DAYS OF PROSPERITY
A Novelette Incomplete in this Issue
DENIS SLOANE walked quickly, an inner ebullition giving an added impetus to his stride. It was almost six o’clock, and the streets were crowded with people hurrying homewards. Girls dawdled arm in arm; men, with heads bent slightly forward, forged ahead with gray, worn faces; fat women with innumerable parcels and reluctant off-spring trailing behind them dragged wearily along; young men, with smooth, unlined faces, gave vent to gay bursts of laughter, as though the end of the day’s work had unloosed a spring which freed their spirits for enjoyment. Along the roads shining limousines slipped past, giving a glimpse of middle-aged men wearing the slightly stolid expression of satisfied prosperity.
Sloane worked his way in and out amongst the people, indifferent to the jostling of elbows, feeling only a slight impatience when he was
obliged to lessen his stride. Middleton was a ___
busy western manufacturing city of about a hundred thousand, and it seemed to him this evening that everyone was on the streets, intent upon blocking his way.
He turned down a side street with a sensation of relief. Thin dusk was falling and broad bands of light stretched across the sidewalks from uncurtained windows. It made him realize that it was growing late, and Milly always expected him to be on time. Milly’s housekeeping arrangements were run to schedule, and she was not pleased if he were late for his meals. But this evening she would have to excuse a little delay.
He was purposely taking the longer way home, feeling much like the child who peers into a shop window at a coveted toy.
But then this toy was so soon to be his own.
He turned another corner sharply and went down a secluded street which appeared to be a backwater to the main flow of traffic.
The houses were slightly dilapidated, old houses, generously built in their time, but now unkempt, and wearing a forlorn air. Few lights shone in the windows, and a great many of the fences bore the square white sign of “House for Sale.”
STOPPING at length before a gray fence he leaned his arms along the palings, and stared in at the low gray house which appeared to melt into the dusk. The plaster had peeled off in places,
leaving great scars through which the laths were plainly visible, and the windows were pasted thickly with signs of “To Let,” or “For Sale.” Over the grass there was a thick crust of dead leaves.
He could not have said why this house gave him such pleasure. He felt a curious intimacy with the old
A PRIZE OF $50 is offered for the best conclusion to this “incomplete novelette." Manuscripts must reach this office by Sept. 17, and must not exceed 1,500 words. See page 2.
place which was so dignified, so aloof from all the shoddy newness of a fast-growing city. He liked it for its ample proportions, its -air of permanency. He could fancy firelight flickering over its low ceilings, bees humming outside the window sills, children’s voices calling on the stairs. There would be the patter of raindrops on
the broad roofs, the sound of birds in the eaves, of wind in the chimneys. He felt that life could be fine, and good, and sweet lived under the shelter of that shelving roof.
He detested the new houses which his own firm of contractors were fast putting up to satisfy the great demand for such dwellings. Clap-trap places, with no sense of proportion or of line. Yet they could not build them fast enough to satisfy the demand, whilst houses like this stood empty year after year. Incomprehensible to him. But then so few people whom he had met felt just as he did about things of which he had learned not to speak. Even Milly did not understand. Sometimes the leap of light in an evening sky, the line of a roof, the shape of a cloud, would give him a swift shock of joy. But to Milly the cloud meant rain, she would find the roof out of repair, a sunset sky meant that it was time that supper was being prepared. He was thrust back upon himself, and perhaps for that reason felt his joy in these things the more.
A CLOCK commenced to strike some distance away, ■L*the sound of each stroke dropping into the silence like a stone dropping into a pond. He turned quickly down the street with a last glance toward the house,
while a warm sense of possession flowed through him. The house was practically his, would be his before many days were past. He knew a dizzy joy of realization. To want something to the very pitch of wanting, and then to know it to be your owm. That was something well worth all the struggle.
Two or three more turns, then up a steep short flight of steps. A smell of cooking pervaded the flat as he opened the door. Milly appeared in the lighted doorway of the livingroom.
“Whatever made you so late?” she asked, “it’s almost half past six.”
“I know,” he replied buoyantly, “I’m late as anything. Wait till I tell you what’s happened,” he said, dropping his overcoat on the solitary chair in the hall, “Mr. Seaton has taken me in as a partner in the firm.” “A partner!” exclaimed Milly, her brown eyes wide and round, “a partner! Oh, howr splendid!”
She flung her arms around his neck with excitement while he laughed down into her
putL \ -, w i~ not so isnt Lt h, Lrtt1t r.~ \t d~tr! let her rnt~ front hk n~~L tnd pulled h~ui into the sin~U ro~'rn h~r~ t for tht~r meal. ti: he t:d. her rd~ tttng in little ru.~h. 1I w~ be rnh h~ r~h.
rt~ri ?t L, L~u~ rIiii cr i tiU .~p in hd~Ligh~. I(~ z1.i1 ,t._!• i.. f~ htti~f S~t~ h&d b~t'n pknIi t i~iz L1ut w rnu?t 5h.~ etd~ m~'d t high .~ Ftt h.i~ ni% he .1, t~Jw -. `ii L S:1. h 11:4J'.j ii 1.itlV' fLu 1~V `LIt !~d f l'u~\t:I~. le 1~m it~~ ii :i1. h~iw liule t n .ut he~ t~. ,.~ ..~i. 1 II~ Ii 1t' I~LT~ .1S~' .l~. t1 .uitlt aft.: `.re t • LI_it .1., suc~u ls V%? I~l~!A~ t~. I~'ts get Ut)Pet W.v,' i. t~,. •ih_uut it all.'
`t'UERE wi. slam of doors, a I .it~hs. illys voice org ng w~th e~titement. iiiniz quetUons at him a~ fast as she oulti think of them. He bumped i~ito the narrow 4~~rw~y mI) the and laughed with high spirits. `I .`r.t hnmt ir~t' the doors in our new house," he sa.i~ with r~ri,lt in the thought of the house that o .rv his own. il liv. wait until you see the house t~t w~re i~s~ to live in. Great big rooms with to everyone of them. Think of going to sleep it~hir~ the flickering over your bedroom a1. O~. t's :r.~ be so splendid. . everything." 1). .~t lwr., y.r~ in my way," Milly said brushing i~as~ him l~1i have everything on the table in a few m in Ut. 1k at l~wr~ at the table and unfolded a crumpled N rn re ,.ish,~d napkins after this. Oh, ever. thtt~g a. z'ini to be so different. Mil]y would not i-a.. t.~ b.trer fl g meals any more. It had been s har~ on Millv. these three years, and she had t~n w-~derfu~ the wa. she had managed. It was :~ who had tad the idea of dropping any pennies they -~l . tflt) the hild's bank which stood on the kitchen Si-SIf. lie had always laughed at this notion of h~-rs. lit ne had occasionally dropped some small charize mt: tie open slit u~t to gratify her whim. 7ha: •:ind of sav:flg lid rot appeal much to him. Saving of time so ti-ar he could put more energy into his work IT. to he a more fruitful form of economy. 1..~ MilLy lid nt see t in that way. She was immensely o~ the srn.~! a~ance she had at the bank as the result of these economies, and he forebore to laugh at Af~all, most women would have squandered it on ,-r.hes M:dy semdem wore a.yttirg except the clean a: rgharn in which she i her housework, and a strnpoli-: serge when soc went out. She was too too far `eing to have run a man into debt. re was :. -:~nd. Ii some times he cavilled at he small ecort rnr-sa re cad been the means of helping oim on. a a. that was ecded. Milly could have lerity of .riath--~. culli furnish her house comfortably, o:u have sortie pieasir'~. He felt that no one deserved ;xxl frtirc rrore `.ar. M:ii~.
Hb pusneit oper the in r airl `a-ne through sideways, carnYlr.g a p.att"r .0 u)tn hands. She put it down and otsan:"ar"d aga:n. com:ng oacr: with plates, then sat down with her rrns extenried along the edge of the table. N ya," she a:d tell me everythIng about it." `1 don't :now that there is very much more to tell :;ou' he -.~:c utrtng the steak on the dish hefore him. Wright .s reriring and Seaton wante me to become one of the rrrn. It's a splendId `nance for me. I never creamed of s~tn a thing." No, nut it's al~out ttme tr.at you were getting on,'' .l .y ii beping r.erself generously to potatoes. ``Wi C or .cng e:.ough. goodness knows." it quite true. bat .[[Jy's rennars rather dampened `~.~ria Nuw tnat n~~r first excitement was over sce a~çeareu to r.c taking it as a matter of course that he shn';.ci nave the partnership offered to him. He knew tnat it was a rare stroke of good fortune. Mr. ieatcr had always ta..:en an interest in him, appeared
ko him. but ho had novor dreamed of anything like llo tried to explain this to Milly but her mind tod to bo preoccupied with something else. Then broke in abruptly.
wonder if wo could afford that house that father speaking about the other night. I think that we d pay that amount of rent.”
t going to rent," ho said cheerfully, “we’re going to buy.”
Milly appeared surprised.
“1 know the house I want,” he went on, “and 1 can pay so much down and then pay the rest in rent until the house is ours. I found that out some time ago. 1 didn’t think then that there would be much chance of being able to do it.”
“What house?” Milly inquired, "the only house 1 want is one of those new houses on South Street with the piazza across the front.” He shook his head.
“We’re going to buy the old Marsh house.”
Milly put down her knife and fork and stared.
“Are you crazy? Or are you only fooling?”
“Neither,” he responded with a touch of coolness in his voice, “I’ve wanted that house for ages. It’s the only house in town that I care about having. And I’m going to have it.”
“You never told me that you wanted to live in a barn,” Milly said coldly.
“No. because I didn’t know if we could ever afford it,” he replied trying hard not to be annoyed by Milly’s tone.
“Well, if you think for a moment that I am going to live in that old tumble-down place, you’re mistaken,” Milly said, her voice rising to a high, thin note. “I never heard anything so ridiculous in my life. Wait until I tell father what you want to buy. He’ll laugh.”
“I don’t see that your father has anything to say about it,” Sloane responded, pushing back his chair, and rising abruptly from the table. He hated Milly’s voice when she was angry. It jarred something inside of him. It was so out of keeping with her round, soft face. It was fiat and toneless at the best of times, but when she was angry, it was hideous.
T_T E WALKED into the tiny kitchen and stared down at the medley of pots and pans in the white sink. On top of ali his excitement of the afternoon this kind of thing made him feel sick, physically sick. He swallowed twice, hard, and then turned back towards the door. Milly began talking again in the same tone as he pushed open the swinging door and stood before his unfinished meal.
“Aren’t you going to finish your supper?” she said crossly. “If you think that I’m going to live in that dirty old ruin you’re mistaken,” she went on, apparently unable to keep off the subject now that she had begun. “We’ll move to one of those houses on South Street, or we won’t move at all. And that’s the end of it,” she said, rising and lifting the empty dishes off the table with a final gesture.
He watched her without replying. He had never known Milly to be like this before. They usually agreed on most subjects that came up for discussion. He could always depend upon Milly to see the best way out of a difficulty. But this was different. He was amazed at the decision in her tone. All his enthusiasm was oozing out of him, leaving him limp and tired. He turned towards the mantelpiece and picked up his pipe, forgetting about his meal.
“Oh, do what you like,” he said, “I don’t care. Damn!” he exclaimed as the head of a match snapped off in his attempt to strike it, “Damn these matches!”
BY THE following morning his irritation had passed.
He reproached himself for his anger the night before. Milly did not open the subject again and he made no reference to it. After all, it was only natural he told himself in some contrition, that Milly should not have seen the possibilities in the old Marsh place. He would have to make her see it as he saw it. She would have to grow accustomed to the idea.
He had not explained to her just what he intended to do to the house once it belonged to them. Just at present she would naturally prefer the idea of a modern house with modern arrangements for housekeeping. Milly probably did not realize as yet that she would not have to bother very much with that kind of thing any more. They would have a good maid and Milly would have time for other things. What these things
were he was not quite certain about. For himself he knew what he wanted; more leisure to read, to study, to learn of the endless things for which he had never had the time nor the opportunity. He wanted to feel that his surroundings were exquisitely right; he wanted life to flow smoothly, leisurely along, with time for enjoyment. He wanted to find self expression, to develop from what he humbly knew himself to be.
He imagined that Milly would want the same if she had thought about it at all. Milly was of a more contented nature than he was; the sting of poverty had never seemed to have made her feel that starved feeling which he had known. She had been satisfied with the scantiness of their life. He admired her for it, wondered at her content. Poor Milly! she had known little else hut poverty, they were both of them inured to it. But he had never ceased to rebel, to ache for all the things of which he had been deprived.
\7"ES, Milly had been more contented than he had 1 been. She had perhaps more common sense, she was more practical. That was what he had always liked in her, even when he had first known her. Most girls he had met were so devoid of any solidity of character. They giggled foolishly over nothing, had no sense of responsibility. He had liked Milly for her steady quiet ways, her smooth brown hair drawn backso simply from her soft, pretty face. She was not affectionate. Anything of the kind bored her. Their love making had consisted of planning how they were to manage to live on a quite insufficient income. If he was a shade disappointed in her indifference, in her cold, reserved manner at most times, he soon grew used to it, would have been surprised at anything else. He had never found reality anything like his dreams. He looked upon marriage as a partnership. But still his marriage had been fairly successful on the whole. Life had been a struggle it was true, but then he had never known it to be anything else.
He could just dimly remember his father who had died when he was a boy, a tall thin man, with a sad face and a dejected air. Life had been too much for him. He had been a lawyer with a small, a very small number of clients, and even until the time of his death he had never managed to make ends meet. He had been kindly and gentle, immersed in his books and his own thoughts which could not have been happy ones. His mother had been of a different fibre, a small aggressive woman with scant education who had died soon after his marriage. She had taken in boarders after her husband’s death, and his earliest recollections of childf hood were composed largely of the disputes that went on between his mother and the boarders. He detested it all with a fierce, childish anger, instinctively being aware of a world that was different.
There had been one spot to which he used to escape when the dreariness of the boarding house and everything connected with it became too much for him. He would go out along the cliffs which overhung the lake, a few minutes walk from the town, and there he would fling himself down in the sweet clover scented grasses, hearing the long slow wash of the water far below, feeling the sun soak through his skin. The boarding house and his mother’s irate voice would become blurred and indistinct, while his mind seemed to sail out like a small white ship in the wind, to the silver horizons of the lake, and beyond into a world of fancy and endless imaginings.
MILLY did not speak again of the house during the days following, and he was quite content to let the matter lie as it was for the time being. He was busy at the office, and when he got home in the evenings he read the papers and went early to bed. He was all the more amazed therefore when Milly announced quite abruptly one evening as he sat 'reading:
“It’s all settled about that house on South Street. I told the owner to-day that we would take a year s lease.”
He lowered the paper to his knee and stared at Milly puzzled beyond words at this extraordinary statement. At first he imagined that she was joking, but her expression contradicted any such idea. - There was an air of defiance in the way in which she held her head as she threaded a needle and continued her darning.
“You mean,” he almost stammered, “that you have told them that we will take that house?
“I told them that we would move the beginning of the month. I sub-let the flat to-dav.”
TT WAS as though the floor had heaved up under x His chair. He had never known Milly to take matters into her own hands in this fashion before. It was so unlike her that he could not grasp tire fact that she had done this thing which she knew was so against his wishes. He saw how useless it would be to argue the point before this new stubborness which he saw in Milly’s face. He would have to give in or lead a life of
constant reproaches. He detested arguments. Rather than find himself involved in one he would abandon his dream of the old Marsh house. But he could not bear the idea of that dreadful house on South Street with the terrible verandah across the front.
It gave him a new angle upon Milly’s character which puzzled and perplexed him. He felt suddenly as though he had been living for three years with someone whom he scarcely knew at all. After all, what had their conversation ever consisted of, except the price of thing», bills, payments, or discussing a problematical rise in salary, the purchase of some trifling necessity. Now that they were to have the opportunity to fulfil some of their desires, he saw vaguely that things were going to be different. How different he did not know, but he felt already as though he were drifting far from the safe harbour of familiarity.
The next few weeks assured him more and more of this fact. Giving in about the house was only a beginning. Each day Milly was making some purchase, buying some piece of furniture which made him protest violently at first, but gradually he saw that Milly’s will in these things was impossible to combat. She would simply close her lips into a narrow line, after delivering her ultimatum, and decide things in her own way.
He would go with her in the evenings to look at the new house, which was beginning to have a furnished appearance, and move from room to room, while he felt that he detested the whole place as he had never detested anything in his life before. The florid wall papers, the over-stuffed chairs, the ornamental fretwork over the doors, all filled him with loathing. He did not feel as though he could live in the house. But Milly was complacently content, congratulating herself upon each new purchase, preening herself upon having made a good bargain.
“I just told him straight that I wasn’t going to pay that price,” she said one evening after the purchase of a chair at which he could not bear to look. “I wasn’t the kind to be cheated. I told him that he could take my price or I wouldn’t go into his dirty shop again. It's a bargain,” she said shrewdly, passing her hand over the mottled velours, “it’s worth far more.”
LIE FELT an uncomfortable sensation creep over him,
-*■ and turned and walked into the other room and stood looking out of the window. With a sudden ache of loneliness he felt as though .he were that small boy again, lying in the sweet clover grasses, staring out to the taut silver line of the horizon, willing his mind to drift like a small white ship, far away from the reality of life. Was life nothing but an accumulation of small, petty annoyances, pin pricks, little irritating facts? Loneliness, that was what he had found life to mean. An ache that would never stop.
Milly’s voice sounded behind him.
“What did you come in here for?
I was going to tell you that he offered me that hat rack for five dollars less than he asked for it yesterday. I guess he knows that although I can afford to pay what he asks, I’m not such a fool as to be taken in by him.”
He turned back into the room, looking at Milly with a vague, troubled sensation.' It was quite absurd to imagine that Milly could have changed so completely in a few short weeks, and yet this Milly seemed to him so alien and so strange. Milly, as he had always known her, had been the capable wife her entire mind occupied with the idea of helping him along, saving and managing on a wholly inadequate income. He had known that she was a keen bargainer, but this aspect of her bargaining had not struck him very forcibly before. He disliked it and said so, while Milly listened to him with surprise and annoyance.
“If you want to pay more than you’ve got to pay, then you’re a fool,” she retorted rudely.
TIE FOLLOWED her rather drear-*■ ily upstairs to see some further purchases. He felt that he would be glad when this was all over. When they were settled it would be better than this. He was tired to death of these arguments. He did not intend to discuss these matters with Milly any more. She treated his ideas with scorn. Did he suppose that she
didn’t know how to furnish a house, she would inquire sarcastically.’ She guessed she knew as much as he did. She didn’t want to be taught anything by him. He thought that he knew everything.
She was making these same comments now, and at length he responded wearily.
“I don’t think I know everything,” he said, “I know how little I know. I want to hear good music, know a good painting when I see it, know the kind of people who care about these sort of things. I don’t know anything really, except the kind of thing that I want. . and this house ...”
He stopped. He had been going to say that this house stood for all the things which he didn’t want, but he did not wish to annoy her any further.
“Well,” she drawled, “if I didn’t think enough of myself to think that I knew as much as anyone else, I’d feel sorry. I guess I know a good painting and good music as well as anyone. There’s that picture that I was telling you about, of the girl leaning over the gate with a daisy in her hand. I knew the minute I saw it that it was a good painting. It’s just as lifelike as can be. You could believe that she has just picked the daisy out of the field. I can get it for twentytwo-fifty . . .if I pay cash.”
“I wouldn’t have it at any price,” he remarked suddenly, departing from his resolve to say nothing. “Can’t you see that’s just what I mean. That’s the sort of thing that’s all wrong. I can’t tell you why, but I know it is. You can’t buy an oil painting that is worth anything for twenty-two-fifty.”
Milly gave a short laugh.
“You say that you don’t know anything, and the next minute you are trying to teach me. I don't need teaching. I guess I know all I want to know.”
He bit his lip and said no more. The next evening when Milly took him to see the final preparations for their move, he noticed that the picture of which Milly had spoken, was hung over the mantelpiece in the front room.
LIE WAS quite aware of just how much he -.vas g jin g ^ to hate his new surroundings, but existence as ii opened out to him in the days which followed their move to the new house, became more and more revolting to him. He felt every sense outraged aud his peace upset by Milly’s taste and by Milly’s behaviour now that she considered herself a person of some irnportat.ee. She appeared to consider that his success gave her cause for conceit. It would have been funny if it hau been anyone else, he would think, but ir. Mi..y it was a tragedy.
He would sit arid lister, to her in bewilderment as she expressed ideas which lie had never heard her express before. He would imagine that perhaps he had grown too critical, too carping, and then Milly would make a remark which he knew she would never have made in the old days of poverty. She had a growing contempt now for people who were poor. He could not understand her new outlook, he could not bear the ideas she was expressing from time to
How could she have changed in so brief a time? Was it because formerly she had had little or no opportunity to show her tastes, to give expression to her individuality? It was like watching a small tight bud which you had expected to open into a perfect flower, unfold into a coarse rank weed. And then he would catch himself up with a feeling of shame that he should be able to think such things about Milly. who had been so fine and so splendid in the past. He hated himself he felt that he was growing to hate her.
He had somehow imagined that new mat they had money to spend life would assume an ease which they had never been able to accomplish on their limited means. But there was less comfort than there had been in the fiat. He would arrive home to find the maid had left and that there was no dinner. Milly would mil him to go out to a restaurant instead. Breakfast would never be on time. Milly would call over the banisters to the maid to try and hurry her. There would be high pitched words between them, and he would leave the house having gulped down a cut) of coffee, while Milly continued to revile the maid.
He glanced over the breakfast table one morning, after they had been in the house for some time, and said with a mounting feeling of annoyance,
“Why can't things look different? Milly looked up in surprise. “What do you mean?” she asked crisply.
“I mean,” he began stumbling, not quite sure of just what he did mean, “that everything looks just as it looked when we hadn t a cent. Only it isn't even as comfortable.' His eyes rested on a blue granite coffee pot beside Milly. "That, for instance.” he said, “people don’t have coffee pots like that on the table. Go and buy one. I don’t know what exactly . . you should know."
“I don't see anything wrong with the coffee pot. or anything else, she replied snappisnly, “you never stop complaining. I used to sa\ that you were ease' to' live with., but I don't say it any longer.”
there might be some slight iusr.ee m what she said, “it's just tirât I ve always wanted things to ne umerent' to what wede had. We car. afford it new. We", he aide m afford very much more so >r.. and 1 deckt see why we can’t live line other people who have the same amount or less than we haw to kw on. I suppose it sounds foolish a man caring about these little tilings . but I ve always wanted things to be right . . and never had them right. I don’t know enough myself to make them right. But you should know. Women
know these things. At least I always thought they did.”
\ ,f ILLY shrugged her shoulders and got up to put a •t» * plate down on the side-board.
"1 don't know what you are talking about, things being right,” she said impatiently. "It's too silly to listen to it. If you find things wrong you're hard to please. 1 told Mrs. Ames just what 1 had paid for that new parlour suite and 1 tell you she opened her eyes.
She’s always boasting about her big house. I told her that we were going to build very soon. 1 said that when a man was making ten thousand a year he couldn’t live in a rented house.”
"I wish to heaven’s sake that you wouldn't discuss my affairs.” lie said.
“it’s horrible to talk like that. And I'm not making ten thousand anyway.”
“Why shouldn't 1 discuss your affairs.” she sasd. "they are my affairs too. it doesn't do any harm to let her think you are making it anyway.” and she left the room, slamming the door behind her.
He picked up the paper and glanced abstractedly down the column. Yes, he was becoming irritable. He admitted it to himself. After all, why should he have things run just as he liked them?
He was sorry that he had spoken about it to Milly. It only annoyed her and didn't do any good. He wondered what he could do to make up. He felt that he would like to do something that would please her. that would restore a peaceful atmosphere. He was so tired of these incessant disputes about trifles. It had been his fault.
His eyes were caught by an announcement in the papers. A musician was playing that evening at the Alhambra Hall. Perhaps Milly would like to go.
He knew that she liked music and had had little chance of hearing any. He would buy the seats and give her a surprise. He felt terribly sorry that he had been disagreeable to her about the coffee pot, and glad that he had found something which would please her.
LJ F. WENT home early that evening, wondering how Milly would enjoy the prospect of the concert. He had a happy gratified feeling that he could afford to pay such an outrageous price for the tickets without feeling that he had done something sinful. He was excited himself at the thought of the evening. This was the kind of thing that an increased measure of prosperity had meant to him.
Muly was in the drawing room. He stopped, startled by her appearance, staring, incredulous.
“What's the matter? What are you staring at?” she
"What have you done to yourself?” he said, puzzled.
,rYou look so different.”
Milly put her hand up to her hair and twirled complacently around before a mirror, glancing at her reflection with undisguised approval.
I've had a permanent wave,” she said, “don’t you
"It's simply awful,” he said aghast at her frizzled head w r. - bulged with rolls reminding him of sausages. “Go
and brush it out for Heaven’s sake.”
'T like that,” Milly retorted in indignation, “it just shows how little you know. It doesn’t brush out anyway, ou don't suppose I'd pay what I did if it came right out.
It's permanent,” she said with supreme satisfaction.
He put his hand slowly to his pocket and drew out the
I've bought tickets for the concert to-night,” he said,
“it's going to be wonderful.”
I car.': bear concerts,” Milly replied indifferently, “you car: go yourself if you’re going to one. I had enough of them when I taught Sunday school.”
"But this is not the same,” he said rather lamely, his eyes still fixed upon Milly while he had a growing realization of her appearance. There was something wrong with the dress she was, wearing; or was it her hair? He hated to admit it to himself, but Milly looked common.
‘’All right, if you don’t want to go,” he said, turning towards the stairs, "I’ll go by myself. Can I have something to eat soon? I want to get there early.”
"The maid'3 gone,” Milly remarked. “I wasn’t going to stand her impudence any longer. I’m just going to get
Sloane sighed. He had heard the same thing so often. It was quite apparent that Milly could not get on with any maidThis one had been so satisfactory with her
quiet, unobtrusive ways, the only unobtrusive thing in the house he thought bitterly. But he had known that Milly would not be able to keep her. He closed his lips together and went on up the stairs. He felt tired of everything. He wished that they were back in the tiny flat, worrying over how to pay the bills. They had been happier then than they were now.
11 e sat down and stared at the carpet which was sprink-
led with large roses on a bright green ground. The whole room jarred his already jarred nerves. All the pleasure in the thought of the concert had gone. Life was piling up obstacles to happiness on every side. Money wasn’t everything after all. Life was more complicated than that.
How was he to go on with a life-time of this sort of thing? It shocked and horrified him to realize how much his feelings for Milly had changed in a few months. He had always looked forward to the time when Milly could perhaps take more interest in the things in which he was interested. He could not expect her to have done so in the flat. Her time was all occupied in preparing meals, in keeping things clean. He had thought that when the time came that he could lift that burden from her, that they would grow closer together, be more one in their interests and their thoughts. Now he saw quite plainly that they were drifting further and further apart. The irritation was not only on his side. Milly spoke to him now with a direct antagonism in her voice. He felt that an intense hatred was growing up between them, and he did not know how to arrest it. How would it all end, he wondered hopelessly; how could it end?
' I 'HE hall was crowded by the time he arrived. He took his seat, still unable to throw off a feeling of depression. After all, hadn’t he been foolish to come? This restless urge towards something, he scarcely knew what, was probably only an indication of a restless, discontented nature. Milly was perhaps wiser after all to put a ban on all things outside her knowledge.
He glanced through the programme but it meant nothing to him. He had never even heard of the names of the composers. In all likelihood he would find himself bored and weary half way through the performance. His ignorance seemed to him like an abysmal chasm which he could never bridge, an ignorance of everything which somehow he felt gave colour to existence. These things would satisfy that long ache for something more, something apart from the drudgery of work and dull routine. It was a dumb instinct, an insistent voice that whispered to him that there was more in life than he had ever dreamed.
At length the lights were dimmed in the packed hall, and a tall, slight man came on to the platform and bowed. He sat down carelessly at the piano, and as carelessly dropped his hands on the keys. A swift ripple of notes
sped through the hushed silence; they seemed to Sloane sitting eagerly forward in his chair, like a flight of gulls through twilight spaces. Then the music rose in an ascending volume of sound while he felt as though he were being drifted away on a bright, rushing stream; carrying him lightly through long vistas of sunlight, through deep purple shadow, while the thunder of massed waters boomed in his ears; quenching all his stored up irritation;
drowning all weariness, self doubts, self questionings; filling him with a peace vaster than anything which he could ever have conceived. Almost it was as though some spirit were being summoned out of the void, by those flying fingers of that slight unostentatious figure at the piano, some great eternal spirit, to pour joy, and healing, and life, into the souls of all those quiet listeners in that great hall.
IS limbs relaxed and he leaned back his chair, abandoning himself completely to the torrential power of the music that was pouring through him. Those rushing notes were giving him courage, strength, hope, and will to go forward.... disdainful of defeat. He was conscious of a new dignity in himself; he was part of this tremendous plan, which kept the sun and the moon and the stars fixed in their places. Because he had life there was no glory which he might not know. Even though death should come to him he could not die! ^
As the slight, black clothed figure of the musician bowed and finally withdrew, Sloane rose awkwardly to his feet. He felt he had come back from long, long distances to that emptying hall. He followed the flow of people down the aisle, slightly bewildered by the force of the emotion he had undergone; he had not quite yet returned to the world of reality. As he stood aside to allow some people to pass out in front of him, he noticed an elderly man smiling at him. He recognized him as Mr. Page, who had come to Middleton for the purpose of supervising the new library. Sloane’s firm had been awarded the contract.
He had met the architect several times, but was always conscious of a certain shyness upon meeting him. He -was turning towards the door when he felt a hand on his arm, and found Mr. Page speaking to him in a very friendly manner.
“I want you to meet my daughter,” he said, “Mary, you’ve heard me speak of Mr. Sloane?”
' I 'HE girl smiled and Sloane felt himself drawn into an intimate circle of friendship. He looked at her keenly. She was not pretty, at least not what he had learned to call pretty. He had an impression of auburn hair, pressed close to a small head, of hazel eyes, and a large humorous mouth.
“Come up and see us some evening,” Mr. Page said genially, “Mary finds it rather lonely at times. She’s used to having so many friends coming to the house. We don't know many people in Middleton as yet. You know where we live? About a mile out of town on the Edgeware Road.”
“Thanks, very much,” Sloane responded, “I should like to.” And then, with a rush came the thought of Milly.... Milly, with her hair frizzed and rolled into sausages. . . Milly, in the dress which was somehow so wrong! He felt uncomfortable and awkward. He would have to explain that he was married. He would have to tell them that if he came he should have to bring Milly as well. He walked out of the door, his mind racing. What could he say? How could he explain the very simple fact that he was married?
Mary Page turned, with one foot on the step of the motor, turned and smiled that warm, friendly smile.
“Come out and have dinner with us to-morrow night,” she said, “father can call for you at the office and drive you out.”
He stammered a few words of thanks. He must explain. But as he stood trying to form the words, Mr. Page started the car and it slipped into the traffic, leaving him standing on the pavement looking after it.
There had been no time for explanations. They had taken it as a matter of course that he was unmarried, seeing him alone at the concert. All at once he felt that Milly would require quite a lot of explanation. He knew, with a sensation of shame, that he had really not wanted to tell them about Milly. He knew that he did not want to take Milly to their house. It was impossible. And unless Milly went, he could not go.
Suppose they had asked him to bring Milly too, as they would have done. That girl might have come to the house to call on Milly. He shrank from the idea. He saw in a flash how Milly would greet her. She always met strangers with a stiff, almost suspicious manner, as though she were on her guard against them. He thought of Milly and of her conversation and writhed inwardly. He could imagine that girl listening to Milly talking about the bargains she had made, her long tales of the physical ailments of her friends, her detail accounts of what someone had said to her and of what she had said to them. Oh, it would be impossible! He could imagine the expression that would creep around that humorous mouth, the look that would come into those laughing eyes, and felt hot all over.
What a cad he was! What a cad, that he should be able to see Milly through the eyes of a stranger! That girl was nothing to him. Milly was his wife. He was deeply ashamed of himself. That girl would find him boorish, uneducated, dull. What was he that he should feel ashamed of poor Milly. He thought of her as she had been in the old days in the flat, sane, sensible, making no complaints at the narrowness of their life. He remembered one time when he had been ill, and how she had cared for him, how he had looked forward to her coming into the room, cool and sweet in her fresh gray ginghams, her soft round face flushed from cooking some dish to tempt him. Cad! That was all he was. Milly was too good for him.
Yet he wanted to go to dinner at that girl’s house; he wanted to know people of that sort. But he couldn’t go without Milly; he couldn’t go with her. And Milly herself would dislike them; regard them with antagonism, just because she felt that they were different to herself. She would resent that fact that she felt it to be so; it would make her boastful and arrogant. Impossible. He simply couldn’t go.
HE WALKED quickly along the streets. It was a night in late spring and there was a soft, sweet warmth in the air. He passed by front lawns where the grass had been newly cut. Beds of tulips flamed under the light from the street lamps. Lilac bushes were heavy with their sweet, purple blossoms. He walked quickly to escape from his own thoughts. He would have to tell Mr. Page to-morrow that he would not be able to accept Miss Page’s invitation to dinner. He would have to tell him that he was married.
He did not know as yet what he would say if the invitation was immediately extended to Milly. He would not take her to that house. Of that he had made up his mind.
There was a dull, creeping disappointment in his mind. In all probability he would never see that girl again. It
shocked him that he should care. If this was the kind of thing that was to happen to him when he went to concerts, he had better spend the evenings with Milly, beside the gas logs in the atrocious room which she called the parlor. He had better stifle these yearnings, this ache for the something more, the something beyond, of which the concert to-night had only been a beginning.
Milly might not know how to spend but she knew how to save. That girl could never have done what Milly had done during those past three years. Why should he feel any shame, just because Milly had not had the same advantages? But somehow, that thought veered off into vagueness. Milly had plainly shown that she did not want them; would not use them; did not know what to do with them; did not desire to be anything different from what she was.
TT IS mind leaped back to the music. All this had
-*■ pushed it away from him. Now it burst upon him afresh, and he felt as he remembered those crashing chords, that low rushing stream of sound, that he was floating along the pavements, that he was drifting through a world that had no form; all the petty worries, the small discontents, the little dry facts of everyday were dropping behind him. His perceptions were sharpened only to perceive the softness of the air, the stainless silver of the moon, the dark masses of the buildings blotted against the star dusted sky.
Milly! That girl to-night! What did it matter after all? Milly was Milly, and no amount of thinking would change her or add the least particle to her being. He would never see that girl again. What did it matter to him what she thought of either himself or Milly? She was not of his world and he was not of hers. He saw that it was quite impossible that he should ever be. His life was cut out along different lines.
Part of the melody, of something which had been played by those flying fingers, floated through his brain. He tried to steady it to a melody. But it broke off in fragments and evaded him. What a warm, intimate way she had had of speaking; almost as though they were already friends. He wondered what it would have been like to have known her better. That invitation for tomorrow night seemed to him like a bright spot of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. He went up the steps and stood fumbling with his keys. It would be difficult to explain to Mr. Page that he could not go. It would seem ungrateful unless he told him the truth. Yet he could not force Milly, an unwelcome guest, upon them. Quite impossible to do that. He would have to go just this once.
He didn’t see any other way out of it. After all, it was a matter of small importance.
Yet, as he fitted the key into the keyhole, he knew that nothing that had ever happened to him before, had had just that same importance.
HE HAD changed his mind over and over again, before he stopped on his way out the next morning, and turned to Milly who was standing in the hall. He spoke quickly, conscious of embarrassment.
“I won’t be home until late to-night. Perhaps :: may he after ten.”
Milly stared at him, her lips apart.
“You’re not coming home to supper'.'”
“I’ve got a lot of work to get through,” he -aid. a slow heat creeping over his skin. “I’ll manage to get something to eat. Don’t wait up for me.”
“Well, I never,” Milly remarked dr;.ly, "I suppose if you have to get through, you have to. But. I must -ay, I think you might come home regular to your meals.”
He felt ashamed of himself as he ran quickly down the steps. In another moment he would have blurted out the whole situation to Milly. That would only have hurt her feelings horribly. There was no sense in telling her. He had got himself into a ridiculous fix, and the only way that he could see out of it, was to go to the dinner as he had -aid he would, and then put an end to anything of the sort in the future. Anyway, it was best that he should be on friendly terms with the architect. He would simply consider it as a business obligation. That was all it really was.
\/f R. PAGE called for him at the office. He felt a shade - ’ ' of shyness as he followed the older man into the car. They took a short cut through the city, and were soon in the country, the air freshening every moment. It was no time whatever before they stopped in front of the house, and Mr. Page led the way in-doors.
The hall was cool and dim. He had an impression of space as he stood, drawing off his gloves. He did not see Mary Page for a moment, as she stood in a doorway, smiling and holding out her hand.
“I’m so glad you could come.” she said her casual,easy manner dispelling his own sense of awkward embarrassment. He was not accustomed to meeting people outside of business. All at once he had a sudden alarm as to what he should find to say to this strange girl and her almost equally strange father through an entire evening. But she appeared to be taking this matter into her own hands, as Continued on page
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she led the way into a large room, where shaded lights did not dispel the atmosphere of dim coolness.
She was different from anyone whom he had ever met. He sat rather silently in a large, cushioned chair, listening to her broken, rather chaotic sentences. She appeared to dive from one thing to another, breaking off with a thought half expressed, to turn to some other topic altogether; then glancing back with a laugh to the first subject which she had started.
It was bewildering at first, to anyone accustomed to Milly’s detailed conversation. Milly always continued for long enough on one subject to allow him to project his mind entirely away, to come back to find her still engrossed in further detail. But he found himself responding easily to this girl’s half sentences, while she flung around him that same atmosphere of intimacy, of which he had been conscious when he had met her.
HE WAS amazed to find himself talking more naturally than he had ever known himself to do. Sudden little waves of shyness swept over him, sudden fears that he might make some mistake, which would bring a smile of hidden amusement to that wide, laughing mouth. But even these moments of doubt passed, were completely forgotten, in the warm hospitality which Mr. Page and his daughter extended to him.
After dinner they sat on a wide verandah, off the dining room, while Mr. Page offered him a cigar, and stayed to smoke his own. Then after a while the older man left them, with an excuse of some work which he wanted to look over before morning.
Mary Page pulled her chair nearer to the edge of the verandah so that she could rest her arms on the railing. In front of them the garden was like a wide tank filled with perfume. There were trees covered with blossom, the smell of roses, and some sharper scent. A trickle of water sounded from some hidden spot. It was unreal as something in a dream.
“You’ve lived in Middleton always, haven’t you?” Mary Page asked with interest in her tone. “Do you know, I envy you. We’ve roved about so much that there isn’t a spot that I can call home. I hope that father decides to stay here for some time.”
“It isn’t a thing to envy, exactly,” he replied with a laugh, “to live all your life in Middleton.”
“But why?” she insisted. “The country is so beautiful all around here. I’m growing to love it. I suppose you have always lived in Middleton itself. That’s not quite as nice, of course.”
“I used to hate every stone of it,” he said, “I used to think that there could be no place on earth quite as bad as Middleton. And then, I found that it was not Middleton that I hated, but myself.”
“Yourself,” she said wonderingly, “but why, yourself?”
“Because I was so crude, so ignorant, and because I didn’t know how to be different. It didn’t seem as though ! could ever learn to be anything else in Middleton. You don’t know what it is to feel like that,” he said with a short laugh, “crude and ignorant.”
SHE looked at him steadily for a moment in silence, with a slightly puzzled expression.
“I think you’re quite wrong,” she said at last, “no one who feels like you do, is ignorant. You know, it’s all nonsense what you are saying.”
She urged him to talk about himself. She made him tell her things of which he had never spoken of to anyone before. It seemed quite natural that he should do so. He found himself talking of his childhood; of the boy who used to lie on the edge of the cliffs, staring out to the silver horizon line, dreaming away the loneliness that was in him. He spoke to her of his hopes, and ambitions. Into it all he wove, without being directly
conscious of doing so, the longing and the starved hopelessness, the suppressed ambitions, the desires of all his life. He made her see the stark, cruel ugliness of it all; the lonely soul of the boy and then the man, struggling against sordidness, unwilling to admit defeat.
He stopped in the middle of a sentence, suddenly overcome with shyness at having talked so much about himself. And yet he had not told her all; he had not mentioned Milly. Vaguely, he knew that he had given her the impression that he had been alone in 'his struggle; that he had been alone all his life. He twisted in his chair, crossed and uncrossed his arms, while she did not speak. She was leaning both arms on the rail of the verandah, staring out into the black and silver garden. He wondered what she was thinking, and felt dreadfully afraid that she was smiling to herself in the deceptive moonlight that flickered across her face.
Then she said without moving, slowly, thoughtfully.
“You know the proverb—‘If I had two loaves of bread, I’d sell one of them and buy white hyacinths to feed my soul.’
I know what you mean. You’ve only had the one loaf of bread.”
So she wasn’t laughing at him. There was no hint of laughter in her clear voice. Perhaps she wasn’t thinking him quite as much of a fool as he had imagined she would.
“I’m not sorry for you,” she said turning and looking at him, her head tilted on one side, “not really. It’s the people who never have known enough to want what you want, whom I feel sorry for. People who never see...that, for instance.” And she looked across the garden, and above to the sharp silver crescent of the moon, “those are the ones I’m sorry for.”
“You can’t hoard it all up like a miser,” he said slowly. “You’ve got to learn how to give it back someway or other. I can’t. I don’t know how. It’s a sort of obligation people have, who can see that kind of thing. Don’t you think so?”
“I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of that,” she replied. “I think I’ve just taken it all, greedily. You’ve thought further than I have, because you’ve been lonely, for one reason. It’s when you’re lonely that you learn.”
“You don’t need to learn.”
“Oh, but I do. You make me feel as though I had done so little with all I’ve had. You’ve done so much with so little; with nothing but your loneliness and your dreams. How little I’ve done, with all I’ve had.”
A T THAT he protested violently. He A found himself telling her how much he thought she had made of it all; how different she was to any one whom he had ever imagined. She listened with a curious little smile on her lips, while he heard himself saying things which startled him, with a strange, shy audacity. It was so unreal to him, sitting here in the moonlight, talking to this girl as he had never imagined talking to anyone. It was like thinking his thoughts out loud. He stopped abruptly on a word and she looked at him questioningly.
“Oh, it’s such cheek,” he said abashed, “speaking to you like this. What is my opinion worth to you?”
“A great deal.” she said gravely, “somehow, I don’t know_ why, but I’ve often imagined someone like you. Someone, full of fire and eagerness and unspoiled enthusiasms. . .and young, wonderfully, terribly young. So many people are born old, with dried up enthusiasms, ashes instead of fire. They are just born old and indifferent. _ Perhaps they get through life more easily. You can suffer so much when you are young; suffer and
“Yes, you can suffer,” he said, with his eyes on her face, while a premonition came over him of just what he was to suffer, just what the future had in store for him. Oh, he couldn’t tell her about Milly. Not yet, not quite yet. He must
see her once or twice more. He must remember just how she looked, just what she had said.
It was later than he had had any idea when he got up to go. He realized sharply that Milly would be wondering where he could be at this hour. But when he got home he found the house quiet and Milly asleep. He gave a sigh of relief as he turned out his light. He was glad that he would not be forced to make any explanations about where he had been. His mind was still revolving, over and over, the things of which they had spoken, as he lay staring into the darkness, sleepless and wide eyed. He wanted to remember the least word that she had said. He wanted to engrave it on his mind so that he would not forget. Sleep rushed over him while he was remembering the sound of her laugh.
IT WAS quite clear to him that Mary Page must be only an incident that was closed. He set that fact grimly before himself; then tried to turn his attention to the everyday affairs of his )wn life. But each evening now he lingered late at the office over work which could have been done the following day. He wanted to postpone until the furthest possible moment the hour of going home, dreading every minute which he spent in that house on South Street.
If Milly had had a child he felt that he could have looked forward to the future with less hopelessness. But Milly did not want children. She had previously said that they could not afford to bring up a family, and in those days he had not denied it. He had not wanted to bring children into a life as hazardous as theirs had been. When they had moved into the new house, he had tentatively suggested that a room on the top floor with wide windows would make a good nursery. Milly had looked at him and laughed. The room had been turned into a trunk room. Nothing more had been said on the subject between them. But in these days he longed to have a child of his own. And yet, when he remembered that his child would be Milly’s as well, his longing lessened. He could imagine so clearly what Milly’s children would be like.
“Well, at least he’s agreeable. You j stick up in your room all the time as | though you didn’t think my friends were good enough for you. No wonder I like a man who is pleasant and entertaining.”
LJE REGARDED Milly steadily fora
-»■ moment. Oh, what was the use of saying anything. Her round soft face seemed to be coarsening under the grotesque arrangement of her hair. Her clothes did not suit her. They were too ornate. She had silver bangles on her wrists that jangled irritatingly. She was growing fat. No wonder, he thought, with the life she lived, lying around all day eating sweets, poring over moving picture magazines, staying up late at night, coming down listless and tired out to breakfast. The house run fairly comfortably by the maids who came and went in the same rapid succession. Milly saw that they did the work. She was forever discovering something that had been left undone, accusing the maid in shrill, angry tones, of laziness and incompetency. She would not listen to any suggestion from him of a better method of filling up the days.
“Why don’t you leave me alone?” she would protest peevishly, “I’m sure I drudged for you long enough. You seem to hate to see me enjoying myself. I don’t say a word when you go buying all those silly books and piling them up to give work to everyone keeping them dusted. You let me go my way and you go yours.”
And the only thing to do seemed to be what Milly had suggested. He could only let her go her own way, since there was no possibility of giving her a different point of view.
At least he had more time to himself than ever before. He would go up to his room and close the door in the evenings, sit down and read, while Milly amused herself in her own way. She never tried to persuade him to join her parties. He felt that she would prefer that he should stay away. He did not know how to join in with the others, and he knew that Milly was rather ashamed of him before her friends. They thought him a stick. He could not enter into their fun, he could not appreciate their jokes. Milly was only too content that he should stay upstairs with his books.
MILLY had made friends with her neighbours on South Street. She had bought a gramophone, and in the evenings she and her friends would drag aside the carpet in the front room and dance to the shrill staccato sounds of the jazz music in which they delighted.
He had looked in once or twice on these parties and then disappeared up the back stairs to his room. He could not understand how Milly could make friends with people of the type she evidently preferred. They struck him as being of the sort which he had always regarded with abhorrence; the women attempting a studied worldliness, a cheap sang froid, imitating a society which did not exist except in the sensational magazines which Milly devoured with avidity. There was a great deal of horse-play, things got broken to the sound of shrill laughter and the noise of the gramophone whining out its strident tunes.
There was one man in particular whom he detested, a sly man with oily hair and a boastful manner. He had once or twice remonstrated with Milly for having Smith to the house. She had been indignant at his criticism.
“I’m sure I don’t know why you are always talking against Ben Smith,” she cried, “everyone likes Ben. Of course he’s silly about women. He thinks any woman will fall for him. I intend to show him that they aren’t all the fools he thinks them. I just let him think I’m like the rest. But he’ll find out the difference,” and Milly smiled in radiant good humor.
He paced up and down the room in suppressed fury. He stopped in front of Milly and tried to keep his voice steady.
“I won’t have you going on like that,” he said, “it’s beastly. That man isn’t to come inside this house again. He’s a little bounder.”
“He’s nothing of the sort,” Milly replied airly, “I like Ben. You’re jealous, that’s all. He’s going to come here just as often as I want him to come.”
“Jealous,” Sloane said, “jealous of that little worm.”
Milly laughed irritatingly.
OCCASIONALLY she inquired if he
were going to come down that evening, and when he said that he was too tired, she appeared to be relieved. He knew that she was conscious that her friends disliked him and it lowered him in her opinion. She would talk at length about how well he was doing, how much money he was making, how clever he was, until he begged her not to discuss him so openly with her friends. But he knew that she still continued to do so. He felt that she did it by way of defense for herself, for having married a man who was such a prig, so dull and uninteresting, so unpopular with Ben and the rest of them. They could not quite ignore him since his income was double their own. It gave him a sort of value in their eyes, although they were better pleased when they did not have to run across him. He knew all this quite clearly, but it did not interest him one way or another. He was absorbed all day in his work at the office, and in the evening he plunged into his books to keep himself from thinking of Mary Page. But besides this, they were opening up a world to him of which he could not have enough.
In the old days in the flat Milly had always been offended if he had picked up a book, regarding it as a direct insult to herself. Then there had always been something to be done about the flat, some message to go, something Milly had desired. And in those days she had liked to go to bed early. There had been no time to read, except for a glance through the papers, but now everything was different. He could read late into the night and he revelled in this new freedom.
Downstairs the gramophone whined on and on, and there was the sound of feet scuffling on the bare floor, and shrill giggles; the loud voices went on hour after hour, but he was lost to all of these sounds. He was drifted far away to a world beyond his restricted horizons. He had discovered Conrad, and with that discovery a world of romance opened to him, a world of deep impenetrable forests, of wide glazed seas, of lonely
islands where men's passions were stark and primitive, where life appeared to him to be more real than reality itself. The beauty oí the prose worked an unconscious fascination over him. and the strong insistent march of Fate through the pages swept him right aw ay from the pettiness of things surrounding him. And there were others, so many more. Poets, teaching him the beauty of rhythm of words that evoked pictures in his mind, of things undreamed of before this. There were historians, that told him of old strange civilizations, of kingdoms that had risen and had fallen away to dust New worlds; new thoughts; old wisdoms
I ATE one afternoon Mr. Page called -dor him at the office, inviting him to come to dinner Mary, tie explained, had been away on a visit, or they would have asked him again before this. Mr. Page’s manner always made him feel as though he were all loose, ragged edges.
He had no compunction about going on Milly’s account this time. He went to the telephone in the inner office and telephoned to leave word that he would not Is? back until late. He was terribly’ elated Hut as he followed Mr. Page into the car. he felt that to-night he must explain everything. He could not go otherwise. He could not continue to act a lie, no matter how much he should hate to tell them the truth.
He was not conscious of any awkwardness this time as he crossed the room to shake hands with Mary Page.
"I’ve been looking forward so to seeing you." she said with an eager intonation in her voice. "I have a book that I'm dying to lend you. I know you’ll like it as much as I did. I kept thinking of you all the time that I was reading it."
She had actually thought of him then! He was amazed and pleased and gratified all at once. He had not imagined that she would have given him a thought. He noticed for the first time little details of her appearance. Before this his whole mind had been so occupied with the bewildering impression which she had made upon him. that he had had no mind for detail. Now. he saw as if for the first time, her hazel eyes which had happy little flecks of gold in the pupils; the tiny gold freckles across the bridge of her nose; the graceful tilt of her head, with its bronze, waved hair. He noticed her dress of some lustrous bronze material, her slender arms, transparently veiled. The same comprehensive glance took in her slender feet, in the small bronze buckled slippers.
Everything was so essentially right about her. She was like the figure on a bronze roir.. he thought, with a sudden descriptive inspiration; perfectly balanced —perfectly proportioned. He'loved the wisdom of her eyes: her mouth was the passionate mouth of a woman with all the sweetness of the mouth of a child, ^he glowed with life, \then she moved, his eyes followed her, unwilling to lose the sight of her for a moment.
In the same way the house also made a more definite impression upon him. Pictures and furniture became concrete. He noticed the walls covered with Japanese straw paper; the low carved book cases: the colouring of the rugs; the simple straight folds of the heavy mulberry coloured curtains outlining the windows. Circles of light from mulberry shaded lamps fell on tables where books and flowers were heaped in a deliberate disorder. There was not a picture or an ornament which did not appear to him to be exquisitely right.
IN THE atmosphere of this room he moved more easily, talked with more assurance, felt innately more confident of his own powers of expression than he had ever felt before. It was impossible to remain ill at ease with Mary Page. She knew how to draw him out to speak about himself, to venture ideas which had been lost in a haze at the back of his mind. Miraculously, she gave him the power to transmute these ideas into colour and form.
"I don’t know what you do to me,” he said as he was leaving, “I don’t think I’ve ever talked so much in my life as I have this evening. I’m afraid I’ve bored you dreadfully.”
‘Bored!” she exclaimed with a laugh, and then shook her head.
With an ugly shock he remembered again that he had never mentioned Milly. He stood wondering for an instant if he could tell her now. And then she put her hand into his with a quick impulsive movement, and he quite forgot about Milly.
"Come again soon,” she said, "we have so much to say to one another.”
He went towards the door without another glance in lier direction. Quickly, lie ran down the steps, afraid of what he might say if he stood a moment more in the dim. dim hall. Oh, in spite of everything he was foolishly, absurdly happy, miraculously reconciled to life. Something blazed inside him. He held his head high as he walked through the warm, still night. Even the thought of Milly could not dim the wonder of being alive. A yellow moon was in the sky, and it made him think of the yellow heart of a flower. Life, too, was gold at the core. He had come into touch with the heart of life; he was no longer swinging aimlessly through space, like those pale planets at the outer edge of the sky.
HE WAS living in a dream, but conscious through it all that at any time he might awaken to bitterness and desolation. It could not last. He was quite aware of that. But while it lasted he had not the will to bring it to an end. Any moment the sun would fade out in the sky overhead, and he would plunge into darkness. The consciousness of this only made it all the more precious.
He had quite given up all idea of telling Mary Page about Milly. He knew that any day she would hear that he was married. Any day Milly might hear of his visits to the Page household, might even see them walking together. But until this time came, he would say nothing.
At moments he abandoned himself to a very frenzy of self-loathing, of selfcondemnation. What Mary Page would think of him when she did finally learn the truth, he could not even bear to think about. He could imagine how she would recoil from the thought of his continued deceit. And yet, he told himself, he was harming no one but himself. He was only falling deeper and deeper into the grip of a passion which might end in destroying him. As far as Mary Page was concerned, he could not imagine that he could ever mean anything to her, except being a companion for her walks, someone to whom she could talk when she got tired of Middleton.
Mr. Page asked him out to the house one Saturday afternoon to talk over some business, and after that somehow he fell into the way of going for walks with Mary Page on his Saturday afternoons. He had never seen the country around Middleton as he saw it now, never realized the wild, sheer beauty of the hills, blue in the September haze, the trees like splashes of gold and scarlet against the hard clear sky. Occasionally a stark tree, bare already of leaves, would stand out menacingly, like a threat of bleaker days to come. It would make him feel as though a hand had squeezed his heart, so soon he knew, it all must end.
He made some such remark one time as she stood looking at a tree that was a golden miracle of leaves, trembling in the slight breeze, as though it quivered with the thrill of its own beauty.
“It all ends so soon,” he said with a bitterness that sent him a flying glance from her observing eyes. “It only lasts for a moment. Only long enough for you to feel the emptiness more keenly when it is gone.”
She looked back to the tree and was silent for a moment, as though she were considering what he had said.
“Nothing ends really,” she said, “it only goes on in a different way.”
He was silent.
She seemed to feel the weight of the depression that had come over him, appeared to try to lift the burden of it from him.
“Even the worst times,” she said, “have some sort of compensation. Even the times when you were so lonely, brought you dreams. But those days are all over, aren’t they?” she asked impetuously, with a warm eagerness. “The days of loneliness, I mean?”
And he could not tell her that his days of loneliness, of aching unbearable loneliness, had not yet begun.
He realized that if he should tell her about Milly that she would in all proba-
bility refuse to see him any more. She would perhaps invite them both once or twice to the house, but she would find it. impossible to make a friend of Milly. It would all stop; the glarhour would go out of life, and he would be flung back to the bare stark ugliness of his life in that house in South Street.
AT TIMES he felt that he was like a ^ thief, taking what he had no right to take. At other times he tried to argue himself into the belief that he was harming no one but himself. Mary Page would go away from Middleton in all probability quite soon, and he would never see her again. As far as Milly was concerned, she was not interested in what he did. She would not have cared even if he had told her of this friendship, except to use it as a taunt, to hold it over him as a reproach.
He was walking through the gates of the Page’s house with Mary in the early dusk of an October afternoon, when a motor truck came headlong through the gateway. The driver, noticing them barely in time, swung his truck to one side, and just escaped from crushing Sloane against the gate post. Mary Page had been a few feet ahead of him and had seen the truck coming, and had called back to warn him. He could feel the truck brush against his coat as he leaned as far back out of the way as possible, then it rumbled out on to the road, the driver casually indifferent to the narrow escape which Sloane had had.
He turned from watching it to find Mary Page in front of him, her face lifted, white in the dusk, her lips trembling. She touched his coat sleeve; he put out his hands and their fingers touched; then he withdrew them sharply; he could hear the soft flutter of her breath.
“My dear,” she murmured, “I thought you were going to be killed.”
She swayed imperceptibly and he put out his hands again, and again withdrew them. They both stood silent, motionless, in the soft melting dusk, while he looked down into the clear white oval of her face. She seemed to him small and tender and childlike all at once as she stood there, trying to gain control over the trembling of her lips, to stop the little fluttering movement of her hands.
He tried to speak and stopped. Then in a voice which sounded alien and strange to him, he said!
“Would it have mattered.....like
She could manage a smile now, a little twisted smile that mocked the absurdity of such a question.
“You know what it would mean.”
He closed his eyes to shut out her face, while his muscles clenched in his effort not to put his arms around her, not to take if only for one moment the soft warm burden of her in his arms. He felt his body grow rigid; his heart beat as though it would hammer through his flesh. He opened his eyes and looked at her standing before him, a slow dawning bewilderment crossing the white pallor of her face. He felt that he must leave her there without a word, or abandon himself to the fury of longing to take her in his arms.
HE COULD feel a slight movement, could imagine more than see her slow withdrawal, could imagine too the puzzled expression in her eyes. Slowly, he unclenched his hands and his voice came thick and heavy.
“I’ve never told you--I’m married.”
It was harsh, it grated even on himself. Her face was a white mask of bewilderment, of shocked pain. The fury of longing died down in him to a heavy intolerable weariness. He leaned back against the post and stared beyond where she was standing, into the gray gloom of the creeping dusk. Life was like that—gray— impenetrable.
“Why didn’t you tell me before?”
Her tone too, weary, tired, without colour, gray as the sad dusk that was all around them. They seemed to him like two figures standing in a cold eternal void, looking back on the coloured fragments of a broken world.
He did not answer at once. Long, long minutes passed before he hesitated into an explanation, that was lame and stumbling and weak. How could it be otherwise, he wondered, with a sick hatred of himself and of everything concerning himself.
She listened without moving. And then he broke off in the middle of a sentence, flinging the words from him with con-
tempt of all he was saying.
“Oh, what’s the use of trying to defend myself? You can judge for yourself.” “Why didn’t you tell me before?”
There was no condemnation in her voice, only what seemed to him an absolute withdrawal, as if she were speaking to a stranger. There was no use in saying any more. What was there to be said? Without a word more he turned and went through the gate.
LATE into the night he sat with his head between his hands, or paced up and down over the crimson roses which seemed to grin up at him with protruding lips. The street outside grew quiet, the lights went out one by one in the houses opposite. Still he sat on.
At moments he was almost startled by the happiness that flared up in him. Mary Page could care for him. That thought had the power to blot out everything else for the moment. It was wildly impossible, madly incredible, it was staggering, but it was true.
That she had turned from him when she had learned what he had to tell her, was an infinitesimal thing in the blaze of that other realization. And then he would remember that white, shocked face, her tone, weary and utterly tired and gray, and he would plunge down into a pit of self condemnation. Bitterly he would reproach himself for having let her grow to care for him, for having brought the suffering to her which might possibly be hers.
To one thought he clung—that he had not given in to the temptation that evening to put his arms around her before he had told her the truth. He shut his eyes and could see again the white oval of her face, see her standing before him, sweet and tende: and childlike, could even see the trembling of her lips. His heart beat and his hands clenched. He started to his feet and began pacing up and down, up and down over the crimson roses, flung from one state to another, hour after hour.
No matter what the future nvght be, he could never go back to what he had been before he had met Mary Page. Never again would he know the old blind helplessness which had been his in the past, struggling towards something, he did not know what, discontented with what he had, ignorant of what he desired. He had stumbled, he had been a coward, he had been everything which he should not have been. But that was finished. Since Mary Page cared for him, he could not be altogether worthless.
He looked into the days ahead and thought of what was before him. He knew that they would bring increased prosperity. But what could that mean to him, since Milly would always be Milly. She was his future. Mary Page had only been a brief, illuminating moment.
Milly would never be different to what she was. She would have larger, noisier parties; they would move into a larger, more dreadful house; Milly's friends would be richer, more intolerable than the friends whom she had to-day. Lately he knew that she had been taking too much to drink at times. He had made some remark about it once or twice, but Milly had only laughed. He knew that it was useless to try and persuade her to do anything he wanted. And yet to-night, he felt an overwhelming pity for Milly as well as for himself and Mary Page. They seemed all to be caught in a net of their desires.
He remembered Milly as she had been in the old days and felt somehow to blame for what she had become. Perhaps he had been too intolerant, too critical, expected too much of her. It had made her angry, made her the more determined to follow her own way. He had not been tolerant enough. He had been too eager to change the face of things. His impetuousness had made Milly more stubborn, more determined to thwart him at every turn.
He looked ahead, and it was like a maze in which he could find no way out. His head went down into his hands, and the night faded, while he puzzled over the complexities of life.
It was two days later that he received a short note from Mary Page. He read it almost afraid to see what she might say. Dear Mr. Sloane:—he read,
I want to let you know that 1 am going away for a few months. 1 was surprised and bewildered at what you told me. But I think perhaps that I can understand. Even if I had known
it might have made no difference. When I come back, I shall hope to see you again.
At least it was something, a straw at which to grasp. He would see her again. Then the future was not quite as blank as it appeared to be. The thought of her return was something to hold close and warm through the cold blank cheerlessness of those days.
IT WAS quite true that Milly was drinking too much. She thought it a joke, imagined that she was doing something that lifted her into another level of society. She liked to imagine that she was just a little bit daring, without having any tastes in that direction. Milly at heart had all the narrow morality of her class. She was trying to appear a different type.
She startled him one evening with a casual remark.
“You never told me that you knew Miss Page,” she said, with a slightly malicious smile. He saw that she had been drinking again. Her face was flushed, her voice trailed off into shrillness.
He looked at her without responding. “Mrs. McCamb told me all about it to-day when she brought the clothes. It seems that you used to walk right by her house on a Saturday afternoon. She would see you when she was taking the things down off the line. She said you’d be too busy talking to notice anyone,” and Milly laughed with an edge of scorn to her laugh.
“Surely you don’t discuss me and what I do with the washerwoman?” he said, trying not to say too much.
“It isn’t very much of a secret,” she replied, growing angry. “Mrs. McCamb said you seemed to have no shame about it at all. Went right by her place. And I was thinking all the time that you were kept at the office. You don’t need to talk to me any more about what I do. You, and your superior airs.”
HE THREW down his book, and got up and went over to the window. He saw that Milly intended to make a scene; that she was actually enjoying it, taking a keen pleasure in her discovery. How disgusting it all was! Milly, discussing his affairs with the washerwoman!
“Well, what are you going to say?” she said naggingly, “areyou going to deny it?” “Certainly not. I knew Miss Page and went for walks with her. It’s quite true.” Milly appeared to be nonplused for a moment. He knew that she had expected him to try and deny it.
“And is that all you’ve got to say?” she inquired harshly.
He turned and looked at her. She was standing in the middle of the room, her face very much flushed, wearing a crumpled white blouse, with a string of colored beads around her neck. There was a suspicious, inquisitive expression in her eyes, which were only narrowly open. He noticed that she put out one hand to the table to keep herself from swaying. He spoke abruptly.
“You’ve had too much to drink.”
At that she flared out into a torrent of words. He stood silent, appalled at the words which she flung at him, at the hatred which scorched her lips, burning hatred which could not find words enough to express it. He had had no idea that that was how she felt towards him. Her abuse fell around him like rain, and he turned quickly towards the door, taking his hat from the stand in the hall as he passed. He was sick with disgust, horrified, confused, by the avalanche of Milly’s fury. She followed him to the door; she was still talking, wildly, incoherently. He shut the door behind him and ran down the steps into the rain swept streets.
Life had stretched to a thin thread that would snap at any moment. He could not bear to live with Milly any longer. He knew now, just how she felt towards him. It left him stunned, appalled . that he should have caused such hatred in any human being.
How could he live with her any longer? He knew what this discovery of hers would mean to him. Continual taunts, constant reproaches. Once this fury had died down she would glory in what she had found out. She would behave as though it were a cheap intrigue, like those in the novels in which she delighted. The erring husband, and the irreproachable wife. It was the situation in the movies over which she thrilled. Milly would enjoy referring it to
her frienu.-,. She would elaborate and embroider it to her entire satisfaction. He knew, instinctively, just what she would make of the situation.
He could not bear it. He could not endure life any longer under these conditions. He had come to an end. What end? As long as he lived he was tied to Milly. How could he go on? God! How could he go on?
HE WALKED quickly, hardly noticing the rain that beat in his face, that ran down his cheeks, that weighted his cdothes. He wanted to be away from the lighted streets, from the cold indifference of the house fronts, from people, from himself. He didn’t know where, or care where he was going, just so that he might escape for a time from everything that wore the drab aspect of familiarity.
Life was unendurable with its close contacts with Milly; with her continual probings and searchings into his very soul. She would leave him'no peace now that she had made this discovery. It would be a weapon which she would never grow tired of using, a weapon which she would know would always have power over its victim.
He had taken no trouble to hide his feelings, to disguise just how he felt at her mocking inquisitiveness. He could have laughed it off, he supposed, joked it aside, and then he might have been secure from her probings. She had seen too plainly how he felt. She had seen that she had hit on something which had the power to hurt.
He reached the outside of the town, walking fast, his mind racing through endless dark passages, which had no ending anywhere. The wind had risen, and he was swept forward on the long dark stream of the wind, while it whistled far overhead, with a mocking, eerie cry. He did not know where he was going, did not care, but he could not go back to that horrible house, and Milly. Thoughts of suicide flashed through his mind, and he pushed them away from him, refusing even to look at that way out of it all. He would have nothing more to do with cowardice in any form. He would face whatever had to be faced, even Milly, and her jeering, terrible laughter.
“IF BEN had more money, I wouldn’t live with you another minute,” was Milly’s recurring remark during the days that followed. He knew just how empty that threat was, even if Ben Smith had been able to give her all the luxuries to which she had grown accustomed. No, Milly had all the narrow morality which he detested. She would live with a man whom she loathed, but she would not soil her name with the obliquity of divorce. The threat was as vain 'and as purposeless as were most of Milly’s words.
A slow, settled indifference towards everything was creeping over him, numbing him to Milly’s acid remarks, making him immune to her viperish sayings. He felt as if he were sitting in a theatre, watching with complete indifference the fates of the people on the stage. Milly’s fate! His fate! What did it matter? There would be no outcome to it all. Life was like that. It had no endings. It only went on and on.
He heard nothing of Mary Page. He longed to hear of her, but very obstinately he kept telling himself that he wanted to hear nothing. Even Milly’s sneers concerning her had stopped. Milly too, appeared to be aware of his stagnant indifference to what she said or what she didn’t say.
Milly was going rapidly downhill. Sometimes he felt as if he should rouse himself, should try and make further efforts to make her see the ridiculous folly of the life which she was leading. He never quite knew when he came home in the evenings, whether he would find her irritable and bad tempered, or in an excess of boisterous spirits, the cause of which he knew, only too well.
He had got into the habit of going for long walks by himself in the evenings, stupefying himself into a physical weariness which was bound to bring sleep. Milly told him quite frankly that she preferred to have him out of the house, that they had more fun when he wasn’t anywhere around.
“The boys can’t bear the sight of you any more than I can,” she told him quite dispassionately.
“If that’s how you feel I'm only too glad to stay away,” he responded.