The Breath of Scandal/Chapter 28

CHAPTER XXX

GREGG was coming to Evanston by the elevated railroad; for of course he had returned Jim Cuncliffe's roadster a couple of days before. He had not returned to Jim the fifty dollars he had borrowed because he was not able to; but he did have it noted, along with an exactly itemized and totalled reckoning of his other debts, in a memorandum book which Bill once had given him and which he had never used.

As the electric train sped by Fullerton, crossed Sheridan Road and now as it passed Wilson Avenue, Gregg wanted to keep his thoughts and his feelings wholly on Marjorie; but unbidden flashes of recollection kept bringing in Bill.

"It's his own life." That was what he, Gregg, had said to Jim Cuncliffe when back there in March—how long ago and yet only in March—Jim had told him that Russell meant to get Charles Hale and that Gregg must interfere. "It's his own life." He had meant by that Mr. Hale's life was his own, individual affair. But it had proved to be Bill's life which had been at stake; yes, and Gregg's own life, too; for he could remind himself that Russell had almost succeeded in killing him.

And he thought of his ride to Evanston with Bill along a snowy road—along Sheridan Road, over there where the cars in midsummer number now were streaming; he thought how he had gone sick at the moment when he imagined what might happen if Marjorie learned what he knew that night. Well, she had learned that and much more; and all that he had imagined happening to her had come—and more. For he never had fancied such a result as that Bill, who had sat so big and strong and upright beside him, would prove to be the one not to come through the trouble.

Gregg was not deluding himself that it was over, because Bill was dead and Marjorie was home again with her father; of course it was not over, he was realizing; nothing can ever be "over" in the sense that its consequences become complete. But they can reach periods of intermission, those consequences, when they give you breath and rest, and a chance to get hold of yourself before once more they hurry you on. And so to-night Gregg, like Marjorie since he had taken her home, grasped at this sensation of pause.

But he did not know that this had come also to her; as he approached her, he tormented himself with his image of her as she struggled with him at the telephone booth of the club when the fear first struck at her; of how he saw her in the vestibule at Number 4689 Clearedge Street, when he had to come down from Mrs. Russell's flat and let Marjorie in and he lied to her; of how she picked up her father's photograph from Mrs. Russell's desk and—knew; of how he saw her come out of her home to speak to Rinderfeld that night he and she walked together by the lake; of how she reëntered her home, in fright; of how he had found her in the office at Cordeen's when he came to tell her how Billy had died.

Quiet was Evanston this evening, and particularly still was that neighborhood of the Hales'; here at last was the big, wide-verandahed home, gray in the dusk and half hidden behind its trees, through which shone the glow of shaded, yellow lights within the house. When Gregg turned into the walk, he saw a white figure on one of the seats on the lawn; Marjorie called to him in a low, steady stone, "Here I am," and she arose and they came to each other.

She gave him her hands. "Here we are," she said and her palms pressed on his; and he hardly could see her. They went to the bench, but there was no more light.

He wanted her in his arms; he wanted his lips hot on hers. What held him? Not the poorness of his pockets; not that total of debt in Bill's memorandum book. Gregg Mowbry's pockets were used to borrowed money; he was young and he again could be sure of himself. What held him?

"Here we are." He had never heard just that from a girl before; but he knew what it meant, for it spoke what filled him. "Here we are, you and I, and I've become yours and you've become mine. Here we are!"

What held him?

Not Bill, for Bill was gone forever; and this girl never actually had been Bill's, and for long before Bill went she had known it.

Gregg Mowbry who had driven beside Bill on that snowy March night to this house and to Marjorie Hale, that Gregg Mowbry might have seized this girl tight in his arms, kissing her, lifting her, drawing her closer to him,—if he might have imagined her not Bill's but his. He would have said, "We're going to get married, you and I. I'll have another good job soon from somebody." And they might have laughed together.

"Hurry, go get it," she might have said. To be married would have meant to them only to go on together having a light-hearted, irresponsible, "good" time with the new thrills and joys of complete possession of each other's bodies.

But Gregg Mowbry since then had sat alone with Sybil Russell in that flat on Clearedge Street, while Charles Hale, unconscious, was carried to Fursten's; at Kilkerry's he awaited Russell's return; he had lost his job and left Billy; and gone to Cragero's for Bill; had taken Bill, just now, home; and he, Gregg Mowbry, had come back from Bay City alone. So he held Marjorie Hale by her hands, his palms on hers and he said:

"I got a real job to-day, Marjorie. Not much real money."

"I know the kind of job you got, Gregg," she said.

"The first work job I ever took on. Twenty-four a week to start with; four dollars a day, I mean. With Chicago Hydraulics; I'll be started down the canal on water power. That sort of thing got me once, when I was a kid; I took my course in Michigan at engineering—hydraulics. But I seemed to be a salesman when I got out; I mean somebody offered me a drawing account of forty dollars a week selling gasoline pumps. Twenty was the limit for me as a hydraulic expert. So I put off starting at the bottom until to-day. In a couple of years, Marjorie, I ought to have a fair position and something ahead. I'm trying real work on account of myself and partly, of course, because of Bill; but I'd like to work for you and me, Marjorie. Will you wait a while to give me a chance to make good for you?"

"No," she said. "I'll not wait, Gregg." Then she told him, "Because we needn't; we mustn't. If we waited for you to do it all, we'd never get right with each other; for we'd start wrong."

"Not wait to be married?" asked Gregg.

"I've a real job too, now. I resigned at Bostrock's to-day and began with Leffrick, selling accounting systems for small stores, Gregg. I've known some of Leffrick's city salespeople—women—for quite a while. They work full time or part time, if they've families; he arranges territories for them, according to the time they can put in. I'm starting a full timer with a drawing account based on my last month with Bostrock, twenty a week. I can change to part time whenever I ask to, so when I'm married——" she caught her breath and said, "when we're married——"

"We married!" Gregg whispered and had to gasp for breath, too.

"We can start on forty-four dollars a week, as long as we're both earning. We can live on that and we're going to, and also we'll put by so that when our babies come, we'll have a little saved."

He gathered her in his arms and held her to him.

"Marjorie!" he whispered; and he spoke only her name again and again. "Marjorie; Marjorie——" and he thought only, "I have her," and he felt her against him and in his arms. Then he felt himself in her arms; she was clasping him; and so they kissed and drew back the barest trifle and held their lips on each other's again. Then that which had been restraining them both—until in this physical yielding they put it away and denied it—that touched them again and relaxed their arms and separated their lips. It was contact with that which physical yielding had led to,—memory of her father shot in the flat on Clearedge Street, of her lie to Stanway, of Billy quiet and so white. She had to banish all this again; and not even Gregg's arms or hers about him could do it. The only way was to pledge to themselves and plan a life which could not lead to such visions; and so there in the garden, but soon holding close once more and between kisses and embraces, they planned.

Quixotically in part, perhaps; but also in part practically. For she needed him now; it was impossible for her to long continue alone with her father in a situation too strained for both of them. If Gregg did not marry her, she would work and live alone; and he would work and live alone; so why not both work, married? They realized that they could not start out in Evanston, at least not in "their" part of Evanston or in a similar part of Chicago or of Winnetka. They would live as forty-dollar-a-week people lived and not put a move into a better flat or put the buying of a car before the coming of children.

In his room, and in his chair which Marjorie always had called "father's chair," Charles Hale was seated beside a shaded lamp with a book in his hand; but he consumed little time at reading.

He had to think a good deal about himself and Sybil Russell with whom, that day, he had broken; or rather, she had realized on this day that he meant to break with her; and they had come to an end. At least, they called it an end; but such an end settled little for him. He would not see Sybil in the old way, that was all. Some day there must be for him another woman; and she would be to him another Sybil or she might be something else, according to what action he now took in his personal affairs.

This meant what course he followed in regard to his wife and daughter; and the one sensible course with his wife was to arrange with her for a formal separation.

There were several courses he might take with Marjorie, each one of which offered difficulties; for he never imagined that Marjorie meant soon to marry Gregg. But, about ten o'clock, they came together to his door, Gregg rapped and he let them in, and they told him.

When they were gone, he walked about his room, staring before him at the floor and with his chest constrained with a queer, drawn tightness. His baby was going to be married; she wanted him to stand with her when the man who would become her husband stood on the other side of her before the minister; but except for that, she asked nothing, and it was evident to him that she would accept little more from him. Well, that was something; they might have gone away and been married all by themselves.

Also, though they meant to strike out by themselves, he would be always near to help in sickness or disaster; they could not deny him that; and that was something.

Forty-four dollars a week, twenty of which his daughter would earn! Hmhm! He did not like it; but suppose his wife had ever loved him like that! Suppose they had started, Corinna and he, on the basis of how much each could give to the other. Oh, Corinna for a while had put up with little from him, but because of her certainty that soon he would earn her much. Hmhm.

But why did he have this big house and his big income now? For alimony to his wife; for next to nothing, so far as his daughter was concerned. It was for himself, then, and the woman who next would be his. Not this house; no, hardly. Hmhm. Perhaps his wife wanted it; he must think of that. He would do generously by her in the settlement; that would be altogether more pleasant to him.

But Marjorie; she was shut off from her mother almost as much as from him. He gathered that from what Marjorie planned and assumed for the future rather than from anything Marjorie had said. And of course the girl would be shut off, living where Mowbry and she intended, and in the manner fortyfour dollars a week necessitated. What an upturn for his girl! Yet she would be safe enough, safe in a physical and moral sense. Safe, she had come through her experience away from home by herself; she had not been that girl at Cragero's. When he thought of it, the shock of his fear for her seized him for a few seconds; but she had come through safe.

And now she would become what? A wife, a mate for a man, working beside him; and she would become a mother. His little girl, his baby. His eyes were wet as he thought on; he knew a bit of what she was in for; she only guessed; but he could not imagine her quitting. No; that wouldn't be Margy. And he thought, "It worked out something better for her." Something far harder, of course; something far more arduous and trying than he ever had expected his daughter to undergo; but better. Yes, better for her.

More than ever before Charles Hale required himself to find compensation in what he had done; and here he had something of compensation. Not nearly enough for all those consequences which now included Billy's death; yet here was something,—a definite, observable something

He wanted to see his daughter again; but she and Gregg had returned to the garden around the corner of the house and he would not go down there to intrude upon them. He remained in his room; and at last, after midnight, he knew that Gregg had gone, for Marjorie came upstairs; and at the top, she hesitated—he thought—whether to come again to his room; so he opened his door to show that he was still up. But she went on to her own room and closed the door.

For Marjorie wanted to be alone with her new wonder which was nothing more nor less than the amazement of woman renewing the world by love of man and through her body.

Her body! What had it been for her before? It had been before—and by "before" always she meant before that night of the Lovells' dance, after which everything became different—her possession for barter for her livelihood. It was a strong, healthy, well-formed body and inhabited by brain enough so that she was in small danger of bartering it for the pitiful pottage of the girl who becomes wanton. No; Marjorie never even imagined herself as having been in danger of that. Her barter was to have been in the marriage market, trading according to the custom of the day. For me, what have you? Ease? Entertainment and enjoyment? Position and privileges? Travel and luxury abroad or at home? I have for you—my body; no other duty or obligation except perhaps one child from it, or, if it threatens to deprive me of nothing, maybe two.

This—Marjorie thought—was what she had been and she would have never bothered about it. No wonder Felix Rinderfeld could discern that what had been knocked from under her that night was not merely an illusion concerning her father but a fallacy regarding her whole situation, for she had imagined herself normal enough and right enough. No wonder that her stock in America seemed almost "through" when it lived and thought like that; no wonder that pressing, pressing in from all about and filtering through appeared the displacers of the Sedgwicks, Chadens, Vanes and Cleves, the Lovells and the Hales.

"But the Mowbrys won't go down," Marjorie Hale, soon to be Mowbry, murmured her defiance to the Nordquists, Linduskas, Kostics, and Rinderfelds. "They'll rise and they won't diminish."

And there came to Marjorie, alone in her room, the sense of herself a molder and a bearer of the future.