He knew how to make love but was he capable of genuine love? That was Sara’s problem and this is the story of how she solved it
By ELEANOR DE LAMATER
CHINA, India, Russia,” Margaret King said. "I sail next week and I’ll be gone over a year. Why not come with me, Sara?”
They were breakfasting in Mrs. King’s bedroom —the hostess and Sara Cram. It was autumn. The morning sun was crisp on the lawn outside, and a red maple branch waved before the window. They were alone; Margaret still in bed, the other deep in an armchair whose chintz cover matched her plain blue dressing gown. Other members of the week’s house party were asleep or chattering in the dining room downstairs.
Sara stared over the fragile coffee cup at her friend. She had known Margaret for a long time, and was used to the sudden whims which she could nearly always gratify. But this suggestion that they go around the world together, be close companions for so long, startled her.
“Heavens!” she murmured. “You flatter me.”
Margaret moved impatiently against her pillows. Her
wise, weary face was attractive, even without the make-up.
“Nothing of the sort,” she stated. “You know me. You know 1 get restless and have to go places. But I’m not so crazy about my solitary widowed state. I don’t like women much, but I like you. I wish you’d come.”
“Thank you, my dear. I’m touched, really, and it sounds fascinating. But of course 1 can’t.”
“Why can’t you?”
“Oh —lots of reasons. Ties here.”
“Ties? You mean Hugh Lowell, don’t you?”
Sara leaned back in her chair. She was slender and very dark. Her hair was black, parted in the middle and drawn softly into a knot at the nape of her neck. Not beautiful. But there was a quality in her clear-cut face, a quiet, which people noticed. She was twenty-eight years old.
“Yes,” she said slowly. “Hugh’s one reason. I may as well admit it.”
“Humph ! 1 le’s all the reasons. Well, I may as well admit
that he’s one reason why I want you to come away.” Sara looked up sharply.
“What on earth—?”
“Now don’t be offended. Hugh’s charming. He’s clever and handsome and successful and a ‘brilliant young play-: wright,’ just as they say I grant you that. But he’s all wrong for you, Sara.”
“Please! I’m fond of you, my dear. I know you were meant for peace and security and a home. You’re that kind-—rare enough in our world. Hugh isn’t. Oh, I know you’re inseparable. I know he confides in you and I suppose he makes love to you. But he’ll never stick to you. He’ll never stick to any woman. It isn’t in him. Just look at the way he’s been rushing Marcia Grant this past week, right under your nose.”
Sara said steadily:
“Marcia’s just one of dozens. I’m not jealous.”
Q HE WASN’T. She trusted Hugh, with his blonde good looks and his gay. easy manner. She knew she had a special place in his life. Ever since that night a year ago, when he had looked full at her with his bright blue eyes, kissed her quickly and lightly and said, “I’ve been looking for you. From now on it’s Us Two. Isn’t it?”—ever since then she had known. His success and his popularity, even his flirtations, never touched that subtle bond. Only—she stared through the window to hide the question from Margaret—only, was that all? Lately, she had felt how airy it was, how whimsically he treated it.
A maid came in and took away their breakfast trays. Margaret waited. Then she repeated:
“ ‘One of dozens.’ That’s exactly it. That’s Hugh all over and he won’t change. He’ll go right on chasing other w'omen and making epigrams to them, and coming back to you with more epigrams when he feels like it. As far as I can see, he just makes use of you. You’re too good for that. Why should you let him?”
Sara wanted to say, “Because I love him.” It was true. But she did not say it. No other woman” could have made her hesitate. Margaret was wrong in that. The doubt in her was a doubt of Hugh himself. Us Two? But he took it so lightly! The thought had come weeks ago, and it would not go away. She looked at Margaret, keeping her face unconcerned.
“His plays,” she reminded her.
“His plays are grand. Even I wept like a baby at ‘Straight Road.’ But he doesn’t live his plays. He puts it all on paper. There isn’t any of it inside him.”
Sara winced. That was near. That was too near her own fear for comfort. She smiled to hide it.
“My dear!” she protested. “You croak like a raven.’’ “Only because I hate to see you riding for a fall. Darn it, Sara, I’m your friend.”
“I know. And it’s sweet of you. But I can take care of myself. Really.”
“Oh, all right. Stick to your will-o’-the-wisp if you must. I guess I wasn’t meant to give advice.”
Sara stood up and moved slowly toward the door. The other watched her. In a moment she added pettishly: “What a week it’s been ! I thought I was an old hand as a hostess, but this house party’s showm me up. You and I Iugh, and Marcia and Tommy Haines. I thought it would be such a nice, neat pairing off. And then Hugh and Marcia take up, leaving Tommy to moon around and you to be sporting—as usual. And the rest of them milling about like cattle. I declare. I’m glad it’s nearly over. I’m glad we’re breaking up tomorrow.”
“Thanks,” she drawled. “That’s frank.”
“Oh, I don’t mean you, idiot. So you won’t come on the trip with me?”
“You’re a darling,” Sara began. “But. . .” Then she paused, her hand on the knob. A faint line came between her eyes. “Let me think it over, Margaret,” she suggested. "Let me wait until tomorrow to decide. Will you?”
“Of course, my child. Wait until the moment of sailing, if you want. I like sudden things.”
“Thank you, dear. You are a good friend.”
“l^osh! Go on away. now. I’m getting up.”
Sara nodded. She went out.
TI) ACK IN her own room, bathing and dressing slowly for this last day in the country, she tried to think clearly. Margaret’s talk had disturbed her more than she liked to admit. Not that Margaret was right. Her blunt warning hurt because it was a warning, but it missed the essential point. It wasn’t Hugh’s peccadillos, his gay wanderings, that brought this breath of fear like a chill. “Your will-o’the-wisp.” Margaret had called him. Was he? Was he just a light, dancing, with no substance inside? Sara shivered.
She was standing at the window. She had put on a skirt and a pale green sweater, and was fastening the silk blouse at her throat. Voices sounded on the lawn below her, coming up faintly through the glass. She looked out. Hugh was down there, walking slowly toward the house with Marcia Trent beside him. Tommy Haines kept step with them.
Tommy’s lanky figure drooped a little. He kept trying to talk to the girl whose face was lifted, smiling, toward Hugh.
Sara watched them as they came forward, scuffing through the bright leaves which drifted around their feet. They were a handsome trio. Marcia, small and vivid, with a mass of red hair and the pale skin that set it off. Tommy, dark and lean. He had a horseman’s legs, a little wide at the knees. And Hugh—Hugh’s head was almost golden, his skin a deep brown. His hands moved quickly when he talked. He was built like a slender spring. Sara looked at him and felt her throat hurt a little. In spite of his thirty years he looked so young. For a moment she forgot everything but his charm and her love. •
But the brief spell wavered almost instantly and the fear came back. He was laughing. It came over her that he laughed too much. He smiled at earnestness. He was witty when other people were grave. She was beginning to think he couldn’t help it. She was beginning to be terribly afraid of what it might hide.
The three went around the corner of the house, toward the front door. Sara turned from the window. She saw in the mirror that she looked slim and smart and composed. Her dark eyes were a little clouded, but that did not show. She went downstairs.
It was nearly noon. Merrick Davis was in the big living room, by the fire, poring over a newspaper. Merrick was a lawyer. He had adored Margaret for years. Through the game-room door beyond him Sara heard quick voices, where the Hitchcocks—Joe and his young wife, Sue—were playing ping-pong. Merrick turned his lean grey head as she came in.
“Hello,” he said. "Your young man’s off somewhere.”
“My young man usually is off somewhere.”
“Libel !” a voice behind her said.
Hugh came into the room. He kissed her lightly on the end of the nose.
“Here’s your young man,’’ he protested. “Dancing attendance, as usual.”
She smiled at him. feeling faintly excited, as she always did when he was near. P'rom the doorway. Marcia Trent remarked:
“The best attendance dancer in the country.”
It might have been catty, but Sara knew it wasn’t. She liked Marcia. She liked lier vivid looks and her gaiety. They were real and they were very attractive.
“Well,” she said, “you and I ought to agree that he has good taste. Marcia.”
“The Ts’ have it,” Marcia laughed.
“Stop being clever before luncheon. Come along, Sara, and discuss life’s deeper meanings with me.”
T-TE TOOK her elbow and pushed her gently before him
^ through a French window. They were in the glassedin porch where Mrs. King kept the plants which bloomed all winter long. It was warm and green in there. The floor was tiled and there was wicker furniture. Sara sat down on a couch.
“Life’s deeper meanings?” she repeated. “When did you discover them?”
“I didn’t. Heaven forbid !” He stood before her, smiling.
He wore grey slacks and a bright blue sweater. "That was a joke,” he went on. "1 just wanted to tell you that I had a letter from Hatch this morning. He likes the new play. He’s going to do it, with all the trimmings.”
It was a triumph. Hatch was perhaps the greatest producer-director in the world. Sara sat up straight.
"Oh!” she cried. “Marvellous. Hugh! That’s the very top, isn’t it? Aren’t you thrilled?”
His eyes crinkled.
"My dear, I’m never thrilled. It tires me.”
“Little Rollo makes good.” he murmured.
“Hugh, stop that! It’s a pose.”
She felt the chill again. It wasn’t a pose. What he had said was true. He was never thrilled. He was never hurt either, nor sad nor deeply moved. Things rolled off him.
“I’m thinking of La Henderson’s face,” he chuckled now, “when she hears Hatch is to direct her nice fat starring part. He’s a tyrant. He’ll want to cut and revise it. I know him.”
Sara leaned back on the couch, feeling her enthusiasm fade. His flippancy was like a bright shell. She could not scratch it. Something in her began to tick faintly, as if a clock were about to strike.
“When I told Marcia, she suggested 1 call the play, ‘Down the Hatch.’ Too true, I guess.”
So he had told Marcia, before her. Well, it didn’t matter. If he didn’t feel it to lx* a big thing, neither would she. But the ticking went on inside her.
1 le was lighting a cigarette. In the little pause, while she
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watched his brown hands doing it, a voice came out from the room behind them.
“Ah, Marcia!” it pleaded. “Have a heart.”
It was Tommy Haines’s voice. Both heard it. Sara stirred.
"Poor Tommy,” she murmured. “Aren’t you rather—well—taking him over the bumps?”
“Not a bump,” he declared.
“But, Hugh, you’ve monopolized Marcia
so. And they are engaged, you know.” “Of course they are. Most commendable. So are we, for that matter.”
“Are we?” she asked levelly.
He clutched his head.
“My stars! I go and tie myself to the girl and she calmly says, ‘Are we engaged?’ Is that the way to treat honorable intentions?”
Sara looked at him. The autumn sun came through the window behind him, outlining his lean figure and making his
hair shine. He looked almost too vivid, almost unreal. Unreal? Was that it? She drew a long breath.
“Hugh,” she asked abruptly, “do you love me?”
His eyes widened in mock horror.
“Would I be engaged to a woman I didn’t love? You wrong me, Sara.”
She shook her head.
“Do you?” she insisted.
Hugh made her a little bow. He was smiling.
“With a passion.”
“Please.” Sara put out her hands. “I’m serious, and you’re so flip about it.”
“The better to tease you, my dear.” “Hugh!”
But he kept on smiling.
“Don't shout.” he said. “I hear perfectly with a patented ear phone.”
SARA’S HANDS dropped. She felt a stir and a settling inside her. It was not painful. It was clear and definite, as if the clock in there had struck. The thing which had been reaching out more and more searchingly in the past weeks seemed to sigh and relax and give up. No use to look for depth and a response in Hugh. They were not there. She remembered how Margaret had said, “He puts it all on paper. There’s none of it inside him.” It was true. He was hollow. He was all bright surface. But it wasn’t his fault. She murmured quietly, accepting it:
“I said ‘Poor Tommy’ just now, when we heard him asking Marcia to have a heart. I should have said ‘Poor Hugh,’ shouldn’t I? You haven’t any.”
He gaped at her.
“My darling, what in the world are you talking about? You need a drink or something.”
“No.” She was leaning back, watching him steadily. “You think I’m going temperamental, don’t you? All of a sudden? But it isn’t sudden. I’ve been fighting this for a long time and somehow this morning sums it up. Oh, you haven’t done anything. You’ve been yourself. Only--yourself won’t do. I know you can’t help it. but you’re in two dimensions, Hugh. It’s as if you were painted on paper. I'm flesh and blood.”
“Whee!” he whistled. “Figures of speech in the morning. You can turn a neat phrase, my sweet.”
“There!” she said quickly. “There you are !”
“Where am I?”
“I’m going away, Hugh,” she told him. He blinked.
“Going away? When? Where to?” “Margaret’s asked me to go around the world with her. I’m going.”
“Around the world ! Why, that’ll take months!” He sat down beside her, turning, his winning smile full on her. “But, honey—w'hat about me?”
“You’ll be all right. You’ve got your work. And there’s Marcia. There’s anyone else you take a fancy to.”
Instantly his face lit up again.
“Aha! You’re jealous.”
Again Sara sighed.
“No,” she said. “I’m not jealous.” There was a second of silence. She saw that he believed her.
“Why then?” he demanded. “Why go away?”
She looked straight at him and told him the truth.
“Because I love you and you’re not capable of love. I want to get over it.” He turned toward her.
“But Sara. . .” He paused. Something went across his brown face which she could not read. It might have been an effort and its failureexcept that he never made efforts. In a moment he finished: “But Sara, we have such fun together. I was looking forward to a whole winter of fun with you.”
She said, not at all bitterly but knowing it was true:
“You’ll have your fun.”
He leaned back, saying nothing, and she added conversationally:
"We leave next week. We’ll be gone over a year.”
Hugh moved his shoulders.
“Oh, well,” he insisted, smiling at her. “You’ll come back. Won’t you?”
“Certainly.” She smiled too. She patted his knee and stood up. “Certainly I ’ll come back. But not to you.”
She went slowly to the door and through it, not looking back. He did not follow her. He did not move.
IN THE library they were having something to drink. Joe Hitchcock raised his glass to Sara as she came in.
“Here’s our Mona Lisa,” he said. “What’ve you been doing, my girl? You look like the high priestess of somethingor-other.”
Sara smiled vaguely. She saw that Margaret had come downstairs at last and was listening to Merrick Davis, who leaned above her chair. Margaret looked up sharply as Joe spoke and her keen brown eyes met Sara’s. “What is it?” her eyes asked. But she only said:
“Give the child a drink, somebody."
"I could do with one.”
Margaret would be pleased, she knew. That was something. She would tell her presently. But not yet. Not quite yet. First she had to pierce this numb emptiness inside her.
“Luncheon,” Margaret said as a servant appeared. “Merrick, will you round up the strays?”
They went in. Hugh was only a moment late. He was very gay and entertaining throughout the meal.
The rest of that day was strange. After luncheon Hugh said:
“Marcia, I'm restless. You and 1 are going for a spin. Come on.”
They di sap ¡wared together. Tommy Haines trailing behind them, muttering vaguely about the rumble seat. Sara saw them go. She felt nothing. Later, when the otliers had drifted off in various directions, she evaded Margaret, put on a beret and a leather jacket and went for a walk.
That was it. she told herself, climbing the hill behind the house. That was the queer thing. She felt nothing. Deliberately she thought of Hugh, of his smile and his voice, and the gay. ridiculous things it had said to her. She remembered drives with him and little dinners and long talks which were brilliant and penetrating so long as they remained unipersonal. But nothing happened to her. It was as if she moved behind glass, aware of everything but untouched by it. There should be pain, she thought. There would certainly be pain later. She kept exacting it and fearing it. and watching her own reactions through that glass.
The hill was high and she climbed to its I top. She could see other hills from there j and valleys, and the house spread out in ! the shape of a big L. straight below. I Everywhere the country blazed with autumn. The fields were yellow and some of them red. where sorrel grass grew. The , trees were yellow and red, too. It was all in a high key, strong and staccato in the bright air. She wished Hugh could see it. Then she caught herself. Hugh would say : j
“Imagine wearing red and green and yellow and purple all at once, like a plush horse. Bad taste of nature, I call it.” Something like that. And he would laugh and they would go down, the colors clashing around them suddenly because he j said so.
“That’s over,” Sara said aloud, leaning with her back against a pine trunk. “I’ve ! left him. I have—lefthim!”
But nothing happened.
IT WAS late when she went back to the house. The early dark had fallen. She let herself in quietly. She could hear the others in the library and slipped past the door unnoticed. She would go up and bathe and rest, and dress for dinner slowly. She must look a sight.
Halfway up the stairs she met Hugh coming down. He looked at her briefly, and away.
“Hello, stranger,” he said.
“Hello,” she said.
He stopiPed on the step beside her.
“No change of heart? Still flying to the ends of the earth?”
“Like the dove.” she told him. matching his tone.
But when he nodded and went on and she was climbing upward again, she felt the beginnings of an ache in her. because he accepted it so lightly. She was almost
glad of the ache. It was more natural than the blankness.
Dinner was at eight. Sara went down early, fearing that Margaret might try to catch her alone in her rtx>m. She was not quite ready to talk to Margaret. She wore her favorite dress— white chiffon, very long and soft. This was the last night and they would be gay.
At first, pausing in the doorway, she thought the living room was empty. Then she saw that it was not. Two figures were across from her, in the soft glow from a fkxjr lamp. They were Marcia and Tommy Haines. The man sat on the piano bench, leaning forward, looking at the floor. Marcia stood close to him, very lovely with her red hair and the filmy green dress. As Sara watched, her hand slid slowly over his bent dark head. It. was a lovely gesture. It was gentle, almost compassionate. Was there even pity in it? Sara turned quickly, to tiptoe away.
But Marcia saw her. She smiled without embarrassment and patted Tommy’s shoulder.
“Hello, Sara,” she said. “Come on in.
I was just soothing this creature here. Sometimes he gets out of hand.”
Tommy stood up, blushing and tugging at the sleeves of his dinner jacket. Sara went into the room.
"You look lovely,” Marcia murmured, staring at her. “Like the Blessed Damosel, or something.” Then she chuckled. “My dear, what did you do to I high, this morning? lie's been a bit above himself ever since. Babbling the most fascinating nonsense. as if he had the gift of tongues. I’ve been in stitches. Did you inspire him?”
Sara thought blankly, “Inspire?”
That meant—what? She felt fear.
“If I did.” she said aloud, keeping her tone carefully light, “it wasn’t intentional. Hugh o])erates under his own power, mostly.”
Marcia nodded. Presently the others began to straggle in. When dinner was announced a little later, they were all there. Margaret said:
“Champagne tonight, to celebrate getting rid of you.” She smiled and took Merrick’s arm. “Come along.”
They were gay over the meal. The white cloth shone, the candles flickered and the champagne fizzed, was sipped, and fizzed again. Sara talked brightly and steadily, aware that Hugh was across from her and meeting his eyes with a smile whenever he looked at her. He smiled, too.
Toward the end, when the meringues came in, Margaret asked:
“What shall we do tonight? It ought to be something special. Not just bridge and backgammon and drinks.”
Everyone paused, thinking, making random suggestions. Blonde little Sue Hitchcock leaned forward.
“1 know,” she said. “Let’s do charades.”
MARGARET looked at her.
“My dear child ! Charades? Acting? Imitating the theatre with a famous playwright here? What are you thinking of?”
But Sue insisted.
“All the better! He can do one for us. It’ll be just that much more fun. Let’s make Hugh do one.”
"Why not?” Joe, her husband, demanded loyally.
And suddenly the idea tœk. They all began to talk at once.
“Grand! We can sit in the game room
and can use the little alcove for a stage.” “That’s it. A private theatre with the best talent. You’ll do it, Hugh?”
“Come on, Hugh. Choose a partner to help you. and think up a word. Will you?” Hugh leaned back in his chair. He put up his hands.
“Friends, friends!” he begged. “Anyone but me. Work, on a party? Nothing doing!”
“Oh, come on.”
“Be a sport, Hugh.”
“It won’t be work. Choose a partner, like a fellow.”
Sara said nothing. Hugh shook his head again, laughing. Then suddenly the laugh died. His face was still for a moment. His blue eyes met Sara’s briefly and flickered over her face. He nodded.
“Oh, well,” he said, “all right. I’ll have a try. A partner? Let’s see—I choose Marcia. Is it a go, darling?”
Marcia laughed delightedly.
“I’ll make a fool of myself,” she warned him. “But it’s a go.”
“Right. You and I’ll retire with our coffee and go into a huddle.”
That was how it haprxmed. Afterward, Sara remembered how casual and spontaneous it was.
"PRESENTLY they were all in the game room, and Tommy and Merrick were arranging six chairs in a semicircle. The room was long and narrow. At one end a single step went up to an alcove where there were built-in bookcases, comfortable chairs and a table, and a fireplace. This was the stage. There were no curtains. Hugh and Marcia were still talking earnestly in a corner.
Sara sat down. Tommy Haines came across and flung himself into a chair beside her. She thought wryly: "Misery loves company. Does he think we’re two of a kind?”
Margaret leaned across from the end of the row.
“We’ll do some other words, after Hugh’s masterpiece. You and Tommy must do one, Sara.”
Sara nodded, smiling. She knew what Margaret meant. She meant, “Don’t let him hurt you. Keep your chin up.”
Then Hugh and Marcia came forward. He said:
"All right. We’re ready. This is a threesyllable word. We’ll do each syllable separately, and then the whole thing. But we won’t actually speak the word at all.” He paused. He looked at Sara once, his eyes saying nothing. “Here goes. It’s very short.”
With Marcia, he went up on to the little platform. They turned toward each other and began to talk.
“So,” he said. “This is your house, Bee?”
“Yes,” the girl said. “Do you like it?” “It suits you. I thought it would be like this. Simple, with frilly curtains and flowers and an open fire. Yes, it’s just right. Everything about it says Bee, Bee, Bee.” “But do you like it?”
“Pinning me down again. Well, I like you. Figure it out for yourself.”
They were silent for a moment. Then, moving together, they both sat down with the table between them.
“You dodge so. Aren’t you ever serious?”
“Rarely. But let’s talk about you.
What do you think about when alone?” .She looked down at her hands on the table.
“Oh—about living and being happy and feeling things. And—and maybe helping somebody.”
“Life is real, life is earnest,” he mocked gently. “And I’m sure you think about love. Don’t you?”
She looked up, full at him.
“Yes,” she said.
“And you hug it tight. You hold your breath over it. You think it should never, never be laughed at, don’t you? You’re like that, aren’t you. Bee?”
“Yes,” Bee said again. “I’m like that.” They stopped talking. There was a pause, then Hugh turned his head toward the six who were watching.
“End of first syllable,” he said.
Everyone looked blank.
“So soon?” Merrick Davis protested. “Why, you’ve scarcely begun.”
“I said it would be short,” Hugh answered crisply.
His face had the absent, withdrawn look which Sara had seen on it sometimes, when he was working. She realized that he was working. He was projecting an idea and that always absorbed him. Only—for some reason the question disturbed her—what was the idea? What was he saying? Was he saying it to her? She sat quite still, forgetting to puzzle over syllables and words.
Hugh nodded. He turned back to the girl. Neither moved. They simply sat in their two chairs and took up their talk again.
“Can’t you laugh?” he asked. “Can’t you be light about it?”
“Love isn’t light.”
“But you can be. If you feel it, you should be. Stand on it like a platform and make whoopee.”
“Stand on it?”
“Yes. Don’t go mooning over it and coddling it and wanting it noticed. Feel it under you, holding you up, and snap your fingers.”
“I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t joke about it.”
“Why? Don’t you trust it?”
“Of course I do ! But—”
“No buts!” Suddenly he leaned forward across the table. His face and his voice grew unfamiliar—grave and compelling. “Love,” he said. “Real love. The strong thing. You don’t show it. You don’t talk about it. How can you, when it’s so deep down? You keep it inside, for a very precious secret. You make faces at the world.”
“That’s it,” the girl said slowly. “That’s what you do. You make faces. Even at me.”
“What’s a face, between us? I expect you to see through it.” He leaned back in his chair, smiling at her. “See? That’s love, to me. And—here endeth the first lesson.”
Again the pause. Again Hugh looked at his audience.
Tommy Haines stirred uneasily, and Joe Hitchcock murmured:
“Gosh, the first lesson! Are we in church?”
SARA HELD the arms of her chair. She began to understand. Hugh was talking to her. He was arguing with her in a way he had never done before. It came over her slowly that perhaps she had misjudged him; perhaps there was something inside, after all, and he was only jaunty to hide the depth of it. She thought, “Was I wrong? Was he sure all the time, and I weak and unsure and needing proofs?” But—the chair arms grew moist under her
hands.......but if that were so, then she had
failed him this morning. She had tried, blindly and selfishly, to crash into a place
which he did not want invaded. Was that it? What would he say about that, now? She found out.
“Third and last,” he announced.
He and Marcia stood up, stepped off the platform for a moment, then stepped back again. It gave the effect of an entrance. They were silent, the girl looking about her.
“So,” she said, “this is your house, Ed?” “Yes,” he said. “Do you like it?”
“It suits you. Comfortable, with, big chairs and beautiful pictures. And papers everywhere. Yes, it’s like you. Everything about it says Ed, Ed, Ed.”
“Must be a noisy place,” he chuckled. “But I hope you approve. I hope you’ll be here often, now that we’re engaged.”
“Are we engaged?”
“My stars! ‘Are we engaged?’ Is that the way to treat honorable intentions?” In the audience, Sara jumixxi and leaned forward.
The girl, Bee, looked up.
“Ed,” she asked. “Do you love me?” “Would I be engaged to a woman I didn’t love? You wrong me.”
“No, but do you?”
He bowed, smiling.
“With a passion.”
The girl put out her hands.
“Please. You’re so flip about it.”
“The better to tease you, my dear.” “Ed!”
But he kept on smiling.
“Don’t shout,” he said. “Your voice carries perfectly.”
Her hands dropped. She stared at him for a long moment. Then slowly she began to smile. She actually giggled.
“Oh!” she said. “I see.”
“What do you see?”
“1 see that you’re making faces. Aren’t you? You’re like that, aren’t you, Ed?” Ed gave a little shout. He reached out for her.
“My darling,” he cried, “you’ve caught on. Yes! I’m like that.”
And they laughed together, gaily, clutching each other's hands and swinging them. Then the man became Hugh again. “That’s the three,” he said. “Now the whole word. It’ll only take a second.”
SARA SHUT her eyes. She too “caught on.” But he was cruel, she thought, to echo their talk with that stabbing cleverness of his, and in the end to show so plainly what he had expected, what she had been too self-absorbed to give. She thought something else, too, in the darkness behind her closed lids. Marcia, she thought. She was as gay as he was. He had chosen Marcia for his partner. Sara felt the beginnings of terror.
"Watch!” his voice said.
She opened her eyes and watched. Nothing much happened. The girl was perched on the table, turned away from the audience. The man sat in a chair looking up at her, his face in full view. He was rapt. His eyes and the sensitive mouth said every tender, trusting, ardent thing which his utter silence did not. Nothing much. As he had said, it only took a second. Then the pose broke. They relaxed. They moved and stood up.
Hugh and Marcia came forward, smiling.
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“That’s all. Three syllables, and the whole. Now, what’s the word?”
“The word?” Sara thought a little wildly. “The word? Why, love, adoration, worship, of course. Any of those.”
They had all been in his look, just now. But the look had not been for her.
She sat still, holding herself upright, feeling that her face was stiff. The pain which had held off, which she had feared all day, came at her suddenly. Dimly, through the clamor of it, she heard the others talking.
Tommy, beside her. said dryly:
I íe stood up and strode toward Marcia. Joe Hitchcock clapped his hands, crying: “Most uplifting. Hugh. Not a dry eye in the house.”
And Merrick Davis drawled:
“If it’s a proper name, I’ve got it. I know a chap called Edwinby. Understand? Ed-win-Bee.”
“It’s not a proper name,” Marcia called across to him. “Guess again.”
Notxxly did. Sara stood up suddenly. She felt their eyes swing toward her, concerned; heard Margaret speak to her sharply, but she ignored it. She went blindly out, through the living room and on to the porch where they had been this morning. She stood there in the warm dark, holding to the back of a chair and shaking.
It broke over her in wave after wave. He did feel ! She remembered his lifted face, and knew that he did. But he wanted someone to laugh with him over it, to keep it decently hidden; not a solemn creature who held her emotions up like a picture. He was sound inside. That was why he was gay, even flippant.
Under the bitter flood of her love which came rushing back, she felt something else. She felt a sick shame. The blind, self-satisfied things she had said to him! “You’re in two dimensions, Hugh. You’re not capable of love.” But he was capable. Oh, yes!
“Did you inspire him this morning?” Marcia had asked. Certainly she hadn’t inspired him, and she knew now what she had done. She had relieved him. He had felt relief, been glad to be free of her with her heroics and the way she had clutched at him. It went deeper, stretched farther back than this morning. He needed levity and a meeting on his own debonair ground. He had needed them for a long time. That was what he wanted. Not herself. Marcia!
Sara faced it and bit on the thought and shuddered.
“I’m not jealous,” her own complacent voice came back to her.
Well, she was jealous now !
TT SEEMED a long time that she stood A there. Presently there was a sound in the doorway behind her. A voice said: “Sara?”
Hugh came out. She clung to the chair. “Here you are,” he said. He stood beside her. not touching her. “Did you understand? Did you get it?”
She swallowed. In a moment she said. “Yes, I got it. I’m sorry, Hugh. Don’t rub it in.”
She could see his face in the light from the living room and she saw it frown faintly. “What do you mean? Rub what in?” She thought how cruel he could be. “About Marcia.” she made herself say. “That it’s Marcia you love, not me. She is your kind, Hugh.”
He stared at her for a long moment. Then he spoke, and his voice sounded tired.
“Then you didn’t understand! Listen, Sara. Marcia’s grand. She and I understand each other, but it’s nothing more than that.”
She said painfully:
“That isn’t the point you made in your little play. I got the point, Hugh.”
“But you didn’t ! Don’t you see? When you came at me like that today, 1 was caught out. I couldn’t explain myself. I never can. I’m so used to laughing things off that I do it automatically. But on a
stage it’s different. With people watching, with lines to work out. I can say what I mean. 1 can get it out. 1 was trying to do that tonight, and Marcia was sport enough to help me.”
Sara was afraid to believe it.
"Why should you bother?” she asked miserably. "Why should you try to explain yourself to me?”
“Why? Because I love you. Because I need you, Sara.”
Sara relaxed. She let his words and his grave voice saying them sink into her heart and echo there.
“Oh. darling,” she murmured after a while. “I was stupid and blind and thinking of myself. 1 did let you down this morning. I’ve been letting you down for weeks.”
"No. You were right, and 1 was playing with fire. But—” lie paused, then went on, and she realized that he was quoting. “Love. The strong thing. I can’t show it. 1 keep it inside for a very precious secret.”
She turned toward him smiling, trying to keep her voice from shaking.
“And make faces?” she prompted.
1 le her by the shoulders and pulled her close to him, so that her forehead was against his shirt front.
“You’ve caught on! Sara, when we go back to town tomorrow, will you marry me right away?”
“Yes,” she said, muffled.
“And you won’t leave me?”
“No,” she said.
His chest rose on a great breath. “Lord!” he sighed. "1 thought I’d lost you. I mustn’t lose you. Ever.”
She sttxxl still, close to him like that, hearing his heart. No. she thought, they mustn’t lose each other. They belonged. They were different and they would differ. There would always be a between them, to be kept open. But she knew now that she could keep it open. She had the key.
After a while she stirred against him. She stepped back. For the very first time that evening she remembered what they had been doing.
“Hugh,” she reminded him, “the charade. What was the word you acted out?” He laughed.
"Didn’t you guess? 1 chose it. I was saying it-to you, the whole time.”
"What was it? Tell me.”
He picked up her hands and bent his bright head over them.
“Beloved,” he said.