, and as it was, the sound she made conveyed her intention to him, for he turned on her quickly as if to interrupt the unspoken words, and went on with an almost savage bitterness.

"Oh, I'm under no illusions about it. I had my chance to see, when seeing would have meant something to you—helped you. When any one but the blindest sort of fool would have seen. I didn't. Now, when the thing is patent for the world to see—now that Violet Williamson has seen it and Constance, and God knows who of the rest of them, who were so tactful and sympathetic about my 'disgrace'—now that you've won your fight without any help from me ... Without any help! In spite of every hindrance that my idiocy could put in your way! Now, after all—I come and tell you that you've earned the thing you've set out to get."

There was a little silence after that. She got up and took the post he had abandoned at the window.

"Why did you do it, Roddy?" she asked. "I mean, why did you want to come and tell me?"

"Why, in the first place," he said, "I wanted to get back a little of my self-respect. I couldn't get that until I'd told you."

This time the silence was longer.

"What else did you want?" she asked. "What—in the second place?"

"I don't know why I put it like that," he said. "Please don't think ... I can't bear to have you think that I came down here to—ask anything of you—anything in the way of a reward for having seen what is so plain to every one. I haven't any—claim at all. I want to earn your friendship. It's the biggest thing I've got to hope for. But I've no idea that you can hand it out to me ready-made. I believe you'd do it if you could. But you said once, yourself, that it wasn't a thing that could be given. It was a thing that had to be earned. And you were right about that, as you were about so many other things. Well, I'm going to try to earn it." "Is that—all you want?" she asked, and then hearing the little gasp he gave, she swung round quickly and looked at him. It was pretty dark in the room, but his face in the dusk seemed to have whitened.

"Is friendship all you want of me, Roddy?" she asked again.

She stood there waiting, a full minute, in silence. Then she said, "You don't have to tell me that. Because I know. Oh—oh, my dear, how well I know!"

He didn't come to her; just stood there, gripping the corner of her bookcase and staring at her silhouette, which was about all he could see of her against the window. At last he said, in a strained dry voice she'd hardly have known for his:

"If you know that—if I've let you see that, then I've done just about the last despicable thing there was left for me to do. I've come down here and—made you feel sorry for me. So that with that—divine—kindliness of yours, you're willing to give me—everything."

He straightened up and came a step nearer. "Well, I won't have it, I tell you! I don't know how you guessed. If I'd dreamed I was betraying that to you ...! Don't I know—it's burnt into me so that I'll never forget—what the memory of my love must be to you—the memory of the hideous things it's done to you. And now, after all that—after you've won your fight—alone—and stand where you stand now—for me to come begging! And take a gift like that! I tell you it is pity. It can't be anything else."

There was another minute of silence, and then he heard her make a little noise in her throat, a noise that would have been a sob had there not been something like a laugh in it. The next moment she said, "Come over here, Roddy," and as he hesitated, as if he hadn't understood, she added, "I want you to look at me. Over here by the window, where there's light enough to see me by."

He came wonderingly, very slowly, but at last, with her outstretched hand she reached him and drew him around between her and the window.

"Look into my face," she commanded. "Look into my eyes; as far in as you can. Is it—oh, my dearest"—the sob of pure joy came again—"is it pity that you see?"

She'd had her hands upon his shoulders, but now they clasped themselves behind his head. Her vision of him had swum away in a blur, and without the support she got from him she'd have been swaying giddily.

"Roddy, old man," she said, "if I hadn't seen—in the first—ten minutes, the thing you—meant so hard I shouldn't see—I think it would have—killed me. If I hadn't seen that you loved me—after all; after everything. After all the tortures you'd suffered, through me. Because that's all I want—in the world."

At that he put his arms around her and pulled her up to him. But the manner of it was so different from his old embraces that presently she drew him around so that what little light there was fell on his face, and searched it thoughtfully.

"You do believe me, Roddy, don't you—that there isn't any pity about it? There isn't any room for pity. There's nothing in me at all but just a great big—want of you. Don't you understand that?"

He did understand it with his mind, but he was a little dazed, like one who has stood too near where the lightning struck. The hope he had kept buried alive so long—buried alive because it wouldn't die—could not be brought out into a blinding glory like this without shrinking—pain—exquisite terrifying pain.

The knowledge she had acquired by her own suffering stood her in good stead now. She did not mistake, as the Rose he had married might have done, the weakness of his response for coldness—indifference.

She went back and began making love to him more gently; released herself from his arms, led him over to her one big chair, and made him sit down in it, settled herself upon the arm of it and contented herself with one of his hands. Presently he took one of hers, bent his face down over it and brushed the back of it with his lips.

The timidity of that caress, with all it revealed to her, was too much for her. She swallowed one sob, and another, but the next one got away from her and she broke out in a passionate fit of weeping.

That roused him from his daze a little, and he pulled her down in his arms—held her tight—comforted her.

When she got herself in hand again, she got up, went away to wash her face, and coming back in the room again, lighted a reading-lamp and drew down the blinds.

"Rose," he said presently, "what are we going to do?"

She knew she was not answering the true intent of his question when she said:

"Well, for one thing we can get a little supper. I don't know what we've got to eat, but we won't care—to-night."

There was a ring of decision in his voice that startled her a little when he said:

"No, we won't do that to-night. We'll go out somewhere to a restaurant."

Their eyes met—unwavering.

"Yes," she said, "that's what we'll do."

They didn't talk much across the table in the deserted little Italian restaurant they went to. Neither of them afterward could remember anything they'd said. They ate their meal in a sort of grave contented happiness that was reaching down deeper and deeper into them every minute, and they walked back to the gray brick building in Thirteenth Street, arm in arm, hand in hand, in silence. But when she stopped there, he said:

"Let's walk a little farther, Rose. There are things we've got to decide, and—and I'm not going in with you again to-night."

She caught her breath at that, and her hand tightened its hold on his. But she walked on with him.

He said, presently, "You understand, don't you?"

She answered, "Oh, my dear!—yes." But she added, a little shakily, "I wish we had a magic-carpet right here, that we could fly home on."

Then they walked a while in silence.

At last he said: "There's this we can do. I can go back to my hotel to-night, and tell them that I'm expecting you—that I'm expecting my wife to join me there. To-morrow? And then I can come and get you and bring you there. It's not home, and it's not the place I'd choose for—for a honeymoon, but ..."

The way she echoed the word set him thinking. But before his thoughts had got to their destination she said:

"Shall we make it a real honeymoon, Roddy—make it as complete as we can? Forget everything and let all the world be ..."

He supplied a word for her, "Rose-color?"

She accepted it with a caressing little laugh, "... for a while?"

"That's what I was fumbling for," he said, "but I can't think very straight to-night. I've got it now, though. That cottage we had—before the twins were born—down on the Cape. There won't be a soul there this time of the year. We'd have the world to ourselves."

"Yes," she said, "for a little while, we'd want it like that. But after a while—after a day or two, could we have the babies? Could the nurse bring them on to me and then go straight back, so that I could have them—and you, altogether?"

He said, "You darling!" But he couldn't manage more than that.

A little later he suggested that they could get the place by telegraph and could set out for it to-morrow.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13     Next Part
Home - Random Browse