“What is it you are giving up?” demanded Rosemary, facing Dick earnestly in the taxi.
“Nothing of importance.”
“Are you a scientist?”
“I’m a doctor of medicine.”
“Oh-h!” she smiled delightedly. “My father was a doctor too. Then why don’t you —” she stopped.
“There’s no mystery. I didn’t disgrace myself at the height of my career, and hide away on the Riviera. I’m just not practising. You can’t tell, I’ll probably practise again some day.”
Rosemary put up her face quietly to be kissed. He looked at her for a moment as if he didn’t understand. Then holding her in the hollow of his arm he rubbed his cheek against her cheek’s softness, and then looked down at her for another long moment.
“Such a lovely child,” he said gravely.
She smiled up at him; her hands playing conventionally with the lapels of his coat. “I’m in love with you and Nicole. Actually that’s my secret — I can’t even talk about you to anybody because I don’t want any more people to know how wonderful you are. Honestly — I love you and Nicole — I do.”
— So many times he had heard this — even the formula was the same.
Suddenly she came toward him, her youth vanishing as she passed inside the focus of his eyes and he had kissed her breathlessly as if she were any age at all. Then she lay back against his arm and sighed.
“I’ve decided to give you up,” she said.
Dick started — had he said anything to imply that she possessed any part of him?
“But that’s very mean,” he managed to say lightly, “just when I was getting interested.”
“I’ve loved you so —” As if it had been for years. She was weeping a little now. “I’ve loved you so-o-o.”
Then he should have laughed, but he heard himself saying, “Not only are you beautiful but you are somehow on the grand scale. Everything you do, like pretending to be in love or pretending to be shy gets across.”
In the dark cave of the taxi, fragrant with the perfume Rosemary had bought with Nicole, she came close again, clinging to him. He kissed her without enjoying it. He knew that there was passion there, but there was no shadow of it in her eyes or on her mouth; there was a faint spray of champagne on her breath. She clung nearer desperately and once more he kissed her and was chilled by the innocence of her kiss, by the glance that at the moment of contact looked beyond him out into the darkness of the night, the darkness of the world. She did not know yet that splendor is something in the heart; at the moment when she realized that and melted into the passion of the universe he could take her without question or regret.
Her room in the hotel was diagonally across from theirs and nearer the elevator. When they reached the door she said suddenly:
“I know you don’t love me — I don’t expect it. But you said I should have told you about my birthday. Well, I did, and now for my birthday present I want you to come into my room a minute while I tell you something. Just one minute.”
They went in and he closed the door, and Rosemary stood close to him, not touching him. The night had drawn the color from her face — she was pale as pale now, she was a white carnation left after a dance.
“When you smile —” He had recovered his paternal attitude, perhaps because of Nicole’s silent proximity, “I always think I’ll see a gap where you’ve lost some baby teeth.”
But he was too late — she came close up against him with a forlorn whisper.
“Take you where?”
Astonishment froze him rigid.
“Go on,” she whispered. “Oh, please go on, whatever they do. I don’t care if I don’t like it — I never expected to — I’ve always hated to think about it but now I don’t. I want you to.”
She was astonished at herself — she had never imagined she could talk like that. She was calling on things she had read, seen, dreamed through a decade of convent hours. Suddenly she knew too that it was one of her greatest rôles and she flung herself into it more passionately.
“This is not as it should be,” Dick deliberated. “Isn’t it just the champagne? Let’s more or less forget it.”
“Oh, no, NOW. I want you to do it now, take me, show me, I’m absolutely yours and I want to be.”
“For one thing, have you thought how much it would hurt Nicole?”
“She won’t know — this won’t have anything to do with her.”
He continued kindly.
“Then there’s the fact that I love Nicole.”
“But you can love more than just one person, can’t you? Like I love Mother and I love you — more. I love you more now.”
“— the fourth place you’re not in love with me but you might be afterwards, and that would begin your life with a terrible mess.”
“No, I promise I’ll never see you again. I’ll get Mother and go to America right away.”
He dismissed this. He was remembering too vividly the youth and freshness of her lips. He took another tone.
“You’re just in that mood.”
“Oh, please, I don’t care even if I had a baby. I could go into Mexico like a girl at the studio. Oh, this is so different from anything I ever thought — I used to hate it when they kissed me seriously.” He saw she was still under the impression that it must happen. “Some of them had great big teeth, but you’re all different and beautiful. I want you to do it.”
“I believe you think people just kiss some way and you want me to kiss you.”
“Oh, don’t tease me — I’m not a baby. I know you’re not in love with me.” She was suddenly humble and quiet. “I didn’t expect that much. I know I must seem just nothing to you.”
“Nonsense. But you seem young to me.” His thoughts added, “— there’d be so much to teach you.”
Rosemary waited, breathing eagerly till Dick said: “And lastly things aren’t arranged so that this could be as you want.”
Her face drooped with dismay and disappointment and Dick said automatically, “We’ll have to simply —” He stopped himself, followed her to the bed, sat down beside her while she wept. He was suddenly confused, not about the ethics of the matter, for the impossibility of it was sheerly indicated from all angles but simply confused, and for a moment his usual grace, the tensile strength of his balance, was absent.
“I knew you wouldn’t,” she sobbed. “It was just a forlorn hope.”
He stood up.
“Good night, child. This is a damn shame. Let’s drop it out of the picture.” He gave her two lines of hospital patter to go to sleep on. “So many people are going to love you and it might be nice to meet your first love all intact, emotionally too. That’s an old-fashioned idea, isn’t it?” She looked up at him as he took a step toward the door; she looked at him without the slightest idea as to what was in his head, she saw him take another step in slow motion, turn and look at her again, and she wanted for a moment to hold him and devour him, wanted his mouth, his ears, his coat collar, wanted to surround him and engulf him; she saw his hand fall on the doorknob. Then she gave up and sank back on the bed. When the door closed she got up and went to the mirror, where she began brushing her hair, sniffling a little. One hundred and fifty strokes Rosemary gave it, as usual, then a hundred and fifty more. She brushed it until her arm ached, then she changed arms and went on brushing . . . .
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50