The Breath of Scandal/Chapter 22

CHAPTER XXIV

MARJORIE had no warning of his arrival; indeed at this time she was without apprehension of the presence of any one belonging to her Evanston acquaintance; for the weeks which had passed since her abandonment of her father's home had emphasized to her the astonishing narrowness and paucity of the paths through the city which are trod by people concerning themselves chiefly with appearances for social position. She reckoned that they considered—for she had merely to count that she herself had once considered—hardly a score of public places as advantageous for them to visit; besides these, there were perhaps six or eight gardens and cabarets which were pleasantly "unusual" or attractively risqué for an adventurous evening; also there were the resorts where boys and men, from the better sections of the city and suburbs, went for frankly sensual companionship. But they seemed to know nothing of the great number of places which provided Jake Saltro and Sam Troufrie and Clara Seeley and their friends with food and entertainment.

Surprisingly attractive and bright Marjorie found these hitherto unsuspected places of dining and amusement; here she was to-night with Clara and Sam and Mr. Rinderfeld at a restaurant quite as well arranged and decorated and furnished as many a fashionable hotel dining room, and it was blest by a rather better than usual cook with an especially happy penchant for sea foods and salads and pastries; there was an extraordinary musical trio,—a Heifetz-looking violin youth accompanied by two girls who played, sang, dialogued or danced, and who, with the soulful violinist, jazzed zestfully for the dancing of the patrons in the cleared space at the center of the floor.

Marjorie knew a good many of the couples at the other tables or dancing; there was Red Else Nordquist making motions with his fiery head meaning, "on for toddle pretty soon?" Red Else considered himself in the real-estate business, having a father who was a carpenter and had slapped up a block of flats on first and second mortgage money just before the war; Red got his, now, from the rents. Gus Linduska gazed Clara's and Marjorie's way, too often for Mil Kotopoulos, who was with him. Mil was an old friend of Clara's; they'd worked in the same manicure shop; she was changing her hair, letting it go back to brown, but she wasn't changing her friends, though her father was bootlegging now and cleaning up—some said—three thousand a month. Winking to a waiter in the manner which meant "yes; cocktails in the coffee cups" was Max Kral, credit clothing, who wasn't one of those caught with a big inventory when prices broke; Mrs. Kral was with him and the Sequieras, credit jewelry, whose seven-thousand-dollar car, brand new and with chauffeur, waited outside; Marjorie could hear them, as they meant her to, when they mentioned the car by name and by price, with chauffeur; Ig Kostic, the Serbian undertaker, with "Krazy Kat" Fiala, Mat Jilek, of the chain stores, and Vittie (Vittoria) Garibaldi—Marjorie, in her mind, ran over the names of the people who nodded to her and whom she could nod to, all of them dining from the card and at a cost of two dollars each and upwards, according to how often you winked; and their cars, with or without chauffeurs, crowded the parking stalls.

Of course Marjorie Hale, in her Evanston days, occasionally must have seen some of these people when boldly and with elaborate affront they invaded the hotels which the Sedgwicks, the Chadens, the Lovells, the Cleves, the Vanes and the Hales frequented but, when she noticed these intruders at all, it was rather with amusement or at least with condescension, and she imagined them lucky individuals from the new immigrants who, by extraordinary personal sacrifices or by isolated strokes of fortune, had got together a little money which they were half ridiculously, half pitifully parading. But she had completely cured herself of any comforting fancy of the fewness of these people and, as completely, she had lost any lingering feeling of condescension. As they became her friends, she still could not help being amused at things they did; but with her amusement and with her real liking for many of them there grew, in these days, respect and something beyond that which bordered on fear.

Fear of what? She wondered sometimes; not fear for herself, directly; rather, fear for hers. Her what? For Evanston, she said to herself; for Winnetka and Lake Forest and that north shore which was the stronghold of the life which had been hers; for the Lake Shore Drive and Astor Street and the avenues and places between them; for the Drake and the Blackstone and the clubs,—the pleasant, privileged places where her sort ruled. Sometimes she felt the presence of these new people as a pressure upon hers.

"They're taking over Chicago from you," Rinderfeld once commented calmly to her, "as we are taking over New York from you and the run-down Dutch. The Anglo-Saxon stock in America that sticks to its stock is almost through. It's going down and going under or it's gone up and——"

"And what?" she urged him, when he stopped.

"Diminishes," said Rinderfeld quietly, choosing, as he always did, the least offensive word and adding, as he liked to, the flourish, "Here about us are those who are taking over American civilization."

They had not been in this restaurant then but in another very like it; and Clara and Sam Troufrie had not been with them, as now. They had been alone, Marjorie Hale and Felix Rinderfeld, on the occasion of his second call upon her after she had taken a room at Jen Cordeen's. That second visit was of his own initiative but the first had been of hers; for Rinderfeld had possessed the restraint and perception to wait until she sent for him. Of course, he knew she was bound to summon him, sooner or later, since he composed the sole connection she retained with the world which had been hers.

He had been wholly careful to preserve the impersonal in that first business interview since she had left her home; and in the second, when he sought her with a most plausible business excuse, he had let himself relax from the formal less than she.

For Marjorie was hungry for personal details, for the tiny, tremendously significant trifles about her father who was doing big things again and whom Rinderfeld was seeing and she never; and when she had learned all she could of her personal matter, she questioned him about more general affairs; and Rinderfeld replied to her, luring her on. On into the most subtle and subversive activity of mankind,—the use of the mind. For Felix Rinderfeld discerned with complete clarity the basis of his hold on her; here was a girl with an excellent mind—one capable actually of ruling her—but a girl reared under conditions which had required no exercise of it, which, in fact, had practically forbidden its use; and when all of a sudden she had been brought with frightful shock against a reality which she had to combat with her mind, Felix Rinderfeld had gained the golden opportunity of guiding her in her first experiments with thought.

But neither at the time when she sent for him nor upon the following days when he came to talk with her had he erred by betraying the slightest physical feeling for her; Gregg Mowbry only, at one accidental moment when he caught Rinderfeld off guard, had surprised a glimpse of that. Clara warned Marjorie against Rinderfeld, of course, but Clara cautioned against every man and, to tell the truth, when Clara learned who Marjorie's friend was, she was less uneasy about him. "He's no boob; he knows he's got a shady rep, professionally, and if he queers himself personal, he knows he's cooked," Clara admitted and observed with increasing curiosity the peculiar plays that Rinderfeld made for Marjorie's attention.

For instance: "What do you suppose he picked as light reading to slip a girl?" Clara discussed the puzzle with Sam. "Wells' 'Outline of History'—at ten dollars the throw." Clara dipped into it, suspiciously, half expecting it might be a trick book, and she was disappointed, of course, and then got astoundingly interested and she read it, with Marjorie, late at night after they went to bed. For Marjorie also surprised herself by her interest. At home her mother had had the books, but Marjorie had never opened them; however, at Jen Cordeen's, she wanted to read them; and Rinderfeld told her why.

"You're realizing that what you'd been standing on—and what's been knocked from under you—was not merely an illusion concerning one man but a fallacy regarding your whole situation; so you need now to know more about what the human race actually is and has been."

"What was my fallacy?" Marjorie asked.

But Rinderfeld refused the attempt to phrase it; and thereby kept her thinking for herself and of him.

She was not actually discussing history with Rinderfeld when Billy came upon them, but their discussion was at least more mental and impersonal than any she had ever had with Bill; however, this probably was not apparent.

Clara saw Billy first and, of course, did not recognize him. "Hello!" Clara warned in hoarse sotto voce. "The place is pinched!"

Rinderfeld looked about, then, and instantly recognized William Whittaker; and simultaneously Rinderfeld grasped the inevitable developments of the next moment; he thought so quickly, indeed, that his impulse to be on his feet got no further than a tugging at his knee muscles.

"Whittaker is here," he said quickly in a low voice to Marjorie. "He has seen you; keep your seat."

She jerked and pulled herself up straight, swung about and saw Billy; as she faced about, he cried her name, "Marjorie!"

But she had no regard for the commotion he caused; she was not able to think about other people; they might have been, for those seconds, blotted out and the room blotted out, as Billy approached her; here he was, rushing toward her,—Billy who believed he had owned her, who could think of her in no way but as his.

"Oh, I get it," Marjorie heard Clara's voice, correcting her first comment on Billy's entrance. "He's a friend of yours."

Marjorie appealed to Rinderfeld, but never taking her eyes off Billy. "You've got to help me, I guess."

"Yes; humor him," said Rinderfeld steadily. "Don't try to run, whatever you do."

"No," said Marjorie; and she was aware that Rinderfeld was motioning to some one—to whom and for what purpose, she did not see. There was a wholeness of forgetfulness of himself about Billy, a blindness and deafness and selflessness of joy and relief at his having found her which, for that moment, made her unable to feel the presence of any one else. No one but Billy could have put himself under so; and she had forgotten how he could, for her. He called her name again; and she whispered in dismay to herself, "Billy, oh, Billy." Then she went weaker and shrank. "How can he possibly, possibly understand?" And though at one instant she would have risen and cried out to the staring, smiling men and girls about that this man who so burst in was coming for her and coming so because he could not care for himself at all in comparison with her, and there was no other man like him, yet at the next instant she would have hidden from him, if she could. Not because she was ashamed before him or for him before them, but because she had nothing for him; when he reached her, she could only sit there.

And now he reached her. "Marjorie, Marjorie!"

"Billy," she said. "Sit down."

For Rinderfeld was on his feet now; Sam Troufrie also was standing.

"Marjorie, come!" said Billy. "I've found you—don't you know. Come come with me!"

She sat there, staring up at him but not even raising an arm. Rinderfeld spoke to him now, but Billy paid no attention at all to Rinderfeld; Billy's hands seized her, her shoulders felt his fingers; his face came close to hers for he dropped to one knee beside her chair, holding her and shaking her a little as though, when she stared at him, she was asleep and he had to wake her.

"What have they been doing to you, Marjorie?" Still gripping her, he turned on Rinderfeld and in a whisper but savagely he said, "What have you done to her?"

Then other hands seized Billy; not Rinderfeld's. Waiters and the manager of the restaurant were around Billy.

"Don't hurt him!" Marjorie cried.

"Hurt me?" said Billy; and he laughed and let her go and straightened and threw one man down.

"We're going into the manager's room," Rinderfeld said quickly; and she got up and he led her, with Billy and the manager and the waiters crowding after them.

They all pushed into the room but only Billy and she and Rinderfeld stayed there; the rest got out, or Rinderfeld started them out and Billy finished the getting rid of them. He grabbed at Rinderfeld, too. "You get out of here now!"

Marjorie recovered herself at that. "Billy, you must control yourself!"

"What am I doing?" he swung toward her. "You want him here?"

"Yes."

"What? Oh, maybe I do, too; he might get away altogether; and if you've hurt her——" he was threatening Rinderfeld again.

"Be still, Billy," Marjorie begged. "You shan't say such things. Mr. Rinderfeld's never hurt me; he wouldn't dream of doing to me what you, yourself, have just done!"

"I?"

"Oh, I felt the fineness of it, too, Billy; I felt what you meant to be the fineness of it—your coming to find me that way to—to save me. But do you think, when you do a thing like that and when you say a thing like this against Mr. Rinderfeld, it's not—also an insult to me? You're wrong and unjust and insulting to him——"

"Insulting to him!" Billy repeated and laughed. "Insulting to Felix Rinderfeld!"

"You shan't!" she denied. "You shan't. Mr. Rinderfeld never came into my trouble of his own accord; we asked him to help me—you and Gregg and I. I went to him to have him help me, and he has helped me more than any one else, more than ever you have and in a way which should make you ashamed—ashamed of yourself for what you think and say of him and me. I didn't imagine a man could be as unpersonal and considerate of a girl in my situation as he has been. I thank him for it; I haven't been able to thank him before; he wouldn't have let me; so I thank him for it now!"

Rinderfeld moved then; he had not moved when Billy reached for him or when Marjorie first defended him; she had not looked at him when she began but now she saw him. What had she said? she demanded of herself in fright. Exactly what had she said? More than she realized, undoubtedly; or else a decent, fair word spoken for him was so rare and surprising an event for Felix Rinderfeld that it affected him out of proportion to her intent. She had never seen Rinderfeld affected by anything before; so unpersonal, indeed, had he kept himself that she had never thought of him as possessing and controlling sensitiveness like other men; but here, by her word for him, she had unmasked him a man, eager for approbation—not scorning it—hungry for warmth and sympathy, not contemptuous of it, and a man yearning for affection from her.

Affection? It frightened her even to form the idea in her own head; yet she meant every word she had spoken and she would not have taken them back; they were true and deserved. Felix Rinderfeld had played fair with her from the first; and she could not imagine him going on with her except playing fair; and she would play fair with him.

"I think my presence does not help your talk with him," Rinderfeld said to her quietly, and it struck her as his characteristic refusal to take personal advantage from her. "I shall wait for you outside to take you home; or I shall go now myself, whichever you prefer."

"I think," said Marjorie, and she faced him, alternately white and overswept with flushes, she was aware, "I will take him to Clearedge Street. I meant what I said a minute ago."

"Thank you," said Rinderfeld, barely audibly; he glanced at Billy and hesitated but decided not to speak to him at all. Rinderfeld opened the door to the restaurant floor where dance music again was playing. When he was gone, Billy advanced and seized Marjorie's arm. A waiter or some one must have carried her gloves and handbag from the table where she had been dining; anyway, here they were on a chair.

"These are yours?" said Billy.

She nodded and he swept them up and led her out through the door to the sidewalk and around to his car.

"Get in," he ordered her.

No one outside noticed them; if any of those who had witnessed Billy's coming were waiting further developments, they must be on watch inside; but there were people passing and there was a policeman on the corner who, of course, would take the side of a girl against a man trying to force her to accompany him in a car. Marjorie thought of these, and she brought them to Billy's mind when she said, "I will go with you, if you will take me home."

"Where's your home?" he returned. "I want to see it." Then definitely he agreed. "Yes; I'll take you there."

So she got in and gave him Jen Cordeen's number on Clearedge Street. The repetition of the address stiffened his clasp on her arm, for after he had her in the car, he held to her, as though she might escape, while with his other hand and a foot he operated the spark lever and the starter.

Clearedge Street, in spite of the weeks she had lived there, became to her at moments that flat of Mrs. Russell's; to Billy it meant only that; and she felt him grasping and half releasing her arm and re-grasping her in his renewed terror,—in his insulting terror for her after she had told him her address.

"Heavens, Billy, it's a decent enough street," she said coldly. "Let go of me, and drive; you're blocking the traffic."

But, when he drove, she shared his sensation of their first departure for Clearedge Street when she had sat between Gregg and Billy and Gregg did the driving. Gregg!

How fine and understanding he had been, that night; she had not been able to realize it until long afterward; it seemed to her, indeed, that she only completely realized it now.

"What have you been doing, Marjorie? Doing?" Billy demanded and kept at her; but she now was hardly thinking of him. "I'll tell you when you get me home." She was putting off what they had to go through with until they arrived at Jen Cordeen's, when she would take it all together.

"How's Gregg, Billy?" she asked.

"I don't know."

"Why don't you know? Where is he?"

"I don't know where he is or anything about him."

"Why don't you?"

"Why should I? He's left the flat. Why should you bother about him? He knew where you were; that is, he knew you were going off with Rinderfeld!"

"Billy, let me out!"

"Oh, my God, Marjorie, you know I didn't mean that! But you made me beside myself. You did go off and gave Rinderfeld your address and you let him see you; and you told Gregg you were going—Gregg and not me! Why did you do that? You have to answer that to me! You're mine—mine!"

"No, Billy."

"Yes, you are. You promised yourself to me; you pledged yourself; we're betrothed, you and I, Marjorie; and nothing I've done entitles you to end it. Nothing! And nothing you've done can cause me to let you go. You'd be my wife now, probably, and happy and not thinking of anything else, if your father—oh, I can't talk about him; I mean, it's been all external to you and me, the trouble between us; it's what he did that drove you away; but now I've got you back."

There in the car she did not oppose him; she dared not while they were driving; so he took her to Clearedge Street and to Jen Cordeen's, thereby keeping his promise, and there he saw for himself and learned from her how she had been living. Then he tried to take her away.

His idea was not to return her to her father or to her home; for her home, as he told her, was occupied only by the servants; her father was living, most of the time, at a club; the plan, as Billy proclaimed it to her, was to take her at once either to the Sedgwicks' in Evanston or, if she preferred not going to a friend of hers, to the home of friends of his on Bellevue Place in Chicago. He would wire immediately for his own mother, who undoubtedly would come down at once from Bay City and either take Marjorie home with her or stay with her in Chicago until Marjorie became more quiet and normal.

"Normal!" The word stuck in Marjorie's mind when at last, after creating about all the commotion possible, short of calling the police, Billy was gone. What a man like Billy meant by "normal" for a girl was being happy as his wife and not thinking of anything but compliance with his ideas and commands. Oh, high, moral ideas—ideals, indeed (that was the trouble with them)—and only reasonable, self-respecting commands!

She thought very probably it was true that if her father had not gone to Sybil Russell—at least if, after he went, his daughter had not heard of it—Marjorie Hale would now be the wife of William Whittaker and fulfilling her destiny in accordance with his ideas, or she would be hopelessly combating them. And she wondered how much the surrender to him would actually have offended that girl she had been. "I'd have something on my hands," she reckoned grimly, when she imagined herself having married Billy and either opposing him or seeking to modify his idea of their relation.

She was in her room, undressing, and Clara was there with her; for Clara had come home in time to witness and hear much of Billy's final pleading. But Clara maintained perfect tact in such a matter; for training in tact—Marjorie previously had thought—there evidently was no such school as growing up one of a family of nine in two rooms; so Clara had no difficulty in acting as though she had observed nothing and she wholly refrained from comment until Marjorie said:

"That was the man I was engaged to."

"Hmhm," said Clara, without surprise. "It struck me over there at the table that likely he'd seen you somewhere before."

"We're not engaged now."

"Hmhm. I suspected that's what you thought."

"He's a perfectly fine man, Clara; after what you've seen, I want you to know that. You saw him at his worst to-night; sometimes—and I gave him a good deal of cause, I know—he's like that; but then he's—just fine."

Clara was brushing her hair and she gave it several vigorous strokes. "You said he was a bad actor for him to-night, kid? That's the worst of him you ever see? Kid, then why in hell don't you marry him? Grab him off quick, I'm tellin' you; grab him off!" And Clara went to brushing more rapidly and vehemently than before.

She surprised Marjorie so that she went a few steps nearer and then, with something of Clara's tact, Marjorie withdrew to her own toilet table.

"Kid," said Clara, and her use of this address was a return to a manner which she had dropped recently, and which expressed to Marjorie that Clara felt now that her roommate had not become as sophisticated as she had thought, "I said somethin' to you once right here about there not bein' any of one sort of animal. I take it back; I was wrong; you had one up your sleeve; you've shown me."

"You mean—a—a," Marjorie hesitated, trying to recall Clara's exact words, "a pure man."

"What d' I care about purity? Gawd, Marjorie, I ain't askin' the sky to fall. If I can see a man who actually forgets himself when seein' a girl—who don't think about himself at all but just her, who don't care what show he makes of himself, who don't even know whether they're laughin' at him, and who couldn't think of carin' a damn if they was or not, so long as he could maybe, perhaps do a little thing for her, that's enough for me! Plenty, I'm tellin' you; 'bout ten thousand times more'n I ever thought to live to see! And pure! Gawd, I bet you he's just been fool enough—that man of yours—to've kept himself straight as he'd keep you. And I sure never expected to breathe and see that."

Clara arose, her back to Marjorie and her wonderful hair fallen about her face for a screen. "Grab him off quick, I'm tellin' you," she repeated, almost like a threat. "Quick!"

When the light was out and they lay, each in her own bed, with the warm summer breeze blowing in through their three open windows, neither went easily to sleep. Clara had not mentioned Billy again but, as Marjorie lay quiet, after a lapse of time so great that Clara undoubtedly supposed her asleep, Marjorie heard a whisper: "Come, I've found you—don't you know? What have they been doing to you, Clara?" Then, savagely, "What have you done to her?"

Billy's words when he found her, except that in place of Marjorie's Clara was whispering her own name. And not all Clara had told of her own life—not all taken together—pierced Marjorie like that; and what made it more poignant was the knowledge that if Billy heard, he would not care. Clara! Why, he had come to take Marjorie away from such as her.

And Marjorie realized that he was continuing about that business now; yet her thoughts, as she lay awake, only occasionally went to him. Much of the night she considered Felix Rinderfeld and what he expected of her now—what he might have right to expect; and more she thought about Gregg, for whom Billy felt no further concern or cared to know even where he might be, because Gregg had kept faith with her against him.

On the night when she told Gregg that she was going away, she had not thought what it might entail to him; but it had lost him Billy; and Marjorie felt far more deeply than Billy himself what he was to Gregg. Perhaps because she, like Gregg, had been a lone child; no girl had ever become sister to her as Billy had become brother to Gregg, but she could realize what it would mean if some one had. Now to-night, imagining Gregg, she saw him thinking about Billy, worrying about Billy,—not at all about himself; she could feel him wanting to return to Billy and to speak with him, wholly understanding him. And she saw Gregg thinking also of her, worrying about her, comprehending her and caring so much—so much, and yet holding himself back always, losing and giving up for her.

For, without meaning to or without being aware that he had done it, Billy to-night had told her something of how much Gregg cared; for one item, Gregg had lost his job because of her. This she learned when Billy accused her of clinging to a course of concealment which had forced—the word was Billy's—forced Gregg to take Russell away from the city to protect her and her father; that involved Gregg in absence from his office for a week and a return, battered up and without any explanation that he could offer, at a time when all an employer wanted was an excuse to let a man out. Then, through the calumny which Billy heaped on Gregg for having known her plan and having kept it secret, she had glimpses of Gregg "inanely walking the streets"—the words again were Billy's—while he looked and hoped for her instead of taking the direct, effective action which Billy had.

But Gregg, being Gregg, could not have done anything else; she had held him helpless by confiding to him,—helpless to use her confidence for himself, helpless to do more than walk the streets, searching for her and writing her through Rinderfeld, as he had. And so, after losing his job because of her, he had lost Billy; and she—she herself directly and in person—what had she done to Gregg? Hadn't she turned her back on him and despised him and sent him away for suggesting she learn that which had to be taught her?

And there seized her a sensation of relief and let-down from strain, when now she thought of Gregg, such as—she realized—had always come to her with him; she longed, longed to talk to him and see him looking down at her and hear his voice helping her, as on that night of the day after she had fought with Billy and taken his excoriation, and her father had come home, when Gregg had come to her and taken her out of the house, where she could barely endure to stay.

For Billy again had shaken her; and she wanted to hear what Gregg, knowing all that Billy did, would say; she wanted the comfort of his, "You've been wonderful; no one like you ever in the world!" uttered gruffly, so that hardly she heard, he felt it so; she wanted to feel his fingers, not accusing and violent, but steadying, strong, and so gentle in their brief moments on her arm.

Why hadn't she told him to come when he wrote her; why had she not sent for him?

If Billy had found her before, she would have had to, she thought.