LESSON FOR A LADY
An explosion follows a discovery in the concluding installment of this drama-packed serial about a girl who wanted to be a lady
SEBASTIAN felt fine. He could hold his liquor. He could hold so much, in fact, that the bartender in the saloon where he was drinking began to watch him and to press the free lunch upon him.
"Better eat something, buddy,” he kept saying. "That stuff packs a wallop. It’ll sneak up on you.”
But Sebastian didn’t need food. He didn’t even like to look at the cheese and pickles and bologna. He refilled his glass from the bottle, and appealed to the row of men who had straggled into the place during the hours lie had been here.
“Out for what she could get,” he announced loudly. “Playing it cagey, she said. Watching the main chance. Then they come along with a better offer and —whoosh !— it’s all off!”
He liked the sound of "whoosh,” and repeated it several times. Somebody laughed. Somebody said, "Don’t stand for it. brother. Give her the works!” The bartender took the bottle away.
"Carrying the torch, eh?” he drawled. “Well, carry it out of here, see? It's nearly eleven, and that's past your bedtime. I don’t want no passoutscluttering up my floor.” Sebastian drew himself up. A hatless rumpled figure was glaring out of the mirror with bloodshot eyes. He pointed at it dramatically and it pointed right back.
"Lexik at him !” he protested. "You better stop picking on me, and attend to him.”
“I’ll do that little thing,” the other promised grimly. "Come on, sport. Pay up and get going.”
Oh! So they didn’t want him! Daisy didn’t want him, and neither did these people ! He felt a vast, heroic grief.
“All right.” He put a bill on the counter and stalked toward the swinging doors. "I can take a hint.”
He went out into the street. They were guffawing behind him. He heard them call, "It won’t be long now!” and, "Go show the dame a thing or two!” He stood beside a lamp tx;st on the littered pavement and thought it over quite calmly.
Yes, they were right. Yes, he ought to show Daisy a thing or two. 1 íe ought to teach her a lesson. She had done something that no one but his mother had ever done to him beforedenied him what he wanted. All right. He wouldn’t take her now. Not on a bet. after what he’d found out about her. But he could do the same. He could see that she didn’t get what she wanted, either. It would be simple enough. He’d go to that place where she was dancing tonight. He’d wait around until she finished and everyone clapped and said how fine she was. Then, when people began to leave, he’d just tell them one by one as they passed him that the dancer they admired so much was nothing but a common little gold digger who’d tried to make a fool out of Sebastian DeLacy. No scene. He’d do it quietly, more hurt than angry. That would turn her success sour, all right. That would show his interfering family that they couldn’t hand out careers behind his back. And so easy to do!
Sebastian turned. He was steady as a rock as he marched up the street. It wouldn’t be long now ! Whoosh !
The night was chilly. He had left his hat and overcoat
somewhere. But he shrugged as the cold pinched his face. He wasn’t cold. He wasn’t feeling the liquor either, as other people did when they hit the fresh air. He just walked along fast, in a straight line. It took him a good twenty minutes to get across town, but the hard exercise only made his head clearer and clearer. He felt more than life-size.
He had never been inside the Café Las Palmas. Daisy hadn’t wanted him around at rehearsals, and he hadn’t minded humoring her—then. But he knew where the place was, and he went directly to it. A row of private limousines stood along the curb, with a taxi rank behind them. No other signs of celebration. He was dimly surprised to walk in so quietly, without even a doorman to do the honors, but once he was in the long carpeted lobby he saw' why. The doorman and the checkroom girl and the cigarette girl were all standing on the steps leading down to the dance floor. They were all staring at something before them, their backs turned to him. He strolled up behind them and peered over their heads.
TT WAS dark down there, except for a single spotlight. It ■*shone on someone standing alone near the orchestra. Someone in a white dress, singing. He couldn’t hear very well, and the face blurred queerly when he stared at it. But he knew it wasn’t Daisy. It was too tall, and besides Daisy didn’t sing.
Sebastian nodded wisely. Daisy wasn’t on yet. All he had to do was wait. He went halfway back along the corridor and sat down on a bench with a velvet seat. She would do her dance presently. There would be a lot of clapping. Then people would begin to come out and pass close to him, and he could say what he had to say. All he had to do was wait.
But it was warm in here, warmer than he liked. That blurry feeling bothered him again, and there was a queer stiffness in the muscles of his face. Time seemed to go by, though he couldn’t tell if it was long or short. Small things absorbed him, like the pattern on the carpet under his feet. Staring at it, he had a sudden blankness inside his head, so that he forgot where he was and what he had been going to do. But that passed. He heard a stirring at the foot of the steps, the sound of people coming up. His head jerked. They thought he’d been napping, did they? They thought he’d missed Daisy’s dance and wouldn’t have anything to say about it? Just let them listen !
“Listen,” he said hoarsely, and got to his feet.
Two people did come up the steps. A man and a woman in evening clothes. They were hurrying. They hardly glanced at him, standing there with his hair mussed and dust on his shoes. They would have passed him, but he stepped in front of them.
“That dancer,” he croaked. “She’s just a little gold digger. She—”
He stopped, for they paused and stared and seemed to rush at him.
“Sebastian!” they gasped, both together in a whisper.
What was wrong? There was something about these two—but their faces kept jumping back and forth so that he couldn’t focus on them. He began again.
“You know why she wouldn’t marry me? I’ll tell you. I’ll tell everybody!”
The words brought him up short. He knew that voice. It could reach him even in this fog.
“Queen?” he asked uncertainly.
“Be quiet,” she repeated. And then. “Ben. go and have the car brought up. Have the door open.”
“Don’t want the car,” Sebastian protested. "Want to tell the people about Daisy.”
Her hand was tight on his arm. She had not once spoken above a whisper.
“Walk.” she said. “Walk to the door. Go through it.”
Sebastian walked. She was tiny beside him. She made no fuss. But he obeyed her. He always had. Someone took his other arm as he reached tire street. Before lie knew it he was in the car. They were whisking along the dark street.
“Where we going?” he demanded. “Take me back. I'll miss all the people.”
“You have missed them,” his mother snapped. “Thank heaven !”
Then Ben broke in. He had known it was Ben all along. They couldn’t fool him.
“You young cub ! What are you doing here? When did you come back?”
Sebastian felt clever. He leaned back on the seat between them and giggled.
“Yah ! Never went away.”
Their blank silence pleased him. He wanted to tell them how he had left the train at the airport and come back to see Daisy, that he had been here ever since, right under their noses. He did try to tell them. But the words kept tripping him. Something had happened to his tongue.
“Whoosh!” he said presently, and subsided.
They were quiet for a while. The car’s rapid motion was soothing. He thought he would go to sleep. Then Ben’s loud voice jerked him back.
“Good lord! You’ve been hiding here like a criminal! You took your car and did the damage with it and let us go ahead with all the compromising publicity. Is that true? Speak up!”
Sebastian adjusted his tongue cautiously. He chose an easv word.
“Queen!” Ben cried furiously. “You hear that? What are we to do?”
She was small and upright in her corner of the seat. She had never in her life lost her head.
“Get him home,” she said quietly. “Get him to bed.”
“But we’ve been swearing he’s away, and he’s right here.
We’ve been clamoring for someone to blame, and he’s it! He’s drunk and disgraceful and jabbering about that dancer in public, for everyone to hear!”
“No one did hear," she answered instantly. “No one knows at all. You forget that Paula was the burning centre of interest.”
“That too! Here’s another scandal, just when we have Paula’s outrageous exhibition to deal with.”
She gave him a sharp look through the gloom.
“We’ll deal with it,” she promised. “But this comes first.”
The car turned through the gates and sped up the driveway toward Chimneys. She glanced at the hunched form beside her.
“I knew you were selfish,” she remarked, but her voice was almost gentle. “What 1 didn’t know was that you’d go after what you want in such a stupid way.”
Sebastian said nothing. He was dead to the world. They were some time getting him out of the car. Fortunately the chauffeur was an old De Lacy man, and discreet, for he had to help Ben carry him ui>stairs. They put him to bed.
When Ben came down again his mother was waiting in her sitting room, her eyes calm and farseeing as a general’s. “And now,” she said. “About Paula—”
T)AULA sang slowly through all the verses of “Right Or ^ Wrong.” She even stayed with the orchestra and sang an extra chorus, to give Sparkles time. She counted on his quick wits, and he did not disappoint her. The last note had hardly died away, the doubtful applause was just beginning, when the lights dimmed and the music picked up. Sparkles had done the only thing that would save the day. He had juggled the program, forced a lightning change of costume, cued the band leader. The chorus swung out like a regiment. Daisy came on, trim in tails and top hat, and danced “Slow-Motion Swing.”
She did it brilliantly. Her movements were wild and yet precise, daring and all the more exciting because they were so slow. The audience responded from the first measures. This might not have been the same girl who had wilted before them only a few moments ago. Perhaps some of them thought she was not the same girl, for the whole feeling in the room changed. People stood up. You could feel an ovation coming, long before the dance was over.
Paula had slipped back through the orchestra to the side of the room. She stood there for a few moments, sensing the growing excitement and watching Daisy. Yes. the child was all right. Whatever had happened to her, it was over now and would not weaken her again. She would click, just as she had promised. The tide was with her, and she could he trusted to keep it that waywithout Paula Flood.
She drew a breath to steady the faint shaking that had begun all over her. Jay, she saw, had left his table and was standing near the steps at the entrance. She edged around to him, keeping behind people’s backs, lie helped her on with her wrap in silence. As they mounted to the lobby a reporter tried to snap their picture together, but Jay shoved him aside. They went outside, just as a great shout greeted the end of Daisy’s dance. They got into a taxi.
Paula sat huddled in a corner of the moving cab. She was really shaking now, with reaction and with the strain of Jay's silence, which went on and on. At last she had to break it herself.
“Please let’s talk,” she begged. "Don't just sit there. Are you angry, Jay?”
His head turned toward her, though it was too dark to see his face.
“I'm not angry. But I don’t know what to do.”
Instantly she was on the defensive.
“Why should you do anything? It isn't a crime, to get up and sing in public! Suppose there are headlines about it tomorrow - even the next day. Is that such a calamity?” "Not in itself,” he answered. “But perhaps you noticed that the other two left. I’ve never seen Queen so upset. We were so close—you and I and the family—they were learning to trust you—and now it’s all broken down again. Why did you do it, Paula?”
“You know why!” she cried. “Something was wrong with that poor child. Maybe we weren’t responsible—but maybe we were. I had to help her.”
"In just that way? Couldn’t you have waited and acted privately and given her a fresh start somewhere else? That would have been more real help than a spectacular performance no one will ever forget.”
She hesitated, wondering for just a second if he was right. Then she knew he wasn’t.
"They will forget,” she contradicted. “And you don’t know what a flop—an important one like that—can mean to a ]>erformer. I had to do it. It was only kind.”
“Not kind to me. You’re my wife, Paula. You know' what my standards are—and my family’s. They may seem artificial, but you accepted them when we were married. You said so. You said you wanted to live up to them, and you were doing it. But you forgot all that tonight, didn’t you?”
Paula was silent. Yes. she had forgotten it. She had acted instinctively, not as his wife. She had done what she herself had joked about this very evening—reverted to type. What if the standards that condemned it did seem artificial, and worse? They were his. Disregarding them hurt him. She had never meant to do that.
"You’re right," she murmured. "I knew what I was risking, for myself, and I was willing. But it’s true, I didn't think of you. If I still can’t feel I've done anything wrong—well, that’s not the point, is it? I—I’m sorry.” "You haven’t done anything wrong.” he agreed quickly. “I know your motives and they were fine. But the result is the same. Coldness and strain at Chimneys again. All that business we both hated so much. I thought it was all over and I was so pleased. 1 wanted the family to take you in and make you happy. I wanted them to love you as I did."
"As you did?"
“No!” He reached out and toolher hand and gripped it. "As I do. As I always will, I guess.”
He did not sound very happy about it. She sat still, holding onto his strong fingers and feeling a new helplessness. For the first time, she thought, she saw the root of his trouble—their trouble. He was a DeLacy. He really loved his family and the whole rigid pattern of life with them. Yet he really loved her, too. who would not fit into the pattern. For him, loyal and affectionate and creature of habit as he was, that did spell calamity ! She did not know what to do about it.
The cab rattled along. They were nearly home. After a while Jay sat up a little straighten "We’ll go away.” he decided. "Just you and me. and stay for quite a while. This will all fade out, with time. Then we can come back and try again.”
They would always come back. It would never occur to him that they could live in any other place. But she hated the idea of running off as if they were afraid.
"You’ll be miserable,” she objected. "You mustn’t exile yourself on my account. I’d rather stay and face the music.”
“There won’t be any music,” he drawled. “No, Paula. It’s no use being defiant. I'll start tomorrow to plan some sort of trip. It’s the best thing we can do.”
Well, perhaps it was. She realized that, feeling as he did, he might have turned against her too. He hadn’t, and she ought to be grateful for that. She was grateful. But it was a hollow feeling, not much help.
“All right, Jay,” she said. “I won’t make it any harder. I’ll do whatever you want.”
The taxi pulled up before the Cottage. They got out. It was late and dark and cold. A light still burned in the big house. What grim council of war might be* going on up there? Paula shivered as she went indoors. The hall mirror sent back her tired reflection. Mrs. Jeremiah DeLacy returning from a party, minus everything she had when she startl'd. She climbed the stairs without waiting for Jay.
But in the night, alone in the dark room, she lay awake and thought about him painfully. All very well to feel that he was wrong, and even weak, in allowing his family to reject her. He wasn’t a child. He didn’t have to submit to them, nor to a motto. What she had done was true to the real sensi' of the motto, and he ought to defend it. All very well to tell herself that. But it didn’t help. It had nothing to do with this ache in her. What she had lost tonight was not the DeLacy goodwill. It was gone, to lx sure, but she had only wanted it because it would make Jay proud and sure of her. He had been, for a little while, and now he no longer was—now he might never be again. That was her loss—her husband ’s confidence—and it was a heavy one, because she loved him.
T)AULA slept badly. She breakfasted in bed next tnorning. If she had a foolish hope that last night might all have been a bad dream, she lost it when the morning papers were brought in with her tray. All of them had headlines and featured stories about her. Some of them had pictures of a haggard creature in white, with her mouth open to sing. The black type shouted at her. "Wife of DeLacy Heir in Entertainer’s Role,” and “First Family Embarrassed.” One sheet headed its article with “Mrs. DeLacy Goes Native.” There were a few references to “a gallant gesture.” Paula sighed as she drank her coffee. It wasn’t, perhaps, quite as bad as it might have been. But it was bad enough. Oh, plenty bad enough!
Jay’s face showed that he thought so. too, when lie came in to see her presently. He said nothing about it, though the pages were scattered all over her bed. They looked at each other self-consciously.
"Well, my dear,” he announced. “I’m going into town, to see about trains and sailings and possible places to go. Better be looking over your clothes and getting up some trunks and things. We ll want to get started at once.”
So soon? she thought. Like criminals? But she nodded. “Very well. Give me tiventy-four hours.”
He was at the window, looking out into the grey autumn morning. He started to turn away, then whirled back again like a top. She heard the crunch of tires outside.
“The big car!” Jay blurted, peering down. “It’s Ben and—yes, Queen! Oh, lord ! I’ll go talk to them.”
He hurried out.
Paula got up at once and began to dress. So they wanted a showdown ! So they had come to reprimand her in person ! All right. She was almost glad.
She was ready quite soon, in a grey tailored suit. Just before she finished at the dressing table, Jay called her from downstairs.
“Paula ! I>> come here. Hurry, darling !”
The endearment surprised her a little. So did his loud, excited voice. She met her own steady eyes in the mirror, straightened her shoulders, and went down.
They were in the library. She paused in the doorway to gather herself, but Renee DeLacy saw her and hurried forward. Paula could hardly believe the smile in her dark eyes nor the warmth in lier voice when she said:
“My dear! Come along and sit down. Y’ou must be tired, after last night.”
She drew her into the room and sank beside her on the couch. Benedict smiled, closed the door rather carefully, then came back to stand on the hearth rug. Jay was sitting on the arm of a chair, beaming. Paula felt weak. She had been braced for something, but it wasn’t this welcome.
“It’s all right,” Jay told her. "I was surprised too, but it’s all right. We won’t have to go away, after all.”
“I should think not!” his mother exclaimed. Her dark head bobbed above the lavender dress. “This is no time to be running off.”
Paula had thought that too, but the cordial agreement confused her. She could only stare helplessly. Mrs.
DeLacy met her eyes.
“You expected us to be angry, didn’t you, Paula? You felt that what you did last night wopld come between us?” “Y’es, I did,” she answered flatly, too surprised to hedge. “So did Jay.”
“Not this time!” Jay himself broke in. “Luck was with us, darling. Queen’s already called the press to tell them we’re all with you, in your very gracious gesture. I guess that will shut them up.”
Of course it would shut them up! Her action was only newsworthy because it was wildly un-DeLacy. If the DeLacys sponsored it—well! She turned to the other woman, flushing with pleasure.
“Why, that’s fine of you ! I—Jay and I both did you an injustice. We thought—But you’re kind, after all. Y’ou see that the result was worth a few unconventional minutes.” The clear face before her hardened just a little.
“I see exactly that. And it makes it important to regularize what happened. Of course it could never be repeated. Never ! But under the circumstances it was far the lesser of two evils. We must all keep a united front on that.”
Paula sat back again on the couch. Her enthusiasm faltered.
“Front?” she echoed blankly. “What circumstances? What evils?”
Jay spoke again, eagerly.
“Y’ou saved the family from something really bad last night. It makes all the difference. Y’ou see—”
“Look here,” Benedict blurted suddenly. “Why tell Paula? She won’t be interested.”
His brother scowled.
"Of course she’ll lx interested. It concerns us all. The fact is, Paula—first of all—Sebastian is home.”
She was surprised, but it seemed a digression.
"Sebastian? Really? When did he come?”
“He didn’t come. He never left. He’s been here all along, hanging around the Quinn girl. He was the one who took the car, of course. And he was the one we’ve been urging the law to catch, without knowing it.”
“But then—but Jay. you mean he ran down poor little Mickey, and never came forward to admit it?”
“That’s it. Y’oung fool! He might have got us all in serious trouble. But it seems he had a row with the girl yesterday. She told him off, as she promised you she would. He went out and got drunk and decided to get even with her by making a scene in the café.”
Paula sat up.
GO THAT was what ailed her! So she did love him, and we bullied her into giving him up ! I never thought she’d have to do it so soon, before she was launched. No wonder she was only half there.”
“1 dare say. Sebastian—”
“She’s well rid of Sebastian1 He’d have spoiled everything for her, would he, just because he couldn’t get what he wanted? If that’s how he cared for her—cruelly and selfishly like that—I’m glad he’s lost her.”
“So am I,” Jay agreed. “And he’s suffering today, in bed with the world’s worst hangover. But the point is, Paula, lie was in the lobby last night, when Ben and Queen came out. He was tipsy and disreputable, and going on about the girl at a great rate. So you see why Queen, and all of us, endorse what you did?”
She stared at him. She was almost afraid of his matterof-fact voice telling lier these things, asking her these questions.
“No,” sire said. “I don’t see.”
Renee DeLacy smiled patiently.
“Think, Paula. Y’ou were singing at the precise moment when we left. If you hadn’t been holding everyone fascin-
ated—if we hadn't come out because of it—Sebastian would have been there as people started to leave. Anyone could have seen him, recognized him, heard what he had to say. The whole dreadful business—of the street accident as well as his drunkenness and infatuation—would have come out!”
Paula was silent. She had to be, while the meaning of this came slowly over her. After a while she asked almost timidly, “You mean—because a coincidence covered it, the—the dreadful business will not come out?”
“Exactly. We were able to get him home quite privately. It was your doing, and we’re going to support you in it.” “Oh,” Paula said.
There was a pause in the room. Benedict stirred uneasily. Jay cleared his throat.
“It’s hard to take in, isn’t it? A stroke of pure luck like that?”
“Luck?” She looked at him almost imploringly. “But Sebastian broke the law. He was speeding, he injured someone and evaded arrest; he tried to disturb the peace in a public place. And that’s not counting his mean spirit. You can’t be going to ignore all that, just because it isn’t known!”
_ “Ignore,” Jay said calmly, “is hardly the word. Sebastian will get his. He’s leaving again tonight, chaperoned this time. But to let this story out, when no one suspects it, would be plain foolish. It’s all settled. Nobody’s hurt, not even the dancer, as you said yourself. And a name that’s never had a slur on it is protected, just as it should be. The kid doesn’t deserve it, but he’s safe, thanks to you. He got away with it this time.”
Paula looked from one to the other of their similar faces. She felt strangely calm, strangely soothed, as if she were coming out of some tangle which had bound her for too long.
“So I’ve protected the DeLacy name,” she murmured. “I’ve helped Sebastian and all of you to get away with something. I’m forgiven because of it?”
“More than forgiven,” Queen answered promptly. “You’ve got us through this, and no one the wiser. You’re truly one of us now.”
“I’m afraid not.” She stood up slowly and faced them. "You’re frank, at any rate. Y’ou make no bones about your motives. But I am the wiser. And I’m not one of you.” “Eh?” Benedict cried nervously. “Explain yourself, Paula. Is that a threat?”
She gave him a thin smile.
“No, it’s not a threat. You didn’t want to tell me, did you, Ben? And you were right. But don’t worry. I won’t give you away. I’ll respect your united front. Only I won’t be here to help maintain it.”
'"THEY’ were silent. She could feel Jay’s fixed stare but A would not meet it. After a while he asked, “What are you talking about?”
She had to look at him then, and was surprised that it did not touch her. She really was out of the tangle.
“I’m talking about going away,” she said. “Alone. For good.”
Mrs. DeLacy sat up a little straighter on the couch. Her voice was smooth and reasonable.
“Now, Paula, don’t be theatrical. I see how you feel, but you’re tired and overexcited. We’re not such monsters, my dear. If there were anything to be gained by coming forward with the truth-—if it were necessary to clear anyone else—you can be sure we’d do it. Eut now—well, frankly, why should we?”
Paula looked down at her almost with relief. Here, in this steely little body, was her real antagonist.
“Just to be honest. Just to pay up for what you’ve done—all of you. Y'ou made Sebastian what he is. When he got out of hand you tried to interfere on the sly. You didn’t care if it hurt him or the girl or even me. But you won’t let it hurt you.' Not so long as there’s a single, way you can pass the buck !”
Ben made a furious sound.
“Pass the buck ! E)on’t be common !”
“I am common,” she answered instantly. “Daisy Quinn is common. But we’re both alive, and that’s what you’re afraid of. That’s what you’ll do anything to avoid—real living.”
He looked as though he might shout at her. But his mother intervened. There was something like respect in her dark eyes.
“No. my child. Y'ou’ve forgotten something. We’re not afraid; we’re simply bound by a sort of heritage. It’s an obligation on us.” She glanced toward the fireplace and smiled. “You know how it is. ‘La Conduite est Tout.’ ” Clever Queen! Only not quite clever enough, this time.
“I do know how it is,” Paula agreed. “At last I do. Conduct is Everything. By Conduct you mean appearances. And by appearances you mean—anything you can get away with.”
“No,” Jay protested. “Listen, Paula!”
She shook her head and took a few steps toward the door. “I’m sorry. I’ve listened too often. And now I’ve heard too much.”
"What are you driving at?” Ben snapped. ‘There’s nothing for you, away from here. Where are you going?"
“You forget I have a profession. I’m going to New York and get on with it.” She stood still, looking at their tight little group across the room. Then she thrust her hands into her jacket pockets and finished. “You see, I’ve just discovered something. All my life I’ve wanted to be a lady. I took you for my models, when I came here, because I thought your snobbishness was a mark of distinction. It isn’t. It’s cowardly and hypocritical. And that’s what I’ve found out—that I am a lady. You’re DeLacys.”
Jay had stood up. He was staring at her as if she were speaking a foreign language.
“Are you really going, Paula? Then I’ll go with you.”
“No.” Even that couldn’t move her. “No, Jay. I don’t want you. It isn’t that I’ve stopped loving you. I can’t change that. But I’ve tried for a year and a half to make myself over on your account, to be good enough for you. I was wrong to do it because now—well, you’re not good enough for me. I’m sorry.”
She turned and would have gone out.
“Wait!” Renee DeLacy cried. For the first time her voice was raised. “You can’t go. You’re still Jay’s wife, and he won’t allow it.”
Paula did not answer. She kept on walking. But Jay said suddenly, “I will allow it. She’s right. Let her go.”
He came across the room. His face had sharpened somehow. She had seen it like that before—once on the day he married her, knowing the struggle ahead; once on the day he forgot everything but a hurt child. It changed him.
“I will allow' it,” he said again.
And he passed her quietly and opened the door.
Paula went through it. How often in the future she would wish herself back across this threshold she did not dare to think. Her mind could hold only the one certainty—that it was right to go now. So she did.
SPRING was beginning in New York, but the theatrical season with its dependent fringe of cabarets and grill rooms and night clubs was still going on. Paula Flood was still singing at the Heron Club in the east Fifties. And she w'as still packing them in.
She had thought herself lucky to connect with such a place, until she discovered that Tommy Whittaker, who owmed it, thought himself lucky too, and why. He intended to bill her as Paula DeLacy. They quarrelled when she flatly refused to allow it, and the contract was very nearly scrapped. But Tommy, though he would very much have liked to bluff her, could understand her arguments perfectly. He came from rich provincial stock himself. His tall pale exquisite exterior might hide complete unscrupulousness, but it hid a certain background as well. Paula knew him, and knew how to deal with him. In the end he gave in. She w'as Paula Flood, as she always had been. And the business she drew soon justified it.
That was the important thing, she often told herself; to make a go of the old life which she had deserted for a while and come flying back to. She was glad to be back. She had learned a lot about poise and restraint and tact which was useful to her in her business. For the rest, New York was thrilling after Lundi. Freedom was a relief after uneasy dependence. And she was herself again, honestly working for a living after months of trying to pretend she never had. Of course she was glad! She said so every chance she got, and people were always telling her how well and happy she looked.
Still, there was another side. Sometimes, when the spotlight slid off her, or she was
alone at night, or the spring dusk was gentle on the Avenue, she did not look so well nor so happy. Work was good, but rehearsals seemed harder than she remembered. The atmosphere backstage seemed shriller. She disliked noise and crowding and unwashed skins more than she used to. Even her audiences and the people she went about with were disappointing. She knew why, when she let herself think. Just a little too much gentle living and shared purpose. Just a little too much being married to Jay.
Not that she wanted to go back. She had meant what she said on that last day at Chimneys. It was just that if you had been really married, you found you couldn’t change it by saying so. You couldn’t help thinking of your husband, and wanting news of him. After six silent months you wanted it very much indeed.
Paula could have written, or even telephoned—and she sometimes did catch herself staring at the instrument. She could have asked Daisy Quinn to send her word, in one of her awkward, grateful letters. She could certainly have bought the Lundi papers at some special news stand, and been sure of learning about Jay from them. But she had left him with harsh words. She did none of those things. And she heard nothing.
It was almost funny, she began to think, how little New York cared about the DeLacys. Oh, the name was known. It was a good one, in the Social Register. But it wasn’t royal. Nobody quivered at the sound of it. All their importance, that cowed Lundi so and had even cowed her, was in their own minds, like a dream. Except for Jay.
AND YET, when she finally did see - Jay again, that was more dreamlike than all the rest of it put together.
It was April. A warm week-end had . tempted thousands out of the city, so that the Heron Club was having a poor night, even when the after-the theatre crowd came in. It was a big place, much more pretentious than the Café Las Palmas in Lundi. There were two orchestras. The entire ceiling was a huge mirror. The dance floor was at the centre and all the tables were arranged on a low balcony which completely enclosed it. Paula was sitting at one of these, talking idly to Tommy Whittaker. Her dress was dark blue, that night, made of chiffon. She wore pearls, but they were not real. She had left those behind her at Chimneys. It was nearly midnight. She had done two songs and would do others. New ones, all of them. She never sang “Right Or Wrong” any more.
Tommy glanced at her. “What’s the matter, Paula? Not brooding?”
“Of course not.” She moved restlessly. “Maybe I’m a little tired. I’ve worked hard. It’s spring. Everyone gets into a blue mood sometimes.”
“Everyone doesn’t get into a brown study, though.”
“Well I do,” she said crossly. “If that’s what you want to call it. Do let me alone, Tommy ! I’ll be all right.”
He gave her a curious look, then shrugged.
“Okay. Don’t bite my head off. You’re on next.”
She nodded and rose and went down the steps toward her place beside the piano. She was sorry she had snapped at him. He was her employer, and he had a right to mention it if he saw her slipping. But she was tired. She was blue. It was bound to show a little, sometimes.
It didn’t show in her song, though. She gave that everything she had. Even with the off night and the small crowd, it went over unusually well. They kept her bowing until she did the second chorus for an encore. Then they let her go and she started back toward the table.
Two figures rose to pull out her chair as she came up the steps from the floor—
‘ Tommy, and another tall man whose dinner jacket might have grown on him. ] j She stared at him, feeling her heart stop j i dead.
“This gentleman,” Tommy explained, ¡ “wants to talk to you, Paula. Something j very important, I gather.”
She touched his arm, without moving her eyes.
“Please go away,” she begged. And : when he had gone, with a stare and a j surprised whistle, she said, “Hello, Jay. Sit down.”
T-JE DID. He was the same, and yet ^ vaguely different. All the lines in his ; face were deeper. She thought his eyes had I sunk back a little. Time might have done I it, or fatigue, or—She didn’t know what ; might have done it. They looked at each I other for a few minutes. Then he cleared ! his throat.
“Forgive my coming here to talk to you, Paula. But I didn’t know your address, and I couldn’t bear to ask anyone for it.” She nodded. She could understand that. “I’m glad to see you,” she murmured. “It's been a long time.”
“Yes, it’s been long. I’ve wanted to come a thousand times. I’ve thought of it.” He too ! She looked down.
“And yet you never wrote! You never Sent me any word. I don’t know a thing j about you.”
“That's why I didn’t write—so you wouldn't know. I didn’t want to show up until I had something real to tell you.” "Something real?” She was a littleafraid of the phrase. “What have you got to tell me, Jay?”
“Well, it’s nothing spectacular. Perhaps ! it won’t mean much any more. But I thought you might like to hear. It’s a beginning.”
The orchestra was playing a tango. She forced herself to look away from his tense face, out over the moving couples. “Beginning of what?” she prompted. I “Of a new order—a better one, I hope.” [ He leaned forward and began to speak eagerly. “You remember Lundi, Paula? You remember that strip down by the j river, where the mill hands lived in such a mess? I’ve tackled that. I’m clearing it up. Were putting in modern buildings. The end’s nowhere near in sight of course, but at least we’ve got the area zoned now. j Ben’s seeing to that. He’s on the city ! council.”
He paused. She kept her face averted. ; “Go on.” she said softly.
“Queen’s busy with the architects— driving them crazy because she says she knows what women want better than they do. Maybe she does. Then Sebastian.
! He’s still at college, but he comes home quite often. He’s teaching some of those city brats to play football. I think he started because little Mickey was such a weak sister when he first came to live in the gardener’s spare room. Anyway, they’ve got a team now. They practice week-ends, on the hack lawn at Chimneys. It’s kind of nice to hear them yelling.”
Again he paused, and again she refused j to look at him. Her eyes were full of tears. ! All this, because of the things she had said! It couldn’t be real. But his hopeful voice was.
“And I—” Jay finished rather lamely, “I’ve given up the vegetables. A friend of . mine is putting them out, cheaply. I've j found something more direct to do, something nearer home.”
They were her own words. She remembered them. But all she could say, when she finally had to speak, was, “I—I’m Klad.”
“Are you?” He sounded dashed. “I hoped you would be. I guess it doesn’t sound like much, here, away from it all.”
“It sounds like so much!” she cried, j turning to him at last. “It even sounds I like too much. That’s it. Jay. It’s too I much to take in. Such a—a transforma\ tion. Ben and your mother, and even Sebastian—how could they change like that, all of a sudden? Could they possibly?”
He grinned. It made him look really natural for the first time.
“Maybe not.” he admitted. “Not all the way. But I could change. You always wanted me to be head of the family. Paula. I am now. They do what I want.”
“And you want these things? All these new things that you never thought about before?”
“I could change.” he said again. “It took an explosion to do it, but I had the explosion. I lost you.”
They stared at each other. The soft music tugged at them. At last she asked shakily:
“Why did you come? Why did you want to tell me all this?”
Jay pushed back his chair a little. He sat in it, his face grave and humble.
“It’s a—a sample. Or a promise. I want you back, Paula. I want it more than anything. I thought if you knew, you might think about coming. Not now. It’s too soon. But later, if I can live up to what I’ve started.”
Paula held onto the table. Everything in her wanted to cry. “I’ll come now. I love you!” But she knew she mustn’t. He was right. It was too soon. She looked straight into his grey eyes and nodded and murmured. “Later.”
He stood up.
“Thank you,” he said. “Later. If!”
Then he added, “Good-by, my dear,” under his breath, and walked away. She watched him all the way across the room until he disappeared. She was crying, but not with grief. The tango ended.
TOMMY must have been watching from somewhere, for he came back to
the table after a few foments.
“Better get hold of yourself,” he advised dryly as he sat down. “You’ve another song coming up.”
He waited while she powdered her nose, then he asked, “That was your husband, wasn't it?”
She nodded, and he frowned.
“He doesn’t want you to come back to him. does he? Because you’ve got a contract with me that says no.”
She waved it aside. She felt light, with an answer for everything.
“It doesn’t say no forever. Besides. I’m sure you’d let me break it if I could get you a better headliner.”
“There aren't any better headliners.”
“No? Did you ever hear of Daisy Quinn?”
His pale face lit up a little.
“Quinn? The Darling of the Provinces?
Of course I've heard of her. But Sparkles McGirk’s got her tied up. I haven’t got a look-in there.”
“I have, though. They’re friends of mine, very good friends. If I got Daisy to dance here, that would make a difference, wouldn’t it?”
“Well—maybe.” Tommy peered at her.
“So it is romance. So he did ask you to j come back?”
“In a way. If—”
“So !’’ he broke in. “Conditions, already !
Paula stood up. She heard the cue for her next song. Over her shoulder as she turned away she answered :
“If he can prove he’s good enough for me.”
But she was smiling happily as she went down the steps. She thought he could.