MIRACLES FOR SALE
The story of a man who loved; and loving, found in renunciation his content
LESLIE GORDON BARNARD
MARCIA DRINKWATER was pointed out to Graham in the course of the evening. This was quite unnecessary. He was already aware of her
as he had been ware of few women in his life. A layman once remarked Graham that a doctor must have the devil of a time, especially with a practice like his among the type of women who have money enough to indulge their fads. Graham was both amused and a little perplexed. "But they're just cases," he said. lie was apparently unaware of the fact that his raven black hair, brows, closeclipped mustache, and steady dark eyes were the despair of susceptible women. lie did know that he got more than his proper share of neurotics, lie was invited everywhere, and seldom went. lie did not avoid society, but was much too busy to indulge in it often.
is casualness regarding women was shaken tonight. For perhaps the first time in his life, he was definitely, disturbingly aware of a woman—as a woman. He felt unstable, insecure. Mrs. Walbank, his hostess, accomplished the introduction. She had a flair for bringing together elements that might produce sparks.
“Marcia, my dear, let me introduce Dr. Graham. Be as nice to him as you can. He’s a greater stranger in this inhospitable city than you are. And he doesn’t like women.”
She left them.
Marcia made room for him on the divan.
“Is that true?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m a stranger, from a distance. I just moved my practice here—or rather abandoned one where I was.”
“I meant about the women. Don’t you like us?”
“Of course I do. I like everything that has life in it and manages to keep at all natural.”
“Then we’re only a partial success?”
"I hadn’t thought much about it.”
They were silent. She was content to sit, a half-amused smile on her lips, sharing this mutual truce. He did not
look at her. She was not unaware of he»" owri charms. Nature had given her proportions, shaped her into slightly chiselled loveliness, touched her eyes with a brown candor that could without affectation become a fascinating wistfulness, crowned her with hair that was blonde only when the light was sympathetic and that had a natural wave in it and a dip over her forehead' in a way no hairdresser could emulate. A shade more of perfection and she would have been spoiled, but Nature again was kind. Her mouth was a little too generous, her nose indefinably imperfect.
“Poplar trees have life,” she said at last, picking up his former phrase. “So have dogs and horses and kittens.” “I like poplars, and dogs and horses and kittens.”
“And women. Also men.”
“So on these particular points we’re all on a level?”
“Not at all. I’ve known dogs and horses—and once, at least, a kitten—that ranked very high.”
He said this almost irritably. She let him nurse his pique in a fresh silence. She had a great gift of silence and knew when to use it. Then she smiled and spoke again.
“Why are you on the defensive with me?”
“You know you are. And it’s a rôle in which you’re not quite—quite comfortable.”
“Do you lay claims to second sight?”
“Not at all. But I am usually equal to the obvious.” She gave him the benefit of her eyes. Looking into their brown candor, he suddenly reddened slightly. She released his tension by asking:
“Tell me about yourself. Why have you left your other practice? I’m told you were doing amazing things.”
He was immediately at ease.
“Neurotics,” he said. “They get a bit thick—twelve hours or more a day of them. And the worst kind—people with nothing to do, nothing to think about. I should eventually have become one of them. So I came away. I’m taking a practice now—more or less general, and in a lesser district—to set me right again with humanity.” “They’ll find you out,” she said.
“Do you think so?” he demanded fiercely, then: “I’m afraid of that. Anyway, the façade is dingy, the street obscure, the waiting-room uncomfortable, and the clientele dubious. That ought to help. Now tell me about yourself.” “Maybe there’s nothing to tell. I don’t treat neurotics and have women going crazy about me.”
“They don’t. I merely cure them.”
She shook her head, her lips arched into decision. “Not of that. You could only do that for one of them— and you’d have to notice her specially. You’re apparently not selective. But why select what you don’t care for? I mean—when I go into a groceteria there are certain shelves I pass right by. Not interested.”
“I’m interested in hearing about you.”
THEIR eyes met. She said, head tilted, tips of fingers under her smooth chin :
“It should be romantic or slightly sad. Let us say sad. Temporarily at least, that’s more modem. We make such an affair of our Spartan sufficiency. That’s so much more tragic, don’t you think?”
“You’re playing with me. with my question.”
“Am I? Let me seethe modern note. My name,” she said, “is Marcia Drinkwater. You didn’t catch it. did you? Mrs. Walbank has long since discarded formalities.” “I knew your name.” He was quite gruff.
“Oh,” she said swiftly, “then we can go on. Ever since a child,” she told him, "I have been different. Misunderstood. And when I married ...”
“You’re not married,” he said stiffly.
“Did they tell you that?”
“Then it’s all right,” she said. She looked at him appraisingly. “You don’t seem overfond of women. What about men? There are two sides to most cases. Do you really care to hear how unhappy a woman can be?”
“From you—yes,” he said gravely.
She looked away. Her voice moved into her story. It was of a kind he had heard often enough, differing only in certain detail. But it was the way she told it that pricked him. There was a detached but almost brilliant mockery and cynicism about it. as if some one who had grown beyond it were taking life as a rather bad jest but making the most of its ironic humor.
"Don’t!” cried Graham, suddenly breaking in. “What do you think you’re trying to do?”
She said calmly:
“Trying to interest you in—in a woman.”
She raised her brows.
“Myself, of course.”
“That’s not your story. You made it up. If it was yours you wouldn’t be half flippant in the telling; making a parody of—of ...”
“Life?” she offered him.
“What do you mean?”
"That really happened.” She bit her lip, turning away and looking back, her eyes large and wistful. "I’ve told you a true story and you call it a fable. It’s something I’ve never told a man before. But, of course, if it means nothing to you', if I’m just another ‘case’ ...” She rose. He was instantly on his feet.
“I’m sorry. Please.”
She sat down again.
“Let’s forget it. Promise me something-that you’ll never repeat anything I’ve told you.”
He cleared his throat.
"That’s easy.....for a doctor.”
“Thank you.” Her hand rested for a moment on his.
He looked up. Mrs. Walbank was leading up another man for introduction to Marcia. Graham, feeling at a loss in many ways, took opportunity to escape.
Leaving that night, Graham shared a taxi with Bredalbane. who had introduced him here but whom he knew only slightly.
“Saw you had quite a chat with Mrs. Drinkwater," said Bredalbane, yawning. “Charming, isn’t she?”
“Mrs. Drinkwater?” Graham emphasized the prefix.
“Yes, of course.”
“She didn’t wear a ring.”
"Which signifies nothing ordinarily. With her it does. Same thing with her name. The only thing that remains of her married state is the prefix. She prefers her maiden name. She had a rather unhappy—” "Oh?” Graham snapped him up. “If you don’t mind, Bredalbane, we’ll forget the poor woman’s past.”
“Woman hater!” laughed Bredalbane good humoredly. But they drove on in silence. Graham in his corner of the cab staring abstractedly out into streets already pale with a summer dawn. Bredalbane fell comfortably asleep, and had to be shaken into activity at the door of his apartment. Graham drove on alone to his hotel, the pale light on his face, dark and handsome still but a bit tired, as if some virtue had gone out of him.
He met her next day in the lobby. She was coming down to breakfast as he bought his morning paper at the stand.
“I didn't know we were sharing a hotel,” he told her, pleased. "I hadn't seen you—”
“Or noticed me. I had you."
“Oh.” He fidgetted. “Have you breakfasted?”
“It seems reasonable."
They sat by a window, offered them by a discerning head waiter. It looked out over the palm court. The palms seemed very dried and unalive, but the sunshine was full of vigor and one could see the blue above. He remarked on it.
“Yes,” she said. “It's nice. Only it’s not the country. One should walk green lanes today.”
He said quickly:
“I have a car in the hotel garage. A roadster.”
“And medical duties.”
“The cogs haven't caught yet. Let me take you.”
When she came down, cool in blue and white sports costume, an attendant was just placing a hamper in the car.
“Are we going to cat?”
He was like a boy with the vigor of the morning in him. He found green lanes for her. Summer had not yet a wrinkle on its perfection. It was a debutante still radiant, delicate, fresh. There had been overnight rain and everything sang—the brook, the leaves, the birds. At noon, with nothing human nearer them than a man working in a field half a mile below them, they sat on a grassy sloix* and ate. “I haven’t done a thing like this for years,” he said. “Nor I.”
He glanced quizzically at her.
“One would think you were old, to hear you talk.”
“I am. You surely don’t measure time by hours and days and months—not a man in your profession.”
“I see. No, of course not.”
He fell silent. The light had gone from his face. He gathered up the remnants, flung some crumbs to the birds in the thicket, who fluttered in alarm at the bounty; then repacked the hamper. She did not offer to help. She lay back a little, watching him with eyes whose glance he only once or twice met. He put the hamper in the car below; after a time he came climbing up the slojx; again. She indicated, with a gesture, that he should sit beside her. But she did not speak, just watched the distance with speculative bnxxling. On the curve of white road far below, motors passed now and again, and the echo of horns, transmuted, made musical, was thrown up to them. The man in the field was ploughing; weaving an inexorable pattern, up and down one brown horse, one grey. Now and again he stopped and wiped the sweat from him.
“I like that,” Graham said. “That’s real.”
“Is it? Men and dogs and horses anything that’s alive.”
“You’re laughing at me.”
"I’m quoting you.” She regarded him for a moment “What makes you think people are alive because they are moving about?”
He was startled, and showed it.
“Why . . .”
She flung herself back on the grassy knoll.
“They’re not. They go through the motions.
She endured his grave, questioning stare, and laughed.
“Disillusioned, aren’t you? You brought me out so hopefully— and you find I’m just one more neurotic.”
“You said that too loudly. That's how people lie to themselves. But noise doesn’t change facts.”
He said, almost desperately: “Can’t we just enjoy all this the day, the air. the trees, that marvellous view? It’s it’s a day to be alive," he finished lamely.
She smiled at him again, suddenly sitting up and crossing her hands under her chin.
“Last time I came to a picnic like this 1 was alive.” she said. “I could feel all those things. And then, of course. I died. It is really so much better. They haven’t the same power to—hurt ...” For the first time her voice was unsure.
“So.” he said, and smiled queerly. “And that’s your lie. my dear.”
“Quits! Let’s go.”
He helped her down the slope. There was a spinney of birches at the bottom, quite thick, full of song, sunlight ridden. It was in a bowl of the earth. They were alone in it. and the sounds of Nature seemed to emphasize the queer human silence. He caught her suddenly in his arms. “I'm mad about you,” he said. “If you were dead
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my dear, I’d — I’d resurrect you.”
They went on after a time, climbing a little to the ridge that was the road. Across the way, in his field, quite near at hand now, the man with the plough stopped his horses, whose heads turned with his in dumb, big-eyed curiosity to see these humans on the highway. The man took off his hat and wiped his brow again, then spat on his hands, and, clucking to his horses, guided the plough as the big brown and the big grey betrayed in their flanks the beauty of muscular action.
/'"GRAHAM took the memories of his day, and a haunting uneasy recollection of his impulsive action, into his dingy street with him. Marcia had gone away; she was stopping with friends at a country house twenty miles or so up the lake shore. They had golf, riding, yachting; were self-contained. Once he caught a fleeting glimpse of her on a shopping tour, but ’she was too far away even to hail. And he disciplined his motor car that ached to bear him those twenty odd miles.
“You mustn’t see me,” Marcia had said, smiling. “You'd hate me if you did.”
"Yes, you would. You’ve tasted the golden apples of the Hesperides, and you’d letter digest them. They may disagree with you. I shall be away for a while.”
“May I have the address?"
She gave him two; the lake shore one, another in town.
"Next week I shall be at the second one,” she said. "If you use it, I shall be disappointed in you.”
In stout brown tweeds or abbreviated white, she roamed the links, golfed, rode; not knowing that, like a cool blue ghost, she haunted the hard chairs in his office, was materialized unexpectedly in his w hite, sterile inner sanctum, would suddenly take shape and walk in beauty down a street of bitter reality, would waken him in the night to stand before him in the smoke-ridden moonlight, crying out: "I am here. But am I good for you?”
A few people of the former stratum sought him out even here, not turned back by the dingy façade, enduring his hard chairs, rubbing shoulders with his needy clientele. Bredalbane came, as much because of interest in the venture as to consult regarding the hay fever that turned his late summers into disaster. And it was through him that Graham was urgently summoned to the bedside of little Wilma Fargeon. Fargeon himself came to plead the cause. Graham finished up his office practice with the unhurried movements of a man to whom each patient in turn is for the moment the only consideration, then went with Fargeon.
He had never heard of the man until now, but was instantly aware of him, of his silences when the big athletic body—a little inclined now to fleshiness swayed in the car beside the doctor, but the spirit of the man was lost, drained away even from the eyes, so that when Graham spike, intentionally, with a sense that he must speak, must draw this man’s spirit back, the reunion was only accomplished by travail. Singularly, Graham felt on the defensive with his client. It was a rare experience.
Fargeon’s house stood, twelve miles away, on the bank of a turbulent river that washed the banks of ancient farms, in the midst of which, aloof among elms, the man and his daughter lived. Fargeon’s chauffeur, clearing the city traffic, drove the great glittering car at an even speed of fifty miles, but the brief passage through the afternoon sunlight pierced Graham to the forgetting of his mission. “One should walk green lanes today,” he thought. The debutante summer had achieved already a slight maturity. But even in spirit the green lanes were not his at the moment.
“Tliere is the house,” said Fargeon at last.
GRAHAM was hurried under arching elms toward a colonial entrance to a cool lobby. There was an austerity about the interior, essentially masculine, almost celibate. Some immaturity fought with this; the daughter evidently. Her touches w'ere rather pathetic attempts to subdue an atmosphere too big for her. Graham understixxi this when he saw her.
Wilma Fargeon was a child still, old for her age when in health and grappling with her father's needs; but in sickness she had relapsed into childhood again. Graham felt that if ever he worked to save life, he had incentive here. The child was critically ill. No doubt of that. He made the best of it to Fargeon in the hallway, but there was the truth.
“I appreciate your frankness,” said Fargeon. He turned away. The doctor caught sight of his eyes for only an instant. Graham was accustomed to human distress, but this cut deeply. Fargeon swung around. “I know you will do your best.”
“If,” said Graham, “you would care to call in a consultant . . . ?”
“I trust you completely.”
Graham ncxlded. No man could do more than he would do. Two nurses were already on the wfay. Fargeon’s housekeeper was, meanwhile, in attendance. It was she who set out food for him later in the library, and questioned him with an abrupt sincerity he liked.
"Dr. Graham, is it life or death?”
“I can’t say yet.”
She looked away.
"If only she wrere here.”
He did not probe this. Then suddenly she began to tell the story. It sounded strangely familiar. I íe felt a sense of nightmare. He was incredulous. Could coincidence stretch this far?
"You’re not eating, sir.”
“I was listening.”
“Perhaps I shouldn’t have bothered you with his story. But there it is, sir, just as it happmed—and lie’s been eating his heart out since. Of course, after all this he can’t ask her to come. You can see that, sir.” Graham was noncommittal. He finished a hasty meal and went upstairs. It couldn’t be, he told himself. Impossible.
The housekeeper was at the head of the stairs. Her burden was not all gone. She said, confidentially:
"That was her room, sir, there. Very pretty one, too. Just as she left it.”
He felt he must at least look into it; the housekeeper’s attitude demanded this interest. On the dresser, the eyes of Marcia looked at him from a silver frame. It was a full face portrait of a rather younger Marcia. Graham quitted the room and went about his professional duties. So this was Marcia’s past? It sounded emptily like a page from a novel of a decade or two ago. Her room, just as she left it. And a dying child!
Fargeon came up the stairs just then. He stopp'd outside the sick-room door. Graham came out presently.
"Well?” said Fargeon and braced his shoulders.
“I’m sorry. Not too good.”
Fargeon turned; he saw the door of the other bedroom still ojien.
“Who opned that?”
The housekeepr was frightened, Graham saw. Her confession was a stammering thing. Graham mentally shared her guilt.
But Fargeon, whatever his custom, had no recriminations for her. He luid forgotten
them both. I íe went for a moment to stand before the opn door.
“I wish to God she were here,” he said, and went on downstairs.
At the top Graham stood, as forgetful of the stare of the housekeepr as Fargeon had been of them both. He was in a spinney, holding a woman in his embrace—that way —for the first time in his life, listening to his own voice crying: “I’m mad about you. If you were dead, my dear, I’d resurrect you.” He was seeing beyond—as if that, too, were imprtant—the farm hand stop ping to wip sweat from his brow. He wondered if for that man life held less complexities. Though, after all, was it a complexity? Didn’t the pain of it lie in its simplicity? Here was a man who needed that woman, who had known her in the intimacies of this home. Against this was another man—himself—who needed the woman, who had known her only for a few casual meetings and one moment of impulsive embrace in a birch spinney full of song. Both men, Graham thought bitterly, were haunted by her; he by day no less than in smoke-ridden moonlight. And Fargeon? Whatever he had done, he had suffered for it. His eyes told you that. She must see those eyes; see them and decide for herself. It was as simple as that. Nothing else left in the world for a man to do. Worst of all, Graham knew in his heart that he, of all men, was the only one who could make her come. The hurt of that became a sudden, intense agony.
T-JE GOT Fargeon aside, telling him there was something that must be brought from town.
“Could I send for it?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“You’re sure it’s safe to go?”
"Safe?” The word struck him, but he remembered the child and said: “Yes, perfectly.”
“I’ll have my man take you, then.” “Thanks.”
The green lanes of afternoon were silver now in the moonlight. Graham wondered why it must be so; why nature should conspire against him to make it hard. The second address she had given him was that of a brownstone house on an unexceptional street. His urgency sent him up the step, made him ring vigorously, turned his heart to water when he asked for her by name and was shown into a small drawing-room to await her. He could not remain seated but moved about, examining pictures and ornaments that remained meaningless to him.
He heard a step in the hallway, turned, and saw her.
“You? They did not give your name.”
“I had forgotten I even had one,” he said. Her mild laughter was instantly checked. “What is it? Something’s wrong.”
“I want you to get on your things and come with me.”
“Are you mad?”
“Quite. It’s a matter, perhaps, of life or death.”
“Yes. No. Please just come. I’ll tell you as we go.”
“But I can’t,” said Marcia Drinkwater. “I—come here.” She drew him away from the door and spke in tones of confidence. “I can’t leave. You—you remember that story I spun you the first night we met— the misunderstood wife? You’ll hate me when you know I borrowed it. I borrowed it from the woman who owns this house, who lives here. It was mad of me to do it, thoughtless prhap. That doesn’t matter
now. She’s an old friend. Just telling you revived her tragedy for me, and I felt I must come and see her. Having come, she made me promise to stay; and now the next chapter is being written. Her child’s ill—the child she hasn’t seen for months, years ...”
She stopped, her eyes widely upon him. “You’ll never forgive me, will you,” she said, quietly bitter, “for the deceit? It wasn’t exactly that; I didn’t tell you it was actually mine. My own story is something I don’t talk about. And the man is dead. I’m trying to forget. Does that help at all?” “Marcia !”
Moonlight was falling through the window. All this, he decided, was a dream. And yet he saw that it was too logical for a dream. And, behind the logic, what moved? That he should come to find one woman and discover another; that he . . .
“Marcia,” he said, “I came to get the woman of that story to go back to him. He needs her. But I thought it was you. I thought two and two always made four. Your picture there, in her room ...”
He felt the intensity of Marcia’s gaze. He saw light breaking in ujx>n her and an emotion which he could not plumb. Then Marcia said :
“Yes, yes, of course. My picture. I gave it to her quite a time ago. It always stood that way on her dresser. She was too proud to send back even for personal things like that. In a silver frame, wasn’t it? I remember. And you thought . . . Oh, you jxx>r dear, of course you thought ...”
“That doesn’t matter now,” he said. “The thing is—will she go? His car’s outside. He wants her. The youngster needs her—it may help.”
“She’ll go,” said Marcia. "I haven’t spnt these days with her for nothing. She’s wild to go. May I go, too?”
Her voice was so small and unsure that he was hurt by it.
“Absolutely necessary.” He added swiftly: “Do you really want to?”
“I couldn’t stay here tonight. I’ve got to live and move and have my being ...” Her face, white and serious, belied an attempt at lightness in her words. “I told you once I had died. You’ve resurrected me, my dear. You’ve wound up my little mechanical self, and I can’t stay still on the shelf.”
He nodded, glancing at his watch.
“You’ll go and get her?” he said crisply. “We mustn’t forget their urgent need. There are times when one’s own happiness must step aside.”
She started, then turned to say:
“Half an hour ago I wrould have called that platitude. Coming from you, I think it almost profound.” She caught his arms, shaking them in her intense excitement. “I believe you don’t know you’ve done anything big. Can’t you see what you’ve done for me? It’s real, not just words. You did it. You made it real for me . . . ”
She was gone. He stood in the moonlight by the window, waiting. “Heaven help me,” he thought, “I might as easily have failed.” What had he done? Just the decent thing, he decided. But at a cost? Ah, well. Miracles for sale, he thought whimsically. But no cut price there.
Marcia was back.
“She’s getting ready,” said Marcia. “Could—couldn’t wre have this moment all for our own? I have my hat on and everything.”
She lifted her face deliberately. He saw a woman mocking him in Mrs. Walbank’s drawing-room; he saw green lanes in sunlight, a spinney in which a man embraced a girl, and beyond, in a field, a sweat-crowned laborer mopping his brow while great brown and grey horses stood patiently in harness; he saw green lanes empty and alone in the dusk and the night—and then just Marcia’s face, kindled, alive, close to his in the moonlight.