It is seven-thirty of an August evening. The windows in the living room of the gray house are wide open, patiently exchanging the tainted inner atmosphere of liquor and smoke for the fresh drowsiness of the late hot dusk. There are dying flower scents upon the air, so thin, so fragile, as to hint already of a summer laid away in time. But August is still proclaimed relentlessly by a thousand crickets around the side-porch, and by one who has broken into the house and concealed himself confidently behind a bookcase, from time to time shrieking of his cleverness and his indomitable will.
The room itself is in messy disorder. On the table is a dish of fruit, which is real but appears artificial. Around it are grouped an ominous assortment of decanters, glasses, and heaped ash-trays, the latter still raising wavy smoke-ladders into the stale air, the effect on the whole needing but a skull to resemble that venerable chromo, once a fixture in every "den," which presents the appendages to the life of pleasure with delightful and awe-inspiring sentiment.
After a while the sprightly solo of the supercricket is interrupted rather than joined by a new sound--the melancholy wail of an erratically fingered flute. It is obvious that the musician is practising rather than performing, for from time to time the gnarled strain breaks off and, after an interval of indistinct mutterings, recommences.
Just prior to the seventh false start a third sound contributes to the subdued discord. It is a taxi outside. A minute's silence, then the taxi again, its boisterous retreat almost obliterating the scrape of footsteps on the cinder walk. The door-bell shrieks alarmingly through the house.
From the kitchen enters a small, fatigued Japanese, hastily buttoning a servant's coat of white duck. He opens the front screen-door and admits a handsome young man of thirty, clad in the sort of well-intentioned clothes peculiar to those who serve mankind. To his whole personality clings a well-intentioned air: his glance about the room is compounded of curiosity and a determined optimism; when he looks at Tana the entire burden of uplifting the godless Oriental is in his eyes. His name is FREDERICK E. PARAMORE. He was at Harvard with ANTHONY, where because of the initials of their surnames they were constantly placed next to each other in classes. A fragmentary acquaintance developed--but since that time they have never met.
Nevertheless, PARAMORE enters the room with a certain air of arriving for the evening.
Tana is answering a question.
TANA: (Grinning with ingratiation) Gone to Inn for dinnah. Be back half-hour. Gone since ha' past six.
PARAMORE: (Regarding the glasses on the table) Have they company?
TANA: Yes. Company. Mistah Caramel, Mistah and Missays Barnes, Miss Kane, all stay here.
PARAMORE: I see. (Kindly) They've been having a spree, I see.
TANA: I no un'stan'.
PARAMORE: They've been having a fling.
TANA: Yes, they have drink. Oh, many, many, many drink.
PARAMORE: (Receding delicately from the subject) "Didn't I hear the sounds of music as I approached the house"?
TANA:(With a spasmodic giggle)Yes, I play.
PARAMORE: One of the Japanese instruments.
(He is quite obviously a subscriber to the "National Geographic Magazine.")
TANA: I play flu-u-ute, Japanese flu-u-ute.
PARAMORE: What song were you playing? One of your Japanese melodies?
TANA:(His brow undergoing preposterous contraction) I play train song. How you call?--railroad song. So call in my countree. Like train. It go so-o-o; that mean whistle; train start. Then go so-o-o; that mean train go. Go like that. Vera nice song in my countree. Children song.
PARAMORE: It sounded very nice. (It is apparent at this point that only a gigantic effort at control restrains Tana from rushing up-stairs for his post cards, including the six made in America.)
TANA: I fix high-ball for gentleman?
PARAMORE: "No, thanks. I don't use it". (He smiles.)
(TANA withdraws into the kitchen, leaving the intervening door slightly ajar. From the crevice there suddenly issues again the melody of the Japanese train song--this time not a practice, surely, but a performance, a lusty, spirited performance.
The phone rings. TANA, absorbed in his harmonics, gives no heed, so PARAMORE takes up the receiver.)
PARAMORE: Hello.... Yes.... No, he's not here now, but he'll be back any moment.... Butterworth? Hello, I didn't quite catch the name.... Hello, hello, hello. Hello! ... Huh!
(The phone obstinately refuses to yield up any more sound. Paramore replaces the receiver.
At this point the taxi motif re-enters, wafting with it a second young man; he carries a suitcase and opens the front door without ringing the bell.)
MAURY: (In the hall) "Oh, Anthony! Yoho"! (He comes into the large room and sees PARAMORE) How do?
PARAMORE: (Gazing at him with gathering intensity) Is this--is this Maury Noble?
MAURY: "That's it". (He advances, smiling, and holding out his hand) How are you, old boy? Haven't seen you for years.
(He has vaguely associated the face with Harvard, but is not even positive about that. The name, if he ever knew it, he has long since forgotten. However, with a fine sensitiveness and an equally commendable charity PARAMORE recognizes the fact and tactfully relieves the situation.)
PARAMORE: You've forgotten Fred Paramore? We were both in old Unc Robert's history class.
MAURY: No, I haven't, Unc--I mean Fred. Fred was--I mean Unc was a great old fellow, wasn't he?
PARAMORE: (Nodding his head humorously several times) Great old character. Great old character.
MAURY: (After a short pause) Yes--he was. Where's Anthony?
PARAMORE: The Japanese servant told me he was at some inn. Having dinner, I suppose.
MAURY: (Looking at his watch) Gone long?
PARAMORE: I guess so. The Japanese told me they'd be back shortly.
MAURY: Suppose we have a drink.
PARAMORE: No, thanks. I don't use it. (He smiles.)
MAURY: Mind if I do? (Yawning as he helps himself from a bottle) What have you been doing since you left college?
PARAMORE: Oh, many things. I've led a very active life. Knocked about here and there. (His tone implies anything front lion-stalking to organized crime.)
MAURY: Oh, been over to Europe?
PARAMORE: No, I haven't--unfortunately.
MAURY: I guess we'll all go over before long.
PARAMORE: Do you really think so?
MAURY: Sure! Country's been fed on sensationalism for more than two years. Everybody getting restless. Want to have some fun.
PARAMORE: Then you don't believe any ideals are at stake?
MAURY: Nothing of much importance. People want excitement every so often.
PARAMORE: (Intently) It's very interesting to hear you say that. Now I was talking to a man who'd been over there----
(During the ensuing testament, left to be filled in by the reader with such phrases as "Saw with his own eyes," "Splendid spirit of France," and "Salvation of civilization," MAURY sits with lowered eyelids, dispassionately bored.)
MAURY: (At the first available opportunity) By the way, do you happen to know that there's a German agent in this very house?
PARAMORE: (Smiling cautiously) Are you serious?
MAURY: Absolutely. Feel it my duty to warn you.
PARAMORE: (Convinced) A governess?
MAURY: (In a whisper, indicating the kitchen with his thumb) Tana! That's not his real name. I understand he constantly gets mail addressed to Lieutenant Emile Tannenbaum.
PARAMORE: (Laughing with hearty tolerance) You were kidding me.
MAURY: I may be accusing him falsely. But, you haven't told me what you've been doing.
PARAMORE: For one thing--writing.
PARAMORE: No. Non-fiction.
MAURY: What's that? A sort of literature that's half fiction and half fact?
PARAMORE: Oh, I've confined myself to fact. I've been doing a good deal of social-service work.
(An immediate glow of suspicion leaps into his eyes. It is as though PARAMORE had announced himself as an amateur pickpocket.)
PARAMORE: At present I'm doing service work in Stamford. Only last week some one told me that Anthony Patch lived so near.
(They are interrupted by a clamor outside, unmistakable as that of two sexes in conversation and laughter. Then there enter the room in a body ANTHONY, GLORIA, RICHARD CARAMEL, MURIEL KANE, RACHAEL BARNES and RODMAN BARNES, her husband. They surge about MAURY, illogically replying "Fine!" to his general "Hello." ... ANTHONY, meanwhile, approaches his other guest.)
ANTHONY: Well, I'll be darned. How are you? Mighty glad to see you.
PARAMORE: It's good to see you, Anthony. I'm stationed in Stamford, so I thought I'd run over. (Roguishly) We have to work to beat the devil most of the time, so we're entitled to a few hours' vacation.
(In an agony of concentration ANTHONY tries to recall the name. After a struggle of parturition his memory gives up the fragment "Fred," around which he hastily builds the sentence "Glad you did, Fred!" Meanwhile the slight hush prefatory to an introduction has fallen upon the company. MAURY, who could help, prefers to look on in malicious enjoyment.)
ANTHONY: (In desperation) Ladies and gentlemen, this is--this is Fred.
MURIEL: (With obliging levity) Hello, Fred!
(RICHARD CARAMEL and PARAMORE greet each other intimately by their first names, the latter recollecting that DICK was one of the men in his class who had never before troubled to speak to him. DICK fatuously imagines that PARAMORE is some one he has previously met in ANTHONY'S house.
The three young women go up-stairs.)
MAURY: (In an undertone to DICK) Haven't seen Muriel since Anthony's wedding.
DICK: She's now in her prime. Her latest is "I'll say so!"
(ANTHONY struggles for a while with PARAMORE and at length attempts to make the conversation general by asking every one to have a drink.)
MAURY: I've done pretty well on this bottle. I've gone from "Proof" down to "Distillery." (He indicates the words on the label.)
ANTHONY: (To PARAMORE) Never can tell when these two will turn up. Said good-by to them one afternoon at five and darned if they didn't appear about two in the morning. A big hired touring-car from New York drove up to the door and out they stepped, drunk as lords, of course.
(In an ecstasy of consideration PARAMORE regards the cover of a book which he holds in his hand. MAURY and DICK exchange a glance.)
DICK: (Innocently, to PARAMORE) You work here in town?
PARAMORE: No, I'm in the Laird Street Settlement in Stamford. (To ANTHONY) You have no idea of the amount of poverty in these small Connecticut towns. Italians and other immigrants. Catholics mostly, you know, so it's very hard to reach them.
ANTHONY: (Politely) Lot of crime?
PARAMORE: Not so much crime as ignorance and dirt.
MAURY: That's my theory: immediate electrocution of all ignorant and dirty people. I'm all for the criminals--give color to life. Trouble is if you started to punish ignorance you'd have to begin in the first families, then you could take up the moving picture people, and finally Congress and the clergy.
PARAMORE: (Smiling uneasily) I was speaking of the more fundamental ignorance--of even our language.
MAURY: (Thoughtfully) I suppose it is rather hard. Can't even keep up with the new poetry.
PARAMORE: It's only when the settlement work has gone on for months that one realizes how bad things are. As our secretary said to me, your finger-nails never seem dirty until you wash your hands. Of course we're already attracting much attention.
MAURY: (Rudely) As your secretary might say, if you stuff paper into a grate it'll burn brightly for a moment.
(At this point GLORIA, freshly tinted and lustful of admiration and entertainment, rejoins the party, followed by her two friends. For several moments the conversation becomes entirely fragmentary. GLORIA calls ANTHONY aside.)
GLORIA: Please don't drink much, Anthony.
GLORIA: Because you're so simple when you're drunk.
ANTHONY: Good Lord! What's the matter now?
GLORIA: (After a pause during which her eyes gaze coolly into his) Several things. In the first place, why do you insist on paying for everything? Both those men have more money than you!
ANTHONY: Why, Gloria! They're my guests!
GLORIA: That's no reason why you should pay for a bottle of champagne Rachael Barnes smashed. Dick tried to fix that second taxi bill, and you wouldn't let him.
ANTHONY: Why, Gloria--
GLORIA: When we have to keep selling bonds to even pay our bills, it's time to cut down on excess generosities. Moreover, I wouldn't be quite so attentive to Rachael Barnes. Her husband doesn't like it any more than I do!
ANTHONY: Why, Gloria--
GLORIA: (Mimicking him sharply) "Why, Gloria!" But that's happened a little too often this summer--with every pretty woman you meet. It's grown to be a sort of habit, and I'm not going to stand it! If you can play around, I can, too. (Then, as an afterthought) By the way, this Fred person isn't a second Joe Hull, is he?
ANTHONY: Heavens, no! He probably came up to get me to wheedle some money out of grandfather for his flock.
(GLORIA turns away from a very depressed ANTHONY and returns to her guests.
By nine o'clock these can be divided into two classes--those who have been drinking consistently and those who have taken little or nothing. In the second group are the BARNESES, MURIEL, and FREDERICK E. PARAMORE.)
MURIEL: I wish I could write. I get these ideas but I never seem to be able to put them in words.
DICK: As Goliath said, he understood how David felt, but he couldn't express himself. The remark was immediately adopted for a motto by the Philistines.
MURIEL: I don't get you. I must be getting stupid in my old age.
GLORIA: (Weaving unsteadily among the company like an exhilarated angel) If any one's hungry there's some French pastry on the dining room table.
MAURY: Can't tolerate those Victorian designs it comes in.
MURIEL: (Violently amused) I'll say you're tight, Maury.
(Her bosom is still a pavement that she offers to the hoofs of many passing stallions, hoping that their iron shoes may strike even a spark of romance in the darkness ...
Messrs. BARNES and PARAMORE have been engaged in conversation upon some wholesome subject, a subject so wholesome that MR. BARNES has been trying for several moments to creep into the more tainted air around the central lounge. Whether PARAMORE is lingering in the gray house out of politeness or curiosity, or in order at some future time to make a sociological report on the decadence of American life, is problematical.)
MAURY: Fred, I imagined you were very broad-minded.
PARAMORE: I am.
MURIEL: Me, too. I believe one religion's as good as another and everything.
PARAMORE: There's some good in all religions.
MURIEL: I'm a Catholic but, as I always say, I'm not working at it.
PARAMORE: (With a tremendous burst of tolerance) The Catholic religion is a very--a very powerful religion.
MAURY: Well, such a broad-minded man should consider the raised plane of sensation and the stimulated optimism contained in this cocktail.
PARAMORE: (Taking the drink, rather defiantly) Thanks, I'll try--one.
MAURY: One? Outrageous! Here we have a class of 'nineteen ten reunion, and you refuse to be even a little pickled. Come on!
"Here's a health to King Charles, Here's a health to King Charles, Bring the bowl that you boast----"
(PARAMORE joins in with a hearty voice.)
MAURY: Fill the cup, Frederick. You know everything's subordinated to nature's purposes with us, and her purpose with you is to make you a rip-roaring tippler.
PARAMORE: If a fellow can drink like a gentleman--
MAURY: What is a gentleman, anyway?
ANTHONY: A man who never has pins under his coat lapel.
MAURY: Nonsense! A man's social rank is determined by the amount of bread he eats in a sandwich.
DICK: He's a man who prefers the first edition of a book to the last edition of a newspaper.
RACHAEL: A man who never gives an impersonation of a dope-fiend.
MAURY: An American who can fool an English butler into thinking he's one.
MURIEL: A man who comes from a good family and went to Yale or Harvard or Princeton, and has money and dances well, and all that.
MAURY: At last--the perfect definition! Cardinal Newman's is now a back number.
PARAMORE: I think we ought to look on the question more broad-mindedly. Was it Abraham Lincoln who said that a gentleman is one who never inflicts pain?
MAURY: It's attributed, I believe, to General Ludendorff.
PARAMORE: Surely you're joking.
MAURY: Have another drink.
PARAMORE: I oughtn't to. (Lowering his voice for MAURY'S ear alone) What if I were to tell you this is the third drink I've ever taken in my life?
(DICK starts the phonograph, which provokes MURIEL to rise and sway from side to side, her elbows against her ribs, her forearms perpendicular to her body and out like fins.)
MURIEL: Oh, let's take up the rugs and dance!
(This suggestion is received by ANTHONY and GLORIA with interior groans and sickly smiles of acquiescence.)
MURIEL: Come on, you lazy-bones. Get up and move the furniture back.
DICK: Wait till I finish my drink.
MAURY: (Intent on his purpose toward PARAMORE) I'll tell you what. Let's each fill one glass, drink it off and then we'll dance.
(A wave of protest which breaks against the rock of MAURY'S insistence.)
MURIEL: My head is simply going round now.
RACHAEL: (In an undertone to ANTHONY) Did Gloria tell you to stay away from me?
ANTHONY: (Confused) Why, certainly not. Of course not.
(RACHAEL smiles at him inscrutably. Two years have given her a sort of hard, well-groomed beauty.)
MAURY: (Holding up his glass) Here's to the defeat of democracy and the fall of Christianity.
MURIEL: Now really!
(She flashes a mock-reproachful glance at MAURY and then drinks.
They all drink, with varying degrees of difficulty.)
MURIEL: Clear the floor!
(It seems inevitable that this process is to be gone through, so ANTHONY and GLORIA join in the great moving of tables, piling of chairs, rolling of carpets, and breaking of lamps. When the furniture has been stacked in ugly masses at the sides, there appears a space about eight feet square.)
MURIEL: Oh, let's have music!
MAURY: Tana will render the love song of an eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist.
(Amid some confusion due to the fact that TANA has retired for the night, preparations are made for the performance. The pajamaed Japanese, flute in hand, is wrapped in a comforter and placed in a chair atop one of the tables, where he makes a ludicrous and grotesque spectacle. PARAMORE is perceptibly drunk and so enraptured with the notion that he increases the effect by simulating funny-paper staggers and even venturing on an occasional hiccough.)
PARAMORE: (To GLORIA) Want to dance with me?
GLORIA: No, sir! Want to do the swan dance. Can you do it?
PARAMORE: Sure. Do them all.
GLORIA: All right. You start from that side of the room and I'll start from this.
MURIEL: Let's go!
(Then Bedlam creeps screaming out of the bottles: TANA plunges into the recondite mazes of the train song, the plaintive "tootle toot-toot" blending its melancholy cadences with the "Poor Butter-fly (tink-atink), by the blossoms wait-ing" of the phonograph. MURIEL is too weak with laughter to do more than cling desperately to BARNES, who, dancing with the ominous rigidity of an army officer, tramps without humor around the small space. ANTHONY is trying to hear RACHAEL'S whisper--without attracting GLORIA's attention....
But the grotesque, the unbelievable, the histrionic incident is about to occur, one of those incidents in which life seems set upon the passionate imitation of the lowest forms of literature. PARAMORE has been trying to emulate GLORIA, and as the commotion reaches its height he begins to spin round and round, more and more dizzily--he staggers, recovers, staggers again and then falls in the direction of the hall ... almost into the arms of old ADAM PATCH, whose approach has been rendered inaudible by the pandemonium in the room.
ADAM PATCH is very white. He leans upon a stick. The man with him is EDWARD SHUTTLEWORTH, and it is he who seizes PARAMORE by the shoulder and deflects the course of his fall away from the venerable philanthropist.
The time required for quiet to descend upon the room like a monstrous pall may be estimated at two minutes, though for a short period after that the phonograph gags and the notes of the Japanese train song dribble from the end of TANA'S flute. Of the nine people only BARNES, PARAMORE, and TANA are unaware of the late-comer's identity. Of the nine not one is aware that ADAM PATCH has that morning made a contribution of fifty thousand dollars to the cause of national prohibition.
It is given to PARAMORE to break the gathering silence; the high tide of his life's depravity is reached in his incredible remark.)
PARAMORE: (Crawling rapidly toward the kitchen on his hands and knees) I'm not a guest here--I work here.
(Again silence falls--so deep now, so weighted with intolerably contagious apprehension, that RACHAEL gives a nervous little giggle, and DICK finds himself telling over and over a line from Swinburne, grotesquely appropriate to the scene:
"One gaunt bleak blossom of scentless breath."
... Out of the hush the voice of ANTHONY, sober and strained, saying something to ADAM PATCH; then this, too, dies away.)
SHUTTLEWORTH: (Passionately) Your grandfather thought he would motor over to see your house. I phoned from Rye and left a message.
(A series of little gasps, emanating, apparently, from nowhere, from no one, fall into the next pause. ANTHONY is the color of chalk. GLORIA'S lips are parted and her level gaze at the old man is tense and frightened. There is not one smile in the room. Not one? Or does CROSS PATCH'S drawn mouth tremble slightly open, to expose the even rows of his thin teeth? He speaks--five mild and simple words.)
ADAM PATCH: We'll go back now, Shuttleworth--(And that is all. He turns, and assisted by his cane goes out through the hall, through the front door, and with hellish portentousness his uncertain footsteps crunch on the gravel path under the August moon.)
In this extremity they were like two goldfish in a bowl from which all the water had been drawn; they could not even swim across to each other.
Gloria would be twenty-six in May. There was nothing, she had said, that she wanted, except to be young and beautiful for a long time, to be gay and happy, and to have money and love. She wanted what most women want, but she wanted it much more fiercely and passionately. She had been married over two years. At first there had been days of serene understanding, rising to ecstasies of proprietorship and pride. Alternating with these periods had occurred sporadic hates, enduring a short hour, and forgetfulnesses lasting no longer than an afternoon. That had been for half a year.
Then the serenity, the content, had become less jubilant, had become, gray--very rarely, with the spur of jealousy or forced separation, the ancient ecstasies returned, the apparent communion of soul and soul, the emotional excitement. It was possible for her to hate Anthony for as much as a full day, to be carelessly incensed at him for as long as a week. Recrimination had displaced affection as an indulgence, almost as an entertainment, and there were nights when they would go to sleep trying to remember who was angry and who should be reserved next morning. And as the second year waned there had entered two new elements. Gloria realized that Anthony had become capable of utter indifference toward her, a temporary indifference, more than half lethargic, but one from which she could no longer stir him by a whispered word, or a certain intimate smile. There were days when her caresses affected him as a sort of suffocation. She was conscious of these things; she never entirely admitted them to herself.
It was only recently that she perceived that in spite of her adoration of him, her jealousy, her servitude, her pride, she fundamentally despised him--and her contempt blended indistinguishably with her other emotions.... All this was her love--the vital and feminine illusion that had directed itself toward him one April night, many months before.
On Anthony's part she was, in spite of these qualifications, his sole preoccupation. Had he lost her he would have been a broken man, wretchedly and sentimentally absorbed in her memory for the remainder of life. He seldom took pleasure in an entire day spent alone with her--except on occasions he preferred to have a third person with them. There were times when he felt that if he were not left absolutely alone he would go mad--there were a few times when he definitely hated her. In his cups he was capable of short attractions toward other women, the hitherto-suppressed outcroppings of an experimental temperament.
That spring, that summer, they had speculated upon future happiness--how they were to travel from summer land to summer land, returning eventually to a gorgeous estate and possible idyllic children, then entering diplomacy or politics, to accomplish, for a while, beautiful and important things, until finally as a white-haired (beautifully, silkily, white-haired) couple they were to loll about in serene glory, worshipped by the bourgeoisie of the land.... These times were to begin "when we get our money"; it was on such dreams rather than on any satisfaction with their increasingly irregular, increasingly dissipated life that their hope rested. On gray mornings when the jests of the night before had shrunk to ribaldries without wit or dignity, they could, after a fashion, bring out this batch of common hopes and count them over, then smile at each other and repeat, by way of clinching the matter, the terse yet sincere Nietzscheanism of Gloria's defiant "I don't care!"
Things had been slipping perceptibly. There was the money question, increasingly annoying, increasingly ominous; there was the realization that liquor had become a practical necessity to their amusement--not an uncommon phenomenon in the British aristocracy of a hundred years ago, but a somewhat alarming one in a civilization steadily becoming more temperate and more circumspect. Moreover, both of them seemed vaguely weaker in fibre, not so much in what they did as in their subtle reactions to the civilization about them. In Gloria had been born something that she had hitherto never needed--the skeleton, incomplete but nevertheless unmistakable, of her ancient abhorrence, a conscience. This admission to herself was coincidental with the slow decline of her physical courage.
Then, on the August morning after Adam Patch's unexpected call, they awoke, nauseated and tired, dispirited with life, capable only of one pervasive emotion--fear.
"Well?" Anthony sat up in bed and looked down at her. The corners of his lips were drooping with depression, his voice was strained and hollow.
Her reply was to raise her hand to her mouth and begin a slow, precise nibbling at her finger.
"We've done it," he said after a pause; then, as she was still silent, he became exasperated. "Why don't you say something?"
"What on earth do you want me to say?"
"What are you thinking?"
"Then stop biting your finger!"
Ensued a short confused discussion of whether or not she had been thinking. It seemed essential to Anthony that she should muse aloud upon last night's disaster. Her silence was a method of settling the responsibility on him. For her part she saw no necessity for speech--the moment required that she should gnaw at her finger like a nervous child.
"I've got to fix up this damn mess with my grandfather," he said with uneasy conviction. A faint newborn respect was indicated by his use of "my grandfather" instead of "grampa."
"You can't," she affirmed abruptly. "You can't--ever. He'll never forgive you as long as he lives."
"Perhaps not," agreed Anthony miserably. "Still--I might possibly square myself by some sort of reformation and all that sort of thing--"
"He looked sick," she interrupted, "pale as flour."
"He is sick. I told you that three months ago."
"I wish he'd died last week!" she said petulantly. "Inconsiderate old fool!"
Neither of them laughed.
"But just let me say," she added quietly, "the next time I see you acting with any woman like you did with Rachael Barnes last night, I'll leave you--just--like--that! I'm simply not going to stand it!"
"Oh, don't be absurd," he protested. "You know there's no woman in the world for me except you--none, dearest."
His attempt at a tender note failed miserably--the more imminent danger stalked back into the foreground.
"If I went to him," suggested Anthony, "and said with appropriate biblical quotations that I'd walked too long in the way of unrighteousness and at last seen the light--" He broke off and glanced with a whimsical expression at his wife. "I wonder what he'd do?"
"I don't know."
She was speculating as to whether or not their guests would have the acumen to leave directly after breakfast.
Not for a week did Anthony muster the courage to go to Tarrytown. The prospect was revolting and left alone he would have been incapable of making the trip--but if his will had deteriorated in these past three years, so had his power to resist urging. Gloria compelled him to go. It was all very well to wait a week, she said, for that would give his grandfather's violent animosity time to cool--but to wait longer would be an error--it would give it a chance to harden.
He went, in trepidation ... and vainly. Adam Patch was not well, said Shuttleworth indignantly. Positive instructions had been given that no one was to see him. Before the ex-"gin-physician's" vindictive eye Anthony's front wilted. He walked out to his taxicab with what was almost a slink--recovering only a little of his self-respect as he boarded the train; glad to escape, boylike, to the wonder palaces of consolation that still rose and glittered in his own mind.
Gloria was scornful when he returned to Marietta. Why had he not forced his way in? That was what she would have done!
Between them they drafted a letter to the old man, and after considerable revision sent it off. It was half an apology, half a manufactured explanation. The letter was not answered.
Came a day in September, a day slashed with alternate sun and rain, sun without warmth, rain without freshness. On that day they left the gray house, which had seen the flower of their love. Four trunks and three monstrous crates were piled in the dismantled room where, two years before, they had sprawled lazily, thinking in terms of dreams, remote, languorous, content. The room echoed with emptiness. Gloria, in a new brown dress edged with fur, sat upon a trunk in silence, and Anthony walked nervously to and fro smoking, as they waited for the truck that would take their things to the city.
"What are those?" she demanded, pointing to some books piled upon one of the crates.
"That's my old stamp collection," he confessed sheepishly. "I forgot to pack it."
"Anthony, it's so silly to carry it around."
"Well, I was looking through it the day we left the apartment last spring, and I decided not to store it."
"Can't you sell it? Haven't we enough junk?"
"I'm sorry," he said humbly.
With a thunderous rattling the truck rolled up to the door. Gloria shook her fist defiantly at the four walls.
"I'm so glad to go!" she cried, "so glad. Oh, my God, how I hate this house!"
So the brilliant and beautiful lady went up with her husband to New York. On the very train that bore them away they quarrelled--her bitter words had the frequency, the regularity, the inevitability of the stations they passed.
"Don't be cross," begged Anthony piteously. "We've got nothing but each other, after all."
"We haven't even that, most of the time," cried Gloria.
"When haven't we?"
"A lot of times--beginning with one occasion on the station platform at Redgate."
"You don't mean to say that--"
"No," she interrupted coolly, "I don't brood over it. It came and went--and when it went it took something with it."
She finished abruptly. Anthony sat in silence, confused, depressed. The drab visions of train-side Mamaroneck, Larchmont, Rye, Pelham Manor, succeeded each other with intervals of bleak and shoddy wastes posing ineffectually as country. He found himself remembering how on one summer morning they two had started from New York in search of happiness. They had never expected to find it, perhaps, yet in itself that quest had been happier than anything he expected forevermore. Life, it seemed, must be a setting up of props around one--otherwise it was disaster. There was no rest, no quiet. He had been futile in longing to drift and dream; no one drifted except to maelstroms, no one dreamed, without his dreams becoming fantastic nightmares of indecision and regret.
Pelham! They had quarrelled in Pelham because Gloria must drive. And when she set her little foot on the accelerator the car had jumped off spunkily, and their two heads had jerked back like marionettes worked by a single string.
The Bronx--the houses gathering and gleaming in the sun, which was falling now through wide refulgent skies and tumbling caravans of light down into the streets. New York, he supposed, was home--the city of luxury and mystery, of preposterous hopes and exotic dreams. Here on the outskirts absurd stucco palaces reared themselves in the cool sunset, poised for an instant in cool unreality, glided off far away, succeeded by the mazed confusion of the Harlem River. The train moved in through the deepening twilight, above and past half a hundred cheerful sweating streets of the upper East Side, each one passing the car window like the space between the spokes of a gigantic wheel, each one with its vigorous colorful revelation of poor children swarming in feverish activity like vivid ants in alleys of red sand. From the tenement windows leaned rotund, moon-shaped mothers, as constellations of this sordid heaven; women like dark imperfect jewels, women like vegetables, women like great bags of abominably dirty laundry.
"I like these streets," observed Anthony aloud. "I always feel as though it's a performance being staged for me; as though the second I've passed they'll all stop leaping and laughing and, instead, grow very sad, remembering how poor they are, and retreat with bowed heads into their houses. You often get that effect abroad, but seldom in this country."
Down in a tall busy street he read a dozen Jewish names on a line of stores; in the door of each stood a dark little man watching the passers from intent eyes--eyes gleaming with suspicion, with pride, with clarity, with cupidity, with comprehension. New York--he could not dissociate it now from the slow, upward creep of this people--the little stores, growing, expanding, consolidating, moving, watched over with hawk's eyes and a bee's attention to detail--they slathered out on all sides. It was impressive--in perspective it was tremendous.
Gloria's voice broke in with strange appropriateness upon his thoughts.
"I wonder where Bloeckman's been this summer."
After the sureties of youth there sets in a period of intense and intolerable complexity. With the soda-jerker this period is so short as to be almost negligible. Men higher in the scale hold out longer in the attempt to preserve the ultimate niceties of relationship, to retain "impractical" ideas of integrity. But by the late twenties the business has grown too intricate, and what has hitherto been imminent and confusing has become gradually remote and dim. Routine comes down like twilight on a harsh landscape, softening it until it is tolerable. The complexity is too subtle, too varied; the values are changing utterly with each lesion of vitality; it has begun to appear that we can learn nothing from the past with which to face the future--so we cease to be impulsive, convincible men, interested in what is ethically true by fine margins, we substitute rules of conduct for ideas of integrity, we value safety above romance, we become, quite unconsciously, pragmatic. It is left to the few to be persistently concerned with the nuances of relationships--and even this few only in certain hours especially set aside for the task.
Anthony Patch had ceased to be an individual of mental adventure, of curiosity, and had become an individual of bias and prejudice, with a longing to be emotionally undisturbed. This gradual change had taken place through the past several years, accelerated by a succession of anxieties preying on his mind. There was, first of all, the sense of waste, always dormant in his heart, now awakened by the circumstances of his position. In his moments of insecurity he was haunted by the suggestion that life might be, after all, significant. In his early twenties the conviction of the futility of effort, of the wisdom of abnegation, had been confirmed by the philosophies he had admired as well as by his association with Maury Noble, and later with his wife. Yet there had been occasions--just before his first meeting with Gloria, for example, and when his grandfather had suggested that he should go abroad as a war correspondent--upon which his dissatisfaction had driven him almost to a positive step.
One day just before they left Marietta for the last time, in carelessly turning over the pages of a Harvard Alumni Bulletin, he had found a column which told him what his contemporaries had been about in this six years since graduation. Most of them were in business, it was true, and several were converting the heathen of China or America to a nebulous protestantism; but a few, he found, were working constructively at jobs that were neither sinecures nor routines. There was Calvin Boyd, for instance, who, though barely out of medical school, had discovered a new treatment for typhus, had shipped abroad and was mitigating some of the civilization that the Great Powers had brought to Servia; there was Eugene Bronson, whose articles in The New Democracy were stamping him as a man with ideas transcending both vulgar timeliness and popular hysteria; there was a man named Daly who had been suspended from the faculty of a righteous university for preaching Marxian doctrines in the classroom: in art, science, politics, he saw the authentic personalities of his time emerging--there was even Severance, the quarter-back, who had given up his life rather neatly and gracefully with the Foreign Legion on the Aisne.
He laid down the magazine and thought for a while about these diverse men. In the days of his integrity he would have defended his attitude to the last--an Epicurus in Nirvana, he would have cried that to struggle was to believe, to believe was to limit. He would as soon have become a churchgoer because the prospect of immortality gratified him as he would have considered entering the leather business because the intensity of the competition would have kept him from unhappiness. But at present he had no such delicate scruples. This autumn, as his twenty-ninth year began, he was inclined to close his mind to many things, to avoid prying deeply into motive and first causes, and mostly to long passionately for security from the world and from himself. He hated to be alone, as has been said he often dreaded being alone with Gloria.
Because of the chasm which his grandfather's visit had opened before him, and the consequent revulsion from his late mode of life, it was inevitable that he should look around in this suddenly hostile city for the friends and environments that had once seemed the warmest and most secure. His first step was a desperate attempt to get back his old apartment.
In the spring of 1912 he had signed a four-year lease at seventeen hundred a year, with an option of renewal. This lease had expired the previous May. When he had first rented the rooms they had been mere potentialities, scarcely to be discerned as that, but Anthony had seen into these potentialities and arranged in the lease that he and the landlord should each spend a certain amount in improvements. Rents had gone up in the past four years, and last spring when Anthony had waived his option the landlord, a Mr. Sohenberg, had realized that he could get a much bigger price for what was now a prepossessing apartment. Accordingly, when Anthony approached him on the subject in September he was met with Sohenberg's offer of a three-year lease at twenty-five hundred a year. This, it seemed to Anthony, was outrageous. It meant that well over a third of their income would be consumed in rent. In vain he argued that his own money, his own ideas on the repartitioning, had made the rooms attractive.
In vain he offered two thousand dollars--twenty-two hundred, though they could ill afford it: Mr. Sohenberg was obdurate. It seemed that two other gentlemen were considering it; just that sort of an apartment was in demand for the moment, and it would scarcely be business to give it to Mr. Patch. Besides, though he had never mentioned it before, several of the other tenants had complained of noise during the previous winter--singing and dancing late at night, that sort of thing.
Internally raging Anthony hurried back to the Ritz to report his discomfiture to Gloria.
"I can just see you," she stormed, "letting him back you down!"
"What could I say?"
"You could have told him what he was. I wouldn't have stood it. No other man in the world would have stood it! You just let people order you around and cheat you and bully you and take advantage of you as if you were a silly little boy. It's absurd!"
"Oh, for Heaven's sake, don't lose your temper."
"I know, Anthony, but you are such an ass!"
"Well, possibly. Anyway, we can't afford that apartment. But we can afford it better than living here at the Ritz."
"You were the one who insisted on coming here."
"Yes, because I knew you'd be miserable in a cheap hotel."
"Of course I would!"
"At any rate we've got to find a place to live."
"How much can we pay?" she demanded.
"Well, we can pay even his price if we sell more bonds, but we agreed last night that until I had gotten something definite to do we-"
"Oh, I know all that. I asked you how much we can pay out of just our income."
"They say you ought not to pay more than a fourth."
"How much is a fourth?"
"One hundred and fifty a month."
"Do you mean to say we've got only six hundred dollars coming in every month?" A subdued note crept into her voice.
"Of course!" he answered angrily. "Do you think we've gone on spending more than twelve thousand a year without cutting way into our capital?"
"I knew we'd sold bonds, but--have we spent that much a year? How did we?" Her awe increased.
"Oh, I'll look in those careful account-books we kept," he remarked ironically, and then added: "Two rents a good part of the time, clothes, travel--why, each of those springs in California cost about four thousand dollars. That darn car was an expense from start to finish. And parties and amusements and--oh, one thing or another."
They were both excited now and inordinately depressed. The situation seemed worse in the actual telling Gloria than it had when he had first made the discovery himself.
"You've got to make some money," she said suddenly.
"I know it."
"And you've got to make another attempt to see your grandfather."
"When we get settled."
This eventuality occurred a week later. They rented a small apartment on Fifty-seventh Street at one hundred and fifty a month. It included bedroom, living-room, kitchenette, and bath, in a thin, white-stone apartment house, and though the rooms were too small to display Anthony's best furniture, they were clean, new, and, in a blonde and sanitary way, not unattractive. Bounds had gone abroad to enlist in the British army, and in his place they tolerated rather than enjoyed the services of a gaunt, big-boned Irishwoman, whom Gloria loathed because she discussed the glories of Sinn Fein as she served breakfast. But they vowed they would have no more Japanese, and English servants were for the present hard to obtain. Like Bounds, the woman prepared only breakfast. Their other meals they took at restaurants and hotels.
What finally drove Anthony post-haste up to Tarrytown was an announcement in several New York papers that Adam Patch, the multimillionaire, the philanthropist, the venerable uplifter, was seriously ill and not expected to recover.
Anthony could not see him. The doctors' instructions were that he was to talk to no one, said Mr. Shuttleworth--who offered kindly to take any message that Anthony might care to intrust with him, and deliver it to Adam Patch when his condition permitted. But by obvious innuendo he confirmed Anthony's melancholy inference that the prodigal grandson would be particularly unwelcome at the bedside. At one point in the conversation Anthony, with Gloria's positive instructions in mind, made a move as though to brush by the secretary, but Shuttleworth with a smile squared his brawny shoulders, and Anthony saw how futile such an attempt would be.
Miserably intimidated, he returned to New York, where husband and wife passed a restless week. A little incident that occurred one evening indicated to what tension their nerves were drawn.
Walking home along a cross-street after dinner, Anthony noticed a night-bound cat prowling near a railing.
"I always have an instinct to kick a cat," he said idly.
"I like them."
"I yielded to it once."
"Oh, years ago; before I met you. One night between the acts of a show. Cold night, like this, and I was a little tight--one of the first times I was ever tight," he added. "The poor little beggar was looking for a place to sleep, I guess, and I was in a mean mood, so it took my fancy to kick it--"
"Oh, the poor kitty!" cried Gloria, sincerely moved. Inspired with the narrative instinct, Anthony enlarged on the theme.
"It was pretty bad," he admitted. "The poor little beast turned around and looked at me rather plaintively as though hoping I'd pick him up and be kind to him--he was really just a kitten--and before he knew it a big foot launched out at him and caught his little back"
"Oh!" Gloria's cry was full of anguish.
"It was such a cold night," he continued, perversely, keeping his voice upon a melancholy note. "I guess it expected kindness from somebody, and it got only pain--"
He broke off suddenly--Gloria was sobbing. They had reached home, and when they entered the apartment she threw herself upon the lounge, crying as though he had struck at her very soul.
"Oh, the poor little kitty!" she repeated piteously, "the poor little kitty. So cold--"
"Don't come near me! Please, don't come near me. You killed the soft little kitty."
Touched, Anthony knelt beside her.
"Dear," he said. "Oh, Gloria, darling. It isn't true. I invented it--every word of it."
But she would not believe him. There had been something in the details he had chosen to describe that made her cry herself asleep that night, for the kitten, for Anthony for herself, for the pain and bitterness and cruelty of all the world.
The Passing Of An American Moralist
Old Adam died on a midnight of late November with a pious compliment to his God on his thin lips. He, who had been flattered so much, faded out flattering the Omnipotent Abstraction which he fancied he might have angered in the more lascivious moments of his youth. It was announced that he had arranged some sort of an armistice with the deity, the terms of which were not made public, though they were thought to have included a large cash payment. All the newspapers printed his biography, and two of them ran short editorials on his sterling worth, and his part in the drama of industrialism, with which he had grown up. They referred guardedly to the reforms he had sponsored and financed. The memories of Comstock and Cato the Censor were resuscitated and paraded like gaunt ghosts through the columns.
Every newspaper remarked that he was survived by a single grandson, Anthony Comstock Patch, of New York.
The burial took place in the family plot at Tarrytown. Anthony and Gloria rode in the first carriage, too worried to feel grotesque, both trying desperately to glean presage of fortune from the faces of retainers who had been with him at the end.
They waited a frantic week for decency, and then, having received no notification of any kind, Anthony called up his grandfather's lawyer. Mr. Brett was not he was expected back in an hour. Anthony left his telephone number.
It was the last day of November, cool and crackling outside, with a lustreless sun peering bleakly in at the windows. While they waited for the call, ostensibly engaged in reading, the atmosphere, within and without, seemed pervaded with a deliberate rendition of the pathetic fallacy. After an interminable while, the bell jingled, and Anthony, starting violently, took up the receiver.
"Hello ..." His voice was strained and hollow. "Yes--I did leave word. Who is this, please? ... Yes.... Why, it was about the estate. Naturally I'm interested, and I've received no word about the reading of the will--I thought you might not have my address.... What? ... Yes ..."
Gloria fell on her knees. The intervals between Anthony's speeches were like tourniquets winding on her heart. She found herself helplessly twisting the large buttons from a velvet cushion. Then:
"That's--that's very, very odd--that's very odd--that's very odd. Not even any--ah--mention or any--ah--reason?"
His voice sounded faint and far away. She uttered a little sound, half gasp, half cry.
"Yes, I'll see.... All right, thanks ... thanks...."
The phone clicked. Her eyes looking along the floor saw his feet cut the pattern of a patch of sunlight on the carpet. She arose and faced him with a gray, level glance just as his arms folded about her.
"My dearest," he whispered huskily. "He did it, God damn him!"
"Who are the heirs?" asked Mr. Haight. "You see when you can tell me so little about it--"
Mr. Haight was tall and bent and beetle-browed. He had been recommended to Anthony as an astute and tenacious lawyer.
"I only know vaguely," answered Anthony. "A man named Shuttleworth, who was a sort of pet of his, has the whole thing in charge as administrator or trustee or something--all except the direct bequests to charity and the provisions for servants and for those two cousins in Idaho."
"How distant are the cousins?"
"Oh, third or fourth, anyway. I never even heard of them."
Mr. Haight nodded comprehensively.
"And you want to contest a provision of the will?"
"I guess so," admitted Anthony helplessly. "I want to do what sounds most hopeful--that's what I want you to tell me."
"You want them to refuse probate to the will?"
Anthony shook his head.
"You've got me. I haven't any idea what 'probate' is. I want a share of the estate."
"Suppose you tell me some more details. For instance, do you know why the testator disinherited you?"
"Why--yes," began Anthony. "You see he was always a sucker for moral reform, and all that--"
"I know," interjected Mr. Haight humorlessly.
"--and I don't suppose he ever thought I was much good. I didn't go into business, you see. But I feel certain that up to last summer I was one of the beneficiaries. We had a house out in Marietta, and one night grandfather got the notion he'd come over and see us. It just happened that there was a rather gay party going on and he arrived without any warning. Well, he took one look, he and this fellow Shuttleworth, and then turned around and tore right back to Tarrytown. After that he never answered my letters or even let me see him."
"He was a prohibitionist, wasn't he?"
"He was everything--regular religious maniac."
"How long before his death was the will made that disinherited you?"
"Recently--I mean since August."
"And you think that the direct reason for his not leaving you the majority of the estate was his displeasure with your recent actions?"
Mr. Haight considered. Upon what grounds was Anthony thinking of contesting the will?
"Why, isn't there something about evil influence?"
"Undue influence is one ground--but it's the most difficult. You would have to show that such pressure was brought to bear so that the deceased was in a condition where he disposed of his property contrary to his intentions--"
"Well, suppose this fellow Shuttleworth dragged him over to Marietta just when he thought some sort of a celebration was probably going on?"
"That wouldn't have any bearing on the case. There's a strong division between advice and influence. You'd have to prove that the secretary had a sinister intention. I'd suggest some other grounds. A will is automatically refused probate in case of insanity, drunkenness"--here Anthony smiled--"or feeble-mindedness through premature old age."
"But," objected Anthony, "his private physician, being one of the beneficiaries, would testify that he wasn't feeble-minded. And he wasn't. As a matter of fact he probably did just what he intended to with his money--it was perfectly consistent with everything he'd ever done in his life--"
"Well, you see, feeble-mindedness is a great deal like undue influence--it implies that the property wasn't disposed of as originally intended. The most common ground is duress--physical pressure."
Anthony shook his head.
"Not much chance on that, I'm afraid. Undue influence sounds best to me."
After more discussion, so technical as to be largely unintelligible to Anthony, he retained Mr. Haight as counsel. The lawyer proposed an interview with Shuttleworth, who, jointly with Wilson, Hiemer and Hardy, was executor of the will. Anthony was to come back later in the week.
It transpired that the estate consisted of approximately forty million dollars. The largest bequest to an individual was of one million, to Edward Shuttleworth, who received in addition thirty thousand a year salary as administrator of the thirty-million-dollar trust fund, left to be doled out to various charities and reform societies practically at his own discretion. The remaining nine millions were proportioned among the two cousins in Idaho and about twenty-five other beneficiaries: friends, secretaries, servants, and employees, who had, at one time or another, earned the seal of Adam Patch's approval.
At the end of another fortnight Mr. Haight, on a retainer's fee of fifteen thousand dollars, had begun preparations for contesting the will.
The Winter of Discontent
Before they had been two months in the little apartment on Fifty-seventh Street, it had assumed for both of them the same indefinable but almost material taint that had impregnated the gray house in Marietta. There was the odor of tobacco always--both of them smoked incessantly; it was in their clothes, their blankets, the curtains, and the ash-littered carpets. Added to this was the wretched aura of stale wine, with its inevitable suggestion of beauty gone foul and revelry remembered in disgust. About a particular set of glass goblets on the sideboard the odor was particularly noticeable, and in the main room the mahogany table was ringed with white circles where glasses had been set down upon it. There had been many parties--people broke things; people became sick in Gloria's bathroom; people spilled wine; people made unbelievable messes of the kitchenette.
These things were a regular part of their existence. Despite the resolutions of many Mondays it was tacitly understood as the week end approached that it should be observed with some sort of unholy excitement. When Saturday came they would not discuss the matter, but would call up this person or that from among their circle of sufficiently irresponsible friends, and suggest a rendezvous. Only after the friends had gathered and Anthony had set out decanters, would he murmur casually "I guess I'll have just one high-ball myself--"
Then they were off for two days--realizing on a wintry dawn that they had been the noisiest and most conspicuous members of the noisiest and most conspicuous party at the Boul' Mich', or the Club Ramee, or at other resorts much less particular about the hilarity of their clientele. They would find that they had, somehow, squandered eighty or ninety dollars, how, they never knew; they customarily attributed it to the general penury of the "friends" who had accompanied them.
It began to be not unusual for the more sincere of their friends to remonstrate with them, in the very course of a party, and to predict a sombre end for them in the loss of Gloria's "looks" and Anthony's "constitution."
The story of the summarily interrupted revel in Marietta had, of course, leaked out in detail--"Muriel doesn't mean to tell every one she knows," said Gloria to Anthony, "but she thinks every one she tells is the only one she's going to tell"--and, diaphanously veiled, the tale had been given a conspicuous place in Town Tattle. When the terms of Adam Patch's will were made public and the newspapers printed items concerning Anthony's suit, the story was beautifully rounded out--to Anthony's infinite disparagement. They began to hear rumors about themselves from all quarters, rumors founded usually on a soupcon of truth, but overlaid with preposterous and sinister detail.
Outwardly they showed no signs of deterioration. Gloria at twenty-six was still the Gloria of twenty; her complexion a fresh damp setting for her candid eyes; her hair still a childish glory, darkening slowly from corn color to a deep russet gold; her slender body suggesting ever a nymph running and dancing through Orphic groves. Masculine eyes, dozens of them, followed her with a fascinated stare when she walked through a hotel lobby or down the aisle of a theatre. Men asked to be introduced to her, fell into prolonged states of sincere admiration, made definite love to her--for she was still a thing of exquisite and unbelievable beauty. And for his part Anthony had rather gained than lost in appearance; his face had taken on a certain intangible air of tragedy, romantically contrasted with his trim and immaculate person.
Early in the winter, when all conversation turned on the probability of America's going into the war, when Anthony was making a desperate and sincere attempt to write, Muriel Kane arrived in New York and came immediately to see them. Like Gloria, she seemed never to change. She knew the latest slang, danced the latest dances, and talked of the latest songs and plays with all the fervor of her first season as a New York drifter. Her coyness was eternally new, eternally ineffectual; her clothes were extreme; her black hair was bobbed, now, like Gloria's.
"I've come up for the midwinter prom at New Haven," she announced, imparting her delightful secret. Though she must have been older then than any of the boys in college, she managed always to secure some sort of invitation, imagining vaguely that at the next party would occur the flirtation which was to end at the romantic altar.
"Where've you been?" inquired Anthony, unfailingly amused.
"I've been at Hot Springs. It's been slick and peppy this fall--more men!"
"Are you in love, Muriel?"
"What do you mean 'love'?" This was the rhetorical question of the year. "I'm going to tell you something," she said, switching the subject abruptly. "I suppose it's none of my business, but I think it's time for you two to settle down."
"Why, we are settled down."
"Yes, you are!" she scoffed archly. "Everywhere I go I hear stories of your escapades. Let me tell you, I have an awful time sticking up for you."
"You needn't bother," said Gloria coldly.
"Now, Gloria," she protested, "you know I'm one of your best friends."
Gloria was silent. Muriel continued:
"It's not so much the idea of a woman drinking, but Gloria's so pretty, and so many people know her by sight all around, that it's naturally conspicuous--"
"What have you heard recently?" demanded Gloria, her dignity going down before her curiosity.
"Well, for instance, that that party in Marietta killed Anthony's grandfather."
Instantly husband and wife were tense with annoyance.
"Why, I think that's outrageous."
"That's what they say," persisted Muriel stubbornly.
Anthony paced the room. "It's preposterous!" he declared. "The very people we take on parties shout the story around as a great joke--and eventually it gets back to us in some such form as this."
Gloria began running her finger through a stray red-dish curl. Muriel licked her veil as she considered her next remark.
"You ought to have a baby."
Gloria looked up wearily.
"We can't afford it."
"All the people in the slums have them," said Muriel triumphantly.
Anthony and Gloria exchanged a smile. They had reached the stage of violent quarrels that were never made up, quarrels that smouldered and broke out again at intervals or died away from sheer indifference--but this visit of Muriel's drew them temporarily together. When the discomfort under which they were living was remarked upon by a third party, it gave them the impetus to face this hostile world together. It was very seldom, now, that the impulse toward reunion sprang from within.
Anthony found himself associating his own existence with that of the apartment's night elevator man, a pale, scraggly bearded person of about sixty, with an air of being somewhat above his station. It was probably because of this quality that he had secured the position; it made him a pathetic and memorable figure of failure. Anthony recollected, without humor, a hoary jest about the elevator man's career being a matter of ups and downs--it was, at any rate, an enclosed life of infinite dreariness. Each time Anthony stepped into the car he waited breathlessly for the old man's "Well, I guess we're going to have some sunshine to-day." Anthony thought how little rain or sunshine he would enjoy shut into that close little cage in the smoke-colored, windowless hall.
A darkling figure, he attained tragedy in leaving the life that had used him so shabbily. Three young gunmen came in one night, tied him up and left him on a pile of coal in the cellar while they went through the trunk room. When the janitor found him next morning he had collapsed from chill. He died of pneumonia four days later.
He was replaced by a glib Martinique negro, with an incongruous British accent and a tendency to be surly, whom Anthony detested. The passing of the old man had approximately the same effect on him that the kitten story had had on Gloria. He was reminded of the cruelty of all life and, in consequence, of the increasing bitterness of his own.
He was writing--and in earnest at last. He had gone to Dick and listened for a tense hour to an elucidation of those minutiae of procedure which hitherto he had rather scornfully looked down upon. He needed money immediately--he was selling bonds every month to pay their bills. Dick was frank and explicit:
"So far as articles on literary subjects in these obscure magazines go, you couldn't make enough to pay your rent. Of course if a man has the gift of humor, or a chance at a big biography, or some specialized knowledge, he may strike it rich. But for you, fiction's the only thing. You say you need money right away?"
"I certainly do."
"Well, it'd be a year and a half before you'd make any money out of a novel. Try some popular short stories. And, by the way, unless they're exceptionally brilliant they have to be cheerful and on the side of the heaviest artillery to make you any money."
Anthony thought of Dick's recent output, which had been appearing in a well-known monthly. It was concerned chiefly with the preposterous actions of a class of sawdust effigies who, one was assured, were New York society people, and it turned, as a rule, upon questions of the heroine's technical purity, with mock-sociological overtones about the "mad antics of the four hundred."
"But your stories--" exclaimed Anthony aloud, almost involuntarily.
"Oh, that's different," Dick asserted astoundingly. "I have a reputation, you see, so I'm expected to deal with strong themes."
Anthony gave an interior start, realizing with this remark how much Richard Caramel had fallen off. Did he actually think that these amazing latter productions were as good as his first novel?
Anthony went back to the apartment and set to work. He found that the business of optimism was no mean task. After half a dozen futile starts he went to the public library and for a week investigated the files of a popular magazine. Then, better equipped, he accomplished his first story, "The Dictaphone of Fate." It was founded upon one of his few remaining impressions of that six weeks in Wall Street the year before. It purported to be the sunny tale of an office boy who, quite by accident, hummed a wonderful melody into the dictaphone. The cylinder was discovered by the boss's brother, a well-known producer of musical comedy--and then immediately lost. The body of the story was concerned with the pursuit of the missing cylinder and the eventual marriage of the noble office boy (now a successful composer) to Miss Rooney, the virtuous stenographer, who was half Joan of Arc and half Florence Nightingale.
He had gathered that this was what the magazines wanted. He offered, in his protagonists, the customary denizens of the pink-and-blue literary world, immersing them in a saccharine plot that would offend not a single stomach in Marietta. He had it typed in double space--this last as advised by a booklet, "Success as a Writer Made Easy," by R. Meggs Widdlestien, which assured the ambitious plumber of the futility of perspiration, since after a six-lesson course he could make at least a thousand dollars a month.
After reading it to a bored Gloria and coaxing from her the immemorial remark that it was "better than a lot of stuff that gets published," he satirically affixed the nom de plume of "Gilles de Sade," enclosed the proper return envelope, and sent it off.
Following the gigantic labor of conception he decided to wait until he heard from the first story before beginning another. Dick had told him that he might get as much as two hundred dollars. If by any chance it did happen to be unsuited, the editor's letter would, no doubt, give him an idea of what changes should be made.
"It is, without question, the most abominable piece of writing in existence," said Anthony.
The editor quite conceivably agreed with him. He returned the manuscript with a rejection slip. Anthony sent it off elsewhere and began another story. The second one was called "The Little Open Doors"; it was written in three days. It concerned the occult: an estranged couple were brought together by a medium in a vaudeville show.
There were six altogether, six wretched and pitiable efforts to "write down" by a man who had never before made a consistent effort to write at all. Not one of them contained a spark of vitality, and their total yield of grace and felicity was less than that of an average newspaper column. During their circulation they collected, all told, thirty-one rejection slips, headstones for the packages that he would find lying like dead bodies at his door.
In mid-January Gloria's father died, and they went again to Kansas City--a miserable trip, for Gloria brooded interminably, not upon her father's death, but on her mother's. Russel Gilbert's affairs having been cleared up they came into possession of about three thousand dollars, and a great amount of furniture. This was in storage, for he had spent his last days in a small hotel. It was due to his death that Anthony made a new discovery concerning Gloria. On the journey East she disclosed herself, astonishingly, as a Bilphist.
"Why, Gloria," he cried, "you don't mean to tell me you believe that stuff."
"Well," she said defiantly, "why not?"
"Because it's--it's fantastic. You know that in every sense of the word you're an agnostic. You'd laugh at any orthodox form of Christianity--and then you come out with the statement that you believe in some silly rule of reincarnation."
"What if I do? I've heard you and Maury, and every one else for whose intellect I have the slightest respect, agree that life as it appears is utterly meaningless. But it's always seemed to me that if I were unconsciously learning something here it might not be so meaningless."
"You're not learning anything--you're just getting tired. And if you must have a faith to soften things, take up one that appeals to the reason of some one beside a lot of hysterical women. A person like you oughtn't to accept anything unless it's decently demonstrable."
"I don't care about truth. I want some happiness."
"Well, if you've got a decent mind the second has got to be qualified by the first. Any simple soul can delude himself with mental garbage."
"I don't care," she held out stoutly, "and, what's more, I'm not propounding any doctrine."
The argument faded off, but reoccurred to Anthony several times thereafter. It was disturbing to find this old belief, evidently assimilated from her mother, inserting itself again under its immemorial disguise as an innate idea.
They reached New York in March after an expensive and ill-advised week spent in Hot Springs, and Anthony resumed his abortive attempts at fiction. As it became plainer to both of them that escape did not lie in the way of popular literature, there was a further slipping of their mutual confidence and courage. A complicated struggle went on incessantly between them. All efforts to keep down expenses died away from sheer inertia, and by March they were again using any pretext as an excuse for a "party." With an assumption of recklessness Gloria tossed out the suggestion that they should take all their money and go on a real spree while it lasted--anything seemed better than to see it go in unsatisfactory driblets.
"Gloria, you want parties as much as I do."
"It doesn't matter about me. Everything I do is in accordance with my ideas: to use every minute of these years, when I'm young, in having the best time I possibly can."
"How about after that?"
"After that I won't care."
"Yes, you will."
"Well, I may--but I won't be able to do anything about it. And I'll have had my good time."
"You'll be the same then. After a fashion, we have had our good time, raised the devil, and we're in the state of paying for it."
Nevertheless, the money kept going. There would be two days of gaiety, two days of moroseness--an endless, almost invariable round. The sharp pull-ups, when they occurred, resulted usually in a spurt of work for Anthony, while Gloria, nervous and bored, remained in bed or else chewed abstractedly at her fingers. After a day or so of this, they would make an engagement, and then--Oh, what did it matter? This night, this glow, the cessation of anxiety and the sense that if living was not purposeful it was, at any rate, essentially romantic! Wine gave a sort of gallantry to their own failure.
Meanwhile the suit progressed slowly, with interminable examinations of witnesses and marshallings of evidence. The preliminary proceedings of settling the estate were finished. Mr. Haight saw no reason why the case should not come up for trial before summer.
Bloeckman appeared in New York late in March; he had been in England for nearly a year on matters concerned with "Films Par Excellence." The process of general refinement was still in progress--always he dressed a little better, his intonation was mellower, and in his manner there was perceptibly more assurance that the fine things of the world were his by a natural and inalienable right. He called at the apartment, remained only an hour, during which he talked chiefly of the war, and left telling them he was coming again. On his second visit Anthony was not at home, but an absorbed and excited Gloria greeted her husband later in the afternoon.
"Anthony," she began, "would you still object if I went in the movies?"
His whole heart hardened against the idea. As she seemed to recede from him, if only in threat, her presence became again not so much precious as desperately necessary.
"Blockhead said he'd put me in--only if I'm ever going to do anything I'll have to start now. They only want young women. Think of the money, Anthony!"
"For you--yes. But how about me?"
"Don't you know that anything I have is yours too?"
"It's such a hell of a career!" he burst out, the moral, the infinitely circumspect Anthony, "and such a hell of a bunch. And I'm so utterly tired of that fellow Bloeckman coming here and interfering. I hate theatrical things."
"It isn't theatrical! It's utterly different."
"What am I supposed to do? Chase you all over the country? Live on your money?"
"Then make some yourself."
The conversation developed into one of the most violent quarrels they had ever had. After the ensuing reconciliation and the inevitable period of moral inertia, she realized that he had taken the life out of the project. Neither of them ever mentioned the probability that Bloeckman was by no means disinterested, but they both knew that it lay back of Anthony's objection.
In April war was declared with Germany. Wilson and his cabinet--a cabinet that in its lack of distinction was strangely reminiscent of the twelve apostles--let loose the carefully starved dogs of war, and the press began to whoop hysterically against the sinister morals, sinister philosophy, and sinister music produced by the Teutonic temperament. Those who fancied themselves particularly broad-minded made the exquisite distinction that it was only the German Government which aroused them to hysteria; the rest were worked up to a condition of retching indecency. Any song which contained the word "mother" and the word "kaiser" was assured of a tremendous success. At last every one had something to talk about--and almost every one fully enjoyed it, as though they had been cast for parts in a sombre and romantic play.
Anthony, Maury, and Dick sent in their applications for officers' training-camps and the two latter went about feeling strangely exalted and reproachless; they chattered to each other, like college boys, of war's being the one excuse for, and justification of, the aristocrat, and conjured up an impossible caste of officers, to be composed, it appeared, chiefly of the more attractive alumni of three or four Eastern colleges. It seemed to Gloria that in this huge red light streaming across the nation even Anthony took on a new glamour.
The Tenth Infantry, arriving in New York from Panama, were escorted from saloon to saloon by patriotic citizens, to their great bewilderment. West Pointers began to be noticed for the first time in years, and the general impression was that everything was glorious, but not half so glorious as it was going to be pretty soon, and that everybody was a fine fellow, and every race a great race--always excepting the Germans--and in every strata of society outcasts and scapegoats had but to appear in uniform to be forgiven, cheered, and wept over by relatives, ex-friends, and utter strangers.
Unfortunately, a small and precise doctor decided that there was something the matter with Anthony's blood-pressure. He could not conscientiously pass him for an officers' training-camp.
The Broken Lute
Their third anniversary passed, uncelebrated, unnoticed. The season warmed in thaw, melted into hotter summer, simmered and boiled away. In July the will was offered for probate, and upon the contestation was assigned by the surrogate to trial term for trial. The matter was prolonged into September--there was difficulty in empanelling an unbiassed jury because of the moral sentiments involved. To Anthony's disappointment a verdict was finally returned in favor of the testator, whereupon Mr. Haight caused a notice of appeal to be served upon Edward Shuttleworth.
As the summer waned Anthony and Gloria talked of the things they were to do when the money was theirs, and of the places they were to go to after the war, when they would "agree on things again," for both of them looked forward to a time when love, springing like the phoenix from its own ashes, should be born again in its mysterious and unfathomable haunts.
He was drafted early in the fall, and the examining doctor made no mention of low blood-pressure. It was all very purposeless and sad when Anthony told Gloria one night that he wanted, above all things, to be killed. But, as always, they were sorry for each other for the wrong things at the wrong times....
They decided that for the present she was not to go with him to the Southern camp where his contingent was ordered. She would remain in New York to "use the apartment," to save money, and to watch the progress of the case--which was pending now in the Appellate Division, of which the calendar, Mr. Haight told them, was far behind.
Almost their last conversation was a senseless quarrel about the proper division of the income--at a word either would have given it all to the other. It was typical of the muddle and confusion of their lives that on the October night when Anthony reported at the Grand Central Station for the journey to camp, she arrived only in time to catch his eye over the anxious heads of a gathered crowd. Through the dark light of the enclosed train-sheds their glances stretched across a hysterical area, foul with yellow sobbing and the smells of poor women. They must have pondered upon what they had done to one another, and each must have accused himself of drawing this sombre pattern through which they were tracing tragically and obscurely. At the last they were too far away for either to see the other's tears.
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