How Does Your Garden Grow?
Demure little “Pussy Cat was in love with her sister’s famous beau— but where did his love lie?
HAVEN’T you always suspected that Mistress Mary must have had a frightful time persuading her garden to grow those silver bells and cockleshells and pretty maids all in a row which eventually attracted so much attention? If she had any publicity sense, Mistress Mary probably enjoyed herself hugely after she became the subject of a lyricist and found a market for her wares. But unless there was someone to say a cheering word to her now and then, the lady of the garden must have known dark hours when she lost faith in herself, her cockleshells and every one of the pretty maids.
By the time Mary Van Cleeve was thirty her pretty maids all in a row nodded gaily to an admiring world from magazine covers, candy boxes, theater programs and advertising pamphlets. But there had been long, lean years before that when there was only Faith to keep Mary going.
Yes, Faith with a capital F. For Faith was Mary’s little sister, adoring servitor, prod, goad and cushion all in one.
For years Mary painted away as desperately as if there were a market for her wares. And all the while Faith marketed frugally and with due regard for the fact that if a tub of rose madder were needed, she could pretend she’d had her dinner when she brought Mary her bowl of warmed over stew from day before yesterday.
Long before Faith was ten she knew just where you got a lagniappe of one Bermuda onion with half a pound of soup meat, and where potatoes ran seven big ones to the pound. Houston Street markets were her dictionaries and arithmetics. Mary was her Bible,
Faith wasn’t prevented from mothering her sister by the mere detail of being almost ten years her junior. She knew that Mary’s nine dollars a week was all that stood between them and an ogre’s castle called an orphan asylum. Mary’s earnings protected them, and Faith’s care protected Mary so she could go on working in a stale basement and living in a cold attic. Faith saw how spent Mary was when she came home at night from earning the daily fraction of the nine dollars a week. So the dingy little room the sisters shared was always as fresh and sweet and clean as love and an earnestly wielded broom and dust cloth could make it. And Mary’s bowl of stew was always hot and luscious and had most of the meat and all the vegetables swimming in its depths.
It was in those colorless, terrifying, wearying cash-girl days of Mary’s that the pretty maids all in a row got their start in life. Their scornful, stormy beauty was a product of what she drew and what she knew. There were very good reasons for the challenge in their eyes and the mockery on their lips. Mary’s reasons.
When at last Mary Van Cleeve came into her own and her signature came out on magazine covers, it was evident that the creator and her creation were flesh of one flesh. They were lady highwaymen with a stand-and-deliver attitude toward life such as is fairly well calculated to bring home the bacon and not to go home and liveon warmed over stew.
It took Mary long years to bridge the gap she could later dismiss in a sentence and with a shrug of her shoulders.
“Oh, when I found I had little Faith and big me on my hands, I dug some ideas out of my head and began making place cards which the store permitted the nine dollar a week cash girl to sell to the stationery department for one dollar a dozen,” she would say.
That summed up the beginning of the pretty maids all in a row and the pilgrimage from west Houston Street to Sixty-seventh west. It also summed up the Mary Van Cleeve who at thirty was still struggling to collect from life all it owed her for the lean years when she had learned how drab youth can be.
By the time' Mary was thirty her garden of fame had flowered and her bank account was a sturdy plum tree. The famous Miss Van Cleeve was cartooned, photographed, paragraphed, wined, dined, stared at and given the center of the social stage and a line in a musical comedy song hit. Her seven room duplex bloomed with more orchids and American beauties than it could comfortably accommodate.
Whenever Mary wasn’t wielding her paint-brushes, she was gathering roses to compensate for the rosebuds she had missed. And to compensate for this, Faith had to forego her own youthful rosebuds and attend to the harvest Mary’s pretty maids all in a row and on magazine covers commanded. 1
Nothing was permitted to interrupt Mary’s working hours, which began at ten and lasted until four. Nor her playing hours, which began at four and did not stop at ten.
Faith’s life was full to overflowing with Mary’s ■interests. Mothering her Molly and managing the world’s Miss Van Cleeve were two full sized jobs. Faith undertook them both and was much too busy living Mary’s life even to dream of living a life of her own. She didn’t dream of it. ,,
Then Gregory Norris came along.
Faith had read of the Browning heroine who “looked at him and her life began.” It never occurred to her that such things could happen outside of a volume of poems and Italy. So of course she didn’t suspect what had happened to her until long after her life had begun to be a separate entity from Mary’s.
Gregory Norris was one of the few men Mary permitted to keep on coming around after her regular three months’ time limit was passed. He was a most brilliant and caustic dramatic critic. His critiques were syndicated all over the country. His name was blazoned on front covers right under the most dazzling Van Cleeve girls Mary could draw or paint. Greg Norris was gobbled up by editors of newspapers, weeklies, monthlies and quarterly reviews. His opinions were good even when they were of last year’s vintage. He was published by the sort of men who aren’t afraid to bring out books with linen covers, rough edges, two inch margins and real ideas, and to charge three dollars for the combination. He was, moreover, forty years old.
When Mary wanted to tease Greg, she lifted her inverted crescent eyebrows and called him her most important camp-follower. When Greg wanted to tease Mary he told her he was a celebrity chaser and that if she wanted to continue to engage his attentions, she must land in an art gallery as well as on magazine covers. Hadn’t Mary met him at the house of a woman novelist ■ who always went into twenty editions and the smartest continental society? Mary smiled and said she was a bit of a celebrity chaser herself or she’d never have managed to take him on as her latest camp-follower.
Gregory Norris was no more than that to Faith—just another of Mary’s swains—until one day when he timed
his arrival for tea so it precisely overlapped a message from Mary to say that she wouldn’t be home until midnight or sunrise or some such time unrelated to five o’clock tea.
Faith smoothed down the green-checked gingham smock in which she had been giving Mary’s pencils fresh points, and the flowers and goldfish fresh water, and faced Mary’s young man with a grave wonder whether Mary was getting through with him and how much he’d mind.
Sometimes it was a nuisance to manage Mary’s discards but it was actually fun to mother this handsome, keeneyed person.
That is all Greg Norris was to her then, a handsome, keen-eyed person, and one of Mary’s camp-followers, pre-. sumably one who was about to go into the discard or join another camp. And Faith was used to assisting in exits, Somehow she wanted this one to be graceful.
Let’s give Greg the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he really thought Faith was a dear little girl who would enjoy her tea party if she were treated like a grown up lady and to a few amiable nothings of flattery. Perhaps he didn’t realize that she was almost a woman and bound to have certain feelings when he smiled all the grimness and harshness out of his Roman emperor face and said in his most lyric poet, muted G-string voice:
“I’m sure I’ve a lot to talk about to you beside muffins, And I’m equally sure I won’t know whether you’re serv, ing me tea or highballs if you keep on stimulating me in other ways.”
“Oh—do I?” gasped Faith.
“I’ll say you do. And I’ll say you’ve probably heard, that before.”
“Not so it counted.”
“That counts. You score a hundred. It eouldn’t have been done better.”
Then they smiled at each other. And forgot what it was that had counted. And went on to a number of other things which seemed to count amazingly. They chatted away as if they had to exchange life histories and theories about everything in life during the tea hour. The tea hour became two incredibly short hours. It might have been three.
But just before seven in came Mary. She had decided that the Sydenham dinner out at the Crossroads Farm would be a bore, and had dashed home on the off chance that something better would turn up. She regarded Greg as the Something Better, and said so without mental or verbal reservation.
“All I need is dinner down at Barney Gallant’s and I’ll be able to forget the stupid time I’ve been having,” she said. “I’m so glad you waited for me, Greg.”
Greg, who hadn’t a stupid time to forget, was astonished to find himself on the verge of saying:
“But I didn’t wait for you. I’d almost forgotten that you live here.”
He bit off the thought in mid-channel to port of words
and substituted an elaborately casual:
“Miss Faith was just generously informing me that she thought it might be almost as much fun to put new ribbon in my typewriter as new points on your pencils. Don’t you think, to indicate our appreciation of the delicate attentions she offers, we ought to invite her out to view a few of our pet village cut-ups?”
“Mercy, no!” laughed Mary. “One man divided by two girls is less than nothing. Besides, my pussy cat has heaps of little boy friends with whom she can amuse herself far better than playing around with old fogies like us. We don’t belong to her generation, Greg.”
There wasn’t a thing Faith could say. And there wasn’t a thing Greg could think at that particular moment except that he’d probably been prancing around the ' nursery like a doddering old idiot.
After that whenever Greg came to fetch Mary he brought Faith boxes of chocolates tied with very festive ribbons, or bits of enamel and earthenware which just escaped being toys. Greg told himself that little “pussy cat” was an adorable child and that he felt almost paternal toward her. Faith told herself that Norris was Mary’s best bet and saved all the ribbons from his candy boxes.
Faith didn’t do a thing about diagnosing her own case, even when she found herself cherishing the last lone chocolate of each box until the next box came. She wasn’t warned by the speed with which she raced to the telephone nowadays to take Mary’s messages. She didn’t understand why she stammered with eagerness to say bright, crackling things when the message was from Gregory Norris. Even when she found herself praying that Mary •would be out again some day when Greg came to tea, Faith didn’t realize what she had done with her own heart.
Then one evening when Greg patted her head with casual and impersonal gentleness such as a visiting bishop or an uncle from Australia might happen to show, Faith found her face burning with flames which she was convinced must have turned it magenta. Interpreting her feeling as resentment, she said in the most flippant manner she could contrive:
“Do jou honestly think I’m just ten and ought to be encouraged to believe I was tied up in pink ribbons when the stork deposited me on the doorstep, and that the colored eggs of Easter are to be attributed to activity on the part of the rabbit family?”
“Pussy cat!” gasped Mary. Then, snuggling back against the coat of summer ermine and beige chiffon Greg was holding out for her, she added energetically: “Honestly, that isn’t the way Faith generally talks or thinks at all. Truly, Greg, that isn’t my pussy cat in the least. Dear—I’m sure it comes of trailing about with all those he-flappers I stumble over when I come in nights. You must discourage your swains. They encourage you in the most amazing things.”
“They wait to see you. They take me out because I’m your little sister,” protested Faith, not yet aware against what she was protesting. Then she added vindictively: “They bore me.
They’re all so young and—underdone.”
“Infant,” said Greg gravely. “You shouldn’t be cruising around with boys yet. At your tender years you ought to be staying home and educating yourself for the battle of life. I think I’ll crash in on you soon and take you to an art gallery or somewhere uplifting.”
Mary laughed. So did Greg. Faith found herself wanting to scream.
Mary kissed Faith on the point of her lifted chin. Greg patted Faith on the top of her head. He stooped for a minute as if he might be going to put his lips against the smooth middle parting of her soft brown hair. Faith’s heart missed a beat. Then it began a staccato measure which left her with her hand pressed tightly against it as if that might stop the commotion.
Long after Mary and Gregory Norris had gone, Faith stood writh wide eyes and trembling lips which suddenly tasted salt. But she locked them a little tighter and propped the eyes a bit wider and confided to her own absurdly hammering heart:
“But he doesn’t even see me. He doesn’t know I’m a woman. He thinks I’m just a little girl.”
Then she stopped trying to argue with the feeling she suddenly knew she must accept. And she began murmuring a little prayer—to Gregory, I suppose.
“Please, please, just see me. Gregory, won’t you look at me hard enough to see I’m not a little girl any longer? Maybe I was the day I gave you tea. But since then I’ve grown up just for you. Please, please like me a little, for I love you so much.”
In spite of the way it hurt, it was beautiful that first night. At first it seemed a glorious thing just to be in love with a man like Gregory Norris.
She fancied her head fitting cosily into the hollow of Greg’s shoulder while his arms held her closer and closer. She imagined her fingers venturing to touch Greg’s forehead—to smooth the upflung crest of the dark hair that was beginning to froth into a white breaker on top. She saw the deep furrows between Greg’s ice-blue eyes melting as the flame of happiness she called into them banished everything from his mind but the happy new thoughts her love was to bring him.
After a while the dream began to seem the one real thing in all the world. Because there was the dream in the back of her heart waiting for her to call it out and love it into warmth and reality. Faith could go through a drab day when Greg didn’t telephone Mary and she didn’t have even the wonderful minute of taking his message.
And then along came Mary and curdled the dream until it became more like a rancid mass of stale whipped cream than the rosy cloud it had been a little while before.
Comfortably and cosily, at their weekly four o’clock Friday rendezvous in the white tiled dressing room where Faith brushed Mary’s sunny hair for half an hour before shampooing it with sunshine-preserving camomile tea, Mary remarked:
“Pussy cat, don’t you think it is about time your sister took unto herself a masculine appendage?”
“Butler or footman?” inquired Faith, tweaking a lock of Mary’s hair so she would look up and offer twinkle for twinkle.
“Combination of both and of courier and chauffeur thrown in,” Mary laughed. “A mere husband.”
“Oh, you darling! You’re in love,” cried Faith, feeling orange blossoms in the air and beginning to walk on that fragrant air since weddings are so contagious, and of course she’d be maid of honor and Greg best man.
“Not exactly in love. Just thinking of getting married,” said Mary dryly.
Faith was not studying reactions. She was having them. So she cried eagerly:
“Oh, Molly, it’s simply perfect! You’ll look like a magazine cover yourself when you go up the church aisle. When did it happen? When did he ask you? Who is it? Pete Clarkson? Jim Elmer? It must be Pete. He always looks as if he’d speak right out in front of me. Is it Pete? Oh, Molly, when did he finally ask you?”
“When did who ask me? You certainly don’t think a1 struggling editor like Pete or an unknown actor like Jim would come right out and propose to me?” I
“But you could help Pete make good. Wouldn’t thati be a real romance?”
“Thank yoù, no, pussy cat! I’m not silly enough to invite romance or invent it. It’s time I got married. So. after looking around and deciding on the most desirable prince consort I can find, I’m going to indicate to him that—”
“That honor and the hand of Mary Van Cleeve await him. Oh Molly, how gorgeous! You are the most fun!” cried Faith, her brush sweeping into a long down-stroke to match the up-stroke of her laughter.
“Precisely,” said Mary dryly. “Only I’m not funning or looking for fun this time. I don’t suppose anything far short of the Prince of Wales would try to sew me up in a life contract. I pick my editors and publishers from the field. I think it’s wise to pick my husband the same way. What man would dare offer me anything—what man has any reason to feel he has anything to offer?”
“There’s love,” suggested Faith, her heart yearning over Mary, who seemed to be pathetically ignorant about the most beautiful thing in the world.
“Piffle! What do I want of love? I’m not planning to break my heart caring for a man. I’m planning to marry one.”
, “But you must want to love the man you marry. You’ll love your babies, won’t you?” protested Faith.
“Bless your heart, pussy cat, all my daughters are born of the paint-brush. All my creative energy is needed for my work.”
“Then just what do you really want of a husband?” asked Faith with devastating candor.
But Mary was not devastated. She was quite clear to herself. She determined to make herself clear to Faith. So she said as bluntly as possible:
“When I think of all the men who trail in and out of this studio and send me American beauties and jade lamp bases I can very well afford to get for myself, I could scream. They didn’t give me such things in the days when I’d have been thankful on my knees, and off to frhe pawnshop for money to buy shoes. Of course I never gave much, either. T never thrill over any of ’em after I know the technic of his kisses. That’s how I am, pussy cat. Too much in love with art, I suppose, to have anything left for a man.”
“You can’t be like that, Molly. You’re too young. You’re missing everything.”
“There’s only one man about who I haven’t a single illusion, Pussy. He doesn’t bore me ever. He doesn’t thrill me, either. We get on nicely. Everyone will think it so suitable. My success won’t belittle him or humiliate him. And he won’t mind my having interests,outside the ' home. I’m quite fond of him and completely accustomed to him, and I know he wouldn’t even interfere with me or my fancies or my work, which is more to the point. So I think I might as well marry him. I’ll tell him to-night, or make it easy for him to tell me when we’re driving home from ‘So Many Roses.’ ”
“Then it is Greg!” cried Faith. Something inside her mind stopped going. She wondered if a human mainspring could snap.
Faith couldn’t decide whether to hate Mary or pity herself.
Suddenly it didn’t matter. Because she couldn’t do either. She could only love Greg. So words of protest and defense came leaping to her lips.
“Mary, you haven’t any right to make a man think you want to marry him when you don’t love him!” she cried. “You aren’t going to give him one thing. You’re cheating. And he won’t know how to get away from you at all. Nobody would. You shan’t do it. I won’t let you. Marry Pete or Jim if. you want a—near-husband. But leave Greg alone. It isn’t good enough for Greg. You’ve nothing to offer that’s good enough for Greg!”
Mary lifted her head and peered up into the mirror where Faith’s reflection seemed suddenly to tower.
“I suppose I’m not good enough—” she began.
Of course she never finished that sentence. Mary was too good an artist to function with anything but her eyes when they beheld the flaming, blazing, fearless Faith the big mirror over the porcelain bowl revealed. What registered with Mary was the amazing realization that her little sister was absolutely gorgeous. Faith aflame. Pussy cat turned tigress.
Then Mary began to realize what it was that had, made her pussy cat defy her and decry her, too. For Faith blazed forth again:
Continued on page 59
How Does Your Garden Grow?
Continued from page 24
“You shan’t cheat Greg! I won’t let you do it, Molly. Greg has a right to love.” “Don’t be a silly infant!” Mary ordered derisively. “Stop staring into that mirror as if you thought you were Joan of Arc and not Faith Van Cleeve. And dry up my hair. Gregory Norris is forty. You’re twenty.”
“You can’t do what you said,” protested Faith. She held out her hands pleadingly. “It doesn’t matter about me, Molly. But don’t hurt Greg like that. Don’t cheat him so. I couldn’t bear it if he weren’t happy.”
Then Faith turned and ran from the little dressing room without so much as turning on the electric dryer so Mary could whisk the water out of her hair on wings of warm wind.
Mary stared after her in -amazement. Then she swung around and stared into the mirror again as if she expected the vision she had seen to be painted there. Somehow Mary felt as if she had looked into a garden of old-fashioned flowers. Sweet William, mignonette, lady slipper, marigold, clove-pink, snapdragon, foxglove and bleeding heart were spread before her eyes for a moment. And there was even a great silver ball to catch the sun and reflect the flowers and show the sparkling pebbles of a little path with soft ferns on one side and a tiny brook tinkling away. . .
Mary rose and pattered on clicking mules to Faith’s door.
There was no response to her knock. The knob did not yield when she turned it. Mary smiled wisely.
“Honey!” she called. “Pussy cat, let me in, please. I’m getting the most frightful neuralgia headache. Y ou know you left my hair all wet.”
There was a muffled cry. The door opened. A contrite little Faith stood there with her arms out and a half sobbing:
“I didn’t mean to hurt you, Molly.” “Pussy cat!” cried Mary. “I wouldn’t hurt you for all the world. I wouldn’t do anything you didn’t think was worthy for a couple of worlds. And I wouldn’t play highwayman to Greg for the Milky Way itself. Would you please dry my hair?”
So they went back to the little white enamel dressing room and turned on the dryer. And they talked in queer little staccato jerks which really said nothing and yet said everything. Mary had one of her headaches. No, it probably would have come on even if her hair had been properly dried right off. She couldn’t think of going to the theater. The pain might settle in her eyes and she had a large day’s work to do to-morrow. She couldn’t put Greg off now. It was much too late. But she must rest her eyes. Pussy cat would just have to take care of Greg at dinner and run along to the show with him. It was too late to telephone. And Mary didn’t want to be bothered going out with a high-brow like Greg. She was much more in the mood to see Pete Clarkson. She’d forgotten how fond of old Pete she really was.
“Molly—” protested Faith tremulously.
But Mary swept out of the dressing room and into Faith’s room, into the big cupboard where her little dresses hung.
“Wear your little peach-colored chiffon and the tiny seed pearls and your hair parted in the middle. You’re loveliest that way, pussy cat. I suppose a man would be shy with you at first just because you’re so lovely, dear. One doesn’t touch a dewdrop lest it vanish.”
The sisters stood and looked at each other for a moment.
Then Mary took Faith’s face between her hands and lifted it until the wide, starry gray eyes were on a level with her own challenging lips. She smiled into the gray stars until her lips were almost tender as she asked curiously:
“Are you sure, pussy cat? He’s forty.” “He might mind my being only twenty,” said Faith quaintly. “If he ever found out that I’m more than ten.”
“I’ll hint to him that you’re old. Mor.e than twelve,” laughed Mary. “I’ve decided that my eyes are better. So I’m dining with Pete Clarkson to-night. I’m meeting him at the Brevoort at seventhirty. I’m just in the mood for Pete. Don’t argue. I’ll entertain Greg with
apologies and explanations until you’re ready to come down. And then I’ll fly.” “Have you telephoned Pete?”
“He’ll be there,” said Mary complacently. “He always is when I want him. I’ll explain to Greg as I go out.”
“You won’t make him think he has to —I mean you won’t tell him anything to make him think he ought to—you wouldn’t tell him something to make him think it was the only chivalrous thing for him to—”
“I won’t give him a single vital statistic, pussy cat. I won’t bamboozle pocr dear Greg as you seem to feel I’m bound to do on some score. I won’t even show him where the key to the garden hangs. You do that.”
With which cryptic message, Mary vanished. And when Faith came down the stairs to the studio at seven, Greg was alone in the big room.
“Good evening little sacrifice on the altar of Mary’s contrariness,” he cried, coming forward to take Faith’s hand and help her down the last three steps. “Do you mind being dragged off to theater by ..a scowling gentleman who is about to earn his living by telling the world what a poor excuse for a drama ‘So Many Roses’ is?”
“I’m a poor excuse for a substitute for Mary,” smiled Faith, “but I’ll be imagining it’s a wonderful play if—you take me along,” she finished lamely, wondering why she couldn’t scintillate the least little bit.
“I’ll take you along, child. I’ll bear the burden with superb fortitude. I’ll even declare that you’re one of the best dramatic surprises I’ve ever had sprung on me. What more can you ask?”
Faith could easily have asked much, much more. But suddenly she felt that she was being patted on the head again by the hand of an uncle from Australia who didn’t care especially for little girls. She began to feel about ten, and a stupid, awkward ten at that. All through dinner she felt like a child at .a grown-up party. Not even an amusing child. For Gregory was distrait, and to Faith that spelled bored.
Faith had no way of knowing that Gregory Norris was adjusting himself slowly and awkwardly to a number of amazing things Mary had thrust upon him in a ten minutes’ conversation.
“I’ve been mothering my pussy cat,” she had said abruptly. “It’s fun after all these years of being her grown-up child. And she mothers me so nicely. She would probably mother you too if you gave her a chance, Greg.”
“That enchanting baby!” Greg replied reverently. “She is just like a flower, Mary.”
“She’s a whole garden of flowers, fragrant, old-fashioned ones. She’s the sort of girl whose heart blooms just for the one man, the right man, the man she can look up to and adore and—mother.”
“Has she found him, Mary?”
“She thinks so. I don’t know what he thinks.”
“He would probably think himself the most fortunate man in the world, Mary, if he were worthy.”
“What man is worthy of a girl’s first dream? I’m not even sure any of you is worthy of a woman’s last one. I’m going down to dine with Pete Clarkson and ask him about it. He’s a pretty good editor, and a mighty good poet. Perhaps he knows. So you’ll have either have to dig yourself up a last minute girl or take pussy cat in my place. How about it!” asked Mary abruptly.
“Will your pussy cat so honor me?”
“If the kitten can find courage to lift her eyes totheking,” laughed Mary curtly. Then she popped out a question like a rabbit from a conjurer’s hat: “Greg, what would you do if someone gave you the key to an enchanted garden, a garden all fragrant with mignonette and clove-pinks and ablaze with larkspur and morning glories and warm with sunshine and sweet and quiet because the spirit of the garden was an enchanted sleeping princess waiting for the prince to come and wake her?” Greg looked at Mary quizzically. Then he asked:
“Wouldn’t you say I am a bit too old and rheumatic to adventure around in a garden?”
“Oh, Greg, don’t tell me you really have rheumatism! That is middle-aged.” They had laughed then, both of them. Greg recalled that as he watched Faith fidgeting with the stem of her water goblet, and he wondered what he could do to make the child a little more at ease with him.
“Faith,” he asked suddenly, “have you ever seen an enchanted garden—a lovely old-fashioned one, all wall-flowers and hollyhocks and shrubs and lovely old things?”
“There’s one in the Park,” said Faith, floundering desperately as she tried to associate this with something Mary had said. “The Shakespeare garden. Only it has sweet little flowers, marigolds and forget-me-nots and pansies and clovepinks. Haven’t you ever seen it? I’ll take you there sometime.”
“Oh—there!” said Gregory, with a masculine resentment against asking for golden keys to enchanted gardens and being told to come look in the florists’ window. Then he added abruptly: “Why does Mary call you pussy cat as if you were only ten?”
“How much older than that do you think I am?” demanded Faith.
“Don’t sound so aggrieved. Most women love to be thought a bit younger than their years.”
Greg meant it for a neat little joke.
“But you think I’m a child,” said Faith, meeting Greg’s eyes so gravely that he was not at all prepared to have her add: “And you have yourself cast as the elderly uncle from Australia. It’s silly. I feel old enough to be your mother and Mary’s too most of the time. Artists are such babies.”
“I’m not an artist. And I’m a middleaged man. Don’t you know that, Faith?” “Is finding out what I know about you more important than getting to the play on time?” ventured Faith.
“By the Lord Harry, I believe it is!” “But you ought to be there for the first curtain. It’s your job to see that play. And you are an artist about seeing them understanding^. ”
“Are you mothering me? Bribing me to do my day’s work to-night?”
“I’m afraid so. Do you mind? I always mother the folks I’m fond of.” Gregory Norris took a long dizzy breath. Then he said almost curtly: “All right. Take care of me. Get me to the show on time.”
“We’ll have to scamper.”
“Scamper it is.”
Gently, in spite of the need for haste, Greg folded Faith into the soft blue folds of the cape that turned her eyes from stars to gentians. Then they raced breathlessly across the big studio and out into the hall, fairly hurling themselves into the elevator and so across the sidewalk to hail a taxi. There was still an air of rush and confusion after they were driving off toward the swirling traffic of Columbus Circle. Faith began to wonder whimsically if it weren’t her solemn duty to smooth back the lock of gray hair their game had sent meandering down across Greg’s forehead. Just as she was deciding she’d simply have to if he didn’t hurry and put on his hat, Greg asked in a voice that sounded as if he’d been pondering his question for quite a while:
“If you are twenty in years and thirty in feelings and all of forty in knowing how to take care of the folks you’re— fond of—and I’m forty in years and thirty in feelings and only twenty in knowing how to dope out women who aren’t mere dramatis personae, are we near enough contemporaries to be good chums?”
“Then I could put back that lock of hair!” Faith cried.
Gregory Norris caught the hand which had touched his hair and brushed it gently across his lips. Then he sat silent entirely forgetting to loose his clasp on the fingers he had folded within his own. He found himself oddly fancying that inside the little hand he was holding so firmly there was a golden key.
And then he remembered that he was forty. He couldn’t scale garden walls. He would have to ask for the key and go soberly in by the gate. Unless the paths were sunny and the walks free from dampmold, he might really get rheumatism if he stayed over-long in a garden. And how would the garden sprite fare if she had to leave her mignonette and larkspur and go soberly into a grim, gray house and nurse a grim, gray man?
Greg began to be sure that the uncle from Australia was his proper role. He wondered what Mary Van Cleeve had been thinking about when she put any other ideas into his head. He wondered
what he had been about to sit smoking; his pipe all by himself night after night and dreaming of a pansy-faced girl in a green smock who had called him a greedy little boy and had called to the boy in his heart, to the youth in his soul.
Suddenly he unfastened his hand from the warmth of Faith’s clinging fingers. He really flung off her hand rather dramatically since he knew “ ’twere well! ’twere done quickly” if it were going to be done at all. Then he remarked with curt sobriety:
“It won’t be much fun for you in the theatre. When I trot myself to a first night, I ought to go by myself. I’m too busy with the play to remember whether or not I brought anyone along.”
“I’ll let you forget for the time being. But you mustn’t really mislay me. I’ll expect you to take me home,” said Faith, a little frightened, but striving to show poise and good sportsmanship.
“That’s the one thing I can’t do,” said Greg gruffly. “I’ve got to pile you in a taxi and trust you to the pirate who drives it. I’ve got to take a high dive over to the shop and get my stuff ready for the first edition. I always do that after a first night.”
“Oh!” said Faith.
She knew that Mary sometimes went to “the shop” with Greg and talked to the city editor while the Norris copy was being prepared. So again in a hurt little voice she said: “Oh!”
That was all. In fact, it was about all she recalled hearing said during the two horrible hours when they pulled a curtain up and down and certain babblings of conversation took place on a garish stage at which Faith could not bear to look.
Greg knew something was wrong. He must have been a most undramatic dramatic critic to miss the tragic note in the evening. All through the play he yearned to reach over and put his hand around the fingers which had curled so deliciously in his on the way down to the theater. All through two hours of dialogue he was sure couldn’t be as dull and banal as he fancied it, Greg was excoriating himself bitterly for his unseemly longings.
“A baby like that! You satiated old satyr, you, you’ve no right to her youth. If you had a daughter.of twenty you’d raise the deuce of a howl if she tried to marry a man twice her age. Mary has no right to put ideas in your head. She may have put them in the child’s head too. Mary always expects people to do what she fancies. She paintsgirls well enough, but she doesn’t know a thing about flesh and blood ones. The child must be protected from us. Between us we’d be able to persuade her to sacrifice her youth. How could she fight the two of us?
“That business about the garden! Some fine, upstanding boy of twenty-five could scale the walls. So you keep your crumpled gray hair and your crumpled gray soul out of that garden, Greg Norris. And be darn careful you don’t let me catch you making a move to tuck the key in your pocket in the hope that the lock rusts on its hinges before someone more worthy and suitable finds the combination. Let the child alone! What chance has Faith against you and Mary?”
Greg felt very noble and self-sacrificing, and quite miserable. Faith felt utterly ignoble and unsatisfying and likely to be forever unsatisfied.
They had a horrid time.
The climax of horror came when Greg actually did put Faith in a taxi and sent her home by herself so he could race off to the shop and get his criticism of “So Many Roses” into the first edition.
When Faith got home she fumbled blindly through the studio where she had been so happy just a few hours before, she stumbled up the stairs she had tripped down so gaily and went to the room where she had put on the peachcolored chiffon and the full panoply of dreams a little while before that. And she crept into the bed in the dark with her heart so bruised and her mind so dazed that she couldn’t think of a single prayer except for Mary to think her asleep in case she peeked in later.
When Mary came to the door in the very early morning, Faith was breathing so evenly that there was no way of guessing she’d be up and dressed and out looking for the first editions of the papers a few hours later. Faith wanted to see what they’d say about that horrible play that had cost her so much—even her last illusion and her first hope. When Faith got her papers she foun'0 that all the morning critics save one sang together in harmony and loudly declaimed that “So Many Roses” was the outstanding failure of a season not conspicuous for great successes. They said it couldn’t outlast the week. They hinted that it was so poor a play that there was no good excuse for its running two consecutive nights. Evidently it had been quite as dull as it seemed to Faith. (And to Greg!)
But Greg had gone over to the shop convinced that the play could never have contrived to be anything like as stupid as he had imagined. He recalled a play he had dealt with in terms of an ulcerated tooth. That show had turned out to be fairly good—and it was the tooth that had proved rotten to the core. So Greg gave “So Many Roses” the benefit of the doubt and the tooth and the ache that made an ulcer’s efforts to cause a fellow anguish seem puerile.
• The cleverest and most caustic dramatic critic in New York spoke of the simple sincerity of “So Many Roses” and its pleasant lack of sophistication. He even got in a few “adéquates” and one “charming.” He ignored all the well deserved “banals” and “futiles” and “febriles” in his well-stocked vocabulary.
Faith had read him hitherto. Intelligently. With her heart hanging on his words. And she had seen “So Many Roses.” So adding one and one she came very near getting the precise two she wanted.
“Someone has to be brave,” she thought. “I couldn’t be any more miserable than this if I did hang on to my pride, or if he did say no.”
So she picked up the telephone and asked for the number she had been longing to call for more than seven hours and all of seven ages. And she actually smiled when over the wire came a weary and curt and altogether misanthropic: “Hello!”
“Good morning, Greg. It’s Faith,” she said. “Did I wake you?”
“Good morning indeed, since it’s you, child. But it’s still night for me. I haven’t been to bed.”
“Oh! Then you aren’t feeling a bit well or cheerful this morning,” cried Faith, forgetting to woo happiness in her eagerness to mother misery. “Perhaps if you had some hot milk—”
“I wasn’t precisely cheerful five minutes ago,” confessed Greg. “But I’ll ds> nicely now without any hot milk. Things are looking up a bit since I’ve found myself engaged in pleasant conversation.” “Is that enough?” ventured Faith with a dizzy sense that the die was cast.
“It’s better than nothing,” muttered Norris, realizing how near forgetting his forty years he had been even after the night’s vigil.
This didn’t advance matters much. The “die” was a boomerang. Panic seized Faith.
“Well—good by,” she murmured faintly.
“Wait!” ordered Greg. “Don’t ring down the curtain like this. I’ve got to know why you telephoned me, Faith. Tell me just why.”
“I telephoned to ask you why you said ‘So Many Roses’ was a good play,” stammered Faith, wondering if half the truth always sounded as absurd as did this small portion of fact. “The other papers said it wasn’t. Did you really like it?”
“I had to be gentle with something,” said Greg grimly. Then, because he couldn’t avoid the problem in calculus provided by the child’s studying his critique of “So Many Roses” at this hour of the morning, he found himself seeking the solution with his demand, “Did you think that play could possibly be as bad as it seemed?”
“I knew you were going to send me home by myself at the end of it,” said Faith, hoping she had managed to ask a question instead of answering one.
“But you didn’t know why!” cried Norris, wondering if all martyrs shared his vast distaste for helping write their own noble obituaries.
“I thought you’d tell me this morning. I thought maybe you’d feel you ought to tell me.”
“Faith, do you know what you are doing? Have you thought about it, dear?” “I’m telephoning you.”
“You’re making me wonder if I really have a right to the most beautiful thing in the world.” “You’ve a right to anything you want enough, Greg.” Faintly.
“If I can win it.”
“You probably could if you tried.” “It’s a girl’s heart I want, Faith. The loveliest thing in the world. An oldfashioned garden of a heart.”
“Whose?” more faintly.
“Don’t you know, dear?”
“Yes, but please come and tell me.
It’s only eight. Molly won’t be down to breakfast till half past nine, and it’s so lonely here.”
“When Molly comes to breakfast,” laughed Greg in sudden triumph and feeling as if he’d had seven hours’ sleep and his cold shower and the glow of a brisk rub-down, “we.’ll show her the key hanging just where she indicated. There isn’t a wall in the world I couldn’t scale —now.”