O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories of 1920
Part 6 out of 8
passengers putting out their heads to look at us.
"Goodness!" she sighed. "There go the John Quincy Burtons now."
"We can soon join them," said Todd confidently.
She expostulated. "Do you think I have no pride?" Yet we went in
pursuit of the John Quincy Burton dust-cloud as it moved toward the
"Since you have no regard for my feelings," said she, "you may let
"Oh, no, Amanda, my dear. Why, I'm going to give you a spin to
"I do not care to be dragged there," she declared. "That is where
the John Quincy Burtons ride."
"Aren't they nice people? It seems to me I've heard you sing
hosannas to their name these last twenty years."
They were nice people indeed. That was just it, she said. Did he
suspect her of yearning to throw herself in the way of nice people
on the day of her abasement? If he chose to ignore her sentiments in
the matter, he might at least consider his own interests. Had he
forgotten that John Quincy Burton was chairman of the board of
trustees of the college? Would the head of the department of
classical languages acquire merit in Mr. Burton's eyes through
dashing about under Mr. Burton's nose in a pitiable little
last-century used car that squeaked?
Todd gripped the wheel tighter and gave me gas.
"You missed that storm sewer by an inch!" she exclaimed.
"My aim is somewhat wild yet," he admitted. "Perhaps I'll get the
"My dear, we have a horn, remember."
"You did not see that baby carriage until we were right upon it!
Don't tell me you did, sir, for I know better."
"I saw it," said Todd, "and I was sure it wouldn't run over us. As
you see, it didn't. Trust a baby carriage my love."
His humour, she informed him, was on a par with his driving. Also it
was in poor taste at such a moment.
In time of danger, he replied, the brave man jests.
We were now in the park. We clipped a spray of leaves off a syringia
bush. On a curve we slid in loose gravel to the wrong side.
"Yes, my dear?"
"Let me out! I decline to be butchered to make a holiday for a
"Don't talk to the motormaniac," said Todd.
She clutched a top support and gasped for breath, appalled at his
audacity, or my speed, or both. In the straight reaches I could see
the Burton Mammoth a quarter of a mile ahead. When it swung into the
broad avenue that leads to the mountain, we were holding our own.
"You are following them--deliberately," said Mrs. Todd.
"Yet not so deliberately, at that. Do you feel us pick up my dear,
when I give her gas? Aha!" he laughed. "I agree with you, however,
that the order of precedence is unsatisfactory. Why should we follow
the Burtons, indeed?"
We went after them; we gave them the horn and overtook and passed
them on a stiff grade, amid cheers from both cars. But all of our
cheering was done by Todd.
"Now they are following us," said he. "Do you feel better, my dear?"
"Better!" she lamented. "How can I ever look them in the face again?"
"Turn around," he suggested, "and direct your gaze through the
little window in the back curtain."
She bade him stop at the next corner. She would walk home. She was
humiliated. Never had she felt so ashamed.
"Isn't that an odd way to feel when we have beaten the shoes off them?"
"But they will think we tried to."
"So we did," he chuckled; "and we walked right past them, in high,
while Burton was fussing with his gear shift. Give our little engine
a fair go at a hill, my dear----"
"I am not in the least interested in engines, sir. I am only
mortified beyond words."
She had words a-plenty, however.
"Isn't it bad enough for you to drive your little rattletrap to
college and get into the paper about it? No; you have to show it off
in a fashionable avenue, and run races with the best people in
Ashland, and scream at them like a freshman, and make an exhibition
His attention was absorbed in hopping out from under a truck coming
in from a side street. A foolish driver would have slowed and crashed.
I was proud of Todd. But his lady was not.
"You have no right to go like this. You don't know enough. You will
He had already broken the speed law. Unknown to him, a motor-cycle
cop was tagging close behind us on our blind side.
"If you think this is going, my dear," said Todd reassuringly,
"wait till we strike the turnpike. Then I'll show you what little
Hilaritas can really do."
"Stop at the car barns," she commanded.
We crossed the car-barn tracks at a gallop. The cop rode abreast of
us now. "Cut it out, Bill," he warned.
"You see?" she crowed. "You will wind up in jail and give the papers
another scandal. Why didn't you stop at the car barns?"
"Because we are going to Mountaindale," he explained cheerily;
"where the nice people drive. Perhaps we shall see the John Quincy
Burtons again--as we come back."
"If we ever do come back!"
"Or how would you like to have supper with them up there?"
She had gone into one of her silences.
We settled down for the long pull over First Mountain. Todd slowed
my spark and gave me my head. Then he addressed the partner of his
joy-ride in a new voice: "Amanda, my dear, you and I need to have a
frank little understanding."
"For some years past," he began, "I have borne without complaint,
even without resentment, a certain attitude that you have seen fit
to adopt toward me. I have borne it patiently because I felt that to
an extent I deserved it."
My floor boards creaked as she gathered her forces for the counter
attack. He went on recklessly:
"In the beginning of our life together, Amanda, you were ambitious.
You longed for wealth and position and that sort of thing, in which
respect you were like the rest of men and women. Like most people,
my dear, you have been disappointed; but unlike most of them you
persist in quarrelling with the awards of fortune, just as to-day
you are quarrelling with this plebeian car of ours. As you speak of
Hilaritas, so you speak of me. At breakfast this morning, for example,
you reminded me, for perhaps the tenth time since Sunday, that you
are chained to a failure. Those were your words, my dear--chained to
"Do you call yourself a dazzling success?" she asked.
"Not dazzling, perhaps," he replied, "and yet--yes--yes, I believe I
"What I told you at breakfast was that Freddy Burton makes one
hundred dollars a week, and he is only twenty-four--not half as old
"Freddy Burton is engaged in the important occupation of selling
pickles," Todd answered, "and I am only an educator of youth. Long
ago I reached my maximum--three thousand dollars. From one point of
view I don't blame you for looking upon me as a futility. I presume
I am. Nor will I chide you for not taking the luck of life in a
sportsmanlike spirit. But I do insist----"
"At last!" she broke in. "At last I understand some pencil notes
that I found yesterday when I cleaned out your desk. A minute ago I
thought you were out of your head. Now I see that this--this
frightfulness of yours is premeditated. Premeditated, James Todd!
You prepared this speech in advance!"
Between you and me, she was right. I had heard him practise it in
He took her arraignment calmly, "Hereafter," said he, "please
refrain from cleaning out my desk."
I heard her catch her breath. "You have never talked to me like this
before; never!" she said. "You have never dared. And that is
precisely the trouble with you, James Todd. You won't talk back; you
won't speak up for your rights. It is the cross of my life."
From the sound, I think she wept.
"You are the same in the outside world as you are at home. You let
the college trustees pay you what they please. You slave and slave
and wear yourself out for three thousand a year when we might have
twenty if you went into something else. And when your building-loan
stock matures and you do get a little money, you spend it for
this--this underbred little sewing-machine, and lure me out in it,
and lecture me, as if I--as if I were to blame. I don't know what
has come over you."
I knew what had come over him. I knew the secret of the new spirit
animating the frail personality of Professor Todd. And Willie knew.
I recalled that boy's prophetic words: "The quickest way to get
nerve is to grab hold here and drive." I worried, nevertheless. I
wondered if my little man could finish what he had started.
He could. As we rolled down the mountain into the ten-mile turnpike
where he and I had rediscovered our youth, he concluded his
discourse without missing an explosion. I knew his peroration by
"To end this painful matter, my dear, I shall ask you in future to
accord me at least the civility, if not the respect, to which a
hard-working man and a faithful husband is entitled. I speak in all
kindliness when I say that I have decided to endure no more hazing.
I hope you understand that I have made this decision for your sake
as well as for mine, for the psychological effect of hazing is quite
as harmful to the hazer as to the hazed. Please govern yourself
He opened the throttle wide, and we touched thirty-five miles. I
felt a wild wabble in my steering-gear. I heard Todd's sharp
command--"Kindly keep your hands off the wheel while I am driving."
At the Mountain Dale Club Todd descended.
"Will you come in and have a lemonade, my dear?" he asked. There was
a heartbroken little squeak in his voice.
"Thank you," she replied frigidly. "I have had all the acid I can
assimilate in one pleasant day."
"May I remind you," said he, stiffening with the gentle insistence
of a steel spring, "that I am not to be addressed in sarcastic tones
The Mammoth slid up beside us. The stout John Quincy Burton at the
wheel shouted jovially: "I tell you what, Todd, when our soberest
university professors get the speed bug, I tremble for civilization!"
My owner grinned with pleasure.
"Mrs. Todd," said Burton, "after that trimming from your
road-burning husband, I'll stand treat. Won't you join us?"
"Yes, Mrs. Todd, do be persuaded," Mrs. Burton chimed in. "After
twenty miles with your Barney Oldfield you need nourishment, I'm sure.
You and I can talk about his recklessness while he and Mr. Burton
have their little conference."
If Todd had an appointment for a conference there at that hour with
Burton, I am positive it was news to Mrs. Todd and me. I could feel
her weight growing heavier on my cushion springs.
"Thank you for the invitation," she replied, "but I am so badly
shaken up, I prefer to sit out here."
To which her husband added, laughingly: "She wouldn't risk having
her new car stolen for anything."
It was twilight before we started for home, the Burtons pulling out
ahead of us. At the beginning of the climb over the mountain I saw
the Mammoth stop. We drew alongside.
"Out of gas, confound it," growled Burton, "and five miles from a
"I'd lend you some, only I haven't much myself," said Todd.
"Got a rope?"
"Oh, we can. We can pull you and never know it. Hitch on behind. We
like to travel in stylish company, Mrs. Todd and I."
So we towed them over the mountain and left them at a red pump. John
Quincy Burton's gratitude was immense.
"The pleasure is all ours," Todd assured him. "But, say, old man!"
"You ought to buy a little old used car like this some time to carry
in your tool-box."
They were still laughing when we drove away.
Not a word did Mrs. Todd utter on the homeward journey; but in the
privacy of our humble barn--
"Oh!" she cried. "I could _die_! Why did you have to say that to
She subsided, but she had not surrendered.
"You didn't tell me you had an engagement with him. What----"
Todd laughed. "I was chosen this week, my dear, as a grievance
committee of one, representing the teaching staff at the college, to
put a few cold facts into John Quincy Burton's ear."
"Precisely, my dear. I was the only man in the faculty who seemed to
have the--the self-confidence necessary. And I made Burton see the
point. I have his promise that the college trustees will campaign
the state this summer for a half-million-dollar emergency fund, a
good slice of which will go toward salary increases."
"Well! I must say----"
She did not say it. Silently she left us.
He lingered a while in the barn. He opened my hood, for I was quite
warm from the towing job. He examined a new cut in one of my tires
and loosened my hand-brake a notch. He couldn't seem to find enough
to do for me.
From the house came a hail. I am not sure that he did not hold his
breath as he listened.
"James, dear!" again.
"Hello!" he answered.
"James, dear, won't you bring your automobile pliers, please, and
see if you can open this jar of marmalade?"
My little man went in whistling.
THE THING THEY LOVED
BY MARICE RUTLEDGE
From _The Century Magazine_
"_They had vowed to live only for one another. The theme of their
love was sublime enough, but the instruments were fallible. Human
beings can rarely sustain a lofty note beyond the measure of a
When she told her husband that David Cannon had arranged for her a
series of recitals in South America, she looked to him for swift
response. She was confident that anything touching on her
professional life would kindle his eye and warm his voice. It was,
in fact, that professional life as she interpreted it with the mind
of an artist, the heart of a child, which had first drawn him to her;
he had often admitted as much. During one year of rare comradeship
he had never failed in his consideration for her work. He would know,
she felt sure, that to go on a concert tour with David Cannon, to
sing David Cannon's songs under such conditions, presented good
fortune in more than one way. He would rejoice accordingly.
But his "Why, my dear, South America!" came flatly upon her
announcement. It lacked the upward ring, and his eye did not kindle,
his voice did not warm. He himself felt the fictitious inflection,
for he added hastily, with happier effect: "It's a wonderful chance,
dearest, isn't it?" His voice by then had gained in heartiness, and
his smile, always worshipful when turned on her, contained this time
something of apology. So close were they, though, in thought, spoken
or unspoken, that he had sounded a tiny alarm. Her radiance
perceptibly waned. A moment before she had stood, a glowing, vital
creature, beside him, eyes and lips singing a duet of delight; now
with questioning heart she leaned toward her loved one.
"What is it? Don't you want me to go? I thought you liked David.
Can't you come, too, Oliver?"
"You know I can't, dear," she heard him say with an attempt at
lightness. Then he added: "But it's a great chance for you. You'll
take it, of course. It was only the thought of losing you even for a
little while. What selfish brutes we men are!" He had recovered
himself, had defined his passing reserve in loverlike terms, and was
newly aware of unworthiness. The luxury of tender persuasion, of
arguing her into a sense of sweet security, concerned him next. He
could not say enough, and said too much.
They were mellow against an intimate background of yellow walls lit
by fire and lamps. Myra's grand piano projected sleek and dark from
a corner of warm shadow. The silver tea-set gleamed pale on a
slender-legged table; a fragrance of narcissus spread dreamily.
Oliver sank on the couch, drawing her down where she could become
all feminine. She was that, and most adorably, her bright hair soft
about lax brows, her full lips parted, her strong white hands lying
in his like brooding birds. He talked on, and she played content for
a while; but a moment came when with a sudden maternal gesture she
drew his dark, willing head to her shoulder.
"Let's forget South America for to-night," she said.
He would not, could not, drop the subject. He had been so clumsy in
not realizing what it all meant to her; but her news had come as
such a surprise. She had seen David Cannon, then, that afternoon?
Yes, he was on his way down to her to settle the date of their
concert and to propose this South American scheme. But she need not
He protested that her triumph there would crown him. If he were not
a poor young architect attached to his blue prints, he would follow
her. As it was, his duller duty lay at home. She caught a flatness
of tone, and met it with a vigorous profession of faith in his work.
His art was more useful than hers, more enduring. His music was in
stone; hers was no greater than the trilling of a bird. He thought
this over, moved from her embrace, sat erect, and patted his tie.
Well, he summed up, each had a working life converging to a common
end. Let her sing Cannon's songs to South America. Her voice would
reach him. Then let her come back quickly. He could not conceive of
life without her. It would seem strange to be a bachelor again, he
went on, with a sigh meant to be comical. He supposed he would eat at
his club when he was not invited out. He hoped her friends would
take pity on him.
"You mean our friends," she corrected.
"You're the magnet, dear."
"I attracted you," she conceded happily. Then, with a start, she said:
"Do you know what time it is? And we're dining with the Wickeses at
"I never have you to myself any more," he objected. "If I were an
old-fashioned husband, I should be jealous of every one who sees or
talks to you."
"But you're not an old-fashioned husband," she reminded him.
"I try not to be." He had risen from the couch, and was making his
way to the door, where he paused to look back at her. "Wear the blue
brocade to-night, dear, and do your hair that new way."
"The way Martigues suggested? I thought you didn't like it."
He hesitated only a second.
"It's a bit extreme," he had to confess, "but it suits you."
She came toward him then, laughing.
"You see, you give me over to them."
"I can afford to," he said.
They were late, of course, to the dinner. Despite her effort at
brightness, Oliver felt her graver mood. He watched her with a
shadowy anxiety. Her smile, when her glance sought him out among the
chattering guests, did not entirely reassure him. He had never loved
her more than this evening when she seemed so removed from him, so
easily and brilliantly a guest of honor. What hold had these
strangers on her? They could only misread the superficial sparkle of
her eyes, the gracious movements of her uncovered neck and arms. He
decided then that the blue brocade was too conspicuous. She must not
wear it in South America. And her honey-coloured hair, piled high,
with a fantastic Spanish comb flaring above the topmost curls,
struck him as needlessly theatrical. He blamed Martigues for that.
His humour was not improved by the Basque painter's voluble
compliments on the success of a coiffure he felt to be his own
creation. The fellow was too familiar, thought Oliver, with
increasing irritation. He darkened, grew glum and silent; and when,
after dinner, Martigues approached him with a luckless tribute to
Madame Shaw's superlative loveliness, he answered curtly, and turned
on his heel. Myra witnessed the brief discourtesy, and later very
gently taxed him with it. What had the unfortunate artist done? He
faced her like a sulky boy and would not answer; but she was quick
to penetrate his grievance. She laughed then, as a woman laughs who
has nothing to conceal, declaring that Martigues's taste was not
infallible, and that Oliver knew best what became his Myra. She soon
wooed him back to his old charming self, and the incident passed.
But there were others on the following days, and Myra grew thoughtful.
She and Oliver were seldom alone. Her joy of life, her vitality, her
very talent, depended on a multitude of impressions, on innumerable
personal contacts. She belonged to a rich, throbbing world of
emotions; she gathered passion for her song from the yearnings, the
anonymous aspirations, even the crudities of the human forces about
She was Oliver's most gloriously when most surrounded. His pride was
centred on her; it was centred, however, on the brilliant returns of
her actual presence--a presence which was never too far removed in
flesh or spirit to deprive him of a certain naive assumption of
ownership. That she should continue all the dear, familiar
fascinations beyond his sight or touch, in a far-away land, with
David Cannon as a daily companion, was another matter. Not that he
was jealous of David. No one man stood out as a rival. But Cannon
travelling with Myra, sharing artistic triumphs with her, escorting
her to entertainments given in her honour, Cannon, in fact,
associated in foreign minds with the beautiful cantatrice, offended
the inviolable rights of his lover's vanity. He would have her less
beautiful, less gifted, not more faithful.
Exquisitely sensitive where he was concerned, Myra detected this
subtle change in his attitude toward her and her work. The origins
of the change, she knew, were obscurely lodged in the male egoism.
He himself was not aware of them. He seemed nearer and dearer than
ever, even more ardent. He wanted her constantly within range of his
eyes and hands that he might in a thousand coaxing or, often,
petulant ways assert a fond dominion. She yielded gladly to that
sweet pressure. Strangely enough for a woman of her independent
habits, to be so loved, roused elemental instincts the more powerful
since she had never before given them outlet. So she allowed his
illusions of mastery full play, which was dangerous, as gradually
she altered the delicate balance of their relationship.
A restless month went by. It was February.
Unfortunately, Oliver's work failed to engross him. He grew moodier,
more exacting. If Myra arrived home late, he wanted to know where
she had been, whom she had seen. Were they dining out, he muttered
unsociable objections; were people coming to the house, he
complained of the lack of privacy. What a whirl they lived in! So
they did, but what was the remedy? Myra herself felt helpless in a
tangle of engagements. They overpowered her. She could not seem to
cut her way through them. Then there were rehearsals for the concert.
David Cannon came to her or she went to him nearly every day.
Usually Oliver was present, putting in his opinion between each song.
Did David think the South Americans would appreciate that kind of
music? How did he think they would like Myra? And so on and on.
David Cannon, never patient, a rough-tongued, self-absorbed genius,
resented these interruptions, and was brief in his methods of
expressing as much. Even Myra, the most tactful of diplomatists,
could not smooth over occasional ugly moments between the two men.
She understood Oliver better than he understood himself. His
unreasoning love, his apprehensive vanity, would have unsettled a
less maternal spirit; but she found a kind of mystic wonder in it, he
battled so blindly for possession of her. He was in her way, and she
could not advance without pushing him aside. Had he come to her and
blustered, "You shall not leave me for any purpose whatsoever," she
would have denied him the right of dictation; but there was no such
conflict of wills.
They were both involved in this love of their making--a love whose
demands were treacherous. Each day brought up trivial attacks,
fancied grievances, little fears unavowed; but when she sought to
meet the issue squarely, it eluded her. Oliver's nightly repentance
for his daily whims and suspicions drew her nightly into his arms.
Enfolded there, she felt moored to his love; and, sleepless, she
questioned any life apart.
Two days before the recital, David Cannon, with whom she was going
over the programme for the last time, turned suddenly from the piano
with an impatient shrug of his shoulders.
"Rotten!" he said brutally, peering up at her. "You're not doing
yourself justice. What's the matter with you?" Beneath the strong,
overhanging brow his little eyes glowered fiercely.
They happened to be alone that afternoon in his great bare studio,
where no soft background or dim lights conspired to hide her
dejection. She had sung badly. She knew it, but she could not answer
such a brusque attack, could not defend herself against harsh
"I don't know. Perhaps I'm tired," she said.
David Cannon rose from the piano with the powerful lunging movement
of a bull.
"You tired? Nonsense!" His charge sent him beyond her a pace. He
wheeled and came up close. He was shorter than she, but the sheer
force of the man topped her. His keen little eyes looked her over,
took in her bright, drooping head, and her sloping-shouldered,
slim-waisted health. "Tired!" he grunted. "That's an excuse, not a
reason." He tapped his heart and forehead. "Your troubles lie here
She tried to smile, with a lift of her eyebrows.
"What do you know about it?"
"I know more than you think I do," he flung at her, frowning.
"You're worried about something, and when you worry, you can't sing.
You're made that way, and I suppose you can't help it. Don't
interrupt yet," he fairly shouted at her as she began to protest.
"I've watched over and taught you for three years. I ought to know."
"I owe you a lot," she said faintly.
"You owe me nothing," he snapped. "Your debt is to yourself."
She could not fend off that merciless look, which went through and
through her. "If my debt is to myself, I need pay only if I choose,"
she tried to jest.
"Don't make that mistake," he warned. "Your work is your life. I
tell you that, and I know."
"I wonder," she said more to herself than to him.
He looked at her grimly.
"Just as I thought. Same old question--marriage. You're jealous, or
he's jealous of God knows whom or what. And your voice goes to pieces.
Which is it?" he demanded. "Is Oliver misbehaving?"
"Of course not," she said indignantly.
"Humph! Well, he's faithful, you're faithful. You've both got talent,
friends, a home, a profession. What more do you want?"
"There are other--jealousies," she said slowly, and with gathering
passion she went on: "I suppose I owe you some explanation, David,
though you won't understand. Oliver is the most wonderful person in
the world. I never thought I could love any one as I love him. And
it's the same with him. But he wants me all to himself." Her hands
fluttered together in nervous appeal. "Can't you see how it is? Since
we've been married we've never been separated a day. And now this
South-American thing has come up, and he's felt--oh, I can't explain.
But I'm so afraid--"
"Afraid of what?"
"It's hard to put into words," she said hopelessly. "I suppose I'm
afraid of losing my happiness. Oliver's right in many ways. He never
does have me to himself; I belong to so many people. It's always
been my life, you know. But I thought I could combine everything
when I married, and I'm beginning to see that it can't be done."
"He knew what your life was," said David.
"Does one ever know?" she said sadly. "This concert, you see, is my
first important appearance since our marriage. And then my going
away right after--"
David strode over to the piano and sat there silent, his head sunk
on his chest, his short arms stiffly before him.
"I realize how absurd it is," she murmured; "but it isn't just those
few months. He trusts me. It's the feeling he has that this is only
a beginning. I know what he means so well," she ended helplessly.
David's short fingers moved over the keys. A music wild and pagan
rose up, filled the room with rhythms of free dancing creatures,
sank to a minor plaint, and broke off on a harsh discord as the
"There's your Oliver," he said, and went to let him in.
It was the day of the concert, and Myra wanted above all to be alone.
She had never felt this way before. She dreaded the evening, dreaded
facing a critical audience; she had fretted herself into a fever
over it. But when she tried to explain her state of mind to Oliver
that morning at breakfast, he would not hear of any prescription for
nerves which did not include his company. Why should she want to be
alone? If she was ill or troubled, his place was beside her. He had
planned to lunch and spend the afternoon with her. Her faintly
irritable "I wish you wouldn't," only wounded and shocked him. Her
strength was not equal to discussion, and in the end she yielded.
For the rest of the morning he followed her about, tenderly opposing
"I must have you at your best to-night, dear," he kept on saying.
"I'm going to be proud of my Myra." He was so eager, wistful, and
loving, she could not resent his care. She gave in to it with a
sense of helplessness.
Soon after lunch her head started aching. She suggested a brisk walk.
The air might do her good. But he persuaded her to lie down on the
couch instead. The touch of his fingers on her hot forehead was
soothing, too soothing. She relaxed luxuriously, closing her eyes,
He was saying:
"What will you do, beloved, if you are taken ill in South America?
No Oliver to care for you. I can't bear to think of it." Suddenly,
he laid his cheek against hers. "If anything happens to you, I shall
She sat up with a swift movement that brought back an almost
"Nothing will happen," she tried to say, and found herself weakly
sobbing in his arms.
It was time to dress. She did her hair, to please Oliver, in a
girlish way, parted and knotted low. Her gown, designed by Martigues,
did not fit in with this simple coiffure. She was aware of an
incongruity between the smooth, yellow bands of hair meekly
confining her small head, and the daring peacock-blue draperies
flowing in long, free lines from her shoulders, held lightly in at
the waist by a golden cord.
"One will get the better of the other before the evening is over,"
she thought with a sigh, turning away from her mirror.
"My beautiful Myra!" Oliver said as if to cheer her.
"I have never looked worse," she retorted a trifle impatiently, and
would not argue the point as they drove up town.
"We'll see what I really amount to now," she told herself.
She had never before so tensely faced an audience, but there was
more at stake than she cared to confess, and she was not equal to it.
She shone, but did not blind those thousand eyes; she sang but did
not cast enchantment. And David Cannon would not help her. He sat at
the piano, uncouth, impassive, deliberately detached, as if he gave
her and his music over to an anonymous crowd of whose existence he
was hardly aware. There was something huge and static about him,
something elemental as an earth-shape, containing in and by itself
mysterious rhythms. His songs were things of faun-like humours,
terrible, tender, mocking, compassionate. They called for an entire
abandon, for witchery, for passion swayed and swaying; but although
at times Myra's voice held a Pan-like flutiness, although an
occasional note true and sweet as a mate-call stirred that dark
fronting mass, she failed to sustain the spell. She was too aware of
Oliver leaning forward in his box, applauding louder than any one.
His loyalty would force out of this fastidious audience an ovation
she did not deserve. She would not look his way. "I can't sing," she
Had David Cannon shown any annoyance, she might have been goaded on
to a supreme effort; but he avoided her. When once she went up to
him during an intermission and said timidly:
"I'm sorry, David; I'm spoiling everything," he answered
"My songs can stand it."
She wished then that she had not begged Oliver to keep away from her
until the end. She felt lonely and near to tears. As the evening
wore on, lightened by spasmodic applause, she became very quiet. She
even sang better, and felt rather than saw Oliver brighten. But it
was too late; she had lost her audience. There were now gaps in the
earlier unbroken rows; a well-known critic trod softly out; little
nervous coughs and rustlings rose up.
At last it was all over. She wanted only to hide, but she was not to
escape another ordeal. She and Oliver had arranged for a supper
party that evening. To it they had bidden many musical personalities
and several of Oliver's architect friends. She had meant to announce
then the South-American recitals. The prospect of such an
entertainment was now almost unendurable. She knew well what these
people would say and think. Driving home with Oliver, she relaxed
limp against his shoulder, her eyes closed. That haven could at
least always be counted on, she reflected with passionate gratitude.
His voice sounded from a distance as he talked on and on, explaining,
excusing, what he could not honestly ignore. She had worked too hard.
She was tired out. There was the headache, too. But she had sung
wonderfully all the same.
"Please, Oliver!" she faintly interrupted.
"You made the best of it," he insisted. "David's songs, though, are
She sat up very straight at this.
"My dear," she said in a cold voice, "I made a mess of it, and you
know it. There _is_ no excuse. David has every reason to be furious."
"I'd like to see him dare--"
"Please, Oliver!" she said again on a warning note of hysteria. She
stared out of the window at the blur of passing lights. It was
misting; the streets gleamed wet and wan beneath the lamps.
Oliver's arm went around her.
"I'm sorry, dear. Nothing matters, after all, but you and I together,"
"Nothing else does matter, does it?" she cried suddenly. "Love me a
great deal, Oliver, a great, great deal. That's all I ask."
They drove on in silence for a while. She sat very quiet, her face
half hidden in the high fur collar of her cloak. Now and then she
glanced at Oliver, her eyes wistful.
"Oliver," she said at last, "would it make any difference to you if
I never sang again?"
"Never sang again," he echoed. "I don't understand."
"I want you and my home," came from her slowly. "I've been wondering
for some time how much my singing really meant to me. To-night I
think I've found out. I can't seem to keep everything I started out
with and be happy. I'm not big enough," she added sadly.
He was startled, incredulous.
"Myra, you don't realize what you're saying. You're tired to-night.
I could not let you give up your singing. You are an artist, a big
She shook her head and sighed.
"I might have been, perhaps; but no, I'm not. David could tell you
that. He knows."
"It's been my fault, then, if you feel this way," he said in a
melancholy voice. "I've been selfish and stupid."
The taxi slowed down before the red-brick entrance of the apartment
house. She put her hand impulsively on his arm.
"Oliver, promise me something."
"Whatever you ask."
"Don't mention South America to any one. You promise?"
"I won't, then. But----"
"I see Walter Mason and Martigues waiting for us," she said quickly.
"Remember, not a word." She was out of the cab, hurrying forward to
greet her guests. Oliver followed, his eyes mutely pleading. But she
seemed her old self again, graciously animated, laughing at Martigues,
who sulked because he did not like the way her hair was done.
Soon other guests arrived, and still others, all of them primed with
compliments carefully prepared.
Last of all came David Cannon, who brushed away flattery with curt
gestures and grunts. He sat heavily down in a corner of the room, a
plate of cheese sandwiches and a frosted glass of beer before him,
and turned an unsociable eye on all intruders. Myra, knowing his mood,
left him alone.
"You are different to-night," Martigues whispered to her. "There is
something I do not understand. You have the Madonna smile."
"I am happy," she said, and her eyes turned to Oliver, who held the
look and gave it back with deeper meaning.
When later Martigues asked her to sing, she glanced again at Oliver,
who nodded and smiled.
"If David will accompany me," she said then. David left sandwiches
and beer but without enthusiasm. He crossed over to the piano, and
peered up at her with a kind of sombre malice.
"So you will sing now," he said. "Will this do?" He played a few
notes softly, and she nodded with a little smile.
It was a song about the love of a white-throated sparrow for a
birch-tree of the North. All summer long the bird lived on the
topmost branch and sang most beautifully. The season of southward
journey came, but the white throated sparrow would not leave her tree.
She stayed on alone, singing while the leaves turned gold and fell.
She sang more faintly as the land grew white with the first snows
and when she could sing no longer for the cold, she nestled down in
a bare hollow of the white tree and let the driving flakes of the
North cover her.
Oliver stood near the piano. Myra sang to and for him. She stood
very tall and straight, her hair, loosened from its tight bands,
soft around her face. Her voice thrilled out in the mate-call, grew
fainter and sweeter as winter came on, grew poignant under the cold,
quivered on the last note. As David Cannon ended with the fate theme
of the tree, a genuine shiver went through the little group. There
was no hesitation this time in the applause. They swept forward,
surrounding her, begging her to sing again. But it was to Oliver
that she turned.
"It pleased you? I'm glad."
David Cannon said nothing. He sat, his shoulders hunched, his
fingers on the keys until she had refused to sing again.
"I didn't think you would," he said then, and abruptly left his post
to go back to beer and sandwiches. Soon after he slipped out. Myra
went with him to the hall, where they talked for a while in low
voices. When she came back into the room she was smiling serenely.
She and Oliver were alone at last.
"You glorious creature!" he cried. "I'm so proud of you! Everyone
was crazy about the way you sang." She walked slowly toward him.
"Oliver," she said, "I told David this evening that I wouldn't go to
South America with him."
"You didn't!" His voice rose sharp and shocked.
She nodded, beaming almost mischievously.
"But I did, and nothing will make me change my mind."
"How could you be so impulsive, so foolish!" he cried.
She was looking at him now more soberly.
"Aren't you glad?"
"Myra, you mustn't! I'll telephone David at once.. I'll--you did
this for me. I won't have it. You should have asked me----"
"It's no use; I'm not going," she said.
He dropped on the couch and hid his face in his hands.
"You're giving this up because of me."
She went to him.
"Oliver, look at me."
Slowly he raised his head.
"I don't see why----" he began, but she was so beautiful, so radiant,
that he caught his breath and faltered.
She sat down beside him.
"Ah, but you will," she said. "It's very simple, dear. Even David
"What does he think?"
"He thinks as I do," she said quickly. "He was quite relieved;
honestly, dear. He didn't want any homesick woman spoiling his songs
for him in South America. And then I suggested Frances Maury in my
place. She has a lovely voice, and she'll jump at the chance."
"I've never heard her, but I'm sure she can't sing as well as you,"
he said, with returning gloom. "And it was only for two months."
She laughed as at an unreasonable child.
"It isn't the two months, dear. It's our whole life. There would be
other partings, you see, other interests drawing me away. And if it
became easier to leave you, then I should know that everything was
wrong between us; but if it kept on being hard to divide myself
between you and my work, then my work would suffer and so would you.
Either way, it couldn't go on. I'm not big enough to do both," she
"I can't accept such a sacrifice."
"Don't you want me with you always?"
He seized her hands and passionately drew her close to him.
"Want you? I can tell you now. I've been jealous, terribly so, of
everyone, everything that touched you."
"I knew it," she said. "That's one reason why I didn't sing well
to-night. Now I'm free"--she threw her arms out with the gesture of
flying--"I'm free to love just you. We'll start another life, Oliver,
a life of our own. We'll be fire-side people, dear, homely lovers
content to sit and talk of an evening. You'll find me very valuable,
really, as a partner," she said eagerly. "I've never been near
enough to your work. And it's such wonderful work!" With an impulsive
movement she went over and closed the piano. "I'll only open it when
you ask me to," she said.
The process of elimination was simple enough. There was a touch of
melancholy in Myra's measurement of relationships, in her
consciousness of their frailty. People fell away easily, leaving her
and Oliver to their chosen isolation. A dozen regrets or so to
invitations, a week or two of evasions over the telephone, a few
friends like Martigues turned away at the door when obviously she
was at home, a refusal to sing at a charity concert and, most
conclusive of all, David Cannon's advertised departure with another
artist, and the thing was virtually done.
Then came a succession of long intimate evenings, she and Oliver
left to their caprice, she and Oliver walking and driving together,
wandering where their fancy took them in the springtime of city and
country. She laughed sometimes at him, he seemed so dazed by the
consciousness of utter possession. "You are sure you are not bored,
darling?" he would often ask these first days. She could not
reassure him enough; could not find ways enough to prove to him that
when a woman like herself gave of body, mind, and spirit, it was a
full giving. There was exquisite pain in that giving; it was almost
a terrifying thing. She was a vital creature, and must spend that
which was hers, wisely or foolishly. Her ceaseless energy had always
before found an outlet in her work. Now her only expression lay in
Oliver. Her mind, never at rest, seized upon his working life, made
it hers. But she soon learned that he regarded her self-appointed
post of partner with a tender condescension edged with intolerance.
She learned with a tiny shock that although in matters musical he
trusted absolutely to her judgment, he did not consider the feminine
intellect as equal to his own. Music, she discovered, had always
been defined by him as something feminine in its application to the
She became gradually aware that he objected to her visits to his
office. His glance did not brighten at her entrance. He was not
amused as he had been at first, when she bent over the sketches or
ran her slim fingers along the tracery of blue prints, daring to
question them. Sometimes she had a feeling that she did not entirely
know Oliver; that there were plans of his, thoughts of his, which
she did not share. She had not missed these before when her own life
was full. She had time now during their long hours together to
observe reactions of the cause of which she knew nothing. He was
absent-minded, off on a trail that led away from her.
There came a week when he allowed her the brunt of wooing; a new
dress failed to bring forth the usual compliment; a question lay
unanswered where in pride she left it. Then one morning with a new
crisp note in his voice, he telephoned, telling her that he must
meet a man at his club for dinner that evening. Mechanically she
answered, dully heard his voice warm to a sweetness that should have
"You know I wouldn't leave you unless it were important, dearest. I
can't explain now, but I may have great news for you when I come home."
She hung up the receiver thoughtfully, and turned to an apartment
which seemed suddenly dreary and empty. She had no purpose in her day.
The twilight hour loomed in prospect an endless, dusky loneliness.
For a moment she thought of ringing him up and proposing to meet him
downtown for lunch; then restrained the impulse. Was she to turn
into a nagging wife! She longed now for some friend with whom she
could spend the day; but she could think of none. Since her marriage
with Oliver she had not encouraged intimacies. On his account she
had estranged the few women to whom she might now have turned.
Oliver had never understood friendships among women.
The day dragged by. For the first time in months she found herself
wishing that she was going out that evening. She thought almost
guiltily of David Cannon and Frances Maury, imagining herself in
Frances's place. She went to the piano, tried to sing, and realized
with dismay that she was sadly out of practice. After all, what did
it matter? she decided moodily. Oliver rarely asked her for music.
She took up a novel and dozed over it.
At eleven o'clock Oliver came home. She knew by the way he opened
the front door that the news was good. She ran to meet him; her
He took her by the hand and led her into the softly lit room which
seemed suddenly warm again with his presence. Then he whirled her,
facing him. Her smile was a happy reflection of his own brightness.
"You'll never guess what's happened," he began.
"Tell me quickly!" she begged.
He waited a moment, with an eye to dramatic effect.
"Well, then," he said proudly, "I've been appointed on a special
committee of reconstruction in France. Malcolm Wild--you've heard me
speak of him--came down from Washington to-day to propose it to me.
There are six of us on the committee, and I'm the youngest."
"Oliver!" She put into the exclamation something of what he expected,
for he seemed satisfied. He lifted his head with a young, triumphant
gesture. "It is my chance to do a great and useful work," he said.
"I needn't tell you what it means. I never hoped, _I_ never dreamed
of such an honour."
"I'm so proud of you!" she cried.
He hardly seemed to hear her.
"Think of it, just think of it--to be invited to go over there with
five of the biggest architects here, American money backing us!
We've been given a whole section to rebuild; I forget how many
villages. It's like a dream." He passed his hand over his eyes.
"France!" she heard herself saying. "But, Oliver, it's the work of
He nodded happily.
"That's what it is."
"France!" she murmured in a kind of ecstasy. "I'm just getting it."
She clasped her hands together. "I've always wanted to be in France
with you. My dear, when do we start?"
He gave her a swift, bewildered look.
"Why, Myra, didn't you understand? I can't take you right away with
me. Later, of course, you'll join me. It won't be long, a few months
"I'm not to go when you go?"
Her voice, low and strained, drove straight to his heart.
"Myra, I never thought--it's a man's trip just now, darling.
I--couldn't take you with me," he stammered miserably. "Passports
are almost impossible to get; and then conditions over there----"
She backed away from him, her arms stiff at her sides.
"When were you--planning to go?"
He stared at her pitifully.
"Beloved, don't look at me that way!"
"When were you planning to go?" she repeated.
"Next week," he said in an altered voice. "I never thought you would
take it this way. I never thought--it's a great chance."
"That's what I once told you," she said slowly, and turned away that
he might not see her face. "Don't touch me!" she cried as he came
nearer. "Don't! I've been nervous all day, and lonely." She tried to
control herself, but as his arms went around her, she began to sob
like a hurt child. "If you leave me, I shall die. I can't bear it. I
know it's wicked of me." Her words reached him brokenly. "It's only
because you're all I have. I've given up everything; and now----"
He stood very still, staring into space, his hold on her never
loosening. She stumbled on, confessing what had lain hidden in her
heart until this moment. She told him things she had never thought
she could betray to any one--things she had never even dared
formulate. When she had done, he said in a strange, gentle voice:
"I didn't know you depended so on me. But it's all right; I won't
leave you, ever. It's all right. There, dear, I understand."
She struggled free from his hold, and dried her eyes with a sudden
passionate gesture of scattering tears.
"You shall go," she said fiercely. "I hate myself for acting this way.
It was only because----" She could get no further.
He did not attempt to touch her again. They stood facing one another,
measuring their love.
"I might go," he said at last, as if to himself; "but in going I
should spoil something very precious. You deny it now, but you would
remember your own sacrifice. And then, of course, you would go back
to your work. I should want you to. But it would never be the same
"I won't go back."
He shook his head.
"If you didn't, you would never forgive me. Every day you spent here
alone and idle would break one of those fragile bonds that hold us
so closely. If only you hadn't given up South America!"
"I was wrong," she said drearily.
At last he held out his arms.
"Myra," he said, "you mean more than anything else to me. This offer
pleased me; I admit it. But I can work on just as well here. I have
the Cromwell house, you know, and the Newburghs may build soon.
Don't let's think of it again."
She held back a moment, afraid to yield; but there was no resisting
her longing, and she ran to him with a little sigh, which he softly
echoed as he took her and held her close.
They had vowed to live only for one another. The theme of their love
was sublime enough, but the instruments were fallible. Human beings
can rarely sustain a lofty note beyond the measure of a supreme
moment. Emotional as she was in her gratitude, Myra would have kept
on sounding that note through the days and nights. She would not
allow Oliver to forget what he had given up for her sake.
More than ever she sought to associate herself with his work. He was
forced to recognize her personality there. For when skilfully she
led the talk on his plans, she hunted down elusive problems,
grappled with them, and offered him the solutions of a sure instinct.
She did not reckon with his vanity. She was too eager to make up for
a lost opportunity, as she too often explained. He came gradually to
brood over what he now consented to consider a sacrifice. In passing
moments of irritation he even referred to it. He broke out
occasionally in fits of nerves, certain that he would be humoured
and petted back to the normal. He knew well how a frown dismayed her,
how deep a word could strike, what tiny wounds he could inflict. It
would seem sometimes as if one or the other deliberately created a
short, violent scene over a trivial difference just to relieve
routine. The domestic low-lands stretched beyond the eye. He missed
the broken country, the unexpected dips and curves of the unknown.
Not that his heart went adventuring. He was faithful in body and
spirit, but there was discontent in the looks he turned on her.
One afternoon she read in the papers that David Cannon and Frances
Maury were back from South America after a triumphant series of
recitals. They were to give a concert the following month. Her
indifference to the news, she thought drearily, was an indication of
how far she had travelled away from her old life. She did not even
want to see David Cannon.
It was Oliver who brought up the subject that evening.
"David's back. If you'd been with him, how excited I should have
felt to-day!" he remarked. "Odd, isn't it?"
"You would have been in France," she reminded him.
They sat on in silence for a while.
He laid his book aside with a sudden brisk movement.
"Myra, why don't you sing again?"
"For you, to-night?"
"I mean professionally," he blurted out.
She drifted across the room to a shadowy corner.
"I don't know," she said rather flatly, bending over a bowl of white
roses. "I suppose I don't feel like it any more. It's hard to take
things up again."
He fingered his book; then, as if despite himself, he said;
"I'm afraid, dear, that we're letting ourselves grow old."
She swung sharply about, catching her breath.
"You mean I am?"
"Both of us." He was cautious, tender even, but she was not deceived.
It was almost a relief that he had spoken.
"Tell me, dear," she said from her corner. "You're bored, aren't you?
Oh, not with me"--she forestalled his protest--"but just plain bored.
Isn't it so?" Her voice was deceptively quiet.
He stirred in his chair, fidgeted under the direct attack, and
decided not to evade it.
"I think we've been buried long enough," he finally confessed.
"I love our evenings together, of course; but a little change now
and then might be agreeable. Perhaps it isn't a good thing for two
people to be thrown entirely on each other's company. And I've been
wondering, dear"--he hesitated, carefully picking his words--
"I've been wondering if you would not be happier if you had other
interests--interests of your own."
"Suppose I don't want any?" She did not give this out as a challenge,
but he frowned a trifle impatiently.
"I can't believe it possible," he said. "Have you lost all touch
with the world?"
She came slowly forward into the warm circle of light.
"I don't seem to care for people and things as I used to. Look at me.
I'm not the same Myra."
She stared at him with a deep, searching expression, and what she
saw drew her up with a sudden movement of decision. Her voice, when
next she spoke, was lighter, more animated.
"You're right, dear. We're growing poky. I tell you what we'll do,"
she continued in a playful manner. Her lips smiled, and her eyes
watched as she knelt beside him, her head tilted, her fingers
straying over the rough surface of his coat. He never dressed for
dinner in these days. "We'll give a party, shall we?" she said.
"And then everyone will know that we're still--alive."
If she had wanted to test his state of mind, she could not have
found a better way. Instantly he was all eagerness. Nothing would do
but that they should plan the party at once, set the date, make out
a list of friends to be invited.
She was ready with pad and pencil and her old address-book, which
had lain for many days untouched in her desk.
"Shall we have Frances Maury?" she suggested. "She'll remind you of
me as I was before we married."
"What a gorgeous little devil you were!" he murmured reminiscently.
She wished he had not said that. Yet how absurd it was to be jealous
Well, they would entertain again, since it pleased him. But she had
lost her social instinct. This party seemed a great enterprise. She
had to pretend to an enthusiasm which she did not really feel.
"Am I growing old?" she wondered more than once. She had to confess
to a panic of shyness when she thought of herself as hostess. That
was all she would be this time. Frances Maury held the role of prima
There were no regrets to her invitations. They came, these old
friends and acquaintances, with familiar voices and gestures. They
seemed genuinely glad to see her, but they did not spare her. She
had grown a little stouter, had she not? Ah, well happy people
risked that. And they did not need to be told how happy she was. In
quite an old-fashioned way, too. Myra domesticated--how quaint that
was! Did she sing any more? No? What a pity!
Her rooms had lain quiet too long. So much noise deafened her. She
was suddenly aware that she _had_ grown stouter. Her new gown, made
for the occasion, should have been more cleverly designed. Martigues
as much as told her so. She had, also, lost the power of attraction.
She could not hold people's attention as she used to. She was
sensitively aware of how readily one and the other drifted away
after a few words. Had she not been hostess, she would often have
found herself alone.
David Cannon and Miss Maury came late. Frances was fond of dramatic
entrances; she had the stage sense. Myra hurried forward, aware, as
she did so, that her greeting held a maternal note; that Cannon was
looking through and through her with those small, relentless eyes of
his. Then Oliver came up, and from the corner of her eyes she saw
Frances attach herself to him. She had known that would happen.
Frances Maury was indeed a lovely creature, vivid, electric, swift,
and free of movement, mellow of voice. She was like a bell. Touch
her and she chimed. Oliver on one side, Martigues on the other, she
made her vivacious way through the room, and was soon surrounded.
Very prettily she moved her court toward Myra, drew Myra into the
circle of her warmth with a gracious friendliness.
Martigues, in raptures, explained that it was he who had designed
the very modern jewel she wore, a moonstone set in silver. "Isn't
she adorable!" he kept on repeating.
Oliver had bent over to look at this ornament and was fingering it,
his dark head close to hers. She whispered to him, and he whispered
back. They were already on the best of terms.
David Cannon trod up to Myra.
"What do you think of her?" he asked abruptly. "Her high notes are
not as fine as yours were, but she is improving. If she doesn't fall
in love, I shall make something of her." He frowned at Oliver.
"She seems very clever," was all she could manage.
"I'll make her sing," said Cannon, and elbowed a path to her side.
She pouted a little, declared she could never resist him, and moved
to the piano.
Myra drew a short breath. She herself had not intended to sing, but
she had hoped that Oliver or David would give her a chance to refuse.
She did not feel angry or envious of this girl, she was incapable of
pettiness; but she felt old and dull and lonely. Her trained smile
was her only shield. She held it while Frances Maury sang. She did
not look at Oliver, but his delight reached her as if she had caused
it. She felt him hovering close to the piano. She knew how he was
standing, how his eyes were shining. She knew, because as the warm,
rich voice rose up, as Cannon's strange rhythms filled the room with
a wild pagan grace, she withdrew into her memory and found there all
that went on. She herself was singing; she stood free and beautiful
before them all; she met Oliver's eyes.
Frances sang again and again. Oliver led the applause, and Myra sat
on, smiling, her steady gaze turned inward. When it was over, she
took Frances by the hand, and it was as if she were thanking herself
and bidding that self adieu.
Later in the evening David Cannon came up to her and gruffly
suggested that she sing.
She shook her head.
"No, my good friend."
"Why not?" He stood over her, ugly, masterful.
Her smile softened to a sweet, sad flutter of lip.
"You know why."
"You can't bully me any more, David," she told him gently. "That's
the tragic part of it," she added under her breath. She liked David,
but she wished he would go. She wished they would all go. It must be
It was still later, however, before the last guest departed. That
last guest was Frances Maury, escorted by a glum David. Oliver had
kept her on.
"Myra and I always get to bed so early that it's a relief to stay up
for once," he had said.
"Of course it's much more sensible to go to bed early." Miss Maury's
voice did not sound as if sensible things appealed to her.
"Oliver has to be at his office so early in the morning," Myra put
in almost as an apology.
"She sees to that," came from Oliver, with a humorous inflection.
Frances Maury playfully shuddered.
"Wives have too many duties for me. I shall never marry."
"Don't," said Oliver, and realized his blunder. He glanced quickly
at Myra, and was relieved to observe that she did not seem troubled.
It was David, at last, who insisted on going home. Frances obeyed
him with a laughing apology.
"You've given me such a good time. I forgot the hour. May I come
"Indeed you must," Myra answered hospitably.
She would not leave, however, until they had promised to come to her
concert. She would send them tickets. And they must have tea with
her soon. Would they chaperon her once in a while? Oliver eagerly
promised to be at her beck and call. He followed her out into the
hall, unmindful of David's vile temper.
Myra turned slowly back into the room, noting with jaded eyes the
empty beer-bottles, crusts of sandwiches, ashes on the rugs, chairs
pulled crazily about. The place still resounded with chatter and song.
It no longer seemed her home.
Presently Oliver joined her.
"Well, I enjoyed that," he said with a boyish ring. "Come, now,
wasn't it jolly to see people again? Everyone had a wonderful time."
He hummed as he walked lightly over to the table and helped himself
to a cigarette.
She dropped on the couch.
"I'm a little tired."
He lit his cigarette, staring at her over the tiny flame of the
match before he blew it out.
"Why, I never noticed. You do look all in."
She straightened with an effort, put a hand to her hair.
"I'm afraid I've lost the habit."
"You'll have to get it again," he said happily. "We're going to give
lots of parties. It's good for my business, too. Walter Mason
brought a man here to-night who is thinking of building a house on
Long Island. Walter tells me he went away quite won over."
She was all interest at once.
"Why didn't you tell me? I might have made a special effort to be
nice to him."
"Oh, he had a good time," he said carelessly. "I say, Myra, your
friend Miss Maury is fascinating. Sings divinely." He moved over to
the couch and sat on the edge of it, absent-mindedly toying with her
"She's very lovely," Myra agreed.
"Why didn't you sing?" he suddenly asked.
"I didn't need to." The little smile was back, fastened to her lips.
A certain unfamiliar embarrassment fell between them. She made no
effort to dissipate it.
"Well, you should have. Heavens! it's late! Two o'clock. I'm off to
bed." He kissed her lightly on the forehead.
"I'll be along in a moment," she said.
She heard him humming in the next room, heard him moving about,
heard the bump of his shoes on the floor. She lay, her eyes closed.
Presently she got up, went to the piano and let her fingers wander
over the keys. Then she began to sing softly. Her fine critical
faculties were awake. She listened while she sang--listened as if
some one else would rise or fall on her verdict. There was a curious
lack of vibrancy in her notes. They did not come from the heart.
Suddenly she stopped. Oliver was calling "Myra."
She thrilled with a swift hope that brought her to her feet, flushed
"Aren't you coming to bed soon? It's too late for music," drifted
faintly querulous down the hall.
The light went out of her face.
"I'm coming." A leaden weariness was over her. Slowly she closed the
He was already asleep when she tiptoed into the room. She stood a
moment staring down at him.
"The worst of it is that I shall sleep, too," she thought.
BY ROSE SIDNEY
From _The Pictorial Review_
The wind rose in a sharp gust, rattling the insecure windows and
sighing forlornly about the corners of the house. The door unlatched
itself, swung inward hesitatingly, and hung wavering for a moment on
its sagging hinges. A formless cloud of gray fog blew into the warm,
steamy room. But whatever ghostly visitant had paused upon the
threshold, he had evidently decided not to enter, for the catch
snapped shut with a quick, passionate vigour. The echo of the
slamming door rang eerily through the house.
Mart Brenner's wife laid down the ladle with which she had been
stirring the contents of a pot that was simmering on the big, black
stove, and, dragging her crippled foot behind her, she hobbled
heavily to the door.
As she opened it a new horde of fog-wraiths blew in. The world was a
gray, wet blanket. Not a light from the village below pierced the
mist, and the lonely army of tall cedars on the black hill back of
the house was hidden completely.
"Who's there?" Mrs. Brenner hailed. But her voice fell flat and
muffled. Far off on the beach she could dimly hear the long wail of
The faint throb of hope stilled in her breast. She had not really
expected to find any one at the door unless perhaps it should be a
stranger who had missed his way at the cross-roads. There had been
one earlier in the afternoon when the fog first came. But her
husband had been at home then and his surly manner quickly cut short
the stranger's attempts at friendliness. This ugly way of Mart's had
isolated them from all village intercourse early in their life on
Like a buzzard's nest their home hung over the village on the
unfriendly sides of the bleak slope. Visitors were few and always
reluctant, even strangers, for the village told weird tales of Mart
Brenner and his kin. The village said that he--and all those who
belonged to him as well--were marked for evil and disaster. Disaster
had truly written itself through-out their history. His mother was
mad, a tragic madness of bloody prophecies and dim fears; his only
son a witless creature of eighteen, who, for all his height and bulk,
spent his days catching butterflies in the woods on the hill, and his
nights in laboriously pinning them, wings outspread, upon the bare
walls of the house.
The room where the Brenner family lived its queer, taciturn life was
tapestried in gold, the glowing tapestry of swarms of outspread
yellow butterflies sweeping in gilded tides from the rough floors to
the black rafters overhead.
Olga Brenner herself was no less tragic than her family. On her face,
written in the acid of pain, was the history of the blows and
cruelty that had warped her active body. Because of her crippled foot,
her entire left side sagged hopelessly and her arm swung away, above
it, like a branch from a decayed tree. But more saddening than her
distorted body was the lonely soul that looked out of her tired,
She was essentially a village woman with a profound love of its
intimacies and gossip, its fence-corner neighbourliness. The horror
with which the village regarded her, as the wife of Mart Brenner,
was an eating sore. It was greater than the tragedy of her poor,
witless son, the hatred of old Mrs. Brenner, and her ever-present
fear of Mart. She had never quite given up her unreasoning hope that
some day some one might come to the house in one of Mart's long,
unexplained absences and sit down and talk with her over a cup of tea.
She put away the feeble hope again as she turned back into the dim
room and closed the door behind her.
"Must have been that bit of wind," she meditated. "It plays queer
She went to the mantel and lighted the dull lamp. By the flicker she
read the face of the clock.
"Tobey's late!" she exclaimed uneasily. Her mind never rested from
its fear for Tobey. His childlike mentality made him always the same
burden as when she had rocked him hour after hour, a scrawny mite of
a baby on her breast.
"It's a fearful night for him to be out!" she muttered.
"Blood! Blood!" said a tragic voice from a dark corner by the stove.
Barely visible in the ruddy half-dark of the room a pair of demoniac
eyes met hers.
Mrs. Brenner threw her shrivelled and wizened mother-in-law an angry
and contemptuous glance.
"Be still!" she commanded. "'Pears to me that's all you ever
The glittering eyes fell away from hers in a sullen obedience. But
the tragic voice went on intoning stubbornly, "Blood on his hands!
Red! Dripping! I see blood!"
Mrs. Brenner shuddered. "Seems like you could shut up a spell!" she
The old woman's voice trailed into a broken and fitful whispering.
Olga's commands were the only laws she knew, and she obeyed them.
Mrs. Brenner went back to the stove. But her eyes kept returning to
the clock and thence to the darkening square of window where the fog
pressed heavily into the very room.
Out of the gray silence came a shattering sound that sent the ladle
crashing out of Mrs. Brenner's nerveless hand and brought a moan
from the dozing old woman! It was a scream, a long, piercing scream,
so intense, so agonized that it went echoing about the room as
though a disembodied spirit were shrieking under the rafters! It was
a scream of terror, an innocent, a heart-broken scream!
"Tobey!" cried Mrs. Brenner, her face rigid.
The old woman began to pick at her ragged skirt, mumbling, "Blood!
Blood on his hands! I see it."
"That was on the hill," said Mrs. Brenner slowly, steadying her voice.
She put her calloused hand against her lips and stood listening with
agonized intentness. But now the heavy, foggy silence had fallen
again. At intervals came the long, faint wail of the fog-horn. There
was no other sound. Even the old woman in the shadowy corner had
ceased her mouthing.
Mrs. Brenner stood motionless, with her hand against her trembling
lips, her head bent forward for four of the dull intervals between
Then there came the sound of steps stumbling around the house.
Mrs. Brenner, with her painful hobble, reached the door before the
steps paused there, and threw it open.
The feeble light fell on the round, vacant face of her son his
inevitable pasteboard box, grimy with much handling, clutched close
to his big breast, and in it the soft beating and thudding of
Mrs. Brenner's voice was scarcely more than a whisper, "Tobey!" but
it rose shrilly as she cried, "Where you been? What was that scream?"
Tobey stumbled past her headlong into the house, muttering,
She shut the door and followed him to the stove, where he stood
shaking himself and beating at his damp clothes with clumsy fingers.
"What was that scream?" she asked him tensely. She knotted her rough
fingers as she waited for his answer.
"I dunno," he grunted sullenly. His thick lower lip shoved itself
"Where you been?" she persisted.
As he did not answer she coaxed him, "Aw, come on, Tobey. Tell Ma.
Where you been?"
"I been catching butterflies," he answered. "I got a big one this
time," with an air of triumph.
"Where was you when you heard the scream?" she asked him cunningly.
He gave a slow shake of his head. "I dunno," he answered in his dull
A big shiver shook him. His teeth chattered and he crouched down on
his knees before the open oven-door.
"I'm cold," he complained. Mrs. Brenner came close to him and laid
her hand on his wet, matted hair. "Tobey's a bad boy," she scolded.
"You mustn't go out in the wet like this. Your hair's soaked."
She got down stiffly on her lame knees. "Sit down," she ordered,
"and I'll take off your shoes. They're as wet as a dish-rag."
"They're full of water, too," Tobey grumbled as he sprawled on the
floor, sticking one big, awkward foot into her lap. "The water in
there makes me cold."
"You spoil all your pa's shoes that a-way," said Mrs. Brenner, her
head bent over her task. "He told you not to go round in the wet
with 'em any more. He'll give you a lashing if he comes in and sees
your shoes. I'll have to try and get 'em dry before he comes home.
Anyways," with a breath of deep relief, "I'm glad it ain't that red
clay from the hill. That never comes off."
The boy paid no attention to her. He was investigating the contents
of his box, poking a fat, dirty forefinger around among its
fluttering contents. There was a flash of yellow wings, and with a
crow of triumph the boy shut the lid.
"The big one's just more than flapping," he chuckled. "I had an
awful hard time to catch him. I had to run and run. Look at him, Ma,"
the boy urged. She shook her head.
"I ain't got the time," she said, almost roughly. "I got to get
these shoes off'n you afore your father gets home, Tobey, or you'll
get a awful hiding. Like as not you'll get it anyways, if he's mad.
Better get into bed."
"Naw!" Tobey protested. "I seen Pa already. I want my supper out here!
I don't want to go to bed!"
Mrs. Brenner paused. "Where was Pa?" she asked.
But Tobey's stretch of coherent thinking was past. "I dunno!" he
Mrs. Brenner sighed. She pulled off the sticky shoes and rose stiffly.
"Go get in bed," she said.
"Aw, Ma, I want to stay up with my butterflies," the boy pleaded.
Two big tears rolled down his fat cheeks. In his queer, clouded
world he had learned one certain fact. He could almost always move
his mother with tears.
But this time she was firm. "Do as I told you!" she ordered him.
"Mebbe if you're in bed your father won't be thinking about you. And
I'll try to dry these shoes afore he thinks about them." She took
the grimy box from his resisting fingers, and, holding it in one hand,
pulled him to his feet and pushed him off to his bedroom.
When she had closed the door on his wail she returned and laid the
box on the shelf. Then she hurried to gather up the shoes. Something
on her hand as she put it out for the sodden shoes caught her eye
and she straightened, holding her hand up where the feeble light
from the shelf caught it.
"I've cut myself," she said aloud. "There's blood on my hand. It
must 'a' been on those lacings of Tobeys."
The old woman in the corner roused. "Blood!" she screeched.
"Olga! Blood on his hands!"
Mrs. Brenner jumped. "You old screech-owl!" she cried. She wiped her
hand quickly on her dirty apron and held it up again to see the cut.
But there was no cut on her hand! Where had that blood come from?
From Tobey's shoes?
And who was it that had screamed on the hill? She felt herself
enwrapped in a mist of puzzling doubts.
She snatched up the shoes, searching them with agonized eyes. But
the wet and pulpy mass had no stain. Only the wet sands and the
slimy water-weeds of the beach clung to them.
Then where had the blood come from? It was at this instant that she
became conscious of shouts on the hillside. She limped to the door
and held it open a crack. Very faintly she could see the bobbing
lights of torches. A voice carried down to her.
"Here's where I found his hat. That's why I turned off back of these
trees. And right there I found his body!"
"Are you sure he's dead?" quavered another voice.
Olga Brenner shut the door. But she did not leave it immediately.
She stood leaning against it, clutching the wet shoes, her staring
Tobey was strong. He had flown into childish rages sometimes and had
hurt her with his undisciplined strength. Where was Mart? Tobey had
seen him. Perhaps they had fought. Her mind refused to go further.
But little subtle undercurrents pressed in on her. Tobey hated and
feared his father. And Mart was always enraged at the sight of his
half-witted son. What _had_ happened? And yet no matter what had
occurred, Tobey had not been on the hill. His shoes bore mute
testimony to that. And the scream had been on the slope. She frowned.
Her body more bent than ever, she hobbled slowly over to the stove
and laid the shoes on the big shelf above it, spreading them out to
the rising heat. She had barely arranged them when there was again
the sound of approaching footsteps. These feet, however, did not
stumble. They were heavy and certain. Mrs. Brenner snatched at the
shoes, gathered them up, and turned to run. But one of the lacings
caught on a nail on the shelf. She jerked desperately at the nail,
and the jerking loosened her hold of both the shoes. With a clatter
they fell at her feet.
In that moment Mart Brenner stood in the doorway. Poverty, avarice,
and evil passions had minted Mart Brenner like a devil's coin. His
shaggy head lowered in his powerful shoulders. His long arms, apelike,
hung almost to his knees. Behind him the fog pressed in, and his
rough, bristly hair was beaded with diamonds of moisture.
"Well?" he snapped. A sardonic smile twisted his face. "Caught you,
He strode forward. His wife shrank back, but even in her shivering
terror she noticed, as one notices small details in a time of peril,
that his shoes were caked with red mud and that his every step left
a wet track on the rough floor.
"He didn't do 'em no harm," she babbled. "They're just wet. Please,
Mart, they ain't harmed a mite. Just wet. That's all. Tobey went on
the beach with 'em. It won't take but a little spell to dry 'em."
Her husband stooped and snatched up the shoes. She shrank into
herself, waiting the inevitable torrent of his passion and the
probable blow. Instead, as he stood up he was smiling. Bewildered,
she stared at him in a dull silence.
"No harm done," he said, almost amiably. Shaking with relief, she
stretched out her hand.
"I'll dry 'em," she said. "Give me your shoes and I'll get the mud
Her husband shook his head. He was still smiling.
"Don't need to dry 'em. I'll put 'em away," he replied, and, still
tracking his wet mud, he went into Tobey's room.
Her fear flowed into another channel. She dreaded her husband in his
black rages, but she feared him more now in his unusual amiability.
Perhaps he would strike Tobey when he saw him. She strained her ears
A long silence followed his exit. But there was no outcry from Tobey,
no muttering nor blows. After a few moments, moving quickly, her
husband came out. She raised her heavy eyes to stare at him. He
stopped and looked intently at his own muddy tracks.
"I'll get a rag and wipe up the mud right off."
As she started toward the nail where the rag hung, her husband put
out a long arm and detained her. "Leave it be," he said. He smiled
She noticed, then, that he had removed his muddy shoes and wore the
wet ones. He had fully laced them, and she had almost a
compassionate moment as she thought how wet and
cold his feet must be.
"You can put your feet in the oven, Mart, to dry 'em."
Close on her words she heard the sound of footsteps and a sharp
knock followed on the sagging door. Mart Brenner sat down on a chair
close to the stove and lifted one foot into the oven. "See who's
there!" he ordered.
She opened the door and peered out. A group of men stood on the step,
the faint light of the room picking out face after face that she
recognized--Sheriff Munn; Jim Barker, who kept the grocery in the
village; Cottrell Hampstead, who lived in the next house below them;
young Dick Roamer, Munn's deputy; and several strangers.
"Well?" she asked ungraciously.
"We want to see Brenner!" one of them said.
She stepped back. "Come in," she told them. They came in, pulling
off their caps, and stood huddled in a group in the centre of the
Her husband reluctantly stood up.
"Evening!" he said, with his unusual smile. "Bad out, ain't it?"
"Yep!" Munn replied. "Heavy fog. We're soaked."
Olga Brenner's pitiful instinct of hospitality rose in her breast.
"I got some hot soup on the stove. Set a spell and I'll dish you some,"
The men looked at each other in some uncertainty. After a moment
Munn said, "All right, if it ain't too much bother, Mrs. Brenner."
"Not a bit," she cried eagerly. She bustled about, searching her
meagre stock of chinaware for uncracked bowls.
"Set down?" suggested Mart.
Munn sat down with a sign, and his companions followed his example.
Mart resumed his position before the stove, lifting one foot into
the capacious black maw of the oven.
"Must 'a' got your feet wet, Brenner?" the sheriff said with heavy
Brenner nodded, "You bet I did," he replied. "Been down on the beach
"Didn't happen to hear any unusual noise down there, did you?" Munn
spoke with his eyes on Mrs. Brenner, at her task of ladling out the
thick soup. She paused as though transfixed, her ladle poised in the
Munn's eyes dropped from her face to the floor. There they became
fixed on the tracks of red clay.
"No, nothin' but the sea. It must be rough outside tonight, for the
bay was whinin' like a sick cat," said Mart calmly.
"Didn't hear a scream, or nothing like that, I suppose?" Munn
"Couldn't hear a thing but the water. Why?"
"Oh--nothing," said Munn.
Mrs. Brenner finished pouring out the soup and set the bowls on the
Chairs clattered, and soon the men were eating. Mart finished
his soup before the others and sat back smacking his lips. As
Munn finished the last spoonful in his bowl he pulled out a
wicked-looking black pipe, crammed it full of tobacco and lighted it.
Blowing out a big blue breath of the pleasant smoke, he inquired,
"Been any strangers around to-day?"
Mart scratched his head. "Yeah. A man come by early this afternoon.
He was aiming to climb the hill. I told him he'd better wait till
the sun come out. I don't know whether he did or not."
"See anybody later--say about half an hour ago?"
Mart shook his head. "No. I come up from the beach and I didn't pass
The sheriff pulled on his pipe for a moment. "That boy of yours
still catching butterflies?" he asked presently.
Mart scowled. He swung out a long arm toward the walls with their
floods of butterflies. But he did not answer.
"Uh-huh!" said Munn, following the gesture with his quiet eyes. He
puffed several times before he spoke again.
"What time did you come in, Brenner, from the beach?"
Mrs. Brenner closed her hands tightly, the interlaced ringers
"Oh, about forty minutes ago, I guess it was. Wasn't it, Olga?" Mart
"Yes." Her voice was a breath.
"Was your boy out to-day?"
Mart looked at his wife. "I dunno."
Munn's glance came to the wife.
"How long ago did he come in?"
"About an hour ago." Her voice was flat and lifeless.
"And where had he been?" Munn's tone was gentle but insistent.
Her terrified glance sought Mart's face. "He'd been on the beach!"
she said in a defiant tone.
Mart continued to look at her, but there was no expression in his
face. He still wore his peculiar affable smile.
"Where did these tracks come from, on the floor?"
Swift horror fastened itself on Mrs. Brenner.
"What's that to you?" she flared.
She heard her husband's hypocritical and soothing tones. "Now, now,
Olga! That ain't the way to talk to these gentlemen. Tell them who
made these tracks."
"You did!" she cried. All about her she could feel the smoothness of
a falling trap.
Mart smiled still more broadly.
"Look here, Olga, don't get so warm over it. You're nervous now.
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