The Blue Pearl
THE BLUE PEARL
I. Some Letters
Paris, October 4
HAROLD, how could you send me that story? How could you write it, print it? My own story, that I told you in confidence—if there is such a thing! I am too astounded, too hurt, to write about it. I don’t know what to make of it, or of you.
Paris, October 6.
Paris, October 7.
Harold, I have just read that story of yours again. It is very, very well done—it’s brilliant. But it’s terribly cruel—cruel of you to take what happened to me, and turn and twist it the way you did to make a good story. It’s so terribly cold-blooded of you—I cannot understand. Surely, if you cared in the least for me, you couldn’t have done it. That’s what hurts most—more even than the humiliating position you’ve put me in toward him. You’ve taken my story—and his—and twisted it just enough to make it all wrong. You treat him so badly, you’re so unjust to him—and when I told you about it I tried to show you how it was not really his fault. You make him out such a brute, and he is anything but that. And he is almost sure to see that story—because of knowing about you—and he is in New York now. And there’s no mistaking it—why, you have put in that incident on the yacht literally. Of course he will believe that I told the story to you that way, and that I was willing you should print it. I don’t understand how you could do it. Why—not to be able to tell you things, even secrets, without seeing them in print! Forgive me, but I am very unhappy.
Paris, October 9.
I went and looked my farewell to the Sainte Chapelle to-day—my first and best love in Paris. Do you remember the last time we went there together, and the walk back in the twilight? I was so happy that day. You were so charming. I understood everything you said,—your way of feeling,—and it fascinated me, it was so different. It pleased me so deeply, you can’t know. Your unworldliness, your love of beauty, your humble feeling about yourself, and your pride in what you wanted to do, a kind of high impersonality in your way of looking at life, almost austerity, yet the warmth of your love of beauty—I had never felt them so much before, I had never loved them so much.
All my life I have seen so much of the other sort of thing. I have lived always among people who cared only for people, for the social game the values of different people, their opinions, what they could be made to count for, how one could count with them; and other things, art and so on, were only a sort of decoration or amusement. People were the real thing, the serious thing. It was like a game of chess, and if you were clever you moved the pieces and played your game. If you weren’t clever you were played with, or swept off the board. Then, there was the human side of it, too. I was taught that one must think about people, study them—that one must consider their feelings and not hurt them, at least without a reason. One lived in the midst of people, and one must be always awake—not go round with one’s head in the clouds and one’s feet trampling on conventions or other people’s toes. That was manners; that was the decent thing to do.
I saw from the first that you were not a social person. With a higher intelligence than most people, with all your personal distinction, you were not socially at ease. You did not get on with people. You were cold, difficult. But I saw the fine side of that. I saw how disinterested you were, how you never had an ax to grind, how independent and honest you were, how apart from all shams and snobbishness, how you were interested only in real things. And yet—I somehow felt you missed the human part of the social game. You cared too little for people; you were apart from them; you did not mind hurting them, ruffling them, in little ways. You did not care whether they liked you or not—you were rather sauvage; and they did not like you, as a rule.Oh, but that day at the Sainte Chapelle I felt the appeal of your way of thinking and feeling; I felt how beautiful it might be to live out of the world of ambition and struggle, to let it go by, with all its hurry and dust, and to think only of ideas and lovely things, to feel beauty and try to express it and let the rest go. It almost seemed—it did seem possible—with you. For I know that is what you live for; I know you have a big way of looking at things. There is nothing petty about you. I can’t tell you what a feeling it gave me, that we might live in that way together. It was like looking at a wonderful sunset—gold islands in a green sea—and dreaming of sailing into that sea of light. Life could be so beautiful. Anne.
Paris, October 11.
II. Mallock’s Side of It
The telephone call came as Mallock was finishing a frugal and nervous dinner at his club. He had dined alone, brusquely declining an invitation to join three acquaintances at a neighboring table. One of these men was the editor of an important magazine that had just accepted Mallock’s new novel, “The Garment of Repentance,” for serial publication, at a handsome figure.
The editor raised his eyebrows at Mallock’s unsocial manner. “Queer fellow! Wonder if he didn’t like my letter?” he reflected.
That letter had complimented the “Story of Octavia,” which had appeared with success in the current number of the magazine, and which, forwarded in advance sheets by Mallock, had made the row with Anne. But to-night Mallock certainly did not wear the aspect of success—though he had now emerged from the category of “promising younger authors,” though his last novel, “The Green Bay Tree,” was being dramatized, and he had in the pocket of his slightly out-of-date evening coat a flattering offer from a most important publisher. On the contrary, his handsome face was overcast with gloom. He was frightfully nervous, and he hated being nervous. He both dreaded and longed for the interview with Anne, and could think of nothing until it was over.
Anne’s voice over the telephone sounded full and vigorous as ever, though slightly constrained. She said she was tired, that they had had a rough trip, her mother was ill and had gone to bed, but she would be glad to see him as soon as possible. He abandoned his dessert, called a cab, and drove around at once.
The house that the Armitages had taken for the winter was in the East Seventies, their own house, an old brownstone farther downtown, being let for a year. This new house, Mallock found, was modern and very small. He was interested in it—in spite of his preoccupation—because of Anne’s suggestion that they might keep it on after their marriage, as Mrs. Armitage meant to live abroad. Mallock had caught his breath when Anne mentioned the rental—four thousand dollars for the season. Of course it was furnished, and they might get it cheaper on a long lease.
It was then that Mallock had discovered Anne’s quaint idea that it was impossible to live west of Fifth Avenue. The idea had amazed him at first—along with the rest of Anne’s elaborate social code, which included so many “taboos.” Later it had seemed more serious, when he thought about the fact that Anne was rich and he was poor, and that he would prefer their household to be on a scale that he personally could support. However, that, and all Anne’s complex social affiliations, though they were désagréments, were nothing in comparison with the wonder of Anne herself and that she should care for him. Did she care?
While he waited a few eternal moments for her, Mallock walked about the tiny drawing-room. He could not help reflecting irrelevantly that if he sold a serial each year he could barely pay the rent of this roof-tree for the winter—for of course Anne wouldn’t want to stay under it in the summer. He shivered slightly, and paced the room feverishly from end to end.
Then he heard Anne coming down the stairs. She moved with her usual impetuosity. It sounded as if she were running silkenly to meet him. His heart beat fast, his face lit up. She flashed into the room and came straight into his arms. He had not known how she would meet him; he had not expected this. His head swam. She kissed him and clung to him, hid her face on his shoulder for a moment, and when she looked up again her eyes were wet with tears.
“Anne!” he cried. “Anne!”
She was strong and beautiful, her face full of vitality and energy, her mouth wilful, her eyes black and intense. These eyes, through their tears, searched Mallock’s face intently, eagerly.
“Well, Harold?” she said faintly, breathlessly.
Mallock made a quick, desperate effort to guess what she was demanding of him. But he could not think. She was very beautiful, with those tears. He tightened his clasp of her.
“Anne—at last!” he said. “Oh, Anne!”
She was quiet, leaning against him. Mallock held her close. His lips touched her black, shining hair. And, holding her so, he felt she was waiting for something, he knew not what. And moment by moment he felt her, as it were, slipping away from him. He felt with terror a distance widening between them. Then she trembled. She was crying.
“You hurt me so!” she cried passionately.
“Hurt you?” stammered Mallock.
“Oh, you know you did——”
“You must have known that I did not mean to hurt you.”
She had drawn away from him, drying her tears with quick, impatient dashes. Her eyelids were reddened now, her chin trembling.
“But how could you not have known that it would hurt me? How could you not have felt it?”
“I don’t think you ought to feel it as you do,” said Mallock tremulously, very conscious that he was absurd.
“But I do feel it!”
“Can’t you wait, Anne? Let us talk it over calmly; but not just now, not the first moment I see you.”
“But I can’t help it. It means so much to me; it makes me so unhappy. How can you put it right—how can you?”
They were still standing nervously facing each other. Mallock’s pallor, flecked with uneasy patches, his bitten lower lip, showed how she had struck home to him, while he still strove for calmness and appeared cool.
“Perhaps I cannot,” he said, “if you will not hear me.”
“Of course I will hear you! For what else am I waiting, hoping? But what can you say?”
“You’ve judged me already, then? I'm a criminal in your eyes.”
To the intense bitterness of his tone Anne flashed back her answer.
“Can’t you see what hurts so terribly is that you couldn’t have done it if you had cared for me really? And, more than that,—more even than that,—you couldn’t have done it if you had been as good, as fine, as I thought you.”
Her voice broke. She turned away and dropped into a low chair before the unlit fire. Mallock, immobile, looked at her graceful figure in its long black satin dress, at the black coils on her bowed head, the line of her averted cheek. His face for the moment expressed only indifference and hardness—the armor that his excessively sensitive amour-propre instinctively seized upon against attack.
There was a long silence. At last Anne shivered and moved. She rang the bell at the side of the fireplace, and gave some orders to the butler in a colorless voice.
“Light the fire, Peter. And ask my maid for those Russian cigarettes I got in Paris.”
There was silence until the fire blazed up and the cigarettes were brought.
"Will you have something to drink?” Anne asked, turning to Mallock, who still stood.
“No, thank you.”
The butler went out, dropping the curtains behind him. Anne opened the big box of cigarettes and held it out to Mallock.
“Your favorite kind—I got them for you,” she murmured.
“Thank you,” he said ironically; “I don’t think I want to smoke just now.” He came toward her. “Perhaps I’d better go now? You must be very tired.”
She glanced up quickly.
“No, I am not tired. Won’t you sit down?”
“Thank you. If you think I am not sufficiently grilled, another turn or two I suppose would finish me.”
Anne’s head drooped again.
“Do sit down,” she said.
Mallock took a chair at a little distance, and looked stonily at the leaping flames. The silence finally became ridiculous, and he broke it.
“Have you ever read Lewes’ biography of Goethe?” he asked.
“No,” said Anne.
“Well, he gives a rather interesting account of the ‘Werther’ incident. Probably you’ve read ‘The Sorrows of Werther’?”
“I suppose I have.”
“Goethe never wrote anything that wasn’t suggested, in one way or another, by his own experience. The story of Werther was an adaptation of a love affair of his—not a photographic or phonographic reproduction, mind, but a fantasy embroidered on a theme taken from his own life. The girl was a real girl, and she and the man she married were intimate friends of Goethe’s. When the story came out, they quarreled with him.”
“I don’t blame them,” said Anne.
"They found fault, as people usually do, first because the story was like them, and second because it was unlike. They abused Goethe for using a theme that suggested their relations and for introducing some variations on it.”
“They were his friends,” said Anne.
“Goethe wrote to them,” resumed Mallock “I don’t recall the exact words, but something to the effect that they would forgive him when they had had time to think it over. Also, I believe he said that in a hundred years his story would be famous, but otherwise they would be forgotten.”
“Horrible prig!” cried Anne. “I never knew he was such an egotist.”
“I haven’t done him justice, I’m aware. There was a good deal of sense in his letter. They were afterward reconciled to him. And it’s true about ‘Werther’; it’s still famous, and no one would ever think of Charlotte if it weren’t for the story.”
“Do you think that’s any consolation to Charlotte for the unkindness of her friend? Besides, Harold, really—you are not Goethe.”
“That’s true, if rather obvious,” he said, reddening slightly. “But then, neither was Goethe at that time—I mean, he was not then world-famous. ‘Werther’ made him so.”
“And do you really think,” said Anne, after a slight pause, “that all the fame Goethe got from that story made any difference—that is, justified him at all in causing pain to those two people who were his friends?”
“You seemed to think it made a difference when you remarked a few moments ago that I was not Goethe,” observed Mallock.
“Well, I do not think it makes any difference! If a thing is wrong for one person it is wrong for another. And it is certainly wrong to betray the confidence of a friend!”
“People are so horribly personal about it,” said Mallock. “It seems to me the intelligent ones ought to be able to look at themselves objectively—or, at least, to allow the artist that privilege, even if he happens to be their friend. I don’t understand that excessive reticence, that sense of the sacredness of one’s little personality. Of course, Charlotte wasn’t in love with Goethe; but, if she had been, it seems to me she ought to have been glad to contribute to his career, his fame, by offering her insignificant individuality as a model, if he wanted it.”
Anne’s black eyes opened wide, and her gaze fastened intently on Mallock’s face.
“The question is not new,” he went on somberly. “I imagine every artist who tries to picture life has had to meet it at some time. The great trouble is that the artist has nothing but life to get his material from; he cannot evolve it out of his inner consciousness, as the German scientist did the camel.”
“That does not mean that he needs to get it from his intimate friends,” said Anne sharply.
“Oh, your idea, then, is that he ought to get it only from strangers? I can’t see why it’s any more wrong to take a suggestion from a friend than from a person you don’t know. Just where would you draw the line? Say you had dined twice with a family, would that prevent you from noting their characteristics and possibly later reproducing them in another environment?”
“I should think it might! Do you carry a note-book in your sleeve when you go out to dine?”
“I never carry a note-book—don’t need to. But I carry a sort of sensitized film in my brain, and it takes pictures—I can’t prevent its doing so. I don’t reproduce those pictures literally, any more than a painter reproduces literally what he sees. I generalize, select, compose. Am I wrong?”
“I don’t know,” said Anne, laughing unsteadily. “But I did not know that I was marrying a camera.”
This time the silence was thunderous.
“It’s—not too late,” stammered Mallock.
“No,” whispered Anne.
Then, without warning, she began weeping again.
“Oh, you oughtn’t to do it,” she sobbed. “What does a story or two matter, in comparison to—hurting some one very much? And you—you have hurt me. To think you look on me so coldly—just as—‘material’! That you could analyze coldly and put into print my feelings about another man! Can’t you see what you have done? You have struck at my idea of you. I thought you would never do anything wrong. You seemed so high-minded. I couldn’t think you would be so terribly careless about hurting a person—any one. And it is me you choose to hurt. I thought you—loved me!”
“I do love you,” said Mallock darkly.
He sat with folded arms, staring at the fire, aware that his defense had been lame, that Anne’s emotion had carried the day against his attempt at reasoning. There was plenty of emotion within him, but it would not come to his aid. It was as if Anne’s reproaches, her tears, had frozen him.
“I thought, when we talked in Paris and other places,” said Mallock coldly, “that you understood how I went to work, the conditions under which I work. You seemed to. I remember you were very sympathetic when I told you about the Wilsons—their quarreling with me because they said I put them into ‘The Green Bay Tree.’ You seemed to realize just how absurd they were to object because I used their types. Why, there are thousands of people in the world like the Wilsons! There’s nothing remarkable about them. And that’s precisely why they interested me—because they were types and I could generalize them. Well, the Wilsons not only took my picture to themselves, but chose to be insulted by it—surely unreasonable! I remember you thought so.”
"I didn’t know their side of it,” said Anne, trying to equal his apparent coldness, and surpassing it. “Of course I took your point of view.”
“You think perhaps I misrepresented the facts?”
“But I do think your way of looking at things and people is rather—oblique.”
“That is to say, my way of looking differs from yours.”
“I’m afraid it does—and from most other people’s.”
“Then it must, of course, be wrong.”
“Well, I can’t feel that I am wrong or that the majority of people are.”
“The deuce of it is—I feel we may both be right,” said Mallock.
“Oh, Anne—how fine that is—that impossible!"
Mallock rose and held out his hand.
“But I suppose you won’t care to go on with this to-night?”
Anne disregarded it.
“I prefer to have it out now,” she said.
“Forgive me if I point out to you that it's about midnight and that you look very tired. I shall consider myself remanded to jail and shall await your summons to-morrow. Or, if it will facilitate matters, I can plead guilty now, and you may impose sentence.”
“I don’t wish to have you plead guilty unless you feel so.”
“Then good-by. A telephone message at the club any time to-morrow will reach me.”
Anne in silence bent down over the fire. And thus these lovers parted, each to a sleepless night.
III. Additional Correspondence
Sunday, 6 p.m.
Sunday, seven o’clock.
P. S. Please thank your mother for her kind word to me, and give her my love.
P. P. S. Even if I did not say that I was sorry for having hurt you, you should know that I am.
Dear Harold: I received your note last night, and this morning the inclosed letter, which I shall not answer, because I can’t without being disloyal to you. He must think what he must. Anne.
City Club, Sunday.
Yours always, G. A.
Monday, 5 p.m.
Dear Anne: After I had had the pleasure of reading your note and inclosure this morning, I telephoned to the City Club and left a message for Allison. Later he called me up and asked me to lunch. I've just left him. I enjoyed the meeting, though I didn’t expect to. He’s a most frank, agreeable fellow—charming manners; I quite see why you object to mine. Certainly he is infinitely more attractive than I am, and I quite understand now how you felt about that —— story of mine.
Naturally, however, not knowing him, I—oh, well, there’s no use going over that. You won’t understand. The queer thing is that he did. Of course I explained to him that I hadn’t in the least meant to libel him; that, starting from a situation that is, after all, common enough, I’d merely imagined the characters and developments;, and, of course, that you hadn't anything to do with the picture of the man. I told him how you felt about it, and why you wouldn’t see him. He seemed a good deal moved and pleased. Of course there’s no reason now why you shouldn’t see him. I—oh, Anne, I see how much more your kind he is than I am, how much more he is what you like. I see how difficult I must be for you. A man like that could help you in the kind of life you like, while I should only, I fear, hold you back. It’s true, what you say—I’m not a social being; it’s hard for me to live with people. I know I’m always stepping on them. I don’t know why you ever imagined you cared for me. But your caring, your interest in my work—I feel somehow now that they were all imaginary. I feel you feel it. I believe you really dislike me. We are so different; and I know only too well, without your pointing it out, that I’m not lovable.Dear, dear Anne, if it has been a mistake, tell me as soon as possible. I couldn’t blame you even now for preferring Allison.
City Club, Monday.
Dear Anne: Just lunched with Mallock—talked about you. All right. Awfully glad that chap in the story wasn’t meant for me. Awfully nice of Mallock to come out straight about it. Fine fellow—splendid character. No end of brains, too—bound to be famous. Of course it’s plain enough why he gets you—you always went in for intellect. No use for fellows like me, just muddling along, doing nothing much. Like Mallock immensely, and do honestly wish you joy. He seemed hipped, too—quite cut up. Said he wished story was in h——, but d—— if he’d tell you so. Suppose you’ve been having bit of a tiff.
You know, Anne, you’ve got a nasty temper. Awfully set in your ideas. High ideals, too. All seem to go together, somehow. Better ease down a bit. Other fellow might be right, after all, you know.Dear Anne, I’m off Saturday to Algeria. Sha’n’t be at your wedding’. God bless you——
IV. What Always Happens
Mallock, moping by himself after having sent his letter, was called to the telephone and heard Anne’s voice, imperious and rather irate.
“I wish to know if you are ever coming to see me again," she said.
“I’ve been waiting for permission,” Mallock replied quickly.
“I should think you might have come without. You’re very formal. I suppose it’s pride.”
“Certainly not; I have no pride, nor self-respect, either.”
“Really? Will you come to dinner?”
“I shall come immediately. Good-by.”
He found Anne waiting in the drawing-room. She was wearing a black dress and a big black hat, and had dropped her gray furs on a chair. She was as full of color as the sparkling autumn day outside.
“I’ve been walking with Gerald,” she said.
“Yes?” Mallock did not pretend to smile. He shook her warm hand with icy fingers. His eyes showed the strain of sleeplessness and trouble.
“He sails Saturday for Algeria. Will you have a cup of tea?”
“Thank you! If you please, Anne.”
Mallock drew a deep breath and sat down near her, looking a little more cheerful.
“Are you sure he’s going?” he inquired.
“Oh, yes. Why? I thought you liked him.”
“I do. That’s one reason I want him to go. And you like him—that’s another. I have enough to fight against without increasing the odds.”
“You have? What, for instance?”
“Myself,” said Mallock gloomily. “I feel that I’ve wasted my life.”
“I wish I had gone in for adventure, like Allison. To live life, rather than write about it—that’s the thing! And he seemed to think it all so matter-of-fact. Why, his experiences down in Venezuela, and the life he describes down there on Trinidad—bully! Oh, life is so much better than anything we fools of writers can write about it—it makes me hate myself. And you despise me, too—I’ve a mind never to write another line.”
He drank his tea desperately, and bent over to put his cup on the table. Anne laid her hand on his.
“Don’t be silly! What’s this on your cuff—something scribbled in pencil. ‘Concession in V—Rubber Plantat—’?”
“Oh,” Mallock said hastily and in some embarrassment. “Just a note or two—those stories Allison told were such ripping material. Sorry! I’ll go back and dress before dinner.”
“Oh, Harold! And in the same breath you turn your back on art!” Anne laughed.
“Yes, hang it; but I’m serious, all the same. Sometimes I feel we’re all idiots—people like me. We only write because we aren't able to live, I suppose. As some artist chap says, all art is the product of weakened vitality——”
“Well,” said Anne softly, “perhaps the pearl is a sign of the weakened vitality of the oyster. All the same, I prefer pearls to perfectly healthy oysters.”
“Do you, Anne? Are you sure you do?”
“Of course I do—regarding you as a pearl.”
“Oh, don’t joke, Anne! It’s serious! I—brought you something the other night, but I didn’t dare offer it.”
Mallock laid in her lap a little vellum box. In it was a ring with a blue pearl set in enamel.
“Why—you remembered I like blue pearls!” she cried.
“Yes. Look here, Anne—I bought it with the money from the ‘Story of Octavia.’ I got it before you wrote me from Paris.”
Anne looked at the ring for some moments in silence. Then she looked musingly at Mallock. In her eyes, deep down, there was the sparkle of mirth, and deeper still a tender pity.
“You need me,” she said pensively and positively.
And she put the ring with the blue pearl on the third finger of her left hand.