JOSEPH LISTER RUTLEDGE
ALL the way from his office Dane Oliphant carried with him that underlying sense of dissatisfaction that had been his companion for weeks past.
Something had dropped into that amazingly satisfactory world that had been his, to take the fine edge off his enthusiasms, leaving him with a nagging sense of indefinite annoyance. It irked him the more because he found it difficult to lay a finger on the cause.
He had tried, a while back, to convince himself that he wasn’t feeling well, and on the advice of various friends, he had, at different times, given up smoking, eschewed coffee, and indulged in certain noxious commodities rich in vitamines. These heroic measures having proven equally ineffective, and the coming of spring, and the happy conjunction of sunshine and fresh air having brought to his attention his own amazing fitness, coffee and tobacco were restored to the menu, and the excess of vitamines discontinued. But the sense of dissatisfaction remained.
It was with him at the present time; not in any very consecutive or definite form, but then it had never been very definite. It cropped up only at intervals, interspersing other thoughts. Why, for instance, had United Petroleum decided to upset all the calculations by taking a sudden upward turn just when he had sold it “short,” with what he had anticipated as pleasantly profitable results?
He turned into the congested traffic of the Avenue, and, half unconsciously, he noticed its alluring windows. “I’ll bet a hat,” he reflected, “that Myra has been down town all afternoon, andjat this very minute is convincing herself that she is worked to death.”
The picture of his exquisitely groomed and exquisitely dainty wife as worked to death, appealed to a certain grim sense of humor, and he smiled to himself.
At this precise moment, Myra would be dressing in one of those shimmering, silky things that look so inexpensive, and that aren’t. They made her look her best. Myra always looked her best. Dane Oliphant liked women like that. And Myra’s best, he reflected, was so good that anything more so was inconceivable.
His heart warmed at the thought of her slim loveliness. He had never grown used to that, not in all the five years that they had been together. It was a constant revelation to him; and yet that nagging sense of something not quite in tune remained. It wasn’t that Myra wasn’t as utterly desirable as she had always been; no, it certainly wasn’t that. It was just something. There wasn’t >
any name for it, at least that he had discovered. It was a difference, that was all.
What was it anyway? They weren’t nearly as pallish as they used to be. Why only yesterday, when he had taken the afternoon off to go golfing with her— mightn’t have been let in for that damn Petroleum if he’d been on hand to watch—Myra caved iff at the sixth—hardly strength enough to limp back to
the clubhouse for supper. Tired—why before they
were married, she could do the eighteen and positively beg for more. WThat did she do to make her tired?
He emerged from the press of traffic and automatically slackened his pace, relieved from the ever-present urge to pass someone or something. He frowned a little as the steady purr of the engine was broken by staccato coughs. He took pride in his car, even bragged about it, mildly, at times, as though he had made it himself.
“Bucking like a cayuse,” he commented, discontentedly. It always did after Myra had taken it out. The frown deepened to a scowl. What had been the sense of buying her a car of her own; one she had chosen for herself, if she was always ruining the disposition of his? He remembered now, with a growing sense of irritation, that this was the first time in a week that he had been permitted to have his own car. It was all right, of course. He didn’t mind driving her car, but he liked his own.
Dane Oliphant could not put his finger on the something that had come between him and Myra but that something kept on rankling. He knew he loved her, and yet — there was a difference.
Suddenly, without apparent reason, the car developed a better humor and the scowl disappeared from his face. He swept round the drive on two wheels, and slowed his thirty miles to a standstill under his own
porte cochere. “Not a bad bus, at that,” he reflected, as he mounted the steps.
It was undeniably pleasant to be home. There was a warmth and comfort about it that appealed to him. Myra had a faculty of making places look attractive. They were a splendid setting for her own flaxen beauty. She had taste; and taste, with a not too careful regard for expense, had provided him with a home that might well be envied. He didn’t always feel that he quite belonged there; but then, perhaps, that was his own fault for being a big and vigorous and out-of-doorish sort of person.
He glanced into the living room more than half expecting to find Myra waiting for him there. He remembered that she had made quite a point of his being home early
and he had left his work in a rather unfinished state to make it. She was not there, nor was she in the library. At her own room he found her maid laying out her evening gown.
She looked up as Dane Oliphant paused in the doorway. “Mrs. Oliphant told me to let you know that she would be a little late. Dinner is to be at half-past seven.” Oliphant thanked her and went to his own room. He looked at his watch. It was a quarter past six. Well, he was home early, as he had promised. He smiled a little sourly at the thought. Myra had never been able to understand that a marital appointment had a binding character. “I knew you wouldn’t mind,” was her disarming explanation at every such lapse.
Of course he didn’t mind. Anyway there was plenty of time to dress. He lit a cigarette. There were one or two musical things that he had promised himself he would see, one of those days. He rather hoped that Myra had picked on something of the sort. She hadn’t said where she wanted to go when she had ’phoned him, just the suggestion that they should go out somewhere. If he had a suggestion of where the somewhere was likely to be he would have known better how to dress. He finally compromised on a dinner coat. That was playing it safe.
He was tieing his tie, with attention concentrated on the task in hand, when he heard Myra’s voice: “Dane, Dane dear! Hurry up! You’re late.” A half resentful retort rose to his lips.
“And here I’ve been starving for an hour,” he reflected. But he smothered the thought, and the retort died with it. He came out of his room to find Myra waiting for him at the head of the stair. His eyes brightened at the sight of her; she was so graceful and girlish and little . . . He remembered that, in their engagement days, they had discovered that standing together she could just succeed in winding a strand of her hair about his top coat button. It had seemed an important discovery at the time; though of course they were over such foolishness now. But even so, Dane Oliphant found his settled old heart—if you can call a heart old and settled when it has done duty for thirty-five years—beating a little faster at the thought.
Myra raised her face, a little perfunctorily, and he stooped to kiss her, looking down into eyes as blue as azure, and a little mouth with a hint of wilful wistfulness in its upturned curve. On a sudden impulse he picked her up in his arms.
“Dane, Dane, what will the servants think?”
“It’s little I’d care,” he retorted cheerily, “if they all stood in line and said ‘fie, sir!’ I’m a cave man.”
As he let her down, she stood for a moment looking up at him with a slight flush on her cheek. “You look like it,” she admitted, “but inside you’re just about as cave-mannish as a house cat.”
“A typical wifely judgment,” he agreed, pleasantly. “But don’t run away with the idea that you can trust that house cat too far.”
She laid her hand on his arm with a touch of friendly possession. “Why if I stroked you, you would purr,” she said, “any time.”
“Try me sometimes, purring’s no trouble to me, and I don’t want to get out of practice.”
She surveyed him with a puzzled expression. “Dane, you’re surely not trying to be subtle?”
He laughed a little shortly. “If that’s subtle, I’m a diving Venus.”
THEY were sitting comfortably in the living room after dinner, when Dane Oliphant looked at his watch. “We’ll have to be hopping, old girl. It will have to be the movies now, too late for a reai show. Where do you want to go?”
“That’s a quotation from yourself,” he responded, his cheerfulness suddenly sounding forced. “Perhaps
you have forgotten that you hurried me home so that we could go out somewhere, together. I remember that you rather emphasized the ‘together’ when you ’phoned at noon, but that is a long time ago.”
She came over and sat on the arm of his chair. “I’m sorry, Dane, but you see Ann Warner rang up this afternoon, and asked me to fill in at a bridge, to-night. There’s a perfectly stunning man to be there, and she wants me to meet him I knew you wouldn’t mind. We can go out ar.y time., can’t we?”
She waited to give him time lor the ready acquiescence to which she had grown accustomed. But the devil of dissatisfaction that had been with him on his homeward way, held him silent.
“I knew,” she continued, coaxingly,
“that you would be ever so much more comfortable at home with a book.”
“Following out the house cat idea,” he suggested.
“Now don’t be horrid, Dane. You know I couldn’t very well refuse when Ann asked it as a favor.”
“All right, run along,” he said with returning cheerfulness. “You’ll find me purring by the fire when you return.”
LEFT to himself, Dane Oliphant did not immediately take up the task of purring. It was not an entirely new situation for him to spend an evening in his own company. In the first year or so of their married life, Myra had carefully weaned him away from most of his old associates; not from any particular prejudice against them, but because he had become a matter of property, definitely docketed as her own. He was a handsome and willing slave, and if he did not hew wood and draw water, he did its modern marital equivalent. He escorted her where she wanted to go; was generously self-effacing when other interesting males were in evidence, and provided handsomely for her pleasures, her foibles, and her extravagances.
In thus providing, he was assumed to lead a life of such vivid and varied interests as to need no relaxations of his own.
“You have been meeting interesting people all day, and I have been sitting at home all by myself.” She had convinced herself that this was a sober statement of fact, though she had only the most shadowy notion of who or what his interesting friends might be. The picture of herself, too, as sitting at home was a pleasant fiction that meant, simply, that certain of her days were less interesting than she had planned they should be.
Dane was still awake when Myra came in, a little after one. She flung herself, yawning, on the chesterfield beside him; achieving the almost unachievable by making even that action seem attractive. “Did you have a nice, quiet evening, Dane dear?”
He reflected over that. “Well, Felix barked twice— dreaming, I think. There was a crash from the direction of the kitchen that sounded like one of your berry dishes; and something scratched behind the bookshelves.
I suspect a mouse, but Felix evidently thought otherwise for he did not attempt to rout it out. No, hardly a quiet evening.”
“I had a perfectly rotten time.” Her question having been purely a matter of form, she contented herself with following her own thoughts, “and if that Arnold person is Ann’s idea of someone ‘perfectly lovely,’ I don’t wonder that she married Bob Warner. I was never so bored in my life. I lost twelve dollars,” she announced as an afterthought.
“Neither a pleasant nor a profitable evening,” he agreed.
She threw herself back in the cushions, a graceful picture of weariness. “You don’t know how thankful you ought to be that you don’t have to go out when you don’t want to. I wish I were a man.”
“Yes, you are missing a lot. We’re care-free dogs; no doubt about it. But how about fixing up a really entertaining party for to-morrow night, just you and me?”
“Dane, you’re just not going to drag me out tomorrow. I’m going to stay right here and play with you, right in this very room.” She leaned over and kissed
him lightly on the top of his head. “How will you like to have me crowding into one of your lovely, quiet evenings?”
“I think I might like it. Novelty has a charm all its own.”
“We’ll try it,” she said, with a little rippling laugh.
Myra was still asleep when Dane Oliphant started off for his day-long carnival at the office, but he left a note telling her that he was looking forward to the evening. He did look forward to it with something of a thrill of excitement.
On his way home that night, he stopped and bought a substantial box of bonbons, a couple of the brighter magazines, a new book, and an armful of American Beauty roses. In his purchasing he had worked into quite a state of sentiment. He pictured her sitting there facing him under the shaded light, her feet tucked up under her, in the way she had, reading to herself. He didn’t want her to give up her evening to him. He just wanted to have her near; just as she had been in those early years, to look up to him and smile, from time to time. Of course you could sit and read by yourself, but it was different, somehow. It was with the soft glow of these sentiments still upon him that he reached home. Myra received his gifts with a casual and abstracted air that left him rather crestfallen.
When they had finished dinner, and were seated together in the living room, she rather startled him with a sudden question: “What did you do at the office to-day?”
“Do? I don’t know. Just the usual things.”
“But what are the usual things?”
“Well, I dictated about a dozen letters to Miss Straus.”
Myra showed an awakening interest. “Is she pretty?” “Who? She’s my secretary, you know.”
“Yes, but is she pretty?”
“Why, no—I don’t know—stubby girl, reddish hair.” Myra did not pursue Miss Straus farther; she was evidently not the makings of romance. “Well, what then?”
“Why, then we had a conference. That Emerson deal is looking a lot more promising. I saw Bartram to-day, and he seemed rather taken with our proposal. We had it all worked out carefully, could quote facts and figures. There was a lot of information that was new to him. I could see that we had interested the fellow. May have to run over to Chicago in a day or so. If we can land that business it will mean other stuff following.” Oliphant’s eyes glittered with enthusiasm. It was great to be able to mull things over together like this. “If we land them, we’ve got their competitors on toast,” he announced happily, “they’ll have to come to us; because you see--”
Myra nodded audibly. “Dane, you could make the Arabian Nights read like an almanac.”
Oliphant came back to the present with a hesitating laugh. “Sorry, old girl; don’t suppose it is very interesting. It means a lot to us, though.” He waited for her to speak.
Myra was carelessly thumbing a magazine. “Do you know, Margaret has a new ring. It has a big emerald in the centre, and diamonds all about it. It’s almost too big, I think. Anyway, I think she’s foolish to call attention to her stubby fingers.”
He smiled at her. “Perhaps you’re right,” he agreed. “I don’t seem to remember Margaret, but if she has stubby fingers and all that, better hush it up.”
Myra was pursuing her own thoughts. “I don’t like those big rings, anyway, especially with bright stones.. Now I saw the loveliest one this afternoon.”
_ She looked up, suddenly, and noticed his abstracted air. “You’re not interested,” she said, aggrievedly. “You’re not even “stening.”
“Oh, but I am, dear. Go on. It’s about a ring.” He made the statement with an air of triumph.
“You’re not very interesting, Dane,” she said, with a stifled yawn. She looked at her watch. “It’s getting on toward nine. I’m sleepy, too, and I’m going out early to-morrow. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll run along to bed.”
Dane Oliphant did mind; minded very much, but he hid his disappointment under a casual air. “All right, dear, run along.”
He sat alone before the fire, thinking. They weren’t cheerful thoughts. They were even tinged with a hint of bitterness, something that was unusual for him. “You just take the leavings,” he said to himself, “and be darned thankful. If she hasn’t been up too late amusing herself the night before, or if she doesn’t expect to be up early amusing herself to-morrow, why then, there may be time to spend on you.”
He felt Felix’s wet muzzle touch his hand, and he looked down smiling. “No, we don’t want to be overexacting, old chap, do we? We don’t want to be unreasonable.” His mind roamed off on those dual fictions; that the round of business was such a gay and care-free and inspiring thing, crammed with pleasant contacts, and exciting happenings; and the life of the home altogether a drab and uninteresting affair.
“Well, perhaps housekeeping isn’t very exciting,” he thought, in a struggle to be fair. “But Myra hasn’t much more to do with housekeeping than I have.” It was manifestly true. He paid the bills, and Myra maintained a pleasantly aloof, supervisory attitude. The house would run along, without appreciable change if her supervision were withdrawn. It wouldn’t run at all without his effort.
“But that isn’t altogether fair, either,” he admitted. “I don’t want her to be a stay-at-home. I want her to have as many friends, and as happy a time as she can possibly have. But I would like, sometimes, to feel that I had an even break with other people and other things; not just have to take what is left.”
T N THE business world which seemed such a vivid J world to Myra Oliphant, Dane Oliphant was well regarded. It had been generally conceded, when he ventured into business, that he was a “comer.” At this date he had come far enough to have justified some of these early prophecies, and to give an air of substantial assurance to the balance. He had come to be quite a personality in his particular sphere. His judgment was sought as something well worthy of serious thought. It was, perhaps, this general air of deferring to his opinions, that set his wife’s attitude in such sharp relief.
From nine in the morning until five at night, Dane Oliphant’s life was strictly business. If Miss Straus watched him at times with adoring eyes, he was unconscious of it. His steady gaze looked beyond her tawny hair, and if he noticed her at ah it was as an expert human machine. He hadn’t the faintest idea that, his casual “Good morning!” could cause that young person’s romantic heart almost to slip its moorings. Others beside Miss Straus had looked on Oliphant with favoring eyes. That their interest was not returned was perhaps only a negative virtue; he hardly knew of their existence. During the day time his business was his interest. When that was over he returned to his home with a certain sense of relief. Myra was the centre there; the personification of the escape from the exacting labor of the day. Myra, against a pleasant background of comfortable surroundings, careful servants, good food and modest amusements, was a pleasant picture. She was so manifestly a part of any picture that suggested comfort and well-being, more especially when the comfort and well-being were her own.
Dane Oliphant had that picture in his mind as he edged his car into the homebound traffic. A car crept up beside him and slipped ahead. He scowled at it. “I’m getting stale,” he thought, “I’m just plain tired. A holiday’s the thing—couple of weeks somewhere would fix me up.” He had promised himself that he would take a holiday this summer, but the summer had slipped by, as had'other summers. Still, he could make it now.
“I’ll suggest it to Myra,” he thought, with a happy, anticipatory sense of her pleasure. She was always urging him to take a holiday.
He was rather surprised that she did not jump at the suggestion, when he broached it at the dinner table.
“But I have just come home.” She looked at him with innocent astonishment. 'T haven’t any clothes.”
He smiled at that, remembering her crowded trunks.
“Where could we go to now?—Besides, there is the Eliott’s dance next Friday and—” She broke off suddenly. “You have the queerest notions, Dane. What made you think of that, now?”
“Been feeling a little bit stale. Keeping the old nose too tight on the grindstone, I suppose.”
“But I thought you liked it, the—the grindstone.”
“Sure, I like it,” he agreed.
She did not pursue that angle of the conversation. “I don’t think I ever saw you looking better,” she said after a careful scrutiny. “You must be imagining it.”
“I suppose I am,” he agreed, though the impression of weariness still remained with him.
It faded, however, when he was finally seated in a comfortable chair, his feet on the fender stool, and a newspaper on his knee. “Myra’s right,” he thought. “This is too good to leave.”
Presently Myra herself would be coming in and sitting opposite him. He had placed her chair so that he could see her against the background of velvets and tapestries, and little jim-cracks, that would have bought many a poor devil a square meal. It was expensive, but then so wasMyra—expensive. The rest had to be, to fit in. You couldn’t put a diamond in a pewter setting.
Myra crossed the room and stood leaning against the chair. He smiled, approvingly. It was just as he had arranged it. She smiled back at him with a little distrait air. “You will have to hurry, Dane,” she said.
He surveyed her with drowsy eyes. “Hurry,” he said, “is a word that has, temporarily, dropped from my vocabulary. Homes are places to hurry to, not to hurry in.”
She went over to him, running her fingers, absently, through his hair. It wasn’t a trick that particularly pleased him, but it kept her near, so he made no protest. “I’m afraid you will have to put the word back,” she announced. “We have to be at the Mason’s at half-past nine.”
“What’s the use of all this?” he demanded, waving his arm in an encompassing gesture. “I spent good money on it. Can’t we stay in, sometimes, just to look at it?”
“You can get up early, dear, and look at it.”
“That won’t do. I bought it as a setting for you, and you won’t stay set in it.” His sense of grievance overcame him.
“Why, if we have to go gadding about, should it be the Mason’s?” he demanded.
“Because they were the people who invited us.”
It was a retort that left no room for argument, and he retired to his own room to dress.
THE Masons fulfilled his worst forebodings. To him it was a tedious and uneventful nightmare. Only Myra and Ann Warner and the Mainwarring boys seemed to be having an exhilarating time. Their laughing voices, drifting down from the far end of the room, seemed to him almost sacrilegious. At his own table there was breathless silence, while old Mr. Mainwarring pondered over the knotty problem of whether he should raise a diamond.
“If I had to come,” Dane Oliphant groaned inwardly, “why can’t they let me grow up with the saplings?”
He caught Myra’s eyes upon him with a mocking glance, and saw her make some laughing retort to her companions.
“Dane is almost too good-looking,” Ann was saying. “If he were my husband, I would never let him out of my sight. I would always be afraid of some other woman poaching.”
“Did you ever try to poach Dane?”
“No, but I might.”
Myra laughed, gleefully. “I would love to see you try,” she said. “You could languish all over Dane, and he would never know it. Dane’s a dear, but he hasn’t a spark of imagination, not a spark.” Her happy laugh rippled through the room.
Dane Oliphant looked up and smiled. He wondered a little that the music of it had still the power to stir him.
“If you had finessed the queen,” his partner’s voice held a touch of acidity, “you would have made your bid.” He smiled, blandly. He had forgotten the score, but he had a dim remembrance of having been doubled. Inwardly he hoped that they were down a thousand. “Good for the old cat,” he reflected.
DO YOU know, Ann thinks I ought to keep an eye on you.” Myra leaned back comfortably in the car, snuggling up against Dane’s shoulder. “She thinks that you are too attractive to be safe.”
He grinned at her in boyish embarrassment. “I’m a
Great Dane, honey, not a Pom. You can’t feed me on sugar.” Then, after a pause, “What did you say?”
She squeezed his arm, affectionately. “I said that you were as safe as Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
“Oh, did you?” He had no wish to be thought anything else, but no man likes to be thought too safe.
MYRA came into the breakfast room as he was finishing his second egg. He put his paper down and looked at her in smiling surprise. “What disturbed the nest this morning?” he enquired.
“I’m going to drive down with you.”
He shifted, uneasily, in his chair. “I’m a bit rushed, dear. Anything wrong with your car? Of course if—” “Ann thinks a car is a nuisance when you’re shopping. We’re going to have lunch down town, and take a taxi home, so we won’t have to bother about anything. I’ll ring her up before we leave, so you won’t have to wait.” “All right, dear,” he agreed, resignedly.
Myra was as good as her word. When she had finished a leisurely breakfast she called Ann, and there ensued an interested planning of the day’s program. It was half an hour after his accustomed time when they finally prepared to leave.
As they came out of the door a small figure tumbled through the fence that separated them from the adjoining lawn, and came running toward them. Myra flew in pursuit, and Sonny Andrews raced around and over the flower beds, shrieking with laughter.
Dane Oliphant watched them, with smiling eyes, but behind them there was a sober light. “I wonder,” he thought, “if there had been someone, like Sonny—”
He caught up with them as Myra was rolling an ecstatic Sonny on the grass. “What shall we do with him, Dane?” She looked up at him with a flushed and laughing face.
Dane Oliphant considered the matter. “Ever have a top, Sonny?”
The shrieking ceased, and Sonny shook his head with anticipatory interest.
Continued on page 45
Continued from page 17
“Well, I’ll get you one and teach you how to spin it. It may save the flowers.”
“It’s a promise,” Sonny called after them.
Dane Oliphant looked back with a laugh. “Sure, it’s a promise,” he said.
Ann was waiting at the door, but at Myra’s suggestion she made a hurried trip, back into the house,forsomesamples.
Oliphant did not notice the delay; he was thinking of the top. “Funny little codger,” he remarked.
“He’s a dear, isn’t he?” Myra agreed.
The three of them crowded into the front seat at Myra’s suggestion. The cramped quarters suggested a story to Oliphant. He had told it at the club with a good deal of effect. He was in the middle of it when Myra interposed. “No, that’s not the way, Dane.” He remembered now that he had told it to Myra. He tried to pick up the strings of it again, but Myra concluded it with a few brisk words. Then noticing his blank expression, “Oh, I’m sorry, dear,” she said. “Tell it your way.”
He laughed. “That way will do for both of us,” he said.
DANE OLIPHANT looked at his watch as he entered his office and frowned. He was just an hour late. He spent a feverish morning trying to overtake it, without avail.
At the noon hour he remembered his promise. He raced through his lunch and made a hurried visit to the shops. It was more of a problem than he had anticipated. Fashions in tops had apparently changed since his day, but he wanted to get one of the good, oldfashioned sort. It took two or three calls before he, at last, discovered it.
He swung up the drive, that night, with a feeling of elation, the top occupying an honored place on the seat beside him. As he neared the house, he saw Mrya and Sonny playing on the walk.
She came toward him, laughing. “He just loves his top,” she called. “I knew
you’d forget, so I bought him one this afternoon.”
Dane Oliphant knocked the offending purchase off the seat and kicked it, surreptitiously. He nodded to her. “I’ll just run in and clean up,” he said. “I’m a bit late, I think.”
As he went toward his own room, he upbraided himself. “What’s gone wrong with me anyway? Why do I have to get feverish over a little thing like that? She’s right, I might have forgotten it.” When he came down to dinner he was smiling.
During dinner Myra talked blithely of her day’s interests, while Dane sat, with his eyes upon her, amused at her gay ways of thought. “I’ve been out all day,” she admitted, “and I’m worn to a shadow.”
“It’s a becoming shadow,” he said, with a critical glance. “Are you too worn to go out?”
Myra brightened, immediately. “I was just wondering what I would do this evening. Of course I’ll go.”
“I was thinking that we might run over and visit ‘The Sea Hawk.’ It looks like a stirring tale.”
“But I’ve seen it, Dane. I saw it on Monday with Ann. It’s splendid.”
A shadow of disappointment crossed his face for a moment.
“It’s all about—” He made a gesture, as though he would have stopped her, but she did not notice. “It’s about galleys and fights, and there’s a man who’s the Sea Hawk, and they beat the galley slaves—that part’s rather horrid— and there are duels and things; and, oh I forgot, of course, there’s a girl whom he’s in love with, and somehow she gets on the galley, and there’s more fighting; but, of course, they get married in the end. You ought to see it. It is just the sort of thing you would like.”
“I don’t think I’ll bother, dear, if you’ve seen it.”
“But you could go, sometime, when I’m out.”
“I don’t think I’ll bother.”
She surveyed him with sudden sus-
pieion. “Didn’t you want me to tell you about it?” she asked, a little aggrievedly.
“Why certainly, dear, I like to have you. But I don’t need to see it now, do I?”
t “I’m not sure that you are being very nice,” she said slowly.
He laughed, boyishly. “Never nicer,” he said. What about the Capital? I don’t know what’s on, but they have good music and it’s worth a chance.”
“But I’ve seen that, too. It’s some French sort of thing, all about revolutions. They kill hundreds of people. I don’t think you would have liked it.”
“It sounds rather interesting,” he said, with a hint of regret in his voice, “after all, what are a few hundred movie actors to me?”
“But I’ve seen it, Dane.” Then with a happy thought: “We can go to the Congress.”
“That’s the place near here, isn’t it?” he asked, without enthusiasm. “All right, if it suits you it does me.”
He watched the picture of marital misunderstanding with a languid interest until the flickering film tired his eyes. He closed them and listened to the drumming of the piano in the darkened theatre. “More leavings,” he reflected.
Little bitter stabs of thought came to him. Why was it that he could never see a decent picture? _Why was it that Myra couldn’t sit with him one evening without getting sleepy at nine o’clock, when she could stay up all night, with enthusiasm, at even the dullest party? Why was it that she could tramp all day to match a ribbon, when she couldn’t play nine holes, with him, without a physical collapse? What’s wrong? he demanded of his inner self; but his inner self had no ready answer.
“It wasn’t a bad picture,” Myra said, as they reached home.
“They’re never so bad that you haven’t seen worse,” he agreed, without enthusiasm.
DANE OLIPHANT found that what had been a passing sense of annoyance, had begun to rankle. Little things that he might have passed over with a laugh, came to have their significance in a mounting chain of evidence. He did laugh at himself, at times, upbraided himself at others. There was no wilful intent behind any of these things; Myra was simply blissfully unconscious of them.
He growled, morosely, as he guided his car through the traffic. “I’m just a husband,” he thought, with mounting bitterness. “I’m safe. I’m too darn safe; that’s what’s the trouble. She’s so sure of me that I’m not interesting any more. I’m just like a bust toy. I’m part of the house furnishings, that’s all.”
As he entered his office, he found Miss Straus carefully dusting his desk. She had opened the window, and the room was fresh and airy. She had done the same thing every morning for a year or more, and he had taken it as a matter of course, though, in a dim way, he knew that it was not included in those duties that were set against her twenty-five a week. For the first time Miss Straus stepped out as something more than an efficient machine.
“Why is it,” he wondered, “that any other woman is more interested in a chap than a chap’s wife?” Now that he came to think of it, thus bluntly, he couldn’t help but realize that other women had seemed to think it worth their while to consider his wishes; but Myra certainly was not among the number.
As he sat at his desk, these thoughts would keep cropping up. He had no time for them, he knew there was little enough to get through the day’s work that he had apportioned for himself. What with the Emerson contract to be handled, and the constant negotiations, and consultations that it entailed, added to his regular work, he seemed to have given himself rather more than he could carry. “I wonder,” he reflected, “if it actually is Myra, or is it just that the old horse has an overload?” By noon, in odd moments of reflection, he had pretty well convinced himself that this was the case. “I need more help— foolish to try and get along without it. A good assistant could carry part of the load; anyway I’ll look around for someone.”
He said something of the kind to a luncheon companion, and was somewhat nonplussed at the prompt reply: _ “I know just the girl for you. Needs a job, too.”
“Perhaps I didn’t make it clear,” he grinned, “that I'm more in the humor for being helped, than for helping.”
The conversationhaddriftedofftoother topics, and he thought no more of the matter until, a day or so later, Miss Barrett had presented herself, with a letter from his friend.
It was with anything but a feeling of pleasure, that he asked that she be shown in. He looked up, as she entered, and unconsciously rose from his chair, with a sense of surprise, mingled with just a hint of exasperation. Nice girl, evidently, but not the sort that belonged in an office. She had more the look and bearing of thd gracious hostess of a drawing room.
Purely as a matter of form, he began explaining his requirements. Her quick grasp of what he was saying, and the evident soundness of her knowledge interested him. Almost unwillingly, he found himself admitting that she might be a great help.
As a matter of fact, a week or so later, when she had become an accepted fixture at the office, he found it hard to imagine how he had ever managed without her. He had found himself able to take on new work; found also that little annoyances were merely matters to be laughed at, again.
Myra noticed the difference. “You’re getting better tempered,” she announced. “I wonder why?”
He laughed at that. “Things going pretty well at the office. I suppose that’s the reason, if there is one. Rather gave myself credit for having a Pollyanna disposition anyway.”
But, despite the fact that little things hadn’t the same power to annoy him, it didn’t mean that they had ceased to exist. It was brought, sharply, to his attention as he drove down town. His front tire suddenly went flat, and with a muffled curse, he pulled up against the curb.
He told Myra about it that night, with what he thought was commendable restraint. “The spare was as flat as a 1900 dime,” he said, “and it wasn’t my spare at that.”
She looked at him reproachfully, with the evident feeling that he was being unkind. “George told me that my spare was leaking when I took the car out last night. I had him change them. I forgot to tell you about it. You were in such a hurry to get off this morning.”
“It cost me an hour’s work that I could not afford to lose,” he replied, as kindly as he could.
Myra came and sat on the arm of his chair, with her arm about his shoulder. “Don’t be cross, Dane. I’ve said I’m sorry. Just think if it had happened to me when I was going to Joan’s tea.”
He looked at her in surprise, but saw in her face nothing but the most guileless interest in her own affairs. He laughed somewhat shortly. “Yes, then it would have been serious,” he admitted.
OLIPHANT turned in his chair as Miss Barrett entered the room. “I would like to get at those cost figures as soon as we can,” he said.
“I have just been ’phoning the office about them. They tell me that they will not be ready before six.”
Oliphant frowned, slightly. "I had hoped to get them cleaned up to-day.” He looked up with a slow smile: “We never seem to get quite on top of this job, do we? I suppose that’s what makes it interesting.”
She hesitated a moment. “I could come down this evening, if it would be any
help,” she said.
He reflected over that. “We might be able to clean them up. But they’re not likely to get them finished. You might phone me at home, if by any chance they should.”
The suggestion had passed from his mind before he reached home. Even the insistent jangle of the telephone, as he sat before the fire after dinner failed to recall; t ; so that when the maid announced : “For Mr. Oliphant,” he rose reluctantly.
“It is a lady's voice,” she explained helpfully.
Oliphant sank back in his chair with a sigh of satisfaction. “Must be for you, my dear,” turning to Myra.
She returned a moment later. “It is for
you,” she said.
Dane Oliphant caught the hint of surprise in his wife's voice; and, in a moment, he remembered.
Myra listened to the low murmur of conversation with restrained impatience. She caught the words, “I'll be there in half an hour.” then she deliberately
turned her attention to other things. She had no wish to overhear. Dane would tell her all about it. He always did. It took a little of the edge off her anticipation to realize this, still, she waited for his explanation with a certain expectancy.
It was evident, as he entered the room, that he was not thinking of explanations. His mind was elsewhere. “You were going over to Ann’s,” he said, suddenly. “I have to run down town for an hour or so. I’ll drop you there, if you like. They can drive you home.” Then, as she made no move: “Hurry along, sister,” he said, “I want to get away.”
She rose, somewhat stiffly, but a moment later was back, garbed for the street. They drove in silence, save for a pleasant, humming undertone from Dane. He helped her out of the car, with an evident haste, and with a cheerful: “I probably won’t be late,” he was off in a whirl of dust.
Myra stood on the steps and watched the tail-light of his car disappear into the night. Suddenly her face cleared. “Think of old Dane trying to be secretive,” she reflected, with a laugh. “Why I could find my way up and down his mind without ever touching a corner.” But as she entered the house, there was a puzzled frown on her face.
DANE OLIPHANT folded his papers with a sigh of satisfaction. “ Get a lot more done,” he remarked, “when people aren’t dropping in on you every minute.” A sudden compunction smote him. “I’m afraid that I have kept you very late.” “No. It is only ten o’clock; and I didn’t mind staying in the least.”
“You see,” he said in explanation, “I’m afraid that I took rather an unfair advantage. My wife was going out. She goes out quite a bit, and I’m rather worn out with trying to amuse myself at home. I like this better.”
“I would be glad to come any time that I can be of service,” she said quietly.
“I think that I’ll take you at your word,” he answered with a laugh, “and now I’ll drive you home.”
She shook her head. “No, thank you, Mr. Oliphant. I can get a car at the corner that takes me home.”
When she had gone he took out his watch. It was a quarter past ten. Myra had said that she would only be out an hour. Leaving a liberal margin for Myra’s method of reckoning time, he figured that would bring her home by ten or ten-thirty. He had taken her statement as a suggestion that he should be home to meet her. That was how she had intended that it should be taken. He remembered how often he had hurried there to provide the interested ear into which she could pour her comments on the day’s interests. To-night it would be she who would be waiting. On a sudden, the thought struck him as some thing extraordinarily pleasant.
Tj'ROM that evening Dane Oliphant — spent fewer hours in solitary ease by his own fireside. When Myra went out, he went out also. At first shë rallied him gaily on his growing infatuation for the business, but, as the weeks passed, and he was more and more often absent, she ceased to mention it. She had pretended a laughing disbelief at his continued statement that he was going to the office. But, somehow, she did not mention it, now; her very silence seemed to have a significance.
It was Ann, however, who put a name to her suspicions, if such they could be called, or rather Ann’s husband. He was a heavy lump of a man, Ann’s husband, who spent whole evenings behind his paper, apparently deaf to their chatter. This evening, however, he had emerged long enough to cast a devastating bomb into Myra’s composed and comfortably ordered life.
“Why can’t you let old Dane romp around a bit?” he demanded, picking up a clue from some stray fragments of conversation. “He’s never had a chance to kick up his heels. He’s got rather an attractive secretary, I hear—probably taking her out to supper. It isn’t going to cost him so much; and it isn’t going to do him any harm—”
H you think that’s being clever, Bob,’ Myra interrupted, sharply, “ or if you think you know anything about Dane, or if you think I believe your nasty insinuations, you are mistaken.”
All the same,” Ann broke in, with suppressed eagerness, as Bob Warner, with some mumbled words, retired again
behind his paper, “now and then Bob does get an idea, and I think this may be one of the times.”
“Don’t be silly, Ann.” Myra’s voice had a sting in it. “You know Dane. Why, it’s preposterous!”
“Of course, my dear, if you think so— But, all the same, I would look around.”
“Well, I won’t. I won’t spy on anybody even if I did believe it, and I don’t.”
“Well, I don’t mind spying a little,” Ann retorted, pleasantly.
“There are times when you make me positively sick, Ann, and this is one of them. I’m going home.”
“Good night, dear,” Ann called after her. Then, as a Parthian shot: “I’ll let you know what I hear.”
The living room was empty, when she entered, and she noticed Dane’s pipe lying on the table, where he had left it. So he hadn’t come in. She had a little twinge of pain at the thought. But, strangely enough, her anger was not against her husband, but against Ann. It was still smoldering, when half an hour later, Oliphant came into the room. “Sorry to be so late, old girl,” he said.
Myra looked up at his smiling face. “Women are cats!” she said.
He turned to her with a chuckle. “Aren’t you getting this mixed?” he said, “A while back you implied that I was a cat.”
“Men aren’t that sort of cats”. She responded.
She was silent for a while. “Dane,” she said, “Let’s not talk natural history.” There was an unusual eagerness in her voice. “let’s plan something to do to-morrow night.”
“You can take your plan as accepted,” he announced, cheerfully.
IT WAS five o’clock the next afternoon when he called her. “Sorry about to-night, dear,” he said. “Some things have just cropped up that I’ll have to look after, at once. I won’t be able to get home till quite late.” ^
“But we were going out together,” there was almost a catch in Myra's voice, but he did not hear it.
“Sorry, dear, I can’t make it to-night. You run over to Ann’s, that’s a good girl,” and he had rung off.
MYRA did not go to Ann’s. She could not stand Ann’s gloating commiserations. She sat alone, save lor lelix s wet muzzle on her knee. “What’s the good of having a husband, anyway?” she demanded. “You only have what’s left after—” she hesitated for a word, but went on defiantly—“after business is through with him,” and Felix wagged his tale in evident agreement.
She did not sleep well that night. She heard Dane come in and tip-toe lightly past her door. She lay awake, long after, searching for some explanation, but she could find none. He had never denied her a single wish before.
She was up early the next morning. Dane would want to see her, would want to explain. She remembered how quick he was to react from any seeming unkindness to her; and the thought gave a gentleness to her condemnation. She would make it easy for him.
From the direction of Oliphant’s bathroom, came the sound of lusty splashing, and a rich baritone proclaiming: “The best of ways to lengthen your days, is to steal a few hours from the night, my dears.” Myra turned to the task of dressing, with a little frown of uncertainty on her face.
She was waiting in the breakfast room when he appeared, fresh and cheerful, and still humming pleasantly. His face lighted at the sight of her. He crossed the room and put his hands on her shoulders, and stood looking down at her, with a smile touching the corner of his lips. “If anyone were to tell me that you were more than twenty-one,” he said, “I wouldn’t believe them,” and he stooped and kissed her.
Myra seated herself at the table with a sudden feeling of strangeness. So there weren’t going to be any explanations. She was almost glad, but little, nagging questions kept coming to her mind, and she could only watch his cheerful unconcern with a sense of wonder.
I’VE seen her,” Ann Warner announced cheerfully, when she met Myra, a day or so, later.
Myra flushed a little “Seen whom?” she asked, soberly.
“Why, Grace Barrett, Dane’s secre-
tary. She’s tall and slight—dresses rather well. She’s not exactly pretty, but she knows how to carry herself. She’s just the sort that men go wild over.”
Myra laughed, light-heartedly. “As though I didn’t know Dane,” she said, “as though I didn’t know that, if I wagged my little finger, he would come to me.” But for all her brave front she was startled and surprised. Why hadn’t Dane told her of this girl? And why, why, why, did he seem to have such a growing infatuation for his business?
Ann’s voice broke in on her reflections, with a maddening superiority. “You think so, dear; but would he? Dane is all business, and this woman knows that part of his life. Do you think that doesn’t give her an advantage over you? Do you think if you wagged all your fingers, and kept on wagging them, that you could take him away from his business?”
For all that Myra laughed openly at these sobering thoughts, in her heart she was troubled. Dane seemed almost glad, now, when she told him that she was going out for the evening, and now that he didn’t seem to care whether she went or not, she didn’t want to go.
“Oh, Dane, Dane, how can you?” she cried, when he had left her one night, pleading some important business. Then her face hardened. “Nothing is going to take him from me, nothing,” she said.
A SUDDEN hitch in some business negotiations had called Oliphant out of town. Myra saw him depart with a certain feeling of relief. She wanted to be alone; to have time to think things out clearly. When Dane was near, with his boyish friendliness, it did not seem possible. She could not make herself realize that there could be a shadow between them. But there was. It was no use in trying to hide it from herself any longer. If she wanted him, she must fight for him.
The thing that had crystalized her thoughts into the mood for action, was simple enough in itself; just a letter that Dane had forgotten to post. It lay on the hall table staring up at her as though in challenge. It bore the address of Miss Barrett.
Suddenly Myra realized that she hated this woman, that, if she eould, she would shame and hurt her. She clutched the letter to her, fiercely. At least, she could go and see what manner of woman she was.
Her courage almost failed her, as she stood on the doorstep. She wanted to turn and flee; to hide herself from prying eyes; but something held her there. She was lighting for happiness, for herself—• and Dane.
When the door opened she started with surprise. The woman who faced her was different from her imagining; tall and slight; her first appraising glance told her that she was not pretty, nor yet beautiful ; but she, unmistakably, was not common. Looking at her eyes, Myra grudgingly conceded that she was almost beautiful. They were such large, clear eyes, and looked out so fearlessly, and her mouth was firm and delicate.
“Does Miss Barrett live here?” she asked, with a perceptible hardness in her voice. “I’m Mrs. Oliphant. Ihavebrought some papers for my husband.” There was a crispness of tone, almost a challenge in the last words.
The woman in the doorway looked at her in quick surprise. “Won’t you come in, Mrs. Oliphant.”
Myra followed her into the comfortable, dimly-lighted living-room. As they entered, her guide turned to her with a smile. “Perhaps I should tell you,” she said, “that at the office I am Miss Barrett; that was my old name. Here-—here I am Mrs. Dick Banning. Dick, dear,” she called, “this is Mrs. Oliphant?”
In a more brightly lighted corner of the room, Myra saw the seated figure of a man. She waited for him to rise and greet her, with a puzzled feeling that matters had gone topsy-turvy without due warning. But the man did not rise. Instead, he held out his hand. Bewilderment was still upon her, and at her hesitation the man flushed slightly. When he spoke, she caught in his voice that unmistakable timbre that tells of long illness.
“A man’s legs,” he said, with a whimsical smile, “should be long enough, they say, to reach from his body to the ground. Mine do that, but they don’t do anything else. My wife,” he continued, gently, “has to be hands and feet for me.”
Myra took his hand with an impulsive gesture of quick sympathy. “I didn’t know,” she said. She looked from him to his wife still with that puzzled air. She saw them both smiling at her.
In that moment she saw clearly. “I’ve been a little fool,” she thought.
“It was good of you to come,” Banning was saying, “we are very interested in your husband’s work. You must be interested, too.”
She studied his face to see if there were any hidden censure in his words, but Banning was following his own thoughts.
“I know a good deal about it,” he said. “We talk it over every night. Since l have been shut out from business, I miss it a good deal. I’m even afraid I rather grudge my wife the opportunity of being in it.”
His wife came and stood behind his chair, resting her hands lightly on his shoulders. He reached up and touched them, gently. “It’s as much your„work as mine, Dick,” she said.
“My husband will never talk business with me,” Myra said slowly.
Banning smiled at her again. “There’s a special language of business,” he said, “and it’s a business language. Perhaps you wouldn’t understand.” >.
“I’m tired of taking just what the old business leaves,” she said, with a flare of her old anger.
He shook his head, still smiling. “Business is always the biggest part of most men’s lives,” he continued, slowly. “It has to be. It is the creative spark. It is worth thinking of—by anyone.” He turned to his wife with a smile. “Perhaps Fate has been good, after all, in giving us a common language.”
Myra looked up, sharply. “I don’t understand.
“A common interest,” he said, “a common enthusiasm, a common language. It is a great and enduring tie.”
Myra nodded, comprehendingly. “Won’t you te]l me about it? I will try to understand. Nothing is going to take him away from me,” she said, under her breath.
MYRA settled herself comfortably in the chesterfield, her eyes on Dane, who sat contentedly smoking, at the far end. “Now,” she demanded,asshetucked her feet carefully beneath her, “tell me all about your trip.”
“Just work and worry and catching trains,” he said, with a smile.
“Dane,” she retorted, sternly, “never mind about the catching trains, but tell me about the work and the worries.”
“I’m afraid I couldn’t make it very interesting, dear,” he replied, a little wearily, “and you wouldn’t understand about the worries.”
She moved over toward him and, catching his face in her hand, turned it toward her. “How do you expect me to understand, if you never try to help me?” He studied her face for a moment with a puzzled air.
It was two hours later that he caught himself up with a jerk and looked at his watch. “I’m sorry, dear,” he said contritely. “You should just stamp on my foot, when I get going like that; nothing else will stop me.”
“But I didn’t want to stop you. Most of it I didn’t understand very well, but I think, when I do, that it will be inter-
He turned on her in amazement that
ended in a boyish laugh.
“Why didn’t you tell me that Miss Barrett was married?”
“But she isn’t.” He had time to wonder vaguely just how Miss Barrett had come into the conversation.
“Oh, yes, she is.”
“Then why is she working?” he demanded.
“She has a crippled husband.”
He pondered that for a moment. “Well, I’m glad of it.”
“Dane!” she said.
“Oh, not that the beggar’s crippled^ he hastened to explain, “just that she’s married. She won’t be running off and doing it again, that’s what I mean. It hasn’t spoiled her, anyway. She’s too good a girl to waste on just being married.” Myra looked at him, happily, and a wise little smile touched the corner of her mouth. “A little while ago,” she said, “I would have thought that you weren’t being very nice. Now, I think I under-