It started with just a song at midnght -and ended in a duet at daylight
HE LIVED in the nicest block in the city. A block without a single apartment house, with houses that were individual, each reflecting somewhat the character of its inhabitants. A quiet, discreet block, where lived very wealthy people.
His house was the one with the wide double stairway leading down to the sidewalk. A cordial stairway, brave with balustrade, an entrance that might have been expected at a country estate, but was positively breath-taking on a city street, even in a block of individual homes.
And someone dared stop in front of his house and sing ! At eleven-thirty at night, someone, two someones, had stopped before his house to sing !
No one had ever sung in this block that he could remember. The watchmen tried to keep it as quiet as a hospital zone. No hurdy-gurdies, no scissors grinders, not even a tomcat dared howl his back fence love in the moonlight that splashed this block. And yet there it was !
At first Rodney had thought it was the radio. There was one in the house. Rodney had heard the servants playing it sometimes when he came in. But it was always snapped off immediately on his arrival, because they all knew how the “young master” loathed what he called that “canned music.” He had cleared his throat, had coughed several times to let his household know that he was at home, and still the song hadn’t stopped. Then Rodney had realized that it was coming from the street. He jumped up and rang for Griffin.
Griffin, every hair in his sideburns standing on end, answered.
“Do something about it, Griffin,” Rodney exclaimed. “Don’t stand there looking insulted. Ask the watchman what he’s being paid for.”
"Very good, sir,” murmured old Griffin, and started out when the girl began to sing. Griffin paused, his chin dropping a bit into his upstanding collar. Rodney held out his hand for silence. For the girl’s voice was so lovely it crept into the very crevices of his soul. One moment his heart had been as barren as an attic in a new house; the next, it was flooded and overwhelmed with delightful things. Her voice was contralto, rich as an autumn wood, throbbing as spring, lights and shadows.
The man’s voice joined hers for a chorus. Rodney resented that.
“I’ll go tell them myself, Griffin.” Rodney marched out. followed by the butler, who also wanted a look at the singers.
BY THE time he reached the stoop, the song had changed. They were sitting in a hansom cab, two men and a girl. And now they were singing a rollicking “Good night, Albert, we’ve got to go. Merrily we ride along—cloppitycloppity-clop!”
Albert was his own watchman. And the silly old fool was standing with his hat off, hugging the tree that stood on the sidewalk. Standing there grinning like a dumb fish, instead of telling them to move on.
Rodney stood a moment, wondering how a girl with a glorious voice could ride in a hansom cab, singing such silly songs. He was a rather serious young man who hated waste. This young person had a voice that should be given to the world and she was using it to awaken a sleeping street!
Gathering anger at the situation, he strode down the steps.
“I’m frightfully sorry,” he began, when Albert plucked at his sleeve.
“Beg pardon, sir. It’s Mr. Vandergraft and Miss Duane.”
So that explained it. Not even a faithful watchman like Albert could ask a Vandergraft to push on. But Rodney could, and intended to. These little rich pups—always trying to find a new thrill. Vitriolic words arose in his throat. But just then the girl leaned out to look at him and said:
“Hello. You must be Rodney Winship. Do you sing tenor?”
In spite of his amazement, Rodney ejaculated: “Of
“Good. I was hoping you didn’t. But in a way it’s bad. We already have a high bass and a low baritone, and I’m contralto. And the cabby’s tenor is simply foul. So we can’t do parts. No harmony. All we can do is sing. But if you want to just sing, get in and we’ll go round again.”
“Go round what?” Rodney hadn’t meant to ask a question at all.
“The park, of course. We’ve been going round for hours, singing all the songs we know. But we’ve only skimmed the surface. We haven’t touched Sweet Adeline. And that’s good for an hour. Come on, get in.”
She moved her feet down from the little front seat, and the two men with her took theirs down also. The one nearest Rodney leaned out and took him under the arm, saying, “Yuupsy does it!”
Rodney found himself being heaved into the cab. The man on the box lifted together the lines. The horse would have started, but Griffin, who had been watching with amazement from the stoop, cried out, “Just a moment. Please!” And returned in a moment to present the “young master” with topcoat, hat and cane. Griffin didn’t approve of fads. A Winship never went around bareheaded, not even while riding in a hansom cab.
As the cab moved slowly off, the girl called back, “Good night, Albert. Don’t forget that burglar!” And there was a delighted reply from Albert.
“We used to live in that house.” The girl pointed across the street. “And old Albert had a crush on my nurse. His uniform intrigued me. And he promised to catch a burglar.”
RODNEY sat on the little seat facing the three of them, - resenting the impulse that had made him willing to be heaved into the cab. He must be crazy ! He’d been in the jungles so long, he hadn’t known how to cope with such a situation. The idea of Rodney Winship going collegiate— riding in an open cab with these three harebrained idiots! He’d never done anything so silly even in his school days. Suppose someone should recognize him !
“I beg your pardon,” he said stiffly. “I’m Rodney Winship.”
“ ’Sail right, Buddy, worse has been lived down.”
“Now Digsby, don’t be facetious. Mr. Winship wants to be introduced to his cabmates. This one-wit on my right is Digsby Vandergraft. I’m going to marry him if he ever stays sober six months—for his money.”
Rodney looked at her in astonishment, but the boy only chuckled.
“Cheap at the price.”
The girl laughed. “And this sweet one,” she said, “is Harold Smith. He’s Digsby’s cousin. He helps me nurse Digsby. And I’m Mitylene Duane.”
“She’s named for an island in the Aegean Sea. They should have named her Crete. Easier to remember.”
“If she’d been twins, they’d have named her Philippine!” The two boys roared at their wit, and the girl said patiently: “That’s their joke. They love a new audience for it. But I’m sorry, we can’t talk. I must keep them singing. You know Digsby is an awful responsibility. When he’s this way, I don’t dare let him out of my sight. I might take him home, and he’d go pro\yling again. And in these days of kidnappers and things—well, going out with the richest boy in the world is about as much fun as wearing the Hope Diamond. What shall we sing? Oh, I know. Sweet Adeline. Allright. Bass me, boys, bass me!”
By the third time they sang it, Rodney had to sing himself to keep from shouting at the girl. She was breathing all wrong, from her lungs instead of her diaphragm. Her tones were throaty, she knew nothing of “attack.” Her diction was deplorable—or so Rodney told himself disapprovingly. She might ruin her voice. Rodney’s mother had sung. The Winships had always been staunch supporters of the opera. Rodney had known many singers. He knew music a little himself. And he felt sure this girl was doing everything wrong.
In fact, everything the girl did was wrong. Who ever heard of a nice girl—and the Duanes were certainly nice people, one of the old New York families; Mrs.
Duane across the street had been one of his mother’s friends-—but who ever heard of a nice girl riding around singing in a cab and calmly admitting that she was going to marry a man for his money?
She was also a very beautiful girl.
The street lights had shown him a lovely face clouded in dark hair.
And her voice was truly magnificent.
Untrained, of course, but beautiful.
They had reached the park. Cars passed them, and people looked back, but Rodney had forgotten to be self-conscious. He was trying to find words to describe her voice.
Rubies? No. More like port wine, very rare port wine, ruby-colored and very heady.
Around the park they went until the horse decided he had had enough of it. They reached the entrance to
a parking place, a drive-in oasis that the horse knew of old, so he turned in. The cabby was nodding on his box. The two boys on the back seat had droned down until they were merely humming. The horse stopped, struck a comfortable pose and went to sleep. The cabby wavered, sat upright, wavered again, then toppled over on his box and went to sleep. The boys stopped humming and began to doze. The song vignetted into a silence. And in the silence
the shadows seemed to creep closely about them.
“I say,” muttered Rodney. “This is a most peculiar situation.”
“Isn’t it?” agreed the girl. Again the silence dosed in. “Do you—er—do this often?”
was face, surrounding a dark blob that was open mouth, now emitting irregular snores. He felt he showed rare self-control in not saying what he thought of Digsby just then. Instead he asked: “Don’t you think we’d
better get them home? Both seemed rendered quite prowlproof by now.”
With his cane he poked the driver awake. Nodding as he went, the horse clopped out of the park. Digsby and Harold swayed about on the turns, Rodney had to help the girl keep them from falling out. And when they reached the Vandergraft mansion, he helped the cab driver deliver them to a sleepy serving • man inside.
AS THE CAB started off again, Mitylene laughed, and her laughter made Rodney think of a leaf that’s shaken itself off a tree.
“Oh, let’s don’t go home!” cried this astonishing girl, who was now sitting beside him in the cab. “We haven’t had a chance to talk at all. And I want to know all about you. What you do, and why. Let’s just keep on riding. We can look up at the stars, and in a little while the old sun will chin himself up over the wall of night. Don’t you adore the sunrise?”
Rodney looked at her with something akin to terror.
“Go home in daylight, in evening clothes? You surely wouldn’t ride around all night with a chap you’ve only known a few hours! But, of course, you’re just joking. Where do you live, Miss Duane?”
Meekly she gave a number uptown, and as the horse clopped in that direction, she asked Rodney questions about himself. He found himself telling her all the things he’d never been able to tell other people. The Winship Holdings, for instance. Five years ago, when his father had died, boyish curiosity had taken him down to look over his possesions. And he found to his amazement that his income, in great part, came from filthy tenements, ghastly places. Flis mother moved to Italy. She had her own money, and he was of age. He’d ordered the ugly buildings razed, and modern fireproof buildings erected, to be rented at the same rates as the old ones. He’d meant to give aw'ay a lot of money, but to the astonishment of all his legal advisers, the new tenements had paid. And then he had left town because the newspapers had printed such reams about what they called the youthful capitalist’s charitable enterprise. He’d stayed" away five years, hoping everybody would forget about it and not try to make a hero of him still. His feet didn’t fit any pedestal.
Rodney stopped suddenly, realizing that he was actually trying to make a hero of himself before this girl. It was because the girl neither gushed nor laughed at him. It made her easy to talk to. And when he came to a period on that subject, she asked about elephant hunting—then football. She kept him talking about himself until he realized with a start that Park Avenue had dropped down on to the railroad tracks. Good lord, where did she live? Up there, Park Avenue was nice. Down here it v'as slums. Rodney was dreadfully upset, but he tried not to show it. He said as casually as he could :
“You have a remarkable voice, Miss Duane. You should have it cultivated. Have you had any training at all?”
“Oh, surely. I studied for years. Till the money gave out.”
“Money gave out? You mean your father’s money gave out?”
“Surely, he lost everything. Even that house he was born in. Didn’t they have any newspapers on the other side of the world? Maybe you don’t know there was once a depression around here.”
Rodney murmured sympathetically. Why, this was terrible. To think of anybody having to move from a beautiful block such as his to slums such as these! No wonder she was willing to marry that silly boy for money.
Before he could think of the tactful thing to say, the cab stopped before the number she had given. Rodney looked out. It was a warehouse.
“Not in a hansom cab. Nurse Digsby, yes. I’ve been nursing him since he began his career of crime. He’s had a crush on me all my life. You see. it’s not really Digsby’s fault. It’s because his people belong to the ‘smart set.’ Poor boy, he’s had three different fathers, and his own father has been married four times. That makes seven parents, and lie’s only twenty-two.” “Quite confusing.”
“If you only knew what children like that go through.
It’s a wonder he’s as nice as he is. And lie’s really awfully nice sober.”
Rodney looked across at the hulk lounging against the cushions. In the dark, all he could see was a white blob that
The girl didn’t move. She merely laughed and leaned farther back into the cushions. “1 forgot. We’ve moved.” And gave a new address.
The patient cabman turned his patient horse. Rodney sat there, trying to puzzle this girl out. Y hat in the world made her do such queer things? She had deliberately given this wrong address far uptown. Just a number she had thought up. If she’d ever lived near by, she d have known it was a warehouse. And now she was sitting with her back toward him, as if she were entranced with the scenery on her side of the street. And she said:
“Shame you had the responsibility of all that money thrust on you so young. \ ou grew up so quickly, you never had any fun, did you?”
Fun? Rodney was too angry' to answer. By this time other horses’ feet rang out on the paved streets. Milkmen were scurrying in and out of houses. The city’s glo\v faded as the sky went humid grey. Rodney sat rigidly on his side of the cab, watching for a cruising taxi. This might be her idea of fun, but it wasn’t his. She didn’t seem to care in the least if people saw her riding in a hansom cab in the dawn’s early light, attired in evening clothes. Well, he did. He hailed the first taxi they passed, tossed a bill to the sleepy cabby, and pulled the girl into the taxicab.
All the way downtown they were silent. As they turned into an Eastbound street, the sky above Welfare Island was beginning to crawl with color. The girl exclaimed triumphantly:
“Ah, the sun! I did see the sunrise. Now. This is the moment for me when Today becomes Yesterday. And Tomorrow is Today.” Her eyes were on the flushed clouds that hovered over the East River. Her voice was dreamy as she went on. “Days shouldn’t be timed from midnight, but from each sunrise. Don’t you see, over the Dawn, Yesterday kissed Tomorrow. And" out of that kiss, Today is bom.”
Rodney looked at the girl incredulously, wondering what on earth she was going to do or say next. She turned her head slowly, and looked at him, and her eyes crinkled with laughter. “You can take that home to gnaw on,” she said. “And now, something whispers in the morning breeze that this is where the Dawn Girl lives. Thanks for the swell sunrise!”
Rodney hadn’t realized that the cab had stopped in front of a big apartment house until the girl opened the door and jumped out. The taxi man looked around, and Rodney frowned as he remembered that he was returning home in broad open daylight wearing evening clothes.
RODNEY went home, but not to sleep. He was too - excited. In all of his twenty-six years he’d never spent such a queer night. Even in his college days he’d never ridden in a hansom cab till dawn. The girls he had known had gone home when the dances were over. He’d met girls in Cairo, in Shanghai and in Bombay, and they didn’t ride around all night with a man they had just met—and calmly picked up at that. And tourists were supposed to be unconventional, whereas this girl was a Duane, a family that his family knew. It was amazing. But everything about this girl was amazing. One moment she spoke poetically, “Yesterday kissed Tomorrow,” and the next, “Take that home to gnaw on.” And calmly admitting that she was going to
marry that silly Digsby boy for his money. A girl with a glorious voice like that, throwing it away on a sap like that Vandergraft puppy !
He arose to pace the floor, lighting one cigarette after another. She shouldn’t do it. A voice such as hers shouldn’t be wasted. It belonged to the world, not to any Vandergraft. A year or so of training, and she could walk right into opera. He knew enough people to get her an audition. Madame Lombardi was a friend of his. She would take the girl in charge, give her the technical training she needed, recommend teachers abroad. In a few years she would be the new opera sensation. And since Mr. Duane had lost his money, he, Rodney, would pay for her training. She would be his masterpiece, his gift to the world of music.
Rodney took a cold shower, rang for coffee. Over the coffee, things began to look differently. How did a chap go about paying for a girl’s musical education? Musical education—that reminded him of a scandal that had occurred before his father died. One of his father’s friends had tried to put a girl in opera. The scandal had distressed Rodney’s father. He’d said bitterly: “Son. this proves that rich men must curb generous gestures. Because there’s always someone trying to trap them. If you ever want to do anything fine and decent for a woman, incorporate her.”
Of course, that girl hadn’t been a Duane. But being a Duane certainly hadn’t tamed Mitylene any. Anybody who would do all the wild things she had done was liable to do anything. Well, he was willing to pay for her music, but he would certainly see a lawyer first. Have an ironbound contract drawn up for her to sign.
On a personal matter like this, Rodney didn’t go to the firm that handled his estate. He called on a lawyer friend. Bill Tyrrell. He asked about the Duanes, found that they’d really lost most of their fortune. Then Rodney tried to tell Bill about Mitylene. He was very much embarrassed, with Bill asking so many foolish questions. He let Bill worm the whole story out of him without meaning to, and wound up with Mitylene’s wonderful voice and that he wanted to set aside $10,000 for her musical education.
“Ten thousand—you must think she’s a piker.” Bill was half laughing at him, half serious. “You need a guardian, Rodney. Riding around in an open cab till day. That girl didn’t want to see any dawn. She wanted to be seen. You’ll get home and find a summons tacked on your door. The cabby’s a witness against you. They’ll even subpoena the horse.”
Rodney was terribly flustered, but he protested: “Bill, don’t be ridiculous. The Duanes are one of our best families, social register—”
“And so are a dozen more girls who are singing in cabarets, and a dozen more dancing in the chorus. Son, you’ve been away too long. Five years has made a big difference in what you probably refer to as ‘The Caste System.’ There isn’t any caste any more.
Rodney was becoming alarmed.
“While you’ve been browsing about the bush on the other side of the world, we’ve been drifting into an age of publicity. Exclusiveness? Society? Why there isn’t any such animal. Our best bom dowagers advertise cigarettes, cold cream, or even a featherbed. Look through that book. You’ll see half the people you used to know. Here, look at this. Your own Aunt Sophronie! Advocating a cold cream.”
Rodney sat there speechlessly gazing at the page Bill had flung open for him.
“Aunt Sophronie’s so horse-faced, she’d be better advocating a liniment.”
“And you thinking a girl won’t sue the gold out of your teeth, just because she happens to be in the social register.” Bill strode around his office. Over his shoulder he flung back: “And these New Poor are the worst.”
Rodney took a deep breath, and said: “But, Bill, I tell you this girl has a voice that’s worth much more money than she could ever get in a lawsuit. And besides, if she’s looking for a sap, she’s already got the
prize exhibit in the young Vandergraft boy. She’s already said she’s going to marry him for his money. What I want to do is fix it so she won’t have to throw herself away. Give her voice training and make her independent.”
Bill whistled. “So. That’s how it is? It’s you that needs the fence built around. Ten thousand dollars and you want a contract drawn up, saying she’ll never sue you— that what you want? And better put in she’ll never try to marry you either—but you said you wanted an ironbound one, and that’s the way to do it. Boy, if you only knew women asido! W hat a headache ! I’ll have it all fixed up this afternoon and send it around to you. Son, you’re heading for a fall, but I see you’ve picked your precipice. So long.”
DELIGHTED with his business acumen, Rodney drove home and went to sleep. When he awakened late that afternoon, the legal envelope had arrived. He glanced over it. It was very legal. Lots of Whereases, and Party-of-the-first parts and so on. Lots of conditions and gold seals. He phoned and asked Miss Duane to have dinner with him. She laughed and agreed to break a date for him that night.
Rodney arrived in time to meet her mother and father. He looked at them in astonishment. He thought maybe they’d changed, since the girl was so—so different from what a Duane should be. But they were just as they should be—cultured, dignified, charming. Just like his own mother, and like his father had been. How could Mitylene be so unconventional? He looked at the girl. And in their presence, the girl was as meek as a brand new lamb. As quiet and refined as she could be. But the minute they shut the apartment door, she giggled.
“Aren’t they knockouts? I wouldn’t swap ’em for fish. But I’m always afraid the Museum is going to try to buy ’em from me.” Rodney looked at her in amazement. Was that any way to talk about one’s parents? He gave up. He’d never understand the girl. But lord, she was lovely in a dress of cloudy flame. The skirt swirled about her feet as she walked, and she was wearing the same short wrap she had worn the night before.
He left the dinner order to the waiter.
“Er—are you really going to marry this' Digsby chap?”
The waiter leaned over her with a tray of canapés. She speared the one she wanted and ate it before she answered : “Uumhum.” “Don’t you think it’s a bit Victorian to marry for money?”
There was scorn in Rodney’s voice, but she only chuckled and said: “There’s no
time limit on marrying for money. It’s always been done.”
“But with a voice like yours, why not make money instead of marrying for it? And keep your self-respect. Why don’t you try for opera?”
“Opera? No. I wouldn’t like to be an opera star. You have to work too hard. You have to practise, and diet and exercise, and work, work, work. And when you’re through, what have you got? A voice that must be pampered, must be guarded. Like having a jewel too rare to wear.”
“But you could make so much money. You’re very beautiful, you know. And with your voice, you could have the world at your feet.” Rodney flushed and went on before she could interrupt. “Your voice really shouldn’t be wasted. A year or two of training, and you’d walk right into the Met.”
“A year or two of training?” She looked at him across the table, with eyes that reminded him of bluebells dancing in the wind. “And how am I going to get a year or two of training?”
“I have a great deal more money than I’ll ever need. Suppose I set aside ten thousand dollars—”
“Ah! Santa Claus! I always wondered how he looked without his whiskers.” She laughed, and Rodney felt his face bum. He cried indignantly:
.“This would be a business proposition, purely and simply. It would take about that much. You would need languages, and living in a foreign country is the only way to
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master its language. And when you’ve made your success, if you like, you can pay it back to the estate. I shall probably be in Africa or somewhere by that time. But at least, you won’t have to throw away a fine gift, a rare talent, by marrying a drunken puppy.”
“I take it back. Not Santa Claus. Sir Galahad. Rescuing lil’ Mitzie from the Vandergraft dragon. But listen. Galahad, if you’re so hell-bent on rescuing me, why not take me to Africa as your secretary? You could come stalking back, toss the weary frame on a bough, and say, ‘Mitzie, take notes on how it feels to be charged by a bull elephant.’ And think what a help I’d be with my voice. Tigers especially love music, I’ve heard. I could sing up the wild beasts and you could shoot them. Think of the time you’d save.”
RODNEY retreated into himself much as - a snail that’s been dabbed on the antenna. Bill was right. This girl was dynamite. She was laying a trap for him right this minute. He concentrated on his dinner, while she sat and laughed at things she said herself. But when he wouldn t talk at all, she said demurely: “Please—it was grand of you to offer to do that tor me.
“I didn’t offer to do it for you at all.” Rodney said testily. “I’m a patron of sound things in art. It hurts me to hear a lovely voice wasted on trashy songs such as you seem to prefer to sing.”
“You like opera a great deal, don’t you?” She was still demure.
“To me, it’s the noblest expression of musical art.”
“But I don’t see how I could ever sing with people watching me.” The dancing eyes were misty now, and looked so sincere that Rodney was encouraged.
“You’d have a wonderful stage presence. It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be worth all you put into it. If you cared to study here, 1 could get Madame Lombardi to take you—afterward, abroad. A debut in Milan, perhaps.”
“You’ve rather thought it all out, haven’t you?” The girl’s eyes were unreadable again. Rodney was afraid she was going to laugh and say no. So he took the document out of his pocket and handed it to her.
“I even had a contract drawn up. If you sign this, Mr. Tyrrell, my lawyer, will deposit the ten thousand dollars to your account in whatever bank you please. And in a few years, I'm sure the world will have a new opera star.”
She took the contract and started reading. Rodney sat watching her breathlessly.
A gale of laughter broke the silence.
Mitzie’s laughter was the musical kind that made everybody within sound of it turn to smile at her.
“Oh, dear, oh, dear,” she gasped when she could breathe again. “This is too lovely. Oh, dear. You old Casanova, you! You’re so irresistible that I must sign a contract not to sue you, not to marry you, not even to speak to you. Oh, delicious. You dumb bunny!” She looked at him, the laughter dying in her eyes, and storm clouds gathering instead. “So!” she went on in a voice that made Rodney feel about the size of the lump of sugar he was holding for his coffee. “If I resist all these impulses it’ll be worth ten thousand dollars to you. Musical education!” She laughed shortly. “I see. I’m to be your good deed for the day. Your philanthropy. Your masterpiece, your gift to the musical world. Oh . . . She choked again, and Rodney tried to interrupt her, tried to tell her there wasn’t anything in that contract about not speaking to him. and that he knew she wouldn’t want to marry him, and he knew' she w'ouldn t sue him—oh, why had he ever heard of Bill Tyrrell? This could have been handled so differently. He should have known that a
Duane wasn’t like that. He kicked himself mentally all around the room as the world’s prize fool, when she said:
“You just think I won't do it? You think it won’t be a pleasure not to try to marry you, not to sue you, never to speak to you again? Give me a fountain pen. I’ll sign this thing right now. And be an opera star!” Furiously, she scrawled her name, and tossed the paper back at poor bewildered Rodney. He tried to apologize, to explain everything, but without answering, she waited until he paid the cheque. All the way home, no matter what he said, she laughed shortly, but never a word did she speak.
RODNEY put in another sleepless night.
The outcome of his charitable enterprise had upset him terribly. He’d meant to do something (ine and noble, and she had made him feel like a cad. He read that contract over. Yes, there it really was, never to speak to him again. Bill was a fool. Who told him to put that in?
Toward daylight he dozed off, and it was afternoon when he aw'akened. He phoned Bill and asked if the girl had come down.
“Girl? You mean the dream walking? Oh, boy. do you know how to pick ’em. She s a honey, she’s got what it takes. Everything!”
“I’ve got to see you,” snapped Rodney. “Did you call Lombardi?”
“Sure, papa fix everything for little
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Delicious. And she’s a sixteen-cylinder job that moves fast. She’s already checked in on Lombardi, and the madame is skinning the cat on a cloud! ‘Aha, the bambino. Such face, such figure, such voice, such laughter —once more the Madame will startle the world.’ Rod, if that girl can sing with all those looks, it’s just a dirty waste.”
‘‘Well, she can.” Rodney had been trying to restrain himself, but now the pent-up anger broke loose. “Bill, why in blazes did you have to put in the contract that she mustn’t speak to me again? Like a fool, I trusted you, and did not read it carefully before I gave it to her to sign.”
“But Rod, I was just trying to take care of Mrs. Winship’s little boy. You looked so frightened, bow’d I know what kind of girl she’d turn out? I was trying to fix it so all you’d be was a back drop. But a girl like that ...”
Bill went on raving. Rodney listened, thinking Mitylene certainly must have been on her good behavior with Bill.
Rodney put the phone down with a queer feeling of never having lived at all. There was no use getting angry with Bill. He’d asked for it.
The Winships, naturally, were invited to everything that was given. A fortune such as his made Rodney especially popular at the debutante functions. And he found that Mitylene was equally popular. Everywhere he went, he ran into her, always flanked by Digsby Vandergraft and Harold Smith. Time and again they were introduced, and she always looked at the other person and said, “Yes, we’ve met.” And went right on talking. To everybody but Rodney.
He felt if he could only speak to her alone, perhaps he could rectify his blunder—make her see that in spite of his clumsiness he’d meant well. But if he’d been in the last stages of leprosy, she wouldn’t have avoided him more.
At one dinner party, of all the thirty-six guests, Rodney found himself seated directly across the table from Mitylene Duane and Digsby Vandergraft. Rodney was with a grass-widowed princess, a beautiful girl who was rather shy in spite of her title. He was enjoying the dinner very much when he chanced to overhear Mitylene tell Digsby across the table, “. . . Allright, but he swallowed a ramrod. That’s why they called him Rodney. Short for Ramrodney. He’s so busy acting like his grandpa, I’d be afraid to dance with him for fear he’d break into a schottische.”
Rodney sat there too furious to speak until the shy little Princess finally nudged him, and to make conversation said in a low tone:
“Attractive girl, Mitylene Duane. She and Digsby will soon be married, I hear.”
Rodney was so angry, he hoped she would marry Digsby. It would serve her right to marry a boy like that who didn’t know which way was up.
In February, Rodney heard Mitylene sing again. It was at a party given for those who felt themselves marooned in the frozen North. Mitzie sang, “My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice,” and Rodney thought he had never heard it sung before. At first she had been frightened, then her eyes had met his, and with a defiant toss of her head she had gone straight on. As she finished she looked at him again, and for a moment a fleeting question hovered in her glance. Then as she saw the amazed delight in his face, hers assumed the flip amusement with which she always regarded him these days.
Rodney felt like a gold miner who’s been told his nuggets are real. Her voice was far from perfect, but these few months had shown what could be done with it. No matter what she thought of him, some day she would value his gift. Surely, after getting this far, she wouldn’t throw it away on Digsby.
Springtime in New York, that annual sudden experience. One day it was still winter, and the next day the sun broke through the smoke and dust to stir terrific energy into the splotches of green that had been lethargi zed by ice and snow.
Rodney Winship stood at the window of his library. He saw that the tree in front of
his house had green branches instead of grey. “Above the houses across the street, the sky was smilingly blue. The sun was shining in one of those ways, and for the first time he knew what was the matter with him.
“My lord!” he exclaimed, a bit frightened. “I’m in love!”
In love. He honestly hadn’t thought about it in that light. He’d lived within himself for so many years, he’d always expected to ask his own permission before falling in love. And here he’d been in love for months, and hadn’t known what was wrong. Now that he’d diagnosed his trouble, he had a new weird feeling. He wanted to tell somebody about it. And who would be better to tell than the girl herself? Then he remembered that she wouldn’t speak to him. So he called Madame Lombardi to ask news of her. And indeed there was news.
The madame and her bambino were sailing tonight for Italy.
The ship was leaving at nine-thirty. At twenty-five minutes past nine, Rodney found himself entering the pier from which it sailed. As he stepped on board, it seemed to him that the confusion of departure was twice as bad as usual. Stewards were rushing about, officers met and exchanged cryptic words, even the sailors seemed to dart about with sudden energy. There was plainly something the matter. For some reason Rodney was frightened. Then he heard the voice of Madame Lombardi, swamping the entire ship with staccato protest.
“They shall not leave without the bambino. Keednapped! Policaman!” Rodney hurried toward the voice, trembling all over. Madame caught sight of him.
“Rodney Weensheep, they’ve kidnapped my bambino. And these—these swine— they would push off the sheep without her. I demand a policaman. Help, help. Police!”
Madame raised a voice that had been trained to fill vast opera houses with golden melody, and up the gangplank came the law in the form of two policemen and a plainclothes man. The captain himself came out to see what was the matter, and madame caught hold of him and screamed her woes. The ship became a worse bedlam than before. Stewards rushed about calling, “Paging Miss Duane, paging Miss Duane!” Covers were ripped off lifeboats, staterooms were searched, much to the discomfort of certain passengers. The captain managed to unhook madame, and latch her on to the perspiring purser again. It was past sailing time, the captain had orders to give.
Madame’s voice hurt Rodney’s ears. The purser kept telling her that maybe the bambino had got off with friends. Rodney decided to go down to the waiting-room to look for her. But in all the clusters of people who lingered there, he found no Mitzie. He rushed back to the ship.
The gangplank was up now. The ship was quieter. His eyes flew along the many faces lining the rail until he found madame. She was lying across the railing, as if she were inclined toward mal de mer. In her limp hand, hanging over the water was an opened telegram. The gap between the ship and the pier was getting wider. Rodney yelled at madame. Had they found the bambino? Madame waved the wire feebly.
“She’s gone home, Rodney Weensheep!” Madame’s voice broke, but recovered in time to add much concerning a girl who was too lazy to sing.
RODNEY walked back toward the street - filled with emotions so violent he could not think consecutively. The relief of knowing she was safe was so great it made his eyes sting. And she was still in New York. He’d find her. He’d see her. He’d camp on her doorstep. He’d apologize, he’d grovel, he’d tell her she could marry him for his money. He hurried to a phone booth and called her number.
The maid answered the phone. Miss Mitylene was expected back shortly. She had gone out with Mr. Vandergraft.
Expected back shortly. Then it wasn t any sudden impulse that made her leave the boat. She’d never intended to go. There
was no use trying to understand her. Maybe Digsby could tell him what it was all about.
For once in his life, Digsby was alone and practically sober. Digsby sober was certainly different from the play boy. Now Rodney knew why Mitylene liked him. Digsby’s smile was shy and sweet as he said: “Glad you came. Have a drink? I never drink unless I’m by myself or with somebody.”
“Where’s Mitylene?” Rodney asked.
Digsby, busy filling two glasses, said quizzically: “Rod, you’re a good chap.
Why don’t you do the right thing by our Nell?” Rodney was so astonished that Digsby laughed and added: “Marry her.”
Rodney laughed shortly. “I’d like to, but she wouldn’t have me.”
“Man, go buy a dog to lead you around. Blind as you are, you aren’t safe at street crossings. Why in the world do you think we were howling like tomcats under your window last fall? Because Mitzie heard you were back home. She’s been in love with you all of her life. Football hero living across the street, and Mitzie always just young enough for you not to notice. She’s got every newspaper picture of you ever printed. Regular gallery.”
“But she said she was going to marry you !” ejaculated Rodney.
“Yep. For my money. Lil’ joke. Maybe her defense mechanism or something. What does Mitzie want with money? She makes more money than anybody on the air, I expect, unless it’s that moon woman coming over the mountain.”
“Air? What air?” Rodney felt silly asking so many questions.
“You sound like a joke I know. Didn’t you ever hear of radio? Haven’t you ever heard of Muriel Greeves? The radio Greta Garbo who’s never been interviewed? That’s our girl friend.” Digsby took another drink. “Nobody knows but me and her parents. And they think it’s a disgrace—and no matter how gaga I get, I never have told. We fixed up a room right in her own apartment, and she broadcasts three times a week right at home, so it’s easy.”
Rodney smiled ruefully, and after a moment held out his hand. “Vandergraft, I certainly guessed you wrongly. You’re a prince.”
“Oh, no. Just a soak. Something had to be done when they lost their money. I got our advertising man to try out a programme, and Mitzie did the rest. She sells more oil for us—you ought to see her fan mail.”
“And I was sending her to Europe, so she would be independent.”
“Yep. But she couldn’t go tonight, she’s got a broadcast.” He looked at his watch. “Mitzie’s on now.” He hurried over to snap on the radio, and while it was warming up Digsby poured himself another. He started one of his jokes, but Rodney didn’t hear him. A voice that shook the very timbre of his being was singing. She was singing “At Dawning”—“When the dawn flames in the sky, I love you.”
“The Dawn Girl.” Rodney leaped to his feet and started out.
“Wait. Here’s your hat and cane,” Digsby called. But Rodney didn’t wait. As he went out of the front door he heard Digsby chortle. Poor Digsby. Rodney knew now why he drank.
Rodney caught a taxi and drove to the place where one could hire a hansom cab. He’d show that young lady he didn’t have to act like his grandfather. Never did a horse sprint through traffic so fast. Rodney was in front of Mitylene’s apartment almost as soon as she had finished her broadcast. He called the pompous doorman, gave him a bill, and bade him phone Miss Duane that there was a gentleman downstairs singing in a cab and he wouldn’t leave till she came.
From his location, Rodney could see the elevators. As Mitzie stepped out of one, Rodney began to sing, “When the dawn flames in the sky, I love you.” Rodney’s voice wasn’t magnificent, but it accomplished his purpose. Demonstrating a
Winship gone amuck. Red blood overlapping blue.
Mitylene stopped in the doorway. Rodneypretended not to see her. “When the birdlings wake and cry, I love you”—much emphasis on the last three words. Back of Mitzie he could see the doorman and elevator boys grinning at him. He sang louder, and the girl came across the sidewalk.
“You’re going to awaken every birdling in the block, if you don’t stop your caterwauling,” she said sternly.
“Oh, hello.” Rodney leaned out of the cab. “You must be Mitzie Duane. Do you sing tenor? Don’t matter, get in, and we’ll go round again.”
“You forget I’m not speaking to you. And my parents—”
“You don’t want to ride. All right, I’ll stay here and sing.” And he threw back his head and started over. The girl tried not to laugh. She stepped into the cab. The cabby shook the lines and the horse started off.
For a block they said nothing, then: ‘T thought you were Digsby.”
“Digsby? No. Digsby’s got brains. Digsby’s an Einstein or a Gertrude Stein or something. Me? I’m just a beer stein. A mug. I haven’t got the brains God gave little peanuts. Darling, maybe I was always waiting for you is why I didn’t know anything about women, why I was so frightened when you bowled me off my feet. Mitylene, can you ever, ever forgive me? Please?”
“Mr. Tyrrell put your old money right in the bank, in your own name, just as I told him to that day.” She wouldn’t even look at him as yet. He caught her hand, and after a brief struggle she let him hold it in his.
“Don’t talk about money, Mitylene. I’m talking about love. If you only knew how I’ve suffered, remembering the hurt look in your eyes as you signed that contract. I’ve waked up nights in a cold sweat, remembering it.”
She turned to him at last, her eyes luminous. “Oh, I didn’t blame you, Rod. I told Mr. Tyrrell I didn’t. You see, you’ve spent your life being unconscious of me. I made up my mind I’d do something to shock you out of your shell. No wonder you thought I was a wild woman. And I signed that paper so you’d think I was your masterpiece. That was one way to hold your interest.”
“Interest ! Lord, honey, you didn’t need any contract to hold my interest. From the first minute I saw you, you’ve been leading me around like I had a ring in my nose. I’ve been everywhere you’ve been all this season.”
“Oh, no, you haven’t. I’ve put in a whole hour every day with madame learning to sing some opera songs for anybody that likes that kind of music.”
“Oh, that reminds me. Darling, in the name of the seven deadly sins, why did you tell poor madame you were going abroad when you weren’t going?”
“It was the only way to get rid of her. Poor darling, she was broke and so homesick, and too proud to accept passage. I sent her a wire to be delivered on sailing. I was so tired of practising. I told you I didn’t want to be any old opera star.” Mitzie looked up at him with a delightful pout on her lips. “But you thought I was going, and you didn’t even come to see me off.”
The horse had clopped-clopped down into the East River Drive, where the lights are coolly dim and accommodatingly far apart. Rodney took her into his arms before he answered.
“But, darling, I did go to the boat. And we couldn’t find you. I thought you were kidnapped. I died forty deaths in about fifteen minutes.”
“I’m glad you did. I always wanted to marry an angel.”
Mitylene laughed, her happy, contagious laugh. The cabman turned to beam down at them from his box. Rodney raised his head and scowled at the cabby.
“Turn around and keep driving,” he ordered. “We want to see the sunrise.”