Intermezzo by James Huneker
In his hand Frank Etharedge held a cablegram. The emotion of the
moment was one of triumph mixed with curiosity; his sensitive face a
keyboard over which his feelings swept the octave. He was alone in his
office, and from the windows on the top floor of this giant building he
saw the harbor, saw the river maculated with craft; saw the bay, the
big Statuebest of all saw steamships. This caught his fancies into
one chord and the keynote sounded: Yes, life was a good thing
sometimes. A few months more, in the spring, he would be sailing on
just such an iron carrier of joy, sailing to Paris, to Edna. He looked
at the pink message again. It announced in disconnected words that Mrs.
Etharedge had been bidden to the Paris Grand Opéra. The cable was ten
days old, and on each of these days the lawyer had gone to his private
consulting room immediately after luncheon, and, facing seaward, read
the precious revelation: Engaged by Gailhard for Opéra. Will write.
Edna. That was allbut it was the top of the hill for both after
three years of separation and work. He was not an expansive man and
said little to his associates of this good fortune, though there were
times when he felt as if he would like to throw open the windows and
shout the glorious news across the chimneys of the world.
Etharedge was a slim, nervous man with dark eyes and pointed beard.
He believed in his wife. Europe, artistic Europe, had for him the
fascination which sends fanatics across hot sands to Mecca shrines. He
had never seen Paris but knew its people, palaces, galleries. His whole
life was a preparation for deliberate assault upon the City by the
Seine. He spoke American-French, ate at French-American table d'hôtes,
and had been married four years to a girl of Gallic descent whose
singing held such promise of future brilliancy that finally their
household was disrupted by music and its fluent deceptions. The advice
of friends, the unfortunate praise of a few professional critics, and
Edna Etharedge accompanied by her cousin, a widow, sailed for Paris.
Each summer he made up his mind to join her; once the death of his
mother had stopped him, and a second time money matters held him in a
vise of steel, but the third seasonhe did not care to dwell upon that
last summer: his conscience was ill at ease. And Edna worked like the
galley slave into which operatic routine transforms the most buoyant
spirit. For the first two years her letters were as regular as the mail
serviceand hopeful. She was getting on famously. Her cousin
corroborated the accounts of plain living and high singing. There were
no vacations in the simple pension on the Boulevard de Clichy. She had
the best master in Paris, the best répétiteur; and the instructor who
came to coach her in stage business declared that madame held the
future in the hollow of her pretty palm. But the third year letters
began to miss. Edna wrote irregularly in pessimistic phrases. Art was
so long and life so gray that she felt, thus she assured her husband,
as if she must give up everything and return to him. Did he miss her?
Why was he coolabove all, patient? Didn't he long for wings to fly
across the Atlantic? Then a silence of three weeks. Etharedge grew
frantic. He neglected business, spent much money in telegraph tolls,
and was at last relieved by a letter from Emmeline relating Edna's
severe illness, her close sailing to the perilous gate, and her slow
recovery. He was told not to come over as they were on the point of
starting for Switzerland where the invalid had been ordered. Frank felt
happy for the first time since his wife had gone away. After that,
letters began againold currents ran smooth and the climax came with
the wonderful news.
He would go to Parisgo in a few months, go without writing. Then,
gaining the beautiful city, he would read the announcements of Edna's
singing. With what selfish, subtle joy would he buy a box and listen to
the voice of his beautiful wife, watch the lithe figure, hear the
applause after her aria! He had sworn this was to reward his long
months of loneliness, of syncopated hopes, of tiresome labor; his
profession had become unleavened drudgery. Perhaps Edna would make him
her business man, her constant companion. Ah! what enchantment to stand
in the coulisses and hold her wraps while she floated near the
footlights on the pinions of song. He would give up his distasteful
practice and devote the remainder of his life to the service of a great
artist, hear all the music he longed for, see the Paris of his dreams.
The door opened. Plunged in reverie he felt that this was but an
extension of his vision. Edna! he cried and flung wide his arms.
Frank, you dear old boy, how thin you've grown! Heavens! You're not
sick? Wait, wait until I raise the window. She pushed up the sash
noisily and Frank felt the brisk air on his temples. He smiled though
his heart nipped sadly. It was Edna, Edna his wife in the flesh; and
the excitement of holding her in his willing arms drove from his brain
the vapors of idle hope. She was looking down at him a strong, handsome
girl with eyes too bright and hair too golden. Edna, he cried, your
hair, what have you done to your lovely black hair? There's a salute
from a loving husband. No surprise, though I've dropped from the
clouds. But my hair is quizzed. Now, what do you mean, Frank
Etharedge? Both were agitated, both endeavored to dissemble. Then his
eyes fell on the cablegram. He started.
In the name of God, Edna, is anything the matter? This cable! Why
are you here? Are you in trouble? The dark shadows under her eyes
lightened at the commonplace questions. She had time to tune her
Frank, don't ask too much at once. I'm here because I am. We have
just landed. I left Emmeline on the pier with the custom officers and
came to you immediately. Say you're glad to see memy old Frank!
But, but he stammered.
Yes, I know what you are thinking. I was engaged for the Paris
Opéra Was? he blankly ejaculatedand I couldn't stand it.
Locatéli Who? Locatéli. You remember him, Frank, my old teacher?
He got me into the Opéra and he got me out of it. Do you mean that
low-lived scamp who gave you lessons here, the man I kicked out of
doors? She flushed. Etharedge stared at her. He was near despair. His
dream of an artistic life on the Continent was as a bubble burst in the
midday sunlight. He loved his wife, but the shock of her unheralded
arrival, the hasty ill-news, proved too much for this patient man's
nerves. So he transposed his wrath to Locatéli.
Well, I'm damned! he blurted, kicking aside the chair and walking
the floor like a caged cat. And to think that scoundrel of an
Italian Frenchman, Frank, she interposedthat foreigner, who
ought to have been shot for insulting you, that Locatéli, followed you
to Paris and mixed up in your affairs! And you say he had you pushed
out of the Opéra? The intriguing villain! How did you come to see him?
He gave me lessons in Paris. Locatéli gave youLord! The man
was speechless. He put his hand to his forehead several times, and then
gazed at his wife's hair. She fell to sobbing. Frank, she wailed,
Frank! I've come back to you because I couldn't stand it any
longerit was killing me. Can't you see it? Can't you believe me? No
woman, no American girl can go through that life and come out of
ithappy. It made me sick, Frank, but I did not like to tell you. And
now, after I've thrown up a career simply because I can't be your wife
and a great artist at the same time, your suspicions are driving me
mad. Her tone was poignant. He looked out on the harbor as another
steamer passed the Statue bound for Europe.
Ask Emmeline! She, too, followed the vessel with hopeless
expression and clasped his shoulder. Oh! Sweetheart, aren't you glad
to have me back again? It's Edna, your wife! I've been through lots for
the sake of music. Now I want my husbandI'm not happy away from him.
He suddenly embraced her. Forgotten the disappointment, forgotten the
fast vanishing hope of a luxurious life, of seeing his dreamParis;
forgotten all in the fierce joy of having Edna with him forever. Again
he experienced a thrill that must be happiness: as if his being were
dissolving into a magnetic slumber. He searched her eyes. She bore it
Are you my same little Edna? Oh, my husband! There was a knock
at the door; an office boy entered and gave Etharedge a letter which
bore a foreign stamp. She put out her hand greedily. It will keep
until after dinner, Edna. We'll go to some café, drink a bottle of
champagne and celebrate. You must tell me your storyperhaps we may be
able to go to Paris, after all. To Paris! Edna shivered and
importuned for the letter until he showed it. Why, it's mine! she
exclaimed. It's the letter I wrote you before we sailed. You said
nothing about it when you came in? He put it in his pocket and looked
for his hat. She was the color of clay. It is my letter. Let me have
it, she begged. Why, dear, what's the matter? I'll give it to you
after I have read it. Why this excitement? Besides, the address is not
in your handwriting. He trembled. Emmeline wrote it for me; I was too
busyor sickor Hang the letter, my dear girl. I hear the
elevator. Let's run and catch it. This is the happiest hour of my life.
An 'intermezzo' you musicians call it, don't you? Yes, she
desperately whispered following him into the hall, an intermezzo of
Suddenly with a grin the man turned and handed her the letter:
Here! I'd better not juggle with the future. You can tell me all about
And now for the first time Edna hated him.