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"No, no; a real and concrete interest. I admireit greatly. I tried once to look into its claims.What in part discouraged me was the unpleasantthings Catholics themselves told me about their church."
"They must have been bad Catholics."
"I don't know enough about them to discriminatebetween the good and the bad. What, bythe way," he asked bluntly, "are you-a goodCatholic or a bad one?"
She was taken for an instant aback; then sheregarded him with an expression he did not oftensee in her eyes. "I am a bad one, I am ashamedto say."
"Then these I speak of must have been goodones," he remarked at once, "because they werenot in the least like you."
If he thought he had perplexed her he was soonundeceived. "There are varying degrees even ofbadness," she returned steadily. "I hope I shallnever fall low enough to speak slightingly of myfaith."
"I don't understand," he persisted, musing,"why you should fall at all. Now, if I were aCatholic I should be a good one."
"Suppose you become one."
He disregarded her irony. "I may sometime.To be perfectly frank, what I found most lackingwhen I looked into the question was somesufficient inducement. Of what use? I askedmyself. If by following Christianity and itsprecepts a man could make himself anything morethan he is-prolong his years, or recall his youth.If he could achieve the Titanic, raise himself tothe power of a demigod!" Kimberly's eyes shonewide at the thought, then they closed to acontrasting torpor. "Will religion do this for anyone? I think not. But fancy what that wouldmean; never to grow old, never to fall ill, neverto long for without possessing!" A disdainfulpride was manifest in every word of his utterance, but he spoke with the easy-mannered good-naturethat was his characteristic.
"A man that follows the dreams of religion,"he resumed but with lessening assurance, for Alicemaintained a silence almost contemptuous and hebegan to feel it, "is he not subject to the samefailures, the same pains, the same misfortunes thatwe are subject to? Even as the rest of us, he mustgrow old and fail and die."
"Some men, of course," she suggested withscant patience, "should have a differentdispensation from the average mortal."
Kimberly squirmed dissentingly. "I don't likethat phrase, 'the average mortal.' It has avillainously hackneyed sound, don't you think? No, for my part I should be willing to let everybody inon the greater, the splendid dispensation."
"You might be sorry if you did."
"You mean, there are men that should die-somethat should die early?"
"There are many reasons why it might not work."
He stopped. "That is true-it might not work,if universally applied. It would do betterrestricted to a few of us. But no matter; since wecan't have it at all, we must do the best we can.And the way to beat the game as it must beplayed in this world at present," he continuedwith contained energy, "is to fight for what wewant and defend it when won, against all comers.Won't you wish me success in such an effort,Alice?"
"I have asked you not to call me Alice."
"But wish me the success, won't you? It'sawfully up-hill work fighting alone.Two togethercan do so much better. With two the power israised almost to the infinite. Together we couldbe gods-or at least make the gods envy us."
She looked at him an instant without a word, and rising, walked to an anteroom whitherMacBirney, Lottie Nelson, De Castro, and Fritzie hadgone to play at cards.
When the season was fairly open theKimberlys made Alice the recipient of everyattention. A solidarity had always seemed, in anunusual degree, to animate the family. Theywere happy in their common interests and theirefforts united happily now to make Alice afavored one in their activities.
In everything proposed by Dolly or Imogene,Alice was consulted. When functions werearranged, guests lists were submitted to her.Entertainment was decided upon after Alice hadbeen called in. The result was a gay season evenfor Second Lake. And Dolly said it was theinflux of Alice's new blood into the attenuatedstrain at the lake that accounted for the successfulsummer. Alice herself grew light-hearted. Insocial affairs the battalions inclined to her side.Even Lottie Nelson could not stand out and wasfain to make such peace as she could.
In all of this Alice found consolation for theneglect of her husband. She had begun to realize thatthis neglect was not so much a slight, personalto her, as a subordination of everything to thepassion for money-getting. It is impossible toremain always angry and Alice's anger subsided inthe end into indifference as to what her husbandsaid or did.
She had, moreover-if it were a stimulus-thecontinual stimulus of Kimberly's attitude.Without insincerity or indifference he accommodatedhis interest in her to satisfactory restraint. Thisgave Alice the pleasure of realizing that herfirmness had in nowise estranged him and that withoutbeing turbulent he was always very fond of her.She knew he could look to many other women forwhatever he chose to ask of favor, yet apparently helooked to her alone for his pleasure in womankind; and in a hundred delicate ways he allowed her tofeel this.
A handsome young Harvard man came to herat the lake seeking an opening in the refineries.His people were former Colorado acquaintanceswhom Alice was extremely desirous of obliging.She entertained her visitor and tried vainly tointerest her husband in him. MacBirney promisedbut did nothing, and one day Dolly calling atCedar Lodge found Alice writing a note to thecollege boy, still waiting in town on MacBirney'sempty promises, telling him of the failure of herefforts and advising him not to wait longer.
"But why worry?" asked Dolly, when Alice toldher. "Speak to Robert about it. He will placehim within twenty-four hours."
"I can't very well ask a favor of that kind fromMr. Kimberly, Dolly."
"What nonsense! Why not?"
Alice could not say precisely why. "After myown husband hasn't found a way to place him!"she exclaimed.
Dolly did not hesitate. "I will attend to it.Give me his address. Football, did you say?Very good."
Within a week the young man wrote Alice-fromthe Orange River refineries, where he was,he picturesquely said, knee-deep in sugar-thathe had actually been before the sugar magnate,Robert Kimberly himself, adding with theimpetuous spelling of a football man, that theinterview had been so gracious and lasted so longhe had grown nervous about the time Mr. Kimberlywas giving him.
Kimberly never referred to the matter nor didAlice ever mention it to him. It was merelypleasant to think of. And in such evidences asthe frequent letters from her prot?g? she read herinfluence over the man who, even the chronicle ofthe day could have told her, had she needed theconfirmation, extorted the interest of the worldin which he moved; and over whom, apparently,no woman other than herself could claim influence.
She came tacitly to accept this position towardKimberly. Its nature did not compromise herconscience and it seemed in this way possible bothto have and not have. She grew to lean upon thethought of him as one of the consoling supports inher whirling life-the life in which reflection neverreached conclusion, action never looked forwardto result, and denial had neither time nor place.
The pursuit of pleasure, sweetened by thatphilanthropy and the munificent almsgiving whichwas so esteemed by those about her, made upher life. Alice concluded that those of her circleseverely criticised by many who did not knowthem, did much good. Their failings, naturally, would not condemn them with critics who, likeherself, came in contact with them at their best.
Some time after the placing of the young collegeman, Alice, running in one morning on Dollyfound her in tears. She had never before seenDolly even worried and was at once all solicitude.For one of the very few times in her life, itappeared, Dolly had clashed with her brother Robert.Nor could Alice get clearly from her what thedifference had been about. All that was evidentto Alice was that Dolly was very much grieved andmortified over something Kimberly had said ordone, or refused to say or do, concerning adistinguished actress who upon finishing anAmerican tour was to be entertained by Dolly.
Alice in the afternoon was over at Imogene's.Robert Kimberly was there with his brother.Afterward he joined Imogene and Alice under theelms and asked them to drive. While Imogenewent in to make ready Alice poured a cup of teafor Kimberly. "I suppose you know you havemade Dolly feel very bad," she said with a colorof reproach.
Kimberly responded with the family prudence."Have I?" Alice handed him the tea and heasked another question. "What, pray, do youknow about it?"
"Nothing at all except that she is hurt, and thatI am sorry."
"She didn't tell you what the difference was?"
"Except that it concerned her coming guest."
"I offered Dolly my yacht for her week. Shewanted me to go with the party. Because Ideclined, she became greatly incensed."
"She thought, naturally, you ought to haveobliged her."
"I pleaded I could not spare the time. Shehas the Nelsons and enough others, anyway."
"Her answer, of course, is that your time is your own."
"But the fact is, her guest made the request.Dolly without consulting me promised I would go, and now that I will not she is angry."
"I should think a week at sea would be adiversion for you."
"To tag around a week in heavy seas withwraps after a person of distinction? And pacethe deck with her on damp nights?"
"That is unamiable. She is a very great actress."
Kimberly continued to object. "Suppose sheshould be seasick. I once went out with her andshe professed to be ill every morning. I had tosit in her cabin-it was a stuffy yacht of DeCastro's-and hold her hand."
"But you are so patient. You would not mind that."
"Oh, no; I am not in the least patient. TheKimberlys are described as patient when they aremerely persistent. If I am even amiable, amiability is something quite other than patience.Patience is almost mysterious to me. Francis isthe only patient man I ever have known."
"In this case you are not even amiable. We allhave to do things we don't want to do, to obligeothers. And Dolly ought to be obliged."
"Very well. If you will go, I will. What doyou say?"
"You need not drag me in. I shall have guestsof my own next week. If Dolly made a mistakeabout your inclination in the affair it would beonly generous to help her out."
"Very well, I will go."
"Now you are amiable."
"They can put in at Bar Point and I will jointhem for the last two days. I will urge McEntee, the captain, to see that they are all sick, ifpossible, before I come aboard. Then they will notneed very much entertaining."
"Not a bit. Dolly is a good sailor. Her guestcares nothing for me. It is only to have anAmerican at her heels."
"They say that no one can resist her charm.You may not escape it this time."
A fortnight passed before any news came toAlice from the yachting party. Then Fritzie camehome from Nelsons' one day with an interestingaccount of the trip. Until the story was all told,Alice felt gratified at having smoothed over Dolly'sdifficulty.
"They were gone longer than they expected,"said Fritzie. "Robert was having such a goodtime. Lottie Nelson tells me Dolly's guest madethe greatest sort of a hit with Robert. He didn'tlike her at first. Then she sang a song thatattracted him, and he kept her singing that songall the time. He sat in a big chair near the pianoand wouldn't move. The funny thing was, shewas awfully bored the way he acted. By the way, you must not miss the golf to-morrow. Everybodywill be out."
Alice hardly heard the last words. She wasthinking about Kimberly's entertaining thecelebrity. Every other incident of the voyage had beenlost upon her. When she found herself alone herdisappointment and resentment were keen. Someunaccountable dread annoyed her. He was then, she reflected, like all other men, filled with mereprofessions of devotion.
Something more disturbed her. The incidentrevealed to her that he had grown to be morein her thoughts than she realized. Racks andthumb-screws could not have dragged from her theadmission that she was interested in him. It wasenough that he professed to be devoted to herand had been led away by the first nod of anotherwoman.
The golf course and the casino were crowdednext day when Alice arrived. Yet amongthe throng of men and women, her interest layonly in the meeting of one, as in turn his interestin all the summer company lay only in seekingAlice. She had hardly joined Imogene and thelake coterie when Kimberly appeared.
The players had driven off and the favorites, ofwhom there were many, could already be trailedacross the hills by their following. When the"out" score had been posted, De Castro suggestedthat the party go down to the tenth hole to followthe leaders in.
A sea-breeze tempered the sunshine and thelong, low lines of the club-house were gaylydecorated. Pavilions, spread here and there amongthe trees, gave the landscape a festival air.
On the course, the bright coloring of groups ofmen and women moving across the fields madea spectacle changing every moment in brilliancy.
Kimberly greeted Alice with a graciousexpectancy. He was met with a lack of responsenothing less than chilling. Surprised, though fairlyseasoned to rebuffs, and accepting the unexpectedmerely as a difficulty, Kimberly set out to beentertaining.
His resource in this regard was not scanty butto-day Alice succeeded in taxing his reserves. In hishalf-mile tramp with her in the "gallery,"punctuated by occasional halts, he managed but onceto separate her from the others. The sun annoyedhim. Alice was aware of his lifting his straw hatfrequently to press his handkerchief to beads ofperspiration that gathered on his swarthyforehead, but she extended no sympathy.
In spite of his discomfort, however, his eyesflashed with their accustomed spirit and his doggedperseverance in the face of her coldness began toplead for itself. When the moving "gallery" hadat last left them for an instant behind, Kimberlydropped on a bench under the friendly shade ofa thorn apple tree.
"Sit down a moment, do," he begged, "until Iget a breath."
"Do you find it warm?"
"Not at all," he responded with negligible irony."It is in some respects uncommonly chilly." Hespoke without the slightest petulance. "ForHeaven's sake, tell me what I have done!"
"I don't know what you mean."
"I mean, you are not kind in your mannertoward me. I left you-I hoped you wouldremember-to do a favor for you-"
"For me?" Her tone was not in the least reassuring.
"At least, I conceived it to be for you," he replied.
"That is a mistake."
"Very good. Let us call it mistake numberone. I spent five days with Dolly and herguests-"
"Guests," repeated Alice, lingering slightly onthe word, as she poked the turf slowly with hersunshade, "or guest?"
"Guest!" he echoed, "Ah!" He paused."Who has put me wrong in so simple a matter?What I did was no more than to be agreeable toDolly's guests. I spent much time with the guestof honor at Dolly's repeated requests. Shehappened to sing a song that pleased me very much, for one particular reason; it was your lovely littleItalian air; I am not ashamed to say it broughtback pleasant moments. Since she could donothing else that was so pleasing," he continued,"I kept her singing the song. She became boredand naturally ceased to be good-natured. Then,Dolly asked me to run around by Nantucket, which we could have done in two days. Not tobe churlish, I consented. Then the coal gave out, which took another day."
"What a mishap! Well, I am glad to hear thetrip went pleasantly."
"If you are, something has gone wrong withyou-"
"Nothing whatever, I can assure you."
"You are offended with me."
"I assure you I am not."
"I assure you, you are." He took the sunshadefrom her hand. "You remember the fable aboutthe man that tried to oblige everybody? Hewasn't a refiner-he was a mere miller. At thestart I really did my best for three days toentertain Dolly's lovely vampire and at the end of thattime she made a face at me-and wound up bytelling Dolly my head was full of another woman.Then-to be quite shamefully frank-I had tododge Lottie Nelson's apologies for herunpleasant temper on an evening that youremember; altogether my lot was not a happy one. Myhead was full of another woman. You rememberyou said nobody could resist her charm? Ithought of it. What is charm? I often askedmyself. I saw nothing of charm in that charmingwoman. Who can define it? But penetration!She could read you like a printed book. Wetalked one night of American women. I dared tosay they were the loveliest in the world. She grewincensed. 'They know absolutely nothing!' sheexclaimed. 'That is why we like them' Ianswered. 'They are innocent; you are as corruptas I am.' Then she would call me a hypocrite." Hestopped suddenly and Alice felt his eyes keenlyupon her. "Is it possible you do not believe whatI am saying?"
"Innocent women believe whatever they are told."
"I don't deserve sarcasm. I am telling thesimple truth. For once I am wholly at fault,Alice. I don't know what the matter is. Whathas happened?"
"Nothing has happened; only to-day I seemespecially stupid."
"Are you as frank with me as I am with you?"
She made no answer. He drew back as ifmomentarily discouraged. "If you no longerbelieve me-what can I do?"
"It isn't at all that I do not believe you-whatdifference should it make whether or no I believeyou? Suppose I were frank enough to admit thatsomething I heard of you had disappointed me alittle. What credit should I have forcommenting on what in no way concerns me?"
"Anything heard to my discredit should be carefullyreceived. Believe the best of me as long asyou can. It will never be necessary, Alice, forany one to tell you I am unworthy; when that daycomes you will know it first from me. And if I everam unworthy, it will not be because I willed tobe-only because through my baseness I nevercould know what it means to be worthy of awoman far above me."
She reached out her hand for her sunshade buthe refused to give it back. She tried to rise; helaid his hand on her arm. "A moment! It wasabout me, was it?" he continued. "Did youreceive it cautiously? Put me in your position.How do you think one would fare who came tome with anything to your discredit? Think ofit, Alice-how do you think one would fare-lookat me."
She looked up only for an instant and as if inprotest. But in spite of herself something in herown eyes of confidence in him, some tribute to hishonesty, stood revealed, and inspired him with anew courage.
"You say what you hear of me does notconcern you. Anything you hear of me does concernyou vitally." His intensity frightened her, andthinking to escape him, she still sat motionless.
"Everything I do, important or trivial, has itsrelation to you. Do you believe me? Alice, youmust believe me. You do believe me. How canyou say that anything you hear of me does notconcern you? It concerns you above everyliving person. It concerns your happiness-"
"Such wildness-such extravagance!" sheexclaimed trying to control her fear.
"I tell you I am neither wild nor extravagant.Our happiness, our very lives are bound uptogether. It isn't that I say to you, you aremine-I am yours."
The furious beating of her heart would not bestilled. "How can you say such things!"
"I say them because I can't escape your influencein my life. I only want to come up to whereyou are-not to drag you down to where I am-towhere I have been condemned to be from the cradle.If what you hear of me conflicts with what I sayto you, believe nothing of what you hear." Hiswords fell like blows. "If I could show you myvery heart I could not be more open. It is youwho are everything to me-you alone."
Breathless and rigid she looked away. Hardlybreathing himself, Kimberly watched her. Herlip quivered. "Oh, my heart!" he murmured.But in the words she heard an incredibletenderness. It moved her where intensity had failed.It stilled the final pangs of revolt at his words.She drifted for an instant in a dream. New andtrembling thoughts woke in a reluctant dawn andglowed in her heart like faint, far streamers of anew day.
"Oh, my heart!" The words came again, asif out of another world. She felt her hand takenby a strong, warm hand. "Do you tremble forme? Is my touch so heavy? How shall I eversafeguard the flower of your delicacy to myclumsiness?"
She neither breathed nor moved. "No matter.You will teach me how, Alice. Learning howyou can be happiest, I shall be happiest. I feelbeggared when I lay my plea before you. Whatare all my words unless you breathe life uponthem? A few things-not many-I have succeededin. And I succeeded," the energy of success echoedin his confession, "only because I let nothing ofeffort stand between me and the goal. You havenever been happy. Let me try to succeed withyour happiness."
A silence followed, golden as the moment.Neither felt burdened. About them was quietand the stillness seemed to flow from the hush oftheir thoughts.
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