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Grace Livingston Hill
BEAUTY FOR ASHES
First published in 1935
Copyright © 2018 Classica Libris
1930s New England
The Sutherland home sat like some royal palace at the top of a grassy eminence, nestled about by dark pines and hemlocks, its lawn sloping softly down to the highway where tall iron grillwork surrounded the estate and stone pillars made a stately entrance for the driveway. Thick clustering rhododendrons did their best to hide the place from the casual gazer, and glossy laurel branches filled spaces here and there. An avenue of trees gave mystery to the driveway as it disappeared into the thickly shrouded entrance and wound around till it reached the dwelling that stood like a white, gleaming jewel at the top of the rise, not quite hidden from view, tantalizingly beautiful in the morning sun.
Behind the house were terraces down to a blue-tiled swimming pool, and a smaller pool where lilies floated lazily, and below that a sunken garden. Beyond, a small native woodland with old forest trees carefully tended gave background to the setting.
Off to the right of the house on another eminence not quite so high, well hidden by trees and shrubbery, and somewhat farther back from the highway, another stone dwelling was fast nearing completion. It was called by the architect and the family “the bungalow,” but it might have been but another, somewhat smaller palace, so complete and wide-spreading it was. Gloria Sutherland was to be married next week to Stanwood Asher, and this bungalow, a wedding gift from her father, was to be her new home.
The Ashers lived on another hilltop across the town of Roselands, in a mansion of fine old Norman architecture, and were the moving spirits in the social life of the place. What the Ashers and Sutherlands did set the pace for the rest of the set, and even the humbler residents of Roselands turned to look when Nancy Asher rode through town on her fine-blooded mare or her brother Stanwood shot by in his fabulous-priced high-powered car, and they stood to admire when either Gloria or Vanna Sutherland were driven by in the handsome Sutherland limousine. Both Gloria and Vanna were worth a second look as well, being the very most charming girls of the younger, smart set of Roselands and wearing clothes straight from the most noted creators of Europe.
It was a bright, beautiful morning in spring. There were daffodils in golden banks here and there along the borders of the driveway, and the terraces behind the house were a marvelous broidery of color in crocuses, hyacinths, and tulips. Great forsythia bushes shed brightness against the dark pines effectively, like sudden bursts of sunshine, a flame of red tulips picked out a scallop below the white stone wall, and out on the edge of the woods pink and white dogwood had decked themselves in blossoms. It was a morning that went well in one’s mind with the thought of weddings; large, priceless weddings where money was lavished without stint.
Gloria Sutherland had arisen at an hour that she called early. It was ten o’clock. She had breakfasted, mainly on orange juice and coffee, in her room, and in her yellow velvet robe went straight to the sewing room where the fitter awaited who had come up from one of the city shops to make an alteration in an orchid satin evening frock.
She looked like a daffodil herself as she entered the sewing room and stood by the open window with the sunlight falling on her mop of yellow curls. The yellow velvet gown coming down softly to the little green satin shoes she was wearing completed the illusion of a yellow flower. She stood and basked in the sunshine, and the sunlight on the velvet cast a golden glow over her piquant face. The seamstress, who was no longer young and never had been beautiful, looked at her with a wistful admiration and sighed enviously to think what a charmed life this beautiful creature led.
Gloria threw the golden garment aside and allowed herself to be carefully arrayed in the delicate orchid satin. She stood in front of the long pier glass and watched the seamstress as she deftly put in a pin here, smoothed out a pucker there, gave just a little different sweep to the deep flounce that half circled the curiously fashioned skirt, and spread out the line of the long train.
“It is a lovely dress, isn’t it?” said Gloria childishly, joyously. That was one thing about Gloria that made everybody like her—she was so natural and childlike and happy. Her wealth and beauty had not spoiled her or made her snobbish.
“She is like her father,” the servants whispered among themselves.
After the pinning was complete, Gloria gave herself another look and walked the length of the room and back, watching the sweep of the train as she walked.
“I want Vanna to see this before I take it off!” she suddenly exclaimed. “I wonder if she has come in yet. I thought I heard a car. She was away at a house party last night, but she said she’d be home early. Just wait a minute, and I’ll run down and see if she has come yet.”
Lightly Gloria caught up the gleaming train, ran down the deeply carpeted stairs to the floor below, and then paused to listen. Someone had just come in the door. Yes, that was Vanna’s voice. She was talking to Brandon, their younger brother home from school for the weekend. Her tone was wildly excited as she said, “Oh, Brand! Have you seen the paper?”
“No,” growled Brandon, “I just came downstairs. Anything the matter? You look like last year’s tax bills. What’s happened?”
“Plenty!” said Vanna tragically. “Stan Asher’s been killed!”
“Killed!” said Brandon, echoing her word stupidly. “How? When?”
“Shot!” said Vanna with a gasp of her breath. “Shot in a nightclub in New York last night! Shot with a dancing girl he had with him. They’re both dead! They’ve arrested the girl’s lover. He didn’t make any attempt to get away!”
“Good night!” said Brandon in a shocked voice as if he had suddenly grown up.
“We mustn’t tell Gloria!” said Vanna breathlessly. “Not yet! Not till Dad comes! He’ll be sure to be here soon. He’ll see it in the paper. He’ll come to her right away! Better go hide the paper. It says awful things about Stan. She mustn’t ever see it!”
“She’ll have to know pretty soon if Dad doesn’t get here!” said the boy gravely. “And if Mother finds out—”
“Is Mother down yet?”
“I don’t think so. Her door was shut when I came by. What if we phone down to the office to see if Dad has got it yet? He went to New York yesterday, didn’t he? You sure he was coming back today?”
“No, but you know he’ll come when he sees this. And he can’t help seeing it. It’s in all the papers, great big headlines: STANWOOD ASHER, WEALTHY HEIR TO MILLIONS, SHOT DOWN WITH CHORUS GIRL BY JEALOUS LOVER IN NOTORIOUS NIGHTCLUB! Oh, it’s awful! To think anything like that could come to our family!”
Vanna caught her breath in a great sob and then suddenly held her breath and looked up the stairs, her eyes large with horror, for there stood Gloria in her lovely orchid dress with her gold hair aflame and her eyes wide pools of dark blue horror in a white, white face.
“Vanna! What is it? I’m not a child! Tell me everything! Quick!”
Vanna gave her young brother a frightened glance and sped up the stairs.
“It’s about Stan, dear!” she said, trying to make her voice sound steady. “It’s bad news!”
“Yes! I heard!” said Gloria. “Tell it over again slowly, just as you said it!”
Vanna gave a little gasp like a sob as she spoke the words, “Stan was killed in a nightclub in New York last night, dear.”
“And the girl?” said Gloria, fixing her sister with a keen glance.
Vanna caught another little sob in her throat.
“She was killed, too. By a jealous lover!”
Gloria reached out and caught hold of the stair railing.
“Brand!” she called to the brother who lingered in blank horror below. “Bring me that paper! Yes, please—!” as she saw Vanna shake her head. “I’ve got to know everything right away! Bring it, Brand! Vanna, won’t you please help me off with this terrible dress?”
Vanna drew her sister into Gloria’s own room and began to unfasten the hooks with fingers that trembled.
“There—couldn’t be a mistake, could there Vanna?” asked Gloria, casting an imploring glance her way as the dress was lifted over her head.
“No, there couldn’t be a mistake,” said Vanna sadly. “I telephoned Nance! She said her father went up on the early morning train. He phoned about ten minutes ago. It’s all true!”
Vanna looked around for Gloria’s robe.
“No,” said Gloria sharply, as her sister brought out a blue silk robe. “No, I’ve got to have a dress on!”
“You ought to lie down, dear!” soothed Vanna. “You don’t realize yet! You need to lie down and take it quietly!”
“No,” said Gloria, “I must do something! I don’t know what, but there’ll be things to do. I must have a dress on and be ready.”
Vanna searched helplessly in the closet for something appropriate. What would one wear on an occasion like this? Mourning? If Gloria was dressed, people would be likely to see her, and they would criticize whatever she had on. Clothes had always played such a large part in Vanna’s life that they seemed important even now.
But Gloria pulled out a drawer and snatched up a brown and tan knitted dress she had worn the day before and flung it on.
“Just anything! It doesn’t matter what,” she said as her sister looked askance at the dress. “Brand, is that you with the paper? And please, Brand, will you take this orchid dress up to the sewing room and tell the fitter it is perfectly all right just as it is, and she can just hang it up there when she has finished? Tell her I won’t be able to come up again today.”
Vanna looked at her sister in admiration. She seemed so cool, so collected, yet there was something terrifying in her eyes. Vanna put her hand to her throat and tried to still the stifling sensation that threatened to overwhelm her. Oh, it seemed just impossible that this tragedy was really happening in their family. Stan, the handsome brother-in-law, dead! Just a week before the wedding!
Then she began to realize.
There would be no wedding!
Over there in the green guest room closet were hanging the bridesmaids’ dresses, soft spring pastel shades of chiffon, with silver shoes and lovely big garden hats wreathed in spring blossoms. Back in the apricot guest room, the bridal array was waiting and there would be no wedding!
Three long connecting rooms to the left were cleared and furnished with long draped tables on which already a goodly array of costly glitter was set out, and the presents were pouring in every hour! And there would be no wedding!
But Gloria went steadily on arranging her dress, smoothing her rumpled curls, putting her brush away, as coolly as if nothing had happened. Didn’t she realize what it all meant? Why wasn’t she lying on her bed sobbing? Why wasn’t she breaking her heart? Stan dead, Stan whom Gloria adored, and Gloria going about with a quiet, stony look in her eyes! Vanna was frightened.
“Does Mother know?” asked Gloria suddenly in that quiet, capable tone that was so new to her, as if she had certain things to go through and just so much strength with which to go through them.
“No,” said Vanna, “she hasn’t gone downstairs yet.”
“Does Mrs. Asher know?”
“Yes, Nance said she was in hysterics. They had sent for the doctor,” said Vanna.
“Poor thing!” said Gloria with a terrible trembling sigh.
Vanna stared. She knew Gloria was not especially fond of Stan’s mother, and yet here she was without a tear for herself, pitying Stan’s mother.
Gloria dropped into a chair and began to read the paper, her white face growing even whiter as she read. Once she groaned aloud, and once she looked up and said, though more as if she were stating a fact to herself than speaking to her sister, “He’d known that girl for a long time. There had been trouble before. Two years ago! That was before—before we were—engaged!” She looked at the paper again. “No—it was after! Two months after! Oh—!” The sound she made was not a sob. It was more like a wounded animal getting to cover.
Vanna was silent, filled with misery for the sister who had always been so much a part of herself. She was feeling what Gloria was going through. Neither of these girls had had any sorrow in their lives before beyond a broken doll or a lost kitten. Never any trouble before that money could not mend.
From where she sat, Vanna could see the gleam of the tiled roof that was her sister’s new home. What would Gloria do now with that house? Would Dad have it torn down? Would they all move or go to Europe or something? How everything had been upheaved and made impossible in a single night! A bullet gone home, a heart stilled, and two families were plunged into dismay, their world collapsed!
Vanna began to think of the young set that made up their social life. How could they bear to go among them again? How could Gloria ever enjoy the crowd and all its doings with Stan gone! And gone in such a terrible way!
Suddenly she caught her breath and put her head down on the arm of the chair where she sat, the tears coming like a tempest over which she had no control.
“Vanna! You mustn’t!” said Gloria, looking at her out of those stony eyes. “We’ve got to keep up!”
“Why?” said Vanna tempestuously. “Why? You ought to cry too, Glory! It’ll help you a lot. You’ll break down if you don’t cry.”
“I can’t!” said Gloria. “The tears are all locked inside! They can’t get out! Vanna, do you think I ought to go and see Mrs. Asher?”
“No,” said Vanna vehemently. “Nance said she was wild. They had given her a sleeping powder. She wouldn’t see you if you went. Nance said the doctor said they must get her quieted down.”
Gloria sank back in her chair again and looked hungrily down at the paper whose flaring headlines had been followed by very little other information concerning the tragedy. Gloria had read every word over twice already, yet she took up the paper and searched earnestly for one more little word. Oh, if there was only so much as a hint of denial that that girl had been anything before to Stan! But there it all was printed out cruelly, just two or three lines, but each word ripe to stimulate the imagination, hints that were worse than the truth could possibly be!
Then suddenly the mother was among them, standing at the door, a look of generalship upon her.
“Gloria! My poor child!” she mourned. “To think that this should have happened to you and just now before the wedding! It makes it so awkward for you! But child dear, you should go right to bed. You mustn’t think of being up. A trouble like this drains one’s strength. Besides, it is so much easier to excuse you to any mistaken friends who might think they had to call if we can just say you are resting. Get to bed right away, honey dear, and conserve your strength.”
“No, Mother,” said Gloria, “I’m not going to bed. I’d go wild in bed!”
Gloria got up and began to pace up and down her room. Her mother watched her with a puzzled look.
“You’re a strange girl!” she said almost disapprovingly. “If you take it that way, we shall have you sick on our hands before, ” she hesitated for the fraction of a second and Gloria shivered as if a cold draught had struck her, “before this is over,” the mother finished.
“It will never be over!” said Gloria in a hollow, terrible, young voice.
“Oh, yes, it will!” said her mother quickly. “Of course you can’t see that now, but it’s a merciful thing that sorrows don’t engulf people forever. However, it’s much better just to give way naturally to your grief and not try to keep up and hide your feelings.”
Gloria looked at her mother as if she did not hear her and went on walking up and down her room.
The mother gave her another hopeless look and turned as if she would go out, then looked back to say, “We’ll all have to have some black clothes of course. What a pity in the spring of the year! I’ll go and call up Sampson’s and have them send out some things on approval. That’s another reason, Gloria, why you ought to lie down now. You’ll have to try on you know, and that’s almost as wearing as having to go downtown shopping for clothes.”
Gloria turned in consternation. “Mother! I’m not going to try on clothes today! No, nor any of these days! One doesn’t have to dress for the part to suffer! I’ll wear something I’ve got, anything! But I won’t have anything to do with clothes at such a time as this!”
“Now Gloria, do try to be reasonable! You can’t just ignore the customs of society that way!”
“Look here, Mother, I’m not going out on exhibition! I shan’t probably see anybody at all except the Ashers, and you don’t suppose they’ll care what clothes I have on, do you?”
“I certainly do!” said the calm voice of the mother. “You must be appropriately dressed. If you’re not, they would think, and rightly, that you had not the proper respect for their feelings.”
“Mother, if they can care about things like that now, I don’t care what they think! I have plenty of clothes, and I’m not going to bother about others!”
“But black, dear! You must wear black!”
“Well, I already have two or three black dresses, if it’s got to be black!”
“But they are not mourning, child, and you in your position—the—”
But suddenly Gloria gave a scream and rushed from the room. “Don’t! Don’t! Don’t!” she cried in a low, hurt voice, and fled upstairs to the great attic room that had been the children’s playroom when they were little and where corners and crannies still held dollhouses and baby carriages and the toys of long ago. Vanna found her there an hour later when she went anxiously in search of her, curled up in a little heap by one of the dormer windows, staring wide-eyed out across the hillside and the woods, down toward the stone bungalow among the trees, the bungalow that was to have been her beautiful home. There was tragedy in her eyes, but there was not a trace of a tear yet.
Vanna dropped down beside her and put her arm around her.
“Glory dear,” she whispered, “Nance is downstairs. She wants to see you. She says she must see you. Do you feel able to speak to her a minute, or shall I tell her you are asleep?”
Gloria was still a minute, and then she rose quietly.
“I’ll see her,” she said, still in that toneless voice that seemed so terrible to her sister. “Where is she?”
“Down in the library. Would you rather I brought her up to your room?”
“No,” said Gloria, “I don’t know why I should make you do all the work. I’ll go down.”
Nance was wearing a smart tweed dress of black and white mixture and a black felt hat, and was smoking a cigarette as she stood looking out the long french window to the lovely sloping lawn. She whirled about as Gloria entered, nervously crushing out the cigarette in the ashtray that stood on the little end table by her side.
She fixed hard, solemn eyes on the girl who was to have been her sister-in-law so soon and stared. It was as if she were searching her very soul through and through. And Gloria stood there like a thing at bay and took it, with just that quiet, inexplicable look on her face. Vanna stood by and watched her, marveling at her sister.
Then Nance spoke in a hard, tired voice.
“I said you’d take it just that way!” she remarked, opening her cigarette case and getting out another cigarette. “Mother said you’d be simply crushed, but I knew you had character! I’ve always said you had character. I’ve always known you were too good for Stan!”
Gloria winced and caught her breath in as if the words hurt her.
“Oh don’t, Nance, please!” she said pleadingly.
“Well, it’s true!” said the sister, her voice sailing up a note or two in the octave, a high, shrill, overwrought voice. “Stan was spoiled! I suppose we all helped to do it!”
She took one puff at her cigarette and flung it on the ashtray with the stumps of several others she had played with before the girls came down to her. Then she turned and began to pace up and down the room with long, masculine strides.
“My nerves are all shot to pieces!” she remarked, coming up in front of Gloria again and facing her almost defiantly.
“I had no business to come over here this way!” she went on. “I know it! But I couldn’t stand Mother groaning and carrying on any longer! And I had to see how you were taking it!”
Gloria gave her a little wistful attempt at a smile, so sad that Vanna over in the window seat put down her head on the back of a leather chair and sobbed quietly. Gloria put out a gentle hand and touched the other girl on her arm!
“I’m sorry, Nance!” she quavered, “I know—it must be— terrible—for you!”
Nance whirled on her fiercely. “Oh, and isn’t it terrible for you, then?” she demanded.
“Oh—!” Gloria drew in her breath with a suffering sound. “Oh—but in a different way!”
“How different, I’d love to know?” It was as if Nance had come with a knife to probe the wound in this girl’s breast, find the bullet, and rub the wound with salty words.
Gloria was silent for a moment, her face averted, and then she answered slowly, hesitatingly, “The girl, Nance—you—don’t have to—mind—her! You—don’t have—to think—about her at all!”
Nance stared at her averted face. “Oh, that!” she said contemptuously. “That’s nothing! You don’t mean to say you’re bothering about her! They all do things like that today. It doesn’t mean a thing! I thought you had more sense!”
“Yes, it does mean—a great deal!” said Gloria slowly, her hard, sad, young eyes looking far away through the window down the slope of the hill. “It sort of wipes out—a lot—that was—dear!” Her words came slower, her eyelids drooped, her lips drooped at their corners and were trembling as she spoke. “It makes it—he doesn’t seem—to belong to me—anymore!”
Gloria suddenly dropped into a chair and dropped her gaze to the floor, but there came no tears. The tears were all slowing down into her heart. They seemed to drown her inside, but she lifted her eyes and met the cold gaze of Nance, saw the curl of her lip.
“I didn’t think you had a jealous nature!” The words cut like knives.
Gloria shook her head. “It’s not jealousy!” she said. “It’s something wider, more final than jealousy. Jealousy you feel for a day and get over. This is something that puts me out into another sphere somehow, just makes me feel he never has belonged to me—None of it—has ever—been—real!”
Nance looked into those hopeless, lovely eyes and tried to break their look with her own glance. But Gloria’s eyes did not change.
“How absurd!” said Nance. “Stan worshipped the very ground you walked on, Glory. He couldn’t say enough about you at home. He was simply crazy about you!”
Gloria looked at her as if she were not looking into her eyes at all, but saw something beyond her, something that outweighed what had been said.
“Yes?” she answered in that strange voice that sounded like a negative. Nance drew her brows together and studied her.
“Oh, Gloria, don’t be difficult—now—when all this is happening! Don’t be trivial! I know it’s hard on you, but don’t get notions. Everybody in our set knows how devoted Stan was to you!”
“Yes?” said Gloria again and still looked at that vision of a strange girl in the distance just beyond Nance’s head. A girl that was not of her kind. A girl who was no respecter of other people’s rights. A girl lying dead beside her bridegroom.
“Gloria, you’re not going to make more trouble, are you?” Nance spoke sharply, with a kind of hard agony in her voice.
“Make trouble?” said Gloria in a soft, amazed voice. “I make trouble? There is no trouble left to make, is there Nance? No, of course I’m not going to make trouble. I’m aching for you now, for the trouble you have already to bear. Is there anything that I can do to help in any way? I have a feeling there is something I should be doing, but I can’t seem to think what it is!”
Gloria spoke in her gentle wistful voice out from under the crushing blow that had fallen upon her. There were tears in Vanna’s eyes, but there were no tears in Gloria’s eyes. There was hard, agonizing comprehension in Nance’s face, but Gloria kept that stricken smile on her lips and offered to help. The other two girls watched her, uncomprehending.
“You’re a strange girl, Glory!” said Nance at last. “I can see you are making this thing a lot harder for yourself than it has any need to be, a lot harder than it really is. Stan was just a carefree boy. You never thought he was an angel, did you? Yet you are taking it further even than death. You are taking the blow at your spirit instead of just your life. And you don’t need to do that. It’s hard enough just on the surface, goodness knows! Why should you want to go further? You can’t live in your spirit that way on earth. You just can’t. You’d die if you tried to. It isn’t being done!”
“I’ve just been finding out that I can’t live if my spirit isn’t satisfied!” said Gloria, giving her a strange, startled look. “That’s why I don’t know just how I’m going to bear it!”
Nance suddenly gave a great, deep, awful sob. “Oh, this is awful! It makes one feel as if there ought to be a God!” said Nance.
“I wonder if that could make any difference,” said Gloria with a longing look.
“Oh, Glory,” cried Vanna, “don’t talk such awful things! If Dad should hear you what would he think? If you only would sit down and cry as you always do when you feel bad, I am sure it would help you.”
“But this isn’t just feeling bad, Vanna. And I can’t cry. I think I’m bleeding inside. And I’m seeing so many things I never understood before!”
“Sit down, Glory dear, sit down,” said Vanna. “I’m sure you oughtn’t to be standing up. It takes your strength.” She gave a frightened look at Nance.
“Yes, sit down, it takes your strength,” said Nance, turning troubled eyes toward Gloria. “Can’t you get her something to drink, Vanna? It’s the shock. She isn’t quite herself.”
Gloria dropped into a chair with a wan smile. “Oh, yes, I’m myself, quite, Nance dear. Don’t get that idea,” she said quietly. “I’ve plenty of strength. You needn’t worry about my strength. This isn’t anything that has to do with strength. It’s something that’s way deeper than that. Strength is just your body. This is something that has touched the soul, and I’m not just sure I ever knew before I had a soul. Don’t worry, Nance. I’m not out of my head. I wish with all my heart I could do something to help you bear your part of this, Nance dear!”
Nance stared at her hungrily an instant and gave a quick, meaningful glance toward Vanna. Vanna answered it with another frightened look. Then there came the sound of a car driving up, the sound of a key in the latch of the front door. “Oh, there’s Dad!” said Vanna with relief, brushing away the quick tears, “I’m so glad he’s come! He will know what to do. Don’t go, Nance! Dad’s great when you are in trouble!”
“Oh, I must go! I can’t see anyone else today. I’ll just slip out this back way. No, don’t come. I must get back to Mother. I’ll let you know when—Father gets back!”
She ended with a sob and was gone.
Gloria’s mother had her way. It was a foregone conclusion that she would. She had managed the stage scenery and costuming for her two beautiful daughters since their advent into the world, and she was not one to relinquish her rights easily. If she could not stage a wedding, then at least a funeral should have its proper clothes.
Also, it appeared presently that this funeral was to be an affair. Gloria had hoped, had supposed, of course, that whatever ceremonials attended the death of her fiancé would at least be private on account of the circumstances. But to her utter dismay, she discovered that the Asher family was going to ignore the circumstances and make a hero out of Stan. Whatever fashionable grief could do to make the last rites of the son and heir to their millions a thing to be remembered and respected, that was to be done. Stanwood Asher’s mother meant that her son should not be put away in disgrace. He should lie in state, and his many friends should assemble and mourn properly at his untimely cutting off from the earth!
So Gloria saw that the awful days ahead of her must be lived through, and she set herself to endure. Meekly, like a white-faced robot, she submitted to her mother’s ordering. She tried on and stood for fittings whenever she was called. There was one thing, however, that they could not get her to do. She would not take an interest in any of the smart black garments they brought for her approval. She would scarcely look at them. She shuddered when she came into the room where they were, and when they tried to get her to make a choice, she turned away with a sigh and said, “Oh, I don’t care! Whatever you say. Just get the simplest thing there is!”
Then her mother would look hopelessly after her and sigh. “If Gloria would only take things as they come and be interested, it wouldn’t be half so hard for her!” she said hopelessly to the observant fitter. “If we didn’t have these practical interests of life like pretty clothes and social duties, how could we live through trying disappointments?”
The woman looked at her with wondering eyes. Pretty clothes and social duties played very little part in the life of the fitter.
So Glory continued through those endless days with that sweet, hopeless look in her eyes and utter indifference for the things of life.
Sometimes her father would give her a long, understanding glance, and that helped. She had had very little time with him alone; always someone else was by. Just a low spoken word when he came: “Child, this is going to be hard! Keep steady! You’re a brave girl!” Just that and a tender kiss. There never had to be many words between them. They understood each other better than the rest of the family. It seemed to Gloria that her father was the wisest man living.
No one but her father knew how awful it was for Gloria to go and stand beside that dead form of the fiancé who had been killed with another girl. It was expected of her of course. She had to go. She wasn’t sure but she expected it of herself, but she shrank inexpressibly from looking on his face. What she felt was not merely a natural shrinking from death, it was the agony of looking upon a face that had been her fiancé’s and knowing that he had never been hers.
Everybody said how wonderful he looked, as if he might open his eyes and call out some cheerful witticism. As if the merriment that had been on his lips when he was suddenly called away lingered, ready for expression as soon as he should awake.
But to Gloria it did not seem that way. It was as if a house that had been her welcome abiding place had suddenly closed its doors against her very existence. That face that all her life had been so familiar, so dear, was like a stranger’s. The spirit she had thought she loved had fled. Had it ever been what she thought it?
Characteristics she had never seen before stood out on the features. Those closed lips had a selfish, spoiled look now that they could no longer curve and turn with a pleasant expression.
She closed her eyes and turned away. They thought she was trying to keep back the tears. Her father hoped she would weep. He felt it would relieve the strain. But Gloria had turned away to shut out sights she did not want to see. She had hoped that somehow the sight of Stanwood dead would dispel this awful feeling she had about the way he had died. But instead of that it brought out lacks she had never noticed in his laughter-crowded lifetime.
Gloria was glad that she did not have to sit facing that casket during that long, awful service, more thankful than she would have cared to tell anybody that she could hide away upstairs in a darkened room with the family, before the world thronged into the palatial residence to do honor to the son of the house. As she went upstairs, her bright hair shrouded in a heavy veil, she caught glimpses of her young friends huddled in frightened groups, with eyes cast down and gloomy countenances. It was all too evident that they did not want to come here, did not want to be reminded that death was inevitable, did not want to be drawn into this tragedy, yet knew that for very decency they must.
It was like the tolling of a bell for a lost soul when the solemn words of the burial service began. Gloria shivered, and Vanna sobbed silently in her corner. Mrs. Asher, swathed in deep black, moaned audibly beside her tortured husband, while Nancy sat like a grim specter, her handkerchief to her eyes.
“Man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble,” began the preacher in a solemn and monotonous voice. “He cometh forth like a flower and is cut down, he fleeth also as a shadow and continueth not. As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more.”
Gloria listened to the desolating statements and shuddered in her soul. How horrible was life! Why did anybody want to live? Stan was gone! In a few hours, this place where he had been the life of everything would know him no more! Gloria heard his mother moan and cry out, “Oh, my baby boy!” and there came to her a sudden desire to scream and cry out, too, in protest. Oh, why did they have such terrible things as funerals? Why put the tortured relatives to any more pain than they had to suffer already? She felt if this thing went on very long she would go stark crazy.
But the monotonous, cultured voice of the minister went steadily on through what seemed an endless multiplication of words, statements of facts that they all knew. Death was inevitable of course, but what could one do about it? Why all this harrowing language?
Gloria tried to listen, to catch the reason for all these words. Presumably they were a ritual of the church. She did not know even vaguely that any of them were taken from the Bible. It would not have made any difference to her if she had. There was no hope in the words that were chosen. What hope was there for one in her position? None! All her days she must go with blight on her life. How she was going to do it, she knew not. She had not thought one hour beyond this funeral service. Since ever she had heard the awful news she had lived from hour to hour to endure the things that had to be endured until all that she owed to the family of her fiancé should be fulfilled. After that chaos! A blank! She did not think of it now except to hope for oblivion in sleep. After that—well that would have to be dealt with when she came to it.
The monotonous reading ceased at last, followed by a prayer by a retired pastor of the church with which the Ashers were associated. A trembling voice, cultured sentences, becoming more and more personal. Gloria heard herself prayed for as the mourning bride. She grew cold and hot behind her thick veil and trembled again, wondering if this terrible ordeal were not almost over.
But after the prayer, the first speaker took up a refrain beginning: “Forasmuch as it hath pleased almighty God to take out of this world our departed brother—” and Gloria wondered if it had pleased God to do a thing like that, and do it in that way? Had Stan’s actions nothing to do with his departure? Had the assassin nothing to do with it? The girl? Was God like that? Was there a God? What made anybody think there was a God in a world like this full of horror?
When she came back from her thoughts to the voice again, she beheld a word picture of the young man, a picture that showed him forth almost as a hero! She listened in amazement. Beginning with incidents of his childhood showing forth his kindly temperament and desire to please, the speaker worked his way up through the years, showing what a charming character the young man had possessed, how he had grown in beauty and manly virtues; he told of his merry ways, his popularity, his wonderful prospects in a worldly way. When the discourse was finished, Stanwood Asher lived before them as an innocent hero. All else was ignored.
At last the discourse was ended, and a well-paid quartet of well-trained male voices sang:
“Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me—”
They chanted it exquisitely till it almost seemed there had been a call for Stan, and he had answered it merrily with a cocktail in his hand as he had answered most calls these last few years.
The interment was supposed to be private, and Gloria was glad of that, but it was surprising how many people got in on it for one reason or another. There were cameras ready wherever they went, cameras even, not far from the grave.
By reason of her relation to the deceased, Gloria with her father beside her had to stand close to that flower-lined opening into which the casket was lowered, had to watch it slowly go down among the lilies and roses.
Everything about the grave was as lovely as money could make it. There were none of the horrors of an old-fashioned burial. Even the earth that was presently to cover all that was left of her bridegroom was smothered in a bank of flowers. There was no hint or suggestion of darkness and the tomb. And yet as Gloria stood beside that grave, she felt as if somehow her own soul was being drawn down into its flowery darkness, to be buried with the man who had so lightly gone from her a few days before, never to return alive.
Her father steadied her to the car when at last everything was over and they turned away home. Gloria felt that if it had lasted one minute longer, she could not have gone on. But it was not over yet. Mrs. Asher went weeping aloud from the grave, crying out to go back for one more last look, and there was quite a scene at the car. Mrs. Sutherland went to comfort her and came bustling back hurriedly to their own car.
“She wants you to go home with them, Gloria! She says she has got to have a talk with you.”
“No!” said Gloria’s father. “She is not able! Can’t you see she has borne all she can?”
“But I promised that she would come and stay the night with them. It seems only right since she was his—”
“Get in, Adelaide!” said Gloria’s father, speaking sternly. “We’ll drive over there and speak to her at the house a minute, but that is all. There, they are waiting for our car to start!”
Gloria’s mother got in. “But I promised,” she said firmly.
“I myself will explain!” said the father, and Gloria gave him a grateful look and leaned wearily back in the car.
When Gloria reached home, she went up and took off her black dress, putting on a plain old frock of white silk with touches of yellow in the trimming. It was a dress she had often played golf in. Then she sat down at her window and looked out at the sunset light on the lawn, touching the forsythia and the tulips with gold and flaming beauty. She laid her tired head down on her hands on the windowsill and wondered how things could go on just the same in spite of pain and shame and sorrow. It was a lovely world, yet she could find no joy in it. She almost envied the unhurt youth of her brother who came to kiss her good-bye before he started back to school.
But when she went downstairs to dinner, where she knew her presence would be required or a fuss would be made about her not eating enough, her mother lifted horrified eyebrows at her garments.
“Why, Gloria! How unseemly! This first night of all times! Suppose somebody should come in! And what will the servants think? Run right back dear, and get on your black dress!”
Gloria looked wearily protesting at her mother’s words, and once more her father interfered. “She looks much better in that,” he said. “Let her be! She has suffered enough for one day.”
“There you go again, Charles,” said his wife haughtily, “trying to decide a question you don’t in the least understand!”
“That’s all right, Adelaide,” said the father gravely, “perhaps you don’t understand just how little strength this child has left after the ordeal of the day.”
“And why wouldn’t I understand my child as well as you, I would like to know?” said his wife. “I, her mother! You’re absurd. You always were sentimental, and you always encouraged her in such ideas. I’d like to know what terrible ordeal there was today? It was just a perfect funeral from start to finish. Not a detail went wrong. The flowers were marvelous. Did you see those white orchids? Weren’t they the most exquisite things? And not a hitch or mistake anywhere. Not an unsightly moment. Everything just moved on oiled wheels! And Stanwood looked so perfectly natural, just as if he were going to laugh right out at us all! I’m sure I thought it was a lovely funeral!”
“You would!” said Vanna under her breath.
“What did you say, Vanna? I do wish you would stop that habit of talking in such a low tone that no one can hear you. It’s very rude indeed!” said her mother.
“Excuse me, Mother!” said Vanna, dropping her eyes to hide her indignation. She knew that Gloria was being tortured.
“Couldn’t we just forget it for a while, Adelaide?” said her husband with a sigh. “We don’t all feel that way about it. We’re tired out. It’s been a hard strain, and we want to eat our dinner now.”
“Well, really, am I hindering you from eating your dinner? I’m sorry. But it strikes me that it isn’t something we want to forget right away. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that the best people were there, and that there is nothing to regret in the service. I’m sure it must be a great satisfaction to Stanwood’s parents to know how their friends honored him. I never saw such quantities of flowers at any funeral anywhere. It seems to me that the time to talk it over is now while it is fresh in our minds, and that reminds me, Charles, did you see the Breckenridges anywhere? I looked all over for them when we came out but couldn’t seem to find them. They sent such a perfectly lovely wedding gift, that old English sterling platter, you know, that I was sure they’d be at the funeral. It seems strange if they weren’t.”
But Mrs. Sutherland had her meditations to herself, for the family ate in silence for the most part, and Gloria, after a very few bites, excused herself and went up to her room, wondering if life was ever going to be bearable again.
But even her mother was startled the next morning at her white face with the great dark circles under her eyes.
“We’ve certainly got to get out of this town right away as soon as we can manage it,” she announced when the breakfast was well under way and the servants had withdrawn for the time. “I’ve been thinking. We’d better go to Europe. There’s nothing like Europe for diverting the mind and getting away from curious people, and of course it’s going to be awfully hard on Gloria being in mourning and not being able to go out at all. Charles, couldn’t you get away, for a few weeks anyway, right off? You could at least take us over and get us settled in some nice, pleasant central place where we could take little trips off here and there, and then you could come back if you had to for a while. I thought we’d be able to get off by next week if you could. Of course there’ll be a few more clothes to buy since we must all go into black at least for a while.”
Gloria looked up most unexpectedly and spoke. She had done very little speaking for the last few days. “I’m not going into mourning, Mother,” she said, “and I’m not going to Europe! The rest of you can go if you want to, but I’m not going!”
“Why, Gloria, what on earth do you mean? Of course you’ll have to go into mourning! And why should you say you won’t go? You don’t realize what you’ll be up against if you try to stay here. Everybody in the town will be watching you and pitying you, and you can’t turn around but it will be in the paper. You’ve got to let this thing die down and be forgotten before you can comfortably live here.”
“It doesn’t matter!” said Gloria indifferently. “I’m not going to Europe!”
“But don’t you realize what you will be doing to your sister if you insist on staying here? Of course we couldn’t think of going off and leaving you behind as you suggest. How would that look? And poor Vanna would be as much tied down as you would. She would be under the shadow of your sorrow, don’t you see?”
“Why couldn’t you and Vanna go to the seashore as you had intended?” said Gloria, giving her mother a pleading look.
“And you stay here? What would people think of us for leaving you all alone?”
“I could go somewhere but not to any places like that!” said the girl determinedly.
Then her father spoke. “Where would you like to go, child?”
Gloria lifted sorrowful eyes to his face. “I—hadn’t thought!” she said listlessly.
“Hm! I guess you hadn’t!” sniffed her mother. “That’s just it! You hadn’t thought! You’re not used to thinking for yourself. I’ve always done it for you, and you’re not fit to begin planning for yourself now, I’m sure, not in this crisis.”
“Wait a minute, Mother,” said her husband interrupting. “Daughter, tell me, what was your idea? What do you think you would like?”
Gloria looked out the long french window down the terrace to the banks of blue and purple and rose and white hyacinths. Then her eyes brightened wistfully. “I’d like it if you and I could get in the car together and go somewhere riding for a while, away somewhere in a quiet place where most people don’t go. I’d like to go where there’s quiet—and woods and no crowds or social duties.”
“We’ll do it!” said her father earnestly. “When can you be ready to start?”
“Charles!” said his wife reprovingly. “Why will you encourage her in her crazy ideas? You know she’s not fit to decide now.”
But Gloria’s eyes were on her father. “Oh, today