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Title: The Briary Bush - A Novel
Author: Dell, Floyd
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Project Info



                                  THE

                              BRIARY-BUSH

                                A Novel

                                   By

                               Floyd Dell



                    [Illustration: Publisher’s Logo]



                                New York
                           Alfred · A · Knopf
                                  1921


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY
                         ALFRED A. KNOPF, INC.

                PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                   TO

                        S. A. TANNENBAUM, M.D.,

                          EXPLORER OF THE DARK
                         CONTINENT OF THE MIND


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                  “_Oh, the briary-bush
                   That pricks my heart so sore!
                   If I ever get out of the briary-bush
                   I’ll never get in any more!_”
                                        —Old Song


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                CONTENTS

BOOK ONE: COMMUNITY HOUSE

             CHAPTER
                   I FELIX DECIDES TO CHANGE HIS CHARACTER  3
                  II “BON VOYAGE!”  9
                 III PLANS  22
                  IV SURPRISES  28
                   V THE STRUGGLE FOR EXISTENCE  37
                  VI A GUIDE TO CHICAGO  47
                 VII WORK AND PLAY  52
                VIII ROSE-ANN GOES AWAY  62

BOOK TWO: CANAL STREET

                  IX HOW TO SPEND ONE’S EVENINGS  69
                   X THE DETACHED ATTITUDE  75
                  XI AN ADVENTURE IN PHILOSOPHY  83
                 XII BACHELOR’S HALL  89
                XIII IN HOSPITAL  99

BOOK THREE: WOODS POINT

                 XIV HEART AND HAND  105

                  XV PRE-NUPTIAL  108

                 XVI CLIVE’S ASSISTANCE  114

                XVII CHARIVARI  121

               XVIII THE AUTHORITY OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
                       131

                 XIX TOGETHER  134

                  XX “THE NEST-BUILDING INSTINCT”  143

BOOK FOUR: FIFTY-SEVENTH STREET

                 XXI ADVANCEMENT  155

                XXII MAINLY ABOUT CLOTHES  162

               XXIII A BARGAIN IN UTOPIAS  170

                XXIV STUDIO  176

                 XXV ST. GEORGE OF THE MINUTE  180

                XXVI WHAT ROSE-ANN WANTED  187

               XXVII PARTIES  197

              XXVIII A FATHER-IN-LAW  201

                XXIX INTERLUDE AT MIDNIGHT  207

                 XXX FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS  210

                XXXI MORE OR LESS THEATRICAL  215

               XXXII DUTY  224

              XXXIII A PARABLE  231

               XXXIV JOURNEYS  235

                XXXV CIVILIZATION  244

               XXXVI “WE NEEDS MUST KNOW THAT IN THE DAYS TO
                       COME”  247

              XXXVII SYMBOLS  249

             XXXVIII THE PORTRAIT OF FELIX FAY  254

               XXXIX A DATE ON THE CALENDAR  259

                  XL CELEBRATION  264

BOOK FIVE: GARFIELD BOULEVARD

                 XLI CHANGES  271
                XLII AN APPARITION  275
               XLIII NOCTURNE  280
                XLIV AUBADE  292
                 XLV FOURSOME  297
                XLVI THE REHEARSAL  307
               XLVII GYGE’S RING  312
              XLVIII DREAM-TRYST  317
                XLIX A MATTER OF CONVENTION  322
                   L BABES IN THE WOOD  330
                  LI “BIENFAITS DE LA LUNE”  334
                 LII SLEEPLESS NIGHTS  341
                LIII TWO LETTERS  348
                 LIV THE GOD AND THE PEDESTAL  353

BOOK SIX: WILSON AVENUE

                  LV THE CONSOLATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY  363
                 LVI EULENSPIEGEL  371
                LVII THREE DAYS  380
               LVIII RENDEZVOUS  385
                 LIX UNANSWERED QUESTIONS  394
                  LX A LEAVE-TAKING  397
                 LXI TWO MEN DISCUSS A GIRL  401
                LXII THEORY AND PRACTICE  408
               LXIII IN PLAY  416
                LXIV IN EARNEST      422


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                                                Book One
                                                         Community House

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                I. Felix Decides to Change His Character

                                   1

CHICAGO!

Felix Fay saw with his mind’s eye the map on the wall of the railway
station—the map with a picture of iron roads from all over the middle
west centering in a dark blotch in the corner.

He was sitting at a desk in the office of the Port Royal Daily Record,
writing headings on sheaves of items sent in by country correspondents.

_John Hoffman has finished his new barn._

_Born to Mr. and Mrs. Elbert Hayes last Wednesday a fine ten pound boy._

_Miss Edythe Brush has returned to the State Normal for the fall term._

And so on.

Felix wrote at the top of the page, _Wheaton Whittlings_. A rotten
heading—but it would have to do. He yawned, and then stared unseeingly
at the next page.

He was not thinking about those news-items. He was thinking about
Chicago....

A year ago, he had determined to leave Port Royal forever—and go to
Chicago.

But here he was, still!

                                   2

He had hoped, a year ago, to find, in the excitement of a new life in
Chicago, healing for the desperate hurts of love. If only he had gone
then!...

But he hadn’t had the money to buy a railway ticket.

He had taken this job on the Record, and settled down to life in Port
Royal again as a reporter.

His twenty-first year had gone by.

The hurts of love, so intolerably hard to bear, had healed.

After all, Joyce Tennant had loved him; nothing could ever take away his
memories of those starlit evenings on the river, and in the little cabin
on their lonely island. She had loved him, she had been his. There was
comfort in that thought.... The hurts of love had healed.

But the hurts of pride remained. Loving him, she had chosen to marry
another. That wound still ached....

She had seen him all along for what he was—a moonstruck dreamer! She had
thought him the fit companion of a reckless love-adventure—that was all.

Her scorn, or what seemed to him her scorn, mirrored and magnified by
the secret consciousness of his own weakness, came to assume in his mind
the proportions of a final and universal judgment.

A dreamer? And a dreamer only? His egotism could not endure the thought.

The shadow-world of ideas, of theories, of poetic fancies, amidst which
he had moved all his life, was not enough. He must live in the real
world.

Chicago became for him the symbol of that real world. It was no longer a
place of refuge—it was a test, a challenge. He would go there not as a
moonstruck dreamer, but as a realist, able to face the hard facts of
life.

He would become a different person.

He was tired of being Felix Fay the fool, the poet, the theorist. He
would rather be anybody else in the world than that Felix Fay whose
ridiculous blunderings he knew by heart.

He could imagine himself in Chicago, a changed person—a young man of
action, practical, alert, ruthlessly competitive....

Dreaming of success in Chicago, he sat idly at his desk in Port Royal.

                                   3

It was late in the afternoon. No one was left in the office but himself
and Hastings, the city editor.

“Fay!”

He looked up. The city editor beckoned him over.

“Look at this.”

Hastings held in his hand the sheaf of items from Wheaton, over which
Felix had casually written a heading half an hour before. Felix held out
his hand and took them. Something was wrong. He looked anxiously at the
items, written in grey pencil on coarse paper in a straggling hand. The
page uppermost was numbered “3.” He had hardly glanced at it. Evidently
he had overlooked something.

It caught his eye instantly—the second item from the top:

    _A man named Cyrus Jenks, known as Old Cy, committed suicide
    last night by hanging himself in the barn. He was a well-known
    village character, chiefly noted for his intemperate habits. The
    inquest will be held today. His one good trait was his devotion
    to his old mother, who died recently. He was her illegitimate
    child. She was one of the Bensons, who until her disgrace were
    one of the principal families in the county. Her father was
    Judge Benson. The family moved to North Dakota years ago, and
    left her here in the old family home, where she lived alone with
    her son until she died. Before hanging himself Old Cy set fire
    to the house, and it was partly burned. Since the old lady’s
    death he had received several offers for the place, but refused
    to sell, and said that no one should ever set foot in his
    mother’s house. The incident is causing much local comment._

Felix drew a long breath. He certainly had overlooked something! He
could see that story, with its headlines, on the front page of the
Record—rewritten by himself. It was just the kind of story that he could
handle in a way to bring out all its values. And he had had it in his
hands—and had let it pass through them, buried in a collection of
worthless country items!

“The postmistress at Wheaton,” Hastings was saying gently, “is not
supposed to know a front-page story. You are supposed to know—that is
the theory on which you are hired.”

Felix did not reply. There was nothing to be said.

Hastings was looking at him thoughtfully. “I don’t know what’s got into
you, Felix,” he said. “I thought you were going to make a good newspaper
man. And sometimes I think so still. But mostly—you aren’t worth a
damn.”

“Yes, sir,” said Felix. “—I mean, no, I don’t think I am, either.”

He was going to be fired.... Well, he deserved it. He ought to have been
fired long ago. And he was rather glad that it was happening.

Hastings was rather taken aback. “Well,” he said, “frankly, I was going
to let you go. But—well, there’s no harm done this time; we’d already
gone to press when that stuff came in. Of course, I don’t say that
your—your letting it get by was excusable. In fact, I simply can’t
understand it. But—if you realize—”

So he was not going to be fired after all! Felix was unaccountably
sorry.

“If you think you can pull yourself together—” said Hastings. “I’d hate
to have you leave the Record. I’ve always—”

Felix felt desperate. He knew now why he wanted to be fired. It would
give him the necessary push into his Chicago adventure. He would never
have the courage to leave this job, and venture into the unknown, upon
his own initiative. He didn’t have any initiative.

“I don’t think it’s any use, Mr. Hastings,” he said, “keeping me on the
Record.”

Hastings stared at him incredulously.

“I mean,” Felix went on hastily, “I’ve got in a rut. I go through my
work mechanically. I don’t use my brains. I’m dull. And it’s getting
worse. I simply can’t take any interest in my work.”

“You mean you want to be fired?” Hastings asked severely.

It was absurd. In fact, it was preposterous. This was not the way to do
it at all. But it was too late now.

“Yes, sir,” he said.

“Well, then, you are.” Hastings looked coldly at the ungrateful and
rather sheepish-looking youth standing before him. “Have you got another
job?” he asked suspiciously.

“No—I’m going to Chicago to look for one.”

As soon as he said that, he wished he hadn’t. It committed him to going.
He couldn’t back out now. He had to go.

“And I haven’t any money except my pay-check for this week.”

He hadn’t thought of that before. How could he go without money?

“Will you lend me fifty dollars?”

It had slipped out without his intending it. Felix blushed. He was
certainly behaving like a fool. After proving himself to Hastings an
utter incompetent, to ask him for money.... He would go on a freight
train....

“Fifty—what are you talking about? Chicago!” Hastings was embarrassed,
too. “Why—why—yes, I can lend you some money, if you really want it....
Chicago—I don’t know but what you’re right, after all.... When are you
going?”

Felix was trying to think now before he spoke. He just managed to check
himself on the point of saying, “Tonight!”

All this was happening too swiftly. He needed time to consider
everything, to make his plans. A month would be none too much.

“Next m—Monday,” he said.

                                   4

When Felix left the office he went home by a round-about way which took
him up through one of the quiet residential streets of the town. He
turned a corner, and walked slowly down past a row of cheerful little
houses set back within well-kept lawns. There was nothing magnificent or
showy about these houses—they did not betoken any vast prosperity or
leisure, but only a moderate comfort and security. They might perhaps
suggest a certain middle-class smugness; but even that was no reason why
Felix should have looked at them from under his slouching hat-brim with
such a grimace of hostility. As he neared a particular one of these
houses, he walked faster and bent his head, casting a furtive glance at
its windows. But there was no one to be seen at those windows, and so
Felix looked again and slowed his step a little. In front of the house
he paused momentarily and looked at it with an apparently casual glance.

He had gone past that house, in this manner, a dozen times in the past
year, savoring painfully each time the hard, unmistakable, disciplinary
fact that there, contentedly under that roof, the wife of its owner,
lived Joyce—his Joyce of only a year ago. He had come, now, to read that
lesson in realism for the last time.

He did not want to see the girl who had taught him that lesson. He only
wanted to look at this house in which she lived as another man’s wife.

But, as he walked on past, he did see her. She was standing on the
little side verandah. And in the vivid picture of her which Felix’s eyes
caught before he looked hastily away, he saw that she had a baby in her
arms.

She was looking down at the baby, shaking her head teasingly above it so
that stray locks of her yellow hair touched its face. It uttered a faint
cry, and she shook her curly head again, and looked up, smiling.

But she did not see Felix. She was looking down the street past him. She
was waiting for someone—for the owner of this house, her husband;
waiting for the man who was the father of her child.

This Felix saw and felt with a bewildered and hurt mind in the moment
before he turned his eyes away to stare at the sidewalk in front of him.
He walked on, and in another moment he must perforce enter the field of
her vision as he passed along the street in which her eyes were
searching for another man. He braced himself, threw his head back, and
commenced to whistle a careless tune.

If she saw him, if she noted the familiar slouch of his hat as he passed
out of her sight, she would never know that he had seen—or cared.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           II. “Bon Voyage!”

                                   1

THE family were apparently not at all surprised when, at the
supper-table, Felix announced his sudden decision.

“Well, I knew you’d be going one of these days,” his brother Ed
remarked.

That seemed strange to Felix, who had kept his Chicago intentions
carefully to himself all that year....

And his brother Jim, who was working again in spite of his lameness, was
quite converted from his supper-table querulousness by the announcement.
“When I was in Chicago—” he said, and told stories of the Chicago of ten
years ago, where he had tried briefly to gain a foothold. It remained in
his mind, it seemed, not as a failure, but as a glorious excursion....

Alice, Ed’s wife, was enchanted. Her cheeks glowed, and she asked
endless questions. It appeared that none of them had the slightest doubt
of Felix’s ultimate, and splendid, success. It really seemed as if they
envied him!

And all the while, Felix was thinking what an ironic spectacle he would
present if he returned home in a month or two. He clenched his fists
under the table-edge, and swore to himself that he would
never—never—make that confession of failure....

“You must write to your mother and tell her all about it, Felix,” said
Alice.

His mother and father were down on the farm in Illinois where Mrs. Fay
had lived as a little girl. She had never adjusted herself to town life;
nor had her husband. They were best content in the country, where she
could grow flowers in the front yard and he could fatten and butcher and
salt down a couple of hogs for the winter.... Their only grievance was
that their children found so little time to come and visit them. Ed
usually came once a year, in the slack season, and Jim when he needed a
rest; but Felix, it seemed, was always too busy....

“Why bother her about my going to Chicago?” Felix grumbled.

“Why, Felix!” Alice reproached him. She could never understand why it
was so hard for him to write to his mother.

“I don’t want her worrying about me,” Felix explained uncomfortably.

“She won’t worry about you,” Alice insisted. “She’ll be proud of you!”

Felix wondered if people always had to lie to themselves about their
prospects before they could do anything.... Perhaps he ought to lie to
himself; but he preferred to face the facts as they were. He would have
to embellish them a little, however, in writing to his mother....

When supper was cleared away, and Jim had gone out to sit on the front
steps, and Ed and Alice were in the front room playing one of the newest
records on the phonograph, Felix wrote briefly and shyly to his
mother—explaining that he was fairly certain to get something to do in
Chicago very quickly.... And then, by way of savouring in advance the
grim realities of his adventure, he wrote a long letter to Helen Raymond
in New York—a letter in which he made clear the wild recklessness of his
plans. He felt that the woman who had befriended him when she was the
librarian at Port Royal and he a queer boy who worked in a factory and
wrote poetry, would understand this newest folly of his.

But what a waste of time, writing letters, when he had only six days
left in which to prepare for going to Chicago!... He determined to use
those remaining days very carefully and sensibly.

He bought a street map the next morning, and went home to study it. But
it was hard to give it due attention at home. His sister-in-law was
mending and pressing his clothes, and collecting and inspecting his
shirts, and talking excitedly about his trip. “If you run short of
money, Felix, you just write to us for it. Ed and I will see that you
get it somehow.” Felix was fiercely resolved not to be a burden to them
after he went to Chicago, and these offers made him uncomfortable. Why
should Alice be so interested in this expedition of his anyway? She was
as concerned about it as though it were she herself who was going. She
wanted to know his plans; and when he did not seem to have any, she
persisted in trying to make them for him.

He was not going to get any opportunity to study that street map at
home. He decided that he would go and spend a few days at his friend Tom
Alden’s little place in the country, where he would find a more
congenial atmosphere.

                                   2

Too congenial! Tom was the same perfect companion of an idle
hour—instinctively expert in gilding that idleness with delightful talk
until it ceased to seem mere idleness—the same old Tom that Felix had
loafed away long evenings with last summer, when they were supposed to
be writing novels. Tom was still desultorily working upon his novel; but
he put it aside to walk in the woods and talk with Felix about Chicago.
It was not, however, of the grim Chicago which loomed in Felix’s mind,
that Tom talked.

Tom, as Felix now realized, was a romantic soul. Chicago had been to him
a series of brilliant vacation-trips, a place of happy occasional
sanctuary from the dull realities of middle-class life in Port Royal: an
opportunity for brief, stimulating human contacts, not at all a place to
earn a living in.

Lying in the cool grass beside the creek where he and Felix had spent so
many illusioned hours a summer ago, he talked with dreamy enthusiasm of
genial drunken poets and philosophers and friends met at the Pen
Club—and of their girl companions, charming and sophisticated, whose
loves were frank and light-hearted.

Felix walked up and down impatiently. A year ago he too had dreamed of
Tom’s Chicago—

                        “_Midnights of revel
                         And noondays of song!_”

But he knew better now. He could imagine the Pen Club, with its
boon-companionship of whiskey and mutual praise. These, he told himself,
were the consolations of failure. He might, he reflected grimly, have to
fall back on these things at forty. But in the meantime he would try to
learn to face reality.

And those light Chicago loves—he suspected that the romantic temperament
had thrown a glamour over these also. He was not going to Chicago for
Pen Club friendship nor the solace of complaisant femininity.... While
Tom Alden reminisced of glorious nights of talk and drink and kisses,
Felix was brooding over a scene inside his mind which he called
Chicago—a scene in which the insane clamour of the wheat-pit was mingled
with stockyards brutality and filth. This was what he must deal with....

“What’s on your mind?” Tom asked.

“Nothing. Except—I came here to study my street map, and I haven’t
looked inside it.”

“Never mind your street map just now,” Tom said. “We’re going to the
station to meet Gloria and Madge.”

Madge was a cousin of Tom’s, and Gloria her especial—and
beautiful—friend. They were just back from a trip abroad, and Tom had
asked them out to dinner to hear what they had to tell.

“You mustn’t be prejudiced against Gloria because of her eyelashes,” Tom
urged. “She has rather a mind, I think.”

So Felix, reluctantly, went along to the station.

Tom jested at his reluctance. “Why, are you afraid of becoming entangled
in Gloria’s celebrated eyelashes?”

“No, I’m not afraid of that,” Felix said.

Tom laughed and put his hand on Felix’s shoulder.

“Think, they bring us news of the great world: London! Paris! Doesn’t
that stir you?”

“No,” Felix retorted, “for I don’t believe it. They bring back what they
took with them.”

“Wait and see! I hear rumours that Gloria has become fearfully
cosmopolitan.”

When Gloria and Madge stepped from the train, it was evident, even to so
careless an observer as Felix, that they had been at least outwardly
transformed. Every woman in Port Royal was wearing the wide-flaring
“Merry Widow” hat; and these girls wore small close-fitting
hats—Gloria’s being a jaunty little flower-confection, and Madge’s a
tiny straw turban set off by a perky feather.

“Dear old Tom,” said Gloria, embracing him affectionately. “Too busy to
come to town to see old friends, so old friends have to come see him.
Busy writing great novel?”

“More or less,” Tom answered, and they started back up the road. “How’s
Europe?”

“We tore ourselves from the arms of doting relatives to come and tell
you—When one’s been all over the world, what’s a few miles more? ...
even when it means getting one’s new Paris shoes all dusty! Have you
noticed them, Tom?” She paused on one toe and looked down sidewise
admiringly at her foot.

“I noticed a generally exotic effect,” Tom admitted.

“Tan suede!” Gloria explained. “And then, our blouses. Something quite
new. And—but mustn’t talk to great philosopher about such frivolous
things. Must talk about art and socialism. There are lots of socialists
over there, in France and Germany—and even in England!”

“So you found that out,” Tom observed. “Now I suppose you regard
socialism as quite respectable.”

“Oh, most respectable. But just as hard to understand as ever! Though I
was able, when I talked to some of them at the Countess of Berwick’s
tea, to appear quite intelligent on the subject, on account of having
listened to you. I used ‘proletarian’ and ‘proletariat’ without once
getting them mixed.”

“The Countess of Berwick! Our little Gloria flew high, didn’t she?”

“Oh, all sorts of people go to the Countess of Berwick’s teas. You’ve
only to be reputed ‘interesting,’ and you get invited everywhere. And
how do you suppose I got into the ‘interesting’ class? Not by my gifts
of intellect, Tommy. But—you know, they expect Americans to behave
queerly. They’re disappointed if we don’t. There was an American poet
over there, a tame professor poet, and they were disappointed because he
didn’t come to dinner in boots and spurs and a red shirt or something.
So I bethought myself—and got invited. You know my baby-talk? I brought
it out and polished it up for the occasion. You should have heard me!
Baby-talking to England’s brightest and best. And they fell for it. They
consider it oh, so American! I nearly set a fashion in London, Tommy.
Me, having been brought up in Miss Pettit’s most exclusive school, and
taught to act like a lady, and then making a hit in London with bad
manners. The baby-talk wasn’t all. Daughter of American Plough Magnate
Puts Feet on Table and Tells Naughty Stories—that sort of thing. They
like it.”

“You mustn’t believe her, Tom,” Madge interrupted. “She didn’t do any
such thing.”

“Tom understands me,” Gloria laughed. “Exaggeration for effect. Just
like in a novel. If you put my London visit in a novel, Tom, you’d have
me putting my feet on the table, wouldn’t you?”

“But my imagination,” said Tom, “would balk at the picture of you
telling naughty stories.”

“Oh, but Tom, I’ve been to Paris since you used to know me, and I’ve
become very, very wicked. Don’t contradict me, Madge. I’ve got to
persuade Tom that I got some benefit out of my year abroad. Yes, Tom,
you’ve no idea how broad-minded Paris has made me. Why, if somebody
should mention a man’s ‘mistress’ to me now, I wouldn’t shudder and turn
pale. I would probably say, ‘Dear me, has he only one?’ That’s what
Paris has made of me. I’m brazen, Tom—brazen.”

They reached the house, and there they chattered on till dinner, and
through dinner, and after dinner in Tom’s living room—Felix playing a
silent part, and inwardly contemptuous of Gloria’s assumed
sophistication. Gloria made a few attempts to draw him into the
conversation, but these being resisted, she devoted herself to Tom.
Growing confidential, she told him the newest fashions in French
lingerie—Madge protesting only slightly, for after all, wasn’t Tom her
cousin? and Felix didn’t count. “They’re still wearing muslin over
here,” said Gloria, “while we, Tom dear, come from Paris intimately
attired in georgette and chiffon—if you know what that means. All the
difference in the world, I can assure you! One’s Puritanism goes when
one puts on chiffon next to one’s skin. And think, Tom, I never dreamed,
all my poor wasted life in Iowa, that nightgowns could be anything but
white muslin. Well, you should see the lovely nighties that Madge and I
brought home. You’d never guess the colour.... Lavender! Why, the social
circles of Port Royal are rocking with it! A blow, Tom, at the very
foundations of middle-class morality. Lavender nighties!”

“I do think,” Tom said, “that what people wear makes a difference in
their attitude toward life.”

“Oh, I can feel the difference already. My Presbyterian conscience
shrivelled up and perished at the touch of that pagan garment. My whole
attitude toward life has changed.”

Felix shrugged his shoulders by way of expressing his unbelief in the
paganism of lavender nightgowns.

“What are they writing in Paris now?” Tom asked.

“Well, Tom, I admit I was surprised at first. I never dreamed that even
the French could be so—French. But I got used to it. I like it now. Even
Madge likes it. She makes me translate the wickedest passages for her.”

“I don’t any such thing,” Madge objected.

“What is there so wicked in those passages?” asked Felix, speaking for
almost the first time.

Gloria considered him for a moment before replying. “Nothing really
wicked at all,” she said. “Wicked only according to our stupid
Anglo-Saxon notions. Simply frank, that’s all.”

“I wonder,” said Felix, “if they are really more frank than English
novels—the best of them. Defoe and Fielding were rather frank, you
know.”

Gloria shrugged her pretty shoulders. “If there was anything like that
in Defoe and Fielding, it escaped my innocent young mind when I read
them.” She turned again to Tom. “They omit nothing—Nothing!”

“You excite my curiosity,” Tom said sceptically. “Please describe more
specifically the Nothing which they omit.”

Gloria laughed, and sketched lightly and brightly the plot of one of the
most outrageous new French novels—extreme, she admitted, even for
France. “Every other chapter,” she said, “is one which the boldest
English novelist would leave to your imagination. In this story, here it
is, with, I assure you, a wealth of detail.”

“A wealth of words, rather, I suspect,” said Tom. “The same words that
have done duty in the same French novels for a generation:
_volupté_—_exquise_—_baiser_—_baiser_.... The same old thing, so far as
I gather from your description, Gloria. That kind of eloquent rhetoric
isn’t frankness,—at least not the kind of literary frankness that Felix
and I are interested in.”

“Forgive me, Tom!” said Gloria, with mock humility. “My mistake! Here I
have been going across the ocean in search of sensation, and all the
while the real shock was waiting for me right here at home. In your
novel you have doubtless outdone the puny efforts of these mere
foreigners. What do they know about frankness? I abase myself, and
repent in dust and ashes!”

“I really do think,” said Tom, “that you imagine the truth can be told
only in French.”

“I suppose I was guilty of that foolish error. But I pine for
enlightenment. Give me the truth—the Truth!—in my own native tongue!”

Tom shook his head. “I didn’t say I had tried to tell it.”

“Oh, don’t disappoint me that way, Tom. Surely you are not going to let
these Frenchmen put it over on you! Don’t say that!”

“Well,” Tom said gravely, “Felix has a chapter in his novel here—I found
the manuscript in my desk and was just reading it again the other
day—that I think goes a little beyond anything I have ever seen in any
French novel.”

Gloria turned to Felix and stared. “Well!” she cried. “America is saved!
Will you read it to us, Mr. Fay?”

“No,” he said.

“Oh, why not!”

“Don’t want to.”

“I think you show a lack of confidence in us, Mr. Fay. Here we put
ourselves in your hand. We open our hearts to you. We conceal nothing.
And you sit there with a masterpiece of literary frankness up your
sleeve, and refuse to read it. I don’t think it’s fair.”

Felix was silent. He really wanted to read that chapter. He was proud of
it. But he must not become interested in novel-writing again. It would
distract his mind too much from the Chicago adventure. That unfinished
novel ought to remain in that drawer in Tom’s desk until he had made
good in Chicago.

“I don’t believe it’s so frank, after all,” said Gloria, returning to
the attack. “That’s why you’re afraid to read it. You’re afraid of
disappointing our expectations.”

Felix looked at her defiantly.

“All right, I will,” he said.

“Oh, this is worth coming back for.”

He rose and went to Tom’s room. He returned, a little doubtfully, with
the manuscript. “I want to say first of all that there is nothing
intentionally shocking about this chapter. It simply aims to tell how
people really behave under circumstances usually glossed over with
romantic phrases.”

At any rate, Gloria would understand; so why should he hesitate?

He began to read. From the first page, he was aware of a transformation
in the atmosphere of the occasion. Gloria, who had been leaning forward
with dramatic eagerness, became rigid in her attitude, and her humorous
smile seemed to have become tensely frozen in its place. Madge had
picked up a magazine, opened it to a picture, and continued to look at
the picture while listening alertly, with an air of being at a key-hole.
Tom continued gravely smoking his pipe, apparently oblivious of any
constraint upon the others. After a little, Gloria carefully relaxed her
attitude, and leaned back, looking above Felix’s head, with an impassive
face and arms straight at her sides. Felix defiantly read on.

He knew there was nothing really shocking about the chapter—at least, to
an enlightened and adult mind such as Gloria’s. It did not occur to him
that in its local colour and middle-western psychology, there was
something—not present in the most highly flavoured French romance—to
disturb the pretences and awake the painful and ashamed memories of a
middle-western mind: something sufficiently near to the unromantic truth
of Gloria’s own secret life, perhaps, to evoke in her an hysterical
disgust.... He only knew that the situation was becoming uncomfortable,
and that he was sorry he had ever got into it.

He finished the chapter. There ensued a painful silence.

“Very remarkable writing indeed, Mr. Fay,” was all the comment the young
woman back from abroad had to offer. Evidently what was delightfully
daring in Paris was something else in Port Royal on the Mississippi....

Felix, not knowing quite what to think, went to put his manuscript away.
Surely Gloria could not have been really shocked!... When he returned,
they were all talking with animation about something else.... Presently
it was time for the girls to leave. “I hear you’re going to Chicago
soon,” Gloria said sweetly to Felix. “_Bon voyage!_”

“I have made a fool of myself again,” Felix said to himself bitterly.

                                   3

The next day, and the next, Felix and Tom talked again about Chicago;
but not in the realistic vein Felix would have preferred. Tonight he
must go back to town; he had already stayed too long—he was falling into
his old habit of day-dreaming about the future.... That chapter had set
him off. Gloria had been—well, startled and impressed, to say the least.
That chapter _was_ good. Perhaps he was destined to help bring back to
English fiction its lost candour, the candour of the Elizabethans and
Defoe and Fielding.

But no, he must not think about such things now. He would have no time
for writing, for a long while, in Chicago. He would be too much immersed
in the struggle for existence. If he were to write novels, he ought to
stay in Port Royal. Yes, he might take the civil service examination and
get a quiet job in the post-office that would give him time to think and
dream and write....

He sprang up. He knew quite well what this meant. Cowardice! If he got
into the post-office, he would stay there forever.... He started
abruptly toward the house, leaving Tom in the midst of an anecdote of
old Chicago days.

He had left the map on Tom’s desk. His novel was in that same desk. If
he started reading that novel again, he might decide to stay in Port
Royal and finish it. He wondered whether the map or the novel would
claim him when he sat down at that desk. Five minutes at that desk might
decide his whole future for him....

He went into Tom’s room, went over to the desk—and from a letter lying
open beside the pen-tray there flashed up to him his own name, _Felix
Fay_ ... with a fringe of words about it.

Those words startled him, and he bent over the letter to make sure that
they were really there; he read them, and turned to see the signature—it
was that of Madge Alden; and then he sat down in Tom’s chair and read
slowly that paragraph of three sentences.

    “_Is that nasty young man Felix Fay really a friend of yours? I
    think he’d better leave Port Royal quick. The story of that
    horrible chapter is all over town and—well, if you knew the
    things Gloria is saying about him!_”

So Gloria had betrayed him to Port Royal.

                                   4

He sank back in his chair, amazed at his sensations. He had never
thought any written words could affect him like that. He had never cared
what people thought....

It was absurd. He felt as though a cannon-ball had gone through his
abdomen. He sat there, weak, stunned, gasping for breath—with a mind
curiously detached, floating somewhere above that stunned body,
wondering.... It was curious that anything in the world could hurt so
much.

Then, in a rush, all his energy seemed to come back, flooding and
filling his body—as if to provide him the strength with which to return
blow for blow. And that superfluity of strength was worse than the
weakness had been—for there was no one, nothing to fight. Words out of
the air had hurt him, and he could not fight back.

The emotion which flooded him ebbed at last, leaving him in a curious
mood of utter coldness. The thought came into his mind: “Nothing that
ever happens to me can hurt me after this—nothing.”

He opened the drawer. He wanted to see that unfinished novel. He wanted
to know what it was really like. He felt capable of judging it calmly.

He turned the pages here and there, reading at random, now with
affection and now with contempt, making up his mind.... He suddenly
realized that he was feeling ashamed of it all. He did not realize that
this new humiliation, at the hands of a girl, had awakened painful
memories of the love-affair which he had celebrated in this novel, and
which had ended so differently in real life from the way it was to end
in this book; he only knew that he was ashamed.

The style, he said to himself, was bad—very bad.

He forced himself to read again the chapter which had caused all the
trouble. It made him smile painfully. Why, this bald and painstaking
frankness of his was not courageous, it was merely comic!... He turned
the pages again. This stuff was not a novel.

He had been an idler, a dreamer, a fool....

And suddenly he remembered something—a scene from a long time ago: it
was in school, and the principal was looking over a boy’s shoulder at a
piece of paper upon which, day-dreaming of his future, the boy had
written: “_Felix Fay, the great novelist_....”

He heard the principal telling that boy to write those words on the
blackboard, to show the class what he had been doing instead of
attending to his lessons. He saw the boy, pale and trembling, rise and
face a hundred curious, staring eyes....

Felix had not recalled that scene for years; it had hurt too much. But
now it was no longer painful. He saw the scene for the first time
impersonally; and he felt that the principal had been right....

Gazing down at the manuscript in his hand, he pronounced sentence upon
it in the words in which the principal had once condemned that boy.
“This is what is known as egotism,” he whispered.

He rose, stuffed the pages into Tom’s fireplace and set fire to them
with a match. Then, while the record of all his futile dreaming went up
in smoky flame, he turned back to the desk, sat down, and bent over the
microscopic squares and confused lettering of the street-map of Chicago.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               III. Plans

                                   1

COMING home, Felix found a letter from Helen Raymond, congratulating him
on his decision to go to Chicago, and enclosing two letters of
introduction, one of them to an editorial writer on an afternoon paper,
the other to some one at a settlement house.

Helen was, he perceived, like Tom, a romanticist. She would be quite
capable of believing that these little pieces of paper assured him a
welcome in Chicago!... She had, with a kind of pathetic maternal
fussiness, taken his destinies in charge; and Felix rather wished she
hadn’t. She had even directed him as to which train he should take on
Monday—apparently confident that some one, in response to her
suggestion, would be at the station to meet him. As if people in Chicago
had time for such amenities!

It was in the mood of one who goes alone against the enemy, that Felix
took the train to Chicago. And armed with a paper sword! For so it was
that he thought of his letters of introduction. Of what use were letters
of introduction in Chicago? Well he knew how unconscious Chicago would
remain of the arrival of one more poor struggler. His coming might mean
everything to him, but it meant nothing at all to Chicago. That was the
obvious truth, and why not face it?

                                   2

On the train he took out his money and counted it again, though he knew
quite definitely how much he had. But it was reassuring to feel the
crisp bills in his hand. Well, he would not starve for three or four
weeks anyway. He considered the advisability of putting away separately
enough to pay his fare back home, but decided against it. “I am not
going back home,” he said to himself.

He went over his plans once more. From the station he would go to a
certain cheap hotel that Tom had suggested. Tom had stayed there once
when he was nearly broke. Then he would look about for a cheap room.
That secured, he would spend a day wandering about the city and
familiarizing himself with its streets. The third day he would go to
look for a job. And the fourth day—and all the other days—he would
continue to look for a job: until he got one.

There was no use in going over his plans any more. He took a book from
his suitcase to read.

He had taken along only one book.... He had smiled ironically when
choosing it, remembering the old literary discussions as to what book
one would choose to have along when cast away on a desert island. Here
was a more practical problem: what book one should choose for solace
when cast alone into the midst of a complex and difficult civilization.
On a desert island one would want something to remind one of people, of
civilization—perhaps Henry James; or more likely the Arabian Nights. But
for his Chicago campaign he had chosen H. G. Wells’ “First and Last
Things.”

He opened the book and began to read.... He discovered after a while
that he had been reading the same sentence over and over:

    “_It seems to me one of the heedless errors of those who deal in
    philosophy, to suppose all things that have simple names or
    unified effects are in their nature simple and may be discovered
    and isolated as a sort of essence by analysis._”

Under ordinary circumstances that sentence was doubtless perfectly
clear; but on the train to Chicago it was strangely hard to understand.
And when he recalled his wandering thoughts, put aside his emotions of
expectation and fear, and looked at the sentence again, its meaning was
singularly comfortless. That simple things are not so simple after
all—yes, that was just the trouble!

Going to Chicago, for instance. Thousands of young men did it every
year; his journey was merely one of the items of those broad
sociological generalizations which the university extension lecturers
were fond of uttering. From the outside it was simple enough. It had
apparently been taken for granted by his family and friends for the last
two or three years that Felix would go to Chicago. Certain people, it
seemed, inevitably went. Being one of those people, he had gone.

But _why_?

He restlessly put aside the book and stared out the window. Why? He
hadn’t the least idea, and he rather wished he were back in Port Royal,
with time and leisure to work out the answer to that question
satisfactorily....

“Going to Chicago?”

It was a genial elderly man in the seat opposite asking the question—a
plump man with a little pointed beard sprinkled with grey, and laughing
wrinkles about his eyes. He leaned forward in a friendly manner.

“Yes,” Felix answered.

“First time?” the man asked shrewdly.

“Yes,”—and Felix wondered why it should be the first time. Why, living
only five hours away from Chicago, had he never gone there to
reconnoitre, to learn to find his way about, to get the lay of things?
It had been stupid of him not to.

“I came to Chicago for the first time forty years ago,” the elderly man
was saying. “And I was just about as scared as you are.” He laughed
kindly, and tapped Felix’s knee. “But I needn’t have been. Chicago’s a
fine town. No place better for a young man to go. You don’t need to
worry, my boy. Chicago’s on the lookout for bright young people.”

Yes—but that was just what was bothering Felix Fay. He was afraid he was
not a bright young person in the ordinary meaning of the term.

The man entered upon a lively account of his early struggles and
successes in the hides and leather business.

“What’s your line?” he suddenly asked, smiling.

“I—write,” Felix said, embarrassed. “I want to get a job on a
newspaper.” How remote that seemed from the hides and leather business!

“Well, we’ve got some fine newspapers in Chicago. I read the Tribune
myself. I always turn first thing to the funny column. I miss it when
I’m out of town—doesn’t seem like breakfast is complete without it.” He
paused, with a reminiscent air. “But none of them are as good as ’Gene
Field used to be! My, how I did enjoy the things he wrote. I know a man
who used to know him right well, too; tells stories about him. ’Gene was
a great old boy.” He sighed.

Felix was startled. He had not suspected that in the hides and leather
business there was room for this quaint literary sentimentalism....

“What’s your name?” Felix told him. “Mine’s Anderson—John Anderson. I’m
getting off here at Elgin. You might come and see me at my office in
Chicago some time, and tell me how you’re getting along. I’ll give you
my card.... Well, Mr. Fay, you drop in any time—or ring me up—and we’ll
go out to lunch. I’ll take you to a nice chop-house. Maybe,” he grinned,
“you’ll need a good meal, now and then, before you get started. You just
ring me up!” He shook hands warmly, took down his big suitcase, and left
the train.

                                   3

Felix frowned. It was pleasant, of course, to be so genially treated by
a stranger. But he must not get any false ideas of Chicago from this
incident. He would think twice about accepting Mr. John Anderson’s
invitation to come and see him; and he would certainly not come if he
were in need of a meal; probably Mr. Anderson would have forgotten all
about him by the next day, anyway. He put away Mr. Anderson’s card in
the pocket in which his letters of introduction were stored. Again he
frowned, took out his letters of introduction, looked at them, and put
them back. He could forget Mr. Anderson’s card, but what could he do
with those letters of introduction?

They were in a way a serious embarrassment. Helen would expect him to
make use of them.... He could see himself presenting his letter to Mr.
Blake at the Community House, and being regarded with puzzled surprise.
“What does he want of us?” Mr. Blake would be asking himself....

Well, what did he want of them? Nothing.

He had a great notion to tear those letters up and throw them away
before he had made a fool of himself with them....

                                   4

Chicago! Endless blocks of dwellings, a glimpse of great buildings, and
then the dusky gloom of a huge station. He seized his suitcase,
descended from the train, and heard his name called questioningly.

He turned to meet a smiling, straw-haired youth, who shook his hand, and
relieved him of his suitcase. “I’m right? Helen gave me a good
description, and I was sure it was you! My name is Blake—Will Blake.
Well, how’s Port Royal? And my friend Hastings of the Record? And Judge
Beecher and Rabbi Nathan, Dr. Truesdale and the rest of ’em? I know Port
Royal quite well, I’ve lectured there so much. And Helen tells me you’re
the reporter that gave our series such good stories.”

Felix bewilderedly recognized this affable youth as the university
instructor whose lectures in the extension series on sociological
problems he had attended and reported; and he realized that between Port
Royal and Chicago, so remote in his imagination, there were at least
some few human links. Even so, this struck him as being in the nature of
a remarkable coincidence.

Meanwhile, Felix had been escorted to a street-car. It was dusk, and the
streets were crowded. But Blake’s friendly questioning served to
distract his attention from the bewildering hugeness of the city. With
but the slightest opportunity for feeling his individual insignificance
against this new background of rushing, roaring life, he was talked half
way across Chicago to a place where, at an intersection of busy and
dirty little streets, rose a gracious and homelike building. “This is
Community House,” said Blake. “I’ll take you right up to your room, and
you can meet the Head and the residents at dinner.”

Left alone in the room—where, as his escort had casually assured him, he
was to stay until he had made other plans—Felix strove to regain his
sense of the verities.

He knew already of the existence, and the purposes, of Community House.
It was one of those institutions which he had discussed, knowingly and
scornfully, in the Socialist local back in Port Royal—it was one of the
“bourgeois-idealistic” attempts to obscure, by means of a futile
benevolence, the class-struggle between the rich and the poor....

His actual feeling, however, was one of gratitude toward the cheerful
shelter of this little room. He went to the window. It was strangely
exhilarating to look out over the smoke and grime of this tumble of
roofs, from the window of a room so instantly and pleasantly his own.

He had a curious feeling of ease and security—a feeling which he strove
to repress....

Secure, and at ease—that seemed indeed a foolish way for one to feel who
was about to commence the grim battle of life in Chicago!


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             IV. Surprises

                                   1

DURING those first days Felix was trying hard—too hard!—to adjust
himself to the world of reality: which after all has its kindly aspects.

The second day, Felix set out to explore Chicago. He had conned on the
map and fixed in his mind the location of various streets; but as the
points of the compass seemed, when once he had left Community House, to
have got strangely twisted, these preliminary lessons were confusing
rather than otherwise. After a brief survey of the loop district, he
found himself looking from the steps of the public library, at Michigan
Avenue, and beyond that the lake.

Summer had just turned into autumn; it was a cool day, and there was a
light wind glancing over the surface of the water. Felix drew a long
breath, and looked down the Avenue. Only a few people were on the
sidewalk at that hour, but those few, with their air of infinite
leisure, gave it the quality of a boulevard. Along the smooth roadway,
still wet from a rain which had fallen during the night, a few motor
cars skimmed by; and the people in them seemed to have that same air of
careless light-hearted enjoyment of life. To the south, great clouds of
white steam arose from beside a black shed which Felix guessed to be an
Illinois Central station, and floated airily across to blur the outlines
of the buildings that faced the Avenue. Felix stood still, wondering at
himself. There was something odd about this: Chicago seemed beautiful!
But doubtless that notion merely proved him to be what he was, a boy
from the country.

Half ashamed of the thrill which he got out of this sight, he crossed to
the building on the lake front which must be the Art Institute. But he
found its pictures dull in comparison with the one he had left outside.
He went back to the street, and sniffed eagerly at the wind from off the
lake. He was experiencing a curious emotional release in the presence of
its vastness. Not only himself, but Chicago, suddenly seemed small at
its side. A city perched on the edge of a huge inland sea!

And then, convinced that his mood was an unrealistic one, he took the
south side elevated to the stockyards.... In its gruesome realities he
would find an antidote to this romanticism.

He was one of a long queue of visitors who were led from one building to
another and lectured at and shown the sights. After an hour he had seen
nothing sufficiently gruesome to be exciting, and he was becoming
annoyed with his fellow-visitors. They stared at the workers with a kind
of dull unimaginative pity. Felix resented those stares. He felt that he
understood these workers; had he not been one of them himself in factory
days at Port Royal! There was something indecent in this gaping and
pointing. He dropped out of line and went away.

He had missed the great scene, still to come—the cattle-killing. But he
reflected that he was a butcher’s son. This was merely a slaughter-house
on a grand scale. He had nothing new to learn from the stockyards....

                                   2

But he was inevitably depressed by his day of confused sight-seeing; the
hugeness of the city had in the end made him feel useless and helpless.
It was a relief to meet again at dinner the pleasant men and women
residents of Community House who had been so gracious to him the evening
before.

His shyness had lifted sufficiently the previous evening to let him
engage in a lively argument. There had been something very gratifying to
him in the way they listened to what he said—without agreement, to be
sure, but on terms of interested equality. It had made him feel at home;
and it was only afterward, in his room, that he had realized the duty of
guarding himself against these easy reassurances. He told himself that
these people were all engaged in trying to obscure the grim realities of
life. But he must not let himself be deceived. Their friendliness was
well-meant; but it had to be discounted.... It was all too well
calculated to soothe a bruised egotism, to relax a mood of stern
self-abasement—to make an impressionable young man forget that he was a
mere unconsidered atom in a cruel chaos. This easy hospitality could not
be the truth about Chicago. It was a mask, behind which the real Chicago
hid its terrible, grim face....

The argument last night had been about literature and the way it was
taught in the schools. Concerning school methods of dealing with poetry
Felix had been particularly scornful. Tonight Blake took up the argument
again, and Felix explained himself vigorously. Only those who could do a
thing, he insisted, were capable of really understanding it; and it did
not matter that they did it badly—so long as they thereby came to
understand it creatively.

A red-haired young woman at the further end of the long table was the
only one who appeared to take his arguments with any seriousness; at
least he thought he saw approval in her eyes. The others, or so it
seemed to him, were only politely amused at the intensity of his
feelings on the subject. But when he had concluded his argument, the
motherly-looking woman at the head of the table said, “Perhaps if Mr.
Fay feels like that, he will be willing to undertake a class in English
literature twice a week for us. Mr. Hays, who has had the class, is
leaving town. You’ll have a chance, Mr. Fay, to try out your theories on
twenty very interested young people—who I’m sure would be glad to learn
to produce literature as well as to appreciate it. I think, myself,
there’s something to your theory—though I don’t hold much by theories
any more. I think a great deal depends on the enthusiasm with which they
are carried out. I’m sure you will make an enthusiastic teacher—I only
hope you won’t become too quickly discouraged. Do you think you’d like
to try it?”

Gracious and even flattering as this offer was, yet the challenge in it
rather staggered Felix. He had not expected to be called upon to prove
the correctness of his theory in actual practice; he had never supposed
that he would ever have the opportunity. Teaching was a province sacred
to those who themselves had been elaborately taught—certainly not to be
intruded upon by a youth who had never finished high school! Yet, if he
believed in his own theory, he ought to be willing to put it to the
test. He ought to take up this challenge. But did he dare risk a
humiliating failure? And then his eyes met those of the red-haired girl
down at the other end of the table; and he knew that she expected him to
do it.

“Thank you for the chance,” he said. “I’ll be glad to.”

The talk swept on to other things, leaving him a little dazed. He had
been quite casually accepted as one whose abilities might be of value;
he had astonishingly become a part of this institution; and upon no
false pretences—for in his argument he had candidly exposed the
deficiencies of his formal schooling. These people were willing to try
him out. And they went on talking as though nothing strange had
occurred.... The loneliness and helplessness in which he had been
submerged by his day of sight-seeing, ebbed away.

“Won’t you tell me something more about your idea? It’s very interesting
to me, because I’m in charge of a group of children who are doing
plays.”

The red-haired girl was speaking to him as they drifted out of the
dining-room. She was a slender young person, of about twenty-five years,
with an interestedly impersonal manner. She turned to a young man at her
other side, an affected-looking young man, with a wide black ribbon
depending from his nose-glasses, and said: “Paul, is your model set
ready? Let us have a private view of it.”

“Charmed,” the young man replied, in a mincing accent. Felix disliked
him at once.

“Paul,” the red-haired girl explained, turning back to Felix, “is our
scenic genius. He makes the most wonderful little sets out of painted
cardboard, and then we go and spoil them trying to carry them out in our
theatre. He won’t even come and look at them when they’re finished—don’t
you think that’s unkind?”

“Oh, please don’t say that, Miss Prentiss!” the young man protested,
still in that tone which seemed to Felix unnatural and “prissy.” At the
foot of the wide stairs he halted, and put a finger to his lips. “I
don’t know _really_ whether I ought to show you the set—just yet. It’s
not _quite_—”

“I’m sure it’s perfectly all right,” the girl said firmly, and proceeded
up the stairs. To Felix she continued over her shoulder: “It’s a set for
our ‘Prince and Pauper’. I’m mad to see what it’s like. Paul ought to do
something quite stunning with it.”

“But I’ve only got one scene done, you know,” Paul objected. “And even
that’s uncertain, you understand; the idea for the whole thing—” he
waved his hands helplessly; Felix noted that they were graceful hands
and beautifully manicured—“hasn’t quite _come_ yet!”

He paused again, doubtfully, but the girl ran relentlessly up the
stairs. On the top floor she stopped in front of a door. “Now don’t make
any excuses, Paul, but just let us in.”

Paul obediently opened the door, snapped on the lights, and they entered
a room of which the walls were covered with tattered Persian rugs, the
shelves sprinkled with curious bronze figures, and the floor, along one
wall, lined with a row of books. In the centre of the room was a
drawing-table, littered with scraps of gold and silver paper, coloured
crayons, and tiny bottles of coloured inks. In the corner with a wire
running down from the electric fixture in the ceiling, was a pot of
glue. Felix walked over to the wall, glanced down at the row of books on
the floor, and noted a set of the Yellow Book and an odd volume of the
Savoy.

Paul had taken up a small model of a stage-set and was looking at it
anxiously.

“Oh,” the girl cried, “let me see!”

He put it into her hands, sat down at the drawing-table, jumped up and
turned on the current under his pot of glue, and sat down again, intent
upon a pasteboard figure which he had taken from the tiny stage.

“Dear me, this is all wrong,” he said in distress, stripping the tinsel
from the figure. “How could I?”

“Look,” the girl said to Felix, beckoning him with her head. “This is
the palace scene. See—”

“Do take it over to your room to explain it,” Paul said petulantly. “You
distract me.”

“Come,” said the girl, and they entered the room on the other side of
the hall. But in a moment Paul had followed them anxiously. “I must tell
you that the colours here are not right,” he said, hovering over the
model, which the girl had set down on her table. “No blues—no blues at
all! blues go in the next scene. Nothing but red and gold and black. And
this arch will be different—more sombre. The throne higher—dwarfing the
human figures. Very high—twenty inches, an inch to the foot, twenty feet
high!”

“But Paul,” said the girl, “you know our proscenium-arch is only twelve
feet high!”

“I can’t help that, my dear young woman,” the young man replied with
hauteur. “I know well enough that you’ll ruin my beautiful scene. But in
my mind—_Oh, pewter platter!_” His voice, uttering this preposterous
exclamation, had become shrill, and he dashed to the door. “My
glue-pot!” he cried, and disappeared.

The girl sat down and began to laugh. “Isn’t he funny?” she said.

“Funny?” Felix echoed dubiously.

“But he does make nice stage-pictures anyway,” she said.

Felix looked at the model. “But are these airs natural to him, or is he
just putting them on to impress people? Where is he from?”

“Guess!”

Felix thought he saw a light. “London?”

The girl laughed again. “Arkansas,” she said.

“What!”

“Yes, just as he is now, from Arkansas—glasses, accent, Yellow Book and
everything. I’ve a kind of notion why it is, if you’d like to hear it.”

“I would.”

“Then make yourself comfortable.” She motioned toward the couch, which
with its pillows was the only suggestion of ease in her rather bare and
workmanlike room; a writing-table, a typewriter on its stand, and a long
shelf of books, gave it an air quite different from the room across the
hall. She drew over a chair for herself in front of the couch.

“Don’t blame him,” she said. “We’re all a little like that—I mean,
queer. I’m sure I seem quite as queer as that to my family down in
Springfield. If you live in Arkansas, and want to make lovely
stage-pictures, you _are_ a freak; or you become one trying to keep from
being dull like everybody else. It’s inevitable.”

“You frighten me,” Felix said soberly. “Am I a freak? I suppose I am—but
somehow I don’t like the idea.”

“Do you want to make a million dollars?”

“No, not at all.”

“Then of course you’re a freak.” She laughed cheerfully.

“And what does Chicago think of—of us?” he asked.

“Oh, that’s all right. Chicago is beginning to realize that it needs us.
Chicago wants to be a metropolis. And all the stockyards in the world
won’t make a metropolis. Enough of us, given a free-hand—can. And
Chicago knows it. Just now we are at a premium here. We can be as crazy
as we like!”

“I wonder?”

“You ought to have known the scenic genius who preceded Paul. Dick
Bernitz, his name was. He was a wild one. Gloom—despair—and, as it
turned out, drugs. He came from Nevada. He affected evening
clothes—wanted to wear them all day long, in fact! Baudelaire was his
god. We were too tame for him. He left us, and starved and froze
somewhere in the slums—still in his evening clothes; and got pneumonia
and died. And Dick was—just a nice boy who wanted to do beautiful
pictures and poems. Nevada did that to him.”

“But—why blame Nevada?”

“His father was in real-estate. He wanted Dick to sell real-estate.”

“Well, and after all, why not? One must do something ordinary—to make a
living.”

“Why didn’t _you_ do something ordinary? Why did you come to Chicago?”

Felix was silent.

“I’ve kind of got you bothered, haven’t I?” said the girl maliciously.

“You’ve given me something to think about.” He rose.

“But I haven’t asked you yet what I was going to. Will you do a play for
us?”

“I can’t do plays!”

“Oh, yes, you can. You write poetry and stories and things, don’t you?”

“Do I give myself away as plainly as that?”

The girl laughed. “You ought to know that an institution like this is a
gathering place for idealists of all sorts and kinds. I know the chief
varieties, and you aren’t any of the sociological sorts, so you must be
one of the artist kind. Besides, didn’t I hear you talk at dinner?”

Felix grinned shamefacedly. “I didn’t disguise myself very well,” he
admitted. “But anyway—”

He walked impatiently across the little room. His mind was in a state of
strange upheaval. All his ideas about Chicago and himself were being
upset. He ought not to listen to this girl. He must not let her confuse
his plans. In particular he must not become interested in writing. He
had put all that aside for the present.

His lips twisted in an uneasy grimace. Why, at this moment, when his
mind must be braced to meet the impact of realities, should he let
himself be drugged with the opium of dreams?

Already, at her mere word, the old numbing desire had come in a new
guise—a vague, feverish yearning toward the puppet-world of the stage:
fascinating half-formed ideas for plays rose like bubbles in his mind.

It was a feeling like home-sickness.

He must not indulge it. Of course, it would be fun to write a play for
this girl, and help invent scenery and costumes for it. But that was not
what he had come to Chicago for. He must put aside all enthusiasms which
had no relation to the world of work-a-day reality. The very fact that
he was so much interested in the idea proved that it was wrong....

He saw now that it was foolish to have ever come to this place—this
refuge for idealists and dreamers. The thought of hunting up a new
lodging that night suggested itself; but of course it would be hard to
find another place half so comfortable—and he must consider his very
limited finances....

“Anyway,” he said, pausing in front of the girl, “I _won’t_ write you a
play!”

“Oh, yes you will!” she said.

A knock, and the door burst open, and Paul rushed in with a new-made
cardboard figure, dressed in gold tinsel. “At last!” he cried, holding
it up. “This will be the key-note of the play!”

“Splendid!” cried the girl, glancing at it. “And now I’m going to take
Mr. Fay down and show him our theatre.”

As they went out, Felix noted on her door a card which revealed that her
first name was Rose-Ann. It seemed a singularly fitting name for her,
somehow.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                     V. The Struggle for Existence

                                   1

A STRANGE and perturbing girl!... He had not believed, he wished not to
believe, what she had told him—that one could be fool and dreamer and
yet make terms with Chicago.

But in the course of a few weeks it began to seem as if she were right.

Felix’s other letter of introduction was to Mr. Clive Bangs, editorial
writer on the Evening Chronicle. Very diffidently, after having made
futile inquires at other newspapers during the week, he went one
afternoon to present the letter.

Some one in the front office said, “Back there under the mezzanine—the
first office to the right.” He found a little built-in coop, and opened
the door. The space inside was crowded with desks and tables, the floor
littered with papers, the air filled with cigarette smoke. Through the
windows, facing on an alley overhung by tall buildings, no sunlight
came, and electric lamps on the desks pierced holes of light through the
twilight atmosphere. At one of the desks a plump man lounged, smoking a
cigarette. A long, lean man in shirt-sleeves was pounding a typewriter.
A surly-looking young man with a careless Windsor tie, and a lock of
hair that fell over one eye, sat at a third desk, reading a book.

The plump man looked up with a good-humoured smile, and Felix approached
him, saying, “Mr. Bangs?” The plump man waved a hand towards the
surly-looking youth. “That’s Mr. Bangs,” he said.

Mr. Bangs looked up, frowned at Felix, and said, “You want to see me?”
He jumped up, and indicated a chair vaguely. “Wait a minute,” he said,
and taking up a typewritten sheet from his desk went hurriedly out of
the office.

Felix looked at the chair. It was piled high with exchanges, so he
remained standing. The plump man continued to smoke dreamily. The long,
lean man thoughtfully wrote on. Felix waited. Mr. Bangs did not return.

It was, Felix felt uncomfortably, just what he had expected—it was silly
to have come here with that letter.

He glanced down at the desk, saw the book which Mr. Bangs had been
reading, noted the name on the cover, and picked it up with a sudden
interest. He looked at the title page, the date; and then turned the
leaves, tenderly, affectionately....

He had quite forgotten Mr. Bangs, and the nature of his errand.

Mr. Clive Bangs, having handed the typewritten sheet to the foreman of
the composing-room, walked back slowly. He knew very well who his
visitor was. Helen’s letter announcing his arrival was in his pocket.
“He is,” Helen had written him, “just as crazy as you are, Clive!” But
he distrusted Helen’s judgment.... It was one thing to welcome to
Chicago one more of the too few sophisticated spirits of the mid-west;
it was another to have on his hands some pale, gawky, helpless youth who
had been falsely encouraged by country librarians in the notion that he
could write! What seemed a prodigy out in Iowa might be merely one of
the army of unemployed and unemployable here in Chicago. Clive had tried
to help these prodigies before; and he knew that a painful addiction to
the style of Ruskin, combined with egotism and a total lack of ideas,
was no easy malady to cure. He rather flinched from the prospect of
taking Helen’s protégé in hand.... But, still—“_crazy as you are_”—Helen
might know what she was talking about.

Stopping in the doorway, Clive looked at his problem in person. He had
picked up that book—that H. G. Wells book.... Those were the days just
before “Tono-Bungay,” and the name of H. G. Wells was as yet cherished
by only a few enthusiasts. Besides, this was the least known of H. G.
Wells’ writings, and one who might have heard of Wells as a writer of
pseudo-scientific yarns would be puzzled by it. Clive stood for a moment
trying to gauge the quality of Felix Fay’s response to the volume in his
hand; then he went up to him.

Felix awoke to find Mr. Bangs standing beside him, and looking at him
quizzically.

“I see you’re looking at my latest Wells find,” said Mr. Bangs.

“The first English edition! Where did you pick it up?” Felix asked. “In
a second-hand store?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Bangs. “Forty cents! At Downer’s.”

Felix laid the book down reverently. “I wonder,” he said, “if they have
any other Wells’ things there. There’s one of his books I’ve never been
able to come across anywhere—‘The Island of Doctor Moreau.’ Do you know
it?”

“I have the only copy I’ve ever seen in Chicago,” said Clive Bangs.
“I’ll lend it to you.”

“I wish you would,” Felix said gratefully. “I found ‘The Time Machine’
in an old junk-shop in Port Royal last summer, and that made ‘The Island
of Doctor Moreau’ the only thing of Wells’ I hadn’t read—I suppose you
know ‘Kipps’? And ‘Love and Mr. Lewisham’?”

Mr. Bangs nodded. “This book,” he said, indicating the volume on the
desk, “isn’t so well known as it might be.” He took a cigarette and
passed Felix the box with an unconscious gesture.

Clive Bangs had ceased to judge this young man. He had accepted him.
After all, how many people were there in Chicago who had read “First and
Last Things”? So it was, once upon a time, when two men met who had both
read an obscure book of poems about Wine and Death by one Edward
Fitzgerald.

Felix lighted his cigarette from Clive Bangs’ match. “I brought my copy
to Chicago with me,” he said. “It’s the only book I did bring.”

Clive Bangs looked at his watch and picked up his hat. Suddenly Felix
remembered, and put his hand, embarrassedly, in his pocket for his
letter of introduction.

Clive Bangs laughed. “Never mind!” he said. “I know who you are. Come
on, let’s have a drink.”

A few minutes later they were sitting in a barroom called “The Tavern,”
ordering ale with bitters, which Clive Bangs recommended as the
specialty of the place.

“So you are Helen’s wild young man from Iowa!” said Clive. “I wish Helen
were here, and we three would get drunk together.”

Felix was startled at the idea of Helen, the beautiful and condescending
goddess of the library-shrine of his youth, getting drunk....

Clive laughed. “Oh,” he said, “I mean on ideas. Though for my part,
after a hard day’s work, it takes a little alcohol to put the practical
part of my mind asleep and set free my imagination. My mind is disposed
in layers. After the first drink I cease to be interested in politics
and social reform. After the second I forget the girl about whom I
happen to be worrying at the time. And with the third drink, I enter the
realm of pure theory.”

The tall glasses of ale were set before them.

“Here’s to Utopia!” said Clive.

                                   2

It was only when Felix had warmly parted from his new friend, and agreed
to come over the next noon for lunch and a visit to Downer’s, that he
realized—with some chagrin—that he had failed to say anything to Mr.
Clive Bangs about getting a job as a reporter on the Evening Chronicle.

In fact, he had fallen very neatly into the trap prepared for him by his
own fatal temperament. He had given himself away at the very start. And
Bangs, who appeared to indulge some theoretical and visionary traits as
a relaxation to the sober work of helping get out a great daily
newspaper, had enjoyed his moon-calfishness: but to what end?

Going back to his room at Community House, Felix gravely and
dispassionately considered the question of what impression he had made.
“On the one hand,” he said to himself, “it is doubtless true that Mr.
Bangs must enjoy coming across another person who shares his own
literary tastes. But, on the other hand, these tastes are in the nature
of an avocation for him, and my possession of them proves nothing
whatever as to my fitness for a newspaper job. Suppose he had happened
to be enthusiastic about Japanese prints; suppose he had just bought a
Kiyonaga, and I had looked at it and praised it; he would have been
pleased to find some one who knew the difference between a Kiyonaga and
a Kunisada—but would he have thought that a reason for helping me to get
a newspaper job? I’m afraid not.”

Felix was pleased with the coolness of his reasoning under circumstances
where another person might have built up vain hopes. And in any event,
Clive Bangs was a friend; and friendship had a value of its own. He
would not embarrass Clive Bangs with any requests for help; he would
take what their friendship had to give, and be glad of it.

Accordingly, it was without any ulterior motive that he went to lunch
with Bangs next day. Again they talked literature and ideas; they
explored Downer’s together, and Felix picked up a second volume to
complete his Muses’ Library edition of the poems of John Donne: and they
strolled back to the office of the Chronicle, where Felix became
acquainted with the other editorial writers.

The long, lean man was a New Englander named Hosmer Flint; he
corresponded very much to Felix’s idea of what the editorial writer of a
great daily newspaper should be, for he had a mind incredibly stored
with statistics of all kinds. The other was the chief editorial writer—a
man of fifty, plump and dimpled, with a childlike charm of manner which
made it natural for every one to call him “Willie”—his other name being
Smith.

Willie Smith genially expressed to Felix the hope that there might be
something for him on the Chronicle, and when the managing editor
happened in he introduced Felix to him casually as a young man who was
looking for a newspaper job; but Felix understood that this was simply
Willie’s good nature, and refused to take the possibility seriously. He
found his new acquaintances agreeable to talk to, however, and fell into
the habit of dropping into the editorial office in the slack part of the
afternoon, for a half-hour’s talk. Having no economic reason for
pretending to be anything but himself in their presence, he talked about
the things that really interested him—socialism and anarchism and life
and art.

He permitted himself these idle pleasures only after hours dutifully
spent in annoying the editors of five or six other papers with a brisk
and efficient presentation of his usefulness. He had to appear so
preternaturally capable and alert on these occasions that it was a
relief to be able to throw off the disguise and loaf and invite his soul
in the editorial room of the Evening Chronicle. It was, as he sometimes
reproachfully told himself, a concession to his inborn weakness, and
just so much time lost from his task of getting a newspaper job.

                                   3

But one could not look for a job all the time. It was with only slight
compunction that he fell into the custom of spending his evenings in the
company of Rose-Ann—sometimes talking in her room, sometimes in Paul’s
watching him invent his beautiful and fantastic toy-scenery, and again
in the tiny Community Theatre, helping them make costumes and build
stage-sets.

It was, it seemed, to the fascination of the tiny theater itself, as
much as to Rose-Ann’s persuasions, that he presently succumbed, and
found himself writing a little play for a group of children—a play about
the further adventures of the Pied Piper and the boys and girls who
followed him into the mountain.... He felt rather like one of those
children himself, lured by some irresistible music away from the daylit
world of ambition into the hollow hill of fantasy.... Rose-Ann approved
the play enthusiastically, and the children of her group, assigning the
parts among themselves, began spontaneously to learn it by heart.

Meantime, rehearsals of a sort were going on for the “Prince and
Pauper.” Rose-Ann had her own way of teaching. She became, it seemed,
herself a child, and was accepted by the others as such; they quarreled
and made up with her, kissed her and made faces at her and petted her,
exactly as if she were one of themselves; and Felix, watching these
scenes, wished that he, too, had that capacity for childlikeness, so
that he could join in the fun on such terms of innocent intimacy. But he
felt dreadfully grown-up and awkward, and Rose-Ann, on her knees amid
her playmates, laughing and talking and acting one part or another with
the utter abandon of childhood’s “pretending”—she was the youngest of
them all; indeed, she seemed more than anything else a delightful doll—a
marvellous talking and laughing doll of gold and ivory.

Mrs. Perkins—big, fat, comfortable Mrs. Perkins, still young-looking
though reputed to be a grandmother, who lived in the neighborhood and
came to the theater to sew costumes for them, and whom everybody,
without any disrespect, called “Perk”—beckoned him over one day to her
corner as he stood admiring Rose-Ann with her children, and whispered to
him:

“You just feel like putting her in your pocket and carrying her off,
don’t you?”

Felix grinned at her. “How do _you_ know?” he whispered back. Yes, she
was a wonderful little toy-girl, less and more than human, that one
wanted to hold and touch and play with, and take home to keep! But how
did she, old Granny Perk, know how a young man felt about it!

“Oh, I know!” and Perk smiled her comfortable smile. “I was a girl
myself once. Little Miss Rosy-Posy knows just how nice she looks to you,
and don’t you doubt it!”

Yes, perhaps Rose-Ann did like to be looked at and enjoyed by some one
who was not a child. She seemed to be teasing him with her presence—to
be saying, “Don’t _you_ want to come and play with me, too?”

He had tried to tell Clive about Rose-Ann, but his first words, “a girl
over at Community House,” had apparently evoked in Clive’s mind the
picture of a misguided spinster of forty whose repressed maternal
instincts were finding satisfaction in the running of other people’s
lives—a creature against whom he proceeded to warn Felix in humorous
terms. “She will manage you, Felix,” he said, “—for your own good. Now
it’s all right to be managed by a woman, so long as it is for her
benefit. You can at least complain about it. But when you’re managed for
your own good, you are helpless.”

Felix objected to this notion of Rose-Ann, but Clive asked her age. And
Felix said he didn’t know, but that she was a little older than himself.

“A little older than you. I thought so,” said Clive. “Beware!” There was
no use talking to Clive about girls, anyway; it was a subject upon which
he was frequently bitter and always absurd. Felix had told Rose-Ann a
little about him, and she had said, “He’s been hurt by some girl.”
Doubtless that was true. And Felix felt a certain satisfaction in the
inward comparison of this creature of Clive’s distorted fancy with the
real and delightful Rose-Ann—whom even as Clive talked he could see in
memory, with himself standing by and caressing with his gaze every swift
movement of that delicate and supple doll-body of hers.

“You’re all wrong,” he said to Clive. “She’s a pagan.”

“Yes,” said Clive scornfully, “one of those settlement-house pagans.”

Felix only laughed.

All this, however, was not getting a job. By desperate economies, as his
money dwindled, he was managing to hold out. But he could not hold out
forever. Clive had asked him one day if he needed money, and he had
answered evasively. There was no use starting that sort of thing.

He had to get a job.

But it looked as though he were not going to get a job. There seemed to
be no use trying to impress city editors with his efficiency. There had
been a vacancy on a morning paper, and another young man—with, so far as
Felix could tell, no better qualifications than his own—had been
selected. That discouraged him. Doubtless these city editors could see
through his pretences....

                                   4

And then one afternoon when he dropped in at the Chronicle office, Clive
asked him if he was ready to go to work Monday morning: he had been
taken on as a reporter.... He would get, Clive told him, twenty dollars
a week to start with. Clive told him this in a pleased but casual way,
as though it were something long arranged between Felix and himself
which had just been ratified by the higher powers. So Clive had been
working for him all along!

“Go and tell Harris you’ll be on deck,” said Clive. Harris was the city
editor. “And better speak to the Old Man, too.” The Old Man was the
managing editor, Mr. Devoe. Felix had never supposed for a moment that
these personages had him under consideration.

He presented himself before both of them, not knowing what to say.
Apparently it was not necessary to say anything. Both of them were
busy—too busy, Felix hoped, for them to notice how dazed he was.

“All right, Fay, you’ll be here Monday morning at eight o’clock,” said
the city editor.

“I suppose Mr. Bangs told you that we’re going to start you off at
twenty dollars?” said Mr. Devoe. “We can do a little better later,
perhaps. It’s up to you.” Mr. Devoe looked at him severely—or kindly,
Felix was not sure which—over his glasses, and turned back to his desk.

“Yes, sir,” said Felix.

Willie Smith patted him on the back. “Glad you’ve got it,” he said.

“Take it easy,” Clive told him. “A newspaper job in Chicago is just like
a newspaper job anywhere else.”

Well! So at last, somehow, the devil only knew how, he had gained a
foothold in Chicago.

He discussed the event with Rose-Ann that evening. She laughed at his
surprise. “How do you suppose people get jobs?” she demanded. “You were
going at it in precisely the right way. I knew from what you told me
they were going to take you.”

Felix had already begun to worry about the future. “I don’t know where
any place is,” he said. “I must dig up my street-map.”

“Oh, throw that street-map away,” said Rose-Ann. “I’ll give you a guide
to Chicago that’s much more useful.” She went to her shelf and took down
a little book. “Here!”

It was the “Bab Ballads.” Felix looked puzzled.

“If you can write a play that will please children, you can write to
please the people of Chicago. They’re children, too,” she said.

Felix slipped the book in his pocket and went to his room and his
street-map. She had too much confidence in him. Only he himself knew
what a fool he was. He had got this job under false pretences.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         VI. A Guide to Chicago

                                   1

AND yet it seemed that Rose-Ann knew him better than he knew himself.

On Monday morning the city editor gruffly assigned him a desk. He hated
to sit there idle, and he had thrown away his morning paper. Finding
that he still had Rose-Ann’s little book in his pocket, he took it out
and read in that. Presently the city editor called his name. He rose,
putting the book back into his pocket. His first test had come.

“Go over to the Annex and see if you can get something about the
Taft-Roosevelt situation from—” and he named a distinguished political
personage.

“Where?” Felix asked.

“At the Annex.”

(But what in the world was the Annex? From the tone in which its name
had been uttered by the city editor, Felix was aware that it was some
place that he ought to know all about. Some place that anybody who had
ever dreamed of being a reporter on a Chicago paper would of _course_
know all about! But what was it? The Annex to what?... By a violent
mental effort he came to the conclusion that it must be a hotel;
probably one of Chicago’s most famous hotels! and here he had been in
Chicago a month, and didn’t know where it was. Idiot!)

“Yes, sir,” said Felix to the city editor, and went out and asked the
policeman on the nearest corner.... It was horribly obvious to him, at
that moment, that he was too ignorant of plain everyday reality ever to
hold this job.

                                   2

He came back, having failed to get the interview.... He had been given
half an hour by a delightful old gentleman at the Annex; half an hour in
which to try to get some kind of quotable political comment on a
situation in which everybody was interested, from a man who, if any one,
knew what the situation really was. And every question had been turned
aside so cleverly, so smoothly, so genially, that under other
circumstances it would have been a pleasure to see it done. The old
gentleman had been the soul of courtesy; he seemed to enjoy talking to
his young questioner; doubtless because it was so easy to put him off
the track.

At first Felix’s questions had been straightforward; and the evasiveness
of the replies had disconcerted him. He framed his questions more
shrewdly; but the old gentleman answered them with the same bland
courtesy and to precisely the same effect. Felix kept on for a while,
doggedly. And then gradually he realized—what, he told himself
scornfully, he should have known from the very start, that he had been
sent out on a futile quest. If there had been the slightest chance of
getting anything out of this old gentleman, the best reporter on the
staff would have been sent—not the newest and greenest cub.

He was angry—at himself, for having tried so naïvely to do the
impossible; at the city editor, for not giving him a real assignment; at
the tradition of “news,” which, having attached a fictitious importance
to the subject of politics, was wasting his time and the old gentleman’s
in this solemnly idiotic fashion.

“Is there anything else I could tell you about?” the old gentleman asked
blandly.

“You have been very kind—” said Felix.

“Oh, not at all,” said the old gentleman. “Nothing pleases me more than
to give information to a young seeker after truth.”

“There _is_ one thing I would like to know,” said Felix. “Who struck
Billy Patterson?”

This insulting question—insulting precisely because it was silly,
because it threw the whole earnest interview suddenly into the key of
farce—did not for an instant shake the old gentleman’s aplomb. He
appeared to reflect gravely, with finger-tips delicately joined and head
cocked on one side, in his characteristic gesture. He smiled faintly,
and spoke.

“You have trenched,” he said, “upon an important public issue, and one
not lightly to be discussed—a question of deep interest to hundreds of
thousands of our fellow-countrymen. In fact, I have seldom been in any
gathering of true Americans, when this question has not been raised.
_Who struck Billy Patterson?_ Again and again have I heard men ask each
other that question. And how seldom, if ever, has the reply been
satisfactory! No, I say frankly to you, the reply has not been
satisfactory. And so the question remains—like Banquo’s ghost, it will
not down. Careless and unthinking statesmen may try to lead the people
astray with talk of minor issues, such as the tariff, imperialism, and
the conservation of natural resources, but the heart of the American
people remains true. When the shouting and the tumult dies, and the
senators go back to Washington, common men look at each other and ask,
_Who struck Billy Patterson?_ It is a question that searches to the very
vitals of our polity. We boast of our unexampled freedom, our
magnificent opportunities; and rightly so. But justice, even-handed and
sure, is the true foundation of a lasting prosperity. We know this, and
we are humble before the Muse of History. Be it said in our behalf that
others have not had to prod at our sleeping consciences. It is not
because of outside criticism that we trouble ourselves over this matter.
The Frenchman and the Turk do not point the finger of scorn at us; and
even our brothers across the sea, speaking our own language, are
probably ignorant of William Patterson’s very name. But we do not
forget. And whatever happens, so long as this question remains
unanswered, I venture to predict that no other issue will usurp its
place; and on the heart of the last American will be written the solemn
words: _Who struck Billy Patterson?_ Is there anything else?”

So the old gentleman could play that game, too!

“Well,” said Felix, “I _was_ going to ask you if—if you thought
McPhairson Conglocketty Angus McClan got a square deal, but—”

The old gentleman shook his head, still smiling.

“I really don’t think it would be proper,” he said, “for me to discuss
the internal affairs of the British Empire.”

“And Noah’s Ark,” said Felix. “If you could express an opinion—”

“It might be construed as a reflection upon the naval policy of the new
administration.”

“And as to what became of little Charley Ross?”

“That,” said the old gentleman, “is something the national committee
would prefer to remain, for the present, a secret.”

Felix was beaten.

“Thank you,” he said, and went away.

“Got anything?” the city editor asked, when Felix came up to his desk to
report.

“Not a thing.” Felix said.

The city editor grunted, reached out for a typewritten sheet on the
hook, and seemed to dismiss the matter from his mind.

Felix went back to his desk and sat there idly. He took out Rose-Ann’s
little book from his pocket, and read in it. And then suddenly he put a
sheet of paper in his machine and commenced to write.

Confound it, if what Rose-Ann said about the people of Chicago was so,
they would enjoy the true story of that interview. It _was_ funny. Funny
just because it was silly. But it was so preposterously the opposite of
what he had been sent to find out—it seemed a deliberate mockery of the
traditional and legitimate curiosity of the public. If he ventured to
show it to the city editor, it would probably be his last assignment.

Recklessly, he wrote it.

The city editor strolled to the water-tank, and back, wiping his lips.
He saw Felix writing, came over, put a hand on his shoulder, and asked,
“What are you writing?”

Well, he was lost. There was no backing out now. He handed over the
first sheets.

“Thought you didn’t get anything,” the city editor remarked.

“I—didn’t,” said Felix.

“Where’s the rest of it?”

Felix wrote the last sentence, and surrendered the page.

“He said this?” asked the city editor, pausing for a moment. Felix
nodded. “Just like the old bird, too,” the city editor muttered, and
went on reading. He read to the end, and then read the first page again,
and then smiled amiably. “And you didn’t know you had a story!” he said.

“Well,” said Felix, still incredulous. “I didn’t think—”

“You’re sure you’ve got it right?” the city editor asked, rubbing his
chin.

“Every word,” said Felix, earnest in behalf of his veracity.

“H’m,” said the city editor. “With a little fixing up, I think we’ve got
a nice little story here.” He carried it into the managing editor’s
room.

And to Felix’s great astonishment the story, with a few changes, was
printed on the first page, under a solemnly ironic heading.... They were
laughing about it in the editorial room when he ventured in that
afternoon to see Clive. “So you had a story and didn’t know it!” Willie
said delightedly.

“Never mind,” Clive told him, “you’ve made a hit with Harris by letting
him discover the story for himself.” Clive really seemed to think he had
played a kind of trick on Harris. “The regular cub trick,” said Clive.

Felix showed the story to Rose-Ann that night.

She was pleased, but not surprised. “It’s exactly the sort of thing I
expected you to do,” she said.

He was tempted to tell Rose-Ann the truth about it; but he decided not
to. Let her keep on believing in him—while she could!


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           VII. Work and Play

                                   1

FELIX kept the little book in his desk, cultivated what he called the
“Bab Ballad manner,” and waited, sceptically, to see how long his luck
would last. In three weeks he was given a raise. But even this did not
quite convince him.

It had been too easy—too astonishingly easy. It had come about, not
because of any change in his character, not because he had ceased in
some miraculous way to be a moon-calf, but precisely because he was just
as much a moon-calf as ever. That was why he was compelled to suspect
the authenticity of his good fortune.

“Stop worrying,” Clive told him one day at lunch. “What in the world are
you afraid of?”

“That I’ll wake up,” said Felix.

“You’ll wake up, all right,” said Clive, “to discover that you’re being
underpaid and overworked just like everybody else. You know, you go
along looking as if you had had a telegram saying that your rich uncle
in Australia had died and left you a million dollars, and you didn’t
know whether to believe it or not. No one would guess to look at you
that this remarkable good fortune of yours simply consists of eight or
ten stiff hours a day for twenty-five dollars a week.”

This, to Felix, seemed an understatement of the merits of the situation.
For one thing, he had become very much attached to Clive, whose odd,
whimsical, theoretical conversation had a tang of its own; and this job
on the Chronicle yielded him the opportunity to enjoy Clive’s company,
though now on somewhat restricted terms.

Since Felix had become a reporter, taking his place as it were in the
ranks of a lower caste, he had begun to feel that his visits to the
editorial room were a kind of special privilege, which he endeavored to
justify by an occasional piece of writing suited to the editorial
page—some entertaining account of things seen in Chicago, the
by-products of his work as a reporter. Or, more likely, things not seen
at all, but pieced together out of his memory and hung on the slightest
thread of contemporary incident.... Once he attended a meeting of
“aurists,” and, with a reference to that meeting as a starting point,
meandered through a column of odd and curious lore about ears: the ear
as the organ of stability, by means of which we are enabled to stand
upright—with the story of the little crustacean which puts sand in its
ears, and upon whom some scientist played a mean trick, substituting
iron filings for the sand-grains, and then applying a magnet overhead,
with the result that the crustacean swam contentedly upside down!... In
short, anything that happened to interest him!

He discovered that these writings gave him a special standing among his
fellow-reporters. They had never ventured to aspire to the editorial
page. Nor would Felix have ventured, except that he knew from loafing
about the editorial room how welcome was an occasional column from the
outside. He still felt himself to be an intruder into a superior realm,
and he was grateful for those times, once or twice a week, when Clive
stopped beside his desk and suggested that they lunch together.

He had wondered at first how it was that Clive Bangs, with a passion for
ideas as intense as the one Felix had long been endeavoring to overcome
within himself, should be a successful editorial writer on Chicago’s
most conservative and respectable paper—and, for that matter, the valued
committeeman of two or three eminently practical and sober reform
organizations! Clive was not merely a moon-calf like himself; he was at
the same time a quite sane and work-a-day young Chicagoan.

The thought of such an adjustment to the world fascinated and tantalized
Felix. It held out for him the possibility of getting along successfully
without going through any such violent psychic revolution as he had
demanded of himself, Clive was inwardly an Anarchist, a Utopian, a
theorist and dreamer of the wildest sort; and outwardly something quite
other.

That outward quality was what Felix envied in Clive—that practical
adaptability to the world, so far beyond anything that seemed possible
for Felix himself to achieve. He would have given much for Clive’s ease
of manner, his ability to meet ordinary people on their own ground—as
for instance in discussing the Yale-Harvard game with a college boy and
an instant later local politics with a “reform” alderman who stopped in
turn by their table in the City Club. At such a moment Felix was struck
dumb; he felt like a child in the presence of grown-up people. Clive
seemed to him an infinitely superior being.

And yet this practical adaptability to human occasions was a trait upon
which Clive himself seemed to set no value. His easy worldliness—as
Felix thought it—was only one side of his character; and he preferred to
indulge the other side—the side that was fantastically idealistic.

Perhaps it was because Felix had felt obliged to carry all his theories
into practice, that some bounds had been set to his theorizing. No such
bounds existed for Clive Bangs. The most extreme ideas that Felix had
ever timidly cherished with regard to some free and happy society of the
future, were commonplaces to Clive. His speculations roved boldly into
Platonic, Nietzschean, and H. G. Wellsian spheres, and dwelt there as
among solid realities.

They talked chiefly of love—of love in the future.

Sometimes Felix, too much allured and disturbed, had to protest that
these were, after all, only dreams. One day at lunch Clive discoursed on
freedom in love until Felix felt constrained to point out that human
nature being what it is, jealousy—whether one liked it or not—was
nevertheless a fact.

“Oh, yes,” Clive laughed. “I realize that the red-haired young woman at
the settlement would find it difficult not to be jealous! In that sense,
of course jealousy is a fact, and has to be taken into consideration.
But we are free men at present, dealing with ideas, not with Jane and
Sue—and as free men we are at liberty to inquire what kind of fact
jealousy is. Witchcraft, too, was a fact—soberly attested by the
greatest thinkers of the age. Anybody who didn’t believe in witchcraft
was crazy, just like you and I. And jealousy is the same kind of fact—a
socially-created fact. People are persuaded that it exists—that under
certain circumstances it must exist. That’s all. How would I know when
to be jealous, except that I am carefully taught what my rights of
possession are and when they are infringed? It’s the old barbaric code,
still handed down in talk and writing. And that’s why I am interested in
the development of a new kind of talk and writing.”

It was specifically as this “new kind of talk and writing” that Clive
discussed modern literature. He repudiated any preoccupation with
literature as an art. It was to him a kind of social dynamics. It had
been used to build up through the ages a vast system of “taboos”—and now
it was being used to break them down again. In this work of social
iconoclasm the chiefs were H. G. Wells, Shaw and Galsworthy—with
Meredith as a breathless and stammering forerunner and Hardy as a blind
prophet....

“Do you suppose the public knows what they are really up to?” Felix
asked doubtfully.

“No. And it would hang them if it did. But fiction cuts deeper than any
kind of argument. And it’s doing its work. Wait ten years.... The new
younger generation won’t be like us, Felix—content to orate about these
matters at luncheon. They will despise us, Felix! They will say we did
nothing but talk.”

“Quite right, too,” said Felix.

“They will have heard our talk—talk—talk, and they will be sick of it.
They will be all for action. And you and I, Felix, who will then be
respectably married, you to your settlement Egeria and I to God knows
whom, will be shocked at the younger generation. We will remember how
prayerfully we planned to be unconventional, in what a mood of
far-seeing social righteousness we went about breaking the commandments,
and how, after all, we stopped on the way to discuss the matter more
thoroughly, and ended by never doing anything at all—and we will be
disgusted by the light-minded frivolity of those youngsters. Even our
novels—instead of corrupting the youth of the land as we hope!—will
probably be regarded by them as hopelessly old-fashioned. If we ever
actually write them....”

When he had reached that point in the discussion, Clive would become
silent and sullen. “If I only had the energy to write!” he would
complain bitterly.

He had been brooding over a novel for four years, and had not yet
written a word of it.... They had long talks about that unwritten novel
which was to corrupt the younger generation.

                                   2

At Community House, Felix was having difficulties with his class. Not
that they were lacking in enthusiasm; on the contrary, their enthusiasm
carried him in directions where he had no intention of going. At the
outset, he had conceived English composition to be a simple matter.
Perhaps it might have been for children; but these young people of
eighteen were already convinced of its difficulties, and haggled over
semicolons. They wanted to know the “rules” by the observance of which
one became a good writer!

Felix presently gave up prose as too hard to teach, and started in upon
verse, with greater success. Yet when it came to explaining why _love_
and _rove_ are technically correct rhymes, and _young_ and _son_ no
rhymes at all, he was nonplussed. Very soon the class had hit upon a
mode which was neither verse nor prose—a kind of free verse. It was
quite other than Felix had any wish to encourage anybody to write. He
doubted if the writing of free verse would ever enable them to
appreciate the Ode to a Nightingale. But he was helpless in the
situation, and could only let them go ahead.

His conception of verse was precisely that it was not free; he had
thought that the pains and pleasures of rhyme and metre would give them
a creative understanding of English poetry. This free verse of theirs
seemed to him utterly unrelated to the tradition into which he sought to
give them an insight. It was very free verse indeed—it mixed its
metaphors recklessly, it soared into realms of vague emotion. And when
its meaning was at all clear, it carried the burden of a hopeless
reproach against circumstance, and a plaintive yearning for it knew not
what. Felix fiercely disliked this plaintive hopelessness, and preached
scornfully at his class. They seemed to be impressed; but they continued
as before.

“I can’t believe you really feel like that,” he said to a merry-faced
young Jewess who had just read aloud a poem full of world-sorrow.

She looked offended. “But I do!” she cried. “If you only knew!” and she
put her hand expressively to her bosom.

“My God!” he said. “What a broken-hearted crowd!”

There was a quick burst of laughter, and then a girl spoke up. “But Mr.
Fay, do you not think we _feel_?”

“I know you feel unhappy. But don’t you ever feel anything else? Don’t
you ever have a good time? Or don’t you think good times are worth
writing about?”

“Did Keats and Shelley write about their good times?” asked an ironical
youth.

“Yes,” said Felix defiantly. “They wrote about lucent syrops tinct with
cinnamon, and skylarks, and things like that; and they loved them to
begin with—that was why they wrote about them. Don’t you love
anything—anything that is right on hand to be loved—babies, or pet
kittens, or pretty clothes, or pretty girls? Are you always pining for
something you haven’t got?”

“Always!” two or three of them responded impressively in chorus.

“_The desire of the moth for the star_,” the ironical young man
contributed.

“See here,” said Felix. “Shelley was a young aristocrat with an income,
living luxuriously in Italy, and he could afford to be unhappy.” They
laughed, but Felix went on earnestly. “He could afford to be devoted to
something afar from the sphere of his sorrow, because his sorrow
consisted of the fact that after eloping with two girls, he couldn’t
elope with a third and have a perfectly clear conscience. Added to the
fact that he knew, if he did, he would be tired of her in a few weeks
anyway. He had tried it before, and he knew. That was what Shelley’s
sorrow was all about, and if any one here present is in the same
situation, I grant that he is entitled to feel that the desire for
happiness is the desire of the moth for the star. But for ordinary
mortals like ourselves, happiness is no such impossible thing. It is not
the desire of the moth for the star, but—” he hesitated, and the
ironical youth broke in with:

“The desire of the moth for the candle-flame!”

“And suppose that it is!” said Felix. “What is life anyway, except a
burning of ourselves up in action? Only I don’t see why you prefer such
tragic figures of speech. Why not—”

The ironical youth interrupted again: “The desire of the caterpillar for
the cabbage-leaf!”

“I give you up!” said Felix.

But he learned from Rose-Ann that his class was considered by the
residents a real success. And fat old Mrs. Perk, one evening at the tiny
theatre, said to him: “I hear you’re making poets out of the boys and
girls. They say you’re a grand teacher!”

It was very odd: it seemed to make no difference that they could not
take what he wanted to give them, or that he did not want to give them
what they were getting; the class was a success anyway!

“Who was telling you?” he asked.

“That David Arenstein,” she told him. “The one that always used to be
talking about committing suicide.” David was the ironical youth who had
quoted Shelley at him. “But he’s far from committing suicide now—” and
she smiled her comfortable smile. “He’s going to be married. Oh, yes, he
comes and tells me all his troubles.”

Felix laughed. “I hope he doesn’t hold me to blame!”

She shook her head. “Well, you’ll be getting married yourself, pretty
soon, I suppose?”

He did not venture to challenge her as to whom. But he said, “What in
the world makes you think that?”

“Oh,” she said, “young folks do, sooner or later, I’ve noticed.”

                                   3

It was nonsense, of course. He was in no position to think about such
things, at all. And as for Rose-Ann, he had in the course of weeks
become as it were acclimated to her loveliness, so that it no longer
tormented him as at first. He was secretly proud of his
imperturbability. And if Rose-Ann’s companionship had lately grown more
disturbing than ever, it was for a very different reason. It was because
of her flattering and at the same time annoying expectations of him as
an artist—a poet—a creator. He attempted to deny any pretensions of this
sort; he tried to evade any discussion of art at all. But they had
formed the habit of going to the theater together, and he found it
impossible to resist talking with her about how plays should be written.

“Why don’t you write a really-and-truly play?” she asked, one night on
their way back to the Community House.

He attempted to turn the question aside. “Hawkins is writing one,
according to office gossip,” he said. Hawkins was the young dramatic
critic of the Chronicle.

“Well, if Hawkins can write a play—!” she said.

“All right,” he assented cheerfully, “I’ll wait and see if Hawkins can!”

“Don’t be silly,” she said. “You know what I think, Felix?”

“I never have any idea what you’re going to think. What is it this
time?”

“I think you’ve had your feelings hurt, somehow, back where you came
from. In regard to writing. Something has made you afraid to show what
you can do.”

There was something quaintly maternal in her manner which almost took
the sting out of that word _afraid_. But Felix hardened. “Well, why
don’t _you_ write a play?” he countered.

“Don’t be brutal, Felix. You know—and I know—that I’m not up to it. I
can do little things. I can’t do a big thing. And you can.”

“It’s nice of you to be so sure, Rose-Ann. But I’m not. Or rather, I’m
pretty sure I _can’t_. So there.”

“Why do you say that? It’s not true, and you know it.”

He wished Rose-Ann had not become so serious. They were walking home
through one of the first winter snows. A little while ago she had thrown
a fluffy snowball at him, and threatened to wash his face, reproaching
him for not being enough of a child. This was even more embarrassing. He
had an absurd fear that she would commence to talk to him about his
soul.... This was coming dangerously near to it. He scuffed up the soft
snow with his feet, while she looked sidewise at him waiting for a
reply.

“Rose-Ann, you make me uncomfortable,” he said at last. “This business
of having some one ‘believe’ in you isn’t what it’s cracked up to be in
the romances. It—it’s a damned nuisance. I’d be perfectly happy if you
didn’t come to me with your preposterous demands. I’m not the young
genius in ‘The Divine Fire.’ I’m a reporter on a Chicago newspaper. Of
course I want to write a play. Every young reporter wants to, I suppose.
And of course, since you insist upon it, I think I could. But what of
that? Every young reporter thinks the same thing.”

“Why this pretence of modesty, Felix? You’re scared, that’s all.”

“Scared of what?” he demanded angrily.

She answered slowly, as though she had just discovered the reason. “Of
letting people know your real ambitions.”

“Of making a silly fool of myself,” he muttered.

“But where’s the harm?” she continued. “Suppose they did know? Suppose
everybody knew all your secret dreams? Would that be so terrible? Do you
think everybody is watching you, ready to laugh at you? You’re afraid of
being laughed at, that’s the trouble.... Well, I know your secret,
Felix, and I don’t laugh.”

He shrugged his shoulders. It was intolerable that she should think she
knew his secret. “What if I do want to write plays? I want to write
novels, and poems, and lots of other things. And if I had nothing else
to do, perhaps I’d try my hand at them all. But my main concern now is
to make a living.”

“Still worried about your job? Not really?”

“Yes, really. How do I know how long this fool stunt of mine is going to
please the Chronicle? I haven’t done a single piece of straight
reporting since I’ve been on the paper. And I know no more of the real
Chicago—”

“Felix, you _are_ absurd!”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                        VIII. Rose-Ann Goes Away

                                   1

ROSE-ANN had suddenly become a problem. In spite of everything he was
falling in love with her. He criticized her to himself, harshly. She was
a daughter of the bourgeoisie—a sort of madcap and runaway daughter, it
was true, adventuring by herself in Chicago for a while, but destined,
he told himself, after the flare of this rebellion had burned itself
out, to return to the bourgeois fold. What else could she do? She was
not an artist—or not enough of an artist—to face the world alone. She
wrote a little, cleverly, but with no sustained strength; and what she
wrote was inferior to what she thought and felt. She was one of those
people who might have been, and never would be, writers; and the reason
was, as Felix saw it, in her bringing up. Some softness had intervened
between her and reality; she could see reality truly, far more truly
than he could; but its sharp edges had never hurt her, it seemed; her
mind had never been rowelled by the spur of painful experience. That was
it. She had never been hurt enough; and one who has not been hurt has no
need of the artist’s revenge—the act of re-creation by which he triumphs
over pain. She had disliked her world; not profoundly, but a little; and
she had changed it sufficiently by the mere act of coming to Chicago and
living in a settlement house and playing with costumes and scenery. That
would content her—would more than satisfy her rebellious impulses. She
talked of herself as one of the “queer” people of the settlement; but
she wasn’t. She would go back, and this period of her life would provide
her a fund of humorous reminiscence at bourgeois dinner parties in
Springfield, Illinois, where she would be, no doubt, quite a figure.
Paul, with his “pewter-platter” manner, Dick, the boy who had fled from
Community House and died of pneumonia in the slums, and himself, would
quaintly adorn her reminiscences.... So Felix argued against her to
himself; and it was easy enough to say all these things about her when
she was not there to deny them by her every word and gesture.

In her presence he could not think these things. She was a seeker like
himself—imperfect like himself, but utterly sincere—a comrade in the
very simple and obvious adventure of making the most out of life.... Why
was he so suspicious of her? Was it because he had vaguely heard that
her people were well-to-do? She was not to blame for that! She was
herself. There seemed no reason to distrust her.

But these arguments sufficed to discourage any tendency to romanticize
her. She was less a wonderful person to him now than a dangerous person.
Dangerous only in the sense that she might make a fool of him. Her
friendliness was almost more than mere friendliness, and it took an
effort to adjust himself to it. If he had been less susceptible, he
might have taken the relationship more easily for what it was. If, for
example, he could only have put his arm around her shoulder with an
authentic brotherliness! But he was afraid to. No, there was the
possibility of his making a romantic damned fool of himself about her,
and being laughed at—or perhaps gently chided, it was hard to tell which
would be worse. He could run the risk of that; or he could stiffly keep
his distance, and suffer an occasional sisterly caress without returning
it. He preferred to keep his distance.

Yet there were times when all this seemed an absurd affectation. They
would be sitting, he sprawled on her couch and she rather primly upright
in her chair, discussing something, when suddenly it would occur to him
that they were only pretending to be adults, only making-believe at this
intellectual game—that they were really only boy and girl, with the
ancient and traditional interest of boy and girl in each other. He would
watch her as she bent forward, with her curious little eager frown,
intent upon making herself clear; and then he would note his own
attitude, tense with apparent interest in what was being said.
“Hypocrites!” he would address himself and her in his mind. “I want to
kiss you—and you want to, too. And we don’t. Isn’t it absurd!” And
meantime he answered her arguments aloud. “Little liar!” he would be
saying to her in his mind, “If I came over and put my arms about you—!”
But he remained where he was.... And then, as suddenly, that tender and
humorous insight into the situation would vanish, and she would appear
to him an alien—an interesting young woman, but a complete stranger—and
he would be glad he had not done anything silly.

                                   2

Then, in the midst of the preparations for the Christmas performance of
“The Prince and the Pauper,” when everything was being rushed to its
conclusion, and everybody interested in the play was sitting up all
night to work on costumes or scenery, and the children were forgetting
their lines or getting them mixed with lines rashly learned from Felix’s
Pied Piper play, there came an interruption.

One evening Rose-Ann did not come down to dinner, and he heard one of
the residents say something about somebody in Springfield being ill, and
Rose-Ann’s being called home.

Knocking at her door, he found Rose-Ann packing and dressing for the
journey. Her mother was ill. She was taking the train for Springfield in
half an hour.

“Can I help you?”

“You can see me to the train if you want to. Come back in about ten
minutes and I’ll be ready.”

He had the feeling that this was the last he would see of her....

She explained the situation as they taxied in to the station. Her
mother’s illness, she was sure, was nothing serious. She was annoyed at
being telegraphed for. It would upset the plans for the Christmas play.
Miss Clark would be put in charge of her group, and spoil everything.
The telegram was just a trick to get her back home for the holidays. And
yet—“Curious!” she said, “I never get along with my mother, and I don’t
believe there’s anything the matter with her, and yet I’m as worried
over this telegram as if I were the most dutiful daughter in the
world.... The worst of going back home is, I shall be with the whole
family—especially my brothers. They’ll want me to stay there. They don’t
approve of my being alone in Chicago. They’re just using mother as a
means of getting me into their clutches. They’ve tried it before. And
when I find that it’s simply mother’s annual ‘spell,’ I’ll tell them all
what I think of them and Springfield and the furniture business—and come
back. I’ve made these flying trips three times now.... And yet I _am_
worried.”

Felix reflected that she would never get free from these family
claims—that whatever she tried to do, she would be always called back to
Springfield, and would obey the call. She would spend her whole life in
a vain attempt to be something besides a daughter and sister of people
who were inimical to all her wishes; until finally she surrendered to
them.... He had the sense of hiding these hostile feelings from the
swift friendly glance with which she looked to him for sympathy.

They had just time to catch the train. Felix gave her suitcase to the
porter, and she took his hand. “Be good while I’m gone, Felix,” she
said. “Don’t do anything awfully foolish. Good-bye.” She leaned to him
and kissed him—a timid little kiss. And then they were clinging to each
other in a stunned and breathless embrace, as if they had been flung
violently into each other’s arms; they kissed, with a rude, strong,
almost painful passion,—a kiss that hurt and could not hurt enough to
satisfy them, and then become infinitely tender. It was a kiss that
sought to annihilate time and space, to make them remember it and what
it meant forever.

“’Bo-o-o-ard!” said the conductor, and took Rose-Ann’s elbow and put her
firmly on the step. She turned and smiled back at Felix, and the train
started.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                                                Book Two
                                                            Canal Street

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                    IX. How to Spend One’s Evenings

                                   1

FELIX began the task of forgetting—a task for youth in its most
fantastically stern mood:—of trying to forget that unforgettable moment
on the station platform with Rose-Ann. Or at least, to behave as though
it had not occurred. For he was convinced that neither of them had
intended it to occur.

It was obviously an accident—the mere mood of parting. It had meant
nothing. It must be ignored.

But it was hard to ignore. It was a moment to which memory would recur.
It dramatized vividly for him the fact—to which he sought to adjust
himself—of Rose-Ann’s absence.

Rose-Ann’s absence made a great deal of difference, it seemed—and not
only to himself. What she had predicted in regard to her dramatic class
came true very quickly. Under Miss Clark’s fussy direction, all the fun
was taken out of the work for everybody. Mrs. Perk looked on the altered
face of things with an air of wry disapproval, and whispered to Felix,
“Oh, it’s not the same place at all any more!” The children were
listless. Paul froze into a silent rage at some unfortunate remark of
Miss Clark’s about his scenery and left Community House, and Felix began
to stay away from the rehearsals altogether.

He wrote these things to Rose-Ann, and received brief replies which
showed how remote all these matters had now become to her. He accepted
the probability that Springfield had captured her for good and all this
time. It was true that she always inquired in a friendly way about the
things in which they had both been interested; but these weekly
inquiries were tinged with a kind of faint retrospective glamour, as
though to her these interests were already invested with the pathos of
distance. She was evidently saying good-bye to her moment of freedom.

Felix did not tell her how much he missed her. He was rather ashamed of
the fact. There was something intellectually disgraceful about a state
of dependence upon one person for companionship....

It was true, he had Clive. But he had been neglecting Clive, and now
Clive had other concerns. Clive had several times urged him to come out
over the week-end to Woods Point, where he was undertaking to spend the
winter in his summer cottage, and Felix had always had some engagement
with Rose-Ann which prevented his going. Now, when he would be glad to
accept such an invitation, it was not renewed; Clive, it appeared, was
so much interested in some girl that he had no time to spare for Felix.
And Clive was the only person about the office that he cared for; at
Community House since Rose-Ann had gone, there was no one. He wished
that he had taken the trouble to make a few more friends. It made all
the difference in the world to have some one to talk to at the day’s
end, some one to share one’s thoughts with....

Suddenly he began to find Community House intolerable. He spent his
evenings looking for a place to live. Certainly he could not be less
lonely anywhere else! And one evening, on Canal Street, in a dingy
building which had apparently once been a residence and was now rented
out room by room, he found a tiny hall-room on the third floor which he
had not the excuse of not being able to afford. He made some explanation
for leaving Community House—which it seemed was not needed, for room
there was much in demand—and moved at once into his new home.

It was a room about eight by eleven feet, hardly holding the cot-bed,
table and chair, which constituted its furnishing. He improvised a shelf
above the tiny radiator in the corner for his half-dozen books.... And
for one evening he was happy, in being away from Community House, in
being in a place of his own, in having in some way established his
independence.

And then loneliness descended upon him in a black mist, obliterating the
clear outlines of the actual world. He managed to get through the day’s
work somehow, and then he wandered about hopelessly, unseeingly, the
victim of a longing that made the very act of breathing a pain; a
longing that he could not understand—for what was Rose-Ann to him?

                                   2

He dined in various restaurants in the loop, in the vague hope of
finding some one to talk to.

One evening, as he stood in a restaurant looking about for an empty
table, he heard his name called. A young man, sitting alone, was
beckoning to him. It was Eddie Silver, a reporter of whom Felix had been
hearing much of late.

“Come over and congratulate me,” he said, grinning, “I’ve just been
fired!”

“Really? What for?” Felix asked.

“Coming down to the office crazy drunk,” said Eddie Silver proudly. “Sit
down.”

Felix had heard of Eddie Silver’s epic drunkennesses. Another thing he
had heard was that Eddie Silver wrote poetry.... This was not so rare a
thing among Chicago reporters as Felix would have supposed. Two in every
dozen young reporters, as Clive had said, were poets of a sort. But, as
Clive had added, it was always of a tame and colourless sort. Eddie
Silver was not tame and colourless, whatever his poetry might be. Or
rather there was nothing tame about the Eddie Silver legend—though its
hero had appeared to Felix, whenever they met, to be the gentlest soul
alive.

Eddie Silver was having a dinner which consisted mostly of cocktails;
but he showed no signs of any of the alcoholic belligerency for which he
was famed; he seemed, on the contrary, likely to burst into tears at any
moment. He was in a soft poetic mood. He talked about poetry. He tried
to recite it. But the lines kept getting mixed up.

“Come on over my place,” he said, “we’ll read some Swinburne.”

He took Felix to a large furnished room a little to the north of the
loop, and propping himself on a couch with pillows, read “Poems and
Ballads” in a sonorous and unintelligible manner until midnight. He
invited Felix to come back the next evening for more Swinburne, and
Felix went away feeling that the legend had rather over-emphasized the
belligerent side of Eddie Silver’s character.... He came the next
evening, which was spent in precisely the same manner, ending with an
invitation to come in tomorrow evening for still more Swinburne.

Felix wondered if Eddie Silver read Swinburne every night.

Coming the third time, he found Eddie Silver’s room occupied by half a
dozen young men all more or less drunk.

“C’m’ on in!” Eddie Silver called from the couch, where he sat propped
with pillows as before, with a book in one hand and a glass in the
other. “On’y two bo’l’s o’ Swinburne left!”

He rose, and poured a glassful of whiskey for Felix.

Felix looked at the huge drink with an involuntary gesture of dismay.

“’S all right,” said Eddie Silver. “Nas’y stuff, I know! But you take it
’n’ you’ll feel better right away!”

Felix had never been drunk. He had never wanted to be drunk. But it
occurred to him that now was the proper time to have that experience.

He looked about the room. All these half dozen people were in that
state, so eloquently described by the poets, of being “perplexed no more
with human and divine.”

One of them was telling an incoherent story, and two others were
laughing in the wrong place and being told indignantly that that wasn’t
the point at all. Another was singing to himself, and not doing it very
well. Poor devil! he probably wanted to sing and nobody would let him
except when he was drunk. And still another was arguing with Eddie
Silver, who paid no attention to him whatever, about somebody named
John. “John means well,” he explained, with the air of one who
understands all and forgives all. “John just don’t know how, that’s all!
But he means well.”

Felix considered. Did he really wish to join them in that state, so
merely ridiculous when viewed from the outside? Yet they were doubtless
happy, in some way which he, in his inexperience, knew nothing about.
Well, he would try it. He would get drunk.

And he might as well do it quickly.

He drank half the glassful down, choked, and was slapped on the back. He
waited.

He was surprised, and a little disappointed, to find that it had no
further effect than the same gentle exhilaration he had experienced from
an evening’s slow sipping of his friend Tom Alden’s Rhine wine. That was
not what he wanted. That was not enough. He braced himself, and drank
the rest of the glassful.

Some hours later he was awakened from a deep and peaceful sleep on the
floor of the bathroom by two of his companions, and walked out of the
house.... He felt refreshed by the night air, and remembered a
discussion about Chicago, and of slapping somebody’s face. He did not
remember being knocked down—several times, they said. By a man named
Smith. He did not remember Smith.

“And every time,” they told him gleefully, “you got up and solemnly
slapped his face again. You said you wouldn’t allow anybody to talk that
way about Chicago.... And you kept calling him ‘McFish.’”

His companions were taking him home. He thanked them extravagantly, and
tried to give them directions, but they explained that they lived in the
same building he did—a fact which at the time he found very puzzling.
Nevertheless they affirmed that it was so.

He got up two flights of stairs without assistance, and opened his door,
but immediately became overcome with sleep, and sank on the couch. They
pulled off his shoes and left him....

At seven o’clock in the morning he awoke, located himself after a
momentary wonderment and shook his head. No headache! That was strange!
Apparently he was not going to suffer the traditional aftermath.... He
went to take a cold bath, and returning found one of his companions of
the night before in the hall. “How do you feel?” He felt fine. He had
some breakfast at the nearest restaurant, and went to work.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                        X. The Detached Attitude

                                   1

HIS kindly neighbors, who lived in the big room at the back next to his
own, were Roger Sully and Don Carew, so he learned from the inscription
on their mail-box in the entrance. He went in that evening after dinner
to thank them.

He was surprised to find, in this dingy building, so charming a
room—strikingly in contrast to his own bare and cheerless one. Across
one wall a blazing splash of colour—some kind of foreign-looking
dyed-stuff—and a few brilliant cushions on the couch, warmed the place
and made him forget what seemed the bleak chill of all the rest of the
world.

Roger, it appeared, was the fat little man with the air of distinction,
who was making coffee in a glass bulb over an alcohol lamp. Don, a long
and bony youth, was stretched at ease in a big chair.

“Have some coffee with us,” said Roger. “It will be good coffee, I
promise you. And good coffee,” he went on in his gently modulated voice,
“is one of the few really important things in life.”

“And a cigarette,” said Don, rising to offer him a box of queer-looking
Russian things with long pasteboard mouthpieces. As he offered the
cigarettes with one hand, he raised the other and ran his long fingers
through his fair tousled hair, reducing it to a state of more
picturesque disorder. He made this gesture continually, not in mere
nervousness but as if he were caressing something he liked.

The coffee was very good, and Felix drank it gratefully. The two hosts
drank it as though it were a rite, Felix observed, a veritable and
solemn ceremonial. They smoked cigarettes the same way—slowly, as if
tasting each inhalation with a devout palate. And aside from these
rather solemn sensory enthusiasms, they maintained a slightly bored air.

They referred to the incident of the night before as if it had happened
a thousand years ago. It did not appear to interest them in the least,
and Felix found it difficult to identify them with the delightedly
chattering companions who had escorted him home—until something that was
said seemed to break the spell, and Roger leaned forward eagerly and
demanded:

“Yes—now _why_ did you call him McFish? Have you any idea?”

“Yes—why?” echoed Don, also alert.

Felix did not know, and could not imagine why anybody should care to
probe the secret of a mere drunken mistake in nomenclature.... The
McFish incident reminded them of some equally esoteric mistake made upon
some similar occasion, and they spent an hour in a quite excited
discussion of psychic revelations which seemed to Felix both immaterial
and irrelevant. He went away feeling as though he had stepped by
inadvertence into a chapter by Henry James, and he decided not to come
again.

But he did drop in a few evenings later, in sheer boredom, and drank
their coffee, and found that upon occasion they could tell a really
amusing story—or was it rather that he had begun to understand the point
of view from which they found things amusing?

One phrase in their talk, solemnly uttered, caught his fancy. He had
seen it in books, but as used by them it seemed to have a special
significance.

“The detached attitude?” he repeated inquiringly.

They smiled a little pityingly at him, and explained. The detached
attitude was the proper state of mind for an artist. It was an attitude
toward life which painters had learned, but which writers generally had
forgotten and must re-learn if they were ever to make writing a true art
again. The Greeks had the detached attitude. Flaubert had it.... And
obviously Don and Roger also had it.

Felix suspected that it might be simply another name for boredom, but he
did not venture to say so.

The artist, they went on—one taking up the argument languidly where the
other left off—should strictly avoid personal experience. He should hold
himself austerely aloof from participation in human affairs....

“But I thought,” said Felix, “that what the artist was supposed to need
was experience!”

“A vulgar error,” said Roger scornfully.

“What an artist needs,” said Don, “is _background_.”

And _background_, Felix gathered from their further explanations, was
something one got by being in many different places without ever
settling down and belonging to any one place—by merely being there and,
as Roger put it, “looking on disinterestedly while other people
passionately and ridiculously did things.”

The idea rather appealed to Felix.... He secretly wished he had stood by
and looked on while the others got drunk that night. He regretted his
participation in that scene—regretted it in spite of the absence of any
of the traditional unpleasant after-effects. He wished he had remained
austerely aloof from the human activities of that occasion. What, after
all, was the use of passionately hitting somebody in the face if you
couldn’t remember afterward what it was all about?... He was inclined to
think that Roger and Don were right; it was not the meaningless raw
material of experience that one needed, but some calm, fixed point of
view from which to look on and understand it.

Did they have such a point of view? He began to respect and envy them.

                                   2

It was strange—he said to himself—that he should continue to be so upset
by Rose-Ann’s absence! He realized grudgingly and unwillingly how much
the centre of his Chicago she had been. Without her companionship, his
life seemed to have lost its significance.

His class at Community House had come to seem a nuisance, his newspaper
work mere empty trickery. And there was nothing in the outside world to
turn to, no cause that seemed worth serving. Socialism—it was too
Utopian. Social reform—perhaps that was not Utopian enough. The art of
writing—no, he must not think of that.... He found in his life nothing
to give it meaning.

Rose-Ann’s letters increased his sense of futility. They were friendly
letters, telling of her mother’s illness, which it seemed was
sufficiently real this time, and of her encounters with a family of
aggressively brotherly brothers; and to these letters he had responded
in equally friendly terms.

That was the trouble. He did not want to write friendly letters.... He
wanted to write angry letters. He wanted to tell her to stop writing to
him—to let him alone, and let him forget her, as she would soon forget
him. He wanted to say: “You know, and I know, that your moment of
freedom, and all it promised, is over for good now. Springfield has got
you, you belong to your family again, you will never come back except as
the wife of some fat Springfield manufacturer, to see the sights, or go
to the theater with him and show off your new gowns, and—yes, you will
come to Community House, and visit your old class, and as you go away
you will say to your husband, ‘I used to know such a quaint and
interesting boy here—I wonder what has become of him!’ And your fat
husband will put his fat cigar into the other corner of his fat mouth,
and say, ‘Yes, I suppose it’s a good thing your folks got you back to
Springfield when they did!’ But he will be wrong, at that; Springfield
is your natural habitat, you would have gone back there anyway....”

He wanted to write absurd things like that to her. Instead, he wrote
friendly letters, “frank” and comradely and cool, in the tone in which
their whole relationship had been couched from the first, up to that
insane moment on the station platform....

He was ashamed of himself for thinking so much about her. Of course he
was not in love with her! He was merely lonely.

Clive was still preoccupied with that troublesome girl to whom he had
darkly and allusively referred in their infrequent luncheons together.

He needed other friends. He called on Roger and Don one Sunday
afternoon, and they were primping to go out to a tea, and urged him to
come along. “It’s at Doris’s—you know Doris, don’t you? Doris Pelman.
You’ll like her.”

Doris Pelman’s apartment, somewhere on the north side, was like Don’s
and Roger’s in having a certain impressive charm which consisted
precisely in its being un-homelike. It was meant, somehow, to be looked
at, rather than lived in. The chairs were thin-legged and rickety, but
doubtless genuine antiques; the rugs were hung on the walls instead of
on the floor; and on the walls, too, were dim Chinese paintings to whose
beauty Felix was dense; yet altogether the place had an effect of being
somewhere quite out of the world, and Felix liked it for that.

He was introduced at once to half-a-dozen young men and women, and in
the course of the afternoon to half-a-dozen more. The young men greeted
Don and Roger with a languid enthusiasm, and the young women with a sort
of boisterous camaraderie. Felix was struck by something at once
delicate and artificial about these young men, something which he had at
first noted and then became oblivious to in Roger and Don. Among them,
he felt somehow coarse and brutal.... He had an impulse to swear, or
spit on the floor.

Don and Roger and two other young men were talking about travel. A
nostalgia for foreign parts seemed to afflict them all. They had, it
seemed, been everywhere in Europe; and most of them knew, with an
especial and fond intimacy, the geography of France, Italy, and Spain.
They had all been somewhere, if not East of Suez, at least somewhere
exotically remote, last year; and they were going somewhere even more
strange and distant, next year. With Don and Roger the question was,
Tunis or Tahiti?—they could not decide which.

Felix had accepted this travel-mania as part of Don’s and Roger’s
interesting scheme of life. Sometimes he had even envied them, for they
boasted that they did all this travelling “on their wits”; they insisted
that one could go anywhere and live well, without money—and Felix had
felt rather ashamed of his own singular lack of nomadic enterprise. But
today he felt annoyed with them. He remarked to himself that though he
had not ostensibly travelled, he had actually spent his life in changing
his place of habitation, from house to house and from town to town; and
even if these places were only the same middle-western town all over
again each time, yet he felt that he had never stayed long enough to get
really acquainted with it! He observed aloud, challengingly, that he
thought one might stay in a city like Chicago the whole of one’s life
without quite exhausting its interest.

The four young men raised their eyebrows, and uttered impressively the
names of the great capitals of Europe; and even more unctuously the
names of little out-of-the-way foreign towns of which he had never
heard.

“The trouble with writers,” Don remarked—he and Roger paid Felix the
compliment of regarding him as a fellow-writer—“is that they try to
write before they have sufficient background.”

Evidently, Felix reflected, Don and Roger had not made that mistake!
They had been acquiring background for years, according to their own
testimony—Roger for some ten years, and Don for perhaps five. And
neither of them had, so far as he could discover, written anything
yet!... And when would they begin, with so much background still left to
be acquired? Tunis and Tahiti!

He turned impatiently to the young women.... They seemed at first much
more congenial spirits. And yet there was something odd about them,
too—something odd in their very friendliness. His hostess, Doris Pelman,
a strikingly handsome girl, tall and fair, was the one with whom he had
what most nearly resembled a conversation—a thing difficult enough to
achieve at a tea. What immediately impressed him was that she did not
seem at all conscious of her looks—she might, from her behaviour, not
have been possessed of any; or rather, the mysterious barrier across
which two strangers, man and woman, must communicate, seemed not to be
there for her; she was apparently unaware of herself and him, in a way
that even old Mrs. Perk, a grandmother, never could be. There was in her
manner an utter absence of shyness, an apparent perfect ease in this
contact of personalities. But in her easy unembarrassed friendliness
there was something steely and aloof—a fundamental untouchableness. She
talked fluently, about his work and hers—she was an interior decorator,
it appeared,—about the new books and plays, and, with an especial zest,
about people.... A peculiar zest, too: she had a way, which at first
gave him an uncanny feeling, of talking about human beings as though
they were insects. The only things of which she spoke with visible
affection were the fabrics and materials of her profession—and art in
general.

But they were all, he felt, rather like this. The tea had become a kind
of family gathering, in which only Felix felt out of place. Dusk fell,
tall candles were lighted, and everyone became anecdotal. It would seem
that they had spent their lives in collecting these anecdotes, and they
related them and heard them with an inexhaustible relish—each one being
rehearsed at full length with a loving care for the minutest
psychological details. Some of these stories were apparently precious
gems in their collection, worthy of being taken out and enjoyed over and
over again. Other stories they laughed over uproariously, chokingly,
helplessly—though to Felix the point of these seemed frequently rather
obscure, and seldom very funny.

He went away feeling surprised, and not knowing quite whether he was
disappointed or grateful at the absence of any challenge in these new
feminine acquaintanceships. He had never consciously realized, except
now in its absence, that undercurrent of vague questioning, at once
delightful and disconcerting, as to just what there might be in a new
“friendship”—what rich and beautiful possibilities it might hold in
store: all the familiar and foolish day-dreaming that follows the most
casual meeting of masculine with feminine youth. But here there was no
question whatever; imagination took no hold on this extraordinarily
self-possessed, this imperturbable young womanhood.... Here was, indeed,
the “detached attitude”!


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                     XI. An Adventure in Philosophy

                                   1

HE had not confided to Rose-Ann the fact of his change of
residence—though he had asked her to address him in care of the
Chronicle. But after some hesitation, he did write to her an account of
some of the new impressions of Chicago which that change of residence
had yielded. He did so with the feeling, which he could not logically
defend, that these things concerned her equally with himself. He told
her of Don and Roger, of Doris Pelman, and the detached attitude.
“Adventures in philosophy,” he called them; and he added:

    “_These people find life ugly, I think, and so they avoid and
    evade it. That is what I seem to myself to be doing at present,
    too. But I am not like them—I cannot just look on and be amused.
    Only I want to live my life understandingly—and I seem to have
    lost my bearings._”

A boyish letter, he thought, having sent it; and he was glad enough that
her reply made no mention of its contents—being, in fact, only a brief,
hurried uncommunicative note of acknowledgement. But its briefness did
not hurt him; by the time it came she was an utter stranger to him
again. He glanced at her note, threw it in the waste-basket, and went on
writing some meaningless story for the Chronicle.... After all, he had
one thing left—a certain pride in his work: though it was all of no
consequence, he knew whether it was good or bad—nothing could take that
away from him....

                                   2

And then at another of Doris Pelman’s teas he began another “adventure
in philosophy.”

He had been invited to come again. It appeared that these teas were an
institution. He came, out of curiosity, and left early; and as he went
out into the hall he was joined by a young man who had come late, and
who had sat in the corner silently and with an expression of weary
gloom. He was a short, thick-set young man with curly black hair and
heavy lips. He had interested Felix as possibly—he thought certainly—the
only person there besides himself who did not feel at home in that
group.

Outside the apartment door, he turned to Felix with an expression of
extreme distaste.

“La-de-da!” he said with a glance backward in the direction of the
company they had just quitted. Felix smiled sympathetically.

“You know, those aesthetic birds,” the young man went on, as they
descended the stairs, “—they make me sick.” They emerged upon the
sidewalk. “Come on,” said the young man, “I know where there’s a real
party going on tonight, with some real girls. We’ll get some grub, and
then we’ll take it in. D’you ever eat at George’s? It’s a Greek place on
Clark street, just north of the loop. Not bad at all.—I know you,” he
added. “You work on the Chronicle. You don’t know me, but you ought
to—I’m a pretty good scout. My name’s Budge—Victor Budge. I’m studying
at Rush.”

“At what?” Felix interjected.

“Rush—Rush Medical College. Going to be one of the best little surgeons
that ever cut out a gizzard.” He gave a dramatic flourish of his hand,
as if wielding a scalpel. “But that’s not all. I write, too. In me you
behold the world’s greatest novelist, living, dead, or unborn. Well may
you be amazed—though I must say that you take the news rather calmly.
I’ll tell you about it. I have a theory about art—just like those birds
in there; only I’ve got the correct dope. The trouble with art is that
it’s too detached from life. My idea is that the artist—the writer—has
got to belong to the world he lives in—has got to be a part _of_ it.
That’s why I’m going to be a surgeon. With a simple twist of my
accomplished wrist, and a four years’ course in human guts, I shall be
able to make an honest living, and write on the side. Like Chekhov. I
never read anything he wrote, but I understand he’s _some_ writer. Yes,
believe me, I shall put it all over these literary fakers!—You know
Roger Sully?”

“Yes—and Don. The others I’ve merely met.”

“Well, they’re always gassing about where they’ve been—London, Paris,
and places you never heard of. They’ve made a business of bumming all
over the world. And they call that learning to write!”

“Acquiring background,” assented Felix.

“That’s the word. And avoiding anything that resembles real work. They
have an elaborate code of morals about not working. It’s a point of
honor with them not to work in an office, not to have any job that
requires regular hours, and not to stick at anything longer than a month
or so. A job, says Roger, is fatal to the spirit of art! Can you beat
that?”

“But how do they get along?” asked Felix. He had wondered, for in his
visits to the Sully-Carew apartment there had never been any mention of
the manner of their subsistence.

“Oh, odd jobs on trade papers, publicity stuff—anything. Or nothing.
Mostly nothing right now, I guess. People can live quite a while on
coffee and cigarettes, and an occasional invitation to dinner. And when
they’re short of cash, they can warm themselves with memories of the
equator, I suppose.”

They reached the little basement restaurant, and entered. “I’ll order
for you, if you don’t know the grub,” said Victor Budge. “This is on me
anyway. One lamb kapama, one shish kebab, lots of olives, some red ink,
two baklavas, and Turkish coffee.... Yes, the ripe olives, of course.”

The olives were put before them. “Those remind me of Roger,” said Victor
Budge. “We were having dinner here one night, and he lifted one olive
up, like this, delicately—poor devil, I’ll bet he hadn’t had a square
meal for a week—and said, ‘When I shut my eyes and taste one of these
salty olives, I am back on the Mediterranean, in a boat with a lateen
sail!’ What do you know about that!”

Felix found himself rather sympathizing with Roger, and resenting the
vulgarity of outlook of this young man, which like his vulgarity of
speech, seemed deliberate and forced....

The food came, and Victor Budge served it. “I’m a realist,” he said.
“When I’m hungry, I know it. I don’t pretend that I like olives because
they remind me of the Mediterranean: grub is grub—you need it, and
you’ve got to have it. And if you take life simply and realistically,
it’s not hard to get all you want of it. What’s the use of starving in a
garret? You and I know what life is like, and that it’s a pretty good
old game if you play it like everybody else does. Be like other folks!
Why should an artist feel that he has to be so damn refined and
superior? What’s good enough for ordinary people is good enough for me.
I don’t believe in this artistic belly-aching-around about how coarse
and vulgar life is. Take things as you find ’em, and don’t bawl for the
moon. That’s what I say.”

In spite of the way Victor Budge put this philosophy—its boisterousness
somehow smacked of an inner lack of conviction, as though he were
arguing to convince himself—yet there seemed to be sound sense in it.
That, after all, was what Felix himself was trying to do—be like other
people.... Yes, Victor Budge was right.

“Have some more red ink? Plenty more in George’s cellar.—And girls, for
instance. Now I don’t have any use at all for this—this eternal
poetizing about them! What’s a girl, after all? The same kind of critter
we are! I don’t find ’em mysterious—and I don’t go ’round grouching
about ’em, either. Girls and me have always got along perfectly well.
Because I don’t expect them to be something else than what they
are—Helen of Troy and the Blessed Damozel and all that sort of rot. I
don’t go up to them asking, ‘Are you my long-lost ideal?’ They don’t
want to be anybody’s long-lost ideal. They want to be taken for what
they are! Isn’t it so?”

“I don’t know,” said Felix, humbly.... Yes, doubtless there was
something unrealistic in his attitude toward girls—something that he
must get over.... “I’m afraid I don’t know very much about girls. You
may be right.”

“Of course I’m right,” affirmed Victor Budge. “It stands to reason that
there isn’t just one girl in all the world for you or me.” Which, while
perhaps not a logical sequitur to Victor Budge’s previous remarks, was
precisely what Felix had been trying to convince himself of....

“That,” said Victor Budge, “that sort of silly nonsense in people’s
heads is what makes them go around making themselves miserable, because
they haven’t yet found the one and only. I guess if a man was cast away
on a desert island with a girl, he’d find she was his one and only quick
enough! Of course, if you’re going to have to spend the rest of your
life with her, you’ll want somebody who knows what you’re talking about,
and all that sort of thing! But when all you want is an evening’s good
time, what difference does it make to you whether she’s read the latest
book by Henry James? There are some damn fine girls that couldn’t tell
Henry James from Jesse James, and you darn well know it!”

Yes, Felix thought, books are not the only things worth knowing; there
is life itself. And he had certainly never intended to spend his days in
Chicago without seeing anything of girls. To be sure, he did not want to
fall in love—and he knew himself to be at this period in a dangerously
susceptible mood. But must he be such a fool as to fall in love with the
first girl he kissed? It was time for him to learn to be like other
people—to take such things more lightly. If he could find the kind of
solace which Victor’s words suggested ... and a part of his mind leaped
to welcome the thought of that release from the torment of loneliness.
He envisaged in fantasy a “real” girl, ready to put aside the hypocritic
disguises of civilization and reveal herself as what she was—a splendid
young animal whose touch was joy.... As this warm vision flashed and
faded in his mind, he turned to Victor Budge and asked:

“Where is this party you’re taking me to tonight?” For the idea of these
Arabian Nights come true in Chicago, seemed a little surprising. But
doubtless there were many things that he did not know.

“Did I say party? Well, you know what I mean,” said Victor Budge, not
without embarrassment. “It’ll be a real party, all right, before we get
through! We’ll start down in Jake’s place, and take in the whole
district.”

Felix flushed slowly, a painful flush of anger and shame that seemed to
spread all through his body. Anger and shame at his own credulity.
Arabian Nights, indeed! He laughed, loudly—at himself.

A picture came into his mind, compounded of things he had read, and the
brief glimpses of actuality with which his curiosity had been satisfied
and sickened back in Port Royal on the Mississippi—of the tawdry, dirty,
dull, the incredibly dull, the joyless, loveless, hard, empty life of—as
it was sometimes called—joy.... The stupid women, the foolish men, the
mechanical noise and laughter, the boozy humour, the touch of stale,
jaded, weary flesh.... And this was what Victor Budge was talking
about—this was the subject upon which he had expended so much vulgar
eloquence!... This, then, was Victor Budge’s realism. This was what he
called a real party; and those were what he called “real girls”.... That
was what he meant by taking things as one found them, and not bawling
for the moon.

Victor Budge was staring at him. “What’s eating you?” he asked.

Felix laughed again. “Well,” he said, “I’ve some aesthetic theories of
my own which make it impossible for me to accept your invitation. What’s
good enough for other people isn’t good enough for me. I don’t want to
take life simply and realistically. I’m going off to starve in my garret
and write poems to Helen of Troy and the Blessed Damozel!”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          XII. Bachelor’s Hall

                                   1

HE had decided to write—what, he did not know yet: and it did not
matter: something, anything, a play, a poem, a story—whatever came into
his head, good or bad. It would occupy his time.

He spent a happy evening buying the materials of writing at a stationery
store. He bought a dozen penholders, a quantity of his favourite stub
pens, two bottles of a thick black indelible ink, half a ream of good
thin bond paper, a great blotting-pad and a whole stack of small
blotters. That afternoon he had bought a copy of Roget’s “Thesaurus,”
without which the literary life is mere vexation; and a good, fat,
reliable little dictionary with “derivations.” Going to his room, he
lighted the gas, arranged these materials on his little table, gazed at
them with pleasure—and realized that he had forgotten to buy an
eyeshade. He went back to the stationery store, and returned with a
half-dozen eyeshades of the best pattern, the kind that do not saw the
ears or get tangled in the hair. It appeared to him also that the
gas-light really would not do; he must get a kerosene student’s lamp; it
would be a nuisance to keep it filled and trimmed, and the chimney
clean—but the literary life has its inevitable penalties.... He would
get a student’s lamp and a gallon can of kerosene tomorrow.

He sat down again at the little table, fitted a stub pen into his
penholder, lighted a match, and held the steel point in the blaze, to
burn off the oil and take out the temper, making it soft and flexible
and easy to write with. He uncorked the ink, wiped out the neck of the
bottle with a blotter, and dipped his pen in. Yes, the pen held a full
sentence’s-worth of ink, as it should. There was nothing the matter with
the pen. He took a sheaf of paper from the great pile on the back of the
desk, laid it at the proper angle, adjusted his chair, dipped the pen
again, poised it above the virgin paper—and remembered that he had only
two cigarettes left in the box. One cannot do a good night’s writing
without plenty of cigarettes. He went down to the cigar store and
returned with five boxes.

Once more he dipped his pen, lifted it ...

An hour later he roused himself from the vague waking dream in which his
mind had been immersed. The sheet of paper was covered with lines and
circles, stars, geometrical figures, childish pictures of houses with
smoke coming out of the chimneys, illegible words, his own initials, and
crude attempts to draw the outline of a girl’s arm; and amidst all this,
carefully obliterated, so that he could hardly recognize it himself, the
name—_Rose-Ann_, _Rose-Ann_, _Rose-Ann_....

He tore the sheet into tiny fragments, brushed them to the floor, and
then got down on his hands and knees and carefully picked them up. He
must remember to buy a wastebasket for his room tomorrow. He looked at
his watch. It was twelve o’clock. He would go in and see Roger and Don;
if they were staying up late, they might offer him some coffee.

Roger was lying on the couch reading Flaubert’s “La Tentation de la
Saint Antoine,” and Don was sitting in an easy chair reading Flaubert’s
“Bouvard et Pecuchet.” They looked up, bade him come in, and went on
calmly with their reading. Felix took down a book from the shelf—one of
the later works of Henry James—and yawned over it.... Perhaps he had
better go to bed after all.

At that moment there was a stumbling up the stairs, and a loud banging
at the door.

“That’s Eddie Silver,” said Roger, in a resigned tone.

Felix jumped up and opened the door, and Eddie Silver entered, shouting,
“Hello!”—at the same time playfully thrusting against Felix’s stomach an
automatic revolver made of tin. But Felix did not know that it was a
toy.

He stepped back hastily, with a queer feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“The fool’s got a revolver!” said Roger.

“Here, give me that,” said Don, going over and trying to snatch it.

“Let him alone——he’s drunk,” said Roger.

“No——not drunk!” protested Eddie Silver. “Don’t say I’m drunk!” He
tearfully extended his hands in pleading, with the revolver dangling
from a finger. “But—” and he beamed at them suddenly——“going to _get_
drunk! Going——” He noticed the revolver, put it carefully in one
overcoat pocket, and took out of the other a quart bottle. “Get some
glasses, Rojjie!” And taking off his overcoat, with the revolver still
in its pocket, he bundled it up and tossed it over into the corner of
the room.

There was a moment in which everybody—except Eddie—held himself tense in
expectation of a bullet. Then Don started across the room toward the
overcoat.

“No, Don—no!——You le’ tha’ o’co’ ’lone. ’S my bes’ o’co’!” And then,
very clearly enunciated, “Hurry up with those glasses!”

Felix followed Roger over behind the screen which masked their simple
culinary arrangements. “We’ve got to get him drunk enough to get that
gun away from him,” whispered Roger.

It took another bottle of whiskey, procured by Don and paid for by
Felix, and four hours of time, to kill Eddie Silver’s jealous
watchfulness of that overcoat in the corner. Eddie, with a maudlin
efficiency, divided his attention between the overcoat and the whiskey.
His conversation for the last three of the four hours consisted of a
promise to tell them something. “Wo’n’ tell ’nybo’ ’n worl’ ’cep’ you,”
he kept saying.

It appeared to have to do with himself and some girl——but whether it was
in the nature of a crime or a joke they could not tell, because
sometimes he laughed and again he cried about it. But as often as he
started to tell what it was, he became diverted, and told instead about
somebody else and somebody else’s girl. He confessed many follies that
night, but not his own.

At three o’clock, just when he seemed to be really on the point of
making that long-delayed confession, he suddenly commenced to laugh.
“’Minds me Cli’ Bangs!” he said. “Know Cli’ Bangs?” And becoming
articulate again he went on, “I’ll tell you a funny story about him.
He’s got a—(come on, everybody have another little drink!)—house out in
the country. I te’ you ’bou’ tha’ h-house!”

And with vague relapses into the muffled speech of drunkenness, and
startling recoveries of clearness, but always with a thread of
coherence, he told the story of Clive Bangs’ house. At times Roger,
watchfully listening, had to serve as official interpreter; Roger
understood the locutions of drunken speech as if they were a foreign
language in which he was versed. And Felix, half-ashamed to listen, but
curious, heard it to the end.

It seemed that Clive had built—or rebuilt—that house in Woods Point for
a girl he was in love with at the time, years ago, five or six or seven
years ago. But, said Eddie Silver, he had neglected to tell the girl
that he was in love with her. And so, about the time the house was
finished, she married somebody else. Or at least, became engaged to some
one else, whom she eventually did marry. The point of this story—to
Eddie it was an exquisitely funny story—was that Clive Bangs had kept
the house a secret from her, because he wanted it to be a surprise. And
it was this secrecy of his which had convinced her that he had another
sweetheart; so that, in pique, she became engaged to the other man.

“Cli’s li’l’ secret!” said Eddie Silver, infinitely amused. “Do’ pay to
have se-secrets. Tha’s why I go’ tell my li’l’ secret.”

But again he wandered from the point, much to Don’s and Roger’s
disappointment.

This painful story about his friend stirred Felix deeply. He felt that
it was true—true in essence, however fabricated in detail; it seemed to
him indecent to have this stolen glimpse into the secret of Clive Bangs’
heart—and yet he was glad he had heard the story. Yes, it must be true.
Rose-Ann had put it in a phrase: “Some girl has hurt him.” And this—this
ridiculous and pathetic incident, too ridiculous ever to confess, a
secret that must be buried deep and forgotten—was the reason for Clive’s
being what he was.... And suddenly Felix understood why that story had
moved him so:—for had he not been as ridiculously, as pathetically hurt,
in his own episode of moon-calf-love back in Port Royal? And was that
incident, too, to affect his whole life, remaining untold, unconfessed,
poisoning his courage and his faith?

He jumped up, went to his room, altogether wide awake, and commenced to
write—the story of his folly in Port Royal. He commenced it as a letter
to Rose-Ann. He did not consider whether he would ever dare to send it
to her. He only knew that it must be written so.

An hour later he paused, tired out—and remembered Eddie Silver’s
revolver. After all, that was perhaps a life-and-death matter, and this
wasn’t. He went back to Don’s and Roger’s room.... Eddie Silver’s
confession was again on the point of becoming definite.

“Tell you all about it,” said Eddie. “Lis’n!”

They leaned forward to hear, but Eddie’s head dropped on his arms, and
he was asleep.

“Damn!” whispered Roger.

Felix slipped quietly over to the woolly heap in the corner and reached
into one pocket and then the other. He found something strangely light
to the touch. He pulled it out and gazed at it angrily. A tin revolver!

“F’lix!”

Eddie suddenly awake, was calling to him.

“Go ge’ ’no’er bo’l’ Swinburne!”

Felix looked at his watch. If he went to sleep now, he would never wake
up in the morning in time to go to the office. He might as well keep
awake the rest of the night. “Make some coffee,” he said to Roger, “and
I’ll get some more whiskey for this crazy loon.”

                                   2

That sort of thing—he reflected next evening, when he turned in
immediately after dinner—was not the sort of thing he had expected of
his Canal street home. He had thought of it as being a quiet backwater,
out of reach of the tides of life. And if Eddie Silver was going to come
there!... He fell asleep, only to be awakened by the cry,

“F’lix! Oh you F’lix!” and a pounding on his door. “G’ up! We’re having
li’l’ Swinburne party!”

Felix lighted a match. It was one o’clock. How had that madman got into
the house at this hour? Anyway, there was no sleeping now. Besides, he
had had six hours’ sleep.

He rose and dressed, and went into the other room. “Make me a little
coffee, Roger,” he pleaded.... And an hour later he managed to slip
away, and went back to his room and wrote feverishly on his letter—the
letter which he would never send—to Rose-Ann ... falling asleep with his
head on the table, and only waking in time to get to the office, without
breakfast.

The third evening Eddie Silver came again, and this time Felix felt
himself too tired to write, and drank whiskey with the rest. In the
morning he was apparently none the worse, except that he had no appetite
for anything except a cup of coffee and a cigarette. In the afternoon,
for lack of sufficient sleep, he needed more coffee. And of course, the
more coffee one drank, the less one seemed to need real food, so that
dinner, too, consisted exclusively of coffee. And then he could not
sleep, and sat up half the night writing. Fortunately, Eddie Silver did
not come again for a while, so there was a lull in the fever of
existence. But it took days to get back to normal habits of eating and
sleeping again.

And Felix, in the meantime, had commenced, for the sake of companionship
and good coffee, to take his dinners with Don and Roger in their room,
taking his turn in providing them. These meals were of a delicatessen
sort, sometimes chosen because the ingredients reminded Don and Roger of
Spain or Italy, and sometimes because they made an interesting colour
scheme.

For a while their evenings were quiet. Felix would labour upon that
endless letter to Rose-Ann—who had by now come to seem to him an unreal
figure, an invention of his own fancy; only becoming real again for a
moment, a moment only, when he saw on his desk at the office an envelope
addressed to him in her large undisciplined handwriting. Within that
envelope would be a friendly note, saying nothing; and he would reply in
kind.

One day he dropped in at the little Community Theatre to see how things
were getting on; Rose-Ann in her latest note had expressed some
curiosity about her old class and its new teacher. He found old Mrs.
Perk there.

“It’s pretty bad,” Mrs. Perk whispered. “They don’t like the new one at
all. And they miss you, too.” Which somehow pleased him very much, even
though he suspected it to be only an old woman’s flattery.

“And how do you like your new place? You don’t look very well fed. No,
it’s no use; men can’t keep house by themselves. You’ll have to wait
till Miss Rosy comes back, and be taken care of right!”

“I’m afraid Miss Rosy will never come back,” said Felix.

“Don’t you bother yourself about that!—Here, thread this needle for me,
with your young eyes.... Why, I asked her for a piece of the wedding
cake, the very day she went away so sudden. She’ll be back all right!”

So old Mrs. Perk had been joking with Rose-Ann, too—about him. Felix
wondered how she had taken it....

“No, your bachelor hall won’t last much longer, I can promise you that.”

He laughed and went away, amused at the quaint pseudo-wisdom of the old.
She thought she knew all about him and Rose-Ann. Two young things
hopelessly in love, but too shy to tell each other so! And in this
situation the inconveniences of bachelor’s hall would operate as a _deus
ex machina_, driving him in despair and her in pity into each other’s
arms—and matrimony!

How simple it all seemed to her! And how complex it all was in reality!

Mrs. Perk had the old-fashioned-woman’s naïve confidence in the
importance of woman’s cooking; for that matter, how did she know that
Rose-Ann could cook? Most probably she couldn’t! Girls like Rose-Ann
didn’t nowadays.... And besides, how could Mrs. Perk be expected to
understand the pleasures of a man living alone, free, able to keep what
hours he chose—the sheer lazy charm of a masculine establishment,
however inefficient!

Yes, Felix really enjoyed this happy-go-lucky kind of existence. As long
as there was plenty of good coffee, and cigarettes, nothing else
mattered very much—not even Eddie Silver.

He had commenced to come again. At first his visits were welcome as a
relief from the monotony of Canal street life. But he was becoming a
nuisance.... He would come in at all hours, but preferably when they had
just gone to bed—pounding on the doors until they awoke and let him in.
If the hall-door downstairs chanced to be locked, he would stand in the
street and call to them, and throw pebbles—or dollars—against their
front windows.... They would be drifting peacefully into dreams when
something would wrench violently and painfully at their attention—they
would try to ignore it and go on dreaming, but it would come again,
determined, familiar, insistent—and they would reluctantly awake enough
to become conscious of a voice in the street calling out their names.
“Don! Roger! F’li-i-ix!”

“It’s that damned Eddie Silver!” they would groan, and finally somebody,
with a brain aching for sleep, would stumble down the stairs and let him
in.

“Wake up there, F’lix—I brought you nice li’l’ bo’l’ Swinburne!” he
would call, rattling Felix’s doorknob, until he rose and joined in the
festivities.

So strong is the power of association that Felix came to loathe the
poetry of Swinburne—it had the smell of whiskey on it....

It was increasingly hard to keep awake in the afternoons, however much
he drugged himself with coffee. Getting up in the morning became a
tragedy—his whole being cried out for the sleep he could not have.
Sometimes during the day, in the midst of a story, his mind would
suddenly go blank for a minute. His appetite failed, and there were
pains in his stomach that nothing but whiskey would relieve. He caught a
bad cold, and had a cough that would not go away. And then, one morning
in the eighth week of his stay in the Canal street menage, he found
himself too ill to go to the office.

                                   3

Roger and Don ministered to him with hot coffee, and called in a doctor
who lived in the same building. The doctor had long white locks that
fell picturesquely about the collar of his coat. He stuck a thermometer
in Felix’s mouth, took out his watch and held Felix’s wrist, then shook
his head gravely.

“What do you want to do with him?” he asked.

“We can’t very well take care of him here,” said Don.

“Any folks in town?” asked the doctor.

“No.”

“H’m. How about the County Hospital? They’ll look after him all right.”

“I suppose that is the correct thing to do with a sick person,” said
Roger.

“H’m. Yes.... Has to be pretty serious, though, to get him in.”

“Well,” asked Roger, “how serious is it?”

“H’m. Can’t tell just yet. May be very serious—may not be. Better not
take any chances.... Well, what do you want to do? County Hospital?”

Roger and Don looked at each other. Felix tried to get the thermometer
out of his mouth so as to protest, but commenced to cough instead.

“Yes,” said Roger, “County Hospital.”

“All right,” said the doctor cheerfully, pulling his thermometer out of
Felix’s mouth and putting it in his pocket without looking at it, “I’ll
diagnose pneumonia. Where’s the telephone? I’ll call up the hospital
right away, and stay here till they come.”

So Felix was taken to the County Hospital—first addressing to Rose-Ann a
large envelope in which he put his long, unfinished letter, and giving
it to Don to mail.... And at the hospital, after the doctor got round to
him, the night nurse told him that there didn’t seem to be anything the
matter with him except a bad cold, but the doctor thought he ought to
stay in bed a week and rest up.

“He says you need to make up about a month’s sleep, and get some of that
booze out of your system.” She grinned at him sympathetically, “You
ain’t used to it, are you?”

He rather wished, since he wasn’t going to die after all, that he hadn’t
sent Rose-Ann that foolish letter. Still—he didn’t care. He couldn’t
care very much about anything. He was weak, and tired, and very sleepy.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           XIII. In Hospital

                                   1

THE ward in which Felix lay was a great room with a hundred beds in it,
only a few feet apart.

It was a restful place, after Canal street. Even the delirium of a man
on the other side of the room was, after the first night, easy to
disregard. Those yells had no relation to Felix’s life; at least, they
were not Eddie Silver’s yells. He did not have to wake up and join in
any painful festivities with that man.... In their utter aloofness from
his own life, those yells seemed actually soothing, and he went to sleep
to their music as to a lullaby.

                                   2

Every morning, at five o’clock, he was awakened, and a cup was put to
his lips. It was merely hot tea with milk and sugar in it; but Felix had
never tasted any drink so good as this—so invigorating, so life-giving,
so nourishing.... A wonderful drink! And when he had drained the last
drop, he sank back again into a drowsy slumber like that of childhood.

It was so good to know that he did not have to get down to the office at
eight o’clock. He could just stay in bed all day, and sleep, and sleep,
and sleep.

His friends came ... bringing him messages from still other friends. He
never had any idea that he had so many friends in Chicago. He was
touched by their remembering him, and caring about him. People from the
settlement, and the boys from the office. Clive came the first day,
bringing word that Mr. Devoe, the managing editor, was anxious about
him. His pay, Clive assured him, would go on just the same while he was
sick.... It seemed quite wonderful. Felix had never realized how good
people were....

His friends brought books for him to read. Clive brought him “The Island
of Doctor Moreau,” which he had long ago promised to lend him. Paul came
with a slender volume entitled “The Complete Works of Max Beerbohm.”
Roger brought him “The Confessions of a Young Man,” and Don appeared
with Dowson’s poems. Eddie Silver did not come, though Felix rather
expected him to bring a volume of Swinburne....

Very nice of them, too, to think up such exotic and sophisticated books
for him to read—a tribute, doubtless, to his superior tastes. But he
felt, as he glanced languidly into their pages, that these were not just
the kind of books a sick person wants to read. He wished somebody would
bring him the Saturday Evening Post—or the Bab Ballads.

                                   3

But it was all right—he didn’t want very much to read, anyway. It was
pleasanter to lie and day-dream—or watch the pretty head-nurse, who was
exactly like a pretty nurse on the cover of a magazine—or think. He had
a lot of time to think, now. Hours. Funny, how one never seemed to get
time to think, outside of a hospital.

His thoughts were slow and long, reaching to places where it seemed he
had not been in thought for a great while. Really, a hospital was a fine
place. People ought to go there once a year for a long, long week of
thinking. These thoughts of his own, for instance—how glad he was about
them! They would make a great difference in his life, once he got out of
the hospital....

The only trouble was that when he did get out of the hospital, he never
could remember what any of those thoughts were.... They had vanished,
leaving apparently no trace upon his mind. And that seemed queer, too.
Thoughts that took such hours upon hours to think, and that seemed so
wonderful at the time, oughtn’t to disappear like that....

The only thought that remained was a very small and insignificant
thought, not worthy of being remembered. It was not really a thought at
all, but only a memory: it went back to the time when he was a little
boy in Maple, and there was a syringa bush in front of the house,
growing up to the second-story window; and he would lean out of the
window to see the bird’s nest in the syringa bush, and smell the perfume
of the syringa blossoms; and he would watch the mother-bird, sitting on
her speckled eggs and looking back at him with bright, sharp eyes, not
at all afraid of him.... Out of all those profound thoughts, that was
all he could ever remember.

                                   4

On Saturday morning, his fifth day at the hospital, Clive came, bringing
Felix his pay-envelope from the Chronicle.

“When do you get out?” he asked.

“Some time today,” said Felix. “The doctor has to formally discharge me,
or something. This afternoon, I guess.”

“Well, come out to my place in Woods Point, and rest up for a week
before you go back to the office.... I’ll have something special for
dinner tonight in your honour. I have a neighbour woman come in, you
know, to cook for me whenever I dine at home; you needn’t be afraid
you’ll have to depend on my culinary abilities. All right? Good!... I
must get to the office now and finish some work. Oh, I forgot, here’s a
letter for you. Good-bye—see you this afternoon!”

The letter was from Rose-Ann.

“_I couldn’t write_,” it opened abruptly, “_till today. Mother died
Sunday. There is something very strange about death—you can’t quite
believe it, or adjust yourself to it. I’ve had all sorts of queer
feelings about it all. But I know now why people go through the
ceremonial of funerals—it always seemed to me absurd before. But in some
queer pagan way it seems to make up for all one’s ingratitude to the
dead—for all the things you’ve forgotten, and only remember when it’s
too late. It is, as people say, ‘all you can do.’ And in some queer way,
it suffices. It enables you to think of other things again—to go back to
ordinary life._

“_I shan’t have to ever quarrel with my brothers again now—that’s one of
the other things I think of. I mean—I’ve a tiny legacy, enough at any
rate to make me independent of them forever. Father was very nice to
me—I don’t think I’ve ever told you about my father; he’s a clergyman,
and I suppose perhaps I didn’t want to be known as a clergyman’s
daughter. But he does understand me._

“_Felix, I am worried about you. I suppose it’s absurd, but I keep
thinking you’re in trouble of some kind. And your letters tell me
nothing at all—except—But we will talk about that when I see you._

“_I’m coming back to Chicago as soon as ever I can._”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                                              Book Three
                                                             Woods Point

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          XIV. Heart and Hand

                                   1

ROSE-ANN came to the hospital that afternoon—when he first saw her, she
was walking down the aisle with the young hospital doctor, and he was
pointing casually in Felix’s direction. She nodded, said something to
the doctor, and ran quickly over to Felix’s bedside.

“Are you really all right, Felix?” she asked, sitting down on the bed
and taking both his hands.

He spoke without premeditation: “Oh, Rose-Ann, I’m so glad you’ve come!”

“Why?” she asked breathlessly.

“Because I love you,” he said. It was an immense relief to have said it.

“Do you?” she said. “I’m so glad.” They looked at each other a moment,
and then she bent and kissed him softly.

They were presently aware of the smiling doctor standing beside the bed.
Rose-Ann turned to him.

“I want to take him away,” she said.

“You’re welcome to him,” said the doctor. “He’s perfectly well.”

“Can he leave—right away?”

“This moment, if you like.”

“Good. I’ll go and call a taxi. Be ready as soon as you can, Felix.”

“But where are we going,” Felix asked. He did not want to go back to the
settlement, which he felt that he had in a way deserted; and he had an
idea that Rose-Ann would not let him go back to Canal street.

“I don’t know. I forgot—” said Rose-Ann, sitting down on the bed again
with a helpless air. Then she burst out laughing. “I was going to take
you home—I was under the impression for the moment that we were
married!”

“We can _get_ married,” said Felix, uncomfortably, feeling that an
important matter was being disposed of rather cursorily.

She laughed again. “We can, yes. And I’m afraid that is what is going to
happen to us; aren’t you, Felix?”

The doctor smiled and left them.

“I know,” she said. “It’s an unfair advantage to take of an invalid. But
what else can we do?”

“I only want to be sure—” said Felix.

“Of what?”

“You read my letter, didn’t you—that terribly long letter, about that
girl back in Iowa....”

“Yes, dear.”

“Well, you can see from that—I mean, I’m afraid you will think I’m not
the sort of person who—”

“Who what, Felix?”

“Who makes a good husband. But, Rose-Ann—”

“Oh, I know that, Felix dear. And—I don’t want a good husband. I want
you.”

“But—” He wanted to tell her that that was all over now—that he would
try to be all that she wished....

“I understand,” Rose-Ann was saying. “You told me in that letter that
there was something in you that rebelled against reality.
Irresponsible—unstable—you used those words. ‘Too unstable for ordinary
domestic happiness,’ I think you said. Well ... who wants ordinary
domestic happiness?”

“But,” Felix said earnestly, raising himself up on one elbow, “a girl
wants—more than an interesting lover. She wants ... some certainties in
her life. A home, children, and the promise of security for them. I—”

He wanted to be brave—to offer those certainties. But it was too rash,
too bold a promise. How did he know he could fulfil it?

“I’d have to become very different, wouldn’t I?” he said hesitantly.

Rose-Ann spoke very quietly. “I don’t want you to be different, Felix.
I’m not that girl back in Iowa. I’m—me. I don’t want to be supported—I
don’t need to be; I told you I’ve a tiny but sufficient income of my
own now. And I don’t want the kind of home you speak of, Felix—I want
to go on living my own life outside the home. And—I think, Felix ...
that perhaps there are enough children in the world without—without
vagabonds and dreamers like us taking on such—interesting but
unnecessary—responsibilities.... I really don’t want us to be married
at all, Felix; but I’m not brave enough to dispense with
the—rigmarole. I want you to have your freedom, and I mine. I don’t
ask any promises of you—any at all. I know what we are like.
Freedom—for each other and ourselves—that’s what we want, Felix. Isn’t
it?”

                                   2

He pressed her hand, and remained silent. He had not dreamed of this....

“Isn’t that what we want, Felix?” she asked softly.

“I guess so,” he replied dully, looking away from her.... He knew he
ought to be grateful to her; but he was sad rather, with the wish that
he had had the courage to promise rash, mad, impossibly beautiful
things.

Instead, he was to give her—uncertainty, insecurity....

Did she understand?

“Do you remember,” he asked, staring outward as if into the darkness,
“what Garibaldi offered his soldiers? ‘_Danger and wounds_’”—

He paused. “That seems a queer sort of offer for a man to make to the
girl he loves,” he said grimly. “But, Rose-Ann—”

“I enlist,” she said softly.

They pressed each other’s hand, looking away from each other, silently
each in a separate world of dream. Then she smiled, coming back a little
bewildered to the world of immediate fact. “I must call that taxi,” she
said.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            XV. Pre-Nuptial

                                   1

THE streets outside were full of dirty melting snow, and there was a
cold drizzly rain falling.

“We still don’t know where we are going,” said Rose-Ann, as they stood
in the doorway, waiting for the taxi. “Isn’t it amusing? What are we
going to tell the driver?”

“City Hall, what else?” said Felix.

Rose-Ann shrugged her shoulders. “It’s an abode, a place of residence—a
home, if you like—some place to take you besides Community House or that
dreadful place that I’ve heard about on Canal Street: it’s that I’m
thinking of, rather than the legal process. It’s rather absurd, isn’t
it, that neither of us has anything resembling a home! We just _are_
vagabonds, that’s a fact.... And—somehow I don’t want to be married at
the City Hall and have a fat alderman offer to ‘kiss the bride.’ ... If
you don’t mind, I want some place to go where we can have a moment to
consider what to do. After all, even vagabonds have their self-respect
to take care of! Let’s not be rushed into an ugly and stupid performance
that has no significance or beauty for either of us. I want to have
something to say about the way I get married! And if there isn’t some
way of getting married that’s _our_ way, so that we don’t have to feel
like fools and cowards, why—” she finished in a mournful voice, “I think
I’d rather not be married at all.”

Felix patted her arm reassuringly. “That’s all right,” he said. “I know
what we’ll do. We’ll go to Clive’s place.”

“Clive Bangs? Up at Woods Point?”

“Yes.” And he told her of Clive’s invitation. “You needn’t worry, it’s
not a bachelor’s den, it’s a real house, with all the appurtenances
thereto appertaining, and a woman to come in to do the cooking. And
we’ll be married there. Clive will help us arrange it.”

The taxi had swung up beside the curb. Rose-Ann still hesitated a
moment, then said, “All right!” and climbed in.

“Northwestern station!” said Felix to the driver.

“No!” said Rose-Ann. “To Community House first!—If I’m to be married,
Felix, at least I must change my clothes; there’s no need for me to be
married in this”—and she looked down at the grey suit she was wearing.
“I’m just as I came from the train.”

“All right,” said Felix. “But let’s not stop there long. And—I do hope
they won’t suspect what we are up to ... it will be rather a give-away,
our dashing in together and out again!”

She laughed. “You mean it will look like an elopement? Well, you can
wait for me in the taxi.”

He waited, impatiently, smoking a cigarette, for what seemed a long
time. At last she came, dressed now in some soft creamy thing under her
grey cloak, and carrying a suitcase.

“I think one person suspected me,” she said.

“Mrs. Perk?”

“Yes. Old women think they know so much, don’t they? Why should she
imagine—? just because I—! It’s my own fault, for making a last
sentimental visit to the theatre. But I wanted to—sort of—say good-bye!”

At the station, Rose-Ann hesitated again, and urged Felix at least to
call Clive up and tell him they were coming. Felix refused. “Let’s make
it a surprise,” he said.

“I don’t know!” Rose-Ann said, when they were aboard the train. “To tell
the truth, I’m a little afraid of your friend Clive.”

“Afraid of him?”

“I mean—I’m in awe of him, a little.”

“Nothing awe-ful about Clive. He’s a nice fellow. I’ve always wanted you
to meet him.”

“I wondered why you kept us so carefully apart,” said Rose-Ann. “I
thought perhaps you felt that I didn’t measure up to his specifications.
Do you think I will?”

He laughed tenderly, and looked at her. She was very sweet, and, it
seemed, very tired despite the buoyant vivacity that always made her
lovely. “You are wonderful,” he said. “But,” and he put his arm about
her, to the amusement of two adolescent girls across the aisle, “it
doesn’t make any difference what anybody in the world thinks about you,
except me!”

“How possessive you are, of a sudden!” said Rose-Ann. But she relaxed
deep within his caressing and protecting gesture, and closed her eyes.

He looked down, touching softly with his glance the delicate surface of
her cheek as it slanted away from the high cheek-bones, and the forehead
half hidden under the drooping tangle of red gold hair. Yes, she was
very tired, and strangely enough he was glad to have her so, glad to
feel her restless and vivid life relax to peace in the shelter of his
arm. She had gone through a good deal of late; he thought of her home,
and of that death-bed from which she had come, and the jarring family
hostilities only half-repressed by the solemnity of that scene; it was
strange to think of her—this lovely child made for happiness—emerging
from those troubled shadows....

She was free now. And he too was free—free from dubieties and
hesitations, strange and foolish suspicions of her—free from fear. How
simple everything was, after all! By what strange ways they had come, to
find each other—not knowing until this last moment the real meaning of
their lives....

                                   2

“It’s beginning to snow again,” said Rose-Ann, rousing herself and
looking out of the window. And then—“What have you told Clive Bangs
about me?”

“Not very much,” he confessed. “I suppose because of Clive’s manner
about his own girls—or girl, I should say; it’s been a particular one
for a long time now. He alludes to her, discusses her in an impersonal
way, but he has never even told me her name. A queer sort of futile
secrecy—Which reminds me of a curious story about him.” And he told her
Eddie Silver’s drunken tale of the building of the house.

“This house we are going to?”

“Yes—if the story’s true.”

“So that’s why he became a woman-hater.”

“Perhaps not quite so bad as that. I should say it made him a Utopian.”

“It’s the same thing,” said Rose-Ann. “It’s curious,” she added, “how
many men nowadays—particularly interesting men—are afraid of women;
afraid that being really in love will ruin their career, commercialize
their art, or something—Are you afraid of me, Felix?”

“Not any more,” he laughed.

“Why, were you ever?”

“Afraid you didn’t really care for me,” he said.

“Yes, you _were_ rather shy! But I liked you for it. And it was just as
well, until I had made up my own mind.”

“How did you come to make up your mind? Why did you decide to marry me?”

“Shall I tell you?”

“Yes, tell me.”

“It was partly your love-letters—”

“Did I write love-letters to you? I suppose I did—but I tried awfully
hard not to!”

“Beautiful love-letters! And then—being at home: that more than anything
else made me realize that I was in love with you. I had thought so
before, but then I was sure of it. And—well, it seemed stupid not to
make something of our two lives. Why should we keep on being afraid to
try?...”

“Were you afraid, too, Rose-Ann?”

“Yes. But I’m not any more. We’re going to be very happy, and you’re
going to be a very great man and write wonderful things....”

He stirred uneasily. “Don’t put our happiness on that basis, please.
Suppose I don’t write wonderful things!”

“But you will!”

He sighed. “That makes me realize that I am a little afraid of you,
Rose-Ann. Afraid you will make me have a career!”

“Don’t you want a career? I don’t want you to do anything you don’t want
to.”

“That’s just it. I’m afraid you are going to make me do all the things I
do want to! Things I would otherwise just dream of doing!”

“Is that prospect so terrifying?”

“Yes, rather.”

“Poor dear!” She pressed his hand in hers. “I suppose I _am_ a terrible
person. I can’t do the things I want to do myself; and so I’m going to
insist on your doing them—is that it?”

“I have the feeling that you expect a terrible lot from me,” he said.

“It’s true—I do think you’re rather a wonderful person.”

“I wish you wouldn’t!”

“I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to help it, Felix. You’ll have to
take me, enthusiasm and all, my dear! For I’m in love with you, and I
_do_ think you are going to be a great man, and I shall continue to, no
matter how miserable it makes you feel—so there! I won’t marry a
commonplace man, and you’ll have to agree to let me think you out of the
ordinary, or the marriage is off!” She tilted her chin defiantly.

“All right, Rose-Ann,” he said. “You may think me as wonderful as you
like, if only you’ll not say so out loud. Praise upsets me. I thrive
only on contumelious blame! So if you want to put me at my ease, tell me
something bad about myself.”

“That’s easy enough,” she said. “You’re quite the shabbiest-looking man
that ever went to his own wedding, vagabond or not. You seem to have
packed off to the hospital in your oldest shirt—look at those cuffs!”
Felix looked at them, and pulled down his coat-sleeves over their frayed
edges. He looked at his dusty shoes, and tucked them out of sight under
the seat.

“Does Felix feel himself again?” she asked maliciously.

“Quite,” he said. “Now I know it’s true I’m going to be married.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                        XVI. Clive’s Assistance

                                   1

THE snow had fallen more and more heavily while they were on the train,
and the air was crisp when they emerged into the dusk at Woods Point. “I
think I’m going to like my wedding,” said Rose-Ann.

They found a car at the nearest garage to take them to Clive’s place,
some two miles away. The driver halted at the edge of a steep ravine
that cut down toward the lake. He pointed over to the gleam of a lighted
window. “There it is,” he said. “And here’s the path. It goes right
along the edge of the ravine, but Mr. Bangs keeps it pretty clean of
snow, and there’s a railing by the worst places. I guess you can make it
all right. Everybody seems to.” He backed the car about, and left them.

Recent footprints, not yet quite obliterated, defined the path for them.
They went up toward the house, laughing. Rose-Ann had urged him again at
the station to call Clive up and tell him they were coming, and again he
had refused. Now, as they edged the ravine, holding on to the railings
that guarded the most precarious moments of the path, they were feeling
a little foolish and very happy about their adventure. It was thus, they
read plainly in each other’s eyes, that they should be married.

A little out of breath at the end of the path, they faced a suddenly
opened door, and Clive standing there, laughing and puzzled as he tried
to make them out. “Felix?” he said. “And who else?”

“And Rose-Ann!” cried Felix. “We’ve come to Woods Point to be married!”

“No!” cried Clive, astonished, unconsciously blocking the doorway.

“Yes!” said Felix gaily.

Clive laughed. “Welcome!” he said, ushering them inside. “If I’d known
you were coming, I’d have met you at the station and guided you to the
house. You weren’t afraid of breaking your neck?” And then, as Rose-Ann
emerged from her snowy cloak, he took her hand. “So this is Rose-Ann!
I’m delighted. You know, Felix isn’t very good at descriptions, and I
never got the right idea of you at all.”

Felix felt vaguely annoyed. All this was beside the point.

“I suppose we _can_ get married here, can’t we?” he asked.

Clive looked at him, and then back at Rose-Ann. “How solemn you both
are!” he said. “Why, I really believe—Felix, what is this about getting
married?”

“That’s what we’ve come for,” said Felix patiently.

“You mean—” Clive appeared incredulous.

“I mean, married. Preacher! License! Ceremony! Didn’t you ever hear of
anybody getting married before?”

“Not really?”

“Yes, really. And right away. Tonight. Is your mind capable of taking
all that in, or must I spell it out for you. You seem dazed.”

This was not exactly the reception he had expected for his news.

“I’m more than dazed. I’m shocked,” said Clive. He turned again to
Rose-Ann. “Tell me—when did this—when did you children decide on this
rash deed?”

“This afternoon,” said Rose-Ann. “It is rash, isn’t it? Do you really
think we shouldn’t?”

Felix made an impatient movement. What difference did it make what Clive
Bangs thought?

“Come in by the fire,” said Clive. “You—you bewilder me, you two.”

He put a hand, with some kind of vague paternal gesture, on Rose-Ann’s
shoulder. “In here”—and he showed them into a room where a coal fire
glowed in an open Franklin stove. He arranged three big chairs. “Sit
there.... Bad weather outdoors.”

“No,” said Rose-Ann, “it’s beautiful! It’s snowing....”

“I’ll get you something warm to drink,” and Clive left them.

They sat there a moment, silent.

“Do you—do you think—?” Rose-Ann began in a troubled voice.

“I think Clive is a little upset,” he said. “Poor devil!”

“You don’t—?” She stopped again.

“What?” he asked dreamily, reaching out and finding her fingers as they
drooped over the arm of the chair.

“Nothing,” she said.

Presently he looked up, and met her eyes. A look he had never seen
before glowed in them, and it was as if she had shown him some secret
part of herself always hidden before. That look seemed to reveal to him,
as if for the first time, dazzlingly, by the real truth of their love.
It was as if everything they had said to each other had been in some way
false and evasive. This was the truth—this ultimate surrender, this
faith-beyond-reason, this something deeper than pride and joy in her
eyes. He was strangely exalted. He thought: “This—_this_—is
marriage....”

In an instant the revelation had passed. Rose-Ann bent down swiftly to
shake out a fold in her skirt—and to hide that revealing look, it
seemed. Clive was at the door, coming in with their hot drinks.

“And now,” said Clive, settling down comfortably in the third big chair,
“tell me about it.”

                                   2

Rose-Ann looked at Felix.

“We’re going to be married, that’s all,” said Felix.

“Yes,” said Clive reflectively, “people do.”

“You think we oughtn’t to?” asked Rose-Ann.

Clive rubbed his chin. “I really think it is my duty to make one last,
however futile, attempt to dissuade you!”

“Why?” asked Felix.

“Because,” said Clive smiling, “you are so obviously in love with each
other now—so obviously happy, just as you are.”

“And you think marriage will spoil that?” Rose-Ann asked.

Clive regarded them. “Well,” he said, “how many people do you know whose
marital happiness you would be willing to take as your own?”

They were silent, Felix annoyed.

“I’ don’t know anybody whose happiness _I_ would want,” said Rose-Ann at
last. “But—”

“But you hope to have something different, and very much better,” said
Clive gently, as if speaking to a child.

“I suppose it’s foolish,” said Rose-Ann.

“I don’t see anything foolish about it,” said Felix defiantly. “What’s
your objection to marriage?”

Clive turned upon him with mild surprise. “Is this the young man with
whom I have had a number of luncheon discussions—in which, if I remember
rightly, you spoke eloquently on this same subject?”

Rose-Ann turned to Felix inquiringly. “I don’t think you’ve ever told me
your views of marriage, Felix,” she said.

Clive laughed. “That is what is known in fiction as a sardonic laugh,”
he observed. “I trust you recognized it. I will repeat it for you: _Ha,
ha!_ Now, Mr. Fay, is your opportunity to explain to your prospective
bride your views of marriage.”

Felix flushed. “As a matter of fact, Rose-Ann and I have discussed
them,” he said.

“‘Relic of barbarism,’” quoted Clive with gentle malice.

“Of barbarism?” Rose-Ann repeated, puzzled.

“Clive and I have the habit of orating to each other on these subjects,”
said Felix, “at lunch and whenever we haven’t anything better to do.”

“I’ve heard of those luncheon discussions,” said Rose-Ann, “and wished I
could have been present. I’d like to hear you,” she said, looking at
Clive and then back to Felix. It was, subtly, her defiance to Clive.

“Our discussions,” said Felix, “are devastatingly theoretical. We are
accustomed to refer to everything we don’t like as a relic of barbarism.
Marriage, for instance.... It’s essentially an intrusion by the Elders
of the Tribe into the private affairs of the young. The Old People
always think they know what is best. Originally, of course, their power
to rule the lives of the young was far greater. Rose-Ann and I wouldn’t
have been allowed to select a mate for ourselves. The choice would be
made for us by the Elders; in their infinite wisdom they would choose
for her a lord and master, and she would settle down at once to her
proper womanly business of cooking his meals and bringing up his babies.
Me they would doubtless have mated with some possessive young hussy who
would efficiently smother and drug to sleep with her own physical charms
any desire of mine for an impersonal intellectual life. And thus we
would both have been made safe and harmless—Rose-Ann with her cooking
and babies, and I with my harem of one. Both of us tied down body and
soul, and thus presenting no menace to established institutions!”

He was speaking quickly, with a feeling that it was all very absurd,
this speech-making at large upon a subject which interested them now
only in its specific and unique aspects. “But times have changed,” he
went on. “This form of tribal control now exists only as a rudimentary
survival—a custom to which one must superficially conform, and nothing
more. So long as Rose-Ann and I _are_ allowed to choose each other, and
decide for ourselves how we are going to live, we can very well permit
the Tribe to come in, in the person of its official representative, for
ten minutes, and ratify our choice!... There, those are my views,
expressed in the uncouth intellectual dialect which Clive and I affect
in these discussions. That’s just the way we talk.”

“Very clever,” said Clive. “You shift your ground easily....”

“A wedding _is_ an awfully tribal thing, isn’t it?” said Rose-Ann
soberly. “Especially,” she added more cheerfully, “the old-fashioned
kind. With the families and all. And the usher asking you which side you
are on, the bride’s or the groom’s! I went to one when I was back in
Springfield.”

“I went to one,” said Clive, “once upon a time, in Chicago.... I had a
sense of the girl’s having been recaptured by her family, after a
temporary escape—recaptured and subdued. In her white veil, at her
father’s side, coming down the aisle, she was so unlike the free wild
thing I had known.—Somehow it seemed like a funeral to me—a triumphant
and solemn burial of her individuality. I remember that I went away from
church saying over to myself that little poem of Victor Plarr’s, that
ironic little funeral poem—do you know it? It begins—

                   “_Stand not uttering sedately
                    Trite, oblivious praise above her—
                    Rather say you saw her lately
                    Lightly kissing her last lover!_”

They laughed, interrupting Clive as he began on the next stanza, and
then they stopped, waiting for him to go on. They exchanged a swift
glance, wondering if this was the girl of the story they had heard.

“I forget just how it goes,” he said confusedly. “But it ends something
like this—

                 “_She is dead: it were a pity
                  To o’erpraise her, or to flout her.
                  She was wild and sweet and witty—
                  Let’s not say dull things about her._”

Having finished, he began to poke the fire.

“A lovely poem,” said Rose-Ann softly.

“But,” said Felix vigorously, “it doesn’t discourage me a bit. I think
Rose-Ann can be just as wild and sweet and witty after marriage as
before. Her individuality, if that is what you’re worrying about, is not
in the least danger of being buried by marriage.”

Clive turned to her. “You aren’t afraid the Tribe will get you at last?”
he asked. “That would be too bad.”

She flushed, as at a compliment. “This marriage will be one final
defiance and farewell to the particular tribe to which I belong,” she
said. “No, I—I guess I’m not afraid. What do you think, Felix?”

“Bring on the Tribal Ceremony!” said Felix.

“Well,” said Clive, “I’ve done my duty.... And now I’ll see about
getting you married.”

Felix sighed with relief, and reflected that it was about time Clive
began to take the occasion seriously.

“I suppose,” said Clive, “that it hasn’t occurred to you that this is
Saturday afternoon, and the county clark’s office is closed. And you
can’t be married without a license.”

Felix looked his chagrin. Of course, he would have forgotten something
essential! He glanced sheepishly at Rose-Ann, who seemed merely amused.
But why must he be, always, and even in his getting married, a
moon-calf?

“However,” said Clive, suddenly transformed into the efficient and
practical personage that Felix had so often admired, “I think it can be
fixed up! I’ll telephone my friend Judge Peabody. And—” he paused for a
moment and frowned—“we’ll need another witness. I’ll fix that up, too.”

“I’m sorry I forgot about the license,” said Felix as Clive briskly left
the room.

“It’s all right,” she said. “I forgot, too. It makes no difference.”

Clive came back in a few minutes. “It’s all right!” he said. “Judge
Peabody says the city council is in session tonight at Waukegan, and the
county clark will be there. Judge Peabody will ’phone up there and tell
the clark you’re coming. You’ll go there at eight o’clock, right after
dinner. I’ve arranged for a car to take you—it’s only a few miles
further on. Judge Peabody will be here at nine, and perform the
ceremony. The other witness is on the way here, to join us at dinner.
And Mrs. Cowan says the dinner will be ready on time. How is that for
management?”

“You with your objections to marriage!” said Rose-Ann, laughing. “You’re
a fraud!”

“No,” said Clive. “Merely a born compromiser!”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            XVII. Charivari

                                   1

IT appeared that Mrs. Cowan, the plump neighbour who was cooking Clive’s
dinner, had heard his telephonic arrangements for a wedding, and was,
according to Clive, much flustered. A few minutes later she disappeared
from the kitchen, with a brief warning to Clive to keep his eye on the
oven, and presently returned, breathless and sparkling-eyed, wearing her
Sunday shawl, and bearing one of her own cakes.

“We’ll give them the best wedding we can, Mr. Bangs!” she said.

Clive came in to report this speech, and thus reminded that Mrs. Cowan
was a human being, and a woman, with a prescriptive right to share in
this occasion, he took the bridal pair to the kitchen and introduced
them. Mrs. Cowan’s warm friendliness pleased as well as embarrassed
them. Rose-Ann exclaimed over the cake, and putting on an apron,
commenced to help with the last stages of dinner.

Clive and Felix wandered back to the Franklin stove. “Oh, yes,” said
Clive. “I must build a fire in your room. Come along,” and he set Felix
to chopping kindling in the woodshed while he carried up a load of
cannel coal. Felix followed him to the great room at the top of the
stairs, occupying almost the whole of the upstairs space, with a
fireplace at one end. “I built that fireplace myself when I had the
house remodeled,” said Clive. “It’s quite an art, building a fireplace
so that it will draw properly. I’m very proud of it.”

Felix knelt and stuffed the kindling into the grate. “No,” said Clive,
“let me do it—you don’t know how.”

While they waited for the kindling to get well ablaze before putting on
the coal, Clive took Felix to a French window that opened on a balcony.
“Here you have a view of the lake,” he said, and then going to one end
of the balcony, “these steps lead down to my shower-bath, which
unfortunately only functions in summer. You must come out here
then—you’ll like it. It’s really wonderful country. I love it even in
the winter. I’ll tell you: Why don’t you and Rose-Ann stay out here this
week? I’ve got to be in town next week anyway, and I’ll clear out
tonight when the fuss is all over and leave you to yourselves.
Everything is shipshape, and Rose-Ann will have no difficulty in finding
where things are—and I’ll arrange with Mrs. Cowan to get your dinners.
You haven’t a place in town yet, have you?”

Felix thanked him, with the sense that the dedication of this house to
another honeymoon than the one for which it was originally intended gave
Clive a kind of painful and ironic pleasure. But there seemed to be no
good reason for refusing the offer.

“Do you suppose my job will still be open for me when I come back
married?” he asked.

“Not merely that, but you’ll probably get a raise,” said Clive. “That’s
the custom. They figure that a young man who has married and settled
down will be a more faithful slave. Usually they’re right. Only in this
case, taking Rose-Ann into consideration, I would say that ‘settling
down’ wasn’t the correct term.”

“Why, what do you mean?”

“I mean that Rose-Ann is much more likely to keep you in mischief than
to keep you out of it. You know that.”

“You’ve got a funny idea of Rose-Ann,” said Felix.

“Oh, not at all. You know yourself she’s not the ordinary girl by any
means. And she won’t make an ordinary wife—for which you can be
thankful.”

He put the coal on the fire, set up the fire-screen in front of the
fireplace, and they went downstairs.

“You needn’t eye me like the basilisk,” said Clive, taking a cigarette,
“I’m not saying anything against your beloved.”

“All the same, I think you’ve got some kind of curious and erroneous
notion about her. She’s not interested in these damned theories of ours.
She’s a real person,” Felix protested.

“She’s real, all right,” said Clive. “But she’s not a simple person.
She’s very complex. I think she’s just as complicated—as mixed up—as you
or I.”

“Heaven forbid!” said Felix.

Rose-Ann came in just then, and Felix looked at her guiltily, ashamed of
discussing her with his friend.

“Things are getting along very well,” she said. “I just ran in for a
moment to see my lover.” She came up to him, with a shy frankness, to be
kissed. “That ought to show Clive what sort of a person she is!” he
thought.

She turned from his embrace to Clive. “It’s curious,” she said, “the
pleasure people take in other people’s weddings! There’s Mrs. Cowan—she
doesn’t know me and Felix. She hasn’t any reason to believe we are going
to be happy. It’s just because it’s a wedding! I was thinking about it,
and I realized that if this were a secret love-affair, she would be shut
out of it. But a wedding lets her in. In a way, it’s really more her
wedding than it is ours!”

“Well,” said Felix, “I don’t mind! I haven’t that damnable instinct of
privacy that some people seem to regard as essential to love-affairs.
I’d as soon the whole world knew we’re in love.”

“All right, Felix—but you haven’t had to discuss the nuptial couch with
her, and _I_ have! She’s upstairs now getting the room fixed up, and
putting my clothes in the bureau; I left her to avoid an argument about
which nightgown I should wear—as a matter of fact, she doesn’t think any
of them are equal to the occasion, they’re all too plain! Perhaps you’d
as soon everybody knew all about those details, which is what a wedding
seems to amount to—but I don’t like it!” And she made a face and left
the room.

“Well?” said Clive, rather triumphantly.

“Well?” said Felix, stolidly. He really had not liked that last speech
of Rose-Ann’s. If she didn’t want her nightgowns discussed in public,
then why—?

“You’re really rather conventional, at the bottom of your soul, aren’t
you?” Clive remarked thoughtfully.

“Of course I am. And so is everybody else. So are you, if you only knew
it.”

“Then,” said Clive, coolly, “why do you marry Rose-Ann? She isn’t. It
you want a conventional wife and conventional married happiness, why
don’t you marry some simple little country girl, and have a houseful of
babies? Why—”

There was a knock at the door.

“That’s my other witness,” said Clive, and hurried into the hall.

                                   2

While Clive and the newcomer talked for a moment in the hall, Felix
stood frowning at the fire.... Clive, he felt, was becoming rather
exasperating. Really, the unquestioning enthusiasm of Mrs. Cowan was
preferable to such an inappropriately critical attitude as Clive’s.
There was something deliberately malicious in it. That last remark about
the “simple little country girl” was an attempt to shake his faith in
this marriage. It was a damned mean trick!... And then he laughed at
himself. For how could Clive possibly have guessed the effect of that
remark? How could he know what a crazy fool he was talking to? “A simple
country girl.” How could Clive know that there lurked in the back of
Felix’s mind an absurd and impossible wish—a wish, long-forgotten,
except in the most senseless of idle day-dreams, which these words of
Clive’s made him remember, with an inexplicable pang! A wish for
precisely what he ought never to have—. Marriage with the girl of that
foolish day-dream would be, for such a person as himself, the most
fantastic of tragedies: and it was doubtless its very impossibility that
had made him conceive it as a romantic ideal. And that houseful of
babies—for they too were a part of that foolish day-dream of his—why,
that was madness. In actuality, he would have fled from the prospect of
such a marriage. He really wanted—what he had so miraculously found in
Rose-Ann: a companionship in the adventure and beauty of life.... And in
an hour or two his choice would be confirmed—irrevocably. Marriage was
just that—a definite decision among tangled and contradictory wishes....

He turned to face the girl whom Clive had led into the room. For an
instant he was startled as by an apparition. Perhaps it was the effect
of Clive’s words—this young woman seemed the very creature of his
day-dreaming wish. Young, hardly more than nineteen, of slight but
robust figure, with soft brown hair, dark quiet eyes and a serene mouth,
she brought with her the fragrance of that fantasy which had only a
moment ago disquieted him. She had a bundle in her arms, and for an
instant the illusion was breathlessly complete—she was Rose-Ann’s
phantom rival come to him in visible sweet flesh, bearing his baby at
her bosom.

“The bridegroom!” Clive was saying. “The witness!—Miss Phyllis Nelson,
Mr. Felix Fay.”

She smiled imperturbably and held out her hand, her eyes meeting his.

“And what have you in that bundle, Phyllis? Something without which no
wedding would be complete, I suppose,” said Clive.

“Only some smilax,” she said. “And I know how many knives and forks you
have, Clive, so I brought along some of my mother’s silver. But where
is—”

Rose-Ann ran in just then, and the two girls, while Clive pronounced
their names, shook hands, and then suddenly kissed each other, and with
arms linked went out into the kitchen.

Clive followed with the bundle, asking Phyllis if by any chance it
contained a veil for the bride. He and Felix were shooed back into the
other room, and Rose-Ann and Phyllis reset the table. The three women
could be heard talking together, with a kind of excited seriousness, as
they worked. Felix’s last glimpse was of Phyllis arranging wreaths of
smilax on the white tablecloth, and Rose-Ann, with an adorable gesture,
lifting her arms to twine some of it about the low-hanging chandelier,
while Mrs. Cowan, her hands on her hips, stood looking from one to the
other with approval before dashing back to the kitchen.

“Womenfolk have an instinct for such things,” said Clive, sitting down
beside the fire. “Even Rose-Ann appears domestic.”

Felix looked at Clive fretfully. “I don’t see anything terribly domestic
about hanging up a wreath of flowers.”

“You are hard to suit,” Clive commented. “When I say she isn’t domestic,
you look daggers at me, and when I say she is, you still object. What
shall I say? I strive to please.”

“So it seems,” said Felix.

Clive smiled. “Since you’re so conventional, you ought not to complain.
Nothing is more regular and old-fashioned than the effort to embarrass a
bridegroom. You may interpret my remarks as a modern version of that
ancient mode of licensed tribal merriment—an intellectualized kind of
‘shivaree.’ I am trying to make up for the absence of the traditional
tin pans out by the front gate. After all, Felix, you are taking
Rose-Ann away from all the rest of us, and you must expect to be made to
suffer a little for your selfishness.”

“Dinner!” Phyllis called in to them.

They went into the dining-room.

                                   3

In the middle of the table was a glass bowl brimmed with sweet peas, and
around it a wreath of smilax; a festoon of smilax hung from the
chandelier. At the head of the table stood impressively a platter
bearing a steaming roast duck.

Mrs. Cowan hovered proudly over this spectacle, preparing to take her
departure.

“Oh, not without a piece of the wedding-cake!” cried Rose-Ann, and cut
it for her.

Immensely gratified, and having wished the bride happiness, and at the
last moment bestowed upon her a motherly kiss, Mrs. Cowan went, bearing
the piece of cake carefully wrapped in a napkin.

Clive stared after her. “Very interesting,” he said, “she takes home a
piece of her own cake—”

“No longer her own,” Rose-Ann finished, “and no longer merely cake—but a
piece of Wedding Cake! Will she put it under her pillow, I wonder, and
dream of getting another husband? She’s a widow, and her husband used to
get drunk ‘something awful.’ Yes, she was telling me all about it—I
think by way of warning, so I wouldn’t be too badly disillusioned by the
facts of marriage. ‘You can’t expect ’em to be angels,’ she said. So you
see Felix, I’m prepared for anything!”

This speech jarred upon Felix. It was too much in the vein that Clive
had been indulging all evening. He wondered if he were going to become
critical of Rose-Ann, now that he had a sense of possession with regard
to her. He said to himself that Rose-Ann was over-wrought and he himself
over-sensitive.

“Rose-Ann, here at my right hand,” Clive was saying, “Felix, here at my
left. I believe that is correct. The Witness will take the remaining
seat, opposite me. First of all, we must have a toast.” He rose. “Up
with you all! No, Rose-Ann, you sit still—you can’t drink your own
health.... Here’s to the bride!”

They lifted their glasses.

“No—wait till I finish my speech.... In defiance of all the laws of
nature and of modern realistic fiction, we wish her happiness!... No,
that isn’t all I have to say.... We make this wish—at least I do—with an
unwonted confidence in its fulfilment. For this is no ordinary marriage,
dedicated to the prosaic comforts of a mutual bondage—it is an attempt
to realize the sharp new joys of freedom. A marriage, let us say, in
name only—for upon Rose-Ann I set my faith, believing that not even a
wedding can turn her into a wife!” Rose-Ann looked up at him and smiled.
“To Rose-Ann,” he concluded, “and her adventure!”

They drank. Felix looked at the others. He had a sense of something
having been outraged by this speech—something which, if only a
tradition, was somehow real to all of them except Clive. But Rose-Ann
merely looked amused, and Phyllis’s expression told him nothing. He
reflected, “She’s used to him by this time.”

A sense of embarrassment remained with him, in spite of the light talk
that followed as Clive heaped their plates in turn with roast duck and
dressing.

“Why are you so quiet, Felix?” Clive asked at last. “You might at least
tell us how it feels to be a bridegroom—whether you feel as depressed as
you look.”

“I confess I shall be glad when it’s over,” said Felix.

They laughed, and went on talking. Rose-Ann was apparently enjoying
herself. She and Clive were exchanging pleasantries on the subject of
“modern marriage.” For some reason the phrase annoyed Felix. Did they
know what nonsense they were talking? Or did they really think that his
and Rose-Ann’s marriage was to be, as it were, a sociological
performance for the benefit of on-lookers?

Presently Rose-Ann was humourously disclaiming “all the credit” for the
modernity of the arrangement. Felix, she insisted, was equally entitled
to it; he was just as modern as she was!

“Why,” Felix suddenly asked in exasperation, “should we all want to be
so damned modern?”

“Hark to the defiant bridegroom!” said Clive. “He wishes us to
understand that _his_ wife is going to love, honour, and obey him, in
the good old—fashioned way. He won’t stand for any of this new-fangled
nonsense. The Cave-man emerges!”

Felix flushed. He had only succeeded in making a fool of himself, it
seemed.

Rose-Ann spoke up. “I hope it _will_ be modern,” she said. “I’m sure it
won’t be like any of the marriages I’ve seen back in my home town....
Why are you so afraid of freedom and modernity, Felix?”

Perhaps it was that word _afraid_, which Rose-Ann used so lightly, that
stung him. “Because,” he said, “I am apparently the only one here who
knows what those words mean.”

He had not intended to say it—certainly he had not intended to say it in
that tone of voice. It came out, raspingly, like a voice out of a
music-box, a voice from a strange record that has been put in unawares.
His voice was, even to his own ears, remote and metallic.

Rose-Ann looked at him, startled. “What words, Felix?” she asked gently.

“The words you have all been bandying about,” he replied. “Modernity.
Freedom.” His voice was still hard.

“Well, what _do_ they mean?”

She leaned toward him.

The others were silent, listening—Clive with an amused smile, Phyllis
with troubled eyes.

“Not what you think, I’m afraid, Rose-Ann,” Felix’s voice answered, the
voice with a quiet grimness in it.

Rose-Ann’s voice took up the challenge softly. “And what do _you_ think
they mean, Felix?”

He looked away from her, and spoke as if from a distance, slowly.
“Freedom.... It’s not a nice word, not a pretty word ... to me. There is
something terrible in it ... something to be afraid of....” He looked
back at her. “Don’t offer me freedom, Rose-Ann.”

Her voice was still soft, but infinitely cool and firm. “Why? Because
you might take it? I knew that when I made the offer, Felix. I think I
know what you mean. But I take back nothing.” She lifted her chin
proudly. “I am not afraid of freedom.”

“Bravo!” cried Clive. “Rose-Ann, I am falling in love with you myself!
Why don’t you marry _me_ instead of Felix! He doesn’t appreciate you.”

Curiously enough, nobody except Felix seemed to mind Clive’s clowning.
Both girls laughed, and the atmosphere was suddenly cleared.

“But what an odd occasion for us to choose to stage a quarrel!” said
Rose-Ann, gaily.

“Yes,” said Felix, now bewildered and contrite. “I must have got into my
argumentative mood. I’m sorry. When I get to arguing I think of no one
and nothing, except the point at issue—which is usually not of the
slightest importance. It’s a bad habit you must break me of when we are
married.”

“You are forgiven,” said Phyllis.

“Don’t forget there’s fruit salad coming,” said Rose-Ann, rising and
bringing a bowl from the sideboard.

“Yes,” said Clive, “and the car will be here for you two people in ten
minutes or so. Will you have your coffee now, Felix?—Rose-Ann?”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



             XVIII. The Authority of the State of Illinois

                                   1

THE car took them through the deepening snow on up to the county seat,
where the license was soon made out for them. “You’re lucky to find me
here on hand tonight,” said the county clark. They expressed their
appreciation. “But I like to accommodate young folks,” he said smiling,
and shook hands with them when they left.

It was snowing more heavily all the time, and the roads were difficult,
but Judge Peabody had kept his promise, and was waiting for them when
they arrived. He greeted them with grave benevolence.

“Mr. Bangs tells me you want a very simple ceremony,” he said, and put
on his spectacles and took out a little book, turning the pages back and
forth until he found the right place.

“Do you, Felix Fay, take this woman, Rose-Ann Prentiss, to be your
wedded wife, to cherish and protect, in sickness and in health, till
death do you part?”

A promise: a strange defiance flung out by the human spirit against the
infinite vicissitudes of chance; a barrier of will against all the
hostile forces of the days and years; a renunciation of whatever may lie
outside the magic circle of our little mutual happiness, forever; a few
weak words, easily forgotten, that must be stronger than passion,
stronger than forgetfulness....

“I do,” he said.

“Do you, Rose-Ann Prentiss....”

“I do.”

“Then, by the authority of the State of Illinois, in me vested, I
pronounce you husband and wife.”

He took off his spectacles and put them in his pocket.

                                   2

Rose-Ann and Felix looked at each other in a kind of surprise. So they
were married!

The judge was wishing them happiness. “And now,” he said, “I’ll hurry
home before the snow gets any deeper.”

Felix, a little embarrassed, and wishing he could do it less
obtrusively, gave him a crumpled bill, which the judge, without
embarrassment, smoothed out and placed in a wallet.

“Good-night!” he said, and let Phyllis help him on with his overcoat.
“Good-night!”

At the door he turned. “Oh, by the way,” he said. “Do you want a
marriage certificate?”

The question was addressed to Rose-Ann. She shook her head in a
determined negative.

“No?” he repeated absently. “Lots of people don’t, nowadays....
Good-night!”

“I suppose you know the house is yours for as long as you want it now,”
said Clive to Rose-Ann.

“Yes,” she said, “Felix just remembered to tell me a little while ago.
It’s terribly nice of you, Clive. I can’t think of a lovelier place to
be!”

“And that’s the car honking outside,” he said, “to take Phyllis home and
me to the station. I shall just catch the ten-fifteen. Efficiency!” He
gave her his hand. “I’ll leave you two strictly alone here—but I’ll
expect to come and visit you in your real home as soon as you acquire
one. May I? You’ll probably be willing by that time to see other human
beings again.”

“Of course!” she said. “And you, too, Phyllis!”

“I’m sorry,” said Phyllis. “I shan’t be here. I’m just home for the
week-end, and then I’m off to school again. I hope I _shall_ see you
again sometime. I’m sure you’re going to be very happy. Good-bye.” The
girls kissed.

“Felix,” said Clive, “doesn’t like me any more. He thinks I almost
spoiled his wedding. Good-bye, old man!”

“Well,” said Rose-Ann, when the door shut them out, “that’s over!” She
came to him and drooped within his arms. “I’m very tired. Felix, I never
want to be married again!”

“Poor dear!” he said, “it is rather awful, isn’t it?”

“Oh,” she said, lifting her head from his breast, “there’s one more
thing to do, before we can be—just us. I promised to save a piece of my
wedding cake for somebody.” She smiled. “You can’t guess who!”

“Yes, I can,” he said. “Old Granny Perk!”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             XIX. Together

                                   1

AT dawn Felix awoke with a sense of loneliness. The vague consciousness
which had remained with him even in sleep of a beautiful and beloved
body at his side, was gone; and the hand that he reached out in troubled
half-sleep had found no warm and reassuring presence. For an instant it
seemed as though the night had been only a dream. He felt a vast
desolation, a profound fear. It was as if not this one night only had
been taken from him, but the thousand nights and days which lay implicit
in it—the lifetime of sweetness and intimacy which it had begun.

Startled awake by the pain of this loneliness, he looked about him.
Rose-Ann was not there. The bed was still warm where she had lain, the
pillow kept the impression of her head, but she was gone. The white
light of the dawn lighted the room, the fire was dying in the grate, a
cool little wind swept in through an open window, and one of the leaves
of the long French window that opened on the balcony stood ajar.
Rose-Ann’s clothing lay folded on a chair at the foot of the bed.

His reason told him that Rose-Ann had slipped out to the balcony to
breathe the morning air. But he was still filled with the terror of that
waking moment. Moved by an unreasoning fear, he leaped from the bed and
ran to the French window. Outside the world was white. On the balcony,
in the deep snow, were the imprints of her little naked feet. Still
agitated, he followed those footprints where they led around the corner
of the house. And then he stopped, and gazed.

She was there, standing unclothed and rosy in the morning wind, in the
light of the dawn, leaning over the railing of the porch.

“Rose-Ann!” he called sharply.

She turned. “Good-morning, old sleepy-head!” she cried. “You were dozing
so peacefully that I didn’t have the heart to wake you up. Isn’t it
lovely!” And she waved a hand toward the ice-bound lake that stretched
out to the east like an Arctic wilderness, tinged with the rose of dawn.

“What are you doing out here?” he demanded, commencing to shiver.

“I was thinking of taking a snow-bath!” she said. “I’ve always wanted to
and never have. Look where the snow has drifted up here against the
house. Wouldn’t it be wonderful just to drop off into that snow bank!
Come, let’s do it!” She took his hand and led him to the edge of the
porch, which was here only a few feet above the ground, with the snow
piled up to its very edge.

“But how would we get out of that snow-bank once we had got in!” he
expostulated. It was a crazy idea, and he had no intention of letting
her carry it out.

“Oh, don’t let’s stand here and argue about it,” she said impatiently,
“and get cold. I’m going to, anyway!” And before he could stop her she
had climbed the railing and leaped down into the snow-bank.... He
realized that he must do the same. There was no choice! And in an
instant he had leaped down beside her, down crunching through soft
feathery snow that stung the skin deliciously and made the blood hot in
his veins—and an instant later, laughing, they were fighting their way
out and stumbling up the steps to the balcony and into the house.

“Towels!” cried Rose-Ann, racing to the bathroom and back and flinging
him one. “Now wasn’t that worth doing!”

“And no doubt very entertaining to the neighbours,” Felix
grumbled—secretly rejoicing in their spectacular feat. It really seemed
to him a splendidly pagan thing to have done.

“Our only neighbour for miles is Mrs. Cowan,” said Rose-Ann, “and she’s
over somewhere the other way. Besides, for once in my life I’m going to
do the things I want to do without stopping to think of other people
first. Now, Felix, can you build a fire? If you can’t, I can!”

“Of course I can build a fire,” said Felix. “The real question is, can
you cook an egg? Because if you can’t, I can.” He was a little nettled
at her having taken the lead in the snow-bath, and he did not intend to
let her carry off any more honours of leadership. “If Clive has not
deceived and betrayed us,” he continued, “you ought to be able to find
eggs and things in the kitchen.”

“All right,” she said obediently; and finished with the simple task of
dressing, in an old skirt and a smock, but not without a look at herself
in the glass, she started off to the kitchen.

Felix looked at the fire. It needed rebuilding, and he would have to
chop some more kindling. He went down to the woodshed, and energetically
chopped up one stick. Then he paused, laid down the hatchet, and
commenced to whistle a plaintive, melancholy, tuneless tune. He picked
up his hatchet, ran his thumb over the edge, and laid it down again.

He was not thinking about chopping kindling. He was thinking about
Rose-Ann, there in the kitchen only a few feet away. What was she doing?
He could see her in imagination, ransacking Clive’s cupboards. He wished
he could see her in reality. He started to his feet impulsively, and
then sat down again.

He was annoyed with himself. Couldn’t he be separated from her for a few
minutes without wanting to tag after her? She would be surprised, and
perhaps annoyed, by his coming in. She would ask, “Have you got the fire
built? Well then, for heaven’s sake, go and build it, and leave me alone
to get you some breakfast!”

He could not confess to her how utterly indispensable her presence had
become to him.... Yesterday they had been two different and separate
persons—but they were so no longer. A quaint churchly phrase leaped into
his mind, a phrase that had never seemed real before: “these twain shall
be made one flesh.” He knew its truth now. Last night they had lain and
talked for hours of the things they were going to do—together. Together!
Their life henceforth had pictured itself to them as something enjoyed
always in common. They had not thought, last night, of ever being apart
again. But of course they would be apart—a great deal of the time. And
doubtless it was as well to begin now. There was no sense whatever to
this feeling of loneliness. He was going to have the rest of a lifetime
with Rose-Ann, and he certainly ought to be able to go off and chop a
little wood without her. No, he must not go to the kitchen to see what
she was doing! He must subdue this weakness—this absurd feeling of
helpless loneliness when he left her for a moment.

He raised his hatchet and brought it down sharply on the stick of wood.
The door opened, and there stood Rose-Ann, with an apron on, her cheeks
flushed.

“Hello!” he said, and laid down the hatchet.

“I just came to see what you were doing,” she said.

“Chopping a little kindling, that’s all,” he said.

“Oh,” she said. She continued to look at him with interest.

He took up the hatchet again, and split the stick with a few efficient
strokes. She looked about, up-ended a short log, and sat down, her hands
in her lap. Felix chopped another stick, and another, with a sense of
great peace and contentment. Chopping kindling had become very
interesting. He chopped on, under her gaze. He did not need to look up
at her. She was there with him; that was sufficient. He went on
chopping.

“Don’t you think that’s enough kindling now, Felix?” she asked at last,
hesitantly.

He looked at the pile. He _had_ chopped an awful lot! “I thought I might
as well cut enough to last for a while,” he explained.

“A good idea,” she agreed. “And we might as well take a lot upstairs
while we’re about it. I’ll take some, if you’ll load me.” She held out
her arms, and he piled them full, then loaded his own, and they went up
together.

She knelt beside him, watching, while he laid the fire. He felt somewhat
insecure in his knowledge of fire-making, and he tried to remember just
how Clive had done it the day before. But he felt nothing critical in
Rose-Ann’s watching; and apparently he remembered well, for the fire
behaved quite as it should. He waited until the proper moment, put on
the cannel coal, and drew the fire-screen in front of the fireplace.

Rose-Ann stood up. “Now we’ll go and get breakfast,” she said.

In the kitchen, she turned to him. “Do you like omelettes?” she asked.

“I love them,” he said.

“With peas and things in? There’s a can of little peas here.” She
searched in a drawer and found a can-opener.

“Here, let me,” said Felix authoritatively, and took it from her.

She surrendered it, and bent to another drawer, bringing out another
apron.

“Must wear,” she said, and tied it around him.

The touch of her fingers was too much. He turned and took her in his
arms, and found himself tightly bound in hers, and kissed the eager lips
uplifted to his.

“Oh, Felix!” she cried in a weak, smothered voice. “Felix, lover!”

“And now,” she said at last, smiling happily and rousing herself from
their dream, “we really must get breakfast!”

                                   2

After breakfast, which was prolonged for hours by talk and cigarettes
and endless cups of coffee, they “bundled up” and took a long walk,
through the deep snow, stumbling and laughing like children, and as
indefatigable as children. First they went down to the lake, that snowy
waste strewn with high-piled ice-hummocks, and with the blue of water
showing strangely here and there. Then they turned their backs on it,
and walked toward the west, where the black branches of trees made
delicate patterns against the sky. They were as if aware of the kinship
of their love to the life of the earth, and seeking outdoors that
magical sympathy of natural living things which no roof-tree, however
hospitable, can furnish to lovers. This great white expanse, with no
green thing visible anywhere, with not even the friendly touch of the
ground underfoot, might have seemed to hold out no invitation to their
love. It was an earth sunken in winter-sleep, apparently unconscious of
their presence, vastly indifferent to their demand. And yet they loved
it, and it gave them something which they craved.

Utterly exhausted, they reached home at last, with the sunset flaming
behind the black branches. They were ravenously hungry. But they faced
the prospect of clearing up after last night’s feast, a task blithely
postponed that morning, before they would have dishes enough to eat
from. Of course, they might have had Mrs. Cowan come in; but they
preferred their magic isolation. Changed into dry garments, they set to
work washing dishes—not without a friendly quarrel over which one should
wash and which one wipe them.

“Maybe you think a man doesn’t know how to wash dishes,” Felix said
belligerently.

“No,” said Rose-Ann, “but I think a woman might have the privilege of
washing dishes in her own house.... Felix, I wish this were our own
house! I shall hate to go back to town after this.... But don’t let’s
think about that now. All right, selfish, you can wash the dishes!”

The thought frightened Felix a little. A house of their own! A house in
the country! How beautiful, and yet how—but no, nothing seemed
impossible now.... They could plan for it, and work for it, and at last
have it, together....

                                   3

“Read me some poetry, Felix,” said Rose-Ann, after dinner, as they lay
drowsily, in a great warm nest of cushions, in front of the fire in the
room upstairs.

He stirred himself, and then relaxed. Rose-Ann’s head was nestled in the
hollow under his shoulder, and her red-gold hair, unbound, flowed across
her bosom and touched his caressing hand. He was altogether too happily
situated at this moment to want to go downstairs and look for a book of
poems. Besides, why need he?

             “_And frosts are slain and flowers begotten._”

he began. She closed her eyes, and from her quiet breathing one might
have thought her asleep. But once when he faltered, forgetting the
words, Rose-Ann murmured them softly:

             “_And frosts are slain and flowers begotten._”

He took it up, in his voice of subdued chanting:

               “_And in green underwood and cover
                Blossom by blossom the spring begins...._”

and so to the end.

“Say me some more,” she breathed. “Like that. Anything with woods or
flowers in it.”

He began quoting, mischievously filling in words to make up the rhythm
where he forgot the original:

            “_Iris all hues, roses and jessamine....
             In shadier bower.... (I forget! But here it was)
             With flowers, garlands and sweet-smelling herbs
             Espoused Eve decked first her nuptial bed....
             Yes Eve! In naked beauty more adorned,
             More lovely than Pandora. (So Milton says!)_

“I can’t remember just how it goes, but there are some lovely things in
that old Puritan’s blood-and-thunder epic....

            “_These, lulled by nightingales, embracing slept,
             And on their naked limbs the flowery roof
             Showered roses. (She’s asleep!)_”

Outside, unseen, the moon emerged from behind racing clouds, and lighted
with its pale radiance the great stretch of winter-bound lake and
desolate shore along which they had wandered that day seeking some
response in its vast indifference; and its rays touched and silvered the
roof-tree of the little house on the edge of a ravine, within whose
doors, by the grace of the English poets, it was April. Blossom by
blossom, about their couch, the spring began, and upon their naked limbs
showered roses.

“No.” said Rose-Ann, “I’m not asleep!”

He laughed tenderly. “No, not now. But you have been for half an hour.
I’ve been watching you sleep. You do it beautifully!”

“Have I really?” She stretched herself, like a kitten upon awaking from
a nap. “Well, I’m awake now, and I want some more poetry. Something sad
this time.”

“More poetry? What a glutton you are!”

“But I _like_ poetry, Felix. It’s real to me—as real as our love.”

“But why sad poetry?” he teased.

“I don’t know. I suppose it’s because I’m so happy.”

“I know,” said Felix, and out of the storehouse of his memory he brought
one after another the stories of old unhappy love, impossible love, love
that goes toward death. It was as if the contrast of these tragic
fantasies was needed to make poignant the sweet and easy fulfilment of
their own love—as if some chill breath from the grave must intervene
between their caresses lest they seem too tame.

                    “_The mountain ways one summer
                     Saw life and joy go past,
                     When we who were so lonely
                     Went hand in hand at last._

                    “_And overhead the pine-woods
                     Their purple shadows cast,
                     When the tall twilight laid us
                     Hot mouth to mouth at last._

                    “_O hills, beneath your slumber,
                     Or pines, beneath your blast,
                     Make room for your two children—
                     Cold cheek to cheek at last!_”

“No,” murmured Rose-Ann, lifting her head and putting her warm cheek
against his own, a cheek wet with sudden tears. “Not cold cheek to
cheek, Felix!”

Tears sprung from that sweet sadness which only happy youth dares
indulge—the wilful and daring melancholy of young love, turning aside
from its joys to think of death....

Rose-Ann dried her eyes cheerfully. “I wanted to cry,” she said. “and
now that I have, I feel better. Give me a cigarette!”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                    XX. “The Nest-building Instinct”

                                   1

BY mid-week, Rose-Ann had become transformed into a housewife. Meals
were being planned, the butcher and the grocer were making regular
deliveries, Mrs. Cowan had been pressed into service, and Rose-Ann was
quite the mistress of the establishment.

And then suddenly she became discontented. “I can’t keep on playing that
this is my house,” she said. “There are so many things I want to do to
it! Let’s go in to town and look for a place of our own.”

So on Thursday morning they took the train to town. On the way in, they
marked—or rather, Rose-Ann marked—a dozen advertisements of apartments
to let, which she proposed to spend the morning looking at.

“I’m not going to find what I want,” she said, “and I’m going to be
cross, I know. I’d really rather not have you along. Why don’t you do
something else? Go and visit the office. We’ll meet at lunch.”

“All right,” said Felix. Going to the office, as it were to confess his
marriage, was an uncomfortable errand. In spite of what Clive had said,
it seemed to him far less likely that he would get a raise than that he
would be fired. But it did not seem to matter much now, if he did get
fired. The Chronicle job no longer seemed the only one in Chicago.

“Where shall we meet, and when?” he asked.

He noted down the time and place. “But don’t you want to come with me?
Clive would like to see you.”

“No, but you can bring Clive along to lunch, if he will come.”

“Good-bye, then.” It was their first parting since Saturday, ages ago.
It was to be for hours. In the station here, amid the crowds, they
sought to be casual about it.

“Good-bye.” She smiled, and turned away. He walked a few steps, and then
turned. She had stopped, too, and was looking back at him mournfully.

He came back to her and took her in his arms. “How foolish we are!” she
whispered, and surrendered herself to a kiss that seemed somehow, to
both of them, to make their temporary separation endurable.

At the office, Felix perceived at once, by the manner of his welcome,
that he had established himself more firmly in the esteem of everybody
by getting married. He shook hands formally with every one, and received
their congratulations. At last, it seemed to be over. But Willie Smith
reminded him: “You haven’t been in to see the Old Man, have you?”

Felix could not imagine that Mr. Devoe would concern himself with such a
matter as a reporter’s marriage. But Willie managed to convey to him Mr.
Devoe would feel hurt if not permitted to add his felicitations. “Sure,
the Old Man will want to see you!”

Felix shyly went in. Mr. Devoe rose and shook his hand warmly. “Yes, Mr.
Bangs told us,” he said. “Quite a surprise, my boy. But it’s the right
way to start out in life. Yes.... I understand you’re quite well again?
I’m glad it wasn’t anything serious—you look quite well now—” and his
eyes twinkled. “When you get back to work, come in and see me—we may
have some new plans for you. Next Monday? Very good.”

New plans.... Felix wondered what that phrase might mean. Perhaps the
promise of a raise in wages—though it sounded like something more than
that. But he could not guess what it might be, and he decided not to
tell Rose-Ann about it—she was so egregiously confident for him, and she
might build up vain hopes on a phrase that meant nothing. He did not
want her to be disappointed.

                                   2

Clive, who looked tired, and seemed preoccupied, came willingly enough
along to lunch. “So the nest-building instinct is at work already!”
observed Clive. And then: “What kind of place does Rose-Ann want? One
with elevators, a man in brass buttons to answer the door, and a garbage
incinerator?”

At lunch, which started in with a curious lack of amicability, Felix
repeated this latter pleasantry to Rose-Ann. It occurred to him that
what she wanted might very easily be something beyond his income, even
with that possible raise.

Rose-Ann smiled at Clive. “Not exactly that,” she said. “Perhaps more
preposterous still! The truth is, I don’t know, exactly. All I do know
is that I don’t like any of the things I’ve seen this morning. I did see
some that—but no, even those won’t do.”

“What’s the matter with them?” asked Felix.

“I’ll take you along and let you see for yourself. Mostly stuffy little
cubicles. You know what the ordinary Chicago flat is like.”

“Why should you want something different?” asked Clive innocently.

“Why not?” said Rose-Ann, challengingly. “Felix and I are different—why
should we live like everybody else?”

“I’m glad to hear it,” said Clive. “I confess I thought you were going
to.”

“Is that why you have been so distant and satirical with me today? Had
you lost confidence in me already?”

“Forgive me,” he said.

“You are angry at some other girl,” said Rose-Ann shrewdly.

Clive smiled. “Perhaps you are right.”

“And if you gave me a hundred guesses,” said Rose-Ann, “perhaps I could
guess the girl, too.”

“Perhaps you could,” he conceded.

“So it’s Phyllis. I’m sorry. I like her very much.”

“So do I,” said Clive grimly.

Felix was surprised at Rose-Ann’s rashness in teasing Clive about a
situation concerning which he had always shown a disposition to keep his
own counsel; and still more surprised at the way Clive took this
teasing.

“Well,” Rose-Ann was saying, “she has an air of quiet possessiveness
towards you which indicates that not much can be amiss!”

“What is amiss, dear lady,” said Clive gravely, “is with the universe.
Phyllis and I are each all right, in our separate ways, I hope. Phyllis
is, I’m sure!—she’s a lovely child, isn’t she?... With an interesting
history too. Perhaps I’ll tell it to you, some time.”

“Clive is very unhappy, isn’t he?” said Rose-Ann, when he had left them
for a moment to talk to a couple who had greeted him from another table.

“He prefers to be unhappy, I think,” said Felix.

“Why should you be so unsympathetic, Felix? Because you are contented,
you think everybody else ought to find it easy to achieve the same
state? I hope you’re not going to be smug. I’m really sorry for Clive.”

“I might be sorry, if I knew what to be sorry about. I haven’t the
slightest idea what the trouble is.”

“That neurotic girl, of course.”

“Neurotic? Do you mean Phyllis? Why, what nonsense!” he exclaimed.

“Why nonsense?” she asked.

“Because—why—well, it’s just ridiculous!”

“After all, Felix, we neither of us know her well enough to be so
positive,” said Rose-Ann pacifyingly.

“Then why do you say that about her?”

“Because I think it, Felix!” she replied with a touch of exasperation.
“I really do!”

“I can’t understand you,” he said coldly.

“What are you children quarrelling about now?” asked Clive, returning.

Rose-Ann laughed. “About nothing at all, again. Felix, we are rather
absurd. Come, we’ll look at those apartments.—And don’t imagine vain
things about our home till you see it, Clive!”

                                   3

To Felix, the apartments seemed just apartments. An apartment couldn’t
be a house in the country. And as apartments, these were all that could
be expected. The only serious objection to them, indeed, was that the
rents were rather high.

“Why don’t you like them?” he asked again.

“I don’t know. They’re not quite—our kind of place.”

“I wish I knew what you meant, Rose-Ann,” he said wistfully.

“I’ll try to tell you,” she said, “on the way home.”

And on the train, she began: “You saw those people on the other side of
the hall at that last place we looked at?” The door had been opened by a
fat man with a bulging neck, and they had glimpsed an interior of plush
and golden oak, and the rather plump and vapid-looking woman who awaited
him there. “Well, those apartments are made for people like that—I mean
people without imagination. They take such an apartment and buy some of
the furniture that is made to go in it, and they settle down and are
contented there. Why not! It has a kitchen, a dining-room, a bedroom, a
bathroom, and a room to sit in and entertain callers. And that is the
whole of their existence—cooking, eating, sleeping, washing their
bodies, and showing off to their friends. But that isn’t the whole of
our existence.—Felix, I would rather we would eat at a lunch-wagon and
sleep on a park bench, than make those things the centre of our lives!”

It was not so much her argument that impressed him as the genuine and
profound scorn in her tone and manner. He was conscious of a defection
of sympathy in himself from the point of view that her words expressed.
It might have been himself of a few years ago saying these things so
intensely; and yet they seemed like nonsense to him now!

But one could not argue about such things in the midst of a trainload of
people, the nearest of whom were already beginning to be too much
interested in one’s affairs, so he only said, “Yes—I think I
understand.”

But his mind went back to their life in the country—to the cooking of
that first breakfast in the kitchen, to their first dinner after walking
through miles of snow, to the bed of their happy love and sleep, the
tingling snow-baths at dawn, and the fire in front of which they had sat
and talked for so many lazy hours—and it seemed to him, without quite
understanding why, that Rose-Ann was really denouncing her own life
there with him! A kitchen, a table, a bed, a bath, a fire—hadn’t these
things circumscribed their life? “People like _that_,” she had said,
bitterly. Who were these people but their own happy selves of the past
week? And why had she turned so fiercely against that happiness?

All these things passed through his mind swiftly and vaguely, an emotion
rather than a thought: an emotion of mingled anger and pity—a strange
anger and a strange pity that he could not understand. Vaguely he sensed
the existence in her of a tragically divided mind, torn between the
desire to sink deep into the lap of that simple and traditional
domesticity she had been experiencing, and the fear of some profound
hurt and shame in making that surrender in vain....

But if he sensed this struggle in her, it was not very clearly, and it
was obscured by his effort to think the situation out in logical terms.
“Confound it,” he thought, “if we live in town, we _must_ live in an
apartment—and all apartments are more or less alike. Of course, some are
bigger than others. It is probably the cramped space that she objects
to, after that house in the country. Well, if I get my raise—let me
see....”

Across the aisle were two women interestedly talking with each other,
one of them a young mother, with a rather frightened little tow-headed
boy of a year old in her lap. He had been enduring this strange
adventure rather stoically, but he felt neglected, and his lips were
curving down further and further toward the danger point of tears. He
was feeling very sorry for himself.... Rose-Ann had watched the small
lips begin to twist and the round chin begin to tremble, and she leaned
forward and smiled at him—a smile which interested him, which he
considered hesitantly, and at last found irresistible and answered
wholeheartedly with a beaming one of his own. This was not such a cold
and indifferent world after all; somebody did love him!

Rose-Ann looked up, rather furtively, at Felix, who was engaged in
computing his rent-paying capacity. The women got out at the next stop,
and she leaned back in her seat.

“Some time,” Felix was saying, “we might be able to have a house in the
country like Clive’s....”

“We don’t want a house in the country,” said Rose-Ann energetically.
“What would we do with a house in the country? No, we want a place in
town, convenient to our work, yours and mine.”

“Your work?—you mean your dramatic class?” asked Felix, reflecting that
Rose-Ann was rather changeable. Only a few days ago she had hated to
come to town....

“No—I mean a real job. I don’t know what, yet. But I’m going to get one.
I’m tired of playing with children.”

Felix looked at her vaguely, still doing sums in his head. And for a
moment he seemed to her very stupid. And perhaps he was. Yet it is an
exacting demand to make upon a young husband that he be able to read his
wife’s mind, and know the wishes which she will not even admit the
existence of to herself!

They reached Woods Point, and took a waiting taxi.

“If I only knew what you really want!” he said, as they started up their
path.

“What I really want?”

“Yes. All places to live in are more or less alike.”

“Oh! No, they’re not, Felix. There are enough odd corners left in a city
like Chicago to provide for the few odd people like us who don’t want
the same things everybody else does. Don’t fear, we shall find
something, sooner or later!”

“But when and how?” Felix demanded impatiently. “We must live somewhere
while we are looking for this Utopia!”

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” said Rose-Ann.... An idea,
a whimsical and perverse idea, had just come into her mind—an idea that
hurt her at first by its flagrant rebellious malice, and then suddenly
took possession of her, and seemed eminently sane and reasonable. “I’ve
been thinking of it all day,” she said—and as she spoke it seemed to her
a mature and long-considered plan. She took his arm persuasively.
“Felix, we have a whole lifetime ahead of us—and it is more important
for us to live the kind of life we want to, than just to be together for
a week or two. If we take the kind of place we don’t want, we shall
settle down there and be like everybody else, and it will take years to
break free.... Suppose we weren’t married yet—we would decide on how and
where we wanted to live, first; and we would take whatever little time
was necessary to work out our practical arrangements before we did
commence living together....”

Why, yes, perhaps—though this, Felix reflected wistfully, was not the
spirit in which they had acted on that Saturday ... ages ago it seemed,
when they had left the hospital to be married. But what in the world was
she getting at?

“Felix, dear, would you think it so terrible for us to live apart a
little while, you at your place and I at mine, until we get a place we
really want—?”

He understood her argument now, and to his mind it seemed one reasonable
enough. He had, in the past, sometimes argued in favour of lovers
keeping their own separate establishments. And a mere temporary
separation, for any good reason, and however in defiance of custom, was
something which he could expect himself to view calmly. But his reason
was not for the moment in control of the situation. The blood mounted to
his head in a dizzying rush of anger, his cheeks burned, and, with an
effort to control himself, he said coldly: “No, I would not consider
that idea for a moment.” And then, losing control of himself, he added:
“If you want to leave me, Rose-Ann, you can do it right now. But there
won’t be any coming back. Do you understand?”

He was astonished at himself for that speech, and still more astonished
at its results. Rose-Ann dropped his arm, looked at him, and then, under
his indignant glance, suddenly melted to tears.

“But, Felix!” she cried, and came and clung to his arm desperately. “I
didn’t mean that! Oh, Felix!” and as they reached their door, she flung
herself unrestrainedly on his breast.

“Felix! forgive me! I will do whatever you want. I will live anywhere
you say. I will be good, truly I will!”

He petted her, and kissed her cheek, and drew her inside, infinitely
astonished. He had impulsively accused her of some horrid disloyalty,
some crime against him which he could not even name, and of which he did
not for a moment believe her guilty, whatever it might be: and she had
confessed it in tears, and promised to be “good”! They had had a battle
over something which neither of them understood, some issue which
neither could believe really existed—but a battle nevertheless—conducted
with mysterious threats on both sides, and now ended in tears and
forgiveness as mysterious! A battle over what? He did not know. He only
knew that somehow he was the victor.

But how take advantage of a victory which one does not understand?

“Yes,” said Rose-Ann fervently, kissing him amid her tears with what
seemed a new access of passion. “How foolish to think of being
apart—even for a while!”

“Not foolish, exactly,” said Felix, beginning to be a little ashamed of
himself. “I’m sorry I was so unreasonably angry at you.... I know that
love ought not to be too—too possessive. I don’t want you to feel that I
_own_ you!...”

“But you _do_ own me,” Rose-Ann whispered, pressing his hand against her
bosom, “I am yours, all of me. Do you know it? Do you realize how much I
am yours, Felix? I—it isn’t enough, what I give you. I want to suffer
for you, for us. Do you understand that, Felix?”

No, Felix did not really understand that cry from the depths below
Rose-Ann’s conscious thoughts of life and love; but then, neither did
Rose-Ann.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                                               Book Four
                                                    Fifty-seventh Street

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            XXI. Advancement

                                   1

WHEN they took the train to town on Monday morning, the question of
where they were to live was still undecided. Rose-Ann had put the matter
unreservedly in Felix’s hands; she had told him in detail and without
prejudice the merits and demerits of the various apartments she had
seen. But he felt incompetent to arrive at a decision in such a matter;
and after all, he did not want to do anything which would not have
Rose-Ann’s real approval. He distrusted this mood of utter surrender to
his will, and he sought to make her reassume the burden of judgment.

He suggested again the possibility of having a house in the country; and
she discussed that possibility in a practical spirit. They could rent
some small house in Woods Point for the summer; it would cost only a
hundred dollars or so for the season—or they might find something they
liked that was for sale.

It was easier to buy a house, it appeared, than Felix had thought; there
was usually a mortgage to be taken over, and one needed only keep up the
interest on that; the actual cash need be only a little, five hundred
dollars, or at most a thousand. To Felix this seemed a great deal, but
Rose-Ann explained casually that she could borrow it from her brothers
in Springfield, and if need be give a second mortgage; so that only the
interest would have to be paid for the time being. And the interest on
both debts would be less than the rent they would pay in town.

Felix had never understood these things very well, and buying a house
seemed amazingly simple—one need not work and save for years, one bought
the house first, even though one had no money! Of course, there were the
mortgages, of which Felix retained a somewhat sinister notion from his
childhood fiction-reading; but Rose-Ann seemed to regard them as a
commonplace....

If he only knew what she really wanted!

It ended by his suggesting, half-jestingly, that they go and live in a
hotel until they could decide what to do; and she agreed, saying that
she knew of a good family hotel, in Hyde Park, not expensive—the St.
Dunstan. So it was at the St. Dunstan that they engaged, by telephone
from Woods Point, a room for the following week. During that week
Rose-Ann could settle up her affairs at Community House, Felix could get
reacquainted with his job, and they could decide on a place to live.

                                   2

They parted at the station, and Felix went to the office. It was strange
to take his place at his desk again. It seemed as though he had been
away a thousand years; he had the feeling of a truant who has returned
to school and wonders if he will ever catch up with his lessons.... Mr.
Devoe had said to come in and see him when he got back. But Harris sent
him out on an interview the first thing, and when he had finished
writing it, Mr. Devoe was out in the composing room overseeing some
change in the editorial page. Felix did not like to bother him.
Doubtless he had spoken lightly, and had already forgotten what he had
said to Felix.

As Felix sat idly before his typewriter, Hawkins came up. “Glad to see
you back,” he said, and shook hands. And then: “Come in my office, will
you?”

One of the last things Felix had done before falling ill was to “do” a
play for Hawkins, on a night when there were two openings. His way of
doing plays was so unlike Hawkins’s serious method of assigning praise
and blame that he had been afraid Hawkins would never ask him to do
another; but he had been encouraged by Willie’s laughter at his piece of
foolery, and Clive’s only half-ironical remark: “When Willie Smith
enjoys a piece of writing, you can figure on ten thousand other people
liking it, too!” The idea of those ten thousand other people liking his
whimsical criticism had offset the supposedly unfavorable judgment of
the serious Hawkins.

“Sit down,” Said Hawkins. “I suppose”—with an embarrassed air—“you’ve
heard I’m writing a play.” Then, more cheerfully, “Well, I want to get
as much time away from the office as possible, so I’ve persuaded Devoe
to let me have an assistant. Would you like the job?”

Felix flushed with incredulous pleasure. “All right,” Hawkins went on.
“There’s a certain amount of detail to be attended to—making up the
Saturday dramatic page, selecting the pictures and arranging the layout,
seeing publicity people or letting them see you, once a week—that sort
of thing. You can take all that off my hands, besides doing some of the
shows for me. There’s two opening tonight, and I’d like to have you do
one of them.” He felt in his pocket, and took out two envelopes. A
little apologetically, he said, “I’m sending you to the one I don’t want
to do myself—but you’ll get a chance at the real shows a little later.
All right?”

“I’m—everlastingly grateful to you,” said Felix. “Is this all settled
with—with Mr. Devoe?”

“Oh, yes. You made quite a hit with the Old Man, you know—something you
wrote in that thing you did for me—something about the fatted laugh and
the prodigal joke—I forget, but he went around the shop all morning that
day repeating it to everybody. Yes, the Old Man thinks you’re all right.
You’d better go in and see him; not now—I want to tell you some more
about this job. Have a cigarette?”

It appeared that Felix was to commence his duties at once, taking a desk
in Hawkins’ office and the title of assistant dramatic editor. He would
be relieved of his regular work as a reporter, but he would be expected
to help along a little with the editorial page, especially in the
summer, when there would be hardly any theatrical stuff to take care of.
And there was to be a small raise in salary; he would get thirty dollars
a week—to begin with, as Hawkins put it.

These happy prospects were confirmed by a brief interview with Mr.
Devoe, who seemed to beam on Felix with paternal benevolence. “I think
we’ve found the right place for you,” he said. And then his eyes
narrowed and his lips straightened. “You can prove whether we are right
or not,” he said sternly, and held out his hand in a formal gesture.

“Yes, sir—thank you!” said Felix, a little frightened, and went out.

                                   3

Felix went to Canal street that afternoon to remove his things and give
up the room. He told the news of his marriage and advancement to Roger
and Don with something of the feeling of revisiting the scenes of
childhood and finding one’s old friends still playing at marbles,
astonishingly not grown up. But Roger and Don did not sense his secret
scorn; at least they maintained their customary imperturbable air.

“Rose-Ann Prentiss? Who is she? What does she do?” they asked, and when
they learned that she was not an artist, not a writer, not even an
interior decorator, they raised their eyebrows and went back to their
Flaubert.

Rose-Ann herself, that night, took his news calmly enough. It seemed
that there was no surprising her with any such good fortune; it was as
if she had expected it all along!

She dressed with particular care for dinner and the theatre that
evening, considering and rejecting half a dozen frocks before she
decided upon a quite simple tight-bodiced black velvet thing that made
her seem very pale and her hair a flaming red. This was the first time
that Felix had seen her wardrobe, and he was much impressed. “I’ve never
seen you in anything but your working clothes, have I!” he laughed. “I
like you, dressed up!”

“Oh, these are all old things,” she said; and Felix wondered why women
always said that, when one praised anything they wore. “But,” she said,
“I do look rather nice in this evening dress,” and she held up a
shimmering fluid thing of blue and silver that did not seem to Felix
like a dress at all, but like a moonlit fountain dripping silver spray.
“I’d wear this if you’d get some evening clothes yourself.”

“What do I want of evening clothes?” he protested, his pleasure in the
sight of that lovely garment gone with the threatening onset of
sartorial obligations of his own.

“I should think a dramatic critic might very well have evening clothes,”
said Rose-Ann mildly.

“I’m only half a dramatic critic,” objected Felix.

“Well,” said Rose-Ann, “that being the case, I wouldn’t insist on
full-dress. I’ll be content if you come half way. I mean, dinner
clothes. It’s the silly long-tailed coat that you object to, isn’t it? I
don’t like it myself. Dinner clothes would be very becoming to you,
though.”

“But I haven’t any money—” he began.

“Felix,” she said, “how many times must we argue that out? If you
haven’t any money, I have—not much, but enough to get ourselves started
on. And do you want me to let it lie in the bank at Springfield while we
do without things we need? You want me to look nice, don’t you? And if I
didn’t have a decent dress to go to the theatre with you in, and you
could help me get one, you’d want to, wouldn’t you?”

“Do I look so bad as all that?” he asked, looking down at his rather
worn blue serge suit.

“You look very nice, Felix,” she said, coming over and kissing him. “But
you do need some new clothes, that’s a fact. And really, if you’re going
to be a dramatic critic—. As long as we bought our own seats, in the
balcony, it was all right to go in our ‘working clothes.’ But I think—”

“Oh, all right!” he said gloomily.

                                   4

Nevertheless, the prospect of evening clothes did not spoil his
enjoyment of the play and Rose-Ann. It was a rather silly play, and they
bubbled over with amused comments upon it on their way back to the St.
Dunstan. “I must remember all these things, and put them into my
criticism,” he remarked.

“Why don’t you write it tonight,” she said.

“At the hotel? I haven’t a typewriter, for one thing.”

“But I have mine. Why don’t you say it off to me, and I’ll take it down.
Then you’ll have it over with, and we can mail it tonight, and then we
can talk as late as we want to, without having to think of
getting-up-time in the morning. Now that you’re a dramatic critic, you
don’t have to keep such regular working hours.”

Really, it seemed an admirable plan. “But won’t the other people in the
hotel object to a typewriter being pounded at this hour of the night?”

“Let them! If they complain, we’ll say we’re sorry, and promise not to
do it again! And by the next time, we’ll be in some place of our own
where we can pound a typewriter all night if we want to—I hope!”

Felix stored that away in his memory as one of Rose-Ann’s specifications
for a place to live—a place where one could run a typewriter all
night.... It was going to be hard to find such a place!

Rose-Ann exchanged her black velvet frock for a flame-coloured
kimono—which, as he noted, matched her hair when the light shone through
its stray curls—and sat down at the typewriter.

“Ready!”

Felix dictated for half an hour, only occasionally thinking of their
neighbours on the other side of these thin hotel partitions. Still, it
was not yet midnight. “I guess that’s enough,” he said at last.

“A good line to end on,” she agreed, finishing the sentence and typing
his name underneath. “There are stamps in my pocketbook, Felix—and
here’s your envelope, all addressed. It will make the one o’clock
collection, and we can breakfast at leisure.”

“But,” he said, pausing at the door, “suppose it got lost in the mails
or something!”

“I made a carbon,” said Rose-Ann, “and you can take that with you when
you go to the office, in case of emergencies.”

“You _are_ an efficient little manageress!” he said.

                                   5

Obediently the next day he went to a tailor—recommended by Clive, who
seemed heartily to approve of this particular surrender to
convention—and was measured for a dinner coat, and a new loose-fitting
suit of brown homespun selected by Rose-Ann.

He found he did not mind the idea of wearing evening clothes after all.
He only wished that—well, that he was going to pay for them himself!


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                       XXII. Mainly About Clothes

                                   1

AND still they found no place to live, and their week at the St. Dunstan
became as second, and a third.

They went together to look at dozens of apartments. Rose-Ann was
observantly critical of their good and bad features, and yet extremely
complaisant; he felt that she would have agreed to anything he wanted.
But he had not forgotten her fierce discontent at “ordinary” apartments,
and he was looking for something that would really please her. He felt
that he had not found it yet....

And no one at the St. Dunstan had objected to the noise of their
typewriter on occasional evenings. They could have breakfast brought up
and set down on a tray at their bedside, a breakfast of cool grapefruit
and elaborately disguised eggs and coffee with cream, and linger over
their last sip of coffee and a final cigarette before dressing lazily;
and Felix could stroll into the office at ten o’clock, like Hawkins—a
free man and not a hurried, anxious slave.

Felix had at first felt a little guilty about these late appearances,
when everybody else had been at work for hours; but it was apparently
expected of him that he would take due advantage of the opportunities
for leisure that the position gave. So long as he did his work, it did
not matter when he came or went; Hawkins himself did not show up every
day—and there was that god-like being, the literary editor, McQuish, he
who had taught the Chicago intelligentsia to speak of their “reactions”
and of being “intrigued”: he fulminated his Wednesday critiques locked
in his office on Tuesday afternoon and except for his Tuesday arrival
and departure was never seen around the place at all!

Felix’s new loose-fitting homespun clothes, with their air of having
been worn in to town from a country-club, helped Felix to feel the
rightful possessor of this leisure, and to assume its proper air. Silk
shirts with soft collars, and Windsor ties, bought by Rose-Ann, and
approved by Clive, helped still more.

After all, if the management liked his work, if he was no longer on
trial, but an accepted person, privileged to do about as he pleased, why
should he maintain his old anxieties and disguises? Why try to look like
an efficient young business man? Nobody wanted him to! Why not be
comfortable, in a soft collar and homespun clothes? Yes, why not?

In this mood, he bought himself a stick, on his own initiative.... He
had always wanted to carry a stick, and had never quite dared. His
clothes had never been quite up to it. Perhaps they were not quite up to
it now. But there was nothing dandified about this stick; it was no
silver-plated confection, just a simple stick of light bamboo, covered
with a shiny black lacquer—a real stick. It suited him; he liked the
smooth firm lacquered surface, he liked the feel of it in his hand,
lightly swinging, or hanging from the crook of his arm. And Rose-Ann
liked it, too. He felt that it gave him the touch of confidence he had
lacked in his new position; with that stick on his arm, he could saunter
into the Chronicle office at ten o’clock in the morning without a qualm.

                                   2

Just after his evening clothes were finished, they were invited casually
to one of Mr. and Mrs. Howard Morgan’s evenings, and Felix was assured
by Rose-Ann that it was an occasion which a dinner coat would
appropriately grace; she also remarked that ordinary clothes would be
all right. That seemed to make it rather a test of his moral courage,
and so he wore his evening clothes....

Howard Morgan was a poet, one of the few in America for whom Felix had
any respect. Felix had been introduced to him once, under rather
inauspicious circumstances—one evening when, deep in kalsomine, he was
painting a back drop for Rose-Ann in the little Community Theatre, which
the great man was being shown, in what was apparently a tour of
inspection of Community House. Rose-Ann had met him then, too, and, less
abashed by her kalsomine-smeared apron and hastily turbaned hair, had
talked with him; and he had remembered her, and sent a message by some
one in Community House to come up to his next “Friday evening” and bring
her husband.

Felix was glad to pay his respects to this distinguished personage, but
he was not prepared for the crowd of people who filled the Morgans’
drawing-room; he hated crowds. But, after Mrs. Morgan had introduced him
to an elderly and talkative spinster, and then, as he felt, basely
deserted him, he was rescued by Rose-Ann; steered through a whirlpool of
encounters—he almost failed to recognize Clive Bangs in his evening
clothes, with that wild lock of hair neatly slicked into its proper
place—and brought into the presence of Howard Morgan himself, who was
standing, a tall and impressive figure, with grey hair, a nose like an
eagle’s beak, and flashing eyes, in the midst of, as it seemed to Felix,
swirling tides of people. Morgan turned from two women, one very old and
the other very young, with whom he was conducting two different
conversations at once—a flirtatious one with the aged dame and a very
earnest and serious one with the young girl.

“The last time I saw you, you were painting scenery,” he said, smilingly
extending his hand.

“Yes,” said Felix, flushing.

“And now I read your dramatic criticisms in the Chronicle,” said Howard
Morgan. “You seem to have a multitude of talents! No wonder you have
captured that lovely prize!—She is lovely, isn’t she?” he added, in a
tone of man-to-manly confidence, looking after Rose-Ann, who had floated
away in that dress which was like moonlit falling water.

“Yes,” said Felix, feeling very stupid.

“Do you know Mrs. Meagham? Mr. Fay....” And the great man, who had
retained Felix’s hand in his, pressed it warmly, smiled with his big
delicately-carven mouth and his cavernous, flashing eyes, and turned
back to resume with instant interest his conversations with the young
woman and the old one, not to speak of a third who came up and was
welcomed heartily in the midst of a sentence; leaving Felix to the
mercies of Mrs. Meagham.

It appeared that Mrs. Meagham had no wish to detain Felix Fay; it was
the great man, Howard Morgan, that she wanted to talk to. And Felix had
no wish to prevent her—none whatever; only he was between her and the
great man and he didn’t know how to get out of the way.

How does one leave a lady whom one does not want to talk to, and who
obviously enough reciprocates that lack of interest? Felix hadn’t the
slightest idea.... He ransacked his memory of books—while saying to Mrs.
Meagham that no, he had not lived in Chicago long—for something to help
him. Surely in all the novels he had read there must be something
bearing upon this situation! But the only thing he could remember was
the desperate device of H. G. Wells’ Mr. Polly, who upon one
embarrassing occasion murmured to the young woman something about a
“little dog,” and ran out of the house. But then, Mr. Polly had a
bicycle, and he was pretending that he heard a little dog gnawing at the
tires. No—that would not do at all. He suddenly felt that H. G. Wells
was but a poor guide and mentor in the thorny ways of real life. Perhaps
if he had forced himself to read more of Henry James—!

At this stage, when he felt his reason going, Rose-Ann appeared, radiant
and cool, to his rescue. He was so grateful that he forgot to note how
she did it.... It had been easy enough, apparently; no such heroic task
as it appeared. But then, things like that _were_ easy, to anybody
except himself!

And he had not told Howard Morgan how much he liked—how devoutly he knew
by heart—the magnificent “Ode in the Valley of Decision.” No, he had
stood there saying, “Yes,” like a fool, while a great poet paid _him_
compliments! He thought a little the less of Howard Morgan for those
compliments; they were so obviously a product of the occasion, a few out
of the hundred he had uttered that night—two or three around to
everybody, share and share alike! They were none the less banal because
he uttered them with such pretended sincerity and real grace. What
madness such a scene was! To think of men and women deliberately
inflicting upon themselves such painful mockery of social intercourse!
But perhaps it was not painful to them. No, they actually appeared to
enjoy it. Well—that proved that they were mad! Bedlam! And a great poet
condemned to go through this rigmarole, so abominable to any person of
decent sensitiveness! But perhaps he enjoyed it, too? In truth, he did
seem to be enjoying it vastly. Then he was no poet, but a sham.... A
line of the great Ode came into Felix’s mind, one of the magnificent
lines: he said it over to himself, testing it—and it did sound rather
tinny. Milton and some base amalgam, not true gold.... An actor, the
fellow was, strutting and smirking and kissing ladies’ hands....
Still—if it were a thing that had to be done (like wearing evening
clothes, for instance) doubtless the more gracefully it was done the
better. And Howard Morgan—it must be conceded—did it superlatively
well!... Would Rose-Ann never be ready to go home?

Rose-Ann, in their room afterward, remarked upon how well Howard Morgan
had “played the host.”

“Yes,” said Felix. “... I felt utterly lost, myself.”

She turned to him fondly. “You were doing very well, darling. I noticed
at the time. It’s just your inexperience that made you feel a trifle ill
at ease. With a little more experience, you will be quite as charming as
Howard Morgan. More so, darling!”

                                   3

Tell one whom you have caused to be waylaid and tortured by cruel
savages, that he has passed through the incident very creditably; tell
him that with a little more practice he will be able to wear the true
martyr’s look of joy! And then kiss him.... Yes, and pretend that you
love him, that you are the wife of his bosom. Ah, serpent! Delilah!

That was the way Felix felt as he lay sleeplessly at Rose-Ann’s side
that night; but he knew perfectly well why he felt that way. He was just
looking for an excuse to get out of taking a little trouble.... Of
course things like that went hard, at first; so was walking hard to a
child who had just begun fearfully to stand upon its two feet; so was
breathing hard at first for the new-born infant—did it not greet the
world with a cry of pain? Yes, life was hard; that was why it was so
interesting. It would be dull if one never did anything one was afraid
to do.... And why, at the age of twenty-two, should he still find it an
agony to meet a roomful of people?... No, confound it, that wasn’t true!
There were roomfuls of people he could meet, with pleasure; it was
_these_ people—they meant nothing to him, he nothing to them.... Or was
it just egotism? Was it because he _was_ nothing to them, that he
resented their presence? Was it just the feeling of mother’s little boy
who goes out to play and finds that instead of being the Young Prince,
he is only one of a crowd? He remembered his first day in school—the
humiliation of suddenly finding himself nobody in particular!... Yes, he
had gone there that evening as if he alone in the world had ever admired
Howard Morgan—and found himself merely one of dozens. He had hoped to
impress the great man by his admiration; and he had found his admiration
not at all needed. That was why he was angry at his hero!... And then,
too, perhaps a little jealous. As if he had thought, “I could get the
same kind of worship if I would condescend to pay for it in the same way
you do!” But could he? Was he, too, in spite of his protestations to
Rose-Ann, secretly dreaming of greatness? Was it because this man dared
admit himself a poet, a creator, a Somebody, that Felix Fay disliked
him?—And what was he doing to realize those dreams? It was all very well
to say, “Some day!” But—no, his destiny wasn’t just writing silly-clever
things for the Chronicle. But what was it? Rose-Ann believed in him. Did
he believe in himself?

And all this was far enough away from the question at issue: which was
very simple—in fact, it resolved itself down to one thing—doing what
Rose-Ann wanted him to do! Not because she was his wife; not at all
because he loved her; but because she understood life better than he
did....

He must never let her know what a baby he was about things like these.
What a silly fuss he had been making about nothing at all! He must do
what was expected of him: yes, confound it, and if she wanted a house
like the Morgans’, and crowds of people ... he could see with
half-dreaming mind her white shoulders, her eyes, her red-gold hair,
gleaming in their midst—why, she should have them!... even if he had to
“play the host,” like Howard Morgan, for her.

 ... He fell asleep and awoke dreaming that he was a little boy, who was
captured by savages and tortured, and who endured it all with a smile
for the sake of their Queen, a girl with white shoulders and red hair,
who had promised to tell him a secret if he was brave. And he said: “I
know your secret! You are all the women I have ever known; you are the
little girl I was afraid to walk to school with, and you are the girl I
played with in the garret and was afraid to go to meet for a farewell
kiss, and you are Margaret, the girl in the candy-factory that I was
afraid to write to, and you are the girl in Port Royal that I was afraid
to ask to marry me.” And she said, “Yes, but I have one more secret.” “I
know that, too,” he said. “You are Life!”

A very literary dream! He wasn’t sure, when he woke up at dawn, but that
he had made it up like a story. Anyway, he understood it, and he didn’t
want to forget it, and he was writing it down hastily on sheets of hotel
stationery when Rose-Ann opened her eyes sleepily at eight o’clock....
She opened her eyes sleepily, but sleep vanished when she saw what he
was doing, and she sat up eagerly in bed.

“Oh!” she cried, looking as though an expected, long-awaited miracle had
happened at last.

“What?” he asked, startled.

“You’re writing again!—writing, I mean, for yourself....”

“Well, what of it?” he said crossly.

“Nothing,” she said. “Only—I knew you would!”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                      XXIII. A Bargain in Utopias

                                   1

BUT, even though life was much easier than he had ever dreamed it to be,
though one could acquire a lovely wife without deserving her, an easy
job without asking for it, and a house in the country, if one wished,
without money—still, the fact remained that he was only a young
newspaper man getting thirty dollars a week. And thirty dollars a week
meant that he could afford to pay only thirty dollars a month for rent:
he had read that in a book, and it seemed like good sound economics. And
thirty dollars a month would cover only the poorest and most cramped of
the apartments that Rose-Ann had viewed so judicially and, he felt, with
secret disdain. By no stretch even of an imagination keyed to the
marvellous by recent events, could he see himself getting a place to
live in that Rose-Ann would really approve.... And meanwhile they were
living above their means—above _his_ means, anyway—at the St. Dunstan.
It was their fourth week there, and they were no nearer to finding a
place to live in than they had been when they came. Something had to
happen pretty soon.

He reminded himself that when he came to Chicago he had not expected
such hospitality, such friendship, such help as he had actually
received; he had never dreamed of getting a job on the Chronicle, nor of
being made assistant dramatic critic ... and least of all had he dreamed
of having Rose-Ann for a wife! Such things happened, it seemed—happened
to one in spite of one’s stupidities and suspicions and fears. Perhaps
Rose-Ann’s grand house would drop from the sky in the same way;
perhaps!—but to one whose mind was trained sternly in old-fashioned
nineteenth century realism, it seemed merely silly ... and a little
worse than that. He would give one more day to the deities that presided
over his fantastic fortunes, and then he would take the next
thirty-dollar-a-month apartment they looked at.... So much for that!

They were going to look at some apartments on the south side, near
Jackson Park, and they had planned to meet on the steps of the Field
Museum.... He was a little early when he left the elevated at
Fifty-fifth street, and he strolled slowly over toward Jackson Park
looking thoughtfully at all the apartment buildings he passed.... One,
which looked like a place where Rose-Ann might care to live, was quite
obviously beyond their means.

He turned into Fifty-seventh street, and went under the Illinois Central
viaduct, passing a row of dingy brown one-story shops—at least, there
was a photographer’s shop among them, though the others were apparently
lived in, the big plate-glass windows in front being covered with
curtains. Felix wondered what kind of people lived there. As he reached
the corner, just across from the green stretch of Jackson Park, it
seemed that he had a chance to find out, for there stood a young woman
in the doorway directing the operations of a moving man who was carrying
things to a van in the street.

“Don’t you _dare_ drop those,” the young woman was saying. “The frames
are valuable anyway!”

It was an armful of large paintings that was being carried out. The
young woman, a rather impressive little person, with a sturdy, plump
figure, and short curly black hair, held a cigarette in her hand. A
painter? Did artists live in these places?

Felix glanced past the girl into the room beyond. “May I look in?” he
asked the girl.

“Sure,” she said indifferently.

Felix stepped inside. It was a large room—a huge room, unpartitioned
except by a flimsy screen about eight feet high which cut off the rear
portion. Evidently the occupant had slept back there, and used the front
part for a studio.

“You’re leaving?” he asked the girl.

She shrugged her shoulders. “Looks like it,” she said.

“Is it for rent?”

Of course, Rose-Ann would not want to live in a place like that, but—it
interested him.

“Yes, it’s for rent, if anybody wants it,” she said lazily.

“What’s the matter with it?” asked Felix.

She seemed to become a little more aware of him. “Are _you_ thinking of
taking it?” she asked.

“Maybe,” said Felix.

“If you do, maybe I could persuade you to take a few things off my
hands.”

“What’s wrong with the place?” he countered.

“Nothing’s wrong with it,” she said.

“Then why are you leaving?”

“Because,” she said. “I don’t want to build my own fires. I can’t paint
and look after a stove, too. Want to see my stove? It’s a good stove.
I’m moving to a steam-heated studio-apartment, and I shan’t want it any
more. There it is—”

“Oh, a Franklin stove!” he said.

“Yes, a darn nice little stove. Do you paint?”

“No.”

“Write?”

“Yes.”

“You’d like this place.... And it’s dirt cheap.”

“How much?”

“You wouldn’t believe it. Twelve dollars.”

“Twelve dollars a what?”

“A month!”

“Twelve dollars a month?” Why, his hall bedroom over on Canal street had
cost more than that....

“Yes, and look at the space. It’s really a find. If you don’t mind
living in a kind of bohemian way. I’m bohemian enough, God knows, but
when I get to painting I let my fire go out.”

“I didn’t know,” said Felix, “that there were such places as this in
Chicago.”

“There aren’t. There’s just these. Here and around the corner. They were
put up for shops at the time of the World’s Fair—just temporary
structures—and they’ve never bothered to tear ’em down. There’s been a
bunch of artists living here ever since; a place like this for twelve
dollars is a godsend to an artist. If this was spring, it wouldn’t be
for rent—there’d be a dozen after it. You’re in luck.” She resumed her
neglected cigarette to keep it from going out. “Well, what do you say?
Want my stove?”

“I’ll—have to see my wife about it,” said Felix. “She’s waiting for me
over in the Park.” No, Rose-Ann would not like it, but—

“Your wife? Then, good-_night_! No Christian female would live in these
diggings for a week—unless she was an artist’s wife and couldn’t help
herself.”

“Why not?” Felix demanded. Though this was just what he himself had been
conjecturing about Rose-Ann’s feelings, he found himself resenting this
girl’s scornful imputation to her of those same feelings.

“Well, you’ve seen the place,” she said. “Have you noticed any bath-tub?
No—the people who live in these places take their baths standing up in
that iron sink there in the back. Cold water, fresh from a very cold
lake! It’s healthy—Spartan and all that—but no regular wife would stand
for it. You’ll see. Bring her over here—I’d like to watch her face when
you show her around. I haven’t had a good smile for a long time. Bring
her over!”

“I’ll do that,” Felix said grimly. “You wait.”

“Oh, I’ll wait. Here—” to the moving man—“leave that stove alone and
take a rest for about five minutes.”

                                   2

Felix had felt in the attitude of this girl artist a challenge to
Rose-Ann which he was somehow anxious for her to meet. She might not
like this place—but it would not be because she was a bourgeois doll,
afraid to bathe standing up in an iron sink. Rose-Ann would see in this
place what he saw in it, even if she did want something different....

“I’ve been to one place already,” said Rose-Ann, rising from the steps
and coming down to meet him. “It’s—just like all the others.”

“Well,” said Felix, his voice unconsciously defiant, “I’ve found you a
place that’s different!”

“Have you really? Where is it?”

“Just over here. Right on the edge of the Park.”

“I’d like that!”

“Would you like to bathe in ice-cold water, standing up in a cast iron
sink?”

“Oo! I can feel the water now, oozing out of a sponge at the back of my
neck! What makes you think I’m afraid of cold water? You remember my
snow-baths at Woods Point? The primitive life has no terrors for me—so
far as that’s concerned. So there’s no bathroom?”

“No.”

“M-m. Well, I’ll see.”

“Here it is, then.”

“Oh, this? An unpromising exterior....”

“Here,” said Felix, indicating the girl, who came to the door, “is the
lady who’s just leaving. And this,” he said to the girl, “is my wife.”

She stood aside and waved them in with a flourish of her cigarette.
“Well, here it is, without one plea. See for yourself!”

“Oh!” cried Rose-Ann. “What a lovely big room!”

“It _is_ big,” said Felix.

“It’s splendid! A real room....” She drew a deep breath. “I could live
in a place like this, Felix.”

The girl regarded her with respectful interest, and then turned to
Felix. “Did you tell her about the sink?”

“Yes,” said Rose-Ann. “I know about the sink. But I think I’ll inspect
the sanitary details right now, before I get any more enthusiastic.”

The two girls went back of the screen, talking excitedly. “Does the
screen stay here?” Rose-Ann was asking. “Good! We’ll sleep back here—or
make it a kitchen, and sleep out in front, I don’t know which....”

Felix lighted a cigarette, and laughed softly to himself at his own
folly. So _this_ was what Rose-Ann had wanted! This was the reality of
that supposedly grandiose dream of hers, which had frightened him so
much to think of making come true for her! This—twelve dollars a
month—an iron sink—a Franklin stove!

So the destinies that presided over his fantastic fortunes had made good
again.

How simple life was, after all!


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              XXIV. Studio

                                   1

THE girls came back from inspecting the mysteries behind the screen,
Rose-Ann’s enthusiasm undiminished. “Where is the agent?” she demanded.
“We must get this place right away, before somebody else does.... You
want it, don’t you, Felix?”

“Oh, I wanted it all along,” said Felix. “Only—”

“You didn’t think I would? Oh, Felix! It’s just our kind of place. And
twelve dollars a month! And that lovely stove!”

“How much do you want for the stove?” Felix asked the girl.

“Oh, that’s all right,” said the girl. “Your wife and I have settled
that between us.”

“She’s given us the stove for a wedding-present!” said Rose-Ann. “I
tried to buy it, but she wouldn’t let me.”

“It’s no good to me any more,” said the girl defensively. “And do you
mind if I leave behind that old model stand? You can knock it to pieces
and make kindling of it. And speaking of kindling, there’s a little left
there in that box, and about one shovelful of coal. I’m sorry there
isn’t more to start you off with.”

“You’re a dear to be so generous,” said Rose-Ann. “And you _will_ come
to see us?” She turned to Felix. “Her name is Dorothy Sheridan. She
rather likes us, I think, Felix. And I like her very much!”

Felix and the girl shook hands rather awkwardly. “I take back all I said
about your wife,” said Dorothy. “Hey, you!”—to the moving man who was
lounging at the door—“that’s all. The stove and the other things stay
here. You’ve got the address. I’ll be there to take in the stuff when it
comes.” She held out her hand to Rose-Ann. “Good-bye. I’ll drop in some
evening when you’ve got more or less settled. Good-bye!”

                                   2

Felix and Rose-Ann went to the landlord and were confirmed in their
possession of the studio. They put up the Franklin stove again, and
built a fire with the remains of Dorothy’s kindling and coal, and sat
there till twilight, on the low model-stand, furnishing the room in
imagination.

Felix was feeling a curious emotion which was at once an immense relief
and a dim perturbation. He felt now that he had never wanted to live in
an ordinary apartment. He could sympathize now with all the indignant
things Rose-Ann had been saying about such places. It would have meant a
kind of surrender—a giving up to outward form of the special quality of
their lives.... But he had been willing to surrender. It was strange now
to realize, but it was true—he had felt that very surrender to be a part
of marriage, of adjusting himself to the world of actuality. Yes, he had
thought that he and Rose-Ann had to live cooped up together in a little
domestic cage like other married people.

And instead they were to remain free!

For that was what living in a studio meant. They would not subordinate
their individual lives to a domestic arrangement. On the contrary, all
their domestic arrangements were pushed into the background. This was
first of all a place for them to do their work in.

They planned for their work-tables first of all—two enormous tables that
one could fill with papers and books to one’s heart’s content, and that
never were to be disturbed, no matter how messy they looked: these, one
on either side of the room, up by the front windows. And then, books—all
the books they would ever want, ranged on two long shelves along the
side-walls. And then two large beds, at the back of the studio, behind
the screen—two, so that they could work as late at night as they wished
and go to bed without disturbing each other. And a settle in front of
the fire, and chairs—ordinary kitchen chairs that they would paint in
bright colours—for rest and talk and friends. And a gate-legged table
that could be pushed out of the way after dinner, if they dined at home.
And a tiny gas-range, and a cupboard for dishes. Coloured dishes they
would be—no two alike. “I hate sets of dishes as much as I hate sets of
books,” said Rose-Ann.... And a tiny gas-range.

That gas-range was to be their least and last possession, not they its
slaves!

No, they would be two artists who lived together because they loved each
other, who ate when they were hungry, slept when a chapter was finished,
and cooked when they thought it would be fun to eat at home!

“For instance,” said Rose-Ann, “it would be fun to get dinner here
tonight, but we can’t. But I’ll tell you—let’s early in the morning go
and buy beds and dishes and things, so we can move right in.”

“Why not have dinner here tonight?” said Felix. “We can get it at a
delicatessen and eat it with our fingers!”

“The electricity has been turned off—we can’t eat in the dark,” she said
wistfully.

“We’ll buy some candles!”

“Of course!” said Rose-Ann.

They bought candles, and bread and butter, which Felix cut and spread
with his pocket-knife, and a variety of delicatessen. They made a
table-cloth out of a newspaper spread on the model-stand, and sat on the
floor and ate with their fingers, laughing. It made this all the more
their home, thus to pioneer in it the first night.... They put on the
last of Dorothy’s coal, and then sat side by side on the bare
comfortless model-stand, and, still unable to go away, talked for hours
of what they would buy tomorrow, and where they would put it, while the
grate cast flickering and changing lights on the ceiling. Then the fire
died down, and the room became cold, and they could hear the wind
roaring outside, and still they sat there, huddled together for warmth.
Rose-Ann fell asleep at last with her head on Felix’s shoulder and a
strand of her red hair against his lips. She slept, and shivered ... and
he awoke her with kisses. And only then, and reluctantly, they went back
to their hotel.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                     XXV. St. George of the Minute

                                   1

WITHIN less than two weeks the studio was furnished, according to their
desire; and not only furnished, but painted and kalsomined, in a light
creamy yellow with a bright green-blue trim—a most cheerful and, as they
felt, out-door effect! And old Mrs. Perk had been brought from Community
House to sew the tall orange silk window-curtains.... “It’s like
painting the scenery and setting the stage for a play,” said Rose-Ann.
“Only this play is to run for—for as long as we like.”

When it was all finished, “Now let’s ask Clive out to see it!” she said.

“Oh—all right,” said Felix.

“You haven’t liked Clive ever since the wedding, have you?” observed
Rose-Ann.

“He behaved so queerly!” said Felix. “But he does seem to have become
rather human again.”

“People do behave queerly at weddings,” said Rose-Ann. “Always. If it
isn’t one way, it’s another. They cry, or get drunk, or something.
There’ve been four weddings in my family—five, with mine—and I can
assure you this one was the sanest of the lot. And they always make the
same jokes, too. You remember, when Clive offered to marry me
himself—I’ve heard that one every time. I know you were bothered; but
it’s the regular thing. People can’t help it. And it’s the regular
thing, too, for the groom to be frightfully angry at his best man.”

“And it’s the regular thing for the young people to be perfectly crazy
about their new house, too, I suppose,” Felix said thoughtfully.
“Well—I’m glad if other people have as much fun about it all as we do!”

“Oh, but they don’t!” Rose-Ann said confidently.

                                   2

Clive came, and saw, and approved. And after dinner, when the
gate-legged table had been pushed back against the wall, and they were
comfortably disposed about the fire, Rose-Ann said:

“Do you remember, Clive, you promised to tell us a story?”

“A story? Yes, so I did. Well, I will tell you a story about St. George
and the Village Dragon.”

He lighted a cigarette. “This particular village is situated, as the
story-books say, not a thousand miles from Chicago. It has a Dragon
there, which—. But let me drop the epic style. The fact is, that in this
village there are three classes of people, each of which strictly avoids
the others—though they maintain casually friendly relations, and say
‘Good Morning’ when they meet in the post-office. The three classes are,
first, the villagers proper, the original inhabitants of the place;
second, the summer people; and third, a few artists and writers.

“The village people live in the village, and keep themselves to
themselves; the summer people live in boarding houses and in nice new
bungalows on the edge of town, and associate with each other; and the
artists and writers live out in the more inaccessible regions, perched
on the edges of ravines, and turn up their noses at everybody else.

“The fact is that they are afraid of some sort of social infection or
contamination from each other’s manners and morals. They all secretly
despise each other; the writers and artists despise the summer
bourgeoisie, and the villagers sell them groceries and taxi them home
from the station and despise them both.

“And yet once in a while some young person of one group happens not to
despise some young person from one of the other groups. Then everybody
else becomes very much alarmed.... Two years ago, it was a young man in
the summer colony and a village girl. Everybody—in the summer colony and
the village—was afraid something terrible would happen. The villagers
have a story about a girl who was betrayed and deserted by a gilded
youth who owned an automobile—and she drowned herself in the Lake. And
the summer colony has an even more heart-rending legend about a foolish
boy who married a pretty village girl and took her to the city, and she
couldn’t speak grammatically, and so on: a dreadful story! Well, the
young man in the summer colony and the village girl, two years ago,
hadn’t heard these stories, it seems; at any rate, they went to dances
together—and the whole community waited, fluttering with horror—until
the young man and the girl, finding themselves the objects of universal
anxiety, became frightened of each other, and stopped seeing one another
at all. They realized in time that they were violating a social
taboo.... That’s the introduction to my story.

“Well, the taboo operates even more powerfully to prevent any
friendships between the villagers and us ravine-folk. Our young men
haven’t got any money or automobiles, and the village girls don’t know
how to talk about art. I don’t know why that should make such a
difference, but it seems to. Besides, we hardly ever meet them. We don’t
go to the local dances; and when we go in swimming, we go up the Lake to
some place where we don’t have to wear bathing suits. The only young
woman in the village with whom we are likely to exchange a dozen words
in as many weeks is the daughter of the man who owns one of the cars
that meet people at the station, and who occasionally drives us home
herself.

“But, after all,”—he paused, and blew a cloud of smoke up toward the
ceiling, “even Woods Point is part of the modern world. Anything can
happen there. It’s not impossible that a girl should be born in Woods
Point who went to the public library and got hold of Shaw and Galsworthy
and H. G. Wells, and dreamed of going to Chicago and getting a job and
living her own life—and yet who, being a girl, stayed on in Woods
Point.”

“Yes,” said Felix, “I can understand that.”

“I can’t,” said Rose-Ann. “How old was she?”

“Nineteen.”

“Well—go on,” said Rose-Ann. “Perhaps I’m wrong.”

“That girl,” said Clive, “wouldn’t be particularly interested in the
summer boarders. But she would be interested in the writers and artists
out on the edge of the ravines. She would hear the gossip about their
‘queer doin’s’”—he smiled, and looked at Rose-Ann—“about how they run
around in the snow without a stitch of clothes on! for instance....”

“Goodness!” said Rose-Ann, “who could have seen me?”

“Us village folks hears about everything that’s goin’ on!” said Clive.
“Well—this girl would hear about these crazy artists, and their crazy
talk, and their crazy parties—and she would feel that she understood
these people, that she belonged among them. But she would never have
talked to a living soul about the things that interested her. She would
be inarticulate. And if any of these artists or writers had talked to
her for a passing moment, they would never have guessed that she was
anything but what she seemed—a village girl.

“She might see a good deal of these people, first and last. She might be
the girl who drove them home from the station in her father’s car, who
came for them after midnight at the end of one of their crazy parties.
And none of them would ever guess—why should he?—that the girl who
honked the horn impatiently for them out in the road, would go home and
read ‘Man and Superman’ in bed, and then cry herself to sleep.

“Unless, perhaps, one of the ravine-folk happened to be a man of a very
curious and inquiring disposition, who never took anything at its
face-value—who doubted everything—even the villageness of village
girls.... He might ask her one day—and wouldn’t it be absurd? can you
imagine anything more ridiculous to ask a village girl, out of a clear
sky—‘Did you ever read Bernard Shaw?’ And she might reply very quietly,
‘Yes, every play I could get hold of.’”

“Well!” said Rose-Ann.

“You can see what might happen.... Those people would want to see more
of each other. And you can imagine some of the difficulties. Why, they
might as well have belonged to the Montagues and the Capulets! You can
imagine the talk—about two people who only wanted a chance for a little
literary conversation!”

“Only, Clive?” asked Rose-Ann.

“At first, anyway. But with that atmosphere of intrigue and suspicion,
their meetings would assume a romantic colouring—inevitably.... To such
a man, that girl with her need for ideas, for talk, for companionship,
might be very appealing. And to her, in her isolation and ignorance, he
might appear as a very superior, a very wonderful person indeed.... He
would lend her books, and talk with her, and urge her to go to Chicago
and get some kind of a job. He would talk to her about love—”

“In short,” said Felix, “he would fall in love with her!”

Clive shook his head. “He would know better than that. He would know
that what she really needed was Chicago, and friends, and work, and
adventure....”

Felix reflected that Clive could have offered her all these things....

“And what happened?” asked Rose-Ann.

“He couldn’t persuade her to take the plunge into life in Chicago
without some kind of preparation.... She’s terribly afraid of
Chicago.... So she’s worked out a solution of her own. She’s gone off to
a normal school, to learn to be a school-teacher; and get a job in
Chicago that way.... Worse than that—she’s going to teach somewhere else
first, for some damned reason, and later go to Chicago. I tell her, yes,
when she’s forty, she’ll be ready to begin life!”

“So that,” Felix said, “was what was troubling you all winter. I thought
you were trying to get some girl to marry you; and you were merely
trying to get her to go to Chicago and get a job!”

“Am I to be given no credit for the disinterested and unselfish
character of my worrying?” Clive asked gaily.

“I don’t imagine the girl gives you much credit for it,” said Felix.
“Why don’t you marry her and be done with it?”

“Good heavens!” said Clive. “Must one marry a girl because he has talked
to her about Bernard Shaw?”

“Must St. George marry the girl he has rescued from the dragon?” Felix
retorted. “I only know it always happens in the story-books that way.”

“A fine realist you are, young man! Fortunately, there are other St.
Georges in the world.—Why this sudden passion of matrimonial propaganda?
Misery loves company?”

“I wouldn’t worry about Phyllis if I were you,” Rose-Ann said to Felix
coolly. “She’s perfectly able to take care of herself. Her plan is all
right. She’s very young, and it won’t do her any harm to wait a year or
two and learn a trade before she comes here to live. I think she’s a
very sensible young woman, myself.”

It was time for Clive to go, for he was living out at Woods Point again.
They discussed the studio for a few minutes, and then Felix put on his
hat and accompanied Clive to the platform of the Illinois Central
station a block away.

“Spring!” said Clive, sniffing the mild March breeze. “Tomorrow will be
warm.”

“Clive,” said Felix, “what’s the matter with you, anyway? You’re really
in love with Phyllis!”

“Who knows?” said Clive. “Sometimes I think I am, myself!”

“Well, then?”

“But there’s another question you haven’t considered. Is she in love
with me?”

“Ask her and find out!”

“Oh, I’ve no doubt she thinks she is, at this moment. Just because I
don’t seem to care whether she is or not! She’s a queer girl, Felix. You
don’t understand her at all....”

“You exasperate me,” said Felix. “Marry her, and put an end to all this
foolishness.”

“But why should you assume that my intentions—if I have any—are
honourable, young man! What makes you think I want to get married to
anybody? I think I’ll wait and see how your marriage turns out first!”

Felix walked home slowly, but it seemed only an instant before he opened
the door of the studio. “Who is it?” called Rose-Ann from behind the
screen. “It’s me,” he said, and locked the door, and stood there for a
moment.... He felt a kind of vague bewilderment.

He had been so immersed in the story of these other unhappy lives, so
poignantly concerned with their tangled doubts and fears, that it was
strange to return to this scene of his own untroubled happiness. The
sense of those other tormented lives burned at this moment more vividly
in his imagination than his own life and Rose-Ann’s....

“Coming to bed?” Rose-Ann called from behind the screen.

“No,” he said vaguely, “I think I’ll write for a while.”

“All right, then I won’t bother you. Good-night!”

“Good-night, Rose-Ann.”

He went over to his desk, and turned on the electric light, and dipped
his pen in the ink, and then sat dreaming before a white sheet of paper.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                       XXVI. What Rose-Ann Wanted

                                   1

“WHY don’t you want me to get a job, Felix?”

It was mid-April, and the Park across the way had, all at once, turned
that lovely young green of beginning grass and burgeoning trees. It was
dusk, and Rose-Ann and Felix were sitting in their cushioned
window-seat—a new addition to the household furnishing—arguing a point
which had been coming up from time to time since their marriage.

“You have your work,” she went on.

“Yes,” he said, “and I’m doing all Hawkins’s work now, and in the fall I
will get a respectable salary, I expect, so why need we—”

“I don’t mean that,” she said. “I mean your writing.” Ever since that
morning at the St. Dunstan, Felix had been writing at odd times,
at—heaven knew just what, he wasn’t sure himself—something that might
perhaps be called a play, but so fantastic a thing as yet that he had
not even ventured to show any of the fragments of it to Rose-Ann; she
had been very nice about it, too, never asking him to let her see what
he had done the night before ... to furnish the justification, as it
were, for staying up until all hours. Felix wasn’t at all certain that
they constituted such a justification. They were probably mere folly:
but, so far, they were all he could attempt.

“You have your writing,” Rose-Ann was saying. “And I haven’t anything.”

“You used to write, Rose-Ann,” he said.

“I know. Not much.”

“You need not have given up your class at Community House,” he
suggested.

“It wasn’t enough, any longer. I want something else.”

“What?”

“I don’t know. Something to use up my energies. I can’t stay here and
play keeping house in a studio. There’s no excuse for it. That’s why we
have a studio, Felix! So we can each be free. Why are you so stubborn
about it?”

“I’m not being stubborn, Rose-Ann. I’m just being candid. I can’t stop
you from going out and getting a job. But I can tell the truth and say I
don’t like the idea! And that’s all I can do. If it means so much to
you, you’ll have to do it in spite of my not liking it, that’s all....
It isn’t as if there were some particular thing you wanted to do—I
wouldn’t say a word against that. But work in general—work for the sake
of work—that just means a little more money, which we don’t need, and
your coming home tired at night.... After all, Rose-Ann, I want a
wife....”

She grew suddenly cold. “Then you should have married somebody else,”
she said. “I don’t want to be—a wife!”

And they went out to dinner in an estranged silence.

                                   2

These silences, inexplicable and impenetrable, would spring up between
them, and then as inexplicably dissolve—sometimes in tears, sometimes in
laughter.

That night when they came home to their studio and started to undress
for bed, Rose-Ann changed back suddenly to her accustomed self; and his
own mood, a moment ago puzzled and angry, could not withstand the
influence of her smile. Then both of them were sorry, and accused
themselves inwardly of the fault.... Felix could see why she objected to
being merely “a wife,” and wondered that he had been so crass as to say
such a thing ... and they sought with passionate tenderness to make each
other forget....

“Do I make you happy, Felix?”

“Yes.... And are you happy?”

“Yes,”—a little sadly, in spite of herself.

“Sometimes,” he said, “you seem for a moment to go far away from me,
even when you are here in my arms. I can’t bear that.” He held her more
closely, as though to reassure himself of the reality of her presence.
“Then it all begins to seem like a dream again.... I’ve always been
lonely for you, all my life, wanting you always ... and not believing I
was ever going to find you ... trying to adjust myself to a world in
which you didn’t exist. And sometimes, even now—But you are real, aren’t
you?”

“I dreamed of you, too, Felix....”

“Isn’t it strange? And strangest of all, that the story should have a
happy ending.”

“This—is just the beginning, Felix....”

A faint sadness in her tone, that he had heard before in the very midst
of their happiness, frightened him.

“The beginning, yes,” he said. “The beginning of happiness.”

“And—afterward, Felix?”

“More happiness.... Doesn’t that satisfy you?”

“Yes, but—Oh, of course it’s beautiful and wonderful to me, Felix. But
I’m afraid....”

“Of what, darling?”

“We love just being together, now. But will we always? I mean—doesn’t
something happen to happiness, after a while? I know it sounds absurd. I
don’t mean we’ll fall out of love—not that—but won’t we lose the beauty
of this—this intimacy, in time? You know how other people sometimes
seem—cooped up and used to each other—just that. It’s ugly, to me ... I
suspect we are rather awful, Felix, talking about such things!...”

“No,” he said. “It isn’t enough to feel—we must know why we feel.”

She sighed. “I guess we _are_ like that. We can’t even take happiness
without asking why.”

It was true; they encouraged each other in what would have seemed, to
some people, an exaggerated curiosity about things of no importance—and,
to many lovers, a prying into matters best left alone. Do not all charms
fly at the mere touch of cold philosophy? They did not seem to fear it.

“I suppose,” said Felix reflectively, “people must care a great deal for
each other.... It would be dreadful, this closeness, if one didn’t want
it.”

“But does one keep on wanting it?... Yes, Felix, that’s what I’m afraid
of. If this is only for a while—and then we were to be just like other
people—sunk in a greasy domesticity—Felix, I couldn’t keep on living.”

He took her hand tenderly. “But we aren’t like those other people,
Rose-Ann,” he said. He had a baffling sense of this speech contradicting
something he had said or thought before....

“Do you really think our marriage is so different from other people’s,
Felix?”

They seemed to have exchanged places in the argument—that argument, so
absurd and yet so poignant, which kept arising, neither of them knowing
why, nor quite what it was all about....

“Of course our marriage is different,” he was saying. “How many married
people really want to know each other? How many of them can really talk
to one another about what is going on in their inmost minds—as we do!”

“Yes, we do, don’t we,” said Rose-Ann, comforted to find in this
complete candour of theirs an authentic superiority to the common
destiny of tragic and ridiculous mutual misunderstanding.

“We shall always be finding out new things about one another,” Felix
went on bravely. “That is what our marriage means—a knitting together of
our whole lives, a marrying of our memories.”

“And our hopes, too, Felix,” said Rose-Ann. “And a creating of something
new and beautiful—books, plays, poems.... But I forgot!” she laughed. “I
mustn’t talk about your literary works till you let me. Must talk about
something else!...

“Yes, Felix, we _are_ different. We can say things to each other that
ordinary lovers couldn’t. I wouldn’t have dared speak of my silly fears
to anybody but you.... And—you can tell me things.... What you wrote to
me, when I was home in Springfield, you remember, about that girl,
Felix—I loved you for it. A sonnet you read me last night reminded me of
her and you. I made you read it over twice—I didn’t tell you why. I
still remember the way it begins.” Softly she said the lines:

          “_We needs must know that in the days to come
           No child, that from our summer sprang, shall be...._

“It made me love you all the more to know you felt so about your boyish
love-affair—that you wanted to be married, that you really wanted your
girl-sweetheart to have a baby, hers and yours.... I’m glad it didn’t
happen that way, but I think you were a lovely, foolish, beautiful
boy-lover to want it....

“Of course,” she added, “artists shouldn’t have families to support....
They are children themselves.—Do you know why I want to get a job,
Felix? You mustn’t be angry at me—but if anything should happen, if you
should lose your place on the Chronicle, or if you should get to feel
that you need all your time for your writing, I would want to be able to
make enough money so you could go on with your own work. You don’t mind
my wanting that, do you, Felix? We’re not the conventional married
couple, the wife sitting at home doing nothing while the man goes out to
work every day! I want to be a real helpmeet—an artist’s wife, not an
ordinary wife.”

“You’re a darling,” said Felix. “But—” a little uncomfortably—“I guess I
can take care of myself; I shan’t need to be supported. Why don’t you go
ahead and be an artist yourself?”

“Oh, Felix, I can’t!...”

“Why not? What kind of artist do you want to be?”

“Something I can’t be, Felix. If I tell you, you’ll understand.... But
you won’t laugh at me?”

“Of course not, Rose-Ann.”

“But it’s really funny! Especially if you had seen me when I was a
girl—shy, awkward, prudish—yes, prudish, Felix. When I was eighteen, I
was the worst little old maid you ever saw. I read romantic books all
the time, and real people seemed to me coarse and horrible. I hated
everybody. I wouldn’t go to boy-and-girl parties, because of the—it
still seems an ugly word to me—‘spooning’ that went on in the corners. I
wouldn’t dance, I wouldn’t hold hands. I wouldn’t keep company. Oh, I
was terrible. For a while I wanted to be a missionary in some savage
country—”

“And teach the natives to wear clothes?—is that your secret ambition?”
he laughed.

“No—for I got converted ... to paganism. When I was twenty-one years
old. It was a book that converted me.”

“I really know very little about you, don’t I? All this seems so
strange.... I’ve imagined you as always being what you are now. What
book was it converted you?”

“It was ‘Leaves of Grass.’ You remember I told you how I decided to be a
librarian, and took a course of training, and was made an assistant in
the library at Springfield.... Well, there was a shelf of forbidden
books—and one day I opened one of those forbidden books, and read a
passage.... I’ll tell you: it was ‘A woman’s body at auction’—do you
remember it? Uncouth, wonderful lines—not so much poetry to me as a
revelation. I remember I stood there reading some of those lines again
and again, and I went back to the desk saying them over and over to
myself—just rough, plain phrases naming over one by one the joints and
muscles and parts of the body, like an anatomy text-book—but making me
feel, as no text-book had ever done, that these wonderful things were
_my_ body! Those lines still have a thrill for me—” And she chanted,
solemnly, like a litany:

 “_Upper arm, armpit, elbow-socket, lower-arm, arm-sinews, arm-bones,
  Wrist and wrist-joints, hand, palm, knuckles, forefinger,
     finger-joints, finger-nails,
  Ribs, belly, back-bone, hips, hip-sockets....
  O I say these are not parts and poems of the body only, but of the
     soul!_”

She paused, and smoked her cigarette silently, remembering. “I went
around the rest of that day,” she said presently, “in a dreaming
ecstasy.... I had read in some of my father’s books about the mystics,
and I knew that I felt like them when they had seen God.... I looked
every now and then with a kind of awe at my wrist or my finger-nail,
saying to myself, _These are not parts of the body only, but of the
soul!_ And that night I took the book home, and read it in bed, happy
and afraid....

“And now comes the part that is funny. There always is something funny,
isn’t there, in trying to put a revelation into practice! But don’t
laugh at me, Felix. Think what it would mean to a young-lady-librarian,
a clergyman’s daughter, to discover that her body was a poem.... I got
out of bed and took off my nightgown to look at myself in the glass. But
it was a modest glass, fastened sideways to the top of the bureau, and
it refused to show me all of myself at once; so I unfastened it, and
wrestled it down from the bureau, and stood it upright against the wall.
I was rather disappointed, Felix—my body wasn’t as beautiful as a poem
ought to be; it was just a slim, awkward, twenty-one-year-old girl’s
body, that was all.

“But there _had_ been something beautiful about it for a moment—in the
glimpses I had of it in the glass as I pulled it down from the bureau;
then it had been—well, yes, beautiful, with the beauty of—flexed muscles
and purposeful movement.... And I had a kind of vision.... Yes, really,
Felix ... a wonderful and terrible moment, in which I seemed to see
myself wrestling with life, in a kind of agony of creation ... and for a
moment I seemed to know what my woman’s body was for. And then I sort of
waked up, wondering what it was all about. I was thrilled and afraid....

“And then an idea came to me—I’m glad I can tell you this part, Felix—I
said to myself: I will be a dancer! Yes, I decided to go to Chicago and
learn to be a dancer....

“There was a boy who wanted to marry me—though I don’t know what this
has to do with it; anyway, I would get away from him at the same time,
by going to Chicago.... I was all on fire with the idea. I wanted to
start right away with dancing. I couldn’t go to sleep. And—this is the
part that seems to me the most terribly ridiculous of all—I went
downstairs and brought back the Dan-Emp volume of father’s encyclopedia
to read the article about Dancing....

“And there, in that article, Felix, I learned why I could never be a
really-truly dancer—it seems that one must begin in one’s cradle!

“Well—I cried. I could cry now when I think about it. I’m a perfect
fool, Felix.... But what’s the use of having a vision of one’s purpose
in life, if one can’t do anything about it?... There seemed to be
nothing to do except stay in Springfield and—marry that boy. And I
couldn’t, I couldn’t do that. I thought of other things besides dancing
that I might do, but they didn’t interest me. An artist’s model? Somehow
I didn’t like that idea—not in modern terms—not at so much an hour;
after all, I _was_ a clergyman’s daughter, and it just didn’t seem
respectable! I thought—if I had lived in Ancient Greece, I might have
been a friend of Phidias or somebody, and seen myself carved upon the
frieze of a temple ... or been one of the marble maidens of Keats’
Grecian Urn. Oh, I dreamed of all the lovely and impossible things in
the world. And I decided—at least I wouldn’t stay in Springfield!”

“And so you came to Chicago....”

“Yes, and became a settlement-worker. It seems a pitiful climax to my
story, doesn’t it? And yet, if one lives in twentieth-century America
instead of in Ancient Greece, what is one to do? It seemed to me a good
pagan life, to try to bring about a better world for everybody—a world
in which beauty would count for something.... At one time I thought I
was a socialist, but I found that I couldn’t bear to attend stuffy
meetings, and that I couldn’t understand Marx and didn’t want to. And I
wasn’t interested in woman suffrage, either. My life had to be centred
around something personal. So—”

“So you taught those children how to play....”

“It was the Greekliest thing I knew to do.... If Aspasia had been born
in Springfield, Illinois, _she_ might have taken a class in a Chicago
settlement!” Rose-Ann said defiantly—and then, doubtfully, “What do you
think of it all?”

“I don’t know,” he said—“it leaves me bewildered—except that I think
you’re a wonderful child.”

“It’s you who are wonderful,” she said, “to understand. I _am_ a child,
I suppose—and I want to stay one always. I don’t want to grow up. That’s
very foolish, isn’t it? Do you know that horrible habit some married
people have of addressing each other as ‘Pa’ and ‘Ma’—as soon as they
have a baby, I mean? I suppose it’s meant as a joke. And I suppose it’s
a joke, too, when a man refers to his wife as ‘the old woman.’ When I
was a little girl, I vowed to myself that no man would ever have the
right to call me his ‘old woman.’ Or ... but then, we shan’t ever have
any children, shall we? You remember what I said—the talk we had in the
hospital that day. I meant that, Felix.”

Felix’s mind was fumbling for the lost thread of their discourse.
Rose-Ann’s talk had a disconcerting way of suddenly leaping from one
idea to another. How did they come to be talking about children? She had
brought them in, without rhyme or reason, more than once tonight. And
each time he had remembered with a sense of discouragement and vague
shame that moment at the hospital when he had not had the courage to
tell her that he wanted to be—everything that it seemed he need not be
after all. He wanted now to say something—but what could he say? Some
other time, perhaps, when he had a chance to think things out more
clearly.... It did not need to be settled now.

“Why,” he said confusedly, “we did talk about it, yes. I don’t suppose
we can afford to—” He was going to add “right away,” but Rose-Ann
interrupted him.

“Oh, dear!” she said, “I’ve forgotten—I promised to let my father know
our address, as soon as we found a place to live, so he could come and
see us, and I forgot all about it! Felix, will you bring me pencil and
paper, please? I’ll write to him now.”

Rose-Ann’s troubled mind—too troubled to be aware of itself—had been
seeking an answer to a question ... the question for which she had
unconsciously sought the answer in “Leaves of Grass,” in the “Dan-Emp”
volume of her father’s encyclopedia, in settlement work, and now in her
marriage. There was an answer which she dreaded—and perhaps hoped—to
hear. But in his chance phrase she had heard instead the definite
ratification of their casual agreement that she was never to bear him a
child ... and the question, which neither of them knew had been
discussed, of whether the meaning of her vision, of her search, of her
unsatisfied yearning, might not perhaps be found in the common,
ordinary, the all too obvious rôle of motherhood, was answered No....

Felix brought the pencil and a writing pad, and she sat and wrote, and
smiled, and wrote again. She had become once more remote—a figure, it
seemed to him as she sat there on the bed in the lamplight with her
red-gold hair falling over her white shoulders, like a girl in a
painting, as eternally lovely and unapproachable.

She stopped writing. “We’ve utterly forgotten the world ever since we
moved into this studio,” she murmured.

“And a good thing, too,” said Felix, feeling in her words some threat
against their peace and quiet.

“But we _must_ let our friends know where we are—and that they can come
to see us.... We might give a kind of house-warming.”

“A house-warming?” Felix repeated doubtfully.

“Yes—a big party—one of the kind you hate. But I’ll make it up to you by
giving some cozy little parties.... There are people you ought to know,
Felix.... Yes, I’m going to be a real artist’s wife!” She put her arms
about him and kissed him, fiercely and tenderly.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             XXVII. Parties

                                   1

ROSE-ANN decided to give at least one or two of her “little” parties
immediately; perhaps to encourage Felix to meet the larger ordeal. And
to the first of these little parties, she planned to invite, with what
seemed to Felix a reckless defiance of congruity, Clive, Dorothy
Sheridan (who had in the meantime been in to see “what they had done to
her old studio” and appeared to be satisfied that they had _not_ turned
it into what she called “a Christian home”)—and the Howard Morgans!

A more ill-assorted company, Felix felt, had never been invited to sit
at the one table—a poet who was also (or at least so Felix considered
him) a social lion, a rough-mannered Bohemian girl-artist, a satirical
young newspaper writer; and he, a frightened young husband giving his
first dinner, was doubtless expected by his infatuated bride to bring
music out of this discord! Well, let her find out.... It was a relief,
anyway, to be told that he need not wear his evening clothes.

The party went off amazingly well. There was a certain constraint, at
first, it was true; but it was not of the sort he had expected. Dorothy
Sheridan had turned up with her bobbed hair elaborately and beautifully
curled and wearing a gaily embroidered Russian smock. “I never wear
smocks when I paint,” she said, “painters never do—but I like to wear
them everywhere else. What kind of folks are these Morgans?” And being
told by Rose-Ann—rashly, Felix thought—that they were “all right,” she
said, “Then I can smoke,” and lighted a cigarette with an air of
relief.... And when the Howard Morgans came, the great man was dressed
in an old suit of corduroys, concerning which he appeared to be nervous.
He looked at Felix’s clothes anxiously, and then at Dorothy Sheridan
with her cigarette, and seemed reassured. He must have been reassured,
for when the introductions were accomplished, he took out an old sack of
tobacco from his coat-pocket and a crumpled package of straw-coloured
paper, and rolled himself a cigarette.... Yes, that was all they were
afraid of—that the occasion might not be sufficiently informal! And
after they had ceased to be afraid of that, they got on vastly well,
drank Felix’s cocktails with gusto, ate Rose-Ann’s dinner (it was,
though one might not have known it, a delicatessen dinner) with
unabashed appetite, and talked like old friends. Later in the evening,
Clive turned to Dorothy Sheridan and demanded, “Come, you are not really
one of _the_ Sheridans, are you? I can’t believe it!”—And she answered:
“Well, I’m the black sheep of the family; I don’t live their life—I
paint, and mind my own business—so you ought not to hold that against
me!” From her manner, one would have thought that the Sheridans were a
band of notorious criminals, but Rose-Ann told him afterward—what it
seemed she had suspected all along—that Dorothy belonged to one of
the—well, as Clive had said, one of “_the_”—families of Chicago.... Yes,
they got along very well indeed, and Felix talked about everything in
the world with complete unselfconsciousness....

                                   2

Yes, that party was all right.... But a dinner for Will Blake of
Community House, _and_ Paul, their old scenic-genius friend, now a
prosperous designer of musical comedy settings in New York and just back
in Chicago for a few days—_and_ (yes!) old Mrs. Perk ... that was
simply, Felix felt, defying the gods. And yet it turned out to be an
even more successful party than the other. Mrs. Perk was as delightful a
dinner companion as any one could wish, and really made the party a
“go.”... Or perhaps it was the studio: apparently everybody liked a
touch of bohemia; apparently anybody in such a place could be completely
human, natural, and at ease.... Or perhaps it was Rose-Ann: there was no
doubt about it, she was a wonderful hostess....

And Rose-Ann had only just started, it seemed, on her social career.
After the “house-warming,” which came next on their program, she
intended to ask some of her “bourgeois” friends in to dinner, before
they went away for the summer. “You haven’t been miserable at _these_
parties, have you?” she said. “Well, you’ll find the others just as
easy. Everybody’s human—even in evening clothes, Felix. We’ll have to go
to dinner at these other people’s houses, too, you know—and once you
make up your mind to it, you can have as good a time there as you can
here!”

All right.... He would try to enjoy himself, he promised obediently. But
this house-warming presented difficulties. They were inviting everybody
they knew—everybody!—people from Community House, from the Chronicle
office, from Canal street, et cetera.... Such a crowd! “I shall have to
introduce them to each other, and I won’t remember their names,” he said
forlornly. “I never remember people’s names!”

“It’s all right!” said Rose-Ann. “After a cocktail or two, half of them
won’t know their own names. Besides, this will be our last big party,
ever. I promise!”

Well, it was a satisfaction to know that. But—cocktails, and Community
House residents; Felix was not sure (even after seeing Will Blake
flushed and merry with their California wine sherbert the other night!)
how these two elements would mix. Eddie Silver after his ninth cocktail
would scarcely be an edifying spectacle. “Don’t worry,” said Rose-Ann.
“People are not so Puritanical as you think. Anyway, our respectable
friends will come early and go early—and the others vice-versa.”

“I thought,” said Felix, “when I went to the hospital, that I had
finished with boozing....”

“So you have,” said Rose-Ann cheerfully. “This is quite different!”

“And you a clergyman’s daughter!” said Felix.

                                   3

Rose-Ann’s father was somewhat on Felix’s mind, because she had said he
might come to see them any day. And if Felix felt some awkwardness in
adapting himself to the convivial life, he felt still more embarrassment
at the prospect of acting the difficult rôle of the son-in-law of a
clergyman.... One had to, it seemed, be so many different things to get
along with people! But he was learning. When these parties were over, he
would commence to think about how to make himself agreeable to his
father-in-law.

And then, late in the afternoon of the day of the house-warming, when
Rose-Ann had gone out to buy something she had forgotten, and Felix was
busy squeezing lemons, a tall, gentle, stooping man with a slight
greying beard walked into the studio, looked about, smiled, and extended
his hand.

“I suppose you are my son-in-law,” he said. “I see you’re getting ready
for a party, so I’m just in time. Rose-Ann didn’t specially invite me,
but I guess she’ll let her old dad come anyway.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                        XXVIII. A Father-in-Law

                                   1

FELIX stood still for a moment with a lemon suspended in mid-squeeze.

“I know just how you feel,” said the old gentleman. “At such a moment as
this, a father-in-law would be just the last straw!”

Felix laughed, and shook the extended hand. “Did I give away my dismay
as plainly as all that?” he asked.

“I don’t blame you,” said the old gentleman, taking off his hat and
overcoat, and sitting down. “Go right on with what you were doing, and
we’ll talk. I feel rather well acquainted with you from what I’ve
already heard about you. No, Rose-Ann didn’t say much, but I sort of
always know what she’s up to. The marriage wasn’t exactly a surprise to
me. And I shouldn’t have thought of coming down here to bother you,
except that I thought it would be better for me to come than one of the
boys. You see, I’ll have to report to them that it’s all right, or
they’ll go on thinking that Rose-Ann has married some perfectly
disreputable person.” He smiled.

“How do you know,” Felix asked, laughingly, “that I’m _not_ a
disreputable person!”

“Well,” said Rose-Ann’s father gravely, taking out a cigar, “perhaps you
are. Will you have one of these? No? They’re very good Havana cigars—I
can recommend them; oh, I see you smoke cigarettes.... Perhaps you _are_
a disreputable person. But of a certain type that I can very well
sympathize with, because I belong to it myself. Impractical. Yes, I can
see you’re that. Not interested in making money. All that sort of thing.
Yes, I’m afraid my sons would consider you a poor match for Rose-Ann.
What they don’t understand is that she was bound to marry that sort if
she married anybody. I’ll have to misrepresent you when I get back home.
I’ll tell them that you’re an enterprising young newspaper man. You
won’t mind that?”

“I should be delighted to have somebody think that of me,” said Felix.

“Well, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t.... I’ll be a little sad
when I get home, and tell them that I’m afraid Rose-Ann will never be
really happy with you—that you are too practical to appreciate the
poetic side of her nature. Then they’ll be convinced that it’s all
right.... I suppose it sounds odd to you, my speaking this way of my own
sons?”

“Well—yes,” said Felix, “it does rather! But it’s refreshing.”

“I haven’t a scrap of family sentiment,” said Rose-Ann’s father. “I am
interested in people only as individuals. And I must say that I have
been cursed with four of the most practical and unimaginative sons that
a ne’er-do-well father ever had. They will all end up as millionaires,
I’m sure. By the way, I hope you’ve no prejudice against preachers?”

“Not your kind, anyway!” Felix laughed.

“I was reading a book the other day,” said the old man, “about women in
the Middle Ages. It said that women often went into convents then, not
because they felt particularly religious, but because they wanted to
escape from the humdrum ways of ordinary life. A woman who went into a
convent might become—a scholar, a ruler, a politician, the peer of
princes! She could have friendships with distinguished men. She could
be, in a sense that her married sister wasn’t, free.... And I thought
how well all that applied to myself. If I had lived in a Catholic
country, I would probably have gone into a monastery, and written a
history of something. I did the next best thing, it seems to me now. I
went into a profession where nobody is expected to succeed. I escaped
from the bedevilment of business; I started out in business, you know,
and left it for the ministry. Now I can be a little odd, and nobody
minds very much. I am very fortunate, I think. The pulpit is a wonderful
refuge. For instance—do you like to drink?”

“No—not really,” Felix said.

“No, I thought not,” said the old gentleman. “But you have to. You will
have to consume your share of that enormous quantity of vile-tasting
medicine you are preparing for your guests. Now, I am free from any such
social necessity. It’s an enormous relief.”

Felix thought of his Eddie Silver parties in the past, and all the
parties he seemed committed to in the future—and it seemed to him that
Rose-Ann’s father was indeed very fortunate.

“I assume,” said the old man, “that you don’t particularly relish the
idea of this party, anyway?”

“No, to tell the truth, I don’t,” said Felix.

“Of course not. What sane human being would want to spend an evening
talking to forty people without saying anything to any of them? And yet
ordinary people are supposed to like that sort of thing.”

“Rose-Ann promises that this will be the last one of this kind.”

“Hold her to her promise, young man!” said Rose-Ann’s father. “And be
stern about it. Be ruthless. Rose-Ann,” he observed reflectively, “means
well. But after all, she’s a woman. And when you know as much about
women as I do, you will know that they are the natural ally of the world
against the human soul. Now I have always had my _sermon_ as an excuse
for getting out of everything I didn’t want to do. I always managed to
make the writing of that sermon last me nearly all week. I locked myself
in my study, and let the world rush past outside. In my study I could
read and dream and think; I could be by myself. Aren’t you going to
write a novel or something? A play, I believe it was Rose-Ann spoke of.”

“I’m—thinking about something of the sort,” said Felix. It was true, he
reflected, he had not been able to get any writing done lately! One
could not write with parties going on all the time....

“Well, you’d better get down to work on it right away. And get a room of
your own somewhere to do it in. You’re just married, and your head is
full of all sorts of romantic nonsense about Rose-Ann, who is a very
fine young woman, but, after all, a woman; and the time to establish
your right to be by yourself some of the time is at the very beginning.
I see you have two desks up there in front. Do you expect to work
there?”

“Yes. That one is Rose-Ann’s—”

“And the other is yours. And when you are in the middle of a sentence,
you find that Rose-Ann has come over and put her arms around your neck.
Very natural. Very charming. But how in the name of Prince Beelzebub are
you going to get any work done under those circumstances?”

Felix smiled. It certainly was odd, to have one’s wife’s father take
your side against her. But it was easy to see that he was thinking of
his own case. He had doubtless had to lock himself in his study to be
free from the encroachments of domesticity. But Rose-Ann was different;
Rose-Ann did not come over and kiss him in the middle of a sentence....

“I see you don’t take my warnings seriously,” said the old man. “Well,
don’t say I didn’t do my best for you. Here she is now.”

Rose-Ann came in, crying out, “Dad!”—and running up to him flung her
arms about him. “You didn’t tell me you were coming!”

Her father set her on his knees.

“No, Rosie, I didn’t—and I see I’ve intruded on a wild party. But if
you’ll not tell anybody I’m a preacher they won’t know it. I won’t spoil
your party!”

“It’s only our house-warming, and of _course_ I’m glad you came. How do
you like my husband?” She looked proudly at Felix.

“We’ve become very well acquainted,” said her father. “I’ve been warning
him against you.”

“And you’ve been getting cigar-ashes all over my nice clean floor, too,”
said Rose-Ann. “Why will you never, never learn to use an ash-tray?”

“I’m sorry, my dear,” said her father with a twinkle at Felix, “but I
thought this was a studio, and that people in studios did just as they
pleased.”

“Well,” said Rose-Ann, “if you’re not going to be a preacher tonight,
you can help Felix get things ready for the cocktails. I have a million
sandwiches to fix, myself. Take off your coat and put on this apron. How
do you like our studio?”

“I was very much impressed by those desks up in the front there,” he
said disingenuously, smiling at Felix.

“Yes, that’s where Felix is going to write his play, and I’m going to
do—I don’t know just what, yet. But isn’t it all—wonderful, father!”

“Wonderful!” said Rose-Ann’s father.

                                   2

Whether it was the effect of that talk or not, all Felix’s recent social
sophistication had vanished utterly, and the party passed after the
usual fashion of such events to a shy and bewildered person. He made
desperate efforts to remember people’s names, and succeeded once or
twice; at other times Rose-Ann intervened and performed that painful
feat for him; and once when he saw two people beside him who had not yet
been introduced, and whose names he knew as well as he knew his own, but
which he could not to save his life think of, he slunk away in guilty
crimson shame. An old lady—it seemed to him that he was a favourite prey
of old ladies—got him into a corner and talked to him for a long time
about telepathy, and the life beyond the grave. He could not recall ever
having seen her before, and he wondered what she was doing at his
house-warming. “Yes,” he said earnestly to her—“yes!” So convincingly,
that Rose-Ann, who wanted him to meet Professor Hedding of the
University of Chicago, left him alone until at last she caught his
piteous glance of appeal and came and bore him away. Howard Morgan was
there, at ease as always, his leonine grey head the centre of a
phantasmagoria which he seemed to understand, to rule with a glance, a
smile, a word. He was enjoying it all.

“No,” Felix said to himself, “I shall never be like that!”

His father-in-law wandered up to him as he stood helplessly aside. He
seemed to Felix to be about to ask, “And is this the kind of life you
are going to lead?” But instead, he remarked, “Your friend Mr. Bangs is
a very interesting young man. We had a good talk. I like the way his
mind works.”

It struck Felix as the oddest aspect of his fantastic fortunes that he
should have a father-in-law—out of all possible fathers-in-law!—who so
heartily approved of him, approved of his very weakness, and of his
maddest friends! What he might have expected was: “If I were you, I
don’t think I’d see too much of that young man—he has queer ideas.” But
queer ideas, his own and Clive’s, were, it seemed, not merely tolerable,
but commendable....

A little before midnight, the Rev. Mr. Prentiss took his daughter and
son-in-law aside and said, “I’m getting sleepy, so I’m going to my train
and try to get a little sleep between now and morning. No, don’t you
bother about seeing me off. But you must come and visit us in
Springfield. Sometime, I mean—no hurry—just whenever you feel like it.”
He shook hands with Felix. “Do,” he said. Rose-Ann kissed him, and he
slipped quietly away.

“Father likes you,” she whispered.

“He’s lovely,” said Felix.

“He told me—”

“What?”

“Never mind. I’ll tell you some other time.”

“What?” Felix repeated.

“Oh, I guess the same things he told you. He warned you against me. And
he warned me, too.”

“Against _me_?”

“No. Against myself. Come, we must say good-bye to these people.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                      XXIX. Interlude at Midnight

                                   1

CLIVE stayed a few minutes after the others to give them some news.
Phyllis, it seemed, was desperately discontented with the process of
learning to be a teacher. And he had been talking with Howard Morgan
about her—Howard Morgan had spent a summer in Woods Point, and
remembered her as “the pretty girl who used to drive a taxi”—and he had
become interested in her problem to the extent of offering her a
position as his secretary (“if she can type manuscripts, and look up
things in books”—he was at work now on a grandiose historical poem).
That, Clive had remarked, seemed to solve the problem of coming to
Chicago for her—if she accepted it. He wanted to know what they thought
about it.

Rose-Ann had said, a little wearily, that that did seem to solve the
problem for her.

“So you’re in favour of it?” Clive had asked, insistently.

Rose-Ann had shrugged her shoulders. “It’s not for me to decide!” she
said, and so Clive, thanking her in an ironical voice, had gone away.

                                   2

And as soon as he had gone Felix began—or thought he began—to understand
what it was all about.... And yet, the fancy was so preposterous!

“I wonder,” he said cautiously, “why Clive made such a fuss about that
offer of Howard Morgan’s?”

“Well,” said Rose-Ann. “Leave the door open a moment to let the smoke
out....”

“What kind of reputation has Howard Morgan, with—with regard to girls?”
he asked point-blank.

“Oh,” said Rose-Ann, “the usual reputation of handsome poets, old and
young. Why?”

“Then,” said Felix, “—then that was what Clive was thinking about!”

“I suppose so,” said Rose-Ann. “I think the room’s aired out now. You
can close the door.”

“But,” said Felix, “It’s monstrous!”

“What—oh, you’re still talking about Phyllis? But why be angry at _me_
about it?”

“I’m not angry at you, Rose-Ann; I’m disgusted with Clive for thinking
of turning her over to that old scoundrel!... You don’t seem to care?”

“Must everybody in the world be sorry for poor Phyllis, and anxious
about poor Phyllis, and worrying about poor Phyllis?” Rose-Ann demanded
in a tone of exasperation. “I’m tired of her problems, myself. Can’t she
decide what she wants to do without so much masculine assistance? After
all, all I said was that it wasn’t my affair. Let her decide for
herself.... And shut the door, please—it’s getting chilly....”

Felix shut the door.

“Well, this is over, anyway!” said Rose-Ann, walking back behind the
screen, and kicking off her pumps.

Felix followed her. “What’s over?”

“This party,” she said, letting down her hair. “A lot of cleaning
tomorrow, and then—never again.... Felix, I don’t want you to be a
perfect host, after all. You don’t have to be anything you don’t want to
be.”

“But about Phyllis,” he said. “Surely you aren’t cold-bloodedly
considering her becoming the mistress of that old—”

“Poets don’t have mistresses nowadays,” said Rose-Ann, impersonally, “at
least, in Chicago. They have flirtations—and ‘affairs.’ An ‘affair’ may
mean anything. Howard Morgan has been having ‘affairs’ for the last
forty years. I was surprised that he didn’t have some pretty girl
sitting on his lap tonight. He does it in such a fatherly way that
nobody can object, not even his wife. After all, I repeat, it’s
Phyllis’s concern, not mine.”

“You mean that she might be agreeable to such an arrangement?” Felix
asked angrily.

“How do I know?” she said. “Put out the candle, will you, Felix?”

“I can’t understand you!” he said. “I thought you liked her?”

“I do,” she said. “At least, I’m willing to let her live her own life as
she sees fit.”

“I’m not,” said Felix, blindly.

“No,” said Rose-Ann. “Of course you’re not. You want to save her from
‘that old scoundrel.’ But I don’t see how you can do it, Felix, except
by divorcing me, and marrying her yourself. And just because you’re
jealous of Howard Morgan—”

“Jealous! Rose-Ann!”

“—Is no reason for quarrelling with me....”

“I’m not quarrelling with you, Rose-Ann. But I think you are trying to
quarrel with me. You behave as though you were jealous, yourself.” The
idea had seemed absurd, until he stated it; then he looked at her
wonderingly. “Perhaps you are!”

“Perhaps I am, Felix. But I wish you wouldn’t stalk up and down while
you’re talking to me. Of course I’m jealous, Felix.”

“What in the world of?”

“Of Phyllis.... Oh, I know I’m not being reasonable, Felix. But I’m
tired, and I’ve been scolded by my father, and made to feel like—like a
wife. I suppose that’s why I’m behaving like one. And—and—damn it all,
I’m going to cry.” And she did.



------------------------------------------------------------------------

                       XXX. Fathers and Daughters

                                   1

FELIX, astonished and perturbed, came over and petted her. “What’s the
matter, darling?” he asked.

“Oh, Felix,” she said, putting her head against his breast, “do you love
me?”

“Of course I love you! Don’t you know it?”

“I suppose so. But—all this—I’ve felt separated from you. I’ve felt—I
don’t know what—I suppose it was what my father said—that this was just
going to be him and my mother all over again....”

“He said that!”

“No, that isn’t what he said. But that’s what it made me feel. Felix, we
aren’t going to stop loving one another now, are we?”

“Of course not. But what was it your father did say?”

“Nothing—only he spoke of how many distinguished friends we had, and—I
knew he meant it all satirically—and that you had the makings of a
successful man in you, if they were properly brought out by an ambitious
wife—meaning me. And I felt as though—as though—Felix, I don’t want to
behave to you as my mother did to my father....”

“What do you mean?” he asked quietly, still petting her like a child.

“You know, they were married very young, and he gave up business for the
ministry after they were married, and we were very poor until my
brothers left school and commenced to make money—and I think she never
forgave him for that. And I’ve always—”

“Can’t we live our own life and love, Rose-Ann, without letting it get
mixed up with our fathers and mothers?” Felix asked sadly.

Rose-Ann rubbed from her face the last vestige of her tears. “That’s why
I didn’t want father to come to see us,” she said. “In-laws always mess
things up, don’t they?”

“Even when they are the nicest people in the world, like your father.”

“Felix—I’m so glad to be back with you again—I feel as though I had been
away from you, somehow. I don’t like it.”

“Don’t go away again, Rose-Ann-dear.”

“I won’t.” She pressed her head closer against his breast. “I’ll never
go away again.”

Again the storm had passed, leaving Felix again wondering how it could
have arisen. Some of the things they had said to each other were really
incredible. How hard and hostile they had been to each other!
And—quarrelling over Phyllis! Why, the whole thing was absurd, the
product of fevered imaginations.... Why had they both been so willing to
indulge those grotesque fantasies about Phyllis and Howard Morgan?...
And then, what of Rose-Ann’s freakish accusation against him—for that
was what it amounted to!—of being in love with Phyllis? Phyllis, whom he
had seen but once in his life, and that on the occasion of his own
marriage! Had Rose-Ann really been jealous? It was too extravagantly
farcical.

But oughtn’t they discuss these things, and settle them, once and for
all? Wasn’t that what their mutual candour was for, to expose and kill
these silly doubts and fears and suspicions? Or—did talking about such
things only give them new vitality? Were these things too senseless to
talk about?

“I love you, Felix.”

“I love you, Rose-Ann.”

There was a true magic, it seemed, in words like those! They brought
happiness ... and forgetfulness....

“Darling....”

“Yes....”

“Did we have a quarrel?”

“I don’t know—did we?”

“Yes—but what was it about?”

“I can’t remember!”

“Neither can I!”

They laughed happily at their folly.

                                   2

Yet Felix could not quite understand the turn of affairs which followed
the brief and dynamic intrusion of Rose-Ann’s father into their domestic
life. Rose-Ann had changed. The most obvious manifestation of that
change was the complete abandonment of all her social plans.

She had intended to give a number of parties to her “bourgeois friends”
that spring; but they were never given; and when Felix asked why, she
only shook her head and said,

“You know you don’t like parties, Felix.”

Felix was quite aware that he did not like parties. But he had
definitely assessed that dislike as a species of cowardice, which he
must get over. Just because he did not like parties was the very reason
why he should try to learn to like them. Other people liked parties; and
he wanted to become as other people are. He had surrendered himself to
Rose-Ann’s guidance. He trusted her as a mentor. He had worn evening
clothes, learned to carve and serve a roast of beef, talked desperately
about nothing to people whose names he could not remember, because she
wanted him to. He had braced himself to endure the worst that the social
life had to offer; he would do whatever she demanded. And now suddenly
she had ceased to demand anything! There was a tremendous relief in this
relaxation; but it left him puzzled and brooding.

“I understood,” he said to her hesitatingly one day, “that you had
undertaken to civilize me. Have you given up the task as hopeless?”

“But I don’t want to civilize you, Felix!” she protested.

“I thought you did want to,” he said.

“I’m sorry you thought that,” she said.

“Then what,” he insisted, “do you want me to be, if not civilized?”

“An artist,” she said.

He laughed. “That is too easy,” he said.

“What do you mean?” she asked, looking at him with incredulous wide-open
eyes and parted lips.

“Rose-Ann, I’ve always been an artist. That’s the trouble with me. I
don’t say I’ve been a good artist. I’ve nothing to show for my art-ing
except a barrelful of youthful poems, an unfinished novel that I burned
up before I came to Chicago, and a few fantastic fragments of impossible
plays. But I’ve been an artist all the same, and I’ll tell you why I’m
sure of it. There are two kinds of people in the world—artists and human
beings. I’ve never been a human being; so I must have been an artist.
And I don’t want to be any longer!”

She looked at him, frightened at this heresy.

“But Felix!” she said.

“And I thought you were going to help me,” he said.

“To stop being an artist?” she cried, starting up as though a dreadful
accusation had been flung at her.

“To be a human being,” he said, laughingly.

She looked at him with eyes of alarm.

“I can’t think you mean it!” she said.

“Perhaps I don’t.... It’s hard to tell what one really does mean,” he
said, discouraged. “I don’t mean that I shan’t keep on trying to write
plays—if that’s what you are afraid of.”

“I’m not afraid,” she said. “Only, Felix—”

“Yes?”

“You must do what _you_ want to do; not what you think I want you to
do!”

“Why do you say that?” he asked; for it sounded cryptic, as if charged
with hidden meanings.

“Because,” she said, “I think we’ve been going on a wrong basis.
I’ve—done things to you I didn’t intend. I’m sorry.... And from now on
I’m going to—let you alone.”

He laughed. “All right!” he said.

                                   3

He thought he knew what she meant. Not in vain had dozens of novels been
written in which the young wife subtly corrupts her artist husband into
prosperous mediocrity. So that was what Rose-Ann was afraid of! She did
not know that the artist chooses his wife in the profound unconscious
hope of being led down from the perilous icy heights of lonely poetic
ecstasy into the green valleys of everyday human life....

That Rose-Ann wanted him to dwell with her here in these green valleys
he did not doubt. She wanted him to be successful. But she did not want
to be blamed for his success!

He could understand that.

Well, he would take the responsibility upon himself.

He would become what, in her secret heart, and in spite of all her
protestations, she really wanted him to be.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                     XXXI. More or Less Theatrical

                                   1

MEANWHILE, with summer coming on, Felix had wondered what an assistant
dramatic editor would find to do. He learned from Hawkins that the
management traditionally continued the Saturday dramatic department
through the season, though in a restricted space. Later, in anticipation
of the opening of the theatrical season, he could print the news of what
New York and London held in prospect for the Chicago public. And for the
present a column or two once a week could be furbished up somehow—the
how of it being left entirely to Felix’s own discretion and ingenuity.

“Interviews—clip-stuff from the London weeklies of last winter—anything
to keep going,” said Hawkins, cleaning up his desk and going home on a
formal leave of absence for the summer to rewrite his play—which, it
appeared, had impressed a New York manager and only needed to be
“strengthened” in its second act.

Felix, according to his arrangement with Willie Smith, was to write
“something light,” every day if possible, for the editorial page; and
that done, nobody cared what he put in the Saturday “Plays and Acting”
column. With Hawkins away, he felt that he had a free hand. And the fact
that there were no new plays to criticize did not matter much, for the
kind of criticism that Felix liked to write subsisted quite as well on
familiar plays that everybody had seen as upon brand-new ones—better,
perhaps.

Felix was rather humble about the kind of dramatic criticism he wrote;
though that humility merely concealed, from himself and others, a fierce
egotistic pride. For his attitude toward plays was different from that
of any other dramatic critic whose work he had ever seen. It was, in a
sense, not a “critical” attitude at all. Perhaps that was why his
commentaries had been so well received, by the management and the
readers of the Chronicle. It was at least an agreeable novelty. But
Felix knew quite well that he did not have either the experience or the
knowledge necessary to do the job in the usual way. Truth to tell, he
both stood in awe of, and despised, the usual way.... The regular
critics were always telling you whether a play was good or bad, and why,
and assessing expertly the merits of various bits of acting. Old
Jennison, “the dean,” as he was sometimes called, “of the critical
fraternity,” could remember the way Somebody had played Hamlet, and how
Miss Somebody Else had done the “great scene” in “Camille,” and he told
you all about it apropos of the latest play. This, doubtless, was real
criticism, but of a kind Felix could not aspire to, for he had never
seen Anybody in Anything. On the other hand, Hawkins was gravely an
enthusiast for modernity, as represented by Ibsen and Shaw, and took
occasion to point out the duty of American drama to bestir itself and
deal with the problems of the time. Then, of course, there was a third
kind of criticism, for which Felix had little respect—the enthusiastic
pounding of drums outside the tent of some favourite actor or actress.
And there was a fourth kind, for which Felix had no respect at all, but
to which he sometimes feared his own work belonged—the smart-aleck kind
of criticism.

He confessedly did not know very much about the art of acting, and could
not even say that some part was played “in a masterly manner,” let alone
tell the poor devil of an actor how he should have played it. He was, as
a matter of fact, not interested in the technique of acting, but only in
the effects produced. And, though he was a little ashamed of it, he
could not really feel that the stage had any “duties,” either to modern
problems or anything else. He still got a childlike thrill out of the
fantasies enacted behind the footlights—at least for the first few
moments after the curtain went up. And then, as that magic vanished for
him, and he became bored by the dull spectacle and unconvincing dialogue
on the stage, he became interested in the audience, for whom evidently
this magic still persisted. He wondered why, and tried to see the play
with their eyes, to find the things in it that held them, if not
breathless, at least coughless, for minutes at a time. What emotions
were those that were so touched by the cheap tears and tawdry heroisms
of “The Witching Hour” and “The Third Degree”? Why was it that they
liked to see the heroine in distress, the hero unjustly accused? Felix
set himself the task of proving that he knew why they liked these
things—and he described the commonplace predicaments and familiar crises
of current drama in terms which conveyed to his own mind some real
emotional excitement, with only a touch or two of humorous satire as he
resumed his own proper character as a philosophic observer. He found
that he could translate the most absurd plot into something
authentically interesting to himself—as if the worst play in the world
were, after all, only a good play badly conceived. And in this mood,
seeing bad plays through the eyes of an audience to whom they were
interesting, he too became interested. He discovered some at least of
the secrets of that wish-world of the theatre, in which what happens is
what we want to happen: and, only when conscience pinches too hard, and
reminds us that crime must be punished and virtue rewarded, what _ought_
to happen—but not at all, no, never, a place where things happen as they
do in everyday life! A strange world of pseudo-realities, elaborately
persuading us at the outset that it is the same world of houses and
streets as ours, inhabited by people like ourselves, wearing the same
clothes and talking the same talk, ruled by the same eternal laws of
probability—and then making come true for us for an hour our wildest,
silliest, loveliest, most impossible dreams!

                                   2

It was fascinating, this imaginative insight into people’s minds. And—in
the absence of a real play—a vaudeville act or moving-picture or
burlesque show afforded him the same, or even a more profound and
startling, enlightenment.

One evening that summer he went with Rose-Ann to a burlesque theatre on
South State street. He noted the people who went in—workingmen, toughs,
sailors, young men wearing the latest Arrow collar, and husbands
accompanied by their wives. In the street outside, the wind picked up a
litter of dust and paper and flung it into people’s faces. Over the
roofs of tall buildings a dim moon shone in a cloudy sky. The brightest
thing in this street was the arc-lighted promise of the
theatre-entrance: “Refined Burlesque!”

In the front row, in an aisle seat, was a white-haired man who seemed to
be nearly a hundred years old; he sat there with an air of having
occupied that seat once every week since the theatre was built. Midway
of the parquet floor sat a placid matron of fifty, beside her fat and
complacent husband; their views on all subjects must have coincided
exactly with those of Dr. Parkhurst—they were solid blocks in the fabric
of our American civilization—and they had come here to find something
which their life required, not to be had elsewhere. About them was a
grey mass of padded masculine shoulders, with here and there, in twos
and threes, girls, making spots of colour on the greyness. Above, the
balcony buzzed—and the peanut-gallery filled suddenly like the breaking
of a dam. An orchestra of seven filed in. And a hush, not of eagerness
but of religious certainty, filled the theatre. In fifteen hundred souls
there was the calm that comes of utter confidence in the absolution (or,
as Aristotle would say, _katharsis_!) which they were about to
receive....

No one had come there for novelty; they had come for the familiar and
satisfying benediction of burlesque. The old rite had changed a little
with the changing times—it pretended to be a “musical comedy”—but the
heart of the ancient mystery was still there. The tunes were those
invented by Jubal, father of all such as handle the harp and
organ—revised slightly, year by year; the first chord awoke dim
ancestral memories. There was a trace of plot on the program, and the
name of an author; but no one was deceived. For, to put any doubts at
rest, and to make clear that this was simply the ten millionth
performance of the seasonal festival invented by Adam (after a hard
day’s work pulling eucalyptus stumps to the westward of Eden), it was
entitled, in the good old traditional manner, “The Jolly Girls.”

The orchestra played its immemorial tunes, the sons of Adam leaned a
little forward with a beatific look on their faces, the curtain rose,
and the festival, the sacred orgy, began. The stage was filled with
Beauty, in the form of four dozen female legs, while in the right wing
waited Laughter, in the shape of a little man with a putty nose. The
legs burst upon the scene in a blaze of light and sound—a kaleidoscope
of calf and ankle, a whirl of soft pink feminine contours, a paradisiac
vision of essential Girl: the whole theatre breathed forth a sigh of
happiness, and the sons of Adam leant back in their seats, content. The
promise of the dionysiac god to them that toiled and bore harsh burdens,
was being fulfilled.

The legs, encased in pink tights, moved forward and back, up and down.
Somewhere above them were lungs and larynxes that poured forth a volume
of sound, in time to the hypnotic throb of the music. Gradually, in the
melée, arms became visible, and, vaguely connecting the arms and legs,
pieces of coloured cloth that finally became definite as golden tunics,
green sashes, scarlet bodices. Moreover, there were faces—but not real
faces of weariness or anger or sadness, to disturb the illusion—these
faces were masks, painted to express an impersonal and disinterested
pleasure in the exhibition of bodily charms. Pink cheeks, bestrode
eyelashed depths that emitted glances at the corners, carmined lips set
in an imperishable smile—these served as the perfect and sufficient
symbols of a joy that never was on sea or land.—But faces, after all,
belong to another world, the world of reality; if one looks at them too
long, one sees them, and the dream vanishes; so they were extinguished
presently by a row of flying legs and arms—the scene became a chaos of
feminine extremities, the music rose to a climax, and stopped, as the
chorus left the stage. Entered the man with the putty nose.

He spoke to somebody, in a rapid, monotonous, unintelligible voice; it
did not matter, he was only telling what the plot of the piece was. His
real function was revealed a minute later, when two tramps—a tall one
and a short one—entered, and the tall one hit him over the head with a
stick. The victim fell on his putty nose. The house rocked with
laughter, and the gallery stormed applause.

What secret wish is gratified when we see man who was created in the
image of God falling bump on his nose? Irresistibly, by a profound
impulse, we laugh. The cares of the day, the harsh realities of life,
fade away when in the golden land of Never-never a tall man enters with
his short companion and hits the third man (he of the putty nose) over
the head with a slapstick.

In the course of the evening, the small man was hit over the head
fifty-seven hundred times; he rose but to fall again, more helplessly
than before. He was also kicked—in the nose, in the ear, in front and
behind. His nose was pulled into an infinite variety of shapes, being
made to resemble every object under heaven from a telephone wire to a
turnip. He submitted meekly, and upon him the desire of the whole
audience to see mankind made ridiculous was visited times without
number.

Genially, casually, the tall man kicked him in the face whenever he
happened to notice him. The tall man had taken possession of the stage.
Singing, dancing, clowning, guying, arguing, wheedling, mocking,
bullying—now as an unshaven tramp, a few minutes later as an unshaven
Turk, then as an unshaven pirate—whatever a man could be and do without
first submitting to that odious refinement of civilization, the clean
shave; in a dozen different costumes, always delightful and
irresponsible and seductive, and always accompanied by his short
comrade, he pervaded the evening. He spoke, and the audience laughed; he
refrained from speaking, and the audience laughed.

His slapstick, that magic wand which had only to touch things to make
them funny, was like himself. He had slapstick shoulders, slapstick
eyebrows, ears, nose, legs, posteriors; he acted with all of these,
eloquently—and at each gesture some ideal of human dignity was knocked
on the head and tumbled on its nose. He sang, walked across the room,
made love—and these actions, to the immense satisfaction of the
audience, were revealed as essentially absurd. The precious gift he
brought was a genial vulgarity, a hilarious cheapening of the values of
normal life. When he spoke, with irresistible drollery, about women,
about work, about marriage, about anything in the world, it became not
worth a—his abrupt gesture told what—and the stout matron in the middle
of the parquet became hysterical with laughter. For a moment she was not
a solid block in the structure of our respectable American
civilization—she was a rebellious child, delightedly come into a dream
world where all burdens are lifted, all values transvalued. It seemed to
do her good.... Then two dimpled soubrettes sang another song.

In and out between these episodes floated the chorus, shaking its
immortal legs. The legs and their owners classified themselves into
three ranks or hierarchies of fleshly charm: in front, the “little
ones,” the “ponies”; in the next row, the “mediums”; and, last and most
sumptuous, the “big ones,” the “show girls.” The big ones were the
_piece de resistance_; no frills, no sauces, but a satisfying
super-abundance. All that the hungry eye desired was bodied forth in
these vast and shapely statues of feminine flesh, tipping the scales at
not less than two hundred pounds. Two hundred pounds of arm and leg,
bust and buttock; here was riches, here was Golconda—two hundred pounds
of female meat! A thousand hungry eyes feasted rapturously on the sight.

But this was not the ultimate magic of burlesque.

A storm of applause, and a young woman entered on one toe, kicking the
zenith with the other. A young woman? A pinwheel, a skyrocket, a slender
feminine firework! Feminine? Not with the obvious allurements of her
sex. Her figure was like that of a boy; boyish was the mischievous face
that sparkled behind the tangle of her short curls. She was like a
sword-blade in this poppyfield of easy dreams. Her soul was adventurous,
like her legs; she kicked open the zenith with her boisterous boyish
laugh. She defied the code of this tinsel dream-world, in which women
burn with the ready fires of miscellaneous invitation; she seemed beyond
sex. Nor was she a mere bundle of graceful muscles. She had, shining in
contrast to all this impersonal eroticism, a hint of personality, a will
of her own, an existence independent of the wishes of the audience. She
smiled at them, but scornfully, indifferently, mischievously,—and
triumphed over them. That touch of reality gave a momentary sharp savour
to the too-cloying illusion. Then she left the stage—on her hands—and
the dream-festival went on as before.

The music pounded itself, with endless repetition, through the senses,
into the soul. The rhythm of legs became the rhythm of the universe. The
people of the audience were absolutely at one with each other and with
the genius of the slapstick, who talked to them familiarly now, as his
friends. Cries and handclaps of applause mingled with the rhythm. The
heart of the theatre beat gigantically, joyously, ecstatically. The play
rose to its climax. To the tune of “Yankee Doodle,” the young firework
appeared, turning handsprings, an American flag on the seat of her
pants. Walking on her ear, she crossed the stage, waving the flag in the
faces of the audience. The audience applauded in patriotic frenzy. They
would have died for that flag.

The curtain fell, rose a foot from the floor, and disclosed a row of
legs—legs—legs—twinkling across behind the footlights. Into those legs
was concentrated the infinite sorcery of the theatre.... But it was time
to go home. It was time to re-enter the world of reality.—Another leg
appeared, the eloquent left leg of the tall slapstick comedian, clothed
round with heavy woolen drawers and clasped by a Boston garter. It
seemed to say: “After all, my friends, a leg is only a leg!” The spell
was broken, and the audience began slowly to file out into the dusty
street.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              XXXII. Duty

                                   1

FELIX, having torn up all his previous attempts, was again at work upon
a play. It seemed clear to him now that plays were not written to please
the author: they were written to please the public.

There was plenty of time to work, now. They were seeing hardly anybody
that summer. Clive came occasionally, and they spent a few week-ends at
his place in Woods Point. They did not see Phyllis, for she was still at
the normal school, having heroically decided to shorten the term of her
training by taking the summer course. Dorothy Sheridan came once or
twice to their studio before leaving to spend the summer in some eastern
fishing village where things were very “paintable.” Howard Morgan had
dropped in one evening to smoke a cigarette with them. They had made the
acquaintance of a taciturn etcher in the studio next door, and of an
unhappily married boy-painter who lived around the corner and who used
sometimes to take refuge from domestic infelicities in a cup of their
coffee....

It seemed to Felix that in these idle summer months, with life flowing
lazily past in the sunshine, he should be able to accomplish something
in play-writing. Certainly there was nothing else to distract or excite
him.

He went about his task soberly and conscientiously this time. He
undertook to learn how plays were written. He read books on
“play-construction.” He even, conquering his instinctive distaste,
studied the methods of Pinero and H. A. Jones. Their plays bored him
ineffably—they seemed trite, false, vulgar and dull. But the public had
liked them, and doubtless they had something to teach him.

“Why don’t you write what you want to, in your own way?” Rose-Ann would
ask impatiently.

But he did not want to write “in his own way.” The things he had written
to suit himself that spring, the fantastic dramatic fragments which he
had torn up in disgust, were too utterly freakish, too whimsical and
absurd. He wanted to prove that he could write something else—something
that was not so damnably “different.” He wanted to write a regular
three-act play, of the sort that audiences liked, and he was going to
learn to do it if it took five years.... It had taken Hawkins five years
to get to a point where he could impress a manager—Hawkins, lending him
a book on play—construction, had confessed as much.... And Hawkins was
now on the verge of a brilliant success. He had gone to New York to
collaborate with the manager on a few final changes.

It was slow going, this way; but Felix was not discouraged. It seemed
good to struggle at an uncongenial task. Eventually he would conquer its
difficulties. He might continue to “get by” with freakish criticism; but
he was going to be a writer of plays that ordinary people could
recognize as plays. It was not his business to please himself; Bernard
Shaw might do that—but he, Felix, was not Bernard Shaw; it was his
business to adapt himself to the realities of current play-writing....
He told all this to Rose-Ann, who listened in hostile silence.

Rose-Ann had changed, become less poignantly restless. She seemed to
have discovered a new way of occupying herself—or rediscovered an old
way, long since abandoned. “When I was a little girl,” she said, “I used
to read books all the time. I found them so much more satisfying than
actual life. And then I stopped reading, and tried to live. I’ve hardly
read anything since I came to Chicago.... So there’s lots of things I
want to read.”

She read, day after day, from the time Felix rose from their breakfast
of grapefruit and coffee and cigarettes, till afternoon, lying curled up
among the pillows of the window seat; she went out for luncheon
somewhere alone, and sat in the Park all afternoon or wandered through
the Museum whose crumbling stucco porticos of nobly antique pattern
looked themselves like relics of some departed race; taking with her a
book, which she seldom opened, but which served for companionship—and a
notebook, in which she wrote sentences and paragraphs which Felix found
she would rather he did not read. “They seem just to belong to me,” she
said, shyly.

She had retired into some inner chamber of her self, to think and dream;
and the books, the walks, the wanderings among fragments of dead
antiquity, the solitude, were all a part of this dream life.... The
books which she read, a chapter or two at a time, putting one aside to
take up another, were such as took the mind into strange worlds, like
“Thais” and “The Napoleon of Notting Hill”; or those which told the
adventures of a soul in contact with a new world which it finds strange
and perilous, like “The Damnation of Theron Ware” and “The Red and the
Black.” Or books of anthropology and of poetry, those two ideal guides
of the stay-at-home traveller in quest of strangeness. So much Felix
curiously noted, and reflected that he had been at home in those strange
worlds all his life and was now trying a greater adventure—the discovery
of the familiar and commonplace world in which he actually lived....

When Felix left the office, having hastily written “something light” for
the editorial page, or furbished up a few paragraphs for the dramatic
column, he would come home to the studio and work fiercely and painfully
for two or three hours.

“But, Felix, you work too _hard_!” Rose-Ann had said to him. “That isn’t
the way to work!” Whatever the way to work might be, he had not yet
found it; but at least he could try.... And late in the afternoon,
throwing down his pen with a sense of duty done, he would go to the
Park, and find Rose-Ann waiting for him on a bench, with book and
notebook in her lap. They would find some cool place to dine, and then
walk for hours along the shore of the lake, talking.

Yes, Rose-Ann had changed, become less fiery and impatient, more calm.
And coming at this hour out of that inner chamber of self in which she
spent her days, she brought to him quaint and lovely thoughts, delicate
and ironic fancies, things that charmed and allured his imagination.
Sometimes she talked of the books she had been reading, and enriched
their stories as she told them with a beauty that came from her own
mind.

She told him one day the story of a “girl-goldsmith,” a figure that
seemed to have captured her imagination, in a book called “Klaus Hinrich
Bass,” by a German clergyman named Frenssen—a startling story to be
written by a clergyman, Felix thought; but, reflecting upon Rose-Ann’s
father, he remembered that he knew very little about clergymen after
all. It was the story of a girl who believed in the truth and goodness
of her instincts; Rose-Ann told it with such zest and poetic feeling
that he read it one afternoon, when she was away in the Park, for
himself; and he found that she had re-created it in her own imagination,
giving to Frenssen’s idyl of sweet and fearless love some motives and
meanings which it did not seem to him to possess as he read it in the
pages of the book; it was as if Rose-Ann knew some things about that
girl-goldsmith which Frenssen himself had not guessed.... And sometimes,
when Rose-Ann told some story she had read, and Felix asked her whose it
was, she pretended to have forgotten—and he wondered if it were not her
own. But he feared to demand the truth, lest the shy beginnings of
creative effort be frightened by his questioning.

It was strange sometimes to feel that she was entering the world of
dreams just as he was leaving it.

One hot July evening, when he wanted to work on his play, she insisted
on his coming outdoors with her. “You don’t want to work,” she said.
“You know it!”

“Isn’t that a good reason for working, perhaps?” he said. He had that
day had a note from Hawkins in New York, and Hawkins’s patient plodding
and prospective success were making him feel ashamed of his own
laziness.

She showed a touch of her old impatience. “Has it come to this!” she
said. “Felix, do you really think the way to be an artist is to do all
the things you don’t want to do? I wonder if you take our marriage in
the same spirit! Am I a duty, too?”

“Ridiculous child!” he said, and went out with her.

“We’re going to take a ride on the lagoon,” she said, and led him to the
landing place, where a little launch presently chugged up and discharged
its dozen passengers. Felix and Rose-Ann clambered in, and sat in the
bow. The other waiting people followed them, and the boat started slowly
out into the mysterious islanded waters, stabbing with its searchlight
into the warm thick darkness and revealing with that unearthly light,
here and there, some place of trees bending to dip their boughs into the
water—the edge of one of the islands around and past which they steered
slowly, turning and winding about until they seemed to be exploring a
vast islanded wilderness. The breeze stirred faintly the hair of their
bared heads. The others of the party appeared to be lovers happily
entranced with love and with the mysterious beauty of this realm which
it seemed could hardly exist in the confines of a mere park. No one
spoke, except in whispers.

“Life ought to be like this,” whispered Rose-Ann, taking his hand. “Not
arranged and planned!”

A little later, she whispered fiercely: “Felix, are you thinking of that
damned play? Then stop it!”

It was true. Felix had been thinking of his play. He became annoyed with
her. She wanted him to write plays, to be a personage—and now, when he
tried....

As if in reply to his thought, she bent and said in his ear, “Felix, if
you write a conventional play like Hawkins’s, and make a success of it,
I shall leave you!”

He was inwardly dismayed.

“I wonder—” said Rose-Ann aloud, and then stopped, as if startled at
hearing her voice.

“Yes?” said Felix.

“Nothing,” she whispered. “I’ll tell you afterward.”

And afterward, in a café where they had stopped for a cool drink before
going home to bed, she told him that she did not want him to be
successful—that she meant it quite seriously.

“It would spoil everything,” she said.

“Never fear, I shan’t be so successful as that,” he said glumly.

“But that’s just what I’m afraid of—that you will!” she said. “I looked
at your scenario the other day when you were at the office; and
it’s—well, I’ve seen that play a hundred times; it’s what they call
sure-fire stuff.”

She said this reproachfully, but Felix was elated. That was exactly what
he had been trying to make it. “Do you really think so!” he asked.

“I do,” she said. “And I know that if you keep on long enough, you’ll
succeed. But I wish you wouldn’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because, Felix, that play isn’t true—not as we see truth. It makes
people behave as people think they ought to—not as we know they feel.
You deal in conventional emotions entirely. The only interesting person
in the play is the wicked woman—and you know she isn’t wicked at all,
Felix, you only pretend to think so to please your audience.”

“You mean the woman who tries to take the other woman’s husband away
from her? Oh, I know—it’s stupid stuff, but—”

“Well, then, why do you do it? If you want to write about a girl who’s
in love with another woman’s husband, why don’t you do it honestly? You
and I don’t believe in those silly old notions. Why pretend that you
think she is wicked? Just to make money? I’d rather we starved than have
you write plays like that.”

It was at once an immense relief to be told that he need not try any
longer to write that stupid play, and a profound humiliation to be
scolded by his wife. He did not know whether to be angry or ashamed. His
eyes filled with tears, and he reached across the table and laid his
hand in hers in silence.

“What was it you were going to tell me there in the Park,” he said after
a while.

“I was thinking about ‘duty,’” she said. “Your attitude toward life
reminds me of a little story I read the other day—I think it was in
Anatole France ... a curious little story.... If you want to hear it?”

“Yes, tell me.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           XXXIII. A Parable

                                   1

FELIX searched afterward through several volumes of Anatole France for
that story, but he never could find it, and he suspected that she had
made it up herself ... or perhaps it was a story her father had told
her—it sounded rather like it....

                                   2

“It seems,” she smilingly began, “that there was a young Roman nobleman,
in the early Christian days, who was rich and handsome and beloved; and
he had a slave who was a Christian. And Julian—I think that was the
young nobleman’s name—used to discuss Christianity with this slave. It
seemed to him a barbarian superstition, but he had heard of some
intelligent people becoming converted to its doctrines, so he wanted to
know more about it. The slave explained. And Julian laughed, saying that
these doctrines were even more absurd than he had supposed.

“But Julian, who was a perfect young Roman gentleman, always doing what
was expected of him and what everybody else did, became more and more
bored with the life he was living. He continued to talk with his slave
about Christianity, and finally became converted. And he said, ‘I see
now that this life of mine is a tissue of vanities in which there is no
real joy. I will renounce my wealth and my title, give up my old habits,
and then receive baptism and begin a life of true Christian happiness.’

“‘Good,’ said the slave. ‘I will go and tell my brethren.’

“Now Julian kept a stable and had been fond of racing. He had a
favourite mare which he used to hitch up to a small but elegant chariot,
and drive very fast through the streets of Rome, wearing a chaplet of
flowers. But all this looked very silly to him now and so he went first
of all to his stable, and said to his head-groom: ‘I have wasted enough
time with these soulless brutes. Sell them!’

“The head-groom was thunderstruck. ‘But,’ he stammered, ‘there are the
big races next week!’

“‘What of it?’ said Julian.

“‘Well,’ said the head-groom, ‘all your friends are betting on your
mare, and they’ll think—’

“‘I don’t care what they think,’ said Julian.

“‘I’ve put all the money I’ve got in the world on her myself,’ said the
head-groom, sadly. ‘I’ve been very proud of that filly!’

“Julian was touched. This loyalty deserved an explanation from him. But
how could he explain? This good-hearted simple man would never
understand. He would simply think his master had gone crazy, and would
hold that against Christianity. It did not seem fair that Christianity
should get a black eye through such a well-meaning but hasty action as
this that he had contemplated. He realized that he must go about the
matter of becoming a Christian in a more practical way.

“‘After all,’ he said, ‘there is nothing very wicked about horse-racing.
I will keep my horses’—and he countermanded his order to the
head-groom—‘and go and give up Leila instead.’ Leila was a Persian girl,
and the most beautiful of his three mistresses. Once he had given her
up, it would be easier to dispense with the others.

“He went to see Leila, and told her about becoming a Christian. ‘Is it
the thing to do?’ she asked. ‘Then I will become one, too!’ Dear, sweet,
simple soul! He tried to explain, but she understood nothing, until he
said that it meant that he would have to part with her. Then she burst
into tears, and cast herself at his feet, and cried out, ‘Is it true,
then, that you no longer love me?’

“He told her that he loved her more than ever, but in a different way:
now he loved her soul. ‘You have a soul, Leila,’ he said, ‘an immortal
soul—and it is high time you began to think about saving it, too!’

“‘Stay with me,’ she begged, ‘and explain all these things to me. I
think if you are kind to me I can understand you, and learn to save my
soul, whatever that means. But do not look at me coldly, for that
frightens me.’

“‘After all,’ he thought, ‘she has as much a right to save her soul as I
have to save mine. Perhaps I had better break it to her gently. In the
course of a few weeks—’ And so he kissed her and stayed to explain.

“It was harder than he had realized to become a Christian. His other
mistress was angry at him when he proposed to leave her, and said that
it was because he preferred that Persian hussy with her silly doll-face!
It pained him to have his motives so misconstrued, but why, after all,
should he discriminate against this girl? She, too, had a soul. As for
the third one, he put off mentioning the subject to her; he was
discouraged with the results of his previous efforts, and besides, he
felt that women did not understand these things very well.

“‘At least,’ he said, ‘I will receive baptism; and these other things
will go easier after that.’

“But on the day set for the ceremony, his mother reminded him that it
was the day of the festival of Diana, her favourite goddess. It had been
his filial custom to escort his mother to the temple, and sprinkle with
her a few grains of incense in the fire which burned before the statue
of the goddess. He had never believed in the gods and goddesses—no
cultivated Roman did—but it had seemed to him a harmless and pretty
custom.... Now he endeavoured to explain to his mother why he could not
accompany her. Of course the dear old lady could not understand. It
seemed to her that her child had fallen under the influence of godless
men, and she wept bitterly. ‘To have this happen to me in my old age!’
she wailed.

“He could not bear to see his mother cry like that. And it seemed to him
that there must be some mistake: how could this new religion of kindness
and gentleness and love command him to break his mother’s heart?

“He comforted her, and said he would go with her after all, and sent
word that the baptism was to be postponed for a while.

“Julian pondered this situation in the silent hours of the night, when
Leila was asleep. And it seemed to him that perhaps he, too, was a
martyr—a different kind of martyr than any his Christian slave had told
him about, but a martyr none the less. Upon him lay the burden of
seeming to be a mere pagan profligate, sunk in idleness and debauchery,
while in truth he was carrying out the precepts of kindness and
gentleness and love which he had learned from his slave. He was a
Christian after all—too much of a Christian to hurt anybody’s feelings.
And nobody would ever understand! That was the saddest part of all, and
he shed a few tears, waking Leila, who was frightened by these tears,
and had to be comforted....

“He continued to live, in outward seeming, the ordinary life of a young
Roman profligate, while inwardly his heart was dedicated to the austere
practices of virtue. He wished that he could go to the desert, and wear
sackcloth, and go hungry, like his more fortunate brethren. But, no—duty
compelled him to bear the burden of meaningless riches and idleness and
pleasure. Eventually, he was appointed governor of a Roman province,
where he distinguished himself in a quiet way by the economy and
orderliness of his rulership, and by a moderation of the severities
currently practised against new sects. Nevertheless, strange to say, the
Christians of that province hated him, and spread scandalous stories
about him. He bore all this meekly, but in his breast was a profound
sadness. None of those martyrs whom from his cushioned seat at the
gladiatorial games he saw go, pale but erect and proud—rather
spectacularly proud, he thought, to meet the lions (for after all, in
spite of his moderation, he had to sacrifice a Christian virgin or two
now and then to satisfy the mob)—none of them, year by year, would ever
know that he too was, in his quiet unassuming way, also a martyr.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            XXXIV. Journeys

                                   1

AGAIN Felix tore up his unfinished play. Rose-Ann had shattered his
philosophy of compromise. But still he hesitated to accept her
philosophy of freedom. Throughout the summer he idled and dreamed.

Late in August he took his vacation. Part of it they were to spend in
paying their long-due visits to their respective families; the rest was
to be given to a walking trip. They went first to Springfield.

                                   2

Rose-Ann’s father lived, under the mismanagement of an unmarried sister,
a fussy, well-meaning woman, in the rambling old house which Rose-Ann
had described to Felix—the house in which she had been born. It was
filled with vexatiously new furniture, except as to the old man’s
study—a shabby, comfortable, low-ceilinged, book-lined room at the top
of the house. It was to this room that Rose-Ann had once stolen, in the
dead of night, to get the Dan-Emp volume of the Encyclopedia, to read
about dancing.

The Rev. Mr. Prentiss seemed more subdued in his home surroundings—a
picturesque and mildly eccentric clergyman, but by no means the
disturbing force he had been during his brief visit to them in Chicago
the year before.... And Rose-Ann’s brothers were not at all the terrible
persons he had been led to imagine—interested only in money-making. They
were quite obviously proud of their father; and Felix felt that they
were rather proud of him, too—pleased, at least, to have a “writer” in
the family. They—or their wives—had severally subscribed to the Chicago
Chronicle in order to read Felix’s dramatic criticisms, which they took
very seriously, and sometimes clipped out and saved for their guidance
when the plays of which he wrote reached Springfield. Felix had expected
to find them alien and a little hostile; on the contrary he was rather
embarrassingly deferred to—treated distinctly as a personage.

He enjoyed his brief visit, and could not understand the relief Rose-Ann
showed when they had bade her family good-bye and were on their way to
visit his own parents on the farm further down in the state. It ought to
be easy enough, he felt, to get along with such people as Rose-Ann’s
relatives. It was the thought of seeing his own parents that filled him
with uneasiness.

“But, Felix,” she explained impatiently, “it’s because they _are_ my
relatives. I feel their criticism all the time.”

“I don’t think they criticize you any more,” he said. “You’ve had a
struggle with them—and you’ve won. They’ve accepted the situation now. I
think they’ve even accepted me.”

“You’re not their property, and I am,” she said. “But it isn’t my
brothers that count so much any more—we look prosperous, and that’s
about as far as they can judge us. It’s my father—I feel as though he
were seeing right through me ... and smiling.”

“Smiling at what?”

“At—my pretences. I can’t explain very well, but I feel as though I were
a—a fake, a fraud, when I’m with him.”

“But what about?”

“I don’t know, exactly. But he stirs up some childish confusion in
me.... I think I have all my life been trying to live up to my father’s
expectations—not of me, for I don’t think he expects anything of me—but
of womankind ... if that seems to you to make sense. It’s as if I were
trying to prove to him that women could be—I don’t know what, but
perhaps ... different from my mother. For instance, I want to be a
certain kind of wife to you, Felix—not possessive, not interfering, and
all that. I go along thinking I am that kind of wife—and then I see him
looking at me and smiling, and I have the feeling that it isn’t true ...
that I’m just Woman all over again, the only kind of woman he knows, the
kind he hates. Yes, I feel that I am just that kind—and I wonder if
there is any other kind—and I get desperate and want to prove there is.
I couldn’t have stood it there much longer. I should have done some
crazy thing!... I don’t suppose you can understand—you aren’t a girl!”

                                   3

He couldn’t understand; though it was true that as the train carried
them nearer and nearer to his own parents, he became more and more
uncomfortable.... The situation was different enough; Rose-Ann had felt
that their prosperous air secured them against family criticism; Felix
felt that same appearance as a reproach to his conscience....

“I’ve felt for years,” he said, “that I was an ungrateful child. I hate
to go there to exhibit my prosperity to them. Of course, it isn’t so
tremendous a prosperity—but it’s enough to make me feel ashamed. You
know how hard it is for me to write to my mother; and I hardly ever can
bring myself to write except when I can send her a little money—as if,
yes, as if in penance for my desertion of her!”

“Would you like to have her live with us?”

“No—I wouldn’t. I owe her too much, I couldn’t bear to be always
reminded of the debt. It’s a debt that’s too huge—I never can pay it,
and I try to forget it.”

“The thought that she loves you more than you love her—is that what
makes you feel ungrateful?”

“I suppose so. I do love her—”

“Of course you do, Felix!”

“More than I want to, perhaps! I can’t forget her, and I resent that. I
want to get away from her.... She petted and spoiled me when I was a
child. She wanted to keep me a child always. She kept me in skirts, she
kept me wearing long curls—she made a baby of me. My whole life is in a
sense trying to get away from that.... You’ll see—she’ll wait on me,
‘hand and foot,’ as they say—try to make me her baby again. She’ll
anticipate my wishes, and jump up from the table to get something for
me, and follow me about with her eyes—and I’ll get to feeling helpless,
and then furious—and then I’ll say something cross to her, and be
ashamed of myself.... Oh, well!”

“So you have queer feelings about your parents, too!”

The visit did not justify all these forebodings.... The house was the
same as Felix had remembered it, only smaller; the same boxes of
moss-roses grew beside the door, and peacocks as of old screamed in the
yard; there was a little porch, with a wild-cucumber vine trained up to
screen out the light, and on that porch his father and mother sat, the
Sunday morning of their arrival, in rocking-chairs, his mother reading a
paper through spectacles that sat slightly askew, his father smoking a
fat pipe.... They were not so old as he had in several years of absence
begun to picture them; his father’s plump little body looked
surprisingly sturdy, and there was a youthful humour in his mother’s
smile as she sat talking, unaware of her son’s approach....

The first greetings over, Felix’s two aunts appeared from within the
house—really old people these, Felix thought, but still wearing their
air of aggressive self-dependence. They had looked after their little
farm for so many years, without any masculine assistance except from an
occasional hired man, that they resented, somewhat Felix thought, his
father’s presence there, as a slur on their own capacity for taking care
of themselves. They treated him a little scornfully, as if, being a man,
he were a rather helpless person, and more of a nuisance than a help. He
understood this, and smiled genially and tolerantly at their remarks, he
being secure in the knowledge that it took a man to run things and that
the real boss of this establishment was himself.... Just before they
were seated at Sunday dinner, he led Felix to a cupboard, and smilingly
produced a bottle of whiskey. “Have a little something to improve your
appetite?” he asked.

Felix poured himself a drink, and his father did the same, carefully
raising the tumbler so as to let the light shine through the golden
liquid, and smacking his lips after he had poured it down his
throat—while Felix’s two aunts stonily ignored this masculine nonsense,
and his mother looked on with an air of mild disapproval.

At dinner they talked about the crops; his father was happy in being a
farmer again; happy, after years of increasing uselessness in town while
his children were growing up, in being master of a situation, the real
head of a household; happy, and boyishly active, despite his spells of
rheumatism, of which he also discoursed seriously and uncomplainingly.
He had had a bad spell this last winter—in fact they had all been
bothered with it—but they had found a liniment which seemed to do some
good. “Pretty powerful stuff!” he said. “I sometimes wondered which was
the worst, that liniment or the rheumatism—but it appeared to do the
work!”

With the dessert they came to the fortunes of Felix—briefly alluded to
before, but saved to the last for thorough consideration. They wanted to
know all about Felix’s job, or rather all about how important a
personage he had become. Felix’s shame in his good fortune gradually
disappeared as he realized how immensely proud they all were of him—how
they hugged his success to their hearts and enjoyed it. It was as though
his good fortune were their own!

                                   4

Rose-Ann liked them immensely, and that night reproached Felix for never
having told her what lovely people they were. She entered into their
domestic life, busied herself in the kitchen, and displayed qualities as
a cook which he had never, in their studio-life, realized that she
possessed. Their little studio-dinners had been masterpieces in their
way. But to see Rose-Ann coming in flushed and triumphant from the
kitchen with one dish after another of an old-fashioned country dinner
in her hands was a new experience.

Rose-Ann had smoked surreptitiously during her visit to her own home,
merely wishing not to offend her aunt by any ostentatious indulgence of
what that good lady regarded as a reprehensible practice; but here she
did not smoke at all, even in their room at night. She did not want to
do anything that Felix’s folks would not like, and was seriously
concerned to secure their approval.... And she secured it—for who could
resist Rose-Ann in her most buoyant mood?

The visit had not been as disturbing as he had expected; and yet he was
glad to go.

“Felix,” said Rose-Ann, as they took the train back to Chicago, “I think
I understand why we feel this way. It’s because all our lives—and this
is the truth—we’ve scorned the older generation. And we are ashamed,
coming back to face them, because we’ve nothing better—really—to show
for our lives than they have.”

“I wonder?” he said.

“But we _can_ be happy in a way they knew nothing about, Felix. We can.
And we shall!”

                                   5

Then came their real vacation—a week’s walking trip in Wisconsin.

The night-boat carried them from Chicago to Milwaukee; and from thence,
early in the morning, dressed now in their oldest clothes, and with
packs on their backs, they set out happily on foot. They stopped by the
roadside to make themselves a breakfast of eggs and bacon, cooked in the
ten-cent frying pan that dangled from one corner of Felix’s pack;
pausing again at mid-day for a luncheon of blackberries and raspberries
gathered in some bramble-patch. At night they reached, in a drizzling
rain that had accompanied them for the last hour of their journey, a
town with an ugly little hotel, where they could at least dry their
clothes, eat a poor dinner with a good appetite, and sleep, dog-tired
and happy, from ten o’clock till dawn.

And thus onward, in the general direction of “the dells.” Most of the
time they did not know just where they were going next, nor care; they
took the most promising road.

The “dells” at last—steep ravines, miniature canyons, up which they went
in the guide’s leaky little gasoline launch, landing to explore the
quaint caverns in the rocks, dim-lighted by the daylight that sifted
through the openings above.... And so back, by new roads, glad they had
no map to take the surprise out of their journey.

Felix had never realized how much robust strength and endurance Rose-Ann
had until they tramped those Wisconsin roads. They were not above taking
a lift in some farmer’s wagon or passing automobile, if it promised to
get them to a town with a hotel before nightfall; but, having come in
sight of the town, if the night promised to be clear, they hunted up
some promising spot and encamped there: for what was the use of carrying
two heavy woollen blankets, if they were not going to sleep out under
the stars by a camp-fire?

Felix’s old corduroys, splashed with kalsomine in all colours, caused
him to be taken for an “artist.” At first this displeased him—but he
soon discovered that all the world envies the artist, loves him, and
wishes to take care of him. Old farmers, burly truck-drivers,
delivery-boys, tourists, wanted to give them a lift, and offered them
their best counsel as to where to go next. Hotel-keepers, grocers at
whose shops they replenished their food supplies, and farmers’ wives at
houses where they stopped till a shower passed over, talked to them with
friendly eagerness. Felix perceived that a pair of foot-loose vagabonds
with enough money in their pockets to pay for their bread and eggs and
bacon, are fortunate beings, the world’s darlings, beamed on and
approved by those who sleep under roofs and hold steady jobs and stay
day after day in the same place—approved because they are living life as
all men and women know it should be lived: if everybody cannot live that
way themselves, they are glad to see somebody else who can!

As they tramped, Felix’s mind went back to the songs of vagabondia which
he used to cherish, and then had rejected as romantic and foolish; and
at night, beside their dying camp-fire, when Rose-Ann demanded poetry
before she went to sleep, he would say for her the little fragments that
he remembered:

                   “_Down the world with Marna,
                    That’s the life for me!
                    Wandering with the wandering rain
                    Its unboundaried domain...._

“Mm—I forget. Anyway—

            “_.... the joys of the road are chiefly these—
             A crimson touch on the hard-wood trees....
             A vagrant’s morning, wide and blue,
             In early fall, when the wind walks, too....
             A shadowy highway, cool and brown,
             Alluring up and enticing down....
             A scrap of gossip at the ferry,
             And a comrade neither glum nor merry,
             Asking nothing, revealing naught,
             But minting his words from a fund of thought....
             A keeper of silence eloquent...._

“Mm....

              “_With only another mile to wend,
               And two brown arms at the journey’s end...._

“I forget the rest of it.”

“You are forgetting everything that’s important!” Rose-Ann complained.
“I’ll bet you know by heart Professor Humptydink’s law of dramatic
crisis.”

“No—I’ve stopped that foolishness, thanks to you. If I ever write
anything, it will be just what I want to write—and the devil take the
Great American Public!”

“No, Felix—that’s wrong, too. It’s what one really wants to say that
other people really like—I’m sure of it. Can’t you trust yourself?”

“I don’t know,” he said, looking up at the pale moon through a tangle of
leafy branches. “Somehow I have the notion that anything I want to do
will be foolish.... I used to trust in myself. I used to believe this
sort of thing:—it’s by Bliss Carman, the man that wrote the vagabond
poems.—

                  “‘_Keep thou, by some large instinct,
                   Unwasted, fair and whole,
                   The innocence of nature,
                   The ardor of the soul—_

                  “_And through the realms of being
                   Thou art at liberty
                   To pass, enjoy, and linger,
                   Inviolate, and free!_’”

“And don’t you believe that now, Felix?”

“That I can do as I please, if—”

“If it’s what you really please to do! Yes, Felix. You can have any
happiness you ever want, if you really want it—not cynically, nor
because other people seem to have it, but because it _belongs_ to you. I
believe that. I don’t intend ever to keep from doing anything I want to
do. And I shan’t be ashamed of myself, either. Do you remember the
girl-goldsmith I told you about, in the story?”

“I remember her very well,” said Felix. “I know one of her speeches
almost by heart. ‘The only sins are telling lies, and not keeping one’s
body clean, and being careless about one’s work—ugly things. Beautiful
things—the things people sometimes call sins—aren’t sins at all. Being
in love isn’t ever a sin.’”

“Yes,” said Rose-Ann dreamily. “I want us to be like that—not afraid of
life, or of any of the beautiful things life brings us.”

Well ... yes ... it sounded simple enough. To live life beautifully, and
not be afraid! He had believed in that once. But now—or had he really
ceased to believe it possible? At this moment, in the moonlight, it did
not seem so absurd....

“Good night, Felix.”

“Good night, Rose-Ann.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           XXXV. Civilization

                                   1

THEY came back refreshed to civilization—to the studio, to a whirl of
exciting parties, to books and ideas, to the problems of ambition, to
the Chronicle office and a theatrical season just opening with hectic
announcements of “Alias Jimmy Valentine,” “The Case of Becky,” “The Pink
Lady” and “The Chocolate Soldier.”...

Hawkins was still in New York, assisting in the selection of a cast for
his play—which to Felix’s complete astonishment (for Hawkins had not
confided anything to him as to its theme or character) was announced as
“Tootsie-Wootsie.” A farce!—with, as it further appeared, honeymoon
couples and wrong bedrooms.... What? Hawkins, the serious Hawkins, who
had so often called upon American drama to do its duty and deal with
“the problems of the time”—he the author of a play called
“Tootsie-Wootsie”?

The news of Hawkins’s play brought up in Felix’s mind a practical
question which so far he had refused to consider. It had been exciting
enough to be the acting dramatic critic of the Chronicle; he had not
wanted to look ahead any further. But when one day at lunch he ran into
Jennison (“the dean of the critical fraternity”), Jennison asked him,
“Are you going to do the plays for the Chronicle?” “Yes, while Hawkins
is away,” Felix told him. “Does Hawkins know it?” “Yes—he asked me to.”
“Well,” said Jennison, smiling, “then he’s a damn fool!” That was old
Jennison’s way of paying him an extravagant compliment. It was in its
way an accolade. It was an initiation, by the grand past master, into
the “critical fraternity.” And now Felix felt obliged to consider the
question of Hawkins and Hawkins’s play in its bearing upon his own
career.

If Hawkins’s play failed—and most plays did fail—Hawkins would return
and resume his post on the Chronicle. In that event, Felix would be
relegated to doing the odd jobs that Hawkins did not want to do. He
might even be put back to regular reporting. After all, the present
arrangement merely provided for a dramatic critic in Hawkins’s absence;
it was not likely they would want two men continuously on the job. They
had given Felix another raise that fall; and when Hawkins came back, he
would have to earn his salary doing regular reporter’s work again,
doubtless—if he _could_ earn it that way. It was rather a dismal
prospect.... Felix hoped fervently that the serious-minded Hawkins would
somehow, improbably, turn out a success as a farceur.

But if it was a success, and Hawkins resigned his position, how could
Felix know he would get it? After all, he was only twenty-three years
old. And though by a fluke he was actually _being_ for a while the
dramatic critic of a great Chicago newspaper, the idea that he should
retain this position and be confirmed in its title was incredible. He
wished that he were not so fatally young....

Well—he could only wait and see what happened.

It was at this period that he began wearing a moustache—a short,
well-defined moustache, aloof from the upper lip, trim and straight.
Nothing boyish, certainly about that moustache!

                                   2

Felix and Rose-Ann had come back to Chicago eager to see Clive Bangs
again. They had been away just long enough to discover, in apparently
all human beings except themselves, a fundamental lack of interest in
all the ideas which most occupied their minds. Talk, with people in
general, was limited to an exchange of views, if not on the weather, at
least on things equally obvious. They felt the need for talk, and so did
Clive; and all at once, after what now seemed to them these months of
merely casual friendship, they became inseparable. The three of them
lunched together daily at a corner table in a little Hungarian
restaurant where they found what they considered the best food in
Chicago—a fond trio, laughing, talking excitedly, arguing with the
mingled gravity and extravagance of youth, sometimes rehearsing
passionately in private the opinions which they would state tomorrow
somewhat more soberly in print, and again discussing each other’s
characters with ironic humour—perpetually criticizing and taking delight
in each other’s criticism of life.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



          XXXVI. “We Needs Must Know That in the Days to Come”

                                   1

THEY had come back to civilization. But—unwittingly, at first—into this
life of talk, of ideas, of theory, of vague ambition and of
self-congratulatory superiority to the mere plain facts of life, they
brought somewhat more than a memory of their vagabond adventuring. In
their brief and joyous return to nature they had surrendered themselves
to its purposes more deeply than they had been aware. But presently
Rose-Ann announced that she would have to visit the doctor of whom
Dorothy Sheridan had once told her. Rose-Ann did not say that she was
with child—that phrase was never used between them in their few
discussions of the incident. For that phrase would have implied that she
intended to bear a child. It was discussed rather as an accident, an
annoying but not serious interruption to their plans. Rose-Ann took the
matter, not lightly, but in a soberly practical spirit. And so
convincing was her tone that it did not occur to Felix to question the
sincerity of her apparent attitude.

Secretly he was troubled. In spite of Rose-Ann’s confidence, he
distressed himself with what appeared to be needless forebodings. It
seemed to be true that real life was, in this matter as in others,
different from fiction. In a story, this would have been a desperate
situation; but in actual fact it appeared to have no such gravity. He
hoped that was indeed the truth; and, afterward, it appeared that she
had been right.... He wondered why he had been so absurd about it!

She would never know how absurd.... He would never tell her how, one
night, walking alone along a dark stretch of lake shore, his courage had
failed him utterly; how all the terrible things of which he had ever
heard had rushed into his mind, filling and flooding it with a kind of
nameless remorse, until he had ceased to be a man, and had become a mere
terrified child—and how in the influence of that guilty terror he had
sunk on his knees in the wet sand, praying to a God he did not believe
in, whispering like a child to a kind Father: “God, don’t let anything
happen to her!” He had not thought of her then as a free woman acting
wisely in her own right—no, but only as a helpless and lovely girl, his
beloved, given him to cherish and protect, whom he had let go down to
the very gates of death—in vain! Not in the terrible triumph of
creation, but meaninglessly.... And he prayed: “Give me back
Rose-Ann!”...

No, he would never tell her what a fool he had been.

                                   2

And he would never tell her—for he had safely forgotten now—the moment
when, knowing that their lives could go on now as before, they had
walked again in the Park under great trees that lifted their shivering
glooms to the sky. Through the bushes had come the gleam of motor-cars
that glided swiftly down the avenue. “You were a dear to worry,” she had
said. “But you needn’t any more. Everything’s quite all right now.”

He had looked at her, cut through with a strange unreal pain, his whole
mind quivering. Forces that he did not understand were hurling
themselves on his heart, crushing and stunning it. He breathed with
difficulty. He looked away from her. He could not speak.

But one forgets things like that. It would not be pleasant to remember
them. Nor is it hard to forget unpleasant things in the midst of
civilization, with its friendships, parties, talk, books and theories.

So, looking at life realistically, Felix felt that he and Rose-Ann were
very fortunate, after all.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            XXXVII. Symbols

                                   1

ROSE-ANN had become restless again. Once more she threatened to go out
and get a job. Books no longer contented her; and if she had secretly
cherished, as Felix had thought, some dreams of writing, they had
vanished, like her notebook, which was no more to be seen. They gave
wild parties, extended the number of their friends, and went to
dinner-parties, where Rose-Ann shone as always, and even Felix began to
be able to take care of himself. She went to the theatre with Felix and
took down his criticisms on her typewriter from dictation, as she had a
year ago. But these activities did not quite content her volatile
spirit.

Her restlessness expressed itself, delightfully enough, in a resumption
of the endless midnight talks which had marked the first period of their
married intimacy. Their daylight hours together now seemed never to
suffice them for talking. Those hours were too filled up with work, and
play, and friends. During the day a thousand ideas, observations,
comments, stories, had been stored away by each for the other’s benefit.
A glance at dinner had meant: “Did you see that? Yes—we’ll talk about it
tonight.” In these gatherings, however friendly and outspoken, something
was always left unsaid, reserved especially for each other. The heart of
every occasion was in its midnight aftermath, in the long wakeful hours
in bed, remembering, criticizing, laughing, talking, talking....
Marriage had come to mean above all else the peculiar magic of that
intimacy. Sometimes her voice would come mysteriously out of the dark at
his side, and again the moonlight would creep in over the roofs and
tease the scene with its glamour. Their beds, in summer two little oases
of coolness in the sultry night, became in winter warm-coverleted
citadels against the cold—two little friendly islands, with two voices
floating pleasantly back and forth. “Light me another cigarette,”
Rose-Ann would say sleepily. Tired, but kept awake by all they had to
tell each other, the mere thoughts and incidents of the day made
precious by this re-living of them together, they lay and talked out
their hearts.

                                   2

“Felix strikes me as rather paintable. Could you spare him a few
afternoons for a sitting now and then? I mean, some time this winter?
I’m getting interested in doing portraits again.”

“I’d love to have you!”

Dorothy Sheridan had come back from her fishing village, and a little
trip abroad to boot, and she and the Fays were dining in a little
restaurant to which she had taken them—not very far from their studio, a
little Italian place frequented by artists, where the food was good and
the prices low. The men one saw there wore soft collars, like Felix’s
own, sometimes turned up to flare about the chin, sometimes open at the
neck; one of the girls at the tables wore a Russian smock, like Dorothy
Sheridan, and all of them seemed, like her, comfortably uncorseted. They
all seemed to know each other, and each new person who came greeted the
whole roomful. It was a friendly place.

Felix was rather amused at having his afternoons asked for and given
away without his being consulted. But he was flattered by the
invitation. He had never been painted, and he considered it a
distinction.

“It will be a bore,” Dorothy warned him. “You’ll get awfully tired of it
before I’m through. But I’ll do you in half a dozen sittings, I promise
you, or give it up. Give him a cup of coffee, before he comes. I don’t
talk to my subjects, and they are likely to fall asleep!”

They had been to Dorothy Sheridan’s studio that afternoon, and looked at
her paintings and sketches. The paintings were, with one or two
exceptions, in a vivid, splashing style that Felix liked. “I’ve changed
my style since going to Paris,” she said. “These things are what they
call over there Post-Impressionist. I’ll do you in my best
Cezanne-Matisse manner, Felix, with some variations all my own. You
won’t know yourself!”

Rose-Ann had been most impressed by some of Dorothy’s old sketches,
particularly a series of lovely nudes done in pencil with a hard,
vibrant line. Dorothy picked one of them out and gave it to Rose-Ann.
“Here’s one that looks like you,” she said, appraising Rose-Ann’s figure
with a judicious eye. “You can use it for a book-plate if you like.”

It was like Rose-Ann, Felix thought, when she pinned it on the wall that
night—it had the same firm and delicate contours, the same sweet
livingness of a body that is made for movement, for action, for intense
and poignant use. The figure in the drawing was poised in the hesitant
instant before flight, with head turned to look backward, and the whole
body ready at the next moment either to relapse again into reassured
repose or to put all its force into some wild dash for freedom. And
somehow that too reminded him of Rose-Ann—of Rose-Ann’s soul.

Rose-Ann was looking at the picture with eyes in which some purpose
fulminated darkly.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

“That I shall never wear corsets again! It’s really absurd, isn’t it? To
imprison one’s body in such a thing as that.... I’m going to burn mine
up—now!” And presently, in her chemise and stockings, she solemnly knelt
before the Franklin stove and laid the offending article upon the live
coals.

“The last of my conventions!” she said, as if to herself.

And then, as it commenced to smoulder, and an acrid odour of burnt
rubber emerged, she wrinkled her nostrils and put her thumb and finger
to them. “It thmells bad!” she said. And reflectively: “I suppose
conventions always do, at the end.... Well, it’s gone now, and my body
is free.—Gone forever, leaving nothing but a ... faint unpleasant odour,
shall I say?—behind.... Felix—would you mind if I cut off my hair?”

“Cut off—!”

“Short, you know. Like Dorothy Sheridan’s. I’ve always wanted to. And I
never quite had the nerve. Living here, it seems only natural. You
wouldn’t mind?”

She loosened her hair and it fell about her shoulders, like a flame. “I
think it would curl if it were cut. It did when I was a little girl.”

“We’ve no scissors,” said Felix, practically—deferring in his own mind
the question of whether he would like her hair cut short or not. He did
not know. It would look well—there was no doubt at all of that. He had
always wondered at the foolish vanity of women, in putting up with the
inconvenience of long hair. He had felt that long hair was in some way a
badge of woman’s dependence on man, a symbol of her failure to achieve
freedom for herself. And yet ... when it came to Rose-Ann’s hair—

Rose-Ann read his face as a wife can. “No, I suppose not,” she said, and
sighed. “No scissors! Well, there’s always something to prevent one from
being rash. In the morning I shan’t want to—because I’m going out to
look for a job....”

Felix smiled. “Wolf! wolf!” he mocked gently. He had heard that threat
of a job too often to be alarmed about it now.

“You’ll see,” said Rose-Ann gaily.

                                   3

Felix was accustomed, by masculine prerogative, to get up first on cold
mornings and shake down the fire and make the coffee. But this morning,
having dreamed that he had arisen and performed these duties (a very
realistic dream—he had heard the noise of the poker among the coals and
smelled the fragrance of hot coffee!) he awoke to see Rose-Ann coming
toward him with a cup and saucer, on a lacquered tray.

“Your morning draught, my lord!”

“Rose-Ann!” he said angrily. She should have let him make that
coffee....

She knelt and offered him the cup, with the air of a page-boy. Then it
was that he saw that her hair was shorn. Short bronze locks fell
clustering about her face in tiny curls, making it boyish, and yet, it
seemed, more girlish than ever. She turned sideways as he stared, and
tilted her head. For the first time its proud contour stood fully and
beautifully revealed. “Isn’t that better than an old top-knot?” she
said.

“But how—” he began.

“Borrowed scissors from neighbour,” she replied. “What are neighbours
for, if not to depend on in an emergency?”

“Why is this an emergency?” he demanded, still withholding his approval.
“Couldn’t you wait and go to the barber?” Some of the edges, he noted,
were rather jagged.

“No, Felix. Don’t you remember Browning’s poem about the Statue and the
Bust? One puts off things. ‘So days grew months, years.’ Moral: do it
now.—But do you like me this way, Felix?”

“Of course I like you.” And then, since he did, he added:
“Tremendously!”

“You—you approve?”

“Yes, but what of that? Can’t you do what you like whether I approve or
not? Aren’t you a free woman?” he teased her.

“That’s what I said to myself. And so I did it. But—I’m glad you like
it, Felix, because—because I’m not sure whether I do or not!”

He laughed. “It will grow again.”

“No—I shan’t let it grow again. I’m going to like it, I know—eventually;
perhaps very soon. It’s just at first.... But I suppose that’s the way
with freedom!... Drink your coffee, Felix, before it gets cold. I’ll
bring mine over there, too. Do you love me—very much? Look out—you’ll
spill the coffee!”


------------------------------------------------------------------------

                   XXXVIII. The Portrait of Felix Fay

                                   1

ROSE-ANN’S bobbed hair was generally applauded. There were more studio
parties. Felix frivoled, theorized, and wrote jocund dramatic
criticisms, with the thought of Hawkins always at the back of his mind.

Hawkins’s play had been cast, re-cast, rewritten, and finally tried out
“on the dog,” that is to say, an audience at Atlantic City. And
something was still wrong. So the cast had been dismissed, the scenery
stored, and Hawkins was desperately rewriting his play for the
seventeenth time—this time in collaboration with an expert
farce-builder. And Felix remained for a while longer the acting dramatic
critic of the Chronicle. He figured that if enough misfortunes happened
to Hawkins’s farce, his own tenure in office might last long enough to
entitle him to it in the end. With the most amiable feelings toward
Hawkins, he nevertheless fervently wished “Tootsie-Wootsie” the worst of
bad luck.

Meanwhile, early in January, he began having his portrait painted by
Dorothy Sheridan.

                                   2

Having one’s portrait painted was decidedly an experience. When he came
for his first sitting, he found Dorothy Sheridan in a big kitchen apron,
with her sleeves rolled up, looking more as if she were going to cook a
meal than paint a picture. She had called “Come!” to his knock, and when
he entered she went on scraping the paint from a palette with no more
than a casual nod to him. He put his hat under his arm, and shifting his
stick to the crook of his elbow, took out a cigarette and lighted it;
then turned and looked curiously and hesitantly about the room.

“There! Keep that! Just that way!” Dorothy Sheridan called. “That’s very
good. Very characteristic. No, just as you were. That’s right—relax a
little.”

She gave him these orders from half way across the large studio room,
where she stood in a brusque commanding attitude. Felix obeyed.

“One minute!” And she ran up the steps to the mezzanine behind and above
Felix, and presently he heard from overhead the swish of falling cloth.
He half turned, and saw that she had flung over the edge of the
mezzanine railing a long piece of rose-coloured silk, which reached the
floor behind him.

“That’s for a background,” she said, and Felix resumed his pose.

She came back, pushed out an easel not far from him and a little to one
side, and then took up a position at a distance from both him and the
easel, armed with a brown crayon. She looked at him intently, with wide
eyes, bending a little, with head forward and face uplifted. “Mm,” she
said, reflectively, and walked swiftly up to the easel and commenced to
draw upon the blank canvas with swift, vigorous strokes of her crayon.
After a little, she walked back to her former place, resumed her
wide-eyed stare, and then returned once more to the canvas.

After half an hour of this, looking at her subject and drawing on the
canvas in turn, she threw down her crayon. “Can you remember that pose?”
she asked.

Of course Felix could remember it. It was a pose into which he fell
naturally. “Yes,” he said. “May I look?”

“If you want to,” she said indifferently, taking off her apron.

Felix strolled over and looked at the crayon sketch on the canvas. It
was a bold caricature of himself, poised hesitantly with stick and
cigarette, blithe, debonair, and above all a figure of indecision. Was
that himself?

“That’s all for today,” said the painter. “Same time, same day, next
week. Don’t forget.”

He went away, startled and puzzled.

Next week, as he came in, eager for one more look at that disconcerting
caricature, he found the artist painting it out with a thin grey wash.

“Why do you do that?” he asked.

“Oh, that was only to get the pose,” she said. “This time I want to get
the likeness.”

The portrait seemed to Felix completed at the end of an hour, when she
declared the sitting over and took off her apron. It was utterly
different from the crayon caricature which had preceded it on the
canvas. Out of the misty grey background emerged a face and two hands,
delicately painted, and catching the quizzical expression of mouth and
eyes and the rather limp gesture of the hands, but in a manner which did
not carry more than a few feet from the canvas. Moreover, this painting
was utterly unlike the other things of hers that he had seen. He
wondered, but the painter had hung up her apron and was looking at a
portfolio of drawings, indifferent to his existence, so he withdrew.

The next time provided still a new surprise. The painter had just washed
out the face and hands on the canvas with turpentine, and was scraping
off the paint when he came in. Was this a confession of failure? or some
new way of painting? or simply the way all painters went to work?

He was pretty certain, however, that the method pursued in this present
sitting was extraordinary; for this time the painter measured his head
with a pair of calipers, up and down and in every direction, and noted
down the figures on a piece of paper and regarded them thoughtfully.
Then she came up to him and felt of his skull with her hands; it was not
in the least like a caress—it was exactly as if she were a surgeon, and
he were a patient, about to be operated upon.

“Bones!” she said, as if that explained everything, and went to work on
her canvas with a brush dipped in blue paint.... The result, which Felix
viewed with a very queer sensation at the end of the sitting, was a
skeleton-like figure done in blue, with arms and legs like pieces of
steel machinery, and a face with dark blue eye sockets and a pale blue
jaw.... “Lines of force,” explained the painter, and he went away not
knowing whether to laugh or not.

This skeleton was obliterated at the beginning of the fourth sitting, as
the other stages of the picture had been, and Felix wondered, what next?
Colour, it seemed, this time! Great splashes and daubs of colour, put on
anyhow, spread out with a palette-knife, or the painter’s thumb—a riot,
an orgy of rose and green and purple-brown, with only a suggestion of
Felix amid the chromatic swirls....

Felix described each of these stages to Rose-Ann with zest, and went
with infinite curiosity to every new sitting....

The fifth time there was a blank new canvas awaiting him, and when he
asked what had become of the other, she replied: “Burned it up. All
covered with paint. Always use a fresh canvas if you can afford it.”

She emerged from her preoccupation with her palette long enough to
become aware of his surprise, and to explain further:

“All that was just getting acquainted with my subject. Now we’re ready
to begin.”

And taking up her position, a little closer this time to him and the
easel, she bent upon him that wide-eyed, impersonal stare.... Felix was
rather in awe of her by this time. She had ceased to seem to him the
careless, slangy bohemian girl that he had first known. She was an
expert and delicate technician. Those four portraits in succession had
stunned his imagination. She seemed to him almost superhuman—with a
little of the flavour of black magic in her. That wide-eyed impersonal
stare was part of the effect. At first she seemed merely a pretty girl
lifting her face to yours and looking at you, steadily; and if one was
not used to returning the wide-eyed stare of a pretty girl, one became a
little embarrassed—there is something so intimate about this meeting and
touching through the eyes; one seems to be let in, unreservedly, to some
mysterious depth. But, as the stare continued, piercing you, probing
you, seeing you with calm indifference, you became uneasy and almost
afraid—you wanted to look away, and that seemed cowardly and evasive, so
you kept on staring back as long as you could ... until those dark blue
eyes of hers seemed profound gulfs over which you hung, dizzy,
tottering, about to drown.... And then, saying “Mm,” she went over to
her canvas again and put on a little dab of paint. She had probably been
considering carefully whether or not she had made your nose too long!

                                   3

Felix raved in this fashion to Rose-Ann, who heard him with interest and
in silence till he had finished.

“And what does the portrait look like now?” she asked.

“Well—very much like any other portrait, I must say. A little bolder,
and lots of colour, but nothing startling. Or perhaps I’ve become so
used to startling things by now that this seems a little tame.”

The last sitting was a prolonged one, in which the painter looked at him
for what seemed hours at a time, and in which he could not rid himself
of the perturbing conviction that she was seeing into his soul.... He
was very tired when she finished at last—the sitting had as a matter of
fact taken two hours, with only a few momentary rests—and Felix was in a
mood of weariness and self-distrust when he went over to look at the
completed portrait. Perhaps that accounted for what he saw:

Painted with an exquisite and mordant irony—with stick and cigarette,
uncertainly halting, as if in front of life, the head tilted with a
quirk of inquiry, the face curious and evasive, with something that was
almost boldness in the eyes, something that was almost courage in the
chin—Felix Fay, observant, indecisive, inadequate, against a
rose-coloured background.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                     XXXIX. A Date on the Calendar

                                   1

THE memory of that portrait left Felix bewildered and irritated. It
seemed that no one else saw in it quite what he had seen. Rose-Ann
praised it—but with some reserve which made him feel that she did not
really like it. Clive was delighted with the certainty with which the
painter had captured his characteristic gesture.... Only he himself,
apparently, saw it as a criticism, profound and harsh....

The painter herself least of all saw it as a criticism. “Is that what
you really think of me?” he had asked her.

“I don’t think when I paint pictures,” she had said. “I’m too busy
working out the problems of form and colour. Don’t you like it?”

“I like it as a picture. I don’t like it as a—a prophecy,” he said.

“A prophecy? Oh, there you come with your literary interpretations.
Can’t you forget that stuff, and learn to look at a picture as a
picture?”

She had ceased to be the Sybil, and become again the careless bohemian
girl-artist, talking the talk of her tribe.... Pictures were just
pictures—yes, he had heard that before.

Morose and fretful, he walked up and down in the studio in the evening,
rejecting Rose-Ann’s plans for other entertainment; or sat at his desk,
exasperatedly trying to force himself to begin work on some half-formed
idea for a play. He was angry at himself for being the indecisive,
inadequate figure of that painting. He saw now what being an artist
meant—the calm energy, the technical erudition, the vast patience that
was needed. He wished to be that kind of person. And the more he wished
it, the more weak and petulant he seemed to himself. And what must he
seem to Rose-Ann? She must despise him in her heart....

For a week he fidgeted and fumed about the studio, ashamed of his
childish behaviour and yet unable to control it. He wondered why
Rose-Ann did not tell him what she really thought of him.... It was as
if he were trying, by a more and more outrageous parade of his weakness,
to force her to break silence and speak out.

Late one afternoon, when he had crumpled up the sheet of paper on which
he had been trying to write, and thrown it on the floor with a silly
gesture of failure, she put down her sewing and came up to him.

She put her hand on his shoulder.

“What is the matter, Felix, dear?” she asked.

He drew himself away. “I wish you would let me alone,” he said.

“Very well,” Rose-Ann said gently, and went and put on her hat and cloak
and left the studio.

                                   2

For a moment he sat there, looking at the door through which she had
gone with a sudden sense of utter desolation.

They had had quarrels before, but this was different. He had driven her
away.... It would serve him right if she never came back....

Why had he been making such a fool of himself? Why had he been behaving
like a silly child?

And all at once he felt that he knew the answer.... He was worrying
about that damned job of his.

Rose-Ann had taken it for granted that he was secure in his position. He
had pretended to weigh his chances, pro and con.... And all the while he
had been deeply convinced that he was about to lose his momentary
distinction. Hawkins’s play was being tried out again, this week. It
would fail, he would give up his foolishness, return to Chicago, and
Felix would be back precisely where he had started. That, of course,
though he had not told Rose-Ann, was why he had felt she was right in
not wanting to have children right away.

It was this impending crisis in his career that secretly worried him.
For nearly a year he had been a dramatic critic—and he was about to lose
his job. It was a degradation intolerable to contemplate, but impossible
to prevent. How could he prevent it? In romantic novels, the hero wins
his spurs. But there were, so to speak, only one pair of critical spurs
at the disposal of the Chronicle, and they belonged to Hawkins! In a
magazine story, Felix would go over to another paper and get a better
job. But Felix disbelieved in his ability to hold with any distinction
any ordinary reporter’s job. By some fluke he had made good as a
dramatic critic. He saw people on the elevated turning the paper inside
out to read first of all his column about the new play. He knew he had
made good. But—dramatic editorships do not grow on blackberry bushes;
dramatic critics die in their shoes at an advanced age. Hawkins’s folly
had given him such a chance as would never happen again in a hundred
years.

A chance? A brief hour of glory. An hour for Rose-Ann to be proud of
him, to believe that he had risen by force of character to these
heights, that he would continue to rise.... She would find out that it
had been mere luck. She would find out that he could not even keep a job
as a dramatic critic, let alone become a playwright. She would discover
him for what he was—a weak, helpless, scared child.

That was why he had been behaving like a fool before her—to show her
beforehand that he didn’t amount to anything.

Suddenly he commenced to laugh. The mood of the last week had
vanished—it merely seemed funny now. Another attack of moon-calfishness,
that was all! That painter-girl had awed him with her astounding
technique, made him feel incompetent and helpless—thrown him back into a
state of adolescent self-distrust. Yes, it was her fault, the
pretentious hussy! And what, after all her fussing, did that picture of
hers amount to? An ordinary portrait, that was all, with a touch of easy
caricature in it.... Damn her!

And what if Hawkins did come back and take away his laurels? There were
other jobs in the world. If not in Chicago, then—

Yes, in New York....

It didn’t make any difference what happened. He had been silly to worry
about things. He would never worry again about anything. Rose-Ann was
right. One must live fearlessly....

He wished Rose-Ann would come back....

                                   3

The door opened, and she was there. He sprang up.

She shut the door behind her and put her back against it, and her hands,
as if to support herself.

Felix stood staring at her in surprise. She was pale, and she had a
heroic air, somehow. She tried to speak—twice—and made no sound, only a
movement of the throat and lips.

“What’s the matter?” he asked anxiously, going up to her.

She put out her hands, as if to hold him away, and let them rest on his
shoulders. She looked at him earnestly.

“Felix,” she said. “Felix.... I know what is troubling you.”

“Yes?” he said, confusedly.

“It’s that girl. You’re in love with her, Felix. Well—I keep my promise.
You—you can—”

“What girl?” he asked, amazed.

“Dorothy!” she cried. “You’re in love with her. I knew it all along.”

“What!”

“Yes. I can’t bear to see you unhappy. I’d rather—”

He laughed and took her in his arms. “Little fool!” he said. “Little
silly child! Dear little idiot!”

She burst out crying, and put her head on his shoulder.

“I’m not in love with anybody, you goose, except you,” he said. “What
made you think I was? I suppose I have been acting crazy. I know I have.
But it’s a different kind of craziness. I was worrying about—my job.”

“Your job?” She looked up from his shoulder. “Have you heard already? I
just left Clive at the corner.”

“Clive? Heard what? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“He was coming down to tell you the news. You don’t know it? Well—a
telegram came this afternoon. From Hawkins. He’s resigned. And you’ve
been appointed in his place.”

“Really!”

“Yes, of course. I knew that was what would happen. But Felix—are you
sure?” She meant about Dorothy.

“You’re crazier than I am, Rose-Ann—that’s all.”

“Well—” and she dried her tears. “I guess I am a fool.... But Felix—I
left Clive at the corner drug-store. I was very mysterious, and said he
mustn’t come here to the studio, but that he was to wait there for me.”

“What for?”

“I—told him I wanted him to help me celebrate an—occasion. But—”

“What kind of occasion?” Felix asked sternly. “Did you tell him any of
this nonsensical—”

“No, Felix, I didn’t tell him anything. But—but we can still celebrate
an occasion, Felix.”

“You mean my job?”

“No—I mean the—the anniversary of our marriage....”

“You poor abused darling! What an idiot I am!” And he took her in his
arms again.

“I’ll wash my face, and be sensible now,” she said. “You go and get
Clive, and—and we’ll celebrate!”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            XL. Celebration

                                   1

THERE was something puzzling to Felix about that celebration....

Surely no marriage anniversary had ever before been marked in quite this
fashion—by a wife’s offer to give up her husband’s love to another
woman!

Already Rose-Ann appeared to have forgotten that incident, as she sat,
flushed and happy, at the table with Felix and Clive in the gay
restaurant they had chosen. Or no, not forgotten it; for it might
perhaps be that very memory, even more than the occasion itself, which
made her so radiant—that secret, giving to a commonplace occasion a
special quality of romantic uniqueness!

So Felix, watching her, thought he read her mind. And he was perturbed.
She had enjoyed that fictitious renunciation. She had needed the taste,
as it were, of bitterness, to savour their happiness. She loved him; and
she had played with the idea of losing his love.... To have faced that
danger—yes, to have faced it, even more than to have come off
safely—intoxicated her. There was a new light in her eyes, a dancing
light of joyous and reckless courage, a new pride in the toss of her
head with its cluster of red-gold curls....

He felt that to her it was not enough to be happy; her happiness must be
snatched from the jaws of peril. She was grateful to him, not for being
in love with her after all—but for having given her occasion for a
moment to think otherwise!

A strange creature to have for a wife, he meditated, watching her. She
was more lovely tonight than she had ever been, he thought.... And by
what bond did he hold this strange and lovely creature by his side? Not
by the tie of any promise. She had made him no promises.... There was no
security in their relationship; she did not want security! She wanted
adventure; and so long as their marriage was an adventure—!

That was what they were celebrating—not the mere passage of one year of
a lifelong marriage, but the beginning of another year of rash
adventure.... And in what curious and fantastic ways would their love be
tested in that year to come? He wondered....

                                   2

“Have you heard about McQuish?” Clive was saying to Rose-Ann.

“No? What?” she asked.

“I told you,” said Felix, “that he had had a row with the Old Man over a
book review he wrote.”

“Oh, yes, so you did. And that he’s talking of leaving to write a
novel.”

“Chicago moves in a mysterious way its wonders to perform,” said Clive.
“Do you remember, Felix, when you came on the paper a year or so
ago?—McQuish was the Marvellous Boy, then. The Old Man was proud of him.
He could write whatever he liked.... And now the Old Man reads every
word he writes with a suspicious eye. They had this row last week; and
it’s the beginning of the end.... I know: I had my day a little earlier
than McQuish; now it’s all I can do to get along. That’s what happens to
young intellectuals in Chicago. They are fed up on praise and petting
for a year or two; and then they get thrown out on their necks. And a
darn good thing, too! Otherwise we would stay here and write fiddling
things for the daily papers all our lives. But now McQuish will quit and
write a novel; and if I have any sense, I will do the same.”

“And my turn will come next, you mean?” Felix asked.

“Not for a while.... I’ve been trying to figure the thing out. Felix
came here, you know, scared to death of Chicago; he can’t believe yet in
his good luck! He didn’t really believe he was going to get Hawkins’s
job. Everybody else knew he was slated for it.... When you go back to
the office tomorrow, Felix, the Old Man will give you a cigar and tell
you what a fine fellow you are. And it will take him all of a year to
discover that you aren’t a fine fellow.... We are a deceptive lot, we
young intellectuals; the powers that be think they can use us in their
business; and it’s some time before they wake up to discover that we are
playing a game of our own.... I give you a year at least to flourish in,
Felix! And make the most of it—for about this time next year you will be
pulling up stakes and departing elsewhere. What do you think, Rose-Ann?”

“I don’t care,” said Rose-Ann. “So long as things keep happening!”

                                   3

They had said good-night to Clive and came back to the studio. Rose-Ann
turned to Felix suddenly, just inside the closed door.

“You remember what I told you here—a little while ago,” she began.

“Yes,” he said, doubtfully.

She looked at him earnestly. “I meant it, you know,” she said.

“Oh—that!”

“Yes.... I’m terribly glad it wasn’t true, what I thought—about you and
Dorothy. But if it had been—!”

“Don’t let’s talk about it,” he said uncomfortably.

“But Felix!” she protested.

“Well?”

“I know I was crying, and behaving like a silly idiot and everything—but
you must believe that I meant what I said. Do you, Felix?”

Her face was grave now, her eyes solemn. Something in his heart leaped
to rejoice in the courage that lay behind her utterance. He wanted to
believe it, and at the same time he feared to believe it.

She read the doubt in his eyes.

“You don’t believe me?” she said. “If the time ever comes to prove it,
Felix—”

He smiled. “We’ll cross our bridges when we come to them,” he said.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                                               Book Five
                                                      Garfield Boulevard


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              XLI. Changes

                                   1

THE second year of marriage began for Felix with a sense of uneasy
anticipation. It was as if things—strange, unknown things—were about to
happen.

He tried, by taking thought, to discover the reason for his vague
anxieties. But, viewed rationally, they seemed absurd. He attempted to
dismiss them.

He was happy. And Rose-Ann, in her own restless fashion, was happy, too.
What could the future bring to disturb their happiness? Nothing!

His economic status, moreover, even upon Clive’s calculations, was
secure for another year at least. And he was writing again, this time to
please himself. Rose-Ann should have no cause for complaint upon that
score....

And yet the vague anxieties persisted in the background of his thoughts.

It was as though he had in some way lost confidence in Rose-Ann.

He told himself that it was only that he knew her better now. He had
been foolish to assume that he could trust utterly in her instincts for
guidance. She was, like him, a bewildered wanderer, not knowing the
right path. She was more like himself than he had ever dreamed.

He could not rely blindly upon her. He must decide things for himself.

It made him feel a little lonely, a little frightened—as one might feel
in the woods, discovering that one’s guide is a romantic ignoramus like
oneself!

                                   2

That was one reason why he did not want to show Rose-Ann the new play
upon which he was working. It would have pleased her—perhaps all too
well! In this play, a variation upon the familiar triangle situation,
the heroine kept her husband because she was not afraid to lose him....

Yes, that would have pleased Rose-Ann. Then why did Felix feel absurdly
guilty of some kind of spiritual disloyalty to her in writing it?

He did not quite know; but it was true that when Rose-Ann was in the
studio he could not with any freedom work on that play....

Rose-Ann felt this, and presently suggested that he try the experiment
of working in a rented room somewhere not too far from the studio. He
was surprised to find that in talking with Rose-Ann he indignantly
repelled the idea as totally objectionable. He was absurdly angry at her
for suggesting it.

It would have been intolerable if Rose-Ann had been jealous of his
writing; and yet he was behaving as though she _ought_ to be jealous of
it.... A strange quirk of the imagination!

Was he disappointed in her for not being the mentor and guide he had
tried to believe her—angry at her for insisting upon his finding his own
pathway through the woods?

                                   3

When Rose-Ann brought up for a second time the subject of a work-room,
Felix admitted that it might be worth considering. And that same day he
went out room-hunting. He had not admitted to himself that he really
wanted such a place—but when, in a house on Garfield Boulevard, he found
a little room with a table and a cot, he decided that he must have it.
He told the landlady he would probably need it only a short time, and
paid two weeks’ rent, with the option of renewal....

He did not want to tell Rose-Ann about it. He said to himself that he
wanted to wait until he found whether he liked it or not. And he did
wait until he had spent an afternoon there writing, before telling her.

It was curious, the feeling of being in a room of his own that nobody in
the world knew about, not even Rose-Ann! That afternoon he seemed to
throw off some impalpable burden. He felt—free! He could sit there and
write, or dream, as long as he wished, with nobody to call him to
account for the way he spent his time. Not that Rose-Ann ever did call
him to account in such a manner; it was the last thing in the world she
would ever have done. But now, as never since his marriage, he felt
utterly by himself.... He sat dreaming for a while, and then commenced
to write swiftly a little play, something he had not thought of at all
before, a light, bright, rather cynical and pretty little play that
seemed to flow out by its own energy—a play dealing with characters as
unreal as those of Congreve or Wycherly, inhabitants of the same polite
and witty realm of the imagination as Millamant and Mirabell.

He told Rose-Ann that he had rented a room, but not that he had written
a play—for it was a short one-act affair of twenty pages, which he had
practically completed at a sitting. He took an inward satisfaction in
this harmless secret; and he was pleased that Rose-Ann did not ask
exactly where his room was, but only congratulated him on being so
sensible.

                                   4

It was only a few days later that Rose-Ann came home with the news that
she had carried out her long cherished intention of getting a job. She
had learned by accident that there was an opening in a moving-picture
magazine. She had gone there, made an impression, and been engaged as
assistant editor.

Felix had a guilty sense that his desertion of their studio, if only for
an occasional afternoon, had been responsible for her action. Certainly
he was no longer in a position to oppose her wishes in this matter. His
plea had been that a job would deprive him of her society. He
had—though, it is true, at her suggestion—entered into an arrangement
which threatened to deprive her of much of his society. But, if there
was any spirit of retaliation behind her decision, it was not apparent
from her manner.

She was delighted with the new scope that this work gave her
superabundant energies; and though it consisted chiefly of rewriting
illiterate press-agentish articles, it yielded her a renewed sense of
self-respect. And after observing, a little uneasily, for a week or two,
its effect upon her, he found himself rather pleased.

Her office hours, though fixed, were not arduous. And if they had less
time to spend together, that time had come to seem more precious....
They would be sitting together at breakfast in their studio, Rose-Ann in
a flame-coloured silk kimono that matched her curls, pouring coffee for
him; all the more delightfully his, because he realized that when the
occasion had been prolonged another five minutes, she would glance at
the clock, and run behind the screen, to emerge dressed for her day’s
work—no longer his, but belonging to some impersonal enterprise for
which he cared less than nothing....

They would meet again at luncheon at the little Hungarian restaurant.
Clive would be there. And the fact that they were all three of them
snatching this hour of golden talk and comradeship from the midst of a
working day, gave a special zest to the occasion.... They were, it
seemed, happier than ever before.

“I’ve always something I can do for my old magazine in the evening,”
said Rose-Ann. “I won’t be lonely. Why don’t you go to your work-room?”

Two or three evenings a week he took her at her word, and in those
solitary hours it seemed to him that his creative fancy had begun to
bloom again.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          XLII. An Apparition

                                   1

HE had occupied the room on odd afternoons and evenings for a month,
when a strange encounter occurred—if seeing somebody could be called an
encounter.

It was a warm evening early in April, when he did not feel in the least
like working....

And besides, he had been looking over the three little one-act plays
which were the fruit of his month’s work, and they seemed to him trivial
and silly; if this was all he could do, he had better stop trying to
write plays. He was glad he had not shown them to Rose-Ann. They were
caricatures of life—not without some grace, touched with a queer,
decadent, heartless beauty, but essentially worthless. Why should he
write things like that? One’s work was a reflection of one’s mind, of
one’s life, critics said. If he had judged those plays as a critic, he
would have drawn from them certain inevitable implications with respect
to the author’s philosophy and mode of life; they were apparently the
work of a man who did not believe in anything, and who found in reality
no true satisfactions—otherwise why should he turn to this unreal realm
of modernized Pierrots and Columbines for solace?

Pondering this enigma, he sat in the open window and looked out on the
street. And in the distance he saw a figure that he knew—a girl.

It was Phyllis, the girl who had been at their wedding. She was coming
toward him, and he recognized her with certainty despite the fact that
he had seen her only once before in his life.

She was coming down the street, on the opposite side; at the corner, she
crossed over, coming toward the house where Felix was sitting perched in
his third story window. She came straight to the front door of that very
building, and then, after the slightest interval, Felix heard the door
slam. She had entered the house.

Felix concluded that he must have been mistaken as to her identity. It
was somebody else who looked like Phyllis—that was all. Phyllis was
still at the Teachers’ Institute; Clive had spoken only the other day of
receiving a letter from her. But—

He listened; some one was coming up the second stairway. Was it she? And
if so, what in the world was she doing here? It was too late to be
calling on any one; besides, she had not rung the bell; she had entered,
as if she belonged here. If it were Phyllis, she must be living in this
house. And that was impossible.

Felix, listening at the door, heard the person, whoever it was, cross
the hall—and it seemed to him that she had stopped at his door. But
no—there was a jingling of keys, and he realized that the room next to
his own was being unlocked. He opened his door quietly—uncertain now if
he would be able to recognize Phyllis, and anxious not to make any
foolish mistake. She was standing at the door, with her back to him,
turning the key in the lock.

Of course it was Phyllis!

But if he were so certain, why didn’t he speak to her? He was so close
that he could have touched her. Why did he let her go without a word?...
She went in, and he stood staring foolishly at the closed door.

It was Phyllis, without the slightest doubt.... And yet—it would be
awkward to knock at a young woman’s door at midnight and, if she turned
out to be the wrong person, stammer out a lame and unconvincing apology.
Why, she was probably some one whom he had seen, in his unseeing way, on
the stairs a dozen times, some one who had seen him so often that his
explanation of mistaken identity would sound very hollow indeed....

                                   2

The next evening, coming to his room, he heard the girl moving about in
hers.

He had decided, with that part of his mind which dealt with questions of
practical fact, that she was not really Phyllis. He had not mentioned
his queer notion about her to Rose-Ann. But if it pleased him to think
his neighbour was Phyllis, why shouldn’t he?

It did please him; and in some odd way helped him in his work. She
seemed to bring with her into his place of dreams some breath of sane
and kindly reality. Her unseen presence there in the next room took some
of the fever out of his strange dramatic fantasies, made them more
human. He wrote more easily, with greater zest; and in the intervals of
his writing it was comforting to hear her movements, her mere steps
across the floor, the sound of paper rustling in her hands, and
sometimes the bubbling of coffee over an alcohol lamp.

When she made the coffee the pungent fumes of it found their way through
the locked door which separated his room from hers.... He smiled,
thinking how startled she would be if he should knock on that door, and
demand a cup of coffee.... At this point he had to remind himself that
it was not really Phyllis there on the other side of that door.

                                   3

But it really was Phyllis!—that was the strange thing about the whole
affair.... Clive had at last confided to him that Phyllis was in town,
but told him nothing more; it was Rose-Ann who told him that Phyllis had
come to Chicago, unknown to Clive, and got herself a job, before letting
him know anything of her plans.

“He’s finding her quite too much for him,” said Rose-Ann.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I mean—she’s been his pupil, as it were, all along. Now she’s
demonstrating her independence.”

“Where is she living?” he asked, and when Rose-Ann said she didn’t know,
he told her of the girl he had seen who looked like Phyllis.

“Why didn’t you speak to her and find out?” she asked impatiently.

“Why, I thought it must be a mistake,” he said awkwardly.

“You really don’t care anything about people at all, do you, Felix?” she
said.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because it’s true. You’re interested only in ideas. A girl who was at
your wedding comes and lives in the same house with you, and you never
even speak to her! You are a strange creature, Felix. For heaven’s sake,
knock at her door, and bring her around to see us. Just because she
wants to be queer and not see anybody is no reason why we shouldn’t be
friendly.”

                                   4

Yes, it was Phyllis; he saw her again, late that night, from the window,
plainly revealed by the glare of an arclight, walking with Clive along
the street toward the house; he had an impulse to shout to them, but he
refrained, and only looked on while they came slowly over, and stood
talking in front of the door. It was Phyllis, but she had changed; or
was it only some constraint in her manner? No wonder he had not been
certain of her identity. She had a different air; all the quietness was
gone from her—she seemed the embodiment of a defiant restlessness. There
was a reckless impudence in the whole pose of her body, the tilt of her
head as she stood talking to Clive, in the very gesture of her arm as
she held out her hand to Clive in good-bye.... Clive went abruptly; she
was entering.

Felix could hear her running up the stairs. He ought to go out and speak
to her. But he did not want to. He had a sense of her having changed,
being a new and different person that he did not like. He wanted to keep
the companionship of the Phyllis whom he had known these past weeks in
imagination—he did not want for a neighbour this restless girl whom she
had become in actuality. He heard her unlock her door, and enter; and he
said to himself that his refuge was spoiled—he would have to find
another place to work in....

It was true, what Rose-Ann had said; he cared nothing for people—only
for ideas ... and dreams. He cared for his dream of Phyllis. He was
sorry to lose that.

Well—he would have to see her.

He heard her walking restlessly up and down her room; her light firm
step sounded clearly through the door which separated their two rooms.
She paused, walked the length of the room, and paused again. She was
standing just on the other side of that door....

He went over to that door and knocked.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            XLIII. Nocturne

                                   1

THE next moment he called himself a fool for going about it in this way;
but he might as well go through with it now. He knocked again, more
loudly, and called out her name, cheerfully. “Phyllis?”

“Who is it?” she asked, in a startled, questioning voice.

He called his own name. “I’ve just discovered we are fellow-lodgers!” he
added. “Can I see you?”

She fumbled with the lock, and opened the door. She had just taken off
her hat and coat, and she was wearing a black dress that made her seem
pale. She looked older; her face was not so untroubledly serene as he
had remembered it. But the sight of her gave him just such a momentary
unreasonable panic as on that winter night when Clive had brought her
into the room at Woods Point. She seemed again the impossible person of
his secret dreams.... And then the illusion vanished. She was
only—Clive’s girl-problem.

“What are you doing here?”

They both asked the question of each other at once, and then both
laughed. “You first,” said Phyllis.

“I’m using this as a work-room occasionally,” he explained.

“Really!” She looked past him into his room. “Right next to mine. How
odd!... You and Rose-Ann haven’t separated or anything, have you?”

“Why, no!” he laughed. “Why should you think—?”

“It’s absurd, isn’t it? But that was what came into my head. I’m glad it
isn’t so.... You work there? I see!”

“And you?” he demanded.

“Me? I’ve run away at last!”

“I heard something about it....”

“Yes, run away—from school—from home—from everything! And come to
Chicago to make my living. Even Clive didn’t know. I’ve been here three
weeks, and I’ve a real job. Not much of a one; just working on a
trade-journal. It pays for this room, and my meals—and I’m glad I’ve
taken the plunge.... Isn’t it curious, our being neighbours like
this!... But come in!”

They were still standing there, one on each side of the doorsill. He
entered, and looked about her room. It was almost as bare as his own,
but larger. A cot, with her coat and hat tossed upon it, a bureau, a
writing table, an old trunk, and two chairs, both of them much repaired
and one of them still rickety, were its furnishings.

“Not much to look at, is it?” she said. “But wait! Some day I shall have
a grand studio like yours!” She sat down on the cot, and motioned him to
draw up the less rickety chair. “The first day I was in town I slunk
past your studio and peeped in. Some one was going out the door, and I
got a glimpse of the inside.”

“Why in the world didn’t you come in and see us?”

“I don’t know.... I thought perhaps you wouldn’t remember me. And
besides, I wanted to get established before I let any of my friends
know—even Clive. I wanted to prove that I could do something by myself.”
A curious smile lit her face as she added: “It annoys Clive that I
should have got a job without his help!”

“But why?” he wondered. He remembered what Clive had once said about the
“battle” between himself and Phyllis. It had seemed absurd at the
time....

She did not reply, and so he asked: “Why shouldn’t you be willing to be
helped by your friends?”

“Well—one sometimes isn’t,” she said defensively.

All at once he felt the pathetic helplessness behind her masquerade of
independence. And, moved by an odd impulse, he wanted to make her admit
the truth to him.

“Is it just because it’s Clive?” he asked.

For a moment she looked at him coldly as if about to rebuke his
presumption, and then looked down and said: “I suppose so....”

“I thought you were in love with him,” he said bluntly.

She laughed.

“But aren’t you?” he insisted.

“What a question!” she retorted. “Are I or aren’t I? You talk like my
mother!... How do I know?”

“And you talk like Clive!” he said.

“Probably I learned it from him.... I’ve learned ’most everything I know
from him.”

“You’re an odd girl,” he told her.

“So Clive says.... You’re very like Clive yourself, do you know?”

“I wish I were more like him, in some ways; but in other respects—”

“Yes—you’re very much like him. Only—more so!”

“What do you mean? You rather alarm me.”

“Oh, you needn’t be alarmed. My meaning is very flattering. I think a
lot of Clive!”

“Then why do you run away from him?” Felix demanded.

“Is coming to Chicago running away from him?”

“He wanted you to come to Chicago three years ago—didn’t he?”

“Yes, but—Oh, it’s very involved. Are you really interested? I’m not
sure that I understand it myself.”

He was quite sure that she wanted to tell him the whole story. And he
wanted to hear it.

“I’m very much interested,” he said. “And perhaps,” he hazarded,
“—perhaps I could help you to understand.”

“I wish you could.... I don’t know where to begin.”

Yes—she did want to tell him. And it would be interesting to know the
truth about Clive and Phyllis—at last!

“Begin with yourself—before Clive came along,” he commanded.

“Oh—you think he changed me?”

“I’m sure of it.”

“Well—perhaps. Oh, of course I was a romantic little goose before he
came along. And yet—that isn’t so, either.... I was hard-headed, in a
way. It was I who made my father go into the taxi business and save the
family from complete poverty. I did know some things—better than my
father.”

“I’ve wondered about your folks,” he said. “Tell me about your father.”

“He wanted to be a farmer. He wanted to go out west and take up
government land, but he didn’t have the nerve. And his own farm was no
good. He slaved himself on it year after year and was always in debt.
Then he quit and took a job on the railroad. But he doesn’t like
machinery; curious, he’d rather dig in the ground than anything else in
the world. But what was the use? We actually didn’t have enough money to
buy shoes. I quit school and clarked in Wilson’s store, so I could have
decent clothes. And I sewed for my sisters, so as not to be ashamed of
the way they looked. I used to hate my father—and my mother, too, for
never complaining, for always putting up with things. ‘Your father is a
good man, Phyllis,’ she would say. ‘He doesn’t drink, or play cards, and
he’s never used an unkind word to me or you children. And he’s terribly
patient.’ That’s it—he was so _terribly_ patient! If he’d been a
drunkard, there might have been some excuse.... Tell me—does all this
bore you?”

“No, it doesn’t bore me. Go on.”

“I wanted to be a teacher.... Clive thinks I went off to become a
teacher just to spite him. But it was an old ambition of mine. I wanted
to put the family on its feet—and I wanted to do something that had to
do with books. It’s silly, isn’t it? But teaching was all I could think
of. Only, how was I to do it? I kept up with the school studies at home,
nights, besides helping mother with the house and making clothes for
Bess and Emmy. I got one of the teachers to bring me a copy of the final
examination questions, and I wrote out my answers at home. I did it
fairly, too—and he marked them for me.”

“Who was ‘he’?”

“The teacher, Mr. Andrews—the science teacher. He was all right. He lent
me books, and talked to me.”

Felix smiled to himself. So Clive Bangs had not been the only one who
had lent books and talked to Phyllis! He had only been the latest one to
minister to an insatiable hunger for new knowledge. He had not, as he so
egotistically thought, changed the current of her life; or perhaps he
had: Phyllis’ story would show. But already it was a different
personality from any suggested by Clive’s remarks or Felix’s own
dreaming, that began to appear.

“Only—how was I ever to get to school? There were no boys in the
family—I often felt as though I were the man of the family—I had to
raise some money myself.... At last I thought of the taxi idea. I talked
father into it.... It was the hardest battle I ever had.”

“How old were you then?”

“Sixteen.... You mustn’t think my father was a—a bad father. I really
loved him very much. He wanted to take care of his family, but he just
didn’t know how. I had to take things into my own hands. I persuaded him
to borrow the money for our first car. That year we paid for it, and I
made him borrow the money to buy another, and let me run it. Well—we
made lots of money, and now we’ve five cars—so that’s all right.... I
don’t know why I got off the track and told you all this stuff. You
wanted to know about me and Clive.”

“Yes, then Clive came along?”

“He had been there all the time—only he never saw me. Why should he? I
don’t think he ever would have seen me, if one night when I was driving
him home I hadn’t noticed that he was carrying an interesting-looking
book with a white label. I glanced at it rather obviously. He held it
up, and asked me if I had ever read any of Bernard Shaw’s plays. I was
scared to death—I had wanted to talk to him for two years, and here was
my chance. I had to make good. Of course, I’d never read anything of
Shaw’s, but what did that matter? It was my chance to prove to him that
I was worth talking to. So I swallowed hard, and said, yes, I’d read
everything I could find of Shaw’s. I knew if he asked me any questions,
I could say, no, I hadn’t been able to get hold of that yet.... Well, it
worked. And that night—the library was closed, but I knew the librarian
and I made him go there with me and open it up long enough for me to get
the only two volumes of Shaw the library had. I read one of them that
night and the other the next day. I liked them, too, though they did
seem a little queer to me at the very first....”

“What were they?” Felix asked.

“The ‘Three Plays for Puritans,’ and ‘Man and Superman.’ I read them
all, prefaces, appendixes and everything. I said, if these are the
things he likes, I can like them too, and I will! I got a liberal
education out of those two books. I was a different person when I saw
him three days later and he lent me ‘Cashel Byron’s Profession.’ ... And
yet I wasn’t, either. I told you that I was a romantic little goose....
If there’s one thing I have learned, it’s—not to be ashamed to tell
anything. So I don’t mind telling you what a little fool I was. Think! I
had just stocked my brain full of Bernard Shaw, and yet—it _is_ hard to
tell—I was carrying on a romantic fairy-tale at the same time, with
Clive as the hero-prince! I thought—in spite of everything, you see, I
was only a silly girl—that he wanted to marry me. I even commenced
secretly to sew things, to get my clothes ready for the wedding.... And
at the same time—It’s queer—but I think I should have despised him if he
_had_ wanted to marry me!... My mother warned me against him. Poor dear
father, he didn’t even know what was going on. But mother was very much
worried. Well! she needn’t have been. She was just as much mistaken
about Clive’s intentions as I was! All he wanted was to modernize me.
Heavens! the trouble we took, the stealthy meetings, the secret
rendezvous—to discuss the Life Force! It’s really funny!”

“I don’t think it’s so funny,” Felix said soberly.

“No,” said Phyllis, “the worst of it is, he did modernize me. I don’t
know why I should complain—but somehow I resent his power over me. He’s
always told me what to do; and in the end I’ve always done it. But I’ve
hated to. He told me to go to Chicago three years ago. He told me that
what I needed was work, and adventure, and love. And yet, for three
years I tried to work out some silly plan of my own. I didn’t want to
admit that he was right.”

“Are you sure that he _is_ right?” Felix asked.

“Of course? Aren’t you? Work—adventure—love? Why not? This is the
twentieth century—and I’m twenty-two years old. Why shouldn’t I have all
those things?”

“No reason—if you really want them. But—”

“Yes?”

“Well—”

“You aren’t going to tell me that woman’s place is in the home, and that
I ought to get married? That would sound strange, coming from you!”

“Why? I am married.”

“Yes.... You’re lucky,” she said looking at him, sombrely.

“I know I am. But what do you mean?”

“Your marriage. You’re _living_ your theories.”

Felix smiled. “What theories do you mean? You didn’t take seriously
everything Clive said at our wedding, did you?”

She looked at him earnestly. “Clive wrote me you _were_ living up to
your theories—you and Rose-Ann. Isn’t it true?”

“Oh—that.”

He knew that she meant the Dorothy episode. Rose-Ann had told Clive
about it, and Clive had used the anecdote more than once to point a
modernistic moral. Phyllis was not the only young person who had heard
strange tales of this wonderful “free” marriage.

Phyllis’s eyes questioned him fiercely, anxiously.

“I see you’ve heard the story,” he said. “Well, something of that sort
did happen. But—”

“So it’s true!” She said it triumphantly. “I’m so tired of all this talk
that never gets anywhere. You don’t know how much you and Rose-Ann have
meant to me—your marriage. It convinced me that there was something to
modernism after all.”

“So you doubted it—in spite of all Clive’s talk?”

“Yes—I did. Because it was _just_ talk.... Look at me! Do you doubt that
I wanted everything Clive told me about? work—adventure—love.... I’ve
wanted them all along. If Clive had only said, ‘Come with me to
Chicago—’!”

“What _did_ he say?”

“He left it to me to decide.... That was fair enough. If I didn’t have
sense enough to decide by myself—. Only, I think he should have dropped
me, let me alone. He’s been too patient. I’ve lost my respect for him.”

“What do you want him to do—_make_ you marry him?”

“Not now. Three years ago I was foolish enough to believe in marriage. I
couldn’t marry anybody now—least of all Clive: the man who taught me not
to believe in marriage!”

“But you believe in—Rose-Ann’s and my marriage, don’t you?”

“Oh, yes!” There was a wealth of devoutness in her utterance, and her
eyes opened wide as if in astonishment at her belief being questioned.
“Of course. But that’s different.... You two,” she said, a little sadly,
“are the only people in the world that I do believe in,—you and
Rose-Ann. If _you_ went back on me, and I felt that I was making a
mistake in becoming a modern woman, why—” She laughed, and added, “No
doubt my modernism seems ridiculous to you. I admit that it’s only talk,
so far! I—why, I don’t even smoke cigarettes. Clive has been to immense
pains to educate my mind; but my habits are still those of—of my
middle-western childhood. It’s going to be strange.... I _am_ a queer
person. Restless, discontented, fed up on radical theories for three
years.... Do I seem ridiculous to you?”

“No,” Felix said gravely. “Not ridiculous.” He hesitated.... There were
things he wanted to say to her; but _he_ would be ridiculous, saying
those things. And yet he did want to say them.... Her hand lay near him
on the couch. He covered it with his own. The touch gave him the
encouragement he needed; but when he spoke it was in unpremeditated
words.

“I’m awfully sorry, Phyllis,” he said.

                                   2

For a moment her flippant hardness disappeared. She became for a moment,
in response to his tone, the girl he had first known—the real person,
simple and genuine, that still underlay all her pretences.... She let
her hand rest in his for a moment, and then withdrew it. “Why sorry?”
she asked quietly. “I’m sorry for myself; but why should you be sorry
for me, Felix?”

“I don’t know,” Felix said. “But—I like you, and I want you to be happy.
And Clive’s modernism doesn’t seem to me to be what you want.”

She frowned at him. “What _do_ I want?” she asked.

“Not a hectic, experimental kind of existence,” he said.

“I don’t?”

“No. Not for yourself. You may want to be that sort of person to please
Clive. But _you_ don’t want it. You want—I’ll tell you what you want.”
He spoke confidently. “It’s very simple. You want a husband, and
children, and a home, and you want to stay there—you want to be _made_
to stay there.”

She stirred restlessly, and seemed about to speak, but he motioned her
abruptly to keep still, and went on authoritatively. “Oh, don’t deny it.
You want somebody to take you in charge—some one in whom you really
believe, that you can really depend upon, somebody who can boss the job.
Don’t you!” he finished rather imperiously.

She smiled at him quizzically, and then said, “Yes. Maybe I do. How did
you guess?”

“I knew,” he said.

“Well, don’t tell anybody that I’m such a ridiculous person!” she said.
And suddenly she slipped down from the bed to the floor, and put her arm
across his knees, and laid her head against it, without speaking. After
a while she looked up, and asked timidly, “Do you mind? I wanted to.”

                                   3

Felix caressed her shoulder with his hand, lightly—feeling in some queer
way that she was a child and that he was some infinitely older and wiser
person.

They sat there a long time, she with her head resting against his knee,
and he with his hand touching her shoulder. At last she took his other
hand and held it against her face, with an apparently unconscious and
instinctive gesture, as if she were in truth a child. He had a deep
conviction that this was not love-making in any ordinary sense. There
was some blessed healing in these contacts for them both—that was all.

Yes—for him, too. For as he bent over her, with his hand nourished
against her cheek, he seemed to be finding rest, finding some quiet
peace which his spirit needed. This touch was enough. It was balm for a
weariness of which he had not been aware. It was rest, it was peace, it
was his dream of her come true.

She lifted her head at last, like some one who has waked from a
refreshing sleep. “You are very good to me,” she said, and rose up.

He stood up, suddenly conscious of how long they had been together, and
wondered what time it was.

She glanced at her clock on the mantel, and his look followed hers. It
was three o’clock.

“Gracious!” she whispered.

He started to walk across the floor, and a board creaked; he finished
the journey to his door on tiptoe, half ashamed and angry at taking such
a precaution. It gave an air of the illicit to the occasion. At the door
he turned.

She had remained standing beside his chair. He could not shake hands
with her without going back. But why was he hurrying away in such a
frightened manner, as if he had done something wrong? He recrossed the
room and held out his hand.

“Good night, Phyllis.”

“Good night, Felix Fay.”

He walked boldly back to his own room, and closed the door with a
defiant bang.

                                   4

It had been very beautiful.... And why, now, must it be so awkward, the
task of finding a place for this beauty in his ordinary life?

Explanations!...

Rose-Ann would understand, of course. But, even so, the telling of it
was difficult. He could think of no words to convey the simplicity and
naturalness of the incident.

It was all very well to talk of telling the truth to one’s beloved; but
the truth was not such an easy thing to tell!...

So Felix was reflecting, as he put on his coat and hat to go home, when
there was a knock on the door he had banged shut, and Phyllis entered.

“I want a breath of fresh air,” she said. “I’ll walk over to your place
with you if you don’t mind.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              XLIV. Aubade

                                   1

“THERE’S a light burning in your studio,” she said as they turned the
corner. They had been silent all the way, Phyllis happy to be out in the
moonlight, and Felix rather moodily uneasy at this prolongation of an
incident that had already had its due ending.

“Yes, Rose-Ann is still up,” he said.

He unlocked the door, and Phyllis ran in eagerly. Rose-Ann sprang up
from the table where she had been working over some magazine proofs.

“Phyllis!” she cried, and the two girls embraced like old friends long
parted.

“I’ve been keeping Felix up, listening to the story of my life,” said
Phyllis.

“Is it late? I’ve been fixing up the dummy of the Motion Picture World.
I’m just finished. I have to get it down at the printer’s at eight in
the morning.” She went over to the table, and swept the scattered proofs
into a portfolio, laying the dummy upon them, and tying the strings.
“How about some coffee? Or are you sleepy?” “Wide awake!” said Phyllis.
“It’s so nice to find you up. I did want to see your studio.”

“Felix, will you make some coffee?”

Felix came back in a moment and sadly reported that the coffee was “all
gone!”

“Oh, I forgot—I used the last of it this evening.... What a pity!”

Felix, returning into their presence from behind the screen, had a
curious sense of being a third, an intruder into a friendly intimacy. He
had had, in the very moment of their meeting, a startled impression of
their being the oldest friends each other had, far more deeply
acquainted with each other than he with either of them! And now, in the
mere two minutes in which he had been out of their sight searching for
coffee, they had begun to talk for all the world like two old
schoolmates who had, after a long separation, much to tell each other.
His entrance had, or so it seemed to him, the effect of an interruption.

“I’ll look again,” he said awkwardly. “There may be some left of that G.
Washington coffee. I think there is.” And he went behind the screen
again.

There was no “G. Washington coffee.” He found the empty can at once. But
he sat down on the bed, grinning sheepishly at himself, instead of
returning. He could hear them out there talking in the swift,
breathless, low tones of confidential feminine narrative. Now Phyllis’s
voice ceased on a note of inquiry, and Rose-Ann spoke without
interruption to a hushed listener. Her voice became louder, and there
was a ring of pride in it. Both girls suddenly laughed and then Rose-Ann
went on talking....

What on earth could they be talking about? Felix found himself listening
curiously, with decidedly the feeling of an eavesdropper, but he could
distinguish only an unrevealing word or two now and then. “Clive’s
house,” he heard, and after a while, “scissors,” followed by another
laugh; but that was all.

If someone had assured him, beforehand, that Rose-Ann, in spite of what
had seemed to him an ungenerous hostility to Phyllis, would have
instantly taken her to her bosom like this, he would have been pleased;
but now, with that fact before him, he was not so much pleased as
astonished. He was even a little annoyed.

Why should he be annoyed? It was doubtless natural enough for these two
girls to want to talk together. Phyllis’s having been at Rose-Ann’s
wedding constituted a bond between them.... And Felix remembered that
when they had first met they had seemed to like each other at once. He
was behaving rather ridiculously in staying out here; they could talk
just as well in his presence.

He returned to them and again reported failure. And once more, as he
entered, he had the feeling of being an intruder. This time it was as if
they had forgotten his existence, and were rather startled to find him
there, and puzzled for a moment to know how to get rid of him!

“Oh!” said Rose-Ann to his news of the total absence of any coffee
whatever.

“I’ve some coffee over at my place,” said Phyllis. “Won’t you come over
there? I’d like to show you my room. And we can talk.”

Distinctly her glance at him told Felix that he was not wanted along.

Rose-Ann jumped up. “Let’s!” she said. And then to Felix, “you needn’t
bother to come with us. Phyllis and I want to talk.”

“All right!” he said, smiling. But as he saw them depart together out of
the door of the studio into the moonlight, he had an odd feeling of
being a little boy left out of the conversation of his elders.... And
perhaps, too, there was a strange feeling of jealous unease.

                                   2

He took a book, went to bed, and tried to read himself to sleep. But at
six o’clock he was still awake, and Rose-Ann had not returned. At seven
he rose, and went—well, perhaps not exactly to look for her, but to his
work-room.

Through the inner door he could hear their voices, in animated
conversation. He went to the door, flung it open, and cried,

“My God, are you girls still talking!”

They looked up, startled, and then laughed. “What time is it?” asked
Rose-Ann. “I’ve been telling Phyllis the history of our marriage....”

So that was what they were talking about! Half-appeased, at having been
after all included in the conversation, he looked at his watch.
“Seven-thirty,” he said.

“I have to have my dummy at the printer’s at eight,” said Rose-Ann. “I
wonder if you will take it there for me, Felix, while I take a bath. And
we’ll all meet at breakfast. Clive and Phyllis are going to have
breakfast at Henrici’s, and we’ll join them. Will you?”

Felix went back to the studio for the dummy. As he went, he carried in
his mind the picture he had seen when he opened the door of Phyllis’s
room—Phyllis sitting on the floor at Rose-Ann’s feet precisely as a few
hours earlier she had sat at his, with what must have been the same
worshipful expression on her face as she listened to Rose-Ann’s words.
Rose-Ann had also probably been deciding her young destinies for her.

Felix laughed. It was certainly odd enough!

Yes, but what ideas had Rose-Ann been putting into her head? What kind
of story had Rose-Ann told her about their marriage? Had Rose-Ann talked
about their mutual “freedom”? That theme would have accounted for
Phyllis’s rapt and devout attention. It was what Phyllis wanted to hear,
what she wanted to believe—that love could be like that!

Anyway, he was glad that Phyllis and Rose-Ann were friends.

                                   3

The four of them breakfasted together at Henrici’s, and at noon Phyllis
was inducted into the magic circle of their mid-day comradeship at the
corner table in the little Hungarian restaurant; and that afternoon they
took the train for Woods Point—whither Phyllis had to go as it were in
disguise, or at least stealthily, for her family must not know that she
was spending the night at Clive’s: an ironic precaution, for their
relations were still as vexatiously and chastely intellectual as they
had been in the earliest days of their clandestine meetings.

In spite of their need of sleep—and fortified by the thought that
tomorrow was Sunday and they could sleep as long as they liked—they sat
up until all hours, talking. It was like a reunion, and the memory of
their first meeting here touched it with romantic suggestion. The
promise of comradeship which had been implicit in that first meeting,
obscured at the time by the anxieties and discomforts of a tribal
ceremonial, had now, after so long an interval, come true. They felt
that they had discovered each other, to a new extent, in this new
grouping. It is not often that two couples can happily coalesce into
that infinitely fluid and various arrangement, a group of four. But it
had quite unmistakably and thrillingly happened!


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             XLV. Foursome

                                   1

THE conversational permutations and combinations of this new fourfold
intimacy inevitably threw new light for each upon the character of the
others, and led to endless discussions.

“But why,” Felix exclaimed to Rose-Ann, after an evening spent in the
company of the two others, “doesn’t Phyllis make up her mind about
Clive, one way or the other. Why should she keep on tormenting him this
way?”

“Why doesn’t Clive make up his own mind?” Rose-Ann retorted. “It’s he
that’s torturing her. I understand Phyllis’s attitude perfectly.”

“We both seem to have rather changed our views about them,” he observed.
“You used to blame Phyllis.”

“I don’t any more,” said Rose-Ann. “I blame Clive.”

“For what, precisely?”

“For not knowing what he wants!”

“He wants Phyllis. That’s simple enough.”

“No, he doesn’t. It would be simple enough if he did. He could have her
in a moment. She’s crazy about him. She wants nothing else than to be
really his sweetheart.”

“Then why isn’t she?”

“Because he won’t let her!”

“What nonsense, Rose-Ann!”

“It’s perfectly true. I was going to tell you; while you and Clive were
over in the corner tonight talking about that novel of his, she was
explaining to me what she was angry at him about. She had proposed to
him that they rent an apartment together in Chicago this fall.”

“And he refused?” Felix asked incredulously.

“Yes ... unless she would marry him first. And she wouldn’t.”

“But why not?” he asked.

“Don’t you understand, Felix?... Before, when they first knew each
other, she would gladly have married him—but he wouldn’t ask her. He
wanted her to be a ‘free-woman.’ And now that she’s ready to be, he
insists on ‘protecting’ her with a marriage. Can’t you see? he wants her
to admit that she’s not in earnest, that she’s afraid.... And she won’t.
I quite agree with her!”

“But what a fuss over nothing,” said Felix.

“Over nothing? Aren’t ideas anything? Isn’t pride anything?”

“Not in comparison with happiness. They’ve been making each other
miserable for two years with their ideas, and their silly pride. The
important thing is to get them—yes, damn it!—into the same bed
together!”

Rose-Ann laughed. “They’ve tried even that, Felix! and it did no good.”

“What!”

“No—they spent the night arguing about whether they really loved each
other!”

Felix groaned. “I never heard of such a crazy pair in my life!”

“Yes, it was utterly ridiculous,” Rose-Ann agreed. “Phyllis told Clive
she was perfectly willing, for the sake of companionship, to become his
mistress—but he wouldn’t have her on those terms. He wanted her to say
she loved him.”

“I can’t exactly blame him for asking that,” said Felix. “Why shouldn’t
she say it?—it was true!”

“She just wasn’t sure; I can understand that, Felix. She wanted to find
out whether she did or not. And if he couldn’t be sure for both of them—
You see, it was his cowardice, not hers.”

“Madness!” said Felix. “Is this what modern love has come to!”

                                   2

Again, Clive and Felix were at the “Tavern,” across the street from the
Chronicle, sitting in front of their afternoon ale.

“Phyllis,” said Clive, “talks about nothing but you, nowadays—you and
Rose-Ann. I gather that you are the most wonderful two people in the
world, with the possible exception of Bernard Shaw and Ellen Key.”

“I hear much more extravagant reports than that about myself,” said
Felix. “Bernard Shaw isn’t in it. I gather that I am almost as wonderful
a person as Clive Bangs!”

Clive shook his head. “I am a deserted altar,” he declared, with mock
mournfulness. “You are the new divinity. How does it feel?”

“It’s—slightly embarrassing sometimes,” said Felix.

Clive grinned. “You just hate it, don’t you? It makes you bored to be
adored!”

“Not exactly,” said Felix. “But Phyllis does have a disturbing way, when
we are alone together, of seeming to be a—well, a child, a very young
child with a ... a beloved parent!”

“Or why not say, a worshipper in the presence of a god!” Clive laughed.
“You find it embarrassing, do you?”

“And also agreeable in a curious way!” Felix confessed. “I’ve never been
regarded as a supernaturally wise being, before. I find I rather like
it!”

“I know,” said Clive. “The truth is, it’s tremendously gratifying to
one’s egotism. It’s nice to be a god. But I fell off my pedestal early
in the game. And what I’d like to know is, how do you manage to stay on
yours so serenely?”

“It comes naturally to me, to be a god, I expect,” said Felix modestly.
“I was probably born that way. I’ve often been told I’m not human. But I
imagine the trouble with you was that you made love to her. That was a
mistake. You should let her make love to you.”

“It sounds all right, Felix—not to make love to her: but do you really
find it so terribly easy?”

“Oh,” said Felix, “I just keep in mind that I am supposed to be calm,
benignant, Olympian intelligence! And really, you know, there’s nothing
in the world less conducive to romance. A gesture betraying anything
more than a condescending paternal affection would shatter the picture.
An importunate lover is merely human, you know, Clive!”

“So I’ve found!” said Clive.

“But it’s your own damned fault. I mean this seriously, Clive. You
taught her this preposterous evasiveness. She’s only learned your
characteristic attitude—or your favourite trick, whichever it is.”

“I must say she’s learned it well.... So you think it’s all a mask. And
what do you imagine is underneath?” Clive asked carelessly.

“I don’t imagine—I know,” Felix said earnestly, thinking of the real
person he had evoked from under her intellectual disguises that first
night of talk in her room. “Something so simple, Clive, that you’d never
believe it.”

Clive yawned. “I might not believe it, but I can guess what you’re about
to say, Felix: a Woman, God bless her, with a capital W!... Come on,
Felix, you’ve reached the maudlin stage; let’s go back to the office.”

                                   3

“Phyllis,” said Clive to Rose-Ann one afternoon at Field’s where they
had met by chance at the stationery counter, and had gone together to
the tea-room for tea and talk, “complains to me that Felix hasn’t been
to his work-room all this week; she seems to think he is idling away his
time in the society of his wife, when he ought to be writing plays and
letting her make coffee for him.”

Rose-Ann laughed. “Whether it’s Phyllis’s coffee or not, he does seem to
be getting some good work done. I really like that new play.”

“‘The Dryad’? A lovely little thing. Why don’t you make him send it to
Gregory Storm?”

Gregory Storm was an enthusiast who was organizing a company of amateurs
to give plays by Schnitzler and Wedekind and other moderns, and Felix
had vainly been urged by Clive to submit some of his one-act plays to
them.

“I’m not going to ‘make’ Felix do anything,” Rose-Ann said impatiently.
“Make him yourself, if you want him to! I _won’t_ manage his career for
him.”

“Afraid he’ll blame you if it fails?” Clive asked maliciously.

“No—afraid he’ll blame me if it succeeds!” she laughed.

“You’re right,” said Clive. “I never saw any one so afraid of success.”

“Oh, it’s not success he’s afraid of. It’s rather, I think, that he’s
afraid of enjoying himself! You know, Clive, he really is a Puritan!”

“Harsh words, Mrs. Fay! On what grounds do you accuse Felix of the
horrid crime of Puritanism?”

“You know perfectly well what I mean, Clive! You were saying that Felix
hadn’t been to his work-room this week. And you know why. It’s because
he’s afraid of Phyllis. Isn’t it absurd!”

“Absurd? Not at all! I’m very much afraid of her, myself!”

“Well, I’m not! Felix ought to know that I’m just as fond of Phyllis as
he is, and that I can perfectly well understand how nice it is to have
her around. I like to have her make coffee for me, and sit at _my_ feet.
And suppose he did kiss her—she’s very kissable; I wish he would, and
get over being afraid of her.”

“No use, Rose-Ann; he never will. And what’s worse, she never will,
either. She’s just as much afraid of him as he is of her. I’m afraid
theirs is a hopeless passion!”

They both commenced to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

                                   4

Phyllis and Clive had quarrelled again, and Phyllis felt in need of
encouragement in her Clive-less way of life. She leaned on Rose-Ann for
philosophic guidance, and the two girls spent many evenings together in
the studio; while Felix, without the sustenance of Phyllis’s coffee,
worked at revising “The Dryad,” which he had decided to submit to
Gregory Storm. But one evening Phyllis came in disconsolately, and said
to Felix:

“I’ve been to the studio and Rose-Ann isn’t there!”

“She’s at the printer’s,” said Felix, “reading page-proof.” He pushed
back his manuscript. “Do you want to make me some—”

“Coffee? No,” said Phyllis, “but you can take me out and buy me a
cocktail or something; and—and give me some spiritual guidance. I need
it!”

They went to a quiet restaurant in the Loop which Clive had discovered,
a foreign-looking place where people sat for hours over one drink: a
place to talk. It was almost empty at this hour. A table across the room
was occupied by an elderly Swede or Dane, who sat moodily sipping a
liqueur.

“What,” Phyllis demanded, fingering the stem of her glass, “_shall_ I
do—I mean, with my life. Tell me, Felix!”

“If I tell you, will you do it?” he demanded.

She hesitated for a moment. “Yes—I will!”

“Marry!”

“Oh—I might have known you would say that.” She sipped her cocktail
disappointedly. “I could have got that advice from St. Paul!”

“I suppose you prefer to take Walter Pater’s advice,” he said
laughingly.

“What is that?”

“Burn always with a hard, gem-like flame! But, no—St. Paul is right: it
is better to marry!”

“Don’t tease me, Felix. I’m in earnest.”

“So am I. I’ve told you what to do.”

“Marry—yes. But why?”

“You’ll find out why, my dear. ‘Open your mouth and shut your eyes—’”

“You’re making fun of me.”

“Not a bit.”

“Marry, you say?”

“Yes.”

“And I’m not to ask why?”

“No.”

“Then—whom?”

“A man.”

“Any man?”

“Any man you happen to like.”

“But I don’t happen to like many men.”

“Marry one of those fortunate few.”

“I suppose you mean Clive?”

“He’ll do.”

“No, he won’t.”

“Why not?”

“He doesn’t believe in marriage. And, Felix, one of the two people must
believe in a marriage, for it to _be_ a marriage!”

“Then marry—Herbert Bond.”

Herbert Bond was a staid young business man with whom Phyllis had
flirted outrageously during her last quarrel with Clive.

“You said—any man I happened to _like_,” she protested.

“What kind of man _do_ you happen to like, then?”

“Clive’s kind!”

“I suspected as much,” he said. “Well, then, marry one of Clive’s
kind—but without Clive’s fatal weakness.”

“Not believing in marriage—is that his fatal weakness?”

“Not being able to believe in anything!—in marriage—in love—”

“Or in me,” said Phyllis sadly.

Felix was silent.

“Can any one—any one of Clive’s kind—believe in me?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said, avoiding her eyes.

“Are you sure?” she demanded, leaning across the table.

“Quite sure,” he said quietly, meeting her gaze.

She looked down. “There’s only one other man—of Clive’s kind—that I can
think of,” she said. “And he’s—out of my reach.”

“Then you must look around for some others,” Felix said, smiling.

“Are there others?” she asked incredulously.

“Of course. It’s only youth and ignorance that makes you imagine they
are scarce. You don’t find them by the dozens in little country towns,
of course; but you are in Chicago, now. They are a type familiar in all
great cities. How long have you been here? A few months! And because
you’ve only found two, so far—”

She sighed. “You think there may be a third?”

“Oh, yes.”

“And you think I’ll find him?”

“If you look.”

“And will he like _me_, do you think?”

“I shouldn’t be surprised if he did, rather!”

“Thank you!” she said mockingly. “It is awfully kind of you to say so!”

At this moment they noticed the man who was sitting across the room, the
elderly Scandinavian, rising and bowing in their direction. They looked
at him in surprise, and he came over to their table, and bowed again. He
was drunk, but none the less a gentleman.

“Pardon me,” he said, speaking quietly, in a voice which had only the
trace of an alien accent, “for the liberty I take in addressing you. But
I have been sitting there, seeing you—seeing your happiness—and it gave
me such pleasure that I wanted to tell you—to thank you. Yes, to thank
you!” He put his hand on his breast.

“I felt sure,” he said, smiling affectionately at them, “—I said to
myself, these two happy lovers will forgive a lonely old man for telling
them how much it has meant only to look on for a moment at their
happiness—their young happiness!”

He bowed again. “Pardon me,” he said, smiling, and again bowed, and went
out the door.

Felix and Phyllis stared after him, and then looked at each other, and
burst out laughing.

                                   5

But, interesting as such incidental discussions might be, the heart of
their fourfold relationship was in the mid-day discussions at the little
Hungarian restaurant. They named it the Rendezvous. There they talked of
everything in the world that interested them.... Two people talking
together tell secrets; three people talking are a conspiracy; but four
talkers are a world. They told the truth; they were hard in their
sincerity; and nobody flinched. They were proud of their robustness. The
theme of a tête-à-tête confession might at any moment be flung into the
stark publicity of that arena. They no longer had secrets; or, if they
had, it was because these were secrets of which they had not become
aware.

One day Clive said laughingly, “If anything ever happens to us, of the
sort that ‘can’t’ be discussed, we’ll come here, and discuss it in the
teeth of God and Nature!”

                                   6

They had planned a vacation together, but Phyllis and Clive had
quarrelled once more, and Felix and Rose-Ann set out disappointedly by
themselves on the appointed day, through Gary and beyond to “the Dunes.”
But, after a little having pitched their tent and wandered out over the
great wastes of sand by the Lake, they were conscious, both of them, of
a sense of release. In this wilderness of sandhills, they seemed to be a
million miles distant from all the world they had lived in.

“It’s good to be away from people,” said Rose-Ann.

“Even from Clive and Phyllis,” said Felix.

Rose-Ann’s lips pouted mutinously. “_Especially_ from Clive and
Phyllis!” she said.

“Yes....” Felix said hesitatingly. “But—why?”

“They’re family all over again,” said Rose-Ann. “I thought I had escaped
from families.... But one never does.”

They cooked and ate and slept and kissed and bathed in the lake, and lay
idly on the sand. They did not discuss anything all week long. And when
the end came, and it was time to begin the miles-long walk back to the
nearest street-car line, they stood looking back lingeringly at the
peace they were leaving behind.

“It would be nice to have a house here,” said Rose-Ann.

“Yes,...” said Felix.

“Only—the lake and the sand are sort of wasted, without children to
enjoy them.”

A burning flash of memory lighted Felix’s mind, and he saw himself and
Rose-Ann, the summer before, walking in a park under great trees that
lifted their shivering glooms to the sky.... “Everything is all right
now,” she had said—now that they were to have no child....

He felt, again, forces that he did not understand hurling themselves on
his heart, crushing and stunning it.... He looked at her, questioning
her with his eyes.

“I hope,” she was saying, “that Clive and Phyllis make up again—soon. We
_are_ rather dull without them, aren’t we?”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          XLVI. The Rehearsal

                                   1

COMING back to town, Felix forced himself to ask for another raise in
salary. It was less because he needed the money than because he wanted
to assure himself that he really was what he was supposed to be—a person
of some importance. He got his raise—one which made his pay now
commensurate with his position as dramatic critic of a great newspaper.

And the same week he received word that the Artists’ Theatre had
accepted his play, “The Dryad.” It was to be presented on the opening
bill, along with Schnitzler and Wedekind!

The acceptance of this play, taken in conjunction with such a realistic
fact as his raise in salary, seemed to mean something; he wanted to
believe that it did—but he was rather afraid to believe it. Instead, he
began to tell himself that in sober truth it meant nothing at all.

He went to see Gregory Storm, the director, and was urged to attend the
rehearsals. “At all events,” he said to himself, “I can look on and
learn something practical about the mechanics of the theatre.”

                                   2

Rose-Ann refused to accompany him to the rehearsal. “You are getting
into a terrible habit of having me on your mind whenever I’m around,”
she said. “I’ve noticed it when you write; I bother you. I’d rather stay
away. Besides, if I went, I should want to be in it myself!”

He went alone, reflecting that what Rose-Ann had said was true. If she
were in the room he was more selfconscious, by reason of being so
conscious of her. He must get over it....

He found the players assembled on their tiny stage, hardly larger than
the one in the children’s theatre at Community House. The house would
seat ninety-nine people only; one more seat, and the Artists’ Theatre
would have come within the theatre ordinance and been required to pay a
theatre-tax. Officially then, as a theatre, it did not exist. The
actors, Felix knew, received no pay; they were lawyers and doctors,
painters and poets, business men’s wives and ambitious young women just
out of school. The authors of the plays would receive no royalty; the
income from seat-sales would not cover the rent of the theatre itself,
and the deficit would have to be made up by enthusiasts.... In a manner
of speaking, it wasn’t a theatre at all—it was a dream.

As soon as he entered the theatre Felix felt its irresistible dream
quality. Upon the stage, walking up and down, was the slight, striking,
dramatic figure of Gregory Storm—the dreamer whose dream all this was,
the man who still, in the years of maturity, was trying to achieve a
childish, absurd and delightful impossibility. It was he who had named
this enterprise “The Artists’ Theatre”; no one else in Chicago would
have been so brave, or so foolish....

He turned, saw Felix, nodded at him, and clapped his hands. “Cast of
‘The Dryad’!” he cried.

Three men and a girl stood up. The others left the stage. Felix
clambered up over the place where the footlights would have been if
Gregory Storm had not passionately disbelieved in footlights.

Gregory Storm shook Felix’s hand hastily, and turned to the others.
“This is the author, Mr. Fay. Miss Macklin, Mr. Ferguson, Mr. Whipple,
Mr. Deedy.” Felix bowed. “We’ll have the scenery.” He clapped his hands
again. “Set for ‘The Dryad’!”

A man whom Felix recognized as an enterprising young architect appeared
at the back, struggling with a tall painted canvas frame.... As the set
was put together, Felix felt a genuine thrill of pleasure; it was so
completely, and so startlingly, in the spirit of his play. He had feared
that he would be given a realistic woodland setting—and that would have
shown up the utter artifice of his play. But this was a wood as some
artist of the Yellow Book in his gayest mood might have pictured it—a
wood that was, after all, a fashionable drawing-room or a perfumed
boudoir, set for the graceful and heartless loves of shepherds and
shepherdesses dressed in silks and satins.... The young architect
grinned at him. “Like it?” he whispered. “I did it myself. Pretty good,
I think!”

“We had a good deal of difficulty with that little song in your play,”
said Gregory Storm. “The one the fat man sings.” He smiled
appreciatively. “We set it to two or three old ballad tunes before we
got the right one. Would you mind, Mr. Deedy, trying it for us?”

Mr. Deedy, who was to take the part of the Banker in the play, stepped
forward and sang in a mournful voice:

                  “_Do you remember when first we met,
                   How, in that April weather,
                   Chasing a butterfly, we ran,
                   Over the hills together!_”

“Good!” said Gregory Storm. “Now the last stanza.”

                 “_But shall we then withhold our hands
                  And stay our foolish feet
                  When next illusion flutters by?
                  I wonder, O my sweet!_”

The effect was quite as droll as Felix had desired.

“Mr. Whipple,” said Gregory Storm, “is the Advertising Man. Mr. Deedy is
the Guide. And Miss Macklin, of course, is the Dryad. Are you ready?” He
clapped his hands again.

Miss Macklin stepped back into the wings; the three men lay down, in
attitudes of sleep, beside what was supposed to be a camp-fire in a
forest, and Felix’s play had begun.

Felix was looking at the girl in the wings. He had never taken the
performance of his play very seriously; he had never supposed that any
group of people would ever be able to enter into its spirit. He had
misjudged Gregory Storm. No fantasy was too quaint and absurd for him to
understand, it seemed: and moreover, he had conveyed to these men on the
stage his own zest in the fantasy—they really succeeded in transporting
one into this realm of pseudo-reality in which anything might happen....
And that girl: she was, of all persons in the world, the one to play
that part. She had an elvish look, the very air and gesture of one of
those soulless, ever-living creatures of the wood, who have in one form
or another haunted and tormented the imagination of masculine mankind.
There was something about the shape of her mouth, a delicate sharpness
of contour, which made it look inhuman, as though not made for mortal
kisses; and the way her forehead went up and back on each side in
strange receding planes to the roots of her tangled black hair—there was
foreignness, and remoteness, and mystery, in that face.... He took his
eyes from her.

These men were doing very well indeed. But what would an audience think?
That was a different matter.

He waited for the Dryad’s entrance. He wanted to hear her speak—she had
not as yet uttered a single word.... Yes, her voice was all that it
should be—low, deep, cool, clear, and as if from far away, beautiful and
emotionless, the voice of an elf.... And really, it was amusing, this
absurd discussion of morals that ensued, when the Dryad offered to
accompany these men to Chicago—the discussion of what their wives would
think, and her naïve questions, and their laboured explanations of
marriage, and morality, and clothes, all the civilized things which a
poor Dryad would find it so hard to understand and a Banker and an
Advertising Man so difficult to explain. And then the Guide, the very
Shavian Guide with a philosophy of his own—not a bad touch!

When Felix left the Artists’ Theatre that night, he had a feeling that
he had been away from the real world for a long time—like Rip Van Winkle
coming back from a brief stay in the Troll’s Garden to find his friends
all dead or grown old.... It was too deep an allurement. He must not go
to any more rehearsals. They could get along well enough without him.

“How did the rehearsal go?” Rose-Ann waked up to ask.

“Beautifully,” he said. “But the theatre is too much for me. I feel as
though if I went behind the scenes again I would never come back.”

“Would that be so terrible?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“But—I might go, too.... I’d like to play a part like your Dryad—if I
could.”

He remembered her suddenly as he had seen her among the children at the
Community House Theatre. Yes, she could play such a part. But ... he
didn’t want her to—for some reason which he could not understand. She
must stay here in the world of reality—and keep him here.

“They said something about a ball—to make some money for the theatre,”
he remarked. “I suppose we’ll have to go?”

“I’d like to go,” she said, and commenced planning their costumes with
enthusiasm.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                      XXLVII. The Fortunate Youth

                                   1

ON the occasion of the opening bill of the Artists’ Theatre, a young man
who had just joined the staff of the Chronicle was delegated to attend
and criticize the performance; what he said in praise or blame would not
matter either way.... The play came off very well, was generously
applauded, and there was an excited little supper afterward at which
Felix and Rose-Ann and Clive and Phyllis and the cast of “The Dryad”
drank a good deal of wine, and many compliments were bandied back and
forth. And that, Felix thought, was the end of the matter.

But it seemed not. Of course, the young man who criticized the play for
the Chronicle had to make a fool of himself and Felix by hailing him as
“our new Barrie”; but that did not do any real harm. Most of the critics
were sensible, and treated the event with casual indifference. But old
Jennison, the “dean of the fraternity,” had gone the second night, and
given the play a most astonishing commendation, well-calculated to turn
any young playwright’s head—besides remarking privately to Felix on the
street that he was wasting his time fooling with amateurs—why didn’t he
aim for Broadway, he had the stuff in him, and so forth.... And the bill
was going so well, on account, it was said, of Felix’s play, that the
original run of two weeks had been extended to three.

Success? So his friends called it lightly, and though he made an effort
to see it in its true perspective, Felix felt a glow of elation. Perhaps
he had really shown that he could do something!

In this frame of mind, on the final night of the bill, which had managed
to eke out a four weeks’ run, he went to another little supper party,
with Rose-Ann, Clive and Phyllis, and the players, and heard—with
somewhat less sense of being “guyed”—their extravagant praises....
Besides, he knew something that they did not know—not even, as yet,
Rose-Ann: an actor-manager-playwright from New York, who happened to be
in town, had seen “The Dryad,” liked it, and said that it could be made
into a successful three-act play—had, in fact, offered to collaborate
with him upon it! That sounded like the real thing. Perhaps these
praises were not the absurdities they seemed....

That evening Clive was in a difficult mood; he and Phyllis had been
tormenting each other of late to the point of exacerbation. Clive’s
ironies lacked tonight the quality, whatever it was, that made them
agreeable. He managed by some satirical remark to offend Miss Macklin,
to whom he had been paying special attentions. He commenced to drink
recklessly. Phyllis refused contemptuously to speak to him. And then
suddenly he disappeared.

Phyllis came home with Felix and Rose-Ann. At the studio they made
coffee, and talked about the ball and their costumes. At last Felix told
them about the actor-manager and his offer.

“Well,” Phyllis asked, “how does it feel to have everything you want?”

“It feels,” Felix said, “unreal—disturbing. It can’t be true. Do you
remember the story of Polycrates?”

“No,” said Phyllis.

“Herodotus tells about it—and I was thinking about it only today, and I
made up a little rhyme about it. I’ll tell you the story....”

                                   2

Phyllis, sitting on the floor, with her coffee beside her, was looking
up at him with eager eyes, eyes full of pride greater even than
Rose-Ann’s. Rose-Ann was a realist. She knew all this did not amount to
so much. This story was addressed to Phyllis. Rose-Ann, reclining on the
settle, seemed a little outside the circle of its intention, someone
accidentally looking on.

“He was a Persian king—very rich, very powerful, very happy. And there
came to visit him a Greek philosopher. The Persian king asked him, ‘What
is the use of philosophy?’ And the Greek philosopher answered. ‘It
serves to reconcile us to the unhappiness of our lot.’ ‘Then what use is
it to me?’ the king asked. ‘I am not unhappy. I am the happiest of
mortals.’ ‘Yes,’ said the philosopher, ‘you are too happy. You had
better beware!’ ‘Of What?’ asked the king. ‘Of the jealousy of the
gods,’ said the philosopher.

“That sounded reasonable enough to the king. He had nothing to fear from
men; but the gods—they might well be jealous of him. ‘What shall I do to
appease their wrath?’ he asked.

“Take the most precious thing you own, and throw it into the sea!” was
the advice of the philosopher.

“Now the king had a certain ring, which at the beginning of his reign he
had taken from the hand of a conquered monarch, and which he had always
cherished as the symbol of his victorious career. It seemed to him the
most precious of all his possessions, and so he went and threw it into
the sea.

“But the next evening as the king and the philosopher sat down to
dinner, the cook came running in with the ring, which he had that moment
found in the entrails of a fish which was going to be the king’s dinner.
The king took it with great satisfaction, saying, ‘The gods have given
me back my ring.’

“But the philosopher turned pale, and said, ‘The gods have rejected your
gift,’ and immediately went home, fearing to be in that kingdom when the
wrath of the gods descended upon it.

“And when he had returned to Greece, he heard that the king’s enemies
had descended upon the kingdom and overthrown it, and sacked the palace,
and carried away the king’s wives, and built a great pyre of the palace
furnishings and set the king on top of it on his golden throne, to be
burnt....

“The story ends happily after all, in Herodotus. But it was a narrow
squeak, and the gods only relented at the last minute, by softening the
hearts of his conquerors and sending a rain to put out the fire. But the
gods are capricious—and perhaps the next time they wouldn’t change their
minds.”

“And the rhyme you made up about it?” Phyllis asked.

“Well, it points the moral of the tale:

                  “_When there is nothing left to wish,
                   And Earth’s too much like Heaven,
                   Throw away some lovely gift
                   Of all the gods have given!_

                  “_Too happy, like that king of old
                   Who gave the sea his ring—
                   Find out if there’s in store for you
                   The fate of that old king!_”

Rose-Ann sat up and smiled at him. “But Felix,” she said, “you’ve got it
all wrong! You don’t understand the moral of that old fable at all!”

“No?”

“No!” said Rose-Ann. “The gods were angry at that old king because he
didn’t appreciate what they had done for him.... It was because he threw
away some of the loveliness that they had given him, that they punished
him. He was a coward—and the gods don’t like cowards!”

“No?” ... Felix was realizing now consciously what he had meant by the
story. Those evenings in his work-room, with the door open between him
and Phyllis, and Phyllis come in to sit on the floor beside him in some
interval of his work—intervals that grew longer and longer—all the
sweetness of that friendship, so much more than friendship that it was
almost like love ... it was this that he was going to throw away. He was
going to give up his room, and get another, or return to the studio to
work. It was this intention that he had unconsciously in mind when he
wrote—

                     “_Throw away some lovely gift
                      Of all the gods have given!_”

“No, Felix,” Rose-Ann was saying, “there’s no use being afraid of good
fortune. When the gods give us beauty, we must take it—not run away from
it.”

“So!...” he said. “I’m afraid the Greeks thought differently.”

“They were so much less Greek, then,” said Rose-Ann.

                                   3

“It’s late,” said Phyllis. “I must go home. Will you take me, Felix?”

He put on his hat and went out with her silently.

They walked along the empty streets without a word until they reached
the door of the house in which she lived. Then she lifted her face up to
him, and said,

“You know that I love you, Felix.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          XLVIII. Dream-Tryst

                                   1

THE foundations of Felix’s existence seemed to crack and fall apart, the
whole edifice of thought and emotion in which he lived to topple and
tumble in ruins.

“No,” he said slowly, “——I didn’t know.”

They turned, and walked down the street toward the corner, side by side.
At the corner they paused, and looked at each other helplessly.

“Yes, I do too know,” Felix said. “I must have always known.”

They stood looking at each other for a moment, and then turned back,
walking along the street in silence, past the door of the house, to the
corner, where they stopped again.

“I couldn’t stand it,” Phyllis said, “not to tell you. It hurt so—to
have to keep it a secret, as if it were something to be ashamed of. And
I thought—if there is anything in this modernism—this talk—if it really
means anything, if it isn’t all just a damned fake—I could tell you. I
wanted to. I had to, Felix.”

Yes ... of course. That was the meaning of it all....

“You aren’t angry at me, Felix, for telling you?”

No——he wasn’t angry. It seemed to him magnificent——the simplicity, the
bravery, the candour of that confession. She was to him in that moment a
person more quietly sure of herself, more nobly honest, than anything in
all this tangled insincerity of modern life——a creature out of some poem
of the world’s youth. Beside him, as she walked, her very person seemed
magnified—her soft brown hair, her dark quiet eyes, her serene mouth,
seemed the features of an epic heroine, who faced life strong-limbed,
clear-eyed and unafraid. She was the embodiment of that calm, serene,
strong girl-goddess who had been with him a recurring love-dream since
childhood. The beauty, the simplicity, of that confession of love
stirred him to the depths of his emotions.... And he realized that he
had something to confess in return—something that this honesty of hers
required of him. But they had turned again and walked back to the other
corner before he could say it. It came with difficulty, with an effort
that took all his courage, all his strength. And yet it must be said....

“I love you, too, Phyllis.”

She looked up at him, as if puzzled, startled, incredulous.

“I didn’t know it till just this moment—but it’s true.”

“But—why?” She put her hand as if defensively to her bosom, to ward off
a danger she had not apprehended.

“Why should you love _me_?”

He pondered. “I don’t know. Why do people love each other? I don’t
know.”

“_You love me!_” she repeated, as if it were a problem for which she
were seeking the answer.

“Yes,” Felix said soberly.

“But then—”

She did not finish her sentence, and they turned and walked again slowly
back to the other corner.

“That makes a difference,” she said. “I never thought of that. It was
all so simple before.”

“Are you sorry I—love you?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what to think. I don’t dare realize it. Of
course I’m glad—and sorry, too—and frightened. Oh, Felix, what shall we
do?”

She looked at him with grave, awed eyes.

“I—” Felix began, and stopped; and they resumed their walk, not touching
each other....

Felix had no sense of the street upon which he walked. He was detached
from everything, except the knowledge of what had happened—that little
cleared space of certainties, about which was a whirling chaos in which
all things fell confusedly into nothingness....

He realized that he had to adjust this thing that had happened, to all
the rest of his life, to Rose-Ann, to his marriage, to his career. The
sense of those things, even of Rose-Ann, came slowly; his mind was
reluctant to face them. He wanted to stay here, in this cleared space in
which one thing was beautifully true. But already that moment was
passing. With the sense of those other things, this that had happened
was no longer beautiful, but terrible—a burden, a problem....

He shook his head as if to free it from heaviness, the intolerable
weight of thought. But he _must_ think.... Was it true that he cared for
nothing but this moment of mad beauty? Rose-Ann, his marriage, his home,
his plans, his future—was it true that these things meant nothing to
him? Could he forget them all in an instant? Had a word, a phrase,
shattered the whole edifice of his life? Was all this elaborate
structure of plans and ambitions, this sober adjustment to the world of
solid reality, a bubble that vanished at a touch?

That was what he had been afraid of, that day in the hospital, when he
had tried to tell Rose-Ann about himself. He had wanted to tell her what
a fool he was. He had wanted to assure her that he would be such a fool
no longer. And he had not had the courage. She had taken him as he was.
She had exacted no promises.... Well, this was what he was like—this!

No—he must be sane. Just because this moment seemed the only thing in
the world worth holding to, just because he wanted to stay in this
dream-world, just because he cared about nothing else, he must fight his
way back to reality. He must not surrender. This was the test: whether
he could be a sane man, or must spend his whole life in the following of
disconnected impulses, a vagabond and a fool. He wanted to keep this
beauty: well, then, he must give it up.

They had stopped again, at the other corner. Phyllis regarded him
quietly with troubled eyes. “Rose-Ann....” she said.

“Yes. I know. Rose-Ann. And everything.”

“No. We can’t,” she said.

“No. We mustn’t.”

They looked at each other bravely, and a little pitifully, and
recommenced their silent promenade along the deserted street.

At the door, she stopped firmly, and held out her hand. “You must go,”
she said. “Good night. I’m—glad, in spite of everything. Good night.”

He held her hand in his, desperately anxious to keep this moment’s
beauty a little longer, before he returned to the world of reality.
“Will you—kiss me?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“Not even in good-bye?” he urged.

She laughed, with a sudden resumption of lightness. “A good-bye kiss?
There’s no such thing, Felix! A kiss is always the beginning of
things.—Good night!” She held his hand a moment, and added in the most
friendly way, as if they were almost strangers, “I shall see you at the
ball tomorrow night?”

                                   2

He turned away, glad that she had been so sane—and sorry. Angry at her,
for no reason. Happy that he was going home to Rose-Ann—to Rose-Ann,
lovely and real now in his mind—out of all this madness!

He commenced to whistle tunelessly....

And then, as if brought by the night-breeze, a breath of dream-nostalgia
overwhelmed him, making him dizzy and faint. He stopped, trembling all
over....

By God, he must get over this.... He must get back to reality.

And Rose-Ann must help him. He would tell her everything.... He opened
the door of the studio and cried out her name, like a frightened child
come back to its mother.

“Yes?” she called back. She was sitting up in bed, sewing spangles on
her costume for the ball tomorrow night.

He suddenly realized that everything was all right—that there was
nothing to tell.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                      XLIX. A Matter of Convention

                                   1

NO—nothing to tell!... They talked about the ball, and the costumes they
were to wear; and in the profound reassuring consciousness that life is
something that need only be lived, that need not be discussed and
understood, he fell asleep.

The next morning he was sorry he had not told Rose-Ann. But the moment
to tell had passed.... Life was going on as usual, ignoring these
private crises. Yes—he and Rose-Ann and Phyllis, just as if nothing had
happened, were going to the Artists’ Theatre Ball! Rose-Ann was going in
a Spanish dress with a wonderful shawl for which she had long awaited
the proper occasion, and Felix as a pirate, in green sash and orange
shirt.... They were going to dance—instead of, as would have seemed most
fitting to Felix, to discuss their destinies.

                                   2

It was precisely this mere matter of dancing that now incongruously
troubled him.

Felix was not a dancing man. And that would have been all right, if he
had not wanted to dance. But he did want to dance! Even at this moment,
with so much more important things to think about, it began to occupy
all his thoughts. He wanted to dance. It was annoying not to be able
to.... He had more than once gone through the excruciating agony of
trying to learn. He had, in fact, learned, so far as one can learn
anything against which there operates some mysterious inward paralysis.
He knew the steps as well as he knew the multiplication table. But just
as sometimes in school there had come upon him a fatal helpless
confusion in which he was unable to remember whether nine times seven
was eighty-one or sixty-four, so it was when he tried to put his
knowledge in practice in a ballroom. He reminded himself of nothing so
much as the hapless hero of that old joke, who said, “Yes, I can dance,
except that the music bothers me and the girl gets in my way!”

And he might have accepted his inability to dance as a fact, and let it
go at that—except that it wasn’t a fact! Somehow, heaven only knew how,
half a dozen times in his adult life he _had_ been able to dance—and not
badly. But what were the circumstances which magically operated to
liberate him from this mysterious paralysis, he did not know. He never
knew whether he was going to be able to dance or not. He always went
fearing the worst, and generally it happened. Rose-Ann could not
understand it, because once when there had been impromptu dancing to a
phonograph after a dinner party at some one’s home, he had danced with
her without the slightest awkwardness; but when, while dancing with her
a second time, she whispered to him to ask some of the other girls to
dance, he became embarrassed, and made protestations of his inability.
She knew that he _could_ dance, and she at first regarded his attitude
as a kind of stupid stubbornness. But no scoldings, nor any patient
gentleness for that matter, was able to change it.

Tonight Felix knew from the beginning that he was not going to be able
to dance. He sat in the box with Rose-Ann and Phyllis and Clive and
several of the players, utterly miserable. They had arrayed themselves
for the ball at the Artists’ Theatre, and that preliminary part of the
affair had been, as it always was, delightful. He wished one could dress
up to go to a ball, and then not go. The dressing, the showing off of
costumes, the banter, the laughter, the drinking of cocktails and black
coffee, all the preparations, had been good fun; but now commenced the
evening’s misery. Rose-Ann looked at him inquiringly as the orchestra
struck up a two-step, and he shook his head. No—he couldn’t do it
tonight. And so she stepped off in the arms of Clive. Phyllis—he had
never danced with Phyllis—was waiting, he thought, for him to ask her.
He doggedly leaned over the edge of the box and watched the dancers.
Why, he asked himself, had he come? He saw Phyllis a minute later,
dancing with a man in a pseudo-monkish costume, one of the actors. Elva
Macklin—had she taken that name Elva because she knew she was elvish, or
had the prevision of parents bestowed it upon her?—was dancing with
Gregory Storm. The box was vacated, except for Felix, who sat looking on
the scene with a jealous and angry eye.

A few pieces of coloured cloth, a bangle, some rouge, a military coat, a
shawl, a sash, a bit of lace, a strain of music, and these people were
transformed, one and all, out of their accustomed workaday mood, gone
happily into an atmosphere of fantasy such as with infinite labour was
created in the theatre. They were acting, all of them—not paying any
attention to what part any one else was acting, but content to be in an
environment in which their own play-impulses were released. They went as
in a dream—smiling, moved by the music as the leaves of a tree are moved
by the wind, surrendering themselves utterly to its influence. They were
not here, not here in this plush and gilt room, amid commonplace mortals
decorated with coloured cloth, but in some dreamland, some fairyland of
their own wishes. The person whom one held in one’s arms was not a real
person, in whom one was really interested, not a person to love or hate,
but a part of the dream. A wand had been waved over this assemblage,
commanding them to forget, to dream, to be free and happy and young. And
all of them, except himself only, had obeyed. Why could he not surrender
himself to this influence? Why must he remain, in spite of his sash and
coloured shirt, so obstinately and awkwardly and unhappily himself? Why
did not that music touch some secret spring in his soul, too, to make
him its creature, a leaf wind-blown on the tree of life? Why did his
eyes still see the persons underneath their costumes—the girls not as
dancing partners but as “personalities”? Personalities, indeed!—these
men and women had left their personalities gladly behind in the
cloakroom; they were free of them for the evening; tomorrow they would
go back to being lawyers and wives, clarks and poets and college
students; tonight they were—

Well, what were they? If one chose to think so, bodies, merely that,
bodies surrendering themselves to each other as shamelessly and frankly
as to the music which swayed them.... But no, he knew better than that:
they were—if ever, now, precisely now—immortal souls; this spectacle was
spirit triumphing over flesh and using it for its own beautiful uses,
the magic uses of a dream. These arms and bosoms and bodies were the
instruments of a poetry which these couples created in a magnificently
impersonal way—the poetry of beauty met with strength; it was not Dick
and Jane, it was essential man and woman, in love with some eternal
beauty in themselves and each other of which they were, as persons, the
fleeting and mortal agents.

But why the devil couldn’t _he_ feel that way? Each time that the girls
of his party returned to the box, flushed and laughing in an interim
between the dances, he felt their presence as a demand upon him, a
demand which it was disgraceful not to meet. Every glance of Rose-Ann’s
was a look, or so he interpreted it, of inquiry or reproach. She _knew_
he could dance; that was the worst of it. He could dance—with her—easily
enough; he would dance with her now, if there was no one else around
that they knew. But if he danced with her, he would have no excuse for
not dancing with the others—his last defence would be gone.... He fled
from the box in the direction of the bar, was pulled down into a chair
by Eddie Silver, who was buying drinks for a group of men and girls, and
asked what he would have. “Whiskey straight,” he said humbly. Why, after
all, should he despise this time-honoured refuge from the hardships of
life, from problems too complex to be solved and responsibilities too
great to be borne?

                                   3

He could not, it seemed, get drunk. The whiskey only made him think with
a preternatural clearness; and the more clearly he thought upon himself,
as a straggler here in the bar-room from the battle-field of life out
there on the dancing floor, the more he despised himself.... But he
seemed to be despising some one else named Felix Fay, from whom he felt
utterly detached and for whom he felt no responsibility. Funny Felix! In
a way he could understand the poor devil.... He had been brought up in a
puritanical way, and then had acquired a lot of romantic notions from
poetry-books; and in spite of all his fine intellectual theories he was
still just a romantic boy-prude, to whom the idea of taking a strange
girl in his arms and walking her around the room to music would
naturally be upsetting.... A funny boy, that Felix Fay! Why, he had been
thinking quite seriously of making love to another girl besides his
wife—and he would be quite equal to it, too ... after arguing it out
theoretically and finding that it was his sociological duty or something
of that sort!... He wanted things to be plain and straightforward, black
and white; either he was making love to a girl or he wasn’t—it was the
in-between things that confused and appalled him. To this Felix Fay
person it would be simple enough to defy the conventions; what he
couldn’t do was adjust himself to them like everybody else. He could
intellectually conceive, and if it came to that, undertake to carry into
practice, some preposterous theory of free-love that he had read about
in Havelock Ellis or Ellen Key; but he couldn’t dance with a girl he
liked! No, that was too difficult; it wasn’t a theory, and he hadn’t
read about it in a book.... If people _didn’t_ dance, and some one wrote
a book and proved that they ought to, Felix Fay would believe it, and
argue about it, and finally do it in a mood of stern conscientious
futuristic morality—if they killed him for it! But do something that
everybody else did—no. Not Felix. Somebody else would have kissed
Phyllis long ago, and said nothing about it. If somebody else had
thought of having a love-affair with Phyllis, the last person in the
world he would have thought of discussing it with would have been his
own wife. The world forgave people who kissed in corners, who had secret
love-affairs while pretending to believe—while actually believing—in the
ten commandments and the laws of the state of Illinois. If you accepted
what everybody believed, you could have the same freedom as everybody
else. It was only if you believed in freedom, really believed in it,
that you couldn’t have any. Why couldn’t Felix Fay understand that?...
Poor devil, he was going to get in trouble some time....

The being who thus in a state of utter detachment scornfully and sadly
criticized Felix Fay, floated back airily, or at least with no sense of
treading any actual floor with mortal feet, to the ballroom. Across the
room he saw some one coming toward him, smiling. It was Elva Macklin;
but it was not by that name, nor as the actress who had taken a part in
his play, that he identified her; it was rather as a childhood
playmate—a girl with whom he had once danced, long years ago, in a
garret. She was dressed as a dryad, disguised in a leafy covering, but
he recognized her well enough. It was clear to him that they had an
engagement to dance together—an engagement that had waited all these
years. The music struck up, he held out his arms, and she walked into
them without a word. They floated off across the room, into the maze of
dancers, threading their way among the others with that ease which comes
of senses quickened with music, pausing and turning, drawing upon the
floor an intricate pattern of movement born of fancy. The others in the
room did not exist for him, save as shadows, bright shadows cast by the
music. They were alone, in a dream, in a soft wordless dream; they did
not so much listen to the music as create it by their own movements.
They had left the world of reality, as if for ever, they were in some
realm of golden light, a land of fruits and flowers, a place of quiet,
triumphant happiness. This girl with him was no real girl, but a part of
the dream; he had always known her; she was the companion of many
wanderings through the lands of reverie; they understood each other too
well to need words; she was his dream comrade. Not a girl, not any one
that one must love or not love, fight for and work for, but a shadow
like himself in this place of bright shadows, in this peaceful and happy
realm beyond life and beyond death....

The music stopped, and he awoke with some astonishment to find that he,
Felix Fay, had been dancing. Elva Macklin smiled, gave his hand a
grateful pressure, and turned to the young man who came up asserting
that the next dance was his.

Suddenly alarmed, Felix turned to flee from the ballroom; but it was too
late. Phyllis had detached herself from her partner, and came over to
him. “Aren’t you going to dance with me?” she asked. The handclapping
died away as the musicians took up their instruments again. Phyllis
faced him confidently—a lovely and to him at this moment a terrifying
figure. All the sweetness of the love that might have been—that might
be—his, kindled for him in her grave eyes. Dance with her? No, he
couldn’t. But he must. Self-consciously, ashamed of himself, hating her,
he took her hand, put his arm about her, and listening intently to the
music, stepped off. But something was wrong; he could not get the
rhythm; he stopped. She had surrendered herself to his guidance utterly,
but now that that was at fault she began to try to guide him. That made
him angry; he paused once more, listened to the music, and said, “Oh,
confound it—it’s a waltz. I’m sorry—I can’t waltz.” She regretfully
walked back with him to the edge of the dancing floor, where he tried
desperately to think of something to say to her. It was shameful to be
thus at a loss. Did she despise him? She ought to.... Some one else came
along, and she danced off, leaving Felix furious and relieved. He went
back to the box.

Rose-Ann was there, resting from innumerable dances, talking with Clive.
“I see you’ve been dancing!” she said. “Yes,” he told her, “I don’t know
how it happened. Will you try the next one with me?” At least, if he
made a failure of it with Rose-Ann, she would forgive him.

“Yes,” she said. “Just this one more dance, and then we’ll go home.”

Because it was the last dance, because he need fear nothing more
tonight, and because he had secretly resolved never to subject himself
to this torment again, the demon in his mind that argued and discussed
and made him awkward and afraid, went to sleep. His last dance, his last
dance ever—and then ... back to a desk, where he belonged!

“Why!” said Rose-Ann, “you dance beautifully!” She said it in a puzzled
tone.

Felix was annoyed. He lost the rhythm and stepped on her foot.

“It’s my fault!” she said. But he knew it wasn’t. Why did he try to
dance when he couldn’t? Wouldn’t that music ever stop?

He wanted to tell Rose-Ann about—about Phyllis. She would understand.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          L. Babes in the Wood

                                   1

HE told her that night; they talked till dawn. She did understand; and
so, it seemed to him, did he—for the first time. Everything became
simple and clear again—a final proof, if the doubting mind required such
proof, that candour was a medicine for all the ills of love.

Things like this—emotional upsets—occurred in all marriages; the trouble
was that the disturbed emotions were left to fester in secret. Talking
with Rose-Ann had put the incident in its true light. Yes—of course he
and Phyllis loved each other; that was not strange. There was an element
of love in every friendship between man and woman; and that it should be
here in this friendship of his and Phyllis’s was right and natural. It
was not a thing to be afraid of, to run away from—it was something
rather to be glad about. It had been there between them all this while,
enriching their two lives, his and Phyllis’s, making their friendship
one full of tenderness and understanding; it had done them no harm,
certainly! Civilization meant the possibility of such friendships,
instead of a timid restricting of the emotions to a single person. The
world was full of men and women friends who were in this sense lovers;
only they did not usually confess it to each other. Sometimes they were
afraid to let each other know the truth; sometimes afraid to face the
truth themselves. But was there anything terrible in such a truth?
Phyllis and he had faced it, that was all. They had spoken out what was
usually left unspoken. And why should that change their lives?

It was the fault of Romance, that suave peddler of spiritual poisons;
and of Puritanism, that maniacal purveyor of chains and padlocks—it was
the fault of these two that the situation should ever for a moment have
seemed alarming. Over the scene, as he and Phyllis had stood together
telling each other a secret that any one else in the world could have
read at a glance, there had brooded these two antique and ridiculous
fantasms—Romance and Puritanism. Romance had whispered to them: “This is
a moment such as comes only once in a lifetime—a moment beautiful and
tragic! You were born for this! You cannot escape! You are Paris and
Helen, Antony and Cleopatra, Lancelot and Guenevere, Tristram and
Iseult! You are the hero and heroine of all myths, all dreams! Your love
is doomed and beautiful! Some death will run its sudden finger round
this spark and sever you from the rest.... Kiss now, and die!” And on
the other side that gibbering lunatic Puritanism had cried out: “No! no!
Put on these chains. Blindfold your eyes so that you cannot see beauty,
stop up your ears against all sweet voices! Tie your hands together lest
they touch what is not yours, and put a chain upon your feet lest they
stray from the accustomed path. Padlock your lips, lest they say what is
in your heart, and seal up your heart so that no tenderness, no generous
faith, no natural affection may escape! Be blind and deaf and dumb,
become as one dead, for only in this is safety!” And between these two
fantastic ghosts they had stood and trembled, finding it hard to
discover of themselves the obvious and simple thing to do, but reading
it at last in each other’s eyes—to go on being in love with each other
and behave exactly as before!

So it seemed to Felix as he lay and talked with Rose-Ann till dawn....
He felt that he was something of a simpleton, but that life itself was
easy enough to live if one could only learn to deal with it directly and
see it as it was.

                                   2

It was strange that after that beautiful discovery Felix should have
waked to a sense of dull unhappiness, of loss, of grief.... He tried to
conceal these feelings from Rose-Ann. It was as if he had not been
sincere in giving up the possibility of happiness with Phyllis—that
possibility which had seemed to exist so long as he left his secret
untold, but which he had killed with his confession. Was it so simple a
matter, after all? He sometimes suspected that he would be content with
nothing less than the impossible....

The first afternoon that he had not had to work at the office, an
afternoon when ordinarily he would have gone to his work-room, and met
Phyllis there when she came home from her work, and stopped writing to
talk with her—that afternoon he stayed in his studio. And he asked
himself—was it because he did not believe that things were as he and
Rose-Ann had told each other? Was it because he would feel conscious of
a chain of duty, and preferred to wear it, if at all, here at home? Yes,
what was the use of being hypocritical about the situation? Why pretend
that love was so docile, so manageable and good-natured, so tame a
beast? It was a creature of the jungle—or was it, really? Perhaps the
reason he did not trust himself with Phyllis was that he feared to
discover that they were merely good friends after all!

He stayed at home and was restless and discontented. If he could really
believe—his incorrigible utopianism demanded that—in his freedom, he
could be content. He loved Rose-Ann. But why this sham, this lie—that he
could love Phyllis, too, and no harm done? Of course he wanted
Phyllis—and was willing to give her up, if it were understood that that
was what he was doing. But it was intolerable, this pretence that he
could do as he pleased. Could he? Yes, suppose it had pleased him to
say—

Rose-Ann interrupted his thoughts, the fifth evening. She was sitting at
her desk, and Felix at his. Suddenly she rose.

“Felix,” she said. Her voice had a ring of painful resolution in it. He
turned, with a feeling of fear. She stood leaning back against her desk,
resting her hands on it.

“Felix! I have made up my mind.... Don’t talk, I want to say what I have
to say.... I’m not mistaken this time. I’ve seen you. You’re unhappy....
I know you don’t believe I meant what I said—that you could have your
freedom. But it’s true.... You love Phyllis. Don’t you?”

It was a challenge. This thing had to be settled now. Did he love
Phyllis? The devil only knew. But for the purposes of this damned
argument—

“Yes!” he said defiantly. “I do!”

His mind went back to the time when they had innocently rehearsed this
scene in farce.... Now it was happening in deadly earnest. Yes—in deadly
earnest.

“The thing I can’t stand,” he said, between clenched teeth, “is hearing
you say such things and not believing you mean them....”

“You can believe me, Felix.... I want you to be happy, more than
anything else in the world. I don’t care.... You’ve been wanting her all
week. Go to her.... And—don’t worry about me, Felix. Everything will
come out all right.”

They stared solemnly at each other, trying to realize what was
happening—bracing themselves to meet a moment which they had lightly
envisaged in theory, in discussion, but which in reality had an air of
terribleness about it. That conversation should have taken place against
a background of thunders and lightnings. It was as if with these words
they had pushed aside the dear, familiar walls of everyday reality, and
were face to face with naked, elemental forces—as if they were suddenly
alone and helpless in the midst of a huge, impersonal, indifferent and
awful universe.

                                   3

“Go to her,” Rose-Ann repeated softly; and with the feeling of one
strangely doomed, one who rested under the burden of a frightful duty
not to be flinched from, Felix went quietly out of the studio.

He could still see Rose-Ann’s eyes in his imagination: those eyes, not
tearful now, but grave and brooding, full of courage.... Yes, at last he
believed her.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                       LI. “Bienfaits de la Lune”

                                   1

ON the sidewalk, the branches and leaves of a tree made an enchanting
pattern of shadow—cast it seemed by the moonlight, though it was only by
the electric arc on the corner. But, as Felix looked up, he saw, past
that false light, the moon itself, above the low roofs. It seemed to
spring free from an encumbering wrack of grey clouds, and stay poised,
alone and splendid, in the blue depths of sky. Felix’s gaze went to that
far white beacon with a sense of return to his own world—and with a
sense of profound release in that return.... For there was a world
besides the world of daylit reality; a world not of work and wages, of
code and custom, of law and habit; another world besides that in which
men and women customarily dwelt—yes, there was this world lit by the
changing and ranging moon! Though people turned their backs upon it, and
hid within their houses, and sought to escape its disturbing influences,
it was there. It always had been there, it always would be there. It was
as real as the workaday world. And it was his world. He had tried to
renounce it, to shut it out, to flee from its magic. He had tried to
believe that there was nothing in life except that routine of daily
reality in which he was immersed. A world of debts, and promises to pay;
a world of roofs, owned and dwelt under and ever returned to. There was
something close and cloying about that world; something of the fetid
odour of toil hung about its very pleasures. It was slavery; its
laughter and kisses were the gilt upon the chains. Believing in that
slavery, men had built the four walls of the world, stone upon stone.
And yet, outside, was freedom....

Felix became aware of himself, standing bareheaded a few steps from the
door of his studio, gazing at the moon. He was aware of the absurdity of
that moment of moonstruck vision. He remembered the errand he was upon,
and how weighted with tragedy it had seemed a minute since. He realized
the symbolic character of his departure from the studio. Yes—symbolic!
For he knew now that he did not care two pins for Phyllis—as a person.
What Rose-Ann had said of him was utterly true. He did not care for
persons—not even for Rose-Ann. He lived in a world of ideas. And because
he had found the idea of Rose-Ann as his jailor intolerable, he had
taken her at her word, accepted his liberation, gone out of the door.
But not—he smiled at the foolish thought—not into another captivity, not
into the warm, constraining, anxious arms of Phyllis, or any other!
No—he was free now of the idea of that tyranny; and Rose-Ann was free of
it. With her gesture motioning him to go, she had broken the intolerable
chain that had irked their lives. Free now, his own master, drawing his
breath without permission from any other living being, once more able to
call his soul his own, he could enjoy at last the companionship, in a
common love of beauty, of the one being on earth who loved beauty as he
loved it—and who understood freedom and the need of freedom better,
indeed, than he had ever understood it! She had never lied to herself or
to him. From the first she had disdained to accept the promises which he
had been so eager to make. She was a true child of the moon, blessed
with its gifts, no staid denizen of the sober realm of day, but fleet of
soul and changeable and free like her immortal mother and mistress!

No—he realized it now—no mere woman could hold his love; it had been
folly to hope and pretend so; not Rose-Ann, not Phyllis, not any woman.
But one who could be more and less than woman, who did not, as mortal
women do, want to own and be owned; who possessed herself with a divine
aloofness, who had her own orbit that nothing could deflect—in her he
could find a companionship deeper than any mortal love.

Even to himself, as he conned over these thoughts, standing bareheaded
on the sidewalk, with a mind confused as by the splendour of a
revelation, they seemed wanting in final definite clearness. He was
happy in a profound discovery, which he sought to put into words to
carry back to Rose-Ann. Not that she did not know already; for had she
not forced this discovery upon him? She had known all along! And when he
returned, there would be no words needed. But still he must seek for the
words.... But any way he tried to put it to himself sounded so damned
mystical, like some cryptic sentence of William Blake’s. And it was all
so obvious! _They were free._ Yet that meant nothing. Foolish people
like Clive Bangs were always talking about “freedom.” They were free,
one might put it that way, free _not_ to love each other! A blessed
freedom.... One might love any woman. But here was something greater
than love. To know that there was something in themselves still
uncaptured, ever unattainable—something which could not be yielded, by
whose inviolable having they moved secure and serene among a world of
emotional bond-slaves, like the moon among the shattered vainly-grasping
clouds! More beautiful in her than any bodily beauty was that ultimate
self-possession, that unshaken and unshakeable identity, of which that
gesture of hers, pointing him to the door, had been the symbol. Not
because they needed each other, not because they were so poor in spirit
that each must lean upon the other—no, not in poverty of soul, but in a
sublime indifference, their love had its origin. Because they did not
need each other, because they could do without each other, this was
added unto them, this happiness of being together. Felix saw himself and
Rose-Ann like mountain-climbers, high on some chill peak above a coward,
sleepy world that dozed and battened beneath its coverlets. Or like two
eagles, circling in the austere upper air. Theirs should be no common
happiness....

He turned to re-enter the studio.

                                   2

The door was locked, and he had to use his key. He did so only
half-consciously, and blinked at the blaze of light inside. It was a few
seconds before he saw.

On the settle, and strewn over chairs, and on the floor, lay half of
Rose-Ann’s wardrobe; and Rose-Ann herself, with her face hidden in her
arms, was seated ridiculously in an open suitcase on the floor, from
which the ends of stockings strayed out—seated there, with her arms on
her knees, rocking back and forth, and crying, with a low, choked
sobbing—rocking back and forth, back and forth, in the suitcase, like a
child in a cradle, crying....

She had been packing up. To go. And she was crying. He stared at her,
and the vision he had had outside of their splendid happiness was
obliterated by the wash of a vast wave of bitterness.

She looked up, her face distorted, made ugly with a choked sob, stained
with tears. She tried to speak. He stared at her. He was beginning to
pity her.... But he must not pity her. If he did, he would despise her.
He did not dare see her, so soon after this mad nonsense under the moon,
as little, weak, lonely, afraid. He tried not to see her at all—and she
seemed to recede from him, to grow dim and faint and remote.

“Go away!” she cried, and turned her face from him, still stooped in
that ridiculous, infantile, pitiful posture.

He did not pity her now. He stood dazed as from a blow, dazed with the
terrific shock of the impact of reality upon his dream. He tried to
rouse himself, to see, to feel. But everything was misty and unreal to
him. He spoke to her, as though across a vast space, dully.

“So you didn’t mean it?”

She sprang up.

“Why are you here? Didn’t you go? Aren’t you going? Are you trying to
torture me?”

She advanced upon him with eyes that blazed, hair wild, and hands that
had transformed themselves into claws ready to scratch and tear him. He
saw all this as if it were a picture—a picture irrelevant to the text.
He made a little gesture as if to turn the leaf.

“So you didn’t mean it,” he said again.

She stopped, close to him; looked at him searchingly. “Where have you
been?” she asked uncertainly.

He laughed mirthlessly. “Outside the door—looking at the moon.”

“I thought—” she said.

“No,” he said, quietly, sadly. All this ought to matter greatly. But
somehow it didn’t matter at all.

“But—” she said.

They looked at each other.

“So you didn’t mean it,” he said once more, like a refrain.

Her demeanour changed suddenly. She looked at the clothes on the chairs
and on the floor, and went over and stood beside the open suitcase.

“I don’t know what I meant,” she said wearily. “I couldn’t stand it. I
was going home.” She gave the suitcase a little kick, and came back to
Felix. “But I don’t understand you!” she said. “What are you going to
do?”

“Nothing,” he said indifferently.

“Felix!” she said desperately. “What has happened? Where are we? Do we
love each other? I don’t understand anything any more. Tell me! Help
me!”

“I don’t know,” he said slowly.

“Oh!” she said savagely. “You don’t know! Why do you stand there and
look at me like that? Are you dead, or am I?”

“I don’t know.”

She took hold of his shoulders fiercely, to shake him, and then dropped
her hands. “Are you angry at me?” she asked. “Why?”

“No,” he said. “I’m not angry. I just—don’t seem to care.”

“I know I’m a fool!” she said. “And—Felix, I did mean it. I thought I
did. But—it was too terrible.... After all, I’m human, Felix.”

“Yes—I see you are.”

“And you’re not. No—you’re not human. You’re a monster.... I—hate you!
Not because of Phyllis—no; you don’t love her, either. You don’t love
anybody. You stand there—can’t you understand, can’t you say something,
can’t you pity me a little? Felix!”

He saw, he heard, across an infinite gulf. He would have liked to stir,
to speak. But he was encased in an icy armour. Nothing of this touched
him.

She sat down on a chair, spilling its burden of clothing to the floor.
“How long,” she asked between clenched teeth, “is this going to go on?”

He did not answer.

“Because,” she said, “I can’t bear it. It’s—it’s worse than the other. I
could have borne that, I think—now. I was really sorry for you, Felix.
But you aren’t sorry for me. I know—I pretended to be a superwoman; and
I’m not. But can’t you forgive me? Can’t you allow me my—my feelings?...
No—you haven’t got any feelings.... Well—I can’t stand this. I can’t
stand it. I—”

His mind came back reluctantly to the scene. He sat down.

“I’m very tired,” he said. “Can’t we stop talking about it?”

She brushed her hand bewilderedly across her forehead. “Why is it?” she
said. “I’m being made to feel like a criminal? Have I done anything?”

He spoke with an effort. “No,” he said. “Everything is all right—I
think. I’m sorry I’m behaving this way. Forgive me if you can. I can’t
help it.”

“Forgive you? For what?”

“For—for thinking you meant it. I should have known.”

She sprang up. “I can’t stay here,” she said. “I must go somewhere to
think things out. I can’t stay here and have you say that to me, over
and over.... Felix, I’m going away somewhere for a while. I’ll come
back, I suppose. But—you see I must go, don’t you?”

“No. But it’s all right.”

He watched her pack her suitcase, still in the strange half-trance which
made him unable to stir. It was as if he were drunk or hypnotized. He
could see that she was going; he knew that he ought to stop her. But it
did not seem to matter.... Only when she was dressed for the journey,
and standing before him to say good-bye, did the numbness begin to
vanish. He was ashamed of himself—ashamed and frightened. He felt that
he had been under the influence of a kind of insanity—for surely that
was the very essence of insanity, to be utterly indifferent to all the
events of the outside world! She did not know, even though she had seen,
how remote from her he had been—how dead to her, how dead to all
reality....

In the sudden uprush of consciousness, as the spell broke, he took her
in his arms, and kissed her and clung to her. “Don’t go!” he cried.
“Don’t go!” He vaguely remembered having told himself that they were
different from other people—different, in that they could do without
each other. What folly! He had thought himself strong, self-sufficient.
He was the weakest, loneliest, most helpless person in the world. “Don’t
go, Rose-Ann!”

But she was hard now, though his pleading moved her. She kissed him
wildly. “I will come back,” she said. “I think I shall. But I must be by
myself. I must.” And she tore herself from his arms, and left the
studio.

He flung himself on the floor and cried, like a broken-hearted child.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         LII. Sleepless Nights

                                   1

IT was preposterous that one should go to an office the next day after a
night like that—to an office, and write a foolish editorial, and smile,
and talk to people, as if nothing had happened. But it was better that
way; one actually forgot for minutes at a time what had happened, till
it came back with a bewildering influx of memory. There was also a play
which one could go to, even though it seemed strange to be by oneself,
sitting beside an empty seat. One could pay attention to the play, could
even think of things to say about it, could write those things
coherently on paper, could go out and mail them in the box on the
corner, just as usual.

There was only one flaw in the usualness of all this. It was not usual
for Felix Fay to write so solemnly about a new play. It was his habit to
treat serious plays lightly, and light plays seriously; but it was a
departure from his manner to be actually grave about anything. This play
happened to be about a man who, after a lifetime of self-deluded
egotism, had suddenly found out by accident what sort of person he
actually was. Here was material for Felix’s customary light irony; why
should he write upon the theme so solemnly—“that day when one walks upon
a reeling earth under an insane sky”—as if it were Judgment Day he was
talking about, and he himself had been there!

He had explained—or not explained—Rose-Ann’s absence in a phrase. “She’s
gone off somewhere—I don’t know just where.”

It was the calm, indifferent tone of this remark that carried the
impression of everything being quite all right. It carried, indeed, the
conviction, redoubled and renewed, of this being a remarkable, a
wonderful, an exemplary marriage. These people really lived up to their
modernist theories! Rose-Ann had wanted to go off somewhere, and she had
not bothered to tell Felix where she was going, nor he to inquire! That,
truly, was freedom!

                                   2

To Phyllis, indeed, the notion occurred—only to be devoutly disbelieved,
repudiated and forgotten—that Rose-Ann’s absence was a consequence of
her own talk with Felix the other night. But Felix’s imperturbable
demeanour, when she met him and Clive at lunch, his air of being
somewhat preoccupied with a literary problem, the complete absence of
any anxiety in his face, reassured her. She had been happy in telling
Felix the truth—or what seemed to emerge from her tangled emotions as
the truth. She had wished to believe that this was possible; and she had
dared herself to prove it possible. She had told him, in defiance of all
convention, that she loved him! There was a splendour in it for which
her doubting mind ached, as a parched throat for an appeasing drink.
That he should tell her that he loved her in return was bewildering and
troubling; and if it was news that she secretly desired to hear, had
secretly hoped to elicit, she would not let herself realize it. For a
moment _her_ universe had been shaken; but for a moment only. Things had
righted themselves, after an intoxicating earthquake-tremour, in which
all sorts of possibilities, vast and terrible and sweet, had presented
themselves. For a moment she had felt for Felix a new emotion, one of
pity mixed with tenderness; almost, her ideal of him had crumbled, when
he said that he loved her in return. For it was as Rose-Ann’s husband
that she loved him—as the partner of an ideal marriage. For a dismayed
second she had thought he was going to tell her that he no longer loved
Rose-Ann; but it wasn’t so. Things were as they should be.... Except
that he shouldn’t have wanted to kiss her. She disdained him for that
weakness. She had been meaning to ask for that kiss herself! As a gift,
a concession from his strength to her weakness—yes; but not as something
he wanted....

But, as she remembered the event, she forgave him even that, for it
seemed to her that he had been sorry for her. That was why he had wanted
to kiss her; and if she had realized that, she would have let him.... As
she re-enacted the scene in memory, it seemed to her that he had been
magnificently untouched by it all. She saw herself, discontented,
unhappy, making her confession of love; and he, listening quietly, as
one who had the right to be loved.... So it should be—so she had thought
of him. And he had said that he loved her too: he had not been afraid
that she would misunderstand him. She flushed at the thought that she
almost had misunderstood.... But, no—everything had gone beautifully.

And Rose-Ann—he had of course told Rose-Ann—what did she think of it?
Rose-Ann would not begrudge her this confession, this moment of beauty.
Rose-Ann had gone away. Why? Perhaps her plans had jibed with the
generous desire to let these two, Felix and Phyllis, be more together.
Perhaps it was her way of showing that it was all right....

Underneath all these rationalizations there was, deep in Phyllis’s mind,
a panic fear which she would not recognize—a fear which was also a
desire. If she could have thought of Felix as her lover without
despising him, she would have yielded to that thought. But it was only
as some one already too happy to need her love, that she could love him.
If she could have thought that she was capable of harming his happiness,
he would have ceased to be admirable in her eyes. If it were possible to
have him for a lover, he would be like anybody else.... No, she must
believe in the miraculous perfection of Felix’s marriage in order to go
on being in love with him....

                                   3

It seemed incredible to Felix that one mad moment could have done all
this. For one moment only he had surrendered to an insane illusion; and
the results had been profound and incalculable. All this time, for two
years, ever since the day in Port Royal when he had burnt his crazy
novel, he had been struggling unceasingly with his own folly. No one had
understood that struggle, no one had helped him. Rose-Ann had not
understood. She had sought in every way to encourage him in what was, in
the end, sheer madness. Only by keeping his feet upon the earth, only by
continually distrusting himself, by trying to find what was most
difficult to do, and doing that—subjecting himself to the discipline of
reality—only so could he save himself. Step by step he had deserted that
firm ground, and gone into the world of dreams—where, he knew now, he
could not live except alone. He did not want to be alone. He wanted the
world of dear, familiar realities—he wanted Rose-Ann. He wanted
Rose-Ann.

                                   4

And, meanwhile, where was she? At her father’s home, probably. Should he
write to her there? No—a stubborn pride surged up in him, forbidding him
to write. She must come back.

Was it true, then, that he did not love her? Surely, if he loved her, he
would ask her to return!

But he could not.

She must be there, at home. There was nothing to worry about.... And
yet, by day and night, disturbing fantasies arose in his mind, of all
the accidents that might have happened to her—gruesome fantasies, that
unwound themselves in his mind. He would awake from one of these
imaginings with a sense of guilt, as though he had actually been
gloating over the picture. He tried to think her safe. But his
imagination would present—yes, her very death before his eyes. It was
horrible, like a recurring nightmare.

A week passed, and she did not return. He worried about her, night and
day; and yet he could not force himself to write the few lines that
might bring her back to his side. Perhaps she only wanted to be
reassured. Perhaps she was waiting for that summons.... Well, she must
come back without it.

As a practical matter, it became more and more difficult to carry on the
pose that everything was all right. His secret burden became almost
intolerable. He wanted to tell some one. But who could understand? Not
Clive, not Phyllis....

He stayed in the studio every moment when he was not in the office, for
fear she would return and not find him there. He must be there when she
came back.

It never occurred to him that she might not come back.

The issue in his own mind was clear—he had gone over it a thousand
times; at night he rehearsed it to himself sleeplessly, hour after hour.
_He had made a fool of himself. But it had been her fault._

Yes, her fault. That was why he could not write. He would have to write
humbly, if he wrote at all; and he was in no humble mood. His
loneliness, his need of her, only exasperated his sense of the injury
she had done him.... She had urged him on to folly—that was hard enough
to forgive—and then she had turned and fled from a situation which she
herself had created.... All this could be discussed and understood
between them; but first she must come back. That surrender was
essential.

It was hard to stick it out this way, in lonely, sleepless waiting. But
she knew—it was her own fault; her return would be an admission of that.
_Then_ he could say how ashamed he was of himself. But first....

He must wait—till she came back.

Who had talked of “freedom”? Who had refused to face the facts of
marriage? Who had engineered, planned, touched the match to this
explosion? She knew well enough! He need not say these things to her,
ever. She would confess them by her return. That would be enough.

She was stubborn—but he was still more stubborn. He could wait.

She would come back—and then....

They would start all over again—sensibly.

                                   5

Rose-Ann, meanwhile, as her husband supposed, was at her father’s home
in Springfield. If her presence there excited any curiosity, she was
scarcely aware of it. She was not concerned with anything but the
problem of herself and Felix....

She was not, however, as he sometimes imagined, waiting for a letter
from him to make easy her return home. She was, as she had told him,
trying to “think things out.”

She had gone away with that sentence of his ringing in her mind: “_So
you didn’t mean it after all!_”

She had not slept that night, on the train; nor very much since that
time. She was too busy trying to think things out; and the chief thing
to think out was: _had_ she meant it when she offered Felix his freedom?

No, obviously enough! And yet her pride revolted from that fact. Had she
been a liar, a hypocrite, all this while? Had she only pretended? It was
too shameful....

She really had meant it. She had been in earnest. She had understood
what she was saying. She _had_ thought she could do it....

Was she too weak, then? Oh, no! It was a mere momentary weakness, a
spiritual infirmity that she had not expected, but that she could have
conquered. If only Felix had not come in just then! What a fool she must
have seemed! What a liar!

But why couldn’t he have understood? She was a woman, after all.

No! he had been quite right to disdain her. After all she had said to
him, to sit there on the floor, blubbering.... She blushed with infinite
shame.

That was the trouble.... She had not had time to adjust herself to the
situation. It had been a moment of madness when she suddenly commenced
packing to go home. She had not known what she was doing.... An hour
later, she would have been calm again, herself, assured, smiling. He
need never have known....

But—if she really meant it—then she must prove it.

Well?

In among these reasoned arguments that pursued each other in an endless
weary circle in her mind, floated irrelevant memories—the pressure of
Felix’s arm about her shoulders that afternoon on the train going out to
Woods Point to be married—a fragment of that wild letter he had written
her from Canal Street, about the girl in Iowa—the look in his eyes as he
had seen her among the children at the Community Theatre.... and still
more irrelevant memories—the complaining tones of her mother, saying
cruel and unjust things about her father, things not meant for a child’s
ears, years ago—and her father’s face, with its wise, mocking,
incredulous, ironic smile, cutting her to the heart....

Well?

If she went back, if she proved that she meant what she had said—things
would have to be different. They had been too close. They had been like
other married people. That was his fault. Yes, it was his fault, after
all, that she had not been able to carry out her promises. He had made
it too hard for her.... They never should have lived together under the
same roof. They never should have become legally married in the first
place....

They would have to live apart, in separate studios. They must not
pretend to be man and wife. She would be—yes, that was the word which
made their relationship clear—his mistress. It was a good word, making
no pretences. His mistress—yes, she could be that. If she loved him
enough....

What? Did she love him enough only to be his wife? Not enough to give
him his freedom?

Her father’s face, with its mocking, incredulous, ironic smile, came
into her mind, blurring her thoughts, rousing her to a queer anger
against herself.

No. Or yes?...

Well, then?


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           LIII. Two Letters

                                   1

ON the tenth day of Felix’s stubborn waiting, a letter came from
Rose-Ann. It was at the studio when he returned there early in the
afternoon, lying on the floor where the postman had stuck it under the
door.

He picked it up, and sat down at his desk. At the very sight of it, of
her large undisciplined handwriting on the square envelope, her presence
seemed suddenly to fill the room, like a perfume of flowers—seemed to
touch and envelope and caress him. He breathed deeply, and the
constraint that had held him tense, that had held him rigid all these
days and nights, flowed from him. It was as if she had returned
herself—and all at once all that had passed was like a nightmare,
terrible and queer, but already vanishing into oblivion with the
daylight.

He could feel her presence, hear her voice, sweet and familiar; she was
as if beside him in the room. All that their marriage had been flooded
his mind, memories of peace and happiness and lovely companionship.

Nothing—nothing could break that bond. She knew it as well as he. As if
a mere moment could hurt that lifetime of theirs together!

He tore open the letter.

_Dear Felix Fay_—

That was the way it began....

    _Dear Felix Fay—What has happened of course makes it necessary
    for us to make a decision—a decision which I cannot make alone.
    We have many things in common—tastes, ideas, a love of
    beauty—and it seems that it would be a pity if we were to lose
    the opportunity for companionship altogether. We cannot, of
    course, go on as before—I mean living together so intimately. I
    can find another studio, perhaps near yours.—But I do not know
    if I am making myself clear. It may sound as if I were proposing
    to break off our relationship altogether. I have considered
    that, too; but that is, after all, in your hands. What I am
    suggesting is that each of us retain our freedom, and live in
    such a way that we can use that freedom without hurting each
    other’s feelings—but not pretending to be married any more. Only
    the situation must be quite clear to both of us. Please tell me
    whether you agree definitely to these terms. If so, I think
    everything can be arranged in detail so that we both will be
    happy._

                                                         _Rose-Ann._

                                   2

Felix’s first feeling, oddly enough, when he read this letter, was a
sense of Rose-Ann’s disloyalty to their studio—the studio which they had
made together.... His imagination, stunned and shocked, clung bitterly
to this one point, as if that were the crux of the matter.... That she
should not want to live in this studio, this studio whose walls she had
kalsomined, whose very floor she had painted! Why, every part of it
spelled her! As if he could take her studio, and let her go and live in
another! If there was any moving to be done, he would do it. He would
get another place. She could live here—she must live here.... He would
take a few books—no, he would take nothing. It was all hers....

Some obliquity of the imagination helped him, like a drug,
anaesthetizing his emotions, during the first few minutes after reading
that letter. His mind was actually busy with the practical details of
taking up a new residence, as if that were all that mattered.

And then his mind began to feel the pain of what had happened, slowly,
increasingly, terrifically.... She had repudiated their marriage.

He felt knocked down, trampled, stamped upon, hurt all over.

So _this_ was what she had been thinking of! Not of coming home to
him—but of living apart from him.

He read the letter again, with a rising anger that mingled with his
pain. What was it she said? “_We have many things in common—tastes,
ideas, a love of beauty._”—“_Pity if we were to lose the opportunity for
companionship altogether_”—“_Not pretending to be married any more._” So
it meant nothing to her, then, this marriage? She could end it so
easily? And companionship, mere companionship—that did mean something to
her? That was what she wanted to keep! “_Everything can be arranged in
detail so that we both will be happy._”

What could he reply to a letter like that? What could he say to a girl
who told him that her happiness lay in their not being married any
more? “_Everything could be arranged in detail._” What detail? Where
she was going to live? What did that matter to him? Why should she
think that she had to live near him? She need not be so kind. If their
marriage meant nothing to her, he could give her up altogether.
“_Companionship._” The dead body of their love for consolation? No,
she need not have offered him that.... She might have spared that
touch.

“_Whether you agree definitely to these terms._” How could she think he
would want anything like that? Had she only written that to torture him?
She did not insist on breaking off the relationship “altogether.” He
stared at the words. Was that what she thought of him? That he would be
happy—that was her word—happy ... if—

Verses from a poem, bitter verses, came into his mind:

              “_A kiss is but a kiss now! and no wave
               Of a great flood that whirls us to the sea.
               But as you will! we’ll sit contentedly
               And eat our pot of honey on the grave._”

He laid his head on his arms, bent over the table, shivering with a fit
of cold anger and disgust. Then he roused himself, and wrote quickly an
answer to Rose-Ann’s letter.

It was only a few lines. He read them over, sealed the envelope, and
went out to mail it in the box on the corner ... where he had gone so
often to mail his criticism, so that he could return and talk the night
through at Rose-Ann’s side.

                                   3

Rose-Ann had composed her letter with difficulty. At the last moment,
interfering with a perfectly clear statement of the case to him, had
come a distaste for proposing herself as any man’s mistress—even her
husband’s.... She must put it in such a way that he would understand her
willingness. He would understand, too, why she had failed before. It was
her apologia.... And if they lived apart, and—didn’t want to have other
love-affairs, then they would both be sure that it wasn’t her fault.
Doubtless she had been rather silly about it. He hadn’t really been in
love with Phyllis....

It would be possible to go back to him, now. By that letter she had
exorcised that ghastly cry that had kept ringing in her ears, night and
day—“_You didn’t mean it after all!_” She could sleep, now.

She slept.... But why didn’t his answer come? The mails were uncertain.
His letter might be in the post-office now. It would be delivered
tomorrow morning.

She packed for her return journey, and slept again, peacefully.

His letter came, and her father presented it to her with his wise smile.
She took it to her room and tore it open.

    _Rose-Ann, I think it had better be all over for good. I want
    you to have the studio. I will go somewhere else._

                                                            _Felix._

                                   4

Incredulous, with that letter burning her flesh, tearing and rasping at
her heart where she had thrust it into the bosom of her dress, she made
the journey to Chicago.

“_All over ... all over ... all over...._” She could not understand it.

Felix was not in the studio. She called him up at the office. He was not
there.

Was he with Phyllis?

She waited. Three days.

“Well,” she said aloud to the empty studio. “It’s true. It is all over.”

She went back to the Motion Picture World, gave some explanation of her
absence, and started in making up the magazine.

“You know,” said Bodger, the editor, “we’re considering moving out to
California in the course of the next few months. Los Angeles. Might as
well be on the spot.... I don’t suppose you’d consider coming along with
us?”

“Oh, I might!” said Rose-Ann.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                     LIV. The God and the Pedestal

                                   1

FOR some hours after sending his reply to Rose-Ann, Felix kept his mind
steeled against any realization of its consequences. He was in a
peculiar state of righteousness—like one who has struck a fatal blow and
keeps insisting that he has been struck first. To him, his letter to
Rose-Ann appeared but the reflex of her own—and she, as it were, the
author of both letters. Yes, the crime was hers!

But just what this crime was, he still managed to keep from
realizing—even when, after mailing his letter and sitting for an hour in
a kind of stupour at his desk, he rose, took a book from the shelf, and
went away to find a room. The book was “The Bab Ballads.”

He took the Illinois Central in, and a north side elevated train out
again, as though seeking to be as far as possible from the studio.
He got off, at a venture, at Wilson Avenue, and within an hour found
a small apartment of two rooms and bath, furnished “for
light-housekeeping,” situated over a coffee-and-tea store, three
flights up. It had a fairly large sitting room at the front. He
noticed a small book case filled with sets of “The Ivanhoe Novels”
and “The Complete Works of Bulwer-Lytton.” Felix told the fat
middle-aged woman from the store who showed it to him that he would
want the bookcase for books of his own, but not immediately; he
remarked that he would probably buy some of her coffee in the
morning to make his breakfast on; and assured her that he would not
set the hot cup on the bare table-top, which she said was real
mahogany and had been left her by a deceased roomer whom she had
looked after when he was sick. When she had gone, leaving him the
keys, Felix put the Bab Ballads in between the Waverly Novels and
the Complete Works of Bulwer-Lytton, and sat down in an old
plush-upholstered chair, to make himself at home.

In a few minutes there was a knock—it was the fat woman from the store,
who had brought him up a pound of her best coffee.

“Not that I want to bother you,” she said. “You needn’t be afraid I’ll
be knocking at your door and keeping watch of your comings and
goings—live and let live, is what I say. But I knew from the way you
spoke of coffee that you really liked it, and I just thought I’d bring
you some for your breakfast. A man that makes his own coffee knows what
coffee is—isn’t that so!”

He thanked her, and sat down to look out of the window. The interest of
the room itself had been exhausted; it was empty equally of memories and
of hopes; it was just so many dismal square feet of space. He had
uprooted himself from the place in which he had lived for months that
were like years, and years that were like lifetimes; he had lived in
that studio—really lived in it; he was living there now, in his
thoughts; it would take longer to uproot his mind from that place than
it had his body. And yet—he could foresee the time, incredible though it
was, when that studio life with Rose-Ann would be only a memory, a part
of his past ... like his life with his Iowa sweetheart during their
brief idyl, years ago. Yes, the time would come when all this, that was
now so warm and near, would be dim and remote; a time when it would no
longer hurt him to think about it all....

As he sat there facing the window, looking out unseeingly at the lighted
facade of the building opposite, the strains of dance music reached him,
and he saw couples float past the windows of the hall on the floor
opposite his own. He watched and listened with a kind of dull
fascination, for a long time.... He was very tired. He thought of going
to bed. But that music from across the street would never stop—it would
keep on with its silly gaiety hour after hour.

He rose at last and went out. He was going to his work-room. He could
spend several hours cleaning up there—destroying manuscripts he didn’t
want to keep, reducing the amount of things to be moved to a minimum.

Phyllis might be in her room.... He thought of her there, and the
thought comforted him. He saw her again, in his thoughts, as he had seen
her first—serene and kind and strong. It was good to think of her.

Still his mind did not quite encompass the situation. It was as though
something had happened to him—something stupendous, terrible, and almost
unbearable, like the death of a beloved friend—something not wholly to
be realized. And it had the resistlessness of some such event; he did
not conceive it as something within his power to alter or prevent—nor in
any sense as something which he had done himself. If he had thought of
himself as having done this thing, he might have thought of undoing it.
But it was a thing which had happened, like an earthquake....

In his room he gathered up fragments of manuscript—jottings of ideas,
efforts, experiments, unfinished things—and tore them up after a casual
glance. There would be little to take with him. That was good.... He had
the feeling that a new life had begun for him, a life at which he still
stared in vague bewilderment, like a creature painfully new-born into an
uncomprehended world.

                                   2

He could hear Phyllis moving about on the other side of the partition.
He finished his work; the wastebasket was full of torn manuscript, and
his Roget’s Thesaurus and his favourite penholder lay together on the
table, ready to take to his new home. He no longer had need of a
work-room, a special refuge from the distracting intimacies of marriage.
He was free from all that. Yes—think of that—free!... He laughed out
loud.

Presently Phyllis would come and knock on his door. She had heard him
enter, she knew he was there. He wanted to see her, he wanted the
comfort of her eyes, her hands. He wanted her serenity, her kindness,
her strength. But he lacked even the energy to ask for it. He could only
sit and wait until she came to him.

He felt as though the last strength he possessed were being used up in
some terrific effort—an effort that would cease when she came. Then it
would make no difference that he had no strength left—her courage and
kindness would sustain him.

The impossible had happened—yes, the impossible. For it was unthinkable
that Rose-Ann should have destroyed their marriage. But she had.... And
now in this strange world there was only one certainty left—Phyllis’s
eyes, her arms, her understanding love. Here was reality, here firm
ground amidst a reeling chaos of fantastic madness.... Phyllis!

He could hear, as in a dream, the bubbling of coffee, could taste the
fragrance of its odour stealing through the door.... Presently, very
soon, she would come....

He heard her knock, and he thought he answered, but it seemed not, for
she knocked again, and then opened the door. He sat there limply in his
chair, glad she had come.

“Did I disturb you?” she asked.

He shook his head.

“You’re tired!” she said, and came quickly to him and put her hand on
his forehead. “I’ve made some coffee,” she said. “It will be good for
you.”

“Yes,” he said, and rose.

She led the way into her room, and pointed to the couch. “Lie down and
rest,” she said. “I’ll give you your coffee in a moment.”

She busied herself with cups and saucers, and he watched her from the
couch. She came toward him, a cup of coffee in her hand, her arm bare to
the elbow, and above it her eyes shining under a tangle of soft brown
hair.

“Here!” she said.

When he made no effort to take the cup, she set it down on the stool
beside the bed. He took her hand, and drew her toward him. She yielded
to his gesture and sat down beside him on the couch, looking at him with
a kind of startled amusement as he took her arm and pressed his cheek
against it.

“You’re very tired, aren’t you?” she said sympathetically, and touched
his shoulder with her other hand.

He clung to her arm. It was cool against his cheek. All the beauty, all
the peace, all the rest in the world seemed to be in that cool white
flesh. Was it because it was hers—or because it was a girl’s arm,
promising rest and comfort? He did not know. He only clung to it.

“Is it your work—are you having difficulties?” she asked.

He laughed. His work!

That laugh seemed to reassure her in some way. She smiled down at him,
bent over him, her hair blinded him, and then her lips brushed his.

“Dear!” she said.

He held her close to him, and their lips met—hungrily, thirstily. At
first all her body relaxed into the embrace, and it seemed to him that
the peace he needed flowed into him from her kiss, from her arms, her
body—rest, the infinite sweetness of rest.... And then she seemed to
grow frightened. She held herself away from him, she looked at him
questioningly.

But, again reassured, she bent again, and surrendered herself to the
embrace. But something in the exigence of his mood came to her even in
this surrender, and once more, suddenly and coolly, she drew herself
away.

“What _is_ the matter?” she demanded, looking at him with alien eyes.
She bent, not tenderly, and took his shoulder, as if to shake his secret
out of him.

“The matter is,” said Felix, “that my marriage has gone to hell.”

                                   3

“What!” The exclamation came in a tone of utter incredulous astonishment
from the girl at his side, who sat there, rigid, as though frozen by
that news.

“Yes, I tell you!” he cried. “We’ve—busted up everything—for good and
all.”

And feeling himself uncontrollably about to cry, he turned his face
against the couch, and lay shaken with convulsive strangling sobs.

The girl sprang up, and looked down at him. She had never seen him cry.
She had not known that he could cry. As a matter of fact, he had not
cried very many times in his life, and he did not know how, and did it
badly.

He looked up at last, brushing his eyes with his coatsleeve. He wanted
her pity.

He saw her looking at him with haughty anger. Her whole gesture was one
of outrage. When she saw him look up, she clenched her fists, and said,

“You never told me—”

“Never told you?” His anger burst out against her, anger mixed with
self-pity. “What did you expect?”

She turned half away from him in disdain.

“Not this!” she said.

“No!” he said, sitting up. “No, you little idiot, I suppose you
didn’t.... And I didn’t either. Well—you see.”

She looked back over her shoulder with repugnance, as if she were
looking at something sick, wounded, or diseased.

“Yes,” she said doubtfully, “I see....”

She turned back to him, her hostility gone, and a mournful look in her
eyes.

“I never supposed,” she said haltingly, “that you—”

She paused, and then went on,

“—You too—”

Under her glance he straightened up, ashamed of himself. He rose. He
must, he supposed, have looked silly....

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“I’m sorry too—Felix,” she answered, and there was in her tone the
quality of a farewell.

There was something bracing at this moment in her scornful silence as
she let him walk out of the room.... He went to the bathroom and washed
his face; looked at himself in the mirror: was the face he saw there the
one that had been twisted in grotesque sobbing a few minutes ago? No one
would have guessed it.... He looked hard at that face, for some sign of
weakness. But it seemed to him that the weakness had been burned out of
it by the fire of a girl’s scorn. It was a face indifferent and aloof
from sorrow, with amused eyes and jauntily smiling mouth. Yes, that was
Felix Fay as he should be.

He went back to his room, tossed his Roget’s Thesaurus and his favourite
penholder into the wastebasket with the torn manuscripts, put on his
hat—and then noticed his stick in the corner.

He picked it up, hung it over his arm, turned out the gas, and went out
whistling.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                                                Book Six
                                                           Wilson Avenue

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                   LV. The Consolations of Philosophy

                                   1

COMING out on the street, swinging his stick, Felix was vividly
conscious of the outer world—it was as if the curtain had just risen
upon a stage scene. The shapes of the trees in the distance had all the
interest of a beautifully painted set—artificial, as scenery should be,
not aping nature, but symbolizing it. The houses that stood beside the
road were cardboard shapes that suggested great masses of brick and
stone. And the way the night sky bent down at the street-end to touch
the earth—that was marvelous.

The whole scene was refreshing. It had the beauty of something made to
be looked at. It was as if the outer-world were no longer the unnoted
background of a drama in which he was a baffled participant: he had
stepped out of the play now, he was a spectator—he could look on and
enjoy the spectacle.

There was a sense of vast release in his mind. The burden of emotion, of
pain, of grief, of anger, the intolerable burden of human illusion, was
lifted. His shoulders felt lighter, and he carried himself with a jaunty
air.

A man passed him—no spectator like himself of this play, but a
participant in it, a man to whom things really seemed to matter. With a
tired droop of the head and shoulders, putting one foot mechanically
before another, he was going home. Two girls passed, eagerly talking to
each other. None of them saw him, or the world through which they
moved—they were busy acting their parts, too busy thinking about
yesterday and tomorrow.

How good it was no longer to have a part to play—to be able to look on,
full of curiosity! He was like a disembodied spirit that wanders freely
upon the earth without a care. The world was beautiful. All the time
that he had been worrying about other things, it had been beautiful—and
he had been too passionately entangled in the coil of personal emotions
to notice.... The crooked branch of an elm, from which all but a few
leaves had fallen, drooping black against the luminous sky—the world had
been full of such things all along, and he had never paused to look
before.

It was pleasant to have a mind able to notice little things—like the
fantastic shadow that danced along the sidewalk, growing shorter and
longer and dodging about in front and behind—a mind that could dwell
upon light things, instead of revolving eternally in some cycle of hope
and fear. A leisurely, disinterested, curious mind!

As he walked, his thoughts touched lightly upon Rose-Ann—he had a
fleeting memory-picture, uncoloured by any painful emotion, of her
standing on the balcony of that house in Woods Point, about to jump off
into the snow-bank; he sensed her as a creature possessed by some wish
which she did not understand, driven on by it to delightful and absurd
actions.... And Clive, ironically officiating as host to a bridal pair
in the house which he had built to shelter his own happiness.... And
Phyllis, holding Clive perpetually at arm’s length, because he was not
utterly a god.... And himself, strangest shape of all, taking the
emotions of all these other characters seriously and trying to adjust
his life to them! They were like people in a play, strange and foolish,
beautiful and pitiful. He saw them all, he saw his own past self, with a
delicate and appreciating exactitude.

But they did not matter—he could stop thinking of them, and look at the
nimbus of light around the arc lamp on the corner. That was strange and
beautiful, too.

To be a spectator of the spectacle of existence! At first that was
enough. But presently he was aware of a vague desire for a
fellow-spectator. The desire was faint, but faint as it was it moved his
steps to the Illinois Central platform, and presently he emerged upon
Michigan Avenue.

                                   2

That evening in the Artists’ Theatre there was a rehearsal of several
episodes from Schnitzler’s “Anatol,” which was to be the second bill of
the season. At midnight Elva Macklin saw Felix Fay stroll in and listen
to the jaded end of the rehearsal from the theatre’s one tiny and
inconvenient box.

Felix saw her, too, and realized by what instinctive wish he had been
led, without conscious thought, to the Artists’ Theatre. He wanted her
for his fellow-spectator of the spectacle of existence.

He saw her as if for the first time. He had never talked with her much;
and he had been drunk, on dreams if not on whiskey, the time he had
danced with her at the ball. She had been a sort of dream-figure to him,
an out-of-the-world creature. He saw her now clearly enough—an intense
young egotist in her every word and gesture; no dryad, but soulless
enough for all her human nature—a girl who still kept the hardness of a
child about her. She would never make a good actress, he reflected; she
was too much herself; she was acting abominably her part in this
Schnitzler play, but with her own special charm, the charm that made her
what she was. But she was not a person to pity. He liked her for that.
He would talk to her.

A few moments later, as Elva Macklin was putting on her coat to go home,
Felix Fay appeared at the door of the tiny women’s dressing room.

The others had gone, she was there alone.

“May I come in?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said, “whoever you are ... and you may button my spats if you
want to, Felix Fay. I’m too tired, and I was going off without them.”

She continued, as he knelt at her feet and twisted the reluctant buttons
one by one into place, “I’ve done the circus girl for hours, over and
over again. Gregory doesn’t like the way I do it—and I don’t like the
way Jimmy Taylor does Anatol. Neither does Gregory, for that matter.
Everything’s gone wrong tonight.... Gregory gets more and more
Napoleonic. He says, ‘Stop! we’ll do that scene all over again!’ Nothing
about what’s the matter, or how it should be done—we just know that it
doesn’t suit him, and so we do it differently. And usually worse. Then
he frowns; he bites his lip; he even stamps his foot: but even that
doesn’t do much good!”

She put out her other foot. “Jimmie’s really impossible as Anatol. He
looks all right—but he hasn’t any spirit. You just can’t imagine
Jimmie’s having six mistresses. He treats me as though I were his
aunt.... Gregory wants me to do the circus girl ‘simply’—whatever that
means. I wish he would condescend to explain, instead of just looking
haughty.... I’m awfully tired.... Thanks. I don’t feel quite clothed
without my spats.”

Felix stood up. “Let’s go somewhere and get something to eat,” he said.

“I’d like to,” she said. “I don’t want to go home. I’m too tired to
sleep.” She buttoned her coat about her.

It was a boyish coat, and she wore it with a boyish air. There was
something Puck-like in her face, something impish, mischievous.

“Have you a nickname?” he asked curiously.

“Yes,” she said, startled. “Why?”

“What is it?”

“Bobby. Again, why?”

He laughed.

“Because I was going to give you one if you hadn’t. I was going to name
you Till Eulenspiegel. But Bobby will do very well. I shall call you
that, if you don’t mind.”

“I don’t mind. But you may regret it.—Who was Till Eulenspiegel?” she
asked.

“A celebrated scamp.—Why should I regret it?”

“We’ll have to number our questions and answers—we’re getting all mixed
up. Bobby is a celebrated scamp, too. You haven’t heard of her? When I’m
Elva I’m on my very best behaviour.”

“Then come as Bobby, by all means!” he said.

“It’s only fair to warn you that you may not like her at all. Some
people don’t.”

“I’m sure _I_ shall. Come along!” he laughed.

“Wait a moment. How much money have you got? When I’m Bobby, I insist on
paying my own way. But I’ve only carfare home tonight. So you’ll have to
lend me some.”

He took out a roll of bills from his pocket, all that was left of the
two weeks’ salary after paying for his apartment, and solemnly divided
it.

She accepted the money, and then handed it back. “No, I feel like being
recklessly dependent tonight. I’ll let you buy my dinner.... One
moment—I have to turn the lights out. Go ahead, I can find my way out in
the dark.”

She joined him in the hall a moment later. “The elevator’s stopped
running,” she said, “we’ll have to walk down.”

Half way down she stopped. “Let’s rest and smoke a cigarette.”

She lighted her cigarette at his match, and then asked, “What brings you
here tonight?”

“Idle curiosity,” he said.

She puffed on her cigarette and scrutinized his face by the glow it made
in the dark.

“Something’s happened to you,” she said.

“Right,” he answered cheerfully.

“Want to tell me your troubles?” she asked indifferently.

“No,” he said. “I haven’t any troubles. I’ve ceased to have them. That’s
what’s happened to me.”

She laughed lightly. “So that’s it. Well, I’m glad you don’t want
sympathy. I was afraid you might.”

“You misjudged me,” he said. “Besides, if I had wanted sympathy, would I
have come to you?”

“No, I guess you do know me better than that.... Well, what _do_ you
want of me?”

“Nothing in particular of you,” he said. “I just want somebody to bum
around with tonight.”

She puffed on her cigarette again. “You don’t look at all
broken-hearted,” she said.

“Why should I look broken-hearted?”

“I hear all the theatre-gossip. I suppose it’s true?”

“Well, I don’t hear the theatre-gossip, so I don’t know whether it’s
true or not. Why should you care?”

“I don’t care. I’m just curious. You know, you’ve been looking worried
and unhappy ever since I first saw you—until now. At first I thought you
were worried about the play; but when it was a success you looked more
unhappy than ever. And now—well, the transformation is astonishing!”

“I can explain that.... You probably have in your rooms—”

“My room,” she corrected him. “A quite singular room, in every sense.”

“In your room, then, you probably have five or six copies of the
Rubaiyat, presented you by different youths....”

“Yes, all with a pencil mark beside the ‘Book of Verses’ verse. Go on.”

“Well, in that poem Omar boasts of ‘striking from the Calendar Unborn
Tomorrow and Dead Yesterday.’ I’ve just performed that same astronomical
feat.”

“I know just what you mean,” she said. “It’s—it’s like getting over a
headache, isn’t it?... I’m glad.... Well, let’s go on.”

She jumped up.

Out in the street he asked her, “How do you come to know so much about
it? When did you perform Omar’s astronomical feat?”

She laughed.

“I? Oh, fully twenty years ago—at the age of five!... You see, up to
that time I had been the only child—the reigning princess, in fact. And
then a little brother came along. People laugh about these things—but I
don’t think anything in later life can hurt worse than a childish
tragedy like that. To be considered the most wonderful being in all the
world, and then—pushed out of the way.... Well, I saw that my reign was
ended, that human beings were fickle, and that my heart would be broken
if I kept on caring. So I stopped—and I’ve never cared since. Not for a
single other living thing in all the world.”

“I see you are a person of great experience in—not caring. Twenty years
of it! Tell me, how does it work out?”

She stopped suddenly, pulling at his sleeve. “Look!” she said with
apparent irrelevance.

He looked in the direction of her upward glance, and saw outlined
against the sky a curious accidental roof-line made by the juxtaposition
of two buildings. It was nothing—and it had the pure beauty of a design
by Hiroshige.

“Yes,” he said, gazing at it. An accidental scrap of beauty, unseen by
millions of passing eyes, and only revealed, it seemed, to such people
as themselves! He gazed, and the knowledge that she too saw it, that her
world was full of such moments, and that they could share them together,
satisfied his need of companionship. He pressed her arm closer to his
side.

They resumed their walk. “You can’t see things like that if you care
about people,” she said. “And that’s how it works out.... But it’s nice
to know some one else like that. Only—I don’t think this will last, with
you....”

“Why?” he demanded.

“I don’t know.”

“So you believe I’ll go back to caring—to being human, as they call
it—to having remorse about the past and worries about the future, to
being all tangled up in unhappiness again!” he said incredulously.

She laughed, and sang, in a low voice, close to his ear, the lines of a
song that went to an old ballad measure:

                  “_Oh, the briary-bush,
                   That pricks my heart so sore!
                   If I ever get out of the briary-bush
                   I’ll never get in any more!_”

“You think you won’t, Felix, but you will! People do go back to the
briary-bush. You have to learn early, to stay out.... But I’m glad you
came to see me while you’re in this mood. You know, you may get over it
in an hour or two!”

“Wait and see!”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           LVI. Eulenspiegel

                                   1

“ALL right—I’ll wait....”

“Shall we sup in luxury at one of these gilded hotels?”

“Yes, let’s,” she said.

They went to the grill-room. It was gay with its midnight crowd, an
orchestra was playing, and in the cleared space couples were dancing.
The waiter found them a little table in the corner.

“I’m really hungry,” she said. “I forgot to eat dinner.”

“Silly child!” he said. “So did I.”

“Who’s a silly child?”

“I was waiting for my playmate.”

They laughed.

With her cloak thrown back carelessly on the chair, leaning forward with
bare elbows on the table, her black hair tousled about her curiously
slanting temples, her blouse askew over one shoulder, she was indeed
very much a child. And he felt like a child too, and rejoiced in her as
a careless and happy playfellow.

“Let’s start,” she said, ignoring the menu, “with all the different
kinds of little fishes.”

“Good. And—” he consulted the menu—“a filet mignon?”

She nodded. “And petit pois?... And then what? Some kind of salad, I
suppose.”

“One of the things you keep pulling apart all evening.”

“Yes—what are they called? Artichoke. With Hollandaise sauce. And what
kind of cocktail?” he asked.

“The one that has a dash of electricity in it.”

“A Daiquerai!” he affirmed.

“Right.”

“Well, that will do to begin with.—Oh, yes, wine.”

“Nothing sweet,” she warned him.

“A Sauterne, then?”

“That will be nice,” she said.

He gave the order, and when he had finished turned to her. “You know,”
he said, “it always makes me feel reckless to order wine. I’m always
sure that I’m not going to have enough left to tip the waiter.”

“I’m glad you feel that way,” she said. “It’s no fun to dine with people
who are blasé about ordering wine—unless you can feel wickedly
extravagant about it, you might just as well drink water. The thrill is
all in the idea, anyway. I think wine is a much overrated institution—so
far as its effects go.... I ordered a liqueur once, a beautiful purple
thing I had just discovered—I forget the name of it; I ordered it, not
to drink, but just to look at—and when the man I was dining with called
my attention to my neglect, and I explained, he was outraged!... But I
wish they would bring the little fishes—I shan’t neglect _them_.”

“It’s nice,” he said, “to be able to think and talk about things that
don’t matter.”

“Such as what?”

“Such as little fishes, and poetry. I’ve been so dreadfully
serious-minded for a long time.—Is Gregory going to put on ‘The Land of
Heart’s Desire’?”

“He hasn’t decided. If he does—”

“If he does, you must play Mary. It won’t be Yeats’s Mary, but it will
be something very exciting, if you play it.”

“I hope he’ll let me.”

“Do you know ‘On Baile’s Strand’?”

“He’s thinking of doing that, too. I haven’t read it. But I hear there’s
nothing in it for me.”

“Oh, yes, there is! There’s the part of the young prince. It wouldn’t be
a half bad idea. You’re quite as much a boy as a girl. You’d be a very
striking young prince.”

“Thank you!”

“However, I was thinking of another part for you—the part of the
warrior-queen that the two kings talk about. You remember?”

“No.”

“She doesn’t actually appear in the play. But she ought to. I’d like to
write you a play about her.”

“Tell me about her!”

“She fights like a man, and bears a love-child to a soldier-king—and
then makes war on him. He is speaking about her afterward, in Yeats’s
play, and he says to the older king:

        “_You have never seen her—ah! Conchobar, had you seen her
         With that high, laughing, turbulent head of hers
         Thrown backward, and the bowstring at her ear,
         Or sitting at the fire with these grave eyes
         Full of good counsel as it were with wine,
         Or when love ran through all the lineaments
         Of her wild body...._”

She drank in the lines eagerly, and when he paused she looked at him
gratefully. “I’d like to do a part like that,” she said.

The cocktails came, but she pushed hers aside. “Tell me some more about
her. She loves and hates the same man? Does he understand that—her
lover, I mean.”

“Perhaps not at first—in my play, he wouldn’t. But in Yeats’s play,
years later, he does understand. When the older king complains that even
his former sweetheart makes war on him, he says:

             “_No wonder in that, no wonder at all in that.
              I never have known love but as a kiss
              In the mid battle, and a difficult truce
              Of oil and water, candles and dark night,
              Hillside and hollow, the hot-footed sun
              And the cold, sliding, slippery-footed moon—
              A brief forgiveness between opposites
              That have been hatreds for three times the age
              Of this long ’stablished ground._”

“A kiss in the mid-battle!” she repeated. “That is lovely.”

She raised her cocktail. “Here’s to our play!”

They drank.

“Now,” he said, a little embarrassedly, “I feel that I shall have to
write that play!”

She put her hand on his for a moment. “Don’t feel that,” she said. “I
know—people dream of things and ... don’t do them. I shan’t hold you to
account. But it’s a lovely dream—and that’s what I’m drinking to.”

“But wouldn’t you rather have the play than the dream?” he asked.

“I don’t know.... By the time you wrote it—I would be interested in
something else, and you would want another girl to do it. Why should we
bother with promises? We’re not that kind.... If I said I loved you—and
I could say that right now—I always love people who think of lovely
things, and that play was a lovely thing to think of—why, I wouldn’t
expect you to hold me to account for it ... later.”

“Do you love me?” he asked, in a casual tone.

“Yes.... Here are the fishes!... Of course I do. You are a terribly nice
person. You love me, don’t you?”

“Yes,” said Felix.

The waiter went away, and she laughed. “That was a test,” she said. “A
man who can talk about love in the presence of the waiter without
looking awkward—! But I meant it, too.... These _are_ good, aren’t
they?”

“Delicious! Especially these sprats. I don’t know what a sprat is, but
I’m sure this is one.”

“That’s another thing—people ought to be able to talk about love, and
food, and art, and money, in the same tone of voice. Some men would be
shocked to hear me discuss love and little fishes all in the same
breath.”

“I seem to be passing all your tests.”

“Yes—it doesn’t even make you nervous to be compared with other men.”

“Oh, I suppose there _are_ other men in the world,” said Felix. “They
don’t interest me, but I don’t mind your alluding to them.”

“So long as it’s to their disadvantage!”

“Or any other way. I simply can’t take them seriously. Men seem
ridiculous creatures to me.”

“I’ve known some very interesting ones!”

“You thought so at the time. A pardonable mistake. The truth is, Bobbie
Eulenspiegel, you and I are the only truly interesting people alive in
the world at this moment.”

She laughed up into his eyes. “I think so too,” she said.

She had suddenly become very much a girl, with the light of a feminine
magic gleaming in her mischievous eyes.

“Are you flirting with me?” he demanded.

“How did you guess?” she asked.

The orchestra struck up again.

“Shall we dance?” she said, jumping up from the table.

“Yes,” he said. “Do you know, the last time I danced with you, I had
been drinking, and thought I was dancing with a childhood playmate.”

“Aren’t I your childhood playmate?” she asked pausing at the edge of the
dancing space.

“No, Serpent of the Nile,” he said, taking her in his arms. “And you
aren’t a dryad, either,” he went on, as they mingled with the dancers.
“You are a water-witch, that’s what you are. You dance like water in the
sunlight. You are an exhalation from the salt sea wave. You have no
body—which is even worse than having no soul; if I knew the proper magic
words to pronounce, this which seems to be your body would dissolve, and
I would hold in my arms only a handful of shining mist. You are really
not here at all—there is no one here but me, talking to myself. In fact,
now I think you must be somebody that I invented in a fanciful mood—a
quite imaginary person.”

“You seem to have a number of contradictory theories about me,” she
said.

“Yes—the only thing I am quite sure of is that you don’t really exist.”

“Are you sure that _you_ exist?” she mocked.

“No, now that I think of it, I’m not sure.”

“Perhaps you are an imaginary person that _I_ invented,” she insisted.

“If any one could invent me, I think you might.”

“Oh, easily!”

“That shows how little you know me,” he said. “I don’t think you
invented me, after all. You would be prouder of me if you had.
Masterpieces like that are not thrown off every day.”

“Masterpiece? A mere jeu d’esprit!”

“I renounce you utterly,” he said. “You are a base pretender. Besides,
you are too young to have thought of such things. I believe you said you
were twenty-five.”

“I lied, to impress you. I am twenty-four. How old are you?”

“I am twenty-four, too,” he said. “Remarkable coincidence!”

“Not at all. I am really twenty-seven.”

“Devil! How old are you?”

“Older than you, anyway.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I _am_ an awful liar,” she said, with an air of telling him a secret.

“I shall distrust every word you say henceforth.”

“Good—then I shall always tell the truth, and you’ll be no wiser. You
can’t hold me.”

“Who wants to hold you? Not I!” he said.

“Oh, don’t you?”

“What would I do with you? What are you good for? No, I don’t want you.
Go home,” he told her.

“Now I sha’n’t.”

“All right, stay then.”

“I’ve a rehearsal at ten o’clock tomorrow morning,” she remarked.

“What’s that to me?”

“I ought to go home and get some sleep.”

“Then you probably won’t.”

“No. I probably won’t.... There’s the waiter bringing our food.”

“It can wait,” he said.

“You’re in no hurry to get home, I take it?”

“No.”

The music ended. He led her back to their table.

“Besides—” he said. “I didn’t tell you about my new home, did I? It’s on
the north side.”

“Where? I live on the north side too. Think of us two living in the
midst of Wilson Avenue respectability. It’s very amusing.... Is it the
dancing or the cocktail that gives us such an appetite?”

“Or the fact that we had no dinner, perhaps? Just off Wilson Avenue,
near the L station. A dingy bachelor apartment.”

“It can’t be worse than mine. I fear I have no talent for home-making.”

“There’s a dance hall just across the street,” he said. “That’s why I
left home tonight.”

“Why let that annoy you? Why not dance there?”

“Yes, why not? Will you go and dance with me?”

Her eyes lit up. “When?”

“Any time. I imagine it’s always in full blast. Tonight?”

“Yes!” She clapped her hands. “Now!”

“Our supper....”

“What of it? There are other places to eat, a dog-wagon will do. Come!”
She rose, her eyes dancing.

He rose too, throwing his napkin on the table. “Never put off till
tomorrow—”

He helped her on with her coat, and when the surprised waiter came with
the wine, he demanded his check.

“Yes, sir. And the wine, sir?”

“Give it to me!” said the girl.

He handed it over with a dignified gesture.

“You should have borrowed a corkscrew, too!” said Felix, as they left
the room.

“I didn’t want the wine,” she said. “I just wanted to walk out with it
under my arm. I thought you might object.”

“Again you misjudge me,” said Felix. “You can do all the foolish things
you want to—but don’t waste your time doing them to see whether I care.
I don’t care. You can stand on your head here on Michigan Avenue if you
like. I sha’n’t mind.”

“Shouldn’t you?” she said. “Well, then, if I may do as I please, then I
sha’n’t do anything very outrageous. Would it be very outrageous to
visit your apartment in the dead of night with this wine, before we go
to the dance across the street? Will you be put out?”

“Probably,” said Felix. “But there are other places to live. There is
always the park bench, when you have had me turned out of all my
apartments.”

“Oh, my enthusiasm for you won’t last that long. Never fear!... Have we
enough money to taxi up there?”

“Yes.”

“Then let’s take the L. It’s quicker. Do you like me, Felix?”

“I sha’n’t tell you!”

They climbed the elevated steps, and waited for a train. A weary
policeman waited there, the only other person on the platform.

“How do you suppose this adventure is going to end?” she asked, as they
walked.

“Who knows?” he answered. “That’s the fun of an adventure—one never does
know.”

She sighed. “If I thought you thought you knew—! But you don’t, do you?”

“And I don’t care.”

“Amazing youth! I can’t tease you, can I? So I won’t try any more....
Don’t you think I ought to go home and go to bed?”

“I’m sure you ought.”

“If we danced all night—”

“I think I will kiss you, right now. The idea has just occurred to me.”

Standing on the platform in the glare of the electric lights, under the
amused eye of the policeman, they kissed each other.

“I _must_ go to that rehearsal at ten o’clock!” she said.

“You shall have three cups of the best coffee the Wilson Avenue Tea and
Coffee Store affords,” he said smiling, “made by the most expert hands.”

She looked frightened. “Let’s _walk_ up to Wilson Avenue,” she said
suddenly.

“Good. We can make it by breakfast time. I’d like a nice long walk!”

“No,” she said. “There’s our train coming! Besides, I can change my mind
several times more on the way up....”

                                   2

“You do make good coffee, Felix!” she said, the next morning. “One more
cup, and I think I’ll be equal to the rehearsal. No, you mustn’t come
with me.”

“I wasn’t going to go with you, foolish child. I’m merely going to
escort you to the front door.”

At the street door she kissed him. “Don’t expect me!” she said. “If you
wait for me, I shan’t come back.”

“And if I don’t?”

“You’ll probably find me curled up on your doorstep when you come home.
Good-bye.”

He watched her disappear around the corner, then went out and looked on
the sidewalk, and in the street. He was looking for a little book which
he had tossed out of the window the night before.

He did not find it. Somebody had picked it up and carried it away....
But that was better than finding it crumpled and muddy in the gutter. It
was the last thing binding him to his old life, and it was just as well
that it should be utterly gone.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            LVII. Three Days

                                   1

“THERE are,” writes the learned Winckler in his History of Love, “erotic
adventures, or misadventures, which do not arise from any real emotion
between the two people immediately concerned, but are a banal reaction
from the recent—or even remote—hurts of some other, authentic
relationship. Made much of in modern fiction, these misadventures
scarcely deserve such attention. It is unprofitable, even for the
philosophic moralist, to inquire closely into the details of such
baffling relationships; if mere flirtations, they are adulteries none
the less; and if adulteries, they still remain mere flirtations. Lacking
as they do any personal significance, these misadventures are as devoid
of lasting interest to others as to the misadventures themselves.”

With all due deference to the learned Winckler, it may perhaps be
suggested that the lack of any personal significance in such
relationships, and the discovery of it by the persons involved, is
worthy of record.... There is a charm, real if evanescent, in
impersonality; and at times the weary mind finds in this charm a blessed
anodyne. It seems, at such times, as though the very nothingness at the
heart of such a relationship were the most beautiful thing in the world.
A wanderer shipwrecked in a tumultuous tropic sea might well yearn to be
cast up on some arctic shore. Deeper than the demands of the senses is
the yearning for the Snow Princess, whose kisses are as cool as
snowflakes. There is no fever of love in those kisses; their sweet hard
chill is like the sight of marble contours; they have the calm of
eternity in them.

During his first hours with Elva Macklin, it had seemed to Felix that he
knew the profoundest secret of human wisdom—the vanity of desire. He
desired nothing in the world, least of all any gift from his
light-hearted companion in Nirvana. She had nothing to give; and
whatever she might give and he might take, it was still nothing. It was
strange, how like fire ice could be; but fire burns, and leaves nothing
the same as before—it transmutes, or destroys; and this crystal flame
left them both as they had been. They felt no need of each other; and
they could not be disappointed. They were satisfied with themselves; and
they could be content to remain strangers for all their nearness. No
kiss could bridge the gulf between them; they did not want it bridged;
and if they kissed, it was as though to prove that no intimacy, none
whatever, could shatter their splendid and perfect isolation, no mere
happy human closeness merge their triumphant individual identities.
There was a defiance in their kisses—they were proving that they could
be to each other everything and yet nothing.

It was quite true that Felix did not care, when Elva Macklin went off to
her rehearsal, whether he ever saw her again; he knew she would return;
but it made no difference. It never would make any difference. They were
strangers; they would remain strangers for ever. There was no danger of
love.

And as long as there was no danger, they would enjoy the happy charm of
each other’s strangeness....

Felix did not go to his office; he stayed in the apartment,
writing—writing a play. It was the same play he had been writing ever
since his marriage; a new version, and different from all the others.
Before, he had written fantastically of people as he wished them to be;
now he wrote of them as they were. He knew, now, what human beings were
like; himself outside the boundaries of their hopes and fears, he
understood them, pitied them, loved them. He wrote of himself as he had
been—caught hopelessly in the briary-bush of human passions.... Yes,
this was a play at last. One must, it seemed, be outside things to
understand them.

He was beginning to weary of this warm human nature in which his
imagination was immersed, when Elva Macklin came, suddenly....

“Writing?” she said indifferently.

“Yes—a play.”

“Is there a part for me in it?”

“No—not in this one.”

She talked of the rehearsal. He put his manuscript aside.... She did not
care, aside from the question of a part for her, whether he wrote plays
or not; thank heaven! She did not care whether he ever became a
playwright. She did not care if he ever did anything. She did not, the
gods be praised, believe in him!

He went over and kissed her.

                                   2

The second day he wrote again on his play, all day, while again she went
to rehearsals. He had not gone to the office at all. He mentioned the
fact. It was evident that she did not care. Whether or not the Evening
Chronicle had a dramatic editor made no difference to her.

She talked of herself. She was doing her part in “Anatol” magnificently,
she said.

He pressed her hand, glad that she was so pleased with herself. She did
not need his reassurance. He could not have given it. He did not believe
that she would ever do that part well.

He remarked that he was writing a great play. She smiled, and patted his
hand. Probably she did not believe it. Anyway, she didn’t care, so long
as he didn’t need sympathy and encouragement....

They were very happy....

                                   3

The end came suddenly, on the morning of the fourth day. They were
having coffee.

She yawned, and asked for another cup. “I don’t think I’ll come back
today,” she said casually.

He laughed. He couldn’t help it.

“You, too?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said frankly. “I’m getting interested in my play.... I suppose
I’ve been rather a nuisance, talking about that play!”

“And you’re bored hearing what a great actress I am!” she said.

They smiled at each other.

“It’s been very nice!” she said.

“You are a darling!” he told her.

“I’ll pay you a real compliment,” she said. “You are as much of an
egotist as I am. I like you. I can go off now and think about my part
and never give you another thought.... And you won’t mind.”

“No. But I, on the contrary, shall think about you often—and put you in
a play sometime.”

They chatted until it was time for her to go to the rehearsal.

“Will you button my spats?” she asked.

He knelt and pried the buttons into their eyelets.

“Good-bye,” she said, and lifted her face to be kissed.

For the first time, in this good-bye kiss, there was expressed a real
affection. At least, they were friends now. They wished each other well.
They cared—a little—about each other. Doubtless that was why they had
begun wanting each other’s praise, begun to be annoyed at each other’s
indifference. They were friends already—they might perhaps become more
than friends. That was why they were not going to see each other any
more.

It had been perfect. It must not be spoiled.

“Good-bye, Felix dear.”

He put his arms about her.

“Good-bye, Bobbie Eulenspiegel.”

“I do like you.”

“I like you, too.”

They kissed again, and she went.

He turned back to his play.

                                   4

Late that evening he finished the rough draft of his second act. That
was as far as he could go. He had put into his characters all he knew of
them. The rest of the play would wait. He put his manuscript away.

And as he put it away, the thoughts that it had shut out by its
dream-like presentment of them began painfully to crowd in upon him....
Elva had been right; not caring was only a mood with him—and it was
already over. She had predicted that it would last three hours. It had
lasted three days.

All the emotions that he had forgotten and escaped rushed in to hurt and
confuse him. His little moment of careless freedom was over.... Tomorrow
he would go back to the office and see if he still had a job.

And what had been his marriage ... it could not be ended like this. He
could not simply run away. They would have to meet and talk. Make
arrangements.... The obsequies of marriage....

The past and the present were back again on his calendar.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           LVIII. Rendezvous

                                   1.

GOING back to the office the next morning, Felix had the sense of his
absence—so momentous to himself—not having been particularly
remarked.... True, there had been no new plays opening that week; and
the editorial page could get along without his assistance. But it was
strange to go back to the real world and find that it does not know you
have been away!... He worked all morning, distractedly, on a column for
the Saturday page, and arranged a layout of photographs of actors and
actresses.

He had glanced that morning into the busy editorial writers’ room, and
Clive had not been there. He had been assailed by a vague feeling of
self-reproach, as his imagination presented to him the possible meaning
of that absence. He had quite amazingly—it now seemed to him—left Clive
out of his considerations altogether. How all this might affect Clive
had simply not occurred to him.... They all of them had had a way of
treating each other as super-people. They had disdained the notion of
sparing each other’s feelings; they had not even been willing to admit
that they had feelings which might require to be spared!... But there
was no reason to believe that Clive, any more than himself, should come
out of this emotional earthquake unscathed.

At noon he went in to ask about his friend. But as soon as he entered,
Willie Smith looked up and said,

“Oh, here you are! Well, tell us what it’s all about!”

“What what’s about?” Felix asked, confused.

“Clive’s getting married. You know about it, don’t you? You don’t? Well,
I thought you’d know all about it!”

“Is he married?”

“Where’s that card, Hosmer? Well, I’m surprised. I thought you’d be in
on it.—Can’t you find that card? He’s married all right. To some girl
named—I forget her name. And you didn’t know anything about it! Well, he
had us guessing all week. He didn’t show up, and we thought he must be
sick. And then Hosmer saw in the morning papers that a license had been
issued to John C. Bangs and some girl. Hosmer’s entitled to all the
credit for deducing that John C. Bangs was our old friend Clive—I
wouldn’t believe it. And then the announcement came.—Oh, here it is,
right here. Have you got any idea who the girl is?”

Felix took the card, on which was written in Clive’s small, precise
handwriting:

                    _Phyllis Nelson and Clive Bangs
                        announce their marriage
                      at the City Hall in Chicago
                    Friday, November twenty-eighth_

“Today!” he said. “Yes.... I know the girl. Will you give me the card? I
suppose there’s one waiting for me at home, but I’d like to have this
now.”

                                   2

California!... Rose-Ann went about her work that same morning with the
thought always in her mind. Going away would simplify everything. In
California one could start one’s life anew.

There was no need to make a fuss about anything. She had her work. Life
would go on. She would make new friends.... Yes, going away made it
easy. She wouldn’t even have to plan for a new place to live, if she
were going away soon; she could just take a room anywhere, and not tell
any one where it was. Or she might even stay on in the studio. It was
only for a little longer.

Yes, she would stay there; she wouldn’t hide herself. Nobody need pity
her. After all, she and Felix had been drifting apart for a long time;
they had been seeing less and less of each other; the break had come
gradually; this was merely the end. There were some things about it that
she did not understand—but no matter. She accepted the situation as it
stood.

In that spirit of bravado, she went that noon to the little Hungarian
restaurant where she and Felix and Clive and Phyllis had lunched so
often. She went to her accustomed table, and sat there, remembering what
Clive had once said and they had all laughingly agreed to, in the days
when they believed themselves wonderful young people who could talk
about anything—that if anything ever happened to them of the sort that
“couldn’t be discussed,” they would come here and discuss it “in the
teeth of God and Nature.”

Well, she was here and they were not.

She wondered at little at Clive’s absence. Was he off breaking his heart
somewhere? Or had he, as they had all boasted of themselves, no heart to
break? At all events, she had stood her ground.

Some one entered, and she looked up, as of old habit when she arrived
first.

It was Felix.

                                   3

She sat quietly and waited for him. He came over, seeming glad to see
her, and slouched into a chair. “I wondered if I’d find you here,” he
said.

“I wondered if you’d come!” she said. She was astonished to find in
herself no emotion except that of being glad that he had come—simply
that.

“Last night,” he said, “I wanted to come to see you. And I was afraid
to, I guess. Because of things I didn’t want to tell you about—that I
thought you wouldn’t understand.”

The table, that place dedicated to the telling of impossible truths,
still had for them its old magic. “Last night,” she said, smiling
ruefully, “I set the alarm clock to go off at midnight.... If you didn’t
come by then, I was going to forget you.”

“And I didn’t come,” he said.

“No.... I waited till the clock went off. I said that if you came before
that I would forgive you everything—anything.”

“How could I come?” he asked. “Before one can be forgiven, one must be
ashamed. And I wasn’t ashamed. I’m not now.”

“Why should you be?” she asked.

“But you don’t know,” he said. “Or do you? Have you seen Phyllis?”

“Phyllis? No!”

“Neither have I—for three days.”

“But I thought—”

“No you didn’t.” He leaned forward. “Tell me—did you ever _believe_—not
your mind, but with your emotions!—that I was in love with Phyllis? Were
you ever really jealous of her? Did you ever take her seriously, as your
rival?”

“No—not the real Phyllis—no. The real Phyllis I liked, and was sorry for
and ... perhaps a little afraid of—but not as a rival. I _was_ jealous
of the Phyllis who—who existed only in your mind.”

“My illusion of her, yes. But why?”

“Felix, you robbed me to give to that illusion. You loved in her what
you refused to see in me to love. I might have been all that she was to
you—and you wouldn’t let me! When you spoke of her, I kept thinking, ‘He
might say those things of me!’—and you might, much more truly.”

“Then why did you push me into her arms—into the arms of the real
Phyllis ... the one you were afraid of! Because you knew she’d hurt me?
Was that it?”

They were talking in the eager low tones of their accustomed discussion,
cut off by the influences of this spot from any disturbing sense of
outer things—alone in an enchanted solitude, a magic circle into which
none but the waiter could intrude.

“Hurt you?” A look of tenderness shone fleetingly in Rose-Ann’s eyes,
half-contradicted by a triumphant smile. “Did she hurt you? I’m sorry,
Felix.”

“Are you?”

“No—I’m glad! I wanted you to be hurt! I wanted to punish you—for
dreaming of her—punish you by making you find out....”

“It would serve you right if the illusion had turned out to be true
after all, wouldn’t it?”

“I thought it had, Felix. What happened?”

“I don’t know exactly. But look at this!”

He took the card from his pocket and put it before her.

At that moment the waiter came up, bowing them welcome. “You haf’ not
been here for many days now,” he said. “I begin to think you desert us!
Haf’ you your order ready?”

“You know what we want,” said Felix absently.

“Yes, sir. Everything shall be as always!” He beamed and ceased to
exist.

Felix turned again to Rose-Ann, who sat staring quietly at the card.

“You aren’t surprised?” he asked.

“I feel that I knew it all along, somehow!” she said.

“Yes, so did I.... That’s the queer thing. All this other—”

“Was just Phyllis’s game with Clive. I don’t mean she did it on purpose.
She couldn’t help it!”

“It was Clive’s game too,” he insisted.

“In a sense, yes.... She tormented him, ran away from him—and played up
to you—all for Clive’s sake.... I’m sorry, Felix!”

“For me? You needn’t be. You were victimized too. By your pride—just as
I by my vanity.”

“Yes,” she said, “and now—at last—they can have their happiness!”

They were silent for a moment, contemplating the tragic farce in which
they had acted their tragi-comic parts.

“So,” he said ironically, “it was to make their marriage possible that
we were so busy destroying our own!”

“No—I won’t have that. If she’s hurt you, I’m sorry, Felix; I really am.
But I can’t think of us just as helpless victims. Why did we do it? We
have our own quarrel, Felix.”

“Yes—a quarrel in which no one else counts. I know. But first let me
explain. She did hurt me. But I found consolation.”

“In whom?” she asked sharply.

“Elva Macklin.”

“That queer egotistic little theatre-waif! Felix!”

“Say what you like—I’m not ashamed of it.”

“You _couldn’t_ love her!”

“No—I never pretended to. Nor she.”

“I’m ashamed for you, Felix, if you’re not!”

“Be ashamed, then. I can’t be. I’ve tried.”

“Why try?”

“People that are ashamed—can be forgiven.”

“But I can’t understand it....”

“Neither can I.”

“If it had been some one you loved—”

“You might have lost me.”

“I’ve lost you now,” she said sadly.

“No.”

“Yes.”

“I’ll tell you one thing I _am_ ashamed of. No—I don’t know whether I
can or not. It’s too silly.”

“Tell me.”

“I’ll tell it backwards.... This morning I found a bottle of wine in my
apartment—the relic of that orgy of which you are so scornful. It was
unopened. I decided to make a present of it to my landlady. She thanked
me and rummaged on a shelf and gave me in return a book—a book with my
name in it that she had found in her area-way. She had been saving it
for me.... That’s the end of the story. Here’s the book.”

He took from his pocket a soiled copy of the Bab Ballads. She gazed at
it.

“Oh! you took it with you?”

“To my new home, yes—to remember you by. But wait. It did make me
remember you—too well—and so I flung it out the window. That’s what I am
ashamed of, Rose-Ann. I know it’s absurd. But we’re telling each other
the truth.... And it’s not Elva, nor anything else—but just what I did
to that book, that I want to ask your forgiveness for....”

“Was _she_ there?”

“Yes. That was why.”

“I’m glad you did it!”

“You don’t understand. That book—it’s more than just you, Rose-Ann: it’s
all you stand for to me.... I wanted to get rid of it all.”

“What _do_ I stand for, to you?”

He thought a moment, and then answered, as if the word had pushed itself
up out of the deeps of his mind.

“Reality.”

“Merely that?” Her voice was disdainful and challenging.

He took up its challenge.

“No—more than that. Pain. You stand for that.”

“I?”

“And heartbreak.”

“I?”

“And yesterday and tomorrow.”

“And am I,” she demanded quietly, “never to stand for any of the
beautiful things?—Must you find them—or think you find them—in Phyllis
... and Elva?...”

He felt as though they had reached the crux of their discussion at last.
And he felt, too, that it was a perilous moment. He could sense the
forces of an intense resistance gathering in her mind.

“Yes, that’s our quarrel,” he said.

“What?”

He spoke with a sudden anger, only half repressed.

“You won’t help me. You never have. You tell me lies....”

“Felix!”

“Yes, you do. And I—I believe you, because it is you who tell them. Lies
about life.”

“What have I told you?”

“That I could be free. I _was_ free, Rose-Ann. With Elva. For three
days. That was quite enough. And that’s why I am not ashamed or sorry. I
learned something from her that you refused to tell me.”

“What did you learn—from her?”

“That I don’t want freedom.”

“Don’t you?” she mocked gently. “The truth, Felix!”

“Oh, it’s beautiful enough! As death is more beautiful than life. As for
me, after a little cupful of death, I prefer pain and heartbreak. I
prefer you.”

“But—it’s as if you wanted me to make you unhappy, Felix.... That’s what
you are saying!”

“Isn’t it true? You _have_ made me unhappy. And happy, too, Rose-Ann.
The two things go together. I want them both. Not this mad, mystical
peace that is like death.”

“The mad mystical peace of death,” she repeated. “You make it very
alluring, Felix. One gets tired of life.... Just as you got tired of me.
But perhaps—perhaps I am not what you think I am. Perhaps I can
understand the joys of a little cupful of death—I, too.”

The waiter arrived with a savoury stew. He uncovered the dish with a
flourish. It reeked of nutritiousness. They stared at it helplessly. The
waiter went away.

“I can’t eat,” Rose-Ann said appealingly.

Sympathetically he passed her a cigarette.

“Felix,” she said, “I know what you think you want. It’s like that stew.
You ought to want it; but you don’t. You want coffee and cigarettes and
talk and poetry—not the solid food of life.... You try to fool yourself.
And you try to fool me.”

She paused and then went on with sudden passion, “You’ve accused me of
lying to you. It’s you who have lied! Whose fault is it if I didn’t mean
what I said—that time? You’ve never been honest with me. You were never
willing to face the future. I tried to talk with you, but you wouldn’t.
You made me feel that I was wrong. And so I tried to believe differently
about our marriage. And when the real truth came out—yes, the truth!—I
wasn’t prepared to meet it. I was a coward.—Perhaps I’m a coward still.
I don’t know. But I know this—I’m not willing to do what you say you
want me to do—bind you, tame you, keep you. No! I won’t be ... _a
wife_.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                       LIX. Unanswered Questions

                                   1

FELIX smiled at her. “Nor even a woman, Rose-Ann?”

“If that’s what being a woman is, no. But you’re mistaken. A woman can
be something else besides that.”

“So it seems. I always had the notion that they understood life better
than I did. But I’m mistaken, I guess.”

“Would you like to be _my_ keeper?” she flashed out. “Would _you_ want
to guard and watch after me, and keep me in the paths I should go in?”

He looked at her intently. “So that—that is what you want?” he hazarded.

For a moment that seemed to him the truth hidden behind all Rose-Ann’s
evasions. But before he had time to read confirmation in her startled
eyes, the waiter came up.

“Is there anything else?—You don’t like the stew today?”

He stood there, a statue of injured pride, looking at the neglected
dish.

“It’s a noble stew,” said Felix. “Nothing wrong with the stew. Bring our
coffee.”

“Yes, sir. Shall I take away the stew?”

“Please.”

He bore it away with a mournful air.

                                   2

Rose-Ann was sitting back in her chair with the air of the discussion
having become too absurd to go on with.

Felix looked inquiry.

“How little we know each other after all,” she said.

“Meaning?”

“Have you forgotten what you said? I hope so.... Felix, if I wanted
those things from my lover ... to be kept and guarded ... would I have
chosen _you_?”

She dealt the blow lightly, looking away from him. He paled a little.
“Perhaps not,” he said sullenly. And then—“Forgive me for being
ridiculous.”

“I only meant,” she said, still looking away, “that I don’t want to
spoil you. I like you as you are.... And if you insist upon being taught
the cave-man virtues, why you will have to get some other woman to teach
them to you. I decline the office.”

“Very well,” he said, “I sha’n’t ask you again.”

                                   3

“It’s just as well the way it has turned out,” she said. “We might have
made ourselves miserable trying to please each other. Now we can be
ourselves.”

“And what is your notion of that?”

“For me—freedom.”

He smiled incredulously, scornfully.

“I’ve been trying,” she said, “against all my principles, to be a
wife—for nearly two years. We both agree that I was a failure at it. I
shall never try to be a wife again, Felix.... As for freedom—You speak
as one who knows what it is. I have still to find out. Do you think you
can forbid me my little cupfuls of mad, mystical peace?”

“Your coffee,” said the waiter.

“If I choose to have adventures, who are you to say No to me?” she said
mockingly.

Felix did not answer.

                                   4

“My paper is moving to Los Angeles this winter,” Rose-Ann said
presently, in a casual tone.

“And I suppose,” he replied, in an equally casual way, “that you are
going along....”

“I hope so,” she said. “The details aren’t settled yet, but I expect to
go.... Perhaps very soon.”

“I forgot to tell you,” he remarked, “that I am writing another play.”

“I should like to see it before I go. Won’t you come in to see me
occasionally? I’m going to stay in the studio until I leave. There’s no
reason why we can’t be friends.”

“None whatever,” he said.

“I’m glad we’ve had this talk, Felix. Talk does straighten things out,
doesn’t it? And now I must hurry back to the office. You _will_ come and
see me?”

“Yes. I’ll stay and finish my coffee if you don’t mind.”

She went away, and he sat there for a long time, smoking cigarettes.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           LX. A Leave-taking

                                   1

ROSE-ANN left for Los Angeles during the Christmas holidays. During the
month that had elapsed before her departure, Felix had been to see her
several times a week.... There is something disconcerting in finding
oneself treated by one’s wife as a new acquaintance—in a politely
friendly manner, quite as she treats any other guest. He had gone away
more than once secretly enraged, swearing that he would not go again; at
other times it seemed to him a prodigious joke.

To knock at the door of his own studio; to sit as a guest upon a chair
he had painted with his own hands; that was sufficiently strange. To
invite formally to dinner—in order not to be merely one of several of
her friends and admirers, in order to have a word with her alone—the
girl with whom one has talked all night more nights than one could
remember: that was stranger still. But to be met at the door, when you
came to your studio a little early to escort her to that dinner, by a
rather shy startled figure in a scarlet dressing gown well-known to you,
but now clasped with firm fingers at her bosom, and asked to wait before
the fire while she finished dressing behind the screen at the back, in a
tone which cancelled utterly the countless intimacies that you have
shared—that was the strangest of all.... Was it any wonder that, having
thus achieved the opportunity for a word or two alone with her he should
have found it impossible to say any words whatever except such as would
be appropriate addressed to a young woman with whom one stood on such a
footing? One might talk to her seriously about ideas, or lightly about
friends; one might be argumentative or witty; one might pay her
compliments, even equivocal and daring compliments, of whose double
meaning she would seem unconscious; one might, in short, pay court to
her as one might to a hundred others.

But as for anything more—

Try it and see.... Treat a young woman to whom you are a perfect
stranger, with an air of familiar lang syne; show up her airs of reserve
as an absurd affectation; stand for no nonsense from her! Do not let her
pretend; break down that silly barrier of proud virginal constraint.
Remind her that in some previous existence, millions of years ago, she
was the docile companion of your pillow. What right has she to that look
of a defiant vestal?... Yes, tell her so!

Did you think she was yours, that she belonged to you now and
henceforth? Well you are mistaken. She belongs to herself.

You remember a time when—? Well, she doesn’t remember. Pay your court!
Perhaps in another thousand years or so you may get to be fairly well
acquainted with her. Not so well acquainted as Tom, who jests with her
familiarly, or Billy, whom she pets, or that young painter, of whom she
seems quite fond; but she likes you, after a fashion—yes, she even
encourages you to persevere.

                  “_Had we but world enough, and time
                  This coyness, lady, were no crime!_”

But day after day, in this preposterous fashion, is slipping past; and
she says she is going to Los Angeles: and who are you to prevent her?

To Felix it bore very much the aspect of ironic comedy. One can often
see a joke when one cannot laugh at it. But what, after all, was the
point of this particular joke?

If it was a demonstration that a married couple who have parted may
continue to remain good friends, it was eminently successful. That
appeared to be the way everybody took it. After the first shock, people
seemed pleased. He and Rose-Ann had illustrated the virtues of
modernistic marriage; now they were illustrating the virtues of
modernistic divorce—something even more exciting!

_Was_ this a divorce?—the human fact which the law in its laborious way
confirmed after due and hypocritic consideration! They were apart;
Rose-Ann was going away; what did that mean except a complete separation
of their lives? It might be unthinkable, and yet happen just the same.
Everything that had happened was unthinkable: divorce was no more so
than any of the rest.

He loved her? Well, she knew that. And she loved him—there was no need
of questioning that. But she was going away nevertheless: and he was
going to let her go away.

How the devil could he stop her?

Plead with her, make promises, threaten, weep? That was child’s play.
Rose-Ann was not going away because he had omitted to make a scene.

They were past the day of scenes; they had had scenes enough. It wasn’t
that she wanted. Her going wasn’t an idle gesture to evoke his tears.
She meant it.

He had never understood her; he realized it now. He had had her in his
arms and let her slip out of them; and he didn’t know how to win her
back.

It was precisely as if they had never been married at all. He was wooing
her under difficulties. He wasn’t succeeding....

On the evening before she took her train for Los Angeles—she had been
very sweet to him in a touch-me-not way all that week—he said to her:

“Must you go, Rose-Ann? I wish you wouldn’t.”

It was hard to say even so much. He said it quietly enough: there was no
need to dramatize the situation. She knew what she was doing to him in
going away. He couldn’t ask for her pity.

She looked hastily around. She was making fudge in her dismantled studio
for a party of friends, and Felix was assisting her. But nobody had
overheard his—as it seemed—improper proposal.

She bent close to him, touching his shoulder with hers. “Don’t spoil my
good-bye party!” she whispered reproachfully; and then stealthily patted
his knee with her hand, as if to make amends for her scolding.

He did not ask, after that, to see her off; it was she who commanded his
presence. He went sullenly.

She talked about everything which least concerned them, and he wished
himself away. He hated her at that moment.

They were in the Pullman, with one more minute by Felix’s watch before
the train started. He was wishing it were over, when she smiled
reminiscently and said “Do you remember seeing me off to Springfield two
years ago?”

“I remember,” he said doggedly. Why did she want to torment him?

“Only two years—and a whole lifetime to forget them in,” she mused. “We
ought to be able to manage that.”

He looked up, but did not reply.

“Aren’t you going to kiss me good-bye?” she said.

He put his arms about her—and once more, as a long time ago, they were
swept together in a passionate embrace, that sought by its very pain to
impress this moment on their souls, to annihilate time and space for
them, and make them remember it always....

And then Felix was outside on the platform, and she was waving him a
cheerful good-bye.

                                   2

Back in his apartment, where he had not been since morning, he found a
note from Clive, asking him to come out and spend the week-end in Woods
Point. Clive had thrown up his job on the Chronicle to write his long
postponed novel. As he had told it, he and Phyllis had tossed up a penny
to decide which should come first—his novel or her baby ... and he had
lost.

The invitation annoyed Felix. He didn’t want to go to Woods Point to
hear about Clive’s novel.

He sat down at his desk and took out the manuscript of his unfinished
play.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                      LXI. Two Men Discuss a Girl

                                   1

THERE was one thing about writing which Felix felt had never been done
justice to by those who had praised the art of literature—it could quite
astonishingly fill up the hollow emptiness of one’s idle hours. This
quality, to be sure, it shared with drinking, opium-smoking,
mathematics, pure science, pre-pragmatic philosophy, chess and the
collecting of first editions, Japanese prints and postage stamps. But it
was less debilitating than drink and philosophy; a surer refuge than
chess; and there were no auctions to attend. Moreover one could work out
the third act of a play with a triumphant certitude and power such as is
denied to people who are engaged in trying to work out conclusions in
their personal lives.

When he finished his play, late in January, he was appalled to find that
he had nothing with which to occupy his spare time.... Of course, he
might write his play over again. But he was angry at that play, now he
had finished it. It had ended happily. Couldn’t one end anything happily
except on paper?

On a sudden impulse, he went to the railway station one evening and
inquired what time a train left for Springfield. He had got to thinking
of Rose-Ann’s father. For some reason he wanted to see him.... He found
that there was a train leaving in half an hour which would reach
Springfield in the middle of the night....

He wanted to see Rose-Ann’s father: if he waited to make sensible
arrangements and pack a bag, something would happen to keep him from
going.... He bought a ticket, feeling of his unshaven cheek with
ink-stained fingers and reflecting that he looked like a tramp—and went
aboard the train.

                                   2

The streets of Springfield were covered with new fallen snow. There were
apparently no street cars running at that hour. Felix started to walk
toward the Prentiss residence.

He walked for an hour. It was still dark when he reached the big house
on the corner. As he approached from a side-street he could see a light
burning in the Rev. Mr. Prentiss’s study, at the back of the house.

The ground slanted upward from the street, and Felix climbed the stone
coping and scrambled up into the back yard. Going up a terrace at the
back end of the lot, he could see into the window of the study upstairs.
Rose-Ann’s father was sitting at his desk, with an unlighted cigar in
his mouth, not reading or writing, but just sitting there, looking at
the lamp. Felix watched him. Once he moved abruptly, and shifted his
unlighted cigar from one corner of his mouth to the other, and then sat
quietly as before, looking at the lamp.

Felix moved incautiously, and stumbled off the terrace, covering himself
with snow. He stood up and brushed it off, and then went down by the
back porch underneath the studio window. A memory of Eddie Silver,
throwing dollars at the window of his Canal street home, came into his
mind, and he felt in his pocket for a coin and rather cautiously threw
it up at the window.

It went wide of the mark. He threw another and it tinkled sharply
against the glass. He stepped back, and he could see a shadow on the
window-pane where Rose-Ann’s father had moved between it and the lamp.

He waited a half-minute, and threw a third coin. It rapped squarely
against the pane, and a moment later the window was raised and
Rose-Ann’s father had leaned out. His unlighted cigar was still in his
mouth, and a lock of his grey hair fell forward from the back of his
head, waving like a plume. He saw Felix standing in the snow.

For a moment the two stared at each other, and then Rose-Ann’s father
leaned out still further and pointed downward with an angular arm. Felix
pointed toward the porch inquiringly, and Rose-Ann’s father nodded
emphatically. Then, it being clear that they understood each other, he
shut the window.

Felix went up on the porch, after stamping the snow from his shoes. A
light was turned on in the kitchen, and the door opened. Mr. Prentiss
came out, closed the door softly behind him, and pressed Felix’s hand.

“Come on up to my study,” he whispered, “but be quiet, so we won’t wake
everybody up.”

With an air of two conspirators, they went softly through the kitchen
and dining room, into the hall, and up the stairs. When he had closed
his study door behind them, Mr. Prentiss spoke aloud:

“It’s all right now. Nobody can hear us up here.” And again he shook
hands with Felix. “You look done up,” he said.

“I walked from the station,” said Felix, “and I fell down in your back
yard.” He laughed. “I look like a disreputable character—I wonder what
Rose-Ann’s brothers would say if they saw me now!”

“Sit down,” said Rose-Ann’s father, and pulled up a chair in front of
his own. “Have a cigar? You’ll find it more restful than those
cigarettes of yours. Try this one.”

“Thanks,” said Felix.

Rose-Ann’s father threw away his gnawed unlighted cigar and took
another. They lighted up, and smoked for a moment in silence.

“So you came to see me...,” said Rose-Ann’s father. “I was thinking
about coming up to Chicago to see you....”

“I suppose,” said Felix, “that you know what the situation is?”

“Mm—yes.... Rose-Ann never tells me anything. I have to be a
mind-reader. But usually I can figure out what’s going on. When she was
here this time it wasn’t hard to guess what the trouble was.”

“I suppose not,” said Felix. “It must seem simple enough to any one on
the outside....”

“And then,” said Mr. Prentiss with a guilty look, “I’ve a habit of
getting into correspondence with some of Rose-Ann’s friends. They drop a
bit of news now and then.... I used to have quite a correspondence with
Will Blake at the Community House. That is why I wasn’t so surprised
when I heard you two were married.... And lately I’ve been writing to
Clive Bangs—very interesting young man: He tells me about a novel he’s
writing; and sometimes he puts in a word or two about Rose-Ann; not very
much, but then I know Rose-Ann; so I can figure things out.... I had a
letter from him today....”

“What does he say?” asked Felix.

“Nothing in particular; just that he hears that Rose-Ann is quite happy
about her work in California.”

“You didn’t know she’d gone?”

“No—she never tells me anything. Not until a long time after it’s
happened.”

“Well, were you surprised?”

Rose-Ann’s father puffed on his cigar. “No—I can’t say that I was
surprised exactly. I’ve known her a long time.”

“And I’ve only known her a little more than two years,” said Felix.

“She always was a difficult child to manage,” said Mr. Prentiss. “Not
that I was ever any good at managing her. I just let her have her own
way.”

“I seem to be pursuing the same tactics,” said Felix grimly.

Rose-Ann’s father rose and walked across the room and back, his thumbs
locked behind his back, the cigar still in his mouth.

He paused before Felix. “Well,” he demanded defensively, “what else can
we do?”

“That’s what I’d like to know,” said Felix. He laid down his cigar,
looked at it with disapproval and lighted one of his own cigarettes.

“Is it—is it all over between you?” asked Rose-Ann’s father softly and
rather timidly, looking down at Felix.

“It looks very much that way,” said Felix gloomily.

“I was afraid so,” said Rose-Ann’s father sadly, “I was afraid so.”

He walked away, puffing out fierce clouds of smoke.

“It’s my fault,” said Felix.

“Mm—yes—yes,” said Rose-Ann’s father from the other side of the room
where he had halted with his back to Felix. “Yes, I shouldn’t wonder.”

“I was unfaithful to her,” said Felix doggedly.

“Yes, yes,” said Rose-Ann’s father hastily from his corner. “That can
happen, too. Women are—they drive you to it.”

Felix looked at him in surprise.

Rose-Ann’s father turned around to face him. “I’m an old man,” he said
apologetically, “and a priest. You can’t expect me to take things like
that as seriously as you young folks do. I hear about the sins of the
flesh too often to be very much impressed with them.”

“I just thought you ought to know,” murmured Felix.

“Well, now, to get to the point,” said Mr. Prentiss, “what are you going
to do about it?”

“I don’t know,” said Felix. “I’m trying to consider Rose-Ann’s
happiness.... She seems to be able to get along without me....”

“Seems to be? seems to be? You don’t seem so certain of it yourself?”

“If she can be happy with some one else, why should I interfere?” Felix
muttered.

“Who is this some one else?” asked Rose-Ann’s father, taking up his
march across the room. “Some one in California?”

“Yes, a poet.... I’ve my own little system of espionage, too. I got very
chummy with the art editor of the Motion Picture World before he left,
and he writes me all the gossip.... Besides I’ve Rose-Ann’s description
of him in her last letter to me—we’re still friends, you know. ‘Tall,
awkward, black-haired, blazing black-eyed’—sounds quite romantic.”

“Another one of her young geniuses,” said Rose-Ann’s father with a sigh.

“Another?”

“Yes.... She’s always had an eye for young genius. Queer-looking
specimens usually ... you should have seen the one she brought home from
Chicago once. Name was—Dick, Dick something. A poet. Never heard what
became of him, but I imagine that he died of drugs.”

“Was she in love with him?”

“It’s hard to say. I don’t know whether she’s ever been in love.”

“What!”

Rose-Ann’s father came to a halt again. “Oh, yes, she married you; but
she ran away from you.... And the nearest I can come to telling you why,
is that I suspect she ran away because she was afraid she _would_ love
you.... If that sounds foolish, just put it down to the maunderings of
an old man.”

“It doesn’t sound foolish to me,” said Felix. “It sounds—true.”

“Well, then, I’ll tell you something else. I imagine she’s nearer to
being in love with you _now_ than she was when she married you! What do
you think of that?”

“Perhaps it’s only because it’s what I wish to believe,” said Felix,
“but it sounds like gospel.”

“There’s such a thing as being afraid of falling in love,” mused
Rose-Ann’s father. “I think she married you because she thought she
would be safe from that danger—I know it doesn’t sound very
complimentary to you, but maybe you know what I mean—and she ran away
from you because she found out she was mistaken.”

“I know,” said Felix, “she’s always been afraid of love.... So have I,
for that matter.”

“That’s why she chose you.”

“Yes.”

“Well, there you are. I’m afraid this doesn’t help the situation any.”
Mr. Prentiss moved away, puffing his cigar.

“So you think it’s no use?”

“The question is,” said Rose-Ann’s father, “can you tame her?”

Tame her! Felix remembered suddenly the conversation he had had with
Rose-Ann at their restaurant rendezvous....

Rose-Ann’s father sighed. “I’ve never tried....”

“Neither have I,” said Felix. “It might be worth while!”

Rose-Ann’s father looked at him quizzically, and for the first time
Felix felt in his kindly smile the cynical quality which Rose-Ann had
referred to more than once.

Rose-Ann’s father shook his head. “You’re too much like me,” he said.

“I’m her husband, confound it,” said Felix, jumping up. “Where is my
hat?”

Rose-Ann’s father regarded him sympathetically. “You won’t stay to
breakfast?” he said. “Well—good luck, young man!”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                       LXII. Theory and Practice

                                   1

AT the end of the second day out on the Santa Fe, Felix had begun to
leave winter behind; the desert was blossoming with strange white and
scarlet flowers; and the next morning he rode past orange-groves golden
with fruit and white with bloom, and quaint little rose-gardens at the
way-stations, toward that purple infinite depth along the horizon which
began to lift itself into the white peaks of a mountain range. Felix had
been vaguely aware that the climate of southern California was supposed
to differ from that of the Great Lakes, but to be riding out of a world
of ice and snow straight into the heart of spring, seemed to him at once
miraculous and auspicious. The green and gold of this new world was
significant to him not as a fact of geography, but as a magical response
of nature to his heart’s impatience. It was a promise of happiness.

Felix was in need of some such happy auspice to hearten him. The
determination with which he had started out had been undermined by two
days and nights of solitary thought. Sometimes he felt like a martyr
going to the stake; and sometimes like a fool. But he was upheld by a
theory.

It was the latest of all his theories concerning life in general and
himself and Rose-Ann in particular; and he had resolved to act upon that
theory at all costs, no matter how absurd it might at any moment seem.

His theory was this: that he and Rose-Ann were married....

The question of _how_ married, whether by the authority of the State of
Illinois, or by their own free will and consent, was not permitted to be
raised; for if once one started in considering questions like that, one
got nowhere! The _how_ of anything in the world was a question one might
debate for ever. Plato and H. G. Wells—St. Paul and Bernard Shaw—Tolstoi
and Nietzsche—Dante and Milton—and Edward Bok ... the sages had never
agreed what marriage was. Some said it was a social arrangement, some an
agreement between two individuals, some a mystical sacrament; others
considered it a necessary evil; and still others a damned nuisance.
Felix himself had inclined to the view that it was a relic of barbarism,
connected in some way with those other barbaric institutions, Private
Property and the State. Perhaps it was; but that was not the point.
Whether as a survival of the barbaric idea of possession or by common
understanding and consent, whether by the majestic force of law or by
private agreement, whether by sensual habitude or as an outward and
visible sign of some inward and spiritual grace—they were man and wife.

That seemed to simplify the situation immensely. The relations of two
individuals, as such, were infinitely complex and incalculable; but the
relations of man and wife were something that the mind could comprehend.
Thus—what had happened, as an incident in the history of two human
bundles of emotions and ideas, was a mystery profound and unfathomable;
but as an incident in the history of a marriage, it was no mystery at
all—it was just a quarrel.... Married people often quarreled. Why?
Perhaps because they were married.... And—generally—they made up.
Perhaps for the same reason.

It was a comfort to merge the uniqueness of one’s woes in the ocean of
generality—to feel that in this very perturbation he was representative
of a vast class; that even here he was simply a husband!

And the solution of his difficulties was—this being the conclusion to
which his theory led—to try to behave like any other husband in the same
circumstances. Not—he was quite certain of this—not like Felix Fay. Not
like a young man who has read learned books on psychology. But like a
husband....

He had elaborated his theory in the spare moments of twenty-four hours
devoted to arranging his affairs at the office so that he could be gone
for an indefinite period. His first impulse had been to take the train
and let his job go hang; but a young man who has just discovered that he
is a husband realizes the significance of a job in its relation to his
marriage. If he failed in his errand, the job did not matter; but it
mattered very much if he succeeded.... And yet—he could not explain his
predicament to any one; his very dignity as a husband was bound up in
his not admitting that anything had gone wrong with his marriage. He had
to think up some plausible lie to tell the managing editor. His play—Los
Angeles—the moving pictures—five thousand dollars—a chance to direct it
personally ... a lie like that was the sort of thing people liked to
believe. The mention of five thousand dollars ought to convince any
managing editor.... And it did.

The afternoon before he took the train, Felix had gone to see old Mrs.
Perk at the Community House Theatre. She was still there, sewing
costumes. He threaded a needle for her. They gossiped for a while. Then
he asked her suddenly,

“Granny Perk, did you ever run away from your husband?”

A delicious smile of reminiscence stole over her plump old face.

“Yes, bless your heart, I did!” she said. It was as if he had recalled
to her some exquisite and delicious adventure.

She shook her head. “I was young,” she said, as if that explained much.
“I was a girl as liked to have my own way. And so,” she said proudly,
“one day, I took the bit in my teeth and ran away!”

She put her chin in her plump hand and contemplated her memories.

“It sounds very exciting,” said Felix.

“Exciting’s no name for it,” said Granny Perk. “It was just regular
sinful!”

“What did you do, Granny Perk?” he asked curiously.

She straightened up, and looked at him severely.

“I wouldn’t be putting ideas into the heads of young folks that are well
brought up and content with things as they find them,” she said.
“Nowadays the boys and girls talk as they should not, but they behave
proper enough. It was different in my time. I wouldn’t say Boo to a
goose—but I was a wild one for all that. But I’m not one to corrupt the
youth of the land. So ask me no questions!”

“Tell me one thing,” said Felix. “What did your husband do when you ran
away?”

“Why, he came after me, to be sure, and brought me home.”

“And you lived happily ever after?” asked Felix, laughingly.

“Oh, well now, I guess we got along as well as most,” she said. “I’ve
nothing to complain of....”

Did human life go to that pattern, Felix wondered. And if so, what was
the use of all his speculations and emotions? He wished he could go
after Rose-Ann in the mood of Granny Perk’s husband, to whom it had been
the most inevitable thing in the world. As it was, he had to brace
himself against intellectual doubts for two days and nights with an
intellectual theory: the theory that he was Rose-Ann’s husband after
all.

If he could just remember that—whatever happened!

How does a husband behave on such an occasion? With firmness? That
seemed rather absurd. With a tactful brutality? Felix sighed. It would
be hard to enact this difficult rôle....

But it was spring—miraculously spring in the dead of winter, and he was
going to Rose-Ann! Yucca-blooms and cactus-blossoms, roses and oranges,
warm sunlight and the green of riotous vegetation—spring!

It was noon on Saturday that he reached Los Angeles. He went to a hotel,
and lunched. Then he took the Pacific Electric to Santa Monica....
Rose-Ann lived in Santa Monica.

                                   2

When Rose-Ann reached her apartment in Santa Monica, after a leisurely
lunch in Los Angeles, and turned her key in the lock, she heard some one
inside spring up and come to the door. It was opened for her, and Felix
stood there smiling.

“How did you get in?” she demanded in surprise.

“Never mind how I got in,” he said. “I’m here.”

“It’s a matter of some importance to me how you got in,” she retorted,
edging around him into the room and putting her purse on the little
table. “I am known here as Miss Prentiss. The people here suppose me to
be unmarried....” she paused. “How _did_ you get in?”

“I walked in.... You had left your door unlocked.”

“Oh!”

“Aren’t you glad to see me?”

She relaxed her attitude of defence, and came over to give him her hand.
“Forgive me, Felix, for being so sensitive. I _am_ glad to see you. As
well as surprised.”

Her last remark was a demand for explanations.... Should he tell her why
he had come? Or dissemble his intentions? Courage!

“You know why I came,” he said.

She was on guard again instantly at the challenge in his voice.

“No.... Why?”

“Guess!”

He had only his theory to uphold him. Never had she seemed more utterly
alien than she became in that moment. There was a cool surprise in her
manner, and he felt as though he had committed some stupid insolence.

She did not reply, but only looked at him. He was making up his mind....
Now was the time when any husband in the world would assert his mastery
of the situation. A contemptuous phrase came into his mind: “cave-man
stuff!”

As if she were reading the thoughts in his mind, her cheeks grew red and
then white, and her eyes blazed dangerously. Every muscle was taut.

He took one step toward her; and in that instant a wild frightened look
came into her eyes ... like that in an animal’s caught in a trap. He
turned away, saw a chair before him, and sat down, sick at heart. No, he
would rather fail, than succeed—that way.

When he looked up, she was standing, a little dizzily, beside the table,
steadying herself with her hand.

His theory had been wrong.... It wasn’t husband and wife—it was himself
and Rose-Ann.

And yet—was she despising him? Well, let her.

“How long have you been in town?” she asked, quite naturally.

“I arrived this noon,” he answered quietly.

“Then you haven’t seen anything yet.”

“No.”

“There are some lovely places.”

“I suppose so.”

“I’ll show you about, if I may. I’d like to.”

“I sha’n’t be here long,” he said. “Only a few days.” Since he had
failed, he might as well go back quickly.

“I’m sorry you can’t stay longer,” she said—wistfully, it seemed.

That silly lie he had told to the managing editor to save his dignity,
came into his mind. It would save his dignity here too.

“I came to see the moving picture people about my play,” he said.

“Oh, did Winters write you about it?”

“Winters? No.”

“I told him about it, and he was very much interested.”

How utterly absurd! His play a movie!... Still, under the circumstances,
he could hardly say that to her....

“You haven’t settled anything finally, have you?” she went on. “Because
you really ought to see Winters. I’ll introduce you, if you wish.”

“That will be fine,” he said mechanically. He wished he could tell her
it was a lie; but that would be a confession of his purpose in
coming—and his failure.

“What are you doing this afternoon?” she pursued.

“Nothing,” he said.

She laughed. “You might be sociable and invite me to tea!”

He pulled himself together. He must play this thing out somehow. It was
only for a few days.

“Tea?” he repeated stupidly.

“Can’t you come? Then how about dinner?—No—” she bit her lip. “I
forgot—I’ve an engagement for dinner. But—I suppose I can break it ...
if you’d like me to.”

“No, don’t break your dinner engagement. I can come to tea,” he said.

She hesitated, and then said appealing, “I want to be good friends with
you, Felix!”

“I see no reason why we shouldn’t be,” he said.... That wasn’t very well
done—he ought to be able to do better than that.... “It will be very
nice to have tea with you.”

“Have you seen the Palisades?” she asked.

“No.”

“No, of course not....”

“The Palisades?” He appeared inquiringly interested.

“Pergolas and palm-trees. You’ll like it. We’ll go there for a walk.”

He smiled. “That will be lovely!”

Rose-Ann put on her hat, and looked at it in the mirror. It did not
satisfy her, and she went to a closet for another. She viewed herself
with dissatisfaction, and then turned to him and said lightly,

“Wait for me downstairs, Felix, while I change into some fresh things—I
get so tired of my work-clothes.”

He was swept with a sudden uncontrollable anger, so that he trembled as
he stood up.... It was strange that this petty humiliation, and not the
thought of losing her for ever, should destroy his self-possession! He
was ashamed of himself. He went toward the door.... Once outside, he
would go away and go home and never see her again....

She followed him to the door and put her hands on his shoulders; and
then they were in one another’s arms.

                                   3

Rose-Ann began to cry.

“We’ve spoiled it all,” she said.

“How have we spoiled it?” he asked tenderly but troubledly. “You love
me....”

“I love you.... I think so. Or at least I was terribly lonely for you.
But—”

“But what?”

“This only makes it so much harder. This—_this_ hasn’t changed my mind,
Felix.” She sat up on the couch.

“I shall never let you leave me now.”

“I’m afraid—you’ll have to find some other way of keeping me.”

“I shall,” he said defiantly.

“I—hope so, Felix.... I wish I could feel that I was really and truly
your wife. I don’t—yet.”

“Then,” he said slowly, “play at being my wife—for a while. Can you do
that?”

“I’ve played at it for nearly two years. It was nice enough. I guess I
can—a little longer. Do you suppose that is what it will come to?—just
playing at being married, Felix?”

“No. Never. We’ll find the answer this time.”

“How?”

“I don’t know. We’ll have to talk everything out....”

“We’ve talked so often, Felix!”

“Once more!”

“Yes ... but not now. Let’s play at being happy first. Shall we go
outdoors?”

“Yes.”

“And have our tea.... Felix, you will love the palm-trees! I’ll put on
my prettiest frock—for you.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             LXIII. In Play

                                   1

BY an unspoken agreement they postponed their discussion from hour to
hour. They were too happy to want to question that happiness. For the
moment all was well.

They were playing at being married; playing that everything was all
right.... And the very fear which lurked in the back of their minds of
that impending hour when they must reopen old wounds, heightened the
beauty of the present moment.

They loitered on “the Palisades,” under palm-trees, in the hot sunshine,
and drank in the cold breeze from the ocean—into whose waters, still
winter-cold, only the seagulls dared to dive.

They walked, under the eaves of that low cliff-wall along the shore,
among the few early holiday-makers, and the mothers who had brought
their children down to play on the beach. They watched the children
feeding the seagulls—throwing their remnants of sandwiches out into the
water, for the friendly birds to swoop down and take; and the children
would clap their hands and venture down closer to the water’s edge until
some icy wave would sweep in and send them scampering barelegged back
over the sand—a lovely game of children and birds and waves that one
could watch for ever....

Further down the beach they came to an Inn, where they sat on a balcony
and drank tea with rice-cakes, and watched the sun sink lingeringly
through bank after bank of cloud into the very ocean, taking with it
suddenly the day.

They went to one of the play-places on the beach, and danced and dined,
and rode on childish and breath-taking roller-coasting journeys. And at
midnight, still unwearied, still flooded with the joy of being alive and
together, they wandered back up the shore, to its remoter haunts, past
the piers gleaming with lights, into the darkness wanly illumined by a
young moon that climbed up behind the ragged rocks to shoreward.

“Let’s come here tomorrow night and build a bonfire,” said Rose-Ann.
“And bring our supper.”

They lay on the sand, still warm from the blaze of day, under the cool
wind from the sea, glad to have put off the testing of their happiness
another day.

They went back to her apartment.

“What about this alleged poet of yours, Rose-Ann?” he asked casually.

“Eugene?”

“I didn’t know his name....”

“Well ... he doesn’t count, if that’s what you mean.”

And she kissed him, as if anxious to prove herself all his. Tonight
there should be no cloud on their happiness.

                                   2

They breakfasted lazily Sunday noon at a tea-shop in Santa Monica, kept
by three quaint little Englishwomen; they dawdled over their shirred
eggs and toast and coffee until mid-afternoon, talking. Their table was
on a porch under a stucco archway, half screened from the road by a
trellis covered with roses.

“Everything is too beautiful,” said Rose-Ann. “What have we done to
deserve this?”

“Would you like to live here—always?” he asked.

“I’d like to have been a child here,” she said. “But the mid-western
winter has got into my blood. I guess I want to see snow again!”

“It does seem immoral,” he laughed, “—flowers in February!”

“I may go away,” she said. “Soon.... But not back to Chicago.”

“Why?” he asked in surprise.

“This—this magazine adventure—is over.... I was working to become
editor. And now they’ve offered me the position. And I don’t want it.
Isn’t it funny? It just doesn’t mean anything to me.... I shall try
something different....”

“So shall I,” he said unexpectedly. “I’m tired of my job, too.”

She smiled. “When you’ve made your fortune in the movies—”

“That was all a damned lie, Rose-Ann. I haven’t the slightest idea of
selling anything to the movies.”

“You’ve no idea how easy it is,” she said.

“Then that’s another reason for my not being interested,” he said. “I’m
tired of easy things.... I lied to the managing editor to get to come
out here. It was too easy. It’s all too easy.... No, I’m in earnest
about it.—I came to Chicago expecting to have to fight my way. Chicago
was too damned nice to me. I’ve been living in a pasteboard world ever
since. Look at my job—I come and go when I please; and I can say
anything I like.”

“The Fortunate Youth!” she murmured.

“The Intellectual Playboy,” he said. “I can say what I like—because
nobody cares. That’s the truth. There’s nothing heroic in differing with
the crowd when the crowd pays you to do it.”

“Do you want to be heroic, Felix?”

“Yes. I’d like to live in a world where ideas counted for
something—where people might put you in jail if you disagreed with them.
Then it would be worth while to have opinions of one’s own. One could
find out whether one really believed in one’s ideas!”

“Find out—how?”

“By suffering for them a little.”

“You _are_ a Puritan!”

“It’s not that.... I want the feeling of other minds resisting the
impact of my own, as sword clashes with sword. How can I know whether my
ideas are true unless they are put to that test? But I’m let think as I
please. It’s not a battle, it’s a sleight-of-hand performance. It’s
vaudeville.”

“I didn’t know you felt that way about your work, Felix.”

“You want to throw up your job, Rose-Ann. Why shouldn’t I?”

She could not quite tell whether he meant it or not.

“And write?” she asked.

“Oh, yes. But that’s not enough. I’m going to do something hard.—Oh, I
could be what’s called a literary artist ... the _mot juste_ and all
that; that’s easy, too. One has only to be sufficiently bored or
unhappy.... No, I want to deal with something harder than words. I want
to build something with my hands—a house, for instance. Why not?”

She leaned forward, smiling. It was sufficiently clear that he was not
in earnest. “Where will you build your house?”

“Not in this golden land where it is always afternoon. And not too near
Chicago, either. Do you remember the Dunes where we picnicked last
summer? There, perhaps. Away from everything.”

“I know where you mean. Yes. What kind of house will you build?”

“I suppose that depends to some extent on how much money I have. Let me
see, I had thrown up my job a moment ago! I take it back again. Now that
I have a house to build, I shall need it. How much do houses cost?”

“It depends on how large they are.”

“This will be large, but not too large, I should say.”

“Then it will take a small, but not too small, sum of money.”

“Just as I thought. And if anybody should be so foolish as to want my
play—”

“But do you really mean all this, Felix?”

“Why not? Why can’t I have a house like other people? I realize more and
more as time goes on that I am not essentially different from other
people. They want houses. Why shouldn’t I?”

“If you’re in earnest about it, then it isn’t a house you mean, Felix.
It’s a studio. That wouldn’t cost very much.”

“No. A house!” he insisted.

“But why a house?” she asked.

“Why do people want houses?” he countered.

“But—” she said.

“Yes?”

“You want a place to write in, Felix.”

“I shall write in the barn,” he said.

“Oh, is there to be a barn?”

“Don’t you think a barn would be nice?”

“I think a barn would be lovely. But then what is the house for?”

“I don’t know, exactly. You see, I’ve never had a house. But people seem
to have found uses for them. I would settle down in mine and await
developments. In the meantime, I could live in it. People do, don’t
they?”

She laughed. “Yes. People do.... But won’t you be lonely in such a big
house?”

“No,” he said, “I sha’n’t be lonely. Not in this house! If I am I shall
go talk to the cook.”

They looked at each other, smiling, and remembering the first morning of
their marriage. And for a moment Felix felt that they had drawn nearer
than they had ever been in their lives—as if in this foolish dream of
house-building he had by some inspired accident touched upon the secret
of happiness.... And then, in his doubting mind, there rose the fear
that this was an emotion shared only in play. It was too trivial a thing
to bear the burden of his need of reassurance. No, the hurts which they
had inflicted upon each other could not be healed by a jest....

For another moment their gaze still met, suspiciously, as he sought to
surprise in her eyes the thoughts, the wishes, that lay mockingly hidden
behind that impenetrable curtain. And then they looked away.

The moment in which they had seemed to understand each other had
vanished, leaving him with the certainty that it had never existed.

“Come,” Rose-Ann cried gaily, “we must go on our picnic.”


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            LXIV. In Earnest

                                   1

SHE had never seemed more dazzling to him, and more remote, than in the
hours that followed. They lay on the beach and watched the sunset, and
wandered arm in arm through the brief twilight into the darkness. She
was happy; and her happiness was a mockery to him. She was tender and
passionate—and in that very excess of tenderness and passion seemed to
confess to him that this was the end.

She was playing at marriage.

In the vast night the moon rose slowly behind the hills, unseen but
palely tinging the sky. They went past stray bonfires far up the shore
until they could see it, a slender crescent, cradled between two hills.

Its light faintly touched the edges of the waves with silver.

“What would it be like,” Rose-Ann wondered, “to bathe in icy moonlight?
Shall we?”

He remembered the time at Woods Point, the first morning of their
marriage when she had slipped from their warm bed while he slept, to
plunge into the snow. He remembered the sudden loneliness with which he
had awakened, and her naked footprints in the snow.... It seemed
profoundly characteristic of all her strangeness.

What other woman in the world would have left, at dawn, the bed of happy
love, to keep such an icy tryst! It was like their whole married life:
the warmth of mere human happiness had not satisfied her; she must go
out into the bleak strange arctic spaces of emotion; and he must go,
too.... Well, let her keep her cold assignation with the moonlight
alone, this time!

“No,” he said resentfully, and gathered driftwood for a fire, while she
undressed in the darkness.... He saw her go in, crying out with delight
at the water’s bitter coldness, and emerge, white and slender and
dripping with silver moonlight, from the waves.... And this was the
creature he had tried to make his wife! This seeker after strange and
impossible beauty!

He remembered that he had offered her, in some playful madness that day,
a house. A house in the environs of Chicago! Thank heaven, she would
never know that he had been in earnest.

She had dried her body miraculously on the tiny tea-towel from their
lunch-basket and resumed her clothes by the time his fire was alight,
and she came up laughing and hungry, demanding food. He unpacked from
the little basket the supper which their hosts of the tea-shop had
prepared for them. She munched sandwiches while he broiled bacon on a
stick over the blaze.

“We could do this every night on the Dunes,” she said—and his heart
leaped.

“Rose-Ann,” he said. “Don’t torment me.”

She took his hand. “Do I torment you?” she asked. “I don’t mean to. I’m
sorry!”

Was it surrender? he wondered—or some new evasion?

“Our marriage—” he said.

“Oh! Must we talk about it?” Her voice was wistful. “We’re so happy—as
we are.”

“As we are.... But what are we?” he demanded painfully.

“Together....” she said.

And then, when he did not speak, she asked, a little coldly,

“What do you want me to say, Felix?”

“I don’t know.... There are so many things to say.... All the things we
haven’t said....”

“Must we say them, Felix? Well, then—I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For everything.... Felix, if we had met each other for the first time
_now_—”

“Yes....”

“We could be very happy, I think. Oh, I know we could!”

“Have we hurt each other so much, then?” he asked sadly.

“It’s not that.... All that was my fault.”

“No,” he said.

“Yes. I’ve thought everything out. And sometimes I think I’m not sorry
that it happened. Because I’ve learned some things I didn’t know—about
myself.”

“Tell me.”

“I’d rather not.... Felix, I’m not the same person I was. I’ve found
things in myself I’m frightened of. Don’t make me tell them....”

“I wish you would.”

“They’re not nice things, Felix.... I woke up last night hating you....”

Her voice was shaken.

“I’m sorry, Rose-Ann,” he said contritely. “You have a right to hate
me.”

“No,” she said. “It’s not what you think. It’s something else—something
you’d never guess.”

Suddenly she threw herself face down on the sand and began to cry.

He put his hand on her shoulder. She drew herself away from his touch
with a convulsive movement. He looked on, hurt and baffled and
frightened.

She sat up, seized his hand and pressed it desperately. “Why can’t I
trust you?” she asked.

He had lost all clue to her thoughts. “I wish I could help you,” he
said.

“I don’t know—perhaps I’m trying to fool myself again.... What are you
really like, Felix?”

She was looking away from him, gripping his hand, staring blindly into
the darkness. She seemed not to be speaking to him. He did not answer.

Her hand relaxed its grip upon his, and she said, drying her tears,

“I despise myself....”

“For crying?” he asked.

“No—for what we’ve done.”

He thought he knew what she meant. “For—playing at marriage?”

“Yes,” she said strangely, “playing at marriage....”

He had a moment of clairvoyance, a moment in which his mind saw into the
one same realm of memory with hers.... He saw them, beside another
camp-fire, talking....

“_Not afraid_,” he repeated aloud the words she had said to him then,
“_not afraid of life or of any of the beautiful things life may bring
us...._”

“Felix!” she cried out. “Don’t!”

He was seeing another picture, of themselves walking in a park under
great trees that lifted their shivering glooms to the sky. “Everything,”
she had said, “is all right now.” What mockery! And he felt, again,
forces that he did not understand hurling themselves on his heart
crushing and stunning it....

“We were afraid of life,” he said. “We were cowards. Despise me, too.”

“Felix!” she cried, “you did care!... I never knew!”

                                   2

They looked into the dying embers of the fire.

His mind, as by a shadowy wing, was touched with a faint regret ... for
what?... for an old dream, beautiful in its way—a dream of freedom; but
a dream only—and worthy only the farewell tribute of a faint and shadowy
regret.

“What shall we do?” she whispered.

“Let’s build our house, Rose-Ann. Will you?”

“Yes.”



                                THE END


------------------------------------------------------------------------



 ● Transcriber’s Notes:
    ○ In chapter XVII, the sections are numbered 1, 2, 4. There is no 3,
      and no obvious place to insert another section number. Section 4
      on page 132 was renumbered to 3.
    ○ Page 235, the third and fourth lines were swapped.
    ○ Page 240, the section number 4 was corrected to 5.
    ○ Page 289, there is a page break after section 2 and the following
      section is also numbered 2. The page break was deleted and the
      following two sections renumbered.
    ○ Page 295, the section number 2 was corrected to 3.
    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was silently corrected.
    ○ Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation were made consistent only
      when a predominant form was found in this book.
    ○ Text that was in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).





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