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"By Jove! He had patience," laughed MacBirney.
Dolly laughed a little, too. "That is the onlyexasperating thing about the Kimberly men-theirpatience."
MacBirney's decision to spend the winterin town became very welcome to Alice; the atmosphere within a wide radius of The Towersseemed too charged with electricity for mentalpeace. And her husband, having tasted for thefirst time the excitement of the stock markets, desired to be near his brokers.
Fritzie, who was an authority in town affairs, made it easy for Alice to find acceptable quarters.In general the Second Lake people cared less andless for opening their town houses. RobertKimberly's house, while nominally open, never saw itsmaster. Charles and Imogene Kimberly forseveral years had spent their winters cruising andnow made ready to take Grace De Castro to theeastern Mediterranean. Arthur and Dolly wereto winter at Biarritz and join Charles and Imogenein Sicily on their return from the Levant. Fritzieaccepted Alice's invitation to spend the season intown with her. Dora Morgan had already goneto Paris for an indefinite stay and the Nelsons,Congress being in session, were starting for Washington.
MacBirney came over to The Towers justbefore leaving with Alice for town to see RobertKimberly. When Kimberly asked him what wason his mind, "I would like to know," MacBirneyanswered frankly, "what I can make some moneyin this winter." It was the second time he hadbrought the subject up and Kimberly who hadonce evaded his inquiries saw that nothing was tobe gained by further effort in that direction.
Kimberly regarded him gravely. "Buy standardrailway shares," he suggested, "on afour-and-a-half-per-cent average."
"But I want to do better than four-and-a-half-per-cent.It costs something to live."
"I mean, you would have your profit in theadvances. But your present income ought tocover a very liberal scale of living," said Kimberly.
MacBirney squirmed in his chair. Kimberlywould have preferred he should sit still. "Thatis true," assented MacBirney, with smiling candor,"but a poor man doesn't want to spend all hismoney. Isn't there a chance," he asked, comingto the point in his mind, "to make some moneyin our own stock? I have heard a rumor therewould be, but I can't run it down."
"There are always chances if you are closelyenough in touch with general conditions. Charleskeeps better track of those things than I do; suppose you talk with him."
"Charles sends me to you," protestedMacBirney good naturedly.
"Our shares seem just now to be one of thespeculative favorites," returned Kimberly. "Thatmeans, as you know, violent fluctuations."
MacBirney was impatient of hazards. "Putme next on any one of your own plans, Mr. Kimberly, that you might feel like trusting me with,"said MacBirney, jocularly.
"I don't often have any speculative schemesof my own," returned Kimberly. "However,"he hesitated a moment; MacBirney leanedforward."Doane," continued Kimberly abruptly,"has a strong party interested now in putting upthe common. They profess to think that on itsearnings it should sell higher. In fact, they havesounded me about an extra dividend. I amopposed to that-until Congress adjourns, at anyrate. But the company is making a great deal ofmoney. I can't uncover Doane's deal, but I cansay this to you: I have agreed to help them asmuch as I safely can. By that, I mean, thattheir speculative interests must always comesecond to the investment interests of our shareholders."
"By Jove, I wish I could get in on amovement like that, Mr. Kimberly. With you behindit-"
"I am not behind it-only not opposed to it.For my part, I never advise any one to speculatein our securities. I can't do it. I do businesswith speculators, but I never speculate myself.You don't credit that, do you? What I mean isthis: I never take chances. If it is necessary, for cogent reasons, to move our securities up ordown, I am in a position to do so without takingany extreme chances. That is natural, isn't it?"
MacBirney laughed and swayed in his chair."I'd like to be fixed that way for just one yearof my life!" he exclaimed.
"If you were you would find plenty of otherthings to engage your attention."
"Well, can you do anything for me on thispresent deal?"
Kimberly reflected a moment. "Yes," he saidfinally, "if you will operate through the brokers Iname and do exactly as I say, and run the risk oflosing half the money you put up-I don't seehow you could lose more than that. But if youdon't do exactly as I tell you, without question, you might lose a great deal more. I am notsupposing, of course, that you would risk more thanyou could afford to lose."
"Not at all. I want to play safe."
"Place your orders to-day and to-morrow thenfor what common you can carry. Hamilton willlet you have what money you need-or he will getit for you. Then forget all about your investmentuntil I tell you to sell. Don't question the advice, but get out promptly at that moment no matterwhat you hear or what the market looks like.Can you do that? And keep your own counsel?"
"Good luck then. And if it should come bad, try not to feel incensed at me," concludedKimberly, rising.
"Surely not!" exclaimed MacBirney.
Kimberly smiled. "But you will, just the same.At least, that is my experience."
"What about the winter, Mr. Kimberly-areyou going in town?"
"I haven't decided."
But although Kimberly had made no decisionhe had made vague promises to every one. WithCharles he talked about putting his own yachtinto commission, taking Larrie from the refineriesfor a breathing spell and meeting Charlie's partyin February at Taormina. He discussed withDolly a shorter vacation, one of taking passage toCherbourg, motoring with Arthur and herselfacross France and meeting Charles at Nice, whenceall could come home together.
The Nelsons left the lake last. Lottie gaveKimberly a parting thrust as she said good-by, delivering it in such a way that she hoped toupset him. "So you are in love with AliceMacBirney?" she said smilingly.
Kimberly looked frankly into her clear, sensuous eyes. "What put that into your head,Lottie?"
She laughed unsympathetically. "I'm gladyou've got some one this time that will make youdo the walking-not one like the rest of us poorcreatures."
"Why do you talk about 'this time,' and 'uspoor creatures'? Let me tell you something."
"Do, so I can tell it to Alice."
"You may at any time tell Mrs. MacBirneyanything I say. It is this: if I should ever find awoman to love, I expect to do the walking. Tellher that, will you? I respect Mrs. MacBirney veryhighly and admire her very much-is that clear?But that is far from outraging her feelings bycoupling her name with mine or mine with hers.Don't do that. I will never forgive it." Shehad never seen him so angry.
He realized more than once during the longwinter that the slighted woman had told him onlythe truth. But from her it was an impertinenttruth. And it galled him to be forced to admitto the loose-thinking members of his own set whathe felt toward Alice.
Meantime, he spent the whole winter at TheTowers with Uncle John, the tireless Francis, and his own unruly thoughts. His time went toconferences with his city associates, infrequentinspections of the refineries, horseback rides over thewinter landscape, and to winter sunsets watchedalone from the great western windows.
In town Alice found Fritzie an admirable guide.
"I try," said Fritzie calmly, answering one ofAlice's jests at her wide acquaintance, "to movewith the best. I suppose in heaven we shallencounter all sorts. And if we don't cultivatethe elect here we may never have another chance to."
"You are far-sighted, Fritzie dear," smiledAlice. "What I can't understand is, why youdon't marry."
"I have too many rich relations. I couldn'tmarry anybody in their class. I should have topick up with some wretched millionaire and bereduced to misery. The Lord deliver us frompeople that watch their incomes-they are thelimit. And it must, I have always thought, beterrible, Alice, to live with a man that has madea million honestly. He would be so mean. Ofcourse, we are mean, too; but happily a goodpart of our meannesses are underground-buriedwith our ancestors."
Fritzie's light words struck home with anunsuspected force. Alice knew Fritzie had nothought of painting MacBirney; it was onlyAlice herself who recognized her husband's portrait.
Fritzie certainly had, as she admitted, anappetite for the luxurious and even MacBirney likedher novel extravagances. In their few restinghours the two women talked of Second Lake."Fritzie," said Alice one night when they weretogether before the fire, "the first time I met you, you said every one at Second Lake was contented, with two exceptions. You were one; who wasthe other?"
"Robert, dear. He is the most discontentedmortal alive. Isn't it all a strange world?"
Alice, too, had thoughts that winter, but theywere confused thoughts and not always to betolerated. She, likewise, was beginning to think ita strange world.
MacBirney, guided by McCrea, followed thepool operations with sleepless vigilance. Theyreached their height when Congress adjournedearly without disturbing the tariff. The streetsaw enormous gains ahead for the crowdoperating in the Kimberly stocks and with publicbuying underway the upward movement in the sharestook on renewed strength.
It was just at this moment of the adjournmentof Congress that Kimberly sent McCrea toMacBirney with directions to sell, and explicitly as tohow and through whom to sell. MacBirney, toMcCrea's surprise, demurred at the advice andargued that if he dropped out now he shouldlose the best profits of the venture.
McCrea consented to talk to Kimberly again.Doane, the Hamilton banking interests and theirassociates were still ostensibly buying and weretalking even higher prices. It did not look rightto MacBirney to sell under such circumstancesbut McCrea came back the very next day withone word: "Sell." No reasons, no explanationswere given, nothing vouchsafed but a curtcommand.
MacBirney, doubtful and excited, consultedAlice, to whom indeed, in serious perplexity, heoften turned. Knowing nothing about thesituation, she advised him to do precisely as Kimberlydirected and to do so without loss of time. Hewas still stubborn. No one but himself knewthat he was carrying twice the load of stock hehad any right to assume, and battling thus betweengreed and prudence he reluctantly placed theselling orders.
Just as he had gotten fairly out of it, the market,to his mortification, advanced. A few days laterit ran quite away. Huge blocks of stock throwninto it made hardly any impression. The market,as MacBirney had predicted, continued strong.At the end of the week he felt sure that Kimberlyhad tricked him, and in spite of winning moremoney than he had ever made in his life he wasin bad humor. Kimberly himself deigned noword of enlightenment. McCrea tried toexplain to MacBirney that the public had run awaywith the market-as it sometimes did. ButMacBirney nursed resentment.
The Nelsons came over from Washington thatweek-it was Holy Week-for the opera and theweek-end, and MacBirney asked his wife toentertain them, together with Lambert, at dinneron Friday night.
Alice fought the proposal, but MacBirney couldnot be moved. She endeavored to have the datechanged to Easter Sunday; MacBirney wasrelentless. He knew it was Good Friday and thathis wife was trying to avoid entertaining duringthe evening. But he thought it an opportunityto discipline her. Alice sent out her invitationsand they were accepted. No such luck, she knew,as a declination would be hers.
Lottie, amusing herself for the winter withLambert, was in excellent humor. But Alice wasnervous and everything went wrong. They rosefrom the table to go to the opera, where Nelsonhad the Robert Kimberly box. Alice seeking theretirement of an easy-chair gave her attention tothe stage and to her own thoughts. In neither didshe find anything satisfying. Mrs. Nelson, tootalkative with the men, was a mild irritation to her, and of all nights in the year this was the last onwhich Alice would have wished to be at the opera.It was only one more link in the long chain ofsacrifices she wore for domestic peace, but to-night hergyves lay heavy on her wrists. She realized thatshe was hardly amiable. This box she was enjoyingthe seclusion of, brought Kimberly close to her.The difference there would be within it if hehimself were present, suggested itself indolentlyto her in her depression. How loath, shereflected, Kimberly would have been to drag herout when she wished to be at home. It was notthe first time that she had compared him with herhusband, but this was the first time she wasconscious of having done so. All they wereenjoying was his; yet she knew he would have beenindifferent to everything except what she preferred.
And it was not alone what he had indicated indeferring to her wishes; it was what he often didin deferring in indifferent things to the wishes ofothers that had impressed itself upon her morethan any trait in his character. How much happiershe should be if her own husband were to show amere trace of such a disposition, she felt past eventhe possibility of telling him; it seemed toouseless. He could not be made to understand.
For supper the party went with Nelson. Thegayety of the others left Alice cold. Nelson, withthe art of the practised entertainer, urged theeating and drinking, and when the party left thebuzzing caf? some of them were heated andunrestrained. At two o'clock, Alice with her husbandand Fritzie reached their apartment, and Alice, very tired, went directly to her own rooms.MacBirney came in, somewhat out of humor. "What'sthe matter with you to-night?" he demanded.Alice had dismissed Annie and her husband satdown beside her table.
"With me? Nothing, Walter; why?"
"You acted so cattish all the evening," hecomplained, with an irritating little oath.
Alice was in no mood to help him along. "Howso?" she asked tying her hair as she turned tolook at him.
An inelegant exclamation annoyed her further."You know what I mean just as well as I do," hewent on curtly. "You never opened your mouththe whole evening. Lottie asked me what thematter was with you-"
Alice repeated but one word of the complainingsentence. "Lottie!" she echoed. Herhusband's anger grew. "If Lottie would talk less,"continued Alice quietly, "and drink less, I shouldbe less ashamed to be seen with her. Andperhaps I could talk more myself."
"You never did like anybody that liked me.So it is Lottie you're jealous of?"
"No, not 'jealous of,' only ashamed of. Evenat the dinner she was scandalous, I thought."
Her husband regarded her with stubborncontempt, and it hurt. "You are very high andmighty to-night. I wonder," he said with ascarcely concealed sneer, "whether prosperity hasturned your head."
"You need not look at me in that way, Walter, and you need not taunt me."
"You have been abusing Lottie Nelson a gooddeal lately. I wish you would stop it." He roseand stood with one hand on the table. Alice wasslipping her rings into the cup in front of her andshe dropped in the last with some spirit.
"I will stop it. And I hope you will neverspeak of her again. I certainly never will entertainher again under any circumstances," she exclaimed.
"You will entertain her the next time I tell you to."
Alice turned quite white. "Have you anythingelse to say to me?"
Her very restraint enraged him. "Only that if youtry to ride your high horse with me," he replied,"I will send you back to St. Louis some fine day."
"Is that all?"
"That is all. And if you think I don't meanwhat I say, try it sometime." As he spoke hepushed the chair in which he had been sittingroughly aside.
Alice rose to her feet. "I despise your threats,"she said, choking with her own words. "I despiseyou. I can't tell you how I despise you." Herheart beat rebelliously and she shook in every limb; expressions that she would not have known for herown fell stinging from her lips. "You have bulliedme for the last time. I have stood your abuse forfive years. It will stop now. You will do thecringing and creeping from now on. That womannever shall sit down at a table with me again, notif you beg it of me on your knees. You are acowardly wretch; I know you perfectly; younever were anything else. I have paid dearly forever believing you a man." Her contempt burnedthe words she uttered. "Now drive me one stepfurther," she sobbed wildly, "if you dare!"
She snapped out the light above her head withan angry twist. Another light shone through theopen door of her sleeping-room and through thisdoor she swiftly passed, slamming it shut andlocking it sharply behind her.
MacBirney had never seen his wife in such astate. He was surprised; but there could be nomistake. Her blood was certainly up.
If Alice or her husband apprehended a stormysequel to the unpleasant scene in her dressingroom both were relieved that none followed. Nota word came up between them as a result of thebreach. There was the usual silence that followsa tempestuous outbreak and the usual indirect, almost accidental, resumption of speaking relationsafter the acute suspicion of renewed hostilities hadworn itself out.
MacBirney had the best of reasons for ignoringwhat had passed. He had, in fact, experiencedthe most surprising moments of his life and cautionadvised against the stirring up of any furtheraltercation. Heretofore he had always known justwhat his wife, when bullied, would do; but he nolonger knew and the uncertainty gave him pause.
He found matter for surprise, indeed for a seriesof surprises, in the manner in which Alice stoodnewly revealed to him. Dependence and timidityseemed suddenly to have left her. She walked anew path; not one of complete indifference to herhusband, but of decision complete in itself. Forcedto cast aside his judgment and fall back on herown, Alice accepted the alternative openly. Hernew attitude made itself felt in unnumberedways-sometimes in no more than arranging for a daydown-town with Fritzie, sometimes in discussingwhen Cedar Lodge should be opened and how.MacBirney found himself no longer consulted;Alice told him what she intended to do. If he gavearbitrary or unreasonable orders they were ignored.If he followed the subject further his inquirieswere ignored.
Alice realized it was not right to live in a homein this way, but MacBirney himself had taughther so many ways of wrong living that compunctionhad grown dull. His pupil, long unwillingto accept his debasing standards of married life, long suffering the cruelty of finding them enforcedupon her, had at last become all that he had madeher and something unpleasantly more-she madeherself now complete mistress of her own affairs.
Nor was Alice less surprised at the abjectsurrender of her husband. She knew him in theend better than he knew himself, and cowardlythough he was, she felt the new situation wouldnot endure forever-that worse must surely follow.But those who learn to sleep on dumb reproachand still for years the cry of waking apprehension, learn also not to look with foreboding ahead.
There were, it is true, times in which Aliceasked herself if in her new attitude she were notwalking in a dream; slumbers in which the oldshrinking fear returned; moments in which shecould hardly realize her own determination. Butthe fear that had so long subdued her now servedto support her courage. Go back she would not; the present she had made her own, the future mustaccount for itself.
Moreover, as the acuteness of the crisis passedeverything looked better. The present tendsalways to justify itself. And prosperous skiesopening on MacBirney's speculative ventures consoledhim for such loss of prestige as he suffered in hisown home.
He was again, curiously enough, Alice thought,in cordial touch with Robert Kimberly. She neverasked a question and did not know for a long timewhat could account for this change, since he hadbeen abusing Kimberly vigorously during the lifeof the market pool. Kimberly had never calledat the town apartment and Alice heard of himonly through Fritzie, who visited The Towers onmonetary errands and always spoke interestinglyof Robert's affairs.
And now spring airs came even to town, andAlice, breathing them, with the sudden sunshineand the morning song of birds, longed for hercountry home. She kept the telephone wire busysummoning her gardener to conferences and laidout elaborate plans with him for making CedarLodge more beautiful for the summer. A numberof things conspired to keep her from getting outto Second Lake early. But the servants had beeninstalled and the lodge put in readiness for hercoming.
One night in May-a summer night, warm, lighted by the moon and still-an impulse seizedAlice to break away from everything for thecountry. Morning found her with Fritzie, andaccompanied only by their maids, in a big motor-carspeeding over the ribbon roads toward SecondLake. A curious play of emotions possessed Aliceas they whirled through the dust of the village andswung into the hills toward The Towers. Shehad given no instructions to her chauffeur as towhich road he should take and he had chosen thesouthern road because the grades were better.
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