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THE BACK OF THE BOOK 


The Back of the Book 


By Margaret Leech 

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“Answers to the problems will be found 
in the bach of the booh.” 

Preface to an old arithmetic. 



BONI and LIVERIGHT 

PUBLISHERS :: :: NEW YORK 








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THEBACKOFTHEBOOK 


CHAPTER I 

i 

In a crisp, beneficent hush of falling snow, Vergie 
Stilson was walking westward across Central Park. 
Dimly about her, with an aspect of lonely winter 
landscape, rose the miniature slopes which next day 
the children’s sleds would wear smooth; and through 
the whitened dusk, which was like a dotted veil 
before her face, she saw the shapes of buildings, 
huge and yellow-eyed. 

An hour ago she had felt the weariness of her 
long day at the office, but a cup of tea by the fire 
in Harriet’s living room had refreshed her; and she 
moved elastically over the thickly powdered walks 
of the park, which recalled winter roads in Hills¬ 
dale, where her childhood had been spent. Her mind 
was quick with swirling thoughts. Sometimes she 
spoke a few words aloud, inhaling sharply the frosty 
air, which was clotted with crystals of snow. 

A dancing energy in her brain made magical the 
snow, the lighted buildings, her vagrant memories; 
9 


10 


The Baclc of the Book 


transformed and irradiated them. She felt a power 
to see through things, behind things, to apprehend a 
significance latent in objects and ideas, which seemed 
clarified, like a substance, apparently opaque, be¬ 
hind which a light has been set. And among the 
other things, she saw herself most clearly. She had 
a secret cult of herself, of her moods and reactions 
and interests. Tonight, once more, in her solitary 
mind its incense ascended. 

Yet all the while that she walked with springing, 
jubilant strides and thoughts which whirled and 
eddied like the snowflakes, there was an impatience 
which pricked, without impairing, her exhilaration. 
It was associated, this impatience, with the irksome 
routine of the day just past and the domestic dinner 
table which lay ahead. Vergie’s life, judged by ex¬ 
ternals, wasn't exciting, transmuted as it—as all 
living—seemed at that moment. She was in the habit 
of graceful submission to its humdrum course, less 
because of complacency than arrogance. These years 
she recognized as a preliminary to the greater things; 
and she had endured their passing without disquiet, 
as an explorer, shortly bound for perilous exploits, 
might relish the monotony of an evening by the 
fireside. 

When she had left college, her education formally 
accomplished, Vergie had expected to find the greater 
things almost at once. She had set out, very con¬ 
fidently, after them. But, so far, there had been 



The Bach of the Booh 


11 


no discoveries worthy of the name. At twenty-eight 
Vergie was still awaiting them. Her expectancy, her 
conviction of the unusual fate reserved for her, per¬ 
sisted; yet twenty-eight years leave an imprint on 
the most buoyant temperament. Vergie was begin¬ 
ning to suspect that there might be something ridic¬ 
ulous in regarding one’s self indefinitely as a person 
of brilliant promise. 

It was possible that, on this particular evening, 
Harriet had had a share in intensifying her impa¬ 
tience. Harriet was so complacent over her home, 
her husband. Well, getting married was easy enough, 
some corner of Vergie’s mind reasoned. She might 
have married—lots of times. She had been very 
close to marrying Roger; fortunately she had real¬ 
ized in time what a mistake their marriage would 
have been. But she was far from unattractive, 
Vergie reassured herself. She wasn’t beautiful, but 
she was pretty enough to make up for the fact that 
she was clever. Her face had an amusing triangular 
shape, wide of brow, piquant of chin. It could turn 
naughty and mocking; it could be large-eyed and 
demure, when the occasion demanded. 

Odd how the trivial speculations of her vanity 
could run on under the dancing thoughts! As she 
left the park and entered a stretch of blurred white 
street, Vergie’s mind turned again to Harriet and 
to her living room, as feminine as a breath of per¬ 
fume. Her own living room, she determined, would 




12 


The Bach of the Booh 


be different; it would have the subtlety of associa¬ 
tion, a flavor of antiquity, a less emasculated pretti¬ 
ness. And, adorning with phrases the atmosphere 
which she felt to be natively hers, Vergie decided 
that she was a more intricate and important person 
than Harriet, though not so calmly beautiful. 

ii 

Vergie briskly completed her walk across town. 
Turning into Riverside Drive, she discerned, be¬ 
tween the burdened trees, across the blackness of 
water, the steeps of the opposite shore, picked with 
lights. Because of the aspect of unreality in which 
the storm had dressed the accustomed scene, Vergie 
saw it pictorially, as though she were looking on it 
for the first time; and recollection came to her of 
the day, almost fifteen years past, when the view 
had been new and thrilling. Holding her baby sis¬ 
ter’s hand, she had turned with a fast-beating heart 
from the river to the sweeping crescent of monster 
apartment houses, warmly gray in the afternoon 
light. In their immensity she had discovered a 
movement and a challenge which had never bloomed 
for her in the gentle dooryards of Hillsdale. 

The recollection faded as Vergie hurried into the 
entrance of one of the houses, suddenly aware that 
she was late. The movement of the elevator seemed 
almost unendurably slow. As she opened the door 
of the Stilson apartment, a broken murmur of talk 




The Bach of the Booh 


18 


and desultory clash of silver and china told her 
that her family was at dinner. 

“Did you get wet?” her mother called solicitously. 
Vergie, removing her snow-dampened clothing and 
hastily preparing for the meal, saw the heavy, not 
unkindly face, seamed from preoccupation with 
physical routine. She went into the dining room 
and found them, just as she knew they would be, 
her mother and her father and her sister. 

Nellie Lowe had been nearly twenty-seven when 
she married Harry Stilson, one of the most eligible 
bachelors in the town of Hillsdale. She was, at that 
time, a pretty brunette of superabundant figure and 
high spirits. In the secret dreams of her prolonged 
girlhood, she had drawn the picture of a romantic 
hero; and she had found small difficulty in applying 
the accumulated idealism of her imaginings to Harry 
Stilson, tall, wavy-haired and urbane, who could turn 
a verse for an autograph album as gallantly as he 
danced the schottische. She had made him a de¬ 
voted wife, though she had not understood her hus¬ 
band, or been deeply moved by his passion. In time, 
she translated her emotions into the terms in which 
she came to see life, terms of duty and fidelity and 
physical comfort; so that a direct memory of her 
earlier transports of imagination would have filled 
her with incredulity and shame. 

A daughter was born to the pair about a year 
after their marriage, and on three subsequent oc- 




14 The Bach of the Booh 


casions their hopes for another baby were disap¬ 
pointed by a fatally premature birth. Not until 
Vergie was ten did she, with the arrival of a small 
sister, lose the distinction of being an only child. 
A few years later they had come to New York. 
Harry Stilson had accepted the position of manager 
of the New York office of his firm which was engaged 
in the manufacture of overalls. It was an excellent 
position, and his wife had gradually grown accus¬ 
tomed to the marble magnificence of the entrance 
to her new home. With characteristic provincialism, 
they carried to the city the standards and manners 
of a small community. In the apartment house 
where they lived, their neighborliness secured them 
friends with whom they enjoyed evenings of talk 
and cards. They were active members of a Broad¬ 
way church. 

Mrs. Stilson’s prettiness was not of the sort which 
could resist the years. The circles under her dark 
eyes had deepened and blackened, and her face 
had grown too heavy for the little, coarsening fea¬ 
tures. Her mouth turned down fretfully at the 
corners, though a ghost of its old charm came to 
visit it when she smiled. Her figure, which had been 
ripe, grew ponderous and unshapely with maturity, 
and she walked with a slight limp because of her 
rheumatism. 

Harry Stilson, for his part, had slowly withered 
into a dignified and old-fashioned middle age. Per- 



The Bach of the Booh 


15 


haps because of undue absorption in the business 
of overalls, he had lost the gallantry and urbanity 
which had been signally his in the ’8o’s; if a fra¬ 
grance of that youth persisted, it was no more than 
the breath of a desiccated violet. Little physical 
sign of it remained, save the long fingers with which 
of an evening he caressed the bowl of his pipe. His 
slenderness had grown gaunt; his waving hair was 
thinned and antiquarian; and the wing collars of 
his young manhood, like his rare jokes of the same 
period, seemed an almost venerable survival of 
another epoch. 

He read widely, and outside the duties of his 
business which he discharged with exactitude, he 
was inclined to be absent-minded, lost in medita¬ 
tions of his own. If it occurred to him at times that 
his romantic youth had found small fulfilment, he 
gave no indication of the fact. 

in 

Vergie took her place at the dinner table. The 
maid brought a plate of food which had been kept 
warm in the oven, and set it before her. 

“What made you so late,” asked her mother on 
a note of mild complaint, “an awful night like this?” 

“It’s almost stopped snowing,” said Vergie. “I 
left the office early, and went up to have tea with 
Harriet. Then I walked home through the park. It 
was wonderful—like being in the country.” 



16 


The Bach of the Booh 


Mrs. Stilson’s face assumed an expression of 
martyrdom patiently endured. 

“You never will be old enough to learn sense,” 
she said, beginning to serve the dessert. “If it was 
Pet, I could understand it.” 

Thus implicated in a lack of judgment, Pet looked 
up from the pattern she was pressing into the table¬ 
cloth with her spoon. 

“I’m going out with Frank tonight,” she said 
suddenly. She glanced at the faces of her parents 
with an uncertain defiance, thinly veiled with non¬ 
chalance. 

“You ought not to be slopping around the streets 
at night in such weather,” said her mother, who 
had a genius for selecting repugnant verbs. “That 
finishes Frank for me. I should think he’d have 
more sense than to ask you.” But her protest had 
an ineffectual ring. 

“Oh, what harm does it do to go out in the snow?” 
said Pet. “Everyone else does. I can’t tell Frank 
you make such a baby of me.” She parted her lips 
as if she intended to add something, then closed 
them again in a red pouting curve. For a moment 
she seemed to consider refusing her pudding, but 
thought better of it and presently began to eat. 

Vergie looked across the table at her sister. Her 
eyes were clear, her cheeks firm and curved as the 
petal of a bud. She was fair, but otherwise very 
much the obviously attractive girl her mother had 



The Bach of the Booh 


IT 


been. The figure under her close-fitting sweater was 
fuller than Vergie’s. 

“Her lips look juicy,” Vergie thought. “How dis¬ 
gusting of me!” 

“Anyway,” Pet was saying in continuation of her 
own defense, “I never know when I can have people 
in here. Vergie’s always wanting to use the living 
room. When you were my age,” she went on, look¬ 
ing at her sister, “I was a baby and you had the 
place to yourself.” 

“When I was your age,” said Vergie, “I had to 
take you out coasting. What a life that was! 
Tonight in the park I passed the place we used to 
go. Can you remember, Pet-” 

“No, I don’t remember.” Pet rose from the table 
and went into the hall. From her pocket she drew 
a small white comb, with which she arranged her 
short, tawny hair. She pulled on a felt hat with 
a bunch of quills, and came sauntering back to the 
dining room. 

“Frank’s coming early,” she said. 

“Pet, that sweater is too tight for you,” Vergie 
told her. “It’s awful the way it shows your figure.” 

“Well, there’s nothing the matter with my figure, 
is there?” Pet looked at her sister with the triumph 
of one who has produced a gem of repartee. And 
Vergie did not answer. She was thinking that it was 
too bad she knew so little about Pet. Ten years 





18 


The Back of the Book 


make a wide gap—yet there should have been some 
sympathy, some understanding, between them. 

The bell rang and Pet bounded to the hall. There 
was a sound of whispering and giggling. Evidently 
the real Pet was flowering there, away from the 
presence of her elders. She returned, radiant. 

“We’re going to the rink to skate for a while,” 
she said. “Where’re my skates, Mom?” She kissed 
her mother and father. “Good night, old girl,” she 
called airily to Vergie. 

“Don’t stay out too late,” said Mrs. Stilson, as 
one repeats a worn ritual without confidence in its 
efficacy. 

There was more giggling in the hall, and the door 
slammed. In the silence which followed, Vergie sud¬ 
denly thought, “We are three older people sitting 
here together. Youth has smiled on us and gone.” 

“Nellie”—Mr. Stilson addressed his wife—“I can 
just hear your mother telling you to get in early. 
Well, the young are all alike. You were a great one 
for skating when you were a girl.” 

“Yes,” said Mrs. Stilson. “We all have to climb 
Fools’ Hill.” But her face was smiling. “I was 
crazy for a good time when I was Pet’s age,” she 
admitted. 

Vergie sat staring at the tablecloth remembering 
with a curious elation other days, other nights; when 
she was eighteen. 




The Bach of the Booh 


19 


iv 

Presently they rose and moved across the hall 
to the living room. It was a comfortable place, 
made homelike by old mahogany, faded green drap¬ 
eries and many shelves of books. There was a deep, 
couch, and Vergie sat down on it. She seemed to 
grow smaller in her stillness and self-absorption: a 
little stoppered phial of thoughts. 

“I’ll tell you,” her father was saying, “young folks 
nowadays don’t half know what a good time is. . . .” 

Vergie ceased to listen. Her mind was a swirling 
eddy, as it had been in the park. The energy of 
its processes was hypnotic. Memories seemed to 
flare and explode in her brain. Involuntarily she 
recalled emotions, crises of feeling and thought. It 
was wonderful, the plenitude, the richness of ex¬ 
perience: life catching you, holding you, tossing you 
aside. Life slipping past. . . . The phrase washed 
over Vergie with a sick depression. Life slipping 
past; it wasn’t just a phrase any more. She was 
twenty-eight. It was time to do something, to snatch 
back at many-colored life. 

Unexpectedly she was shaking with excitement and 
a desperate resolution not to fail. And she thought 
how important her memories were. How they evoked 
things! Sometimes they concerned events which she 
had not thought of for months or even years. Yet 
they would suddenly appear with perfect distinct- 




20 


The Bach of the Booh 


ness before her eyes, little colored moving pictures, 
with herself acting in them. She seemed to be an 
outsider—not Vergie, but someone watching Vergie 
and understanding deeply everything she thought 
and felt. Her memories were like the pages of a 
book of which she was the heroine. 

Her mother stood looking out at the snow-covered 
street, the trees in the drifted park. 

“An awful wind has come up,” she said. “It’s 
not fit for man or beast to be out tonight.” She 
turned discontentedly from the window. “You aren t 
going over to the meeting, Harry?” 

“No, I guess they’ll have to get along without 
me this time.” He slowly opened the evening paper. 

The snug living room seemed to close in on Vergie. 
She rose from the couch. “I have a lot of letters 
that I simply must write tonight,” she told her 
mother. Her tones tinkled lightly, casually. “I 
think I’ll undress and shut myself up in my room 
for the evening. You don’t care as long as father’s 
here.” 


v 

Vergie went down the hall to her room and, closing 
the door behind her, stood for a moment savoring 
her consciousness of escape. It was a little triumph, 
this being alone, this being free to think and feel, 
unobserved. 

The room was furnished for the most part with 





The Baclc of the Book 


21 


slender old pieces of light mahogany which had come 
from her grandmother’s house in Hillsdale; and 
Vergie felt affection for the graceful highboy, the 
quaint dressing table, and the low, childish bed she 
had used for many years. Her possessions enfolded 
her with security and peace. 

She examined her room deliberately, as a collec¬ 
tor reviews familiar treasures. She wanted the sat¬ 
isfaction of recognition, approval, self-importance. 
On the wall hung a woodcut which Roger had given 
her, and Vergie’s eyes rested on it. The picture 
showed a naked woman, lying beside a pool of 
water. The strong body was superbly extended in 
an attitude of sensual invitation. Vergie’s eyes 
moved up the lithe limbs to the lifted breasts, the 
raised shoulder—how the head took you by surprise! 
It was turned aside over the shoulder, so that the 
eyes might look into the pool. The face, which 
showed no emotion—only self-appraisal, the chill of 
vanity—seemed not to belong to that passionate 
body. It was the face of a vain lady at her dressing 
table. The picture was called “Woman.” 

“Woman! It’s too perfect! ” It was Roger’s voice, 
sounding clearly in Vergie’s memory; and she smiled 
a little at hearing him. “You won’t admit the truth 
of it, of course. But hang that picture in your 
room, as the old monks kept a skull in their cells— 
to remind you of what you are. There is woman’s 
gesture of sensual allurement, there is her seeking 



22 


The Bach of the Booh 


for a reflection of herself—in some pool, any pool. 
With this key it is quite simple to understand woman. 
A man must realize that she exists for the gratifi¬ 
cation of two things: her sensuality and her vanity. 
It is because the male is unable to conceive of a 
nature so elemental that he fails to understand her. 
For this reason he has been induced to accept her 
theory that she is incomprehensible to the male.” 

There might, Vergie admitted to the hush of her 
small room, be women like that. But it was stupid 
of Roger to generalize. The interesting women were 
the others: subtle, complex, intellectual. These were 
the women that men—even clever men like Roger— 
did not understand. Could she make them, she 
wondered? It would mean a fulfilment, an achieve¬ 
ment, if she could perform this one thing: present 
faithfully, so that everyone could read, the develop¬ 
ment of a woman like herself. 

While she undressed in the golden circle of light 
from the lamp beside her bed, Vergie saw her am¬ 
bitions realized. The rug beneath her feet became 
a magic carpet on which she was carried to prestige, 
success, accomplishment; and her familiar room 
seemed suddenly estranged and transitory. The 
room and the life which it represented were only a 
phase, not established things. Vergie moved on, 
swiftly. She was the author of a half-dozen books. 
She was known as “our most sophisticated woman 
writer,” “an author of brilliant subtlety,” “a daring 




The Bach of the Booh 


23 


psychologist.” Her age was perhaps forty; she 
hardly looked it. Many men were her friends. Be¬ 
cause she was always interesting and sympathetic, 
they preferred her society to that of fresher, younger 
women. Her appointments were exquisite and ex¬ 
travagant. She had a studio apartment, bright with 
flowers, where she gave intimate little dinners. Ver- 
gie pictured herself among them—those esoteric 
guests—rare and rather frail, with a costly, silken 
distinction to her. It was a pleasant scene to con¬ 
template: Vergie the famous, the admired. 

It was certainly possible that she might grow into 
a resemblance to her father or mother, and this 
idea marred the picture. But people, Vergie assured 
herself, made too much of heredity; you could be 
what you chose. It was only necessary to do some¬ 
thing notable, to win recognition. Her writing 
would be the means to that. Now that she con¬ 
sidered it, she was ashamed to think of the years 
she had wasted. Fame was waiting just around the 
corner. She was to blame for having delayed to 
meet it. 

Over her nightgown, Vergie slipped a negligee of 
cherry-colored silk. The shade suited /her, she 
thought, as before the mirror of her dressing table 
she adjusted the black wings of her hair. Powder 
and a trace of rouge were, with some sense of an 
appropriate gesture, applied; her lips must be car- 




24 


The Bach of the Booh 


mine. She found perfume, cigarettes, pencil, a pad 
of yellow paper. 

Vergie sat up in bed, pencil and paper in hand. 
Her brows were drawn in a frown which expressed 
concentration and a firm resolve. She would start 
at once to make an outline out of this productive 
mood of hers, out of the eagerness of her swirling 
memories. Later, as her ideas crystallized, the out¬ 
line could be developed into a short novel. She 
would use the material which she knew best—her¬ 
self. Thus, inevitably, she would set down a part 
of truth, a cross-section of life. 

It seemed absurdly easy! She recalled a dozen 
successful novels, biographical in treatment. Most 
of the little events in the life of the hero or heroine 
were quite ordinary, the usual things that happened 
to anyone. Therein, indeed, lay their virtue. “Splen¬ 
didly realistic,” such accounts were called. The 
reader was pleased to recognize bits from his own 
experience. 

Memories whirred in Vergie’s brain. What a book 
she was going to make of them! The occurrences 
of her twenty-eight years lay scattered and meaning¬ 
less, like the pieces of a puzzle; but they could be 
assembled into an artistic unity. Sometimes her 
life had seemed uneventful. But she realized that 
this had been a superficial view. The same number 
of things happened to everyone, of course. Her life 




The Bach of the Booh 


25 


had been crowded with incident, now that she ex¬ 
amined it closely. 

Her story would begin when her heroine was a 
baby, for the thoughts and experiences of childhood 
were all-important; and already she beheld the pos¬ 
sibility of a fat and indelicate section labeled “Ado¬ 
lescence.” She unclasped her memories and ran 
their shining beads through her fingers. They were 
a part of living, of life . . . life that slips past. But 
she would catch at it and hold it. She would take 
life in her hands; print it, bind it. Thus she would 
detain and conquer it. 

For a moment Vergie paused, with suspended pen¬ 
cil. She was swept by the exultant conviction that 
all the squandered years had been for this: that out 
of their confusion and insignificance she should form 
the story of a woman’s soul. She began to write. 





CHAPTER II 


i 

At first (so Vergie’s penciled notes began) you 
were small and round, with parted black curls. 
After a bath you were dried in an uncomfortable 
position in mother’s lap, your head hanging down so 
that you could barely see your pink kid shoes which 
were waiting for you on a table. 

There was a dog, white and unembarrassed by 
pedigree, who liked looking out of the window and 
licking the ice cream plates after Sunday dinner. 
There was also a tall father. . . . 

You were told that God was everywhere, and it 
was very hard to picture. He must be sprawled 
around the sky, resting on his elbow. Even so, that 
left gaps; inside his elbow, for instance. And if he 
was lying in the sky, how did he get all over the 
earth? Into this street? Into this house? Into 
everybody’s house? Of course, his long white beard 
and flowing robes would help to cover up a good 
deal. But not enough. 

ii 

School brought new duties and obligations. You 
had to say a text out of the Bible each morning, 

26 


The Bach of the Booh 


27 


and everybody was sorry that there were no other 
texts as short as “Jesus wept.” 

It began in a big parlor, where the old furniture 
was dim in the light of late afternoon. Mother had 
taken you to see the lady who was the head of the 
school. She was not pretty at all, though she was 
smiling very much and saying that she wanted you 
to come to her school. You were flattered at being 
the center of so much attention. 

“Her name is Vergie?” asked the old lady, a little 
as though she did not believe it. “I suppose that is 
short for Virginia? Virginia is one of my favorite 
names.” 

You felt it was embarrassing to have to explain 
that your name was just Vergie, and not one of the 
old lady’s favorites, after all. ,Eut she seemed equally 
pleased when she understood. 

“Vergie! How charming and unusual! Such a 
quaint little name for a little girl. . . .” 

At the awkward moment of parting, you felt that 
something was required of you. You pointed hur¬ 
riedly to a large picture over the desk. 

“That,” you said with authority, “is the Infant 
Samuel. God called to him in the night and he 
answered. I have that picture in my Children’s 
Bible.” 

It had been a happy inspiration, for Mother 
looked delighted. “She can recite all the Bible 





28 


The Bach of the Booh 


stories/' she told the old lady, “word for word, as 
if she were reading them." 

That night at supper Mother gave an account of 
the call to Father. “She said Vergie seemed a most 
unusually bright little girl. She could see that at 
once. And she thought her name was so quaint and 
just suited her. She never heard the name of ‘Vergie’ 
before." 

Full of the placid contentment of bread and milk, 
you reflected that they were beginning to appreciate 
you. 

Hi 

Your first day at school, you carried a shiny bag 
over your shoulder, though you had nothing to put 
in it but a pencil box, the top of which was made 
to look like a row of little books. 

To your surprise, school was not held in the big, 
dim parlor, but in a series of bright, bare rooms, 
with desks in them and plants growing by the win¬ 
dows. You were given a desk for your own. The lid 
lifted so that you could put books and writing pads 
inside; on top there was a gutter for pencils and 
a hole with ink in it. The ink had a strong smell, 
not quite pleasant. Chalk, you discovered, was dusty 
and choking. But erasers were faintly pungent, and 
the odor of damp wood from a sucked pencil was 
delicious. 

The proceedings seemed like Sunday School for 




The Bach of the Booh 


29 


a while, but afterward there was your little desk; 
and a teacher induced you to copy some letters 
she had made on the blackboard. They had, un¬ 
fortunately, very strict rules as to how you must 
sit while writing. 

The whiskered lady looked into your room just 
once, smiling at you and the other children, all in 
one smile. She said nothing about how unusual 
your name was, and you were given no opportunity 
to tell the others about the Infant Samuel, as you 
had hoped you would be called upon to do. 

It was good to get out into the sunshine and run 
home. Now that the first excitement was over you 
began to feel uncomfortable about your shiny bag. 
People would know where you had been. They 
would guess that this was your first day at school. 

The lady next door was on her front porch. You 
tried to hurry by without looking, but she was too 
quick for you. 

“Vergie,” she called from behind the rubber plant, 
“how did you like your first day at school?” 

“All right,” you answered with a sickly smile. 
Everyone in the block must have heard her! 

iv 

With great care you laid your plans for that im¬ 
portant occasion, your arrival in Heaven. As soon 
as you got in, you would look for Jesus. You 





30 


The Bach of the Booh 


would run right up to Him, and throw your arms 
around His neck. Still, sometimes you grew afraid 
that, in the excitement of arrival, you might be 
diverted. Every night you rehearsed the scene, to 
impress it on your mind. Every night you prayed, 
“God, don't let me forget to kiss Jesus as soon as 
I get to Heaven." 

When they put out the light and left you in bed— 
and other times, too, if you could get a little privacy 

_you talked to God. Sometimes you sent Him 

kisses, through the ceiling. The game was to throw 
a hundred kisses. If you lost count, you had to 
start over again. 

You talked most to God when things went wrong, 
and you had been badly treated. One day a delivery 
boy left a rocking horse at your house by mistake. 
It was yellow with black spots and red nostrils, and 
all afternoon you swayed and jerked on its back. 
It seemed as if life could not go on unless you had 
a rocking horse of your own. But no one was in¬ 
terested. No one felt that you needed a rocking 
horse, and next morning the delivery boy came back 
and bore your horse away. You wept miserably and 
talked to God, because you thought He would un¬ 
derstand about it. But, after all, God was very far 
away, and never called to you, though you often 
knelt in your crib and pretended to be the Infant 
Samuel. 



The Back of the Booh 


31 


v 

Life turned into a rotation of school and vacation. 
School was a game of questions and answers. But 
they wouldn’t let you answer all the questions. They 
wouldn’t even answer all the questions you asked. 
Once a teacher told you, “Curiosity killed a cat.” 
When you eagerly inquired How? the teacher and 
the big girls laughed 

Arithmetic was the most puzzling of studies, and 
failed to hold your interest for long, in spite of the 
human problems it presented in the lives of day 
laborers and apple buyers. There was one nice fea¬ 
ture about arithmetic, however. The answers to all 
the problems were in the back of the book. 

vi 

In the summer you went to the seashore to bathe 
and play in the sand. It was exciting to come home 
again: At first the house looked queer: the bare 
floors and big, curtainless windows, the tiled bath¬ 
room and your own enameled furniture. But soon 
it came to life again, and everything was as usual. 

Fall was a wonderful time of year. You had a 
woolly coat and a red tarn and scarf. In the late 
afternoons the streets were full of the smell of 
burning leaves. The old white houses were pretty 
in the early dusk as you roasted potatoes over a 
fire in the vacant lot on High Street. 




32 


The Bach of the Booh 


In winter there was coasting and skating. On the 
long hill the sleds wore the road so smooth that 
horses had to go round the other way. There was 
a stretch of packed white, with a wicked gray streak 
of ice halfway down—that was where you began to 
go fast! But you liked even better to move rhythmi¬ 
cally about the skating pond, as if music were play¬ 
ing. 

Spring was perhaps the most beautiful time of 
all. There was no thrill like the thrill of taking 
off your winter underwear and stepping out with 
such a light, bare feeling into the softened air. You 
hurried to the little dark store where they sold the 
rubber balls on elastics; it was never quite spring 
until they came. “Not in yet,” they would tell you 
every day for as much as a week, and then, at 
last—you saw them as soon as you came into the 
store, the pearl gray balls, lightly piled in a big 
pasteboard box. There, too, were the pink strings 
of elastic. You could scarcely control your impa¬ 
tience while the man selected your ball and elastic, 
knotted the end of the latter, and inserted it into 
the ball with the aid of a pin. 

vii 

In the evenings, when Mother was out, Mary 
ascended from the kitchen to sit with you. Mary’s 
husband had died, and she had five children in the 
Home, but her cares seemed to rest lightly upon 




The Bach of the Booh 


33 


her. She was anxious to improve herself, and you 
helped her with her past participles, which were 
conspicuously bad. 

The evenings were very full, for, in addition to 
Mary’s grammar and your lessons, you were working 
on a novel, a love story of Revolutionary times. The 
girls all thought it was splendid. In a way, you felt 
that your novel compensated for the unusualness of 
having a little sister. It had been, to say the least, 
irregular. When they led you into the spare room 
and showed you the screw of red-brown face in the 
crib, you were unimpressed. You stood for a mo¬ 
ment, looking down on it, because it seemed to be 
expected of you. 

An aunt was whispering to Father, “Ten years 
between them! Isn’t it really wonderful?” 

“Isn’t it lovely, Vergie, the doctor brought you a 
little sister?” 


via 

The first time you went to the theater, you saw 
“The Wizard of Oz.” It was an exciting experience. 
The Hillsdale Opera House had red plush seats and 
there were pale young men who showed people where 
to sit. The big curtain on the stage displayed a 
colored scene of a garden party, with gentlemen in 
white wigs and ladies in ruffled dresses; around the 
edge ran a border containing squares of information 
about chewing gum, bakeries, tailors and laundries. 





34 


The Bach of the Booh 


Marvelous beyond your imaginings was the play 
itself. But then, up to this time, you had attended 
only a lecture on the life of George Washington, 
with stereopticon views, at the Methodist Church; 
and a program of musical numbers which included 
your favorite “Farewell, my Bluebell.” 

As you grew older, you were allowed to go with 
the other girls to the matinees of visiting stock com¬ 
panies. The most important week was when Burke 
Barclay came. You all liked him best. During the 
week of Burke Barclay’s stay, you made excuses to 
go into the Schuyler House at dinner time. Peeping 
into the dining room, you nudged the other girls 
and whispered: “There he is. At the table by the 
window. Oh, come on, he’ll see you looking.” 

ix 

Clothes were nice to have, but really more trouble 
than they were worth. It was bad enough to have 
to hunt through stores for them, but worse still was 
having them made. The fittings took place in Miss 
Beatty’s front parlor, which had a folding bed in it. 
There was a set of books on “Diseases of the Human 
Body,” but you were seldom allowed to look at the 
pictures. All around the room hung limp dresses in 
various stages of completion, feebly suggesting the 
personalities they were one day to take on. 

Miss Beatty wore a black sateen apron with 
pockets, and a tape measure and a large cushion 




The Back of the Book 


35 


full of pins was suspended from her waist. There 
was a faint dressmaker’s smell about her, and her 
fingers had dressmaker’s nails, little and thin and 
fluted. You stood for an endless time while Miss 
Beatty pinned things on you. (When she was tired 
or out of sorts, she stuck the pins into you.) At the 
conclusion of the fitting, half of the pins were found 
to be run through your underwear. You moved rest¬ 
lessly from foot to foot, while Miss Beatty delib¬ 
erately removed and reinserted the pins. You were 
not allowed to help, because you might not get them 
back in the right place. They were all out. No, it 
had caught again in the back. . . . 

“Don’t be so impatient, Vergie,” Mother said. 
“You have all the rest of the day to play. You ought 
to be glad to have such a pretty new dress.” 

x 

You went to two Sunday Schools, one right after 
church and another in the afternoon. Mrs. Hasterby 
taught the class which came in the afternoon, and 
one Sunday she was away because her father was 
ill. The next Sunday she was away because he had 
died. 

You wished another Sunday would never come, 
so that you would not have to be in contact with 
the bereaved Mrs. Hasterby. She would be dressed 
in black, and they would make some awful mistake 
in choosing the hymns. They might even sing the 




36 


The Baclc of the Booh 


one with “orphans no longer fatherless” in it; or, 
more dreadful still, “My Father Will Be Waiting 
When I Get Home.” 

But when you reached Sunday School, purposely 
a little late, they were singing “Yield Not To Temp¬ 
tation,” as safe a hymn as could have been selected, 
you squeezed into a chair remote from Mrs. Has- 
terby, who turned to smile faintly at you. She looked 
white and tired in her black dress, but the crisis 
of greeting her had passed with marvelous ease. 
She, too, must feel relieved to have it over. 

The superintendent prayed for an endless time. 
You chilled when he touched on “if there are any 
among us who have heavy hearts this day, O Lord, 
wilt Thou be very near unto them.” 

When the prayer was ended the class moved their 
chairs to form a circle. In this process you were 
somehow forced into a position directly in front of 
Mrs. Hasterby. Frightened by this proximity to 
grief, you wriggled your feet tightly around the legs 
of the chair, and pressed one hand over your face. 
These physical adjustments seemed to fortify you 
against any onslaught of emotion. 

“I think you girls have all heard,” Mrs. Hasterby 
began, slowly drawing off her black cotton gloves, 
“that a great personal grief has come to me in the 
loss of my dear father. It has been a heavy cross 
to bear. I never could have endured it at all with¬ 
out God’s help. In the last days of my father’s 




The Bach of the Booh 


37 


illness, when he was in terrible suffering, I carried all 
my burden of sorrow to the Saviour, and He gave 
me strength. Oh, girls, He is the only one who 
can! It is God’s will that this sorrow should come 
to me. It is God’s will that sorrow should come 
to every one of you girls. I wish I could make you 
know what it will mean to you to have God’s help 
at such a time.” 

When Mrs. Hasterby at last stopped speaking, you 
came out of a clammy stupor. You had seen the 
tears coming into her eyes. They overflowed into 
the brown circled places underneath, but she made 
no attempt to wipe them away. Her lips and chin 
were trembling. Oh, it was horrible ! It made your 
own eyes fill with hot tears. You twined your legs 
desperately about the chair, you drove your finger 
nails into your burning cheek. How could anyone 
expose her feelings, naked and painful, to your gaze? 

When the Temperance Lesson was over, they sang 
“My Jesus, As Thou Wilt.” Your palsied legs would 
scarcely support you as you staggered into the aisle, 
between the long rows of golden oak chairs, past the 
purple and red stained-glass windows, and into the 
cooling air of the street. 

xi 

Lilian and Katherine and Maida were your best 
friends. While you made no difference at all in 
your feeling for them, you secretly hoped that every 




38 


The Bach of the Booh 


one of them liked you better than the others. When 
you spent the night together, you lay cuddled close 
in bed, asking each other searching and intimate 
questions. It was called “playing Truth/’ and about 
twelve o’clock at night was the best time to play. 

You had been together so much since you were 
small children that you made nothing of undressing 
in front of one another, or even of taking your baths 
together. Something in your Puritan training made 
you find a necessity for defending this. People who 
were self-conscious about taking off their clothes, 
you said, had wrong thoughts in their minds. 

One day in the spring you‘all drove out to the 
country to picnic. You found a good place to leave 
the horse and cart, and carried your lunch to a little 
grove of birches beside a stream. The afternoon sun 
was so warm that you thought of going in wading. 
And when your shoes and stockings were off, you 
suddenly unbuttoned your dress. The other girls, 
too, slipped out of their clothes—you were all set 
free, in an instant. You ran and leapt in the bright 
spring air, you plunged in the cold stream, and lay 
stretched out in the sun. While you played, you 
watched the other girls with pleasure; and you 
thought how like the budding birch trees were their 
straight young bodies. Just by dropping their 
clothes they had made themselves a part of the sun- 
filled place. They were not Lilian and Kay and 
Maida any more, but three girls out of the stories 




The Bach of the Booh 


39 


of Ancient Greece. You thought you would like to 
see how you looked and, leaning over the water, you 
played at being Narcissus. 

Lilian and Kay began playing they were Daphne 
and Apollo. But Maida started to put on her clothes, 
and presently you were all school girls again. You 
remembered that you were, after all, school girls on 
a picnic. Lilian’s gingham suspender dress, Maida’s 
stubby brown shoes, Kay’s guimpe with the torn 
place on the shoulder . . . where were the nymphs 
of a moment ago? 

Driving home, you laughed and squeezed one an¬ 
other’s hands. It had been the most perfect after¬ 
noon. It was a secret which belonged to just you 
four. “W.N.” were the initials of the secret. They 
stood for “Wood Nymphs.” When you said “W.N.” 
and looked at one another, everybody would be dy¬ 
ing to know what you meant. 

xil 

One evening you heard Mother talking to Father. 
“I met Mrs. Adams downtown today,” she said. 
“She was speaking about Vergie—how pretty she is 
getting to be. Someone saw her over at the Schuyler 
House, and said she had a profile like a cameo.” 

Like a cameo! That was like that old pin of 
Grandma’s. It wasn’t pretty, but the comparison 
seemed flattering. You gazed thoughtfully at your 
reflection in the glass, considering the effect of 




40 


The Bach of the Booh 


your clothes, which you had hitherto regarded 
largely as matters of convenience. New ones lent 
variety, old ones grew shabby and tiresome. But it 
seemed there was more to it than that and you 
learned to observe how your clothes combined with 
your hair and eyes. Soon you found a long mirror 
in which you could see your whole slim figure. 

That year you insisted on corsets and silk stock¬ 
ings. You embroidered underwear for yourself, with 
scallops and wreaths of flowers; and the visits to 
Miss Beatty grew important, for you had ideas of 
your own now. The dresses must all be fitted in 
very tightly about the waist. When there were col¬ 
lars, they must be high and stiffly boned. 

Secretly, in your bedroom, you took tucks in your 
corsets. You pulled in the strings, so that your 
waist ached, breathing was difficult, and your legs 
seemed far away. You pinched your cheeks into an 
inflamed pinkness and put talcum powder on your 
nose and neck. 

These activities bore a mysterious relation to your 
growing interest in boys. There had always been 
boys, of course; some rough, some horrid, some 
rather nice. You had played tennis with them, and 
danced with them at dancing school. On spring 
evenings the boys and girls had played Sixty-0 
under the old trees in the darkening streets. 

It was hard to explain the change. Still in the 
warm evenings the boys and girls gathered, but 




The Bach of the Booh 


41 


you were too big for Sixty-O. Someone played a 
mandolin, and you all sang. You went to the drug¬ 
store for ice-cream sodas; you danced and played 
charades. You talked about friendship. 

Personally, you found that talking about friend¬ 
ship introduced just the right serious note into your 
relations with boys. You would lend one of the 
nicer ones Hugh Black’s “Friendship,” first mark¬ 
ing the more poignant passages. Then you would 
suggest you would like to be friends with him— 
in the true sense of the word. It meant, of course, 
that you would always have to be sincere with each 
other. That was one of the points of a really fine 
friendship; it could stand hearing the truth. 

You and Lilian and Kay and Maida were unani¬ 
mous on one thing: it was a terrible mistake to 
spoon with a boy. Some girls might achieve a kind 
of popularity by such conduct but they lost the boys’ 
respect. The way boys talked about that kind of 
girl was dreadful. 


xiii 

The summer you were fifteen, you had a revela¬ 
tion which was overwhelming. In its light you 
strove to read the meaning of some latent force in 
people’s words and acts. You felt comprehension 
was necessary to admittance to the strange fraternity 
of adults, beings no longer harried by uncertainties. 

You were spending that summer in the mountains 




42 


The Bach of the Booh 


with Mother and Pet, and you found it very gay, 
because there were so many boys at the hotel. Some 
of them were older boys—seniors at college. They 
always thought you were older, until they found out. 
Once a boy thought you were twenty-one. His name 
was Paul, and on a certain night he brought you 
home from a dance which had been given in a cot¬ 
tage up on the hill. 

Down the winding pathway you came walking 
together, you and Paul. The lights in most of the 
cottages were out, and the stars were dim and far 
away. The chirp of the crickets was the only 
sound, except for a strange noise which Paul was 
making as he breathed. He did not touch you, did 
not even take your arm to help you over the rough 
places, but all around you his presence was beating. 

As you stepped on the darkened porch of the 
hotel, you were dizzy with a sort of longing and a 
sort of fear. You did not seem able to turn casually 
and say good-night. Then Paul suddenly caught 
your hand, held it in his for a second and pressed it 
against his lips. 

He left you quickly, but a tumult sang in your 
veins, and you felt how your knees were shaking 
and your temples throbbing with this new excite¬ 
ment. Magically you moved upstairs to the room 
where Mother and Pet lay asleep. You undressed 
softly, your fingers shaking over the buttons and 
pins. 




The Back of the Book 


43 


For a moment you knelt down by your bed, but 
the only prayers you offered to God were the flut¬ 
tering wings of your heart. In the darkness, you 
lay wide-eyed, re-living that moment when Paul 
kissed your hand; and you marveled the others did 
not awaken, so turbulent was the tremor in your 
body, so loud the singing in your blood. 

xiv 

With a slightly exaggerated dignity you stepped 
from the rickety trolley and surveyed the college. 
There were the wide lawns, the ivy-hung buildings. 
You had hardly counted on its being so large; and 
your throat tightened as you saw a white-clad girl 
advancing toward you with manifestly official 
geniality. 

“Won’t you come with me?” said the girl. “Do 
let me help you with your bags. Isn’t it a lovely 
day? I’m so glad it isn’t ‘freshman weather.’ We 
call it ‘freshman weather’ when it rains, you know.” 

She wasn’t doing awfully well and your poise was 
restored. Confidence returned to you, as you went 
slowly through the formalities of entrance in the 
lofty old rooms where neat, kindly women greeted 
you with impersonal calm. Conscious that you were 
becomingly dressed in a blue linen suit and small 
blue sailor hat, you were cordial, though rather 
distant, with the omnipresent white-clad girls of the 
Reception Committee. 




44 


The Bach of the Book 


You ate your first college dinner in a big, bare 
room where the clatter of dishes could scarcely be 
heard above the clatter of talk. It was an uncom¬ 
fortable meal, and you were glad to go to chapel, 
with the evening light glowing under the stone arches 
of the cloisters. Later, in the darkness, you walked 
across the campus. It was sweetly odorous, and in 
the big buildings shone square after square of yel¬ 
low light. You felt the glamor of it, as if it had 
been a scene on the stage, and there was a feeling 
of community in it, too. In all these hundreds of 
rooms were other girls. Many of them were to be 
your friends. For four years you would work and 
play together. 

And there was something yet more important, 
for you were driven by an old desire, the desire for 
knowing. You thought that all your life you had 
been asking questions, and still there were thousands 
more, crying to be answered. You felt like an 
explorer, tremulous and eager on the doorstep of a 
new world. 

In your greedy little girlhood you had once 
planned to read all the books that had ever been 
written—not almost all, that wouldn’t do! You 
had the same feeling still. Understanding, you felt, 
must be yours. Half truths would not satisfy you. 
You wanted the whole—everything, whether or not 
it squared with your dreams; all the answers in the 
back of the book of problems. You knew that you 




The Bach of the Booh 


45 


were no longer a child, but a woman with a woman’s 
brain which had imperious needs and desires and 
ambitions. . . . 

You thought it best to say nothing about your 
woman’s brain to the other girls. You agreed with 
them that the light green kalsomine in your rooms 
was perfectly awful. 

xv 

You took stock of your neighbors. On one side 
were two sophomores, long, rangy girls made for 
hockey sticks and basket balls and tennis rackets. 
Even when dressed for classes or for dinner, they 
seemed always about to drop a skirt and reveal 
themselves bloomered for the gym. On the other 
side was a scrawny freshman with a marvelous coif¬ 
fure. She had photographs of fourteen fine up¬ 
standing young men on her bureau. And, of course, 
she was homesick! You wondered cynically how 
many of the fourteen were responsible for impairing 
her morale. 

The only junior on your corridor belonged to the 
type you were soon to know as a “grind.” She 
looked as though she had come out of a Rogers 
group which had been kept for a long time in a 
dusty room. Every morning you met her going to 
wash with all her clothes on. Every morning you 
complained about it to anyone who would listen. 
“Do you suppose she ever takes a bath? I never 




46 


The Bach of the Booh 


heard of washing in a collar. I think it’s disgust¬ 
ing.” 

The sophomores who roomed across the hall were 
something entirely new in your experience. They 
were pretty, untidy girls, and they and their friends 
seemed to have resolved to turn the years back¬ 
ward, and become as little children again. They 
had two dolls and a Teddy bear, and these formed 
the center of much of their conversation. They were 
called Icelandic Clamhound and Boo and Cardinal 
Newman. The names were supposed to be very 
funny. 

They embarrassed you, because with the best will 
in the world you could not laugh as much as they 
did at their jokes. When their friends came in, it 
was still more terrible. They all sat on trunks and 
packing cases, and talked in their silly way, and 
laughed and laughed. They were always reminding 
one another of the time they were locked in the 
chapel or spent the night on the library roof, or 
made their way from dormitory to dormitory 
through the heating system. You could see that 
they felt that the college belonged in an intimate 
way entirely to them, because they appreciated its 
points more than anyone else did. Even as fresh¬ 
men, you knew that they had never been uncer¬ 
tain or hesitant at all, but had come boldly prancing 
in and claimed it as their own. 

One of them had a guinea pig named Rudolph. 



The Bach of the Booh 


47 


It lived in their rooms. You did not often see it, 
but you felt its presence whenever you went in. 
They never worried about it, because it always 
turned up—in a bed or a bureau drawer or some¬ 
where. 

In their strange way, they were very kind. They 
gave you hot chocolate, and invited you to a Roman 
banquet. You were all to wear sheets, they ex¬ 
plained. 

xvi 

With trepidation and curiosity you attended your 
first classes. 

“Most of the Faculty are awfully nice/’ the soph¬ 
omores across the hall had told you. “Of course, 
some of them are sarcastic. But there is only one 
you must be sure not to get. Miss Huggins, in the 
math department. My dear, she is awful! ” 

“What does she do?” you asked. 

“She throws chalk at you,” said a sophomore in 
the tense tones of one alluding to the tortures 
of the Inquisition. “Everyone is terrified of her. 
It’s dreadful. My roommate had her last year. 
She was really sick after every class.” 

When, in accordance with your schedule, you 
entered Room 203, Russell Hall, at 8:30 on the 
first Monday morning, you were more resigned than 
amazed at finding Miss Huggins in charge. Of 




48 


The Bach of the Booh 


course, it would be so. Life was like that. Sick 
after every class! Well, you would have to live 
through it. 

Miss Huggins was a thin old lady, with sharp 
eyes and a nervous, perfunctory smile. She opened 
proceedings ably and irritably. Your eyes wandered 
surreptitiously to the blackboards, where the white 
fingers of chalk lay in rows, a plentiful supply, all 
whole and unbroken—ready for the first class of the 
year. 

“And will you oblige the class by repeating Axiom 
IX —Miss Stilson!” Your name sounded out like a 
shot. 

Axiom II. . . . Axiom II. . . . 

“Things equal to the same . . . ?” No, that was 
wrong. You saw it at once by the way her lips 
tightened in disgust. She turned to another girl. 
Too frightened to answer, that girl was. Ah, she 
could answer, the silly one with ruffles. You could 
have answered, too, by now. Anyone could answer, 
once she had time to think. 

Miss Huggins drew a deep, exaggerated breath 
of relief. She went to the blackboard and picked 
up a piece of chalk. For a moment she held it, 
rolling it in her shaking old hands. You lived 
through years. Then she turned and drew a circle 
on the board. 

“Young ladies,” she said, “up to this time you 




The Bach of the Booh 


49 


have presumably considered only those figures whose 
points and lines lie in the same plane. . . ” 

At last, the gong sounded; the class was over. 
You left the room, relieved, but with a sense of 
strain. You had encountered the higher education. 

xvii 

Spurred on by the athletic sophomores, you made 
the freshman hockey team. You loved the excite¬ 
ment of the games in the sharp fall afternoons. 
Through the twilight coolness, you ran back to 
your hall, rejoicing in the freedom of bloomers. 
After one of the games, the whole freshman team 
picnicked together, high on a hill. The deep peace 
which descended upon you was a part of the warmth 
of the big fire and your heavy sweater; of the bacon 
and coffee; of the keen smell of cold and the pines; 
the first white stars, the pleasant lassitude, the sense 
of comradeship. Perhaps it was for these things, 
after all, that people came to college. 

xviii 

Hot chocolate was the beverage which stimulated 
you to hours of excited discussion. You had dis¬ 
covered that there were many things wrong in the 
world, and you were eager to track down solutions. 
These solutions must be fundamental. Palliative 
things, like charity, for example, were all wrong. 




50 


The Bach of the Booh 


Unintelligent people, who did not think and who had 
not gone to college, believed in charity. 

xix 

By sophomore year, terms caught from books and 
classrooms began to flavor your speech. You called 
people “mediaeval” and “bourgeois” and “Philistine” 
and “Puritanical.” These words had an amazingly 
conclusive power in an argument. An occasional 
reference to “the herd” or to “mob instinct” stood 
you in good stead, too. 

You began to theorize with some authority on the 
subject of sex. In more sentimental moments, the 
discussion turned on the sex problem as it was re¬ 
lated to your own lives. Most of you felt that it was 
best to wait until you were twenty-five before get¬ 
ting married. It seemed rather an advanced age, 
but it allowed time for seeing something of the 
world—taking a job for a while, before settling down 
to the responsibilities of matrimony. Somewhere 
in the world was the right man for you to marry 
and, when he came along, the happiest part of your 
life would begin. Meantime, all your acts and 
thoughts must be directed to the end of keeping 
yourself fine for him and for the children you would 
have. Your faces wore a look of tremulous, half- 
concealed sweetness as you talked about these things; 
about the one right man and marriage and a home 
and ideals and children. 



The Back of the Book 


51 


xx 

Senior year you roomed with your two best 
friends, Harriet and Leigh. Harriet was specializ¬ 
ing in economics and sociology, and after college 
she was going to study labor conditions in her 
father’s factory. She had a collection of books 
on socialism which filled three shelves of the widest 
bookcase. Almost any afternoon you would find 
Harriet, poised, academic and handsome, in confer¬ 
ence with a group of shabby intellectuals. These 
groups had much to say about how unspoiled Har¬ 
riet was by her money and position, and how awfully 
big it was of her to take an enlightened view of 
labor problems. References to Harriet’s money, 
which Harriet never mentioned, seemed to you 
stupid and vulgar. Besides, considered in relation 
to her enlightened views, Harriet’s money aroused 
you to irony. 

Leigh, the daughter of a Boston minister, had an 
elfin face with a child’s eyes and smile. She could 
say the most sophisticated things, and she spent 
hours alone, writing unrhymed verse. Leigh was 
a deep one. You were terribly afraid of giving your¬ 
self away to her, laying yourself open to her scorn, 
by exposing some poor rag of ignorance or senti¬ 
mentality. You saved up the choice bits of your 
mind to show to her, bringing them out quite casu- 



52 


The Bach of the Booh 


ally, as though the ideas had just occurred to you. 

Leigh’s clothes had no style, and you felt they 
would have been nearly as bad if she had had any 
money to spend on them. She parted her hair in 
the middle and drew it straight down over her ears. 
The loose knot in the back was always coming down. 
Leigh had never had a corset or a beau or a motive 
of self-interest. 


xxi 

With solidarity you scorned the vulgarity of the 
popular attitude toward sex. You were opposed to 
secretiveness and sentimentality in the considera¬ 
tion of natural functions. They had to be per¬ 
formed. Everyone knew about them. No one was 
taken in by the farce of denying their existence. 
Well, then. . . . 

To individuals of sufficient mental standing you 
explained the importance of speaking frankly about 
physical facts. “Don’t be afraid to face them” 
was the keynote of your message. There was more, 
too, about the advantages of “the clean speech of 
science” as compared with “the pseudo-religious 
evasions and little boys’ nastinesses” of the past. 

You were all enormously interested in eugenics. 
People bred horses and cattle, but when it came 
to human beings, blind chance was good enough. 
Was there any logic to that? There was a crying 





The Bach of the Booh 


58 


need for State laws, restricting the privilege of mar¬ 
riage to the physically fit. (You had some private 
qualms as to the subsequent conduct of the unfit, 
denied the boon of marriage.) Anyway, each of you 
would do what you could in a small way by demand¬ 
ing from your future fiance a health certificate be¬ 
fore you married. You would indeed produce a 
health certificate yourself; not that there would be 
anything wrong with you, but it would be only fair, 
and as an intellectual you must set an example* 
There were other laws which had to be enacted. 
Leigh’s hobby was mothers’ pensions. Harriet was 
the specialist on factory legislation. While they 
talked, the future blossomed in a radiant vision of 
equity. You listened respectfully, dominated by 
them. They knew so much and they cared so ter¬ 
ribly. You were afraid to let them know how dull 
and hopeless it seemed to you, after the spell of 
their enthusiasm had passed. Dutifully you wrote 
letters to your representative in the State Assembly. 
The most critical comment on which you ever ven¬ 
tured was: “Aren’t the results you are looking for 
rather Utopian?” They quickly showed you they 
were not. 


xxii 

Your religion, which you had thought an es¬ 
sential part of you, suddenly disappeared. You 
were, in an objective way, rather disturbed by the 




54 


The Bach of the Booh 


quiet completeness of its departure. It seemed so 
superficial not to care at all, not to miss its consola¬ 
tions. People usually wept and wrung their hands 
and said bitter things about having lost God. A 
friend who was active in the Christian Association 
advised you to seek refuge in prayer. It was her 
idea that if you threw yourself on God’s mercy He 
would not fail to restore your faith. But you didn’t 
want your faith. You were getting on splendidly 
without it. 

Something had unfolded in your mind when you 
read that Emerson denied personality to God, “be¬ 
cause it was too little, not too much.” There came 
other unfoldings: “The Age of Reason,” “The Golden 
Bough,” Renan’s “Life of Jesus”; phrases—Her¬ 
bert Spencer’s “impiety of the pious,” Montaigne’s 
u Que sgais-je?”, shafts of satire from G. B. S. 
Satire destroyed your last wavering loyalty to the 
teachings of your childhood. You learned doubt 
as some people learn good manners—by avoiding 
what others ridicule. 

The shackles were off and you were free. How 
glorious it was to discard prejudices! Weak people 
could not stand the truth. It was meat for the 
strong. You defined religion to your own satisfac¬ 
tion: “Religion is man’s compromise with the forces 
of a hostile environment.” Few indeed were those 
who had the courage not to compromise. 




The Bach of the Booh 


55 


When people were unreceptive, you never intruded 
your religious views on them. Perhaps they were 
weak, and would be helpless without the support of 
their illusions. But, oh, the assured idiocy of their 
patter! They never scrupled about forcing it on 
you. They were so smug. It was irritating, but 
there was a pitiful side to it. You never passed a 
church without being saddened by the human needs 
and aspirations which its existence symbolized. 

xxiii 

Walt Whitman said: “It is provided in the es¬ 
sence of things that from any fruition of success, 
no matter what, shall come forth something to make 
a greater struggle necessary.” That was a white 
light burning in your mind. (Could it be one of the 
answers in the back of the book of problems?) 
Something grew clear as you considered the idea, 
and saw it illumine history, biology, evolution, phi¬ 
losophy. Humanity trooping down the ages in a 
gigantic pageant of disillusionment! That was what 
you saw. But the actors, for the most part unaware 
of what the pageant represented, of what their parts 
signified, were too involved, too much occupied by 
the drama to try to comprehend it. 

How splendid this vision was! It was disillusion¬ 
ment, but it brought no pain. It brought a singing 




56 


The Bach of the Booh 


triumph, because it was magnificent, because you 
could understand. 


XXIV 

Christmas vacation was unsettling. Through 
Harriet you had come to know two boys who were 
studying law, Brace Andrews and Reger Vane. As 
soon as you saw Roger Vane, you realized that he 
was the most attractive man you had ever met. 
In the first place, he did not seem young at all. 
He was scornful and bitter; terribly cynical, you 
told yourself with delight. Like Leigh, he forced 
you to keep for him your most sophisticated flashes 
of thought. You wanted his approval. And you 
liked his thin face, with the long narrow nose which 
gave his profile a Semitic look. His eyes, discon¬ 
tented and profound, observed everything. 

You and Roger grew to know each other well dur¬ 
ing Christmas vacation. You were proud to have 
him as your escort to parties and the theater; and 
you bore up well under his stream of acrimonious 
comment. He seldom said anything complimentary 
to you. But one night at a dance, he told you that 
you had passionate hands. You had never been 
so thrilled. With new interest you looked at your 
thin, creamy fingers. You had no idea how pas¬ 
sionate hands were different from any others, but 
you felt sure that not many of the girls at college had 
them. 



The Bach of the Booh 


57 


XXV 

You were young and pretty and gay. It seemed 
to you all-important to be so, and you dreamt 
of Christmas vacation for weeks after your return 
to college. Then Roger came for the Senior Prom, 
a fertile spot in a waste of study. College seemed 
gray afterward. The walks were full of slush, the 
halls were drafty. You were tired of the bleak 
classrooms, the carelessly dressed girls, the clatter 
at mealtimes. You had moments of suffocation in 
this community of women. 

This was a mood, and it would pass. If only 
spring would come: spring, with its happiness that 
was nine parts pain, the year’s adolescence, full of 
disquietudes. You would let Roger come for a week¬ 
end. Together you would walk, perhaps hand in 
hand, over the hills, among the blossoming fruit 
trees of the virgin year. 

xxvi 

There were a dozen girls around the long oak 
table, high up in the Gothic tower room where the 
seminar history class was held. Dr. Eliot was read¬ 
ing aloud, out of a rare old book about Erasmus. 
As you listened, you looked at the yellow pages, 
quaintly printed, and the worn edges of the brown 
calfskin binding. 

It was a sunny day of spring. In the glass which 




58 


The Bach of the Booh 


covered the end of the table, you could see reflected 
the pointed window, which framed blue sky and 
clouds and treetops. The yellow pages of the old 
book rested on them. And something was moving 
in the glass! You leaned forward to see. It was 
the tiny reflection of a swallow, soaring up into the 
sky. 

The symbol of learning—the soaring swallow 
mirrored in the classroom table! Your spirit lifted 
in an ecstasy like prayer. 

xxvii 

As Commencement drew near, you were filled with 
regret. The four best years of your life—ended! 
It was hard to grow older and see things change and 
pass. 

With Harriet and Leigh, you strolled about the 
campus in the last warm evenings, recalling poign¬ 
antly the incidents of your college years. The 
checkered lights of the buildings reminded you of 
your first glimpse of the campus at night. How 
far away that Vergie seemed, a slim child in a blue 
sailor hat! There was something pitiful in her hope¬ 
fulness. Her confidence in the future had not been 
betrayed; nothing so false, so bad as that. But 
reality had fallen short. Its colors were not so 
bright as those of her vision. Were these four 
years, you wondered, a symbol of all living, all en¬ 
deavor and attainment? Must there always be a 




The Bach of the Booh 


59 


hot needle of irony in achievement? Pricking re¬ 
grets in the very elation of success? . . . 

Blond moths under the moon, these other girls 
you passed. Someone was playing a mandolin 
softly. Someone laughed from a window among the 
vines. On the old steps a group was singing. A 
noisy crowd came whooping down the hill, breaking 
the spell with cries and laughter and the smell of 
bacon. 

You were to leave all this: so many traditions, 
so many hopes; much of beauty and comradeship. 
You grudged them angrily to the ones who were to 
come after you. Silently, offensively, they would 
take your place. In a horrid way, their experience 
would duplicate yours. They would think the same 
thoughts, suffer the same regrets. 

Almost as objectionable were those who had pre¬ 
ceded you: these interlopers, the alumnae, gleeful and 
possessive, absorbed in their business of reunion. 
They were outsiders. They were old women, acting 
unbecomingly; fat ones, dancing around trees. That 
big and hoydenish group had been out of college 
for five years—haggard, faded women, trying to call 
back youth. 

xxviii 

The packing cases were in the halls, and it was 
almost time to go. Families, bewildered and per- 



60 


The Bach of the Booh 


spiring, were everywhere in the sunshine. There 
were bunches of girls, like sweetpeas, in organdies 
and chiffons. That was Class Day. 

Commencement Day brought solemnity in cap 
and gown. Some of the girls dropped tears into 
their packing cases, but your sentimental moment 
had passed. You were detached and cynical. And 
somewhere in you was a vast impatience to be off 
on a new voyage of exploration. You had dreamt 
of undiscovered countries, but they weren’t to be 
found in study. It was time to end this childish 
period of preparation, it was time to throw down a 
challenge to life. No half truths would satisfy you. 
You must have all the answers in the back of the 
book. You were resolved to go forth and conquer 
without further delay. 




CHAPTER III 


i 

Last evening she had walked through the park in 
the gently powdering snow, Vergie remembered. Yet 
it seemed long ago, and it had been strange to 
awaken to a world masked in white. As she moved 
across Fifth Avenue on her way to the office where 
she worked, she reflected that the cleared, wet 
sidewalks gave no hint of the country purity of snow 
which she had observed uptown. There, this morn¬ 
ing, the drifts still lay dead-white, under the dull 
sun which stared from behind a pallid sky. Vergie 
had trudged along a narrow, squeaking track, save 
where last night’s wind had swept the snow aside in 
swirled, fantastic traceries. At the blown crossing, 
the floury furrows had slid and collapsed as she 
strove to find security in the footprints of earlier 
passers. 

Downtown the streets were already leveled and 
slushy, except for the mounds of spoiled white along 
the curbing. Beside these high mounds moved the 
hurrying current of workers. They seemed brighter 
and swifter than usual. And Vergie thought that 
in her novel she would describe a scene in New 
61 


62 


The Bach of the Booh 


York on a winter morning after snow; picturing the 
passersby as she saw them now, sharp and signifi¬ 
cant against the light screen. 

She rejoiced to find her mental processes keen 
and alert this morning. The long lobby of the office 
building into which she turned was an ugly vista. 
It was lined with a mottled green marble which gave 
the effect of Roquefort cheese—with dark figures 
moving through it like maggots. But that last touch, 
Vergie admitted, was rather sordid. It wouldn’t do 
for her book. Such realism was tiresome, old Euro¬ 
pean stuff. She looked at her watch. The hour was 
ridiculously early. Mr. Twill never came to the 
office until half-past ten. She stepped into the lunch 
room which opened on the lobby of the building and, 
mounting a high stool at the counter, ordered a cup 
of coffee. 

From the vantage of her perch, Vergie surveyed 
the streaming office workers through the large glass 
windows of the lunch room. It was, she reflected, 
apparent that it was Saturday morning. There was 
an air of subdued holiday—in fact, of half-holiday— 
exuberance in their faces and bearing. This day, it 
might be read, would see no long enslavement, but 
an early release. Even as they entered, their young 
wings were spread for flight. The girls were most 
conspicuous. They wore their newest finery, smart 
dresses, short fur coats, gay millinery. They hur¬ 
ried through the lobby in chattering groups, their 




The Back of the Booh 


63 


faces red and white, bright hair flaring under mad 
hats. Some of them were crude, almost all were 
obvious. But any one would have made a poster. 
Vergie looked at them comprehendingly from her 
perch in the lunch room; and her being was suffused 
with a lively sympathy, not untinctured with arro¬ 
gance. 


it 

The offices of Good Taste, a monthly periodical 
devoted to the beautification of the home, were situ¬ 
ated on the fifteenth story. From the windows 
might be seen blocks of less lofty buildings, a 
wreckage of cluttered roofs, stuck with the casual 
spars of skyscrapers. Vergie walked into an of¬ 
fice in the editorial department, where she worked. 
The winter light fell thinly on the plastered walls, 
adorned with framed magazine covers. It fell, too, 
on Miss Aronson, the stenographer, plying her morn¬ 
ing lipstick by the window. 

“Good morning,” said Vergie affably, and she 
smiled her quick smile at Miss Aronson, whom she 
liked. It pleased her to recognize the comradeship 
of labor. She had a moment of elation over arriv¬ 
ing, over beginning a new day, fresh and unspoiled. 
But the papers on her desk recalled a familiar dis¬ 
taste for the routine of her work. 

In addition to her editorial duties, Vergie acted as 
secretary to Mr. Twill, the editor of Good Taste. 




64 


The Bach of the Booh 


She went into the inner office, his sanctum, to make 
sure that all things were in readiness for his coming. 
She pulled open the wide top-drawer of his desk, in 
which was arranged every accessory which Mr. 
Twill might need. There were pins and rubber 
bands and fasteners and erasers in their respective 
compartments; blotters in a white, rectangular pile; 
a row of sharpened pencils, their points turned to 
the left, so that the right hand picked them up with 
the minimum of inconvenience; a glass cylinder of 
water with a sponge on the end for moistening the 
flaps of envelopes—these were only a few of the 
appointments of the drawer. 

Mr. Twill did not often have occasion to use these 
things. In a practical way, it would have made no 
difference if they had not been arranged with such 
meticulous order. Mr. Twill’s day was not, indeed, 
so crowded that it would have mattered if he had 
had to search for a moment on the rare occasions 
when he affixed a fastener or sealed a letter for him¬ 
self; nor would much efficiency have been lost if he 
had had to turn his wrist in order to pick up a 
pencil. 

It was, nevertheless, in the name of efficiency that 
the drawer was so disposed. His top-drawer pleased 
Mr. Twill by reminding him what a good business 
man he was. He thought he had planned it him¬ 
self, and Vergie let him think so. It was her joke 






The Bach of the Booh 


65 


on Mr. Twill. Usually she was amused by the 
drawer, which seemed to her to bear an absurd re¬ 
semblance to a box of assorted candy mints. But, 
making sure this morning that its perfection was 
unimpaired, Vergie regarded it with disgust. 
The joke, it appeared, was on her. The drawer 
symbolized the tyranny of routine, of preoccupations 
unworthy her talents. She closed it sharply, and 
grudgingly completed her inspection of the sanctum. 
She placed the waste basket at the point most con¬ 
venient to Mr. Twill’s left hand, the hand he threw 
things away with. She turned the page of the desk 
calendar, so that the Twill eye should not be af¬ 
fronted by seeing the date of the day before. 

By this time, the various departments of Good 
Taste were busily at work. The dulled murmur of 
their activities came to Vergie’s ears, as she returned 
to her desk in the outer office. The room next door 
was shared by an elderly female decorator and a 
young art editor. The Information and Shopping 
services were housed in the office beyond. Down the 
hall was the Advertising Department; and the cir¬ 
culation of the magazine was regulated in stencil- 
scattered galleries on the floor below. 

Vergie took up a lay-out of photographs, headed 
“Sunrooms of Distinction,” and began writing cap¬ 
tions for them. But her mind strayed from the sun- 
rooms. She couldn’t concentrate on work this morn- 




66 The Back of the Boole 

ing, because she was thinking of herself, of her 
future. Of what significance was this day’s routine, 
this brief phase of life? Through the window be¬ 
side her desk, she could see the broken lines of 
roofs and, in the gray channel of street far below, 
scampering toy figures and black checkers of traffic. 
But actually quite a different picture was before her 
eyes. She was seeing a lovely lady, slender and 
erect, in a dim room filled with flowers. Men bent 
to kiss her hand and pay her homage . . . “an 
author of brilliant subtlety.” There was the true 
Vergie, a far more vivid reality than this girl in a 
black dress who sat working at an office desk. 

Punctually at ten-thirty Mr. Twill strode into the 
office and entered his sanctum. Almost at once his 
buzzer gave its soft, but imperious purr. 

Mr. Twill was the kind of magazine editor who 
affords a hearty laugh to the members of the adver¬ 
tising department. He inspired that department of 
Good Taste to facetious remarks about the big open 
spaces where men are men. Mr. Twill did not seem 
a product of the big open spaces, but he suited very 
nicely the blue console tables of his sahetum. Ver¬ 
gie had once been attracted by his waxy smoothness; 
by his small head, his elegant finger nails, and his 
vertical stripe of dark red mustache, placed di¬ 
rectly under his nostrils, like a nosebleed. But the 
illusion had worn thin. Now, after three years, she 





The Bach of the Booh 


67 


was bored with Mr. Twill. She was tired of his 
niceties and his archness. She couldn’t forgive him 
the affectation with which he pronounced French 
and Italian words, or his trick of rubbing cigarette 
smoke out of his eye with the back of his thumb, 
the corners of his mouth drawn down. 

Hi 

Mr. Twill’s head was aching this morning, and he 
had lowered the shades, so that no light should fall 
on the speckless waste of glass which covered his 
desk. He was pressing the thumb and fingers of 
one hand against his brow with a gesture of pain. 

“Vergie, my nerves . . . they’re ragged this 
morning.” He modified his gesture into a stroking 
of the brow with his fingers. “If only I could go 
away with you somewhere, just the two of us, to 
some quiet place. . . .” 

Vergie waited with patience. She understood 
quite well that this was simply an agreeable pre¬ 
lude. The business of the day would soon begin. 

“My dear girl,” continued Mr. Twill, “something 
has to be done about the April number. It’s dread¬ 
fully flat. We’ll have to find some really smart 
interiors—not just interiors for the sake of inte¬ 
riors. . . .” 

“Say that word ‘interiors’ again, and I leave this 
office,” Vergie registered irritably in her mind. But 




68 


The Bach of the Booh 


her small triangle of face remained serenely atten¬ 
tive. 

“. . . something wonderfully smart/ 5 Mr. Twill 
went on. “How about running that first article on 
French furniture? Bayard’s coming in this morn¬ 
ing with his photographs. Sit in with us, Vergie. 
I’m not good for much today. You sit in with 
us. . . His tones trailed away, tired of the effort 
of dragging the words. But, when Vergie went back 
to the outer office, he followed her, and stood bal¬ 
ancing limply beside her desk, his elegant hands in 
his pockets. 

“Not bad my getting those articles from Bay¬ 
ard? 55 he appealed to her. “Not bad, eh? Big name 
as a connoisseur. I was at the Beaux Arts with him, 
he remembered me at once. He 5 s one of the Bay¬ 
ards, you know, 55 Mr. Twill added significantly. 
His sense of the value of the connection animated his 
sagging oval of face. As he reentered his office, 
he looked back over his shoulder. “If only we could 
change the name of the magazine. . . . 55 Mr. Twill 
sighed, shrugged his shoulders after the manner of 
the French, and closed the door of his sanctum be¬ 
hind him. 

The heading, Good Taste, was a survival of pre- 
Twill days when the magazine’s pages showed bunga¬ 
low plans, convenient kitchen arrangements, and the 
living rooms of Middle Western millionaires. Since 
assuming the post of editor, Mr. Twill had done his 




The Bach of the Booh 


69 


best to remove the stigma of the past. And his in¬ 
sistence on the purely smart had triumphed over the 
dismal headshakings of the advertising and circula¬ 
tion departments. Smartness must have a market, 
they were forced to admit. But his attempts at 
changing the name of the magazine met with their 
firm opposition. He was obliged to suffer the 
monthly degradation of seeing all his smartness 
gathered under the heading of Good Taste. 

iv 

Vergie rose from her desk, as a boy conducted 
Mr. Bayard into the office. He was a vague, quiet 
man, in a greatcoat of foreign cut. He greeted Ver¬ 
gie with courtesy, apparently relieved at seeing her 
familiar face. 

“Rather an old French piece himself,” Vergie 
thought, rolling her eyes at Miss Aronson, as Mr. 
Bayard went into the sanctum. “Genuine, but in 
need of repairs.” Yet she felt that the roll of the 
eyes had been a trifle disloyal to her caste. Liter¬ 
ary folk ought to stand together. And no one had 
a right to roll her eyes at Louis Bayard’s cadenced 
prose. 

“I suppose books about furniture don’t bring in 
much,” she said to Miss Aronson. “It isn’t fair to 
make fun of him. . . .” 

“No?” said Miss Aronson, polite but unimpressed. 
“Did you get the pre-war clothes?” she inquired. 




70 


The Bach of the Booh 


Vergie delayed for a moment at her desk, adding 
a word or a comma, telling herself that it was in¬ 
convenient to be interrupted. But she was actually 
most relieved to escape from the sunrooms, whose 
latticed and cretonned reproductions looked up ex¬ 
pectantly from their page. She went into Mr. Twill’s 
sanctum and seated herself at the wide desk, across 
from the two men. They were bending over a mass 
of shiny photographs of French furniture. Louis 
Bayard had thrown aside his greatcoat, revealing 
himself surprisingly lean. His eyes were brown, and 
so were his thinning hair and his small mustache; 
he wore a brown bow tie, and a shirt with stripings 
of brown. He was adjusting on his nose a pair of 
glasses on a black cord; and he smiled at Vergie 
with his quizzical frown, one eyebrow drawn up 
higher than the other. His hands began to fuss 
among the photographs. 

The two men were in sharp contrast. Louis 
Bayard appeared preoccupied and negligent, Mr. 
Twill dapper and ingratiating. Beside Louis Bay¬ 
ard, this editor seemed to fill his clothes too impor¬ 
tantly. There was an almost vulgar self-conscious¬ 
ness in his attire. A triangle of monogrammed white 
protruded too deliberately from his breast pocket. 
His tie too patently expressed the sporting note in 
infinitesimal checkings of red and white. 

“Any hope of our getting the first article this 
week, eh, Bayard? I don’t want to press you, old 




The Back of the Book 


71 


man. But if we could have it for the April num¬ 
ber ?” Mr. Twill drew down the corners of his 
mouth deprecatingly, as he rubbed one eye with the 
back of his thumb. There wasn’t any smoke in 
that eye, Vergie told herself. It was his silly trick. 

Louis Bayard came out of his thoughts, with his 
customary air of having been interrupted. But he 
was polite about interruptions. His mind stepped 
out courteously to meet Mr. Twill’s inquiry. “This 
week? Yes, I think so. Thursday. Thursday?” 
He spoke with the precise enunciation of one who, 
from long use of another language, has learned to 
be respectful to his own. 

He held out a pile of photographs to Vergie. “Do 
you like any of these?” he said, almost shyly. She 
put out her hand. How thin it looked in the wide 
black sleeve I For a moment, the pose of her hand 
was etched on Vergie’s mind. It was dramatic, sig¬ 
nificant. Another woman wouldn’t have taken the 
photographs in just that way. She turned them 
idly, faintly impressed with her own importance, 
with the fact that Louis Bayard had asked her if 
she liked any of them. Stately, intricate chairs 
slipped under her fingers, sending up a heavy scent 
of dynasty, patronage. The chairs spoke phrases: 
Le Roi le veut; Dieu et mon droit . 

Presently she was studying photographs of more 
modern pieces. These graceful shapes evoked a 
desire for possession. The others were remote, lack- 




72 


The Bach of the Booh 


ing in intimacy. She had enjoyed them merely as 
spectacles. Perhaps more for that quality of remi¬ 
niscence: that frail trace of a heavy fragrance, as 
from an old vinaigrette. 

A slender-legged powdering table of inlaid wood 
was adorable. Vergie coveted it. Some day, when 
she had achieved fame and money, she would have 
a table like that—perhaps that very table. Impa¬ 
tience touched her suddenly. Seeing the powdering 
table as her own, she wanted to show them, these 
others, in what terms they should value her. “Our 
most modern woman writer”—Mr. Twill would be 
amazed when he saw the reviews. Secretly he would 
feel chagrin that he had missed her rare quality; 
but he would pretend that he had known it all along. 
He would tell people that he had discovered her. 

Louis Bayard was still spreading out the photo¬ 
graphs, arranging them after some plan of his own. 
Vergie watched his hands: sensitive, living hands, 
which loved to touch beautiful things. Near them 
rested the hands of Mr. Twill; one of these took 
up the photograph of a small and elegant cabinet. 
The hand held the photograph out, while its fellow 
described a curve of appreciation. And Vergie 
saw that Mr. Twill was less concerned with 
the picture than with the hands which it served to 
display. It was a habit with him to look at his 
hands. They were white and shapely, with large, 
tended nails. He laid them back on the desk. 



The Bach of the Booh 


73 


The photographs mounted in flat, glossy piles 
under Louis Bayard’s hovering fingers. His hands 
were brown birds, hopping; among the pictures. 
They were never quite still. Even when quiet for 
an instant, they seemed poised to take flight. Ver- 
gie saw her own hands. They were white peacocks, 
moving proudly over the pictures. She must use 
that in her book: hands like vain white peacocks. 
Mr. Twill’s hands, spread out now on the desk, were 
quite different. They were wax hands, well-made 
and lifeless. 

v 

They spent so long over the photographs that 
Vergie was in haste to clear her desk and leave the 
office for the day. Elation quickened her. She had 
an agreeable, if undefined, feeling of escape. She 
was lunching at home. Roger Vane was coming, as 
he often did on Saturdays. 

Vergie saw his dark profile outlined against the 
green curtains at the window, as she let herself into 
the apartment. He had made himself comfortable 
in an easy chair, where he sat gnawing the inside 
of his cheek; and, taking off her coat in the hallway, 
Vergie smiled at the sight. Memories, revivified by 
her thoughts of the night before, stirred in her mind. 
She recalled the depths of bitterness and worldly 
wisdom which she had once fondly read into Roger’s 




74 


The Bach of the Booh 


eyes. She had been a senior at college when they 
met, and her tales of his cynicism had proved won¬ 
derfully impressive to the other girls. Deliberately 
she tried to summon her young respect for him, as 
an unusual and impressive person. It was hard to 
imagine. He now seemed merely a moody man, 
intelligent, ironic, amusing. 

She greeted him pertly, and for a minute or two 
they sat pretending to find fault with each other. 
That was the game they always played. A good 
armor against sentiment, Vergie told herself; and 
even after all these years, she couldn’t help realiz¬ 
ing that Roger still seemed to feel the need of 
armor. 

He began to talk of Harriet, with his almost femi¬ 
nine pleasure in observing personal traits, analyzing 
details of character. 

“Harriet is a disappointment,” he said didactically. 
Roger always issued statements—never ventured 
opinions. “She is sunk in domesticity. Gracefully 
sunk, if that’s any satisfaction—drowned in it, any¬ 
way. She’s as pleased and complacent as though 
the institution of the Home were her own private 
discovery.” 

“Very charming and feminine, I think,” said 
Vergie. 

“Harriet used to have lots of interests,” Roger 
went on. “Economics was just a fad with her, but 




The Bach of the Booh 


75 


it was better than nothing. Yes, I really preferred 
her as she was in college—with her hair pulled 
back, and that wide-eyed, expectant look of saving 
the world year after next. Marriage had ripened 
and ruined her. You know my theories about 
women. . . .” 

“I certainly do,” Vergie said. “Make no mistake 
about that.” She pretended to stifle a yawn, but 
Roger disregarded her. 

“Women,” he said with assurance, “are nothing 
but a compound of sensuality and vanity. Their 
other qualities are frills, non-essentials. But they’ll 
never admit it—their vanity, of course, prevents 
them. And men, more complex animals, are incredu¬ 
lous of the possibility of such elemental natures.” 

“All except you,” Vergie said. “You know, don’t 
you?” 

“In your way, you’re nearly as complacent as 
Harriet,” said Roger, frowning at her, “and with far 
less excuse. You’ve had the advantage of being an¬ 
alyzed by me. Now, you’re the sort of woman who 
ought to marry. Domesticity netd hold no terrors 
for you. You’ll never be wholly absorbed in any¬ 
thing outside yourself. When are you going to 
marry, anyhow?” He eyed Vergie sharply beneath 
his lowered brows. “You’re not considering little 
Crump seriously, are you?” 

“No, that’s all off,” Vergie told him. She shook 




76 


The Bach of the Booh 


her head admiringly at Roger, in tribute to his per¬ 
spicacity. “How did you know about little Crump?” 
she asked. “You manage to find out everything. 
I thought I had concealed him rather well—meeting 
in the office, so convenient and everything. I’m 
afraid I just escaped that boy. He’s such an eager 
little advertising solicitor. And he was so nice dur¬ 
ing office hours, I felt sure he would be kind in the 
home.” 

“That,” said Roger, “is a more naive feeling 
than I would have credited you with having.” 

“He wore light blue cuff buttons and a signet 
ring,” Vergie continued reminiscently. “But it 
didn’t seem to matter. I was in one of my more 
domestic phases—settling down was an attractive 
thought—and I wanted him, anyway. I got that 
possessive feeling, the idea that I must take care of 
him and darn his socks—just like the ladies in the 
problem plays. He had it, too. I wore storm rub¬ 
bers for two months last winter to please him-” 

“What could have interrupted so ardent a court¬ 
ship?” Roger inquired. 

“I stopped in time,” Vergie explained. “The first 
warning came when I began to notice his shirts. 
They kept recurring regularly, like boarding-house 
meals. It got on my nerves. First a blue-checked 
one, then a pink striped one, then a white one with 
a darn near the collar. . . .” 

“It’s a pleasure,” said Roger, “to find a woman 





The Bach of the Booh 


77 


so sensitively organized.” He sat forward, his el¬ 
bows on the arms of his chair, his long fingers laced 
together across his vest. “But this possessive feel¬ 
ing you speak of? When did you acquire that tend¬ 
ency? I don’t remember your ever displaying any 
possessive feeling when I was around.” 

“No,” Vergie told him. “No, I don’t remember 
feeling possessive toward you. I’m giving it up 
permanently. Feelings like that have been the un¬ 
doing of many a girl. It’s so easy to' spoil your 
life! I’m going to make a name for myself.” Her 
thoughts turned inward, and a smile played over 
her face. She beat her hands together softly, ab¬ 
sently. Roger watched her with a look which might 
have meant disappointment. For the moment Vergie 
had forgotten that Roger was there. 

vi 

The door slammed, having admitted Mrs. Stilson 
and Pet. 

“Roger here already?” Mrs. Stilson amiably 
asked. She lumbered into the living room, her face 
complacent as she greeted him. She approved of 
his attentions to Vergie. He was rather queer; 
but you couldn’t have everything in a man. Roger 
was a smart fellow, a steady young lawyer. 

“He was here before I came in,” Vergie said. 
“Perfectly at home in the most comfortable chair.” 

“That’s right,” observed Mrs. Stilson. She 




78 


The Bach of the Booh 


slightly altered the position of an ashtray and two 
books on the table, with a happy sense of produc¬ 
ing order. “That’s right. We’re always glad to 
see Roger.” The last words were pronounced with 
a hint of elegance: her duties as a hostess. 

Pet, plump and rosy-cheeked, turned on Roger 
a shining, oblique glance. She sat down near her 
mother, her manner faintly conscious. One boyish 
hand she laid on the arm of her mother’s chair. 
There was something indefinably filial, affectionate 
in the gesture. It seemed to tell the others that she 
was her mother’s little girl. 

They talked casually, producing scraps of infor¬ 
mation and comment. Roger always behaved ad¬ 
mirably in the family circle. Sometimes he even 
went so far as to call Mr. Stilson “Sir.” It amused 
Vergie, but her father seemed to like it. He ap¬ 
peared now in the doorway, a staid, old-fashioned 
figure. His absent manner gave an impression of 
formality; but his face lighted as he saw his younger 
daughter. 

“Well, Pet!” he said. His arms stirred, ready to 
move toward her. 

Pet went to him, dimpling, ready for this new 
role. She put up her face for his kiss. 

“How’s my girl?” he asked, patting her shoulder. 

“That’s a very unfair thing,” Roger objected. 
Sometimes, when dealing with families, he assumed 
quite a Rotary Club manner, Vergie thought. He 



The Back of the Book 


79 


liked to tease Pet with whom he had often played 
when she was a little girl. “It’s a rule of the house 
not to kiss any man unless you kiss all the men 
present,” he said, walking over to her. 

“What house?” Pet asked. Her lips formed a 
smiling pout. 

“Any house I happen to be in,” Roger told her. 
He put his arm around Pet, and she raised her 
mouth. Two red lips moved up to Roger’s smilingly, 
confidently. That wasn’t a little girl’s kiss! 

“Pet! I’m surprised!” her mother murmured. 
There was a catch of dismay in her voice; and 
Vergie knew that it wasn’t caused by the fact of the 
kiss, but by the ready gesture with which Pet had 
lifted her mouth. Where had she learned that? 
Vergie remembered Frank, the curly-headed boy 
with whom Pet danced and skated and went to the 
movies. Frank looked so harmless. But, of course, 
it was easy to forget how things were at eighteen. 
Probably Pet wasn’t really different—only more 
honest than girls had been ten years ago. 

“Roger’s my big brother,” Pet said. “Aren’t you, 
Roger?” She giggled, the corners of her wide gray 
eyes crinkling. The moment seemed to lend her 
poise. Before them all, her elders, she appeared a 
new Pet, grown-up, too, by virtue of having received 
attention. She began to chatter about her own 
affairs, about the incidents of her morning. She was 
no longer mother’s little girl. Her words were ad- 




80 


The Bach of the Booh 


dressed to all of them; but her warm sidelong 
glances were for Roger. 

Vergie peeped at the watch on her wrist. Ten 
minutes still remained before luncheon. An im¬ 
patience with the chatter, with the familiar pres¬ 
ences of the others, disturbed her. Her own preoc¬ 
cupations were insistent. She slipped from her place 
on the couch, and went to her room. 

In the hall, her mother’s steps sounded heavily. 
She came to Vergie’s door. “Vergie,” she addressed 
her daughter in a loud whisper, “anything new 
today? Are you going out with Roger? It seems 
to me you’re seeing him pretty often again.” Her 
face, twitching with curiosity, endeavored to wear a 
look of casual interest. It could be read that her 
inmost emotion was a desire to understand her child. 

“Don’t you worry,” Vergie told her. “You can’t 
start a romance between Roger and me. Girls now¬ 
adays don’t marry every man they go out with.” 

Mrs. Stilson withdrew into herself. “I know 
that,” she said with dignity. Her manner made it 
clear that Vergie should have realized she knew that. 

“Anyway,” Vergie continued, “Roger isn’t the kind 
of man that marries. He’s the kind that has affairs.” 

“How do you know?” inquired Mrs. Stilson. Sus¬ 
picion was revealed in two steely points in her eyes. 
“He never said such a thing to you?” 

“No,” Vergie answered. “I can tell it by his 
socks.” 




The Bach of the Booh 


81 


Her mother left the room, and Vergie closed the 
door gently after her. She turned toward her book¬ 
case, where she had concealed her work of the pre¬ 
ceding night. There, behind the books on the top 
shelf, were the yellow pages out of which her novel 
would be made. She stood quite still for a moment, 
feeling her day leap upward to this pinnacle, this 
point of shining light. From behind the books she 
drew the sheaf of papers, and sat down by the win¬ 
dow to look at them. 

mi 

A small table stood near her chair, and she pulled 
it closer, in order that she might spread the papers 
on it. She sorted them into piles, deliberately re¬ 
sisting the impulse to begin reading them. Her 
hands were white peacocks treading the yellow 
papers. Her careful fingers moved more slowly than 
Louis Bayard’s, which were brown birds, hopping, 
pecking. She took up the first sheets and began to 
read. 

On these pages was life, abject, comprehended. 
She, Vergie, had caught and bound it. That was 
why her fingers moved proudly among the yellow 
papers. With a long breath she absorbed herself 
in the notes she had made. Time, as she read, was 
forgotten. She did not remember Roger or her 
family, chatting in the living room. The pages held 
her utterly. 





82 


The Bach of the Booh 


Yet, this first part was not the most interesting. 
After all, anecdotes about children were always much 
the same; everyone was doing them these days. She 
laid aside the first sheets, and turned to later notes. 
Their bloom and significance she did not immedi¬ 
ately rediscover; the incidents and descriptions 
seemed curiously dull. She searched now for one 
splendid bit, a paragraph it had stirred her to recall 
as she sat at her desk that morning. . . . Something 
was gone. Vergie ran her fingers quickly through 
the pages. They were all there. What could be 
gone? 

It couldn’t be merely that her mood had changed, 
that she missed the excitement of the night before, 
the enthusiasm of her swirling thoughts? It couldn’t 
be that? The query raked her mind. Her fingers 
were trembling, but she set herself coldly to look 
again at what she had written, to judge it dispassion¬ 
ately. Something droned in her ears that these 
jottings were not even related to one another. She 
tried not to listen, but the droning was insistent. 
Where, it asked, was their magical unity? 

Why, they were just her memories! 

With something sick and chill under her heart, 
Vergie saw they were only her memories. These 
notes recorded the scraps of the past: things such 
as everyone remembered; things dull people per¬ 
sisted in telling you. 





The Bach of the Booh 


83 


via 

She found herself looking down at a pile of torn 
yellow papers in the lap of her black dress. She 
took the sides of her skirt in her hands, and walked 
slowly to the waste basket. There she let the yel¬ 
low pieces fall, a drift of autumn leaves. 

“Lunch, Vergie!” It was her mother’s voice. 

“Right away,” she called in answer. But she did 
not move. “I’m not a great person after all,” she 
said to herself. Tears of self-pity filled her throat. 
She could have sobbed in a passion of disappoint¬ 
ment. But at least she hadn’t told anyone. No 
one need ever know how close she had come to prov¬ 
ing herself second-rate. 

“Vergie! Lunch!” 

On the wall of her room was the picture of a 
woman. She was gazing into her own reflection in 
a pool, and her face wore an expression of satisfied 
vanity. 

“You fool, you fool,” Vergie said. Her self-dis¬ 
gust hardened her. She went into the dining room. 

She moved in a little hush, which protected her. 
Through it pierced the complaints of the others at 
her delay. To her father alone it was a matter of 
indifference whether Vergie came to luncheon on 
time, or not. The rest were clamorous. And it 
seemed to Vergie that they were not attacking her 
so much as the quiet of the small dining room, 




84 


The Bach of the Book 


faintly redolent of creamed tuna fish and hot tea. 
On the quiet they fell, tearing and rending and 
worrying it. It hung about them in ribbons. 

“Don’t let them tease you, daughter,” her father 
said. Vergie looked at him with surprise. He must, 
then, believe her accessible to the meanings of this 
confusion. Yet he, in speaking, came back from 
some inner remoteness as absorbing as her own. 

Pet was a round fruit, crimson-cheeked. “Isn’t 
Vergie’s face a perfect triangle?” she asked Roger. 
She felt that the moment was giving her a delicious 
advantage over her sister. 

Their voices mingled, rising and falling persis¬ 
tently. “I forgot to tell you,” Roger said to Vergie. 
“I have tickets for the symphony this afternoon. 
Can’t you and Pet go? Your mother has another 
engagement. ...” 

“I’m going over to the Ninety-second Street Thea¬ 
ter with Mrs. Nordlinger,” said Mrs. Stilson. She 
seemed glad to record this social contact. 

“I’d love to go,” Vergie said. “Let’s start now.” 
She rose from the table, released by the idea of 
action and change. “Do you suppose you’ll like 
the music, Pet?” she asked her sister. 

“Of course, I’ll like the music. What do you 
know about what I like? I know just as much about 
music as you do.” 

“Now, Pet. . . .” her mother began. 



The Bach of the Booh 


85 


“Don’t call me, Pet,” she said. “No one in this 
family is ever to call me Pet again.” She grew 
petulant, her flare of temper dying. And she looked 
around at her father to make sure he understood 
he was included in the new ruling. “My name is 
Helen,” she added, by way of closing her argu¬ 
ment. Roger’s amused eyes met hers, and she 
smiled, a little girl’s ashamed smile. 

Out of the unreality of the apartment, Vergie 
moved into the stinging air. She looked with grati¬ 
tude at Roger. He was at her side, dependable and 
familiar. Something in her was freed by a sense of 
the fluidity of life, which forever admits of change. 
The bright, vertical city rose about her, sharpened 
by its covering of snow. She was no longer shut in 
a silence slit with voices; she was moving up a 
snow-bordered street, murmurous with the stirring 
of motors, the purr of the city. Soon she would 
have lived another endurable day. 

Not enough, not enough, a passionate voice within 
her cried, that days should be merely endurable! 
But she did not heed the cry. She was indifferent 
to it, as she was to the voices of Roger and Pet, 
which blended impersonally with the other sounds 
of the street. 

She was alone with her sense of the flux of living. 
Life moved on, moved on; so little happened. Hap¬ 
piness was as ephemeral as a hairnet. And hope 
passed with a curious want of dignity. 


















. 1 * 









































































V 















II 



















s- 




* 
















I 



• . I 






CHAPTER IV 


i 

The appointment of Harriet’s living room was a 
gay embroidery worked on a background of cream- 
paneled walls and reticent gray rug. Its decora¬ 
tions were pretty and elegant. A visit to Harriet al¬ 
ways inspired Vergie with a longing for possessions 
of her own; with a wish to surround herself with 
an equal, if more subtly characterized, luxurious¬ 
ness. On an afternoon late in March, she sat on a 
soft couch and sipped a cup of tea, looking about 
her at the upholstery of deep rose velvet, the up¬ 
holstery of cornflower blue taffeta, and the tinted 
Stars of the lamps. 

Harriet, tranquil in pale silk, presided over a low 
tea table. She was relaxed, matronly; the slightly 
austere Harriet of college days could scarcely be 
discerned, though she retained the dignity which 
had distinguished her before her marriage to Brace 
Andrews, a well-favored man in good clothes, who 
sat near her. He was talking to Dannet Holden, a 
man somewhat less well-favored, in clothes not quite 
so good. The latter’s flattened, sheep-like face nod¬ 
ded wisely in response to Brace’s words; and he 
settled his stiff, high collar with one forefinger* 
89 


90 


The Bach of the Booh 


while his eyes moved uncertainly behind their glasses 
toward Roger who was talking to Vergie and 
Harriet. 

“I have to go home/’ Vergie said. 

“You always have to go home,” said Brace An¬ 
drews. He interrupted Dannet Holden’s mild sheep- 
face which was speaking earnestly to him; and his 
words reproached Vergie, because he liked her and 
did not want her to go home—but also because he 
had been trained in the tradition of never seeming 
to want anyone to go home. 

“Stay for dinner,” Harriet suggested. She rose 
from the tea table, and came to stand beside Vergie, 
poking her shoulder softly, as though that might 
help to induce her to stay. Vergie looked at her, 
reading her quite clearly; a lovely wife, draped in 
pale silks designed to modify the impression that 
she would soon be a lovely mother. “Dannet and 
Roger are staying,” Harriet went on. She turned 
to Dannet and Roger for confirmation. 

“Not tonight,” Roger said. But Vergie saw that 
Dannet’s light eyes swam toward her behind the 
glasses of his tortoise-shell spectacles before he an¬ 
swered. 

She shook her head, her face upturned to Har¬ 
riet’s. “Awfully sorry I can’t. I have to be a duti¬ 
ful daughter tonight. Mother’s expecting some 
friends.” But she thought it was a pity that she 
had to leave the deep rose background of the couch, 



The Bach of the Booh 


91 


against which her black hair must look sleek, jetty. 

“I have to go, too,” said Dannet Holden. “Thank 
you just the same, Harriet.” The moment revealed 
that a happy expectation had died in him. For two 
years, in the intervals of selling bonds, he had be¬ 
stowed on Vergie his mute devotion. To his simple 
nature, preoccupied with financial fluctuations, she 
appeared a creature too capricious to be understood. 
Now, as she left the room, he swallowed uncom¬ 
fortably. He turned again to Brace, with an un¬ 
easy sense that their conversation should be neatly 
finished off. 

Harriet followed Vergie into the bedroom. “I 
had a letter from Leigh,” she told her; she found 
the letter in her desk. Leigh, their roommate at 
college, had married the professor of economics at 
a Western university, and was now the mother of 
four children. Vergie and Harriet sat on the bed 
and read her letter, feeling it warm them with sym¬ 
pathy for each other. Words, phrases, drew them 
together, because they revived associations of the 
past, and also because they reflected an alien man¬ 
ner of living. Catching the strange odor of another 
environment, they found each other familiar and 
congenial. Their shoulders and hands touched as 
they bent over the letter. They spoke of Leigh with 
a tempered regret; wondering what had happened 
to her elfin face and unrhymed verse; agreeing 



92 


The Bach of the Booh 


sadly what must have happened to her uncorseted 
figure. 

“Four children on a professor’s salary! Isn’t it 
really horrible?” Harriet said. But her serene oval 
of face remained calm, unstricken by the contem¬ 
plation of horribleness. And Vergie’s feeling of 
sympathy for Harriet disarmed her, robbed her of 
the ability to be critical, made her vulnerable to 
Harriet’s influence. For the moment, it seemed 
most desirable to be like Harriet. 

“Are you sure it isn’t a mistake about your 
baby?” she asked her. “I’ve been given to under¬ 
stand that utter slimness. . . .” 

“No mistake. Early in April,” Harriet said. 
She smiled with satisfaction, pleased, like all women 
in her condition, to be told that her figure was 
miraculously unaffected. 

“How exciting!” Vergie said. “It’s something 
happening.” She looked at Harriet out of her long, 
dark eyes, which betrayed her desire to have some¬ 
thing happening, too. 

“You ought to get married,” Harriet said. She 
walked to the mirror, and arranged her draperies 
contentedly. “That’s something happening.” She 
smiled; sweet, rooted, a lovely vegetable. 

“I’ll consider it,” said Vergie. Her tone was 
light, but she meant to consider it. “The men I 
would marry are impossible. You can’t expect me 




The Back of the Book 


93 


to look at Dannet Holden every morning at break¬ 
fast for the rest of my life. Or little Crump.” 

“You’re too critical,” Harriet told her. “And 
besides no one gets up for breakfast any more. Why 
don’t you take Roger? You could have him any 
time.” 

“Roger’s too queer. Lately he’s been even worse. 
And he’s an old story. Harriet, you know it 
wouldn’t do.” Yet, when they went back to the 
living room, she looked at Roger thoughtfully. His 
face was melancholy, abstracted. 

“You haven’t asked me to dinner in a long while,” 
he told her. 

“But he’s been there,” Vergie said to Harriet. 
“He had dinner with the family last week, while I 
was disporting myself with little Crump. I don’t 
know what’s getting into Roger, he’s so attentive 
to families.” 

Roger didn’t answer. He looked at Vergie silently. 
His face, she saw, was worn, there was a double line 
at either side of his thin strip of mouth. 
She felt suddenly sensitive, clairvoyant. She saw 
into Roger; he was another person like herself. He, 
too, was dissatisfied; he, too, was seeking restlessly. 
“Divine discontent—” .... “Rather I prize the 
doubt—” phrases, phrases; compensations devised 
by other minds, similarly distressed. She took 
Roger’s hand in hers, clasping it firmly. “Come to 
dinner Friday,” she told him. 




94 


The Bach of the Booh 


ii 

She hurried home, yet a reluctance slowed her 
steps as she approached the house. It was going 
to be a bad evening, though it held potentialities of 
humor, if she could bring herself to regard it hu¬ 
morously. Mrs. Stilson was expecting her neigh¬ 
bor, Mrs. Nordlinger, and the latter’s nephew, Roy- 
den Peck. As Vergie opened the door, her mother 
met her and followed her into her room. 

“This fellow, Royden Peck, is in the publicity 
business,” she began at once; and she peered at her 
daughter to ascertain if the news were good or bad. 
“Mrs. Nordlinger has told him so much about you,” 
she added. 

Her meaning was to Vergie crystal-clear. In 
these few words, she saw the story of her mother’s 
hopes and ambitions most lucidly delineated. And 
she resigned herself. “What do I have to wear? 
she asked. She stood docilely before her mother, 
who breathed contentment to find her child so 
simple, so compliant. 

“I think you look nice the way you are,” she told 
her. “I wouldn’t change.” Vergie remembered 
Mrs. Nordlinger, and decided that her mother was 
right. 

Mrs. Nordlinger and her husband occupied an 
apartment in the same house with the Stilsons; and 
she and Mrs. Stilson had been welded together by 





The Bach of the Booh 


95 


a campaign against insufficient heating during the 
previous winter. She was the sort of woman who 
is known as “ladylike.” She had earned this repu¬ 
tation, partly by her own mention of the fact, partly 
by her finicking accent and her habit of bowing 
deeply in greeting or farewell. Her hats were in¬ 
variably large and black, set on the precarious angle 
associated with the name of Gainsborough. She was 
a member of many clubs and liked, laughingly, to 
speak of herself as “a born leader.” 

Mr. Nordlinger was a slight improvement. It 
was poor picking, but he was a little better. Vergie 
liked his unpretentiousness. She liked his Elk’s 
tooth watch-charm, his frank removal of his coat in 
warm weather, and the manliness of the black cigar 
which he sometimes left in his mouth while talk¬ 
ing. There was something simple and honest in 
his calling Mrs. Nordlinger “Mama,” though there 
was nothing to substantiate the title except an old 
fox terrier named Prince. Vergie did not feel that 
she could have enjoyed these vagaries of Mr. Nord¬ 
linger for long at a time. But on the rare occasions 
when they met, she found in him something tonic, 
something spiritually in revolt, undominated by lady¬ 
likeness. 


in 

The Stilsons, father, mother and elder daughter, 
dined. After dinner, Mr. Stilson retired to his 




96 


The Bach of the Booh 


room, with the fifth volume of Carlyle’s “History 
of Frederick the Great” under his arm. He was 
devoting himself to a conscientious study of this 
work; from his orderly progress through its volumes 
he derived some vague satisfaction understood only 
by himself. 

“I guess Friedrich will be better company than 
‘Mama/ ” he told Vergie. A faint smile visited 
his lips, the bare suggestion of triumph. He was 
aware that his daughter was trapped for the eve¬ 
ning. 

Mrs. Stilson took up the evening paper, with the 
idea of scanning its more important news before the 
arrival of her guests. 

“Where’s Pet?” Vergie asked her. 

“Out with Frank,” her mother answered. Her 
words recalled some anxiety, which rose to her eyes, 
troubling them. She lowered the paper, shaking her 
head balefully. “She sees too much of him.” 

“He’s a nice little boy, isn’t he?” 

“For all I know,” Mrs. Stilson replied. “For all 
I know.” Her mournful tone suggested depths of 
depravity beyond her ken. “It’s nothing to laugh 
at these days, with young people marrying the way 
they do. You don’t know what a mother feels-” 

Pathos might have swamped the conversation, 
but the doorbell sounded an interruption. Mrs. 
Stilson hurried into the hall, and a clatter of greet¬ 
ings, pierced by a treble barking, was heard. Ver- 





The Bach of the Booh 


97 


gie rose to meet Mrs. Nordlinger with a pretty ges¬ 
ture of welcome. 

“Miss Stilson, may I present my nephew, Royden 
Peck?” inquired Mrs. Nordlinger, with an air of 
such graceful importunity that Vergie regretted her 
own pretty gesture. Her hand touched Royden 
Peck’s for an instant; but the greeting was cut short 
by Mr. Nordlinger, who came jovially forward, cigar 
in hand. 

“Well, well, well,” he said heartily. “How’s the 
editorial department tonight?” Vergie looked ap¬ 
prehensively at Mrs. Nordlinger. It seemed that a 
life of contact with so crude a being as Mr. Nord¬ 
linger must wither and blight her delicacy. But 
she was seating herself carefully, taking no notice 
of him. Her invulnerable ladylikeness negated, de¬ 
nied the mannerisms of her husband. 

Prince waddled in and began a half-hearted sur¬ 
vey of the premises. Behind Mr. Nordlinger’s back, 
Mrs. Stilson mouthed noiselessly at Vergie: “Get 
your father.” 

Vergie went to tap on the door of her father’s 
room. “You’ll have to come out,” she told him. 
“Mr. Nordlinger came. Prince, too.” 

He had anticipated the summons, and his spare 
body came through the doorway almost at once. 
“I heard them,” he said resignedly. 

In the living room, they exchanged banalities, the 
hors d’oeuvres of conversation. 



98 


The Bach of the Booh 


“Awfully nice of you to come / 7 Vergie found her¬ 
self cooing, falsely. 

“Well, it begins to feel like spring, but I notice 
they’re still giving us heat,” Mrs, Stilson essayed. 
But she was washed aside by the eloquence of Mrs. 
Nordlinger. This lady had settled herself in an 
easy chair near a lamp; its light fell revealingly on 
her details. Her hair had recently been put up on 
curlers and, from the evidence of the ruffled stripes 
which crossed her head, it was patent that their 
number had been three. Her nose glasses had a 
gold chain which terminated in her coiffure. The 
flat pancake of hair on top was caught by the gold 
pitchfork of the chain, like a placid whale, skillfully 
harpooned. Her cushiony body was enclosed in a 
covering of light silk. 

“Royden was downstairs five or ten minutes be¬ 
fore we came up,” she told them. “Just as we were 
going to leave the apartment, the telephone rang. 
Of course! Did you ever know it to fail?” She 
looked around to see if anyone had ever known it 
to fail. “It was that impertinent janitor,” she said, 
and she passed a proprietory hand over her bosom, 
as though to quiet its alarms at the recollection of 
impertinence. “He informed me that the tenants in 
the apartment next to ours had made a complaint 
about little Prince—about his barking when we 
leave him alone. You know what the meaning of 
that is.” She looked at Mrs. Stilson, and her eyes 




The Bach of the Booh 


99 


narrowed, if the eyes of anyone so refined could be 
said to narrow. “I don’t believe those people ever 
uttered a syllable—she seems to be very much of a 
lady. But you know how the janitor has acted, ever 
since we won out about the heating.” Her gaze moved 
to the hissing radiator, the symbol of their triumph. 

There was a moment of silence which no one ven¬ 
tured to break. “I should, by rights, simply have 
hung up the telephone receiver, and sent Mr. Nord- 
linger down to deal with him. But Mr. Nordlinger 
is so easy-going—to a fault, I sometimes tell him. 
And Roy—” she shook her head, smiling a tired 
lady’s tolerant smile—“Roy is dreadful. He just 
makes friends with everyone. I had to swallow 
the impertinence and say nothing. So I brought 
Princey up with me tonight. He can stay here 
where no horrid people will criticize the little doggie, 
can’t he, Muvver’s Darling?” 

She patted her narrow area of lap as an invitation 
to Prince. After several frustrate leaps, he suc¬ 
ceeded in making the ascent. The story was now 
seen by all to have ended. Mrs. Nordlinger always 
made her entrance on an autobiographical wave. 
A relaxation came over the group. 

“The weather isn’t so cold for March,” said Mrs. 
Stilson, undiscouraged in her effort to make this 
point. “But I see they’re still giving us plenty of 
heat.” 




100 


The Bach of the Booh 


iv 

During Mrs. Nordlinger’s recital, Vergie had had 
an opportunity of observing Royden Peck. He was 
seated opposite her on a desk chair which was too 
small for him, and he had an air of patronizing his 
inadequate seat in a friendly, humorous way. His 
were the good looks which come from manliness, an 
even temper and sound health; he belonged to the 
peculiarly American type, known as “clean-cut.” 
It was a face lacking in subtlety, but sharpened by 
enthusiasm and humor. Vergie was pleased by its 
quality of youth and happy aggressiveness. The 
ladylike blight had not fallen on Royden Peck. His 
easy manner bore no relation to Mrs. Nordlinger. 

The group disintegrated. Mr. Nordlinger engaged 
Mr. Stilson in discussion at one end of the room. He 
related an incident with evident relish, and occa¬ 
sional lapses into loud guffaws; and, seizing Mr. 
Stilson by both knees, he leaned forward to drive 
home the climax of his story. Again, Vergie could 
not forbear to glance at Mrs. Nordlinger. Her com¬ 
posure made Mr. Nordlinger’s guffaws incredible, 
sounds conjured by a disordered imagination. She 
let Prince slide to the floor, and, drawing a piece 
of linen from the small silk bag on her padded 
wrist, set to work at embroidering a monogram with 
dainty fingers. 

“For my niece,” she told Mrs. Stilson. “Royden’s 




The Bach of the Booh 


101 


sister, Mertie. The marriage is to take place in 
June.” She stabbed the taut circle of linen, which 
gave forth audible plunks, like a tiny banjo. 

Royden Peck left the desk chair, and came to sit 
beside Vergie on the couch. “You don’t mind, do 
you?” he asked. His manner expressed that amiable 
expectation of pleasing which almost always pleases; 
and his white teeth showed in the ready smile of a 
man who smiles often. He was so near to Vergie 
that she became aware of a current, an attraction, 
which emanated vibrantly from him. She entered 
the radius of his presence, which she sensed, like a 
change of temperature. 

“My aunt tells me you write,” said Royden Peck. 

“Well, if you can call it that. . . .” It was clear 
that Vergie couldn’t call it that. “Editorial odds 
and ends. You do publicity?” 

“Yes. Great game,” Royden Peck said confi¬ 
dently. He seemed to straighten and expand, and 
he set his jaw more firmly. The man of business 
was evident for the moment. 

“Don’t you young people feel you have to sit 
around with the old folks,” Mrs. Nordlinger called 
to them playfully. “Must they, Mrs. Stilson? Roy¬ 
den said something about the moving pictures.” 
Mrs. Nordlinger had never been conversationally in¬ 
troduced to the term “cinema,” or she would have 
used it. 

Royden Peck looked inquiringly at Vergie. “Per- 



102 


The Bach of the Booh 


haps you scorn such lowbrow entertainment ?” he 
suggested. 

“Of course not!” she told him. She gave a gay, 
disclaiming laugh. “I’d love to go.” 

“Come on, then,” said Royden Peck. He was on 
his feet at once, making his excuses to the 
others. “You won’t hold it against me, Mrs. Stil- 
son, if I steal your little daughter for the rest of 
the evening?” 

In the hall, he held Vergie’s coat with exaggerated 
deference. “Lovely fellow,” Mrs. Nordlinger’s 
voice floated out from the living room in genteel 
comment on her nephew. “Just a friend to every¬ 
one. Universally liked. His father was the same 
—my brother Elmer.” Her tone informed them 
that her brother Elmer was no more. 

Vergie went to straighten her hat, and powder 
her nose. Her cheeks, she saw, were becomingly 
flushed; and she added a crimson scarf, pulling it 
softly, carelessly, about her throat. 

“Wonderful to his mother,” Mrs. Nordlinger was 
heard to be saying; and, as Vergie and Royden Peck 
opened the door of the apartment, the voice fol¬ 
lowed them in a yet more impressive repetition, 
“Wonderjid to his mother.” 

v 

The night air was fresh, and Vergie drew the fur 
collar of her coat closer. They hurried up the street, 




The Bach of the Booh 


103 


almost running because of the sting of the chilly 
air after the overheated apartment. At the corner 
of Broadway, Royden Peck stopped, gesturing 
toward a drug store. 

“Let’s have some candy,” he said. They stepped 
into the lighted shop, and he gave his order. “That’s 
it, Buddy,” he told the clerk. Something in him 
was rubbed bright by this casual contact. “Don’t 
trouble to wrap it,” he added. 

He bent over Vergie, with warm solicitude for 
her pleasure. “Have a soda?” 

“Some hot chocolate,” she suggested. They 
perched on high stools before the marble counter. 

“Make it two,” Royden Peck said to the soda 
clerk. “I bet you swing a mean hot chocolate.” 
He sat at ease on his high stool, at once the come¬ 
dian and the friend of all mankind. 

“No one swings any better,” the clerk assured 
him. He filled two thick mugs with steaming choco¬ 
late, and swirled a spoonful of whipped cream on 
top of each. 

“Not much art to that,” Vergie thought. 

But Royden Peck applauded: “That’s the stuff, 
fellow. You know your business.” 

Side by side on the slender stools, they sipped 
the hot, syrupy mixture. 

“I love drug stores because there are so many 
things in them besides drugs,” Vergie said, observing 
the serried, shining details, which it seemed might 




104 The Bach of the Booh 


at any moment slip and rearrange themselves in 
another pattern, no less intricate and bizarre. 

“Just what I was going to say,” Roy agreed 
heartily. “Now, take French drug stores—I was 
in Paris for a time during the war—they’re, well, 
they’re just drug stores. Awfully literal people, 
the French. No hot chocolate, no camera supplies, 
no powder and lipsticks in their drug stores. I’ll 
tell you, I was glad to see an honest-to-goodness, 
hundred per cent U. S. A. drug store again.” He 
drew a reminiscent sigh, as he went to pay the cashier. 
His simplicity and exuberance moved Vergie to 
laughter. He was so clear, so 1 readable, that she 
wanted to tease him. She couldn’t resist comment¬ 
ing on his chosen role, making fun of him a little. 

In the doorway of the drug store, she raised her 
dark eyes demurely to his face. “I know more 
about you than you think,” she told him. “Shall I 
tell you what I know? Well, you’re the boy with 
the personal touch. You belong to clubs and societies 
and organizations. You talk to strangers in trains 
and hotel lobbies. Usually you turn out to haw 
met their brothers-in-law in Oil City in 1916. . . . 

She paused, her eyelids fluttering. Royden Peck 
looked down at her with surprise. “Some little 
kidder,” he murmured. 

“And everybody calls you Roy,” Vergie finished. 

“Yes,” he said suddenly. “Everybody does. 
Will you?” He leaned over her with new assur- 




The Bach of the Booh 


105 


ance, having caught the spirit of this game. They 
smiled at each other with dawning friendliness; and 
happily together they went out into the chill and 
movement of the electricity-studded night. 

vi 

They approached the spangled arc of the moving 
picture palace, and entered its spacious foyer, deco¬ 
rated in white and crimson and gold. Roy, the box 
of candy under his arm, secured tickets; and they 
passed into a great, darkened semicircle, peopled 
with quiet ghosts. They stumbled over the feet of 
certain ghosts, found their places; and the spell 
of the cinema fell on them, too. They sat com- 
panionably before the mimic world of the screen. 
Now and then, in appreciation or ridicule of the 
adventures set forth, they gave each other a glance 
of understanding. The darkness seemed to draw 
them closer together, and sympathy grew between 
them, because of their isolation among so many dim 
strangers, whose faces were intently lifted to the 
shifting square of silver. 

Then Vergie was troubled by the recurrent 
thought of how easy it would be for her to touch 
Roy Peck in the darkness; by how narrow a mar¬ 
gin their hands and knees were parted. She had 
a feeling of loneliness, a wish to be close to some¬ 
one; and suddenly she knew that these thoughts 
had come to her from Roy, from his scarcely per- 




106 


The Bach of the Booh 


ceptible gestures of desire. His restless hand, on 
the arm of the seat, so near her hand, had told her. 
She had caught it from the stealthy movement of 
his head, as he turned to observe her profile. Roy’s 
earlier mood of banter had given way to a con¬ 
strained silence. Vergie became aware of her own 
heart beats. She heard Roy’s quick breathing. 

The last flicker died away from the screen, the 
lights flashed on, and the theater came to life. The 
ghosts arose and walked; their mystery dissipated, 
they appeared as matter-of-fact men and women, 
dulled by long attentiveness. Slowly they surged 
up the aisles, nearing their release in the wide foyer. 
At the door, Roy Peck was forced ahead of Vergie 
by the crowd, and she saw how smooth and clear 
his skin was, how boyish the back of his neck. Be¬ 
hind his ears, the skin was pink. 

In the street a new confusion of lights and faces 
met them. They moved among them vaguely, for 
the world without now seemed as unreal as the world 
of the screen had been. They turned into a nar¬ 
row side street, walking in the direction of the river. 
A clear wind drove through the street from the 
water; and they walked into the wind between the 
rows of sleeping houses. Few passersby came 
through the dark street. Their own rhythmic steps 
sounded sharply in the half-silence. 

They crossed Riverside Drive, and stood above 
the river, gazing down at its misted darkness; at 




The Bach of the Booh 


107 


ships, gaudy as Christmas packages, with red and 
green streamers of lights; at the shining, desolate 
track of the moon’s reflection. Roy slipped his arm 
through Vergie’s, as they looked; and to them both 
the world seemed full of beauty, though not more 
beautiful than it had seemed in the moving picture 
theater. 

“Wonderful night,” Roy said in a low voice. 

“Wonderful,” said Vergie. They were silent 
again. 

But the wind from the river chilled them into dis¬ 
comfort. They turned reluctantly away. Slowly 
they crossed the street, under the blond flare of the 
arc-light, and entered the broad, marble-lined hall¬ 
way where they aroused a sleepy negro elevator boy 
from his meditations. 

“When am I going to see you again?” Roy asked. 
He tried to make his tones casual, but his voice was 
husky with the importance of the question. 

Vergie raised her face. Though she was tremu¬ 
lous, she must not confess it. “Sometime soon?” 
she suggested. She even enjoyed a slight show of 
indifference. “Let’s see.” She pursed her lips 
thoughtfully. “I’m rather busy this week, I’m 
afraid. Why don’t you telephone me in a day or 
two?” 

“I’ll do that,” Roy assured her. As he put out 
his hand in farewell, he became aware of the square 
box under his arm. “Why, see here, we forgot about 




108 


The Bach of the Booh 


the candy/’ he said. “Can you beat that? I 
bought it for you, then I never gave it another 
thought. You certainly turned my head, young lady. 
Here, take it, it’s yours, you know.” He held out 
the box; and, as Vergie accepted it, his hand closed 
impulsively over hers and clasped it. For a mo¬ 
ment, his hand pressed hard on Vergie’s. Then 
abruptly he removed it. 

“Look here,” he said, as he turned to go. “I’ll 
call you Friday. All right with you?” 

Vergie felt her hand fumbling with the key of 
the apartment. It was the hand which Roy had 
pressed, and it moved now uncertainly, inexpertly. 
Her body walked quietly in, and the latch clicked 
behind her. She tiptoed down the hall in the si¬ 
lence of closed rooms and waiting night light. Her 
clothing was soft under her fingers, as she slipped 
it off in her small bedroom; and she let down her 
hair carefully, laying the pins in an orderly cluster 
on the dressing table. But actually she was not in 
the apartment at all. She was speeding on a high 
place, galloping on a mountain top above clouds. 
She had a feeling of coursing life, as though she had 
taken a cold plunge. Her lips were burning. 

Of course, this was living, this was life! It seemed 
incredible that she had, even for a time, forgotten. 
A short while before she had tried to catch at 
life by writing it down, and it had hurt to find 




The Bach of the Booh 


109 


warm life escaping her. She would never make that 
mistake again. Life was sensation, excitement. 

Vergie sat down at her dressing table. With a 
wish to prolong the flavor of the moment, she 
lighted two candles and gazed at her reflection in 
their faint, flattering glimmer. She took the hand¬ 
glass and studied her profile and the back of her 
head. Turning to the mirror again, she tried dif¬ 
ferent expressions, making her face demure, dis¬ 
dainful, imperious, tender. She threw back her 
head, and looked ardently into her half-closed 
shining eyes. 

Her cheeks were hot, and she laid cool palms 
against them, laughing to herself. When Roy Peck 
left her, his hand had tightened tremulously over 
hers. Before her, on the dressing table, was the 
box of candy, the foolish box which he had forgot¬ 
ten. Vergie placed her hand on it, and, shutting her 
eyes, lived again that moment when Roy held her 
hand in his. She saw his boyish face, its expres¬ 
sion of uncertainty and longing when he said good¬ 
night. 

Recollections scurried through her beating brain. 
She remembered Dannet Holden, his eyes swimming 
around to look at her; little Crump, hovering over 
her desk in the office; Roger’s reproaches, Mr. 
Twill’s flatteries, chance looks of admiration from 
strangers. “You certainly turned my head, young 
lady”—that was what Roy had said to her. She 



110 


The Bach of the Booh 


was one of the women who interest men, move and 
disturb them. “Life slipping past. ...” It was a 
stupid phrase! Women occupied with ardent liv¬ 
ing had no time to worry over phrases. 

She ceased to think. This was no time for an¬ 
alysis. Now she wanted nothing but to float in a 
warm bath of sensation. She dropped to her knees 
beside her bed, resting her head against it. But 
that wasn’t enough, she had need of a more dramatic 
gesture. She stretched herself on the floor, her face 
and body pressed against the roughness of the car¬ 
pet. Waves of exultation swept over her. Her 
heart beat fast. “Every inch of me is alive,” she 
whispered to herself. Luxuriously, she sensed her 
vibrant body. In her neck a little pulse began to 
throb, as though to tell her: I, too, live. 

Her excitement slackened, gradually. Vergie be¬ 
came conscious of the discomfort of the hard floor, 
the scratching of the rug. The room was chilly. 
How dramatic it was to be lying on the floor in emo¬ 
tional abandon! Stupid women, nerveless, anaemic, 
commonplace women, wouldn’t think of doing such 
a thing. She was so carried away that she might 
not get up for hours. Perhaps the first streak of 
dawn would bring her to herself, remind her that she 
had spent the whole night on her bedroom floor. 

Perhaps she would be ill, after staying there so 
long in the chilly room. Roy would come to see 
her, as she lay still and white, a fever spot on either 




The Back of the Book 


111 


cheek. And, picturing Roy’s solicitude, Vergie rose 
stiffly from the floor, and prepared to go to bed. 
She moved blindly, still half-entranced. Willingly, 
she delivered herself over to emotion. Her critical 
intelligence she was content to stifle. On the wall 
beside her bed, she saw the woodcut of a woman be¬ 
side a pool. Its philosophy she did not recall. It 
conveyed to her only the recollection of Roger’s 
admiration for her. 

Sleep came to veil the lively flicker of her fancy; 
she imagined that she sat watching a moving pic¬ 
ture of which she was the enchanting heroine— 
Vergie, the lovely, the desired. 




CHAPTER V 


i 

The first day of spring weather saw Louis Bay¬ 
ard wafted into the editorial offices of Good Taste, 
like a last year’s leaf, borne on the gentle air. In 
his manner there was a trace of pride, for, in spite 
of his tendency to be absent-minded, he had finished 
an article at precisely the time stipulated. 

Vergie sat at her desk where the breeze from 
the open window ruffled the papers. She was wear¬ 
ing a small hat of green straw. 

“I suppose it means it’s spring—your little green 
hat,” Louis Bayard said. 

“Yes. Hadn’t you noticed?” 

“Perhaps I really hadn’t. I’ve been working 
hard—thinking of other things,” he said apologeti¬ 
cally. “Last year I was in Sicily when the almond 
trees were in blossom,” he added; and Vergie smiled 
with sympathy, understanding that his words were 
his assertion of sensibility. 

He produced a sheaf of typewritten papers. 
“Here’s my article.” He looked up quickly, ex¬ 
pectant of Vergie’s gratification. But her glance 
had strayed to the jonquils in a glass on her desk. 

JI2 


The Bach of the Book 


113 


He laid the article with the other papers which the 
breeze was fluttering. 

“Well, Bayard! It’s good to see you.” Mr. 
Twill issued from his sanctum. His waxen face 
and form seemed that morning to exist for the pur¬ 
pose of displaying his new spring overcoat of finely 
modulated gray. “Ready, Vergie? Come with us, 
Bayard, we’re just walking up the Avenue to look 
at some hooked rugs.” 

“Very well,” said Louis Bayard. He turned to 
Vergie, who rose slowly from her desk, relinquish¬ 
ing the jonquils. She was wishing that she need not 
leave the office—for this was Friday, and Roy Peck 
might telephone at any time. (“You certainly 
turned my head, young lady.”) Reluctantly, hear¬ 
ing those words, she took up her purse, her gloves. 
“If anyone calls me this morning,” she said to 
Miss Aronson, “be sure to take the message.” 

On Fifth Avenue, crowds were weaving color¬ 
fully. The buses, running up and down the street 
like clumsy green beetles, seemed to wear an ex¬ 
pression at once more wistful and more agile than 
usual, as though mildly intoxicated by the heady 
fragrance in the air. 

“By Jove,” said Mr. Twill. “You can smell vio¬ 
lets to-day.” He settled his shoulders complacently 
in his new overcoat. “You ought to have a big 
bunch, Vergie.” A florist’s suggesting to him a 
completer expression of his fancy, he led the way 




114 


The Bach of the Booh 


into the shop. While waiting for the violets, he 
selected a daffodil for his buttonhole and thrust 
another into the buttonhole of Louis Bayard. Vergie 
tiptoed about the tiled floor, in the damp, earthy 
atmosphere. Why was it, she wondered, that flor¬ 
ists’ shops always smelled so much more like cellars 
than like flowers? The clerk came forward, hold¬ 
ing out the violets, which were tied with streamers 
of purple ribbon; and Mr. Twill presented them to 
Vergie with a gallant bow. She took the soft bunch 
of moist blossoms, her dark eyes opening wide as she 
thanked Mr. Twill. Louis Bayard was waiting at 
the door. Above the yellow daffodil, his grave face 
was brown. The faint distaste with which he raised 
his chin moved Vergie to think that he didn’t like the 
daffodil—that, if he had not been so courteous, 
he would have jerked it from the buttonhole where 
Mr. Twill had painstakingly inserted it. 

When at last they reached the small gallery where 
the hooked rugs were on exhibition, Mr. Twill 
glanced at his watch; and his neat face fell, as he 
saw the time. 

“Good God!” he said. “It’s far later than I 
thought. There’s that wretched appointment at 
twelve.” He regarded Louis Bayard covetously. 
“I’ll have to lunch at the club. Why don’t you 
come with me, Bayard?” 

“No,” Louis Bayard said. “You’re very kind, 





The Bach of the Booh 


115 


but really not to-day. I’ll stay and see the hooked 
rugs.” 

Mr. Twill shrugged his regret. He drew down the 
corners of his mouth, making the face appropriate 
to a shrug. “Sorry,” he said. “But I’ll see you 
soon. Get a good story, Vergie. I know you’ll do 
it delightfully—something rather amusing and femi¬ 
nine for the Country House Number.” He hailed 
a taxi and was whisked away. 

ii 

“You’re interested in hooked rugs?” Vergie askecf 
Mr. Bayard. 

Under his brown mustache, his lips smiled at her 
doubtfully; then he spoke with great firmness. “Oh, 
yes, very,” he said. 

They entered the gallery. The forepart con¬ 
tained a collection of Early American furniture and 
glassware; and beyond these they came upon a dis¬ 
play of dining-room tables of various sorts and sizes, 
each suitably set with glass and silver and china. 
Vergie examined the tables with interest. She re¬ 
garded everything in the light of its desirability as 
a possession of her own; and she began to arrange 
a delicious little dining room for herself. 

“That powdering table,” she said to Louis Bay¬ 
ard, for her imagination having settled the dining 
room, was running on to other rooms, as well. “You 




116 


The Bach of the Booh 


know, the inlaid one that you have a photograph of. 
I want to have one like it.” 

“That belongs to me,” Louis Bayard said. “It’s 
a very fine piece.” 

“It’s wrong for a man to own it,” Vergie told 
him, “such a feminine bit of furniture.” She was 
interrupted by a heavy lady, seen to be scuttling 
toward them. It was Mrs. Lutes, who was in charge 
of the exhibition of hooked rugs. Her hair, short¬ 
ened stubbily as if it had been singed instead of 
cut, was a deep red, not unrelated to purple. Her 
ears and bosom were verdant with jade. 

“Mrs. Lutes?” Vergie asked. She assumed her 
questioning manner, which she used when she meant 
to be especially courteous. “I’m Miss Stilson from 
Good Taste ?” She made this into a question, too, 
as if she wanted Mrs. Lutes to confirm it, before 
placing confidence in it herself. “We have some 
photographs of your rugs, and wanted the material 
for a story?” 

Mrs. Lutes grew vocal in a Southern accent as 
thick as mucilage. She began to sing the beauties of 
her rugs. An unexpected vein of lyricism devel¬ 
oped in her. Showing a physical vigor in striking 
contrast to the poetry of her speech, she lunged 
impulsively about, displacing rugs in a whirlwind. 
The floor, the chairs, the tables heaved with billows 
of rugs, cast up by the elemental violence of Mrs. 
Lutes. There were all manner of patterns: dogs, 





The Back of the Book 


m 


lions, squirrels, checkerboards, bunches of roses, 
petunias, futurist designs. There were old rugs, 
new rugs, bright rugs, dull rugs: all grouped to¬ 
gether by the magic bond of having been hooked. 

“To think, just to think,” twittered Mrs. Lutes, 
waving one heavy hand toward some modern de¬ 
signs, “that these beautiful, beautiful rugs (isn’t 
that little one a dream, it sells for only $25) were 
made by our own American women. Our own 
American women.” She turned to Louis Bayard, as 
if hoping that he might share her emotion. 

“This little jewel I want you to notice especially,” 
Mrs. Lutes told Vergie. “Oh, and this perfect dar¬ 
ling! I’m showing you the orange rugs, because I 
know you’ll like them. Orange is one of your colors, 
isn’t it, honey? I feel it in you that you respond 
to it.” 

“Yes,” Vergie said uncomfortably. Louis Bayard 
had considerately walked away, when Mrs. Lutes 
began being personal. “Yes, I do like orange.” 

“I was sure of it,” said Mrs. Lutes, making no 
secret of her triumph. “I could see you were ar¬ 
tistic. You’re like me. I respond to color won¬ 
derfully.” 

in 

Louis Bayard remained at the other end of the 
gallery, and Vergie from time to time cast nervous 
glances in his direction, while she listened to the 




118 


The Bach of the Booh 


honeyed tones of Mrs. Lutes. She had a guilty 
sense that she was detaining him; and once she 
thought he had gone. But he had been merely ob¬ 
scured by a maple wardrobe. He wandered pres¬ 
ently into view, and began to examine an ancient 
corn-popper. 

As soon as she could escape from Mrs. Lutes, 
Vergie hurried to him. “Why did you wait? It’s 
too bad. That dreadful woman.” 

“It’s quite all right,” he said. “I was glad to 
wait.” He looked at her with his quizzical frown, 
one eyebrow drawn up higher than the other. Nice 
dogs sometimes had that funny, worried expression, 
Vergie thought. “Will you lunch with me?” Louis 
Bayard asked her. 

She hesitated for only an instant. Roy Peck 
surely wouldn’t telephone at lunch time. 

“And we could talk!” she said. 

They went to a French restaurant where they 
chose a table by the window. Vergie liked the 
foreign little room; she guessed that Louis Bayard 
often came there. Lunching with him was a differ¬ 
ent matter from lunching with little Crump, who 
was conspicuously chummy with the head waiter— 
or with Dannet Holden, who, on the other hand, 
behaved with embarrassing self-importance. Louis 
Bayard’s manner was nicely lacking in either fa¬ 
miliarity or arrogance. He selected a wine, as a 


F 




The Bach of the Booh 


119 


man to whom wine, under whatever flag, is a ne¬ 
cessity: without ostentation, without jest. 

The order given, Louis began to talk. His ab¬ 
straction vanished; from his fluent phrases floated 
the bouquet of other places, other times. That he 
was a delightful luncheon companion, Vergie was 
quick to admit—yet, through some freak of mood, 
she found it difficult to listen. His words fluttered 
past her; heard, not apprehended. She forced her¬ 
self to nod and smile as she nibbled nervously at the 
leaves of her artichoke. 

On the appearance of coffee, a strange brew in 
thick glasses, she peeped secretly at her watch. 
She was impatient to return to the office; and, pur¬ 
suing the motive for this, she recognized that her 
preoccupation had been caused by the thought of 
Roy Peck’s telephone call. Roy Peck was the pres¬ 
ence which stood between her and enjoyment of 
Louis Bayard’s conversation. For, of course, Roy 
would find such talk very dull: highbrow, foreign 
stuff. 

She acknowledged her lack of sympathy with the 
criticism, at the same moment that she confessed 
a secret wish to have Roy, instead of Louis, seated 
opposite her at the small table. Louis simply failed 
to reach her, the barrier of her mood came between 
them. Today she longed for green leaves, the 
trickle of sap. Speaking of impersonal topics with 




120 


The Bach of the Booh 


his pleasant, precise inflections, Louis seemed a dry 
branch. He might as well, Vergie thought, almost 
with indignation, have been talking to a man. Now 
his restless hands began to make bread pills out 
of a scrap which the waiter had neglected to sweep 
from the table. Once she had thought those hands 
were like brown birds—a stupid simile! They were 
merely fussy brown hands. 

She drew the violets from her belt and pressed 
them, cool and fragrant, to her mouth, hiding a tiny 
yawn. 

“I wanted to buy you those,” Louis said abruptly. 
Vergie’s eyes widened, surprised. His thin figure, 
aloof at the door of the florist’s shop—sulking like 
a schoolboy because Mr. Twill had bought her the 
violets! She felt a new impulse of interest in Louis. 
But he did not pursue his advantage, and soon they 
left the restaurant. He was taciturn as they rode 
down the Avenue. When he rose to leave the taxi, 
Vergie saw the back of his neck, which was lean and 
brown above the collar of his foreign suit. Behind 
the ears, the skin was not pink at all. 

She clasped his hand warmly, as she told him 
good-by. He had been very kind; and perhaps, 
she thought, she had brightened his day by lunch¬ 
ing with him. The daffodil in his buttonhole mocked 
his face like a wicked yellow eye, as Louis Bayard 
took his leave with an old-fashioned courtesy, a 
grave regret. 




The Bach of the Booh 


121 


iv 

Vergie hurried into the office, where the type¬ 
writer was clattering smartly under the fingers of 
Miss Aronson. “Did my telephone call come?” 
she asked breathlessly. She caught her lower lip 
between her teeth, as she waited for the reply. 

Miss Aronson nodded her head slowly. Before 
she spoke, she readjusted a painful hairpin. “Yes,” 
she said. “One o’clock. I was out at lunch. The 
operator said the gentleman didn’t leave a mes¬ 
sage.” 

Vergie threw her small green hat on the desk, and 
sank into her chair. “Of course!” she said to Miss 
Aronson; and only the memory of Mrs. Nordlinger 
prevented her from adding, “Did you ever know it to 
fail?” She drummed her irritation on the edge of 
the desk. 

There was nothing to be done but to wait until 
Roy should telephone again. Vergie rolled a sheet 
of paper into her typewriter, and tried to force her 
mind to return to the subject of hooked rugs. Now 
she could take no pleasure in the soft air, or the 
sunshine on the plastered walls of the office. The 
violets, she was annoyed to find, had made a wet 
spot on her dress. It was a nuisance to wear flowers. 

Vergie stared at the blank page in her typewriter. 
She had the most boring life in the world! She had 
to sit in a stupid office and write—“something rather 




122 


The Bach of the Booh 


amusing and feminine for the Country House 
Number.” Mr. Twill dashed off to his club, leav¬ 
ing her with Louis Bayard—it was, of course, Louis 
Bayard’s fault that she had missed Roy’s phone 
call. 

She struck the typewriter keys sharply; under her 
fingers, Mrs. Lutes came tumbling, and Vergie 
heard again the drip of her tones. She saw hooked 
rugs tossing in colored heaps; and Louis Bayard, 
stepping dejectedly from behind a maple wardrobe. 
He had been ill at ease, dispirited. How differ¬ 
ently Roy Peck would have felt! He would have 
made friends with Mrs. Lutes, met her with boyish 
cordiality and enthusiasm. 

The telephone on Vergie’s desk rang sharply. She 
clutched it, spoke eagerly into the mouthpiece. It 
was only the art editor; and, answering his ques¬ 
tions, she heard her heart’s flat disappointed pound¬ 
ing. The moments pattered past. Mr. Twill came 
dapperly into the office; left again. Thoughts of 
Roy filled Vergie’s mind persistently, as the prospect 
of seeing him grew remote. 

She had hoped that they might take tea to¬ 
gether; and she had imagined her graciousness, as 
she gave him sugar, lemon—or perhaps Roy would 
take cream. She had seen herself smiling, widen¬ 
ing her dark eyes as Roy looked into them. But 
now the office boy made his last rounds with let¬ 
ters and memoranda and proofs. From the ad- 




The Bach of the Booh 


123 


joining offices came sounds of departure. Vergie 
sensed the finality of the mechanical beating of 
typewriter keys: almost done for tonight, they 
snapped. Throughout the great office building, 
desks were beginning to clear. 

Miss Aronson closed her desk, the typewriter 
falling into its vitals with a thump. She left the 
office, with handbag and hat. Presently she re¬ 
turned, smartened, immaculate; snow-white, rose- 
red. 

“You don’t want anything more, do you?” she 
asked Vergie. “I have to meet my friend. . . 

Vergie sat alone in the unfamiliar silence. The 
telephones were shut off, there was no prospect of 
hearing from Roy now; she remained from listless¬ 
ness, rather than expectancy. Through the win¬ 
dow, in the blue mist of evening, she saw dim shafts 
of buildings, shot with golden squares. She felt 
the day’s descending wings. 

In many glowing rooms, over the pleasant disorder 
of tea, girls were laughing gayly, as she had dreamed 
of doing this afternoon. She was pierced by the 
thought that perhaps a laughing girl was having 
tea with Roy—for wherever that young Roy might 
be, there would be laughter. Vergie dropped her 
head on the desk. Helplessly, she discovered her¬ 
self caught, defenseless, suffering. She acknowl¬ 
edged it to herself: I am suffering. 

Faint noises sounded, a dragging pail, disturbed 




124 


The Bach of the Booh 


waste-baskets. Feet shuffled along the corridor. A 
door opened and closed. With scarcely a respite 
from the day’s activities, the offices had been in¬ 
vaded by the work of the night. Then a new 
sound made Vergie raise her head. A hasty stride 
rang sharp on the composition flooring of the hall, 
drew nearer. Someone, not a scrubwoman, was 
coming to the office. The steps slowed irresolutely, 
paused. Vergie turned on the light which stood on 
her desk. The steps advanced confidently, and 
Roy Peck appeared in the doorway. 

v 

He came to her, and their hands touched. She 
felt her life rhythmic in this contact of fingers and 
palms. Her hand was burning. In contrast to the 
disappointment she had felt, the moment was 
heightened into consummation, fulfilment. But all 
she found to say was, a Why—where did you come 
from?” It did not seem inadequate. 

In the circle of light from the desk lamp, they 
peered at each other. The look on Roy’s face 
brought tears into Vergie’s throat. Why, Roy was 
young, yoqng! His smiling lips were young. He 
sat on her desk, leaning over her and poured out 
the story of his day. He had had to make a hasty 
trip out of town in the early afternoon—he had 
just returned. When he found that her office tele¬ 
phone didn’t answer, he had come straight over on 




The Bach of the Booh 


125 


the chance of finding her. His words tumbled out 
quickly. 

“Vergie,” he said, “you have to stay down to 
dinner with me. I want to see you to-night, I must 
see you. I’ve been thinking of you such a lot. 
Listen, there’s a meeting of a bunch of people, the 
Stragglers, that I belong to, a club. It’s one of 
their ladies’ nights tonight, would you go with me?” 
He paused, his parted lips eager, hopeful. “It might 
be fun,” he said. 

“Of course,” she told him, “I’ll go.” Her eyes 
rested on his flushed face, while she called the 
number of the Stilson apartment. 

Presently, her mother’s voice came; distant, plain¬ 
tive at first—then outraged, as it made response to 
Vergie. 

“Stay downtown for dinner? You can’t!” it said. 
“Did you forget you asked Roger tonight?” 

“What’s wrong?” Roy asked Vergie softly. 

“I asked someone to dinner tonight. I for¬ 
got—” But disappointment was unendurable. 
“Mother,” Vergie said, winningly, regretfully, into 
the mouthpiece of the telephone, “isn’t that too 
bad? Roy Peck wanted me to go with him to¬ 
night—such a nice party. I hate to miss it.” 

There was a faint, impressed stir at the other 
end of the wire. “Roy, you call him now?” The 
intention of the voice was an amiable sarcasm. 
“Getting on pretty fast, aren’t you?” The wire 





126 


The Bach of the Booh 


buzzed for a moment, then the voice spoke again. 
“Well, if it’s something special—maybe Roger 
wouldn’t care.” 

“Do you suppose you could fix it up with him?” 
Vergie asked. “Tell him I’m so sorry—something 
came up that I couldn’t help. Do you think you 
could?” 

“I guess it’ll be all right,” said her mother. “Pet’s 
home.” 

Vergie’s lighted face conveyed the decision to 
Roy. She pulled on her small green hat, and they 
went out into the spring evening. They walked 
silently through the dusk, until they discovered 
a restaurant to their liking. There they found their 
secret mood invaded by the sharp lights, the tinkle 
and clash of service, the waiter’s spasmodic rhythms. 
They grew voluble; and Roy began to talk about 
his work, his interests, as though he could not tell 
Vergie enough about himself. 

“Publicity,” he assured her, “has a lot more to it 
than some people realize. Let me tell you it’s a 
science, a new science.” He looked youthful and 
convincing. Spiritually he was now the after-din¬ 
ner speaker. “There was publicity before our day? 
Granted. There has always been publicity—of one 
kind or another. But you can’t speak of the old 
and the new in the same breath. I’ll tell you, 
we’re living in a great age, ladies and gentlemen! 




The Bach; of the Booh 


127 


Big things are being done today, and in a bigger 
way than ever before.” 

The last two sentences of Roy’s speech were made 
in a spirit of burlesque, which Vergie was learning 
to recognize as his favorite form of humor. He 
would pronounce a hackneyed phrase with burlesque 
intonations, speaking the words with meticulous 
care which implied derisive quotation marks. It 
was clever of him, Vergie thought. She liked to 
know that Roy realized that talk about big things 
being done* today was inflated Chamber of Com¬ 
merce eloquence, which it was the province of right- 
minded intellectuals to ridicule. For all his good¬ 
will toward his fellow men, Roy could be sardonic 
with the best of them. 

“It certainly is great to talk to a girl who can 
understand things,” he said. This time, his tones 
held no hint of ridicule. It was clear, from his 
earnestness, that he believed he was making a new 
and fascinating statement. 

“It’s very interesting,” Vergie told him. “IVe 
never thought about publicity in just that way. Did 
you say you started as a reporter?” 

“Such,” said Roy Peck, “were my humble be¬ 
ginnings. I went to work shortly after my eigh¬ 
teenth birthday. My initial assignment was a fire 
on East Fourteenth Street. Though no trace of 
my story was to be found in the paper next morning, 
I was not discharged. Pity was shown to me be- 





128 


The Bach of the Booh 


cause of my youth. I kept that job for six years.” 

Vergie nodded. Roy at eighteen! A tender little 
smile touched her lips. 

“There’s no use talking,” Roy said, “newspaper 
work is the greatest training you can have. I 
wouldn’t give up a minute of that experience. But 
it’s a terrible life. Wearing! At the end of the 
six years, ‘Came War,’ as they say in the movies. 
When I got back from France, I heard of an open¬ 
ing with Holcomb and Hiss—one of the biggest 
publicity firms in the city. Yours truly applied for 
the job—and landed it. And there you have in 
tabloid form,” said Roy, raising his eyebrows in 
preparation for a funny quotation, “the story of 
how one boy made good. That’s the title, by the 
way, for a booklet I’m doing for a correspondence 
school. Great stuff. Would you be interested in 
seeing it? I want to get your reaction as an aver¬ 
age reader—as a super-average reader, I should say. 
Pardon me, madam. Now, how does this strike 
you?” 

He drew from his pocket a typewritten paper, 
which he spread before Vergie. “That’s just the 
lead, of course,” he explained. “Naturally it’s the 
most important part of the booklet, because ft 
catches the reader’s attention. I’ve put a good deal 
of thought on getting it right. I may be mistaken, 
but I think it has a punch.” 

Vergie bent over the paper with what she felt 




The Bach of the Booh 


129 


was a pretty absorption. Again, as at luncheon, she 
was acting a part; and she regretted that Roy found 
it necessary to talk so much about publicity. “The 
price a woman pays for a man’s attentions,” she 
told herself, “is hearing about his work.” 

“ ‘How One Boy Made Good/ ” she read aloud. 
“Oh, I like the title awfully. Is the story really 
true?” 

“Yes, practically,” Roy said. “Yes, it’s true, in 
a way. Of course, I polished it up a little—dram¬ 
atized it so as to bring out the high spots. For 
instance, this boy it speaks of didn’t really have 
an old mother to take care of; you have to put in 
touches like that.” 

Stimulated by Vergie’s show of interest, he out¬ 
lined the rest of the booklet, writing the headings 
on a scrap of paper for her more deliberate con¬ 
sideration. Extraordinary, thought Vergie, how 
little you had to talk to men. It was, in a way, 
very restful. As long as you could keep the face 
lively and attentive, there was practically no strain. 

“It’s time we were getting over to Fred Stamm’s,” 
Roy said at last. “Time certainly flies in your 
society. You must have a fatal fascination for 
me.” He looked about the room, almost emptied 
now of diners, with his air of genial authority. 
“Waiter,” he cried, “the check! That’s the stuff,” 
he added, as the waiter produced it briskly. His 




130 


The Bach of the Booh 


white teeth flashed in his agreeable smile. “The 
service is great,” he humorously remarked. 

vi 

They made their way westward, while Roy still 
talked. Again he grew autobiographical, describ¬ 
ing the months he had spent in France during the 
war; and with a mastery born of long practice he 
related a series of anecdotes, beginning respectively: 
“One night three of us were sitting in a dugout”; 
and “An old French peasant woman I was billeted 
with”; and “I’ve seen some mighty close shaves— 
this fellow just happened to bend over-” 

Toward the close of this third story, they reached 
a block of shabby, reddish houses, whose pretentious 
size and lofty brownstone steps recalled an ancient 
affluence. Near the center of the block were sev¬ 
eral houses which had recently been remodeled. 
Stripped of their steps, they looked with barefaced 
impertinence on their old-fashioned fellows. Their 
fresh paint and plaster and their pert window-boxes 
of flowers gave them a patronizing air of bringing 
up the tone of the neighborhood. 

Into one of these houses Roy and Vergie turned. 
As they mounted the narrow stairs which led from 
the ground floor, they heard an imminent bustle of 
laughter and talk; in another moment they had 
stepped into a vortex of people—the Stragglers. 
The host, Fred Stamm, pushed his way forward to 





The Bach of the Booh 


131 


welcome them; and Vergie had a blurred impres¬ 
sion of a bald, hearty man with a jovial pink pig’s 
face. They left their coats and hats on a mount¬ 
ing pile, like a rummage sale, and stepped into the 
big, rectangular living room, which occupied the en¬ 
tire length of the house. 

The room was furnished, as men often furnish, 
like the lounge of a club. Massive tables tested 
the solidity of the flooring. The couches and chairs 
were huge and padded, apparently intended for the 
leisure of elephants. Wide circumferences of light 
from substantial lamps fell on the assembled Strag¬ 
glers. Vergie and Roy were drawn into the center 
of a group which eddied about them with greetings 
of “Hi, Peck!” and “Well, Roy, old man!” 

“Nice little college girl I brought over tonight,” 
Roy told Fred Stamm, who pressed forward at that 
moment with a tray of highballs. His rosy head 
was dotted with a fine dew, evoked by the energy 
of his hospitality. 

“Help yourself,” he urged Vergie with the emo¬ 
tion of a born bartender. “Nothing the matter with 
this Scotch, I can guarantee that. And don’t pull 
any highbrow stuff around here tonight, will you?” 
he begged her. 

Roy slipped his hand under Vergie’s arm. “Come 
over here,” he whispered, “and we’ll find a place 
to sit. I don’t want you to get all tired out the 
first thing.” 




132 


The Bach of the Booh 


From the depths of a big leather chair, Vergie 
observed the Stragglers with a more analytical eye. 
Clad in business suits, they moved about the long 
room, greeting one another familiarly; or bent over 
the more vivid of the women. Certain wives, home 
women, made a quiet fringe about the walls, having 
discovered one another by their dark blue georgette 
crepe dresses. 

“No one dolls up, you see.” Roy leaned down to 
Vergie from his perch on the broad arm of her chair. 
“That’s the nice part of these shebangs—just an 
informal good time. Great bunch.” 

Vergie nodded, appreciatively. She felt an an¬ 
tipathy to this self-absorbed crowd of strangers. 
The Stragglers seemed to be surrounding and over¬ 
whelming her; she was no match for them. But 
it was impossible to run away. She had no de¬ 
fenses except her flimsy barriers of dislike. With 
an effort to seem at ease she watched the various 
groups, sipping the drink which Fred Stamm had 
given her, and making little assured gestures as 
she knocked the ash from her cigarette into a round, 
thick ashtray of mottled ware. 

“Now, I know,” she said to herself, “who buys 
the ashtrays in the cigar store windows.” 

On the instigation of Fred Stamm, certain Strag¬ 
glers began ostentatiously to find themselves seats, 
and to urge silence upon their neighbors. An in¬ 
flated lady in a pleated tunic was hovering nervously 





The Bach of the Booh 


133 


near the piano. Gradually the Stragglers, dampened 
by this sight, prepared to subside. Stifled, arrested, 
they offered the deference suitable to music. 

The lady opened her mouth and sang in a silence 
broken only by the hushed arrival of newcomers. 
When she had finished, the Stragglers came to life 
again, expressing their revival in vigorous hand¬ 
clapping. A thin man with a solemn face now rose; 
was greeted with shouts of approval. This, the 
Stragglers might be understood to convey, was more 
like it. 

“Oh, gosh!” Roy said. “It’s Larry Wise. The 
playwright, you know. This’ll be good. Hi, Larry! ” 
He slapped his knee in an abandon of pleasurable 
anticipation. 

Larry Wise stood for a moment, blinking glumly 
at his audience. Then he waved his hand with mock 
irritation, demanded quiet. He adjusted a pair of 
spectacles on his nose, and with scientific precision 
expounded a treatise on the subject of snoring. He 
classified the varied types of snores, giving deft 
imitations which evoked howls of amusement, 
usually at the expense of one of the group. 

“Hey, Jim! That’s Jim, all right. Hear your¬ 
self, Jim?” 

“Never closed my eyes all night. I don’t see 
how his wife stands it.” 

Vergie felt the heavy chair shaking, and she looked 
up at Roy. He was choking with laughter, and the 



134 


The Bach of the Booh 


warmth of the room had made the color rise in his 
cheeks, as though claret had been spilled under the 
skin. She felt a wave of terrified loneliness. But 
Roy reached down and took her hand in his, press¬ 
ing it firmly. Roy’s hand brought comfort, security. 

mi 

The entertainment came to an end, and general 
conviviality reigned once more. Fred Stamm crossed 
the room, signaling to Vergie with his pudgy fingers. 

“He likes you, I can see that,” Roy told her. 
“He’s a smart fellow, Fred Stamm—the art pho¬ 
tographer, you know. You must have seen his 
work.” He indicated vaguely the mammoth, framed 
photographs on the walls of the room. 

“Come now, Peck,” Fred bawled genially. 
“Aren’t you going to give the rest of us a chance? 
I’ve been trying all evening to get a word with this 
young lady.” Roy obligingly turned to a group of 
men who had that moment approached; “a few of 
my boon companions,” Vergie could imagine him 
quoting, with a sardonic lift of the eyebrows. 

“Is this the first time we’ve had the pleasure of 
welcoming you to our busy midst?” Fred Stamm 
asked. His ironical emphasis caught Vergie’s at¬ 
tention. But, of course, she saw it all nowl She 
had been catching stray hints ever since she had 
joined the company of the Stragglers. They all had 
the same trick of burlesque quotation as Roy! 




The Bach of the Booh 


135 


Fred Stamm’s roll of the eyes, his derisive enuncia¬ 
tion of the phrase, “our busy midst,” were reproduc¬ 
tions of Roy’s mannerisms. Vergie admitted the 
truth reluctantly; Roy’s humor wasn’t original— 
it was a Straggler institution. 

“But now that I’ve found the way, you’ll let me 
come again?” Vergie asked Fred. She spoke ironi¬ 
cally, rolling her eyes, as he had done. Fred laughed 
heartily, pleased at such a pretty wit. The Strag¬ 
glers had standardized their humor most conven¬ 
iently; once you learned the simple trick, it was 
always possible to be amusing. 

Vergie glanced at Roy. He stood nonchalantly 
among the other men, his hands plunged in his 
pockets. “Well, sir—” he was saying. 

“Well, sir!” Vergie shivered. But, of course, 
Roy was only making fun; ridiculing for the mo¬ 
ment the ebullient Middle Westerner. 

“You can count on Roy to be the center of a 
group,” Fred Stamm said. “A general favorite. And 
good to his mother,” he quoted satirically. 

But Vergie was hearing Roy’s voice, clear above 
the chatter of the other Stragglers. “. . . and one 
night the three of us were sitting in a dugout 
and ...” She turned quickly to Fred Stamm, 
determined to shut out the sound. 

“Such a lovely place you have here,” she cried. 
“Roy tells me you’ve just moved in. You must 




136 


The Bach of the Booh 


have enjoyed arranging everything—and it s so 
charming!” 

Fred Stamm was delighted. “Come and let me 
show you the rest of the house,” he urged her. 
“I’ve got a great little dining-room downstairs.” 
Vergie followed him to the dining-room, where a 
buffet supper was being spread; then they went up¬ 
stairs to inspect the bedrooms. She was still mur¬ 
muring her admiration, when they returned to the 
living-room. Roy hurried forward, as they appeared. 

“Thought I’d lost you,” he called. “How do you 
like my little college girl, Fred? Been taking good 
care of her for me?” His presence diffused the 
warmth of the good humor which glowed in him. His 
aggressive, kindly face was handsome. There s 
some talk about supper being served,” he told 
Vergie, as Fred left them. “Let’s satisfy the inner 
man. I’m feeling able to sit up and take nourish¬ 
ment. How about you?” 

They descended to the dining-room, which was 
filling with people; and there followed a confusing 
period of introductions and talk. At last Roy 
whispered the suggestion that they might go. In 
the quiet darkness of the street, Vergie felt the 
night air wash consolingly over her hot cheeks. As 
they walked between the shabby, blind houses, the 
kaleidoscopic vision of the Stragglers gradually 
ceased to jerk before her eyes. 




The Baclc of the Booh 


137 


“That’s a great crowd/’ Roy said. “I hate to 
miss a gathering of them. Lot of very brilliant men 
there.” He took Vergie’s arm in a clasp which ex¬ 
pressed possession and caress. Her heart jumped at 
his touch. 

They had reached the corner of Seventh Avenue, 
and stood on the curb, facing the wide empty street, 
which seemed to have been swept miraculously clean 
by the soft breeze of night. An old-fashioned taxi 
turned a corner, and came fitfully toward them, 
wheeling agreeably in response to Roy’s signal, like 
a heavy dowager, pleased at being noticed. 

They entered the dark cabin of the taxi, which 
smelled curiously like a stable, and sped unevenly 
northward. In the cubical solitude an intimacy re¬ 
turned to lay its spell on them. A wave of emotion 
moved over Vergie, and she braced herself to meet 
it, not daring to look at Roy, who was strangely 
silent at her side. Of course, he was going to kiss 
her. She wondered if he knew she knew. 

His hand groped at her sleeve, trying to find her 
hand. Roy said huskily, “Vergie!” She relaxed 
her hand, let it slip into his. He drew the hand to 
him, and held it in both his own, examining it. Then 
he lifted the hand to his lips. 

He put his arm around her, and she could feel 
how quickly his breath was coming in little gusts. 
“These are the moments, these tremulous first,” a 




138 


The Bach of the Book 


detached corner of Vergie’s brain was thinking. 
“It’s never so moving afterward.” Roy kissed her 
cheek delicately, just touching it with warm lips, as 
if he were making a test, seeing if it would work. He 
leaned back and looked at her, to see if it had 
worked. Then he kissed her cheek again, firmly, 
fervently. 

He was kissing her lips. Somehow he had 
gathered her close in his arms. She was crumpled 
against him, crushed in an embrace which was 
redolent of wool. His lips were over hers, and 
Vergie tasted, curiously, appraisingly, their soft 
fruitiness, the mingled flavor of coffee, cigarettes 
and shaving soap, the distinctive chemical some- 
thing-else which was Roy. A hot knife stabbed 
her suddenly, in response to his passion. It was 
gone, but Roy was still kissing her. 

Her nose was pressed painfully to one side. She 
tried to move it a little, without great success. But 
a bent, red nose would be unbecoming. 

Up there was the roof of the cab. A piece of it 
was torn. This was a long kiss! But it was never 
tactful to draw away; better let him have his kiss 
out. How the button of his coat was pressing against 
her wrist, the one which was caught between them! 
It hurt, but not unbearably—not as much as a 
squashed nose. 

Why were men’s chins always scratchy, even the 
best-shaved of them? 



The Bach of the Booh 


139 


Roy was gathering her up more closely, convul¬ 
sively, as though he had just begun. Once more a 
sharp thrill darted through her. “Vergie, dearest, 
dearest,” Roy was saying on her mouth. Something 
shaking, blinding closed over her at the whispered 
words. His head dropped to her shoulder. He was 
a little boy, tired out; his hair disordered, his face 
damp and flushed. Why, she loved him! She held 
him tenderly to her breast. 




CHAPTER VI 


i 

The steps of the Good Shepherd Hospital were 
dark with April rain. Vergie, pursued by the scat¬ 
tering drops of a fresh downpour, pushed back the 
heavy door and gained the warm, institutional pal¬ 
lor of the entrance hall. The reception clerk, a girl 
in starched white, sat at a telephone switchboard 
near the door. 

“I want to wait for Mr. Peck,” Vergie explained 
to her. 

“He’s in the board meeting.” The girl, eager to 
be of assistance, indicated closed double doors at 
the end of the corridor. “Shall I let him know 
you’re here?” 

“Oh, no, don’t interrupt him. I’ll wait.” 

Vergie went into a small reception room, sparsely 
furnished with stained wicker and commonplace 
cretonne. It was Saturday afternoon, and she had 
an enjoyable sense of leisure. From a chair near 
the doorway, she watched the reception clerk at her 
duties. 

Her anxiety to please and her evident inexperience 
inspired Vergie with sentimental memories of her 
140 


The Bach of the Booh 


141 


own early efforts at earning a living. Fresh from 
college, after a brief course at a business school, 
she had taken a position as stenographer in a bank; 
and her mind had been divided by the respect and 
the contempt which she felt for the new standards 
into which she was initiated. It had been a phase 
of living, a game she had played for a time. Under¬ 
neath her nervous young diffidence, she had secretly 
known it was just a game—the lately academic 
Vergie in a new role; a detail in a line of snapping 
typewriters, with fingers like pistons, demeanor as 
starched as her blouse. 


ii 

A copy of the April number of Good Taste lay 
among the magazines on the table of the reception 
room, and Vergie began to look through its pages. 
“The bus driver’s holiday,” she said to herself; con¬ 
fessing that, save for Louis Bayard’s article, the 
number was, as Mr. Twill had feared, rather flat. 
Louis Bayard’s style was simple, expressing infinite 
condensation, precision, refinement of thought. 
There was the crackle of wit in all that he wrote, 
and she could, as she read, imagine his voice pro¬ 
nouncing the words: that slightly husky voice, with 
clipped and careful enunciations. 

It was embarrassing to turn immediately after¬ 
ward to the captions for the page of photographs 
headed, “Sunrooms of Distinction.” Her own man- 




142 


The Bach of the Booh 


ner of writing was smarty, feminine and meretri¬ 
cious. And, besides, what an irony there was in 
describing interiors and possessions, when you 
couldn’t have them for your own! Vergie sat for¬ 
ward in the wicker chair, her lower lip caught be¬ 
tween her teeth. Distinctly, as in a colored moving 
picture, she saw herself in a beautiful room—her 
own. Against the subtle and exquisite background, 
she moved lightly, bending over fragile masses of 
flowers, caressing with sensitive finger tips a frag¬ 
ment of old jade. Guests were announced, and, 
gracious in pale, clinging silk, she crossed the room 
to make them welcome. . . . Then there was the 
perfectly served dinner; a narrow table, candle- 
lighted . . . lace, silver . . . colored glass. . . . 
Roy’s bright face above the black-and-white of din¬ 
ner clothes. Roy? But, of course, Roy. Some 
corner of her brain was showing a maidenly ret¬ 
icence, pretending surprise. She jeered at this coy 
corner. Certainly, Roy! 

His face, conjured up, persisted in flickering be¬ 
fore her eyes. It was the face she knew, yet its 
aspect was changed. There was the same dark hair, 
brushed smoothly from the brow; the same shining 
eyes and ready smile. But she saw a new expression 
of dignity, reserve and finesse. There was a hint 
of elegance in the poise of the head and shoulders, 
and in the motion of the restless hands. Vergie 
caught the clean line of the profile, as Roy turned to 





The Back of the Book 


143 


Harriet, from whose rapt attention it was possible 
to conjecture the pithy, pungent phrases he must be 
pronouncing. He bent over her in his boyish, en¬ 
thusiastic way—there was a flash of authentic bril¬ 
liance in his words. Now, Brace Andrews leaned 
across the candle-lighted table, anxious to catch what 
Roy was saying. . , . 

in 

A woman carrying a baby entered the small re¬ 
ception room of the hospital and sat down near 
Vergie. Round and agreeable, the baby lay in her 
lap, and, with that peculiar placidity into which in¬ 
fants sometimes fall, drowsily surveyed the room. 
It yawned widely, and then opened and closed its 
tender rosette of mouth twice, as though to settle 
it again. It was a luxurious child, in a coat and 
bonnet of corded silk; and Vergie imagined the de¬ 
licious appointments of its bath, its bed, its boudoir. 
She thought again of Harriet, amiable fecundity in 
chiffon. After ail, one forgot about babies! Life 
went on, and the important things were side-tracked, 
lost sight of. That seemed stupid. . . . 

But, certainly, she would have babies. . . . 

Vergie forgot the baby in the hospital reception 
room. There would be adorable children of her 
own; three of them, all girls, she decided, hearing 
already the clink of their little voices. They would 
wear ruffled organdy bonnets and between the frill- 




144 


The Back of the Book 


ings their faces would be sweet and grave, like 
pansies. They would be fat, and very busy. Vergie 
saw them trudging about, preoccupied with their own 
affairs; wearing out countless pairs of square black 
slippers, which looked as though they had been 
painted on their silly feet. 

Later on they would become coltish, lengthening 
leggily, as if they had been stretched; level-eyed, 
hoydenish and frank, absorbed in sports and lessons 
and playmates. 

She would be tactful when they grew shy in a 
sudden realization of their April, putting up their 
heads like timid crocuses. They would have pretty 
dresses, as clear as water-colors. Their interest in 
beaux and parties, their strict observance of cer¬ 
tain proprieties and their outrageous neglect of 
others would be delightful and absurd. 

Of course, a curly-headed son would be nice— 
with a laugh like Roy’s. . . . 

iv 

The double doors at the end of the corridor 
opened abruptly, and men began to trickle slowly 
out. They were, it was clear, the Board of Managers 
of the hospital. They had gathered in special con¬ 
clave this Saturday afternoon, to discuss the raising 
of a large building fund. 

They oozed out of the meeting room, successful 
men, with an air of weariness about them. Vergie 




The Bach of the Booh 


145 


noted several who were younger, more vigorous than 
the rest; these were the “new blood” on the hospital 
board, the “live wires,” who would be counted on to 
push the building fund campaign. Yet they bore a 
startling, resemblance to their elders. Their faces 
wore the same expression, at once canny and blank; 
and they, too, had that look of commonplaceness 
which one is always surprised to discern in a group 
of financially important men. To the hospital, the 
primary value of the Board of Managers was, of 
course, their financial importance; the fact that they 
could give largely, and had authority to command 
large gifts from others. As they stood in the cor¬ 
ridor, having their last words together, it seemed 
that a sense of their power oppressed them, robbed 
them of the flippancy of eccentricity, reduced them 
to uniformity. 

Among them all, only two men stood out. One 
was the professional campaign director, whom the 
Board had engaged to supervise the raising of their 
building fund. He scampered among the hospital 
managers like an excited fox terrier, jumping at 
them, barking in short, brisk sentences. His as¬ 
surance challenged the attention of the weary, pros¬ 
perous men. Gesticulating at them with a cigar, 
as though that might prove the conclusive factor in 
his argument, he seemed to symbolize confidence, 
energy, the will to power. Far more than these men 
of vast wealth, who appeared dulled and apathetic in 



146 


The Bach of the Booh 


contrast to his vivacity, he represented the spirit of 
business success, as it is explained in popular 
brochures. “How one boy made good,” Vergie said 
to herself. 

The other disparate figure was that of the pub¬ 
licity expert employed by the hospital board. With¬ 
out directly observing him, Vergie had from the first 
been aware of his straight, young shoulders and 
well-set head. She had deliberately avoided the con¬ 
fession of his presence, saving him up until she had 
studied all the others. Now, at last, she looked at 
Roy. 

He stood in the center of the tiled corridor, his 
head attentively lowered, as he listened to the short, 
white-haired man who addressed him. Above his 
dark clothes, his face glowed with color; its expres¬ 
sion of friendly deference was almost filial. The 
older man pumped Roy’s hand affectionately, absent- 
mindedly, as they said good-by. He smiled at Roy. 
The ashes, thought Vergie, smiling at the flame. 

The Board of Managers straggled away. Some 
of them went out at once; old men, hustled like 
children into their coats, walking carefully under 
umbrellas to their respectful motor cars. Others went 
upstairs on hospital business or a visit to a sick 
friend. Two stayed talking in the entrance hallway, 
drawing out their role of grave deliberation. 

“Well, I could see Perkins, but it seems to me 
that you ...” 




The Back of the Book 


147 


The other drew slowly on his cigar. “You’re the 
man to do it. What do you think, $5,000?” 

“I wouldn’t take a dollar less. . . 

Roy hurried down the corridor to the reception 
room. At sight of Vergie, his face lighted with a 
smile of open, ingenuous pleasure; and, seeing his 
smile, Vergie felt clarified, made simple. At last 
she had discovered the answer to the most important 
problem—the right answer, the answer in the back 
of the book. Of course—amazingly easy, now 
that she knew it—it was finding the right man, 
building their life together with dignity and beauty 
. . . their home, their children, their love. 

“Did you mind coming here for me?” he asked her. 
“I’m terribly sorry, that meeting came up unex¬ 
pectedly. I thought this would save time.” His 
eyes asked her to believe how precious time was. 
“Great meeting,” he went on exuberantly. “These 
fellows are out for blood. They’ll get it, too—won¬ 
derful set-up. Millions represented around that 
table in there. Did you notice John Boynton, the 
old boy I was just talking to? I don’t want to brag, 
but I wouldn’t be surprised if he threw some big 
business my way. Seems to have taken quite a 
liking to me.” 

Vergie was pierced by a little thrill of pride. She 
laid her hand on Roy’s sleeve, pressed his arm 
tightly for an instant. He leaned close to her so 
that she could feel his warm breath on her cheek. 




148 


The Bach of the Booh 


“I wondered if you would go home with me for 
tea?” he said. “We’re only a few blocks away. 
That’s what I was really hoping—if you’d like to. 
I want you to know Mother and Mertie—my sister.” 

“I think it would be lovely,” Vergie said, unable 
to disappoint Roy by confessing what a dreadful 
prospect it seemed to her. He was obviously anxious 
for the meeting. The weight of social approval lay 
on his side. It was inevitable, after the happenings 
of the last ten days, that she must meet his family. 

“Wait a minute till I call up,” Roy said. 

“I might as well have it over,” Vergie told her¬ 
self with resignation. She had a lively curiosity 
about Roy’s mother and sister, about the background 
in which he lived. But, in the face of an immediate 
interview, the curiosity paled. There was no use 
in pretending that she expected to find Roy’s mother 
congenial. Vergie opened her handbag and surveyed 
her face in the sliver of mirror. She gingerly added 
a trace of powder to her small nose; she straightened 
her hat. 


v 

“All set!” Roy cried to Vergie. “Taxi’s waiting 
V everything.” The rain had come on with renewed 
force, but he disregarded it blithely. “Only a 
shower,” he said, as he stowed Vergie in the damp 
interior of the taxi. “I think it’s the clearing 
shower,” he added optimistically. 




The Bach of the Booh 


149 


The gray vertical beat of the rain paralleled the 
gray vertical houses. The pavements were black 
and streaming. Here and there a wrecked umbrella 
testified to the strength of the blustering gale. The 
taxi, slipping at the corner as though it were wheel¬ 
ing on oil, turned into Amsterdam Avenue, lined with 
shabby houses and shops. They skidded past a 
dingy street car which was tottering down its wet 
tracks. 

It all seemed depressing, but she wouldn’t give in 
to a mood, Vergie resolved. These formless ap¬ 
prehensions were absurd; and she raised her eyes 
fondly to Roy. 

“I wanted you to do this for a week,” he suddenly 
said, with a diffidence unusual in him. “Well, ever 
since I met you, really. I want you and—my mother 
to like each other. She’s been awfully good to me.” 

Something in his voice at the words “my mother” 
stirred Vergie with childhood memories. Once “my 
mother,” said that way, had touched a sentimental 
chord in her. She recalled Burke Barclay and the 
ten-twenty-thirty plays; tears blotted with a sur¬ 
reptitious handkerchief. . . . The catch in the voice 
of a tenor singing “Mother Machree” . . . “God 
bless you and keep you” . . . 

She suspected an ironic intention, but Roy’s lips 
were serious, almost tremulous. He met her eyes, 
took her silently in his arms. The deep breath he 
drew shook them both. The moment was big with 



150 


The Bach of the Booh 


his emotion. His soul, stripped of defenses, revealed 
itself vulnerable, easy to hurt. 

Why, he’s a good boy! Vergie thought, gazing 
into his clouded eyes. Suddenly, she felt herself an 
odiously flippant, hardened person. She could have 
wept for her lost contact with the simple, noble 
things. It was easy enough to be cynical and dis¬ 
agreeable—for some reason, you thought it clever. 
Roy loved his mother, that was all. He loved 
Vergie. He wanted them to love each other. Simple 
enough! And how shameful it was to cheapen the 
finest things with sham wit, catch phrases. . . . 

Vergie’s heart had gone liquid, tender, in her 
breast. The taxi had slid and wabbled down a 
street in the Nineties, and stopped before an old 
apartment house of dun red stone, not far from 
Central Park. 


vi 

She skipped across the wet pavement and stepped 
into the entrance of the house, while Roy paid 
the driver. It was a gloomy hallway, barely lighted 
by a window of stained glass. Dingy mosaic tiling 
covered the floor. Far up in its black shaft an 
elevator creaked and whined. In time, it descended. 
Roy and Vergie entered the iron-barred cage, like 
a little jail, and were drawn upward, difficultly. 

“Terrible old house,” Roy whispered. His 



The Bach of the Booh 


151 


jauntiness had returned with the necessity for action. 
“But rents are so high these days. The Housing 
Problem and How I Met It/ by Royden Peck,” 
he quoted in a falsetto voice. 

At the door of the apartment, he drew out his 
latchkey; but he thought better of it, and rang the 
button beside the door, instead. From an apparently 
great distance, steps were heard to sound. The 
steps drew nearer, and the door moved to a cau¬ 
tious crack, behind which a face might be guessed. 
Then the door was opened wide. 

Vergie saw a large, thin woman, with a slightly 
flattened face, plain and regular of feature; not 
unlike the face of a gingerbread man before it has 
been baked. The face squinted its eyes at Roy and 
Vergie, with a look of meek resentment. 

“Mother,” Roy cried heartily, “this is Vergie Stil- 
son I’ve told you so much about. We thought we’d 
run around for a little tea party with you this after¬ 
noon.” As he spoke, he put his arm around his 
mother, and kissed her. Her face relaxed. She was 
seen to summon strength for a gesture of hospitality, 
as she extended her hand to Vergie. 

“I’m real glad to meet you,” she told her. Her 
clasp was perfunctory, yet not without a limp gra¬ 
ciousness. “Come right in,” she said. 

They had been standing in the long, narrow hall¬ 
way, as cosy as a tunnel, dimly lighted by an over- 




152 


The Bach of the Booh 


head bulb, which was shrouded in a Chinese lantern. 
Mrs. Peck now led the way down the hall; single¬ 
file, in silence, they trod its length. A sour, damp 
smell arose from the apartment, as though it had 
been washed, but not aired. Along one wall were 
ranged closed doors, suggesting secret lairs: the bed¬ 
rooms, the bathroom, the kitchen. 

At the end of the hall they came upon the living 
room. It was small and glutted with furniture. A 
large, reddish mahogany table in the center bore a 
mission lamp with a green glass shade. The win¬ 
dows, a cluster of three, with shades sedately drawn, 
were curtained in dark brown; and the material had 
evidently been split lengthwise to form the pairs, 
which hung on a slant, in stiff, pleatless strips, like 
large bell-ropes. On the floor, before the windows, 
sprawled a giant plant, amorphous, with drooping, 
palm-like leaves, and conical fruits which resembled 
pink artichokes. Vergie sat down in a mahogany 
rocking chair. 

“I will have to speak of the plant,” she said to 
herself; and decided to save this fertile topic for a 
moment when the conversation flagged. 

vii 

Roy and his mother had seated themselves on a 
settee of dark wicker. “Where’s Mertie?” Roy in¬ 
quired. 




The Bach of the Booh 


153 


“She just stepped out to the corner,” his mother 
told him. By an obvious effort she kept her face 
tranquil, smooth like a mask. She wore a smile 
of set serenity. “She had to go and get some cakes. 
For afternoon tea.” 

“It’s a darned shame,” Roy said, “she went out 
in the rain for that. We could have brought some¬ 
thing, just as well as not.” 

“Oh, too bad,” Vergie murmured, uncomfortably. 

Mrs. Peck brushed aside their protests. “My 
daughter is a fine girl,” she explained to Vergie. 
“Always ready to do her part.” Her lips moved and 
she sniffed. “I suppose Royden has told you she’s 
going to be married. I’m going to lose her.” A 
startling convulsion came over her large face, and 
she rose from her seat, taking from the table a 
photograph in a pedestaled gilt frame, like a minia¬ 
ture firescreen. She handed the photograph to 
Vergie without a word; yet her gesture carried the 
story of her sacrifice, her riven mother’s heart. 

Vergie saw the head and shoulders of a pretty 
young woman in a precarious cloud of tulle. There 
was a loose and curly coiffure, a single rose, the 
smiling display of perfect teeth. . . . 

“A tooth-paste advertisement,” Vergie said to her¬ 
self. But she told Mrs. Peck, “She’s lovely! How 
much she and Roy look alike, especially the smile. 
She has your eyes, I think. . . .” Her voice faded, 




154 


The Back of the Book 


discouraged by the silence. Mrs. Peck had turned her 
back. She stood by the window, as nearly as the 
huge plant would permit her to do. It could be 
seen that this was no ordinary gazing out of a win¬ 
dow, but a moment dreadful with suffering. Ver- 
gie heard the echoes of her own voice quiver and 
die. Mrs. Peck turned abruptly around. 

“I thought I was going to keep her,” she wailed. 
“My only girl, you don’t know. . . She raised 
a handkerchief to her eyes. 

Vergie’s face grew hot. She wanted to run away 
from this indecency. She felt a childish hatred 
for Mrs. Peck, with her naked heart hanging out. 
The place for a naked heart was inside, inside. No 
one wanted to see. 

Roy jumped up and went to his mother’s side. He 
drew her back to the settee with affection and gentle 
raillery. “Now, Mother,” he cajoled her, “you 
mustn’t talk that way. I wouldn’t upset myself, if 
I were you. And you know how you make Mertie 
feel.” 


viii 

Mrs. Peck regained her composure with an effort; 
she sat quiet once more, her mask down. Her eye¬ 
lids were lowered with an expression of meekness. 
“I’m not saying it in front of Mertie,” she told her 
son, in the tone of one who has been unjustly criti- 



The Bach of the Booh 


155 


cized. And Vergie, lacing her fingers nervously to¬ 
gether, looked at the sprawling plant. Its hanging 
leaves turned toward the floor with a heavy air of 
humility and self-abasement. Yet what a powerful, 
tenacious growth it was . . . and prickly, defensive. 

“Such a wonderful plant,” she said politely to 
Mrs. Peck—for there surely could not come a mo¬ 
ment when a little light conversation would be more 
needed—“so luxuriant . . . beautiful, so big. . . 

Mrs. Peck sighed. “Yes,” she said, “it’s big. Too 
big. It’s a great care. It’s a drain on my energy.” 
She seemed about to weep again, but she recovered 
herself and went on. “I’m not equal to giving it the 
attention it ought to have. I would be glad to give 
it to anyone who would care for it as I have.” And 
she looked accusingly at Vergie, as one unfitted to 
keep her plant in the style to which it was ac¬ 
customed. 

The click of a key sounded in the latch. Steps 
came down the hall, a door opened, and they heard 
the gentle thud of a light package laid on a wooden 
table, Mrs. Peck tightened, nerved herself to face 
the excitement of arrival. Roy cried, “Here’s Mer- 
tie! Hello, Sis!” 

Mertie glided into the living room. She wore a 
dark suit, with a touch of white at the throat, and, 
in spite of the rainy day, she was perfectly shod, 
gloved and veiled. Vergie guessed that her own 




156 


The Baclc of the Booh 


tweed suit and hat would seem careless and shoddy 
to this trim being who floated forward to greet her. 
The kinship of Mrs. Nordlinger unfolded in her 
delicate handclasp: Mertie was ladylike. 

“Take off your things,” Mrs. Peck begged her, 
and Mertie left obediently. Presently she was 
heard again in the hall, and once more the kitchen 
door snapped open. While Roy achieved an ani¬ 
mated description of the hospital board meeting, 
small suppressed noises arose beyond the thin wall. 
Now Mrs. Peck grew tense. Her spirit left the 
living room. Resolutely she kept her mask, and she 
even looked at Roy once or twice, nodding abstract¬ 
edly at his story. But her lips were drawn in pleats, 
her eyes strayed furtively toward the muffled sounds. 
Mrs. Peck was seen to be a rubber band, stretching 
. . . stretching ... at last, she broke. She sprang 
from the room. 

Vergie felt a rush of pity for Roy. She suffered 
for him; but he continued to talk, not heeding the 
interruption. In the hall, his mother’s loud whisper 
could be heard. “Come out. Come out. Come into 
the living room. I’ll attend to everything.” 

Mertie came out. She took a chair near the win¬ 
dow, light falling on her unveiled face. Vergie, as 
she saw her clearly for the first time, felt the ripple 
of a little chill. Mertie wasn’t old, of course. But, 
even more strikingly, she wasn’t young. The skin 




The Bach of the Booh 


157 


under her eyes was like crape. It was still possible 
to discern the frail butterfly prettiness of her face. 
Yet it was marred, slightly weary; and it seemed to 
Vergie that the plainness of age was kindly, com¬ 
pared with this look of seared youth. Mertie ad¬ 
justed the crisp white ruffles at her throat and wrists 
with dainty fingers, a lady’s careful, pointing fingers. 

Mrs. Peck’s activities in the kitchen sent up an 
energetic rattle and clack. “What’s Mother up to?” 
Roy inquired. 

“She’s getting afternoon tea,” Mertie told him. 
“She won’t let me help her. She’d rather do it 
alone.” She looked over at Vergie and smiled, with 
a woman’s instinct for explaining a situation. 
“Nerves,” she said to Vergie with her lips, making 
no sound; and she nodded toward the kitchen noises 
with deprecation. Yet there was a hint of indulgence 
in the way she said “Nerves.” So the scions of 
ancient families speak importantly of their tradi¬ 
tional defects of temper, pride or obstinacy. It 
was clear that Mrs. Peck’s nerves were the family 
cross, their distinguished deformity. 

ix 

The tea arrived, borne patiently by Mrs. Peck on 
a large tray. Room was cleared for it on one end 
of the mahogany table. Vergie, rousing herself to 
look pleased and expectant, felt a numb, despairing 




158 


The Bach of the Booh 


resentment at the trouble she was causing. She 
hated Mrs. Peck because she was putting herself out 
to do her, Vergie, a favor. It was unnecessary— 
she didn’t want the horrible tea! On the tray was 
a Japanese tea set in red and blue, pimpled with 
gold; the shallow cups were a bluish, dusty color on 
the inside. The sugar bowl was a balloon of cut 
glass, and there was a small plate, on which 
lay rounds of lemon, the rind nicked in little scal¬ 
lops. At the sight of the nicked lemon rind, Vergie 
melted suddenly. She had an instant of poignant 
understanding, which brought tears to her throat. 
This was a tea-party . . . fixing things for company 
. . . having everything nice. . . . 

Mrs. Peck poured the tea, with shirred lips. “Well, 
look at all the cakes!” Roy exclaimed genially. He 
insisted that they comment on the number and va¬ 
riety of the cakes. His manner showed no con¬ 
straint at the dismal ceremony of tea. He seemed 
not to mind the vast disturbance his hospitality had 
occasioned. With evident relish, he took his first 
steaming mouthful. “Touches the spot, doesn’t it?” 
he demanded of them all. He indicated the spot. 

The worst was over, once the tea had been served. 
Mrs. Peck carried her cup to the writing desk, where 
she ate by herself, like a bad child in a corner. 
Now and then she addressed a remark to the others, 
but for the most part she was occupied by the busi- 




The Bach of the Booh 


159 > 


ness of refreshment. Under its soothing influence, 
she relaxed perceptibly. 

“It settles my nerves/’ she told Vergie, indicating 
her empty cup. Her nerves settled, she was able 
to do the graceful thing socially. “But I have to 
be careful how I drink it. It gives me indigestion.” 
She peeped around to see if Roy was engaged by 
what Mertie was saying to him. “Gas,” she whis¬ 
pered to Vergie. “All blown up.” She shook her 
head lugubriously, and Vergie shook hers back in 
voiceless sympathy. Mrs. Peck piled the dishes on 
the tray, and presently carried them to the kitchen. 
The faint clatter was resumed; and Mertie stepped 
out quickly. 

“Mother, let me do that later.” 

A sibilant whisper answered her. “Just rinsing. 
Go on back.” 

“Haven’t I got a pretty nice big sister?” Roy 
asked Vergie. He pulled Mertie down beside him on 
the settee, so that he could put his arm around her. 
He beamed on Vergie and Mertie with his sunny 
smile. His face shone with affection for them both; 
and he could not conceal his boyish elation at the 
success of his introduction of Vergie to the family 
circle. He moved his hand over Mertie’s shoulder, 
patted her blond, tightly curled hair. “I don’t know 
what we’re going to do without her,” he added, his 
voice lowered out of deference to the mother heart, 
still rinsing in the kitchen. 




160 


The Bach of the Book 


“Roy says you’re going to be married,” Vergie 
murmured politely. 

“Yes,” Mertie told her. The warmth of her joy 
was tempered by certain dismays. “It makes it 
hard, talking about it, with Mother feeling the way 
she does,” she said. Her eyes lighted hopefully. 
“Maybe you would give me your idea, I’m not sure 
about the drapery on my wedding dress—” Mertie 
searched in the desk for a clipping from a fashion 
magazine. “How do you like that skirt? she asked 
Vergie. They bent together over the clip¬ 
ping, and now something in Mertie came brilliantly 
to life. As she discussed the wedding dress, Mertie’s 
soul flowered. A faint color rose to her cheeks, 
behind the lavender-tinted rouge. 

“How terrible,” Vergie thought. “The whole 
thing, marriage, the man, doesn’t touch her like this 
dress.” And she looked at Mertie’s thin spinster’s 
body, her pale cheeks rouged to the shade of a 
pink petunia, the precision of her hands and her 
clothing. “It’s dreadful to wait too long,” Vergie 
told herself. 

Mertie held the fashion sketch in her hand, study¬ 
ing it. The inmost important core of her was con¬ 
cerned. And it might be read that to Mertie the 
dress was a lovely shrine, a delicate shining case, like 
a kid and satin jeweler’s box, to exhibit more per¬ 
fectly herself—that pink pearl. 





The Bach of the Booh 


161 


x 

Vergie held the arms of the rocking chair tight, 
and told herself that she couldn’t leave yet. She 
kept herself in the chair, with a smile as genteel as 
Mertie’s on her lips; she chatted with Mrs. Peck, 
who had grown more expansive, now that her chores 
were done. But at last she felt it was possible 
to rise and tell Mrs. Peck what a really delightful 
time she had had, and what a pleasure it had been 
to come to her home, just informally like this. 

“I’ll take Vergie home, Mother,” Roy said. “Then 
I’ll be back to dress. . . .” 

Mrs. Peck’s face shifted. “You didn’t forget,” 
he asked her, “that I’m having dinner with Vergie? 
We’re going to the theater tonight.” 

But his mother’s face remained uncertain. “Yes, 
he told you, Mother,” Mertie said gently. “I heard 
him tell you.” 

“I must have forgotten,” Mrs. Peck said. A sigh 
shook her broad flat bosom. “Royden’s out so 
much,” she said to Vergie. There was pathos in 
the look she gave her boy. 

“Never you mind, Mother.” Roy put his arms 
around her, thumping her back humorously. “I’m 
going to spend tomorrow evening at home. “We’ll go 
to church together in the evening, shall we? You’d 
like that, wouldn’t you?” 





162 


The Bach of the Booh 


“Yes,” she said. She was simply pleased, like 
a child. She tried to keep a smile from her lips, 
but it forced its way to them. Happiness glowed 
in her face. “Yes, son.” Her eyes were meek, but 
the corners of her smiling lips held a hint of triumph. 





CHAPTER VII 


i 

Vergie, walking into the stillness of her small 
room, sat down on the bed with her head between 
her hands. Depression as penetrating as the damp¬ 
ness in her clothing had seeped into the fibres of 
her mind. A moist tendril of hair lay chill along 
her cheek. She wanted the luxury of long weeping. 

“What’s the matter/’ her mother’s voice asked. 
She stood in the hall outside Vergie’s room, the door 
of which she had abruptly opened. Her stout figure 
was encased in a staunch armor of corset and bras¬ 
siere, with a petticoat of durable black. As she 
noted Vergie’s drooping figure, her face bristled with 
apprehension. “What are you sitting that way for?” 

“I don’t know,” Vergie said. “I suppose I’m 
tired.” 

“No wonder,” her mother said grimly. “No won¬ 
der. Gallivanting the way you do. Never resting. 
Let me look at you.” She peered, frowning and 
curious, into Vergie’s pale face, into her dark eyes 
which winced and turned away. “Were you out 
with Roy?” 

“Yes,” said Vergie. She began to take off her 
163 


164 


The Bach of the Booh 


damp skirt with listless fingers. “I went to tea at 
his mother’s.” 

Mrs. Stilson’s face grew astute. “Pretty serious, 
I guess,” she said, with a conscious attempt at 
levity. But her eyes were anxious. “And Roy’s 
coming here tonight. And you’re going out with him 
afterwards. And goodness knows what-all next 
week.” She enumerated the statements accusingly, 
like piled-up evidence against Vergie. “It looks 
pretty serious to me,” she reiterated. “He’s just a 
good friend, isn’t he?” 

The door slammed, and Pet thrust her face 
through the doorway, grinning; her cheeks, as red 
as prize apples, had been smartened by the flicking 
rain. “I’ve been out with Roger,” she told them, 
jubilantly. “I went to his office to get him. We’ve 
been walking in the rain.” 

“Pet!” her mother cried. Her tone held the fine 
essence of distilled horror. “You’re soaking. You 
must be crazy.” She looked wildly at Pet, goaded 
by the tiny drops on her child’s bloomy cheeks, her 
fluffy hair and woolly coat. “Change right away,” 
he directed her. “Don’t be lounging around in those 
wet clothes. Change them now.” She stood for a 
moment, turning helplessly from one child to the 
other. Each was incomprehensible to her: the one 
who stood obtusely quiet, with black, staring eyes; 
the one who pranced, wet and wilful. “I don’t know 




The Bach of the Booh 


165 


what I’ve done,” she told them, “to have two such 
children.” Her thick figure removed itself from the 
presence of their unreasonableness. 

Vergie pulled the soft cherry silk of her kimono 
around her. “You went down to Roger’s office?” 
she asked Pet. “You funny kid. . . . You’d better 
look out, Roger will think you’re chasing him. He’s 
terribly scornful of girls who run after men.” 

“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Pet said with a 
touch of condescension. She showed no offense at 
Vergie’s criticism; dismissed it patronizingly, as an 
older brother might have done. Walking over to her 
sister’s dressing table, she scrutinized her handbag: 
considered it, rejected it. “Don’t think I’ll get one 
like that,” she stated composedly. Then she re¬ 
verted to Vergie’s comment. “Don’t disturb yourself 
about me, old girl. I can take care of myself.” 

“That’s nice to know,” said Vergie. She couldn’t 
help smiling at Pet’s parade of independence. 
“How’s Frank these days?” she asked her. 

“All right, I guess.” Pet took off her hat, shower¬ 
ing raindrops on Vergie’s rug. 

“What do you mean, you ‘guess’? There isn’t 
anything the matter between you and Frank, is 
there?” 

Pet frowned. She tossed back her short hair, 
brushing its damp fronds from her face. “What do 
you have to talk about Frank all the time for?” she 




166 


The Bach of the Booh 


asked irritably. “Sure, I like him all right, but 
he gets tiresome. Frank’s just a kid.” She left 
Vergie’s room, one hand plunged in her pocket, 
walking with long, boyish strides. 

it 

Vergie prepared to bathe and dress. As she went 
through the methodical operations, she found that 
her dejection was being succeeded by a disquietude 
no longer hopeless and unreasoning—a disquietude 
which prompted action. It was, she saw plainly, her 
duty to save Roy. She must think, not of herself, but 
of him. 

Slowly she adjusted her dress of dull red silk, a 
soft luxurious fabric. It was important that she 
should look her best tonight. In the delicate ways 
which her love would teach her, she must rescue 
Roy from the mediocrity of his environment. When 
a man loved deeply, with his whole soul, there were 
no limits to the influence which the woman could 
exert over him—and Roy needed so little to make of 
him a person worthy of sharing her life. Just at 
first there would be things—Vergie pushed aside the 
thought of difficulties. The depressing memory of 
the afternoon tea she refused to admit to her mind. 

She sat calmly before the mirror of the dressing 
table, hesitating over the big comb which emphasized 
the triangular shape of her face. She rejected it in 
favor of simplicity. Above the clinging, rosy gown, 




The Bach of the Booh 


167 


her face was translucent as a smooth crystal. The 
dark eyes were clear; and Mrs. Stilson, coming to 
have a look at this disturbing child, breathed out a 
long sigh of relief. Evidently Vergie had decided 
not to be contrary. 

The Stilson dinner table, stimulated by Roy’s high 
spirits, developed an unwonted animation. Even 
Mr. Stilson was stirred from his usual abstraction. 
Perhaps Roy recalled to him some lilt of his own 
youth, reminded him that he, too, had been an en¬ 
livening dinner companion. He waved his slender 
fingers, revealing a surprising vitality, as he pro¬ 
duced from a secret store his stock of anecdotes: 
“an amusing thing I read the other day” . . . “a 
good one that a fellow at the office was telling me.” 
Kindled by her husband’s enthusiasm, Mrs. Stilson 
laughed unconstrainedly, without discrimination— 
her mouth wide and pretty—Pet’s laugh. 

For an instant their gayety brought an ache of 
poignant happiness to Vergie’s throat. It was a 
part of her love for Roy, who carried an enchanter’s 
wand, at the touch of which people were transformed. 
Above the black-and-white of his dinner clothes, his 
young face smiled at her. It was easy to see him 
as she had imagined him—subtly changed, with a 
quality of dignity, reserve, distinction. With this 
new Roy, life was going to turn gracious, beautiful 
and kindly. Again she thought of their home, hers 
and Roy’s—the gay times they would have! Theirs 



168 


The Bach of the Booh 


would be a place to which everyone would come— 
they might enter tired, but they would go away re¬ 
freshed. . . . Roger, for instance; they must have 
him often. At first, he might not understand Roy, 
but he would soon be won over. Poor Roger, she 
had neglected him. . . . 

Roy had invented a private joke with Pet, which 
consisted largely of significant looks and sly in¬ 
nuendo. A glance from him was enough to send 
her into helpless giggles. Now he told them: “Not 
meaning to cast any gloom on a happy family gather¬ 
ing, you want to look out for this little girl. I know 
a thing or two about her.” He assumed the pious, 
nasal tones of a country parson. “After the collec¬ 
tion has been taken, we will sing Hymn Number 
Five Fifty-four, ‘Yield Not to Temptation.’ ” 

Pet, avoiding his eyes, made an effort for control; 
suddenly exploded into a laugh like a violent sneeze. 
She leaned toward Roy, preening her head. From 
his implied suspicions she acquired a sense of prestige 
which gave her confidence among her elders. She 
had no need of her defenses of sulkiness and boyish 
independence. Coquetry was apparent in her. 
“Don’t give me away,” she begged Roy. She shook 
one finger at him, showed one dimple. To Vergie 
she said, “I wish you wouldn’t take Roy out tonight. 
I like to hear him pull his line.” 

“Vergie and I are going to paint the town red,” 
Roy announced. He gave Mrs. Stilson a humorous 




The Back of the Book 


169 


look of understanding, intended for her reassurance. 
“I guess I haven’t told you, Vergie, Fred Stamm 
called up just after I got back home. He’s taking 
some girl to the theater, wants us to meet them after¬ 
wards, and go to a Russian place to dance. All 
right with you, isn’t it?” 

It seemed to Vergie that anything Roy proposed 
must be all right, even a party with Fred Stamm. 
Dinner over, Mrs. Stilson went to look out of the 
window at the damp pavements. 

“I don’t know,” she told Vergie. “It might come 
on to rain again before you get back. Going to that 
Russian place, so late and all. Maybe you better 
take an umbrella. . . .” 

“Not under any conditions an umbrella,” Vergie 
said. The rich fabric of her evening wrap caressed 
her arms and shoulders. She twitched Roy’s coat 
sleeve, eager to go—to be alone with him. 

Mrs. Stilson sighed, resigning herself. Her glance 
strayed from Vergie’s face to Roy’s; a handsome 
pair. The situation, after all—in spite of inclement 
weather and late hours—had much to recommend it. 
“Be careful walking on those high heels,” she in¬ 
structed her daughter. The warning restored to her 
a sense of her rightful authority, her position as 
director of her children’s affairs. 

“I’ll have been in bed for hours by the time you 
get in,” she said to Roy. “But not asleep,” she 
added hastily. She was anxious that there should 




170 


The Back of the Book 


be no confusion on this point. “Not asleep till I 
know Vergie’s in.” 

in 

The click of the closing door was the sign of their 
release. In the silent hallway outside the apartment, 
Roy’s hand clasped Vergie’s, and she raised her 
face, a fragment of fine porcelain. Her eyelids 
drooped, and, in the dimness of the hall, the face 
seemed to float before Roy, fragile, unlighted. He 
gathered her close in his arms, burying his cheek 
in the soft fur of her wrap. Time ticked past, as 
though measured by their quick heartbeats. Then 
he laid his lips over hers. Out of the darkness, she 
clung to Roy. She was sinking, but he held her. 

She felt too bruised for passion; her need was 
rarer, more intimate and exacting. It was a need 
which cried for satisfaction of the mind, the spirit, 
for a subtlety of comprehension, perhaps unrealiz¬ 
able. But she was grateful that Roy had passion 
to offer her. Their bodies understood each other. 
Vergie escaped the suffocating darkness, drawing 
strength from Roy’s desire. Their eyes met in a 
long embrace. 

Nothing, Vergie resolved, must mar this evening’s 
pleasure. Relentlessly she subdued the claims of 
her own mood, forcing herself to be vivacious. In 
the theater she tinkled light laughter at the jests. 
By degrees her animation became genuine. The 




The Bach of the Booh 


171 


color and crash of the spectacle began to intoxicate 
her; her dazzled mind turned to a dizzy pinwheel, 
spinning in her head. 

Roy had arranged the meeting with Fred Stamm 
and his girl, and Vergie waited in the taxi while he 
found them. Fred was the first to appear; his pink 
well-kept snout thrust itself through the taxi win¬ 
dow with a jovial grimace. A faint odor of ex¬ 
pensive alcohol came from his lips as he greeted 
Vergie. He lifted into the taxi a tiny, fair girl 
in a green and gold turban. 

“Vergie, meet Madge.” Fred sat down heavily 
between the two women, drawing an arm of each 
through his own. “Roy’ll be along in a minute. 
And how’s the little college girl been since our 
last meeting? This lady you see before you,” he 
told the fair-haired one, “is a terrible highbrow. You 
want to be careful not to pull any bones in front 
of her. She’ll print ’em in her magazine.” 

Madge looked frightened. “Don’t listen to him,” 
Vergie said, reassuringly. “He likes to make fun 
of me. We women will have to stick together.” 
Her words, almost coaxing, made an overture of 
friendliness to Madge, with whom she felt she might 
establish at least the community of sex. 

Roy jumped on the step of the taxi, giving the 
order to the driver. “Well, this is a nice state of 
affairs,” he proclaimed, as he saw Fred Stamm’s 




172 


The Bach of the Booh 


comfortable position. “Knife a fellow in the back 
while he’s off working his fingers to the bone to give 
you happiness.” He collapsed in ironic despair on 
one of the shelf-like folding seats. In his hand he 
held a large paper bag, which he extended to them 
with a gesture of magnanimity. “Peanuts,” he said. 
“Always thinking of others, that’s me all over.” 

His mouth moved in a rotary, convivial grin, as 
they helped themselves to his peanuts. “What do 
you think this is, the circus?” Fred Stamm roared at 
him. 

“Sure, it’s a circus. Haven’t we got a clown?” 
Roy said, taking off his hat with a low bow to Fred. 

“We certainly have, as long as you’re here,” Fred 
assured him. The small fair girl laughed in a shrill 
treble. The peanuts had served to break the tension 
of their meeting. Vergie was grateful for the small 
occupation of cracking the shells, and abstracting 
the nuts from their coating of red skin. 

They slowed into a line of motors before a lighted 
doorway, and soon found themselves in the cabaret. 
Fred Stamm had reserved a table against the wall, 
and the four of them seated themselves on the long 
bench behind it. Around them chatter arose, vague 
and swirling, as though borne on the writhing smoke 
of the cigarettes. The narrow room was fringed 
with tables which fluttered with men and women. 
To Vergie they appeared as a restless flux of color, 





The Bach of the Booh 


173 


and she permitted her eyes to be distracted by their 
vivid flicker and stir. As her excited senses cari¬ 
catured the scene, she found the dresses of the women 
sumptuous and extraordinary; their faces were seg¬ 
ments of animated enamel. Their escorts seemed 
jerking mannikins in black clothing, the somber 
background for this study in chromatics. On the 
walls of the room garish paintings of Russian peasant 
life displayed gestures cruder, bolder, scarcely less 
unreal than those of the people before them. 

In Vergie’s mind the pinwheel circled giddily. The 
spectacle had only the semblance of reality. These 
were not actual people, not even Roy, not even 
herself; but marionettes, cleverly fashioned and 
operated. Vergie thought that she alone had ap¬ 
prehended the disguised mechanism. Her perspicac¬ 
ity elated her. Drawing her lipstick from her bag, 
she surreptitiously brightened her mouth. 

Madge, catching sight of this, followed her ex¬ 
ample. “That’s right, doll yourselves up, girls,” Fred 
Stamm instructed them. “Don’t imagine you’re get¬ 
ting away with anything, though—not with Uncle 
Freddie around. Uncle Freddie doesn’t miss what 
is commonly known as ‘a trick.’ Say, this place is 
all right, though, isn’t it? Suit you, Vergie?—if 
I may be permitted to address you thusly on such 
short acquaintance.” He sat back with a fat smile 
of gratification, as the musicians exploded into jazz. 





174 


The Back of the Book 


Couples slipped from the tables and began to dance. 
The reel of color became swifter, magical. 

Two Mexican girls had come in, their eyes heavy 
with cosmetics. They wore sinuous dresses of black, 
and around them were wrapped shawls burning with 
embroidery of brilliant flowers. Their escorts, dark 
and amorous mice, drew them from their seats, and 
they began to dance, adapting their languorous move¬ 
ments to the rhythms of the jazz. The enticement of 
their wheeling bodies held Vergie’s attention. She 
was rapt in observation of the show. As yet, it had 
not occurred to her to think of herself as a part of it. 

iv 

Fred Stamm had led Madge to the crowded strip 
of dance floor, and now Roy pulled Vergie gently by 
the hand. In the conventional touch of his arm at 
her waist, she sensed a pressure, a caress. Subtly 
she felt herself transmuted from a whirling brain to 
a vibrant body. The giddy pinwheel in her head re¬ 
leased itself, encompassing her. Now she was her¬ 
self the pinwheel. 

“Look who’s here,” Roy’s voice startled her. He 
directed her attention to a party of people who had 
just entered. One of the men, a miracle of flawless 
grooming, was observing Vergie with a bland smile. 
She waved her hand to Mr. Twill, as she and Roy 
danced by. Louis Bayard was in the party, too; 




The Bach of the Booh 


175 


but his back was turned as he helped one of the 
women with her wrap. To Roy, who had seen Mr. 
Twill on several occasions in the office, the incident 
was a source of keen amusement. 

“Can’t get away with a thing, can you?” he in¬ 
quired. “And Heaven will protect the working girl,” 
he quoted cheerily. 

The surge and whine of the music awoke in Roy 
and Vergie an increasing delight. They moved 
closer to each other as they danced. On the crowded 
floor they were no longer two distinct people, but 
two aspects of an entity. Vergie was pervaded by 
the intoxicating nearness of Roy’s body. Her eyes 
were almost closed. It seemed that she was light 
as air, a feather, unsubstantial. She would have 
believed herself incapable of exertion. Yet her 
body danced on without effort or volition. 

When they returned to their table, Fred and 
Madge were already seated, absorbed in each other. 
Roy cast a glance at them, dismissed the necessity 
for considering them. He drew near to Vergie, his 
eyes searching her face. She felt his gaze hold and 
quicken her, like an ardent embrace; scarcely she 
dared raise her eyes to Roy, surrender to him even 
the warmth of her silence; for it seemed that, with 
an answering look of passion, some blinding lightning 
must flash between them. 

Roy’s hand closed over Vergie’s, pressing the fin¬ 
gers so that the tips pulsed. 




176 


The Bach of the Booh 


“I adore you/’ he said. “I’m mad about you.” 
His madness sent a new quiver, electric through her 
hand. “Do you think it’s queer I haven’t asked 
you to marry me? Do you, Vergie?” 

She felt her eyes stretch wide in her face. “Do 
you, Vergie?” Roy insisted. His voice was thick 
and urgent. But she couldn’t answer him. A 
weight lay on her tongue and lips. 

“I have to have you,” Roy cried out. “Sweet¬ 
heart, Vergie, you belong to me. I can’t bear to 
think of any other man touching you. ...” His 
mouth contracted suddenly. His face went fluid, 
rippled with emotion. He twisted Vergie’s hand so 
that the bones cracked; and there came a moment 
of silence. The waiter approached their table, and 
bent solicitously forward while Roy and Fred or¬ 
dered. Why did she feel that this was a moment’s 
grace, Vergie wondered? She knew that she wished 
Roy wouldn’t speak. Words were tiny arrows, 
poison-tipped. It was safer to riot mindlessly in 
color and rhythm. 

But Roy went on. “Vergie, now you must under¬ 
stand—after this afternoon. That’s one reason I 
wanted you to come home, see Mother—so you’d 
understand.” 

Vergie’s mind cleared sharply. Of course, she 
could think now! Mother! That was it, the thing 
she had been forcing out of her consciousness. Yet, 
somehow, now that she remembered, it did not seem 





The Back of the Book 


177 


important. Roy’s mother was uptown, safely shut 
in her apartment. Roy was at her side. What else 
mattered but this young Roy? She saw his flushed, 
manly face; and his mouth, at once resolute and 
vulnerable. 

v 

The waiter laid the table unnoticed, for Fred and 
Madge, too, were aware only of each other. “You 
must have seen how it was with Mother,” Roy said. 
He looked down at his plate and frowned. “She’s 
sick, really. Nerves, you know. And Mertie’s 
thirty-four. She’s been engaged for four years.” 
He looked at Vergie, and she shook her head, slowly, 
pityingly. Her heart ached for poor Mertie, grown 
ladylike with long waiting. “At first she was so 
happy over it. I’m not sure now. . . . Waiting so 
long seemed to spoil it, somehow. Mertie isn’t so 
young. . . . Sometimes she’s been discouraged, and 
talked about giving him up. But I wouldn’t hear of 
it. It’s been terrible for the man, too, with Mother 
feeling the way she does. He’s been crazy to marry 
her right along. He has a good job, bought a nice 
little home in Detroit. . . 

“In Detroit?” Vergie asked. Her voice was a flute, 
a thin trickle and drip of sound. 

“Yes,” Roy said, “Detroit. That’s where he lives. 
Didn’t you know that? That’s why Mother feels 
so bad ... so far away . . . losing Mertie. . . .” 





178 


The Bach of the Booh 


Echoes of his voice shot in and out of her mind, 
shut off, sounding again, like an interrupted phono- 
graph record. 

“You couldn’t get married right away, you mean?” 
she asked. The jazz had begun again. Its loud 
whine split the air, above the shuffle of feet. They 
were aware that Fred and Madge pushed back the 
table, calling back to them as they stepped on the 
dance floor. Yet no sound seemed to touch the 
silence which hung, a shining crystal, between them. 

“No,” Roy said. “No, not right away. In a year 
or two, when Mother’s more used to doing without 
Mertie. . . . Any change upsets her so—the idea 
of bringing a new person into the house. . . .” Be¬ 
neath the blare of the music, Vergie heard her brain 
chattering. A new person . . . into the house. . . . 
The words tore a ragged track through her. She 
wanted to scream, laugh, cry. . . . 

She put one hand over her eyes, shutting out the 
lights, the flash and flicker of the dancers. Of 
course, she would have had to live with the old 
woman! She had never thought of that. She had 
gone blindly on, confident in her love. “You fool, 
Vergie gasped into her shaking fingers. 

vi 

“It seems to me deplorable that you’re too ab¬ 
sorbed to notice old friends. . . .” The voice, drawl- 





The Bach of the Booh 


179 


ing and artificial, came to Vergie's ears from an ap¬ 
parently great distance. Mr. Twill was standing 
by the table. He drew up a chair, and bent his 
waxen perfection upon it, with an easy and slightly 
feminine assurance. 

“Rather an amusing place, isn't it?" he demanded 
of them. In Mr. Twill's vocabulary “amusing" was 
in high repute: a safe adjective, which commits one 
to so little. “Rather like Paris. Rather smart." 

His bland presence calmed Vergie, like cooling 
water. It proclaimed the importance of a suave ex¬ 
terior. You couldn't, she remembered, be cheap and 
theatrical. It wasn’t done—at any rate, not in pub¬ 
lic; not before Mr. Twill. Though a flame seared 
you, you didn't acknowledge it. You, too, must 
pretend that you were molded of cold wax. . . . 

“You’ll forgive my intruding, Peck"—he inclined 
so elegantly to Roy that it would have been an in¬ 
conceivable social blunder not to have forgiven his 
intruding. “I'm sure you won’t mind my asking 
Vergie for one dance. In view of my paternal re¬ 
lation to her—my paternal relation," he repeated the 
phrase archly, with a glance which interpreted the 
preposterousness of his words. “Sweet as a June 
rose in that red dress," he told her. 

The piusic crashed to a close and the weaving 
couples moved to their tables. As Fred Stamm and 
Madge came up, arm in arm, Vergie felt a poignant 
embarrassment. She was confused at the idea of 





180 


The Bach of the Booh 


presenting Fred Stamm to Mr. Twill. If it had been 
possible to avoid the introduction by some ruse, she 
would have done so. But there wasn’t any escape. 

“Glad to know you,” Fred Stamm bawled genially, 
and his paw closed over Mr. Twill’s fine white fin¬ 
gers. Fred’s pear-shaped face was ruddy, his thick 
neck lay over his collar, like a purple sausage. Madge 
nodded to Mr. Twill with an affected giggle. Would 
he think she was her friend, Vergie wondered? 
Shame pierced her sharply. When the bright whang 
of the music again rent the smoky air, she quickly 
rose. “Come on,” she said to Mr. Twill. “Our 
dance.” Roy she scarcely noticed. Some action, 
some swift change were essential to her. She was 
in deep water, half asleep. . . . But you must keep 
moving or you drowned. One solace she felt* the 
moment with Fred Stamm and Madge had been in¬ 
terrupted. Her eyes sought the table where Louis 
Bayard sat; he turned with his sudden quizzical 
smile to the lady beside him, a porcelain lady in 
black, with pearls. He, too, must have seen her 
companions. 

The whirl of the dancers, the bang of the music, 
disturbed her. Mr. Twill gyrated with automatic 
perfection. It became preposterous to Vergie that 
they should be moving around the floor, two people 
holding on to each other, wriggling their feet—why 
were they doing it? Perhaps they couldn’t help it. 
She decided that they couldn’t help it. The spec- 




The Bach of the Booh 


181 


tacle, of which she was a part, was directed by a 
powerful mechanism. They were all marionettes, 
which some crazy force jerked, jerked so that they 
must go on dancing. . . . 

Mr. Twill left Vergie at the table, where Roy was 
waiting for her. The dull color still smoldered in 
his cheeks; but his passion had vanished. 

“Vergie,” he said, “don’t run away from me again. 
You’re hurting me. . . .1 know there’s something 
wrong.” He was confused, but eager to straighten 
things out. “What is it, dear?” he asked her. 
“You’re going to be willing to wait for me, aren’t 
you, Vergie?” 

Her eyes regarded him curiously, and she felt it 
scarcely credible that a few hours ago she had con¬ 
fidently expected to change this man, subtly and 
delicately to mold him into her life. Why, you 
couldn’t do that to people! How had she imagined 
that you could? How had she thought she could 
divorce Roy from his family, even from his friends 
—from Fred Stamm, whose fat laugh made her stir 
uneasily in her seat. . . . 

When she spoke, her impersonal words presup¬ 
posed that he had followed her thoughts. “Can you 
imagine me living with your mother?” Vergie asked 
him. Somehow, speaking in that detached way 
seemed to simplify it. “Can you?” 

Roy looked away. He did not answer. 




182 


The Bach of the Booh 


“Can you imagine me taking care of that plant?” 
Vergie’s voice grew higher, rose to a reedy laugh. 
But the laughter was stuck tight in her throat, swell¬ 
ing it—she couldn’t laugh hard enough to get it out. 
Roy’s head was still turned away, and he made no 
sign. 

The whole thing was so pitifully second-rate! 
Like colored motion pictures, little scenes appeared 
before her eyes. There was Vergie watering the 
plant . . . there was Vergie entertaining at dinner, 
Harriet, Brace and Roger. . . . Mrs. Peck was tell¬ 
ing them about her nerves, her gas, her lost Mertie 
. . . there were people dropping in for tea, infor¬ 
mally, unexpectedly . . . slices of lemon, nicked 
around the edge. . . . 

It grew easier to laugh; hard, indeed, to stop. 
“Oh, Roy,” Vergie appealed to the back of his head. 
“Can’t you see it’s funny?” 

vii 

The room had fallen into a hush; and, perceiving 
this, Vergie saw that a woman had stepped forward. 
She stood between the tables, and a stringed instru¬ 
ment sounded a note of expectation. Her black hair, 
parted in the middle, was drawn, smooth as licorice, 
into a tight knob on each ear. Great gold rings 
hung below the knobs, and a rope of gold clasped 
her tawny throat. She wore a peasant blouse and 




The Back of the Book 


183 


a red skirt, with a gay apron. Her lips were parted. 
She began to sing. 

Her dark voice throbbed in a slow cry of pain 
through the cigarette smoke which lingered above 
the half-consumed dishes on the small, rectangular 
tables; and the chattering people were silent, as 
though half-unconsciously they realized that the 
woman’s suffering was more important than anything 
they might have to say. 

It seemed to Vergie that she could not endure the 
anguish in the woman’s voice. She had loved and 
suffered. She, Vergie Stilson, had loved, too. Yet 
she didn’t suffer, now that love was over. She 
felt empty and indifferent. Across the room she 
saw the Mexican girls. Their faces seemed heavy 
and scented, like magnolia blossoms. They leaned 
against their lovers. These were women who knew 
the depths of love. Vergie had an instant’s percep¬ 
tion of the trivial and self-interested emotion she 
had dignified by that name. These women would 
stop for nothing, once they loved. They would have 
fulfillment, ecstasy, while she was dissuaded by 
the ghost of an old woman, whom she might push 
aside, nullify. . . . 

Still the singing voice cried passionately. . . . Ten 
days of happiness. What a fool! How cheap it was 
to hope; this would teach her the end of that. This 
would teach her not to take love seriously, believe 




184 


The Bach of the Booh 


it the answer. Her disillusionment was complete 
now. 

Roy moved at her side. His face turned to hers; 
its look of hurt caught at her throat. In his eyes, 
near which tears trembled, she saw his boyish soul, 
lacerated a moment ago by her laughter. He didn’t 
speak, but she knew she would remember the re¬ 
proach, the anguish of humiliation, the disappoint¬ 
ment of his eyes. As though she could enter Roy’s 
mind, she suddenly understood. She felt in her own 
heart the frantic pain of his kindly nature which 
had been stabbed sharp and deep in the love which 
he offered, devoted, unsuspecting. 

And what was Roy’s offense? Just common hu¬ 
manity, that was all. Tenderness stirred in her side, 
her hand could have started toward him. He was 
dear, dear! But the bright essence of her was cold, 
resolved. Whatever happened, she mustn’t be 
trapped in second-rate surroundings. Her hands, 
clasped tightly, remained motionless on the table. 

“You didn’t love me,” Roy whispered. “You were 
just playing with me. You never loved me.” His 
eyes searched her face in an agony, longing for dis¬ 
proof of his incredible words. 

The still room shook into motion and applause, as 
the song ended. Fred Stamm leaned forward and 
called, “Hey, Vergie, how’d you like that pathetic 
little ballad? He was her man, but he done her 



The Back of the Book 


185 


wrong, what? Listen, the next time you trip the 
light fantastic with me, understand ?” 

Vergie had a vision of herself pirouetting around 
the room, a tangent to Fred Stamm’s stomach. Not 
that, not that! Roy was sitting forward at the table, 
his head between his hands. There was despair in 
the bend of the shoulders, the back of the neck- 
under his ears, the skin was pink. Tears, hot and 
painful, swelled Vergie’s throat. “I can’t bear it,” 
she cried to the chattering room. She rose from the 
table, pulling her wrap about her. 

They released themselves from the importunate 
Fred and reached the dark street. A taxi drew up 
Oeside the curb. “Don’t come with me,” Vergie 
begged Roy. She knew that her resolve would be 
defeated in the close quiet of the taxi. She must 
end this suffering tonight. 

“It’s all over?” he asked her. In his broken 
tones sounded the last eager trace of hope. “You 
don’t love me?”—he implored her to deny his words. 

“It’s all over,” Vergie told him. She felt she must 
go on talking until he believed her fully; she must 
convince him at once, while she had the courage, here 
in the dark street, beside the waiting taxi. “I don’t 
love you, Roy. It was a mistake. Oh, I’m 
sorry. ...” 

“Never mind,” he said at last. “Never mind, dear. 
It’s all right. I want you to be happy, that’s the 




186 


The Bach of the Booh 


most important. . . His voice faltered, and he 
put his arm around her. “Kiss me once more,” he 
said. She raised her face, silver-cold, to his tor¬ 
tured, tear-wet mouth which still exuded faintly the 
cheery, brownish fragrance of peanuts. 




Ill 



CHAPTER VIII 


i 

Pet rose from the breakfast table, where an egg- 
stained plate and milk-smeared glass remained to 
mark her passing. She went into the living room, 
whistling cheerfully. 

“Whistling girls and crowing hens,” her mother 
reminded her; but the admonition was perfunctory. 
Whistling, though unladylike, was a symptom of 
good humor, and Mrs. Stilson’s mind would have 
reasoned, had it been prone to analysis, that perse¬ 
cution should be reserved for the abnormal, the tor¬ 
mented. She raised her head alertly, as Vergie en¬ 
tered the dining-room. 

“Aren’t you going to take any cereal?” she asked, 
hovering over the table. Her presence snapped 
tensely on Vergie, turned the dining room into a 
trap. 

“No,” Vergie said, “I don’t care for cereal.” 

“You don’t eat enough,” her mother complained. 
“Never ate enough from a child. Coffee and toast. 
That’s nothing to do a day’s work on. Don’t you 
feel good? What do you look so white for? Circles 
under your eyes. . . 

189 


190 


The Back of the Book 


“I’m all right,” Vergie said. If she had raised 
her voice, it would have whistled in a thin scream. 
She gulped a mouthful of coffee, scalding hot. 

“That dress is a disgrace. Wonder what you’d 
say to me if I went around in an old dress like that. 
You’re usually so particular. I don’t know what’s 
come over you lately. ...” 

The trap snapped tight, snapped tight. Crisp 
fragments of toast trembled in Vergie’s fingers. She 
concentrated on the business of eating them, ex¬ 
amining them attentively, swallowing them suddenly 
with a sip of coffee. 

“I don’t know what you do with your money.” 
Mrs. Stilson’s tones implied suspicions of a secret 
vice. “You never have a cent, with all you earn.” 
She sat down at Pet’s place, crumbed it thoroughly 
with her fingers. “Hear anything from Roy?” 

The question quivered slowly down over Vergie, 
a stinging lash. Yet, it was better to have it asked; 
easier than waiting for it, dreading it. “No,” she 
said. “No, I haven’t.” 

Her mother looked at her covertly. “I should 
think you’d miss him,” she said. Her effort to be 
casual, to speak lightly, gave her face an expression 
of wiliness. “Seeing so much of him there for a while. 
You were just good friends, weren’t you?” 

“That’s all,” Vergie said. She heard her voice 
clink, light and chill, like shattering glass. It echoed 
maddeningly in her mind, “That’s all. That’s all. 




The Bach of the Booh 


191 


That’s all.” She put down her coffee cup, rose 
blindly from the table. “I have to hurry downtown,” 
she said. “Get my work done. This noon I’m going 
to the hospital to see Harriet. . . .” 

ii 

Yet, once she had escaped to the street, she could 
not face the office. She was unstrung. Sitting at a 
desk would be unendurable. From the telephone 
booth in the corner drug store, she called Miss Aron¬ 
son. “I won’t be in this morning. Tell Mr. Twill 
I went to an exhibition or a decorator’s—oh, tell 
him anything.” She replaced the telephone receiver 
on its hook and, still grasping it, she stood for a 
moment in the narrow, airless booth, her eyes closed. 
Then, walking carefully, as if she were something 
fragile, which motion might injure, she moved up 
the street. Her agitation required an objective, a 
diversion. In a florist’s shop, she purchased an 
armful of pale roses; then she turned her steps 
toward the Good Shepherd Hospital. She would go 
to see Harriet this morning. 

Her dread of this visit she had scarcely confessed. 
But, calmed by the methodical exercise of walking, 
she admitted it bleakly to her mind. Of course, in 
a city crammed with hospitals, Harriet would choose 
this one to have her infant in! 

The door was open, and beyond it in the white 
entrance hall, the pretty, fair-haired girl sat at her 




192 


The Back of the Book 


switchboard. Was this, thought Vergie, all she had 
feared? She had been stupid and cowardly to dread 
coming to see Harriet, because of the associations 
of this hallway—which was just like every other 
hospital hallway. There, in the corner, was the 
small reception room where she had waited, her 
eyes on closed double doors at the end of the cor¬ 
ridor. But Vergie quickly dismissed the thought 
of the double doors. . . . There a baby had drowsed 
and yawned, sliding its soft mouth. Uninteresting 
memories! But they made poignant the recollec¬ 
tion that she had been happy, happy. . . . Better 
say foolish, foolish! “Foolish, foolish,” Vergie re¬ 
peated mechanically to herself. 

The cage of the elevator, commodiously designed 
for stretchers and operating tables, received her; 
and out of the blank corridor she entered Harriet’s 
sunny room. Harriet lay against her pillows, 
drained of color, yet possessed by some opulence of 
life. She pushed back the covers to disclose the 
baby at her white breast; and her wan cheeks stirred 
in a smile of contented pride. 

Brace was there, his eyes constantly wandering 
to the bed. He was trying, without signal success, 
to look accustomed to being the father of a son. 
Vergie cooed the customary blandishments; but the 
sight of Harriet hardened her with resentment at 
the absorption, the utter complacency of mother¬ 
hood. 




The Bach of the Booh 


193 


The baby ceased its eager sucking, and Harriet 
lifted it up. Vergie bent dutifully over its warm, 
milky fragrance. And, her face close to the ugly, 
squinting scrap, she felt her mood abruptly change. 
Her emptiness filled with a mounting liquid, as warm 
as milk. Why, you had to take care of a baby! If 
you left it to itself, it would squirm and yap a little 
and then die, quite helplessly. 

“Isn’t he sweet?” Harriet was asking her. “He’s 
going to be a very handsome boy,” she purred. Brace 
had bent over the baby, too; but now he turned 
courteously to Vergie. “How have you been?” he 
asked. “I think you’re looking rather tired.” 

Vergie’s thoughts went swiftly, defensively to her¬ 
self. Her throat tightened at Brace’s sympathetic 
tones. Tired? Yes, she was tired. She tried to re¬ 
call the aspect of her fine triangle of face, which it 
seemed that she had not seen for a long time. Be¬ 
hind her was a white-painted bureau, with a large 
mirror. 

“I suppose I do need a rest,” she said. With 
elaborate nonchalance, she turned to glance in the 
mirror. Then she leaned forward, scrutinized her 
face. 

In the glass, back of her own image, moved the 
reflections of Brace and Harriet and the baby. But 
Vergie didn’t notice them. They were outside the 
focus of her attention. 

Her first emotion was one of disgust. This 




194 


The Bach of the Booh 


couldn’t really be her face! It had altered since 
last she had looked at it with attention. While she 
had been occupied with other things, it had grown 
older, sounding no alarm. She had been accustomed 
to thinking of her face as young, because it was 
fresh and dainty and unmarred. She had pitied 
other people, whose faces grew tarnished, wore out. 
Never had she conceded that such a thing could 
happen to her—at least, not for ages, not until she 
was an old, old lady. 

How foolish she had been! No one, of course, 
could escape. Vergie saw now that time was a 
grim, vandal hand which delighted in marring 
freshness. This hand had moved over her face, 
rubbing it soft and inelastic. It had smudged the 
corners of her eyes, and her mouth. And this was 
only the beginning! The hand would never tire 
of its work. It would scratch ugly scars in her 
smooth skin, it would pull a criss-cross of tiny lines 
around her eyes. It would pluck at the flesh under 
her chin, tearing it loose and flabby. 

The horror she read on her mirrored face made 
Vergie laugh. The laugh improved things. It set 
a flickering light behind her eyes. Why, it wasn’t 
necessary to have a face like that, blank, empty as 
a small white cup! This was her own fault, her own 
stupidity. She had swept herself clean of feeling, 
being afraid to suffer. She had been absorbed in 
protecting herself. But better suffer any depths of 



The Back of the Book 


195 


pain than bear a strained face, which had lost hope, 
together with feeling. . . . 

She had forgotten to care about her looks! . . . 
No woman ought to make that mistake. She 
wouldn’t be old! Defiance burned in her. There 
was nothing so important that she would grow ugly 
and hopeless over it. Twenty-eight wasn’t old! She 
wasn’t beaten yet. Above everything else, she 
wouldn’t admit that picture of herself—Vergie, the 
faded, the unlovely, an object of pity. But the eyes 
in the reflection were transformed now. A faint 
flush had risen in the cheeks. The lips were parted, 
eager. 

“How much longer are you going to look at your¬ 
self?” Harriet’s voice sounded reproachful. “We 
don’t think it’s a very polite way to act when you’re 
calling on us. My son feels he’s neglected. Is it 
nice of Aunt Vergie?” she appealed to her son. 

“It’s all Brace’s fault,” Vergie said. “He re¬ 
minded me of my face.” She thrust her finger into 
the baby’s hand. Suddenly she bent over and kissed 
the tiny hand rapturously. Then, she drew her 
finger away. “I want to use your phone a minute, 
do you mind?” She searched in the telephone di¬ 
rectory. There it was: the House of Youth. 

A suave voice floated through the receiver of the 
telephone, the voice of the House of Youth. It told 
Vergie that a client had that minute canceled an 
appointment—if she cared to come in an hour? . . . 




196 


The Bach of the Booh 


a most exceptional opportunity. So many people 
snatching at youth, Vergie thought; but she had an 
exceptional opportunity. It seemed propitious. 

She straightened her hat at the mirror. Beauty 
came high, but it was worth any price. Gentle-eyed, 
she smiled on Harriet, seeing in her now a tender 
picture of mother-love. A white-capped nurse en¬ 
tered the room, putting out her arms for the baby. 
Her starched, impersonal kindness suggested duty, 
rather than devotion; and Vergie felt touched by 
Harriet’s reluctance to give her baby up. 

“Good-by, dear,” she said. She hesitated, re¬ 
garding Harriet’s pale face critically. “Be careful 
not to let yourself go. Women with babies have to 
be so careful. You want to watch out . . . cold 
cream every night.” She kissed Harriet fondly, and 
hurried from the room. 

in 

The bus would have taken her downtown conven¬ 
iently, but the urgency inside her wouldn’t permit of 
jogging in a bus. She was too eager to be after 
beauty, catch its flying skirts. Signaling a taxi, 
she succumbed to a crisis of impatience. She was 
maddened by every delay, resentful of the intrica¬ 
cies of the traffic. 

Yet after all, she was more than half an hour in 
advance of her appointment, and some diversion 
must be devised for the interval. Vergie paid the 





The Back of the Book 


197 


taxi driver, and began to walk briskly down Fifth 
Avenue. She would find an errand on which to 
spend her time. Stockings, perhaps—you always 
needed stockings. At the wide entrance of a depart¬ 
ment store, she turned in, and made her way 
through groups of lingering shoppers to the hosiery 
department. A sale was in progress at a long table 
placed in the center of the aisle, and Vergie joined 
a press of hawk-eyed bargain seekers. She picked 
up a pair of the inexpensive stockings, examining 
them critically. 

“Are these seconds?” she asked the sales girl. 

“Yes, they are. They all have slight defects.” 
As she spoke, she turned toward Vergie, gradually 
disclosing a long purple scar, which ran brightly 
across her cheek. 

Vergie looked away from the girl’s face. Its 
grotesque disfigurement hurt her, stinging her mind 
with irony. “Why, she’s a second, too!” Vergie 
thought. “She was botched in the factory ... a 
slight defect.” She put down the flawed stockings, 
and walked hastily away from the bargain table. 
At the counter, she demanded the best, the extra- 
fine quality of hose. “You are sure these have no 
defects?” she insisted. The sales girl, a superior 
blonde, moved the fine silk over an electric bulb, 
sunk in the counter, to show her that the stockings 
were perfect. As she waited for change, Vergie 
looked surreptitiously back at the sales girl of the 




198 


The Bach of the Booh 


bargain table, who was patiently continuing to dis¬ 
pose of her damaged wares. Why, she, Vergie, was 
in the same class with that girl! “All women of 
twenty-eight are seconds,” she said to herself. 
“They belong on tables in the aisles, not with the 
regular stock . . . even if they’ve come from the 
factory in good condition. They’re marked down, 
because they’re shopworn, slightly soiled. . . .” 

“Your change, Madam,” a voice reminded her 
sharply. She took the coins, and, abruptly con¬ 
scious that she was late, ran from the department 
store. Dodging the passersby, she hurried up the 
Avenue, until impetuously, with trembling knees, 
she gained the entrance to the House of Youth. 

iv 

In a reception room of coral and faint gray, she 
was aware of the elegant women who sat awaiting 
their turn for admission to the shrine of beauty. 
The girl at the reception desk greeted her. “Miss 
Stilson? Just a minute. I’ll take care of you at 
once.” 

On a dark oak table near the desk, several ob¬ 
jects, carefully arranged in a case, awakened Ver- 
gie’s interest. These were three small pieces of 
glass, iridescent with the strange blues and greens 
of long burying in the earth. A typewritten card 
explained that they were phials for cosmetics which 
had belonged to a woman of Phoenicia more than two 



The Bach of the Booh 


199 


thousand years ago. At her death they had been 
buried with her for use in the next world. 

Vergie’s contemplation of the exquisite bottles was 
interrupted by a voice. A girl in a white uniform, 
as trim and professional as Harriet’s nurse, was 
speaking. “Quite ready, Miss Stilson. Will you 
follow me?” Vergie mounted a flight of velvet- 
padded stairs, and entered a doorway which the girl 
indicated. She found herself in a small room, the 
walls of which were paneled in pale green. Beneath 
a lavender-shrouded lamp was a reclining chair, cov¬ 
ered with lavender linen. But to Vergie the most 
fascinating thing in the room was the table which 
stood beside the chair. It was a hospital table of 
glass and white enamel, and on it was arrayed a 
bewildering collection of bottles and boxes and jars. 

“Will you take off your dress, Miss Stilson, 
please?” said the girl. She left the room, and Vergie 
slipped off her black dress in the lavender-tinted 
quiet. It fell from her like a symbol of old despair, 
and she rose before the long mirror which faced the 
reclining chair, already a more hopeful Vergie, in 
her white satin slip. Everything in the room amused 
and pleased her. She fingered the red lacquer boxes 
and trays on the shelf beneath the mirror. The lilac 
radiance of the room was like light shed through a 
bottle of hair tonic. It was like undressing in 
Grant’s Tomb, Vergie thought, hanging her dress on 
a convenient hook, and feeling gratified, rather than 




200 


The Bach of the Booh 


depressed, at the idea of undressing in a tomb. She 
skipped over to have another look at the table. 
Those lavender-stoppered bottles, those sturdy jars 
of cream, each stuck with an amber spatula, were 
to have their part in creating a new Vergie. 

The door opened and the white-clad girl came in, 
smiling professionally. She bore a large lump of 
ice and a bowl which contained a steaming, thick 
mixture. These she deposited on the table, and pro¬ 
ceeded to arrange towels and cushions on the re¬ 
clining chair. Vergie looked on, sensing the hush 
which heralds important events. The girl performed 
her duties ceremoniously. “Th’ inferior priestess 
at the altar’s side,” Vergie repeated to herself. She 
felt that she was about to assist in ancient and sig¬ 
nificant rites—but yes, “the sacred rites of pride.” 

The girl helped Vergie to put on a loose linen 
garment, and bound a towel tightly about her head, 
tucking in the stray spirals of hair. Vergie lay down 
on the chair, with one eye cocked on the mysterious 
preparations with which the table was covered. 
What was going to be done with the bowl of cereal? 
She wanted to ask questions about everything on 
the table, but the girl seemed so impersonal and 
efficient that her curiosity was rebuked. A bottle, 
its stopper removed, was filling the room with a 
piercing fragrance. 

“Put your arms down,” the girl said authorita¬ 
tively. “Flat at your sides. Don’t cross your feet. 




The Bach of the Booh 


201 


Just try to relax. We get the best results if you’re 
altogether relaxed.” Vergie straightened on the 
long chair; but her eyes would keep rolling toward 
the table, where the girl was busy. A great, sopping 
piece of cotton was in her hands, and now she laved 
Vergie’s face and neck and shoulders with a scented 
lotion. Vergie gave a sigh of deep contentment. 
She must send Harriet here as soon as she was able 
to come. . . . Slowly, the girl distributed over Ver¬ 
gie’s face the hot contents of the bowl, a mealy soft 
mixture which soothed and quieted. In time, it was 
succeeded by a pungent oil, and the girl began to 
slide her hands in rhythmic, caressing movements 
over Vergie’s face and neck. Vergie ceased to be 
a mind, she was clay now; she was the plastic stuff 
out of which beauty is made. Under the gliding 
palms and fingers, she felt herself being formed to 
loveliness. She pulsed with their gentle slap and 
beat, lulled by the fragrant rhythm. She could 
have slept, sinking, sinking lusciously into a warm 
bath of gently lapping waves. . . . 

The massage ended, and Vergie opened her eyes, 
blinking in the lavender light. She was a piece of 
linen, ironed after long crumpling—pressed flat and 
smooth, beautifully smooth. 

“How long can you put off having wrinkles?” she 
asked the girl. She kept the anxiety of her suspense 
shut in her mind; none of it must mar the freshly 
laundered face. 




202 


The Bach of the Booh 


“Forever,” the girl answered firmly. Her tone 
was positive. She saw no need to elaborate her 
statement beyond the single word. 

A spatula laden with flower-sweet snow com¬ 
pleted Vergie’s awakening from the drowse of the 
massage. Though her eyes were closed, her thoughts 
were weaving busily. 

“Arms at your sides, please,” the girl admon¬ 
ished' her. “Complete relaxation gives us the best 
results.” Vergie put down her arms, but she couldn’t 
stay the thoughts. She was pervaded by a convic¬ 
tion of the value of the ritual she was celebrating, 
and it seemed to her that at this moment she was 
close to some burning secret of life. The signifi¬ 
cance of the culture of beauty startled her; and she 
thought of the parable of the man who was given 
one talent. Make the most of yourself! You heard 
that advice everywhere. History and philosophy 
contained it. Once they had believed that even 
death couldn’t dispel beauty; and women were buried 
with their cosmetics near at hand, for the moment 
when they should be needed. Vergie was touched 
by the thought of a girl, lying dead by the blue sea 
two thousand years ago. Someone stooped to place 
by her cold fingers a tiny flask, fragrant with the 
dye for her eyelashes. 

Two thousand years ago! The Phoenician girl’s 
beauty was a dusty dream, yet the symbols, eternal, 



The Bach of the Booh 


203 


endured to evoke her. Two thousand years—how 
long, long ago! And she, Vergie, was alive. Beauty 
seemed a light, passed from hand to lovely hand, 
down the years. No matter how tiny the flame she 
had received, it was her duty to tend it faithfully. 

She grew conscious of a spreading, aromatic 
coldness which smelled of balsam forests. Then the 
slippery congelation of ice slid over her face. She 
unclosed her eyes languidly while the girl finished 
her ministrations. A trace of rouge was applied to 
her cheeks, filmed with the spicy dust of powder. 
Her lips were touched to a faint rosiness. Vergie 
sat forward and searched the mirror. There, re¬ 
born, was a new face. 

She gazed on her own calm loveliness, on the dark 
depths of her quieted eyes. This face was made 
for courage; smiles would come to it readily. 
Doubts and confusions and disappointments had 
been smoothed away. She could think now of 
things she had forced her mind away from. It was 
possible to analyze that mistake of loving Roy, that 
romantic, ill-founded impulse. She saw clearly that 
a woman caught by her emotions loses the ability 
to use her intelligence. 

Life would solve itself somehow. She would take 
care that she came to meet it, well equipped. Just 
this cult of her own appearance lent a reality and 
vista to living; it offered an ambition toward which 
each day could rise. For days must have their 




204 


The Bach of the Booh 


climaxes. It was unthinkable to endure a dreary suc¬ 
cession of them, without the ascent of expectation. 

Vergie picked up her old black dress, and put it 
on with distaste. All her clothes should be new 
and pretty. 

“Would you care to have one of our beauty sets 
for home use?” the girl inquired, indicating a sample 
box, of lavender tin. “Each contains a booklet of 
instructions for the care of the face. They are most 
complete in every particular. . . .” 

“Yes,” Vergie said. “I will take one.” She turned 
her head, to observe the pearly curve of her cheek. 
Her eyelids drooped with self-approval, an affecta¬ 
tion of disdain. The face of a vain lady at her 
dressing table! 

Was she, Vergie questioned, the woman of the 
woodcut which Roger had given her? Absurd idea 
. . . yet with some tincture of truth. A woman’s 
care for her appearance wasn’t a thing to be ashamed 
of, laughed off. That was another foolish survival 
of Puritan training. Vanity, to use the popular 
word, was a kind of shining armor; and no one 
could afford to laugh at armor in a world of darts. 

With the beauty-set under her arm, she tripped 
down the velvet-covered steps to pay the girl at the 
reception desk. And her eyes resting for a moment 
on the Phoenician girl’s opalescent bottles, she saw 
herself going forth, Vergie the resolute—the well- 
preserved, unwrinkled Vergie—clad in bright armor 
to do battle against the world. 





CHAPTER IX 


i 

The next morning, Vergie rose a half-hour earlier 
than usual, in order to have time for the operations 
prescribed in the booklet which accompanied the 
beauty set of the House of Youth. In the dining¬ 
room her mother was, she knew, awaiting her; but 
the thought of a breakfast inquisition held no ter¬ 
rors for her this morning. She began the conversa¬ 
tion herself. 

“Pm going to buy a new dress,” she told her 
mother. “Did I tell you I was going to have dinner 
with Brace tonight?” 

“About time you had something new,” Mrs. Stil- 
son said grimly. She did not seem gratified by 
Vergie’s concession to her ideas. Her face wore an 
expression of suppressed irritation, and now and 
then she glanced at Vergie out of the corners of her 
eyes. But Vergie had about her an air of well¬ 
being; her face wore no look of strain. A faint hope 
that her first-born was going to be happy again, in¬ 
stead of tormenting her poor mother with that white, 
empty face, stirred in Mrs. Stilson. She determined 

to put Vergie to the test. 

205 


206 


The Back of the Book 


“I suppose you didn’t hear from Roy, did you?” 
she inquired with conscious lightness. 

“No,” Vergie said. “Not a word.” She spoke 
cheerfully, a little absently. The eyes she raised 
to her mother were clear, she smiled with untroubled 
lips. 

Mrs. Stilson’s heavy face relaxed. “I guess it 
wasn’t to be,” she said resignedly. As she looked 
at her daughter, she drew a deep breath of relief. 
Vergie was all right this morning! Well, then, that 
was better. No need to poke at people if they 
weren’t suffering, trying to hide it from you. . . . 

“I hope you get something real pretty in the way 
of a dress,” she told her child dubiously, not un¬ 
graciously. “You have such outlandish taste some¬ 
times,” she went on to say; for her dignity demanded 
that she should not appear entirely mollified. 

ii 

The new dress was a pleasantly provoking idea to 
Vergie, and her excited anticipation increased, as 
she hurried from the apartment, and caught a bus. 
The commission was too important to be delayed. 
She hadn’t given any thought to the shop she would 
visit; but, as the bus rolled down Fifth Avenue, she 
found herself enticed by many elegant windows. In 
one there were three hats, all blue and lovely. Ver¬ 
gie pressed the button wildly, and slid down the 
little winding stairway of the bus which, most con- 





The Back of the Book 


207 


veniently, was prematurely arrested by traffic. The 
hats drew her irresistibly. One of them, she knew, 
was to be hers! 

She ran across the street to the shop, and pressed 
her nose against the glass, like the child outside the 
pastry shop. On closer inspection, the blue hats 
were ravishing and, though she hadn’t until the 
moment of seeing them intended to buy a hat—all 
the more gloriously, because she hadn’t intended 
buying one—she dashed into the shop at once. 

“I want to see the hats in the window,” she cried 
to the early morning quiet within. Mile. Anna, 
slender in black silk, her hair discreetly advertis¬ 
ing the advantages of henna, came forward to greet 
her, quite as though she were giving a party and 
Vergie were one of the guests. 

“I must see all of them,” Vergie told her firmly. 
“A great need for a new hat has come to me,” she 
explained to Mile. Anna. 

Poised and tolerant, Mile. Anna produced the 
hats. One, of a subtle shade—“an expensive blue,” 
she called it, and there seemed no reason to doubt 
the accuracy of the description—she deftly slipped 
over Vergie’s head. Vergie caught her breath. She 
saw her delicate triangle of face bloom piquantly 
under the low curve of the hat; a black wave of 
hair was smooth over either ear. Her heart beat 
quickly. A new hat, a lovely hat! It was a moment 
of throbbing emotion. Vergie tried to keep back the 




208 


The Bach of the Booh 


smile which twitched at her lips. She was ashamed 
to see it break through, a child’s artless smile of 
undisguised gratified vanity. 

“The hat is too ingenue,” she protested to Mile. 
Anna, to counteract the effect of the smile. “It’s all 
right for a flapper. But a woman of my age. . . .” 

Mile. Anna registered a bored distaste for refer¬ 
ences to age. “No one could take you for a day 
over twenty-two,” she assured Vergie. “You aren’t 
more than that, are you?” 

“God love you,” Vergie said. She was absorbed 
in studying her reflection. She was pretending to 
hesitate; but no earthly force could have kept her 
from the hat. An emotion for it had been aroused 
in her; she desired passionately to possess it. She 
would have fought for the hat. 

“Well,” she said to Mile. Anna, speaking slowly 
as though her decision were gradually solidifying, 
“I might as well take it.” She continued to gaze at 
the charmed vision in the glass. 

“You won’t want another blue hat,” Mile. Anna 
said coolly. “But I have another one here—just the 
thing for you. A soft green, with gardenias. . . .” 

The presumption of her! But there was some¬ 
thing pleasant in thinking that Mile. Anna had stud¬ 
ied your type, and discovered what would suit it. 
Vergie suffered the small blue hat to be removed, 
and a wide green one, of fine straw, to be placed in 
its stead. The picture was transformed, at once. 




The Back of the Book 


209 


She was a different person, though hardly less de¬ 
lightful. The green hat gave an impression of ex¬ 
quisite, garden-party dignity. Vergie rolled her 
eyes, and looked at herself, her mouth drawn a little 
to one side, trying to appear dissatisfied. Well, of 
course, you couldn’t always wear the same kind of 
thing. It was an experience enriching to the char¬ 
acter to have different kinds of hats, for in them you 
were actually different kinds of people. Many hats 
were a moral necessity, really. 

“Yes, I’ll take this one, too,” she said. She was 
no longer the naive child of the blue hat, but her 
slightly supercilious older sister. 

She took off the green hat and laid it with the 
blue one. Two hats at once! Gorgeous, drunken 
extravagance! Large families undoubtedly could, 
and did, live for weeks on what those two hats cost. 
She sat, one knee crossed over the other, swinging 
her slim foot in an ecstasy of pleasure. 

Mile. Anna had disappeared, but presently she 
returned. Something lay in supple folds over her 
arm, and Vergie saw that it was a blue dress. Was 
she going to have the impertinence to suggest? . . . 
But, of course, you did need a dress. . . . 

“I know you’re going to love this little frock,” 
Mile. Anna began. With quiet assurance she led 
the way to a fitting room, and began to raise Vergie’s 
skirt, preparatory to slipping her black dress over 
her head. “It goes perfectly with the blue hat. It’s 




210 


The Bach of the Booh 


a model, but I can let you have it for a marvelously 
low figure. Its name is Le Sentier de la Vertu 
said Mile. Anna, giving a very creditable imitation 
of French. “The Path of Virtue,” she translated 
for Vergie’s benefit. “Isn’t it adorable on you?” 

The Path of Virtue was constructed of thick, soft 
silk, made with a cunning affectation of simplicity, 
in two shades of blue. It was a most demure dress, 
with a wink in it; and Vergie realized that, while 
wearing it, she would find it difficult to be any¬ 
thing but demure—with a wink. There were long 
dull blue streamers with which to tie in the loose 
sleeves at the cuff. Vergie could almost have chosen 
the dress for the sake of those thick, sophisticated 
streamers. There was something entirely engaging, 
too, about the soft band which tied around her waist. 
What a difference clothes made! Vergie wanted 
to jump and sing in the Path of Virtue. The new¬ 
ness of it, the faint smell of dye and the unblem¬ 
ished folds and the sheen of the material filled her 
with elation. 

“I could be pretty and good and charming if I 
could have a new dress every day,” she thought. 
“Or even every other day,” she conceded, trying to 
be reasonable. 

Mile. Anna went to get the blue hat, which she 
slid again over Vergie’s head. “You see it’s exactly 
the shade of the lighter blue in the dress—of the 
streamers and the trimming,” she pointed out. “A 




The Back of the Book 


211 


very trying shade for most people. With your won¬ 
derful complexion, it’s perfect.” 

The tribute to the contents of the lavender tin 
box of the House of Youth completed Vergie’s grat¬ 
ification. “Second blooming,” she told herself, turn¬ 
ing to get the full effect of her costume. “Well, what 
of it?” A lamp was shining behind her eyes. She 
was a radiant person in the new dress and hat—a 
butterfly Vergie fluttering out of her chrysalis. 

“Blue is rather a tiresome color,” she told 
Mile. Anna. She tried to stick up her nose at the 
idea of blue. “It sounds so uninteresting. But the 
lines are beautiful. ...” There was no use strug¬ 
gling. Vergie was bewitched. Just to give up the 
dress and hat for the space of the day was a cruel 
wrench. She took them off reluctantly, leaving them 
with Mile. Anna, in order that minor alterations 
might be made. Mile. Anna vowed that she 
should, without fail, have everything that afternoon. 
Even the amount for which she must write a check 
didn’t make Vergie wince. Money didn’t matter. 
She eyed with disgust her old dress of black cloth. 
It lay on a chair dejectedly, as though conscious of 
its age and disrepute. Two days ago, the black dress 
had seemed all right. It was unsuited to enshrine a 
radiant Vergie. She hustled it on, with a mental reso¬ 
lution to discard it that very night. It seemed to her 
unjust that a bright and recently blue-clad being 
should have to don drab black and hurry to an office. 




212 


The Bach of the Booh 


“Will there be anything else, a little evening 
dress?” Mile. Anna had the impudence to ask. 

“Another time,” Vergie told her, as elegantly as 
the black dress would permit. She almost ran 
down the street and into the Roquefort cheese lobby 
of the office building. She had spent so long in 
making her purchases that she might be later than 
Mr. Twill. But Miss Aronson shook her head, in 
response to Vergie’s inquiring eyebrows. “Not yet,” 
she informed her laconically. 

Vergie sat down at her desk, feeling, like a physi¬ 
cal weight, the chains of routine. She looked around 
the room, at the plastered walls, the light oak fur¬ 
niture, Miss Aronson’s red hat on the clothes tree. 
This cramping office must soon give place to larger 
areas. For the moment, until this brief phase had 
worn itself out, she must rise above her stupid sur¬ 
roundings. Life surely stretched ahead in a suc¬ 
cession of silver days, filled with new dresses, new 
hats—Vergie, a butterfly of ever-changing wings. 

Hi 

Conscientiously she tried to abstract her thoughts 
from herself, and turn them on her neglected work. 
The desk was piled with correspondence which she 
had to answer for Mr. Twill, who hated to dictate. 
He preferred to make a simple penciled notation 
or to explain briefly to Vergie the tenor of the replies 
to his letters. 




The Bach of the Booh 213 


“Rather a jolly, friendly note—you know the sort 
of thing, my dear, I needn’t tell you. Man-to-man 
letter. . . .” Mr. Twill had passed the letter over 
to her, looking at his finger nails as he did so. Ver- 
gie could always be sure he was looking at his nails, 
when he stiffened his fingers, the tips slightly 
raised. . . . 

Miss Aronson, who had been engaged on a little 
detective work in the filing cabinet, came languidly 
forward to take Vergie’s dictation. She was wear¬ 
ing her hair parted this season, brought down flat 
and uncurled, and twisted into a knob on each ear. 
The changes of the mode had for Miss Aronson a 
keen interest. From the flux of fashion she drew in¬ 
spiration for daily living—it constituted her artistic 
expression, her woman’s caprice and her emotional 
outlet. She sat down by Vergie’s desk and, like Mr. 
Twill, studied her finger nails. But her technique of 
contemplation was different from his. She bent her 
fingers, turning her hand palm upward, and regarded 
upside-down the small heart-shaped slabs, painted 
with gloss, like dried pink glue. 

Vergie was drawn to Miss Aronson, a sister soul. 
“I bought some new clothes this morning,” she con¬ 
fided to her. Describing her purchases was more 
important than the man-to-man letter. She pictured 
them graphically, even making sketches of the hats 
and the neck of the dress. Only once did Miss Aron¬ 
son interrupt her. 




214 


The Bach of the Book 


“Is that your own color?” she inquired, scrutiniz¬ 
ing Vergie’s face. 

“Certainly not,” Vergie told her. “Out of a box. 
It’s a paste—from the House of Youth, you know. 
You use a little vanishing cream first. . . .” 

Vergie finished the sketch of the blue hat, and 
Miss Aronson sat forward to examine it, her lips 
parted, her finger nails forgotten. 

“Must be lovely,” she murmured. “I bet you 
look swell. Some class.” Her eyes were shrewd 
and appreciative. There was even a flattering hint 
of envy in her gaze. “You been wearing that dress 
an awful long time,” she told Vergie. She ran one 
proprietory hand down her own slender cylinder of 
tan cloth. “I’m getting a swell evening dress made. 
That new yellow. ...” 

Their faces, dark and smooth, were close above 
Mr. Twill’s letters. Understanding, sympathy 
lighted their eyes. The interest which they passion¬ 
ately shared had drawn them into eager communion. 
The significance of personal adornment invaded 
Vergie’s mind. People should speak with reverence 
of clothes—they were important, emotional experi¬ 
ences; character-molding forces. Clothes were 
symbols. The opalescent bottle of the Phoenician 
girl—that was a symbol, too. 

It was half-past ten, and Mr. Twill entered the 
office. Vergie began to dictate. 




The Bach of the Booh 


215 


iv 

Gradually the pile of letters was exhausted and 
Vergie went to sit by Mr. Twill’s desk, attendant on 
his whims. He was feeling spirited and energetic, 
because he was going out of town for several days; 
and a desire to leave everything in perfect order 
animated him. Leaving everything in perfect order 
meant transferring it from his desk to Vergie’s. 
By five o’clock she sat behind a towering mass of 
proofs and manuscripts and correspondence. 

At last, Mr. Twill was ready to go. “Be a good 
girl while I’m away,” he said to Vergie, as he went 
out. “And don’t work too hard.” 

“I won’t,” Vergie assured him. She could have 
pushed him out of the office, so eager was she to be 
off, to reach the apartment and inspect her purchases. 

“Have my things come?” she called to her mother, 
as she opened the door. There they were, safely 
reposing in her own room. The hats sat in their 
boxes snugly amid clouds of tissue paper; but the 
dress had been placed on a hanger which depended 
from a lighting fixture. Vergie grasped the psy¬ 
chology of that at once: hung up to avoid wrinkles, 
hung openly to be on display. 

“Like them, Mother?” she asked. 

Mrs. Stilson stood in the middle of the room, her 
face dubious, though not displeased. “Lovely,” she 
said; yet her tone carried reservations. She was 




216 


The Bach of the Booh 


silent for a moment before the reservations forced 
their way out. “Two hats?” she asked, with a com¬ 
pression of the lips. “Don’t tell me what you paid 
for them,” she requested. 

“I won’t,” Vergie assured her. “But aren’t they 
beautiful? Wait till I try the blue one on.” She 
drew it from its tissue nest, and pulled it down over 
her black hair. Mrs. Stilson smiled, pride trem¬ 
bling on her face. It could be seen in that moment 
that this mother and child resembled each other, 
after all. “Becoming,” her mother admitted to 
Vergie. She offered a further concession. “I saw 
in the paper that blue was the latest thing.” 

Vergie, quickly making ready, slipped luxuriously 
into the new dress. From the doorway, her mother 
peered at her. “Anything new?” she inquired. The 
question was her formula of curiosity about Vergie’s 
personal affairs. “Yes,” Vergie said. “Everything 
new.” She laughed suddenly, smoothing down the 
thick silk over her breast, her arms. “Everything 
new! ” 

It was time to leave for dinner with Brace. As 
the elevator descended, Vergie heard a familiar voice 
in the hall below. “Come, Princey, come!” It was, 
she recognized with a little chill, the voice of Mrs. 
Nordlinger. There wasn’t any escape. And what 
need she fear, anyway, this new and armored Ver¬ 
gie? She stepped from the elevator, face to face 




The Bach of the Booh 


217 


with Mr. Nordlinger. At the doorway, his wife 
still coaxed her Prince. 

“Well, well!” Mr. Nordlinger was, as ever, cor¬ 
dial. He gripped Vergie’s hand, surveyed her ad¬ 
miringly. “How’s our literary genius these days? 
Seems to me we’re looking pretty dressy. Mama, 
see who’s here.” 

Mrs. Nordlinger came elegantly forward, her eye¬ 
brows lifted. 

“Well!” she, too, said; but on her lips the word 
was changed to a delicate cooing, as sweet as honey. 
“You’re quite a stranger. I’ve said to Mr. Nord¬ 
linger several times: I wonder, I said, where Miss 
Stilson is keeping herself.” She laughed a little, to 
finish off her sentence. Her eyes appraised Vergie’s 
dress. 

Vergie stirred into gracious animation, chatting 
lightly about her work, her social appointments. 
Within her, she heard a protest at such cheapness. 

. . .But pride makes insolent demands. “Just dash¬ 
ing off to dinner,” she explained. 

“I caught a glimpse of Royden last evening,” 
Mrs. Nordlinger said. “He hasn’t much time for 
his old auntie. Always busy—a host of friends! He 
was looking so well.” There was her family pride 
to consider, too. 

“Roy always looks well,” Vergie said. She heard 
her tones clack; dropping, counterfeit coins. 




218 


The Bach of the Booh 


“Nice boy/’ Mr. Nordlinger put in. He took his 
cigar from his mouth, by way of lending emphasis 
to his point. “Always liked Roy. He has a hard 
time, too. His mother’s a mean woman to live 
with”— Mr. Nordlinger’s head wagged confidentially 
—“stands in his way. Dreadful trying woman. I 
always told Mrs. N. her brother made a mistake the 
time he took her. She shortened his life, if you 
want to know what I think.” 

Over his cigar, which he held suspended near his 
mouth, ready to be lipped again, he looked shrewdly 
at Vergie. For an instant, she almost imagined 
that one eye winked at her, ever so slightly. Mrs. 
Nordlinger smiled primly, with eyes downcast, in 
polite deprecation of any criticism of her sister-in- 
law. But Mr. Nordlinger was too genuine a per¬ 
son to be bound by the tenuous skeins of ladylike¬ 
ness. He had had his say. 

“Tell your mother I shall see her soon,” Mrs. 
Nordlinger bade Vergie, in farewell. She bowed, 
her head a little to one side. “Come, Muvver’s 
boy,” she called to Prince. 

Vergie made her way across town with a new 
lightness of heart. Mr. Nordlinger’s sympathy had 
been curiously warming. She was glad to be din¬ 
ing with Brace. As she rang the bell of the apart¬ 
ment, she told herself that something new, some¬ 
thing amusing, was sure to happen. Her small 
blue hat she laid carefully on Harriet’s bed. The 




The Bach of the Booh 


219 


room, though meticulously neat, seemed neglected 
without Harriet. Intimate possessions were missing. 
Things had been tidied, displaced and dusted, and 
Harriet hadn’t been there to give them a look of 
use again. 

v 

Brace was dressing, the maid had told her, but 
a tall figure rose as she entered the living room. 
“Roger!” Vergie cried. She felt a pang of real 
affection at the sight of him. “I haven’t seen you 
for ages. It isn’t right—we mustn’t ever let it 
happen again.” 

She smiled affectionately at Roger, and his dark 
face brightened, as he pressed her hand. But almost 
at once he relapsed into a gloomy abstraction. He 
turned away, beginning to finger a book on the table, 
with a discontented air. 

Men gave themselves up to their moods like chil¬ 
dren, Vergie said to herself. To the inexperienced 
woman, this practice must often be disconcerting. 
A woman of the world, a woman of practice and 
discernment, knew how to deal with men. She un¬ 
derstood how to be tactful, how to woo a man from 
his melancholy preoccupation by her sweetness and 
gayety. She never asked what was the matter. She 
behaved as though nothing were the matter. Pres¬ 
ently, without realizing how it came about, the man 
found himself in a good humor again. 




220 


The Bach of the Booh 


Vergie sat down in a blue taffeta chair, letting 
the streamers of her cuffs slide along the arms, 
“Look, Roger,” she said. “I match the chair. Isn’t 
that amusing?” It was not, she felt, such a clever 
beginning for the deft woman of the world to have 
made. But it had been the first thing which came 
into her head, and its spontaneity must excuse it. 

Brace strode forward in the soft light of the 
shaded lamps, to welcome them with apologies for 
his tardiness. He was captivating in his role of 
host; yet, as she admired him, Vergie realized how 
little idiosyncrasy he had. It was difficult to find 
anything to describe about Brace. He was the aver¬ 
age man, glorified by good breeding. His manners 
were so agreeable that one forgot to think how really 
uninteresting Brace was. A phrase from a yellow- 
backed grammar knocked at Vergie’s memory: 
“Politeness is the oil which lubricates the wheels of 
society.” 

There was real distinction, as winning in its way 
as cleverness, in his graciousness, his ability to put 
people at their ease. And Harriet was like that, 
too. They were well-mated, happy in their life 
together. Vergie felt respect for Brace and Har¬ 
riet, who had chosen each other wisely, as befitted 
people of intelligence. You had to think, in taking 
an important step like marriage, of the next day, 
the next and the day after that—the long years 
stretching ahead. Yet even apparently intelligent 



The Back of the Book 


221 


people were often led blindly by physical attrac¬ 
tion, by nebulous qualities like boyishness. . . . 

“You’re looking very beautiful tonight in that blue 
dress/’ Brace was telling Vergie. His eyes rested 
approvingly on her. And, smiling up at him, flut¬ 
tering her eyelids deprecatingly, Vergie saw Roger, 
who stood behind Brace, still absently turning the 
leaves of a book on the table. His dark profile, 
which just missed being sinister, was more inter¬ 
esting than a merely handsome face. 

vi 

At dinner they revealed themselves as three pleas¬ 
ant people, who had much to say to one another. 
Though she couldn’t honestly attribute the change 
to the operation of feminine tact, Vergie was glad 
to see Roger free himself from his guarded mood. 
He seemed to shrug himself out of it, like a dog 
shaking moisture from his coat. The sourness of 
his mind lent piquancy to his conversation; or so it 
seemed to Vergie, who admired sourness. She 
thought that Roger, such a funny, morose person, 
was really much like herself; more like herself than 
anyone else she knew. 

The elegant small dining-room reawakened her 
desire for a home, for possessions. She should 
be presiding over her own candle-lighted dinner 
table, fragile with flowers and pale glass. Her dress 
was pretty, it gave her a kind of self-expression, 




222 


The Bach of the Booh 


but it was not enough. Vergie longed to extend 
the sphere of herself, clothe herself, not only in 
dresses and hats, but in backgrounds, a fitting en¬ 
vironment. She must make an end of office work, 
and the dullness of its routine. However, she was 
prepared to lay her plans wisely and deliberately. 
She had learned the folly of snatching at cunning 
life, which so easily slipped through your fingers. 

When dinner was over, Brace left for the hos¬ 
pital, to spend an hour with Harriet. “Don’t go 
away,” he entreated them. “Stay comfortably here 
as long as you can. I’d love it if you’d wait till 
I get back.” 

Vergie, who did not want to appear over-anxious 
for effect and who knew that things may be over¬ 
done, had gone to sit on the rose-colored couch. 
Anyway, even if the couch didn’t match her dress 
as the taffeta chair did, she felt that its rich color 
set off her hair most effectively. But she did not ap¬ 
pear to be thinking of this, as she poked the feelers 
of her finger tips into a bowl of spring flowers, 
caressing the petals lightly. 

“Roger,” she said, “Harriet and Brace are charm¬ 
ing people, aren’t they? Don’t you think they’re 
wonderfully alike? They seem so well suited, they 
have so much in common.” 

From the easy chair where he lounged, Roger 
frowned uneasily at Vergie. His moodiness had 
returned with Brace’s departure; decidedly Roger 




The Bach of the Booh 


223 


had something on his mind. He gnawed at the in¬ 
side of his cheek. “Don’t you think so?” Vergie 
asked again. 

“Yes,” he said at last. “Brace and Harriet are 
happy. But it doesn’t always work, this marriage 
of similar types. I’ve almost made up my mind 
that the attraction of opposites is more than popu¬ 
lar cant. . . .” 

“You always laughed at it,” Vergie reminded him. 
She took a cigarette from a glass box on the table, 
and Roger came over to light it for her. “Attrac¬ 
tion of opposites!” she laughed at him. “One of 
your favorite targets.” 

“I know,” Roger said. “I know. You live to be¬ 
lieve in a lot of things you’ve laughed at.” But 
he seemed to derive no pleasure from the mutability 
of human philosophies. He remained standing in 
front of Vergie, looking at the blackened match 
which he still held in his hand. 

“There’s something rather quaint and sentimental 
about you this evening,” Vergie told him. “This 
isn’t the Roger I used to know. What’s the trouble, 
are you thinking of getting married or something?” 

Roger glanced at her sharply. “What makes 
you ask that?” he demanded. But Vergie was 
pursuing her own thoughts. 

“I’ve just had an experience,” she said. Her 
head was bent, and her words slipped out gently, 
stepping lightly on this experience, which was still 



224 


The Bach of the Booh 


so raw and new, which hadn’t been spoken about 
before. “I thought I was in love with a man. Roy 
Peck. You never met him, did you?” 

“No,” Roger said. “I never did meet him. I’ve 
heard your family talk about him.” He bent for¬ 
ward, his face drawn, attentive. 

“That experience has taught me a lot,” Vergie 
went on in a small, chill voice. “I had—what people 
call dove’ for Roy Peck. I wanted him, I wanted 
to be happy with him. But our life together would 
have been terrible. We weren’t alike, don’t you 
see? Our minds, tastes, didn’t match, never could 
have matched. It was impossible. . . .” 

“Too bad,” Roger said. His voice thickened 
with regret. “I hoped you were going to marry 
that chap.” 

Vergie put out her hand, feeling for Roger’s. She 
pulled him close to her, and persuaded him by a 
soft pressure to sit beside her on the couch. She 
kept her hand over his while she spoke. “Roger,” 
she said, “do you think I’d get myself engaged 
without telling you? How could you think that? 
We’re such good friends. I’ve always been fond 
of you, I know you care for me. . . .” Her glow¬ 
ing face was close to Roger’s. Her eyes held points 
of light. 

Roger pulled away his hand, and reached for a 
cigarette. A long minute passed while he lighted 




The Bach of the Booh 


225 


the cigarette, and puffed on it twice in silence. At 
last he turned his face to Vergie. 

“Hasn’t Pet told you?” he asked her. 

The phrase might have seemed meaningless, had 
it not been for the tension of Roger’s silence, for 
the sharp furrows which he held between his brows. 
“Pet?” Vergie asked, her face puzzled. “Something 
about you?” Her face slipped, rearranged itself in 
a new pattern, like a star in a kaleidoscope. “Not 
something serious? Roger, what do you mean?” 

“I asked her to marry me.” He spoke in a 
strained voice, like a voice heard through a bad 
telephone connection. “I suppose you’ll never un¬ 
derstand it, Vergie. I’m crazy about her.” He 
reddened slowly, painfully. 

Vergie gave a sudden laugh. “It’s the funniest 
thing I ever heard. Roger, the antiquated bache¬ 
lor, the woman hater—and that baby. I never 
guessed. But, of course, I see it all now—the at¬ 
traction of opposites!” She laughed again, enjoy¬ 
ing Roger’s confusion. He was hanging his head 
like a small boy. Her words came out, tripping and 
dancing, with the stream of her laughter. Some¬ 
times it was hard to speak and laugh naturally, but 
this was the easiest thing in the world. And, of 
course, she was immensely amused, though ,'she 
couldn’t realize it all just yet. It would take time 
to savor the richness of the jest. “I might have 
known you were having a romance with some flap- 




226 


The Bach of the Booh 


per, but I never imagined it was in my own house. 
That deceitful Pet. . . .” 

At last a sense of obligation returned to her. “I’m 
awfully happy about it,” she told him warmly. 
“You must forgive my thinking it’s funny. It will 
make us better friends, won’t it? You’ll be my 
brother.” The points of light sparkled in her eyes. 
“Fun to have a brother.” 

Roger looked at her eagerly, his face glowing. 
He flung his cigarette into the fireplace, and took 
both her hands in his. “Vergie, it’s wonderful of 
you to say that. It makes me so happy, really, 
you can’t know.” 

vii 

Even the most charming of brother and sister 
episodes cannot be sustained over a long period. 
As this one was drained of its first enthusiasm, 
Vergie began to think of going home. Maybe Roger 
would come with her. But, of course, he would! 

“Let’s go home,” she said to him. “Pet’s there.” 
She could have laughed again at the idea of taking 
Roger home on account of Pet. But it was only 
the newness of the idea which made it funny; she 
would be used to it soon. 

She grew more used to it, on the way home, while 
she tried to draw out the reluctant Roger, as shy 
of questions as a school boy. She couldn’t resist 




The Bach of the Booh 


227 


calling as they entered the apartment. “Pet! I’ve 
brought a friend of yours to see you!” 

Pet came out of the living room, invulnerable, 
debonair. She wore a dress of soft pink silk with 
flutings of white organdy; a little girl’s party dress. 
She giggled composedly, as she looked at Vergie and 
Roger. 

“You must have had a big evening,” she said. 
“Home at half-past nine. What’s the trouble, did 
Brace bore you?” Without self-consciousness she 
took Roger’s arm and dragged him into the living 
room. At their entrance Mr. and Mrs. Stilson 
moved receptively in their easy chairs, raised their 
eyes behind spectacles, put down the evening papers. 
Pet pushed Roger down on the couch, and seated 
herself beside him. 

“Nice time, daughter?” Vergie’s father asked her 
kindly. She wondered if there might be a hint of 
pity in his tones. After all, he must think it strange. 

. Nodding an enthusiastic assent, she sat down 
on a footstool near his chair; she looked small and 
vague, though her eyes were bright. 

“Too bad to slouch around in your good dress,” 
her mother conveyed to her soundlessly, with 
grotesque mouthings, emphasized by movements of 
the head. But Vergie gave no sign of compre¬ 
hension. 

On the couch, Pet moved her face close to Roger’s, 
flashing on him the green fires of her eyes. She 




228 


The Bach of the Booh 


laughed; a flavored cream puff, sweet and soft to 
bite. Roger was painfully aware that Vergie was 
watching them. His role of the flapper’s sweet¬ 
heart was causing him an agony of diffidence. But 
it was evident that he couldn’t escape. He was the 
willing sacrificial lamb, trussed for the slaughter. 

“We’ve been seeing a lot of Roger while you’ve 
been stepping out so much,” Pet called to Vergie. 
“Haven’t we, Rodgie? We like Rodgie. You’re 
my sweetie,” she whispered the last words audibly 
to her victim. “Aren’t you?” she asked him, gig¬ 
gling. “Aren’t you?” she persisted, leaning closer 
to him. Roger nodded, ever so slightly, but his 
eyes were fond: an old man’s indulgence. 

“He’s in his second childhood,” Vergie thought. 
“It’s the pitiful breakdown of a good intelligence.” 

She looked up at her father’s face. In his eyes, 
too, as they rested on Pet, was indulgence. Her 
mother’s face was complacent as she gnawed back 
a doting smile. They were the pleased parents. 
Before them was love, warm and happy. Their 
baby was only eighteen—a sigh for that! But one 
must accept things. Roger was a good match, a 
steady, clever lawyer. There Pet sat in her pink 
party dress, already successful, established, on her 
way to making the conventional step forward. 
Why, they were enchanted with the whole thing! 
Vergie pinched herself, trying to understand it. 
She had been missing all this. She had been so 




The Bach of the Booh 


229 


preoccupied with her own affairs. . . .No one had 
had time to tell her. No one, in fact, had thought 
of telling her. 

Her father rested his hand on her shoulder with 
an affectionate pressure. Good God, what was he 
thinking? Vergie’s throat tightened. She was hu¬ 
miliated by the suspicion of pity. Yet she could see 
herself quite plainly. The older daughter, not so 
far from thirty, left at home, while one of her ad¬ 
mirers was carried off by the pretty baby of the 
family. Vergie drew a deep breath. The air of 
the room was growing thin, choking. . . . 

But Roger’s endurance broke first. He whispered 
to Pet, and she turned to the others. “We’re going 
out for a little moonlight walk,” she told them. 
Won’t be long. Come on, Rodge.” She hung on 
his arm, smiling up at him, her juicy red lips raised. 
In the hall the sound of their laughter might be 
heard. There came a moment of utter silence before 
the door slammed. 

Did Pet, Vergie asked herself, have so much to 
offer? Pet was a nobody, a pretty little fool. Why, 
she was Vergie—brilliant, lovely! Could she be 
made light of by a little girl’s brainless coquetry? 
By luxurious lips, as soft as a cushion? Like hell 
she could. . . . 

She rose from her footstool, patting her father’s 
hand as she moved away. “I’m going to retire to 
my own apartments,” she told her parents elabo- 




230 


The Bach of the Booh 


rately, “to rest and make ready for the morrow’s 
work.” 

In the mirror of her dressing table she saw the 
soft blues of the Path of Virtue. Her mother came 
to the door, apprehensive, anxious to be reassured 
about her child; curious, anyway, and determined 
to ferret out the worst, if reassurance were impos¬ 
sible. But her face calmed as she saw Vergie’s 
eyes which gazed with pleasure at her reflection. 

“Well, was it worth it?” she asked. Vergie’s eye¬ 
brows interrogated her from the mirror. “Throw¬ 
ing your money around,” her mother explained. 

“Worth it? I should say it was.” Vergie raised 
her arms above her head. “Worth anything in the 
world. Worth everything.” Her tones grew ecstatic, 
mystical with conviction. She felt the necessity 
for lyrical expression, for the support of a symbol. 
She pointed to the woodcut which hung on the wall. 

“See that woman, Mother? A splendid likeness 
of me. It’s a lucky thing, too.” 

“You must be crazy,” her mother said darkly, 
“comparing yourself to a naked woman. I never 
could see any sense to that picture.” She hesitated, 
looking from Vergie to the woodcut. “Don’t get 
queer,” she entreated her daughter helplessly. 




CHAPTER X 


i 

Vergie made her way through the crowded lobby 
of the hotel. It was one o’clock, but Dannet Holden 
had said that he might be five minutes late. Remem¬ 
bering their telephone conversation that morning, 
she repressed a smile. She had insisted on his 
breaking a business appointment in order to meet 
her; and he had, she realized, found her sweetly 
unreasonable persistency most flattering. 

“But I just have to see you, Dannet,” she had 
said. “No, nothing special—only that I haven’t 
seen you for so long. A woman’s impulse. In¬ 
dulge it, will you?” The wire had sung quietly 
for a moment, while Vergie could picture the molli¬ 
fied smile which her words had brought to Dannet’s 
sheep-like face. 

“Well, of course” ... he had said. “When you 
put it that way, Vergie, what can a fellow do?” 

Vergie sank comfortably into the cushions of a 
broad couch, and scanned the faces about her, the 
faces of the people who had come to lunch at the 
hotel. The women she quickly dismissed, except for 
a cursory observation of some detail of dress or 
appointment. The men she examined keenly. 

231 


232 


The Bach of the Booh 


Many men, nearly all young, were assembling in 
the lobby of the hotel. Their types were diverse; 
but, almost to a man, they looked alert, brisk and 
prosperous. On each Vergie sat in judgment. One 
she approved for his well-set head and shoulders; 
another she frowned on because of his pepper-and- 
salt suit. But these judgments of hers weren’t to be 
taken too seriously, she reminded herself. They 
were, after all, neither important nor final—merely 
small prejudices of her own. 

Vergie’s thoughts went back to Dannet. If she 
didn’t know him, if she suddenly saw him here in 
the lobby, standing with that group of strangers, 
how would she feel about him? Of course, Dannet 
did look like a sheep. But was he worse than 
other men? The average of male beauty was sur¬ 
prisingly low. There, for example, was a monkey; 
a nice, attractive fellow—still, unquestionably, a 
monkey. Vergie sat forward, twisting her head to 
peer at his companions. One of them had a sharp, 
muzzled salesman’s face; the face, it was clear, 
of a fox. The other, more reserved, kept his own 
counsel behind a blunt, sleepy-eyed feline mask. 
Now a pink porker joined them. It was—why, of 
course!—Fred Stamm. Vergie fastidiously turned 
her gaze to the other side of the lobby. 

There she checked off a goat, a tapir and a 
rhinoceros, while a chipmunk, bearing a brief-case, 
almost tripped over her feet. She began to tire of 




The Bach of the Booh 


233 


her game. It was plainly established that Dannet 
Holden came out rather well. He was a sheep; a 
good, mild, woolly creature. 

ii 

Still, even with this preparation for tolerance, it 
was amazing to see how perfectly sheep-like Dan- 
net’s face was, as he came into the crowded lobby, 
and stood blinking through the thick lenses of his 
glasses, searching for Vergie. When his near¬ 
sighted eyes discovered her, they watered a little 
with pleasure. 

“Well, Vergie,” he bleated. “You were terribly 
kind to give me this chance of seeing you. I 
thought you had forgotten all about me.” His self¬ 
esteem had been agreeably inflated by the insistent 
telephone call. It wasn’t every man, Dannet felt, 
who had to smash his luncheon appointments, be¬ 
cause a charming little woman couldn’t wait to see 
him. 

Under the influence of such heartening thoughts, 
he approached the head waiter who proved encour¬ 
aging. “Just a minute and I’ll have something 
for you, Mr. Holden.” Dannet looked around, 
hoping Vergie had heard; that use of his name 
might impress her. “They know me here, we’ll 
have no trouble getting in at once,” he said. 

The luncheon he ordered thoughtfully, disclos¬ 
ing an epicurean fancy usually remote from the 




234 


The Bach of the Booh 


midday snack of the hurried business man. Over 
the small table, he shot his speckless cuffs, as he 
offered Vergie a gold-tipped cigarette from his case 
of embellished leather. He was making an effort 
to be bright and chatty, rolling his light eyes in a 
fashion which he associated with vivacity. 

“Your dress, my dear, is adorable/’ he said. 
Flippantly paternal, he even patted the back of 
her hand. 

“Its name is the Path of Virtue,” she told him. 

“The Path of Virtue! That’s a good one!” 
Dannet gave vent to soft baas of laughter. “That’s 
quite a hint for you, young lady. See that you 
stay in it, the path of virtue.” He drove home his 
point firmly, determined that Vergie should appre¬ 
ciate it. Like many simple-minded people, Dannet 
based his humor on explaining to others the jokes 
which they themselves made. He was innocent 
about it, and derived much enjoyment from the 
savor of his own wit; for he prided himself that 
he could pick up a quip, catch the humor which 
went over other people’s heads, as well as the next 
one. 

“Speaking of clothes,” he said, holding out his 
long arm, “I’ve been investing, myself. What do 
you think of this quality? Wonderful piece of 
wool, isn’t it? Just feel it, Vergie.” Vergie gin¬ 
gerly fingered his sleeve, gave the proper evidences 
of appreciation. Thus stimulated, he launched into 




The Bach of the Booh 


235 


a description of the manufacture and importation 
of this wonderful piece of wool, of its fortuitous 
discovery by him, Dannet Holden. 

The story proved to be a long one, and Vergie’s 
face began to ache- from the effort of maintaining 
an interested smile. She was saying to herself in 
monotonous little rhythms, “Baa Baa black sheep, 
Baa Baa black sheep. . . ” But she hadn’t asked 
it if it had any wool. It was offering this recital 
on the slimmest encouragement from her, and had 
she guessed what a kind word about the texture of 
that cloth would do. . . . “Baa, Baa, black sheep” 

. . . The tale of the wool outlasted the shrimp pat¬ 
ties. Vergie prickled with irritation. At first, 
she might have wanted to cry “Baa, Baa, black 
sheep” at Dannet, teasingly, even a trifle affection¬ 
ately. Now she could have shouted it loudly, in 
ridicule, so that his sheepface should turn red and 
mortified. 

Having exhausted the topic of wool, Dannet went 
on to speak feelingly of the bond market, touching 
lightly, yet decisively, on the major European prob¬ 
lems and their bearing on the world of finance. 
How did he ever sell a bond? Vergie wondered. 
Or perhaps all people who bought bonds were like 
Dannet. She concentrated on her delicate salad of 
endive and orange. Dannet ordered well—there 
was that, at least. By the time that coffee was 
served, she had nibbled herself into a comatose, 



236 


The Bach of the Booh 


quiescent state. She sat across from Dannet, like 
a small and sleepy cobra, gorged with food. Inert, 
she no longer rebelled against his smooth flow of 
words. She put to herself an age-old question: 
Why do boresome people seem so endurable, even so 
good and pleasing, when we do not have to be 
with them? 

A voice spoke her name, piercing her lethargy. 
“If it isn’t old Aunt Vergie! ” the voice cried briskly. 
She looked up to see that little Crump, of the Good 
Taste advertising department, was bending famil¬ 
iarly over her. 

Hi 

“Where did you come from?” Vergie asked. As 
little Crump shook her hand in his short, energetic 
paw, she felt as though she had been awakened 
from sleep. “I was just deciding you’d forgotten 
all about me.” Her words echoed in her mind: the 
sheep’s very phrase! But she mustn’t be critical; 
here was a surprise, an interruption. Dannet was 
greeting little Crump, and Vergie watched the lat¬ 
ter’s extraordinarily mobile face. Though he was 
young, his face was continually splitting into small 
lines, which readjusted themselves rapidly as his 
expression varied. His eyes were round, like the 
eyes of a child on a magazine cover. 

“I got in this morning from the great West,” he 
told Vergie, in his confidential way, which made the 



The Bach of the Booh 


237 


most public fact seem a secret. “You’ll be over 
later, I suppose? I want to see you.” 

“I’ll call you when I come in,” Vergie said. Little 
Crump hurried off and, looking again at Dannet, 
Vergie told herself that he was a sterling person, 
a good and honest person. He couldn’t help being 
dull, though he did his best with his eye-rollings 
and chatter. You can’t, Vergie thought, with a 
slightly maudlin sympathy, do better than your 
best. Yet, an hour and a half of even the most 
excellent intentions was enough, more than enough. 
Smiling sweetly into Dannet’s light eyes, which 
were a trifle blurred by the thick lenses of his 
glasses, Vergie intimated that she would have to be 
going. Dannet had never seemed so agreeable as 
in this moment of her escape. 

iv 

In the office, before removing her hat, she raised 
the receiver of the inter-house telephone on her desk, 
first punching the button which stood opposite the 
name “Crump.” 

“Welcome home,” she cried at the square box 
of the telephone. A voice came reedily through 
the apparatus. “Righto! I’ll be around at once.” 

Little Crump was at the door in an instant; he 
came into the office with an air of wagging his tail. 
His round eyes were playful. Little Crump owed 




238 


The Bach of the Booh 


his success with the ladies to the fact that he was 
much like a puppy. 

“Let’s go in there,” Vergie suggested, indicating 
the closed door of the sanctum. “Then we won’t 
be disturbed.” She turned to Miss Aronson with 
her most business-like manner. “Mr. Crump and I 
are going to have a chat about the July number,” 
she declared firmly. Miss Aronson nodded wisely; 
perhaps a shade too wisely, Vergie thought. 

Once they were shut in the sanctum, little Crump 
took Vergie’s hand, and jiggled it up and down, as 
though it were a small cocktail which he was shak¬ 
ing. “Old Aunt Vergie!” he greeted her. It was 
his favorite joke to pretend this hilariously incongru¬ 
ous relationship. 

“You’re looking like a million dollars,” he said. 
“It would tend to appear to seem that you haven’t 
been pining away in my absence. I bet you never 
even missed me. Here I was thinking of you, out 
in the wilds of Chicago, a lonely boy from the effete 
East. . . .” 

“Yes, you did send me a postcard.” 

“You got it, did you?” he asked her, with fine 
sarcasm. “Well, it’s good to be back again in this 
wicked city, as I’ve heard it called for the last ten 
days. Wicked, crooked and inhospitable—that’s 
what the Westerners have to say about little old 
New York. But it treats me all right, I can’t com¬ 
plain. Even if you aren’t waiting at the train with 



The Bach of the Booh 


239 


a bunch of flowers, you can’t escape from me—I 
ran into you right away. Say, that’s rather a nice 
thing that happened to me today. A fellow I know 
called me up, Fred Stamm. I was lunching with 
him this noon. It seems he proposed me for a club 
he belongs to, the Stragglers. Ever hear of it?” 

“Yes,” Vergie told him. “I have heard of it.” 
It occurred to her, as she observed little Crump, 
that his shoulders wouldn’t look so sloping if he 
didn’t wear ready-made suits. “Are you going to 
join?” she asked. 

“Why, I guess I will. Pretty good opportunity. 
Fine bunch of fellows, Stamm tells me. They stick 
together a lot, have some big doings every month. 
Aside from the social end of it, they’re a good crowd 
to stand in with. I think I’d be foolish to turn down 
the chance.” 

His hands played a sprightly arpeggio along the 
edge of Vergie’s desk. On one finger was a small 
gold signet ring. His cuff buttons were a light and 
cheerful blue. Strange, how slight a difference 
light blue cuff buttons made when considered imagi¬ 
natively; strange, their poignant importance when 
actually moving, clear and pottery-bright, before 
one’s eyes. . . . 

“Where’s Mr. Twill?” little Crump inquired. 
“Old Daddy Twill,” he murmured fondly. “Say, 
isn’t he like something out of a bedtime story? I 
don’t dislike the old boy at that—even if he is kind 




240 


The Bach of the Booh 


of a perfect lady. He isn’t working you too hard, 
is he?” 

“Never that,” said Vergie. “Though I have 
something I must do this afternoon. I have to go— 
why, it’s time now!—to see about having some 
photographs taken up at Mrs. Ira Kemp’s. ...” 

“You’re keeping swell company these days,” little 
Crump suggested. 

“The photographer?” Vergie asked. “Yes, he 
isn’t bad. I’m rather drawn to him. We cooper¬ 
ate most congenially on little morning rooms, little 
breakfast rooms, little music rooms—I don’t know 
why, when Mr. Twill wants a photograph of a room, 
it must always be called little. ...” 

“Too bad,” he told her with real regret. He was 
not referring to Mr. Twill’s vagaries of thought, 
but to the fact of her afternoon’s assignment. “I’m 
going to knock off myself, I thought maybe you 
could get away early, and have tea with me. You 
know, Vergie, I’ve been thinking a lot while I’ve 
been away. You and I have got to see more of each 
other than we’ve been doing lately. Am I right?” 

“You’re always right,” Vergie said. “And if I 
were you, I’d certainly join that club you were talk¬ 
ing about. I think you’d find a lot of congenial 
men there. ...” 

She went back to her desk and, searching in her 
purse, discovered a scrap of paper on which a list 
had been neatly penciled. At the head of the list 




The Bach of the Booh 


241 


appeared the name “Dannet.” Vergie carefully 
drew a line through it, and then a second line, so 
that the name was most completely erased. A scan¬ 
ning of the list failed to reveal the name of “Crump.” 
She added it at the bottom, for she was a methodical 
person at heart, and then drew two straight, effac¬ 
ing lines across it, too. She replaced the list in her 
purse, and started out to meet the photographer at 
Mrs. Ira Kemp’s town house on East Fifty-Seventh 
Street. 


v 

The spring air, even in spite of the sunshine, would 
have made a coat agreeable, but Vergie had pre¬ 
ferred not to be practical. She was compensated for 
the shivers which occasionally ran over her back 
and arms by the thought that she was attractively 
dressed. Her spirits gently mounted as she made 
her way uptown, for it seemed to her that she was 
approaching her problems in the most sensible and 
business-like manner. 

On the smooth current of her meditations, she 
reached the newly remodeled entrance of Mrs. Ira 
Kemp’s house. The whiteness of the vestibule was 
marred by a lanky, lounging figure, which stirred 
forward as Vergie appeared. 

“Why, Mr. Moxie,” Vergie said. “The ever- 
prompt!” / 

Mr. Moxie’s heel ground the butt of a well-con- 




242 


The Bach of the Booh 


sumed cigarette into the floor of the vestibule. As 
he greeted Vergie, he tossed back his blond tuft of 
hair, which grew very long in front. His hat had 
been laid on the case which contained his plates. 
Mr. Moxie always went hatless in the springtime. 
It was his way of showing that, in being a photog¬ 
rapher, he was also a bit of an artist, an eccentric. 

A manservant opened the door, regarding Mr. 
Moxie’s impedimenta with suspicion. Clearly per¬ 
turbed, he admitted them to the hall, where it seemed 
improbable they could do much harm, and vanished 
in search of the housekeeper. 

“What’s it to be today, Miss Stilson?” Mr. Moxie 
inquired. 

“A morning room,” Vergie told him. “And a sun- 
room. And a boudoir. All very, very small—ac¬ 
cording to Mr. Twill.” The housekeeper descended 
to them, and led the way to a miniature elevator. 
They were to begin with the boudoir. Its gracious 
length— “It’s one of the largest boudoirs that any¬ 
one could imagine!” Vergie exclaimed—at once 
aroused the photographer in Mr. Moxie. In the 
happy, carefree way of the true artist, he unpacked 
his camera and plates on a rose-colored Persian rug 
of the Sixteenth Century, and flung his hat and coat 
on a chair upholstered in valuable and rapidly crack¬ 
ing old glazed chintz. 

Vergie perched on the arm of a deep couch, and 
made suggestions to Mr. Moxie. It was her custom, 




The Bach of the Booh 


243 


though one which Mr. Moxie chose to disregard, to 
advise him in regard to photography. While she 
prattled to him, she was making mental notes of the 
arrangement and the color scheme of the room: items 
which she might later use in composing captions— 
something rather light and feminine !—for the photo¬ 
graphs which Mr. Moxie would take. She was well 
aware that her presence was of the first importance ; 
and at heart Mr. Moxie knew it, too. Mr. Twill al¬ 
ways made a special point of having Vergie accom¬ 
pany the photographer on his visits to private houses, 
in order that she might add a social touch; for, of 
course, Good Taste could not be represented by a fel¬ 
low who threw off his coat in the most costly boudoir, 
and went competently to work in shirt-sleeves en¬ 
circled with pink garters. 

Abetted by a man whom the housekeeper had 
summoned, Mr. Moxie was ruthlessly pushing back 
rugs, dragging furniture about, and looping up an¬ 
cient chintz curtains. With much skirmishing and 
a display of lightning gesture, he made three pic¬ 
tures of the boudoir, and pronounced himself satis¬ 
fied. Order was reestablished under the direction of 
the housekeeper, who was seen to accept all muta¬ 
tions with philosophy, and they descended to the 
morning room. 

The decorations of the morning room were simple, 
and Vergie soon made her observations. Mr. Moxie’s 
task was not so easy. The floor of this room was 




244 


The Bach of the Booh 


composed of a fine mosaic tiling, which offered a 
difficult subject for his art. He shifted his position 
a dozen times, tossing his blond pompadour with 
annoyance, thrusting his head at his camera and 
withdrawing it with a frown of frustration. Vergie 
began to feel that Mr. Moxie was being tiresome 
this afternoon in his pursuit of perfection; she 
yawned secretly behind her hand. 

“What’s in here?” she asked the housekeeper, who 
was waiting patiently at her side. They had stepped 
back from the range of Mr. Moxie’s countermarch¬ 
ings, and were standing near a wide doorway. 

“It’s the library,” the housekeeper told her. 
“Would you care to go in?” Vergie nodded; she 
would very much care to go in. Softly she turned 
the knob of the door, and slipped away from Mr. 
Moxie and his problems. These seemed remote as 
she tiptoed into a strange, silent room, large and 
dark-paneled. There were many deep couches and 
chairs, and the shelves glowed with richly-bound 
books. The room exhaled an odor of leather, a 
mellow association of hours of study. Vergie, her 
feet caressed by the rug, went eagerly to the nearest 
shelves. Splendid in the twilight in the corner of 
the room, the books sparkled like somber jewels. 
She was Aladdin—most beautiful of names. Or 
Alice! And, now, as she gazed, the books turned 
to slender flasks, each filled with precious fluid, each 
labeled, “Drink Me.” 




The Bach of the Booh 


245 


Or perhaps this was an illustrious reunion of spirits 
who welcomed her here in the proud room. Rabe¬ 
lais, Ben Jonson, Fielding, Hazlitt. . . . She greeted 
them. “Such a pleasure to see you again” ... Or 
“I’ve heard so much about you that I feel, well, 
really, as if I knew you.” Smollett, Francis Bacon, 
Montaigne . . . Montaigne. She put out her 
hand —“Que sgais-je ?”—drew a volume from its 
place. It gave the faintest squeak as it slid between 
its fellows. Scarcely breathing in the quiet room, 
she read a page, luxuriously. 

She was startled to hear a shallow, clicking noise, 
like the turning of the page of a book. It had 
seemed to be close at hand, the sound of a restless, 
ghostly presence. The dark dignity of the room 
seemed suddenly hostile. She looked about her 
guiltily, as though she had been caught in a theft. 
Yet surely there was no harm in stealing for a mo¬ 
ment the clear, cold phrases of a book? 

Her pleasure spoiled, Vergie put the volume back 
into place. As she turned to leave the room, she 
saw something which transfixed her. Near the win¬ 
dow in the pale afternoon light appeared a brown 
thing, almost the color of the smooth velvet back of 
the couch, above which it rose. As she stared, the 
thing grew recognizable, ceased to be merely a fan¬ 
tastic and alarming shape. It was the back of a 
man’s brown head. 

Vergie was shaken by an unreasonable horror at 




246 


The Bach of the Book 


finding that her fancied solitude was shared with 
another human being. Her knees were weak, her 
heart slapped painfully. She could not take her 
eyes from the head. Evidently the man was so 
absorbed in what he read that he had not heard her 
stealthy entrance. Still observing him intently, she 
took two long cat-like steps toward the door. The 
head moved, and Vergie jumped with fright. 
Trembling in the center of the room, one hand raised 
to her mouth, she felt ridiculous and childish. She 
was shamed into a pretense of dignity. She wasn’t 
going to be caught sneaking about people’s houses! 

“I beg your pardon,” she began in a small, icy 
voice. “I didn’t know. . . 

The head gave a violent lunge, and turned around. 
Simultaneously, its possessor turned the rest of him¬ 
self, getting up from the couch. He advanced 
toward Vergie, taking off his reading glasses as he 
came. It was Louis Bayard. 

vi 

There was another moment of silence in the big, 
dim room. Then Vergie sank down on the arm of a 
chair, laughing helplessly. She was childishly dis¬ 
armed, her defenses and affectations and flippancies 
were shattered. 

“I’m so glad it’s you,” she said. “I haven’t the 
temperament for a burglar. Oh, I’m so glad it was 
your head.” 



The Bach of the Book 


247 


Louis Bayard laughed, too, as he looked at her. 
His face cleared strangely, as though a light came 
into it, when he laughed; but he still wore his quizzi¬ 
cal frown, one eyebrow drawn up higher than the 
other. 

“I was thinking of you,” he said softly. “Is 
it really you?” He took her hand, pressed it be¬ 
tween both of his. “It seems very real,” he ad¬ 
mitted. “Don’t tell me why you’re here. Just for 
this moment, it’s easy to believe in a miracle—that 
my thoughts called you and you came.” 

“I don’t want to spoil any lovely dream,” said 
Vergie. “But that wasn’t exactly the way it hap¬ 
pened. In fact, I had a terrible moment when I saw 
you. If I hadn’t been such a coward, I might have 
escaped without your ever guessing I had been here.” 

Suddenly Louis Bayard laughed again. “I know 
why you’re here,” he said. “You came about those 
wretched photographs. I can hear the racket in the 
next room. Are they for Good Taste? I hadn’t 
realized. . . . Oh, I’m disappointed, it’s such a 
prosaic reason for finding you, like a small blue 
statue, behind me.” 

Vergie sighed, remembering Mr. Moxie. “I 
represent an evasion of duty,” she said. “I ought to 
be in the next room, doing something about the 
photographs. But, to tell you the inside story of 
the photographing game, I am not of the slightest 




248 


The Bach of the Booh 


use in it. So I stole away for a minute of relaxa¬ 
tion. . . .” 

“And to think you might have come and gone, 
while I sat there thinking of you. How unfair a 
turn of fortune that would have been! But I prefer 
to think that our meeting was inevitable, that it was 
decreed that you should speak to me. Che sard 
sard!” The specter of a mocking smile was on his 
lips. 

“If you had known I was coming, you would have 
been on the steps to meet me? Or at least in the 
vestibule? With some very special mark of favor, 
like a laurel wreath, for instance?” 

“With ivory and apes and peacocks,” said Louis. 
“And flowers for you to wear, camellias, I think— 
those vivid pink ones, with dark, shiny leaves— 
oh, far too many of them for you to wear, so that 
you would have felt quite embarrassed. ...” 

“And then what would we have done?” Vergie 
asked. 

“First, we would have gone upstairs while I 
showed you my study. And then we would have 
had tea. . . . Oh, it sounds very dull, doesn’t it? 
after the ivory and apes and peacocks.” 

“And too many camellias,” Vergie reminded him. 

“Still, let’s do it anyway.” Louis went to the 
door of the morning room, opened it wide. In Ver- 
gie’s absence, Mr. Moxie had completed his work. 




The Back of the Book 


249 


The fine mosaic tiling of the floor gleamed undis¬ 
turbed. The morning room was empty. 

“He’s gone down to the sunroom,” Vergie said. 
“I ought to go, too.” 

“Is it really so important? You can look at it 
on your way out. Let me have my way today.” He 
led her up a flight of stairs to a small room on the 
top floor. A desk was piled with books and papers. 
Before the fireplace was spread a small rug, with an 
intricate pattern of orange flowers on a drab back¬ 
ground. 

“This is my study,” he told her. Her eyes, puz¬ 
zled, reminded him. “Oh, you didn’t know that I 
worked here? Mrs. Kemp is my sister.” Uncon¬ 
sciously, he signaled with a faint movement of his 
nose that his pleasure in the relationship was quali¬ 
fied. He indicated a photograph on the mantel: an 
authoritative lady of imperial bust. 

“I don’t like it here very well,” Louis Bayard 
admitted, eyeing the photograph. “I’m used to my 
own place and my own things. A horrid confession 
of age, fussiness. But I have to be here much of 
the time. I’m having the music room done over for 
my sister. It will be the best room in the house, by 
far. Here are the sketches. Light paneling, highly 
polished wood, you know. ...” 

He placed a chair for Vergie near his desk, where 
she could see the drawings and photographs, and his 




250 


The Bach of the Booh 


hands fluttered quickly among them. Now, they 
flew up to adjust the glasses on his thin nose. Yes, 
they were brown birds, Vergie thought; her metaphor 
had been apt. 

“Do you mind having tea down there?” Louis 
asked her eagerly. “The workmen will have gone 
by now. It’s rather a mess, you know, but you 
won’t mind?” 

Vergie rose, taking a last curious look at the small 
study. Her eyes rested again on the rug with its 
sprawling pattern of orange flowers. There was 
something familiar about that rug. Now, she re¬ 
membered—of course, it was the Little Jewell 
Quite clearly, she saw Mrs. Lutes tossing it up for 
inspection. 

“You bought a hooked rug!” she cried accusingly. 
“You went back to see Mrs. Lutes?” 

“Yes. I did go back,” Louis said. “I felt, once 
I was there, that I had to buy something, so I chose 
this. It’s small . . . and Mrs. Lutes told me that 
it was one you especially admired.” 

“And now that you’ve bought it,” Vergie said, “do 
you like it?” 

“I think it’s abominable,” said Louis candidly. 

A step sounded in the hall, and the housekeeper 
came to the door. “Tea is served in the music room, 
Mr. Bayard. I’ve had them put in some comfortable 
chairs for you.” 




The Bach of the Booh 


251 


vii 

In the midst of a litter of polished panels, Vergie 
poured tea. Two Italian chairs, the low table 
weighted with heavy silver, the fragile china and 
sandwiches, the noiseless manservant—it was a tiny 
island of civilization, ringed with disorder. 

“We’re Russians,” she told Louis. “Just the two 
of us left. The Bolshevists have wrecked our house, 
they have even ruined our elegant music room. But 
we’re much too aristocratic to notice. They’re firing 
on us now, but we sip our tea—die politely between 
bites of a lettuce sandwich.” Her words, taking 
her by surprise, echoed in her mind. Perhaps a fine 
phrase, that—“too aristocratic to notice.” Perhaps 
more than a phrase. It might be that was the an¬ 
swer, one of the most important answers: to pursue 
one’s own course with a delicate disdain for circum¬ 
stance, a disregard of conflict, confusion and disap¬ 
pointment. Vergie’s eyes, staring at the fat, silver 
side of the teapot, grew aware of two reflections in 
it, her face and Louis Bayard’s. Grotesquely dis¬ 
torted by the curve of the silver, they yet appeared 
fine-textured masks, civilized, sensitive, impermeable. 

“I have never,” said Louis, whose voice seemed 
to come from a long way off, “been able to talk to 
you before today. Curious, that. I think that it 
was because, before today, you never seemed to see 
me, to be aware of me as a person. I have never 



252 


The Bach of the Booh 


succeeded in passing some strange little block in 
your mind. . . .” 

“I wonder if that could be true?” said Vergie. She 
looked at Louis, and his eyes seemed to flutter, quick 
and brown, like his hands. In his whole face was a 
restlessness, a queer consuming energy, which lived 
back of the shyness, the vagueness. Now, under her 
gaze, he dropped his eyes, pressing his lips together. 
He began to speak, as if irrelevantly. 

“I expect to have done with my work here in about 
two months,” he said. “And my book will be out 
by that time. I’ll sail at once for France, just for 
the summer. In the fall I want to take a southern 
trip, Spain and Italy—perhaps Greece. But cer¬ 
tainly Spain and Italy. . . .” His voice trailed 
away. He had recited his plans, like a lesson, of 
the importance of which he was not quite convinced. 

They were silent. An awkwardness seemed to 
have come between them. The manservant had 
taken his noiseless departure, and they sat alone 
among the pale, shining panels, from which the 
afternoon light was brightly reflected. To Vergie 
the disordered room seemed unreal. It faded from 
before her eyes. And she saw, instead, the careful 
magnificence of the streets of Paris. . . . She saw 
herself presiding in an elegant salon. . . . The 
flowers were purple and crimson in the squares of 
Seville. . . . She lay on a terrace at Palermo above 
the blue sea. . . . Life had become a lovely thing, 




The Bach of the Booh 


253 


of leisure, variety. She, Vergie, had all its best 
gifts. She was an accomplished person, a writer of 
importance. She was beautiful, beloved. 

Her fingers rested lightly on the chair-arm, and 
now Louis Bayard’s fingers moved down, hovered 
over hers. She suffered him to touch her fingers, and 
they lay in his clasp, which was dry, warm and rest¬ 
less. 

Vanity, vanity . . . could that be the answer? 
Vergie wondered in her secret mind. Yet mere van¬ 
ity of appearance couldn’t satisfy forever, there 
would come a time when even clothes, even a re¬ 
created face wouldn’t be enough. You had to build 
on a broader foundation; deliberately construct for 
yourself the life of prestige and accomplishment 
which you desired. Never again be misled by emo¬ 
tion, never again be enmeshed by anything second- 
rate. . . . 

And Louis? He had cherished a sentimental pas¬ 
sion for her. It had been one of those hopeless 
passions which might have gone forever unspoken, 
if it hadn’t received encouragement. Then coming 
upon her today, disarmed and frightened—he had 
let her see for a moment. Of course, he was out of 
touch with things. He didn’t realize that people 
weren’t doing it that way any more. It wouldn’t 
be hard to show him. . . . 

His fingers were on her wrist. “It’s a privilege,” 
he murmured, “to know a woman like you, a woman 




254 


The Bach of the Booh 


capable of the beautiful silence of thought. I can 
feel them rising, your lovely thoughts, like an in¬ 
cense in the room. . . 

Why, the dear thing, was he as simple as that? Or 
was there indeed a beauty in her thoughts, the beauty 
of contemplating the swift, untraceable flow of life? 
Her fingers pressed his gently, and he raised them to 
his lips. 

And Vergie’s heart beat fast with expectation. 
Again, she was an explorer who stood happy and 
tremulous before a new world. She would leave the 
old life: the office, Mr. Twill, Roger and Pet. 
Already they were taking on the sentimental aspect 
of familiar things which have passed. . . . She had 
longed to escape; now, with a graceful gesture, she 
would take her departure. It was like a story 
in a book, in which the girl works and hopes and 
plans . . . and at last her hopes are realized. Ex¬ 
cept that in a story her hopes wouldn’t be realized— 
not in a modern story. There the girl would simply 
go on hoping—her dreams would turn to dust and 
ashes. At the end of the story, the girl would still 
be in the office, still be chained to the day’s drab 
routine. . . . 

Again, Vergie saw in the white silver side of the 
teapot their reflections, hers and Louis’s. Their 
shining faces, light and elegant, like the polished 
panels, were in the litter of the room the orderly 
symbols of civilization. And reflecting on the con- 




The Bach of the Booh 


255 


fusion of living (Que sgais-je?) Vergie stretched out 
her hands eagerly to the next day . . . and the next 
. . . and the next. The difference between her and 
a girl in a story lay in the vigor with which she must 
always question life; that desire for knowing, vivid, 
incorruptible. 





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