The dinner was on Monday. On Wednesday morning she met him at the Fort Lee Ferry at seven o'clock for one of their rare tramps. She wore high-laced boots of soft leather, a short skirt and jersey and a soft hat; and if she had met any of her guests of that memorable dinner they would have looked profoundly thoughtful, and renounced whatever hope of having seared her to the bone they may have cherished. She strode through the woods above the Palisades beside Clavering with high head and sparkling eyes, her arms swinging like a schoolboy's. It was evident even to him, who had waited for her anxiously, that she had rubbed a sponge over her memory. She was in high spirits and looked as if she had not a care in the world.
There was a soft mist of green on the trees of the wood, a few birds had already migrated northward, their own world-old wireless having warned them of the early awakening of spring after an unusually mild winter, and they were singing their matins.
She did not seem inclined for more than desultory conversation, but she had the gift of making silence eloquent, and Clavering, his fears banished, although by no means at peace, gave himself up to the pleasure of the moment. They walked briskly for several miles, then had their breakfast at a roadside inn; and both were so hungry that they talked even less than before. But there was little need for words between them; the current was too strong, and both were merely vital beings to whom companionship and healthy exercise were the highest good at the moment.
During the long walk back to the ferry she talked with a certain excitement. But it was all of the woods of Austria, the carefully tended woods with their leaping stags, their winding paths where no trolley-cars over-laden with commuters rushed shrieking by, their enchanting vistas with a green lake at the end, or a monastery, or a castle on a lofty rock. She told him of the river Inn roaring through its gorges, with its solitary mills, its clustered old villages huddled at the foot of the heavy silent woods and forgotten by the world. The millers were all old men now, no doubt, and the poor villages inhabited only by women and children. Or blinded and broken men who had dragged themselves back from the war to exist where they once had given life and energy to that quiet valley of the Inn. If this made her sad for a moment it was purely an impersonal sadness, and when they parted on the New York side of the ferry Clavering had forgotten his doubts and went back to his work with a light heart and an untroubled mind.
The play was almost finished, and its chances for swift production were far greater than is usually the case with the new adventurer into the most inhospitable of all fields of artistic endeavor. Adrian Hogarth, who had a play on Broadway every year, and Edwin Scores, who had recently exchanged the esteem of the few for the enthusiasm of The Public, had read it act by act and given him the practical advice he needed. A dramatic critic always believes he knows more about plays than any one else until he attempts to write one, but Clavering, at least, if not unduly modest, was too anxious to succeed not to welcome all the help he could get.
They even "sat in" with him during the final revision, and the dispute was hot over the last act, an act so daring in technique they were loath to believe that even Clavering, whose striking gifts they had always recognized, could "put it over." Moreover, there was only one woman on the American stage who could act it and that was Margaret Anglin. If it didn't appeal to her he might as well dock it. The younger actresses, clever as some of them were, had so far given no evidence of sustained emotional power. During the entire act no one was on the stage but the woman and she sat at a telephone talking with the man who controlled her destiny. Not only must that one-sided dialogue give as sharp and clear an idea of what the man was saying as if he had been present, with the vivid personality, the gestures and the mobile face he must have for the part, but the conversation, beginning in happy confidence, ran the gamut of the emotions, portraying a war of wills and souls, and rising to inexorable spiritual tragedy. It was a scene whose like had never before been attempted without both protagonists on the stage, and it lasted twenty-five minutes; a scene as difficult to write as to act; but the two playwrights admitted that in the deft use of words which, without repetitions by the woman, left the audience in no doubt what the man was saying, made it almost possible to see him, and in the rising scale of emotion, the act was a surpassingly brilliant piece of work. Clavering rewrote it fourteen times, and Hogarth and Scores were finally almost as excited as himself, although it was the last sort of thing either would have "tackled." Whatever the originality of their own ideas they were careful to stick to the orthodox in treatment, knowing the striking lack of originality in audiences.
Gora Dwight was more enthusiastic than he had ever known her to be over anything, and one night he read the play to a select few at her house. Abbott was there and two other critics, as well as Suzan Forbes and her distinguished consort, De Witt Turner.
The critics preserved their ferocious and frozen demeanor common to first-nights and less common where cocktails were plentiful. Not for them to encourage a tyro and a confrère, as if they were mere friends and well-wishers. They left that to the others, but after the last act had been discussed with fury, Abbott arose and said with a yawn:
"Oh, well, what's the use? It's about the hardest play for actors ever written and the audience will either crack on that last act or pass away of their own emotions. It would be the former if any one else had written the damn thing, but it'll go because it isn't time yet for the Clavering luck to break. You'll get it in the neck, old man, one of these days, and when you least expect it. You're one of Fate's pets, her pampered pup, and she'll purr over you until she has you besotted, and then she'll give you such a skinning that you'll wish you were little Jimmy Jones, cub reporter, with a snub nose and freckles. I only hope to be in at the death to gloat." Then he shot out his hand. "Good stuff, Clavey. Congratulate you. Count on me."
And he drank a highball and waddled out.
The others, expressing their congratulations in various keys, soon followed, and Clavering was left alone with Gora. He was flushed and restless, but he doubted if he would feel happier on the first-night with the entire Sophisticate body howling for "author." He had been more afraid of Abbott and the two other critics than he, a hardened critic himself, had dared admit.
Gora watched him from her ottoman, where she sat stark upright, as usual, and smoking calmly. But her cold gray eyes were softer than usual. She knew exactly how he felt and rejoiced with him, but her expression in the long silence grew more and more thoughtful. Finally she threw away her cigarette and said abruptly:
"Yes, Gora." He had been wandering about the room, but he halted in front of her, smiling.
She smiled also. "You do look so happy. But you're such a mercurial creature that you'll probably wake up tomorrow morning with your soul steeped in indigo."
"Oh, no, I won't. It isn't as if I had nothing else in my life." Gora alone knew of his engagement to Mary Zattiany.
"That is it. I want to say something. I know you'll be angry with me, but just remember that I am not speaking as a friend, merely as an artist."
"What are you driving at?" Some of the exultation faded from Clavering's face.
"This. I no longer want you to marry Madame Zattiany. She's served her purpose."
Clavering stared, then laughed. "Little you know about it."
"I know more about it than you think. Remember it is my business to know people's mental insides down to the roots——"
"Not such a good metaphor, that."
"Let it pass. I'm not to be diverted. I've seen her several times alone, you know. She lunched here the other day, and I purposely asked no one else. I believe I know her well enough to put her in a book, complex, both naturally and artificially, as she is. Maybe I shall some day. You once told me that she had a character of formidable strength and the 'will to power'—something like that. Well, I agree with you, and I don't think you'd stand a chance of becoming a great artist if you married her."
"You're talking utter rot."
"Am I? Tell me that a year hence—if you marry her."
"If? I'd tear the artist in me out by the roots before I'd give her up."
"You think so. I don't doubt it. But have you really projected your imagination into the future? I mean beyond the honeymoon? She tells me that she intends to live in Europe—that she has a great work to accomplish——"
"Yes, and she needs my help."
"She doesn't need your help, nor anybody's help. For that matter she'd be better off alone, for I don't doubt she would be in love with you longer than might be convenient. She has formidable powers of concentration.… But you—what would become of your own career? You'd be absorbed, devoured, annihilated by that woman. You're no weakling, but you're an artist and an artist's strength is not like the ordinary male's. It's too messed up with temperament and imagination. You are strong enough to impress your personality on her, win her, make her love you to the exclusion of everything else for the moment, and possibly hold her for a time. But you never could dominate her. What she needs is a statesman, if she must have marital partnership at all. Possibly not even a great executive brain could dominate her either, but at least it could force upon her a certain equality in personality, and that you never could do. Not only would your own career be wrecked, but you'd end by being wretched and resentful—quite apart from your forfeited right to express your genius in your own way—because you've been accustomed all your life yourself to the dominating act. You've always been a star of some sort, and you've never discouraged yourself—except when in the dumps—out of the belief that a fixed position was waiting for you in the stellar firmament. To vary the metaphor, you've always been in the crack regiment, even when the regiment was composed of cub reporters.… And you'd find yourself shrinking—shrinking—nothing but a famous woman's husband—lover, would be perhaps more like it——"
Here Clavering swore and started down the room again. That interview in the library two weeks ago tonight came back to him. He had banished its memory and she had been feminine and exquisite, and young, ever since. But that sudden vision of her standing by the table as he had rushed to her succor, calm and contemptuous in her indomitable powers, weakened his muscles and he walked unsteadily.
Miss Dwight went on calmly. "For she's going to be a very famous woman, make no doubt about that. It's quite on the cards that she may have a niche in history. You might be useful to her in many ways, with that brain of yours, but it was given to you for another purpose, and you'd end by leaving her. You'd come home like a sick dog to its kennel—and become a hack. Your genius would have shrivelled to the roots. If you give her up now your very unhappiness and baffled longings will make you do greater and greater things. Talent needs the pleasant pastures of content to browse on but they sicken genius. If you married her you wouldn't even have the pastures after the first dream was over and you certainly would have neither the independence of action nor the background of tragedy so necessary to your genius. That needs stones to bite on, not husks.… Believe me, I know what I am talking about. I have been through worse. If personal happiness were brought to me on a gold platter with Divine assurance that it would last—which it never does—remember that, Clavey—I should laugh in its face. And if you let her go now you will one day say the same thing yourself."
But Clavering had made a violent rebound. He threw himself into a chair and lit a cigarette, smiling at her indulgently. "The trouble with you, Gora," he said, "is that you are—and probably always were—artist first and woman last. If you'd got the man you thought you wanted you'd have chucked him in about six months. But I happen to be a man first and artist next."
Miss Dwight shrugged her shoulders. "Will you deny that you have been completely happy while writing that play? So happy and absorbed that you forgot everything else on earth—and everybody?"
"That's true enough. But if it's a mere question of happiness, that's not the sort that lasts, and the reaction is frightful. I am beginning to feel a hideous sense of loss and wish I had it to do all over again."
"You can go to work on another."
"I'll never feel to another play as I have to this."
"That's what every artist has said to himself since the gods plucked out a rib and invented the breed. Even if you do your comedy next your submergence will be precisely the same. It's the creative pot boiling that does the business."
"I don't believe it."
"Well, don't, then. And don't wake up as blue as paint tomorrow morning. Reaction is the price we all have to pay for keeping the brain too long at a pitch so high above the normal. It's the downwash of blood from the organ it has kept at fever heat. And it's a long sight less commonplace than reaction from too much love-making. Especially when love-making has begun to pall—which it does sooner in artists than in ordinary men.… Writers begin life all over again with each new release of the creative faculty; and each new work is as enthralling as the last. But love!" She sighed. "You don't look as if I had made the slightest impression on you."
"You haven't. A man can combine both if a woman cannot. You forget that we return here after two or three months in Austria, and here we remain for at least two years."
"Why are you so sure of that? Have you her actual promise?"
"It is understood. I told her we should return and she knew that I meant what I said."
"It is quite likely that she knew you meant it! But I'd like you to promise me that you will ask her to tell you exactly what she does intend to do—when the honeymoon is over."
"What do you mean?" Clavering asked sharply.
"I mean, that although she told me nothing of her plans, it was perfectly evident from her conversation that she intends to live her life in Europe and play a great rôle there. I infer that she is in constant correspondence with political friends in Austria. Do you mean that she has never told you this?"
Clavering sat forward, frowning. "No. We—have had little time together and have not wasted it on politics. Did she tell you this?"
"Not she. But I 'got' it. I can't tell you just how, but my intuitions are pretty good."
"Intuitions be hanged. Your creative tract is prepared for action and has been doing a little stunt all by itself. Better get to work on it and plough up a new book. I don't doubt Mary has political friends in Austria, and corresponds with them. Why shouldn't she? But she's not committed to any definite date or action. I'll swear to that. She'd have told me so honestly."
"Very well. I've said my say. But I wish——" She fell silent and sat very still for several moments regarding the point of her slipper. Then she looked up and said brightly: "Don't you think it's time to let the rest of them know what's going to happen? It's hardly fair to your other friends—and they are your friends, Clavey. Of course they are practically certain of it."
"I don't think she'll mind, particularly as the first sensation has pretty well run its course—she thought she'd spare her own friends two shocks at once. But I fancy she intends to go out among them less and less. I'll ask her, and if she agrees, suppose you announce it?"
Miss Dwight bent down and removed a pinch of ashes from her slipper. "Do—persuade her. It would be a tremendous feather in my cap. I'll give you both a dinner and announce it then."
"Settled. Well, I'm off. Got my column to write." He gathered up his manuscript, and she went to the door with him. As he held her hand, he felt one of those subtle whispers along his nerves that had warned him of danger before. He dropped her hand with a frown.
"Look here, Gora," he said. "You haven't any mistaken idea of appealing to her, have you?"
"What do you take me for?" demanded Miss Dwight angrily. "The father in Camille?"
"Well, keep off the grass, that's all. Ta, ta."