We Must Be Kind to Marcia
Even the most well-meaning of families can wreck a wife's happiness
CLEARLY there was nothing against Michael Donovan, personally.
He had, the Dexter family agreed, a most engaging personality, the pity of it being that penniless civil engineers should ever have engaging personalities, so as to entrap young, soft, sentimental things like Marcia. For the Dexter family had inevitably married into families, whose sound, financial backing put them in a class apart from young and penniless adventurers, which was what they chose to term Michael Donovan.
“A penniless adventurer." repeated Marcia, head thrown back against a sea blue cushion that did distracting things to her hair, the color of guinea gold: “of course Michael is nothing of the sort.
But you make me wish he was. It sounds full of color and romance. A penniless adventurer,” she echoed again, apparently enamoured of the words, eyes shining, voice dreamily remote, “sounds like open seas and pirate ships and sunken treasure—”
"Don't be a little simp.
Marcia,” Connie Montgomery, Marcia's eldest sister, broke in from where she stood, tall and graceful, beside the fireplace. Connie usually stood while others sat or lolled; it may have been so as to exhibit her beautiful figure, or again she may have found it a more dominating attitude, for Connie dearly loved to dominate. Her own family expressed it differently, saying that Connie had amazing executive ability. "Do ha%-e some common sense,” she implored Marcia. “What it really means is a perfectly absurd life, chasing around to all sorts of impossible places, and living Heaven knows how or where. You have no conception of what it means, you poor kid,” and Connie regarded her young sister sympathetically, for Marcia appeared so paralyzingly indifferent to the awful fate they were depicting for her in the fullest colors.
"Michael will be there, too, you know,” cheerfully explained Marcia, who adored her family and knew all they said was only because they were so concerned for her welfare. They had always managed her affairs; always advised and counselled her; always treated her as the irresponsible child of the family, the adorable child, the one who must be cherished and guarded because she was so prone to dream, to write poetry, to be swept away on tides of emotional sentiment. And now this last wave was threatening to sweep her quite beyond their reach.
Marcia looked hopefully across the room at Vivian, iounging on a sofa, a cigarette between her carefully rouged lips, for Vivian was nearer her own age, and should be more in sympathy with romance.
“Poor Marcia,” Vivian drawled; “you see, darling, we ail cf us look upon your Michael as a dangerous and insidious disease for which there appears to be no remedy. To look at us all you’d think you were lying at the point of death,” and Vivian’s amused and dhsual glance roved from Connie’s face to Mrs. Dexter’s comfortable features, upon which had settled a look of tragedy.
"Don’t be so flippant, Vivie,” Connie remonstrated. ‘T suppose you don’t want to see poor little Marcia perfectly wretched within a year.”
“I’m not so sure she will be,” Vivian said, her sleek, dark head cocked consideringly; “Marcia’s penniless adventurer has his points. My chief cause of complaint against him is that he’s too sober-minded. That comes
of having had to earn his daily bread by the sweat of his brow, I suppose. But we’ll liven him up for you, darling, and then he’ll be almost human.”
It was impossible ever to take offence at anything Vivian said, for she had such an absurdly droll way of speaking, and then Marcia knew Vivian only talked for effect. But once when Marcia had been very ill Vivian had gone for three days and nights neither eating nor sleeping, hovering around the door of the sick room, a pale and terrified ghost; and when people remarked to Marcia, asthey frequently did, that Vivian was hard and glittering and unfeeling, Marcia remembered and vehemently denied it.
“Of course, dear,” Mrs. Dexter said heavily, worry written across her large, benevolent face, “you understand if you’re determined to marry him we’ll all be just as kind as we can. We’re not going to be crude and disagreeable. Only,” and she sighed deeply, for she had planned so differently for Marcia, “it does seem such a pity when there was Arnold Daly, and all the Daly family aching for it to take place. Arnold’s so satisfactory in every way.”
“Think of the ball room you would have had,” alertly suggested Vivian. “I was quite planning a dance every week—”
“And these beautiful grounds,” grieved Connie; “I pictured you owning that place. And Arnold s such great fun—”
The look on Marcia’s face was that of someone who has been staring at the sun, and has been invited to admire the light, shed by a neat, little electric globe.^“Arnold’s very nice,” she agreed, “but he isn’t Michael.
“It would have been so perfect to have had you so near us all,” mourned Mrs. Dexter, finding it well-nigh impossible to become resigned to Marcia’s fate.
“But I’m going to be just as near,” Marcia objected. “In fact my apartment will be a whole block nearer to you than the Daly’s house would have been.”
“Yes, child, your apartment,” and Mrs. Dexter gave
vent to another sigh, for she had not been counting distance by the foot rule, when she had made this remark. Poor little Marcia quite obviously did not realize how far away a marriage with Michael Donovan would actually remove her from the circle in which she had always moved. And her eyes brooded dismally upon her youngest. Marcia’s marriage was to have been a particularly brilliant one, as she had planned it; a marriage to eclipse
the very satisfactory marriages of her other two daughters, and now, out of a clear sky, had appeared Michael Donovan, penniless adventurer, shatterer of all her hopes and dreams.
“We shan’t let it make a speck of difference, of course,” explained Connie. “We’re not going to let you drop out of things, because you’re making an unfortunate match.”
“At least, I’ll see to it that you have proper clothes,” Mrs. Dexter exclaimed eagerly, her own life being largely centred in her dressmaker. “I only wish I could manage to give you an allowance. But with the way things are at present, stocks all down and divdends cut in half—”
“Between us all,” Connie spoke in her more dominant tone, “we’ll see that you don’t have to stay mewed up in your silly little apartment all the time. You’ve got to promise, Marcia darling, that you’ll dine with us at least once a week.”
“And lunch with me every day, of course,” Mrs. Dexter put in, as though in this way starvation was being staved off for a while. “Of course if your father had been alive—and she shook her head sadly, while her face became soft with sentimental memories of the late Mr. Dexter. “He would have been able to settle something on you.”
“As long as she isn’t scuttled off to some remote corner of the earth, where there’s nothing but bugs and mosquitoes,” put in Vivian, dropping this bomb neatly into the midst of their recovering placidity, “we can look out for her.”
“But that,” cried Connie, “would be inconceivable.”
“Impossible,” exclaimed Mrs. Dexter.
“But quite likely,” suggested Vivian, while Marcia’s gray eyes were for the moment veiled, as though in secret she were contemplating just some such remote corner of the globe, where she and Michael might live out their lives in the sunny rapture of romance.
"V/fARCIA looked at Michael with the perplexity she had several times had occasion to regard him since their return from the honeymoon. And she followed up the look with the remark, which had already fallen frequently from her lips: “But, dearest, don’t you see that we can’t possibly hurt their feelings. They only mean to be kind.”
“Then I wish they'd stop being kind,” grumbled Michael, sunk into a chair from which he refused to move, although the hands of the clock pointed to seven. He had come in tired, to find he had only a brief half hour in which to change before going to Connie's for dinner, and the prospect failed to please him. “Why did you ever start this business of dining with Connie every week?” he inquired, staring gloomily at Marcia, sweet and gay and fresh in a rose-colored dress, with a string of red coral to make a deeper accent. “Why did you ever start it?”
“I didn’t exactly start it,” Marcia explained, her gaiety dropping from her, her voice troubled. “It was all arranged before we were married that we were to dine there one night a week.”
“All arranged," repeated Michael, exasperated: “didn't you have anything to say about it?”
“Oh, Michael, darling,” and Marcia’s tone was more and more distressed; “can’t you see, can’t you understand that my family are only doing all they can to make us happy?” No, apparently he could not see it, and a hurt quiver crossed her face, while her grey eyes grew misty. “Connie naturally thinks it’s nicer for us to go to her lovely house for dinner sometimes, than eat every meal in this apartment. You like Paul and I thought you liked Connie—”
“And I like being at home sometimes,” he interrupted, worry and perplexity on his own face, for he could see that she was hurt; knew he had hurt her in this way before, but unless he made a fight for some sort of freedom, some liberty—“I wonder, dear,” and his tone was reasonable and patient, “if you realize we haven’t had a meal here for over a week. You lunch with Mrs. Dexter every day, and are out every afternoon for tea. Couldn’t we sometimes dine at home?”
She looked at him despairingly. Of course she wanted to dine at home as much as he did, but couldn’t he understand when people were so hospitable, so kind, that you couldn’t go on refusing them, as though you didn’t want to go; didn’t want their kindness; wanted to be left alone? “It’s only their wonderful kindness,” Marcia explained, her voice a little strained. “I don’t suppose they want us particularly. I’m very sure last night it put Vivian out having us. But she said at the last moment she couldn’t bear to think of us eating our dinner in our little apartment, when we might as well be at her house, having a gay time.”
Having a gay time! The only alleviation for him had been that he had sat across the table from Marcia, and could watch the light slip across her fresh little face, could hear her little laugh at times above the hum of conversation. But how much better, he had been thinking all the time, if they could have been at home together. “So,” he exclaimed, his thoughts recurring to Vivian, the words slipping quite involuntarily from his lips, “we were the victims.”
He hadn’t intended to say that, but since it was said he might as well explain what it was he meant. “Why, yes Vivian apparently had an impulse to be kind, last night. Boy scout idea—do a good deed every day—she wanted to feel a glow of generosity—so she picked on us.”
That made Marcia’s soft red mouth tighten; Vivian, who was the soul of generosity; Vivian, who couldn’t eat her delicious dinner thinking her sister might be eating one less delicious. Oh, why must Michael talk in that way? Didn’t he know how it hurt? “I hope you’ll never say anything like that to them,” she said, “for they’d be most awfully hurt. They wouldn’t understand. Don’t you think it’s ungrateful after all they’ve done—?”
“That’s exactly it, dear. It’s because they have done so much. They’ve done more than anyone should do, if they want us to keep our self-respect. And I value my self-respect more than a hundred dinners.”
Wasn’t that just words, words, words; something said so as to prolong the argument. She moved slowly, on little listless feet towards the door, and there paused to look back at him reproachfully, still sitting in the deep chair, still with no apparent intention of stirring, although the hands of the clock were hastening towards the half hour. “Aren’t you ever going to get ready? We’ll be so late. The dinner will be quite spoiled if they wait for us. You know Paul hates—”
“I’m not going,” Michael replied quickly. “You can tell Connie I had some work to do. I’ll call a taxi for you.” He reached for the telephone, while Marcia, after waiting for a moment to see whether he actually meant it, saw that he did, and went to get her wraps.
Marcia sat very stiffly in one corner of the roomy taxi as she drove through the snowy streets to Connie’s house, the taxi lurching over the uneven roads, threatening the rigidity of her pose. Her gray eyes were clouded; her child’s mouth drooped wistfully. She couldn’t be exactly angry; she was only sorely bewildered. She groped with her perplexities, wondering whether she could possibly tell Connie and Vivian, and all her aunts and cousins, what Michael’s feelings were, without appearing crude and gauche and ungrateful. She did not see how she could bring herself to say: “Please don’t invite us to dinner . . . don’t drop in at the apartment so often . . . and don’t bring presents when you come.” It was clearly impossible. They would stare at her in hurt dismay, and if she should go on to explain it was all because of Michael, they would then cry out among themselves, “Why did we ever let Marcia marry such a man?” Obviously she could do nothing of the sort, unless she meant to decry Michael to them all.
Oh, why couldn’t he be grateful; why couldn’t he accept kindness without making such an outcry, such a fuss about it all? Connie never passed the apartment without dropping in with a new book, some recent magazines, a pair of gloves or silk stockings, a new French perfume; or again it might be some treat which they would never have considered buying themselves—hothouse grapes, peaches in January, a basket of mushrooms, a brace of partridge, or some new variety of sweet. It was so generous of her, yet last night Michael had actually refused to eat a large and delicious peach, saying, “I don’t care for luxuries I can’t afford.” Wasn’t there, she wondered now, the least note of irritation in his tone; bitterness in his voice.
He never appeared too pleased when her relations dropped in at the apartment; didn’t seem to understand the reason they constantly did so was in order that she would not feel left out of things. It was only kindness that brought them; a wish to relate some piece of news, some bit of gossip to brighten her up, since they felt life in her apartment must of necessity have its drawbacks and limitations.
Michael apparently had never experienced kindness like this before; couldn’t understand it; actually it seemed to worry and oppress him. He had a positive obsession against accepting presents; even resented them. Of course, he would grow used to it in time, if only in the meantime he did not hurt them with any very apparent show of ingratitude. What she would have to do was to mask this feeling of his, so that none of them would suspect it, and in time it would surely undergo a change. No one, surely, surely, could be the constant recipient of such kindness and remain ungrateful.
Connie and Paul quite understood that a poor young engineer must frequently work during the evenings. “Too bad,” said Paul, who radiated a pleasant prosperity, “but naturally he must be ambitious to get ahead. He must want to be able to give you a few comforts.”
“You must come to the theatre with us oftener,” Connie suggested. “On Michael’s wretched little salary of course it’s impossible to go. You poor kid,” she finished, and Marcia felt an immediate wave of self-pity flow over her. After all, why did Michael have such a wretched little salary? Was something wrong somewhere?
Continued on page 56
We Must Be Kind to Marcia
Continued from page 7
‘‘Sometimes I wonder he doesn’t make more,” she said, and then grew hot and miserable because she had said it. Wasn’t it disloyal to Michael? “Of course he will in time,” she supplemented quickly: “he’ssure to make more.”
“You poor darling,” Connie exclaimed, a world of pity in her tone. “If Michael is so busy, why not come to Atlantic City with us for a couple of weeks. I was longing to ask you, but didn’t quite like to. But if Michael is working so hard, there isn’t a reason in the world.”
Marcia protested that would be impossible. She really didn’t care about going, but later in the evening when Vivian dropped in for a few moments, the matter was clearly taken out of Marcia’s hands.
“Of course, you must go,” Vivian cried in her bright, vivacious tones, which completely blotted out Marcia’s low protests. “You need a change in the worst way, after that cramped apartment. No, we won’t listen to a single word. It’s positively settled. And I’ve the duckiest evening dress that’s miles too small for me, and will be perfect on you. I’ll drive you home, and we’ll get it on the way.”
Marcia protested vainly.
Vivian finally carried her off in a whirl of gay conversation to call at her house for the evening dress. Vivian always raced breathlessly at everything, never leaving a moment, if she could help it, between decision and action, and Marcia was still breathless when she arrived at the apartment, a box containing the evening dress under one arm, and a box with a hat Vivian had literally forced upon her under the other. Michael looked up from his book, smiling at her as she stood, laden, in the doorway. “So here we are with the spoils of war.”
It was said cheerfully, even gaily, for he was so glad to have her come in, but Marcia’s face went decidedly pink. “What do you want me to do?” she cried, flinging the boxes on a chair, her voice rising to an almost hysterical pitch. “Vivian piled the boxes into the car and told the chauffeur to drive on. Would you have had me pitch them into the street? I knew you wouldn’t like it—I tried to refuse—”
“I know dear,” Michael replied. “I was only joking.”
“But you weren’t joking. I know you weren’t. I couldn’t help it. Vivian simply—”
“Oh, I know,” Michael insisted, sorry he had started it all again. “Vivian is altogether too arbitrary. She treats you as though you were a silly small child, who didn’t know her own mind.”
That wasn’t what she wanted either. “She doesn’t,” cried Marcia. “She’s just kind, that’s all.”
Michael looked at her thoughtfully. Then he said slowly, with a touch of whimsicality. “The Social Service ask people not to give alms on the street, because it’s not considered conducive to self-respect. It’s a way of keeping up the fibre of a nation. England is beginning to worry about the outcome of her dole system. She’s afraid of pauperizing her people. That means robbing them of backbone, and of self respect.”
Marcia looked at him as though he had all at once lost his senses. “You surely don’t mean—oh, it’s too ridiculous for words.”
Since they were again on the subject he might as well say what he had to say, hoping that Marcia might see his point of view. “It’s this constant having to say, ‘thank you—thank you,’ that I object to. Good heavens, the words are never off your lips. And you can’t go on day after day saying, ‘Oh, Connie, it's too good of
you’—‘Oh, Vivian you really shouldn’t’— ‘Oh, Mother, I don’t like to take it without its leaving its mark. You can’t take things for nothing, you know dear, and if you’ve nothing tangible to give in return then you give intangible things that are more valuable—like independence.”
“I never knew you could be so silly, Michael. I detest sermons. Making mountains out of mole hills.”
“Perhaps I am,” Michael conceded amiably, seeing that his effort was wasted; “perhaps I do.”
“All this fuss about an old evening dress and anoldhat,”shewenton,seeming now as though she didn’t want to leave the subject; “I suppose you’d think it dreadful if I told you I was going to Atlantic City with Connie for two weeks. She seems to think it’s awful that I never go anywhere. But I suppose you’ll tell me to refuse.”
She stood waiting for him to tell her that he wouldn’t allow her to go, with Connie paying the expenses. Then she would say—oh, then she would tell him—.
“Why, no,” he said, but barely glancing at her; “you must do as you like about it. I don’t mind in the least if you want to go.”
She knew that wasn’t so; knew that he did mind. But again the wave of selfpity, that Connie had started, flowed over her. Since Connie was so sorry for her she did feel that she owed it to herself to go.
AND Marcia went, but there was a ■cloud upon the days, and she was unable to enjoy herself because of it. She still thought Michael was supremely ridiculous, but his, she supposed, were the ideas of a man who had been forced to work for all he had, andso placed an undue emphasis upon everything that had to do with money.
On Marcia’s return it seemed to her as though Michael had put an invisible barrier around himself, and after a few futile efforts to break down this barrier she abandoned the attempt. If he wanted to remain aloof she could not help it. It threw her back more than ever upon her family. But if they noticed that she ran over more frequently in the evenings to one or other of their houses, they made no remarks. And if Michael did not go with her when she dined with them, they appeared, if anything, more pleased than otherwise. And, somehow, she did not wonder much at that. Michael was not making himself as agreeable as she thought he might have done.
AND th?a, one evening, when she and • Michael were awaiting for the maid to summon them to dinner there was a long ring at the door bell, folllowed by a series of quick sharp rings. As the maid hurried to open the door, shouts of laughter, cries and shrieks penetrated into the apartment. And then into Marcia’s long, narrow room swarmed an excited crowd of men and women in evening attire, carrying baskets, hampers and boxes.
“Darling, it’s a surprise party,” cried Vivian, swooping down upon Marcia. “We thought you’d like to give a party in your own apartment. We’ve brought the dinner. You’re not to do a single thing. We’ll set the table, and wait on it and do everything.”
Marcia glanced quickly at Michael. He was not keen about Vivian’s set to begin with, and the idea of their coming uninvited, and bringing the dinner with them would not appeal to him. But there was nothing in his manner to indicate his feelings. He was helping Harold, Vivian’s husband, to move the furniture and add length to the table, as though this was something he had quite expected.
Marcia was tremendously relieved and gave herself up to enjoyment. It was fun having them descend upon her like this. She raced into the bedroom to change into a bright little evening dress. Her eyes danced with fun as she slipped into a
yellow tulle, kicked off her black slippers and stepped into a pair of gold ones; touched her lips with a lip stick; put a dab of powder on her nose, and was ready for an evening of merriment.
When she came back the room was in a riotShe could scarcely recognize her own apartment. The gramaphone had been turned on, the rugs rolled aside and several couples had started dancing. Piercing feminine voices combined with loud male laughter to make a dissonance of sound which rose in incredible gusts. A man, with a round, good-natured face was shaking up cocktails, while Vivian was directing proceedings from the kitchen, where the baskets and hampers were being unpacked.
Everyone was racing to and fro carrying plates and glasses, or opening bottles with a great popping of corks. The shouts were considerably heightened, when a tall, slim creature, in very attenuated scarlet, commenced to do a Charleston with her own improvisations, which brought forth cries and shouts from the onlookers. Marcia thought fearfully of the people in the apartments above and below, and wondered how long this noise could go on before someone came and put a stop to it.
“Do send your maid out, Marcia,” Vivian ran across the room to whisper. “She’s dreadfully in the way. She’s rather an owl, isn’t she? We’re going to do everything ourselves. Sophie and Charlie are going to wait on the table. Charlie’s a perfect scream as a butler.”
“Couldn’t you ask them not to make quite so much noise,” Marcia entreated. “You see it isn’t as though it were a house. And the people downstairs—.”
“All right. I’ll tell them,” Vivian assented, good naturedly, and promptly forgot what Marcia had said. “And now you’re not to bother about a thing. We only want you to have a good time. We’ll look after everything.”
At length the table was set, extra chairs borrowed from every room in the apartment, Sophie attired in a maid’s outfit whisking importantly about the table, while Charlie, as butler, kept up a continuous stream of remarks, some witty some stupid, but all greeted with cheers from the rest of the party.
“I’ve come down in the world, m’m,” Charlie whispered toatall blonde, who was inclined to regard everything Charlie said as simply hilarious, “working for these folks. You wouldn’t believe it, but they hadn’t a taste of wine in the house when I come. You’dscarcely credit it,m’am, would you? And I could tell you a heap more only I likes the little lady, and so I keeps my mouth shut.”
Marcia began to hope Charlie would not keep it up. He was repeating himself over and over, urged on by the general hilarity, and his remarks were becoming more and more personal. She could see that Michael was getting restive, and once he flushed angrily, and cast a quick look in Charlie’s direction. Marcia pushed back her chair and ran across the room to turn on the gramaphone. “Let’s dance,” she cried, wishing to put a stop to Charlie’s jokes. “Who’ll come and dance the Charleston with me?”
Immediately several men leapt to their feet, and the group around the table scattered. The evening progressed with noise and laughter, until at length Vivian whispered to Marcia that she thought it was time they went home.
There was a general scuffle while cloaks and hats and gloves were being found. Finally they all departed, their voices heard echoing up the two flights, the elevator not running at this hour. Charlie was carolling a tune at the top of his lungs, Sophie attempting to hush him, and only creating greater noise. Vivian waited until they had left before throwing her arms about Marcia, giving her an effusive embrace.
“I do hope you enjoyed it, darling. I’m afraid we were a terribly noisy lot. When Charlie gets started there’s no stopping
him. But I’m sure it’s done you a world of good. Next time we’ll bring—.”
And here it was that Michael stepped forward and interposed a remark. “There won’t be any next time, Vivian. When Marcia wants to give a party she’ll invite her own guests and supply her own dinner.”
“Oh, Michael,” cried Marcia, looking up at him aghast, while Vivian gave an unconcerned little giggle. Butthe glimpse she had of his face made her decide that she had better depart as quickly as possible. “See you in the morning, darling,” she said, with a little squeeze of Marcia’s fingers, and then she ran after the others, her high heels clicking on the cement floor.
“Oh, how could you?” Marcia cried, flinging her arms in a gesture of despair, “how could you—how could you? What will Vivian think?”
“I don’t much care what she thinks,” Michael returned shortly, his eyes like bits of bright steel. His anger was like something he had kept on a leash all evening, and now he could let it loose. “I could have brained every one of those silly fools. I only kept control of myself for fear of what I’d do if I really got started. Coming to an apartment and making that infernal racket. Look at the place. Just look at it.”
Marcia looked. Her pretty little apartment appeared as though a whirlwind had struck it. Mounds of dirty dishes were piled everywhere; empty bottles lay on the furniture or rolled on the floor. Cigarette ends were scattered on the pink rug where an ash tray had been upset, the ashes tramped into the thick soft pile. Some one had spilt a glass of wine over a pale rose cushion. Furniture was piled in confusion, a heavy upholstered chair on top-of a Sheraton table on which ugly scratches appeared. A vase of flowers had been upset, and the water was trickling across a polished desk. But Marcia scarcely seemed to notice it all.
“I don’t care,” she cried miserably. “Think of what you said to Vivian. Look at the trouble she took.”
“She’ll never do this sort of thing again. There’s got to be an end.”
Had he no feelings; was he so insensitive; didn’t he care what he said; what he did? “You’re dreadful to my family,” she wailed unrestrainedly. “Oh, what am I to do. And they’re so kind—so kind.”
He took a quick step towards the window and threw up the sash. He could not stand much more of this sort of thing. Gripping the window ledge he looked up at a piece of sky between the roofs. Same sky; same moon; same stars hung over other places, far off places where there would be no more of this terrible ‘kindness,’ that was wrecking their two lives. And he remembered sharply, queerly, a joke at the office, a remark from his chief. “Suppose you don’t want to spend a year in South America, Donovan,” and then a laugh at the suggestion. He gripped the window ledge still harder. Same sky; same moon; same stars.
“So kind,” sobbed Marcia behind him in the room, “oh, what am I to do?” His voice was thick, yet hard and determined, and he did not turn as he spoke. “We’re going to South America for a year,” he said, and there was something very settled, very final in his tone. And then he turned back into the room and took the white-faced, sobbing, little child into his arms.
PROTESTS; exclamations; surprise; astonishment. The family would not listen at first; thought it all a joke, for surely it was impossible to drag poor little Marcia off to the far ends of the earth. They exclaimed against it, remembering that Marcia had not been at all strong as a child. It was her heart, wasn’t it, or was it her lungs? At any rate she was clearly not of a sound enough constitution to be swept off to the far ends of the earth, where she would have no care at
ail. And Michael listened to it all with a set expression, saying very little.
“You couldn’t possibly take Marcia,” Mrs. Dexter cried, almost angrily, because there should even have been such a suggestion,, “not to South America.”
“We simply couldn’t hear of it,” Connie said, with her lofty determination evident in her tone. “If you go then Marcia comes to us.”
“Bugs and mosquitoes and every sort of creeping beastie. Heavens, no! Marcia can’t go.”
“It’s for Marcia to decide what she wants to do,” Michael repeated again and again. “No one else can decide for her.” And so they gathered around Marcia in groups, all talking at once, all doing their best to make up her mind for her, to make her say definitely that she would remain behind with them. And Marcia, protesting faintly at first that wherever Michael went she must go, began to protest less, her face grown white from sleepless nights, her eyes drooping with fatigue from listening to endless conversations. And so she came to Michael, and cried to him to decide it for her.
“Tell me what I must do.”
“I can’t tell you,” he said, his own face strained, his eyes also weary. “No one can tell you. This is something you must decide for yourself.”
But it became apparent that she could not definitely make up her mind one way or the other. As soon as she decided to go with Michael some one of them would plead with her, entreat her, implore her to alter this decision. “What would we do,” they cried with varying intensity, “if you got sick down there? There would be no one to look after you. A man is no use when there’s sickness. Think of us, darling, oh think of us. Think how we’d feel. It will kill us if you go. Mother could never stand it.”.
And so it came to the day when Michael was sailing, and still Marcia was flung from one state of indecision to another. She could not decide to hurt them all by going; could not decide to let Michael go without her. Even at the last moment, when Marcia clung to Michael on the pier, sobbing and clinging to him in a very passion of leave-taking, she would have gone, regardless of luggage, had not Connie and Vivian been there to draw her ever so gently, yet firmly, away.
“We’ll take care of her, Michael,” Connie said intensely, tears misting her own fine, dark eyes, because of the storm of grief that was shaking her little sister. “We’ll be awfully good to her. You won’t have to worry.”
“No, you won’t have to worry in the least,” Vivian assured him, her vivacious tones muted. “We’re going to do everything in the world for her.”
And Michael, with his face like something carved out of stone, nodded above Marcia’s golden head.
“Come, darling,” and Connie at length drew the weeping, frantic Marcia gently away towards the waiting limousine, so that she would be spared the final agony of watching the steamer slowly disappearing the mist.
AND Marcia was a desolate, small • figure in Connie’s big house, wandering about like a little, lost spirit, or curled up in a big chair, dreaming before the fire, thinking of Michael, only of Michael, and of how each day he was being borne farther and farther away from her.
There were moments when she sobbed bitterly, because she had let Michael go without her, and Connie and Vivian cast their wits about to find means to comfort her. At length Connie planned that she would open her summer house at Peak’s Point a month earlier than usual, and take Marcia and a few visitors with her to cheer and console her.
The few visitors, of course, included Arnold Daly. It was reasonable to think that, being an old friend of Marcia’s, he was the proper companion to take her
canoeing, fishing and motor boating; to •distract and make her forget her unhappiness. And Arnold appeared to find Marcia as attractive as he had always found her.
“He’s so devoted to you,” Connie frequently remarked to Marcia, a certain touch of satisfaction in her tone. “He follows you around with his eyes every time you move. It’s almost pathetic.”
Marcia laughed at that, but she found him as satisfactory a companion as anyone else. He never bored her with protestations of love, taking that for granted; being always merely sympathetic and friendly.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” cried Vivian, one day, “wouldn’t it be too wonderful, if after all—,” but she stopped there, suddenly warned by a glance from Connie.
Then one day, coming in from an afternoon spent canoeing with Arnold, Connie called Marcia into the living room, where she and Vivian were talking to a dapper, grey-haired, little man. “Marcia, dear,” and Connie wound an arm around Marcia’s slim waist, and led her up to the gray-haired little man: “This is Mr. Fletcher. He has come up from New York to talk matters over about your divorce.”
Marcia stared at the three faces before her, wondering if she were going mad. Either she was mad or they undoubtedly were.
“Divorce!” she exclaimed blankly. “Whatever do you mean?”
And Connie laughed at that the least bit awkwardly, “Dear child, the family have been arranging it all for you. We didn’t want to bother you with the details at first. When your husband goes off, and deserts you—”
“But he hasn’t,” cried Marcia, “you know that I’m—”
Vivian drew Marcia’s arm through hers, and led her to a sofa.
“Suppose we talk things over,” she said, her tone very reasonable. “You see, darling, we’ve been trying to spare you, to make everything as easy for you as possible.
Marcia allowed herself to be led to the sofa, for she was stunned, dazed, bewildered, by this happening. And then Connie’s voice took up the conversation with the lawyer, while he responded in clipped sentences, occasionally nodding his head as though he understood that there was a great deal more than was actually said.
And a great blankness engulfed Marcia, while her face was very white. She sat without speaking, her eyes lowered, only half hearing what Connie and Vivian and the lawyer were saying. And then a sentence smote upon her consciousness. “Then you’ll get the divorce papers filed, won’t you, Mr. Fletcher? You say it will come up in the autumn session. Mrs. Donovan would like it all arranged as quickly as possible—” And then it was that Marcia lifted her head. She rose slowly to her feet, like someone blind who had begun to see, very dimly at first, very vaguely, shapes melting into outlines. “But you see,” she said, and her voice was gentle, “by Autumn I’ll be with Michael in South America.”
“But Marcia, dearest,” Connie raised her voice to protest, while the lawyer seeing that a family discussion was under way, fidgeted a moment and then moved away to a far window.
Marcia smiled at her sister, but behind the smile was something new, something different, which they were both of them quick to feel.
“I’ve got the most wonderful family in the whole world,” Marcia said, and her eyes were grave, although her lips smiled, for even this final stroke she knew had only been induced by the wish for her welfare.
“We’ve done our best to be kind,” said Connie, and there was a defensive note in her voice, as though Marcia had actually said all that she had left unsaid.
“We meant to be kind,” said Vivian.