THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED
THE RADIANT HOUR
After a fortnight Anthony and Gloria began to indulge in “practical discussions,” as they called those sessions when under the guise of severe realism they walked in an eternal moonlight.
“Not as much as I do you,” the critic of belles-lettres would insist. “If you really loved me you’d want every one to know it.”
“I do,” she protested; “I want to stand on the street corner like a sandwich man, informing all the passers-by.”
“Then tell me all the reasons why you’re going to marry me in June.”
“Well, because you’re so clean. You’re sort of blowy clean, like I am. There’s two sorts, you know. One’s like Dick: he’s clean like polished pans. You and I are clean like streams and winds. I can tell whenever I see a person whether he is clean, and if so, which kind of clean he is.”
“Mother says”—she hesitated uncertainly—“mother says that two souls are sometimes created together and—and in love before they’re born.”
Bilphism gained its easiest convert.... After a while he lifted up his head and laughed soundlessly toward the ceiling. When his eyes came back to her he saw that she was angry.
“Why did you laugh?” she cried, “you’ve done that twice before. There’s nothing funny about our relation to each other. I don’t mind playing the fool, and I don’t mind having you do it, but I can’t stand it when we’re together.”
“Oh, don’t say you’re sorry! If you can’t think of anything better than that, just keep quiet!”
“I love you.”
“I don’t care.”
There was a pause. Anthony was depressed.... At length Gloria murmured:
“I’m sorry I was mean.”
“You weren’t. I was the one.”
Peace was restored—the ensuing moments were so much more sweet and sharp and poignant. They were stars on this stage, each playing to an audience of two: the passion of their pretense created the actuality. Here, finally, was the quintessence of self-expression—yet it was probable that for the most part their love expressed Gloria rather than Anthony. He felt often like a scarcely tolerated guest at a party she was giving.
Telling Mrs. Gilbert had been an embarrassed matter. She sat stuffed into a small chair and listened with an intense and very blinky sort of concentration. She must have known it—for three weeks Gloria had seen no one else—and she must have noticed that this time there was an authentic difference in her daughter’s attitude. She had been given special deliveries to post; she had heeded, as all mothers seem to heed, the hither end of telephone conversations, disguised but still rather warm—
—Yet she had delicately professed surprise and declared herself immensely pleased; she doubtless was; so were the geranium plants blossoming in the window-boxes, and so were the cabbies when the lovers sought the romantic privacy of hansom cabs—quaint device—and the staid bill of fares on which they scribbled “you know I do,” pushing it over for the other to see.
But between kisses Anthony and this golden girl quarrelled incessantly.
“Now, Gloria,” he would cry, “please let me explain!”
“Don’t explain. Kiss me.”
“I don’t think that’s right. If I hurt your feelings we ought to discuss it. I don’t like this kiss-and-forget.”
“But I don’t want to argue. I think it’s wonderful that we can kiss and forget, and when we can’t it’ll be time to argue.”
At one time some gossamer difference attained such bulk that Anthony arose and punched himself into his overcoat—for a moment it appeared that the scene of the preceding February was to be repeated, but knowing how deeply she was moved he retained his dignity with his pride, and in a moment Gloria was sobbing in his arms, her lovely face miserable as a frightened little girl’s.
Meanwhile they kept unfolding to each other, unwillingly, by curious reactions and evasions, by distastes and prejudices and unintended hints of the past. The girl was proudly incapable of jealousy and, because he was extremely jealous, this virtue piqued him. He told her recondite incidents of his own life on purpose to arouse some spark of it, but to no avail. She possessed him now—nor did she desire the dead years.
“Oh, Anthony,” she would say, “always when I’m mean to you I’m sorry afterward. I’d give my right hand to save you one little moment’s pain.”
And in that instant her eyes were brimming and she was not aware that she was voicing an illusion. Yet Anthony knew that there were days when they hurt each other purposely—taking almost a delight in the thrust. Incessantly she puzzled him: one hour so intimate and charming, striving desperately toward an unguessed, transcendent union; the next, silent and cold, apparently unmoved by any consideration of their love or anything he could say. Often he would eventually trace these portentous reticences to some physical discomfort—of these she never complained until they were over—or to some carelessness or presumption in him, or to an unsatisfactory dish at dinner, but even then the means by which she created the infinite distances she spread about herself were a mystery, buried somewhere back in those twenty-two years of unwavering pride.
“Why do you like Muriel?” he demanded one day.
“I don’t very much.”
“Then why do you go with her?”
“Just for some one to go with. They’re no exertion, those girls. They sort of believe everything I tell them—but I rather like Rachael. I think she’s cute—and so clean and slick, don’t you? I used to have other friends—in Kansas City and at school—casual, all of them, girls who just flitted into my range and out of it for no more reason than that boys took us places together. They didn’t interest me after environment stopped throwing us together. Now they’re mostly married. What does it matter—they were all just people.”
“You like men better, don’t you?”
“Oh, much better. I’ve got a man’s mind.”
“You’ve got a mind like mine. Not strongly gendered either way.”
Later she told him about the beginnings of her friendship with Bloeckman. One day in Delmonico’s, Gloria and Rachael had come upon Bloeckman and Mr. Gilbert having luncheon and curiosity had impelled her to make it a party of four. She had liked him—rather. He was a relief from younger men, satisfied as he was with so little. He humored her and he laughed, whether he understood her or not. She met him several times, despite the open disapproval of her parents, and within a month he had asked her to marry him, tendering her everything from a villa in Italy to a brilliant career on the screen. She had laughed in his face—and he had laughed too.
But he had not given up. To the time of Anthony’s arrival in the arena he had been making steady progress. She treated him rather well—except that she had called him always by an invidious nickname—perceiving, meanwhile, that he was figuratively following along beside her as she walked the fence, ready to catch her if she should fall.
The night before the engagement was announced she told Bloeckman. It was a heavy blow. She did not enlighten Anthony as to the details, but she implied that he had not hesitated to argue with her. Anthony gathered that the interview had terminated on a stormy note, with Gloria very cool and unmoved lying in her corner of the sofa and Joseph Bloeckman of “Films Par Excellence” pacing the carpet with eyes narrowed and head bowed. Gloria had been sorry for him but she had judged it best not to show it. In a final burst of kindness she had tried to make him hate her, there at the last. But Anthony, understanding that Gloria’s indifference was her strongest appeal, judged how futile this must have been. He wondered, often but quite casually, about Bloeckman—finally he forgot him entirely.
One afternoon they found front seats on the sunny roof of a bus and rode for hours from the fading Square up along the sullied river, and then, as the stray beams fled the westward streets, sailed down the turgid Avenue, darkening with ominous bees from the department stores. The traffic was clotted and gripped in a patternless jam; the busses were packed four deep like platforms above the crowd as they waited for the moan of the traffic whistle.
“Isn’t it good!” cried Gloria. “Look!”
A miller’s wagon, stark white with flour, driven by a powdery clown, passed in front of them behind a white horse and his black team-mate.
“What a pity!” she complained; “they’d look so beautiful in the dusk, if only both horses were white. I’m mighty happy just this minute, in this city.”
Anthony shook his head in disagreement.
“I think the city’s a mountebank. Always struggling to approach the tremendous and impressive urbanity ascribed to it. Trying to be romantically metropolitan.”
“I don’t. I think it is impressive.”
“Momentarily. But it’s really a transparent, artificial sort of spectacle. It’s got its press-agented stars and its flimsy, unenduring stage settings and, I’ll admit, the greatest army of supers ever assembled—” He paused, laughed shortly, and added: “Technically excellent, perhaps, but not convincing.”
“I’ll bet policemen think people are fools,” said Gloria thoughtfully, as she watched a large but cowardly lady being helped across the street. “He always sees them frightened and inefficient and old—they are,” she added. And then: “We’d better get off. I told mother I’d have an early supper and go to bed. She says I look tired, damn it.”
“I wish we were married,” he muttered soberly; “there’ll be no good night then and we can do just as we want.”
“Won’t it be good! I think we ought to travel a lot. I want to go to the Mediterranean and Italy. And I’d like to go on the stage some time—say for about a year.”
“You bet. I’ll write a play for you.”
“Won’t that be good! And I’ll act in it. And then some time when we have more money”—old Adam’s death was always thus tactfully alluded to—“we’ll build a magnificent estate, won’t we?”
“Oh, yes, with private swimming pools.”
“Dozens of them. And private rivers. Oh, I wish it were now.”
Odd coincidence—he had just been wishing that very thing. They plunged like divers into the dark eddying crowd and emerging in the cool fifties sauntered indolently homeward, infinitely romantic to each other ... both were walking alone in a dispassionate garden with a ghost found in a dream.
Halcyon days like boats drifting along slow-moving rivers; spring evenings full of a plaintive melancholy that made the past beautiful and bitter, bidding them look back and see that the loves of other summers long gone were dead with the forgotten waltzes of their years. Always the most poignant moments were when some artificial barrier kept them apart: in the theatre their hands would steal together, join, give and return gentle pressures through the long dark; in crowded rooms they would form words with their lips for each other’s eyes—not knowing that they were but following in the footsteps of dusty generations but comprehending dimly that if truth is the end of life happiness is a mode of it, to be cherished in its brief and tremulous moment. And then, one fairy night, May became June. Sixteen days now—fifteen—fourteen—
Just before the engagement was announced Anthony had gone up to Tarrytown to see his grandfather, who, a little more wizened and grizzly as time played its ultimate chuckling tricks, greeted the news with profound cynicism.
“Oh, you’re going to get married, are you?” He said this with such a dubious mildness and shook his head up and down so many times that Anthony was not a little depressed. While he was unaware of his grandfather’s intentions he presumed that a large part of the money would come to him. A good deal would go in charities, of course; a good deal to carry on the business of reform.
“Are you going to work?”
“Why—” temporized Anthony, somewhat disconcerted. “I am working. You know—”
“Ah, I mean work,” said Adam Patch dispassionately.
“I’m not quite sure yet what I’ll do. I’m not exactly a beggar, grampa,” he asserted with some spirit.
The old man considered this with eyes half closed. Then almost apologetically he asked:
“How much do you save a year?”
“Nothing so far—”
“And so after just managing to get along on your money you’ve decided that by some miracle two of you can get along on it.”
“Gloria has some money of her own. Enough to buy clothes.”
Without considering this question impertinent, Anthony answered it.
“About a hundred a month.”
“That’s altogether about seventy-five hundred a year.” Then he added softly: “It ought to be plenty. If you have any sense it ought to be plenty. But the question is whether you have any or not.”
“I suppose it is.” It was shameful to be compelled to endure this pious browbeating from the old man, and his next words were stiffened with vanity. “I can manage very well. You seem convinced that I’m utterly worthless. At any rate I came up here simply to tell you that I’m getting married in June. Good-by, sir.” With this he turned away and headed for the door, unaware that in that instant his grandfather, for the first time, rather liked him.
“Wait!” called Adam Patch, “I want to talk to you.”
Anthony faced about.
“Sit down. Stay all night.”
Somewhat mollified, Anthony resumed his seat.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I’m going to see Gloria to-night.”
“What’s her name?”
“New York girl? Someone you know?”
“She’s from the Middle West.”
“What business her father in?”
“In a celluloid corporation or trust or something. They’re from Kansas City.”
“You going to be married out there?”
“Why, no, sir. We thought we’d be married in New York—rather quietly.”
“Like to have the wedding out here?”
Anthony hesitated. The suggestion made no appeal to him, but it was certainly the part of wisdom to give the old man, if possible, a proprietary interest in his married life. In addition Anthony was a little touched.
“That’s very kind of you, grampa, but wouldn’t it be a lot of trouble?”
“Everything’s a lot of trouble. Your father was married here—but in the old house.”
“Why—I thought he was married in Boston.”
Adam Patch considered.
“That’s true. He was married in Boston.”
Anthony felt a moment’s embarrassment at having made the correction, and he covered it up with words.
“Well, I’ll speak to Gloria about it. Personally I’d like to, but of course it’s up to the Gilberts, you see.”
His grandfather drew a long sigh, half closed his eyes, and sank back in his chair.
“In a hurry?” he asked in a different tone.
“I wonder,” began Adam Patch, looking out with a mild, kindly glance at the lilac bushes that rustled against the windows, “I wonder if you ever think about the after-life.”
“I think a great deal about the after-life.” His eyes were dim but his voice was confident and clear. “I was sitting here to-day thinking about what’s lying in wait for us, and somehow I began to remember an afternoon nearly sixty-five years ago, when I was playing with my little sister Annie, down where that summer-house is now.” He pointed out into the long flower-garden, his eyes trembling of tears, his voice shaking.
“I began thinking—and it seemed to me that you ought to think a little more about the after-life. You ought to be—steadier”—he paused and seemed to grope about for the right word—“more industrious—why—”
Then his expression altered, his entire personality seemed to snap together like a trap, and when he continued the softness had gone from his voice.
“—Why, when I was just two years older than you,” he rasped with a cunning chuckle, “I sent three members of the firm of Wrenn and Hunt to the poorhouse.”
Anthony started with embarrassment.
“Well, good-by,” added his grandfather suddenly, “you’ll miss your train.”
Anthony left the house unusually elated, and strangely sorry for the old man; not because his wealth could buy him “neither youth nor digestion” but because he had asked Anthony to be married there, and because he had forgotten something about his son’s wedding that he should have remembered.
Richard Caramel, who was one of the ushers, caused Anthony and Gloria much distress in the last few weeks by continually stealing the rays of their spot-light. “The Demon Lover” had been published in April, and it interrupted the love affair as it may be said to have interrupted everything its author came in contact with. It was a highly original, rather overwritten piece of sustained description concerned with a Don Juan of the New York slums. As Maury and Anthony had said before, as the more hospitable critics were saying then, there was no writer in America with such power to describe the atavistic and unsubtle reactions of that section of society.
The book hesitated and then suddenly “went.” Editions, small at first, then larger, crowded each other week by week. A spokesman of the Salvation Army denounced it as a cynical misrepresentation of all the uplift taking place in the underworld. Clever press-agenting spread the unfounded rumor that “Gypsy” Smith was beginning a libel suit because one of the principal characters was a burlesque of himself. It was barred from the public library of Burlington, Iowa, and a Mid-Western columnist announced by innuendo that Richard Caramel was in a sanitarium with delirium tremens.
The author, indeed, spent his days in a state of pleasant madness. The book was in his conversation three-fourths of the time—he wanted to know if one had heard “the latest”; he would go into a store and in a loud voice order books to be charged to him, in order to catch a chance morsel of recognition from clerk or customer. He knew to a town in what sections of the country it was selling best; he knew exactly what he cleared on each edition, and when he met any one who had not read it, or, as it happened only too often, had not heard of it, he succumbed to moody depression.
So it was natural for Anthony and Gloria to decide, in their jealousy, that he was so swollen with conceit as to be a bore. To Dick’s great annoyance Gloria publicly boasted that she had never read “The Demon Lover,” and didn’t intend to until every one stopped talking about it. As a matter of fact, she had no time to read now, for the presents were pouring in—first a scattering, then an avalanche, varying from the bric-à-brac of forgotten family friends to the photographs of forgotten poor relations.
Maury gave them an elaborate “drinking set,” which included silver goblets, cocktail shaker, and bottle-openers. The extortion from Dick was more conventional—a tea set from Tiffany’s. From Joseph Bloeckman came a simple and exquisite travelling clock, with his card. There was even a cigarette-holder from Bounds; this touched Anthony and made him want to weep—indeed, any emotion short of hysteria seemed natural in the half-dozen people who were swept up by this tremendous sacrifice to convention. The room set aside in the Plaza bulged with offerings sent by Harvard friends and by associates of his grandfather, with remembrances of Gloria’s Farmover days, and with rather pathetic trophies from her former beaux, which last arrived with esoteric, melancholy messages, written on cards tucked carefully inside, beginning “I little thought when—” or “I’m sure I wish you all the happiness—” or even “When you get this I shall be on my way to—”
The most munificent gift was simultaneously the most disappointing. It was a concession of Adam Patch’s—a check for five thousand dollars.
To most of the presents Anthony was cold. It seemed to him that they would necessitate keeping a chart of the marital status of all their acquaintances during the next half-century. But Gloria exulted in each one, tearing at the tissue-paper and excelsior with the rapaciousness of a dog digging for a bone, breathlessly seizing a ribbon or an edge of metal and finally bringing to light the whole article and holding it up critically, no emotion except rapt interest in her unsmiling face.
“Darn nice, isn’t it!”
No answer until an hour later when she would give him a careful account of her precise reaction to the gift, whether it would have been improved by being smaller or larger, whether she was surprised at getting it, and, if so, just how much surprised.
Mrs. Gilbert arranged and rearranged a hypothetical house, distributing the gifts among the different rooms, tabulating articles as “second-best clock” or “silver to use every day,” and embarrassing Anthony and Gloria by semi-facetious references to a room she called the nursery. She was pleased by old Adam’s gift and thereafter had it that he was a very ancient soul, “as much as anything else.” As Adam Patch never quite decided whether she referred to the advancing senility of his mind or to some private and psychic schema of her own, it cannot be said to have pleased him. Indeed he always spoke of her to Anthony as “that old woman, the mother,” as though she were a character in a comedy he had seen staged many times before. Concerning Gloria he was unable to make up his mind. She attracted him but, as she herself told Anthony, he had decided that she was frivolous and was afraid to approve of her.
Five days!—A dancing platform was being erected on the lawn at Tarrytown. Four days!—A special train was chartered to convey the guests to and from New York. Three days!—
She was dressed in blue silk pajamas and standing by her bed with her hand on the light to put the room in darkness, when she changed her mind and opening a table drawer brought out a little black book—a “Line-a-day” diary. This she had kept for seven years. Many of the pencil entries were almost illegible and there were notes and references to nights and afternoons long since forgotten, for it was not an intimate diary, even though it began with the immemorial “I am going to keep a diary for my children.” Yet as she thumbed over the pages the eyes of many men seemed to look out at her from their half-obliterated names. With one she had gone to New Haven for the first time—in 1908, when she was sixteen and padded shoulders were fashionable at Yale—she had been flattered because “Touch down” Michaud had “rushed” her all evening. She sighed, remembering the grown-up satin dress she had been so proud of and the orchestra playing “Yama-yama, My Yama Man” and “Jungle-Town.” So long ago!—the names: Eltynge Reardon, Jim Parsons, “Curly” McGregor, Kenneth Cowan, “Fish-eye” Fry (whom she had liked for being so ugly), Carter Kirby—he had sent her a present; so had Tudor Baird;—Marty Reffer, the first man she had been in love with for more than a day, and Stuart Holcome, who had run away with her in his automobile and tried to make her marry him by force. And Larry Fenwick, whom she had always admired because he had told her one night that if she wouldn’t kiss him she could get out of his car and walk home. What a list!
... And, after all, an obsolete list. She was in love now, set for the eternal romance that was to be the synthesis of all romance, yet sad for these men and these moonlights and for the “thrills” she had had—and the kisses. The past—her past, oh, what a joy! She had been exuberantly happy.
Turning over the pages her eyes rested idly on the scattered entries of the past four months. She read the last few carefully.
“April 1st.—I know Bill Carstairs hates me because I was so disagreeable, but I hate to be sentimentalized over sometimes. We drove out to the Rockyear Country Club and the most wonderful moon kept shining through the trees. My silver dress is getting tarnished. Funny how one forgets the other nights at Rockyear—with Kenneth Cowan when I loved him so!
“April 3rd.—After two hours of Schroeder who, they inform me, has millions, I’ve decided that this matter of sticking to things wears one out, particularly when the things concerned are men. There’s nothing so often overdone and from to-day I swear to be amused. We talked about ‘love’—how banal! With how many men have I talked about love?
“April 11th.—Patch actually called up to-day! and when he forswore me about a month ago he fairly raged out the door. I’m gradually losing faith in any man being susceptible to fatal injuries.
“April 20th.—Spent the day with Anthony. Maybe I’ll marry him some time. I kind of like his ideas—he stimulates all the originality in me. Blockhead came around about ten in his new car and took me out Riverside Drive. I liked him to-night: he’s so considerate. He knew I didn’t want to talk so he was quiet all during the ride.
“April 21st.—Woke up thinking of Anthony and sure enough he called and sounded sweet on the phone—so I broke a date for him. To-day I feel I’d break anything for him, including the ten commandments and my neck. He’s coming at eight and I shall wear pink and look very fresh and starched—”
She paused here, remembering that after he had gone that night she had undressed with the shivering April air streaming in the windows. Yet it seemed she had not felt the cold, warmed by the profound banalities burning in her heart.
The next entry occurred a few days later:
“April 24th.—I want to marry Anthony, because husbands are so often ‘husbands’ and I must marry a lover.
“There are four general types of husbands.
“(1) The husband who always wants to stay in in the evening, has no vices and works for a salary. Totally undesirable!
“(2) The atavistic master whose mistress one is, to wait on his pleasure. This sort always considers every pretty woman ‘shallow,’ a sort of peacock with arrested development.
“(3) Next comes the worshipper, the idolater of his wife and all that is his, to the utter oblivion of everything else. This sort demands an emotional actress for a wife. God! it must be an exertion to be thought righteous.
“(4) And Anthony—a temporarily passionate lover with wisdom enough to realize when it has flown and that it must fly. And I want to get married to Anthony.
“What grubworms women are to crawl on their bellies through colorless marriages! Marriage was created not to be a background but to need one. Mine is going to be outstanding. It can’t, shan’t be the setting—it’s going to be the performance, the live, lovely, glamourous performance, and the world shall be the scenery. I refuse to dedicate my life to posterity. Surely one owes as much to the current generation as to one’s unwanted children. What a fate—to grow rotund and unseemly, to lose my self-love, to think in terms of milk, oatmeal, nurse, diapers.... Dear dream children, how much more beautiful you are, dazzling little creatures who flutter (all dream children must flutter) on golden, golden wings—
“Such children, however, poor dear babies, have little in common with the wedded state.
“June 7th.—Moral question: Was it wrong to make Bloeckman love me? Because I did really make him. He was almost sweetly sad to-night. How opportune it was that my throat is swollen plunk together and tears were easy to muster. But he’s just the past—buried already in my plentiful lavender.
“June 8th.—And to-day I’ve promised not to chew my mouth. Well, I won’t, I suppose—but if he’d only asked me not to eat!
“Blowing bubbles—that’s what we’re doing, Anthony and me. And we blew such beautiful ones to-day, and they’ll explode and then we’ll blow more and more, I guess—bubbles just as big and just as beautiful, until all the soap and water is used up.”
On this note the diary ended. Her eyes wandered up the page, over the June 8th’s of 1912, 1910, 1907. The earliest entry was scrawled in the plump, bulbous hand of a sixteen-year-old girl—it was the name, Bob Lamar, and a word she could not decipher. Then she knew what it was—and, knowing, she found her eyes misty with tears. There in a graying blur was the record of her first kiss, faded as its intimate afternoon, on a rainy veranda seven years before. She seemed to remember something one of them had said that day and yet she could not remember. Her tears came faster, until she could scarcely see the page. She was crying, she told herself, because she could remember only the rain and the wet flowers in the yard and the smell of the damp grass.
... After a moment she found a pencil and holding it unsteadily drew three parallel lines beneath the last entry. Then she printed FINIS in large capitals, put the book back in the drawer, and crept into bed.
BREATH OF THE CAVE
Back in his apartment after the bridal dinner, Anthony snapped out his lights and, feeling impersonal and fragile as a piece of china waiting on a serving table, got into bed. It was a warm night—a sheet was enough for comfort—and through his wide-open windows came sound, evanescent and summery, alive with remote anticipation. He was thinking that the young years behind him, hollow and colorful, had been lived in facile and vacillating cynicism upon the recorded emotions of men long dust. And there was something beyond that; he knew now. There was the union of his soul with Gloria’s, whose radiant fire and freshness was the living material of which the dead beauty of books was made.
From the night into his high-walled room there came, persistently, that evanescent and dissolving sound—something the city was tossing up and calling back again, like a child playing with a ball. In Harlem, the Bronx, Gramercy Park, and along the water-fronts, in little parlors or on pebble-strewn, moon-flooded roofs, a thousand lovers were making this sound, crying little fragments of it into the air. All the city was playing with this sound out there in the blue summer dark, throwing it up and calling it back, promising that, in a little while, life would be beautiful as a story, promising happiness—and by that promise giving it. It gave love hope in its own survival. It could do no more.
It was then that a new note separated itself jarringly from the soft crying of the night. It was a noise from an areaway within a hundred feet from his rear window, the noise of a woman’s laughter. It began low, incessant and whining—some servant-maid with her fellow, he thought—and then it grew in volume and became hysterical, until it reminded him of a girl he had seen overcome with nervous laughter at a vaudeville performance. Then it sank, receded, only to rise again and include words—a coarse joke, some bit of obscure horseplay he could not distinguish. It would break off for a moment and he would just catch the low rumble of a man’s voice, then begin again—interminably; at first annoying, then strangely terrible. He shivered, and getting up out of bed went to the window. It had reached a high point, tensed and stifled, almost the quality of a scream—then it ceased and left behind it a silence empty and menacing as the greater silence overhead. Anthony stood by the window a moment longer before he returned to his bed. He found himself upset and shaken. Try as he might to strangle his reaction, some animal quality in that unrestrained laughter had grasped at his imagination, and for the first time in four months aroused his old aversion and horror toward all the business of life. The room had grown smothery. He wanted to be out in some cool and bitter breeze, miles above the cities, and to live serene and detached back in the corners of his mind. Life was that sound out there, that ghastly reiterated female sound.
“Oh, my God!” he cried, drawing in his breath sharply.
Burying his face in the pillows he tried in vain to concentrate upon the details of the next day.
In the gray light he found that it was only five o’clock. He regretted nervously that he had awakened so early—he would appear fagged at the wedding. He envied Gloria who could hide her fatigue with careful pigmentation.
In his bathroom he contemplated himself in the mirror and saw that he was unusually white—half a dozen small imperfections stood out against the morning pallor of his complexion, and overnight he had grown the faint stubble of a beard—the general effect, he fancied, was unprepossessing, haggard, half unwell.
On his dressing table were spread a number of articles which he told over carefully with suddenly fumbling fingers—their tickets to California, the book of traveller’s checks, his watch, set to the half minute, the key to his apartment, which he must not forget to give to Maury, and, most important of all, the ring. It was of platinum set around with small emeralds; Gloria had insisted on this; she had always wanted an emerald wedding ring, she said.
It was the third present he had given her; first had come the engagement ring, and then a little gold cigarette-case. He would be giving her many things now—clothes and jewels and friends and excitement. It seemed absurd that from now on he would pay for all her meals. It was going to cost: he wondered if he had not underestimated for this trip, and if he had not better cash a larger check. The question worried him.
Then the breathless impendency of the event swept his mind clear of details. This was the day—unsought, unsuspected six months before, but now breaking in yellow light through his east window, dancing along the carpet as though the sun were smiling at some ancient and reiterated gag of his own.
Anthony laughed in a nervous one-syllable snort.
“By God!” he muttered to himself, “I’m as good as married!”
Six young men in CROSS PATCH’S library growing more and more cheery under the influence of Mumm’s Extra Dry, set surreptitiously in cold pails by the bookcases.
THE FIRST YOUNG MAN: By golly! Believe me, in my next book I’m going to do a wedding scene that’ll knock ’em cold!
THE SECOND YOUNG MAN: Met a débutante th’other day said she thought your book was powerful. As a rule young girls cry for this primitive business.
THE THIRD YOUNG MAN: Where’s Anthony?
THE FOURTH YOUNG MAN: Walking up and down outside talking to himself.
SECOND YOUNG MAN: Lord! Did you see the minister? Most peculiar looking teeth.
FIFTH YOUNG MAN: Think they’re natural. Funny thing people having gold teeth.
SIXTH YOUNG MAN: They say they love ’em. My dentist told me once a woman came to him and insisted on having two of her teeth covered with gold. No reason at all. All right the way they were.
FOURTH YOUNG MAN: Hear you got out a book, Dicky. ‘Gratulations!
DICK: (Stiffly) Thanks.
FOURTH YOUNG MAN: (Innocently) What is it? College stories?
DICK: (More stiffly) No. Not college stories.
FOURTH YOUNG MAN: Pity! Hasn’t been a good book about Harvard for years.
DICK: (Touchily) Why don’t you supply the lack?
THIRD YOUNG MAN: I think I saw a squad of guests turn the drive in a Packard just now.
SIXTH YOUNG MAN: Might open a couple more bottles on the strength of that.
THIRD YOUNG MAN: It was the shock of my life when I heard the old man was going to have a wet wedding. Rabid prohibitionist, you know.
FOURTH YOUNG MAN: (Snapping his fingers excitedly) By gad! I knew I’d forgotten something. Kept thinking it was my vest.
DICK: What was it?
FOURTH YOUNG MAN: By gad! By gad!
SIXTH YOUNG MAN: Here! Here! Why the tragedy?
SECOND YOUNG MAN: What’d you forget? The way home?
DICK: (Maliciously) He forgot the plot for his book of Harvard stories.
FOURTH YOUNG MAN: No, sir, I forgot the present, by George! I forgot to buy old Anthony a present. I kept putting it off and putting it off, and by gad I’ve forgotten it! What’ll they think?
SIXTH YOUNG MAN: (Facetiously) That’s probably what’s been holding up the wedding.
(THE FOURTH YOUNG MAN looks nervously at his watch. Laughter.)
FOURTH YOUNG MAN: By gad! What an ass I am!
SECOND YOUNG MAN: What d’you make of the bridesmaid who thinks she’s Nora Bayes? Kept telling me she wished this was a ragtime wedding. Name’s Haines or Hampton.
DICK: (Hurriedly spurring his imagination) Kane, you mean, Muriel Kane. She’s a sort of debt of honor, I believe. Once saved Gloria from drowning, or something of the sort.
SECOND YOUNG MAN: I didn’t think she could stop that perpetual swaying long enough to swim. Fill up my glass, will you? Old man and I had a long talk about the weather just now.
MAURY: Who? Old Adam?
SECOND YOUNG MAN: No, the bride’s father. He must be with a weather bureau.
DICK: He’s my uncle, Otis.
OTIS: Well, it’s an honorable profession. (Laughter.)
SIXTH YOUNG MAN: Bride your cousin, isn’t she?
DICK: Yes, Cable, she is.
CABLE: She certainly is a beauty. Not like you, Dicky. Bet she brings old Anthony to terms.
MAURY: Why are all grooms given the title of “old”? I think marriage is an error of youth.
DICK: Maury, the professional cynic.
MAURY: Why, you intellectual faker!
FIFTH YOUNG MAN: Battle of the highbrows here, Otis. Pick up what crumbs you can.
DICK: Faker yourself! What do you know?
MAURY: What do you know?
LICK: Ask me anything. Any branch of knowledge.
MAURY: All right. What’s the fundamental principle of biology?
DICK: You don’t know yourself.
MAURY: Don’t hedge!
DICK: Well, natural selection?
DICK: I give it up.
MAURY: Ontogony recapitulates phyllogony.
FIFTH YOUNG MAN: Take your base!
MAURY: Ask you another. What’s the influence of mice on the clover crop? (Laughter.)
FOURTH YOUNG MAN: What’s the influence of rats on the Decalogue?
MAURY: Shut up, you saphead. There is a connection.
DICK: What is it then?
MAURY: (Pausing a moment in growing disconcertion) Why, let’s see. I seem to have forgotten exactly. Something about the bees eating the clover.
FOURTH YOUNG MAN: And the clover eating the mice! Haw! Haw!
MAURY: (Frowning) Let me just think a minute.
DICK: (Sitting up suddenly) Listen!
(A volley of chatter explodes in the adjoining room. The six young men arise, feeling at their neckties.)
DICK: (Weightily) We’d better join the firing squad. They’re going to take the picture, I guess. No, that’s afterward.
OTIS: Cable, you take the ragtime bridesmaid.
FOURTH YOUNG MAN: I wish to God I’d sent that present.
MAURY: If you’ll give me another minute I’ll think of that about the mice.
OTIS: I was usher last month for old Charlie McIntyre and—
(They move slowly toward the door as the chatter becomes a babel and the practising preliminary to the overture issues in long pious groans from ADAM PATCH’S organ.)
There were five hundred eyes boring through the back of his cutaway and the sun glinting on the clergyman’s inappropriately bourgeois teeth. With difficulty he restrained a laugh. Gloria was saying something in a clear proud voice and he tried to think that the affair was irrevocable, that every second was significant, that his life was being slashed into two periods and that the face of the world was changing before him. He tried to recapture that ecstatic sensation of ten weeks before. All these emotions eluded him, he did not even feel the physical nervousness of that very morning—it was all one gigantic aftermath. And those gold teeth! He wondered if the clergyman were married; he wondered perversely if a clergyman could perform his own marriage service....
But as he took Gloria into his arms he was conscious of a strong reaction. The blood was moving in his veins now. A languorous and pleasant content settled like a weight upon him, bringing responsibility and possession. He was married.
So many, such mingled emotions, that no one of them was separable from the others! She could have wept for her mother, who was crying quietly back there ten feet and for the loveliness of the June sunlight flooding in at the windows. She was beyond all conscious perceptions. Only a sense, colored with delirious wild excitement, that the ultimately important was happening—and a trust, fierce and passionate, burning in her like a prayer, that in a moment she would be forever and securely safe.
Late one night they arrived in Santa Barbara, where the night clerk at the Hotel Lafcadio refused to admit them, on the grounds that they were not married.
The clerk thought that Gloria was beautiful. He did not think that anything so beautiful as Gloria could be moral.
That first half-year—the trip West, the long months’ loiter along the California coast, and the gray house near Greenwich where they lived until late autumn made the country dreary—those days, those places, saw the enraptured hours. The breathless idyl of their engagement gave way, first, to the intense romance of the more passionate relationship. The breathless idyl left them, fled on to other lovers; they looked around one day and it was gone, how they scarcely knew. Had either of them lost the other in the days of the idyl, the love lost would have been ever to the loser that dim desire without fulfilment which stands back of all life. But magic must hurry on, and the lovers remain....
The idyl passed, bearing with it its extortion of youth. Came a day when Gloria found that other men no longer bored her; came a day when Anthony discovered that he could sit again late into the evening, talking with Dick of those tremendous abstractions that had once occupied his world. But, knowing they had had the best of love, they clung to what remained. Love lingered—by way of long conversations at night into those stark hours when the mind thins and sharpens and the borrowings from dreams become the stuff of all life, by way of deep and intimate kindnesses they developed toward each other, by way of their laughing at the same absurdities and thinking the same things noble and the same things sad.
It was, first of all, a time of discovery. The things they found in each other were so diverse, so intermixed and, moreover, so sugared with love as to seem at the time not so much discoveries as isolated phenomena—to be allowed for, and to be forgotten. Anthony found that he was living with a girl of tremendous nervous tension and of the most high-handed selfishness. Gloria knew within a month that her husband was an utter coward toward any one of a million phantasms created by his imagination. Her perception was intermittent, for this cowardice sprang out, became almost obscenely evident, then faded and vanished as though it had been only a creation of her own mind. Her reactions to it were not those attributed to her sex—it roused her neither to disgust nor to a premature feeling of motherhood. Herself almost completely without physical fear, she was unable to understand, and so she made the most of what she felt to be his fear’s redeeming feature, which was that though he was a coward under a shock and a coward under a strain—when his imagination was given play—he had yet a sort of dashing recklessness that moved her on its brief occasions almost to admiration, and a pride that usually steadied him when he thought he was observed.
The trait first showed itself in a dozen incidents of little more than nervousness—his warning to a taxi-driver against fast driving, in Chicago; his refusal to take her to a certain tough café she had always wished to visit; these of course admitted the conventional interpretation—that it was of her he had been thinking; nevertheless, their culminative weight disturbed her. But something that occurred in a San Francisco hotel, when they had been married a week, gave the matter certainty.
It was after midnight and pitch dark in their room. Gloria was dozing off and Anthony’s even breathing beside her made her suppose that he was asleep, when suddenly she saw him raise himself on his elbow and stare at the window.
“What is it, dearest?” she murmured.
“Nothing”—he had relaxed to his pillow and turned toward her—“nothing, my darling wife.”
“Don’t say ‘wife.’ I’m your mistress. Wife’s such an ugly word. Your ‘permanent mistress’ is so much more tangible and desirable.... Come into my arms,” she added in a rush of tenderness; “I can sleep so well, so well with you in my arms.”
Coming into Gloria’s arms had a quite definite meaning. It required that he should slide one arm under her shoulder, lock both arms about her, and arrange himself as nearly as possible as a sort of three-sided crib for her luxurious ease. Anthony, who tossed, whose arms went tinglingly to sleep after half an hour of that position, would wait until she was asleep and roll her gently over to her side of the bed—then, left to his own devices, he would curl himself into his usual knots.
Gloria, having attained sentimental comfort, retired into her doze. Five minutes ticked away on Bloeckman’s travelling clock; silence lay all about the room, over the unfamiliar, impersonal furniture and the half-oppressive ceiling that melted imperceptibly into invisible walls on both sides. Then there was suddenly a rattling flutter at the window, staccato and loud upon the hushed, pent air.
With a leap Anthony was out of the bed and standing tense beside it.
“Who’s there?” he cried in an awful voice.
Gloria lay very still, wide awake now and engrossed not so much in the rattling as in the rigid breathless figure whose voice had reached from the bedside into that ominous dark.
The sound stopped; the room was quiet as before—then Anthony pouring words in at the telephone.
“Some one just tried to get into the room! ...
“There’s some one at the window!” His voice was emphatic now, faintly terrified.
“All right! Hurry!” He hung up the receiver; stood motionless.
... There was a rush and commotion at the door, a knocking—Anthony went to open it upon an excited night clerk with three bell-boys grouped staring behind him. Between thumb and finger the night clerk held a wet pen with the threat of a weapon; one of the bell-boys had seized a telephone directory and was looking at it sheepishly. Simultaneously the group was joined by the hastily summoned house-detective, and as one man they surged into the room.
Lights sprang on with a click. Gathering a piece of sheet about her Gloria dove away from sight, shutting her eyes to keep out the horror of this unpremeditated visitation. There was no vestige of an idea in her stricken sensibilities save that her Anthony was at grievous fault.
... The night clerk was speaking from the window, his tone half of the servant, half of the teacher reproving a schoolboy.
“Nobody out there,” he declared conclusively; “my golly, nobody could be out there. This here’s a sheer fall to the street of fifty feet. It was the wind you heard, tugging at the blind.”
Then she was sorry for him. She wanted only to comfort him and draw him back tenderly into her arms, to tell them to go away because the thing their presence connotated was odious. Yet she could not raise her head for shame. She heard a broken sentence, apologies, conventions of the employee and one unrestrained snicker from a bell-boy.
“I’ve been nervous as the devil all evening,” Anthony was saying; “somehow that noise just shook me—I was only about half awake.”
“Sure, I understand,” said the night clerk with comfortable tact; “been that way myself.”
The door closed; the lights snapped out; Anthony crossed the floor quietly and crept into bed. Gloria, feigning to be heavy with sleep, gave a quiet little sigh and slipped into his arms.
“What was it, dear?”
“Nothing,” he answered, his voice still shaken; “I thought there was somebody at the window, so I looked out, but I couldn’t see any one and the noise kept up, so I phoned down-stairs. Sorry if I disturbed you, but I’m awfully darn nervous to-night.”
Catching the lie, she gave an interior start—he had not gone to the window, nor near the window. He had stood by the bed and then sent in his call of fear.
“Oh,” she said—and then: “I’m so sleepy.”
For an hour they lay awake side by side, Gloria with her eyes shut so tight that blue moons formed and revolved against backgrounds of deepest mauve, Anthony staring blindly into the darkness overhead.
After many weeks it came gradually out into the light, to be laughed and joked at. They made a tradition to fit over it—whenever that overpowering terror of the night attacked Anthony, she would put her arms about him and croon, soft as a song:
“I’ll protect my Anthony. Oh, nobody’s ever going to harm my Anthony!”
He would laugh as though it were a jest they played for their mutual amusement, but to Gloria it was never quite a jest. It was, at first, a keen disappointment; later, it was one of the times when she controlled her temper.
The management of Gloria’s temper, whether it was aroused by a lack of hot water for her bath or by a skirmish with her husband, became almost the primary duty of Anthony’s day. It must be done just so—by this much silence, by that much pressure, by this much yielding, by that much force. It was in her angers with their attendant cruelties that her inordinate egotism chiefly displayed itself. Because she was brave, because she was “spoiled,” because of her outrageous and commendable independence of judgment, and finally because of her arrogant consciousness that she had never seen a girl as beautiful as herself, Gloria had developed into a consistent, practising Nietzschean. This, of course, with overtones of profound sentiment.
There was, for example, her stomach. She was used to certain dishes, and she had a strong conviction that she could not possibly eat anything else. There must be a lemonade and a tomato sandwich late in the morning, then a light lunch with a stuffed tomato. Not only did she require food from a selection of a dozen dishes, but in addition this food must be prepared in just a certain way. One of the most annoying half hours of the first fortnight occurred in Los Angeles, when an unhappy waiter brought her a tomato stuffed with chicken salad instead of celery.
“We always serve it that way, madame,” he quavered to the gray eyes that regarded him wrathfully.
Gloria made no answer, but when the waiter had turned discreetly away she banged both fists upon the table until the china and silver rattled.
“Poor Gloria!” laughed Anthony unwittingly, “you can’t get what you want ever, can you?”
“I can’t eat stuff!” she flared up.
“I’ll call back the waiter.”
“I don’t want you to! He doesn’t know anything, the darn fool!”
“Well, it isn’t the hotel’s fault. Either send it back, forget it, or be a sport and eat it.”
“Shut up!” she said succinctly.
“Why take it out on me?”
“Oh, I’m not,” she wailed, “but I simply can’t eat it.”
Anthony subsided helplessly.
“We’ll go somewhere else,” he suggested.
“I don’t want to go anywhere else. I’m tired of being trotted around to a dozen cafés and not getting one thing fit to eat.”
“When did we go around to a dozen cafés?”
“You’d have to in this town,” insisted Gloria with ready sophistry.
Anthony, bewildered, tried another tack.
“Why don’t you try to eat it? It can’t be as bad as you think.”
She picked up her fork and began poking contemptuously at the tomato, and Anthony expected her to begin flinging the stuffings in all directions. He was sure that she was approximately as angry as she had ever been—for an instant he had detected a spark of hate directed as much toward him as toward any one else—and Gloria angry was, for the present, unapproachable.
Then, surprisingly, he saw that she had tentatively raised the fork to her lips and tasted the chicken salad. Her frown had not abated and he stared at her anxiously, making no comment and daring scarcely to breathe. She tasted another forkful—in another moment she was eating. With difficulty Anthony restrained a chuckle; when at length he spoke his words had no possible connection with chicken salad.
This incident, with variations, ran like a lugubrious fugue through the first year of marriage; always it left Anthony baffled, irritated, and depressed. But another rough brushing of temperaments, a question of laundry-bags, he found even more annoying as it ended inevitably in a decisive defeat for him.
One afternoon in Coronado, where they made the longest stay of their trip, more than three weeks, Gloria was arraying herself brilliantly for tea. Anthony, who had been down-stairs listening to the latest rumor bulletins of war in Europe, entered the room, kissed the back of her powdered neck, and went to his dresser. After a great pulling out and pushing in of drawers, evidently unsatisfactory, he turned around to the Unfinished Masterpiece.
“Got any handkerchiefs, Gloria?” he asked. Gloria shook her golden head.
“Not a one. I’m using one of yours.”
“The last one, I deduce.” He laughed dryly.
“Is it?” She applied an emphatic though very delicate contour to her lips.
“Isn’t the laundry back?”
“I don’t know.”
Anthony hesitated—then, with sudden discernment, opened the closet door. His suspicions were verified. On the hook provided hung the blue bag furnished by the hotel. This was full of his clothes—he had put them there himself. The floor beneath it was littered with an astonishing mass of finery—lingerie, stockings, dresses, nightgowns, and pajamas—most of it scarcely worn but all of it coming indubitably under the general heading of Gloria’s laundry.
He stood holding the closet door open.
The lip line was being erased and corrected according to some mysterious perspective; not a finger trembled as she manipulated the lip-stick, not a glance wavered in his direction. It was a triumph of concentration.
“Haven’t you ever sent out the laundry?”
“Is it there?”
“It most certainly is.”
“Well, I guess I haven’t, then.”
“Gloria,” began Anthony, sitting down on the bed and trying to catch her mirrored eyes, “you’re a nice fellow, you are! I’ve sent it out every time it’s been sent since we left New York, and over a week ago you promised you’d do it for a change. All you’d have to do would be to cram your own junk into that bag and ring for the chambermaid.”
“Oh, why fuss about the laundry?” exclaimed Gloria petulantly, “I’ll take care of it.”
“I haven’t fussed about it. I’d just as soon divide the bother with you, but when we run out of handkerchiefs it’s darn near time something’s done.”
Anthony considered that he was being extraordinarily logical. But Gloria, unimpressed, put away her cosmetics and casually offered him her back.
“Hook me up,” she suggested; “Anthony, dearest, I forgot all about it. I meant to, honestly, and I will to-day. Don’t be cross with your sweetheart.”
What could Anthony do then but draw her down upon his knee and kiss a shade of color from her lips.
“But I don’t mind,” she murmured with a smile, radiant and magnanimous. “You can kiss all the paint off my lips any time you want.”
They went down to tea. They bought some handkerchiefs in a notion store near by. All was forgotten.
But two days later Anthony looked in the closet and saw the bag still hung limp upon its hook and that the gay and vivid pile on the floor had increased surprisingly in height.
“Gloria!” he cried.
“Oh—” Her voice was full of real distress. Despairingly Anthony went to the phone and called the chambermaid.
“It seems to me,” he said impatiently, “that you expect me to be some sort of French valet to you.”
Gloria laughed, so infectiously that Anthony was unwise enough to smile. Unfortunate man! In some intangible manner his smile made her mistress of the situation—with an air of injured righteousness she went emphatically to the closet and began pushing her laundry violently into the bag. Anthony watched her—ashamed of himself.
“There!” she said, implying that her fingers had been worked to the bone by a brutal taskmaster.
He considered, nevertheless, that he had given her an object-lesson and that the matter was closed, but on the contrary it was merely beginning. Laundry pile followed laundry pile—at long intervals; dearth of handkerchief followed dearth of handkerchief—at short ones; not to mention dearth of sock, of shirt, of everything. And Anthony found at length that either he must send it out himself or go through the increasingly unpleasant ordeal of a verbal battle with Gloria.
GLORIA AND GENERAL LEE
On their way East they stopped two days in Washington, strolling about with some hostility in its atmosphere of harsh repellent light, of distance without freedom, of pomp without splendor—it seemed a pasty-pale and self-conscious city. The second day they made an ill-advised trip to General Lee’s old home at Arlington.
The bus which bore them was crowded with hot, unprosperous people, and Anthony, intimate to Gloria, felt a storm brewing. It broke at the Zoo, where the party stopped for ten minutes. The Zoo, it seemed, smelt of monkeys. Anthony laughed; Gloria called down the curse of Heaven upon monkeys, including in her malevolence all the passengers of the bus and their perspiring offspring who had hied themselves monkey-ward.
Eventually the bus moved on to Arlington. There it met other busses and immediately a swarm of women and children were leaving a trail of peanut-shells through the halls of General Lee and crowding at length into the room where he was married. On the wall of this room a pleasing sign announced in large red letters “Ladies’ Toilet.” At this final blow Gloria broke down.
“I think it’s perfectly terrible!” she said furiously, “the idea of letting these people come here! And of encouraging them by making these houses show-places.”
“Well,” objected Anthony, “if they weren’t kept up they’d go to pieces.”
“What if they did!” she exclaimed as they sought the wide pillared porch. “Do you think they’ve left a breath of 1860 here? This has become a thing of 1914.”
“Don’t you want to preserve old things?”
“But you can’t, Anthony. Beautiful things grow to a certain height and then they fail and fade off, breathing out memories as they decay. And just as any period decays in our minds, the things of that period should decay too, and in that way they’re preserved for a while in the few hearts like mine that react to them. That graveyard at Tarrytown, for instance. The asses who give money to preserve things have spoiled that too. Sleepy Hollow’s gone; Washington Irving’s dead and his books are rotting in our estimation year by year—then let the graveyard rot too, as it should, as all things should. Trying to preserve a century by keeping its relics up to date is like keeping a dying man alive by stimulants.”
“So you think that just as a time goes to pieces its houses ought to go too?”
“Of course! Would you value your Keats letter if the signature was traced over to make it last longer? It’s just because I love the past that I want this house to look back on its glamourous moment of youth and beauty, and I want its stairs to creak as if to the footsteps of women with hoop skirts and men in boots and spurs. But they’ve made it into a blondined, rouged-up old woman of sixty. It hasn’t any right to look so prosperous. It might care enough for Lee to drop a brick now and then. How many of these—these animals“—she waved her hand around—“get anything from this, for all the histories and guide-books and restorations in existence? How many of them who think that, at best, appreciation is talking in undertones and walking on tiptoes would even come here if it was any trouble? I want it to smell of magnolias instead of peanuts and I want my shoes to crunch on the same gravel that Lee’s boots crunched on. There’s no beauty without poignancy and there’s no poignancy without the feeling that it’s going, men, names, books, houses—bound for dust—mortal—”
A small boy appeared beside them and, swinging a handful of banana-peels, flung them valiantly in the direction of the Potomac.
Simultaneously with the fall of Liège, Anthony and Gloria arrived in New York. In retrospect the six weeks seemed miraculously happy. They had found to a great extent, as most young couples find in some measure, that they possessed in common many fixed ideas and curiosities and odd quirks of mind; they were essentially companionable.
But it had been a struggle to keep many of their conversations on the level of discussions. Arguments were fatal to Gloria’s disposition. She had all her life been associated either with her mental inferiors or with men who, under the almost hostile intimidation of her beauty, had not dared to contradict her; naturally, then, it irritated her when Anthony emerged from the state in which her pronouncements were an infallible and ultimate decision.
He failed to realize, at first, that this was the result partly of her “female” education and partly of her beauty, and he was inclined to include her with her entire sex as curiously and definitely limited. It maddened him to find she had no sense of justice. But he discovered that, when a subject did interest her, her brain tired less quickly than his. What he chiefly missed in her mind was the pedantic teleology—the sense of order and accuracy, the sense of life as a mysteriously correlated piece of patchwork, but he understood after a while that such a quality in her would have been incongruous.
Of the things they possessed in common, greatest of all was their almost uncanny pull at each other’s hearts. The day they left the hotel in Coronado she sat down on one of the beds while they were packing, and began to weep bitterly.
“Dearest—” His arms were around her; he pulled her head down upon his shoulder. “What is it, my own Gloria? Tell me.”
“We’re going away,” she sobbed. “Oh, Anthony, it’s sort of the first place we’ve lived together. Our two little beds here—side by side—they’ll be always waiting for us, and we’re never coming back to ’em any more.”
She was tearing at his heart as she always could. Sentiment came over him, rushed into his eyes.
“Gloria, why, we’re going on to another room. And two other little beds. We’re going to be together all our lives.”
Words flooded from her in a low husky voice.
“But it won’t be—like our two beds—ever again. Everywhere we go and move on and change, something’s lost—something’s left behind. You can’t ever quite repeat anything, and I’ve been so yours, here—”
He held her passionately near, discerning far beyond any criticism of her sentiment, a wise grasping of the minute, if only an indulgence of her desire to cry—Gloria the idler, caresser of her own dreams, extracting poignancy from the memorable things of life and youth.
Later in the afternoon when he returned from the station with the tickets he found her asleep on one of the beds, her arm curled about a black object which he could not at first identify. Coming closer he found it was one of his shoes, not a particularly new one, nor clean one, but her face, tear-stained, was pressed against it, and he understood her ancient and most honorable message. There was almost ecstasy in waking her and seeing her smile at him, shy but well aware of her own nicety of imagination.
With no appraisal of the worth or dross of these two things, it seemed to Anthony that they lay somewhere near the heart of love.
THE GRAY HOUSE
It is in the twenties that the actual momentum of life begins to slacken, and it is a simple soul indeed to whom as many things are significant and meaningful at thirty as at ten years before. At thirty an organ-grinder is a more or less moth-eaten man who grinds an organ—and once he was an organ-grinder! The unmistakable stigma of humanity touches all those impersonal and beautiful things that only youth ever grasps in their impersonal glory. A brilliant ball, gay with light romantic laughter, wears through its own silks and satins to show the bare framework of a man-made thing—oh, that eternal hand!—a play, most tragic and most divine, becomes merely a succession of speeches, sweated over by the eternal plagiarist in the clammy hours and acted by men subject to cramps, cowardice, and manly sentiment.
And this time with Gloria and Anthony, this first year of marriage, and the gray house caught them in that stage when the organ-grinder was slowly undergoing his inevitable metamorphosis. She was twenty-three; he was twenty-six.
The gray house was, at first, of sheerly pastoral intent. They lived impatiently in Anthony’s apartment for the first fortnight after the return from California, in a stifled atmosphere of open trunks, too many callers, and the eternal laundry-bags. They discussed with their friends the stupendous problem of their future. Dick and Maury would sit with them agreeing solemnly, almost thoughtfully, as Anthony ran through his list of what they “ought” to do, and where they “ought” to live.
“I’d like to take Gloria abroad,” he complained, “except for this damn war—and next to that I’d sort of like to have a place in the country, somewhere near New York, of course, where I could write—or whatever I decide to do.”
“Isn’t he cute?” she required of Maury. “‘Whatever he decides to do!’ But what am I going to do if he works? Maury, will you take me around if Anthony works?”
“Anyway, I’m not going to work yet,” said Anthony quickly.
It was vaguely understood between them that on some misty day he would enter a sort of glorified diplomatic service and be envied by princes and prime ministers for his beautiful wife.
“Well,” said Gloria helplessly, “I’m sure I don’t know. We talk and talk and never get anywhere, and we ask all our friends and they just answer the way we want ’em to. I wish somebody’d take care of us.”
“Why don’t you go out to—out to Greenwich or something?” suggested Richard Caramel.
“I’d like that,” said Gloria, brightening. “Do you think we could get a house there?”
Dick shrugged his shoulders and Maury laughed.
“You two amuse me,” he said. “Of all the unpractical people! As soon as a place is mentioned you expect us to pull great piles of photographs out of our pockets showing the different styles of architecture available in bungalows.”
“That’s just what I don’t want,” wailed Gloria, “a hot stuffy bungalow, with a lot of babies next door and their father cutting the grass in his shirt sleeves—”
“For Heaven’s sake, Gloria,” interrupted Maury, “nobody wants to lock you up in a bungalow. Who in God’s name brought bungalows into the conversation? But you’ll never get a place anywhere unless you go out and hunt for it.”
“Go where? You say ‘go out and hunt for it,’ but where?”
With dignity Maury waved his hand paw-like about the room.
“Out anywhere. Out in the country. There’re lots of places.”
“Look here!” Richard Caramel brought his yellow eye rakishly into play. “The trouble with you two is that you’re all disorganized. Do you know anything about New York State? Shut up, Anthony, I’m talking to Gloria.”
“Well,” she admitted finally, “I’ve been to two or three house parties in Portchester and around in Connecticut—but, of course, that isn’t in New York State, is it? And neither is Morristown,” she finished with drowsy irrelevance.
There was a shout of laughter.
“Oh, Lord!” cried Dick, “neither is Morristown!’ No, and neither is Santa Barbara, Gloria. Now listen. To begin with, unless you have a fortune there’s no use considering any place like Newport or Southhampton or Tuxedo. They’re out of the question.”
They all agreed to this solemnly.
“And personally I hate New Jersey. Then, of course, there’s upper New York, above Tuxedo.”
“Too cold,” said Gloria briefly. “I was there once in an automobile.”
“Well, it seems to me there’re a lot of towns like Rye between New York and Greenwich where you could buy a little gray house of some—”
Gloria leaped at the phrase triumphantly. For the first time since their return East she knew what she wanted.
“Oh, yes!” she cried. “Oh, yes! that’s it: a little gray house with sort of white around and a whole lot of swamp maples just as brown and gold as an October picture in a gallery. Where can we find one?”
“Unfortunately, I’ve mislaid my list of little gray houses with swamp maples around them—but I’ll try to find it. Meanwhile you take a piece of paper and write down the names of seven possible towns. And every day this week you take a trip to one of those towns.”
“Oh, gosh!” protested Gloria, collapsing mentally, “why won’t you do it for us? I hate trains.”
“Well, hire a car, and—”
“I’m tired of discussing it. Seems to me all we do is talk about where to live.”
“My exquisite wife wearies of thought,” remarked Anthony ironically. “She must have a tomato sandwich to stimulate her jaded nerves. Let’s go out to tea.”
As the unfortunate upshot of this conversation, they took Dick’s advice literally, and two days later went out to Rye, where they wandered around with an irritated real estate agent, like bewildered babes in the wood. They were shown houses at a hundred a month which closely adjoined other houses at a hundred a month; they were shown isolated houses to which they invariably took violent dislikes, though they submitted weakly to the agent’s desire that they “look at that stove—some stove!” and to a great shaking of doorposts and tapping of walls, intended evidently to show that the house would not immediately collapse, no matter how convincingly it gave that impression. They gazed through windows into interiors furnished either “commercially” with slab-like chairs and unyielding settees, or “home-like” with the melancholy bric-à-brac of other summers—crossed tennis rackets, fit-form couches, and depressing Gibson girls. With a feeling of guilt they looked at a few really nice houses, aloof, dignified, and cool—at three hundred a month. They went away from Rye thanking the real estate agent very much indeed.
On the crowded train back to New York the seat behind was occupied by a super-respirating Latin whose last few meals had obviously been composed entirely of garlic. They reached the apartment gratefully, almost hysterically, and Gloria rushed for a hot bath in the reproachless bathroom. So far as the question of a future abode was concerned both of them were incapacitated for a week.
The matter eventually worked itself out with unhoped-for romance. Anthony ran into the living room one afternoon fairly radiating “the idea.”
“I’ve got it,” he was exclaiming as though he had just caught a mouse. “We’ll get a car.”
“Gee whiz! Haven’t we got troubles enough taking care of ourselves?”
“Give me a second to explain, can’t you? just let’s leave our stuff with Dick and just pile a couple of suitcases in our car, the one we’re going to buy—we’ll have to have one in the country anyway—and just start out in the direction of New Haven. You see, as we get out of commuting distance from New York, the rents’ll get cheaper, and as soon as we find a house we want we’ll just settle down.”
By his frequent and soothing interpolation of the word “just” he aroused her lethargic enthusiasm. Strutting violently about the room, he simulated a dynamic and irresistible efficiency. “We’ll buy a car to-morrow.”
Life, limping after imagination’s ten-league boots, saw them out of town a week later in a cheap but sparkling new roadster, saw them through the chaotic unintelligible Bronx, then over a wide murky district which alternated cheerless blue-green wastes with suburbs of tremendous and sordid activity. They left New York at eleven and it was well past a hot and beatific noon when they moved rakishly through Pelham.
“These aren’t towns,” said Gloria scornfully, “these are just city blocks plumped down coldly into waste acres. I imagine all the men here have their mustaches stained from drinking their coffee too quickly in the morning.”
“And play pinochle on the commuting trains.”
“Don’t be so literal. How should I know? But it sounds as though they ought to play it.”
“I like it. It sounds as if it were something where you sort of cracked your knuckles or something.... Let me drive.”
Anthony looked at her suspiciously.
“You swear you’re a good driver?”
“Since I was fourteen.”
He stopped the car cautiously at the side of the road and they changed seats. Then with a horrible grinding noise the car was put in gear, Gloria adding an accompaniment of laughter which seemed to Anthony disquieting and in the worst possible taste.
“Here we go!” she yelled. “Whoo-oop!”
Their heads snapped back like marionettes on a single wire as the car leaped ahead and curved retchingly about a standing milk-wagon, whose driver stood up on his seat and bellowed after them. In the immemorial tradition of the road Anthony retorted with a few brief epigrams as to the grossness of the milk-delivering profession. He cut his remarks short, however, and turned to Gloria with the growing conviction that he had made a grave mistake in relinquishing control and that Gloria was a driver of many eccentricities and of infinite carelessness.
“Remember now!” he warned her nervously, “the man said we oughtn’t to go over twenty miles an hour for the first five thousand miles.”
She nodded briefly, but evidently intending to accomplish the prohibitive distance as quickly as possible, slightly increased her speed. A moment later he made another attempt.
“See that sign? Do you want to get us pinched?”
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake,” cried Gloria in exasperation, “you always exaggerate things so!”
“Well, I don’t want to get arrested.”
“Who’s arresting you? You’re so persistent—just like you were about my cough medicine last night.”
“It was for your own good.”
“Ha! I might as well be living with mama.”
“What a thing to say to me!”
A standing policeman swerved into view, was hastily passed.
“See him?” demanded Anthony.
“Oh, you drive me crazy! He didn’t arrest us, did he?”
“When he does it’ll be too late,” countered Anthony brilliantly.
Her reply was scornful, almost injured.
“Why, this old thing won’t go over thirty-five.”
“It isn’t old.”
“It is in spirit.”
That afternoon the car joined the laundry-bags and Gloria’s appetite as one of the trinity of contention. He warned her of railroad tracks; he pointed out approaching automobiles; finally he insisted on taking the wheel and a furious, insulted Gloria sat silently beside him between the towns of Larchmont and Rye.
But it was due to this furious silence of hers that the gray house materialized from its abstraction, for just beyond Rye he surrendered gloomily to it and re-relinquished the wheel. Mutely he beseeched her and Gloria, instantly cheered, vowed to be more careful. But because a discourteous street-car persisted callously in remaining upon its track Gloria ducked down a side-street—and thereafter that afternoon was never able to find her way back to the Post Road. The street they finally mistook for it lost its Post-Road aspect when it had gone five miles from Cos Cob. Its macadam became gravel, then dirt—moreover, it narrowed and developed a border of maple trees, through which filtered the weltering sun, making its endless experiments with shadow designs upon the long grass.
“We’re lost now,” complained Anthony.
“Read that sign!”
“Marietta—Five Miles. What’s Marietta?”
“Never heard of it, but let’s go on. We can’t turn here and there’s probably a detour back to the Post Road.”
The way became scarred with deepening ruts and insidious shoulders of stone. Three farmhouses faced them momentarily, slid by. A town sprang up in a cluster of dull roofs around a white tall steeple.
Then Gloria, hesitating between two approaches, and making her choice too late, drove over a fire-hydrant and ripped the transmission violently from the car.
It was dark when the real-estate agent of Marietta showed them the gray house. They came upon it just west of the village, where it rested against a sky that was a warm blue cloak buttoned with tiny stars. The gray house had been there when women who kept cats were probably witches, when Paul Revere made false teeth in Boston preparatory to arousing the great commercial people, when our ancestors were gloriously deserting Washington in droves. Since those days the house had been bolstered up in a feeble corner, considerably repartitioned and newly plastered inside, amplified by a kitchen and added to by a side-porch—but, save for where some jovial oaf had roofed the new kitchen with red tin, Colonial it defiantly remained.
“How did you happen to come to Marietta?” demanded the real-estate agent in a tone that was first cousin to suspicion. He was showing them through four spacious and airy bedrooms.
“We broke down,” explained Gloria. “I drove over a fire-hydrant and we had ourselves towed to the garage and then we saw your sign.”
The man nodded, unable to follow such a sally of spontaneity. There was something subtly immoral in doing anything without several months’ consideration.
They signed a lease that night and, in the agent’s car, returned jubilantly to the somnolent and dilapidated Marietta Inn, which was too broken for even the chance immoralities and consequent gaieties of a country road-house. Half the night they lay awake planning the things they were to do there. Anthony was going to work at an astounding pace on his history and thus ingratiate himself with his cynical grandfather.... When the car was repaired they would explore the country and join the nearest “really nice” club, where Gloria would play golf “or something” while Anthony wrote. This, of course, was Anthony’s idea—Gloria was sure she wanted but to read and dream and be fed tomato sandwiches and lemonades by some angelic servant still in a shadowy hinterland. Between paragraphs Anthony would come and kiss her as she lay indolently in the hammock.... The hammock! a host of new dreams in tune to its imagined rhythm, while the wind stirred it and waves of sun undulated over the shadows of blown wheat, or the dusty road freckled and darkened with quiet summer rain....
And guests—here they had a long argument, both of them trying to be extraordinarily mature and far-sighted. Anthony claimed that they would need people at least every other week-end “as a sort of change.” This provoked an involved and extremely sentimental conversation as to whether Anthony did not consider Gloria change enough. Though he assured her that he did, she insisted upon doubting him.... Eventually the conversation assumed its eternal monotone: “What then? Oh, what’ll we do then?”
“Well, we’ll have a dog,” suggested Anthony.
“I don’t want one. I want a kitty.” She went thoroughly and with great enthusiasm into the history, habits, and tastes of a cat she had once possessed. Anthony considered that it must have been a horrible character with neither personal magnetism nor a loyal heart.
Later they slept, to wake an hour before dawn with the gray house dancing in phantom glory before their dazzled eyes.
THE SOUL OF GLORIA
For that autumn the gray house welcomed them with a rush of sentiment that falsified its cynical old age. True, there were the laundry-bags, there was Gloria’s appetite, there was Anthony’s tendency to brood and his imaginative “nervousness,” but there were intervals also of an unhoped-for serenity. Close together on the porch they would wait for the moon to stream across the silver acres of farmland, jump a thick wood and tumble waves of radiance at their feet. In such a moonlight Gloria’s face was of a pervading, reminiscent white, and with a modicum of effort they would slip off the blinders of custom and each would find in the other almost the quintessential romance of the vanished June.
One night while her head lay upon his heart and their cigarettes glowed in swerving buttons of light through the dome of darkness over the bed, she spoke for the first time and fragmentarily of the men who had hung for brief moments on her beauty.
“Do you ever think of them?” he asked her.
“Only occasionally—when something happens that recalls a particular man.”
“What do you remember—their kisses?”
“All sorts of things.... Men are different with women.”
“Different in what way?”
“Oh, entirely—and quite inexpressibly. Men who had the most firmly rooted reputation for being this way or that would sometimes be surprisingly inconsistent with me. Brutal men were tender, negligible men were astonishingly loyal and lovable, and, often, honorable men took attitudes that were anything but honorable.”
“Well, there was a boy named Percy Wolcott from Cornell who was quite a hero in college, a great athlete, and saved a lot of people from a fire or something like that. But I soon found he was stupid in a rather dangerous way.”
“It seems he had some naïve conception of a woman ‘fit to be his wife,’ a particular conception that I used to run into a lot and that always drove me wild. He demanded a girl who’d never been kissed and who liked to sew and sit home and pay tribute to his self-esteem. And I’ll bet a hat if he’s gotten an idiot to sit and be stupid with him he’s tearing out on the side with some much speedier lady.”
“I’d be sorry for his wife.”
“I wouldn’t. Think what an ass she’d be not to realize it before she married him. He’s the sort whose idea of honoring and respecting a woman would be never to give her any excitement. With the best intentions, he was deep in the dark ages.”
“What was his attitude toward you?”
“I’m coming to that. As I told you—or did I tell you?—he was mighty good-looking: big brown honest eyes and one of those smiles that guarantee the heart behind it is twenty-karat gold. Being young and credulous, I thought he had some discretion, so I kissed him fervently one night when we were riding around after a dance at the Homestead at Hot Springs. It had been a wonderful week, I remember—with the most luscious trees spread like green lather, sort of, all over the valley and a mist rising out of them on October mornings like bonfires lit to turn them brown—”
“How about your friend with the ideals?” interrupted Anthony.
“It seems that when he kissed me he began to think that perhaps he could get away with a little more, that I needn’t be ‘respected’ like this Beatrice Fairfax glad-girl of his imagination.”
“What’d he do?”
“Not much. I pushed him off a sixteen-foot embankment before he was well started.”
“Hurt him?” inquired Anthony with a laugh.
“Broke his arm and sprained his ankle. He told the story all over Hot Springs, and when his arm healed a man named Barley who liked me fought him and broke it over again. Oh, it was all an awful mess. He threatened to sue Barley, and Barley—he was from Georgia—was seen buying a gun in town. But before that mama had dragged me North again, much against my will, so I never did find out all that happened—though I saw Barley once in the Vanderbilt lobby.”
Anthony laughed long and loud.
“What a career! I suppose I ought to be furious because you’ve kissed so many men. I’m not, though.”
At this she sat up in bed.
“It’s funny, but I’m so sure that those kisses left no mark on me—no taint of promiscuity, I mean—even though a man once told me in all seriousness that he hated to think I’d been a public drinking glass.”
“He had his nerve.”
“I just laughed and told him to think of me rather as a loving-cup that goes from hand to hand but should be valued none the less.”
“Somehow it doesn’t bother me—on the other hand it would, of course, if you’d done any more than kiss them. But I believe you’re absolutely incapable of jealousy except as hurt vanity. Why don’t you care what I’ve done? Wouldn’t you prefer it if I’d been absolutely innocent?”
“It’s all in the impression it might have made on you. My kisses were because the man was good-looking, or because there was a slick moon, or even because I’ve felt vaguely sentimental and a little stirred. But that’s all—it’s had utterly no effect on me. But you’d remember and let memories haunt you and worry you.”
“Haven’t you ever kissed any one like you’ve kissed me?”
“No,” she answered simply. “As I’ve told you, men have tried—oh, lots of things. Any pretty girl has that experience.... You see,” she resumed, “it doesn’t matter to me how many women you’ve stayed with in the past, so long as it was merely a physical satisfaction, but I don’t believe I could endure the idea of your ever having lived with another woman for a protracted period or even having wanted to marry some possible girl. It’s different somehow. There’d be all the little intimacies remembered—and they’d dull that freshness that after all is the most precious part of love.”
Rapturously he pulled her down beside him on the pillow.
“Oh, my darling,” he whispered, “as if I remembered anything but your dear kisses.”
Then Gloria, in a very mild voice:
“Anthony, did I hear anybody say they were thirsty?”
Anthony laughed abruptly and with a sheepish and amused grin got out of bed.
“With just a little piece of ice in the water,” she added. “Do you suppose I could have that?”
Gloria used the adjective “little” whenever she asked a favor—it made the favor sound less arduous. But Anthony laughed again—whether she wanted a cake of ice or a marble of it, he must go down-stairs to the kitchen.... Her voice followed him through the hall: “And just a little cracker with just a little marmalade on it....”
“Oh, gosh!” sighed Anthony in rapturous slang, “she’s wonderful, that girl! She has it!”
“When we have a baby,” she began one day—this, it had already been decided, was to be after three years—“I want it to look like you.”
“Except its legs,” he insinuated slyly.
“Oh, yes, except his legs. He’s got to have my legs. But the rest of him can be you.”
“Well, perhaps my nose. But certainly your eyes—and my mouth, and I guess my shape of the face. I wonder; I think he’d be sort of cute if he had my hair.”
“My dear Gloria, you’ve appropriated the whole baby.”
“Well, I didn’t mean to,” she apologized cheerfully.
“Let him have my neck at least,” he urged, regarding himself gravely in the glass. “You’ve often said you liked my neck because the Adam’s apple doesn’t show, and, besides, your neck’s too short.”
“Why, it is not!” she cried indignantly, turning to the mirror, “it’s just right. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a better neck.”
“It’s too short,” he repeated teasingly.
“Short?” Her tone expressed exasperated wonder.
“Short? You’re crazy!” She elongated and contracted it to convince herself of its reptilian sinuousness. “Do you call that a short neck?”
“One of the shortest I’ve ever seen.”
For the first time in weeks tears started from Gloria’s eyes and the look she gave him had a quality of real pain.
“My Lord, Gloria!” He approached her in bewilderment and took her elbows in his hands. “Don’t cry, please! Didn’t you know I was only kidding? Gloria, look at me! Why, dearest, you’ve got the longest neck I’ve ever seen. Honestly.”
Her tears dissolved in a twisted smile.
“Well—you shouldn’t have said that, then. Let’s talk about the b-baby.”
Anthony paced the floor and spoke as though rehearsing for a debate.
“To put it briefly, there are two babies we could have, two distinct and logical babies, utterly differentiated. There’s the baby that’s the combination of the best of both of us. Your body, my eyes, my mind, your intelligence—and then there is the baby which is our worst—my body, your disposition, and my irresolution.”
“I like that second baby,” she said.
“What I’d really like,” continued Anthony, “would be to have two sets of triplets one year apart and then experiment with the six boys—”
“Poor me,” she interjected.
“—I’d educate them each in a different country and by a different system and when they were twenty-three I’d call them together and see what they were like.”
“Let’s have ’em all with my neck,” suggested Gloria.
THE END OF A CHAPTER
The car was at length repaired and with a deliberate vengeance took up where it left off the business of causing infinite dissension. Who should drive? How fast should Gloria go? These two questions and the eternal recriminations involved ran through the days. They motored to the Post-Road towns, Rye, Portchester, and Greenwich, and called on a dozen friends, mostly Gloria’s, who all seemed to be in different stages of having babies and in this respect as well as in others bored her to a point of nervous distraction. For an hour after each visit she would bite her fingers furiously and be inclined to take out her rancor on Anthony.
“I loathe women,” she cried in a mild temper. “What on earth can you say to them—except talk ‘lady-lady’? I’ve enthused over a dozen babies that I’ve wanted only to choke. And every one of those girls is either incipiently jealous and suspicious of her husband if he’s charming or beginning to be bored with him if he isn’t.”
“Don’t you ever intend to see any women?”
“I don’t know. They never seem clean to me—never—never. Except just a few. Constance Shaw—you know, the Mrs. Merriam who came over to see us last Tuesday—is almost the only one. She’s so tall and fresh-looking and stately.”
“I don’t like them so tall.”
Though they went to several dinner dances at various country clubs, they decided that the autumn was too nearly over for them to “go out” on any scale, even had they been so inclined. He hated golf; Gloria liked it only mildly, and though she enjoyed a violent rush that some undergraduates gave her one night and was glad that Anthony should be proud of her beauty, she also perceived that their hostess for the evening, a Mrs. Granby, was somewhat disquieted by the fact that Anthony’s classmate, Alec Granby, joined with enthusiasm in the rush. The Granbys never phoned again, and though Gloria laughed, it piqued her not a little.
“You see,” she explained to Anthony, “if I wasn’t married it wouldn’t worry her—but she’s been to the movies in her day and she thinks I may be a vampire. But the point is that placating such people requires an effort that I’m simply unwilling to make.... And those cute little freshmen making eyes at me and paying me idiotic compliments! I’ve grown up, Anthony.”
Marietta itself offered little social life. Half a dozen farm-estates formed a hectagon around it, but these belonged to ancient men who displayed themselves only as inert, gray-thatched lumps in the back of limousines on their way to the station, whither they were sometimes accompanied by equally ancient and doubly massive wives. The townspeople were a particularly uninteresting type—unmarried females were predominant for the most part—with school-festival horizons and souls bleak as the forbidding white architecture of the three churches. The only native with whom they came into close contact was the broad-hipped, broad-shouldered Swedish girl who came every day to do their work. She was silent and efficient, and Gloria, after finding her weeping violently into her bowed arms upon the kitchen table, developed an uncanny fear of her and stopped complaining about the food. Because of her untold and esoteric grief the girl stayed on.
Gloria’s penchant for premonitions and her bursts of vague supernaturalism were a surprise to Anthony. Either some complex, properly and scientifically inhibited in the early years with her Bilphistic mother, or some inherited hypersensitiveness, made her susceptible to any suggestion of the psychic, and, far from gullible about the motives of people, she was inclined to credit any extraordinary happening attributed to the whimsical perambulations of the buried. The desperate squeakings about the old house on windy nights that to Anthony were burglars with revolvers ready in hand represented to Gloria the auras, evil and restive, of dead generations, expiating the inexpiable upon the ancient and romantic hearth. One night, because of two swift bangs down-stairs, which Anthony fearfully but unavailingly investigated, they lay awake nearly until dawn asking each other examination-paper questions about the history of the world.
In October Muriel came out for a two weeks’ visit. Gloria had called her on long-distance, and Miss Kane ended the conversation characteristically by saying “All-ll-ll righty. I’ll be there with bells!” She arrived with a dozen popular songs under her arm.
“You ought to have a phonograph out here in the country,” she said, “just a little Vic—they don’t cost much. Then whenever you’re lonesome you can have Caruso or Al Jolson right at your door.”
She worried Anthony to distraction by telling him that “he was the first clever man she had ever known and she got so tired of shallow people.” He wondered that people fell in love with such women. Yet he supposed that under a certain impassioned glance even she might take on a softness and promise.
But Gloria, violently showing off her love for Anthony, was diverted into a state of purring content.
Finally Richard Caramel arrived for a garrulous and to Gloria painfully literary week-end, during which he discussed himself with Anthony long after she lay in childlike sleep up-stairs.
“It’s been mighty funny, this success and all,” said Dick. “Just before the novel appeared I’d been trying, without success, to sell some short stories. Then, after my book came out, I polished up three and had them accepted by one of the magazines that had rejected them before. I’ve done a lot of them since; publishers don’t pay me for my book till this winter.”
“Don’t let the victor belong to the spoils.”
“You mean write trash?” He considered. “If you mean deliberately injecting a slushy fade-out into each one, I’m not. But I don’t suppose I’m being so careful. I’m certainly writing faster and I don’t seem to be thinking as much as I used to. Perhaps it’s because I don’t get any conversation, now that you’re married and Maury’s gone to Philadelphia. Haven’t the old urge and ambition. Early success and all that.”
“Doesn’t it worry you?”
“Frantically. I get a thing I call sentence-fever that must be like buck-fever—it’s a sort of intense literary self-consciousness that comes when I try to force myself. But the really awful days aren’t when I think I can’t write. They’re when I wonder whether any writing is worth while at all—I mean whether I’m not a sort of glorified buffoon.”
“I like to hear you talk that way,” said Anthony with a touch of his old patronizing insolence. “I was afraid you’d gotten a bit idiotic over your work. Read the damnedest interview you gave out—”
Dick interrupted with an agonized expression.
“Good Lord! Don’t mention it. Young lady wrote it—most admiring young lady. Kept telling me my work was ‘strong,’ and I sort of lost my head and made a lot of strange pronouncements. Some of it was good, though, don’t you think?”
“Oh, yes; that part about the wise writer writing for the youth of his generation, the critic of the next, and the schoolmaster of ever afterward.”
“Oh, I believe a lot of it,” admitted Richard Caramel with a faint beam. “It simply was a mistake to give it out.”
In November they moved into Anthony’s apartment, from which they sallied triumphantly to the Yale-Harvard and Harvard-Princeton football games, to the St. Nicholas ice-skating rink, to a thorough round of the theatres and to a miscellany of entertainments—from small, staid dances to the great affairs that Gloria loved, held in those few houses where lackeys with powdered wigs scurried around in magnificent Anglomania under the direction of gigantic majordomos. Their intention was to go abroad the first of the year or, at any rate, when the war was over. Anthony had actually completed a Chestertonian essay on the twelfth century by way of introduction to his proposed book and Gloria had done some extensive research work on the question of Russian sable coats—in fact the winter was approaching quite comfortably, when the Bilphistic demiurge decided suddenly in mid-December that Mrs. Gilbert’s soul had aged sufficiently in its present incarnation. In consequence Anthony took a miserable and hysterical Gloria out to Kansas City, where, in the fashion of mankind, they paid the terrible and mind-shaking deference to the dead.
Mr. Gilbert became, for the first and last time in his life, a truly pathetic figure. That woman he had broken to wait upon his body and play congregation to his mind had ironically deserted him—just when he could not much longer have supported her. Never again would he be able so satisfactorily to bore and bully a human soul.