The Breath of Scandal/Chapter 26


HOME! What was this new difference in the big, quiet, clean, cool, perfectly kept halls and rooms? Not in the walls and furnishings, not in any single item of decoration or arrangement; everything was precisely as it always had been in summer; yet what a strange place, her home! How could one house become, in a few short months, so profoundly different from what it had been before that night of the Lovells' dance and then wholly alter again?

For it had been one place up to that morning which finally dawned with March sunshine on the snow and sparrows and pigeons hopping about as Marjorie looked out her window on the day after her visit to Mrs. Russell's flat on Clearedge Street; on that day and thereafter, as long as Marjorie remained at the house, life in her home had been wholly altered; and now here it was something strange again.

It had not swung back to what originally it had been; no, nothing like that; it seemed, instead, to have swung beyond the point to which it had dropped and reached another point of poise. Something like the pendulum in the big clock in the hall, which had two situations in which it halted and paused. Now up here to the left it swung to its highest point, stopped and stood; that was life in her home as it first had been. Now it dropped to the bottom but no stop there; just a swing through. That was the second situation in her home; that was the March morning; now the swing up to the next point of pause. Here we were now; here her life was, for the time standing still. You could not see the pendulum actually stand; yet you knew it must; it was obliged to be for some instant at rest. So now must come to the Hales a moment of rest.

Marjorie was in her own room, which was clean and fresh as always it had been kept for her. She had spoken to Sarah and Martin, both of whom knew about Billy; and Sarah had followed her to her room with offers to "help"; but Marjorie only thanked her and sent her away.

No change in Marjorie Hale's bright, pleasant room; nothing different; no surprise until, opening a drawer in her desk, she came upon a pile of unopened letters to her from her mother. Some one, her father probably, had arranged them in order by postmarks and one had arrived for each week her mother had been away. Marjorie noticed the postmarks: London, Winchester, Bath, and the other English towns and cities visited exactly on the schedule which her mother had made long before. Beyond doubt her mother had received, on schedule, the letters which Marjorie had written weekly in care of the Pall Mall office of the Guaranty Trust, which was always her mother's forwarding agent; and Marjorie was sure that, unless some extraordinary upset had occurred, there was nothing in all this pile of letters which would have required from her more concrete reply than she had made in her letters written without seeing these. She looked through them and found that her presumption had proved correct.

These were thoughtful, excellently expressed letters which her mother wrote, appreciative of the beauties, the serenities, the dignities of the sea, of the shore, of moor and downs, of Parliament buildings with the moon above them, of St. Paul's, Westminster, the Roman remains at Bath. What a world removed her mother lived in, how far from Mrs. Russell's flat on Clearedge Street and from Cragero's; and yet, how closely were those worlds connected to-day, opposite though they were, when for her father to resort to one was an outcome of her mother inhabiting the other.

Church bells were ringing—so many bells in Evanston—and booming with no wondering appeal; for people were going to church and as they passed, suddenly it was not Marjorie Hale but Marjorie Conway, roommate of Clara Seeley, who watched them from the window. There they passed, men and women, young and older; and just now Marjorie was thinking particularly of certain of the women, good and respectable by any ordinary reckoning. That was, they maintained honesty, verbal and financial integrity, agreeable manners, and professed faith, hope and charity, and practiced giving to the poor. But what gave they for what they gave away? What gave they for the far greater sums they lavished directly, or indirectly, upon themselves?

They had given, or they meant to give sometime, under conditions which would cost them as little as possible, the pain and inconvenience of motherhood; some of them once and that once for all; some of them twice. Then afterwards these had lived, or they meant to live, by what?

Marjorie imagined Clara Seeley beside her and knowing what she did about some of these people; and she seemed to hear Clara say: "Kept wives!"

And to possess a mansion, to build for yourself the housing for a family with many rooms and with wide lawn and to fill it with servants enough to minister to many, to buy with your husband's money the display of appurtenances of a home for many children and for the woman to bear a single child for her justification for ease all her life; that became to Marjorie base and despicable.

Still the church bells, booming.

A car turned in at the house and Marjorie saw her father on the rear seat; in the silence she heard his voice speaking to Martin; now he was on the stairs. She arose and went to the middle of her room when he rapped and called to her in a low tone.

She said, "Please come in, father."

"So you're still here; Martin telephoned forty minutes ago that you had come home. He reached me at the club."

"Yes," she said. "I've been reading mother's letters." Then, "We all had our part in killing Billy, didn't we, father? And of course he had his part in killing himself; and nobody meant to. That's what Gregg said even about them out there, at Cragero's; nobody meant to."

He gazed at her straight without speaking until, after a few moments, he asked, "You've come home to stay, Margy?"

"Have you, father?"

His eyes remained on hers, straight; they gained distance, gazing through her, and lost the distance again. He did not speak.

"That's not fair; I know it now, father," she said, catching breath quickly. "I haven't asked mother to come home. I'll stay here now; of course, I'll stay near you, if you want me to. But about coming home—me; of course I've not done that."

Yet he waited.

"Home, father; home's a sort of fairy place, isn't it? It's not like any other house in the world when it's home; your father's not like any other man; nor your mother like any other woman. When they are, it's gone like that, home; and you can't come back to it just by opening a door of a house and stepping in, can you?"

He cleared his throat and after a moment said: "No. This isn't—home, Marjorie; of course I know I can never make a house home for you again."

It caught her up with eyes suddenly filled and she seized his hands. "Father, oh father! I'd like to have it back! I'd come back home if I could!"

"I know, Margy," he said, "I know; but we can't have—home." After a minute he told her. "I am going to arrange, in regard to your mother, for a decent and recognized separation. Whatever I personally do in the future—I don't know yet what that will be—at least will be openly done. You want to know that; I want you to."

"Yes," she said. "That's just what I wanted to know." And she kissed him, and he went out.

He entered his room where was that chair of his—"father's chair"—which belonged to the days when Marjorie was born; and he felt that he would give anything to begin back there again when he first sat in that chair holding her. Then he felt he would give as much to be back where he was on that March night when she last put her arms about his neck and believed him not like any other man in the world, though he was going then to Sybil Russell.

In the afternoon Gregg telephoned that the county authorities had completed their inquiries and had found no basis for criminal proceedings in connection with Billy's death. Also Mr. Kemphill himself, of Billy's firm, had conferred with the State's attorney and was satisfied that no crime had been committed; and Gregg added that Clara Seeley had appeared at Cragero's.

"She went to find Rinderfeld first, I think," Gregg stated. "But he's under cover somewhere, keeping watch but not showing himself." And Gregg told that he had explained to Clara that he had taken Marjorie home; and as Clara wanted to do something, he asked her to get together Marjorie's things so he could send for them. And Marjorie telephoned and talked to Clara at Cordeen's.

The Monday morning papers, cooled of their sensation by the failure of the State to find evidence of a crime, published little more than on the day before. They said: "Whittaker mistakenly had believed that Marjorie Hale, daughter of the president of Tri-Lake Products and Material Corporation, was in danger at Cragero's. It appears that Miss Hale did not accompany her mother to England as had been announced, but had remained in Chicago, making sociological investigations as a working girl." The papers explained that Whittaker had been engaged to Miss Hale and had never been in sympathy with her investigations, but the newspapers were all silent as to any circumstances which might have led Miss Hale to go to work. They added merely that Miss Hale was now at home again with her father; and they told of the coming of Whittaker's two brothers from Bay City.

And so, late upon the afternoon of that day, a service was read in the apartment on East Pearson Street and, immediately afterward, Gregg left with Billy's brothers on the journey with Billy to Bay City.

Marjorie, who had Clara beside her, delayed in the apartment until all the men were gone except her father; she was experiencing that lost sensation which follows the full realization that one who has been a companion will never be seen again; and Marjorie was feeling particularly lost, because now she was aware that she had not planned beyond this service.

"I can't want to go back to Clearedge Street, Clara," she said. "I want to go home but not talk to people there. I want you to go home with me."

"Your father don't," Clara observed frankly.

"He's going to his office," Marjorie reported; and she went with Clara down to the car which he had left for her. Leonard was driving and, as it was the open car, Marjorie attempted little discussion with Clara on the way to Evanston; besides, she wished Clara to see her home before she talked. And Clara saw it much as it usually was, arriving in the car with Leonard out of his seat and opening the door for Marjorie and her guest to alight; with Leonard touching his cap and asking, "Anything to-night, Miss Hale?" Then Martin opened the screen door of the house; Sarah was waiting in the lower hall and another maid in the room upstairs.

"Gawd!" exclaimed Clara to Marjorie, in the first minute after she had escaped from their ministrations and the two of them were alone in Marjorie's room with the door shut. "Gawd, you gave up a lot. Why, if I had two men Miss Seeleying me like that pair of yours and another pair of females worryin' about nothing so much as maybe I'd forget myself and lift a finger, and also, it's perfectly plain, somebody else cookin' in the kitchen, I don't think it'd be long before I'd be pretty sure I was doin' enough for the world just by livin'."

"I guess," said Marjorie, pleased by the quickness with which Clara's incisive mind went under the surface of this strange life, "that's how people who live this way get to feel." And a little later, after they had gone about the house, in response to Clara's request, Marjorie asked, "Well, what are you thinking now?"

"How puzzling it must be," Clara replied promptly but with deliberation, speaking her gs, as she did when she thought about them and enunciated carefully.

"To whom?"

"Well," said Clara, "to the man, especially; when he's handing out all this, I don't see how your father's ever know where he was."

"Oh," Marjorie comprehended, "you mean where he was with my mother."

"I mean any man who hands his wife a layout like this," Clara generalized, refusing the too personal. "I don't see how he'd ever know whether she was sticking to him for himself or for this. And it wouldn't make it any too simple for her to know herself. Well, what are we here for, Marjorie? You ain't one to ask me up to show off, though I do appreciate a touch of high life. What's on your chest?"

Marjorie took Clara again to her own room. "You know so many pieces of what's happened to the Hales, I want to tell you the whole thing; and after coming back here myself from Clearedge Street, it didn't seem to me fair to try to tell you without bringing you here first."

"Not fair to me?" asked Clara.

"No; not fair to mother and father." And there, in Marjorie's room, much as they talked together at Jen Cordeen's, Marjorie related all to Clara.

At the end, Clara pronounced no judgment; indeed, she offered no comment at all; she merely asked, "Well, now what are you goin' to do, kid?"

It was spontaneous, utterly unconscious and wholly fond and loving, that "kid"; and exactly what Marjorie wanted at that instant; for she wanted Clara to tell her truths and talk to her again as she had that first night they roomed together after the return from Sennens'.

"What should I do, Clara?"

"Marry," answered Clara abruptly. "That's what you been brought up to do. Marry him quick, right away, before you have a chance to forget feelin' like you do now."

"Marry him? "repeated Marjorie. "Who?"

"Gawd," Clara rebuked with disgust. "You know who; and I know who was the answer that the big boy never really got you. He's not like him; he don't hit me at all like that big boy did. I just wanted——" Clara's eyes filled and her lips quivered so that she waited an instant before she repeated—"I just wanted to put my arms around and just take care of that big boy and keep him like he was. He wanted to do that to you. But you're not one to want to keep or be kept; you have to play the game, give and take. That's your Gregg Mowbry; he's out of a job and busted, I understand. Kid, if all this actually has come to mean nothing in your life now," Clara motioned generally around the room, "could you beat this time for going to your man?"