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"It is easy for you to speak," she faltered atlast, "too easy for me to listen. I amunhappy-so are many women; many would be strongenough never to listen to what you have said. Imyself should be if I were what you picture me.And that is where all the trouble lies. Youmistake me; you picture to yourself an Alice thatdoesn't exist. If I could return your interestI should disappoint you. I am not depreciatingmyself to extort compliments-you would supplythem easily, I know. Only-I know myselfbetter than you know me."
"What you say," he responded, "might havepoint if I were a boy-it would have keen point.While to me your beauty-do not shake yourhead despairingly-your beauty is the delicacy ofgirlhood, you yourself are a woman. You haveknown life, and sorrow. I cannot lead you as afairy once led you from girlhood into womanhood-wouldthat I could have done it! He should bea very tender guide who does that for a woman.
"But I can lead you, I think, Alice, toeverything in this world that consoles a woman forwhat she gives to it. Do not say I do not knowyou-that is saying I do not know myself, men, women, life-it is saying I know nothing. Modestas I am," he smiled lightly, "I am not yet readyto confess to that. I do know; as men that havelived and tasted and turned away and longed andwaited, know-so I know you. And I knew fromthe moment I saw you that all my happiness inthis world must come from you."
"Oh, I am ashamed to hear you say that. Iam ashamed to hear you say anything. Whatbase creature am I, that I have invited you tospeak!" She turned and looked quickly at him, but with fear and resolve in her eyes. "This youmust know, here and now, that I can never be, not if you kill me, another Dora Morgan."
He met her look with simple frankness. "Theworld is filled with Dora Morgans. If you couldbe, Alice, how could I say to you what I neverhave said, or thought of saying, to any Dora Morgan?"
"To be a creature would kill me. Do not bedeceived-I know."
"Or do worse than kill you. No, you are likeme. There is no half-way for you and me.Everything-or nothing!"
She rose to her feet. He saw that shesupported herself for a moment with one hand stillon the bench rail. He took her other hand withinhis own and drew her arm through his arm.
It was the close of the day. The sun, setting, touched the hills with evening, and below thedistant Towers great copses of oak lay like islands onthe mirrored landscape. They walked from thebench slowly together. "Just a little help for thestart," he murmured playfully as he kept her athis side. "The path is a new one. I shall makeit very easy for your feet."
"I hope you rested well after your excitement,"said Kimberly to Alice, laughing reassuringlyas he asked. It was the day following theirparting at the golf grounds. He had driven over toCedar Lodge and found Alice in the gardenwaiting for Dolly. The two crossed the terraceto a sheltered corner of the garden overlooking thebay where they could be alone.After Alice hadseated herself Kimberly repeated his question.
She regarded him long and thoughtfully as sheanswered, and with a sadness that was unexpected: "I did not rest at all. I do not even yetunderstand-perhaps I never shall-why I let you talkto me in that wild, wild way. But if I did notrest last night, I thought. I am to blame-Iknow that-as much as you are. Don't tell me.I am as much to blame as you are. But thiscannot go on."
His eyes were upon her hands as they lay acrossflowers in her lap. He took a spray from herwhile she spoke and bent his look upon it. Shewas all in white and he loved to see her in white.In it she fulfilled to him a dream of womanhood."I ought to ask you what you mean when yousay and think these fearful things," she went on, waiting for him to lift his eyes. "I ought to askyou; but you do not care what it means, at leastas far as you are concerned. And you never askyourself what it means as far as I am concerned."
He replied with no hesitation. "I beganasking myself that question almost the first time Iever saw you. I have asked myself nothing elseever since. It means for both of us exactly thesame thing; for you, everything you can ask thatI can give you; for me, everything I can give youthat you can ask."
"If there were no gulf between us-but there is.And even if what you say were true, you can seehow impossible it would be for me to say thosewords back to you."
He looked at the spray. "Quite true; youcannot. But I shall ask so little-less of youthan of any woman in the world. And you willgive only what you can, and when you can. Andyou alone are to be the judge of what you cangive and when, until our difficulties are worked out.
"I shall only show you now that I can bepatient. I never have been-I have confessed tothat. Now I am going to the test. Meantime, youdon't realize, Alice, quite, how young you are,do you? Nor how much in earnest I am. Letus turn to that for a while."
From a shrub at his side he plucked sprigsof rosemary and crushed them with the spray."Even love never begins but once. So, for everyhour that passes, a memory; for every hour thattarries, a happiness; for every hour that comes,a hope. Do you remember?"
"I read it on your sun-dial."
"Every one may read it there. Where I wantyou to read it is in my heart."
"I wonder whether it is most what you say, orthe way in which you say it, that gets people intotrouble?"
"On the contrary; my life has been spent ingetting people out of trouble, and in waiting to saythings to you."
"You are improving your opportunity in thatrespect. And you are losing a still moredelightful opportunity, for you don't know how muchrelief you can give me by leaving most of themunsaid."
"It is impossible, of course, to embrace all ofour opportunities-often impossible to embracethe cause of them."
"Don't pick me up in that way, please."
He held his hands over hers and dropped thecrushed rosemary on them. "Would that I couldin any way. Since I cannot, let me annoy you."
Dolly appeared at a distance, and they walkeddown the terrace to meet her. She kissed Alice."What makes you look so girlish to-day? Andwhat is all this color around your eyes? Neverwear anything but white. I never should myself,"sighed Dolly. "You know Alice and I are off forthe seashore," she added, turning to her brother.
"So I hear."
"Who is going?"
"Everybody, I suppose. They all know aboutthe trip."
"Where do you dine?"
"On the shore near the light-house. Arthuris bringing some English friends out from town;we are going to dance."
That night by the sea Kimberly and Alicedanced together. He held her like a child, andhis strength, which for a moment startled her, wasa new charm when she glided across the long, half-lighted floor within his arm. Her graceresponded perfectly to the ease with which he led, and they, stopped only when both were breathingfast, to stroll out on the dark pier and drink in therefreshment of the night wind from the ocean.
They remained out of doors a long time, talkingsometimes, laughing sometimes, walking sometimes, sometimes sitting down for a moment orkneeling upon the stone parapet benches to listento the surf pounding below them. When theywent in, he begged her again to dance. Notanswering in words she only lifted her arm witha smile. Making their way among those aboutthem they glided, he in long, undulating steps, she retreating in swift, answering rhythm, touching the floor as lightly as if she trod on air.
"This plume in your hat," he said as they movedon and on to the low, sensuous strains of themusic, "it nods so lightly. Where do you carryyour wings?"
The very effort of speaking was exhilarating."It is you," she answered, "who are supplyingthe wings."
The gayety of the others drew them more closelytogether. Little confidences of thought andfeeling-in themselves nothing, in theirunforbidden exchange everything-mutual confessions ofearly impressions each of the other, complimentsmore eagerly ventured and ignored now ratherthan resented. Surprise read in each other's eyes, dissent not ungracious and denial that onlylaughingly denied-all went to feed a secret happinessgrowing fearfully by leaps and bounds into tiesthat never could be broken.
The dance with its exhilaration, the plungingof her pulse and her quick, deep breathing, shonein Alice's cheeks and in her eyes. The two laughedat everything; everything colored their happinessbecause everything was colored by it.
The party drove home after a very late supper,Alice heavily wrapped and beside Dolly inKimberly's car. Entertainments for the English partyfollowed for a week and were wound up byKimberly with an elaborate evening for them at TheTowers. For the first time in years the big housewas dressed en f?te and the illuminations made apicture that could be seen as far as the village.
Twenty-four sat at The Towers round table thatnight. Alice herself helped Dolly to pair the guestsand philosophically assigned her husband toLottie Nelson. Kimberly complimented her upon herarrangement.
"Why not?" she asked simply, though notwithout a certain bitterness with which she alwaysspoke of her husband. "People with tastes incommon seem to drift together whether you pairthem or not."
They were standing in an arbor and Kimberlywas plucking grapes for her.
"He is less than nothing to me," she continued,"as you too well know-or I should not be herenow eating your grapes."
"Your grapes, Alice. Everything here is yours.I haven't spoken much about our difficulties-'our'difficulties! The sweetness of the one wordblots out the annoyance of the other. But youmust know I shall never rest until you are installedhere with all due splendor as mistress, not aloneof the grapes, but of all you survey, for this is tobe wholly and simply yours. And if I dare askyou now and here, Alice-you whose every breathis more to me than the thought of all otherwomen-I want you to be my wife."
Her lips tightened. "And I am the wife ofanother man-it is horrible."
He heard the tremor in her tone. "Look at me."
"I cannot look at you."
"When you are free-"
"Free!" Her voice rising in despair, fell againinto despair. "I shall never be free."
"You shall, and that speedily, Alice!" Shecould imagine the blood surging into Kimberly'sneck and face as he spoke. "I am growingfearful that I cannot longer stand the thought of hisbeing under the same roof with you."
"He cannot even speak to me except before Annie."
Kimberly paused. "I do not like it. I wantit changed."
"How can I change it?"
"We shall find a way, and that very soon, toarrange your divorce from him."
"It is the one word, the one thought thatcrushes me." She turned toward him as if witha hard and quick resolve. "You know I am aCatholic, and you know I am ashamed to say it."
"I have disgraced my faith."
"Nonsense, you are an ornament to any faith."
"Do not say that!" She spoke with despairingvehemence. "You don't realize how grotesqueit sounds. If what you say were true I shouldnot be here."
He drew himself up. There was a resentfulnote in his tone. "I did not suppose myself sucha moral leper that it would be unsafe for any oneto talk to me. Other Catholics-and goodones-talk to me, and apparently withoutcontamination."
"It is only that I have no right to. Now youare going to be angry with me."
He saw her eyes quiver. "God forbid! Imisunderstood. And you are sensitive, dearest."
"I am sensitive," she said reluctantly. "Morethan ever, perhaps, since I have ceasedpractising my religion."
"But why have you ceased?"
Her words came unwillingly. "I could not help it."
"Why could you not help it?"
"You ask terribly hard questions."
"You must have wanted to give it up."
"I did not want to. I was forced to."
"Who could force you?"
He saw what an effort it cost her to answer.The words were dragged from her. "I could notlive with my husband and practise it."
"So much the more reason for quitting him, isn't it?"
"Oh, I want to. I want to be free. If I onlycould."
"Alice, you speak like one in despair. Thereis nothing to be so stirred about. You want to befree, I want you to be, you shall be. Don't getexcited over the matter of a divorce. Your eyesare like saucers at the thought. Why?"
"Only because for me it is the final disgrace-notto be separated from him-but to marry againwith him alive! It means the last step for me.And the public scandal! What will they say ofme, who knew me at home?"
"Alice, this is the wildest supersensitiveness.The whole world lives in divorced marriages.Public scandal? No one will ever hear of yourdivorce. The courts that grant your plea willattend to suppressing everything."
"Why not? We abase them every day to somany worse things that their delicate gorges willnot rise at a little favor like that."
She looked at him gravely. "What does theworld say of you for doing such things?"
"I never ask. You know, of course, I neverpay any attention to what the world says ofanything I do. Why should I? It would bedifficult for the world to despise me as much as Idespise it. You don't understand the world. Allyou need is my strength. I felt that from the veryfirst-that if I could give you my strength thecombination would be perfect. That is why I am sohelplessly in love with you-my strength must beyours. I want to put you on a throne. Then Istand by, see? – and guard your majesty with agreat club. And I can do it."
They laughed together, for he spoke guardedly,as to being heard of others, but with ominousenergy. "I believe you could," murmured Alice.
"Don't worry over your religion. I will makeyou practise it. I will make a devotee of you."
He stooped for her hand and in spite of a littlestruggle would not release it until he had kissedit. "Do you know it is the first time my namehas ever passed your lips?" he murmured.
She was silent and he went on with anotherthought. "Alice, I don't believe you are as bada Catholic as you think. I'll tell you why. Ihave known Catholic women, and men, too, thathave given up their religion. Understand, I knownothing about your religion, but I do knowsomething about men and women. And when theybegin elaborate explanations they think theydeceive me. In matter of fact, they deceive onlythemselves. When they begin to talk aboutprogress, freedom of thought, decay of dogmas, individual liberty and all that twaddle, and assumea distinctly high, intellectual attitude, even thoughI don't know what they have given up, I knowwhat they are assuming; I get their measureinstantly. I've sometimes thought that when Godcalls us up to speak on judgment day He willsay in the most amiable manner: 'Just tell yourown story in your own way.' And that our ownstories, told in our own way, will be all the dataHe will need to go ahead on. Indeed, He wouldnot always need divine prescience to see throughthem; in most cases mere human insight wouldbe enough. Just listen to the ordinary story ofthe ordinary man and notice how out of his ownmouth he condemns himself. I see that sort ofposturing every day in weak-kneed men andwomen who want to enlist large sums of money tofloat magnificent schemes. Now you are honestwith yourself and honest with me, and I see inthis a vital difference."
They walked back through the garden andencountered Brother Francis who was taking theair. Kimberly stopped him. Nelson andImogene joined the group. "Ah, Francis!" exclaimedImogene, "have they caught you saying your beads?"
"Not this time, Mrs. Kimberly."
"Come now, confess. What were you doing?"
Brother Francis demurred and protested butthere was no escape. He pointed to The Towers."I came out to see the beautiful illumination. Itis very beautiful, is it not?"
"But that isn't all, for when we came along youwere looking at the sky."
"Ah, the night is so clear-the stars are so strongto-night-"
"I was thinking of Italy."
"I never can catch Brother Francis, thinkingof anything but Italy," remarked Kimberly.
"Who can blame him?" exclaimed Imogene.
"Or the hereafter," added Kimberly.
Nelson grunted. "I'm afraid he doesn't findmuch sympathy here on that subject," heobserved, looking from one to another.
"Don't be mistaken, Nelson," said Kimberly,"I think about it, and Francis will tell you so. Ihave already made tentative arrangements withhim on that score. Francis is to play Lazarus tomy Dives. When I am in hell I am to have mycup of cold water from him. And remember,Francis, if you love me, the conditions. Don'tforget the conditions; they are the essence of thecontract. I am to have the water one drop at atime. Don't forget that; one drop at a time.Eternity is a long, long while."
Francis, ill at ease, took a pinch of snuff tocompose himself.
"Your r?le doesn't seem altogether to yourliking, Francis," suggested Imogene.
"His r?le! Why, it's paradise itself comparedto mine," urged Kimberly.
Brother Francis drew his handkerchief andwiped his nose very simply. "I pray, Robert,"he said, "that you may never be in hell."
"But keep me in your eye, Francis. Don'trelax your efforts. A sugar man is liable tostumble and fall in while your back is turned."
"We must get started for the lake," announcedImogene. "Brother Francis, we are all goingdown to see The Towers from the water. Willyou come?"
Francis excused himself, and his companionsjoined the other guests who were gathering at thewater. Oarsmen were waiting with barges andfires burned from the pillars of the esplanade.As the boats left the shore, music came acrossthe water. Alice, with Kimberly, caught a glimpseof her husband in a passing boat. "Having agood time?" he cried. For answer she wavedher hand.
"Are you really having a good time?" Kimberlyasked. "I mean, do you care at all for thiskind of thing?"
"Of course, I care for it. Who could help it?It is lovely. Where are we going?"
"Down the lake a mile or two; then the boatswill return for the fireworks."
"You don't seem very lively yourself to-night.Are you bored?"
"No; only wondering whether you will godriving with me to-morrow."
"I said I would not."
"I hoped, of course, you might reconsider."
He did not again press the subject of the drive, but when they were walking up the hill after therockets and showers of gold falling down the darksky, she told him he might come for her the nextday. "I don't know how it is," she murmured,"but you always have your own way. You windme right around your finger."
He laughed. "If I do, it is only because Idon't try to."
"I realize it; that is what puzzles me."
"The real secret is, not that I wind you aroundmy finger, but that you don't want to hurt myfeelings. I find something to wonder at, too.When I am with you-even when you are anywherenear me, I am totally different. Alone, Iam capable of withdrawing wholly within myself.I am self-absorbed and concentrated. Withyou I am never wholly within myself. I am, seemingly, partly in your consciousness."
Alice shook her head. "It is true," he persisted."It is one of the consequences of love; tobe drawn out of one's self. I have it." Heturned to her, questioningly, "Can you understand it?"
"I think so."
"But do you ever feel it?"
"Never, of course, for me?"
"This is a courtship without any spring," saidDolly one night to her husband. Theywere discussing her brother and Alice. "Atfirst it was all winter, now it is all summer."
She thought they showed themselves together toomuch in public, and their careless intimacy was,in fact, outwardly unrestrained.
Not that Dolly was censorious. Her philosophyfound refuge in fatalism. And since what is tobe must be-especially where the Kimberlys wereconcerned-why worry over the complications?Seemliness, however, Dolly held, was to beregarded, and concerning this she felt she ought tobe consulted. The way to be consulted she hadlong ago learned was to find fault.
But if she herself reproved Kimberly and Alice,Dolly allowed no one else to make their affairs asubject of comment. Lottie Nelson, who couldnever be wholly suppressed, was silenced whenoccasion offered. One afternoon at The Hickories,Alice's name being mentioned, Lottie askedwhether Robert was still chasing her.
"Chasing her?" echoed Dolly contemptuouslyand ringing the changes on the objectionable word,"Of course; why shouldn't he chase her? Whoelse is there to chase? He loves the excitementof the hunt; and who else around here is there tohunt? The other women hunt him. No manwants anything that comes tumbling after him.What we want is what we can't get; or at leastwhat we're not sure of getting."
Kimberly and Alice if not quite unconscious ofcomment were at least oblivious of it. Theymotored a great deal, always at their own will, and they accounted to no one for their excursions.
"They are just a pair of bad children," saidImogene to Dolly. "And they act like children."
One of their diversions in their rambling driveswas to stop children and talk with them or askquestions of them. One day near Sunbury theyencountered a puny, skeleton-faced boy, ahighway acquaintance, wheeling himself along in aninvalid chair.
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