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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDestiny - Part 2. The Book Of Life - It Might Have Been - Chapter 26
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Destiny - Part 2. The Book Of Life - It Might Have Been - Chapter 26 Post by :Odilia_Paula Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Neville Buck Date :May 2012 Read :1742

Click below to download : Destiny - Part 2. The Book Of Life - It Might Have Been - Chapter 26 (Format : PDF)

Destiny - Part 2. The Book Of Life - It Might Have Been - Chapter 26

PART II. THE BOOK OF LIFE - IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN CHAPTER XXVI

As he reached Washington square it seemed that the quiet of the section held a sort of benediction, and such peace as hangs between old walls, where the fever of stress has passed and left in its wake a philosophy and a contentment.

But when he came to the house where he had visited her, he was told that she no longer lived there. With a sudden pang it occurred to him that once more she might have moved a step down the economic scale toward the furnished room in one of those dingy lodging-houses which she had dreaded; places where the heart sickens at the forlornness of its environment.

He inquired for the girl with whom Marcia had shared the little apartment, and to his relief learned that she still had her abode here and would receive him. As he opened the door, Dorothy Melliss was bending over her drawing-board by a north window, rushing through some fashion illustrations which must be delivered on the morrow. She greeted Paul with a nod and went on with her work, while he explained his mission.

Dorothy was a wholesome young person of clear complexion and straightforward eyes and she spoke with an independence of manner amounting to slanginess. She was one of those girls whom an unaided life in the city fosters. She could take care of herself--and did--but she knew life and looked it in the face--and dispensed with anything like a baby stare in doing so. Now she listened to Paul's talk, then suddenly shoved back her India-ink bottle and wiped her pen, while her pupils met his with directness.

"Before I answer any of your questions, Mr. Burton, I've got a few to ask you myself," she announced. "I might as well talk straight from the shoulder. Just how anxious you are to see Marcia isn't going to make such a great difference in my young life. Whether or not she wants you to find her--does make a great deal of difference."

"What do you mean, Miss Melliss?" Paul was genuinely puzzled.

"I mean that of course I know her address--or addresses--because they change every day. I also know that she gave me the most explicit orders not to tell you where she could be found."

"Oh!" he exclaimed in disappointment, relinquishing his inquiry at the first obstacle. "Then I suppose I may as well go."

"Hold on," she commanded tersely. "I'm Marcia Terroll's friend. I think I'm enough her friend to decide for myself whether I can help her most by obeying or disobeying her. Sit down for five minutes and listen to me. I feel like talking."

He obeyed, and the young woman's face flushed with her interest as she took a chair near him and lighted a cigarette. After that she sat for a few moments reflectively silent.

"I guess there isn't so much similarity between Marcia and me, but there's one thing--and it's a bond of kinship in a way." She looked at him unwaveringly. "We've both been on our own for some time in a town where there are more Don Juans than Walter Raleighs--and we're both straight. To the women of _your protected set that wouldn't be so much to brag of--about as much as for a millionaire to boast that he'd never picked a pocket. None of those sheltered girls in your own world, where women nibble at life like bon-bons, have anything on Marcia Terroll. In brain and character and charm she has it over those female noncombatants like a tent."

"I know all that, Miss Melliss." His reply was vaguely apologetic.

"Maybe you do, but I'm not through yet. She was cut to a delicate pattern and meant for life's sunshine and God knows she's had plenty of shadow. She's kept a smile on her lips and a laugh in her eyes through things that would have crumpled up lots of those tender creatures you know. You don't guess what it means to that sort of woman--well, to see life from the angle we get on it, but Marcia knows. You came along and she--" The young woman broke off in sudden silence.

"She what?" Anxiety sounded through his question.

"Oh, she never told me anything. It's not her fashion to tell such things, but I have a pair of eyes myself. I figure that Marcia let herself in for a danger she thought she had put behind her. She allowed herself to have a dream." She paused and her gaze was almost accusing in its directness. "From the look in her eyes before she went away I guess she realized that it was a dream."

Miss Melliss had eyes of a brown softness, but just now they flashed hard as agate and her voice rose to a scornful indignation.

"As if we haven't enough to handle with the facts of Life, without hopeless dreams! I'm no anarchist railing at wealth and luxury ... but you men that want everything ... and give nothing--" She broke off and abruptly demanded, "Well, when you think about it, what do you call it to yourselves?"

"Where is she?" demanded Paul.

"She's out with a dinky, barnstorming company, playing one-night stands--on a route of tank-towns and whistling stations. It was all she could get. She's making early-morning jumps between shabby hotels with a bunch of cheap actors and cheaper actresses that are just about as congenial to her as a herd of goats." The voice vibrated with sincere feeling.

"Are you going to tell me where I can find her?"

The girl studied her cigarette, drew a puff upon it and exhaled a cloud of smoke before she answered. Then she spoke reflectively.

"I'm just wondering whether I am or not. If you're going to follow her up and make her dream again--only to wake up again, I certainly am not. If you're going to be any comfort to her I am, because God knows she needs some comfort. She is only going on her nerve."

"Please tell me," he urged very persuasively. At that moment it was in his mind to write a truthful letter to Loraine Haswell and go to Marcia with a proposal of marriage. He felt only his need of her--and her importance to himself. He failed to reckon on the thousand misgivings and indecisions which would assail him between the moment of impulse and that of execution. But his eyes were sincere and Dorothy believed them. She went to her desk and brought back a sheet of paper.

"That's the route for this week--and next," she said. "After that you must either find out for yourself or go without knowing."

That night with the holiday spirit of a lad let out of a cheerless school Paul Burton walked along the principal street of a small New England town where old-fashioned houses sprawled between stark elms. When he reached the Palace Theater, the performance had begun, so he hurriedly bought a ticket and found himself sitting near the front with many empty seats about him. It was a cheap "follow up" company with an old piece that had once been a Broadway hit. He had never seen Marcia act. Now he was seeing her under the most inauspicious circumstances--and he knew that only want of opportunity and the uncompromising plane on which she had pitched her dealings in managerial offices had balked her ambitions. She could act and was acting with a force, intelligence and finesse that were wasted here, and as he watched her suddenly their eyes met and across the blazing separation of the "foots" she recognized him. For just an instant her pupils dilated and she missed a cue. It looked as though she would "go up" in her lines, but before the prompter could come to her aid she had recovered herself and her performance went on unbroken. But during the following intermission the women who dressed near by could hear her humming a gay tune, and as she came out at her call they saw in her eyes a sparkle that had not been there before.

As Marcia sat in her dressing-room before the mirror which was fastened against a brick wall, the squalidness of the cubbyhole ceased to depress her. On the slab before her lay scattered the details of make-up, and crowded into one corner stood her open wardrobe trunk. A placard near a light-bulb read, "Please remember that YOU are here for a few days, but we are here all the time. Do not deface our home," and under that notice, probably tempted by it into irony, a former occupant had scrawled in huge letters "Oh, you home!"

But now the chilly little dressing-room was no longer a dingy cell. She had recognized Paul Burton's face out in front, and, as she changed for the next act, little snatches of song broke from her lips, and she smiled at herself in the glass until the small, glistening teeth flashed like those of a pleased child.

Fate gives no guarantee of responsibility for the targeting of the Love-God's darts. This whimsical deity seems to owe no duty to fitness or consistency. He may choose to make a strong and excellent character love one too weak to be worthy its thought and no higher power intervenes. After all, Marcia had met Paul when she was lonely and they had for a while comforted each other's unhappiness. When she had ordered him to stay away the damage was already done, and since then she had been infinitely more lonely--had craved more desperately companionship with someone of the world from which her poverty had so long exiled her, though its memories remained. Now he had disobeyed her and come to her. He had sought her out contrary to command and that must mean that he had found a new strength and would have something to say to her which a man may worthily say to a woman. He had so thoroughly understood her edict that his coming could have no other meaning. She could not know that he was still actuated solely by his own selfish craving for comfort, nor that he had occupied his time on the train countering and balancing considerations until his sudden determination had oozed miserably out of him. Although he could no longer awaken a throbbing of his pulses with the thought of Loraine Haswell, neither could he fortify his mind to cut the tie and give her up.

When the curtain rang down on the last act the door-man brought in his card, and Marcia ran light-heartedly out to meet him.

"You see, I disobeyed you," he announced, and she sought to reply with great severity, but delight broke through that affectation and riddled it with smiles.

"Unless you are too tired," she suggested, "let's take a walk before we go back to that desolate morgue they call a hotel."

It was a cold and sparkling night and the old street, which was once a post road, twisted between the elms under a moon that threw the rambling houses into softened shapes and underscored them duskily with shadow. They had walked perhaps a half-mile when they came upon a building that had in its more prosperous years been a mansion of some pretense and dignity. It sat back in its generous yard, with a cheery light blazing at its lower windows, wearing an aspect of elderly and beneficent reminiscence. An electric bulb by the gate lighted a small swinging sign inscribed in antique type, "The Sign of the Tea-pot. Lunch, tea and dancing."

"Down-at-the-heels gentility gone into trade," smiled Marcia.

Paul Burton halted and listened, but the dancing had ended and the old house was silent.

"I wonder," he ventured, "if the tea-pot is still on duty."

"By this time," she laughed, "it would have tucked its head under its wing and gone to roost."

"Let's try it, none the less," he challenged, and with the spirit of two children on a lark they opened the creaking gate and traversed the brick walk, arm in arm.

In answer to their knock, which echoed through the place, there came after a time a pleasant-faced elderly woman to the door. For a few moments she reflected, then decided that, although it was a little late, she would undertake to produce some sort of a supper--if they would make allowances for its deficient quality.

The scene seemed set for adventure, even romance. In a large, pleasantly furnished room glowed a cheery fire, and as they waited they sat before it, falling silent, and Marcia's face continued to smile. She had learned to make the most of a pleasant moment while it lasted and to leave regrets until they forced themselves.

When they had finished an excellent supper and the woman had withdrawn they asked and received permission to linger a while before the inviting hearth.

Abruptly Marcia looked up and announced, "I forgive you your disobedience. I'm glad you came. You can't imagine how lonely it's been." Her small nose puckered fastidiously as she added, "The company is odious and I hate the play and the hotels provide unfinished road-beds to sleep on and I've been headachy and altogether miserable." Then she broke off and laughed again, "Which will be about enough Jeremiad for the present. Have you missed me?"

Paul Burton bent forward and studied the red tip of his cigar. It seemed to him that he had missed her more than he had ever missed anyone else. For the first time since the terrible day in the Street with its battalion of misfortunes, his heart felt at rest and his nerves quiet.

He tossed the cigar away and took her hands in his. Deep in her eyes glowed a quiet tenderness and her breath quickened. The man seated himself on the arm of her deep chair, passing one arm about her and holding her two hands close to her breast. Her hat tilted back as he stooped to kiss her, but she did not appear to resent that disarrangement.

"I have missed you terribly," he said and the glow in her pupils heightened in brightness.

Marcia was content. After all, her dream was coming true. Here in this old room of an old house, where other generations had made courtly love, he would tell her that resolution had come to his heart, driving out weak vacillation, and resolution spelt her name. It was worth having been lonely for. Here were just the two of them in the light of a fire on a hearth--emblem of home.

On their two faces, close together, the blaze threw warm little dashes of its own color. Into the heart of Marcia Terroll stole belief once more, and the cheer of the glowing coals.

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