The Deeper Melody
By Alice Morrey Bailey
Synopsis: Steven Thorpe, a widower with three small children, becomes interested in Margaret Crain, a registered nurse, who has taken care of his baby during an attack of pneumonia. Margaret’s mother, a widow, who has been acting as Steven’s housekeeper temporarily, decides to continue in this position until Margaret’s marriage to Dr. Rex Harmon. In the meantime, Margaret has accepted the position of night superintendent in the hospital, and Steven finds it impossible to see her. He has been made vice-president of the Pikes Peak Machinery Company, when his secretary, Miss Tate, invites him to the symphony.
“Oh, thank you,” Miss Tate murmured and hurried into an explanation of how she had come to have the tickets, quite by accident, she assured him fervently.
Steve was sorry he had been led into it, later, when it came to the actual going, but only a cad would wriggle out of it, and Steve did not look upon himself as a cad. Miss Tate looked smart and was tastefully dressed when he picked her up. She talked quite intelligently. She asked about the children, especially Phyllis. She knew a surprising amount of the details of his life. She must have been the one to type J.T.’s notes, Steve thought. She encouraged him to talk about himself and the children, saying she adored babies, and that sometime she would like to bring some gifts for his children.
He felt on edge with her, stiff and cool, but tried not to show it. After all, this was a situation largely of his own making. He had had no business considering her on familiar terms, even in his own mind. Thoughts were uncanny; they had a way of becoming realities. In this case, they had certainly been the edge of balance between saying no to Miss Tate and accepting her invitation.
The music was superb; it quickened a deadness in him, its flowing streams pouring into his emptiness. His life had been too busy and too complicated of late to include such things as a symphony. Even so, he did not remember its having had such an effect on him in the old days, an effect beyond enjoyment. Now, it seemed a new language, plumbing the depths of his emotions, the color, movement, and sound exploring his emotions – the sadness, the loneliness, and the pathos, ravelling out tired mysteries and answering old questions. It voiced his triumph and spoke his resolve. It was as if Margaret sat beside him – that all he had to do was to reach and touch her hand, as if the music were a language between them, a bond, a sesame, a key. It was in this hour that his love for her became full and real and undeniable.
“Do you know I’m here?” Miss Tate was asking, and her voice jarred him violently.
He came reluctantly back to reality – the reality of her, instead of Margaret, here beside him, the knowledge that Margaret would never share such an experience with him. There was a bitter taste in his mouth as they moved down the lobby.
Miss Tate was chattering along – the maestro’s timing had been a little ragged. Didn’t he think the flute wasn’t quite up to standard? Her voice sounded like tinkling brass beside the deeper melody of his love for Margaret. It stopped only when one of her friends, whom Steve recognized dimly and with dismay as one of the office force, rushed up to them.
“Oh, Miss Tate! I’m so glad you made it. Were the seats all right? I couldn’t get the ones you asked for, but I thought …”
Steve looked sharply at Miss Tate and caught her frantically signalling the girl to silence, her face a study in violence. He was so shocked by her expression that he didn’t remember for hours that she had said the tickets came to her by accident. At first it angered him, then amused him.
He told Mrs. Crain about it.
“Sounds like a trap to me,” was her summation.
“So long as it caught the right victim,” Steve laughed.
“It won’t be the last trap,” predicted Mrs. Crain. “A handsome young man like you is a natural prey for lonesome girls. If you don’t choose one yourself, one will choose you.”
“I’ll choose my own wife, thank you,” said Steve shortly.
A few nights later, when Steve had kissed the children good night, put on his slippers, and was settled with his paper, the doorbell rang, and there stood Miss Tate, her eyes sparkling, her arms laden with bundles.
“I just brought some little things for the children – the gifts I mentioned – you didn’t say I couldn’t – it is such fun – and I do hope they aren’t asleep!” she managed all in one breath.
Steve’s first reaction was of annoyance and distaste at having the children excited at their bedtime – having his secretary bringing gifts for them, but she was so excited there was nothing else to do but have Mrs. Crain bring them in.
The children clung to their father and eyed Miss Tate with round, unfriendly eyes until she lured them with her gifts, letting each one undo his own parcel. There were dresses of pink and blue crisp silk for the girls, a doll for each, with matching dresses. Davey had a toy train and some new cowboy boots. The latter he eyed solemnly, clutching the train.
“Other Mama doesn’t want me to wear those,” he pronounced, but fell to his knees and became a tooting, chugging train immediately.
Steve didn’t explain when Miss Tate was momentarily set back. The children were so ecstatic over the gifts that they quite forgot their diffidence of the strange lady and gathered around her, all chattering at once in their treble voices. She was on the floor with them, alternately showing Davey how to wind his train and pulling the little dresses of the girls into place. Steve had to admit she was charming, even pretty, with her hair shaken loose and the flush on her face. He was always misjudging the girl.
“Pretty dress,” said Ilene, her blue eyes shining, and Phyllis echoed, “Oh, pitty.”
Steve’s heart smote him, seeing their pleasure in the pretty dresses. He had seen to it that they had the necessary clothes for comfort, but it had been a long time, in fact never, that he had bought things for beauty for the little ones.
“I’m afraid you’ve opened my eyes to a new duty, Miss Tate. I had no idea they were old enough to know a pretty dress from a merely useful one.”
“How could you know, Steve, being a man? Only a woman knows how a little girl feels, I’m afraid.”
Steve felt a little shock at her use of his name, but quickly covered it. after all, Steve was his name, and there was no use being a stuffed shirt about it, especially after the girl had so unselfishly brought gifts to his children. Her words made him feel suddenly inadequate to brig up his little girls by himself. Goodness knows what mysterious benefits he would rob them of in the ignorance of his male point of view.
“I must go now,” she said at last. “Would you call a cab, Steve?”
Of course Steve couldn’t let her go home in a cab after such an errand, and, somehow, he had made a promise to accompany her to the theatre when he returned home that night.
Mrs. Crain mentioned Miss Tate at breakfast next morning.
“Yes, it was very thoughtful of her to bring gifts,” said Steve, spooning cereal into Phyllis’s mouth.
“Very nice,” agreed Mrs. Crain without conviction.
Steve wiped Phyllis’s chin with a napkin. “You don’t sound sincere,” he observed.
“Men!” Mrs. Crain exploded cryptically. “They don’t see through a thing!” She would say no more, except that she ought not to have said as much, it was none of her business, and that the gifts had surely delighted the children.
“How’s Margaret?” Steve asked, partly to change the subject, but mostly because he hadn’t seen any evidence of her having been here for days, and longing for word from her. He tried to sound casual.
“Fine!” said Mrs. Crain heartily.
“You still don’t,” said Steve.
“Don’t what?” Mrs. Crain countered.
“Sound sincere. Is something wrong?”
“I’ve had six children marry,” Mrs. Crain said. “I never made the choice for one of them, but sometimes it is hard to sit back and watch them make mistakes.”
“Look here! Is Margaret making a mistake? Doesn’t she love this fellow?” demanded Steve eagerly, too eagerly, he perceived.
“She loves him, all right, or she would see him differently. Nurses are trained to worship doctors – to jump up when one comes near, wait till one goes through a door first … It’s ‘Yes, Doctor, No, Doctor.’”
“Oh, they have to, at work, you know. Lives depend upon it – upon absolute and quick obedience of nurses to doctors, but …”
“I have wondered how much of it affects Margaret in her feeling for Dr. Harmon, and how much is real between them. I guess you could really put all this down as a mother’s case of jitters. It is just that tomorrow she is buying her wedding dress and it seems so …”
She stopped, for Steve had dropped his fork with a great clatter.
“… so final!”
“It does, indeed!” agreed Steve fervently, applying himself feverishly to stuffing food into the mouths of the children. For himself, he could not eat another bite, and found excuse to leave the table shortly.
Looking at it coldly, later, he realized that certainly she would be buying her wedding dress. Surely she loved Dr. Harmon, and, of course, there was nothing wrong with the man. Steve, deep in disappointment, wondered what he had expected – what he had wanted. Discovery that Dr. Harmon had impossible vices? Was a liar? A philanderer? Jealousy, Steve thought, could quickly undermine a man’s finer nature.
Jealousy had nothing to do with Steve’s love for Margaret, however, with the sinking sense of loss he had when he thought of her wedding, with the knife-edge of despair turning in his heart, thinking of her beyond his reach forever, once she was married. He tried to think of other things, to close the unhappy subject from his mind, but all across town, on his way to work, little snatches of conversation came vividly to his mind, little visions of her slim white figure moving through his house, of her cradling the little sick Phyllis, of Davey and Ilene trotting faithfully after her, arguing “My mama!” “No, my mama!” He thought of his own conversation with her, his strong desire for more to come – of the emotion that had shaken him at her presence, his sharp awareness whenever she entered a room. He remembered the day he had wanted to kiss her. Now he wished he had. He would at least have had that to remember.
Steve groaned. There was nothing whatever to be gained from such thinking, and nothing to do but what he had done before – work, and work hard. There was plenty waiting for him – plenty connected with his new position as vice-president of Pikes Peak. It was more than the work and routine involved. In giving him stock and making him vice-president, J.T. had by-passed some old and faithful employees. While there was nothing anyone could do about it, Steve knew that to many he was a newcomer who had to justify J.T.’s faith in him.
There was J.T. himself. Steve had occasion to think many times that everything had its price; nothing was free of payment. It only remained to choose the coin of payment. Grateful as he was for J.T.’s interest and generosity, and for the seeming fairy tale opening for him, he came to know what the old man meant when he said: “Humor me in my whims,” for J.T. was becoming more irascible every day. Steve had come to his new duties totally unprepared in many respects, and lacking in capacity in many ways for the job. He was trying hard to master each detail, but J.T. always seemed to be pushing him just a little beyond his ability. Steve took most of it gladly as a means of new growth, but the older man was not above reminding him that he was the beneficiary of J.T.’s bounty, and that was harder to take – sometimes seemed impossible.
“You’ve done a lot for me, and I appreciate it,” he told J.T. once, “but you haven’t bought me!”
“Now, now! Steve, calm down,” J.T. had shouted. “Can’t you let an old man have his joke?”
Steve wasn’t so easily appeased. “You still have your wits, J.T., and you don’t need to hide behind Father Time.”
To Steve’s dismay the intercom had been open, and report of the little interchange went all through the plant, or so Miss Tate reported, with mirth. Steve was upset about it, for he loved J.T. and all he stood for, but the men looked at him with deep respect after that. Very few of them dared to brave the old man’s roaring voice and belligerent attitude, although all of them knew his bigness of heart. The affair of the cable was a case in point. It was a lifting cable of one of the cranes – the only crane, in fact.
Steve noticed it weakening when he made his rounds. He mentioned it to J.T., saying they had better stop loading the orders of machinery onto the flat cars and replace it.
“You’re just like all new vice presidents, Steve – think money comes easy. Hang it all, we’ve only got one crane, and that order is a rush job.”
“Each of our men has only one life,” retorted Steve.
“That cable is still good as new,” argued J.T.
“It has to be changed,” Steve shot back.
“Look who’s giving orders,” shouted J.T. “Who do you think you are, the president?”
“I’m next thing to it,” Steve gave back.
“Sure that cable has to be changed,” said J.T. in a voice which was suddenly soft. “It’s going to be changed just as soon as this order is filled.”
Steve, feeling grateful for the compromise, not wanting to push J.T. too far, let it go for the present, although he kicked himself for spinelessness afterward. If a thing was dangerous, it was dangerous. Well, tomorrow was Saturday; the order would be finished and shipped. The first thing Steve would do Monday morning would be to have that cable changed.
To his relief, Saturday passed without mishap. Perhaps he had misjudged the danger. Saturday was also the night to take Miss Tate to the theatre. It was another fine experience. Steve had to admit Miss Tate had excellent taste, but again he wished for Margaret. In one moment of suspense Miss Tate’s hand sought his. She seemed almost unconscious of the act, but he had the impulse of withdrawal, however, he returned the pressure slightly.
It was a mistake, for when they went to the lobby for intermission she clung to him possessively, linking her arm in his, and Steve felt uncomfortable, that she was displaying him as her own. Not that it mattered. He was a stranger in a strange land, but as they turned to leave the lobby for their seats, they came face to face with Margaret and Dr. Harmon.