It was Sunday — not a day, but rather a gap between two other days. Behind, for all of them, lay sets and sequences, the long waits under the crane that swung the microphone, the hundred miles a day by automobiles to and fro across a county, the struggles of rival ingenuities in the conference rooms, the ceaseless compromise, the clash and strain of many personalities fighting for their lives. And now Sunday, with individual life starting up again, with a glow kindling in eyes that had been glazed with monotony the afternoon before. Slowly as the hours waned they came awake like “Puppenfeen” in a toy shop: an intense colloquy in a corner, lovers disappearing to neck in a hall. And the feeling of “Hurry, it’s not too late, but for God’s sake hurry before the blessed forty hours of leisure are over.”
Joel Coles was writing continuity. He was twenty-eight and not yet broken by Hollywood. He had had what were considered nice assignments since his arrival six months before and he submitted his scenes and sequences with enthusiasm. He referred to himself modestly as a hack but really did not think of it that way. His mother had been a successful actress; Joel had spent his childhood between London and New York trying to separate the real from the unreal, or at least to keep one guess ahead. He was a handsome man with the pleasant cow-brown eyes that in 1913 had gazed out at Broadway audiences from his mother’s face.
When the invitation came it made him sure that he was getting somewhere. Ordinarily he did not go out on Sundays but stayed sober and took work home with him. Recently they had given him a Eugene O’Neill play destined for a very important lady indeed. Everything he had done so far had pleased Miles Calman, and Miles Calman was the only director on the lot who did not work under a supervisor and was responsible to the money men alone. Everything was clicking into place in Joel’s career. (“This is Mr. Calman’s secretary. Will you come to tea from four to six Sunday — he lives in Beverly Hills, number —.")
Joel was flattered. It would be a party out of the top-drawer. It was a tribute to himself as a young man of promise. The Marion Davies’ crowd, the high-hats, the big currency numbers, perhaps even Dietrich and Garbo and the Marquise, people who were not seen everywhere, would probably be at Calman’s.
“I won’t take anything to drink,” he assured himself. Calman was audibly tired of rummies, and thought it was a pity the industry could not get along without them.
Joel agreed that writers drank too much — he did himself, but he wouldn’t this afternoon. He wished Miles would be within hearing when the cocktails were passed to hear his succinct, unobtrusive, “No, thank you.”
Miles Calman’s house was built for great emotional moments — there was an air of listening, as if the far silences of its vistas hid an audience, but this afternoon it was thronged, as though people had been bidden rather than asked. Joel noted with pride that only two other writers from the studio were in the crowd, an ennobled limey and, somewhat to his surprise, Nat Keogh, who had evoked Calman’s impatient comment on drunks.
Stella Calman (Stella Walker, of course) did not move on to her other guests after she spoke to Joel. She lingered — she looked at him with the sort of beautiful look that demands some sort of acknowledgment and Joe drew quickly on the dramatic adequacy inherited from his mother:
“Well, you look about sixteen! Where’s your kiddy car?”
She was visibly pleased; she lingered. He felt that he should say something more, something confident and easy — he had first met her when she was struggling for bits in New York. At the moment a tray slid up and Stella put a cocktail glass into his hand.
“Everybody’s afraid, aren’t they?” he said, looking at it absently. “Everybody watches for everybody else’s blunders, or tries to make sure they’re with people that’ll do them credit. Of course that’s not true in your house,” he covered himself hastily. “I just meant generally in Hollywood.”
Stella agreed. She presented several people to Joel as if he were very important. Reassuring himself that Miles was at the other side of the room, Joel drank the cocktail.
“So you have a baby?” he said. “That’s the time to look out. After a pretty woman has had her first child, she’s very vulnerable, because she wants to be reassured about her own charm. She’s got to have some new man’s unqualified devotion to prove to herself she hasn’t lost anything.”
“I never get anybody’s unqualified devotion,” Stella said rather resentfully.
“They’re afraid of your husband.”
“You think that’s it?” She wrinkled her brow over the idea; then the conversation was interrupted at the exact moment Joel would have chosen.
Her attentions had given him confidence. Not for him to join safe groups, to slink to refuge under the wings of such acquaintances as he saw about the room. He walked to the window and looked out toward the Pacific, colorless under its sluggish sunset. It was good here — the American Riviera and all that, if there were ever time to enjoy it. The handsome, well-dressed people in the room, the lovely girls, and the — well, the lovely girls. You couldn’t have everything.
He saw Stella’s fresh boyish face, with the tired eyelid that always drooped a little over one eye, moving about among her guests and he wanted to sit with her and talk a long time as if she were a girl instead of a name; he followed her to see if she paid anyone as much attention as she had paid him. He took another cocktail — not because he needed confidence but because she had given him so much of it. Then he sat down beside the director’s mother.
“Your son’s gotten to be a legend, Mrs. Calman — Oracle and a Man of Destiny and all that. Personally, I’m against him but I’m in a minority. What do you think of him? Are you impressed? Are you surprised how far he’s gone?”
“No, I’m not surprised,” she said calmly. “We always expected a lot from Miles.”
“Well now, that’s unusual,” remarked Joel. “I always think all mothers are like Napoleon’s mother. My mother didn’t want me to have anything to do with the entertainment business. She wanted me to go to West Point and be safe.”
“We always had every confidence in Miles.”...
He stood by the built-in bar of the dining room with the good-humored, heavy-drinking, highly paid Nat Keogh.
“— I made a hundred grand during the year and lost forty grand gambling, so now I’ve hired a manager.”
“You mean an agent,” suggested Joel.
“No, I’ve got that too. I mean a manager. I make over everything to my wife and then he and my wife get together and hand me out the money. I pay him five thousand a year to hand me out my money.”
“You mean your agent.”
“No, I mean my manager, and I’m not the only one — a lot of other irresponsible people have him.”
“Well, if you’re irresponsible why are you responsible enough to hire a manager?”
“I’m just irresponsible about gambling. Look here —”
A singer performed; Joel and Nat went forward with the others to listen.
The singing reached Joel vaguely; he felt happy and friendly toward all the people gathered there, people of bravery and industry, superior to a bourgeoisie that outdid them in ignorance and loose living, risen to a position of the highest prominence in a nation that for a decade had wanted only to be entertained. He liked them — he loved them. Great waves of good feeling flowed through him.
As the singer finished his number and there was a drift toward the hostess to say good-by, Joel had an idea. He would give them “Building It Up,” his own composition. It was his only parlor trick, it had amused several parties and it might please Stella Walker. Possessed by the hunch, his blood throbbing with the scarlet corpuscles of exhibitionism, he sought her.
“Of course,” she cried. “Please! Do you need anything?”
“Someone has to be the secretary that I’m supposed to be dictating to.”
“I’ll be her.”
As the word spread the guests in the hall, already putting on their coats to leave, drifted back and Joel faced the eyes of many strangers. He had a dim foreboding, realizing that the man who had just performed was a famous radio entertainer. Then someone said “Sh!” and he was alone with Stella, the center of a sinister Indian-like half-circle. Stella smiled up at him expectantly — he began.
His burlesque was based upon the cultural limitations of Mr. Dave Silverstein, an independent producer; Silverstein was presumed to be dictating a letter outlining a treatment of a story he had bought.
“— a story of divorce, the younger generators and the Foreign Legion,” he heard his voice saying, with the intonations of Mr. Silverstein. “But we got to build it up, see?”
A sharp pang of doubt struck through him. The faces surrounding him in the gently molded light were intent and curious, but there was no ghost of a smile anywhere; directly in front the Great Lover of the screen glared at him with an eye as keen as the eye of a potato. Only Stella Walker looked up at him with a radiant, never faltering smile.
“If we make him a Menjou type, then we get a sort of Michael Arlen only with a Honolulu atmosphere.”
Still not a ripple in front, but in the rear a rustling, a perceptible shift toward the left, toward the front door.
“— then she says she feels this sex appil for him and he burns out and says ‘Oh go on destroy yourself’ —”
At some point he heard Nat Keogh snicker and here and there were a few encouraging faces, but as he finished he had the sickening realization that he had made a fool of himself in view of an important section of the picture world, upon whose favor depended his career.
For a moment he existed in the midst of a confused silence, broken by a general trek for the door. He felt the undercurrent of derision that rolled through the gossip; then — all this was in the space of ten seconds — the Great Lover, his eye hard and empty as the eye of a needle, shouted “Boo! Boo!” voicing in an overtone what he felt was the mood of the crowd. It was the resentment of the professional toward the amateur, of the community toward the stranger, the thumbs-down of the clan.
Only Stella Walker was still standing near and thanking him as if he had been an unparalleled success, as if it hadn’t occurred to her that anyone hadn’t liked it. As Nat Keogh helped him into his overcoat, a great wave of self-disgust swept over him and he clung desperately to his rule of never betraying an inferior emotion until he no longer felt it.
“I was a flop,” he said lightly, to Stella. “Never mind, it’s a good number when appreciated. Thanks for your coöperation.”
The smile did not leave her face — he bowed rather drunkenly and Nat drew him toward the door....
The arrival of his breakfast awakened him into a broken and ruined world. Yesterday he was himself, a point of fire against an industry, today he felt that he was pitted under an enormous disadvantage, against those faces, against individual contempt and collective sneer. Worse than that, to Miles Calman he was become one of those rummies, stripped of dignity, whom Calman regretted he was compelled to use. To Stella Walker, on whom he had forced a martyrdom to preserve the courtesy of her house — her opinion he did not dare to guess. His gastric juices ceased to flow and he set his poached eggs back on the telephone table. He wrote:
Dear Miles: You can imagine my profound self-disgust. I confess to a taint of exhibitionism, but at six o’clock in the afternoon, in broad daylight! Good God! My apologies to your wife.
Joel emerged from his office on the lot only to slink like a malefactor to the tobacco store. So suspicious was his manner that one of the studio police asked to see his admission card. He had decided to eat lunch outside when Nat Keogh, confident and cheerful, overtook him.
“What do you mean you’re in permanent retirement? What if that Three Piece Suit did boo you?
“Why, listen,” he continued, drawing Joel into the studio restaurant. “The night of one of his premiers at Grauman’s, Joe Squires kicked his tail while he was bowing to the crowd. The ham said Joe’d hear from him later but when Joe called him up at eight o’clock next day and said, ‘I thought I was going to hear from you,’ he hung up the phone.”
The preposterous story cheered Joel, and he found a gloomy consolation in staring at the group at the next table, the sad, lovely Siamese twins, the mean dwarfs, the proud giant from the circus picture. But looking beyond at the yellow-stained faces of pretty women, their eyes all melancholy and startling with mascara, their ball gowns garish in full day, he saw a group who had been at Calman’s and winced.
“Never again,” he exclaimed aloud, “absolutely my last social appearance in Hollywood!”
The following morning a telegram was waiting for him at his office:
You were one of the most agreeable people at our party. Expect you at my sister June’s buffet supper next Sunday.
STELLA WALKER CALMAN.
The blood rushed fast through his veins for a feverish minute. Incredulously he read the telegram over.
“Well, that’s the sweetest thing I ever heard of in my life!”
Crazy Sunday again. Joel slept until eleven, then he read a newspaper to catch up with the past week. He lunched in his room on trout, avocado salad and a pint of California wine. Dressing for the tea, he selected a pin-check suit, a blue shirt, a burnt orange tie. There were dark circles of fatigue under his eyes. In his second-hand car he drove to the Riviera apartments. As he was introducing himself to Stella’s sister, Miles and Stella arrived in riding clothes — they had been quarrelling fiercely most of the afternoon on all the dirt roads back of Beverly Hills.
Miles Calman, tall, nervous, with a desperate humor and the unhappiest eyes Joel ever saw, was an artist from the top of his curiously shaped head to his niggerish feet. Upon these last he stood firmly — he had never made a cheap picture though he had sometimes paid heavily for the luxury of making experimental flops. In spite of his excellent company, one could not be with him long without realizing that he was not a well man.
From the moment of their entrance Joel’s day bound itself up inextricably with theirs. As he joined the group around them Stella turned away from it with an impatient little tongue click — and Miles Calman said to the man who happened to be next to him:
“Go easy on Eva Goebel. There’s hell to pay about her at home.” Miles turned to Joel, “I’m sorry I missed you at the office yesterday. I spent the afternoon at the analyst’s.”
“You being psychoanalyzed?”
“I have been for months. First I went for claustrophobia, now I’m trying to get my whole life cleared up. They say it’ll take over a year.”
“There’s nothing the matter with your life,” Joel assured him.
“Oh, no? Well, Stella seems to think so. Ask anybody — they can all tell you about it,” he said bitterly.
A girl perched herself on the arm of Miles’ chair; Joel crossed to Stella, who stood disconsolately by the fire.
“Thank you for your telegram,” he said. “It was darn sweet. I can’t imagine anybody as good-looking as you are being so good-humored.”
She was a little lovelier than he had ever seen her and perhaps the unstinted admiration in his eyes prompted her to unload on him — it did not take long, for she was obviously at the emotional bursting point.
“— and Miles has been carrying on this thing for two years, and I never knew. Why, she was one of my best friends, always in the house. Finally when people began to come to me, Miles had to admit it.”
She sat down vehemently on the arm of Joel’s chair. Her riding breeches were the color of the chair and Joel saw that the mass of her hair was made up of some strands of red gold and some of pale gold, so that it could not be dyed, and that she had on no make-up. She was that good-looking —
Still quivering with the shock of her discovery, Stella found unbearable the spectacle of a new girl hovering over Miles; she led Joel into a bedroom, and seated at either end of a big bed they went on talking. People on their way to the washroom glanced in and made wisecracks, but Stella, emptying out her story, paid no attention. After a while Miles stuck his head in the door and said, “There’s no use trying to explain something to Joel in half an hour that I don’t understand myself and the psychoanalyst says will take a whole year to understand.”
She talked on as if Miles were not there. She loved Miles, she said — under considerable difficulties she had always been faithful to him.
“The psychoanalyst told Miles that he had a mother complex. In his first marriage he transferred his mother complex to his wife, you see — and then his sex turned to me. But when we married the thing repeated itself — he transferred his mother complex to me and all his libido turned toward this other woman.”
Joel knew that this probably wasn’t gibberish — yet it sounded like gibberish. He knew Eva Goebel; she was a motherly person, older and probably wiser than Stella, who was a golden child.
Miles now suggested impatiently that Joel come back with them since Stella had so much to say, so they drove out to the mansion in Beverly Hills. Under the high ceilings the situation seemed more dignified and tragic. It was an eerie bright night with the dark very clear outside of all the windows and Stella all rose-gold raging and crying around the room. Joel did not quite believe in picture actresses’ grief. They have other preoccupations — they are beautiful rose-gold figures blown full of life by writers and directors, and after hours they sit around and talk in whispers and giggle innuendoes, and the ends of many adventures flow through them.
Sometimes he pretended to listen and instead thought how well she was got up — sleek breeches with a matched set of legs in them, an Italian-colored sweater with a little high neck, and a short brown chamois coat. He couldn’t decide whether she was an imitation of an English lady or an English lady was an imitation of her. She hovered somewhere between the realest of realities and the most blatant of impersonations.
“Miles is so jealous of me that he questions everything I do,” she cried scornfully. “When I was in New York I wrote him that I’d been to the theater with Eddie Baker. Miles was so jealous he phoned me ten times in one day.”
“I was wild,” Miles snuffled sharply, a habit he had in times of stress. “The analyst couldn’t get any results for a week.”
Stella shook her head despairingly. “Did you expect me just to sit in the hotel for three weeks?”
“I don’t expect anything. I admit that I’m jealous. I try not to be. I worked on that with Dr. Bridgebane, but it didn’t do any good. I was jealous of Joel this afternoon when you sat on the arm of his chair.”
“You were?” She started up. “You were! Wasn’t there somebody on the arm of your chair? And did you speak to me for two hours?”
“You were telling your troubles to Joel in the bedroom.”
“When I think that that woman”— she seemed to believe that to omit Eva Goebel’s name would be to lessen her reality —“used to come here —”
“All right — all right,” said Miles wearily. “I’ve admitted everything and I feel as bad about it as you do.” Turning to Joel he began talking about pictures, while Stella moved restlessly along the far walls, her hands in her breeches pockets.
“They’ve treated Miles terribly,” she said, coming suddenly back into the conversation as if they’d never discussed her personal affairs. “Dear, tell him about old Beltzer trying to change your picture.”
As she stood hovering protectively over Miles, her eyes flashing with indignation in his behalf, Joel realized that he was in love with her. Stifled with excitement he got up to say good night.
With Monday the week resumed its workaday rhythm, in sharp contrast to the theoretical discussions, the gossip and scandal of Sunday; there was the endless detail of script revision —“Instead of a lousy dissolve, we can leave her voice on the sound track and cut to a medium shot of the taxi from Bell’s angle or we can simply pull the camera back to include the station, hold it a minute and then pan to the row of taxis”— by Monday afternoon Joel had again forgotten that people whose business was to provide entertainment were ever privileged to be entertained. In the evening he phoned Miles’ house. He asked for Miles but Stella came to the phone.
“Do things seem better?”
“Not particularly. What are you doing next Saturday evening?”
“The Perrys are giving a dinner and theater party and Miles won’t be here — he’s flying to South Bend to see the Notre Dame-California game. I thought you might go with me in his place.”
After a long moment Joel said, “Why — surely. If there’s a conference I can’t make dinner but I can get to the theater.”
“Then I’ll say we can come.”
Joel walked his office. In view of the strained relations of the Calmans, would Miles be pleased, or did she intend that Miles shouldn’t know of it? That would be out of the question — if Miles didn’t mention it Joel would. But it was an hour or more before he could get down to work again.
Wednesday there was a four-hour wrangle in a conference room crowded with planets and nebulae of cigarette smoke. Three men and a woman paced the carpet in turn, suggesting or condemning, speaking sharply or persuasively, confidently or despairingly. At the end Joel lingered to talk to Miles.
The man was tired — not with the exaltation of fatigue but life-tired, with his lids sagging and his beard prominent over the blue shadows near his mouth.
“I hear you’re flying to the Notre Dame game.”
Miles looked beyond him and shook his head.
“I’ve given up the idea.”
“On account of you.” Still he did not look at Joel.
“What the hell, Miles?”
“That’s why I’ve given it up.” He broke into a perfunctory laugh at himself. “I can’t tell what Stella might do just out of spite — she’s invited you to take her to the Perrys’, hasn’t she? I wouldn’t enjoy the game.”
The fine instinct that moved swiftly and confidently on the set, muddled so weakly and helplessly through his personal life.
“Look, Miles,” Joel said frowning. “I’ve never made any passes whatsoever at Stella. If you’re really seriously cancelling your trip on account of me, I won’t go to the Perrys’ with her. I won’t see her. You can trust me absolutely.”
Miles looked at him, carefully now.
“Maybe.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Anyhow there’d just be somebody else. I wouldn’t have any fun.”
“You don’t seem to have much confidence in Stella. She told me she’d always been true to you.”
“Maybe she has.” In the last few minutes several more muscles had sagged around Miles’ mouth, “But how can I ask anything of her after what’s happened? How can I expect her —” He broke off and his face grew harder as he said, “I’ll tell you one thing, right or wrong and no matter what I’ve done, if I ever had anything on her I’d divorce her. I can’t have my pride hurt — that would be the last straw.”
His tone annoyed Joel, but he said:
“Hasn’t she calmed down about the Eva Goebel thing?”
“No.” Miles snuffled pessimistically. “I can’t get over it either.”
“I thought it was finished.”
“I’m trying not to see Eva again, but you know it isn’t easy just to drop something like that — it isn’t some girl I kissed last night in a taxi! The psychoanalyst says —”
“I know,” Joel interrupted. “Stella told me.” This was depressing. “Well, as far as I’m concerned if you go to the game I won’t see Stella. And I’m sure Stella has nothing on her conscience about anybody.”
“Maybe not,” Miles repeated listlessly. “Anyhow I’ll stay and take her to the party. Say,” he said suddenly, “I wish you’d come too. I’ve got to have somebody sympathetic to talk to. That’s the trouble — I’ve influenced Stella in everything. Especially I’ve influenced her so that she likes all the men I like — it’s very difficult.”
“It must be,” Joel agreed.
Joel could not get to the dinner. Self-conscious in his silk hat against the unemployment, he waited for the others in front of the Hollywood Theatre and watched the evening parade: obscure replicas of bright, particular picture stars, spavined men in polo coats, a stomping dervish with the beard and staff of an apostle, a pair of chic Filipinos in collegiate clothes, reminder that this corner of the Republic opened to the seven seas, a long fantastic carnival of young shouts which proved to be a fraternity initiation. The line split to pass two smart limousines that stopped at the curb.
There she was, in a dress like ice-water, made in a thousand pale-blue pieces, with icicles trickling at the throat. He started forward.
“So you like my dress?”
“He flew to the game after all. He left yesterday morning — at least I think —” She broke off. “I just got a telegram from South Bend saying that he’s starting back. I forgot — you know all these people?”
The party of eight moved into the theater.
Miles had gone after all and Joel wondered if he should have come. But during the performance, with Stella a profile under the pure grain of light hair, he thought no more about Miles. Once he turned and looked at her and she looked back at him, smiling and meeting his eyes for as long as he wanted. Between the acts they smoked in the lobby and she whispered:
“They’re all going to the opening of Jack Johnson’s night club — I don’t want to go, do you?”
“Do we have to?”
“I suppose not.” She hesitated. “I’d like to talk to you. I suppose we could go to our house — if I were only sure —”
Again she hesitated and Joel asked:
“Sure of what?”
“Sure that — oh, I’m haywire I know, but how can I be sure Miles went to the game?”
“You mean you think he’s with Eva Goebel?”
“No, not so much that — but supposing he was here watching everything I do. You know Miles does odd things sometimes. Once he wanted a man with a long beard to drink tea with him and he sent down to the casting agency for one, and drank tea with him all afternoon.”
“That’s different. He sent you a wire from South Bend — that proves he’s at the game.”
After the play they said good night to the others at the curb and were answered by looks of amusement. They slid off along the golden garish thoroughfare through the crowd that had gathered around Stella.
“You see he could arrange the telegrams,” Stella said, “very easily.”
That was true. And with the idea that perhaps her uneasiness was justified, Joel grew angry: if Miles had trained a camera on them he felt no obligations toward Miles. Aloud he said:
There were Christmas trees already in the shop windows and the full moon over the boulevard was only a prop, as scenic as the giant boudoir lamps of the corners. On into the dark foliage of Beverly Hills that flamed as eucalyptus by day, Joel saw only the flash of a white face under his own, the arc of her shoulder. She pulled away suddenly and looked up at him.
“Your eyes are like your mother’s,” she said. “I used to have a scrap book full of pictures of her.”
“Your eyes are like your own and not a bit like any other eyes,” he answered.
Something made Joel look out into the grounds as they went into the house, as if Miles were lurking in the shrubbery. A telegram waited on the hall table. She read aloud:
Home tomorrow night. Thinking of you. Love.
“You see,” she said, throwing the slip back on the table, “he could easily have faked that.” She asked the butler for drinks and sandwiches and ran upstairs, while Joel walked into the empty reception rooms. Strolling about he wandered to the piano where he had stood in disgrace two Sundays before.
“Then we could put over,” he said aloud, “a story of divorce, the younger generators and the Foreign Legion.”
His thoughts jumped to another telegram.
“You were one of the most agreeable people at our party —”
An idea occurred to him. If Stella’s telegram had been purely a gesture of courtesy then it was likely that Miles had inspired it, for it was Miles who had invited him. Probably Miles had said:
“Send him a wire — he’s miserable — he thinks he’s queered himself.”
It fitted in with “I’ve influenced Stella in everything. Especially I’ve influenced her so that she likes all the men I like.” A woman would do a thing like that because she felt sympathetic — only a man would do it because he felt responsible.
When Stella came back into the room he took both her hands.
“I have a strange feeling that I’m a sort of pawn in a spite game you’re playing against Miles,” he said.
“Help yourself to a drink.”
“And the odd thing is that I’m in love with you anyhow.”
The telephone rang and she freed herself to answer it.
“Another wire from Miles,” she announced. “He dropped it, or it says he dropped it, from the airplane at Kansas City.”
“I suppose he asked to be remembered to me.”
“No, he just said he loved me. I believe he does. He’s so very weak.”
“Come sit beside me,” Joel urged her.
It was early. And it was still a few minutes short of midnight a half-hour later, when Joel walked to the cold hearth, and said tersely:
“Meaning that you haven’t any curiosity about me?”
“Not at all. You attract me a lot and you know it. The point is that I suppose I really do love Miles.”
“And tonight I feel uneasy about everything.”
He wasn’t angry — he was even faintly relieved that a possible entanglement was avoided. Still as he looked at her, the warmth and softness of her body thawing her cold blue costume, he knew she was one of the things he would always regret.
“I’ve got to go,” he said. “I’ll phone a taxi.”
“Nonsense — there’s a chauffeur on duty.”
He winced at her readiness to have him go, and seeing this she kissed him lightly and said, “You’re sweet, Joel.” Then suddenly three things happened: he took down his drink at a gulp, the phone rang loud through the house and a clock in the hall struck in trumpet notes.
Nine — ten — eleven — twelve —
It was Sunday again. Joel realized that he had come to the theater this evening with the work of the week still hanging about him like cerements. He had made love to Stella as he might attack some matter to be cleaned up hurriedly before the day’s end. But this was Sunday — the lovely, lazy perspective of the next twenty-four hours unrolled before him — every minute was something to be approached with lulling indirection, every moment held the germ of innumerable possibilities. Nothing was impossible — everything was just beginning. He poured himself another drink.
With a sharp moan, Stella slipped forward inertly by the telephone. Joel picked her up and laid her on the sofa. He squirted soda-water on a handkerchief and slapped it over her face. The telephone mouthpiece was still grinding and he put it to his ear.
“— the plane fell just this side of Kansas City. The body of Miles Calman has been identified and —”
He hung up the receiver.
“Lie still,” he said, stalling, as Stella opened her eyes.
“Oh, what’s happened?” she whispered. “Call them back. Oh, what’s happened?”
“I’ll call them right away. What’s your doctor’s name?”
“Did they say Miles was dead?”
“Lie quiet — is there a servant still up?”
“Hold me — I’m frightened.”
He put his arm around her.
“I want the name of your doctor,” he said sternly. “It may be a mistake but I want someone here.”
“It’s Doctor — Oh, God, is Miles dead?”
Joel ran upstairs and searched through strange medicine cabinets for spirits of ammonia. When he came down Stella cried:
“He isn’t dead — I know he isn’t. This is part of his scheme. He’s torturing me. I know he’s alive. I can feel he’s alive.”
“I want to get hold of some close friend of yours, Stella. You can’t stay here alone tonight.”
“Oh, no,” she cried. “I can’t see anybody. You stay. I haven’t got any friend.” She got up, tears streaming down her face. “Oh, Miles is my only friend. He’s not dead — he can’t be dead. I’m going there right away and see. Get a train. You’ll have to come with me.”
“You can’t. There’s nothing to do tonight. I want you to tell me the name of some woman I can call: Lois? Joan? Carmel? Isn’t there somebody?”
Stella stared at him blindly.
“Eva Goebel was my best friend,” she said.
Joel thought of Miles, his sad and desperate face in the office two days before. In the awful silence of his death all was clear about him. He was the only American-born director with both an interesting temperament and an artistic conscience. Meshed in an industry, he had paid with his ruined nerves for having no resilience, no healthy cynicism, no refuge — only a pitiful and precarious escape.
There was a sound at the outer door — it opened suddenly, and there were footsteps in the hall.
“Miles!” Stella screamed. “Is it you, Miles? Oh, it’s Miles.”
A telegraph boy appeared in the doorway.
“I couldn’t find the bell. I heard you talking inside.”
The telegram was a duplicate of the one that had been phoned. While Stella read it over and over, as though it were a black lie, Joel telephoned. It was still early and he had difficulty getting anyone; when finally he succeeded in finding some friends he made Stella take a stiff drink.
“You’ll stay here, Joel,” she whispered, as though she were half-asleep. “You won’t go away. Miles liked you — he said you —” She shivered violently, “Oh, my God, you don’t know how alone I feel.” Her eyes closed, “Put your arms around me. Miles had a suit like that.” She started bolt upright. “Think of what he must have felt. He was afraid of almost everything, anyhow.”
She shook her head dazedly. Suddenly she seized Joel’s face and held it close to hers.
“You won’t go. You like me — you love me, don’t you? Don’t call up anybody. Tomorrow’s time enough. You stay here with me tonight.”
He stared at her, at first incredulously, and then with shocked understanding. In her dark groping Stella was trying to keep Miles alive by sustaining a situation in which he had figured — as if Miles’ mind could not die so long as the possibilities that had worried him still existed. It was a distraught and tortured effort to stave off the realization that he was dead.
Resolutely Joel went to the phone and called a doctor.
“Don’t, oh, don’t call anybody!” Stella cried. “Come back here and put your arms around me.”
“Is Doctor Bales in?”
“Joel,” Stella cried. “I thought I could count on you. Miles liked you. He was jealous of you — Joel, come here.”
Ah then — if he betrayed Miles she would be keeping him alive — for if he were really dead how could he be betrayed?
“— has just had a very severe shock. Can you come at once, and get hold of a nurse?”
Now the door-bell and the telephone began to ring intermittently, and automobiles were stopping in front of the door.
“But you’re not going,” Stella begged him. “You’re going to stay, aren’t you?”
“No,” he answered. “But I’ll be back, if you need me.”
Standing on the steps of the house which now hummed and palpitated with the life that flutters around death like protective leaves, he began to sob a little in his throat.
“Everything he touched he did something magical to,” he thought. “He even brought that little gamin alive and made her a sort of masterpiece.”
“What a hell of a hole he leaves in this damn wilderness — already!”
And then with a certain bitterness, “Oh, yes, I’ll be back — I’ll be back!”