Fiction

A DIFFERENT WOMAN

ALEC RACKOWE March 15 1948
Fiction

A DIFFERENT WOMAN

ALEC RACKOWE March 15 1948

A DIFFERENT WOMAN

ALEC RACKOWE

LEILA KENNING was having breakfast in the sitting room off the spaciousness of her blue and gold bedroom.

The French windows were open and the golden warmth of the May sun came past the full green of the hedges in the penthouse garden. The traffic of Park Avenue was audible but unseen and the reaching crests of the skyscrapers were misty in spring haze.

The room was small, paneled in studded white leather. The draperies framing the windows were wine-red and there were no pictures upon the walls to complement the aged patina of the furniture other than the glowing portrait over the fireplace.

From where Leila sat at the breakfast table the portrait dominated the room. That, she knew, was the way it should be. Artists like Hartley Dodge said: buy the finest picture obtainable and then desorate the room to emphasize the beauty of the picture.

Whenever Leila raised her dark blue eyes from

the newspaper the girl in the picture seemed to call out to her. A girl in a yellow dress that billowed about her as she sat on green grass. A girl in her late teens or early twenties with corn-colored hair and wide greenish eyes. Red-lipped, dewy with youth. The picture was christened “Spring” but in art circles it was “The Yellow Girl.” “The Yellow Girl” that had brought Hartley Dodge fame five years ago. Before Leila knew him; before Hartley became so important in her life.

Leila had never before considered that the Yellow Girl had been a real person; that Hartley had had a model when he painted the portrait, but she thought of it now. She smiled faintly. He had had other models, would have still others. They could not, she was sure, disturb her.

A leaf of the paper she held slipped. The rustle brought her thoughts back to the article she had been reading. The account of Phil’s appearance before the Senate Investigation Committee in Washington. An enquiry into Globe Holding. One of those endless enquiries that got nowhere because there was nowhere to go.

She could have given the august senators the

answer they were seeking. They insisted upon looking on Phil as they would on any other man. As suspiciously as they looked upon someone as young as he who had amassed so great a fortune in so short a time. In fifteen years.

Leila could have told them. Leila would have said, “You must not consider my husband as just a man. He isn’t. He doesn’t think and dream as other men do. His every thought is matters financial. As other men think of everyday life; of the little irritations and pleasures, of food and love and merely living, Phil thinks of sales and mergers; of combinations and groupings. Of using slight

levers to move great corporations. You’re not dealing with just a man, but with a genius. That is the cause of his power and wealth, not anything illegal or crooked.”

They wouldn’t understand but she hardly expected that. They couldn’t know Phil one tenth as well as she and she could not explain the man.

He was the Philip Kenning she had married when she was nineteen and Phil was twenty-five. Back in Claremont in the Middle West. She had been the prettiest girl in Continued on page 31

A Different Woman

Continued from page 11

Claremont High and after she’d graduated there had been suitors enough.

No one. certainly not Leila, would have wagered that Phil would be the successful one. He wasn’t the wealthiest or the most handsome.

Sitting at the breakfast table, the paper in her lap, Leila did not know why she had said, “Yes. Pll marry you, Phil . . .” Maybe it was the power in Phil; maybe it was because she had been nineteen and filled with extravagant dreams that Claremont was not big enough to ever make come true.

They had slipped away and got married and gone right on to New York.

Phil bought into a shaky company with more than a century of tradition behind it. He had combined it with three others and soon the new corporation was reaching out tentacles. It was running in the red but that was the stockholders’ worry and it wasn’t long before their howls changed to sighs of relief at receiving dividends.

There had been no stopping then. By the time the boom of ’37 came Phil was a millionaire. With the coming of war to Europe he was a shadowy figure behind great manipulations and someone Leila saw very seldom.

But she had been too busy to worry. She liked people. They liked her. She helped Phil with her social sense. There had been Palm Beach first, because anyone with money could go there. In Palm Beach she had met the people who welcomed her at Bar Harbour and Newport. There was the estate at Syosset and until the war the villa at Nice. And now there was Hartley and all the exciting new life lie offered.

ROGERS came to the door of the sitting room. He said, “Telephone, Madame,” and turned back as Leila reached for the phone.

She knew who it was and felt the ever-recurrent thrill at the thought of Hartley. She said, “Hello,” and Hartley’s rich voice echoed, “Hello. It’s a lovely day, darling.”

Leila leaned back in the brocaded chair, “Perfect. You’ll have a jammed studio for your party.”

“It would be, weather or no,” Hartley said. “I wasn’t thinking of that. I was thinking of us. We should be far from here now. In the South Seas or somewhere on the Mediterranean.”

Leila smiled, “We shall be.”

“But when?” There was an impatient fervor in his voice. “Leila, let me speak to him about us.”

“No,” Leila said softly. “I’ll do it. As soon as he comes back from Washington.”

“But . . .”

Leila laughed, briefly. “Bui. what, Hartley? There won’t be any trouble. Phil doesn’t think of me as you do. He’ll be very adult about it. I’ll tell him I want a divorce and he’ll just nod. Then some secretary will knock with an important message and that will be the end of it.”

“I hope so,” Hartley breathed and Leila said, “It will be. I’ve got to run, Hartley. I’ve a million things to do.” “You’ll come early?”

“Yes. I’ve a hospital committee meeting at two-thirtv but I’ll get away before five. Don’t worry. Are you working?”

“No. I don’t want to start anything new until I know about us. Until it’s all right.”

“Tt will be—soon,” Leila said. “ ’By.”

She put down the phone, smiling to

herself. She was used to Hartley. She saw him a great deal. More than she saw Phil. He had made one of her party in the box at the Met all winter; had escorted her to parties at the Ritz and the Plaza. It was not an affair, it was the preliminary to a marriage. Something established and recognized; with precedents by the hundred.

It would be, Leila thought as she went into her dressing room and pressed the button for her maid, a lovely life. Hartley Dodge had social standing by birth. She had money and position. Together they would go on as they were going; enjoying all the things life offered. A different life than she led with Phil—if indeed one could call that a life at all.

Marie told Leila that Phil had returned. “M’sieu Kenning is arrived, Madame.”

Leila looked at her jeweled watch. It was almost ten-thirty and she had an appointment at eleven. She nodded, looking at herself in the mirror. The slim lines of her tall figure—slimmer by far than when she had married Phil. The simple but expensive black dress; the exquisite fur jacket Marie had laid about her shouldeis. She said, “Ask Rogers to have the car downstairs, Marie.” She picked up her gloves and bag, tilting her head to get the effect of the wisp of hat on her dark hair.

PHIL was in the i;oom that was supposedly his study but was more an office. He stood up as Leila came in. He hadn’t changed much she thought as she looked at him. He still had the mousy hair and the careless clothes. His eyes were bright and piercing but there were lines underneath and he looked tired.

She nodded at him as he stood there, his grey eyes on her. “Will you be here for dinner?”

Phil said slowly, “I’m afraid not. I’ve got to go back to Washington later. I’ve got to be there by nine.” “I’d like to talk to you,” Leila said. “It wouldn’t take long.”

She saw his slow nod. “I’ll be here until six-thirty or seven. Will that be all right?”

“That will be fine,” Leila said brightly. “I’ll be here by six at the latest. That Committee isn’t getting you down, Phil?”

“It’s all right,” Phil said awkwardly. “I’m glad,” Leila said and went from the room. She thought of Hartley and instinctively she felt a little twinge of pity for Phil. What had he got out of life? Money, yes—more than anyone could use. But that wasn’t everything. It was, truly, hardly anything.

She was busy until almost twelvethirty. She spent fifteen minutes at Chez Louise, looking at a new hat. After all she deserved some relaxation. It was exactly five to one when she stepped into the black limousine and told Howard to go on to Lucien’s. The women of the hospital committee always lunched together at Lucien’s before the monthly meetings. They got mest of the preliminaries over that way before they convened.

Lucien’s was just off Fifth in the Fifties. The sun was molten gold by now and the sidewalks were crowded. It was the sort of day to bring people out.

Howard in his grey uniform came around to open the door. Leila stepped out onto the sidewalk. People looked at her. She was used to that. It did not make her feel arrogant or superior. It rather saddened her. She always thought, “If you had a husband who loved making money above all else you’d be doing this. I wonder if you’d prefer it.”

She started to the discreet entrance to Lucien’s and it was then that she

saw' a familiar face. A woman’s face. A woman in her middle-thirties, nicely hut. not fashionably dressed.

She looked at. Leila interestedly and moved on.

Leila said, “Martha . . . Martha Ames . . .”

The woman turned, gaping. Leila went to her, smilingly. “My goodness, Martha, you aren’t trying to snub me, are you?”

For a moment the woman stared at her blankly. Then her brown eyes widened. She said, hesitant, “You’re not—not Leila . . .”

Leila laughed, “Of course I am. I’d know you anywhere, Martha, even if it is fifteen years since we last saw each other. Don’t tell me I’ve changed so much.”

Martha nodded. The flower in her hat nodded as well. “You have. I wouldn’t have known you. You you’re different.”

“Clothes,” Leila said. She wrinkled her patrician nose. “And the years . . .” She smiled at Martha. Martha Ames who had been in her classes all the way through grammar and high school. Martha who had been a slim reed of a girl and was now a nice, comfortable figure of a woman. She put her hand on Martha’s arm. “You haven’t lunched yet, have you?”

Martha said doubtfully, “I was going to have a bite later. Cran and I are going out to dinner—a private dinner.” *

Leila said, “Cran? Martha, don’t tell me you married Cran Broker?”

Cran had once wanted Leila to marry him.

There was a tiny frown on Martha’s placid face. “Didn’t you know?”

Leila said firmly, “You’ve got to lunch with me. I haven’t heard a thing about Claremont since Mother and Dad moved out to the Coast.”

She drew Martha down the steps. Lucien himself came hurriedly to meet them. Leila said, “A table for two, Lucien. Do seat Mrs. Broker. I’ll be right back.”

CHE went down the room to the big O corner table. They looked up, the half dozen women in bright dresses and furs. Leila said, “I’ve a friend from home. I simply can’t sit in. I’ll catch up at the meeting. ’By.”

She went back up the jammed room to the table Lucien was holding out from the wall where Martha was already seated, a little self-consciously.

Leila sat down and sighed. “It’s good to see you Martha. How’s Cran?” “He’s fine,” Martha said with a defiance that Leila could not place. “We’re here on business for the week.” Lucien stood waiting, his pad and menu poised. Leila said, “Anything that’s good. Lucien. You take care of if, please.”

He bowed. “Very good, Mrs. Kenning.” Leila lifted her glass. “To you and Cran, Martha. When were you married?”

Martha said, “Last week was our fourteenth anniversary.”

Leila’s red lips parted. “My goodness, how time does fly. You’ve children?”

“Three. Doris is thirteen. Then there’s Junior, he’s eleven and Beth, the baby. She’s eight.”

Leila beamed. “How nice. Three children. How lucky you are, Martha.” “We think so,” Martha said. There was a faint touch of superiority in her voice as she said, “You and Phil haven’t any children, have you?”

Leila shook her head.

“We’ve been reading about Phil and that Investigation Committee. Cran says he’ll get away with it, of course,” Martha went on.

Leila said slowly, “There’s nothing

to get away with, Martha. Phil hasn’t done anything wrong.”

Martha smiled oddly. Leila frowned. She said, “Tell me about Claremont. What happened to . . .” she was about to say, “my other swains . . .” but she substituted “. . . to Ollie and Frank and Min Southgate and Floss. They’re all married. I suppose.”

She listened while Martha talked. The waiter brought their crab meat au gratin. There was ice cream and fruits for dessert. Martha talked possessively of Claremont and Leila sat thinking of the little, town; remembering herself all those years ago.

It was when she saw the other women going up the room, smiling at her and lifting gloved hands that she realized it was growing late. She was about to say, “What night can you and Cran come to dinner? Phil would love to see you and hear about Claremont.” Then she remembered. After tonight she and Phil wouldn’t be giving dinners. She said instead, “Phil has to fly back to Washington tonight. I’d love to have you and Cran come to dinner ...” Martha said quickly, “We couldn’t possibly. We’re all booked up.”

“I’m sorry.” Leila initialed the check, drew on her gloves. “Give Cran my love. I’d like to see him.”

Martha picked up her bag. “I’ll tell him I saw you.” The corners of her lips were drawn down and Leila’s eyes widened. Martha wouldn’t tell Cran at all. She knew it, though she could not imagine why. Fifteen years had passed since she had last seen Cran and they were grown up now—very much so. Martha said, “It’s been nice seeing you, Leila. But honestly I wouldn’t have known you—-you’re so changed. You’re nothing like you were. A—a different woman entirely.”

She wouldn’t accept a lift. Her brown eyes touched the long car with fleeting suspicion. There was in that glance, Leila knew, all the talk about Phil that went on in Claremont. The Committee needn’t investigate. In Claremont they had Phil sentenced already. He was a crook. He must be to have made so much money—to have become so powerful.

Martha said, “Good-by,” and was lost in the passers-by. Leila got into the limousine. The car nosed out into the traffic and she thought, “I won’t see Martha again. I won’t hear from her.” She felt a twinge of anger with Martha and the rest of them in Claremont. They had no right to think of Phil like that. It wasn’t so.

THE meeting was routine and by the time it was three o’clock Leila had forgotten all about Martha. She only remembered that soon she would be going across town to Hartley’s studio in the Arts Building. She would see that everything was in readiness. Then there would be a few minutes with Hartley before the crowd came. Hartley with his flashing black eyes, his jet hair and broad shoulders.

She left at three forty-five. It was four when Howard opened the car door for her before the Arts Building.

Leila went up in the lift. Juan, Hartley’s Porto Rican houseman, opened the door for her. The little man’s dark face was disturbed. He ducked his head. “Mr. Dodge not yet here, Mis’ Kenning.”

Leila dropped her furs in the anteroom off the foyer. She gave her glowing face one swift glance in the mirror. “You’ve everything ready, Juan? The canapes have come?”

“Yes, Mis’ Kenning Is all here. Is also . .

His voice trailed off. Leila moved through the foyer to the big double doors. She pushed one panel. The clear north light flooded the studio,

touching the paintings on the walls, the draperies in the huge, high-ceilinged room. And also the woman who sat, cross-legged in the chair, smoke curling from the cigarette between her fingers.

A woman in a rather startling lavender suit, a shabby hat on her yellow hair. A woman who lifted her head and stared at Leila from heavily mascaraed eyes.

Leila crossed the room, smiling, “1 didn’t know anyone had come yet. Hasn’t Juan brought you a drink?” The woman didn’t rise. She didn’t smile. Leila saw now that she was much younger than at first appeared. In her middle-twenties. But her face was not that of a girl. It had all the age of experience, if not the wisdom.

The woman said in a husky, rather pleasant voice, “I’m not a guest. I’m Elsie Mason.”

Leila said, puzzled, “How do you do, Miss Mason? Or is it, Mrs. Mason?”

“Miss.” Greenish eyes met Leila’s. “You’re Mrs. Kenning. You’re going to marry Hart, aren’t you?”

Leila said, “I beg your pardon . .” The woman nodded. “You are. You bought my picture, too.”

Leila’s red lips parted. “Of course, you were Hartley’s model.” She caught her breath because it was on the tip of her tongue to say, “I didn’t recognize you. You’ve changed so. You’re not the girl in the picture, not the Yellow Girl, you’re different . . .”

But she said nothing. Elsie Mason said, “I was the model, yes. I came to see Hart.”

She crushed the cigarette in a bronze tray. Leila thought, “She’s in love with him.” She felt no jealousy, only compassion.

Leila did not hear the door open. It was the widening of Elsie Mason’s eyes that made her turn. Hartley had come in. He was standing in the’ doorway, immaculate in striped trousers, black club jacket and grey Ascot tie.

He came quickly across the room to stand beside Leila, his cleft chin forbidding. “I’m sorry, Leila. Did . . .” Elsie Mason broke in, huskily, “I did nothing, Hart. I was just about to wish Mrs. Kenning all the best.”

She moved toward the door. “I’ll be going now. Clad to -to have met you, Mrs. Kenning.”

She didn’t look at Hartley. Leila heard her footsteps fade away. Hartley turned to her. “Leila, 1 wouldn’t have had this happen for worlds.”

Leila smiled at him. He was really terribly handsome; appealing in his distress. “It’s nothing to worry about, Hartley,” she said softly. “She’s changed a lot since you painted the Yellow Girl, hasn’t she?”

Hartley’s shoulders lifted. “They all change. It’s five years anyhow.”

“She was so young then,” Leila said. Hartley turned to her. He was a year or so younger than Leila. The look in his eyes was ardent. “Leila, let’s not think of anything but us. They’ll be coming soon. All the jabbering throng. I want everything to be settled. 1 want us to get away to start our life.” He came close to lier. “Oh, Leila, you’re so beautiful and wise. I’ve done stupid things and cruel things, even, but that was before I knew you. You’re not angry about her? About Elsie?”

Leila shook her head. She felt something, but it wasn’t anger or jealousy. She didn’t know just what it was. She said, “Of course not, Hartley.”

He took a cigarette from a box on the Italian table. The match glowed yellow. His black eyes met hers. “Leila, when are you going to speak to him? To Kenning?”

“When I leave here. He’s in town until this evening.”

Hartley dropped the match into a tray. He drew on his cigarette nervously. “I wish it were over. I wish you were free and we could be married. I need you, Leila.”

Leila said, “There won’t be any trouble. He’ll put no obstacles in our way ...”

“I hope so.” He came and put his arms about her. “Ob, Leila, if you only knew how beautiful, how lovely you are. With you to inspire me I’ll do great things . . .”

THE guests began to arrive then.

Leila was busy, acting as hostess for Hartley. She moved about, smiling, agreeable, but she was conscious of an unease in all her being. It wasn’t the imminent talk with Phil. She was sure of that. There would be no scene. Phil would even, she was sure, agree that it was the sensible thing. She could hear his quiet voice, “If it’s what you want, Leila, by all means.”

No, it wasn’t Phil that bothered her. She didn’t know what it could be.

She left at six. The party was going on its own momentum and there was no need for her to stay. She caught Hartley’s eyes and shook her head as he started to excuse himself and come to her. She found her furs in the cluttered anteroom and went down in the lift.

The golden warmth of the May day was fading when she got home. She told the butler, “Ask Mr. Kenning if he’ll come to my sitting room, Rogers.” The windows were closed against the damply gathering dusk and a tiny fire burned cheerfully in the fireplace of Leila’s sitting room. The Yellow Girl looked down in ageless youth and longing from over the jumping flames. Leila’s blue eyes met the girl’s wide green gaze. “You were so lovely, Elsie. And now, such a short time after . . .” She caught her red underlip between even white teeth, her face still, her eyes dark. She heard the door open and she turned as Phil came across the thick carpeting and put his hands out to the fire.

He said slowly, “It’s very pleasant.” He looked about the room as if to fix it in his mind and Leila realized that Phil knew what she wanted to talk to him about.

There was something in his face, the weariness perhaps, that made Leila’s breath catch. She thought, “He has changed. He’s barely forty but he looks older. He . . .” She said without thinking, “I saw Martha Ames today. I took her to lunch.”

Phil’s grey eyes met hers. “Martha Ames ... ?”

“From Claremont. She’s Cran Broker’s wife now. They’ve three children.”

“Of course.” Phil smiled. It was something unusual that softened his face; made it youthful. “You must have had a lot to talk about. It doesn’t seem so long ago and yet . . .”

“Fifteen years,” Leila said sombrely. “And longer than that.”

“Much longer.” The smile was gone from Phil’s tired face. He looked at his wrist watch. “I’ve got to go soon. About, that matter you wanted to talk over with me. I—whatever you want is all right, Leila. We—I don’t think it’s necessary to discuss it.”

Leila’s throat was tight. Phil turned from the fire. “I probably shan’t see you. I’m going to the coast from Washington.”

There was an unconscious bitterness in Leila’s voice as she asked, “Another merger? More millions?”

Phil said quietly, “No. I’m done with that. I’m getting out.”

Leila said incredulously, “Phil, you can’t mean that. It’s everything to you.”

Phil’s face twisted in the caricature of a smile. “Money? You’re wrong, Leila. It never has been.” His eyes touched her, from head to foot. He said slowly, “You’re very lovely. Lovelier by far than you were fifteen years ago. I’m glad. It’s something tangible. I wanted money and power, yes. I wanted them to give to you because there wasn’t anything else I had to offer.”

Leila couldn’t speak. Phil’s shrug was faint. He bent his head with that jerky little motion and moved toward the door. Leila said, “Phil . . .”

Phil looked back at her. In the gathering dusk of the room, lighted by the hazy twilight and the jumping flames, the Yellow Girl was a bright dress and a vague, questioning face.

Phil said tautly, “It’s all right, Leila. I know you never loved me. Perhaps I shouldn’t have . . .”

He didn’t finish. He said, “I hope you’ll be happy. I want that for you, Leila. More than any thing.”

The yellow dress shimmered above the fireplace. Leila thought “Happy? I haven’t been unhappy. Will I be happier with Hartley? I? But this woman who is me . . . who . . .” The firelight danced on Elsie’s blurring face and Leila thought, “That’s it, isn’t it, Elsie? That is what has been bothering me so. You were so lovely then and now you’re so different. How Hartley made you. We’re all what our men make of us. Martha was afraid to let Cran see me—not because of fifteen years ago, but because of now. I am a different woman from what I was when Phil married me. A better one—a more desirable one. Phil has made me what I am. His love and his work. That’s the woman Hartley Dodge thinks he loves. The woman, Phil Kenning made. But I wouldn’t be the same without Phil, would I? Hartley would make someone else of me. And I don’t want that. I like the woman I am.”

Rogers appeared in the doorway. “Pardon me, sir. Telephone, Mrs. Kenning.”

Leila’s skirts whispered. “Mr. Dodge, Rogers?”

“Yes, Madam.”

Leila let her breath go softly. “Thank you, Rogers.”

The door closed. Leila picked up the phone, aware of Phil standing tense and quiet. She said, “Hartley? I’m

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sorry, but it’s no go.” She cut across his quick words. “It isn’t Phil. It’s me. It isn’t what I want. It wouldn’t do.” She said, “No. Don’t come. I shan’t be here. I’m going away—with Phil.”

She set down the phone. She turned her dark head. “May I, Phil?”

She could barely see his face but his hands were hard upon hers, as they had been that October evening years ago. “Leila, you’re sure?”

“I’m sure,” Leila said.

She felt the tremor that went through him but his voice was as low and quiet as ever, “There’s nothing 1 want more than to have you with me. Always. There never has been.”

“Then everything’s all right,” Leila said unsteadily. “Because it’s what I want, too. I know that now.”