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MAGNETISM


by


F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)


The Saturday Evening Post  (3 March 1928)



I


The pleasant, ostentatious boulevard was lined at prosperous
intervals with New England Colonial houses--without ship models in
the hall.  When the inhabitants moved out here the ship models had
at last been given to the children.  The next street was a complete
exhibit of the Spanish-bungalow phase of West Coast architecture;
while two streets over, the cylindrical windows and round towers of
1897--melancholy antiques which sheltered swamis, yogis, fortune
tellers, dressmakers, dancing teachers, art academies and
chiropractors--looked down now upon brisk buses and trolley cars.
A little walk around the block could, if you were feeling old that
day, be a discouraging affair.

On the green flanks of the modern boulevard children, with their
knees marked by the red stains of the mercurochrome era, played
with toys with a purpose--beams that taught engineering, soldiers
that taught manliness, and dolls that taught motherhood.  When the
dolls were so banged up that they stopped looking like real babies
and began to look like dolls, the children developed affection for
them.  Everything in the vicinity--even the March sunlight--was
new, fresh, hopeful and thin, as you would expect in a city that
had tripled its population in fifteen years.

Among the very few domestics in sight that morning was a handsome
young maid sweeping the steps of the biggest house on the street.
She was a large, simple Mexican girl with the large, simple
ambitions of the time and the locality, and she was already
conscious of being a luxury--she received one hundred dollars a
month in return for her personal liberty.  Sweeping, Dolores kept
an eye on the stairs inside, for Mr Hannaford's car was waiting and
he would soon be coming down to breakfast.  The problem came first
this morning, however--the problem as to whether it was a duty or a
favour when she helped the English nurse down the steps with the
perambulator.  The English nurse always said 'Please', and 'Thanks
very much', but Dolores hated her and would have liked, without any
special excitement, to beat her insensible.  Like most Latins under
the stimulus of American life, she had irresistible impulses
towards violence.

The nurse escaped, however.  Her blue cape faded haughtily into the
distance just as Mr Hannaford, who had come quietly downstairs,
stepped into the space of the front door.

'Good morning.'  He smiled at Dolores; he was young and
extraordinarily handsome.  Dolores tripped on the broom and fell
off the stoop.  George Hannaford hurried down the steps, reached
her as she was getting to her feet cursing volubly in Mexican, just
touched her arm with a helpful gesture and said, 'I hope you didn't
hurt yourself.'

'Oh, no.'

'I'm afraid it was my fault; I'm afraid I startled you, coming out
like that.'

His voice had real regret in it; his brow was knit with solicitude.

'Are you sure you're all right?'

'Aw, sure.'

'Didn't turn your ankle?'

'Aw, no.'

'I'm terribly sorry about it.'

'Aw, it wasn't your fault.'

He was still frowning as she went inside, and Dolores, who was not
hurt and thought quickly, suddenly contemplated having a love
affair with him.  She looked at herself several times in the pantry
mirror and stood close to him as she poured his coffee, but he read
the paper and she saw that that was all for the morning.

Hannaford entered his car and drove to Jules Rennard's house.
Jules was a French Canadian by birth, and George Hannaford's best
friend; they were fond of each other and spent much time together.
Both of them were simple and dignified in their tastes and in their
way of thinking, instinctively gentle, and in a world of the
volatile and the bizarre found in each other a certain quiet
solidity.

He found Jules at breakfast.

'I want to fish for barracuda,' said George abruptly.  'When will
you be free?  I want to take the boat and go down to Lower
California.'

Jules had dark circles under his eyes.  Yesterday he had closed out
the greatest problem of his life by settling with his ex-wife for
two hundred thousand dollars.  He had married too young, and the
former slavey from the Quebec slums had taken to drugs upon her
failure to rise with him.  Yesterday, in the presence of lawyers,
her final gesture had been to smash his finger with the base of a
telephone.  He was tired of women for a while and welcomed the
suggestion of a fishing trip.

'How's the baby?' he asked.

'The baby's fine.'

'And Kay?'

'Kay's not herself, but I don't pay any attention.  What did you do
to your hand?'

'I'll tell you another time.  What's the matter with Kay, George?'

'Jealous.'

'Of who?'

'Helen Avery.  It's nothing.  She's not herself, that's all.'  He
got up.  'I'm late,' he said.  'Let me know as soon as you're free.
Any time after Monday will suit me.'

George left and drove out by an interminable boulevard which
narrowed into a long, winding concrete road and rose into the hilly
country behind.  Somewhere in the vast emptiness a group of
buildings appeared, a barnlike structure, a row of offices, a large
but quick restaurant and half a dozen small bungalows.  The
chauffeur dropped Hannaford at the main entrance.  He went in and
passed through various enclosures, each marked off by swinging
gates and inhabited by a stenographer.

'Is anybody with Mr Schroeder?' he asked, in front of a door
lettered with that name.

'No, Mr Hannaford.'

Simultaneously his eye fell on a young lady who was writing at a
desk aside, and he lingered a moment.

'Hello, Margaret,' he said.  'How are you, darling?'

A delicate, pale beauty looked up, frowning a little, still
abstracted in her work.  It was Miss Donovan, the script girl, a
friend of many years.

'Hello.  Oh, George, I didn't see you come in.  Mr Douglas wants to
work on the book sequence this afternoon.'

'All right.'

'These are the changes we decided on Thursday night.'  She smiled
up at him and George wondered for the thousandth time why she had
never gone into pictures.

'All right,' he said.  'Will initials do?'

'Your initials look like George Harris's.'

'Very well, darling.'

As he finished, Pete Schroeder opened his door and beckoned him.
'George, come here!' he said with an air of excitement.  'I want
you to listen to some one on the phone.'

Hannaford went in.

'Pick up the phone and say "Hello",' directed Schroeder.  'Don't
say who you are.'

'Hello,' said Hannaford obediently.

'Who is this?' asked a girl's voice.

Hannaford put his hand over the mouthpiece.  'What am I supposed to
do?'

Schroeder snickered and Hannaford hesitated, smiling and
suspicious.

'Who do you want to speak to?' he temporized into the phone.

'To George Hannaford, I want to speak to.  Is this him?'

'Yes.'

'Oh, George; it's me.'

'Who?'

'Me--Gwen.  I had an awful time finding you.  They told me--'

'Gwen who?'

'Gwen--can't you hear?  From San Francisco--last Thursday night.'

'I'm sorry,' objected George.  'Must be some mistake.'

'Is this George Hannaford?'

'Yes.'

The voice grew slightly tart:  'Well, this is Gwen Becker you spent
last Thursday evening with in San Francisco.  There's no use
pretending you don't know who I am, because you do.'

Schroeder took the apparatus from George and hung up the receiver.

'Somebody has been doubling for me up in Frisco,' said Hannaford.

'So that's where you were Thursday night!'

'Those things aren't funny to me--not since that crazy Zeller girl.
You can never convince them they've been sold because the man
always looks something like you.  What's new, Pete?'

'Let's go over to the stage and see.'

Together they walked out a back entrance, along a muddy walk, and
opening a little door in the big blank wall of the studio building
entered into its half darkness.

Here and there figures spotted the dim twilight, figures that
turned up white faces to George Hannaford, like souls in purgatory
watching the passage of a half-god through.  Here and there were
whispers and soft voices and, apparently from afar, the gentle
tremolo of a small organ.  Turning the corner made by some flats,
they came upon the white crackling glow of a stage with two people
motionless upon it.

An actor in evening clothes, his shirt front, collar and cuffs
tinted a brilliant pink, made as though to get chairs for them, but
they shook their heads and stood watching.  For a long while
nothing happened on the stage--no one moved.  A row of lights went
off with a savage hiss, went on again.  The plaintive tap of a
hammer begged admission to nowhere in the distance; a blue face
appeared among the blinding lights above and called something
unintelligible into the upper blackness.  Then the silence was
broken by a low clear voice from the stage:

'If you want to know why I haven't got stockings on, look in my
dressing-room.  I spoiled four pairs yesterday and two already this
morning . . .  This dress weighs six pounds.'

A man stepped out of the group of observers and regarded the girl's
brown legs; their lack of covering was scarcely distinguishable,
but, in any event, her expression implied that she would do nothing
about it.  The lady was annoyed, and so intense was her personality
that it had taken only a fractional flexing of her eyes to indicate
the fact.  She was a dark, pretty girl with a figure that would be
full-blown sooner than she wished.  She was just eighteen.

Had this been the week before, George Hannaford's heart would have
stood still.  Their relationship had been in just that stage.  He
hadn't said a word to Helen Avery that Kay could have objected to,
but something had begun between them on the second day of this
picture that Kay had felt in the air.  Perhaps it had begun even
earlier, for he had determined, when he saw Helen Avery's first
release, that she should play opposite him.  Helen Avery's voice
and the dropping of her eyes when she finished speaking, like a
sort of exercise in control, fascinated him.  He had felt that they
both tolerated something, that each knew half of some secret about
people and life, and that if they rushed towards each other there
would be a romantic communion of almost unbelievable intensity.  It
was this element of promise and possibility that had haunted him
for a fortnight and was now dying away.

Hannaford was thirty, and he was a moving-picture actor only
through a series of accidents.  After a year in a small technical
college he had taken a summer job with an electric company, and his
first appearance in a studio was in the role of repairing a bank of
Klieg lights.  In an emergency he played a small part and made
good, but for fully a year after that he thought of it as a purely
transitory episode in his life.  At first much of it had offended
him--the almost hysterical egotism and excitability hidden under an
extremely thin veil of elaborate good-fellowship.  It was only
recently, with the advent of such men as Jules Rennard into
pictures, that he began to see the possibilities of a decent and
secure private life, much as his would have been as a successful
engineer.  At last his success felt solid beneath his feet.

He met Kay Tomkins at the old Griffith Studios at Mamaroneck and
their marriage was a fresh, personal affair, removed from most
stage marriages.  Afterwards they had possessed each other
completely, had been pointed to:  'Look, there's one couple in
pictures who manage to stay together.'  It would have taken
something out of many people's lives--people who enjoyed a
vicarious security in the contemplation of their marriage--if they
hadn't stayed together, and their love was fortified by a certain
effort to live up to that.

He held women off by a polite simplicity that underneath was hard
and watchful; when he felt a certain current being turned on he
became emotionally stupid.  Kay expected and took much more from
men, but she, too, had a careful thermometer against her heart.
Until the other night, when she reproached him for being interested
in Helen Avery, there had been an absolute minimum of jealousy
between them.

George Hannaford was still absorbed in the thought of Helen Avery
as he left the studio and walked towards his bungalow over the way.
There was in his mind, first, a horror that anyone should come
between him and Kay, and second, a regret that he no longer carried
that possibility in the forefront of his mind.  It had given him a
tremendous pleasure, like the things that had happened to him
during his first big success, before he was so 'made' that there
was scarcely anything better ahead; it was something to take out
and look at--a new and still mysterious joy.  It hadn't been love,
for he was critical of Helen Avery as he had never been critical of
Kay.  But his feeling of last week had been sharply significant and
memorable, and he was restless, now that it had passed.

Working that afternoon, they were seldom together, but he was
conscious of her and he knew that she was conscious of him.

She stood a long time with her back to him at one point, and when
she turned at length, their eyes swept past each other's, brushing
like bird wings.  Simultaneously he saw they had gone far, in their
way; it was well that he had drawn back.  He was glad that someone
came for her when the work was almost over.

Dressed, he returned to the office wing, stopping in for a moment
to see Schroeder.  No one answered his knock, and, turning the
knob, he went in.  Helen Avery was there alone.

Hannaford shut the door and they stared at each other.  Her face
was young, frightened.  In a moment in which neither of them spoke,
it was decided that they would have some of this out now.  Almost
thankfully he felt the warm sap of emotion flow out of his heart
and course through his body.

'Helen!'

She murmured 'What?' in an awed voice.

'I feel terribly about this.'  His voice was shaking.

Suddenly she began to cry; painful, audible sobs shook her.  'Have
you got a handkerchief?' she said.

He gave her a handkerchief.  At that moment there were steps
outside.  George opened the door halfway just in time to keep
Schroeder from entering on the spectacle of her tears.

'Nobody's in,' he said facetiously.  For a moment longer he kept
his shoulder against the door.  Then he let it open slowly.

Outside in his limousine, he wondered how soon Jules would be ready
to go fishing.


II


From the age of twelve Kay Tompkins had worn men like rings on
every finger.  Her face was round, young, pretty and strong; a
strength accentuated by the responsive play of brows and lashes
around her clear, glossy, hazel eyes.  She was the daughter of a
senator from a Western state and she hunted unsuccessfully for
glamour through a small Western city until she was seventeen, when
she ran away from home and went on the stage.  She was one of those
people who are famous far beyond their actual achievement.

There was that excitement about her that seemed to reflect the
excitement of the world.  While she was playing small parts in
Ziegfeld shows she attended proms at Yale, and during a temporary
venture into pictures she met George Hannaford, already a star of
the new 'natural' type then just coming into vogue.  In him she
found what she had been seeking.

She was at present in what is known as a dangerous state.  For six
months she had been helpless and dependent entirely upon George,
and now that her son was the property of a strict and possessive
English nurse, Kay, free again, suddenly felt the need of proving
herself attractive.  She wanted things to be as they had been
before the baby was thought of.  Also she felt that lately George
had taken her too much for granted; she had a strong instinct that
he was interested in Helen Avery.

When George Hannaford came home that night he had minimized to
himself their quarrel of the previous evening and was honestly
surprised at her perfunctory greeting.

'What's the matter, Kay?' he asked after a minute.  'Is this going
to be another night like last night?'

'Do you know we're going out tonight?' she said, avoiding an
answer.

'Where?'

'To Katherine Davis'.  I didn't know whether you'd want to go--'

'I'd like to go.'

'I didn't know whether you'd want to go.  Arthur Busch said he'd
stop for me.'

They dined in silence.  Without any secret thoughts to dip into
like a child into a jam jar, George felt restless, and at the same
time was aware that the atmosphere was full of jealousy, suspicion
and anger.  Until recently they had preserved between them
something precious that made their house one of the pleasantest in
Hollywood to enter.  Now suddenly it might be any house; he felt
common and he felt unstable.  He had come near to making something
bright and precious into something cheap and unkind.  With a sudden
surge of emotion, he crossed the room and was about to put his arm
around her when the doorbell rang.  A moment later Dolores
announced Mr Arthur Busch.

Busch was an ugly, popular little man, a continuity writer and
lately a director.  A few years ago they had been hero and heroine
to him, and even now, when he was a person of some consequence in
the picture world, he accepted with equanimity Kay's use of him for
such purposes as tonight's.  He had been in love with her for
years, but, because his love seemed hopeless, it had never caused
him much distress.

They went on to the party.  It was a housewarming, with Hawaiian
musicians in attendance, and the guests were largely of the old
crowd.  People who had been in the early Griffith pictures, even
though they were scarcely thirty, were considered to be of the old
crowd; they were different from those coming along now, and they
were conscious of it.  They had a dignity and straightforwardness
about them from the fact that they had worked in pictures before
pictures were bathed in a golden haze of success.  They were still
rather humble before their amazing triumph, and thus, unlike the
new generation, who took it all for granted, they were constantly
in touch with reality.  Half a dozen or so of the women were
especially aware of being unique.  No one had come along to fill
their places; here and there a pretty face had caught the public
imagination for a year, but those of the old crowd were already
legends, ageless and disembodied.  With all this, they were still
young enough to believe that they would go forever.

George and Kay were greeted affectionately: people moved over and
made place for them.  The Hawaiians performed and the Duncan
sisters sang at the piano.  From the moment George saw who was here
he guessed that Helen Avery would be here, too, and the fact
annoyed him.  It was not appropriate that she should be part of
this gathering through which he and Kay had moved familiarly and
tranquilly for years.

He saw her first when someone opened the swinging door to the
kitchen, and when, a little later, she came out and their eyes met,
he knew absolutely that he didn't love her.  He went up to speak to
her, and at her first words he saw something had happened to her,
too, that had dissipated the mood of the afternoon.  She had got a
big part.

'And I'm in a daze!' she cried happily.  'I didn't think there was
a chance and I've thought of nothing else since I read the book a
year ago.'

'It's wonderful.  I'm awfully glad.'

He had the feeling, though, that he should look at her with a
certain regret; one couldn't jump from such a scene as this
afternoon to a plane of casual friendly interest.  Suddenly she
began to laugh.

'Oh, we're such actors, George--you and I.'

'What do you mean?'

'You know what I mean.'

'I don't.'

'Oh, yes, you do.  You did this afternoon.  It was a pity we didn't
have a camera.'

Short of declaring then and there that he loved her, there was
absolutely nothing more to say.  He grinned acquiescently.  A group
formed around them and absorbed them, and George, feeling that the
evening had settled something, began to think about going home.  An
excited and sentimental elderly lady--someone's mother--came up and
began telling him how much she believed in him, and he was polite
and charming to her, as only he could be, for half an hour.  Then
he went to Kay, who had been sitting with Arthur Busch all evening,
and suggested that they go.

She looked up unwillingly.  She had had several highballs and the
fact was mildly apparent.  She did not want to go, but she got up
after a mild argument and George went upstairs for his coat.  When
he came down Katherine Davis told him that Kay had already gone out
to the car.

The crowd had increased; to avoid a general good-night he went out
through the sun-parlour door to the lawn; less than twenty feet
away from him he saw the figures of Kay and Arthur Busch against a
bright street lamp; they were standing close together and staring
into each other's eyes.  He saw that they were holding hands.

After the first start of surprise George instinctively turned
about, retraced his steps, hurried through the room he had just
left, and came noisily out the front door.  But Kay and Arthur
Busch were still standing close together, and it was lingeringly
and with abstracted eyes that they turned around finally and saw
him.  Then both of them seemed to make an effort; they drew apart
as if it was a physical ordeal.  George said good-bye to Arthur
Busch with special cordiality, and in a moment he and Kay were
driving homeward through the clear California night.

He said nothing, Kay said nothing.  He was incredulous.  He
suspected that Kay had kissed a man here and there, but he had
never seen it happen or given it any thought.  This was different;
there had been an element of tenderness in it and there was
something veiled and remote in Kay's eyes that he had never seen
there before.

Without having spoken, they entered the house; Kay stopped by the
library door and looked in.

'There's someone there,' she said, and she added without interest:
'I'm going upstairs.  Good night.'

As she ran up the stairs the person in the library stepped out into
the hall.

'Mr Hannaford--'

He was a pale and hard young man; his face was vaguely familiar,
but George didn't remember where he had seen it before.

'Mr Hannaford?' said the young man.  'I recognize you from your
pictures.'  He looked at George, obviously a little awed.

'What can I do for you?'

'Well, will you come in here?'

'What is it?  I don't know who you are.'

'My name is Donovan.  I'm Margaret Donovan's brother.'  His face
toughened a little.

'Is anything the matter?'

Donovan made a motion towards the door.  'Come in here.'  His voice
was confident now, almost threatening.

George hesitated, then he walked into the library.  Donovan
followed and stood across the table from him, his legs apart, his
hands in his pockets.

'Hannaford,' he said, in the tone of a man trying to whip himself
up to anger, 'Margaret wants fifty thousand dollars.'

'What the devil are you talking about?' exclaimed George
incredulously.

'Margaret wants fifty thousand dollars,' repeated Donovan.

'You're Margaret Donovan's brother?'

'I am.'

'I don't believe it.'  But he saw the resemblance now.  'Does
Margaret know you're here?'

'She sent me here.  She'll hand over those two letters for fifty
thousand, and no questions asked.'

'What letters?'  George chuckled irresistibly.  'This is some joke
of Schroeder's, isn't it?'

'This ain't a joke, Hannaford.  I mean the letters you signed your
name to this afternoon.'


III


An hour later George went upstairs in a daze.  The clumsiness of
the affair was at once outrageous and astounding.  That a friend of
seven years should suddenly request his signature on papers that
were not what they were purported to be made all his surroundings
seem diaphanous and insecure.  Even now the design engrossed him
more than a defence against it, and he tried to re-create the steps
by which Margaret had arrived at this act of recklessness or
despair.

She had served as a script girl in various studios and for various
directors for ten years; earning first twenty, now a hundred
dollars a week.  She was lovely-looking and she was intelligent; at
any moment in those years she might have asked for a screen test,
but some quality of initiative or ambition had been lacking.  Not a
few times had her opinion made or broken incipient careers.  Still
she waited at directors' elbows, increasingly aware that the years
were slipping away.

That she had picked George as a victim amazed him most of all.
Once, during the year before his marriage, there had been a
momentary warmth; he had taken her to a Mayfair ball, and he
remembered that he had kissed her going home that night in the car.
The flirtation trailed along hesitatingly for a week.  Before it
could develop into anything serious he had gone East and met Kay.

Young Donovan had shown him a carbon of the letters he had signed.

They were written on the typewriter that he kept in his bungalow at
the studio, and they were carefully and convincingly worded.  They
purported to be love letters, asserting that he was Margaret
Donovan's lover, that he wanted to marry her, and that for that
reason he was about to arrange a divorce.  It was incredible.
Someone must have seen him sign them that morning; someone must
have heard her say:  'Your initials are like Mr Harris's.'

George was tired.  He was training for a screen football game to be
played next week, with the Southern California varsity as extras,
and he was used to regular hours.  In the middle of a confused and
despairing sequence of thought about Margaret Donovan and Kay, he
suddenly yawned.  Mechanically he went upstairs, undressed and got
into bed.

Just before dawn Kay came to him in the garden.  There was a river
that flowed past it now, and boats faintly lit with green and
yellow lights moved slowly, remotely by.  A gentle starlight fell
like rain upon the dark, sleeping face of the world, upon the black
mysterious bosoms of the trees, the tranquil gleaming water and the
farther shore.

The grass was damp, and Kay came to him on hurried feet; her thin
slippers were drenched with dew.  She stood upon his shoes,
nestling close to him, and held up her face as one shows a book
open at a page.

'Think how you love me,' she whispered.  'I don't ask you to love
me always like this, but I ask you to remember.'

'You'll always be like this to me.'

'Oh no; but promise me you'll remember.'  Her tears were falling.
'I'll be different, but somewhere lost inside me there'll always be
the person I am tonight.'

The scene dissolved slowly but George struggled into consciousness.
He sat up in bed; it was morning.  In the yard outside he heard the
nurse instructing his son in the niceties of behaviour for two-
month-old babies.  From the yard next door a small boy shouted
mysteriously:  'Who let that barrier through on me?'

Still in his pyjamas, George went to the phone and called his
lawyers.  Then he rang for his man, and while he was being shaved a
certain order evolved from the chaos of the night before.  First,
he must deal with Margaret Donovan; second, he must keep the matter
from Kay, who in her present state might believe anything; and
third, he must fix things up with Kay.  The last seemed the most
important of all.

As he finished dressing he heard the phone ring downstairs and,
with an instinct of danger, picked up the receiver.

'Hello . . .  Oh, yes.'  Looking up, he saw that both his doors
were closed.  'Good morning, Helen . . .  It's all right, Dolores.
I'm taking it up here.'  He waited till he heard the receiver click
downstairs.

'How are you this morning, Helen?'

'George, I called up about last night.  I can't tell you how sorry
I am.'

'Sorry?  Why are you sorry?'

'For treating you like that.  I don't know what was in me, George.
I didn't sleep all night thinking how terrible I'd been.'

A new disorder established itself in George's already littered
mind.

'Don't be silly,' he said.  To his despair he heard his own voice
run on:  'For a minute I didn't understand, Helen.  Then I thought
it was better so.'

'Oh, George,' came her voice after a moment, very low.

Another silence.  He began to put in a cuff button.

'I had to call up,' she said after a moment.  'I couldn't leave
things like that.'

The cuff button dropped to the floor; he stooped to pick it up, and
then said 'Helen!' urgently into the mouthpiece to cover the fact
that he had momentarily been away.

'What, George?'

At this moment the hall door opened and Kay, radiating a faint
distaste, came into the room.  She hesitated.

'Are you busy?'

'It's all right.'  He stared into the mouthpiece for a moment.

'Well, good-bye,' he muttered abruptly and hung up the receiver.
He turned to Kay:  'Good morning.'

'I didn't mean to disturb you,' she said distantly.

'You didn't disturb me.'  He hesitated.  'That was Helen Avery.'

'It doesn't concern me who it was.  I came to ask you if we're
going to the Coconut Grove tonight.'

'Sit down, Kay.'

'I don't want to talk.'

'Sit down a minute,' he said impatiently.  She sat down.  'How long
are you going to keep this up?' he demanded.

'I'm not keeping up anything.  We're simply through, George, and
you know it as well as I do.'

'That's absurd,' he said.  'Why, a week ago--'

'It doesn't matter.  We've been getting nearer to this for months,
and now it's over.'

'You mean you don't love me?'  He was not particularly alarmed.
They had been through scenes like this before.

'I don't know.  I suppose I'll always love you in a way.'  Suddenly
she began to sob.  'Oh, it's all so sad.  He's cared for me so
long.'

George stared at her.  Face to face with what was apparently a real
emotion, he had no words of any kind.  She was not angry, not
threatening or pretending, not thinking about him at all, but
concerned entirely with her emotions towards another man.

'What is it?' he cried.  'Are you trying to tell me you're in love
with this man?'

'I don't know,' she said helplessly.

He took a step towards her, then went to the bed and lay down on
it, staring in misery at the ceiling.  After a while a maid knocked
to say that Mr Busch and Mr Castle, George's lawyer, were below.
The fact carried no meaning to him.  Kay went into her room and he
got up and followed her.

'Let's send word we're out,' he said.  'We can go away somewhere
and talk this over.'

'I don't want to go away.'

She was already away, growing more mysterious and remote with every
minute.  The things on her dressing-table were the property of a
stranger.

He began to speak in a dry, hurried voice.  'If you're still
thinking about Helen Avery, it's nonsense.  I've never given a damn
for anybody but you.'

They went downstairs and into the living-room.  It was nearly noon--
another bright emotionless California day.  George saw that Arthur
Busch's ugly face in the sunshine was wan and white; he took a step
towards George and then stopped, as if he were waiting for
something--a challenge, a reproach, a blow.

In a flash the scene that would presently take place ran itself off
in George's mind.  He saw himself moving through the scene, saw his
part, an infinite choice of parts, but in every one of them Kay
would be against him and with Arthur Busch.  And suddenly he
rejected them all.

'I hope you'll excuse me,' he said quickly to Mr Castle.  'I called
you up because a script girl named Margaret Donovan wants fifty
thousand dollars for some letters she claims I wrote her.  Of
course the whole thing is--'  He broke off.  It didn't matter.
'I'll come to see you tomorrow.'  He walked up to Kay and Arthur,
so that only they could hear.

'I don't know about you two--what you want to do.  But leave me out
of it; you haven't any right to inflict any of it on me, for after
all it's not my fault.  I'm not going to be mixed up in your
emotions.'

He turned and went out.  His car was before the door and he said
'Go to Santa Monica' because it was the first name that popped into
his head.  The car drove off into the everlasting hazeless
sunlight.

He rode for three hours, past Santa Monica and then along towards
Long Beach by another road.  As if it were something he saw out of
the corner of his eye and with but a fragment of his attention, he
imagined Kay and Arthur Busch progressing through the afternoon.
Kay would cry a great deal and the situation would seem harsh and
unexpected to them at first, but the tender closing of the day
would draw them together.  They would turn inevitably towards each
other and he would slip more and more into the position of the
enemy outside.

Kay had wanted him to get down in the dirt and dust of a scene and
scramble for her.  Not he; he hated scenes.  Once he stooped to
compete with Arthur Busch in pulling at Kay's heart, he would never
be the same to himself.  He would always be a little like Arthur
Busch; they would always have that in common, like a shameful
secret.  There was little of the theatre about George; the millions
before whose eyes the moods and changes of his face had flickered
during ten years had not been deceived about that.  From the moment
when, as a boy of twenty, his handsome eyes had gazed off into the
imaginary distance of a Griffith Western, his audience had been
really watching the progress of a straightforward, slow-thinking,
romantic man through an accidentally glamorous life.

His fault was that he had felt safe too soon.  He realized suddenly
that the two Fairbankses, in sitting side by side at table, were
not keeping up a pose.  They were giving hostages to fate.  This
was perhaps the most bizarre community in the rich, wild, bored
empire, and for a marriage to succeed here, you must expect nothing
or you must be always together.  For a moment his glance had
wavered from Kay and he stumbled blindly into disaster.

As he was thinking this and wondering where he would go and what he
should do, he passed an apartment house that jolted his memory.  It
was on the outskirts of town, a pink horror built to represent
something, somewhere, so cheaply and sketchily that whatever it
copied the architect must have long since forgotten.  And suddenly
George remembered that he had once called for Margaret Donovan here
the night of a Mayfair dance.

'Stop at this apartment!' he called through the speaking-tube.

He went in.  The negro elevator boy stared open-mouthed at him as
they rose in the cage.  Margaret Donovan herself opened the door.

When she saw him she shrank away with a little cry.  As he entered
and closed the door she retreated before him into the front room.
George followed.

It was twilight outside and the apartment was dusky and sad.  The
last light fell softly on the standardized furniture and the great
gallery of signed photographs of moving-picture people that covered
one wall.  Her face was white, and as she stared at him she began
nervously wringing her hands.

'What's this nonsense, Margaret?' George said, trying to keep any
reproach out of his voice.  'Do you need money that bad?'

She shook her head vaguely.  Her eyes were still fixed on him with
a sort of terror; George looked at the floor.

'I suppose this was your brother's idea.  At least I can't believe
you'd be so stupid.'  He looked up, trying to preserve the brusque
masterly attitude of one talking to a naughty child, but at the
sight of her face every emotion except pity left him.  'I'm a
little tired.  Do you mind if I sit down?'

'No.'

'I'm a little confused today,' said George after a minute.  'People
seem to have it in for me today.'

'Why, I thought'--her voice became ironic in mid-sentence--'I
thought everybody loved you, George.'

'They don't.'

'Only me?'

'Yes,' he said abstractedly.

'I wish it had been only me.  But then, of course, you wouldn't
have been you.'

Suddenly he realized that she meant what she was saying.

'That's just nonsense.'

'At least you're here,' Margaret went on.  'I suppose I ought to be
glad of that.  And I am.  I most decidedly am.  I've often thought
of you sitting in that chair, just at this time when it was almost
dark.  I used to make up little one-act plays about what would
happen then.  Would you like to hear one of them?  I'll have to
begin by coming over and sitting on the floor at your feet.'

Annoyed and yet spellbound, George kept trying desperately to seize
upon a word or mood that would turn the subject.

'I've seen you sitting there so often that you don't look a bit
more real than your ghost.  Except that your hat has squashed your
beautiful hair down on one side and you've got dark circles or dirt
under your eyes.  You look white, too, George.  Probably you were
on a party last night.'

'I was.  And I found your brother waiting for me when I got home.'

'He's a good waiter, George.  He's just out of San Quentin prison,
where he's been waiting the last six years.'

'Then it was his idea?'

'We cooked it up together.  I was going to China on my share.'

'Why was I the victim?'

'That seemed to make it realer.  Once I thought you were going to
fall in love with me five years ago.'

The bravado suddenly melted out of her voice and it was still light
enough to see that her mouth was quivering.

'I've loved you for years,' she said--'since the first day you came
West and walked into the old Realart Studio.  You were so brave
about people, George.  Whoever it was, you walked right up to them
and tore something aside as if it was in your way and began to know
them.  I tried to make love to you, just like the rest, but it was
difficult.  You drew people right up close to you and held them
there, not able to move either way.'

'This is all entirely imaginary,' said George, frowning
uncomfortably, 'and I can't control--'

'No, I know.  You can't control charm.  It's simply got to be used.
You've got to keep your hand in if you have it, and go through life
attaching people to you that you don't want.  I don't blame you.
If you only hadn't kissed me the night of the Mayfair dance.  I
suppose it was the champagne.'

George felt as if a band which had been playing for a long time in
the distance had suddenly moved up and taken a station beneath his
window.  He had always been conscious that things like this were
going on around him.  Now that he thought of it, he had always been
conscious that Margaret loved him, but the faint music of these
emotions in his ear had seemed to bear no relation to actual life.
They were phantoms that he had conjured up out of nothing; he had
never imagined their actual incarnations.  At his wish they should
die inconsequently away.

'You can't imagine what it's been like,' Margaret continued after a
minute.  'Things you've just said and forgotten, I've put myself
asleep night after night remembering--trying to squeeze something
more out of them.  After that night you took me to the Mayfair
other men didn't exist for me any more.  And there were others, you
know--lots of them.  But I'd see you walking along somewhere about
the lot, looking at the ground and smiling a little, as if
something very amusing had just happened to you, the way you do.
And I'd pass you and you'd look up and really smile:  "Hello,
darling!"  "Hello, darling" and my heart would turn over.  That
would happen four times a day.'

George stood up and she, too, jumped up quickly.

'Oh, I've bored you,' she cried softly.  'I might have known I'd
bore you.  You want to go home.  Let's see--is there anything else?
Oh, yes; you might as well have those letters.'

Taking them out of a desk, she took them to a window and identified
them by a rift of lamplight.

'They're really beautiful letters.  They'd do you credit.  I
suppose it was pretty stupid, as you say, but it ought to teach you
a lesson about--about signing things, or something.'  She tore the
letters small and threw them in the wastebasket:  'Now go on,' she
said.

'Why must I go now?'

For the third time in twenty-four hours sad and uncontrollable
tears confronted him.

'Please go!' she cried angrily--'or stay if you like.  I'm yours
for the asking.  You know it.  You can have any woman you want in
the world by just raising your hand.  Would I amuse you?'

'Margaret--'

'Oh, go on then.'  She sat down and turned her face away.  'After
all you'll begin to look silly in a minute.  You wouldn't like
that, would you?  So get out.'

George stood there helpless, trying to put himself in her place and
say something that wouldn't be priggish, but nothing came.

He tried to force down his personal distress, his discomfort, his
vague feeling of scorn, ignorant of the fact that she was watching
him and understanding it all and loving the struggle in his face.
Suddenly his own nerves gave way under the strain of the past
twenty-four hours and he felt his eyes grow dim and his throat
tighten.  He shook his head helplessly.  Then he turned away--still
not knowing that she was watching him and loving him until she
thought her heart would burst with it--and went out to the door.


IV


The car stopped before his house, dark save for small lights in the
nursery and the lower hall.  He heard the telephone ringing but
when he answered it, inside, there was no one on the line.  For a
few minutes he wandered about in the darkness, moving from chair to
chair and going to the window to stare out into the opposite
emptiness of the night.

It was strange to be alone, to feel alone.  In his overwrought
condition the fact was not unpleasant.  As the trouble of last
night had made Helen Avery infinitely remote, so his talk with
Margaret had acted as a catharsis to his own personal misery.  It
would swing back upon him presently, he knew, but for a moment his
mind was too tired to remember, to imagine or to care.

Half an hour passed.  He saw Dolores issue from the kitchen, take
the paper from the front steps and carry it back to the kitchen for
a preliminary inspection.  With a vague idea of packing his grip,
he went upstairs.  He opened the door of Kay's room and found her
lying down.

For a moment he didn't speak, but moved around the bathroom
between.  Then he went into her room and switched on the lights.

'What's the matter?' he asked casually.  'Aren't you feeling well?'

'I've been trying to get some sleep,' she said.  'George, do you
think that girl's gone crazy?'

'What girl?'

'Margaret Donovan.  I've never heard of anything so terrible in my
life.'

For a moment he thought that there had been some new development.

'Fifty thousand dollars!' she cried indignantly.  'Why, I wouldn't
give it to her even if it were true.  She ought to be sent to
jail.'

'Oh, it's not so terrible as that,' he said.  'She has a brother
who's a pretty bad egg and it was his idea.'

'She's capable of anything,' Kay said solemnly.  'And you're just a
fool if you don't see it.  I've never liked her.  She has dirty
hair.'

'Well, what of it?' he demanded impatiently, and added:  'Where's
Arthur Busch?'

'He went home right after lunch.  Or rather I sent him home.'

'You decided you were not in love with him?'

She looked up almost in surprise.  'In love with him?  Oh, you mean
this morning.  I was just mad at you; you ought to have known that.
I was a little sorry for him last night, but I guess it was the
highballs.'

'Well, what did you mean when you--'  He broke off.  Wherever he
turned he found a muddle, and he resolutely determined not to
think.

'My heavens!' exclaimed Kay.  'Fifty thousand dollars!'

'Oh, drop it.  She tore up the letters--she wrote them herself--and
everything's all right.'

'George.'

'Yes.'

'Of course Douglas will fire her right away.'

'Of course he won't.  He won't know anything about it.'

'You mean to say you're not going to let her go?  After this?'

He jumped up.  'Do you suppose she thought that?' he cried.

'Thought what?'

'That I'd have them let her go?'

'You certainly ought to.'

He looked hastily through the phone book for her name.

'Oxford--' he called.

After an unusually long time the switchboard operator answered:
'Bourbon Apartments.'

'Miss Margaret Donovan, please.'

'Why--'  The operator's voice broke off.  'If you'll just wait a
minute, please.'  He held the line; the minute passed, then
another.  Then the operator's voice:  'I couldn't talk to you then.
Miss Donovan has had an accident.  She's shot herself.  When you
called they were taking her through the lobby to St Catherine's
Hospital.'

'Is she--is it serious?' George demanded frantically.

'They thought so at first, but now they think she'll be all right.
They're going to probe for the bullet.'

'Thank you.'

He got up and turned to Kay.

'She's tried to kill herself,' he said in a strained voice.  'I'll
have to go around to the hospital.  I was pretty clumsy this
afternoon and I think I'm partly responsible for this.'

'George,' said Kay suddenly.

'What?'

'Don't you think it's sort of unwise to get mixed up in this?
People might say--'

'I don't give a damn what they say,' he answered roughly.

He went to his room and automatically began to prepare for going
out.  Catching sight of his face in the mirror, he closed his eyes
with a sudden exclamation of distaste, and abandoned the intention
of brushing his hair.

'George,' Kay called from the next room, 'I love you.'

'I love you too.'

'Jules Rennard called up.  Something about barracuda fishing.
Don't you think it would be fun to get up a party?  Men and girls
both?'

'Somehow the idea doesn't appeal to me.  The whole idea of
barracuda fishing--'

The phone rang below and he started.  Dolores was answering it.

It was a lady who had already called twice today.

'Is Mr Hannaford in?'

'No,' said Dolores promptly.  She stuck out her tongue and hung up
the phone just as George Hannaford came downstairs.  She helped him
into his coat, standing as close as she could to him, opened the
door and followed a little way out on the porch.

'Meester Hannaford,' she said suddenly, 'that Miss Avery she call
up five-six times today.  I tell her you out and say nothing to
missus.'

'What?'  He stared at her, wondering how much she knew about his
affairs.

'She call up just now and I say you out.'

'All right,' he said absently.

'Meester Hannaford.'

'Yes, Dolores.'

'I deedn't hurt myself thees morning when I fell off the porch.'

'That's fine.  Good night, Dolores.'

'Good night, Meester Hannaford.'

George smiled at her, faintly, fleetingly, tearing a veil from
between them, unconsciously promising her a possible admission to
the thousand delights and wonders that only he knew and could
command.  Then he went to his waiting car and Dolores, sitting down
on the stoop, rubbed her hands together in a gesture that might
have expressed either ecstasy or strangulation, and watched the
rising of the thin, pale California moon.




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