This carefully edited collection has been designed and formatted to the highest digital standards and adjusted for readability on all devices. Content: Shaggy's Morning. The Intimate Strangers. The Passionate Eskimo. Zone of Accident. Fate in Her Hands. Too Cute for Words. Image on the Heart. Three Acts of Music. The Ants at Princeton. Inside the House. An Author's Mother. Afternoon of an Author. "I Didn't Get Over". "Send Me In, Coach". An Alcoholic Case. "Trouble". The Honor of the Goon. The Long Way Out. The Guest in Room Nineteen. In the Holidays. Financing Finnegan. Design in Plaster. The Lost Decade. Strange Sanctuary. The End of Hate. Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940) was an American writer of novels and short stories, whose works have been seen as evocative of the Jazz Age, a term he himself allegedly coined. He is regarded as one of the greatest twentieth century writers. Fitzgerald was of the self-styled "Lost Generation," Americans born in the 1890s who came of age during World War I. He finished four novels, left a fifth unfinished, and wrote dozens of short stories that treat themes of youth, despair, and age. He was married to Zelda Fitzgerald.
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I woke up after a lousy dream, and as soon as the old beezer came alive I went around the yard trying to pick up something interesting, but the wind was too strong.
There was an old biscuit in my dish and if there’s anything gloomier than one dead biscuit on a windy morning I don’t know about it.
The Brain came downstairs early like she usually does ever since she began staying away all day long. I gave her a rush, and I meant it, too. I’m not one of these diggities that think their boss is a god, even if he’s an old nigger that smells like everybody that gave him his clothes—but really anybody would have to hand it to the Brain.
Since I grew up and got the idea that they don’t go in much for any perfumes except their own, I never had any trouble with her—except the time I brought her that bone in the middle of the night and she hit me in the eye with it.
I was hoping it was about the right day to go out in the country and swim, but nothing doing—she got into her moving room at the usual time and shoved off, and I had to amuse myself. It wasn’t the first time I wished I had something regular to do.
My friend across the street was waiting for his chow, which he gets in the morning, so I had a workout with the little squirt next door. He came tearing over, cursing and threatening, because he knew I never hurt him.
“You big, clumsy tub of hair, I could run rings around you, and I’m out to prove it!”
“Yeah?” I said, kind of amused, because he talks as if he meant it, and we went through a routine with a lot of false starts, charges, leg and throat holds, rollaways, and escapes. It was all right, and after, while we were panting plenty, but I don’t get much of a workout with him, because he uses up so much time dodging and doing circles. I like a dog to go in and take it. Even a little fellow like him. Once he let a tooth slip and nipped me, and I gave him hell.
“Don’t take advantage, or I’ll tear your coat off.”
“Aw, don’t get sore.”
“Then don’t let that tooth slip again.”
While we were resting he said: “What are you doing this morning?”
“What’s on your mind? You won’t get me out after some cat again. Some dogs never grow up.”
“It’s no cat.”
“Then what is it? Meat—or girls?”
“I’ll take you there and you can see for yourself.”
“You’re generous all of a sudden. How big’s the dog that’s there now?”
While we waited for my friend we did some barking—or rather the squirt did most of it. These little tykes can yelp all day without getting hoarse. He made some circles around a bunch of kids heading for school, and I had a laugh when he got a kick in the ribs and gave out a real yelp. I only barked a little in the base to stretch my throat—I’m not one of the kind always shooting off their mouth.
After my friend came out we went with the squirt to see what he’d found. Just like I thought, it was nothing—a garbage can with a lid you could nose off. I got a whiff of some perfume, too, that bucked me up for a minute, but it was yesterday’s, so my friend and I roughed up the squirt for wasting our time and went off on our own.
We followed a tall lady for a while—no particular reason except she had a parcel with meat in it—we knew we wouldn’t get any, but you never can tell. Sometimes I just feel like shutting my nose and just following somebody pretending they’re yours, or that they’re taking you somewhere. After a couple of streets I picked up a new perfume.
“There’s some romance,” I said.
“Say you got a nose.” He tried for it, but didn’t get anything.
“I must be getting old. I can always remember shapes, but I get mixed up on perfume.”
“Shucks, it’s just the wind,” I said, to make him feel all right, but he has got a weak nose. Now me, I got a fine nose, but I’m weak on shapes. In a minute, though, he got it, and we left the lady and started back down the street at a trot.
Say we must have followed a mile, both of us getting more and more disgusted.
“What’s the use?” my friend said. “Either I’m crazy or we’re not following one scent, but about ten.”
“I get about twenty.”
“What say we quit?”
“Well, we’re pretty near now.”
We got up on a hill presently and looked down—and, say, I haven’t seen so many curs since the dog show.
“Sold,” I says, and we started home.
The Brain wasn’t there yet, but the Beard was. He got out that damn pole and tried to kid me again, holding it out and jabbering—a long time ago I figured out that his object is to see if I’m fool enough to jump over it. But Idon’t bite, just walk round it. Then he tried the trick they all do—held my paws and tried to balance me up on the end of my spine. I never could figure out the point of that one.
He started the music-box, that tune that makes my ear hum and starts me howling—so I lammed it out and down the street. A dog passed me carrying a newspaper looking all pleased with himself—but the one time I tried that racket I forgot what it was I was carrying and started to bury it, and when the Beard saw me, was he sore!
Pretty soon I saw my friend coming down the street. He was a fine big dog. He stopped and visited for a minute, with a child he knew, and then he saw me, and came running in my direction. What happened next I couldn’t see. It was noon, and there were lots of moving rooms at the cross street—the first thing I knew was that one of them had stopped and then another, and that several people had gotten out. I hurried over with some men.
It was my friend, lying on his side and bleeding out of his mouth; his eyes were open, but his breathing was wrong. Everybody was excited, and they pulled him up on the lawn: by and by his little boy and girl ran out of their house and came over and began to cry. I and another dog that knew him well went up to him, and I wanted to lick him, but when I came really close he snarled, “Scram!” and got half up on his haunches. He thought I was going to eat him just because he was down.
The little boy said, “Get away, you!” and it made me feel bad because I’ve never eaten a dog in my life, and would not unless I was very hungry. But of course, I went away so as not to worry him, and waited until they carried him away on a blanket. After that we sniffed at the blood in the street and one dog licked it.
In the front yard I howled. I don’t know why—then I went to look for the Brain. When I didn’t find her I began to figure that maybe something had happened to her, too, and she wouldn’t be back any more. I went up on the porch and waited, but she didn’t come, so I scratched on the screen and went in and howled a little at the Beard, who gave me a head scratch.
Presently I went to the door, and there was the Brain, getting out of her moving room—I made a rush for her anyhow, and put my nose in her hand and almost tripped her going upstairs. It was good to know she was home. She gave me dinner—the ground beef again and biscuit and milk and a good bone. I picked out the meat first; then I drank the milk and licked the biscuits, but didn’t eat them; then I polished my teeth on the bone and buried it shallow—I must have a hundred bones around here, and I don’t know why I save them. I never find them again unless accidentally, but I just can’t stand leaving them around.
Afterwards I started to go over and see my friend, but there was nobody around except the little girl sitting in the swing and crying.
(McCall’s, June 1935)
Table of Contents
Was she happy? Her beach slippers felt strange on the piano pedals; the wind off the Sound blew in through the French windows, blew a curl over her eye, blew on her daringly bare knees over bright blue socks. This was 1914.
“The key is in the door,” she sang,
“The fire is laid to light
But the sign upon my heart, it says ‘To let.’”
Blow, breeze of the Sound, breeze of my youth, she thought, vamping chords to the undercurrent of the melody lingering in her mind. Here I can ask myself the things that I can never ask in France. I am twenty-one. My little girl is on the beach making molds of the wet sand, my lost baby is asleep in a graveyard in Brittany; in twenty minutes my little boy will be fed for the last time from my own self. Then there will be an hour of sky and sea and old friends calling, “Why, Sara! Did you bring your ukelele, Sara? You have to come back sometimes, don’t you, Sara? Please do the imitation of the old dancing master teaching the Turkey Trot.”
Write the embassy in Washington, said a persistent undertone in the melody. Tell Eduard you’re coming there to live like a good little wife until you sail. You’re beginning to like your native land too much for one who married a Frenchman of her own free choice.
I must ask you, Mr. Agent, ’bout a problem of today
And I hope that you can solve it all for me.
I have advertised with smiles and sighs in every sort of way
But there isn’t any answer I can see—
Once again she felt the wind that ruffled the sheet music. She felt life crowding into her, into her childish resourceful body with a child’s legs and a child’s restiveness, but disciplined in her case to a virtuosic economy of movement, so that whenever she wished (which was often) she could make people’s eyes follow every little gesture she made; life crowding into her mind, wind-blown, newly-winged every morning (“Eduard never knew what he married,” sighed his relatives in their hide-outs in the Faubourg, predicting disaster. “Some day he will give her too much liberty and she will flit just like that.”); life crowded into her voice, a spiced voice with a lot of laughter, a little love, much quiet joy and an awful sympathy for people in it. “To Let” or not, her heart poured into her voice as it soared through the long light music room, finishing the song:
The key is in the door, you’ll find
The fire is laid to light
But the sign upon my heart—
She stopped with a period, realizing that suddenly she was no longer alone on the piano bench. A very tall man with a body like the Lyendecker poster of the half-back, and a face as mad with controlled exuberance as her own, had sat down beside her, and now he tinkled off the last notes in the treble with fingers too big for the keys.
“Who are you?” she said, though she guessed immediately.
“I’m the new tenant you mentioned,” he answered. “I’m sending over my furniture this afternoon.”
“You’re Abby’s beau. What’s your name—Killem Dead or something?”
“Killian. Killian the silver-tongued. Are you the one that’s Madame Sans-Gêne or the Queen of France?”
“That must be me,” she admitted.
They looked at each other, they stared, their mouths simultaneously fell just slightly ajar. Then they both laughed, bent almost double over the piano—and a moment later they were both playing “To Let” in an extemporized arrangement for two parts, playing it loud in ragtime, singing it, alternating the melody and the second without a shadow of friction.
They stopped, they stared again; once more they laughed. His blue suit was dusty and there was mud and a little blood on his forehead. His teeth were very even and white; his eyes, sincere and straight as he tried to make them, as if he had been trying hard since early boyhood, were full of trouble for somebody. He had edged one of her feet off the treble pedal and she thought how funny her other bathing shoe looked beside this monumental base of dusty cordovan. Two yellow pigskin bags and a guitar case stood behind him.
“Abby’s down at the beach with the others,” she said.
“Oh, is she? Look, do you know this …?”
… Twenty minutes later, she jumped up suddenly.
“Heavens! I’m supposed to be feeding my son—the poor little—see you on a wave!”
She tore for the nursery. Margot greeted her tranquilly at the door.
“You needn’t have hurried, Madame. I gave him his bottle and he took it like a glutton. The doctor said it did not matter, today or tomorrow.”
But it did matter. Sara knelt beside the crib.
“Goodbye a little bit,” she whispered. “Goodbye a little bit, small son. We shall meet.”
Her breast felt heavy with more than milk.
… I can feed him tonight, she thought.
But no. To be sentimental over such a little milestone. In a sudden change of mood she thought:
I am only twenty-one—life’s beginning all over. And in a rush of ecstasy she kissed Margot and tore downstairs toward the beach.
After the swimming, Sara and Killian each dressed quickly, Sara’s comb trembling in her hair till she tried three times before achieving a part, till her voice answered Abby with the wrong answers, in the wrong tone, or with meaningless exclamations that to her meant: Hurry! Hurry!
He was waiting on the piano bench. They sang “Not That You Are Fair, Dear,” with his baritone following four notes and four words after her little contralto—that was the fad then. Their eyes danced and danced together. When Abby came in, Sara was on her feet clowning for him, and Abby was appalled, yet hypnotized by the pervasive delight they had created around themselves. As soon as they fully realized her presence—it took some minutes—they were very considerate to her. Abby accepted it in a sporting spirit—Sara had the privileged position of a life-long ideal—and her own claim on Killian was only a fond hope. Anyhow Sara was happily married to the Marquis de la Guillet de la Guimpé, and would presently be going back with him to France.
Three days later the Marquis wrote to his wife from the French Embassy in Washington.
“—for two reasons I will be glad to leave, my dear little one; if the situation in Europe becomes more grave I want to be where I can join my regiment and not be tied to a desk in a neutral country.”
… As he wrote this Sara was giving a last fillip to her red-brown hair with a comb that slipped and wriggled again in her fingers—
“—second, and most important, because I don’t want my little American to forget that she is of another country now, that this is only a pleasant excursion into the past—for her future lies ahead and in France.”
… As he wrote this Sara was not so much afraid of her heel taps on the silent stairs as of the sound of her heart, which anyone must hear since it was swollen to a throbbing drum.
“—twenty years seemed a long time to lie between us when we were married, but as you grow and develop it will seem less and less—”
… As he sealed the letter in Washington, the starlight of a Long Island veranda just revealed the dark band of an arm around the shadowy gossamer of Sara; there were two low voices like two people singing in chorus: “Yes—”
“Anywhere, I don’t care—”
“Nothing like this has ever happened, even faintly.”
“I didn’t know anything about this.”
“I’d read about this, but I didn’t think it was real.”
“I never understood.”
When they made their decision they were walking along the beach with their shoes full of sand and their hands clutched like children’s hands.
… They were in a train bound for North Carolina. Killian had his guitar and Sara her ukelele. They had at least six concert hours a day from sheer exuberance, sheer desire to make a noise, to cry “Here we are!” They were like a cavalry fleeing back from a raid, with an aroused enemy thundering behind them. Sometimes they laid aside the instruments and “did” the German band, Sara manipulating hands over mouth for a cornet, Killian growling for a deep tuba. They made friends immediately with conductors and brakemen and waiters, and when the door of their drawing-room was open, the people in the car drifted up to the seats just outside. If they had tried they could have left no wider trail, but when they talked of such things they grew confused, incoherent with having so much to say to each other.
“—and then you left Harvard.”
“Almost. I had this offer from the Red Sox and I wanted to take it. I wasn’t getting any more education. Well, Father said to go ahead and be a fool any way I wanted, but Mother had a nervous breakdown. You can imagine how Mother is—my name’s Cedric, you know. Sometime I’ll show you my picture in curls and a skirt.”
“Fauntleroy was a street urchin compared to me. But then I fooled them—I outgrew them. Anyhow, instead of going south with the Red Sox—”
“Shut the door.”
He shut it.
When they were really alone they were no age at all—they were one indissoluble commingling of happiness and laughter. Only now did Sara realize the burden of these last four years of difficult adjustment, a burden carried gracefully and gayly because of the discipline of her training, a training in pride.
When they got out at Asheville and began to mount toward Saluda in a wretched bus, over the then wretched roads of slippery red clay, wires were already buzzing behind them. Mrs. Caxton Bisby, eldest of Sara’s sisters, summoned a council of war in New York, a famous detective agency began scanning the horizon, a reporter got himself a raise by an unscrupulous scoop, and it took a week before the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia pushed the story onto the second page. There were repercussions in the Faubourg St. Germaine and the Hon. (and indefatigable) Mrs. Burne-Dennison, another sister, wired from London to hold the fort, she was coming.
Meanwhile Killian had wangled a cabin, a wild broken shack above snow level, where they spent a hundred blessed hours making love and fires. Nothing was wrong, the pink light on the snow at five o’clock, the fallings asleep, the awakenings with a name half formed on the lips like a bugle rousing them.
On the other side there was only a torn calendar in the lean-to where the wood was, a calendar with a chromo of Madonna and Child. When she first saw it, stricken and aghast, Sara’s face did not change—she simply stood very still—and rained. After that she didn’t look toward the calendar when she went after wood.
They had no time for plans. They had no excuses, nothing to say. A week after they had left New York Sara was back, sitting silent in highly-charged drawing-rooms, neither denying nor affirming. A question would be asked her, and she would answer “What?” in an abstracted way. Killian was God knew where.
A few days later she embarked with her husband and children for France. That is the first part of this story.
The war to Sara was a long saying of goodbyes—to officers whom she knew, to soldiers whom she tried to make into more than numbers on a hospital bed. Goodbyes to men still whole, at doorways or railroad stations, were often harder than goodbyes to the dying. Between men and women everything happened very quickly in those days, everything was snatched at, infinitesimal pieces of time had a value they had not possessed before— … As when Sara turned the angle of a corridor in the Ritz and stopped momentarily outside an open door that was not her door. Stopped is not quite the right word—rather she hesitated, she balanced. After another step, though, she did stop, for a voice hailed her from the room.
“Where are you going in such a hurry?”
It came from the handsome man tying a civilian cravat meticulously before a mirror.
“Going along a hall.”
“Well, look—don’t. Come here a minute.”
As already remarked, everything happened quickly in those days. In a moment Sara was sitting on the side of a chair in the room, with the door pulled to just enough for her to be unseen.
“How did you happen to look in at me?” the man demanded. “I don’t know. Men are attractive sometimes when they don’t know it—you were so absorbed and puckered up over your tie.”
“I wanted to have it right. I keep buying civilian ties with no chance to wear ’em. Back to the line tomorrow.”
“I’ve got till tomorrow night.”
“What are you?”
“A nurse—with the French.”
He slipped on a white vest with obvious satisfaction in himself, and sat facing her. The shining, star-like eyes had met his in the mirror, the lithe figure with its air of teetering breezily on the edge of nothing, the mobile lips forming incisively every word they uttered, were immediately attractive. His heart, stimulated by the nearing sea-change of the morrow, went out to her.
“Why not have dinner with me tonight? I’ve got a date, but I’ll call up and break it.”
“Can’t possibly,” said Sara. “What division are you with?”
“Twenty-sixth New England. Practically a Puritan—look, it’d be a lot of fun.”
“Then why did you look in at me?”
“I told you. Because of the way you were tying your tie.” She laughed. “The first boy I ever fell in love with was a ship’s bugler, because his trousers were so tight and smooth when he bent over to blow.”
“Change your mind.”
In her room down the corridor, Sara shifted reflectively into an evening dress. She had no engagement for dinner, though there were many places she could have gone. Her own house in the Rue de Bac was closed; Eduard was with relatives at Grenoble convalescing from a spinal wound which threatened a life-long paralysis of his legs; it was from there that she had just come. The war was four years tired now, and as she walked with many millions through the long nightmare, there were times she had to be alone, away from the broken men who tore ceaselessly at her heart. Once she felt all the happiness of life in her finger tips—now she clung to little happenings of today or yesterday, gay ones or sad ones. If her heart should die she would die.
A little later the American officer came up to her as she sat in the lobby.
“I knew you’d change your mind,” he said. “I phoned and broke my other engagement. Come along—I’ve got a car.”
“But I told you—”
“Don’t be that way now—it’s not like you.”
“How do you know what I’m like?”
They drove over the dark “City of Light” and dined—then they went on to one of the few but popular night clubs—this one, run by an enterprising American, moved to a new address every twenty-four hours to avoid the attention of the gendarmerie. They danced a lot and they knew many people in common, and, partly because talking to a man going back into the line was like talking to herself, Sara spoke of things she had not spoken of for years.
“No, I haven’t been lonely in France,” she said. “My mother was very wise, and she didn’t bring us up to count on any happiness that we didn’t help make ourselves.”
“And you’ve never been in love with your husband?”
“No, I was never in love with my husband.”
“Never in love at all?”
“Yes, I was in love once,” she said, very low.
“When was that?”
“Four years ago. I only saw him for two weeks. I—understand that he’s married now.”
She did not add that ever since that two weeks she had heard Killian’s voice singing around her, heard his guitar as an undertone to every melody, touched his hand before every fire. All through the war she had dressed his wounds, listened to his troubles, written letters for him, laid his hands straight for the last time and died with him, for he was all men—Killian the archangel, the silver-tongued.
… She got up early and went with the officer to the Gare du Nord. He was all changed now, in trench coat, haversack and shining revolver.
“You’re very fine,” he said tenderly. “This has been a very strange thing. I might have been more—well, more demonstrative last night, but—”
“No, no—it’s much better this way.”
Then the train went out toward the thunder and left a hollow of gray sky.
In the movies it is so simple to tell of time passing—the film fades out on a dressing station behind the Western Front, fades in on an opera ball in Paris with the punctured uniforms changed into tail coats and the nurses’ caps into tiaras. And why not? We only want to hear about the trenchant or glamorous moments in a life. After the war Sara went to balls in Paris and London, and the side of her that was an actress played butterfly for the dull, neophyte for the brilliant, great lady for the snob, and—sometimes was most difficult of all—herself for a few.
Difficult, because it seemed to her that she had no particular self. She had a fine gay time with her children; she walked beside the wheel chair of the Marquis de la Guillet de la Guimpé for his last few years of life, but there was energy to spare that often sent her prying up mean streets or sitting for hours on the fence posts of quirky peasants; simple people said wise or droll things to her that were somehow a comfort. And she made the most of these things in the repeating. It was fun to be with Sara—even people who begrudged her the gayety patronized her for an incorrigible gamine.
When the war had been over eight years and the Marquis had lain for twelve months in the tombs of his ancestors, Sara went again to a ball; she went alone, feeling flushed and excited, and very free—in the entrance she came to a stop, her eyes lighting up higher at the sight of a footman.
“Paul Pechard!” she exclaimed.
“Madame has not forgotten.”
“Heavens, no! Were you wounded again? Did you marry Virginie?”
“I married, but not Virginie. I married an old friend of Madame’s—Margot, who was bonne to her babies. She also works here in this house.”
“Why, this is wonderful! Listen—I must go up and be polite for a moment—after that I’ll go down by a back way and meet you and Margot in the pantry, and we can talk intimately. What?”
“Madame is too generous.”
Up the stairs then on little golden slippers, looking years less than thirty-three, looking no age at all, down the receiving line speaking names out of the pages of Saint-Simon and Mme. de Sévigné, with everyone so glad to see her back in the world again—though, privately, a year seemed to many a very short mourning—then on quickly, shaking off men who tried to attach themselves to her, and down a narrow back staircase. Sara had felt that something would happen at this ball, which was why she had broken through her sister-in-law’s disapproval at her going. And here was Paul Pechard and Margot, redolent of more intense days.
“Madame is more lovely than—”
“Stop it—I want to hear about you and Paul.”
“I think we got married because we knew you, Madame.”
It was probably true. So many things can happen in the shelter of some protective personality.
“Madame was wounded, we heard, and received a decoration.”
“Just a splinter in the heel. I limp just a little when I walk—so I always run or dance.”
“Madame always ran or danced. I can see Madame now, running to the nursery and dancing out of it.”
“You dears—listen, I want to go up on that high balcony above the dance floor—do all the maids and everyone still watch the balls from there in this house? It always reminds me of when I was a child and used to look at dances in a nightgown through a crack in the door. It always seems so shiny when you watch like that.”
They climbed to the shadowy gallery and gazed down at the ambulating jewels and shimmering dresses, dressed hair bright under the chandeliers, and all against the gleaming back drop of the floor. From time to time a face turned up to laugh, or exchange a mute, secret look, breaking the fabric of calculated perfection like round flowers among the straight lines of rooms; and over the kaleidoscope the music mingled with faint powder and floated up to the watchers in the sky.
Margot leaned close to Sara.
“I saw an old friend of Madame’s this morning,” she said hesitantly. “I brought the oldest child back from England on the channel boat—”
In a wild second Sara knew what was coming.
“—I saw Mr. Killian—the big handsome American.”
Often we write to certain people that we “think of you all the time,” and we lie, of course; but not entirely. For they are always with us, a few of them, so deep in us that they are part of us. Sometimes they are, indeed, the marrow of our bones, so if they die they live on in us. Sara had only to look into herself to find Killian.
… He knows I am free and he has come to find me, she thought. I must go home.
Even as she went down the stairs the strummings of a dozen years ago were louder than the music; they blended with the June wind in the chestnut trees. Her car was not ordered, so she hailed a taxi, pressed it to go faster.
“Has anyone phoned?”
“Yes, Madame—Mrs. Selby and Madame de Villegris.”
“No one else?”
It was eleven. He had been in Paris all day, but perhaps he was traveling with people. Or perhaps he was tired and wanted to sleep first and be at his best.
She looked at herself in the mirror more closely than ever before in her life. She was all gaudy and a little disheveled with excitement, and she wished rather that he could see her now. But doubtless he would phone in the morning. Morning was his best time—he was an early-to-bed man. Nevertheless she switched a button so that the phone beside her bed would ring.
All morning she stayed in the house, faintly tired around her eyes from a restless night. After lunching she lay down with cold cream on her face, feigning sleep to avoid Noel, her sister-in-law, who wondered whether her early return from the ball did not indicate she had been snubbed for appearing in society so soon.
… Surely it was at tea time that he would call, the mellower, sweeter hour, and she took off the cold cream lest she face him with it, even on the phone. She listened with seven-league ears; she heard the teacups being gathered up in cafes on the Champs-Elysées, she heard the chatter of people pouring from the stores at five-thirty, she heard the clink of tables being laid for dinner at the Ritz and Ciro’s—then the clack of plates being piled and taken away. She heard black bells strike the hour, then taxis without horns—it was late. Sara tried to be very wise and logical; why should she have expected him—he might have been in Paris a dozen times since the war. At twelve she turned out her light.
At about three the phone woke her. A thick voice said in English:
“I’d like to speak to the lady of the house—the Marquise.”
“Who is it?” mumbled Sara, and then wide awake, “Is this—is—”
She heard a click as another receiver was taken up in the house.
“That’s all right, Noel,” said Sara quickly. “I think I know who it is.” But the receiver did not fall into place again.
“Is this Sara?” said the man.
“Just got here. Sorry call you so late, but been business.”
“Where are you?”
“Place in Montmartre—want to come over?”
“No, of course not.”
“I’ll come see you then.”
“It’s too late.” She hesitated. “Where are you staying?”
Killian, the silver-tongued, fumbling with his words—and Sara hating drunkenness more than anything in her world. She hardly recognized her own voice as it said: “Drink two cups of black coffee and I’ll meet you in the lobby of the Meurice for an hour.”
The receiver in Noel’s room clicked just before her own.
Sara’s mind had already sorted clothes for any time he might call. In the lower hall Noel was waiting for her.
“Of course you’re not going.”
“You—my brother’s widow to meet a man in a public lobby at three in the morning.”
“—and I know very well who the man is.”
Almost absent-mindedly Sara walked past her and out of the door. She found a cab at the corner of the Avenue de Bois and flew down through the city feeling higher and higher, with all the lost months coming back into the calendar with every square they passed …
He was handsome and straight as an athlete, immaculate and unrumpled in his dinner coat—he swayed on his feet.
“Haven’t you got a suite?” she demanded. “Can’t we go up there?”
He nodded. “Nice of you come.”
“I’d have come a longer way than this, Killian.”
Darkly and inconclusively he muttered: “Whenever there’s been a moon—you know—moonlight.”
… Two guitars leaned against the sofa—Sara tuned one softly—Killian went to the window, put his head way out and breathed night air.
“’Tended look you up,” he said, sitting in a chair beside the window. “Then got to know too many people on the boat. After that didn’t feel fit to see you.”
“It’s all right. I understand. Don’t talk about it. Come over here.”
The blown curtains fluttered around his head, obscuring it; she released a dry sob that she had held too long in her throat.
“What’s the matter?”
“Nothing—except that you’ve been on a tear. You never used to do that, Killian—you used to be so vain of your beautiful self.”
She felt something begin to slip away and in desperation picked up the guitar.
“Let’s sing something together. We mustn’t talk about dull things after all these years.”
“Sh—sh—sh!” Low in her throat she sang:
Beside an Eastbound box-car
A dying hobo lay—
Then she said:
“Now you sing me something—yes, you can. I want you to—please, Killian.”
He touched the strings unwillingly, and then gradually his mellow baritone rolled forth.
—He had a million dollars and
he had a million dimes
He knew because he counted them
a million times.
While he sang Sara was thinking: Is this adolescent the man whom I have loved so, that I love still? Now what? She made him sing again, as if to gain time, sing again and again until his fingers were dusting fainter and fainter chords and his voice was a sleepy murmur.
“But I can’t,” she exclaimed aloud suddenly.
He came to life startled.
Her exclamation was answer to the thought: Can I kill the memory I have lived by so long? Ah, if he had never come!
“Are you free?” she asked him suddenly. “Did you come to ask me to marry you?”
“That was my idea. Course, you see me in rather bad light. Can’t deny I’ve too much under my belt last week—and it isn’t the first time.”
“But, of course, that’s over,” she said hurriedly.
Yet how could she know? Each of them must have changed so, and she had to look at him from time to time to reassure herself even of his good looks. The dark mischief of his eyes gleamed back at her across the room. If it were only that, she sighed.
Yet she could not forget the girl who had known a wild delight in a mountain cabin….
Killian dozed, Sara moved around the room examining him impertinently from various corners, his Rodinesque feet, his clothes made of whole bolts of cloth, his great hand inert on the sounding board of the guitar. He complained faintly in his sleep and she woke him—automatically his voice rolled out of him again, deep and full, and the blunt fingers began to strum.
“Oh, Killian, Killian.” She laughed in spite of herself, and sang with him:
So merry you make me I’m bent up double,
What is it in your make-up that drives away trouble—
… Dawn came through the windows very suddenly, and she remembered that it was the longest day in the year. As if impatient to begin it, the telephone jingled.
“The beau-frère and belle-soeur of Madame are below and wish to see Madame at once on a matter of the greatest—”
“I’ll be down.”
Gently she rocked Killian from a new slumber in his chair, and as his eyes opened unwillingly she laid her cheek alongside his, whispering in his ear.
“I’ll be gone for half an hour, but I’ll be back.”
“That’s all right,” he murmured. “I’ll play guitar.”
The callers were in a small reception-room, Noel and the Comte Paul, Eduard’s brother. When she saw the agitation in their faces, decomposed by dawn, she knew that the scenes of twelve years ago were to be repeated.
“This is extraordinary—” Paul began, but Noel cut through him.
“To find you here, Sara! You, the widow of a hero, the mother of the son who bears his name, here in a hotel at this hour.”
“You can’t be very surprised,” said Sara coldly. “You knew where to find me.”
“Once when my brother was alive you dragged his name through the newspapers—now when he is in a hero’s grave and cannot speak for himself, you intend to do it again.”
“Eduard wanted me to be happy—”
She stopped—she was not happy, only miserable and confused. Weary with her two-day vigil, she wanted sleep most of all. But she did not dare sleep; she could not risk letting this thing slip out of her hand again.
“Would you like some coffee?” she suggested.
Noel refused, but Paul agreed vigorously and went to order it.
“Are you an old woman bewitched, wanting a pretty gigolo?” Noel cried. “Are there not hundreds of men of culture and distinction for you to know—you who have moved in the best society of Europe. Yes, even men to marry if you must, after a decent interval.”
“You think that I’m going to marry Killian?”
“Well, aren’t you? Isn’t that your—”
Paul returned from the lobby.
“What concerns us chiefly is the children,” he said. “Henri bears the senior title; he is the only Marquis in France who walks with Dukes, by the graciousness of the Grand Monarque.”
“I know all that. I am proud of my son’s name and I’ve tried to make him proud of it. But my part is almost done—they go to Brittany next week for the summer, and in the fall Miette will be fifteen and Henri thirteen and they’ll go off to school.”
“Then you’ve made up your mind to marry this—this species of six-day-bicycle-racer?” said Paul. “Oh, we’ve checked up on him from time to time—once he made himself a promoter of prize fights. Guh!”
“I’ve said nothing about marrying him.”
She drank her coffee quickly—it was so confusing to try to think in their presence. Remembering many public scandals and misalliances, she wondered that each one had seemed so clean-cut in a sentence of gossip or a newspaper headline. Doubtless, behind every case, there were trapped and muddled people, weighing, buying a ticket to nowhere at an unknown price.
The porter brought her in a cable—she read it and said to Noel:
“You cabled Martha Burne-Dennison in London.”
“I did,” said Noel defiantly. “And I cabled New York too, and at what a cost!”
The message said:
you cannot throw yourself away on a wild man from nowhere think of us and your children i arrive at the gare st. lazare at five.
As she crumpled it, Sara wondered if the sun upstairs was in Killian’s eyes, keeping him from sleep.
“You will come home now,” they said. “We will rest; presently you will view your obligations in a different light.”
—And it will be too late. In a panic she felt them close in on her. Ah, if Killian had come to her all whole and straight.
“My wrap is upstairs.”
“We can send for it.”
“No, I’m going myself.”
Upstairs Killian cocked a drowsy eye at her.
“You were a long time.”
She uttered a sort of groaning laugh.
“Are you under the impression you’ve been playing the guitar all this time?”
Suddenly he stood up, seemed to snap altogether. He stretched; his clothes fell into place; his eyes were clear as a child’s and the color was stealing back into his face. With this change came another. The faint silliness of last night faded out of his expression and all consideration, all comfort, all quintessence of eternal cheer and tireless energy came back into it. He looked at her as if for the first time, took a step—and then her dress crushed into his shirt bosom, and his stud, pressing her neck like a call button, set her heart scurrying and crying. And she knew.
“We’ve got to hurry,” she gasped, breaking from him. “You start packing.” She picked up the phone and, waiting for the connection, said in a choking little laugh, “We’re running away again—they’ll be after us—isn’t it fun? We’ll get married in Algiers—Abby’s husband’s consul-general. Oh, isn’t it wonderful!
“Hello—is this Henriette? Henriette, pack me the blue traveling suit—shoes and everything—toilet articles—my personal jewels—and your own bag—be at the Gare de Lyon in an hour.”
The shower was already roaring in Killian’s bathroom. Then it stopped and he called out:
“I forgot I haven’t any street suit or any baggage at all, except a couple of used dress shirts. Caught the night boat from Southampton and my things got stuck in the customs—”
“That’s all right, Killian,” she cried back. “We’ve got plenty—you and I—and two guitars.”
Her beach slippers felt strange on the piano pedals—the wind off the Sound blew in through the lilac trees, blew on her bare brown shoulders, her brown childish legs—this was 1928.
Blow, breeze of America, breeze of my youth, she thought. I am thirty-six; my daughter is almost grown and every morning she rides in the Bois de Boulogne; my son is here in America with me for the summer. Presently there will be an hour of sky and sea, with old friends calling, “Please do the imitation of the French woman teaching English, Sara!”
She swung around suddenly on the piano bench.
“You like the pretty picture?” she inquired of Abby.
“Picture of what?”
“Picture of Killian and Sara.”
“You might as well end your visit without any illusions,” Sara said. “I haven’t any idea where Killian has been these last four days—I didn’t know he was going, where he went, when he’ll be back—if ever. It’s happened twice since we’ve been married. Anyhow, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking these last four days—I suppose all the thinking I’ve ever done in my life has been crowded into a few weeks—and it’s just possible I’m not the right kind of wife for him. I’ve tried to run a civilized house, but he seems to get yearnings for the society of friendly policemen.”
“Killian never grew up—that’s all. Sometimes I try to make it funny—Mr. and Mrs. Jiggs.”
“But if my husband didn’t go away sometimes—”
“It isn’t just that, Abby. I thought that at last maybe I’d have the whole loaf I’ve never had. I’ve gone to fights with Killian and baseball games and six-day bicycle races, and broken my heart shooting lovely little quail. I’ve admired his bottle-green hunting coat and played minstrel show with him at parties, but we just don’t communicate. I’m getting very well acquainted with myself.”
“You love Killian,” Abby said.
“Yes, I love him—all I can find of him. Sometimes I say to myself that I’m expiating—there’s a nice new word. Killian and I started wrong, so now I’m cast for Expiation. ‘The former Marquise de la Guillet de la Guimpé was lovely in the rôle of Mrs. Expiation.’” She stopped herself as if ashamed. “I’ve never talked about this before—the pride must be breaking down.”
Killian came home just before dinner, looking exactly like the four days he’d been away. Sara had planned her act.
“Darling! I was sure you’d be home tonight.” She went on drawing her lips in the mirror. “You go and shave and take a bath right away, because we’re going to the opera. I’ve got your ticket.”
Her voice was calm, but in the terrible relief of his return she drew three red mustaches on her upper lip.
He was himself again on the way back in the car, but only in the morning was the matter mentioned.
“You were pretty sweet about this,” he said.
If he would only say more—what made him go?—if there was only something between them beyond the old electrical attraction. They lived lately in the growing silence, and intuition told her that this was one of those crucial quiet times when things are really settled. The battle was not joined; the message, if message there was, could still get through.
In the afternoon he went riding and Sara found herself missing him terribly. With the vague idea that they might talk more freely outside of walls—walls whose function is to keep people apart—she drove slowly along the country roads he frequented. After half an hour, she saw him far ahead of her—first a figure that might have been any man on any horse, and then at the next rise was Killian on his great roan mare. The fine figure against the sky fascinated her—she stopped her car until he passed from sight in another dip.
At the next hill he was still invisible, so she drove to a further viewpoint from which she could see for miles, but no Killian—he had turned off somewhere into the country.
Turning herself she drove back slowly—after a quarter mile she saw the mare grazing on the grassy hillside not far from the road. She left the car and walked up the hill. There in a grove of half a dozen trees she found him.
He lay on his side on the ground, cheek in his hand. Reluctant to surprise him in the solitude, Sara stood silent. After a few minutes he got to his feet, shook his head from side to side in a puzzled way, clapped his gloves together several times and turned about. As he moved she saw a gravestone, against which lay a bouquet of fresh flowers.
He came toward her, frowning a little.
He took her hand and they went down the hill together.
“That’s Dorothy’s grave,” he said. “I bring flowers sometimes.” A vast silence stole over her. Killian had not mentioned his first wife half a dozen times since their marriage.
“Oh, I see.”
“She used to like that little hill—I’m almost sure it was that hill—almost—” A touch of worry came into his voice. “—and we talked about building a house on it. So after she died I bought the piece of land.”
The old limp from the war made Sara trip suddenly and he caught her by the waist, half-carrying her as they went on. Only when asphalt instead of the grass was underfoot did she say: “You cared for her a lot, Killian?”
He nodded, and she nodded as if in agreement.
“It was long ago,” he said. “But she hated my wild times just as much as you do, and it seems to fortify me to come here.”
His words fell unreal on Sara’s ears—she had assumed always that his first marriage was a rebound, a substitute. Something broke from her heart that she regretted immediately: “You forgot me right away.”
He hesitated; then he said bluntly:
“I love you so much now that I can tell you this—that I wasn’t really in love with you when we ran away together. I didn’t realize at first how unhappy you were going to be afterward.”
She nodded, surprised at her own calmness.
“I’m beginning to understand some things,” she said. “It explains about Paris.”
“You mean the time during the war.”
“The time I found you tying your tie in a mirror in the Ritz, and we acted it out that we were strangers who had picked each other up. I never quite understood why you didn’t make love to me that evening. I supposed it was because my husband was wounded and you were helping me to the right thing.” She paused thoughtfully. “And all the time you were being in love with your wife at home.”
They stood by the car, their hands still clasped.
“She was lovely,” Sara said, as if to herself. “Once I saw a picture of her in a magazine.”
“I didn’t see any advantage in ringing Dorothy’s ghost in on our marriage,” Killian said. “You thought that you and I had felt the same way all those years—and I let you think so. But I know now I was wrong—if you begin locking things up in a cupboard, you get so you never say half what’s in your mind.”
Here were her own words come back to her.
“What brought you to me after the war?” she persisted. And then added quickly, “Oh I don’t care—you came for me and that was enough.”
Her natural buoyancy tried to struggle back, beating against her pride. She had only made the mistake of believing that Killian’s heart was a mirror of her own.
“I love you more than I did ten minutes ago,” she said.
They hugged each other, cheek to cheek; their slim silhouette might have been that of young lovers vowed an hour before. Presently his attention left her as he exclaimed: “Look at that dam’ mare!”
“It’s all right—we can get her—jump in the car.”
When they reached the mare Killian got out and caught it, and Sara drove on, turning at the next curve and waving back at him. But at the turn beyond that the road grew blurred for a moment and she stopped again, thinking of the green hill and the flowers.
“Sleep quiet, Dorothy,” she whispered. “I’ll take care of him.”
Throughout a dinner party that night she was still thinking, trying to accept the fact that a part of Killian and a part of herself would always be strangers. She wondered if that were especially her fate, or if it were everyone’s fate. From earliest childhood she remembered that she had always wanted some one for her own.
After coffee, they responded to a general demand, moved the piano bench to the middle of the floor, left only the firelight shining in the room. She sat beside Killian, making a special face of hers that was more like laughing than smiling, fingers pressed to a steeple over her heart, as he meticulously tuned his guitar, then at his nod they began. The Russian jibberish song came first—not knowing a word of the language they had yet caught the tone and ring of it, until it was not burlesque but something uncanny that made every eye intent on their faces, every ear attune to the Muscovite despair they twisted into the end of each phrase. Following it they did the always popular German Band, and the Spanish number, and the spirituals, each time with a glance passing between them as they began another.
“You’re not sad, are you?” he whispered once.
“No, you old rake,” she jeered back at Kim cheerfully. “Hey! Hey! Scratch a marquise and find a pushover.”
No one would ever let Killian and Sara stop, no one ever had enough, and as they sang on, their faces flushed with excitement and pleasure like children’s faces, the conviction grew in Sara that they were communicating, that they were saying things to each other in every note, every bar of harmony. They were talking to each other as surely as if with words—closer than any two people in the room. And suddenly she was forever reconciled—there would always be this that they had had from the beginning, music and laughter together, and it was enough—this, and the certainty that presently, when their guests were gone, she would be in his arms.
Liberty (June 1935)
Table of Contents
Pan-e-troon crawled out of the igloo, pushing away the nose of an inquisitive dog, and uttered in Lapp the equivalent of” Scram!” to the rest of the pack. He looked to see if the line of fish was safely out of their reach and then proceeded a hundred yards over the white surface to his father’s hut.
The old man, his face the color of rawhide, looked at him imperturbably.
“Are you packed and ready?” he asked.
“All packed and ready.”
“Good. We leave early in the morning. Most of the others are on the point of departure.”
It was true. As far as the eye could reach, there were signs of dismantling and preparation, and the bustle and excitement that accompany it.
Pan-e-troon gazed for a moment with an expression of regret that confined itself, however, to his slitlike purple eyes. He was a small youth, but supple and well made—and the contours of his round nose and chin and cheeks gave him a perpetually cheerful expression. He gazed about him for a long time—he had come to like this locality.
“Old Wise One,” he said to his father,” I want to go into Chicago.”
His father started. “What?”
“For one last look.”
“But by yourself?” demanded his father anxiously.
“Yes, Old Wise One. I can find my way around. I speak a lot of American now and if I get lost I only have to say, ‘World’s Fair.’”
The old man grunted.
“I don’t like it. When we have a guide and are together, all right, but alone you’ll get hurt, get lost.”
“Old Wise One, I must go,” said Pan-e-troon. “Here is the last chance before we start for our home. Home is very fine, doubtless—”
“Of course it is!” said his father indignantly.
Pan-e-troon bowed slightly and finished his sentence: “—and often in these hot months I have wished to be fishing through the ice, or hunting bear, or eating well cooked blubber. But—”
“I should like to carry back more memories of this great village. I should like to walk along the street not regarding what the guides tell us to regard but noticing for myself what I wish. I should like to go into a trading post and put down money and say, ‘ Here-give me that exchange for this’; and I should like to say to people, ‘ Which way, please? Much ‘blige.’”
He was a silent young man and this was probably the longest speech he had ever made in his life.
“You are a fool!” grunted his father. But he knew Pan-e-troon, and opening his purse he took out a new silver quarter.
“Spend it carefully,” he said.” Buy me some tobacco. And bring back what change there is.”
Pan-e-troon bowed again.
“I shall indeed, Old Wise One.”
He hurried back to his igloo for a small cache of money of his own—a. quarter, two dimes, and two pennies. The fortune jingled together pleasantly in his hand, where indeed he must hold it, for he wore the costume of the Arctic Circle. This was not as oppressive as it sounds in Chicago of a late October afternoon, for it had been especially made of the lightest skins for the purpose of display at the Fair.
He hesitated between his fur cap and a new straw hat which an admirer had given him, finally deciding on the latter.
Then he slipped the money into the top of “a moccasin, and once more shouting” Scram!” at the dogs who were leaping at the line of fish, he walked out of the Eskimo village into the pleasance.
Immediately he had a following. Pan-e-troon was grown used to strange eyes, however, and they did not disturb him. He felt quite at ease, quite a part of the crowd, in his new straw hat, and he wished he had borrowed his father’s new spectacles for additional decoration.
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