The Deeper Melody
By Alice Morrey Bailey
Synopsis: Steven Thorpe, a widower with three small children, is grateful to Margaret Crain, a registered nurse, for taking care of his baby during an attack of pneumonia. Margaret’s mother is acting temporarily as Steven’s housekeeper, while making plans for her daughter’s approaching marriage to Dr. Rex Harmon. In the meantime, Steven wins back the Kettle Creek contract and is reinstated in his job.
“Nonsense!” said Steve. “You’re just hysterical, J.T., on getting this contract. You don’t have to leave me the business to get me back into the company. I’d come under any condition.”
“I’m not hysterical, and this is no snap decision. I’ve been watching you for years, as well as a dozen other young men. Kettle Creek has been a sort of testing ground with me ever since I failed to sell them ten years ago. I knew then that the man who could would be a better man than I. Nobody has succeeded, but I was most disappointed when you failed.”
“Don’t give me too much credit for getting back up there and selling the contract. I was thinking about it, I’ll admit, but it seemed too crazy until Phyllis’s nurse got the same idea. She’s a pretty level sort of person, and …”
“Phyllis’s nurse? You think she’s wonderful, don’t you? Is she young? Is she pretty? Is she single?”
“All three,” laughed Steve.
“You’d better marry that girl. Don’t let her get away from you.”
“She’s engaged. She’s wearing a diamond as big as your fist.”
“Buy her a bigger one. Go to, and cut him out.”
“You surely must want me married, J.T. You’ve never seen the girl. You don’t know anything about her.”
“I know what you’ve told me about her – she got your baby well. She gave you the right kind of advice and support. I told you I’ve been watching you for years.” He broke off to go to his files and get a brochure.
To Steve’s astonishment, it contained nothing but information about him, his sales record, his marriage, the birth of his babies, Ellen’s death, the letters he had written the company when he was sales manager of a district near Craig – all of it was there.
“I was pretty sure about you a long time ago, Steve. I took a liking to you the first time I saw you, when you were the greenest salesman I had, just fresh out of college with a degree in business. It intrigued me that a fellow with your marks didn’t hit for at least a managership in some department store. Why did you do it, boy? I’ve always been curious.”
“It’s a long story, and it wasn’t snap judgment. I’m crazy about machinery. I worked in a mill when I went to college, and I was appalled at the waste of inefficient machinery – the world’s treasures spread out in sand dumps all over the world. That’s where Pikes Peak came in. Your machinery has the most perfect recovery of any. You have always been a hero to me, J.T., a sort of Horatio Alger of the machine world. Take a machine job that was impossible to anyone else and you could do it. Selling your machinery was more than a job with me. It was a crusade.”
“Then you wonder why I want you in this with me, Steve. It was inevitable that we should get together. But I want you to get married – to the right girl. Your wife was the right kind. I had the right kind of wife, or there would be no PPMM today; however, I never found the right one to take her place, so now I have no sons to carry on the business. And it is still a baby business. I want our own foundries, our own supply sources. I won’t live to see it, Steve, but it is something for you to shoot at.”
The partnership papers were being drawn up when Steve went home. He was alternately giddy with the thought of his new position and sobered by his sense of inadequacy for the responsibilities it would bring. It was a wonderful homecoming – the first in a long time not accompanied by fear and dread of what he would find. Davey and Ilene squealed their delight, both chattering all their day’s doings at once, and trotted after him to Phyllis’s room. Even Mrs. Crain left her biscuit making and brought up the rear. One glance at Phyllis crowned his day. She looked perfectly well.
When it came to Margaret he found it difficult to meet her eyes, in the light of his recent thoughts and J.T.’s forthright conversation. When at length he did, she was searching his face with question.
“Was it a good trip?” she asked.
“I feel like a conquering hero,” he confirmed.
She nodded. “You look like one. Kettle Creek came through all right, I take it.”
“Yes, and you are now gazing on a brand new PPMMC vice-president!”
His own flesh and blood could not have been more delighted. Mrs. Crain bustled to the kitchen to put party trimmings on an already superb dinner. Later he found opportunity to talk to Margaret.
“I haven’t the foggiest notion how to thank you,” he told her. “You are certainly my good angel. Except for you none of these miracles would have happened – Phyllis well, your mother making my home a delight, and now this – for you must know that one sentence of yours marked the turning point of my life.”
“What sentence was that?”
“The one about me getting back the Kettle Creek contract.”
“Nonsense! You were already thinking about it.”
“Yes,” admitted Steve, “but you motivated me to action.”
“It took more than that really to do it. I can see by your face how hard you’ve worked.”
Ah! That was what it took to put the crown on a victory! A few words of praise from the woman a man … But this was absurd! Steve had almost said – in his mind, to be sure – the word loves.
Steve took a firm grip on himself and looked the possibility squarely in the face. Grant that he could and did fall in love again, as everyone seemed to wish. Grant that he might fall in love with Miss Crain, what then? Certainly any man could love such a superb woman, but she wasn’t for just any man. She wasn’t for Steve, being, as she was, practically married to another man – a man from her own professional world, one who could understand and properly appreciate her, one who was entering marriage for the first time, to whom she would be first, to whom her children would be first. No! Whatever he felt it was certainly to be killed in the root. Steve knew that.
Killing it was another matter, with her in the house every minute he was home, across the table for breakfast and dinner, her translucent white cap winged above her fine blue eyes, her immaculate uniformed slimness moving about the room, trailed by the adoring Davey and Ilene, her arms lifting and cradling his little Phyllis. She was just through the wall when he slept, and wherever she was, night or day, he was increasingly aware of her presence.
It was a miracle to watch her with the other children, for she assumed the responsibility of them, as well as Phyllis. Small as they were, she regarded each as a person in his own right. She quickly established a health routine with them, showing them how to brush their teeth, and making a game of everything from naps to vitamins. She settled their baby arguments with a clear logic which satisfied them. It was interesting to watch her technique for keeping Phyllis in bed, for she was almost recovered.
“She’s not out of danger yet,” Steve would insist, and he really meant it. “Weak as she is, she could catch cold and start the whole thing over.”
At last, however, the inevitable could not be longer postponed. Phyllis was completely well, and there was no possible excuse for a registered nurse to stay on. The dreaded day arrived when the nurse and her mother were to take their leave. They tried in every way to prepare the little ones for the event, and every preparation was a failure.
“Davey’s going, too,” Davey announced, going to get his little suitcase, with Ilene following suit. Phyllis watched her nurse with mingled fear and apprehension dawning in her baby eyes, and clutched Margaret whenever she moved so much as a foot.
“You’ll have to pack for us both, Mother,” the nurse said. “Mr. Thorpe, this is going to be the hardest thing I ever tried to do.”
“I know,” said Steve over the lump in his throat, unable to say more. A woman was coming in the morning to take over – a woman Steve had employed because she seemed the best of those few he had to choose from. She was middle-aged and looked strong and had been coming to help for a day or so.
The Crains stood with their coats on, their luggage all ready. Steve was going to take the children along to drive them home. Just as they were going out the front door, the telephone rang.
It was for Miss Crain, the nurse’s registry calling. The conversation was quite long, and she was grave, listening, answering with a monosyllable or two. Once she said: “Well, you know I am getting married in June,” and later, “Dr. Harmon suggested you call me? Oh, then, of course I’ll come.”
Dr. Harmon, Margaret’s fiance, the object of Steve’s burning and jealous curiosity!
“They want me to be temporary night superintendent of the hospital,” she said. “Mother, what do you think of that?”
“It would give you shopping time in the day. There are some advantages, Margaret.”
“It isn’t exactly night work. It is three to eleven. I told them I’d take it. Rex suggested they call me, so it must fit his plans.”
Three to eleven! The only time Steve had free was in the evenings. There would not even be a possibility he could see Margaret again before her wedding. Steve’s heart plunged, but he recognized it was probably the best thing for him – hurt as it might to have her go.
“So Dr. Harmon is back?” he asked conversationally.
“Back?” queried Margaret. “Dr. Harmon hasn’t been away.”
“Oh,” said Steve, and stopped in confusion. “I thought – well, he hasn’t called you – to my knowledge – or come to see you.”
“It isn’t proper to see me on a case. Anyhow, he is a very busy man, and only sees me twice a week. A doctor has a very tight schedule, and must have his rest.”
Steve was silent, remembering his own courtship days. This Rex must indeed be a cold fish. Steve found he disliked him already, without having seen the paragon. And a girl like Margaret! What was the man made of? Margaret was calm about it, and seemed thoroughly awed by him. Except for that, Steve would certainly do as J.T. had suggested: “Try to cut the man out.”
Yes, it was better all round that Steve wouldn’t see her again.
“Daddy! Let’s go!” Davey shouted.
“The bad feature is that you will be alone all the time, Mother,” Margaret was saying. “They expect me to live in, but there is no provision for you.”
“That’s not a problem,” boomed Steve. “She can stay on here. I’ll have Mrs. Hall come in to do the heavy work, and she can concentrate on the children. How about it, Mrs. Crain?”
“I don’t see why not. I’m relieved at not having to leave these precious babies.”
So it was arranged. Mrs. Crain promptly became “Mama” to the children, and Margaret was “Other Mama.” As such she was still the final authority, for she called nearly every day. Steve could detect evidences of her in the conversation. “Other Mama says no!” from Ilene, or “Other Mama bought my shoes,” from Davey.
“Margaret says those cowboy boots you bought for Davey would ruin his feet in ten days. She bought him these special children’s shoes, and some gauntlet gloves to win the argument.”
“Tell her I’m grateful. I’ll reimburse her.”
“That will be fine. She doesn’t expect you to, but she does need all her money just now. Dr. Harmon offered her money to help buy the trousseau, but of course she refused!”
“Nobody ever needs to be ashamed of Margaret,” Steve said hotly.
“That’s what I think,” agreed Mrs. Crain.
Yes, it was good she was gone. Yet her absence sharpened, rather than lessened, the aching longing Steve had for her. Why couldn’t his emotions fasten onto someone more within reason of his reaching? Miss Tate, for instance? Steve felt sure she was inclined toward him, if only by the small, nervous gestures she made whenever he was near, the flustered patting of her hair that annoyed him so much. Was there anything wrong with her? She was probably a very nice girl, Steve thought, and she irritated him only because he was so sure that if he should say to her: “Miss Tate, will you marry me?” she would comply instantly.
All this, thought Steve, was just one more demonstration of his sudden aberration, brought on, no doubt, by the unaccustomed ease the Crains had brought to his household, the release from so much responsibility of the little ones, and influenced by the desire of so many people that he get married – first his mother – then J.T – and even Margaret herself.
Steve pulled himself up short. No doubt even Miss Tate would be derisive at his thoughts. He put his mind to more productive work, but the next day Miss Tate herself confirmed his opinion, at least in part. She had brought some letters in for him to sign, and waited unnecessarily long. When he looked up, she seemed to be frightened.
He was about to ask if she were ill, when she stammered that she had two tickets to the symphony, but no partner, and wondered if he would care to go with her. He didn’t care to, most definitely, but he could see his refusal would be embarrassingly painful to her. Besides, his curiosity had been roused by his musings.
“Why, that is very thoughtful of you, Miss Tate. Thank you.”