Terry filled her apartment with fine furniture, but she had neglected to do anything about the rest of her life
ALMOST THE first thing that Terry Conway’s brother James did after his return from the far countries was to look at her handsome apartment and say, “I’m going to have to introduce you to some nice young men.”
Her quick smile was a mixture of patience and amusement. It was a rather smug smile, but in a moment instead of irritating him it made him feel reluctantly sorry for her. She was a darkly pretty girl and she collected furniture and she lived alone —that summed her up.
It was nice that she could be good-humored about it; it was also sad. Her job was a dull one — she was a private secretary to one of the executives in a wholesale paper company downtown and she was too fastidious in friendship to have many friends and she had never, to his knowledge, been seriously in love; and so, instead of for love and easy friendship and interesting work, she lived for her apartment.
It was on the top floor of an old apartment house overlooking a little park near the centre of the city; and every inch of it showed the quality of her tastes. legacies, windfalls and savings had all gone to decorate it. Of the money that they had inherited from their parents, his share was safe in
the bank, but hers was spread out lavishly around her in fine furniture of various periods and various woods walnut, mahogany, cherry wood, applewood, maple—all of it polished into warm genial colors, to which the curious blue of the wall w'as a perfect background. The pictures on the walls were Rowlandson prints; there was Georg Jensen silver in the eight-leg round-front sideboard and a colonial tea service on top of it; the bookshelves contained Dickens bound in golden calf, and Henry James in old rose cloth and Trollope and Jane Austen.
“You know,” said James, “I remember coming here when you’d only barely started putting it together and I used to admire you—and envy you. She’s got interests, I’d say to myself. And now all I can think is, what a shame for a pretty girl like you to be living with a lot of furniture!”
“It’s necessary in itself, it isn’t taking the place of anything.” Terry protested tolerantly. “I just haven’t yet met the man.”
“I’m going to see that you do, then,” James said, smiling. “What sort of man do you want?”
“Oh—-” she said, and lightly gave the question a moment’s thought then laughed. “I guess Ï want the moon. I want—well, someone who’s both serious and happy.” She considered the hardworking, earnest discontented men that she had met and the gay feckless ones and nodded slowly. “Both happy and serious. The moon, in short.” James stared at the floor. “I think I see what you mean,” he said. Then he glanced at her suddenly,
started to speak and said nothing after all. He went away in a mood of cheerful secret amusement.
HE WAS four years younger than she was, but they had always been friends; while in college he had taken her to dances as often as he had taken his girl friends—just as when she was in junior high, she had frequently taken him along on hikes with the Campfire Girls, and had never in her life said, “Go on home, James -don’t be a pest!” as other girls said to their little brothers. So she thought it very natural and nice that he should call her up a few days later and invite her to go with him to a party. “They said I could bring a girl,” he explained. She had her hair done on the way home from the office, did her nails, bathed elaborately, put on a draped dress of rich blue silk and looked very fresh and glowing when he arrived at nine o’clock, looking quite fresh and glowing himself in a
HOME'S WHERE YOU KEEP YOUR HEART
brand new tux. He was worried because it looked so new; while she put on her black cape, he kept rubbing at his sleeves as if to wear them out a little in a hurry.
The autumn night was cold and cloudy, vaguely shadowed, vaguely moonlit, full of bitter melancholy autumn scents. “You look all right,” James said finally in the taxi and, when they stood outside the green-painted door behind which the party waited, he said, “I’m proud of you,” which very nearly brought tears to her eyes because she had so often said that to him to encourage him before ordeals. But the party was no ordeal. She was good at parties and this was a good party from the beginning.
They were admitted into a huge studio room filled with people and within five minutes she was dancing with a large handsome young man who was an architect. He could talk as well as dance and he talked with enthusiasm about his profession, displaying at the same time an alert sense of humor that was disarming and attractive. But she found herself wondering all the time if he was not rather glib, rather superficial—he laughed so readily, he confessed his faults so lightly . . . She enjoyed his company, but she could not quite make up her mind to let herself go and like him.
On the way home, James said with disgust, “I don’t think you’d know your man if you met him. You don’t look for positive qualities any more— you look for flaws.” She shook her head, but what he said was frightening. “You’ve made yourself too soft a nest, with all your possessions, that’s what’s wrong. You’d be afraid to marry. You’ve waited too long.”
“No brutality like a brother’s candor,” she murmured. “No, what’ll happen is, I’ll deign to fall in love but I won’t be fallen in love with. That will be my fate.”
“Like the devil,” he said consolingly. She was not altogether consoled.
rpHE NEXT day was a cold grey day with thin A snow drifting down; and her office at the wholesale paper company was bleak with fluorescent light and a hushed bored business atmosphere. Her job had never seemed so futile and dull. She took dictation and answered telephones and ironed out disputes between file clerks and office boys, but she could take no pride in the minor skills that she made use of in doing those things. It was a living, it might even be necessary, and she could do if with easy grace and confidence but it was no job to grow old with.
She was glad to come home at. last to her pleasant rooms. Soft rich colors glowed suddenly as she turned on the lights, each striking separate notes to make a subtle
familiar concord and everything was orderly and beautiful and dear to her. Anyone who said that, possessions were not important, she thought, (because James’ attitude had disturbed her more than he could have meant it to), was simply fooling himself. A home was possessionssomething to return to. Belongings. And what was life without a home?
Relaxed and contented, she cooked her dinner and ate it, reading chapter forty-eight of “David Copperfield” while she ate; and then she washed t he dishes and made her kitchen neat and went into the living room to read chapter forty-nine. But her thoughts wandered. In a way, James had been right furniture was not by any means enough to build a life around, any more t han a job as secretary to the sales manager of a paper company was. In ten years’ time, everything that was so pleasant tonight would not be half as pleasant unless she also had a husband and a couple of children — and time was passing, she realized as she heard the ticking clock even in quiet contented hours like this one, even in charming rooms like this room, wit h Dickens at hand and Brahms and Beethoven available, time went on hurrying by. She felt then the panic that follows idleness and all her contentment drained away. If she wanted more than what she had, she would have to go out and look for it.. It. would not come seeking her . . . But the doorbell was ringing.
She opened the door to a tall thin white-haired young man who smiled at her Continued on page 41
Continued from page 11
as if he knew her. “Hello,” he said like an old friend and when she said nothing he went on, half diffident, half amused, “Isn’t it customary to call, even though we weren’t actually partners?” She felt almost frightened and therefore angry and possibly showed it. “We met last night at Celia Greaves’ party—don’t you remember? I’m the one who brought you a drink at midnight.” “Oh, of course,” she said, vaguely remembering him now and stepped back to let him in. “I’m sorry to be so suspicious—it seems a sort of necessity in cities . . .”
“I know,” he agreed, following her into the living room and looking around with pleasure but without any particular surprise. “What a very nice room! And what’s the book? David Copperfield. Exactly the right book. And such a luxurious sofa.”
“I got it in Grand Rapids,” she said dubiously, making conversation, sitting down on the edge of a chair and watching him settle himself on the sofa as if he meant to stay for hours. “I went there and picked it out myself. . .” He laughed softly. “The name has such a different connotation.” Then he stroked the rough linen upholstery approvingly and smiled at her. “What are your favorite characters?” “My—Oh. M-miss Mowcher when she’s being volatile and Dora, of course ...”
4 Matter of Paper
Continuing world shortages have greatly affected deliveries of the type of paper this publication normally uses.
Should your copy of Maclean’s contain paper not as good as usual, it is because that is the only way in which the publishers can maintain full service to the largest possible number of readers.
“Dora, of course. This is a meeting of true minds. I’ve never met anyone else who said of course when they said Dora and she’s plainly such a dear.” He smiled at her again, pc litely, easily; and she smiled too, and nodded, but she felt as if she had missed a step in the dark and had landed heaven knew where in the middle of friendliness with a complete stranger. His hair was not white, only sunbleached—against the dead white of the sofa linen it had a lively color of its own—and his eyes were as blue as forget-me-nots. “My name,” he said, “is Simon Hadley. I knew your brother James in college for a little while, when he was a freshman— I was a graduate student. And I met him again last year in San Francisco— and last night at Celia Greaves’.” She sighed with relief and laughed at herself for letting her relief show; but he took no notice and went on talking, or conversing, about Dickens. His visit was the queerest mixture of convention and irregularity that she had ever seen; when he left, she had to sit in silence for a while to make a total of her feelings about it. He had made an impression, that was certain; for once she had met someone who would be hard to forget, simply because he was grown up and polite and yet wholly without pretenses. And she liked him very easily and very much. What he felt about it, she hadn’t the least idea.
JAMES, when told about it a few days later said that Simon was a queer duck, that was all; he was an agronomist and he looked happy, didn’t he, and he certainly was serious.
“Did you have him in mind all along?” said Terry, amused, pleased and somewhat startled.
“He occurred to me, when you laid down your specifications,” James said with nonchalance. “He’s the right age too—about thirty. I think of everything.”
“And what’s an agronomist?”
“I don’t know,” James answered solemnly.
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Continued from page 41
“I’ll have to ask him, if I see him again,” Terry said in an offhand way, and James said that he was glad the party had borne some fruit after all. She thought how funny it would be if James’ simple remedy should have a simple and childlike success and she was more than merely gratified when Simon called on her again.
It was easy to like him a great deal. Thin and plainly dressed and outspoken, but unexpectedly subtle in his reactions, he was interesting to be with, and he fitted into her life as if he had been just around the corner leading an exactly similar one for years. He liked to walk and to talk and to listen to music; he knew how to be lazy, but he was never lethargic; and he was good-tempered with strangers, with waiters and clerks in stores; all of which qualities she valued.
She saw him quite often and enjoyed seeing him enough to refuse other invitations so as to have her evenings free in case he called—and all he ever did was talk, seeming to carry out a slow and careful exploration of their possibilities for compatibility. This might have been annoying if she had not so thoroughly approved of caution in these matters. Sometimes, when he had gone, she said aloud to herself, “I’m being courted!” and she took an odd pleasure in that idea. There was a pleasant kind of oldfashioned courtesy and a promise of permanence about it.
But there were also times when she felt a kind of old-fashioned nervousness; wondering how much he liked her, how well he understood her. He was restless on one evening—the winter wind shook the windows behind the curtains, but her living room was all lamplight and warmth and the record player was playing Schubert waltzes. Nonetheless Simon prowled around in an unsettled fashion, studying the banjo clock on the wall, the Sevres vases on the highboy. “All this—” he said at one point, stopping in front of a tall secretary-bookcase, the shelves of which, behind the oddshaped glass panes of the doors, were filled with china colored like jewels, “you picked it all out for yourself, that’s plain.”
“Yes,” she said, uneasily wondering what was to follow.
“It looks like you, it has a kind of tidy beauty,” he said, and she flushed with pleasure but still felt uneasy. He was smiling at her, but his blue eyes seemed bleak, as if he were looking at her across distances. “Do you enjoy it now as much as you thought you would before you had it?”
“Oh, you’ve got the wrong idea,” she protested, “like most people . . .” She was wearing black slacks and a red wool jersey jacket. She looked exceedingly decorative in her corner of the big white sofa and calm, too, but her heart was beating heavily. “I mean, there’s nothing stagnant about acquiring things. It simply means that you set up a standard for yourself and it’s fun maintaining the standard, don’t you see? Not stuffy and static at all. It wouldn’t be fun if I only sat and gloated over the finished product, though that’s rather fun too, I must admit.”
“You mean you live up to your possessions by living graciously?” he said, giving the words an ironic inflection that was somehow not at all unkind, that made her feel in fact cherished and flattered to be the centre of so much interest.
“Well, for instance, the first thing I ever bought, when I was in grade school, was a pottery vase, rather pretty, too. But it wouldn’t belong here—I outgrew it. And that’s true
of a lot of other things I’ve owned and it’s rather fun to grow, don’t you agree?” she enquired diffidently. Her hands were trembling a little. She saw plainly what was happening: He
had met her and liked her enough to want to know her; and now, beginning to know her, he was coming to the wrong conclusion. She wanted to say, I’m not the stuffy kind of person who’s all wrapped up in her house—I suppose James has casually given you the idea that I am! But I’m not. It wouldn't break my heart if you scratched my piecrust table or broke one of my Spode cups. But that was the sort of thing that could not be said, simply because it would not be believed. Such things had to be learned by slow experience . . .
He stood by the window, holding the curtain aside, looking down at the desolate snow-covered park outside. City sounds were faintly audible —taxi horns, the noise of a siren, bells and the distant screech of a streetcar. “What happened to those other things?”
“I broke the vase, on purpose,” she said flatly. “And the other things I gave away . . .”
“How very firm,” he murmured.
“But really,” she said, carefully keeping her voice casual, “I don’t value my possessions because they measure up to a standard—it’s just that they’re my home.” She dared not say anything more; he looked unconvinced.
What is he really like, she wondered after he had gone. The whole trouble with this old-fashioned courtship is, it doesn’t give the girl much chance to find out about the man. He doesn’t seem like a shaggy untidy sort of person, but perhaps he dreams of settling down in a home where dogs have the run of the house and a man can put his feet up on the sofa and spill ashes on the rug and solder a broken radio connection on the dining room table if he feels like it . . . What then?
But he didn’t seem at all that kind of man, his thoughts didn’t surreptitiously wander when he listened to Bach, he always seemed at home in her home, and he always looked at her as if the sight of her pleased him very much, prim and particular as she was . . .
ON ONE Sunday afternoon they went for a walk along the city streets, past the building where she worked, drab and dreary in its Sunday darkness, past the railroad station, where they saw a train coming in on the other side of the iron fence and then across the massive concrete bridge over the river. Halfway across, they paused to look back at the city. They saw its grey blunt irregular towers against a cold pink sky: everything except the sky was grey and mauve, smoky and dim and sad, but sadly beautiful too, as a remote picture, unconnected with crowded daily life. She was cold but entranced; she said, “Looking at something like that makes me feel that I have everything I want in the world.”
“What more do you want?” he said after a moment.
“Why . . why I really want . . . a house,” she said seriously. “I could show you the exact pattern of it— it’s on a hillside outside of town, with trees and a brook.”
“Just a house?”
She glanced at him. He was leaning with his back against the concrete of the bridge, hands in his pockets, his eyes fixed on the distant skyline. “And a family,” she said. He looked merely thoughtful, aware of her only as a companion and a friend. “A Continued on page 46
Continued from page 44 home, in short. Not a makeshift home like my apartment but a real one. What do you want?”
“Really very little. I like to feel, myself, that there’s nothing I can’t do without, except the right to be friendly to people.”
She felt rather chilled. All her pleasure in the afternoon had for some reason dwindled. The sky, which had been the color of a cold pink rose, had faded too; twilight had changed and made it drab. “I don’t know,” she said hesitantly, pressing her cheek into the cold softness of her fur collar, “people who travel light, they’re rather . . .
I don’t know . . .”
“I don’t travel light, if that’s what you mean. But all I really want is friendliness, to myself as well, you know. I insist on being on good terms with me.”
“But my—my furniture mania, you laugh at it a little . . .”
“That may be envy,” he said. He leaned over the railing to look at the frozen river. “Because all that is not for me.”
“Because of my job.”
“What exactly is your job?” she asked, beginning to walk again and he walked along beside her, his hands still in his pockets.
“My job’s taking me to Washington tomorrow for a few weeks, for one thing,” he said. “But that’s by the way. I study plant life. I had a fiveyear fellowship for traveling around and collating all the known facts there are about wheat in its more or less natural state, in the eventual hope of producing a better hybrid for a special climate. R’s rather hard to explain but it’s fascinating,” he said with sober unselfconscious enthusiasm. “Now I’m going to bring back specimens for study in this country, if I ever get through the red tape of permits. I’ll spend my life,” he went on uncompromisingly, “doing the same sort of thing, traveling and studying. I’ll never settle down, in a house on a hillside, with trees and a brook . .
“I wish you’d told me all this before,” she said in an even voice. “It sounds important to you.”
“Well, it is. As a matter of fact, I thought James would have told you.” “No . . . I’m getting cold, let’s walk faster . . .”
They walked faster. She thought, now the cards are on the table and he’ll go off and never trouble me again if I give the least sign that that’s what I want . . . He doesn’t want to hurt me, or himself; he doesn’t want anything dragged out and miserable, a long unravelling of useless emotions . . . But no more do I . . . He’s civilized and mature. He doesn’t want a flood of passion and a haphazard conclusion. Oh, he’s cold-blooded—why does that appeal to me so much? Because I’m cold-blooded too?
SHE TOOK the matter up with James, who said with sweet determination, “ƒ wasn’t going to tell you and have you scratch him off your list. He’s a tremendously nice young fellow and he suits you.”
They were in James’ drab rooms. He was lying on the sagging sofa; she sat. on a scarred coffee table, gripping the edges of it with her hands, her shoulders hunched. James had rented the rooms furnished and they were dreary, shabby rooms and he had had no belongings of his own with which to take even partial possession of them. In her suave mulberry-colored suit, with her black hair fastidiously smooth, she looked wholly out of place in them.
“There are people,” she said, “homeloving people . . . I’m not unsocial,
you’ll admit that? I can get along with people and I like parties—but 1 don’t mind being alone if I’m at home . . . I mean, if there are familiar things to remind me that I’m where I belong. I’m not a traveler, I’m not adventurous, not at all, not in the least,” she said, and now her voice was shaking. “I think I could even endure this hovel,” she went on, trying to be light about it, “if it were my permanent home and I were living with someone I liked, but to live out of a suitcase and always have strangeness outside the windows—” She shook her head in panic.
James looked surprisingly upset. “Have you fallen for him, then?”
“Yes, I’ve fallen for him.”
“Well, that’s too bad,” he said uncertainly. “I didn’t know you felt like this—as a matter of fact,” he said with some anger, “I don’t see how you can, when it’s just furniture and it’s a case of love, or am I being naive?”
“It’d be a case of the whole rest of my life,” she said despairingly, “and I’m the kind of person who loves to be home, who loves to get settled, even if it’s the wrong way to be. I like to eat off my own china and I like to have nice things, beautiful things. I take pride in them.”
“Well, don’t cry about it,” he said crossly, looking quite unhappy himself. He was young and he was just beginning to see that mere living—ordinary peacetime living—could have its difficulties. “Anyway,” he added, brightening, “if he knew you felt like this, surely he could take a job somewhere, a steady stay-at-home job—he could, you know. At the university farm, for instance. It’d be in his line.”
But she had already considered that and she shook her head. “He’s what he is because he’s doing what he likes best in the world. If I were doing something important that I liked best in the world, I’d have a right to ask a sacrifice like that. But not as things are . .
SIMON telephoned to say good-by in his sedate formal way, announced his intention of coming back and went off to Washington. Terry felt quite certain that she would not see him again in the way of courtship and when, on the evening of the day that he left, she came home to her silent orderly beautiful rooms, she felt sickened by the thought of what she had given up in order to preserve only this for herself. “You’ve made a mistake,” she told herself, feeling the coldness, the panic of error. But afterwards, when she contemplated the idea of selling her familiar treasures, of turning herself into a nomad, she could only feel something like gratitude that Simon, cool and purposeful and remote, had removed himself from her life.
At night she was haunted by tl.o familiar nightmare about packing endless clothes into vague suitcases 1 o catch a train the departure time c which was always changing. But there was a new nightmare within the old one: strangers crowded through the room in which she futilely struggled to organize her belongings until it was plain that the room was the railway station and then, horrifyingly, only a great grey noisy street in the centre of an unknown city, where her lipsticks rolled away down train tracks and all the passers-by were cruel thieves. When she woke up, it was with enormous relief that she saw sunlight touching the transparent edges of the white curtains at her own windows, heard the radiator clanking comfortably and knew that she was safe at home.
But if the nightmare haunted her dreams, Simon haunted her days. “He was . . . quite a cold stick,” she thought as she went out into a dark
winter morning to get to work, and she wrinkled her nose disdainfully, heartfree, it seemed, and unhurt. But drinking tea before a friend’s bright fireplace on a Sunday afternoon, she thought, “Simon belongs here,” and then she could have wept over what might have been and couldn’t be. She almost always had the feeling that she stood balanced on the wrong foot on the edge of making a decision, that she was wavering inevitably toward a serious disastrous mist ake.
Week? went by, and she was lonely. Her job was more than ever tedious— she had come back to routine after a vacation too short to make routine fresh again. She had moments of intense boredom that sent her out to the movies in slacks and a topcoat at odd times of the evening. Reading made her feel that she was wasting time. Life seemed to be composed wholly of grocery lists, bills, irritating people, dirty dishes and worn-out stockings.
Old Mrs. Cross, who had been one of her mother’s closest friends, said one evening, “What’s wrong with you these days, Terry?” They were in the spacious parlor of Mrs. Cross’ solid old house after dinner; one of her grandsons was playing Grieg with great tenderness on the piano; a son and a son-in-law were enjoying a violent and unprofessional game of chess; daughters and daughters-in-law were knitting and embroidering and quietly gossiping. It was very peaceful.
“Oh, I’m just unhappy over a man, of course/’ Terry answered flippantly. Old Mrs. Cross frowned, managing to look immeasureably serene and conventional in her grey silk and pearls. “You see,” Terry went on, “I want what you have. I want to look forward to this—” she glanced around the placid handsome room. “And I see no prospect of getting it . . Mrs.
Cross raised her brows. “He’s a sort of traveling scientist ... an icicle of a man. He live? for his work and his work won’t let him settle down. You see what a problem it is.”
But Mrs. Cross did not see until it was all explained in detail from the moment of Simon’s first appearance to the last scene on the bridge. When she did see, she was harshly dogmatic as only old women who have led long difficult, lives and have come through to a successful conclusion can be. “You marry a man’s profession too,” she said decisively. “And you can’t possibly be a good wife if you don’t like the life he leads.”
“What’s mother laying down the law about?” asked Mrs. Cross’ youngest daughter, wandering over with an ironical good-humored smile. She offered no advice when she heard what the situation was but let her mother continue the stern counsel of common sense until Terry was ready to go. Then she went with her to the door and said, “At the same time, my girl, good men are hard to find in this sad world. If he loves you, to speak sentimentally, he’ll settle down to please you. And I’d like to see you married.”
“So would I,” said Terry.
She sat for a long time on her white sofa that night, thinking, and studying her belongings, admiring for the hundredth time the way light and shadow enriched the carving on the piecrust table, the way colors subtly echoed themselves in china and books, in walls and pictures. The tangible nucleus of a home was there in the cherry secretary, the little mahogany desk, the bookcases, the Rowlandson prints, the fine Spode china. She had waited a long time and she wanted stability yet perfect marriages were rare and good men were not easy to find and time was passing . . . “You’re
egocentric and selfish,” she said aloud at last, getting up, and then she absurdly patted her sideboard on what might be considered its shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, chum, 1 won’t desert you . . .”
The next day was Sunday and she slept late, ate a late breakfast and at four o’clock dressed to go out to a solitary dinner, opening the door just as the doorbell sounded.
Simon Hadley stood in the hall, tall and thin, perfectly composed, the wanderer come back without apologies. “Hello,” he said, “going out, or just come home?”
“So you’re back,” Terry said tonelessly. “Going out ... to have dinner by myself. Want to come along?”
“I’d like to.” They walked along the dim hallway to the stairs. “I ought to have written, but I’m rotten at writing letters.”
“I should say you are,” she said, going noiselessly down the carpeted stairs with indolent nonchalant grace. There were tears in her eyes and she was not sure herself why they were there. “But so am I,” she said sternly.
In the sedate softly lit dining room of one of the downtown hotels, Simon talked about Washington and the weather until dessert was served, and then, apparently studying the quality of paper in the cigarette that he had just lit, he said, “Have you given any more thought to the idea of marrying me?”
“I didn’t know I’d been asked,” she answered and she kept the wide black brim of her hat lowered so that she would not have to see him.
There was silence; then he said with a degree of curtness, “Oh, you knew.” She glanced up. His face had the bleak thoughtful look that she had seen on it before; his eyes were narrowed and hard. She started to speak and changed her mind. “It’s a funny thing 1 used to imagine the kind of girl I’d marry. She was moderately pretty, freckled, you know, and fond of camping out. I always saw her wearing dungarees and a sweat-shirt . . . But I’ve met girls like that and I guess I wasn’t born to fall in love with them. It had to be a—a prim, tidy, beautiful city girl who collected immovable sideboards . . .”
“Some day,” she said, “some nice girl is going to have the courage to tell you that no nice girl likes to be called prim !”
There was another silence, equally nerve-wracking, and then he laughed a sudden startled happy laugh. “A nice girl just did! I’m sorry, but you are prim and could you lead my kind of life? Living out of suitcases in all kinds of lodgings, some of them nice and some of them awful, in dusty countries and hot countries, with missionaries and dull professors and practical farmers for friends? Could you?”
He sounded as if he actually thought after all that she could, which made her angry; he seemed to assume that what he had to offer would be worth any sacrifice. “I couldn’t,” she said, “and you know I couldn’t. And wouldn’t . . . Let’s get out of here, this is the dreariest place in town on a Sunday . . .”
“What a mood you’re in,” he said, but she waited till they were outside before she answered, storing up her wrath and her queer feeling of humiliation and dismay, her queer sense of failure.
Thin snow was falling; the lighted windows of drugstores and cafes were foggy. “You come back,” she began bitterly and ineptly as they started off down the street, “when you’re ready to come back and you find me where you left me.” She swallowed hard. “If you loved me, you’d consider my happiness
a little, you’d get a job and settle down—”
“Yes, I could do that,” he said, marching along beside her. “1 could get a job here, a useful valuable job in my own field and I wouldn’t enjoy it, if that counts for anything . . . Just the sight of a train or a plane—those colored lights moving down the sky at night, you know? An airport or a station—you remember that other Sunday, when we saw that train come in ... You know the poem—‘There isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, no matter where it’s going?’ That expresses it, for me.”
“I’m just the opposite—and you could change as well as I could.”
“I’m not a noble character, I’d resent it later on, when I felt restless and tied down . . .” They were walking along the iron fence of the railway station now; snow mingled with steam and a thin hammering of bells; people with suitcases hurried by on the other side of the railing. “Terry,” he said, just as James had done, “how can you let a little furniture matter in a case like this?”
“It isn’t a little furniture,” she said, and stopped beside the gloom of a darkened warehouse to face him. “It’s the habits of my whole lifetime, don’t you see? When you own things, they twine themselves around you, you get used to them and you love them even thought they are just things. You get used to familiarity and permanence and you can’t live without it. . . And you could get another job, if you really loved me . . .”
“Is that your condition?”
“All right, then, I accept it,” he said recklessly, putting his arms around her. “1 find I can’t live without you. I can’t.” His cheek was warm against hers and her wide hat was pushed askew. But it wasn’t perfect happiness. It was not happiness at all. The unromantic future came toward her, full of resentment and discontent; whichever way they took, one of them would always be looking back to what had been so reluctantly abandoned . . .
“No,” she said, firmly, flatly and she stepped back and put space between them as well as finality.
AND SO Simon went away and L Terry once again, and for good, faced the full endless anticlimax of days as they were before. You don’t miss what you’ve never known, she thought as she remembered how contented she once had been; but how you miss it when you’ve had it and lost it! But there was nothing to be done. He had said, “If you ever change your mind—” but she could not change her mind any more than she could change herself.
She thought of him sometimes, on the other side of the world, almost out of reach even of memory and she tried to think of him as a legend, as a dream that had never been real. She was placid with her friends and industrious at her job. But sometimes she had such a sense of calamity descending on her that she wanted to run to escape it.
James said that was always a consequence of any difficult decision. “You're afraid you’ve chosen wrong,” he said. They had had dinner together and were walking to her apartment. When she had changed her dress, they were going on to a party once again at Celia Greaves’ studio. The February night was cold, black and starry overhead; the snowy streets were almost empty of traffic. “And maybe you have?”
“I chose the way I had to choose, for the sake of both of us,’’ she said firmly. “I’m not going to talk about it any
more, we’ve talked about it too much lately. It’s unsettling.”
“But if you could choose again?”
“I’d probably choose the other way and regret it just as much,” she said angrily. They had come to the last corner. She said, “Look at all those people!” and stepped over a thick loop of hose on the sidewalk. Her heart seemed to stop; she felt cold with terror.
The air smelled of smoke and burned things; there was a little throng of people staring up at her apartment house with fascinated frightened faces; and there were fire engines thrumming and men talking and streams of dirty water flowing over the sidewalk and a dwindling air of bustle. Through a black rectangle on the fourth floor that had once been her living room window, a blackened tatter of curtain flapped in the wind.
A man noticed her and came toward her, a stout short man, a newspaperman whom she knew quite well. “Tough luck on you, Terry,” he said, “Hi, James. Two top floors were gutted—a gas stove blew up in the place below yours. All your beautiful things gone,” he said with genuine sympathy. “Any idea how much they were worth?”
She found it extraordinarily difficult to move her lips. “They were insured for a little over seventeen thousand dollars,” she said.
“Oh, they were insured? That’s lucky . . .”
She stared up at the fourth-floor windows. The night winds were blowing freely now through the charred shell of her home. “It’s a . . . shock,” she said at last. Then she said, “Can—can I go up?”
“Not unless you want to climb a ladder,” the newspaperman said. “The stairway’s gone.”
“It’s a—a shock,” she said again, stammering.
BUT SHE didn’t cry and James wondered about that; he wondered when she would start to cry, how soon the reaction would hit her and what he would say to comfort her then. But when they were in his shabby rooms, with the harsh overhead lights shining in every dusty corner, she said calmly, “Tomorrow I’ve got to telephone Simon,” and he realized that she never was going to waste tears on this disaster. “Oh, good for you!” he said softly. “But do you understand why? If you don’t understand, he never will. He isn’t second choice.”
James understood perfectly. “You’ve realized,” he said, “that it isn’t safe to build your life on such perishable things . . .”
“Oh no,” she protested, her face bright with a new kind of confidence. “Why, it’s the safest thing in the world, don’t you see? They’re so replaceable! I could even have an awfully good time replacing them! They’re too safe, too easy . . .” She looked at him anxiously. “Don’t you see, I thought all along they were my home and then they burned and I didn't feel out in the cold and homeless. I thought it would break my heart to give them up, but once they were gone it was all right because Simon was still in the world. Do you understand? He’s my home,” she said, and then, very much afraid that she had been sentimental, she went hastily on, “Can I sleep on this horrid sofa tonight, dear little brother, or are you going to be chivalrous and give up your bed to me?”
“Take the bed,” he said, grinning, looking pleased and amazed and happy. “A girl who’s just lost everything she owns in the world deserves it.”
“No, a girl who’s found—” Terry smiled, and left it at that. +