The Deeper Melody
By Alice Morrey Bailey
Margaret was waiting for Steve on the steps of the nurses’ home. He rushed up to her, gripped her elbows in his palms, and searched her face. Her eyes were enormous and brilliant in her chilled face. She looked near hysteria.
“Steve!” she said through stiff lips. “Steve, I’ve broken my engagement.”
Light splintered in Steve’s brain, but he held his physical reactions calm. He put her wordlessly into his car and headed for the mountains.
“Relax,” he told her quietly. “Don’t talk, but lean your head back and rest.”
She leaned her head against the cushions and closed her eyes, but her set features told Steve she was not relaxing, and she was not resting. He drove on, praying silently for the right words to say, the right things to do. When he had reached a point high above the valley, he turned the car into a sideway and switched of the engine. There was no sound there except the gentle sighing of the pines, and no light except the moon, which was shining full and bright.
He turned to Margaret.
“Tell me about it,” he commanded.
“It wasn’t just one thing, Steve,” she said without moving or opening her eyes. “It was many things – first the way I felt about him, and the way I felt about you. I said I felt guilty about that, but I thought it would come after we were married – the right feeling, I mean. And then you said admiration was not love.”
Her incoherent words made beautiful sense to Steve, but he refrained from pressing the questions that rushed in upon him. “Go on,” he said.
“It was finally the babies.”
“The babies?” queried Steve.
“Your babies – Phyllis and Ilene. The way they came to me last Saturday. We quarreled about it, and you know, Steve, a quarrel is sometimes a very good thing. Truth comes out in a quarrel. Rex doesn’t want children. He said he was never going to have any children, and I could jolly well make up my mind to that.”
“Could a man really mean a thing like that?” marvelled Steve.
“He meant it, all right. He said he had worked hard for his place in his profession, and no encumbrance of children was going to change his course. He said family responsibilities had wrecked his father’s career, forcing him into choices he did not want, and they were not going to wreck his. I could never change his ideas on that, or, in fact, anything else. I could see very clearly what my life would be. I would cease to be an individual. I could not even be a woman.”
“Thank fortune you saw it in time, darling,” Steve commented.
“Only, Steve! Why didn’t I see it before? Why did I have to wait until everything was so hopelessly involved?”
“It isn’t hopelessly involved.”
“It is! It is! All those invitations sent out, all those gifts that have come – the parties, the people, and the disgrace. I don’t mind for myself, but much as I disagree with Rex, how can I let him in for this? He is a prominent man, and there will be publicity and gossip. Especially when it was all my fault. He loathes publicity, and gossip might ruin him professionally.”
“You are excited, dear. This thing has built up in your mind. His friends will be secretly relieved at not having so much to do, the gossips will be delighted with a choice tidbit until another one comes along, and what they say will build up his practice, not wreck it. It will not be easy, dearest, but we’ll help you – your mother and I. Can you move from the nurses’ home tonight? I’ll put you in a hotel where no one can find you, and we’ll do the telephoning.”
She shook her head. “No. This is my music and I’ll have to face it,” she said, and Steve had to be content.
On the way back to the home Steve longed to explore what she had said about her feelings for him, but one glance at her face warned him she had taken the last ounce of emotion she could tolerate for one day, so he left her, full of worry for her, full of misgivings, at the steps where he had picked her up.
After he left her, however, the worries grew. By morning, if he knew Dr. Harmon, or any man, Steve reasoned, the fellow would have faced all these consequences and be willing to concede anything. He would be on the telephone or there to met her, promising her anything her heart desired. In the face of all that was built up, could she withstand the man?
He went directly to Mrs. Crain, awakened her, and told her what had happened. “Great day!” she exclaimed, but sobered on the next thought. “It’s going to be hard for her, Steve.”
“It is,” agreed Steve grimly. “I still think the hotel is a good idea. I’ll make a reservation and send you there with your things. Get her, Mother Crain, as soon as you can. Get her away from that hospital and handle everything from the hotel. For her sake, and for mine, guard her from that oversized sense of duty.”
The week that followed was the combined nightmare of anxiety and the heaven of seeing Margaret when he wished, of calling her several times a day, of taking her out every night, while her mother sat uncomplainingly with the children and aided and abetted his every plan.
He availed himself of all the messengers – flowers, books, and candy – that he had longed to use before, but in all that week he mentioned no word of his own love for her. It was more than concern for her; it was a point of pride. He did not want the company, even in her thinking, of the other man. He wanted her free and clear of Dr. Harmon before he brought his own love again to her attention. Rather, his messages were of gaiety, even nonsense.
“This is the night watchman making his rounds,” he would report.
“Steve, you’re insane,” she would say, but her laughter was music to his ears.
He took her to movies, quietly watching her face instead of the screen, to theatres, to dine and dance, and to the symphony to hear Jascha Heifetz. On the day she was to have been married he appeared at her hotel early in the morning and telephoned from the lobby.
“I’ll give you and your mother ten minutes to dress, my lady. the children are out in the car, complete with lunch basket. Today we are going to Cripple Creek.”
“Steve, I can’t,” she said miserably. He could tell she had been crying.
“I won’t take no for an answer. Either you come down, or I’ll come up.”
“Don’t you dare. I look a fright. Steve, you slave driver!”
She came, though, in twenty-five minutes, not ten, dressed in a plaid skirt and a white blouse, much bathed as to eyes, which were swollen in spite of it.
Mrs. Crain flashed Steve a secret look of misgiving and thanks. Steve ignored everything and loaded them in with high adventure.
“Have you ever been to Cripple Creek?” he asked them, and was glad they said no, because he felt he could rely on the magnificent Corley Mountain Highway to interest them.
Up and up they went, the road doubling back on itself in its sheer climb into grandeur. Steve was gratified to see color creep into Margaret’s cheeks, excitement into her eyes, as she caught her breath in the dark beauty of aspens and pines, of lakes mirrored far below, of vista on vista unrolled, of solitude and loveliness. This was a veritable paradise of crag, and forest, of glass-clear creeks and thundering cataracts. Steve had traveled it many times, but its beauty never failed to smite him anew. He felt a personal pride in showing it to Margaret and her mother. Even the little children watched the trees flash by in silent wonder.
They ate in a meadow two miles from Cripple Creek, beside a spring that bubbled out from between two rocks. A weather-browned log house, abandoned, sans doors and windows, stood at the edge of the forest. Margaret loved it.
“Oh, Steve! Look at it,” she cried. “I want that sweet little house. This is a paradise. Wouldn’t it be fun to live here?”
“It would, indeed,” agreed Steve, deciding then and there to investigate the possibility of buying it for a vacation home. One could have horses and pasture them in the lush meadow for long trips in the surrounding mountains. It ought not to cost a great deal. “I have never passed this spot without thinking the same thing!”
“It’s like a chapter from a Forty-niner tale,” she said of Cripple Creek. “Steve, I can’t believe it!”
It was picturesque, the old, shacky buildings mingled with the new of modern machinery, the steep streets, and the little church with the old-fashioned steeple just beyond the modern school and library.
As if to confirm Margaret’s observation, a burro, long-eared and slightly larger than a big dog, ambled out into the street and stopped in front of Steve’s car. He applied the brakes and was able to halt short of hitting it, and they waited while its small Mexican master, with high excitement, wildly expressive eyes, and vivid Latin invective, tried to pull the stubborn little animal off the street. It pulled back on the frayed rope around its neck, and sat upon its haunches.
The children shouted, Phyllis cried with fright, and Margaret and her mother laughed until they were weak. Several of the lad’s friends came running; Steve got out of the car, and with concerted effort they pulled and pushed the determined little beast from in front of the car.
Yes, it was a day to remember, and it accomplished its purpose. The women were relaxed on the way home and the children slept. Steve delivered Margaret and her mother back at the hotel weary to the bone, which was, this time, exactly as he wanted it.
“She’ll sleep tonight,” prophesied Mrs. Crain. “She hasn’t slept all week for thinking, and Dr. Harmon has pestered her every minute you haven’t.”
“She’s had quite a week then, between us,” said Steve contritely.
Nevertheless, sharing Cripple Creek and the Corley Mountain Highway was solid and good within him, and only a sample of all the thing she wanted to show her. He mentioned it to J.T. the next day.
“You took your best girl to Cripple Creek yesterday?” repeated J.T., swinging around to stare at him suspiciously. “Steve, are you still letting that secretary lead you around by the nose?”
“You jump at conclusions, J.T.,” complained Steve. “You remember the nurse I told you about?”
A broad grin spread over J.T.’s face. “You cut out her beau!” he guessed.
“He cut himself out,” Steve temporized. “She gave his ring back last week.”
“You don’t say!” remarked J.T. happily. “Have you popped the question yet?”
“You’re too inquisitive,” accused Steve, but went on, “I did that the day Sam was hurt. She turned me down.”
“Hm-m,” said J.T., wrinkling his brow in thought. Steve, a man in your position should buy a home.”
“I’m going to,” said Steve. “I’ve been looking for just the right thing. The place I’m in isn’t …”
“I know just the right place for you,” J.T. cut in. “A friend of mine built it a year ago. In fact, it isn’t finished, and it’s a bargain for twenty-three thousand.”
“Twenty-three thousand!” exclaimed Steve. “What’re you trying to do, J.T., line your friend’s pockets at my expense? Where would I get that kind of money – or even a down payment?”
“You’ve got to learn to think in bigger terms, boy,” said J.T. “As for the down payment, I’ve never given you the bonus on that Kettle Creek deal, and you’ve got it coming. You go see that house – and take the girl along with you.”
He told Margaret nothing except that he had a surprise for her. She looked uncommonly well and rested. Steve could hardly drive for looking at her. Her eyes were happy and her mouth at peace. Steve put his hand over hers which was lying in the seat between them. She jumped visibly and flushed with pleasure. “Are you as happy as you look today?”
Margaret sighed. “Perhaps I should tell you that Rex left this morning for Boston. He had an offer there he has wanted to take. Dr. Hanson wanted him in with him here. In fact, he was using the loan of his home as a little pressure point to swing Rex his way – letting us get married from there.”
“It is all finished, then? Are you sorry?”
“Sorry? No, Steve. No!”
It was Steve’s turn to sigh, with huge relief.
Margaret looked at him sharply. “It strikes me, Steve, that, in my selfishness this past week – and before, I have given you a bad time.”
“That you have, milady,” agreed Steve lightly, “but you’ve given me heaven, too.”
They had driven far out, toward the hills, and suddenly they were at the house. It was fabulous. “I can’t believe this is it,” said Steve.
“Believe it’s what?” queried Margaret. “You mystify me, Steve. Whose gorgeous place is this?”
“The place we’re going to buy,” said Steve, preoccupied with ringing the doorbell. When there was no answer he stepped back and compared the number with the address J.T. had given him. “It’s the one, all right. The key fits?!”
They swung wide the door and entered, looking around in unbelief at the beauty which greeted them. They went from room to room with little cries of delight, calling attention of each other to artistic touches or clever features. The builders had trapped spaciousness, sunlight, and mountain water with rare woods, gleaming chrome, and expert workmanship. Terraced down a sharp incline, it was raw and unfinished in some places, beautifully finished in others. They came at last to the picture window in the living room. It looked down upon a potential garden of black loam, sloping gently to a crystal brook, with natural, woods beyond. There was a small but complete orchard newly leafed, and space for vegetables. Here was space for growing legs to run, work for hands.
“Five bedrooms!” Margaret was saying, “and all that black soil! Steve, we can plant …”
She stopped short, lifting sweet, embarrassed eyes to Steve.
“You said it correctly, darling. We can plant.”
He took a step toward her. “”That kiss …” he began, thinking of the one in her office, the only one, but words were too slow.
“That kiss,” she finished for him when she could breathe again, “was the final argument.”