The Restless Sex
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
After a while he said in a low voice:
"Dear, you and I have already come a long way on the blossoming path together. I believe it is written that we travel it together to the end. Don't you want me always, Steve?"
"Yes," she sighed, pressing her hand over his at her waist. "I do want you, always… But, Jim – I'm not what you think me. I ran rather wild while you were away. Liberty went to my empty head. I didn't seem to care what I did. The very devils seemed to be in my heels and they carried me everywhere at random – "
"Oh, they did! They landed me in a dreadful pickle. You know they did. And now here I am, married, and falling more desperately in love every minute with the other man. You can't really love such a fool of a girl!"
"It makes no difference," he said, "I can't go on alone, now."
She pressed her cheek against his shoulder:
"You need not. You can always have me when you wish."
"You mean – just this way?"
"Yes… How else – " She looked up at him; he suddenly stopped in the path, her next step brought her around facing him, where she halted, encircled by his arm. After a moment's silence, she rested her clasped hands on his shoulder, looking very seriously into his eyes.
"How else?" she repeated in a half-whisper.
"Either that or – we can go away somewhere – together – "
The dryness of his throat checked him, and her clear eyes looked him through and through.
"Either you or I," he said, "have got to tell Oswald how matters – "
"We can't, Jim."
"Tell him," he continued, "that we are in love with each other and need to marry – "
"Oh, Jim – my dear – dearest, I can't do that!"
"It's true, isn't it?" he demanded.
She did not answer for a while. Then she unclasped his hands, which had been resting on his shoulder, and slipped one arm around his neck:
"Yes, it is true; I want to marry you. But I can't… So – so won't this way do?" she said. "You can always have me this way."
He kissed her lifted lips.
"No, it won't do, Steve. I want all that you are, all that you have to give the man you love and marry, all that the future holds of beauty and of mystery for us both… I want a home with you, Steve; I want every minute of life with you, waking and sleeping… I love you, Steve… And because I do love you I dare tell you that I am falling in love with our future, too – in love with the very thought of – your children, Steve… Dear, I think that I am like my father. I love only once. And once in love, there is nothing else for me; no other woman, no recompense if you fail me, no cure for me."
They both were deadly serious now; his face was quiet but set in firm and sober lines; she had lost much of her colour, so that the grey eyes with their dark lashes seemed unusually large.
"I can't marry you," she said, drawing his head nearer."Do you think for one moment that I would deny you anything you asked of me if it were in my power to give?"
"Will you not tell me why?"
"I'm not free to tell you… Oh, Jim! I adore you – I do love you so – so deeply. I'm married. I'm sorry I'm married. But I can't help it – I can't get out of it – it scares me even to think of trying – "
"What hold has that man – "
"No hold. There's something else – something sad, terrible – "
"I'll take you, anyway," he said in a low, tense voice. "He will have his remedy."
"How, Jim? Do you mean that you wish me to defy opinion with you? You wouldn't let me do that, would you, dear? I'd do it if you asked, but you wouldn't let me, would you?"
"No." He had lost his head for a moment; that was all; and the ugly threat had been wrenched out of him in the confusion of a tortured mind struggling against it knew not what.
"Jim," she asked under her breath, "would you really let me?"
"No," he said savagely.
"I knew you wouldn't."
Her arm slipped from his neck and again she clasped both slender hands, rested them on his shoulder, and laid her cheek against them.
"It wouldn't help me out of this pickle if we misbehaved," she said thoughtfully. "It wouldn't solve the problem… I suppose you've taken me seriously as an apostle of that new liberty which ignores irregularities – doesn't admit them to be irregular. That's why you said what you did say, I fancy. I've talked enough modern foolishness to have you think me quite emancipated – quite indifferent to the old social order, the old code of morals, the old dogmas, the ancient and orthodox laws of community and individual conduct… Haven't you supposed me quite capable of sauntering away unconventionally with the man I love, after the ironical and casual spectacle of marriage which I have afforded you?"
"I don't know," he said bitterly. "I don't know what I have thought… There will never be anybody except you. If I lose you I lose the world. But between you and me there is a deeper tie than anything less than marriage could sanction. We couldn't ever do that, Steve – let the world go hang while we gave it an extra kick for each other's sakes."
"Because," she whispered, "dad's roof was ours. For his honour, if not for our own, we could not affront the world, dear… Not that I don't love you enough!" she added almost fiercely. "I do love you enough! I don't care whether you know it. Nothing would matter – if there were no other way – and if I were free to take the only way that offered. Do you suppose I'd hesitate if it lay between taking that way and losing you?"
She turned and began to pace the path excitedly, cheeks flushed and hands clenching and unclenching.
"What do I care about myself!" she said. She snapped her fingers: "I don't care that, Jim, when your happiness is at stake! I'd go to you, go with you, love you, face the world undaunted. I care nothing about myself. I know myself! What am I? You know!"
She came up close to him, her face afire, her grey eyes brilliant.
"You know what I am," she repeated. "You and dad did everything to make me like yourselves. You took me out of the gutter – "
"You took me out of the gutter!" she repeated excitedly. "You cleaned the filth from me, gave me shelter, love; – you educated me, made me possible, strove to eradicate the unworthy instincts and inclinations which I might have inherited. My aunt told me. I know what dad did for me! Why shouldn't I adore the memory of your father? Why shouldn't I love his son? I do. I always have. I didn't dream that you ever could offer me a greater love. But when I understood that it was true – when I realized that it was really love, then I stepped into your arms because you held them out to me – because you were your father's son whom I had loved passionately all my life in one way, and was willing to learn to love in any way you asked of me – Jim! – my brother – my lover – "
She flung herself into his arms, choking, clinging to him, struggling to control her voice:
"I am nothing – I am nothing," she sobbed passionately. "Why should not all my gratitude and loyalty be for your father's son? What is so terrible to me is that I can't give myself! That I can't throw myself at your feet for life. To marry you would be too heavenly wonderful! Or, to snap my fingers in the world's face for your sake – dearest – that would be so little to do for you – so easy.
"But I can't. Your father – dad – would know it. And then the world would blame him for ever harbouring a gutter-waif – "
"Steve, dearest – "
"Oh, Jim," she stammered, "I haven't even told you how those inherited traits have raised the deuce with me. I've got in me all the low instincts, all the indolence, the selfish laziness, the haphazard, irresponsible, devil-may-care traits of the man who was my own father!"
"Steve – !"
"Let me tell you! I've got to tell you. I can't keep it any longer. It was something in Oswald that appealed to that gypsy side of me – awoke it, I think. The first time I ever saw him, as a boy, and under disagreeable circumstances, I felt an odd inclination for him. He was like me, and I sensed it! I told you that once. It's true. Something in him appealed to the vagabond recklessness and irresponsibility latent in me – the tendency to wander, the indolent desire to drift and explore pleasant places… After you went abroad I met him. I wrote you about it. I liked him. He fascinated me. There was something in common – something common in common between us… I went to his studio, at first with Helen, and also when others were there. Then I went alone. I didn't care, knowing there was really no harm in going, and also being at the age when defiance of convention is more or less attractive to every girl.
"He was fascinating. He was plainly in love with me. But that means nothing to a girl except the subtle excitement and flattery of the fact. But he was what I wanted – a fellow vagabond!
"Every time I came into town I went to his studio. My aunt had no idea what I was up to. And we did have such good times, Jim! – you see he was successful then, and he had a wonderful studio – and a car – and we ran out into the country and then returned to take tea in his studio… And, Jim, it was all right – but it was not good for me."
She clasped his arm with both of hers and rested her head on his shoulder; and went on talking in a steadier and more subdued voice:
"I didn't write you about it; I was very sure you wouldn't approve. And my head was stuffed full of modernism and liberty and urge and the necessity for self-expression. I felt that I had a perfect right to enjoy myself… And then came trouble. It always does… Oswald's father, Chiltern Grismer, came to the hospital one day, terribly wrought up and looking ghastly.
"My aunt had gone to New York to consult a specialist, but he asked for me, and I came down to the private reception room. I was a graduate nurse then. Oh, Jim! – it was quite dreadful. He seemed to be scared until he saw that I was. Then he was fearfully harsh with me. He told me that my aunt was about to begin suit against him to recover some money – a great deal of money – which my aunt pretended I should have inherited from my grandmother, Mr. Grismer's sister.
"He said we were two adventuresses and that he would expose me and my unhappy origin – all that horror of my childhood – "
A sob checked her; she rested in his arms, breathing fast and irregularly; then, recovering self-control:
"I was bewildered. I told him I didn't want his money. But there was in his eyes a terror which I could see there even when he was upbraiding and threatening me most violently. I didn't know what to do; I wanted to go back to my ward, but he followed me and held the door closed, and I had to listen to the terrible, shameful things he said about my mother's mother and my own mother and myself… Well – just as he was about to leave, my aunt entered… I was in tears, and Mr. Grismer's face was all twisted and contorted with rage, as I thought; but it remained so, white and distorted, as though something had broken and he couldn't recover the mobility of his features. I heard what my aunt said to him – I didn't want to hear it. I cried out, protesting that I didn't wish any of his money… He went away with his face all twisted…"
"What did your aunt say to him?"
"I can't tell you, dear. I am not at liberty to tell you… And after all, it doesn't matter… He died – suddenly – a week later… My aunt was ill at the time and I was with her… A letter was handed to her by an orderly. It was from Mr. Grismer… From a dead man! What she read in it seemed to be a terrific shock to her. She was sick and weak, but she got out of bed and telephoned to her attorneys in New York… I was frightened… It was a most dreadful night for us both… And … and my aunt died of it, I think – the shock and her illness combined… She died a week later… I took our studio with Helen… I saw Oswald every day. He had inherited a great deal of money. We went about… And, Jim, the very devil was in me to roam everywhere with him and see things and explore the part of the world we could cover in his touring car. All the gypsy instinct born in me, all the tendency to irresponsible wandering and idle pleasure suddenly seemed to develop and demand satisfaction… Oswald was a dear. He was in love with me; I knew it. He didn't want to go on those escapades with me; but I bullied him into it… And it got to a point beyond all bounds; the more recklessly we went about the keener my delight in risking everything for the sake of unconventional amusement. Twice we were caught out so far from New York that he had to drive all night to get into town. And then, what was to be expected happened: our car broke down when it meant a night away from the studio with Oswald. And the very deuce was to pay, too, for in the Ten Eyck Hotel at Albany we ran into friends – girls I knew in school and their parents – friends of dad's!
"Oh, Jim, I was panic-stricken. We had to stay there, too. I – there was nothing to do but present Oswald as my husband… That was a terrible night. We had two rooms and a connecting parlour. We talked it over; I cried most of the time. Then I wrote out that cablegram to you… Oh, Jim, he is a dear. You don't know him as I do. He knew I didn't love him and he was in love with me… Well, we had to do something.
"He went out to the Fort Orange Club and got a man he knew. Then, with this man as witness, we told each other that we'd marry each other… Then Oswald went away with his friend and I didn't see him again until next day, when he called for me with the car… And that is all there was of my marriage… And now," she sobbed, "I'm in love with you and I – I – " She broke down hopelessly. He drew her close to him, holding her tightly.
"There is m-more," she faltered, "but I c-can't tell it. It's c-confidential – a matter of honour. I want to be what dad and you expect of me. I do want to be honourable. That is why I can't tell you another person's secret… It would be dishonourable. And even if I told you, I'd be afraid to ask him for my freedom – "
"You mean he would not let you divorce him?"
"Oh, no, I don't mean that! That is the terrible part of it! He would give me my freedom. But I don't want it – that way – not on the – not on such terms – "
They walked slowly toward the house together, she leaning on him as though very tired. Ahead of them a few fireflies sparkled. The rushing roar of the river was in their ears all the way to the house.
Helen had retired, leaving a note for them on the library table:
Stephanie laughed, and they hunted up the cat, discovered her asleep in the best room, and bore her out to the veranda. Then Cleland locked up while Stephanie waited for him. Her tears had dried. She was a trifle pale and languid in her movements, but so lovely that Cleland, already hopelessly in love with her, fell deeper as he looked at her in this pale and unfamiliar phase.
Her grey eyes returned his adoration sweetly, pensively humourous:
"I'm in rags, emotionally," she said. "This loving a young man is a disturbing business to a girl who's just learned how… Are you coming upstairs?"
"I suppose so."
"You'll sleep, of course?"
"Probably not a wink, Steve."
"I wonder if I shall."
They ascended the old staircase together in silence. At her door she held out her hand; he kissed it, released the fingers, but they closed around his and she drew him to her.
"What shall I do?" she said. "Tell me?"
"I don't know, dearest. There seems to be nothing you can do for us."
She bent her head thoughtfully.
"Anything that dishonours me would dishonour you and dad, wouldn't it, Jim?"
"You understand, don't you? I count myself as nothing. Only you count, Jim. But I can't marry you. And I can't go to you otherwise without betraying both dad and you. It isn't a question of my being married and of loving you enough to disregard it. I do. But you and dad require more than that of the girl you made one of your own race. I am loyal to what you both expect of me… Good night, dear… There doesn't seem to be any way I can make you happy. The only way I can show my love and gratitude to dad and you is to retain your respect … by being unkind – Jim – my dearest – dearest – "
She closed her eyes and gave him her lips, slipped swiftly out of his arms and into her room.
"Oh, I'm desperately in love," she said, shaking her head at him as she slowly closed the door. "I'm going to get very, very little sleep, I fear… Jim?"
"You know," she said, "Helen is a charming, clever, talented, beautiful girl. If you are afraid my behaviour is going to make you unhappy – "
"Steve, are you crazy?"
"Couldn't you fall in love with her?"
"Do you want me to try?"
There was a silence, then Stephanie shook her head and gently closed her door.
In July Stephanie asked Harry Belter and his wife to spend a week at Runner's Rest. They arrived, the husband a vastly modified edition of his former boisterous, careless, assertive self – a subdued young man now, who haunted his wife with edifying assiduity, moving when she moved, sitting when she sat, tagging faithfully at her dainty heels as though a common mind originated their every inclination.
Philip Grayson, who had been asked with them, told Helen that the Belters had bored him horribly on the journey up.
"You know," he said, "Harry Belter used to be at least amusing, and Marie Cliff was certainly a sparkling companion. But they seem to have no conversation except for each other, no interests outside of each other, and if a fellow ventures to make a remark they either don't listen or they politely make an effort to notice him."
"You can't blame them," smiled Helen, "after three years of estrangement, and in love with each other all the while."
She was seated under a tree on the edge of the woods, half way up the western slope behind Runner's Rest. Grayson lay among the ferns at her feet. The day had turned hot, but up there in the transparent green shadows of the woods a slight breeze was stirring.
"Estranged all that time, and yet in love," repeated Helen, sentimentally, spreading out a fern frond on her knees and smoothing it. "Do you wonder that they lose no time together?"
Grayson, sprawling on his stomach, his handsome face framed in both hands, emitted a scornful laugh.
"You're very tender-hearted, theoretically," he said.
The girl looked up, smiled:
"Theoretically?" she inquired. "What do you mean, Phil?"
"What I say. Theoretically you are tender-hearted, sympathetic, susceptible. But practically – " His short laugh was ironical.
"Practically – what?" demanded the girl, flushing.
"Practically, you're just practical, Helen. You're nice to everybody, impartially; you go about your sculpture with the cheerful certainty of genius; nothing ever disconcerts you; you are always the cool, freshly gowned, charmingly poised embodiment of everything lovely and desirable – wonderful to look at, engaging and winsome to talk to – and – and all marble inside!"
"Phil! You unpleasant wretch!"
"Therefore," he said deliberately, "when you sentimentalize over the Belters and how they loved each other madly for several years after having bounced each other, your enthusiasm leaves me incredulous."
"The trouble with every man is this," she said; "any girl who doesn't fall in love with him is heartless – all marble inside – merely because she doesn't flop when he expects it. He gives that girl no credit for warm humanity unless she lavishes it on him. If she doesn't, she's an iceberg and he sticks that label on her for life."
Grayson sat up among the ferns and gathered his legs under him:
"It isn't because you don't care for me," he said, "but I tell you, Helen, you're too complete in yourself to fall in love."
"Self-satisfied? Thanks!" But she still did not believe he meant it.
"You are conscious of your self-sufficiency," he said coolly. "You are beautiful to look at, but your mind controls your heart; you do with your heart what you choose to do." He added, half to himself: "It would be wonderful if you ever let it go. But you're far too practical and complacent to do that."
"Let what go?"
"Your heart. You really have one, you know."
The pink tint of rising indignation still lingered on her cheeks; she looked at this presumptuous young man with speculative brown eyes, realizing that for the first time in his three years' sweet-tempered courtship he had said something unpleasantly blunt and virile to her – unacceptable because of the raw truth in it.
This was not like Phil Grayson – this sweet-tempered, gentle, good-looking writer of a literature which might be included under the term of belles lettres – this ornamental young fellow whose agreeable devotion she had come to take for granted – whose rare poems pleased her critical taste and flattered it when she saw them printed in the most exclusive of periodicals and hailed effusively by the subtlest of critics.
"Phil," she said, her brown eyes resting on him with a curiosity not free from irritation, "is this really what you think I am – after all these years of friendship?"
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî