Chapter 21




WAVERING.


Their home was an apartment at Twenty-ninth Street and Madison Avenue--just large enough for two with its eleven rooms, all bearing the stamp of Marian's individuality. She had a keen sense of the beautiful and she had given her thought and most of her time between the early autumn and the wedding to making an attractive home. He had not seen her work until they came together in the late afternoon of a day in the last week of February.

"You--everywhere you," he said, as they inspected room after room. "I don't see how I could add anything to that. It is beautiful--the things you have brought together, I mean, the furniture, curtains, carpets, pictures, all beautiful in themselves, but--"

He was looking at her in that way which made her feel his great love for her even more deeply than when he put his arms about her and kissed her. "It reminds me of what I so often think about you. Nature gave you beauty but you make it wonderful because you shine through it, give it the force, the expression of your individuality. Other women have noses, eyes, chins, mouths as beautiful as yours. But only you produce such effects with the materials. I don't express it very well but--you understand?"

"Yes, I understand." She was leaning against him, her head resting upon his shoulder. "And you like your home?"

"We shall be happy here. I feel it in the air. This is a temple of the three great gods--Freedom, Love and Happiness. And--we'll keep the fires on the altars blazing, won't we?"

His hours were most irregular. Sometimes he was off to work early in the morning. Again he would not rise until noon. Sometimes he did not go to the office after dinner, and again he came hurriedly to dinner, not having the time to dress, and left immediately afterward to be gone until two, three or even four in the morning. At first Marian tried to follow his irregularities; but she was soon compelled to give up. As he most often breakfasted about ten o'clock, she arranged to breakfast regularly at that hour. If he was not yet up, she waited about the house until she had seen him, listened while he talked of those "everlasting newspapers," praised his work a great deal, criticised it little and that gently. She made few and feeble struggles to interest herself in newspapers as newspapers. But he did not encourage her; other interests, domestic and social, clamoured for her time; and the idea of being directly useful to him in his work faded from her mind.

If she had loved him more sympathetically, if she had not been so super-sensitive to his passion for complete freedom, she would have resented what in another kind of man would have seemed frank neglect of her. But she thought she understood him and was deceived by his self-deceiving conviction that his work was her service and that the highest proof of his devotion to her was devotion to "our" career. Thus there was no bitterness or reproach of him, rarely much intensity, in her regret that they were together so little.

"Good morning, stranger!" she said, as he came into the dining room one day in early June.

He kissed her hand and then the "topknot" as he called the point into which her hair was gathered at the crown of her head. "It has been four days since I saw you," he said. And he sat opposite her looking at her with an expression of sadness which she had not seen since the first days of their acquaintance.

"I have missed you--you know," she was trying to look cheerful, "but I understand--"

"Yes," he interrupted. "You understand what I intend, understand that I mean my life to be for us. But sometimes--this morning--I think I am mistaken. It seems to me that I am letting this--" he threw his hand contemptuously toward the heap of morning newspapers beside him, "this trash comes between us. You are my real career, not these, and under the pretense of working for us I am spending my whole life, my one life, my one chance to help to make us happy, upon these." And he pushed the bundle of papers off the table.

"Something has depressed you." She was leaning her elbow upon the table and her chin upon her hand and was looking at him wistfully. "I wouldn't have you any different. You must follow the law of your nature. You must work at your ideal of being useful and influential in the world. You would not be satisfied to take my hand and trudge off with me through Arcadia to pick flowers and weave them into crowns for me. Nor should I," she laughed, "or I try to think I shouldn't."

"Let us go abroad for two months," he said. "I am tired, so tired. I am so weary of all these others, men and things."

"Can you spare the time?"

"I"--he corrected himself--"we have earned a vacation. It will be for me the first real vacation since I left Yale--thirteen years ago. I am growing narrow and stale. Let us get away and forget. Shall we?"

"The sooner the better--if this is not a passing mood. What has depressed you?" she persisted.

"What seems to be a piece of very good luck." He laughed almost sneeringly. "They have given me a share in the paper, twenty thousand in stock--which means a fixed income of five thousand a year so long as the paper pays what it does now--twenty-five per cent. And they offer me twenty thousand more at par to be paid for within two years. We are in a fair way to be rich."

"They don't want to lose you, evidently," she said. "But why does this make you sad? We are independent now--absolutely independent, both of us."

"Yes--we are rich. Together we have more than thirty-five thousand a year. But it is not what I wanted. I wanted to be free. Can a man be free who is rich, and rich in the way we are? Will my mind be open? Shall I dare to act and speak the truth? Or will our property, our environment, speak for me?"

"I can't imagine you a slave to mere dollars."

"Can't you? Well, I am afraid--I'm really afraid. I have always said that if I wished to--enslave a people I would make them prosperous, would give them property, make them dependent upon their dollars. Then the fear of losing their dollars, their investments, would make them endure any oppression. Freedom's battles were never fought by men with full stomachs and full purses."

"But rich men have given up everything for freedom--Washington was a rich man."

"Ah, but how many Washingtons has the world produced? I see the time coming when I shall have to choose. I see it and--I dread it."

She rose and stood behind him leaning over with her arms about his neck and her check against his.

"You are brave. You are strong," she whispered. "You will meet that crisis if it comes and I have no fear, Mr. Valiant-for-Truth, as to how the battle will go."

He was glad that he did not have to face her eyes just then. "We will go abroad next Wednesday week," he whispered, "and we'll be happy in France--in Switzerland--in Holland--I want to see the park at the Hague again; and the tall trees with their straight big trunks green with moss; and the boughs meeting over the canals and making the clear water so black; and the snow-white swans sailing statelily about."

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

With the Atlantic between him and his work, he was able to suspend the habit of so many years. You would have fancied them just married, at whatever stage of their wanderings you might have met them. They were always laughing and talking--an endless flow of high spirits, absorption each in the other. They rose when they pleased, went to bed when it suited them. They had a manservant and a maid with them to relieve them of all the details. They travelled only in the afternoons, and then not far. If they missed one train, they cheerfully waited for another.

"I think we are achieving my ideal of vacation," he said.

"What is that--perfect idleness? We certainly are idle. I shouldn't have believed you could be so idle."

"Perfect idleness--yes. But more than that. I aimed far higher. My ideal was perfect irresponsibility. We have become like the wind that bloweth where it listeth."

And again, she said: "Let me see, what day is this?"

"I think it is Thursday or Friday," he replied. "But it may be Sunday. I can assure you that it is afternoon, late afternoon, and I think we ought to dress for dinner soon. After dinner, if you still care to know, and will remind me, I'll try to find out the day. But I'm sure we shall have forgotten before to-morrow."

Howard got an extension of his leave of absence and they roamed about England in August, reaching New York on the first day of September. Marian went on to Mrs. Carnarvon at Newport and Howard took rooms at the Waldorf. She stayed away a full week, then came to town, opened their apartment, and surprised him with a formal invitation to dinner.

He came like a guest and they went through all the formalities of meeting for the first time, of increasing intimacy--condensing a complete courtship into one evening.

"I thought you had had enough of me for the time," he said, as they sat in the wide window-seat, he tracing with his forefinger the line of the straps over her bare shoulders.

"And I thought that I would give you a chance to forget how nice I am and so give you the pleasure of learning all over again. But it was so lonely and miserable up there. 'Who can come after the king?'"

"Sometimes I think I ought to stir about more--meet the men who lead in the city. But it seems such a waste of time when I can come and call upon you."

"But might it not be better in the long run if you did meet these men? Mightn't it make your getting on quicker and easier?"

"Perhaps--if I were a gregarious animal, but I'm not. I'm shy and solitary and hard to get acquainted with. And it takes time to make friends. Besides, in making friends you also make enemies, and one enemy can do you more harm than all your friends can do you good. Then too, friends take up too much time. We have so little time and--we can spend it to so much better advantage--can't we?"

Marian pushed herself closer against him and presently said dreamily: "So much happiness, such utter happiness which no one, nothing can take away. I wonder when and how the first storm will come?"

"It needn't come at all--not for a long, long time. And when it does--we can weather it, don't you think?"

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

During the next two months they were together more than they had been in the spring. He imposed day office hours upon himself and did no work in the evenings except the correcting of editorial proofs which he had sent to him at the house, at the theatre, or at whatever restaurant they were dining. And at midnight he called up the office on the telephone and talked with Mr. King or Mr. Vroom about the news in hand and the programme for presenting it in the next morning's paper.

But as "people"--meaning Marian's friends--returned to town, they fell into the former routine. It was in part his doing, in part hers. He was now thirty-seven years old and his mind, always of a serious cast, was intolerant of trifles and triflers.

Marian's range of interests was shallower but much wider than his. Her beauty, her cleverness, her tact caused her to be sought. She invited many to their house and accepted more and more invitations. At first she never went without him. But he was sometimes compelled by his work to send her alone. He rarely went except for her sake--because he thought going about amused her. And he was glad and relieved when she began to go without him, instead of spending the evenings in solitude.

"There is no reason why you should punish yourself and punish me because you had the ill luck to marry a working-man," he said. "It cannot be agreeable to sit here all by yourself evening after evening. And it depresses me when I am at the office at night to think of you as lonely. It makes me happier in my work--my pleasure, you know--to think of you enjoying yourself."

"But aren't you afraid that some one will steal me?" she asked, laughingly.

"Not I." He was smiling proudly at her. "If you could be stolen, if you could be happier anywhere than with me, you have only to let me into the plot."

"There are some women who would not like that."

"And there are men who wouldn't feel as I do. But you and I, we belong to a class all by ourselves, don't we?"

Apparently they were as devoted each to the other as ever. But each now sought a separate happiness--he perforce in his work, she perforce in the only way left open to her. When they were together, which meant several hours every day and usually one whole day in the week, they were at once seemingly absorbed each in the other with all the rest as background. But none the less, they were leading separate lives, with separate interests, separate tastes, separate modes of thinking. The "bourgeois" life which they had planned--both standing behind the counter and both adding up the results of the day's business after they had put up the shutters, two as one in all the interests of life--became a dead and forgotten dream.




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