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"Faith is ridiculed, fasting is despised, the veryidea of self-denial is as absurd to pagan to-day asit was nineteen hundred years ago to pagan Rome.And with its frivolous marriages and easy divorcesthe world again drags woman back to the couchof the concubine from which Christianity with somuch blood and tears lifted her up nineteenhundred years ago."
"Francis, you are a dreamer. Society is gone; you can't restore it. I see only a lovely womanits victim. I am not responsible for the conditionthat made her one and I certainly shall not standby and see her suffer because the world isrotten-nor would you-don't protest, I know you, too.So I am going to raise her as high as man canraise a woman. She deserves it. She deservesinfinitely more. I am only sorry I can't raise herhigher. I am going to make her my wife; andyou, Francis, shall dance at the wedding. Oh, you needn't throw up your hands-you are goingto dance at the wedding."
"Non posso, non posso. I cannot dance, Robert."
"You don't mean, Francis," demanded Kimberlyseverely suspicious, "to tell me you wouldlike me the less-that you would be other thanyou have been to me-if you saw me happilymarried?"
"How could I ever be different to you fromwhat I have been? Every day, Robert, I prayfor you."
Kimberly's brows contracted. "Don't do it."
Francis's face fell. "Not?"
"For the present let me alone. I'm doing verywell. The situation is delicate."
Francis's distress was apparent, and Kimberlycontinued good-naturedly to explain. "Don't stirGod up, Francis; don't you see? Don't attracthis attention to me. I'm doing very well. All Iwant is to be let alone."
"By the way, how does it seem to be quite afree woman?" said Kimberly one eveningto Alice.
"What do you mean?"
"Your decree was granted to-day."
She steeled herself with an exclamation. "Thatnightmare! Is it really over?"
He nodded. "Now, pray forget it. You see, you were called to the city but once. You spentonly ten minutes in the judge's chambers, andanswered hardly half a dozen questions. Youhave suffered over it because you are toosensitive-you are as delicate as Dresden. And this iswhy I try to stand between you and everythingunpleasant."
"But sha'n't you be tired of always standingbetween me and everything unpleasant?"
He gazed into her eyes and they returned hissearching look with the simplicity of faith. Intheir expression he felt the measure of hishappiness. "No," he answered, "I like it. It is mypart of the job. And when I look upon you, when I am near you, even when I breathe thefragrance of your belongings-of a glove, a fan,a handkerchief-I have my reward. Every trifleof yours takes your charm upon itself."
He laid a bulky package in her lap. "Hereare the maps and photographs."
"Oh, this is the villa." Alice's eye ran withdelight over the views as she spread them beforeher. "Tell me everything about it."
"I have not seen it since I was a boy.Butabove Stresa a pebbled Roman highway winds intothe northern hills. It is flanked with low walls ofrotten stone and shaded with plane trees. Halfan hour above the town an ilex grove marks avilla entrance."
He handed her a photograph. "This is the grove, these are the gates-they are by Krupp, and youwill like them. Above them are the DutchKimberly arms-to which we have no right whateverthat I can discover. But wasn't it delightfullyAmerican for Dolly to appropriate them?
"The roadway grows narrower as it climbs.Again and again it sinks into the red hill-side, leaving a wall tapestried with ivy. Indeed, it windsabout with hardly any regard for a fixed destination, but the air is so bland and the skies at everyturn are so soft, that pretty soon you don't carewhether you ever get anywhere or not. The hillsare studded with olives and oranges.
"When you have forgotten that you have adestination the road opens on a lovely pineto.You cross it to a casino on the eastern edge andthere is the lake, two hundred feet below andstretching away into the Alps.
"Above the casino you lose yourself amongcedars, chestnuts, magnolias, and there are littlegorges with clumps of wild laurel. Figs andpomegranates begin beyond the gorge. Thearbors are hidden by oleander trees and terracesof camellias rise to the belvedere-the tree yousee just beside it there is a magnolia.
"Back of this lies the garden, laid out in theold Italian style, and crowning a point far abovethe lake stands the house. The view is a promiseof paradise-you have the lake, the mountains, the lowlands, the walnut groves, yellow campaniles, buff villas, and Alpine sunsets."
"You paint a lovely picture."
"But incomplete; to-night you are free to tellme when I can take you. Make it an early day,Alice. The moment we are married, we start.We will land at any little port along the Rivierathat strikes your fancy, have a car to meetus, and drive thence by easy stages to the lake.From the moment we touch at Gibraltar youwill fall in love with everything anew; there isonly one Mediterranean-one Italy, cara miaben. Let us go in. I want you to sing my song."
They walked into the house and to the dimlylighted music room. There they sat downtogether on the piano bench and she sang for him,"Caro Mio Ben."
Not every day brought unalloyed happiness.Moments of depression asserted themselveswith Alice and, if tolerated, led to periods ofdespondency. She found herself seeking ahappiness that seemed to elude her.
Even her depression, banished by recreation, leftbehind something of a painful subconsciousnesslike the uneasy subsidence of a physical pain.Activity thus became a part of her daily routineand she gained a reputation for lively spirits.
Kimberly, whose perception was not often atfault, puzzled over the strain of gayety that seemedto disclose a new phase in Alice's nature. Once, after a gay day at Sea Ridge, he surprised her athome in the evening and found her too depressedto dissemble.
"Now," he said, taking both her hands, "youare going to tell me what the matter is."
"Robert, nothing is the matter."
"Something is the matter," he persisted. "Tellme what it is."
"It is less than nothing. Just a miserablespectre that haunts me sometimes. And when Ifeel in that way, I think I am still his wife. Nowyou are vexed with me."
"Not for an instant, darling; only perplexed.Your worries are mine and we must work outsome relief for them, that is all. And when thingsworry me you will help me do away with myspectres, won't you?"
He soothed and quieted her, not by ridiculeand harshness but by sympathy and understanding, and her love for him, which had found a timidfoothold in the frailest response of her womanlyreserve, now sent its roots deep into her nature.
It was nothing to her that he was great in theworld's eyes; that in itself would have repelledher-she knew what the world would say of herambition in marrying him. But he grew in hereyes because he grew in her heart as she came torealize more and more his solicitude for herhappiness-the only happiness, he told her, in whichhe ever should find his own.
"I know how it will end, Robert." Theywere parting after a moment the most intensethey had ever allowed themselves together. Shewas putting away his unwilling arms, as shelooked in the darkness of the garden up intohis face.
"How will it end?" he asked.
"In my loving you as much as you love me."
Winter passed and the spring was again uponthem before they realized it. In the entertainingaround the lake they had been f?ted until it wasa relief to run away from it all, as they often did.To escape the park-like regularity of their owndomains, they sought for their riding or drivingthe neglected country below the village.Sometimes on their horses they would explore thebackwoods roads and attempt swampy lanes wherefrogs and cowslips disputed their entry and boggypools menaced escape.
Alice, hatless and flushed with laughter and thewind, would lead the way into abandonedwood-paths and sometimes they found one that ledthrough a forest waste to a hidden pond wherethe sun, unseen of men, mirrored itself in glassywaters and dogwood reddened the margin wheretheir horses drank.
In the woods, if she offered a race, Kimberlycould never catch Alice no matter what his mount.She loved to thread a reckless way among saplingtrees, heedless of branches that caught her neckand kissed her cheeks as she hurried on-ridinggave them delightful hours.
They were coming into the village one Maymorning after a long cross-country run when theyencountered a procession of young girls movingacross the road from the parish school to thechurch and singing as they went. The churchitself was en f?te. Country folk gathered alongthe road-side and clustered about the church doorwhere a priest in surplice waited the coming procession.
Kimberly and Alice, breathing their horses, halted. Dressed in white, like child brides, thelittle maidens advanced in the sunshine, their eyescast down in recollection and moving together inawkward, measured step. From their wrists hungrosaries. In their clasped hands they carriedprayer-books and white flowers, and white veilshung from the rose wreaths on their foreheads.
"How pretty!" exclaimed Kimberly as thechildren came nearer.
"Robert," asked Alice suddenly, "what day is this?"
"Thursday, isn't it?"
"It is Ascension Thursday."
The church-bells began to ring clamorously andthe little girls, walking slowly, ceased their song.The lovers waited. Childhood, hushed withexpectancy and moving in the unconscious appealof its own innocence, was passing them.
The line met by the young priest reached theopen door. Kimberly noted the wistful look inAlice's eyes as the little band entered the church.She watched until the last child disappeared andwhen she spoke to her horse her eyes were wet.Her companion was too tactful to venture aquestion. They rode until his silence told her hewas aware of her agitation and she turned to him.
"Do you know," she said, slowly searching hiseyes, "that you are awfully good?"
"If I am," he responded, "it is a discovery.And the honor, I fear, is wholly yours."
"It is something," she smiled, her voice verysweet, "to have lived to give that news to the world."
They rode again in silence. She felt it would beeasier if he were to question her, but it was onlyafter some time that he said: "Tell me what thelittle procession was about."
"I am ashamed to have acted in this way. Butthis was the day of my First Communion,Ascension Thursday. It was only a coincidence thatI should see a First Communion class this morning."
"What is First Communion?"
"Oh, don't you know?" There was a sadnessin the tone. "You don't, of course, you dearpagan. It is you who should have been the Christianand I a pagan. You would never have fallen away."
"You only think you have fallen away, Alice.You haven't. Sometimes you seem to act as ifyou had fallen from some high estate. You havenot; don't think it. You are good enough to bea saint-do you give me credit for no insight? Itell you, you haven't fallen away from yourreligion. If you had, you would be quite at ease, and you are very ill at ease over it. Alice," heturned about in his saddle, "you would be happierif our marriage could be approved by your church."
"It never can be."
"I have led a number of forlorn hopes in myday. I am going to try this one. I have madeup my mind to see your archbishop-I havespoken with Francis about it. I am going tofind out, if nothing more, exactly where we stand."
In response to a request from Kimberly,Hamilton came out to spend the night at TheTowers. Dolly was leaving just as the doctorarrived. She beckoned him to her car.
"You are to save the sixteenth for us, doctor; don't forget to tell Mrs. Hamilton," she said."We have persuaded Robert to give a lawn f?te forGrace and Larrie and we want you. Then, too-butthis is a secret-Robert's own wedding occurstwo weeks later. That will be private, of course,so the affair on the sixteenth will include all of ourfriends, and we want you to be sure to be here."
When the doctor sat down with Kimberly inthe library after dinner, the latter spoke of hiscoming marriage. "You know," he said briefly,as the doctor took a book from the table, "I amgoing to make Mrs. MacBirney my wife."
"I do. I rejoice in it. You know what Ithink of her."
"She has at last set the date and we are to bemarried on the thirtieth of June. It will be veryquiet, of course. And, by the way, save thesixteenth of June for us, doctor."
"Mrs. De Castro has told me. We shall beglad to come out."
"You, I know, do not approve of marriages madethrough divorce," continued Kimberly, bluntly.
"No, nor do you," returned the doctor. "Notas a general proposition. In this case, frankly, Ilook on it as the most fortunate thing that hashappened in the Kimberly family since your ownmother married into it."
"She was a Whitney," muttered Kimberly, leaning back and lifting his chest as he often didwhen talking. "Arthur De Castro has a strainof that blood. He has all her refinement. TheKimberlys are brutes.
"MacBirney," he went on abruptly, "complainedto McCrea yesterday-among other thingsthat he wants to quarrel about-that I had brokenup his home. I have not; I think you know that."
"A man came to me the other day" – the doctorlaid aside his book-"to say he was going to standon his 'rights' and sue for alienation a man who hadrun off with his wife. He asked me what I thoughtof it. 'I suppose you want my honest opinion,'I replied. 'Yet I am afraid it won't comfort youmuch. What "rights" have you established inyour marriage that anybody is bound to respect?' Helooked at me astonished. 'The rights of ahusband,' he answered. 'Doesn't the law, doesn'tsociety give them to me?' 'A man that asks equityfrom society,' said I, 'ought to come into court withclean hands.' I should like to know whosehands are cleaner than mine,' he replied, 'Imarried, made a home for my wife and supported her.'"
Kimberly leaning further back let his chin sinkon his breast, but his eyes shining under his blackbrows showed that he followed the story.
"'But where are the fruits of your marriage?' Iasked," continued the doctor, narrating. "'Don'tstare at me-where are the children? How haveyou lived with your wife? As nature and law andsociety intended you should-or as a mereparamour? Children would have protected yourwife as a woman; the care of children would havefilled her life and turned her mind from thedistraction of listening to another man. Why didn'tyou make a wife and mother of the woman youmarried instead of a creature? In that case youmight have pleaded "rights." But you thoughtyou could beat the game; and the game has beatenyou. You thought you could take the indulgenceof marriage without its responsibilities. Eitheryou debased your wife to your level or allowedher to debase you to hers. Don't talk about"rights," you haven't any.'"
"What did the fellow say?" asked Kimberly.
"What could he say?" demanded Hamilton.
They sat a moment in silence.
Kimberly broke it. "It is a humiliating fact,Hamilton-I often think of it," he saidmoodily-"that the only way in which we can determineour own moral standing is by measuring thestandards of our vicious classes. I mean by ourvicious classes the social driftwood who figure inthe divorce courts and the scandal of the day andshould be placed in a social penitentiary.
"What is really alarming to-day is that ourstandards of what constitutes vice have fallen solow. We speak of husbands; has there ever beena period in the history of our race when husbandshave fallen so low? There was a time when theman that spoke the English tongue would defendhis home with his life-"
"In those days they had homes to defend."
" – when it meant death to the man thatcrossed the threshold of his honor-"
"They had honor, too."
"But consider the baseness the Americanhusband has reached. When he suspects his wife'sinfidelity, instead of hiding his possible disgrace,he employs detectives to make public thehumiliating proofs of it. He advertises himself inthe bill he files in the courts. He calls on allmen to witness his abasement. He proclaims hisshame from the housetops and wears his stripesas a robe of honor. And instead of killing theinterloper he brands the woman that bears hisname, perhaps the mother of his children, as apublic creature-isn't it curiously infamous? Andthis is what our humane, enlightened, andprogressive social views have brought us to-we havefallen too low to shoot!
"However," concluded Kimberly, shakinghimself free from the subject, "my own situationpresents quite other difficulties. And, by the way,Francis is still ailing. He asked the superioryesterday for a substitute and went home ill.You have seen Uncle John?"
"A moment, before dinner."
"Is he failing, Hamilton?"
"Mentally, no; physically, he loses ground lately."
"We die hard," said Kimberly, reflecting, "wecan't help it. The old gentleman certainlybrightened up after he heard of my coming marriage.Not that I told him-Dolly did so. It pleased himmarvellously. I couldn't understand exactly why, but Dolly suggested it was one of the naturalinstincts of Uncle John coming out. His eyessparkle when the subject is mentioned,"continued Kimberly dryly. "I really think it is thecovetous instinct in him that is gratified. He hasalways disliked MacBirney and always itched tosee him 'trimmed.' This seems to satisfy, heroically, Uncle John's idea of 'trimming' him. Heis as elated as if he were doing the 'trimming'himself."
Kimberly explained to Hamilton why he hadsent for him and asked him for a letter ofintroduction to the archbishop, whom he desired tomeet.
"You are on one or two executive boards withhim, I think," suggested Kimberly. "Do youknow him well enough to oblige me?"
"I know him very well," returned Hamilton."And you, too, ought to know him."
The surgeon wrote the note at once.
"MOST REVEREND AND DEAR ARCHBISHOP:
Kimberly was lunching next day at thecity office when MacBirney's name came inwith a request for an interview. He was admittedwithout delay and while a valet removed the traysand the table, Kimberly greeted his visitor and, indicating a chair, asked him to sit down. He sawat a glance the suppressed feeling in MacBirney'smanner; the latter, in fact, carried himself as aman fully resolved to carry out a course yetfearful of the results.
"I have come to give notice of my withdrawalfrom the June pool in common," began MacBirneywithout preface.
"I am not the one to give notice to," returnedKimberly civilly, "inasmuch as I am not in theJune pool and not in touch with its operations."
"Well, I've sold-I am selling," MacBirneycorrected himself hastily, "my allotment, nomatter who is at interest."
"McCrea and my brother are the organizers-"
"I understand," interjected MacBirney, "thatyou made a good deal of talk about my action inthe December pool a year ago-I give you nochance to say I haven't served ample notice this time."
"On the contrary, I quieted a great deal oftalk about your action a year ago. It was sogrossly unfair to your associates that I ascribedyour unloading of your stock without notifyingthem to rank ignorance, and was disposed tooverlook it on that ground."
MacBirney smiled with some sarcasm. "Thoughyou were careful enough to say publicly that youwould never be caught in another pool with me."
"I never have been, have I? And I did not'say publicly'; I said so to McCrea, who had mypermission to tell you. It cost me six hundredthousand dollars at that time to support themarket against you for three days. And while I liketo see my associates make money, I object to theirmaking it out of me."
"You didn't say so to poison my wife against me?"
"I have never, MacBirney, spoken of that or ofany other of your business affairs to your wife.I never have spoken even your name to your wife,in praise or in blame, until you left her-excepttwice to ask her if she loved you. Even that shetreated as an insult."
"You must have made some progress since then."
Kimberly's head began to move slowly fromside to side. "I am told," added MacBirney,in a thin, hard voice, "you are getting ready tomarry her."
"Quite true, I am."
MacBirney's rage forced him to his feet. "Iam beginning to understand now, Kimberly," heframed the words slowly and carefully, "the wayyou have plotted against me from the start. I waswarned before I ever saw you that you had norespect for the law of God or man where a womanwas concerned. I was warned that no womanwas safe near you."
Kimberly eyed his enraged associate calmly."You are travelling far in a few words, MacBirney.I hope you understand, once for all, that certainlimits cover a situation even such as this. I don'tlike your last phrase. It might be made to applyunpleasantly to a woman now very dear to me. Iam used to angry men, and what you say about me-"
"What I say about-"
"What you say about me is allowable, nomatter what I think of it. But understand this, ifyou say one word about her-here or elsewhere, now or hereafter-I will stop you, if I have tochoke you with my own hands."
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