so glad, dear, that you have it. You saw at once what this was worth, didn’t you? But we must get at the boy — a young man now, I suppose,” she mused. “How long ago it all seems! I wonder how we can run him down? Why, through the Tracys, of course! I’ll write to Mrs. Tracy now.”
She started up and went to the writing table, pulling out paper and pen with an impatience doubled by her husband’s. “Oh, we’ll wire,” he said in a tone of authority; “I’ll get it off at once. We want something from him for our New York number.” And she thought, deep in herself: “Nothing will be too good for Vance Weston now that he’s Lewis’s own discovery,” and then tingled with shame at her lucidity. She dashed off the telegram at her husband’s dictation, and while Tarrant went out to send it, dropped down again into her armchair.
“If my boy had lived — ” she said to herself, covering under that elliptical sweep of regret all the things she might have judged differently, all the things she might have forborne to judge, if between her and her husband there had been a presence, warm and troublesome and absorbing, to draw them closer yet screen them a little from each other.
One raw autumn evening when Vance came in, tired and dispirited, from the office of the Free Speaker, his elder sister, Pearl, who was always prying and investigating, bounced out into the hall with: “Here’s a letter for you from a New York magazine.”
Vance followed her into the overheated room where the family were waiting for Mr. Weston to go in to supper. Mr. Weston was generally late nowadays: real estate was in a slack phase at Euphoria, and he was always off somewhere, trying to get hold of a good thing, to extend his activities, especially to get a finger into the pie at Swedenville, which had recently started an unforeseen boom of its own.
There seemed to be a great many people in the brightly lit room, with its large pink-mouthed gramophone on a table with a crochet lace cover, its gold-and-gray wallpaper hung with the “Mona Lisa” (Mae’s contribution), “The Light of the World” (Grandma’s), and the palm in a congested pink china pot on a stained oak milking stool.
On chilly evenings the radiator was the centre of the family life, and the seat nearest it was now always occupied by a very old man with a yellowish waxen face and a heavy shock of black hair streaked with gray, who sat with a helpless left arm stretched on the shawl that covered his knees, and said at intervals, in a slow thick voice: “Feels . . . good . . . here . . . after . . . Crampton . . . .”
Grandpa and Grandma Scrimser had moved into Mapledale Avenue after Grandpa’s first stroke. The house out at Crampton was too cold, and the Nordic help, always yearning for Euphoria or Swedenville, could not be persuaded to wait on a paralytic old man and his unwieldy wife. Lorin Weston had accepted the charge without a murmur: he was a great respecter of family ties. But the presence of the old couple had not made things easier at Mapledale Avenue. It was an ever-recurring misery to Mrs. Weston to have the precise routine of her household upset by Mrs. Scrimser’s disorderly ways; she did not mind nursing her father nearly as much as “picking up” after her mother. But the crowning grievance was the invasion of her house by Grandma’s followers — all the “inspirational” faddists, the prophets, seers, and healers who, having long enjoyed the happy~go-lucky hospitality of the Scrimser table, now thronged to Mrs. Weston’s, ostensibly to pray with Grandma and over Grandpa, but always managing, as Mrs. Weston remarked, to drop in round about mealtimes.
Grandpa’s stroke had come within the year after Vance’s return to Euphoria. Vance had not seen much of Mr. Scrimser during the months preceding the latter’s illness. Going out to Crampton was something the young man still shrank from. Everything in Euphoria, when he returned there from New York, seemed so small and colourless that he strayed about in it like a ghost in limbo; but the first time he walked out to see his grandmother, the old nausea caught him as he passed the field path leading to the river; and when his grandfather mounted the steps of the porch where Vance and Mrs. Scrimser were sitting, stiff-jointed but jaunty as ever, his hat tilted back from his black curls, his collar rolled away from his sinewy throat, the boy felt himself harden to a stone. . . . And then, one evening at the Free Speaker, a voice at the telephone had summoned Vance to the Elkington — and there in the glaring bar lolled the old man, like a marionette with its wires cut, propped on the sofa to which they had hurriedly raised him . . . .
The accident did not reawaken Vance’s love for his grandfather, but it effaced the hate. If this was what a few years brought us to, the sternness of the moral law seemed cruelly out of proportion to the brevity of life; he acknowledged the grinning truth of the old man’s philosophy. Hitherto Vance had never regretted having written, or sold for publication, the tale into which he had poured all his youthful indignation; but now, though he felt sure that no one at Euphoria had ever heard of The Hour, or would have connected his tale with any actual incident, yet he would have been glad to wipe those pages out of existence, and still more glad to blot from his memory the money they had brought him . . . .
“Well, I guess your father’s going to be later than ever tonight, and that Slovak girl says she won’t stay another week if she don’t ever know what time to dish up for meals,” Mrs. Weston murmured, looking up from her towel-hemming as her son entered.
“Well, Vance’s got a letter from a New York magazine,” Pearl exulted, disregarding her mother.
Mrs. Scrimser looked yearningly from the corner where she sat by her husband, the last number of Spirit Light on her knee. (“What your grandmother wastes, subscribing to all those come-to-Jesus papers, is something that passes me. She could hire a nurse with the money,” Mrs. Weston frequently lamented to her children.)
“Oh, Vanny, open it quick!” his grandmother besought. “I wonder if it’s from Spirit Light? I was just reading to Grandpa about a twenty-five dollar prize they’re offering for a five-hundred-word appreciation of Jesus Christ, to be sent in before the last of the month. What are we now?”
No one answered, and Vance went up to the lamp and opened his letter. Below the letterhead of The Hour a rush of words poured out at him. “Another story on the lines of ‘One Day’ . . . Review in new hands . . . editor would like to have first call on anything you may turn out during the coming year . . . Liberal terms . . . first story if possible in time for January number . . . wants to know if any chance of your being in New York within few weeks to consider possibility of permanent connection with review . . .”
Another story on the lines of “One Day” — that was what first struck him. He read the phrase over several times; then, involuntarily, he turned and glanced at the marionette with its wires cut that cowered in the armchair by the radiator. How strange it was, Vance mused — that poor creature had first taught him the meaning of pain, and out of the terrible lesson the means of deliverance had come!
His future . . . here was his future secure. And the people at The Hour regretted having lost sight of him for so long — and the review was in new hands! He glanced back at the letterhead, and saw: “Editor: Lewis Tarrant.” But surely that was the blond fellow who was always hanging about Miss Spear and going off in the motor with her? Correspondence between Paul’s Landing and Mapledale Avenue had ceased after a somewhat acrimonious exchange of letters at the time of Vance’s departure from the Tracys’; since then he had heard nothing of the household at Eaglewood. Two or three curt notes from the editorial office of The Hour, rejecting the tales and essays he had sent at Frenside’s suggestion, had been the last of his communications with New York; and for nearly two years now his horizon had been so shut in by Euphoria that he was beginning to feel as if he had never left there.
“IS it about the Spirit Light competition, Vanny?” Mrs. Scrimser asked; and Pearl ejaculated: “Father may be late, but I guess he’ll be here before Vance condescends to tell us!”
“Tell us what?” Vance’s father questioned, banging the front door shut, and dropping his outer garments in the ingle-nook before joining his family.
“His news from New York,” Pearl snapped.
Lorin Weston came in, casting his cautious tired eyes about the room. His son suddenly noticed how much older and thinner he looked; his dapper business suit hung on him. “Well, what’s your news, son?”
“I’ve got a job in New York,” Vance announced, hardly believing that the voice he heard was his own.
“Feels . . . good . . . here . . . after . . . Crampton . . . .” the marionette crooned from its corner.
On the train to New York Vance had the same sense of detachment as when he had gone thither three years before. Again it was as though, in leaving his home, he took his whole self with him, like a telephone receiver unhooked and carried on a long cord into another room. The years at Euphoria had taught him something, he supposed; he felt infinitely older, felt mature, “hardboiled” as the new phrase was: he smiled with pity at the defenceless infant he had been when he made his first assault on the metropolis.
But how had the process of maturing been effected? He had felt himself an alien from the moment of his return to Euphoria; there had been no retightening of loosened links, no happy boyish sense of homecoming. He could imagine that a fellow might feel that, getting back to one of those old Lorburn houses, so impregnated with memories, so thick with tangible tokens of the past; but his own recollections could only travel back through a succession of new houses, each one a little larger and with a better bathroom and a neater garage than the last, but all without any traces of accumulated living and dying: shells shed annually, almost, like a crab’s. He even felt, as he sat in the spick-and-span comfort of Mapledale Avenue, the incongruity of an old man’s presuming to die there. “Seems like there’s no past here but in the cemeteries,” he mused one day, looking pityingly at his grandfather . . . .
And now he was getting away from it again, getting back into an atmosphere which to him seemed charged with the dust of ages. When he had been in New York before he had hardly noticed the skyscrapers, which were merely higher than those he already knew; but on one of his last days before leaving he had gone down to Trinity Church, and slowly, wonderingly, had roamed about the graveyard, brooding over names and dates. . . . The idea that there had been people so near his own day who had lived and died under the same roof, and worshipped every Sunday in the same church as their forebears, appealed in an undefinable way to his craving for continuity. And when he entered the church, and read the epitaphs on the walls above the very seats where the men and women commemorated had sat, it was like feeling a heart beating through the grave wrappings of one of the mummies he had seen in the museum. The ocean and Old Trinity — those were the two gifts New York had given him . . . .
And now he was going back full of hope to the place which seemed to have become his spiritual home. The long cold weight of discouragement had fallen from him at the first word of the summons from The Hour. This time he knew he could make good. Never in journalism: his experience on the Free Speaker had taught him that. If his father hadn’t owned stock in the newspaper Vance knew he could never have held down even his insignificant job there. But there was nothing to regret in all that. He was going to be a writer now: a novelist. A New York review had opened its doors to him; he had only to reread the editorial letter for his brain to hum with new projects and ambitions. “A big novel — I’ll do a big novel yet,” he thought; but meanwhile he would give them all the short stories they wanted. Subjects were swarming about him, opening paragraphs writing themselves on the curtains of his sleeper. All night he lay awake in an ecstasy of invention, rocked by the rhythm of the train as if the great Atlantic rollers were sweeping him forward to his fate.
This mild November day was all jewelled with sunlight as Vance pushed his way out of the Grand Central. Grip in hand, he was starting for the rooming house where he had lodged before. He did not know where else to go; but no doubt at The Hour he would find someone to advise him. Meanwhile he would just drop his bags (they were bulging with manuscripts), and get a quick wash-up before presenting himself at the office. It was nearly ten o’clock, and he had wired announcing his visit for that day at eleven.
It was the day after Thanksgiving, and the huge station was humming with the arrivals and departures of weekend crowds. Outside, close to the curb, a row of long “rubberneck” cars was drawn up, and with an absent eye Vance watched a band of sightseers, mostly girls, scrambling into one of them. He thought he had never seen so many happy unconcerned faces: certainly the mere air of New York seemed to wake people up, make them sparkle like the light on this balmy day. Vance, always amused by thronged streets and pleasurable activities, lingered to watch; and as he stood there he saw a girl in a close-fitting blue hat spring into the car in front of him. Her movement was so light and dancing that no term less romantic could describe it. She was absorbed into a giggling group, and under the blue brim Vance caught only a glimpse of cropped straw~coloured hair and a face so translucent that the thin brown eyebrows looked dark as the velvet crescents on a butterfly. His sense of bouyant renewal seemed to find embodiment in this morning vision, and he forgot his bag, forgot The Hour, forgot even his healthy morning hunger. All he wanted was to know if there was a seat left in that car. A man in a long light ulster, a lettered band on his cap, stood near the driver’s seat, giving orders or instructions. Vance touched his arm. “See here — ” The man turned, and Vance was face to face with Bunty Hayes, the former reporter of the Paul’s Landing paper.
Bunty Hayes had not changed; he was the same trim tight-featured fellow with impudent eyes and a small mouth with a childlike smile; but he had thickened a little, and the black-and-gold lettering on his cap gave him an air of authority.
“Say — why, if it ain’t Vance Weston!” he exclaimed.
If anything could have troubled Vance in his present mood, it would have been an encounter with Bunty Hayes. The name had only disastrous associations, and he had always thought the man contemptible. But the tide which was sweeping him forward could not be checked by anything as paltry as Bunty Hayes; and Vance, with no more than a moment’s hesitation, put his hand into the other’s, and made one of his abrupt plunges to the point. “Say — you going for a ride in this car?”
“Going for a ride in her?” Bunty echoed with his easy laugh. “Looks like as if I was. Say, why I’m the barker for her, sonny. Thought I was still up at Paul’s Landing, did you, doing write-ups for that cemetery of a paper? No, sir, that was in the far away and long ago. I been showing New York for nearly two years now. Hop right in — got a capacity load, but I guess the girls’ll make room for you. (I’m taking round Saint Elfrida’s select boarding school, from Peapack — yes, sir; six front rows; bunch of lookers, ain’t they? Primarily an art trip; we take in the Lib’ry, the Metropolitan, the Cathedral and the Palisades.) See here, pile in, Vance; never mind about your grip. ‘Gainst the rules, I know; but shove it under the seat while the chauffeur’s looking at her appendix. There — in you go; this row. Say, there’s a girl at the other end that’ll give you a squeeze-in next to her; there, the one with the blue hat.”
The barker caught Vance under the elbow to launch him on his way; and then, as he moved forward, called after him stentorianly: “Say, Vance, I want you to meet my feean-CEE; yes, that’s her in the blue hat. Laura Lou, meet Mr. Weston. . . . Gee, Vance, but ain’t you Laura Lou’s cousin? Say, well, if I didn’t clean forget you and me’d got acquainted at the Tracys’. . . . Laura Lou, here’s your cousin Vance Weston, come all the way from Illinois to see you. Now then, ladies and gentlemen, all aboard, PLEASE!”
Vance found himself climbing past a row of exposed pink knees. A flutter of girlish exclamations greeted him, and he slipped into a crack between a stout Jewish-looking young woman in rimless glasses and the girl under the blue hat, whose flexible young body seemed to melt against his own as she made room for him.
“Laura Lou!” he exclaimed as the car swayed out into the street. He could hardly believe that this little face with the pale rosy mouth and the delicately traced eyebrows could be that of the sulky flapper of Paul’s Landing. Yet he remembered that one evening when she came in for supper, late and a little flushed, in a faded yellow muslin the colour of her hair, he had thought her almost pretty. ALMOST PRETTY— crude fool that he’d been, craving only such coarse fare as Floss Delaney and ‘Smeralda Cran! Time had refined his taste as it had his cousin’s features; and he looked at her with new eyes . . . .
“Vance!” she said, in her shy drawling voice, but without a trace of shyness in her own eyes, which rested on him with a sort of affectionate curiosity.
The eyes too were different; instead of being like blurred gray glasses they were luminous as spring water; and they met his with full awareness of the change. It seemed as if, without self~consciousness or fatuity, she knew herself lovely and was glad, as simply as a flower might be. The sight absorbed Vance’s senses; he hardly heard what she was saying, was conscious only of her nearness, burning and radiant, yet so frail, immaterial almost, that she might vanish at a rash word or motion.
“Why, Vance, isn’t it funny? I didn’t know you were in New York,” she said; and he thought: “I used to think her cheekbones too high; and now the little shadow under them is what makes her look like those marble heads of Greek priestesses with the smile under their lids . . . .” (He had seen photographs of them in some book on ancient art, in the Euphoria college library.)
“It’s three years since I was here; you’re grown-up now, aren’t you?” he said; and she conceded: “Why, I s’pose I am,” with a laugh that made her mouth break open on her teeth like a pink pod on pearly seeds.
“Three years — ” he echoed; and suddenly he remembered her bending over him as he lay in the hammock, on his first evening at the Tracy’s, and snatching from his buttonhole the spray of lilac he had found on his pillow that morning. “Why, it was you that put the lilac on my pillow before I was awake!” he exclaimed, the words breaking from him before he knew it. He was looking at her intently and she did not avert her gaze; but a light like a rosy reflection stole from her throat to her temples. “Of course it was,” he triumphed. “Why, you’re like a tropical shell with the sun shining through it,” he cried; and she answered: “Oh, Vance, you always did say such killing things. I’ll die laughing if you don’t quit . . . .” It was only when she drew away her soft bare hand that he realized he had held it clutched ever since he had pushed his way to her . . . .
“This vacant lot on your right,” Bunty Hayes was bellowing as the car rolled up Fifth Avenue, “was formerly the site of Selfridge B. Merry’s five-million-dollar marble mansion, lately sold to the Amalgamated Searchlight Company, who are about to erect on it a twenty-five-million-dollar skyscraper of fifty stories, with roof gymnasium, cabaret terrace, New Thought church and airplane landing. . . . The artistic Gothic church on your left is the Reformed Methodist . . . .”
Vance caught back Laura Lou’s hand and pressed it in both of his. “For God’s sake . . . that’s all a joke about your being engaged to him, isn’t it?”
She cast down her lashes, which were of the same velvet texture as her eyebrows, but a darker brown, the colour of brown pansy petals. Her hand still lay confidingly in Vance’s. “Why, I guess he kinder thinks I am . . . .” she said.
“Oh, LET him!” cried Vance derisively. He took a quick glance at the Jewish girl in rimless glasses, saw that she had turned away to pass a box of Fuller’s marshmallows down the line, and flinging his arm about Laura Lou, kissed her fervently.
She paled a little and shrank back, but so submissively, with such an air of leaving herself on his lips even though she withdrew her own, that he thought exultantly: “She knows she belongs to me,” and had there been room in his breast for any feeling but rapture it would have been pity for the tight-faced young man bellowing through his megaphone: “We are now approaching the only remaining private residence on Fifth Avenue, belonging to one of the old original society leaders known throughout the world as the Four Hundred.”
The next day, when Vance got out of the train at Paul’s Landing, the old horses in the broken-down carry-alls were still standing in the station square, shaking their heads despondently.
He jumped on board a passing trolley and was carried out of the town. At the foot of a familiar lane overhung by bare maple boughs he got out and began to climb to the Willows. Laura Lou had said she would bring the key of the gate with her. She couldn’t let him into the house, she explained: since the theft of the books (which had been brought back, as she supposed Vance knew) Mrs. Tracy had kept the house key hidden away where no one could get it. But Vance was determined at cheap ghd wide plate straighteners least to see the garden and the outside of the house again, and the day was so windless and mild that they would be able to sit in the sun on the verandah. He wanted to relive his first visit to the Willows, when he had accompanied Laura Lou and Upton, and had lingered spellbound in the library while Laura Lou, her hair covered with a towel, went off with Upton to dust and air the rooms. That day Vance had hardly noticed her, had felt her presence only as that of a tiresome schoolgirl, butting in where she wasn’t wanted, like his own sisters, Pearl and Mae — especially Pearl. And now —!
She was at the gate already; he caught sight of her through the branches, in the powdery gold of the autumn light. S cheap ghds he waved to him, and opened the gate; and he followed her in. “No, you mustn’t!” she whispered, as his arms went out, and added, laughing: “With all the leaves off the bushes — and that hired man around.”
“Curse the hired man! Can’t we go and talk quietly somewhere?”
He was looking at her as though to store up the sight against a coming separation, and yet he knew already that he never meant to leave her again. “Can’t I hold your hand, at least?” he asked, awed by something so tender and immature in her that it curbed his impetuousness.
“Oh, well — ” she conceded; and hand in hand cheap ghd flat iron , like two children, they began to walk toward the house. Barely screened by its tracery of leafless willows it stood out more prominent and turreted than he had remembered; but if less romantic, it still seemed to him as mysterious. Treading noiselessly on the rain~flattened yellowish grass they passed around to the other front, where cheap ghd straighteners the projecting verandah and obliquely set balconies, clutched in the bare gnarled arms of the wistaria, stood out like the torso of an old Laoco?n.
A few oaks still held their foliage, and the evergreen clumps stood out blue-black and solid. But the fall of the leaves revealed, at the end of a path, a rickety trellised arbour which Vance had never before noticed. “Let’s go and sit there.” They crossed the wet cobwebby lawn and entered the arbour. The old hired man was nowhere to be seen, and Vance drew Laura Lou to him and laid his lips on her eyelids. “Ever since yesterday I’ve wanted to kiss your eyes.” She laughed under her breath, and they sat close to each other on the mouldy bench.
“You never used to take any no Cheap ghds tice of me in old times,” she said; and he answered: “I was nothing but a blind puppy then. Puppies are all born blind . . . .” He wanted to let his kiss glide down to her lips, but she put him from her. The gentleness of her touch controlled him; but he whispered rebelliously: “Why — why?”
She answered that all she had promised was to come and talk things over with him, and he mustn’t tease, or she’d have to go away; and why couldn’t they just sit there quietly, when there was so much to say and so little time? He hardly heard what she said, but there was a power in her softness — or in her beauty, perhaps — which held him subdued. “Your hand, then —?” “Yes.” She gave it back, with one of those smiles which made her mouth like the inside of a flower. Oh, idle metaphors! . . .
“Now tell me.” And she told him how upset her mother had been when he went away so suddenly (“She never meant you to, Vance — but she got frightened . . . .”), and how surprised they were when the basket of flowers with the dove was brought the next day, and how Mrs. Tracy had first been angry, and said: “Is he crazy?” and then cried, and said: “But he must have spent all the money I gave him back,” and then been angry again because she was so sure he’d be the cause of their losing their job at the Willows — and they did lose it, and only got it back after Miss Halo had intervened, and the books were returned, and old Mr. Lorburn had been quieted down again. (“But the dove was lovely, Vance. I’ve got it over my looking glass . . . .”) And at the thought of this miraculous reward he had to clench her hand hard to keep himself from warmer endearments. How little he had dreamed, when he bought it, that the dove wou cheap ghd straighteners next day delivery ld be Venus’s messenger!
She went on to say that things had been very hard for a time, because they had been out of their job for six months. It wasn’t so much the money, though they needed that too; he gathered that Mrs. Tracy’s pride had been wounded, and that she had declared, when Miss Halo tried to fix it up, that it was no use, as she would never let her children go back to the Willows if they had forfeited their cousin’s confidence. But Miss Halo always somehow managed to put things right, and had finally persuaded Mrs. Tracy to relent; and she had continued to help them after that, and had found a Cheap GHD Straighteners – Cheap ghds UK Sale fine situation for Upton as undergardener with some friends of hers who had a big place at Tarrytown. So everything was going better now; and she, Laura Lou, was at Saint Elfrida’s School, at Peapack, for a six months’ course, to learn French and literature and a little music — because her mother wanted her to be educated, like her father’s folks were . . . .
Laura Lou was not endowed wit heap ghd hair straighteners uk h the narrative gift; only bit by bit, in answer to Vance’s questions (when he was not too absorbed in her to put any) did she manage, in fragmentary communications, to bridge over the interval which had turned the gawky girl into the miracle of young womanhood before him.
When she wanted to hear what had happened to him since they had parted he found it even harder to tell his story than to piece hers together. While she talked he could spin about her a silken cocoon of revery, made out of her soft drawl, the throb of her hand, the fruitlike curve of her cheeks and eyelids; but when he tried to withdraw his attention from her long enough to put his words in order he lost himself in a blur. . . . Really, he said, nothing much had happened to him, nothing that he specially cheap ghd air remembered. He’d been a reporter in the principal Euphoria newspaper, and hated it; and he had taken a post-graduate course in philosophy and literature at the state college; but the lecturers somehow didn’t get hold of him. Reading in a library was what suited him, he guessed. (Her lashes were planted like the double row of microscopic hummingbird feathers in a South American embroidery he’d seen somewhere . . . .) But Euphoria was over and done with; he’d got a job in New York . . . a job on a swell magazine, a literary review they called it, but they published short stories too, they’d already published one of his, and wanted as many more as he could write . . . and the editor, Lewis Tarrant, had written to him to com Cheap GHD Straighteners e to New York . . . .
“Lewis Tarrant! But he’s the one Miss Halo married!” Laura Lou exclaimed.
“Did she?” Vance absently rejoined. All his attention was on her hands now; he was separating the fingers one by one, lifting them up and watching them drop back, as though he were playing on some fairy instrument. He hardly noticed the mention of Halo Spear.
“Why, didn’t you know? They were married the year you went away, I guess. I know it was ever so long ago.”
“Does it seem to you ever so long since I went away?”
“Oh, Vance, I’ve told you you mustn’t . . . or I’ll have to go . . . .”
He drew back, dropping her hands, and cheap ghd straighteners ￡50 restricting himself to the more delicate delight of looking at her. “What’s the use of trying to write poetry, when she IS?” he mused. Yet in another moment he was again seeking rhymes and metaphors for her. He tried to explain to himself what it was that kept him thus awestruck and submissive, as if there were a latent majesty in her sweetness. With that girl on Thundertop it had been different; the shock of ideas, the stimulus of the words she used, the allusion ghd straighteners s she made, the sense of an unknown world of beauty and imagination widening about him as she talked — all this had subdued his blood while it set his brain on fire. But when Laura Lou spoke she became a child to him again. His allusions to his literary plans and ambitions filled her eyes with a radiant sympathy, but evoked nothing more definite than: “Isn’t that too lovely, Vance?” Yet his feeling for her was not the sensual hunger excited by girls like Floss Delaney. It was restrained by something new in this tender creature; as if the contending elements of body and soul were so harmonized in her that to look at her was almost to clasp her.
But the air grew chilly; Vance noticed that she had turned paler; she coughed once or twice. The instinct of protection woke in him. “See here, we mustn’t go on sitting here till you catch cold. Where’ll we go? Why don’t we walk back t ghd outlet o the town to warm ourselves up, and have a cup of hot coffee before I catch my train?” She assented, and they turned toward the gate. As Laura Lou stooped to the padlock Vance looked back yearningly at the old house. “We’ll come here often now, won’t we?”
The gate had closed on them, and Laura Lou walked on a few steps before answering. “Oh, I don’t know about coming again, Vance. I had hard work getting the key out of Mother’s drawer without her seeing me. . . . Besides, I’m not here weekdays; I’m at school.”
“Your mother can’t object to our coming here after we’re married,” Vance tranquilly rejoined.
“Married?” she stood still in the lane and looked at him with wide incredulous eyes. Her pale pink lips began to tremble. “Why, how can we be, Vance?”
“Why can’t we be, I’d like to know? I’ll be earning enough soon.” (He was sincerely convinced of it.) “See here, Laura Lou, I want to begin life in New York married to you. I’m coming out to tell your mother and Upton about it tomorrow. You won’t go back to school till Monday, will you? Can I come out early tomorrow, and have dinner with you?”
A shade of apprehension crossed her face. “Oh, Vance darling — not tomorrow.”
“Because it’s Sunday, and Sunday’s Bunty’s day.” She made the statement with a sort of tragic simplicity, as a fact to be neither disguised nor eluded.
“Bunty’s day?” Wrath descended on him like a thunderclap. “How dare you, after this afternoon — how dare you speak to me as if you belonged to that fellow and not to me? Don’t you know we’re each other’s forever, Laura Lou? Say you do — say you’ve always known it!” he commanded her.
“Well, I WAS engaged to him,” she murmured, with her gentle obstinacy.
“If you were, you’re not now. How could your mother ever have let you go with a fellow like that anyhow? She thought poorly enough of him when I was with you.”
“Well, she didn’t fancy him at first; she thought he was a bad companion for Upton. But you don’t know how changed he is, Vance. He helped Mother when she lost her job here; and it’s him who’s paying for my year at Saint Elfrida’s. You see, he’s real cultured himself, and he wants I should be cultured too, so that by and by we can take those personally conducted parties to Europe for one of the big travel bureaus, and earn a lot of money. That’s what first reconciled Mother to him, I guess, his being so cultured. She’s always wanted I should marry somebody in the same class as Father’s.”
Vance stood listening in a tumult of anger and amazement. He had never heard her say as much at one time, and every word she spoke was pure anguish to him. He had the same sense of the world’s essential vileness as had swept over him that day by the Crampton riverside. Life tasted like cinders on his lips. At length his indignation broke out in a burst of scattered ejaculations. “He’s been paying for you at school — that lowdown waster? Laura Lou, you don’t know what you’re saying! Culture — him? In your father’s class? Oh, God! You’d make me laugh if it wasn’t so sickening. . . . I’m coming back to see your mother tomorrow whether you want me or not — understand? And if that Hayes fellow wants to come too, let him. I’ll be there to talk to him. And I’ll work day and night till I pay him back what he’s paid your mother for you. And you’ve got to leave that school tomorrow, Laura Lou . . . do you hear me?”
“No, no, Vance.” Her little pale face had grown curiously resolute, and her voice too. “You mustn’t come tomorrow — it would kill me if you did. You must give me time . . . you must do as I tell you . . . .”
“What ARE you telling me? That I’m not to see you till it suits this gentleman’s convenience? Is that it?”
Her head drooped, and there was a glitter of tears on her lashes; but in a moment she looked up, and her gaze rested full on his. “Vance, if you’ll give me your promise not to come tomorrow I’ll promise to go and see you next week in New York. I’ll slip off somehow. . . . Because now, Vance,” she cried, “whatever happens, I’ll never marry anybody but you — never, never, not even if we have to wait for each other years and years.”
Dizzy with joy, he stood looking at her as if he were looking into the sun; then he caught her to him, and their youth and passion flowed together like spring streams. “Laura Lou . . . Laura Lou . . . Only we won’t wait any years and years,” he cried; for at that moment it really seemed to him that achievement lay in his hand.
Three years of marriage had not been needed to teach Halo Tarrant that when her husband came home to lunch it was generally because something had gone wrong. She had long known that if he sought her out at that hour it was not to be charmed but to be tranquillized, as a man with a raging headache seeks a pillow and a darkened room. This need had been less frequent with him since he had bought The Hour and started in on the exciting task of reorganizing it. Usually he preferred to lunch near the office, at one of the Bohemian places affected by Frenside and his group; probably it was not indifferent to him, as he made his way among the tables, to hear: “That’s the fellow who’s bought The Hour. Lewis Tarrant; tall fair chap; yes — writes himself . . . .” Every form of external recognition, even the most casual and unimportant, was needed to fortify his self-confidence. Halo remembered how she had laughed when Frenside, long before her marriage, had once said: “Young Tarrant? Clever boy — but can’t rest unless the milkman knows it.” Nowadays she would not have tolerated such a comment, even from Frenside; and if she made it inwardly she tempered it by reminding herself that an exaggerated craving for recognition often proceeds from a morbid modesty. Morbid — that was what poor Lewis was at bottom. She must never forget, when she was inclined to criticize him, that her faculty of rebounding, of drawing fresh energy from discouragement, had been left out of his finer organization — for her own support she had to call it finer.
And now, on the very Friday when he was expecting his new discovery — the Tracys’ young cousin from the West — Tarrant had suddenly turned up for lunch. When his wife heard his latchkey she supposed he had brought young Weston back with him, and she had been pleased, and rather surprised, since it would have been more like him to want to parade his new friend among his colleagues. Possibly Weston had not turned out to be the kind to parade — though his young poet’s face and profound eyes had lingered rather picturesquely in her memory. Still, it was three years since they’d met, three years during which he’d been reporter on a smalltown newspaper. Perhaps the poetry had not survived . . . .
Her husband came in alone, late, and what she called “rumpled~looking,” though no outward disorder was ever visible in his carefully brushed person, and the signs she referred to lurked only about his mouth and eyes.
“Any lunch left? I hope there’s something hot — never mind what.” And, as he dropped into his seat, and the parlourmaid disappeared with hurried orders, he added, unfolding his napkin with a sardonic deliberation: “Well, your infant prodigy never turned up.”
Ah, how well she knew that law of his nature! Plans that didn’t come off were almost always ascribed (in all good faith) to others; and the prodigy who had failed him became hers. She smiled a little to see him so ridiculously ruffled by so small a contretemps. “Genius is proverbially unpunctual,” she suggested.
“Oh, GENIUS— ” He shrugged the epithet away. She might have that too, while she was about it. “After all, he may never do anything again. One good story doesn’t make a summer.”
“No, and mediocrity is apt to be unpunctual as genius.”
“UNPUNCTUAL? The fellow never came at all. Fixed his own hour — eleven. I put off two other important appointments and hung about the office waiting till after half-past one. I’d rather planned to take him round to the Café Jacques for lunch. A young fellow like that, from nowhere, often thaws out more easily if you feed him first, and encourage him to talk about himself. Vanity,” said Tarrant, as the maid approached with a smoking dish, “vanity’s always the first button to press. . . . EGGS? Good Lord, Halo, hasn’t that cook learnt yet that eggs are slow death to me? Oh, well, I’ll eat the bacon — What else? A chop she can grill? The inevitable chop! Oh, of course it’ll DO.” He turned to his wife with the faint smile which etched little dry lines at the corners of his mouth. “I can’t say you’ve your mother’s culinary imagination, Halo.”
“No, I haven’t,” she answered good-humouredly; but a touch of acerbity made her add: “It would be rather wasted on a digestion like yours.”
Her husband paled a little. She so seldom said anything disagreeable that he was doubly offended when she did. “I might answer that if I had better food I should digest better,” he said.
“Yes, and I might answer that if your programme weren’t so limited I could provide more amusing food for you. But I’d sooner admit at once that I never did have Mother’s knack about things to eat, and I don’t wonder my menus bore you.” It was the way their small domestic squabbles usually ended — by her half contemptuously throwing him the sop he wanted.
He said, with the note of sulkiness that often marred his expiations: “No doubt I’m less easy to provide for than a glutton like Frenside — ” then, furtively abstracting an egg from the dish before him: “It’s a damned nuisance, having all my plans upset this way. . . . And a fellow I was hoping I might fit into the office permanently . . . .”
Halo suggested that perhaps the young man’s train had been delayed or run into — that perhaps at that very moment he was lying dead under a heap of wreckage; but Tarrant grumbled: “When people break appointments it’s never because they’re dead” — a statement her own experience bore out.
“He’s sure to turn up this afternoon,” she said, as one comforts a child for a deferred treat; but the suggestion brought no solace to Tarrant. He reminded her with a certain tartness (for he liked her to remember his engagements, if he happened to have mentioned them to her) that he was taking the three o’clock train for Philadelphia, where he had an important appointment with a firm of printers who were preparing estimates for him. There was no possibility of his returning to the office that day; he might even decide to take a night train from Philadelphia to Boston, where he would probably have to spend Saturday morning, also on business connected with the review. He didn’t know when he was going to be able to see Weston — and it was all a damned nuisance, especially as the young fool had given no New York address, and they had hoped to rush a Weston story into their coming number.
Time was when Halo, as a matter of course, would have offered to interview the delinquent. Now she knew better. She had learned that in such matters she could be of use to her husband only indirectly. The very tie she had most counted on in the early days of their marriage — a community of ideas and interests — had been the first to fail her. She knew now that the myth of his intellectual isolation was necessary to Tarrant’s pride. Nothing would have annoyed him more than to have her suggest that she might take a look at young Weston’s manuscripts. “Of course you could, my dear; it would be the greatest luck for the boy if you would — only, you know, I must reserve my independence of judgment. And if you were to raise false hopes in the poor devil — let yourself be carried away, as I remember you were once by his poetry — it would be a beastly job for me to have to turn him down afterward.” She could hear him saying that, and she knew that the satisfaction of asserting his superiority by depreciating what she had praised would outweigh any advantage he might miss by doing so. “Oh, young Weston will keep,” she acquiesced indifferently, as Tarrant got up to go.
The door closed on him, and she sat there with the golden afternoon on her hands. She said to herself: “There has never been such a beautiful November — ” and her imagination danced with visions of happy people, young, vigorous, self-confident, draining with eager lips the last drops of autumn sunshine. Always in twos they were, the people she pictured. It used not to be so; she had often had her solitary dreams. But now that she was hardly ever alone she was so often lonely. Lonely! It was a word she did not admit in her vocabulary — but the sensation was there, cold and a little sickening, gnawing at the roots of her life. . . . What nonsense! Why, she was actually robbing poor Lewis of the proud prerogative of isolation! As if a girl with her resources and her spirits hadn’t always more than enough to pack the hours with! She leaned in the wide window of the library and looked over the outspread city, and thought how when she had first stood there all its myriad pulses seemed to be beating in her blood. . . . “Am I tired? What’s wrong lately?” she wondered. . . . Should she call up the garage where her Chrysler was kept and dash out for the night to Paul’s Landing, where her family had lingered on over Thanksgiving? It would be rather jolly, arriving at Eaglewood long after dark, in the sharp November air, seeing the glitter of lights come out far ahead along the Hudson, and entering, muffled in furs, the shabby drawing room where Mr. and Mrs. Spear would be sitting over the fire, placidly denouncing outrages in distant lands. . . . No, not that . . . It was sweet to sit in New York dreaming of Eaglewood; but to return there now was always a pang . . . .
She began to muse on the woods in late summer, HER woods, when their foliage was heaviest, already yellowing a little here and there, with premature splashes of scarlet and wine colour on a still-green maple, like the first white lock in a young woman’s hair . . . Of days on Thundertop, sunrise dips in the forest pool, long hours of dreaming on the rocky summit above the Hudson — how beautiful it had been that morning when she had stood there with young Weston, and they had watched light return to the world with a rending of vapours, a streaming of radiances, like the first breaking of life out of chaos! “He felt it too — I could see it happening all over again in his eyes,” she thought; those eyes had seen it with hers. Perhaps that was why, when he recited his poetry to her, in spite of his shyness and his dreadful drawl, she had fancied she heard the authentic note. . . . Had she been mistaken? She didn’t know. But surely not about the story Lewis had brought home the other day. She was sure that was the r
http://www.yourfuturechoiceaction.org.uk/ Had she been mistaken
so glad, dear, that you have it. You saw at once what this was worth, didn’t you? But we must get at the boy — a young man now, I suppose,” she mused. “How long ago it all seems! I wonder how we can run him down? Why, through the Tracys, of course! I’ll write to Mrs. Tracy now.”