The Restless Sex
скачать книгу бесплатно
Grismer murmured in his dry, guarded voice:
"She's pretty enough and nicely enough behaved to be your own daughter."
Cleland nodded; a deeper flush of annoyance spread over his handsome, sanguine face. He resented it when people did not take Stephanie for his own flesh and blood; and it even annoyed him that Grismer should mention a matter upon which he had become oddly sensitive.
"I hope you won't ever be sorry, Cleland," remarked the other in his dry, metallic voice. "Yes, indeed, I hope you won't regret your philanthropic venture."
"I am very happy in my little daughter," replied Cleland quietly.
"She's turning out quite satisfactory?"
"Of course!" snapped the other.
"M-m-m!" mused Grismer between thin, dry lips. "It's rather too early to be sure, Cleland. You never can tell what traits are going to reveal themselves in the young. There's no knowing what may crop out in them. No – no telling; no telling. Of course, sometimes they turn out well. M-m-m'yes, quite well. That's our experience in the Charities Association. But, more often, they – don't! – to be perfectly frank with you – they don't turn out very well."
Cleland's features had grown alarmingly red.
"I'm not apprehensive," he managed to say.
"Oh, no, of course, it's no use worrying. Time will show. M-m-m! Yes. It will all be made manifest in time. M-m-m'yes! Time'll show, Cleland – time'll show. But – I knew my sister," he added sadly, "and I am afraid – very much afraid."
At the entrance for motors they parted. Grismer got into a shabby limousine driven by an unkempt chauffeur.
"Going my way, Cleland?"
"Thanks, I have my car."
"In that case," returned Grismer, "I shall take my leave of you. Good-bye, and God be with you," he said piously. "And good-bye to you, my pretty little miss," he added graciously, distorting his parchment features into something resembling a smile. "Tell your papa to bring you to see me sometime when my boy is home from school; and," he added rather vaguely, "we'll have a nice time and play games. Good-bye!"
"Who was that man, Daddy?" asked Stephanie, as their own smart little car drew up.
"Oh, nobody – just a man with whom I have a – a sort of acquaintance," replied Cleland.
"Was that his boy who kept looking at me all the while in the station, Daddy?"
"I didn't notice. Come, dear, jump in."
So he took Stephanie back to the house where instruction in the three R's awaited her, with various extras and embellishments suitable for the education of the daughter of John William Cleland.
The child crept up close to him in the car, holding tightly to his arm with both of hers.
"I'm lonely for Jim," she whispered. "I – " but speech left her suddenly in the lurch.
"You're going to make me proud of you, darling; aren't you?" he murmured, looking down at her.
The child merely nodded. Grief for the going of her first boy had now left her utterly dumb.
There is a serio-comic, yet charming, sort of tragedy – fortunately only temporary – in the attachment of a little girl for an older boy.It often bores him so; and she is so daintily in earnest.
The one adores, tags after, and often annoys; the other, if chivalrous, submits.
It began this way between Stephanie Quest and Jim Cleland. It continued. She realized with awe the discrepancy in their ages; he was amiable enough to pretend to waive the discrepancy. And his condescension almost killed her.
The poor child grew older as fast as she possibly could; resolute, determined to overtake him somewhere, if that could be done. For in spite of arithmetic she seemed to know that it was possible. Moreover, it was wholly characteristic of her to attack with pathetic confidence the impossible – to lead herself as a forlorn hope and with cheerful and reckless resolution into the most hopeless impasse.
Cleland Senior began to notice this trait in her – began to wonder whether it was an admirable trait or a light-headed one.
Once, an imbecile canary, purchased by him for her, and passionately cherished, got out of its open cage, out of the open nursery window, and perched on a cornice over one of the windows. And out of the window climbed Stephanie, never hesitating, disregarding consequences, clinging like a desperate kitten to sill and blind, negotiating precarious ledges with steady feet; and the flag-stones of the area four stories below her, and spikes on the iron railing.
A neighbour opposite fainted; another shouted incoherently. It became a hair-raising situation; she could neither advance nor retreat. The desperate, Irish keening of Janet brought Meacham; Meacham, at the telephone, notified the nearest police station, and a section of the Fire Department. The latter arrived with extension ladders.
It was only when pushed violently bed-ward, as punishment, that the child realized there had been anything to be frightened about. Then she became scared; and was tearfully glad to see Cleland when he came in that evening from a print-hunting expedition.
And once, promenading on Fifth Avenue with Janet, for the sake of her health – such being the r?gime established – she separated two violently fighting school-boys, slapped the large one, who had done the bullying, soundly, cuffed another, who had been enjoying the unequal combat, fell upon a fourth, and was finally hustled home with her expensive clothing ruined. But in her eyes and cheeks still lingered the brilliant fires of battle, when Janet stripped her for a bath.
And once in the park she sprang like a young tigress upon a group of ragamuffins who had found a wild black mallard duck, nesting in a thicket near the lake, and who were stoning the frightened thing.
All Janet could see was a most dreadful mel?e agitating the bushes, from which presently burst boy after boy, in an agony of flight, rushing headlong and terror-stricken from that dreadful place where a wild-girl raged, determined on their extermination.
Stephanie's development was watched with tender, half-fearful curiosity by Cleland.
As usual, two separate columns were necessary to record the varied traits so far apparent in her. These traits Cleland noted in the book devoted to memoranda concerning the child, writing them as follows:
So far he could discover nothing vicious in her, no unworthy inherited instincts beyond those common to young humans, instincts supposed to be extirpated by education.
She was no greedier than any other healthy child, no more self-centred; all her appetites were normal, all her inclinations natural. She had a good mind, but a very human one, fairly balanced but sensitive to emotion, inclination, and impulse, and sometimes rather tardy in readjusting itself when logic and reason were required to regain equilibrium.
But the child was more easily swayed by gratitude than by any other of the several human instincts known as virtues.
So she grew toward adolescence, closely watched by Cleland, good-naturedly tolerated by Jim, worshipped by Janet, served by Meacham with instinctive devotion – the only quality in him not burnt out in his little journeys through hell.
There were others, too, in the world, who remembered the child. There was her aunt, who came once a month and brought always an expensive present, over the suitability of which she and Cleland differed to the verge of rudeness. But they always parted on excellent terms. And there was Chiltern Grismer, who sat sometimes for hours in his office, thinking about the child and the fortune which threatened her.
Weeks, adhering to one another, became months; months totalled years – several of them, recorded so suddenly that John Cleland could not believe it.
He had arrived at that epoch in the life of man when the years stood still with him: when he neither felt himself changing nor appeared to grow older, though all around him he was constantly aware of others aging. Yet, being always with Stephanie, he could not notice her rapid development, as he noted the astonishing growth of his son when the boy came home after brief absences at school.
Stephanie, still a child, was becoming something else very rapidly. But still she remained childlike enough to idolize Jim Cleland and to show it, without reserve. And though he really found her excellent company, amusing and diverting, her somewhat persistent and dog-like devotion embarrassed and bored him sometimes. He was at that age.
Young Grismer, in Jim's hearing, commenting upon a similar devotion inflicted on himself by a girl, characterized her as "too damn pleasant" – a brutal yet graphic summary.
And for a while the offensive phrase stuck in Jim's memory, though always chivalrously repudiated as applying to Stephanie. Yet, the poor girl certainly bored him at times, so blind her devotion, so pitiful her desire to please, so eager her heart of a child for the comradeship denied her in the dreadful years of solitude and fear.
For a year or two the affair lay that way between these two; the school-boy's interest in the little girl was the interest of polite responsibility; consideration for misfortune, toleration for her sex, with added allowance for her extreme youth. This was the boy's attitude.
Had not boarding-school and college limited his sojourn at home, it is possible that indifference might have germinated.
But he saw her so infrequently and for such short periods; and even during the summer vacation, growing outside interests, increasing complexity in social relations with fellow students – invitations to house parties, motor trips, camping trips – so interrupted the placid continuity of his vacation in their pleasant summer home in the northern Berkshires, that he never quite realized that Stephanie Quest was really anything more than a sort of permanent guest, billeted indefinitely under his father's roof.
When he was home in New York at Christmas and Easter, his gravely detached attitude of amiable consideration never varied toward her.
The few weeks at a time that he spent at "Runner's Rest," his father's quaint and ancient place on Cold River, permitted him no time to realize the importance and permanency of the place she already occupied as an integral part of the house of Cleland.
A thousand new interests, new thoughts, possessed the boy in the full tide of adolescence. All the world was beginning to unclose before him like the brilliant, fragrant petals of a magic flower. And in this rainbow transformation of things terrestrial, a boy's mind is always unbalanced by the bewildering and charming confusion of it all – for it is he who is changing, not the world; he is merely learning to see instead of to look, to comprehend instead of to perceive, to realize instead of to take for granted all the wonders and marvels and mysteries to which a young man is heir.
It is drama, comedy, farce, tragedy, this inevitable awakening; it is the alternate elucidation and deepening of mysteries; it is a day of clear, keen reasoning succeeding a day of illogical caprice; an hour aquiver with undreamed-of mental torture followed by an hour of spiritual exaltation; it is the era of magnificent aspiration, of inexplicable fear, of lofty abnegations, of fierce egotisms, of dreams and of convictions, of faiths for which youth dies; and, alas, it is a day of pitiless development which leaves the shadowy memory of faith lingering in the brain, and, on the lips, a smile.
And, amid such emotions, such impulses, such desires, fears, aspirations, hopes, regrets, the average boy puts on that Nessus coat called manhood. And he has, in his temporarily dislocated and unadjusted brain, neither the time nor the patience, nor the interest, nor the logic at his command necessary to see and understand what is happening under his aspiring and heavenward-tilted nose. Only the clouds enrapture him; where every star beckons him he responds in a passion of endeavour.
And so he begins the inevitable climb toward the moon – the path which every man born upon the earth has trodden far or only a little way, but the path all men at least have tried.
In his freshman year at Harvard, he got drunk. The episode was quite inadvertent on his part – one of those accidents incident to the vile, claret-coloured "punches" offered by some young idiot in "honour" of his own birthday.
The Cambridge police sheltered him over night; his fine was over-subscribed; he explored the depths of hell in consequence of the affair, endured the agony of shame, remorse, and self-loathing to the physical and mental limit, and eventually recovered, regarding himself as a reformed criminal with a shattered past.
However, the youthful gloom and melancholy dignity with which this clothed him had a faint and not entirely unpleasant flavour – as one who might say, "I have lived and learned. There is the sad wisdom of worldly things within me." But he cut out alcohol. It being the fashion at that time to shrug away an offered cup, he found little difficulty in avoiding it.
In his Sophomore year, he met the inevitable young person. And, after all that had been told him, all that he had disdainfully pictured to himself, did not recognize her when he met her.
It was one of those episodes which may end any way. And it ended, of course, in one way or another. But it did end.
Thus the limited world he moved in began to wear away the soft-rounded contours of boyhood; he learned a little about men, nothing whatever about women, but was inclined to consider that he understood them sadly and perfectly. He wrote several plays, novels and poems to amuse himself; wrote articles for the college periodicals, when he was not too busy training with the baseball squad or playing tennis, or lounging through those golden and enchanted hours when the smoke of undergraduate pipes spins a magic haze over life, enveloping books and comrades in that exquisite and softly brilliant web which never tears, never fades in memory while life endures.
He made many friends; he visited many homes; he failed sometimes, but more often he made good in whatever he endeavoured.
His father came on to Cambridge several times – always when his son requested it – and he knew the sympathy of his father in days of triumph, and he understood his father's unshaken belief in his only son when that son, for the moment, faltered.
For he had confided in his father the episodes of the punch and the young person. Never had his father and he been closer together in mind and spirit than after that confession.
In spite of several advances made by Chiltern Grismer, whose son, Oswald, was also at Harvard and a popular man in his class, John Cleland remained politely unreceptive; and there were no social amenities exchanged. Jim Cleland and Oswald Grismer did not visit each other, although friendly enough at Cambridge. Cleland Senior made no particular effort to discourage any such friendly footing, and he was not inclined to judge young Grismer by his father. He merely remained unresponsive.
In such cases, he who makes the advances interprets their non-success according to his own nature. And Grismer concluded that he had been a victim of insidious guile and sharp practice, and that John Cleland had taken Stephanie to his heart only after he had learned that, some day, she would inherit the Quest fortune from her eccentric relative.
Chagrin and sullen irritation against Cleland had possessed him since he first learned of this inheritance; and he nourished both until they grew into a dull, watchful anger. And he waited for something or other that might in some way offer him a chance to repair the vital mistake he had made in his attitude toward the child.
But Cleland gave him no opening whatever; Grismer's social advances were amiably ignored. And it became plainer and plainer to Grismer, as he interpreted the situation, that John Cleland was planning to unite, through his son Jim, the comfortable Cleland income with the Quest millions, and to elbow everybody else out of the way.
"The philanthropic hypocrite," mused Grismer, still smarting from a note expressing civil regrets in reply to an invitation to Stephanie and Jim to join them after church for a motor trip to Lakewood.
"Can't they come?" inquired Oswald.
"Previous engagement," snapped Grismer, tearing up the note. His wife, an invalid, with stringy hair and spots on her face, remarked with resignation that the Clelands were too stylish to care about plain, Christian people.
"Stylish," repeated Grismer, "I've got ten dollars to Cleland's one. I can put on style enough to swamp him if I've a mind to! – m-m-m'yes, if I've a mind to."
"Why don't you?" inquired Oswald, with a malicious side glance at his father's frock coat and ready-made cravat. "Chuck the religious game and wear spats and a topper! It's a better graft, governor."
Chiltern Grismer, only partly attentive to his son's impudence, turned a fierce, preoccupied glance upon him. But his mind was still intrigued with that word "stylish." It began to enrage him.
He repeated it aloud once or twice, sneeringly:
"So you think we may not be sufficiently stylish to suit the Clelands – or that brat they picked out of the sewer? M-m-m'yes, out of an east-side sewer!"
Oswald pricked up his intelligent and rather pointed ears.
"What brat?" he inquired.
Chiltern Grismer had never told his son the story of Stephanie Quest. In the beginning, the boy had been too young, and there seemed to be no particular reason for telling him. Later, when Grismer suddenly developed ambitions in behalf of his son for the Quest fortune, he did not say anything about Stephanie's origin, fearing that it might prejudice his son.
Now, he suddenly concluded to tell him, not from spite entirely, nor to satisfy his increasing resentment against Cleland; but because Oswald would, some day, inherit the Grismer money. And it might be just as well to prime him now, in the event that any of the Clelands should ever start to reopen the case which had deprived Jessie Grismer of her own inheritance so many years ago.
The young fellow listened with languid astonishment as the links of the story, very carefully and morally polished, were displayed by his father for his instruction and edification.
"That is the sort of stylish people they are," concluded Grismer, making an abrupt end. "Let it be a warning to you to keep your eye on the Clelands; for a man that calls himself a philanthropist, and is sharp enough to pick out an heiress from the gutter, will bear watching! – m-m-m'yes, indeed, he certainly will bear watching."
Mrs. Grismer, who was knitting with chilly fingers, sighed.
"You always said it was God's judgment on Jessie and her descendants, Chiltern. But I kind of wish you'd been a little mite more forgiving."
"Who am I?" demanded Grismer, sullenly, "to thwart God's wrath … m-m-m'yes, the anger of the Lord Almighty! And I never thought of that imbecile aunt… It was divine will that punished my erring sister and her children, and her children's chil – "
"Rot!" remarked Oswald. "Cleland caught you napping and put one over. That's all that worries you. And now you are properly and piously sore!"
"That is an impious and wickedly outrageous way to talk to your father!" said Grismer, glaring at him. "You have come back from college lacking reverence and respect for everything you have been taught to consider sacred! – m-m-m'yes – everything! You have returned to us utterly demoralized, defiant, rebellious, changed! Every worldly abomination seems to attract you: you smoke openly in your mother's presence; your careless and loose conversation betrays your contempt for the simple, homely, and frugal atmosphere in which you have been reared by Christian parents. Doubtless we are not sufficiently stylish for you any longer!" he added sarcastically.
"I'm sorry I was disrespectful, governor – "
"No! You are not sorry!" retorted Grismer tartly. "You rejoice secretly in your defiance of your parents! You have been demoralized by the license permitted you by absence from home. You live irresponsibly; you fling away your money on theatres! You yourself admit that you have learned to dance. Nothing that your pastor has taught you, nothing that our church holds sacred seems capable of restraining you from wickedness. That is the truth, Oswald. And your mother and I despair of your future, here and – " he lifted his eyes solemnly – "above."
There was an awkward silence. Finally Oswald said with sullen frankness:
"You see I'm a man, now, and I've got to do my own thinking. Things I used to believe seem tommyrot to me now – "
"Oswald!" sighed his mother.
"I'm sorry to pain you, Mother, but they do! And about everything you object to I find agreeable. I'm not very bad, Mother. But this sort of talk inclines me to raise the devil. What's the harm in going to a show? In dancing? In smoking a cigar? For heaven's sake, let a fellow alone. The line of talk the governor hands me makes a cynic of a man who's got any brains."
There was another silence; then Oswald continued:
"And, while we are trying to be frank with each other this pleasant Sunday morning, what about my career? Let's settle it now!"
скачать книгу бесплатно