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. However, Margaret is engaged to Dr. Rex Harmon, and, as the time for her marriage approaches, Steven feels that he has little chance of winning her. In the meantime he has become unwillingly involved in a romance with Miss Tate, his secretary at the Pikes Peak Machinery Company. Margaret’s mother, a widow, who is temporarily acting as Steven’s housekeeper, tells him that she thinks he should declare his love for Margaret even though she is about to become the wife of Dr. Harmon. Accordingly, he seeks an opportunity and tells Margaret that he loves her.
“I love you, Margaret,” Steve repeated. His words were a pebble dropped into a pool of silence; her reaction to them like widening rings of light – the deep look of joy, the swift glad lift of her eyes, the radiance in her face, which brought Steve to his feet, his heart pounding mightily. Suddenly he was around the desk, and she was in his arms. Kissing her was a lost interval in time and space. Its moment, brief or long, was part of infinity, part of eternity. She was the first to pull away.
“Steve! Steve, it’s no use.”
“Margaret! I love you so much. Look at me, darling.”
“I can’t,” she said. “I’m on duty. I’m engaged to Dr. Harmon.”
Steve released her and stepped back. “I know that. I’ve thought of nothing else for weeks. Believe me, Margaret, I’d have come before if I’d thought I had either a right or a chance. You’ve drawn me like a magnet since the very first. I felt you were my own, made for me. I was sure long ago, but there was Dr. Harmon. There were my children. It seemed unfair to ask you to share such responsibility.”
“I’m trained to responsibility, Steve,” said Margaret. “Besides, I love the children – Davey, Ilene, and little Phyllis. I could take them for my own. In spite of me, I did take them for my own. I found myself planning for them as they grew. I couldn’t sleep, sometimes, thinking of them, feeling I was running out on them. That was why I shut myself off from them.”
“And their father?” prompted Steve. “Were you a little drawn to him?”
“Please, Steve,” she said, lifting miserable eyes to his. “I have felt guilty enough about that. I didn’t tell Rex, but I tried to make it up to him.”
Steve’s heart leaped. A million questions pressed his tongue. He leaned across the desk to her.
“You don’t love him. You love me!”
“What are you saying? He’s a wonderful man, and a genius in his field.”
“That is not love,” Steve began, and the telephone rang.
It was the dreaded interruption, an emergency. Before his eyes Margaret was transformed from an appealingly uncertain woman – all woman – to an alert nurse, full of authority and decision; from the circle of his arms, from being his own a moment ago, she receded from him rapidly, becoming remote in the urgency of her work. From this distance she spoke to him with finality.
“Steve, this is madness. The invitations are out – some gifts have already arrived. Dr. Hanson and his wife have loaned us their beautiful home for the reception. Everything is arranged. Of course I shall marry Dr. Harmon,” she said, and disappeared swiftly down the hall on her soundless nurse’s shoes.
Steve left the hospital with mixed feelings. Her answer had cut him sharply, left no opening, no possibility of continuance. His hope of changing it was balked by sheer lack of time, but the remembrance of her quick look of joy, her radiance, her tacit admission that she was emotionally drawn to him were warm knowledge. And that kiss! If she could deny that, she was less of a woman than he thought.
It was knowledge and memory that turned inevitably to pain, however, as the days followed. It was part of all the beauty he wanted to share with her, and could not, of the flowers that were on every hand, the flowers which were the usual messengers of a man’s love for a girl, which he could not send – lilacs, violets, roses coming to bud on the trellises in the May sunshine. There were other messengers – books, candy, letters. She had his message, straight and hard, and bare of embellishments. Bombarding her with pleadings now might be only an annoyance to her during the days which should be those of happy anticipation. They could, granting he were persistent enough, harry her into a confused and forced decision. Much as Steve wanted her, he told himself, he could bear no half measures. Certainly the next move was hers.
The week was a nightmare. Part of Steve worked furiously on the job, went through the motions at home, smiled at the correct time, said the right words, made the right moves. Part of him stood back and watched almost impersonally the holocaust seething within him. He must again assume his old responsibility for the little ones, which lately had been left mostly to Mrs. Crain. Eventually they would fill his time and his thoughts, and neither would be a loss, for, along with the worry over them and the compounded fears he had for them, they were a constant delight, a source of perpetual amazement to him, as well as heart-tugging pathos, as when they talked of their mother.
“Did my real mama die?” Davey asked one day.
“She went away,” Steve said.
“Did she go to heaven?”
“Yes, Davey. She’s waiting there for us. Some day we’ll go to her.”
“Ilene go to heaven Saturday,” Ilene put in brightly. Everything in the past was to her “last morning,” and everything in the future was “Saturday.” “Ilene go Saturday. See Ilene’s mama. Bring her home again.” She laughed and shook her curls in gamin delight, and Phyllis laughed, too, clapping her hands and wrinkling her small nose.
“Saturday I’ll take you all to the circus,” Steve promised to change the subject, his heart aching for the motherless little things. Perhaps a man should deliberately, and coldly, hunt a wife to fill such a hopeless gap in his family. Perhaps he was to be blamed for considering such fine points as his own emotions when his children were in such need. Perhaps he should try to overcome his aversion to Miss Tate, for when Margaret was gone what would anything matter? Yet he could not think of Miss Tate and Ellen in the same thought. With Margaret it was different. He felt that Ellen would approve of Margaret. In the early days of their marriage they had talked as all young couples do.
“If I should die,” she had said then, “I want you to marry again.”
He had laughed too loudly at the idea, because of the premonition that had darkened his heart, and had gripped her to him.
“You won’t die,” he had told her fiercely. “And if you do, you will always be my wife.”
Well, she was gone; but she was still his, and now, without loving her any the less, he also loved Margaret.
He was musing, Steve told himself, as if there was still hope for him with Margaret, as if his love had not been ill-fated from the start. If he had met her a few months earlier — if he had recognized instantly what she would come to mean to him – if her need of him had equaled his need of her (for that had always been the missing ingredient) – if – if – if her wedding was not a mere few days away.
Friday he worked through the noon hour, and Miss Tate brought him a roast beef sandwich and a half pint of milk when she returned from her lunch. It tasted good, as well as saving him precious time. Of course he told her as much, thanking her sincerely.
“Steve, you’ve looked so formidable the last few days I didn’t dare tell you I have tickets for the symphony.”
“You shouldn’t have done that, Miss Tate,” Steve said.
“But Jascha Heifitz is going to be guest artist, and I know you won’t want to miss it.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t go,” Steve told her. “I’m sure many others would be glad to share your tickets.”
“It is that girl – Miss Crain – that we met at the theatre,” observed Miss Tate quietly. “You love her, don’t you, Mr. Thorpe?”
Steve lifted surprised eyes to hers. “Yes, I do, Miss Tate. Very much.” A part of his mind noted her resumption of the use of his last name, and was pleased. “She was Phyllis’s nurse, you know.”
Steve could see his admission was a blow to her, even though she had expected it. He could see her thinking she had acted unwisely, and then grasped a straw of hope with a new thought.
“Didn’t she introduce that doctor as her fiance?”
“Yes,” admitted Steve, thinking suddenly that this was none of her affair. “I’m afraid it is Miss Crain, or no one, with me. It seems very probable it will be no one.”
“Oh,” said Miss Tate.
If Steve expected tears, as there had been once before, he was mistaken. Miss Tate lifted her head in a gallant gesture. “My boy friend is soon due out of the army,” she said. “And that is exactly how I feel about him.”
Steve knew she was not telling the truth, that she had no “boy friend,” but in that moment he felt sorry for her.
Later, when he went through her office, he noticed that her eyes were red from weeping, and that she was typing with exceeding vigor. She turned to the files quickly to hide her face, pretending to search for something.
“Good night, Mr. Thorpe,” she called after him, and her voice was light and impersonal.
Saturday he took the children to the circus, and they had everything – pink popcorn, balloons, the merry-go-round, and finally seats in the big tent for the three-ringed show. Steve was enjoying it doubly, seeing it through their ecstatic eyes.
They had left home in all the splendor of shining cleanliness, and in the beauty of their new clothes, but their activities thus far had altered the picture somewhat. Davey’s hands were sticky from popcorn, Phyllis had ice cream on her nose and chin, and Ilene had spilled her popsicle down her dress. Steve regarded these as natural calamities, which a bath and clean clothes would remedy, once they were home, until Davey shouted “Other Mama!” and was gone, Ilene scrambled after him toward a point above and behind them on the benches. Steve, wiping Phyllis’s face with his handkerchief, twisted to see.
Of course it was Margaret, and the whole picture was instantly readable. Dr. Harmon was with her, and between them sat a pale little fellow with crutches and braces. He was undoubtedly still a small patient at the hospital who had had a rough time. Obviously, Margaret had donated her afternoon off and Dr. Harmon’s time to showing him a good time. It was just as evident, from the cold distaste on Dr. Harmon’s mouth, that it was Margaret’s idea. Steve’s two had thrown themselves upon her with abandon, and her arms were about them both, crumpled clothes, wind-blown hair, and sticky fingers notwithstanding.
Steve leaped up to retrieve them, but Margaret shook her head vigorously. Steve noticed the white line of fury about Dr. Harmon’s mouth, and settled back wickedly to enjoy himself. For a man who did not seem to like children, Dr. Harmon was certainly in a distressing predicament!
Phyllis had seen Margaret, however, and stretched her arms toward her. Margaret moved the children, making room for Phyllis on her lap, and motioned Steve to bring her. He complied gleefully, watching Dr. Harmon all the while. This last was too much for that dignified gentleman. He rose, pale with anger.
“Margaret, let’s get out of here.” He didn’t bother to recognize Steve, or to be civil, but strode out, carrying the little boy. There was nothing for Margaret to do but follow. Steve’s heart smote him, and his mirth turned to bitterness, seeing the disappointed look on the little crippled boy’s face.
He and the children stayed, but Steve blamed himself for spoiling Margaret’s time. He went through all the motions for the sake of the children, but for him the day had lost its glory. Above his chagrin at having let his children embarrass Margaret in public, was the fact that he himself had precipitated what would obviously end in unpleasantness.
After the circus-weary children were bathed and in bed that night he sat in the silent semi-darkness of the living room and touched again the depths of despair. It was literally the end of what had been a heavenly interlude in the lives of himself and his children.
Actually, Mrs. Crain’s bags were packed and standing in the hall. Steve could see them from where he sat, and they were a dark blot on his consciousness. Mrs. Crain and Margaret were to be the guests of Dr. Harmon’s friend, Dr. Hanson, where the reception was to be held. In the next week there would be a round of teas and parties. In the morning Mrs. Crain would be gone; tonight was Margaret’s last duty at the hospital.
In an agony of despair and longing Steve could visualize her slender figure moving along the halls as the clock crept around past nine, beyond ten, to eleven. She would be off now, riding home with Dr. Harmon. Steve sat in the loneliness of his sleeping household while his mind went seeking her across town, his heart declaring his love for her in a wordless outpouring, and his mind compelling her to hear its message and to come to him. So intense were his feelings that the telephone bell, pealing out in the midnight quiet did not startle him, but was an answer to his command. He knew before he lifted the receiver that it was Margaret.
“Steve!” she said and there was pent up emotion in her cry.
“Margaret! Margaret, darling,” Steve answered in kind, and in the long silence which followed: “Dearest, what is it? What has happened?”
“Steve, I’m glad you, not Mother answered. I’ve done a most terrible thing. Nobody, not even she – nobody in this world will understand, nobody but you. Steve, I need you!”
“Hold on, sweetheart. I’ll be with you in five minutes,” cried Steve, and raced for his car.