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

They had had a great old talk that night, Frederica and he, he remembered. He remembered what he had talked about, and he smiled grimly over the recollection—space and leisure; the defective intelligence that trapped men into cluttering their lives with useless junk; so many things to have and to do that they couldn't turn around without breaking something. Had he been a fool then, or was he a fool now? Both, perhaps. But how old Frederica must have grinned over the naivete of him. Which of the two of him in her candid opinion would be the better man?

He believed he could answer that question. Oh, he was succeeding all right—increasing his practise, making money, getting cautious—prudent; he didn't bolt the track any more. And the quality of his work was good, he couldn't quarrel with that. Only, the old big free dreams that had glorified it, were gone. He was in harness, drawing a cart; following a bundle of hay.

He sprang impatiently to his feet, thrust back his chair so violently as he did so that it tipped over with a crash. The one really footling, futile, fool thing to do, was what he was doing now—lamenting his old way of life and making no effort to recapture it! Let him either accept the situation, make up his mind to it and stop complaining, or else offer it some effective resistance—sweep the flummery out of his life—clear decks for action.

Well, and that was the most asinine consideration of all. Because of course he couldn't do one thing or the other. As long as the man who wasn't Rose's husband remained alive in him, he'd protest—struggle—clamor for his old freedom. And yet, as long as the million tiny cords that bound hum, Gulliver-like, went back to Rose, talk of breaking them was sophomoric foolishness. He'd better go home!

The building was pretty well deserted by now, and against the silence he heard the buzzer in his telephone switchboard proclaiming insistently that some one was trying to get him on the telephone. His hour of recollection hadn't been a success, but the invasion of it irritated him none the less. He thought at first he wouldn't answer. He didn't care who was on the wire. He didn't want to talk to anybody. But no one can resist the mechanical bell-ringers they use in exchanges nowadays—the even-spaced ring and wait, ring and wait, so manifestly incapable of discouragement. At the end of forty-five seconds, he snatched open his door, punched the jack into its socket, caught up the head-piece, and bellowed, "Hello!" into the dangling transmitter.

And then the look of annoyance in his face changed to one of incredulous pleasure. "Good God!" he said. "Is that you, Barry Lake? Are you here in Chicago? And Jane, too? How long you going to be here?... Lord, but that's immense!"

And five minutes later he was calling Rose on the wire. "Rose, listen to this! Barry Lake and his wife are here. He just called up. They got in from New York at five o'clock, and I've asked them out to dinner. Barry Lake and Jane! What's the matter? Can't you hear me?... Why, they're about the best friends I've got. The magazine writer, you know, and his wife. And they're coming out to dinner—coming right out. I told them not to dress. I'll come straight home myself—get there before they do, I guess.... Why, Rose, what's the matter? Aren't you well? Look here! If you're below par, and don't feel like having them come, I can call it off and go over to the hotel and dine with them.... You'd rather we came out to the house? You're sure? Because they won't mind a bit. I can take them to a restaurant or anywhere.... All right, if you're sure it won't be too much for you. I'll be home in fifteen minutes. Lord, but it was good to hear old Barry's voice again! I haven't seen him for over a year. You're sure you'd rather?... All right. Good-by."

But he sat there frowning in a puzzled sort of way for half a minute after he'd pulled the plug. Rose's voice had certainly sounded queer. He was sure she hadn't planned anything else for to-night. He distinctly remembered her saying just before he left for the office that they'd have the evening to themselves. And it was incredible that she minded his bringing home two old friends like the Lakes on the spur of the moment, to take pot-luck. Oh, well, you couldn't tell about people's voices over the telephone. There must have been something funny about the connection.

An opportune taxi just passing the entrance to his office building as he came out, enabled him to better the fifteen minutes he'd allowed for getting home. But in spite of this he found Rose rather splendidly gowned for her expected guests.

"Good gracious!" he cried excitedly. "What did you do that for? I thought I told you over the phone the Lakes weren't going to dress."

"I was—dressed like this when you telephoned," Rose said. "And I was afraid there wouldn't be time to change into anything else."

"We weren't going anywhere, were we?" he asked. "There's nothing I've forgotten?"

"No," she said, "we weren't going anywhere."

"And you dressed like that just for a—treat for me?"

She nodded. "Just for you," she said. "Roddy, who are the Lakes? Oh, I know his articles, I think! But where were they friends of yours, and when?"

"Why, for years, until they moved to New York. They used to live here. I know I must have told you about them. I was always having dinner with them—either out in Rogers Park, where they lived, or at queer, terrible little restaurants down-town. They were always game to try anything, once. He's the longest, leanest, angularest, absent-mindedest chap in the world. And just about the best. And his wife fits all his angles. She's a good chap, too. That's the way you have to think of her. They're a great pair. She writes, too. Oh, you're sure to like them! They're going to be out here for months, he says. He's going to specialize in women, and he's come back here where they've got the vote and all, to make headquarters. Lord, but it's great! I haven't had a real talk with anybody since he went away, over a year ago!"

Then, at the sound of the bell, he cried out, "There they are!" and dashed down into the hall ahead of the parlor maid, as eagerly as a schoolboy anticipating a birthday present.

Rose followed more slowly, and by the time she had reached the landing she found him slapping Barry on the back and shaking both hands with Jane, and trying to help both of them out of their wraps at once.

The last thing she could have thought of just then, was of making, for herself, an effective entrance on the scene. But it worked out rather that way. The three of them, Rodney and the Lakes, at the foot of the stairs, in the clothes they had been working and traveling in all day, looked up simultaneously and saw Rose, gowned for a treat for Rodney, on the first landing; a wonderful rose-colored Boucher tapestry (guaranteed authentic by Bertie Willis) on the wall behind her for a background, and the carved Gothic newel-post bringing out the whiteness of the hand that rested upon it. The picture would have won a moment's silence from anybody. And Barry and Jane simply gazed at her wide-eyed.



Rodney was the first to speak. "It's really the Lakes, Rose. I couldn't quite believe it till I saw them. And the lady on the landing," he went on, turning to his guests, "is really my wife. It's all a little incredible, isn't it?"

When the greetings were over and they were on the way up-stairs again, he said: "I told Rose we weren't going to dress, but she explained she didn't put on this coronation robe for you, but for a treat for me before I telephoned, and hadn't time to change back."

And when Jane cried out, as they entered the drawing room, "Good heavens, Rodney, what a house!" he answered: "It isn't ours, thank God! We rented it for a year in a sort of honeymoon delirium, I guess. We don't live up to it, of course. Nobody could, but the woman who built it. But we do our damnedest."

The gaiety in his voice clouded a little as he said it, and his grin, for a moment, had a rueful twist. But for a moment only. Then his untempered delight in the possession of his old friends took him again and, with the exception of one or two equally momentary cloud-shadows, lasted all evening.

They talked—heavens how they talked! It was like the breaking up of a log-jam. The two men would rush along, side by side, in perfect agreement for a while, catching each other's half expressed ideas, and hurling them forward, and then suddenly they'd meet, head on, in collision over some fundamental difference of opinion, amid a prismatic spray of epigram. Jane kept up a sort of obbligato to the show, inserting provocative little witticisms here and there, sometimes as Rodney's ally, sometimes as her husband's, and luring them, when she could, into the quiet backwaters of metaphysics, where she was more than a match for the two of them. Jane could juggle Plato, Bergson and William James, with one hand tied behind her. But when she incautiously ventured out of this domain, as occasionally she did—when, for example, she confessed herself in favor of a censorship of the drama, she was instantly demolished.

"The state's got no business with morals," said Barry.

"That's the real cause of most of our municipal corruption," said Rodney. "A city administration, for instance, is corrupt exactly in ratio to its attempt to be moral. The more moral issues you import into politics—gambling, prostitution, Sunday closing, censored movies, and the rest—the more corrupt and helpless and inefficient your government will be." And, between them, for the next half-hour, they kept on demonstrating it until the roar of their heavy artillery fairly drove Jane from her trenches.

But all this was preliminary to the main topic of the evening, which got launched when Rodney seized the advantage of a pause to say:

"A series of articles on women, eh! What are you going to do to them?"

With that the topic of feminism was on the carpet and it was never thereafter abandoned. "Utopia to Brass Tacks," was the slogan Barry's chief had provided him with, he said. We were about the end of the heroic age of the movement, the age of myths and saints and prophecies. A transition was about due to smaller, more immediate things. The quality of the leaders would probably change. The heroines of the last three or four decades, women like Naomi Rutledge Stanton, to take a fine type of them.

"She's my mother," said Rose.

Barry Lake's aplomb was equal to most situations, but it failed him here; for a moment he could only stare. The contrast between the picture in his mind's eye, of the plain, square-toed, high-principled and rather pathetic champion of the Cause—pathetic in the light of what she hoped from it—facing indifference and ridicule with the calm smile of one who has climbed her mountain and looked into the promised land,—between that and the lovely, sensitive, sensuous creature he was staring at, was enough to stagger anybody. He got himself together in a moment, said very simply and gravely how much he admired her and how high a value, he believed, the future would put on her work; then he picked up his sentence where Rose had broken it.

The heroines and the prophets were going to be replaced, he believed, by leaders much more practical and less scrupulous, and the movement would follow the leaders. As far as polities went, he not only looked for no millennium, but for a reaction in the other direction. There'd be more open graft, he thought.

Rose asked him if he meant that he thought women were less honest than men.

"It isn't a lack of old-fashioned honesty that makes a man a grafter," he said. "It's seeing the duties and privileges of a public office in a private and personal way, instead of in a public, impersonal one; being kind to old friends who need a helping hand, and grateful to people who've held out helping hands to you. Well, and women have been trained for hundreds of years to see things in that private and personal way, and to exalt the private and personal virtues. Just as they've been trained to stick to rule of thumb methods that more or less work, rather than to try experiments. So, on the whole, I think their getting the vote will mean that politics will be crookeder and more reactionary than they've been in a good many years. All the same I'm for it, because it's a part of democracy, and I'm for democracy all the way. Not because you get good government out of it; you don't. You get as good as you deserve, and in the long run I think a society that has to deserve as good a government as it gets, grows stronger and healthier than one that gets a better government than it deserves."

"That old tory radical over there," said Jane, with a nod at Rodney, "has been grinning away for half an hour without saying a word. I'd like to know what you think about it."

"'Tory radical'?" questioned Rose.

"That's what Barry calls him," Jane explained. "He's so conservative about the law that he calls Blackstone an upstart and a faker, but the things he'd do, when it comes, down to cases—on good old common law principles, of course, would make the average Progressive's hair curl. Why, when people were getting excited over Roosevelt's recall of judicial decisions—remember?—Rodney was for abolishing the Bill of Rights altogether."

"What's the Bill of Rights?" asked Rose.

Jane headed Rodney off. "Oh, life, liberty and property without due process of law," she said. "Neither of these men has any opinion of rights. The only natural inalienable right you've got, they say, is to take what you can get and keep it until somebody stronger than you, that you can't run away from, catches you. What you call your individual rights are just what society has made and doesn't for the moment need, to keep itself going. If it does need them, it takes them back. Only, of course, it has got to keep itself going. If it doesn't, people get up and kick it to bits and start again." She turned to Rodney. "But what do you think about it, really? What Barry's been talking about, I mean. Are you for it?"

"For what?" Rodney wanted to know.

"For what women want," said Jane. "Economic independence, equality, easy divorce—all the new stuff."

"I'm not against it," Rodney said, "any more than I'm against to-morrow being Tuesday. It's going to be Tuesday whether I like it or not. But that conviction keeps me from crusading for it very hard. What I'm curious about is how it's going to work. When they get what they want, do you suppose they're going to want what they get?"

"I knew there was something deadly about your grin," said Jane. "What are you so cantankerous about?"

"Why, the thing," said Rodney, "that sours my naturally sweet disposition is this economic independence. I've been hearing it at dinner tables all winter. When I hear a woman with five hundred dollars' worth of clothes on—well, no, not on her back—and anything you like in jewelry, talking about economic independence as if it were something nice—jam on the pantry shelf that we men were too greedy to let them have a share of—I have to put on the brakes in order to stay on the rails.

"We men have to fight for economic independence from the time we're twenty, more or less, till the time we die. It's a sentence to hard labor for life; that's what economic independence is. How does that woman think she'd set about it, to make her professional services worth a hundred dollars a day—or fifty, or ten? What's she got that has a market value? What is there that she can capitalize? She's got her physical charm, of course, and there are various professions besides the oldest one, where she can make it pay. Well, and what else?"

"She can bear children," said Jane. "She ought to be paid well for that."

"You're only paid well," Rodney replied, "for something you can do exceptionally well, or for something that few people can do at all. As long as the vast majority of women can bear children, the only women who could get well paid for it would be those exceptionally qualified, or exceptionally proficient. This is economics, now we're talking. Other considerations are left out. No, I tell you. Economic independence, if she really got it—the kind of woman I've been talking about—would make her very, very sick."

"She'd get over being sick though, wouldn't she," said Rose, "after a while? And then, don't you think she'd be glad?"

Rodney laughed. "The sort of woman I've been talking about," he said, "would feel, when all was said, that she'd got a gold brick."

Rose poured his coffee with a steady hand. They were in the library by now.

"If that's so," she said, "then the kind of woman you've been talking about has already got a profession—the one you were just speaking of as—as the oldest. As Doctor Randolph says, she's cashed in on her ankles. But maybe you're mistaken in thinking she wouldn't choose something else if she had a chance. Maybe she wouldn't have done it, except because her husband wanted her to and she was in love with him and tried to please. You can't always tell."

It was almost her first contribution to the talk that evening. She had asked a few questions and said the things a hostess has to say. The other three were manifestly taken by surprise—Rodney as well as his guests.

But surprise was not the only effect she produced. Her husband had never seen her look just like that before (remember, he had not been a guest at the Randolphs' dinner on the night he had turned her out of his office), the flash in her eyes, the splash of bright color in her cheeks.

Barry saved him the necessity of trying to answer, by taking up the cudgels himself. Rodney didn't feel like answering, nor, for the moment, like listening to Barry. His interest in the discussion was eclipsed for the moment, by the thrill and wonder of his wife's beauty.

He walked round behind her chair, on the pretext of getting his coffee cup, and rested his hand, for an instant, on her bare shoulder. He was puzzled at the absence of response to the caress. For there was none, unless you could call it a response that she sat as still as ivory until he took his hand away. And looking into her face, he thought she had gone pale. Evidently though, it was nothing. Her color came back in a moment, and for the next half-hour she matched wits with Barry Lake very prettily.

When Jane declared that they must go, her husband protested.

"I haven't managed yet to get a word out of Rodney about any of his things. He dodged when I asked him how his Criminal Procedure Reform Society was getting on, and he changed the subject when I wanted to know about his model Expert Testimony Act." He turned on Rodney. "But there's one thing you're not going to get out of. I want to know how far you've come along with your book on Actual Government. It was a great start you had on that, and a bully plan. I shan't let you off any details. I want the whole thing. Now."

"I've had my fling," said Rodney, with a sort of embarrassed good humor. "And I don't say I shall never have another. But just now, there are no more intellectual wild-oats for me. What I sow, I sow in a field and in a furrow. And I take good care to be on hand to gather the crop. Model Acts and Reform of Procedure! Have you forgotten you're talking to a married man?"

On learning their determination to walk down-town, he said he'd go with them part of the way. Would Rose go, too? But she thought not.

"Well, I can't pretend to think you need it," he admitted. Then, turning to the Lakes: "You people must spend a lot of evenings with us like this. You've done Rose a world of good. I haven't seen her look so well in a month of Sundays."



CHAPTER IX

A DEFEAT

The gown that Rodney had spoken of apologetically to the Lakes as a coronation robe, was put away; the maid was sent to bed. Rose, huddled into a big quilted bath-robe, and in spite of the comfortable warmth of the room, feeling cold clear in to the bones—cold and tremulous, and sure that when she tried to talk her teeth would chatter—sat waiting for Rodney to come back from seeing the Lakes part way home.

It was over an hour since they had gone, but she was in no hurry for his return. She wanted time for getting things straight before he came—for letting the welter subside and getting the two or three essentials clear in her mind. She hadn't cried a tear.

The old Rose would have cried—the Rose of a month ago, before that devastating, blinding scene with Portia, and what had happened since. She even managed to smile a little satirically, now, over the way that child would have taken it. Here it was their first anniversary of the day—the great day in their two lives—their birthday, as well as his! And he'd forgotten it! He had remained oblivious that morning, in spite of all the little evocative references she had made. She hadn't let herself be hurt about that—not much, anyway; had managed to smile affectionately over his masculine obtuseness, as if it had meant no more to her than it would have, say, to Frederica. She had impressed him strongly, though—or tried to—with the idea that the evening was to be kept clear just for their two selves. And then she had arranged a feast—a homely little feast that was to culminate in a cake with a hedge of little candles around the edge for his birthday, and a single red one in the center, for theirs.

Well, and that was only part of it. She had planned, when the cake should have come in, all lighted up, and the servants had gone away and the other lights had been put out,—she had planned to tell him her great news. She hadn't told him yet, though it was over a fortnight since her visit to the doctor.

She had no reasoned explanation of her postponement of it. The instinct that led her to keep it wholly to herself, was probably one of the reflections of that morning with Portia. She was still in a penitential mood when she went to the doctor—a mood which the contemplation of Portia's frustrated life and her own undeservedly happy one, had bitten deep into her soul. It was a mood that nothing but pain could satisfy. The only relief she could get during that fortnight of packing and leave-taking, came in flogging herself to do hard things—things that hurt, physically and literally, I mean; that made her back ache and cramped the muscles of her arms. Her spiritual aches were too contemptible to pay any attention to.

Conversely, in that mood, the thing she couldn't endure, that made her want to scream, was precisely what, all her life, she had taken for granted; tenderness, concern, the smoothing away of little difficulties for which the people about her had always sacrificed themselves. That mood made it hard to go to the doctor. But, after she had fainted dead away twice in one morning, a saving remnant of common sense—the reflection that if there were anything organically wrong with her, it would be a poor trick to play on Rodney, not to take remedial measures as soon as possible—dictated the action.

When the doctor told her what had happened, she was a little bewildered. She hadn't, in her mind, any prepared background for the news. She and Rodney had decided at the beginning not to have any children for the first year or two—in view of Rose's extreme youth, the postponement seemed sensible—and the decision once made, neither of them had thought much more about it.

Rodney's vigorously objective mind had always been so fully occupied with things as they were that it found little leisure for speculation on things as they might be. The day's work was always so vividly absorbing to him that day-dreams never got a chance. His sex impulses had always been crowded down to the smallest possible compass, not because he was a Puritan, but because he was, spiritually and mentally, an athlete. He had never thought of marriage as a serious possibility, Frederica's efforts to the contrary notwithstanding, until, in a moment of bewilderment, he found himself head over ears in love with Rose Stanton. That this emotion had been able to fight its way into the fortress of his life spoke volumes for the power and the vitality of it. Once it got inside, it formed a part of the garrison of the fort. And, just as the contemplation of marriage had had to wait until there was a Rose Stanton to make it concrete and irresistible, so the contemplation of fatherhood would have to wait for a concrete fact to drive it home.

With certain important differences, Rose was a good deal like him. She had never had time to dream much. The pretending games of childhood—playing with dolls, playing house—had never attracted her away from more vigorous and athletic enterprises. A superb physique gave her an outlet for her emotional energy, so that she satisfied her wants pretty much as she became aware of them. And, conversely, she remained unaware of possibilities she had not, as yet, the means to realize.

They were both rather abnormally normal about this. Persons of robust emotions seldom think very much about them. The temperament that cultivates its emotional soil assiduously, warms it, waters it and watches anxiously for the first sprouts, gets a rather anemic growth for its pains. Which of these facts is cause and which effect, one need not pretend to say: whether it is a lack of vitality in the seed that prompts the instinct of cultivation, or whether it is the cultivation that prevents a sturdy growth. But, feeble as the results of cultivation may be, they produce at least the apparent advantage of running true to form. The thing that sprouts in cultivated soil will be what was planted there—will be, at all events, appropriate.

But in Rose's penitential mood, and in the absence of a prepared background, it was the processes of her pregnancy rather than the issue of it, that got into the foreground of her mind. She was in for an experience now that no one could call trivial. She had months of misery ahead of her, she assumed, reasoning from the one she had just gone through with, surmounted by hours of agony and peril that even Portia wouldn't deny the authenticity of.

Well, she was glad of it; glad she was going to be hurt. She could get back some of her self-respect, she thought, by enduring it all, first the wretchedness, then the pain, with a Spartan fortitude. There would he a sort of savage satisfaction in marching through all her miseries with her head up.

She couldn't do that if Rodney knew. He wouldn't let her. He'd want to care for her, comfort her, pack her in cotton-wool. And there was a terrible yearning down in her heart, to let him. For just that reason, he mustn't be told.

But, as the sharp edges of this mood wore off, she saw a little more justly. Already he suspected something. She caught, now and again, a puzzled, worried, almost frightened look in his face. It was a poor penance that others had to share. So, at the end of her feast to-night, when the candles were lighted and the servants gone away, she'd tell him. And, oh, what a comfort it would be to have him know!

That was the moment she was waiting for when he telephoned that he was bringing the Lakes out for dinner. The old Rose might well have cried.

But now, as she sat trembling in front of her little boudoir fire, the door open behind her so that she'd surely hear him when he came in, the disappointment and the hurt that had clutched at her throat when she turned from the telephone, were wholly forgotten. As I said, she hadn't shed a tear.

The situation she was confronted with now was beyond tears. Portia's stinging words went over and over through her mind. "If you let the big thing slip out of your hands because you haven't the pluck to fight ..." and her own, "I promise I won't do that." It would mean a fight. She must keep her head.

She gave a last panicky shiver when she heard his latch-key, then pulled herself together.

"Come in here, Roddy," she called, as he reached the head of the stairs. "I want to talk about something."

He had hoped, evidently, to find her abed and fast asleep. His cautious footfalls on the stairs made clear his intention not to waken her.

"Oh, I'm sorry," he said, pausing in the doorway to her dressing-room, but not coming in. "I didn't know you meant to sit up for me. If I'd known you were waiting, I'd have come back sooner. But we got to talking and we were at the hotel before we knew it, and it was so long since I'd seen them ..."

"I haven't minded," she told him. "I've been glad of a chance to think. But now ... Oh, please come in and shut the door!"

He did come in, but with manifest reluctance, and he stayed near the door in an attitude of arrested departure.

"It's pretty late," he protested with a nonchalance that rang a little flat. "You must be awfully tired. Hadn't we better put off our pow-wow?"

She understood well enough. The look in her face, some uncontrolled inflection in the voice she had meant to keep so even, had given her away. He suspected she was going to be "tragic." If he didn't look out, there'd be a "scene."

"We can't put it off," she said. "I let you have your talk out with the Lakes, but you'll have to talk with me now."

"We spent most of the time talking about you, anyway," he said pleasantly. "They're both mad about you. Barry says you've got a fine mind."

She laughed at that, a little raggedly. Whereupon Rodney looked hurt and protested against this imputation of insincerity against his friend.

"When you know him better," he said, "you will see he couldn't say a thing like that unless he meant it."

"Oh, he meant it, all right," said Rose. And she added incomprehensibly, "It isn't his fault, of course. It's just the way the world's made."

She had been in good looks to-night, she knew; hurt, humiliated, confronted with a crisis, she had rallied her powers just as she had done at the Randolphs' dinner. She had been aware of the color in her cheeks, the brightness in her eyes, the edge to her voice. Each of the two men had responded to the effect she produced. Barry had talked with her all the last part of the evening—brilliantly, eagerly, and had come away saying she had a fine mind. Her husband had come across to her and put his hand on her bare shoulder. And the two of them had responded to an identical impulse, although they translated it so differently—one over the long circuit, the other over the short.

Lacking the clue, Rodney, of course, didn't understand. The look in Rose's eyes softened suddenly.

"Don't mind, dear;" she said. "I'm truly glad if they liked me. It will make things a lot easier."

At that his eyes lighted up. "Do you seriously think any one could resist you, you darling?" he said. "You were a perfect miracle to-night, when they were here. But now, like this ..." He came over to her with his arms out.

But she cried out "Don't!" and sprang away from him. "Please don't, Roddy—not to-night! I can't stand it to have you touch me to-night!"

He stared at her, gave a shrug of exasperation, and then turned away. "You are angry about something then," he said. "I thought so when I first came in. But I honestly don't know what it's about."

"I'm not angry," she said as steadily as she could. She mustn't let it go on like this. They were getting started all wrong somehow. "You didn't want me to touch you, the night when I came to your office, when you were working on that case. But it wasn't because you were angry with me. Well, I'm like that to-night. There's something that's got to be thought out. Only, I'm not like you. I can't do it alone. I've got to have help. I don't want to be soothed and comforted like a child, and I don't want to be made love to. I just want to be treated like a human being."

"I see," he said. Very deliberately he lighted a cigarette, found himself an ash-tray and settled down astride a spindling little chair. (It was lucky for Florence McCrea's peace of mind that she didn't see him do it.) "All right," he said. "Now, come on with your troubles." He didn't say "little troubles," but his voice did and his smile. The whole thing would probably turn out to be a question about a housemaid, or a hat.

Rose steadied herself as well as she could. She simply mustn't let herself think of things like that. If she lost her temper she'd have no chance.

"We've made a horrible mistake," she began. "I don't suppose it's either of our faults exactly. It's been mine in a way of course, because it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been—thoughtless and ignorant. I might have seen it if I'd thought to look. But I didn't—not really, until to-night."

He wanted to know what the mistake was. He was still smiling in good-humored amusement over her seriousness.

"It's pretty near everything," she said, "about the way we've lived—renting this house in the first place."

He frowned and flushed. "Good heavens, child!" he said. "Can't you take a joke? I didn't mean anything by what I said about the house—except that—well, it is a precious, soulful, sacred—High Church sort of house, and we're not the sort of people, thank God—I'll say it again—who'd have built it and furnished it for ourselves. You aren't right, Rose. You're run down and very tired and hypersensitive, or you wouldn't have spent an evening worrying over a thing like that."

"You can make jokes about a thing that's true," she persisted. "And it's true that you've hated the way we've lived—the way this house has made us live.—No, please listen and let me talk. I can't help it if my voice chokes up. My mind's just as cool as yours and you've got to listen. It isn't the first time I've thought of it. It's always made me feel a little unhappy when people have laughed about the 'new leaf' you've turned over; how 'civilized' you've got, learning all the new dances and going out all the time and not doing any of the—wild things you used to do. In a joking sort of way, people have congratulated me about it, as if it were some sort of triumph of mine. I haven't liked it, really. But I never stopped to think out what it meant."

"What it does mean," he said, with a good deal of attention to his cigarette, "is that I've fallen in love with you and married you and that things are desirable to me now, because I am in love with you, that weren't desirable before. And things that were desirable before, are less so. I don't see anything terrible about that."

"There isn't," she said, "when—when you're in love with me."

He shot a frowning look at her and echoed her phrase interrogatively. She nodded.

"Because you aren't in love with me all the time. And when you aren't, you must see what I've done to you. You must—hate me for what I've done to you. I remember the first day we ever talked—when you laughed at my note-books. You talked about people who wore blinders and drew a cart and followed a bundle of hay. That's what I've made you do."

His face flushed deep. He sprang to his feet and threw his cigarette into the fire. "That's perfectly outrageous nonsense," he said. "I won't listen to it."

"If it weren't true," she persisted, "you wouldn't be excited like that. If I hadn't known it before, I'd have known it when I saw you with the Lakes. You can give them something you can't give me, not with all the love in the world. I never heard about them till to-night—not in a way I'd remember. And there are other people—you spoke of some of them at dinner—who are living here, that you've never mentioned to me before. You've tried to sweep them all out of your life; to go to dances and the opera and things with me. You did it because you loved me, but it wasn't fair to either of us, Roddy. Because you can't love me all the time. I don't believe a man—a real man—can love a woman all the time. And if she makes him hate her when he doesn't love her, he'll get so he hates loving her."

"You're talking nonsense!" he said again roughly. He was pacing the room by now. "Stark staring nonsense!"

Of course the reason it caught him like that was simply that it echoed so uncannily the things that went through his own head sometimes in his stolen hours of solitude—thoughts he had often tried, unavailingly, to stamp out of existence.

"I'd like to know where you get that stuff. Is it from James Randolph? He's dangerous, that fellow. Oh, he's interesting, and I like him, but he's a cynic. He doesn't want anybody to be happier than he is. But what may be true of him, isn't true of me. I've never stopped loving you since the first day we talked together. And I should think I'd done enough to prove it."

"That's it," she said. "You've done too much. And you're so sorry for me when you don't love me, that it makes you do all the more."

She had found another joint in his armor. She was absolutely clairvoyant to-night, and this time he fairly cried out, "Stop it!"

Then he got himself together and begged her pardon. "After all, I don't see what it comes to," he said. "I don't know what we're fighting about to-night. You're saying you think we ought to do more playing around with the Lakes and people like that; not spend all our time with the Casino set, as we have done this winter. Well, that may be good sense. I've no objection certainly."

"Well, then," she said, "that's settled—that's one thing settled. But there's something else. Oh, it all comes to the same thing, really. Roddy,"—she had to gulp and draw a long breath and steady herself before this—"Roddy, how much money have you got, and how much are we spending?"

"Oh, good lord!" he cried. "Please don't go into that now, Rose. It's after one o'clock, and you're worn to a frazzle. If we've got to go into it, let's do it some other time, when we can be sensible about it."

"When I am, you mean?"

"Yes," he said.

"Well, I'm sensible now. I can't help it if my—voice chokes and my eyes fill up. That's silly, of course, but down in my mind, I don't believe I've ever been as sensible as I am right now. And I've had the nerve to ask—I don't know when I will again—and I know you won't bring the subject up by yourself. I've been trying to for ever so long. But money's always seemed the one thing I couldn't b-bear to talk about with you.

"You see, when I first told mother and Portia about you—about how you helped me with the conductor that night, I told them your name, and Portia said she didn't think it could be you, because you were a millionaire. I supposed she knew. Anyway, I didn't think very much about it. You yourself,—just being with you and hearing you talk, were so much more important. After we got engaged, and you began doing all sorts of lovely things for me, I enjoyed it of course. But it was just something that went with you. After we were married and took this house ... Well, I knew, of course, I hadn't married you for money, but I thought it would sound sort of queer and prying to ask questions about it; because I hadn't anything."

He had looked up two or three times and drawn in his breath for a protest, but apparently he couldn't think of anything effective to say. Now though, he cried out, "Rose! Please!"

But she went steadily on. "You were always so dear about it. You never let me feel like a beggar, and—well, it was the easy way, and I took it. I got worried once during the winter when I heard the Crawfords talking. All those people were millionaires, I'd supposed. They were going on at a dinner here, one night, about being awfully hard up, and I began to wonder if we were. I spent a week trying to—get up my courage to ask you about it. But then Constance got a new necklace on her birthday, and they went off to Palm Beach the next week, so I persuaded myself it was all a joke. The thing's come up again several times since, but never so that I couldn't side-step it some way, until to-night. But to-night—oh, Roddy ...!" Her silly ragged voice choked there and stopped and the tears brimmed up and spilled down her cheeks. But she kept her face steadfastly turned to his.

"That's what I said about being married and not sowing wild oats, I suppose," he said glumly. "It was a joke. Do you suppose I'd have said it if I meant it?"

"It wasn't only that," she managed to go on. "It was the way they looked at the house; the way you apologized for my dress; the way you looked when you tried to get out of answering Barry Lake's questions about what you were doing. Oh, how I despised myself! And how I knew you and they must be despising me!"

"The one thing I felt about you all evening," he said, with the patience that marks the last stage of exasperation, "was pride. I was rather crazily proud of you."

"As my lover you were proud of me," she said. "But the other man—the man that's more truly you—was ashamed, as I was ashamed. Oh, it doesn't matter! Being ashamed won't accomplish anything. But what we'll do is going to accomplish something."

"What do you mean to do?" he asked.

"I want you to tell me first," she said, "how much money we have, and how much we've been spending."

"I don't know," he said stubbornly. "I don't know exactly."

"You've got enough, haven't you, of your own ... I mean, there's enough that comes in every year, to live on, if you didn't earn a cent by practising law? Well, what I want to do, is to live on that. I want to live however and wherever we have to to live on that—out in the suburbs somewhere, or in a flat, so that you will be free; and I can work—be some sort of help. Barry and the others—your real friends, that you really care about, won't mind. And as long as we want to get rid of the other people anyway, that's the way to do it."

"You can wash the dishes and scrub the floors," he supplemented, "and I can carry my lunch to the office with me in a little tin box." He looked at his watch. "And now that the thing's reduced to an absurdity, let's go to bed. It's getting along toward two o'clock."

"You don't have to get to the office till nine to-morrow morning," said Rose. "And I want to talk it out now. And I don't think I said anything that was absurd."

The devil of it was she hadn't. The precise quality about her suggestions that pointed and barbed them, was their fantastic logic. It would be ridiculous—impossible—to uproot their life as she wanted it done. One simply couldn't do such a thing. Serious discussion of it was preposterous. But to explain why ...! He was apt enough at explanations generally. This one seemed to present difficulties.

"I shouldn't have called it absurd," he admitted after a rather long silence. "But it's exaggerated and unnecessary. I don't care to make a public proclamation that I'm not able to support you and run our domestic establishment in a way that we find natural and agreeable;—and that I've been a fool to try. The situation doesn't call for it. You've made a mountain out of an ant-hill. When our lease is up, if we think this house is more than we want, we can find something simpler."

"But we'll begin economizing now," she pleaded; "change things as much as we can, even if we do have to go on living in this house. It won't hurt me a bit to work, and you could go back to your book. We'd both be happier, if I were something besides just a drag on you."

"Discharge a couple of maids, you mean," he asked, "and sweep and make beds and that sort of thing yourself?"

"I don't know exactly how we'd do it," she said. "That's why I said I needed your help in figuring it out. Something like that, I suppose. Sweeping and making beds isn't very much, but it's something."

"The most we could save that way," he said, "would be a few hundred dollars a year. It wouldn't be a drop in the bucket. But everything would run at cross-purposes. You'd be tired out all the time—you're that pretty much as it is lately, we'd have to stop having people in; you'd be bored and I'd be worried. When you start living on a certain scale, everything about your life has to be done on that scale. Next October, as I said, when the lease on this house runs out, we can manage, perhaps, to change the scale a little. There you are! Now do stop worrying about it and let's go to bed."

But she sat there just as she was, staring at the dying fire, her hands lying slack in her lap, all as if she hadn't heard. The long silence irked him. He pulled out his watch, looked at it and began winding it. He mended the fire so that it would be safe for the night; bolted a window. Every minute or two, he stole a look at her, but she was always just the same. Except for the faint rise and fall of her bosom, she might have been a picture, not a woman.

At last he said again, "Come along, Rose, dear."

"It'll be too late in October," she said. "That's why I wanted to decide things to-night. Because we must begin right away." Then she looked up into his face. "It will be too late in October," she repeated, "unless we begin now."

The deep tense seriousness of her voice and her look arrested his full attention.

"Why?" he asked. And then, "Rose, what do you mean?"

"We're going to have a baby in October," she said.

He stared at her for a minute without a word, then drew in a deep breath and pressed his hands against his eyes. All he could say at first was just her name. But he dropped down beside her and got her in his arms.

"So that's it," he said raggedly at last. "Oh, Rose, darling, it's such a relief! I've been so terrified about you—so afraid something had gone wrong. And you wouldn't let me ask, and you seemed so unhappy. I'd even thought of talking to Randolph. I might have guessed, I suppose. I've been stupid about it. But, you darling, I understand it all now."

She didn't see just what he meant by that, but she didn't care. It was such a wonderful thing to stop fighting and let the tension relax, cuddle close into his embrace, and know nothing in the world but the one fact that he loved her; that their tale of golden hours wasn't spent—was, perhaps, illimitable. She was even too drowsily happy to think what he meant when he said a little later:

"So now you won't let anything trouble you, will you, child? And if queer worrying ideas get into your head about the way we live, and about being a drag on me and making me hate you, you'll laugh at them? You'll be able to laugh, because you'll know why they're there."

It wasn't until the next day that she recalled that remark of his and analyzed it. It meant, of course, that she was beaten; that her first fight for the big thing had been in vain. There would be no use, for the present, in renewing the struggle. He'd taken the one ground that was impregnable. So long as he could go on honestly interpreting every plea of hers for a share in the hard part of his life as well as in the soft part of it, for a way of life that would make them something more than lovers—as wholly subjective to herself, the inevitable accompaniment of her physical condition—the pleas and the struggles would indeed be wasted. She'd have to wait.



CHAPTER X

THE DOOR THAT WAS TO OPEN

She would have to wait. Accepted, root and branch, as Rose was forced by her husband's attitude to accept it, a conclusion of that sort can be a wonderful anodyne. And so it proved in her ease. Indeed, within a day after her talk with Rodney, though it had ended in total defeat, she felt like a person awakened out of a nightmare. There had taken place, somehow, an enormous letting-off of strain—a heavenly relaxation of spiritual muscles. It was so good just to have him know; to have others know, as all her world did within the next week!

Ultimately nothing was changed, of course. The great thing that she had promised Portia she wouldn't fail in getting—the real thing that should solve the problem, equalize the disparity between her husband and herself and give them a life together in satisfying completeness beyond the joys of a pair of lovers;—that was still to be fought for.

She'd have to make that fight alone. Rodney wouldn't help her. He wouldn't know how to help her. Indeed, interpreting from the way he winced under her questions and suggestions, as if they wounded some essentially masculine, primitive element of pride in him, it seemed rather more likely that he'd resist her efforts—fight blindly against her. She must be more careful about that when she took up the fight again; must avoid hurting him if she could.

She hadn't an idea on what lines the fight was to be made. Perhaps before the time for its beginning, a way would appear. The point was that for the present, she'd have to wait—coolly and thoughtfully, not fritter her strength away on futile struggles or harassments.

The tonic effect of that resolution was really wonderful. She got her color back—I mean more than just the pink bloom in her cheeks—and her old, irresistible, wide slow smile. She'd never been so beautiful as she was during the next six months.

People who thought they loved her before—Frederica for example, found they hadn't really, until now. She dropped in on Eleanor Randolph one day, after a morning spent with Rose, simply because she was bursting with this idea and had to talk to somebody. That was very like Frederica.

She found Eleanor doing her month's bills, but glad to shovel them into her desk, light up a cigarette, and have a chat; a little rueful though, when she found that Rose was to be the subject of it.

"She's perfectly wonderful," Frederica said. "There's a sort of look about her ..."

"Oh, I know," Eleanor said. "We dined there last night."

"Well, didn't it just—get you?" insisted Frederica.

"It did," said Eleanor. "It also got Jim. He was still talking about her when I went to sleep, about one o'clock. I don't a bit blame him for being perfectly maudlin about her. As I say, I was a good deal that way myself, though a half-hour's steady raving was enough for me. But poor old Jim! She isn't one little bit crazy about him, either—unfortunately."

"Unfortunately!" thought Frederica. This was rather illuminating. The Randolphs' love-match had been regarded as establishing a sort of standard of excellence. But when you heard a woman trying to arrange subsidiary romances for her husband, or lamenting the failure of them, it meant, as a rule, that things were wearing rather thin. However, she dismissed this speculation for a later time, and went back to Rose.

"I had been worrying about her, too;" she said. "Rodney was so funny about her. He was worried, I could see that. And he means the best in the world, the dear. But he could be a dreadful brute, just in his simplicity. Oh, I know! He and I were always rather special pals—more than Harriet. But no man ever learned less from his sisters,—about women, I mean. He's always been so big and healthy and even-minded, you couldn't tell him anything, except what you could print right out in black and white. So when you were feeling edgy and blue and miserable you either kept out of his way or kept your troubles to yourself. He was always easy to fool—there was that about it. If you wiped your eyes and blew your nose, he always thought you had a cold. Which is all very nice about a brother; but in a husband ..."

Something that Eleanor did with her shoulders, the way she blew out her smoke and twisted her mouth around, caught Frederica's eye. "What did you mean by that?" she asked. "Oh, I know you didn't say anything."

Eleanor got up restlessly, squared the cushions on her chaise longue, tapped her cigarette ash into a receiver and said that Rose was happy enough now, anyway, if looks were anything to go by; hesitated again, and finally answered Frederica's question.

"Why," she said, "whenever I hear a woman miaouling about being misunderstood, I always want to tell her she doesn't know her luck. Wait till she marries a man who really does understand—too well. Let her see how she likes it, whenever she turns loose and gets—going a little, to have him look interested, as if he were taking notes, and begin asking questions that are—a little too intelligent. How does she think it'll feel never to know, never—I mean that, that she isn't being—experimented on!"

It was a rather horrible idea, Frederica didn't try to deny it. But not being understood wasn't very agreeable either. What did they want then?

Eleanor laughed. "Did you ever think," she asked, "that one of these regular stage husbands would be rather satisfactory? Terribly particular, you know, and bossy and domineering. The kind that discovers a letter or a handkerchief or sees you going into some other man's 'rooms' and gets frightfully jealous, and denounces you without giving you a chance to explain, and drags you round by the hair and threatens to kill you? And then discovers—in the last act, you know,—that you were perfectly innocent all the while, and repents all over the place and begs you to forgive him and take him back; and you do? Do you suppose any of the men we know would be capable of acting like that? Don't you think we'd like it if they were? Not if they really did those things, perhaps, but if we thought they might?"

Frederica was amused, but didn't think there was much to that. Of course, if the play was very thrilling, and you liked the leading man, you might build yourself into the romance somehow. But when it came to the real thing ...

"No, there is something in it," Eleanor insisted. "There's something you can't get in any other way. Whom do you think I'd pick," she asked suddenly, "for the happiest wife I know? Edith Welles. Yes, really. Oh, I know, her husband's a slacker and no real good to anybody. And he goes out every now and then and drinks too much and doesn't know just what happens afterward. But he always comes back and wants to be forgiven. And he thinks she's an angel,—which she is—and he thinks he isn't worthy to put on her rubbers—which he isn't, and—well, there you are! She knows she's got him, somehow.

"But you take Jim. I can get my way with him always. I can outmaneuver him every time. He's positively simple about things, unless they happen to strike him—professionally. But there's always something that gets away. Something I'm no nearer now than I was the day I first saw him. And I sometimes think that if there were—something horrible I had to forgive him for—if I could get something on him as they say.... It's rather fun, isn't it, sometimes, just to let your mind go wild and see where you bring up. Awful rot, of course. Can you stop for lunch?"

Frederica thought she couldn't; must run straight along. But the talk had been amusing. "Only—you won't mind?—don't spring any of that stuff on Rose. She's just a child, really you know, and entitled to any illusions that Rodney leaves; especially these days."

"You, as an old hen fussing about your new chicken!" Eleanor mocked. "Wait till you can look the part a little better, Frederica, dear. But really, I'm harmless. Talk to Jim and Rodney and those fearful and wonderful Lakes of his. They were there, and—well, you ought to have heard the talk. I thought I was pretty well hardened, but once or twice I gasped. Jim's pretty weird when he gets going, but that Barry Lake has a sort of—surgical way of discussing just anything, and his wife's as bad. Oh, she's awfully interesting, I'll admit that, and she's as crazy about Rose as any of the rest of us, which is to her credit.

"We never got off women all the evening. Barry Lake had their history down from the early Egyptians, and Jim had an endless string of pathological freaks to tell about. And then Rodney came out strong for economic independence, only with his own queer angle on it of course. He thought it would be a fine thing, but it wouldn't happen until the men insisted on it. When a girl wasn't regarded as marriageable unless she had been trained to a trade or a profession, then things would begin to happen. I think he meant it, too, though he was more than usually outrageous in his way of putting things.

"Well, and all the while there sat Rose, taking it all in with those big eyes of hers, smiling to herself now and then; saying things, too, sometimes, that were pretty good, though nobody but Jim seemed to understand, always, just what she meant. They've talked before, those two. But she didn't mind—anything; no more embarrassed than as if we'd been talking embroidery stitches. You don't need to worry about her. And she absolutely seemed to like Jane Lake."

Frederica did worry. Seriously meditated running in on Rodney before she went home to lunch and giving him a tip that a young wife in Rose's condition wanted treating a little more carefully. It was not for prudential reasons that she decided against doing it. She was perfectly willing to have her head bitten off in a good cause. But she knew Rodney down to the ground; knew that it was utterly impossible for him, whatever his previous resolutions might be, to pull up on the brink of anything. Once you launched a topic that interested him, he'd go through with it. So the only thing that would do any good would be to ban the Lakes and James Randolph completely. And Rodney, if persuaded to do that—he would in a minute, of course, if he thought it would be good for Rose—would be incapable of concealing from her why he had done it; which would leave matters worse than ever.

The only outcome, then, of her visit to Eleanor and her subsequent cogitations, was that Martin, when he came home that night, found her unusually affectionate and inclined to be misty about the eyes. "I'm a—lucky guy, all right"—this was her explanation,—"being married to you. Instead of any of the others."

He was a satisfactory old dear. He took her surplus tenderness as so much to the good, and didn't bother over not knowing what it was all about.

Eleanor was right in her surmise that Rose had really taken a fancy to Jane Lake. She was truly—and really humbly—grateful to Jane, in the first place, for liking her, finding her, in Jane's own phrase, "worth while," and her ideas worth listening to. Because here was something, you see, that she could take at its face value. There was no long-circuited sex attraction to discount everything, in Jane's case. But she had another reason.

Rodney, it seemed, had told the Lakes about the prospective baby the very morning after he'd learned the news himself, and Jane—this was perfectly characteristic of her—had come straight up to see Rose about it; even before Frederica. And about the first thing she said was:

"Which do you want—a boy or a girl?"

Rose looked puzzled, then surprised. "Why," she said at last, "I don't believe I know."

"It's funny about that," said Jane. "The one thing I was frightened about—the first time, you know—was that it might be a girl. I think Barry really wanted a girl, too. He does now, and we're going to try to have one, though we can't rightly afford it. But I'm just primitive enough—I'm a cave person, really—to have felt that having a girl, at least before you had a boy, would be a sort of disgrace. Like the Hindoo women in Kipling. But don't you really care?"

"Why, the queer thing is," said Rose, who had been in a daze ever since Jane's first question, "that I hadn't thought of it as anything at all but—It. Hardly that, really. I've known how miserable I've been, and that there were things I must be careful not to do,—and, of course, what was going to happen. But that when it was all over there'd be a baby left,—a—a son or a daughter, why, that's ..."

Her surprise had carried her into a confidence that her budding friendship for Jane was hardly ripe for, and she pulled up rather suddenly. "I didn't know you had any children," she concluded, by way of avoiding a further discussion of the marvel just then. "Are they here with you now?"

Jane explained why they were not. They weren't babies any more, two husky little boys of five and three, and they were rejoicing in the care of a grandmother and a highly competent nurse. "One of those terribly infallible people, you know. Oh, I don't like it. I get a night letter every morning, and, of course, if one of them got the sniffles I'd be off home like a shot. I'd like to be a regular domestic mother; not let another soul but me touch them (Jane really believed this) but you see we can't well afford it. Barry pays me five dollars a day for working for him. I scout around and dig up material and interview people for him—I used to be a reporter, you know. He'd have to hire somebody, and it might better be me and keep the money in the family. Because the nurse who takes my place doesn't cost near so much as that. All the same, as I say, I don't half like it. You can preach the new stuff till you're black in the face, but there's no job for a woman like taking care of her own children."

Rose listened to all this, as well as to Jane's subsequent remarks, with only so much attention as was required to keep her guest from suspecting that she wasn't really listening at all. Jane didn't stay long. She had to go out and earn Barry's five dollars—she'd lose her job if she didn't, so she said, and Rose was presently left alone to dream, actually for the first time, of the wonders that were before her.

What a silly little idiot she'd been not to have seen the thing for herself! She'd been, all the while, beating her head against blind walls when there was a door there waiting to open of itself when the time came. Motherhood! There'd be a doctor and a nurse at first, of course, but presently they'd go away and she'd be left with a baby. Her own baby! She could care for him with her own hands, feed him—her joy reached an ecstasy at this—feed him from her own breast.

That life which Rodney led apart from her, the life into which she had tried with such ludicrous unsuccess to effect an entrance, was nothing to this new life which was to open before her in a few short months now. Meanwhile, she not only must wait; she could well afford to.

That was why she could listen with that untroubled smile of hers to the terrible things that Rodney and James Randolph and Barry Lake and Jane got into the way of hurling across her dinner table, and to the more mildly expressed but equally alkaline cynicisms of Jimmy Wallace.

(Jimmy was dramatic critic on one of the evening papers, as well as a bit of a playwright. He was a slim, cool, smiling, highly sophisticated young man, who renounced all privileges as an interpreter of life in favor of remaining an unbiased observer of it. He never bothered to speculate about what you ought to do;—he waited to see what you did. He knew, more or less, everybody in the world,—in all sorts of worlds. He was, for instance, a great friend of Violet Williamson's and Bella Forrester's and was, at the same time, on terms of avuncular confidence with Dotty Blott of the Globe chorus. And he was exactly the same man to the three of them. He fitted admirably in with their new circle.)

Well, in the light of the miraculous transformation that lay before her Rose could listen undaunted to the tough philosophizings her husband and Barry Lake delighted in as well as to the mordant merciless realities with which Doctor Randolph and Jimmy Wallace confirmed them. She wasn't indifferent to it all. She listened with all her might.

If there was anything in prenatal influence, that baby of hers was going to be intelligent!



CHAPTER XI

AN ILLUSTRATION

So far as externals went, her life, that spring, was immensely simplified. The social demands on her, which had been so insistent all winter, stopped almost automatically. The only exception was the Junior League show in Easter week, for which she put in quite a lot of work. She was to have danced in it.

This is an annual entertainment by which Chicago sets great store. All the smartest and best-looking of the younger set take part in it, in costumes that would do credit to Mr. Ziegfeld, and as much of Chicago as is willing and able to pay five dollars a seat for the privilege is welcome to come and look. Delirious weeks are spent in rehearsal, under a first-class professional director, audience and performers have an equally good time, and Charity, as residuary legatee, profits by thousands.

Rose dropped in at a rehearsal one day at the end of a solid two hours of committee work, found it unexpectedly amusing, and made a point thereafter of attending when she could. Her interest was heightened if not wholly actuated by some things Jimmy Wallace had been telling her lately about how such things were done on the real stage.

He had written a musical comedy once, lived through the production of it, and had spent a hard-earned two-weeks vacation trouping with it on the road, so he could speak with authority. It was a wonderful Odyssey when you could get him to tell it, and as she made a good audience she got the whole thing—what everybody was like, from the director down, how the principals dug themselves in and fought to the last trench for every line and bit of business in their parts, and sapped and mined ahead to get, here or there, a bit more;—how insanely hard the chorus worked....

The thing got a sociological twist eventually, of course, when Jane wanted to know if it were true, as alleged by a prominent woman writer on feminism, that the chorus-girls were driven to prostitution by inadequate pay. Jimmy demolished this assertion with more warmth than he often showed. He didn't know any other sort of job that paid a totally untrained girl so well. There were initial requirements, of course. She had to have reasonably presentable arms and legs and a rudimentary sense of rhythm. But it took a really accomplished stenographer, for instance, to earn as much a week as was paid the average chorus-girl. The trouble was that the indispensable assets in the business were not character and intelligence and ambition, but just personal charms.

Rose grinned across at Rodney. "That's like wives, isn't it?" she observed.

"And then," Jimmy went on, "the work isn't really hard enough, except during rehearsals, to keep them out of mischief." Rose smiled again, but didn't press her analogy any further. "But a girl who's serious about it, who doesn't have to be told the same thing more than once, and catches on, sometimes, without being told at all,—why, she can always have a job and she can be as independent as anybody. She can get twenty-five dollars a week or even as high as thirty. It's surprising though," he concluded, "considering what a bunch of morons most of them are, that they work as well as they do; turn up on time for rehearsals and performances, even when they're feeling really seedy, stand the awful bawling out they get every few minutes—because some directors are downright savages—and keep on going over and over a thing till they're simply reeling on their pins, without any fuss at all."

"They can always lose their job," said Barry. "There's great merit in that."

The latter part of this conversation was what she was to remember afterward, but the thing which impressed Rose at the time, and that held her for hours looking on at the League show rehearsals, was what Jimmy had told her about the technical side of the work of production, the labors of the director, and so on.

The League was paying their director three hundred dollars a week, and by the end of the third rehearsal Rose decided that he earned it. The change he could make, even with one afternoon's work, in the effectiveness, the carrying power, of a dance number was astonishing. It wasn't at all a question of good taste. There stood Bertie Willis simply awash with good taste and oozing suggestions whose hopeless futility was demonstrated, even to him, the moment an attempt was made to put them into effect. The director was concerned with matters of fact. There were ascertained methods of getting a certain range of effects and he knew what they were and applied them—as well as the circumstances admitted. He was working under difficulties, poor chap! Rose, enlightened by Jimmy Wallace, could see that. A man habituated to bawling at a girl, when the spirit so moved him, "Here, you Belmont! What do you think you're trying to do? You try sleeping at night and staying awake at rehearsal. See how it works!"—accustomed to the liberty of saying things like that, and then finding himself under the necessity of swallowing hard and counting ten, and beginning with an—"I think, if you don't mind ...!" was in a hard case.

Bertie Willis had his usefulness here. Sometimes Rose heard the director whisper hoarsely, "For God's sake, don't let her do that! She can't do that!" and then Bertie would intervene and accomplish wonders by diplomacy.

But it must be wonderfully exhilarating, Rose thought, to know exactly why that girl was ridiculous and what to do to make her look right. And to be able to sell your knowledge for three hundred dollars a week. This was the sort of thing Rodney did, when one came to think of it. She wondered whether he could sell his special sort of knowledge for as much. That must be: the sort of possession Simone Greville had had in mind when she said that nothing worth having could be bought cheap. Neither Rodney nor the director had found his specialty growing on a bush!

But her specialty, which in her life was to fill the place a knowledge of stage dancing filled in the director's, was to come in a different way. You paid a price, of course, for motherhood, in pain and peril, but it remained a miraculous gift, for all that.



CHAPTER XII

WHAT HARRIET DID

She must wait for her miracle. As the weeks and months wore away, and as the season of violent and high-frequency alternations between summer and winter, which the Chicagoan calls spring, gave place to summer itself, Rose was driven to intrench herself more and more deeply behind this great expectation. It was like a dam holding back waters that otherwise would have rushed down upon her and swept her away.

The problems went on mounting up behind the dam, of course. All the minor luxuries of their way of living, which had been so keen a delight to her during the first unthinking months of their married life; all the sumptuous little elaborations of existence which she had explored with such adventurous delight, had changed—now that she knew they had been bought by the abridgment of her husband's freedom, by the invasion of the clear space about himself which he had always so jealously guarded—into a cloud of buzzing stinging distractions.

And they were the harder to bear now that she recognized how hard they were going to be to drive away. It would have to be effected without wounding Rodney's primitive masculine pride—without convicting him of being an inadequate provider.

The baffling thing about him was that he had, quite unconsciously and sincerely, two points of view. His affection for her, his wife, lover, mistress, was a lens through which he sometimes looked out on the world. As she refracted the facts of life for him they presented themselves in the primitive old-fashioned way.

But there was another window in his soul through which he saw life with no refractions whatever; remorselessly, logically. Looking through the window, as he did when he talked to Barry Lake, or James Randolph, he saw life as a mass of unyielding reciprocities. You got what you paid for. You paid for what you got. And he saw both men and women—though chiefly women—tangling and nullifying their lives in futile efforts to evade this principle; looking for an Eldorado where something was to be had for nothing; for panaceas; for the soft without the hard.

He was perfectly capable of seeing and describing an abstract wife like that in blistering terms that would make an industrious street-walker look almost respectable by comparison. But when he looked at Rose, he saw her through the lens, as some one to be loved and desired,—and prevented, if possible, from paying anything.

Somehow or other those two views must be reconciled before a life of real comradeship between them was possible; before the really big thing she had promised Portia to fight for could be anything more than a tormenting dream.

Would the miracle solve this? It must. It was the only thing left to hope for. In the shelter of the great dam she could wait serene.

And then came Harriet, and the pressure behind the dam rose higher.

Rose had tried, rather unsuccessfully, to realize, when during the earlier days of her marriage she had heard Harriet talked about, that there was actually in existence another woman who occupied, by blood anyway, the same position toward Rodney and herself that Frederica did. She felt almost like a real sister toward Frederica. But without quite putting the notion into words, she had always felt it was just as well that Harriet was an Italian contessa four thousand miles away. Rodney and Frederica spoke of her affectionately, to be sure, but their references made a picture of a rather formidably correct, seriously aristocratic sort of person. Harriet had always had, Rose could see, a very effective voice in the family councils. She hadn't much of a mind, perhaps; Rodney described it once as a small, well oiled, easy running sort of mind that stitched away without misgivings, to its conclusions. Rodney never could have been very fond of her. But she had something he knew he lacked, and in matters which he regarded as of minor importance—things that he didn't consider worth bothering much about one way or the other—he'd submit to her guidance, it appeared, without much question.

She had written, on the occasion of Rodney's marriage, a letter to Rose, professing with perfect adequacy, to give her a sisterly welcome into the family. But Rose felt pretty sure (a fragment of talk she overheard, an impatient laugh of Rodney's, and Frederica's "Oh, that's Harriet of course," had perhaps suggested it) that the contessa regarded Rodney's marriage as a mesalliance. She had entertained this notion the more easily because at that time what Harriet thought—whatever Harriet might think—seemed a matter of infinitesimal importance.

She'd discovered, along in the winter sometime, that Harriet's affairs were going rather badly. Neither Rodney nor Frederica had gone into details. But it was plain enough that both of them were looking for a smash of some sort. It was in May that the cable came to Frederica announcing that Harriet was coming back for a long visit. "That's all she said," Rodney explained to Rose. "But I suppose it means the finish. She said she didn't want any fuss made, but she hinted she'd like to have Freddy meet her in New York, and Freddy's going. Poor old Harriet! That's rather a pill for her to swallow, if it's so. We must try to cheer her up."

She didn't seem much in need of cheering up, Rose thought, when they first met. All that showed on the contessa's highly polished surface was a disposition to talk humorously over old times with her old friends, including her brother and sister, and a sort of dismayed acquiescence in the smoky seriousness, the inadequate civilization, the sprawling formlessness of the city of her birth, not excluding that part of it which called itself society.

In broad strokes, you could describe Harriet by saying she was as different as a beautiful woman could be from Frederica. She wasn't so beautiful as Frederica, to be sure, but together they made a wonderfully contrasted pair—Harriet almost as perfect a brunette type as Frederica was a blonde, and got up with her ear-rings and her hair and all to look rather exotic. Her speech, too, and the cultivated things she could do with her shoulders, carried out the impression. She had a trick—when she wanted to be disagreeable an ill-natured observer would have said—of making remarks in Italian and then translating them.

She wasn't disagreeable though—not malicious anyway, and the very hard finish she carried, had been developed probably as a matter of protection. She must have been through a good deal in the last few years. She'd had two children stillborn, for one thing, and she was frankly afraid to try it again. She never wanted any sympathy from anybody. If it came down to that, she'd prefer arsenic. She resisted Rose's rather poignant charm, as she resisted any other appeal to her emotions. With the charm left out, Rose was simply a well meaning, somewhat insufficiently civilized young person, the beneficiary, through her marriage with Rodney, of a piece of unmerited good fortune. She didn't in the least mean to be unkind to her, however, and didn't dream that she was giving Rose an inkling how she thought of her.

Her manner toward this new member of the family was studiously affectionate. She avoided being either disagreeable or patronizing. Rose could see, indeed, how carefully she avoided it. She knew, too, that Frederica saw the same thing and tried to compensate for it by a little extra affectionateness. She even thought—though perhaps this was mere self-consciousness—that she detected a trace of the same thing in Rodney.

The tie of blood is a powerful thing. Rose had never realized before how powerful. With Harriet's arrival, she became aware of the Aldrich family as a sodality—something she didn't belong to and never could. It was quite true, as Frederica had said, that she and Rodney had always been special pals. Harriet fitted into the family on the other side of Frederica from her brother. She was a person with a good deal of what one calls magnetism, and she attracted Frederica toward herself—made her, when she was about, a somewhat different Frederica. She even attracted Rodney a little in the same way.

The time of the year (it was after the end of the social season) made it natural for them to be together a good deal. And of course Harriet's return, after an absence of years, made them seek such meetings. The result was that Rose, at the end of almost a year of marriage, got her first real taste of lonesomeness. When the four of them were together, Rose felt like an outsider intruding on intimates. They didn't mean her to feel that way—made a distinct effort, Rodney and Frederica, anyway, to prevent her feeling that way; which of course only pointed it. They had old memories to talk about; old friendships. They had, like all close knit families, a sort of shorthand language to talk in. If Rose came into the room where they were, she'd often be made aware that the current subject of the conversation had been dropped and a new one was getting started; or else there'd be laborious explanations.

It wouldn't have mattered—not so much anyway, if Rose had had a similar sodality of her own to fall back on—a mass of roots extending out into indigenous soil. But Rose, you see, had been transplanted. Her two brothers were hardly more than faint memories of her childhood. One was a high-school principal down in Pennsylvania; the other a professor of history at one of the western state universities. Both of them had married young and had been very much married—on small incomes—ever since. The only family she had that counted, was her mother and Portia. And they were gone now to California.

She had had a world of what she called friends, of course, of her own age, at the high school and at the university. But her popularity in those circles, her easy way of liking everybody, and her energetic preoccupation with things to do, had prevented any of these friendships from biting in very deep. None of them had been solidly founded enough to withstand the wavelike rush of Rodney Aldrich into her life. She had gone over altogether into her husband's world. The world that had been her own, hadn't much more existence, except for her mother and sister out in California, than the memory of a dream.

But it took Harriet's arrival to make her realize this. And the realization, when it was pressed home particularly hard, brought with it moments of downright panic. Everything—everything she had in the world, went back to Rodney. Except for him, she was living in an absolute vacuum. What would happen if the stoutly twisted cable that bound her to him should be broken, as the cable that bound Harriet to her husband was, apparently, broken? What would she have then of which she could say, "This much is mine"? Well, she'd have the child. That would be, partly at least, hers.

But Harriet's contribution to Rose's difficulties, to the mounting pressure behind the dam, was destined to be more serious—more actual, anyway—before very long.

The question where Rose and Rodney were going to live after their lease on the McCrea house ended, had begun to press for an answer. October first was when the lease expired and it wasn't far from the date at which they expected the baby. Rose wouldn't be in any condition for house hunting during the hot summer months. Things would have to be settled somehow before then. A heavy calendar of important cases had kept Rodney from giving as much attention to the problem as he himself felt it needed. He had delighted Rose with the suggestion that they go out into the country somewhere. Not the real country of course, but up along the shore, where the train service was good and the motor a possible alternative.

They spent some very lovely afternoons during the early days of the emerging spring, cruising about looking at possible places. They talked of building at first, but long before they could make up their minds what they wanted it had become too late for that, and they shifted to the notion of buying an old place somewhere and remodeling it. One reason why they made no more progress was because they were looking for such different things. Rodney wanted acres. He'd never gardened a bit, and never would; was an altogether urban person, despite the physical energy which took him pounding off on long country walks. But when he heard there was a tract just west of Martin Whitney's, up at Lake Forest, that could be had at a bargain—thirty-five thousand dollars—he let his eye rove over it appreciatively. And Frank Crawford and Howard West knew of advantageous sites, also, on which to expatiate with convincing enthusiasm. The kind of house you'd have to build on that sort of place would cost you an easy thirty thousand more.

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