Friday, November 9, 2007


THE PRICE SHE PAID by David Graham Phillips

David Graham Phillips
HENRY GOWER was dead at sixty-one--the end of
a lifelong fraud which never had been suspected, and
never would be. With the world, with his acquaintances
and neighbors, with his wife and son and
daughter, he passed as a generous, warm-hearted,
good-natured man, ready at all times to do anything
to help anybody, incapable of envy or hatred or
meanness. In fact, not once in all his days had he ever
thought or done a single thing except for his own
comfort. Like all intensely selfish people who are wise,
he was cheerful and amiable, because that was the
way to be healthy and happy and to have those around
one agreeable and in the mood to do what one wished
them to do. He told people, not the truth, not the
unpleasant thing that might help them, but what they
wished to hear. His family lived in luxurious comfort
only because he himself was fond of luxurious comfort.
His wife and his daughter dressed fashionably and
went about and entertained in the fashionable,
expensive way only because that was the sort of life
that gratified his vanity. He lived to get what he
wanted; he got it every day and every hour of a life
into which no rain ever fell; he died, honored, respected,
beloved, and lamented.
The clever trick he had played upon his fellow
beings came very near to discovery a few days after
his death. His widow and her son and daughter-in-law
and daughter were in the living-room of the charming
house at Hanging Rock, near New York, alternating
between sorrowings over the dead man and plannings
for the future. Said the widow:
``If Henry had only thought what would become of
us if he were taken away!''
``If he had saved even a small part of what he made
every year from the time he was twenty-six--for he
always made a big income,'' said his son, Frank.
``But he was so generous, so soft-hearted!''
exclaimed the widow. ``He could deny us nothing.''
``He couldn't bear seeing us with the slightest wish
ungratified,'' said Frank.
``He was the best father that ever lived!'' cried the
daughter, Mildred.
And Mrs. Gower the elder and Mrs. Gower the
younger wept; and Mildred turned away to hide the
emotion distorting her face; and Frank stared gloomily
at the carpet and sighed. The hideous secret of the
life of duplicity was safe, safe forever.
In fact, Henry Gower had often thought of the fate
of his family if he should die. In the first year of
his married life, at a time when passion for a beautiful
bride was almost sweeping him into generous thought,
he had listened for upward of an hour to the eloquence
of a life insurance agent. Then the agent, misled by
Gower's effusively generous and unselfish expressions,
had taken a false tack. He had descanted upon the
supreme satisfaction that would be felt by a dying man
as he reflected how his young widow would be left in
affluence. He made a vivid picture; Gower saw--
saw his bride happier after his death than she had been
during his life, and attracting a swarm of admirers
by her beauty, well set off in becoming black, and by
her independent income. The generous impulse then
and there shriveled to its weak and shallow roots. With
tears in his kind, clear eyes he thanked the agent and
``You have convinced me. You need say no more.
I'll send for you in a few days.''
The agent never got into his presence again.
Gower lived up to his income, secure in the knowledge
that his ability as a lawyer made him certain of plenty
of money as long as he should live. But it would show
an utter lack of comprehension of his peculiar species
of character to imagine that he let himself into the
secret of his own icy-heartedness by ceasing to think
of the problem of his wife and two children without
him to take care of them. On the contrary, he thought
of it every day, and planned what he would do about
it--to-morrow. And for his delay he had excellent
convincing excuses. Did he not take care of his
naturally robust health? Would he not certainly outlive
his wife, who was always doctoring more or less?
Frank would be able to take care of himself; anyhow,
it was not well to bring a boy up to expectations,
because every man should be self-supporting and selfreliant.
As for Mildred, why, with her beauty and her
cleverness she could not but make a brilliant marriage.
Really, there was for him no problem of an orphaned
family's future; there was no reason why he should deny
himself any comfort or luxury, or his vanity any of
the titillations that come from social display.
That one of his calculations which was the most vital
and seemed the surest proved to be worthless. It is
not the weaklings who die, after infancy and youth,
but the strong, healthy men and women. The weaklings
have to look out for themselves, receive ample
warning in the disastrous obvious effects of the
slightest imprudence. The robust, even the wariest of them,
even the Henry Gowers, overestimate and overtax their
strength. Gower's downfall was champagne. He
could not resist a bottle of it for dinner every night.
As so often happens, the collapse of the kidneys came
without any warning that a man of powerful constitution
would deem worthy of notice. By the time the
doctor began to suspect the gravity of his trouble he
was too far gone.
Frank, candidly greedy and selfish--``Such a
contrast to his father!'' everyone said--was married to
the prettiest girl in Hanging Rock and had a
satisfactory law practice in New York. His income was
about fifteen thousand a year. But his wife had tastes
as extravagant as his own; and Hanging Rock is one
of those suburbs of New York where gather well-to-do
middle-class people to live luxuriously and to delude
each other and themselves with the notion that they are
fashionable, rich New Yorkers who prefer to live in
the country ``like the English.'' Thus, Henry
Gower's widow and daughter could count on little help
from Frank--and they knew it.
``You and Milly will have to move to some less
expensive place than Hanging Rock,'' said Frank--it
was the living-room conference a few days after the
Mildred flushed and her eyes flashed. She opened
her lips to speak--closed them again with the angry
retort unuttered. After all, Frank was her mother's
and her sole dependence. They could hope for little
from him, but nothing must be said that would give
him and his mean, selfish wife a chance to break with
them and refuse to do anything whatever.
``And Mildred must get married,'' said Natalie.
In Hanging Rock most of the girls and many of the
boys had given names taken from Burke's Peerage, the
Almanac de Gotha, and fashionable novels.
Again Mildred flushed; but her eyes did not flash,
neither did she open her lips to speak. The little
remark of her sister-in-law, apparently so harmless and
sensible, was in fact a poisoned arrow. For Mildred
was twenty-three, had been ``out'' five years, and was
not even in the way to become engaged. She and everyone
had assumed from her lovely babyhood that she
would marry splendidly, would marry wealth and social
position. How could it be otherwise? Had she not
beauty? Had she not family and position? Had she
not style and cleverness? Yet--five years out and
not a ``serious'' proposal. An impudent poor fellow
with no prospects had asked her. An impudent rich
man from fashionable New York had hung after her
--and had presently abandoned whatever dark projects
he may have been concealing and had married in
his own set, ``as they always do, the miserable snobs,''
raved Mrs. Gower, who had been building high upon
those lavish outpourings of candy, flowers, and automobile
rides. Mildred, however, had accepted the defection
more philosophically. She had had enough vanity
to like the attentions of the rich and fashionable
New Yorker, enough good sense to suspect, perhaps
not definitely, what those attentions meant, but
certainly what they did not mean. Also, in the back of
her head had been an intention to refuse Stanley Baird,
if by chance he should ask her. Was there any
substance to this intention, sprung from her disliking
the conceited, self-assured snob as much as she liked
his wealth and station? Perhaps not. Who can
say? At any rate, may we not claim credit for our
good intentions--so long as, even through lack of
opportunity, we have not stultified them?
With every natural advantage apparently, Mildred's
failure to catch a husband seemed to be somehow her
own fault. Other girls, less endowed than she, were
marrying, were marrying fairly well. Why, then, was
Mildred lagging in the market?
There may have been other reasons, reasons of
accident--for, in the higher class matrimonial market,
few are called and fewer chosen. There was one reason
not accidental; Hanging Rock was no place for a girl
so superior as was Mildred Gower to find a fitting
husband. As has been hinted, Hanging Rock was one
of those upper-middle-class colonies where splurge and
social ambition dominate the community life. In such
colonies the young men are of two classes--those beneath
such a girl as Mildred, and those who had the
looks, the manners, the intelligence, and the prospects
to justify them in looking higher socially--in looking
among the very rich and really fashionable. In the
Hanging Rock sort of community, having all the
snobbishness of Fifth Avenue, Back Bay, and Rittenhouse
Square, with the added torment of the snobbishness
being perpetually ungratified--in such communities,
beneath a surface reeking culture and idealistic folderol,
there is a coarse and brutal materialism, a passion for
money, for luxury, for display, that equals aristocratic
societies at their worst. No one can live for a winter,
much less grow up, in such a place without becoming
saturated with sycophantry. Thus, only by some
impossible combination of chances could there have been
at Hanging Rock a young man who would have
appreciated Mildred and have had the courage of
his appreciation. This combination did not happen.
In Mildred's generation and set there were only the
two classes of men noted above. The men of the one
of them which could not have attracted her accepted
their fate of mating with second-choice females to whom
they were themselves second choice. The men of the
other class rarely appeared at Hanging Rock functions,
hung about the rich people in New York, Newport,
and on Long Island, and would as soon have thought
of taking a Hanging Rock society girl to wife as of
exchanging hundred-dollar bills for twenty-five-cent
pieces. Having attractions acceptable in the best
markets, they took them there. Hanging Rock
denounced them as snobs, for Hanging Rock was
virtuously eloquent on the subject of snobbishness--we
human creatures being never so effective as when
assailing in others the vice or weakness we know from
lifelong, intimate, internal association with it. But
secretly the successfully ambitious spurners of that
suburban society were approved, were envied. And
Hanging Rock was most gracious to them whenever
it got the chance.
In her five years of social life Mildred had gone
only with the various classes of fashionable people,
had therefore known only the men who are full of the
poison of snobbishness. She had been born and bred
in an environment as impregnated with that poison
as the air of a kitchen-garden with onions. She knew
nothing else. The secret intention to refuse Stanley
Baird, should he propose, was therefore the more
astonishing--and the more significant. From time to
time in any given environment you will find some
isolated person, some personality, with a trait wholly
foreign and out of place there. Now it is a soft voice
and courteous manners in a slum; again it is a longing
for a life of freedom and equality in a member of a
royal family that has known nothing but sordid slavery
for centuries. Or, in the petty conventionality of a
prosperous middle- or upper-class community you
come upon one who dreams--perhaps vaguely but
still longingly--of an existence where love and ideas
shall elevate and glorify life. In spite of her training,
in spite of the teaching and example of all about her
from the moment of her opening her eyes upon the
world, Mildred Gower at twenty-three still retained
something of these dream flowers sown in the soil of
her naturally good mind by some book or play or perhaps
by some casually read and soon forgotten article
in magazine or newspaper. We have the habit of
thinking only weeds produce seeds that penetrate and
prosper everywhere and anywhere. The truth is that
fine plants of all kinds, vegetable, fruit, and flower of
rarest color and perfume, have this same hardiness and
fecundity. Pull away at the weeds in your garden
for a while, and see if this is not so. Though you may
plant nothing, you will be amazed at the results if you
but clear a little space of its weeds--which you have
been planting and cultivating.
Mildred--woman fashion--regarded it as a
reproach upon her that she had not yet succeeded in
making the marriage everyone, including herself, predicted
for her and expected of her. On the contrary, it was
the most savage indictment possible of the marriageable
and marrying men who had met her--of their
stupidity, of their short-sighted and mean-souled
calculation, of their lack of courage--the courage to
take what they, as men of flesh and blood wanted,
instead of what their snobbishness ordered. And if
Stanley Baird, the nearest to a flesh-and-blood man of
any who had known her, had not been so profoundly
afraid of his fashionable mother and of his sister, the
Countess of Waring-- But he was profoundly afraid
of them; so, it is idle to speculate about him.
What did men see when they looked at Mildred
Gower? Usually, when men look at a woman, they
have a hazy, either pleasant or unpleasant, sense of
something feminine. That, and nothing more. Afterward,
through some whim or some thrust from chance
they may see in her, or fancy they see in her, the thing
feminine that their souls--it is always ``soul''--most
yearns after. But just at first glance, so colorless or
conventionally colored is the usual human being, the
average woman--indeed every woman but she who is
exceptional--creates upon man the mere impression of
pleasant or unpleasant petticoats. In the exceptional
woman something obtrudes. She has astonishing hair,
or extraordinary eyes, or a mouth that seems to draw a
man like a magnet; or it is the allure of a peculiar
smile or of a figure whose sinuosities as she moves
seem to cause a corresponding wave-disturbance in
masculine nerves. Further, the possession of one of
these signal charms usually causes all her charms to
have more than ordinary potency. The sight of the
man is so bewitched by the one potent charm that he
sees the whole woman under a spell.
Mildred Gower, of the medium height and of a
slender and well-formed figure, had a face of the kind
that is called lovely; and her smile, sweet, dreamy,
revealing white and even teeth, gave her loveliness
delicate animation. She had an abundance of hair, neither
light nor dark; she had a fine clear skin. Her eyes,
gray and rather serious and well set under long straight
brows, gave her a look of honesty and intelligence.
But the charm that won men, her charm of charms,
was her mouth--mobile, slightly pouted, not too narrow,
of a wonderful, vividly healthy and vital red. She
had beauty, she had intelligence. But it was impossible
for a man to think of either, once his glance had
been caught by those expressive, inviting lips of hers,
so young, so fresh, with their ever-changing, everfascinating
line expressing in a thousand ways the
passion and poetry of the kiss.
Of all the men who had admired her and had edged
away because they feared she would bewitch them into
forgetting what the world calls ``good common sense''
--of all those men only one had suspected the real
reason for her physical power over men. All but Stanley
Baird had thought themselves attracted because she
was so pretty or so stylish or so clever and amusing to
talk with. Baird had lived intelligently enough to
learn that feminine charm is never general, is always
specific. He knew it was Mildred Gower's lips that
haunted, that frightened ambitious men away, that
sent men who knew they hadn't a ghost of a chance
with her discontentedly back to the second-choice
women who alone were available for them. Fortunately
for Mildred, Stanley Baird, too wise to flatter
a woman discriminatingly, did not tell her the secret
of her fascination. If he had told her, she would no
doubt have tried to train and to use it--and so would
inevitably have lost it.
To go on with that important conference in the
sitting-room in the handsome, roomy house of the Gowers
at Hanging Rock, Frank Gower eagerly seized upon his
wife's subtly nasty remark. ``I don't see why in
thunder you haven't married, Milly,'' said he. ``You've
had every chance, these last four or five years.''
``And it'll be harder now,'' moaned her mother.
``For it looks as though we were going to be wretchedly
poor. And poverty is so repulsive.''
``Do you think,'' said Mildred, ``that giving me the
idea that I must marry right away will make it easier
for me to marry? Everyone who knows us knows our
circumstances.'' She looked significantly at Frank's
wife, who had been wailing through Hanging Rock
the woeful plight of her dead father-in-law's family.
The young Mrs. Gower blushed and glanced away.
``And,'' Mildred went on, ``everyone is saying that I
must marry at once--that there's nothing else for me
to do.'' She smiled bitterly. ``When I go into the
street again I shall see nothing but flying men. And
no man would come to call unless he brought a chaperon
and a witness with him.''
``How can you be so frivolous?'' reproached her
Mildred was used to being misunderstood by her
mother, who had long since been made hopelessly dull
by the suffocating life she led and by pain from her
feet, which never left her at ease for a moment except
when she had them soaking in cold water. Mrs. Gower
had been born with ordinary feet, neither ugly nor
pretty and entirely fit for the uses for which nature
intended feet. She had spoiled them by wearing shoes
to make them look smaller and slimmer than they were.
In steady weather she was plaintive; in changeable
weather she varied between irritable and violent.
Said Mildred to her brother: ``How much--JUST how much
is there?''
``I can't say exactly,'' replied her brother, who had
not yet solved to his satisfaction the moral problem of
how much of the estate he ought to allow his mother
and sister and how much he ought to claim for himself
--in such a way that the claim could not be disputed.
Mildred looked fixedly at him. He showed his uneasiness
not by glancing away, but by the appearance of
a certain hard defiance in his eyes. Said she:
``What is the very most we can hope for?''
A silence. Her mother broke it. ``Mildred, how
CAN you talk of those things--already?''
``I don't know,'' replied Mildred. ``Perhaps
because it's got to be done.''
This seemed to them all--and to herself--a lame
excuse for such apparent hardness of heart. Her
father had always been SENDER-HEARTED--HAD NEVER
``YOU'RE SURE, Frank, there's NO insurance?''
``Father always said that you disliked the idea,''
replied her son; ``that you thought insurance looked
like your calculating on his death.''
Under her husband's adroit prompting Mrs. Gower
had discovered such a view of insurance in her brain.
She now recalled expressing it--and regretted. But
she was silenced. She tried to take her mind of the subject
of money. But, like Mildred, she could not. The
thought of imminent poverty was nagging at them like
toothache. ``There'll be enough for a year or so?''
she said, timidly interrogative.
``I hope so,'' said Frank.
Mildred was eying him fixedly again. Said she:
``Have you found anything at all?''
``He had about eight thousand dollars in bank,''
said Frank. ``But most of it will go for the pressing
``But how did HE expect to live?'' urged Mildred.
``Yes, there must have been SOMETHING,'' said her
``Of course, there's his share of the unsettled and
unfinished business of the firm,'' admitted Frank.
``How much will that be?'' persisted Mildred.
``I can't tell, offhand,'' said Frank, with virtuous
reproach. ``My mind's been on--other things.''
Henry Gower's widow was not without her share of
instinctive shrewdness. Neither had she, unobservant
though she was, been within sight of her son's
character for twenty-eight years without having
unconfessed, unformed misgivings concerning it.
``You mustn't bother about these things now, Frank
dear,'' said she. ``I'll get my brother to look into
``That won't be necessary,'' hastily said Frank. ``I
don't want any rival lawyer peeping into our firm's affairs.''
``My brother Wharton is the soul of honor,'' said
Mrs. Gower, the elder, with dignity. ``You are too
young to take all the responsibility of settling the
estate. Yes, I'll send for Wharton to-morrow.''
``It'll look as though you didn't trust me,'' said
Frank sourly.
``We mustn't do anything to start the gossips in
this town,'' said his wife, assisting.
``Then send for him yourself, Frank,'' said Mildred,
``and give him charge of the whole matter.''
Frank eyed her furiously. ``How ashamed father
would be!'' exclaimed he.
But this solemn invoking of the dead man's spirit
was uneffectual. The specter of poverty was too
insistent, too terrible. Said the widow:
``I'm sure, in the circumstances, my dear dead
husband would want me to get help from someone older
and more experienced.''
And Frank, guilty of conscience and an expert in
the ways of conventional and highly moral rascality,
ceased to resist. His wife, scenting danger to their
getting the share that ``rightfully belongs to the son,
especially when he has been the brains of the firm for
several years,'' made angry and indiscreet battle for no
outside interference. The longer she talked the firmer
the widow and the daughter became, not only because
she clarified suspicions that had been too hazy to
take form, but also because they disliked her intensely.
The following day Wharton Conover became unofficial
administrator. He had no difficulty in baffling
Frank Gower's half-hearted and clumsy efforts to
hide two large fees due the dead man's estate. He
discovered clear assets amounting in all to sixtythree
thousand dollars, most of it available within a few
``As you have the good-will of the firm and as your
mother and sister have only what can be realized in
cash,'' said he to Frank, ``no doubt you won't insist
on your third.''
``I've got to consider my wife,'' said Frank. ``I
can't do as I'd like.''
``You are going to insist on your third?'' said
Conover, with an accent that made Frank quiver.
``I can't do otherwise,'' said he in a dogged, shamed
``Um,'' said Conover. ``Then, on behalf of my
sister and her daughter I'll have to insist on a more
detailed accounting than you have been willing to give
--and on the production of that small book bound in
red leather which disappeared from my brother-in-law's
desk the afternoon of his death.''
A wave of rage and fear surged up within Frank
Gower and crashed against the seat of his life. For
days thereafter he was from time to time seized with
violent spasms of trembling; years afterward he was
attributing premature weaknesses of old age to the
effects of that moment of horror. His uncle's words
came as a sudden, high shot climax to weeks of
exasperating peeping and prying and questioning, of
sneer and insinuation. Conover had been only moderately
successful at the law, had lost clients to Frank's
father, had been beaten when they were on opposite
sides. He hated the father with the secret, hypocritical
hatred of the highly moral and religious man. He despised
the son. It is not often that a Christian gentleman
has such an opportunity to combine justice and
revenge, to feed to bursting an ancient grudge, the
while conscious that he is but doing his duty.
Said Frank, when he was able to speak: ``You have
been listening to the lies of some treacherous clerk
``Don't destroy that little book,'' proceeded Conover
tranquilly. ``We can prove that you took it.''
Young Gower rose. ``I must decline to have anything
further to say to you, sir,'' said he. ``You will
leave this office, and you will not be admitted here again
unless you come with proper papers as administrator.''
Conover smiled with cold satisfaction and departed.
There followed a series of quarrels--between Frank
and his sister, between Frank and his mother, between
Frank's wife and his mother, between Mildred and her
mother, between the mother and Conover. Mrs. Gower
was suspicious of her son; but she knew her brother
for a pinchpenny, exacting the last drop of what he
regarded as his own. And she discovered that, if she
authorized him to act as administrator for her, he could
--and beyond question would--take a large share of
the estate. The upshot was that Frank paid over to
his mother and sister forty-seven thousand dollars, and
his mother and her brother stopped speaking to each
``I see that you have turned over all your money to
mother,'' said Frank to Mildred a few days after the
``Of course,'' said Mildred. She was in a mood of
high scorn for sordidness--a mood induced by the
spectacle of the shameful manners of Conover, Frank,
and his wife.
``Do you think that's wise?'' suggested Frank.
``I think it's decent,'' said Mildred.
``Well, I hope you'll not live to regret it,'' said her
Neither Mrs. Gower nor her daughter had ever had
any experience in the care of money. To both fortyseven
thousand dollars seemed a fortune--forty-seven
thousand dollars in cash in the bank, ready to issue
forth and do their bidding at the mere writing of a
few figures and a signature on a piece of paper. In
a sense they knew that for many years the family's
annual expenses had ranged between forty and fifty
thousand, but in the sense of actuality they knew
nothing about it--a state of affairs common enough
in families where the man is in absolute control and
spends all he makes. Money always had been forthcomcoming;{sic}
therefore money always would be forthcoming.
The mourning and the loss of the person who had
filled and employed their lives caused the widow and
the daughter to live very quietly during the succeeding
year. They spent only half of their capital. For
reasons of selfish and far-sighted prudence which need
no detailing Frank moved away to New York within
six months of his father's death and reduced communication
between himself and wife and his mother and
sister to a frigid and rapidly congealing minimum.
He calculated that by the time their capital was consumed
they would have left no feeling of claim upon
him or he feeling of duty toward them.
It was not until eighteen months after her father's
death, when the total capital was sunk to less than
fifteen thousand dollars, that Mildred awakened to the
truth of their plight. A few months at most, and
they would have to give up that beautiful house which
had been her home all her life. She tried to grasp
the meaning of the facts as her intelligence presented
them to her, but she could not. She had no practical
training whatever. She had been brought up as a rich
man's child, to be married to a rich man, and never to
know anything of the material details of life beyond
what was necessary in managing servants after the
indifferent fashion of the usual American woman of the
comfortable classes. She had always had a maid; she
could not even dress herself properly without the maid's
assistance. Life without a maid was inconceivable;
life without servants was impossible.
She wandered through the house, through the
grounds. She said to herself again and again: ``We
have got to give up all this, and be miserably poor--
with not a servant, with less than the tenement people
have.'' But the words conveyed no meaning to her.
She said to herself again and again: ``I must rouse
myself. I must do something. I must--must--
must!'' But she did not rouse, because there was nothing
to rouse. So far as practical life was concerned
she was as devoid of ideas as a new-born baby.
There was but the one hope--marriage, a rich
marriage. It is the habit of men who can take care of
themselves and of women who are securely well taken
care of to scorn the woman or the helpless-bred man
who marries for money or even entertains that idea.
How little imagination these scorners have! To marry
for a mere living, hardly better than one could make
for oneself, assuredly does show a pitiful lack of selfreliance,
a melancholy lack of self-respect. But for
men or women all their lives used to luxury and with
no ability whatever at earning money--for such persons
to marry money in order to save themselves from
the misery and shame that poverty means to them is the
most natural, the most human action conceivable. The
man or the woman who says he or she would not do it,
either is a hypocrite or is talking without thinking.
You may in honesty criticize and condemn a social system
that suffers men and women to be so crudely and
criminally miseducated by being given luxury they did
not earn. But to condemn the victims of that system
for acting as its logic compels is sheer folly or sheer
Would Mildred Gower have married for money? As
the weeks fled, as the bank account dwindled, she would
have grasped eagerly at any rich man who might have
offered himself--no matter how repellent he might
have been. She did not want a bare living; she did not
want what passes with the mass of middle-class people
for comfort. She wanted what she had--the beautiful
and spacious house, the costly and fashionable clothing,
the servants, the carriages and motors, the thousand
and one comforts, luxuries, and vanities to which she
had always been used. In the brain of a young woman
of poor or only comfortably off family the thoughts
that seethed in Mildred Gower's brain would have been
so many indications of depravity. In Mildred Gower's
brain they were the natural, the inevitable, thoughts.
They indicated everything as to her training, nothing
as to her character. So, when she, thinking only of a
rich marriage with no matter whom, and contrasting
herself with the fine women portrayed in the novels and
plays, condemned herself as shameless and degraded,
she did herself grave injustice.
But no rich man, whether attractive or repulsive,
offered. Indeed, no man of any kind offered. Instead,
it was her mother who married.
A widower named James Presbury, elderly, with an
income of five to six thousand a year from inherited
wealth, stumbled into Hanging Rock to live, was
impressed by the style the widow Gower maintained,
believed the rumor that her husband had left her better
off than was generally thought, proposed, and was
accepted. And two years and a month after Henry
Gower's death his widow became Mrs. James Presbury
--and ceased to veil from her new husband the truth
as to her affairs.
Mildred had thought that, than the family quarrels
incident to settling her father's estate, human nature
could no lower descend. She was now to be disillusioned.
When a young man or a young woman blunders
into a poor marriage in trying to make a rich
one, he or she is usually withheld from immediate and
frank expression by the timidity of youth. Not so
the elderly man or woman. As we grow older, no matter
how timidly conventional we are by nature, we
become, through selfishness or through indifference to the
opinion of others or through impatience of petty
restraint, more and more outspoken. Old Presbury
discovered how he had tricked himself four days after the
wedding. He and his bride were at the Waldorf in
New York, a-honeymooning.
The bride had never professed to be rich. She had
simply continued in her lifelong way, had simply acted
rich. She well knew the gaudy delusions her admirer
was entertaining, and she saw to it that nothing was
said or done to disturb him. She inquired into his affairs,
made sure of the substantiality of the comparatively
small income he possessed, decided to accept him
as her best available chance to escape becoming a
charge upon her anything but eager and generous
relatives. She awaited the explosion with serenity.
She cared not a flip for Presbury, who was a soft and
silly old fool, full of antiquated compliments and so
drearily the inferior of Henry Gower, physically and
mentally, that even she could appreciate the difference,
the descent. She rather enjoyed the prospect of a
combat with him, of the end of dissimulating her
contempt. She had thought out and had put in
arsenal ready for use a variety of sneers, jeers, and
insults that suggested themselves to her as she
listened and simpered and responded while he was
Had the opportunity offered earlier than the fourth
day she would have seized it, but not until that fourth
morning was she in just the right mood. She had
eaten too much dinner the night before, and had
followed it after two hours in a stuffy theater with an
indigestible supper. He liked the bedroom windows
open at night; she liked them closed. After she fell
into a heavy sleep, he slipped out of bed and opened
the windows wide--to teach her by the night's happy
experience that she was entirely mistaken as to the
harmfulness of fresh winter air. The result was that
she awakened with a frightful cold and a splitting
headache. And as the weather was about to change
she had shooting pains like toothache through her
toes the instant she thrust them into her shoes.
The elderly groom, believing he had a rich bride,
was all solicitude and infuriating attention. She
waited until he had wrought her to the proper pitch of
fury. Then she said--in reply to some remark of
``Yes, I shall rely upon you entirely. I want you
to take absolute charge of my affairs.''
The tears sprang to his eyes. His weak old mouth,
rapidly falling to pieces, twisted and twitched with
emotion. ``I'll try to deserve your confidence,
darling,'' said he. ``I've had large business experience--
in the way of investing carefully, I mean. I don't
think your affairs will suffer in my hands.''
``Oh, I'm sure they'll not trouble you,'' said she in
a sweet, sure tone as the pains shot through her feet
and her head. ``You'll hardly notice my little mite in
your property.'' She pretended to reflect. ``Let me
see--there's seven thousand left, but of course half
of that is Millie's.''
``It must be very well invested,'' said he. ``Those
seven thousand shares must be of the very best.''
``Shares?'' said she, with a gentle little laugh. ``I
mean dollars.''
Presbury was about to lift a cup of cafe au lait to
his lips. Instead, he turned it over into the platter of
eggs and bacon.
``We--Mildred and I,'' pursued his bride, ``were
left with only forty-odd thousand between us. Of
course, we had to live. So, naturally, there's very
little left.''
Presbury was shaking so violently that his head and
arms waggled like a jumping-jack's. He wrapped his
elegant white fingers about the arms of his chair to
steady himself. In a suffocated voice he said: ``Do
you mean to say that you have only seven thousand
dollars in the world?''
``Only half that,'' corrected she. ``Oh, dear, how
my head aches! Less than half that, for there are some
She was impatient for the explosion; the agony of
her feet and head needed outlet and relief. But he
disappointed her. That was one of the situations in which
one appeals in vain to the resources of language. He
shrank and sank back in his chair, his jaw dropped,
and he vented a strange, imbecile cackling laugh. It
was not an expression of philosophic mirth, of sense
of the grotesqueness of an anti-climax. It was not an
expression of any emotion whatever. It was simply a
signal from a mind temporarily dethroned.
``What are you laughing at?'' she said sharply.
His answer was a repetition of the idiotic sound.
``What's the matter with you?'' demanded she.
``Please close your mouth.''
It was a timely piece of advice; for his upper and
false teeth had become partially dislodged and
threatened to drop upon the shirt-bosom gayly showing
between the lapels of his dark-blue silk house-coat. He
slowly closed his mouth, moving his teeth back into
place with his tongue--a gesture that made her face
twitch with rage and disgust.
``Seven thousand dollars,'' he mumbled dazedly.
``I said less than half that,'' retorted she sharply.
``And I--thought you were--rich.''
A peculiar rolling of the eyes and twisting of the
lips gave her the idea that he was about to vent that
repulsive sound again. ``Don't you laugh!'' she cried.
``I can't bear your laugh--even at its best.''
Suddenly he galvanized into fury. ``This is an
outrage!'' he cried, waving his useless-looking white fists.
``You have swindled me--SWINDLED me!''
Her head stopped aching. The pains in her feet
either ceased or she forgot them. In a suspiciously
calm voice she said: ``What do you mean?''
``I mean that you are a swindler!'' he shouted,
banging one fist on the table and waving the other.
She acted as though his meaning were just dawning
upon her. ``Do you mean,'' said she tranquilly, ``that
you married me for money?''
``I mean that I thought you a substantial woman, and
that I find you are an adventuress.''
``Did you think,'' inquired she, ``that any woman
who had money would marry YOU?'' She laughed
very quietly. ``You ARE a fool!''
He sat back to look at her. This mode of combat in
such circumstances puzzled him.
``I knew that you were rich,'' she went on, ``or you
would not have dared offer yourself to me. All my
friends were amazed at my stooping to accept you.
Your father was an Irish Tammany contractor, wasn't
he?--a sort of criminal? But I simply had to marry.
So I gave you my family and position and name in
exchange for your wealth--a good bargain for you,
but a poor one for me.''
These references to HIS wealth were most disconcerting,
especially as they were accompanied by remarks about
his origin, of which he was so ashamed that he had
changed the spelling of his name in the effort to clear
himself of it. However, some retort was imperative.
He looked at her and said:
``Swindler and adventuress!''
``Don't repeat that lie,'' said she. ``You are
the adventurer--despite the fact that you are very
``Don't say that again,'' cried he. ``I never said or
pretended I was rich. I have about five thousand a
year--and you'll not get a cent of it, madam!''
She knew his income, but no one would have suspected
it from her expression of horror. ``What!'' she
gasped. ``You dared to marry ME when you were a--
beggar! Me--the widow of Henry Gower! You
impudent old wreck! Why, you haven't enough to pay
my servants. What are we to live on, pray?''
``I don't know what YOU'LL live on,'' replied he.
``_I_ shall live as I always have.''
``A beggar!'' she exclaimed. ``I--married to a
beggar.'' She burst into tears. ``How men take
advantage of a woman alone! If my son had been near
me! But there's surely some law to protect me. Yes,
I'm sure there is. Oh, I'll punish you for having
deceived me.'' Her eyes dried as she looked at him.
``How dare you sit there? How dare you face me, you
miserable fraud!''
Early in her acquaintance with him she had discovered
that determining factors in his character were
sensitiveness about his origin and sensitiveness about his
social position. On this knowledge of his weaknesses was
securely based her confidence that she could act as she
pleased toward him. To ease her pains she proceeded
to pour out her private opinion of him--all the
disagreeable things, all the insults she had been storing
She watched him as only a woman can watch a man.
She saw that his rage was not dangerous, that she was
forcing him into a position where fear of her revenging
herself by disgracing him would overcome anger at
the collapse of his fatuous dreams of wealth. She did
not despise him the more deeply for sitting there, for
not flying from the room or trying to kill her or somehow
compelling her to check that flow of insult. She
already despised him utterly; also, she attached small
importance to self-respect, having no knowledge of what
that quality really is.
When she grew tired, she became quiet. They sat
there a long time in silence. At last he ran up the white
flag of abject surrender by saying:
``What'll we live on--that's what I'd like to know?''
An eavesdropper upon the preceding violence of
upward of an hour would have assumed that at its end this
pair must separate, never to see each other again
voluntarily. But that idea, even as a possibility, had not
entered the mind of either. They had lived a long time;
they were practical people. They knew from the outset
that somehow they must arrange to go on together.
The alternative meant a mere pittance of alimony for
her; meant for him social ostracism and the small
income cut in half; meant for both scandal and confusion.
Said she fretfully: ``Oh, I suppose we'll get along,
somehow. I don't know anything about those things.
I've always been looked after--kept from contact with
the sordid side of life.''
``That house you live in,'' he went on, ``does it
belong to you?''
She gave him a contemptuous glance. ``Of course,''
said she. ``What low people you must have been used
``I thought perhaps you had rented it for your
bunco game,'' retorted he. ``The furniture, the horses,
the motor--all those things--do they belong to
``I shall leave the room if you insult me,'' said she.
``Did you include them in the seven thousand dollars?''
``The money is in the bank. It has nothing to do
with our house and our property.''
He reflected, presently said: ``The horses and
carriages must be sold at once--and all those servants
dismissed except perhaps two. We can live in the house.''
She grew purple with rage. ``Sell MY carriages!
Discharge MY servants! I'd like to see you try!''
``Who's to pay for keeping up that establishment?''
demanded he.
She was silent. She saw what he had in mind.
``If you want to keep that house and live comfortably,''
he went on, ``you've got to cut expenses to the
bone. You see that, don't you?''
``I can't live any way but the way I've been used to
all my life,'' wailed she.
He eyed her disgustedly. Was there anything equal
to a woman for folly?
``We've got to make the most of what little we
have,'' said he.
``I tell you I don't know anything about those
things,'' repeated she. ``You'll have to look after them.
Mildred and I aren't like the women you've been used to.
We are ladies.''
Presbury's rage boiled over again at the mention of
Mildred. ``That daughter of yours!'' he cried.
``What's to be done about her? I've got no money to
waste on her.''
``You miserable Tammany THING!'' exclaimed she.
``Don't you dare SPEAK of my daughter except in the
most respectful way.''
And once more she opened out upon him, wreaking
upon him all her wrath against fate, all the pent-up
fury of two years--fury which had been denied such
fury's usual and natural expression in denunciations of
the dead bread-winner. The generous and ever-kind
Henry Gower could not be to blame for her wretched
plight; and, of course, she herself could not be to blame
for it. So, until now there had been no scapegoat.
Presbury therefore received the whole burden. He,
alarmed lest a creature apparently so irrational, should
in wild rage drive him away, ruin him socially, perhaps
induce a sympathetic court to award her a large part of
his income as alimony, said not a word in reply. He
bade his wrath wait. Later on, when the peril was over,
when he had a firm grip upon the situation--then he
would take his revenge.
They gave up the expensive suite at the Waldorf that
very day and returned to Hanging Rock. They alternated
between silence and the coarsest, crudest quarrelings,
for neither had the intelligence to quarrel wittily or the
refinement to quarrel artistically. As soon as they
arrived at the Gower house, Mildred was dragged into the
``I married this terrible man for your sake,'' was the
burden of her mother's wail. ``And he is a beggar--
wants to sell off everything and dismiss the servants.''
``You are a pair of paupers,'' cried the old man.
``You are shameless tricksters. Be careful how you
goad me!''
Mildred had anticipated an unhappy ending to her
mother's marriage, but she had not knowledge enough
of life or of human nature to anticipate any such
horrors as now began. Every day, all day long the vulgar
fight raged. Her mother and her stepfather withdrew
from each other's presence only to think up fresh insults
to fling at each other. As soon as they were armed
they hastened to give battle again. She avoided
Presbury. Her mother she could not avoid; and when her
mother was not in combat with him, she was weeping
or wailing or railing to Mildred.
It was at Mildred's urging that her mother
acquiesced in Presbury's plans for reducing expenses
within income. At first the girl, even more ignorant
than her mother of practical affairs, did not appreciate
the wisdom, not to say the necessity, of what he
wished to do, but soon she saw that he was right, that
the servants must go, that the horses and carriages and
the motors must be sold. When she was convinced
and had convinced her mother, she still did not realize
what the thing really meant. Not until she no longer
had a maid did she comprehend. To a woman who has
never had a maid, or who has taken on a maid as a
luxury, it will seem an exaggeration to say that Mildred
felt as helpless as a baby lying alone in a crib before it
has learned to crawl. Yet that is rather an understatement
of her plight. The maid left in the afternoon.
Mildred, not without inconveniences that had in the
novelty their amusing side, contrived to dress that
evening for dinner and to get to bed; but when she awakened
in the morning and was ready to dress, the loss of
Therese became a tragedy. It took the girl nearly four
hours to get herself together presentably--and then,
never had she looked so unkempt. With her hair, thick
and soft, she could do nothing.
``What a wonderful person Therese was!'' thought
she. ``And I always regarded her as rather stupid.''
Her mother, who had not had a maid until she was
about thirty and had never become completely dependent,
fared somewhat better, though, hearing her moans,
you would have thought she was faring worse.
Mildred's unhappiness increased from day to day, as
her wardrobe fell into confusion and disrepair. She
felt that she must rise to the situation, must teach
herself, must save herself from impending dowdiness and
slovenliness. But her brain seemed to be paralyzed.
She did not know how or where to begin to learn. She
often in secret gave way to the futility of tears.
There were now only a cook and one housemaid and
a man of all work--all three newcomers, for Presbury
insisted--most wisely--that none of the servants of
the luxurious, wasteful days would be useful in the new
circumstances. He was one of those small, orderly men
who have a genius for just such situations as the one
he now proceeded to grapple with and solve. In his
pleasure at managing everything about that house, in
distributing the work among the three servants, in
marketing, and, in inspecting purchases and nosing into
the garbage-barrel, in looking for dust on pictureframes
and table-tops and for neglected weeds in the
garden walks--in this multitude of engrossing delights
he forgot his anger over the trick that had been
played upon him. He still fought with his wife and
denounced her and met insult with insult. But that,
too, was one of his pleasures. Also, he felt that on the
whole he had done well in marrying. He had been lonely
as a bachelor, had had no one to talk with, or to quarrel
with, nothing to do. The marriage was not so expensive,
as his wife had brought him a house--and it such
a one as he had always regarded as the apogee of
elegance. Living was not dear in Hanging Rock, if one
understood managing and gave time to it. And socially
he was at last established.
Soon his wife was about as contented as she had ever
been in her life. She hated and despised her husband,
but quarreling with him and railing against him gave
her occupation and aim--two valuable assets toward
happiness that she had theretofore lacked. Her living
--shelter, food, clothing enough--was now secure.
But the most important factor of all in her content was
the one apparently too trivial to be worthy of record.
From girlhood she could not recall a single day in which
she had not suffered from her feet. And she had been
ashamed to say anything about it--had never let anyone,
even her maid, see her feet, which were about the
only unsightly part of her. None had guessed the
cause of her chronic ill-temper until Presbury, that
genius for the little, said within a week of their marriage:
``You talk and act like a woman with chronic corns.''
He did not dream of the effect this chance thrust had
upon his wife. For the first time he had really
``landed.'' She concealed her fright and her shame as
best she could and went on quarreling more viciously
than ever. But he presently returned to the attack.
Said he:
``Your feet hurt you. I'm sure they do. Now that
I think of it, you walk that way.''
``I suppose I deserve my fate,'' said she. ``When a
woman marries beneath her she must expect insult and
low conversation.''
``You must cure your feet,'' said he. ``I'll not live
in the house with a person who is made fiendish by corns.
I think it's only corns. I see no signs of bunions.''
``You brute!'' cried his wife, rushing from the room.
But when they met again, he at once resumed the
subject, telling her just how she could cure herself--and
he kept on telling her, she apparently ignoring but
secretly acting on his advice. He knew what he was
about, and her feet grew better, grew well--and she
was happier than she had been since girlhood when she
began ruining her feet with tight shoes.
Six months after the marriage, Presbury and his wife
were getting on about as comfortably as it is given to
average humanity to get on in this world of incessant
struggle between uncomfortable man and his uncomfortable
environment. But Mildred had become more
and more unhappy. Her mother, sometimes angrily,
again reproachfully--and that was far harder to bear
--blamed her for ``my miserable marriage to this low,
quarrelsome brute.'' Presbury let no day pass without
telling her openly that she was a beggar living off him,
that she would better marry soon or he would take drastic
steps to release himself of the burden. When he attacked
her before her mother, there was a violent quarrel
from which Mildred fled to hide in her room or in the
remotest part of the garden. When he hunted her out
to insult her alone, she sat or stood with eyes down and
face ghastly pale, mute, quivering. She did not interrupt,
did not try to escape. She was like the chained
and spiritless dog that crouches and takes the shower of
blows from its cruel master.
Where could she go? Nowhere. What could she
do? Nothing. In the days of prosperity she had
regarded herself as proud and high spirited. She now
wondered at herself! What had become of the pride?
What of the spirit? She avoided looking at her image
in the glass--that thin, pallid face, those circled eyes,
the drawn, sick expression about the mouth and nose.
``I'm stunned,'' she said to herself. ``I've been stunned
ever since father's death. I've never recovered--nor
has mother.'' And she gave way to tears--for her
father, she fancied; in fact, from shame at her weakness
and helplessness. She thought--hoped--that she
would not be thus feeble and cowardly, if she were not
living at home, in the house she loved, the house where
she had spent her whole life. And such a house! Comfort
and luxury and taste; every room, every corner of
the grounds, full of the tenderest and most beautiful
associations. Also, there was her position in Hanging
Rock. Everywhere else she would be a stranger and
would have either no position at all or one worse than
that of the utter outsider. There, she was of the few
looked up to by the whole community. No one knew,
or even suspected, how she was degraded by her stepfather.
Before the world he was courteous and
considerate toward her as toward everybody. Indeed,
Presbury's natural instincts were gentle and kindly. His
hatred of Mildred and his passion for humiliating her
were the result of his conviction that he had been tricked
into the marriage and his inability to gratify his resentment
upon his wife. He could not make the mother
suffer; but he could make the daughter suffer--and
he did. Besides, she was of no use to him and would
presently be an expense.
``Your money will soon be gone,'' he said to her.
``If you paid your just share of the expenses it would
be gone now. When it is gone, what will you do?''
She was silent.
``Your mother has written to your brother about
Mildred lifted her head, a gleam of her former spirit
in her eyes. Then she remembered, and bent her gaze
upon the ground.
``But he, like the cur that he is, answered through a
secretary that he wished to have nothing to do with
either of you.''
Mildred guessed that Frank had made the marriage
an excuse.
``Surely some of your relatives will do something for
you. I have my hands full, supporting your mother.
I don't propose to have two strapping, worthless women
hanging from my neck.''
She bent her head lower, and remained silent.
``I warn you to bestir yourself,'' he went on. ``I
give you four months. After the first of the year you
can't stay here unless you pay your share--your third.''
No answer.
``You hear what I say, miss?'' he demanded.
``Yes,'' replied she.
``If you had any sense you wouldn't wait until your
last cent was gone. You'd go to New York now and
get something to do.''
``What?'' she asked--all she could trust herself to
``How should _I_ know?'' retorted he furiously.
``you are a stranger to me. You've been educated, I
assume. Surely there's something you can do. You've
been out six years now, and have had no success, for
you're neither married nor engaged. You can't call it
success to be flattered and sought by people who wanted
invitations to this house when it was a social center.''
He paused for response from her. None came.
``You admit you are a failure?'' he said sharply.
``Yes,'' said she.
``You must have realized it several years ago,'' he
went on. ``Instead of allowing your mother to keep on
wasting money in entertaining lavishly here to give
you a chance to marry, you should have been preparing
yourself to earn a living.'' A pause. ``Isn't that true,
He had a way of pronouncing the word ``miss'' that
made it an epithet, a sneer at her unmarried and unmarriageable
state. She colored, paled, murmured:
``Then, better late than never. You'll do well to
follow my advice and go to New York and look about
``I'll--I'll think of it,'' stammered she.
And she did think of it. But in all her life she had
never considered the idea of money-making. That was
something for men, and for the middle and lower classes
--while Hanging Rock was regarded as most noisomely
middle class by fashionable people, it did not so regard
itself. Money-making was not for ladies. Like all her
class, she was a constant and a severe critic of the
women of the lower orders who worked for her as milliners,
dressmakers, shop-attendants, cooks, maids. But, as she
now realized, it is one thing to pass upon the work
of others; it is another thing to do work oneself.
She-- There was literally nothing that she could do.
Any occupation, even the most menial, was either
beyond her skill or beyond her strength, or beyond
Suddenly she recalled that she could sing. Her
prostrate spirit suddenly leaped erect. Yes, she could sing!
Her voice had been praised by experts. Her singing
had been in demand at charity entertainments where
amateurs had to compete with professionals. Then
down she dropped again. She sang well enough to
know how badly she sang--the long and toilsome and
expensive training that lay between her and operatic or
concert or even music-hall stage. Her voice was fine at
times. Again--most of the time--it was unreliable.
No, she could not hope to get paying employment even
as a church choir-singer. Miss Dresser who sang in the
choir of the Good Shepherd for ten dollars a Sunday,
had not nearly so good a voice as she, but it was reliable.
``There is nothing I can do--nothing!''
All at once, with no apparent bridge across the vast
chasm, her heart went out, not in pity but in human
understanding and sisterly sympathy, to the women of the
pariah class at whom, during her stops in New York,
she had sometimes gazed in wonder and horror. ``Why,
we and they are only a step apart,'' she said to herself in
amazement. ``We and they are much nearer than my
maid or the cook and they!''
And then her heart skipped a beat and her skin grew
cold and a fog swirled over her brain. If she should be
cast out--if she could find no work and no one to support
her--would she-- ``O my God!'' she moaned.
``I must be crazy, to think such thoughts. I never
could! I'd die first--DIE!'' But if anyone had pictured
to her the kind of life she was now leading--the
humiliation and degradation she was meekly enduring
with no thought of flight, with an ever stronger desire
to stay on, regardless of pride and self-respect--if
anyone had pictured this to her as what she would
endure, what would she have said? She could see herself
flashing scornful denial, saying that she would rather
kill herself. Yet she was living--and was not even
contemplating suicide as a way out!
A few days after Presbury gave her warning, her
mother took advantage of his absence for his religiously
observed daily constitutional to say to her:
``I hope you didn't think I was behind him in what
he said to you about going away?''
Mildred had not thought so, but in her mother's
guilty tone and guiltier eyes she now read that her
mother wished her to go.
``It'd be awful for me to be left here alone with him,''
wailed her mother insincerely. ``Of course we've got
no money, and beggars can't be choosers. But it'd just
about kill me to have you go.''
Mildred could not speak.
``I don't know a thing about money,'' Mrs. Presbury
went on. ``Your father always looked after everything.''
She had fallen into the way of speaking of
her first husband as part of some vague, remote past,
which, indeed, he had become for her. ``This man''--
meaning Presbury--``has only about five thousand a
year, as you know. I suppose that's as small as he says
it is. I remember our bills for one month used to be as
much or more than that.'' She waved her useless, pretty
hands helplessly. ``I don't see HOW we are to get on,
Her mother wished her to go! Her mother had fallen
under the influence of Presbury--her mother, womanlike,
or rather, ladylike, was of kin to the helpless, flabby
things that float in the sea and attach themselves to
whatever they happen to lodge against. Her mother
wished her to go!
``At the same time,'' Mrs. Presbury went on, ``I
can't live without somebody here to stand between me
and him. I'd kill him or kill myself.''
Mildred muttered some excuse and fled from the
room, to lock herself in.
But when she came forth again to descend to dinner,
she had resolved nothing, because there was nothing to
resolve. When she was a child she leaned from the
nursery window one day and saw a stable-boy drowning
a rat that was in a big, oval, wire cage with a wooden
bottom. The boy pressed the cage slowly down in the vat
of water. The rat, in the very top of the cage, watched
the floor sink, watched the water rise. And as it watched
it uttered a strange, shrill, feeble sound which she could
still remember distinctly and terribly. It seemed to her
now that if she were to utter any sound at all, it would
be that one.
ON the Monday before Thanksgiving, Presbury went
up to New York to look after one of the little
speculations in Wall Street at which he was so clever.
Throughout the civilized world nowadays, and especially
in and near the great capitals of finance, there is a class
of men and women of small capital and of a character
in which are combined iron self-restraint, rabbit-like
timidity, and great shrewdness, who make often a not
inconsiderable income by gambling in stocks. They
buy only when the market is advancing strongly; they
sell as soon as they have gained the scantest margin of
profit. They never permit themselves to be tempted by
the most absolute certainty of larger gains. They will
let weeks, months even, go by without once risking a
dollar. They wait until they simply cannot lose. Tens
of thousands every year try to join this class. All but
the few soon succumb to the hourly dazzling temptations
the big gamblers dangle before the eyes of the little
gamblers to lure them within reach of the merciless
Presbury had for many years added from one to ten
thousand a year to his income by this form of gambling,
success at which is in itself sufficient to stamp a man as
infinitely little of soul. On that Monday he, venturing
for the first time in six months, returned to Hanging
Rock on the three-thirty train the richer by two hundred
and fifty dollars--as large a ``killing'' as he had ever
made in any single day, one large enough to elevate him
to the rank of prince among the ``sure-thing snides.''
He said nothing about his luck to his family, but let
them attribute his unprecedented good humor to the
news he brought and announced at dinner.
``I met an old friend in the street this afternoon,''
said he. ``He has invited us to take Thanksgiving dinner
with him. And I think it will be a dinner worth
while--the food, I mean, and the wine. Not the
guests; for there won't be any guests but us. General
Siddall is a stranger in New York.''
``There are Siddalls in New York,'' said his wife;
``very nice, refined people--going in the best society.''
Presbury showed his false teeth in a genial smile; for
the old-fashioned or plate kind of false teeth they were
extraordinarily good--when exactly in place. ``But
not my old friend Bill Siddall,'' said he. ``He's next
door to an outlaw. I'd not have accepted his invitation
if he had been asking us to dine in public. But this
is to be at his own house--his new house--and a very
grand house it is, judging by the photos he showed me.
A regular palace! He'll not be an outlaw long, I guess.
But we must wait and see how he comes out socially
before we commit ourselves.''
``Did you accept for me, too?'' asked Mrs. Presbury.
``Certainly,'' said Presbury. ``And for your daughter,
``I can't go,'' said Mildred. ``I'm dining with the
The family no longer had a servant in constant
attendance in the dining-room. The maid of many functions
also acted as butler and as fetch-and-carry between
kitchen and butler's pantry. Before speaking,
Presbury waited until this maid had withdrawn to bring
the roast and the vegetables. Then he said:
``You are going, too, miss.'' This with the full
infusion of insult into the ``miss.''
Mildred was silent.
``Bill Siddall is looking for a wife,'' proceeded
Presbury. ``And he has Heaven knows how many
``Do you think there's a chance for Milly?'' cried
Mrs. Presbury, who was full of alternating hopes and
fears, both wholly irrational.
``She can have him--if she wants him,'' replied
Presbury. ``But it's only fair to warn her that he's a
stiff dose.''
``Is the money--CERTAIN?'' inquired Mildred's
mother with that shrewdness whose rare occasional
displays laid her open to the unjust suspicion of feigning
her habitual stupidity.
``Yes,'' said Presbury amiably. ``It's nothing like
yours was. He's so rich he doesn't know what to do
with his income. He owns mines scattered all over the
world. And if they all failed, he's got bundles of railway
stocks and bonds, and gilt-edged trust stocks, too.
And he's a comparatively young man--hardly fifty,
I should say. He pretends to be forty.''
``It's strange I never heard of him,'' said Mrs. Presbury.
``If you went to South America or South Africa or
Alaska, you'd hear of him,'' said Presbury. He laughed.
``And I guess you'd hear some pretty dreadful things.
When I knew him twenty-five years ago he had just
been arrested for forging my father's name to a check.
But he got out of that--and it's all past and gone.
Probably he hasn't committed any worse crimes than
have most of our big rich men. Bill's handicap has
been that he hadn't much education or any swell
relatives. But he's a genius at money-making.''
Presbury looked at Mildred with a grin. ``And he's just the
husband for Mildred. She can't afford to be too
particular. Somebody's got to support her. _I_ can't and
won't, and she can't support herself.''
``You'll go--won't you, Mildred?'' said her mother.
``He may not be so bad.''
``Yes, I'll go,'' said Mildred. Her gaze was upon the
untouched food on her plate.
``Of course she'll go,'' said Presbury. ``And she'll
marry him if she can. Won't you, miss?''
He spoke in his amiably insulting way--as distinguished
from the way of savagely sneering insult he
usually took with her. He expected no reply. She
surprised him. She lifted her tragic eyes and looked
fixedly at him. She said:
``Yes, I'll go. And I'll marry him if I can.''
``I told him he could have you,'' said Presbury. ``I
explained to him that you were a rare specimen of the
perfect lady--just what he wanted--and that you,
and all your family, would be grateful to anybody who
would undertake your support.''
Mrs. Presbury flushed angrily. ``You've made it
perfectly useless for her to go!'' she cried.
``Calm yourself, my love,'' said her husband. ``I
know Bill Siddall thoroughly. I said what would help.
I want to get rid of her as much as you do--and that's
saying a great deal.''
Mrs. Presbury flamed with the wrath of those who
are justly accused. ``If Mildred left, I should go, too,''
cried she.
``Go where?'' inquired her husband. ``To the
By persistent rubbing in Presbury had succeeded in
making the truth about her poverty and dependence
clear to his wife. She continued to frown and to
look unutterable contempt, but he had silenced her.
He noted this with a sort of satisfaction and went
``If Bill Siddall takes her, you certainly won't go
there. He wouldn't have you. He feels strongly on
the subject of mothers-in-law.''
``Has he been married before?'' asked Mrs. Presbury.
``Twice,'' replied her husband. ``His first wife died.
He divorced the second for unfaithfulness.''
Mildred saw in this painstaking recital of all the
disagreeable and repellent facts about Siddall an effort
further to humiliate her by making it apparent how
desperately off she was, how she could not refuse any
offer, revolting though it might be to her pride and to
her womanly instincts. Doubtless this was in part the
explanation of Presbury's malicious candor. But an
element in that candor was a prudent preparing of the
girl's mind for worse than the reality. That he was in
earnest in his profession of a desire to bring about the
match showed when he proposed that they should take
rooms at a hotel in New York, to give her a chance to
dress properly for the dinner. True, he hastened to say
that the expense must be met altogether out of the
remnant of Mildred's share of her father's estate, but
the idea would not have occurred to him had he not
been really planning a marriage.
Never had Mildred looked more beautiful or more
attractive than when the three were ready to sally forth
from the Manhattan Hotel on that Thanksgiving evening.
At twenty-five, a soundly healthy and vigorous
twenty-five, it is impossible for mind and nerves,
however wrought upon, to make serious inroads upon
surface charms. The hope of emancipation from her hideous
slavery had been acting upon the girl like a powerful
tonic. She had gained several pounds in the three
intervening days; her face had filled out, color had come
back in all its former beauty to her lips. Perhaps
there was some slight aid from art in the extraordinary
brilliancy of her eyes.
Presbury inventoried her with a succession of grunts
of satisfaction. ``Yes, he'll want you,'' he said.
``You'll strike him as just the show piece he needs.
And he's too shrewd not to be aware that his choice is
``You can't frighten me,'' said Mildred, with a
radiant, coquettish smile--for practice. ``Nothing
could frighten me.''
``I'm not trying,'' replied Presbury. ``Nor will
Siddall frighten you. A woman who's after a bill-payer
can stomach anything.''
``Or a man,'' said Mildred.
``Oh, your mother wasn't as bad as all that,'' said
Presbury, who never lost an opportunity.
Mrs. Presbury, seated beside her daughter in the cab,
gave an exclamation of rage. ``My own daughter
insulting me!'' she said.
``Such a thought did not enter my head,'' protested
Mildred. ``I wasn't thinking of anyone in particular.''
``Let's not quarrel now,'' said Presbury, with
unprecedented amiability. ``We must give Bill a spectacle
of the happy family.''
The cab entered the porte-cochere of a huge palace
of white stone just off Fifth Avenue. The house was
even grander than they had anticipated. The wroughtiron
fence around it had cost a small fortune; the house
itself, without reference to its contents, a large fortune.
The massive outer doors were opened by two lackeys
in cherry-colored silk and velvet livery; a butler, looking
like an English gentleman, was waiting to receive
them at the top of a short flight of marble steps
between the outer and the inner entrance doors. As
Mildred ascended, she happened to note the sculpturing
over the inner entrance--a reclining nude figure of a
woman, Cupids with garlands and hymeneal torches
hovering about her.
Mildred had been in many pretentious houses in and
near New York, but this far surpassed the grandest of
them. Everything was brand new, seemed to have been
only that moment placed, and was of the costlieststatuary,
carpets, armor, carved seats of stone and
wood, marble staircase rising majestically, tapestries,
pictures, drawing-room furniture. The hall was vast,
but the drawing-room was vaster. Empty, one would
have said that it could not possibly be furnished. Yet
it was not only full, but crowded-chairs and sofas,
hassocks and tete-a-tetes, cabinets, tables, pictures,
statues, busts, palms, flowers, a mighty fireplace in
which, behind enormous and costly andirons, crackled
enormous and costly logs. There was danger in moving
about; one could not be sure of not upsetting something,
and one felt that the least damage that could be
done there would be an appallingly expensive matter.
Before that cavernous fireplace posed General
Siddall. He was a tiny mite of a man with a thin wiry
body supporting the head of a professional barber.
His black hair was glossy and most romantically
arranged. His black mustache and imperial were waxed
and brilliantined. There was no mistaking the liberal
use of dye, also. From the rather thin, very sharp
face looked a pair of small, muddy, brown-green eyes
--dull, crafty, cold, cruel. But the little man was so
insignificant and so bebarbered and betailored that one
could not take him seriously. Never had there been so
new, so carefully pressed, so perfectly fitting evening
clothes; never a shirt so expensively got together, or
jeweled studs, waistcoat buttons and links so high
priced. From every part of the room, from every part
of the little man's perfumed and groomed person, every
individual article seemed to be shrieking, ``The best is
not too good for Bill Siddall!''
Mildred was agreeably surprised--she was looking
with fierce determination for agreeable surprises--
when the costly little man spoke, in a quiet, pleasant
voice with an elusive, attractive foreign accent.
``My, but this is grand--grand, General Siddall!''
said Presbury in the voice of the noisy flatterer.
``Princely! Royal!''
Mildred glanced nervously at Siddall. She feared
that Presbury had taken the wrong tone. She saw in
the unpleasant eyes a glance of gratified vanity. Said
``Not so bad, not so bad. I saw the house in Paris,
when I was taking a walk one day. I went to the
American ambassador and asked for the best architect
in Paris. I went to him, told him about the house--
and here it is.''
``Decorations, furniture, and all!'' exclaimed Presbury.
``No, just the house. I picked up the interiors in
different parts of Europe--had everything reproduced
where I couldn't buy outright. I want to enjoy my
money while I'm still young. I didn't care what it cost
to get the proper surroundings. As I said to my architect
and to my staff of artists, I expected to be cheated,
but I wanted the goods. And I got the goods. I'll
show you through the house after dinner. It's on this
same scale throughout. And they're putting me together
a country place--same sort of thing.'' He
threw back his little shoulders and protruded his little
chest. ``And the joke of it is that the whole business
isn't costing me a cent.''
``Not a cent less than half a dozen or a dozen
millions,'' said Presbury.
``Not so much as that--not quite,'' protested the
delightedly sparkling little general. ``But what I
meant was that, as fast as these fellows spend, I go
down-town and make. Fact is, I'm a little better off
than I was when I started in to build.''
``Well, you didn't get any of MY money,'' laughed
Presbury. ``But I suppose pretty much everybody
else in the country must have contributed.''
General Siddall smiled. Mildred wondered whether
the points of his mustache and imperial would crack
and break of, if he should touch them. She noted that
his hair was roached absurdly high above the middle
of his forehead and that he was wearing the tallest heels
she had ever seen. She calculated that, with his hair
flat and his feet on the ground, he would hardly come
to her shoulder--and she was barely of woman's
medium height. She caught sight of his hands--the
square, stubby hands of a working man; the fingers
permanently slightly curved as by the handle of shovel
and pick; the skin shriveled but white with a ghastly,
sickening bleached white, the nails repulsively manicured
into long white curves. ``If he should touch
me, I'd scream,'' she thought. And then she looked at
Presbury--and around her at the evidences of enormous wealth.
The general--she wondered where he had got that
title--led her mother in to dinner, Presbury gave her
his arm. On the way he found opportunity to mutter:
``Lay it on thick! Flatter the fool. You can't
offend him. Tell him he's divinely handsome--a Louis
Fourteen, a Napoleon. Praise everything--napkins,
tablecloth, dishes, food. Rave over the wine.''
But Mildred could not adopt this obviously excellent
advice. She sat silent and cold, while Presbury and
her mother raved and drew out the general to talk of
himself--the only subject in the whole world that
seemed to him thoroughly worth while. As Mildred
listened and furtively observed, it seemed to her that
this tiny fool, so obviously pleased by these coarse and
insulting flatteries, could not possibly have had the
brains to amass the vast fortune he apparently
possessed. But presently she noted that behind the
personality that was pleased by this gross fawning and
bootlicking there lay--lay in wait and on guard--
another personality, one that despised these guests of
his, estimating them at their true value and using them
contemptuously for the gratification of his coarse
appetites. In the glimpse she caught of that deeper and
real personality, she liked it even less than she liked
the one upon the surface.
It was evidence of superior acumen that she saw even
vaguely the real Bill Siddall, the money-maker, beneath
the General William Siddall, raw and ignorant and
vulgar--more vulgar in his refinement than the most
shocking bum at home and at ease in foul-smelling stew.
Every man of achievement hides beneath his surface--
personality this second and real man, who makes the
fortune, discovers the secret of chemistry, fights the
battle, carries the election, paints the picture, commits
the frightful murder, evolves the divine sermon or poem
or symphony. Thus, when we meet a man of achievement,
we invariably have a sense of disappointment.
``Why, that's not the man!'' we exclaim. ``There
must be some mistake.'' And it is, indeed, not the man.
Him we are incapable of seeing. We have only eyes
for surfaces; and, not being doers of extraordinary
deeds, but mere plodders in the routines of existence,
we cannot believe that there is any more to another than
there is to ourselves. The pleasant or unpleasant
surface for the conventional relations of life is about all
there is to us; therefore it is all there is to human
nature. Well, there's no help for it. In measuring our
fellow beings we can use only the measurements of our
own selves; we have no others, and if others are given to
us we are as foozled as one knowing only feet and
inches who has a tape marked off in meters and centimeters.
It so happened that in her social excursions Mildred
had never been in any of the numerous homes of the
suddenly and vastly rich of humble origin. She was
used to--and regarded as proper and elegant--the
ordinary ostentations and crudities of the rich of
conventional society. No more than you or I was she
moved to ridicule or disdain by the silliness and the
tawdry vulgarity of the life of palace and liveried
lackey and empty ceremonial, by the tedious entertainments,
by the displays of costly and poisonous food.
But General Siddall's establishment presented a new
phase to her--and she thought it unique in dreadfulness
and absurdity.
The general had had a home life in his youth--in a
coal-miner's cabin near Wilkes-Barre. Ever since, he
had lived in boarding-houses or hotels. As his shrewd
and rapacious mind had gathered in more and more
wealth, he had lived more and more luxuriously--but
always at hotels. He had seen little of the private life
of the rich. Thus he had been compelled to get his
ideas of luxury and of ceremonial altogether from the
hotel-keepers and caterers who give the rich what the
more intelligent and informed of the rich are usually
shamed by people of taste from giving themselves at
She thought the tablecloth, napkins, and gaudy gold
and flowery cut glass a little overdone, but on the whole
not so bad. She had seen such almost as grand at a
few New York houses. The lace in the cloth and in
the napkins was merely a little too magnificent. It
made the table lumpy, it made the napkins unfit for use.
But the way the dinner was served! You would have
said you were in a glorified palace-hotel restaurant.
You looked about for the cashier's desk; you were certain
a bill would be presented after the last course.
The general, tinier and more grotesque than ever in
the great high-backed, richly carved armchair, surveyed
the progress of the banquet with the air of a god
performing miracles of creation and passing them in
review and giving them his divine endorsement. He was
well pleased with the enthusiastic praises Presbury and
his wife lavished upon the food and drink. He would
have been better pleased had they preceded and followed
every mouthful with a eulogy. He supplemented their
compliments with even more fulsome compliments, adding
details as to the origin and the cost.
``Darcy''--this to the butler--``tell the chef that
this fish is the best yet--really exquisite.'' To
Presbury: ``I had it brought over from France--alive,
of course. We have many excellent fish, but I like a
change now and then. So I have a standing order with
Prunier--he's the big oyster- and fish-man of Paris--
to send me over some things every two weeks by special
express. That way, an oyster costs about fifty cents
and a fish about five or six dollars.''
To Mrs. Presbury: ``I'll have Darcy make you and
Miss Presbury--excuse me, Miss Gower--bouquets
of the flowers afterward. Most of them come from
New York--and very high really first-class flowers are.
I pay two dollars apiece for my roses even at this
season. And orchids--well, I feel really extravagant
when I indulge in orchids as I have this evening. Ten
dollars apiece for those. But they're worth it.''
The dinner was interminably long--upward of
twenty kinds of food, no less than five kinds of wine;
enough served and spoiled to have fed and intoxicated a
dozen people at least. And upon every item of food
and drink the general had some remarks to make. He
impressed it upon his guests that this dinner was very
little better than the one served to him every night, that
the increase in expense and luxury was not in their
honor, but in his own--to show them what he could
do when he wished to make a holiday. Finally the
grand course was reached. Into the dining-room, to
the amazement of the guests, were rolled two great
restaurant joint wagons. Instead of being made of
silver-plated nickel or plain nickel they were of silver
embossed with gold, and the large carvers and servingspoons
and forks had gold-mounted silver handles.
When the lackeys turned back the covers there were
disclosed several truly wonderful young turkeys, fattened
as if by painstaking and skillful hand and superbly
Up to that time the rich and costly food had been
sadly medium--like the wines. But these turkeys were
a genuine triumph. Even Mildred gave them a look of
interest and admiration. In a voice that made General
Siddall ecstatic Presbury cried:
``GOD bless my soul! WHERE did you get those
beauties, old man!''
``Paris,'' said Siddall in a voice tremulous with pride
and self-admiration. You would have thought that he
had created not merely the turkeys, but Paris, also.
``Potin sends them over to me. Potin, you know, is the
finest dealer in groceries, fruit, game, and so on in the
world. I have a standing order with him for the best of--
everything that comes in. I'd hate to tell you what my
bill with Potin is every month--he only sends it to me
once a year. Really, I think I ought to be ashamed of
myself, but I reason that, if a man can afford it, he's
a fool to put anything but the best into his stomach.''
``You're right there!'' mumbled Presbury. His
mouth was full of turkey. ``You HAVE got a chef,
``He ought to cook well. I pay him more than most
bank-presidents get. What do you think of those joint
wagons, Mrs. Presbury?''
``They're very--interesting,'' replied she, a little
nervous because she suspected they were some sort of
vulgar joke.
``I knew you'd like them,'' said the general. ``My
own idea entirely. I saw them in several restaurants
abroad--only of course those they had were just ordinary
affairs, not fit to be introduced into a gentleman's
dining-room. But I took the idea and adapted it to my
purposes--and there you are!''
``Very original, old man,'' said Presbury, who had
been drinking too much. ``I've never seen it before,
and I don't think I ever shall again. Got the idea
But Siddall in his soberest moment would have been
slow to admit a suspicion that any of the human race,
which he regarded as on its knees before him, was
venturing to poke fun at him. Drunk as he now was, the
openest sarcasm would have been accepted as a compliment.
After a gorgeous dessert which nobody more
than touched--a molded mousse of whipped and frozen
cream and strawberries--``specially sent on to me from
Florida and costing me a dollar apiece, I guess''--after
this costly wonder had disappeared fruit was served.
General Siddall had ready a long oration upon this
course. He delivered it in a disgustingly thick tone.
The pineapple was an English hothouse product, the
grapes were grown by a costly process under glass in
Belgium. As for the peaches, Potin had sent those delicately
blushing marvels, and the charge for this would
be ``not less than a louis apiece, sir--a louis d'or
--which, as you no doubt know, is about four dollars
of Uncle Sam's money.''
The coffee--``the Queen of Holland may have it on
her PRIVATE table--MAY, I say--but I doubt if anyone
else in the world gets a smell of it except me''--
the coffee and the brandy came not a moment too soon.
Presbury was becoming stupefied with indigestion; his
wife was nodding and was wearing that vague, forced,
pleasant smile which stands propriety-guard over a
mind asleep; Mildred Gower felt that her nerves would
endure no more; and the general was falling into a
besotted state, spilling his wine, mumbling his words.
The coffee and the brandy revived them all somewhat.
Mildred, lifting her eyes, saw by way of a mirrored
section of the enormous sideboard the English butler
surveying master and guests with slowly moving, sneering
glance of ineffable contempt.
In the drawing-room again Mildred, requested by
Siddall and ordered by Presbury, sang a little French
song and then--at the urging of Siddall--``Annie
Laurie.'' Siddall was wiping his eyes when she turned
around. He said to Presbury:
``Take your wife into the conservatory to look at my
orchids. I want to say a word to your stepdaughter.''
Mildred started up nervously. She saw how drunk
the general was, saw the expression of his face that a
woman has to be innocent indeed not to understand.
She was afraid to be left alone with him. Presbury
came up to her, said rapidly, in a low tone:
``It's all right. He's got a high sense of what's due
a respectable woman of our class. He isn't as drunk
as he looks and acts.''
Having said which, he took his wife by the arm and
pushed her into the adjoining conservatory. Mildred
reseated herself upon the inlaid piano-bench. The little
man, his face now shiny with the sweat of drink and
emotion, drew up a chair in front of her. He sat--
and he was almost as tall sitting as standing. He said
``Don't be afraid, my dear girl. I'm not that dangerous.''
She lifted her eyes and looked at him. She tried to
conceal her aversion; she feared she was not succeeding.
But she need not have concerned herself about that.
General Siddall, after the manner of very rich men,
could not conceive of anyone being less impressed with
his superiority in any way than he himself was. For
years he had heard only flatteries of himself--his own
voice singing his praises, the fawning voices of those
he hired and of those hoping to get some financial
advantage. He could not have imagined a mere woman
not being overwhelmed by the prospect of his courting
her. Nor would it have entered his head that his money
would be the chief, much less the only, consideration
with her. He had long since lost all point of view, and
believed that the adulation paid his wealth was evoked
by his charms of person, mind, and manner. Those
who imagine this was evidence of folly and weak-mindedness
and extraordinary vanity show how little they
know human nature. The strongest head could not remain
steady, the most accurate eyes could not retain
their measuring skill, in such an environment as always
completely envelops wealth and power. And the muchtalked-
of difference between those born to wealth and
power and those who rise to it from obscurity resolves
itself to little more than the difference between those
born mad and those who go insane.
Looking at the little man with the disagreeable eyes,
so dull yet so shrewd, Mildred saw that within the
drunkard who could scarcely sit straight upon the richly
upholstered and carved gilt chair there was another person,
coldly sober, calmly calculating. And she realized
that it was this person with whom she was about to
have the most serious conversation of her life thus far.
The drunkard smiled with a repulsive wiping and
smacking of the thin, sensual lips. ``I suppose you
know why I had you brought here this evening?'' said
Mildred looked and waited.
``I didn't intend to say anything to-night. In fact,
I didn't expect to find in you what I've been looking
for. I thought that old fool of a stepfather of yours
was cracking up his goods beyond their merits. But
he wasn't. My dear, you suit me from the ground
up. I've been looking you over carefully. You were
made for the place I want to fill.''
Mildred had lowered her eyes. Her face had become
deathly pale. ``I feel faint,'' she murmured. ``It is
very warm here.''
``You're not sickly?'' inquired the general sharply.
``You look like a good solid woman--thin but wiry.
Ever been sick? I must look into your health. That's
a point on which I must be satisfied.''
A wave of anger swept through her, restoring her
strength. She was about to speak--a rebuke to his
colossal impudence that he would not soon forget.
Then she remembered, and bit her lips.
``I don't ask you to decide to-night,'' pursued he,
hastening to explain this concession by adding: ``I
don't intend to decide, myself. All I say is that I am
willing--if the goods are up to the sample.''
Mildred saw her stepfather and her mother watching
from just within the conservatory door. A movement
of the portiere at the door into the hall let her
know that Darcy, the butler, was peeping and listening
there. She stood up, clenched her hands, struck them
together, struck them against her temples, crossed the
room swiftly, flung herself down upon a sofa, and burst
into tears. Presbury and his wife entered. Siddall
was standing, looking after Mildred with a grin. He
winked at Presbury and said:
``I guess we gave her too much of that wine. It's
all old and stronger than you'd think.''
``My daughter hardly touched her glasses,'' cried
Mrs. Presbury.
``I know that, ma'am,'' replied Siddall. ``I watched
her. If she'd done much drinking, I'd have been done,
then and there.''
``I suspect she's upset by what you've been saying,
General,'' said Presbury. ``Wasn't it enough to upset
a girl? You don't realize how magnificent you are--
how magnificent everything is here.''
``I'm sorry if I upset her,'' said the general, swelling
and loftily contrite. ``I don t know why it is that people
never seem to be able to act natural with me.'' He
hated those who did, regarding them as sodden,
unappreciative fools.
Mrs. Presbury was quieting her daughter. Presbury
and Siddall lighted cigars and went into the smoking--
and billiard-room across the hall. Said Presbury:
``I didn't deceive you, did I, General?''
``She's entirely satisfactory,'' replied Siddall. ``I'm
going to make careful inquiries about her character and
her health. If those things prove to be all right I'm
ready to go ahead.''
``Then the thing's settled,'' said Presbury. ``She's
all that a lady should be. And except a cold now and
then she never has anything the matter with her. She
comes of good healthy stock.''
``I can't stand a sickly, ailing woman,'' said Siddall.
``I wouldn't marry one, and if one I married turned out
to be that kind, I'd make short work of her. When you
get right down to facts, what is a woman? Why, a
body. If she ain't pretty and well, she ain't nothing.
While I'm looking up her pedigree, so to speak, I want
you to get her mother to explain to her just what kind
of a man I am.''
``Certainly, certainly,'' said Presbury.
``Have her told that I don't put up with foolishness.
If she wants to look at a man, let her look at me.''
``You'll have no trouble in that way,'' said Presbury.
``I DID have trouble in that way,'' replied the general
sourly. ``Women are fools--ALL women. But the
principal trouble with the second Mrs. Siddall was that
she wasn't a lady born.''
``That's why I say you'll have no trouble,'' said
``Well, I want her mother to talk to her plainer than
a gentleman can talk to a young lady. I want her to
understand that I am marrying so that I can have a
WIFE--cheerful, ready, and healthy. I'll not put up
with foolishness of any kind.''
``I understand,'' said Presbury. ``You'll find that
she'll meet all your conditions.''
``Explain to her that, while I'm the easiest, most
liberal-spending man in the world when I'm getting
what I want, I am just the opposite when I'm not
getting what I pay for. If I take her and if she acts right,
she'll have more of everything that women want than
any woman in the world. I'd take a pride in my wife.
There isn't anything I wouldn't spend in showing her
off to advantage. And I'm willing to be liberal with
her mother, too.''
Presbury had been hoping for this. His eyes sparkled.
``You're a prince, General,'' he said. ``A genuine
prince. You know how to do things right.''
``I flatter myself I do,'' said the general. ``I've
been up and down the world, and I tell you most of the
kings live cheap beside me. And when I get a wife
worth showing of, I'll do still better. I've got wonderful
creative ability. There isn't anything I can't and
won't buy.''
Presbury noted uneasily how cold and straight, how
obviously repelled and repelling the girl was as she
yielded her fingers to Siddall at the leave-taking. He
and her mother covered the silence and ice with hot and
voluble sycophantry. They might have spared themselves
the exertion. To Siddall Mildred was at her
most fascinating when she was thus ``the lady and the
queen.'' The final impression she made upon him was
the most favorable of all.
In the cab Mrs. Presbury talked out of the fullness
of an overflowing heart. ``What a remarkable man
the general is!'' said she. ``You've only to look at
him to realize that you're in the presence of a really
superior person. And what tact he has!--and how
generous he is!--and how beautifully he entertains!
So much dignity--so much simplicity--so much--''
``Fiddlesticks!'' interrupted Presbury. ``Your
daughter isn't a damn fool, Mrs. Presbury.''
Mildred gave a short, dry laugh.
Up flared her mother. ``I mean every word I said!''
cried she. ``If I hadn't admired and appreciated him,
I'd certainly not have acted as I did. _I_ couldn't stoop
to such hypocrisy.''
``Fiddlesticks!'' sneered Presbury. ``Bill Siddall is
a horror. His house is a horror. His dinner was a
horror. These loathsome rich people! They're ruining
the world--as they always have. They're making
it impossible for anyone to get good service or good
food or good furniture or good clothing or good
anything. They don't know good things, and they pay
exorbitant prices for showy trash, for crude vulgar
luxury. They corrupt taste. They make everyone
round them or near them sycophants and cheats. They
substitute money for intelligence and discrimination.
They degrade every fine thing in life. Civilization is
built up by brains and hard work, and along come the
rich and rot and ruin it!''
Mildred and her mother were listening in astonishment.
Said the mother:
``I'd be ashamed to confess myself such a hypocrite.''
``And I, madam, would be ashamed to be such a
hypocrite without taking a bath of confession afterward,''
retorted Presbury.
``At least you might have waited until Mildred
wasn't in hearing,'' snapped she.
``I shall marry him if I can,'' said Mildred.
``And blissfully happy you'll be,'' said Presbury.
``Women, ladies--true ladies, like you and your
mother--have no sensibilities. All you ask is luxury.
If Bill Siddall were a thousand times worse than he is,
his money would buy him almost any refined, delicate
lady anywhere in Christendom.''
Mrs. Presbury laughed angrily. ``YOU, talking like
this--you of all men. Is there anything YOU wouldn't
stoop to for money?''
``Do you think I laid myself open to that charge by
marrying you?'' said Presbury, made cheerful despite
his savage indigestion by the opportunity for effective
insult she had given him and he had promptly seized.
``I am far too gallant to agree with you. But I'm
also too gallant to contradict a lady. By the way,
you must be careful in dealing with Siddall. Rich people
like to be fawned on, but not to be slobbered on.
You went entirely too far.''
Mrs. Presbury, whom indigestion had rendered stupid,
could think of no reply. So she burst into tears.
``And my own daughter sitting silent while that man
insults her mother!'' she sobbed.
Mildred sat stiff and cold.
``It'll be a week before I recover from that dinner,''
Presbury went on sourly. ``What a dinner! What a
villainous mess! These vulgar, showy rich! That
champagne! He said it cost him six dollars a bottle,
and no doubt it did. I doubt if it ever saw France.
The dealers rarely waste genuine wine on such cattle.
The wine-cellars of fine houses the world through are
the laughing-stock of connoisseurs--like their picturegalleries
and their other attempts to make money do the
work of taste. I forgot to put my pills in my bag.
I'll have to hunt up an all-night drug-store. I'd not
dare go to bed without taking an antidote for that
But Presbury had not been altogether improvident.
He had hoped great things of Bill Siddall's wine-cellar
--this despite an almost unbroken series of bitter
disillusionments and disappointments in experience with
those who had the wealth to buy, if they had had the
taste to select, the fine wines he loved. So, resolving
to indulge himself, he had put into his bag his pair of
This was a device of his own inventing, on which he
prided himself. It consisted of a pair of roomy doeskin
slippers reenforced with heavy soles and provided
with a set of three thin insoles to be used according as
the state of his toes made advisable. The cost of the
Presbury gout-boot had been, thanks to patient search
for a cheap cobbler, something under four dollars--
this, when men paid shoe specialists twenty, thirty, and
even forty dollars a pair for gout-boots that gave less
comfort. The morning after the dinner at which he
had drunk to drown his chagrin and to give him courage
and tongue for sycophantry, he put on the boots.
Without them it would have been necessary to carry him
from his room to a cab and from cab to train. With
them he was able to hobble to a street-car. He tried
to distract his mind from his sufferings by lashing
away without ceasing at his wife and his step-daughter.
When they were once more at home, and the mother
and daughter escaped from him, the mother said:
``I was glad to see that you put up with that wretch,
and didn't answer him back.''
``Of course,'' said Mildred. ``He's mad to be rid
of me, but if I offended him he might snatch away this
``He would,'' said Mrs. Presbury. ``I'm sure he
would. But--'' she laughed viciously--``once you're
married you can revenge yourself--and me!''
``I wonder,'' said Mildred thoughtfully.
``Why not?'' exclaimed her mother, irritated.
``I can't make Mr. Presbury out,'' replied the girl.
``I understand why he's helping me to this chance, but
I don't understand why he isn't making friends with me,
in the hope of getting something after I'm married.''
Her mother saw the point, and was instantly agitated.
``Perhaps he's simply leading you on, intending to upset
it all at the last minute.'' She gritted her teeth.
``Oh, what a wretch!''
Mildred was not heeding. ``I must have General
Siddall looked up carefully,'' she went on. ``It may
be that he isn't rich, or that he has another wife
somewhere, or that there's some other awful reason
why marrying him would be even worse than it
``Worse than it seems!'' cried her mother. ``How
CAN you talk so, Milly! The general seems to be an
ideal husband--simply ideal! I wish _I_ had your
chance. Any sensible woman could love him.''
A strange look came into the girl's face, and her
mother could not withstand her eyes. ``Don't, mother,''
she said quietly. ``Either you take me for a fool or
you are trying to show me that you have no selfrespect.
I am not deceiving myself about what I'm doing.''
Mrs. Presbury opened her lips to remonstrate,
changed her mind, drew a deep sigh. ``It's frightful
to be a woman,'' she said.
``To be a lady, Mr. Presbury would say,'' suggested
After some discussion, they fixed upon Joseph Tilker
as the best available investigator of General Siddall.
Tilker had been head clerk for Henry Gower. He was
now in for himself and had offered to look after any
legal business Mrs. Presbury might have without
charging her. He presently reported that there was
not a doubt as to the wealth of the little general.
``There are all sorts of ugly stories about how he made
his money,'' said Tilker; ``but all the great fortunes
have a scandalous history, and I doubt if Siddall's is
any worse than the others. I don't see how it well could
be. Siddall has the reputation of being a mean and
cruel little tyrant. He is said to be pompous, vain,
``Indeed he's not,'' cried Mrs. Presbury. ``He's a
rough diamond, but a natural gentleman. I've met
``Well, he's rich enough, and that was all you asked
me to find out,'' said Tilker. ``But I must warn you,
Mrs. Presbury, not to have any business or intimate
personal relations with him.''
Mrs. Presbury congratulated herself on her wisdom
in having come alone to hear Tilker's report. She did
not repeat any part of it to Mildred except what he had
said about the wealth. That she enlarged upon until
Mildred's patience gave out. She interrupted with a
``Anything else, mamma? Anything about him personally?''
``We've got to judge him in that way for ourselves,''
replied Mrs. Presbury. ``You know how wickedly they
lie about anyone who has anything.''
``I should like to read a full account of General
Siddall,'' said Mildred reflectively; ``just to satisfy my
Mrs. Presbury made no reply.
Presbury had decided that it was best to make no
advance, but to wait until they heard from Siddall. He
let a week, ten days, go by; then his impatience got
the better of his shrewdness. He sought admittance
to the great man at the offices of the International
Metals and Minerals Company in Cedar Street. After
being subjected to varied indignities by sundry understrappers,
he received a message from the general
through a secretary: ``The general says he'll let you
know when he's ready to take up that matter. He says
he hasn't got round to it yet.'' Presbury apologized
courteously for his intrusion and went away, cursing
under his breath. You may be sure that he made his
wife and his stepdaughter suffer for what he had been
through. Two weeks more passed--three--a month.
One morning in the mail there arrived this note--typewritten
upon business paper:
General Siddall asks me to present his compliments
and to say that he will be pleased if you and your wife and
the young lady will dine with him at his house next Thursday
the seventeenth at half-past seven sharp.
The only words in longhand were the two forming
the name of the secretary. Presbury laughed and
tossed the note across the breakfast table to his wife.
``You see what an ignorant creature he is,'' said he.
``He imagines he has done the thing up in grand style.
He's the sort of man that can't be taught manners
because he thinks manners, the ordinary civilities, are for
the lower orders of people. Oh, he's a joke, is Bill
Siddall--a horrible joke.''
Mrs. Presbury read and passed the letter to Mildred.
She simply glanced at it and returned it to her step-father.
``I'm just about over that last dinner,'' pursued
Presbury. ``I'll eat little Thursday and drink less.
And I'd advise you to do the same, Mrs. Presbury.''
He always addressed her as ``Mrs. Presbury''
because he had discovered that when so addressed she
always winced, and, if he put a certain tone into his voice,
she quivered.
``That dinner aged you five years,'' he went on.
``Besides, you drank so much that it went to your head
and made you slather him with flatteries that irritated
him. He thought you were a fool, and no one is stupid
enough to like to be flattered by a fool.''
Mrs. Presbury bridled, swallowed hard, said mildly:
``We'll have to spend the night in town again, I suppose.''
``You and your daughter may do as you like,'' said
Presbury. ``I shall return here that night. I always
catch cold in strange beds.''
``We might as well all return here,'' said Mildred.
``I shall not wear evening dress; that is, I'll wear a
high-neck dress and a hat.''
She had just got a new hat that was peculiarly
becoming to her. She had shown Siddall herself at the
best in evening attire; another sort of costume would
give him a different view of her looks, one which she
flattered herself was not less attractive. But Presbury
interposed an emphatic veto.
``You'll wear full evening dress,'' said he. ``Bare
neck and arms for men like Bill Siddall. They want
to see what they're getting.''
Mildred flushed scarlet and her lips trembled as
though she were about to cry. In fact, her emotion
was altogether shame--a shame so poignant that even
Presbury was abashed, and mumbled something apologetic.
Nevertheless she wore a low-neck dress on Thursday
evening, one as daring as the extremely daring
fashions of that year permitted an unmarried woman
to wear. It seemed to her that Siddall was still more
costly and elegant-looking than before, though this
may have been due to the fact that he always created an
impression that in the retrospect of memory seemed
exaggerated. It seemed impossible that anyone could be
so clean, so polished and scoured, so groomed and
tailored, so bedecked, so high-heeled and loftily coiffed.
His mean little countenance with its grotesquely waxed
mustache and imperial wore an expression of gracious
benignity that assured his guests they need anticipate
no disagreeable news.
``I owe you an apology for keeping you in suspense
so long,'' said he. ``I'm a very busy man, with
interests in all parts of the world. I keep house--
some of 'em bigger than this--open and going in sis
different places. I always like to be at home wherever
my business takes me.''
Mrs. Presbury rolled her eyes. ``Isn't that WONDERFUL!''
she exclaimed. ``What an interesting life you
must lead!''
``Oh, so--so,'' replied the general. ``But I get
awful lonesome. I'm naturally a domestic man. I
don't care for friends. They're expensive and dangerous.
A man in my position is like a king. He can't
have friends. So, if he hasn't got a family, he hasn't
got noth--anything.''
``Nothing like home life,'' said Presbury.
``Yes, indeed,'' cried Mrs. Presbury.
The little general smiled upon Mildred, sitting pale
and silent, with eyes downcast. ``Well, I don't intend
to be alone much longer, if I can help it,'' said he.
``And I may say that I can make a woman happy if
she's the right sort--if she has sense enough to
appreciate a good husband.'' This last he said sternly,
with more than a hint of his past matrimonial misfortunes
in his frown and in his voice. ``The trouble with
a great many women is that they're fools--flighty,
ungrateful fools. If I married a woman like that, I'd
make short work of her.''
``And she'd deserve it, General,'' said Mildred's
mother earnestly. ``But you'll have no trouble if you
select a lady--a girl who's been well brought up and
has respect for herself.''
``That's my opinion, ma'am,'' said the general.
``I'm convinced that while a man can become a gentleman,
a woman's got to be born a lady or she never is
``Very true, General,'' cried Mrs. Presbury. ``I
never thought of it before, but it's the truest thing I
ever heard.''
Presbury grinned at his plate. He stole a glance at
Mildred. Their eyes met. She flushed faintly.
``I've had a great deal of experience of women,'' pursued
the general. ``In my boyhood days I was a ladies'
man. And of course since I've had money they've
swarmed round me like bees in a clover-patch.''
``Oh, General, you're far too modest,'' cried Mrs.
Presbury. ``A man like you wouldn't need to be
afraid, if he hadn't a cent.''
``But not the kind of women I want,'' replied he,
firmly if complacently. ``A lady needs money to keep
up her position. She has to have it. On the other
hand, a man of wealth and station needs a lady to
assist him in the proper kind of life for men of his sort.
So they need each other. They've got to have each
other. That's the practical, sensible way to look at it.''
``Exactly,'' said Presbury.
``And I've made up my mind to marry, and marry
right away. But we'll come back to this later on.
Presbury, you're neglecting that wine.''
``I'm drinking it slowly to enjoy it better,'' said Presbury.
The dinner was the same unending and expensive
function that had wearied them and upset their digestions
on Thanksgiving Day. There was too much of
everything, and it was all just wrong. The general
was not quite so voluble as he had been before; his gaze
was fixed most of the time on Mildred--roving from
her lovely face to her smooth, slender shoulders and back
again. As he drank and ate his gesture of slightly
smacking his thin lips seemed to include an enjoyment
of the girl's charms. And a sensitive observer might
have suspected that she was not unconscious of this and
was suffering some such pain as if abhorrent and cruel
lips and teeth were actually mouthing and mumbling
her. She said not a word from sitting down at table
until they rose to go into the library for coffee.
``Do tell me about your early life, General,'' Mrs.
Presbury said. ``Only the other day Millie was saying
she wished she could read a biography of your romantic
``Yes, it has been rather--unusual,'' conceded the
general with swelling chest and gently waving dollarand-
a-half-apiece cigar.
``I do so ADMIRE a man who carves out his own
fortune,'' Mrs. Presbury went on--she had not obeyed
her husband's injunction as to the champagne. ``It
seems so wonderful to me that a man could with his own
hands just dig a fortune out of the ground.''
``He couldn't, ma'am,'' said the general, with
gracious tolerance. ``It wasn't till I stopped the fool
digging and hunting around for gold that I began to get
ahead. I threw away the pick and shovel and opened
a hotel.'' (There were two or three sleeping-rooms of
a kind in that ``hotel,'' but it was rather a saloon of
the species known as ``doggery.'') ``Yes, it was in the
hotel that I got my start. The fellows that make the
money in mining countries ain't the prospectors and
diggers, ma'am.''
``Really!'' cried Mrs. Presbury breathlessly. ``How
``They're fools, they are,'' proceeded the general.
``No, the money's made by the fellows that grub-stake
the fools--give 'em supplies and send 'em out to nose
around in the mountains. Then them that find anything
have to give half to the fellow that did the grubstaking.
And he looks into the claim, and if there's
anything in it, why, he buys the fool out. In mines,
like everywhere else, ma'am, it ain't work, it's brains
that makes the money. No miner ever made a mining
fortune--not one. It's the brainy, foxy fellows that
stay back in the camps. I used to send out fifty and a
hundred men a year. Maybe only two or three'd turn
up anything worth while. No, ma'am, I never got a
dollar ahead on my digging. All the gold I ever dug
went right off for grub--or a good time.''
``Wonderful!'' exclaimed Mrs. Presbury. ``I never
heard of such a thing.''
``But we're not here to talk about mines,'' said the
general, his eyes upon Mildred. ``I've been looking
into matters--to get down to business--and I've
asked you here to let you know that I'm willing to go
Profound silence. Mildred suddenly drew in her
breath with a sound so sharp that the three others
started and glanced hastily at her. But she made no
further sign. She sat still and cold and pale.
The general, perfectly at ease, broke the silence.
``I think Miss Gower and I would get on faster
Presbury at once stood up; his wife hesitated, her
eyes uneasily upon her daughter. Presbury said:
``Come on, Alice.'' She rose and preceded him into the
adjoining conservatory. The little general posed
himself before the huge open fire, one hand behind him,
the other at the level of his waistcoat, the big cigar between
his first and second fingers. ``Well, my dear?''
said he.
Mildred somewhat hesitatingly lifted her eyes; but,
once she had them up, their gaze held steadily enough
upon his--too steadily for his comfort. He addressed
himself to his cigar:
``I'm not quite ready to say I'm willing to go the
limit,'' said he. ``We don't exactly know each other
sufficiently well as yet, do we?''
``No,'' said Mildred.
``I've been making inquiries,'' he went on; ``that is,
I had my chief secretary make them--and he's a very
thorough man, thanks to my training. He reports
everything entirely all right. I admire dignity and
reserve in a woman, and you have been very particular.
Were you engaged to Stanley Baird?''
Mildred flushed, veiled her eyes to hide their resentful
flash at this impertinence. She debated with herself,
decided that any rebuke short of one that would
anger him would be wasted upon him. ``No,'' said she.
``That agrees with Harding's report,'' said the
general. ``It was a mere girlish flirtation--very dignified
and proper,'' he hastened to add. ``I don't mean
to suggest that you were at all flighty.''
``Thank you,'' said Mildred sweetly.
``Are there any questions you would like to ask about
me?'' inquired he.
``No,'' said Mildred.
``As I understand it--from my talk with Presbury
--you are willing to go on?''
``Yes,'' said Mildred.
The general smiled genially. ``I think I may say
without conceit that you will like me as you know me
better. I have no bad habits--I've too much regard
for my health to over-indulge or run loose. In my
boyhood days I may have put in rather a heavy sowing
of wild oats''--the general laughed; Mildred conjured
up the wintriest and faintest of echoing smiles--``but
that's all past,'' he went on, ``and there's nothing that
could rise up to interfere with our happiness. You are
fond of children?''
A pause, then Mildred said quite evenly, ``Yes.''
``Excellent,'' said the general. ``I'll expect you and
your mother and father to dinner Sunday night. Is
that satisfactory?''
``Yes,'' said Mildred.
A longish pause. Then the general: ``You seem to
be a little--afraid of me. I don't know why it is that
people are always that way with me.'' A halt, to give
her the opportunity to say the obvious flattering thing.
Mildred said nothing, gave no sign. He went on: ``It
will wear away as we know each other better. I am a
simple, plain man--kind and generous in my instincts.
Of course I am dignified, and I do not like familiarity.
But I do not mean to inspire fear and awe.''
A still longer pause. ``Well, everything is settled,''
said the general. ``We understand each other clearly?
--not an engagement, nothing binding on either side
--simply a--a--an option without forfeit.'' And
he laughed--his laugh was a ghoulish sound, not loud
but explosive and an instant check upon demonstration
of mirth from anyone else.
``I understand,'' said Mildred with a glance toward
the door through which Presbury and his wife had disappeared.
``Now, we'll join the others, and I'll show you the
house''--again the laugh--``what may be your future
home--one of them.''
The four were soon started upon what was for three
of them a weariful journey despite the elevator that
spared them the ascents of the stairways. The house
was an exaggerated reproduction of all the establishments
of the rich who confuse expenditure with luxury
and comfort. Bill Siddall had bought ``the best of
everything''; that is, the things into which the purveyors
of costly furnishings have put the most excuses for
charging. Of taste, of comfort, of discrimination,
there were few traces and these obviously accidental.
``I picked out the men acknowledged to be the best in
their different lines,'' said the general, ``and I gave them
carte blanche.''
``I see that at a glance,'' said Presbury. ``You've
done the grand thing on the grandest possible scale.''
``I've looked into the finest of the famous places on
the other side,'' said the general. ``All I can say is,
I've had no regrets.''
``I should say not,'' cried Mrs. Presbury.
With an affectation of modest hesitation--to show
that he was a gentleman with a gentleman's fine appreciation
of the due of maiden modesty--Siddall paused
at the outer door of his own apartments. But at one
sentence of urging from Mrs. Presbury he opened the
door and ushered them in. And soon he was showing
them everything--his Carrara marble bathroom and
bathing-pool, his bed that had been used by several
French kings, his dressing-room with its appliances of
gold and platinum and precious stones, his clothing.
They had to inspect a room full of suits, huge
chiffoniers crowded with shirts and ties and underclothes.
He exhibited silk dressing-robes and pajamas, pointed
out the marks of the fashionable London and Paris
makers, the monograms, the linings of ermine and sable.
``I'm very particular about everything that touches
me,'' explained he. ``It seems to me a gentleman can't
be too particular.'' With a meaning glance at Mildred,
``And I'd feel the same way about my wife.''
``You hear that, Mildred?'' said Presbury, with a
nasty little laugh. He had been relieving the tedium
of this sight-seeing tour by observing--and from time
to time aggravating--Mildred's sufferings.
The general released his mirth-strangling goat laugh;
Mrs. Presbury echoed it with a gale of rather wild
hysterics. So well pleased was the general with the excursion
and so far did he feel advanced toward intimacy that on
the way down the majestic marble stairway he ventured
to give Mildred's arm a gentle, playful squeeze. And at
the parting he kissed her hand. Presbury had changed
his mind about returning to the country. On the way
to the hotel he girded at Mildred, reviewing all that the
little general had said and done, and sneering, jeering
at it. Mildred made not a single retort until they
were upstairs in the hotel. At the door to her room
she said to Presbury--said it in a quiet, cold, terrible
``If you really want me to go through with this
thing, you will stop insulting him and me. If you do it
again, I'll give up--and go on the streets before I'll
marry him.''
Presbury shrugged his shoulders and went on to the
other room. But he did not begin again the next day,
and from that time forth avoided reference to the
general. In fact, there was an astonishing change in his
whole demeanor. He ceased to bait his wife, became
polite, even affable. If he had conducted himself thus
from the outset, he would have got far less credit, would
have made far less progress toward winning the liking
of his wife, and of her daughter, than he did in a brief
two weeks of change from petty and malignant tyrant
to good-natured, interestingly talkative old gentleman.
After the manner of human nature, Mildred and her
mother, in their relief, in their pleasure through this
amazing sudden and wholly unexpected geniality, not
merely forgave but forgot all they had suffered at his
hands. Mildred was not without a suspicion of the
truth that this change, inaugurated in his own good
time, was fresh evidence of his contempt for both of
them--of his feeling that he could easily make reparation
with a little kindness and decency and put himself
in the way of getting any possible benefits from the
rich alliance. But though she practically knew what
was going on in his mind, she could not prevent herself
from softening toward him.
Now followed a succession of dinners, of theater- and
opera-goings, of week-ends at the general's new country
palace in the fashionable region of Long Island.
All these festivities were of the same formal and tedious
character. At all the general was the central sun with
the others dim and draggled satellites, hardly more
important than the outer rim of satellite servants. He
did most of the talking; he was the sole topic of
conversation; for when he was not talking about himself
he wished to be hearing about himself. If Mildred had
not been seeing more and more plainly that other and
real personality of his, her contempt for him and for
herself would have grown beyond control. But, with
him or away from him, at every instant there was the
sense of that other real William Siddall--a shadowy
menace full of terror. She dreamed of it--was
startled from sleep by visions of a monstrous and
mighty distortion of the little general's grotesque
exterior. ``I shall marry him if I can,'' she said to her
self. ``But--can I?'' And she feared and hoped
that she could not, that courage would fail her, or
would come to her rescue, whichever it was, and that
she would refuse him. Aside from the sense of her
body that cannot but be with any woman who is beautiful,
she had never theretofore been especially physical
in thought. That side of life had remained vague, as
she had never indulged in or even been strongly tempted
with the things that rouse it from its virginal sleep.
But now she thought only of her body, because that it
was, and that alone, that had drawn this prospective
purchaser, and his eyes never let her forget it. She
fell into the habit of looking at herself in the glass--
at her face, at her shoulders, at her whole person, not
in vanity but in a kind of wonder or aversion. And
in the visions, both the waking and the sleeping, she
reached the climax of horror when the monster touched
her--with clammy, creepy fingers, with munching lips,
with the sharp ends of the mustache or imperial.
Said Mrs. Presbury to her husband, ``I'm afraid the
general will be irritated by Mildred's unresponsiveness.''
``Don't worry,'' replied Presbury. ``He's so crazy
about himself that he imagines the whole world is in the
same state.''
``Isn't it strange that he doesn't give her presents?
Never anything but candy and flowers.''
``And he never will,'' said Presbury.
``Not until they're married, I suppose.''
Presbury was silent.
``I can't help thinking that if Milly were to rouse
herself and show some--some liking--or at least
interest, it'd be wiser.''
``She's taking the best possible course,'' said
Presbury. ``Unconsciously to both of them, she's leading
him on. He thinks that's the way a lady should act--
restrained, refined.''
Mildred's attitude was simple inertia. The most
positive effort she made was avoiding saying or doing
anything to displease him--no difficult matter, as she
was silent and almost lifeless when he was near. Without
any encouragement from her he gradually got a
deep respect for her--which meant that he became
convinced of her coldness and exclusiveness, of her
absolute trustworthiness. Presbury was more profoundly
right than he knew. The girl pursued the only course
that made possible the success she longed for, yet
dreaded and loathed. For at the outset Siddall had
not been nearly so strongly in earnest in his matrimonial
project as he had professed and had believed
himself. He wished to marry, wished to add to his
possessions the admirable show-piece and exhibition
opportunity afforded by the right sort of wife; but in the
bottom of his heart he felt that such a woman as he
dreamed of did not exist in all the foolish, fickle, and
shallow female sex. This girl--so cold, so proud,
beautiful yet not eager to display her charms or to have
them praised--she was the rare bird he sought.
In a month he asked her to marry him; that is, he
said: ``My dear, I find that I am ready to go the
limit--if you are.'' And she assented. He put his
arm around her and kissed her cheek--and was
delighted to discover that the alluring embrace made no
impression upon the ice of her ``purity and ladylike
dignity.'' Up to the very last moment of the formal
courtship he held himself ready to withdraw should she
reveal to his watchfulness the slightest sign of having
any ``unladylike'' tendencies or feelings. She revealed
no such sign, but remained ``ladylike''; and certainly,
so the general reasoned, a woman who could thus resist
him, even in the license of the formal engagement, would
resist anybody.
As soon as the engagement was formally concluded,
the general hurried on the preparations for the wedding.
He opened accounts at half a dozen shops in
New York--dressmakers, milliners, dealers in fine and
fashionable clothing of every kind--and gave them
orders to execute whatever commands Miss Gower or
her mother--for HER--might give them. When he
told her of this munificence and magnificence and paused
for the outburst of gratitude, he listened in vain.
Mildred colored to the roots of her hair and was silent, was
seeking the courage to refuse.
``I know that you and your people can't afford to do
the thing as things related to me must be done,'' he
went on to say. ``So I decided to just start in a little
early at what I've got to do anyhow. Not that I blame
you for your not having money, my dear. On the contrary,
that's one of your merits with me. I wouldn't
marry a woman with money. It puts the family life on
a wrong basis.''
``I had planned a quiet wedding,'' said Mildred.
``I'd much prefer it.''
``Now you can be frank with me, my dear,'' said the
general. ``I know you ladies--how cheated you feel
if you aren't married with all the frills and fixings.
So that's the way it shall be done.''
``Really,'' protested Mildred, ``I'm absolutely frank.
I wish it to be quite quiet--in our drawing-room, with
no guests.''
Siddall smiled, genial and tolerant. ``Don't argue
with me, my dear. I know what you want, and I'll see
that you get it. Go ahead with these shop-people I've
put at your disposal--and go as far as you like.
There isn't anything--ANYTHING--in the way of
clothes that you can't have--that you mustn't have.
Mrs. General Siddall is going to be the best-dressed
woman in the world--as she is the prettiest. I haven't
opened an account for you with Tiffany's or any of
those people. I'll look out for that part of the
business, myself.''
``I don't care for jewelry,'' said Mildred.
``Naturally not for the kind that's been within your
means heretofore,'' replied he; ``but you'll open your
eyes when you see MY jewelry for MY wife. All in
good time, my dear. You and your mother must start
right in with the shopping; and, a week or so before
the wedding, I'll send my people down to transform the
house. I may be wrong, but I rather think that the
Siddall wedding will cause some talk.''
He was not wrong. Through his confidential
secretary, Harding the thorough, the newspaper press was
induced to take an interest in the incredible extravagance
Siddall was perpetrating in arranging for a fitting
wedding for General William Siddall. For many
days before the ceremony there were daily columns
about him and his romantic career and his romantic
wooing of the New Jersey girl of excellent family and
social position but of comparatively modest means.
The shopkeepers gave interviews on the trousseau. The
decorators and caterers detailed the splendors and the
costliness of the preparations of which they had charge.
From morning until dark a crowd hung round the house
at Hanging Rock, and on the wedding day the streets
leading to it were blocked--chiefly with people come
from a distance, many of them from New York.
At the outset all this noise was deeply distasteful to
Mildred, but after a few days she recovered her normal
point of view, forgot the kind of man she was marrying
in the excitement and exultation over her sudden
splendor and fame. So strongly did the delusion presently
become, that she was looking at the little general
with anything but unfavorable eyes. He seemed to her
a quaint, fascinating, benevolent necromancer, having
miraculous powers which he was exercising in her behalf.
She even reproached herself with ingratitude in not
being wildly in love with him. Would not any other
girl, in her place, have fallen over ears in love with
this marvelous man?
However, while she could not quite convince herself
that she loved, she became convinced without effort that
she was happy, that she was going to be still happier.
The excitement wrought her into a state of exaltation
and swept her through the wedding ceremony and the
going away as radiant a bride as a man would care to
There is much to be said against the noisy, showy
wedding. Certainly love has rarely been known to
degrade himself to the point of attending any such. But
there is something to be said for that sort of married
start--for instance, where love is neither invited nor
desired, an effort must be made to cover the painful
vacancy his absence always causes.
The little general's insistence on a ``real wedding''
was most happy for him. It probably got him his
THE intoxication of that wedding held on long enough
and strongly enough to soften and blunt the disillusionments
of the first few days of the honeymoon. In the
prospect that period had seemed, even to Mildred's
rather unsophisticated imagination, appalling beyond
her power to endure. In the fact--thanks in large
part to that intoxication--it was certainly not
unendurable. A human being, even an innocent young girl,
can usually bear up under any experience to which a
human being can be subjected. The general in pajamas--
of the finest silk and of pigeon's-egg blue
with a vast gorgeous monogram on the pocket--was
more grotesque, rather than more repellent, than the
general in morning or evening attire. Also he--that
is, his expert staff of providers of luxury--had
arranged for the bride a series of the most ravishing
sensations in whisking her, like the heroine of an Arabian
Night's tale, from straitened circumstances to the very
paradise of luxury.
The general's ideas on the subject of woman were old
fashioned, of the hard-shell variety. Woman was made
for luxury, and luxury was made for woman. His
woman must be the most divinely easeful of the luxurious.
At all times she must be fit and ready for any
and every sybaritic idea that might enter her husband's
head--and other purpose she had none. When she
was not directly engaged in ministering to his joy she
must be busy preparing herself for his next call upon
her. A woman was a luxury, was the luxury of
luxuries, must have and must use to their uttermost all
capacities for gratifying his senses and his vanity.
Alone with him, she must make him constantly feel how
rich and rare and expensive a prize he had captured.
When others were about, she must be constantly making
them envy and admire him for having exclusive
rights in such wonderful preserves. All this with an
inflexible devotion to the loftiest ideals of chastity.
But the first realizations of her husband's notions as
to women were altogether pleasant. As she entered the
automobile in which they went to the private car in the
special train that took them to New York and the
steamer--as she entered that new and prodigally
luxurious automobile, she had a first, keen sense of her
changed position. Then there was the superb private
car--her car, since she was his wife--and there was
the beautiful suite in the magnificent steamer. And at
every instant menials thrusting attentions upon her,
addressing her as if she were a queen, revealing in their
nervous tones and anxious eyes their eagerness to please,
their fear of displeasing. And on the steamer, from
New York to Cherbourg, she was never permitted to
lose sight of the material splendors that were now hers.
All the servants, all the passengers, reminded her by
their looks, their tones. At Paris, in the hotel, in the
restaurants, in the shops--especially in the shops--
those snobbish instincts that are latent in the sanest
and the wisest of us were fed and fattened and pampered
until her head was quite turned. And the general
began to buy jewels for her. Such jewels--
ropes of diamonds and pearls and emeralds, rings such
as she had never dreamed existed! Those shopping
excursions of theirs in the Rue de la Paix would make such
a tale as your ordinary simple citizen, ignorant of the
world's resources in luxury and therefore incredulous
about them, would read with a laugh at the extravagance
of the teller.
Before the intoxication of the wedding had worn
away it was re-enforced by the intoxication of the honeymoon--
not an intoxication of love's providing, but
one exceeding potent in its influence upon our weak
human brains and hearts, one from which the strongest
of us, instead of sneering at poor Mildred, would better
be praying to be delivered.
At her marriage she had a few hundred dollars left
of her patrimony--three hundred and fifty and odd,
to be more exact. She spent a little money of her own
here and there--in tips, in buying presents for her
mother, in picking up trifles for her own toilet. The
day came when she looked in her purse and found two
one-franc pieces, a fifty-franc note, and a few coppers.
And suddenly she sat back and stared, her mouth open
like her almost empty gold bag, which the general had
bought her on their first day in the Rue de la Paix.
About ten dollars in all the world, and the general had
forgotten to speak--or to make any arrangement, at
least any arrangement of which she was aware--about
a further supply of money.
They had been married nearly a month. He knew
that she was poor. Why hadn't he said something or,
better still, DONE something? Doubtless he had simply
forgotten. But since he had forgotten for a month,
might he not continue to forget? True, he had himself
been poor at one time in his life, very poor, and
that for a long time. But it had been so many years
ago that he had probably lost all sense of the meaning
of poverty. She frowned at this evidence of his lack
of the finer sensibilities--by no means the first time
that lack had been disagreeably thrust upon her. Soon
she would be without money--and she must have money
--not much, as all the serious expenses were looked
after by the general, but still a little money. How
could she get it? How could she remind him of his
neglect without seeming to be indelicate? It was a
difficult problem. She worked at it more and more
continuously, and irritably, and nervously, as the days
went by and her fifty-two francs dwindled to five.
She lay awake, planning long and elaborate
conversations that would imperceptibly lead him up to where
he must see what she needed without seeing that he had
been led. She carried out these ingenious conversations.
She led him along, he docilely and unsuspectingly
following. She brought him up to where it
seemed to her impossible for any human being endowed
with the ordinary faculties to fail to see what was so
plainly in view. All in vain. General William Siddall
gazed placidly--and saw nothing.
Several days of these failures, and with her funds
reduced to a fifty-centime piece and a two-sous copper
she made a frontal attack. When they went forth for
the day's shopping she left her gold bag behind. After
an hour or so she said:
``I've got to go to the Galleries Lafayette for some
little things. I shan't ask you to sacrifice yourself. I
know you hate those stuffy, smelly big shops.''
``Very well,'' said he. ``I'll use the time in a call
on my bankers.''
As they were about to separate, she taking the motor
and he walking, she made a face of charming dismay
and said: ``How provoking! I've left my bag at the
Instead of the expected prompt offer of money he
said, ``It'll only take you a minute or so to drive there.''
``But it's out of the way,'' she replied. ``I'll need
only a hundred francs or so.''
Said he: ``I've an account at the Bon Marche. Go
there and have the things charged. It's much the best
big shop in Paris.''
``Very well,'' was all she could trust herself to say.
She concealed her anger beneath a careless smile and
drove away. How dense he was! Could anything be
more exasperating--or more disagreeable? What
SHOULD she do? The situation was intolerable; yet how
could it be ended, except by a humiliating direct
request for money? She wondered how young wives
habitually dealt with this problem, when they happened to
marry husbands so negligent, not to say underbred, as
to cause them the awkwardness and the shame. There
followed several days during which the money idea was
an obsession, nagging and grinning at her every instant.
The sight of money gave her a peculiar itching
sensation. When the little general paid for anything
--always drawing out a great sheaf of bank notes in
doing it--she flushed hot and cold, her glance fell
guiltily and sought the money furtively. At last her
desperation gave birth to an inspiration.
About her and the general, or, rather, about the
general, revolved the usual rich man's small army of
satellites of various degrees--secretaries, butlers,
footmen, valets, other servants male and female, some of
them supposed to be devoted entirely to her service, but
all in fact looking ever to the little general. The
members of this company, regardless of differences of rank
and pay, were banded together in a sort of democratic
fellowship, talking freely with one another, on terms
of perfect equality. She herself had, curiously, gotten
on excellent terms with this motley fraternity and found
no small relief from the strain of the general's formal
dignity in talking with them with a freedom and ease
she had never before felt in the society of underlings.
The most conspicuous and most agreeable figure in this
company was Harding, the general's factotum. Why
not lay the case before Harding? He was notably
sensible, and sympathetic--and discreet.
The following day she did so. Said she, blushing
furiously: ``Mr. Harding, I find myself in a very
embarrassing position. I wonder if you can help me?''
Harding, a young man and of one of the best blond
types, said: ``No doubt I can--and I'll be glad to.''
``The fact is''-- Her voice was trembling with
nervousness. She opened the gold bag, took out the little
silver pieces and the big copper piece, extended her pink
palm with them upon it--``there's all I've got left of
the money I brought with me.''
Harding gazed at the exhibit tranquilly. He was
chiefly remarkable for his perfect self-possession. Said
he: ``Do you wish me to cash a check for you?''
The stupidity of men! Tears of vexation gathered
in her eyes. When she could speak she faltered:
He was looking at her now--a grave, kind glance.
She somehow felt encouraged and heartened. She
went on: ``I was hoping--that--that the gen--
that my husband had said something to you and that
you perhaps had not thought to say anything to me.''
Their glances met, his movingly sympathetic and
understanding, hers piteously forlorn--the look of a
lovely girl, stranded and friendless in a far strange
land. Presently he said gently:
``Yes, he told me to say something to you--if you
should speak to me about this matter.'' His tone
caused in her heart a horrible stillness of suspense. He
went on: ``He said--I give you his exact words:
`If my wife should ask you for money, tell her my
ideas on the subject.' ''
A pause. She started up, crimson, her glance
darting nervously this way and that to avoid his. ``Never
mind. Really, it's of no importance. Thank you--
I'll get on very well--I'm sorry to have troubled
``Pardon me, Mrs. Siddall,'' he interposed, ``but I
think you'd best let me finish.''
She started to protest, she tried to move toward the
door. Her strength failed her, she sat down, waited,
nervously clasping and unclasping the costly, jewelembroidered
``He has explained to me, many times,'' continued
Harding, ``that he believes women do not understand
the value of money and ought not to be trusted with it.
He proposes to provide everything for you, every
comfort and luxury--I am using his own language, Mrs.
Siddall--and he has open accounts at the principal
shops in every city where you will go--New York,
Washington, Chicago, Denver, Paris, London, Rome.
He says you are at liberty to get practically anything
you please at these shops, and he will pay the bills.
He thus entirely spares you the necessity of ever spending
any money. Should you see anything you wish at
some shop where he has no account, you can have it sent
collect, and I or my assistant, Mr. Drawl, will settle
for it. All he asks is that you use discretion in this
freedom. He says it would be extremely painful to
him to have to withdraw it.''
Harding had pronounced this long speech in a dry
monotonous voice, like one reading mechanically from
a dull book. As Mildred listened, her thoughts began
to whirl about the central idea until she fell into a kind
of stupor. When he finished she was staring vacantly
at the bag in her lap--the bag she was holding open
Harding continued: ``He also instructed me to say
something about his former--his experiences. The
first Mrs. Siddall he married when he was very young
and poor. As he grew rich, she became madly extravagant.
And as they had started on a basis on which she
had free access to his money he could not check her.
The result, finally, was a succession of bitter quarrels,
and they were about to divorce when she died. He
made the second Mrs. Siddall an allowance, a liberal
allowance. Her follies compelled him to withdraw it.
She resorted to underhanded means to get money from
him without his knowing it. He detected the fraud.
After a series of disagreeable incidents she committed
the indiscretion which caused him to divorce her. He
says that these experiences have convinced him that--''
``The second Mrs. Siddall,'' interrupted Mildred, ``is
she still alive?''
Harding hesitated. ``Yes,'' he said reluctantly.
``Is she--poor?'' asked Mildred.
``I should prefer not to--''
``Did the general forbid you to tell me?''
``On the contrary, he instructed me-- But I'd
rather not talk about it, Mrs. Siddall.''
``Is she poor?'' repeated Mildred.
``What became of her?''
A long pause. Then Harding said: ``She was a
poor girl when the general married her. After the
divorce she lived for a while with the man. But he had
nothing. They separated. She tried various kinds of
work--and other things. Since she lost her looks--
She writes from time to time, asking for money.''
``Which she never gets?'' said Mildred.
``Which she never gets,'' said Harding. ``Lately
she was cashier or head waitress in a cheap restaurant
in St. Louis.''
After a long silence Mildred said: ``I understand.
I understand.'' She drew a long breath. ``I shall
understand better as time goes on, but I understand fairly
well now.''
``I need not tell you, Mrs. Siddall,'' said Harding in
his gentle, tranquil way, ``that the general is the kindest
and most generous of men, but he has his own methods--
as who has not?''
Mildred had forgotten that he was there--not a
difficult matter, when he had in its perfection the
secretarial manner of complete self-effacement. Said she
reflectively, like one puzzling out a difficult problem:
``He buys a woman, as he buys a dog or a horse.
He does not give his dog, his horse, pocket-money.
Why should he give his woman pocket-money?''
``Will it help matters, Mrs. Siddall, to go to the other
extreme and do him a grave injustice?''
She did not hear. At the picture presented to her
mind by her own thoughts she gave a short satirical
laugh. ``How stupid of me not to have understood
from the outset,'' said she. ``Why, I've often heard of
this very thing.''
``It is more and more the custom among men of large
property, I believe,'' said Harding. ``Perhaps, Mrs.
Siddall, you would not blame them if you were in their
position. The rich men who are careless--they ruin
everybody about them, I assure you. I've seen it again
and again.''
But the young wife was absorbed in her own
thoughts. Harding, feeling her mood, did not interrupt.
After a while she said:
``I must ask you some questions. These jewels the
general has been buying--''
Harding made a movement of embarrassment and
protest. She smiled ironically and went on:
``One moment, please. Every time I wish to wear
any of them I have to go to him to get them. He asks
me to return them when I am undressing. He says it
is safer to keep everything in his strong box. I have
been assuming that that was the only reason. I begin
to suspect-- Am I right, Mr. Harding?''
``Really I can't say, Mrs. Siddall,'' said Harding.
``These are not matters to discuss with me, if you will
permit me to say so.''
``Oh, yes, they are,'' replied she laughingly.
``Aren't we all in the same boat?--all employes of
the general?''
Harding made no reply.
Mildred was beside herself with a kind of rage that,
because outlet was necessary and because raving against
the little general would be absolutely futile, found outlet
in self-mockery and reckless sarcasm.
``I understand about the jewels, too,'' she went on.
``They are not mine. Nothing is mine. Everything,
including myself, belongs to him. If I give satisfaction
in the position for which I've been hired for my board
and clothes, I may continue to eat the general's food
and sleep in the general's house and wear the general's
jewels and dresses and ride in the general's traps and be
waited on by the general's servants. If I don't like my
place or he doesn't like my way of filling it''--she
laughed merrily, mockingly--``out I go--into the
streets--after the second Mrs. Siddall. And the general
will hire a new--'' She paused, cast about for a
word in vain, appealed to the secretary, ``What would
you call it, Mr. Harding?''
Harding rose, looking at her with a very soothing
tranquillity. ``If I were you, Mrs. Siddall,'' said he,
``I should get into the auto and go for a long drive--
out to the Bois--out to Versailles--a long, long
drive. I should be gone four or five hours at least, and
I should look at the thing from all sides. Especially,
I'd look at it from HIS standpoint.''
Mildred, somewhat quieter, but still mocking, said:
``If I should decide to quit, would my expenses be paid
back to where I was engaged? I fancy not.''
Harding looked grave. ``If you had had money
enough to pay your own expenses about, would you
have married him?'' said he. ``Isn't he paying--paying
liberally, Mrs. Siddall--for ALL he gets?''
Mildred, stung, drew herself up haughtily, gave him
a look that reminded him who she was and who he was.
But Harding was not impressed.
``You said a moment ago--truly--that we are all
in the same boat,'' observed he. ``I put those questions
to you because I honestly wish to help you--because
I wish you not to act foolishly, hastily.''
``Thank you, Mr. Harding,'' said Mildred coldly.
And with a slight nod she went, angry and ashamed
that she had so unaccountably opened up her secret
soul, bared its ugly wounds, before a man she knew so
slightly, a man in a position but one remove from
menial. However, she took his advice--not as to trying
to view the matter from all sides, for she was
convinced that there was only the one side, but as to
calming herself by a long drive alone in the woods and
along quiet roads. When she returned she was under
control once more.
She found the general impatiently awaiting her.
Many packages had come--from the jewelers, from
the furriers, from a shop whose specialty was the
thinnest and most delicate of hand-made underwear. The
general loved to open and inspect finery for her--
loved it more than he loved inspecting finery for
himself, because feminine finery was far more attractive
than masculine. To whet his pleasure to the keenest
she must be there to admire with him, to try on, to
exhibit. As she entered the salon where the little man
was fussing about among the packages, their glances
met. She saw that Harding had told him--at least in
discreet outline--of their conversation. She also saw
that if she reopened the subject she would find herself
straightway whirled out upon a stormy sea of danger
that might easily overwhelm her flimsy boat. She
silently and sullenly dropped into her place; she
ministered to the general's pleasure in packages of finery.
But she did not exclaim, or admire, or respond in any
way. The honeymoon was over. Her dream of wifehood
was dissipated.
She understood now the look she so often had seen
on the faces of rich men's poor wives driving in state
in Fifth Avenue. That night, as she inspected herself
in the glass while the general's maid for her brushed
her long thick hair, she saw the beginnings of that look
in her own face. ``I don't know just what I am,'' she
said to herself. ``But I do know what I am not. I am
not a wife.''
She sent away the maid, and sat there in the dressingroom
before the mirror, waiting, her glance traveling
about and noting the profuse and prodigal luxury. In
the corner stood a circular rack loaded with dressinggowns--
more than a score of exquisite combinations
of silk and lace or silk and chiffon. It so happened
that there was nowhere in sight a single article of her
apparel or for her toilet that was not bought with
the general's money. No, there were some hairpins
that she had paid for herself, and a comb with widely
separated teeth that she had chanced to see in a
window when she was alone one day. Anything else?
Yes, a two-franc box of pins. And that was all.
Everything else belonged to the general. In the closets,
in the trunks--all the general's, part of the trousseau
he had paid for. Not an undergarment; not an outer
garment; not a hat or a pair of shoes, not a wrap, not
a pair of gloves. All, the general's.
He was in the door of the dressing-room--the small
wiry figure in rose-silk pajamas. The mustache and
imperial were carefully waxed as always, day and night.
On the little feet were high-heeled slippers. On the
head was a rose-silk Neapolitan nightcap with gay tassel.
The nightcap hid the bald spot from which the lofty
toupee had been removed. A grotesque little figure,
but not grotesque to her. Through the mask of the
vain, boastful little face she saw the general watching
her, as she had seen him that afternoon when she came
in--the mysterious and terrible personality that had
made the vast fortune, that had ridden ruthlessly over
friend and foe, over man and woman and child--to the
goal of its desires.
``It's late, my dear?'' said the little man. ``Come
to bed.''
She rose to obey--she in the general's purchases of
filmy nightgown under a pale-pink silk dressing-gown.
He smiled with that curious noiseless mumbling and
smacking of the thin lips. She sat down again.
``Don't keep me waiting. It's chilly,'' he said,
advancing toward her.
``I shall sleep in here to-night--on the couch,'' said
she. She was trembling with fright at her own audacity.
She could see a fifty-centime piece and a copper
dancing before her eyes. She felt horribly alone and
weak, but she had no desire to retract the words with
which she had thrown down the gauntlet.
The little general halted. The mask dropped; the
man, the monster, looked at her. ``What's the matter?''
said he in an ominously quiet voice.
``Mr. Harding delivered your message to-day,'' said
she, and her steady voice astonished her. ``So I am
going back home.''
He waited, looking steadily at her.
``After he told me and I thought about it, I decided
to submit, but just now I saw that I couldn't. I don't
know what possesses me. I don't know what I'm going
to do, or how I'm going to do it. But it's all over
between us.'' She said this rapidly, fluently, in a
decisive way, quite foreign to her character as she had
thought it.
``You are coming to bed, where you belong,'' said
he quietly.
``No,'' replied she, pressing herself against her chair
as if force were being used to drag her from it. She
cast about for something that would make yielding
impossible. ``You are--repulsive to me.''
He looked at her without change of countenance.
Said he: ``Come to bed. I ask you for the last time.''
There was no anger in his voice, no menace either
open or covert; simply finality--the last word of the
man who had made himself feared and secure in the
mining-camps where the equation of personal courage is
straightway applied to every situation. Mildred
shivered. She longed to yield, to stammer out some excuse
and obey him. But she could not; nor was she able
to rise from her chair. She saw in his hard eyes a look
of astonishment, of curiosity as to this unaccountable
defiance in one who had seemed docile, who had
apparently no alternative but obedience. He was not so
astonished at her as she was at herself. ``What is to
become of me?'' her terror-stricken soul was crying.
``I must do as he says--I must--yet I cannot!''
And she looked at him and sat motionless.
He turned away, moved slowly toward the door,
halted at the threshold to give her time, was gone. A
fit of trembling seized her; she leaned forward and
rested her arms upon the dressing-table or she would
have fallen from the chair to the floor. Yet, even as
her fear made her sick and weak, she knew that she
would not yield.
The cold drove her to the couch, to lie under half a
dozen of the dressing-gowns and presently to fall into
a sleep of exhaustion. When she awoke after what she
thought was a few minutes of unconsciousness, the
clamor of traffic in the Rue de Rivoli startled her. She
started up, glanced at the clock on the chimneypiece.
It was ten minutes past nine! When, by all the rules
governing the action of the nerves, she ought to have
passed a wakeful night she had overslept more than an
hour. Indeed, she had had the first sound and prolonged
sleep that had come to her since the honeymoon
began; for until then she had slept alone all her life
and the new order had almost given her chronic insomnia.
She rang for her maid and began to dress. The
maid did not come. She rang again and again;
apparently the bell was broken. She finished dressing and
went out into the huge, grandly and gaudily furnished
salon. Harding was at a carved old-gold and lacquer
desk, writing. As she entered he rose and bowed.
``Won't you please call one of the servants?'' said
she. ``I want my coffee. I guess the bell in my room
is broken. My maid doesn't answer.''
``No, the bell is not broken,'' said Harding.
She looked at him questioningly.
``The general has issued an order that nothing is
to be done in this apartment, and nothing served, unless
he personally authorizes it.''
Mildred paled, drew herself up in what seemed a
gesture of haughtiness but was an effort to muster her
strength. To save herself from the humiliation of a
breakdown before him, she hastily retreated by the way
she had come. After perhaps a quarter of an hour she
reappeared in the salon; she was now dressed for the
street. Harding looked up from his writing, rose and
bowed gravely. Said she:
``I am going out for a walk. I'll be back in an hour
or so.''
``One moment,'' said Harding, halting her as she was
opening the door into the public hall. ``The general
has issued an order that if you go out, you are not to be
allowed to return.''
Her hand fell from the knob. With flashing eyes
she cried, ``But that is impossible!''
``It is his orders,'' said Harding, in his usual quiet
manner. ``And as he pays the bills he will be
She debated. Against her will, her trembling hand
sought the knob again. Against her will, her weak arm
began to draw the door open. Harding came toward
her, stood before her and looked directly into her eyes.
His eyes had dread and entreaty in them, but his voice
was as always when he said:
``You know him, Mrs. Siddall.''
``Yes,'' she said.
``The reason he has got ALL he wanted--whatever he
wanted--is that he will go to any length. Every other
human being, almost, has a limit, beyond which they will
not go--a physical fear or a moral fear or a fear of
public opinion. But the general--he has no limit.''
``Yes,'' she said. And deathly pale and almost staggering
she drew open the door and went out into the
public hall.
``For God's sake, Mrs. Siddall!'' cried Harding, in
great agitation. ``Come in quickly. They are watching--
they will tell him! Are you mad?''
``I think I must be,'' said she. ``I am sick with fear.
I can hardly keep from dropping down here in a faint.
Yet--'' a strange look, a mingling of abject terror
and passionate defiance, gave her an aspect quite insane
--``I am going. Perhaps I, too, have no limit.''
And she went along the corridor, past a group of
gaping and frightened servants, down the stairway and
out by the private entrance for the grand apartments
of the hotel in the Rue Raymond de l'Isle. She crossed
the Rue de Rivoli and entered the Tuileries Gardens.
It was only bracingly cool in the sunshine of that
winter day. She seated herself on a chair on the
terrace to regain her ebbed strength. Hardly had she
sat down when the woman collector came and stood waiting
for the two sous for the chair. Mildred opened her
bag, found two coins. She gave the coppers to the
woman. The other--all the money she had--was the
fifty-centime piece.
``But the bag--I can get a good deal for that,'' she
said aloud.
``I beg your pardon--I didn't catch that.''
She came back to a sense of her surroundings. Stanley
Baird was standing a few feet away, smiling down
at her. He was, if possible, even more attractively
dressed than in the days when he hovered about her,
hoping vague things of which he was ashamed and trying
to get the courage to put down his snobbishness and
marry her because she so exactly suited him. He was
wearing a new kind of collar and tie, striking yet in
excellent quiet taste. Also, his face and figure had filled
out just enough--he had been too thin in the former
days. But he was now entered upon that period of the
fearsome forties when, unless a man amounts to something,
he begins to look insignificant. He did not
amount to anything; he was therefore paling and waning
as a personality.
``Was I thinking aloud?'' said Mildred, as she gave
him her hand.
``You said something about `getting a good deal.' ''
He inspected her with the freedom of an old friend and
with the thoroughness of a connoisseur. Women who
took pains with themselves and were satisfied with the
results liked Stanley Baird's knowing and appreciative
way of noting the best points in their toilets. ``You're
looking fine,'' declared he. ``It must be a pleasure to
them up in the Rue de la Paix to dress you. That's
more than can be said for nine out of ten of the women
who go there. Yes, you're looking fine--and in grand
health, too. Why, you look younger than I ever saw
you. Nothing like marriage to freshen a girl up.
Well, I suppose waiting round for a husband who may
or may not turn up does wear a woman down.''
``It almost killed me,'' laughed Mildred. ``And you
were largely responsible.''
``I?'' said Baird. ``You didn't want me. I was too
old for you.''
``No, I didn't want you,'' said Mildred. ``But you
spoiled me. I couldn't endure the boys of my own
Stanley was remembering that Mildred had married
a man much older than he. With some notion of a careless
sort of tact in mind he said, ``I was betwixt and
between--neither young enough nor old enough.''
``You've married, too, since we met. By the way,
thank you again for that charming remembrance.
You always did have such good taste. But why
didn't you come to the wedding--you and your
He laughed. ``We were busy busting up,'' said he.
``You hadn't heard? It's been in the papers. She's
gone back to her people. Oh, nothing disgraceful on
either side. Simply that we bored each other to death.
She was crazy about horses and dogs, and that set. I
think the stable's the place for horses--don't care to
have 'em parading through the house all the time, every
room, every meal, sleeping and waking. And dogs--
the infernal brutes always have fleas. Fleas only tickled
her, but they bite me--raise welts and hills. There's
your husband now, isn't it?''
Baird was looking up at the windows of the
Continental, across the street. Mildred's glance slowly and
carelessly followed his. At one window stood the little
general, gazing abstractedly out over the gardens. At
another window Mildred saw Harding; at a third, her
maid; at a fourth, Harding's assistant, Drawl; at a
fifth, three servants of the retinue. Except the general,
all were looking at her.
``You've married a very extraordinary man,'' said
Baird, in a correct tone of admiration. ``One of the
ablest and most interesting men we've got, _I_ think.''
``So you are free again?'' said Mildred, looking at
him with a queer, cold smile.
``Yes, and no,'' replied Stanley. ``I hope to be
entirely free. It's her move next. I'm expecting it
every day. But I'm thoroughly respectable. Won't
you and the general dine with me?''
``Thanks, but I'm sailing for home to-morrow or
next day.''
``That's interesting,'' said Baird, with enthusiasm.
``So am I. What ship do you go on?''
``I don't know yet. I'm to decide this afternoon,
after lunch.'' She laughed. ``I'm sitting here waiting
for someone to ask me to lunch. I've not had even
coffee yet.''
``Lunch with me!'' cried Baird. ``I'll go get the
general--I know him slightly.''
``I didn't say anything about the general,'' said Mildred.
Stanley smiled apologetically. ``It wouldn't do for
you to go about with me--not when my missus is looking
for grounds for divorce.''
``Why not?'' said Mildred. ``So's my husband.''
``You busted up, too? Now, that's what _I_ call
jolly.'' And he cast a puzzled glance up at the
abstracted general. ``I say, Mildred, this is no place for
either of us, is it?''
``I'd rather be where there's food,'' confessed she.
``You think it's a joke, but I assure you-- Oh,
you WERE joking--about YOUR bust-up?''
``No, indeed,'' she assured him. ``I walked out a
while ago, and I couldn't go back if I would--and I
don't think I would if I could.''
``That's foolish. Better go back,'' advised he. He
was preparing hastily to decamp from so perilous a
neighborhood. ``One marriage is about like another,
once you get through the surface. I'm sure you'll be
better off than--back with your stepfather.''
``I've no intention of going to his house,'' she declared.
``Oh, there's your brother. I forgot.''
``So had I forgotten him. I'll not go there, either.
In fact, I've not thought where I'll go.''
``You seem to have done mighty little thinking before
you took a very serious step for a woman.'' He
was uneasily eying the rigid, abstracted little figure a
story up across the way.
``Those things aren't a question of thinking,'' said
she absently. ``I never thought in my life--don't
think I could if I tried. But when the time came I--
I walked out.'' She came back to herself, laughed.
``I don't understand why I'm telling you all this,
especially as you're mad with fright and wild to get away.
Well, good-by, Stanley.''
He lifted his hat. ``Good-by. We'll meet when we
can do so without my getting a scandal on you.'' He
walked a few paces, turned, and came back. ``By the
way, I'm sailing on the Deutschland. I thought you'd
like to know--so that you and I wouldn't by any
chance cross on the same boat.''
``Thanks,'' said she dryly.
``What's the matter?'' asked he, arrested, despite his
anxiety to be gone, by the sad, scornful look in her
``Nothing. Why?''
``You had such a--such a queer look.''
``Really? Good-by.''
In fact, she had thought--had hoped for the sake
of her liking for him--that he had come back to make
the glaringly omitted offer of help that should have
come from any human being learning that a fellow
being was in the precarious position in which she had told
him she was. Not that she would have accepted any
such offer. Still, she would have liked to have heard the
kindly words. She sat watching his handsome, graceful
figure, draped in the most artistically cut of long
dark overcoats, until he disappeared in the crowd in
the Rue de Castiglione. Then, without a glance up
at the interested, not to say excited windows of the
general's splendid and spreading apartments, she
strolled down the gardens toward the Place Concorde.
In Paris the beautiful, on a bright and brisk day it is
all but impossible to despair when one still has left
youth and health. Mildred was not happy--far from
it. The future, the immediate future, pressed its
terrors upon her. But in mitigation there was, perhaps
born of youth and inexperience, a giddy sense of relief.
She had not realized how abhorrent the general was--
married life with the general. She had been resigning
herself to it, accepting it as the only thing possible,
keeping it heavily draped with her vanities of wealth
and luxury--until she discovered that the wealth and
the luxury were in reality no more hers than they were
her maid's. And now she was free!
That word free did not have its full meaning for her.
She had never known what real freedom was; women
of the comfortable class--and men, too, for that matter--
usually are born into the petty slavery of conventions
at least, and know nothing else their whole lives
through--never know the joy of the thought and the
act of a free mind and a free heart. Still, she was
released from a bondage that seemed slavish even to her,
and the release gave her a sensation akin to the joy of
freedom. A heavy hand that was crushing her very
soul had been lifted off--no, FLUNG off, and by herself.
That thought, terrifying though it was, also gave her
a certain new and exalting self-respect. After all, she
was not a worm. She must have somewhere in her the
germs of something less contemptible than the essential
character of so many of the eminently respectable
women she knew. She could picture them in the situation
in which she had found herself. What would they
have done? Why, what every instinct of her education
impelled her to do; what some latent love of freedom,
some unsuspected courage of self-respect had forbidden
her to do, had withheld her from doing.
Her thoughts and the gorgeous sunshine and her
youth and health put her in a steadily less cheerless
mood as by a roundabout way she sought the shop of the
jeweler who sold the general the gold bag she had
selected. The proprietor himself was in the front part
of the shop and received ``Madame la Generale'' with
all the honors of her husband's wealth. She brought
no experience and no natural trading talent to the
enterprise she was about to undertake; so she went
directly to the main point.
``This bag,'' said she, laying it upon the glass
between them, ``I bought it here a short time ago.''
``I remember perfectly, madame. It is the handsomest,
the most artistic, we have sold this year.''
``I wish to sell it back to you,'' said she.
``You wish to get something else and include it as
part payment, madame?''
``No, I wish to get the money for it.''
``Ah, but that is difficult. We do not often make
those arrangements. Second-hand articles--''
``But the bag is quite new. Anyhow, it must have
some value. Of course I'd not expect the full price.''
The jeweler smiled. ``The full price? Ah, madame,
we should not think of offering it again as it is.
We should--''
``No matter,'' interrupted Mildred. The man's
expression--the normally pleasant and agreeable countenance
turned to repulsive by craft and lying--made
her eager to be gone. ``What is the most you will
give me?''
``I shall have to consider--''
``I've only a few minutes. Please do not irritate
The man was studying her countenance with a
desperate look. Why was she, the bride of the monstrously
rich American, why was she trying to sell the
bag? Did it mean the end of her resources? Or, were
there still huge orders to be got from her? His shrewdness,
trained by thirty years of dealing with all kinds of
luxurious human beings, went exploring in vain. He
was alarmed by her frown. He began hesitatingly:
``The jewels and the gold are only a small part of
the value. The chief value is the unique design, so
elegant yet so simple. For the jewels and the gold,
perhaps two thousand francs--''
``The purse was twelve thousand francs,'' interrupted
``Perfectly, madame. But--''
``I am in great haste. How much will you give me?''
``The most would be four thousand, I fear. I shall
count up more carefully, if madame will--''
``No, four thousand will do.''
``I will send the money to madame at her hotel. The
Continental, is it not?''
``No, I must have it at once.''
The jeweler hesitated. Mildred, flushing scarlet with
shame--but he luckily thought it anger--took up the
bag and moved toward the door.
``Pardon, madame, but certainly. Do you wish
some gold or all notes?''
``Notes,'' answered she. ``Fifty and hundred-franc
A moment later she was in the street with the notes
in a small bundle in the bosom of her wrap. She went
hurriedly up the street. As she was about to turn the
corner into the boulevard she on impulse glanced back.
An automobile had just drawn up at the jeweler's door
and General Siddall--top-hat, sable-lined overcoat,
waxed mustache and imperial, high-heeled boots, goldmounted
cane--was descending. And she knew that
he had awakened to his one oversight, and was on his
way to repair it. But she did not know that the jeweler
--old and wise in human ways--would hastily vanish
with the bag and that an assistant would come forward
with assurances that madame had not been in the shop
and that, if she should come in, no business would be
negotiated without the general's express consent. She
all but fainted at the narrowness of her escape and fled
round into the boulevard. She entered a taxi and told
the man to drive to Foyot's restaurant on the left bank
--where the general would never think of looking for
When she had breakfasted she strolled in the Luxembourg
Gardens, in even better humor with herself and
with the world. There was still that horrid-faced
future, but it was not leering into her very face. It
was nearly four thousand francs away--``and if I
hadn't been so stupid, I'd have got eight thousand, I'm
sure,'' she said. But she was rather proud of a stupidity
about money matters. And four thousand francs,
eight hundred dollars--that was quite a good sum.
She had an instinct that the general would do
something disagreeable about the French and English ports
of departure for America. But perhaps he would not
think of the Italian ports. That night she set out for
Genoa, and three days later, in a different dress and
with her hair done as she never wore it, sailed as Miss
Mary Stevens for America on a German Mediterranean
She had taken the whole of a cabin on the quieter
deck below the promenade, paying for it nearly half
of what was left of the four thousand francs. The
first three days she kept to her cabin except at the
dinner-hour, when she ventured to the deck just outside
and walked up and down for exercise. Then followed
four days of nasty weather during which she did not
leave her bed. As the sea calmed, she, wretched and
reckless, had a chair put for herself under her window
and sat there, veiled and swathed and turning her face
away whenever a rare wandering passenger happened
to pass along. Toward noon a man paused before her
to light a cigarette. She, forgetting for the moment
her precautions, looked at him. It chanced that he
looked at her at exactly the same instant. Their
glances met. He started nervously, moved on a few
steps, returned. Said she mockingly:
``You know you needn't speak if you don't want to,
``There isn't a soul on board that anybody ever
knew or that ever knew anybody,'' said he. ``So why
``And you look horribly bored.''
``Unspeakably,'' replied Baird. ``I've spoken to no
one since I left Paris.''
``What are you doing on this ship?'' inquired she.
``To be perfectly honest,'' said he, ``I came this way
to avoid you. I was afraid you'd take passage on my
steamer just to amuse yourself with my nervousness.
And--here you are!''
``Amusing myself with your nervousness.''
``But I'm not nervous. There's no danger. Will
you let me have a chair put beside yours?''
``It will be a charity on your part,'' said she.
When he was comfortably settled, he explained his
uneasiness. ``I see I've got to tell you,'' said he, ``for
I don't want you to think me a shouting ass. The fact
is my wife wants to get a divorce from me and to soak
me for big alimony. She's a woman who'll do anything
to gain her end, and--well, for some reason she's always
been jealous of you. I didn't care to get into
trouble, or to get you into trouble.''
``I'm traveling as Mary Stevens,'' said Mildred.
``No one knows I'm aboard.''
``Oh, I'm sure we're quite safe. We can enjoy the
rest of this voyage.''
A sea voyage not merely induces but compels a
feeling of absolute detachment from the world. To both
Stanley and Mildred their affairs--the difficulties in
which they were involved on terra firma--ceased for
the time to have any reality. The universe was nothing
but a vast stretch of water under a vast stretch
of sky; the earth and the things thereof were a retrospect
and a foreboding. Without analyzing it, both
he and she felt that they were free--free from cares,
from responsibilities--free to amuse themselves. And
they proceeded to enjoy themselves in the necessarily
quiet and limited way imposed by the littleness of
their present world and the meagerness of the
As neither had the kind of mind that expands in
abstractions, they were soon talking in the most intimate
and personal way about themselves--were confessing
things which neither would have breathed to anyone
on land. It was the man who set the example of breaking
through the barriers of conventional restraint--
perhaps of delicacy, though it must be said that human
beings are rarely so fine in their reticences as the theory
of refinement would have us believe. Said Stanley,
after the preliminaries of partial confidence and halting
avowal that could not be omitted, even at sea, by a man
of ``gentlemanly instinct'':
``I don't know why I shouldn't own up. I know
you'll never tell anybody. Fact is, I and my wife were
never in love with each other for a second. We married
because we were in the same set and because our incomes
together gave us enough to do the thing rather well.''
After a solemn pause. ``I was in love with another
woman--one I couldn't marry. But I'll not go into
that. As for my wife, I don't think she was in love
with anyone. She's as cold as a stone.''
Mildred smiled ironically.
Baird saw and flushed. ``At least, she was to me.
I was ready to make a sort of bluff. You see, a man
feels guilty in those circumstances and doesn't want
to humiliate a woman. But she--'' he laughed
unpleasantly--``she wasn't bothering about MY feelings.
That's a nice, selfish little way you ladies have.''
``She probably saw through you and hated you for
playing the hypocrite to her,'' said Mildred.
``You may be right, I never thought of that,''
confessed he. ``She certainly had a vicious way of
hammering the other woman indirectly. Not that she ever
admitted being jealous. I guess she knew. Everybody
usually knows everything.''
``And there was a great deal of talk about you and
me,'' said Mildred placidly.
``I didn't say it was you,'' protested Stanley, reddening.
``No matter,'' said Mildred. ``Don't bother about
that. It's all past and gone.''
``Well, at any rate, my marriage was the mistake of
my life. I'm determined that she shan't trip me up and
trim me for any alimony. And as matters stand, she
can't. She left me of her own accord.''
``Then,'' said Mildred thoughtfully, ``if the wife
leaves of her own accord, she can't get alimony?''
``Certainly not--not a cent.''
``I supposed so,'' said she. ``I'm not sure I'd take it
if I could get it. Still, I suppose I would.'' She
laughed. ``What's the use of being a hypocrite with
oneself? I know I would. All I could get.''
``Then you had no LEGAL excuse for leaving?''
``No,'' said she. ``I--just bolted. I don't know
what's to become of me. I seem not to care, at present,
but no doubt I shall as soon as we see land again.''
``You'll go back to him,'' said Stanley.
``No,'' replied she, without emphasis or any accent
``Sure you will,'' rejoined he. ``It's your living.
What else can you do?''
``That's what I must find out. Surely there's
something else for a woman besides such a married life as
mine. I can't and won't go back to my husband. And
I can't and won't go to the house at Hanging Rock.
Those two things are settled.''
``You mean that?''
``Absolutely. And I've got--less than three hundred
and fifty dollars in the whole world.''
Baird was silent. He was roused from his abstraction
by gradual consciousness of an ironical smile on
the face of the girl, for she did not look like a married
woman. ``You are laughing at me. Why?'' inquired
``I was reading your thoughts.''
``You think you've frightened me?''
``Naturally. Isn't a confession such as I made
enough to frighten a man? It sounded as though I
were getting ready to ask alms.''
``So it did,'' said he. ``But I wasn't thinking of it
in that way. You WILL be in a frightful fix pretty soon,
won't you?''
``It looks that way. But you need not be uneasy.''
``Oh, I want to help you. I'll do everything I can.
I was trying to think of something you could make
money at. I was thinking of the stage, but I suppose
you'd balk at that. I'll admit it isn't the life for a
lady. But the same thing's true of whatever money
can be made at. If I were you, I'd go back.''
``If I were myself, I'd go back,'' said Mildred.
``But I'm not myself.''
``You will be again, as soon as you face the situation.''
``No,'' said she slowly, ``no, I shall never be myself
``But you could have everything a woman wants.
Except, of course--perhaps-- But you never struck
me as being especially sentimental.''
``Sentiment has nothing to do with it,'' rejoined she.
``Do you think I could get a place on the stage?''
``Oh, you'd have to study a while, I suppose.''
``But I can't afford that. If I could afford to study,
I'd have my voice trained.''
Baird's face lighted up with enthusiasm. ``The very
thing!'' he cried. ``You've got a voice, a grand-opera
voice. I've heard lots of people say so, and it sounded
that way to me. You must cultivate your voice.''
Mildred laughed. ``Don't talk nonsense. Even I
know that's nonsense. The lessons alone would cost
thousands of dollars. And how could I live for the
four or five years?''
``You didn't let me finish,'' said Baird. ``I was
going to say that when you get to New York you must
go and have your voice passed on--by some impartial
person. If that person says it's worth cultivating, why,
I'm willing to back you--as a business proposition.
I can afford to take the risk. So, you see, it's all
perfectly simple.''
He had spoken rapidly, with a covert suggestion of
fear lest she would rebuke him sharply for what she
might regard as an impertinent offer. She surprised
him by looking at him calmly, reflectively, and saying:
``Yes, you could afford it, couldn't you?''
``I'm sure I could. And it's the sort of thing that's
done every day. Of course, no one'd know that we had
made this little business arrangement. But that's easily
managed. I'd be glad if you'd let me do it, Mildred.
I'd like to feel that I was of some use in the world.
And I'd like to do something for YOU.''
By way of exceedingly cautious experiment he
ventured to put ever so slight an accent of tenderness upon
the ``you.'' He observed her furtively but nervously.
He could not get a hint of what was in her mind. She
gazed out toward the rising and falling horizon line.
Presently she said:
``I'll think about it.''
``You must let me do it, Mildred. It's the sensible
thing--and you know me well enough to know that
my friendship can be counted on.''
``I'll think about it,'' was all she would concede.
They discussed the singing career all that and the
succeeding days--the possibilities, the hopes, the dangers--
but the hopes a great deal more than the dangers.
He became more and more interested in her and
in the project, as her beauty shone out with the
tranquillizing sea and as her old charm of cleverness at
saying things that amused him reasserted itself. She,
dubious and lukewarm at first, soon was trying to curb
her own excited optimism; but long before they sighted
Sandy Hook she was merely pretending to hang back.
He felt discouraged by her parting! ``If I decide to
go on, I'll write you in a few days.'' But he need not
have felt so. She had made up her mind to accept his
offer. As for the complications involved in such curiously
intimate relations with a man of his temperament,
habits, and inclinations, she saw them very vaguely indeed--
refused to permit herself to see them any less
vaguely. Time enough to deal with complications
when and as they arose; why needlessly and foolishly
annoy herself and hamper herself? Said she to herself,
``I must begin to be practical.''
AT the pier Mildred sent her mother a telegram,
giving the train by which she would arrive--that and
nothing more. As she descended from the parlor-car
there stood Mrs. Presbury upon the platform, face
wreathed in the most joyous of welcoming smiles, not
a surface trace of the curiosity and alarm storming
within. After they had kissed and embraced with a
genuine emotion which they did not try to hide, because
both suddenly became unconscious of that world whereof
ordinarily they were constantly mindful--after caresses
and tears Mrs. Presbury said:
``It's all very well to dress plain, when everyone
knows you can afford the best. But don't you think
you're overdoing it a little?''
Mildred laughed somewhat nervously. ``Wait till
we're safe at home,'' said she.
On the way up from the station in the carriage they
chattered away in the liveliest fashion, to make the
proper impression upon any observing Hanging-
Rockers. ``Luckily, Presbury's gone to town to-day,''
said his wife. ``But really he's quite livable--hasn't
gone back to his old ways. He doesn't know it, but
he's rapidly growing deaf. He imagines that everyone
is speaking more and more indistinctly, and he has
lost interest in conversation. Then, too, he has done
well in Wall Street, and that has put him in a good
``He'll not be surprised to see me--alone,'' said
``Wait till we're home,'' said her mother nervously.
At the house Mrs. Presbury carried on a foolish,
false-sounding conversation for the benefit of the servants,
and finally conducted Mildred to her bedroom and
shut doors and drew portieres and glanced into closets
before saying: ``Now, what IS the matter, Millie?
WHERE is your husband?''
``In Paris, I suppose,'' replied Mildred. ``I have
left him, and I shall never go back.''
``Presbury said you would!'' cried her mother.
``But I didn't believe it. I don't believe it. I brought
you up to do your duty, and I know you will.''
This was Mildred's first opportunity for frank and
plain speaking; and that is highly conducive to frank
and plain thinking. She now began to see clearly why
she had quit the general. Said she: ``Mamma, to be
honest and not mince words, I've left him because there's
nothing in it.''
``Isn't he rich?'' inquired her mother. ``I've always
had a kind of present--''
``Oh, he's rich, all right,'' interrupted the girl.
``But he saw to it that I got no benefit from that.''
``But you wrote me how he was buying you everything!''
``So I thought. In fact he was buying ME nothing.''
And she went on to explain the general's system.
Her mother listened impatiently. She would have interrupted
the long and angry recital many times had
not Mildred insisted on a full hearing of her grievances,
of the outrages that had been heaped upon her.
``And,'' she ended, ``I suppose he's got it so arranged
that he could have me arrested as a thief for taking the
gold bag.''
``Yes, it's terrible and all that,'' said her mother.
``But I should have thought living with me here when
Presbury was carrying on so dreadfully would have
taught you something. Your case isn't an exception,
any more than mine is. That's the sort of thing we
women have to put up with from men, when we're in
their power.''
``Not I,'' said Mildred loftily.
``Yes, you,'' retorted her mother. ``ANY woman.
EVERY woman. Unless we have money of our own, we all
have trouble with the men about money, sooner or later,
in one way or another. And rich men!--why, it's
notorious that they're always more or less mean about money.
A wife has got to use tact. Why, I even had to use
some tact with your father, and he was as generous a
man as ever lived. Tact--that's a woman's whole life.
You ought to have used tact. You'll go back to him
and use tact.''
``You don't know him, mamma!'' cried Mildred.
``He's a monster. He isn't human.''
Mrs. Presbury drew a long face and said in a sad,
soothing voice: ``Yes, I know, dear. Men are very,
very awful, in some ways, to a nice woman--with
refined, ladylike instincts. It's a great shock to a
``Oh, gammon!'' interrupted Mildred. ``Don't be
silly, mother. It isn't worth while for one woman to
talk that kind of thing to another. I didn't fully know
what I was doing when I married a man I didn't love
--a man who was almost repulsive to me. But I knew
enough. And I was getting along well enough, as any
woman does, no matter what she may say--yes, you
needn't look shocked, for that's hypocrisy, and I know
it now-- But, as I was saying, I didn't begin to HATE
him until he tried to make a slave of me. A slave!''
she shuddered. ``He's a monster!''
``A little tact, and you can get everything you want,''
insisted her mother.
``I tell you, you don't know the man,'' cried Mildred.
``By tact I suppose you mean I could have sold things
behind his back--and all that.'' She laughed. ``He
hasn't got any back. He had it so arranged that those
cold, wicked eyes of his were always watching me. His
second wife tried `tact.' He caught her and drove her
into the streets. I'd have had no chance to get a cent,
and if I had gotten it I'd not have dared spend it. Do
you imagine I ran away from him without having
THOUGHT? If there'd been any way of staying on, any
way of making things even endurable, I'd have
``But you've got to go back, Milly,'' cried her
mother, in tears.
``You mean that you can't support me?''
``And your brother Frank--'' Mrs. Presbury's
eyes flashed and her rather stout cheeks quivered. ``I
never thought I'd tell anybody, but I'll tell you. I
never liked your brother Frank, and he never liked me.
That sounds dreadful, doesn't it?''
``No, mother dear,'' said Mildred gently. ``I've
learned that life isn't at all as--as everybody pretends.''
``Indeed it isn't,'' said her mother. ``Mothers always
have favorites among their children, and very often a
mother dislikes one of her children. Of course she
hides her feeling and does her duty. But all the same
she can't help the feeling that is down in her heart. I
had a presentiment before he was born that I wouldn't
like him, and sure enough, I didn't. And he didn't like
me, or his father, or any of us.''
``It would never occur to me to turn to him,'' said
``Then you see that you've got to go back to the
general. You can't get a divorce and alimony, for it
was you that left him--and for no cause. He was
within his rights.''
Mildred hesitated, confessed: ``I had thought of
going back to him and acting in such a way that he'd
be glad to give me a divorce and an allowance.''
``Yes, you might do that,'' said her mother. ``A
great many women do. And, after all, haven't they a
right to? A lady has got to have proper support, and
is it just to ask her to live with a man she loathes?''
``I haven't thought of the right or wrong of it,'' said
Mildred. ``It looks to me as though right and wrong
have very little to do with life as it's lived. They're for
hypocrites--and fools.''
``Mildred!'' exclaimed her mother, deeply shocked.
Mildred was not a little shocked at her own thoughts
as she inspected them in the full light into which speech
had dragged them. ``Anyhow,'' she went on, ``I soon
saw that such a plan was hopeless. He's not the man to
be trifled with. Long before I could drive him to give
me a living and let me go he would have driven me to
flight or suicide.''
Her mother had now had time to reflect upon Mildred's
revelations. Aided by the impressions she herself had
gotten of the little general, she began to understand why
her daughter had fled and why she would not return.
She felt that the situation was one which time alone
could solve. Said she: ``Well, the best thing is for
you to stay on here and wait until he makes some
``He'll have me watched--that's all he'll do,'' said
Mildred. ``When he gets ready he'll divorce me for
deserting him.''
Mrs. Presbury felt that she was right. But,
concealing her despondency, she said: ``All we can do
is to wait and see. You must send for your luggage.''
``I've nothing but a large bag,'' said Mildred. ``I
checked it in the parcel-room of the New York station.''
Mrs. Presbury was overwhelmed. How account to
Hanging Rock for the reappearance of a baggageless
and husbandless bride? But she held up bravely.
With a cheerfulness that did credit to her heart and
showed how well she loved her daughter she said: ``We
must do the best we can. We'll get up some story.''
``No,'' said Mildred. ``I'm going back to New
York. You can tell people here what you please--
that I've gone to rejoin him or to wait for him--any
old thing.''
``At least you'll wait and talk with Presbury,''
pleaded her mother. ``He is VERY sensible.''
``If he has anything to suggest,'' said Mildred, ``he
can write it. I'll send you my address.''
``Milly,'' cried her mother, agitated to the depths,
``where ARE you going? WHAT are you going to do?
You look so strange--not at all like yourself.''
``I'm going to a hotel to-night--probably to a
boarding-house to-morrow,'' said Mildred. ``In a few
days I shall begin to--'' she hesitated, decided against
confidence--'' begin to support myself at something or
``You must be crazy!'' cried her mother. ``You
wouldn't do anything--and you couldn't.''
``Let's not discuss it, mamma,'' said the girl tranquilly.
The mother looked at her with eyes full of the
suspicion one lady cannot but have as to the projects of
another lady in such circumstances.
``Mildred,'' she said pleadingly, ``you must be
careful. You'll find yourself involved in a dreadful scandal.
I know you wouldn't DO anything WRONG no matter how
you were driven. But--''
``I'll not do anything FOOLISH, mamma,'' interrupted
the girl. ``You are thinking about men, aren't you?''
``Men are always ready to destroy a woman,'' said
her mother. ``You must be careful--''
Mildred was laughing. ``Oh, mamma,'' she cried, ``do
be sensible and do give me credit for a little sense. I've
got a very clear idea of what a woman ought to do
about men, and I assure you I'm not going to be FOOLISH.
And you know a woman who isn't foolish can be trusted
where a woman who's only protected by her principles
would yield to the first temptation--or hunt round for
a temptation.''
``But you simply can't go to New York and live
there all alone--and with nothing!''
``Can I stay here--for more than a few days?''
``But maybe, after a few days--'' stammered her
``You see, I've got to begin,'' said Mildred. ``So
why delay? I'd gain nothing. I'd simply start Hanging
Rock to gossiping--and start Mr. Presbury to
acting like a fiend again.''
Her mother refused to be convinced--was the firmer,
perhaps, because she saw that Mildred was unshakable
in her resolve to leave forthwith--the obviously sensible
and less troublesome course. They employed the rest
of Mildred's three hours' stop in arguing--when Mildred
was not raging against the little general. Her
mother was more than willing to assist her in this
denunciation, but Mildred preferred to do it all herself.
She had--perhaps by unconsciously absorbed training
from her lawyer father--an unusual degree of ability
to see both sides of a question. When she assailed her
husband, she saw only her own side; but somehow when
her mother railed and raved, she began to see another
side--and the sight was not agreeable. She wished
to feel that her husband was altogether in the wrong;
she did not wish to have intruded upon her such facts
as that she had sold herself to him--quite in the
customary way of ladies, but nevertheless quite shamelessly
--or that in strict justice she had done nothing for him
to entitle her to a liberal money allowance or any allowance
at all.
On the train, going back to New York, she admitted
to herself that the repulsive little general had held
strictly to the terms of the bargain--'' but only a devil
and one with not a single gentlemanly instinct would
insist on such a bargain.'' It took away much of the
shame, and all of the sting, of despising herself to feel
that she was looking still lower when she turned to
despising him.
To edge out the little general she began to think of
her mother, but as she passed in review what her mother
had said and how she had said it she saw that for all
the protests and arguings her mother was more than
resigned to her departure. Mildred felt no bitterness;
ever since she could remember her mother had been a
shifter of responsibility. Still, to stare into the face
of so disagreeable a fact as that one had no place
on earth to go to, no one on earth to turn to, not even
one's own mother--to stare on at that grimacing ugliness
did not tend to cheerfulness. Mildred tried to
think of the future--but how could she think of something
that was nothing? She knew that she would go
on, somehow, in some direction, but by no effort of
her imagination could she picture it. She was so
impressed by the necessity of considering the future that,
to rouse herself, she tried to frighten herself with
pictures of poverty and misery, of herself a derelict in the
vast and cold desert of New York--perhaps in rags,
hungry, ill, but all in vain. She did not believe it.
Always she had had plenty to wear and to eat, and
comfortable surroundings. She could no more think
of herself as without those things than a living person
can imagine himself dead.
``I'm a fool,'' she said to herself. ``I'm certain to
get into all sorts of trouble. How can it be otherwise,
when I've no money, no friends, no experience, no way
of making a living--no honest way--perhaps no way
of the other kind, either?'' There are many women
who ecstasize their easily tickled vanities by fancying
that if they were so disposed they need only flutter an
eyelid to have men by the legion striving for their favors,
each man with a bag of gold. Mildred, inexperienced
as she was, had no such delusions. Her mind happened
not to be of that chastely licentious caste which continually
revolves and fantastically exaggerates the things
of the body.
She could not understand her own indifference about
the future. She did not realize that it was wholly due
to Stanley Baird's offer. She was imagining she was
regarding that offer as something she might possibly
consider, but probably would not. She did not know
that her soul had seized upon it, had enfolded it and
would on no account let it go. It is the habit of our
secret selves thus to make decisions and await their own
good time for making us acquainted with them.
With her bag on the seat beside her she set out to
find a temporary lodging. Not until several hotels had
refused her admittance on the pretext that they were
``full up'' did she realize that a young woman alone is
an object of suspicion in New York. When a fourth
room-clerk expressed his polite regrets she looked him
straight in the eye and said:
``I understand. But I can't sleep in the street. You
must tell me where I can go.''
``Well, there's the Ripon over in Seventh Avenue,''
said he.
``Is it respectable?'' said she.
``Oh, it's very clean and comfortable there,'' said he.
``They'll treat you right.''
``Is it respectable?'' said she.
``Well, now, it doesn't LOOK queer, if that's what you
mean,'' replied he. ``You'll do very nicely there. You
can be just as quiet as you want.''
She saw that hotel New York would not believe her
respectable. So to the Ripon she went, and was admitted
without discussion. As the last respectable clerk
had said, it did not LOOK queer. But it FELT queer; she
resolved that she would go into a boarding-house the
very next day.
Here again what seemed simple proved difficult. No
respectable boarding-house would have Miss Mary
Stevens. She was confident that nothing in her dress
or manner hinted mystery. Yet those sharp-eyed landladies
seemed to know at once that there was something
peculiar about her. Most of them became rude the
instant they set eyes upon her. A few--of the obviously
less prosperous class--talked with her, seemed to be
listening for something which her failing to say decided
them upon all but ordering her out of the house. She,
hindered by her innocence, was slow in realizing that
she could not hope for admission to any select respectable
circle, even of high-class salesladies and clerks,
unless she gave a free and clear account of herself--
whence she had come, what she was doing, how she got
her money.
Toward the end of the second day's wearisome and
humiliating search she found a house that would admit
her. It was a pretentious, well-furnished big house in
Madison Avenue. The price--thirty-five dollars a
week for board, a bedroom with a folding bed in an
alcove, and a bath, was more than double what she had
counted on paying, but she discovered that decent and
clean lodgings and food fit to eat were not to be had
for less. ``And I simply can't live pig-fashion,'' said
she. ``I'd be so depressed that I could do nothing. I
can't live like a wild animal, and I won't.'' She had
some vague notion--foreboding--that this was not
the proper spirit with which to face life. ``I suppose
I'm horribly foolish,'' reflected she, ``but if I must go
down, I'll go down with my colors flying.'' She did
not know precisely what that phrase meant, but it
sounded fine and brave and heartened her to take the
expensive lodgings.
The landlady was a Mrs. Belloc. Mildred had not
talked with her twenty minutes before she had a feeling
that this name was assumed. The evening of her first
day in the house she learned that her guess was correct
--learned it from the landlady herself. After dinner
Mrs. Belloc came into her room to cheer her up, to find
out about her and to tell her about herself.
``Now that you've come,'' said she, ``the house is
full up--except some little rooms at the top that I'd
as lief not fill. The probabilities are that any ladies
who would take them wouldn't be refined enough to suit
those I have. There are six, not counting me, every
one with a bath and two with private parlors. And as
they're all handsome, sensible women, ladylike and
steady, I think the prospects are that they'll pay
promptly and that I won't have any trouble.''
Mildred reflected upon this curious statement. It
sounded innocent enough, yet what a peculiar way to
put a simple fact.
``Of course it's none of my business how people live
as long as they keep up the respectabilities,'' pursued
Mrs. Belloc. ``It don't do to inquire into people in
New York. Most of 'em come here because they want
to live as they please.''
``No doubt,'' said Mildred a little nervously, for she
suspected her landlady of hitting at her, and wondered
if she had come to cross-examine her and, if the results
were not satisfactory, to put her into the street.
``I know _I_ came for that reason,'' pursued Mrs.
Belloc. ``I was a school-teacher up in New England
until about two years ago. Did you ever teach
``Not yet,'' said Mildred. ``And I don't think I ever
shall. I don't know enough.''
``Oh, yes, you do. A teacher doesn't need to know
much. The wages are so poor--at least up in New
England--that they don't expect you to know anything.
It's all in the books. I left because I couldn't
endure the life. Lord! how dull those little towns are!
Ever live in a little town?''
``All my life,'' said Mildred.
``Well, you'll never go back.''
``I hope not.''
``You won't. Why should you? A sensible woman
with looks--especially if she knows how to carry her
clothes--can stay in New York as long as she pleases,
and live off the fat of the land.''
``That's good news,'' said Mildred. She began to
like the landlady--not for what she said, but for the
free and frank and friendly way of the saying--a
human way, a comradely way, a live-and-let-live way.
``I didn't escape from New England without a
struggle,'' continued Mrs. Belloc, who was plainly showing
that she had taken a great fancy to ``Mary Stevens.''
``I suppose it was hard to save the money out of
your salary,'' said Mildred.
Mrs. Belloc laughed. She was about thirty-five years
old, though her eyes and her figure were younger than
that. Her mouth was pleasant enough, but had lost
some of its freshness. ``Save money!'' cried she.
``I'd never have succeeded that way. I'd be there yet.
I had never married--had two or three chances, but
all from poor sticks looking for someone to support
them. I saw myself getting old. I was looking years
older than I do now. Talk about sea air for freshening a
woman up--it isn't in it with the air of New York.
Here's the town where women stay young. If I had
come here five years ago I could almost try for the squab
``Squab class?'' queried Mildred.
``Yes, squabs. Don't you see them around everywhere?--
the women dressed like girls of sixteen to
eighteen--and some of them are that, and younger.
They go hopping and laughing about--and they seem
to please the men and to have no end of a good time.
Especially the oldish men. Oh, yes, you know a squab
on sight--tight skirt, low shoes and silk stockings,
cute pretty face, always laughing, hat set on rakishly
and hair done to match, and always a big purse or
bag--with a yellow-back or so in it--as a kind of a
hint, I guess.''
Mildred had seen squabs. ``I've envied them--in a
way,'' said she. ``Their parents seem to let them do
about as they please.''
``Their parents don't know--or don't care. Sometimes
it's one, sometimes the other. They travel in two
sets. One is where they meet young fellows of their
own class--the kind they'll probably marry, unless
they happen to draw the capital prize. The other set
they travel in--well, it's the older men they meet round
the swell hotels and so on--the yellow-back men.''
``How queer!'' exclaimed Mildred, before whose eyes
a new world was opening. ``But how do they--these
--squabs--account for the money?''
``How do a thousand and one women in this funny
town account at home for money and things?'' retorted
Mrs. Belloc. ``Nothing's easier. For instance, often
these squabs do--or pretend to do--a little something
in the way of work--a little canvassing or artists'
model or anything you please. That helps them to
explain at home--and also to make each of the yellowback
men think he's the only one and that he's being
almost loved for himself alone.''
Mrs. Belloc laughed. Mildred was too astonished
to laugh, and too interested--and too startled or
``But I was telling you how _I_ got down here,''
continued the landlady. ``Up in my town there was an
old man--about seventy-five--close as the bark on
a tree, and ugly and mean.'' She paused to draw a
long breath and to shake her head angrily yet
triumphantly at some figure her fancy conjured up.
``Oh, he WAS a pup!--and is! Well, anyhow, I
decided that I'd marry him. So I wrote home for fifty
dollars. I borrowed another fifty here and there. I
had seventy-five saved up against sickness. I went up
to Boston and laid it all out in underclothes and house
things--not showy but fine and good to look at. Then
one day, when the weather was fine and I knew the old
man would be out in his buggy driving round--I
dressed myself up to beat the band. I took hours to
it--scrubbing, powdering, sacheting, perfuming,
fixing the hair, fixing my finger-nails, fixing up my feet,
polishing every nail and making them look better than
most hands.''
Mildred was so interested that she was excited. What
strange freak was coming?
``You never could guess,'' pursued Mrs. Belloc,
complacently. ``I took my sunshade and went out, all got
up to kill. And I walked along the road until I saw
the old man's buggy coming with him in it. Then I
gave my ankle a frightful wrench. My! How it
``What a pity!'' said Mildred sympathetically.
``What a shame!''
``A pity? A shame?'' cried Mrs. Belloc, laughing.
``Why, my dear, I did it a-purpose.''
``On purpose!'' exclaimed Mildred.
``Certainly. That was my game. I screamed out
with pain--and the scream was no fake, I can tell
you. And I fell down by the roadside on a nice grassy
spot where no dust would get on me. Well, up comes
the old skinflint in his buggy. He climbed down and
helped me get off my slipper and stocking. I knew
I had him the minute I saw his old face looking at that
foot I had fixed up so beautifully.''
``How DID you ever think of it?'' exclaimed Mildred.
``Go and teach school for ten years in a dull little
town, my dear--and look in the glass every day and
see your youth fading away--and you'll think of most
anything. Well, to make a long story short, the old
man took me in the buggy to his house where he lived
with his deaf, half-blind old widowed daughter. I had
to stay there three weeks. I married him the fourth
week. And just two months to a day from the afternoon
I sprained my ankle, he gave me fifty dollars a
week--all signed and sealed by a lawyer--to go away
and leave him alone. I might have stood out for more,
but I was too anxious to get to New York. And here
I am!'' She gazed about the well-furnished room,
typical of that almost luxurious house, with an air of
triumphant satisfaction. Said she: ``I've no patience
with a woman who says she can't get on. Where's her
Mildred was silent. Perhaps it was a feeling of what
was hazily in the younger woman's mind and a desire
to answer it that led Mrs. Belloc to say further: ``I
suppose there's some that would criticize my way of
getting there. But I want to know, don't all women
get there by working men? Only most of them are so
stupid that they have to go on living with the man.
I think it's low to live with a man you hate.''
``Oh, I'm not criticizing anybody,'' said Mildred.
``I didn't think you were,'' said Mrs. Belloc. ``If
I hadn't seen you weren't that kind, I'd not have been
so confidential. Not that I'm secretive with anybody.
I say and do what I please. Anyone who doesn't like
my way or me can take the other side of the street.
I didn't come to New York to go in society. I came
here to LIVE.''
Mildred looked at her admiringly. There were
things about Mrs. Belloc that she did not admire; other
things--suspected rather than known things--that
she knew she would shrink from, but she heartily
admired and profoundly envied her utter indifference to
the opinion of others, her fine independent way of
walking her own path at her own gait.
``I took this boarding-house,'' Mrs. Belloc went on,
``because I didn't want to be lonesome. I don't like
all--or even most of--the ladies that live here. But
they're all amusing to talk with--and don't put on
airs except with their men friends. And one or two
are the real thing--good-hearted, fond of a joke, without
any meanness. I tell you, New York is a mighty
fine place if you get `in right.' Of course, if you
don't, it's h-e-l-l.'' (Mrs. Belloc took off its unrefined
edge by spelling it.) ``But what place isn't?'' she
``And your husband never bothers you?'' inquired
``And never will,'' replied Mrs. Belloc. ``When he
dies I'll come into a little more--about a hundred and
fifty a week in all. Not a fortune, but enough with
what the boarding-house brings in. I'm a pretty fair
business woman.''
``I should say so!'' exclaimed Mildred.
``You said you were Miss Stevens, didn't you?'' said
Mrs. Belloc--and Mildred knew that her turn had
``Yes,'' replied she. ``But I am also a married
woman.'' She hesitated, reddened. ``I didn't give you
my married name.''
``That's your own business,'' said Mrs. Belloc in her
easiest manner. ``My right name isn't Belloc, either.
But I've dropped that other life. You needn't feel a
bit embarrassed in this house. Some of my boarders
SEEM to be married. All that have regular-appearing
husbands SAY they are. What do I care, so long as
everything goes along smoothly? I don't get excited
about trifles.''
``Some day perhaps I'll tell you about myself,'' said
Mildred. ``Just at present I--well, I seem not to
be able to talk about things.''
``It's not a bad idea to keep your mouth shut, as
long as your affairs are unsettled,'' advised Mrs. Belloc.
``I can see you've had little experience. But you'll
come out all right. Just keep cool, and don't fret
about trifles. And don't let any man make a fool of
you. That's where we women get left. We're afraid
of men. We needn't be. We can mighty easily make
them afraid of us. Use the soft hand till you get him
well in your grip. Then the firm hand. Nothing
coarse or cruel or mean. But firm and self-respecting.''
Mildred was tempted to take Mrs. Belloc fully into
her confidence and get the benefit of the advice of
shrewdness and experience. So strong was the
temptation, she would have yielded to it had Mrs. Belloc
asked a few tactful, penetrating questions. But Mrs.
Belloc refrained, and Mildred's timidity or delicacy
induced her to postpone. The next day she wrote Stanley
Baird, giving her address and her name and asking him
to call ``any afternoon at four or five.'' She assumed
that he would come on the following day, but the letter
happened to reach him within an hour of her mailing
it, and he came that very afternoon.
When she went down to the drawing-room to receive
him, she found him standing in the middle of the room
gazing about with a quizzical expression. As soon as
the greetings were over he said:
``You must get out of here, Mildred. This won't
``Indeed I shan't,'' said she. ``I've looked everywhere,
and this is the only comfortable place I could
find--where the rates were reasonable and where the
landlady didn't have her nose in everybody's business.''
``You don't understand,'' said he. ``This is a birdcage.
Highly gilded, but a bird-cage.''
She had never heard the phrase, but she understood--
and instantly she knew that he was right. She colored
violently, sat down abruptly. But in a moment she
recovered herself, and with fine defiance said:
``I don't care. Mrs. Belloc is a kind-hearted woman,
and it's as easy to be respectable here as anywhere.''
``Sure,'' assented he. ``But you've got to consider
appearances to a certain extent. You won't be able to
find the right sort of a boarding-house--one you'd be
comfortable in. You've got to have a flat of your
``I can't afford it,'' said Mildred. ``I can't afford
this, even. But I simply will not live in a shabby,
mussy way.''
``That's right!'' cried Stanley. ``You can't do
proper work in poor surroundings. Some women
could, but not your sort. But don't worry. I'm going
to see you through. I'll find a place--right away.
You want to start in at once, don't you?''
``I've got to,'' said Mildred.
``Then leave it all to me.''
``But WHAT am I to do?''
``Sing, if you can. If not, then act. We'll have
you on the stage within a year or so. I'm sure of it.
And I'll get my money back, with interest.''
``I don't see how I can accept it,'' said Mildred very
``You've got to,'' said Stanley. ``What alternative
is there? None. So let's bother no more about it.
I'll consult with those who know, find out what the thing
costs, and arrange everything. You're as helpless as a
baby, and you know it.''
Yes, Mildred knew it.
He looked at her with an amused smile. ``Come,
out with it!'' he cried. ``You've got something on
your mind. Let's get everything straight--and keep
it that way.''
Mildred hung her head.
``You're uneasy because I, a man, am doing this for
you, a young woman? Is that it?''
``Yes,'' she confessed.
He leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs, and
spoke in a brisk, businesslike way. ``In the first place,
it's got to be done, hasn't it? And someone has got
to do it? And there is no one offering but me? Am
I right?''
She nodded.
``Then _I_'ve got to do it, and you've GOT to let me.
There's logic, if ever there was logic. A Philadelphia
lawyer couldn't knock a hole in it. You trust me, don't
She was silent.
``You don't trust me, then,'' said he cheerfully.
``Well, perhaps you're right. But you trust yourself,
don't you?''
She moved restlessly, but remained silent.
``You are afraid I might put you in a difficult position?''
``Something like that,'' she admitted, in a low,
embarrassed voice.
``You fear that I expect some return which you do
not intend to give?''
She was silent.
``Well, I don't,'' said he bluntly. ``So put your
mind at rest. Some day I'll tell you why I am doing
this, but I want you to feel that I ask nothing of you
but my money back with interest, when you can afford
to pay.''
``I can't feel that,'' said she. ``You're putting me
in your debt--so heavily that I'd feel I ought to pay
anything you asked. But I couldn't and wouldn't
``Unless you felt like it?'' suggested he.
``It's honest for me to warn you that I'm not likely
to feel that way.''
``There is such a thing as winning a woman's love,
isn't there?'' said he jestingly. It was difficult to tell
when Stanley Baird was jesting and when he was in
``Is that what you expect?'' said she gravely.
``If I say yes?''
She lowered her eyes and laughed in an embarrassed
He was frankly amused. ``You see, you feel that
you're in my power. And you are. So why not make
the best of it?'' A pause, then he said abruptly and
with a convincing manliness, ``I think, Mildred, you
can trust me not to be a beast.''
She colored and looked at him with quick contrition.
``I'm ashamed of myself,'' said she. ``Please forget
that I said anything. I'll take what I must, and I'll
pay it back as soon as I can. And--thank you, Stanley.''
The tears were in her eyes. ``If I had anything
worth your taking I'd be glad to give it to you. What
vain fools we women are!''
``Aren't you, though!'' laughed he. ``And now it's
all settled--until you're on the stage, and free, and
the money's paid back--WITH interest. I shall charge
you six per cent.''
When she first knew him she had not been in the least
impressed by what now seemed to her his finest and
rarest trait, for, in those days she had been as ignorant
of the realities of human nature as one who has never
adventured his boat beyond the mouth of the peaceful
land-locked harbor is ignorant of the open sea. But
in the hard years she had been learning--not only
from Presbury and General Siddall, but from the cook
and the housemaid, from every creditor, every tradesman,
everyone whose attitude socially toward her had
been modified by her changed fortunes--and whose
attitude had not been changed? Thus, she was now
able to appreciate--at least in some measure--Stanley
Baird's delicacy and tact. No, not delicacy and
tact, for that implied effort. His ability to put this
offer in such a way that she could accept without serious
embarrassment arose from a genuine indifference to
money as money, a habit of looking upon it simply
as a means to an end. He offered her the money
precisely as he would have offered her his superior strength
if it had been necessary to cross a too deep and swift
creek. She had the sense that he felt he was doing
something even less notable than he admitted, and that
he talked of it as a valuable and rather unusual service
simply because it was the habit thus to regard such
As they talked on of ``the great career'' her spirits
went up and up. It was evident that he now had a
new and keen interest in life, that she was doing him
a greater favor than he was doing her. He had always
had money, plenty of it, more than he could use. He
now had more than ever--for, several rich relatives
had died and, after the habit of the rich, had left
everything to him, the one of all the connections who needed
it least. He had a very human aversion to spending
money upon people or things he did not like. He
would have fought to the last court an attempt by his
wife to get alimony. He had a reputation with the
``charity gang'' of being stingy because he would not
give them so much as the price of a bazaar ticket.
Also, the impecunious spongers at his clubs spread his
fame as a ``tight-wad'' because he refused to let them
``stick him up'' for even a round of drinks. Where
many a really stingy man yielded through weakness
or fear of public opinion, he stood firm. His one
notable surrender of any kind had been his marriage;
that bitter experience had cured him of the surrendering
habit for all time. Thenceforth he did absolutely
and in everything as he pleased.
Mildred had heard that he was close about money.
She had all but forgotten it, because her own experience
with him had made such a charge seem ridiculous.
She now assumed--so far as she thought about it at
all--that he was extremely generous. She did not
realize what a fine discriminating generosity his was,
or how striking an evidence of his belief in her as well
as of his liking for her.
As he rose to go he said: ``You mustn't forget that
our arrangement is a secret between us. Neither of
us can afford to have anyone know it.''
``There isn't anyone in the world who wouldn't
misunderstand it,'' said she, without the least feeling of
``Just so,'' said he. ``And I want you to live in
such a way that I can come to call. We must arrange
things so that you will take your own name--''
``I intend to use the name Mary Stevens in my
work,'' she interrupted.
``But there mustn't be any concealment, any mystery
to excite curiosity and scandal--''
This time the interruption was her expression. He
turned to see what had startled her, and saw in the
doorway of the drawing-room the grotesquely neat and
stylish figure of the little general. Before either could
speak he said:
``How d'you do, Mr. Baird? You'll pardon me if
I ask you to leave me alone with my WIFE.''
Stanley met the situation with perfect coolness.
``How are you, General?'' said he. ``Certainly, I
was just going.'' He extended his hand to Mildred,
said in a correct tone of conventional friendliness,
``Then you'll let me know when you're settled?'' He
bowed, moved toward the door, shook hands with the
general, and passed out, giving from start to finish a
model example of a man of the world extricating himself
from an impossible situation and leaving it the
better for his having been entangled. To a man of
Siddall's incessant and clumsy self-consciousness such
unaffected ease could not but be proof positive of
Mildred's innocence--unless he had overheard. And his
first words convinced her that he had not. Said he:
``So you sent for your old admirer?''
``I ran across him accidentally,'' replied Mildred.
``I know,'' said the little general. ``My men picked
you up at the pier and haven't lost sight of you since.
It's fortunate that I've kept myself informed, or I
might have misunderstood that chap's being here.'' A
queer, cloudy look came into his eyes. ``I must give
him a warning for safety's sake.'' He waved his hand
in dismissal of such an unimportant trifle as the accidental
Baird. He went on, his wicked eyes bent coldly
and dully upon her: ``Do you know what kind of a
house this is?''
``Stanley Baird urged me to leave,'' replied she.
``But I shall stay until I find a better--and that's not
``Yes, my men have reported to me on the difficulties
you've had. It was certainly fortunate for you
that I had them look after you. Otherwise I'd never
have understood your landing in this sort of a house.
You are ready to come with me?''
``Your secretary explained that if I left the hotel
it was the end.''
``He told you that by my orders.''
``So he explained,'' said Mildred. She seated herself,
overcome by a sudden lassitude that was accompanied
not by fear, but by indifference. ``Won't you sit down?
I am willing to hear what you have to say.''
The little general, about to sit, was so astonished
that he straightened and stiffened himself. ``In
consenting to overlook your conduct and take you back
I have gone farther than I ever intended. I have taken
into consideration your youth and inexperience.''
``But I am not going back,'' said Mildred.
The little general slowly seated himself. ``You have
less than two hundred and fifty dollars left,'' said he.
``Really? Your spies know better than I.''
``I have seen Presbury. He assures me that in no
circumstances will he and your mother take you back.''
``They will not have the chance to refuse,'' said
``As for your brother--''
``I have no brother,'' said she coldly.
``Then you are coming back with me.''
``No,'' said Mildred. ``I should''--she cast about
for an impressive alternative--``I should stay on here,
The little general--his neat varnished leather and
be-spatted shoes just touched the floor--examined his
highly polished top-hat at several angles. Finally he
said: ``You need not fear that your misconduct will
be remembered against you. I shall treat you in every
way as my wife. I shall assume that your--your
flight was an impulse that you regret.''
``I shan't go back,'' said Mildred. ``Nothing you
could offer would change me.''
``I cannot make any immediate concession on the--
the matter that caused you to go,'' pursued he, as if
she had not spoken, ``but if I see that you have reliability
and good sense, I'll agree to give you an allowance later.''
Mildred eyed him curiously. ``Why are you making
these offers, these concessions?'' she said. ``You think
everyone in the world is a fool except yourself. You're
greatly deceived. I know that you don't mean what
you've been saying. I know that if you got me in
your power again, you would do something frightful.
I've seen through that mask you wear. I know the
kind of man you are.''
``If you know that,'' said the general in his even
slow way, monotonous, almost lifeless, ``you know you'd
better come with me than stand out against me.''
She did not let him see how this struck terror into
her. She said: ``No matter what you might do to me,
when I'm away from you, it would be less than you'd
do with me under your roof. At any rate, it'd seem
The general reflected, decided to change to another
point: ``You made a bargain with me. You've broken
it. I never let anyone break a bargain with me without
making them regret it. I'm giving you a chance
to keep your bargain.''
She was tempted to discuss, but she could not find
the words, or the strength. Besides, how futile to
discuss with such a man. She sank back in her chair
wearily. ``I shall never go back,'' she said.
He looked at her, his face devoid of expression, but
she had a sense of malignance unutterable eying her
from behind a screen. He said: ``I see you've
misunderstood my generosity. You think I'm weak where
you are concerned because I've come to you instead of
doing as I said and making you come to me.'' He rose.
``Well, my offer to you is closed. And once more I
say, you will come to me and ask to be taken back. I
may or may not take you back. It depends on how
I'll feel at that time.''
Slowly, with his ludicrously pompous strut, he
marched to the drawing-room door. She had not felt
like smiling, but if there had been any such inclination
it would have fled before the countenance that turned
upon her at the threshold. It was the lean, little face
with the funny toupee and needle-like mustache and
imperial, but behind it lay a personality like the dull,
cold, yellow eyes of the devil-fish ambushed in the hazy
mass of dun-colored formlessness of collapsed body
and tentacles. He said:
``You'd best be careful how you conduct yourself.
You'll be under constant observation. And any friends
you make--they'd do well to avoid you.''
He was gone. She sat without the power of motion,
without the power of thought. After a time--perhaps
long, perhaps short, she did not know--Mrs.
Belloc came in and entered upon a voluble apology for
the maid's having shown ``the little gentleman'' into
the drawing-room when another was already there.
``That maid's as green as spring corn,'' said she.
``Such a thing never happened in my house before.
And it'll never happen again. I do hope it didn't cause
``It was my husband,'' said Mildred. ``I had to see
him some time.''
``He's certainly a very elegant little gentleman,''
said Mrs. Belloc. ``I rather like small men, myself.''
Mildred gazed at her vaguely and said, ``Tell me--
a rich man, a very rich man--if he hates anyone, can
he make trouble?''
``Money can do anything in this town,'' replied Mrs.
Belloc. ``But usually rich men are timid and stingy.
If they weren't, they'd make us all cringe. As it is,
I've heard some awful stories of how men and women
who've got some powerful person down on them have
been hounded.''
Mildred turned deathly sick. ``I think I'll go to
my room,'' she said, rising uncertainly and forcing
herself toward the door.
Mrs. Belloc's curiosity could not restrain itself.
``You're leaving?'' she asked. ``You're going back
to your husband?''
She was startled when the girl abruptly turned on
her and cried with flashing eyes and voice strong and
vibrant with passion: ``Never! Never! No matter
what comes--NEVER!''
The rest of the day and that night she hid in her
room and made no effort to resist the terror that preyed
upon her. Just as our strength is often the source of
weakness, so our weaknesses often give birth to strength.
Her terror of the little general, given full swing,
shrieked and grimaced itself into absurdity. She was
ashamed of her orgy, was laughing at it as the sun
and intoxicating air of a typical New York morning
poured in upon her. She accepted Mrs. Belloc's
invitation to take a turn through the park and up
Riverside Drive in a taxicab, came back restored to her
normal state of blind confidence in the future. About
noon Stanley Baird telephoned.
``We must not see each other again for some time,''
said he. ``I rather suspect that you--know--who may be
having you watched.''
``I'm sure of it,'' said she. ``He warned me.''
``Don't let that disturb you,'' pursued Stanley. ``A
man--a singing teacher--his name's Eugene Jennings--
will call on you this afternoon at three. Do
exactly as he suggests. Let him do all the talking.''
She had intended to tell Baird frankly that she
thought, indeed knew, that it was highly dangerous for
him to enter into her affairs in any way, and to urge
him to draw off. She felt that it was only fair to act
so toward one who had been unselfishly generous to
her. But now that the time for speaking had come,
she found herself unable to speak. Only by flatly
refusing to have anything to do with his project could
she prevail upon him. To say less than that she had
completely and finally changed her mind would sound,
and would be, insincere. And that she could not say.
She felt how noble it would be to say this, how selfish,
and weak, too, it was to cling to him, possibly to
involve him in disagreeable and even dangerous complications,
but she had no strength to do what she would have
denounced another as base for not doing. Instead of
the lofty words that flow so freely from the lips of stage
and fiction heroines, instead of the words that any and
every reader of this history would doubtless have
pronounced in the same circumstances, she said:
``You're quite sure you want to go on?''
``Why not?'' came instantly back over the wire.
``He is a very, very relentless man,'' replied she.
``Did he try to frighten you?''
``I'm afraid he succeeded.''
``You're not going back on the career!'' exclaimed
he excitedly. ``I'll come down there and--''
``No, no,'' cried she. ``I was simply giving you a
chance to free yourself.'' She felt sure of him now.
She scrambled toward the heights of moral grandeur.
``I want you to stop. I've no right to ask you to
involve yourself in my misfortunes. Stanley, you
mustn't. I can't allow it.''
``Oh, fudge!'' laughed he. ``Don't give me these
scares. Don't forget--Jennings at three. Good-by
and good luck.''
And he rang off that she might have no chance on
impulse to do herself mischief with her generous
thoughtfulness for him. She felt rather mean, but not
nearly so mean as she would have felt had she let the
opportunity go by with no generous word said. ``And
no doubt my aversion for that little wretch,'' thought
she, ``makes me think him more terrible than he is.
After all, what can he do? Watch me--and discover
nothing, because there'll be nothing to discover.''
Jennings came exactly at three--came with the air
of a man who wastes no one's time and lets no one waste
his time. He was a youngish man of forty or thereabouts,
with a long sharp nose, a large tight mouth,
and eyes that seemed to be looking restlessly about for
money. That they had not looked in vain seemed to be
indicated by such facts as that he came in a private
brougham and that he was most carefully dressed,
apparently with the aid of a valet.
``Miss Stevens,'' he said with an abrupt bow, before
Mildred had a chance to speak, ``you have come to New
York to take singing lessons--to prepare yourself for
the stage. And you wish a comfortable place to live
and to work.'' He extended his gloved hand, shook
hers frigidly, dropped it. ``We shall get on--IF you
work, but only if you work. I do not waste myself upon
triflers.'' He drew a card from his pocket. ``If you
will go to see the lady whose name and address are
written on this card, I think you will find the quarters
you are looking for.''
``Thank you,'' said Mildred.
``Come to me--my address is on the card, also--
at half-past ten on Saturday. We will then lay out
your work.''
``If you find I have a voice worth while,'' Mildred
``That, of course,'' said Mr. Jennings curtly.
``Until half-past ten on Saturday, good day.''
Again he gave the abrupt foreign bow and, while
Mildred was still struggling with her surprise and
confusion, she saw him, through the window, driving
rapidly away. Mrs. Belloc came drifting through the
room; she had the habit of looking about whenever
there were new visitors, and in her it was not irritating
because her interest was innocent and sympathetic.
Said Mildred:
``Did you see that man, Mrs. Belloc?''
``What an extraordinary nose he had,'' replied she.
``Yes, I noticed that,'' said Mildred. ``But it was
the only thing I did notice. He is a singing teacher--
Mr. Jennings.''
``Eugene Jennings?''
``Yes, Eugene.''
``He's the best known singing teacher in New York.
He gets fifteen dollars a half-hour.''
``Then I simply can't take from him!'' exclaimed
Mildred, before she thought. ``That's frightful!''
``Isn't it, though?'' echoed Mrs. Belloc. ``I've
heard his income is fifty thousand a year, what with
lessons and coaching and odds and ends. There's a lot
of them that do well, because so many fool women with
nothing to do cultivate their voices--when they can't
sing a little bit. But he tops them all. I don't see
how ANY teacher can put fifteen dollars of value into
half an hour. But I suppose he does, or he wouldn't
get it. Still, his may be just another case of New York
nerve. This is the biggest bluff town in the world, I
do believe. Here, you can get away with anything, I
don't care what it is, if only you bluff hard enough.''
As there was no reason for delay and many reasons
against it, Mildred went at once to the address on the
card Jennings had left. She found Mrs. Howell
Brindley installed in a plain comfortable apartment in
Fifty-ninth Street, overlooking the park and high
enough to make the noise of the traffic endurable. A
Swedish maid, prepossessingly white and clean, ushered
her into the little drawing-room, which was furnished
with more simplicity and individual taste than is usual
anywhere in New York, cursed of the mania for useless
and tasteless showiness. There were no messy draperies,
no fussy statuettes, vases, gilt boxes, and the like.
Mildred awaited the entrance of Mrs. Brindley hopefully.
She was not disappointed. Presently in came a
quietly-dressed, frank-looking woman of a young forty
--a woman who had by no means lost her physical
freshness, but had gained charm of another and more
enduring kind. As she came forward with extended
but not overeager hand, she said:
``I was expecting you, Mrs. Siddall--that is, Miss
``Mr. Jennings did not say when I was to come. If
I am disturbing you--''
Mrs. Brindley hastened to assure her that her visit
was quite convenient. ``I must have someone to share
the expense of this apartment with me, and I want the
matter settled. Mr. Jennings has explained about you
to me, and now that I've seen you--'' here she smiled
charmingly--``I am ready to say that it is for you to
Mildred did not know how to begin. She looked at
Mrs. Brindley with appeal in her troubled young
``You no doubt wish to know something about me,''
said Mrs. Brindley. ``My husband was a composer--
a friend of Mr. Jennings. He died two years ago.
I am here in New York to teach the piano. What the
lessons will bring, with my small income, will enable me
to live--if I can find someone to help out at the
expenses here. As I understand it, you are willing to
pay forty dollars a week, I to run the house, pay all
the bills, and so on--all, of course, if you wish to come
Mildred made a not very successful attempt to conceal
her embarrassment.
``Perhaps you would like to look at the apartment?''
suggested Mrs. Brindley.
``Thank you, yes,'' said Mildred.
The tour of the apartment--two bedrooms, diningroom,
kitchen, sitting-room, large bath-room, drawingroom--
took only a few minutes, but Mildred and Mrs.
Brindley contrived to become much better acquainted.
Said Mildred, when they were in the drawing-room
``It's most attractive--just what I should like.
What--how much did Mr. Jennings say?''
``Forty dollars a week.'' She colored slightly and
spoke with the nervousness of one not in the habit of
discussing money matters. ``I do not see how I could
make it less. That is the fair share of the--''
``Oh, I think that is most reasonable,'' interrupted
Mildred. ``And I wish to come.''
Mrs. Brindley gave an almost childlike sigh of relief
and smiled radiantly. ``Then it's settled,'' said she.
``I've been so nervous about it.'' She looked at Mildred
with friendly understanding. ``I think you and I are
somewhat alike about practical things. You've not had
much experience, either, have you? I judge so from
the fact that Mr. Jennings is looking after everything
for you.''
``I've had no experience at all,'' said Mildred.
``That is why I'm hesitating. I'm wondering if I can
afford to pay so much.''
Mrs. Brindley laughed. ``Mr. Jennings wished to
fix it at sixty a week, but I insisted that forty was
enough,'' said she.
Mildred colored high with embarrassment. How
much did Mrs. Brindley know?--or how little? She
stammered: ``Well, if Mr. Jennings says it is all right,
I'll come.''
``You'll let me know to-morrow? You can telephone
Mr. Jennings.''
``Yes, I'll let you know to-morrow. I'm almost sure
I'll come. In fact, I'm quite sure. And--I think we
shall get on well together.''
``We can help each other,'' said Mrs. Brindley. ``I
don't care for anything in the world but music.''
``I want to be that way,'' said Mildred. ``I shall be
that way.''
``It's the only sure happiness--to care for something,
for some THING,'' said Mrs. Brindley. ``People
die, or disappoint one, or become estranged. But when
one centers on some kind of work, it gives pleasure
always--more and more pleasure.''
``I am so afraid I haven't voice enough, or of the
right kind,'' said Mildred. ``Mr. Jennings is going
to try me on Saturday. Really I've no right to settle
anything until he has given his opinion.''
Mrs. Brindley smiled with her eyes only, and Mildred
``If he should say that I wouldn't do,'' she went on,
``I'd not know which way to turn.''
``But he'll not say that,'' said Mrs. Brindley. ``You
can sing, can't you? You have sung?''
``Oh, yes.''
``Then you'll be accepted by him. And it will take
him a long time to find out whether you'll do for a professional.''
``I'm afraid I sing very badly.''
``That will not matter. You'll sing better than at
least half of Jennings's pupils.''
``Then he doesn't take only those worth while?''
Mrs. Brindley looked amused. ``How would he live
if he did that? It's a teacher's business to teach.
Learning--that's the pupil's lookout. If teachers
taught only those who could and would learn, how would
they live?''
``Then I'll not know whether I'll do!'' exclaimed Mildred.
``You'll have to find out for yourself,'' said Mrs.
Brindley. ``No one can tell you. Anyone's opinion
might be wrong. For example, I've known Jennings,
who is a very good judge, to be wrong--both ways.''
Hesitatingly: ``Why not sing for me? I'd like to
``Would you tell me what you honestly thought?''
said Mildred.
Mrs. Brindley laughingly shook her head.
Mildred liked her honesty. ``Then it'd be useless to
sing for you,'' said she. ``I'm not vain about my voice.
I'd simply like to make a living by it, if I could. I'll
even confess that there are many things I care for more
than for music. Does that prove that I can never sing
``No, indeed,'' Mrs. Brindley assured her. ``It'd be
strange if a girl of your age cared exclusively for
music. The passion comes with the work, with progress,
success. And some of the greatest--that is, the most
famous and best paid--singers never care much about
music, except as a vanity, and never understand it. A
singer means a person born with a certain shape of
mouth and throat, a certain kind of vocal chords. The
rest may be natural or acquired. It's the instrument
that makes the singer, not brains or temperament.''
``Do let me sing for you,'' said Mildred. ``I think
it will help me.''
Between them they chose a little French song--
``Chanson d'Antonine''--and Mrs. Brindley insisted on
her playing her own accompaniment. ``I wish to
listen,'' said she, ``and I can't if I play.''
Mildred was surprised at her own freedom from
nervousness. She sang neither better nor worse than usual
--sang in the clear and pleasant soprano which she
flattered herself was not unmusical. When she finished she
``That's about as I usually sing. What do you
Mrs. Brindley reflected before she replied: ``I
BELIEVE it's worth trying. If I were you, I should keep on
trying, no matter what anyone said.''
Mildred was instantly depressed. ``You think Mr.
Jennings may reject me?'' she asked.
``I KNOW he will not,'' replied Mrs. Brindley. ``Not
as long as you can pay for the lessons. But I was
thinking of the real thing--of whether you could win
out as a singer.''
``And you don't think I can?'' said Mildred.
``On the contrary, I believe you can,'' replied Mrs.
Brindley. ``A singer means so much besides singing.
The singing is the smallest part of it. You'll understand
when you get to work. I couldn't explain now.
But I can say that you ought to go ahead.''
Mildred, who had her share of vanity, had hoped for
some enthusiasm. Mrs. Brindley's judicial tone was a
severe blow. She felt a little resentful, began to cast
about for vanity-consoling reasons for Mrs. Brindley's
restraint. ``She means well,'' she said to herself, ``but
she's probably just a tiny bit jealous. She's not so
young as she once was, and she hasn't the faintest hope
of ever being anything more than a piano-teacher.''
Mrs. Brindley showed that she had more than an
inkling of Mildred's frame of mind by going on to say
in a gentle, candid way: ``I want to help you. So
I shall be careful not to encourage you to believe too
much in what you have. That would prevent you from
getting what you need. You must remember, you are
no longer a drawing-room singer, but a candidate for
the profession. That's a very different thing.''
Mildred saw that she was mistaken, that Mrs. Brindley
was honest and frank and had doubtless told her the
exact truth. But her vanity remained sore. Never before
had anyone said any less of her singing than that
it was wonderful, marvelous, equal to a great deal that
passed for fine in grand opera. She had known
that this was exaggeration, but she had not known how
grossly exaggerated. Thus, this her first experience
of the professional attitude was galling. Only her
unusual good sense saved her from being angry with Mrs.
Brindley. And it was that same good sense that moved
her presently to try to laugh at herself. With a brave
attempt to smile gayly she said:
``You don't realize how you've taken me down. I
had no idea I was so conceited about my singing. I
can't truthfully say I like your frankness, but there's
a part of me that's grateful to you for it, and when I
get over feeling hurt, I'll be grateful through and
Mrs. Brindley's face lighted up beautifully. ``You'll DO!''
she cried. ``I'm sure you'll do. I've been waiting
and watching to see how you would take my criticism.
That's the test--how they take criticism. If
they don't take it at all, they'll not go very far, no
matter how talented they are. If they take it as you've
taken it, there's hope--great hope. Now, I'm not
afraid to tell you that you sang splendidly for an
amateur--that you surprised me.''
``Don't spoil it all,'' said Mildred. ``You were
right; I can't sing.''
``Not for grand opera, not for comic opera even,''
replied Mrs. Brindley. ``But you will sing, and sing
well, in one or the other, if you work.''
``You really mean that?'' said Mildred.
``If you work intelligently and persistently,'' said
Mrs. Brindley. ``That's a big if--as you'll discover
in a year or so.''
``You'll see,'' said Mildred confidently. ``Why, I've
nothing else to do, and no other hope.''
Mrs. Brindley's smile had a certain sadness in it.
She said:
``It's the biggest if in all this world.''
AT Mrs. Belloc's a telephone message from Jennings
was awaiting her; he would call at a quarter-past eight
and would detain Miss Stevens only a moment. And
at eight fifteen exactly he rang the bell. This time
Mildred was prepared; she refused to be disconcerted by
his abrupt manner and by his long sharp nose that
seemed to warn away, to threaten away, even to thrust
away any glance seeking to investigate the rest of his
face or his personality. She looked at him candidly,
calmly, and seeingly. Seeingly. With eyes that saw
as they had never seen before. Perhaps from the death
of her father, certainly from the beginning of Siddall's
courtship, Mildred had been waking up. There is a
part of our nature--the active and aggressive part--
that sleeps all our lives long or becomes atrophied if
we lead lives of ease and secure dependence. It is the
important part of us, too--the part that determines
character. The thing that completed the awakening
of Mildred was her acquaintance with Mrs. Belloc.
That positive and finely-poised lady fascinated her,
influenced her powerfully--gave her just what she
needed at the particular moment. The vital moments
in life are not the crises over which shallow people
linger, but are the moments where we met and absorbed
the ideas that enabled us to weather these crises. The
acquaintance with Mrs. Belloc was one of those vital
moments; for, Mrs. Belloc's personality--her look and
manner, what she said and the way she said it--was a
proffer to Mildred of invaluable lessons which her
awakening character eagerly absorbed. She saw Jennings
as he was. She decided that he was of common
origin, that his vanity was colossal and aquiver throughout
with sensitiveness; that he belonged to the familiar
type of New-Yorker who succeeds by bluffing. Also,
she saw or felt a certain sexlessness or indifference to
sex--and this she later understood. Men whose occupation
compels them constantly to deal with women go
to one extreme or the other--either become acutely
sensitive to women as women or become utterly indifferent,
unless their highly discriminated taste is appealed
to--which cannot happen often. Jennings, teaching
only women because only women spending money they
had not earned and could not earn would tolerate
his terms and his methods, had, as much through
necessity as through inclination, gone to the extreme of
lack of interest in all matters of sex. One look at him
and the woman who had come with the idea of offering
herself in full or part payment for lessons drooped in
instinctive discouragement.
Jennings hastened to explain to Mildred that she need
not hesitate about closing with Mrs. Brindley. ``Your
lessons are arranged for,'' said he. ``There has been
put in the Plaza Trust Company to your credit the sum
of five thousand dollars. This gives you about a hundred
dollars a week for your board and other personal
expenses. If that is not enough, you will let me know.
But I estimated that it would be enough. I do not think
it wise for young women entering upon the preparation
for a serious career to have too much money.''
``It is more than enough,'' murmured the girl. ``I
know nothing about those things, but it seems to me--''
``You can use as little of it as you like,'' interrupted
Jennings, rising.
Mildred felt as though she had been caught and
exposed in a hypocritical protest. Jennings was holding
out something toward her. She took it, and he went
``That's your check-book. The bank will send you
statements of your account, and will notify you when
any further sums are added. Now, I have nothing
more to do with your affairs--except, of course, the
artistic side--your development as a singer. You've
not forgotten your appointment?''
``No,'' said Mildred, like a primary school-child
before a formidable teacher.
``Be prompt, please. I make no reduction for
lessons wholly or partly missed. The half-hour I shall
assign to you belongs to you. If you do not use it,
that is your affair. At first you will probably be like
all women--careless about your appointments, coming
with lessons unprepared, telephoning excuses. But if
you are serious you will soon fall into the routine.''
``I shall try to be regular,'' murmured Mildred.
Jennings apparently did not hear. ``I'm on my way
to the opera-house,'' said he. ``One of my old pupils
is appearing in a new role, and she is nervous. Good
Once more that swift, quiet exit, followed almost
instantaneously by the sound of wheels rolling away.
Never had she seen such rapidity of motion without loss
of dignity. ``Yes, he's a fraud,'' she said to herself,
``but he's a good one.''
The idea of a career had now become less indefinite.
It was still without any attraction--not because of the
toil it involved, for that made small impression upon
her who had never worked and had never seen anyone
work, but because a career meant cutting herself off
from everything she had been brought up to regard as
fit and proper for a lady. She was ashamed of this;
she did not admit its existence even to herself, and in
her talks with Baird about the career she had professed
exactly the opposite view. Yet there it was--nor need
she have been ashamed of a feeling that is instilled into
women of her class from babyhood as part of their
ladylike education. The career had not become definite.
She could not imagine herself out on a stage in some
sort of a costume, with a painted face, singing before
an audience. Still, the career was less indefinite than
when it had no existence beyond Stanley Baird's enthusiasm
and her own whipped-up pretense of enthusiasm.
She shrank from the actual start, but at the same
time was eager for it. Inaction began to fret her
nerves, and she wished to be doing something to show
her appreciation of Stanley Baird's generosity. She
telephoned Mrs. Brindley that she would come in the
morning, and then she told her landlady.
Mrs. Belloc was more than regretful; she was
distressed. Said she: ``I've taken a tremendous fancy
to you, and I hate to give you up. I'd do most anything
to keep you.''
Mildred explained that her work compelled her to
``That's very interesting,'' said Mrs. Belloc. ``If I
were a few years younger, and hadn't spent all my energy
in teaching school and putting through that marriage,
I'd try to get on the stage, myself. I don't want
to lose sight of you.''
``Oh, I'll come to see you from time to time.''
``No, you won't,'' said Mrs. Belloc practically. ``No
more than I'd come to see you. Our lives lie in different
directions, and in New York that means we'll never
have time to meet. But we may be thrown together
again, some time. As I've got a twenty years' lease on
this house, I guess you'll have no trouble in finding
me. I suppose I could look you up through Professor
``Yes,'' said Mildred. Then impulsively, ``Mrs.
Belloc, there's a reason why I'd like to change without
anyone's knowing what has become of me--I mean,
anyone that might be--watching me.''
``I understand perfectly,'' said Mrs. Belloc with a
ready sympathy that made Mildred appreciate the
advantages of the friendship of unconventional, knockabout
people. ``Nothing could be easier. You've got
no luggage but that bag. I'll take it up to the
Grand Central Station and check it, and bring the
check back here. You can send for it when you
``But what about me?'' said Mildred.
``I was coming to that. You walk out of here, say,
about half an hour after I go in the taxi. You walk
through to the corner of Lexington Avenue and Thirtyseventh
Street--there aren't any cabs to be had there.
I'll be waiting in the taxi, and we'll make a dash up the
East Side and I can drop you at some quiet place in the
park and go on--and you can walk to your new
address. How does that strike you?''
Mildred expressed her admiration. The plan was
carried out, as Mrs. Belloc--a born genius at all forms
of intrigue--had evolved it in perfection on the spur
of the moment. As they went up the far East Side,
Mrs. Belloc, looking back through the little rear
window, saw a taxi a few blocks behind them. ``We haven't
given them the slip yet,'' said she, ``but we will in the
park.'' They entered the park at East Ninetieth
Street, crossed to the West Drive. Acting on Mrs.
Belloc's instructions, the motorman put on full speed--
with due regard to the occasional policeman. At a
sharp turning near the Mall, when the taxi could be
seen from neither direction, he abruptly stopped. Out
sprang Mildred and disappeared behind the bushes
completely screening the walk from the drive. At once
the taxi was under-way again. She, waiting where the
screen of bushes was securely thick, saw the taxi that
had followed them in the East Side flash by--in pursuit
of Mrs. Belloc alone.
She was free--at least until some mischance uncovered
her to the little general. At Mrs. Brindley's she
found a note awaiting her--a note from Stanley Baird:
I'm of for the Far West, and probably shall not be in
town again until the early summer. The club forwards
my mail and repeats telegrams as marked. Go in and win,
and don't hesitate to call on me if you need me. No false
pride, PLEASE! I'm getting out of the way because it's
obviously best for the present.
As she finished, her sense of freedom was complete.
She had not realized how uneasy she was feeling about
Stanley. She did not doubt his generosity, did not
doubt that he genuinely intended to leave her free, and
she believed that his delicacy was worthy of his
generosity. Still, she was constantly fearing lest
circumstances should thrust them both--as much against his
will as hers--into a position in which she would have
to choose between seeming, not to say being, ungrateful,
and playing the hypocrite, perhaps basely, with him.
The little general eluded, Stanley voluntarily removed;
she was indeed free. Now she could work with an untroubled
mind, could show Mrs. Brindley that intelligent
and persistent work--her ``biggest if in all the
world''--was in fact a very simple matter.
She had not been settled at Mrs. Brindley's many
hours before she discovered that not only was she free
from all hindrances, but was to have a positive and great
help. Mrs. Brindley's talent for putting people at
their ease was no mere drawing-room trick.
She made Mildred feel immediately at home, as she
had not felt at home since her mother introduced James
Presbury into their house at Hanging Rock. Mrs.
Brindley was absolutely devoid of pretenses. When
Mildred spoke to her of this quality in her she said:
``I owe that to my husband. I was brought up like
everybody else--to be more or less of a poser and a
hypocrite. In fact, I think there was almost nothing
genuine about me. My husband taught me to be myself,
to be afraid of nobody's opinion, to show myself
just as I was and to let people seek or avoid me as they
saw fit. He was that sort of man himself.''
``He must have been a remarkable man,'' said Mildred.
``He was,'' replied Mrs. Brindley. ``But not
attractive--at least not to me. Our marriage was a
mistake. We quarreled whenever we were not at work
with the music. If he had not died, we should have
been divorced.'' She smiled merrily. ``Then he would
have hired me as his musical secretary, and we'd have
got on beautifully.''
Mildred was still thinking of Mrs. Brindley's freedom
from pretense. ``I've never dared be myself,''
confessed she. ``I don't know what myself really is like.
I was thinking the other day how for one reason and
another I've been a hypocrite all my life. You see,
I've always been a dependent--have always had to
please someone in order to get what I wanted.''
``You can never be yourself until you have an
independent income, however small,'' said Mrs. Brindley.
``I've had that joy only since my husband died. It's
as well that I didn't have it sooner. One is the better
for having served an apprenticeship at self-repression
and at pretending to virtues one has not. Only those
who earn their freedom know how to use it. If I had
had it ten or fifteen years ago I'd have been an intolerable
tyrant, making everyone around me unhappy and
therefore myself. The ideal world would be one where
everyone was born free and never knew anything else.
Then, no one being afraid or having to serve, everyone
would have to be considerate in order to get himself
``I wonder if I really ever shall be able to earn a
living?'' sighed Mildred.
``You must decide that whatever you can make shall
be for you a living,'' said the older woman. ``I have
lived on my fixed income, which is under two thousand
a year. And I am ready to do it again rather than
tolerate anything or anybody that does not suit me.''
``I shall have to be extremely careful,'' laughed
Mildred. ``I shall be a dreadful hypocrite with you.''
Mrs. Brindley smiled; but underneath, Mildred saw
--or perhaps felt--that her new friend was indeed not
one to be trifled with. She said:
``You and I will get on. We'll let each other alone.
We have to be more or less intimate, but we'll never be
After a time she discovered that Mrs. Brindley's first
name was Cyrilla, but Mrs. Brindley and Miss Stevens
they remained to each other for a long time--until
circumstances changed their accidental intimacy into
enduring friendship. Not to anticipate, in the course
of that same conversation Mildred said:
``If there is anything about me--about my life--
that you wish me to explain, I shall be glad to do so.''
``I know all I wish to know,'' replied Cyrilla
Brindley. ``Your face and your manner and your way of
speaking tell me all the essentials.''
``Then you must not think it strange when I say I
wish no one to know anything about me.''
``It will be impossible for you entirely to avoid
meeting people,'' said Cyrilla. ``You must have some simple
explanation about yourself, or you will attract attention
and defeat your object.''
``Lead people to believe that I'm an orphan--perhaps
of some obscure family--who is trying to get up
in the world. That is practically the truth.''
Mrs. Brindley laughed. ``Quite enough for New
York,'' said she. ``It is not interested in facts. All
the New-Yorker asks of you is, `Can you pay your bills
and help me pay mine?' ''
Competent men are rare; but, thanks to the advantage
of the male sex in having to make the struggle for
a living, they are not so rare as competent women.
Mrs. Brindley was the first competent woman Mildred
had ever known. She had spent but a few hours with
her before she began to appreciate what a bad atmosphere
she had always breathed--bad for a woman who
has her way to make in the world, or indeed for any
woman not willing to be content as mere more or less
shiftless, more or less hypocritical and pretentious,
dependent and parasite. Mrs. Brindley--well bred and
well educated--knew all the little matters which Mildred
had been taught to regard as the whole of a lady's
education. But Mildred saw that these trifles were but
a trifling incident in Mrs. Brindley's knowledge. She
knew real things, this woman who was a thorough-going
housekeeper and who trebled her income by giving
music lessons a few hours a day to such pupils as she
thought worth the teaching. When she spoke, she always
said something one of the first things noticed
by Mildred, who, being too lazy to think except as her
naturally good mind insisted on exercising itself,
usually talked simply to kill time and without any idea of
getting anywhere. But while Cyrilla--without in the
least intending it--roused her to a painful sense of
her own limitations, she did not discourage her. Mildred
also began to feel that in this new atmosphere of
ideas, of work, of accomplishment, she would rapidly
develop into a different sort of person. It was
extremely fortunate for her, thought she, that she was
living with such a person as Cyrilla Brindley. In the
old atmosphere, or with any taint of it, she would have
been unable to become a serious person. She would
simply have dawdled along, twaddling about ``art'' and
seriousness and careers and sacrifice, content with the
amateur's methods and the amateur's results--and
deluding herself that she was making progress. Now--
It was as different as public school from private school
--public school where the mind is rudely stimulated,
private school where it is sedulously mollycoddled. She
had come out of the hothouse into the open.
At first she thought that Jennings was to be as great
a help to her as Cyrilla Brindley. Certainly if ever
there was a man with the air of a worker and a place
with the air of a workshop, that man and that place
were Eugene Jennings and his studio in Carnegie Hall.
When Mildred entered, on that Saturday morning, at
exactly half-past ten, Jennings--in a plain if elegant
house-suit--looked at her, looked at the clock, stopped
a girl in the midst of a burst of tremulous noisy melody.
``That will do, Miss Bristow,'' said he. ``You have
never sung it worse. You do not improve. Another
lesson like this, and we shall go back and begin all over
The girl, a fattish, ``temperamental'' blonde, burst
into tears.
``Kindly take that out into the hall,'' said Jennings
coldly. ``Your time is up. We cannot waste Miss
Stevens's time with your hysterics.''
Miss Bristow switched from tears to fury. ``You
brute! You beast!'' she shrieked, and flung herself
out of the room, slamming the door after her. Jennings
took a book from a pile upon a table, opened it,
and set it on a music-stand. Evidently Miss Bristow
was forgotten--indeed, had passed out of his mind at
half-past ten exactly, not to enter it again until she
should appear at ten on Monday morning. He said
to Mildred:
``Now, we'll see what you can do. Begin.''
``I'm a little nervous,'' said Mildred with a shy
laugh. ``If you don't mind, I'd like to wait till I've
got used to my surroundings.''
Jennings looked at her. The long sharp nose
seemed to be rapping her on the forehead like a woodpecker's
beak on the bark of the tree. ``Begin,'' he
said, pointing to the book.
Mildred flushed angrily. ``I shall not begin until
I CAN begin,'' said she. The time to show this man that
he could not treat her brutally was at the outset.
Jennings opened the door into the hall. ``Good
day, Miss Stevens,'' he said with his abrupt bow.
Mildred looked at him; he looked at her. Her lip
trembled, the hot tears flooded and blinded her eyes.
She went unsteadily to the music-stand and tried to see
the notes of the exercises. Jennings closed the door
and seated himself at the far end of the room. She
began--a ridiculous attempt. She stopped, gritted
her teeth, began again. Once more the result was
absurd; but this time she was able to keep on, not
improving, but maintaining her initial off-key quavering.
She stopped.
``You see,'' said she. ``Shall I go on?''
``Don't stop again until I tell you to, please,'' said
She staggered and stumbled and somersaulted through
two pages of DO-RE-ME-FA-SOL-LA-SI. Then he held up
his finger.
``Enough,'' said he.
Silence, an awful silence. She recalled what Mrs.
Belloc had told her about him, what Mrs. Brindley had
implied. But she got no consolation. She said timidly:
``Really, Mr. Jennings, I can do better than that.
Won't you let me try a song?''
``God forbid!'' said he. ``You can't stand. You
can't breathe. You can't open your mouth. Naturally,
you can't sing.''
She dropped to a chair.
``Take the book, and go over the same thing,
sitting,'' said he.
She began to remove her wraps.
``Just as you are,'' he commanded. ``Try to forget
yourself. Try to forget me. Try to forget what a
brute I am, and what a wonderful singer you are. Just
open your mouth and throw the notes out.''
She was rosy with rage. She was reckless. She
sang. At the end of three pages he stopped her with
an enthusiastic hand-clapping. ``Good! Good!'' he
cried. ``I'll take you. I'll make a singer of you.
Yes, yes, there's something to work on.''
The door opened. A tall, thin woman with many
jewels and a superb fur wrap came gliding in. Jennings
looked at the clock. The hands pointed to eleven.
Said he to Mildred:
``Take that book with you. Practice what you've
done to-day. Learn to keep your mouth open. We'll
go into that further next time.'' He was holding the
door open for her. As she passed out, she heard him
``Ah, Mrs. Roswell. We'll go at that third song
The door closed. Reviewing all that had occurred,
Mildred decided that she must revise her opinion of
Jennings. A money-maker he no doubt was. And
why not? Did he not have to live? But a teacher also,
and a great teacher. Had he not destroyed her vanity
at one blow, demolished it?--yet without discouraging
her. And he went straight to the bottom of things--
very different from any of the teachers she used to have
when she was posing in drawing-rooms as a person with
a voice equal to the most difficult opera, if only she
weren't a lady and therefore not forced to be a professional
singing person. Yes, a great teacher--and in
deadly earnest. He would permit no trifling! How
she would have to work!
And she went to work with an energy she would not
have believed she possessed. He instructed her
minutely in how to stand, in how to breathe, in how to open
her mouth and keep it open, in how to relax her throat
and leave it relaxed. He filled every second of her
half-hour; she had never before realized how much time
half an hour was, how use could be made of every one
of its eighteen hundred seconds. She went to hear
other teachers give lessons, and she understood why
Jennings could get such prices, could treat his pupils
as he saw fit. She became an extravagant admirer of
him as a teacher, thought him a genius, felt confident
that he would make a great singer of her. With the
second lesson she began to progress rapidly. In a few
weeks she amazed herself. At last she was really singing.
Not in a great way, but in the beginnings of a
great way. Her voice had many times the power of
her drawing-room days. Her notes were full and
round, and came without an effort. Her former ideas
of what constituted facial and vocal expression now
seemed ridiculous to her. She was now singing without
making those dreadful faces which she had once
thought charming and necessary. Her lower register,
always her best, was almost perfect. Her middle
register--the test part of a voice--was showing signs
of strength and steadiness and evenness. And she was
fast getting a real upper register, as distinguished from
the forced and shrieky high notes that pass as an upper
register with most singers, even opera singers. After
a month of this marvelous forward march, she sang for
Mrs. Brindley--sang the same song she had essayed
at their first meeting. When she finished, Mrs. Brindley said:
``Yes, you've done wonders. I've been noticing your
improvement as you practiced. You certainly have a
very different voice and method from those you had a
month ago,'' and so on through about five minutes of
critical and discriminating praise.
Mildred listened, wondering why her dissatisfaction,
her irritation, increased as Mrs. Brindley praised on
and on. Beyond question Cyrilla was sincere, and was
saying even more than Mildred had hoped she would
say. Yet-- Mildred sat moodily measuring off
octaves on the keyboard of the piano. If she had been
looking at her friend's face she would have flared out
in anger; for Cyrilla Brindley was taking advantage
of her abstraction to observe her with friendly sympathy
and sadness. Presently she concealed this candid
expression and said:
``You are satisfied with your progress, aren't you,
Miss Stevens?''
Mildred flared up angrily. ``Certainly!'' replied
she. ``How could I fail to be?''
Mrs. Brindley did not answer--perhaps because she
thought no answer was needed or expected. But to
Mildred her silence somehow seemed a denial.
``If you can only keep what you've got--and go
on,'' said Mrs. Brindley.
``Oh, I shall, never fear,'' retorted Mildred.
``But I do fear,'' said Mrs. Brindley. ``I think it's
always well to fear until success is actually won. And
then there's the awful fear of not being able to hold
After a moment's silence Mildred, who could not hide
away resentment against one she liked, said: ``Why
aren't YOU satisfied, Mrs. Brindley?''
``But I am satisfied,'' protested Cyrilla. ``Only it
makes me afraid to see YOU so well satisfied. I've seen
that often in people first starting, and it's always
dangerous. You see, my dear, you've got a straight-away
hundred miles to walk. Can't you see that it would be
possible for you to become too much elated by the way
you walked the first part of the first mile?''
``Why do you try to discourage me?'' said Mildred.
Mrs. Brindley colored. ``I do it because I want to
save you from despair a little later,'' said she. ``But
that is foolish of me. I shall only irritate you against
me. I'll not do it again. And please don't ask my
opinion. If you do, I can't help showing exactly what
I think.''
``Then you don't think I've done well?'' cried Mildred.
``Indeed you have,'' replied Cyrilla warmly.
``Then I don't understand. What DO you mean?''
``I'll tell you, and then I'll stop and you must not ask
my opinion again. We live too close together to be
able to afford to criticize each other. What I meant
was this: You have done well the first part of the great
task that's before you. If you had done it any less
well, it would have been folly for you to go on.''
``That is, what I've done doesn't amount to
anything? Mr. Jennings doesn't agree with you.''
``Doubtless he's right,'' said Mrs. Brindley. ``At
any rate, we all agree that you have shown that you
have a voice.''
She said this so simply and heartily that Mildred
could not but be mollified. Mrs. Brindley changed the
subject to the song Mildred had sung, and Mildred
stopped puzzling over the mystery of what she had
meant by her apparently enthusiastic words, which had
yet diffused a chill atmosphere of doubt.
She was doing her scales so well that she became
impatient of such ``tiresome child's play.'' And presently
Jennings gave her songs, and did not discourage
her when she talked of roles, of getting seriously at
what, after all, she intended to do. Then there came a
week of vile weather, and Mildred caught a cold. She
neglected it. Her voice left her. Her tonsils swelled.
She had a bad attack of ulcerated sore throat. For
nearly three weeks she could not take a single one of the
lessons, which were, nevertheless, paid for. Jennings
rebuked her sharply.
``A singer has no right to be sick,'' said he.
``You have a cold yourself,'' retorted she.
``But I am not a singer. I've nothing that interferes
with my work.''
``It's impossible not to take cold,'' said Mildred.
``You are unreasonable with me.''
He shrugged his shoulders. ``Go get well,'' he said.
The sore throat finally yielded to the treatment of
Dr. Hicks, the throat-specialist. His bill was seventyfive
dollars. But while the swelling in the tonsils
subsided it did not depart. She could take lessons again.
Some days she sang as well as ever, and on those days
Jennings was charming. Other days she sang atrociously,
and Jennings treated her as if she were doing
it deliberately. A third and worse state was that of
the days when she in the same half-hour alternately
sang well and badly. On those days Jennings acted
like a lunatic. He raved up and down the studio, all
but swearing at her. At first she was afraid of him--
withered under his scorn, feared he would throw open
his door and order her out and forbid her ever to enter
again. But gradually she came to understand him--
not enough to lose her fear of him altogether, but
enough to lose the fear of his giving up so profitable a
The truth was that Jennings, like every man who
succeeds at anything in this world, operated upon a
system to which he rigidly adhered. He was a man of
small talent and knowledge, but of great, persistence
and not a little common sense. He had tried to be a
singer, had failed because his voice was small and
unreliable. He had adopted teaching singing as a means
of getting a living. He had learned just enough about
it to enable him to teach the technical elements--what
is set down in the books. By observing other and older
teachers he had got together a teaching system that was
as good--and as bad--as any, and this he dubbed
the Jennings Method and proceeded to exploit as the
only one worth while. When that method was worked
out and perfected, he ceased learning, ceased to give a
thought to the professional side of his profession, just
as most professional men do. He would have resented
a suggestion or a new idea as an attack upon the Jennings
Method. The overwhelming majority of the
human race--indeed, all but a small handful--have
this passion for stagnation, this ferocity against change.
It is in large part due to laziness; for a new idea means
work in learning it and in unlearning the old ideas
that have been true until the unwelcome advent of the
new. In part also this resistance to the new idea arises
from a fear that the new idea, if tolerated, will put one
out of business, will set him adrift without any means of
support. The coachman hates the automobile, the
hand-worker hates the machine, the orthodox preacher
hates the heretic, the politician hates the reformer, the
doctor hates the bacteriologist and the chemist, the old
woman hates the new--all these in varying proportions
according to the degree in which the iconoclast attacks
laziness or livelihood. Finally we all hate any and all
new ideas because they seem to imply that we, who have
held the old ideas, have been ignorant and stupid in so
doing. A new idea is an attack upon the vanity of
everyone who has been a partisan of the old ideas and
their established order.
Jennings, thoroughly human in thus closing his mind
to all ideas about his profession, was equally human in
that he had his mind and his senses opened full width
to ideas on how to make more money. If there had
been money in new ideas about teaching singing
Jennings would not have closed to them. But the money
was all in studying and learning how better to handle
the women--they were all women who came to him for
instruction. His common sense warned him at the outset
that the obviously easygoing teacher would not long
retain his pupils. On the other hand, he saw that the
really severe teacher would not retain his pupils, either.
Who were these pupils? In the first place, they were
all ignorant, for people who already know do not go
to school to learn. They had the universal delusion
that a teacher can teach. The fact is that a teacher
is a well. Some wells are full, others almost dry. Some
are so arranged that water cannot be got from them,
others have attachments of various kinds, making the
drawing of water more or less easy. But not from the
best well with the latest pump attachment can one get
a drink unless one does the drinking oneself. A teacher
is rarely a well. The pupil must not only draw the
water, but also drink it, must not only teach himself,
but also learn what he teaches. Now we are all of us
born thirsty for knowledge, and nearly all of us are
born both capable of teaching ourselves and capable of
learning what we teach, that is, of retaining and assimilating
it. There is such a thing as artificially feeding
the mind, just as there is such a thing as artificially
feeding the body; but while everyone knows that artificial
feeding of the body is a success only to a limited
extent and for a brief period, everyone believes that
the artificial feeding of the mind is not only the best
method, but the only method. Nor does the discovery
that the mind is simply the brain, is simply a part of
the body, subject to the body's laws, seem materially to
have lessened this fatuous delusion.
Some of Jennings's pupils--not more than two of
the forty-odd were in genuine earnest; that is, those two
were educating themselves to be professional singers,
were determined so to be, had limited time and means
and endless capacity for work. Others of the forty--
about half-thought they were serious, though in fact
the idea of a career was more or less hazy. They were
simply taking lessons and toiling aimlessly along, not
less aimlessly because they indulged in vague talk and
vaguer thought about a career. The rest--the other
half of the forty--were amusing themselves by taking
singing lessons. It killed time, it gave them a feeling
of doing something, it gave them a reputation of being
serious people and not mere idlers, it gave them an
excuse for neglecting the domestic duties which they
regarded as degrading--probably because to do them
well requires study and earnest, hard work. The Jennings
singing lesson, at fifteen dollars a half-hour, was
rather an expensive hypocrisy; but the women who
used it as a cloak for idleness as utter as the mere
yawners and bridgers and shoppers had rich husbands
or fathers.
Thus it appears that the Jennings School was a perfect
microcosm, as the scientists would say, of the human
race--the serious very few, toiling more or less
successfully toward a definite goal; the many, compelled to
do something, and imagining themselves serious and
purposeful as they toiled along toward nothing in particular
but the next lesson--that is, the next day's
appointed task; the utterly idle, fancying themselves
busy and important when in truth they were simply a
fraud and an expense.
Jennings got very little from the deeply and
genuinely serious. One of them he taught free, taking
promissory notes for the lessons. But he held on to
them because when they finally did teach themselves
to sing and arrived at fame, his would be part of the
glory--and glory meant more and more pupils of
the paying kinds. His large income came from the
other two kinds of pupils, the larger part of it from
the kind that had no seriousness in them. His problem
was how to keep all these paying pupils and also keep
his reputation as a teacher. In solving that problem
he evolved a method that was the true Jennings's method.
Not in all New York, filled as it is with people living
and living well upon the manipulation of the weaknesses
of their fellow beings--not in all New York was there
an adroiter manipulator than Eugene Jennings. He
was harsh to brutality when he saw fit to be so--or,
rather, when he deemed it wise to be so. Yet never
had he lost a paying pupil through his harshness.
These were fashionable women--most delicate, sensitive
ladies--at whom he swore. They wept, stayed on,
advertised him as a ``wonderful serious teacher who
won't stand any nonsense and doesn't care a hang
whether you stay or go--and he can teach absolutely
anybody to sing!'' He knew how to be gentle without
seeming to be so; he knew how to flatter without uttering
a single word that did not seem to be reluctant praise
or savage criticism; he knew how to make a lady with
a little voice work enough to make a showing that would
spur her to keep on and on with him; he knew how
to encourage a rich woman with no more song than a
peacock until she would come to him three times a week
for many years--and how he did make her pay for
what he suffered in listening to the hideous squawkings
and yelpings she inflicted upon him!
Did Jennings think himself a fraud? No more than
the next human being who lives by fraud. Is there any
trade or profession whose practitioners, in the bottom
of their hearts, do not think they are living excusably
and perhaps creditably? The Jennings theory was that
he was a great teacher; that there were only a very few
serious and worth-while seekers of the singing art;
that in order to live and to teach these few, he had to
receive the others; that, anyhow, singing was a fine
art for anyone to have and taking singing lessons made
the worst voice a little less bad--or, at the least, singing
was splendid for the health. One of his favorite
dicta was, ``Every child should be taught singing--
for its health, if for nothing else.'' And perhaps he
was right! At any rate, he made his forty to fifty
thousand a year--and on days when he had a succession
of the noisy, tuneless squawkers, he felt that he
more than earned every cent of it.
Mildred did not penetrate far into the secret of the
money-making branch of the Jennings method. It was
crude enough, too. But are not all the frauds that
fool the human race crude? Human beings both cannot
and will not look beneath surfaces. All Mildred
learned was that Jennings did not give up paying pupils.
She had not confidence enough in this discovery to put
it to the test. She did not dare disobey him or shirk--
even when she was most disposed to do so. But gradually
she ceased from that intense application she had
at first brought to her work. She kept up the forms.
She learned her lessons. She did all that was asked.
She seemed to be toiling as in the beginning. In reality,
she became by the middle of spring a mere lesson-taker.
Her interest in clothes and in going about revived. She
saw in the newspapers that General Siddall had taken
a party of friends on a yachting trip around the world,
so she felt that she was no longer being searched for,
at least not vigorously. She became acquainted with
smart, rich West Side women, taking lessons at
Jennings's. She amused herself going about with them and
with the ``musical'' men they attracted--amateur and
semi-professional singers and players upon instruments.
She drew Mrs. Brindley into their society. They had
little parties at the flat in Fifty-ninth Street--the most
delightful little parties imaginable--dinners and suppers,
music, clever conversations, flirtations of a harmless
but fascinating kind. If anyone had accused Mildred
of neglecting her work, of forgetting her career,
she would have grown indignant, and if Mrs. Brindley
had overheard, she would have been indignant for her.
Mildred worked as much as ever. She was making
excellent progress. She was doing all that could be done.
It takes time to develop a voice, to make an opera-singer.
Forcing is dangerous, when it is not downright useless.
In May--toward the end of the month--Stanley
Baird returned. Mildred, who happened to be in unusually
good voice that day, sang for him at the Jennings
studio, and he was enchanted. As the last note died
away he cried out to Jennings:
``She's a wonder, isn't she?''
Jennings nodded. ``She's got a voice,'' said he.
``She ought to go on next year.''
``Not quite that,'' said Jennings. ``We want to
get that upper register right first. And it's a young
voice--she's very young for her age. We must be
careful not to strain it.''
``Why, what's a voice for if not to sing with?'' said
``A fine voice is a very delicate instrument,'' replied
the teacher. He added coldly, ``You must let me judge
as to what shall be done.''
``Certainly, certainly,'' said Stanley in haste.
``She's had several colds this winter and spring,''
pursued Jennings. ``Those things are dangerous until
the voice has its full growth. She should have two
months' complete rest.''
Jennings was going away for a two months' vacation.
He was giving this advice to all his pupils.
``You're right,'' said Baird. ``Did you hear, Mildred?''
``But I hate to stop work,'' objected Mildred. ``I
want to be doing something. I'm very impatient of
this long wait.''
And honest she was in this protest. She had no idea
of the state of her own mind. She fancied she was still
as eager as ever for the career, as intensely interested
as ever in her work. She did not dream of the real
meaning of her content with her voice as it was, of
her lack of uneasiness over the appalling fact that such
voice as she had was unreliable, came and went for no
apparent reason.
``Absolute rest for two months,'' declared Jennings
grimly. ``Not a note until I return in August.''
Mildred gave a resigned sigh.
There is much inveighing against hypocrisy, a vice
unsightly rather than desperately wicked. And in the
excitement about it its dangerous, even deadly near
kinsman, self-deception, escapes unassailed. Seven
cardinal sins; but what of the eighth?--the parent of
all the others, the one beside which the children seem
almost white?
During the first few weeks Mildred had been careful
about spending money. Economy she did not understand;
how could she, when she had never had a lesson
in it or a valuable hint about it? So economy was
impossible. The only way in which such people can
keep order in their finances is by not spending any
money at all. Mildred drew nothing, spent nothing.
This, so long as she gave her whole mind to her work.
But after the first great cold, so depressing, so subtly
undermining, she began to go about, to think of, to
need and to buy clothes, to spend money in a dozen
necessary ways. After all, she was simply borrowing
the money. Presently, she would be making a career,
would be earning large sums. She would pay back
everything, with interest. Stanley meant for her to
use the money. Really, she ought to use it. How
would her career be helped by her going about looking
a dowd and a frump? She had always been used to the
comforts of life. If she deprived herself of them, she
would surely get into a frame of mind where her work
would suffer. No, she must lead the normal life of a
woman of her class. To work all the time--why, as
Jennings said, that took away all the freshness, made
one stale and unfit. A little distraction--always, of
course, with musical people, people who talked and
thought and did music--that sort of distraction was
quite as much a part of her education as the singing
lessons. Mrs. Brindley, certainly a sensible and serious
woman if ever there was one--Mrs. Brindley believed
so, and it must be so.
After that illness and before she began to go about,
she had fallen into several fits of hideous blues, had been
in despair as to the future. As soon as she saw something
of people--always the valuable, musical sort of
people--her spirits improved. And when she got a
few new dresses--very simple and inexpensive, but
stylish and charming--and the hats, too, were successful--
as soon as she was freshly arrayed she was singing
better and was talking hopefully of the career
again. Yes, it was really necessary that she live as
she had always been used to living.
When Stanley came back her account was drawn up
to the last cent of the proportionate amount. In fact,
it might have been a few dollars--a hundred or so--
overdrawn. She was not sure. Still, that was a small
matter. During the summer she would spend less, and
by fall she would be far ahead again--and ready to
buy fall clothes. One day he said:
``You must be needing more money.''
``No indeed,'' cried she. ``I've been living within
the hundred a week--or nearly. I'm afraid I'm frightfully
extravagant, and--''
``Extravagant?'' laughed he. ``You are afraid to
borrow! Why, three or four nights of singing will
pay back all you've borrowed.''
``I suppose I WILL make a lot of money,'' said she.
``They all tell me so. But it doesn't seem real to me.''
She hastily added: ``I don't mean the career. That
seems real enough. I can hardly wait to begin at the
roles. I mean the money part. You see, I never earned
any money and never really had any money of my own.''
``Well, you'll have plenty of it in two or three years,''
said Stanley, confidently. ``And you mustn't try to
live like girls who've been brought up to hardship. It
isn't necessary, and it would only unfit you for your
``I think that's true,'' said she. ``But I've enough--
more than enough.'' She gave him a nervous, shy,
almost agonized look. ``Please don't try to put me
under any heavier obligations than I have to be.''
``Please don't talk nonsense about obligation,''
retorted he. ``Let's get away from this subject. You
don't seem to realize that you're doing me a favor, that
it's a privilege to be allowed to help develop such a
marvelous voice as yours. Scores of people would jump
at the chance.''
``That doesn't lessen my obligation,'' said she. And
she thought she meant it, though, in fact, his generous
and plausible statement of the case had immediately
lessened not a little her sense of obligation.
On the whole, however, she was not sorry she had
this chance to talk of obligation. Slowly, as they saw
each other from time to time, often alone, Stanley had
begun--perhaps in spite of himself and unconsciously
--to show his feeling for her. Sometimes his hand
accidentally touched hers, and he did not draw it away
as quickly as he might. And she--it was impossible
for her to make any gesture, much less say anything,
that suggested sensitiveness on her part. It would put
him in an awkward position, would humiliate him most
unjustly. He fell into the habit of holding her hand
longer than was necessary at greeting or parting, of
touching her caressingly, of looking at her with the
eyes of a lover instead of a friend. She did not like
these things. For some mysterious reason--from
sheer perversity, she thought--she had taken a strong
physical dislike to him. Perfectly absurd, for there
was nothing intrinsically repellent about this handsome,
clean, most attractively dressed man, of the best type
of American and New-Yorker. No, only perversity
could explain such a silly notion. She was always
afraid he would try to take advantage of her delicate
position--always afraid she would have to yield something,
some trifle; yet the idea of giving anything from
a sense of obligation was galling to her. His very
refraining made her more nervous, the more shrinking.
If he would only commit some overt act--seize her,
kiss her, make outrageous demands--but this refraining,
these touches that might be accidental and again
might be stealthy approach-- She hated to have him
shake hands with her, would have liked to draw away
when his clothing chanced to brush against hers.
So she was glad of the talk about obligation. It set
him at a distance, immediately. He ceased to look
lovingly, to indulge in the nerve-rasping little caresses.
He became carefully formal. He was evidently eager
to prove the sincerity of his protestations--too eager
perhaps, her perverse mind suggested. Still, sincere
or not, he held to all the forms of sincerity.
Some friends of Mrs. Brindley's who were going
abroad offered her their cottage on the New Jersey
coast near Seabright, and a big new touring-car and
chauffeur. She and Mildred at once gave up the plan
for a summer in the Adirondacks, the more readily as
several of the men and women they saw the most of
lived within easy distance of them at Deal Beach and
Elberon. When Mildred went shopping she was lured
into buying a lot of summer things she would not have
needed in the Adirondacks--a mere matter of two
hundred and fifty dollars or thereabouts. A little
additional economy in the fall would soon make up for such
a trifle, and if there is one time more than another when
a woman wishes to look well and must look well, that
time is summer--especially by the sea.
When her monthly statement from the bank came on
the first of July she found that five thousand dollars
had been deposited to her credit. She was moved by
this discovery to devote several hours--very depressed
hours they were--to her finances. She had spent a
great deal more money than she had thought; indeed,
since March she had been living at the rate of fifteen
thousand a year. She tried to account for this amazing
extravagance. But she could recall no expenditure
that was not really almost, if not quite, necessary. It
took a frightful lot of money to live in New York.
How DID people with small incomes manage to get along?
Whatever would have become of her if she had not had
the good luck to be able to borrow from Stanley? What
would become of her if, before she was succeeding on
the stage, Stanley should die or lose faith in her or
interest in her? What would become of her! She had
been living these last few months among people who
had wide-open eyes and knew everything that was going
on--and did some ``going-on'' themselves, as she was
now more than suspecting. There were many women,
thousands of them--among the attractive, costily
dressed throngs she saw in the carriages and autos and
cabs--who would not like to have it published how they
contrived to live so luxuriously. No, they would not
like to have it published, though they cared not a fig
for its being whispered; New York too thoroughly
understood how necessary luxurious living was, and was
too completely divested of the follies of the old-fashioned,
straight-laced morality, to mind little shabby
details of queer conduct in striving to keep up with
the procession. Even the married women, using their
husbands--and letting their husbands use them--did
not frown on the irregularities of their sisters less
fortunately married or not able to find a permanent ``leg
to pull.'' As for the girls--Mildred had observed
strange things in the lives of the girls she knew more
or less well nowadays. In fact, all the women, of all
classes and conditions, were engaged in the same mad
struggle to get hold of money to spend upon fun and
finery--a struggle matching in recklessness and
resoluteness the struggle of the men down-town for money
for the same purposes. It was curious, this double
mania of the men and the women--the mania to get
money, no matter how; the instantly succeeding mania
to get rid of it, no matter how. Looking about her,
Mildred felt that she was peculiar and apart from nearly
all the women she knew. SHE got her money honorably.
SHE did not degrade herself, did not sell herself, did not
wheedle or cajole or pretend in the least degree. She
had grown more liberal as her outlook on life had
widened with contact with the New York mind--no,
with the mind of the whole easy-going, luxury-mad,
morality-scorning modern world. She still kept her
standard for herself high, and believed in a purity for
herself which she did not exact or expect in her friends.
In this respect she and Cyrilla Brindley were sympathetically
alike. No, Mildred was confident that in no
circumstances, in NO circumstances, would she relax her
ideas of what she personally could do and could not do.
Not that she blamed, or judged at all, women who did
as she would not; but she could not, simply could not,
however hard she might be driven, do those things--
though she could easily understand how other women
did them in preference to sinking down into the working
class or eking out a frowsy existence in some poor
boarding-house. The temptation would be great.
Thank Heaven, it was not teasing her. She would
resist it, of course. But--
What if Stanley Baird should lose interest? What
if, after he lost interest, she should find herself without
money, worse of than she had been when she sold
herself into slavery--highly moral and conventionally
correct slavery, but still slavery--to the little general
with the peaked pink-silk nightcap hiding the absence
of the removed toupee--and with the wonderful
pink-silk pajamas, gorgeously monogramed in violet--
and the tiny feet and ugly hands--and those loathsome
needle-pointed mustaches and the hideous habit of
mumbling his tongue and smacking his lips? What
if, moneyless, she should not be able to find another
Stanley or a man of the class gentleman willing to
help her generously even on ANY terms? What then?
She was looking out over the sea, her bank-book and
statements and canceled checks in her lap. Their cottage
was at the very edge of the strand; its veranda
was often damp from spray after a storm. It was not
storming as she sat there, ``taking stock''; under a
blue sky an almost tranquil sea was crooning softly in
the sunlight, innocent and happy and playful as a child.
She, dressed in a charming negligee and looking forward
to a merry day in the auto, with lunch and dinner
at attractive, luxurious places farther down the coast--
she was stricken with a horrible sadness, with a terror
that made her heart beat wildly.
``I must be crazy!'' she said, half aloud. ``I've
never earned a dollar with my voice. And for two
months it has been unreliable. I'm acting like a crazy
person. What WILL become of me?''
Just then Stanley Baird came through the pretty little
house, seeking her. ``There you are!'' he cried. ``Do
go get dressed.''
Hastily she flung a scarf over the book and papers
in her lap. She had intended to speak to him about
that fresh deposit of five thousand dollars--to refuse
it, to rebuke him. Now she did not dare.
``What's the matter?'' he went on. ``Headache?''
``It was the wine at dinner last night,'' explained she.
``I ought never to touch red wine. It disagrees with
me horribly.''
``That was filthy stuff,'' said he. ``You must take
some champagne at lunch. That'll set you right.''
She stealthily wound the scarf about the papers.
When she felt that all were secure she rose. She was
looking sweet and sad and peculiarly beautiful. There
was an exquisite sheen on her skin. She had washed
her hair that morning, and it was straying fascinatingly
about her brow and ears and neck. Baird looked at
her, lowered his eyes and colored.
``I'll not be long,'' she said hurriedly.
She had to pass him in the rather narrow doorway.
From her garments shook a delicious perfume. He
caught her in his arms. The blood had flushed into his
face in a torrent, swelling out the veins, giving him
a distorted and wild expression.
``Mildred!'' he cried. ``Say that you love me a
little! I'm so lonely for you--so hungry for you!''
She grew cold with fear and with repulsion. She
neither yielded to his embrace nor shook it off. She
simply stood, her round smooth body hard though corsetless.
He kissed her on the throat, kissed the lace over
her bosom, crying out inarticulately. In the frenzy of
his passion he did not for a while realize her lack of
response. As he felt it, his arms relaxed, dropped away
from her, fell at his side. He hung his head. He was
breathing so heavily that she glanced into the house
apprehensively, fearing someone else might hear.
``I beg pardon,'' he muttered. ``You were too much
for me this morning. It was your fault. You are
She moved on into the house.
``Wait a minute!'' he called after her.
She halted, hesitating.
``Come back,'' he said. ``I've got something to say
to you.''
She turned and went back to the veranda, he retreating
before her and his eyes sinking before the cold,
clear blue of hers.
``You're going up, not to come down again,'' he said.
``You think I've insulted you--think I've acted outrageously.''
How glad she was that he had so misread her thoughts
--had not discovered the fear, the weakness, the sudden
collapse of all her boasted confidence in her strength of
``You'll never feel the same toward me again,'' he
went fatuously on. ``You think I'm a fraud. Well,
I'll admit that I am in love with you--have been ever
since the steamer--always was crazy about that mouth
of yours--and your figure, and the sound of your
voice. I'll admit I'm an utter fool about you--respect
you and trust you as I never used to think any woman
deserved to be respected and trusted. I'll even admit
that I've been hoping--all sorts of things. I knew
a woman like you wouldn't let a man help her unless
she loved him.''
At this her heart beat wildly and a blush of shame
poured over her face and neck. He did not see. He
had not the courage to look at her--to face that
expression of the violated goddess he felt confident her
face was wearing. In love, he reasoned and felt about
her like an inexperienced boy, all his experience going
for nothing. He went on:
``I understand we can never be anything to each other
until you're on the stage and arrived. I'd not have it
otherwise, if I could. For I want YOU, and I'd never
believe I had you unless you were free.''
The color was fading from her cheeks. At this it
flushed deeper than before. She must speak. Not to
speak was to lie, was to play the hypocrite. Yet speak
she dared not. At least Stanley Baird was better than
Siddall. Anyhow, who was she, that had been the wife
of Siddall, to be so finicky?
``You don't believe me?'' he said miserably. ``You
think I'll forget myself sometime again?''
``I hope not,'' she said gently. ``I believe not. I
trust you, Stanley.''
And she went into the house. He looked after her,
in admiration of the sweet and pure calm of this quiet
rebuke. She tried to take the same exalted view of it
herself, but she could not fool herself just then with
the familiar ``good woman'' fake. She knew that she
had struck the flag of self-respect. She knew what she
would really have done had he been less delicate, less
in love, and more ``practical.'' And she found a small
and poor consolation in reflecting, ``I wonder how many
women there are who take high ground because it costs
nothing.'' We are prone to suspect everybody of any
weakness we find in ourselves--and perhaps we are not
so far wrong as are those who accept without question
the noisy protestations of a world of self-deceivers.
Thenceforth she and Stanley got on better than ever
--apparently. But though she ignored it, she knew
the truth--knew her new and deep content was due to
her not having challenged his assertion that she loved
him. He, believing her honest and high minded,
assumed that the failure to challenge was a good
woman's way of admitting. But with the day of reckoning--
not only with him but also with her own selfrespect--
put off until that vague and remote time when
she should be a successful prima donna, she gave herself
up to enjoyment. That was a summer of rarely fine
weather, particularly fine along the Jersey coast. They
--always in gay parties--motored up and down the
coast and inland. Several of the ``musical'' men--
notably Richardson of Elberon--had plenty of money;
Stanley, stopping with his cousins, the Frasers, on the
Rumson Road, brought several of his friends, all rich
and more or less free. As every moment of Mildred's
day was full and as it was impossible not to sleep and
sleep well in that ocean air, with the surf soothing the
nerves as the lullaby of a nurse soothes a baby, she was
able to put everything unpleasant out of mind. She
was resting her voice, was building up her health;
therefore the career was being steadily advanced and no
time was being wasted. She felt sorry for those who
had to do unpleasant or disagreeable things in making
their careers. She told herself that she did not deserve
her good fortune in being able to advance to a brilliant
career not through hardship but over the most delightful
road imaginable--amusing herself, wearing charming
and satisfactory clothes, swimming and dancing,
motoring and feasting. Without realizing it, she was
strongly under the delusion that she was herself already
rich--the inevitable delusion with a woman when she
moves easily and freely and luxuriously about, never
bothered for money, always in the company of rich
people. The rich are fated to demoralize those around
them. The stingy rich fill their satellites with envy and
hatred. The generous rich fill them with the feeling
that the light by which they shine and the heat with
which they are warm are not reflected light and heat
but their own.
Never had she been so happy. She even did not
especially mind Donald Keith, a friend of Stanley's and of
Mrs. Brindley's, who, much too often to suit her, made
one of the party. She had tried in vain to discover
what there was in Keith that inspired such intense liking
in two people so widely different as expansive and
emotional Stanley Baird and reserved and distinctly cold
Cyrilla Brindley. Keith talked little, not only seemed
not to listen well, but showed plainly, even in tete-a-tete
conversations, that his thoughts had been elsewhere.
He made no pretense of being other than he was--an
indifferent man who came because it did not especially
matter to him where he was. Sometimes his silence and
his indifference annoyed Mildred; again--thanks to
her profound and reckless contentment--she was able
to forget that he was along. He seemed to be and probably
was about forty years old. His head was beautifully
shaped, the line of its profile--front, top, and
back--being perfect in intellectuality, strength and
symmetry. He was rather under the medium height,
about the same height as Mildred herself. He was
extremely thin and loosely built, and his clothes seemed
to hang awry, giving him an air of slovenliness which
became surprising when one noted how scrupulously
neat and clean he was. His brown hair, considerably
tinged with rusty gray, grew thinly upon that beautiful
head. His skin was dry and smooth and dead white.
This, taken with the classic regularity of his features,
gave him an air of lifelessness, of one burnt out by the
fire of too much living; but whether the living had been
done by Keith himself or by his immediate ancestors
appearances did not disclose. This look of passionless,
motionless repose, like classic sculpture, was sharply and
startlingly belied by a pair of really wonderful eyes--
deeply and intensely blue, brilliant, all seeing, all
comprehending, eyes that seemed never to sleep, seemed the
ceaselessly industrious servants of a brain that busied
itself without pause. The contrast between the dead
white calm of his face, the listlessness of his relaxed
figure, and these vivid eyes, so intensely alive, gave to
Donald Keith's personality an uncanniness that was
most disagreeable to Mildred.
``That's what fascinates me,'' said Cyrilla, when they
were discussing him one day.
``Fascinates!'' exclaimed Mildred. ``He's tiresome--
when he isn't rude.''
``Not actively rude but, worse still, passively rude.''
``He is the only man I've ever seen with whom I could
imagine myself falling in love,'' said Mrs. Brindley.
Mildred laughed in derision. ``Why, he's a dead
man!'' cried she.
``You don't understand,'' said Cyrilla. ``You've
never lived with a man.'' She forgot completely, as did
Mildred herself, so completely had Mrs. Siddall returned
to the modes and thoughts of a girl. ``At home--to
live with--you want only reposeful things. That is
why the Greeks, whose instincts were unerring, had so
much reposeful statuary. One grows weary of agitating
objects. They soon seem hysterical and shallow.
The same thing's true of persons. For permanent
love and friendship you want reposeful men--
calm, strong, silent. The other kind either wear you
out or wear themselves out with you.''
``You forget his eyes,'' put in Stanley. ``Did you
ever see such eyes!''
``Yes, those eyes of his!'' cried Mildred. ``You
certainly can't call them reposeful, Mrs. Brindley.''
Mrs. Brindley did not seize the opportunity to convict
her of inconsistency. Said she:
``I admit the eyes. They're the eyes of the kind of
man a woman wants, or another man wants in his friend.
When Keith looks at you, you feel that you are seeing
the rarest being in the world--an absolutely reliable
person. When I think of him I think of reliable, just
as when you think of the sun you think of brightness.''
``I had no idea it was so serious as this,'' teased
``Nor had I,'' returned Cyrilla easily, ``until I began
to talk about him. Don't tell him, Mr. Baird, or he
might take advantage of me.''
The idea amused Stanley. ``He doesn't care a rap
about women,'' said he. ``I hear he has let a few care
about him from time to time, but he soon ceased to
be good-natured. He hates to be bored.''
As he came just then, they had to find another
subject. Mildred observed him with more interest. She
had learned to have respect for Mrs. Brindley's
judgments. But she soon gave over watching him. That
profound calm, those eyes concentrating all the life of
the man like a burning glass-- She had a disagreeable
sense of being seen through, even to her secretest
thought, of being understood and measured and weighed
--and found wanting. It occurred to her for the first
time that part of the reason for her not liking him
was the best of reasons--that he did not like her.
The first time she was left alone with him, after this
discovery, she happened to be in an audacious and
talkative mood, and his lack of response finally goaded
her into saying: ``WHY don't you like me?'' She cared
nothing about it; she simply wished to hear what he
would say--if he could be roused into saying anything.
He was sitting on the steps leading from the
veranda to the sea--was smoking a cigarette and gazing
out over the waves like a graven image, as if he
had always been posed there and always would be there,
the embodiment of repose gazing in ineffable indifference
upon the embodiment of its opposite. He made
no answer.
``I asked you why you do not like me,'' said she.
``Did you hear?''
``Yes,'' replied he.
She waited; nothing further from him. Said she:
``Well, give me one of your cigarettes.''
He rose, extended his case, then a light. He was
never remiss in those kinds of politeness. When she
was smoking, he seated himself again and dropped into
the former attitude. She eyed him, wondering how it
could be possible that he had endured the incredible
fatigues and hardships Stanley Baird had related of
him--hunting and exploring expeditions into tropics
and into frozen regions, mountain climbs, wild sea
voyages in small boats, all with no sign of being able to
stand anything, yet also with no sign of being any
more disturbed than now in this seaside laziness. Stanley
had showed them a picture of him taken twenty years
and more ago when he was in college; he had looked
almost the same then--perhaps a little older.
``Well, I am waiting,'' persisted she.
She thought he was about to look at her--a thing
he had never done, to her knowledge, since they had
known each other. She nerved herself to receive the
shock, with a certain flutter of expectancy, of excitement
even. But instead of looking, he settled himself
in a slightly different position and fixed his gaze upon
another point in the horizon. She noted that he had
splendid hands--ideal hands for a man, with the same
suggestion of intense vitality and aliveness that flashed
from his eyes. She had not noted this before. Next
she saw that he had good feet, and that his boots were
his only article of apparel that fitted him, or rather,
that looked as if made for him.
She tossed her cigarette over the rail to the sand.
He startled her by speaking, in his unemotional way.
He said:
``Now, I like you better.''
``I don't understand,'' said she.
No answer from him. The cigarette depending
listlessly from his lips seemed--as usual--uncertain
whether it would stay or fall. She watched this uncertainty
with a curious, nervous interest. She was always
thinking that cigarette would fall, but it never did.
Said she:
``Why did you say you liked me less?''
``Better,'' corrected he.
``We used to have a pump in our back yard at home,''
laughed she. ``One toiled away at the handle, but
nothing ever came. And it was a promising-looking
pump, too.''
He smiled--a slow, reluctant smile, but undeniably
attractive. Said he:
``Because you threw away your cigarette.''
``You object to women smoking?''
``No,'' said he. His tone made her feel how absurd
it was to suspect him of such provincialism.
``You object to MY smoking?'' suggested she;
laughing, ``Pump! Pump!''
``No,'' said he.
``Then your remark meant nothing at all?''
He was silent.
``You are rude,'' said she coldly, rising to go into
the house.
He said something, what she did not hear, in her
agitation. She paused and inquired:
``What did you say?''
``I said, I am not rude but kind,'' replied he.
``That is detestable!'' cried she. ``I have not liked
you, but I have been polite to you because of Stanley
and Mrs. Brindley. Why should you be insulting to
``What have I done?'' inquired he, unmoved. He
had risen as she rose, but instead of facing her he was
leaning against the post of the veranda, bent upon his
seaward vigil.
``You have insinuated that your reasons for not liking
me were a reflection on me.''
``You insisted,'' said he.
``You mean that they are?'' demanded she furiously.
She was amazed at her wild, unaccountable rage.
He slowly turned his head and looked at her--a
glance without any emotion whatever, simply a look
that, like the beam of a powerful searchlight, seemed
to thrust through fog and darkness and to light up
everything in its path. Said he:
``Do you wish me to tell you why I don't like you?''
``No!'' she cried hysterically. ``Never mind--I
don't know what I'm saying.'' And she went hastily
into the house. A moment later, in her own room
upstairs, she was wondering at herself. Why had she
become confused? What did he mean? What had she
seen--or half seen--in the darkness and fog within
herself when he looked at her? In a passion she cried:
``If he would only stay away!''
BUT he did not stay away. He owned and lived in
a small house up on the Rumson Road. While the
house was little more than a bungalow and had a
simplicity that completely hid its rare good taste from the
average observer, its grounds were the most spacious in
that neighborhood of costly, showy houses set in grounds
not much more extensive than a city building lot. The
grounds had been cleared and drained to drive out and
to keep out the obnoxious insect life, but had been left
a forest, concealing the house from the roads. Stanley
Baird was now stopping with Keith, and brought him
along to the cottage by the sea every day.
The parties narrowed to the same four persons. Mrs.
Brindley seemed never to tire of talking to Keith--
or to tire of talking about him when the two men had
left, late each night. As for Stanley, he referred
everything to Keith--the weather prospects, where they
should go for the day, what should be eaten and drunk,
any point about politics or fashion, life or literature
or what not, that happened to be discussed. And he
looked upon Donald's monosyllabic reply to his inquiry
as a final judgment, ending all possibility of argument.
Mildred held out long. Then, in spite of herself, she
began to yield, ceased to dislike him, found a kind of
pleasure--or, perhaps, fascinated interest--in the
nervousness his silent and indifferent presence caused
her. She liked to watch that immobile, perfect profile,
neither young nor old, indeed not suggesting age in
any degree, but only experience and knowledge--and
an infinite capacity for emotion, for passion even. The
dead-white color declared it had already been lived;
the brilliant, usually averted or veiled eyes asserted
present vitality, pulsing under a calm surface.
One day when Stanley, in the manner of one who
wishes a thing settled and settled right, said he would
ask Donald Keith about it, Mildred, a little piqued,
a little amused, retorted:
``And what will he answer? Why, simply yes or no.''
``That's all,'' assented Stanley. ``And that's quite
enough, isn't it?''
``But how do you know he's as wise as he pretends?''
``He doesn't pretend to be anything or to know
anything. That's precisely it.''
Mildred suddenly began to like Keith. She had never
thought of this before. Yes, it was true, he did not
pretend. Not in the least, not about anything. When
you saw him, you saw at once the worst there was to
see. It was afterward that you discovered he was not
slovenly, but clean and neat, not badly but well dressed,
not homely but handsome, not sickly but soundly well,
not physically weak but strong, not dull but vividly alive,
not a tiresome void but an unfathomable mystery.
``What does he do?'' she asked Mrs. Brindley.
Cyrilla's usually positive gray eyes looked vague.
She smiled. ``I never asked,'' said she. ``I've known
him nearly three years, and it never occurred to me
to ask, or to wonder. Isn't that strange? Usually
about the first inquiry we make is what a man does.''
``I'll ask Stanley,'' said Mildred. And she did about
an hour later, when they were in the surf together, with
the other two out of earshot. Said Stanley:
``He's a lawyer, of course. Also, he's written a novel
or two and a book of poems. I've never read them.
Somehow, I never get around to reading.''
``Oh, he's a lawyer? That's the way he makes his
``A queer kind of lawyer. He never goes to court,
and his clients are almost all other lawyers. They go to
him to get him to tell them what to do, and what not
to do. He's got a big reputation among lawyers,
Fred Norman tells me, but makes comparatively little,
as he either can't or won't charge what he ought. I
told him what Norman said, and he only smiled in that
queer way he has. I said: `You make twenty or
thirty thousand a year. You ought to make ten
times that.' ''
``And what did he answer?'' asked Mildred. ``Nothing?''
``He said: `I make all I want. If I took in more, I'd
be bothered getting rid of it or investing it. I can
always make all I'll want--unless I go crazy. And
what could a crazy man do with money? It doesn't cost
anything to live in a lunatic asylum.' ''
Several items of interest to add to those she had
collected. He could talk brilliantly, but he preferred
silence. He could make himself attractive to women
and to men, but he preferred to be detached. He could
be a great lawyer, but he preferred the quiet of obscurity.
He could be a rich man, but he preferred to be
comparatively poor.
Said Mildred: ``I suppose some woman--some
disappointment in love--has killed ambition, and
everything like that.''
``I don't think so,'' replied Baird. ``The men who
knew him as a boy say he was always as he is now. He
lived in the Arabian desert for two years.''
``Why didn't he stay?'' laughed Mildred. ``That
life would exactly suit him.''
``It did,'' said Stanley. ``But his father died, and
he had to come home and support his mother--until
she died. That's the way his whole life has been.
He drifts in the current of circumstances. He might
let himself be blown away to-morrow to the other end
of the earth and stay away years--or never come
``But how would he live?''
``On his wits. And as well or as poorly as he cared.
He's the sort of man everyone instinctively asks advice
of--me, you, his valet, the farmer who meets him at
a boundary fence, the fellow who sits nest him in a
Mildred did not merely cease to dislike him; she went
farther, and rapidly. She began to like him, to circle
round that tantalizing, indolent mystery as a deer about
a queer bit of brush in the undergrowth. She liked
to watch him. She was alternately afraid to talk before
him and recklessly confidential--all with no response
or sign of interest from him. If she was silent, when
they were alone together, he was silent, too. If she
talked, still he was silent. What WAS he thinking about?
What did he think of her?--that especially.
``What ARE you thinking?'' she interrupted herself
to say one afternoon as they sat together on the strand
under a big sunshade. She had been talking on and on
about her career--talking conceitedly, as her subject
intoxicated her--telling him what triumphs awaited
her as soon as she should be ready to debut. As he
did not answer, she repeated her question, adding:
``I knew you weren't listening to me, or I shouldn't
have had the courage to say the foolish things I did.''
``No, I wasn't,'' admitted he.
``Why not?''
``For the reason you gave.''
``That what I said was--just talk?''
``You don't believe I'll do those things?''
``Do you?''
``I've GOT to believe it,'' said she. ``If I didn't--''
She came to a full stop.
``If you didn't, then what?'' It was the first time
he had ever flattered her with interest enough to ask
her a question about herself.
``If I didn't believe I was going to succeed--and
succeed big--'' she began. After a pause, she added,
``I'd not dare say it.''
``Or think it,'' said he.
She colored. ``What do you mean?'' she asked.
He did not reply.
``What do you mean, Mr. Keith?'' she urged.
``You are always asking me questions to which you
already know the answer,'' said he.
``You're referring to a week or so ago, when I asked
you why you disliked me?''
No answer. No sign of having heard. No outward
sign of interest in anything, even in the cigarette drooping
from the corner of his mouth.
``Wasn't that it?'' she insisted.
``You are always asking me questions to which you
already know the answer,'' repeated he.
``I am annoying you?''
No answer.
She laughed. ``Do you want me to go away and
leave you in peace with that--law case--or whatever
it is?''
``I don't like to be alone.''
``But anyone would do?--a dog?''
No reply.
``You mean, a dog would be better because it doesn't
ask questions to which it knows the answer.''
No reply.
``Well, I have a pleasant-sounding voice. As I'm
saying nothing, it may be soothing--like the sound of
the waves. I've learned to take you as you are. I
rather like your pose.''
No reply. No sign that he was even tempted to rise
to this bait and protest.
``But you don't like mine,'' she went on. ``Yes, it
is a pose. But I've got to keep it up, and to pretend
to myself that it isn't. And it isn't altogether. I shall
be a successful singer.''
``When?'' said he. Actually he was listening!
She answered: ``In--about two years, I think.''
No comment.
``You don't believe it?''
``Do you?'' A pause. ``Why ask these questions
you've already answered yourself?''
``I'll tell you why,'' replied she, her face suddenly
flushed with earnestness. ``Because I want you to help
me. You help everyone else. Why not me?''
``You never asked me,'' said he.
``I didn't know I wanted it until just now--as I
said it. But YOU must have known, because you are
so much more experienced than I--and understand
people--what's going on in their minds, deeper than
they can see.'' Her tone became indignant, reproachful.
``Yes, you must have known I needed your help.
And you ought to have helped me, even if you did
dislike me. You've no right to dislike anyone as young
as I.''
He was looking at her now, the intensely alive blue
eyes sympathetic, penetrating, understanding. It was
frightful to be so thoroughly understood--all one's
weaknesses laid bare--yet it was a relief and a joy, too
--like the cruel healing knife of the surgeon. Said he:
``I do not like kept women.''
She gasped, grew ghastly. It was a frightful insult,
one for which she was wholly unprepared. ``You--
believe--that?'' she said slowly.
``Another of those questions,'' he said. And he
looked calmly away, out over the sea, as if his interest
in the conversation were at an end.
What should she say? How deny--how convince
him? For convince him she must, and then go away
and never permit him to speak to her again until he had
apologized. She said quietly: ``Mr. Keith, you have
insulted me.''
``I do not like kept women, either with or without
a license,'' said he in the same even, indifferent way.
``When you ceased to be a kept woman, I would help
you, if I could. But no one can help a kept woman.''
There was nothing to do but to rise and go away.
She rose and went toward the house. At the veranda
she paused. He had not moved. She returned. He
was still inspecting the horizon, the cigarette depending
from his lips--how DID he keep it alight? She said:
``Mr. Keith, I am sure you did not mean to insult me.
What did you mean?''
``Another of those questions,'' said he.
``Honestly, I do not understand.''
``Then think. And when you have thought, you
will understand.''
``But I have thought. I do not understand.''
``Then it would be useless to explain,'' said he.
``That is one of those vital things which, if one cannot
understand them for oneself, one is hopeless--is beyond
``You mean I am not in earnest about my career?''
``Another of those questions. If you had not seen
clearly what I meant, you would have been really
offended. You'd have gone away and not come
She saw that this was true. And, seeing, she
wondered how she could have been so stupid as not to have
seen it at once. She had yet to learn that overlooking
the obvious is a universal human failing and that seeing
the obvious is the talent and the use of the superior
of earth--the few who dominate and determine the
``You reproach me for not having helped you,'' he
went on. ``How does it happen that you are uneasy
in mind--so uneasy that you are quarreling at me?''
A light broke upon her. ``You have been drawing
me on, from the beginning,'' she cried. ``You have
been helping me--making me see that I needed
``No,'' said he. ``I've been waiting to see whether
you would rouse from your dream of grandeur.''
``YOU have been rousing me.''
``No,'' he said. ``You've roused yourself. So you
may be worth helping or, rather, worth encouraging,
for no one can HELP you but yourself.''
She looked at him pathetically. ``But what shall I
do?'' she asked. ``I've got no money, no experience,
no sense. I'm a vain, luxury-loving fool, cursed with
a--with a--is it a conscience?''
``I hope it's something more substantial. I hope
it's common sense.''
``But I have been working--honestly I have.''
``Don't begin lying to yourself again.''
``Don't be harsh with me.''
He drew in his legs, in preparation for rising--no
doubt to go away.
``I don't mean that,'' she cried testily. ``You are
not harsh with me. It's the truth that's harsh--the
truth I'm beginning to see--and feel. I am afraid--
afraid. I haven't the courage to face it.''
``Why whine?'' said he. ``There's nothing in that.''
``Do you think there's any hope for me?''
``That depends,'' said he.
``On what?''
``On what you want.''
``I want to be a singer, a great singer.''
``No, there's no hope.''
She grew cold with despair. He had a way of saying
a thing that gave it the full weight of a verdict
from which there was no appeal.
``Now, if you wanted to make a living,'' he went on,
``and if you were determined to learn to sing as well
as you could, with the idea that you might be able to
make a living--why, then there might be hope.''
``You think I can sing?''
``I never heard you. Can you?''
``They say I can.''
``What do YOU say?''
``I don't know,'' she confessed. ``I've never been
able to judge. Sometimes I think I'm singing well, and
I find out afterward that I've sung badly. Again, it's
the other way.''
``Then, obviously, what's the first thing to do?''
``To learn to judge myself,'' said she. ``I never
thought of it before--how important that is. Do you
know Jennings--Eugene Jennings?''
``The singing teacher? No.''
``Is he a good teacher?''
``Why not?''
``Because he has not taught you that you will never
sing until you are your own teacher. Because he has
not taught you that singing is a small and minor part
of a career as a singer.''
``But it isn't,'' protested she.
A long silence. Looking at him, she felt that he had
dismissed her and her affairs from his mind.
``Is it?'' she said, to bring him back.
``What?'' asked he vaguely.
``You said that a singer didn't have to be able to
``Did I?'' He glanced down the shore toward the
house. ``It feels like lunch-time.'' He rose.
``What did you mean by what you said?''
``When you have thought about your case a while
longer, we'll talk of it again--if you wish. But until
you've thought, talking is a waste of time.''
She rose, stood staring out to sea. He was observing
her, a faint smile about his lips. He said:
``Why bother about a career? After all, kept
woman is a thoroughly respectable occupation--or can
be made so by any preacher or justice of the peace.
It's followed by many of our best women--those who
pride themselves on their high characters--and on
their pride.''
``I could not belong to a man unless I cared for him,''
said she. ``I tried it once. I shall never do it again.''
``That sounds fine,'' said he. ``Let's go to lunch.''
``You don't believe me?''
``Do you?''
She sank down upon the sand and burst into a wild
passion of sobs and tears. When her fight for selfcontrol
was over and she looked up to apologize for her
pitiful exhibition of weakness--and to note whether
she had made an impression upon his sympathies--she
saw him just entering the house, a quarter of a mile
away. To anger succeeded a mood of desperate
forlornness. She fell upon herself with gloomy ferocity.
She could not sing. She had no brains. She was taking
money--a disgracefully large amount of money--
from Stanley Baird under false pretenses. How could
she hope to sing when her voice could not be relied upon?
Was not her throat at that very moment slightly sore?
Was it not always going queer? She--sing! Absurd.
Did Stanley Baird suspect? Was he waiting for
the time when she would gladly accept what she must
have from him, on his own terms? No, not on his
terms, but on the terms she herself would arrange--
the only terms she could make. No, Stanley believed
in her absolutely--believed in her career. When he
discovered the truth, he would lose interest in her, would
regard her as a poor, worthless creature, would be
eager to rid himself of her. Instead of returning to
the house, she went in the opposite direction, made a
circuit and buried herself in the woods beyond the
Shrewsbury. She was mad to get away from her own
company; but the only company she could fly to was
more depressing than the solitude and the taunt and
sneer and lash of her own thoughts. It was late in the
afternoon before she nerved herself to go home. She
hoped the others would have gone off somewhere; but
they were waiting for her, Stanley anxious and Cyrilla
Brindley irritated. Her eyes sought Keith. He was,
as usual, the indifferent spectator.
``Where have you been?'' cried Stanley.
``Making up my mind,'' said she in the tone that
forewarns of a storm.
A brief pause. She struggled in vain against an
impulse to look at Keith. When her eyes turned in
his direction he, not looking at her, moved in his listless
way toward the door. Said he:
``The auto's waiting. Come on.''
She vacillated, yielded, began to put on the wraps
Stanley was collecting for her. It was a big touringcar,
and they sat two and two, with the chauffeur alone.
Keith was beside Mildred. When they were under way,
she said:
``Why did you stop me? Perhaps I'll never have
the courage again.''
``Courage for what?'' asked he.
``To take your advice, and break off.''
``MY advice?''
``Yes, your advice.''
``You have to clutch at and cling to somebody, don't
you? You can't bear the idea of standing up by your
own strength.''
``You think I'm trying to fasten to you?'' she said,
with an angry laugh.
``I know it. You admitted it. You are not satisfied
with the way things are going. You have doubts about
your career. You shrink from your only comfortable
alternative, if the career winks out. You ask me my
opinion about yourself and about careers. I give it.
Now, I find you asked only that you might have someone
to lean on, to accuse of having got you into a
mess, if doing what you think you ought to do turns out
as badly as you fear.''
It was the longest speech she had heard him make.
She had no inclination to dispute his analysis of her
motives. ``I did not realize it,'' said she, ``but that
is probably so. But--remember how I was brought
``There's only one thing for you to do.''
``Go back to my husband? You know--about me
--don't you?''
``I can't go back to him.''
``Then--what?'' she asked.
``Go on, as now,'' replied he.
``You despise me, don't you?''
``But you said you did.''
``Dislike and despise are not at all the same.''
``You admit that you dislike me,'' cried she triumphantly.
He did not answer.
``You think me a weak, clinging creature, not able
to do anything but make pretenses.''
No answer.
``Don't you?'' she persisted.
``Probably I have about the same opinion of you that
you have of yourself.''
``What WILL become of me?'' she said. Her face
lighted up with an expression of reckless beauty. ``If
I could only get started I'd go to the devil, laughing
and dancing--and taking a train with me.''
``You ARE started,'' said he, with an amiable smile.
``Keep on. But I doubt if you'll be so well amused as
you may imagine. Going to the devil isn't as it's
painted in novels by homely old maids and by men too
timid to go out of nights. A few steps farther, and
your disillusionment will begin. But there'll be no
turning back. Already, you are almost too old to make
a career.''
``I'm only twenty-four. I flattered myself I looked
still younger.''
``It's worse than I thought,'' said he. ``Most of
the singers, even the second-rate ones, began at fifteen--
began seriously. And you haven't begun yet.''
``That's unjust,'' she protested. ``I've done a little.
Many great people would think it a great deal.''
``You haven't begun yet,'' repeated he calmly. ``You
have spent a lot of money, and have done a lot of
dreaming and talking and listening to compliments,
and have taken a lot of lessons of an expensive
charlatan. But what have those things to do with a
``You've never heard me sing.''
``I do not care for singing.''
``Oh!'' said she in a tone of relief. ``Then you
know nothing about all this.''
``On the contrary, I know everything about a career.
And we were talking of careers, not of singing.''
``You mean that my voice is worthless because I
haven't the other elements?''
``What else could I have meant?'' said he. ``You
haven't the strength. You haven't the health.''
She laughed as she straightened herself. ``Do I
look weak and sickly?'' cried she.
``For the purposes of a career as a female you are
strong and well,'' said he. ``For the purpose of a
career as a singer--'' He smiled and shook his head.
``A singer must have muscles like wire ropes, like a
blacksmith or a washerwoman. The other day we were
climbing a hill--a not very steep hill. You stopped
five times for breath, and twice you sat down to rest.''
She was literally hanging her head with shame. ``I
wasn't very well that day,'' she murmured.
``Don't deceive yourself,'' said he. ``Don't indulge
in the fatal folly of self-excuse.''
``Go on,'' she said humbly. ``I want to hear it all.''
``Is your throat sore to-day?'' pursued he.
She colored. ``It's better,'' she murmured.
``A singer with sore throat!'' mocked he. ``You've
had a slight fogginess of the voice all summer.''
``It's this sea air,'' she eagerly protested. ``It
affects everyone.''
``No self-excuse, please,'' interrupted he. ``Cigarettes,
champagne, all kinds of foolish food, an impaired
digestion--that's the truth, and you know it.''
``I've got splendid digestion! I can eat anything!''
she cried. ``Oh, you don't know the first thing about
singing. You don't know about temperament, about
art, about all the things that singing really means.''
``We were talking of careers,'' said he. ``A career
means a person who can be relied upon to do what is
demanded of him. A singer's career means a powerful
body, perfect health, a sound digestion. Without them,
the voice will not be reliable. What you need is not
singing teachers, but teachers of athletics and of hygiene.
To hear you talk about a career is like listening to a
child. You think you can become a professional singer
by paying money to a teacher. There are lawyers and
doctors and business men in all lines who think that way
about their professions--that learning a little routine
of technical knowledge makes a lawyer or a doctor or
a merchant or a financier.''
``Tell me--WHAT ought I to learn?''
``Learn to think--and to persist. Learn to
concentrate. Learn to make sacrifices. Learn to handle
yourself as a great painter handles his brush and colors.
Then perhaps you'll make a career as a singer. If not,
it'll be a career as something or other.''
She was watching him with a wistful, puzzled expression.
``Could I ever do all that?''
``Anyone could, by working away at it every day.
If you gain only one inch a day, in a year you'll have
gained three hundred and sixty-five inches. And if you
gain an inch a day for a while and hold it, you soon
begin to gain a foot a day. But there's no need to
worry about that.'' He was gazing at her now with an
expression of animation that showed how feverishly alive
he was behind that mask of calmness. ``The day's
work--that's the story of success. Do the day's work
persistently, thoroughly, intelligently. Never mind
about to-morrow. Thinking of it means dreaming or
despairing--both futilities. Just the day's work.''
``I begin to understand,'' she said thoughtfully.
``You are right. I've done nothing. Oh, I've been a
fool--more foolish even than I thought.''
A long silence, then she said, somewhat embarrassed
and in a low voice, though there was no danger of those
in front of them hearing:
``I want you to know that there has been nothing
wrong--between Stanley and me.''
``Do you wish me to put that to your credit or to
your discredit?'' inquired he.
``What do you mean?''
``Why, you've just told me that you haven't given
Stanley anything at all for his money--that you've
cheated him outright. The thing itself is discreditable,
but your tone suggests that you think I'll admire you
for it.''
``Do you mean to say that you'd think more highly
of me if I were--what most women would be in the
same circumstances?''
``I mean to say that I think the whole business is
discreditable to both of you--to his intelligence, to
your character.''
``You are frank,'' said she, trying to hide her anger.
``I am frank,'' replied he, undisturbed. He looked
at her. ``Why should I not be?''
``You know that I need you, that I don't dare
resent,'' said she. ``So isn't it--a little cowardly?''
``Why do you need me? Not for money, for you
know you'll not get that.''
``I don't want it,'' cried she, agitated. ``I never
thought of it.''
``Yes, you've probably thought of it,'' replied he
coolly. ``But you will not get it.''
``Well, that's settled--I'll not get it.''
``Then why do you need me? Of what use can I be
to you? Only one use in the world. To tell you the
truth--the exact truth. Is not that so?''
``Yes,'' she said. ``That is what I want from you
--what I can't get from anyone else. No one else
knows the truth--not even Mrs. Brindley, though she's
intelligent. I take back what I said about your being
cowardly. Oh, you do stab my vanity so! You
mustn't mind my crying out. I can't help it--at
least, not till I get used to you.''
``Cry out,'' said he. ``It does no harm.''
``How wonderfully you understand me!'' exclaimed
she. ``That's why I let you say to me anything you
He was smiling peculiarly--a smile that somehow
made her feel uncomfortable. She nerved herself for
some still deeper stab into her vanity. He said, his gaze
upon her and ironical:
``I'm sorry I can't return the compliment.''
``What compliment?'' asked she.
``Can't say that you understand me. Why do you
think I am doing this?''
She colored. ``Oh, no indeed, Mr. Keith,'' she
protested, ``I don't think you are in love with me--or
anything of that sort. Indeed, I do not. I know you
better than that.''
``Really?'' said he, amused. ``Then you are not
``How can you think me so vain?'' she protested.
``Because you are so,'' replied he. ``You are as
vain--no more so, but just as much so--as the average
pretty and attractive woman brought up as you
have been. You are not obsessed by the notion that
your physical charms are all-powerful, and in that
fact there is hope for you. But you attach entirely too
much importance to them. You will find them a
hindrance for a long time before they begin to be a help
to you in your career. And they will always be a
temptation to you to take the easy, stupid way of making
a living--the only way open to most women that
is not positively repulsive.''
``I think it is the most repulsive,'' said Mildred.
``Don't cant,'' replied he, unimpressed. ``It's not
so repulsive to your sort of woman as manual labor--
or as any kind of work that means no leisure, no luxury
and small pay.''
``I wonder,'' said Mildred. ``I--I'm afraid you're
right. But I WON'T admit it. I don't dare.''
``That's the finest, truest thing I've ever heard you
say,'' said Keith.
Mildred was pleased out of all proportion to the
compliment. Said she with frank eagerness, ``Then
I'm not altogether hopeless?''
``As a character, no indeed,'' replied he. ``But as a
career-- I was about to say, you may set your mind
at rest. I shall never try to collect for my services.
I am doing all this solely out of obstinacy.''
``Obstinacy?'' asked the puzzled girl.
``The impossible attracts me. That's why I've never
been interested to make a career in law or politics or
those things. I care only for the thing that can't be
done. When I saw you and studied you, as I study
every new thing, I decided that you could not possibly
make a career.''
``Why have you changed your mind?'' she interrupted eagerly.
``I haven't,'' replied he. ``If I had, I should have
lost interest in you. Just as soon as you show signs of
making a career, I shall lose interest in you. I have a
friend, a doctor, who will take only cases where cure is
impossible. Looking at you, it occurred to me that
here was a chance to make an experiment more interesting
than any of his. And as I have no other impossible
task inviting me at present, I decided to undertake
you--if you were willing.''
``Why do you tell me this?'' she asked. ``To
discourage me?''
``No. Your vanity will prevent that.''
``Then why?''
``To clear myself of all responsibility for you. You
understand--I bind myself to nothing. I am free to
stop or to go on at any time.''
``And I?'' said Mildred.
``You must do exactly as I tell you.''
``But that is not fair,'' cried she.
``Why not?'' inquired he. ``Without me you have
no hope--none whatever.''
``I don't believe that,'' declared she. ``It is not
``Very well. Then we'll drop the business,'' said he
tranquilly. ``If the time comes when you see that I'm
your only hope, and if then I'm in my present humor,
we will go on.''
And he lapsed into silence from which she soon gave
over trying to rouse him. She thought of what he had
said, studied him, but could make nothing of it. She
let four days go by, days of increasing unrest and
unhappiness. She could not account for herself. Donald
Keith seemed to have cast a spell over her--an
evil spell. Her throat gave her more and more
trouble. She tried her voice, found that it had vanished.
She examined herself in the glass, and saw or fancied
that her looks were going--not so that others would
note it, but in the subtle ways that give the first alarm
to a woman who has beauty worth taking care of and
thinks about it intelligently. She thought Mrs. Brindley
was beginning to doubt her, suspected a covert
uneasiness in Stanley. Her foundations, such as they
were, seemed tottering and ready to disintegrate. She
saw her own past with clear vision for the first time--
saw how futile she had been, and why Keith believed
there was no hope for her. She made desperate
efforts to stop thinking about past and future, to absorb
herself in present comfort and luxury and opportunities
for enjoyment. But Keith was always there--and
to see him was to lose all capacity for enjoyment. She
was curt, almost rude to him--had some vague idea of
forcing him to stay away. Yet every time she lost
sight of him, she was in terror until she saw him again.
She was alone on the small veranda facing the highroad.
She happened to glance toward the station; her
gaze became fixed, her body rigid, for, coming leisurely
and pompously toward the house, was General
Siddall, in the full panoply of his wonderful tailoring
and haberdashery. She thought of flight, but instantly
knew that flight was useless; the little general was not
there by accident. She waited, her rigidity giving her
a deceptive seeming of calm and even ease. He entered
the little yard, taking off his glossy hat and exposing
the rampant toupee. He smiled at her so slightly that
the angle of the needle-pointed mustaches and imperial
was not changed. The cold, expressionless, fishy eyes
simply looked at her.
``A delightful little house,'' said he, with a patronizing
glance around. ``May I sit down?''
She inclined her head.
``And you are looking well, charming,'' he went on,
and he seated himself and carefully planted his neat
boots side by side. ``For the summer there's nothing
equal to the seashore. You are surprised to see me?''
``I thought you were abroad,'' said Mildred.
``So I was--until yesterday. I came back because
my men had found you. And I'm here because I venture
to hope that you have had enough of this foolish
escapade. I hope we can come to an understanding.
I've lost my taste for wandering about. I wish to settle
down--to have a home and to stay in it. By that
I mean, of course, two or three--or possibly four--
houses, according to the season.'' Mildred sent her
glance darting about. The little general saw and
began to talk more rapidly. ``I've given considerable
thought to our--our misunderstanding. I feel that I
gave too much importance to your--your-- I did
not take your youth and inexperience of the world and
of married life sufficiently into account. Also the first
Mrs. Siddall was not a lady--nor the second. A lady,
a young lady, was a new experience to me. I am a
generous man. So I say frankly that I ought to have
been more patient.''
``You said you would never see me again until I came
to you,'' said Mildred. As he was not looking at her,
she watched his face. She now saw a change--behind
the mask. But he went on in an unchanged voice:
``Were you aware that Mrs. Baird is about to sue
her husband for a separation--not for a divorce but
for a separation--and name you?''
Mildred dropped limply back in her chair.
``That means scandal,'' continued Siddall, ``scandal
touching my name--my honor. I may say, I do not
believe what Mrs. Baird charges. My men have had
you under observation for several weeks. Also, Mrs.
Brindley is, I learn, a woman of the highest character.
But the thing looks bad--you hiding from your husband,
living under an assumed name, receiving the visits
of a former admirer.''
``You are mistaken,'' said Mildred. ``Mrs. Baird
would not bring such a false, wicked charge.''
``You are innocent, my dear,'' said the general.
``You don't realize how your conduct looks. She
intends to charge that her husband has been supporting
Mildred, quivering, started up, sank weakly back
``But,'' he went on, ``you will easily prove that your
money is your inheritance from your father. I assured
myself of that before I consented to come here.''
``Consented?'' said Mildred. ``At whose request?''
``That of my own generosity,'' replied he. ``But
my honor had to be reassured. When I was satisfied
that you were innocent, and simply flighty and foolish,
I came. If there had been any taint upon you, of
course I could not have taken you back. As it is, I am
willing--I may say, more than willing. Mrs. Baird
can be bought off and frightened off. When she finds
you have me to protect you, she will move very
cautiously, you may be sure.''
As the little man talked, Mildred saw and felt behind
the mask the thoughts, the longings of his physical
infatuation for her coiling and uncoiling and reaching
tremulously out toward her like unclean, horrible
tentacles. She was drawn as far as could be back
into her chair, and her soul was shrinking within her
``I am willing to make you a proper allowance, and
to give you all proper freedom,'' he went on. He
showed his sharp white teeth in a gracious smile. ``I
realize I must concede something of my old-fashioned
ideas to the modern spirit. I never thought I would,
but I didn't appreciate how fond I was of you, my
dear.'' He mumbled his tongue and noiselessly smacked
his thin lips. ``Yes, you are worth concessions and
``I am not going back,'' said Mildred. ``Nothing
you could offer me would make any difference.'' She
felt suddenly calm and strong. She stood. ``Please
consider this final.''
``But, my dear,'' said the general softly, though
there was a wicked gleam behind the mask, ``you forget
the scandal--''
``I forget nothing,'' interrupted she. ``I shall not
go back.''
Before he could attempt further to detain her she
opened the screen door and entered. It closed on the
spring and on the spring lock.
Donald Keith, coming in from the sea-front veranda,
was just in time to save her from falling. She pushed
him fiercely away and sank down on the sofa just within
the pretty little drawing-room. She said:
``Thank you. I didn't mean to be rude. I was only
angry with myself. I'm getting to be one of those
absurd females who blubber and keel over.''
``You're white and limp,'' said he. ``What's the
``General Siddall is out there.''
``Um--he's come back, has he?'' said Keith.
``And I am afraid of him--horribly afraid of him.''
``In some places and circumstances he would be a
dangerous proposition,'' said Keith. ``But not here in
the East--and not to you.''
``He would do ANYTHING. I don't know what he can do,
but I am sure it will be frightful--will destroy me.''
``You are going with him?''
She laughed. ``I loathe him. I thought I left him
through fear and anger. I was mistaken. It was
loathing. And my fear of him--it's loathing, too.''
``You mean that?'' said Keith, observing her
intently. ``You wish to be rid of him?''
``What a poor opinion you have of me,'' said she.
``Really, I don't deserve quite that.''
``Then come with me.''
The look of terror and shrinking returned.
``Where? To see him?''
``For the last time,'' said Keith. ``There'll be no
It was the supreme test of her confidence in him.
Without hesitation, she rose, preceded him into the hall,
and advanced firmly toward the screen door through
which the little general could be seen. He was standing
at the top step, his back to them. At the sound
of the opening door he turned.
``This is Mr. Donald Keith,'' said Mildred. ``He
wishes to speak to you.''
The general bowed; Keith bent his head. They eyed
each other with the measuring glance. Keith said in his
dry, terse way: ``I asked Miss Gower to come with me
because I wish her to hear what I have to say to you.''
``You mean my wife,'' said the general with a
gracious smile.
``I mean Miss Gower,'' returned Keith. ``As you
know, she is not your wife.''
Mildred uttered a cry; but the two men continued
to look each at the other, with impassive countenances.
``Your only wife is the woman who has been in the
private insane asylum of Doctor Rivers at Pueblo,
Colorado, for the past eleven years. For about twenty
years before that she was in the Delavan private asylum
near Denver. You could not divorce her under the laws
of Colorado. The divorce you got in Nevada was
``That's a lie,'' said the general coldly.
Keith went on, as if he had not heard: ``You will
not annoy this lady again. And you will stop bribing
Stanley Baird's wife to make a fool of herself. And
you will stop buying houses in the blocks where Baird
owns real estate, and moving colored families into
``I tell you that about my divorce is a lie,'' replied
``I can prove it,'' said Keith. ``And I can prove
that you knew it before you married your second wife.''
For the first time Siddall betrayed at the surface a
hint of how hard he was hit. His skin grew bright yellow;
wrinkles round his eyes and round the base of his
nose sprang into sudden prominence.
``I see you know what I mean--that attempt to
falsify the record at Carson City,'' said Keith. He
opened the screen door for Mildred to pass in. He
followed her, and the door closed behind them. They went
into the drawing-room. He dropped into an easy chair,
crossed his legs, leaned his head back indolently--a
favorite attitude of his.
``How long have you known?'' said she. Her cheeks
were flushed with excitement.
``Oh, a good many years,'' replied he. ``It was one
of those accidental bits of information a man runs across
in knocking about. As soon as Baird told me about
you, I had the thing looked up, quietly. I was going
up to see him to-morrow--about the negroes and Mrs.
Baird's suit.''
``Does Stanley know?'' inquired she.
``No,'' said Keith. ``Not necessary. Never will
be. If you like, you can have the marriage
annulled without notoriety. But that's not necessary,
After a long silence, she said: ``What does this
make out of me?''
``You mean, what would be thought of you, if it were
known?'' inquired he. ``Well, it probably wouldn't
improve your social position.''
``I am disgraced,'' said she, curiously rather than
``Would be, if it were known,'' corrected he, ``and
if you are nothing but a woman without money looking
for a husband. If you happened to be a singer
or an actress, it would add to your reputation--make
you more talked about.''
``But I am not an actress or a singer.''
``On the other hand, I should say you didn't amount
to much socially. Except in Hanging Rock, of course
--if there is still a Hanging Rock. Don't worry about
your reputation. Fussing and fretting about your
social position doesn't help toward a career.''
``Naturally, you take it coolly. But you can hardly
expect me to,'' cried she.
``You are taking it coolly,'' said he. ``Then why
try to work yourself up into a fit of hysterics? The
thing is of no importance--except that you're free
now--will never be bothered by Siddall again. You
ought to thank me, and forget it. Don't be one of the
little people who are forever agitating about trifles.''
Trifles! To speak of such things as trifles! And
yet-- Well, what did they actually amount to in her
life? ``Yes, I AM free,'' she said thoughtfully. ``I've
got what I wanted--got it in the easiest way possible.''
``That's better,'' said he approvingly.
``And I've burnt my bridges behind me,'' pursued
she. ``There's nothing for me now but to go ahead.''
``Which road?'' inquired he carelessly.
``The career,'' cried she. ``There's no other for me.
Of course I COULD marry Stanley, when he's free, as he
would be before very long, if I suggested it. Yes, I
could marry him.''
``Could you?'' observed he.
``Doesn't he love me?''
``Then why do you say he would not marry me?''
demanded she.
``Did I say that?''
``You insinuated it. You suggested that there was
a doubt.''
``Then, there is no doubt?''
``Yes, there is,'' she cried angrily. ``You won't let
me enjoy the least bit of a delusion. He might marry
me if I were famous. But as I am now-- He's an
inbred snob. He can't help it. He simply couldn't
marry a woman in my position. But you're overlooking
one thing--that _I_ would not marry HIM.''
``That's unimportant, if true,'' said Keith.
``You don't believe it?''
``I don't care anything about it, my dear lady,'' said
Keith. ``Have you got time to waste in thinking about
how much I am in love with you? What a womanly
woman you are, to be sure. Your true woman, you
know, never thinks of anything but love--not how
much she loves, but how much she is loved.''
``Be careful!'' she warned. ``Some day you'll go
too far in saying outrageous things to me.''
``And then?'' said he smilingly.
``You care nothing for our friendship?''
``The experiment is the only interest I have in you,''
replied he.
``That is not true,'' said she. ``You have always
liked me. That's why you looked up my hus--
General Siddal{sic} and got ready for him. That's why you
saved me to-day. You are a very tender-hearted and
generous man--and you hide it as you do everything
else about yourself.''
He was looking off into space from the depths of
the easy chair, a mocking smile on his classical,
impassive face.
``What puzzles me,'' she went on, ``is why you interest
yourself in as vain and shallow and vacillating a
woman as I am. You don't care for my looks--and
that's all there is to me.''
``Don't pause to be contradicted,'' said he.
She was in a fine humor now. ``You might at least
have said I was up to the female average, for I am.
What have they got to offer a man but their looks?
Do you know why I despise men?''
``Do you?''
``I do. And it's because they put up with women
as much as they do--spend so much money on them,
listen to their chatter, admire their ridiculous clothes.
Oh, I understand why. I've learned that. And I can
imagine myself putting up with anything in some one
man I happened to fancy strongly. But men are foolish
about the whole sex--or all of them that have a
shadow of a claim to good looks.''
``Yes, the men make fools of themselves,'' admitted
he. ``But I notice that the men manage somehow to
make the careers, and hold on to the money and the
power, while the women have to wheedle and fawn and
submit in order to get what they want from the men.
There's nothing to be said for your sex. It's been
hopelessly corrupted by mine. For all the talk about
the influence of woman, what impression has your sex
made upon mine? And your sex--it has been made
by mine into exactly what we wished it to be. Take
my advice, get out of your sex. Abandon it, and make
a career.''
After a while she recalled with a start the events of
less than an hour ago--events that ought to have
seemed wildly exciting, arousing the deepest and strongest
emotions. Yet they had made no impression upon
her. Absolutely none. She had no horror in the
thought that she had been the victim of a bigamist;
she had no elation over her release into freedom and
safety. She wondered whether this arose from utter
frivolousness or from indifference to the trifles of
conventional joys, sorrows, agitations, excitements which
are the whole life of most people--that indifference
which is the cause of the general opinion that men and
women who make careers are usually hardened in the
As she lay awake that night--she had got a very
bad habit of lying awake hour after hour--she suddenly
came to a decision. But she did not tell Keith
for several days. She did it in this way:
``Don't you think I'm looking better?'' she asked.
``You're sleeping again,'' said he.
``Do you know why? Because my mind's at rest.
I've decided to accept your offer.''
``And my terms?'' said he, apparently not interested
by her announcement.
``And your terms,'' assented she. ``You are free to
stop whenever the whim strikes you; I must do exactly
as you bid. What do you wish me to do?''
``Nothing at present,'' replied he. ``I will let you
She was disappointed. She had assumed that something--
something new and interesting, probably irritating,
perhaps enraging, would occur at once. His
indifference, his putting off to a future time, which his
manner made seem most hazily indefinite, gave her the
foolish and collapsing sense of having broken through
an open door.
THE first of September they went up to town.
Stanley left at once for his annual shooting trip;
Donald Keith disappeared, saying--as was his habit--
neither what he was about nor when he would be seen
again. Mrs. Brindley summoned her pupils and her
musical friends. Mildred resumed the lessons with
Jennings. There was no doubt about it, she had
astonishingly improved during the summer. There had
come--or, rather, had come back--into her voice the
birdlike quality, free, joyous, spontaneous, that had not
been there since her father's death and the family's
downfall. She was glad that her arrangement with
Donald Keith was of such a nature that she was really
not bound to go on with it--if he should ever come
back and remind her of what she had said. Now that
Jennings was enthusiastic--giving just and deserved
praise, as her own ear and Mrs. Brindley assured her,
she was angry at herself for having tolerated Keith's
frankness, his insolence, his insulting and contemptuous
denials of her ability. She was impatient to see him,
that she might put him down. She said to Jennings:
``You think I can make a career?''
``There isn't a doubt in my mind now,'' replied he.
``You ought to be one of the few great lyric sopranos
within five years.''
``A man, this summer--a really unusual man in
some ways--told me there was no hope for me.''
``A singing teacher?''
``No, a lawyer. A Mr. Keith--Donald Keith.''
``I've heard of him,'' said Jennings. ``His mother
was Rivi, the famous coloratura of twenty years ago.''
Mildred was astounded. ``He must know something
about music.''
``Probably,'' replied Jennings. ``He lived with her
in Italy, I believe, until he was almost grown. Then
she died. You sang for him?''
``No,'' Mildred said it hesitatingly.
``Oh!'' said Jennings, and his expression--interested,
disturbed, puzzled--made Mildred understand
why she had been so reluctant to confess. Jennings
did not pursue the subject, but abruptly began the
lesson. That day and several days thereafter he put her
to tests he had never used before. She saw that he
was searching for something--for the flaw implied in
the adverse verdict of the son of Lucia Rivi. She was
enormously relieved when he gave over the search without
having found the flaw. She felt that Donald
Keith's verdict had been proved false or at least faulty.
Yet she was not wholly reassured, and from time to time
she suspected that Jennings had not been, either.
Soon the gayety of the preceding winter and spring
was in full swing again. Keith did not return, did not
write, and Cyrilla Brindley inquired and telephoned in
vain. Mildred worked with enthusiasm, with hope,
presently with confidence. She hoped every day that Keith
would come; she would make him listen to her, force him
to admit. She caught a slight cold, neglected it, tried
to sing it away. Her voice left her abruptly. She
went to Jennings as usual the day she found herself
able to do nothing more musical than squeak. She told
him her plight. Said he:
``Begin! Let's hear.''
She made a few dismal attempts, stopped short, and,
half laughing, half ashamed, faced him for the lecture
she knew would be forthcoming. Now, it so happened
that Jennings was in a frightful humor that day--one
of those humors in which the most prudent lose their
self-control. He had been listening to a succession of
new pupils--women with money and no voice, women
who screeched and screamed and thoroughly enjoyed
themselves and angled confidently for compliments. As
Jennings had an acute musical ear, his sufferings had
been frightful. He was used to these torments, had the
habit of turning the fury into which they put him into
excellent financial or disciplinary account. But on this
particular day his nerves went to pieces, and it was with
Mildred that the explosion came. When she looked at
him, she was horrified to see a face distorted and
discolored by sheer rage.
``You fool!'' he shouted, storming up and down.
``You fool! You can't sing! Keith was right. You
wouldn't do even for a church choir. You can't be
relied on. There's nothing behind your voice--no
strength, no endurance, no brains. No brains! Do
you hear?--no brains, I say!''
Mildred was terrified. She had seen him in tantrums
before, but always there had been a judicious reserving
of part of the truth. Instead of resenting, instead of
flashing eye or quivering lips, Mildred sat down and with
white face and dazed eyes stared straight before her.
Jennings raved and roared himself out. As he came
to his senses from this debauch of truth-telling his first
thought was how expensive it might be. Thus, long
before there was any outward sign that the storm had
passed, the ravings, the insults were shrewdly tempered
with qualifyings. If she kept on catching these colds,
if she did not obey his instructions, she might put off
her debut for years--for three years, for two years at
least. And she would always be rowing with managers
and irritating the public--and so on and on. But
the mischief had been done. The girl did not rouse.
``No use to go on to-day,'' he said gruffly--the
pretense at last rumblings of an expiring storm.
``Nor any other day,'' said Mildred.
She stood and straightened herself. Her face was
beautiful rather than lovely. Its pallor, its strong
lines, the melancholy intensity of the eyes, made her
seem more the woman fully developed, less, far less, the
maturing girl.
``Nonsense!'' scolded Jennings. ``But no more
colds like that. They impair the quality of the voice.''
``I have no voice,'' said the girl. ``I see the truth.''
Jennings was inwardly cursing his insane temper.
In about the kindliest tone he had ever used with her,
he said: ``My dear Miss Stevens, you are in no
condition to judge to-day. Come back to-morrow. Do
something for that cold to-night. Clear out the throat
--and come back to-morrow. You will see.''
``Yes, I know those tricks,'' said she, with a sad little
smile. ``You can make a crow seem to sing. But you
told me the truth.''
``To-morrow,'' he cried pleasantly, giving her an
encouraging pat on the shoulder. He knew the folly of
talking too much, the danger of confirming her fears by
pretending to make light of them. ``A good sleep, and
to-morrow things will look brighter.''
He did not like her expression. It was not the one
he was used to seeing in those vain, ``temperamental''
pupils of his--the downcast vanity that will be up
again in a few hours. It was rather the expression of
one who has been finally and forever disillusioned.
On her way home she stopped to send Keith a
telegram: ``I must see you at once.''
There were several at the apartment for tea, among
them Cullan, an amateur violinist and critic on music
whom she especially liked. For, instead of the dreamy,
romantic character his large brown eyes and sensitive
features suggested, he revealed in talk and actions a
boyish gayety--free, be it said, from boyish silliness--
that was most infectious. His was one of those souls
that put us in the mood to laugh at all seriousness, to
forget all else in the supreme fact of the reality of
existence. He made her forget that day--forget until
Keith's answering telegram interrupted: ``Next Monday
A week less a day away! She shrank and trembled
at the prospect of relying upon herself alone for six
long days. Every prop had been taken away from her.
Even the dubious prop of the strange, unsatisfactory
Keith. For had he not failed her? She had said,
``must'' and ``at once''; and he had responded with
three words of curt refusal.
After dinner Stanley unexpectedly appeared. He
hardly waited for the necessary formalities of the
greeting before he said to Mrs. Brindley: ``I want to see
Mildred alone. I know you won't mind, Mrs. Brindley.
It's very important.'' He laughed nervously but cheerfully.
``And in a few minutes I'll call you in. I think
I'll have something interesting to tell you.''
Mrs. Brindley laughed. With her cigarette in one
hand and her cup of after-dinner coffee in the other,
she moved toward the door, saying gayly to Mildred:
``I'll be in the next room. If you scream I shall
hear. So don't be alarmed.''
Stanley closed the door, turned beaming upon
Mildred. Said he: ``Here's my news. My missus has
got her divorce.''
Mildred started up.
``Yes, the real thing,'' he assured her. ``Of course
I knew what was doing. But I kept mum--didn't
want to say anything to you till I could say everything.
Mildred, I'm free. We can be married to-morrow, if
you will.''
``Then you know about me?'' said she, confused.
``On the way I stopped in to see Keith. He told me
about that skunk--told me you were free, too.''
Mildred slowly sat down. Her elbows rested upon
the table. There was her bare forearm, slender and
round, and her long, graceful fingers lay against her
cheek. The light from above reflected charmingly
from the soft waves and curves of her hair. ``You're
lovely--simply lovely!'' cried Stanley. ``Mildred--
darling--you WILL marry me, won't you? You can
go right on with the career, if you like. In fact, I'd
rather you would, for I'm frightfully proud of your
voice. And I've changed a lot since I became sincerely
interested in you. The other sort of life and people
don't amuse me any more. Mildred, say you'll
marry me. I'll make you as happy as the days are
She moved slightly. Her hand dropped to the table.
``I guess I came down on you too suddenly,'' said
he. ``You look a bit dazed.''
``No, I'm not dazed,'' replied she.
``I'll call Mrs. Brindley in, and we'll all three talk
it over.''
``Please don't,'' said she. ``I've got to think it out
for myself.''
``I know there isn't anyone else,'' he went on. ``So,
I'm sure--dead sure, Mildred, that I can teach you
to love me.''
She looked at him pleadingly. ``I don't have to
answer right away?''
``Certainly not,'' laughed he. ``But why shouldn't
you? What is there against our getting married?
Nothing. And everything for it. Our marriage will
straighten out all the--the little difficulties, and you
can go ahead with the singing and not bother about
money, or what people might say, or any of those
``I--I've got to think about it, Stanley,'' she said
gently. ``I want to do the decent thing by you and
by myself.''
``You're afraid I'll interfere in the career--won't
want you to go on? Mildred, I swear I'm--''
``It isn't that,'' she interrupted, her color high.
``The truth is--'' she faltered, came to a full stop--
cried, ``Oh, I can't talk about it to-night.''
``To-morrow?'' he suggested.
``I--don't know,'' she stammered. ``Perhaps tomorrow.
But it may be two or three days.''
Stanley looked crestfallen. ``That hurts, Mildred,''
he said. ``I was SO full of it, so anxious to be entirely
happy, and I thought you'd fall right in with it.
Something to do with money? You're horribly sensitive
about money, dear. I like that in you, of course.
Not many women would have been as square, would
have taken as little--and worked hard--and thought
and cared about nothing but making good-- By Jove,
it's no wonder I'm stark crazy about YOU!''
She was flushed and trembling. ``Don't,'' she
pleaded. ``You're beating me down into the dust. I
--I'm--'' She started up. ``I can't talk to-night.
I might say things I'd be-- I can't talk about it. I
She pressed her lips together and fled through the
hall to her own room, to shut and lock herself in. He
stared in amazement. When he heard the distant sound
of the turning key he dropped to a chair again and
laughed. Certainly women were queer creatures--
always doing what one didn't expect. Still, in the end--
well, a sensible woman knew a good chance to marry
and took it. There was no doubt a good deal of
pretense in Mildred's delicacy as to money matters--but
a devilish creditable sort of pretense. He liked the
ladylike, ``nice'' pretenses, of women of the right sort
--liked them when they fooled him, liked them when
they only half fooled him.
Presently he knocked on the door of the little library,
opened it when permission came in Cyrilla's voice. She
was reading the evening paper--he did not see the
glasses she hastily thrust into a drawer. In that soft
light she looked a scant thirty, handsome, but for his
taste too intellectual of type to be attractive--except
as a friend.
``Well,'' said he, as he lit a cigarette and dropped the
match into the big copper ash-bowl, ``I'll bet you can't
guess what I've been up to.''
``Making love to Miss Stevens,'' replied she. ``And
very foolish it is of you. She's got a steady head
in that way.''
``You're mighty right,'' said he heartily. ``And I
admire her for that more than for anything else. I'd
trust her anywhere.''
``You're paying yourself a high compliment,''
laughed Cyrilla.
``How's that?'' inquired he. ``You're too subtle
for me. I'm a bit slow.''
Mrs. Brindley decided against explaining. It was
not wise to risk raising an unjust doubt in the mind
of a man who fancied that a woman who resisted him
would be adamant to every other man. ``Then I've got
to guess again?'' said she.
``I've been asking her to marry me,'' said Stanley,
who could contain it no longer. ``Mrs. B. was released
from me to-day by the court in Providence.''
``But SHE'S not free,'' said Cyrilla, a little severely.
Stanley looked confused, finally said: ``Yes, she is.
It's a queer story. Don't say anything. I can't
explain. I know I can trust you to keep a close mouth.''
``Minding my own business is my one supreme talent,''
said Cyrilla.
``She hasn't accepted me--in so many words,'' pursued
Baird, ``but I've hopes that it'll come out all
``Naturally,'' commented Cyrilla dryly.
``I know I'm not--not objectionable to her. And
how I do love her!'' He settled himself at his ease.
``I can't believe it's really me. I never thought I'd
marry--just for love. Did you?''
``You're very self-indulgent,'' said Cyrilla.
``You mean I'm marrying her because I can't get
her any other way. There's where you're wrong, Mrs.
Brindley. I'm marrying her because I don't want her
any other way. That's why I know it's love. I didn't
think I was capable of it. Of course, I've been rather
strong after the ladies all my life. You know how it
is with men.''
``I do,'' said Mrs. Brindley.
``No, you don't either,'' retorted he. ``You're one
of those cold, stand-me-off women who can't comprehend
the nature of man.''
``As you please,'' said she. In her eyes there was a
gleam that more than suggested a possibility of some
man--some man she might fancy--seeing an amazingly
different Cyrilla Brindley.
``I may say I was daft about pretty women,''
continued Baird. ``I never read an item about a pretty
woman in the papers, or saw a picture of a pretty woman
that I didn't wish I knew her--well. Can you imagine
that?'' laughed he.
``Commonplace,'' said Cyrilla. ``All men are so.
That's why the papers always describe the woman as
pretty and why the pictures are published.''
``Really? Yes, I suppose so.'' Baird looked
chagrined. ``Anyhow, here I am, all for one woman.
And why? I can't explain it to myself. She's pretty,
lovely, entrancing sometimes. She has charm, grace,
sweetness. She dresses well and carries herself with a
kind of sweet haughtiness. She looks as if she knew a
lot--and nothing bad. Do you know, I can't imagine
her having been married to that beast! I've tried to
imagine it. I simply can't.''
``I shouldn't try if I were you,'' said Mrs. Brindley.
``But I was talking about why I love her. Does this
bore you?''
``A little,'' laughed Cyrilla. ``I'd rather hear some
man talking about MY charms. But go on. You are amusing,
in a way.''
``I'll wager I am. You never thought I'd be caught?
I believed I was immune--vaccinated against it.
I thought I knew all the tricks and turns of the sex.
Yet here I am!''
``What do you think caught you?''
``That's the mystery. It's simply that I can't do
without her. Everything she looks and says and does
interests me more than anything else in the world. And
when I'm not with her I'm wishing I were and wondering
how she's looking or what she's saying or doing. You
don't think she'll refuse me?'' This last with real
``I haven't an idea,'' replied Mrs. Brindley. ``She's
--peculiar. In some moods she would. In others, she
couldn't. And I've never been able to settle to my
satisfaction which kind of mood was the real Mary
``She IS queer, isn't she?'' said Stanley thoughtfully.
``But I've told her she'd be free to go on with the career.
Fact is, I want her to do it.''
Mrs. Brindley's eyes twinkled. ``You think it would
justify you to your set in marrying her, if she made
a great hit?''
Stanley blushed ingenuously. ``I'll not deny that has
something to do with it,'' he admitted. ``And why
``Why not, indeed?'' said she. ``But, after she had
made the hit, you'd want her to quit the stage and take
her place in society. Isn't that so?''
``You ARE a keen one,'' exclaimed he admiringly.
``But I didn't say that to her. And you won't, will you?''
``It's hardly necessary to ask that,'' said Mrs.
Brindley. ``Now, suppose-- You don't mind my talking
about this?''
``What I want,'' replied he. ``I can't talk or think
anything but her.''
``Now, suppose she shouldn't make a hit. Suppose
she should fail--should not develop reliable voice
Stanley looked frightened. ``But she can't fail,''
he cried with over-energy. ``There's no question about
her voice.''
``I understand,'' Mrs. Brindley hastened to say. ``I
was simply making conversation with her as the subject.''
``Oh, I see.'' Stanley settled back.
``Suppose she should prove not to be a great artist--
what then?'' persisted Cyrilla, who was deeply interested
in the intricate obscure problem of what people
really thought as distinguished from what they professed
and also from what they imagined they thought.
``The fact that she's a great artist--that's part of
her,'' said Baird. ``If she weren't a great singer, she
wouldn't be she--don't you see?''
``Yes, I see,'' said Mrs. Brindley with an ironic
sadness which she indulged openly because there was no
danger of his understanding.
``I don't exactly love her because she amounts to a
lot--or is sure to,'' pursued he, vaguely dissatisfied
with himself. ``It's just as she doesn't care for me
because I've got the means to take care of her right, yet
that's part of me--and she'd not be able to marry me
if I hadn't. Don't you see?''
``Yes, I see,'' said Mrs. Brindley with more irony
and less sadness. ``There's always SOME reason beside love.''
``I'd say there's always some reason FOR love,'' said
Baird, and he felt that he had said something brilliant--
as is the habit of people of sluggish mentality when
they say a thing they do not themselves understand.
``You don't doubt that I love her?'' he went on. ``Why
should I ask her to marry me if I didn't?''
``I suppose that settles it,'' said Cyrilla.
``Of course it does,'' declared he.
For an hour he sat there, talking on, most of it a
pretty dull kind of drivel. Mrs. Brindley listened
patiently, because she liked him and because she had
nothing else to do until bedtime. At last he rose with
a long sigh and said:
``I guess I might as well be going.''
``She'll not come in to-night again,'' said Cyrilla
He laughed. ``You are a good one. I'll own up,
I've been staying on partly in the hope that she'd come
back. But it's been a great joy to talk to you about
her. I know you love her, too.''
``Yes, I'm extremely fond of her,'' said she. ``I've
not known many women--many people without petty
mean tricks. She's one.''
``Isn't she, though?'' exclaimed he.
``I don't mean she's perfect,'' said Mrs. Brindley.
``I don't even mean that she's as angelic as you think
her. I'd not like her, if she were. But she's a superior
kind of human.''
She was tired of him now, and got him out speedily.
As she closed the front door upon him, Mildred's door,
down the hall, opened. Her head appeared, an inquiring
look upon her face. Mrs. Brindley nodded. Mildred,
her hair done close to her head, a dressing-robe
over her nightgown and her bare feet in little slippers,
came down the hall. She coiled herself up in a big
chair in the library and lit a cigarette. She looked
like a handsome young boy.
``He told you?'' she said to Mrs. Brindley.
``Yes,'' replied Cyrilla.
Silence. In all their intimate acquaintance there had
never been an approach to the confidential on either
side. It was Cyrilla's notion that confidences were a
mistake, and that the more closely people were thrown
together the more resolutely they ought to keep certain
barriers between them. She and Mildred got on too
admirably, liked each other too well, for there to be
any trifling with their relations--and over-intimacy
inevitably led to trifling. Mildred had restrained
herself because Mrs. Brindley had compelled it by rigid
example. Often she had longed to talk things over,
to ask advice; but she had never ventured further than
generalities, and Mrs. Brindley had never proffered
advice, had never accepted opportunities to give it
except in the vaguest way. She had taught Mildred a
great deal, but always by example, by doing, never by
saying what ought or ought not to be done. Thus,
such development of Mildred's character as there had
been was natural and permanent.
``He has put me in a peculiar position,'' said
Mildred. ``Or, rather, I have let myself drift into a
peculiar position. For I think you're right in saying
that oneself is always to blame. Won't you let me talk
about it to you, please? I know you hate confidences.
But I've got to--to talk. I'd like you to advise me,
if you can. But even if you don't, it'll do me good to
say things aloud.''
``Often one sees more clearly,'' was Cyrilla's reply--
noncommittal, yet not discouraging.
``I'm free to marry him,'' Mildred went on. ``That
is, I'm not married. I'd rather not explain--''
``Don't,'' said Mrs. Brindley. ``It's unnecessary.''
``You know that it's Stanley who has been lending
me the money to live on while I study. Well, from
the beginning I've been afraid I'd find myself in a
difficult position.''
``Naturally,'' said Mrs. Brindley, as she paused.
``But I've always expected it to come in another
way--not about marriage, but--''
``I understand,'' said Mrs. Brindley. ``You feared
you'd be called on to pay in the way women usually
pay debts to men.''
Mildred nodded. ``But this is worse than I expected
--much worse.''
``I hadn't thought of that,'' said Cyrilla. ``Yes,
you're right. If he had hinted the other thing, you
could have pretended not to understand. If he had
suggested it, you could have made him feel cheap and
``I did,'' said Mildred. ``He has been--really
wonderful--better than almost any man would have been--
more considerate than I deserved. And I took advantage
of it.''
``A woman has to,'' said Cyrilla. ``The fight
between men and women is so unequal.''
``I took advantage of him,'' repeated Mildred.
``And he apologized, and I--I went on taking the
money. I didn't know what else to do. Isn't that
``Nothing to be proud of,'' said Cyrilla. ``But a
very usual transaction.''
``And then,'' pursued Mildred, ``I discovered that
I--that I'd not be able to make a career. But still
I kept on, though I've been trying to force myself to--
to show some pride and self-respect. I discovered it
only a short time ago, and it wasn't really until to-day
that I was absolutely sure.''
``You ARE sure?''
``There's hardly a doubt,'' replied Mildred. ``But
never mind that now. I've got to make a living at
something, and while I'm learning whatever it is, I've
got to have money to live on. And I can get it only
from him. Now, he asks me to marry him. He
wouldn't ask me if he didn't think I was going to be
a great singer. He doesn't know it, but I do.''
Mrs. Brindley smiled sweetly.
``And he thinks that I love him, also. If I accept
him, it will be under doubly false pretenses. If I refuse
him I've got to stop taking the money.''
A long silence; then Mrs. Brindley said: ``Women--
the good ones, too--often feel that they've a right to
treat men as men treat them. I think almost any woman
would feel justified in putting off the crisis.''
``You mean, I might tell him I'd give him my answer
when I was independent and had paid back.''
Cyrilla nodded. Mildred relit her cigarette, which
she had let go out. ``I had thought of that,'' said she.
``But--I doubt if he'd tolerate it. Also''--she
laughed with the peculiar intonation that accompanies
the lifting of the veil over a deeply and carefully hidden
corner of one's secret self--``I am afraid. If I don't
marry him, in a few weeks, or months at most, he'll
probably find out that I shall never be a great singer,
and then I'd not be able to marry him if I wished to.''
``He IS a temptation,'' said Cyrilla. ``That is, his
money is--and he personally is very nice.''
``I married a man I didn't care for,'' pursued
Mildred. ``I don't want ever to do that again. It is--
even in the best circumstances--not agreeable, not as
simple as it looks to the inexperienced girls who are
always doing it.''
``Still, a woman can endure that sort of thing,'' said
Mrs. Brindley, ``unless she happens to be in love with
another man.'' She was observing the unconscious Mildred
narrowly, a state of inward tension and excitement
hinted in her face, but not in her voice.
``That's just it?'' said Mildred, her face carefully
averted. ``I--I happen to be in love with another
A spasm of pain crossed Cyrilla's face.
``A man who cares nothing about me--and never
will. He's just a friend--so much the friend that he
couldn't possibly think of me as--as a woman, needing
him and wanting him''--her eyes were on fire now, and
a soft glow had come into her cheeks--``and never
daring to show it because if I did he would fly and never
let me see him again.''
Cyrilla Brindley's face was tragic as she looked at
the beautiful girl, so gracefully adjusted to the big
chair. She sighed covertly. ``You are lovely,'' she
said, ``and young--above all, young.''
``This man is peculiar,'' replied Mildred forlornly.
``Anyhow, he doesn't want ME. He knows me for the
futile, weak, worthless creature I am. He saw through
my bluff, even before I saw through it myself. If it
weren't for him, I could go ahead--do the sensible
thing--do as women usually do. But--'' She came
to a full stop.
``Love is a woman's sense of honor,'' said Cyrilla
softly. ``We're merciless and unscrupulous--anything--
everything--where we don't love. But where
we do love, we'll go farther for honor than the most
honorable man. That's why we're both worse and better
than men--and seem to be so contradictory and
``I'd do anything for him,'' said Mildred. She smiled
drearily. ``And he wants nothing.''
She had nothing more to say. She had talked herself
out about Stanley, and her mind was now filled with
thoughts that could not be spoken. As she rose to
go to bed, she looked appealingly at Cyrilla. Then,
with a sudden and shy rush she flung her arms round
her and kissed her. ``Thank you--so much,'' she said.
``You've done me a world of good. Saying it all out
loud before YOU has made me see. I know my own
mind, now.''
She did not note the pathetic tenderness of Cyrilla's
face as she said, ``Good night, Mildred.'' But she did
note the use of her first name--and her own right first
name--for the first time since they had known each
other. She embraced and kissed her again. ``Good
night, Cyrilla,'' she said gratefully.
As she entered Jennings's studio the next day he looked
at her; and when Jennings looked, he saw--as must
anyone who lives well by playing upon human nature.
He did not like her expression. She did not habitually
smile; her light-heartedness, her optimism, did not show
themselves in that inane way. But this seriousness of
hers was of a new kind, of the kind that bespeaks sobriety
and saneness of soul. And that kind of seriousness--
the deep, inward gravity of a person whose
days of trifling with themselves and with the facts of
life, and of being trifled with, are over--would have
impressed Jennings equally had she come in laughing,
had her every word been a jest.
``No, I didn't come for a lesson--at least not the
usual kind,'' said she.
He was not one to yield without a struggle. Also
he wished to feel his way to the meaning of this new
mood. He put her music on the rack. ``We'll begin
where we--''
``This half-hour of your time is mine, is it not?''
said she quietly. ``Let's not waste any of it. Yesterday
you told me that I could not hope to make a career
because my voice is unreliable. Why is it unreliable?''
``Because you have a delicate throat,'' replied he,
yielding at once where he instinctively knew he could
not win.
``Then why can I sing so well sometimes?''
``Because your throat is in good condition some days
--in perfect condition.''
``It's the colds then--and the slight attacks of
``If I did not catch colds--if I kept perfectly well
--could I rely on my voice?''
``But that's impossible,'' said he.
``You're not strong enough.''
``Then I haven't the physical strength for a career?''
``That--and also you are lacking in muscular
development. But after several years of lessons--''
``If I developed my muscles--if I became strong--''
``Most of the great singers come from the lower
classes--from people who do manual labor. They did
manual labor in their youth. You girls of the better
class have to overcome that handicap.''
``But so many of the great singers are fat.''
``Yes, and under that fat you'll find great ropes of
muscle--like a blacksmith.''
``What Keith meant,'' she said. ``I wonder--
Why do I catch cold so easily? Why do I almost
always have a slight catch in the throat? Have you
noticed that I nearly always have to clear my throat
just a little?''
Her expression held him. He hesitated, tried to
evade, gave it up. ``Until that passes, you can never
hope to be a thoroughly reliable singer,'' said he.
``That is, I can't hope to make a career?''
His silence was assent.
``But I have the voice?''
``You have the voice.''
``An unusual voice?''
``Yes, but not so unusual as might be thought. As
a matter of fact, there are thousands of fine voices.
The trouble is in reliability. Only a few are reliable.''
She nodded slowly and thoughtfully. ``I begin to
understand what Mr. Keith meant,'' she said. ``I
begin to see what I have to do, and how--how impossible
it is.''
``By no means,'' declared Jennings. ``If I did not
think otherwise, I'd not be giving my time to you.''
She looked at him gravely. His eyes shifted, then
returned defiantly, aggressively. She said:
``You can't help me to what I want. So this is
my last lesson--for the present. I may come back
some day--when I am ready for what you have to
``You are going to give up?''
``Oh, no--oh, dear me, no,'' replied she. ``I realize
that you're laughing in your sleeve as I say so, because
you think I'll never get anywhere. But you--and
Mr. Keith--may be mistaken.'' She drew from her
muff a piece of music--the ``Batti Batti,'' from ``Don
Giovanni.'' ``If you please,'' said she, ``we'll spend
the rest of my time in going over this. I want to be
able to sing it as well as possible.''
He looked searchingly at her. ``If you wish,'' said
he. ``But I doubt if you'll be able to sing at all.''
``On the contrary, my cold's entirely gone,'' replied
she. ``I had an exciting evening, I doctored myself
before I went to bed, and three or four times in the night.
I found, this morning, that I could sing.''
And it was so. Never had she sung better. ``Like
a true artist!'' he declared with an enthusiasm that had
a foundation of sincerity. ``You know, Miss Stevens,
you came very near to having that rarest of all gifts--
a naturally placed voice. If you hadn't had singing
teachers as a girl to make you self-conscious and to teach
you wrong, you'd have been a wonder.''
``I may get it back,'' said Mildred.
``That never happens,'' replied he. ``But I can
almost do it.''
He coached her for half an hour straight ahead,
sending the next pupil into the adjoining room--an
unprecedented transgression of routine. He showed
her for the first time what a teacher he could be, when
he wished. There was an astonishing difference
between her first singing of the song and her sixth
and last--for they went through it carefully five
times. She thanked him and then put out her hand,
``This is a long good-by.''
``To-morrow,'' replied he, ignoring her hand.
``No. My money is all gone. Besides, I have no
time for amateur trifling.''
``Your lessons are paid for until the end of the
month. This is only the nineteenth.''
``Then you are so much in.'' Again she put out her
He took it. ``You owe me an explanation.''
She smiled mockingly. ``As a friend of mine says,
don't ask questions to which you already know the answer.''
And she departed, the smile still on her charming
face, but the new seriousness beneath it. As she had
anticipated, she found Stanley Baird waiting for her
in the drawing-room of the apartment. Being by
habit much interested in his own emotions and not at
all in the emotions of others, he saw only the healthful
radiance the sharp October air had put into her cheeks
and eyes. Certainly, to look at Mildred Gower was to
get no impression of lack of health and strength. Her
glance wavered a little at sight of him, then the expression
of firmness came back.
``You look like that picture you gave me a long time
ago,'' said he. ``Do you remember it?''
She did not.
``It has a--different expression,'' he went on. ``I
don't think I'd have noticed it but for Keith. I happened
to show it to him one day, and he stared at it in
that way he has--you know?''
``Yes, I know,'' said Mildred. She was seeing those
uncanny, brilliant, penetrating eyes, in such startling
contrast to the calm, lifeless coloring and classic chiseling
of features.
``And after a while he said, `So, THAT'S Miss
Stevens!' And I asked him what he meant, and he took
one of your later photos and put the two side by side.
To my notion the later was a lot the more attractive,
for the face was rounder and softer and didn't have a
certain kind of--well, hardness, as if you had a will
and could ride rough shod. Not that you look so
frightfully unattractive.''
``I remember the picture,'' interrupted Mildred. ``It
was taken when I was twenty--just after an illness.''
``The face WAS thin,'' said Stanley. ``Keith called it
a `give away.' ''
``I'd like to see it,'' said Mildred.
``I'll try to find it. But I'm afraid I can't. I
haven't seen it since I showed it to Keith, and when I
hunted for it the other day, it didn't turn up. I've
changed valets several times in the last six months--''
But Mildred had ceased listening. Keith had seen the
picture, had called it a ``give away,'' had been interested
in it--and the picture had disappeared. She
laughed at her own folly, yet she was glad Stanley had
given her this chance to make up a silly day-dream.
She waited until he had exhausted himself on the subject
of valets, their drunkenness, their thievish habits,
their incompetence, then she said:
``I took my last lesson from Jennings to-day.''
``What's the matter? Do you want to change?
You didn't say anything about it? Isn't he good?''
``Good enough. But I've discovered that my voice
isn't reliable, and unless one has a reliable voice there's
no chance for a grand-opera career--or for comic
opera, either.''
Stanley was straightway all agitation and protest.
``Who put that notion in your head? There's nothing
in it, Mildred. Jennings is crazy about your voice,
and he knows.''
``Jennings is after the money,'' replied Mildred.
``What I'm saying is the truth. Stanley, our beautiful
dream of a career has winked out.''
His expression was most revealing.
``And,'' she went on, ``I'm not going to take any
more of your money--and, of course, I'll pay back
what I've borrowed when I can''--she smiled--``which
may not be very soon.''
``What's all this about, anyhow?'' demanded he. ``I
don't see any sign of it in your face. You wouldn't
take it so coolly if it were so.''
``I don't understand why I'm not wringing my hands
and weeping,'' replied she. ``Every few minutes I tell
myself that I ought to be. But I stay quite calm. I
suppose I'm--sort of stupefied.''
``Do you really mean that you've given up?'' cried
``It's no use to waste the money, Stanley. I've got
the voice, and that's what deceived us all. But there's
nothing BEHIND the voice. With a great singer the
greatness is in what's behind the voice, not in the voice
``I don't believe a word of it,'' cried he violently.
``You've been discouraged by a little cold. Everybody
has colds. Why, in this climate the colds are always
getting the Metropolitan singers down.''
``But they've got strong throats, and my throat's
``You must go to a better climate. You ought to be
abroad, anyhow. That was part of my plan--for us
to go abroad--'' He stopped in confusion, reddened,
went bravely on--``and you to study there and make
your debut.''
Mildred shook her head. ``That's all over,'' said she.
``I've got to change my plans entirely.''
``You're a little depressed, that's all. For a minute
you almost convinced me. What a turn you did give
me! I forgot how your voice sounded the last time
I heard it. No, you'd not be so calm, if you didn't
know everything was all right.''
Her eyes lit up with sly humor. ``Perhaps I'm
calm because I feel that my future's secure as your wife.
What more could a woman ask?''
He forced an uncomfortable laugh. ``Of course--
of course,'' he said with a painful effort to be easy and
``I knew you'd marry me, even if I couldn't sing a
note. I knew your belief in my career had nothing to
do with it.''
He hesitated, blurted out the truth. ``Speaking
seriously, that isn't quite so,'' said he. ``I've got my
heart set on your making a great tear--and I know
you'll do it.''
``And if you knew I wouldn't, you'd not want to
marry me?''
``I don't say that,'' protested he. ``How can I say
how I'd feel if you were different?''
She nodded. ``That's sensible, and it's candid,'' she
said. She laid her hand impulsively on his arm. ``I
DO like you, Stanley. You have got such a lot of good
qualities. Don't worry. I'm not going to insist on
your marrying me.''
``You don't have to do that, Mildred,'' said he.
``I'm staring, raving crazy about you, though I'm a
damn fool to let you know it.''
``Yes, it is foolish,'' said she. ``If you'd kept me
worrying-- Still, I guess not. But it doesn't matter.
You can protest and urge all you please, quite safely.
I'm not going to marry you. Now let's talk business.''
``Let's talk marriage,'' said he. ``I want this thing
settled. You know you intend to marry me, Mildred.
Why not say so? Why keep me gasping on the hook?''
They heard the front door open, and the rustling of
skirts down the hall. Mildred called:
``Mrs. Brindley! Cyrilla!''
An instant and Cyrilla appeared in the doorway.
When she and Baird had shaken hands, Mildred said:
``Cyrilla, I want you to tell the exact, honest truth.
Is there any hope for a woman with a delicate throat to
make a grand-opera career?''
Cyrilla paled, looked pleadingly at Mildred.
``Tell him,'' commanded Mildred.
``Very little,'' said Mrs. Brindley. ``But--''
``Don't try to soften it,'' interrupted Mildred.
``The truth, the plain truth.''
``You've no right to draw me into this,'' cried Cyrilla
indignantly, and she started to leave the room.
``I want him to know,'' said Mildred. ``And he
wants to know.''
``I refuse to be drawn into it,'' Cyrilla said, and
But Mildred saw that Stanley had been shaken. She
proceeded to explain to him at length what a singer's
career meant--the hardships, the drafts on health and
strength, the absolute necessity of being reliable, of
singing true, of not disappointing audiences--what
a delicate throat meant--how delicate her throat was
--how deficient she was in the kind of physical strength
needed--muscular power with endurance back of it.
When she finished he understood.
``I'd always thought of it as an art,'' he said
ruefully. ``Why, it's mostly health and muscles and
things that have nothing to do with music.'' He was
dazed and offended by this uncovering of the mechanism
of the art--by the discovery of the coarse and painful
toil, the grossly physical basis, of what had seemed
to him all idealism. He had been full of the delusions
of spontaneity and inspiration, like all laymen, and all
artists, too, except those of the higher ranks--those
who have fought their way up to the heights and, so,
have learned that one does not achieve them by being
caught up to them gloriously in a fiery cloud, but by
doggedly and dirtily and sweatily toiling over every inch
of the cruel climb.
He sat silent when she had finished. She waited,
then said:
``Now, you see. I release you, and I'll take no more
money to waste.''
He looked at her with dumb misery that smote her
heart. Then his expression changed--to the shining,
hungry eyes, the swollen veins, the reddened countenance,
the watering lips of desire. He seized her in his
arms, and in a voice trembling with passion, he cried:
``You must marry me, anyhow! I've GOT to have you, Mildred.''
If she had loved him, his expression, his impassioned
voice would have thrilled her. But she did not love him.
It took all her liking for him, and the memory of all
she owed him--that unpaid debt!--to enable her to
push him away gently and to say without any show of
the repulsion she felt:
``Stanley, you mustn't do that. And it's useless to
talk of marriage. You're generous, so you are taking
pity on me. But believe me, I'll get along somehow.''
``Pity? I tell you I love you,'' he cried, catching
desperately at her hands and holding them in a grip
she could not break. ``You've no right to treat me
like this.''
It was one of those veiled and stealthy reminders of
obligation habitually indulged in by delicate people
seeking repayment of the debt, but shunning the coarseness
of direct demand. Mildred saw her opportunity.
Said she quietly:
``You mean you want me to give myself to you in
payment, or part payment, for the money you've loaned
He released her hands and sprang up. He had
meant just that, but he had not had the courage, or the
meanness, or both, to admit boldly his own secret wish.
She had calculated on this--had calculated well.
``Mildred!'' he cried in a shocked voice. ``YOU so
lacking in delicacy as to say such a thing!''
``If you didn't mean that, Stanley, what DID you mean?''
``I was appealing to our friendship--our--our love
for each other.''
``Then you should have waited until I was free.''
``Good God!'' he cried, ``don't you see that's
hopeless? Mildred, be sensible--be merciful.''
``I shall never marry a man when he could justly
suspect I did it to live off him.''
``What an idea! It's a man's place to support a
``I was speaking only of myself. _I_ can't do it.
And it's absurd for you and me to be talking about love
and marriage when anyone can see I'd be marrying you
only because I was afraid to face poverty and a struggle.''
Her manner calmed him somewhat. ``Of course it's
obvious that you've got to have money,'' said he, ``and
that the only way you can get it is by marriage. But
there's something else, too, and in my opinion it's the
principal thing--we care for each other. Why not be
sensible, Mildred? Why not thank God that as long as
you have to marry, you can marry someone you care for.''
``Could you feel that I cared for you, if I married
you now?'' inquired she.
``Why not? I'm not so entirely lacking in selfesteem.
I feel that I must count for something.''
Mildred sat silently wondering at this phenomenon so
astounding, yet a commonplace of masculine egotism.
She had no conception of this vanity which causes the
man, at whom the street woman smiles, to feel flattered,
though he knows full well what she is and her dire necessity.
She could not doubt that he was speaking the
truth, yet she could not believe that conceit could so
befog common sense in a man who, for all his slowness
and shallowness, was more than ordinarily shrewd.
``Even if I thought I loved you,'' said she, ``I
couldn't be sure in these circumstances that I wasn't
after your money.''
``Don't worry about that,'' replied he. ``I
understand you better than you understand yourself.''
``Let's stop talking about it,'' said she impatiently.
``I want to explain to you the business side of this.''
She took her purse from the table. ``Here are the
papers.'' She handed him a check and a note. ``I
made them out at the bank this morning. The note is
for what I owe you--and draws interest at four per
cent. The check is for all the money I have left except
about four hundred dollars. I've some bills I must pay,
and also I didn't dare quite strip myself. The note may
not be worth the paper it's written on, but I hope--''
Before she could prevent him he took the two papers,
and, holding them out of her reach, tore them to bits.
Her eyes gleamed angrily. ``I see you despise me
--as much as I've invited. But, I'll make them out
again and mail them to you.''
``You're a silly child,'' said he gruffly. ``We're
going to be married.''
She eyed him with amused exasperation. ``It's too
absurd!'' she cried. ``And if I yielded, you'd be trying
to get out of it.'' She hesitated whether to tell him
frankly just how she felt toward him. She decided
against it, not through consideration--for a woman
feels no consideration for a man she does not love, if he
has irritated her--but through being ashamed to say
harsh things to one whom she owed so much. ``It's
useless for you to pretend and to plead,'' she went on. ``I
shall not yield. You'll have to wait until I'm free and
``You'll marry me then?''
``No,'' replied she, laughing. ``But I'll be able to
refuse you in such a way that you'll believe.''
``But you've got to marry, Mildred, and right away.''
A suspicion entered his mind and instantly gleamed in
his eyes. ``Are you in love with someone else?''
She smiled mockingly.
``It looks as if you were,'' he went on, arguing with
himself aloud. ``For if you weren't you'd marry me,
even though you didn't like me. A woman in your fix
simply couldn't keep herself from it. Is THAT why
you're so calm?''
``I'm not marrying anybody,'' said she.
``Then what are you going to do?''
``You'll see.''
Once more the passionate side of his nature showed
--not merely grotesque, unattractive, repellent, as in
the mood of longing, but hideous. Among men Stanley
Baird passed for a man of rather arrogant and
violent temper, but that man who had seen him at his
most violent would have been amazed. The temper men
show toward men bears small resemblance either in kind
or in degree to the temper of jealous passion they show
toward the woman who baffles them or arouses their
suspicions; and no man would recognize his most intimate
man friend--or himself--when in that paroxysm.
Mildred had seen this mood, gleaming at her through
a mask, in General Siddall. It had made her sick with
fear and repulsion. In Stanley Baird it first astounded
her, then filled her with hate.
``Stanley!'' she gasped.
``WHO is it?'' he ground out between his teeth.
And he seized her savagely.
``If you don't release me at once,'' said she calmly,
``I shall call Mrs. Brindley, and have you put out of
the house. No matter if I do owe you all that money.''
``Stop!'' he cried, releasing her. ``You're very clever,
aren't you?--turning that against me and making me powerless.''
``But for that, would you dare presume to touch me,
to question me?'' said she.
He lowered his gaze, stood panting with the effort to
subdue his fury.
She went back to her own room. A few hours later
came a letter of apology from him. She answered it
friendlily, said she would let him know when she could
see him again, and enclosed a note and a check.
MILDRED went to bed that night proud of her
strength of character. Were there many women--
was there any other woman she knew or knew about--
who in her desperate circumstances would have done
what she had done? She could have married a man
who would have given her wealth and the very best
social position. She had refused him. She could have
continued to ``borrow'' from him the wherewithal
to keep her in luxurious comfort while she looked about
at her ease for a position that meant independence.
She had thrust the temptation from her. All this from
purely high-minded motives; for other motive there
could be none. She went to sleep, confident that on the
morrow she would continue to tread the path of selfrespect
with unfaltering feet. But when morning came
her throat was once more slightly off--enough to make
it wise to postpone the excursion in search of a trial
for musical comedy. The excitement or the reaction
from excitement--it must be the one or the other--
had resulted in weakness showing itself, naturally, at
her weakest point--that delicate throat. When life
was calm and orderly, and her mind was at peace, the
trouble would pass, and she could get a position of some
kind. Not the career she had dreamed; that was
impossible. But she had voice enough for a little part,
where a living could be made; and perhaps she would
presently fathom the secret of the cause of her delicate
throat and would be able to go far--possibly as far as
she had dreamed.
The delay of a few days was irritating. She would
have preferred to push straight on, while her courage
was taut. Still, the delay had one advantage--she
could prepare the details of her plan. So, instead of
going to the office of the theatrical manager--Crossley,
the most successful producer of light, musical pieces
of all kinds--she went to call on several of the girls
she knew who were more or less in touch with matters
theatrical. And she found out just how to proceed
toward accomplishing a purpose which ought not to be
difficult for one with such a voice as hers and with
physical charms peculiarly fitted for stage exhibition.
Not until Saturday was her voice at its best again.
She, naturally, decided not to go to the theatrical office
on Monday, but to wait until she had seen and talked
with Keith. One more day did not matter, and Keith
might be stimulating, might even have some useful
suggestions to offer. She received him with a manner that
was a version, and a most charming version, of his own
tranquil indifference. But his first remark threw her
into a panic. Said he:
``I've only a few minutes. No, thanks, I'll not sit.''
``You needn't have bothered to come,'' said she
``I always keep my engagements. Baird tells me
you have given up the arrangement you had with him.
You'll probably be moving from here, as you'll not have
the money to stay on. Send me your new address,
please.'' He took a paper from his pocket and gave it
to her. ``You will find this useful--if you are in
earnest,'' said he. ``Good-by, and good luck. I'll
hope to see you in a few weeks.''
Before she had recovered herself in the least, she was
standing there alone, the paper in her hand, her stupefied
gaze upon the door through which he had disappeared.
All his movements and his speech had been
of his customary, his invariable, deliberateness; but she
had the impression of whirling and rushing haste.
With a long gasping sigh she fell to trembling all over.
She sped to her room, got its door safely closed just
in time. Down she sank upon the bed, to give way to
an attack of hysterics.
We are constantly finding ourselves putting forth the
lovely flowers and fruit of the virtues whereof the heroes
and heroines of romance are so prolific. Usually nothing
occurs to disillusion us about ourselves. But now
and then fate, in unusually brutal ironic mood, forces
us to see the real reason why we did this or that virtuous,
self-sacrificing action, or blossomed forth in this
or that nobility of character. Mildred was destined
now to suffer one of these savage blows of disillusionment
about self that thrust us down from the exalted
moral heights where we have been preening into humble
kinship with the weak and frail human race. She
saw why she had refused Stanley, why she had stopped
``borrowing,'' why she had put off going to the theatrical
managers, why she had delayed moving into quarters
within her diminished and rapidly diminishing
means. She had been counting on Donald Keith. She
had convinced herself that he loved her even as she loved
him. He would fling away his cold reserve, would burst
into raptures over her virtue and her courage, would
ask her to marry him. Or, if he should put off that,
he would at least undertake the responsibility of getting
her started in her career. Well! He had come; he
had shown that Stanley had told him all or practically
all; and he had gone, without asking a sympathetic
question or making an encouraging remark. As
indifferent as he seemed. Burnt out, cold, heartless.
She had leaned upon him; he had slipped away, leaving
her to fall painfully, and ludicrously, to the ground.
She had been boasting to herself that she was strong,
that she would of her own strength establish herself in
independence. She had not dreamed that she would be
called upon to ``make good.'' She raved against Keith,
against herself, against fate. And above the chaos and
the wreck within her, round and round, hither and yon,
flapped and shied the black thought, ``What SHALL I do?''
When she sat up and dried her eyes, she chanced to
see the paper Keith had left; with wonder at her having
forgotten it and with a throb of hope she opened
and began to read his small, difficult writing:
A career means self-denial. Not occasional, intermittent,
but steady, constant, daily, hourly--a purpose that
never relaxes.
A career as a singer means not only the routine, the
patient tedious work, the cutting out of time-wasting people
and time-wasting pleasures that are necessary to any and
all careers. It means in addition--for such a person--
sacrifices far beyond a character so undisciplined and so
corrupted by conventional life as is yours. The basis of a
singing career is health and strength. You must have
great physical strength to be able to sing operas. You
must have perfect health.
Diet and exercise. A routine life, its routine rigidly
adhered to, day in and day out, month after month, year
after year. Small and uninteresting and monotonous food,
nothing to drink, and, of course, no cigarettes. Such is
the secret of a reliable voice for you who have a ``delicate
throat''--which is the silly, shallow, and misleading way
of saying a delicate digestion, for sore throat always
means indigestion, never means anything else. To sing,
the instrument, the absolutely material machine, must be
in perfect order. The rest is easy.
Some singers can commit indiscretions of diet and of
lack of exercise. But not you, because you lack this
natural strength. Do not be deceived and misled by their
Exercise. You must make your body strong, powerful.
You have not the muscles by nature. You must acquire
The following routine of diet and exercise made one of the
great singers, and kept her great for a quarter of a century.
If you adopt it, without variation, you can make a career.
If you do not, you need not hope for anything but failure
and humiliation. Within my knowledge sixty-eight young
men and young women have started in on this system. Not
one had the character to persist to success. This may
suggest why, except two who are at the very top, all of the
great singers are men and women whom nature has made
powerful of body and of digestion--so powerful that
their indiscretions only occasionally make them unreliable.
There Mildred stopped and flung the paper aside.
She did not care even to glance at the exercises prescribed
or at the diet and the routine of daily work.
How dull and uninspired! How grossly material!
Stomach! Chewing! Exercising machines! Plodding
dreary miles daily, rain or shine! What could such
things have to do with the free and glorious career of
an inspired singer? Keith was laughing at her as he
hastened away, abandoning her to her fate.
She examined herself in the glass to make sure that
the ravages of her attack of rage and grief and despair
could be effaced within a few hours, then she wrote a
note--formal yet friendly--to Stanley Baird, informing
him that she would receive him that evening. He
came while Cyrilla and Mildred were having their after,
dinner coffee and cigarettes. He was a man who took
great pains with his clothes, and got them where pains
was not in vain. That evening he had arrayed himself
with unusual care, and the result was a fine, manly figure
of the well-bred New-Yorker type. Certainly Stanley
had ground for his feeling that he deserved and got liking
for himself. The three sat in the library for perhaps
half an hour, then Mrs. Brindley rose to leave the
other two alone. Mildred urged her to stay--Mildred
who had been impatient of her presence when Stanley
was announced. Urged her to stay in such a tone that
Cyrilla could not persist, but had to sit down again.
As the three talked on and on, Mildred continued to
picture life with Stanley--continued the vivid picturing
she had begun within ten minutes of Stanley's entering,
the picturing that had caused her to insist on Cyrilla's
remaining as chaperon. A young girl can do no such
picturing as Mildred could not avoid doing. To the
young girl married life, its tete-a-tetes, its intimacies,
its routine, are all a blank. Any attempt she makes to
fill in details goes far astray. But Mildred, with Stanley
there before her, could see her life as it would be.
Toward half-past ten, Stanley said, shame-faced and
pleading, ``Mildred, I should like to see you alone for
just a minute before I go.''
Mildred said to Cyrilla: ``No, don't move. We'll
go into the drawing-room.''
He followed her there, and when the sound of Mrs.
Brindley's step in the hall had died away, he began:
``I think I understand you a little now. I shan't
insult you by returning or destroying that note or the
check. I accept your decision--unless you wish to
change it.'' He looked at her with eager appeal. His
heart was trembling, was sick with apprehension, with
the sense of weakness, of danger and gloom ahead.
``Why shouldn't I help you, at least, Mildred?'' he
Whence the courage came she knew not, but through
her choking throat she forced a positive, ``No.''
``And,'' he went on, ``I meant what I said. I love
you. I'm wretched without you. I want you to marry
me, career or no career.''
Her fears were clamorous, but she forced herself to
say, ``I can't change.''
``I hoped--a little--that you sent me the note today
because you-- You didn't?''
``No,'' said Mildred. ``I want us to be friends.
But you must keep away.''
He bent his head. ``Then I'll go 'way off somewhere.
I can't bear being here in New York and not seeing
you. And when I've been away a year or so, perhaps
I'll get control of myself again.''
Going away!--to try to forget!--no doubt, to
succeed in forgetting! Then this was her last chance.
``Must I go, Mildred? Won't you relent?''
``I don't love you--and I never can.'' She was
deathly white and trembling. She lifted her eyes to
begin a retreat, for her courage had quite oozed away.
He was looking at her, his face distorted with a mingling
of the passion of desire and the passion of jealousy.
She shrank, caught at the back of a chair for
support, felt suddenly strong and defiant. To be this
man's plaything, to submit to his moods, to his
jealousies, to his caprices--to be his to fumble and caress,
his to have the fury of his passion wreak itself upon
her with no response from her but only repulsion and
loathing--and the long dreary hours and days and
years alone with him, listening to his commonplaces,
often so tedious, forced to try to amuse him and to keep
him in a good humor because he held the pursestrings--
``Please go,'' she said.
She was still very young, still had years and years
of youth unspent. Surely she could find something
better than this. Surely life must mean something more
than this. At least it was worth a trial.
He held out his hand. She gave him her reluctant
and cold fingers. He said something, what she did not
hear, for the blood was roaring in her ears as the room
swam round. He was gone, and the next thing she
definitely knew she was at the threshold of Cyrilla's
room. Cyrilla gave her a tenderly sympathetic glance.
She saw herself in a mirror and knew why; her face was
gray and drawn, and her eyes lay dully deep within
dark circles.
``I couldn't do it,'' she said. ``I sent for him to
marry him. But I couldn't.''
``I'm glad,'' said Cyrilla. ``Marriage without love
is a last resort. And you're a long way from last resorts.''
``You don't think I'm crazy?''
``I think you've won a great victory.''
``Victory!'' And Mildred laughed dolefully. ``If
this is victory, I hope I'll never know defeat.''
Why did Mildred refuse Stanley Baird and cut herself
off from him, even after her hopes of Donald Keith
died through lack of food, real or imaginary? It
would be gratifying to offer this as a case of pure
courage and high principle, untainted of the motives which
govern ordinary human actions. But unluckily this is
a biography, not a romance, a history and not a eulogy.
And Mildred Gower is a human being, even as you
and I, not a galvanized embodiment of superhuman
virtues such as you and I are pretending to be, perhaps
even to ourselves. The explanation of her strange
aberration, which will be doubted or secretly condemned
by every woman of the sheltered classes who loves her
dependence and seeks to disguise it as something sweet
and fine and ``womanly''--the explanation of her almost
insane act of renunciation of all that a lady holds
most dear is simple enough, puzzling though she found
it. Ignorance, which accounts for so much of the
squalid failure in human life, accounts also for much if
not all the most splendid audacious achievement. Very
often--very, very often--the impossibilities are
achieved by those who in their ignorance advance not
boldly but unconcernedly where a wiser man or woman
would shrink and retreat. Fortunate indeed is he or
she who in a crisis is by chance equipped with neither
too little nor too much knowledge--who knows enough
to enable him to advance, but does not know enough to
appreciate how perilous, how foolhardy, how harsh and
cruel, advance will be. Mildred was in this instance thus
fortunate--unfortunate, she was presently to think it.
She knew enough about loveless marriage to shrink
from it. She did not know enough about what poverty,
moneylessness, and friendlessness mean in the actuality
to a woman bred as she had been. She imagined
she knew--and sick at heart her notion of poverty
made her. But imagination was only faintest
foreshadowing of actuality. If she had known, she would
have yielded to the temptation that was almost too
strong for her. And if she had yielded--what then?
Not such a repulsive lot, as our comfortable classes look
at it. Plenty to eat and drink and to wear, servants
and equipages and fine houses and fine society, the envy
of her gaping kind--a comfortable life for the body,
a comfortable death for mind and heart, slowly and
softly suffocated in luxury. Partly through knowledge
that strongly affected her character, which was on the
whole aspiring and sensitive beyond the average to the
true and the beautiful, partly through ignorance that
veiled the future from her none too valorous and hardy
heart, she did not yield to the temptation. And thus,
instead of dying, she began to live, for what is life but
growth in experience, in strength and knowledge and
A baby enters the world screaming with pain. The
first sensations of living are agonizing. It is the same
with the birth of souls, for a soul is not really born
until that day when it is offered choice between life and
death and chooses life. In Mildred Gower's case this
birth was an agony. She awoke the following morning
with a dull headache, a fainting heart, and a throat
so sore that she felt a painful catch whenever she tried
to swallow. She used the spray; she massaged her
throat and neck vigorously. In vain; it was folly to
think of going where she might have to risk a trial of
her voice that day. The sun was brilliant and the air
sharp without being humid or too cold. She dressed,
breakfasted, went out for a walk. The throat grew
worse, then better. She returned for luncheon, and
afterward began to think of packing, not that she had
chosen a new place, but because she wished to have some
sort of a sense of action. But her unhappiness drove
her out again--to the park where the air was fine
and she could walk in comparative solitude.
``What a silly fool I am!'' thought she. ``Why did
I do this in the worst, the hardest possible way? I
should have held on to Stanley until I had a position.
No, I'm such a poor creature that I could never have
done it in that way. I'd simply have kept on bluffing,
fooling myself, putting off and putting of. I had to
jump into the water with nobody near to help me, or
I'd never have begun to learn to swim. I haven't
begun yet. I may never learn to swim. I may drown.
Yes, I probably shall drown.''
She wandered aimlessly on--around the upper
reservoir where the strong breeze freshened her through and
through and made her feel less forlorn in spite of her
chicken heart. She crossed the bridge at the lower end
and came down toward the East Drive. A taxicab
rushed by, not so fast, however, that she failed to
recognize Donald Keith and Cyrilla Brindley. They were
talking so earnestly--Keith was talking, for a wonder,
and Mrs. Brindley listening--that they did not
see her. She went straight home. But as she was
afoot, the journey took about half an hour. Cyrilla
was already there, in a negligee, looking as if she had
not been out of the little library for hours. She was
writing a letter. Mildred strolled in and seated herself.
Cyrilla went on writing. Mildred watched her
impatiently. She wished to talk, to be talked to, to be
consoled and cheered, to hear about Donald Keith. Would
that letter never be finished? At last it was, and
Cyrilla took a book and settled herself to reading. There
was a vague something in her manner--a change, an
attitude toward Mildred--that disturbed Mildred. Or,
was that notion of a change merely the offspring of her
own somber mood? Seeing that Mrs. Brindley would
not begin, she broke the silence herself. Said she awkwardly:
``I've decided to move. In fact, I've got to move.''
Cyrilla laid down the book and regarded her tranquilly.
``Of course,'' said she. ``I've already begun
to arrange for someone else.''
Mildred choked, and the tears welled into her eyes.
She had not been mistaken; Cyrilla had changed toward
her. Now that she had no prospects for a brilliant
career, now that her money was gone, Cyrilla had begun
to--to be human. No doubt, in the course of
that drive, Cyrilla had discovered that Keith had no
interest in her either. Mildred beat down her emotion
and was soon able to say in a voice as unconcerned as
``I'll find a place to-morrow or next day, and go at
``I'll be sorry to lose you,'' said Mrs. Brindley, ``but
I agree with you that you can't get settled any too
``You don't happen to know of any cheap, good
place?'' said Mildred.
``If it's cheap, I don't think it's likely to be good--
in New York,'' replied Cyrilla. ``You'll have to put
up with inconveniences--and worse. I'd offer to help
you find a place, but I think everything self-reliant one
does helps one to learn. Don't you?''
``Yes, indeed,'' assented Mildred. The thing was
self-evidently true; still she began to hate Cyrilla.
This cold-hearted New York! How she would grind
down her heel when she got it on the neck of New York!
Friendship, love, helpfulness--what did New York and
New-Yorkers know of these things? ``Or Hanging
Rock, either,'' reflected she. What a cold and lonely
``Have you been to see about a position?'' inquired
Mildred was thrown into confusion. ``I can't go--
for a--day or so,'' she stammered. ``The changeable
weather has rather upset my throat. Nothing serious,
but I want to be at my best.''
``Certainly,'' said Mrs. Brindley. Her direct gaze
made Mildred uncomfortable. She went on: ``You're
sure it's the weather?''
``What else could it be?'' demanded Mildred with a
latent resentment whose interesting origin she did not
pause to inquire into.
``Well, salad, or sauces, or desserts, or cafe au lait in
the morning, or candy, or tea,'' said Cyrilla. ``Or it
might be cigarettes, or all those things--and thin
stockings and low shoes--mightn't it?''
Never before had she known Cyrilla to say anything
meddlesome or cattish. Said Mildred with a faint sneer,
``That sounds like Mr. Keith's crankiness.''
``It is,'' replied Cyrilla. ``I used to think he was a
crank on the subject of singing and stomachs, and singing
and ankles. But I've been convinced, partly by
him, mostly by what I've observed.''
Mildred maintained an icy silence.
``I see you are resenting what I said,'' observed
``Not at all,'' said Mildred. ``No doubt you meant
``You will please remember that you asked me a question.''
So she had. But the discovery that she was clearly
in the wrong, that she had invited the disguised lecture,
only aggravated her sense of resentment against Mrs.
Brindley. She spent the rest of the afternoon in sorting
and packing her belongings--and in crying. She
came upon the paper Donald Keith had left. She read
it through carefully, thoughtfully, read it to the last
direction as to exercise with the machine, the last
arrangement for a daily routine of life, the last suggestion
as to diet.
``Fortunately all that isn't necessary,'' said she to
herself, when she had finished. ``If it were, I could
never make a career. I'm not stupid enough to be able
to lead that kind of life. Why, I'd not care to make a
career, at that price. Slavery--plain slavery.''
When she went in to dinner, she saw instantly that
Cyrilla too had been crying. Cyrilla did not look old,
anything but that, indeed was not old and would not
begin to be for many a year. Still, after thirty-five
or forty a woman cannot indulge a good cry without
its leaving serious traces that will show hours afterward.
At sight of the evidences of Cyrilla's grief Mildred
straightway forgot her resentment. There must have
been some other cause for Cyrilla's peculiar conduct.
No matter what, since it was not hardness of heart.
It was a sad, even a gloomy dinner. But the two
women were once more in perfect sympathy. And
afterward Mildred brought the Keith paper and asked
Cyrilla's opinion. Cyrilla read slowly and without
comment. At last she said:
``He got this from his mother, Lucia Rivi. Have
you read her life?''
``No. I've heard almost nothing about her, except
that she was famous.''
``She was more than that,'' said Mrs. Brindley.
``She was great, a great personality. She was an
almost sickly child and girl. Her first attempts on the
stage were humiliating failures. She had no health, no
endurance, nothing but a small voice of rare quality.''
Cyrilla held up the paper. ``This tells how she became
one of the surest and most powerful dramatic sopranos
that ever lived.''
``She must have been a dull person to have been able
to lead the kind of life that's described there,'' said Mildred.
``Only two kinds of persons could do it,'' replied
Cyrilla--``a dull person--a plodder--and a genius.
Middling people--they're the kind that fill the world,
they're you and I, my dear--middling people have to
fuss with the trifles that must be sacrificed if one is to
do anything big. You call those trifles your freedom,
but they're your slavery. And by sacrificing them the
Lucia Rivis buy their freedom.'' Cyrilla looked at the
paper with a heavy sigh. ``Ah, I wish I had seen this
when I was your age. Now, it's too late.''
Said Mildred: ``Would you seriously advise me to
try that?''
Cyrilla came and sat beside her and put an arm
around her. ``Mildred,'' she said, ``I've never thrust
advice on you. I only dare do it now because you ask
me, and because I love you. You must try it. It's
your one chance. If you do not, you will fail. You
don't believe me?''
In a tone that was admission, Mildred said: ``I
don't know.''
``Keith has given you there the secret of a successful
career. You'll never read it in any book, or get it
from any teacher, or from any singer or manager or
doctor. You must live like that, you must do those
things or you will fail even in musical comedy. You
would fail even as an actress, if you tried that, when
you found out that the singing was out of the question.''
Mildred was impressed. Perhaps she would have
been more impressed had she not seen Keith and Mrs.
Brindley in the taxi, Keith talking earnestly and Mrs.
Brindley listening as if to an oracle. Said she:
``Perhaps I'll adopt some of the suggestions.''
Cyrilla shook her head. ``It's a route to success.
You must go the whole route or not at all.''
``Don't forget that there have been other singers
besides Rivi.''
``Not any that I recall who weren't naturally powerful
in every way. And how many of them break down?
Mildred, please do put the silly nonsense about nerves
and temperament and inspiration and overwork and
weather and climate--put all that out of your head.
Build your temple of a career as high and graceful
and delicate as you like, but build it on the coarse, hard,
solid rock, dear!''
Mildred tried to laugh lightly. ``How Mr. Keith
does hypnotize people!'' cried she.
Mrs. Brindley's cheeks burned, and her eyes lowered
in acute embarrassment. ``He has a way of being
splendidly and sensibly right,'' said she. ``And the
truth is wonderfully convincing--once one sees it.''
She changed the subject, and it did not come up--or,
perhaps, come OUT again--before they went to bed.
The next day Mildred began the depressing, hopeless
search for a place to live that would be clean,
comfortable, and cheap. Those three adjectives describe
the ideal lodging; but it will be noted that all these are
relative. In fact, none of the three means exactly the
same thing to any two members of the human family.
Mildred's notion of clean--like her notion of
comfortable--on account of her bringing up implied a
large element of luxury. As for the word ``cheap,'' it
really meant nothing at all to her. From one standpoint
everything seemed cheap; from another, everything
seemed dear; that is, too dear for a young woman
with less than five hundred dollars in the world and no
substantial prospect of getting a single dollar more--
unless by hook and crook, both of which means she was
resolved not to employ.
Never having earned so much as a single penny, the
idea of anyone's giving her anything for what she
might be able to do was disturbingly vague and unreal.
On the other hand, looking about her, she saw scores
of men and women, personally known to her to be dull
of conversation, and not well mannered or well dressed
or well anything, who were making livings without
overwhelming difficulty. Why not Mildred Gower? In
this view the outlook was not discouraging. ``I'll no
doubt go through some discomfort, getting myself
placed. But somewhere and somehow I shall be placed
--and how I shall revenge myself on Donald Keith!''
His fascination for her had not been destroyed by his
humiliating lack of belief in her, nor by his cold-hearted
desertion at just the critical moment. But his conduct
had given her the incentive of rage, of stung vanity--
or wounded pride, if you prefer. She would get him
back; she would force him to admit; she would win him,
if she could--and that ought not to be difficult when
she should be successful. Having won him, then--
What then? Something superb in the way of revenge;
she would decide what, when the hour of triumph came.
Meanwhile she must search for lodgings.
In her journeyings under the guidance of attractive
advertisements and ``carefully selected'' agents' lists,
she found herself in front of her first lodgings in New
York--the house of Mrs. Belloc. She had often
thought of the New England school-teacher, arrived by
such strange paths at such a strange position in New
York. She had started to call on her many times, but
each time had been turned aside; New York makes it
more than difficult to find time to do anything that does
not have to be done at a definite time and for a definite
reason. She was worn out with her futile trampings
up and down streets, up and down stairs. Up the stone
steps she went and rang the bell.
Yes, Mrs. Belloc was in, and would be glad to see
her, if Miss Stevens would wait in the drawing-room
a few minutes. She had not seated herself when down
the stairs came the fresh, pleasantly countrified voice
of Mrs. Belloc, inviting her to ascend. As Mildred
started up, she saw at the head of the stairs the frank
and cheerful face of the lady herself. She was holding
together at the neck a thin silk wrapper whose lines
strongly suggested that it was the only garment she
had on.
``Why should old friends stand on ceremony?'' said
Mrs. Belloc. ``Come right up. I've been taking a
bath. My masseuse has just gone.'' Mrs. Belloc
enclosed her in a delightfully perfumed embrace, and they
kissed with enthusiasm.
``I AM glad to see you,'' said Mildred, feeling all at
once a thrilling sense of at-homeness. ``I didn't realize
how glad I'd be till I saw you.''
``It'd be a pretty stiff sort that wouldn't feel at home
with me,'' observed Mrs. Belloc. ``New York usually
stiffens people up. It's had the opposite effect on me.
Though I must say, I have learned to stiffen with people
I don't like--and I'll have to admit that I like fewer
and fewer. People don't wear well, do they? What IS
the matter with them? Why can't they be natural and
not make themselves into rubbishy, old scrap-bags full
of fakes and pretenses? You're looking at my hair.''
They were in Mrs. Belloc's comfortable sitting-room
now, and she was smoking a cigarette and regarding
Mildred with an expression of delight that was most
flattering. Said Mildred:
``Your hair does look well. It's thicker--isn't it?''
``Think so?'' said Mrs. Belloc. ``It ought to be,
with all the time and money I've spent on it. My, how
New York does set a woman to repairing and fixing up.
Nothing artificial goes here. It mustn't be paint and
plumpers and pads, but the real teeth. Why, I've had
four real teeth set in as if they were rooted--and my
hips toned down. You may remember what heavy legs
I had--piano-legs. Look at 'em now.'' Mrs. Belloc
drew the wrapper to her knee and exposed in a paleblue
silk stocking a thin and comely calf.
``You HAVE been busy!'' said Mildred.
``That's only a little part. I started to tell you about
the hair. It was getting gray--not in a nice, pretty
way, all over, but in spots and streaks. Nothing else
makes a woman look so ragged and dingy and old as
spotted, streaky gray hair. So I had the hair-woman
touch it up. She vows it won't make my face hard.
That's the trouble with dyed or touched hair, you know.
But this is a new process.''
``It's certainly a success,'' said Mildred. And in fact
it was, and thanks to it and the other improvements Mrs.
Belloc was an attractive and even a pretty woman, years
younger than when Mildred saw her.
``Yes, I think I've improved,'' said Mrs. Belloc.
``Nothing to scream about--but worth while. That's
what we're alive for--to improve--isn't it? I've no
patience with people who slide back, or don't get on--
people who get less and less as they grow older. The
trouble with them is they're vain, satisfied with
themselves as they are, and lazy. Most women are too lazy
to live. They'll only fix up to catch a man.''
Mildred had grown sober and thoughtful.
``To catch a man,'' continued Mrs. Belloc. ``And
not much even for that. I'll warrant YOU'RE getting on.
Tell me about it.''
``Tell me about yourself, first,'' said Mildred.
``WHY all this excitement about improving?''
And she smiled significantly.
``No, you'll have to guess again,'' said Mrs. Belloc.
``Not a man. You remember, I used to be crazy about
gay life in New York--going out, and men, theaters,
and lobster-palaces--everything I didn't get in my
home town, everything the city means to the jays.
Well, I've gotten over all that. I'm improving, mind
and body, just to keep myself interested in life, to keep
myself young and cheerful. I'm interested in myself,
in my house and in woman's suffrage. Not that the
women are fit to vote. They aren't, any more than the
men. But what MAKES people? Why, responsibility.
That old scamp I married--he's dead. And I've got
the money, and everything's very comfortable with me.
Just think, I didn't have any luck till I was an old maid
far gone. I'm not telling my age. All my life it
had rained bad luck--pitchforks, tines down. And
``Yes, why?'' said Mildred. She did not understand
how it was, but Mrs. Belloc seemed to be saying the
exact things she needed to hear.
``I'll tell you why. Because I didn't work. Drudging
along isn't work any more than dawdling along.
Work means purpose, means head. And my luck began
just as anybody's does--when I rose up and got
busy. You may say it wasn't very creditable, the way
I began; but it was the best _I_ could do. I know it isn't
good morals, but I'm willing to bet that many a man
has laid the foundations of a big fine career by doing
something that wasn't at all nice or right. He had to
do it, to `get through.' If he hadn't done it, he'd never
have `got through.' Anyhow, whether that's so or not,
everyone's got to make a fight to break into the part of
the world where living's really worth living. But I
needn't tell YOU that. You're doing it.''
``No, I'm not,'' replied Mildred. ``I'm ashamed to
say so, but I'm not. I've been bluffing--and wasting
``That's bad, that's bad,'' said Mrs. Belloc.
``Especially, as you've got it in you to get there. What's
been the trouble? The wrong kind of associations?''
``Partly,'' said Mildred.
Mrs. Belloc, watching her interestedly, suddenly
lighted up. ``Why not come back here to live?'' said
she. ``Now, please don't refuse till I explain. You
remember what kind of people I had here?''
Mildred smiled. ``Rather--unconventional?''
``That's polite. Well, I've cleared 'em out. Not
that I minded their unconventionality; I liked it. It
was so different from the straight-jackets and the
hypocrisy I'd been living among and hating. But I soon
found out that--well, Miss Stevens, the average human
being ought to be pretty conventional in his morals
of a certain kind. If he--or SHE--isn't, they begin
to get unconventional in every way--about paying
their bills, for instance, and about drinking. I got sick
and tired of those people. So, I put 'em all out--made
a sweep. And now I've become quite as respectable as
I care to be--or as is necessary. The couples in the
house are married, and they're nice people of good
families. It was Mrs. Dyckman--she's got the whole second
floor front, she and her husband and the daughter
--it was Mrs. Dyckman who interested me in the
suffrage movement. You must hear her speak. And the
daughter does well at it, too--and keeps a fashionable
millinery-shop--and she's only twenty-four. Then
there's Nora Blond.''
``The actress?''
``The actress. She's the quietest, hardest-working
person here. She's got the whole first floor front.
Nobody ever comes to see her, except on Sunday afternoon.
She leads the queerest life.''
``Tell me about that,'' said Mildred.
``I don't know much about it,'' confessed Mrs.
Belloc. ``She's regular as a clock--does everything on
time, and at the same time. Two meals a day--one
of them a dry little breakfast she gets herself. Walks,
fencing, athletics, study.''
``What slavery!''
``She's the happiest person I ever saw,'' retorted Mrs.
Belloc. ``Why, she's got her work, her career. You
don't look at it right, Miss Stevens. You don't look
happy. What's the matter? Isn't it because you
haven't been working right--because you've been doing
these alleged pleasant things that leave a bad taste
in your mouth and weaken you? I'll bet, if you had
been working hard, you'd not be unhappy now. Better
come here to live.''
``Will you let me tell you about myself?''
``Go right ahead. May I ask questions, where I
want to know more? I do hate to get things halfway.''
Mildred freely gave her leave, then proceeded to tell
her whole story, omitting nothing that was essential to
an understanding. In conclusion she said: ``I'd like
to come. You see, I've very little money. When it's
gone, I'll go, unless I make some more.''
``Yes, you must come. That Mrs. Brindley seems
to be a nice woman, a mighty nice woman. But her
house, and the people that come there--they aren't the
right sort for a girl that's making a start. I can give
you a room on the top floor--in front. The young
lady next to you is a clerk in an architect's office, and
a fine girl she is.''
``How much does she pay?'' said Mildred.
``Your room won't be quite as nice as hers. I put
you at the top because you can sing up there, part of
the mornings and part of the afternoons, without
disturbing anybody. I don't have a general table any
more. You can take your meals in your room or at the
restaurant in the apartment-house next door. It's good
and quite reasonable.''
``How much for the room?'' persisted Mildred,
``Seven dollars a week, and the use of the bath.''
Mildred finally wrung from her that the right price
was twelve dollars a week, and insisted on paying that
--``until my money gets low.''
``Don't worry about that,'' said Mrs. Belloc.
``You mustn't weaken me,'' cried Mildred. ``You
mustn't encourage me to be a coward and to shirk.
That's why I'm coming here.''
``I understand,'' said Mrs. Belloc. ``I've got the
New England streak of hardness in me, though I
believe that masseuse has almost ironed it out of my face.
Do I look like a New England schoolmarm?''
Mildred could truthfully answer that there wasn't a
trace of it.
When she returned to Mrs. Brindley's--already she
had ceased to think of it as home--she announced her
new plans. Mrs. Brindley said nothing, but Mildred
understood the quick tightening of the lines round her
mouth and the shifting of the eyes. She hastened to
explain that Mrs. Belloc was no longer the sort of
woman or the sort of landlady she had been a few
months before. Mrs. Brindley of the older New York,
could neither understand nor believe in the people of
the new and real New York whom it molds for better
or for worse so rapidly--and even remolds again and
again. But Mildred was able to satisfy her that the
house was at least not suspicious.
``It doesn't matter where you're going,'' said Mrs.
Brindley. ``It's that you are going. I can't bear
giving you up. I had hoped that our lives would flow on
and on together.'' She was with difficulty controlling
her emotions. ``It's these separations that age one,
that take one's life. I almost wish I hadn't met you.''
Mildred was moved, herself. Not so much as Mrs.
Brindley because she had the necessities of her career
gripping her and claiming the strongest feelings there
were in her. Also, she was much the younger, not
merely in years but in experience. And separations
have no real poignancy in them for youth
``Yes, I know you love me,'' said Cyrilla, ``but love
doesn't mean to you what it means to me. I'm in that
middle period of life where everything has its fullest
meaning. In youth we're easily consoled and distracted
because life seems so full of possibilities, and we can't
believe friendship and love are rare, and still more rarely
worth while. In old age, when the arteries harden and
the blood flows slow and cold, we become indifferent.
But between thirty-five and fifty-five how the heart can
ache!'' She smiled, with trembling lips. ``And how it
can rejoice!'' she cried bravely. ``I must not forget
to mention that. Ah, my dear, you must learn to live
intensely. If I had had your chance!''
``Ridiculous!'' laughed Mildred. ``You talk like an
old woman. And I never think of you as older than
``I AM an old woman,'' said Cyrilla. And, with a
tightening at the heart Mildred saw, deep in the depths
of her eyes, the look of old age. ``I've found that I'm
too old for love--for man-and-woman love--and that
means I'm an old woman.''
Mildred felt that there was only a thin barrier of
reserve between her and some sad secret of this strange,
shy, loving woman's--a barrier so thin that she could
almost hear the stifled moan of a broken heart. But
the barrier remained; it would have been impossible for
Cyrilla Brindley to talk frankly about herself.
When Mildred came out of her room the next morning,
Cyrilla had gone, leaving a note:
I can't bear good-bys. Besides, we'll see each other very
soon. Forgive me for shrinking, but really I can't.
Before night Mildred was settled in the new place and
the new room, with no sense of strangeness. She was
reproaching herself for hardness, for not caring about
Cyrilla, the best and truest friend she had ever had.
But the truth lay in quite a different direction. The
house, the surroundings, where she had lived luxuriously,
dreaming her foolish and fatuous dreams, was
not the place for such a struggle as was now upon her.
And for that struggle she preferred, to sensitive, sober,
refined, impractical Cyrilla Brindley, the companionship
and the sympathy, the practical sympathy, of Agnes
Belloc. No one need be ashamed or nervous before
Agnes Belloc about being poor or unsuccessful or having
to resort to shabby makeshifts or having to endure
coarse contacts. Cyrilla represented refinement,
appreciation of the finished work--luxurious and sterile
appreciation and enjoyment. Agnes represented the
workshop--where all the doers of all that is done live
and work. Mildred was descending from the heights
where live those who have graduated from the lot of the
human race and have lost all that superficial or casual
resemblance to that race. She was going down to live
with the race, to share in its lot. She was glad Agnes
Belloc was to be there.
Generalizing about such a haphazard conglomerate
as human nature is highly unsatisfactory, but it may
be cautiously ventured that in New England, as in old
England, there is a curiously contradictory way of
dealing with conventionality. Nowhere is conventionality
more in reverence; yet when a New-Englander, man or
woman, happens to elect to break with it, nowhere is
the break so utter and so defiant. If Agnes Belloc,
cut loose from the conventions that had bound her from
childhood to well into middle life, had remained at home,
no doubt she would have spent a large part of her nights
in thinking out ways of employing her days in outraging
the conventionalities before her horrified and
infuriated neighbors. But of what use in New York to
cuff and spit upon deities revered by only an insignificant
class--and only officially revered by that class?
Agnes had soon seen that there was no amusement or
interest whatever in an enterprise which in her New
England home would have filled her life to the brim with
excitement. Also, she saw that she was well into that
time of life where the absence of reputation in a woman
endangers her comfort, makes her liable to be left alone
--not despised and denounced, but simply avoided and
ignored. So she was telling Mildred the exact truth.
She had laid down the arms she had taken up against
the social system, and had come in--and was fighting
it from the safer and wiser inside. She still insisted
that a woman had the same rights as a man; but she took
care to make it clear that she claimed those rights only
for others, that she neither exercised them nor cared for
them for herself. And to make her propaganda the
more effective, she was not only circumspect herself,
but was exceedingly careful to be surrounded by
circumspect people. No one could cite her case as proof
that woman would expand liberty into license. In
theory there was nothing lively that she did not look
upon at least with tolerance; in practice, more and more
she disliked seeing one of her sex do anything that might
cause the world to say ``woman would abuse liberty if
she had it.'' ``Sensible people,'' she now said, ``do as
they like. But they don't give fools a chance to titter
and chatter.''
Agnes Belloc was typical--certainly of a large and
growing class in this day--of the decay of ancient temples
and the decline of the old-fashioned idealism that
made men fancy they lived nobly because they professed
and believed nobly. She had no ethical standards. She
simply met each situation as it arose and dealt with it
as common sense seemed in that particular instance to
dictate. For a thousand years genius has been striving
with the human race to induce it to abandon its
superstitions and hypocrisies and to defy common sense, so
adaptable, so tolerant, so conducive to long and healthy
and happy life. Grossly materialistic, but alluringly
comfortable. Whether for good or for evil or for both
good and evil, the geniuses seem in a fair way at last
to prevail over the idealists, religious and political.
And Mrs. Belloc, without in the least realizing it, was
a most significant sign of the times.
``Your throat seems to be better to-day,'' said she to
Mildred at breakfast. ``Those simple house-remedies
I tried on you last night seem to have done some good.
Nothing like heat--hot water--and no eating. The
main thing was doing without dinner last night.''
``My nerves are quieter,'' advanced Mildred as the
likelier explanation of the return of the soul of music to
its seat. ``And my mind's at rest.''
``Yes, that's good,'' said plain Agnes Belloc. ``But
getting the stomach straight and keeping it straight's
the main thing. My old grandmother could eat anything
and do anything. I've seen her put in a glass of
milk or a saucer of ice-cream on top of a tomato-salad.
The way she kept well was, whenever she began to feel
the least bit off, she stopped eating. Not a bite would
she touch till she felt well again.''
Mildred, moved by an impulse stronger than her
inclination, produced the Keith paper. ``I wish you'd
read this, and tell me what you think of it. You've
got so much common sense.''
Agnes read it through to the end, began at the
beginning and read it through again. ``That sounds
good to me,'' said she. ``I want to think it over. If
you don't mind I'd like to show it to Miss Blond. She
knows a lot about those things. I suppose you're going
to see Mr. Crossley to-day?--that's the musical
manager's name, isn't it?''
``I'm going at eleven. That isn't too early, is it?''
``If I were you, I'd go as soon as I was dressed for
the street. And if you don't get to see him, wait till
you do. Don't talk to under-staffers. Always go
straight for the head man. You've got something that's
worth his while. How did he get to be head man?
Because he knows a good thing the minute he sees it. The
under fellows are usually under because they are so
taken up with themselves and with impressing people
how grand they are that they don't see anything else.
So, when you talk to them, you wear yourself out and
waste your time.''
``There's only one thing that makes me nervous,''
said Mildred. ``Everyone I've ever talked with about
going on the stage--everyone who has talked candidly
--has said--''
``Yes, I know,'' said Mrs. Belloc, as Mildred paused
to search for smooth-sounding words in which to dress,
without disguising, a distinctly ugly idea. ``I've heard
that, too. I don't know whether there's anything in it
or not.'' She looked admiringly at Mildred, who that
morning was certainly lovely enough to tempt any man.
``If there is anything in it, why, I reckon YOU'D be up
against it. That's the worst of having men at the top
in any trade and profession. A woman's got to get
her chance through some man, and if he don't choose
to let her have it, she's likely to fail.''
Mildred showed how this depressed her.
``But don't you fret about that till you have to,''
advised Mrs. Belloc. ``I've a notion that, even if it's
true, it may not apply to you. Where a woman offers
for a place that she can fill about as well as a hundred
other women, she's at the man's mercy; but if she knows
that she's far and away the best for the place, I don't
think a man's going to stand in his own light. Let him
see that he can make money through YOU, money he
won't make if he don't get you. Then, I don't think
you'll have any trouble.''
But Mildred's depression did not decrease. ``If my
voice could only be relied on!'' she exclaimed. ``Isn't
it exasperating that I've got a delicate throat!''
``It's always something,'' said Mrs. Belloc. ``One
thing's about as bad as another, and anything can be
``No, not in my case,'' said Mildred. ``The peculiar
quality of my voice--what makes it unusual--is due
to the delicateness of my throat.''
``Maybe so,'' said Mrs. Belloc.
``Of course, I can always sing--after a fashion,''
continued Mildred. ``But to be really valuable on the
stage you've got to be able always to sing at your best.
So I'm afraid I'm in the class of those who'll suit, one
about as well as another.''
``You've got to get out of that class,'' said Mrs.
Belloc. ``The men in that class, and the women, have
to do any dirty work the boss sees fit to give 'em--and
not much pay, either. Let me tell you one thing, Miss
Stevens. If you can't get among the few at the top
in the singing game, you must look round for some game
where you can hope to be among the few. No matter
WHAT it is. By using your brains and working hard,
there's something you can do better than pretty nearly
anybody else can or will do it. You find that.''
The words sank in, sank deep. Mildred, sense of her
surroundings lost, was gazing straight ahead with an
expression that gave Mrs. Belloc hope and even a
certain amount of confidence. There was a distinct
advance; for, after she reflected upon all that Mildred had
told her, little of her former opinion of Mildred's
chances for success had remained but a hope detained
not without difficulty. Mrs. Belloc knew the human
race unusually well for a woman--unusually well for
a human being of whatever sex or experience. She had
discovered how rare is the temperament, the combination
of intelligence and tenacity, that makes for success.
She had learned that most people, judged by any standard,
were almost total failures, that most of the more
or less successful were so merely because the world had
an enormous amount of important work to be done,
even though half-way, and had no one but those halfcompetents
to do it. As incompetence in a man would
be tolerated where it would not be in a woman, obviously
a woman, to get on, must have the real temperament
of success.
She now knew enough about Mildred to be able to
``place'' her in the ``lady'' class--those brought up
not only knowing how to do nothing with a money
value (except lawful or unlawful man-trapping), but
also trained to a sensitiveness and refinement and false
shame about work that made it exceedingly difficult if
not impossible for them to learn usefulness. She knew
all Mildred's handicaps, both those the girl was
conscious of and those far heavier ones which she
fatuously regarded as advantages. How was Mildred ever
to learn to dismiss and disregard herself as the pretty
woman of good social position, an object of admiration
and consideration? Mildred, in the bottom of her heart,
was regarding herself as already successful--successful
at the highest a woman can achieve or ought to
aspire to achieve--was regarding her career, however
she might talk or might fancy she believed, as a mere
livelihood, a side issue. She would be perhaps more
than a little ashamed of her stage connections, should
she make any, until she should be at the very top--
and how get to the top when one is working under the
handicap of shame? Above all, how was this indulgently
and shelteredly reared lady to become a working
woman, living a routine life, toiling away day in
and day out, with no let up, permitting no one and
nothing to break her routine? ``Really,'' thought
Agnes Belloc, ``she ought to have married that Baird
man--or stayed on with the nasty general. I wonder
why she didn't! That's the only thing that gives me
hope. There must be something in her--something
that don't appear--something she doesn't know about,
herself. What is it? Maybe it was only vanity and
vacillation. Again, I don't know.''
The difficulty Mrs. Belloc labored under in her
attempt to explore and map Mildred Gower was a difficulty
we all labor under in those same enterprises. We
cannot convince ourselves--in spite of experience
after experience--that a human character is never
consistent and homogeneous, is always conglomerate,
that there are no two traits, however naturally exclusive,
which cannot coexist in the same personality, that
circumstance is the dominating factor in human action
and brings forward as dominant characteristics now
one trait or set of traits, consistent or inconsistent, and
now another. The Alexander who was Aristotle's model
pupil was the same Alexander as the drunken debaucher.
Indeed, may it not be that the characters which play
the large parts in the comedy of life are naturally those
that offer to the shifting winds of circumstances the
greatest variety of strongly developed and contradictory
qualities? For example, if it was Mildred's latent
courage rescued her from Siddall, was it not her strong
tendency to vacillation that saved her from a loveless
and mercenary marriage to Stanley Baird? Perhaps
the deep underlying truth is that all unusual people
have in common the character that centers a powerful
aversion to stagnation; thus, now by their strong
qualities, now by their weaknesses, they are swept inevitably
on and on and ever on. Good to-day, bad to-morrow,
good again the day after, weak in this instance, strong
in that, now brave and now cowardly, soft at one time,
hard at another, generous and the reverse by turns, they
are consistent only in that they are never at rest, but
incessantly and inevitably go.
Mildred reluctantly rose, moved toward the door with
lingering step. ``I guess I'd better make a start,''
said she.
``That's the talk,'' said Mrs. Belloc heartily. But
the affectionate glance she sent after the girl was dubious--
even pitying.
TWO minutes' walk through to Broadway, and she
was at her destination. There, on the other side of the
way, stood the Gayety Theater, with the offices of Mr.
Clarence Crossley overlooking the intersection of the
two streets. Crossley was intrenched in the remotest
of a series of rooms, each tenanted by under-staffers
of diminishing importance as you drew way from the
great man. It was next to impossible to get at him--
a cause of much sneering and dissatisfaction in theatrical
circles. Crossley, they said, was exclusive, had
the swollen head, had forgotten that only a few years
before he had been a cheap little ticket-seller grateful
for a bow from any actor who had ever had his name
up. Crossley insisted that he was not a victim of folie
de grandeur, that, on the contrary, he had become less
vain as he had risen, where he could see how trivial a
thing rising was and how accidental. Said he:
``Why do I shut myself in? Because I'm what I am
--a good thing, easy fruit. You say that men a hundred
times bigger than I'll ever be don't shut themselves
up. You say that Mountain, the biggest financier in
the country, sits right out where anybody can go up to
him. Yes, but who'd dare go up to him? It's generally
known that he's a cannibal, that he kills his own
food and eats it warm and raw. So he can afford to sit
in the open. If I did that, all my time and all my
money would go to the cheap-skates with hard-luck
tales. I don't hide because I'm haughty, but because
I'm weak and soft.''
In appearance Mr. Crossley did not suggest his name.
He was a tallish, powerful-looking person with a
smooth, handsome, audacious face, with fine, laughing,
but somehow untrustworthy eyes--at least untrustworthy
for women, though women had never profited by
the warning. He dressed in excellent taste, almost
conspicuously, and the gay and expensive details of his
toilet suggested a man given over to liveliness. As a
matter of fact, this liveliness was potential rather than
actual. Mr. Crossley was always intending to resume
the giddy ways of the years before he became a great
man, but was always so far behind in the important
things to be done and done at once that he was forced
to put off. However, his neckties and his shirts and his
flirtations, untrustworthy eyes kept him a reputation for
being one of the worst cases in Broadway. In vain did
his achievements show that he could not possibly have
time or strength for anything but work. He looked
like a rounder; he was in a business that gave endless
dazzling opportunities for the lively life; a rounder he
was, therefore.
He was about forty. At first glance, so vivid and
energetic was he, he looked like thirty-five, but at second
glance one saw the lines, the underlying melancholy signs
of strain, the heavy price he had paid for phenomenal
success won by a series of the sort of risks that make the
hair fall as autumn leaves on a windy day and make
such hairs as stick turn rapidly gray. Thus, there
were many who thought Crossley was through vanity
shy of the truth by five or six years when he said forty.
In ordinary circumstances Mildred would never have
got at Crossley. This was the first business call of her
life where she had come as an unknown and unsupported
suitor. Her reception would have been such at the
hands of Crossley's insolent and ill-mannered underlings
that she would have fled in shame and confusion.
It is even well within the possibilities that she would
have given up all idea of a career, would have sent for
Baird, and so on. And not one of those who, timid
and inexperienced, have suffered rude rebuff at their first
advance, would have condemned her. But it so chanced
--whether by good fortune or by ill the event was to
tell--that she did not have to face a single underling.
The hall door was open. She entered. It happened
that while she was coming up in the elevator a
quarrel between a motorman and a driver had heated
into a fight, into a small riot. All the underlings had
rushed out on a balcony that commanded a superb view
of the battle. The connecting doors were open;
Mildred advanced from room to room, seeking someone who
would take her card to Mr. Crossley. When she at
last faced a closed door she knocked.
``Come!'' cried a pleasant voice.
And in she went, to face Crossley himself--Crossley,
the ``weak and soft,'' caught behind his last entrenchment
with no chance to escape. Had Mildred looked
the usual sort who come looking for jobs in musical
comedy, Mr. Crossley would not have risen--not because
he was snobbish, but because, being a sensitive,
high-strung person, he instinctively adopted the manner
that would put the person before him at ease. He
glanced at Mildred, rose, and thrust back forthwith the
slangy, offhand personality that was perhaps the most
natural--or was it merely the most used?--of his
many personalities. It was Crossley the man of the
world, the man of the artistic world, who delighted
Mildred with a courteous bow and offer of a chair, as he
``You wished to see me?''
``If you are Mr. Crossley,'' said Mildred.
``I should be tempted to say I was, if I wasn't,''
said he, and his manner made it a mere pleasantry to
put her at ease.
``There was no one in the outside room, so I walked
on and on until your door stopped me.''
``You'll never know how lucky you were,'' said he.
``They tell me those fellows out there have shocking
``Have you time to see me now? I've come to apply
for a position in musical comedy.''
``You have not been on the stage, Miss--''
``Gower. Mildred Gower. I've decided to use my
own name.''
``I know you have not been on the stage.''
``Except as an amateur--and not even that for
several years. But I've been working at my voice.''
Crossley was studying her, as she stood talking--
she had refused the chair. He was more than favorably
impressed. But the deciding element was not
Mildred's excellent figure or her charm of manner or
her sweet and lovely face. It was superstition. Just
at that time Crossley had been abruptly deserted by
Estelle Howard; instead of going on with the rehearsals
of ``The Full Moon,'' in which she was to be starred,
she had rushed away to Europe with a violinist with
whom she had fallen in love at the first rehearsal.
Crossley was looking about for someone to take her
place. He had been entrenched in those offices for
nearly five years; in all that time not a single soul of the
desperate crowds that dogged him had broken through
his guard. Crossley was as superstitious as was everyone
else who has to do with the stage.
``What kind of a voice?'' asked he.
``Lyric soprano.''
``You have music there. What?''
`` `Batti Batti' and a little song in English--`The
Rose and the Bee.' ''
Crossley forgot his manners, turned his back squarely
upon her, thrust his hands deep into his trousers
pockets, and stared out through the window. He presently
wheeled round. She would not have thought his
eyes could be so keen. Said he: ``You were studying
for grand opera?''
``Why do you drop it and take up this?''
``No money,'' replied she. ``I've got to make my
living at once.''
``Well, let's see. Come with me, please.''
They went out by a door into the hall, went back to
the rear of the building, in at an iron door, down a
flight of steep iron skeleton steps dimly lighted.
Mildred had often been behind the scenes in her amateur
theatrical days; but even if she had not, she would have
known where she was. Crossley called, ``Moldini!
The name was caught up by other voices and
repeated again and again, more and more remotely. A
moment, and a small dark man with a superabundance
of greasy dark hair appeared. ``Miss Gower,'' said
Crossley, ``this is Signor Moldini. He will play your
accompaniments.'' Then to the little Italian, ``Piano
on the stage?''
``Yes, sir.''
To Mildred with a smile, ``Will you try?''
She bent her head. She had no voice--not for song,
not for speech, not even for a monosyllable.
Crossley took Moldini aside where Mildred could not
hear. ``Mollie,'' said he, ``this girl crept up on me,
and I've got to give her a trial. As you see, she's a
lady, and you know what they are.''
``Punk,'' said Moldini.
Crossley nodded. ``She seems a nice sort, so I want
to let her down easy. I'll sit back in the house, in the
dark. Run her through that `Batti Batti' thing she's
got with her. If she's plainly on the fritz, I'll light a
cigarette. If I don't light up, try the other song she
has. If I still don't light up make her go through that
`Ah, were you here, love,' from the piece. But if
I light up, it means that I'm going to light out, and
that you're to get rid of her--tell her we'll let her
know if she'll leave her address. You understand?''
Far from being thrilled and inspired, her surroundings
made her sick at heart--the chill, the dampness,
the bare walls, the dim, dreary lights, the coarselypainted
flats-- At last she was on the threshold of her
chosen profession. What a profession for such a person
as she had always been! She stood beside Moldini,
seated at the piano. She gazed at the darkness,
somewhere in whose depths Crossley was hidden. After
several false starts she sang the ``Batti Batti'' through,
sang it atrociously--not like a poor professional, but
like a pretentious amateur, a reversion to a manner of
singing she had once had, but had long since got rid of.
She paused at the end, appalled by the silence, by the
awfulness of her own performance.
From the darkness a slight click. If she had known!
--for, it was Crossley's match-safe.
The sound, slight yet so clear, startled her, roused
her. She called out: ``Mr. Crossley, won't you please
be patient enough to let me try that again?''
A brief hesitation, then: ``Certainly.''
Once more she began. But this time there was no
hesitation. From first to last she did it as Jennings
had coached her, did it with all the beauty and energy
of her really lovely voice. As she ended, Moldini said
in a quiet but intense undertone: ``Bravo! Bravo!
Fresh as a bird on a bright spring morning.'' And
from the darkness came: ``Ah--that's better, Miss
Gower. That was professional work. Now for the
Thus encouraged and with her voice well warmed, she
could not but make a success of the song that was nearer
to what would be expected of her in musical comedy.
Crossley called out: ``Now, the sight singing, Moldini.
I don't expect you to do this well, Miss Gower. I simply
wish to get an idea of how you'd do a piece we
have in rehearsal.''
``You'll have no trouble with this,'' said Moldini, as
he opened the comedy song upon the rack with a
contemptuous whirl. ``It's the easy showy stuff that suits
the tired business man and his laced-in wife. Go at it
and yell.''
Mildred glanced through it. There was a subtle
something in the atmosphere now that put her at her
ease. She read the words aloud, laughing at their silly
sentimentality, she and Moldini and Crossley making
jokes about it. Soon she said: ``I'm ready.''
She sang it well. She asked them to let her try it
again. And the second time, with the words in her
mind and the simple melody, she was able to put
expression into it and to indicate, with restraint, the
action. Crossley came down the aisle.
``What do you think, Mollie?'' he said to Moldini.
``We might test her at a few rehearsals.''
Crossley meekly accepted the salutary check on his
enthusiasm. ``Do you wish to try, Miss Gower?''
Mildred was silent. She knew now the sort of piece
in which she was to appear. She had seen a few of
them, those cheap and vulgar farces with their thin
music, their more than dubious-looking people. What
a come-down! What a degradation! It was as bad
in its way as being the wife of General Siddall. And
she was to do this, in preference to marrying Stanley
``You will be paid, of course, during rehearsal; that
is, as long as we are taking your time. Fifty dollars
a week is about as much as we can afford.'' Crossley
was watching her shrewdly, was advancing these
remarks in response to the hesitation he saw so plainly.
``Of course it isn't grand opera,'' he went on. ``In
fact, it's pretty low--almost as low as the public taste.
You see, we aren't subsidized by millionaires who want
people to think they're artistic, so we have to hustle to
separate the public from its money. But if you make
a hit, you can earn enough to put you into grand opera
in fine style.''
``I never heard of anyone's graduating from here
into grand opera,'' said Mildred.
``Because our stars make so much money and make
it so easily. It'll be your own fault if you don't.''
``Can't I come to just one rehearsal--to see whether
I can--can do it?'' pleaded Mildred.
Crossley, made the more eager and the more superstitious
by this unprecedented reluctance, shook his head.
``No. You must agree to stay as long as we want
you,'' said he. ``We can't allow ourselves to be trifled
``Very well,'' said Mildred resignedly. ``I will
rehearse as long as you want me.''
``And will stay for the run of the piece, if we want
that?'' said Crossley. ``You to get a hundred a week
if you are put in the cast. More, of course, if you
make a hit.''
``You mean I'm to sign a contract?'' cried Mildred
in dismay.
``Exactly,'' said Crossley. A truly amazing
performance. Moldini was not astonished, however, for he
had heard the songs, and he knew Crossley's difficulties
through Estelle Howard's flight. Also, he knew Crossley--
never so ``weak and soft'' that he trifled with
unlikely candidates for his productions. Crossley had got
up because he knew what to do and when to do it.
Mildred acquiesced. Before she was free to go into
the street again, she had signed a paper that bound her
to rehearse for three weeks at fifty dollars a week and
to stay on at a hundred dollars a week for forty weeks
or the run of ``The Full Moon,'' if Crossley so desired;
if he did not, she was free at the end of the rehearsals.
A shrewdly one-sided contract. But Crossley told himself
he would correct it, if she should by some remote
chance be good enough for the part and should make
a hit in it. This was no mere salve to conscience, by
the way. Crossley would not be foolish enough to give
a successful star just cause for disliking and distrusting
him and at the earliest opportunity leaving him to make
money for some rival manager.
Mrs. Belloc had not gone out, had been waiting in a
fever of anxiety. When Mildred came into her sittingroom
with a gloomy face and dropped to a chair as if
her last hope had abandoned her, it was all Agnes Belloc
could do to restrain her tears. Said she:
``Don't be foolish, my dear. You couldn't expect
anything to come of your first attempt.''
``That isn't it,'' said Mildred. ``I think I'll give it
up--do something else. Grand opera's bad enough.
There were a lot of things about it that I was fighting
my distaste for.''
``I know,'' said Agnes. ``And you'd better fight
them hard. They're unworthy of you.''
``But--musical comedy! It's--frightful!''
``It's an honest way of making a living, and that's
more than can be said of--of some things. I suppose
you're afraid you'll have to wear tights--or some
nonsense like that.''
``No, no. It's doing it at all. Such rotten music
--and what a loathsome mess!''
Mrs. Belloc's eyes flashed. ``I'm losing all
patience!'' she cried. ``I know you've been brought up
like a fool and always surrounded by fools. I suppose
you'd rather sell yourself to some man. Do you know
what's the matter with you, at bottom? Why, you're
lazy and you're a coward. Too lazy to work. And
afraid of what a lot of cheap women'll say--women
earning their board and clothes in about the lowest way
such a thing can be done. Haven't you got any selfrespect?''
Mildred rose. ``Mrs. Belloc,'' she said angrily, ``I
can't permit even you to say such things to me.''
``The shoe seems to fit,'' retorted Mrs. Belloc. ``I
never yet saw a lady, a real, silk-and-diamonds, sit-inthe-
parlor lady, who had any self-respect. If I had
my way they wouldn't get a mouthful to eat till they
had earned it. That'd be a sure cure for the lady
disease. I'm ashamed of you, Miss Stevens! And you're
ashamed of yourself.''
``Yes, I am,'' said Mildred, with a sudden change of
``The best thing you can do is to rest till lunch-time.
Then start out after lunch and hunt a job. I'll go
with you.''
``But I've got a job,'' said Mildred. ``That's what's
the matter.''
Agnes Belloc's jaw dropped and her rather heavy
eyebrows shot up toward the low sweeping line of her
auburn hair. She made such a ludicrous face that Mildred
laughed outright. Said she:
``It's quite time. Fifty a week, for three weeks of
rehearsal. No doubt _I_ can go on if I like. Nothing
could be easier.''
``Yes. He was very nice--heard me sing three
pieces--and it was all settled. I'm to begin to-morrow.''
The color rose in Agnes Belloc's face until she looked
apoplectic. She abruptly retreated to her bedroom.
After a few minutes she came back, her normal complexion
restored. ``I couldn't trust myself to speak,''
said she. ``That was the worst case of ingratitude
I ever met up with. You, getting a place at fifty
dollars a week--and on your first trial--and
you come in looking as if you'd lost your money and
your reputation. What kind of a girl are you, anyway?''
``I don't know,'' said Mildred. ``I wish I did.''
``Well, I'm sorry you got it so easy. Now you'll
have a false notion from the start. It's always better
to have a hard time getting things. Then you appreciate
them, and have learned how to hold on.''
``No trouble about holding on to this,'' said Mildred
``Please don't talk that way, child,'' pleaded Agnes,
almost tearful. ``It's frightful to me, who've had
experience, to hear you invite a fall-down.''
Mildred disdainfully fluttered the typewritten copy of
the musical comedy. ``This is child's play,'' said she.
``The lines are beneath contempt. As for the songs,
you never heard such slop.''
``The stars in those pieces get four and five hundred,
and more, a week,'' said Mrs. Belloc. ``Believe me,
those managers don't pay out any such sums for child's
play. You look out. You're going at this wrong.''
``I shan't care if I do fail,'' said Mildred.
``Do you mean that?'' demanded Mrs. Belloc.
``No, I don't,'' said Mildred. ``Oh, I don't know
what I mean.''
``I guess you're just talking,'' said Mrs. Belloc after
a reflective silence. ``I guess a girl who goes and gets
a good job, first crack out of the box, must have a
streak of shrewdness.''
``I hope so,'' said Mildred doubtfully.
``I guess you'll work hard, all right. After you
went out this morning, I took that paper down to Miss
Blond. She's crazy about it. She wants to make a
copy of it. I told her I'd ask you.''
``Certainly,'' said Mildred.
``She says she'll return it the same day.''
``Tell her she can keep it as long as she likes.''
Mrs. Belloc eyed her gravely, started to speak,
checked herself. Instead, she said, ``No, I shan't do
that. I'll have it back in your room by this evening.
You might change your mind, and want to use it.''
``Very well,'' said Mildred, pointedly uninterested and
ignoring Mrs. Belloc's delicate but distinct emphasis
upon ``might.''
Mrs. Belloc kept a suspicious eye upon her--an eye
that was not easily deceived. The more she thought
about Mildred's state of depression and disdain the more
tolerant she became. That mood was the natural and
necessary result of the girl's bringing up and mode of
life. The important thing--and the wonderful thing
--was her being able to overcome it. After a week of
rehearsal she said: ``I'm making the best of it. But
I don't like it, and never shall.''
``I should hope not,'' replied Mrs. Belloc. ``You're
going to the top. I'd hate to see you contented at the
bottom. Aren't you learning a good deal that'll be
useful later on?''
``That's why I'm reconciled to it,'' said she. ``The
stage director, Mr. Ransdell, is teaching me everything
--even how to sing. He knows his business.''
Ransdell not only knew, but also took endless pains
with her. He was a tall, thin, dark man, strikingly
handsome in the distinguished way. So distinguished
looking was he that to meet him was to wonder why he
had not made a great name for himself. An extraordinary
mind he certainly had, and an insight into the
reasons for things that is given only to genius. He
had failed as a composer, failed as a playwright, failed
as a singer, failed as an actor. He had been forced
to take up the profession of putting on dramatic and
musical plays, a profession that required vast knowledge
and high talents and paid for them in niggardly
fashion both in money and in fame. Crossley owed to
him more than to any other single element the series
of successes that had made him rich; yet the ten thousand
a year Crossley paid him was regarded as evidence
of Crossley's lavish generosity and was so. It
would have been difficult to say why a man so splendidly
endowed by nature and so tireless in improving himself
was thus unsuccessful. Probably he lacked judgment;
indeed, that lack must have been the cause. He could
judge for Crossley; but not for himself, not when he
had the feeling of ultimate responsibility.
Mildred had anticipated the most repulsive associations--
men and women of low origin and of vulgar
tastes and of vulgarly loose lives. She found herself
surrounded by simple, pleasant people, undoubtedly
erratic for the most part in all their habits, but without
viciousness. And they were hard workers, all. Ransdell
--for Crossley--tolerated no nonsense. His people
could live as they pleased, away from the theater, but
there they must be prompt and fit. The discipline was
as severe as that of a monastery. She saw many signs
that all sorts of things of the sort with which she wished
to have no contact were going on about her; but as she
held slightly--but not at all haughtily--aloof, she
would have had to go out of her way to see enough to
scandalize her. She soon suspected that she was being
treated with extraordinary consideration. This was by
Crossley's orders. But the carrying out of their spirit
as well as their letter was due to Ransdell. Before the
end of that first week she knew that there was the
personal element behind his admiration for her voice and
her talent for acting, behind his concentrating most of
his attention upon her part. He looked his love boldly
whenever they were alone; he was always trying to
touch her--never in a way that she could have resented,
or felt like resenting. He was not unattractive to her,
and she was eager to learn all he had to teach, and saw
no harm in helping herself by letting him love.
Toward the middle of the second week, when they were
alone in her dressing-room, he--with the ingenious
lack of abruptness of the experienced man at the game
--took her hand, and before she was ready, kissed her.
He did not accompany these advances with an outburst
of passionate words or with any fiery lighting up of the
eyes, but calmly, smilingly, as if it were what she was
expecting him to do, what he had a right to do.
She did not know quite how to meet this novel attack.
She drew her hand away, went on talking about the
part--the changes he had suggested in her entrance,
as she sang her best solo. He discussed this with her
until they rose to leave the theater. He looked
smilingly down on her, and said with the flattering air of
the satisfied connoisseur:
``Yes, you are charming, Mildred. I can make a
great artist and a great success out of you. We need
each other.''
``I certainly need you,'' said she gratefully. ``How
much you've done for me.''
``Only the beginning,'' replied he. ``Ah, I have
such plans for you--such plans. Crossley doesn't
realize how far you can be made to go--with the right
training. Without it--'' He shook his head laughingly.
``But you shall have it, my dear.'' And he
laid his hands lightly and caressingly upon her shoulders.
The gesture was apparently a friendly familiarity.
To resent it, even to draw away, would put her in the
attitude of the woman absurdly exercised about the
desirability and sacredness of her own charms.
Still smiling, in that friendly, assured way, he went
on: ``You've been very cold and reserved with me, my
dear. Very unappreciative.''
Mildred, red and trembling, hung her head in confusion.
``I've been at the business ten years,'' he went on,
``and you're the first woman I've been more than casually
interested in. The pretty ones were bores. The
homely ones--I can't interest myself in a homely
woman, no matter how much talent she has. A woman
must first of all satisfy the eye. And you--'' He
seated himself and drew her toward him. She, cold all
over and confused in mind and almost stupefied, resisted
with all her strength; but her strength seemed to be
oozing away. She said:
``You must not do this. You must not do this. I'm
horribly disappointed in you.''
He drew her to his lap and held her there without
any apparent tax upon his strength. He kissed her,
laughingly pushing away the arms with which she tried
to shield her face. Suddenly she found strength to
wrench herself free and stood at a distance from him.
She was panting a little, was pale, was looking at him
with cold anger.
``You will please leave this room,'' said she.
He lit a cigarette, crossed his legs comfortably, and
looked at her with laughing eyes. ``Don't do that,'' he
said genially. ``Surely my lessons in acting haven't
been in vain. That's too obviously a pose.''
She went to the mirror, arranged her hat, and moved
toward the door. He rose and barred the way.
``You are as sensible as you are sweet and lovely,''
said he. ``Why should you insist on our being bad
``If you don't stand aside, I'll call out to the watchman.''
``I'd never have thought you were dishonest. In
fact, I don't believe it yet. You don't look like one of
those ladies who wish to take everything and give
nothing.'' His tone and manner were most attractive.
Besides, she could not forget all he had
done for her--and all he could do for her. Said
``Mr. Ransdell, if I've done anything to cause you to
misunderstand, it was unconscious. And I'm sorry.
But I--''
``Be honest,'' interrupted he. ``Haven't I made it
plain that I was fascinated by you?''
She could not deny it.
``Haven't I been showing you that I was willing to
do everything I could for you?''
``I thought you were concerned only about the
success of the piece.''
``The piece be jiggered,'' said he. ``You don't
imagine YOU are necessary to its success, do you? You,
a raw, untrained girl. Don't your good sense tell you
I could find a dozen who would do, let us say, ALMOST
as well?''
``I understand that,'' murmured she.
``Perhaps you do, but I doubt it,'' rejoined he.
``Vanity's a fast growing weed. However, I rather
expected that you would remain sane and reasonably
humble until you'd had a real success. But it seems
not. Now tell me, why should I give my time and my
talent to training you--to putting you in the way of
quick and big success?''
She was silent.
``What did you count on giving me in return? Your
She colored, hung her head.
``Wasn't I doing for you something worth while?
And what had you to give in return?'' He laughed
with gentle mockery. ``Really, you should have been
grateful that I was willing to do so much for so little,
for what I wanted ought--if you are a sensible woman
--to seem to you a trifle in comparison with what I
was doing for you. It was my part, not yours, to think
the complimentary things about you. How shallow and
vain you women are! Can't you see that the value of
your charms is not in them, but in the imagination of
some man?''
``I can't answer you,'' said she. ``You've put it all
wrong. You oughtn't to ask payment for a favor beyond price.''
``No, I oughtn't to HAVE to ask,'' corrected he, in the
same pleasantly ironic way. ``You ought to have been
more than glad to give freely. But, curiously, while
we've been talking, I've changed my mind about those
precious jewels of yours. We'll say they're pearls, and
that my taste has suddenly changed to diamonds.'' He
bowed mockingly. ``So, dear lady, keep your pearls.''
And he stood aside, opening the door for her. She
hesitated, dazed that she was leaving, with the feeling
of the conquered, a field on which, by all the precedents,
she ought to have been victor. She passed a troubled
night, debated whether to relate her queer experience to
Mrs. Belloc, decided for silence. It drafted into service
all her reserve of courage to walk into the theater the
next day and to appear on the stage among the assembled
company with her usual air. Ransdell greeted her
with his customary friendly courtesy and gave her his
attention, as always. By the time they had got through
the first act, in which her part was one of four of about
equal importance, she had recovered herself and was in
the way to forget the strange stage director's strange
attack and even stranger retreat. But the situation
changed with the second act, in which she was on the
stage all the time and had the whole burden. The act
as originally written had been less generous to her; but
Ransdell had taken one thing after another away from
the others and had given it to her. She made her first
entrance precisely as he had trained her to make it and
began. A few seconds, and he stopped her.
``Please try again, Miss Gower,'' said he. ``I'm
afraid that won't do.''
She tried again; again he stopped her. She tried a
third time. His manner was all courtesy and consideration,
not the shade of a change. But she began to
feel a latent hostility. Instinctively she knew that
he would no longer help her, that he would leave
her to her own resources, and judge her by how she
acquitted herself. She made a blunder of her third
``Really, Miss Gower, that will never do,'' said he
mildly. ``Let me show you how you did it.''
He gave an imitation of her--a slight caricature.
A titter ran through the chorus. He sternly rebuked
them and requested her to try again. Her fourth
attempt was her worst. He shook his head in gentle
remonstrance. ``Not quite right yet,'' said he
regretfully. ``But we'll go on.''
Not far, however. He stopped her again. Again
the courteous, kindly criticism. And so on, through
the entire act. By the end of it, Mildred's nerves were
unstrung. She saw the whole game, and realized how
helpless she was. Before the end of that rehearsal,
Mildred had slipped back from promising professional into
clumsy amateur, tolerable only because of the beautiful
freshness of her voice--and it was a question whether
voice alone would save her. Yet no one but Mildred
herself suspected that Ransdell had done it, had
revenged himself, had served notice on her that since she
felt strong enough to stand alone she was to have every
opportunity to do so. He had said nothing disagreeable;
on the contrary, he had been most courteous, most
In the third act she was worse than in the second.
At the end of the rehearsal the others, theretofore
flattering and encouraging, turned away to talk among
themselves and avoided her. Ransdell, about to leave,
``Don't look so down-hearted, Miss Gower. You'll
be all right to-morrow. An off day's nothing.''
He said it loudly enough for the others to hear.
Mildred's face grew red with white streaks across it, like
the prints of a lash. The subtlest feature of his
malevolence had been that, whereas on other days he had
taken her aside to criticize her, on this day he had
spoken out--gently, deprecatingly, but frankly--before
the whole company. Never had Mildred Gower
been so sad and so blue as she was that day and that
night. She came to the rehearsal the following day with
a sore throat. She sang, but her voice cracked on the
high notes. It was a painful exhibition. Her fellow
principals, who had been rather glad of her set-back
the day before, were full of pity and sympathy. They
did not express it; they were too kind for that. But
their looks, their drawing away from her--Mildred
could have borne sneers and jeers better. And Ransdell
was SO forbearing, SO gentle.
Her voice got better, got worse. Her acting
remained mediocre to bad. At the fifth rehearsal after
the break with the stage-director, Mildred saw Crossley
seated far back in the dusk of the empty theater. It was
his first appearance at rehearsals since the middle of
the first week. As soon as he had satisfied himself that
all was going well, he had given his attention to other
matters where things were not going well. Mildred
knew why he was there--and she acted and sang atrociously.
Ransdell aggravated her nervousness by ostentatiously
trying to help her, by making seemingly
adroit attempts to cover her mistakes--attempts
apparently thwarted and exposed only because she was
hopelessly bad.
In the pause between the second and third acts
Ransdell went down and sat with Crossley, and they engaged
in earnest conversation. The while, the members of the
company wandered restlessly about the stage, making
feeble attempts to lift the gloom with affected cheerfulness.
Ransdell returned to the stage, went up to Mildred,
who was sitting idly turning the leaves of a
``Miss Gower,'' said he, and never had his voice been
so friendly as in these regretful accents, ``don't try to
go on to-day. You're evidently not yourself. Go home
and rest for a few days. We'll get along with your
understudy, Miss Esmond. When Mr. Crossley wants
to put you in again, he'll send for you. You mustn't
be discouraged. I know how beginners take these
things to heart. Don't fret about it. You can't fail
to succeed.''
Mildred rose and, how she never knew, crossed the
stage. She stumbled into the flats, fumbled her way to
the passageway, to her dressing-room. She felt that
she must escape from that theater quickly, or she would
give way to some sort of wild attack of nerves. She
fairly ran through the streets to Mrs. Belloc's, shut
herself in her room. But instead of the relief of a storm of
tears, there came a black, hideous depression. Hour
after hour she sat, almost without motion. The afternoon
waned; the early darkness came. Still she did not
move--could not move. At eight o'clock Mrs. Belloc
knocked. Mildred did not answer. Her door opened
--she had forgotten to lock it. In came Mrs. Belloc.
``Isn't that you, sitting by the window?'' she said.
``Yes,'' replied Mildred.
``I recognized the outline of your hat. Besides, who
else could it be but you? I've saved some dinner for
you. I thought you were still out.''
Mildred did not answer.
``What's the matter?'' said Agnes? ``Ill? bad
``I've lost my position,'' said Mildred.
A pause. Then Mrs. Belloc felt her way across the
room until she was touching the girl. ``Tell me about
it, dear,'' said she.
In a monotonous, lifeless way Mildred told the story.
It was some time after she finished when Agnes said:
``That's bad--bad, but it might be worse. You
must go to see the manager, Crossley.''
``Why?'' said Mildred.
``Tell him what you told me.''
Mildred's silence was dissent.
``It can't do any harm,'' urged Agnes.
``It can't do any good,'' replied Mildred.
``That isn't the way to look at it.''
A long pause. Then Mildred said: ``If I got a
place somewhere else, I'd meet the same thing in
another form.''
``You've got to risk that.''
``Besides, I'd never have had a chance of succeeding
if Mr. Ransdell hadn't taught me and stood behind
It was many minutes before Agnes Belloc said in a
hesitating, restrained voice: ``They say that success
--any kind of success--has its price, and that one has
to be ready to pay that price or fail.''
Again the profound silence. Into it gradually
penetrated the soft, insistent sound of the distant roar of
New York--a cruel, clamorous, devouring sound like
a demand for that price of success. Said Agnes timidly:
``Why not go to see Mr. Ransdell.''
``He wouldn't make it up,'' said Mildred. ``And I
--I couldn't. I tried to marry Stanley Baird for
money--and I couldn't. It would be the same way
now--only more so.''
``But you've got to do something.''
``Yes, and I will.'' Mildred had risen abruptly, was
standing at the window. Agnes Belloc could feel her
soul rearing defiantly at the city into which she was
gazing. ``I will!'' she replied.
``It sounds as if you'd been pushed to where you'd
turn and make a fight,'' said Agnes.
``I hope so,'' said Mildred. ``It's high time.''
She thought out several more or less ingenious
indirect routes into Mr. Crossley's stronghold, for use in
case frontal attack failed. But she did not need them.
Still, the hours she spent in planning them were by no
means wasted. No time is wasted that is spent in desperate,
concentrated thinking about any of the practical
problems of life. And Mildred Gower, as much
as any other woman of her training--or lack of training--
was deficient in ability to use her mind purposefully.
Most of us let our minds act like a sheep in a
pasture--go wandering hither and yon, nibbling at
whatever happens to offer. Only the superior few
deliberately select a pasture, select a line of procedure in
that pasture and keep to it, concentrating upon what
is useful to us, and that alone. So it was excellent
experience for Mildred to sit down and think connectedly
and with wholly absorbed mind upon the phase of her
career most important at the moment. When she had
worked out all the plans that had promise in them she
went tranquilly to sleep, a stronger and a more determined
person, for she had said with the energy that
counts: ``I shall see him, somehow. If none of these
schemes works, I'll work out others. He's got to see
But it was no occult ``bearing down'' that led him
to order her admitted the instant her card came. He
liked her; he wished to see her again; he felt that it
was the decent thing, and somehow not difficult gently
but clearly to convey to her the truth. On her side she,
who had looked forward to the interview with some
nervousness, was at her ease the moment she faced him
alone in that inner office. He had extraordinary personal
charm--more than Ransdell, though Ransdell
had the charm invariably found in a handsome human
being with the many-sided intellect that gives lightness
of mind. Crossley was not intellectual, not in the
least. One had only to glance at him to see that he
was one of those men who reserve all their intelligence
for the practical sides of the practical thing that forms
the basis of their material career. He knew something
of many things, had a wonderful assortment of talents
--could sing, could play piano or violin, could compose,
could act, could do mystifying card tricks, could order
women's clothes as discriminatingly as he could order
his own--all these things a little, but nothing much
except making a success of musical comedy and comic
opera. He had an ambition, carefully restrained in a
closet of his mind, where it could not issue forth and
interfere with his business. This ambition was to be a
giver of grand opera on a superb scale. He regarded
himself as a mere money-maker--was not ashamed of
this, but neither was he proud of it. His ambition then
represented a dream of a rise to something more than
business man, to friend and encourager and wet nurse
to art.
Mildred Gower had happened to set his imagination
to working. The discovery that she was one of those
whose personalities rouse high expectations only to mock
them had been a severe blow to his confidence in his own
judgment. Though he pretended to believe, and had
the habit of saying that he was ``weak and soft,'' was
always being misled by his good nature, he really
believed himself an unerring judge of human beings, and,
as his success evidenced, he was not far wrong. Thus,
though convinced that Mildred was a ``false alarm,''
his secret vanity would not let him release his original
idea. He had the tenacity that is an important element
in all successes; and tenacity become a fixed habit has
even been known to ruin in the end the very careers it
has made.
Said Mildred, in a manner which was astonishingly
unemotional and businesslike: ``I've not come to tattle
and to whine, Mr. Crossley. I've hesitated about coming
at all, partly because I've an instinct it's useless,
partly because what I have to say isn't easy.''
Crossley's expression hardened. The old story!--
excuses, excuses, self-excuse--somebody else to blame.
``If it hadn't been for Mr. Ransdell--the trouble
he took with me, the coaching he gave me--I'd have
been a ridiculous failure at the very first rehearsal. But
--it is to Mr. Ransdell that my failure is due.''
``My dear Miss Gower,'' said Crossley, polite but
cold, ``I regret hearing you say that. The fact is
very different. Not until you had done so--so
unacceptably at several rehearsals that news of it reached
me by another way--not until I myself went to Mr.
Ransdell about you did he admit that there could be a
possibility of a doubt of your succeeding. I had to go
to rehearsal myself and directly order him to restore
Miss Esmond and lay you off.''
Mildred was not unprepared. She received this
tranquilly. ``Mr. Ransdell is a very clever man,'' said she
with perfect good humor. ``I've no hope of convincing
you, but I must tell my side.''
And clearly and simply, with no concealments through
fear of disturbing his high ideal of her ladylike delicacy,
she told him the story. He listened, seated well
back in his tilted desk-chair, his gaze upon the ceiling.
When she finished he held his pose a moment, then got
up and paced the length of the office several times, his
hands in his pockets. He paused, looked keenly at her,
a good-humored smile in those eyes of his so fascinating
to women because of their frank wavering of an inconstancy
it would indeed be a triumph to seize and hold.
Said he:
``And your bad throat? Did Ransdell give you a
She colored. He had gone straight at the weak
``If you'd been able to sing,'' he went on, ``nobody
could have done you up.''
She could not gather herself together for speech.
``Didn't you know your voice wasn't reliable when
you came to me?''
``Yes,'' she admitted.
``And wasn't that the REAL reason you had given up
grand opera?'' pursued he mercilessly.
``The reason was what I told you--lack of money,''
replied she. ``I did not go into the reason why I lacked
money. Why should I when, even on my worst days,
I could get through all my part in a musical comedy--
except songs that could be cut down or cut out? If I
could have made good at acting, would you have given
me up on account of my voice?''
``Not if you had been good enough,'' he admitted.
``Then I did not get my engagement on false pretenses?''
``No. You are right. Still, your fall-down as a
singer is the important fact. Don't lose sight of it.''
``I shan't,'' said she tersely.
His eyes were frankly laughing. ``As to Ransdell
--what a clever trick! He's a remarkable man. If
he weren't so shrewd in those little ways, he might have
been a great man. Same old story--just a little too
smart, and so always doing the little thing and missing
the big thing. Yes, he went gunning for you--and
got you.'' He dropped into his chair. He thought a
moment, laughed aloud, went on: ``No doubt he has
worked that same trick many a time. I've suspected it
once or twice, but this time he fooled me. He got you,
Miss Gower, and I can do nothing. You must see that
I can't look after details. And I can't give up as
invaluable a man as Ransdell. If I put you back, he'd
put you out--would make the piece fail rather than let
you succeed.''
Mildred was gazing somberly at the floor.
``It's hard lines--devilish hard lines,'' he went on
sympathetically. ``But what can I do?''
``What can I do?'' said Mildred.
``Do as all people do who succeed--meet the conditions.''
``I'm not prepared to go as far as that, at least not
yet,'' said she with bitter sarcasm. ``Perhaps when
I'm actually starving and in rags--''
``A very distressing future,'' interrupted Crossley.
``But--I didn't make the world. Don't berate me.
Be sensible--and be honest, Miss Gower, and tell me--
how could I possibly protect you and continue to give
successful shows? If you can suggest any feasible way,
I'll take it.''
``No, there isn't any way,'' replied she, rising to go.
He rose to escort her to the hall door. ``Personally,
the Ransdell sort of thing is--distasteful to me. Perhaps
if I were not so busy I might be forced by my own
giddy misconduct to take less high ground. I've
observed that the best that can be said for human nature
at its best is that it is as well behaved as its real
temptations permit. He was making you, you know. You've
admitted it.''
``There's no doubt about that,'' said Mildred.
``Mind you, I'm not excusing him. I'm simply
explaining him. If your voice had been all right--if
you could have stood to any degree the test he put you
to, the test of standing alone--you'd have defeated
him. He wouldn't have dared go on. He's too shrewd
to think a real talent can be beaten.''
The strong lines, the latent character, in Mildred's
face were so strongly in evidence that looking at her
then no one would have thought of her beauty or even
of her sex, but only of the force that resists all and
overcomes all. ``Yes--the voice,'' said she. ``The voice.''
``If it's ever reliable, come to see me. Until then--''
He put out his hand. When she gave him hers, he held
it in a way that gave her no impulse to draw back.
``You know the conditions of success now. You must
prepare to meet them. If you put yourself at the mercy
of the Ransdells--or any other of the petty intriguers
that beset every avenue of success--you must take the
consequences, you must conciliate them as best you can.
If you don't wish to be at their mercy, you must do
your part.''
She nodded. He released her hand, opened the hall
door. He said:
``Forgive my little lecture. But I like you, and I
can't help having hope of you.'' He smiled charmingly,
his keen, inconstant eyes dimming. ``Perhaps I
hope because you're young and extremely lovely and I
am pitifully susceptible. You see, you'd better go.
Every man's a Ransdell at heart where pretty women
are concerned.''
She did not leave the building. She went to the
elevator and asked the boy where she could find Signor
Moldini. His office was the big room on the third floor
where voice candidates were usually tried out, three days
in the week. At the moment he was engaged. Mildred,
seated in the tiny anteroom, heard through the glass
door a girl singing, or trying to sing. It was a
distressing performance, and Mildred wondered that
Moldini could be so tolerant as to hear her through. He
came to the door with her, thanked her profusely, told
her he would let her know whenever there was an opening
``suited to your talents.'' As he observed Mildred,
he was still sighing and shaking his head over the
departed candidate.
``Ugly and ignorant!'' he groaned. ``Poor
creature! Poor, poor creature. She makes three dollars a
week--in a factory owned by a great philanthropist.
Three dollars a week. And she has no way to make a
cent more. Miss Gower, they talk about the sad,
naughty girls who sell themselves in the street to piece
out their wages. But think, dear young lady, how
infinitely better of they are than the ugly ones who can't
piece out their wages.''
There he looked directly at her for the first time.
Before she could grasp the tragic sadness of his idea,
he, with the mobility of candid and highly sensitized
natures, shifted from melancholy to gay, for in looking
at her he had caught only the charm of dress, of face,
of arrangement of hair. ``What a pleasure!'' he
exclaimed, bursting into smiles and seizing and kissing her
gloved hands. ``Voice like a bird, face like an angel
--only not TOO good, no, not TOO good. But it is so
rare--to look as one sings, to sing as one looks.''
For once, compliment, sincere compliment from one
whose opinion was worth while, gave Mildred pain. She
burst out with her news: ``Signor Moldini, I've lost
my place in the company. My voice has gone back
on me.''
Usually Moldini abounded in the consideration of fine
natures that have suffered deeply from lack of consideration.
But he was so astounded that he could only stare
stupidly at her, smoothing his long greasy hair with his
thin brown hand.
``It's all my fault; I don't take care of myself,'' she
went on. ``I don't take care of my health. At least,
I hope that's it.''
``Hope!'' he said, suddenly angry.
``Hope so, because if it isn't that, then I've no chance
for a career,'' explained she.
He looked at her feet, pointed an uncannily long
forefinger at them. ``The crossings and sidewalks are
slush--and you, a singer, without overshoes! Lunacy!
``I've never worn overshoes?'' said Mildred apologetically.
``Don't tell me! I wish not to hear. It makes me
--like madness here.'' He struck his low sloping brow
with his palm. ``What vanity! That the feet may
look well to the passing stranger, no overshoes!
Rheumatism, sore throat, colds, pneumonia. Is it not
disgusting. If you were a man I should swear in all the
languages I know--which are five, including Hungarian,
and when one swears in Hungarian it is `going
some,' as you say in America. Yes, it is going quite
``I shall wear overshoes,'' said Mildred.
``And indigestion--you have that?''
``A little, I guess.''
``Much--much, I tell you!'' cried Moldini, shaking
the long finger at her. ``You Americans! You eat
too fast and you eat too much. That is why you are
always sick, and consulting the doctors who give the
medicines that make worse, not better. Yes, you
Americans are like children. You know nothing. Sing?
Americans cannot sing until they learn that a stomach
isn't a waste-basket, to toss everything into. You have
been to that throat specialist, Hicks?''
``Ah, yes,'' said Mildred brightening. ``He said
there was nothing organically wrong.''
``He is an ass, and a criminal. He ruins throats.
He likes to cut, and he likes to spray. He sprays those
poisons that relieve colds and paralyze the throat and
cords. Americans sing? It is to laugh! They have
too many doctors; they take too many pills. Do you
know what your national emblem should be? A dollarsign--
yes. But that for all nations. No, a pill--a
pill, I tell you. You take pills?''
``Now and then,'' said Mildred, laughing. ``I admit
I have several kinds always on hand.''
``You see!'' cried he triumphantly. ``No, it is not
mere art that America needs, but more sense about
eating--and to keep away from the doctors. People full
of pills, they cannot make poems and pictures, and write
operas and sing them. Throw away those pills, dear
young lady, I implore you.''
``Signor Moldini, I've come to ask you to help
Instantly the Italian cleared his face of its halfhumorous,
half-querulous expression. In its place came
a grave and courteous eagerness to serve her that was a
pleasure, even if it was not altogether sincere. And
Mildred could not believe it sincere. Why should he
care what became of her, or be willing to put himself
out for her?
``You told me one day that you had at one time
taught singing,'' continued she.
``Until I was starved out?'' replied he. ``I told
people the truth. If they could not sing I said so. If
they sang badly I told them why, and it was always the
upset stomach, the foolish food, and people will not take
care about food. They will eat what they please, and
they say eating is good for them, and that anyone who
opposes them is a crank. So most of my pupils left,
except those I taught for nothing--and they did not
heed me, and came to nothing.''
``You showed me in ten minutes one day how to cure
my worst fault. I've sung better, more naturally ever
``You could sing like the birds. You do--almost.
You could be taught to sing as freely and sweetly and
naturally as a flower gives perfume. That is YOUR
divine gift, young lady song as pure and fresh as a
bird's song raining down through the leaves from the
``I have no money. I've got to get it, and I shall
get it,'' continued Mildred. ``I want you to teach me
--at any hour that you are free. And I want to know
how much you will charge, so that I shall know how
much to get.''
``Two dollars a lesson. Or, if you take six lessons
a week, ten dollars. Those were my terms. I could
not take less.''
``It is too little,'' said Mildred. ``The poorest kinds
of teachers get five dollars an hour--and teach nothing.''
``Two dollars, ten dollars a week,'' replied he. ``It
is the most I ever could get. I will not take more from
``It is too little,'' said she. ``But I'll not insist--
for obvious reasons. Now, if you'll give me your home
address, I'll go. When I get the money, I'll write to
``But wait!'' cried he, as she rose to depart. ``Why
so hurried? Let us see. Take of the wrap. Step behind
the screen and loosen your corset. Perhaps even
you could take it off?''
``Not without undressing,'' said Mildred. ``But I
can do that if it's necessary.'' She laughed queerly.
``From this time on I'll do ANYTHING that's necessary.''
``No,--never mind. The dress of woman--of
your kind of women. It is not serious.'' He laughed
grimly. ``As for the other kind, their dress is the only
serious thing about them. It is a mistake to think that
women who dress badly are serious. My experience has
been that they are the most foolish of all. Fashionable
dress--it is part of a woman's tools. It shows that
she is good at her business. The women who try to
dress like men, they are good neither at men's business
nor at women's.''
This, while Mildred was behind the screen, loosening
her corset--though, in fact, she wore it so loose at all
times that she inconvenienced herself simply to show her
willingness to do as she was told. When she came out,
Moldini put her through a rigid physical examination
--made her breathe while he held one hand on her
stomach, the other on her back, listened at her heart,
opened wide her throat and peered down, thrust his long
strong fingers deep into the muscles of her arms, her
throat, her chest, until she had difficulty in not crying
out with pain.
``The foundation is there,'' was his verdict. ``You
have a good body, good muscles, but flabby--a lady's
muscles, not an opera singer's. And you are stiff--
not so stiff as when you first came here, but stiff for a
professional. Ah, we must go at this scientifically,
``You will teach me to breathe--and how to produce
my voice naturally?''
``I will teach you nothing,'' replied he. ``I will tell
you what to do, and you will teach yourself. You must
get strong--strong in the supple way--and then you
will sing as God intended. The way to sing, dear
young lady, is to sing. Not to breathe artificially, and
make faces, and fuss with your throat, but simply to
drop your mouth and throat open and let it out!''
Mildred produced from her hand-bag the Keith
paper. ``What do YOU think of that?'' she asked.
Presently he looked up from his reading. ``This
part I have seen before,'' said he. ``It is Lucia Rivi's.
Her cousin, Lotta Drusini, showed it to me--she was
a great singer also.''
``You approve of it?''
``If you will follow that for two years, faithfully,
you will be securely great, and then you will follow it
all your singing life--and it will be long. But
remember, dear young lady, I said IF you follow it, and
I said faithfully. I do not believe you can.''
``Why not?'' said Mildred.
``Because that means self-denial, colossal self-denial.
You love things to eat--yes?''
Mildred nodded.
``We all do,'' said Moldini. ``And we hate routine,
and we like foolish, aimless little pleasures of all kinds.''
``And it will be two years before I can try grand
opera--can make my living?'' said Mildred slowly.
``I did not say that. I said, before you would be
great. No, you can sing, I think, in--wait.''
Moldini flung rapidly through an enormous mass of
music on a large table. ``Ah, here!'' he cried, and he
showed her a manuscript of scales. ``Those two papers.
It does not look much? Well, I have made it
up, myself. And when you can sing those two papers
perfectly, you will be a greater singer than any that
ever lived.'' He laughed delightedly. ``Yes, it is all
there--in two pages. But do not weep, dear lady,
because you will never sing them perfectly. You will do
very well if-- Always that if, remember! Now, let
us see. Take this, sit in the chair, and begin. Don't
bother about me. I expect nothing. Just do the best
you can.''
Desperation, when it falls short of despair, is the
best word for achievement. Mildred's voice, especially
at the outset, was far from perfect condition. Her
high notes, which had never been developed properly,
were almost bad. But she acquitted herself admirably
from the standpoint of showing what her possibilities
were. And Moldini, unkempt, almost unclean, but as
natural and simple and human a soul as ever paid the
penalties of poverty and obscurity and friendlessness
for being natural and simple and human, exactly suited
her peculiar temperament. She knew that he liked her,
that he believed in her; she knew that he was as
sympathetic toward her as her own self, that there was no
meanness anywhere in him. So she sang like a bird--
a bird that was not too well in soul or in body, but still
a bird out in the sunshine, with the airs of spring cheering
his breast and its foliage gladdening his eyes. He
kept her at it for nearly an hour. She saw that he
was pleased, that he had thought out some plan and
was bursting to tell her, but had forbidden himself to
speak of it. He said:
``You say you have no money?''
``No, but I shall get it.''
``You may have to pay high for it--yes?''
She colored, but did not flinch. ``At worst, it will be
--unpleasant, but that's all.''
``Wait one--two days--until you hear from me.
I may--I do not say will, but may--get it. Yes, I
who have nothing.'' He laughed gayly. ``And we--
you and I--we will divide the spoils.'' Gravely. ``Do
not misunderstand. That was my little joke. If I get
the money for you it will be quite honorable and businesslike.
So--wait, dear young lady.''
As she was going, she could not resist saying:
``You are SURE I can sing?--IF, of course--always the if.''
``It is not to be doubted.''
``How well, do you think?''
``You mean how many dollars a night well? You
mean as well as this great singer or that? I do not
know. And you are not to compare yourself with anyone
but yourself. You will sing as well as Mildred
Gower at her best.''
For some reason her blood went tingling through her
veins. If she had dared she would have kissed him.
THAT same afternoon Donald Keith, arrived at the
top of Mrs. Belloc's steps, met Mildred coming out.
Seeing their greeting, one would have thought they had
seen each other but a few minutes before or were casual
acquaintances. Said she:
``I'm going for a walk.''
``Let's take the taxi,'' said he.
There it stood invitingly at the curb. She felt tired.
She disliked walking. She wished to sit beside him and
be whirled away--out of the noisy part of the city, up
where the air was clean and where there were no crowds.
But she had begun the regimen of Lucia Rivi. She
hesitated. What matter if she began now or put off
beginning until after this one last drive?
``No, we will walk,'' said she.
``But the streets are in frightful condition.''
She thrust out a foot covered with a new and shiny
``Let's drive to the park then. We'll walk there.''
``No. If I get into the taxi, I'll not get out. Send
it away.''
When they were moving afoot up Madison Avenue,
he said: ``What's the matter? This isn't like you.''
``I've come to my senses,'' replied she. ``It may be
too late, but I'm going to see.''
``When I called on Mrs. Brindley the other day,''
said he, ``she had your note, saying that you were going
into musical comedy with Crossley.''
``That's over,'' said she. ``I lost my voice, and I
lost my job.''
``So I heard,'' said he. ``I know Crossley. I
dropped in to see him this morning, and he told me
about a foolish, fashionable girl who made a bluff at
going on the stage--he said she had a good voice and
was a swell looker, but proved to be a regular `fourflusher.'
I recognized you.''
``Thanks,'' said she dryly.
``So, I came to see you.''
She inquired about Mrs. Brindley and then about
Stanley Baird. Finding that he was in Italy, she
inquired: ``Do you happen to know his address?''
``I'll get it and send it to you. He has taken a house
at Monte Carlo for the winter.''
``And you?''
``I shall stay here--I think.''
``You may join him?''
``It depends''--he looked at her--``upon you.''
He could put a wonderful amount of meaning into a
slight inflection. She struggled--not in vain--to
keep from changing expression.
``You realize now that the career is quite hopeless?''
said he.
She did not answer.
``You do not like the stage life?''
``And the stage life does not like you?''
``Your voice lacks both strength and stability?''
``And you have found the one way by which you
could get on--and you don't like it?''
``Crossley told you?'' said she, the color flaring.
``Your name was not mentioned. You may not
believe it, but Crossley is a gentleman.''
She walked on in silence.
``I did not expect your failure to come so soon--or
in quite that way,'' he went on. ``I got Mrs. Brindley
to exact a promise from you that you'd let her know
about yourself. I called on Mrs. Belloc one day when
you were out, and gave her my confidence and got hers
--and assured myself that you were in good hands.
Crossley's tale gave me--a shock. I came at once.''
``Then you didn't abandon me to my fate, as I
He smiled in his strange way. ``I?--when I loved
you? Hardly.''
``Then you did interest yourself in me because you
cared--precisely as I said,'' laughed she.
``And I should have given you up if you had
succeeded--precisely as I said,'' replied he.
``You wished me to fail?''
``I wished you to fail. I did everything I could to
help you to succeed. I even left you absolutely alone,
set you in the right way--the only way in which anyone
can win success.''
``Yes, you made me throw away the crutches and try
to walk.''
``It was hard to do that. Those strains are very
wearing at my time of life.''
``You never were any younger, and you'll never be
any older,'' laughed she. ``That's your charm--one
of them.''
``Mildred, do you still care?''
``How did you know?'' inquired she mockingly.
``You didn't try to conceal it. I'd not have ventured
to say and do the things I said and did if I hadn't felt
that we cared for each other. But, so long as you were
leading that fatuous life and dreaming those foolish
dreams, I knew we could never be happy.''
``That is true--oh, SO true,'' replied she.
``But now--you have tried, and that has made a
woman of you. And you have failed, and that has
made you ready to be a wife--to be happy in the quiet,
private ways.''
She was silent.
``I can make enough for us both--as much as we
will need or want--as much as you please, if you aren't
too extravagant. And I can do it easily. It's making
little sums--a small income--that's hard in this ridiculous
world. Let's marry, go to California or Europe
for several months, then come back here and live like
human beings.''
She was silent. Block after block they walked along,
as if neither had anything especial in mind, anything
worth the trouble of speech. Finally he said:
``I can't answer--yet,'' said she. ``Not to-day--
not till I've thought.''
She glanced quickly at him. Over his impassive face,
so beautifully regular and, to her, so fascinating, there
passed a quick dark shadow, and she knew that he was
suffering. He laughed quietly, his old careless,
indifferent laugh.
``Oh, yes, you can answer,'' said he. ``You have
She drew in her breath sharply.
``You have refused.''
``Why do you say that, Donald?'' she pleaded.
``To hesitate over a proposal is to refuse,'' said he
with gentle raillery. ``A man is a fool who does not
understand and sheer off when a woman asks for time.''
``You know that I love you,'' she cried.
``I also know that you love something else more.
But it's finished. Let's talk about something else.''
``Won't you let me tell you why I hesitate?'' begged
``It doesn't matter.''
``But it does. Yes, I do refuse, Donald. I'll never
marry you until I am independent. You said a while
ago that what I've been through had made a woman of
me. Not yet. I'm only beginning. I'm still weak--
still a coward. Donald, I must and will be free.''
He looked full at her, with a strange smile in his
brilliant eyes. Said he, with obvious intent to change the
subject: ``Mrs. Brindley's very unhappy that you
haven't been to see her.''
``When you asked me to marry you, the only reason
I almost accepted was because I want someone to support
me. I love you--yes. But it is as one loves
before one has given oneself and has lived the same
life with another. In the ordinary sense, it's love that
I feel. But--do you understand me, dearest?--in
another sense, it's only the hope of love, the belief that
love will come.''
He stopped short and looked at her, his eyes alive with
the stimulus of a new and startling idea.
``If you and I had been everything to each other,
and you were saying `Let us go on living the one life'
and I were hesitating, then you'd be right. And I
couldn't hesitate, Donald. If you were mine, nothing
could make me give you up, but when it's only the hope
of having you, then pride and self-respect have a chance
to be heard.''
He was ready to move on. ``There's something in
that,'' said he, lapsed into his usual seeming of
impassiveness. ``But not much.''
``I never before knew you to fail to understand.''
``I understand perfectly. You care, but you don't
care enough to suit me. I haven't waited all these years
before giving a woman my love, to be content with a
love seated quietly and demurely between pride and selfrespect.''
``You wouldn't marry me until I had failed,'' said
she shrewdly. ``Now you attack me for refusing to
marry you until I've succeeded.''
A slight shrug. ``Proposal withdrawn,'' said he.
``Now let's talk about your career, your plans.''
``I'm beginning to understand myself a little,'' said
she. ``I suppose you think that sort of personal talk
is very silly and vain--and trivial.''
``On the contrary,'' replied he, ``it isn't absolutely
necessary to understand oneself. One is swept on in
the same general direction, anyhow. But understanding
helps one to go faster and steadier.''
``It began, away back, when I was a girl--this idea
of a career. I envied men and despised women, the
sort of women I knew and met with. I didn't realize
why, then. But it was because a man had a chance to
be somebody in himself and to do something, while a
woman was just a--a more or less ornamental
belonging of some man's--what you want me to become
``As far as possible from my idea.''
``Don't you want me to belong to you?''
``As I belong to you.''
``That sounds well, but it isn't what could happen.
The fact is, Donald, that I want to belong to you--
want to be owned by you and to lose myself in you.
And it's that I'm fighting.''
She felt the look he was bending upon her, and
glowed and colored under it, but did not dare to turn
her eyes to meet it. Said he: ``Why fight it? Why
not be happy?''
``Ah, but that's just it,'' cried she. ``I shouldn't
be happy. And I should make you miserable. The
idea of a career--the idea that's rooted deep in me
and can't ever be got out, Donald; it would torment
me. You couldn't kill it, no matter how much you
loved me. I'd yield for the time. Then, I'd go back--
or, if I didn't, I'd be wretched and make you wish you'd
never seen me.''
``I understand,'' said he. ``I don't believe it, but I
``You think I'm deceiving myself, because you saw me
wasting my life, playing the idler and the fool,
pretending I was working toward a career when I was
really making myself fit for nothing but to be Stanley
Baird's mistress.''
``And you're still deceiving yourself. You won't see
the truth.''
``No matter,'' said she. ``I must go on and make a
career--some kind of a career.''
``At what?''
``At grand opera.''
``How'll you get the money?''
``Of Stanley, if necessary. That's why I asked his
address. I shan't ask for much. He'll not refuse.''
``A few minutes ago you were talking of selfrespect.''
``As something I hoped to get. It comes with
independence. I'll pay any price to get it.''
``Any price?'' said he, and never before had she seen
his self-control in danger.
``I shan't ask Stanley until my other plans have
``What other plans?''
``I am going to ask Mrs. Belloc for the money. She
could afford to give--to lend--the little I'd want.
I'm going to ask her in such a way that it will be as
hard as possible for her to refuse. That isn't ladylike,
but--I've dropped out of the lady class.''
``And if she refuses?''
``Then I'll go one after another to several very
rich men I know, and ask them as a business proposition.''
``Go in person,'' advised he with an undisguised sneer.
``I'll raise no false hopes in them,'' she said. ``If
they choose to delude themselves, I'll not go out of my
way to undeceive them--until I have to.''
``So THIS is Mildred Gower?''
``You made that remark before.''
``When Stanley showed you a certain photograph of me.''
``I remember. This is the same woman.''
``It's me,'' laughed she. ``The real me. You'd not
care to be married to her?''
``No,'' said he. Then, after a brief silence: ``Yet,
curiously, it was that woman with whom I fell in love.
No, not exactly in love, for I've been thinking about
what you said as to the difference between love in posse
and love in esse, to put it scientifically--between love
as a prospect and love as a reality.''
``And I was right,'' said she. ``It explains why
marriages go to pieces and affairs come to grief. Those
lovers mistook love's promise to come for fulfillment.
Love doesn't die. It simply fails to come--doesn't
redeem its promise.''
``That's the way it might be with us,'' said he.
``That's the way it would be with us,'' rejoined she.
He did not answer. When they spoke again it was
of indifferent matters. An hour and a half after they
started, they were at Mrs. Belloc's again. She asked
him to have tea in the restaurant next door. He
declined. He went up the steps with her, said:
``Well, I wish you luck. Moldini is the best teacher
in America.''
``How did you know Moldini was to teach me?''
exclaimed she.
He smiled, put out his hand in farewell. ``Crossley
told me. Good-by.''
``He told Crossley! I wonder why.'' She was so
interested in this new phase that she did not see his
outstretched hand, or the look of bitter irony that came
into his eyes at this proof of the subordinate place love
and he had in her thoughts.
``I'm nervous and anxious,'' she said apologetically.
``Moldini told me he had some scheme about getting
the money. If he only could! But no such luck for
me,'' she added sadly.
Keith hesitated, debated with himself, said: ``You
needn't worry. Moldini got it--from Crossley.
Fifty dollars a week for a year.''
``You got Crossley to do it?''
``No. He had done it before I saw him. He had
just promised Moldini and was cursing himself as `weak
and soft.' But that means nothing. You may be sure
he did it because Moldini convinced him it was a good
She was radiant. She had not vanity enough where
he was concerned to believe that he deeply cared, that her
joy would give him pain because it meant forgetfulness
of him. Nor was she much impressed by the
expression of his eyes. And even as she hurt him, she
made him love her the more; for he appreciated how
rare was the woman who, in such circumstances, does
not feed her vanity with pity for the poor man suffering
so horribly because he is not to get her precious
It flashed upon her why he had not offered to help
her. ``There isn't anybody like you,'' said she, with no
explanation of her apparent irrelevancy.
``Don't let Moldini see that you know,'' said he, with
characteristic fine thoughtfulness for others in the midst
of his own unhappiness. ``It would deprive him of a
great pleasure.''
He was about to go. Suddenly her eyes filled and,
opening the outer door, she drew him in. ``Donald,'' she
said, ``I love you. Take me in your arms and make
me behave.''
He looked past her; his arms hung at his sides. Said
he: ``And to-night I'd get a note by messenger saying
that you had taken it all back. No, the girl in the
photograph--that was you. She wasn't made to be MY
wife. Or I to be her husband. I love you because
you are what you are. I should not love you if you
were the ordinary woman, the sort who marries and
merges. But I'm old enough to spare myself--and
you--the consequences of what it would mean if we
were anything but strangers to each other.''
``Yes, you must keep away--altogether. If you
didn't, I'd be neither the one thing nor the other, but
just a poor failure.''
``You'll not fail,'' said he. ``I know it. It's
written in your face.'' He looked at her. She was not
looking at him, but with eyes gazing straight ahead
was revealing that latent, inexplicable power which,
when it appeared at the surface, so strongly dominated
and subordinated her beauty and her sex. He shut his
teeth together hard and glanced away.
``You will not fail,'' he repeated bitterly. ``And
that's the worst of it.''
Without another word, without a handshake, he went.
And she knew that, except by chance, he would never
see her again--or she him.
Moldini, disheveled and hysterical with delight and
suspense, was in the drawing-room--had been there
half an hour. At first she could hardly force her mind
to listen; but as he talked on and on, he captured her
attention and held it.
The next day she began with Moldini, and put the
Lucia Rivi system into force in all its more than
conventual rigors. And for about a month she worked
like a devouring flame. Never had there been such
energy, such enthusiasm. Mrs. Belloc was alarmed for
her health, but the Rivi system took care of that; and
presently Mrs. Belloc was moved to say, ``Well, I've
often heard that hard work never harmed anyone, but
I never believed it. Now I know the truth.''
Then Mildred went to Hanging Rock to spend Saturday
to Monday with her mother. Presbury, reduced
now by various infirmities--by absolute deafness, by
dimness of sight, by difficulty in walking--to where
eating was his sole remaining pleasure, or, indeed,
distraction, spent all his time in concocting dishes for himself.
Mildred could not resist--and who can when
seated at table with the dish before one's eyes and under
one's nose. The Rivi regimen was suspended for the
visit. Mildred, back in New York and at work again,
found that she was apparently none the worse for her
holiday, was in fact better. So she drifted into the
way of suspending the regimen for an evening now
and then--when she dined with Mrs. Brindley, or when
Agnes Belloc had something particularly good. All
went well for a time. Then--a cold. She neglected
it, feeling sure it could not stay with one so soundly
healthy through and through. But it did stay; it
grew worse. She decided that she ought to take medicine
for it. True, starvation was the cure prescribed
by the regimen, but Mildred could not bring herself to
two or three days of discomfort. Also, many people
told her that such a cure was foolish and even dangerous.
The cold got better, got worse, got better. But
her throat became queer, and at last her voice left her.
She was ashamed to go to Moldini in such a condition.
She dropped in upon Hicks, the throat specialist. He
``fixed her up'' beautifully with a few sprayings. A
week--and her voice left her again, and Hicks could
not bring it back. As she left his office, it was raining
--an icy, dreary drizzle. She splashed her way home,
in about the lowest spirits she had ever known. She
locked her door and seated herself at the window and
stared out, while the storm raged within her. After
an hour or two she wrote and sent Moldini a note:
``I have been making a fool of myself. I'll not come
again until I am all right. Be patient with me. I
don't think this will occur again.'' She first wrote
``happen.'' She scratched it out and put ``occur'' in
its place. Not that Moldini would have noted the slip;
simply that she would not permit herself the satisfaction
of the false and self-excusing ``happen.'' It had
not been a ``happen.'' It had been a deliberate folly,
a lapse to the Mildred she had buried the day she
sent Donald Keith away. When the note was on its
way, she threw out all her medicines, and broke the
new spraying apparatus Hicks had instructed her to
She went back to the Rivi regime. A week passed,
and she was little better. Two weeks, and she began
to mend. But it was six weeks before the last traces of
her folly disappeared. Moldini said not a word, gave
no sign. Once more her life went on in uneventful,
unbroken routine--diet, exercise, singing--singing,
exercise, diet--no distractions except an occasional
visit to the opera with Moldini, and she was hating
opera now. All her enthusiasm was gone. She simply
worked doggedly, drudged, slaved.
When the days began to grow warm, Mrs. Belloc said:
``I suppose you'll soon be off to the country? Are you
going to visit Mrs. Brindley?''
``No,'' said Mildred.
``Then come with me.''
``Thank you, but I can't do it.''
``But you've got to rest somewhere.''
``Rest?'' said Mildred. ``Why should I rest?''
Mrs. Belloc started to protest, then abruptly
changed. ``Come to think of it, why should you?
You're in perfect health, and it'll be time enough to rest
when you `get there.' ''
``I'm tired through and through,'' said Mildred,
``but it isn't the kind of tired that could be rested
except by throwing up this frightful nightmare of a
``And you can't do that.''
``I won't,'' said Mildred, her lips compressed and her
eyes narrowed.
She and Moldini--and fat, funny little Mrs. Moldini
--went to the mountains. And she worked on. She
would listen to none of the suggestions about the dangers
of keeping too steadily at it, about working oneself
into a state of staleness, about the imperative
demands of the artistic temperament for rest, change,
variety. ``It may be so,'' she said to Mrs. Brindley.
``But I've gone mad. I can no more drop this routine
than--than you could take it up and keep to it for a
``I'll admit I couldn't,'' said Cyrilla. ``And
Mildred, you're making a mistake.''
``Then I'll have to suffer for it. I must do what
seems best to me.''
``But I'm sure you're wrong. I never knew anyone
to act as you're acting. Everyone rests and freshens
Mildred lost patience, almost lost her temper.
``You're trying to tempt me to ruin myself,'' she said.
``Please stop it. You say you never knew anyone to
do as I'm doing. Very well. But how many girls
have you known who have succeeded?''
Cyrilla hesitatingly confessed that she had known
``Yet you've known scores who've tried.''
``But they didn't fail because they didn't work enough.
Many of them worked too much.''
Mildred laughed. ``How do you know why they
failed?'' said she. ``You haven't thought about it as
I have. You haven't LIVED it. Cyrilla, I served my
apprenticeship at listening to nonsense about careers.
I want to have nothing to do with inspiration, and
artistic temperament, and spontaneous genius, and all
the rest of the lies. Moldini and I know what we are
about. So I'm living as those who have succeeded lived
and not as those who have failed.''
Cyrilla was silenced, but not convinced. The
amazing improvement in Mildred's health, the splendid slim
strength and suppleness of her body, the new and stable
glories of her voice--all these she knew about, but they
did not convince her. She believed in work, in hard
work, but to her work meant the music itself. She felt
that the Rivi system and the dirty, obscure little Moldini
between them were destroying Mildred by destroying
all ``temperament'' in her.
It was the old, old criticism of talent upon genius.
Genius has always won in its own time and generation
all the world except talent. To talent contemporaneous
genius, genius seen at its patient, plodding toil,
seems coarse and obvious and lacking altogether in
inspiration. Talent cannot comprehend that creation
is necessarily in travail and in all manner of unloveliness.
Mildred toiled on like a slave under the lash, and
Moldini and the Rivi system were her twin relentless
drivers. She learned to rule herself with an iron hand.
She discovered the full measure of her own deficiencies,
and she determined to make herself a competent lyric
soprano, perhaps something of a dramatic soprano.
She dismissed from her mind all the ``high'' thoughts,
all the dreams wherewith the little people, even the
little people who achieve a certain success, beguile the
tedium of their journey along the hard road. She was
not working to ``interpret the thought of the great
master'' or to ``advance the singing art yet higher'' or
even to win fame and applause. She had one object
--to earn her living on the grand opera stage, and
to earn it as a prima donna because that meant the best
living. She frankly told Cyrilla that this was her
object, when Cyrilla forced her one day to talk about her
aims. Cyrilla looked pained, broke a melancholy silence
to say:
``I know you don't mean that. You are too
intelligent. You sing too well.''
``Yes, I mean just that,'' said Mildred. ``A living.''
``At any rate, don't say it. You give such a false
``To whom? Not to Crossley, and not to Moldini,
and why should I care what any others think? They
are not paying my expenses. And regardless of what
they think now, they'll be at my feet if I succeed, and
they'll put me under theirs if I don't.''
``How hard you have grown,'' cried Cyrilla.
``How sensible, you mean. I've merely stopped
being a self-deceiver and a sentimentalist.''
``Believe me, my dear, you are sacrificing your
character to your ambition.''
``I never had any real character until ambition came,''
replied Mildred. ``The soft, vacillating, sweet and
weak thing I used to have wasn't character.''
``But, dear, you can't think it superior character to
center one's whole life about a sordid ambition.''
``Merely to make a living.''
Mildred laughed merrily and mockingly. ``You call
that sordid? Then for heaven's sake what is high?
You had left you money enough to live on, if you have
to. No one left me an income. So, I'm fighting for
independence--and that means for self-respect. Is
self-respect sordid, Cyrilla!''
And then Cyrilla understood--in part, not altogether.
She lived in the ordinary environment of flapdoodle
and sweet hypocrisy and sentimentality; and
none such can more than vaguely glimpse the realities.
Toward the end of the summer Moldini said:
``It's over. You have won.''
Mildred looked at him in puzzled surprise.
``You have learned it all. You will succeed. The
rest is detail.''
``But I've learned nothing as yet,'' protested she.
``You have learned to teach yourself,'' replied the
Italian. ``You at last can hear yourself sing, and you
know when you sing right and when you sing wrong,
and you know how to sing right. The rest is easy.
Ah, my dear Miss Gower, you will work NOW!''
Mildred did not understand. She was even daunted by
that ``You will work NOW!'' She had been thinking
that to work harder was impossible. What did he expect
of her? Something she feared she could not realize.
But soon she understood--when he gave her songs,
then began to teach her a role, the part of Madame
Butterfly herself. ``I can help you only a little there,''
he said. ``You will have to go to my friend Ferreri
for roles. But we can make a beginning.''
She had indeed won. She had passed from the stage
where a career is all drudgery--the stage through
which only the strong can pass without giving up and
accepting failure or small success. She had passed
to the stage where there is added pleasure to the drudgery,
for, the drudgery never ceases. And what was the
pleasure? Why, more work--always work--bringing
into use not merely the routine parts of the mind,
but also the imaginative and creative faculties. She
had learned her trade--not well enough, for no
superior man or woman ever feels that he or she knows
the trade well enough--but well enough to begin to use
Said Moldini: ``When the great one, who has
achieved and arrived, is asked for advice by the sweet,
enthusiastic young beginner, what is the answer?
Always the same: `My dear child, don't! Go back
home, and marry and have babies.' You know why
And Mildred, looking back over the dreary drudgery
that had been, and looking forward to the drudgery
yet to come, dreary enough for all the prospects of a
few flowers and a little sun--Mildred said: ``Indeed
I do, maestro.''
``They think it means what you Americans call
morals--as if that were all of morality! But it doesn't
mean morals; not at all. Sex and the game of sex is
all through life everywhere--in the home no less than
in the theater. In town and country, indoors and out,
sunlight, moonlight, and rain--always it goes on.
And the temptations and the struggles are no more and
no less on the stage than off. No, there is too much
talk about `morals.' The reason the great one says
`don't' is the work.'' He shook his head sadly.
``They do not realize, those eager young beginners.
They read the story-books and the lives of the great
successes and they hear the foolish chatter of commonplace
people--those imbecile `cultured' people who
know nothing! And they think a career is a triumphal
march. What think you, Miss Gower--eh?''
``If I had known I'd not have had the courage, or
the vanity, to begin,'' said she. ``And if I could
realize what's before me, I probably shouldn't have the
courage to go on.''
``But why not? Haven't you also learned that it's
just the day's work, doing every day the best you can?''
``Oh, I shall go on,'' rejoined she.
``Yes,'' said he, looking at her with awed admiration.
``It is in your face. I saw it there, the day you
came--after you sang the `Batti Batti' the first time
and failed.''
``There was nothing to me then.''
``The seed,'' replied he. ``And I saw it was an acorn,
not the seed of one of those weak plants that spring
up overnight and wither at noon. Yes, you will win.''
He laughed gayly, rolled his eyes and kissed his fingers.
``And then you can afford to take a little holiday, and
fall in love. Love! Ah, it is a joyous pastime--
for a holiday. Only for a holiday, mind you. I shall
be there and I shall seize you and take you back to your
In the following winter and summer Crossley
disclosed why he had been sufficiently interested in grand
opera to begin to back undeveloped voices. Crossley
was one of those men who are never so practical as
when they profess to be, and fancy themselves, impractical.
He became a grand-opera manager and organized
for a season that would surpass in interest any
New York had known. Thus it came about that on a
March night Mildred made her debut.
The opera was ``Faust.'' As the three principal
men singers were all expensive--the tenor alone,
twelve hundred a night--Crossley put in a comparatively
modestly salaried Marguerite. She was seized
with a cold at the last moment, and Crossley ventured to
substitute Mildred Gower. The Rivi system was still in
force. She was ready--indeed, she was always ready,
as Rivi herself had been. And within ten minutes of
her coming forth from the wings, Mildred Gower had
leaped from obscurity into fame. It happens so, often
in the story books, the newly gloriously arrived one
having been wholly unprepared, achieving by sheer force
of genius. It occurs so, occasionally, in life--never
when there is lack of preparation, never by force of
unassisted genius, never by accident. Mildred
succeeded because she had got ready to succeed. How could
she have failed?
Perhaps you read the stories in the newspapers--
how she had discovered herself possessed of a marvelous
voice, how she had decided to use it in public, how
she had coached for a part, had appeared, had become
one of the world's few hundred great singers all in a
single act of an opera. You read nothing about what
she went through in developing a hopelessly uncertain
and far from strong voice into one which, while not
nearly so good as thousands of voices that are tried
and cast aside, yet sufficed, with her will and her
concentration back of it, to carry her to fame--and
That birdlike voice! So sweet and spontaneous, so
true, so like the bird that ``sings of summer in full
throated ease!'' No wonder the audience welcomed it
with cheers on cheers. Greater voices they had heard,
but none more natural--and that was Moldini.
He came to her dressing-room at the intermission.
He stretched out his arms, but emotion overcame him,
and he dropped to a chair and sobbed and cried and
laughed. She came and put her arms round him and
kissed him. She was almost calm. The GREAT fear had
seized her--Can I keep what I have won?
``I am a fool,'' cried Moldini. ``I will agitate you.''
``Don't be afraid of that,'' said she. ``I am nervous,
yes, horribly nervous. But you have taught me
so that I could sing, no matter what was happening.''
It was true. And her body was like iron to the
He looked at her, and though he knew her and had
seen her train herself and had helped in it, he marveled.
``You are happy?'' he said eagerly. ``Surely--yes,
you MUST be happy.''
``More than that,'' answered she. ``You'll have to
find another word than happiness--something bigger
and stronger and deeper.''
``Now you can have your holiday,'' laughed he.
``But''--with mock sternness--``in moderation! He
must be an incident only. With those who win the high
places, sex is an incident--a charming, necessary
incident, but only an incident. He must not spoil your
career. If you allowed that you would be like a mother
who deserts her children for a lover. He must not
touch your career!''
Mildred, giving the last touches to her costume before
the glass, glanced merrily at Moldini by way of it.
``If he did touch it,'' said she, ``how long do you think
he would last with me?''
Moldini paused half-way in his nod of approval, was
stricken with silence and sadness. It would have been
natural and proper for a man thus to put sex beneath
the career. It was necessary for anyone who developed
the strong character that compels success and
holds it. But-- The Italian could not get away from
tradition; woman was made for the pleasure of one
man, not for herself and the world.
``You don't like that, maestro?'' said she, still
observing him in the glass.
``No man would,'' said he, with returning
cheerfulness. ``It hurts man's vanity. And no woman would,
either; you rebuke their laziness and their dependence!''
She laughed and rushed away to fresh triumphs.

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