« AnkstesnisTęsti »
age of twenty-six Richard has been celebrating his second wedding anni
For two years, with the exception of brief absences on business, Richard has found himself coming to be greeted each evening by his lovely, if not brilliant, wife, in an apartment now so very much home that he wonders how he could ever have used that word for the hermitage in Greenwich Village in which he had dragged out a year and a half of solitude. Their etchings, chosen together on happy Saturday afternoon explorations, are beautified for him by the pleasant history of their purchase. Everything in the apartment is touched with the background of the talks, the walks, the mock-serious conferences between them that went into their buying and their placing. Richard recalls how it had taken Helen a week to win him over to the rug with its base of deep, rich blue that has now come to seem indispensable to the quality of their living-room. What fun it had been browsing together through the brass shops on Allen Street-the candlesticks on the mantel are the trophies of that expedition or haunting the auction-rooms in the hope, finally fulfilled, of finding a piece of tapestry cheap enough and lovely enough to light up a long, narrow space in a corner between a wall and a window!
Coming home no longer meant coming to the cell of a solitary. How often he had entered his rooms in Greenwich Village and found them, for all their pleasance of books and pictures, lifeless and empty! To come home now was to reappear in a world which had been continuing its own animation during his absence, and which was not
a darkness lighted only and briefly by the warmth of his own presence. He found in it a sense of stability and security such as that which home had given him as a child. He remembered how, having failed in an examination at high school, it appeared to him as if the world had gone suddenly to utter blackness and ruin. He had come home and found the routine of the household still going, his mother still unperturbed, his sister playing as ever with her dolls. It was something of that same security, only more personal and intimately his own, that he experienced now upon coming home. It was not only that it breathed always Helen's presence, but that it breathed, too, the history of many happy hours together. To come back to it was to come out of the irrelevant jangle of the day to a quiet continuum of animation and serenity. The place was not only a place to live, but it had and was a life of its own.
I think it took Richard some time to realize how completely he had become a married man, and how completely contented a member of that civil institution called marriage. It still amuses me to see Richard, sitting in state at table, carving on occasion, and for all his youth, and for all that it is a small New York apartment, acting the perfect host and the grand seigneur. It interests me to observe how much "we" has taken the place of "I" in his conversation, and how fully and placidly a domesticated creature he has become.
"I am really ridiculously happy," he said to me one evening as he walked me home from his apartment. "I feel almost like apologizing for it. I seem to see the world from a fixed point of view and from a stable anchor
age. Helen and I are married two years now. I don't think of marriage, if I ever did, as a grand passion. It is, when it is successful, a sweet and amiable arrangement by which two friends may live together. Sex seems far less a central fact about marriage than a kind of obbligato necessary to give it intensity and flavor. Within six months friends and furnishings come to occupy as much of the imagination of a young couple as their passion for each other.
"But, best of all, marriage gives me, and Helen, too, I think, a curious oldfashioned sense of security. As far as I can make out, Professor, you don't seem to feel the need of knowing, when you turn the key in the lock in the evening, that there is somebody there to greet you. Really the ups and downs of a day come to seem comparatively trivial next to the quiet assurance of some one whose love is there like a constant grace and benediction -for you, apart from your successes or defeats. I used to get off a lot of sentimental guff about friendship in the old days. Well, what two friends can have more in common than husband and wife? Where can there be more completeness and intimacy of companionship? Their love and their friends, their domestic arrangements and their furniture, their little mutual understandings and the private code of whimsies and humor that grow up between them"-Richard thought a moment-"and their their children. Well, we have no child. For the moment we don't want any. There is a complete and beautiful entente and self-sufficiency between us that we both have a notion a child for the present would spoil. Children, too, somehow, would put us in the class of
the older generation. It would mean problems for which at present neither of us feels competent. And for the moment neither Helen nor I feel any very vivid obligation to add to the population of the planet or to give to another human creature the very questionable possibility of happiness. We seem at present in a lovely niche of time; we are knocking on wood, crossing our hearts. We have seen too much of what has been happening in the marriages of our generation to feel that we are anything but absurdly lucky and impossibly content."
It was perfectly true that Richard and Helen were, at least to the eyes of this bachelor friend of theirs, a happy couple. I would think, time and again when I saw them together, what a fortunate duo they were. They made, to begin with, so lovely a picture. Richard has arrived at that equilibrium, that image of apparently perpetual youth, which good-looking young men arrive at somewhere about the age of twenty-five. Time seems to stop for a while and to allow them a long high noon for clear feature and clean, slender form. Helen is shorter and slimmer, fragile-looking without weakness or washiness, quiet in her eyes, resilient gold in her hair, an unexpected and pleasing firmness in her finely cut lips. They were at tea once, and looking at them in the light of a flickering fire on a December day, I decided that here was material for some one, perhaps for myself, to write a romantic Golden Age novel.
I have been trying to define the kind of happiness they find in each other. Despite Richard's sober assurance to me that marriage is not with them a matter of a grand passion, it is perfectly clear that there is genuine pas
sion at the basis of their content. It is that passion, for one thing, which I think enables Helen to probe below the rhetorical Richard who agonizes over the integration of his own soul and the fate of the world. Her caressing insight reaches to the essentially boyish spirit that hungers for affection, gentleness, and peace. It is her passion for Richard, too, I think, that makes her wish to travel with him in those provinces of the mind where, I feared, though married, he would have to travel alone. I have a suspicion that she tries to travel further than she really can or than she really cares to. She gets ideas, but I am not sure they really get her. Of all Richard's friends I think she loves Tommy best because he is so simply and clearly human, so little given to the rhetoric of the intellectuals. She has a corner of her heart mentally reserved for me because of my affection for Richard, because I treat him like a boy. Ideas, she thinks, are simply my business and I do not take them more seriously than any other merchant takes his wares outside of office hours. But she makes a real attempt to follow Richard intellectually. She is beginning to move in the vocabulary of himself and his friends with ease, though she talks much more simply and much more prettily than they. She has a gift for getting the drift of arguments certainly without her domain, and as she is a really gifted pianist, she is enough of a poet and an artist to feel imaginatively many things she cannot clearly comprehend.
Meanwhile Helen has made Richard very much more of a human being. He has ceased to be a walking bundle
of theories about life, and has become something of the immediate, spontaneous human being who used to charm me as a freshman. In the light all the heat and confusion about marriage and divorce that preoccupies the pages of liberal journals and liberal conversation, it is pleasant to know that I can come upon in Richard's apartment one island of conspicuous adjustment and content. Passion without sting, I say to myself, community of interest without bondage, surely if Richard and Helen can realize them, they map be realized by other young people as well.
Of late I must confess, though, to having my suspicions that the idyll is less perfect than I have been supposing. In the first place, like most sensitive minds, including the cynical ones, Richard is an incurable romantic. In Helen's very coolness, in the serenity of their lives together, I am beginning to suspect on Richard's part a little boredom and a little disappointment. "Love," I heard him say one night, "is an agony and an ecstasy; marriage is a routine and an institution." He was not talking mere literature that time; he was indulging in indirect, but audible, confession.
Richard is suddenly waking up to the fact that Helen is simply and completely apart from the world in which most of his day and much of his imagination is passed. The first hint I got that Richard was beginning to make invidious comparisons between Helen and other women of his acquaintance came one night at dinner at their house. The only guest beside myself was a young woman, Hilda Moore, who was working with Richard on an advertising campaign in his
publishing house. She was a jaunty, bright creature with a mind like a thousand arrows. Her singular alertness rendered her undistinguished features alive almost to the point of beauty. Richard and she talked mostly to and for each other all through dinner. Helen talked principally to me. I could not help noticing how absorbed Richard was in Miss Young. I thought it might be merely the preoccupation of their common business. But it was not business that they were talking. And I must admit that in comparison with this energetic creature Helen did seem alarmingly pallid and simple.
Hilda Moore had come from one of the women's colleges where she had been known as "the Beautiful Revoltée." She had led the student revolt movement that had given her alma mater the first radical change in its curriculum that it had had in a quarter of a century. She was compact of an impressive competence, but so winning that you forgot the competence in the charm. One evening in my presence she had sailed into universities with what in any one else would have been venom. She told me colleges were simply places for nice young people and nice professors, but that any one naughty enough or gauche enough to be interested in ideas did not belong and could not enter them, or if such entered, they would not wait to graduate or be expelled. At the office, according to Richard, she got an extraordinary amount of work done, retaining the freshness and debonair nonchalance of an undergraduate on the hottest and the busiest of days. Indeed, to look at this young woman in evening dress, it was impossible to believe that she was the girl a large business
house found indispensable. Richard spoke of her more and more. Helen did not mind. Often when Helen was busy practising in the evening,Helen was working hard and steadily at her music this winter,-Richard would, I gathered, be spending the evening with Hilda Moore. I once twitted Richard with leaving Helen so much to herself, and he assured me it was quite all right. "Besides," Helen added, "Tommy Keenan often drops in to keep me company." He did, quite regularly. With a devotion touchingly doglike, he would sit listening for two hours to music he did not understand and hardly heard, so intently was his attention absorbed by his eyes and his eyes by Helen.
Richard did not mind. For among other things Richard had evolved an elaborate theory of a free and modern marriage which Helen had learned by a kind of faithful rote.
"Helen and I have often talked it over," Richard explained to me one evening, "and we 're perfectly clear that we 're free, each of us, to lead our own life. Extra-curricular activities we call it. Take me and Hilda Moore. Now, obviously there are many things and many points of view we have in common that Helen and I have not. Hilda and I move for eight hours a day, and imaginatively for more than that, in the same environment; we live in the same world. Of course my feelings for her are different from my feelings for Helen, but I don't see why the mere fact of my being married should preclude the warmest kind of friendship. The same goes for Helen and Tommy."
My eyes perhaps disclosed the fact that I thought he was protesting too much.
"Seriously," Richard continued, "you certainly must be emancipated enough not to think that marriage should cut out friendship for all other women out of a man's life, or all other men's out of a woman's. Fifty years ago Hilda and I would have had to hide our friendship, and pretend to ourselves that it was not what people called it, a sin, but something high and sacramental, a sort of intense Launcelot-Guinevere affair. Of course it's just a jolly sort of companionship. Helen does n't mind it in the least, and she knows Hilda and I have much to give each other in the way of stimulation and interest. In what sense is there anything wrong about it? It works beautifully for all of us."
And, as far as I could observe, it did. At times, it is true, Richard seemed a little bored with Helen. Again, I would notice at Sunday evening parties Helen would look a little furtively and uneasily at Hilda. Well, I thought, one must not take these things too seriously. I supposed I had been reading too many modern novels and too many modern plays. I was not going to let any vicarious sophistication spoil for me this idyll. Richard and Helen seemed so serenely sure of each other! And there was in the former nothing of the philanderer and in the latter nothing of the flirt. New times, new manners, that was all, I assured myself.
But I was not altogether reassured. One evening I took Hilda home from Richard's. We naturally talked a good deal about him. She wanted to know what he had been like at college; she was full of enthusiasm for his competence and his charms.
"Helen 's done a lot for him," I suggested as I was standing at the door of her apartment-house.
"But Helen is just a bit too nambypamby for Richard, don't you think, Professor? I wonder if that vanillaflavored marriage is your ideal of felicity. Richard, poor boy, is trying to persuade himself that it is. You can't say a word about Helen in his presence; not the slightest."
Then Hilda looked at me. She sensed some doubt or some suspicion in my eyes.
"You think I am a sinister influence on Richard, don't you?" she asked, looking at me with a challenging directness.
"I'm afraid I do," I replied. "Richard and Helen seem to be, all things considered, extraordinarily well married. I should hate to have you or any one else come between them. I'm afraid to see this go much further. You two are falling in love with each other, or have already, though Richard, for one, does not admit it or recognize it."
"Well, don't fret, Professor, and don't try to be Richard's good angel. He's got his diploma, and he's able to take care of himself. I 'm not wrecking any homes just at present."
None the less I confess it was with a great sense of relief that I read a month or so later of Hilda's marriage to a broker in Boston. I had noticed on my visit at a dinner a fortnight before, alone with Richard and Helen, how for the first time since I had known them together there seemed to be a definite estrangement between them. Richard was extremely selfconscious. He joked a good deal, told me a lot of chit-chat about publishing and his own work, and never