The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 10 (January 1, 1938.)
“Teddy was in attendance on Gloria Martia, a woman whom Margaret cordially loathed.”
Margaret Wayne flicked away her cigarette butt with an impatient gesture, and shook her head.
“How often must I tell you that I will not marry you, Teddy? I'm really awfully fond of you, but I shan't go on even being fond of you if you pester me like this!” Her hands dropped wearily in her lap. “If you want to prove, in a practical way, that you love me, get me out of this somewhere where it's cool and quiet.” Her low voice had developed a shrill edge and she spoke through her teeth.
A cool hand closed firmly over hers.
“Margaret, you're being very silly. You've got to control those ridiculous nerves of yours.” The man's voice was stern. “I'm not ‘pestering’ you and it's childish of you to use such a term. I honestly believe, when I ask you to marry me, that I am offering you the peace and happiness that you say you crave. Your nerves are abominable; the life you lead can't improve them. You say, ‘Get me out of this’; who got you into it? Where will you be this time to-morrow night? Oh, Peggy, Peggy,” weariness crept into his voice, “I despair of you.”
The woman's hand clenched under his and her voice quivered.
Hammond's tone changed. “And please don't bore me with explanations of your self-pity,” he said curtly, “because I assure you that I shan't understand.” He stood up abruptly and offered his arm. “I think perhaps somewhere cool and quiet will be better after all.”
He led her through the smoke-hazy lounge, the brilliantly-lighted dance-room, out to his luxurious car and opened the door silently. Margaret stepped in resentfully, aware of his disapproval, and left him to tuck in the shinging folds of her gown which trailed carelessly over the running-board.
They drove a long way in silence and the cool night air quieted the jangling in Margaret's fevered nerves. Gradually she relaxed and her breathing became deep and steady. Edward Hammond noticed this but gave no sign. Presently he drew in to the curb, choosing a spot where the road ran high above the moonlit sea. Silently, still, he gave her a cigarette and lit it.
She swayed lightly against his shoulder and sighed.
“Cool—and quiet,” she breathed contentedly.
The man's arm slipped behind her shoulders. His calm strength seemed to flow into her, soothing, healing,—
“It can be like this always—if you marry me. Too high a price?”
“I don't love you.”
“I suppose your idea of ‘love’ is a species of emotional delirium even more wearing and less lasting than the sort of synthetic gaiety that you spend your futile life pursuing?”
“You are abominable. You've spoiled everything.”
“Yes. You said you were happy, a minute ago. I am teaching you to appreciate me as I can be.”
The big car slid forward.
A few minutes later Hammond was saying good-night at the door of Margaret's dainty flat. He added bluntly:
“And it's no use ringing me and saying you'll go mad if something doesn't happen. You'll have to find another escort, Margaret. I am willing to marry you, but I am no longer willing to assist you towards a prematurely neurotic old age. Goodnight, my dear.”
He was gone and Margaret heard the purr of the powerful engine as it gathered speed.page 21
A full minute she stood, then her lips tightened angrily and she flung her expensive vanity bag violently against the opposite wall. It dropped on the floor with a dull thud and lay winking back the light. Suddenly Margaret Wayne's tense body relaxed and a rueful smile curved her red mouth. She turned her back on the purse which a moment ago had been Teddy Hammond and walked into her bedroom.
* * *
Three days she had waited in vain for a ring from Hammond—an apology; but it seemed that he would keep his word. Margaret sat before her dressing table and critically appraised what she saw reflected there. Sleek chestnut waves, faultlessly set; fine dark eyebrows and big grey eyes set between smoky lashes; delicate regular features enhanced by a pale ivory skin; lips of deep natural red; a slim figure that moved with mature grace. Margaret Wayne saw and approved wholeheartedly of these things, but her deeper perception saw also a woman of thirty-two, a little tired, a suggestion of discontent in the curve of her mouth, delicate shadows about her eyes that almost enhanced her beauty, but tell-tale shadows—the telephone bell rang and she rose quickly.
“Hullo?—yes—oh, yes, Anne?—what, to-night?—no, I don't particularly care for the role of stop-gap, but I've nothing else on—very well, I'll come—at eight? Yes—good-bye.”
She replaced the receiver with a weary gesture. Oh, well, it was something to do—Teddy's words flashed unbidden through her mind—“no use ringing me and saying you'll go mad if something doesn't happen”—she shrugged impatiently.
“This is Margaret Wayne—John Kendall.” Anne smiled charmingly as she introduced Margaret to the “odd man,” and bustled off among her guests, leaving her friend facing a tall, blonde man who smiled rather shyly and asked if she would care to sit down somewhere. He was quite charming, she decided, and certainly unusual. Anne did pick up odd people at times and invariably pitchforked them into the wrong places. She felt that John Kendall would not really appreciate this sort of thing. The atmosphere of smoke and cocktails, too-gay laughter against a harsh background of jazz, appeared rather amazingly to surround him without touching, leaving him, in her strangely altered vision, clearly outlined against the murmuring haze. Margaret decided that any man who could affect her in such an extraordinary way was worth cultivating. She found herself thanking him as he led her to a quiet seat; refusing a cigarette, a drink; unaccountably unwilling to pollute the clear atmosphere that clung to him.
“You don't belong to this sort of thing, do you?” she suggested, curiously.
“I'm not used to it,” he conceded with a smile, “but I suppose it's rather fun if you know people.”
“Not really—not if you get too much. Years ago I got a kick out of it—now it's a drug; just something to do that I shan't stay at home and hate the pictures on the wall and want to smash them.” Her voice was tired, and she looked into his eyes unsmilingly. She saw that he was a little shocked and asked, “Don't you ever feel like that?”
“N—o,” he answered uncertainly, “but I suppose I am not as highly strung as you.”
“That's very kind of you,” she thanked him dryly. “I have a friend who is inclined to refer to it as disgusting lack of control. As a matter of fact I rather think he's right”; she paused, looking at him thought fully, then added abruptly, “but I've never admitted it before!”
“Don't admit it now,” he advised her with a quick smile.
“Let's dance a little?”
That night Margaret's sleep was vaguely and pleasantly disturbed by dreamy thoughts of a tall, fair man who smiled kindly and was inclined to condone her outbursts of “temperament.” She remembered with satisfaction that she was to meet him again—
The second time that they met he told her hesitantly, and not without encouragement about himself. They were sitting in deep chairs on a balcony that overlooked the moonlit sea. Gramophone music, laughter and the clink of glasses inside mingled not unpleasantly with the murmur of the waves. John's voice, in pleasant harmony, was low and deep
He was not, he said, very well off. He had a charming home in the country—he showed her photographs of it—and a little land; but he had to live quietly for the most part;—not that he did not prefer to live quietly; he added rather shyly that he wrote a little—it was not very lucrative but a labour of love.
“I'm afraid I'm very fond of farming,” he said, almost apologetically. “I don't suppose you would understand that.”
“Oh, but I do,” Margaret assured him enthusiastically. “It must be wonderful.” Her eyes were alight with interest. Here was someone who really lived, she told herself. How different from this hectic round of unsatisfying gaiety must be his useful country life! Healthy—peaceful—
“Do you know,” she murmured tranquilly, lounging back in her chair and regarding him lazily through half-closed eyes, “just knowing you has done me an enormous lot of good already? I don't want to smash my ornaments now! I think perhaps I shall have to go and live in the country and be rejuvenated.”
“Do you really think you'd like it?” To Margaret he sounded almost eager. “I—I mean,” he went on, “wouldn't the novelty wear off and leave you bored, just as you are with your present life?”
“I'm sure it wouldn't! You see, it wouldn't be bad for the nerves like this is.”
“And it's no use ringing me and saying you'll go mad if something doesen't happen—you'll have to find another escor, margaret.”
“You have no ties?” she suggested.
“Not yet,” he answered thoughtfully, “but soon, I hope.”
Suddenly Margaret was leaning forward. There had been something in his tone, a look in his eyes as he spoke.—An unaccustomed thrill ran through, her, leaving her panting softly.
“Yes?” she forced her tone to be casual and sank back again among the cushions, “and they will be—–?”
“A wife,” he spoke very softly, his eyes smiling at her, “later, maybe, a family. I hope,” he paused and looked out over the sea, “to marry the sweetest, the most beautiful woman, that God ever breathed life into.”
A little fear clutched at Margaret's heart. She nerved herself to ask—
Lightly she suggested, “You haven't asked her, then?”
He looked back at her and said, softly, “Not—yet.”
* * *
“Hullo, Margaret,” Teddy Hammond's familiar voice came rather surprisingly over the wire. She had not heard from him for over a week—and oh, what a week! The voice was speaking, politely and casually, “How are the nerves?”
Margaret bit her lip angrily. Funny how Teddy had the power to infuriate her with a few coolly-spoken words.
“Never been better,” she answered cheerily. “I have had no one to annoy me and I have not been to bed before two for a week!”
“Ah! Then I see that you won't need my escort to the Peal Club to-night?”
“No. Sorry to disappoint you—but I'll be there!”
They exchanged polite platitudes. Margaret, as she hung up, felt her newly-acquired serenity ebbing from her body as blood from a severed artery. She saw him; tall, dark, not handsome but striking, distinguished-looking; always changeable; now mocking, now stern, now tender, with a knack of provoking her to madness.
She turned to thoughts of John to soothe her; John with his courteous attentions, his instinctive knowledge of her needs—
It was so annoying of Teddy to be going to-night; it was just a small affair, the Club's annual private Ball; members only—and their guests; of course, Teddy was a member and John was not; John; was only her guest; foolish of her to resent Teddy, but he would be sure to provoke her; maybe through John; dear John—–!
Teddy was in attendance on Gloria Martin, a woman whom Margaret cordially loathed. He was very attentive indeed, the latter noted viciously. He had nodded smilingly at her, absently, as to a casual acquaintance, and had not appeared to notice her since. With a strained feeling in her throat, partly anger, partly something she did not understand (for was she not in love with the man at her side?) she begged John to get her a drink. She felt better for it and would have liked one or two more. But John did not approve of her drinking, so she did without. She would marry John—–
But her eyes followed Edward Hammond, who would not look at her.
John was so kind, so boyish, so considerate. She saw herself mistress of the charming photographed home among the trees, living a peaceful, happy life—a useful life! Her friends would laugh at the thought of Margaret Wayne, a farmer's wife, “bringing-up” a family!
But it would not be Edward Hammond's family.
Silly how he kept obtruding on her thoughts—–
“You're looking tired, Margaret.” John's voice was sympathetic. “Shall we go for a drive? The air might do you good.”
“Yes—yes, let's,” she replied a little breathlessly. She wanted to get this over. Ridiculous, wanting to get a proposal over! But she would be happier when it was all settled—irrevocably. She sat close to John in the car—she wanted to let him know a little how she felt so that he would not be shy and put it off.
He pulled up in a deserted side-road and raised the wind-screen so that the cold air blew in.
John was speaking. Margaret's hands held each other tightly.
“I've been wanting to say something to you, Margaret,—before I go away—”
It was coming! She swayed towards him, to give him courage.
“You've been so jolly decent to me while I've been here—it must be rather a bore being kind to a lonely chap from the country—–”
This was an unusual start for a proposal, surely? But John had always been shy. He was still speaking—–
“—and I wanted to thank you. You see, Stella will be here to-morrow so I shan't be trespassing on your goodnature any more.”
What was this—? Margaret's head felt strangely light, but her voice was casual as, with a faint lift of her eyebrows, she said:
John stammered a little.
“You know. The girl I—I told you about—the one I hope to marry.”
Margaret heard her own voice, far off, saying politely, “How nice for you. I wish you the very best of luck, of course, and after that,” with a little laugh, “all possible happiness. As for my being kind to you—why, I have really enjoyed it!”
“It's stunning of you to say that,” he said, gratefully.
“I'm beginning to feel a bit chilly.” Margaret spoke no less than the truth.
“I think we'd better go back.”
She had another drink because John and his prudery did not matter any more and it made her feel so much happier.—And Edward was still being charming to the blonde Gloria.
She flirted daintily with John and it seemed to amuse him. Strange that she had never really flirted with John before! She wished Stella luck with the chickens and the babies. All at once she saw vividly that she had nearly made a mistake. She would never have seen it through—never. How wise of John not to fall in love with her! Suddenly she perceived him as a rather solid young man with nice sympathetic manners and very little else. Teddy had provoked her into nearly making a mess of her whole life.
Teddy influenced her every thought, her every deed. And even now he was provoking her into the crowning madness of all; he was being very nice to Gloria Martin—
She said good-bye to John Kendall at the door of her flat with a sense of overwhelming relief. She had been tuned up to a terrific pitch; being charming and frivolous when she felt murderous and hideously unhappy. She shut the door softly enough, then the taut wire of her self-control snapped and she threw herself on the bed, shaken by choking, strangled sobs.
* * *
“Hullo—hullo? Oh, is that you, Teddy?” Of course she knew it was Teddy, but her heart thumped painfully and she could not think of anything else to say.
“Yes, Margaret?” He was speaking very politely, determined, she thought, not to help her out. He could read her like a book, even over the 'phone.
“Oh, you're hateful, Hateful!”
Hammond was pardonably surprised.
“Is that all you rang to tell me?” he asked curiously.
“No, I rang to ask you if you'd marry me!” she gasped with the courage of desperation.
“But, my dear Margaret,” protested the calm voice, “surely that was not necessary? All you needed to do was to accept me!”
“Yes, b—but I don't think you realise what a trial I will be to you,” she wailed miserably.
“I assure you I do,” replied the man who loved her.