She laughed and asked, "Will you let me be as silly as I like for once? Will you give me a week—well, till Saturday; that would do—to get ready in?"
"Get ready?" he echoed.
"Clothes and thinks," she said. "A—trousseau, don't you see? I've been so busy making clothes for other people that I've got just about nothing myself. And I'd like ... But I don't really care, Roddy. I'll go with you to-morrow, 'as is,' if you want me to."
"No," he said. "We'll do it the other way."
And then he took her back to the gray brick entrance and, just out of range of the elevator man, kissed her good night.
"But will you telephone to me as soon as you wake up in the morning, so that I'll know it's true?"
She nodded. Then her eyes went wide and she clung to him.
"Is it true, Roddy? Is it possible for a thing to come back like that? Are we really the old Rodney and Rose, planning our honeymoon again? It wasn't quite three years ago. Three years next month. Will it be like that?"
"Not like that, perhaps," he said, "exactly. It will be better by all we've learned and suffered since."
There was a sense in which this prediction of Rodney's about their honeymoon was altogether true, They had great hours—hours of an emotional intensity greater than any they had known during that former honeymoon, greater by all they had learned and suffered since—hours that repaid all that suffering, and could not have been captured at any smaller price. There were hours when the whole of their two selves literally seemed transfused into one essence; when there was nothing of either of them that was not the other; when all their thoughts, impulses, desires, flowered spontaneously out of a common mind. There was no precalculating these experiences. They came upon them, seized them, carried them off.
One of these, that neither of them will ever forget, came at the end of a long tramp through the dawn of their second day. They had been swinging along in almost unbroken silence through the gray mist, had mounted a little hillock and halted, hand in hand, as the first lance of sunlight transfixed and flushed the still vaporous air, and it had seemed to them, as they watched, breathless, while the sun mounted, that the whole of the life that lay before them was a track of gold like that which blazed across the sea, leading to an intolerable glory.
And there were other hours of equally memorable transfiguration, which their surroundings had nothing whatever to do with—hours lighted only by the flame that flared up from their two selves.
But life, of course, can not be made up of hours like that. No sane person can even want to live in a perpetual ecstasy. What makes a mountain peak is the fall away into the surrounding valleys.
In their valleys of commonplace, every-day existence—and these occurred even in their first days together—they were stiff, shy, self-conscious with each other. And their attempt to ignore this fact only made the self-consciousness the worse. It troubled and bewildered both of them.
Rose's misgiving had been justified. They weren't the old Rodney and Rose. Those two splendid careless savages, who had lived for a fortnight on an island in the midst of Martin Whitney's carefully preserved solitude in Northern Wisconsin, accepting the gifts of the gods with such joyous confidence that none of them could ever turn bitter, those two zestful children, had ceased to exist.
John Galbraith had spoken truth when he said there was no such thing as a fresh start. For good or evil, you were the product of your yesterdays. The nightmare tour on the road with The Girl Up-stairs company was a part of Rose; the day in Centropolis, the night when Galbraith had made love to her. The hour in the University Club, when Rodney's heart had first shrunk from an unacknowledged fear; the days and weeks of humiliation and distress that had succeeded it, were a part of him—an ineffaceable part.
So it was natural enough—though not, therefore, the less distressing—that Rose should note, with wonder, a tendency in him to revert to the manner which had characterized his first call on her in New York; a tendency to be—of all things—polite. He didn't swear any more, nor contradict. He chose his words, got up when she did, picked up things she dropped. And when she was quite sure she was safe from discovery, she sometimes wept forlornly, for the rough, outrageous, absent-minded, imperious lover of the old days.
She did not know that she was different too—as remote from the girl she had been during the first six months of their marriage—the girl who, "all eyes," had held her breath while Doctor Randolph told her things; the girl who had smiled over Bertie Willis' love-making, because she didn't know that such things happened except in books—as he was from the old Rodney. Even Violet had seen, in the glimpse she'd caught across two taxicabs, that her smile was somehow different, and James Randolph had come back from his tea with her in the Knickerbocker, saying that she was a thousand years old.
So it was not wonderful that Rodney should have found a new mystery in her; nor that, seeing in her look, sometimes—especially when it was not meeting his own—the reflections of a thousand experiences he had not shared with her, he should have felt that she was a long way off. And his heart ached for the old Rose, whom he had so completely "surrounded"—the Rose who had consulted him about the menus for her dinners, who had brought him all her little troubles; who had tried—bless her!—to study law, and had stolen into court to hear his argument, so that she could talk with him. Whatever the future might have for him, it would never bring that Rose back.
The arrival of the twins, in the convoy of a badly flustered—and, to tell the truth, a somewhat scandalized—Miss French, simplified the situation a little—by complicating it! They absolutely enforced a routine. They had needs that must be met on the minute. And they gave Rose and Rodney so many occupations that the contemplation of their complicated states of mind was much abridged.
But even her babies brought Rose a disappointment along with them. From the time of the receipt of Miss French's telegram acknowledging Rodney's and telling them what train she and the twins would take, Rose had been telling off the hours in mounting excitement. The two utterly adorable little creatures, as the pictures of them in Rodney's pocketbook showed them to be, who were, miraculously—incredibly—hers, were coming to bring motherhood to her; a long-deferred payment for the labor and the agony with which she had borne them; the realization of half-forgotten hopes that had, during the period of her pregnancy, been the mainstay of her life. There was now no Mrs. Ruston, no Harriet, no plausible physician to keep them away from her. Rose had a smile of tender pity for the memory of the girl who had struggled so ineffectually and yet with such heart-breaking earnestness to break the filaments of the web they'd spun around her.
No, it wouldn't be like that now. Rodney had agreed explicitly that Miss French was to be allowed to stay only as long as Rose wanted her; only for the few days—or hours—she would need for making herself mistress of their regime. Then the nurse was to be sent away on a vacation and Rose should have her children to herself.
She didn't go to Boston with Rodney to meet them; nor even to the station; stayed in the cottage, ostensibly to see to it, up to the very last minute, that the fires were right (June had come in cold and rainy) and in general to be ready on the moment to produce anything that their rather unforeseeable needs might call for. Her real reason was a shrinking from having her first meeting with them in the confusion of arrival on a station platform, under the eyes of the world, amid the distractions of things like luggage.
Rodney understood this well enough, and arriving at the cottage, he clambered out of the wagon with them and carried them both straight in to Rose, leaving the nurse and the bewildering paraphernalia of travel for a second trip.
Rose, in the passionate surge of gratified desire that came with the sight of them, caught them from him, crushed them up tight against her breast—and frightened them half to death. So that without dissimulation, they howled and brought Miss French flying to the rescue.
Rose didn't make a tragedy of it; managed a smile at herself, though she suspected she'd cry when she got the chance, and subjected her ideas to an instantaneous revision. They were—persons, those two funnily indignant little mites, with their own ideas, their own preferences, and the perfectly adequate conviction of being entitled to them. How would she herself have liked it, to have a total stranger, fifteen feet high or so, snatch at her like that?
She was rather apologetic all day, and got her reward; especially from the boy, who was an adventurous and rather truculent baby, much she fancied, as his father must once have been, and who took to her more quickly than the girl did. Indeed, the second Rodney fell in love with her almost as promptly as his father had done before him. But little Portia wasn't very far behind. Two days sufficed for the conquest of the pair of them.
The really disquieting discovery awaited the time when the wire-edge of novelty about this adventure in motherhood had worn off; when she could bathe them, dress them, feed them their very strictly regimented meals, without being spurred to the highest pitch of alertness by the fear of making a mistake—forgetting something, like the juice of a half orange at ten o'clock in the morning, the omission of which might have—who knew what disastrous consequences!
That attitude can't last any woman long, and Rose, with her wonderfully clever hands, her wits trained—as the wits of persons who had worked for John Galbraith were always trained—not to be told the same thing twice, her pride keeping in sharp focus the determination that Rodney should see that she could be as good a nurse as Miss French—Rose wore off that nervous tenseness over her new job very quickly. Within a week she had a routine established that was noiseless—frictionless.
But do you remember how aghast she was over the forty weeks John Galbraith had talked about as the probable run of The Girl Up-stairs; her consternation over the idea of just going on doing the same thing over and over again, "around and round, like a horse at the end of a pole"? What she would like to do, she had told him, now that this was done, was to begin on something else.
Well, it was with something the same feeling of consternation that, having thrown herself heart and soul into the task of planning and setting in motion a routine for two year-and-a-half-old babies, she found herself straightening up and saying "What next?" And realizing, that as far as this job was concerned, there was no "next." The supreme merit of her care, from now on, would be—barring emergencies—the placid continuation of that routine. There were no heroics about motherhood—save in emergency, once more. It was a question of remembering a hundred trivial details, and executing them in the same way every day. It was a question of doing a thousand little services, not one of which was serious enough to occupy her mind, every one of which was capable of being done almost automatically—but not quite! The whole of the attention was never quite taken, and yet it was never, all the way around the clock, entirely left free. And her love for them, which had become almost as intense and overmastering a thing as her love for her husband, could never be expressed fully, as was her love for him. It would be cruelly unfair, she recognized that, to emotionalize over them—force them.
It was a fine relation. It was, perhaps, the very finest in the world. But as a job, it wasn't so satisfactory. Four-fifths of it, anyway, could be done with better results for the children by a placid, unimaginative, tolerably stupid person, who had no stronger feeling for them than the mild temporary affection they could excite in any one not a monster. And the other fifth of it wasn't strictly a job at all.
On the whole, then, leaving their miraculous hours out of the account—and, being incommensurable, imponderable, they couldn't be included in an inventory—their honeymoon, considered as an attempt to revisit Arcady, to seize a golden day that looked neither toward the past nor toward the future, complete in itself, perfect—was a failure.
It was not until, pretty ruefully, they acknowledged this, tore up their artificial resolution not to look at the future, and deliberately set themselves to the contemplation of a life that would have to take into account complex and baffling considerations, that their honeymoon became a success. It was well along in their month that this happened.
Rose had spent a maddening sort of day, a day that had been all edges, trying not to let herself feel hurt over fantastic secondary meanings which it was possible to attach to some of the things Rodney had said, frying to be cheerful and sensible, and to ignore the patent fact that his cheerfulness was as forced and unnatural a thing as hers. The children—as a rule the best-behaved little things in the world—had been refractory. They'd refused to take their morning nap for some reason or other, and had been fractious ever since. So, after their supper, when they'd finally gone off to sleep, and Rose had rejoined Rodney in the sitting-room, she was in a state where it did not take much to set her off.
It was not much that did; nothing more, indeed, than the fact that she found her husband brooding in front of the fire, and that the smile with which he greeted her was a little too quick and bright and mechanical, and that it soon faded out. The Rodney of her memories had never done things like that. If you found him sitting in a chair, you found him reading a book. When he was thinking something out he tramped back and forth, twisted his face up, made gestures! That habit couldn't have changed. It was just that he wasn't being natural with her! Couldn't feel at home with her! Before she knew it, she was crying.
He asked, in consternation, what the matter was. What had happened?
"Nothing," she said. "Absolutely nothing. Really."
"Then it's just—that you're not happy. With me, like this." He brought that out gravely, a word at a time; as though they hurt.
"Are you happy? With me—like this?" she countered.
It was a question he could not answer categorically and she did not give him time for anything else. "What's the matter with us, Roddy?" she demanded. "We ought to be happy. We meant to be. We said that we'd been through a lot, and that probably there was a lot mere to go through—in the way of working things out, at least—and that we'd take a month just for nothing but to be happy in—just for pure joy." Her voice broke in a sob over that. "And here we are—like this!"
"It hasn't all been like this," he said. "There have been hours, a day or two, that I'd go through the whole thing for, again, if necessary."
She nodded assent to that. "But the rest of the time!" she cried. "Why can't we be—comfortable together? Why ... Roddy, why can't you be natural with me? Like your old self. Why don't you roar at me any more? And swear when you run into things? I've never seen you formal before —not with anybody. Not even with strangers. And now you're formal with me."
The rueful grin with which he acknowledged the truth of this indictment was more like him, and it cheered her immensely. She answered it with one of her own, dried her eyes and asked again, more collectedly:
"Well, can you tell me why?"
"Why, it seemed to me," he said, "that it was you who were different. And you have changed, of course, down inside, more than I have. You've been through things in the last year and a half; found out things that I know nothing about, except as I have read about them in books. I've never had to ask a stranger for a job. I've never been—brought to bay, the way you were in that damned town of Centropolis (I'd like to burn it). And other things—horrible things, have—have come so near you, that if it hadn't been for that—white flame of yours, they'd have marked you. When I think of those things I feel like a schoolboy beside you. You've no idea how—how innocent a man can be, Rose. That's not the tradition, but it's true. So, when I remember how things used to be between us, how I used to be the one who knew things, and how I preached and spouted, I get to feeling that the man you remember must look to you now, like—well, like a schoolboy. Showing off."
She stared at him incredulously. "But that's downright morbid," she said. "You don't have to go—into the gutter to learn things. And what you say about innocence ... A man can't keep his innocence by being ignorant, Roddy. If he's kept it, he must have—fought for it. I know that."
She was still deeply disturbed. "It's horrible that I should make you feel like that," she concluded.
"It isn't you," he told her. "It's just—the situation. I can't help feeling that I'm taken—on approval. Oh, it's got to be like that! There are things that, with all the forgiveness in the world, you can't forget. And until you have seen that I am different, that I have made myself different...."
"What things?" she demanded.
"Well—a thing," he amended. "You know what I mean. The night I came to the stage door of the Globe for you."
She colored at that, and then, to his amazement, she smiled.
"I've been such a coward about that," she said. "I've tried to tell you a dozen times up here, and I've been afraid you'd be—shocked. I expect you will be, now. But I've got to tell you just the same.
"Roddy, when you were talking to me, there in the hotel at Dubuque, telling me how horrified you were over that, it came over me all at once that I had nothing to forgive; that if the thing was a fault at all, it was mine as much as yours, and that it wasn't so much of a fault as an—accident. You couldn't help hating me, and you couldn't help loving me. And you did both at once. And I, when I could have told you something that would have made you—well, hate me less, anyhow—didn't take the trouble. I said to myself then that it was too bad it happened, but that it wasn't, at least, your fault. And I was afraid to tell you so.
"But, Roddy, during these last months, down here in New York, I've been—glad it happened. It's been something to hold on to, that your love of me was strong enough, so that the hate couldn't kill it. It helped me to hope that it would be strong enough, some day or other, to bring you back to me. And without that hope, I couldn't have gone on. It's what I have lived on. The only thing that any of my—successes has meant has been that perhaps it brought that nearer."
She gave a shaky laugh. "On approval!" Her eyes filled again. "Roddy, you can't mean that."
She came over and sat down in his lap, and slid her arm around his neck.
"This is where we'll begin!" she said. "That I'll never—whatever happens—walk out on you again. Whether things go well or badly with us, we'll work it out, somehow, together."
It was not until she heard the long shuddering sigh he drew at that, and felt him go limp under her, that she realized how genuine his fear had been—the perfectly preposterous fear that if their new experiment didn't come up to her anticipation she'd tell him so, and leave him once more. This time for good.
It was a good while before they took up a rational discussion again, but at last she said:
"It will take working out, though. We've been shirking that. Hadn't we better begin?"
He assented. "Only, you'll have to get up," he said, "and sit down somewhere else. Out of reach."
She smiled as she obeyed him. "It's hard for a woman to remember," she said, "that a man can't think about other things when he's making love, and can't think about the person he's in love with when he's doing other things. Because, that's about the easiest thing a woman does."
She saw by the expression that went over his face that her remark had chilled him a little. He didn't like to think of her as "a woman," nor as of his relation to her as accounted for by the fact that he was "a man." He'd generalize fast enough about the world at large, but it would always be hard for him to include her and himself in his generalizations.
"Well," he said when he'd got his pipe alight, "it's the first question I asked you after—after I got my eyes open: What are we going to do?"
"I told Alice Perosini," she said, "the day before we left to come up here, that I'd come back in a month, and that I'd stay until I'd finished all the work that we were contracted for. I felt I had to do that. It would have been so beastly unfair not to. You understand, don't you?"
"Of course," he said. "You couldn't consider anything else. But then what?"
"Then," she said after a silence, "then, if it's what you want me to do, Roddy, I'll come back to Chicago—for good."
"Give up your business, you mean?" he asked quickly.
She nodded. "It can't be done out there," she said. "All the big productions that there's any money in are made in New York. I'll come back and just be your wife. I'll keep your house and mother the children, and—what was it you said to Gertrude?—maintain your status, if you don't think I'm spoiled for that."
That last phrase, though, was said with a smile, which he answered with one of his own and threw in in parenthesis, "You ought to hear Violet go on, and Constance." But with an instant return to seriousness, he said:
"I've not asked that, Rose. I wouldn't dream of asking it!"
"I know," she said. "It's a thing I'm glad you let me give—unasked. But I mean it, Roddy. I've meant it from the first, when I told you you were all I wanted. There wasn't any string tied to that."
"I know," he said. "But all the same, it wouldn't work, Rose."
"There's a real job there," she persisted, "just in being successfully the wife of a successful man. I can see that now. I never saw it when it was my job. Hardly caught a glimpse of it. I didn't even see my bills; let you pay them down at the office, with all your own work that you had to do."
"It wasn't me," he said. "It was Miss Beach."
She stared at that and gave a short laugh. "If I'd known that ...!" she said.
Then she came back to the point.
"It is a real job, and I think I could learn to do it pretty well. And of course a wife's the only person who can do it properly."
Still he shook his head. But he hadn't, as yet, any reasoned answer to make, except as before, that it wouldn't work.
"I shouldn't mind the money end of it," she said. "I mean living on yours. I know I can earn my way, and I know you know it. So that wouldn't matter. I'd never feel like a beggar again, Roddy."
"I know," he agreed. "But that isn't it. It isn't a question of what you'd like to be, or are willing to be. It's a question of what you are. You're something more than just my wife. You've got certain talents—certain proved capacities. That's as true as that I am something besides—just your husband. There you are! Try it on the other way around. Suppose I should offer to give up my practise and come down here to live with you—be just your husband and, say, your business manager. You can see that that's preposterous. Or, for that matter, we could both quit. I've made a devil of a lot of money lately. I've an income from my investments of from twenty-five to thirty thousand a year that we could live on, and not do a blessed thing but be husband and wife to each other. Like the McCreas. But it wouldn't work. You've got to be what you are, that's the point, and somehow or other, cut your life to fit. I expect that's one of the things that's been the trouble with us down here. We've both been trying so damned hard to be something. And that won't work."
"What will work then?" she asked. And this was a question he couldn't answer.
"We've just got to go ahead," he said at last, "and see what happens. Perhaps you can work it out so that you can do part of your work at home. We could move the nursery and give you Florence's old studio. And then it would do if you only came down here for your two big seasons—fall and spring."
"That doesn't seem fair to you," she protested. "You deserve a real wife, Roddy; not somebody dashing in and dashing out."
"I don't deserve anything I can't get," he said. "I'd rather have a part interest in you than to possess, lock, stock and barrel, any other woman I can think of."
She came back to him again and settled down in his arms.
"You used to possess me, lock, stock and barrel," she said. "You can do it again, if you'll say the word, Rodney."
He shook his head. "That's just what I can't do," he told her. "That's gone and we'll never get it back. And I don't believe I'd have it back if I could. For one thing, you can't possess without being possessed. I know that back in those days you're talking about I used to try to fight you out of my thoughts. Used to stay down late at the office, not working, just—trying not to think about you. Trying to save out part of myself from being—saturated with you. It was the fact that I was so terribly important to you that used to make me feel like that; the fact of your—dependence—I don't mean for money—on me. I used to think—it wasn't your lover that thought that; it was the other man—that it would be a perfectly wonderful relief to me if you could just get some interest that left me out. And all the while the lover in me was trying to have all of you there was. It's a hard thing to talk sense about."
"A man told me," Rose said, "—John Galbraith told me, that he couldn't be a woman's friend and her lover at the same time, any more than a steel spring could be made soft so that it would bend in your fingers like copper, and still be a spring. He said that was true of him, anyway, and he felt sure it was true of nine men out of a dozen. Do you think it's true? Have we got to decide which we'll be?"
"We can't decide," he said with an impatient laugh. "That's just what I've been telling you. We've got to take what we can get. We've got to work out the relation between ourselves that is our relation—the Rose and Rodney relation. It'll probably be a little different from any other. There'll be friendship in it, and there'll be love in it. Imagine our 'deciding' that we wouldn't be lovers! But I guess that what Galbraith said was true to this extent: that each of those will be more or less at the expense of the other. It won't spring quite so well, and it will bend a little."
She was still disposed to rebel at this conclusion. "I don't see why it has to be that way," she insisted. "Why it can't be a perfect thing instead of just a compromise. Why being friends and partners shouldn't make us better lovers, and why being lovers shouldn't make us better friends."
"Like the doctrine of the Trinity," he murmured. "'Three in one; one in three. Without confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.' It's a wonderful idea, certainly."
"Well, then," she demanded, "isn't it what we ought to try for? The very best there is?"
"That's what they tell us," he admitted. "'Aim high,' they say. I'm not sure it isn't better sense to aim at something you can hit. Why, look at us, these last three weeks! We said we were going to have a month of pure happiness. One hundred per cent. pure. We waked up every morning telling ourselves we'd got to be happy, and we made ourselves miserable every night wondering if we'd been happy enough."
"I'm glad you were miserable, too," she said. "I was so ashamed of myself for being."
After a while he said, "Here's what we've got to build on: Whatever else it may or may not be, this relation between us is a permanent thing. We've lived with each other and without each other, and we know which we want. If we find it has its limitations and drawbacks we needn't worry. Just go ahead and make the best of it we can. There's no law that decrees we've got to be happy. When we are happy it'll be so much to the good. And when we aren't ..."
She gave a contented little laugh and cuddled closer down against him. "You talk like Solomon in all his solemnity," she said. "But you can't imagine that we're going to be unhappy. Really."
His answer was that perhaps he couldn't imagine it, but that he knew it, just the same. "Even an ordinary marriage isn't any too easy; a marriage, I mean, where it's quite well understood which of the parties to it shall always submit to the other; and which of them is the important one who's always to have the right of way. There's generally something perfectly unescapable that decides that question. But with us there isn't. So the question who's got to give in will have to be decided on its merits every time a difference arises."
She burlesqued a look of extreme apprehension. She was deeply and utterly content with life just then. But he wouldn't be diverted.
"There's another reason," he went on. "I've a notion that the thing we're after is about the finest thing there is. If that's so, we'll have to pay for it, in one way or another. But we aren't going to worry about it. We'll just go ahead—and see what happens."
"Do you remember when you said that before?" asked Rose. "You told me that marriage was an adventure anyway, and that the only thing to do was to try it—and see what happened."
He grunted. "The real adventure's just begun," he said.
"Anyhow," she murmured drowsily, "you can talk to me again. Just as if we weren't married."
* * * * *
And there is just about where they stand to-day—at the beginning, or hardly past the beginning, of what he spoke of as their real adventure; they are going forward prepared to make the best of it and see what happens.
What did happen within two or three days after this last conversation of theirs that I have chronicled was that Rose went back with Rodney and the twins to Chicago, stayed there only until Miss French could be summoned back from her vacation, and then went on to New York to a badly worried Alice and the now extremely urgent affairs of Dane & Company.
Summer is a slack time for a lawyer, of course, since judges are gentlemen who like long vacations. So Rodney persuaded Rose to take a bigger apartment in the same building and to put a card in the mail-box that would account for him as well as for herself. He came down pretty often, and always had, it must be owned, a rather hard time of it. The spectacle of Rose driving along an ungodly number of hours a day while he idled about doing nothing was one he found it hard to get used to. It didn't altogether reconcile him to it to have her point out that there were times when he drove like that. They had two or three good Sundays, though; one of them out on Long Island with John Galbraith—a meeting and the beginning of a friendship that Rose had been very keen to bring about.
Her work ended with a terrific climax in September, just about as his began, and Rose came back to Chicago, spent a joyous month with the twins and with the little of Rodney his office could spare of him. Then, taking the babies and their nurse with her, she went out to California to see her mother and Portia.
Without any special incentive, just the natural desire of a daughter and a sister for reunion after so long a parting would have taken her there.
But Rose had a special incentive. She wanted to talk to Portia. They hadn't had a real talk since that devastating day—ages ago—when, yielding to an impulse of passionate self-revelation, Portia had exhibited her great sacrifice and her equally great, though thwarted desire; had said to Rose, "I am the branch they cut off so that you could grow. You're living my life as well as yours. The only thing I ever could hate you for would be for failing." She wanted to tell Portia how the life she had given up the chance of living had grown in her sister's trust. She wanted Portia's, "Well done."
Also, as a practical matter of justice, she wanted to repay, as far as money could repay—what Portia, at such a cost, had given her. It was a project that had often been in her thoughts; at first, just as a dream, latterly, as a realizable hope.
Considered just as a visit to her mother and sister, the journey to California was a success. Her mother, especially, got a vast satisfaction out of the twins, and Rose herself an equal satisfaction out of seeing how happy and content she was.
She was writing a book—a sort of autobiography. Not that her life, as she modestly said, was worth writing about, but that the progress of the Cause she had devoted her life to could hardly be illustrated in a better way than with an account of that life; of the ideas she had found current in her girlhood; of the long struggle by means of which those ideas had become modified; and, last and most important, of the danger lest, now that the old fixed ideas had become fluid, they should flow in the wrong direction. Portia was acting as her amanuensis—faithful, competent, devoted, and just as of old—or perhaps more so, Rose couldn't be sure—ironic; a little acrid.
Mrs. Stanton's attitude toward Rose's own adventure perplexed and amused her a little. She'd half expected to be embarrassed with approbation. She was prepared to deprecate a little the idea that by the example of her revolt and her attained independence she had done a service to the great Cause. She didn't feel at all sure that she had; couldn't believe that she and Rodney, with all their struggles, had settled anything; and she had hesitated as to how far she could convey that doubt to her mother.
But she might have spared her pains. Mrs. Stanton's attitude, while it fell short of "the less said the better," was one, at least, of suspended judgment. She couldn't, conceivably, ever have left Henry Stanton. She couldn't, evidently, understand why Rose mightn't have done her wifely duty and been content with that. She felt it incumbent on women to demonstrate to men that the new liberties they sought would not, when granted, lead them to disregard the ties that were the essential foundations of Christian society. But Rose belonged to the new generation—a generation that confronted, no doubt, new problems, and would have to solve them for itself.
This suited Rose well enough. What she wanted from her mother, anyway, was just the old look of love and trust and confidence. And she got that abundantly.
The thing she wanted from Portia she didn't get. As long as any one else was by—her mother, or Miss French in charge of the twins—she and Portia chatted easily, on the best of terms. But, left alone with her—as it seemed to Rose she actually took pains not to be—Portia's manner took on that old ironic aloofness that had always silenced her when she was a girl. She made at last a resolute effort to break through.
"One of the things I came out for," she said, "was to talk to you—talk it all out with you. I want to know what sort of job you think I've made of it."
"You've evidently made a good job of the costume business," said Portia. "I read that little article about you in Vanity about a month ago. That didn't seem to leave much doubt as to who's who."
"I don't mean that," said Rose. "I mean what sort of job of it altogether; of the—of the life that's yours as well as mine."
She stopped there and waited, but all the assent she got from Portia was that she forbore to change the subject. They were sitting in the study which her mother had just abandoned for her afternoon nap, and Portia had busied herself sorting over the litter of papers her mother's activities always left.
"I want to tell you all about it," Rose said. "I'd like to tell you every smallest thing about it, if it were possible, so that you could—remember it as I do."
She tried to do this; to give her sister—not a narrative (her letters, after all, had put Portia in possession of the outlines of the story)—but at least an interpretation of it that would go to the bottom; things she couldn't write in her letters, the actuating desires and hopes that lay behind the things she'd done. But the attempt collapsed. She was talking in a vacuum. Her phrases grew more disjointed until she felt that they were meaningless. At least, scrambling back to solid ground again, she told Portia that she wanted to pay back to her the cost of her education, as well as that could be calculated, and of her trousseau.
Portia's negative of this proposition was as keen and straight as a knife-edge. The thing wasn't to be discussed; not to be considered for an instant. "We're perfectly well off, mother and I. We're living easily within our income out here, and—we're as contented as possible." The cadence of those last three words had a finality about it that closed the subject.
Portia didn't want to share, vicariously, in the life she'd made possible for Rose. The branch had withered indeed and didn't want the pain of feeling the sap struggling up under its bark again. The ashes had better be left banked up about the fading coal. The silence was like the click of a closing door. Then Portia said:
"What does the North Side bunch think of you now you've come back? And those Lake Forest friends of yours? They must have been hideously scandalized. Are they going to forgive you?"
"Oh, they're lovely to me," said Rose. "The only one I've lost out with is Frederica. She'll be a long time making it up with me, if she ever does."
"She saw what Rodney went through while you were away, I expect," Portia suggested.
"That, of course," said Rose. "And then—well, my going away like that, especially as she began to see what the idea was, must have seemed a sort of criticism on her own way of life, which she's every reason to feel perfectly satisfied with. And that, after she'd let herself get really fond of me, and had brought me up by hand—which is what she did that first season, must be pretty hard to forgive. She has forgiven me, of course. She's a dear. But we've—sort of got to begin again."
Portia wanted to know about all the others: that pretty Williamson woman, and a few more whose names she remembered.
Rose told her; showed a feverish interest in the rather indifferent topic just to bury the memory of the one that had failed so dismally. She described a dinner or two she had been to since her return, and told of the little triumph that had been made for her on the occasion of the Chicago opening of Come On In. Everybody had been there and the Crawfords had given a supper dance for her at the Blackstone afterward. And driving in the last nail, she told of the feeble little witticism old Mrs. Crawford had made apropos of her return—a remark whose tinge of malice was so mild that it was felt by all to constitute an official sanction of her social rehabilitation.
Portia honestly enjoyed all that, but Rose went back to the hotel feeling pretty blue. (They were stopping at the hotel. The twins alone, to say nothing of Miss French and herself, would have been too much for the modest confines of the bungalow.) She wished she could have a good long talk, to-night, with Rodney.
She had a sense of somebody, away up above all mundane affairs—not responsible for them, perhaps, but capable, at all events, of thoroughly taking them in—smiling at them all with a sort of ferocious cynicism. In the foreground of this impression were the good friends—the really good friends she had just been telling Portia about, who had taken her back with so warm a welcome—because she'd succeeded; got away with it!
It was with a deeper feeling of melancholy that she thought of Portia and her mother. Portia, who had fought so gallantly and deserved so much, thwarted, withered, huddling her ashes around her so that her coal of fire might never be fanned into flame again. Her mother, living gently in the afterglow of an outworn gospel. Must every one come to an end like that when some initial store of energy was spent? Begin walling himself in against life? Stuffing new experiences into pigeonholes, unscrutinized? Would the time come when little Portia would have to begin treating her with the same tender-patronage that Rose felt now for her mother? Would little Portia, some day, smile over her like that, and wonder whether she'd ever—really lived?
She did wish she could have a talk with Rodney.
The telephone switchboard in the lobby gave her an idea. It was five o'clock, now; seven in Chicago. He'd just be sitting down to dinner, all by himself, poor dear, most likely, and wishing for a talk with her. Well, why not?
She rather electrified the hotel office when she put in that call. The whole place wore an important air for the next half-hour. She went up to her room to wait for it, and before the line was put through she thought of something that would have prevented her doing it if she'd thought in time. He'd probably think something horrible had happened to one of them. So the moment she heard his voice—it was faint and far-away but clear enough that she could detect the straining urgency of it—she said:
"It's all right, Roddy. There isn't a thing the matter. Did I frighten you half to death?"
He said, "Thank God!" And then, "I don't suppose it was two minutes I waited for your voice, but it seemed a year. What is it?"
"I'm ashamed to tell you, after a scare like that. It's nothing, Roddy. Just to hear you say hello. It seems a pretty unjust sort of world, to-night, and I wanted to be reminded that you were in it. That's all."
She had to say it all over again before she could make him believe he'd heard her straight, and by that time she was feeling pretty foolish over the impulse she had yielded to. But just the sound of his good big laugh, when he understood, was worth it.
"You aren't running it, you know," he told her. "Leave the worry to the Authorities. I can't philosophize any better than that at twenty dollars a minute. I wish you were here."
"I wish so too," she said. "I will be next week."
When she had hung up the receiver, she had to squeeze the tears out of her eyes before she could see to do anything else. But it was with her own smile that she contemplated what she meant to do next. She went into the adjoining room, relegated Miss French to the side lines and undressed the twins herself.
The twins adored her and had the most ineffably delicious ways of showing it. But an added attraction for Rose resided in the fact that this incursion of hers always—just a little—annoyed Miss French. Clever as the nurse was about handling the twins, she could not manage even the pretense to that professional superiority which is the prerogative of nurses toward mothers. Rose, with those highly trained hands of hers, a twin in each of them, could exhibit a dazzling virtuosity that left Miss French nowhere.