The Deeper Melody
By Alice Morrey Bailey
Synopsis: Steven Thorpe, a widower with three small children, is in love with Margaret Crain, a registered nurse who has taken care of his baby during an attack of pneumonia. Margaret’s mother, a widow, is temporarily acting as Steven’s housekeeper, and Margaret has accepted the position of night superintendent at the hospital until her marriage to Dr. Rex Harmon. In the meantime Steven has been made vice-president of the Pikes Peak machinery Company and finds himself unwillingly accepting invitations from Miss Tate, his secretary. One night as Steven and Miss Tate are leaving the theatre they meet Margaret and Dr. Harmon.
Steve had never seen Margaret out of uniform before, and he noticed how stunning she was, a second before he recognized her. From looking coldly elegant beside her partner, she suddenly turned radiant when she saw Steve.
“Steve!” she said, “Steve Thorpe.”
Her greeting was so warm and friendly that her partner eyed him with suspicion, and he felt Miss Tate stiffen at his side. He introduced her to Margaret.
“Rex, this is Steve Thorpe, little Phyllis’s father.”
The two men shook hands civilly. Steve commented, “I thought you were on duty at this time of night,” and she answered: “My night off!”
That was all. Certainly it wasn’t enough to set free a strange hope in Steve’s heart – a hope that flew on stunted wings and floundered to impotence. All night long he argued with himself that her look of glad recognition was nothing more than the cordial greeting of a friend, and all night he was haunted by it. He admitted ruefully, to himself, that Dr. Harmon was a distinguished looking man, in a distinguished profession, and was a perfect compliment to her chic beauty.
“When is this wedding?” he asked Mrs. Crain next morning at breakfast.
“Yes, Margaret’s. Exactly what day?”
“It will be on a Monday – two weeks from tomorrow,” informed Mrs. Crain. “Hadn’t you better be doing something about replacing me?”
“I can’t replace you, Mother Crain,” said Steve. He should have been thinking of that, the effect on his children, when Mrs. Crain would be gone and he had to plunge into the nightmare of a new regime. Instead, he had been thinking of himself – with Margaret lost to him forever, and his heart lunged in panic at the few days left.
“The children haven’t taken to Mrs. Hall a bit, and I have only one more week with them, you know. Steve, you ought to get married.”
“So I’ve heard,” said Steve cryptically. “Any suggestions as to the victim?”
“That Miss Tate would marry you at the drop of a hat!”
“I don’t love Miss Tate, nor does she love me, for that matter.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you married her, or she married you. just the same,” said Mrs. Crain equably.
It stirred fury in Steve. “Mrs. Crain,” he said, “I have been advised a number of times to remarry. Each time my adviser has said the same as you say, you should remarry. Each has neglected to suggest that I fall in love again. I have always had an idea that two people should love each other, in order to marry. Perhaps I am old-fashioned or juvenile in my thinking. Perhaps I should be set straight on this.”
Mrs. Crain sat up and looked at Steve in surprise. “My land! You’re just as right as you can be, Steve. I know I would feel the same, even at my age, if I were considering getting married, but here I go advising you to just get married, without any feeling at all, just as a matter of convenience.” She put her chin in her hand, considering. “Still, I know literally hundreds of couples who are married who don’t really love each other,” she went on. “Some of them respect each other, though, and it seems to work out pretty well. Maybe you ought to think of that, Steve. You do need a wife – and your little ones need a mother. Maybe you will never love again, and …”
“I do love again, Mrs. Crain, and anything less is not good enough for me. I love your daughter. I love Margaret.”
“So you love Margaret,” Mrs. Crain said after a long moment. “I might have known.”
“You see how hopeless it is?”
“Does Margaret know this?”
“Certainly not. She has enough to think about, without me being a nuisance to her.”
“It is never a nuisance for a woman to know a man loves her.”
“You can’t be serious! At this late date? It was already too late when I met her. You know that.”
“I don’t know any such thing – but it will be in two more weeks.”
“What are you saying?” A pulse was thudding heavily in Steve. “What would Margaret say to all this?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said Mrs. Crain coolly. “But I think any girl has the right to choose between the men who love her.”
“Of course!” agreed Steve, directly hit by her logic. He went swiftly to the telephone and called Margaret. Her sleepy voice ran through his veins like an electric shock.
“I have to see you, Margaret.”
“Is anything wrong? Phyllis? Mother?”
“Everyone is fine. Could I come and see you right away?”
“Steve!” There was a long silence, then her voice came small and miserable. “I’m sorry. Dr. Harmon is free today. He’ll be here for me in half an hour.”
“This afternoon, then? Before you go on duty?”
“We’re going for a drive. We’ll not be back until barely time for me to get into my uniform.”
“How about tonight, when you come off duty?” Steve persisted.
“He’s picking me up then.”
“Is there any time when I can see you?”
“Saturday. It’s my day off …”
“This won’t wait until Saturday,” said Steve desperately.
“Can’t you tell me now, over the phone?” Margaret suggested. “Give me some idea what you have in mind.”
“It concerns you and me, Margaret, and I don’t want to discuss it over the telephone.”
“I think I’d better not see you – at all,” said Margaret, her voice suddenly weak.
“As you wish,” said Steve through stiff lips, and hung up, his hope deflated.
Why had her voice changed? Why had she not made some way for him to see her? Steve was sure she could have. Had she guessed his message? Of course she had, and certainly she wouldn’t want to see him. He was a fool to hope, anyway. What woman in her right mind would want a man with a family of children, the position of being a second wife?
Still, Steve himself had rather rosy prospects. Being vice-president of PPMC was no small thing, and J.T. had assured him that he would not only become its president, but its eventual owner. Nevertheless, Steve felt anything but secure. It depended solely upon him – if he could increase his capacity to cover all the responsibilities, and he was not sure he could. Some inward adversity seemed to dog him since he acquired his new status, some loss of self-assurance, and he wondered if the seeds of eventual failure were deep within him.
He studied, he worked, he went over old ledgers and old methods, crammed on facts about their clientele. He knew selling and business management all right, and had a pretty good knowledge of machinery, but he soon learned that the head of a company must know every man’s job almost better than he did himself. The company was staffed with experts, so Steve spent hours in each department, not sparing himself. Each morning he went forth determined to be fully adequate for the day’s requirements, but each night’s appraisal left much to be desired in his own opinion.
Some of it, he knew, stemmed from his domestic problem, fear and concern for his children, their rearing with hired help, and some of it, most surely, was a result of his frustrated love for Margaret, and of his shock in finding in himself the ability to love again, with the alternate fire and ice of hope and despair. Now, after this morning’s conversation with her, she seemed again completely beyond his reach.
The work into which he had resolved to plunge was there waiting for him when he arrived; the men had already started to load the heavy machinery of a new order onto the flatcars. Steve charged into J.T.’s office.
“I thought you said we’d change that cable before we started loading another order,” he said furiously.
“Steve, but do you realize this is the Kettle Creek machinery we’re loading – and it’s several weeks overdue now.”
“I don’t care whose machinery it is,” said Steve. “If you don’t give the order to stop it, I will.”
“You give it then,” said J.T. softly. “I wondered just how long before you would. I have been watching you, boy. You’ve been addled a lot of times when your mind should have been clear, and your stand firm. You’re still thinking in terms of a salesman. A word to the foreman the minute you saw that cable needed fixing, would have done it. In fact, he should have seen it and told you. I was beginning to be a mite disappointed in the future head of the company.”
“You mean you were baiting me all along?” Steve demanded hotly. “And if so, why do it when men’s lives are in danger?”
“You don’t test a man in extremity without an extremity,” said J.T.
“You old walrus!” Steve took time to say before he went down the ramp to stop the crane.
It was too late, for even as he lifted his arm to signal, the cable broke, plunging a roll-crusher sickeningly between the flat car and the dolly. Fortunately for Sam Dillon, who was directly underneath, the edge of the car broke the fall, or he would have been killed instantly. As it was his upper thigh was struck.
The men were organized in safety, and it was only a few amazing seconds until an ambulance was there and Sam was on the way to the hospital. Steve ran for his car and followed.
The day was a nightmare of waiting outside Sam’s door, breaking the news to Sam’s wife, comforting her, waiting outside the operating room while Sam was in surgery, but Sam finally woke up from the anesthesia to give him a wavery grin.
“The doctor says you’re going to be all right, guy,” he said. “We’ll take care of the family, so don’t worry.”
Then Steve decided he wouldn’t leave because an accident had brought him to Margaret’s hospital, and at three o’clock she would be on duty somewhere within it. He was going to see her whether she wished him to or not. He curbed himself to wait until three-twenty so that any business might be cleared away, then he sought the main floor and the door marked “superintendent of Nurses.”
She was at her desk, and, miraculously alone. She looked up from her work and joy flooded her face.
“Steve!” she said, rising and putting an impulsive hand out to him, a hand which Steve tried not to crush. “Steve, how nice to see you.” He saw her remember that morning’s conversation, and then flush.
“It is good,” said Steve, searching her face. It was as he remembered it, the clean line of her jaw, the wide, clear brown brows beneath the white wing of her cap, the smooth skin and the sweet upturn of her mouth. Light from a nearby window made her eyes seem a translucent blue, her teeth translucent pearl, when she smiled, and touched a satin patch on one cheek where Steve longed to kiss. “It was very good — so good that I had to see you again. Have you forgotten us?”
“Oh, no, not forgotten. I think of you a great deal – and the babies, but I thought it best for me and for the children – and for you, Steve, for me not to come again.”
Oh! So she had guessed, just as he thought, and was trying to discourage his romantic intentions. Well, it was too late for that. “I can’t forget you, Margaret. My house is haunted by you. I have to talk to you. Right now.”
“I’m on duty, Steve,” she hedged. “The hospital rules …”
“I have to break down a barrier somewhere. It might as well be hospital rules!”
For answer she picked up the telephone. “Don’t disturb me except for an emergency,” she told the operator. She went over and closed her door, drew up a chair for Steve, and resumed her seat behind her desk.
“Now,” she said, “go ahead.”
Steve was suddenly disconcerted. Now that he had his way, he was overwhelmed with doubts. This was not the time nor the place to tell Margaret his love. It was certainly not the circumstances he wanted. He had imagined hours of conversation preceding his declaration. If he must blurt it out in these sterile surroundings, this clinical atmosphere, what little chance it had would come to nothing.
On the other hand, if all her free time was devoted to Dr. Harmon, and she was avoiding him, and would not see him voluntarily, this moment loomed up as his single opportunity. This most important moment of his life was threatened every moment with interruption, threatened by this fear which paralyzed his tongue. J.T.’s words came starkly to him, “… you have been addled a lot of times when your mind should have been clear.” There came to him a deep truth, the race is already lost to the timid, the doubtful, the ones lacking in faith.
Margaret was watching him, and he realized he had been gazing at her while he thought. He took a deep breath and straightened in his chair, acting a courage which he did not feel.
“I came to tell you that I love you,” he said. “I want you to be my wife.”