Grand Magazine, October 1922
CHAPTER XVII (continued).
She felt his arm tighten about her, the muscles quivering. She caught sight of his face. His dark eyes suddenly blazed into hers, and she stumbled with an odd feeling of helplessness, realising with a shock that brought her with a jerk out of the half dream into which she had been lulled that this dance had not postponed the moment of decision, as she had looked to it to do. In a hot whisper, the words swept away on the flood of the music which had suddenly become raucous and blaring once more, he was repeating what he had said under the trees at Monk’s Crofton on that far-off morning in the English spring-time.
The music stopped abruptly. Insistent clapping started it again, but Sally moved away to her table, and he followed her like a shadow. Neither spoke. Bruce Carmyle had said his say, and Sally was sitting, staring before her, trying to think. She was tired, tired. Her eyes were burning. She tried to force herself to face the situation squarely. Was it worth struggling? Was anything in the world worth a struggle? She only knew that she was tired, desperately tired, tired to the very depths of her soul.
The music stopped. There was more clapping, but this time the orchestra did not respond.
Isidore Abrahams was a man of his word. He advertised a Flower Garden, and he had tried to give the public something as closely resembling a flower garden as it was possible for an overcrowded, overheated, over-noisy Broadway dancing resort to achieve. Paper roses festooned the walls, genuine tulips bloomed in tubs by every pillar, and from the roof hung cages with birds in them. One of these, stirred by the sudden cessation of the tumult below, had begun to sing.
Sally had often pitied these birds, and more than once had pleaded in vain with Mr. Abrahams for a remission of their sentence, but somehow at this moment it did not occur to her that this one was merely praying in its own language, as she had often prayed in her thoughts, to be taken out of this place. To her, sitting there wrestling with Fate, the song seemed cheerful. It soothed her. It healed her to listen to it. And suddenly before her eyes there rose a vision of Monk’s Crofton, cool, green, and peaceful under the mild English sun, luring her as an oasis seen in the distance lures the desert traveller.
She became aware that the master of Monk’s Crofton had placed his hand on hers and was holding it in a tightening grip.
He was leaning towards her, whispering in her ear. The room was hotter than it had ever been, noisier than it had ever been, fuller than it had ever been. The bird on the roof was singing again, and now she understood what it said. “Take me out of this!” Did anything matter except that? What did it matter how one was taken, or where, or by whom, so that one was taken?
Monk’s Crofton was looking cool and green and peaceful.
“Very well,” said Sally.
BRUCE CARMYLE, in the capacity of accepted suitor, found himself at something of a loss. He had a dissatisfied feeling. It was not the manner of Sally’s acceptance that caused this. It would, of course, have pleased him better if she had shown more warmth, but he was prepared to wait for warmth. What did trouble him was the fact that his correct mind perceived now for the first time that he had chosen an unsuitable moment and place for his outburst of emotion. He belonged to the orthodox school of thought which looks on moonlight and solitude as the proper setting for a proposal of marriage; and the surroundings of the Flower Garden, for all its niceness and the nice manner in which it was conducted, jarred upon him profoundly.
“Deuce of a lot of noise,” he said, querulously.
“Yes,” agreed Sally.
“Is it always like this?”
The romantic side of Mr. Carmyle’s nature could have cried aloud at the hideous unworthiness of these banalities. In the visions which he had had of himself as a successful wooer, it had always been in the moments immediately succeeding the all-important question and its whispered reply that he had come out particularly strong. He had been accustomed to picture himself bending with a proud tenderness over his partner in the scene and murmuring some notably good things to her bowed head.
Mr. Carmyle chafed helplessly.
“Darling,” he murmured, for by moving his chair two feet to the right and bending sideways he found that he was in a position to murmur, “you have made me so——”
“Batti, batti! I presto ravioli hollandaise,” cried one of the disputing waiters at his back, or to Bruce Carmyle’s prejudiced hearing it sounded like that.
“La donna e mobile spaghetti napoli Tettrazini,” rejoined the second waiter, with spirit.
“You have made me so——”
“Infanta Isabella lope de Vegas mulligatawny Toronto,” said the first waiter, weak, but coming back pluckily.
“Funiculi funicula Vincente y Blasco Ibanez vermicelli sul campo della gloria risotto!” said the second waiter, clinchingly, and scored a technical knock-out.
Bruce Carmyle gave it up and lit a moody cigarette. He was oppressed by that feeling which so many of us have felt in our time, that it was all wrong.
The music stopped. The two leading citizens of Little Italy vanished and went their way, probably to start a vendetta. There followed comparative calm. But Bruce Carmyle’s emotions, like sweet bells jangled, were out of tune, and he could not recapture that first fine careless rapture. He found nothing within him but small-talk.
“What has become of your party?” he asked.
“The people you are with,” said Mr. Carmyle. Even in the stress of his emotion this problem had been exercising him. In his correctly ordered world girls did not go to restaurants alone.
“I’m not with anybody.”
“You came here by yourself?” exclaimed Bruce Carmyle, frankly aghast. And, as he spoke, the wraith of Uncle Donald, banished till now, returned as large as ever, puffing disapproval through a walrus moustache.
“I am employed here,” said Sally.
Mr. Carmyle started violently.
“As a dancer, you know. I——”
Sally broke off, her attention abruptly diverted to something which had just caught her eye at a table on the other side of the room. That something was a red-headed young man of sturdy build who had just appeared beside the chair in which Mr. Reginald Cracknell was sitting in huddled gloom. In one band he carried a basket, and from this basket, rising above the din of conversation, there came a sudden sharp yapping. Mr. Cracknell roused himself from his stupor, took the basket, raised the lid. The yapping increased in volume.
Mr. Cracknell rose, the basket in his arms. With uncertain steps and a look on his face like that of those who lead forlorn hopes, he crossed the floor to where Miss Mabel Hobson sat, proud and aloof. The next moment that haughty lady, the centre of an admiring and curious crowd, was hugging to her bosom a protesting Pekingese puppy, and Mr. Cracknell, seizing his opportunity like a good general, had deposited himself in a chair at her side. The course of true love was running smooth again.
The red-headed young man was gazing fixedly at Sally.
“As a dancer!” ejaculated Mr. Carmyle. The accusing finger of Uncle Donald refused to vanish from his mental eye. The stern voice of Uncle Donald seemed still to ring in his ear.
A dancer! A professional dancer at a Broadway restaurant! Hideous doubts began to creep like snakes into Bruce Carmyle’s mind. What, he asked himself, did he really know of this girl on whom he had bestowed the priceless boon of his society for life? How did he know what she was; he could not find the exact adjective to express his meaning, but he knew what he meant. Was she worthy of the boon? That was what it amounted to. All his life he had had a prim shrinking from that section of the feminine world which is connected with the night-life of large cities. Club acquaintances of his in London had from time to time married into the Gaiety chorus, and Mr. Carmyle, though he had no objection to the Gaiety chorus in its proper place, on the other side of the footlights, had always looked on these young men for ever after as social outcasts. The fine dashing frenzy which had brought him all the way from South Audley Street to woo Sally was ebbing fast.
Sally, hearing him speak, had turned. And there was a candid honesty in her gaze which for a moment sent all those creeping doubts scuttling away into the darkness whence they had come. He had not made a fool of himself, he protested to the lowering phantom of Uncle Donald. Who, he demanded, could look at Sally and think for an instant that she was not all that was perfect and lovable? A warm revulsion of feeling swept over Bruce Carmyle like a returning tide.
“You see, I lost my money and had to do something,” said Sally.
“I see, I see,” murmured Mr. Carmyle; and if only Fate had let him alone, who knows to what heights of tenderness he might not have soared? But at this moment Fate, being no respecter of persons, sent into his life the disturbing personality of George Washington Williams.
George Washington Williams was the talented coloured gentleman who had been engaged by Mr. Abrahams to do a nightly speciality, at the Flower Garden. He was, in fact, a trap-drummer, and it was his amiable practice, after he had done a few minutes’ trap-dramming, to rise from his seat and make a circular tour of the tables on the edge of the dancing-floor, whimsically pretending to clip the locks of the male patrons with a pair of drumsticks held scissor-wise. And so it came about that, just as Mr. Carmyle was bending towards Sally in an access of manly sentiment and was on the very verge of pouring out his soul in a series of well-phrased remarks, he was surprised and annoyed to find an Ethiopian to whom he had never been introduced leaning over him and taking quite unpardonable liberties with his back hair. He sprang to his feet.
“I think I will be going,” he said.
Sally did not reply. She was watching Ginger, who still stood beside the table recently vacated by Reginald Cracknell.
“Good night,” said Mr. Carmyle, between his teeth.
“Oh, are you going?” said Sally, with a start. She felt embarrassed. Try as she would, she was unable to find words of any intimacy. She tried to realise that she had promised to marry this man, but never before had he seemed so much a stranger to her, so little a part of her life. It came to her with a sensation of the incredible that she had done this thing, taken this irrevocable step.
The sudden sight of Ginger had shaken her. It was as though in the last half hour she had forgotten him and only now realised what marriage with Bruce Carmyle would mean to their companionship. From now on he was dead to her. If anything in this world was certain, that was. Sally Nicholas was Ginger’s pal, but Mrs. Carmyle, she realised, would never be allowed to see him again. A devastating feeling of loss smote her like a blow.
“Yes, I’ve had enough of this place,” Bruce Carmyle was saying.
“Good night,” said Sally. She hesitated. “When shall I see you?” she asked, awkwardly.
It occurred to Bruce Carmyle that he was not showing himself at his best. He had, he perceived, allowed his nerves to run away with him.
“You don’t mind if I go?” he said, more amiably. “The fact is, I can’t stand this place any longer. I’ll tell you one thing, I’m going to take you out of here quick.”
“I’m afraid I can’t leave at a moment’s notice,” said Sally, loyal to her obligations.
“We’ll talk over that to-morrow. I’ll call for you in the morning and take you for a drive somewhere in a car. You want some fresh air after this.” Mr. Carmyle looked about him in stiff disgust, and expressed his unalterable sentiments concerning the Flower Garden, that apple of Isidore Abrahams’s eye, in a snort of loathing. “My God! What a place.”
He walked quickly away and disappeared. And Ginger, beaming happily, swooped on Sally’s table like a homing pigeon.
“i told you”
“GOOD LORD! I say, what ho!” cried Ginger. “Fancy meeting you here. What a bit of luck!” He glanced over his shoulder warily. “Has that blighter pipped?”
“Popped,” exclaimed Ginger. “I mean to say, he isn’t coming back or any rot like that, is he?”
“Mr. Carmyle? No, he has gone.”
“Sound egg!” said Ginger, with satisfaction. “For a moment, when I saw you yarning away together, I thought he might be with your party. What on earth is he doing over here at all, confound him? He’s got all Europe to play about in. Why should he come infesting New York? I say, it really is ripping, seeing you again. It seems years. Of course, one gets a certain amount of satisfaction writing letters, but it’s not the same. Besides, I write such rotten letters. I say, this really is rather priceless. Can’t I get you something? A cup of coffee, I mean, or an egg, or something? By Jove, this really is top-hole!”
His homely, honest face glowed with pleasure, and it seemed to Sally as though she had come out of a winter’s night into a warm, friendly room. Her mercurial spirits soared.
“Oh, Ginger! If you knew what it’s like, seeing you!”
“No, really? Do you mean, honestly, you’re braced?”
“I should say I am braced.”
“Well, isn’t that fine! I was afraid you might have forgotten me.”
With something of the effect of a revelation it suddenly struck Sally how far she had been from forgetting him, how large was the place he had occupied in her thoughts.
“I’ve missed you dreadfully,” she said, and felt the words inadequate as she uttered them.
“What ho!” said Ginger, also internally condemning the poverty of speech as a vehicle for conveying thought.
There was a brief silence. The first exhilaration of the reunion over, Sally, deep down in her heart, was aware of a troubled feeling as though the world were out of joint. She forced herself to ignore it, but it would not be ignored. It grew. Dimly she was beginning to realise what Ginger meant to her, and she fought to keep herself from realising it. Strange things were happening to her to-night, strange emotions stirring her. Ginger seemed somehow different, as if she were really seeing him for the first time.
“You’re looking wonderfully well,” she said, trying to keep the conversation on a pedestrian level.
“I am well,” said Ginger. “Never felt fitter in my life. Been out in the open all day long—simple life and all that—working like blazes. I say, business is booming. Did you see me just now, handing over Percy the Pup to What’s-his-name? Five hundred dollars on that one deal. Got the cheque in my pocket. But what an extraordinarily rummy thing that I should have to come to this place to deliver the goods just when you happened to be here! I couldn’t believe my eyes at first. I say, I hope the people you’re with won’t think I’m butting in. You’ll have to explain that we’re old pals and that you started me in business and all that sort of thing. Look here,” he said, lowering his voice, “I know how you hate being thanked, but I simply must say how terrifically decent——”
Lee Schoenstein was standing at the table, and by his side an expectant youth with a small moustache and pince-nez. Sally got up, and the next moment Ginger was alone, gaping perplexedly after her as she vanished and reappeared in the jogging throng on the dancing-floor. It was the nearest thing Ginger had seen to a conjuring trick, and at that moment he was ill-attuned to conjuring tricks. He brooded, fuming, at what seemed to him the supremest exhibition of pure cheek, of monumental nerve, and of undiluted crust that had ever come within his notice. To come and charge into a private conversation like that and whisk her away without a word——
“Who was that blighter?” he demanded, with heat, when the music ceased and Sally limped back.
“That was Mr. Schoenstein.”
“And who was the other?”
“The one I danced with? I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
Sally perceived that the conversation had arrived at an embarrassing point. There was nothing for it but candour.
“Ginger,” she said, “you remember my telling you when we first met that I used to dance in a Broadway place? This is the place. I’m working again.”
Complete unintelligence showed itself on Ginger’s every feature.
“I don’t understand,” he said, unnecessarily, for his face revealed the fact.
“I’ve got my old job back.”
“Well, I had to do something,” she went on, rapidly. Already a light dimly resembling the light of understanding was beginning to appear in Ginger’s eyes. “Fillmore went smash, you know; it wasn’t his fault, poor dear. He had the worst kind of luck, and most of my money was tied up in his business, so you see——”
She broke off, confused by the look in his eyes, conscious of an absurd feeling of guilt. There was amazement in that look and a sort of incredulous horror.
“Do you mean to say——” Ginger gulped and started again. “Do you mean to tell me that you let me have—all that money—for the dog business—when you were broke? Do you mean to say——”
Sally stole a glance at his crimson face and looked away again quickly. There was an electric silence.
“Look here,” exploded Ginger, with sudden violence, “you’ve got to marry me. You’ve jolly well got to marry me! I don’t mean that,” he added, quickly. “I mean to say I know you’re going to marry whoever you please—but won’t you marry me? Sally, for God’s sake, have a dash at it! I’ve been keeping it in all this time, because it seemed rather rotten to bother you about it, but now—oh, dammit, I wish I could put it into words. I always was rotten at talking. But—well, look here, what I mean is, I know I’m not much of a chap, but it seems to me you must care for me a bit to do a thing like that for a fellow—and—I’ve loved you like the dickens ever since I met you—I do wish you’d have a stab at it, Sally. At least, I could look after you, you know, and all that—I mean to say, work like the deuce and try to give you a good time—I’m not such an ass as to think a girl like you could ever really—er—love a blighter like me, but——”
Sally laid her hand on his.
“Ginger, dear,” she said, “I do love you. I ought to have known it all along, but I seem to be understanding myself to-night for the first time. She got up and bent over him for a swift moment, whispering in his ear: “I shall never love anyone but you, Ginger. Will you try to remember that?”
She was moving away, but he caught at her arm and stopped her.
She pulled her arm away, her face working as she fought against the tears that would not be kept back.
“I’ve made a fool of myself,” she said. “Ginger, your cousin—Mr. Carmyle—just now he asked me to marry him, and I said I would.”
She was gone, flitting among the tables like some wild creature running to its home, and Ginger, motionless, watched her go.
THE telephone bell in Sally’s little sitting-room was ringing jerkily as she let herself in at the front door. She guessed who it was at the other end of the wire, and the noise of the bell sounded to her like the voice of a friend in distress crying for help. Without stopping to close the door, she ran to the table and unhooked the receiver. Muffled, plaintive sounds were coming over the wire.
“Hullo—hullo. I say, hullo——”
“Hullo, Ginger,” said Sally, quietly.
An ejaculation that was half shout and half gurgle answered her.
“Sally! Is that you?”
“Yes, here I am, Ginger.”
“I’ve been trying to get you for ages.”
“I’ve only just come in. I walked home.”
There was a pause.
“Well, I mean——” Ginger seemed to be finding his usual difficulty in expressing himself. “About that, you know. What you said.”
“Yes?” said Sally, trying to keep her voice from shaking.
“You said——” Again Ginger’s vocabulary failed him. “You said you loved me.”
“Yes,” said Sally, simply.
Another odd sound floated over the wire, and there was a moment of silence before Ginger found himself able to resume.
“I—I—well, we can talk about that when we meet. I mean, it’s no good trying to say what I think over the ’phone; I’m sort of knocked-out. I never dreamed—but, I say, what did you mean about Bruce?”
“I told you, I told you.” Sally’s face was twisted, and the receiver shook in her hand. “I’ve made a fool of myself. I never realised. And now it’s too late.”
“Good God!” Ginger’s voice rose in a sharp wail. “You can’t mean you really—— You don’t seriously intend to marry the man?”
“I must. I’ve promised.”
“But, good heavens——”
“It’s no good. I must.”
“But the man’s a blighter!”
“I can’t break my word.”
“I never heard such rot,” said Ginger, vehemently. “Of course you can. A girl isn’t expected——”
“I can’t Ginger dear, I really can’t.”
“But, look here——”
“It’s really no good talking about it any more, really it isn’t—— Where are you staying to-night?”
“Staying? Me? At the ‘Plaza.’ But look here——”
Sally found herself laughing weakly.
“At the ‘Plaza’! Oh, Ginger, you really do want somebody to look after you. Squandering your pennies like that! Well, don’t talk any more now. It’s so late, and I’m so tired. I’ll come and see you to-morrow. Good night.”
She hung up the receiver quickly, to cut short a fresh outburst of protest. And as she turned away a voice spoke behind her.
Gerald Foster was standing in the doorway.
gerald to the rescue
THE blood flowed slowly back into Sally’s face, and her heart, which had leaped madly for an instant at the sound of his voice, resumed its normal beat. The suddenness of the shock over, she was surprised to find herself perfectly calm. Always when she had imagined this meeting, knowing that it would have to take place sooner or later, she had felt something akin to panic; but now that it had actually occurred it hardly seemed to stir her. The events of the night had left her incapable of any violent emotion.
“Hullo, Sally!” said Gerald.
He spoke thickly, and there was a foolish smile on his face as he stood swaying with one hand on the door. He was in his shirtsleeves, collarless, and it was plain that he had been drinking heavily. His face was white and puffy, and about him there hung like a nimbus a sodden disreputableness.
Sally did not speak. Weighed down a moment before by a numbing exhaustion, she seemed now to have passed into that second phase in which over-tired nerves enter upon a sort of Indian summer of abnormal alertness. She looked at him quietly, coolly, and altogether dispassionately, as if he had been a stranger.
“Hullo!” said Gerald again.
“What do you want?” said Sally.
“Heard your voice. Saw the door open. Thought I’d come in.”
“What do you want?”
The weak smile which had seemed pinned on Gerald’s face vanished. A tear rolled down his cheek. His intoxication had reached the maudlin stage.
“Sally—S-sally—I’m very miserable.” He slurred awkwardly over the difficult syllables. “Heard your voice. Saw the door open. Thought I’d come in.”
Something flickered at the back of Sally’s mind. She seemed to have been through all this before. Then she remembered. This was simply Mr. Reginald Cracknell over again.
“I think you had better go to bed, Gerald,” she said, steadily. Nothing about him seemed to touch her now, neither the sight of him nor his shameless misery.
“What’s the use? Can’t sleep. No good. Couldn’t sleep. Sally, you don’t know how worried I am. I see now what a fool I’ve been.”
Sally made a quick gesture, to check what she supposed was about to develop into a belated expression of regret for his treatment of herself. She did not want to stand there listening to Gerald apologising with tears for having done his best to wreck her life. But it seemed that it was not this that was weighing upon his soul.
“I was a fool ever to try writing plays,” he went on. “Got a winner first time, but can’t repeat. It’s no good. Ought to have stuck to newspaper work. I’m good at that. Shall have to go back to it. Had another frost to-night. No good trying any more. Shall have to go back to the old grind, damn it.”
He wept softly, full of pity for his hard case.
“Very miserable,” he murmured.
He came forward a step into the room, lurched, and retreated to the safe support of the doorway. For an instant Sally’s artificial calm was shot through by a swift stab of contempt. It passed, and she was back again in her armour of indifference.
“Go to bed, Gerald,” she said. “You’ll feel better in the morning.”
Perhaps some inkling of how he was going to feel in the morning worked through to Gerald’s muddled intelligence, for he winced, and his manner took on a deeper melancholy.
“May not be alive in the morning,” he said, solemnly. “Good mind to end it all. End it all!” he repeated, with the beginning of a sweeping gesture, which was cut off abruptly as he clutched at the friendly door.
Sally was not in the mood for melodrama.
“Oh, go to bed,” she said, impatiently. The strange frozen indifference which had gripped her was beginning to pass, leaving in its place a growing feeling of resentment—resentment against Gerald for degrading himself like this, against herself for ever having found glamour in the man. It humiliated her to remember how utterly she had once allowed his personality to master hers. And under the sting of this humiliation she felt hard and pitiless. Dimly she was aware that a curious change had come over her to-night. Normally, the sight of any living thing in distress was enough to stir her quick sympathy; but Gerald mourning over the prospect of having to go back to regular work made no appeal to her, a fact which the sufferer noted and commented upon.
“You’re very unsymp—unsynthetic,” he complained.
“I’m sorry,” said Sally. She walked briskly to the door and gave it a push. Gerald, still clinging to his chosen support, moved out into the passage, attached to the handle, with the air of a man the foundations of whose world have suddenly lost their stability. He released the handle and moved uncertainly across the passage. Finding his own door open before him, he staggered over the threshold, and Sally, having watched him safely to his journey’s end, went into her bedroom with the intention of terminating this disturbing night by going to sleep.
Almost immediately she changed her mind. Sleep was out of the question. A fever of restlessness had come upon her. She put on a kimono, and went into the kitchen to ascertain whether her commissariat arrangements would permit of a glass of hot milk.
She had just remembered that she had that morning presented the last of the milk to a sandy cat with a purposeful eye which had dropped in through the window to take breakfast with her, when her regrets for this thriftless hospitality were interrupted by a muffled crash.
She listened intently. The sound had seemed to come from across the passage. She hurried to the door and opened it. As she did so, from behind the door of the apartment opposite there came a perfect fusillade of crashes, each seeming to her strained hearing louder and more appalling than the last.
There is something about sudden, loud noises in the stillness of the night which shatters the most rigid detachment. A short while before Gerald, toying with the idea of ending his sorrows by violence, had left Sally unmoved, but now her mind leaped back to what he had said, and apprehension succeeded indifference. There was no disputing the fact that Gerald was in an irresponsible mood, under the influence of which he was capable of doing almost anything. Sally, listening in the doorway, felt a momentary panic.
A brief silence had succeeded the fusillade, but, as she stood there hesitating, the noise broke out again, and this time it was so loud and compelling that Sally hesitated no longer. She ran across the passage and beat on the door.
WHATEVER devastating happenings had been going on in his home, it was plain a moment later that Gerald had managed to survive them, for there came the sound of a dragging footstep, and the door opened. Gerald stood on the threshold, the weak smile back on his face.
At the sight of him, disreputable and obviously unscathed, Sally’s brief alarm died away, leaving in its place the old feeling of impatient resentment. In addition to her other grievances against him, he had apparently frightened her unnecessarily.
“Whatever was all that noise?” she demanded.
“Noise?” said Gerald, considering the point open-mouthed.
“Yes, noise,” snapped Sally.
“I’ve been cleaning house,” said Gerald, with the owl-like gravity of the man just conscious that he is not wholly himself.
Sally pushed her way past him. The apartment in which she found herself was almost an exact replica of her own, and it was evident that Elsa Doland had taken pains to make it pretty and comfortable in a niggly feminine way. Amateur interior decoration had always been a hobby of hers. Even in the unpromising surroundings of her bedroom at Mrs. Meecher’s boarding-house she had contrived to create a certain daintiness which Sally, who had no ability in that direction herself, had always rather envied. As a decorator, Elsa’s mind ran in the direction of small, fragile ornaments, and she was not afraid of over-furnishing. Pictures jostled one another on the walls, china of all descriptions stood about on little tables, there was a profusion of lamps with shades of parti-coloured glass, and plates were ranged along a series of shelves.
One says that the plates were ranged and the pictures jostled one another, but it would be more correct to put it that they had jostled and had been ranged, for it was only by guesswork that Sally was able to reconstruct the scene as it must have appeared before Gerald had started, as he put it, to clean house. She had walked into the flat briskly enough, but she pulled up short as she crossed the threshold, appalled by the majestic ruin that met her gaze. A shell bursting in the little sitting-room could hardly have created more havoc.
The psychology of a man of weak character under the influence of alcohol and disappointed ambition is not easy to plumb, for his moods follow one another with a rapidity which baffles the observer. Ten minutes before Gerald Foster had been in the grip of a clammy self-pity, and it seemed from his aspect at the present moment that this phase had returned. But in the interval there had manifestly occurred a brief but adequate spasm of what would appear to have been an almost Berserk fury. What had caused it, and why it should have expended itself so abruptly, Sally was not psychologist enough to explain, but that it had existed there was ocular evidence of the most convincing kind. A heavy niblick, flung petulantly, or remorsefully, into a corner showed by what medium the destruction had been accomplished.
Bleak chaos appeared on every side. The floor was littered with every imaginable shape and size of broken glass and china. Fragments of pictures, looking as if they had been chewed by some prehistoric animal, lay amid heaps of shattered statuettes and vases. As Sally moved slowly into the room after her involuntary pause, china crackled beneath her feet. She surveyed the stripped walls with a wondering eye, and turned to Gerald for an explanation.
Gerald had subsided on to an occasional table, and was weeping softly again. It had come over him once more that he had been very, very badly treated.
“Well!” said Sally, with a gasp. “You’ve certainly made a good job of it!”
There was a sharp crack as the occasional table, never designed by its maker to bear heavy weights, gave way in a splintering flurry of broken legs under the pressure of the master of the house, and Sally’s mood underwent an abrupt change. There are few situations in life which do not hold equal potentialities for both tragedy and farce, and it was the ludicrous side of this drama that chanced to appeal to Sally at this moment. Her sense of humour was tickled. It was, if she could have analysed her feelings, at herself that she was mocking—at the feeble sentimental Sally, as she appeared to her now, who had once conceived the absurd idea of taking this preposterous man seriously. She felt light-hearted and light-headed, and she sank into a chair with a gurgling laugh.
The shock of his fall appeared to have had the desirable effect of restoring Gerald to something approaching intelligence. He picked himself up from the remains of a set of watercolours, gazing at Sally with growing disapproval.
“No sympathy,” he said, austerely.
“I can’t help it,” cried Sally. “It’s too funny.”
“Not funny,” corrected Gerald, his brain beginning to cloud once more.
“What did you do it for?”
Gerald returned for a moment to that mood of honest indignation which had so strengthened his arm when wielding the niblick. He bethought him once again of his grievance.
“Wasn’t going to stand for it any longer,” he said, heatedly. “A fellow’s wife goes and lets him down—ruins his show by going off and playing in another show—why shouldn’t I smash her things? Why should I stand for that sort of treatment? Why should I?”
“Well, you haven’t,” said Sally, “so there’s no need to discuss it. You seem to have acted in a thoroughly manly and independent way.”
“That’s it. Manly independent.” He waggled his finger impressively. “Don’t care what she says,” he continued. “Don’t care if she never comes back. That woman——”
Sally was not prepared to embark with him upon a discussion of the absent Elsa. Already the amusing aspect of the affair had begun to fade, and her hilarity was giving way to a tired distaste for the sordidness of the whole business. She had become aware that she could not endure the society of Gerald Foster much longer. She got up and spoke decidedly.
“And now,” she said, “I’m going to tidy up.”
Gerald had other views.
“No,” he said, with sudden solemnity. “No! Nothing of the kind. Leave it for her to find. Leave it as it is.”
“Don’t be silly. All this has got to be cleaned up. I’ll do it. You go and sit in my apartment. I’ll come and tell you when you can come back.”
“No!” said Gerald, wagging his head.
Sally stamped her foot among the crackling ruins. Quite suddenly the sight of him had become intolerable to her.
“Do as I tell you,” she cried.
Gerald wavered for a moment, but his brief militant mood was ebbing fast. After a faint protest he shuffled off, and Sally heard him go into her room. She breathed a deep breath of relief and turned to her task.
A visit to the kitchen revealed a long-handled broom, and, armed with this, Sally was soon busy. She was an efficient little person, and presently out of chaos there began to emerge a certain order. Nothing short of a complete redecoration would ever make the place look habitable again, but at the end of half an hour she had cleared the floor, and the fragments of vases, plates, lamp-shades, pictures, and glasses were stacked in tiny heaps against the walls. She returned the broom to the kitchen, and, going back into the sitting-room, flung open the window and stood looking out.
With a sense of unreality she perceived that the night had gone. Over the quiet street below there brooded that strange, metallic light which ushers in the dawn of a fine day. A cold breeze whispered to and fro. Above the housetops the sky was faint, level blue.
She left the window and started to cross the room. And suddenly there came over her a feeling of utter weakness. She stumbled to a chair, conscious only of being tired beyond the possibility of a further effort. Her eyes closed, and almost before her head had touched the cushions she was asleep.
SALLY woke. Sunshine was streaming through the open window, and with it the myriad noises of a city awake and about its business. Footsteps clattered on the footpath, motor-horns were sounding, and she could hear the clank of street-cars as they passed over the points. She could only guess at the hour, but it was evident that the morning was well advanced. She got up stiffly. Her head was aching.
She went into the bathroom, bathed her face, and felt better. The dull oppression which comes of a bad night was leaving her. She leaned out of the window, revelling in the fresh air, then crossed the passage and entered her own apartment. Stertorous breathing greeted her, and she perceived that Gerald Foster had also passed the night in a chair. He was sprawling by the window with his legs stretched out and his head resting on one of the arms, an unlovely spectacle.
Sally stood regarding him for a moment with a return of the distaste which she had felt on the previous night. And yet, mingled with the distaste, there was a certain elation. A black chapter of her life was closed for ever. Whatever the years to come might bring to her, they would be free from any wistful yearnings for the man who had once been woven so inextricably into the fabric of her life. She had thought that his personality had gripped her too strongly ever to be dislodged, but now she could look at him calmly and feel only a faint half-pity, half-contempt. The glamour had departed.
She shook him gently, and he sat up with a start, blinking in the strong light. His mouth was still open. He stared at Sally foolishly, then scrambled awkwardly out of the chair.
“Oh, my God!” said Gerald, pressing both hands to his forehead and sitting down again. He licked his lips with a dry tongue and moaned. “Oo, I’ve got a headache!”
Sally might have pointed out to him that he had certainly earned one, but refrained.
“You’d better go and have a wash,” she suggested.
“Yes,” said Gerald, heaving himself up again.
“Would you like some breakfast?”
“Don’t!” said Gerald faintly, and tottered off to the bathroom.
Sally sat down in the chair he had vacated. She had never felt quite like this before in her life. Everything seemed dream-like. The splashing of water in the bathroom came faintly to her, and she realised that she had been on the point of falling asleep again. She got up and opened the window, and once more the air acted as a restorative. She watched the activities of the street with a distant interest. They, too, seemed dreamlike and unreal. People were hurrying up and down on mysterious errands. An inscrutable cat picked its way daintily across the road. At the door of the apartment house an open car purred sleepily.
She was roused by a ring at the bell. She went to the door and opened it, and found Bruce Carmyle standing on the threshold. He wore a light motor-coat, and he was plainly endeavouring to soften the severity of his saturnine face with a smile of beaming kindliness.
“Well, here I am!” said Bruce Carmyle, cheerily. “Are you ready?”
With the coming of daylight a certain penitence had descended on Mr. Carmyle. Thinking things over while shaving and subsequently in his bath, he had come to the conclusion that his behaviour overnight had not been all that could have been desired. He had not actually been brutal, perhaps, but he had undoubtedly not been winning. There had been an abruptness in the manner of his leaving Sally at the Flower Garden which a perfect lover ought not to have shown. He had allowed his nerves to get the better of him, and now he desired to make amends. Hence a cheerfulness which he did not usually exhibit so early in the morning.
Sally was staring at him blankly. She had completely forgotten that he had said that he would come and take her for a drive this morning. She searched in her mind for words, and found none. And, as Mr. Carmyle was debating within himself whether to kiss her now or wait for a more suitable moment, embarrassment came upon them both like a fog, and the genial smile faded from his face as if the motive-power behind it had suddenly failed.
“I’ve—er—got the car outside, and——”
At this point speech failed Mr. Carmyle, for, even as he began the sentence, the door that led to the bathroom opened and Gerald Foster came out. Mr. Carmyle gaped at Gerald; Gerald gaped at Mr. Carmyle.
The application of cold water to the face and head is an excellent thing on the morning after an imprudent night, but as a tonic it only goes part of the way. In the case of Gerald Foster, which was an extremely serious and aggravated case, it had gone hardly any way at all. The person unknown who had been driving red-hot rivets into the base of Gerald Foster’s skull ever since the moment of his awakening was still busily engaged on that task. He gazed at Mr. Carmyle wanly.
Bruce Carmyle drew in his breath with a sharp hiss, and stood rigid. His eyes, burning now with a grim light, flickered over Gerald’s person and found nothing in it to entertain them. He saw a slouching figure in shirt-sleeves and the foundations of evening dress, a disgusting, degraded figure with pink eyes and a white face that needed a shave. And all the doubts that had ever come to vex Mr. Carmyle’s mind since his first meeting with Sally became on the instant certainties. So Uncle Donald had been right after all! This was the sort of girl she was!
At his elbow the stout phantom of Uncle Donald puffed with satisfaction.
“I told you so!” it said.
Sally had not moved. The situation was beyond her. Just as if this had really been the dream it seemed, she felt incapable of speech or action.
“So——!” said Mr. Carmyle, becoming articulate, and allowed an impressive aposiopesis to take the place of the rest of the speech. A cold fury had gripped him. He pointed at Gerald, began to speak, found that he was stuttering, and gulped back the words. In this supreme moment he was not going to have his dignity impaired by a stutter. He gulped, and found a sentence which, while brief enough to ensure against this disaster, was sufficiently long to express his meaning.
“Get out!” he said.
Gerald Foster had his dignity, too, and it seemed to him that the time had come to assert it. But he also had a most excruciating headache, and when he drew himself up haughtily to ask Mr. Carmyle what the devil he meant by it, a severe access of pain sent him huddling back immediately to a safer attitude. He clasped his forehead and groaned.
For a moment Gerald hesitated. Then another sudden shooting spasm convinced him that no profit or pleasure was to be derived from a continuance of the argument, and he began to shamble slowly across to the door.
Bruce Carmyle watched him go with twitching hands. There was a moment when the human man in him, somewhat atrophied from long disuse, stirred him almost to the point of assault; then dignity whispered more prudent counsel in his ear, and Gerald was past the danger-zone and out in the passage. Mr. Carmyle turned to face Sally, as King Arthur on a similar but less impressive occasion must have turned to deal with Guinevere.
“So——” he said, again.
Sally was eyeing him steadily, considering the circumstances, Mr. Carmyle thought, with not a little indignation, much too steadily.
“This,” he said, ponderously, “is very amusing.”
He waited for her to speak, but she said nothing.
“I might have expected it,” said Mr. Carmyle, with a bitter laugh.
Sally forced herself from the lethargy which was gripping her.
“Would you like me to explain?” she said.
“There can be no explanation,” said Mr. Carmyle, coldly.
“Very well,” said Sally.
There was a pause.
“Good-bye,” said Bruce Carmyle.
“Good-bye,” said Sally.
Mr. Carmyle walked to the door. There he stopped for an instant and glanced back at her. Sally had walked to the window and was looking out. For one swift instant something about her trim little figure and the gleam of her hair where the sunlight shone on it seemed to catch at Bruce Carmyle’s heart, and he wavered. But the next moment he was strong again, and the door had closed behind him with a resolute bang.
Out in the street, climbing into his car, he looked up involuntarily to see if she was still there, but she had gone. As the car, gathering speed, hummed down the street, Sally was at the telephone, listening to the sleepy voice of Ginger Kemp, which, as he became aware who it was that had woken him from his rest and what she had to say to him, magically lost its sleepiness and took on a note of riotous ecstasy.
Five minutes later Ginger was splashing in his bath, singing discordantly.
the end of a perfect day
DARKNESS was beginning to gather slowly and with almost an apologetic air, as if it regretted the painful duty of putting an end to the perfect summer day. Over to the west beyond the trees there still lingered a faint afterglow, and a new moon shone like a silver sickle above the big barn. Sally came out of the house and bowed gravely three times for luck. She stood on the gravel outside the porch, drinking in the sweet evening scents, and found life good.
The darkness, having shown a certain reluctance at the start, was now buckling down to make a quick and thorough job of it. The sky turned to a uniform dark blue, picked out with quiet stars. The cement of the road ceased to be a pale blur and became invisible. Lights appeared in the windows of the houses across the meadows. From the direction of the kennels there came a single sleepy bark, and the small white, woolly dog which had scampered out at Sally’s heels stopped short and uttered a challenging squeak.
The evening was so still that Ginger’s footsteps, as he pounded along the road on his way back from the village, whither he had gone to buy provisions, evening papers, and wool for the sweater which Sally was knitting, were audible long before he turned in at the gate. Sally could not see him, but she looked in the direction of the sound and once again felt that pleasant, cosy thrill of happiness which had come to her every evening for the last year.
“Ginger!” she called.
The woolly dog, with another important squeak, scuttled down the drive to look into the matter, and was coldly greeted. Ginger, for all his love of dogs, had never been able to bring himself to regard Toto with affection. He had protested when Sally a month before, finding Mrs. Meecher distraught on account of a dreadful lethargy which had seized her pet, had begged him to offer hospitality and country air to the invalid.
“It’s wonderful what you’ve done for Toto, angel,” said Sally, as he came up, frigidly eluding that curious animal’s leaps of welcome. “He’s a different dog.”
“Bit of luck for him,” said Ginger.
“In all the years I was at Mrs. Meecher’s I never knew him move at anything more rapid than a stately walk. Now he runs about all the time.”
“The blighter had been overeating from birth,” said Ginger, sternly. “That was all that was wrong with him. A little judicious dieting put him right. We’ll be able,” said Ginger, brightening, “to ship him back next week.”
“I shall quite miss him.”
“I nearly missed him—this morning—with a shoe,” said Ginger. “He was up on the kitchen table wolfing the bacon, and I took steps.”
“My cave-man!” murmured Sally. “I always said you had a frightfully brutal streak in you. Ginger, what an evening!”
“Good lord!” said Ginger, suddenly, as they walked into the light of the open kitchen door.
“Do you know you’re looking prettier than you were when I started down to the village!”
Sally gave his arm a little hug.
“Beloved!” she said. “Did you get the chops?”
Ginger froze in his tracks, horrified.
“I say, I’m most awfully sorry. I got the wool.”
“If you think I’m going to eat wool——”
“Isn’t there anything in the house?”
“Vegetables and fruits in their season.”
“Fine! But, of course, if you want chops——”
“Not at all. I’m spiritual. Besides, people say that vegetables are good for the blood-pressure or something. Of course, you forgot to get the mail, too?”
“Absolutely not! I was on to it like a knife. Two letters from fellows wanting Airedale puppies.”
“No! Ginger, we are getting on!”
“Pretty bloated,” agreed Ginger, complacently. “Pretty bloated. We’ll be able to get that two-seater if things go buzzing on like this. There was a letter for you.”
“It’s from Fillmore,” said Sally, examining the envelope.
She sat down and opened the letter. Ginger, heaving himself on to the table, wriggled into a position of comfort and started to read his evening paper.
Although a married man of nearly a year’s standing, Ginger was still moving about a magic world in a state of dazed incredulity, unable fully to realise that such bliss could be.
Marriage, with Sally for a partner, seemed to be one of the very few things in the world in which there was no catch. His honest eyes glowed as he watched her.
Sally broke into a little splutter of laughter.
“Ginger, look at this!”
He reached down and took the slip of paper which she held out to him. The following legend met his eye, printed in bold letters:—
(“just say ‘pop!’ a child can do it.”)
Ginger regarded this cipher with a puzzled frown.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Fillmore and Gladys have started a little restaurant in Pittsburg.”
“A restaurant!” There was a shocked note in Ginger’s voice. Although he knew that the managerial career of that modern Napoleon, his brother-in-law, had terminated in something of a smash, he had never quite lost his reverence for one whom he considered a bit of a master-mind. That Fillmore Nicholas, the man of destiny, should have descended to conducting a restaurant—and a little restaurant at that—struck him as almost indecent.
Sally, on the other hand—for sisters always seem to fail in proper reverence for the greatness of their brothers—was delighted.
“It’s the most splendid idea,” she said, with enthusiasm. “It really does look as if Fillmore was going to amount to something at last.”
“Why Popp?” interrupted Ginger, ventilating a question which was perplexing him deeply.
“Just a trade-name, silly. Gladys is a wonderful cook, you know, and she made the pies and Fillmore toddled round selling them. And they did so well that now they’ve started a regular restaurant, and that’s a success, too. Listen to this.” Sally gurgled again and turned over the letter. “Where is it? Oh yes. ‘Sound financial footing. In fact, our success has been so instantaneous that I have decided to launch out on a really big scale. It is Big Ideas that lead to Big Business. I am contemplating a vast extension of this venture of ours, and in a very short time I shall organise branches in New York, Chicago, Detroit, and all the big cities, each in charge of a manager and each offering as a special feature, in addition to the usual restaurant cuisine, these Popp’s Outstanding Pork-pies of ours. That done, and having established all these branches as going concerns, I shall sail for England and introduce Popp’s Pork-pies there——’ Isn’t he a little wonder?”
“Dashed brainy chap. Always said so.”
“I must say I was rather uneasy when I read that. I’ve seen so many of Fillmore’s big ideas. That’s always the way with him. He gets something good and then goes and overdoes it and bursts. However, it’s all right now that he’s got Gladys to look after him. She has added a postscript. Just four words, but, golly! how comforting to a sister’s heart. ‘Yes, I don’t think!’ is what she says, and I don’t know when I’ve read anything more cheering.”
“Pork-pies!” said Ginger, musingly, as the pangs of a healthy hunger began to assail his interior. “I wish he’d sent us one of the outstanding little chaps. I could do with it.”
Sally got up and ruffled his red hair.
“Poor old Ginger! I knew you’d never be able to stick it. Come on, it’s a lovely night, let’s walk to the village and revel at the inn. We’re going to be millionaires before we know where we are, so we can afford it.”
Chapter 17: “Bruce Carmyle’s emotions, like sweet bells jangled, were out of tune”: See Hamlet, act 3, scene 1:
Ophelia: Now see that noble and most sovereign reason
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
Readers should be aware that this Grand serialization was shortened by about 15 percent compared with the full-length version in Collier’s and in the book publication. I don’t know who did the abridgement.
Thanks to Ian Michaud for meticulous proofreading of all parts of this serial. —Neil Midkiff, editor.