Book II, Chapter 1
The time is February. The place is a large, dainty bedroom in the Connage house on Sixty-eighth Street, New York. A girl's room: pink walls and curtains and a pink bedspread on a cream-colored bed. Pink and cream are the motifs of the room, but the only article of furniture in full view is a luxurious dressing-table with a glass top and a three-sided mirror. On the walls there is an expensive print of "Cherry Ripe," a few polite dogs by Landseer, and the "King of the Black Isles," by Maxfield Parrish.
Great disorder consisting of the following items: (1) seven or eight empty cardboard boxes, with tissue-paper tongues hanging panting from their mouths; (2) an assortment of street dresses mingled with their sisters of the evening, all upon the table, all evidently new; (3) a roll of tulle, which has lost its dignity and wound itself tortuously around everything in sight, and (4) upon the two small chairs, a collection of lingerie that beggars description. One would enjoy seeing the bill called forth by the finery displayed and one is possessed by a desire to see the princess for whose benefit—Look! There's some one! Disappointment! This is only a maid hunting for something—she lifts a heap from a chair—Not there; another heap, the dressing-table, the chiffonier drawers. She brings to light several beautiful chemises and an amazing pajama but this does not satisfy her—she goes out.
An indistinguishable mumble from the next room.
Now, we are getting warm. This is Alec's mother, Mrs. Connage, ample, dignified, rouged to the dowager point and quite worn out. Her lips move significantly as she looks for IT. Her search is less thorough than the maid's but there is a touch of fury in it, that quite makes up for its sketchiness. She stumbles on the tulle and her "damn" is quite audible. She retires, empty-handed.
More chatter outside and a girl's voice, a very spoiled voice, says: "Of all the stupid people—"
After a pause a third seeker enters, not she of the spoiled voice, but a younger edition. This is Cecelia Connage, sixteen, pretty, shrewd, and constitutionally good-humored. She is dressed for the evening in a gown the obvious simplicity of which probably bores her. She goes to the nearest pile, selects a small pink garment and holds it up appraisingly.
ROSALIND: (Outside) Yes!
CECELIA: Very snappy?
CECELIA: I've got it!
(She sees herself in the mirror of the dressing-table and commences to shimmy enthusiastically.)
ROSALIND: (Outside) What are you doing—trying it on?
(CECELIA ceases and goes out carrying the garment at the right shoulder.
From the other door, enters ALEC CONNAGE. He looks around quickly and in a huge voice shouts: Mama! There is a chorus of protest from next door and encouraged he starts toward it, but is repelled by another chorus.)
ALEC: So that's where you all are! Amory Blaine is here.
CECELIA: (Quickly) Take him down-stairs.
ALEC: Oh, he is down-stairs.
MRS. CONNAGE: Well, you can show him where his room is. Tell him I'm sorry that I can't meet him now.
ALEC: He's heard a lot about you all. I wish you'd hurry. Father's telling him all about the war and he's restless. He's sort of temperamental.
(This last suffices to draw CECELIA into the room.)
CECELIA: (Seating herself high upon lingerie) How do you mean—temperamental? You used to say that about him in letters.
ALEC: Oh, he writes stuff.
CECELIA: Does he play the piano?
ALEC: Don't think so.
CECELIA: (Speculatively) Drink?
ALEC: Yes—nothing queer about him.
ALEC: Good Lord—ask him, he used to have a lot, and he's got some income now.
(MRS. CONNAGE appears.)
MRS. CONNAGE: Alec, of course we're glad to have any friend of yours—
ALEC: You certainly ought to meet Amory.
MRS. CONNAGE: Of course, I want to. But I think it's so childish of you to leave a perfectly good home to go and live with two other boys in some impossible apartment. I hope it isn't in order that you can all drink as much as you want. (She pauses.) He'll be a little neglected to-night. This is Rosalind's week, you see. When a girl comes out, she needs all the attention.
ROSALIND: (Outside) Well, then, prove it by coming here and hooking me.
(MRS. CONNAGE goes.)
ALEC: Rosalind hasn't changed a bit.
CECELIA: (In a lower tone) She's awfully spoiled.
ALEC: She'll meet her match to-night.
CECELIA: Who—Mr. Amory Blaine?
CECELIA: Well, Rosalind has still to meet the man she can't outdistance. Honestly, Alec, she treats men terribly. She abuses them and cuts them and breaks dates with them and yawns in their faces—and they come back for more.
ALEC: They love it.
CECELIA: They hate it. She's a—she's a sort of vampire, I think—and she can make girls do what she wants usually—only she hates girls.
ALEC: Personality runs in our family.
CECELIA: (Resignedly) I guess it ran out before it got to me.
ALEC: Does Rosalind behave herself?
CECELIA: Not particularly well. Oh, she's average—smokes sometimes, drinks punch, frequently kissed—Oh, yes—common knowledge—one of the effects of the war, you know.
(Emerges MRS. CONNAGE.)
MRS. CONNAGE: Rosalind's almost finished so I can go down and meet your friend.
(ALEC and his mother go out.)
ROSALIND: (Outside) Oh, mother—
CECELIA: Mother's gone down.
(And now ROSALIND enters. ROSALIND is—utterly ROSALIND. She is one of those girls who need never make the slightest effort to have men fall in love with them. Two types of men seldom do: dull men are usually afraid of her cleverness and intellectual men are usually afraid of her beauty. All others are hers by natural prerogative.
If ROSALIND could be spoiled the process would have been complete by this time, and as a matter of fact, her disposition is not all it should be; she wants what she wants when she wants it and she is prone to make every one around her pretty miserable when she doesn't get it—but in the true sense she is not spoiled. Her fresh enthusiasm, her will to grow and learn, her endless faith in the inexhaustibility of romance, her courage and fundamental honesty—these things are not spoiled.
There are long periods when she cordially loathes her whole family. She is quite unprincipled; her philosophy is carpe diem for herself and laissez faire for others. She loves shocking stories: she has that coarse streak that usually goes with natures that are both fine and big. She wants people to like her, but if they do not it never worries her or changes her. She is by no means a model character.
The education of all beautiful women is the knowledge of men. ROSALIND had been disappointed in man after man as individuals, but she had great faith in man as a sex. Women she detested. They represented qualities that she felt and despised in herself—incipient meanness, conceit, cowardice, and petty dishonesty. She once told a roomful of her mother's friends that the only excuse for women was the necessity for a disturbing element among men. She danced exceptionally well, drew cleverly but hastily, and had a startling facility with words, which she used only in love-letters.
But all criticism of ROSALIND ends in her beauty. There was that shade of glorious yellow hair, the desire to imitate which supports the dye industry. There was the eternal kissable mouth, small, slightly sensual, and utterly disturbing. There were gray eyes and an unimpeachable skin with two spots of vanishing color. She was slender and athletic, without underdevelopment, and it was a delight to watch her move about a room, walk along a street, swing a golf club, or turn a "cartwheel."
A last qualification—her vivid, instant personality escaped that conscious, theatrical quality that AMORY had found in ISABELLE. MONSIGNOR DARCY would have been quite up a tree whether to call her a personality or a personage. She was perhaps the delicious, inexpressible, once-in-a-century blend.
On the night of her debut she is, for all her strange, stray wisdom, quite like a happy little girl. Her mother's maid has just done her hair, but she has decided impatiently that she can do a better job herself. She is too nervous just now to stay in one place. To that we owe her presence in this littered room. She is going to speak. ISABELLE'S alto tones had been like a violin, but if you could hear ROSALIND, you would say her voice was musical as a waterfall.)
ROSALIND: Honestly, there are only two costumes in the world that I really enjoy being in—(Combing her hair at the dressing-table.) One's a hoop skirt with pantaloons; the other's a one-piece bathing-suit. I'm quite charming in both of them.
CECELIA: Glad you're coming out?
ROSALIND: Yes; aren't you?
CECELIA: (Cynically) You're glad so you can get married and live on Long Island with the fast younger married set. You want life to be a chain of flirtation with a man for every link.
ROSALIND: Want it to be one! You mean I've found it one.
ROSALIND: Cecelia, darling, you don't know what a trial it is to be—like me. I've got to keep my face like steel in the street to keep men from winking at me. If I laugh hard from a front row in the theatre, the comedian plays to me for the rest of the evening. If I drop my voice, my eyes, my handkerchief at a dance, my partner calls me up on the 'phone every day for a week.
CECELIA: It must be an awful strain.
ROSALIND: The unfortunate part is that the only men who interest me at all are the totally ineligible ones. Now—if I were poor I'd go on the stage.
CECELIA: Yes, you might as well get paid for the amount of acting you do.
ROSALIND: Sometimes when I've felt particularly radiant I've thought, why should this be wasted on one man?
CECELIA: Often when you're particularly sulky, I've wondered why it should all be wasted on just one family. (Getting up.) I think I'll go down and meet Mr. Amory Blaine. I like temperamental men.
ROSALIND: There aren't any. Men don't know how to be really angry or really happy—and the ones that do, go to pieces.
CECELIA: Well, I'm glad I don't have all your worries. I'm engaged.
ROSALIND: (With a scornful smile) Engaged? Why, you little lunatic! If mother heard you talking like that she'd send you off to boarding-school, where you belong.
CECELIA: You won't tell her, though, because I know things I could tell—and you're too selfish!
ROSALIND: (A little annoyed) Run along, little girl! Who are you engaged to, the iceman? the man that keeps the candy-store?
CECELIA: Cheap wit—good-by, darling, I'll see you later.
ROSALIND: Oh, be sure and do that—you're such a help.
(Exit CECELIA. ROSALIND finished her hair and rises, humming. She goes up to the mirror and starts to dance in front of it on the soft carpet. She watches not her feet, but her eyes—never casually but always intently, even when she smiles. The door suddenly opens and then slams behind AMORY, very cool and handsome as usual. He melts into instant confusion.)
HE: Oh, I'm sorry. I thought—
SHE: (Smiling radiantly) Oh, you're Amory Blaine, aren't you?
HE: (Regarding her closely) And you're Rosalind?
SHE: I'm going to call you Amory—oh, come in—it's all right—mother'll be right in—(under her breath) unfortunately.
HE: (Gazing around) This is sort of a new wrinkle for me.
SHE: This is No Man's Land.
HE: This is where you—you—(pause)
SHE: Yes—all those things. (She crosses to the bureau.) See, here's my rouge—eye pencils.
HE: I didn't know you were that way.
SHE: What did you expect?
HE: I thought you'd be sort of—sort of—sexless, you know, swim and play golf.
SHE: Oh, I do—but not in business hours.
SHE: Six to two—strictly.
HE: I'd like to have some stock in the corporation.
SHE: Oh, it's not a corporation—it's just "Rosalind, Unlimited." Fifty-one shares, name, good-will, and everything goes at $25,000 a year.
HE: (Disapprovingly) Sort of a chilly proposition.
SHE: Well, Amory, you don't mind—do you? When I meet a man that doesn't bore me to death after two weeks, perhaps it'll be different.
HE: Odd, you have the same point of view on men that I have on women.
SHE: I'm not really feminine, you know—in my mind.
HE: (Interested) Go on.
SHE: No, you—you go on—you've made me talk about myself. That's against the rules.
SHE: My own rules—but you—Oh, Amory, I hear you're brilliant. The family expects so much of you.
HE: How encouraging!
SHE: Alec said you'd taught him to think. Did you? I didn't believe any one could.
HE: No. I'm really quite dull.
(He evidently doesn't intend this to be taken seriously.)
HE: I'm—I'm religious—I'm literary. I've—I've even written poems.
SHE: Vers libre—splendid! (She declaims.)
"The trees are green, The birds are singing in the trees, The girl sips her poison The bird flies away the girl dies."
HE: (Laughing) No, not that kind.
SHE: (Suddenly) I like you.
SHE: Modest too—
HE: I'm afraid of you. I'm always afraid of a girl—until I've kissed her.
SHE: (Emphatically) My dear boy, the war is over.
HE: So I'll always be afraid of you.
SHE: (Rather sadly) I suppose you will.
(A slight hesitation on both their parts.)
HE: (After due consideration) Listen. This is a frightful thing to ask.
SHE: (Knowing what's coming) After five minutes.
HE: But will you—kiss me? Or are you afraid?
SHE: I'm never afraid—but your reasons are so poor.
HE: Rosalind, I really want to kiss you.
SHE: So do I.
(They kiss—definitely and thoroughly.)
HE: (After a breathless second) Well, is your curiosity satisfied?
SHE: Is yours?
HE: No, it's only aroused.
(He looks it.)
SHE: (Dreamily) I've kissed dozens of men. I suppose I'll kiss dozens more.
HE: (Abstractedly) Yes, I suppose you could—like that.
SHE: Most people like the way I kiss.
HE: (Remembering himself) Good Lord, yes. Kiss me once more, Rosalind.
SHE: No—my curiosity is generally satisfied at one.
HE: (Discouraged) Is that a rule?
SHE: I make rules to fit the cases.
HE: You and I are somewhat alike—except that I'm years older in experience.
SHE: How old are you?
HE: Almost twenty-three. You?
HE: I suppose you're the product of a fashionable school.
SHE: No—I'm fairly raw material. I was expelled from Spence—I've forgotten why.
HE: What's your general trend?
SHE: Oh, I'm bright, quite selfish, emotional when aroused, fond of admiration—
HE: (Suddenly) I don't want to fall in love with you—
SHE: (Raising her eyebrows) Nobody asked you to.
HE: (Continuing coldly) But I probably will. I love your mouth.
SHE: Hush! Please don't fall in love with my mouth—hair, eyes, shoulders, slippers—but not my mouth. Everybody falls in love with my mouth.
HE: It's quite beautiful.
SHE: It's too small.
HE: No it isn't—let's see.
(He kisses her again with the same thoroughness.)
SHE: (Rather moved) Say something sweet.
HE: (Frightened) Lord help me.
SHE: (Drawing away) Well, don't—if it's so hard.
HE: Shall we pretend? So soon?
SHE: We haven't the same standards of time as other people.
HE: Already it's—other people.
SHE: Let's pretend.
HE: No—I can't—it's sentiment.
SHE: You're not sentimental?
HE: No, I'm romantic—a sentimental person thinks things will last—a romantic person hopes against hope that they won't. Sentiment is emotional.
SHE: And you're not? (With her eyes half-closed.) You probably flatter yourself that that's a superior attitude.
HE: Well—Rosalind, Rosalind, don't argue—kiss me again.
SHE: (Quite chilly now) No—I have no desire to kiss you.
HE: (Openly taken aback) You wanted to kiss me a minute ago.
SHE: This is now.
HE: I'd better go.
SHE: I suppose so.
(He goes toward the door.)
SHE: (Laughing) Score—Home Team: One hundred—Opponents: Zero.
(He starts back.)
SHE: (Quickly) Rain—no game.
(He goes out.)
(She goes quietly to the chiffonier, takes out a cigarette-case and hides it in the side drawer of a desk. Her mother enters, note-book in hand.)
MRS. CONNAGE: Good—I've been wanting to speak to you alone before we go down-stairs.
ROSALIND: Heavens! you frighten me!
MRS. CONNAGE: Rosalind, you've been a very expensive proposition.
ROSALIND: (Resignedly) Yes.
MRS. CONNAGE: And you know your father hasn't what he once had.
ROSALIND: (Making a wry face) Oh, please don't talk about money.
MRS. CONNAGE: You can't do anything without it. This is our last year in this house—and unless things change Cecelia won't have the advantages you've had.
ROSALIND: (Impatiently) Well—what is it?
MRS. CONNAGE: So I ask you to please mind me in several things I've put down in my note-book. The first one is: don't disappear with young men. There may be a time when it's valuable, but at present I want you on the dance-floor where I can find you. There are certain men I want to have you meet and I don't like finding you in some corner of the conservatory exchanging silliness with any one—or listening to it.
ROSALIND: (Sarcastically) Yes, listening to it is better.
MRS. CONNAGE: And don't waste a lot of time with the college set—little boys nineteen and twenty years old. I don't mind a prom or a football game, but staying away from advantageous parties to eat in little cafes down-town with Tom, Dick, and Harry—
ROSALIND: (Offering her code, which is, in its way, quite as high as her mother's) Mother, it's done—you can't run everything now the way you did in the early nineties.
MRS. CONNAGE: (Paying no attention) There are several bachelor friends of your father's that I want you to meet to-night—youngish men.
ROSALIND: (Nodding wisely) About forty-five?
MRS. CONNAGE: (Sharply) Why not?
ROSALIND: Oh, quite all right—they know life and are so adorably tired looking (shakes her head)—but they will dance.
MRS. CONNAGE: I haven't met Mr. Blaine—but I don't think you'll care for him. He doesn't sound like a money-maker.
ROSALIND: Mother, I never think about money.
MRS. CONNAGE: You never keep it long enough to think about it.
ROSALIND: (Sighs) Yes, I suppose some day I'll marry a ton of it—out of sheer boredom.
MRS. CONNAGE: (Referring to note-book) I had a wire from Hartford. Dawson Ryder is coming up. Now there's a young man I like, and he's floating in money. It seems to me that since you seem tired of Howard Gillespie you might give Mr. Ryder some encouragement. This is the third time he's been up in a month.
ROSALIND: How did you know I was tired of Howard Gillespie?
MRS. CONNAGE: The poor boy looks so miserable every time he comes.
ROSALIND: That was one of those romantic, pre-battle affairs. They're all wrong.
MRS. CONNAGE: (Her say said) At any rate, make us proud of you to-night.
ROSALIND: Don't you think I'm beautiful?
MRS. CONNAGE: You know you are.
(From down-stairs is heard the moan of a violin being tuned, the roll of a drum. MRS. CONNAGE turns quickly to her daughter.)
MRS. CONNAGE: Come!
ROSALIND: One minute!
(Her mother leaves. ROSALIND goes to the glass where she gazes at herself with great satisfaction. She kisses her hand and touches her mirrored mouth with it. Then she turns out the lights and leaves the room. Silence for a moment. A few chords from the piano, the discreet patter of faint drums, the rustle of new silk, all blend on the staircase outside and drift in through the partly opened door. Bundled figures pass in the lighted hall. The laughter heard below becomes doubled and multiplied. Then some one comes in, closes the door, and switches on the lights. It is CECELIA. She goes to the chiffonier, looks in the drawers, hesitates—then to the desk whence she takes the cigarette-case and extracts one. She lights it and then, puffing and blowing, walks toward the mirror.)
CECELIA: (In tremendously sophisticated accents) Oh, yes, coming out is such a farce nowadays, you know. One really plays around so much before one is seventeen, that it's positively anticlimax. (Shaking hands with a visionary middle-aged nobleman.) Yes, your grace—I b'lieve I've heard my sister speak of you. Have a puff—they're very good. They're—they're Coronas. You don't smoke? What a pity! The king doesn't allow it, I suppose. Yes, I'll dance.
(So she dances around the room to a tune from down-stairs, her arms outstretched to an imaginary partner, the cigarette waving in her hand.)
SEVERAL HOURS LATER
The corner of a den down-stairs, filled by a very comfortable leather lounge. A small light is on each side above, and in the middle, over the couch hangs a painting of a very old, very dignified gentleman, period 1860. Outside the music is heard in a fox-trot.
ROSALIND is seated on the lounge and on her left is HOWARD GILLESPIE, a vapid youth of about twenty-four. He is obviously very unhappy, and she is quite bored.
GILLESPIE: (Feebly) What do you mean I've changed. I feel the same toward you.
ROSALIND: But you don't look the same to me.
GILLESPIE: Three weeks ago you used to say that you liked me because I was so blasé, so indifferent—I still am.
ROSALIND: But not about me. I used to like you because you had brown eyes and thin legs.
GILLESPIE: (Helplessly) They're still thin and brown. You're a vampire, that's all.
ROSALIND: The only thing I know about vamping is what's on the piano score. What confuses men is that I'm perfectly natural. I used to think you were never jealous. Now you follow me with your eyes wherever I go.
GILLESPIE: I love you.
ROSALIND: (Coldly) I know it.
GILLESPIE: And you haven't kissed me for two weeks. I had an idea that after a girl was kissed she was—was—won.
ROSALIND: Those days are over. I have to be won all over again every time you see me.
GILLESPIE: Are you serious?
ROSALIND: About as usual. There used to be two kinds of kisses: First when girls were kissed and deserted; second, when they were engaged. Now there's a third kind, where the man is kissed and deserted. If Mr. Jones of the nineties bragged he'd kissed a girl, every one knew he was through with her. If Mr. Jones of 1919 brags the same every one knows it's because he can't kiss her any more. Given a decent start any girl can beat a man nowadays.
GILLESPIE: Then why do you play with men?
ROSALIND: (Leaning forward confidentially) For that first moment, when he's interested. There is a moment—Oh, just before the first kiss, a whispered word—something that makes it worth while.
GILLESPIE: And then?
ROSALIND: Then after that you make him talk about himself. Pretty soon he thinks of nothing but being alone with you—he sulks, he won't fight, he doesn't want to play—Victory!
(Enter DAWSON RYDER, twenty-six, handsome, wealthy, faithful to his own, a bore perhaps, but steady and sure of success.)
RYDER: I believe this is my dance, Rosalind.
ROSALIND: Well, Dawson, so you recognize me. Now I know I haven't got too much paint on. Mr. Ryder, this is Mr. Gillespie.
(They shake hands and GILLESPIE leaves, tremendously downcast.)
RYDER: Your party is certainly a success.
ROSALIND: Is it—I haven't seen it lately. I'm weary—Do you mind sitting out a minute?
RYDER: Mind—I'm delighted. You know I loathe this "rushing" idea. See a girl yesterday, to-day, to-morrow.
ROSALIND: I wonder if you know you love me.
RYDER: (Startled) What—Oh—you know you're remarkable!
ROSALIND: Because you know I'm an awful proposition. Any one who marries me will have his hands full. I'm mean—mighty mean.
RYDER: Oh, I wouldn't say that.
ROSALIND: Oh, yes, I am—especially to the people nearest to me. (She rises.) Come, let's go. I've changed my mind and I want to dance. Mother is probably having a fit.
(Exeunt. Enter ALEC and CECELIA.)
CECELIA: Just my luck to get my own brother for an intermission.
ALEC: (Gloomily) I'll go if you want me to.
CECELIA: Good heavens, no—with whom would I begin the next dance? (Sighs.) There's no color in a dance since the French officers went back.
ALEC: (Thoughtfully) I don't want Amory to fall in love with Rosalind.
CECELIA: Why, I had an idea that that was just what you did want.
ALEC: I did, but since seeing these girls—I don't know. I'm awfully attached to Amory. He's sensitive and I don't want him to break his heart over somebody who doesn't care about him.
CECELIA: He's very good looking.
ALEC: (Still thoughtfully) She won't marry him, but a girl doesn't have to marry a man to break his heart.
CECELIA: What does it? I wish I knew the secret.
ALEC: Why, you cold-blooded little kitty. It's lucky for some that the Lord gave you a pug nose.
(Enter MRS. CONNAGE.)
MRS. CONNAGE: Where on earth is Rosalind?
ALEC: (Brilliantly) Of course you've come to the best people to find out. She'd naturally be with us.
MRS. CONNAGE: Her father has marshalled eight bachelor millionaires to meet her.
ALEC: You might form a squad and march through the halls.
MRS. CONNAGE: I'm perfectly serious—for all I know she may be at the Cocoanut Grove with some football player on the night of her debut. You look left and I'll—
ALEC: (Flippantly) Hadn't you better send the butler through the cellar?
MRS. CONNAGE: (Perfectly serious) Oh, you don't think she'd be there?
CECELIA: He's only joking, mother.
ALEC: Mother had a picture of her tapping a keg of beer with some high hurdler.
MRS. CONNAGE: Let's look right away.
(They go out. ROSALIND comes in with GILLESPIE.)
GILLESPIE: Rosalind—Once more I ask you. Don't you care a blessed thing about me?
(AMORY walks in briskly.)
AMORY: My dance.
ROSALIND: Mr. Gillespie, this is Mr. Blaine.
GILLESPIE: I've met Mr. Blaine. From Lake Geneva, aren't you?
GILLESPIE: (Desperately) I've been there. It's in the—the Middle West, isn't it?
AMORY: (Spicily) Approximately. But I always felt that I'd rather be provincial hot-tamale than soup without seasoning.
AMORY: Oh, no offense.
(GILLESPIE bows and leaves.)
ROSALIND: He's too much people.
AMORY: I was in love with a people once.
AMORY: Oh, yes—her name was Isabelle—nothing at all to her except what I read into her.
ROSALIND: What happened?
AMORY: Finally I convinced her that she was smarter than I was—then she threw me over. Said I was critical and impractical, you know.
ROSALIND: What do you mean impractical?
AMORY: Oh—drive a car, but can't change a tire.
ROSALIND: What are you going to do?
AMORY: Can't say—run for President, write—
ROSALIND: Greenwich Village?
AMORY: Good heavens, no—I said write—not drink.
ROSALIND: I like business men. Clever men are usually so homely.
AMORY: I feel as if I'd known you for ages.
ROSALIND: Oh, are you going to commence the "pyramid" story?
AMORY: No—I was going to make it French. I was Louis XIV and you were one of my—my—(Changing his tone.) Suppose—we fell in love.
ROSALIND: I've suggested pretending.
AMORY: If we did it would be very big.
AMORY: Because selfish people are in a way terribly capable of great loves.
ROSALIND: (Turning her lips up) Pretend.
(Very deliberately they kiss.)
AMORY: I can't say sweet things. But you are beautiful.
ROSALIND: Not that.
AMORY: What then?
ROSALIND: (Sadly) Oh, nothing—only I want sentiment, real sentiment—and I never find it.
AMORY: I never find anything else in the world—and I loathe it.
ROSALIND: It's so hard to find a male to gratify one's artistic taste.
(Some one has opened a door and the music of a waltz surges into the room. ROSALIND rises.)
ROSALIND: Listen! they're playing "Kiss Me Again."
(He looks at her.)
AMORY: (Softly—the battle lost) I love you.
ROSALIND: I love you—now.
AMORY: Oh, God, what have I done?
ROSALIND: Nothing. Oh, don't talk. Kiss me again.
AMORY: I don't know why or how, but I love you—from the moment I saw you.
ROSALIND: Me too—I—I—oh, to-night's to-night.
(Her brother strolls in, starts and then in a loud voice says: "Oh, excuse me," and goes.)
ROSALIND: (Her lips scarcely stirring) Don't let me go—I don't care who knows what I do.
AMORY: Say it!
ROSALIND: I love you—now. (They part.) Oh—I am very youthful, thank God—and rather beautiful, thank God—and happy, thank God, thank God—(She pauses and then, in an odd burst of prophecy, adds) Poor Amory!
(He kisses her again.)
Within two weeks Amory and Rosalind were deeply and passionately in love. The critical qualities which had spoiled for each of them a dozen romances were dulled by the great wave of emotion that washed over them.
"It may be an insane love-affair," she told her anxious mother, "but it's not inane."
The wave swept Amory into an advertising agency early in March, where he alternated between astonishing bursts of rather exceptional work and wild dreams of becoming suddenly rich and touring Italy with Rosalind.
They were together constantly, for lunch, for dinner, and nearly every evening—always in a sort of breathless hush, as if they feared that any minute the spell would break and drop them out of this paradise of rose and flame. But the spell became a trance, seemed to increase from day to day; they began to talk of marrying in July—in June. All life was transmitted into terms of their love, all experience, all desires, all ambitions, were nullified—their senses of humor crawled into corners to sleep; their former love-affairs seemed faintly laughable and scarcely regretted juvenalia.
For the second time in his life Amory had had a complete bouleversement and was hurrying into line with his generation.
A LITTLE INTERLUDE
Amory wandered slowly up the avenue and thought of the night as inevitably his—the pageantry and carnival of rich dusk and dim streets ... it seemed that he had closed the book of fading harmonies at last and stepped into the sensuous vibrant walks of life. Everywhere these countless lights, this promise of a night of streets and singing—he moved in a half-dream through the crowd as if expecting to meet Rosalind hurrying toward him with eager feet from every corner.... How the unforgettable faces of dusk would blend to her, the myriad footsteps, a thousand overtures, would blend to her footsteps; and there would be more drunkenness than wine in the softness of her eyes on his. Even his dreams now were faint violins drifting like summer sounds upon the summer air.
The room was in darkness except for the faint glow of Tom's cigarette where he lounged by the open window. As the door shut behind him, Amory stood a moment with his back against it.
"Hello, Benvenuto Blaine. How went the advertising business to-day?"
Amory sprawled on a couch.
"I loathed it as usual!" The momentary vision of the bustling agency was displaced quickly by another picture.
"My God! She's wonderful!"
"I can't tell you," repeated Amory, "just how wonderful she is. I don't want you to know. I don't want any one to know."
Another sigh came from the window—quite a resigned sigh.
"She's life and hope and happiness, my whole world now."
He felt the quiver of a tear on his eyelid.
"Oh, Golly, Tom!"
"Sit like we do," she whispered.
He sat in the big chair and held out his arms so that she could nestle inside them.
"I knew you'd come to-night," she said softly, "like summer, just when I needed you most... darling... darling..."
His lips moved lazily over her face.
"You taste so good," he sighed.
"How do you mean, lover?"
"Oh, just sweet, just sweet..." he held her closer.
"Amory," she whispered, "when you're ready for me I'll marry you."
"We won't have much at first."
"Don't!" she cried. "It hurts when you reproach yourself for what you can't give me. I've got your precious self—and that's enough for me."
"You know, don't you? Oh, you know."
"Yes, but I want to hear you say it."
"I love you, Amory, with all my heart."
"Always, will you?"
"All my life—Oh, Amory—"
"I want to belong to you. I want your people to be my people. I want to have your babies."
"But I haven't any people."
"Don't laugh at me, Amory. Just kiss me."
"I'll do what you want," he said.
"No, I'll do what you want. We're you—not me. Oh, you're so much a part, so much all of me..."
He closed his eyes.
"I'm so happy that I'm frightened. Wouldn't it be awful if this was—was the high point?..."
She looked at him dreamily.
"Beauty and love pass, I know.... Oh, there's sadness, too. I suppose all great happiness is a little sad. Beauty means the scent of roses and then the death of roses—"
"Beauty means the agony of sacrifice and the end of agony...."
"And, Amory, we're beautiful, I know. I'm sure God loves us—"
"He loves you. You're his most precious possession."
"I'm not his, I'm yours. Amory, I belong to you. For the first time I regret all the other kisses; now I know how much a kiss can mean."
Then they would smoke and he would tell her about his day at the office—and where they might live. Sometimes, when he was particularly loquacious, she went to sleep in his arms, but he loved that Rosalind—all Rosalinds—as he had never in the world loved any one else. Intangibly fleeting, unrememberable hours.
One day Amory and Howard Gillespie meeting by accident down-town took lunch together, and Amory heard a story that delighted him. Gillespie after several cocktails was in a talkative mood; he began by telling Amory that he was sure Rosalind was slightly eccentric.
He had gone with her on a swimming party up in Westchester County, and some one mentioned that Annette Kellerman had been there one day on a visit and had dived from the top of a rickety, thirty-foot summer-house. Immediately Rosalind insisted that Howard should climb up with her to see what it looked like.
A minute later, as he sat and dangled his feet on the edge, a form shot by him; Rosalind, her arms spread in a beautiful swan dive, had sailed through the air into the clear water.
"Of course I had to go, after that—and I nearly killed myself. I thought I was pretty good to even try it. Nobody else in the party tried it. Well, afterward Rosalind had the nerve to ask me why I stooped over when I dove. 'It didn't make it any easier,' she said, 'it just took all the courage out of it.' I ask you, what can a man do with a girl like that? Unnecessary, I call it."
Gillespie failed to understand why Amory was smiling delightedly all through lunch. He thought perhaps he was one of these hollow optimists.
FIVE WEEKS LATER
Again the library of the Connage house. ROSALIND is alone, sitting on the lounge staring very moodily and unhappily at nothing. She has changed perceptibly—she is a trifle thinner for one thing; the light in her eyes is not so bright; she looks easily a year older.
Her mother comes in, muffled in an opera-cloak. She takes in ROSALIND with a nervous glance.
MRS. CONNAGE: Who is coming to-night?
(ROSALIND fails to hear her, at least takes no notice.)
MRS. CONNAGE: Alec is coming up to take me to this Barrie play, "Et tu, Brutus." (She perceives that she is talking to herself.) Rosalind! I asked you who is coming to-night?
ROSALIND: (Starting) Oh—what—oh—Amory—
MRS. CONNAGE: (Sarcastically) You have so many admirers lately that I couldn't imagine which one. (ROSALIND doesn't answer.) Dawson Ryder is more patient than I thought he'd be. You haven't given him an evening this week.
ROSALIND: (With a very weary expression that is quite new to her face.) Mother—please—
MRS. CONNAGE: Oh, I won't interfere. You've already wasted over two months on a theoretical genius who hasn't a penny to his name, but go ahead, waste your life on him. I won't interfere.
ROSALIND: (As if repeating a tiresome lesson) You know he has a little income—and you know he's earning thirty-five dollars a week in advertising—
MRS. CONNAGE: And it wouldn't buy your clothes. (She pauses but ROSALIND makes no reply.) I have your best interests at heart when I tell you not to take a step you'll spend your days regretting. It's not as if your father could help you. Things have been hard for him lately and he's an old man. You'd be dependent absolutely on a dreamer, a nice, well-born boy, but a dreamer—merely clever. (She implies that this quality in itself is rather vicious.)
ROSALIND: For heaven's sake, mother—
(A maid appears, announces Mr. Blaine who follows immediately. AMORY'S friends have been telling him for ten days that he "looks like the wrath of God," and he does. As a matter of fact he has not been able to eat a mouthful in the last thirty-six hours.)
AMORY: Good evening, Mrs. Connage.
MRS. CONNAGE: (Not unkindly) Good evening, Amory.
(AMORY and ROSALIND exchange glances—and ALEC comes in. ALEC'S attitude throughout has been neutral. He believes in his heart that the marriage would make AMORY mediocre and ROSALIND miserable, but he feels a great sympathy for both of them.)
ALEC: Hi, Amory!
AMORY: Hi, Alec! Tom said he'd meet you at the theatre.
ALEC: Yeah, just saw him. How's the advertising to-day? Write some brilliant copy?
AMORY: Oh, it's about the same. I got a raise—(Every one looks at him rather eagerly)—of two dollars a week. (General collapse.)
MRS. CONNAGE: Come, Alec, I hear the car.
(A good night, rather chilly in sections. After MRS. CONNAGE and ALEC go out there is a pause. ROSALIND still stares moodily at the fireplace. AMORY goes to her and puts his arm around her.)
AMORY: Darling girl.
(They kiss. Another pause and then she seizes his hand, covers it with kisses and holds it to her breast.)
ROSALIND: (Sadly) I love your hands, more than anything. I see them often when you're away from me—so tired; I know every line of them. Dear hands!
(Their eyes meet for a second and then she begins to cry—a tearless sobbing.)
ROSALIND: Oh, we're so darned pitiful!
ROSALIND: Oh, I want to die!
AMORY: Rosalind, another night of this and I'll go to pieces. You've been this way four days now. You've got to be more encouraging or I can't work or eat or sleep. (He looks around helplessly as if searching for new words to clothe an old, shopworn phrase.) We'll have to make a start. I like having to make a start together. (His forced hopefulness fades as he sees her unresponsive.) What's the matter? (He gets up suddenly and starts to pace the floor.) It's Dawson Ryder, that's what it is. He's been working on your nerves. You've been with him every afternoon for a week. People come and tell me they've seen you together, and I have to smile and nod and pretend it hasn't the slightest significance for me. And you won't tell me anything as it develops.
ROSALIND: Amory, if you don't sit down I'll scream.
AMORY: (Sitting down suddenly beside her) Oh, Lord.
ROSALIND: (Taking his hand gently) You know I love you, don't you?
ROSALIND: You know I'll always love you—
AMORY: Don't talk that way; you frighten me. It sounds as if we weren't going to have each other. (She cries a little and rising from the couch goes to the armchair.) I've felt all afternoon that things were worse. I nearly went wild down at the office—couldn't write a line. Tell me everything.
ROSALIND: There's nothing to tell, I say. I'm just nervous.
AMORY: Rosalind, you're playing with the idea of marrying Dawson Ryder.
ROSALIND: (After a pause) He's been asking me to all day.
AMORY: Well, he's got his nerve!
ROSALIND: (After another pause) I like him.
AMORY: Don't say that. It hurts me.
ROSALIND: Don't be a silly idiot. You know you're the only man I've ever loved, ever will love.
AMORY: (Quickly) Rosalind, let's get married—next week.
ROSALIND: We can't.
AMORY: Why not?
ROSALIND: Oh, we can't. I'd be your squaw—in some horrible place.
AMORY: We'll have two hundred and seventy-five dollars a month all told.
ROSALIND: Darling, I don't even do my own hair, usually.
AMORY: I'll do it for you.
ROSALIND: (Between a laugh and a sob) Thanks.
AMORY: Rosalind, you can't be thinking of marrying some one else. Tell me! You leave me in the dark. I can help you fight it out if you'll only tell me.
ROSALIND: It's just—us. We're pitiful, that's all. The very qualities I love you for are the ones that will always make you a failure.
AMORY: (Grimly) Go on.
ROSALIND: Oh—it is Dawson Ryder. He's so reliable, I almost feel that he'd be a—a background.
AMORY: You don't love him.
ROSALIND: I know, but I respect him, and he's a good man and a strong one.
AMORY: (Grudgingly) Yes—he's that.
ROSALIND: Well—here's one little thing. There was a little poor boy we met in Rye Tuesday afternoon—and, oh, Dawson took him on his lap and talked to him and promised him an Indian suit—and next day he remembered and bought it—and, oh, it was so sweet and I couldn't help thinking he'd be so nice to—to our children—take care of them—and I wouldn't have to worry.
AMORY: (In despair) Rosalind! Rosalind!
ROSALIND: (With a faint roguishness) Don't look so consciously suffering.
AMORY: What power we have of hurting each other!
ROSALIND: (Commencing to sob again) It's been so perfect—you and I. So like a dream that I'd longed for and never thought I'd find. The first real unselfishness I've ever felt in my life. And I can't see it fade out in a colorless atmosphere!
AMORY: It won't—it won't!
ROSALIND: I'd rather keep it as a beautiful memory—tucked away in my heart.
AMORY: Yes, women can do that—but not men. I'd remember always, not the beauty of it while it lasted, but just the bitterness, the long bitterness.
AMORY: All the years never to see you, never to kiss you, just a gate shut and barred—you don't dare be my wife.
ROSALIND: No—no—I'm taking the hardest course, the strongest course. Marrying you would be a failure and I never fail—if you don't stop walking up and down I'll scream!
(Again he sinks despairingly onto the lounge.)
AMORY: Come over here and kiss me.
AMORY: Don't you want to kiss me?
ROSALIND: To-night I want you to love me calmly and coolly.
AMORY: The beginning of the end.
ROSALIND: (With a burst of insight) Amory, you're young. I'm young. People excuse us now for our poses and vanities, for treating people like Sancho and yet getting away with it. They excuse us now. But you've got a lot of knocks coming to you—
AMORY: And you're afraid to take them with me.
ROSALIND: No, not that. There was a poem I read somewhere—you'll say Ella Wheeler Wilcox and laugh—but listen:
"For this is wisdom—to love and live, To take what fate or the gods may give, To ask no question, to make no prayer, To kiss the lips and caress the hair, Speed passion's ebb as we greet its flow, To have and to hold, and, in time—let go."
AMORY: But we haven't had.
ROSALIND: Amory, I'm yours—you know it. There have been times in the last month I'd have been completely yours if you'd said so. But I can't marry you and ruin both our lives.
AMORY: We've got to take our chance for happiness.
ROSALIND: Dawson says I'd learn to love him.
(AMORY with his head sunk in his hands does not move. The life seems suddenly gone out of him.)
ROSALIND: Lover! Lover! I can't do with you, and I can't imagine life without you.
AMORY: Rosalind, we're on each other's nerves. It's just that we're both high-strung, and this week—
(His voice is curiously old. She crosses to him and taking his face in her hands, kisses him.)
ROSALIND: I can't, Amory. I can't be shut away from the trees and flowers, cooped up in a little flat, waiting for you. You'd hate me in a narrow atmosphere. I'd make you hate me.
(Again she is blinded by sudden uncontrolled tears.)
ROSALIND: Oh, darling, go—Don't make it harder! I can't stand it—
AMORY: (His face drawn, his voice strained) Do you know what you're saying? Do you mean forever?
(There is a difference somehow in the quality of their suffering.)
ROSALIND: Can't you see—
AMORY: I'm afraid I can't if you love me. You're afraid of taking two years' knocks with me.
ROSALIND: I wouldn't be the Rosalind you love.
AMORY: (A little hysterically) I can't give you up! I can't, that's all! I've got to have you!
ROSALIND: (A hard note in her voice) You're being a baby now.
AMORY: (Wildly) I don't care! You're spoiling our lives!
ROSALIND: I'm doing the wise thing, the only thing.
AMORY: Are you going to marry Dawson Ryder?
ROSALIND: Oh, don't ask me. You know I'm old in some ways—in others—well, I'm just a little girl. I like sunshine and pretty things and cheerfulness—and I dread responsibility. I don't want to think about pots and kitchens and brooms. I want to worry whether my legs will get slick and brown when I swim in the summer.
AMORY: And you love me.
ROSALIND: That's just why it has to end. Drifting hurts too much. We can't have any more scenes like this.
(She draws his ring from her finger and hands it to him. Their eyes blind again with tears.)
AMORY: (His lips against her wet cheek) Don't! Keep it, please—oh, don't break my heart!
(She presses the ring softly into his hand.)
ROSALIND: (Brokenly) You'd better go.
(She looks at him once more, with infinite longing, infinite sadness.)
ROSALIND: Don't ever forget me, Amory—
(He goes to the door, fumbles for the knob, finds it—she sees him throw back his head—and he is gone. Gone—she half starts from the lounge and then sinks forward on her face into the pillows.)
ROSALIND: Oh, God, I want to die! (After a moment she rises and with her eyes closed feels her way to the door. Then she turns and looks once more at the room. Here they had sat and dreamed: that tray she had so often filled with matches for him; that shade that they had discreetly lowered one long Sunday afternoon. Misty-eyed she stands and remembers; she speaks aloud.) Oh, Amory, what have I done to you?
(And deep under the aching sadness that will pass in time, Rosalind feels that she has lost something, she knows not what, she knows not why.)