The Deeper Melody
By Alice Morrey Bailey
Synopsis: Steve Thorpe, who has encountered much difficulty in caring for his three motherless children, is grateful for the efficient care given his sick baby by Margaret Crain, a registered nurse. Margaret’s mother, a widow, temporarily accepts the position of housekeeper in Steven’s home, and he feels that his most immediate problems are solved. However, his employer, angry over his leaving a selling assignment, tells Steven that he is fired.
Steve went apprehensively into the sick room next morning. Miss Crain’s back was toward him, and she was reading her thermometer. Little Phyllis looked very sick, without the bright red cheeks of yesterday. Steve’s mouth went dry with fear. While he had been worrying about such trivial things as losing his job his baby was dying. He tried to speak, but his voice was a crack.
Miss Crain turned a radiant face toward him. There was joy and suppressed pride in her expression. When she saw his face she came closer and looked anxiously at him.
“Your baby is much, much better,” she said. “Really and truly, Mr. Thorpe. She is practically out of danger – and going to be well. You’ll be amazed how soon.”
Her urgency convinced Steve. Miss Crain joined him, and together they laughed from joy and release from strain. It was a bond of wordless understanding between them, and a high moment to share with anybody. With little Phyllis well, he could do anything!
Yes, it was amazing. It was amazing also how two women, the nurse and her mother, had made order and safety out of chaos, routine out of disorder. It was wonderful to see Ilene and Davey blossom into good-child behavior, with confidence replacing the hungry orphan look in their faces. It wrenched Steve’s heart. How he wished it could continue!
“You will be amazed to see how soon Phyllis will be well,” the nurse had said, and added, when Steve pressed her, “a week at most.”
Much as he wanted Phyllis well, he knew too surely how it would be. There would then be no nurse, and no Mrs. Crain. There would be again the nightmare of finding suitable people to care for the children, with this time the added strain of finding a new job.
“Look,” he asked brightly at dinner, “why couldn’t you two make this your home? You could come here between cases, Miss Crain, and your mother could stay on. You would have no expenses of living, and, Mrs. Crain, you could earn a good salary.”’
The two of them looked at him blankly, while he floundered out his difficulties, his dread of new arrangements.
“That is a very generous offer,” said Mrs. Crain finally. “I’m sorry we can’t take it. Margaret is getting married the first of June to Dr. Rex Harmon, and we have preparations to make. Then I have promised my son’s wife I will come there. She needs me just at that time, following Margaret’s wedding.”
“It wouldn’t be fair of us to stay until the children get attached to us, or we to them,” Miss Crain added. “Already I can hardly bear to leave them, they are so adorable. The sooner you make permanent arrangements, the better they will be.”
Her eyes were troubled and compassionate, and she seemed so sincerely concerned that he regretted having brought the matter up.
“You can’t blame a man for trying,” he said lightly, and changed the subject to cover his disappointment.
He was staring glumly out the window of the living room later when Miss Crain came in. She was silent on her nurse’s shoes, but Steve felt her presence and turned, smiling a welcome, and indicated a chair. “Sit down, Miss Crain. I don’t think you have been off your feet all day.”
“The children are all asleep. I told Davey and Ilene a bedtime story. Mother has gone to bed, and I will, too.” She seemed suddenly diffident.
“Talk a while if you aren’t too tired,” invited Steve, to put her at ease.
“I keep thinking of you – your problems.”
“So do I,” Steve said, smiling wryly. “I seem well supplied at the moment, and just now seemed to have touched bottom. I’ve been there before, though, and after a night’s sleep I’ll be able to see my way out, so you don’t need to worry about it. You’ve solved the biggest problem I had, getting Phyllis on the road to recovery. I should be able to take care of the rest!”
He tried to speak with a confidence and calmness he did not feel, order to reassure her, but she sat primly on the edge of her chair, like a good child about to speak a piece. He was amused.
He was thinking, she is like two separate individuals, competent and in her element in the sick room, timid outside.
He watched her intently, and finally she suggested, “Mr. Thorpe, I can’t see any good future in a succession of hired help. Why don’t you marry again? You need a wife.”
“A wife!” Steve said, with deep hurt.
Some of his anger was against this slim girl, who could tear away his defenses to the bare thought, and some of his resentment was that she should presume to advise him. He wanted to ignore her, not to betray his feelings, but she was vitally and irritatingly there.
“A wife! I had a wife, Miss Crain. I loved her and I lost her, so what is there left for me? Besides, who would want a widower with three babies?”
They sat in silence until Miss Crain apologized, “I have gone far beyond my duties as a nurse to presume to advise you. Please forgive me!”
“Nonsense! Naturally, being the conscientious person you are, you felt you had to do something after what I said at dinner, but remarrying is something I won’t even think about. Nobody could take Ellen’s place.”
“I’m not suggesting anyone could,” persisted Miss Cain. “I was trying to tell you that people can love more than once, and …”
“Now wait a minute,” said Steve, amused at her earnestness, “you speak with a good deal of authority, and I’m going to get personal, too. Is this wisdom from experience?”
She turned suddenly to the window, staring into the blackness beyond as he had done, her back toward him. For a moment she didn’t speak, and when she did her voice was quiet.
“The man I loved was killed on Iwo Jima.”
“Oh!” said Steve, remembering what he had read of the fury of that island – the beaches, the lava hills, and the stark heroism which still, after the years between, left its tragic scar across a nation. Now his prying question had sought it out where it lay quivering in a girl’s heart.
“Would you care to tell me about it?” he asked humbly.
She told him, and he had understanding for every word, for it was like living again the blinding beauty of his courtship with Ellen, the discovery of first love, the romance and the despair, the heartache and the heart joy.
“He was sensitive and tender, a musician and a poet,” she finished. “He had no business in a war. He was one of the first casualties. He would be.”
“You still love him,” Steve said, and she gave him his own answer.
“I’ll always love him. Someday, somewhere, I’ll see him again!”
“And now you love this Rex – this Dr. Harmon?”
“It is different – a different kind of love, because he is a different person; I am, too, for that matter. At first I felt as you do – that there was nothing left of me to give.”
“I didn’t say that,” marveled Steve, “but it was what I meant.”
“Rex knows about Adrian, and he doesn’t mind, so I am not robbing him. He doesn’t care about a hereafter, because he doesn’t believe in God, or any of the things I believe in.”
“That’s not a good basis for a marriage,” observed Steve, dismayed.
“Rex is brilliant, with a wonderful future. He saves many lives, and that should balance in some way his unbelief. I can help him.”
Steve shook, his head. “It sounds fine, but there’s something wrong about it. This is marriage you’re talking about.”
“Is there any chance of your getting that contract back? The one at Kettle Creek?” she asked, changing the subject abruptly, as she had once before, to avoid talking of her fiance.
The girl was uncanny, he thought. something like a nefarious plan had been crossing his mind all day. Now it took hold, sharpened by her words, and gripped him in spite of himself.
He was certainly as disappointed as J.T. must have been to lose that sale. It was a point of personal pride, as well as the money. More than that, it was his conviction that Pikes Peak had the best machinery for the Kettle Creek work – or for any work in mining for that matter. Making his living selling any other machinery seemed impossible to Steve. It was more than a job he had been fired from – it was his main interest in life, outside his family.
Perhaps he could still sell them the machinery! it would make a great deal of difference, even if he didn’t get his old job back, in lifting his feeling of guilt toward the company. Chances were that the Kettle Creek officials had not been advised of his dismissal, and would still accept him as J.T.’s representative.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Thorpe. I can’t seem to help interfering with your life.”
She had evidently mistaken his long silence for disapproval, and Steve leaped up in consternation, so suddenly he collided with her. his hands caught her shoulders to right her, and for a moment her face was quite close. he saw her then rally for the first time, as her sweetheart must have seen her, her clean freshness, even after a trying day, the sweet blue of her eyes, the sweet upturn of her lips. He felt a magnetism about her and resisted a sudden desire to kiss her.
“Is she all right to leave – Phyllis, I mean?” He was shocked to hear the normal tone of his own voice, when his hands still retained the feel of her shoulders, round under his palms.
‘I’m sure she is,” she replied smiling. “You can leave instructions for me to reach you in case of emergency, but I don’t expect one.”
To kiss Margaret Crain had been an impulse, but the vision of her mouth stayed with him, try as he might to think of to her things the next day on the way to Kettle Creek. maybe he was not at all the sort of person he thought himself to be, and his mother had been right after all.
“You’d better plan to remarry,” she had said after Ellen’s funeral, “when it’s decent, of course.”
“Mother, you may as well understand that I could never feel anything for anyone else, or love anyone but Ellen.”
“Stuff and nonsense!” his mother had replied. “You’ll see differently later on.”
Certainly he had never anticipated a desire to kiss another woman or such a thing as last night’s experience. It was more than that, however. Neither had he anticipated finding an intellectual companionship, the comfort and compatibility he already enjoyed with Margaret Crain, or to feel the agreement, the approval, and admiration of another personality such as hers. After last night’s conversation he detected hidden depths in her thinking that he longed to explore.
Well, whatever it was, such thinking would get him nowhere. It was another thing to put a clamp on, to pus away into the darkness, along with his loneliness for Ellen. From long practice, Steve knew exactly how it was to be done, and threw himself into the never-failing work.
When he presented himself at J.T.’s office three days later he was weary to the bone, but it was a good weariness, ribbed with a sad sort of triumph and a real regret at leaving Pikes Peak. he had put the quietus on a desire to go home first and tell Miss Crain about his success, and had driven straight to headquarters instead.
He needed some papers from his office and was half afraid to go there for fear it would be cleaned out and his successor already installed, but Miss Tate was in the outer chamber as always, and her nervous hands flew to her hair as always. He had meant to have her ring J.T., requesting an audience, but instead he went directly in without announcement.
“Tell Mr. Holden I am here,” he said to the surprised secretary.
At that instant the door to the inner sanctum opened and he met J.T. face to face. For a moment J.T. looked as the father must have looked on seeing his prodigal son arrive safely home, but he quickly controlled the expression on his rugged features.
“Come in,” he said, and retreated into his office, closing the door when Steve followed.
“Sir down,” he said, waving Steve to a chair.
“No thanks, J.T.,” Steve said, unloading his pockets onto the older man’s desk. “I just brought this in for a parting gift. It’s the Kettle Creek contract for a complete changeover to our – your machinery.”
He had the satisfaction of seeing J.T.’s jaw drop open, as incredulous delight spread over his features.
“How’d you manage this, boy?” J.T. boomed.
“It wasn’t easy,” Steve confessed. “I’ve never talked faster than I have these last three days. It was a hoax, too. Too bad you can’t fire me for it. I took a chance they didn’t know I’d been fired already, so now, if I can get a few of my personal belongings out of my office …”
“Sit down!” ordered J.T.
Steve sat, wondering what was to come next.
“I never had a son,” J.T. said hoarsely. “I never wanted one till I saw you. I’m an old man, Steve, and one day I’m going to die of one of my attacks. Then what will happen to Pikes Peak? I think of it night and day. You stay here – humor my bad temper in my old age a bit, boy, and I’ll leave you the business.”