Story type: Literature
In connection with their social adjustment, one to the other, during the few months they had been together, there had occurred a number of things which made clearer to Duer and Marjorie the problematic relationship which existed between them, though it must be confessed it was clearer chiefly to him. The one thing which had been troubling Duer was not whether he would fit agreeably into her social dreams — he knew he would, so great was her love for him — but whether she would fit herself into his. Of all his former friends, he could think of only a few who would be interested in Marjorie, or she in them. She cared nothing for the studio life, except as it concerned him, and he knew no other.
Because of his volatile, enthusiastic temperament, it was easy to see, now that she was with him constantly, that he could easily be led into one relationship and another which concerned her not at all. He was for running here, there, and everywhere, just as he had before marriage, and it was very hard for him to see that Marjorie should always be with him. As a matter of fact, it occurred to him as strange that she should want to be. She would not be interested in all the people he knew, he thought. Now that he was living with her and observing her more closely, he was quite sure that most of the people he had known in the past,. even in an indifferent way would not appeal to her at all.
Take Cassandra Draper, for instance, or Neva Badger, or Edna Bainbridge, with her budding theatrical talent, or Cornelia Skiff, or Volida Blackstone — any of these women of the musical art-studio world with their radical ideas, their indifference to appearances, their semisecret immorality. And yet any of these women would be glad to see him socially, unaccompanied by his wife, and he would be glad to see them. He liked them. Most of them had not seen Marjorie, but, if they had, he fancied that they would feel about her much as he did — that is, that she did not like them, really did not fit with their world. She could not understand their point of view, he saw that. She was for one life, one love. All this excitement about entertainment, their gathering in this studio and that, this meeting of radicals and models and budding theatrical stars which she had heard him and others talking about — she suspected of it no good results. It was too feverish, too far removed from the commonplace of living to which she had been accustomed. She had been raised on a farm where, if she was not actually a farmer’s daughter, she had witnessed what a real struggle for existence meant.
Out in Iowa, in the neighborhood of Avondale, there were no artists, no models, no budding actresses, no incipient playwrights, such as Marjorie found here about her. There, people worked, and worked hard. Her father was engaged at this minute in breaking the soil of his fields for the spring planting — an old man with a white beard, an honest, kindly eye, a broad, kindly charity, a sense of duty. Her mother was bending daily over a cook stove, preparing meals, washing dishes, sewing clothes, mending socks, doing the thousand and one chores which fall to the lot of every good housewife and mother. Her sister Cecily, for all her gaiety and beauty, was helping her mother, teaching school, going to church, and taking the commonplace facts of mid-Western life in a simple, good-natured, unambitious way. And there was none of that toplofty sense of superiority which marked the manner of these Eastern upstarts.
Duer had suggested that they give a tea, and decided that they should invite Charlotte Russell and Mildred Ayres, who were both still conventionally moral in their liberalism; Francis Hatton, a young sculptor, and Miss Ollie Stearns, the latter because she had a charming contralto voice and could help them entertain. Marjorie was willing to invite both Miss Russell and Miss Ayres, not because she really wanted to know either of them but because she did not wish to appear arbitrary and especially contrary. In her estimation, Duer liked these people too much. They were friends of too long standing. She reluctantly wrote them to come, and because they liked Duer and because they wished to see the kind of wife he had, they came.
There was no real friendship to be established between Marjorie and Miss Ayres, however, for their outlook on life was radically different, though Miss Ayres was as conservative as Marjorie in her attitude, and as set in her convictions. But the latter had decided, partly because Duer had neglected her, partly because Marjorie was the victor in this contest, that he had made a mistake; she was convinced that Marjorie had not sufficient artistic apprehension, sufficient breadth of outlook, to make a good wife for him. She was charming enough to look at, of course, she had discovered that in her first visit; but there was really not enough in her socially, she was not sufficiently trained in the ways of the world, not sufficiently wise and interesting to make him an ideal companion. In addition she insisted on thinking this vigorously and, smile as she might and be as gracious as she might, it showed in her manner. Marjorie noticed it. Duer did, too. He did not dare intimate to either what he thought, but he felt that there would be no peace. It worried him, for he liked Mildred very much; but, alas! Marjorie had no good to say of her.
As for Charlotte Russell, he was grateful to her for the pleasant manner in which she steered between Scylla and Charybdis. She saw at once what Marjorie’s trouble was, and did her best to allay suspicions by treating Duer formally in her presence. It was “Mr. Wilde” here and “Mr. Wilde” there, with most of her remarks addressed to Marjorie; but she did not find it easy sailing, after all. Marjorie was suspicious. There was none of the old freedom any more which had existed between Charlotte and Duer. He saw, by Marjorie’s manner, the moment he became the least exuberant and free that it would not do. That evening he said, forgetting himself:
“Hey, Charlotte, you skate! Come over here. I want to show you something.”
He forgot all about it afterward, but Marjorie reminded him.”Honey,” she began, when she was in his arms before the fire, and he was least expecting it, “what makes you be so free with people when they call here? You’re not the kind of man that can really afford to be free with any one. Don’t you know you can’t? You’re too big; you’re too great. You just belittle yourself when you do it, and it makes them think that they are your equal when they are not.”
“Who has been acting free now?” he asked sourly, on the instant, and yet with a certain make-believe of manner, dreading the storm of feeling, the atmosphere of censure and control which this remark foreboded.
“Why, you have!” she persisted correctively, and yet apparently mildly and innocently.”You always do. You don’t exercise enough dignity, dearie. It isn’t that you haven’t it naturally — you just don’t exercise it. I know how it is; you forget.”
Duer stirred with opposition at this, for she was striking him on his tenderest spot — his pride. It was true that he did lack dignity at times. He knew it. Because of his affection for the beautiful or interesting things — women, men, dramatic situations, songs, anything — he sometimes became very gay and free, talking loudly, using slang expressions, laughing boisterously. It was a failing with him, he knew. He carried it to excess at times. His friends, his most intimate ones in the musical profession had noted it before this. In his own heart he regretted these things afterward, but he couldn’t help them, apparently. He liked excitement, freedom, gaiety — naturalness, as he called it — it helped him in his musical work, but it hurt him tremendously if he thought that any one else noticed it as out of the ordinary. He was exceedingly sensitive, and this developing line of criticism of Marjorie’s was something new to him. He had never noticed anything of that in her before marriage.
Up to the time of the
ceremony, and for a little while afterward, it had appeared to him as if he were lord and master. She had always seemed so dependent on him, so anxious that he should take her. Why, her very life had been in his hands, as it were, or so he had thought! And now — he tried to think back over the evening and see what it was he had done or said, but he couldn’t remember anything. Everything seemed innocent enough. He couldn’t recall a single thing, and yet–
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he replied sourly, withdrawing into himself.”I haven’t noticed that I lack dignity so much. I have a right to be cheerful, haven’t I? You seem to be finding a lot that’s wrong with me.”
“Now please don’t get angry, Duer,” she persisted, anxious to apply the corrective measure of her criticism, but willing, at the same time, to use the quickness of his sympathy for her obvious weakness and apparent helplessness to shield herself from him.”I can’t ever tell you anything if you’re going to be angry. You don’t lack dignity generally, honey-bun! You only forget at times. Don’t you know how it is?”
She was cuddling up to him, her voice quavering, her hand stroking his cheek, in a curious effort to combine affection and punishment at the same time. Duer felt nothing but wrath, resentment, discouragement, failure.
“No, I don’t,” he replied crossly.”What did I do? I don’t recall doing anything that was so very much out of the way.”
“It wasn’t that it was so very much, honey; it was just the way you did it. You forget, I know. But it doesn’t look right. It belittles you.”
“What did I do?” he insisted impatiently.
“Why, it wasn’t anything so very much. It was just when you had the pictures of those new sculptures which Mr. Hatton lent you, and you were showing them to Miss Russell. Don’t you remember what you said — how you called her over to you?”
“No,” he answered, having by now completely forgotten. He was thinking that accidentally he might have slipped his arm about Charlotte, or that he might have said something out of the way jestingly about the pictures; but Marjorie could not have heard. He was so careful these days, anyway.
“Why, you said: ‘Hey, Charlotte, you skate! Come over here.’ Now, what a thing to say to a girl! Don’t you see how ugly it sounds, how vulgar? She can’t enjoy that sort of remark, particularly in my presence, do you think? She must know that I can’t like it, that I’d rather you wouldn’t talk that way, particularly here. And if she were the right sort of girl she wouldn’t want you to talk to her at all that way. Don’t you know she wouldn’t? She couldn’t. Now, really, no good woman would, would she?”
Duer flushed angrily. Good heaven! Were such innocent, simple things as this to be made the subject of comment and criticism! Was his life, because of his sudden, infatuated marriage, to be pulled down to a level he had never previously even contemplated? Why — why — This catechizing, so new to his life, so different to anything he had ever endured in his youth or since, was certain to irritate him greatly, to be a constant thorn in his flesh. It cut him to the core. He got up, putting Marjorie away from him, for they were sitting in a big chair before the fire, and walked to the window.
“I don’t see that at all,” he said stubbornly.”I don’t see anything in that remark to raise a row about. Why, for goodness’ sake! I have known Charlotte Russell — for years and years, it seems, although it has only been a little while at that. She’s like a sister to me. I like her. She doesn’t mind what I say. I’d stake my life she never thought anything about it. No one would who likes me as well as she does. Why do you pitch on that to make a fuss about, for heaven’s sake?”
“Please don’t swear, Duer,” exclaimed Marjorie anxiously, using this expression for criticizing him further.”It isn’t nice in you, and it doesn’t sound right toward me. I’m your wife. It doesn’t make any difference how long you’ve known her; I don’t think it’s nice to talk to her in that way, particularly in my presence. You say you’ve known her so well and you like her so much. Very well. But don’t you think you ought to consider me a little, now that I’m your wife? Don’t you think that you oughtn’t to want to do anything like that any more, even if you have known her so well — don’t you think? You’re married now, and it doesn’t look right to others, whatever you think of me. It can’t look right to her, if she’s as nice as you say she is.”
Duer listened to this semipleading, semichastizing harangue with disturbed, opposed, and irritated ears. Certainly, there was some truth in what she said; but wasn’t it an awfully small thing to raise a row about? Why should she quarrel with him for that? Couldn’t he ever be lightsome in his form of address any more? It was true that it did sound a little rough, now that he thought of it. Perhaps it wasn’t exactly the thing to say in her presence, but Charlotte didn’t mind. They had known each other much too long. She hadn’t noticed it one way or the other; and here was Marjorie charging him with being vulgar and inconsiderate, and Charlotte with being not the right sort of girl, and practically vulgar, also, on account of it. It was too much. It was too narrow, too conventional. He wasn’t going to tolerate anything like that permanently.
He was about to say something mean in reply, make some cutting commentary, when Marjorie came over to him. She saw that she had lashed him and Charlotte and his generally easy attitude pretty thoroughly, and that he was becoming angry. Perhaps, because of his sensitiveness, he would avoid this sort of thing in the future. Anyhow, now that she had lived with him four months, she was beginning to understand him better, to see the quality of his moods, the strength of his passions, the nature of his weaknesses, how quickly he responded to the blandishments of pretended sorrow, joy, affection, or distress. She thought she could reform him at her leisure. She saw that he looked upon her in his superior way as a little girl — largely because of the size of her body. He seemed to think that, because she was little, she must be weak, whereas she knew that she had the use and the advantage of a wisdom a tactfulness and a subtlety of which he did not even dream. Compared to her, he was not nearly as wise as he thought, at least in matters relating to the affections. Hence, any appeal to his sympathies, his strength, almost invariably produced a reaction from any antagonistic mood in which she might have placed him. She saw him now as a mother might see a great, overgrown, sulking boy, needing only to be coaxed to be brought out of a very unsatisfactory condition, and she decided to bring him out of it. For a short period in her life she had taught children in school, and knew the incipient moods of the race very well.
“Now, Duer,” she coaxed, “you’re not really going to be angry with me, are you? You’re not going to be mad to me?” (imitating childish language).
“Oh, don’t bother, Marjorie,” he replied distantly.”It’s all right. No; I’m not angry. Only let’s not talk about it any more.”
“You are angry, though, Duer,” she wheedled, slipping her arm around him.”Please don’t be mad to me. I’m sorry now. I talk too much. I get mad. I know I oughtn’t. Please don’t be mad at me, honey-bun. I’ll get over this after a while. I’ll do better. Please, I will. Please don’t be mad, will you?”
He could not stand this coaxing very long. Just as he thought, he did look upon her as a child, and this pathetic baby-talk was irresistible. He smiled grimly after a while. She was so little. He ought to endure her idiosyncrasies of temperament. Besides, he had never treated her right. He had not been faithful to his engagement-vows. If she only knew how bad he really was!
Marjorie slipped her arm through his and stood leaning against him. She loved this tall, slender distinguished-looking youth, and she wanted to take care of him. She thought that she was doing this now, when she called a
ttention to his faults. Some day, by her persistent efforts maybe, he would overcome these silly, disagreeable. offensive traits. He would overcome being undignified; he would see that he needed to show her more consideration than he now seemed to think he did. He would learn that he was married. He would become a quiet, reserved, forceful man, weary of the silly women who were buzzing round him solely because he was a musician and talented and good-looking, and then he would be truly great. She knew what they wanted, these nasty women — they would like to have him for themselves. Well, they wouldn’t get him. And they needn’t think they would. She had him. He had married her. And she was going to keep him. They could just buzz all they pleased, but they wouldn’t get him. So there!
There had been other spats following this — one relating to Duer not having told his friends of his marriage for some little time afterward, an oversight which in his easy going bohemian brain augured no deep planted seed of disloyalty, but just a careless, indifferent way of doing things, whereas in hers it flowered as one of the most unpardonable things imaginable! Imagine any one in the Middle West doing anything like that — any one with a sound, sane conception of the responsibilities and duties of marriage, its inviolable character! For Marjorie, having come to this estate by means of a hardly won victory, was anxious lest any germ of inattentiveness, lack of consideration, alien interest, or affection flourish and become a raging disease which would imperil or destroy the conditions on which her happiness was based. After every encounter with Miss Ayres, for instance, whom she suspected of being one of his former flames, a girl who might have become his wife, there were fresh charges to be made. She didn’t invite Marjorie to sit down sufficiently quickly when she called at her studio, was one complaint; she didn’t offer her a cup of tea at the hour she called another afternoon, though it was quite time for it. She didn’t invite her to sing or play on another occasion, though there were others there who were invited.
“I gave her one good shot, though,” said Marjorie, one day, to Duer, in narrating her troubles.”She’s always talking about her artistic friends. I as good as asked her why she didn’t marry, if she is so much sought after.”
Duer did not understand the mental sword-thrusts involved in these feminine bickerings. He was likely to be deceived by the airy geniality which sometimes accompanied the bitterest feeling, he could stand by listening to a conversation between Marjorie and Miss Ayres, or Marjorie and any one else whom she did not like, and miss all the subtle stabs and cutting insinuations which were exchanged, and of which Marjorie was so thoroughly capable. He did not blame her for fighting for herself if she thought she was being injured, but he did object to her creating fresh occasions, and this, he saw, she was quite capable of doing. She was constantly looking for new opportunities to fight with Mildred Ayres and Miss Russell or any one else whom she thought he truly liked, whereas with those in whom he could not possibly be interested she was genial (and even affectionate) enough. But Duer also thought that Mildred might be better engaged than in creating fresh difficulties. Truly, he had thought better of her. It seemed a sad commentary on the nature of friendship between men and women, and he was sorry.
But, nevertheless, Marjorie found a few people whom she felt to be of her own kind. M. Bland, who had sponsored Duer’s first piano recital a few months before, invited Duer and Marjorie to a — for them — quite sumptuous dinner at the Plaza, where they met Sydney Borg, the musical critic of an evening paper; Melville Ogden Morris, curator of the Museum of Fine Arts, and his wife; Joseph Newcorn, one of the wealthy sponsors of the opera and its geniuses, and Mrs. Newcorn. Neither Duer nor Marjorie had ever seen a private dining-room set in so scintillating a manner. It fairly glittered with Sèvres and Venetian tinted glass. The wine-goblets were seven in number, set in an ascending row. The order of food was complete from Russian caviar to dessert, black coffee, nuts, liqueurs, and cigars. The conversation wandered its intense intellectual way from American musicians and singers, European painters and sculptors, discoveries of ancient pottery in the isles of the Aegean, to the manufacture of fine glass on Long Island, the character of certain collectors and collections of paintings in America. and the present state of the Fine Arts Museum. Duer listened eagerly, for, as yet, he was a little uncertain of himself his position in the art world. He did not quite know how to take these fine and able personages who seemed so powerful in the world’s affairs. Joseph Newcorn, as M. Bland calmly indicated to hint, must be worth in the neighborhood of fifteen million dollars. He thought nothing, so he said, of paying ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty thousand dollars for a picture if it appealed to him. Mr. Morris was a graduate of Harvard, formerly curator of a Western museum, the leader of one of the excavating expeditions to Melos in the Grecian Archipelago. Sydney Borg was a student of musical history, who appeared to have a wide knowledge of art tendencies here and abroad, but who, nevertheless, wrote musical criticisms for a living. He was a little man of Norse extraction on his father’s side, but, as he laughingly admitted, born and raised in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. He liked Duer for his simple acknowledgment of the fact that he came from a small town in the Middle West, and a drug business out in Illinois.
“It’s curious how our nation brings able men from the ranks,” he said to Duer.”It’s one of the great, joyous, hopeful facts about this country.”
“Yes,” said Duer; “that’s why I like it so much.”
Duer thought, as he dined here, how strange America was, with its mixture of races, its unexpected sources of talent, its tremendous wealth and confidence. His own beginning, so very humble at first, so very promising now — one of the most talked of pianists of his day — was in its way an illustration of its resources in so far as talent was concerned. Mr. Newcorn, who had once been a tailor, so he was told, and his wife was another case in point. They were such solid, unemotional, practical-looking people, and yet he could see that this solid looking man whom some musicians might possibly have sneered at for his self-complacency and curiously accented English, was as wise and sane and keen and kindly as any one present, perhaps more so, and a wise in matters musical. The only difference between him and the average American was that he was exceptionally practical and not given to nervous enthusiasm. Marjorie liked him, too.
It was at this particular dinner that the thought occurred to Marjorie that the real merit of the art and musical world was not so much in the noisy studio palaver which she heard at so many places frequented by Duer, in times past at least — Charlotte Russell’s, Mildred Ayres’s and elsewhere — but in the solid commercial achievements of such men as Joseph Newcorn, Georges Bland, Melville Ogden Morris, and Sydney Borg. She liked the laconic “Yes, yes,” of Mr. Newcorn, when anything was said that suited him particularly well, and his “I haf seen dat bardicular berformance” with which he interrupted several times when Grand Opera and its stars were up for consideration. She was thinking if only a man like that would take an interest in Duer, how much better it would be for him than all the enthusiasm of these silly noisy studio personalities. She was glad to see also that, intellectually, Duer could hold his own with any and all of these people. He was as much at ease here with Mr. Morris, talking about Greek excavations, as he was with Mr. Borg, discussing American musical conditions. She could not make out much what it was all about, but, of course, it must be very important if these men discussed it. Duer was not sure as yet whethe
r any one knew much more about life than he did. He suspected not, but it might be that some of these eminent curators, art critics, bankers, and managers like M. Bland, had a much wider insight into practical affairs. Practical affairs — he thought. If he only knew something about money! Somehow, though, his mind could not grasp how money was made. It seemed so easy for some people, but for him a grim, dark mystery. After this dinner it was that Marjorie began to feel that Duer ought to be especially careful with whom he associated. She had talked with Mrs. Newcorn and Mrs. Morris, and found them simple, natural people like herself. They were not puffed up with vanity and self-esteem, as were those other men and women to whom Duer had thus far introduced her. As compared to Charlotte Russell and Mildred Ayres or her own mother and sisters and her Western friends, they were more like the latter. Mrs. Newcorn, wealthy as she was, spoke of her two sons and three daughters as any good-natured, solicitous mother would. One of her sons was at Harvard, the other at Yale. She asked Marjorie to come and see her some time, and gave her her address. Mrs. Morris was more cultured apparently, more given to books and art; but even she was interested in what, to Marjorie, were the more important or, at least, more necessary things, the things on which all art and culture primarily based themselves-the commonplace and necessary details of the home. Cooking, housekeeping, shopping, sewing, were not beneath her consideration, as indeed they were not below Mrs. Newcorn’s. The former spoke of having to go and look for a new spring bonnet in the morning, and how difficult it was to find the time. Once when the men were getting especially excited about European and American artistic standards, Marjorie asked:
“Are you very much interested in art, Mrs. Morris.
“Not so very much, to tell you the truth, Mrs. Wilde. Oh, I like some pictures; and I hear most of the important recitals each season, but, as I often tell my husband, when you have one baby two years old and another of five and another of seven, it takes considerable time to attend to the art of raising them. I let him do the art for the family, and I take care of the home.”
This was sincere consolation for Marjorie. Up to this time she appeared to be in danger of being swamped by this artistic storm which she had encountered. Her arts of cooking, sewing, housekeeping, appeared as nothing in this vast palaver about music, painting, sculpture, books and the like. She knew nothing, as she had most painfully discovered recently, of Strauss, Dvorák, Debussy, almost as little of Cézanne, Goguin, Matisse, Van Gogh, Rodin, Ibsen, Shaw and Maeterlinck, with whom the studios were apparently greatly concerned. And when people talked of singers, musicians, artists, sculptors, and playwrights, often she was compelled to keep silent, whereas Duer could stand with his elbow on some mantel or piano and discuss by the half hour or hour individuals of whom she had never heard — Verlaine, Tchaikowsky, Tolstoy, Turgenieff, Tagore, Dostoyevsky, Whistler, Velasquez — anybody and everybody who appeared to interest the studio element. It was positively frightening.
A phase of this truth was that because of his desire to talk, his pleasure in meeting people, his joy in hearing of new things, his sense of the dramatic, Duer could catch quickly and retain vigorously anything which related to social, artistic, or intellectual development. He had no idea of what a full-orbed, radiant, receptive thing his mind was. He only knew that life, things, intellect — anything and everything — gave him joy when he was privileged to look into them, whereas Marjorie was not so keenly minded artistically, and he gave as freely as he received. In this whirl of discussion, this lofty transcendentalism, Marjorie was all but lost; but she clung tenaciously to the hope that, somehow, affection, regard for the material needs of her husband, the care of his clothes, the preparation of his meals, the serving of him quite as would a faithful slave, would bind him to her. At once and quickly, she hated and feared these artistically arrayed, artistically minded, vampirish-looking maidens and women who appeared from this quarter and that to talk to Duer, all of whom apparently had known him quite well in the past — since he had come to New York. When she would see him standing or leaning somewhere, intent on the rendering of a song, the narration of some dramatic incident, the description of some book or picture, or personage, by this or that delicately chiseled Lorelei of the art or music or dramatic world, her heart contracted ominously and a nameless dread seized her. Somehow, these creatures, however intent they might be on their work, or however indifferent actually to the artistic charms of her husband, seemed to be intent on taking him from her. She saw how easily and naturally he smiled, how very much at home he seemed to be in their company, how surely he gravitated to the type of girl who was beautifully and artistically dressed, who had ravishing eyes, fascinating hair, a sylphlike figure, and vivacity of manner — or how naturally they gravitated to him. In the rush of conversation and the exchange of greetings he was apt to forget her, to stroll about by himself engaging in conversation first with one and then another, while she stood or sat somewhere gazing nervously or regretfully on, unable to hold her own in the cross-fire of conversation, unable to retain the interest of most of the selfish, lovesick, sensation-seeking girls and men.
They always began talking about the opera, or the play, or the latest sensation in society, or some new singer or dancer or poet, and Marjorie, being new to this atmosphere and knowing so little of it, was compelled to confess that she did not know. It chagrined, dazed, and frightened her for a time. She longed to be able to grasp quickly and learn what this was all about. She wondered where she had been living — how — to have missed all this. Why, goodness gracious, these things were enough to wreck her married life! Duer would think so poorly of her — how could he help it? She watched these girls and women talking to him, and by turns, while imitating them as best she could, became envious, fearful, regretful, angry; charging, first, herself with unfitness; next, Duer with neglect; next, these people with insincerity, immorality, vanity; and lastly the whole world and life with a conspiracy to cheat her out of what was rightfully her own. Why wouldn’t these people be nice to her? Why didn’t they give of their time and patience to make her comfortable and at home — as freely, say, as they did to him? Wasn’t she his wife, now? Why did Duer neglect her? Why did they hang on his words in their eager, seductive, alluring way? She hated them and, at moments, she hated him, only to be struck by a terrifying wave of remorse and fear a moment later. What if he should grow tired of her? What if his love should change? He had seemed so enamored of her only a little while before they were married, so taken by what he called her naturalness, grace, simplicity and emotional pull.
On one of these occasions, or rather after it, when they had returned from an evening at Francis Hatton’s at which she felt that she had been neglected, she threw herself disconsolately into Duer’s arms and exclaimed:
“What’s the matter with me, Duer? Why am I so dull — so uninteresting — so worthless?”
The sound of her voice was pathetic, helpless, vibrant with the quality of an unuttered sob, a quality which had appealed to him intensely long before they were married, and now he stirred nervously.
“Why, what’s the matter with you now, Margie?” he asked sympathetically, sure that a new storm of some sort was coming.”What’s come over you? There’s nothing the matter with you. Why do you ask? Who’s been saying there is?”
“Oh, nothing, nothing — nobody! Everybody! Everything!” exclaimed Marjorie dramatically, and bursting into t
ears.”I see how it is. I see what is the matter with me. Oh! Oh! It’s because I don’t know anything, I suppose. It’s because I’m not fit to associate with you. It’s because I haven’t had the training that some people have had. It’s because I’m dull! Oh! Oh!” and a torrent of heart-breaking sobs which shook her frame from head to toe followed the outburst and declamation.
Duer, always moved by her innate emotional force and charm, whatever other lack he had reason to bewail, gazed before him in startled sympathy, astonishment, pain, wonder, for he was seeing very clearly and keenly in these echoing sounds what the trouble was. She was feeling neglected, outclassed, unconsidered, helpless; and because it was more or less true it was frightening and wounding her. She was, for the first time no doubt; beginning to feel the tragedy of life, its uncertainty, its pathos and injury, as he so often had. Hitherto her home, her relatives and friends had more or less protected her from that, for she had come from a happy home, but now she was out and away from all that and had only him. Of course she had been neglected. He remembered that now. It was partly his fault, partly the fault of surrounding conditions. But what could he do about it? What could he say? People had conditions fixed for them in this world by their own ability. Perhaps he should not have married her at all, but how should he comfort her in this crisis? How say something that would ease her soul?
“Why, Margie,” he said seriously, “you know that’s not true! You know you’re not dull. Your manners and your taste and your style are as good as those of anybody. Who has hinted that they aren’t? What has come over you? Who has been saying anything to you? Have I done anything? If so, I’m sorry!” He had a guilty consciousness of misrepresenting himself and his point of view even while saying this, but kindness, generosity, affection, her legal right to his affection, as he now thought demanded it.
“No! No!” she exclaimed brokenly and without ceasing her tears.”It isn’t you. It isn’t anybody. It’s me — just me! That’s what’s the matter with me. I’m dull; I’m not stylish; I’m not attractive. I don’t know anything about music or books or people or anything. I sit and listen. but I don’t know what to say. People talk to you — they hang on your words — but they haven’t anything to say to me. They can’t talk to me, and I can’t talk to them. It’s because I don’t know anything — because I haven’t anything to say! Oh dear! Oh dear!” and she beat her thin, artistic little hands on the shoulders of his coat.
Duer could not endure this storm without an upwelling of pity for her. He cuddled her close in his arms, extremely sad that she should be compelled to suffer so. What should he do? What could he do? He could see how it was. She was hurt; she was neglected. He neglected her when among others. These smart women whom he knew and liked to talk with neglected her. They couldn’t see in her what he could. Wasn’t life pathetic? They didn’t know how sweet she was, how faithful, how glad she was to work for him. That really didn’t make any difference in the art world, he knew, but still it almost seemed as if it ought to. There one must be clever, he knew that — everybody knew it. And Marjorie was not clever — at least, not in their way. She couldn’t play or sing or paint or talk brilliantly, as they could. She did not really know what the world of music, art, and literature was doing. She was only good, faithful, excellent as a housewife, a fine mender of clothes, a careful buyer, saving, considerate, dependable, but —
As he thought of this and then of this upwelling depth of emotion of hers, a thing quite moving to him always, he realized, or thought he did, that no woman hat he had ever known had anything quite like this. He had known many women intimately. He had associated with Charlotte and Mildred and Neva Badger and Volida Blackstone, and quite a number of interesting attractive young women whom he had met here and there since, but outside of the stage — that art of Sarah Bernhardt and Clara Morris and some of the more talented English actresses of these later days — he persuaded himself that he had never seen any one quite like Marjorie. This powerful upwelling of emotion which she was now exhibiting and which was so distinctive of her, was not to be found elsewhere, he thought. He had felt it keenly the first days he had visited her at her father’s home in Avondale. Oh, those days with her in Avondale! How wonderful they were! Those delicious nights! Flowers, moonlight, odors, came back — the green fields, the open sky. Yes; she was powerful emotionally. She was compounded of many and all of these things.
It was true she knew nothing of art, nothing of music — the great, new music — nothing of books in the eclectic sense, but she had real, sweet, deep, sad, stirring emotion, the most appealing thing he knew. It might not be as great as that exhibited by some of the masters of the stage, or the great composers — he was not quite sure, so critical is life — but nevertheless it was effective, dramatic, powerful. Where did she get it? No really common soul could have it. Here must be something of the loneliness of the prairies, the sad patience of the rocks and fields, the lonesomeness of the hush of the countryside at night, the aimless, monotonous, pathetic chirping of the crickets. Her father following down a furrow in the twilight behind straining, toil-worn horses; her brothers binding wheat in the July sun; the sadness of furrow scents and field fragrances in the twilight — there was something of all these things in her sobs.
It appealed to him, as it might well have to any artist. In his way Duer understood this, felt it keenly.
“Why, Margie,” he insisted, “you mustn’t talk like that! You’re better than you say you are. You say you don’t know anything about books or art or music. Why, that isn’t all. There are things, many things, which are deeper than those things. Emotion is a great thing in itself, dearest, if you only knew. You have that. Sarah Bernnhardt had it; Clara Morris had it, but who else? In “La Dame aux Camelias,” “Sappho,” “Carmen,” “Mademoiselle de Maupin,” it is written about, but it is never commonplace. It’s great. I’d rather have your deep upwelling of emotion than all those cheap pictures, songs, and talk put together. For, sweet, don’t you know” — and he cuddled her more closely — “great art is based on great emotion. There is really no great art without it. I know that best of all, being a musician. You may not have the power to express yourself in music or books or pictures — you play charmingly enough for me — but you have the thing on which these things are based; you have the power to feel them. Don’t worry over yourself, dear. I see that, and I know what you are, whether any one else does or not. Don’t worry over me. I have to be nice to these people. I like them in their way, but I love you. I married you — isn’t that proof enough? What more do you want? Don’t you understand, little Margie? Don’t you see? Now aren’t you going to cheer up and be happy? You have me. Ain’t I enough, sweetie? Can’t you be happy with just me? What more do you want? Just tell me.”
“Nothing more, honey-bun!” she went on sobbing and cuddling close; “nothing more, if I can have you. Just you! That’s all I want — you, you, you!”
She hugged him tight. Duer sighed secretly. He really did not believe all he said, but what of it? What else could he do, say, he asked himself? He was married to her. In his way, he loved her — or at least sympathized with her intensely.
“And am I emotionally great?” she cuddled and cooed, after she had held him tight for a few moments.”Doesn’t it make any difference whether I know anything much about music or books or art? I do know something, don’t I, honey? I’m not wholly ignorant:, am I?”
“No, no, sweetie; how you talk!”
“And will you always love me whether I know anything or not, honey-bun?” she went on.”And won t it make any d
ifference whether I can just cook and sew and do the marketing and keep house for you? And will you like me because I’m just pretty and not smart? I am a little pretty, ain’t I, dear?”
“You’re lovely,” whispered Duer soothingly.”You’re beautiful. Listen to me, sweet. I want to tell you something. Stop crying now, and dry your eyes, and I’ll tell you something nice. Do you remember how we stood, one night, at the end of your father’s field there near the barn-gate and saw him coming down the path, singing to himself, driving that team of big gray horses, his big straw hat on the back of his head and his sleeves rolled up above his elbows?”
“Yes,” said Marjorie.
“Do you remember how the air smelled of roses and honeysuckle and cut hay — and oh, all those lovely scents of evening that we have out there in the country?”
“Yes,” replied Marjorie interestedly.
“And do you remember how lovely I said the cow-bells sounded tinkling in the pasture where the little river ran
“And the fireflies beginning to flash in the trees?”
“And that sad, deep red in the West, where the sun had gone down?”
“Yes, I remember,” said Marjorie, crushing her cheek to his neck.
“Now listen to me, honey: That water running over the bright stones in that little river; the grass spreading out, soft and green, over the slope; the cow-bells tinkling; the smoke curling up from your mother’s chimney; your father looking like a patriarch out of Bible days coming home — all the soft sounds, all the sweet odors, all the carolling of birds — where do you suppose all that is now?”
“I don’t know,” replied Marjorie, anticipating some thing complimentary.
“It’s here,” he replied easily, drawing her close and petting her.”It’s done up in one little body here in my arms. Your voice, your hair, your eyes, your pretty body, your emotional moods — where do you suppose they come from? Nature has a chemistry all her own. She’s like a druggist sometimes, compounding things. She takes a little of the beauty of the sunset, of the sky, of the fields, of the water, of the flowers, of dreams and aspirations and simplicity and patience, and she makes a girl. And some parents somewhere have her, and then they name her “Marjorie” and then they raise her nicely and innocently, and then a bold, bad man like Duer comes along and takes her, and then she cries because she thinks he doesn’t see anything in her. Now, isn’t that funny?”
“O-oh!” exclaimed Marjorie, melted by the fire of his feeling for beauty, the quaintness and sweetness of his diction, the subtlety of his compliment, the manner in which he coaxed her patiently out of herself.
“Oh, I love you, Duer dear! I love you, love you, love you! Oh, you’re wonderful! You won’t ever stop loving me, will you, dearest? You’ll always be true to me, won’t you, Duer? You’ll never leave me, will you? I’ll always be your little Margie, won’t I? Oh, dear, I’m so happy!” and she hugged him closer and closer.
“No, no,” and “Yes, yes,” assured Duer, as the occasion demanded, as he stared patiently into the fire. This was not real passion to him, not real love in any sense, or at least he did not feel that it was. He was too skeptical of himself, his life and love, however much he might sympathize with and be drawn to her. He was questioning himself at this very time as to what it was that caused him to talk so. Was it sympathy, love of beauty, power of poetic expression, delicacy of sentiment? — certainly nothing more. Wasn’t it this that was already causing him to be hailed as a great musician? He believed so. Could he honestly say that he loved Marjorie? No, he was sure that he couldn’t, now that he had her and realized her defects, as well as his own — his own principally. No; he liked her, sympathized with her, felt sorry for her. That ability of his to paint a picture in notes and musical phrases, to extract the last ringing delicacy out of the keys of a piano, was at the bottom of this last description. To Marjorie, for the moment, it might seem real enough, but he –he was thinking of the truth of the picture she had painted of herself. It was all so — every word she said. She was not really suited to these people. She did not understand them; she never would. He would always be soothing and coaxing, and she would always be crying and worrying.