All through the month of October he worked at the new play, and from time to time they heard from the old play, which Godolphin was still giving, here and there, in the West. He had not made any reply to Maxwell's letter of regret that he could not come to the rehearsals at Chicago, but he sent the notices marked in the newspapers, at the various points where he played, and the Maxwells contented themselves as they could with these proofs of an unbroken amity. They expected something more direct and explicit from him when he should get to Chicago, where his engagement was to begin the first week in November. In the meantime the kind of life they were living had not that stressful unreality for Louise that it had for Maxwell on the economic side. For the first time his regular and serious habits of work did not mean the earning of money, but only the chance of earning money. Ever since he had begun the world for himself, and he had begun it very early, there had been some income from his industry; however little it was, it was certain; the salary was there for him at the end of the week when he went to the cashier's desk. His mother and he had both done so well and so wisely in their several ways of taking care of themselves, that Maxwell had not only been able to live on his earnings, but he had been able to save out of them the thousand dollars which Louise bragged of to her father, and it was this store which they were now consuming, not rapidly, indeed, but steadily, and with no immediate return in money to repair the waste. The fact kept Maxwell wakeful at night sometimes, and by day he shuddered inwardly at the shrinkage of his savings, so much swifter than their growth, though he was generously abetted by Louise in using them with frugality. She could always have had money from her father, but this was something that Maxwell would not look forward to. There could be no real anxiety for them in the situation, but for Maxwell there was care. He might be going to get a great deal out of the play he was now writing, but as yet it was in no form to show to a manager or an actor; and he might be going to get a great deal out of his old play, but so far Godolphin had made no sign that he remembered one of the most essential of the obligations which seemed all to rest so lightly upon him. Maxwell hated to remind him of it, and in the end he was very glad that he never did, or that he had not betrayed the slightest misgiving of his good faith.
One morning near the end of the month, when he was lower in his spirits than usual from this cause, there came a letter from the editor of the Boston Abstract asking him if he could not write a weekly letter from New York for his old newspaper. It was a temptation, and Maxwell found it a hardship that his wife should have gone out just then to do the marketing for the day; she considered this the duty of a wife, and she fulfilled it often enough to keep her sense of it alive, but she much preferred to forage with him in the afternoon; that was poetry, she said, and the other was prose. He would have liked to talk the proposition over with her; to realize the compliment while it was fresh, to grumble at it a little, and to be supported in his notion that it would be bad business just then for him to undertake a task that might draw him away from his play too much; to do the latter well would take a great deal of time. Yet he did not feel quite that he ought to refuse it, in view of the uncertainties of the future, and it might even be useful to hold the position aside from the money it would bring him; the New York correspondent of the Boston Abstract might have a claim upon the attention of the managers which a wholly unaccredited playwright could not urge; there was no question of their favor with Maxwell; he would disdain to have that, even if he could get it, except by the excellence, or at least the availability of his work.
Louise did not come in until much later than usual, and then she came in looking very excited. "Well, my dear," she began to call out to him as soon as the door was opened for her, "I have seen that woman again!"
"What woman?" he asked.
"You know. That smouldering-eyed thing in the bathing-dress." She added, in answer to his stupefied gaze: "I don't mean that she was in the bathing-dress still, but her eyes were smouldering away just as they were that day on the beach at Magnolia."
"Oh!" said Maxwell, indifferently. "Where did you see her?"
"On the avenue, and I know she lives in the neighborhood somewhere, because she was shopping here on the avenue, and I could have easily followed her home if she had not taken the Elevated for down town."
"Why didn't you take it, too? It might have been a long way round, but it would have been certain. I've been wanting you here badly. Just tell me what you think of that."
He gave her the editor's letter, and she hastily ran it through. "I wouldn't think of it for a moment," she said. "Were there any letters for me?"
"It isn't a thing to be dismissed without reflection," he began.
"I thought you wanted to devote yourself entirely to the drama?"
"And you've always said there was nothing so killing to creative work as any sort of journalism."
"This wouldn't take more than a day or two each week, and twenty-five dollars a letter would be convenient while we are waiting for our cards to turn up."
"Oh, very well! If you are so fickle as all that, I don't know what to say to you." She put the letter down on the table before him, and went out of the room.
He tried to write, but with the hurt of what he felt her unkindness he could not, and after a certain time he feigned an errand into their room, where she had shut herself from him, and found her lying down. "Are you sick?" he asked, coldly.
"Not at all," she answered. "I suppose one may lie down without being sick, as you call it. I should say ill, myself."
"I'm so glad you're not sick that I don't care what you call it."
He was going out, when she spoke again: "I didn't know you cared particularly, you are always so much taken up with your work. I suppose, if you wrote those letters for the Abstract, you need never think of me at all, whether I was ill or well."
"You would take care to remind me of your existence from time to time, I dare say. You haven't the habit of suffering in silence a great deal."
"You would like it better, of course, if I had."
"A great deal better, my dear. But I didn't know that you regarded my work as self-indulgence altogether. I have flattered myself now and then that I was doing it for you, too."
"Oh yes, very likely. But if you had never seen me you would be doing it all the same."
"I'm afraid so. I seem to have been made that way. I'm sorry you don't approve. I supposed you did once."
"Oh, I do approve—highly." He left her, and she heard him getting his hat and stick in the little hallway, as if he were going out of doors. She called to him, "What I wonder is how a man so self-centred that he can't look at his wife for days together, can tell whether another woman's eyes are smouldering or not."
Maxwell paused, with his hand on the knob, as if he were going to make some retort, but, perhaps because he could think of none, he went out without speaking.
He stayed away all the forenoon, walking down the river along the squalid waterside avenues; he found them in sympathy with the squalor in himself which always followed a squabble with his wife. At the end of one of the westward streets he found himself on a pier flanked by vast flotillas of canal-boats. As he passed one of these he heard the sound of furious bickering within, and while he halted a man burst from the gangway and sprang ashore, followed by the threats and curses of a woman, who put her head out of the hatch to launch them after him.
The incident turned Maxwell faint; he perceived that the case of this unhappy man, who tried to walk out of earshot with dignity, was his own in quality, if not in quantity. He felt the shame of their human identity, and he reached home with his teeth set in a hard resolve to bear and forbear in all things thereafter, rather than share ever again in misery like that, which dishonored his wife even more than it dishonored him. At the same time he was glad of a thought the whole affair suggested to him, and he wondered whether he could get a play out of it. This was the notion of showing the evil eventuation of good. Their tiffs came out of their love for each other, and no other quarrels could have the bitterness that these got from the very innermost sweetness of life. It would be hard to show this dramatically, but if it could be done the success would be worth all the toil it would cost.
At his door he realized with a pang that he could not submit the notion to his wife now, and perhaps never. But the door was pulled open before he could turn his latch-key in the lock, and Louise threw her arms round his neck.
"Oh, dearest, guess!" she commanded between her kisses.
"Guess what?" he asked, walking her into the parlor with his arms round her. She kept her hands behind her when he released her, and they stood confronted.
"What should you consider the best news—or not news exactly; the best thing—in the world?"
"Why, I don't know. Has the play been a great success in Chicago?"
"Better than that!" she shouted, and she brought an open letter from behind her, and flourished it before him, while she went on breathlessly: "It's from Godolphin, and of course I opened it at once, for I thought if there was anything worrying in it, I had better find it out while you were gone, and prepare you for it. He's sent you a check for $300—twelve performances of the play—and he's written you the sweetest letter in the world, and I take back everything I ever said against him! Here, shall I read it? Or, no, you'll want to read it yourself. Now, sit down at your desk, and I'll put it before you, with the check on top!"
She pushed him into his chair, and he obediently read the check first, and then took up the letter. It was dated at Chicago, and was written with a certain histrionic consciousness, as if Godolphin enjoyed the pose of a rising young actor paying over to the author his share of the profits of their joint enterprise in their play. There was a list of the dates and places of the performances, which Maxwell noted were chiefly matinees; and he argued a distrust of the piece from this fact, which Godolphin did not otherwise betray. He said that the play constantly grew upon him, and that with such revision as they should be able to give it together when he reached New York, they would have one of the greatest plays of the modern stage. He had found that wherever he gave it the better part of his audience was best pleased with it, and he felt sure that when he put it on for a run the houses would grow up to it in every way. He was going to test it for a week in Chicago; there was no reference to his wish that Maxwell should have been present at the rehearsals there; but otherwise Godolphin's letter was as candid as it was cordial.
Maxwell read it with a silent joy which seemed to please his wife as well as if he had joined her in rioting over it. She had kept the lunch warm for him, and now she brought it in from the kitchen herself and set it before him, talking all the time.
"Well, now we can regard it as an accomplished fact, and I shall not allow you to feel any anxiety about it from this time forward. I consider that Godolphin has done his whole duty by it. He has kept the spirit of his promises if he hasn't the letter, and from this time forward I am going to trust him implicitly, and I'm going to make you. No more question of Godolphin in this family! Don't you long to know how it goes in Chicago? But I don't really care, for, as you say, that won't have the slightest influence in New York; and I know it will go here, anyway. Yes, I consider it, from this time on, an assured success. And isn't it delightful that, as Godolphin says, it's such a favorite with refined people?" She went on a good while to this effect, but when she had talked herself out, Maxwell had still said so little that she asked, "What is it, Brice?"
"Do you think we deserve it?" he returned, seriously.
"For squabbling so? Why, I suppose I was tired and overwrought, or I shouldn't have done it."
"And I hadn't even that excuse," said Maxwell.
"Oh, yes you had," she retorted. "I provoked you. And if any one was to blame, I was. Do you mind it so much?"
"Yes, it tears my heart. And it makes me feel so low and mean."
"Oh, how good you are!" she began, but he stopped her.
"Don't! I'm not good; and I don't deserve success. I don't feel as if this belonged to me. I ought to send Godolphin's check back, in common honesty, common decency." He told of the quarrel he had witnessed on the canal-boat, and she loved him for his simple-hearted humility; but she said there was nothing parallel in the cases, and she would not let him think so; that it was morbid, and showed he had been overworking.
"And now," she went on, "you must write to Mr. Ricker at once and thank him, and tell him you can't do the letters for him. Will you?"
"You must. I want you to reserve your whole strength for the drama. That's your true vocation, and it would be a sin for you to turn to the right or left." He continued silent, and she went on: "Are you still thinking about our scrap this morning? Well, then, I'll promise never to begin it again. Will that do?"
"Oh, I don't know that you began it. And I wasn't thinking—I was thinking of an idea for a play—the eventuation of good in evil—love evolving in hate."
"That will be grand, if you can work it out. And now you see, don't you, that there is some use in squabbling, even?"
"I suppose nothing is lost," said Maxwell. He took out his pocket-book, and folded Godolphin's check into it.
A week later there came another letter from Godolphin. It was very civil, and in its general text it did not bear out the promise of severity in its change of address to Dear Sir, from the Dear Mr. Maxwell of the earlier date.
It conveyed, in as kindly terms as could have been asked, a fact which no terms could have flattered into acceptability.
Godolphin wrote, after trying the play two nights and a matinee in Chicago, to tell the author that he had withdrawn it because its failure had not been a failure in the usual sense but had been a grievous collapse, which left him no hopes that it would revive in the public favor if it were kept on. Maxwell would be able to judge, he said, from the newspapers he sent, of the view the critics had taken of the piece; but this would not have mattered at all if it had not been the view of the public, too. He said he would not pain Maxwell by repeating the opinions which he had borne the brunt of alone; but they were such as to satisfy him fully and finally that he had been mistaken in supposing there was a part for him in the piece. He begged to return it to Maxwell, and he ventured to send his prompt-book with the original manuscript, which might facilitate his getting the play into other hands.
The parcel was brought in by express while they were sitting in the dismay caused by the letter, and took from them the hope that Godolphin might have written from a mood and changed his mind before sending back the piece. Neither of them had the nerve to open the parcel, which lay upon Maxwell's desk, very much sealed and tied and labelled, diffusing a faint smell of horses, as express packages mostly do, through the room.
Maxwell found strength, if not heart, to speak first. "I suppose I am to blame for not going to Chicago for the rehearsals." Louise said she did not see what that could have done to keep the play from failing, and he answered that it might have kept Godolphin from losing courage. "You see, he says he had to take the brunt of public opinion alone. He was sore about that."
"Oh, well, if he is so weak as that, and would have had to be bolstered up all along, you are well rid of him."
"I am certainly rid of him," Maxwell partially assented, and they both lapsed into silence again. Even Louise could not talk. They were as if stunned by the blow that had fallen on them, as all such blows fall, when it was least expected, and it seemed to the victims as if they were least able to bear it. In fact, it was a cruel reverse from the happiness they had enjoyed since Godolphin's check came, and although Maxwell had said that they must not count upon anything from him, except from hour to hour, his words conveyed a doubt that he felt no more than Louise. Now his gloomy wisdom was justified by a perfidy which she could paint in no colors that seemed black enough. Perhaps the want of these was what kept her mute at first; even when she began to talk she could only express her disdain by urging her husband to send back Godolphin's check to him. "We want nothing more to do with such a man. If he felt no obligation to keep faith with you, it's the same as if he had sent that money out of charity."
"Yes, I have thought of that," said Maxwell. "But I guess I shall keep the money. He may regard the whole transaction as child's play; but I don't, and I never did. I worked very hard on the piece, and at the rates for space-work, merely, I earned his money and a great deal more. If I can ever do anything with it, I shall be only too glad to give him his three hundred dollars again."
She could see that he had already gathered spirit for new endeavor with the play, and her heart yearned upon him in pride and fondness. "Oh, you dear! What do you intend to do next?"
"I shall try the managers."
"Brice!" she cried in utter admiration.
He rose and said, as he took up the express package, and gave Godolphin's letter a contemptuous push with his hand, "You can gather up this spilt milk. Put it away somewhere; I don't want to see it or think of it again." He cut open the package, and found the prompt-book, which he laid aside, while he looked to see if his own copy of the play were all there.
"You are going to begin at once?" gasped Louise.
"This instant," he said. "It will be slow enough work at the best, and we mustn't lose time. I shall probably have to go the rounds of all the managers, but I am not going to stop till I have gone the rounds. I shall begin with the highest, and I sha'n't stop till I reach the lowest."
"But when? How? You haven't thought it out."
"Yes, I have. I have been thinking it out ever since I got the play into Godolphin's hands. I haven't been at peace about him since that day when he renounced me in Magnolia, and certainly till we got his check there has been nothing in his performance to restore my confidence. Come, now, Louise, you mustn't stop me, dear," he said, for she was beginning to cling about him. "I shall be back for lunch, and then we can talk over what I have begun to do. If I began to talk of it before, I should lose all heart for it. Kiss me good luck!"
She kissed him enough for all the luck in the world, and then he got himself out of her arms while she still hardly knew what to make of it all. He was half-way down the house-stairs, when her eye fell on the prompt-book. She caught it up and ran out upon the landing, and screamed down after him, "Brice, Brice! You've forgotten something."
He came flying back, breathless, and she held the book out to him. "Oh, I don't want that," he panted, "It would damage the play with a manager to know that Godolphin had rejected it."
"But do you think it would be quite right—quite frank—to let him take it without telling him?"
"It will be right to show it him without telling him. It will be time enough to tell him if he likes it."
"That is true," she assented, and then she kissed him again and let him go; he stood a step below her, and she had to stoop a good deal; but she went in doors, looking up to him as if he were a whole flight of steps above her, and saying to herself that he had always been so good and wise that she must now simply trust him in everything.
Louise still had it on her conscience to offer Maxwell reparation for the wrong she thought she had done him when she had once decided that he was too self-seeking and self-centred, and had potentially rejected him on that ground. The first thing she did after they became engaged was to confess the wrong, and give him a chance to cast her off if he wished; but this never seemed quite reparation enough, perhaps because he laughed and said that she was perfectly right about him, and must take him with those faults or not at all. She now entered upon a long, delightful review of his behavior ever since that moment, and she found that, although he was certainly as self-centred as she had ever thought or he had owned himself to be, self-seeking he was not, in any mean or greedy sense. She perceived that his self-seeking, now, at least, was as much for her sake as his own, and that it was really after all not self-seeking, but the helpless pursuit of aims which he was born into the world to achieve. She had seen that he did not stoop to achieve them, but had as haughty a disdain of any but the highest means as she could have wished him to have, and much haughtier than she could have had in his place. If he forgot her in them, he forgot himself quite as much, and they were equal before his ambition. In fact, this seemed to her even more her charge than his, and if he did not succeed as with his genius he had a right to succeed, it would be constructively her fault, and at any rate she should hold herself to blame for it; there would be some satisfaction in that. She thought with tender pathos how hard he worked, and was at his writing all day long, except when she made him go out with her, and was then often so fagged that he could scarcely speak. She was proud of his almost killing himself at it, but she must study more and more not to let him kill himself, and must do everything that was humanly possible to keep up his spirits when he met with a reverse.
She accused herself with shame of having done nothing for him in the present emergency, but rather flung upon him the burden of her own disappointment. She thought how valiantly he had risen up under it, and had not lost one moment in vain repining; how instantly he had collected himself for a new effort, and taken his measures with a wise prevision that omitted no detail. In view of all this, she peremptorily forbade herself to be uneasy at the little reticence he was practising with regard to Godolphin's having rejected his play; and imagined the splendor he could put on with the manager after he had accepted it, in telling him its history, and releasing him, if he would, from his agreement. She imagined the manager generously saying this made no difference whatever, though he appreciated Mr. Maxwell's candor in the matter, and should be all the happier to make a success of it because Godolphin had failed with it.
But she returned from this flight into the future, and her husband's part in it, to the present and her own first duty in regard to him; and it appeared to her, that this was to look carefully after his health in the strain put upon it, and to nourish him for the struggle before him. It was to be not with one manager only, but many managers, probably, and possibly with all the managers in New York. That was what he had said it would be before he gave up, and she remembered how flushed and excited he looked when he said it, and though she did not believe he would get back for lunch—the manager might ask him to read his play to him, so that he could get just the author's notion—she tried to think out the very most nourishing lunch she could for him. Oysters were in season, and they were very nourishing, but they had already had them for breakfast, and beefsteak was very good, but he hated it. Perhaps chops would do, or, better still, mushrooms on toast, only they were not in the market at that time of year. She dismissed a stewed squab, and questioned a sweetbread, and wondered if there were not some kind of game. In the end she decided to leave it to the provision man, and she lost no time after she reached her decision in going out to consult him. He was a bland, soothing German, and it was a pleasure to talk with him, because he brought her married name into every sentence, and said, "No, Mrs. Maxwell;" "Yes, Mrs. Maxwell;" "I send it right in, Mrs. Maxwell." She went over his whole list of provisions with him, and let him persuade her that a small fillet was the best she could offer a person whose frame needed nourishing, while at the same time his appetite needed coaxing. She allowed him to add a can of mushrooms, as the right thing to go with it, and some salad; and then while he put the order up she stood reproaching herself for it, since it formed no fit lunch, and was both expensive and commonplace.
She was roused from her daze, when she was going to countermand the whole stupid order by the man's saying: "What can I do for you this morning, Mrs. Harley?" and she turned round to find at her elbow the smouldering-eyed woman of the bathing-beach. She lifted her heavy lids and gave Louise a dull glance, which she let a sudden recognition burn through for a moment and then quenched. But in that moment the two women sealed a dislike that had been merely potential before. Their look said for each that the other was by nature, tradition, and aspiration whatever was most detestable in their sex.
Mrs. Harley, whoever she was, under a name that Louise electrically decided to be fictitious, seemed unable to find her voice at first in their mutual defiance, and she made a pretence of letting her strange eyes rove about the shop before she answered. Her presence was so repugnant to Louise that she turned abruptly and hurried out of the place without returning the good-morning which the German sent after her with the usual addition of her name. She resented it now, for if it was not tantamount to an introduction to that creature, it was making her known to her, and Louise wished to have no closer acquaintance with her than their common humanity involved. It seemed too odious to have been again made aware that they were inhabitants of the same planet, and the anger that heaved within her went out in a wild flash of resentment towards her husband for having forever fixed that woman in her consciousness with a phrase. If it had not been for that, she would not have thought twice of her when they first saw her, and she would not have known her when they met again, and at the worst would merely have been harassed with a vague resemblance which would never have been verified.
She had climbed the stairs to their apartment on the fourth floor, when she felt the need to see more, know more, of this hateful being so strong upon her, that she stopped with her latch-key in her door and went down again. She did not formulate her intention, but she meant to hurry back to the provision store, with the pretext of changing her order, and follow the woman wherever she went, until she found out where she lived; and she did not feel, as a man would, the disgrace of dogging her steps in that way so much as she felt a fatal dread of her. If she should be gone by the time Louise got back to the shop, she would ask the provision man about her, and find out in that way. She stayed a little while to rehearse the terms of her inquiry, and while she lingered the woman herself came round the corner of the avenue and mounted the steps where Louise stood and, with an air of custom, went on upstairs to the second floor, where Louise heard her putting a latch-key into the door, which then closed after her.
Maxwell went to a manager whom he had once met in Boston, where they had been apparently acceptable to each other in a long talk they had about the drama. The manager showed himself a shrewd and rather remorseless man of business in all that he said of the theatre, but he spoke as generously and reverently of the drama as Maxwell felt, and they parted with a laughing promise to do something for it yet. In fact, if it had not been for the chances that threw him into Godolphin's hand afterwards, he would have gone to this manager with his play in the first place, and he went to him now, as soon as he was out of Godolphin's hands, not merely because he was the only manager he knew in the city, but because he believed in him as much as his rather sceptical temper permitted him to believe in any one, and because he believed he would give him at least an intelligent audience.
The man in the box-office, where he stood in the glow of an electric light at midday, recovered himself from the disappointment he suffered when Maxwell asked for the manager instead of a seat for the night's performance. He owned that the manager was in his room, but said he was very much engaged, and he was hardly moved from this conviction by Maxwell's urgence that he should send in his card; perhaps something in Maxwell's tone and face as of authority prevailed with him; perhaps it was the title of the Boston Abstract, which Maxwell wrote under his name, to recall himself better to the manager's memory. The answer was a good while getting back; people came in and bought tickets and went away, while Maxwell hung about the vestibule of the theatre and studied the bill of the play which formed its present attraction, but at last the man in the box-office put his face sidewise to the semi-circular opening above the glass-framed plan of seats and, after he had identified Maxwell, said, "Mr. Grayson would like to see you." At the same time the swinging doors of the theatre opened, and a young man came out, to whom the other added, indicating Maxwell, "This is the gentleman;" and the young man held the door open for him to pass in, and then went swiftly before him into the theatre, and led the way around the orchestra circle to a little door that opened in the wall beside one of the boxes. There was a rehearsal going on in the glare of some grouped incandescent bulbs on the stage, and people moving about in top hats and bonnets and other every-day outside gear, which Maxwell lost sight of in his progress through the wings and past a rough brick wall before he arrived at another door down some winding stairs in the depths of the building. His guide knocked at it, and when an answering voice said, "Come in!" he left Maxwell to go in alone. The manager had risen from his chair at his table, and stood, holding out his hand, with a smile of kindly enough welcome. He said, "I've just made you out, Mr. Maxwell. Do you come as a friendly interviewer, or as a deadly dramatist!"
"As both or as neither, whichever you like," said Maxwell, and he gladly took the manager's hand, and then took the chair which he cleared of some prompt-books for him to sit down in.
"I hadn't forgotten the pleasant talk I had with you in Boston, you see," the manager began again, "but I had forgotten whom I had it with."
"I can't say I had even done that," Maxwell answered, and this seemed to please the manager.
"Well, that counts you one," he said. "You noticed that we have put on 'Engaged?' We've made a failure of the piece we began with; it's several pieces now. Couldn't you do something like 'Engaged?'"
"I wish I could! But I'm afraid Gilbert is the only man living who can do anything like 'Engaged.' My hand is too heavy for that kind."
"Well, the heavy hand is not so bad if it hits hard enough," said the manager, who had a face of lively intelligence and an air of wary kindliness. He looked fifty, but this was partly the effect of overwork. There was something of the Jew, something of the Irishman, in his visage; but he was neither; he was a Yankee, from Maine, with a Boston training in his business. "What have you got?" he asked, for Maxwell's play was evident.
"Something I've been at work on for a year, more or less." Maxwell sketched the plot of his play, and the manager seemed interested.
"Rather Ibsenish, isn't it?" he suggested at the end.
The time had passed with Maxwell when he wished to have this said of his play, not because he did not admire Ibsen, but because he preferred the recognition of the original quality of his work. "I don't know that it is, very. Perhaps—if one didn't like it."
"Oh, I don't know that I should dislike it for its Ibsenism. The time of that sort of thing may be coming. You never can be sure, in this business, when the time of anything is coming. I've always thought that a naturalized Ibsenism wouldn't be so bad for our stage. You don't want to be quite so bleak, you know, as the real Norwegian Ibsen."
"I've tried not to be very bleak, because I thought it wasn't in the scheme," said Maxwell.
"I don't understand that it ends well?"
"Unless you consider the implicated marriage of the young people a good ending. Haxard himself, of course, is past all surgery. But the thing isn't pessimistic, as I understand, for its doctrine is that harm comes only from doing wrong."
The manager laughed. "Oh, the average public would consider that very pessimistic. They want no harm to come even from doing wrong. They want the drama to get round it, somehow. If you could show that Divine Providence forgets wrong-doing altogether in certain cases, you would make the fortune of your piece. Come, why couldn't you try something of that kind? It would be the greatest comfort to all the sinners in front, for every last man of them—or woman—would think she was the one who was going to get away."
"I might come up to that, later," said Maxwell, willing to take the humorous view of the matter, if it would please the manager and smooth the way for the consideration of his work; but, more obscurely, he was impatient, and sorry to have found him in so philosophical a mood.
The manager was like the man of any other trade; he liked to talk of his business, and this morning he talked of it a long time, and to an effect that Maxwell must have found useful if he had not been so bent upon getting to his manuscript that he had no mind for generalities. At last the manager said, abruptly, "You want me to read your play?"
"Very much," Maxwell answered, and he promptly put the packet he had brought into the manager's extended hand.
He not only took it, but he untied it, and even glanced at the first few pages. "All right," he said, "I'll read it, and let you hear from me as soon as I can. Your address—oh, it's on the wrapper, here. By-the-way, why shouldn't you lunch with me? We'll go over to the Players' Club."
Maxwell flushed with eager joy; then he faltered.
"I should like to do it immensely. But I'm afraid—I'm afraid Mrs. Maxwell will be waiting for me."
"Oh, all right; some other time," answered the manager; and then Maxwell was vexed that he had offered any excuse, for he thought it would have been very pleasant and perhaps useful for him to lunch at the Players'. But the manager did not urge him. He only said, as he led the way to the stage-door, "I didn't know there was a Mrs. Maxwell."
"She's happened since we met," said Maxwell, blushing with fond pride. "We're such a small family that we like to get together at lunch," he added.
"Oh, yes, I can understand that stage of it," said the manager. "By-the-way, are you still connected with the Abstract? I noticed the name on your card."
"Not quite in the old way. But," and with the words a purpose formed itself in Maxwell's mind, "they've asked me to write their New York letter."
"Well, drop in now and then. I may have something for you." The manager shook hands with him cordially, and Maxwell opened the door and found himself in the street.
He was so little conscious of the transit homeward that he seemed to find himself the next moment with Louise in their little parlor. He remembered afterwards that there was something strange in her manner towards him at first, but, before he could feel presently cognizant of it, this wore off in the interest of what he had to tell.
"The sum of it all," he ended his account of the interview with the manager, "is that he's taken the thing to read, and that he's to let me hear from him when he's read it. When that will be nobody knows, and I should be the last to ask. But he seemed interested in my sketch of it, and he had an intelligence about it that was consoling. And it was a great comfort, after Godolphin, and Godolphin's pyrotechnics, to have him take it in a hard, business way. He made no sort of promises, and he held out no sort of hopes; he didn't commit himself in any sort of way, and he can't break his word, for he hasn't given it. I wish, now, that I had never let Godolphin have the play back after he first renounced it; I should have saved a great deal of time and wear and tear of feelings. Yes, if I had taken your advice then—"
At this generous tribute to her wisdom, all that was reluctant ceased from Louise's manner and behavior. She put her arm around his neck and protested. "No, no! I can't let you say that, Brice! You were right about that, as you are about everything. If you hadn't had this experience with Godolphin, you wouldn't have known how to appreciate Mr. Grayson's reception of you, and you might have been unreasonable. I can see now that it's all been for the best, and that we needed just this discipline to prepare us for prosperity. But I guess Godolphin will wish, when he hears that Mr. Grayson has taken your piece, and is going to bring it out at the Argosy, here—"
"Oh, good heavens! Do give those poor chickens a chance to get out of the shell this time, my dear!"
"Well, I know it vexes you, and I know it's silly; but still I feel sure that Mr. Grayson will take it. You don't mind that, do you?"
"Not if you don't say it. I want you to realize that the chances are altogether against it. He was civil, because I think he rather liked me personally—"
"Of course he did!"
"Well, never mind. Personally—"
"And I don't suppose it did me any harm with him to suppose that I still had a newspaper connection. I put Boston Abstract on my card—for purposes of identification, as the editors say—because I was writing for it when I met him in Boston."
"Oh, well, as long as you're not writing for it now, I don't care. I want you to devote yourself entirely to the drama, Brice."
"Yes, that's all very well. But I think I shall do Ricker's letters for him this winter at least. I was thinking of it on the way down. It'll be work, but it'll be money, too, and if I have something coming in I sha'n't feel as if I were ruined every time my play gets back from a manager."
"Mr. Grayson will take it!"
"Now, Louise, if you say that, you will simply drive me to despair, for I shall know how you will feel when he doesn't—"
"No, I shall not feel so; and you will see. But if you don't let me hope for you—"
"You know I can't stand hoping. The only safe way is to look for the worst, and if anything better happens it is so much pure gain. If we hadn't been so eager to pin our faith to Godolphin—"
"How much better off should we have been? What have we lost by it?" she challenged him.
He broke off with a laugh. "We have lost the pins. Well, hope away! But, remember, you take the whole responsibility." Maxwell pulled out his watch. "Isn't lunch nearly ready? This prosperity is making me hungry, and it seems about a year since breakfast."
"I'll see what's keeping it," said Louise, and she ran out to the kitchen with a sudden fear in her heart. She knew that she had meant to countermand her order for the fillet and mushrooms, and she thought that she had forgotten to order anything else for lunch. She found the cook just serving it up, because such a dish as that took more time than an ordinary lunch, and the things had come late. Louise said, Yes, she understood that; and went back to Maxwell, whom she found walking up and down the room in a famine very uncommon for him. She felt the motherly joy a woman has in being able to appease the hunger of the man she loves, and now she was glad that she had not postponed the fillet till dinner as she had thought of doing. Everything was turning out so entirely for the best that she was beginning to experience some revival of an ancestral faith in Providence in a heart individually agnostic, and she was piously happy when Maxwell said at sight of the lunch, "Isn't this rather prophetic? If it isn't that, it's telepathic. I sha'n't regret now that I didn't go with Grayson to lunch at the Players' Club."
"Did he ask you to do that?"
Maxwell nodded with his mouth full.
A sudden misgiving smote her. "Oh, Brice, you ought to have gone! Why didn't you go?"
"It must have been a deep subconsciousness of the fillet and mushrooms. Or perhaps I didn't quite like to think of your lunching alone."
"Oh, you dear, faithful little soul!" she cried. The tears came into her eyes, and she ran round the table to kiss him several times on the top of his head.
He kept on eating as well as he could, and when she got back to her place, "Of course, it would have been a good thing for me to go to the Players'," he teased, "for it would have pleased Grayson, and I should probably have met some other actors and managers there, and made interest with them provisionally for my play, if he shouldn't happen to want it."
"Oh, I know it," she moaned. "You have ruined yourself for me. I'm not worth it. No, I'm not! Now, I want you to promise, dearest, that you'll never mind me again, but lunch or dine, or breakfast, or sup whenever anybody asks you?"
"Well, I can't promise all that, quite."
"I mean, when the play is at stake."
"Oh, in that case, yes."
"What in the world did you say to Mr. Grayson?"
"Very much what I have said to you: that I hated to leave you to lunch alone here."
"Oh, didn't he think it very silly?" she entreated, fondly. "Don't you think he'll laugh at you for it!"
"Very likely. But he won't like me the less for it. Men are glad of marital devotion in other men; they feel that it acts as a sort of dispensation for them."
"You oughtn't to waste those things on me," she said, humbly. "You ought to keep them for your plays."
"Oh, they're not wasted, exactly. I can use them over again. I can say much better things than that with a pen in my hand."
She hardly heard him. She felt a keen remorse for something she had meant to do and to say when he came home. Now she put it far from her; she thought she ought not to keep even an extinct suspicion in her heart against him, and she asked, "Brice, did you know that woman was living in this house?"
Louise was ashamed to say anything about the smouldering eyes. "That woman on the bathing-beach at Magnolia—the one I met the other day."
He said, dryly: "She seems to be pursuing us. How did you find it out?"
She told him, and she added, "I think she must be an actress of some sort."
"Very likely, but I hope she won't feel obliged to call because we're connected with the profession."
Some time afterwards Louise was stitching at a centre-piece she was embroidering for the dining-table, and Maxwell was writing a letter for the Abstract, which he was going to send to the editor with a note telling him that if it were the sort of thing he wanted he would do the letters for them.
"After all," she breathed, "that look of the eyes may be purely physical."
"What look?" Maxwell asked, from the depths of his work.
She laughed in perfect content, and said: "Oh, nothing." But when he finished his letter, and was putting it into the envelope, she asked: "Did you tell Mr. Grayson that Godolphin had returned the play?"
"No, I didn't. That wasn't necessary at this stage of the proceedings."
During the week that passed before Maxwell heard from the manager concerning his play, he did another letter for the Abstract, and, with a journalistic acquaintance enlarged through certain Boston men who had found places on New York papers, familiarized himself with New York ways and means of getting news. He visited what is called the Coast, a series of points where the latest intelligence grows in hotel bars and lobbies of a favorable exposure, and is nurtured by clerks and barkeepers skilled in its culture, and by inveterate gossips of their acquaintance; but he found this sort of stuff generally telegraphed on by the Associated Press before he reached it, and he preferred to make his letter a lively comment on events, rather than a report of them. The editor of the Abstract seemed to prefer this, too. He wrote Maxwell some excellent criticism, and invited him to appeal to the better rather than the worse curiosity of his readers, to remember that this was the principle of the Abstract in its home conduct. Maxwell showed the letter to his wife, and she approved of it all so heartily that she would have liked to answer it herself. "Of course, Brice," she said, "it's you he wants, more than your news. Any wretched reporter could give him that, but you are the one man in the world who can give him your mind about it."
"Why not say universe?" returned Maxwell, but though he mocked her he was glad to believe she was right, and he was proud of her faith in him.
In another way this was put to proof more than once during the week, for Louise seemed fated to meet Mrs. Harley on the common stairs now when she went out or came in. It was very strange that after living with her a whole month in the house and not seeing her, she should now be seeing her so much. Mostly she was alone, but sometimes she was with an elderly woman, whom Louise decided at one time to be her mother, and at another time to be a professional companion. The first time she met them together she was sure that Mrs. Harley indicated her to the chaperon, and that she remembered her from Magnolia, but she never looked at Louise, any more than Louise looked at her, after that.
She wondered if Maxwell ever met her, but she was ashamed to ask him, and he did not mention her. Only once when they were together did they happen to encounter her, and then he said, quite simply, "I think she's certainly an actress. That public look of the eyes is unmistakable. Emotional parts, I should say."
Louise forced herself to suggest, "You might get her to let you do a play for her."
"I doubt if I could do anything unwholesome enough for her."
At last the summons they were expecting from Grayson came, just after they had made up their minds to wait another week for it.
Louise had taken the letter from the maid, and she handed it to Maxwell with a gasp at sight of the Argosy theatre address printed in the corner of the envelope. "I know it's a refusal."
"If you think that will make it an acceptance," he had the hardihood to answer, "it won't. I've tried that sort of thing too often;" and he tore open the letter.
It was neither a refusal nor an acceptance, and their hopes soared again, hers visibly, his secretly, to find it a friendly confession that the manager had not found time to read the play until the night before, and a request that Maxwell would drop in any day between twelve and one, which was rather a leisure time with him, and talk it over.
"Don't lose an instant, dear!" she adjured him.
"It's only nine o'clock," he answered, "and I shall have to lose several instants."
"That is so," she lamented; and then they began to canvas the probable intention of the manager's note. She held out passionately to the end for the most encouraging interpretation of it, but she did not feel that it would have any malign effect upon the fact for him to say, "Oh, it's just a way of letting me down easy," and it clearly gave him great heart to say so.
When he went off to meet his fate, she watched him, trembling, from the window; as she saw him mounting the elevated steps, she wondered at his courage; she had given him all her own.
The manager met him with "Ah, I'm glad you came soon. These things fade out of one's mind so, and I really want to talk about your play. I've been very much interested in it."
Maxwell could only bow his head and murmur something about being very glad, very, very glad, with a stupid iteration.
"I suppose you know, as well as I do, that it's two plays, and that it's only half as good as if it were one."
The manager wheeled around from his table, and looked keenly at the author, who contrived to say, "I think I know what you mean."
"You've got the making of the prettiest kind of little comedy in it, and you've got the making of a very strong tragedy. But I don't think your oil and water mix, exactly," said Grayson.
"You think the interest of the love-business will detract from the interest of the homicide's fate?"
"And vice versa. Excuse me for asking something that I can very well understand your not wanting to tell till I had read your play. Isn't this the piece Godolphin has been trying out West?"
"Yes, it is," said Maxwell. "I thought it might prejudice you against it, if—"
"Oh, that's all right. Why have you taken it from him?"
Maxwell felt that he could make up for his want of earlier frankness now. "I didn't take it from him; he gave it back to me."
He sketched the history of his relation to the actor, and the manager said, with smiling relish, "Just like him, just like Godolphin." Then he added, "I'll tell you, and you mustn't take it amiss. Godolphin may not know just why he gave the piece up, and he probably thinks it's something altogether different, but you may depend upon it the trouble was your trying to ride two horses in it. Didn't you feel that it was a mistake yourself?"
"I felt it so strongly at one time that I decided to develop the love-business into a play by itself and let the other go for some other time. My wife and I talked it over. We even discussed it with Godolphin. He wanted to do Atland. But we all backed out simultaneously, and went back to the play as it stood."
"Godolphin saw he couldn't make enough of Atland," said the manager, as if he were saying it to himself. "Well, you may be sure he feels now that the character which most appeals to the public in the play is Salome."
"He felt that before."
"And he was right. Now, I will tell you what you have got to do. You have either got to separate the love-business from the rest of the play and develop it into a comedy by itself—"
"That would mean a great deal of work, and I am rather sick of the whole thing."
"Or," the manager went on without minding Maxwell, "you have got to cut the part of Salome, and subordinate it entirely to Haxard"—Maxwell made a movement of impatience and refusal, and the manager finished—"or else you have got to treat it frankly as the leading part in the piece, and get it into the hands of some leading actress."
"Do you mean," the author asked, "that you—or any manager—would take it if that were done?"
Grayson looked a little unhappy. "No, that isn't what I mean, exactly. I mean that as it stands, no manager would risk it, and that as soon as an actor had read it, he would see, as Godolphin must have seen from the start, that Haxard was a subordinate part. What you want to do is to get it in the hands of some woman who wants to star, and would take the road with it." The manager expatiated at some length on the point, and then he stopped, and sat silent, as if he had done with the subject.
Maxwell perceived that the time had come for him to get up and go away.
"I'm greatly obliged to you for all your kindness, Mr. Grayson, and I won't abuse your patience any further. You've been awfully good to me, and—" He faltered, in a dejection which he could not control. Against all reason, he had hoped that the manager would have taken his piece just as it stood, and apparently he would not have taken it in any event.
"You mustn't speak of that," said the manager. "I wish you would let me see anything else you do. There's a great deal that's good in this piece, and I believe that a woman who would make it her battle-horse could make it go."
Maxwell asked, with melancholy scorn, "But you don't happen to know any leading lady who is looking round for a battle-horse?"
The manager seemed trying to think. "Yes, I do. You wouldn't like her altogether, and I don't say she would be the ideal Salome, but she would be, in her way, effective; and I know that she wants very much to get a play. She hasn't been doing anything for a year or two but getting married and divorced, but she made a very good start. She used to call herself Yolande Havisham; I don't suppose it was her name; and she had a good deal of success in the West; I don't think she's ever appeared in New York. I believe she was of quite a good Southern family; the Southerners all are; and I hear she has money."
"Godolphin mentioned a Southern girl for the part," said Maxwell. "I wonder if—"
"Very likely it's the same one. She does emotional leads. She and Godolphin played together in California, I believe. I was trying to think of her married name—or her unmarried name—"
Some one knocked at the door, and the young man put his head in, with what Maxwell fancied a preconcerted effect, and gave the manager a card. He said, "All right; bring him round," and he added to Maxwell, "Shall I send your play—"
"No, no, I will take it," and Maxwell carried it away with a heavier heart than he had even when he got it back from Godolphin. He did not know how to begin again, and he had to go home and take counsel with his wife as to the next step.
He could not bear to tell her of his disappointment, and it was harder still to tell her of the kind of hope the manager had held out to him. He revolved a compromise in his mind, and when they sat down together he did not mean to conceal anything, but only to postpone something; he did not clearly know why. He told her the alternatives the manager had suggested, and she agreed with him they were all impossible.
"Besides," she said, "he doesn't promise to take the play, even if you do everything to a 't.' Did he ask you to lunch again?"
"No, that seemed altogether a thing of the past."
"Well, let us have ours, and then we can go into the Park, and forget all about it for a while, and perhaps something new will suggest itself."
That was what they did, but nothing new suggested itself. They came home fretted with their futile talk. There seemed nothing for Maxwell to do but to begin the next day with some other manager.
They found a note from Grayson waiting Maxwell. "Well, you open it," he said, listlessly, to his wife, and in fact he felt himself at that moment physically unable to cope with the task, and he dreaded any fluctuation of emotion that would follow, even if it were a joyous one.
"What does this mean, Brice?" demanded his wife, with a terrible provisionality in her tone, as she stretched out the letter to him, and stood before him where he lounged in the cushioned window-seat.
Grayson had written: "If you care to submit your play to Yolande Havisham, you can easily do so. I find that her address is the same as yours. Her name is Harley. But I was mistaken about the divorce. It was a death."
Maxwell lay stupidly holding the note before him.
"Will you tell me what it means?" his wife repeated. "Or why you didn't tell me before, if you meant to give your play to that creature?"
"I don't mean to give it to her," said Maxwell, doggedly. "I never did, for an instant. As for not telling you that Grayson had suggested it—well, perhaps I wished to spare myself a scene like the present."
"Do you think I will believe you?"
"I don't think you will insult me. Why shouldn't you believe I am telling you the truth?"
"Because—because you didn't tell me at once."
"That is nonsense, and you know it. If I wanted to keep this from you, it was to spare you the annoyance I can't help now, and because the thing was settled in my mind as soon as Grayson proposed it."
"Then, why has he written to you about it?"
"I suppose I didn't say it was settled."
"Suppose? Don't you know whether you did?"
"Come, now, Louise! I am not on the witness-stand, and I won't be cross-questioned. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. What is the matter with you? Am I to blame because a man who doesn't imagine your dislike of a woman that you never spoke to suggests her taking part in a play that she probably wouldn't look at? You're preposterous! Try to have a little common-sense!" These appeals seemed to have a certain effect with his wife; she looked daunted; but Maxwell had the misfortune to add, "One would think you were jealous of the woman."
"Now you are insulting me!" she cried. "But it's a part of the vulgarity of the whole business. Actors, authors, managers, you're all alike."
Maxwell got very pale. "Look out, Louise!" he warned her.
"I won't look out. If you had any delicacy, the least delicacy in the world, you could imagine how a woman who had given the most sacred feelings of her nature to you for your selfish art would loathe to be represented by such a creature as that, and still not be jealous of her, as you call it! But I am justly punished! I might have expected it."
The maid appeared at the door and said something, which neither of them could make out at once, but which proved to be the question whether Mrs. Maxwell had ordered the dinner.
"No, I will go—I was just going out for it," said Louise. She had in fact not taken off her hat or gloves since she came in from her walk, and she now turned and swept out of the room without looking at her husband. He longed to detain her, to speak some kindly or clarifying word, to set himself right with her, to set her right with herself; but the rage was so hot in his heart that he could not. She came back to the door a moment, and looked in. "I will do my duty."
"It's rather late," he sneered, "but if you're very conscientious, I dare say we shall have dinner at the usual time."
He did not leave the window-seat, and it was as if the door had only just clashed to after her when there came a repeated and violent ringing at the bell, so that he jumped up himself, to answer it, without waiting for the maid.
"Your wife—your wife!" panted the bell-boy, who stood there. "She's hurt herself, and she's fainted."
"My wife? Where—how?" He ran down stairs after the boy, and in the hallway on the ground floor he found Louise stretched upon the marble pavement, with her head in the lap of a woman, who was chafing her hands. He needed no look at this woman's face to be sure that it was the woman of his wife's abhorrence, and he felt quite as sure that it was the actress Yolande Havisham, from the effective drama of her self-possession.
"Don't be frightened. Your wife turned her foot on the steps here. I was coming into the house, and caught her from falling. It's only a swoon." She spoke with the pseudo-English accent of the stage, but with a Southern slip upon the vowels here and there. "Get some water, please."
The hall-boy came running up the back stairs with some that he had gone to get, and the woman bade Maxwell sprinkle his wife's face. But he said: "No—you," and he stooped and took his wife's head into his own hands, so that she might not come to in the lap of Mrs. Harley; in the midst of his dismay he reflected how much she would hate that. He could hardly keep himself from being repellant and resentful towards the woman. In his remorse for quarrelling with Louise, it was the least reparation he could offer her. Mrs. Harley, if it were she, seemed not to notice his rudeness. She sprinkled Louise's face, and wiped her forehead with the handkerchief she dipped in the water; but this did not bring her out of her faint, and Maxwell began to think she was dead, and to feel that he was a murderer. With a strange aesthetic vigilance he took note of his sensations for use in revising Haxard.
The janitor of the building had somehow arrived, and Mrs. Harley said: "I will go for a doctor, if you can get her up to your apartment;" and she left Louise with the two men.
The janitor, a burly Irishman, lifted her in his arms, and carried her up the three flights of steps; Maxwell followed, haggardly, helplessly.
On her own bed, Louise revived, and said: "My shoe—Oh, get it off!"
The doctor came a few minutes later, but Mrs. Harley did not appear with him as Maxwell had dreaded she would. He decided that Mrs. Maxwell had strained, not sprained, her ankle, and he explained how the difference was all the difference in the world, as he bound the ankle up with a long ribbon of india-rubber, and issued directions for care and quiet.
He left them there, and Maxwell heard him below in parley, apparently with the actress at her door. Louise lay with her head on her husband's arm, and held his other hand tight in hers, while he knelt by the bed. The bliss of repentance and mutual forgiveness filled both their hearts, while she told him how she had hurt herself.
"I had got down to the last step, and I was putting my foot to the pavement, and I thought, Now I am going to turn my ankle. Wasn't it strange? And I turned it. How did you get me upstairs?"
"The janitor carried you."
"How lucky he happened to be there! I suppose the hall-boy kept me from falling—poor little fellow! You must give him some money. How did you find out about me?"
"He ran up to tell," Maxwell said this, and then he hesitated. "I guess you had better know all about it. Can you bear something disagreeable, or would you rather wait—"
"No, no, tell me now! I can't bear to wait. What is it?"
"It wasn't the hall-boy that caught you. It was that—woman."
He felt her neck and hand grow rigid, but he went on, and told her all about it. At the end some quiet tears came into her eyes. "Well, then, we must be civil to her. I am glad you told me at once, Brice!" She pulled his head down and kissed him, and he was glad, too.
Louise sent Maxwell down to Mrs. Harley's apartment to thank her, and tell her how slight the accident was; and while he was gone she abandoned herself to an impassioned dramatization of her own death from blood-poisoning, and her husband's early marriage with the actress, who then appeared in all his plays, though they were not happy together. Her own spectre was always rising between them, and she got some fearful joy out of that. She counted his absence by her heart-beats, but he came back so soon that she was ashamed, and was afraid that he had behaved so as to give the woman a notion that he was not suffered to stay longer. He explained that he had found her gloved and bonneted to go out, and that he had not stayed for fear of keeping her. She had introduced him to her mother, who was civil about Louise's accident, and they had both begged him to let them do anything they could for her. He made his observations, and when Louise, after a moment, asked him about them, he said they affected him as severally typifying the Old South and the New South. They had a photograph over the mantel, thrown up large, of an officer in Confederate uniform. Otherwise the room had nothing personal in it; he suspected the apartment of having been taken furnished, like their own. Louise asked if he should say they were ladies, and he answered that he thought they were.
"Of course," she said, and she added, with a wide sweep of censure: "They get engaged to four or five men at a time, down there. Well," she sighed, "you mustn't stay in here with me, dear. Go to your writing."
"I was thinking whether you couldn't come out and lie on the lounge. I hate to leave you alone in here."
"No, the doctor said to be perfectly quiet. Perhaps I can, to-morrow, if it doesn't swell up any worse."
She kept her hold of his hand, which he had laid in hers, and he sat down beside the bed, in the chair he had left there. He did not speak, and after a while she asked, "What are you thinking of?"
"Oh, nothing. The confounded play, I suppose."
"You're disappointed at Grayson's not taking it."
"One is always a fool."
"Yes," said Louise, with a catching of the breath. She gripped his hand hard, and said, as well as she could in keeping back the tears, "Well, I will never stand in your way, Brice. You may do anything—anything—with it that you think best."
"I shall never do anything you don't like," he answered, and he leaned over and kissed her, and at this her passion burst in a violent sobbing, and when she could speak she made him solemnly promise that he would not regard her in the least, but would do whatever was wisest and best with the play, for otherwise she should never be happy again.
As she could not come out to join him at dinner, he brought a little table to the bedside, and put his plate on it, and ate his dinner there with her. She gave him some attractive morsels off her own plate, which he had first insisted on bestowing upon her. They had such a gay evening that the future brightened again, and they arranged for Maxwell to take his play down-town the next day, and not lose a moment in trying to place it with some manager.
It all left him very wakeful, for his head began to work upon this scheme and that. When he went to lock the outer door for the night, the sight of his overcoat hanging in the hall made him think of a theatrical newspaper he had bought coming home, at a certain corner of Broadway, where numbers of smooth-shaven, handsome men, and women with dark eyes and champagned hair were lounging and passing. He had got it on the desperate chance that it might suggest something useful to him. He now took it out of his coat-pocket, and began to look its advertisements over in the light of his study lamp, partly because he was curious about it, and partly because he knew that he should begin to revise his play otherwise, and then he should not sleep all night.
In several pages of the paper ladies with flowery and alliterative names and pseudonyms proclaimed themselves in large letters, and in smaller type the parts they were presently playing in different combinations; others gave addresses and announced that they were At Liberty, or specified the kinds of roles they were accustomed to fill, as Leads or Heavies, Dancing Soubrettes and Boys; Leads, Emotional and Juvenile; Heavy or Juvenile or Emotional Leads. There were gentlemen seeking engagements who were Artistic Whistling Soloists, Magicians, Leading Men, Leading Heavies, Singing and Dancing Comedians, and there were both ladies and gentlemen who were now Starring in this play or that, but were open to offers later. A teacher of stage dancing promised instruction in skirt and serpentine dancing, as well as high kicking, front and back, the backward bend, side practice, toe-practice, and all novelties. Dramatic authors had their cards among the rest, and one poor fellow, as if he had not the heart to name himself, advertised a play to be heard of at the office of the newspaper. Whatever related to the theatre was there, in bizarre solidarity, which was droll enough to Maxwell in one way. But he hated to be mixed up with all that, and he perceived that he must be mixed up with it more and more, if he wrote for the theatre. Whether he liked it or not, he was part of the thing which in its entirety meant high-kicking and toe-practice, as well as the expression of the most mystical passions of the heart. There was an austerity in him which the fact offended, and he did what he could to appease this austerity by reflecting that it was the drama and never the theatre that he loved; but for the time this was useless. He saw that if he wrote dramas he could not hold aloof from the theatre, nor from actors and actresses—heavies and juveniles, and emotionals and soubrettes. He must know them, and more intimately; and at first he must be subject to them, however he mastered them at last; he must flatter their oddities and indulge their caprices. His experience with Godolphin had taught him that, and his experience with Godolphin in the construction of his play could be nothing to what he must undergo at rehearsals and in the effort to adapt his work to a company. He reminded himself that Shakespeare even must have undergone all that. But this did not console him. He was himself, and what another, the greatest, had suffered would not save him. Besides, it was not the drama merely that Maxwell loved; it was not making plays alone; it was causing the life that he had known to speak from the stage, and to teach there its serious and important lesson. In the last analysis he was a moralist, and more a moralist than he imagined. To enforce, in the vividest and most palpable form, what he had thought true, it might be worth while to endure all the trials that he must; but at that moment he did not think so; and he did not dare submit his misgiving to his wife.
They had now been six months married, and if he had allowed himself to face the fact he must have owned that, though they loved each other so truly, and he had known moments of exquisite, of incredible rapture, he had been as little happy as in any half-year he had lived. He never formulated his wife's character, or defined the precise relation she bore to his life; if he could have been challenged to do so, he would have said that she was the whole of life to him, and that she was the most delightful woman in the world.
He tasted to its last sweetness the love of loving her and of being loved by her. At the same time there was an obscure stress upon him which he did not trace to her at once; a trouble in his thoughts which, if he could have seen it clearly, he would have recognized for a lurking anxiety concerning how she would take the events of their life as they came. Without realizing it, for his mind was mostly on his work, and it was only in some dim recess of his spirit that the struggle took place, he was perpetually striving to adjust himself to the unexpected, or rather the unpredictable.
But when he was most afraid of her harassing uncertainty of emotion or action he was aware of her fixed loyalty to him; and perhaps it was the final effect with himself that he dreaded. Should he always be able to bear and forbear, as he felt she would, with all her variableness and turning? The question did not put itself in words, and neither did his conviction that his relation to the theatre was doubled in difficulty through her. But he perceived that she had no love for the drama, and only a love for his love of it; and sometimes he vaguely suspected that if he had been in business she would have been as fond of business as she was of the drama. He never perhaps comprehended her ideal, and how it could include an explicit and somewhat noisy devotion to the aims of his ambition, because it was his, and a patronizing reservation in regard to the ambition itself. But this was quite possible with Louise, just as it was possible for her to have had a humble personal joy in giving herself to him, while she had a distinct social sense of the sacrifice she had made in marrying him. In herself she looked up to him; as her father's and mother's daughter, as the child of her circumstance, there is no doubt she looked down upon him. But neither of these attitudes held in their common life. Love may or may not level ranks, but marriage unquestionably does, and is the one form of absolute equality. The Maxwells did not take themselves or each other objectively; they loved and hated, they made war and made peace, without any sense of the difference or desert that might have been apparent to the spectators.
Maxwell had never been so near the standpoint of the impartial observer as now when he confronted the question of what he should do, with a heart twice burdened by the question whether his wife would not make it hard for him to do it, whatever it was. He thought, with dark foreboding, of the difficulties he should have to smooth out for her if it ever came to a production of the piece. The best thing that could happen, perhaps, would be its rejection, final and total, by all possible managers and actors; for she would detest any one who took the part of Salome, and would hold him responsible for all she should suffer from it.
He recurred to what he had felt so strongly himself, and what Grayson had suggested, and thought how he could free himself from fealty to her by cutting out the whole love-business from his play. But that would be very hard. The thing had now knitted itself in one texture in his mind, and though he could sever the ties that bound the parts together, it would take from the piece the great element of charm. It was not symmetrical as it stood, but it was not two distinct motives; the motives had blended, and they really belonged to each other. He would have to invent some other love-business if he cut this out, but still it could be done. Then it suddenly flashed upon him that there was something easier yet, and that was to abandon the notion of getting his piece played at all, and to turn it into a novel. He could give it narrative form without much trouble, if any, beyond that of copying it, and it would be thought a very dramatic story. He saw instantly how he could keep and even enhance all the charm of the love-business as it stood, in a novel; and in his revulsion of feeling he wished to tell his wife. He made a movement towards the door of her room, but he heard the even breathing of her sleep, and he stopped and flung himself on the lounge to think. It was such a happy solution of the whole affair! He need not even cease trying it with the managers, for he could use the copy of the play that Godolphin had returned for that, and he could use the copy he had always kept for recasting it in narrative. By the time that he had got his play back from the last manager he would have his novel ready for the first publisher. In the meantime he should be writing his letters for the Abstract, and not consuming all his little savings.
The relief from the stress upon him was delicious. He lay at rest and heard the soft breathing of his wife from the other room, and an indescribable tenderness for her filled his heart. Then he heard her voice saying, "Well, don't wake him, poor boy!"
Maxwell opened his eyes and found the maid lightly escaping from the room. He perceived that he had slept all night on the lounge, and he sent a cheery hail into his wife's room, and then followed it to tell her how he had thought it all out. She was as glad as he was; she applauded his plan to the ceiling; and he might not have thought of her accident if he had not seen presently that she was eating her breakfast in bed.
Then he asked after her ankle, and she said, "Oh, that is perfectly well, or the same as perfectly. There's no pain at all there to speak of, and I shall get up to luncheon. You needn't mind me any more. If you haven't taken your death of cold sleeping there on the lounge—"
"I want you to go down town to some manager with your play, and get some paper, the kind I like; and then, after lunch, we'll begin turning it into a novel, from your copy. It will be so easy for you that you can dictate, and I'll do the writing, and we'll work it up together. Shall you like collaborating with me?"
"It will be our story, and I shall like it twice as well as if it were a play. We shall be independent of the theatre, that's one satisfaction; they can take the play, if they like, but it will be perfectly indifferent to us. I shall help you get in all those nice touches that you said you could never get into a play, like that green light in the woods. I know just how we shall manage that love business, and we sha'n't have any horror of an actress interpreting our inspirations to the public. We'll play Atland and Salome ourselves. We'll—ow!"
She had given her foot a twist in the excitement and she fell back on the pillow rather faint. But she instantly recovered herself with a laugh, and she hurried him away to his breakfast, and then away with his play. He would rather have stayed and begun turning it into a story at once. But she would not let him; she said it would be a loss of time, and she should fret a good deal more to have him there with her, than to have him away, for she should know he was just staying to cheer her up.
When he was gone she sent for whatever papers the maid could find in the parlor, so that she need not think of him in the amusement she would get out of them. Among the rest was that dramatic newspaper which caught her eye first, with the effigy of a very dramatized young woman whose portrait filled the whole first page. Louise abhorred her, but with a novel sense of security in the fact that Maxwell's play was going so soon to be turned into a story; and she felt personally aloof from all the people who had dragged him down with a sense of complicity in their professional cards. She found them neither so droll nor so painful as he had, but she was very willing to turn from them, and she was giving the paper a parting glance before dropping it when she was arrested by an advertisement which made her start:
WANTED.—A drama for prominent star; light comic and emotional: star part must embody situations for the display of intense effects. Address L. STERNE, this office.
A series of effects as intense as the advertiser could have desired in a drama followed one another in the mind of Louise. She now wildly reproached herself that she had, however unwittingly, sent her husband out of reach for four or five hours, when his whole future might depend upon his instantly answering this notice. Whether he had already seen the notice and rashly decided to ignore it, or had not seen it, he might involve himself with some manager irretrievably before he could be got at with a demand which seemed specifically framed to describe his play. She was in despair that there was no means of sending a messenger-boy after him with any chance of finding him. The light comic reliefs which the advertiser would have wished to give the dark phases of her mood were suggested by her reckless energy in whirling herself into her dressing-gown, and hopping out to Maxwell's desk in the other room, where she dashed off a note in reply to the advertisement in her husband's name, and then checked herself with the reflection that she had no right to sign his name: even in such a cause she must not do anything wrong. Something must be done, however, right or wrong, and she decided that a very formal note in the third person would involve the least moral trespass. She fixed upon these terms, after several experiments, almost weeping at the time they cost her, when every moment was precious:
Mr. Brice Maxwell writes to Mr. L. Sterne and begs to inform him that he has a play which he believes will meet the requirements of Mr. Sterne, as stated in his advertisement in the Theatrical Register of November the tenth. Mr. Maxwell asks the favor of an interview with Mr. Sterne at any time and place that Mr. Sterne may appoint.
It seemed to her that this violated no law of man or God, or if it did the exigency was such that the action could be forgiven, if not justified. She ransacked Maxwell's desk for a special delivery stamp, and sent the letter out beyond recall; and then it occurred to her that its opening terms were too much those of a lady addressing a seamstress; but after a good deal of anguish on this point she comforted herself with the hope that a man would not know the form, or at least would not suspect another man of using it offensively.
She passed the time till Maxwell came back, in doubt whether to tell him what she had done. There was no reason why she should not, except that he might have seen the advertisement and decided not to answer it for some reason; but in that case it might be said that he ought to have spoken to her about it. She told him everything at once, but there were many things that he did not tell her till long afterwards; it would be a good thing to let him realize how that felt; besides, it would be a pleasure to keep it and let it burst upon him, if that L. Sterne, whoever he was, asked to see the play. In any case, it would not be a great while that she need keep from him what she had done, but at sight of him when he came in she could hardly be silent. He was gloomy and dispirited, and he confessed that his pleasant experience with Grayson had not been repeated with the other managers. They had all been civil enough, and he had seen three or four of them, but only one had consented to let him even leave his play with him; the others said that it would be useless for them to look at it.
She could not forbear showing him the advertisement she had answered as they sat at lunch; but he glanced at it with disdain, and said there must be some sort of fake in it; if it was some irresponsible fellow getting up a combination he would not scruple to use the ideas of any manuscript submitted to him and work them over to suit himself. Louise could not speak. All heart went out of her; she wanted to cry, and she did not tell what she had done.
Neither of them ate much. He asked her if she was ready to begin on the story with him; she said, "Oh yes;" and she hobbled off into the other room. Then he seemed to remember her hurt for the first time; he had been so full of his failure with the play before. He asked her how she was, and she said much better; and then he stretched himself on the lounge and tried to dictate, and she took her place at his desk and tried to write. But she either ran ahead of him and prompted him, which vexed him, or she lagged so far behind that he lost the thread of what he was saying and became angry. At last she put her head down on the paper and blotted it with her tears.
At that he said, "Oh, you'd better go back to bed," and then, though he spoke harshly, he lifted her tenderly and half carried her to her room.
They did not try working the play into a story again together. Maxwell kept doggedly at it, though he said it was of no use; the thing had taken the dramatic form with inexorable fixity as it first came from his mind; it could be changed, of course, but it could only be changed for the worse, artistically. If he could sell it as a story, the work would not be lost; he would gain the skill that came from doing, in any event, and it would keep him alive under the ill-luck that now seemed to have set in.
None of the managers wanted his play. Some of them seemed to want it less than others; some wanted it less immediately than others; some did not want it after reading; some refused it without reading it; some had their arrangements made for an indefinite time, others in the present uncertain state of affairs could not make any arrangements; some said it was an American play; others that it was un-American in its pessimistic spirit; some found it too literary; others, lacking in imagination. They were nearly all so kind that at first Maxwell was guilty of the folly of trying to persuade them against the reasons they gave; when he realized that these reasons were also excuses, he set his teeth and accepted them in silence.
For a number of days Louise suffered in momentary expectation of a reply from L. Sterne. She thought it would come by district messenger the day she wrote; and for several days afterwards she had the letters brought to her first, so that she could read them, and not disturb Maxwell with them at his work, if it were not necessary. He willingly agreed to that; he saw that it helped to pass the irksome time for her. She did not mean to conceal any answer she should have from L. Sterne, but she meant when the answer came to prepare her husband for it in such sort that he would understand her motive, and though he condemned it, would easily forgive her. But the days went and no letter from L. Sterne came, and after a season of lively indignation at his rudeness, Louise began to forget him a little, though she still kept her surveillance of the mail.
It was always on her conscience, in the meantime, to give some of the first moments of her recovery to going with Maxwell and thanking Mrs. Harley for the kindness she had shown her in her accident. She was the more strenuous in this intention because the duty was so distasteful, and she insisted upon Maxwell's company, though he argued that he had already done enough himself in thanking her preserver, because she wished to punish a certain reluctance of her own in having him go. She promised herself that she would do everything that was right by the creature; and perhaps she repaired to her presence in rather overwhelming virtue. If this was so, Mrs. Harley showed herself equal to the demand upon her, and was overwhelming in her kind. She not only made nothing of what she had done for Louise, but she made nothing of Louise, and contrived with a few well-directed strokes to give her distinctly the sense of being a chit, a thing Louise was not at all used to. She was apparently one of those women who have no use for persons of their own sex; but few women, even of that sort, could have so promptly relegated Louise to the outside of their interest, or so frankly devoted themselves to Maxwell. The impartial spectator might easily have imagined that it was his ankle which had been strained, and that Louise was at best an intrusive sympathizer. Sometimes Mrs. Harley did not hear what she said; at other times, if she began a response to her, she ended it in a question to him; even when she talked to Louise, her eyes were smouldering upon Maxwell. If this had all or any of it been helpless or ignorant rudeness, it could have been borne and forgiven; but Louise was aware of intention, of perfect intelligence in it; she was sensible of being even more disliked than disliking, and of finally being put to flight with a patronizing benevolence for her complete recovery that was intolerable. What was worse was that, while the woman had been so offensive, she could not wholly rid herself of the feeling that her punishment was in a measure merited, though it was not justice that had dealt with her.
"Well, that is over," said Maxwell, when they were again by themselves.
"Yes, forever," sighed Louise, and for once she was not let have the last word.
"I hope you'll remember that I didn't want to go."
At least, they had not misunderstood each other about Mrs. Harley.
Towards the end of the month, Louise's father and mother came on from Boston. They professed that they had been taken with that wish to see the autumn exhibition at the National Academy which sometimes affects Bostonians, and that their visit had nothing to do with the little hurt that Louise wrote them of when she was quite well of it. They drove over from their hotel the morning they arrived, and she did not know anything of their coming till she heard their voices at the door; her father's voice was rather husky from the climb to her apartment.
The apartment was looking somewhat frouzy, for the Maxwells breakfasted late, and the house-maid had not had time to put it in order. Louise saw it through her father's and mother's eyes with the glance they gave it, and found the rooms ridiculously little, and furnished with cheap Fourteenth Street things; but she bragged all the more noisily of it on that account, and made her mother look out of the window for the pretty view they had from their corner room. Mrs. Hilary pulled her head back from the prospect of the railroad-ridden avenue with silent horror, and Louise burst into a wild laugh. "Well, it isn't Commonwealth Avenue, mamma; I don't pretend that, you know."
"Where's Maxwell?" asked Hilary, still puffing from the lounge he had sunk upon as soon as he got into the room.
"Oh, he's down town interviewing a manager about his play."
"I thought that fellow out West had his play. Or is this a new one?"
"No," said Louise, very slowly and thoughtfully, "Brice has taken back his play from Mr. Godolphin." This was true; he had taken it back in a sense. She added, as much to herself as to her father, "But he has got a new play—that he's working at."
"I hope he hasn't been rash with Godolphin; though I always had an idea that it would have been better for him to deal with a manager. It seems more business-like."
"Oh, much," said Louise.
After a little while they were more at home with each other; she began to feel herself more their child, and less Maxwell's wife; the barriers of reluctance against him, which she always knew were up with them, fell away from between them and herself. But her father said they had come to get her and Maxwell to lunch with them at their hotel, and then Louise felt herself on her husband's side of the fence again. She said no, they must stay with her; that she was sure Brice would be back for lunch; and she wanted to show them her house-keeping. Mrs. Hilary cast her eye about the room at the word, as if she had seen quite enough of it already, and this made Louise laugh again. She was no better in person than the room was, and she felt her mother's tacit censure apply to her slatternly dressing-gown.
"I know what you're thinking, mamma. But I got the habit of it when I had my strained ankle."
"Oh, I'm sure it must be very comfortable," Mrs. Hilary said, of the dressing-gown. "Is it entirely well now?" she added, of the ankle; and she and Hilary both looked at Louise in a way that would have convinced her that their final anxiety concerning it had brought them to New York, if she had not guessed it already. "The doctor," and by this she meant their old family doctor, as if he were the only one, "said you couldn't be too careful."
"Well, I haven't been careful," said Louise, gayly; "but I'm quite well, and you can go back at once, if that's all, mamma."
Hilary laughed with her. "You haven't changed much, Louise."
Her mother said, in another sense, "I think you look a little pulled down," and that made her and her father laugh again. She got to playing with him, and poking him, and kissing him, in the way she had with him when she was a girl; it was not so very long ago.
Her mother bore with this for awhile, and then she rose to go.
"You're not going to stay!" Louise protested.
"Not to-day, my dear. I've got some shopping to do before lunch."
"Well," said Louise, "I didn't suppose you would stay the first time, such swells as you and papa. But I shall insist upon your coming to-morrow when you've recovered a little from the blow this home of virtuous poverty has given you, and I've had a chance to dust and prepare for you. And I'll tell you what, mamma; Brice and I will come to dinner with you to-night, and we won't take any refusal. We'll be with you at seven. How will that do, papa?"
"That will do," said Hilary, with his arm round her waist, and they kissed each other to clinch the bargain.
"And don't you two old things go away and put your frosty paws together and say Brice and I are not happy. We do quarrel like cats and dogs every now and then, but the rest of the time we're the happiest couple in the universe, and an example to parents."
Hilary would have manifestly liked to stay and have her go on with her nonsense, but his wife took him away.
When Maxwell came in she was so full of their visit that she did not ask him what luck he had with his play, but told him at once they were going to dine with her father and mother. "And I want you to brace up, my dear, and not let them imagine anything."
"How, anything?" he asked, listlessly.
"Oh, nothing. About your play not going perfectly. I didn't think it necessary to go into particulars with them, and you needn't. Just pass it over lightly if they ask you anything about it. But they won't."
Maxwell did not look so happy as he might at the prospect of dining with his wife's father and mother, but he did not say anything disagreeable, and after an instant of silent resentment Louise did not say anything disagreeable either. In fact, she devoted herself to avoiding any displeasures with him, and she arrived with him at the Hilarys' hotel on perfectly good terms, and, as far as he was concerned, in rather good spirits.
Upon the whole, they had a very good time. Hilary made occasion to speak to Maxwell of his letters to the Abstract, and told him they were considered by far the best letters of the kind published anywhere, which meant anywhere in Boston.
"You do that sort of thing so well, newspaper writing," he continued, with a slyness that was not lost upon Louise, though Maxwell was ignorant of his drift, "that I wonder you don't sometimes want to take it up again."
"It's well enough," said Maxwell, who was gratified by his praise.
"By the way," said Hilary, "I met your friend, Mr. Ricker, the other day, and he spoke most cordially about you. I fancy he would be very glad to have you back."
"In the old way? I would rather be excused."
"No, from what he said, I thought he would like your writing in the editorial page."
Maxwell looked pleased. "Ricker's always been very good, but he has very little influence on the Abstract. He has no money interest in the paper."
Hilary said, with the greatest artfulness, "I wonder he doesn't buy in. I hear it can be done."
"Not by Ricker, for the best of all possible reasons," said Maxwell, with a laugh.
Louise could hardly wait till she had parted from her father and mother before she began on her husband: "You goose! Didn't you see that papa was hinting at buying you a share in the Abstract?"
"He was very modest about it, then; I didn't see anything of the kind."
"Oh, do you think you are the only modest man? Papa is very modest, and he wouldn't make you an offer outright, unless he saw that you would like it. But I know that was what he was coming to, and if you'll let me—"
A sentiment of a reluctance rather than a refusal was what made itself perceptible from his arm to hers, as they hurried along the street together, and Louise would not press the question till he spoke again.
He did not speak till they were in the train on their way home. Then he said, "I shouldn't care to have a money interest in a newspaper. It would tie me up to it, and load me down with cares I should hate. It wouldn't be my real life."
"Yes," said his wife, but when they got into their little apartment she cast an eye, opened to its meanness and narrowness, over the common belongings, and wondered if he would ask himself whether this was her real life. But she did not speak, though she was apt to speak out most things that she thought.
Some people began to call, old friends of her mother, whose visit to New York seemed to have betrayed to them the fact of Louise's presence for the first time, and some friends of her own, who had married, and come to New York to live, and who said they had just got back to town long enough to learn that she was there. These all reproached her for not having let them know sooner where she was, and they all more or less followed up their reproaches with the invitations which she dreaded because of Maxwell's aversion for them. But she submitted them to him, and submitted to his refusal to go with her, and declined them. In her heart she thought he was rather ungracious, but she did not say so, though in two or three cases of people whom she liked she coaxed him a little to go with her. Meeting her mother and talking over the life she used to lead in Boston, and the life so many people were leading there still, made her a little hungry for society; she would have liked well enough to find herself at a dinner again, and she would have felt a little dancing after the dinner no hardship; but she remembered the promise she had made herself not to tease Maxwell about such things. So she merely coaxed him, and he so far relented as to ask her why she could not go without him, and that hurt her, and she said she never would go without him. All the same, when there came an invitation for lunch, from a particularly nice friend of her girlhood, she hesitated and was lost. She had expected, somehow, that it was going to be a very little lunch, but she found it a very large one, in the number of people, and after the stress of accounting for her husband's failure to come with her, she was not sorry to have it so. She inhaled with joy the atmosphere of the flower-scented rooms; her eye dwelt with delight on their luxurious and tasteful appointments, the belongings of her former life, which seemed to emerge in them from the past and claim her again; the women in their chic New York costumes and their miracles of early winter hats hailed her a long-lost sister by every graceful movement and cultivated tone; the correctly tailored and agreeably mannered men had polite intelligence of a world that Maxwell never would and never could be part of; the talk of the little amusing, unvital things that began at once was more precious to her than the problems which the austere imagination of her husband dealt with; it suddenly fatigued her to think how hard she had tried to sympathize with his interest in them. Her heart leaped at sight of the long, rose-heaped table, with its glitter of glass and silver, and the solemn perfection of the serving-men; a spectacle not important in itself was dear to her from association with gayeties, which now, for a wicked moment, seemed to her better than love.