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Wanted: A Husband By Samuel Hopkins Adams Characters: 24671

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


OUT OF ORDER! pertly announced the placard on the elevator. To Miss Darcy Cole, wavering on damp, ill-conditioned, and reluctant legs, this seemed the final malignancy of the mean-spirited fates. Four beetling flights to climb! Was it worth the effort? Was anything worth the effort of that heart-breaking ascent? For that matter, was anything worth anything, anyway? Into such depths of despond had the spirit of Miss Cole lapsed.

At the top of the frowning heights the studio apartment of Miss Gloria Greene would open to her. There would be tea, fresh-brewed and invigorating. There would be a broad and restful couch full of fluffy pillows, comforting to tired limbs. There would be Gloria Greene herself, big and beautiful and radiant, representing everything which poor little Darcy Cole was not but most wished to be, and, furthermore, a sure source of wise counsel, or, at worst, of kindly solace for a case which might be too hopeless for counsel. As alternative, a return to the wind-swept, rain-chilled New York side street. No; the thing had to be done! Darcy nerved her soggy muscles to the ordeal.

On the second landing she paused to divide a few moments between hard breathing and hating the imitation-leather roll beneath her arm. Including the wall-paper design within, just rejected by B. Riegel & Sons, the whole affair might have weighed two pounds. To its ill-conditioned bearer it felt like two hundred. She set a hand to her panting chest and a thorn promptly impaled her thumb. Tearing off the offending rose Darcy flung it over the banister rail. It was a flabby, second-hand wraith of a rose, anyhow, having been passed down to the wearer by her flat-mate, Maud Raines, who in turn had it, along with eleven others, from her fiancé.

Darcy stuck out a vindictive tongue at the discarded flower. Nobody ever sent her roses! Dully musing upon the injustices of existence, she clambered up the third flight and leaned against the wall to rally her spent energies, with her hands thrust deep into the sagging pockets of her coat. Something light and scratchy rubbed against her bare forefinger, which was protruding from a hole in her glove. Being exhumed, it revealed itself as one of those tiny paper frills wherein high-priced candy is chastely attired. The departed bonbon had come from a box sent by Paul Wood, the architect, to Darcy's other flat-mate, Helen Barrett, to whom he had just become engaged. Darcy let the inoffensive ornament flutter from her fingers to the floor and crushed it flat with a vengeful foot. Nobody ever sent her candy in frilly collars! Nobody ever sent her anything! Oozing wretchedness and self-pity, she took the final flight in a rush, burst in upon the labors of Miss Gloria Greene, planted herself in the middle of the floor, dropped her work roll and kicked it as far as she could, and lifted up the voice of lamentation in the accepted phrase, duly made and provided for such of feminine sex and tender years as find the weary pattern of the world too tangled for their solving.

"Oh, I wuh-wuh-wish I were duh-duh-dead!" mourned Miss Cole with violence.

Gloria Greene dropped the typed sheets which she had been studying and rose from her chair. She looked down at the lumpy, lax figure of helpless, petulant rebellion before her.

"Oh, you do, do you?" she remarked pensively.

"Yes; I do!"

"So do most people at one time or another," was Miss Greene's philosophical commentary upon this.

"Not you," declared Darcy, glancing up at the vivid face above her resentfully. "I'll bet you've never known what it is to feel that way in your life."

"Oh, I'm too busy for such nonsense," returned Gloria in her serene and caressing voice.

Indeed, it would be difficult for any one favored with Miss Gloria Greene's acquaintance to imagine her wishing to depart a life to the enjoyment of which she has vastly added for thousands of people. For under a slightly different name Miss Greene is known to and admired by most of the theater-going populace of the United States. From the top of her ruddy, imperiously poised head to the tip of her perfectly shod toes, she justifies and fulfills in every line and motion the happy thought which inspired the dean of American playwrights to nickname her "Gloria." Deeper than her beauty and abounding vitality there lies a more profound quality, the rare gift of giving graciously and naturally. It is Gloria Greene's unconscious and intuitive mission in life to lend color and light and cheer to colorless, dim, and forlorn folk wherever she encounters them. That is why Darcy Cole was, at the moment, dribbling tears and aspirations for an immediate demise all over Gloria's rare Anatolian rug. Not that Darcy really desired to die. She merely wished Gloria Greene to make life more practicable for her.

"That's imagination, you know," continued the actress.

"It isn't," snivelled Darcy.

"Then it's indigestion. Have a pill."

"I won't!" declined the girl rudely. "You're making fun of me. They all make fun of me. I do wish I was dead!"

"Do you, indeed!"

Setting two slim but powerful hands upon the girl's shoulders, Gloria Greene proceeded methodically to shake her. She shook her until her hat (oh, but it was a bad and shabby hat!) came off and rolled upon the floor. She shook her until her hairpins fell like hail and her brown-black hair struggled out of its arrangement (oh, but it was a poor and tasteless arrangement!) and tumbled about her face (and, oh, but it was a sallow and torpid face!). She further shook her until her eyes bulged out and a faint flame shone on her cheeks, and her buttons began to pop, and her breath rattled on her teeth, and she could barely gasp out:

"St-t-t-top! You're shaking me to p-p-pieces!"

"Why not?" inquired Miss Greene blandly, and shook harder than before.

"D-d-d-dud-dud-don't" wailed the victim. "W-w-wait a m-m-m-minute!"

The shaker desisted, still maintaining her grip. "What's the matter?" she inquired.

"You're killing me!"

"Then you don't want to die, after all?" inquired the other.

"Not that way!" gasped the girl.

"It's my regular treatment for dead-wish-ers.

"It's brutal," whimpered Darcy. "Everything's brutal. The world's brutal. I hate it! I wish I-Glooo-oria! Don't begin again!"

"What do you wish?" demanded the administrator of discipline implacably.

"I wish I'd never come here at all."

"That's different," commented Miss Greene, "though it probably isn't true, either. Now sit down. Tell me all about it. I've got a few minutes to spare."

"It's very long," began Darcy dolefully. "You're trying to dodge. Begin at once. Or must I apply my treatment again?"

"Ow! No! Don't!" implored the girl. "I'll tell. But I don't know where to begin."

"Begin in the middle," suggested Gloria helpfully. "Then you can work both ways."

"I will. Well, then, you see, Maud's gone and got engaged."

"To whom?"

"Holcomb Lee, the illustrator."

"Why should that make you want to die? Are you in love with Mr. Lee?"

"I in love with Holcomb!" Darcy's bitter grin dismissed that supposition. "I'm not in love with anybody. It isn't that."

"Then what is it?" asked the patient Gloria.

"It's the whole thing. Helen Barrett is going to marry Paul Wood."

"If any woman know any just reason why these twain should not be joined together in holy matrimony, let her now speak or forever after hold her peace," solemnly misquoted Gloria.

"But-but-but Maud and Helen and I," pursued the girl, evincing symptoms of a melancholic relapse, "were going to be the Three Honest Working-Girls and keep up our Fifty-Sixth Street bachelor-girl hall for life. And now look at the darn thing!"

"What did you expect?" argued Gloria. "Maud is pretty and energetic, and Helen is one of those soft, fluffy creatures that some man always wants to take care of. Bachelor-girl agreements are only made to keep until the right man comes along, anyway."

"But where do I come in?" demanded Darcy, opening wide her discontented-looking eyes.

"Oh, you'll be getting engaged yourself one of these days."

For once in her tactful life Gloria Greene had made a stupid remark.

"Don't you patronize me!" flashed the girl. "I just won't stand it! I get enough of that at home from those two d--d fiancées."

Gloria turned a face of twinkling astonishment upon her visitor. "Why, Amanda Darcy Cole! What would the generations of your Puritan forbears-"

"Don't you call me Amanda, either! It's an old-maid name. I hate it-even if it does fit."

"It is rather a handicap," admitted her hostess. "But Darcy's pretty enough, anyway."

"It's the only pretty thing about me. Oh, Gloria," burst out the girl in a sudden flood-tide of self-revelation, "if you knew how I long to be pretty! Not beautiful, like you; I wouldn't ask as much as that. But just pretty enough to be noticed once in a while."

* * *

"Why, Darcy, dear-"

"No: let me talk!" Darcy proceeded in little, jerky gasps of eagerness. "Pretty. And well-dressed. And up-to-date. And smart. And everything! I'd sell my soul to the devil if he'd buy such a weakly, puny, piffling little soul, just really to live and be something besides a 'thoroughly nice girl' for one short year. 'A thoroughly nice girl'! Yah!" said Miss Cole in a manner which, whatever else it might have been, was not thoroughly nice.

"That's a rotten thing to say about any one," agreed the sympathetic Gloria. "Who calls you that?"

"The girls. You know the way they say it! Well, no wonder. Look at me!" she cried in passionate conclusion to her passionate outburst.

Gloria looked at her. She beheld an ungirlish frump of a thing with a lank but bulgy figure misclothed in woefully inappropriate garments, a muddy complexion, a sagging mouth, a drooping chin, a mass of deranged hair, and big, deep-gray, lusterless eyes, which implored her. The older woman considered and marveled.

"My dear child," she said gently, "are you sure it isn't some man?"

"I don't care a darn for any man in the world," returned the other with convincing promptitude. "It isn't that. It's just that I'm not-I don't-" Her courage seemed to ebb out, but she gained command of herself and continued plaintively: "All I want is to be in the game as other girls play it-to have a little attention and maybe a box of candy or some flowers once in a while: not to have men look past me like a tree. It isn't much to ask, is it? If you knew how tired I am of being just plain nobody! There's a-a somebody inside here"-she thumped her narrow, ribby chest-"but I can't get it out." Rising lumpily to her feet, she stretched out hands of piteous and grotesque appeal. "Please, Gloria," she prayed in a dwindling and saintly voice, "I want to raise just a little teeny bit of hell before I die."

A flash of sympathy and comprehension from the actress's intent face answered this noble aspiration. "Why, you're real, aren't you!" she exclaimed.

"Did you think I wasn't even that?" returned the other reproachfully.

"Not so many people are. It's something, anyway. Are you going to be honest, as well?"

"How, honest?"

"With me. Are you going to be frank?"

"Of course."

"Then tell me what started you on this."

A dismal sort of muddy flush overspread the girl's features. Silently she drew from her pocket a full-page drawing from "Life" which she unfolded and handed to the other. She laid a finger on the central figure.

"That's Darcy," said she.

"Is it?" Gloria studied the illustration interestedly. "Who drew it?"

"Holcomb Lee."

"That scrawl in the corner means Lee, does it? Is it drawn from life?"

"Yes."

"What does Maud say to your sitting as model for her young man?"

"Maud laughed," said Darcy between her teeth.

"Pussy, pussy!" commented Miss Greene. "That decided you to keep on, I suppose."

"Naturally."

"Well, the result justifies you."

"D' you think it's pretty?"

"I most certainly do."

"And don't you think it looks just the least lee-eetle bit like me?" pursued Darcy shyly.

Gloria scrutinized the drawing again, and then the wistful face before her. With growing astonishment she realized the fundamental likeness.

"More than that," said she. "That young man knows how to see with

his eyes."

"It was his own notion," said the girl in a rush of words. "One night I was sitting at the piano. He said there were lines in my face that he wanted. He asked me if I'd sit for him once. Then he had me come back again and again. I didn't mind. I-I liked it. It was the first time any one had ever seen anything to admire about me since I was a child. Oh, and one day he said: 'Miss Darcy, you must have been a beautiful child.'"

"Were you?" asked Gloria.

From another pocket Darcy took a small photograph holder. "Exhibit B," she said, passing it to the other.

It showed the head and shoulders of an eleven-year-old girl.

"It's charming," said Gloria, and meant it. "That's the way I ought to look now, only more so, Holcomb said. He said I was a spoilt job."

"Pig!"

"Oh, no. He didn't mean it that way. He just blurted it out as if he was sorry about it. He seemed to think that I was a waste of good material and-and he was quite peeved about it and kept swearing under his breath while he was drawing me."

"There I'm with him," declared Gloria vigorously. "I hate waste. It's in my Yankee blood, I suppose. And a wasted human being-that's a sort of practical blasphemy, according to my religion."

Darcy caught the inference. "Made in the image," she said quickly. "But what am I made in the image of!"

"What happened to change you from this?" Gloria held up Exhibit B.

"Well, I had an illness when I was thirteen. And about then we lost our money. And my parents died a little while after. And I never seemed to get back much life or spirit or ambition or digestion or anything."

"Can't get hold of your own boot-straps?" queried the other suggestingly.

"Haven't got the lifting power if I did," answered the girl. She picked nervously at her raveled and seedy sleeve. "Lee said he believed I could look like that-the way he made me look in the picture, you know-if only some one who knew could tell me how to go about it. D' you think maybe-p'raps-it might be just partly possible?"

Once more Gloria compared Exhibit A with Exhibit B, and then both with the original.

"I do," she pronounced with fitting solemnity.

"Oh-h-h-h!" breathed Darcy in a long-drawn, ecstatic sigh.

"At least partly possible. It's worth the trial, in any case. Darcy," said Miss Greene incisively, "I'm going to take you in hand, myself."

"Oh, Gloria! If you would! I'll love you forever for it."

"You won't. On the contrary, you'll probably hate me poisonously before it's half over."

"For helping me to be something and look like something?" protested the girl incredulously. "How could I be anything but the most grateful-"

"Wait and see," interrupted the oracle. "We're going to begin our little magic process right now. Presto-pass! You're a lay figure."

"A what?" faltered Darcy.

"A lay figure. Act accordingly."

"What does a lay figure do, please?"

"It doesn't. It's dead. It's dumb. Don't talk. You distract my mind."

For several minutes she walked around the girl, debating her from every angle with pitiless impersonality, and with the analytical eye of the adept in a school wherein attractiveness is often a personal and technical achievement. At the conclusion of this ordeal Darcy found herself perched upon a high-backed seat while the actress expertly daubed her face with make-up from a box kept for purposes of experimentation. Next the subject's hair was arranged, and her figure draped in the flowing lines of some shimmering fabric, chosen, after much profound consideration on Gloria's part, from a carved chest. She was then told to straighten her spine, and smile. Near her lay Gloria's hand mirror. Before the proprietor could interfere the girl picked it up and sat staring into it.

"Well, and what do you think of yourself?" queried her mentor grimly.

"I-I look like a bad joke," whimpered Darcy.

"You do. But if you cry I'll set you out on the fire-escape just as you are, for the neighbors to throw things at."

"I'm n-n-n-not c-c-crying."

"And don't grab, next time. Well-conditioned lay figures never do. Sit up! You're all caved in again."

With strong hands she prodded, bent, and moulded the girl's yielding figure to the desired posture. Finally she wheeled into position, several yards away, a full-length glass, and turned on an overhead light.

"Now. Look in here."

Looking, Darcy gave a little gasp of wonder and delight. Under the modulated radiance and with the toning down of distance, the harsh, turgid spots and lines of the make-up had blended into a harmonious ensemble. The face was that of Holcomb Lee's picture-almost.

"Oh!" cried Darcy hoarsely. "Could you ever make me like that?"

"No."

Darcy collapsed. "I might have known," she wailed.

"What do you expect for a nickel, in these days of depreciated currency?" inquired Gloria callously. "It isn't as simple as it looks."

"But if you can't do it for me-"

"I certainly can't, my dear."

"Then why did you let me-"

"But if I can't, perhaps some one else can."

"Who?"

"You."

"Me!"

"You, your own little, lone self, and no one else in the whole big, round world," declared the actress with electrifying vigor. "Thou art the woman."

"What must I do? How do I do it? What do I need?" cried Darcy in a breath.

"Grit."

"Is that all?"

"All? No; it isn't all. It's just a beginning. But if you think it's an easy one you don't know what the word means yet."

"Pooh!" retorted Darcy with another glance at the magic glass. "I'd cheerfully stand still and be stuck full of red-hot pins and needles, if it would make me look like that. I'll furnish the grit," she added confidently, "if you'll show me how to do the rest."

There came a gleam into her mentor's eye that the girl missed. "Very well," said Gloria. "Allowing that, let's make a start. Of all your little ambitions which one would you like to have fulfilled first?"

The girl pondered. "Dress," she decided presently. "I want to have beautiful, thrilling clothes, like a princess."

"The one princess of my acquaintance," observed Gloria, "looks as though she dressed herself backwards out of a mail-order catalogue. But that's beside the question. Clothes cost money. How much money have you got?" Darcy clasped her hands. "I'm rich," she announced triumphantly.

"How rich?"

"Awfully rich. Two thousand big, round, hard, beautiful dollars. Isn't that grand!"

"I don't know that it's grand. But it's good-with care."

"It's twice as much as I've ever made in a whole year of work on my silly little wall-paper designs." Darcy directed a resentful look at the imitation-leather roll, lying in the corner where she had kicked it.

"Where did you get it?"

"My blessed old Aunt Sarah wrote it to me."

"Wrote it? Wrote you two thousand dollars?"

"Yes. Why not? She'd intended to leave it to me when she died. But she doesn't feel like dying for a long time yet; so she wrote and said that she preferred giving it and getting thanked because it was so much, rather than willing it and getting roasted because it was so little."

"Sensible auntie! Are you going to be sensible too?"

"How?"

"Put the money in the bank. And forget this experiment."

Darcy stretched out desperate hands toward the big, blessed mirror.

"And give up that Me?"

"Perhaps you never could be that. It's only a chance at best."

"But it is a chance. You said it was a chance yourself."

"Yes; but-"

"And now are you going to take that away from me?"

Gloria's eyes were doubtful. "Is it worth two thousand big, round, hard, beautiful dollars? Just the bare chance of it?"

"Two million," declared Darcy with impassioned conviction.

"Then you're determined to be a fool about this?"

"I am."

Suddenly Gloria seized and hugged her. "If you weren't, I'd disown you as a recreant to our sex," she cried.

"Then you're going to help me?"

"To the bitter end! First let's take an inventory. Be a lay figure again."

The girl stiffened to attention. Gloria ticked off the points on her fingers as she talked.

"You've got several assets. First, you're a lady. Nothing to teach there, and it's the hardest of all lessons. Second, you've got a really charming voice if you didn't whine with it. Third, your hair is nice. But it might as well be stuffing a pillow for all the good you get of it. Fourth, you've got eyes that'd be dangerous if the whites weren't yellow. If you'd try wearing your heart in'em instead of your liver, they'd do very well. Fifth, the lines of the face-see 'Life.' Sixth, you look as if you were built to be light and strong."

"I rather like being a dummy," purred Darcy.

"Wait. The other side of the ledger is coming. You're going to have a bad five minutes. Stand up."

Darcy obeyed.

"Like a camel," dispassionately commented the actress. "Look in the glass now," she ordered.

Darcy looked.

"How d'you like it?" demanded her instructor.

"N-not as well."

"I should think likely. You lop."

"I-I can't help it."

"Nonsense! You slump."

Darcy's lips slackened petulantly down at the corners. Like a flash, Gloria transfixed the offending mouth with two leveled fingers. "You peeve," she accused.

Darcy continued to peeve. Also she sniffled. "Your chin is flabby," pursued the inexorable critic. "Your mouth is fishy. Your eyes are bleary. Your skin is muddy. You walk like a duck, and you stand like a bag. And if you cry I'll quit you here, now, and forever."

With a mighty struggle, Darcy choked back her emotions. "I suppose the Lord gave me my face," she defended herself sulkily.

"Don't libel your Maker. The Lord gave you a face. See Exhibit B."

"I can't help it if-"

"Of course you could have helped it! What you've done to your face is a crime, Darcy Cole! You ought to be arrested! Not to mention what you've done to your figure. I shouldn't be surprised," she added as the doorbell rang, "if that were the police now, come to hale you away to judgment. Sit still," she commanded as Darcy, suddenly conscious of her exotic costume, looked about for a way of escape.

The door opened, not to the police, but to a visitor who was presented to the shrinking Miss Cole as Mr. Thomas Harmon. Mr. Harmon displayed himself as a stocky man with very cheerful, bright brown eyes, reassuringly deferential manners, and a curious effect of carrying his sturdy frame as if it weighed nothing at all. Darcy mentally observed that he looked as fit in his way as did Gloria in hers. Already she was beginning to take note of physical condition.

"Have I interrupted a rehearsal?" asked Mr. Harmon.

"No," said Gloria. "That is, yes."

"That's a fair choice," remarked Mr. Harmon magnanimously. "I'll take yes. Am I right, Miss Cole?"

"It doesn't matter. We'd finished," murmured Darcy confusedly.

"I've promised Mr. Harmon," Gloria explained, turning to her, "to help him choose an anniversary present for his sister. It won't take more than an hour. Amuse yourself until I come back."

On the stairway outside, Gloria, intent upon her new purpose, addressed her companion. "Tom, what do you think of her?"

"Of whom?"

"Little Darcy Cole."

"Oh"-vaguely-"I don't know."

Gloria sighed.

"Why the effect of hopelessness?" inquired Tom Harmon.

"Oh, nothing. Only, you don't seem to use your eyes much."

"I was using them to the best of purposes," declared Mr. Harmon indignantly. "Considering that I haven't set them on you for nearly a month, you can't expect me to waste time on casual flappers in fancy-dress costumes. Be fair, Gloria."

"Darcy isn't a casual flapper."

"What is she, then? A coming genius?"

"A reigning beauty and heart-wrecker of the future."

"Good Lord!" said Mr. Harmon with such fervor that Gloria sighed again.

"Couldn't you see anything in her, Tom?" she asked appealingly.

"Only the humpy way she wore that costume and the fact that she'd apparently been crying," answered Mr. Harmon, who, despite Gloria's strictures, was a person not devoid of discernment. "She seemed rather a mess to me. What's the idea, Gloria? Anything I can help in?" Gloria smiled. "It's like you to want to help. But this is my job. And," she added to herself, "it's going to be a real one."

* * *

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