“Look at those shoes,” said Bill—“twenty-eight dollars.”
Mr. Brancusi looked. “Purty.”
“Made to order.”
“I knew you were a great swell. You didn’t get me up here to show me those shoes, did you?”
“I am not a great swell. Who said I was a great swell?” demanded Bill. “Just because I’ve got more education than most people in show business.”
“And then, you know, you’re a handsome young fellow,” said Brancusi dryly.
“Sure I am—compared to you anyhow. The girls think I must be an actor, till they find out. . . . Got a cigarette? What’s more, I look like a man—which is more than most of these pretty boys round Times Square do.”
“Good-looking. Gentleman. Good shoes. Shot with luck.”
“You’re wrong there,” objected Bill. “Brains. Three years—nine shows—four big hits—only one flop. Where do you see any luck in that?”
A little bored, Brancusi just gazed. What he would have seen—had he not made his eyes opaque and taken to thinking about something else—was a fresh-faced young Irishman exuding aggressiveness and self-confidence until the air of his office was thick with it. Presently, Brancusi knew, Bill would hear the sound of his own voice and be ashamed and retire into his other humor—the quietly superior, sensitive one, the patron of the arts, modelled on the intellectuals of the Theatre Guild. Bill McChesney had not quite decided between the two, such blends are seldom complete before thirty.
“Take Ames, take Hopkins, take Harris—take any of them,” Bill insisted. “What have they got on me? What’s the matter? Do you want a drink?”—seeing Brancusi’s glance wander toward the cabinet on the opposite wall.
“I never drink in the morning. I just wondered who was it keeps on knocking. You ought to make it stop it. I get a nervous fidgets, kind of half crazy, with that kind of thing.”
Bill went quickly to the door and threw it open.
“Nobody,” he said . . . “Hello! What do you want?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” a voice answered; “I’m terribly sorry. I got so excited and I didn’t realize I had this pencil in my hand.”
“What is it you want?”
“I want to see you, and the clerk said you were busy. I have a letter for you from Alan Rogers, the playwright—and I wanted to give it to you personally.”
“I’m busy,” said Bill. “See Mr. Cadorna.”
“I did, but he wasn’t very encouraging, and Mr. Rogers said—”
Brancusi, edging over restlessly, took a quick look at her. She was very young, with beautiful red hair, and more character in her face than her chatter would indicate; it did not occur to Mr. Brancusi that this was due to her origin in Delaney, South Carolina.
“What shall I do?” she inquired, quietly laying her future in Bill’s hands. “I had a letter to Mr. Rogers, and he just gave me this one to you.”
“Well, what do you want me to do—marry you?” exploded Bill.
“I’d like to get a part in one of your plays.”
“Then sit down and wait. I’m busy. . . . Where’s Miss Cohalan?” He rang a bell, looked once more, crossly, at the girl and closed the door of his office. But during the interruption his other mood had come over him, and he resumed his conversation with Brancusi in the key of one who was hand in glove with Reinhardt for the artistic future of the theater.
By 12:30 he had forgotten everything except that he was going to be the greatest producer in the world and that he had an engagement to tell Sol Lincoln about it at lunch. Emerging from his office, he looked expectantly at Miss Cohalan.
“Mr. Lincoln won’t be able to meet you,” she said. “He jus ’is minute called.”
“Just this minute,” repeated Bill, shocked. “All right. Just cross him off that list for Thursday night.”
Miss Cohalan drew a line on a sheet of paper before her.
“Mr. McChesney, now you haven’t forgotten me, have you?”
He turned to the red-headed girl.
“No,” he said vaguely, and then to Miss Cohalan: “That’s all right; ask him for Thursday anyhow. To hell with him.”
He did not want to lunch alone. He did not like to do anything alone now, because contacts were too much fun when one had prominence and power.
“If you would just let me talk to you two minutes—” she began.
“Afraid I can’t now.” Suddenly he realized that she was the most beautiful person he had ever seen in his life.
He stared at her.
“Mr. Rogers told me—”
“Come and have a spot of lunch with me,” he said, and then, with an air of great hurry, he gave Miss Cohalan some quick and contradictory instructions and held open the door.
They stood on Forty-second Street and he breathed his pre-empted air—there is only enough air there for a few people at a time. It was November and the first exhilarating rush of the season was over, but he could look east and see the electric sign of one of his plays, and west and see another. Around the corner was the one he had put on with Brancusi—the last time he would produce anything except alone.
They went to the Bedford, where there was a to-do of waiters and captains as he came in.
“This is ver tractive restaurant,” she said, impressed and on company behavior.
“This is hams’ paradise.” He nodded to several people. “Hello, Jimmy—Bill. . . . Hello there, Jack. . . . That’s Jack Dempsey. . . . I don’t eat here much. I usually eat up at the Harvard Club.”
“Oh, did you go to Harvard? I used to know—”
“Yes.” He hesitated; there were two versions about Harvard, and he decided suddenly on the true one. “Yes, and they had me down for a hick there, but not any more. About a week ago I was out on Long Island at the Gouverneer Haights—very fashionable people—and a couple of Gold Coast boys that never knew I was alive up in Cambridge began pulling this ’Hello, Bill, old boy’ on me.”
He hesitated and suddenly decided to leave the story there.
“What do you want—a job?” he demanded. He remembered suddenly that she had holes in her stockings. Holes in stockings always moved him, softened him.
“Yes, or else I’ve got to go home,” she said. “I want to be a dancer—you know, Russian ballet. But the lessons cost so much, so I’ve got to get a job. I thought it’d give me stage presence anyhow.”
“Oh, no, serious.”
“Well, Pavlova’s a hoofer, isn’t she?”
“Oh, no.” She was shocked at this profanity, but after a moment she continued: “I took with Miss Campbell—Georgia Berriman Campbell—back home—maybe you know her. She took from Ned Wayburn, and she’s really wonderful. She—”
“Yeah?” he said abstractedly. “Well, it’s a tough business—casting agencies bursting with people that can all do anything, till I give them a try. How old are you?”
“I’m twenty-six. Came here four years ago without a cent.”
“I could quit now and be comfortable the rest of my life.”
“Going to take a year off next year—get married. . . . Ever hear of Irene Rikker?”
“I should say! She’s about my favorite of all.”
When they went out into Times Square after a while he said carelessly, “What are you doing now?”
“Why, I’m trying to get a job.”
“I mean right this minute.”
“Do you want to come up to my apartment on Forty-sixth Street and have some coffee?”
Their eyes met, and Emmy Pinkard made up her mind she could take care of herself.
It was a great bright studio apartment with a ten-foot divan, and after she had coffee and he a highball, his arm dropped round her shoulder.
“Why should I kiss you?” she demanded. “I hardly know you, and besides, you’re engaged to somebody else.”
“Oh, that! She doesn’t care.”
“You’re a good girl.”
“Well, I’m certainly not an idiot.”
“All right, go on being a good girl.”
She stood up, but lingered a minute, very fresh and cool, and not upset at all.
“I suppose this means you won’t give me a job?” she asked pleasantly.
He was already thinking about something else—about an interview and a rehearsal—but now he looked at her again and saw that she still had holes in her stockings. He telephoned:
“Joe, this is the Fresh Boy. . . . You didn’t think I knew you called me that, did you? . . . It’s all right. . . . Say, have you got those three girls for the party scene? Well, listen; save one for a Southern kid I’m sending around today.”
He looked at her jauntily, conscious of being such a good fellow.
“Well, I don’t know how to thank you. And Mr. Rogers,” she added audaciously. “Good-by, Mr. McChesney.”
He disdained to answer.
During rehearsal he used to come around a great deal and stand watching with a wise expression, as if he knew everything in people’s minds; but actually he was in a haze about his own good fortune and didn’t see much and didn’t for the moment care. He spent most of his week-ends on Long Island with the fashionable people who had “taken him up.” When Brancusi referred to him as the “big social butterfly,” he would answer, “Well, what about it? Didn’t I go to Harvard? You think they found me in a Grand Street apple cart, like you?” He was well liked among his new friends for his good looks and good nature, as well as his success.
His engagement to Irene Rikker was the most unsatisfactory thing in his life; they were tired of each other but unwilling to put an end to it. Just as, often, the two richest young people in a town are drawn together by the fact, so Bill McChesney and Irene Rikker, borne side by side on waves of triumph, could not spare each other’s nice appreciation of what was due such success. Nevertheless, they indulged in fiercer and more frequent quarrels, and the end was approaching. It was embodied in one Frank Llewellen, a big, fine-looking actor playing opposite Irene. Seeing the situation at once, Bill became bitterly humorous about it; from the second week of rehearsals there was tension in the air.
Meanwhile Emmy Pinkard, with enough money for crackers and milk, and a friend who took her out to dinner, was being happy. Her friend, Easton Hughes from Delaney, was studying at Columbia to be a dentist. He sometimes brought along other lonesome young men studying to be dentists, and at the price, if it can be called that, of a few casual kisses in taxicabs, Emmy dined when hungry. One afternoon she introduced Easton to Bill McChesney at the stage door, and afterward Bill made his facetious jealousy the basis of their relationship.
“I see that dental number has been slipping it over on me again. Well, don’t let him give you any laughing gas is my advice.”
Though their encounters were few, they always looked at each other. When Bill looked at her he stared for an instant as if he had not seen her before, and then remembered suddenly that she was to be teased. When she looked at him she saw many things—a bright day outside, with great crowds of people hurrying through the streets; a very good new limousine that waited at the curb for two people with very good new clothes, who got in and went somewhere that was just like New York, only away, and more fun there. Many times she had wished she had kissed him, but just as many times she was glad she hadn’t; since, as the weeks passed, he grew less romantic, tied up, like the rest of them, to the play’s laborious evolution.
They were opening in Atlantic City. A sudden moodiness apparent to everyone, came over Bill. He was short with the director and sarcastic with the actors. This, it was rumored, was because Irene Rikker had come down with Frank Llewellen on a different train. Sitting beside the author on the night of the dress rehearsal, he was an almost sinister figure in the twilight of the auditorium; but he said nothing until the end of the second act, when, with Llewellen and Irene Rikker on the stage alone, he suddenly called:
“We’ll go over that again—and cut out the mush!”
Llewellen came down to the footlights.
“What do you mean—cut out the mush?” he inquired. “Those are the lines, aren’t they?”
“You know what I mean—stick to business.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
Bill stood up. “I mean all that damn whispering.”
“There wasn’t any whispering. I simply asked—”
“That’ll do—take it over.”
Llewellen turned away furiously and was about to proceed, when Bill added audibly: “Even a ham has got to do his stuff.”
Llewellen whipped about. “I don’t have to stand that kind of talk, Mr. McChesney.”
“Why not? You’re a ham, aren’t you? When did you get ashamed of being a ham? I’m putting on this play and I want you to stick to your stuff.” Bill got up and walked down the aisle. “And when you don’t do it, I’m going to call you just like anybody else.”
“Well, you watch out for your tone of voice—”
“What’ll you do about it?”
Llewellen jumped down into the orchestra pit.
“I’m not taking anything from you!” he shouted.
Irene Rikker called to them from the stage, “For heaven’s sake, are you two crazy?” And then Llewellen swung at him, one short, mighty blow. Bill pitched back across a row of seats, fell through one, splintering it, and lay wedged there. There was a moment’s wild confusion, then people holding Llewellen, then the author, with a white face, pulling Bill up, and the stage manager crying: “Shall I kill him, chief? Shall I break his fat face?” and Llewellen panting and Irene Rikker frightened.
“Get back there!” Bill cried, holding a handkerchief to his face and teetering in the author’s supporting arms. “Everybody get back! Take that scene again, and no talk! Get back, Llewellen!”
Before they realized it they were all back on the stage, Irene pulling Llewellen’s arm and talking to him fast. Someone put on the auditorium lights full and then dimmed them again hurriedly. When Emmy came out presently for her scene, she saw in a quick glance that Bill was sitting with a whole mask of handkerchiefs over his bleeding face. She hated Llewellen and was afraid that presently they would break up and go back to New York. But Bill had saved the show from his own folly, since for Llewellen to take the further initiative of quitting would hurt his professional standing. The act ended and the next one began without an interval. When it was over, Bill was gone.
Next night, during the performance, he sat on a chair in the wings in view of everyone coming on or off. His face was swollen and bruised, but he neglected to seem conscious of the fact and there were no comments. Once he went around in front, and when he returned, word leaked out that two of the New York agencies were making big buys. He had a hit—they all had a hit.
At the sight of him to whom Emmy felt they all owed so much, a great wave of gratitude swept over her. She went up and thanked him.
“I’m a good picker, red-head,” he agreed grimly.
“Thank you for picking me.”
And suddenly Emmy was moved to a rash remark.
“You’ve hurt your face so badly!” she exclaimed. “Oh, I think it was so brave of you not to let everything go to pieces last night.”
He looked at her hard for a moment and then an ironic smile tried unsuccessfully to settle on his swollen face.
“Do you admire me, baby?”
“Even when I fell in the seats, did you admire me?”
“You got control of everything so quick.”
“That’s loyalty for you. You found something to admire in that fool mess.”
And her happiness bubbled up into, “Anyhow, you behaved just wonderfully.” She looked so fresh and young that Bill, who had had a wretched day, wanted to rest his swollen cheek against her cheek.
He took both the bruise and the desire with him to New York next morning; the bruise faded, but the desire remained. And when they opened in the city, no sooner did he see other men begin to crowd around her beauty than she became this play for him, this success, the thing that he came to see when he came to the theater. After a good run it closed just as he was drinking too much and needed someone on the gray days of reaction. They were married suddenly in Connecticut, early in June.
Two men sat in the Savoy Grill in London, waiting for the Fourth of July. It was already late in May.
“Is he a nice guy?” asked Hubbel.
“Very nice,” answered Brancusi; “very nice, very handsome, very popular.” After a moment, he added: “I want to get him to come home.”
“That’s what I don’t get about him,” said Hubbel. “Show business over here is nothing compared to home. What does he want to stay here for?”
“He goes around with a lot of dukes and ladies.”
“Last week when I met him he was with three ladies—Lady this, Lady that, Lady the other thing.”
“I thought he was married.”
“Married three years,” said Brancusi, “got a fine child, going to have another.”
He broke off as McChesney came in, his very American face staring about boldly over the collar of a box-shouldered topcoat.
“Hello, Mac; meet my friend Mr. Hubbel.”
“J’doo,” said Bill. He sat down, continuing to stare around the bar to see who was present. After a few minutes Hubbel left, and Bill asked:
“Who’s that bird?”
“He’s only been here a month. He ain’t got a title yet. You been here six months, remember.”
“You think I’m high-hat, don’t you? Well, I’m not kidding myself anyhow. I like it; it gets me. I’d like to be the Marquis of McChesney.”
“Maybe you can drink yourself into it,” suggested Brancusi.
“Shut your trap. Who said I was drinking? Is that what they say now? Look here; if you can tell me any American manager in the history of the theater who’s had the success that I’ve had in London in less than eight months, I’ll go back to America with you tomorrow. If you’ll just tell me—”
“It was with your old shows. You had two flops in New York.”
Bill stood up, his face hardening.
“Who do you think you are?” he demanded. “Did you come over here to talk to me like that?”
“Don’t get sore now, Bill. I just want you to come back. I’d say anything for that. Put over three seasons like you had in ’22 and ’23, and you’re fixed for life.”
“New York makes me sick,” said Bill moodily. “One minute you’re a king; then you have two flops, they go around saying you’re on the toboggan.”
Brancusi shook his head.
“That wasn’t why they said it. It was because you had that quarrel with Aronstael, your best friend.”
“Your best friend in business anyhow. Then—”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” He looked at his watch. “Look here; Emmy’s feeling bad so I’m afraid I can’t have dinner with you tonight. Come around to the office before you sail.”
Five minutes later, standing by the cigar counter, Brancusi saw Bill enter the Savoy again and descend the steps that led to the tea room.
“Grown to be a great diplomat,” thought Brancusi; “he used to just say when he had a date. Going with these dukes and ladies is polishing him up even more.”
Perhaps he was a little hurt, though it was not typical of him to be hurt. At any rate he made a decision, then and there, that McChesney was on the down grade; it was quite typical of him that at that point he erased him from his mind forever.
There was no outward indication that Bill was on the down grade; a hit at the New Strand, a hit at the Prince of Wales, and the weekly grosses pouring in almost as well as they had two or three years before in New York. Certainly a man of action was justified in changing his base. And the man who, an hour later, turned into his Hyde Park house for dinner had all the vitality of the late twenties. Emmy, very tired and clumsy, lay on a couch in the upstairs sitting room. He held her for a moment in his arms.
“Almost over now,” he said. “You’re beautiful.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“It’s true. You’re always beautiful. I don’t know why. Perhaps because you’ve got character, and that’s always in your face, even when you’re like this.”
She was pleased; she ran her hand through his hair.
“Character is the greatest thing in the world,” he declared, “and you’ve got more than anybody I know.”
“Did you see Brancusi?”
“I did, the little louse! I decided not to bring him home to dinner.”
“What was the matter?”
“Oh, just snooty—talking about my row with Aronstael, as if it was my fault.”
She hesitated, closed her mouth tight, and then said quietly, “You got into that fight with Aronstael because you were drinking.”
He rose impatiently.
“Are you going to start—”
“No, Bill, but you’re drinking too much now. You know you are.”
Aware that she was right, he evaded the matter and they went in to dinner. On the glow of a bottle of claret he decided he would go on the wagon tomorrow till after the baby was born.
“I always stop when I want, don’t I? I always do what I say. You never saw me quit yet.”
They had coffee together, and afterward he got up.
“Come back early,” said Emmy.
“Oh, sure. . . . What’s the matter, baby?”
“I’m just crying. Don’t mind me. Oh, go on; don’t just stand there like a big idiot.”
“But I’m worried, naturally. I don’t like to see you cry.”
“Oh, I don’t know where you go in the evenings; I don’t know who you’re with. And that Lady Sybil Combrinck who kept phoning. It’s all right, I suppose, but I wake up in the night and I feel so alone, Bill. Because we’ve always been together, haven’t we, until recently?”
“But we’re together still. . . . What’s happened to you, Emmy?”
“I know—I’m just crazy. We’d never let each other down, would we? We never have—”
“Of course not.”
“Come back early, or when you can.”
He looked in for a minute at the Prince of Wales Theatre; then he went into the hotel next door and called a number.
“I’d like to speak to her Ladyship. Mr. McChesney calling.”
It was some time before Lady Sybil answered:
“This is rather a surprise. It’s been several weeks since I’ve been lucky enough to hear from you.”
Her voice was flip as a whip and cold as automatic refrigeration, in the mode grown familiar since British ladies took to piecing themselves together out of literature. It had fascinated Bill for a while, but just for a while. He had kept his head.
“I haven’t had a minute,” he explained easily. “You’re not sore, are you?”
“I should scarcely say ’sore.’”
“I was afraid you might be; you didn’t send me an invitation to your party tonight. My idea was that after we talked it all over we agreed—”
“You talked a great deal,” she said; “possibly a little too much.”
Suddenly, to Bill’s astonishment, she hung up.
“Going British on me,” he thought. “A little skit entitled The Daughter of a Thousand Earls.”
The snub roused him, the indifference revived his waning interest. Usually women forgave his changes of heart because of his obvious devotion to Emmy, and he was remembered by various ladies with a not unpleasant sigh. But he had detected no such sigh upon the phone.
“I’d like to clear up this mess,” he thought. Had he been wearing evening clothes, he might have dropped in at the dance and talked it over with her, still he didn’t want to go home. Upon consideration it seemed important that the misunderstanding should be fixed up at once, and presently he began to entertain the idea of going as he was; Americans were excused unconventionalities of dress. In any case, it was not nearly time, and, in the company of several highballs, he considered the matter for an hour.
At midnight he walked up the steps of her Mayfair house. The coat-room attendants scrutinized his tweeds disapprovingly and a footman peered in vain for his name on the list of guests. Fortunately his friend Sir Humphrey Dunn arrived at the same time and convinced the footman it must be a mistake.
Inside, Bill immediately looked about for his hostess.
She was a very tall young woman, half American and all the more intensely English. In a sense, she had discovered Bill McChesney, vouched for his savage charms; his retirement was one of her most humiliating experiences since she had begun being bad.
She stood with her husband at the head of the receiving line—Bill had never seen them together before. He decided to choose a less formal moment for presenting himself.
As the receiving went on interminably, he became increasingly uncomfortable. He saw a few people he knew, but not many, and he was conscious that his clothes were attracting a certain attention; he was aware also that Lady Sybil saw him and could have relieved his embarrassment with a wave of her hand, but she made no sign. He was sorry he had come, but to withdraw now would be absurd, and going to a buffet table, he took a glass of champagne.
When he turned around she was alone at last, and he was about to approach her when the butler spoke to him:
“Pardon me, sir. Have you a card?”
“I’m a friend of Lady Sybil’s,” said Bill impatiently. He turned away, but the butler followed.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I’ll have to ask you to step aside with me and straighten this up.”
“There’s no need. I’m just about to speak to Lady Sybil now.”
“My orders are different, sir,” said the butler firmly.
Then, before Bill realized what was happening, his arms were pressed quietly to his sides and he was propelled into a little anteroom back of the buffet.
There he faced a man in a pince-nez in whom he recognized the Combrincks’ private secretary.
The secretary nodded to the butler, saying, “This is the man”; whereupon Bill was released.
“Mr. McChesney,” said the secretary, “you have seen fit to force your way here without a card, and His Lordship requests that you leave his house at once. Will you kindly give me the check for your coat?”
Then Bill understood, and the single word that he found applicable to Lady Sybil sprang to his lips; whereupon the secretary gave a sign to two footmen, and in a furious struggle Bill was carried through a pantry where busy bus boys stared at the scene, down a long hall, and pushed out a door into the night. The door closed; a moment later it was opened again to let his coat billow forth and his cane clatter down the steps.
As he stood there, overwhelmed, stricken aghast, a taxicab stopped beside him and the driver called:
“Feeling ill, gov’nor?”
“I know where you can get a good pick-me-up, gov’nor. Never too late.” The door of the taxi opened on a nightmare. There was a cabaret that broke the closing hours; there was being with strangers he had picked up somewhere; then there were arguments, and trying to cash a check, and suddenly proclaiming over and over that he was William McChesney, the producer, and convincing no one of the fact, not even himself. It seemed important to see Lady Sybil right away and call her to account; but presently nothing was important at all. He was in a taxicab whose driver had just shaken him awake in front of his own home.
The telephone was ringing as he went in, but he walked stonily past the maid and only heard her voice when his foot was on the stair.
“Mr. McChesney, it’s the hospital calling again. Mrs. McChesney’s there and they’ve been phoning every hour.”
Still in a daze, he held the receiver up to his ear.
“We’re calling from the Midland Hospital, for your wife. She was delivered of a still-born child at nine this morning.”
“Wait a minute.” His voice was dry and cracking. “I don’t understand.”
After a while he understood that Emmy’s child was dead and she wanted him. His knees sagged groggily as he walked down the street, looking for a taxi.
The room was dark; Emmy looked up and saw him from a rumpled bed.
“It’s you!” she cried. “I thought you were dead! Where did you go?”
He threw himself down on his knees beside the bed, but she turned away.
“Oh, you smell awful,” she said. “It makes me sick.”
But she kept her hand in his hair, and he knelt there motionless for a long time.
“I’m done with you,” she muttered, “but it was awful when I thought you were dead. Everybody’s dead. I wish I was dead.”
A curtain parted with the wind, and as he rose to arrange it, she saw him in the full morning light, pale and terrible, with rumpled clothes and bruises on his face. This time she hated him instead of those who had hurt him. She could feel him slipping out of her heart, feel the space he left, and all at once he was gone, and she could even forgive him and be sorry for him. All this in a minute.
She had fallen down at the door of the hospital, trying to get out of the taxicab alone.
When Emmy was well, physically and mentally, her incessant idea was to learn to dance; the old dream inculcated by Miss Georgia Berriman Campbell of South Carolina persisted as a bright avenue leading back to first youth and days of hope in New York. To her, dancing meant that elaborate blend of tortuous attitudes and formal pirouettes that evolved out of Italy several hundred years ago and reached its apogee in Russia at the beginning of this century. She wanted to use herself on something she could believe in, and it seemed to her that the dance was woman’s interpretation of music; instead of strong fingers, one had limbs with which to render Tschaikowsky and Stravinksi; and feet could be as eloquent in Chopiniana as voices in “The Ring.” At the bottom, it was something sandwiched in between the acrobats and the trained seals; at the top it was Pavlova and art.
Once they were settled in an apartment back in New York, she plunged into her work like a girl of sixteen—four hours a day at bar exercises, attitudes, sauts, arabesques and pirouettes. It became the realest part of her life, and her only worry was whether or not she was too old. At twenty-six she had ten years to make up, but she was a natural dancer with a fine body—and that lovely face.
Bill encouraged it; when she was ready he was going to build the first real American ballet around her. There were even times when he envied her her absorption; for affairs in his own line were more difficult since they had come home. For one thing, he had made many enemies in those early days of self-confidence; there were exaggerated stories of his drinking and of his being hard on actors and difficult to work with.
It was against him that he had always been unable to save money and must beg a backing for each play. Then, too, in a curious way, he was intelligent, as he was brave enough to prove in several uncommercial ventures, but he had no Theatre Guild behind him, and what money he lost was charged against him.
There were successes, too, but he worked harder for them, or it seemed so, for he had begun to pay a price for his irregular life. He always intended to take a rest or give up his incessant cigarettes, but there was so much competition now—new men coming up, with new reputations for infallibility—and besides, he wasn’t used to regularity. He liked to do his work in those great spurts, inspired by black coffee, that seem so inevitable in show business, but which took so much out of a man after thirty. He had come to lean, in a way, on Emmy’s fine health and vitality. They were always together, and if he felt a vague dissatisfaction that he had grown to need her more than she needed him, there was always the hope that things would break better for him next month, next season.
Coming home from ballet school one November evening, Emmy swung her little gray bag, pulled her hat far down over her still damp hair, and gave herself up to pleasant speculation. For a month she had been aware of people who had come to the studio especially to watch her—she was ready to dance. Once she had worked just as hard and for as long a time on something else—her relations with Bill—only to reach a climax of misery and despair, but here there was nothing to fail her except herself. Yet even now she felt a little rash in thinking: “Now it’s come. I’m going to be happy.”
She hurried, for something had come up today that she must talk over with Bill.
Finding him in the living room, she called him to come back while she dressed. She began to talk without looking around:
“Listen what happened!” Her voice was loud, to compete with the water running in the tub. “Paul Makova wants me to dance with him at the Metropolitan this season; only it’s not sure, so it’s a secret—even I’m not supposed to know.”
“The only thing is whether it wouldn’t be better for me to make a dйbut abroad? Anyhow Donilof says I’m ready to appear. What do you think?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t sound very enthusiastic.”
“I’ve got something on my mind. I’ll tell you about it later. Go on.”
“That’s all, dear. If you still feel like going to Germany for a month, like you said, Donilof would arrange a dйbut for me in Berlin, but I’d rather open here and dance with Paul Makova. Just imagine—” She broke off, feeling suddenly through the thick skin of her elation how abstracted he was. “Tell me what you’ve got on your mind.”
“I went to Doctor Kearns this afternoon.”
“What did he say?” Her mind was still singing with her own happiness. Bill’s intermittent attacks of hypochondria had long ceased to worry her.
“I told him about that blood this morning, and he said what he said last year—it was probably a little broken vein in my throat. But since I’d been coughing and was worried, perhaps it was safer to take an X-ray and clear the matter up. Well, we cleared it up all right. My left lung is practically gone.”
“Luckily there are no spots on the other.”
She waited, horribly afraid.
“It’s come at a bad time for me,” he went on steadily, “but it’s got to be faced. He thinks I ought to go to the Adirondacks or to Denver for the winter, and his idea is Denver. That way it’ll probably clear up in five or six months.”
“Of course we’ll have to—” she stopped suddenly.
“I wouldn’t expect you to go—especially if you have this opportunity.”
“Of course I’ll go,” she said quickly. “Your health comes first. We’ve always gone everywhere together.”
“Why, of course.” She made her voice strong and decisive. “We’ve always been together. I couldn’t stay here without you. When do you have to go?”
“As soon as possible. I went in to see Brancusi to find out if he wanted to take over the Richmond piece, but he didn’t seem enthusiastic.” His face hardened. “Of course there won’t be anything else for the present, but I’ll have enough, with what’s owing—”
“Oh, if I was only making some money!” Emmy cried. “You work so hard, and here I’ve been spending two hundred dollars a week for just my dancing lessons alone—more than I’ll be able to earn for years.”
“Of course in six months I’ll be as well as ever—he says.”
“Sure, dearest; we’ll get you well. We’ll start as soon as we can.”
She put an arm around him and kissed his cheek.
“I’m just an old parasite,” she said. “I should have known my darling wasn’t well.”
He reached automatically for a cigarette, and then stopped.
“I forgot—I’ve got to start cutting down smoking.” He rose to the occasion suddenly: “No, baby, I’ve decided to go alone. You’d go crazy with boredom out there, and I’d just be thinking I was keeping you away from your dancing.”
“Don’t think about that. The thing is to get you well.”
They discussed the matter hour after hour for the next week, each of them saying everything except the truth—that he wanted her to go with him and that she wanted passionately to stay in New York. She talked it over guardedly with Donilof, her ballet master, and found that he thought any postponement would be a terrible mistake. Seeing other girls in the ballet school making plans for the winter, she wanted to die rather than go, and Bill saw all the involuntary indications of her misery. For a while they talked of compromising on the Adirondacks, whither she would commute by aeroplane for the week-ends, but he was running a little fever now and he was definitely ordered West.
Bill settled it all one gloomy Sunday night, with that rough, generous justice that had first made her admire him, that made him rather tragic in his adversity, as he had always been bearable in his overweening success:
“It’s just up to me, baby. I got into this mess because I didn’t have any self-control—you seem to have all of that in this family—and now it’s only me that can get me out. You’ve worked hard at your stuff for three years and you deserve your chance—and if you came out there now you’d have it on me the rest of my life.” He grinned. “And I couldn’t stand that. Besides, it wouldn’t be good for the kid.”
Eventually she gave in, ashamed of herself, miserable—and glad. For the world of her work, where she existed without Bill, was bigger to her now than the world in which they existed together. There was more room to be glad in one than to be sorry in the other.
Two days later, with his ticket bought for that afternoon at five, they passed the last hours together, talking of everything hopeful. She protested still, and sincerely; had he weakened for a moment she would have gone. But the shock had done something to him, and he showed more character under it than he had for years. Perhaps it would be good for him to work it out alone.
“In the spring!” they said.
Then in the station with little Billy, and Bill saying: “I hate these graveside partings. You leave me here. I’ve got to make a phone call from the train before it goes.”
They had never spent more than a night apart in six years, save when Emmy was in the hospital; save for the time in England they had a good record of faithfulness and of tenderness toward each other, even though she had been alarmed and often unhappy at this insecure bravado from the first. After he went through the gate alone, Emmy was glad he had a phone call to make and tried to picture him making it.
She was a good woman; she had loved him with all her heart. When she went out into Thirty-third Street, it was just as dead as dead for a while, and the apartment he paid for would be empty of him, and she was here, about to do something that would make her happy.
She stopped after a few blocks, thinking: “Why, this is terrible—what I’m doing! I’m letting him down like the worst person I ever heard of. I’m leaving him flat and going off to dinner with Donilof and Paul Makova, whom I like for being beautiful and for having the same color eyes and hair. Bill’s on the train alone.”
She swung little Billy around suddenly as if to go back to the station. She could see him sitting in the train, with his face so pale and tired, and no Emmy.
“I can’t let him down,” she cried to herself as wave after wave of sentiment washed over her. But only sentiment—hadn’t he let her down—hadn’t he done what he wanted in London?
“Oh, poor Bill!”
She stood irresolute, realizing for one last honest moment how quickly she would forget this and find excuses for what she was doing. She had to think hard of London, and her conscience cleared. But with Bill all alone in the train it seemed terrible to think that way. Even now she could turn and go back to the station and tell him that she was coming, but still she waited, with life very strong in her, fighting for her. The sidewalk was narrow where she stood; presently a great wave of people, pouring out of the theater, came flooding along it, and she and little Billy were swept along with the crowd.
In the train, Bill telephoned up to the last minute, postponed going back to his stateroom, because he knew it was almost certain that he would not find her there. After the train started he went back and, of course, there was nothing but his bags in the rack and some magazines on the seat.
He knew then that he had lost her. He saw the set-up without any illusions—this Paul Makova, and months of proximity, and loneliness—afterward nothing would ever be the same. When he had thought about it all a long time, reading Variety and Zit’s in between, it began to seem, each time he came back to it, as if Emmy somehow were dead.
“She was a fine girl—one of the best. She had character.” He realized perfectly that he had brought all this on himself and that there was some law of compensation involved. He saw, too, that by going away he had again become as good as she was; it was all evened up at last.
He felt beyond everything, even beyond his grief, an almost comfortable sensation of being in the hands of something bigger than himself; and grown a little tired and unconfident—two qualities he could never for a moment tolerate—it did not seem so terrible if he were going West for a definite finish. He was sure that Emmy would come at the end, no matter what she was doing or how good an engagement she had.
Published in "The Saturday Evening Post" (18 January 1930)