Plum Bun (part 3 of 3 - Home Again and Market Is Done)
by Jessie Redmon Fauset
NEW YORK, it appeared, had two visages. It could offer an aspect radiant with promise or a countenance lowering and forbidding. With its flattering possibilities it could elevate to the seventh heaven, or lower to the depths of hell with its crushing negations. And loneliness ! Loneliness such as that offered by the great, noisy city could never be imagined. To realize it one would have to experience it. Coming home from work Angela used to study the people on the trains, trying to divine what cause had engraved a given expression on their faces, particularly on the faces of young women. She picked out for herself four types, the happy, the indifferent, the preoccupied, the lonely. Doubtless her classification was imperfect, but she never failed, she thought, to recognize the signs of loneliness, a vacancy of expression, a listlessness, a faintly pervading despair. She remembered the people in Union Square on whom she had spied so blithely when she had first come to New York. Then she had thought of them as being " down and out ", mere idlers, good for nothing. It had not occurred to her that their chief disaster might be loneliness. Her office was on Twenty-third Street and often at the noon-hour she walked down to the dingy Square and looked again on the sprawling, half-recumbent, dejected figures. And between them and herself she was able to detect a terrifying relationship. She still carried her note book, made sketches, sitting watching them and jotting down a line now and then when their vacant, staring eyes were not fixed upon her. Once she would not have cared if they had caught her; she would have said with a shrug: " Oh they wouldn't mind, they're too far gone for that." But since then her sympathy and knowledge had waxed. How fiercely she would have rebelled had anyone from a superior social plane taken her for copy !
In the evenings she worked at the idea of a picture which she intended for a masterpiece. It was summer and the classes at Cooper Union had been suspended. But she meant to return in the fall, perhaps she would enter the scholarship contest and if successful, go abroad. But the urge to wander was no longer in the ascendant. The prospect of Europe did not seem as alluring now as the prospect of New York had appeared when she lived in Philadelphia. It would be nice to stay put, rooted; to have friends, experiences, memories.
Paulette, triumphant to the last, had left with Hudson for Russia. Martha and Ladislas were spending the summer with Martha's people on Long Island. Roger had dropped into the void, but she could not make herself miss him; to her he was the symbol of all that was most futile in her existence, she could forgive neither him nor herself for their year of madness. If the experience, she told herself, had ended so be it everything ends. If it had faded into a golden glow with a wealth of memories, the promise of a friendship, she would have had no qualms; but as matters had turned out it was an offence in her nostrils, a great blot on the escutcheon of her fastidiousness.
She wished that Martha had asked her to spend week-ends with her but the idea had apparently never crossed the latter's mind. " Good-bye until fall," she had said gaily, " do you know, I'm awfully glad to go home this time. I always have my old room; it's like begining life all over again. Of course I wouldn't give up New York but life seems so much more real and durable down there. After all it's where my roots are."
Her roots! Angela echoed the expression to herself on a note that was wholly envious. How marvellous to go back to parents, relatives, friends with whom one had never lost touch ! The peace, the security, the companionableness of it! This was a relationship which she had forfeited with everyone, even with Jinny. And as for her other acquaintances in Philadelphia, Henson, Butler, Kate and Agnes Hallowell, so completely, so casu ally, without even a ripple had she dropped out of their lives that it would have been impossible for her to re-establish their old, easy footing even had she so desired.
Virginia, without making an effort, seemed over whelmed, almost swamped by friendships, pleasant intimacies, a thousand charming interests. She and Sara Penton, another teacher, had taken an apartment together, a three room affair on the top floor of a house on i3Qth Street, in " Striver's Row ", explained Jinny . Whether or not the nick-name was deserved, it seemed to Angela well worth an effort to live in this beautiful block with its tree-bordered pavements, its spacious houses, its gracious neighbourliness. A doctor and his wife occupied the first two floors; they were elderly, rather lonely people, for their two children had married and gone to other cities. They had practically adopted Virginia and Sara; nursing them when they had colds, indulgently advising them as to their callers. Mrs. Bradley, the doctor's wife, occasionally pressed a dress for them; on stormy days the doctor drove them in his car around to " Public School 89 " where they both taught. Already the two girls were as full of intimacies, joyous reminiscences, common plans as though they had lived together for years. Secrets, nick names, allusions, filled the atmosphere. Angela grew sick of the phrases: " Of course you don't understand that; just some nonsense and it would take too long to explain it. Besides you wouldn't know any of the people." Even so, unwelcome as the expression was, she did not hear it very often, for Jinny did not encourage her visits to the apart ment even as much as to the boarding house. " Sara will think it strange if you come too often." " We might tell her," Angela rejoined, " and ask her to keep it a secret."
But Jinny opined coolly that that would never do; it was bad to entrust people with one's secrets. " If you can't keep them yourself, why should they? " she asked sagely. Her attitude showed no malice, only the complete acceptance of the stand which her sister had adopted years ago.
In her sequestered rooms in the Village lying in the summer heat unkempt and shorn of its glamour Angela pondered long and often on her present mode of living. Her life, she was pretty sure, could not go on indefinitely as it did now. Even if she herself made no effort it was unlikely that the loneliness could persist. Jinny, she shrewdly sus pected, had known something of this horrible condition when she, the older sister had left her so ruthlessly to go off and play at adventure. This loneliness and her unfortunate affair with Henson had doubtless proved too much for her, and she had deliberately sought change and distraction elsewhere. There were depths upon depths of strength in Jinny and as much purpose and resource as one might require. Now here she was estab lished in New York with friends, occupation, security, leading an utterly open life, no secrets, no subterfuges, no goals to be reached by devious ways.
Jinny had changed her life and been successful. Angela had changed hers and had found pain and unhappiness. Where did the fault lie? Not, cer tainly, in her determination to pass from one race to another. Her native good sense assured her that it would have been silly for her to keep on living as she had in Philadelphia, constantly, through no fault of her own, being placed in impossible positions, eternally being accused and hounded because she had failed to placard herself, forfeiting old friendships, driven fearfully to the establishing of new ones. No, the fault was not there. Perhaps it lay in her attitude toward her friends. Had she been too coldly deliberate in her use of them? Certainly she had planned to utilize her connection with Roger, but on this point she had no qualms; he had been paid in full for any advantages which she had meant to gain. She had not always been kind to Miss Powell, " but," she murmured to herself, " I was always as kind to her as I dared be in the circumstances and far, far more attentive than any of the others." As for Anthony, Paulette, and Martha, her slate was clear on their score. She was struck at this point to realize that during her stay of nearly three years these five were the only people to whom she could apply the term friends. Of these Roger had dropped out; Miss Powell was negative; Paulette had gone to Russia. There remained only Martha and Anthony. Martha was too intensely interested in the conduct of her own life in connection with Ladislas to make a friend, a satisfying, comfortable, intimate friend such as Sara Penton seemed to be with Virginia. There remained then only Anthony yes, and her new acquaintance, Rachel Salting.
She began then in her loneliness to approach Rachel seeking for nothing other than those almost sisterly intimacies which spring up between solitary women cut off in big cities from their homes and from all the natural resources which add so much to the beauty and graciousness of young woman hood. " If anything comes out of this friendship to advance me in any way," she told herself sol emnly, " it will happen just because it happens but I shall go into this with clean hands and a pure heart merely because I like Rachel."
After the fever and fret of her acquaintanceship with Roger, the slight unwholesomeness attendant on Paulette, the didactic quality lurking in Martha's household, it was charming, even delicious to enter on a friendship with this simple, intelligent, enthusi astic girl. Rachel, for all her native endowment, her wide reading and her broad scholastic contacts, had the straightforward utter sincerity and sim plicity of a child ; at times Angela felt quite sophisti cated, even blase beside her. But in reality they were two children together; Angela's brief episode with Roger had left no trace on her moral nature; she was ashamed now of the affair with a healthy shame at its unworthiness ; but beyond that she suffered from no morbidness. Her sum total of the knowledge of life had been increased ; she saw men with a different eye, was able to differentiate between the attitudes underlying the pleasantries of the half dozen young men in her office ; listening, laughing, weighing all their attentions, accepting none. In truth she had lost to a degree her taste for the current type of flirtations. She might marry some day but all that was still in the dim future. Meanwhile the present beckoned; materi ally she was once more secure, her itching ambition was temporarily lulled; she had a friend. It was just as well to let time slide by for a while.
The two girls spent their evenings together. Rachel's fiance, John Adams, was a travelling sales man and nearly always out of town. When he was home Angela was careful to have an engagement, though Rachel assured her, laughing and sparkling, that the two were already so used to each other that a third person need not feel de trop. Occasionally the three of them went during the hot summer nights to Coney Island or Far Rockaway. But this jaunt took on the proportions more of an ordeal than a pleasure trip; so packed were the cars \vith helpless humanity, so crowded the beaches, so night marish the trip home. Fortunately Angela came face to face one day with Ralph Ashley, Carlotta's former friend. Low-spirited, lonely, distrait, he asked Angela eagerly to allow him to call occa sionally. He seemed a rather bookish, serious young man who had failed to discover the possibilities of his inner resources. Without an acquaintance or a book he was helpless. Angela's self-reliance and cleverness seemed to offer a temporary harbour. Apparently with Carlotta out of town, he was at loose ends. By some tacit understanding he was taken into the little group and as he possessed a car which he was willing and eager to share the arrangement was a very happy one.
These were pleasant days. Long afterwards, Angela, looking back recalled them as among the happiest she had known in New York. In particular she liked the hours when she and Rachel were together busied with domestic, homely affairs. They advised each other on the subject of dress; Angela tried out new recipes. In the late evenings she worked on the sketches, recalling them from her note-book while Rachel, sitting sidewise in the big chair, her legs dangling comfortably over its arm, offered comments and suggestions. She had had " courses in art ", and on a trip to France and Italy at the age of eighteen had visited the Louvre, the Pitti and Uffizi Galleries. All this lent a certain pithiness and authority to the criticisms which she poured forth for her friend's edification; her remarks rarely produced any effect on Angela, but both girls felt that Rachel's knowledge gave a certain effect of " atmosphere ".
Usually Rachel's talk was on John and their approaching marriage, their unparalleled courtship. Many years later Angela could have related all the details of that simple, almost sylvan wooing, the growing awareness of the two lovers, their mutual fears and hopes, their questionings, assurances and their blissful engagement. She knew to a penny what John made each week, how much he put by, the amount which thrifty Rachel felt must be in hand before they could marry. Once this recital, so unvarying, so persistent, would have bored her, but she was more sympathetic in these days; sometimes she found herself making suggestions, saving the house-wifely clippings culled from newspapers, proposing decorations for the interior of one of the ugly little houses on which Rachel had so inexplicably set her heart. She was a little older than her friend, she had had experience in keeping house and in shopping with her mother in those far-off days; she ventured occasionally to advise Rachel in her rare purchases very much as though the latter were her own sister instead of a chance acquaintance whom she had known less than a year.
It was a placid, almost ideal existence. Only one thread of worry ran through its fabric, the thought that Rachel and John would soon be marrying and again Angela would be left on the search for a new friend. With one of them in the Bronx and the other in Greenwich Village, frequent communication would be physically impossible. But, curiously enough, whenever Angela lamented over this to her friend, a deep sombreness would descend on the latter; she would remark gloomily: " Time enough to worry about that; after all we might not get married. You never can tell." This was too enigmatic for Angela and finally she grew to look on it as a jest, a rather poor one but still a jest.
INTO the midst of this serenity came a bolt from the blue. Rachel, a librarian, was offered the position of head librarian in a far suburb of Brooklyn. Further more a wealthy woman from Butte, Montana, desiring to stay in New York for a few months and taking a fancy to the dinginess of Jayne Street and to the inconveniences of Rachel's apartment found she must live there and not otherwhere. No other location in the whole great city would do; she was willing to sublet at any figure. Unwillingly Rachel named a price which she secretly considered in the nature of highway robbery, but none of this mat tered to Mrs. Denver, who was used to paying for what she wanted. And Rachel could not refuse, for both offers meant a substantial increase in the nest-egg which was to furnish the little brown house in the Bronx. In reality it meant to her extraordinary, unhoped for luck whose only flaw consisted in the enforced separation from her new friend. But to Angela it brought the awfulness of a catastrophe, though not for one moment would she let her deep dismay be suspected. After her first involuntary exclamation of consternation she never faltered in her com plete acquiesence in the plan. But at heart she was sick.
The sudden flitting entailed much work and bustle. Rachel was as untidy as Angela was neat; everything she possessed had to be collected separ ately; there were no stacks of carefully folded clothing to be lifted wholesale and placed in gaping trunks. To begin with the trunks themselves were filled with dubious odds and ends which required to be sorted, given or even thrown away. There was no question of abandoning the debris, for the apartment must be left habitable for Mrs. Denver.
A nightmare then of feverish packing ensued; hasty meals, general house-cleaning. In order to assuage the sinking of her heart Angela plunged into it with great ardour. But at night, weary as she would be from the extra activity of the day, she could not fight off the sick dismay which over flowed her in great, submerging waves. It seemed to her she could not again endure loneliness; she could never summon the strength to seek out new friends, to establish fresh intimacies. She was twenty-six years old and the fact that after having lived all those years she was still solitary appalled her. Perhaps some curse such as one reads of in mediaeval legends had fallen upon her. " Perhaps I'm not meant to have friends," she told herself lying face downwards in her pillows on the sweltering June nights. And a great nostalgia for some thing real and permanent swept upon her; she wished she were either very, very young, safe and contented once more in the protection of her father's household or failing that, very, very old.
A nature as strong, as self-reliant as hers could not remain long submerged ; she had seen too many bad beginnings convert themselves into good endings. One of her most valuable native endowments lay in her ability to set herself and her difficulties objectively before her own eyes; in this way she had solved more than one problem. On the long ride in the subway back from Brooklyn whither she had accompanied Rachel on the night of the latter's departure she resolved to pursue this course that very night. Mercifully the terrible heat had abated, a little breeze came sifting in her open windows, moving the white sash curtains, even agitating some papers on the table. Soberly she set about the business of getting supper. Once she thought of running up to Rachel's former apartment and proffering some hospitality to Mrs. Denver. Even if the rich new tenant should not accept she'd be pleased doubtless; sooner or later she would be offering a return of courtesies, a new friendship would spring up. Again there would be possibilities. But something in her rebelled against such a procedure; these intimacies based on the sliding foundation of chance sickened her; she would not lend herself to them not ever again. From this day on she'd devote herself to the establishing of permanencies.
Supper over, the dishes cleared away, she sat down and prepared to think. Callers were un likely; indeed there was no one to call, since Ashley was out of town for the week-end, but the pathos of this fact left her untouched. To-night she courted loneliness.
An oft heard remark of her mother's kept running through her mind : " You get so taken up with the problem of living, with just life itself, that by and by being coloured or not is just one thing more or less that you have to contend with." It had been a long time since she had thought about colour; at one time it had seemed to complicate her life immensely, now it seemed to her that it might be of very little importance. But her thoughts skirted the subject warily for she knew how immensely difficult living could be made by this matter of race. But that should take a secondary place; at present life, a method of living was the main thing, she must get that problem adjusted and first she must see what she wanted. Companionship was her chief demand. No more loneliness, not even if that were the road that led to the fulfilment of vast ambition, to the realization of the loftiest hopes. And for this she was willing to make sacrifices, let go if need be of her cherished independence, lead a double life, move among two sets of acquaintances.
For deep in her heart she realized the longing to cast in her lot once more with Virginia, her little sister whom she should never have left. Virginia, it is true, showed no particular longing for her; indeed she seemed hardly cognizant of her existence; but this attitude might be a forced one. She thought, " I didn't want her, the darling, and so she just made herself put me out of her life." Angela was well aware of the pluck, the indomitableness that lay beneath Jinny's babyish exterior, but there was a still deeper stratum of tenderness and love and loyalty which was the real Virginia. To this Angela would make her appeal; she would acknowledge her foolishness, her selfishness; she would bare her heart and crave her sister's forgiveness. And then they would live together, Jinny and she and Sara Penton if need be ; what a joke it would all be on Sara ! And once again she would know the bliss and happiness of a home and the stabilities of friendships culled from a certain definite class of people, not friendships resulting from mere chance. There would be blessed Sun day mornings and breakfasts, long walks; lovely evenings in the autumn to be filled with reminiscences drawn from these days of separation. How Virginia would open her eyes at her tales of Paulette and Martha! She would never mention Roger. And as for colour; when it seemed best to be coloured she would be coloured; when it was best to be white she would be that. The main thing was, she would know once more the joys of ordinary living, home, companionship, loyalty, security, the bliss of possessing and being possessed. And to think it was all possible and waiting for her; it was only a matter of a few hours, a few miles.
A great sense of peace, of exaltation descended upon her. Almost she could have said: " I will arise and go unto my father ".
On Sunday accordingly she betook herself to her sister's apartment. Miss Penton, she thought, would be out; she had gathered from the girls' conversation many pointed references to Sara's great fondness, of late, for church, exceeded only by her interest in the choir. This interest in the choir was ardently encouraged by a member of that body who occasionally walked home with Sara in order more fully to discuss the art of music. Virginia no longer went to church; Sunday had become her " pick-up day ", the one period in the week which she devoted to her correspondence, her clothes and to such mysterious rites of beautifying and revitalizing as lay back of her healthy, blooming exquisiteness. This would be the first time in many months that the sisters would have been alone together and it was with high hopes that Angela, mounting the brown stone steps and ringing the bell, asked for Virginia.
Her sister was in, but so was Sara, so was a third girl, a Miss Louise Andrews. The room was full of the atmosphere of the lightness, of the badinage, of the laughter which belong to the condition either of youth or of extreme happiness. In the middle of the room stood a large trunk from whose yawning interior Jinny lifted a glowing, smiling face. Angela was almost startled at the bright ecstasy which radiated from it. Sara Penton was engaged rather negligently in folding clothes; Miss Andrews perched in magnificent ease on the daybed, struck an occasional tune from a ukelele and issued commands which nobody heeded.
" Hello," said Virginia carelessly. " Can you get in? I was thinking of writing to you."
" Oh," Angela's hopes fluttered, felt, perished. " You're not going away? " Her heart echoed Jinny's old cry: "And leave me when I'm all ready to come back to you, when I need you so terribly ! "
But of all this Virginia was, of course, unaware. "Nothing different," she said briskly. "I'm going away this very afternoon to Philadelphia, Merion, points south and west, going to stay with Eda Brown."
Angela was aghast. " I wanted to see you about something rather important, Virginia at least," she added humbly, " important to me." Rather impatiently she glanced at the two girls hoping they would take the hint and leave them, but they had not even heard her, so engrossed were they in dis cussing the relative merits of one- and two-piece sports clothes.
Her sister was kind but not curious. " Unless it's got something to do with your soul's salvation I'm afraid it'll have to wait a bit," she said gaily. " I'm getting a two o'clock train and I must finish this trunk Sara's such a poor packer or I'd leave it for her. As it is she's going to send it after me. Aren't you, darling? " Already Angela's request was forgotten. " After I finish this," the gay voice went on, " I've got some 'phoning to do and oh a million things."
" Let me help you," said Angela suddenly inspired, " then we'll call a taxi and we can go down to the station together and we'll have a long talk so I can explain things."
Virginia was only half-attentive. " Miss Mory wants to go to the station with me," she said throwing a droll look at her friends. " Shall I take her along? " She vanished into the bedroom, Louise Andrews at her heels, both of them over whelmed with laughter bubbling from some secret spring.
Cut and humiliated, Angela stood silent. Sara Penton who had been looking after the vanishing figures turned and caught her expression. " Don't mind her craziness. She's not responsible to-day."
This was news. "Engaged? To whom?"
" Oh somebody she's always been crazy about." The inevitable phrase followed: "You wouldn't know who he was."
Not know who he was, not know Matthew! She began to say " Why I knew him before Virginia," but remembering her role, a stupid and silly one now, caught herself, stood expectantly.
" So you see," Sara went on mysteriously, one eye on the bedroom, " you mustn't insist on going to the station with her; he's going to take her down."
" Why, is he here? "
" Came yesterday. We've been threatening all morning to butt in. That's the reason she spoke as she did about your going down. She expressed herself to us, you bet, but she probably wouldn't feel like doing that to you."
" Probably not," said Angela, her heart cold. Her little sister was engaged and she was learning of it from strangers. It was all she could do to hold back the tears. " But you've only yourself to blame," she reminded herself valiantly.
The two girls came back; Virginia still laughing but underneath the merriment Angela was able to detect a flurry of nervousness. After all, Jinny was just a child. And she was so happy, it would never do to mar that happiness by the introduction of the slightest gloom or discomfort. Her caller rose to her feet. " I guess Iíll be going."
Virginia made no effort to detain her, but the glance which she turned on her sister was suddenly very sweet and friendly. " Here, I'll run down to the door with you. Sara, be a darling and pick out the best of those stockings for me, put in lots. You know how hard I am on them."
Out in the hall she flung an impulsive arm about her sister. " Oh, Angela, I'm so happy, so happy. I'm going to write you about it right away, you'll be so surprised." Astonishingly she gave the older girl a great hug, kissed her again and again.
" Oh," said Angela, the tears welling from her eyes, " Oh Jinny, you do forgive me, you do, you do? I'm so sorry about it all. I've been wretched for a long time. I thought I had lost you, Virginia."
" I know," said Jinny, " I'm a hard-hearted little wretch." She giggled through her own tears, wiped them away with the back of her childish bronze hand. " I was just putting you through; I knew you'd get sick of Miss Anne's folks and come back to me. Oh Angela, I've wanted you so. But it's all right now. I won't be back for ten weeks, but then we will talk! I've got the most marvellous plans for both of us for all of us." She looked like a wise baby. " You'll get a letter from me in a few days telling you all about it. Angela, I'm so happy, but I must fly. Good-bye, darling."
They clung for a moment in the cool, dim depths of the wide hall.
Angela could have danced in the street. As it was she walked gaily down Seventh Avenue to North Street and into the bosky reaches of the park. Jinny had forgiven her. Jinny longed for her, needed her; she had known all along that Angela was suffering, had deliberately punished her. Well, she was right, everything was right this glorious memorable day. She was to have a sister again, some one of her own, she would know the joy of sharing her little triumphs, her petty woes. Wise Jinny, wonderful Jinny !
And beautiful Jinny, too, she thought. How lovely, how dainty, how fresh and innocent her little sister seemed. This brought her mind to Matthew and his great good fortune. " I'd like to see him again," she mused, smiling mischievously. " Doubtless he's forgotten me. It would be great fun to make him remember." Only, of course, now he was Jinny's and she would never get in the way of that darling. " Not even if he were some one I really wanted with all my heart and soul. But I'd never want Matthew." It would be fun, she thought, to see him again. He would make a nice brother, so sturdy and kind and reliable. She must be careful never to presume on that old youthful admiration of his. Smiling and happy she reached her house, actually skipped up the steps to her rooms. Her apartment no longer seemed lonely; it was not beautiful and bright like Jinny's but it was snug and dainty. It would be fun to have Virginia and Sara down; yes, and that new girl, that Miss Andrews, too. She didn't care what the other people in the house thought. And the girls themselves, how surprised they would be to learn the true state of affairs ! Suddenly remembering Mrs. Denver, she ran up to see her; that lady, in spite of her wealth and means for self-indulgence, was palpably lonely. Angela cheered her up with mirthful accounts of her own first days in New York; she'd been lonely too, she assured her despondent hostess, sparkling and fascinating.
" I don't see how anybody with a disposition like yours could ever be lonely," said Mrs. Denver enviously. She'd been perilously near tears all day.
Gone, gone was all the awful melancholy, the blueness that had hung about her like a palpable cloud. She was young, fascinating; she was going to be happy, again. Again! She caught her breath at that. Oh, God was good ! This feeling of lightness, of exaltation had been unknown to her so long; not since the days when she had first begun to go about with Roger had she felt so free, bird-like. In the evening Ralph Ashley came with his car and drove her halfway across Long Island, or so it seemed. They stopped at a gorgeous hotel and had a marvellous supper. Ashley was swept off his feet by her gay vitalness. In the doorway of the Jayne Street house she gave him her hand and a bewitching smile. ' You can't imagine how much I've enjoyed myself. I'll always remember it." And she spoke sincerely, for soon this sort of thing would be far behind her.
" You're a witch," said Ashley, his voice shaking a little. " You can have this sort of thing whenever you want it and you know it. Be kind to me, Angele. I'm not a bad fellow."
Frightened, she pushed him away, ran in and slammed the door. No, no, no, her heart pounded. Roger had taught her an unforgettable lesson. Soon she'd be with Jinny and Matthew, safe, sheltered.
IN the middle of the night she found herself sitting up in bed. A moment before she had been asleep, but a sudden thought had pierced her conscious ness so sharply that the effect was that of an icy hand laid suddenly on her shoulder. Jinny and Matthew marry why, that meant why, of course it meant that they would have to live in Philadelphia. How stupid she had been! And she couldn't go back there never, never. Not because of the difficulties which she had experienced as a child; she was perfectly willing to cast in her lot again with coloured people in New York. But that was different; there were signal injustices here, too oh, many, many of them but there were also signal opportunities. But Philadelphia with its traditions of liberty and its actual economic and social slavery, its iniquitous school system, its prejudiced theatres, its limited offering of occupation! A great, searing hatred arose in her for the huge, slumbering leviathan of a city which had hardly moved a muscle in the last fifty years. So hide-bound were its habits that deliberate insult could be offered to coloured people without causing the smallest ripple of condemnation or even consternation in the complacent common wealth. Virginia in one of her expansive moments had told her of a letter received from Agnes Hallowell, now a graduate of the Women's Medical College. Agnes was as fair as Angela, but she had talked frankly, even with pride, of her racial connections. " I had nothing to be ashamed of," Angela could imagine her saying, her cheeks flushing, her black eyes snapping. On her graduation she had applied for an internship at a great hospital for the insane; a position greatly craved by ardent medical graduates because of the un usually large turnover of pathological cases. But the man in charge of such appointments, looking Agnes hard in the eye told her suavely that such a position would never be given to her " not if you passed ahead of a thousand white candidates." As for Angela, here was the old problem of possible loneliness back on her hands. Virginia, it was true, would hardly marry at once, perhaps they would have a few happy months together. But afterwards. . . . She lay there, wide awake now, very still, very straight in her narrow bed, watching the thick blackness grow thinner, less opaque. And suddenly as on a former occasion, she thought of marriage. Well, why not? She had thought of it once before as a source of relief from poverty, as a final barrier between herself and the wolves of prejudice; why not now as a means of avoiding loneliness? " I must look around me," her thoughts sped on, and she blushed and smiled in the darkness at the cold-bloodedness of such an idea. But, after all, that was what men said and did. How often had she heard the expression " he's ready to settle down, so he's looking around for a wife ". If that were the procedure of men it should certainly be much more so the procedure of women since their fate was so much more deeply involved. The room was growing lighter; she could see the pictures a deeper blur against the faint blur of the wall Her passing shame suddenly spent itself, for, after all, she knew practically no men. There was Ashley but she was through with men of his type. The men in her office were nearly all impossible, but there were three, she told herself, coldly, unenthusiastic, who were not such terrible pills.
" But no," she said out loud. " I'd rather stay single and lonely, too, all my life than worry along with one of them. There must be someone else." And at once she thought of Anthony Cross. Of course there was Anthony. " I believe I've always had him in the back of my mind," she spoke again to the glimmering greyness. And turning on her pillow she fell, smiling, asleep.
Monday was a busy day; copy must be prepared for the engraver; proofs of the current edition of the magazine had to be checked up; some important French fashion plates for which she was responsible had temporarily disappeared and must be unearthed. At four- thirty she was free to take tea with Mrs. Denver, who immediately thereafter bore her off to a " movie " and dinner. Not until nine o'clock was she able to pursue her new train of thought. And even when she was at liberty to indulge in her habit of introspection she found herself experiencing a certain reluctance, an unexpected shyness. Time was needed to brood on this secret with its promise of happiness; this means of salvation from the problems of loneliness and weakness which beset her. For since the departure of Roger she frequently felt herself less assured; it would be a relief to have someone on whom to lean; someone who would be glad to shield and advise her, and love her ! This last thought seemed to her marvellous. She said to herself again and again : " Anthony loves me, I know it. Think of it, he loves me ! " Her face and neck were covered with blushes; she was like a young girl on the eve of falling in love, and indeed she herself was entering on that experience for the first time. From the very beginning she had liked Anthony, liked him as she had never liked Roger for himself, for his sincerity, for his fierce pride, for his poverty, for his honest, frantic love. " And now," she said solemnly, " I believe I'm going to love him; I believe I love him already."
There were many things to be considered. His poverty, but she no longer cared about that; in sensibly her association with Rachel Salting, her knowledge of Rachel's plans and her high flouting of poverty had worked their influence. It would be fun, fun to begin at the beginning, to save and scrape and mend. Like Rachel she would do no washing and ironing, she would keep herself dainty and unworn, but everything else, everything else she would do. Cook and she could cook; she had her blessed mother to thank for that. For a moment she was home again on Opal Street, getting Monday dinner, laughing with Virginia about Mrs. Henrietta Jones. There they were at the table, her pretty mother, her father with his fine, black face, she had forgotten that.
Colour, here the old problem came up again. Restlessly she paced the room, a smouldering cigarette in her fingers. She rarely smoked but sometimes the insensate little cylinder gave her a sense of companionship. Colour, colour, she had for gotten it. Now what should she do, tell Anthony? He was Spanish, she remembered, or no, since he came from Brazil he was probably Portuguese, a member of a race devoid, notoriously devoid of prejudice against black blood. But Anthony had lived in America long enough to become inoculated; had he ever spoken about coloured people, had the subject ever come up? Wait a minute, there was Miss Powell; she remembered now that his conduct towards the young coloured woman had always been conspicuously correct; he had placed chairs for her, opened doors, set up easels; once the three of them had walked out of Cooper Union together and Anthony had carefully helped Miss Powell on a car, removing his hat with that slightly foreign gesture which she admired so much. And so far as she knew he had never used any of Roger's cruelly slighting ex pressions; the terms "coon", "nigger", "darky" had never crossed his lips. Clearly he had no conscious feeling against her people " my people " she repeated, smiling, and wondered herself which people she meant, for she belonged to two races, and to one far more conspicuously than the other. Why, Anthony had even attended the Van Meier lecture. And she wondered what Van Meier would say if she presented her problem to him. He had no brief, she knew, against intermarriage, though, because of the high social forfeit levied, he did not advocate its practice in America.
For a moment she considered going to him and asking his advice. But she was afraid that he would speak to her about racial pride and she did not want to think of that. Life, life was what she was struggling for, the right to live and be happy. And once more her mother's dictum flashed into her mind. " Life is more important than colour." This, she told herself, was an omen, her mother was watching over her, guiding her. And, burying her face in her hands, she fell on her knees and wept and prayed.
Virginia sent a gay missive: " As soon as you left that wretch of a Sara told me that she had let you in on the great news. I wish I'd known it, I'd have spoken to you about it there in the hall; only there was so much to explain. But now you know the main facts, and I can wait until I see you to tell you the rest. But isn't it all wonderful? Angela, I do believe I'm almost the happiest girl alive !
" It's too lovely here. Edna is very kind and you know I always did like Pennsylvania country. Matthew is out almost every day. He tells me it renews his youth to come and talk about old times, anyone to hear us reminiscing, starting every other sentence with ' do you remember ? ' would think that we averaged at least ninety years apiece. It won't pique your vanity, will it, if I tell you that he seems to have recovered entirely from his old crush on you? Maybe he was just in love with the family and didn't know it. "
" We go into Philadelphia every day or two. The city has changed amazingly. But after the hit or miss method of New York society there is something very restful and safe about this tight organization of 'old Philadelphians'. In the short time I've been here I've met loads of first families, people whose names we only knew when we were children. But they all seem to remember father and mother; they all begin: ' My dear, I remember when Junius Murray ' I meet all these people, old and young, through Matthew, who seems to have become quite the beau here and goes everywhere. He really is different. Even his hair in some mysterious way is changed. Not that I ever minded; only he's so awfully nice that I just would like all the nice things of the world added unto him. We were talking the other day about the wedding, and I was thinking what a really distinguished appearance he would make. Dear old Matt, I'm glad I put off marriage until he could cut a fine figure. Write me, darling, if you feel like it, but don't expect to hear much from me. I'm so happy I can't keep still long enough to write. The minute I get back to New York though we'll have such a talk as never. "
" Mrs. Denver was growing happier; New York was redeeming itself and revealing all the riches which she had suspected lay hidden in its ware houses. Through one letter of introduction forced into her unwilling hands by an officious acquaintance on her departure from Butte she had gained an entree into that kindest and happiest of New York's varied groups, the band of writers, columnists, publishers and critics. The lady from the middle West had no literary pretensions herself, but she liked people who had them and lived up to them; she kept abreast of literary gossip, read Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, and Mercury. As she was fairly young, dainty, wealthy and generous and no grinder of axes, she was caught up and whirled right along into the galaxy of teas, luncheons, theatre parties and " barbecues " which formed the relaxations of this joyous crowd. Soon she was overwhelmed, with more invitations than she could accept; to those which she did consider she always couched her acceptance in the same terms. " Yes I'll come if I may bring my young friend, Angele Mory, along with me. She's a painter whom you'll all be glad to know some day." Angela's chance kindness to her in her days of loneliness and boredom had not fallen on barren ground.
Now indeed Angela was far removed from the atmosphere which she had known in Greenwich Village; the slight bohemianism which she had there encountered was here replaced by a somewhat bourgeois but satisfying sophistication. These people saw the " Village " for what it was, a network of badly laid off streets with, for the most part, uncomfortable, not to say inconvenient dwellings inhabited by a handful of artists in the midst of a thousand poseurs. Her new friends were frankly interested in the goods of this world. They found money an imperative, the pre-eminent, concomitant of life; once obtained, they spent it on fine apartments, beautiful raiment, delicate viands, and trips to Paris and Vienna. Conversation with them was something more than an exchange of words; "quips and jests" passed among them, and, though flavoured with allusions to stage and book, so that Angela was at times hard put to it to follow the trend of the talk, she half suspected that she was in this company assisting more nearly at the restoration of a lost art than in any other circles in the world save in the corresponding society of London.
Once again her free hours could be filled to overflowing with attention, with gaiety, with intellectual excitement; it came to her one day that this was the atmosphere of which she once had dreamed. But she was not quite happy, her economic condition interfered here. Constantly she was receiving every conceivable manifestation of an uncalculating generosity at the hands not only of Mrs. Denver but of her new acquaintances. And she could make no adequate return ; her little apartment had turned too shabby for her to have guests of this calibre, even in to tea. Her rich friend, making short shrift of such furniture as Rachel Salting had left behind, had transformed her dwelling into a marvel of luxury and elegance; tiny but beautiful. Mrs. Denver was the soul of real and delicate kindness but Angela could not accept favours indefinitely; besides she was afraid to become too used to this constant tide from a horn of plenty on which she had absolutely no claim. If there were any one thing which the harsh experiences of these last three years had taught her it was the impermanence of relationships ; she must, she felt, lay down and follow a method of living for herself which could never betray her when the attention of the rich and great should be withdrawn. Gradually she ceased accepting Mrs. Denver's invitations; she pleaded the necessity of outside work along the lines of her employment ; she was busy, too, on the portrait of her mother, stimulating her vivid memory with an old faded photograph. Her intention was to have it as a surprise for Virginia upon the latter's return.
But before withdrawing completely she made the acquaintance of a young married woman and her husband, a couple so gifted, so genuine and sincere that she was unable to keep to the letter her spartan promise of cutting herself entirely adrift from this fascinating cross-section of New York society. The husband, Walter Sandburg, was a playwright; his name was a household word ; the title of one or another of his dramas glittered on Broadway every night. His wife, Elizabeth, reviewed books for one of the great New York weeklies. Their charming apartment in Fifty-fifth Street was the centre for many clever and captivating people. Between these two and Angela something of a real friendship awakened; she was not ashamed to have them see the shabbiness of her apartment. The luncheons to which she treated Elizabeth in the Village tea rooms and in apartment stores brought as great satisfaction as the more elaborate meals at the Algonquin, the favourite rendezvous of many of these busy, happy, contented workers.
Ashley, too, had returned to a town still devoid of Carlotta, and in his loneliness was again constantly seeking Angela. His attitude was perfect; never by word or look did he revive the unpleasant impression which he had once made; indeed, in a sober, disillusioned sort of way, she was growing to like him very much. He was shy, sensitive, sympathetic and miserably lonely. It was not likely that his possessions were as fabulously great as Roger's but it was certain that he belonged to Roger's social group with all that such a ranking implies. But in spite of this he was curiously diffident; lacking in pep, the girls in his " set " coldly classified him, and let him alone. Outside his group ambitious Amazons daubed him " easy " and made a mad rush for him and his fabled millions. The two verdicts left him ashamed and frightened; annually he withdrew farther and farther into his shell, emerging only in response to Carlotta's careless and occasional beckoning or to Angela's genuine and pre-occupied indifference. But this was not her world; for years she had craved such a milieu, only to find herself, when once launched into it, outwardly perfectly at ease, inwardly perturbed and dismayed. Although she rarely thought of colour still she was conscious of living in an atmosphere of falseness, of tangled implications. She spoke often of Martha Burden and her husband; Walter Sandburg the play wright, knew Ladislas Starr; Elizabeth had met Paulette Lister in some field of newspaper activity, and Ashley of course had seen Roger in Angela's company. Behind these three or four names and the background which familiarity with them implied, she did not dare venture and in her gayest moments she was aware of the constant stirring within of a longing for someone real and permanent with whom she could share her life. She would, of course make up with Jinny, but Jinny was going to live in Philadelphia, where she herself would never sojourn again. That aftermath was the real consideration.
Her thoughts went constantly winging to Anthony; her determination became static. Saving only this invisible mixture of dark blood in her veins they, too, could meet on a par. They were both young, both gifted, ambitious, blessedly poor. Together they would climb to happier, sunnier heights. To be poor with Anthony; to struggle with him; to help him keep his secret vow; to win his surprised and generous approbation ; finally to reach the point where she, too, could open her home to poor, unknown, struggling geniuses, life could hold nothing more pleasing than these possibilities. And how kind she would be to these strangers ! How much she hoped that among them there would be some girl struggling past the limitations of her heritage even as she her self had done. Through some secret, subtle bond of sympathy she would, she was sure, be able to recognize such a girl; and how she would help her and spur her on ! To her communings she said humbly, " I am sure that this course will work out all right for me for see, I am planning chiefly for Anthony and for helpless, harassed people; hardly anything for myself but protection and love. I am willing to work for success and happiness." And even as she spoke she knew that the summit of her bliss would be reached in the days while she and Anthony were still poor and struggling and when she would be giving of her best to make things so.
Elizabeth Sandburg reminiscing about the early married days of herself and Walter gave a fillip to her thought. Said Elizabeth: " Walt and I were just as poor as we could be, we only made twenty dollars a week, and half of that went for a room in a cheap hotel. Meals even at the punkest places were awfully expensive, and half the time I used to cook things over the gas-jet. I didn't know much about cooking, and I imagine the stuff was atrocious, but we didn't mind. There were we with no one to interfere with us ; we had each other and we didn't give a damn."
Smiling, glowing, she gave Angela a com mission to paint hers and her Walter's portraits. " We'll leave the price to you and if you really put the job over I'll get you a lot of other sitters. No, don't thank me. What are friends for? That's what I always say."
SOMETIMES this thought confronted her: " Per haps Anthony no longer needs me; has forgotten me." And at the bare idea her heart would con tract with an actual, palpable movement. For by now he was representing not only surcease from loneliness but peace and security ; a place not merely in society but in the world at large. Marriage appeared, too, in a different light. Until she had met Roger she had not thought much about the institution except as an adventure in romance or as a means to an end; in her case the method of achieving the kind of existence which once had been her ideal. But now she saw it as an end in itself; for women certainly; the only, the most desirable and natural end. From this state a gifted, an ambitious woman might reach forth and acquit herself well in any activity. But marriage must be there first, the foundation, the substratum. Of course there were undoubtedly women who, like men, took love and marriage as the sauce of existence and their intellectual interests as the main dish. Witness for instance, Paulette. Now that she came to think of it, Paulette might vary her lovers but she never varied in the manifestation of her restless, clever mental energy. At no time did she allow her " love-life ", as the psycho-analyst termed it, to interfere with her mental interests, indeed she made no scruple of furthering these same interests by her unusual and pervasive sex charm. But this was Paulette, a remarkable personage, a woman apart. But for most women there must be the safety, the assurance of relation ship that marriage affords. Indeed, most women must be able to say as did men, " You are mine," not merely, " I am yours."
A certain scorching humility thrust itself upon her. In all her manifestations of human relationships, how selfish she had been ! She had left Virginia, she had taken up with Roger to further her own interests. For a brief interval she had perhaps loved Roger with the tumultuous, heady passion of hot, untried youth. But again when, this subsiding, she had tried to introduce a note of idealism, it had been with the thought of saving her own soul. She thought of her day in the park with Anthony, his uncomplaining acceptance of her verdict; his wistfully grateful: "I almost touched happiness ". How easily she might have made him happy if she had turned her thoughts to his needs. But she had never thought of that; she had been too intent always on happiness for herself. Her father, her mother and Jinny had always given and she had always taken. Why was that? Jinny had sighed: "Perhaps you have more white blood than Negro in your veins." Perhaps this selfishness was what the possession of white blood meant; the ultimate definition of Nordic Supremacy.
Then she remembered that Anthony was white and, bewildered ; she ceased trying to cogitate, to unravel, decipher, evaluate. She was lonely, she loved. She meant to find a companion ; she meant to be be loved.
She must act.
None of her new friends was acquainted with Anthony. Ralph Ashley in response to a tentative question could not recall ever having seen him. The time was August, consequently he could not be at the school. Telephone books revealed nothing. " Lost in a great city ! " she told herself and smiled at the cheap novel flavour of the phrase. She sent her thoughts fluttering back to the last time she had really seen Anthony, to their last intimate conversation. They had met that day after she had cut Jinny; she remembered, smiling now in her superior knowledge, the slight panic which she had experienced at his finding her in a 'bus in Harlem. There had been some chaffing about tea and he had given her his address and she had put it, where? It was not in her address book. A feverish search through her little desk revealed it in the pages of her prayer book, the one which she had used as a child. This she considered a good omen. The bit of paper was crinkled and blurred but she was able to make out an address on One Hundred and Fourteenth Street. Suppose he were no longer there ! She could not brook the thought of another night of uncertainty; it was ten o'clock but she mounted a 'bus, rode up to One Hundred and Fourteenth and Seventh Avenue. Her heart beat so loudly as she turned the corner, it seemed as though the inhabitants of the rather shabby block hearing that human dynamo would throng their windows. The street, like many others in New York, possessed the pseudo elegance and impressiveness which comes from an equipment of brown stone houses with their massive fronts, their ostentatious regularity and simplicity, but a second glance revealed its down-at-heel condition; gaping windows disclosed the pitiful smallness of the rooms that crouched behind the pretentious outsides. There was something faintly humorous, ironical, about being cooped up in these deceptive palaces; according to one's tem perament one might laugh or weep at the thought of how these structures, the product of human energy could yet cramp, imprison, even ruin the very activity which had created them.
Angela found her number, mounted the steps, sought in the dim, square hall feverishly among the names in the bells. Sullivan, Brown, Hendrickson, Sanchez, and underneath the name of Sanchez on the same card, five small, neat characters in Anthony's inimitably clear printing Cross. She almost fainted with the relief of it. Her fingers stole to the bell, perhaps her one time fellow-student was up in his room now, how strange that this bit of gutta percha and its attendant wires should bridge all the extent of time and space that had so long lain between them! But she could not push it; Anthony, she was sure, was real enough, close enough to the heart of living to refuse to be shocked by any mere breach of the conventionalities. Even so, however, to seek at eleven o'clock at night and without preliminary warning admission to the rooms of a man whom one has not noticed for a year, was, as he himself would have put it, " a bit thick ".
The little note which she sent was a model of demureness and propriety. " Dear Anthony," it read, " Do you remember my promising to ask you in for tea the next time I made a batch of cookies? Well, to-morrow at 5.30 will be the next time. Do come ! "
He had changed ; her interested, searching eyes descried it in a moment. Always grave, always austere, always responsible, there was now in his manner an imponderable yet perceptible increment of each quality. But this was not all; his old familiar tortured look had left him; a peace, a quality of poise hovered about him, the composure which is achieved either by the attainment or by the relinquishment of the heart's desire. There is really very little difference, since each implies the cessation of effort.
All this passed rapidly through Angela's mind. Aloud she said : " How do, Anthony? you're really looking awfully well. It's nice to see you again."
" It's nice to see you," he replied. Certainly there was nothing remarkable about their conversation. After the bantering, the jests and allusions which she had been used to hearing at the Sandburgs, compared with the snappy jargon of Mrs. Denver's "crowd" this was trivial, not to say banal. She burst out laughing. Anthony raised his eyebrows.
" What's so funny? Is it a secret joke? "
" No, only I've been thinking hard about you for a long time." She made a daring stroke. " Presumably you've thought occasionally about me. Yet when we meet we sit up like a dandy and a dowager with white kid gloves on and exchange comments on our appearances. I sup pose the next step in order would be to talk about the weather. Have you had much rain up in One Hundred and Fourteenth Street, Mr Gross? "
Some of his poise forsook him. The pervasive peacefulness that sat so palpably upon him deserted him like a rended veil. " You've been thinking about me for a long time? Just how long? "
" I couldn't tell you when it began." She ventured another bold stroke. " But you've been in the back of my mind, oh for ages, ages."
The poise, the composure, the peace were all fled now. Hastily, recklessly he set down his glass of tea, came and towered over her. She bit her lips to hide their trembling. Oh he was dear, dearer than she had ever imagined, so transparent, so honest. Who was she to deserve him?
His face quivered. He should never have come near this girl ! As suddenly as he had left his chair he returned to it, settled himself comfortably and picked up his glass. " I've been away from you so long I had forgotten."
" Forgotten what? "
" Forgotten how dangerous you are. For gotten how a woman like you plays with poor fools like me. Why did you send for me? To set me dancing once more to your tune? "
His bitterness surprised and frightened her. " Anthony, Anthony don't talk like that ! I sent for you because I wanted to see you, wanted to talk to my old friend."
Appeased, he lounged back in the famous and unique easy chair, lit a cigarette. She brought out some of her sketches, displayed her note-book. He was especially interested in the " Fourteenth Street Types ", was pleased with the portrait of her mother. " She doesn't look like you, though I can see you probably have her hair and that pearly tint of her skin. But you must have got your nose from your father. You know all the rest of your face," he dwelt on her features dreamily, " your lips, your eyes, your curly lashes are so deliciously feminine. But that straight nose of yours betokens strength." The faded, yet striking photograph lay within reach. He picked it up, studying it thoughtfully. " What a beautiful woman; all woman I should say. Did she have much effect on your life? "
" N-no, I can't say she did." She remembered those Saturday excursions and their adventures in " passing ", so harmless, yet so far-reaching. " Oh yes, in one respect she influenced me greatly, changed my whole life."
He nodded, gazing moodily at the picture. " My mother certainly affected me."
Angela started to say glibly; " She made you what you are to-day"; but a glance at his brooding countenance made her think better of it.
" What's this? " He had turned again to the sketch book and was poring upon a mass of lightly indicated figures passing apparently in review before the tall, cloaked form of a woman, thin to emaciation, her hands on her bony hips, slightly bent forward, laughing uproariously yet with a certain chilling malevolence. " I can't make it out."
With something shamefaced in her manner she took it from him. "I'm not sure yet whether I'll develop it. I, it's an idea that has slowly taken possession of me since I've been in New York. The tall woman is Life and the idea is that she laughs at us; laughs at the poor people who fall into the traps which she sets for us."
Sorrow set its seal on his face as perceptibly as though it had been stamped there. He came closer. " You've found that out too? If I could have managed it you would never have known it. I wanted so to keep it from you." His manner suddenly changed. " I must go. This afternoon has been perfect; I can't thank you enough, but I'm not coming again."
" Not coming again ! What nonsense ! Why, why ever not? Now, Anthony, don't begin that vow business. To-day has been perfect, marvellous. You don't suppose I'm going to let my friend go when I'm really just discovering him ! "
Weakly he murmured that it was foolish for them to take up each other's time; he was going away.
" All the more reason, then, why we should be seeing each other."
His glance fell on the formless sketch. " If I could only get one laugh on life. . . . When are you going to let me see you again? I'm my own man just now; my time is at your disposal."
The next afternoon they met outside her office building and dined together. On Friday they sailed to the Atlantic Highlands. Saturday, Sun day, Monday, Tuesday flashed by, meaning nothing to either except for the few hours which they spent in each other's company. Thursday was a slack day; she arranged her work so as to be free for the afternoon, and they passed the hurrying, glamorous hours in Van Cortlandt Park, laughing, jesting, relating old dreams, relapsing into silences more intimate than talk, blissfully aware of each other's presence, still more throbbingly aware of a conversation held in this very Park years ago Back again in the little hall on Jayne Street he took her in his arms and kissed her slowly, with rapture, with adoration and she returned his kisses. For a long time he held her close against his pounding heart; she opened her languid eyes to meet his burning gaze which she could feel rather than see. Slowly he took her arms from his neck, let them drop.
" Angel, Angel, I shall love you always. Life cannot rob me of that. Good-bye, my sweetest."
He was lost in the shadowy night.
The next day passed and the next. A week sped. Absolute silence. No sign of him by either word or line.
At the end of ten days, on a never to be forgotten Sunday afternoon, she went to see him. Without conscious volition on her part she was one moment in her apartment on Jayne Street; and at the end of an hour she was pressing a button above the name Cross in a hall on One Hundred and Four teenth Street, hearing the door click, mounting the black well of a stair-way, tapping on a door bearing the legend " Studio ".
A listless voice said " Come in."
Presently the rather tall, slender young man sitting in his shirt sleeves, his back toward her, staring dejectedly but earnestly at a picture on the table before him asked: " What can I do for you? "
The long and narrow room boasted a rather good parquet floor and a clean plain wall paper covered with unframed pictures and sketches. In one corner stood an easel; the furniture for the most part was plain but serviceable and com fortable, with the exception of an old-fashioned horse-hair sofa which Angela thought she had never seen equalled for its black shininess and its promise of stark discomfort.
On entering the apartment she had felt perturbed, but as soon as she saw Anthony and realized that the picture at which he was gazing was an unfinished sketch of herself, her worry fled. He had asked his question without turning, so she addressed his back:
" You can tell me where you found that terrible sofa; I had no idea there were any in existence. Thought they had died out with the Dodo."
The sound of her voice brought him to her side. " Angele, tell me what are you doing here? "
She tried to keep the light touch: "Not until you have told me about the sofa." But his dark, tormented face and the strain under *which she had been suffering for the past week broke down her defence. Swaying, she caught at his hand. " Anthony, Anthony, how could you?"
He put his arm about her and led her to the despised sofa; looked at her moodily. " Why did you come to see me, Angele? "
Ordinarily she would have fenced, indulged in some fancy skirmishing; but this was no ordinary occasion; indeed in ordinary circumstances she would not have been here. She spoke gravely and proudly.
" Because I love you. Because I think you love me." A sudden terrible fear assailed her. " Oh, Anthony, don't tell me you were only playing ! "
" With you? So little was I playing that the moment I began to suspect you cared, and I never dreamed of it until that last day in the park, I ran away from you. I knew you had so many resources; men will always adore you, want you, that I thought you'd soon forget; turn to someone else just as you had turned for a sudden whim to me from God knows how many admirers."
She shook her head, but she was frightened; some nameless fear knocking at her heart. " I turned to you from no one, Anthony. I've had only one ' admirer ' as you call it in New York and I had long, long since ceased thinking of him. No, Anthony, I came to you because I needed you ; you of all men in New York. I think in the world. And I thought you needed me."
They sat in silence on the terrible sofa. He seized her hand and covered it with kisses; started to take her in his arms, then let them fall in a hope less gesture.
" It's no good, Angel; there's no use trying to buck fate. Life has caught us again. What you're talking about is absolutely impossible."
" What do you mean, impossible? " The little mute fear that had lain within her for a long time as a result of an earlier confidence of his bestirred itself, spoke.
" Anthony, those men, those enemies that killed your father, did you kill one of them? " She had her arms about him. " You know it's nothing to me. Don't even tell me about it. Your past belongs to you; it's your future I'm interested in, that I want."
He pushed her from him, finally, even roughly. " No, I've never killed a man. Though I've wanted to. But I was a little boy when it all happened and afterwards I wouldn't go back because of my mother." He went over to a drawer and took out a revolver, " I've half a mind to kill myself now, now before I go mad thinking how I've broken my promise, broken it after all these years." He looked at her wistfully, yet implacably. " I wish that I had died long before it was given to me to see that beautiful, loving look on your face change into one of hatred and dread and anger."
She thought he must be raving; she tried to sooth him. " Never mind, Anthony; I don't care a rap about what you've done. Only tell me why do you say everything's impossible for us? Why can't we mean everything to each other, be married -- "
" Because I'm coloured." In her bewildered relief she fell away from him.
" Yes, that's right, you damned American ! I'm not fit for you to touch now, am I? It was all right as long as you thought I was a murderer, a card sharp, a criminal, but the black blood in me is a bit too much, isn't it?" Beside himself he rushed to the windows, looked on the placid Sunday groups festooning the front steps of the brown stone houses. " What are you going to do, alarm the neighbourhood? Well, let me tell you, my girl, before they can get up here I'll be dead." His glance strayed to the revolver. " They'll never catch me as they did my father."
It was on the point of her tongue to tell him her great secret. Her heart within her bubbled with laughter to think how quickly she could put an end to this hysteria, how she could calm this black madness which so seethed within him, poisoning the very spring of his life. But his last words turned her thoughts to something else, to another need. How he must have suffered, loving a girl who he felt sure would betray him ; yet scorn ing to keep up the subterfuge.
She said to him gently: "Anthony, did you think I would do that? "
His answer revealed the unspeakable depths of his acquaintance with prejudice; his incurable cynicism. " You're a white American. I know there's nothing too dastardly for them to attempt where colour is involved."
A fantastic notion seized her. Of course she would tell him that she was coloured, that she was willing to live with coloured people. And if he needed assurance of her love, how much more fully would he believe in her when he realized that not even for the sake of the conveniences to be had by passing would she keep her association with white people secret from him. But first she must try to restore his faith in human good ness. She said to him gently: " Tell me about it, Anthony."
And sitting there in the ugly, tidy room in the sunshot duskiness of the early summer evening, the half-subdued noises of the street mounting up to them, he told her his story. An old story it was, but in its new setting, coupled with the fact that Angela for years had closed her mind to the penalty which men sometimes pay for being " different ", it sounded like some unbelievable tale from the Inquisition.
His father, John Hall, of Georgia, had been a sailor and rover, but John's father was a well- known and capable farmer who had stayed in his little town and slowly amassed what seemed a fortune to the poor and mostly ignorant whites by whom he was surrounded. In the course of John's wanderings he had landed at Rio de Janeiro and he had met Maria Cruz, a Brazilian with the blood of many races in her veins. She herself was apparently white, but she looked with favour on the brown, stalwart sailor, thinking nothing of his colour, which was very much the same as that of her own father. The two married and went to many countries. But finally John, wearying of his aimless life, returned to his father, arriving a month before it was time to receive the old man's blessing and his property. Thence all his troubles. Certain white men in the neighbour hood had had their eyes turned greedily on old Anthony Hall's possessions. His son had been a wanderer for many years; doubtless he was dead. Certainly it was not expected that he would return after all these years to his native soil; most niggers leaving the South left for ever. They knew better than to return with their uppity ways.
Added to the signal injustice of John Hall's return and the disappointment caused thereby, was the iniquity of his marriage to a beautiful and apparently white wife. Little Anthony could remember his father's constant admonition to her never to leave the house; the latter had, in his sudden zeal for home, forgotten what a sojourn in Georgia could mean. But his memory was soon refreshed and he was already making every effort to dispose of his new possessions without total loss. This required time and patience, but he hoped that only a few months need elapse before they might shake off the dust of this cursed hole for ever.
"Just a little patience, Maria," he told his lovely wife.
But she could not understand. True, she never ventured into the town, but an infrequent visit to the little store was imperative and she did not mind an occasional admiring glance. Indeed she attributed her husband's admonitions to his not unwelcome jealousy. Anthony, always a grave child, constituted himself her constant guardian; his father, he knew, had to be away in neighbouring townships where he was trying to put through his deal, so the little boy accompanied his silly trusting mother everywhere. When they passed a group of staring, mouthing men he contrived to hurt his finger or stub his toe so as to divert his mother's attention. In spite of his childish subterfuges, indeed because of them, his mother attracted the notice of Tom Haley, son of the magistrate. Anthony apparently had injured his hand and his beautiful mother, bending over it with great solicitude, made a picture too charming, too challenging to be overlooked. Haley stepped forward, actually touched his cap. " Can I do anything to help you, ma'am? " She looked at him with her lovely, melting eyes, spoke in her foreign liquid voice. He was sure he had made a conquest. Afterwards, chagrined by the gibes of the bystanders who jeered at him for his courtesy to a nigger wench " for that's all she is, John Hall's wife ", he ground his heel in the red dust; he would show her a thing or two.
In the hot afternoon, awakened from her siesta by a sudden knock, she came to the door, greeted her admirer of the early morning. She was not quite pleased with the look in his eyes, but she could not suspect evil. Haley, who had done some wandering on his own account and had picked up a few words of Spanish, let fall an insulting phrase or two. Amazed and angry she struck him across his face. The boy, Anthony, uneasily watching, screamed; there was a sudden tumult of voices and Haley fled, forgetting for the moment that these were Negro voices and so need not be dreaded. An old coloured man, mumbling and groaning " Gawd forgive you, Honey; we'se done fer now " guided the child and the panic-stricken mother into the swamp And lying there hidden at night they could see the sparks and flames rising from the house and buildings, which represented the labour of Anthony Hall's sixty years. In a sudden lull they caught the sounds of the pistol shots which riddled John Hall's body.
" Someone warned my father," said Anthony Cross wearily, " but he would go home. Besides, once back in town he would have been taken anyway, perhaps mobbed and burned in the public square. They let him get into his house; he washed and dressed himself for death. Before nightfall the mob came to teach this man their opinion of a nigger who hadn't taught his wife her duty toward white men. First they set fire to the house, then called him to the window. He stepped out on a little veranda; Haley opened fire. The body fell over the railing, dead before it could touch the ground, murdered by the bullets from twenty pistols. Souvenir hunters cut off fingers, toes, his ears, a friend of my grandfather found the body at night and buried it. They said it was unlike anything they had ever seen before, totally dehumanized. After I heard that story I was unable to sleep for nights on end. As for my mother, -- '"
Angela pressed his head close against her shoulder. There were no words for a thing like this, only warm human contact.
He went on wanly. " As for my mother, she was like a madwoman. She has gone all the rest of her life haunted by a terrible fear."
" Of white people," Angela supplemented softly. " Yes, I can see how she would."
He glanced at her sombrely. " No, of coloured people. She believes that we, particularly the dark ones, are cursed, otherwise why should we be so abused, so hounded. Two years after my father's death she married a white man, not an American that was spared me, but a German who, I believe, treats her very kindly. I was still a little boy but I begged and pleaded with her to leave the whole race alone; I told her she owed it to the memory of my father. But she only said women were poor, weak creatures; they must take protection where they could get it."
Horrified, mute with the tragedy of it all, she could only stare at him white-lipped.
" Don't ask me how I came up. Angele, for a time I was nothing, worthless,, only I have never denied my colour; I have always taken up with coloured causes. When I've had a special point to make I've allowed the world to think of me as it would but always before severing my connections I told of the black blood that was in my veins. And then it came to me that for my father's sake I would try to make something of myself. So I sloughed off my evil ways, they had been assumed only in bravado, and came to New York where I've been living quietly, I hope usefully, keeping my bitterness within myself where it could harm no one but me.
" I made one vow and kept it, never by any chance to allow myself to become entangled with white people; never to listen to their blandish ments; always to hate them with a perfect hate. Then I met you and loved you and somehow healing began. I thought, if she loves me she'll be willing to hear me through. And if after she hears me she is willing to take me, black blood and all, but mind," he interrupted himself fiercely, " I'm not ashamed of my blood. Some times I think it's the leaven that will purify this Nordic people of their cruelty and their savage lust of power."
She ignored this. " So you were always going to tell me."
" Tell you? Of course I would have told you. Oh, I'm a man, Angel, with a man's record. When I was a sailor, there' re some pages in my life I couldn't let your fingers touch. But that I'd have told you, it was too vital, too important. Not that I think it really means anything, this mixture of blood, as life goes, as God meant the world to go. But here in America it could make or mar life. Of course I'd have told you."
Here was honour, here was a man ! So would her father have been. Having found this comparison her mind sought no further.
A deep silence descended upon them; in his case the silence of exhaustion. But Angela was thinking of his tragic life and of how completely, how surprisingly she could change it. Smiling, she spoke to him of happiness, of the glorious future. " I've something amazing to tell you, but I won't spring it on you all at once. Can't we go out to Van Cortlandt Park to-morrow evening? "
He caught her hand. " No matter what in the goodness of your heart you may be planning, there is no future, none, none, Angel, for you and me. Don't deceive yourself, nor me. When I'm with you I forget sometimes. But this afternoon has brought it all back to me. I'll never forget myself and my vow again."
A bell shrilled three, four times.
He looked about frowning. "That's Sanchez; he's forgotten his key again. My dear girl, my Angel, you must go, and you must not, must not come back. Hurry, hurry ! I don't want him to see you here." He guided her towards the door, stemming her protestations. " I'll write you at once, but you must go. God bless and keep you."
In another moment she was out in the dim hall, passing a dark, hurrying figure on the stairs. The heavy door swung silently behind her, thrusting her inexorably out into the engulfing summer night; the shabby pretentious house was again between her and Anthony with his tragic, searing past.
ALL the next day and the next she dwelt on Anthony's story; she tried to put herself in his place, to force herself into a dim realization of the dark chamber of torture in which his mind and thoughts had dwelt for so many years. And she had added her modicum of pain, had been so unsympathetic, so unyielding; in the midst of the dull suffering, the sickness of life to which perhaps his nerves had become accustomed she had managed to inject an extra pinprick of poignancy. Oh, she would reward him for that; she would brim his loveless, cheated existence with joy and sweet ness; she would cajole him into forgetting that terrible past. Some day he should say to her: " You have brought me not merely new life, but life itself." Those former years should mean no more to him than its pre-natal existence means to a baby.
Her fancy dwelt on, toyed with all the sweet offices of love; the delicate bondage that could knit together two persons absolutely en rapport. At the cost of every ambition which she had ever known she would make him happy. After the manner of most men his work would probably be the greatest thing in the world to him. And he should be the greatest thing in the world to her. He should be her task, her "job ", the fulfilment of her ambition. A phrase from the writings of Anatole France came drifting into her mind. " There is a technique of love." She would dis cover it, employ it, not go drifting haphazardly, carelessly into this relationship. And suddenly she saw her affair with Roger in a new light; she could forgive him, she could forgive herself for that hitherto unpardonable union if through it she had come one iota nearer to the understanding and the need of Anthony.
His silence for although the middle of the week had passed she had received no letter, worried her not one whit. In the course of time he would come to her, remembering her perfect sympathy of the Sunday before and thinking that this woman was the atonement for what he considered her race. And then she would surprise him, she would tell him the truth, she would make herself inexpressibly dearer and nearer to him when he came to know that her sympathy and her tender ness were real, fixed and lasting, because they were based and rooted in the same blood, the same experiences, the same comprehension of this far-reaching, stupid, terrible race problem. How inexpressibly happy, relieved and over whelmed he would be ! She would live with him in Harlem, in Africa, anywhere, any place. She would label herself, if he asked it; she would tell every member of her little coterie of white friends about her mixed blood; she would help him keep his vow and would glory in that keeping. No sacrifice of the comforts which came to her from " passing ", of the assurance, even of the safety which the mere physical fact of whiteness in America brings, would be too great for her. She would withdraw where he withdrew, hate where he hated.
His letter which came on Thursday interrupted her thoughts, her fine dreams of self-immolation which women so adore. It was brief and stern, and read:
" Angele, don't think for one moment that I do not thank you for Sunday. . . . My heart is at your feet for what you revealed to me then. But you and I have nothing in common, have never had, and now can never have. More than race divides us. I think I shall go away. Meanwhile you are to forget me; amuse your self, beautiful, charming, magnetic Angel with the men of your own race and leave me to my own.
It was such a strange letter; its coldness and finality struck a chill to her heart. She looked at the lonely signature, " Anthony ", just that, no word of love or affection. And the phrase: " More than race divides us." Its hidden significance held a menace.
The letter was awaiting her on her return from work. She had come in all glowing with the promise of the future as she conceived it. And then here were these cold words killing her high hopes as an icy blast kills the too trusting blossoms of early spring. . . . Holding the letter she let her supper go untasted, unregarded, while she evolved some plan whereby she could see Anthony, talk to him. The tone of his letter did not sound as though he would yield to ordinary persuasion. And again in the midst of her bewilderment and suffering she was struck afresh with the difficulties inherent in womanhood in conducting the most ordinary and most vital affairs of life. She was still a little bruised in spirit that she had taken it upon herself to go to Anthony's rooms Sunday; it was a step she felt conventionally, whose justification lay only in its success. As long as she had considered it successful, she had been able to relegate it to the uttermost limbo of her self- consciousness. But now that it seemed to avail nothing it loomed up before her in all its social significance. She was that creature whom men, in their selfish fear, have contrived to paint as the least attractive of human kind, " a girl who runs after men." It seemed to her that she could not stand the application of the phrase, no matter how unjustly, how inaptly used in her own case. Looking for a word of encouragement she re-read the note. The expression " My heart is at your feet" brought some reassurance; she remem bered, too, his very real emotion of Sunday, only a few days before. Men, real men, men like Anthony, do not change. No, she could not let him go without one last effort. She would go to Harlem once more to his house, she would see him, reassure him, allay his fears, quench his silly apprehensions of non-compatability. As soon as he knew that they were both coloured, he'd succumb. Now he was overwrought. It had never occurred to her before that she might be glad to be coloured. . . . She put on her hat, walked slowly out the door, said to herself with a strange foreboding: " When I see this room again, I'll either be very happy, or very, very sad. ..." Her courage rose, braced her, but she was sick of being courageous, she wanted to be a beloved woman, dependent, fragile, sought for, feminine; after this last ordeal she would be " womanly " to the point of ineptitude. . . .
During the long ride her spirits rose a little. After all, his attitude was almost inevitable. He thought she belonged to a race which to him stood for treachery and cruelty; he had seen her with Roger, Roger, the rich, the gay; he saw her as caring only for wealth and pleasure. Of course in his eyes she was separated from him by race and by more than race.
For long years she was unable to reconstruct that scene; her mind was always too tired, too sore to re-enact it.
As in a dream she saw Anthony's set, stern face, heard his firm, stern voice: "Angel-girl, Angele I told you not to come back. I told you it was all impossible."
She found herself clutching at his arm, blurting out the truth, forgetting all her elaborate plans, her carefully pre-concerted drama. " But, Anthony, Anthony, listen, everything's all right. I'm coloured; I've suffered too; nothing has to come between us."
For a moment off his guard he wavered. " Angele, I didn't think you'd lie to me."
She was in tears, desperate. " I'm not lying, Anthony. It's perfectly true."
" I saw that picture of your mother, a white woman if I ever saw one, "
" Yes, but a white coloured woman. My father was black, perfectly black and I have a sister, she's brown. My mother and I used to ' pass ' some times just for the fun of it; she didn't mind being coloured. But I minded it terribly, until very recently. So I left my home, in Philadelphia, and came here to live, oh, going for white makes life so much easier. You know it, Anthony." His face wan and terrible frightened her. " It doesn't make you angry, does it ? You've passed yourself, you told me you had. Oh Anthony, Anthony, don't look at me like that! What is it?"
She caught at his hand, following him as he withdrew to the shiny couch where they both sat breathless for a moment. " God ! " he said suddenly; he raised his arms, beating the void like a madman. " You in your foolishness, I in my carelessness, passing, passing ' and life sitting back laughing, splitting her sides at the joke of it. Oh, it was all right for you, but I didn't care whether people thought I was white or coloured, if we'd only known, "
" What on earth are you talking about? It's all right now."
" It isn't all right; it's worse than ever." He caught her wrist. " Angel, you're sure you're not fooling me? "
" Of course I'm not. I have proof, I've a sister right here in New York; she's away just now. But when she comes back, I'll have you meet her. She is brown and lovely, you'll want to paint her . . . don't you believe me, Anthony? "
" Oh yes, I believe you," he raised his arms again in a beautiful, fluid gesture, let them fall. " Oh, damn life, damn it, I say . . . isn't there any end to pain ! "
Frightened, she got on her knees beside him. " Anthony, what's the matter? Everything's going to be all right; we're going to be happy."
" You may be. I'll never be happy. You were the woman I wanted, I thought you were white. For my father's sake I couldn't marry a white girl. So I gave you up."
" And I wouldn't stay given up. See, here I am back again. You'll never be able to send me away." Laughing but shamefaced, she tried to thrust herself into his arms.
" No, Angel, no ! You don't understand There's, there's somebody else -- "
She couldn't take it in. " Somebody else. You mean, you're married? Oh Anthony, you don't mean you're married ! "
" No, of course not, of course not ! But I'm engaged."
" Engaged, engaged and not to me, to another girl? And you kissed me, went around with me? I knew other men did that, but I never thought that of you ! I thought you were like my father ! " And she began to cry like a little girl.
Shame-faced, he looked on, jamming his hands tightly into his pockets. " I never meant to harm you; I never thought until that day in the park that you would care. And I cared so terribly! Think, I had given you up, Angele, I suppose that isn't your name really, is it? and all of a sudden, you came walking back into my life and I said, ' I'll have the laugh on this damned mess after all. I'll spend a few days with her, love her a little, just a little. She'll never know, and I'll have a golden memory! Oh, I had it coming to me, Angel! But the minute I saw you were beginning to care I broke off short."
A line from an old text was running through her head, rendering her speechless, inattentive. She was a little girl back in the church again in Philadelphia; the minister was intoning " All we like sheep have gone astray". He used to put the emphasis on the first word and Jinny and she would look at each other and exchange meaning smiles; he was a West Indian and West Indians had a way of misplacing the emphasis. The line sounded so funny: " All we like sheep, -- " but perhaps it wasn't so funny after all; perhaps he had read it like that not because he was a West Indian but because he knew life and human nature. Certainly she had gone astray, with Roger. And now here was Anthony, Anthony who had always loved her so well. Yet in his background there was a girl and he was engaged.
This brought her to a consideration of the un known fiancee, her rival. Deliberately she chose the word, for she was not through yet. This unknown, unguessed at woman who had stolen in like a thief in the night. . . .
" Have you known her long? " she asked him sharply.
" Who? Oh my, my friend. No, not as long as I've known you."
A newcomer, an upstart. Well at least she, Angela, had the advantage of precedence.
" She's coloured, of course? "
They sat in a weary silence. Suddenly he caught her in his arms and buried his head in her neck. A quick pang penetrated to the very core of her being. He must have been an adorable baby. . . . Anthony and babies !
" Now God, Life, whatever it is that has power, this time you must help me ! " cried her heart. She spoke to him gently.
" Anthony, you know I love you. Do you still love me? "
" Always, always, Angel."
" Do you Oh, Anthony, I don't deserve it, but do you by any chance worship me? "
" Yes, that's it, that's just it, I worship you. I adore you. You are God to me. Oh, Angele, if you'd only let me know. But it's too late now."
" No, no don't say that, perhaps it isn't too late. It all depends on this. Do you worship her, Anthony? " He lifted his haggard face.
"No but she worships me. I'm God to her do you see? If I fail her she won't say anything, she'll just fall back like a little weak kitten, like a lost sheep, like a baby. She'll die." He said as though unaware of his listener. " She's such a little thing. And sweet."
Angela said gently: "Tell me about her. Isn't it all very sudden? You said you hadn't known her long."
He began obediently. " It was not long after I I lost you. She came to me out of nowhere, came walking to me into my room by mistake; she didn't see me. And she put her head down on her hands and began to cry terribly. I had been crying too in my heart, you understand, and for a moment I thought she might be the echo of that cry, might be the cry itself. You see, I'd been drinking a little, you were so far removed, white and all that sort of thing. I couldn't marry a white woman, you know, not a white American. I owed that to my father.
" But at last I saw it was a girl, a real girl and I went over to her and put my hand on her shoulder and said: ' Little girl, what's the matter? '
" And she lifted her head, still hidden in the crook of her arm, you know the way a child does and said : ' I've lost my sister '. At first I thought she meant lost in the street and I said ' Well, come with me to the police station, I'll go with you, we'll give them a description and you'll find her again. People don't stay lost in this day and time '. I got her head on my shoulder, I almost took her on my knee, Angele, she was so simple and forlorn. And presently she said : ' No, I don't mean lost that way; I mean she's left me, she doesn't want me anymore. She wants other people '. And I've never been able to get anything else out of her. The next morning I called her up and somehow I got to seeing her, for her sake, you know. But afterwards when she grew happier, she was so blithe, so lovely, so healing and blessed like the sun or a flower, then I saw she was getting fond of me and I stayed away.
" Well, I ran across you and that Fielding fellow that night at the Van Meier lecture. And you were so happy and radiant, and Fielding so possessive, damn him ! damn him ! he you didn't let him hurt you, Angele? "
As though anything that had ever happened in her life could hurt her like this! She had never known what pain was before. White-lipped, she shook her head. " No, he didn't hurt me."
" Well, I went to see her the next day. She came into the room like a shadow, I realized she was getting thin. She was kind and sweet and far-off; impalpable, tenuous and yet there. I could see she was dying for me. And all of a sudden it came to me how wonderful it would be to have someone care like that. I went to her; I took her in my arms and I said: 'Child, child, I'm not bringing you a whole heart but could you love me? ' You see I couldn't let her go after that."
" No," Angela's voice was dull, lifeless. " You couldn't. She'd die."
" Yes, that's it; that's just it. And I know you won't die, Angel."
" No, you're quite right. I won't die."
An icy hand was on her heart. At his first words: " She came walking into my room, -- " an icy echo stirred a memory deep, deep within her inner consciousness. She heard Jinny saying : " I went walking into his room, -- "
Something stricken, mortally stricken in her face fixed his attention. " Don't look like that, my girl, my dear Angel. . . . There are three of us in this terrible plight, if I had only known. ... I don't deserve the love of either of you but if one of you two must suffer it might as well be she as you. Come, we'll go away; even unhappiness, even remorse will mean something to us as long as we're together."
She shook her head. " No, that's impossible, if it were someone else, I don't know, perhaps I'm so sick of unhappiness, maybe I'd take a chance. But in her case it's impossible."
He looked at her curiously. " What do you mean 'in her case'?"
" Isn't her name Virginia Murray? "
" Yes, yes ! How did you guess it? Do you know her? "
" She's my sister. Angele Mory, Angela Murray, don't you see. It's the same name. And it's all my fault. I pushed her, sent her deliberately into your arms."
He could only stare.
" I'm the unkind sister who didn't want her. Oh, can't you understand? That night she came walking into your room by mistake it was because I had gone to the station to meet her and Roger Fielding came along. I didn't want him to know that I was coloured and I, I didn't acknowledge her, I cut her."
" Oh," he said surprised and inadequate. " I don't see how you could have done that to a little girl like Virginia. Did she know New York? "
" No." She drooped visibly. Even the loss of him was nothing compared to this rebuke. There seemed nothing further to be said.
Presently he put his arm about her. " Poor Angele. As though you could foresee ! It's what life does to us, leads us into pitfalls apparently so shallow, so harmless and when we turn around there we are, caught, fettered, "
Her miserable eyes sought his. " I was sorry right away, Anthony. I tried my best to get in touch with her that very evening. But I couldn't find her, already you see, life was getting even with me, she had strayed into your room."
He nodded. " Yes, I remember it all so plainly. I was getting ready to go out, was all prepared as a matter of fact. Indeed I moved that very night. But I loitered on and on, thinking of you.
" The worst of it is I'll always be thinking of you. Oh Angele, what does it matter, what does any thing matter if we just have each other? This damned business of colour, is it going to ruin all chances of happiness? I've known trouble, pain, terrible devastating pain all my life. You've suffered too. Together perhaps we could find peace. We'd go to your sister and explain. She is kind and sweet; surely she'd understand."
He put his arms about her and the two clung to each other, solemnly, desperately, like children.
" I'm sick of pain, too, Anthony, sick of longing and loneliness. You can't imagine how I've suffered from loneliness."
" Yes, yes I can. I guessed it. I used to watch you. I thought you were probably lonely inside, you were so different from Miss Lister and Mrs. Starr. Come away with me and we'll share our loneliness together, somewhere where we'll for- get, "
" And Virginia? You said yourself she'd die, "
" She's so young, she could get over it." But his tone was doubtful, wavering.
She tore herself from him. " No, I took her sister away from her; I won't take her lover. Kiss me good-bye, Anthony."
They sat on the hard sofa. " To think we should find one another only to lose each other ! To think that everything, every single thing was all right for us but that we were kept apart by the stupidity of fate. I'd almost rather we'd never learned the truth. Put your dear arms^ about me closer, Angel, Angel. I want the warmth, the sweetness of you to penetrate into my heart. I want to keep it there forever. Darling, how can I let you go? "
She clung to him weeping, weeping with the heart-broken abandonment of a child.
A bell shrilled four times.
He jumped up. " It's Sanchez, he's forgotten his key; thank God he did forget it. My darling, you must go. But wait for me. I'll meet you, we'll go to your house, we'll find a way. We can't part like this ! " His breath was coming in short gasps; she could see little white lines deepening about his mouth, his nostrils. Fearfully she caught at her hat.
" God bless you; good-bye Anthony. I won't see you again."
Halfway down the black staircase she met the heedless Sanchez, tall, sallow, thin, glancing at her curiously with a slightly amused smile. Politely he stood aside to let her pass, one hand resting lightly against his hip. Something in his attitude made her think of her unfinished sketch of Life. Hysterical, beside herself, she rushed down the remaining steps afraid to look around lest she should see the thin dark figure in pursuit, lest her ears should catch the expansion of that faint meaning smile into a guffaw, uproarious, menacing.
ONCE long ago in the old days in the house on Opal Street she had been taken mysteriously ill. As a matter of fact she had been coming down with that inglorious disease, the mumps. The expense of having a doctor was a consideration, and so for twenty-four hours she was the object of anxious solicitude for the whole house. Her mother had watched over her all night; her father came home twice in the day to see how she felt; Jinny had with some reluctance bestowed on her an oft-coveted, oft-refused doll. In the midst of all her childish pain and suffering she had realized that at least her agony was shared, that her tribulation was understood. But now she was ill with a sickness of the soul and there was no one with whom she could share her anguish.
For two days she lay in her little room; Mrs. Denver, happening in, showered upon her every attention. There was nothing, nothing that Angela could suggest, the little fluttering lady said sincerely, which she might not have. Angela wished that she would go away and leave her alone, but her experiences had rendered her highly sensitive to the needs of others; Mrs. Denver, for all her money, her lack of responsibility, her almost childish appetite for pleasure, was lonely too; waiting on the younger, less fortunate woman gave her a sense of being needed ; she was pathetically glad when the girl expressed a desire for anything no matter how expensive or how trivial. Angela could not deprive her entirely of those doubtful pleasures. Still there were moments, of course, when even Mrs. Denver for all her kindly officious- ness had to betake herself elsewhere and leave her willing patient to herself and her thoughts.
Minutely, bit by bit, in the long forty-eight hours she went over her life; was there anything, any over tact, any crime which she had committed and for which she might atone? She had been selfish, yes; but, said her reasoning and unwearied mind, " Everybody who survives at all is selfish, it is one of the pre-requisites of survival." In " passing " from one race to the other she had done no harm to anyone. Indeed she had been forced to take this action. But she should not have forsaken Virginia. Here at this point her brain, so clear and active along all other lines, invariably failed her. She could not tell what stand to take; so far as leaving Philadelphia was concerned she had left it to seek her fortune under more agreeable circumstances ; if she had been a boy and had left home no one would have had a word of blame, it would have been the proper thing, to be expected and condoned. There remained then only the particular incident of her cutting Jinny on that memorable night in the station. That was the one really cruel and unjust action of her whole life.
" Granted," said something within her rooted either in extreme hard common sense or else in a vast sophistry, " granted, but does that carry with it as penalty the shattering of a whole life, or even the suffering of years? Certainly the punishment is far in excess of the crime." And it was then that she would lie back exhausted, hopeless, bewildered, unable to cope further with the mysterious and apparently meaningless ferocity of life. For if this were a just penalty for one serious misdemeanour, what compensation should there not be for the years in which she had been a dutiful daughter, a loving sister? And suddenly she found herself envying people possessed of a blind religious faith, of the people who could bow the head submissively and whisper: "Thy will be done." For herself she could see how beaten and harried, one might subside into a sort of blind passivity, an acceptance of things as they are, but she would never be able to understand a force which gave one the imagination to paint a great desire, the tenacity to cling to it, the emotionalism to spend on its possible realization but which would then with a careless sweep of the hand wipe out the picture which the creature of its own endowment had created.
More than once the thought came to her of dying. But she hated to give up; something innate, something of the spirit stronger than her bodily will, set up a dogged fight, and she was too bruised and sore to combat it. " All right," she said to herself wearily, " I'll keep on living." She thought then of black people, of the race of her parents and of all the odds against living which a cruel, relentless fate had called on them to endure. And she saw them as a people powerfully, almost overwhelmingly endowed with the essence of life. They had to persist, had to survive because they did not know how to die. Not because she felt like it, but because some day she must begin once more to take up the motions of life, she moved on the third day from her bed to the easy chair, sat there listless and motionless. To-morrow she would return to work, to work and the sick agony of forcing her mind back from its dolorous, painful, vital thoughts to some con sideration of the dull, uninteresting task in hand. God, how she hated that! She remembered studying her lessons as a girl; the intense absorption with which she used to concentrate. Sometimes she used to wonder: " Oh what will it be like when I am grown up; when I won't be studying lessons . . . Well, this was what it was like. Or no, she was still studying with the same old absorption, an absorption terribly, painfully concentrated, the lessons set down by life. It was useless to revolve in her head the causes for her suffering, they were so trivial, so silly. She said to herself, " There is no sorrow in the world like my sorrow ", and knew even as she said it that someone else, perhaps only in the next block, in the next house, was saying the same thing.
Mrs. Denver tapped lightly, opened the door, came in closing it mysteriously behind her.
" I've a great surprise for you." She went on with an old childish formula: "Will you have it now, or wait till you get it? "
Angela's features twisted into a wan smile. " I believe I'd better have it now. I'm beginning to think I don't care for surprises."
" You'll like this one." She went to the door and ushered in Rachel Salting.
" I know you two want to talk," Mrs. Denver called over her shoulder. " Cheer her up, Rachel, and I'll bring you both a fine spread in an hour or so." She closed the door carefully behind her.
Angela said, " What's the matter, Rachel? " She almost added, " I hardly knew you." For her friend's face was white and wan with grief and hopelessness; gone was all her dainty freshness, her pretty colour; indeed her eyes, dark, sunken, set in great pools of blackness, were the only note, a terrible note, of relief against that awful whiteness.
Angela felt her strength leaving her ; she rose and tottered back to the grateful security of her bed, lay down with an overwhelming sense of thankfulness for the asylum afforded her sudden faintness. In a moment, partly recovered, she motioned to Rachel to sit beside her.'
" Oh," said Rachel, " you've been ill, Mrs. Denver told me. I ought not to come bothering you with my worries. Oh, Angele, I'm so wretched! Whatever shall I do? "
Her friend, watching her, was very gentle. " There're lots of awful things that can happen. I know that, Rachel. Maybe your trouble isn't so bad that it can't be helped. Have you told John about it? " But even as she spoke she sensed that the difficulty in some way concerned John. Her heart contracted at the thought of the pain and suffering to be endured.
" Yes, John knows, it's about him. Angele, we can't marry."
" Can't marry. Why, is he, it can't be that he's involved with someone else ! "
A momentary indignation flashed into Rachel's face bringing back life and colour. For a small space she was the Rachel Salting of the old happy days. " Involved with some one else ! " The indignation was replaced by utter despair. " How I wish he were ! That at least could be arranged. But this can never be altered. He, I, our parents are dead set against it. Hadn't you ever noticed, Angele? He's a Gentile and I'm a Jew."
"But lots of Jews and Gentiles marry."
"Yes, I know. Only he's a Catholic. But my parents are orthodox they will never consent to my marriage. My father says he'd rather see me dead and my mother just sits and moans. I kept it from her as long as I could, I used to pray about it, I thought God must let it turn out all right, John and I love each other so. But I went up to Utica the other day, John went with me, and we told them. My father drove him out of the house; he said if I married him he'd curse me. I am afraid of that curse. I can't go against them. Oh, Angele, I wish I'd never been born."
It was a delicate situation; Angela had to feel her way; she could think of nothing but the trite and obvious. " After all, Rachel, your parents have lived their lives; they have no business trying to live yours. Personally I think all this bother about race and creed and colour, is rot. In your place I should certainly follow my own wishes; John seems to be the man for you."
But Rachel weeping, imbued with the spirit of filial piety, thought it would be selfish.
" Certainly no more selfish than their attempt to regulate your life for you."
" But I'm afraid," said Rachel shivering, " of my father's curse." It was difficult for Angela to sympathize with an attitude so archaic; she was surprised to find it lurking at the bottom of her friend's well-trained intelligence.
" Love " she said musing to herself rather than to her friend, " is supposed to be the greatest thing in the world but look how we smother and confine it. Jews mustn't marry Catholics; white people mustn't marry coloured -- "
" Oh well, of course not," Rachel interrupted in innocent surprise. " I wouldn't marry a nigger in any circumstances. Why, would you? "
But Angela's only answer was to turn and, burying her head in her pillow, to burst into unrestrained and bitter laughter. Rachel went flying to call Mrs. Denver.
" Oh come quick, come quick ! Angele's in hysterics. I haven't the ghost of an idea what to do for her!"
Once more the period of readjustment. Once more the determination to take life as she found it; bitter dose after sweet, bitter after sweet. But it seemed to her now that both sweetness and bitter ness together with her high spirit for adventure lay behind her. How now was she to pass through the tepid, tasteless days of her future? She was not quite twenty-seven, and she found herself wondering what life would be like in ten, five, even one years' time. Changes did flow in upon one, she knew, but in her own case she had been so used herself to give the impetus to these changes. Now she could not envisage herself as making a move in any direction. With the new sullenness which seemed to be creeping upon her daily, she said " Whatever move I make is always wrong. Let life take care of itself." And she saw life, even her own life, as an entity quite outside her own ken and her own directing. She did not care greatly what happened; she would not, it was true, take her own life, but she would not care if she should die. Once if her mind had harboured such thoughts she would have felt an instant self-pity. " What a shame that I so young, so gifted, with spirits so high should meet with death ! " But now her senses were blunting; so much pain and confusion had brought about their inevitable attrition. " I might just as well be unhappy, or meet death as anyone else," she told herself still with that mounting sullenness.
Mrs. Denver, the Sandburgs and Ashley were the only people who saw her. It did seem to Mrs. Denver that the girl's ready, merry manner was a little dimmed ; if her own happy, sunny, vocabulary had known the term she would have daubed her cynical. The quasi-intellectual atmosphere at the Sandburgs suited her to perfection; the faint bitterness which so constantly marred her speech was taken for sophistication, her frequent silences for profoundness; in a small way, aided by her extraordinary good looks and the slight mystery which always hung about her, she became quite a personage in their entourage; the Sand burgs considered her a splendid find and plumed themselves on having " brought her out ".
The long golden summer, so beautiful with its promise of happiness, so sickening with its actuality of pain ripened into early, exquisite September. Virginia was home again; slightly more golden, very, very faintly plumper, like a ripening fruit perfected; brimming with happiness, excitement and the most complete content, Angela thought, that she had ever seen in her life.
Jinny sent for the older girl and the two sat on a Sunday morning, away from Sara Penton and the other too insistent friends, over on Riverside Drive looking out at the river winding purple and alluring in the soft autumn haze.
" Weren't you surprised? " asked Jinny. Laconically, Angela admitted to no slight amazement. She still loved her sister but more humbly, less achingly than before. Their lives, she thought now would never, could never touch and she was quite reconciled. Moreover, in some of Virginia's re marks there was the hint of the acceptance of such a condition. Something had brought an irrevocable separation. They would always view each other from the two sides of an abyss, narrow but deep, deep.
The younger girl prattled on. " I don't know whether Sara told you his name, Anthony Cross? Isn't it a dear name? "
" Yes, it's a nice name, a beautiful name, " said Angela heartily ; when she had learned it was of no consequence. She added without enthusiasm that she knew him already; he had been a member of her class at Cooper Union.
" You don't talk as though you were very much taken with him," said Jinny, making a face. " But never mind, he suits me, no matter whom he doesn't suit." There was that in her countenance which made Angela realize and marvel again at the resoluteness of that firm young mind. No curse of parents could have kept Virginia from Anthony's arms. As long as Anthony loved her, was satisfied to have her love, no one could come between them. Only if he should fail her would she shrivel up and die.
On the heels of this thought Virginia made an astounding remark : " You know it's just perfect that I met Anthony; he's really been a rock in a weary land. Next to Matthew Henson he will, I'm sure, make me happier than any man in the world." Dreamily she added an afterthought: " And I'll make him happy too, but, oh, Angela, Angela, I always wanted to marry Matthew ! "
The irony of that sent Angela home. Virginia wanting Matthew and marrying Anthony ; Anthony wanting "Angela and marrying Virginia. Her self wanting Anthony and marrying, wanting, no other; unable to think of, even to dream of another lover. The irony of it was so palpable, so ridiculously palpable that it put her in a better mood; life was bitter but it was amusingly bitter; if she could laugh at it she might be able to outwit it yet. The thought brought Anthony to mind: " If I could only get a laugh on life, Angele ! "
Sobered, she walked from the 'bus stop to Jayne Street. Halfway up ""the narrow, tortuous stair case she caught sight of a man climbing, climbing. He stopped outside her door. " Anthony? " she said to herself while her heart twisted with pain.
" If it is Anthony, " she breathed, and stopped.
But something within her, vital, cruel, persistent, completed her thought. " If it is Anthony, after what Virginia said this morning, if he knew that he was not the first, that even as there had been one other there might still be others; that Virginia in her bright, hard, shallow youthfulness would not die any more than she had died over Matthew, would console herself for the loss of Anthony even as she had consoled herself for the loss of Matthew ! " But no, what Jinny had told her was in confidence, a confidence from sister to sister. She would never break faith with Jinny again; nor with herself,
" But Anthony," she said to herself in the few remaining seconds left on the staircase, " you were my first love and I think I was yours."
However, the man at the door was not Anthony ; on the contrary he was, she thought, a complete stranger. But as he turned at her footsteps, she found herself looking into the blue eyes of Roger. Completely astounded, she greeted him, " You don't mean it's you, Roger? "
" Yes," he said humbly, shamefacedly, " aren't you going to let me in, Angele? "
" Oh yes, of course, of course " ; she found herself hoping that he would not stay long. She wanted to think and she would like to paint; that idea must have been in the back of her head ever since she had left Jinny. Hard on this thought came another. " Here's Roger. I never expected to see him in these rooms again; perhaps some day Anthony will come back. Oh, God, be kind!"
But she must tear her thoughts away from Anthony. She looked at Roger curiously, searchingly; in books the man who had treated his sweetheart unkindly often returned beaten, dejected, even poverty-stricken, but Roger, except for a slight hesitation in his manner, seemed as jaunty, as fortunate, as handsome as ever. He was even a trifle stouter.
Contrasting him with Anthony's hard-bitten leanness, she addressed him half absently. " I believe you're actually getting fat ! "
His quick high flush revealed his instant sensitiveness to her criticism. But he was humble. "That's all right, Angele. I deserve anything you choose to say if you'll just say it."
She was impervious to his mood, utterly indifferent, so indifferent that she was herself unaware of her manner. " Heavens, I've sort of forgotten, but I don't remember your ever having been so eager for criticism heretofore ! "
He caught at one phrase. " Forgotten ! You don't mean to say you've forgotten the past and all that was once so dear to us? "
Impatience overwhelmed her. She wished he would go and leave her to her thoughts and to her picture; such a splendid idea had come to her; it was the first time for weeks that she had felt like working. Aware of the blessed narcotic value of interesting occupation, she looked forward to his departure with a sense of relief; even hoped with her next words to precipitate it.
" Roger, you don't mean to say that you called on me on a hot September Sunday just to talk to me in that theatrical manner? I don't mind telling you I've a million things to do this after noon; let's get down to bed rock so we can both be up and doing."
She had been sitting, almost lolling at ease in the big chair, not regarding him, absently twisting a scarf in her fingers. Now she glanced up and something in the hot blueness of his eyes brought her to an upright position, alert, attentive.
" Angele, you've got to take me back."
" Back ! I don't know what you're talking about. Between you and me there is no past, so don't mention it. If you've nothing better to say than that, you might as well get out."
He tried to possess himself of her hands but she shook him off, impatiently, angrily, with no pretence at feeling. " Go away, Roger. I don't want to be bothered with you ! " This pinchbeck emotionalism after the reality of her feeling for Anthony, the sincerity of his feeling for her ! "I won't have this sort of thing; if you won't go I will." She started for the door but he barred her way, suddenly straight and serious.
" No listen, Angele, you must listen. I'm in earnest this time. You must forgive me for the past, for the things I said. Oh, I was unspeakable ! But I had it in my head, you don't know the things a man has borne in on him about designing women, if he's got anything, family, money, " She could see him striving to hide his knowledge of his vast eligibility. " I thought you were trying to ' get ' me, it made me suspicious, angry. I knew you were poor, "
" And nobody ! Oh say it, say it ! "
" Well, I will say it. According to my father's standards, nobody. And when you began to take an interest in me, in my affairs, "
' You thought I was trying to marry you. Well, at first I was. I was poor, I was nobody ! I wanted to be rich, to be able to see the world, to help people. And then when you and I came so near to each other I didn't care about marriage at all -just about living ! Oh, I suppose my attitude was perfectly pagan. I hadn't meant to drift into such a life, all my training was against it, you can't imagine how completely my training was against it. And then for a time I was happy. I'm afraid I didn't love you really, Roger, indeed I know now that in a sense I didn't love you, but somehow life seemed to focus into an absolute perfection. Then you became petulant, ugly, suspicious, afraid of my interest, of my tenderness. And I thought, c I can't let this all end in a flame of ugliness; it must be possible for people to have been lovers and yet remain friends.' I tried so hard to keep things so that it would at least remain a pleasant memory. But you resented my efforts. What I can't under stand is why shouldn't I, if I wanted to, either try to marry you or to make an ideal thing of our relationship? Why is it that men like you resent an effort on our part to make our commerce decent? Well, it's all over now. . . . Theoretically ' free love ' or whatever you choose to call it, is all right. Actually, it's all wrong. I don't want any such relationship with you or with any other man in this world. Marriage was good enough for my mother, it's good enough for me."
" There's nothing good enough for you, Angele; but marriage is the best thing that I have to offer and I'm offering you just that. And it's precisely because you were honest and frank and decent and tried to keep our former relationship from deteriorating into sordidness that I am back."
Clearly she was staggered. Marriage with Roger meant protection, position, untold wealth, unlimited opportunities for doing good. Once how she would have leapt to such an offer !
" What's become of Garlotta? " she asked bluntly.
" She's on the eve of marrying Tom Estes, a fellow who was in college with me. He has heaps more money than I. Carlotta thought she'd better take him on*"
" I see." She looked at him thoughtfully, then the remembrance of her great secret came to her, a secret which she could never share with Roger. No ! No more complications and their consequent disaster ! " No, no, we won't talk about it anymore. What you want is impossible; you can't guess how completely impossible."
He strode toward her, seized her hands. " I'm in earnest, Angele; you've no idea how tired I am of loneliness and uncertainty and, and of seeking women; I want someone whom I can love and trust, whom I can teach to love me, we could get married to-morrow. There's not an obstacle in our way."
His sincerity left her unmoved. " What would your father say? "
" Oh, we wouldn't be able to tell him yet; he'd never consent! Of course we'd have to keep things quiet, just ourselves and one or two friends, Martha and Ladislas perhaps, would be in the know."
More secrets ! She pulled her hands away from him. " Oh Roger, Roger ! I wouldn't consider it. No, when I marry I want a man, a man, a real one, someone not afraid to go on his own ! " She actually pushed him toward the door. " Some people might revive dead ashes, but not you and I. ... I'd never be able to trust you again and I'm sick of secrets and playing games with human relationships. I'm going to take my friendships straight hereafter. Please go. I've had a hard summer and I'm very tired. Besides I want to work."
Baffled, he looked at her, surprise and indignation struggling in his face. " Angele, are you sure you know what you're doing? I've no intention of coming back, so you'd better take me now."
" Of course you're not coming back ! I'm sure I wouldn't want you to; my decision is final." Not unsympathetically she laughed up into his doleful face, actually touched his cheek. " If you only knew how much you look like a cross baby ! "
Her newly developed sympathy and understand ing made her think of Ashley. Doubtless Carlotta's defection would hit him very hard. Her conjecture was correct although the effect of the blow was different from what she had anticipated. Ashley was not so perturbed over the actual loss of the girl as confirmed in his opinion that he was never going to be able to form and keep a lasting friend ship. In spite of his wealth, his native timidity had always made him distrustful of himself with women of his own class; a veritable Tony Hardcastle, he spent a great deal of time with women whom he did not actually admire, whom indeed he disliked, because, he said to Angela wistfully, they were the only ones who took him seriously.
" No one but you and Carlotta have ever given me any consideration, have ever liked me for myself, Angele."
They were seeing a great deal of each other; in a quiet, unemotional way they were developing a real friendship. Angela had taken up her painting again. She had re-entered the classes at Cooper Union and was working with great zest and absorption on a subject which she meant to enter in the competition for scholarships at the school at Fontainebleau. Ashley, who wrote some good verse in the recondite, falsely free style of the present day, fell into the habit of bringing his work down to her little living room, and in the long tender autumn evenings the two worked seriously, with concentration. Ashley had travelled widely and had seen a great deal of life, though usually from the side-lines; Angela for all her lack of wandering, " had lived deeply ", he used to tell her, pondering on some bit of philosophy which she let fall based on the experiences of her difficult life.
" You know, in your way you're quite a wonder, Angele; there's a mystery hanging about you; for all your good spirits, your sense of humour, you're like the Duse, you seem to move in an aura of suffering, of the pain which comes from too great sensitivity. And yet how can that be so? You're not old enough, you've had too few contacts to know how unspeakable life can be, how damnably she can get you in wrong, -- "
An enigmatic smile settled on her face. " I don't know about life, Ralph? How do you think I got the idea for this masterpiece of mine? " She pointed to the painting on which she was then engaged.
" That's true, that's true. I've wondered often about that composition; lots of times I've meant to ask you how you came to evolve it. But keep your mystery to yourself, child; it adds to your charm."
About this she had her own ideas. Mystery might add to the charm of personality but it certainly could not be said to add to the charm of living. Once she thought that stolen waters were sweetest, but now it was the unwinding road and the open book that most intrigued.
Ashley, she found, for all his shyness, possessed very definite ideas and convictions of his own, was absolutely unfettered in his mode of thought, and quite unmoved by social traditions and standards. An aristocrat if ever there were one, he believed none the less in the essential quality of man and deplored the economic conditions which so often tended to set up superficial and unreal barriers which make as well as separate the classes.
With some trepidation Angela got him on the subject of colour. He considered prejudice the greatest blot on America's shield. " We're wrong, all wrong about those people; after all they did to make America habitable! Someday we're going to wake up to our shame. I hope it won't be too late."
" But you wouldn't want your sister to marry a nigger ! "'
" I'm amazed, Angele, at your using such a word as an exclusive term. I've known some fine coloured people. There're hardly any of unmixed blood in the United States, so the term Negro is usually a misnomer. I haven't a sister; if I had I'd advise her against marriage with an American coloured man because the social pressure here would probably be too great, but that would be absolutely the only ground on which I'd object to it. And I can tell you this; I wouldn't care to marry a woman from the Congo but if I met a coloured woman of my own nationality, well-bred, beautiful, sympathetic, I wouldn't let the fact of her mixed blood stand in my way, I can tell you."
A sort of secondary interest in living was creeping into her perspective. The high lights, the high peaks had faded from her sight. She would never, she suspected, know such spontaneity of feeling and attitude again as she had felt toward both Roger and Anthony. Nor would she again approach the experiences of existence with the same naive expectation, the same desire to see how things would turn out. Young as she was she felt like a battle-scarred veteran who, worn out from his own strenuous activities, was quite con tent to sit on the side-lines gazing at all phases of warfare with an equal eye.
Although she no longer intended to cast in her lot with Virginia, she made no further effort to set up barriers between herself and coloured people. Let the world take her as it would. If she were in Harlem, in company with Virginia and Sara Penton she went out to dinner, to the noisy, crowded, friendly "Y" dining-room, to " Gert's " tea room, to the clean, inviting drug-store for rich "sundaes". Often, too, she went shopping with her sister and to the theatre; she had her meet Ashley and Martha. But she was careful in this company to avoid contact with people whose attitude on the race question was unknown, or definitely antagonistic.
Harlem intrigued her; it was a wonderful city; it represented, she felt, the last word in racial pride, integrity and even self-sacrifice. Here were people of a very high intellectual type, exponents of the realest and most essential refinement living cheek by jowl with coarse or ill-bred or even criminal, certainly indifferent, members of their race. Of course some of this propinquity was due to outer pressure, but there was present, too, a hidden consciousness of race-duty, a something which if translated said: " Perhaps you do pull me down a little from the height to which I have climbed. But on the other hand, perhaps, I'm helping you to rise."
There was a hair-dresser's establishment on I36th Street where Virginia used to have her beautiful hair treated; where Sara Pen ton, whose locks were of the same variety as Matthew's, used to repair to have their unruliness " pressed ". Here on Saturdays Angela would accompany the girls and sit through the long process just to overhear the conversations, grave and gallant and gay, of these people whose blood she shared but whose disabilities by a lucky fluke she had been able to avoid. For, while she had been willing for the sake of Anthony to re-enlist in the struggles of this life, she had never closed her eyes to its disadvantages; to its limitedness ! What a wealth of courage it took for these people to live ! What high degree of humour, determination, steadfastness, undauntedness were not needed, and poured forth! Maude, the proprietress of the business, for whom the establishment was laconically called " Maude's ", was a slight, sweet-faced woman with a velvety seal-brown skin, a charming voice and an air of real refinement. She was from Texas, but had come to New York to seek her fortune, had travelled as ladies' maid in London and Paris, and was as thoroughly conversant with the arts of her calling as any hairdresser in the vicinity of the Rue de la Paix or on Fifth Avenue. A rare quality of hospitality emanated from her presence; her little shop was always full not only of patrons but of callers, visitors from " down home ", actresses from the current coloured " show ", flitting in like radiant birds of paradise with their rich brown skins, their exotic eyes and the gaily coloured clothing which an unconscious style had evolved just for them.
In this atmosphere, while there was no coarseness, there was no restriction; life in busy Harlem stopped here and yawned for a delicious moment before going on with its pressure and problems. A girl from Texas, visiting " the big town " for a few weeks took one last glance at her shapely, marvellously " treated " head, poised for a second before the glass and said simply, " Well, good-bye, Maude; I'm off for the backwoods, but I'll never forget Harlem." She passed out with the sinuous elegant carriage acquired in her few week's sojourn on Seventh Avenue.
A dark girl, immaculate in white from head to foot, asked: " What's she going back South for? Ain't she had enough of Texas yet ? "
Maude replied that she had gone back there because of her property. " Her daddy owns most of the little town where they live."
" Child, ain't you learned that you don't never own no property in Texas as long as those white folks are down there too? Just let those Ku Kluxers get it into their heads that you've got something they want. She might just as well leave there first as last; she's bound to have to some day. I know it's more'n a notion to pull up stakes and start all over again in a strange town and a strange climate, but it's the difference between life and death. I know I done it and I don't expect ever to go back."
She was a frail woman, daintily dressed and shod. Her voice was soft and drawling. But Angela saw her sharply as the epitome of the iron and blood in a race which did not know how to let go of life.
MARKET IS DONE
THE eternal routine of life went on, meals, slumber, talk, work and all of it meaning nothing; a void starting nowhere and leading nowhither; a " getting through " with the days. Gradually however two points fixed themselves in her horizon, and about these her life revolved. One was her work, her art. Every week found her spending three or four of its nights at her easel. She was feverishly anxious to win one of the prizes in the contest which would be held in May ; if successful she would send in her application for registration in the Fountainebleau School of Fine Arts which was financed by Americans and established, so read the circular, " as a summer school for American architects, painters and sculptors ". If she were successful in winning this, she would leave the United States for a year or two, thus assuring herself beyond question of a new deal of the cards. The tenacity with which she held to this plan frightened her a little until she found out that there were also possible funds from which she could, with the proper recommendation, borrow enough money to enable her to go abroad with the understanding that the refund was to be made by slow and easy payments. Ashley discovered this saving information, thus relieving her of the almost paralyzing fear which beset her from time to time. It both amused and saddened her to realize that her talent which she had once used as a blind to shield her real motives for breaking loose and coming to New York had now become the greatest, most real force in her life.
Miss Powell, with whom Angela in her new mood had arranged a successful truce, knew of her ambition, indeed shared it. If she herself should win a prize, that money, combined with some small savings of her own and used in connection with the special terms offered by the American Committee, would mean the fruition of her dearest dreams. All this she confided to Angela on two Sunday mornings which the latter spent with her in her rather compressed quarters up in I34th Street. A dwelling house nearby had been con verted into a place of worship for one of the special divisions of religious creed so dear to coloured people's hearts. Most of the service seemed to consist of singing, and so the several hours spent by the two girls in earnest talk were punctuated by the outbursts of song issuing from the brazen- coated throats of the faithful.
The other point about which her thoughts centred was her anomalous position. Yet that clear mind of hers warned her again and again that there was nothing inherently wrong or mean or shameful in the stand which she had taken. The method thereof might come in perhaps for a little censure. But otherwise her harshest critics, if unbiased, could only say that instead of sharing the burdens of her own group she had elected to stray along a path where she personally could find the greatest ease, comfort and expansion. She had long since given up the search for happiness.
But there were moments when a chance discussion about coloured people couched in the peculiarly brutal terms which white America a fleets in the discussion of this problem made her blood boil, and she longed to confound her vis-d-vis and his tacit assumption that she, being presumbably a white woman, would hold the same views as he, with the remark: " I'm one of them, do you find me worthless or dishonest or offensive in any way? " Such a denouement would have, she felt, been a fine gesture. But life she knew had a way of allowing grand gestures to go unremarked and unrewarded. Would it be worth while to throw away the benefits of casual whiteness in America when no great issue was at stake? Would it indeed be worth while to forfeit them when a great issue was involved? Remembering the material age in which she lived and the material nation of which she was a member, she was doubtful. Her mother's old dictum recurred: " Life is more important than colour."
The years slipped by. Virginia seemed in no haste to marry. Anthony whom Angela saw occasionally at the Art School shared apparently in this cool deliberateness. Yet there was nothing in his action or manner to make her feel that he was anticipating a change. Rather, if she judged him correctly he, like herself, tired of the snarl into which the three of them had been drawn, had settled down to a resigned acceptance of fate. If conceivable, he was quieter, more reserved than ever, yet radiating a strange restfulness and the peace which comes from surrender.
In May the prizes for the contest were announced. Angela received the John T. Stewart Prize for her "Fourteenth Street Types"; her extreme satisfaction was doubled by the knowledge that the Nehemiah Sloan Prize, of equal value, had been awarded Miss Powell for her picture entitled " A Street in Harlem ". The coloured girl was still difficult and reserved, but under Angela's persistent efforts at friendship her frank and sympathetic interest and comprehension of her class-mate's difficulties, the latter had finally begun to thaw a little. They were not planning to live together in France, their tastes were not sufficiently common for that closeness, but both were looking forward to a year of pleasure, of inspiring work, to a life that would be " different ". Angela was relieved, but Miss Powell was triumphant; not unpleasantly, she gave the impression of having justified not only her calling but herself and, in a lesser degree, her race. The self-consciousness of colour, racial responsibility, lay, Angela had discovered, deep upon her.
The passage money to France was paid. Through the terms offered by the committee of the School for Americans at Fontainebleau, an appreciable saving had been effected. The girls were to sail in June. As the time drew nearer Angela felt herself becoming more and more enthusiastic. She had at first looked upon her sojourn abroad as a heaven-sent break in the montony and difficulties of her own personal problems, but lately, with the involuntary reaction of youth, she was beginning to recover her sense of embarking on a great adventure. Her spirits mounted steadily.
One evening she went around to Martha Bur den's to discuss the trip; she wanted information about money, clothes, possible tips.
" Everything you can think of, Martha," she said with something of her former vital manner. " This is an old story to you, you've been abroad so many times you ought to write an encyclopaedia on ' What to take to Europe } . I mean to follow your advice blindly and the next time I see Miss Powell I'll pass it along to her."
" No need to," said Martha laconically and sombrely. " She isn't going."
" Not going ! Why she was going two weeks ago."
" Yes, but she's not going this week nor any other week I'm afraid ; at least not through the good offices of the American Committee for the Fontainebleau School of Fine Arts. They've returned her passage money. Didn't you know it? I thought everybody had heard of it."
Angela fought against a momentary nausea. " No, I didn't know it. I haven't seen her for ages. I'm so busy getting myself together. Martha, what's it all about? Is it because she's coloured? You don't mean it's because she's coloured? "
" Well, it is. They said they themselves were without prejudice, but that they were sure the enforced contact on the boat would be unpleasant to many of the students, garnered as they would be from all parts of the United States. Further more they couldn't help but think that such con tact would be embarrassing to Miss Powell too. Oh, there's no end to the ridiculous piffle which they've written and said. I've had a little committee of students and instructors going about, trying to stir up public sentiment. Mr. Cross has been helping and Paget too. I wish Paulette were here; she'd get. some yellow journal publicity. Van Meier has come out with some biting editorials ; he's shown up a lot of their silly old letters. I shouldn't be surprised but what if we kept at it long enough we'd get somewhere."
She reflected a moment. " Funny thing is we're having such a hard time in making Miss Powell show any fight. I don't understand that girl."
Angela murmured that perhaps she had no hope of making an impression on prejudice. " It's so unreasonable and far-reaching. Maybe she doesn't want to sacrifice her peace of mind for what she considers a futile struggle."
" That's what Mr. Cross said. He's been wonderful to her and an indefatigable worker. Of course you'll be leaving soon since none of this touches you, but come into a committee meeting or two, won't you? We're meeting here. I'll give you a ring."
" Well," said Angela to herself that night after she had regained her room. " I wonder what I ought to do now? " Even yet she was receiving an occasional reporter; the pleasant little stir of publicity attendant on her prize had not yet died away. Suppose she sent for one of them and announced her unwillingness to accept the terms of the American Committee inasmuch as they had withdrawn their aid from Miss Powell. Suppose she should finish calmly: " I, too, am a Negro ". What would happen? The withdrawal of the assistance without which her trip abroad, its hoped for healing, its broadening horizons would be impossible. Evidently, there was no end to the problems into which this matter of colour could involve one, some of them merely superficial, as in this instance, some of them gravely physical. Her head ached with the futility of trying to find a solution to these interminable puzzles.
As a child she and Jinny had been forbidden to read the five and ten cent literature of their day. But somehow a copy of a mystery story entitled " Who killed Dr. Cronlin? " found its way into their hands, a gruesome story all full of bearded men, hands preserved in alcohol, shadows on window curtains. Shivering with fascination, they had devoured it after midnight or early in the morning while their trusting parents still slumbered. Every page they hoped would disclose the mystery. But their patience went unrewarded for the last sentence of the last page still read: " Who killed Dr. Cronlin? "
Angela thought of it now, and smiled and sighed. "Just what is or is not ethical in this matter of colour? " she asked herself. And indeed it was a nice question. Study at Fontainebleau would have undoubtedly changed Miss Powell's attitude toward life forever. If she had received the just reward for her painstaking study, she would have reasoned that right does triumph in essentials. Moreover the inspiration might have brought out latent talent, new possibilities. Furthermore, granted that Miss Powell had lost out by a stroke of ill-fortune, did that necessarily call for Angela's loss? If so, to what end?
Unable to answer she fell asleep.
Absorbed in preparations she allowed two weeks to pass by, then, remembering Martha's invitation, she went again to the Starr household on an evening when the self-appointed committee was expected to meet. She found Anthony, Mr. Paget, Ladislas and Martha present. The last was more perturbed than ever. Indeed an air of sombre discouragement lay over the whole company.
" Well," asked the newcomer, determined to appear at ease in spite of Anthony's propinquity, " how are things progressing? "
"Not at all," replied Mr. Paget. "Indeed we're about to give up the whole fight."
Ladislas with a sort of provoked amusement explained then that Miss Powell herself had thrown up the sponge. " She's not only with drawn but she sends us word to-night that while she appreciates the fight we're making she'd rather we'd leave her name out of it."
" Did you ever hear anything to equal that? " snapped Martha crossly. " I wonder if coloured people aren't natural born quitters. Sometimes I think I'll never raise another finger for them."
" You don't know what you're talking about," said Anthony hotly. " If you knew the ceaseless warfare which most coloured people wage, you'd understand that sometimes they have to stop their fight for the trimmings of life in order to hang on to the essentials which they've got to have and for which they must contend too every day just as hard as they did the first day. No, they're not quitters, they've merely learned to let go so they can conserve their strength for another bad day. I'm coloured and I know."
There was a moment's tense silence while the three white people stared speechless with sur prise. Then Martha said in a still shocked voice: " Coloured ! Why, I can't believe it. Why, you never told us you were coloured."
" Which is precisely why I'm telling you now," said Anthony, coldly rude. " So you won't be making off-hand judgments about us." He started toward the door. " Since the object for which this meeting has been called has become null and void I take it that we are automatically dismissed. Good-night."
Martha hastened after him. " Oh, Mr. Cross, don't go like that. As though it made any difference ! Why should this affect our very real regard for each other? "
"Why should it indeed?" he asked a trifle enigmatically. " I'm sure I hope it won't. But I must go." He left the room, Paget and Ladislas both hastening on his heels.
Martha stared helplessly after him. " I suppose I haven't said the right thing. But what could I do? I was so surprised ! " She turned to Angela: " And I really can't get over his being coloured, can you? "
"No," said Angela solemnly, "I can't . . ." and surprised herself and Martha by bursting into a flood of tears.
For some reason the incident steadied her determination. Perhaps Anthony was the vicarious sacrifice, she told herself and knew even as she said it that the supposition was pure bunk. Anthony did not consider that he was making a sacrifice; his confession or rather his statement with regard to his blood had the significance of the action of a person who clears his room of rubbish. Anthony did not want his mental chamber strewn with the chaff of deception and confusion. He did not label himself, but on the other hand he indulged every now and then in a general house-cleaning because he would not have the actions of his life bemused and befuddled.
As for Angela she asked for nothing better than to put all the problems of colour and their attend ant difficulties behind her. She could not meet those problems in their present form in Europe; literally in every sense she would begin life all over. In France or Italy she would speak of her strain of Negro blood and abide by whatever con sequences such exposition would entail. But the consequences could not engender the pain and difficulties attendant upon them here.
Somewhat diffidently she began to consider the idea of going to see Miss Powell. The horns of her dilemma resolved themselves into an unwillingness to parade her own good fortune before her dis appointed classmate and an equal unwillingness to depart for France, leaving behind only the cold sympathy of words on paper. And, too, something stronger, more insistent than the mere consideration of courtesy urged her on. After all, this girl was one of her own. A whim of fate had set their paths far apart but just the same they were more than " sisters under the skin." They were really closely connected in blood, in racial condition, in common suffering. Once again she thought of herself as she had years ago when she had seen the coloured girl refused service in the restaurant: " It might so easily have been Virginia."
Without announcement then she betook herself up town to Harlem and found herself asking at the door of the girl's apartment if she might see Miss Powell. The mother whom Angela had last seen so proud and happy received her with a note of sullen bafflement which to the white girl's consciousness connoted: " Easy enough for you, all safe and sound, high and dry, to come and sympathize with my poor child." There was no trace of gratitude or of appreciation of the spirit which had inspired Angela to pay the visit.
To her inquiry Mrs. Powell rejoined: "Yes, I guess you c'n see her. There're three or four other people in there now pesterin' her to death. I guess one mo' won't make no diffunce."
Down a long narrow hall she led her, past two rooms whose dark interiors seemed Stygian in contrast with the bright sunlight which the visitor had just left. But the end of the hall opened into a rather large, light, plain but comfortable dining- room where Miss Powell sat entertaining, to Angela's astonishment, three or four people, all of them white. Her astonishment, however, lessened when she perceived among them John Banky, one of the reporters who had come rather often to interview herself and her plans for France. All of them, she judged angrily, were of his pro fession, hoping to wring their half column out of Miss Powell's disappointment and embarrass ment.
Angela thought she had never seen the girl one half so attractive and exotic. She was wearing a thin silk dress, plainly made but of a flaming red from which the satin blackness of her neck rose, a straight column topped by her squarish, somewhat massive head. Her thin, rather flat dark lips brought into sharp contrast the dazzling perfection of her teeth; her high cheek bones showed a touch of red. To anyone whose ideals of beauty were not already set and sharply limited, she must have made a breathtaking appeal. As long as she sat quiescent in her rather sulky reticence she made a marvellous figure of repose ; focussing all the attention of the little assemblage even as her dark skin and hair drew into themselves and retained the brightness which the sun, streaming through three windows, showered upon her.
As soon as she spoke she lost, however, a little of this perfection. For though a quiet dignity persisted, there were pain and bewilderment in her voice and the flat sombreness of utter despair. Clearly she did not know how to get rid of the intruders, but she managed to maintain a poise and aloofness which kept them at their distance. Surely, Angela thought, listening to the stupid, almost impertinent questions put, these things can mean nothing to them. But they kept on with their baiting rather as a small boy keeps on tormenting a lonely and dispirited animal at the Zoo.
' We were having something of an academic discussion with Miss Powell here," said Banky, turning to Angela. " This," he informed his co-workers, " is Miss Mory, one of the prize winners of the Art Exhibit and a classmate of Miss Powell. I believe Miss Powell was to cross with you, as your room-mate did you say? "
" No," said Angela, flushing a little for Miss Powell, for she thought she understood the double meaning of the question, " we weren't intending to be room-mates. Though so far as I am concerned," she heard herself, to her great surprise, saying: " I'd have been very glad to share Miss Powell's state-room if she had been willing." She wanted to get away from this aspect. " What's this about an academic discussion? "
Miss Powell's husky, rather mutinous voice interrupted: "There isn't any discussion, Miss Mory, academic or otherwise. It seems Mr. Paget told these gentlemen and Miss Tilden here, that I had withdrawn definitely from the fight to induce the Committee for the American Art School abroad to allow me to take advantage of their arrangements. So they came up here to get me to make a statement and I said I had none to make other than that I was sick and tired of the whole business and I'd be glad to let it drop."
" And I," said Miss Tilden, a rangy young lady wearing an unbecoming grey dress and a peculiarly straight and hideous bob, " asked her if she weren't really giving up the matter because in her heart she knew she hadn't a leg to stand on."
Angela felt herself growing hot. Something within her urged caution, but she answered defiantly: " What do you mean she hasn't a leg to stand on? '
" Well, of course, this is awfully plain speaking and I hope Miss Powell won't be offended," resumed Miss Tilden, showing only too plainly that she didn't care whether Miss Powell were offended or not, " but after all we do know that a great many people find the Negroes objectionable and so of course no self-respecting one of them would go where she wasn't wanted."
Miss Powell's mother hovering indefinitely in the background, addressing no one in particular, opined that she did not know that " that there committee owned the boat. If her daughter could only afford it she'd show them how quickly she'd go where she wanted and not ask no one no favours either."
" Ah, but," said Miss Tilden judicially, " there's the fallacy. Something else is involved here. There's a social side to this matter, inherent if not expressed. And that is the question." She shook a thin bloodless finger at Miss Powell. " Back of most of the efforts which you people make to get into schools and clubs and restaurants and so on, isn't there really this desire for social equality? Come now, Miss Powell, be frank and tell me."
With such sharpness as to draw the attention of everyone in the room Angela said: " Come, Miss Tilden, that's unpardonable and you know it. Miss Powell hadn't a thought in mind about social equality. All she wanted was to get to France and to get there as cheaply as possible."
Banky, talking in a rather affected drawl, confirmed the last speaker. " I think, too, that's a bit too much, Miss Tilden. We've no right to interpret Miss Powell's ideas for her."
A short, red-faced young man intervened: " But just the same isn't that the question involved? Doesn't the whole matter resolve itself into this: Has Miss Powell or any other young coloured woman knowing conditions in America the right to thrust her company on a group of people with whom she could have nothing in common except her art? If she stops to think she must realize that not one of the prospective group of students who would be accompanying her on that ship would really welcome her presence. Here's Miss Mory, for instance, a fellow student. What more natural under other circumstances than that she should have made arrangements to travel with Miss Powell? She knows she has to share her cabin with some one. But no; such a thought apparently never entered her head. Why? The answer is obvious. Very well then. If she, knowing Miss Powell, feels this way, how much more would it be the feeling of total strangers? "
A sort of shocked silence fell upon the room. It was an impossible situation. How, thought Angela desperately, knowing the two sides, could she ever explain to these smug, complacent people Miss Powell's ambition, her chilly pride, the remoteness with which she had treated her fellow- students, her only too obvious endeavour to share their training and not their friendship? Hastily, almost crudely, she tried to get something of this over, ashamed for herself ashamed for Miss Powell whose anguished gaze begged for her silence.
At last the coloured girl spoke. " It's wonderful of you to take my part in this way, Miss Mory. I had no idea you understood so perfectly. But don't you see there's no use in trying to explain it? It's a thing which one either does see or doesn't see." She left her soft, full, dark gaze rest for a second on her auditors. " I'm afraid it is not in the power of these persons to grasp what you mean."
The stocky young man grew a little redder. " I think we do understand, Miss Powell. All that Miss Mory says simply confirms my first idea. For otherwise, understanding and sympathizing with you as she does, why has she, for instance, never made any very noticeable attempt to become your friend? Why shouldn't she have asked you to be her side-partner on this trip which I understand you're taking together? There would have been an unanswerable refutation for the committee's arguments. But no, she does nothing even though it means the thwarting for you of a life-time's ambition. Mind, I'm not blaming you, Miss Mory. You are acting in accordance with a natural law. I'm just trying to show Miss Powell here how inevitable the workings of such a law are."
It was foolish reasoning and fallacious, yet containing enough truth to make it sting. Some icy crust which had formed over Angela's heart shifted, wavered, broke and melted. Suddenly it seemed as though nothing in the world were so important as to allay the poignancy of Miss Powell's situation; for this, she determined quixotically, no price would be too dear. She said icily in tones which she had never heard herself use before: " It's true I've never taken any stand hitherto for Miss Powell for I never thought she needed it. But now that the question has come up I want to say that I'd be perfectly willing to share my state room with her and to give her as much of my company as she could stand. However, that's all out of the question now because Miss Powell isn't going to France on the American Committee Fund and I'm not going either." She stopped a second and added quietly: "And for the same reason."
Someone said in bewilderment: " What do you mean when you say you're not going? And for the same reason? "
" I mean that if Miss Powell isn't wanted, I'm not wanted either. You imply that she's not wanted because she's coloured. Well, I'm coloured too."
One of the men said under his breath, " God, what a scoop ! " and reached for his hat. But Banky, his face set and white, held him back.
" I don't believe you know what you're saying, Miss Mory. But anyway, whether it's true or untrue, for God's sake take it back ! "
His tone of horror added the last touch. Angela laughed in his face. " Take it back ! " She could hardly contain herself. " Do you really think that being coloured is as awful as all that? Can't you see that to my way of thinking it's a great deal better to be coloured and to miss oh scholarships and honours and preferments, than to be the contemptible things which you've all shown yourselves to be this morning? Coming here baiting this poor girl and her mother, thrusting your self-assurance down their throats, branding yourselves literally dogs in the manger? " She turned to the coloured girl's mother. " Mrs. Powell, you surely don't want these people here any longer. Have I your permission to show them out? " Crossing the room superbly she opened the door. " This way, please, and don't come back any more. You can rest assured we'll find a way to keep you out."
Silently the little line filed out. Only Miss Tilden, laying her hand on Angela's arm paused to say avidly: "You'll let me come to see you, surely? I can give you some fine publicity, only I must have more data. How about an exclusive interview? "
Angela said stonily: " Mrs. Powell will show you the front door." Then she and her former class-mate stood regarding each other. The dark girl crossed the room and caught her hands and kissed them. " Oh," she said, " it was magnificent I never guessed it, but you shouldn't have done it. It's all so unjust, so silly and so tiresome. You, of course, only get it when you bring it upon yourself. But I'm black and I've had it all my life. You don't know the prizes within my grasp that have been snatched away from me again because of colour." She turned as her mother entered the room. " Mother, wasn't she magnificent? "
" She was a fool," Mrs. Powell replied shortly.
Her words brought the exalted Angela back to earth. " Yes," she said, smiling whimsically, " I am just that, a fool. I don't know what possessed me. I'm poor, I was in distress; I wanted a new deal. Now I don't know which way to turn for it. That story will be all over New York by to-morrow morning." She burst out laughing. " Think of my choosing four reporters before whom to make my great confession ! " Her hand sought Miss Powell's. " Good-bye, both of you. Don't worry about me. I never dreamed that anything like this could happen, but the mere fact that is has shows that the truth was likely to come out any day. So don't blame yourselves for it. Good bye."
Banky was waiting for her in the vestibule down stairs. " I'm so sorry about the whole damned business, Miss Mory," he said decently. " It's a damned shame. If there's anything I can do -- "
Rather shortly she said there was nothing. " And you don't need to worry. As I told you upstairs, being coloured isn't as awful as all that. I'll get along." Ignoring his hand she passed by him into the street. It was Saturday afternoon so there was a chance of her finding Jinny at home.
" And if she isn't there I can wait," she told herself, and thanked God in her heart for the stability implied in sisterhood.
Jinny was home, mulling happily over the small affairs which kept her a little girl. Her sister, looking at the serene loveliness of her face, said irrelevantly: "You make me feel like an old woman."
" Well," replied Jinny, " you certainly have the art of concealing time's ravages, for you not only look young but you have the manner of someone who's just found a million dollars. Come in and tell me about it."
" Found a million dollars ! H'm, lost it I should say ! " But a sudden wave of relief and contentment broke over her. " Oh, Jinny, tell me, have I been an utter fool ! I've thrown away every chance I've ever had in the world, just for a whim." Suddenly close in the full tide of sisterliness, they sat facing each other on the comfortable couch while Angela told her story. " I hadn't the faintest idea in the world of telling it. I was thinking only the other day how lucky I was compared to Miss Powell, and the first thing I knew there it all came tripping off my tongue. But I had to do it. If you could just have seen those pigs of reporters and Miss Powell's face under their relentless probing. And old Mrs. Powell, helpless and grunting and sweating and thinking me a fool; she told me so, you know. . . . Why, Jinny, darling, you're not ever crying ! Darling, there's nothing to cry about; what's the matter, Honey ! "
" It's because you are a fool that I am crying," said Jinny sobbing and sniffling, her fingers in her eyes. " You're a fool and the darlingest girl that ever lived, and my own precious, lovely, wonderful sister back again. Oh, Angela, I'm so happy. Tell them to send you your passage money back; say you don't want anything from them that they don't want to give; let them go, let them all go except the ones who like you for yourself. And dearest, if you don't mind having to skimp a bit for a year or two and not spreading yourself as you planned, we'll get you off to Europe after all. You know I've got all my money from the house. I've never touched it. You can have as much of that as you want and pay me back later or not at all."
Laughing and crying, Angela told her that she couldn't think of it. " Keep your money for your marriage, Jinny. It'll be some time before Anthony will make any real money, I imagine. But I will take your advice and go to Europe after all. All this stuff will be in the paper to-morrow, I suppose, so I'll write the American Committee people to-night. As for the prize money, if they want that back they can have it. But I don't think they will; nothing was said about Miss Powell's. That's a thousand dollars. I'll take that and go to Paris and live as long as I can. If I can't have the thousand I'll use the few hundreds that I have left and go anyway. And when I come back I'll go back to my old job or go into the schools. But all that's a long way off and we don't know what might turn up."
There were one or two matters for immediate consideration. The encounter with the reporters had left Angela a little more shaken than was at first apparent. " I don't want to run into them again," she said ruefully. Her lease on the little apartment in Jayne Street had still a month to run. She would go down this very evening, get together her things, and return to Jinny, with whom she would live quietly until it was time for her to sail. Her mail she could leave with the janitor to be called for. Fortunately the furniture was not hers ; there were only a few pictures to be removed. After all, she had very few friends to consider, just the Sandburgs, Martha Burden, Mrs. Denver, Ralph Ashley and Rachel Salting.
" And I don't know what to do about them," she said, pondering. " After all, you can't write to people and say: Dear friend: You've always thought I was white. But I'm not really. I'm coloured and I'm going back to my own folks to live.' Now can you? Oh, Jinny, Jinny, isn't it a great old world? "
In the end, after the story appeared, as it assuredly did, in the next morning's paper, she cut out and sent to each of her former friends copies of Miss Tilden's story whose headlines read: " Socially Ambitious Negress Confesses to Long Hoax."
With the exception of Banky's all the accounts took the unkindest attitude possible. The young Hungarian played up the element of self-sacrifice and the theory that blood after all was thicker than water. Angela guessed rightly that if he could have he would have preferred omitting it, and that he had only written it up to offset as far as possible the other accounts. Of the three other meanly insinuating stories Miss Tilden's was the silliest and most dangerous. She spoke of mixed blood as the curse of the country, a curse whose " insidiously concealed influence constantly threatens the wells of national race purity. Such incidents as these make one halt before he condemns the efforts of the Ku Klux Klan and its unceasing fight for 100 per cent. Americanism."
The immediate effect of this publicity was one which neither of the sisters had foreseen. When Angela reported for work on the following Monday morning she found a note on her desk asking her immediate appearance in the office. The president returning her good-morning with scant courtesy, showed her a clipping and asked if she were the Miss Mory of the story. Upon her assurance that she was none other, he handed her a month's salary in lieu of notice and asked her to consider her connection with the firm at an end.
" We have no place for deceit in an institution such as this," he said augustly.
The incident shook both girls to a degree. Virginia particularly was rendered breathless by its cruel immediacy. Never before had she come so close to the special variation of prejudice manifested to people in Angela's position. That the president of the concern should attribute the girl's reticence on this subject to deceit seemed to her the last ounce of injustice. Angela herself was far less perturbed.
" I've seen too much of this sort of thing to feel it as you do, Virginia. Of course, as you see, there are all kinds of absurdities involved. In your case, showing colour as you do, you'd have been refused the job at the very outset. Perhaps they would have said that they had found coloured people incompetent or that other girls had a strong natural aversion toward working beside one of us. Now here I land the position, hold it long enough to prove ability and the girls work beside me and remain untainted. So evidently there's no blind inherent disgust to be overcome. Looking just the same as I've ever looked I let the fact of my Negro ancestry be known. Mind, I haven't changed the least bit, but immediately there's all this holding up of hands and the cry of deceit is raised. Some logic, that! It really would be awfully funny, you see, Jinny, if it couldn't be fraught with such disastrous consequences for people like, say, Miss Powell."
" Don't mention her," said Jinny vehemently. " If it hadn't been for her you wouldn't have been in all this trouble."
Angela smiled. " If it hadn't been for her, you and I probably never would have really found each other again. But you mustn't blame her. Sooner or later I'd have been admitting, ' con fessing ', as the papers say, my black blood. Not that I myself think it of such tremendous importance; in spite of my efforts to break away I really don't, Virginia. But because this country of ours makes it so important, against my own conviction
I was beginning to feel as though I were laden down with a great secret. Yet when I begin to delve into it, the matter of blood seems nothing compared with individuality, character, living. The truth of the matter is, the whole business was just making me fagged to death."
She sat lost intently in thought. " All of the complications of these last few years, and you can't guess what complications there have been, darling child, have been based on this business of ' passing '. I understand why Miss Powell gave up the uneven fight about her passage. Of course, in a way it would have been a fine thing if she could have held on, but she was perfectly justified in letting go so she could avoid still greater bitter ness and disappointment and so she could have something left in her to devote to her art. You can't fight and create at the same time. And I understand, too, why your Anthony bestirs himself every little while and makes his confession; simply so he won't have to be bothered with the trappings of pretence and watchfulness. I sup pose he told you about that night down at Martha Burden's? "
" Yes," said Jinny, sighing, " he has terrible ideals. There's something awfully lofty about Anthony. I wish he were more like Matthew, comfortable and homey. Matt's got some ideals, too, but he doesn't work them overtime. Anthony's a darling, two darlings, but he's awfully, awfully what-do-you-call-it, ascetic. I shouldn't be at all surprised but what he had a secret canker eating at his heart."
Angela said rather sternly, " Look here, Jinny, I don't believe you love him after all, do you? "
" Well now, when I get right down to it sometimes I think I do. Sometimes I think I don't. Of course the truth of the matter is, I'd hardly have thought about Anthony or marriage either just now, if I hadn't been so darn lonely. You know I'm not like you, Angela. When we were children I was the one who was going to have a career, and you were always going to have a good time. Actually it's the other way round; you're the one who's bound to have a career. You just gravitate to adventure. There's something so forceful and so strong about you that you can't keep out of the battle. But, Angela, I want a home, with you if you could just stand still long enough, or failing that, a home with husband and children and all that goes with it. Of course I don't mind admitting that at any time I'd have given up even you for Matthew. But next to being his wife I'd rather live with you, and next to that I'd like to marry Anthony. I don't like to be alone; for though I can fend for myself I don't want to."
Angela felt herself paling with the necessity of hiding her emotion. " So poor Anthony's only third in your life? "
" Yes, I'm afraid he is . . . Darling, what do you say to scallops for dinner? I feel like cooking to-day. Guess I'll go to market."
She left the room, and her sister turned to the large photograph of Cross which Virginia kept on the mantel. She put her fingers on the slight youthful hollows of his pictured cheeks, touched his pictured brow. " Oh Anthony, Anthony, is Life cheating you again? You'll always be first in my life, dearest."
Perhaps Virginia's diagnosis of her character was correct. At any rate she welcomed the present combination of difficulties through which she was now passing. Otherwise this last confession of Jinny's would have plunged her into fresh un- happiness. But she had many adjustments to make and to face. First of all there was her new status in the tiny circle in which she had moved. When at the end of two weeks she went down to her old apartment in Jayne Street to ask for her mail, she was, in spite of herself amazed and hurt to discover a chilled bewilderment, an aloofness, in the manner of Mrs. Denver, with whom she had a brief encounter. On the other hand there were a note and a calling card from Martha Burden, and some half dozen letters from Elizabeth and Walter Sandburg.
Martha's note ran: " Undoubtedly you and Mr. Cross are very fine people. But I don't believe I could stand another such shock very soon. Of course it was magnificent of you to act as you did. But oh, my dear, how quixotic. And after all a quoi bon? Will you come to see me as soon as you get this, or send me word how I may see you? And Angele, if you let all this nonsense interfere with your going to Europe I'll never forgive you. Ladislas and I have several thousand dollars stored away just begging to be put out at interest."
Elizabeth Sandburg said nothing about the matter, but Angela was able to read her know ledge between the lines. The kind-hearted couple could not sufficiently urge upon her their un changing regard and friendship. " Why on earth don't you come and see us? " Elizabeth queried in her immense, wandering chirography, five words to a page. " You can't imagine how we miss you. Walter's actually getting off his feed. Do take a moment from whatever masterpiece you're com posing and give us a week-end."
But from Rachel Salting and from Ashley not one single word !
MORE than ever her determination to sail became fixed. " Some people," she said to Jinny, " might think it the thing to stay here and fight things out. Martha, for instance, is keenly disappointed because I won't let the committee which had been working for Miss Powell take up my case. I suspect she thinks we're all quitters. But I know when I've had enough. I told her I wanted to spend my life doing something besides fighting. Moreover, the Committee, like myself, is pretty sick of the whole affair, though not for the same reason, and I think there'd be even less chance for a readjustment in my case than there was in Miss Powell's."
An interview with Clarke Otter, Chairman of the Advisory Board of the American Committee, had given her this impression. Mr. Otter's attitude betokened a curious admixture of resentment at what he seemed to consider her deceit in " passing " and exasperation at her having been quixotic enough to give the show away. " We think you are quite right in expressing your determination not to take advantage of the Committee's arrangements. It evidences a delicacy of feeling quite unusual in the circumstances." Angela was boiling with anger when she left.
A letter to the donor of the prize brought back the laconic answer that the writer was interested " not in Ethnology but in Art."
" I'd like to see that party," said Angela, reverting to the jargon of her youth. " I'll bet he's nowhere near as stodgy as he sounds. I shouldn't wonder but what he was just bubbling over with mirth at the silliness of it all."
Certainly she herself was bubbling over with mirth or with what served for that quality. Virginia could not remember ever having seen her in such high spirits, not since the days when they used to serve Monday's dinner for their mother and play at the roles in which Mrs. Henrietta Jones had figured so largely. But Angela herself knew the shallowness of that mirth whose reality, Anthony, unable to remain for any length of time in her presence and yet somehow unable to stay away, sometimes suspected.
Her savings, alas ! including the prize money, amounted roughly to 1,400 dollars. Anthony had urged her to make the passage second class on one of the large, comfortable boats. Then, if she proved herself a good sailor, she might come back third class.
" And anyway don't put by any more than enough for that," said Jinny maternally, " and if you need any extra money write to me and I'll send you all you want."
From stories told by former foreign students who had sometimes visited the Union it seemed as though she might stretch her remaining hundreds over a period of eight or nine months. " And by that time I'll have learned enough to know whether I'm to be an honest-to-God artist or a plain drawing teacher."
" I almost hope it will be the latter," said Jinny with a touching selfishness, " so you'll have to come back and live with us. Don't you hope so, Anthony? "
Angela could see him wince under the strain of her sister's artlessness. " Eight or nine months abroad ought to make a great difference in her life," he said with no particular relevance. " In deed in the lives of all of us." Both he and Angela had only one thought these days, that the time for departure would have to arrive. Neither of them had envisaged the awfulness of this pull on their self-control.
Now there were only five days before her departure on Monday. She divided them among the Sandburgs, Anthony and Jinny who was coming down with a summer cold. On Saturday the thought came to her that she would like to see Philadelphia again; it was a thought so persistent that by nine o'clock she was in the train and by 11.15 she was preparing for bed in a small side-room in the Hotel Walton in the city of her birth. Smiling, she fell asleep vaguely soothed by the thought of being so close to all that had been once the scene of her steady, un checked life.
The propinquity was to shake her more than she could dream.
In the morning she breakfasted in her room, then coming downstairs stood in the portico of the hotel drawing on her gloves as she had done so many years before when she had been a girl shopping with her mother. A flood of memories rushed over her, among them the memory of that day when her father and Virginia had passed them on the street and they had not spoken. How trivial the reason for not speaking seemed now! In later years she had cut Jinny for a reason equally trivial.
She walked up toward Sixteenth Street. It was Sunday and the beautiful melancholy of the day was settling on the quiet city. There was a freshness and a solemnity in the air as though even the atmosphere had been rarified and soothed. A sense of loneliness invaded her; this was the city of her birth, of her childhood and of most of her life. Yet there was no one, she felt, to whom she could turn this beautiful day for a welcome; old acquaintances might be mildly pleased, faintly curious at seeing her, but none of them would show any heart-warming gladness. She had left them so abruptly, so completely. Weil, she must not think on these things. After all, in New York she had been lonely too.
The Sixteenth Street car set her down at Jefferson Street and slowly she traversed the three long blocks. Always quiet, always respectable, they were doubly so in the sanctity of Sunday morning. What a terrible day Sunday could be without friends, ties, home, family. Only five years ago, less than five years, she had had all the simple, stable fixtures of family life, the appetizing breakfast, the music, the church with its interesting, paintable types, long afternoons and evenings with visitors and discussions beating in the void.
And Matthew Henson, would he, she wondered, give her welcome? But she thought that still she did not want to see him. She was not happy, but she was not through adventuring, through tasting life. And she knew that a life spent with Matthew Henson would mean a cessation of that. After all, was he, with his steadiness, his upright ness, his gift for responsibility any happier than she? She doubted it.
Oh, she hoped Sundays in Paris would be gay!
Opal Street came into her vision, a line, a mere shadow of a street falling upon the steadfastness of Jefferson. Her heart quickened, tears came into her eyes as she turned that corner which she had turned so often, that corner which she had once left behind her forever in order to taste and know life. In the hot July sun the street lay almost deserted. A young coloured man, immaculate in white shirt sleeves, slim and straight, bending in his doorway to pick up the bulky Sunday paper, straightened up to watch her advancing toward him. Just this side of him stood her former home, how tiny it was and yet how full of secrets, of knowledge of joy, despair, suffering, futility in brief Life! She stood a few moments in front of it, just gazing, but presently she went up and put her hand on the red brick, wondering blindly if in some way the insensate thing might not communicate with her through touch. A coloured woman sitting in the window watching her rather sharply, came out then and asked her suspiciously what she wanted.
" Nothing," Angela replied dully. " I just wanted to look at the house."
" It isn't for sale, you know."
" No, no, of course not. I just wanted to look at it again. I used to live here, you see. I wondered " Even if she did get permission to go inside, could she endure it? If she could just stand once in that little back room and cry and cry perhaps her tears would flood away all that mass of regret and confusion and futile memories, and she could begin life all over with a blank page. Thank God she was young! Suddenly it seemed to her that entering the house once more, standing in that room would be a complete panacea. Raising her eyes expectantly to the woman's face she began: " Would you be so kind ? "
But the woman, throwing her a last suspicious look and muttering that she was " nothing with poor white trash," turned and, slamming the door behind her, entered the little square parlour and pulled down the blinds.
The slim young man came running down the street toward her. Closer inspection revealed his ownership of a pleasant brown freckled face topped by thick, soft, rather closely cropped dark-red hair.
" Angela," he said timidly, and then with more assurance: " It is Angela Murray."
She turned her stricken face toward him. " She wouldn't let me in, Matthew. I'm going to France to-morrow and I thought I'd like to see the old house. But she wouldn't let me look at it. She called me," her voice broke with the injustice of it, " poor white trash."
"I know," he nodded gravely. "She'd do that kind of thing; she doesn't understand, you see." He was leading her gently toward his house. " I think you'd better come inside and rest a moment. My father and mother have gone off for their annual trip to Bridgeton; mother was born there, you know. But you won't mind coming into the house of an old and tried friend."
" No," she said, conscious of an overwhelming fatigue and general sense of let-downness, " I should say I wouldn't." As they crossed the thresh old she tried faintly to smile but the effort was too much for her and she burst into a flood of choking, strangling, noisy tears.
Matthew removed her hat and fanned her; brought her ice-water and a large soft handkerchief to replace her own sodden wisp. Through her tears she smiled at him, understanding as she did so, the reason for Virginia's insistence on his general niceness. He was still Matthew Henson, still freckled and brown, still capped with that thatch of thick bad hair. But care and hair-dressings and improved toilet methods and above all the emanation of a fine and generous spirit had metamorphosed him into someone still the old Matthew Henson and yet someone somehow translated into a quintessence of kindliness and gravity and comprehending.
She drank the water gratefully, took out her powder puff.
" I don't need to ask you how you are," he said, uttering a prayer of thanks for averted hysterics. " When a lady begins to powder her nose, she's bucking up all right. Want to tell me all about it?"
" There's nothing to tell. Only I wanted to see the house and suddenly found myself unexpectedly homesick, lonely, misunderstood. And when that woman refused me so cruelly, it was just too much." Her gaze wavered, her eyes filled again.
" Oh," he said in terror, " for God's sake don't cry again! I'll go over and give her a piece of my mind; I'll make her turn the whole house over to you. I'll bring you her head on a charger. Only ' dry those tears'." He took her handkerchief and dried them himself very, very gently.
She caught his hand. " Matthew, you're a dear."
He shrugged negligently, " You haven't always thought that."
This turn of affairs would never do. " What were you planning to do when I barged in? Getting ready to read your paper and be all homey and comfortable? "
" Yes, but I don't want to do that now. Tell you what, Angela, Let's have a lark. Suppose we have dinner here? you get it- Remember how it used to make me happy as a king in the old days if you'd just hand me a glass of water? You said you were sailing to-morrow; you must be all packed. What time do you have to be back? I'll put you on the train."
The idea enchanted her. " I'd love it ! Matthew, what fun ! " They found an apron of his mother's, and in the ice-box, cold roast beef, lettuce which Philadelphians call salad, beets and corn. " I'll make muffins," said Angela joyously, " and you take a dish after dinner and go out and get some ice-cream. Oh, Matthew, how it's all coming back to me! Do you still shop up here in the market? "
They ate the meal in the little dark cool dining-room, the counterpart of the dining- room in Junius Murray's one-time house across the way. But somehow its smallness was no longer irksome; rather it seemed a tiny island of protection reared out of and against an encroaching sea of troubles. In fancy she saw her father and mother almost a quarter of a century ago coming proudly to such a home, their little redoubt of refuge against the world. How beautiful such a life could be, shared with someone beloved, with Anthony! Involuntarily she sighed.
Matthew studying her thoughtfully said: " You're dreaming, Angela. Tell me what it's all about."
" I was thinking what a little haven a house like this could be; what it must have meant to my mother. Funny how I almost pounded down the walls once upon a time trying to get away. Now I can't think of anything more marvellous than having such a place as this, here, there, anywhere, to return to."
Startled, he told her of his surprise at hearing such words from her. " If Virginia had said them I should think it perfectly natural; but I hadn't thought of you as being interested in home. How, by the way, is Virginia? "
With a wistfulness which barely registered with her absorption, he queried: "I suppose she's tremendously happy? "
" Happy enough."
"A great girl, little Virginia." In his turn he fell to musing, roused himself. " You haven't told me of your adventures and your flight into the great world."
" There's not much to tell, Matthew. All I've seen and experienced has been the common fate of most people, a little sharpened, perhaps, a little vivified. Briefly, I've had a lot of fun and a measure of trouble. I've been stimulated by adventure; I've known suffering and love and pain."
" You're still surprising me. I didn't suppose a girl like you could know the meaning of pain." He gave her a twisted smile. " Though you certainly know how to cause it. Even yet I can get a pang which no other thought produces if I let my mind go back to those first few desperate days after you left me. Heavens, can't you suffer when you're young ! "
She nodded, laid her hand on his. " Terribly. Remember, I was suffering too, Matthew, though for different causes. I was so pushed, so goaded . . . well, we won't talk about that any more. ... I hope you've got over all that feeling. Indeed, indeed I wasn't worth it. Do tell me you haven't let it harass you all these years."
His hand clasped hers lightly, then withdrew. " No I haven't. . . . The suddenness, the inevitableness of your departure checked me, pulled me up short. I suffered, oh damnably, but it was suffering with my eyes open. I knew then you weren't for me; that fundamentally we were too far apart. And eventually I got over it. Those days ! " He smiled again wryly, recalling a memory. " But I went on suffering just the same, only in another way. I fell in love with Jinny."
Her heart in her breast stopped beating. " Matthew, you didn't ! Why on earth didn't you ever say so? "
" I couldn't. She was such a child, you see; she made it so plain all the time that she looked on me as her sister's beau and therefore a kind of dependable brother. After you went I used to go to see her, take her about. Why she'd swing on my arm and hold up her face for a good-night kiss ! Once, I remember, we had been out and she became car-sick, poor little weak thing ! She was so ashamed ! Like a baby, you know, playing at being grown-up and then ashamed for reverting to babyhood. I went to see her the next day and she was so little and frail and confiding ! I stayed away then for a long time and the next thing I knew she was going to New York. I misjudged you awfully then, Angela. You must forgive me. I thought you had pulled her away. I learned later that I was wrong, that you and she rarely saw each other in New York. Do you know why she left? "
There was her sister's pride to shield but her own need to succour; who could have dreamed of such a dilemma? " I can't betray Jinny," she said to herself and told him that while she personally had not influenced her sister the latter had had a very good reason for leaving Philadelphia.
" I suppose so. Certainly she left. But she'd write me ? occasionally, letters just like her dear self, so frank and girlish and ingenuous and making it so damnably plain that any demonstration of love on my part was out of the question. I said to myself: 'I'm not going to wreck my whole life over those Murray girls '. And I let our friend ship drift off into a nothingness. . . . Then she came to visit Edna Brown this summer. I fairly leaped out to Merion to see her. The moment I laid eyes on her I realized that she had developed, had become a woman. She was as always, kind and sweet, prettier, more alluring than ever. I thought I'd try my luck .... and Edna told me she was engaged. What's the fellow like, Angela? "
" Very nice, very fine."
" Wild about her, I suppose?"
Desperately she looked at him. "He's a rather undemonstrative sort. I suppose he's wild enough. Only, well they talk as though they had no intention of marrying for years and years and they both seem perfectly content with that arrangement."
He frowned incredulously. " What ! If I thought they weren't in earnest ! "
Impulsively she broke out: " Oh, Matthew, don't you know, there's so much pain, such suffering in the world, a man should never leave any stone unturned to achieve his ultimate happiness. Why don't you write to Jinny, go to New York to see her? "
Under his freckles his brown skin paled. e You think there's a chance? "
" My dear, I wouldn't dare say. I know she likes you very, very much. And I don't think she regards you as a brother."
" Angela, you wouldn't fool me? "
" Why should I do that? And remember after all I'm giving you no assurance. I'm merely saying it's worth taking a chance. Now let's see, we'll straighten up this place and then we must fly."
At the station she kissed him good-bye. " Anyway you're always a brother to me. Think of what I've told you, Matthew; act on it."
" I shall. Oh, Angela, suppose it should be that God sent you down here to-day? "
" Perhaps He did." They parted solemnly.
Three hours later found her entering her sister's apartment. Jinny, her cold raging, her eyes in flamed and weeping, greeted her plaintively. " Look at me, Angela. And you leaving tomorrow! I'll never be able to make that boat!" The telephone rang. " It's been ringing steadily for the last hour, somebody calling for you. Do answer it."
The message was from Ashley. He had been away in New Orleans. " And I came back and found that clipping. I knew you sent it. Girl, the way I've pursued you this day ! Finally I caught up with Martha Burden, she told me where you were staying. May I come up? Be there in half an hour."
" Not to-night, Ralph. Would you like to come to the boat to-morrow? "
"So you're going anyhow? Bully! But not before I've seen you ! Suppose I take you to the boat? "
" Awfully nice of you, but I'm going with my sister."
Here Jinny in a voice full of misplaced consonants told her she was going to do nothing of the sort. " With this cold ! "
Angela spoke into the receiver again. " My sister says she isn't going, so I will fall back on you if I may." She hung up.
Virginia wanted to hear of the trip. The two sisters sat talking far into the night, but Angela said no word about Matthew.
Monday was a day of surprises. Martha and Ladislas Starr, unable to be on hand for the sailing of the boat, came up to the house to drive down town with the departing traveller. Secretly Angela was delighted with this arrangement, but it brought a scowl to Ashley's face.
Virginia, miserable with the wretchedness attendant on a summer cold, bore up bravely. " I don't mind letting you go like this from the house; but I couldn't stand the ship ! Angela, you're not to worry about me one bit. Only come back to me, happy. I know you will. Oh how different this is from that parting years ago in Philadelphia ! "
" Yes," said Angela soberly. " Then I was to be physically ninety miles away from you, but we were really seas apart. Now darling, three thousand miles are nothing when there is love and trust and understanding. And Jinny, listen ! Life is full of surprises. If a chance for real happiness comes your way don't be afraid to grasp at it."
" Cryptic," wheezed Jinny, laughing. " I don't know what you're talking about, but I'll do my best to land any happiness that comes drifting toward me." They kissed each other gravely, almost coldly, without tears. But neither could trust herself to say the actual good-bye.
Angela was silent almost all the way down to the dock, answering her friends only in mono syllables. There, another surprise awaited her in the shape of Mrs. Denver, who remained, how ever, only for a few moments. " I couldn't stand having you go," she said pitifully, " without seeing you for one last time." And, folding the girl in a close embrace, she broke down and murmured sadly of a lost daughter who would have been " perhaps like you, dear, had she lived."
Elizabeth Sandburg, the gay, the complacent, the beloved of life, clung to her, weeping, " I can't bear to lose you, Angele." Walter put his arm about her. " Kiss me, old girl. And mind, if you need anything, anything, you're to call on us. If you get sick we'll come over after you, am I right, Lizzie? "
" Yes, of course, of course . . . and don't call me Lizzie. . . . Come away, can't you, and leave them a moment together. Don't you see Ashley glaring at you? "
They withdrew to a good point of vantage on the dock.
Angela, surprised and weeping, remembering both Mrs. Denver's words and the manifestations of kindness in her stateroom said: "They really did love me after all, didn't they? "
" Yes," said Ashley earnestly, " we all love you. I'm coming over to see you by and by, Angele, may I? You know we've a lot of things to talk about, some things which you perhaps think mean a great deal to me but which in reality mean nothing. Then on the other hand there are some matters which actually do mean something to me but whose value to you I'm not sure of."
" Oh," she said, wiping her eyes and remembering her former secret. " You aren't coming over to ask me to marry you, are you? You don't have to do that. And anyway ' it is not now as it hath been before '. There's no longer a mystery about me, you know. So the real attraction's gone. Remember, I'm not expecting a thing of you, so please, please don't ask it. Ralph, I can't placard myself, and I suppose there will be lots of times when in spite of myself I'll be passing '. But I want you to know that from now on, so far as sides are concerned, I am on the coloured side. And I don't want you to come over on that side." She shook her head finally. " Too many complications even for you."
For though she knew he believed in his brave words, she was too sadly experienced to ask an American to put them to the test.
" All right," he said, smiling at her naive assumptions. " I won't ask you to marry me, at least not yet. But I'm coming over just the same. I don't suppose you've got a lien on Paris."
" Of course I haven't," she giggled a little. " You know perfectly well I want you to come." Her face suddenly became grave. " But if you do come you won't come to make love without meaning anything either, will you? I'd hate that between you and me."
" No," he said gently, instantly comprehending. " I won't do that either."
" You'll come as a friend? "
"Yes, as a friend."
A deck hand came up then and said civilly that in a few minutes they would be casting off and all visitors must go ashore.
AMONG her steamer-letters was a brief note from Anthony :
" Angela, my angel, my dear girl, good-bye. These last few weeks have been heaven and hell. I couldn't bear to see you go, so I've taken myself off for a few hours . . . don't think I'll neglect Jinny. I'll never do that. Am I right in supposing that you still care a little? Oh Angela, try to forget me, but don't do it! I shall never forget you ! "
There were letters and flowers from the Burdens, gifts of all sorts from Ashley and Mrs. Denver, a set of notes for each day out from Virginia. She read letters, examined her gifts and laid them aside. But all day long Anthony's note reposed on her heart; it lay at night beneath her head.
Paris at first charmed and wooed her. For a while it seemed to her that her old sense of joy in living for living's sake had returned to her. It was like those first few days which she had spent in exploring New York. She rode delightedly in the motor-buses on and on to the unknown, un predictable terminus; she followed the winding Seine; crossing and re-crossing the bridges each with its distinctive characteristics. Back of the Pantheon, near the church of St. Genevieve she discovered a Russian restaurant where strange, exotic dishes were served by tall blond waiters in white, stiff Russian blouses. One day, wandering up the Boulevard du Mont Parnasse, she found at its juncture with the Boulevard Raspail the Cafe Dome, a student restaurant of which many returned students had spoken in the Art School in New York. On entering she was recognized almost immediately by Edith Martin, a girl who had studied with her in Philadelphia.
Miss Martin had lived in Paris two years; knew all the gossip and the characters of the Quarter; could give Angela points on pensions, cafes, tips and the Gallic disposition. On all these topics she poured out perpetually a flood of information, presented her friends, summoned the new comer constantly to her studio or camped uninvited in the other girl's tiny quarters at the Pension Franciana. There was no chance for actual physical loneliness, yet Angela thought after a few weeks of persistent comradeship that she had never felt so lonely in her life. For the first time in her adventuresome existence she was caught up in a tide of homesickness.
Then this passed too with the summer, and she found herself by the end of September engrossed in her work. She went to the Academy twice a day, immersed herself in the atmosphere of the Louvre and the gallery of the Luxembourg. It was hard work, but gradually she schooled herself to remember that this was her life, and that her aim, her one ambition, was to become an acknowledged, a significant painter of portraits. The instructor, renowned son of a still more renowned father, almost invariably praised her efforts.
With the coming of the fall the sense of adventure left her. Paris, so beautiful in the summer, so gay with its thronging thousands, its hosts bent on pleasure, took on another garb in the sullen greyness of late autumn. The tourists disappeared and the hard steady grind of labour, the intent application to the business of living, so noticeable in the French, took the place of a transient, careless freedom. Angela felt herself falling into line; but it was good discipline as she herself realized. Once or twice, in periods of utter loneliness or boredom, she let her mind dwell on her curiously thwarted and twisted life. But the ability for self- pity had vanished. She had known too many others whose lives lay equally remote from goals which had at first seemed so certain. For a period she had watched feverishly for the incoming of foreign mail, sure that some word must come from Virginia about Matthew, but the months crept sullenly by and Jinny's letters remained the same artless missives prattling of school-work, Anthony, Sara Penton, the Movies and visits to Maude the inimitable.
" Of course not everything can come right," she told herself. Matthew evidently had, on second thought, deemed it wisest to consult the evidence of his own senses rather than be guided by the hints which in the nature of things she could offer only vaguely.
Within those six months she lost forever the blind optimism of youth. She did not write Anthony nor did she hear from him.
Christmas Eve day dawned or rather drifted greyly into the beholder's perception out of the black mistiness of the murky night. In spite of her self her spirits sank steadily. Virginia had promised her a present, " I've looked all over this whole town," she wrote, " to find you something good enough, something absolutely perfect. Anthony's been helping me. And at last I've found it. We've taken every possible precaution against the interference of wind or rain or weather, and unless something absolutely unpredictable intervenes, it will be there for you Christmas Eve or possibly the day before. But remember, don't open it until Christmas."
But it was now six o'clock on Christmas Eve and no present had come, no letter, no remembrance of any kind. " Oh," she said to herself, " what a fool I was to come so far away from home ! " For a moment she envisaged the possibility of throwing herself on the bed and sobbing her heart out. Instead she remembered Edith Martin's invitation to make a night of it over at her place, a night which was to include dancing and chaffing, a trip just before midnight to hear Mass at St. Sulpice, and a return to the studio for doubt less more dancing and jesting and laughter, and possibly drunkenness on the part of the American male.
At ten o'clock as she stood in her tiny room rather sullenly putting the last touches to her costume, the maid, Heloise, brought her a cable. It was a long message from Ashley wishing her health, happiness and offering to come over at a week's notice. Somehow the bit of blue paper cheered her, easing her taut nerves.
" Of course they're thinking about me. I'll hear from Jinny any moment; it's not her fault that the delivery is late. I wonder what she sent me."
Returning at three o'clock Christmas morning from the party she put her hand cautiously in the door to switch on the light for fear that a package lay near the threshold, but there was no package there. " Well, even if it were there I couldn't open it," she murmured, " for I'm too sleepy." And indeed she had drugged herself with dancing and gaiety into an overwhelming drowsiness. Barely able to toss aside her pretty dress, she tumbled luxuriously into bed, grateful in the midst of her somnolence for the fatigue which would make her forget. ... In what seemed to her less than an hour, she heard a tremendous knocking at the door.
" Entrez" she called sleepily and relapsed immediately into slumber. The door, as it happened, was unlocked; she had been too fatigued to think of it the night before. Heloise stuck in a tousled head. " My God," she told the cook afterwards, " such a time as I had to wake her! There she was asleep on both ears and the gentle man downstairs waiting ! "
Angela finally opened bewildered eyes. " A gentleman," reiterated Heloise in her staccato tongue. " He awaits you below. He says he has a present which he must put into your own hands. Will Mademoiselle then descend or shall I tell him to come back? "
" Tell him to come back," she murmured, then opened her heavy eyes. "Is it really Christmas, Heloise? Where is the gentleman? "
" As though I had him there in my pocket," said Heloise later in her faithful report to the cook.
But finally the message penetrated. Grasping a robe and slippers, she half leaped, half fell down the little staircase and plunged into the five foot square drawing-room. Anthony sitting on the tremendously disproportionate tan and maroon sofa rose to meet her.
His eyes on her astonished countenance, he began searching about in his pockets, slapping his vest, pulling out keys and handkerchiefs. " There ought to be a tag on me somewhere," he remarked apologetically, " but anyhow Virginia and Matthew sent me with their love."
End of Plum Bun (part 3 or 3) by Jessie Redmon Fauset