Mike says, low and hurried, “Will you marry me, Tracy?”
It’s her third marriage proposal, and it is certainly the most extraordinary - though Dexter designed such a perfectly sweet boat and George obtained the backing services of a seven piece brass ensemble from the miner’s band. Also forty doves. She’d almost managed to forget the doves.
But the point is no previous proposal had a ready-made wedding ceremony complete with parson, flower arrangements and sixty odd guests. (The sixty first is Dexter, not so much a guest but quite odd nonetheless.)
Dexter’s there. Mike’s nice girl with the camera, Liz, is there. There’s wedding music in the background. The whole thing is a laugh really. A complete gas. It’s also a little bit horrible when she lets herself think about it.
Twenty minutes earlier she’d been almost willing to take George “Man of the People” Kittredge for better for worse and become a shining example of Wifehood to women everywhere.
Now she is tempted to accept a proposal from a struggling writer in appallingly ordinary shoes.
Of course, she could say yes.
Not long from now, and sooner if Tracy is involved, Mike Connor will be a writer of considerable note. As his wife, Tracy would preside over salons crammed with fashionable intellectuals. She’d open her mouth and the brightest minds of Philadelphia would listen in awe, dazzled and deferential.
But Tracy is uncomfortably aware that mere days ago she had equally glamorous fantasies of presiding over political receptions as George Kittredge’s devoted helpmate.
She is also aware that Mike Connor’s proposal was prompted at least partly by kindness and circumstance - truly absurd circumstance. She can’t stand before her wedding guests and marry a brand new, never been worn, entirely different groom. George’s family in the first few rows would be bound to notice. People would be bound to talk. The newspapers would simply devour her. She also can’t stand the thought of marrying someone who’d asked out of even a sliver of kindness.
“You still with us, Red?” Dexter says. He looks amused and Tracy flushes. Dexter has always managed to catch her in the most awkward of thoughts.
“You bet,” Tracy says. She turns to Mike but avoids his eyes. “Thank you, Mike. Thank you ever so much for the enormously sweet offer, but no thank you.”
She glances up at Mike’s face. It’s a mistake. He’s looking at her with his clear direct gaze and her breath catches.
After a moment Dexter clears his throat. “Do you know,” he says consideringly, “I had half a thought of asking you to give love and marriage another go with me, Red. But I rather think I might have missed that boat.”
“You haven’t missed anything, Dexter. You know I was never a good wife for you,” says Tracy, turning to him. “You’ll soon realise it's a relief to jump straight off.”
“I’ll maintain that I was pushed,” says Dexter. “But I’m not a man who’ll stow away unwanted.”
“What are you people talking about?” asks Mother as the family comes in from the outer room.
“Just a dear little piece of boating history,” says Tracy.
Her father exclaims, “Boats!” loudly enough that Tracy is sure the wedding guests can hear.
“Moving along,” says Dexter. “We can’t let all this wedding hoo-ha be wasted. Dinah – my dearest Dinah, you’re practically an adult. Will you accept my hand in marriage?”
“Je suis très flatée,” says Dinah. “But no, Dexter. I’m holding out for a member of the French aristocracy, and preferably one who isn’t holding a torch for my sister.”
“Wise girl,” says Liz.
Mike’s eyes are on Tracy still. She feels unnerved, almost shy. Tracy Lord is not one for feeling shy.
She says briskly, “I have a speech to make, my dears.”
She can feel Mike’s gaze as she turns away. She mutters to herself as she walks down the aisle. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I am sorry (though as it turns out I am not) to inform you that the Bride and Groom are no longer. (Though that makes it sound as though we had died, and poor George’s mother.)”
She raises her chin as she reaches the lectern.
The non-wedding over, Liz ensconces herself in the billiards room with Dexter and Dinah to discuss affairs of the heart and techniques for chalking cue sticks. Mike is roped into directing traffic.
He develops a series of complicated hand signals and timely yells to ensure the motor cars preserve their paint jobs as they depart. Tracy’s “other” uncle, Morty, (“Keep an eye on that one. He’s a dear but he’s dipped into the champagne.”) circles a tree before narrowly avoiding Kittredge’s great aunt on the driveway. Kittredge’s cousin weaves around the lawn on a motorcycle labelled ‘Big Chief’. She carries a steady stream of shrieking nieces in her side car.
Between near accidents, Mike watches Tracy. She’s framed by the immense front door, smiling farewells at the guests.
“This is all just too awful for you,” says a third middle aged lady with an unfortunate mauve hat.
“It really isn’t, Aunt Maud,” says Tracy with a brittle smile.
“A catastrophe,” continues Aunt Maud obliviously. “Maybe next time you should find someone not quite so exceedingly attractive.”
Tracy turns to another guest.
“Reggie,” she says brightly. “So good of you to come. I’m terribly sorry about the drive.”
“Worth every mile of it, my dear,” says florid Reggie. “I choose to imagine these shenanigans mean you’re holding out to marry me.”
“You’ve found out my secret, Reggie,” says Tracy.
The swathe of black cars and wealthy relatives begins to blur together. Mike gauges it’s time to make good his escape. In the room the Lords provided him, he packs clothing into his bag. The noise downstairs is ebbing.
There’s a knock at the door. He expects Liz but opens the door to Tracy.
“Mike,” she says. She flits through the door and perches on his bed. He bundles the briefs he’s holding into a pocket.
“Why, hello, Tracy.”
“You’re leaving us?”
“It seemed the time.”
“Ah,” says Tracy, then abruptly, “And it’s turned into a charming evening.”
“Yes.” Mike turns to the window.
“Quite balmy,” he replies.
“The light is simply golden and lovely.”
Mike nods. Tracy is at her most incomprehensible. She’s also wonderful, of course.
“Mike, I’m suggesting that you invite me to dinner,” says Tracy suddenly.
Mike turns to her. “Tracy. My darling.”
“Not your darling,” she corrects. Mike can’t stop himself beaming anyway. “But a dinner date would be divine. Shall we say Friday?”
They say Friday.
Faced with finding the perfect place for a dinner date with Philadelphia royalty, Mike consults Mrs. Cheung from upstairs and Mr. Arnold from across the street. Mrs. Cheung reads all the society pages and Mr. Arnold is a retired driver for the Clothier family. It turns out they have opposing views on everything from locale to the appeal of a band. In the end, Mike settles on Nostalgia’s Restaurant.
Nostalgia's interior is opulent art deco. Everyone is wearing black tie. The Philadelphia elite converse and move between tables discreetly. Mike’s suit is tight across the shoulders but he is mildly proud of himself for such a clearly suitable choice.
The host shows Mike to a tucked away table near the kitchen door. The table’s not ideal but the food smells wonderful.
Then Tracy arrives and everyone notices. She’s dressed in a daring cream pants suit. As she steps in she unties the driving scarf from her head. Her hair is radiant.
“Hello Frankie,” she says airily to the host.
“Tracy, bella. We did not expect you.”
“Oh, never mind. I’m meeting someone,” she says. She spots Mike at his table and breezes toward him.
Frankie stands in her way. “Oh no, Tracy, not this table for you. We will move you and the gentleman. We did not realize. Come, we will sit you here.”
Tracy glances at Mike swiftly. “No, no. This is fine Frankie. It’s intimate. Nice.” She looks dubious as the kitchen door swings open and a waiter shifts briskly past her. Mike feels a little like he has failed her.
Frankie stands between Tracy and Mike. He looks unhappy. Tracy glances quickly about the restaurant.
“Thank you, sir,” Mike says, standing up. He tries to speak with good grace. “We’ll be elated to move.” He adds, "I was a dash apprehensive about relating so closely with the proletariat in the kitchen," rather spoiling the effect.
They are seated near the windows. From here, the streetlights stretch prettily through the trees, but Mike can’t enjoy it.
The waiter brings wine, which Tracy refuses. They look at one another in unforeseen silence, then down at their menus. Tracy selects a veal dish. Mike suppresses the sense that this is inappropriate given impending local meat rationing. He carefully selects salmon.
After a pause, “I was terribly unlucky,” says Tracy. “Father has taken the Buick, and Mother won’t let me drive the roadster - they imported it from England and I’m informed it’s terribly fast. Ordinarily I wouldn’t mind coming in one of the other cars but it’s a little awkward to have a driver with me. He doesn’t approve of South Philadelphia. All the bebop and jumping the blues, you know. It’s a bit much for Denny. I’ll have to remember to send him some dinner. It was all rather last minute.” She calls Frankie over. “Send one of the boys to ask Denny what he wants, will you Frankie dear?” she asks.
“Of course, Tracy.”
She smiles across at Mike. “Everything arranged. Now tell me about your parents, Mike. Are they still in South Bend?”
“Tracy!” A young lady interrupts.
“Carol,” says Tracy. Carol is glossy and bronzed, like a horrible skinny goddess.
“Tracy, I heard the news about George. I hope you don’t mind my popping up-“
“Not at all,” Tracy murmurs.
“-To say I’m so glad you’re rid of that rather stolid Kittredge. Of course, I’m sure he has many good qualities but he’s not one of us, is he dear? It was that awful countrified jacket that-.”
“Carol, this is Mike,” says Tracy.
“-Really gave him away, didn’t it? Gauche. Oh hello.” Carol turns to Mike, frankly appraising him. Apparently she likes what she sees. “Hello there, Mike. Some kind of artist?” She directs the question to Tracy.
“A humble writer,” says Mike. "Humble as pie, and almost as tasty."
Tracy laughs uncomfortably.
“Now he is a lot more fun, Tracy. Really you are quite naughty though. You must stop at our table. Bitsy is here and her ludicrously wealthy cousins.”
Carol is replaced by Larry (“He’s in publishing, you should meet him”) and Larry is replaced by Morris. (“Quite a bore but the most fabulous portraits, he’s very important.”)
There’s a constant stream of visitors, the cream of the Philadelphia crop. Each visitor eyes Mike with amusement or disdain. Tracy is alternately distracted and effusive, distracting and maddening.
“You simply must read Mike's book,” Tracy says and Mike feels uncomfortably like he’s on the market.
By the time Tracy and Mike stand to leave, it seems to Mike that Tracy is both out of reach and out of touch.
When they reach the street, her driver is leaning against the car. He glares at Mike menacingly. Tracy catches the look. "He's known me since I was four and a half, you see," she explains.
Mike feels twitchy. "He's certainly a little unsettling. But quite effective as security, I imagine." He shifts from one foot to the other.
"Poor Mike," says Tracy. "Don't mind Denny."
They step away into an alcove in the restaurant wall. Mike can feel Denny's glare through the brickwork. Of course, when he looks at Tracy he forgets all about Denny. It’s the first time Tracy’s been silent in half an hour. Mike takes her hand in his. There’s a wistfulness when Tracy looks at him.
“This wasn’t quite what I expected,” she says. “But... I imagine you made some valuable contacts.”
She’s beautiful, the yellow streetlight striking her hair and catching in her eyes. She is there before him. But she is more distant from him than even he imagined.
Mike says, “I truly think you’re splendid, Tracy.”
“But?” she says. Then more slowly, “I think I heard a but coming, Mike.”
“They are whole different worlds, Tracy. Yours and mine.”
“Yours and mine,” she repeats.
“I can no more take you out of your world than you can take me out of mine,” he says.
She’s as lovely as ever and he kisses her. If their first kiss was all sparking tempest and tornado, this kiss is simple regret. It hurts to step away.
They walk to the car in silence. “Drive safely,” he says, and hands her into the car.
“I utterly bungled that,” Tracy says to her Mother and Dinah the next morning. “Still, I’m not going down without a struggle. I believe I’m growing rather fond of Mike Connor.”
“Rather fond?” asks Dinah loudly. “Dexter says you’re in love. He’s quite depressed.”
“Oh dear,” says Tracy’s mother. “Perhaps I should introduce him to Virginia’s daughter. She’s rather pretty-“
“Mother,” Tracy interrupts.
“Well, not as pretty as you dear,” says her mother.
“Oh I don’t think Tracy’s pretty,” says Dinah in her weary woman of the world voice. “I think she’s striking. Mike though, Mike thinks Tracy is marvelous.”
“Use your inside voice, Dinah.”
Tracy sighs and resolves to clear this up on her own.
Mike’s apartment is narrow, with windows along one side wall. He’s home on a Saturday afternoon. There’s a typewriter in front of him in case inspiration hits but he's mostly contemplating the ugly wallpaper in the kitchen, trying to classify its fruit and flora pattern.
He's settled on rather too orange peaches and pansies when the doorbell rings. He almost knows it’s Tracy from the strident peal. When he opens the door to her, the sinking light reflects from her face. Mike is dazzled, again. But he’s learned that lesson twice now.
She walks in like she owns the place, which to be fair she probably does.
“Hello Mike,” she says cheerfully.
He closes his eyes briefly. “No,” he says. “Tracy, I can’t-“
“What can’t you?” she asks, consciously moving into his space.
“Tracy,” he says low in his throat. “Tracy. The two days over which I met you included more soaring highs and devastating lows
than any prior to it. The difficulty is each time I meet with you I am left with the low. Each time I see you I have to teach myself again not to love you.”
“Oh,” Tracy says. “But-“
“It is essentially excruciating.”
“Oh,” she says again. “But why not give it a try, Mike. We’re not so very different.“
“You people want a strawberry and you have it flown in. The window has a streak and somebody washes it for you. You dismiss the working stiffs as beneath your dignity and you never notice that your privileges come straight from our sweat. I can’t live in that world. Your people are presumptuous and dismissive. It’s a different world from mine.”
“Not that different, Mike,” she says. Her eyes flash and she is magnificent. She is also leaving. She slams the door behind her as she goes. Mike looks after her. He hopes- but he doesn’t think there’s anything to hope.
Tracy is furious. She is beyond furious, she’s seething. Most men would be overjoyed to have her even glance at them twice. She’s Tracy Lord.
Yet each time she resolves to let Mike Connor lie in his self-made swill, she remembers the finest aspects of him – their immediate understanding, his passion for noble causes, the way he looks at her, and she stops breathing. She knows he’s in love with her because she’s in love with him.
“Stop stamping, Tracy,” says her mother from the conservatory. “You’re disturbing the orchids.”
“You can come and stamp in here,” yells Dinah from the music room. “You need to thrash it all through with your darling sister. I can be very sympathetic.”
Tracy is weary. “I need some space,” she says.
“Well there’s a considerable amount of space outside, Tracy dear,” says her mother.
Tracy spends the afternoon storming about the stables and arguing with herself. Eventually she determines that the only answer is to cultivate an ingenious plan to win Mike Connor for good.
“I have found myself in a bit of a bind, Miss Imbrie, and I hate to ask but I need a job,” Tracy says to Liz three days later.
Liz gapes a little. “You need a job?”
They’re seated in the offices of the Philadelphia Inquirer. It is somewhat more salubrious than Liz’s previous employer.
“Yes. I’m afraid my life has rather run aground. I don’t like to talk about it, but in the aftermath of my wedding, I have been cut off by my family and so need to find work.”
“I see,” says Liz. “And you came to me?”
“I unfortunately know very few real live people who are gainfully employed,” Tracy says with an apologetic smile.
“I see,” says Liz again.
“Miss Imbrie,” says Tracy directly. “Liz. Let me speak terribly plainly with you. Friday last I dined with our mutual friend, Macaulay Connor. Mike to his friends, of whom you are one. Our dinner was not a success. I suspect I rather put him off when I ordered the Veal Louis. Not his taste. And it was an error introducing him to quite so many important artists and writers. He is proud. Now that- now that I am one of the common people-“
“Yes,” says Liz.
“-having been cut off by my family, I wish to demonstrate to Mike that I am no longer Tracy Lord, society heiress, but instead am the woman for him. I consider this to be in Mike’s best interests, which you, as one of his friends, will wish to embrace.”
“Miss Lord,” says Liz.
“Tracy,” Tracy corrects and continues quickly. “I am quite determined, Liz, and I will find myself gainful employment. Given that, it might be prudent for you to have me close by. Just to keep an eye on me.” Tracy smiles.
After a moment’s hesitation Liz says slowly, “Well, they are looking for a local crime reporter.”
“I can think of no reason that they would not employ me,” says Tracy. She juts out her chin.
Liz laughs suddenly. “Do you know, neither can I,” she says. “If you can convince me, I doubt you’ll have any difficulty with anyone else.”
On their way out Liz adds, “You know I have met your family, Tracy, and I can no more imagine them cutting you off than I can imagine flying to the moon.”
“Oh,” says Tracy. “Well as I said I’d really rather not talk about it, it’s just too horrible.”
“Quite,” says Liz.
“Our first order of business is to welcome our newest and brightest staff reporter, Miss Tracy -uh- Ward,” says James Endacott, the local news editor. “You’ve likely all noticed her in the offices.”
The editorial and reporting staff are all seated around a wooden table which is marked with coffee stains and cigarette burns.
Mr Endacott smiles kindly at Tracy. What he lacks in acumen he makes up in genuine, if patronizing, interest. “We’ve been impressed with your crime reporting thus far, Miss –uh- Ward. Not every woman would be comfortable with the roads you walk to cover this news.”
“I’m not every woman,” says Tracy brightly.
She smiles around the table. She feels her story on the house fire (was it cruel fate or a crueler arsonist?) is particularly fine work. The section from the point of view of the much-loved family cat has a particular poignancy.
She’s still smiling brightly as Mike steps in. He stares at her, shakes his head as though to clear his brain, then stares again.
Tracy becomes aware of Liz elbowing her in the ribs. “You’re Tracy Ward,” mutters Liz through the side of her mouth.
“Miss Ward?” says Mr Endacott as though he’s repeating himself.
“I was merely complimenting your latest piece. Lovely work, my dear, lovely work. Tell us, how did you realize there was a child in the attic? Such a powerful touch.”
“I climbed a tree and went in through the upper window,” says Tracy. She still looking at Mike.
“Into a burning building?”
“Well, at the time only the ground floor was on fire.”
In the doorway, Mike gulps. He opens and closes his mouth as if he has something to say.
Then Mr. Endacott notices Mike and spends ten minutes enlightening the staff on the special feature pieces Mike will be writing. “We want to personalize the War in Europe,” says Endacott, “It is not as far away as we think. ‘France Cannot Hold!’ is an important headline but American mothers and wives and our boys themselves must be aware of the young man on the front, the little wife waiting at home, the children in occupied territories.” Endacott’s voice rings out. “Mike Connor will be the voice of those people for Philadelphia!”
Everyone looks uncomfortable. Tracy does not believe her life will be affected by the War in Europe, but she’s been wrong before.
Mike manages to avoid Tracy for the remainder of the day. That is, he manages to avoid her physically. He can’t avoid the thought of her. Every voice he hears is her voice; every gleam of red is her hair; every footfall is her approaching. It makes him nervy and ridiculous. At one point he finds himself skulking in the broom closet while a throng of reporters saunter past. It’s likely that Tracy is not even with them.
At six in the evening his skulking skills fail him. Tracy knocks and, without waiting for a reply, opens his office door.
“Tracy,” says Mike.
“Hello there, Mr. Connor. It’s such an unexpected and delightful surprise to come upon you here.”
“Tracy, what are you doing?”
“Discussing my work with a senior colleague?”
“That’s just what I mean. Your work? Tracy. What are you doing working at all?”
“Oh didn’t anyone tell you? I’m afraid I’ve been cut off from my family. Not a penny to my name. It’s all very sordid and I don’t like to speak of it. But I’m a regular working girl now, and I thought of your nice girl Liz and how kind she was-“
“Cut you off?”
“But Tracy, that’s preposterous.”
Tracy turns away. “As I said, I don’t like to speak of it. It’s simply too, too painful.” She looks back at him, walks to his desk and plants her hands firmly on its top. “What I do want to speak about is business.”
“Yes. The business of writing excellent news pieces.”
Tracy's whole story seems exceptionally sketchy. He doesn't exactly believe her and he can only imagine the damage that will be inflicted by Tracy careening about his working life. The trouble is, he can't quite bring himself to argue. This is clearly going to end in disaster.
So he asks her to sit. Somehow they speak of Everyman appeal and journalistic integrity for twenty minutes. Tracy exhibits an interest in story sequence and a well developed sense of pacing. It’s like speaking with a real person. Then Tracy smiles and he remembers that it is her.
“Where are you living, Tracy?” he asks four days later while they discuss interviewing technique over a table in the conference room.
“I have an apartment,” she says. Her apartment has a tiny kitchen and a cracked windowpane. It has a lovely outlook though. Realistically it’s more than she can afford and she feels badly about that; though not badly enough to move herself into the basement - no afternoon light.
When she looks up Mike’s eyes are on her and she can’t think of a word to say.
“I’m –uh” She takes a breath. “I’m writing about crime in the neighborhood,” she says. She speaks too quickly. “The Philadelphia Crime Family gives me plenty of material. I’ve made friends with some nice policemen too.”
“I’ll bet you have,” Mike says with an unfathomable look. She holds her breath.
She doesn’t tell him about the gunshots in the street or, worse, the cockroaches scuttling in her cupboards. She doesn’t say that she won’t let Dinah or her mother visit. After all, she’s supposed to be cut off from her family, not frantically avoiding letting Mother pay for renovations.
There’s some fancy festival gala award night for local journalists. Mike isn’t attending; he’s examining background notes on several nineteen year old British soldiers looking for appropriately touching personal histories.
Earlier, Tracy left for the gala attired in a diaphanous turquoise dress. She looked unsurprisingly remarkable.
The main telephone line rings. Of course, no one is in the office. Mike fumbles with the switch and answers.
“Can I speak with Tracy please,” a girl bellows into the phone.
Mike pauses. “Dinah?”
“Tracy!” she shouts as though he has misheard.
“No. I want Tracy please!” There’s a long silence then, “Oh... Oh dear. Is that you, Mike? Hello. I’m just- I’m desperately attempting to contact my long lost sister. I received an anonymous tip that she might be working there.”
“She doesn’t happen to work there does she?”
“Dinah. Do you know I don’t think Tracy is long or lost at all.”
“Oh dear,” says Dinah.
“I think this is all an elaborate ruse.”
“Not even that elaborate,” sighs Dinah. “Well that’s done it then.”
Tracy bursts through his office door. “I won!” she announces. Mike puts down the phone on Dinah’s protests. “My piece won! I’m a Keeper prize winner.” She breezes to the liquor cabinet, opens it. “No champagne locked away to toast my success Mike?”
“Next time you’re planning to win an award for the quality of your work mere weeks after starting a sham job be sure to let me know and I’ll order some in.”
“An ice bucket too.” Then she pauses. “You said ‘A sham job’,” she says quietly. She sits suddenly on his visitors’ chair.
“Dinah called for you here,” Mike says. “She talks big, but that girl’s no good at subterfuge.”
“No, she has an honest nature,” says Tracy miserably.
“It was all a lie, wasn’t it? Making us believe you’re just like us. And all the time writing your articles, never letting your neighbors know you’re not one of them.”
“It was more a plan than a lie. Just a plan to prove you wrong and to maybe-”
“And now you’ve won an award for it.”
“Mike,” Tracy says. She sounds serious. “You know that I would give up this award in a flash if I could make things tolerable for the neighborhood. The children, Mike. Perched on their stoops not knowing what it’s like to be safe.” Her eyes are bright with tears. He knows she's not crying for the children, exactly, but the tears are real and they tug at his heart. “You are unfair to me.”
He thinks of the girl he first met, that magnificent girl he loves despite himself. He thinks of her astuteness, her blindness, and how she’s submerged herself here with all good grace.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“You presume you know exactly who I am,” she sniffs. “I - I want to do good, Mike. I want to help. I would take them all home with me if I could. Though I’m not quite sure where we’d put them.”
“Or indeed that they’d necessarily want to leave their lives and go,” Mike says, a little disconcerted.
“Quite. Especially given that we’d probably house them in the conservatory.”
“Quite.” There’s a long pause. “I have been a bit unfair to you, Tracy.”
“Yes. You have.”
“But why the lies?”
“It was my ingenious plan. How else could I show you that I’m just the same as you are.”
“You’re not the same as I am.”
“No. I’m far, far better.”
“At least I'm willing to compromise; risk it all for love or something like it,” she says. She glances up at him and he can’t resist moving closer.
“Or something like it,” he echoes.
She lifts her face slightly. He kisses her - her lips and her cheekbones and her bright, bright eyes.
“Damn it,” he says. “Damn it, it’s inescapable. I love you, Tracy Lord. I have loved you from our first real conversation and I will love you as long as I have voice to say it.”
"Oh Mike,” she says. “My darling Mike. All these wasted years.” It feels like there should be swelling orchestral music, perhaps an angel choir.
Mike says, “Years? Tracy we met just three weeks ago.”
“Yes, but don’t you feel that each day of the last twenty four years was leading to this,” she says comfortably into his chest. “I do.”