FICTION

Gentle Hypocrite

RAYNER SEELIG March 1 1932
FICTION

Gentle Hypocrite

RAYNER SEELIG March 1 1932

Gentle Hypocrite

The love story of a girl who said she’d marry for wealth

RAYNER SEELIG

WHEN everybody had left the office except Molly Burney, that most faithful, patient, and competent of secretaries, Tony sat at his desk and thought intently.

There were still pages and pages of figures to be checked, but Tony, who even at high school had been a wizard at “maths.” knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that all his checking and figuring would not make twice minus equal even the smallest plus. It was easier and more logical to visualize the morning papers, which were already rolling wet from the presses, announcing the failure of the long established firm of Anthony York and Brothers. There would, he supposed, be a picture of Anthony York. Junior, in riding clothes or a yachting cap or with a pair of binoculars swung over one shoulder; there would be a caption. "Clubman's Industry Fails to Avert Crash.” Would they run a picture of Sandra, too? If not today, they would tomorrow, Tony reflected, and again he imagined the tag line—"Society Man Loses Sweetheart With Business.”

Anthony York and Brothers. Well, the brothers were all gone; and soon, very soon, the old firm would be. like them, a memory of more gracious times. There was no way out. For months Tony had been feverishly juggling with ways and means. His own personal fortune had gone, weeks ago, to stem one of the many leaks in that sinking ship of commerce. It had been a period of stress and strain, so desperate that now that it was over, now that the worst had happened, Tony felt something like relief.

Only, there was Sandra.

Tony took a crumpled blue linen handkerchief and rubbed it across his damp forehead. There was Sandra. Soon she, too. would be relegated to the past.

"Miss Bumev.” he said, “will you call down to the drugstore and ask them to send up a container of coffee -black, without sugar? And then you'd better go home. You look half dead.”

“I’m not. really.”

"There's nothing more to do.”

I resently she brought the coffee, pulled a limp lookin knitted beret over lier cropped head, and went off. Tli office was strangely still after the closing of the outer dixi: Down below, on the street, fire engines went clanging past, jxilite whistle blew, a motor horn sounded a warning in foe assorted keys. I ony pushed back the heaped papers an leaned his elbows on the table. It was «kl. but he derived sort of bitter satisfaction from the knowledge that his lift the life he had known for twenty-nine years, was over. 11 would start his thirties from scratch, with a slate wipe utterly clean.

But there was Sandra.

TF ON IA he could put her out of his mind he could rejoic A even among the ruins. I lis past had been delicious bu it had circumscribed his activities. To be voung, to be riel to be handsome and extremely popular, all those things wer pleasant but they involved resjxinsibilities. One left s many things undone, so many alluring adventures untriec As a kid. Tony remembered, he had longed to ship befor the mast on some hulking vessel bound lor the strange place which furnished supplies that Anthony York and Brother sold to their customers. But it had been simpler to circurr navigate the globe in Buddy Bleecker’s yacht, half a doze: boys who had been at college together playing at seamanshij;

Everything, he saw, had been t«> easy’. Adventure wa robbed by facility’ of its tang: women were robbed by facilit of their mysterious charm. A child, lying in an orchard whei the rijx' fruit falls, does not climb to reach an apjile. Am

the apples of pleasure had fallen all about Tony York, so that he never climbed at all. He grew soft and indolent, and accepted the easy, agreeable things that were close at hand.

Now that was over. Now the wide world was spread before him. to win or to lose, now he could ship before the mast, or tramp where he wished. He could work his way to Ceylon, where his father’s old friend. Colonel Anstruther. would give him a job on a tea plantation. That was a good thought—a clean bungalow’, dark-skinned servants, hard work all day and lazy evenings. But it would be lonesome. Always the ghost of Sandra would haunt the paths he followed, and, though he crossed rainbow bridges, there would be no jx>t of gold on the far strange side.

Sitting in the still office, in the sallow pool reflected from a green-shaded light, Tony saw her with that tragic and lucid finality with which one sees, looking back, the gay Christmas mornings of childhood. Tall and slim, he saw’ her. with a halo of pale gold curls, and, beneath straight fair brows, blue eyes that looked kind, blue eyes that looked too kind for the pretty mouth that was always a trifle mocking, always guarded with mockery against sorrow and affection.

Was it only half a dozen months ago that Tony had asked Sandra to be his wife? It seemed a century. But, then, that had been another Tony, content with the world and with himself, confident that Lady Luck was his social jiatroness.

Six months ago it was. on New Year’s morning, when, in the frosty mauve of dawn he brought Sandra back from the Bleeckers’ party. She was all in white, and he remem-

bered thinking her skin was paler and softer than the satin of her gown. She was altogether pallid and delicate with lavender shadows like pollen dropped from her long lashes, and a droop at the corners of her mouth, and Tony’s orchids lying limp as dead butterflies against her throat. And yet her voice had that clear, metallic ring that was always a little surprising, always in contrast to the subdued whiteness and goldness of her fragile beauty.

"Tony, you’re starved.” she had exclaimed in a clear, gay voice, "1 can see it in the droop of your collar. Come in. I'll feed you eggs and toast.”

"Lady, don’t tempt me. I can see you’re crying for the little white bed."

"There’s no use trying to sleep now. Look, the sun’s rising.” And. sure enough, a rosy glow was impinging u]x>n the eastern sky, imparting a faint flush to the cold stone walls of Beekman Terrace.

Without further protest Tony followed Sandra Millard into the diminutive flat where she lived alone, a chaste and restful place with ivory walls and deep chairs covered in chintz which showed such absurd flowers as never grew in any garden, uix>n a background of faded green. Outside, they could hear the rattle of milk wagons, interspersed with the occasional laughter and tooting and whooping of a band of revellers. Sandra drew back the long chintz curtains on their brazen rings, and through the windows aureate light entered, dimming the lamp’s glow.

“Make yourself at home, Tony.

There are cigarettes in that box and I think the green lighter is working. I’ll be back in a jiffy.”

"Can’t I help, Sandra? I’m rather a swell cook.”

Sandra’s thin and straight eyebrows lifted in mockery.

"No,” she said. "You’re supposed to be an ornament to the drawingroom.” Then she smiled, observed that the kitchenette was much too small for two, dropped her cloak and went out.

Tony followed her with his eyes, with also a queer tightening of his heart.

Tony had known all sorts of women, young ones and old ones, those whom the world called gay and those whom the world called respectable. He had flirted, had been mildly in love, had desired and fulfilled his desire and forgotten it, but never before had he seen anyone who so affected the entire chemistry of his body, all the workings of his mind, even his dreams and ambitions. Just watching Sandra Millard gave him a keen, exquisite pleasure that almost verged on pain, the pleasure that lovers of art sometimes experience before the tall portal of the Parthenon or Botticelli’s delectable Venus. He, who had always been confident, a masterful lover with a dash of arrogance, felt stilled, almost shy, in the face of this young girl’s cool loveliness.

Lounging in a deep armchair, with a cigarette dangling from the comer of his mouth, Tony marvelled at his own contentment. He had thought of true love as something stormy and passionate, but now he began to believe in the more romantic legends. He reflected upon the properties of "soul mates” and it seemed to him that for ten years he had been groping, seeking in darkness, and that on the day when he first met Sandra, demure behind an immense teajx)t at a charity bazaar, a great light gleamed out, illuminating the straight, inevitable path of the future. All he wanted or could want seemed embodied in Sandra, and it pleased him to think that he could offer to lighten the burden of her way.

For he knew something of her history, a history singularly at variance with -he unmarred serenity of her external self.

C ANDRA MILLARD came of good, plain stock. Her father was a major in the army, stationed in India. She had one brother who was a doctor, another at college, and a twin sister who kept house for the Major because Mrs. Millard was an invalid. Sandra had come to the city at eighteen to live with a distant relative and to study art. but presently the distant relative decided that it would be

cheaper and more agreeable to live abroad. Sandra found her funds inadequate, and. unwilling to put a further strain upon the slender resources of her family, she went to work. She had a position as assistant designer in a rather unpleasant wholesale house, and made a few extra dollars each week sketching current fashions for a trade journal. Even so, she had some trouble making both ends meet. Sometimes Tony had an agonizing suspicion that there were gixxi grounds for her fragile appearance. In any case, during one of her rare moments of self revelation, she confessed that she loathed her occupation, that she was crowding as much work as possible into a short space in the hope of saving enough to return to the study of painting. She longed to travel, to sail strange seas and touch on distant islands, to paint in crude colors the sketches Tony had seen astonished him with their vigor and brilliance the bright, far places of the earth. It pleased Tony to think that he

might make her dreams come true, even while fulfilling his own.

“Hullo? Sleeping?” Sandra came in. carrying a tray with four legs that unfolded, transforming it into a tiny table. A flush of color had spread over her cheeks, her pale yellow hair was a little rumpled, and her eyes looked exceedingly bright. As she poured coffee out of the china

pot. and. looking up at him. enquired. "Two lumps?" Tony thought life could hold no greater blessing than having each day start like this.

"Sandra," he said abruptly, “you know I'm crazy about you?”

She raised the yellow cup to her lips and set it down deliberately before she replied:

"I supposed you liked me rather a lot, Tony. You don't seem the type to send young women orchids and theatre tickets and all that sort of thing out of pure kindness of heart. Especially with a line of girls, a perfect breadline of girls, just waiting to pounce on anything so young, so beautiful, and. incidentally, so devastatingly opulent."

Tony was a trifle chilled by the irony of her response, but he was a young man not easily discouraged.

"If they really exist, they'll have a devil of a wait, my child.” He tried to retain the tone she had set, but in spite of that his voice was a trifle husky. "1 don’t want anyone but you."

Sandra calmly broke a piece of toast, but she did not eat it. She regarded it with singular concentration and crumbled it between her fingers.

"You always get what you want, don’t you?”

All the charming sj>eeches Tony had been contemplating for two months vanished, leaving his mind a blank.

"Don’t you?" Sandra related, looking at him with wide blue eyes above a mocking smile.

"Oh, I supjx)se so.” Tony sounded sulky, and that annoyed him. He was acting like a dolt. Abruptly, rather harshly:

"Look here, you know what I’m driving at,’’ he said. “Will you marry me?”

Sandra dropjied the piece of toast and stared at it as though it had suddenly been transformed into a caterpillar. The color in her cheeks heightened, and almost in a whisper, without lx)king at Tony:

"Why, yes, I think I will,” she said. Tony’s heart began to thump wildly. "Sx>n? Bight away?" he demanded breathlessly.

"I’d rather wait« bit." Sandra got up. walked over to the window, and sUxxl with her back to him, mauling the tassel led cord that held back the drapery. “My father’s coming back from India in July,” she said. “I’d like

.....I’d like, please, to wait until then."

"Of course, darling. I shall hate it. but we’ll wait, of course.” 'Tony jutnixxl up, tossed his cigarette into the fireplace, followed her to the window. "Darling, darling—” He caught her hand, turned her toward him. and saw that her face was deathly pale. “Why, Sandra, what is it? Aren’t you glad?”

HE COULD feel her trembling; the hand in his was like ice.

“I suppose—I suppose I am.” And then, in a queer shrill whisper: “It was awfully easy, wasn’t it? You knew I’d say yes.”

Tony felt the blood running across his face.

“I hoped—”

“Why equivocate? You knew. How could it be otherwise? The irresistible Anthony York, who always gets everything. Oh, forgive me. I ought to be flattered. I am flattered—” Her voice broke on something so like a sob that Anthony could feel his own throat contracting.

P'eeling that women’s reactions were, after all. puzzles he could never solve —“My poor baby.” he murmured, and drew her gently into the circle of his arm, and gently turned her small white face up to his, “You’re tired out, you’re upset.”

“Yes. I’m quite—upset.” She gave an odd, shaky laugh.

“I’m going to clear up this place and send you straight to bed, where you’d have been hours ago if I weren’t a pig.” He bent down, touching her lips—soft, curiously passive lips. “I adore you, Sandra. Will you say you love me—a little?”

She never moved. She said, in that clear, surprising voice: “But I don’t.”

Tony let her go and stepped back, leaning against the window ledge. Continued on page 37

Continued from page 17

“I'd like to be clever." she went on. “but I think I'll have to be honest instead. Shall I go on?"

He made a gesture of assent.

"I’ll try to make myself quite clear. You want me—well, you can have me. I 11 be a dutiful wife. I'll fulfill my obligations. I'll be faithful. But 1 can't and won't pretend that I'm in love with you. I don't know whether you can grasp this, because every girl you’ve ever known seems to have fallen like angel cake when you open the oven. But if I marry you, it’s because I’m utterly fed up with the way I'm living, because I want to escape and you furnish the means, because I have ambitions and you can gratify them. You want me— do you want me enough to take me on that basis?"

Tony had drawn a flat case out of his pocket. He took a cigarette, but he was ashamed to light it. his hand was shaking so. With an immense effort, he achieved calm. He asked :

“Am I very repulsive to you?"

Sandra shook lier head.

“I’m not that bad,” she answered a little bitterly. “I wouldn’t marry you if you were repulsive to me. I’m rather attracted, indeed—”

“Thank you.” Tony said, not without an ironic sort of humor.

“I just happen,” she went on, ignoring the interruption, “to dislike, rather to despise, what you represent. An Alexander,” she said, “who has conquered his worlds without a single battle.”

“Is that all?”

She said: “It’s not too late to call it off. We’re hardly engaged yet.”

Tony looked at her. his eyes narrow, the muscles in his jaws tight with strain.

“I don't want to call it off,” he said. "Do you?”

She shook her head, and the fair, tousled curls gleamed pallidly in the sun which now streamed across them both in a luminous shaft.

“It's wonderful how dumb you sophisticated men can be. All this time I’ve been angling for a proposal, campaigning like an old general. I only miscalculated on one point—my ability to keep my motives to myself. But it's better to be frank, isn't it, even if it sounds rather brutal?”

Tony, taking in the hard words even while he marvelled at the gentleness of her face, replied :

“I've certainly been dumb. I never suspected that you were—the kind of woman vou are.” He squared his shoulders. "Well. í'll be going. May I call you later?”

“Any time.”

She stood still, watching him as he folded his muffler and pulled on his overcoat. Then she walked to the door, and, leaning against it. “You may kiss me, Tony,” she said, with the familiar, charming mockery in her smile.

All at once Tony felt horribly tired.

"Good-by, my dear,” he said. He lifted her hand to his lips, and taking her by the shoulders, moved her gently out of the way, and opened the door, and went out into the dark hallway.

"Au revoir," she said.

FOR hours after that he lived in a hot hell of his own devising, but afterward the normal optimism of the healthy male cooled the flames. He began to blot out the harsher angles of the situation, to remember that he was not repulsive. “I’m rather attracted, indeed,” she had said. He began to convince himself that perhaps, in time, she could learn to be really fond of him, and once more he contemplated with pleasure the places he might take her. the things he might give her, the new world to which his wealth would be a magical password. He kidded himself, built a palace on shifting sands, constructed a towering house of cards.

And now, in an empty office far above the street, in the sallow' pool reflected from a green-shaded light, he could kid himself no

longer. The sands liad shifted from beneath the palace, the house of cards had come tumbling in ruins about his ears.

It would, Tony thought dismally, be rather tough for Sandra, who must—however little she liked Anthony York, Junior have looked forward immensely to her release from an existence she disliked so infinitely more. He wished, now, that he ! had made a prenuptial settlement, so that Sandra could realize her dream in spite of everything. He felt no resentment, no malice, only a great weariness and. beyond the weariness, that faint tinge of relief that even the bitterest reality brings when one has lived too long with delusion. He drank what w'as left of the coffee, now ven' cold and covered with an iridescent film, made a j grimace, and pulled a sheaf of memoranda j toward him.

The voice brought his head up with a jerk. ' Sandra walked into the office, looking cool and fresh in a grey printed dress, a grey bag dangling from one ann. a folded, rumpled neu-spaper under the other. She closed the door, walked over to the desk, and laid down the paper.

“You've seen the news?” Tony did not move from his chair.

She replied with another question: “Is it ¡ true?”

“I tried to get you at your house,” she went on. “and Soames told me you were here.

I wanted to find out—just exactly—what it means.”

She cleared away a stack of odds and ends, ! and balanced herself on a corner of the desk. | Tony, with that curious attention to irrelevant detail that one so often exigences at dramatic moments, noticed the delicate arch of her instep, her thin ankles, the small metal buckles on her grey suede pumps. “Well?”

He flung himself back in his chair.

“It means—everything. All gone. Cleaned out. Finished. I'm sorry. Sandra.”

She sat there, her long legs crossed, regarding him coldly.

“I should think you might lx? sorry.” Once more the hardness, the clearness of her voice, gave him a feeling of shocked surprise. “What do you mean to do?”

“Sell everything and clear out. I’ll be able to settle the debts of the firm without going through bankruptcy, I think. I hen I 11 go. ’ “Go? Where?”

“Anywhere, every where— to sea. perhaps, | or tramping on the road. As a matter of fact, there’s a job waiting for me in Ceylon.”

“And where”—Sandra was playing with her grey suede bag. snapping the clasp open and shut—“where, if I may be so impertinent as to ask, do I come in?”

TONY was suddenly conscious of his appearance, his damp shirt open at the collar, his rumpled hair falling forward into his eyes, his face, which he felt sure was grimy. He must be an unprepossessing sight. Sandra looked like something out of another world, cool, white and grey and pale gold.

“You don't come in. You go out, my dear. I’m sorry, you must know how sorry, but I—no longer have what you want.” Sandra’s mouth was not mocking now. It was small and straight and tight, and her eyes were burning blue.

“Do you think you’re going to get away with that?” she asked. “Do you think I’m going to give up all my plans, my dreams. ; my hopes, without so much as a struggle?” ¡ Tony stared at her. White and gold, j fragile looking, with such a sweet gentle face; and now—this. He should have known.

"There’s nothing I can do.” he said steadily. “And nothing, so far as I can see, that you can do either.”

Sandra’s lips parted, showing a row of teeth as small and white and even as grains j of rice. (

“I can sue you for breach of promise,” i she said. >

Tony stiffened in his chair. A wave of anger, a wave like an icy current ran through every' vein and artery' in his body.

"If you do." he said. "I’ll make it clear that I’m willing to marry you any time, under any conditions. And then where will you be?”

Sandra’s chin tilted backward, she was still smiling.

“Where I mean to be, Tony. With you.”

Slowly the ice cold currents ebbed; the muscles relaxed.

"I don’t understand you,” Tony said blankly.

“Darling, you never did.”

And all at once Sandra had slipped down from the desk, all at once she was sitting on his knees with both her arms about his neck, and she was weeping.

"Darling,” she sobbed, “will you forgive me, can you ever forgive me? I’ve been such a fool, such a vain, proud absolutely darned fool. Just because I wanted to be

different, because I was afraid of your conceit, of the irresistible Anthony finding me too dull if I was as attainable as the others. Oh. darling, darling, please don’t send me away now. I love you so, truly I do.”

Tony, holding the shivering slim body in his arms, whispered:

“Baby, don’t cry. It’s all right, baby. Please don’t cry or you’ll have me crying, too.”

.Sandra lifted her tear-stained face and looked at him with a quivering smile.

"Then you’d better say something funny, ! Tony.”

“You love me.” Tony replied unsteadily, j “That’s the funniest thing I can think of.” ]

They both laughed then, but even an j amateur psychologist would have recog; nized it as hysterical laughter, while in the street below newsboys sold papers that announced the tragic failure of Anthony j York.