FICTION

Song Recital

VINCENT SHEEAN June 15 1935
FICTION

Song Recital

VINCENT SHEEAN June 15 1935

Song Recital

VINCENT SHEEAN

AT SYMPHONY HALL in Toronto, as in other tribunals of North American culture, a recital by Hedda Martin was no routine occurrence. The

same could have been said of the recital halls of New York, Chicago, Vancouver, and all the spaces that intervene. But Toronto had reasons for greeting the event with some special show of interest, for not only was Hedda Martin in a sense Toronto’s own—having received education, as even her publicity agents admitted, at Bishopsgate College up on the hill—but she had hitherto shown an unaccountable reluctance to display her gifts in the city of her first effort. Such whims on the part of a celebrated singer were not unprecedented, and Toronto as a whole did not allow itself to get upset by Miss Martin’s coyness.

Still, when she did decide to sing there for the first time, it was only natural that the newspapers should be full of her, the musical public (even the general public) stirred to unusual curiosity, and the seats at Symphony Hall, to the profound satisfaction of the management, completely sold out well in advance. This last phenomenon had become rare of late years, even for singers, fiddlers or pianists fully as famous as Hedda Martin, but those who stood to gain by the circumstance were not disposed to ask too many questions about it. Whether Miss Martin’s success was qua artist or qua Torontonian made little difference in the practical result.

But what did rather puzzle the business men, newspaper people and musical nabobs who had to deal with her was this: Why had Hedda Martin refused to come to Toronto lor the first eight years of her career in America—years of uninterrupted success in all the other cities; years of opera and concert and recital from one end of the continent to the

other—and why, having refused for so long, had she yielded now?

There was a hint of minor mystery here, and one or two of the newspaper reporters concluded, on the morning of the lady’s arrival, that it might have something to do with affairs of the heart. Certainly she had seemed confused when the question was put to her flatly. She had almost stammered in her reply, and to any but a determinedly hardtoiled newspaper reporter her blush would have carried conviction. Her reply was, in fact, that she wanted to be quite sure of herself before venturing before an audience that might remember her from other days. The reporters took this for what it was worth, a prima donna’s statement in an interview; it is safe to assume that none of them believed it. The notion that a singer who had had no difficulty conquering innumerable audiences on both sides of the ocean could actually be afraid of the Toronto cognoscenti did not seem probable, even to the stoutest of the local patriots. As the man from The World, told the man from The Sphere on the way down from the interview, “There’s more in this than meets the eye.”

If he had seen the object of his interest just then he would have been sure that his guess was correct. Instead of resting, as all singers are supposed to do for untold hours before a concert, Hedda Martin was walking up and down the floor of her sitting room in a visible state of malaise.

“I simply cannot understand,” she was saying, “why Mr. Gregson hasn’t telephoned. Are you sure?”

The person thus addressed was a weary-looking lady with nose-glasses, a distinctly business-like appearance about the garments, and no perceptible figure at all. She wore a hat slightly tilted forward over her harassed face, and it gave her

a military look of readiness, like a tired but willing sentry. “I have already told you about every telephone call we have received this morning, Miss Martin,” she said in a voice two or three shades too patient and long-suffering. “There has been no call from a Mr. Gregson; if there had been I am sure I should have got it, and it would be in my notes. I ’m sure I do my best, and if there’s any complaint—” “Oh, I’m not complaining,” said Hedda Martin, continuing her walk up and down the room. “I’m not complaining about you, anyhow. I’m only . . . Well, it can’t be helped. I’m going in to my room and lie down. I don’t want to talk to anybody on the telephone but Mr. Gregson, you understand? But if Mr. Gregson does telephone, and I’m sure he will, you’ll call me at once, won’t you?”

Tlie business-like lady, whose weary efficiency had been called into question quite enough for one morning, nodded.

“You have made that quite clear already, Miss Martin,” she said. “I am here beside the telephone and I intend to remain here. You can be sure that no message will escape me. Of course, there are a number of other things for me to do, but—”

HEDDA MARTIN did not wait for the rest of the sentence, but pushed open the door into her bedroom. Once inside she kicked off her shoes, took a showy string of orchids from her waist and put them on a dressing table, and then dropped into an easy chair.

“That woman hates me,” she reflected. “Why? No doubt it’s an awful life, working for a concert manager, taking selfish, inconsiderate people like me around from place to place, catching trains and counting baggage and talking to the local managers and answering the telephone, but after all it’s her job. She had it before she ever saw me. And some of the people she’s had to cart around must be a lot worse than I. At least I don’t travel with poodle dogs or Siamese cats . . . But why, why, why doesn’t Zip ring up? He must have had my letter today, if not yesterday. He knows I. . . ”

Her mind went blank for a while as she looked at her own reflection in the glass. Her attitude was anything but graceful. She was sprawled in the armchair with her stockinged feet stuck out in front of her. The trailing tea gown she had put on for the purpose of impressing the reporters, had never been meant to endure such postures, and its crumpled elegance reminded her that she must get up and take it off. But her clear skin, her hair and eyes, her justly celebrated figure, all supported examination—indeed, rewarded it—so that when she rose she already felt more sure of herself.

As why shouldn’t she be, after all? If Zip Gregson thought he could throw her into a frenzy by the simple device of not telephoning, he was making a pretty serious error. She was Hedda Martin, and if she was not beautiful, charming, irresistible, incomparable—as well as being, of course, one of the illustrious singers oi the age—then a great many people in several countries must have been telling lies for the past ten years. What conceivable difference could it make to Hedda Martin whether little Zip Gregson rang her up or not? Thousands of people did ring her up the whole time, wherever she was, in Berlin or London or San Francisco, and most of them were far more interesting and attractive than Zip Gregson. Not to say more important. She had got beyond caring about that, of course. If Zip rang her up she would show him that fame and flattery had made no difference at all in her character; she would talk to him exactly as they used to talk, with some of the same expressions and the same stupid jokes. He would see that all singers were not such monsters of vanity as people thought. She’d even go so far as to say “This is Hetty.” No use calling herself Hedda when she talked to Zip. But, of course, if he didn’t telephone at all . . .

Nonsense. He’d be sure to have had her letter, either yesterday or this morning, the letter in which she said she expected him to telephone as soon as she arrived.

As she lay down on the bed and reached for a detective novel she heard the telephone ring in the room next door. It was a small, muffled sound, but she heard it. She dropped her detective story and sat up on the side of the bed. After two or three minutes of waiting she lay down again. It was no use going to speak to that woman outside. If it had been Zip the woman wouldn’t have refused to let her know. After all those instructions, repeated again and again . . .

She opened the detective story and read for a while, but it was not much good to her. Every time the telephone rang next door she heard it, and every time she heard it she expected a knock on the door and a weary, efficient voice saying: “Mr. Gregson has called and wants to speak to you.” At half-past one she had to get up to eat lunch, and Mr. Gregson had not yet called. After lunch she drove out to

the lake shore for an hour with one of the city's musical patronesses, and then tried the piano and inspected the arrangements at Symphony Hall. Her accompanist—a fussy, elderly gentleman transplanted from Vienna, short of trunk and limb took a good ten minutes to get the piano stool screwed up to the right height. Hedda stood patiently beside the piano while he went through his usual antics; the same thing happened every time. When Gus was ready they did a swift half hour’s work, and as soon as it was over she hurried to the waiting patroness’s car. A short dash through crowded streets to the hotel, and then:

I m so sorry I can’t ask you up,” she said to the Lady Bountiful. ‘‘I m expecting an old friend, to whom I’ve got so much to say. Do forgive me, won’t you? And thanks so much for the drive. We meet tonight.”

W hen she reached her own rooms on the twentieth floor, the tired secretary in the business-like clothes did not even give Hedda a chance to ask.

“Mr. Gregson,” said the weary voice, unchanged, “has not telephoned.”

The fact that Mr. Gregson had not telephoned may have influenced Hedda Martin’s state of mind that evening. At least this was the opinion of the tired secretary, who explained the whole trouble in few words to the local manager.

‘Boy friend,” said she with resignation. “Should have called up. Didn’t. Guy named Gregson. I hope she can sing tonight. They’re queer, you know; sometimes when they get all stirred up their pipes don’t work.”

“Maybe you think I don’t know it,” said the local manager, sighing. “Well, you get her there on time, anyhow, and the rest 11 take care of itself. She’s never sung here before, and maybe if she’s no good they’ll just take it for granted she’s always been lousy.”

“I’ll deliver her on the dot, no fear,” said the secretary.

TN MAKING this promise she was relying upon an exaggerated estimate of her own powers. Hedda Martin was not so easy to “deliver.” She had a maid, a clever mulatto girl who could do anything and do it quicker than anybody else. 3 here was also an awed, clumsy girl from the hotel, who was employed to open and shut boxes, or to carry things back and forth at the mulatto’s orders. But in spite of such assistance, it took Miss Martin two hours to dress. The delays were caused in great part by her own indecision. Twice she was fully clothed, twice she changed her mind and took everything off again. A blue dress and a green dress, with gloves, jewels, fans, and all sorts of gewgaws to match, inside and out, were thus successively adopted and discarded.

In the end the choice fell on a yellow dress with a rather long train, a rather high neck and no back at all. There was a black feather fan to go with it, and long black gloves, and diamonds in the hair. It was distinctly a prima donna’s getup, the most unmistakably grande toilette that Hedda Martin had brought with her on the tour. It had won the day over blue (sweet, girlish) and green (sinuous, chic) by virtue of some progression of ideas in the mind of Miss Hedda Martin. Now, as she stood in front of the mirror and inspected the set of her train while the clever mulatto girl adjusted it, she was undoubtedly what people called a “stunning” woman —a blow, delightful but still a blow, between the eyes.

The secretary made another unsuccessful attack—the third.

“It is now a quarter past eight, Miss Martin,” she pointed out, standing accusingly in the doorway. “From here to the Symphony Hall—”

“Oh, I know, I know,” Miss Martin said. “Can’t you see we’re hurrying as fast as we can? Do stop telling me what time it is every few minutes or I’ll scream my head off. Which will certainly not improve the voice.”

The secretary, wearier than ever in a black velvet dress— her uniform for concerts—gazed reflectively into the bedroom. “Gee, she must have it bad,” was what she was thinking. “Three complete changes of clothes, and the big bum didn’t even call her up !”

What she said was:

“Very well, Miss Martin. I am only endeavoring to do my duty.”

Hedda moaned. That tone of offended dignity, determined patience, had been getting harder and harder to bear for the past three weeks.

“Oblige me,” said Miss Martin in her iciest voice, “by going out of the room and shutting the door behind you. I shall be ready as soon as I can, and not before.”

The secretary’s mouth opened as if to speak (something about doing her duty, probably). No words emerged, and in sheer bewilderment at the circumstance, the woman went into the sitting room and sat down. “She sure can shut you up,” was the tribute of unwilling admiration just then.

"She sure can do it. Easy enough, I suppose, when you’re

The grande toilette was pronounced complete at twentyfive minutes past eight, and Miss Martin, accompanied by her maid and the secretary, went downstairs to the car that had been sent for her. The song recital was supposed to begin at 8.30, but it was nearly 8.45 before Hedda Martin reached the backstage area of Symphony Hall and was ready to go on. She stood quiet for a moment, breathing deeply, while the mulatto girl gave some final touches to her dress and pushed the train into its most impressive lolds. Gus was ready, and when Hedda felt equal to the fray she nodded to him and walked out.

C HE GOT an unusual amount of applause; in fact, it was LJ called an “ovation” in the next day’s newspapers. There were few people in the audience who could actually remember the Hetty Martin who had once been at Bishopsgate College up on the hill, but everybody in Symphony Hall had heard the tale, and consequently greeted Hedda Martin not only as Hedda Martin, but as an admirable local achievement in which all Toronto claimed a share. There may also have been a more spontaneous impulse of excitement set up in the crowd by Hedda's appearance, for she could never have looked lovelier, more romantic, than she did that night in the yellow dress with the train, with the black leather fan and the diamonds in her hair.

Hedda, as she bowed again and again, and even threw a kiss or two in approved prima donna style, was grateful for the noisy greeting. Not only was it very nice to hear in this particular place, which had once represented the unattainable in her schoolgirl dreams, but it also afforded Gus time to go through his laborious antics with the piano stool. Nobody had touched the stool since he had fixed it that afternoon, and yet he was unable to start playing until he had screwed it down and up again a number of times. Hedda regarded Gus as the best accompanist she had ever known —coach, accompanist and critic, all three—but his behavior with a piano stool, while she stood in front of an audience and waited to begin, had often exasperated her. The ridiculous wait was avoided here, thanks to the audience, and by the time the applause had died down Gus sat stiffly in his place, eyes cocked for the signal.

It was a very conventional recital programme, like those of most celebrated singers: a group of old Italian songs, some modern French, and two groups of Lieder, with an operatic aria thrown in after the first group to arouse the gallery. Hedda Martin’s voice was richer in low notes than is the rule among sopranos. Her great operatic successes had been Carmen and Mignon, straight mezzo-soprano rôles, and she tended, as years passed and she could more conclusively do as she pleased, to abandon the high soprano repertoire altogether. She knew that the middle and lower parts of her voice had unique quality, whereas her high voice was no different from the high voice of a score of other trained sopranos. And when she sang songs—as was, according to a thousand press interviews, her chief delight—she preferred those in which the peculiarly expressive quality of her middle and lower voice had a chance to make its effect.

The Italian eighteenth century songs that opened the recital were, as often happens on these occasions, a kind of warming-up. Hedda sang them exactly and musically, but without the complete resourcefulness that would be hers later in the evening. She was busy looking through the audience for Zip—an exercise that did not increase her command of the music of Pergolesi, Vittoria and company.

But Zip was not to be seen anywhere.

When she came out the second time, for the operatic aria —it was the “Seguidilla” out of Carmen—she was genuinely angry with Zip. She was not accustomed to being treated in this way, and the long, irritating wait for the telephone call that never rame had been succeeded by an even more painful circumstance—he hadn’t even turned up to hear her sing. She could not surrender to impulses of grief, hurt or bewilderment, for she had a whole recital to get through; and besides, was she not Hedda Martin? What difference could it make to her? She sailed out on the platform in a state of rage, to sing her “Seguidilla”—and, of course, sang it con amore, with such flash and viciousness that it brought down the house. This was the success of the evening, and theaudience made determined attempts to get it repeated.

But Hedda Martin never related things, and after an obstinate struggle between applauding audience and towing singer, the point was yielded.

The “Seguidilla” had taken all the anger out of Hedda. She powdered her nose and allowed the mulatto girl to readjust her hair, fanned herself slowly, put her mind on the songs of the next group. They were modern French, starting with two Debussy ones and ending with a Darius Milhaud; they had many tricky words, sometimes oddly emphasized in the music, and for some of them she had been accustomed to hold a small prompt-card in her hands. She was going to sing them now without such aid, for the third or fourth time in public, and they required a more intense concentration of the singer’s resources than was demanded by many a finer piece of music.

She got through the Debussy

songs all right—could have sung them, probably, in her sleep, so familiar had they become after years— but in the midst of an extraordinarily tricky trifle by Poulenc her heart stood still, and for five bars of the music she did not sing at all; not a word came. had, as

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the actors say. “dried up.” And for sufficient reason. Directly in front of her. in the seventh or eighth row, she liad seen Zip. The unforgettable face, every line and edge of it, was turned up toward her with unblinking attention. How she could have missed seeing him before was incomprehensible. In the shock of the moment the words of the Poulenc song went out of her head altogether—words and notes—and the piano pattered on without her.

CHE MADE a perfect recovery, and so far C' as history records, not a soul in Toronto has ever known from that day to this that she left out part of the song. It is not a wellknown song, and is constructed according to the recognized modern principles of unintelligibility, words and music jarring against each other so delicately that neither can be comprehensible without a copy of the work to consult during performance. Protected by these circumstances, Hedda merely took a breath and thought fast. Gus would go on playing to the end, she knew: if the whole song slipped her mind he would still play on stolidly, so that the audience might think it was a song consisting chiefly of accompaniment. She waited, therefore, until she was sure of a place to make her re-entry—no easy thing with a song that gives the singer so little aid as to pitch. When she heard it coming, she pounced upon it with great precision and finished the thing as well as she had ever done it in her life.

Afterward Gus said to her:

“Vot’s the matter, you forgetting vords now? So you deserve, for singing such a kind of Schwärmerei. You call that music?”

Hedda was unaccountably gay now: changed from the rather pensive woman he had seen at the last interval. She tapped him on the cheek (he was shorter than she was) and said :

“Never mind, Gus. That song may be Schwärmerei, but I’ll never forget it again as long as I live-— never

Her last two groups were German. They were what she could do best, and they were what she used to sing for Zip in the old days. She had contrived a little surprise for him, a kind of signal, to be put into effect only if she could be sure he was in the audience. The recital programmes had been made up long before the tour began, of course, and in cities of musical importance, such as Toronto, what might be called Programme A was carried out—that is, the songs chosen were all good music, and, except for the inevitable operatic air, nothing downright hackneyed was allowed to appear except as an extra, not on the printed programme. There were two songs that Zip had always loved. They were his songs in particular, but had suffered the fate of so many masterpieces had become too well known. They were no longer regarded as fit to occupy a place on a Hedda Martin programme of the first rank. She could put them on her programmes in less important places, but in Toronto they had to be extras or nothing. Both songs were by Schubert: one was Du hist die Ruh’ and the other was Er der herrlichste von Allen.

Her plan, based upon all these circumstances, was to substitute Zip’s favorites for the last two songs in her next group. (The final group, all Brahms, was untouchable). She would make a little announcement, looking straight at him : “For my old friends in Toronto I've been asked to sing Du hist die Ruh\ of Schubert, instead of the next song on the printed programme.” He would know that this was for him. But if he had any lingering doubts they would be dispelled by what followed, for she intended to make a similar announcement in substituting Er der herrlichste von Allen. By the time the group was over Zip would be sure that she remembered everything, and that she had come to Toronto for him.

She abandoned the feather fan for these German songs; it looked altogether too

frivolous. By standing straight and motionless beside the piano, with her gloved hands folded in front of her, she succeeded in robbing the yellow dress of its earlier sensationalism. It was now merely beautiful and dignified, particularly with the train artfully wrapped about her feet. When the house was quite quiet she lifted her head, nodded to Gus. and sang.

Hedda Martin was at all times a good Lieder singer. The fact was admitted even in Germany, where foreign practitioners of an ultra-German art do not always eniov approval. But on the occasion of her début in Toronto she had just that added touch of simplicity, of homeliness, that makes all the difference between a great Lieder singer and a merely good one. Too often, as many a critic had pointed out, Hedda Martin’s singing of German nineteenth century songs had been a little lacking in classic repose. Although she did succeed in standing quiet while she sang such music, it was with a visible external effort, felt, sometimes, to the detriment of the final result. Not that she flounced or simpered or committed any of the other crimes to which famous opera singers are addicted when they take to the concert platform: she wasn’t as bad as that. She only looked a trifle restless, a trifle cramped by the style of the music. And although the sounds that emerged from her soft throat were exact, musical, and sometimes surpassingly lovely, she was never quite what is meant by a complete Lieder singer: she never surrendered altogether to the mood of a song or suppressed her own body and gesture under its musical necessities.

'T'ONIGHT she did. She was conscious of making a special effort because Zip was there, and because Zip—unless he had greatly changed—preferred Schubert, Schumann and Brahms to anything else she could possibly sing. Zip had a horror of opera, liked few French, Italian, English or American songs, and could not endure what is called “modern” music. All these opinions and tastes, the expression of a character once known to her in every particular, were as fresh in her mind tonight as ever. She tried to put everything she could command into these songs—to put it all in and offer it, somehow, as you might offer a basket of fruit and flowers and the leaves of trees. Such was her concentration upon the songs themselves, upon filling them out with whatever she could bring, that she quite forgot herself, her dress, her gloved hands and the diamonds in her hair. She rose to the music more purely, directly and simply than had ever been the case before; she could feel it. And best of all, most perfect in communication and satisfaction, were the two she had thrust into the programme for Zip’s sake: Du hist die Ruh’ and the final one, Er der herrlichste ven Allen.

She saw his face change when she made her announcement. There was a delighted smile, a nod of the head, a look—so far as she could make out from the platform—of happiness. Still more was he pleased when she ended the group with Er der herrlichste. He could never mistake the meaning of that: Wie so milde, wie sc gut! It was his song, and she gave him every word of it.

“I tink.” said Gus when the group was ended, “I tink you been singing pretty damn good tonight.”

The words did not commit him far, but she saw in his eye something much more revealing; a tear or two. Gus could never keep his eyes quite dry when he heard anything of exceptional beauty in music, but Hedda could not remember having been responsible for the phenomenon before. The sight thrilled her more than any amount of applause.

“Bless you, Gus,” she said.

It was over at last: the Brahms group, sung almost in exaltation, followed by an j extra song or two not on the programme, j

brought it to a close in scenes of considerable excitement. It was not usual for a recital audience to show such interest in any singer; nor was it customary for so many flowers to find their way to the austere stage of Symphony Hall. For half an hour she stood shaking hands with people, having people introduced, or speaking to those she already knew. It was a kind of triumphal reception. Through it all she kept looking out for Zip and not seeing him. Was it possible that after she had made such a point of singing his two songs aside from writing to him as she had he wouldn’t even come round to talk to her? No, it wasn’t possible. He was there somewhere—had to be. But the throng around her made her a little impatient, everybody meant well, but why must they stay and talk? She wanted to see Zip—wanted to see him more than ever before, desperately and (she thought) for ever. It didn’t matter about his not telephoning or anything else so long as he appeared now.

He did, at last. When she saw his square figure looming over her suddenly, appearing out of nowhere, her breath stopped. Both her hands went out toward him automatically; the fact that one of them had to be wrenched out of the attentive fingers of a Lady Bountiful who was just saying good-by made no difference.

“Zip!” Hedda said when she could speak. “You’re here at last. Did you get my letter?”

“Only tonight,” he said, looking down at her, smiling, holding her hands. “It’s good to see you, Hetty. I’m sorry I didn’t get the letter sooner; I was out of town. I’d have telephoned today if I’d known ... Of course I knew you were going to sing here tonight; I’ve had seats for a couple of months. But I didn’t know you expected to see me.”

“Zip! What nonsense!” she said, searching his eyes as well as she could. “Come to Toronto—to Toronto—without seeing you? How could that ever be? It’s what I came for!”

He smiled again, but looked—even she could see—a little anxious. Perhaps she was speaking too frankly, making too much of a show in front of the interested crowd. She lowered her voice.

“Can’t we go and have some food somewhere?” she asked. “This will be over soon.”

“I was thinking—that is, we were thinking—that maybe you’d like to come home and have some food with us,” he said. “With Louise and me, that is. Hetty, this is Louise—my wife.”

HEDDA FELT the words falling over her like a shower of unbearably cold water. His wife! For a second she thought she was going to fall down; her body was too weak and dizzy to remain upright, and her heart alone seemed awake to furious existence. Then she made herself look, smile, hold out a hand.

“I’m so glad,” she murmured idiotically. (W’hat about? What on earth did she have to be glad about?)

“I didn’t know Zip was married,” she added.

The girl who took her hand was pretty but. Hedda decided at once, a very ordinary type—the kind of girl you can see up and down the streets of any North American city. Clever enough, well-dressed enough, kind-hearted enough, but none of these things to an exceptional degree; just, in fact, what was called a “nice girl.” The suggestion, urgent in Hedda’s rather confused brain at the moment, that Zip had actually preferred this pretty nonentity to herself, was hard to understand but harder to reject. She tried to stiffen her resistance: she was Hedda Martin, and Zip was, after all, nothing much—old Zip Gregson—but in spite of these important considerations she felt bereft, desolate, infinitely confused and bewildered.

It was the wife—Louise—who brought her out of it.

“We hoped you’d come to supper with us,” the wife said, "but of course if you’d rather not, we’ll understand perfectly.”

It may have been Hedda’s imagination

(afterward she thought it must have been), but there seemed to be a vein of pity in the girl’s voice and smile as she said this. Of course it was nonsense for anybody to show pity for Hedda Martin. The moment the notion had occurred to her Hedda stamped on it.

“But I should like nothing better,” she said grandly, with just a shade too much prima donna in her tone. “Give me five minutes to finish speaking to my friends here, and we can leave together.”

She would have pity from nobody, least of all from Zip’s commonplace little wife. If the little woman thought she, Hedda Martin, was afraid to have supper with them, was in any way jealous or angry, it was imperative to show the contrary. So Hedda, holding herself straighter than ever, bowed and shook hands with a number of jx:ople who still remained, made a sign to her maid, wrapped herself in a cloak, and was ready to go.

“There’s lots of room in my car,” said Zip. “Why don’t we all go together?”

“All right,” said Hedda. “Mine can follow along afterward.”

She gave directions to the maid, who was to come in the other car; and in doing so she failed to notice the amused glances exchanged between Zip and his wife. The grandeurs of the diva apparently struck somewhere upon a sense of humor shared between them, from which she, by the nature of things, was excluded. She observed nothing, but sailed forward across the walk to the car when Zip had finally brought it up. If it surprised her to find that he was driving it himself, she graciously said nothing. Indeed that was the word that characterized her behavior all during the drive out to Zip’s house on the lake front— “gracious.” She was gracious about their remarks on singing, music in general, and her music in particular; she was gracious about Toronto, recital audiences, the public in general, and the lives of persons so unfortunate as not to be successful singers; she was even condescendingly agreeable about the weather, which was bitter cold and angrily windy, as is its winter habit in the lake country. By the time they reached the Gregsons’ house, Louise—Mrs. Gregson — had made up her mind that the singer was too grand and gracious to be endured. It was with a feeling of relief, therefore, that the wife (the “little woman,” as Hedda called her in thought) made her escape as soon as they entered the house.

“I’ll go out into the kitchen and see about food and drink. Any suggestions?”

“Champagne in the ice-box,” said Zip. “I ordered some for the occasion.”

“Sorry, Zip, darling,” said Hedda. “I can’t drink anything but beer. Or tea. What a pretty house !”

“Don’t come with me, Zip,” Mrs. Gregson said, rapidly getting rid of her cloak and gloves. “I know exactly where everything is, and it won’t take a minute. Matter of fact I told Tildy to get the things ready, and all I have to do is assemble them.”

HEDDA COULD not make up her mind what she had expected. Something rather squalid, probably, with evidences of a sturdy, thoughtful effort to make the best of things. Zip had never been affluent in the days when she knew him. But this house was far from squalid. It was not what the newspapers called a “mansion;” that is, anybody with normal eyesight could easily see across the room; but it looked very comfortable and peaceful. They had entered a hall with a wide staircase going up from it; and off the hall they had passed to a long, easy room with a fireplace, bookcases, flowers and tables. It was not in the least what Hedda had expected. She stood in front of the fireplace and looked.

“How nice it all is!” she said. “Zip—?” “Yes?”

He offered her a cigarette, and when she refused it he took one himself. His attention appeared to be concentrated on the operation of taking the cigarette, tapping it against the box, and then lighting it. When

he had finished this he held the cigarette off and looked at it—not at her.

“Are you rich now?” she asked.

He laughed.

“Lord, no!” he said. "What makes you ask such a question?”

“The house is so nice,” she said. “You never could have had a house like this when —in the old days.”

“I haven’t done so badly,” he said. “It’s been how long since I saw you, Hetty? Eight years? Well, a lot can happen in eight years.”

“Apparently,” she said She came closer to him.

“Zip,” she said, lowering her voice, “what has happened? Why did you marry without even telling me?”

He laughed—a dry and not too pleasant sound.

“You may have forgotten,” he said, “that for more than two years, the first two years after your return to America, you never answered a single letter I wrote you. And wouldn’t see me when I came to New York.” "What’s that matter now?” she asked. “I came here to see you—hoping to see you. I wouldn’t come to Toronto until I knew I could sing for you. to your satisfaction; and I did do it, tonight—your two songs. I wouldn’t come until I w-as sure I wanted to see you again—and more than that. Until I was ready, at last, to do as you always wanted, to marry you, and to start off where we’d stopped ... I come here, and what do I find?”

“Dear Hetty,” he said, “don’t get dramatic. You find me married to a charming girl whom I love. Just how many years or decades did you think I was going to wait for you?”

She turned her back on him and walked across the room, her yellow dress trailing ' theatrically behind her.

“Oh, I suppose I deserved that,” she said in a low voice. “I made you wrait . . . But I couldn’t help it. The career, and not only the career. There was also the idea—you gave it to me—that you would wait for ever. That time when you came to Vienna to see me, a little while before my début, you practically said so.”

“Nearly eleven years ago,” Zip remarked gloomily, still staring at his cigarette. “It isn’t quite for ever, but it’s a long time.”

“I was a young fool,” she said. “I have more sense now. It’s because I’ve learned a thing or two that I came here. And when I get here— Oh, Zip, tell me this much: Are you happy with that girl?”

“Certainly,” he said. “Completely happy, for the first time I can remember. And have been, for five years.”

She made a little moaning noise.

“How can you be happy with her,” she asked, “after me? Oh, I know that sounds vain and foolish, but I can’t help being surprised. And hurt, a little, too. After all, I’m not just anybody. I don’t see how ...” His craggy face looked angry for a moment.

“Louise may not be a famous soprano,” he remarked, “but she has no reason to regret the fact. She is one of the nicest people in the world. She is also my wife.” Hedda laughed—a small, silken whisper of a laugh.

“I’m not attacking your wife,” she said. “Don’t get shirty. I just don’t understand, that’s all.”

A SOUND BEHIND them warned of the approach of Mrs. Gregson. She made a good deal of noise coming in—more. Hedda considered, than tact required. It sounded as if she were giving them time to sever a guilty embrace, whereas actually they had been quarrelling at a distance of half the room. Hedda, seeing a piano in front of her, sat down to run her fingers over it while Louise and Zip set out the supper things on a low table before the fire. As she played— half-consciously falling into the simple, sonorous chords of Er der herrlichste—her eyes rested on a photograph of a child. It was stuck into a silver frame and occupied the most important place on the top of the piano. There could be no doubt whatever

about the child’s identity; the wretched [ little creature showed a strong resemblance | to Zip. Hedda would have liked to throw the 1 thing into the fire. Instead, she rose and sauntered across to the other two, saying: “Is that a son and heir I see on the piano? The little boy in rompers?”

“No,” said Louise, delighted at the atten¡ tion, “that isn’t a son and heir; that’s a daughter. Young Louise. We call her Lou. She’s four—looks awfully like Zip. don’t you think? Son’s only two. We call him Eddy, ! and there’s a photograph over there. Just a second, I’ll get it.”

Hedda wanted to avoid any more photographs of children if she could, but it was clearly impossible to head off the pleased parent now. She therefore bent her eves upon a photograph of a very small boy, not much different in appearance from the child in the picture on the piano.

“I’ve got loads more, of course,” said Louise, “but they’re all upstairs, and I don’t suppose you’re interested . . . Why don’t you eat, both of you? There’s every kind of cold meat here, and salad and stuff. And you can have what you like to drink. Zip, get the drinks ready, will you, dear?”

Hedda gave thanks that she had been spared any more pictures of children . . . Two, then, they had, a boy and a girl, both like their father. This Louise might be commonplace enough, but she certainly filled her rôle in life . . . Hedda was consumed with distaste for the whole business: for the photographs of children, for the marriage of Zip and Louise, for her own presence here. But most of all she was shaken with self-pity. It was unreasonable (why on earth should she pity herself? She had everything—everything), but it almost choked her as she ate her food. She had just finished a laborer’s ration of meat, toast and salad, when Louise broke in upon her reflections.

“I declare,” she said, “we’ve all forgotten about Miss Martin’s maid! The poor dear is sitting out there in the car, I expect, waiting. And the chauffeur, too. It was careless of me. There’s tons of food in the kitchen, and it’s warm there. Zip, won’t you take them round?”

Zip rose with obvious willingness and made his escape. Hedda, reaching for a large red apple to end her meal with, realized that she now had to think of something to say to Zip’s wife, to Zip’s incredibly commonplace. pretty wife, who was also the mother of his two children. She took the first subject she could find, the nearest to hand.

“I suppose you think it’s absolutely heartless of me,” she said, “but the fact is that I’ve grown used to making people wait. Sometimes it’s impossible to bring them in. and they must wait. And then, after a certain number of years, one gets used to it and never thinks of it any more. That’s how I come to forget so easily.”

“I understand,” Louise said. “I quite understand. The life you lead—all that. I suppose it’s w'hat they call in the movies ‘glamorous,’ isn’t it? Orchids, I mean, and people falling in love with you, and constant changes of scene, and immense flattery all the time. Odd thing: Perhaps you won’t believe me at all, but it doesn’t appeal to my imagination. I like—all this.”

She made a comprehensive movement of the hand that described a sort of circle embracing “all this.”

“You are,” Hedda said with a slight edge to her voice, “fond of your home, your husband and your children? Is that it? It seems to me that I’ve read those words somewhere.”

Louise leaned forward, and Hedda had the furious feeling that there was pity in her voice—not only in her voice, but in her gentle, grey-blue eyes.

“Don’t be hostile toward me, my dear,” she said softly. “I can’t help the truth being the truth.”

There was a long silence. Louise, detaching her gaze at last, looked into the fireplace and spoke in a more ordinary tone.

“It’s true that I love all this,” she said, “and nothing else in the world would do for me. I dare say you don’t understand that. We all get what we really want in this world,

if we want it hard enough and long enough. You and I have wanted —different things.”

Hedda shuddered, rose to her feet and walked deliberately across to the end of the chimney-piece.

“Perhaps you’re right,” she said. “In fact, I know you are.”

She walked across to the piano; she felt extraordinarily restless.

“I know you are,” she repeated. “Of course. I couldn’t ever stand this kind of thing. I should go mad. The boredom of it. Zip—!”

She began to laugh. It started out by being a small laugh, but it grew in volume and range until it became a fair approximation to hysteria. It stopped sharply, all at once, when the door opened and Zip appeared.

“Everybody’s happy,” he announced. “They’re having cold chicken and beer, and they’re to fry eggs if they like.”

“Oh,” said Hedda. “Oh. Tell them to hurry, will you? I must go home soon. To the hotel, I mean. The fact is, I must sing tomorrow afternoon in Buffalo. I believe the train is early.”

*7 IP WENT out of the room, and Hedda ^ advanced to the fireplace again, pulling on her long black gloves. Her train fell in folds about her feet—artful folds—and she almost created a stage about her as she spoke.

“My dear,” she said, her voice elaborate and rather high, “it’s too frightful, these changes. The engagements come so close together; I sing every day for five days, and then rest for two. Usually, that is. And I’m never content to give any audience mediocre fare. I do really do my best every single time. For instance, tonight; I did put everything I had into the Schubert.”

There was a hint of amusement in Louise’s eyes as she answered.

“I know you did,” she said. “It was wonderful.”

Hedda took such compliments in her stride.

“Thanks,” she said. “You know, once six or seven years ago I was singing those very songs in a town in Alberta. I don’t suppose a tenth of the audience knew the songs or understood the words, but afterward a long, lanky cowboy came up to me and said—”

The singer’s reminiscences were interrupted by the entrance of Zip, who reported that the retainers’ supper had been bolted. Hedda stayed only a few more minutes, talking in the same vein of rather pretentious, rather theatrical importance. Zip looked at her once or twice, puzzled. Louise’s expressions were harder to read. Neither made any difficulty when Hedda— urging again the necessities of her profession, of the tour—took her departure.

Inside the car it was not warm. The mulatto maid wrapped her in fur rugs, and they started back through the windy, snowy night toward the centre of the city. To the hotel. Suddenly Hedda’s constraints, her inner force, her sureness—whatever it was that held her up—collapsed. Tears ran unnoticed down her face, and she fell over on to the fur-covered lap of the mulatto girl. She was inconceivably desolate, as if she had been condemned to spend the rest of her life as an explorer in the polar regions, with no touch of human hand or warmth of human breath to recall a less bleak existence.

There was only one thing good in it. They had not asked her to go and look at their children sleeping. She had been spared something.

“Miss Martin, honey,” the mulatto girl was saying in broad plantation talk, all her careful Harlem English destroyed by the unprecedented crisis, “don’t yo pay no ’tention to nothin’. Nevah yo mind, ever’thing goin’ be aw right. Ever’thing goin’ be aw right. Don’t yo mind.”

Yes, Hedda Martin said to herself, half suffocating in the furs across the maid’s knee, thinking of the hotel, the train, old Gus and the weary secretary and the train again; yes, everything is going to be all right.