REVELATIONS OF A WIFE
The Story of a Honeymoon
1915, 1916, 1917
I. "I WILL BE HAPPY! I WILL! I WILL!"
II. THE FIRST QUARREL
III. KNOWN TO FAME AS LILLIAN GALE
IV. DIVIDED OPINIONS
V. "ALWAYS YOUR JACK"
VI. A MAID AND MODEL
VII. A FRIENDLY WARNING
VIII. A TRAGEDY AVERTED
IX. THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
X. GRACE BY NAME AND GRACE BY NATURE
XI. "I OWE YOU TOO MUCH"
XII. LOST AND FOUND
XIII. "IF YOU AREN'T CROSS AND DISPLEASED"
XIV. A QUARREL AND A CRISIS
XV. "BUT I LOVE YOU"
XVI. INTERRUPTED SIGHT-SEEING
XVII. A DANGER AND A PROBLEM
XVIII. "CALL ME MOTHER—IF YOU CAN"
XIX. LILLIAN UNDERWOOD'S STORY
XX. LITTLE MISS SONNOT'S OPPORTUNITY
XXI. LIFE'S JOG-TROT AND A QUARREL
XXII. AN AMAZING DISCOVERY
XXIII. "BLUEBEARD'S CLOSET"
XXIV. A SUMMER OF HAPPINESS THAT ENDS IN FEAR
XXV. PLAYING THE GAME
XXVI. A VOICE THAT CARRIED FAR
XXVII. "HOW NEARLY I LOST YOU!"
XXVIII. A DARK NIGHT AND A TROUBLED DAWN
XXIX. "BUT YOU WILL NEVER KNOW—"
XXX. THE WEEKS THAT FOLLOWED
XXXI. A MYSTERIOUS STRANGER
XXXII. "THE DEAREST FRIEND I EVER HAD"
XXXIII. "MOTHER" GRAHAM HAS SOMETHING TO SAY
XXXIV. A MESSAGE FROM THE PAST
XXXV. THE WORD OF JACK
XXXVI. "AND YET—"
XXXVII. A CHANGE IN LILLIAN UNDERWOOD
XXXIX. HARRY CALLS TO SAY GOOD-BY
XL. MADGE FACES THE PAST AND HEARS A DOOR SOFTLY CLOSE
XLI. WHY DID DICKY GO?
XLII. DAYS THAT CREEP SLOWLY BY
XLIII. "TAKE ME HOME"
Probably it is true that no two persons entertain precisely the same view of marriage. If any two did, and one happened to be a man and the other a woman, there would be many advantages in their exemplifying the harmony by marrying each other—unless they had already married some one else.
Sour-minded critics of life have said that the only persons who are likely to understand what marriage ought to be are those who have found it to be something else. Of course most of the foolish criticisms of marriage are made by those who would find the same fault with life itself. One man who was asked whether life was worth living, answered that it depended on the liver. Thus, it has been pointed out that marriage can be only as good as the persons who marry. This is simply to say that a partnership is only as good as the partners.
"Revelations of a Wife" is a woman's confession. Marriage is so vital a matter to a woman that when she writes about it she is always likely to be in earnest. In this instance, the likelihood is borne out. Adele Garrison has listened to the whisperings of her own heart. She has done more. She has caught the wireless from a man's heart. And she has poured the record into this story.
The woman of this story is only one kind of a woman, and the man is only one kind of a man. But their experiences will touch the consciousness—I was going to say the conscience—of every man or woman who has either married or measured marriage, and we've all done one or the other.
Revelations of a Wife
"I WILL BE HAPPY! I WILL! I WILL!"
Today we were married.
I have said these words over and over to myself, and now I have written them, and the written characters seem as strange to me as the uttered words did. I cannot believe that I, Margaret Spencer, 27 years old, I who laughed and sneered at marriage, justifying myself by the tragedies and unhappiness of scores of my friends, I who have made for myself a place in the world's work with an assured comfortable income, have suddenly thrown all my theories to the winds and given myself in marriage in as impetuous, unreasoning fashion as any foolish schoolgirl.
I shall have to change a word in that last paragraph. I forgot that I am no longer Margaret Spencer, but Margaret Graham, Mrs. Richard Graham, or, more probably, Mrs. "Dicky" Graham. I don't believe anybody in the world ever called Richard anything but "Dicky."
On the other hand, nobody but Richard ever called me anything shorter than my own dignified name. I have been "Madge" to him almost ever since I knew him.
Dear, dear Dicky! If I talked a hundred years I could not express the difference between us in any better fashion. He is "Dicky" and I am "Margaret."
He is downstairs now in the smoking room, impatiently humoring this lifelong habit of mine to have one hour of the day all to myself.
My mother taught me this when I was a tiny girl. My "thinking hour," she called it, a time when I solved my small problems or pondered my baby sins. All my life I have kept up the practice. And now I am going to devote it to another request of the little mother who went away from me forever last year.
"Margaret, darling," she said to me on the last day we ever talked together, "some time you are going to marry—you do not think so now, but you will—and how I wish I had time to warn you of all the hidden rocks in your course! If I only had kept a record of those days of my own unhappiness, you might learn to avoid the wretchedness that was mine. Promise me that if you marry you will write down the problems that confront you and your solution of them, so than when your own baby girl comes to you and grows into womanhood she may be helped by your experience."
Poor little mother! Her marriage with my father had been one of those wretched tragedies, the knowledge of which frightens so many people away from the altar. I have no memory of my father. I do not know today whether he be living or dead. When I was 4 years old he ran away with the woman who had been my mother's most intimate friend. All my life has been warped by the knowledge. Even now, worshipping Dicky as I do, I am wondering as I sit here, obeying my mother's last request, whether or not an experience like hers will come to me.
A fine augury for our happiness when such thoughts as this can come to me on my wedding day!
Dicky is an artist, with all the faults and all the lovable virtues of his kind. A week ago I was a teacher, holding one of the most desirable positions in the city schools. We met just six months ago, two of the most unsuited people who could be thrown together. And now we are married! Next week we begin housekeeping in a dear little apartment near Dicky's studio.
Dicky has insisted that I give up my work, and against all my convictions I have yielded to his wishes. But on my part I have stipulated that I must be permitted to do the housework of our nest, with the occasional help of a laundress. I will be no parasite wife who neither helps her husband in or out of the home. But the little devils must be busy laughing just now. I, who have hardly hung up my own nightgown for years, and whose knowledge of housekeeping is mightily near zero, am to try to make home happy and comfortable for an artist! Poor Dicky!
I don't know what has come to me. I worship Dicky. He sweeps me off my feet with his love, his vivid personality overpowers my more commonplace self, but through all the bewildering intoxication of my engagement and marriage a little mocking devil, a cool, cynical, little devil, is constantly whispering in my ear: "You fool, you fool, to imagine you can escape unhappiness! There is no such thing as a happy marriage!"
Dicky has just 'phoned up from the smoking room to ask me if my hour isn't up. How his voice clears away all the miasma of my miserable thoughts! Please God, Dicky, I am going to lock up all my old ideas in the most unused closet of my brain, and try my best to be a good wife to you! I will be happy! I will! I WILL!
THE FIRST QUARREL
"I'll give you three guesses, Madge." Dicky stood just inside the door of the living room, holding an immense parcel carefully wrapped. His hat was on the back of his head, his eyes shining, his whole face aglow with boyish mischief.
"It's for you, my first housekeeping present, that is needed in every well regulated family," he burlesqued boastfully, "but you are not to see it until we have something to eat, and you have guessed what it is."
"I know it is something lovely, dear," I replied sedately, "but come to your dinner. It is getting cold."
Dicky looked a trifle hurt as he followed me to the dining room. I knew what he expected—enthusiastic curiosity and a demand for the immediate opening of the parcel, I can imagine the pretty enthusiasm, the caresses with which almost any other woman would have greeted a bridegroom of two weeks with his first present.
But it's simply impossible for me to gush. I cannot express emotion of any kind with the facility of most women. I worshipped my mother, but I rarely kissed her or expressed my love for her in words. My love for Dicky terrifies me sometimes, it is so strong, but I cannot go up to him and offer him an unsolicited kiss or caress. Respond to his caresses, yes! but offer them of my own volition, never! There is something inside me that makes it an absolute impossibility.
"What's the menu, Madge? The beef again?"
Dicky's tone was mildly quizzical, his smile mischievous, but I flushed hotly. He had touched a sore spot. The butcher had brought me a huge slab of meat for my first dinner when I had timidly ordered "rib roast," and with the aid of my mother's cook book and my own smattering of cooking, my sole housewifely accomplishment, I had been trying to disguise it for subsequent meals.
"This is positively its last appearance on any stage," I assured him, trying to be gay. "Besides, it's a casserole, with rice, and I defy you to detect whether the chief ingredient be fish, flesh or fowl."
"Casserole is usually my pet aversion," Dicky said solemnly. Look not on the casserole when it is table d'hote, is one of the pet little proverbs in my immediate set. Too much like Spanish steak and the other good chances for ptomaines. But if you made it I'll tackle it—if you have to call the ambulance in the next half-hour."
"Dicky, you surely do not think I would use meat that was doubtful, do you?" I asked, horror-stricken. "Don't eat it. Wait and I'll fix up some eggs for you."
Dicky rose stiffly, walked slowly around to my side of the table, and gravely tapped my head in imitation of a phrenologist.
"Absolute depression where the bump called 'sense of humor' ought to be. Too bad! Pretty creature, too. Cause her lots of trouble, in the days to come," he chanted solemnly.
Then he bent and kissed me. "Don't be a goose, Madge," he admonished, "and never, never take me seriously. I don't know the meaning of the word. Come on, let's eat the thing-um bob. I'll bet it's delicious."
He uncovered the casserole and regarded the steaming contents critically. "Smells scrumptious," he announced. "What's in the other? Potatoes au gratin?" as he took off the cover of the other serving dish. "Good! One of my favorites."
He piled a liberal portion on any plate and helped himself as generously. He ate heartily of both dishes, ignoring or not noticing that I scarcely touched either dish.
For I was fast lapsing into one of the moods which my little mother used to call my "morbid streaks" and which she had vainly tried to cure ever since I was a tiny girl.
Dicky didn't like my cooking! He was only pretending! Dicky was disappointed in the way I received the announcement of his present! Probably he soon would find me wanting in other things.
As I took our plates to the kitchen and brought on a lettuce and tomato salad with a mayonnaise dressing over which I had toiled for an hour, I was trying hard to choke back the tears.
When I brought on the baked apples which I had prepared with especial care for dessert, Dick gave them one glance which to my oversensitive mind looked disparaging. Then he pushed back his chair.
"Don't believe I want any dessert today. The rest of the dinner was so good I ate too much of it. Eat yours and I'll undo your surprise."
"Whatever in the world?" I began as Dicky lifted the lid and revealed a big Angora cat. Then my voice changed. "Why, Dicky, you don't mean—" But Dicky was absorbed in lifting the cat out.
"Isn't she a beauty?" he said admiringly. But I was almost into the dining room.
"I suppose she is," I replied faintly, "but surely you do not intend her for me?"
"Why not?" Dicky's tone was sharper than I had ever heard it. He set the cat down on the floor and she walked over to me. I pushed her away gently with my foot as I replied:
"Because I dislike cats—intensely. Besides, you know cats are so unsanitary, always carrying disease—"
"Oh, get out of it, Madge," Dicky interrupted. "Forget that scientific foolishness you absorbed when you were school ma'aming. Besides, this cat is a thoroughbred, never been outside the home where she was born till now. Do you happen to know what this gift you are tossing aside so nonchalantly would have cost if it hadn't been given me by a dear friend? A cool two hundred, that's all. It seems to me you might try to get over your prejudices, especially when I tell you that I am very fond of cats and like to see them around."
Dicky's voice held a note of appeal, but I chose to ignore it. My particular little devil must have sat at my elbow.
"I am sorry," I said coldly, "but really, I do not see why it is any more incumbent on me to try to overcome my very real aversion to cats than it is for you to try to do without their society."
"Very well," Dicky exclaimed angrily, turning toward the door. "If you feel that way about it, there is nothing more to be said."
Then Dicky slammed the living room door behind him to emphasize his words, went down the hall, slammed the apartment door and ran down the steps.
Back in the living room, huddled up in the big chair which is the chief pride of the woman who rents us the furnished apartment, I sat, as angry as Dicky, and heartsick besides. Our first quarrel had come!
But the cat remained. What was I to do with her? There is no cure for a quarrel like loneliness and reflection. Dicky had not been gone a half-hour after our disagreement over the cat before I was wondering how we both could have been so silly.
I thought it out carefully. I could see that Dicky was accustomed to having his own way unquestioned. He had told me once that his mother and sister had spoiled him, and I reflected that he evidently expected me to go on in the same way.
On the other hand, I had been absolutely my own mistress for years, the little mother in a way being more my child than I hers. Accustomed to decide for myself every question of my life I had no desire, neither had I intention of doing, any clinging vine act with Dicky posing at the strong oak.
But I also had the common sense to see that there would be real issues in our lives without wasting our ammunition over a cat. Then, too, the remembrance of Dicky's happy face when he thought he was surprising me tugged at my heart.
"If he wants a cat, a cat he shall have," I said to myself, and calling my unwelcome guest to me with a resolute determination to do my duty by the beast, no matter how distasteful the task, I was just putting a saucer of milk in front of her when the door opened and Dicky came in like a whirlwind.
"How do you wear sackcloth and ashes?" he cried, catching me in his arms as he made the query. "If you've got any in the house bring 'em along and I'll put them on. Seriously, girl, I'm awfully sorry I let my temper out of its little cage. No nice thing getting angry at your bride, because she doesn't like cats. I'll take the beast back tomorrow."
"Indeed, you'll do no such thing," I protested. "You're not the only one who is sorry, I made up my mind before you came back not only to keep this cat, but to learn to like her."
Dicky kissed me. "You're a brick, sweetheart," he said heartily, "and I've got a reward for you, a peace offering. Get on your frills, for we're going to a first night. Sanders was called out of town, had the tickets on his hands, and turned them over to me. Hurry up while I get into my moonlights."
"Your what?" I was mystified.
"Evening clothes, goose." Dicky threw the words over his shoulder as he took down the telephone receiver. "Can you dress in half an hour? We have only that."
"I'll be ready."
As I closed the door of my room I heard Dicky ask for the number of the taxicab company where he kept an account. Impulsively, I started toward him to remonstrate against the extravagance, but stopped as I heard the patter of rain against the windows.
"I'll leave this evening entirely in Dicky's hands," I resolved as I began to dress.
KNOWN TO FAME AS LILLIAN GALE
Our taxi drew into the long line of motor cars before the theatre and slowly crept up to the door. Dicky jumped out, raised his umbrella and guided me into the lobby. It was filled with men and women, some in elaborate evening dress, others in street garb. Some were going in to their seats, others were gossiping with each other, still others appeared to be waiting for friends.
The most conspicuous of all the women leaned against the wall and gazed at others through a lorgnette which she handled as if she had not long before been accustomed to its use. Her gown, a glaringly cut one, was of scarlet chiffon over silk, and her brocaded cape was half-slipping from her shoulder. Her hair was frankly dyed, and she rouged outrageously.
I gazed at her fascinated. She typified to me everything that was disagreeable. I have always disliked even being in the neighborhood of her vulgar kind. What was my horror, then, to see her deliberately smiling at me, then coming toward us with hand outstretched.
I realized the truth even before she spoke. It was not I at whom she was smiling, but Dicky. She was Dicky's friend!
"Why, bless my soul, if it isn't the Dicky-bird," she cried so loudly that everybody turned to look at us. She took my hand. "I suppose you are the bride Dicky's been hiding away so jealously." She looked me up and down as if I were on exhibition and turning to Dicky said. "Pretty good taste, Dicky, but I don't imagine that your old friends will see much of you from now on."
"That's where you're wrong, Lil," returned Dicky easily. "We're going to have you all up some night soon."
"See that you do," she returned, tweaking his ear as we passed on to our seats.
I had not spoken during the conversation. I had shaken the hand of the woman and smiled at her.
But over and over again in my brain this question was revolving:
"Who is this unpleasant woman who calls my husband 'Dicky-bird,' and who is called 'Lil' by him?"
But I love the very air of the theatre, so as Dicky and I sank into the old-fashioned brocaded seats I resolutely put away from my mind all disturbing thoughts of the woman in the lobby who appeared on such good terms with my husband, and prepared to enjoy every moment of the evening.
"Well done, Madge," Dicky whispered mischievously, as, after we had been seated, I let my cloak drop from my shoulders without arising. "You wriggled that off in the most approved manner."
"I ought to," I whispered back. "I've watched other women with envious attention during all the lean years, when I wore tailor-mades to mill and to meeting."
Dicky squeezed my hand under cover of the cloak. "No more lean years for my girl if I can help it." he murmured earnestly.
Dicky appeared to know a number of people in the audience. A half-dozen men and two or three women bowed to him. He told me about each one. Two were dramatic critics, others artist and actor friends. Each one's name was familiar to me through the newspapers.
"You'll know them all later, Madge," he said, and I felt a glow of pleasure in the anticipation of meeting such interesting people.
Dicky opened his program, and I idly watched the people between me and the stage. A few seats in front of us to the left I caught sight of the woman who had claimed Dicky's acquaintance in the lobby. She was signaling greetings to a number of acquaintances in a flamboyant fashion. She would bow elaborately, then lift her hands together as if shaking hands with the person she greeted.
"Who is she, Dicky?" I tried to make my voice careless. "I did not catch her name when you introduced us."
"You'll probably see enough of her so you won't forget it," returned Dicky, grinning. "She's one of the busiest little members of the 'Welcome to Our City Committee' in the set I train most with. She won't rest till you've met all the boys and girls and been properly lionized. She's one of the best little scouts going, and, if she'd cut out the war paint and modulate that Comanche yell she calls her voice there would be few women to equal her for brains or looks."
"But you haven't told me yet what her name is," I persisted.
"Well, in private life she's Mrs. Harry Underwood—that's Harry with her—but she's better known all over the country as the cleverest producer of illustrated jingles for advertising we have. Remember that Simple Simon parody for the mincemeat advertisement we laughed over some time ago, and I told you I knew the woman who did it? There she is before you," and Dicky waved his hand grandiloquently.
"Lillian Gale!" I almost gasped the name.
"The same," rejoined Dicky, and turned again to his program, while I sat in amazed horror, with all my oldtime theories crumbling around me.
For I had read of Lillian Gale and her married troubles. I knew that Harry Underwood was her second husband and that she had been divorced from her first spouse after a scandal which has been aired quite fully in the newspapers. She had not been proved guilty, but her skirts certainly had been smirched by rumor. According to the ideas which had been mine, Dicky should have shrunk from having me ever meet such a woman, let alone planning to have me on terms of intimacy with her.
What should I do?
When the curtain went down on the first act I turned to Dicky happily, eager to hear his comments and filled with a throng of thoughts to wipe away any remembrance from his mind of the unhappiness that had promised to mar my evening, and which I feared he had read in my eyes. But just as I opened my lips to speak, he interrupted me with a startled exclamation:
"Sit down, Lil. Hello, Harry."
Dicky was on his feet in an instant and Lillian Gale was seated next to me with Dicky and her husband leaning over us before I had fully realized that the woman, the thought of whom had so disturbed my evening, was so close to me.
"I want you to know Mrs. Graham, Harry," Dicky said.
I glowed inwardly at the note of pride in his voice and looked up to meet a pair of brilliant black eyes looking at me with an appraising approval that grated. He was a tall, good looking chap, with an air of ennui that sat oddly on his powerful frame. I felt sure that I would like Lillian Gale's husband as little as I did the woman herself.
I was glad when the lights dimmed slowly, that the second act was about to begin. Mrs. Underwood rose with a noisy rustling of draperies. She evidently was one of those women who can do nothing quietly, and turning to me said, cordially:
"Be sure to wait for us in the lobby when this is over. We have a plan," and before I had time to reply she had rustled away to her own seat, her tall husband following at some little distance behind her, but apparently oblivious of her presence as if she were a stranger.
I didn't much enjoy the second act, even though I realized that it was one of the best comedy scenes I had ever seen, both in its lines and its acting; but I had a problem to settle, and I longed for the quiet hour in my own room which my mother had trained me to take every day since childhood.
Of course, I realized that Lillian Gale meant to have us join them for a supper party after the theatre. The invitation would be given to us in the lobby after the last act. Upon the way that I received that invitation must depend my future conduct toward this woman. I could not make one of the proposed party and afterward decline to know her. My instincts all cried out to me to avoid Lillian Gale. She outraged all my canons of good taste, although even through my prejudices I had to admit there was something oddly attractive about her in spite of her atrocious make-up.
But, on the other hand, she and her husband appeared to be on most intimate terms with Dicky. Would I seriously offend him if I refused to treat his friends with friendliness equal to that which they seemed ready to shower upon me?
"Would you like to walk a bit, Madge?" Dicky's voice started me into a recollection of my surroundings. I had been so absorbed in the problem of whether I should or should not accept Lillian Gale as an intimate friend that I did not know that the curtain had fallen on the second act, nor did I know how the act had ended. My problem was still unsolved. I welcomed the diversion of a turn in the fresher aid of the lobby.
As we passed up the aisle I felt a sudden tug, then an ominous ripping. The floating chiffon overdrapery of my gown had caught in a seat. As Dicky bent to release me his face showed consternation. Almost a length of the dainty fabric trailed on the floor.
I have schooled my self-repression for many a weary year. I feared my gown, in which I had taken such pride, was ruined, but I would not let any one know I cared about it. I gathered it up and smiled at Dicky.
"It really doesn't matter," I said. "If you'll leave me at the woman's dressing room I think I can fix it up all right."
Dicky drew a relieved breath. His heartily murmured, "You're a thoroughbred for sure, Madge," rewarded me for my composure. I was just woman enough also to be comforted by the whispered comments of two women who sat just behind the seat which caused the mischief.
"Isn't that a shame—that exquisite gown?" and the rejoinder. "But isn't she game? I couldn't smile like that—I'd be crying my eyes out"
Dicky left me at the door of the dressing room, pressing a coin slyly into my hand. "You'll tip the maid," he explained, and I blessed him for his thoughtfulness. I had been too absorbed in my gown to think of anything else.
An obsequious maid provided me with needle, thimble and thread. She offered to mend the tear for me, but I had a horror of being made conspicuous by her ministrations.
"If you'll let me have a chair in a corner I shall do very nicely," I told her, and was at once snugly ensconced near one of her mirrors behind the very comfortable rampart of an enormously fat woman in an exaggerated evening gown, who was devoting much pains and cosmetics to her complexion. She looked as if she intended to remain at the particular mirror all the intermission. I hoped she would stay there, in spite the dagger's looks she was receiving from other complexion repairers who coveted her place, for she was an effectual shield from curious eyes.
To my joy I found that the gown was not ruined, and that it could be repaired without much expense or trouble. Even the temporary mending I was doing disguised the break. I was so interested in the mending that I was completely lost to my surroundings, but the sound of a familiar name brought me to with a jerk.
"Did you see the Dicky-bird and his marble bride?" A high-pitched yet rather sweet voice asked the question, and a deep contralto answered it.
"Yes, indeed, and I saw the way Lillian Gale was rushing them. For my part I don't think that's quite clubby of Lil. Of course she's got into the way of thinking she has a first mortgage on the Dicky-bird, but she might give that beautiful bride a chance for her life before she forecloses."
"What's the secret of Lil's attraction for Dicky Graham, anyway?" the soprano voice queried. "She's a good seven years older than he is, and both her past and her youth are rather frayed at the edges, you know."
"Oh! love's young dream, and the habit of long association," returned the contralto. I've heard that Lil was Dicky's first love. She was a stunner for looks 19 years ago, and Dicky was just young enough to be swept off his feet."
"That must have been before Lil married that unspeakable Morten, the fellow she divorced, wasn't it?" interrupted the soprano.
"Yes, it was," the contralto answered. "I don't know whether Dicky has been half in love with Lil all these years or not, but he certainly has been her best friend. And now comes the news of his marriage to somebody the crowd never heard of."
"Well, I think Lil may say good-by to her Dicky-bird now," returned the first speaker. "That bride is quite the prettiest piece of flesh and blood I've seen for many days."
"She is all of that," agreed the other, "She holds all the best cards, but you'll find she is too statuesque and dignified to play them. I saw her face tonight when Lil was talking to her. She is not accustomed to Lil's kind, and she does not like her friendship with Dicky."
"You can't blame her for that," interrupted the soprano. "I am sure I would not like to see my husband dancing attendance on Lillian Gale."
"No, of course not," the contralto replied; "but she will be just fool enough to show Dicky her feelings, and Dicky, who is the soul of loyalty to his friends, will resent her attitude and try to make it up to Lil and Harry by being extra nice to them. It's too bad. But then, these marble statue sort of women always sacrifice their love for their pride or their fool notions or propriety."
"It will be as good as a play to watch the developments," the soprano commented. "Come on, we'll be too late for the curtain."
I felt suddenly faint, and the room appeared to whirl around me. The maid touched me on the arm.
"Are you ill, madame? Here!" and she held a glass of water to my lips. I drank it and motioned her away.
"I'll be all right in a moment," I murmured. "Thank you, but I am quite well."
So this was what marriage would mean to me, a contest with another woman for my husband's love! A fierce anger took possession of me. One moment I regretted my marriage to Dicky, the next I was fiercely primitive as any savage woman in my desire to crush my rival. I could have strangled Lillian Gale in that moment. Then common sense came back to me. What was it that woman had said? I had all the best cards in my hand? Well! I would play them. I felt sure that Dicky loved me. I would not jeopardize that love for a temporary pride. I would eliminate Lillian Gale from Dicky's life, but I would bide my time to do it.
If anybody wishes an infallible recipe for taking the romance out of life, I can recommend washing a pile of dishes which have been left over from the day before, especially if there be among them a number of greasy pots and pans. Restoring order to a badly cluttered room is another glamour destroyer, but the first prize, I stoutly affirm, goes to the dishes.
An especially aggravating collection of romance shatterers awaited me the morning after our visit to the theatre, and my first encounter with Lillian Gale.
Dicky took a hurried breakfast and rushed off to the studio, while I spent a dreary forenoon washing the dishes and putting the apartment to rights. I dreaded the discussion with Dicky at luncheon. I had insisted before my marriage that I must either do most of the housework, or keep up some of my old work to add to our income. To have a maid, while I did nothing to justify my existence save keep myself pretty and entertain Dicky, savored too much to me of the harem favorite.
A mother of small children, a woman with a large house, one who had old people to care for, or whose health was not good, was justified in having help. But for me, well, strong, with a tiny apartment, and just Dicky, to employ a maid without myself earning at least enough to pay for the extra expense of having her—it was simply impossible. I had been independent too long. The situation was galling.
The postman's ring interrupted my thoughts. I went to the door, receiving a number of advertisements, a letter or two for Dicky, and one, addressed in an unfamiliar handwriting, to myself. I opened it and read it wonderingly.
"My dear Mrs. Graham:
"Our club is planning a course in history for the coming year. We need an experienced conductor for the class, which will meet once a week. Your name has been suggested to us as that of one who might be willing to take up the work. The compensation will not be as large as that given by the larger clubs for lectures, as we are a small organization, but I do not think you will have to devote much of your time to the work outside of the weekly meeting.
"Will you kindly let me know when I can meet you and talk this over with you, if you decide to consider it?
"Yours very truly,
"HELEN BRAINERD SMITH,
"Secretary Lotus Study Club,
"215 West Washington Avenue."
Had the solution to my problem come? Armed with this I could talk to Dicky at luncheon without any fears.
The receipt of the letter put me in a royal good humor. I did not care how little the compensation was, although I knew it would be far more than enough to pay the extra expense of having a maid, an expense which I was determined to defray.
Teaching or lecturing upon historical subjects was child's play to me. I had specialized in it, and had been counted one of the most successful instructors in that branch in the city. Woman's club work was new to me, but the husband of one of my friends had once conducted such a course, and I knew I could get all the information I needed from him.
I thought of Dicky's possible objections, but brushed the thought aside. He had objected to my going on with my regular school work and I realized that the hours which I would have been compelled to give to that work would have conflicted seriously with our home life. But here was something that would take me away from home so little.
* * * * *
"About that servant question," I began, after Dicky was comfortably settled and smiling over his cigar. "I will employ one, a first-class, really competent housekeeper, if you will make no objection to this."
I opened the letter and handed it to him. He read it through, his face growing angrier at every line. When he had finished he threw it on the floor.
"Well, I guess not," he exclaimed. "I know that club game; it's the limit. There's nothing in it. They'll pay only a beggarly sum, and you'll be tied to that same afternoon once a week for a year. Suppose we had something we wanted to do on that day? We would have to let it go hang."
"I suppose if we had something we wanted to do on a day when you had a commission to execute you would leave your work and go," I answered quietly.
"That's entirely different," returned Dicky. "I'm responsible for the support of this family. You are not. All you have to do is to enjoy yourself and make home comfortable for me."
We were interrupted by the door bell. Dicky went to the door while I hastily dropped the portiers between the living room and the dining room. I heard Dicky's deep voice in greeting.
"This is good of you, Lil," and Lillian Gale came into the room with outstretched hand.
"Perhaps I shouldn't have come so soon," she said, "but you see I am bound to know you, even if Dicky does spirit you away when we want you to join us."
She threw him a laughing glance as she clasped my hand.
"I am so glad you have come," I said cordially, but inwardly I fiercely resented her intrusion, as I deemed it.
But what was my horror to hear Dicky say casually:
"You've come at a most opportune time, Lil. Madge has had an offer from some woman's club to do a lecturing stunt on history, her specialty, you know, and she wants to take it. I wish you'd help me persuade her out of it."
"I cannot imagine why we should trouble Mrs. Underwood with so personal a matter," I heard myself saying faintly.
Mrs. Underwood laughed boisterously. "Why, I'm one of the family, my dear child," she said heartily. Then she looked at me keenly.
"I might have known that one man would have no chance with two women," Dicky growled. His tone held capitulation. I knew I had won my battle. But was it my victory or this woman's I so detested?
"Don't let this man bully you," she advised half-laughingly. "He's perfectly capable of it. I know him. By all means accept the offer if you think it's worth while. All these husbands are a bit archaic yet, you know. They don't realize that women have joined the human race."
"Come, Dicky-bird," she rattled on as she saw his darkening face. "Don't be silly. You'll have to give in. You're just 50 years behind the times, you know."
During the remainder of Mrs. Underwood's brief call she ignored Dicky, and devoted herself to me. There is no denying the fact that she has great charm when she chooses to exercise it. Dicky, however, appeared entirely oblivious of it, sitting in moody silence until she rose to go.
"You ought to preserve that grouch," she carelessly advised, as he stood holding the door open for her. "Carefully corked in a glass jar, it ought to keep to be given to your grandchildren as a horrible example."
Dicky grinned reluctantly and bowed low as she passed out of the room with a cordial adieu to me, but no sooner had the door closed behind her than he turned to me angrily.
"Look here, Madge," he exclaimed, "are you really in earnest about taking that blasted position?"
"Why! of course I am," I answered. "It seems providential, coming just as you insist upon having the maid. I can engage one with a clear conscience now."
Dicky sprang to his feet with a muttered word that sounded suspiciously like an oath, and began to walk rapidly up and down the room, his hands behind his back, and his face dark with anger. Up and down, up and down he paced, while I, sitting quietly in my chair, waited, nerving myself for the scene I anticipated.
When it came, however, it surprised me with the turn it took. Dicky stopped suddenly in his pacing, and coming swiftly over to me, dropped on one knee beside my chair and put his arms around me.
"Sweetheart," he said softly, "I don't want to quarrel about this, nor do I wish to be unreasonable about it. But, really, it means an awful lot to me. I don't want you to do it. Won't you give it up for me?"
I returned Dicky's kiss, and held him tightly as I answered:
"Dear boy, I'll think it over very carefully. If I possibly can, I will do as you wish. But, remember, I say if I can. I haven't made you a definite promise yet."
"But you will, I know; that's my own dear girl. Good-by. I'll have to rush back to the studio now."
Dicky's tone was light and confident as he rose. Life always has been easy for Dicky. I heard him say once he never could remember the time when he didn't get his own way.
"ALWAYS YOUR JACK"
As soon as Dicky had left the house I cleared away the dishes and washed them and prepared a dessert for dinner. Then, finding the want advertisements of the Sunday papers, I looked carefully through the columns headed "Situations Wanted, Female."
I clipped the advertisements and fastened each neatly to a sheet of notepaper. Then I wrote beneath each one: "Please call Thursday or Friday. Ask for Mrs. Richard Graham, Apartment 4, 46 East Twenty-ninth street."
I addressed the envelopes properly, inserted the answers in the envelopes, sealed and stamped them, then ran out to the post box on the corner with them. I walked back very slowly, for there was nothing more that needed to be done, and I could put off no longer the settling of my problem.
I locked the door of my room, pulled down the shade and, exchanging my house dress for a comfortable negligee, lay down upon my bed to think things out.
I tried to put myself in Dicky's place, and to understand his reasons for objecting to my earning any money of my own. I sat upright in bed as a thought flashed across my brain. Was that the reason? Were his objections to this plan of mine what he pretended they were? Did he really fear that I might have unpleasant publicity thrust upon me, and that some of our pleasure plans might be spoiled by the weekly lecture engagement? Or was he the type of man who could not bear his wife to have money or plans or even thoughts which did not originate with him?
I resolved to find out just what motive was behind his objections. If he were willing that I should try to earn money in some other way I would gladly refuse this offer. But if he were opposed to my ever having any income of my own the issue might as well come now as later.
A loud ringing at the doorbell awakened me.
For a moment I could not understand how I came to be in bed. Then I remembered and throwing off my negligee and putting on a little afternoon gown, I twisted up my hair into a careless knot and hurried to the door. The ring had been the postman's. The afternoon newspapers lay upon the floor. With them was a letter with my former name upon it in a handwriting that I knew. It had been forwarded from my old boarding house. The superscription looked queer to me, as if it were the name of some one I had known long ago.
"Miss Margaret Spencer," and then, in the crabbed handwriting of my dear old landlady, "care of Mrs. Richard Graham."
I opened the letter slowly. It bore a New Orleans heading, and a date three days before.
"Dear little girl:
"A year is a long time between letters, isn't it? But you know I told you when I left that the chances were Slim for getting a letter back from the wild territory where I was going, and I found when I reached there that 'slim' was hardly the word. I wrote you twice, but have no hope that the letters ever reached you. But now I am back in God's country, or shall be when I get North, and of course, my first line is to you. I am writing this to the old place, knowing it will be forwarded if you have left there.
"I shall be in New York two weeks from today, the 24th. Of course I shall go to my old diggings. Telephone me there, so that I can see you as soon as possible. I am looking forward to a real dinner, at a real restaurant, with the realest girl in the world opposite me the first day I strike New York, so get ready for me. I do hope you have been well and as cheerful as possible. I know what a struggle this year must have been for you.
"Till I see you, dear, always your
I finished the reading of the letter with mingled feelings of joy and dismay. Joy was the stronger, however. Dear old Jack was safe at home. But there were adjustments which I must make. I had my marriage to explain to Jack, and Jack to explain to Dicky. Nothing but this letter could have so revealed to me the strength of the infatuation for Dicky which had swept me off my feet and resulted in my marriage after only a six months' acquaintance. Reading it I realized that the memory of Jack had been so pushed into the background during the past six months that I never had thought to tell Dicky about him.
"You've made a great conquest," said Dicky that evening when we were finishing dinner, "Lil thinks you're about the nicest little piece of calico she has ever measured—those were her own words. She's planning a frolic for the crowd some night at your convenience."
"That is awfully kind of her. Where did you see her." I prided myself on my careless tone, but Dicky gave me a shrewd glance.
"Why, at the studio, of course. Her studio is on the same floor as mine, you know. Atwood and Barker and she and I are all on one floor, and we often have a dish of tea together when we are not rushed."
I busied myself with the coffee machine until I could control my voice. How I hated these glimpses of the intimate friendship which must exist between my husband and this woman!
"I suppose we ought to have them all over some night," I said at last, "but I'll have to add a few things to our equipment, and wait until I get a maid."
"That will be fine," Dicky assented cordially, pushing back his chair. "Did the papers come? I'll look them over for a little. Whistle when you're ready and I'll wipe the dishes for you."
He strolled into the living room, and I suddenly remembered that I had laid my letter from Jack on the table, with its pages scattered so that any one picking them up could not help seeing them.
I had forgotten all about the letter. I had meant to show it to Dicky after I had explained about Jack. It was not quite the letter for a bridegroom to find without expectation. I realized that.
I could not get the letter without attracting his attention. I waited, every nerve tense, listening to the sounds in the next room. I heard the rustling of the newspaper; then a sudden silence told me his attention had been arrested by something. Would he read the letter? I did not think so. I knew his sense of honor was too keen for that, but I remembered that the last page with its signature was at the top of the sheets as I laid them down. That was enough to make any loving husband reflect a bit.
How would Dicky take it? I wondered. I was soon to know. I Heard him crush the paper in his hand, then come quickly to the kitchen. I pretended to be busy with the dishes, but he strode over to me, and clutching me by the shoulder with a grip that hurt, thrust the letter before my face, and said hoarsely:
"What does this mean?"
The last words of Jack's letter danced before my eyes, Dicky's hand was shaking so.
"Till I see you, dear. Always Jack."
Dicky's face was not a pleasant sight. It repulsed and disgusted me. Subconsciously I was contrasting the way in which he calmly expected me to accept his friendship for Lillian Gale, and his behavior over this letter. Five minutes earlier I would have explained to him fully. I resolved now to put my friendship for Jack upon the same basis as his for Mrs. Underwood.
So I looked at him coolly. "Have you read the letter?" I asked quietly.
"You know I have not read the letter." he snarled. "It lay on the papers. I could not help but see this—this—whatever it is," he finished lamely, "and I have come straight to you for an explanation."
"Better read the letter," I advised quietly. "I give you full permission."
I could have laughed at Dicky, if I had been less angry. He was so like an angry, curious child in his eagerness to know everything about Jack.
"You have no brother. Is this man a relative?"
"No," I returned demurely.
"An old lover then, I suppose a confident one, I should judge by the tone of the letter. Won't it be too cruel a blow to him when he finds his dear little girl is married?"
Dicky's tone fairly dripped with irony. "He will be surprised certainly," I answered, "but as he never was my lover, I don't think it will be any blow to him."
"Who is he, anyway? Why have you never told me about him? What does he look like?"
Dicky fairly shot the questions at me. I turned and went into my room. There I rummaged in a box of old photographs until I found two fairly good likenesses of Jack. I carried them to the kitchen and put them in Dicky's hands. He glared at them, then threw them on the table.
"Humph! Looks like a gorilla with the mumps," he growled. "Who is this precious party, then, if he is not a lover or a relative?"
"He is an old and dear friend. His friendship means as much to me as—well—say Lillian Gale's means to you."
Dicky stared at me a long, long look as if he had just discovered me. Then he turned on his heel.
"Well, I'll be—" I did not find out what he would be, for he went out and slammed the door.
I sat down to a humiliating half-hour's thought. It isn't a bad idea at times to "loaf and invite your soul," and then cast up account with it. My account looked pretty discouraging.
Dicky and I had been married a little over two weeks. Two weeks of idiotically happy honeymooning, and then the last three days of quarrels, reconciliations, jealousies, petty bickerings and the shadow of real issues between us.
Was this marriage—heights of happiness, depths of despair, with the humdrum of petty differences between?
A MAID AND MODEL
The chiming of the clock an hour after Dicky had gone to the studio after our little noon dinner next day warned me that I was not dressed and that the cooks whose advertisements I had answered might call at any minute. I dressed and arranged my hair. Just as I put in the last hairpin the bell rang.
Two women, covertly eyeing each other with suspicion, stood in the hallway when I opened the door. To my invitation to come in each responded "Thank you," and the entrance of both was quiet. When they sat down in the chairs I drew forward for them I mentally appraised them for a moment.
One was a middle-aged woman of the strongly marked German type. Clean, trig, grim, she spelled efficiency in every line of her body. The other, a tall Polish girl, of perhaps 22, was also extremely neat, but her pretty brown hair was blown around her face and her blue eyes were fairly dancing with eagerness, in contrast to the stolid expression of the other woman. As I faced them, the older woman compressed her lips in a thin line, while the girl smiled at me in friendly fashion.
"You came in answer to the advertisements?" I queried.
The older woman silently held forth my letter and two or three other papers pinned together. I saw that they were references written in varying feminine chirography. Her silence was almost uncanny.
"Oh, yes, Misses," the Polish girl exclaimed. "I put my—what do you call it? My—"
"Advertisement," I suggested, smiling. Her good-nature was infectious.
"Oh, yes, ad-ver-tise-ment, in the paper, Sunday. Today your letter came, the first letter. I guess hard times now. Nobody wants maids. I come right queeck. I can do good work, very good. I have good references. You got maid yet?"
"Not yet," I answered, and turned to the other woman.
According to all my theories and my training I should have chosen the older woman. Efficiency always has been an idol of mine. It was my slogan in my profession. It is my humiliation that I seem to have none of it in my housework. The German woman evidently was capable of administering my household much better than I could do it. Perhaps it was because of this very reason that I found myself repelled by her, and subtly drawn by the younger woman's smiling enthusiasm.
"Have you much company, and does your husband bring home friends without notice?" The older woman's harsh tones broke in.
The questions turned the scale. From the standpoint of strict justice, the standard from which I always had tried to reason, she was perfectly justified in asking the questions before she took the place. But intuition told me that our home life would be a dreary thing with this martinet in the kitchen.
"That will not trouble you," I said, "for I do not believe I wish your services. Here is your car fare, and thank you for coming."
The woman took the car fare with the same stolidity she had shown through the whole interview. "I do not think I would like you for a madam, either," she said quietly as she went out.
The Polish girl bounced from her seat as soon as the door was closed.
"She no good to talk to you like that," she exclaimed. "She old crank, anyway. You not like her. See me—I young, strong; I cook, wash, iron, clean. I do everything. You do notting. I cook good, too; not so much fancy, but awful good. My last madam, I with her one year. She sick, go South yesterday. She cry, say 'I so sorry, Katie; you been so good to me.' I cry, too. Read what she say about me."
I could read between the lines of the rather odd letter of recommendation the girl handed me. I had dealt with many girls of Katie's type in my teaching days. I knew the childish temper, the irritating curiosity, the petty jealousy, the familiarity which one not understanding would deem impertinence, with which I would have to contend if I engaged her. But the other applicant for my work, the grim vision who had just left, decided me. I would try this eager girl if her terms were reasonable—and they were.
As I preceded her into the kitchen I had a sudden qualm. I knew Dicky's fastidious taste, and that underneath all his good-natured unconventionality he had rigid ideas of his own upon some topics. I happened to remember that nothing made him so nervous and irritable as bad service in a restaurant. His idea of a good waiter was a well-trained automaton with no eyes or ears. How would he like this enthusiastic, irrepressible girl? It was too late now, however. I was committed to a week of her service.
I had a luxurious afternoon. Katie in the kitchen sang softly over her work some minor-cadenced Polish folk-song, and I nestled deep in an armchair by the sunniest window, dipped deep into the pages of magazines and newspapers which I had not read. I realized with a start that I was out of touch with the doings of the outside world, something which had not happened to me before for years, save in the few awful days of my mother's last illness. I really must catch up again.
I was so deep in a vivid description of the desolation in Belgium that I did not hear Dicky enter. I started as he kissed me.
"Headache better, sweetheart?" he added, lover-like remembering and making much of the slight headache I had had when he left that morning. "It must be, or you wouldn't be able to read that horror." He closed the magazine playfully and drew me to my feet.
"I am perfectly well," I replied, "and I have good news for you. We have a maid, a trifle rough in her manner, but one who I think will be very good."
"That's fine," Dicky said heartily. "I'd much rather come home to find you comfortably reading than scorching your face and reddening your hands in a kitchen."
"Say, Missis Graham!"
Katie came swiftly into the room, and I heard an exclamation of surprise from Dicky.
"Why, Katie, wherever did you come from?"
But Katie, with a scream of fear, her face white with terror, backed into the kitchen. I heard her opening the door where she had put her hat and cloak, then the slamming of the kitchen door.
I looked at Dicky in amazement. What did it all mean?
He caught up his hat and dashed to the front door.
"Quick, Madge!" he called. "Follow her out the kitchen door as fast as you can. I'll meet you at the servant's entrance! I wouldn't let her get away for a hundred dollars!"
I obeyed Dicky's instructions, but with a feeling of disgust creeping over me. I have always hated a scene, and this performance savored too much of moving picture melodrama to suit me.
I hurried down the two flights of stairs and on toward the servant's entrance. I was almost there when Katie came flying back, almost into my arms.
"Oh, Missis Graham," she moaned.
"You kind lady. I pay it all back. I always have it with me. Don't let him put me in prison. I work, work my fingers to the bone for you. If you only not let him put me in prison."
Dicky came up behind us. As she saw him she shrank closer to me in a pitiful, frightened way, and put out both her hands as if to push him away.
"Don't be frightened, Katie," he said. Come to the house and tell me about it."
"Bring her into the living room and get her quieted before I talk to her," suggested Dicky, as he disappeared into his room after I had got her upstairs.
Bewildered and displeased at this bizarre situation which had been thrust upon me, I ushered Katie into the living room and removed her hat and coat. She trembled violently.
I went to the dining room and from a decanter in the sideboard poured a glass of wine and, bringing it back, pressed it to her lips. She drank it, and the color gradually came back to her face and the twitching of her muscles lessened.
When she was calmer I took her hands in mine and, looking her full in the face in the manner which I had sometimes used to quiet an hysterical pupil, I said slowly:
"Listen to me, Katie. You are not going to be put in prison. Mr. Graham will not harm you in the least. But he wishes to talk to you, and you must listen to what he has to say."
Her answer was to seize my hand and cover it with tearful kisses. I detest any exhibition of emotion, and this girl's utter abandonment to whatever grief or terror was hers irritated me. But I tried not to show my feelings. I merely patted her head and said:
"Come, Katie, you must stop this and listen to Mr. Graham."
Katie obediently wiped her eyes and sat up very straight.
"I am all right now," she said quaveringly. "He can come. I tell him everything."
Still very nervous but calmer than she had been, Katie remained quiet when I raised my voice to reach Dicky waiting in the adjoining room.
"Oh, Dicky," I called, "you may come now."
Dicky drew a low chair in front of the couch where we sat.
"Tell me first, Katie," he said kindly, "why do you think I want to put you in prison? Because of the money? Never mind that. I want to talk to you of something else."
But Katie was hysterically tugging at the neck of her gown. From inside her bodice she took a tiny chamois skin bag, and ripping it open took out a carefully folded bill and handed it to Dicky.
"I never spend that money," she said. "I never mean to steal it. But I had to go away queeck from your flat and I never, never dare come back, give you the money. After two month, send my cousin to the flat, but he say you move, no know where. There I always keep the money here. I think maybe some time I find out where you live and write a letter to you, send the money."
Dicky took the bill and unfolded it curiously. A brown stain ran irregularly across one-half of it.
"Well, I'll be eternally blessed," he ejaculated, "if it isn't the identical bill I gave her. Ten-dollar bills were not so plentiful three years ago, and I remember this one so distinctly because of the stain. The boys used to say I must have murdered somebody to get it, and that it was stained with blood."
He turned to Katie again.
"The money is nothing, Katie. Why did you run away that day? I never have been able to finish that picture since."
Katie's eyes dropped. Her cheeks flushed.
"I 'shamed to tell," she murmured.
Dicky muttered an oath beneath his breath. "I thought so," he said slowly, then he spoke sternly:
"Never mind being ashamed to tell, Katie. I want the truth. I worked at your portrait that morning, and then I had to go to the studio. When I came back you had gone, bag and baggage, and with, the money I gave you to pay the tailor. I never could finish that picture, and it would have brought me a nice little sum."
My brain was whirling by this time. Dicky in a flat with this ignorant Polish girl paying his tailor bills, and posing for portraits. What did it all mean?
"Where did you go?" Dicky persisted.
Katie lifted her head and looked at him proudly.
"You know when you left that morning, Mr. Lestaire, he was painting, too? Well, Mr. Graham, I always good girl in old country and here. I go to confession. I always keep good. Mr. Lestaire, he kiss me, say bad tings to me. He scare me. I afraid if I stay I no be good girl. So I run queeck away. I never dare come bade. That Mr. Lestaire he one bad man, one devil."
Dicky whistled softly.
"So that was it?" he said. "Well that was just about what that pup would do. That was one reason I got out of our housekeeping arrangements. He set too swift a pace for me, and that was going some in those days."
He turned to Katie, smiling.
"You see you don't have to be afraid any more. I'm a respectable married man now, and it's perfectly safe for you to work here. Mrs. Graham will take care of you. Run along about your work now, that's a good girl."
Katie giggled appreciatively. Her mercurial temperament had already sent her from the depths to the heights.
"The dinner all spoiled while I cry like a fool," she said. "You ready pretty soon. I serve."
She hastened to the kitchen, and I turned to Dicky inquiringly.
"I suppose you think you have gotten into a lunatic asylum, Madge. Of all the queer things that Katie should apply for a job here and that you should take her."
"I didn't know you ever kept house in a flat before, Dicky."
"It was a very short experience," he returned, "only three months. Four of us, Lester, Atwood, Bates and myself pooled our rather scanty funds and rented a small apartment. We advertised for a general housekeeper, and Katie answered the advertisement. She had been over from Poland only a year at a cousin's somewhere on the East side, and she used to annoy us awfully getting to the flat so early in the morning and cleaning our living room while we were trying to sleep. But she was a crack-a-jack worker, so we put up with her superfluous energy in cleaning. Then one day I discovered her standing with a letter in her hand looking off into space with her eyes full of misery. She had heard of some relative."
"Of course you wanted to paint her," I suggested.
"You bet," Dicky returned. "The idea came to me in a flash. You can see what a heroic figure she was. I had her get into her Polish dress—she had brought one with her from the old country—and I painted her as Poland—miserable, unhappy Poland. Gee! but I'm glad you happened to run across her. We'll put up with anything from her until I get that picture done."
Try as I might I could not share Dicky's enthusiasm. I knew it was petty, but the idea of my maid acting as Dicky's model jarred my ideas of the fitness of things.
But I had sense enough to hold my peace.
A FRIENDLY WARNING
I know of nothing more exasperating to a hostess than to have her guests come to her home too early. It is bad enough to wait a meal for a belated guest, but to have some critical woman casually stroll in before one is dressed, or has put the final touches—so dear to every housewifely heart—on all the preparations, is simply maddening.
I am no exception to the rule. As I heard the voices of Lillian Gale and her husband and I realized that they had arrived at 3:30 in the afternoon, when they had been invited for an evening chafing dish supper, I was both disheartened and angry.
But, of course, there was but one thing to do, much as I hated to do it. I must go into the living room and cordially welcome these people. As I slipped off my kitchen apron I thought of the hypocrisy which marks most social intercourse. What I really wanted to say to my guests was this:
"Please go home and come again at the proper time. I am not ready to receive you now."
I had a sudden whimsical vision of the faces of Dicky and the Underwoods if I should thus speak my real thoughts. The thought in some curious fashion made it easier for me to cross the room to Lillian Gale's side, extend my hand and say cordially:
"How good of you to come this afternoon!"
"I know it is unpardonable," Lillian's high pitched voice answered. "You invited us for the evening, not for the afternoon, but I told Harry that I was going to crucify the conventions and come over early, so I would have a chance to say more than two words to you before the rest get here."
Harry Underwood elbowed his wife away from my side with a playful push, and held out his hand. His brilliant, black eyes looked down into mine with the same lazy approving expression that I had resented when Dicky introduced me to him at the theatre.
I cudgelled my brain in vain for some airy nothing with which to answer his nonsense. I never have had the gift of repartee. I can talk well enough about subjects that interest me when I am conversing with some one whom I know well, but the frothy persiflage, the light banter that forms the conversation's stock in trade of so many women, is an alien tongue to me.
"You are just as welcome as Mrs. Underwood is," I said heartily at last. Fortunately he did not read the precisely honest meaning hidden in my words.
"Come on, Harry, into my room," urged Dicky, taking him by the arm. "I've got a special brand cached in there, and had to hide it so mein frau wouldn't drink it up."
I suppose my face reflected the dismay I felt at this intimation that the women would begin drinking so early. I feared for the repetition of the experience of Friday evening. But the laws of conventions and hospitality bound me. I felt that I could not protest. Mrs. Underwood apparently had no such scruples. She clutched Dicky by the arm and swung him around facing her.
"Now, see here, my Dicky-bird," she began, "you begin this special bottle kind of business and I walk out of here. I should think you and Harry would have had enough of this the other evening. We came over here today for a little visit, and tonight we'll sit on either the water wagon or the beer wagon, just as Mrs. Graham says. But you boys won't start any of these special drinks, or I'll know the reason why."
"Oh, cut it out, Lil," her husband said, not crossly, but mechanically, as if it were a phrase he often used. But Dicky laughed down at her, although I knew by the look in his eyes that he was much annoyed.
"All right, Lil," he said easily. "I suppose Madge will fall in gratitude on your neck for this when she gets you into the seclusion of her room. You haven't any objection to our having a teenty-weenty little smoke, have you, mamma dear?"
"Go as far as you like," she returned, ignoring the sneers.
As I turned and led the way to my room, I was conscious of curiously mingled emotions. Relief at the elimination of the special bottle with its inevitable consequences and resentment that Dicky should so weakly obey the dictum of another woman, battled with each other. But stronger than either was a dawning wonder. From the conversation I had overheard in the theatre dressing-room and trifling things in Mrs. Underwood's own conduct, I had been led to believe that she was sentimentally interested in Dicky, and that some time in the future I might have to battle with her for his affections. But her speech to him which I had just heard savored more of the mother laying down the law to a refractory child than it did of anything approaching sentiment. Could it be, I told myself, that I had been mistaken?
Our husbands looked exceedingly comfortable when we rejoined them, for they were smoking vigorously and discussing the merits of two boxers Mr. Underwood had recently seen. As we entered the room both men, of course, sprang to their feet, and I had a moment's opportunity to contrast their appearance.
Dicky is slender, lithe, with merry brown eyes and thick, brown hair, with a touch of auburn in it, and just enough suspicion of a curl to give him several minutes' hard brushing each day trying to keep it down. Harry Underwood, taller even than Dicky, who is above the medium height, is massive in frame, well built, muscular, with black hair tinged with gray, and the blackest, most piercing eyes I have ever seen. I was proud of Dicky as I stood looking at them, while Lillian exchanged some merry nonsense with Dicky, but I also had to acknowledge that Harry Underwood was a splendid specimen of manhood.
As if he had read my thoughts, his eyes caught mine and held them. To all appearances he was listening to the banter of Dicky and his wife, but there was an inscrutable look in his eyes, an enigmatical smile upon his lips, as he looked at me that vaguely troubled me. His glance, his smile, seemed significant somehow, as if we were old friends who held some humorous experience in common remembrance. And I had never seen him but once before in my life.
I shrugged my shoulders, ever so slightly. It is a habit of mine when I am displeased, or wish to throw off some unpleasant sensation of memory. I was almost unconscious of having used the gesture. But Harry Underwood crossed the room as if it had been a signal, and stood looking down quizzically at me.
"Little lady," he began, "you shouldn't hold a grudge so well. It doesn't harmonize with your eyes and your mouth. They were meant for kindness, not severity. If there is any way that I can show you I am humbled to the dust for coming here I'll do any penance you say."
"You must be mistaken, Mr. Underwood." I strove to control my voice. "I have no grudge whatever against you, so you see you are absolved in advance from my penance."
"Will you shake hands on it?" He put out his large, white, beautifully formed hand and grasped mine before I had half extended it.
I felt myself flushing hotly. Of all the absolutely idiotic things in the world, this standing hand in hand with Harry Underwood, in a formal pact of friendship or forgiveness or whatever he imagined the hand-clasp signified, was the most ridiculous. He was quick enough to fathom my distaste, but he clasped my hand tighter and, bending slightly so that he could look straight into my eyes he said, lazily smiling:
"You are the most charming prevaricator I know. You come pretty near to hating me, little lady. But you won't dislike me long. I'll make a bet with myself on that."
"Hold that pose just a minute. Don't move. It's simply perfect."
Lillian Underwood's merry voice interrupted her husband's declaration. With clever mimicry she struck the attitude of a nervous photographer just ready to close the shutter of his camera. Dicky stood just behind her too, also smiling, but while Lillian's merriment evidently was genuine, I detected a distaste for the proceedings behind Dicky's smile, which I knew was forced.
Lillian slipped in an imaginary plate, then springing to one side stood pretending to clasp the bulb of the shutter in her hand, while she counted: "One, two, three, four, five—thank you!"
"Now if you will just change your expressions," she rattled on. "Harry, why don't you take both her hands? Then if Mrs. Graham will smile a little we will have a sentimental gem, or if she makes her expression even a trifle more disapproving than it is I can label it, 'Unhand me, villain.'"
"I never take a dare," returned her husband, and snatched my other hand. But I was really angry by this time, and I wrenched my hands away with an effort and threw my head a trifle haughtily, although fortunately I was able to control my words:
"Do you know, people, that there will be no food for you tonight unless I busy myself with its preparations immediately? Mrs. Underwood, won't you entertain those boys and excuse me for a little while?"
I went into the dining room and put on the kitchen apron I had taken off when I heard the voices of my early guests. Almost immediately Lillian appeared arrayed in the apron I had given her. She came up to the table and surveyed it with appraising eyes.
"I am glad of this chance to speak with you alone, for I want to explain to you about him."
She stopped with an embarrassed flush. I gazed at her in amazement. Lillian Underwood flustered! I could not believe my eyes.
"You are not used to us or our ways, or I shouldn't bother to tell you this. But I can see that you are much annoyed at Harry, and I don't blame you. But you mustn't mind him. He is really harmless. He falls in love with every new face he sees, has a violent attack, then gets over it just as quickly. You are an entirely new type to him, so I suppose his attack this time will be a little more prolonged. He'll make violent love to you behind my back or before my face, but you mustn't mind him. I understand, and I'll straighten him out when he gets too annoying."
The embarrassed flush had disappeared by this time. She was talking in as cool and matter-of-fact manner as if she had been discussing the defection of a cook.
My first emotion was resentment against my husband.
Why, I asked myself passionately, had Dicky insisted upon my friendship with these people? Suppose they were his most intimate friends? I was his wife, and I had nothing whatever in common with them. Knowing them as well as he did, he must have known Harry Underwood's propensities. He must also have known the gossip that connected his own name with Lillian's. He should have guarded me from any contact with them. I felt my anger fuse to a white heat against both my husband and Lillian.
An ugly suspicion crossed my mind. Lillian Gale's absolute calmness in the face of her husband's wayward affections was unique in my experience of women. Was the secret of her indifference, a lack of interest in her own husband or an excess of interest in mine? Did she hope perhaps to gain ground with Dicky with the development of this situation? Was her warning to me only part of a cunningly constructed plan, whereby she would stimulate my interest in Harry Underwood?
I was ashamed of my thoughts even as they came to me. Lillian Gale seemed too big a woman, too frank and honest of countenance for such a subterfuge. But I could not help feeling all my old distrust and dislike of the woman rush over me. I had a struggle to keep my voice from being tinged with the dislike I felt as I answered her:
"I am sure you must be mistaken, Mrs. Underwood. Such a possibility as that would be unspeakably annoying We will not consider it."
"I think you will find you will have to consider it," she returned brusquely, with a curious glance at me "But we do not need to spoil our afternoon discussing it."
A TRAGEDY AVERTED
It was well after 7 o'clock when the ringing of the door bell told me that the Lesters had come. Dicky welcomed them and introduced me to them. Mrs. Lester was a pretty creature, birdlike, in her small daintiness, and a certain chirpy brightness. I judged that her mentality equalled the calibre of a sparrow, but I admitted also that the fact did not detract from her attractiveness. She was the sort of woman to be protected, to be cherished.
"I'm afraid I shall be very dull tonight. I am so worried about leaving the baby. She's only six months old, you know, and, I have had my mother with me ever since she was born until two weeks ago, so I have never left her with a maid before. This girl we have appears very competent, says she is used to babies, but I just can't help being as nervous as a cat."
"Are you still worrying about that baby?" Mrs. Underwood's loud voice sounded behind us. "Now, look here, Daisy, have a little common sense. You have had that maid over a year; she has been with your mother and you since the baby was born; there's a telephone at her elbow, and you are only five blocks away from home. Wasn't the child well when you left?"
"Sleeping just like a kitten," the proud mother answered. "You just ought to have seen her, one little hand all cuddled up against her face. I just couldn't bear to leave her."
Over Lillian Gale's face swept a swift spasm of pain. So quickly was it gone that I would not have noticed it, had not my eyes happened to rest on her face when Mrs. Lester spoke of her baby. Was there a child in that hectic past of hers? I decided there must be.
"Why don't you telephone now and satisfy yourself that the baby is all right, and instruct the maid to call you if she sees anything unusual about her?" I queried.
"Tell her you are going to telephone every little while. Then she will be sure to keep on the job," cynically suggested Mrs. Underwood.
"Oh, that will be just splendid," chirped Mrs. Lester. "Thank you so much, Mrs. Graham. Where is the telephone?"
"Dicky will get the number for you," said Mrs. Underwood, ushering her into the living room. I heard her shrill voice.
"Oh, Dicky-bird, please get Mrs. Lester's apartment for her. She wants to be sure the baby's all right."
Then I heard a deeper voice. "For heaven's sake, Daisy, don't make a fool of yourself. The kid's all right." That was Mr. Lester's voice, of course. Neither the tones of Dicky nor Harry Underwood had the disagreeable whining timbre of this man's.
Lillian's retort made me smile, it was so characteristic of her.
"Who unlocked the door of your cage, anyway? Get back in, and if you growl again tonight there will be no supper for you."
We all laughed and I went to help Katie put the finishing touches to our dinner. When I returned Mrs. Lester was seated in an armchair in the corner as if on a throne, with Harry Underwood in an attitude of exaggerated homage before her.
I felt suddenly out of it all, lonely. These people were nothing to me, I said to myself. They were not my kind. I had a sudden homesickness for the quiet monotony of my life before I married Dicky. I thought of the few social evenings I had spent in the days before I met Dicky, little dinners with the principals and teachers I had known, when I had been the centre of things, when my opinions had been referred to, as Lillian Gale's were now.
I went through the rest of the evening in a daze of annoyance and regret from which I did not fully emerge until we were all at the dinner table, with Dicky officiating at the chafing dish. Then suddenly Mrs. Lester turned to me, her face filled with nervous fears.
"Oh, Mrs. Graham, I don't believe I can wait for anything. I am getting so nervous about baby. I know it's awful to be so silly, but I just can't help it."
"Daisy!" Her husband's voice was stern, his face looked angry. "Do stop that nonsense. We are certainly not going home now."
His wife seemed to shrink into herself. Her pretty face, with its worried look, was like that of a little girl grieving over a doll. I felt a sudden desire to comfort her.
"I think you are worrying yourself unnecessarily, Mrs. Lester," I said in an undertone. We were sitting next each other, and I could speak to her without her husband overhearing. "When you telephoned the maid an hour ago, the baby was all right, wasn't she?"
"Yes, I know," she returned dejectedly. "But I have heard such dreadful things about maids neglecting babies left in their care. Suppose she should leave her alone in the apartment, and something should catch fire and—"
"See here, Daisy!" Lillian Gale joined our group, coffee cup in hand. "Drink your coffee and your cordial. Then pretty soon, if you feel you really must go, I'll gather up Harry and start for home. Then you can make Frank go."
"You are awfully good, Lillian." Mrs. Lester looked gratefully up at the older woman. "I know I am as silly as I can be, but you can't know how I am imagining every dreadful thing in the calendar."
"I know all about it," Mrs. Underwood returned shortly, almost curtly, and walked away toward the group of men at the other side of the apartment.
"I never knew that she ever had a child." Mrs. Lester's eyes were wide with amazement as they met mine.
"Neither did I." Purposely I made my tone non-committal. From the look in Lillian Gale's eyes when Mrs. Lester told us in my room of the way the baby looked asleep, I knew that some time she must have had a baby of her own in her arms.
But I detest gossip, no matter how kindly—if, indeed, gossip can ever be termed kindly. I could not discuss Mrs. Underwood's affairs with any one, especially when she was a guest of mine.
"But she must have had a baby some time," persisted little Mrs. Lester. Her anxiety about her own baby appeared to be forgotten for the moment. "It must have been a child of that awful man she divorced, or who divorced her. I never did get that story right."
I looked around the room. How I wished some one would interrupt our talk. I could not listen to Mrs. Lester's prattle without answering her, and I did not wish to express any opinion on the subject.
As if answering my unspoken wish, Harry Underwood rose and came toward me.
"Were you looking for me?" he queried audaciously.
I had a sudden helpless, angry feeling that this man had been covertly watching me. Annoyed as I was, I was glad that he had interrupted us, for his presence would effectually stop Mrs. Lester's surmises concerning his wife.
"Indeed I was not looking for you," I replied spiritedly. "But I am glad you are here. Please talk to Mrs. Lester while I go to the kitchen. I must give some directions to Katie."
"Of course that's a terribly hard task"—he began, smiling mischievously at Mrs. Lester.
But he never finished his sentence. A loud, prolonged ringing of the doorbell startled us all. It was the sort of ring one always associates with an urgent summons of some sort.
"Oh! my baby. I know something's happened to the baby and they've come to tell me."
Mrs. Lester's words rang high and shrill. They changed to a shriek as Dicky opened the door and fell back startled.
For past him rushed a girl with a fear-distorted face holding in her arms a baby that to my eyes looked as if it were dead.
But I had presence of mind enough to quiet Mrs. Lester's hysterical fears.
"That is not your baby," I said sharply, grasping her by the arm. "It is the child from across the hall!"
There is nothing in the world so pitiful to witness as the suffering of a baby.
We all realized this as the maid held out to us the tiny infant, rigid and blue as if it were already dead.
"Is the baby dead?" she gasped, her face convulsed with grief and fear. "My madam is at the theatre, and the baby has been fretty for two hours, and just a minute ago he stiffened out like this. Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" she began to sob.
"Stop that!" Lillian Gale's voice rang out like a trumpet. "The baby is not dead. It is in a convulsion. Give it to me and run back to your apartment and bring me some warm blankets."
Of the six people at our little chafing dish supper, so suddenly interrupted, she was the only one who knew what to do. I had been able to, quiet Mrs. Lester's hysteria by telling her at once that the baby was not her own, as she had so widely imagined, but was helpless before the baby's danger.
Lillian's orders came thick and fast. She dominated the situation and swept us along in the fight to save the baby's life until the doctor, who had been summoned, arrived.
The physician was a tall, thin, young man, with a look of efficiency about him. He looked at the baby carefully, laid his hand upon the tiny forehead, then straightened himself.
"Is there any way in which the child's parents can be found?" Mr. Underwood evidently had told him of the nature of the seizure and the absence of the parents on the way up.
Lillian Gale's face grew pale under her rouge.
"There is danger, doctor?" she asked quietly
"There is always danger in these cases," he returned quietly, but his words were heard by a wild-eyed woman in evening dress who rushed through the open door followed by a man as agitated as she.
I said an unconscious prayer of thankfulness.
The baby's mother had arrived.
It seemed a week, but it was in reality only two hours later when Lillian Gale returned from the apartment across the hall, heavy eyed and dishevelled, her gown splashed with water, her rouge rubbed off in spots, her whole appearance most disreputable.
"The baby?" we all asked at once.
"Out of any immediate danger, the doctor says. The nurse came an hour ago, but the child had two more of those awful things, and I was able to help her. The mother is no good at all, one of those emotional women whose idea of taking care of a baby is to shriek over it."
Her voice held no contempt, only a great weariness. I felt a sudden rush of sympathetic liking for this woman, whom I had looked upon as an enemy.
"What can I get you, Mrs. Underwood?" I asked. "You look so worn out."
"If Katie has not thrown out that coffee," she returned practically, "let us warm it up."
I felt a foolish little thrill of housewifely pride. A few minutes before her appearance I had gone into the kitchen and made fresh coffee, anticipating her return. Katie, of course, I had sent to bed after she had cleared the table and washed the silver. I had told her to pile the dishes for the morning.
"I have fresh coffee all ready," I said. "I thought perhaps you might like a cup. Sit still, and I'll bring it in."
Harry Underwood sprang to his feet. "I'll carry the tray for you."
I thought I detected a little quiver of pain on Mrs. Underwood's face. Her husband had expressed no concern for her, but was offering to carry my tray. Truly, the tables were turning. I had suffered because of the rumors I had heard concerning this woman's regard for Dicky. Was I, not meaning it, to cause her annoyance?
"Indeed you will do no such thing," I spoke playfully to hide my real indignation at the man. "Dicky is the only accredited waiter around this house."
"Card from the waiters' union right in my pocket," Dicky grinned, and stretched lazily as he followed me to the kitchen.
We served the coffee, and Lillian and her husband went home. As the door closed behind them Dicky came over to me and took me in his arms.
"Pretty exciting evening, wasn't it, sweetheart?" he said. "I'm afraid you are all done out."
He drew me to our chair and we sat down together. I found myself crying, something I almost never do. Dicky smoothed my hair tenderly, silently, until I wiped my eyes. Then his clasp tightened around me.
"Tonight has taught me a lesson," he said. "Sometimes I have dreamed of a little child of our own, Madge. But I would rather never have a child than go through the suffering those poor devils had tonight. It must be awful to lose a baby."
I hid my face in his shoulder. Not even to my husband could I confess just then how the touch of the naked, rigid little body of that other woman's child had sent a thrill of longing through me for a baby's hands that should be mine.
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
"Well, we are in plenty of time."
We were seated, Dicky and I, in the waiting room of the Long Island railroad a week after my dinner party that had almost ended in tragedy. Dicky had bought our tickets to Marvin, the little village which was to be the starting point of our country ramble, and we were putting in the time before our train was ready in gazing at the usual morning scene in a railroad station.
There were not many passengers going out on the island, but scores of commuters were hurrying through the station on their way to their offices and other places of employment.
"You don't see many of the commuters up here," Dicky remarked. "There's a passage direct from the trains to the subway on the lower level, and most of them take that. Some of the women come up to prink a bit in the waiting room, and some of the men come through here to get cigars or papers, but the big crowd is down on the train level."
I hardly heard him, for I was so interested in a girl who had just come into the waiting room. I had never seen so self-possessed a creature in my life. She was unusually beautiful, with golden hair that was so real the most captious person could not suspect that hair of being dyed. Her eyes were dark, and the unusual combination of eyes and hair fitted a face with regular features and a fair skin. I had seen Christmas and Easter cards with faces like hers. But I had never seen anyone like her in real life, and I am afraid I stared at her as hard as did everyone else in the waiting room.
"By jove!" Dicky drew in a deep breath. "Isn't she the most ripping beauty you ever saw?"
His eyes were following her lithe, perfect figure as she walked down the waiting room. I have never seen a pretty girl appear so utterly unconscious of the glances directed toward her as she did. But with a woman's intuition I knew that underneath her calm exterior she was noticing and appraising every admiring look she received. I could not have told how I knew this, but I did know it.
She sat down a little distance from us, and Dicky frankly turned quite around to stare at her.
"I wonder if she's going on our train," he mused. "By George, I never saw anything like her in my life."
I looked at him in open amazement, tinged not a little with resentment. He was with me, his bride of less than a month, for our first day's outing since our marriage, and yet his eyes were following this other woman with the most open admiration. I felt hurt, neglected, but I was determined he should not think me jealous.
"Yes, isn't she beautiful," I said as enthusiastically as I could. "I never have seen just that combination of eyes and hair."
"It's her features and figure that get me. I'd like to get a glimpse of her hands and feet. Perhaps she will sit near us in the train. If she does, I promise you I am going to stare at her unmercifully."
As luck would have it, just as we seated ourselves in the train, the girl we had seen in the railway station came through the door with the same air of regal unconsciousness of her surroundings that she had shown while running the gauntlet of the admiring and critical eyes in the waiting room.
She carried in her hand a small traveling bag, which, while not new, had received such good care that it was not at all shabby. She spent no time in selecting a seat, but with an air of taking the first one available sat down directly opposite Dicky and me, depositing her bag close to her feet.
As she sat down she calmly crossed her knees, something which I hate to see a woman do in a public place.
"Gee, she has the hands and the feet all right!"
Dicky has a trick of mumbling beneath his breath, so that no one can detect that he is talking save the person whose ear is nearest to him. It is convenient sometimes, but at other times it is most embarrassing, especially when he is making comments upon people near us.
"I don't blame her for elevating one foot above the other," Dicky rattled on. "Not one woman in a thousand can wear those white spats. She must have mighty small, well-shaped tootsies under them."
The girl sat looking straight ahead of her. The crossing of her knees revealed a swirl of silken petticoat, and more than a glimpse of filmy silk stockings.
Her shoes were patent leather pumps, utterly unsuitable for a trip to the country. Over them she wore spats of the kind affected by so many girls.
I had a sudden remembrance of times in my own life when a new pair of shoes was as impossible to attain as a whole wardrobe. I had a sudden intuition that the unsuitable pumps were like the rest of her clothes, left over from some former affluence. She had bravely made the best of them by covering them with spats, which I knew she could obtain quite cheaply at some bargain sale.
"Looks like ready money, doesn't she?" mumbled Dicky in my ear.
I did not answer, and suddenly Dicky stared at me.
"A trifle peeved, aren't you?" Dicky's voice was mocking. But he saw what I could not conceal, that tears were rising to my eyes. I was able to keep from shedding them, and no one but Dicky could possibly have guessed I was agitated.
He changed his tone and manner on the instant.
"I know I have been thoughtless, sweetheart," he said earnestly, "but I keep forgetting that you are not used to my vagaries yet. Tell me honestly, would you have been so resentful if I had been interested in some old man with chin whiskers as I was in the beautiful lady?"