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Trying to compose herself, Alice walked to thehouse. Providentially, Dolly had already startedfor the field. Summoning a servant, Alice orderedher car and with her head whirling started forhome. As she was hurried over the country roadher mind gradually righted itself, and strangethoughts ran like lightning flashes through herbrain. Reaching home, she hastened upstairsand locked her door.
What startled her most painfully in her reflectionswas the unwelcome conviction that there wasnothing new, nothing surprising in her situation.Nothing, at least, except this violent outburstwhich she now realized she ought long ago to haveforeseen. She was suddenly conscious that shehad long known Kimberly loved her, and thatone day he would call her to account-for thecrime of being loved in spite of herself, shereflected bitterly.
She threw herself on her couch and held herhands upon her burning temples. He had caughther in his arms and forced a kiss upon her. Theblood suffused her face at the recollection. Againand again, though she turned from the picture, imagination brought it back. She saw his eyes ashe bent over her; the thought of the moment wastoo much to support. Her very foreheadcrimsoned as the scene presented itself. And worse, was the realizing that something of fascinationlingered in the horror of that instant ofamazement and fear and mad repulsion of his embrace.She hid her face in her pillow.
After a time she grew calmer, and with her racingpulse quieted, her emotion wore itself somewhatout. Saner thoughts asserted themselves. Shefelt that she could fight it out. She searched herheart and found no wantonness within it. Stronglyassailed, and not, she felt, through her ownfault, she would fight and resist. He hadchallenged her when he had said it should be foughtout. She, too, resolved it should be.
She bathed her forehead, and when she feltsure of herself, rang for Annie. Lunch was servedin her room, but she could eat nothing. Atmoments she felt the comforting conviction ofhaving settled her mind. Unhappily, her mind wouldnot stay settled. Nothing would stay settled. Nomood that brought relief would remain. Theblood came unbidden to her cheeks even whileAnnie was serving her and her breath would catchat the opening of a door.
When she heard the hum of a motor-car onthe open highway her heart jumped. She openedthe porch doors and went out to where she couldlook on the lake. Her eyes fell upon the distantTowers and her anger against Kimberly rose. Sheresolved he should realize how he had outragedher self-respect. She picked from the troubledcurrent of her thought cutting things that she oughtto have said. She despised herself for not havingmore angrily resented his conduct, and determined,if he dared further persist, to expose himrelentlessly to the circle of their friends, even ifthey were his own relations. There should beno guilty secret between them; this, at least, shecould insure.
When the telephone bell rang, Annie answeredit.Dolly was calling for Alice and went into astate when told that Alice had come home affectedby the heat, and had given up and gone to bed; she hoped yet, Annie said, to be all right for theevening. Fritzie took the wire at Black Rock to askwhat she could do, and Annie assured her therewas nothing her mistress needed but quiet and rest.
When the receiver had been hung up the firstbridge was crossed, for Alice was resolved aboveall things not to be seen that night at the dance.When Fritzie came back to Cedar Lodge to dress,Alice was still in bed. Her room was darkenedand Annie thought she might be sleeping. Atdinner-time, MacBirney, who had been in town allday, came in to see how she was. She told herhusband that he would have to go to Dolly's withFritzie.
MacBirney bent over his wife and kissed her, greatly to her mental discomfort. An unwelcomekiss from him seemed to bring back more confusinglythe recollection of Kimberly's kiss, and toincrease her perplexities. She detested herhusband's caresses; they meant no real affection andshe did not intend he should think she believedthey did. But she never could decide where todraw the line with him, and was divided betweena desire to keep him always at a distance and awish not to seem always unamiable.
Fritzie, after she was dressed, tiptoed in. Theroom was lighted to show Alice the new gown. Itwas one of their spring achievements, and Aliceraised herself on her pillow to give a completeapproval of the effect. "It is a stunning thing; simply stunning. If you would only stop runningyourself to death, Fritzie, and put on ten pounds, you would be absolute perfection."
"If I stopped running myself to death whatwould there be to live for?" demanded Fritzie, refastening the last pin in her Dresden girdle."We all have to live for something."
Alice put her hand to her head. "I wonderwhat I have to live for?"
Fritzie turned sharply. "You? Why nothingbut to spend your money and have a good time.Too bad about you, isn't it? You'll soon have amillion a year for pin-money."
Alice shook her head. "A dozen millions ayear would not interest me, Fritzie."
Fritzie laughed. "Don't be too sure, my dear; not too sure. Well," Fritzie's hands ran carefullyover her hair for the last time, "there are a lot ofmen coming over from the Sound to-night. Imay meet my fate!"
"I wish you may with all my heart, Fritzie.Why is it fates always come to people that don'twant them?"
"Don't you believe it," cried Fritzie, "they dowant them."
"They don't-not always."
"Don't you ever believe it-they only say theydon't or think they don't!" she exclaimed, withaccustomed vehemence.
Alice moved upon her pillow in impatient disapproval."I hope you'll have a good time to-night."
MacBirney was ready and Fritzie joined him.The house grew quiet after they left. Anniebrought up a tray and Alice took a cup of broth.She did not long resist the drowsiness that followed.She thought vaguely for a moment of a prayerfor safety. But her married life had long excludedprayer. What good could come of praying to bekept unharmed while living in a state that had initself driven her from prayer? That, at least, would be too absurd, and with a dull feargnawing and dying alternately at her heart she fellasleep.
At noon next day MacBirney, seeking hiswife, found her in her dressing-room. Shehad come from the garden and stood before atable filled with flowers, which she wasarranging in vases.
"I've been looking for you." MacBirney threwhimself into a convenient chair as he spoke."Robert Kimberly is downstairs."
"Mr. Kimberly? To see you, I suppose."
"No, to see you."
"To see me?" Alice with flowers in her hand, paused. Then she carried a vase to themantel-piece. "At this time of day?"
"Well-to see us, he says."
She returned to the table. "What in the worlddoes he want to see us about?"
MacBirney laughed. "He says he has somethingto say to both of us. I told him I wouldbring you down."
A breath would have toppled Alice over. "Ican't dress to go down now," she managed to say."It may be something from Dolly. Ask him togive you any message he has."
Walking hurriedly to the mantel with anotherjar of roses, she found her fear extreme. Couldit be possible Kimberly would dream of sayingto her husband what he had said to heryesterday? She smothered at the thought, yet sheknew his appalling candor and felt unpleasantlyconvinced that he was capable of repeating everyword of it. The idea threw her into a panic. Sheresolved not to face him under such circumstances; she was in no position to do so. "Tell him," shesaid abruptly, "that as much as I should like tohear what he has to say, he will have to excuse methis morning."
"He offered to come this evening if you preferred."
"We have other guests to-night," returned Alicecoldly. "And I can't be bothered now."
"Bothered?" echoed MacBirney with sarcasm."Perhaps I had better tell him that."
"By all means, if you want to," she retorted indesperation. "Tell him anything you like."
Her husband rose. "You are amiable thismorning."
"No, I am not, I'm sorry to say. I am not quitewell-that is the real truth and must be myexcuse. Make it for me or not as you like."
MacBirney walked downstairs. After an interminabletime, Alice, breathing more freely, heardKimberly's car moving from the door. When shewent down herself she watched narrowly theexpression of her husband's face. But he was plainlyinterested in nothing more serious than Fritzie'saccount of the country dance. When Aliceventured to ask directly what Kimberly's messageswere, he answered that Kimberly had given none.With Fritzie, Alice took a drive after luncheonsomewhat easier in mind. Yet she reflected thatscarcely twenty-four hours had passed and shealready found herself in an atmosphere of suspenseand apprehension from which there seemed no escape.
While she was dressing that night, flowers fromThe Towers' gardens were brought to CedarLodge in boxfuls, just as they had regularly beensent the year before-roses for the tables, violetsfor Alice's rooms, orchids for herself. If she onlydared send them back! Not, she knew, that itwould make any difference with the sender, but itwould at least express her indignation. She stillspeculated as to whether Kimberly would dare totell her husband and upon what would happen ifhe should tell him.
And her little dream of publicity as anantidote! What had become of it already? So faras Kimberly was concerned, she now firmlybelieved he was ready to publish his attitude towardher to the world. And she shrank with everyinstinct from the prospective shame and humiliation.
The water about her seemed very deep as shereflected, and she felt singularly helpless. She hadnever heard of a situation just such as this, neverimagined one exactly like it. This man seemeddifferent from every other she had ever conceivedof; more frankly brutal than other brutes andmore to be dreaded than other men.
A week passed before Kimberly and Alice met.It was at Charles Kimberly's. Doctor Bryson, theNelsons, and Fritzie were there.
As Alice and her husband came down, CharlesKimberly and Robert walked out of the library.Robert bowed to MacBirney and to Alice-whoscarcely allowed her eyes to answer his greeting.
"Are you always glad to get back to your owncountry, Mrs. Kimberly?" asked MacBirney greetinghis hostess.
Imogene smiled. "Dutifully glad."
"Is that all?"
"At least, I come back with the same feelingof relief that I am getting back to democracy."
"That is," suggested Lottie Nelson, "gettingback to where you are the aristocracy."
Dolly, who with her husband joined them intime to hear the remark, tossed her head. "Ialways thank Heaven, Lottie, that we have noaristocracy here."
"But you are wrong, Dolly, we have," objectedRobert Kimberly as the party went into thedrawing-room. "Democracy is nothing but anaristocracy of ability. What else can happenwhen you give everybody a chance? We beganin this country by ridding ourselves of anaristocracy of heredity and privilege; and we have onlysucceeded in substituting for it the coldest, cruelestaristocracy known to man-the aristocracy ofbrains. This is the aristocracy that controls ourmanufacturing, our transportation, our publicservice and our finance; it makes our laws andapportions our taxation. And from this fell causedone our present griefs arise."
"But you must rid yourself of the grosslymaterial conception of an aristocracy, Mr. Kimberly,"said Nelson. "Our real aristocracy, I take it, isnot our material one, as Robert Kimberly insists.The true aristocrat, I hold, is the real but meregentleman."
"Exactly right," assented De Castro. "Thegentleman and nothing else is the thing."
"There is nothing more interesting than thegentleman," returned Robert Kimberly, "exceptthe gentleman plus the brute. But the exception isenormous, for it supplies our material aristocrat."
"You must remember, though, that ideas ofsuperiority and inferiority are very tricky,"commented Imogene. "And they persist for centuries.To the Naples beggar, even to-day, the Germansare 'barbarians.' And whenever I encounter thetwo I never can decide which is the aristocrat, thetraveller or the beggar."
"I read your speech at the New England dinnerlast night," said Imogene, turning to Nelson,"and I saw all the nice things that were said aboutit this morning."
"If credit were due anywhere it would be tothe occasion," returned Nelson. "There is alwayssomething now in such gatherings to suggest thediscomforting reflection that our best native stockis dying out."
Dolly looked distressed. "Oh, dear, are thoseunfortunate people still dying out? I've beenworrying over their situation for years. Can'tany one do anything?"
"Don't let it disturb you, Mrs. De Castro,"said Bryson.
"But I am afraid it is getting on my nerves."
"Nothing dies out that doesn't deserve to dieout," continued Bryson. "As to the peopleNelson speaks of, I incline to think they ought to dieout. Their whole philosophy of life has beenbad. Nature ought to be ashamed, of course, topass them by and turn to inferior races for herrecruits. But since all races are inferior to them, what can she do but take refuge with the despisedforeigner? The men and women that take lifeon the light-housekeeping plan may do so if theywill-for one generation. What may safely becounted on is that nature will find its workers inthe human hive even if it has to turn to the savagetribes."
"But the poor savages, doctor-they also are onthe verge of extinction, are they not?" demandedDolly.
"Then nature will provide its workers fromone unfailing source-from those we have alwayswith us, the poor and the despised. And it canbe depended on with equal certainty to cast thesatisfied, cultivated, and intellectual drones intoouter darkness."
"My dear, but the doctor is savage, isn't he?"Lottie Nelson made the appeal indolently toImogene. "We shall soon be asking, doctor," sheconcluded languidly, "which tribe you belong to."
"He would answer, the medical tribe,"suggested Fritzie.
"Speaking of savages," interposed Arthur DeCastro, "Charles and I were making a portageonce on the York River. On the trail I met twosuperb little Canadian lads-straight, swarthy, handsome fellows. They couldn't speak English.'You must be French,' I suggested, addressingthe elder by way of compliment in that tongue.Imagine my surprise when he answered withperfect composure, 'Non, monsieur. Nous sommesdes sauvages!'"
"For my part," said Imogene, "I am alwaysglad to hear Doctor Bryson defend families andmotherhood. I don't care how savage he gets."
"I defend motherhood because to me it is thehighest state of womanhood. Merely as aninstinct, its mysteries are a never-ending marvel."
Lottie Nelson looked patiently bored. "Oh, tell us about them, do, doctor."
"I will tell you of one," returned Brysonundismayed. "Take the young mother that brings herfirst child into the world; from the day of its birthuntil the day of that mother's death, her child isnever wholly out of her thought. The child maydie, may be forgotten by every one else on earth, may be to all other conscious existence in this worldas a thing that never was. But in its mother'sheart it never dies. I call that a mystery."
The doctor's glance as he finished fell on Alice'sface. He was sorry at once that he had spoken atall. Her eyes were fixed on him with a look ofacute pain.
Alice hardly knew Doctor Bryson, but what hesaw in the sadness of her face he quiteunderstood. And though they had never met, otherthan in a formal way, he never afterward felt thatthey were wholly strangers.
"By the way, Nelson," said De Castro, "whatis there in this story in the afternoon papersabout Doane and Dora Morgan?"
"It is substantially true, I fancy. They haveeloped."
"From whom could they possibly be eloping?"asked Lottie.
"Why, you must know Doane has a wife and twolittle girls," exclaimed Dolly indignantly.
"I supposed his wife was divorced," returnedLottie helplessly. "Why wasn't she?"
"Perhaps," suggested Fritzie, "there wasn't time."
"I don't care; Dora's life has been a veryunhappy one," persisted Lottie, "and frankly I amsorry for her."
"Even though she has run away with anotherwoman's husband," said Imogene.
"Don't you think she deserves a great deal ofsympathy, Robert?" asked Lottie, appealing toKimberly.
"I can't say that I do," he answered slowly."What moves one in any consideration of a situationof that kind is, in the first place, the standardsof those that fall into it. Who, for instance, canscrape up any interest in the affairs of theabandoned? Or of those who look on irregularrelations pretty much as they do on regular? Peopleto enlist sympathy in their troubles must respectthemselves."
The conversation drifted and Alice, withinrange of both tables, caught snatches of the talkat each. She presently heard Lottie Nelsonspeaking petulantly, and as if repeating a question toKimberly. "What do men most like, Robert?" Alicecould not see Kimberly's face, but sheunderstood its expression so well that she could imaginethe brows either luminously raised if Kimberlywere interested, or patiently flat if he were not.
"You ought to know," she heard Kimberlyanswer. "You have been very successful inpleasing them."
"And failed where I have most wanted to succeed.Oh, no. I am asking you. What do they like?"
The answer halted. "I can't tell you. To me,of course, few men seem worth pleasing."
"What should you do to please a man, if youwere a woman?"
"I'm asking purely out of curiosity," persistedLottie. "I have failed. I realize it and I shallnever try again. But at the end-I'd like to know."
"You probably would not agree with me,"answered Kimberly after a silence, "most womenwould not. Perhaps it would fail with mostmen-but as I say, most men wouldn't interest me, anyway. If I had it to try, I would appeal to aman's highest nature."
"What is his highest nature?"
"Whatever his best instincts are,"
"No, it isn't nonsense. Only I am not good atanalyzing. If I once caught a man in that wayI should know I had him fast forever. There isabsolutely no use in flinging your meretemptations at him. Keep those quietly in thebackground. He will go after them fast enough whenyou have made sure of him on the higher plane.If you are compelled to display your temptationsat the start, the case is hopeless. You havesurrendered your advantage of the high appeal.Trust him to think about the other side of it, Lottie.You can't suggest to him anything he doesn't know, and perhaps-I'm not sure-he prefers to turnto that side when he thinks you are not looking.The difficulty is," he concluded, speaking slowly,"even if you get him from the lower side, he won'tstay hooked. You know how a salmon strikes ata fly? All human experience shows that a manhooked from the side of his lower instincts, willsooner or later shake the bait."
"It must be something even to have him on thehook for a while, Robert."
"But you don't agree with me."
"No doubt, I'm wrong. And it isn't, Isuppose, of much consequence whether the men staycaught or not. I look at it, probably, with abusiness instinct. When I do anything, I want itto stay done forever. When I make a deal orfasten a point I want it to stay fastened for alltime. That is my nature. Now, that may notbe a woman's nature. You shouldn't have askedme, don't you see, because we 'begin' differently."
"I fancy that's it, Robert. We 'begin' differently."
"Try another seer-there is De Castro. Hereis Mrs. MacBirney. Mrs. MacBirney," Kimberlymoved so he could command Alice's attention,"Mrs. Nelson is trying to find out what a manlikes in a woman. I haven't been able to tellher-"
"It isn't that at all," smiled Lottie, wearily."Mr. Kimberly can tell. He won't."
Kimberly appealed to Alice. "It is a greatmistake not to trust your oracle when he is doing hisbest-don't you think so, Mrs. MacBirney?"
"I suppose an oracle is consulted on hisreputation-and it is on his reputation that his clientsshould rely," suggested Alice.
"Anyway," declared Lottie, rising, "I amgoing to try another."
Kimberly turned his chair as she walked awayso that he could speak to Alice. "Giving advice isnot my forte. Whenever I attempt it I disappointsomebody; and this time I had a difficultsubject. Mrs. Nelson wants to know what men likein women. A much more interesting subjectwould be, what women like in men. I shouldsuppose, in my blundering way, that sincerity wouldcome before everything else, Mrs. MacBirney.What do you think?"
"Sincerity ought to be of value."
"But there is a great deal else, you imply."
"Necessarily, I should think."
"As, for instance?"
"Unselfishness among other things," said Alice.
He objected frankly to her suggestion. "I don'tknow about unselfishness. I have my doubtsabout unselfishness. Are you sure?"
"Most ideals include it, I believe."
"I don't know that I have any ideals-abstractideals, that is. Though I once took quite aninterest in the Catholic Church."
"An academic interest."
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