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Title:      Twilight Sleep (1927)
Author:     Edith Wharton
eBook No.:  0400731.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
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Date first posted:          October 2004
Date most recently updated: October 2004

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Title:      Twilight Sleep (1927)
Author:     Edith Wharton





FAUST.  Und du, wer bist du?
SORGE.  Bin einmal da.
FAUST.  Entferne dich!
SORGE.  Ich bin am rechten Ort.

--Faust.  Teil II.  Akt V.




BOOK I



I


Miss Bruss, the perfect secretary, received Nona Manford at the
door of her mother's boudoir ("the office," Mrs. Manford's children
called it) with a gesture of the kindliest denial.

"She wants to, you know, dear--your mother always WANTS to see
you," pleaded Maisie Bruss, in a voice which seemed to be thinned
and sharpened by continuous telephoning.  Miss Bruss, attached to
Mrs. Manford's service since shortly after the latter's second
marriage, had known Nona from her childhood, and was privileged,
even now that she was "out," to treat her with a certain benevolent
familiarity--benevolence being the note of the Manford household.

"But look at her list--just for this morning!" the secretary
continued, handing over a tall morocco-framed tablet, on which was
inscribed, in the colourless secretarial hand:  "7.30  Mental
uplift.  7.45  Breakfast.  8.  Psycho-analysis.  8.15  See cook.
8.30  Silent Meditation.  8.45  Facial massage.  9.  Man with
Persian miniatures.  9.15  Correspondence.  9.30  Manicure.  9.45
Eurythmic exercises.  10.  Hair waved.  10.15  Sit for bust.  10.30
Receive Mothers' Day deputation.  11.  Dancing lesson.  11.30
Birth Control committee at Mrs.--"

"The manicure is there now, late as usual.  That's what martyrizes
your mother; everybody's being so unpunctual.  This New York life
is killing her."

"I'm not unpunctual," said Nona Manford, leaning in the doorway.

"No; and a miracle, too!  The way you girls keep up your dancing
all night.  You and Lita--what times you two do have!"  Miss Bruss
was becoming almost maternal.  "But just run your eye down that
list--.  You see your mother didn't EXPECT to see you before lunch;
now did she?"

Nona shook her head.  "No; but you might perhaps squeeze me in."

It was said in a friendly, a reasonable tone; on both sides the
matter was being examined with an evident desire for impartiality
and good-will.  Nona was used to her mother's engagements; used to
being squeezed in between faith-healers, art-dealers, social
service workers and manicures.  When Mrs. Manford did see her
children she was perfect to them; but in this killing New York
life, with its ever-multiplying duties and responsibilities, if her
family had been allowed to tumble in at all hours and devour her
time, her nervous system simply couldn't have stood it--and how
many duties would have been left undone!

Mrs. Manford's motto had always been:  "There's a time for
everything."  But there were moments when this optimistic view
failed her, and she began to think there wasn't.  This morning, for
instance, as Miss Bruss pointed out, she had had to tell the new
French sculptor who had been all the rage in New York for the last
month that she wouldn't be able to sit to him for more than fifteen
minutes, on account of the Birth Control committee meeting at 11.30
at Mrs.--

Nona seldom assisted at these meetings, her own time being--through
force of habit rather than real inclination--so fully taken up with
exercise, athletics and the ceaseless rush from thrill to thrill
which was supposed to be the happy privilege of youth.  But she had
had glimpses enough of the scene: of the audience of bright elderly
women, with snowy hair, eurythmic movements, and finely-wrinkled
over-massaged faces on which a smile of glassy benevolence sat like
their rimless pince-nez.  They were all inexorably earnest,
aimlessly kind and fathomlessly pure; and all rather too well-
dressed, except the "prominent woman" of the occasion, who usually
wore dowdy clothes, and had steel-rimmed spectacles and straggling
wisps of hair.  Whatever the question dealt with, these ladies
always seemed to be the same, and always advocated with equal zeal
Birth Control and unlimited maternity, free love or the return to
the traditions of the American home; and neither they nor Mrs.
Manford seemed aware that there was anything contradictory in these
doctrines.  All they knew was that they were determined to force
certain persons to do things that those persons preferred not to
do.  Nona, glancing down the serried list, recalled a saying of her
mother's former husband, Arthur Wyant:  "Your mother and her
friends would like to teach the whole world how to say its prayers
and brush its teeth."

The girl had laughed, as she could never help laughing at Wyant's
sallies; but in reality she admired her mother's zeal, though she
sometimes wondered if it were not a little too promiscuous.  Nona
was the daughter of Mrs. Manford's second marriage, and her own
father, Dexter Manford, who had had to make his way in the world,
had taught her to revere activity as a virtue in itself; his tone
in speaking of Pauline's zeal was very different from Wyant's.  He
had been brought up to think there was a virtue in work per se,
even if it served no more useful purpose than the revolving of a
squirrel in a wheel.  "Perhaps your mother tries to cover too much
ground; but it's very fine of her, you know--she never spares
herself."

"Nor us!" Nona sometimes felt tempted to add; but Manford's
admiration was contagious.  Yes; Nona did admire her mother's
altruistic energy; but she knew well enough that neither she nor
her brother's wife Lita would ever follow such an example--she no
more than Lita.  They belonged to another generation: to the
bewildered disenchanted young people who had grown up since the
Great War, whose energies were more spasmodic and less definitely
directed, and who, above all, wanted a more personal outlet for
them.  "Bother earthquakes in Bolivia!" Lita had once whispered to
Nona, when Mrs. Manford had convoked the bright elderly women to
deal with a seismic disaster at the other end of the world, the
repetition of which these ladies somehow felt could be avoided if
they sent out a commission immediately to teach the Bolivians to do
something they didn't want to do--not to BELIEVE in earthquakes,
for instance.

The young people certainly felt no corresponding desire to set the
houses of others in order.  Why shouldn't the Bolivians have
earthquakes if they chose to live in Bolivia?  And why must Pauline
Manford lie awake over it in New York, and have to learn a new set
of Mahatma exercises to dispel the resulting wrinkles?  "I suppose
if we feel like that it's really because we're too lazy to care,"
Nona reflected, with her incorrigible honesty.

She turned from Miss Bruss with a slight shrug.  "Oh, well," she
murmured.

"You know, pet," Miss Bruss volunteered, "things always get worse
as the season goes on; and the last fortnight in February is the
worst of all, especially with Easter coming as early as it does
this year.  I never COULD see why they picked out such an awkward
date for Easter: perhaps those Florida hotel people did it.  Why,
your poor mother wasn't even able to see your father this morning
before he went down town, though she thinks it's ALL WRONG to let
him go off to his office like that, without finding time for a
quiet little chat first. . .  Just a cheery word to put him in the
right mood for the day. . .  Oh, by the way, my dear, I wonder if
you happen to have heard him say if he's dining at home tonight?
Because you know he never DOES remember to leave word about his
plans, and if he hasn't, I'd better telephone to the office to
remind him that it's the night of the big dinner for the Marchesa--"

"Well, I don't think father's dining at home," said the girl
indifferently.

"Not--not--not?  Oh, my gracious!" clucked Miss Bruss, dashing
across the room to the telephone on her own private desk.

The engagement-list had slipped from her hands, and Nona Manford,
picking it up, ran her glance over it.  She read:  "4 P.M.  See A.--
4.30 P.M.  Musical:  Torfried Lobb."

"4 P.M.  See A."  Nona had been almost sure it was Mrs. Manford's
day for going to see her divorced husband, Arthur Wyant, the
effaced mysterious person always designated on Mrs. Manford's lists
as "A," and hence known to her children as "Exhibit A."  It was
rather a bore, for Nona had meant to go and see him herself at
about that hour, and she always timed her visits so that they
should not clash with Mrs. Manford's, not because the latter
disapproved of Nona's friendship with Arthur Wyant (she thought it
"beautiful" of the girl to show him so much kindness), but because
Wyant and Nona were agreed that on these occasions the presence of
the former Mrs. Wyant spoilt their fun.  But there was nothing to
do about it.  Mrs. Manford's plans were unchangeable.  Even illness
and death barely caused a ripple in them.  One might as well have
tried to bring down one of the Pyramids by poking it with a parasol
as attempt to disarrange the close mosaic of Mrs. Manford's
engagement-list.  Mrs. Manford herself couldn't have done it; not
with the best will in the world; and Mrs. Manford's will, as her
children and all her household knew, WAS the best in the world.

Nona Manford moved away with a final shrug.  She had wanted to
speak to her mother about something rather important; something she
had caught a startled glimpse of, the evening before, in the queer
little half-formed mind of her sister-in-law Lita, the wife of her
half-brother Jim Wyant--the Lita with whom, as Miss Bruss remarked,
she, Nona, danced away the nights.  There was nobody on earth as
dear to Nona as that same Jim, her elder by six or seven years, and
who had been brother, comrade, guardian, almost father to her--her
own father, Dexter Manford, who was so clever, capable and kind,
being almost always too busy at the office, or too firmly
requisitioned by Mrs. Manford, when he was at home, to be able to
spare much time for his daughter.

Jim, bless him, always had time; no doubt that was what his mother
meant when she called him lazy--as lazy as his father, she had once
added, with one of her rare flashes of impatience.  Nothing so
conduced to impatience in Mrs. Manford as the thought of anybody's
having the least fraction of unapportioned time and not immediately
planning to do something with it.  If only they could have given it
to HER!  And Jim, who loved and admired her (as all her family did)
was always conscientiously trying to fill his days, or to conceal
from her their occasional vacuity.  But he had a way of not being
in a hurry, and this had been all to the good for little Nona, who
could always count on him to ride or walk with her, to slip off
with her to a concert or a "movie," or, more pleasantly still, just
to BE THERE--idling in the big untenanted library of Cedarledge,
the place in the country, or in his untidy study on the third floor
of the town house, and ready to answer questions, help her to look
up hard words in dictionaries, mend her golf-sticks, or get a thorn
out of her Sealyham's paw.  Jim was wonderful with his hands: he
could repair clocks, start up mechanical toys, make fascinating
models of houses or gardens, apply a tourniquet, scramble eggs,
mimic his mother's visitors--preferably the "earnest" ones who held
forth about "causes" or "messages" in her gilded drawing-rooms--and
make delicious coloured maps of imaginary continents, concerning
which Nona wrote interminable stories.  And of all these gifts he
had, alas, made no particular use as yet--except to enchant his
little half-sister.

It had been just the same, Nona knew, with his father: poor useless
"Exhibit A"!  Mrs. Manford said it was their "old New York blood"--
she spoke of them with mingled contempt and pride, as if they were
the last of the Capetians, exhausted by a thousand years of
sovereignty.  Her own red corpuscles were tinged with a more
plebeian dye.  Her progenitors had mined in Pennsylvania and made
bicycles at Exploit, and now gave their name to one of the most
popular automobiles in the United States.  Not that other
ingredients were lacking in her hereditary make-up: her mother was
said to have contributed southern gentility by being a Pascal of
Tallahassee.  Mrs. Manford, in certain moods, spoke of "The Pascals
of Tallahassee" as if they accounted for all that was noblest in
her; but when she was exhorting Jim to action it was her father's
blood that she invoked.  "After all, in spite of the Pascal
tradition, there is no shame in being in trade.  My father's father
came over from Scotland with two sixpences in his pocket . . ." and
Mrs. Manford would glance with pardonable pride at the glorious
Gainsborough over the dining-room mantelpiece (which she sometimes
almost mistook for an ancestral portrait), and at her healthy
handsome family sitting about the dinner-table laden with Georgian
silver and orchids from her own hot-houses.

From the threshold, Nona called back to Miss Bruss:  "Please tell
mother I shall probably be lunching with Jim and Lita--" but Miss
Bruss was passionately saying to an unseen interlocutor:  "Oh, but
Mr. Rigley, but you MUST make Mr. Manford understand that Mrs.
Manford counts on him for dinner this evening. . .  The dinner-
dance for the Marchesa, you know. . ."



The marriage of her half-brother had been Nona Manford's first real
sorrow.  Not that she had disapproved of his choice: how could any
one take that funny irresponsible little Lita Cliffe seriously
enough to disapprove of her?  The sisters-in-law were soon the best
of friends; if Nona had a fault to find with Lita, it was that she
didn't worship the incomparable Jim as blindly as his sister did.
But then Lita was made to be worshipped, not to worship; that was
manifest in the calm gaze of her long narrow nut-coloured eyes, in
the hieratic fixity of her lovely smile, in the very shape of her
hands, so slim yet dimpled, hands which had never grown up, and
which drooped from her wrists as if listlessly waiting to be
kissed, or lay like rare shells or upcurved magnolia-petals on the
cushions luxuriously piled about her indolent body.

The Jim Wyants had been married for nearly two years now; the baby
was six months old; the pair were beginning to be regarded as one
of the "old couples" of their set, one of the settled landmarks in
the matrimonial quicksands of New York.  Nona's love for her
brother was too disinterested for her not to rejoice in this: above
all things she wanted her old Jim to be happy, and happy she was
sure he was--or had been until lately.  The mere getting away from
Mrs. Manford's iron rule had been a greater relief than he himself
perhaps guessed.  And then he was still the foremost of Lita's
worshippers; still enchanted by the childish whims, the
unpunctuality, the irresponsibility, which made life with her such
a thrillingly unsettled business after the clock-work routine of
his mother's perfect establishment.

All this Nona rejoiced in; but she ached at times with the
loneliness of the perfect establishment, now that Jim, its one
disturbing element, had left.  Jim guessed her loneliness, she was
sure: it was he who encouraged the growing intimacy between his
wife and his half-sister, and tried to make the latter feel that
his house was another home to her.

Lita had always been amiably disposed toward Nona.  The two, though
so fundamentally different, were nearly of an age, and united by
the prevailing passion for every form of sport.  Lita, in spite of
her soft curled-up attitudes, was not only a tireless dancer but a
brilliant if uncertain tennis-player, and an adventurous rider to
hounds.  Between her hours of lolling, and smoking amber-scented
cigarettes, every moment of her life was crammed with dancing,
riding or games.  During the two or three months before the baby's
birth, when Lita had been reduced to partial inactivity, Nona had
rather feared that her perpetual craving for new "thrills" might
lead to some insidious form of time-killing--some of the drinking
or drugging that went on among the young women of their set; but
Lita had sunk into a state of smiling animal patience, as if the
mysterious work going on in her tender young body had a sacred
significance for her, and it was enough to lie still and let it
happen.  All she asked was that nothing should "hurt" her: she had
the blind dread of physical pain common also to most of the young
women of her set.  But all that was so easily managed nowadays:
Mrs. Manford (who took charge of the business, Lita being an
orphan) of course knew the most perfect "Twilight Sleep"
establishment in the country, installed Lita in its most luxurious
suite, and filled her rooms with spring flowers, hot-house fruits,
new novels and all the latest picture-papers--and Lita drifted into
motherhood as lightly and unperceivingly as if the wax doll which
suddenly appeared in the cradle at her bedside had been brought
there in one of the big bunches of hot-house roses that she found
every morning on her pillow.

"Of course there ought to be no Pain . . . nothing but Beauty. . .
It ought to be one of the loveliest, most poetic things in the
world to have a baby," Mrs. Manford declared, in that bright
efficient voice which made loveliness and poetry sound like the
attributes of an advanced industrialism, and babies something to be
turned out in series like Fords.  And Jim's joy in his son had been
unbounded; and Lita really hadn't minded in the least.



II


The Marchesa was something which happened at irregular but
inevitable moments in Mrs. Manford's life.

Most people would have regarded the Marchesa as a disturbance; some
as a distinct inconvenience; the pessimistic as a misfortune.  It
was a matter of conscious pride to Mrs. Manford that, while
recognizing these elements in the case, she had always contrived to
make out of it something not only showy but even enviable.

For, after all, if your husband (even an ex-husband) has a first
cousin called Amalasuntha degli Duchi di Lucera, who has married
the Marchese Venturino di San Fedele, of one of the great
Neapolitan families, it seems stupid and wasteful not to make some
use of such a conjunction of names and situations, and to remember
only (as the Wyants did) that when Amalasuntha came to New York it
was always to get money, or to get her dreadful son out of a new
scrape, or to consult the family lawyers as to some new way of
guarding the remains of her fortune against Venturino's systematic
depredations.

Mrs. Manford knew in advance the hopelessness of these quests--all
of them, that is, except that which consisted in borrowing money
from herself.  She always lent Amalasuntha two or three thousand
dollars (and put it down to the profit-and-loss column of her
carefully-kept private accounts); she even gave the Marchesa her
own last year's clothes, cleverly retouched; and in return she
expected Amalasuntha to shed on the Manford entertainments that
exotic lustre which the near relative of a Duke who is also a
grandee of Spain and a great dignitary of the Papal Court trails
with her through the dustiest by-ways, even if her mother has been
a mere Mary Wyant of Albany.

Mrs. Manford had been successful.  The Marchesa, without taking
thought, fell naturally into the part assigned to her.  In her
stormy and uncertain life, New York, where her rich relations
lived, and from which she always came back with a few thousand
dollars, and clothes that could be made to last a year, and good
advice about putting the screws on Venturino, was like a foretaste
of heaven.  "Live there?  Carina, NO!  It is too--too uneventful.
As heaven must be.  But everybody is celestially kind . . . and
Venturino has learnt that there are certain things my American
relations will not tolerate. . ."  Such was Amalasuntha's version
of her visits to New York, when she recounted them in the drawing-
rooms of Rome, Naples or St. Moritz; whereas in New York, quite
carelessly and unthinkingly--for no one was simpler at heart than
Amalasuntha--she pronounced names, and raised suggestions, which
cast a romantic glow of unreality over a world bounded by Wall
Street on the south and Long Island in most other directions; and
in this glow Pauline Manford was always eager to sun her other
guests.

"My husband's cousin" (become, since the divorce from Wyant "my
son's cousin") was still, after twenty-seven years, a useful social
card.  The Marchesa di San Fedele, now a woman of fifty, was still,
in Pauline's set, a pretext for dinners, a means of paying off
social scores, a small but steady luminary in the uncertain New
York heavens.  Pauline could never see her rather forlorn wisp of a
figure, always clothed in careless unnoticeable black (even when
she wore Mrs. Manford's old dresses), without a vision of echoing
Roman staircases, of the torchlit arrival of Cardinals at the
Lucera receptions, of a great fresco-like background of Popes,
princes, dilapidated palaces, cypress-guarded villas, scandals,
tragedies, and interminable feuds about inheritances.

"It's all so dreadful--the wicked lives those great Roman families
lead.  After all, poor Amalasuntha has good American blood in her--
her mother was a Wyant; yes--Mary Wyant married Prince Ottaviano di
Lago Negro, the Duke of Lucera's son, who used to be at the Italian
Legation in Washington; but what is Amalasuntha to do, in a country
where there's no divorce, and a woman just has to put up with
EVERYTHING?  The Pope has been most kind; he sides entirely with
Amalasuntha.  But Venturino's people are very powerful too--a great
Neapolitan family--yes, Cardinal Ravello is Venturino's uncle . . .
so that altogether it's been dreadful for Amalasuntha . . . and
such an oasis to her, coming back to her own people. . ."

Pauline Manford was quite sincere in believing that it was dreadful
for Amalasuntha.  Pauline herself could conceive of nothing more
shocking than a social organization which did not recognize
divorce, and let all kinds of domestic evils fester undisturbed,
instead of having people's lives disinfected and whitewashed at
regular intervals, like the cellar.  But while Mrs. Manford thought
all this--in fact, in the very act of thinking it--she remembered
that Cardinal Ravello, Venturino's uncle, had been mentioned as one
of the probable delegates to the Roman Catholic Congress which was
to meet at Baltimore that winter, and wondered whether an evening
party for his Eminence could not be organized with Amalasuntha's
help; even got as far as considering the effect of torch-bearing
footmen (in silk stockings) lining the Manford staircase--which was
of marble, thank goodness!--and of Dexter Manford and Jim receiving
the Prince of the Church on the doorstep, and walking upstairs
backward carrying silver candelabra; though Pauline wasn't sure she
could persuade them to go as far as that.

Pauline felt no more inconsistency in this double train of thought
than she did in shuddering at the crimes of the Roman Church and
longing to receive one of its dignitaries with all the proper
ceremonial.  She was used to such rapid adjustments, and proud of
the fact that whole categories of contradictory opinions lay down
together in her mind as peacefully as the Happy Families exhibited
by strolling circuses.  And of course, if the Cardinal DID come to
her house, she would show her American independence by inviting
also the Bishop of New York--her own Episcopal Bishop--and possibly
the Chief Rabbi (also a friend of hers), and certainly that
wonderful much-slandered "Mahatma" in whom she still so thoroughly
believed. . .

But the word pulled her up short.  Yes; certainly she believed in
the "Mahatma."  She had every reason to.  Standing before the tall
threefold mirror in her dressing-room, she glanced into the huge
bathroom beyond--which looked like a biological laboratory, with
its white tiles, polished pipes, weighing machines, mysterious
appliances for douches, gymnastics and "physical culture"--and
recalled with gratitude that it was certainly those eurythmic
exercises of the Mahatma's ("holy ecstasy," he called them) which
had reduced her hips after everything else had failed.  And this
gratitude for the reduction of her hips was exactly on the same
plane, in her neat card-catalogued mind, with her enthusiastic
faith in his wonderful mystical teachings about Self-Annihilation,
Anterior Existence and Astral Affinities . . . all so
incomprehensible and so pure. . .  Yes; she would certainly ask the
Mahatma.  It would do the Cardinal good to have a talk with him.
She could almost hear his Eminence saying, in a voice shaken by
emotion:  "Mrs. Manford, I want to thank you for making me know
that Wonderful Man.  If it hadn't been for you--"

Ah, she did like people who said to her:  "If it hadn't been for
you--!"

The telephone on her dressing-table rang.  Miss Bruss had switched
on from the boudoir.  Mrs. Manford, as she unhooked the receiver,
cast a nervous glance at the clock.  She was already seven minutes
late for her Marcel-waving, and--

Ah: it was Dexter's voice!  Automatically she composed her face to
a wifely smile, and her voice to a corresponding intonation.  "Yes?
Pauline, dear.  Oh--about dinner tonight?  Why, you know,
Amalasuntha. . .  You say you're going to the theatre with Jim and
Lita?  But, Dexter, you can't!  They're dining here--Jim and Lita
are.  But OF COURSE. . .  Yes, it must have been a mistake; Lita's
so flighty. . .  I know. . ."  (The smile grew a little pinched;
the voice echoed it.  Then, patiently):  "Yes; what else? . . .
OH. . . oh, Dexter. . . what do you mean? . . .  The Mahatma?
WHAT?  I don't understand!"

But she did.  She was conscious of turning white under her discreet
cosmetics.  Somewhere in the depths of her there had lurked for the
last weeks an unexpressed fear of this very thing: a fear that the
people who were opposed to the teaching of the Hindu sage--New
York's great "spiritual uplift" of the last two years--were gaining
power and beginning to be a menace.  And here was Dexter Manford
actually saying something about having been asked to conduct an
investigation into the state of things at the Mahatma's "School of
Oriental Thought," in which all sorts of unpleasantness might be
involved.  Of course Dexter never said much about professional
matters on the telephone; he did not, to his wife's thinking, say
enough about them when he got home.  But what little she now
gathered made her feel positively ill.

"Oh, Dexter, but I must see you about this!  At once!  You couldn't
come back to lunch, I suppose?  Not possibly?  No--this evening
there'll be no chance.  Why, the dinner for Amalasuntha--oh, please
don't forget it AGAIN!"

With one hand on the receiver, she reached with the other for her
engagement-list (the duplicate of Miss Bruss's), and ran a nervous
unseeing eye over it.  A scandal--another scandal!  It mustn't be.
She loathed scandals.  And besides, she did believe in the Mahatma.
He had "vision."  From the moment when she had picked up that word
in a magazine article she had felt she had a complete answer about
him. . .

"But I must see you before this evening, Dexter.  Wait!  I'm
looking over my engagements."  She came to "4 p.m.  See A.  4.30
Musical--Torfried Lobb."  No; she couldn't give up Torfried Lobb:
she was one of the fifty or sixty ladies who had "discovered" him
the previous winter, and she knew he counted on her presence at his
recital.  Well, then--for once "A" must be sacrificed.

"Listen, Dexter; if I were to come to the office at 4?  Yes; sharp.
Is that right?  And don't do anything till I see you--promise!"

She hung up with a sigh of relief.  She would try to readjust
things so as to see "A" the next day; though readjusting her list
in the height of the season was as exhausting as a major operation.

In her momentary irritation she was almost inclined to feel as if
it were Arthur's fault for figuring on that day's list, and thus
unsettling all her arrangements.  Poor Arthur--from the first he
had been one of her failures.  She had a little cemetery of them--a
very small one--planted over with quick-growing things, so that you
might have walked all through her life and not noticed there were
any graves in it.  To the inexperienced Pauline of thirty years
ago, fresh from the factory-smoke of Exploit, Arthur Wyant had
symbolized the tempting contrast between a city absorbed in making
money and a society bent on enjoying it.  Such a brilliant figure--
and nothing to show for it!  She didn't know exactly what she had
expected, her own ideal of manly achievement being at that time
solely based on the power of getting rich faster than your
neighbours--which Arthur would certainly never do.  His father-in-
law at Exploit had seen at a glance that it was no use taking him
into the motor-business, and had remarked philosophically to
Pauline:  "Better just regard him as a piece of jewellery: I guess
we can afford it."

But jewellery must at least be brilliant; and Arthur had somehow--
faded.  At one time she had hoped he might play a part in state
politics--with Washington and its enticing diplomatic society at
the end of the vista--but he shrugged that away as contemptuously
as what he called "trade."  At Cedarledge he farmed a little,
fussed over the accounts, and muddled away her money till she
replaced him by a trained superintendent; and in town he spent
hours playing bridge at his club, took an intermittent interest in
racing, and went and sat every afternoon with his mother, old Mrs.
Wyant, in the dreary house near Stuyvesant Square which had never
been "done over," and was still lit by Carcel lamps.

An obstacle and a disappointment; that was what he had always been.
Still, she would have borne with his inadequacy, his resultless
planning, dreaming and dawdling, even his growing tendency to
drink, as the wives of her generation were taught to bear with such
failings, had it not been for the discovery that he was also
"immoral."  Immorality no high-minded woman could condone; and
when, on her return from a rest-cure in California, she found that
he had drifted into a furtive love affair with the dependent cousin
who lived with his mother, every law of self-respect known to
Pauline decreed his repudiation.  Old Mrs. Wyant, horror-struck,
banished the cousin and pleaded for her son: Pauline was adamant.
She addressed herself to the rising divorce-lawyer, Dexter Manford,
and in his capable hands the affair was settled rapidly,
discreetly, without scandal, wrangling or recrimination.  Wyant
withdrew to his mother's house, and Pauline went to Europe, a free
woman.

In the early days of the new century divorce had not become a
social institution in New York, and the blow to Wyant's pride was
deeper than Pauline had foreseen.  He lived in complete retirement
at his mother's, saw his boy at the dates prescribed by the court,
and sank into a sort of premature old age which contrasted
painfully--even to Pauline herself--with her own recovered youth
and elasticity.  The contrast caused her a retrospective pang, and
gradually, after her second marriage, and old Mrs. Wyant's death,
she came to regard poor Arthur not as a grievance but as a
responsibility.  She prided herself on never neglecting her
responsibilities, and therefore felt a not unnatural vexation with
Arthur for having figured among her engagements that day, and thus
obliged her to postpone him.

Moving back to the dressing-table she caught her reflection in the
tall triple glass.  Again those fine wrinkles about lids and lips,
those vertical lines between the eyes!  She would not permit it;
no, not for a moment.  She commanded herself:  "Now, Pauline, STOP
WORRYING.  You know perfectly well there's no such thing as worry;
it's only dyspepsia or want of exercise, and everything's really
all right--" in the insincere tone of a mother soothing a bruised
baby.

She looked again, and fancied the wrinkles were really fainter, the
vertical lines less deep.  Once more she saw before her an erect
athletic woman, with all her hair and all her teeth, and just a
hint of rouge (because "people did it") brightening a still fresh
complexion; saw her small symmetrical features, the black brows
drawn with a light stroke over handsome directly-gazing gray eyes,
the abundant whitening hair which still responded so crisply to the
waver's wand, the firmly planted feet with arched insteps rising to
slim ankles.

How absurd, how unlike herself, to be upset by that foolish news!
She would look in on Dexter and settle the Mahatma business in five
minutes.  If there was to be a scandal she wasn't going to have
Dexter mixed up in it--above all not against the Mahatma.  She
could never forget that it was the Mahatma who had first told her
she was psychic.

The maid opened an inner door an inch or two to say rebukingly:
"Madam, the hair-dresser; and Miss Bruss asked me to remind you--"

"Yes, yes, yes," Mrs. Manford responded hastily; repeating below
her breath, as she flung herself into her kimono and settled down
before her toilet-table:  "Now, I forbid you to let yourself feel
hurried!  You KNOW there's no such thing as hurry."

But her eye again turned anxiously to the little clock among her
scent-bottles, and she wondered if she might not save time by
dictating to Maisie Bruss while she was being waved and manicured.
She envied women who had no sense of responsibility--like Jim's
little Lita.  As for herself, the only world she knew rested on her
shoulders.



III


At a quarter past one, when Nona arrived at her half-brother's
house, she was told that Mrs. Wyant was not yet down.

"And Mr. Wyant not yet up, I suppose?  From his office, I mean,"
she added, as the young butler looked his surprise.

Pauline Manford had been very generous at the time of her son's
marriage.  She was relieved at his settling down, and at his
seeming to understand that marriage connoted the choice of a
profession, and the adoption of what people called regular habits.
Not that Jim's irregularities had ever been such as the phrase
habitually suggests.  They had chiefly consisted in his not being
able to make up his mind what to do with his life (so like his poor
father, that!), in his always forgetting what time it was, or what
engagements his mother had made for him, in his wanting a chemical
laboratory fitted up for him at Cedarledge, and then, when it was
all done, using it first as a kennel for breeding fox-terriers and
then as a quiet place to practise the violin.

Nona knew how sorely these vacillations had tried her mother, and
how reassured Mrs. Manford had been when the young man, in the heat
of his infatuation for Lita, had vowed that if she would have him
he would turn to and grind in an office like all the other
husbands.

LITA HAVE HIM!  Lita Cliffe, a portionless orphan, with no one to
guide her in the world but a harum-scarum and somewhat blown-upon
aunt, the "impossible" Mrs. Percy Landish!  Mrs. Manford smiled at
her son's modesty while she applauded his good resolutions.  "This
experience has made a man of dear Jim," she said, mildly triumphing
in the latest confirmation of her optimism.  "If only it lasts--!"
she added, relapsing into human uncertainty.

"Oh, it will, mother; you'll see; as long as Lita doesn't get tired
of him," Nona had assured her.

"As long--?  But, my dear child, why should Lita ever get tired of
him?  You seem to forget what a miracle it was that a girl like
Lita, with no one but poor Kitty Landish to look after her, should
ever have got such a husband!"

Nona held her ground.  "Well--just look about you, mother!  Don't
they almost all get tired of each other?  And when they do, will
anything ever stop their having another try?  Think of your big
dinners!  Doesn't Maisie always have to make out a list of previous
marriages as long as a cross-word puzzle, to prevent your calling
people by the wrong names?"

Mrs. Manford waved away the challenge.  "Jim and Lita are not like
that; and I don't like your way of speaking of divorce, Nona," she
had added, rather weakly for her--since, as Nona might have
reminded her, her own way of speaking of divorce varied
disconcertingly with the time, the place and the divorce.

The young girl had leisure to recall this discussion while she sat
and waited for her brother and his wife.  In the freshly decorated
and studiously empty house there seemed to be no one to welcome
her.  The baby (whom she had first enquired for) was asleep, his
mother hardly awake, and the head of the house still "at the
office."  Nona looked about the drawing-room and wondered--the
habit was growing on her.

The drawing-room (it suddenly occurred to her) was very expressive
of the modern marriage state.  It looked, for all its studied
effects, its rather nervous attention to "values," complementary
colours, and the things the modern decorator lies awake over, more
like the waiting-room of a glorified railway station than the
setting of an established way of life.  Nothing in it seemed at
home or at ease--from the early kakemono of a bearded sage, on
walls of pale buff silk, to the three mourning irises isolated in a
white Sung vase in the desert of an otherwise empty table.  The
only life in the room was contributed by the agitations of the
exotic goldfish in a huge spherical aquarium; and they too were but
transients, since Lita insisted on having the aquarium illuminated
night and day with electric bulbs, and the sleepless fish were
always dying off and having to be replaced.

Mrs. Manford had paid for the house and its decoration.  It was not
what she would have wished for herself--she had not yet quite
caught up with the new bareness and selectiveness.  But neither
would she have wished the young couple to live in the opulent
setting of tapestries and "period" furniture which she herself
preferred.  Above all she wanted them to keep up; to do what the
other young couples were doing; she had even digested--in one huge
terrified gulp--Lita's black boudoir, with its welter of ebony
velvet cushions overlooked by a statue as to which Mrs. Manford
could only minimize the indecency by saying that she understood it
was Cubist.  But she did think it unkind--after all she had done--
to have Nona suggest that Lita might get tired of Jim!

The idea had never really troubled Nona--at least not till lately.
Even now she had nothing definite in her mind.  Nothing beyond the
vague question: what would a woman like Lita be likely to do if she
suddenly grew tired of the life she was leading?  But that question
kept coming back so often that she had really wanted, that morning,
to consult her mother about it; for who else was there to consult?
Arthur Wyant?  Why, poor Arthur had never been able to manage his
own poor little concerns with any sort of common sense or
consistency; and at the suggestion that any one might tire of Jim
he would be as indignant as Mrs. Manford, and without her power of
controlling her emotions.

Dexter Manford?  Well--Dexter Manford's daughter had to admit that
it really wasn't his business if his step-son's marriage threatened
to be a failure; and besides, Nona knew how overwhelmed with work
her father always was, and hesitated to lay this extra burden on
him.  For it would be a burden.  Manford was very fond of Jim (as
indeed they all were), and had been extremely kind to him.  It was
entirely owing to Manford's influence that Jim, who was regarded as
vague and unreliable, had got such a good berth in the Amalgamated
Trust Co.; and Manford had been much pleased at the way in which
the boy had stuck to his job.  Just like Jim, Nona thought tenderly--
if ever you could induce him to do anything at all, he always did
it with such marvellous neatness and persistency.  And the
incentive of working for Lita and the boy was enough to anchor him
to his task for life.

A new scent--unrecognizable but exquisite.  In its wake came Lita
Wyant, half-dancing, half-drifting, fastening a necklace, humming a
tune, her little round head, with the goldfish-coloured hair, the
mother-of-pearl complexion and screwed-up auburn eyes, turning
sideways like a bird's on her long throat.  She was astonished but
delighted to see Nona, indifferent to her husband's non-arrival,
and utterly unaware that lunch had been waiting for half an hour.

"I had a sandwich and a cocktail after my exercises.  I don't
suppose it's time for me to be hungry again," she conjectured.
"But perhaps you are, you poor child.  Have you been waiting long?"

"Not much!  I know you too well to be punctual," Nona laughed.

Lita widened her eyes.  "Are you suggesting that I'm not?  Well,
then, how about your ideal brother?"

"He's down town working to keep a roof over your head and your
son's."

Lita shrugged.  "Oh, a roof--I don't care much for roofs, do you--
or is it ROOVES?  Not this one, at any rate."  She caught Nona by
the shoulders, held her at arm's-length, and with tilted head and
persuasively narrowed eyes, demanded:  "This room is AWFUL, isn't
it?  Now acknowledge that it is!  And Jim won't give me the money
to do it over."

"Do it over?  But, Lita, you did it exactly as you pleased two
years ago!"

"Two years ago?  Do you mean to say you like anything that you
liked two years ago?"

"Yes--you!" Nona retorted: adding rather helplessly:  "And,
besides, everybody admires the room so much--."  She stopped,
feeling that she was talking exactly like her mother.

Lita's little hands dropped in a gesture of despair.  "That's just
it!  EVERYBODY admires it.  Even Mrs. Manford does.  And when you
think what sort of things EVERYBODY admires!  What's the use of
pretending, Nona?  It's the typical clich drawing-room.  Every one
of the couples who were married the year we were has one like it.
The first time Tommy Ardwin saw it--you know he's the new decorator--
he said:  'Gracious, how familiar all this seems!' and began to
whistle 'Home, Sweet Home'!"

"But of course he would, you simpleton!  When what he wants is to
be asked to do it over!"

Lita heaved a sigh.  "If he only could!  Perhaps he might reconcile
me to this house.  But I don't believe anybody could do that."  She
glanced about her with an air of ineffable disgust.  "I'd like to
throw everything in it into the street.  I've been so bored here."

Nona laughed.  "You'd be bored anywhere.  I wish another Tommy
Ardwin would come along and tell you what an old clich being bored
is."

"An old clich?  Why shouldn't it be?  When life itself is such a
bore?  You can't redecorate life!"

"If you could, what would you begin by throwing into the street?
The baby?"

Lita's eyes woke to fire.  "Don't be an idiot!  You know I adore my
baby."

"Well--then Jim?"

"You know I adore my Jim!" echoed the young wife, mimicking her own
emotion.

"Hullo--that sounds ominous!"  Jim Wyant came in, clearing the air
with his fresh good-humoured presence.  "I fear my bride when she
says she adores me," he said, taking Nona into a brotherly embrace.

As he stood there, sturdy and tawny, a trifle undersized, with his
bright blue eyes and short blunt-nosed face, in which everything
was so handsomely modelled and yet so safe and sober, Nona fell
again to her dangerous wondering.  Something had gone out of his
face--all the wild uncertain things, the violin, model-making,
inventing, dreaming, vacillating--everything she had best loved
except the twinkle in his sobered eyes.  Whatever else was left now
was all plain utility.  Well, better so, no doubt--when one looked
at Lita!  Her glance caught her sister-in-law's face in a mirror
between two panels, and the reflection of her own beside it; she
winced a little at the contrast.  At her best she had none of that
milky translucence, or of the long lines which made Lita seem in
perpetual motion, as a tremor of air lives in certain trees.
Though Nona was as tall and nearly as slim, she seemed to herself
to be built, while Lita was spun of spray and sunlight.  Perhaps it
was Nona's general brownness--she had Dexter Manford's brown
crinkled hair, his strong black lashes setting her rather usual-
looking gray eyes; and the texture of her dusky healthy skin,
compared to Lita's, seemed rough and opaque.  The comparison added
to her general vague sense of discouragement.  "It's not one of my
beauty days," she thought.

Jim was drawing her arm through his.  "Come along, my girl.  Is
there going to be any lunch?" he queried, turning toward the dining-
room.

"Oh, probably.  In this house the same things always happen every
day," Lita averred with a slight grimace.

"Well, I'm glad lunch does--on the days when I can make a dash up-
town for it."

"On others Lita eats goldfish food," Nona laughed.

"Luncheon is served, madam," the butler announced.

The meal, as usual under Lita's roof, was one in which delicacies
alternated with delays.  Mrs. Manford would have been driven out of
her mind by the uncertainties of the service and the incoherence of
the menu; but she would have admitted that no one did a pilaff
better than Lita's cook.  Gastronomic refinements were wasted on
Jim, whose indifference to the possession of the Wyant madeira was
one of his father's severest trials.  ("I shouldn't have been
surprised if YOU hadn't cared, Nona; after all, you're a Manford;
but that a Wyant shouldn't have a respect for old wine!" Arthur
Wyant often lamented to her.)  As for Lita, she either nibbled
languidly at new health foods, or made ravenous inroads into the
most indigestible dish presented to her.  To-day she leaned back,
dumb and indifferent, while Jim devoured what was put before him as
if unaware that it was anything but canned beef; and Nona watched
the two under guarded lids.

The telephone tinkled, and the butler announced:  "Mr. Manford,
madam."

Nona Manford looked up.  "For me?"

"No, miss; Mrs. Wyant."

Lita was on her feet, suddenly animated.  "Oh, all right. . .
Don't wait for me," she flung over her shoulder as she made for the
door.

"Have the receiver brought in here," Jim suggested; but she brushed
by without heeding.

"That's something new--Lita sprinting for the telephone!" Jim
laughed.

"And to talk to father!"  For the life of her, Nona could not have
told why she stopped short with a vague sense of embarrassment.
Dexter Manford had always been very kind to his stepson's wife; but
then everybody was kind to Lita.

Jim's head was bent over the pilaff; he took it down in quick
undiscerning mouthfuls.

"Well, I hope he's saying something that will amuse her: nothing
seems to, nowadays."

It was on the tip of Nona's tongue to rejoin:  "Oh, yes; it amuses
her to say that nothing amuses her."  But she looked at her
brother's face, faintly troubled under its surface serenity, and
refrained.

Instead, she remarked on the beauty of the two yellow arums in a
bronze jar reflected in the mahogany of the dining-table.  "Lita
has a genius for flowers."

"And for everything else--when she chooses!"

The door opened and Lita sauntered back and dropped into her seat.
She shook her head disdainfully at the proffered pilaff.  There was
a pause.

"Well--what's the news?" Jim asked.

His wife arched her exquisite brows.  "News?  I expect you to
provide that.  I'm only just awake."

"I mean--"  But he broke off, and signed to the butler to remove
his plate.  There was another pause; then Lita's little head turned
on its long interrogative neck toward Nona.  "It seems we're
banqueting tonight at the Palazzo Manford.  Did you know?"

"Did I know?  Why, Lita!  I've heard of nothing else for weeks.
It's the annual feast for the Marchesa."

"I was never told," said Lita calmly.  "I'm afraid I'm engaged."

Jim lifted his head with a jerk.  "You were told a fortnight ago."

"Oh, a fortnight!  That's too long to remember anything.  It's like
Nona's telling me that I ought to admire my drawing-room because I
admired it two years ago."

Her husband reddened to the roots of his tawny hair.  "Don't you
admire it?" he asked, with a sort of juvenile dismay.

"There; Lita'll be happy now--she's produced her effect!"  Nona
laughed a little nervously.

Lita joined in the laugh.  "Isn't he like his mother?" she
shrugged.

Jim was silent, and his sister guessed that he was afraid to insist
on the dinner engagement lest he should increase his wife's
determination to ignore it.  The same motive kept Nona from saying
anything more; and the lunch ended in a clatter of talk about other
things.  But what puzzled Nona was that her father's communication
to Lita should have concerned the fact that she was dining at his
house that night.  It was unlike Dexter Manford to remember the
fact himself (as Miss Bruss's frantic telephoning had testified),
and still more unlike him to remind his wife's guests, even if he
knew who they were to be--which he seldom did.  Nona pondered.
"They must have been going somewhere together--he told me he was
engaged tonight--and Lita's in a temper because they can't.  But
then she's in a temper about everything today."  Nona tried to make
that cover all her perplexities.  She wondered if it did as much
for Jim.



IV


It would have been hard, Nona Manford thought, to find a greater
contrast than between Lita Wyant's house and that at which, two
hours later, she descended from Lita Wyant's smart Brewster.

"You won't come, Lita?"  The girl paused, her hand on the motor
door.  "He'd like it awfully."

Lita shook off the suggestion.  "I'm not in the humour."

"But he's such fun--he can be better company than anybody."

"Oh, for you he's a fad--for me he's a duty; and I don't happen to
feel like duties."  Lita waved one of her flower-hands and was off.

Nona mounted the pock-marked brown steps.  The house was old Mrs.
Wyant's, a faded derelict habitation in a street past which fashion
and business had long since flowed.  After his mother's death
Wyant, from motives of economy, had divided it into small flats.
He kept one for himself, and in the one overhead lived his mother's
former companion, the dependent cousin who had been the cause of
his divorce.  Wyant had never married her; he had never deserted
her; that, to Nona's mind, gave one a fair notion of his character.
When he was ill--and he had developed, rather early, a queer sort
of nervous hypochondria--the cousin came downstairs and nursed him;
when he was well his visitors never saw her.  But she was reported
to attend to his mending, keep some sort of order in his accounts,
and prevent his falling a prey to the unscrupulous.  Pauline
Manford said it was probably for the best.  She herself would have
thought it natural, and in fact proper, that her former husband
should have married his cousin; as he had not, she preferred to
decide that since the divorce they had been "only friends."  The
Wyant code was always a puzzle to her.  She never met the cousin
when she called on her former husband; but Jim, two or three times
a year, made it a point to ring the bell of the upper flat, and at
Christmas sent its invisible tenant an azalea.

Nona ran up the stairs to Wyant's door.  On the threshold a thin
gray-haired lady with a shadowy face awaited her.

"Come in, do.  He's got the gout, and can't get up to open the
door, and I had to send the cook out to get something tempting for
his dinner."

"Oh, thank you, cousin Eleanor."  The girl looked sympathetically
into the other's dimly tragic eyes.  "Poor Exhibit A!  I'm sorry
he's ill again."

"He's been--imprudent.  But the worst of it's over.  It will
brighten him up to see you.  Your cousin Stanley's there."

"Is he?"  Nona half drew back, feeling herself faintly redden.

"He'll be going soon.  Mr. Wyant will be disappointed if you don't
go in."

"But of course I'm going in."

The older woman smiled a worn smile, and vanished upstairs while
Nona slipped off her furs.  The girl knew it would be useless to
urge cousin Eleanor to stay.  If one wished to see her one had to
ring at her own door.

Arthur Wyant's shabby sitting-room was full of February sunshine,
illustrated magazines, newspapers and cigar ashes.  There were some
books on shelves, shabby also: Wyant had apparently once cared for
them, and his talk was still coloured by traces of early
cultivation, especially when visitors like Nona or Stan Heuston
were with him.  But the range of his allusions suggested that he
must have stopped reading years ago.  Even novels were too great a
strain on his attention.  As far back as Nona could remember he had
fared only on the popular magazines, picture-papers and the weekly
purveyors of social scandal.  He took an intense interest in the
private affairs of the world he had ceased to frequent, though he
always ridiculed this interest in talking to Nona or Heuston.

While he sat there, deep in his armchair, with bent shoulders, sunk
head and clumsy bandaged foot, Nona saw him, as she always did, as
taller, slimmer, more handsomely upstanding than any man she had
ever known.  He stooped now, even when he was on his feet; he was
prematurely aged; and the fact perhaps helped to connect him with
vanished institutions to which only his first youth could have
belonged.

To Nona, at any rate, he would always be the Arthur Wyant of the
race-meeting group in the yellowing photograph on his mantelpiece:
clad in the gray frock-coat and topper of the early 'eighties, and
tallest in a tall line of the similarly garbed, behind ladies with
puffed sleeves and little hats tilting forward on elaborate hair.
How peaceful, smiling and unhurried they all seemed!  Nona never
looked at them without a pang of regret that she had not been born
in those spacious days of dogcarts, victorias, leisurely tennis and
afternoon calls. . .

Wyant's face, even more than his figure, related him to that past:
the small shapely head, the crisp hair grown thin on a narrow
slanting forehead, the eyes in which a twinkle still lingered, eyes
probably blue when the hair was brown, but now faded with the rest,
and the slight fair moustache above an uncertain ironic mouth.

A romantic figure; or rather the faded photograph of one.  Yes;
perhaps Arthur Wyant had always been faded--like a charming
reflection in a sallow mirror.  And all that length of limb and
beauty of port had been meant for some other man, a man to whom the
things had really happened which Wyant had only dreamed.

His visitor, though of the same stock, could never have inspired
such conjectures.  Stanley Heuston was much younger--in the middle
thirties--and most things about him were middling: height,
complexion, features.  But he had a strong forehead, his mouth was
curved for power and mockery, and only his small quick eyes
betrayed the uncertainty and lassitude inherited from a Wyant
mother.

Wyant, at Nona's approach, held out a dry feverish hand.  "Well,
this is luck!  Stan was just getting ready to fly at your mother's
approach, and you turn up instead!"

Heuston got to his feet, and greeted Nona somewhat ceremoniously.
"Perhaps I'd better fly all the same," he said in a singularly
agreeable voice.  His eyes were intent on the girl's.

She made a slight gesture, not so much to detain or dismiss as to
signify her complete indifference.  "Isn't mother coming
presently?" she said, addressing the question to Wyant.

"No; I'm moved on till tomorrow.  There must have been some big
upheaval to make her change her plans at the last minute.  Sit down
and tell us all about it."

"I don't know of any upheaval.  There's only the dinner-dance for
Amalasuntha this evening."

"Oh, but that sort of thing is in your mother's stride.  You
underrate her capacity.  Stan has been giving me a hint of
something a good deal more volcanic."

Nona felt an inward tremor; was she going to hear Lita's name?  She
turned her glance on Heuston with a certain hostility.

"Oh, Stan's hints--."

"You see what Nona thinks of my views on cities and men," Heuston
shrugged.  He had remained on his feet, as though about to take
leave; but once again the girl felt his eager eyes beseeching her.

"Are you waiting to walk home with me?  You needn't.  I'm going to
stay for hours," she said, smiling across him at Wyant as she
settled down into one of the chintz armchairs.

"Aren't you a little hard on him?" Wyant suggested, when the door
had closed on their visitor.  "It's not exactly a crime to want to
walk home with you."

Nona made an impatient gesture.  "Stan bores me."

"Ah, well, I suppose he's not enough of a novelty.  Or not up-to-
date enough; YOUR dates.  Some of his ideas seem to me pretty
subversive; but I suppose in your set and Lita's a young man who
doesn't jazz all day and drink all night--or vice versa--is a back
number."

The girl did not take this up, and after a moment Wyant continued,
in his half-mocking half-querulous voice:  "Or is it that he isn't
'psychic' enough?  That's the latest, isn't it?  When you're not
high-kicking you're all high-thinking; and that reminds me of
Stan's news--"

"Yes?"  Nona brought it out between parched lips.  Her gaze turned
from Wyant to the coals smouldering in the grate.  She did not want
to face any one just then.

"Well, it seems there's going to be a gigantic muck-raking--one of
the worst we've had yet.  Into this Mahatma business; you know, the
nigger chap your mother's always talking about.  There's a hint of
it in the last number of the 'Looker-on'; here . . . where is it?
Never mind, though.  What it says isn't a patch on the real facts,
Stan tells me.  It seems the goings-on in that School of Oriental
Thought--what does he call the place: Dawnside?--have reached such
a point that the Grant Lindons, whose girl has been making a
'retreat' there, or whatever they call it, are out to have a
thorough probing.  They say the police don't want to move because
so many people we know are mixed up in it; but Lindon's back is up,
and he swears he won't rest till he gets the case before the Grand
Jury. . ."

As Wyant talked, the weight lifted from Nona's breast.  Much she
cared for the Mahatma, or for the Grant Lindons!  Stuffy old-
fashioned people--she didn't wonder Bee Lindon had broken away from
such parents--though she was a silly fool, no doubt.  Besides, the
Mahatma certainly had reduced Mrs. Manford's hips--and made her
less nervous too: for Mrs. Manford sometimes WAS nervous, in spite
of her breathless pursuit of repose.  Not, of course, in the same
querulous uncontrolled way as poor Arthur Wyant, who had never been
taught poise, or mental uplift, or being in tune with the Infinite;
but rather as one agitated by the incessant effort to be calm.  And
in that respect the Mahatma's rhythmic exercises had without doubt
been helpful.  No; Nona didn't care a fig for scandals about the
School of Oriental Thought.  And the relief of finding that the
subject she had dreaded to hear broached had probably never even
come to Wyant's ears, gave her a reaction of light-heartedness.

There were moments when Nona felt oppressed by responsibilities and
anxieties not of her age, apprehensions that she could not shake
off and yet had not enough experience of life to know how to meet.
One or two of her girl friends--in the brief intervals between
whirls and thrills--had confessed to the same vague disquietude.
It was as if, in the beaming determination of the middle-aged, one
and all of them, to ignore sorrow and evil, "think them away" as
superannuated bogies, survivals of some obsolete European
superstition unworthy of enlightened Americans, to whom plumbing
and dentistry had given higher standards, and bi-focal glasses a
clearer view of the universe--as if the demons the elder generation
ignored, baulked of their natural prey, had cast their hungry
shadow over the young.  After all, somebody in every family had to
remember now and then that such things as wickedness, suffering and
death had not yet been banished from the earth; and with all those
bright-complexioned white-haired mothers mailed in massage and
optimism, and behaving as if they had never heard of anything but
the Good and the Beautiful, perhaps their children had to serve as
vicarious sacrifices.  There were hours when Nona Manford,
bewildered little Iphigenia, uneasily argued in this way: others
when youth and inexperience reasserted themselves, and the load
slipped from her, and she wondered why she didn't always believe,
like her elders, that one had only to be brisk, benevolent and fond
to prevail against the powers of darkness.

She felt this relief now; but a vague restlessness remained with
her, and to ease it, and prove to herself that she was not nervous,
she mentioned to Wyant that she had just been lunching with Jim and
Lita.

Wyant brightened, as he always did at his son's name.  "Poor old
Jim!  He dropped in yesterday, and I thought he looked overworked!
I sometimes wonder if that father of yours hasn't put more hustle
into him than a Wyant can assimilate."  Wyant spoke good-
humouredly; his first bitterness against the man who had supplanted
him (a sentiment regarded by Pauline as barbarous and medival) had
gradually been swallowed up in gratitude for Dexter Manford's
kindness to Jim.  The oddly-assorted trio, Wyant, Pauline and her
new husband, had been drawn into a kind of inarticulate
understanding by their mutual tenderness for the progeny of the two
marriages, and Manford loved Jim almost as much as Wyant loved
Nona.

"Oh, well," the girl said, "Jim always does everything with all his
might.  And now that he's doing it for Lita and the baby, he's got
to keep on, whether he wants to or not."

"I suppose so.  But why do you say 'whether'?" Wyant questioned
with one of his disconcerting flashes.  "Doesn't he want to?"

Nona was vexed at her slip.  "Of course.  I only meant that he used
to be rather changeable in his tastes, and that getting married has
given him an object."

"How very old-fashioned!  You ARE old-fashioned, you know, my
child; in spite of the jazz.  I suppose that's what I've done for
YOU, in exchange for Manford's modernizing Jim.  Not much of an
exchange, I'm afraid.  But how long do you suppose Lita will care
about being an object to Jim?"

"Why shouldn't she care?  She'd go on caring about the baby, even
if . . . not that I mean. . ."

"Oh, I know.  That's a great baby.  Queer, you know--I can see he's
going to have the Wyant nose and forehead.  It's about all we've
left to give.  But look here--haven't you really heard anything
more about the Mahatma?  I thought that Lindon girl was a pal of
yours.  Now listen--"

When Nona Manford emerged into the street she was not surprised to
meet Stanley Heuston strolling toward her across Stuyvesant Square.
Neither surprised, nor altogether sorry; do what she would, she
could never quite repress the sense of ease and well-being that his
nearness gave.  And yet half the time they were together she always
spent in being angry with him and wishing him away.  If only the
relation between them had been as simple as that between herself
and Jim!  And it might have been--ought to have been--seeing that
Heuston was Jim's cousin, and nearly twice her age; yes, and had
been married before she left the schoolroom.  Really, her
exasperation was justified.  Yet no one understood her as well as
Stanley; not even Jim, who was so much dearer and more lovable.
Life was a confusing business to Nona Manford.

"How absurd!  I asked you not to wait.  I suppose you think I'm not
old enough to be out alone after dark."

"That hadn't occurred to me; and I'm not waiting to walk home with
you," Heuston rejoined with some asperity.  "But I do want to say
two words," he added, his voice breaking into persuasion.

Nona stopped, her heels firmly set on the pavement.  "The same old
two?"

"No.  Besides, there are three of those.  You never COULD count."
He hesitated:  "This time it's only about Arthur--"

"Why; what's the matter?"  The sense of apprehension woke in her
again.  What if Wyant really had begun to suspect that there was
something, an imponderable something, wrong between Jim and Lita,
and had been too shrewd to let Nona detect his suspicion?

"Haven't you noticed?  He looks like the devil.  He's been drinking
again.  Eleanor spoke to me--"

"Oh, dear."  There it was--all the responsibilities and worries
always closed in on Nona!  But this one, after all, was relatively
bearable.

"What can I do, Stan?  I can't imagine why you come to ME!"

He smiled a little, in his queer derisive way.  "Doesn't everybody?
The fact is--I didn't want to bother Jim."

She was silent.  She understood; but she resented his knowing that
she understood.

"Jim has got to be bothered.  He's got to look after his father."

"Yes; but I--Oh, look here, Nona; won't you see?"

"See what?"

"Why--that if Jim is worried about his father now--Jim's a queer
chap; he's tried his hand at fifty things, and never stuck to one;
and if he gets a shock now, on top of everything else--"

Nona felt her lips grow hard: all her pride and tenderness for her
brother stiffened into ice about her heart.

"I don't know what you mean.  Jim's grown up--he's got to face
things."

"Yes; I know.  I've been told the same thing about myself.  But
there are things one doesn't ever have a chance to face in this
slippery sliding modern world, because they don't come out into the
open.  They just lurk and peep and mouth.  My case exactly.  What
on earth is there about Aggie that a fellow can FACE?"

Nona stopped short with a jerk.  "We don't happen to be talking
about you and Aggie," she said.

"Oh, well; I was merely using myself as an example.  But there are
plenty of others to choose from."

Her voice broke into anger.  "I don't imagine you're comparing your
married life to Jim's?"

"Lord, no.  God forbid!"  He burst into a dry laugh.  "When I think
of Aggie's life and Lita's--!"

"Never mind about Lita's life.  What do you know about it, anyhow?
Oh, Stan, why are we quarrelling again?"  She felt the tears in her
throat.  "What you wanted was only to tell me about poor Arthur.
And I'd guessed that myself--I know something ought to be done.
But WHAT?  How on earth can I tell?  I'm always being asked by
everybody what ought to be done . . . and sometimes I feel too
young to be always the one to judge, to decide. . ."

Heuston stood watching her in silence.  Suddenly he took her hand
and drew it through his arm.  She did not resist, and thus linked
they walked on slowly and without further speech through the cold
deserted streets.  As they approached more populous regions she
freed her arm from his, and signalled to a taxi.

"May I come?"

"No.  I'm going to meet Lita at the Cubist Cabaret.  I promised to
be there by four."

"Oh, all right."  He looked at her irresolutely as the taxi drew
up.  "I wish to God I could always be on hand to help you when
you're bothered!"

She shook her head.

"Never?"

"Not while Aggie--"

"That means never."

"Then never."  She held out her hand, but he had turned and was
already striding off in the opposite direction.  She threw the
address to the chauffeur and got in.

"Yes; I suppose it IS never," she said to herself.  After all,
instead of helping her with the Wyant problem, Stan had only
brought her another: his own--and hers.  As long as Aggie Heuston,
a sort of lay nun, absorbed in High Church practices and the
exercise of a bleak but efficient philanthropy, continued to set
her face against divorce, Nona would not admit that Heuston had any
right to force it upon her.  "It's her way of loving him," the girl
said to herself for the hundredth time.  "She wants to keep him for
herself too--though she doesn't know it; but she does above all
want to save him.  And she thinks that's the way to do it.  I
rather admire her for thinking that there IS a way to save
people. . ."  She pushed that problem once more into the back of
her mind, and turned her thoughts toward the other and far more
pressing one: that of poor Arthur Wyant's growing infirmity.
Stanley was probably right in not wanting to speak to Jim about it
at that particular moment--though how did Stanley know about Jim's
troubles, and what did he know?--and she herself, after all, was
perhaps the only person to deal with Arthur Wyant.  Another interval
of anxious consideration made her decide that the best way would be
to seek her father's advice.  After an hour's dancing she would feel
better, more alive and competent, and there would still be time to
dash down to Manford's office, the only place--as she knew by
experience--where Manford was ever likely to have time for her.



V


The door of his private office clicked on a withdrawing client, and
Dexter Manford, giving his vigorous shoulders a shake, rose from
his desk and stood irresolute.

"I must get out to Cedarledge for some golf on Saturday," he
thought.  He lived among people who regarded golf as a universal
panacea, and in a world which believed in panaceas.

As he stood there, his glance lit on the looking-glass above the
mantel and he mustered his image impatiently.  Queer thing, for a
man of his age to gape at himself in a looking-glass like a dago
dancing-master!  He saw a swarthy straight-nosed face, dark
crinkling hair with a dash of gray on the temples, dark eyes under
brows that were beginning to beetle across a deep vertical cleft.
Complexion turning from ruddy to sallow; eyes heavy--would he put
his tongue out next?  The matter with him was. . .

He dropped back into his desk-chair and unhooked the telephone
receiver.

"Mrs. James Wyant?  Yes. . .  Oh--OUT?  You're sure?  And you don't
know when she'll be back?  Who?  Yes; Mr. Manford.  I had a message
for Mrs. Wyant.  No matter."

He hung up and leaned back, stretching his legs under the table and
staring moodily at the heap of letters and legal papers in the
morocco-lined baskets set out before him.

"I look ten years older than my age," he thought.  Yet that last
new type-writer, Miss Vollard, or whatever her name was, really
behaved as if . . . was always looking at him when she thought he
wasn't looking. . .  "Oh, what rot!" he exclaimed.

His day had been as all his days were now: a starting in with a
great sense of pressure, importance and authority--and a drop at
the close into staleness and futility.

The evening before, he had stopped to see his doctor and been told
that he was over-working, and needed a nerve-tonic and a change of
scene.  "Cruise to the West Indies, or something of the sort.
Couldn't you get away for three or four weeks?  No?  Well, more
golf then, anyhow."

Getting away from things; the perpetual evasion, moral, mental,
physical, which he heard preached, and saw practised, everywhere
about him, except where money-making was concerned!  He, Dexter
Manford, who had been brought up on a Minnesota farm, paid his own
way through the State College at Delos, and his subsequent course
in the Harvard Law School; and who, ever since, had been working at
the top of his pitch with no more sense of strain, no more desire
for evasion (shirking, he called it) than a healthy able-bodied man
of fifty had a right to feel!  If his task had been mere money-
getting he might have known--and acknowledged--weariness.  But he
gloried in his profession, in its labours and difficulties as well
as its rewards, it satisfied him intellectually and gave him that
calm sense of mastery--mastery over himself and others--known only
to those who are doing what they were born to do.

Of course, at every stage of his career--and never more than now,
on its slippery pinnacle--he had suffered the thousand irritations
inseparable from a hard-working life: the trifles which waste one's
time, the fools who consume one's patience, the tricky failure of
the best-laid plans, the endless labour of rolling human stupidity
up the steep hill of understanding.  But until lately these things
had been a stimulus: it had amused him to shake off trifles, baffle
bores, circumvent failure, and exercise his mental muscles in
persuading stupid people to do intelligent things.  There was
pioneer blood in him: he was used to starting out every morning to
hack his way through a fresh growth of prejudices and obstacles;
and though he liked his big retaining fees he liked arguing a case
even better.

Professionally, he was used to intellectual loneliness, and no
longer minded it.  Outside of his profession he had a brain above
the average, but a general education hardly up to it; and the
discrepancy between what he would have been capable of enjoying had
his mind been prepared for it, and what it could actually take in,
made him modest and almost shy in what he considered cultivated
society.  He had long believed his wife to be cultivated because
she had fits of book-buying and there was an expensively bound
library in the New York house.  In his raw youth, in the old Delos
days, he had got together a little library of his own in which
Robert Ingersoll's lectures represented science, the sermons of the
Reverend Frank Gunsaulus of Chicago, theology, John Burroughs,
natural history, and Jared Sparks and Bancroft almost the whole of
history.  He had gradually discovered the inadequacy of these
guides, but without ever having done much to replace them.  Now and
then, when he was not too tired, and had the rare chance of a quiet
evening, he picked up a book from Pauline's table; but the works
she acquired were so heterogeneous, and of such unequal value, that
he rarely found one worth reading.  Mrs. Tallentyre's "Voltaire"
had been a revelation: he discovered, to his surprise, that he had
never really known who Voltaire was, or what sort of a world he had
lived in, and why his name had survived it.  After that, Manford
decided to start in on a course of European history, and got as far
as taking the first volume of Macaulay up to bed.  But he was tired
at night, and found Macaulay's periods too long (though their
eloquence appealed to his forensic instinct): and there had never
been time for that course of history.

In his early wedded days, before he knew much of his wife's world,
he had dreamed of quiet evenings at home, when Pauline would read
instructive books aloud while he sat by the fire and turned over
his briefs in some quiet inner chamber of his mind.  But Pauline
had never known any one who wanted to be read aloud to except
children getting over infantile complaints.  She regarded the
desire almost as a symptom of illness, and decided that Dexter
needed "rousing," and that she must do more to amuse him.  As soon
as she was able after Nona's birth she girt herself up for this new
duty; and from that day Manford's life, out of office hours, had
been one of almost incessant social activity.  At first the endless
going out had bewildered, then for a while amused and flattered
him, then gradually grown to be a soothing routine, a sort of mild
drug-taking after the high pressure of professional hours; but of
late it had become simply a bore, a duty to be persisted in because--
as he had at last discovered--Pauline could not live without it.
After twenty years of marriage he was only just beginning to
exercise his intellectual acumen on his wife.

The thought of Pauline made him glance at his clock: she would be
coming in a moment.  He unhooked the receiver again, and named,
impatiently, the same number as before.  "Out, you say?  Still?"
(The same stupid voice making the same stupid answer!)  "Oh, no; no
matter.  I say IT'S NO MATTER," he almost shouted, replacing the
receiver.  Of all idiotic servants--!

Miss Vollard, the susceptible type-writer, shot a shingled head
around the door, said "ALL right" with an envious sigh to some one
outside, and effaced herself before the brisk entrance of her
employer's wife.  Manford got to his feet.

"Well, my dear--"  He pushed an armchair near the fire, solicitous,
still a little awed by her presence--the beautiful Mrs. Wyant who
had deigned to marry him.  Pauline, throwing back her furs, cast a
quick house-keeping glance about her.  The scent she used always
reminded him of a superior disinfectant; and in another moment, he
knew, she would find some pretext for assuring herself, by the
application of a gloved finger-tip, that there was no dust on desk
or mantelpiece.  She had very nearly obliged him, when he moved
into his new office, to have concave surbases, as in a hospital
ward or a hygienic nursery.  She had adopted with enthusiasm the
idea of the concave tiling fitted to every cove and angle, so that
there were no corners anywhere to catch the dust.  People's lives
ought to be like that: with no corners in them.  She wanted to de-
microbe life.

But, in the case of his own office, Manford had resisted; and now,
he understood, the fad had gone to the scrap-heap--with how many
others!

"Not too near the fire."  Pauline pushed her armchair back and
glanced up to see if the ceiling ventilators were working.  "You DO
renew the air at regular intervals?  I'm sure everything depends on
that; that and thought-direction.  What the Mahatma calls mental
deep-breathing."  She smiled persuasively.  "You look tired,
Dexter . . . tired and drawn."

"Oh, rot!--A cigarette?"

She shook her small resolute head.  "You forget that he's cured me
of that too--the Mahatma.  Dexter," she exclaimed suddenly, "I'm
sure it's this silly business of the Grant Lindons' that's worrying
you.  I want to talk to you about it--to clear it up with you.
It's out of the question that you should be mixed up in it."

Manford had gone back to his desk-chair.  Habit made him feel more
at home there, in fuller possession of himself; Pauline, in the
seat facing him, the light full on her, seemed no more than a
client to be advised, or an opponent to be talked over.  He knew
she felt the difference too.  So far he had managed to preserve his
professional privacy and his professional authority.  What he did
"at the office" was clouded over, for his family, by the vague word
"business," which meant that a man didn't want to be bothered.
Pauline had never really distinguished between practising the law
and manufacturing motors; nor had Manford encouraged her to.  But
today he suspected that she meant her interference to go to the
extreme limit which her well-known "tact" would permit.

"You must not be mixed up in this investigation.  Why not hand it
over to somebody else?  Alfred Cosby, or that new Jew who's so
clever?  The Lindons would accept any one you recommended; unless,
of course," she continued, "you could persuade them to drop it,
which would be so much better.  I'm sure you could, Dexter; you
always know what to say--and your opinion carries such weight.
Besides, what is it they complain of?  Some nonsense of Bee's, I've
no doubt--she took a rest-cure at the School.  If they'd brought
the girl up properly there'd have been no trouble.  Look at Nona!"

"Oh--Nona!"  Manford gave a laugh of pride.  Nona was the one warm
rich spot in his life: the corner on which the sun always shone.
Fancy comparing that degenerate fool of a Bee Lindon to his Nona,
and imagining that "bringing-up" made the difference!  Still, he
had to admit that Pauline--always admirable--had been especially so
as a mother.  Yet she too was bitten with this theosophical virus!

He lounged back, hands in pockets, one leg swinging, instinctively
seeking an easier attitude as his moral ease diminished.

"My dear, it's always been understood, hasn't it, that what goes on
in this office is between me and my clients, and not--"

"Oh, nonsense, Dexter!"  She seldom took that tone: he saw that she
was losing her self-control.  "Look here: I make it a rule never to
interfere; you've just said so.  Well--if I interfere now, it's
because I've a right to--because it's a duty!  The Lindons are my
son's cousins: Fanny Lindon was a Wyant.  Isn't that reason
enough?"

"It was one of the Lindons' reasons.  They appealed to me on that
very ground."

Pauline gave an irritated laugh.  "How like Fanny!  Always pushing
in and claiming things.  I wonder such an argument took you in.  Do
consider, Dexter!  I won't for a minute admit that there CAN be
anything wrong about the Mahatma; but supposing there were. . ."
She drew herself up, her lips tightening.  "I hope I know how to
respect professional secrecy, and I don't ask you to repeat their
nasty insinuations; in fact, as you know, I always take particular
pains to avoid hearing anything painful or offensive.  But,
supposing there were any ground for what they say; do they realize
how the publicity is going to affect Bee's reputation?  And how
shall you feel if you set the police at work and find them
publishing the name of a girl who is Jim's cousin, and a friend of
your own daughter's?"

Manford moved restlessly in his chair, and in so doing caught his
reflexion in the mirror, and saw that his jaw had lost its stern
professional cast.  He made an attempt to recover it, but
unsuccessfully.

"But all this is too absurd," Pauline continued on a smoother note.
"The Mahatma and his friends have nothing to fear.  Whose judgment
would you sooner trust: mine, or poor Fanny's?  What really bothers
me is your allowing the Lindons to drag you into an affair which is
going to discredit them, and not the Mahatma."  She smiled her
bright frosty smile.  "You know how proud I am of your professional
prestige: I should hate to have you associated with a failure."
She paused, and he saw that she meant to rest on that.

"This is a pretty bad business.  The Lindons have got their proofs
all right," he said.

Pauline reddened, and her face lost its look of undaunted serenity.
"How can you believe such rubbish, Dexter?  If you're going to take
Fanny Lindon's word against mine--"

"It's not a question of your word or hers.  Lindon is fully
documented: he didn't come to me till he was.  I'm sorry, Pauline;
but you've been deceived.  This man has got to be shown up, and the
Lindons have had the pluck to do what everybody else has shirked."

Pauline's angry colour had faded.  She got up and stood before her
husband, distressed and uncertain; then, with a visible effort at
self-command, she seated herself again, and locked her hands about
her gold-mounted bag.

"Then you'd rather the scandal, if there is one, should be paraded
before the world?  Who will gain by that except the newspaper
reporters, and the people who want to drag down society?  And how
shall you feel if Nona is called as a witness--or Lita?"

"Oh, nonsense--"  He stopped abruptly, and got up too.  The
discussion was lasting longer than he had intended, and he could
not find the word to end it.  His mind felt suddenly empty--empty
of arguments and formulas.  "I don't know why you persist in
bringing in Nona--or Lita--"

"I don't; it's you.  You will, that is, if you take this case.  Bee
and Nona have been intimate since they were babies, and Bee is
always at Lita's.  Don't you suppose the Mahatma's lawyers will
make use of that if you OBLIGE him to fight?  You may say you're
prepared for it; and I admire your courage--but I can't share it.
The idea that our children may be involved simply sickens me."

"Neither Nona nor Lita has ever had anything to do with this
charlatan and his humbug, as far as I know," said Manford
irritably.

"Nona has attended his eurythmic classes at our house, and gone to
his lectures with me: at one time they interested her intensely."
Pauline paused.  "About Lita I don't know: I know so little about
Lita's life before her marriage."

"It was presumably that of any of Nona's other girl friends."

"Presumably.  Kitty Landish might enlighten us.  But of course, if
it WAS--" he noted her faintly sceptical emphasis--"I don't admit
that that would preclude Lita's having known the Mahatma, or
believed in him.  And you must remember, Dexter, that I should be
the most deeply involved of all!  I mean to take a rest-cure at
Dawnside in March."  She gave the little playful laugh with which
she had been used, in old times, to ridicule the naughtiness of her
children.

Manford drummed on his blotting-pad.  "Look here, suppose we drop
this for the present--"

She glanced at her wrist-watch.  "If you can spare the time--"

"Spare the time?"

She answered softly:  "I'm not going away till you've promised."

Manford could remember the day when that tone--so feminine under
its firmness--would have had the power to shake him.  Pauline, in
her wifely dealings, so seldom invoked the prerogative of her
grace, her competence, her persuasiveness, that when she did he had
once found it hard to resist.  But that day was past.  Under his
admiration for her brains, and his esteem for her character, he had
felt, of late, a stealing boredom.  She was too clever, too
efficient, too uniformly sagacious and serene.  Perhaps his own
growing sense of power--professional and social--had secretly
undermined his awe of hers, made him feel himself first her equal,
then ever so little her superior.  He began to detect something
obtuse in that unfaltering competence.  And as his professional
authority grew he had become more jealous of interference with it.
His wife ought at least to have understood that!  If her famous
tact were going to fail her, what would be left, he asked himself?

"Look here, Pauline, you know all this is useless.  In professional
matters no one else can judge for me.  I'm busy this afternoon; I'm
sure you are too--"

She settled more deeply into her armchair.  "Never too busy for
you, Dexter."

"Thank you, dear.  But the time I ask you to give me is outside of
business hours," he rejoined with a slight smile.

"Then I'm dismissed?"  She smiled back.  "I understand; you needn't
ring!"  She rose with recovered serenity and laid a light hand on
his shoulder.  "Sorry to have bothered you; I don't often, do I?
All I ask is that you should think over--"

He lifted the hand to his lips.  "Of course, of course."  Now that
she was going he could say it.

"I'm forgiven?"

He smiled:  "You're forgiven;" and from the threshold she called,
almost gaily:  "Don't forget tonight--Amalasuntha!"

His brow clouded as he returned to his chair; and oddly enough--he
was aware of the oddness--it was clouded not by the tiresome scene
he had been through, but by his wife's reminder.  "Damn that
dinner," he swore to himself.

He turned to the telephone, unhooked it for the third time, and
called for the same number.



That evening, as he slipped the key into his front-door, Dexter
Manford felt the oppression of all that lay behind it.  He never
entered his house without a slight consciousness of the importance
of the act--never completely took for granted the resounding
vestibule, the big hall with its marble staircase ascending to all
the light and warmth and luxury which skill could devise, money
buy, and Pauline's ingenuity combine in a harmonious whole.  He had
not yet forgotten the day when, after one of his first legal
successes, he had installed a bathroom in his mother's house at
Delos, and all the neighbours had driven in from miles around to
see it.

But luxury, and above all comfort, had never weighed on him; he was
too busy to think much about them, and sure enough of himself and
his powers to accept them as his right.  It was not the splendour
of his house that oppressed him but the sense of the corporative
bonds it imposed.  It seemed part of an elaborate social and
domestic structure, put together with the baffling ingenuity of
certain bird's-nests of which he had seen the pictures.  His own
career, Pauline's multiple activities, the problem of poor Arthur
Wyant, Nona, Jim, Lita Wyant, the Mahatma, the tiresome Grant
Lindons, the perennial and inevitable Amalasuntha, for whom the
house was being illuminated tonight--all were strands woven into
the very pile of the carpet he trod on his way up the stairs.  As
he passed the dining-room he saw, through half-open doors, the
glitter of glass and silver, a shirt-sleeved man placing bowls of
roses down the long table, and Maisie Bruss, wan but undaunted,
dealing out dinner cards to Powder, the English butler.



VI


Pauline Manford sent a satisfied glance down the table.

It was on such occasions that she visibly reaped her reward.  No
one else in New York had so accomplished a cook, such smoothly
running service, a dinner-table so softly yet brightly lit, or such
skill in grouping about it persons not only eminent in wealth or
fashion, but likely to find pleasure in each other's society.

The intimate reunion, of the not-more-than-the-Muses kind, was not
Pauline's affair.  She was aware of this, and seldom made the
attempt--though, when she did, she was never able to discover why
it was not a success.  But in the organizing and administering of a
big dinner she was conscious of mastery.  Not the stupid big dinner
of old days, when the "crowned heads" used to be treated like a
caste apart, and everlastingly invited to meet each other through a
whole monotonous season: Pauline was too modern for that.  She
excelled in a judicious blending of Wall Street and Bohemia, and
her particular art lay in her selection of the latter element.  Of
course there were Bohemians and Bohemians; as she had once remarked
to Nona, people weren't always amusing just because they were
clever, or dull just because they were rich--though at the last
clause Nona had screwed up her nose incredulously. . .  Well, even
Nona would be satisfied tonight, Pauline thought.  It wasn't
everybody who would have been bold enough to ask a social reformer
like Parker Greg with the very people least disposed to encourage
social reform, nor a young composer like Torfried Lobb (a disciple
of "The Six") with all those stolid opera-goers, nor that
disturbing Tommy Ardwin, the Cubist decorator, with the owners of
the most expensive "period houses" in Fifth Avenue.

Pauline was not a bit afraid of such combinations.  She knew in
advance that at one of her dinners everything would "go"--it always
did.  And her success amused and exhilarated her so much that, even
tonight, though she had come down oppressed with problems, they
slipped from her before she even had time to remind herself that
they were nonexistent.  She had only to look at the faces gathered
about that subdued radiance of old silver and scattered flowers to
be sure of it.  There, at the other end of the table, was her
husband's dark head, comely and resolute in its vigorous middle-
age; on his right the Marchesa di San Fedele, the famous San Fedele
pearls illuminating her inconspicuous black; on his left the
handsome Mrs. Herman Toy, magnanimously placed there by Pauline
because she knew that Manford was said to be "taken" by her, and
she wanted him to be in good-humour that evening.  To measure her
own competence she had only to take in this group, already settling
down to an evening's enjoyment, and then let her glance travel on
to the others, the young and handsome women, the well-dressed
confident-looking men.  Nona, grave yet eager, was talking to
Manford's legal rival, the brilliant Alfred Cosby, who was known to
have said she was the cleverest girl in New York.  Lita, cool and
aloof, drooped her head slightly to listen to Torfried Lobb, the
composer; Jim gazed across the table at Lita as if his adoration
made every intervening obstacle transparent; Aggie Heuston, whose
coldness certainly made her look distinguished, though people
complained that she was dull, dispensed occasional monosyllables to
the ponderous Herman Toy; and Stanley Heuston, leaning back with
that faint dry smile which Pauline found irritating because it was
so inscrutable, kept his eyes discreetly but steadily on Nona.
Dear good Stan, always like a brother to Nona!  People who knew him
well said he wasn't as sardonic as he looked.

It was a world after Pauline's heart--a world such as she believed
its Maker meant it to be.  She turned to the Bishop on her right,
wondering if he shared her satisfaction, and encountered a glance
of understanding.

"So refreshing to be among old friends. . .  This is one of the few
houses left. . .  Always such a pleasure to meet the dear Marchesa;
I hope she has better reports of her son?  Wretched business, I'm
afraid.  My dear Mrs. Manford, I wonder if you know how blessed you
are in your children?  That wise little Nona, who is going to make
some man so happy one of these days--not Cosby, no?  Too much
difference in age?  And your steady Jim and his idol . . . yes, I
know it doesn't become my cloth to speak indulgently of idolatry.
But happy marriages are so rare nowadays: where else could one find
such examples as there are about this table?  Your Jim and his
Lita, and my good friend Heuston with that saint of a wife--"
The Bishop paused, as if, even on so privileged an occasion, he
was put to it to prolong the list.  "Well, you've given them the
example. . ."  He stopped again, probably remembering that his
hostess's matrimonial bliss was built on the ruins of her first
husband's.  But in divorcing she had invoked a cause which even
the Church recognizes; and the Bishop proceeded serenely:  "Her
children shall rise up and call her blessed--yes, dear friend, you
must let me say it."

The words were balm to Pauline.  Every syllable carried conviction:
all was right with her world and the Bishop's!  Why did she ever
need any other spiritual guidance than that of her own creed?  She
felt a twinge of regret at having so involved herself with the
Mahatma.  Yet what did Episcopal Bishops know of "holy ecstasy"?
And could any number of Church services have reduced her hips?
After all, there was room for all the creeds in her easy rosy
world.  And the thought led her straight to her other preoccupation:
the reception for the Cardinal.  She resolved to secure the Bishop's
approval at once.  After that, of course the Chief Rabbi would have
to come.  And what a lesson in tolerance and good-will to the
discordant world she was trying to reform!



Nona, half-way down the table, viewed its guests from another
angle.  She had come back depressed rather than fortified from her
flying visit to her father.  There were days when Manford liked to
be "surprised" at the office; when he and his daughter had their
little jokes together over these clandestine visits.  But this one
had not come off in that spirit.  She had found Manford tired and
slightly irritable; Nona, before he had time to tell her of her
mother's visit, caught a lingering whiff of Pauline's cool hygienic
scent, and wondered nervously what could have happened to make Mrs.
Manford break through her tightly packed engagements, and dash down
to her husband's office.  It was of course to that emergency that
she had sacrificed poor Exhibit A--little guessing his relief at
the postponement.  But what could have obliged her to see Manford
so suddenly, when they were to meet at dinner that evening?

The girl had asked no questions: she knew that Manford, true to his
profession, preferred putting them.  And her chief object, of
course, had been to get him to help her about Arthur Wyant.  That,
she perceived, at first added to his irritation: was he Wyant's
keeper, he wanted to know?  But he broke off before the next
question:  "Why the devil can't his own son look after him?"  She
had seen that question on his very lips; but they shut down on it,
and he rose from his chair with a shrug.  "Poor devil--if you think
I can be of any use?  All right, then--I'll drop in on him
tomorrow."  He and Wyant, ever since the divorce, had met whenever
Jim's fate was to be discussed; Wyant felt a sort of humiliated
gratitude for Manford's generosity to his son.  "Not the money, you
know, Nona--damn the money!  But taking such an interest in him;
helping him to find himself: appreciating him, hang it!  He
understands Jim a hundred times better than your mother ever
did. . ."  On this basis the two men came together now and then
in a spirit of tolerant understanding. . .

Nona recalled her father's face as it had been when she left him:
worried, fagged, yet with that twinkle of gaiety his eyes always
had when he looked at her.  Now, smoothed out, smiling, slightly
replete, it was hard as stone.  "Like his own death-mask," the girl
thought; "as if he'd done with everything, once for all.--And the
way those two women bore him!  Mummy put Gladys Toy next to him as
a reward--for what?"  She smiled at her mother's simplicity in
imagining that he was having what Pauline called a "harmless
flirtation" with Mrs. Herman Toy.  That lady's obvious charms were
no more to him, Nona suspected, than those of the florid Bathsheba
in the tapestry behind his chair.  But Pauline had evidently had
some special reason--over and above her usual diffused benevolence--
for wanting to put Manford in a good humour.  "The Mahatma,
probably."  Nona knew how her mother hated a fuss: how vulgar and
unchristian she always thought it.  And it would certainly be
inconvenient to give up the rest-cure at Dawnside she had planned
for March, when Manford was to go off tarpon-fishing.

Nona's glance, in the intervals of talk with her neighbours,
travelled farther, lit on Jim's good-humoured wistful face--Jim was
always wistful at his mother's banquets--and flitted on to Aggie
Heuston's precise little mask, where everything was narrow and
perpendicular, like the head of a saint squeezed into a cathedral
niche.  But the girl's eyes did not linger, for as they rested on
Aggie they abruptly met the latter's gaze.  Aggie had been
furtively scrutinizing her, and the discovery gave Nona a faint
shock.  In another instant Mrs. Heuston turned to Parker Greg, the
interesting young social reformer whom Pauline had thoughtfully
placed next to her, with the optimistic idea that all persons
interested in improving the world must therefore be in the fullest
sympathy.  Nona, knowing Parker Greg's views, smiled at that too.
Aggie, she was sure, would feel much safer with her other
neighbour, Mr. Herman Toy, who thought, on all subjects, just what
all his fellow capitalists did.

Nona caught Stan Heuston's smile, and knew he had read her thought;
but from him too she turned.  The last thing she wanted was that he
should guess her real opinion of his wife.  Something deep down and
dogged in Nona always, when it came to the touch, made her avert
her feet from the line of least resistance.



Manford lent an absent ear first to one neighbour, then the other.
Mrs. Toy was saying, in her flat uncadenced voice, like tepid water
running into a bath:  "I don't see how people can LIVE without
lifts in their houses, do you?  But perhaps it's because I've never
had to.  Father's house had the first electric lift at Climax.
Once, in England, we went to stay with the Duke of Humber, at
Humber Castle--one of those huge parties, royalties and everything--
golf and polo all day, and a ball every night; and, will you
believe it, WE HAD TO WALK UP AND DOWN STAIRS!  I don't know what
English people are made of.  I suppose they've never been used to
what we call comfort.  The second day I told Herman I couldn't
stand those awful slippery stairs after two rounds of golf, and
dancing till four in the morning.  It was simply destroying my
heart--the doctor has warned me so often!  I wanted to leave right
away--but Herman said it would offend the Duke.  The Duke's such a
sweet old man.  But, any way, I made Herman promise me a sapphire
and emerald plaque from Carrier's before I'd agree to stick it
out. . ."

The Marchesa's little ferret face with sharp impassioned eyes
darted conversationally forward.  "The Duke of Humber?  I know him
so WELL.  Dear old man!  Ah, you also stayed at Humber?  So often
he invites me.  We are related . . . yes, through his first wife,
whose mother was a Venturini of the Calabrian branch: Donna
Ottaviana.  Yes.  Another sister, Donna Rosmunda, the beauty of the
family, married the Duke of Lepanto . . . a mediatized prince. . ."

She stopped, and Manford read in her eyes the hasty inward
interrogation:  "Will they think that expression queer?  I'm not
sure myself just what 'mediatized' means.  And these Americans!
They stick at nothing, but they're shocked at everything."  Aloud
she continued:  "A mediatized prince--but a man of the VERY HIGHEST
character."

"Oh--" murmured Mrs. Toy, puzzled but obviously relieved.

Manford's attention, tugging at its moorings, had broken loose
again and was off and away.

The how-many-eth dinner did that make this winter?  And no end in
sight!  How could Pauline stand it?  Why did she want to stand it?
All those rest-cures, massages, rhythmic exercises, devised to
restore the health of people who would have been as sound as bells
if only they had led normal lives!  Like that fool of a woman
spreading her blond splendours so uselessly at his side, who
couldn't walk upstairs because she had danced all night!  Pauline
was just like that--never walked upstairs, and then had to do
gymnastics, and have osteopathy, and call in Hindu sages, to
prevent her muscles from getting atrophied. . .  He had a vision of
his mother, out on the Minnesota farm, before they moved into Delos--
saw her sowing, digging potatoes, feeding chickens; saw her
kneading, baking, cooking, washing, mending, catching and
harnessing the half-broken colt to drive twelve miles in the snow
for the doctor, one day when all the men were away, and his little
sister had been so badly scalded. . .  And there the old lady sat
at Delos, in her nice little brick house, in her hale and hearty
old age, built to outlive them all.--Wasn't that perhaps the kind
of life Manford himself had been meant for?  Farming on a big
scale, with all the modern appliances his forbears had lacked,
outdoing everybody in the county, marketing his goods at the big
centres, and cutting a swathe in state politics like his elder
brother?  Using his brains, muscles, the whole of him, body and
soul, to do real things, bring about real results in the world,
instead of all this artificial activity, this spinning around
faster and faster in the void, and having to be continually rested
and doctored to make up for exertions that led to nothing, nothing,
nothing. . .

"Of course we all know YOU could tell us if you would.  Everybody
knows the Lindons have gone to you for advice."  Mrs. Toy's large
shallow eyes floated the question toward him on a sea-blue wave of
curiosity.  "Not a word of truth?  Oh, of course you have to say
that!  But everybody has been expecting there'd be trouble soon. . ."

And, in a whisper, from the Marchesa's side:  "Teasing you about
that mysterious Mahatma?  Foolish woman!  As long as dear Pauline
believes in him, I'm satisfied.  That was what I was saying to
Pauline before dinner:  'Whatever you and Dexter approve of, _I_
approve of.'  That's the reason why I'm so anxious to have my poor
boy come to New York . . . my Michelangelo!  If only you could see
him I know you'd grow as fond of him as you are of our dear Jim:
perhaps even take him into your office. . .  Ah, that, dear Dexter,
has always been my dream!"

. . . What sort of a life, after all, if not this one?  For of
course that dream of a Western farm was all rubbish.  What he
really wanted was a life in which professional interests as far-
reaching and absorbing as his own were somehow impossibly combined
with great stretches of country quiet, books, horses and children--
ah, children!  Boys of his own--teaching them all sorts of country
things; taking them for long trudges, telling them about trees and
plants and birds--watching the squirrels, feeding the robins and
thrushes in winter; and coming home in the dusk to firelight,
lamplight, a tea-table groaning with jolly things, all the boys and
girls (girls too, more little Nonas) grouped around, hungry and
tingling from their long tramp--and a woman lifting a calm face
from her book: a woman who looked so absurdly young to be their
mother; so--

"You're looking at Jim's wife?"  The Marchesa broke in.  "No
wonder!  Trs en beaut, our Lita!--that dress, the very same
colour as her hair, and those Indian emeralds . . . how clever of
her!  But a little difficult to talk to?  Little too silent?  No?
Ah, not to YOU, perhaps--her dear father!  Father-in-law, I mean--"

Silent!  The word sent him off again.  For in that other world, so
ringing with children's laughter, children's wrangles, and all the
healthy blustering noises of country life in a big family, there
would somehow, underneath it all, be a great pool of silence, a
reservoir on which one could always draw and flood one's soul with
peace.  The vision was vague and contradictory, but it all seemed
to meet and mingle in the woman's eyes. . .

Pauline was signalling from her table-end.  He rose and offered his
arm to the Marchesa.

In the hall the strains of the famous Somaliland orchestra bumped
and tossed downstairs from the ball-room to meet them.  The ladies,
headed by Mrs. Toy, flocked to the mirror-lined lift dissembled
behind forced lilacs and Japanese plums; but Amalasuntha, on
Manford's arm, set her blunt black slipper on the marble tread.

"I'm used to Roman palaces!"



VII


"At least you'll take a turn?" Heuston said; and Nona, yielding,
joined the dancers balancing with slow steps about the shining
floor.

Dancing meant nothing; it was like breathing; what would one be
doing if one weren't dancing?  She could not refuse without seeming
singular; it was simpler to acquiesce, and lose one's self among
the couples absorbed in the same complicated ritual.

The floor was full, but not crowded: Pauline always saw to that.
It was easy to calculate in advance, for every one she asked always
accepted, and she and Maisie Bruss, in making out the list,
allotted the requisite space per couple as carefully as if they had
been counting cubic feet in a hospital.  The ventilation was
perfect too; neither draughts nor stuffiness.  One had almost the
sense of dancing out of doors, under some equable southern sky.
Nona, aware of what it cost to produce this illusion, marvelled
once more at her tireless mother.

"Isn't she wonderful?"

Mrs. Manford, fresh, erect, a faint line of diamonds in her hair,
stood in the doorway, her slim foot advanced toward the dancers.

"Perennially!  Ah--she's going to dance.  With Cosby."

"Yes.  I wish she wouldn't."

"Wouldn't with Cosby?"

"Dear, no.  In general."

Nona and Heuston had seated themselves, and were watching from
their corner the weaving of hallucinatory patterns by interjoined
revolving feet.

"I see.  You think she dances with a Purpose?"

The girl smiled.  "Awfully well--like everything else she does.
But as if it were something between going to church and drilling a
scout brigade.  Mother's too--too tidy to dance."

"Well--this is different," murmured Heuston.

The floor had cleared as if by magic before the advance of a long
slim pair: Lita Wyant and Tommy Ardwin.  The decorator, tall and
supple, had the conventional dancer's silhouette; but he was no
more than a silhouette, a shadow on the wall.  All the light and
music in the room had passed into the translucent creature in his
arms.  He seemed to Nona like some one who has gone into a spring
wood and come back carrying a long branch of silver blossom.

"Good heavens!  Quelle plastique!" piped the Marchesa over Nona's
shoulder.

The two had the floor to themselves: every one else had stopped
dancing.  But Lita and her partner seemed unaware of it.  Her sole
affair was to shower radiance, his to attune his lines to hers.
Her face was a small still flower on a swaying stalk; all her
expression was in her body, in that long legato movement like a
weaving of grasses under a breeze, a looping of little waves on the
shore.

"Look at Jim!" Heuston laughed.  Jim Wyant, from a doorway, drank
the vision thirstily.  "Surely," his eyes seemed to triumph, "this
justifies the Cubist Cabaret, and all the rest of her crazes."

Lita, swaying near him, dropped a smile, and floated off on the
bright ripples of her beauty.

Abruptly the music stopped.  Nona glanced across the room and saw
Mrs. Manford move away from the musicians' balcony, over which the
conductor had just leaned down to speak to her.

There was a short interval; then the orchestra broke into a fox-
trot and the floor filled again.  Mrs. Manford swept by with a set
smile--"the kind she snaps on with her tiara," Nona thought.  Well,
perhaps it WAS rather bad form of Lita to monopolize the floor at
her mother-in-law's ball; but was it the poor girl's fault if she
danced so well that all the others stopped to gaze?

Ardwin came up to Nona.  "Oh, no," Heuston protested under his
breath.  "I wanted--"

"There's Aggie signalling."

The girl's arm was already on Ardwin's shoulder.  As they circled
toward the middle of the room, Nona said:  "You show off Lita's
dancing marvellously."

He replied, in his high-pitched confident voice:  "Oh, it's only a
question of giving her her head and not butting in.  She and I each
have our own line of self-expression: it would be stupid to mix
them.  If only I could get her to dance just once for Serge
Klawhammer; he's scouring the globe to find somebody to do the new
'Herodias' they're going to turn at Hollywood.  People are fed up
with the odalisque style, and with my help Lita could evolve
something different.  She's half promised to come round to my place
tonight after supper and see Klawhammer.  Just six or seven of the
enlightened--wonder if you'd join us?  He's tearing back to
Hollywood tomorrow."

"Is Lita really coming?"

"Well, she said yes and no, and ended on yes."

"All right--I will."  Nona hated Ardwin, his sleekness, suppleness,
assurance, the group he ruled, the fashions he set, the doctrines
he professed--hated them so passionately and undiscerningly that it
seemed to her that at last she had her hand on her clue.  That was
it, of course!  Ardwin and his crew were trying to persuade Lita to
go into the movies; that accounted for her restlessness and
irritability, her growing distaste for her humdrum life.  Nona drew
a breath of relief.  After all, if it were only that--!

The dance over, she freed herself and slipped through the throng in
quest of Jim.  Should she ask him to take her to Ardwin's?  No:
simply tell him that she and Lita were off for a final spin at the
decorator's studio, where there would be more room and less fuss
than at Pauline's.  Jim would laugh and approve, provided she and
Lita went together; no use saying anything about Klawhammer and his
absurd "Herodias."

"Jim?  But, my dear, Jim went home long ago.  I don't blame the
poor boy," Mrs. Manford sighed, waylaid by her daughter, "because I
know he has to be at the office so early; and it must be awfully
boring, standing about all night and not dancing.  But, darling,
you must really help me to find your father.  Supper's ready, and I
can't imagine. . ."

The Marchesa's ferret face slipped between them as she trotted by
on Mr. Toy's commodious arm.

"Dear Dexter?  I saw him not five minutes ago, seeing off that
wonderful Lita--"

"Lita?  Lita gone too?"  Nona watched the struggle between her
mother's disciplined features and twitching nerves.  "What
impossible children I have!"  A smile triumphed over her
discomfiture.  "I do hope there's nothing wrong with the baby?
Nona, slip down and tell your father he must come up.  Oh, Stanley,
dear, all my men seem to have deserted me.  Do find Mrs. Toy and
take her in to supper. . ."

In the hall below there was no Dexter.  Nona cast about a glance
for Powder, the pale resigned butler, who had followed Mrs. Manford
through all her vicissitudes and triumphs, seemingly concerned
about nothing but the condition of his plate and the discipline of
his footmen.  Powder knew everything, and had an answer to
everything; but he was engaged at the moment in the vast operation
of making terrapin and champagne appear simultaneously on eighty-
five small tables, and was not to be found in the hall.  Nona ran
her eye along the line of footmen behind the piled-up furs, found
one who belonged to the house, and heard that Mr. Manford had left
a few minutes earlier.  His motor had been waiting for him, and was
now gone.  Mrs. James Wyant was with him, the man thought.  "He's
taken her to Ardwin's, of course.  Poor father!  After an evening
of Mrs. Toy and Amalasuntha--who can wonder?  If only mother would
see how her big parties bore him!"  But Nona's mother would never
see that.



"It's just my indestructible faith in my own genius--nothing else,"
Ardwin was proclaiming in his jumpy falsetto as Nona entered the
high-perched studio where he gathered his group of the enlightened.
These privileged persons, in the absence of chairs, had disposed
themselves on the cushions and mattresses scattered about a floor
painted to imitate a cunning perspective of black and white marble.
Tall lamps under black domes shed their light on bare shoulders,
heads sleek or tousled, and a lavish show of flesh-coloured legs
and sandalled feet.  Ardwin, unbosoming himself to a devotee, held
up a guttering church-candle to a canvas which simulated a window
open on a geometrical representation of brick walls, fire escapes
and back-yards.  "Sham?  Oh, of course.  I had the real window
blocked up.  It looked out on that stupid old 'night-piece' of
Brooklyn Bridge and the East River.  Everybody who came here said:
'A Whistler nocturne!' and I got so bored.  Besides, it was REALLY
THERE: and I hate things that are really where you think they are.
They're as tiresome as truthful people.  Everything in art should
be false.  Everything in life should be art.  Ergo, everything in
life should be false: complexions, teeth, hair, wives . . .
specially wives.  Oh, Miss Manford, that you?  Do come in.  Mislaid
Lita?"

"Isn't she here?"

"IS she?"  He pivoted about on the company.  When he was not
dancing he looked, with his small snaky head and too square
shoulders, like a cross between a Japanese waiter and a full-page
advertisement for silk underwear.  "IS Lita here?  Any of you
fellows got her dissembled about your persons?  Now, then, out with
her!  Jossie Keiler, YOU'RE not Mrs. James Wyant disguised as a
dryad, are you?"  There was a general guffaw as Miss Jossie Keiler,
the octoroon pianist, scrambled to her pudgy feet and assembled a
series of sausage arms and bolster legs in a provocative pose.
"Knew I'd get found out," she lisped.

A short man with a deceptively blond head, thick lips under a
stubby blond moustache, and eyes like needles behind tortoiseshell-
rimmed glasses, stood before the fire, bulging a glossy shirtfront
and solitaire pearl toward the company.  "Don't this lady dance?"
he enquired, in a voice like melted butter, a few drops of which
seemed to trickle down his lips and be licked back at intervals
behind a thickly ringed hand.

"Miss Manford?  Bet she does!  Come along, Nona; shed your togs and
let's show Mr. Klawhammer here present that Lita's not the only
peb--"

"Gracious!  Wait till I get into the saddle!" screamed Miss Keiler,
tiny hands like blueish mice darting out at the keyboard from the
end of her bludgeon arms.

Nona perched herself on the edge of a refectory table.  "Thanks.
I'm not a candidate for 'Herodias.'  My sister-in-law is sure to
turn up in a minute."



Even Mrs. Dexter Manford's perfectly run house was not a
particularly appetizing place to return to at four o'clock on the
morning after a dance.  The last motor was gone, the last overcoat
and opera cloak had vanished from hall and dressing-rooms, and only
one hanging lamp lit the dusky tapestries and the monumental
balustrade of the staircase.  But empty cocktail glasses and
ravaged cigar-boxes littered the hall tables, wisps of torn tulle
and trampled orchids strewed the stair-carpet, and the thicket of
forced lilacs and Japanese plums in front of the lift drooped
mournfully in the hot air.  Nona, letting herself in with her latch-
key, scanned the scene with a feeling of disgust.  What was it all
for, and what was left when it was over?  Only a huge clearing-up
for Maisie and the servants, and a new list to make out for the
next time. . .  She remembered mild spring nights at Cedarledge,
when she was a little girl, and she and Jim used to slip downstairs
in stocking feet, go to the lake, loose the canoe, and drift on a
silver path among islets fringed with budding dogwood.  She hurried
on past the desecrated shrubs.

Above, the house was dark but for a line of light under the library
door.  Funny--at that hour; her father must still be up.  Very
likely he too had just come in.  She was passing on when the door
opened and Manford called her.

"'Pon my soul, Nona!  That you?  I supposed you were in bed long
ago."

One of the green-shaded lamps lit the big writing-table.  Manford's
armchair was drawn up to it, an empty glass and half-consumed
cigarette near by, the evening paper sprawled on the floor.

"Was that you I heard coming in?  Do you know what time it is?"

"Yes; worse luck!  I've been scouring the town after Lita."

"LITA?"

"Waiting for her for hours at Tommy Ardwin's.  Such a crew!  He
told me she was going there to dance for Klawhammer, the Hollywood
man, and I didn't want her to go alone--"

Manford's face darkened.  He lit another cigarette and turned to
his daughter impatiently.

"What the devil made you believe such a yarn?  Klawhammer--!"

Nona stood facing him; their eyes met, and he turned away with a
shrug to reach for a match.

"I believed it because, just afterward, the servants told me that
Lita had left, and as they said you'd gone with her I supposed
you'd taken her to Ardwin's, not knowing that I meant to join her
there."

"Ah; I see."  He lit the cigarette and puffed at it for a moment or
two, deliberately.  "You're quite right to think she needs looking
after," he began again, in a changed tone.  "Somebody's got to take
on the job, since her husband seems to have washed his hands of
it."

"Father!  You know perfectly well that if Jim took on that job--
running after Lita all night from one cabaret to another--he'd lose
the other, the one that keeps them going.  Nobody could carry on
both."

"Hullo, spitfire!  Hands off our brother!"

"Rather."  She leaned against the table, her eyes still on him.
"And when Ardwin told me about this Klawhammer film--didn't Lita
mention it to you?"

He appeared to consider.  "She did say Ardwin was bothering her
about something of the kind; so when I found Jim had gone I took
her home myself."

"Ah--you took her home?"

Manford, settling himself back in his armchair, met the surprise in
her voice unconcernedly.  "Why, of course.  Did you really see me
letting her make a show of herself?  Sorry you think that's my way
of looking after her."

Nona, perched on the arm of his chair, enclosed him in a happy hug.
"You goose, you!" she sighed; but the epithet was not for her
father.

She poured herself a glass of cherry brandy, dropped a kiss on his
thinning hair, and ran up to her room humming Miss Jossie Keiler's
jazz-tune.  Perhaps after all it wasn't such a rotten world.



VIII


The morning after a party in her own house Pauline Manford always
accorded herself an extra half-hour's rest; but on this occasion
she employed it in lying awake and wearily reckoning up the next
day's tasks.  Disenchantment had succeeded to the night's glamour.
The glamour of balls never did last: they so quickly became a
matter for those domestic undertakers, the charwomen, housemaids
and electricians.  And in this case the taste of pleasure had
soured early.  When the doors were thrown open on the beflowered
supper tables not one of the hostess's family was left to marshal
the guests to their places!  Her husband, her daughter and son, her
son's wife--all had deserted her.  It needed, in that chill morning
vigil, all Pauline's self-control to banish the memory.  Not that
she wanted any of them to feel under any obligation--she was all
for personal freedom, self-expression, or whatever they called it
nowadays--but still, a ball was a ball, a host was a host.  It was
too bad of Dexter, really; and of Jim too.  On Lita of course no
one could count: that was part of the pose people found so
fascinating.  But Jim--Jim and Nona to forsake her!  What a
ridiculous position it had put her in--but no, she mustn't think of
that now, or those nasty little wrinkles would creep back about her
eyes.  The masseuse had warned her. . .  Gracious!  At what time
was the masseuse due?  She stretched out her hand, turned on the
light by the bed (for the windows were still closely darkened), and
reached for what Maisie Bruss called the night-list: an upright
porcelain tablet on which the secretary recorded, for nocturnal
study, the principal "fixtures" of the coming day.

Today they were so numerous that Miss Bruss's tight script had
hardly contrived to squeeze them in.  Foremost, of course, poor
Exhibit A, moved on from yesterday; then a mysterious appointment
with Amalasuntha, just before lunch: something urgent, she had
hinted.  Today of all days!  Amalasuntha was so tactless at times.
And then that Mahatma business: since Dexter was inflexible, his
wife had made up her mind to appeal to the Lindons.  It would be
awkward, undoubtedly--and she did so hate things that were awkward.
Any form of untidiness, moral or material, was unpleasant to her;
but something must be done, and at once.  She herself hardly knew
why she felt so apprehensive, so determined that the matter should
have no sequel; except that, if anything DID go wrong, it would
upset all her plans for a rest-cure, for new exercises, for all
sorts of promised ways of prolonging youth, activity and
slenderness, and would oblige her to find a new Messiah who would
tell her she was psychic.

But the most pressing item on her list was her address that very
afternoon to the National Mothers' Day Association--or, no; wasn't
it the Birth Control League?  Nonsense!  That was her speech at the
banquet next week: a big affair at the St. Regis for a group of
International Birth-controllers.  Wakeful as she felt, she must be
half asleep to have muddled up her engagements like that!  She
extinguished the lamp and sank hopefully to her pillow--perhaps now
sleep would really come.  But her bed-lamp seemed to have a double
switch, and putting it out in the room only turned it on in her
head.

Well, she would try reciting scraps of her Mothers' Day address:
she seldom spoke in public, but when she did she took the affair
seriously, and tried to be at once winning and impressive.  She and
Maisie had gone carefully over the typed copy; and she was sure it
was all right; but she liked getting the more effective passages by
heart--it brought her nearer to her audience to lean forward and
speak intimately, without having to revert every few minutes to the
text.

"Was there ever a hearth or a heart--a mother's heart--that wasn't
big enough for all the babies God wants it to hold?  Of course
there are days when the mother is so fagged out that she thinks
she'd give the world if there were nothing at all to do in the
nursery, and she could just sit still with folded hands.  But the
only time when there's nothing at all for a mother to do in the
nursery is when there's a little coffin there.  It's all quiet
enough THEN . . . as some of us here know. . ."  (Pause, and a few
tears in the audience.)  "Not that we want the modern mother to
wear herself out: no indeed!  The babies themselves haven't any use
for worn-out mothers!  And the first thing to be considered is what
the babies want, isn't it?"  (Pause--smiles in the audience). . .

What on earth was Amalasuntha coming to bother her about?  More
money, of course--but she really couldn't pay all that wretched
Michelangelo's debts.  There would soon be debts nearer home if
Lita went on dressing so extravagantly, and perpetually having her
jewellery reset.  It cost almost as much nowadays to reset jewels
as to buy new ones, and those emeralds. . .

At that hour of the morning things did tend to look ash-coloured;
and she felt that her optimism had never been so sorely strained
since the year when she had had to read Proust, learn a new dance-
step, master Oriental philosophy, and decide whether she should
really bob her hair, or only do it to look so.  She had come
victoriously through those ordeals; but what if worse lay ahead?



Amalasuntha, in one of Mrs. Manford's least successfully made-over
dresses, came in looking shabby and humble--always a bad sign.  And
of course it was Michelangelo's debts.  Racing, baccara, and a
woman . . . a Russian princess; oh, my dear, AUTHENTIC, quite!
Wouldn't Pauline like to see her picture from the "Prattler"?  She
and Michelangelo had been snapped together in bathing tights at the
Lido.

No--Pauline wouldn't.  She turned from the proffered effigy with a
disgust evidently surprising to the Marchesa, whose own prejudices
were different, and who could grasp other people's only piece-meal,
one at a time, like a lesson in mnemonics.

"Oh, my boy doesn't do things by halves," the Marchesa averred,
still feeling that the occasion was one for boasting.

Pauline leaned back wearily.  "I'm as sorry for you as I can be,
Amalasuntha; but Michelangelo is not a baby, and if he can't be
made to understand that a poor man who wants to spend money must
first earn it--"

"Oh, but he does, darling!  Venturino and I have always dinned it
into him.  And last year he tried his best to marry that one-eyed
Miss Oxbaum from Oregon, he really did."

"I said EARN," Pauline interposed.  "We don't consider that
marrying for money is earning it--"

"Oh, mercy--don't you?  Not sometimes?" breathed the Marchesa.

"What I mean by earning is going into an office--is--"

"Ah, just so!  It was what I said to Dexter last night.  It is what
Venturino and I most long for: that Dexter should take Michelangelo
into his office.  That would solve every difficulty.  And once
Michelangelo is here I'm sure he will succeed.  No one is more
clever, you know: only, in Rome, young men are in greater danger--
there are more temptations--"

Pauline pursed her lips.  "I suppose there are."  But, since
temptations are the privilege of metropolises, she thought it
rather impertinent of Amalasuntha to suggest that there were more
in a one-horse little place like Rome than in New York; though in a
different mood she would have been the first to pronounce the
Italian capital a sink of iniquity, and New York the model and
prototype of the pure American city.  All these contradictions,
which usually sat lightly on her, made her head ache today, and she
continued, nervously:  "Take Michelangelo into his office!  But
what preparations has he had, what training?  Has he ever studied
for the law?"

"No; I don't think he has, darling; but he WOULD; I can promise you
he would," the Marchesa declared, in the tone of one saying:  "In
such straits, he would become a street-cleaner."

Pauline smiled faintly.  "I don't think you understand.  The law is
a profession."  (Dexter had told her that.)  "It requires years of
training, of preparation.  Michelangelo would have to take a degree
at Harvard or Columbia first.  But perhaps"--a glance at her wrist-
watch told her that her next engagement impended--"perhaps Dexter
could suggest some other kind of employment.  I don't know, of
course. . .  I can't promise. . .  But meanwhile . . ."  She turned
to her writing-table, and a cheque passed between them, too small
to make a perceptible impression on Michelangelo's deficit, but
large enough for Amalasuntha to murmur:  "How you do spoil me,
darling!  Well--for the boy's sake I accept in all simplicity.  And
about the reception for the Cardinal--I'm sure a cable to Venturino
will arrange it.  Would that kind Maisie send it off, and sign my
name?"



It was well after three o'clock when Pauline came down the Lindons'
door-step and said to her chauffeur:  "To Mr. Wyant's."  And she
had still to crowd in her eurythmic exercises (put off from the
morning), and be ready at half-past four, bathed, waved and
apparelled, for the Mothers' Day Meeting, which was to take place
in her own ball-room, with a giant tea to follow.

Certainly, no amount of "mental deep-breathing," and all the other
exercises in serenity, could combat the nervous apprehension
produced by this breathless New York life.  Today she really felt
it to be too much for her: she leaned back and closed her lids with
a sigh.  But she was jerked back to consciousness by the traffic-
control signal, which had immobilized the motor just when every
moment was so precious.  The result of every one's being in such a
hurry to get everywhere was that nobody could get anywhere.  She
looked across the triple row of motors in line with hers, and saw
in each (as if in a vista of mirrors) an expensively dressed woman
like herself, leaning forward in the same attitude of repressed
impatience, the same nervous frown of hurry on her brow.

Oh, if only she could remember to relax!

But how could one, with everything going wrong as it was today?
The visit to Fanny Lindon had been an utter failure.  Pauline had
apparently overestimated her influence on the Lindons, and that
discovery in itself was rather mortifying.  To be told that the
Mahatma business was "a family affair"--and thus be given to
understand that she was no longer of the family!  Pauline, in her
own mind, had never completely ceased to be a Wyant.  She thought
herself still entitled to such shadowy prerogatives as the name
afforded, and was surprised that the Wyants should not think so
too.  After all, she kept Amalasuntha for them--no slight charge!

But Mrs. Lindon had merely said it was "all too painful"--and had
ended, surprisingly:  "Dexter himself has specially asked us not to
say anything."

The implication was:  "If you want to find out, go to him!"--when
of course Fanny knew well enough that lawyers' and doctors' wives
are the last people to get at their clients' secrets.

Pauline rose to her feet, offended, and not averse from showing it.
"Well, my dear, I can only say that if it's so awful that you can't
tell ME, I rather wonder at your wanting to tell Tom, Dick and
Harry.  Have you thought of that?"

Oh, yes, she had, Mrs. Lindon wailed.  "But Grant says it's a
duty . . . and so does Dexter. . ."

Pauline permitted herself a faint smile.  "Dexter naturally takes
the lawyer's view: that's HIS duty."

Mrs. Lindon's mind was not alert for innuendos.  "Yes; he says we
OUGHT to," she merely repeated.

A sudden lassitude overcame Pauline.  "At least send Grant to me
first--let me talk to him."

But to herself she said:  "My only hope now is to get at them
through Arthur."  And she looked anxiously out of the motor,
watching for the signal to shift.

Everything at Arthur Wyant's was swept and garnished for her
approach.  One felt that cousin Eleanor, whisking the stray
cigarette-ends into the fire, and giving the sofa cushions a last
shake, had slipped out of the back door as Mrs. Manford entered by
the front.

Wyant greeted her with his usual rather overdone cordiality.  He
had never quite acquired the note on which discarded husbands
should welcome condescending wives.  In this respect Pauline was
his superior.  She had found the exact blend of gravity with
sisterly friendliness; and the need of having to ask about his
health always helped her over the first moments.

"Oh, you see--still mummified."  He pointed to the leg stretched
out in front of him.  "Couldn't even see Amalasuntha to the door--"

"Amalasuntha?  Has she been here?"

"Yes.  Asked herself to lunch.  Rather a to-do for me; I'm not used
to entertaining distinguished foreigners, especially when they have
to picnic on a tray at my elbow.  But she took it all very good-
naturedly."

"I should think so," Pauline murmured; adding inwardly:  "Trust
Amalasuntha not to pay for her own lunch."

"Yes; she's in great feather.  Said you'd been so kind to her--as
usual."

Pauline sounded the proper deprecation.

"She's awfully pleased at your having promised that Manford would
give Michelangelo a leg up if he comes out to try his luck in New
York."

"Promised?  Well--not quite.  But I did say Dexter would do what he
could.  It seems the only way left of disposing of Michelangelo."

Wyant leaned back, a smile twitching under his moustache.  "Yes--
that young man's a scourge.  And I begin to see why.  Did you see
his picture in bathing tights with the latest lady?"

Pauline waved away the suggestion.  How like Arthur not to realize,
even yet, that such things disgusted her!

"Well, he's the best looking piece of human sculpture I've seen
since I last went through the Vatican galleries.  Regular Apollo.
Funny, the Albany Wyants having a hand in turning out a heathen
divinity.  I was showing the picture to Manford just now, and
telling him the fond mother's comment."

Pauline looked up quickly.  "Has Dexter been here too?"

"Yes; trying to give ME a leg up."  He glanced at his bandages.
"Rather more difficult, that.  I must get it down first--to the
floor.  But Manford's awfully kind too--it's catching.  He wants me
to go off with Jim, down to that island of his, and get a
fortnight's real sunshine.  Says he can get Jim off by a little
wirepulling, some time just before Easter, he thinks.  It's
tempting--"

Pauline smiled: she was always pleased when the two men spoke of
each other in that tone; and certainly it WAS kind of Dexter to
offer the hospitality of his southern island to poor Arthur. . .
She thought how easy life would be if only every one were kind and
simple.

"But about Michelangelo: I was going to tell you what is worrying
Amalasuntha.  Of course what she means by Michelangelo's going into
business in America is marrying an heiress--"

"Oh, of course.  And I daresay he will."

"Exactly.  She's got her eye on one already.  You haven't guessed?
Nona!"

Pauline's sense of humour was not unfailing, but this relaxed her
taut nerves, and she laughed.  "Poor Michelangelo!"

"I thought it wouldn't worry you.  But what is worrying Amalasuntha
is that he won't be LET--"

"Be let?"

"By Lita.  Her theory is that Lita will fall madly in love with
Michelangelo as soon as she lays eyes on him--and that when they've
had one dance together she'll be lost.  And Amalasuntha, for that
reason--though she daren't tell you so--thinks it might really be
cheaper in the end to pay Michelangelo's debts than to import him.
As she says, it's for the family to decide, now she's warned them."

Their laughter mingled.  It was the first time, perhaps, since they
had been young together; as a rule, their encounters were untinged
with levity.

But Pauline dismissed the laugh hurriedly for the Grant Lindons.
At the name Wyant's eyes lit up: it was as if she had placed an
appetizing morsel before a listless convalescent.

"But you're the very person to tell me all about it--or, no, you
can't, of course, if Manford's going to take it up.  But no matter--
after all, it's public property by this time.  Seen this morning's
'Looker-on'--with pictures?  Here, where--"  In the stack of
illustrated papers always at his elbow he could never find the one
he wanted, and now began to toss over "Prattlers," "Listeners" and
others with helpless hand.  How that little symptom of inefficiency
took her back to the old days, when his perpetual disorder, and his
persistent belief that he could always put his hand on everything,
used to be such a strain on her nerves!

"Pictures?" she gasped.

"Rather.  The nigger himself, in turban and ritual togs; and a lot
of mixed nudes doing leg-work round a patio.  The place looks like
a Palm Beach Hotel.  Fanny Lindon's in a stew because she's
recognized Bee in the picture.  She says she's going to have the
man in jail if they spend their last penny on it.  Hullo--here it
is, after all."

Pauline shrank back.  Would people never stop trying to show her
disgusting photographs?  She articulated:  "You haven't seen Fanny
Lindon too?"

"Haven't I?  She spent the morning here.  She told Amalasuntha
everything."

Pauline, with a great effort, controlled her rising anger.  "How
idiotic!  Now it WILL be spread to all the winds!"  She saw Fanny
and Amalasuntha gloatingly exchanging the images of their
progenies' dishonour.  It was too indecent . . . and the old New
Yorker was as shameless as the demoralized foreigner.

"I didn't know Fanny had been here before me.  I've just left her.
I've been trying to persuade her to stop; to hush up the whole
business before it's too late.  I suppose you gave her the same
advice?"

Wyant's face clouded: he looked perplexedly at his former wife, and
she saw he had lost all sense of the impropriety and folly of the
affair in his famished enjoyment of its spicy details.

"I don't know--I understood it WAS too late; and that Manford was
urging them to do it."

Pauline made a slight movement of impatience.  "Dexter--of course!
When he sees a 'case'!  I suppose lawyers are all alike.  At any
rate, I can't make him understand. . ."  She broke off, suddenly
aware that the rles were reversed, and that for the first time she
was disparaging her second husband to her first.  "Besides," she
hurried on, "it's no affair of Dexter's if the Lindons choose to
dishonour their child publicly.  They're not HIS relations; Bee is
not HIS cousin's daughter.  But you and I--how can we help feeling
differently?  Bee and Nona and Jim were all brought up together.
You must help me to stop this scandal!  You must send for Grant
Lindon at once.  He's sure to listen to you . . . you've always had
a great influence on Grant. . ."

She found herself, in her extremity, using the very arguments she
had addressed to Manford, and she saw at once that in this case
they were more effective.  Wyant drew himself up stiffly with a
faint smile of satisfaction.  Involuntarily he ran a thin gouty
hand through his hair, and tried for a glimpse of himself in the
mirror.

"Think so--really?  Of course when Grant was a boy he used to
consider me a great fellow.  But now . . . who remembers me in my
dingy corner?"

Pauline rose with her clear wintry smile.  "A good many of us, it
seems.  You tell me I'm the third lady to call on you today!  You
know well enough, Arthur--" she brushed the name in lightly, on the
extreme tip of her smile--"that the opinion of people like you
still counts in New York, even in these times.  Imagine what your
mother would have felt at the idea of Fanny and Bee figuring in all
the daily headlines, with reporters and photographers in a queue on
the doorstep!  I'm glad she hasn't lived to see it."

She knew that Wyant's facile irony always melted before an
emotional appeal, especially if made in his mother's name.  He
blinked unsteadily, and flung away the "Looker-on."

"You're dead right: they're a pack of fools.  There are no
standards left.  I'll do what I can; I'll telephone to Grant to
look in on his way home this evening. . .  I say, Pauline: what's
the truth of it all, anyhow?  If I'm to give him a talking to I
ought to know."  His eyes again lit up with curiosity.

"Truth of it?  There isn't any--it's the silliest mare's-nest!
Why, I'm going to Dawnside for a rest-cure next month, while
Dexter's tarpon-fishing.  The Mahatma is worlds above all this
tattle--it's for the Lindons I'm anxious, not him."

The paper thrown aside by Wyant had dropped to the floor, face
upward at a full-page picture--THE picture.  Pauline, on her way
out, mechanically yielded to her instinct for universal tidying,
and bent to pick it up; bent and looked.  Her eyes were still keen;
passing over the noxious caption "Dawnside Co-Eds," they
immediately singled out Bee Lindon from the capering round; then
travelled on, amazed, to another denuded nymph . . . whose face,
whose movements. . .  Incredible! . . .  For a second Pauline
refused to accept what her eyes reported.  Sick and unnerved, she
folded the picture away and laid the magazine on a table.

"Oh, don't bother about picking up that paper.  Sorry there's no
one to show you out!" she heard Wyant calling.  She went
downstairs, blind, unbelieving, hardly knowing how she got into her
motor.

Barely time to get home, change, and be in the Chair, her address
before her, when the Mothers arrived in their multitude. . .



IX


Well, perhaps Dexter would understand NOW the need of hushing up
the Grant Lindons. . .  The picture might be a libel, of course--
such things, Pauline knew, could be patched up out of quite
unrelated photographs.  The dancing circle might have been
skilfully fitted into the Dawnside patio, and goodness knew what
shameless creatures have supplied the bodies of the dancers.
Dexter had often told her that it was a common blackmailing trick.

Even if the photograph were genuine, Pauline could understand and
make allowances.  She had never seen anything of the kind herself
at Dawnside--heaven forbid!--but whenever she had gone there for a
lecture, or a new course of exercises, she had suspected that the
bare whitewashed room, with its throned Buddha, which received her
and other like-minded ladies of her age, all active, earnest and
eager for self-improvement, had not let them very far into the
mystery.  Beyond, perhaps, were other rites, other settings: why
not?  Wasn't everybody talking about "the return to Nature," and
ridiculing the American prudery in which the minds and bodies of
her generation had been swaddled?  The Mahatma was one of the
leaders of the new movement: the Return to Purity, he called it.
He was always celebrating the nobility of the human body, and
praising the ease of the loose Oriental dress compared with the
constricting western garb: but Pauline had supposed the draperies
he advocated to be longer and less transparent; above all, she had
not expected familiar faces above those insufficient scarves. . .

But here she was at her own door.  There was just time to be ready
for the Mothers; none in which to telephone to Dexter, or buy up
the whole edition of the "Looker-on" (fantastic vision!), or try
and get hold of its editor, who had once dined with her, and was
rather a friend of Lita's.  All these possibilities and
impossibilities raced through her brain to the maddening tune of
"too late" while she slipped off her street-dress and sat twitching
with impatience under the maid's readjustment of her ruffled head.
The gown prepared for the meeting, rich, matronly and just the
least bit old-fashioned--very different from the one designed for
the Birth Control committee--lay spread out beside the copy of her
speech, and Maisie Bruss, who had been hovering within call, dashed
back breathless from a peep over the stairs.

"They're arriving--"

"Oh, Maisie, rush down!  Say I'm telephoning--"

Her incurable sincerity made her unhook the receiver and call out
Manford's office number.  Almost instantly she heard him.  "Dexter,
this Mahatma investigation must be stopped!  Don't ask me why--
there isn't time.  Only promise--"

She heard his impatient laugh.

"No?"

"Impossible," came back.

She supposed she had hung up the receiver, fastened on her jewelled
"Motherhood" badge, slipped on rings and bracelets as usual.  But
she remembered nothing clearly until she found herself on the
platform at the end of the packed ball-room, looking across rows
and rows of earnest confiding faces, with lips and eyes prepared
for the admiring reception of her "message."  She was considered a
very good speaker: she knew how to reach the type of woman
represented by this imposing assemblage--delegates from small towns
all over the country, united by a common faith in the infinite
extent of human benevolence and the incalculable resources of
American hygiene.  Something of the moral simplicity of her own
bringing-up brought her close to these women, who had flocked to
the great perfidious city serenely unaware of its being anything
more, or other, than the gigantic setting of a Mothers' Meeting.
Pauline, at such times, saw the world through their eyes, and was
animated by a genuine ardour for the cause of motherhood and
domesticity.

As she turned toward her audience a factitious serenity descended
on her.  She felt in control of herself and of the situation.  She
spoke.

"Personality--first and last, and at all costs.  I've begun my talk
to you with that one word because it seems to me to sum up our
whole case.  Personality--room to develop in: not only elbow-room
but body-room and soul-room, and plenty of both.  That's what every
human being has a right to.  No more effaced wives, no more
drudging mothers, no more human slaves crushed by the eternal round
of housekeeping and child-bearing--"

She stopped, drew a quick breath, met Nona's astonished gaze over
rows of bewildered eye-glasses, and felt herself plunging into an
abyss.  But she caught at the edge, and saved herself from the
plunge--

"That's what our antagonists say--the women who are afraid to be
mothers, ashamed to be mothers, the women who put their enjoyment
and their convenience and what they call their happiness before the
mysterious heaven-sent joy, the glorious privilege, of bringing
children into the world--"

A round of applause from the reassured mothers.  She had done it!
She had pulled off her effect from the very jaws of disaster.  Only
the swift instinct of recovery had enabled her, before it was too
late, to pass off the first sentences of her other address, her
Birth Control speech, as the bold exordium of her hymn to
motherhood!  She paused a moment, still inwardly breathless, yet
already sure enough of herself to smile back at Nona across her
unsuspecting audience--sure enough to note that her paradoxical
opening had had a much greater effect than she could have hoped to
produce by the phrases with which she had meant to begin.

A hint for future oratory--

Only--the inward nervousness subsisted.  The discovery that she
could lose not only her self-control but her memory, the very sense
of what she was saying, was like a hand of ice pointing to an
undecipherable warning.

Nervousness, fatigue, brain-exhaustion . . . had her fight against
them been vain?  What was the use of all the months and years of
patient Taylorized effort against the natural human fate: against
anxiety, sorrow, old age--if their menace was to reappear whenever
events slipped from her control?

The address ended in applause and admiring exclamations.  She had
won her way straight to those trustful hearts, still full of
personal memories of a rude laborious life, or in which its stout
tradition lingered on in spite of motors, money and the final word
in plumbing.



Pauline, after the dispersal of the Mothers, had gone up to her
room still dazed by the narrowness of her escape.  Thank heaven she
had a free hour!  She threw herself on her lounge and turned her
gaze inward upon herself: an exercise for which she seldom had the
leisure.

Now that she knew she was safe, and had done nothing to discredit
herself or the cause, she could penetrate an inch or two farther
into the motive power of her activities; and what she saw there
frightened her.  To be Chairman of the Mothers' Day Association,
and a speaker at the Birth Control banquet!  It did not need her
daughter's derisive chuckle to give her the measure of her
inconsequence.  Yet to reconcile these contradictions had seemed as
simple as to invite the Chief Rabbi and the Bishop of New York to
meet Amalasuntha's Cardinal.  Did not the Mahatma teach that, to
the initiated, all discords were resolved into a higher harmony?
When her hurried attention had been turned for a moment on the
seeming inconsistency of encouraging natality and teaching how to
restrict it, she had felt it was sufficient answer to say that the
two categories of people appealed to were entirely different, and
could not be "reached" in the same way.  In ethics, as in
advertising, the main thing was to get at your public.  Hitherto
this argument had satisfied her.  Feeling there was much to be said
on both sides, she had thrown herself with equal zeal into the
propagation of both doctrines; but now, surveying her attempt with
a chastened eye, she doubted its expediency.

Maisie Bruss, appearing with notes and telephone messages, seemed
to reflect this doubt in her small buttoned-up face.

"Oh, Maisie!  Is there anything important?  I'm dead tired."  It
was an admission she did not often make.

"Nothing much.  Three or four papers have 'phoned for copies of
your address.  It was a great success."

A faint glow of satisfaction wavered through Pauline's
perplexities.  She did not pretend to eloquence; she knew her
children smiled at her syntax.  Yet she had reached the hearts of
her audience, and who could deny that that was success?

"Oh, Maisie--I don't think it's good enough to appear in print . . ."

The secretary smiled, made a short-hand memorandum, and went on:
"The Marchesa telephoned that her son is sailing on Wednesday--and
I've sent off her cable about the Cardinal, answer paid."

"Sailing on Wednesday?  But it can't be--the day after tomorrow!"
Pauline raised herself on an anxious elbow.  She had warned her
husband, and he wouldn't listen.  "Telephone downstairs, please,
Maisie--find out if Mr. Manford has come in."  But she knew well
enough what the answer would be.  Nowadays, whenever there was
anything serious to be talked over, Dexter found some excuse for
avoiding her.  She lay back, her lids dropped over her tired eyes,
and waited for the answer:  "Mr. Manford isn't in yet."

Something had come over Dexter lately: no closing of her eyes would
shut that out!  She supposed it was over-work--the usual reason.
Rich men's doctors always said they were over-worked when they
became cross and trying at home.

"Dinner at the Toys' at 8.30."  Miss Bruss continued her recital;
and Pauline drew in her lips on a faintly bitter smile.  At the
Toys'--he wouldn't forget that!  Whenever there was a woman who
attracted him . . . why, Lita even . . . she'd seen him in a
flutter once when he was going to the cinema with Lita, and thought
she had forgotten to call for him!  He had stamped up and down,
watch in hand. . .  Well, she supposed it was one of the symptoms
of middle age: a passing phase.  She could afford to be generous,
after twenty years of his devotion; and she meant to be.  Men
didn't grow old as gracefully as women--she knew enough not to nag
him about his little flirtations, and was really rather grateful to
that silly Gladys Toy for making a fuss over him.

But when it came to serious matters, like this of the Mahatma, it
was different, Dexter owed it to her to treat her opinions with
more consideration--a woman whose oratory was sought for by a dozen
newspapers!  And that tiresome business of Michelangelo; another
problem he had obstinately shirked.  Discouragement closed in on
Pauline.  Of what use were eurythmics, cold douches, mental deep-
breathings and all the other panaceas?

If things went on like this she would have to have her face lifted.



X


It was exasperating, the way the Vollard girl lurked and ogled. . .
Undoubtedly she was their best typist: mechanically perfect, with a
smattering of French and Italian useful in linguistic emergencies.
There could be no question of replacing her.  But, apart from her
job, what a poor Poll!  And always--there was no denying it, the
office smiled over it--always finding excuses to intrude on
Manford's privacy: a hurry trunk-call, a signature forgotten, a
final question to ask, a message from one of the other members of
the firm . . . she seized her pretexts cleverly. . .  And when she
left him nowadays, he always got up, squared his shoulders, studied
himself critically in the mirror over the mantelpiece, and hated
her the more for having caused him to do anything so silly.

This afternoon her excuse had been flimsier than usual: a new point
to be noted against her.  "One of the gentlemen left it on his
desk.  There's a picture in it that'll amuse you.  Oh, you don't
mind my bringing it in?" she gasped.

Manford was just leaving; overcoat on, hat and stick in hand.  He
muttered:  "Oh, thanks," and took the "Looker-on" in order to cut
short her effusions.  A picture that might amuse him!  The
simpleton. . .  Probably some of those elaborate "artistic" studies
of the Cedarledge gardens.  He remembered that his wife had allowed
the "Looker-on" photographers to take them last summer.  She
thought it a duty: it might help to spread the love of gardening
(another of her hobbies); and besides it was undemocratic to refuse
to share one's private privileges with the multitude.  He knew all
her catch-words and had reached the point of wondering how much she
would have valued her privileges had the multitude not been there
to share them.

He thrust the magazine under his arm, and threw it down, half an
hour later, in Lita Wyant's boudoir.  It was so quiet and shadowy
there that he was almost glad Lita was not in, though sometimes her
unpunctuality annoyed him.  This evening, after the rush and
confusion of the day, he found it soothing to await her in this
half-lit room, with its heaped-up cushions still showing where she
had leaned, and the veiled light on two arums in a dark bowl.
Wherever Lita was, there were some of those smooth sculptural
arums.

When she came, the stillness would hardly be disturbed.  She had a
way of deepening it by her presence: noise and hurry died on her
threshold.  And this evening all the house was quiet.  Manford, as
usual, had tiptoed up to take a look at the baby, in the night
nursery where there were such cool silver-coloured walls, and white
hyacinths in pots of silvery lustre.  The baby slept, a round pink
Hercules with defiant rosy curls, his pink hands clenched on the
coverlet.  Even the nurse by the lamp sat quiet and silver-coloured
as a brooding pigeon.

A house without fixed hours, engagements, obligations . . . where
none of the clocks went, and nobody was late, because there was no
particular time for anything to happen.  Absurd, of course,
maddeningly unpractical--but how restful after a crowded day!  And
what a miracle to have achieved, in the tight pattern of New York's
tasks and pleasures--in the very place which seemed doomed to
collapse and vanish if ever its clocks should stop!

These late visits had begun by Manford's dropping in on the way
home for a look at the baby.  He liked babies in their cribs, and
especially this fat rascal of Jim's.  Next to Nona, there was no
one he cared for as much as Jim; and seeing Jim happily married,
doing well at his bank, and with that funny little chap upstairs,
stirred in the older man all his old regrets that he had no son.

Jim seldom got back early enough to assist at these visits; and
Lita too, at first, was generally out.  But in the last few months
Manford had more often found her--or at least, having fallen into
the habit of lingering over a cigarette in her boudoir, had managed
to get a glimpse of her before going on to that other house where
all the clocks struck simultaneously, and the week's engagements,
in Maisie Bruss's hand, jumped out at him as he entered his study.

This evening he felt more than usually tired--of his day, his work,
his life, himself--oh, especially himself; so tired that, the deep
armchair aiding, he slipped into a half-doze in which the quietness
crept up round him like a tide.

He woke with a start, imagining that Lita had entered, and feeling
the elderly man's discomfiture when beauty finds him napping. . .
But the room was empty: a movement of his own had merely knocked
Miss Vollard's magazine to the floor.  He remembered having brought
it in to show Lita the photographs of Cedarledge which he supposed
it to contain.  Would there be time?  He consulted his watch--an
anachronism in that house--lit another cigarette, and leaned back
contentedly.  He knew that as soon as he got home Pauline, who had
telephoned again that afternoon about the Mahatma, would contrive
to corner him and reopen the tiresome question, together with
another, which threatened to be almost equally tiresome, about
paying that rotten Michelangelo's debts.  "If we don't, we shall
have him here on our hands: Amalasuntha is convinced you'll take
him into the firm.  You'd better come home in time to talk things
over--."  Always talking over, interfering, adjusting!  He had
enough of that in his profession.  Pity Pauline wasn't a lawyer:
she might have worked off her steam in office hours.  He would sit
quietly where he was, taking care to reach his house only just in
time to dress and join her in the motor.  They were dining out, he
couldn't remember where.

For a moment his wife's figure stood out before him in brilliant
stony relief, like a photograph seen through a stereopticon; then
it vanished in the mist of his well-being, the indolence engendered
by waiting there alone and undisturbed for Lita.  Queer creature,
Lita!  His lips twitched into a reminiscent smile.  One day she had
come up noiselessly behind him and surprised him by a light kiss on
his hair.  He had thought it was Nona. . .  Since then he had
sometimes feigned to doze while he waited; but she had never kissed
him again. . .

What sort of a life did she really lead, he wondered?  And what did
she make of Jim, now the novelty was over?  He could think of no
two people who seemed less made for each other.  But you never
could tell with a woman.  Jim was young and adoring; and there was
that red-headed boy. . .

Luckily Lita liked Nona, and the two were a good deal together.
Nona was as safe as a bank--and as jolly as a cricket.  Everything
was sure to be right when she was there.  But there were all the
other hours, intervals that Manford had no way of accounting for;
and Pauline always said the girl had had a queer bringing-up, as
indeed any girl must have had at the hands of Mrs. Percy Landish.
Pauline had objected to the marriage on that ground, though the
modern mother's respect for the independence of her children had
reduced her objection to mere shadowy hints of which Jim, in his
transports, took no heed.

Manford also disliked the girl at first, and deplored Jim's choice.
He thought Lita positively ugly, with her high cheekbones, her too
small head, her glaring clothes and conceited lackadaisical airs.
Then, as time passed, and the marriage appeared after all to be
turning out well, he tried to interest himself in her for Jim's
sake, to see in her what Jim apparently did.  But the change had
not come till the boy's birth.  Then, as she lay in her pillows, a
new shadowiness under her golden lashes, one petal of a hand
hollowed under the little red head at her side, the vision struck
to his heart.  The enchantment did not last; he never recaptured
it; there were days when what he called her "beauty airs"
exasperated him, others when he was chilled by her triviality.  But
she never bored him, never ceased to excite in him a sort of
irritated interest.  He told himself that it was because one could
never be sure what she was up to; speculating on what went on
behind that smooth round forehead and those elusive eyes became his
most absorbing occupation.

At first he used to be glad when Nona turned up, and when Jim came
in from his bank, fagged but happy, and the three young people sat
talking nonsense, and letting Manford smoke and listen.  But
gradually he had fallen into the way of avoiding Nona's days, and
of coming earlier (extricating himself with difficulty from his
professional engagements), so that he might find Lita alone before
Jim arrived.

Lately she had seemed restless, vaguely impatient with things; and
Manford was determined to win her confidence and get at the riddle
behind that smooth round brow.  He could not bear the idea that
Jim's marriage might turn out to be a mere unsuccessful adventure,
like so many others.  Lita must be made to understand what a
treasure she possessed, and how easily she might lose it.  Lita
Cliffe--Mrs. Percy Landish's niece--to have had the luck to marry
Jim Wyant, and to risk estranging him!  What fools women were!  If
she could be got away from the pack of frauds and flatterers who
surrounded her, Manford felt sure he could bring her to her senses.
Sometimes, in her quiet moods, she seemed to depend on his
judgment, to defer rather touchingly to what he said. . .

The thing would be to coax her from jazz and night-clubs, and the
pseudo-artistic rabble of house-decorators, cinema stars and
theatrical riff-raff who had invaded her life, to get her back to
country joys, golf and tennis and boating, all the healthy outdoor
activities.  She liked them well enough when there were no others
available.  She had owned to Manford that she was sick of the rush
and needed a rest; had half promised to come to Cedarledge with the
boy for Easter.  Jim would be taking his father down to the island
off the Georgia coast; and Jim's being away might be a good thing.
These modern young women soon tired of what they were used to; Lita
would appreciate her husband all the more after a separation.

Well, only a few weeks more, and perhaps it would come true.  She
had never seen the Cedarledge dogwood in bud, the woods trembling
into green.  Manford, smiling at the vision, stooped to pick up the
"Looker-on" and refresh his memory.

But it wasn't the right number: there were no gardens in it.  Why
had Miss Vollard given it to him?  As he fluttered the pages they
dropped open at:  "Oriental Sage in Native Garb"--.  Oh, damn the
Mahatma!  "Dawnside Co-Eds"--oh, damn. . .

He stood up to thrust the paper under one of the heavily-shaded
lamps.  At home, where Pauline and reason ruled, the lighting was
disposed in such a way that one could always read without moving
from one's chair; but in this ridiculous house, where no one ever
opened a book, the lamps were so perversely placed, and so deeply
shrouded, that one had to hold one's paper under the shade to make
out anything.

He scrutinized the picture, shrugged away his disgusted recognition
of Bee Lindon, looked again and straightened his eye-glasses on his
nose to be doubly sure--the lawyer's instinct of accuracy
prevailing over a furious inward tremor.

He walked to the door, and then turned back and stood irresolute.
To study the picture he had lifted the border of the lampshade, and
the light struck crudely on the statue above Lita's divan; the
statue of which Pauline (to her children's amusement) always said a
little apprehensively that she supposed it must be Cubist.  Manford
had hardly noticed the figure before, except to wonder why the
young people admired ugliness: half lost in the shadows of the
niche, it seemed a mere bundle of lumpy limbs.  Now, in the glare--
"Ah, you carrion, you!"  He clenched his fist at it.  "THAT'S what
they want--that's their brutish idol!"  The words came stammering
from him in a blur of rage.  It was on Jim's account . . . the
shock, the degradation. . .  The paper slipped to the floor, and he
dropped into his seat again.

Slowly his mind worked its way back through the disgust and
confusion.  Pauline had been right: what could one expect from a
girl brought up in that Landish house?  Very likely no one had ever
thought of asking where she was, where she had been--Mrs. Landish,
absorbed in her own silly affairs, would be the last person to
know.

Well, what of that?  The modern girl was always free, was expected
to know how to use her freedom.  Nona's independence had been as
scrupulously respected as Jim's; she had had her full share of the
perpetual modern agitations.  Yet Nona was firm as a rock: a man's
heart could build on her.  If a woman was naturally straight, jazz
and night-clubs couldn't make her crooked. . .

True, in Nona's case there had been Pauline's influence: Pauline
who, whatever her faults, was always good-humoured and usually wise
with her children.  The proof was that, while they laughed at her,
they adored her: he had to do her that justice.  At the thought of
Pauline a breath of freshness and honesty swept through him.  He
had been unfair to her lately, critical, irritable.  He had been
absorbing a slow poison, the poison emanating from this dusky self-
conscious room, with all its pernicious implications.  His first
impression of Lita, when he had thought her ugly and pretentious,
rushed back on him, dissipating the enchantment.

"Oh, I'm glad you waited--"  She was there before him, her little
heart-shaped face deep in its furs, like a bird on the nest.  "I
wanted to see you today; I WILLED you to wait."  She stood there,
her head slightly on one side, distilling her gaze through half-
parted lids like some rare golden liquid.

Manford stared back.  Her entrance had tangled up the words in his
throat: he stood before her choked with denunciation and invective.
And then it occurred to him how much easier it was just to say
nothing--and to go.  Of course he meant to go.  It was no business
of his: Jim Wyant was not his son.  Thank God he could wash his
hands of the whole affair.

He mumbled:  "Dining out.  Can't wait."

"Oh, but you must!"  Her hand was on his arm, as light as a petal.
"I want you."  He could just see the twinkle of small round teeth
as her upper lip lifted. . .  "Can't . . . can't."  He tried to
disengage his voice, as if that too were tangled up in her.

He moved away toward the door.  The "Looker-on" lay on the floor
between them.  So much the better; she would find it when he was
gone!  She would understand then why he hadn't waited.  And no fear
of Jim's getting hold of the paper; trust her to make it disappear!

"Why, what's that?"  She bent her supple height to pick it up and
moved to the lamp, her face alight.

"You darling, you--did you bring me this?  What luck!  I've been
all over the place hunting for a copy--the whole edition's sold
out.  I had the original photograph somewhere, but couldn't put my
hand on it."

She had reached the fatal page; she was spreading it open.  Her
smile caressed it; her mouth looked like a pink pod bursting on a
row of pearly seeds.  She turned to Manford almost tenderly.
"After you prevented my going to Ardwin's I had to swear to send
this to Klawhammer, to show that I really CAN dance.  Tommy
telephoned at daylight that Klawhammer was off to Hollywood, and
that when I chucked last night they all said it was because I knew
I couldn't come up to the scratch."  She held out the picture with
an air of pride.  "Doesn't look much like it, does it? . . .  Why,
what are you staring at?  Didn't you know I was going in for the
movies?  Immobility was never my strong point. . ."  She threw the
paper down, and began to undo her furs with a lazy smile, sketching
a dance step as she did so.  "Why do you look so shocked?  If I
don't do that I shall run away with Michelangelo.  I suppose you
know that Amalasuntha's importing him?  I can't stick this sort of
thing much longer. . .  Besides, we've all got a right to self-
expression, haven't we?"

Manford continued to look at her.  He hardly heard what she was
saying, in the sickness of realizing what she was.  Those were the
thoughts, the dreams, behind those temples on which the light laid
such pearly circles!

He said slowly:  "This picture--it's true, then?  You've been
there?"

"Dawnside?  Bless you--where'd you suppose I learnt to dance?  Aunt
Kitty used to plant me out there whenever she wanted to go off on
her own--which was pretty frequently."  She had tossed of her hat,
slipped out of her furs, and lowered the flounce of the lamp-shade;
and there she stood before him in her scant slim dress, her arms,
bare to the shoulder, lifted in an amphora-gesture to her little
head.

"Oh, children--but I'm bored!" she yawned.



BOOK II



XI


Pauline Manford was losing faith in herself; she felt the need of a
new moral tonic.  Could she still obtain it from the old sources?
The morning after the Toys' dinner, considering the advisability of
repairing to that small bare room at Dawnside where the Mahatma
gave his private audiences, she felt a chill of doubt.  She would
have preferred, just then, not to be confronted with the sage; in
going to him she risked her husband's anger, and prudence warned
her to keep out of the coming struggle.  If the Mahatma should ask
her to intervene she could only answer that she had already done so
unsuccessfully; and such admissions, while generally useless, are
always painful.  Yet guidance she must have: no Papist in quest of
"direction" (wasn't that what Amalasuntha called it?) could have
felt the need more acutely.  Certainly the sacrament of confession,
from which Pauline's ingrained Protestantism recoiled in horror,
must have its uses at such moments.  But to whom, if not to the
Mahatma, could she confess?

Dexter had gone down town without asking to see her; she had been
sure he would, after their drive to and from the Toys' the evening
before.  When he was in one of his moods of clenched silence--they
were becoming more frequent, she had remarked--she knew the
uselessness of interfering.  Echoes of the Freudian doctrine,
perhaps rather confusedly apprehended, had strengthened her faith
in the salutariness of "talking things over," and she longed to
urge this remedy again on Dexter; but the last time she had done so
he had wounded her by replying that he preferred an aperient.  And
in his present mood of stony inaccessibility he might say something
even coarser.

She sat in her boudoir, painfully oppressed by an hour of
unexpected leisure.  The facial-massage artist had the grippe, and
had notified her only at the last moment.  To be sure, she had
skipped her "Silent Meditation" that morning; but she did not feel
in the mood for it now.  And besides, an hour is too long for
meditation--an hour is too long for anything.  Now that she had one
to herself, for the first time in years, she didn't in the least
know what to do with it.  That was something which no one had ever
thought of teaching her; and the sense of being surrounded by a
sudden void, into which she could reach out on all sides without
touching an engagement or an obligation, produced in her a sort of
mental dizziness.  She had taken plenty of rest-cures, of course;
all one's friends did.  But during a rest-cure one was always busy
resting; every minute was crammed with passive activities; one
never had this queer sense of inoccupation, never had to face an
absolutely featureless expanse of time.  It made her feel as if the
world had rushed by and forgotten her.  An hour--why, there was no
way of measuring the length of an empty hour!  It stretched away
into infinity like the endless road in a nightmare; it gaped before
her like the slippery sides of an abyss.  Nervously she began to
wonder what she could do to fill it--if there were not some new
picture show or dressmakers' opening or hygienic exhibition that
she might cram into it before the minute hand switched round to her
next engagement.  She took up her list to see what that engagement
was.

"11.45.  Mrs. Swoffer."

Oh, to be sure . . . Mrs. Swoffer.  Maisie had reminded her that
morning.  The relief was instantaneous.  Only, who WAS Mrs.
Swoffer?  Was she the President of the Militant Pacifists' League,
or the Heroes' Day delegate, or the exponent of the New Religion of
Hope, or the woman who had discovered a wonderful trick for taking
the wrinkles out of the corners of your eyes?  Maisie was out on an
urgent commission, and could not be consulted; but whatever Mrs.
Swoffer's errand was, her arrival would be welcome--especially if
she came before her hour.  And she did.

She was a small plump woman of indefinite age, with faded blond
hair and rambling features held together by a pair of urgent eye-
glasses.  She asked if she might hold Pauline's hand just a moment
while she looked at her and reverenced her--and Pauline, on
learning that this was the result of reading her Mothers' Day
speech in the morning papers, acceded not unwillingly.

Not that that was what Mrs. Swoffer had come for; she said it was
just a flower she wanted to gather on the way.  A rose with the dew
on it--she took off her glasses and wiped them, as if to show where
the dew had come from.  "You speak for so MANY of us," she
breathed, and recovered Pauline's hand for another pressure.

But she HAD come for the children, all the same; and that was
really coming for the mothers, wasn't it?  Only she wanted to reach
the mothers through the children--reversing the usual process.
Mrs. Swoffer said she believed in reversing almost everything.
Standing on your head was one of the most restorative physical
exercises, and she believed it was the same mentally and morally.
It was a good thing to stand one's SOUL upside down.  And so she'd
come about the children. . .

The point was to form a League--a huge International League of
Mothers---against the dreadful old practice of telling children
they were naughty.  Had Mrs. Manford ever stopped to think what an
abominable thing it was to suggest to a pure innocent child that
there was such a thing in the world as Being Naughty?  What did it
open the door to?  Why, to the idea of Wickedness, the most awful
idea in the whole world.

Of course Mrs. Manford would see at once what getting rid of the
idea of Wickedness would lead to.  How could there be bad men if
there were no bad children?  And how could there be bad children if
children were never allowed to know that such a thing as badness
existed?  There was a splendid woman--Orba Clapp; no doubt Mrs.
Manford had heard of her?--who was getting up a gigantic world-wide
movement to boycott the manufacturers and sellers of all military
toys, tin soldiers, cannon, toy rifles, water-pistols and so on.
It was a grand beginning, and several governments had joined the
movement already: the Philippines, Mrs. Swoffer thought, and
possibly Montenegro.  But that seemed to her only a beginning: much
as she loved and revered Orba Clapp, she couldn't honestly say that
she thought the scheme went deep enough.  She, Mrs. Swoffer, wanted
to go right down to the soul: the collective soul of all the little
children.  The great Teacher, Alvah Loft--she supposed Mrs. Manford
knew about HIM?  No?  She was surprised that a woman like Mrs.
Manford--"one of our beacon-lights"--hadn't heard of Alvah Loft.
She herself owed everything to him.  No one had helped her as he
had: he had pulled her out of the very depths of scepticism.  But
didn't Mrs. Manford know his books, even:  "Spiritual Vacuum-
Cleaning" and "Beyond God"?

Pauline had grown a little listless while the children were to the
fore.  She would help, of course; lend her name; subscribe.  But
that string had been so often twanged that it gave out rather a
deadened note: whereas the name of a new Messiah immediately roused
her.  "Beyond God" was a tremendous title; she would get Maisie to
telephone for the books at once.  But what exactly did Alvah Loft
teach?

Mrs. Swoffer's eye-glasses flashed with inspiration.  "He doesn't
teach: he absolutely refuses to be regarded as a TEACHER.  He says
there are too many already.  He's an Inspirational Healer.  What he
does is to ACT on you--on your spirit.  He simply relieves you of
your frustrations."

Frustrations!  Pauline was fascinated by the word.  Not that it was
new to her.  Her vocabulary was fairly large, far more so, indeed,
than that of her daughter's friends, whose range was strictly
limited to sport and dancing; but whenever she heard a familiar
word used as if it had some unsuspected and occult significance it
fascinated her like a phial containing a new remedy.

Mrs. Swoffer's glasses were following Pauline's thoughts as they
formed.  "Will you let me speak to you as I would to an old friend?
The moment I took your hand I KNEW you were suffering from
frustrations.  To any disciple of Alvah Loft's the symptoms are
unmistakeable.  Sometimes I almost wish I didn't see it all so
clearly . . . it gives one such a longing to help. . ."

Pauline murmured:  "I DO want help."

"Of course you do," Mrs. Swoffer purred, "and you want HIS help.
Don't you know those wonderful shoe-shops where they stock every
size and shape the human foot can require?  I tell Alvah Loft he's
like that; he's got a cure for everybody's frustrations.  Of
course," she added, "there isn't time for everybody; he has to
choose.  But he would take YOU at once."  She drew back, and her
glasses seemed to suck Pauline down as if they had been quicksands.
"You're psychic," she softly pronounced.

"I believe I am," Pauline acknowledged.  "But--"

"Yes; I know; those frustrations!  All the things you think you
ought to do, AND CAN'T; that's it, isn't it?"  Mrs. Swoffer stood
up.  "Dear friend, come with me.  Don't look at your watch.  Just
come!"

An hour later Pauline, refreshed and invigorated, descended the
Inspirational Healer's brown-stone doorstep with a springing step.
It had been worth while breaking three or four engagements to
regain that feeling of moral freedom.  Why had she never heard of
Alvah Loft before?  His method was so much simpler than the
Mahatma's: no eurythmics, gymnastics, community life, no mental
deep-breathing, or long words to remember.  Alvah Loft simply took
out your frustrations as if they'd been adenoids; it didn't last
ten minutes, and was perfectly painless.  Pauline had always felt
that the Messiah who should reduce his message to tabloid form
would outdistance all the others; and Alvah Loft had done it.  He
just received you in a boarding-house back-parlour, with bunches of
pampas-grass on the mantelpiece, while rows of patients sat in the
front room waiting their turn.  You told him what was bothering
you, and he said it was just a frustration, and he could relieve
you of it, and make it so that it didn't exist, by five minutes of
silent communion.  And he sat and held you by the wrist, very
lightly, as if he were taking your temperature, and told you to
keep your eyes on the Ella Wheeler Wilcox line-a-day on the wall
over his head.  After it was over he said:  "You're a good subject.
The frustrations are all out.  Go home, and you'll hear something
good before dinner.  Twenty-five dollars."  And a pasty-faced young
man with pale hair, who was waiting in the passage, added:  "Pass
on, please," and steered Pauline out by the elbow.

Of course she wasn't naturally credulous; she prided herself on
always testing everything by reason.  But it WAS marvellous, how
light she felt as she went down the steps!  The buoyancy persisted
all day, perhaps strengthened by an attentive study of the reports
of the Mothers' Day Meeting, laid out by the vigilant Maisie for
perusal.  Alvah Loft had told her that she would hear of something
good before dinner, and when, late in the afternoon, she went up to
her boudoir, she glanced expectantly at the writing-table, as if
revelation might be there.  It was, in the shape of a telephone
message.

"Mr. Manford will be at home by seven.  He would like to see you
for a few minutes before dinner."

It was nearly seven, and Pauline settled herself by the fire and
unfolded the evening paper.  She seldom had time for its perusal,
but today there might be some reference to the Mothers' Day
Meeting; and her newly-regained serenity made it actually pleasant
to be sitting there undisturbed, waiting for her husband.

"Dexter--how tired you look!" she exclaimed when he came in.  It
occurred to her at once that she might possibly insinuate an
allusion to the new healer; but wisdom counselled a waiting policy,
and she laid down her paper and smiled expectantly.

Manford gave his shoulders their usual impatient shake.  "Everybody
looks tired at the end of a New York day; I suppose it's what New
York is for."  He sat down in the armchair facing hers, and stared
at the fire.

"I wanted to see you to talk about plans--a rearrangement," he
began.  "It's so hard to find a quiet minute."

"Yes; but there's no hurry now.  The Delavans don't dine till half-
past eight."

"Oh, are we dining there?"  He reached for a cigarette.

She couldn't help saying:  "I'm sure you smoke too much, Dexter.
The irritation produced by the paper--"

"Yes; I know.  But what I wanted to say is: I should like you to
ask Lita and the boy to Cedarledge while Jim and Wyant are at the
island."

This was a surprise; but she met it with unmoved composure.  "Of
course, if you like.  But do you think Lita'll go, all alone?
You'll be off tarpon-fishing, Nona is going to Asheville for a
fortnight's change, and I had intended--"  She pulled up suddenly.
She had meant, of course, to take her rest-cure at Dawnside.

Manford sat frowning and studying the fire.  "Why shouldn't we all
go to Cedarledge instead?" he began.  "Somebody ought to look after
Lita while Jim's away; in fact, I don't believe he'll go with Wyant
if we don't.  She's dead-beat, and doesn't know it, and with all
the fools she has about her the only way to ensure her getting a
real rest is to carry her off to the country with the boy."

Pauline's face lit up with a blissful incredulity.  "Oh, Dexter--
would you really come to Cedarledge for Easter?  How splendid!  Of
course I'll give up my rest-cure.  As you say, there's no place
like the country."

She was already raising an inward hymn to Alvah Loft.  An Easter
holiday in the country, all together--how long it was since that
had happened!  She had always thought it her duty to urge Dexter to
get away from the family when he had the chance; to travel or shoot
or fish, and not feel himself chained to her side.  And here at
last was her reward--of his own accord he was proposing that they
should all be together for a quiet fortnight.  A softness came
about her heart: the stiff armour of her self-constraint seemed
loosened, and she saw the fire through a luminous blur.  "It will
be lovely," she murmured.

Manford lit another cigarette, and sat puffing it in silence.  It
seemed as though a weight had been lifted from him too; yet his
face was still heavy and preoccupied.  Perhaps before their talk
was over she might be able to say a word about Alvah Loft; she was
so sure that Dexter would see everything differently if only he
could be relieved of his frustrations.

At length he said:  "I don't see why this should interfere with
your arrangements, though.  Hadn't you meant to go somewhere for a
rest-cure?"

He had thought of that too!  She felt a fresh tremor of gratitude.
How wicked she had been ever to doubt the designs of Providence,
and the resolving of all discords in the Higher Harmony!

"Oh, my rest-cure doesn't matter; being with you all at Cedarledge
will be the best kind of rest."

His obvious solicitude for her was more soothing than any medicine,
more magical even than Alvah Loft's silent communion.  Perhaps the
one thing she had lacked, in all these years, was to feel that some
one was worrying about her as she worried about the universe.

"It's awfully unselfish of you, Pauline.  But running a big house
is never restful.  Nona will give up Asheville and come to
Cedarledge to look after us; you mustn't change your plans."

She smiled a little.  "But I MUST, dear; because I'd meant to go to
Dawnside, and now, of course, in any case--"

Manford stood up and went and leaned against the chimney-piece.
"Well, that will be all right," he said.

"All right?"

He was absently turning about in his hand a little bronze
statuette.  "Yes.  If you think the fellow does you good.  I've
been thinking over what you said the other day; and I've decided to
advise the Lindons not to act . . . too precipitately. . ."  He
coughed and put the statuette back on the mantelshelf.  "They've
abandoned the idea. . ."

"Oh, Dexter--"  She started to her feet, her eyes brimming.  He had
actually thought over what she had said to him--when, at the time,
he had seemed so obdurate and sneering!  Her heart trembled with a
happy wonder in which love and satisfied vanity were subtly
mingled.  Perhaps, after all, what her life had really needed was
something much simpler than all the complicated things she had put
into it.

"I'm so glad," she murmured, not knowing what else to say.  She
wanted to hold out her arms, to win from him some answering
gesture.  But he was already glancing at his watch.  "That's all
right.  Jove, though--we'll be late for dinner. . .  Opera
afterward, isn't there?"

The door closed on him.  For a moment or two she stood still, awed
by the sense of some strange presence in the room, something as
fresh and strong as a spring gale.  It must be happiness, she
thought.



XII


"Yes; this morning I think you CAN see her.  She seems ever so much
better; not in such a fearful hurry, I mean."

Pauline, from her dressing-room, overheard Maisie Bruss.  She
smiled at the description of herself, sent a thought of gratitude
to Alvah Loft, and called out:  "Is that Nona?  I'll be there in a
minute.  Just finishing my exercises. . ."

She appeared, fresh and tingling, draped in a restful dove-coloured
wrapper, and offered Nona a smooth cheek.  Miss Bruss had vanished,
and mother and daughter had to themselves the sunny room, full of
flowers and the scent of a wood-fire.

"How wonderful you look, mother!  All made over.  Have you been
trying some new exercises?"

Pauline smiled and pulled up the soft eiderdown coverlet at the
foot of her lounge.  She sank comfortably back among her cushions.

"No, dear: it's just--understanding a little better, I think."

"Understanding?"

"Yes; that things ALWAYS come out right if one just keeps on being
brave and trustful."

"Oh--."  She fancied she caught a note of disappointment in Nona's
voice.  Poor Nona--her mother had long been aware that she had no
enthusiasm, no transports of faith.  She took after her father.
How tired and sallow she looked in the morning light, perched on
the arm of a chair, her long legs dangling!

"You really ought to try to believe that yourself, darling," said
Pauline brightly.

Nona gave one of her father's shrugs.  "Perhaps I will when I have
more time."

"But one can always MAKE time, dear."  ("Just as I do," the smile
suggested.)  "You look thoroughly fagged out, Nona.  I do wish
you'd go to the wonderful new man I've just--"

"All right, mother.  Only, this morning I haven't come to talk
about myself.  It's Lita."

"Lita?"

"I've been wanting to speak to you about her for a long time.
Haven't you noticed anything?"

Pauline still wore her alert and sympathizing smile.  "Tell me
what, dear--let's talk it all over."

Nona's brows were drawn in a troubled frown.

"I'm afraid Jim's not happy," she said.

"Jim?  But, darling, he's been so dreadfully over-worked--that's
the trouble.  Your father spoke to me about it the other day.  He's
sending Jim and Arthur down to the island next month for a good
long rest."

"Yes; it's awfully nice of father.  But it's not that--it's Lita,"
Nona doggedly repeated.

A faint shadow brushed Pauline's cloudless horizon; but she
resolutely turned her eyes from it.  "Tell me what you think is
wrong."

"Why, that she's bored stiff--says she's going to chuck the whole
thing.  She says the life she's leading prevents her expressing her
personality."

"Good gracious--she dares?"  Pauline sat bolt upright, the torn
garment of her serenity fluttering away like a wisp of vapour.  Was
there never to be any peace for her, she wondered?  She had a
movement of passionate rebellion--then a terror lest it should
imperil Alvah Loft's mental surgery.  After a physical operation
the patient's repose was always carefully guarded--but no one
thought of sparing HER, though she had just been subjected to so
radical an extirpation.  She looked almost irritably at Nona.

"Don't you think you sometimes imagine things, my pet?  Of course,
the more we yield to suggestions of pain and distress the more--"

"Yes; I know.  But this isn't a suggestion, it's a fact.  Lita says
she's got to express her personality, or she'll do something
dreadful.  And if she does it will break Jim's heart."

Pauline leaned back, vaguely fortified by so definite a menace.  It
was laughable to think of Lita Cliffe's threatening to do something
dreadful to a Wyant!

"Don't you think she's just over-excited, perhaps?  She leads such
a crazy sort of life--all you children do.  And she hasn't been
very strong since the baby's birth.  I believe she needs a good
rest as much as Jim does.  And you know your father has been so
wise about that; he's going to persuade her to go to Cedarledge for
two or three weeks while Jim's in Georgia."

Nona remained unimpressed.  "Lita won't go to Cedarledge alone--you
know she won't."

"She won't have to, dear.  Your father has thought of that too; he
finds time to think of everything."

"Who's going, then?"

"We ALL are.  At least, your father hopes you will; and he's giving
up his tarpon-fishing on purpose to join us."

"Father is?"  Nona stood up, her gaze suddenly fixed on her mother.

"Your father's wonderful," Pauline triumphed.

"Yes, I know."  The girl's voice flagged again.  "But all this is
weeks away.  And meanwhile I'm afraid--I'm afraid."

"Little girls mustn't be afraid.  If you are, send Lita to ME.  I'm
sure it's just a case of frustration--"

"Frustration?"

"Yes; the new psychological thing.  I'll take her with me to see
Alvah Loft.  He's the great Inspirational Healer.  I've only had
three treatments, and it's miraculous.  It doesn't take ten
minutes, and all one's burdens are lifted."  Pauline threw back her
head with a sigh which seemed to luxuriate in the remembrance of
her own release.  "I wish I could take you ALL to him!" she said.

"Well, perhaps you'd better begin with Lita."  Nona was half-
smiling too, but it was what her mother secretly called her
disintegrating smile.  "I wish the poor child were more
constructive--but I suppose she's inherited her father's legal
mind," Pauline thought.

Nona stood before her irresolutely.  "You know, mother, if things
do go wrong Jim will never get over it."

"There you are again--jumping at the conclusion that things will go
wrong!  As for Lita, to me it's a clear case of frustration.  She
says she wants to express her personality?  Well, every one has the
right to do that--I should think it wrong of me to interfere.  That
wouldn't be the way to make Jim happy.  What Lita needs is to have
her frustrations removed.  That will open her eyes to her
happiness, and make her see what a perfect home she has.  I wonder
where my engagement-list is?  Maisie! . . .  Oh, here. . ."  She
ran her eyes rapidly over the tablet.  "I'll see Lita tomorrow--
I'll make a point of it.  We'll have a friendly simple talk--
perfectly frank and affectionate.  Let me see: at what time should
I be likely to find her? . . .  And, no, of course not, darling; I
wouldn't think of saying a word to Jim.  But your father--surely I
may speak to your father?"

Nona hesitated.  "I think father knows about it--as much as he
need," she answered, her hand on the door.

"Ah, your father always knows everything," Pauline placidly
acquiesced.

The prospect of the talk with her daughter-in-law barely ruffled
her new-found peace.  It was a pity Lita was restless; but nowadays
all the young people were restless.  Perhaps it would be as well to
say a word to Kitty Landish; flighty and inconsequent as she was,
it might open her eyes to find that she was likely to have her
niece back on her hands.  Mrs. Percy Landish's hands were always
full to overflowing with her own difficulties.  A succession of
ingenious theories of life, and the relentless pursuit of
originality, had landed her in a state of chronic embarrassment,
pecuniary, social and sentimental.  The announcement that Lita was
tired of Jim, and threatened to leave him, would fall like a
bombshell on that precarious roof which figured in the New York
Directory as somewhere in the East Hundreds, but was recorded in
the "Social Register" as No. 1 Viking Court.  Mrs. Landish's last
fad had been to establish herself on the banks of the East River,
which she and a group of friends had adorned with a cluster of
reinforced-cement bungalows, first christened El Patio, but altered
to Viking Court after Mrs. Landish had read in an illustrated
weekly that the Vikings, who had discovered America ages before
Columbus, had not, as previously supposed, effected their first
landing at Vineyard Haven, but at a spot not far from the site of
her dwelling.  Cement, at an early stage, is malleable, and the
Alhambra motifs had hastily given way to others from the prows of
Nordic ships, from silver torques and Runic inscriptions, the
latter easily contrived out of Arabic sourats from the Koran.
Before these new ornaments were dry, Mrs. Landish and her friends
were camping on the historic spot; and after four years of
occupancy they were camping still, in Mrs. Manford's sense of the
word.

A hurried telephone call had assured Pauline that she could see
Mrs. Landish directly after lunch; and at two o'clock her motor
drove up to Viking Court, which opened on a dilapidated river-front
and was cynically overlooked by tall tenement houses with an
underpinning of delicatessen stores.

Mrs. Landish was nowhere to be found.  She had had to go out to
lunch, a melancholy maid-servant said, because the cook had just
given notice; but she would doubtless soon be back.  With gingerly
steps Pauline entered the "living-room," so called (as visitors
were unfailingly reminded) because Mrs. Landish ate, painted,
modelled in clay, sculptured in wood, and received her friends
there.  The Vikings, she added, had lived in that way.  But today
all traces of these varied activities had disappeared, and the room
was austerely empty.  Mrs. Landish's last hobby was for what she
called "purism," and her chief desire to make everything in her
surroundings conform to the habits and industries of a mythical
past.  Ever since she had created Viking Court she had been trying
to obtain rushes for the floor: but as the Eastern States of
America did not produce the particular variety of rush which the
Vikings were said to have used she had at last decided to have rugs
woven on handlooms in Abyssinia, some one having assured her that
an inscription referring to trade-relations between the Vikings and
the kingdom of Prester John had been discovered in the ruins of
Petra.

The difficulty of having these rugs made according to designs of
the period caused the cement floor of Mrs. Landish's living-room to
remain permanently bare, and most of the furniture having now been
removed, the room had all the appearance of a garage, the more so
as Mrs. Landish's latest protg, a young cabaret-artist who
performed on a motor-siren, had been suffered to stable his cycle
in one corner.

In addition to this vehicle, the room contained only a few
relentless-looking oak chairs, a long table bearing an hour-glass
(for clocks would have been an anachronism), and a scrap of dusty
velvet nailed on the cement wall, as to which Mrs. Landish
explained that it was a bit of a sixth century Coptic vestment, and
that the nuns of a Basilian convent in Thessaly were reproducing it
for eventual curtains and chair-cushions.  "It may take fifty
years."

Mrs. Landish always added, "but I would rather go without it than
live with anything less perfect."

The void into which Pauline advanced gave prominence to the figure
of a man who stood with his back to her, looking through the window
at what was to be a garden when Viking horticulture was revived.
Meanwhile it was fully occupied by neighbouring cats and by swirls
of wind-borne rubbish.

The visitor, duskily blocked against a sullen March sky, was at
first not recognizable; but half way toward him Pauline exclaimed:
"Dexter!"  He turned, and his surprise met hers.

"I never dreamed of its being you!" she said.

He faced her with a certain defiant jauntiness.  "Why not?"

"Because I never saw you here before.  I've tried often enough to
get you to come--"

"Oh, to lunch or dine!"  He sent a grimace about the room.  "I
never thought that was among my duties."

She did not take this up, and a moment's silence hung between them.
Finally Manford said:  "I came about Lita."

Pauline felt a rush of relief.  Her husband's voice had been harsh
and impatient: she saw that her arrival had mysteriously put him
out.  But if anxiety about Lita were the cause of his visit it not
only explained his perturbation but showed his revived solicitude
for herself.  She sent back another benediction to the Inspirational
Healer, so sweet it was to find that she and Dexter were once more
moved by the same impulses.

"It's awfully kind of you, dear.  How funny that we should meet on
the same errand!"

He stared:  "Why, have you--?"

"Come about Lita?  Well, yes.  She's been getting rather out of
hand, hasn't she?  Of course a divorce would kill poor Jim--
otherwise I shouldn't so much mind--"

"A divorce?"

"Nona tells me it's Lita's idea.  Foolish child!  I'm to have a
talk with her this afternoon.  I came here first to see if Kitty's
influence--"

"Oh: Kitty's influence!"

"Yes; I know."  She broke off, and glanced quickly at Manford.
"But if you don't believe in her influence, why did you come here
yourself?"

The question seemed to take her husband by surprise, and he met it
by a somewhat rigid smile.  How old he looked in the hard slaty
light!  The crisp hair was almost as thin on his temples as higher
up.  If only he would try that wonderful new "Radio-scalp"!  "And
he used to be so handsome!" his wife said to herself, with the rush
of vitality she always felt when she noted the marks of fatigue or
age in her contemporaries.  Manford and Nona, she reflected, had
the same way of turning sallow and heavy-cheeked when they were
under any physical or moral strain.

Manford said:  "I came to ask Mrs. Landish to help us get Lita away
for Easter.  I thought she might put in a word--"

It was Pauline's turn to smile.  "Perhaps she might.  What I came
for was to say that if Lita doesn't quiet down and behave
reasonably she may find herself thrown on her aunt's hands again.
I think that will produce an effect on Kitty.  I shall make it
perfectly clear that they are not to count on me financially if
Lita leaves Jim."  She glanced brightly at Manford, instinctively
awaiting his approval.

But the expected response did not come.  His face grew blurred and
uncertain, and for a moment he said nothing.  Then he muttered:
"It's all very unfortunate . . . a stupid muddle. . ."

Pauline caught the change in his tone.  It suggested that her last
remark, instead of pleasing him, had raised between them one of
those invisible barriers against which she had so often bruised her
perceptions.  And just as she had thought that he and she were
really in touch again!

"We mustn't be hard on her . . . we mustn't judge her without
hearing both sides . . ." he went on.

"But of course not."  It was just the sort of thing she wanted him
to say, but not in the voice in which he said it.  The voice was
full of hesitation and embarrassment.  Could it be her presence
which embarrassed him?  With Manford one could never tell.  She
suggested, almost timidly:  "But why shouldn't I leave you to see
Kitty alone?  Perhaps we needn't both. . ."

His look of relief was unconcealable; but her bright resolution
rose above the shock.  "You'll do it so much better," she
encouraged him.

"Oh, I don't know.  But perhaps two of us . . . looks rather like
the Third Degree, doesn't it?"

She assented nervously:  "All I want is to smooth things over. . ."

He gave an acquiescent nod, and followed her as she moved toward
the door.  "Perhaps, though--look here, Pauline--"

She sparkled with responsiveness.

"Hadn't you better wait before sending for Lita?  It may not be
necessary, if--"

Her first impulse was to agree; but she thought of the Inspirational
Healer.  "You can trust me to behave with tact, dear; but I'm sure
it will help Lita to talk things out, and perhaps I shall know
better than Kitty how to get at her. . .  Lita and I have always
been good friends, and there's a wonderful new man I want to
persuade her to see . . . some one really psychic. . ."

Manford's lips narrowed in a smile; again she had a confused sense
of new deserts widening between them.  Why had he again become
suddenly sardonic and remote?  She had no time to consider, for the
new gospel of frustrations was surging to her lips.

"NOT a teacher; he repudiates all doctrines, and simply ACTS on
you.  He--"

"Pauline darling!  Dexter!  Have you been waiting long?  Oh, dear--
my hour-glass seems to be quite empty!"

Mrs. Percy Landish was there, slipping toward them with a sort of
aerial shuffle, as if she had blown in on a March gust.  Her tall
swaying figure produced, at a distance, an effect of stateliness
which vanished as she approached, as if she had suddenly got out of
focus.  Her face was like an unfinished sketch, to which the artist
had given heaps of fair hair, a lovely nose, expressive eyes, and
no mouth.  She laid down some vague parcels and shook the hour-
glass irritably, as if it had been at fault.

"How dear of you!" she said to her visitors.  "I don't often get
you together in my eyrie."

The expression puzzled Pauline, who knew that in poetry an eyrie
was an eagle's nest, and wondered how this term could be applied to
a cement bungalow in the East Hundreds. . .  But there was no time
to pursue such speculations.

Mrs. Landish was looking helplessly about her.  "It's cold--you're
both freezing, I'm afraid?"  Her eyes rested tragically on the
empty hearth.  "The fact is, I can't have a fire because my
andirons are WRONG."

"Not high enough?  The chimney doesn't draw, you mean?"  Pauline in
such emergencies was in her element; she would have risen from her
deathbed to show a new housemaid how to build a fire.  But Mrs.
Landish shook her head with the look of a woman who never expects
to be understood by other women.

"No, dear; I mean they were not of the period.  I always suspected
it, and Dr. Ygrid Bjornsted, the great authority on Nordic art, who
was here the other day, told me that the only existing pair is in
the Museum at Christiania.  So I have sent an order to have them
copied.  But you ARE cold, Pauline!  Shall we go and sit in the
kitchen?  We shall be quite by ourselves, because the cook has just
given notice."

Pauline drew her furs around her in silent protest at this new
insanity.  "We shall be very well here, Kitty.  I suppose you know
it's about Lita--"

Mrs. Landish seemed to drift back to them from incalculable
distances.  "Lita?  Has Klawhammer really engaged her?  It was for
his 'Herodias,' wasn't it?"  She was all enthusiasm and
participation.

Pauline's heart sank.  She had caught the irritated jut of
Manford's brows.  No--it was useless to try to make Kitty
understand; and foolish to risk her husband's displeasure by
staying in this icy room for such a purpose.  She wrapped herself
in sweetness as in her sables.  "It's something much more serious
than that cinema nonsense.  But I'm going to leave it to Dexter to
explain.  He will do it ever so much better than I could. . .  Yes,
Kitty dear, I remember there's a step missing in the vestibule.
Please don't bother to see me out--you know Dexter's minutes are
precious."  She thrust Mrs. Landish softly back into the room, and
made her way unattended across the hall.  As she did so, the living-
room door, the lock of which had responded reluctantly to her
handling, swung open again, and she heard Manford ask, in his dry
cross-examining voice:  "Will you please tell me exactly when and
for how long Lita was at Dawnside, Mrs. Landish?"



XIII


"I believe it's the first time in a month that I've heard Nona
laugh," Stanley Heuston said with a touch of irony--or was it
simply envy?

Nona was still in the whirlpool of her laugh.  She struggled to its
edge only to be caught back, with retrospective sobs and gasps,
into its central coil.  "It was too screamingly funny," she flung
at them out of the vortex.

She was perched sideways, as her way was, on the arm of the big
chintz sofa in Arthur Wyant's sitting-room.  Wyant was stretched
out in his usual armchair, behind a crumby messy tea-table, on the
other side of which sat his son and Stanley Heuston.

"She didn't hesitate for more than half a second--just long enough
to catch my eye--then round she jerked, grabbed hold of her last
word and fitted it into a beautiful new appeal to the Mothers.  Oh--
oh--oh!  If you could have seen them!"

"I can."  Jim's face suddenly became broad, mild and earnestly
peering.  He caught up a pair of his father's eye-glasses, adjusted
them to his blunt nose, and murmured in a soft feminine drawl:
"Mrs. Manford is one of our deepest-souled women.  She has a vital
message for all Mothers."

Wyant leaned back and laughed.  His laugh was a contagious chuckle,
easily provoked and spreading in circles like a full spring.  Jim
gave a large shout at his own mimicry, and Heuston joined the
chorus on a dry note that neither spread nor echoed, but seemed
suddenly to set bounds to their mirth.  Nona felt a momentary
resentment of his tone.  Was he implying that they were ridiculing
their mother?  They weren't, they were only admiring her in their
own way, which had always been humorous and half-parental.  Stan
ought to have understood by this time--and have guessed why Nona,
at this moment, caught at any pretext to make Jim laugh, to make
everything in their joint lives appear to him normal and jolly.
But Stanley always seemed to see beyond a joke, even when he was in
the very middle of it.  He was like that about everything in life;
forever walking around things, weighing and measuring them, and
making his disenchanted calculations.  Poor fellow--well, no
wonder!

Jim got up, the glasses still clinging to his blunt nose.  He
gathered an imaginary cloak about him, picked up inexistent gloves
and vanity-bag, and tapped his head as if he were settling a
feathered hat.  The laughter waxed again, and Wyant chuckled:  "I
wish you young fools would come oftener.  It would cure me a lot
quicker than being shipped off to Georgia."  He turned half-
apologetically to Nona.  "Not that I'm not awfully glad of the
chance--"

"I know, Exhibit dear.  It'll be jolly enough when you get down
there, you and Jim."

"Yes; I only wish you were coming too.  Why don't you?"

Jim's features returned to their normal cast, and he removed the
eye-glasses.  "Because mother and Manford have planned to carry off
Lita and the kid to Cedarledge at the same time.  Good scheme,
isn't it?  I wish I could be in both places at once.  We're all of
us fed up with New York."

His father glanced at him.  "Look here, my boy, there's no
difficulty about your being in the same place as your wife.  I can
take my old bones down to Georgia without your help, since
Manford's kind enough to invite me."

"Thanks a lot, dad; but part of Lita's holiday is getting away from
domestic cares, and I'm the principal one.  She has to order dinner
for me.  And I don't say I shan't like my holiday too . . . sand
and sun, any amount of 'em.  That's my size at present.  No more
superhuman efforts."  He stretched his arms over his head with a
yawn.

"But I thought Manford was off to the south too--to his tarpon?
Isn't this Cedarledge idea new?"

"It's part of his general kindness.  He wanted me to go with an
easy mind, so he's chucked his fishing and mobilized the whole
group to go and lead the simple life at Cedarledge with Lita."

Wyant's sallow cheek-bones reddened slightly.  "It's awfully kind,
as you say; but if my going south is to result in upsetting
everybody else's arrangements--"

"Oh, rot, father."  Jim spoke with sudden irritability.  "Manford
would hate it if you chucked now; wouldn't he, Nona?  And I do want
Lita to get away somewhere, and I'd rather it was to Cedarledge
than anywhere."  The clock struck, and he pulled himself out of his
chair.  Nona noticed with a pang how slack and half-hearted all his
movements were.  "Jove--I must jump!" he said.  "We're due at some
cabaret show that begins early; and I believe we dine at Ardwin's
first, with a bunch of freaks.  By-bye, Nona. . .  Stan. . .
Goodbye, father.  Only a fortnight now before we cut it all!"

The door shut after him on a silence.  Wyant reached for his pipe
and filled it.  Heuston stared at the tea-table.  Suddenly Wyant
questioned:  "Look here--why is Jim being shipped off to the island
with me when his wife's going to Cedarledge?"

Nona dropped from her sofa-arm and settled into an armchair.
"Simply for the reasons he told you.  They both want a holiday from
each other."

"I don't believe Jim really wants one from Lita."

"Well, so much the worse for Jim.  Lita's temporarily tired of
dancing and domesticity, and the doctor says she ought to go off
for a while by herself."

Wyant was slowly drawing at his pipe.  At length he said:  "Your
mother's doctor told her that once; and she never came back."

Nona's colour rose through her pale cheeks to her very forehead.
The motions of her blood were not impetuous, and she now felt
herself blushing for having blushed.  It was unlike Wyant to say
that--unlike his tradition of reticence and decency, which had
always joined with Pauline's breezy optimism in relegating to
silence and non-existence whatever it was painful or even awkward
to discuss.  For years the dual family had lived on the assumption
that they were all the best friends in the world, and the
vocabulary of that convention had become their natural idiom.

Stanley Heuston seemed to catch the constraint in the air.  He got
up as if to go.  "I suppose we're dining somewhere too--."  He
pronounced the "we" without conviction, for every one knew that he
and his wife seldom went out together.

Wyant raised a detaining hand.  "Don't go, Stan.  Nona and I have
no secrets--if we had, you should share them.  Why do you look so
savage, Nona?  I suppose I've said something stupid. . .  Fact is,
I'm old-fashioned; and this idea of people who've chosen to live
together having perpetually to get away from each other. . .  When
I remember my father and mother, for sixty-odd years. . .  New York
in winter, Hudson in summer. . .  Staple topics: snow for six
months, mosquitoes the other.  I suppose that's the reason your
generation have got the fidgets!"

Nona laughed.  "It's a good enough reason; and anyhow there's
nothing to be done about it."

Wyant frowned.  "Nothing to be done about it--in Lita's case?  I
hope you don't mean that.  My son--God, if ever a man has slaved
for a woman, made himself a fool for her. . ."

Heuston's dry voice cut the diatribe.  "Well, sir, you wouldn't
deprive him of man's peculiar privilege: the right to make a fool
of himself?"

Wyant sank back grumbling among his cushions.  "I don't understand
you, any of you," he said, as if secretly relieved by the
admission.

"Well, Exhibit dear, strictly speaking you don't have to.  We're
old enough to run the show for ourselves, and all you've got to do
is to look on from the front row and admire us," said Nona, bending
to him with a caress.

In the street she found herself walking silently at Heuston's side.
These weekly meetings with him at Wyant's were becoming a tacit
arrangement: the one thing in her life that gave it meaning.  She
thought with a smile of her mother's affirmation that everything
always came out right if only one kept on being brave and trustful,
and wondered where, under that formula, her relation to Stanley
Heuston could be fitted in.  It was anything but brave--letting
herself drift into these continual meetings, and refusing to accept
their consequences.  Yet every nerve in her told her that these
moments were the best thing in life, the one thing she couldn't do
without: just to be near him, to hear his cold voice, to say
something to provoke his disenchanted laugh; or, better still, to
walk by him as now without talking, with a furtive glance now and
then at his profile, ironic, dissatisfied, defiant--yes, and so
weak under the defiance. . .  The fact that she judged and still
loved showed that her malady was mortal.

"Oh, well--it won't last; nothing lasts for our lot," she murmured
to herself without conviction.  "Or at the worst it will only last
as long as I do; and that's a date I can fix as I choose."

What nonsense, though, to talk like that, when all those others
needed her: Jim and his silly Lita, her father, yes, even her proud
self-confident father, and poor old Exhibit A and her mother who
was so sure that nothing would ever go wrong again, now she had
found a new Healer!  Yes; they all needed help, though they didn't
know it, and Fate seemed to have put her, Nona, at the very point
where all their lives intersected, as a First-Aid station is put at
the dangerous turn of a race-course, or a points-man at the
shunting point of a big junction.

"Look here, Nona: my dinner-engagement was a fable.  Would the
heavens fall if you and I went and dined somewhere by ourselves,
just as we are?"

"Oh, Stan--"  Her heart gave a leap of joy.  In these free days,
when the young came and went as they chose, who would have believed
that these two had never yet given themselves a stolen evening?
Perhaps it was just because it was so easy.  Only difficult things
tempted Nona, and the difficult thing was always to say "No."

Yet was it?  She stole a glance at Heuston's profile, as a street-
lamp touched it, saw the set lips already preparing a taunt at her
refusal, and wondered if saying no to everything required as much
courage as she liked to think.  What if moral cowardice were the
core of her boasted superiority?  She didn't want to be "like the
others"--but was there anything to be proud of in that?  Perhaps
her disinterestedness was only a subtler vanity, not unrelated,
say, to Lita's refusal to let a friend copy her new dresses, or Bee
Lindon's perpetual craving to scandalize a world sated with
scandals.  Exhibitionists, one and all of them, as the psycho-
analysts said--and, in her present mood, moral exhibitionism seemed
to her the meanest form of the display.

"How mid-Victorian, Stan!" she laughed.  "As if there were any
heavens to fall!  Where shall we go?  It will be the greatest fun.
Isn't there rather a good little Italian restaurant somewhere near
here?  And afterward there's that nigger dancing at the Housetop."

"Come along, then!"

She felt as little and light as a wisp of straw carried out into
the rushing darkness of a sea splashed with millions of stars.
Just the thought of a friendly evening, an evening of simple
comradeship, could do that; could give her back her youth, yes, and
the courage to persevere.  She put her hand through his arm, and
knew by his silence that he was thinking her thoughts.  That was
the final touch of magic.



"You really want to go to the Housetop?" he questioned, leaning
back to light his cigar with a leisurely air, as if there need
never again be any hurrying about anything.  Their dinner at
the little Italian restaurant was nearly over.  They had
conscientiously explored the paste, the frutte di mare, the
fritture and the cheese-and-tomato mixtures, and were ending up
with a foaming sabaione.  The room was low-ceilinged, hot, and
crowded with jolly noisy people, mostly Italians, over whom, at
unnoticed intervals, an olive-tinted musician with blue-white
eyeballs showered trills and twangings.  His music did not
interrupt the conversation, but merely obliged the diners to shout
a little louder; a pretext of which they joyfully availed
themselves.  Nona, at first, had found the noise a delicious
shelter for her talk with Heuston; but now it was beginning to
stifle her.  "Let's get some fresh air first," she said.

"All right.  We'll walk for a while."

They pushed back their chairs, wormed a way through the packed
tables, got into their wraps, and stepped out of the swinging doors
into long streamers of watery lamplight.  The douche of a cold rain
received them.

"Oh, dear--the Housetop, then!" Nona grumbled.  How sweet the rain
would have been under the budding trees of Cedarledge!  But here,
in these degraded streets. . .

Heuston caught a passing taxi.  "A turn, first--just round the
Park?"

"No; the Housetop."

He leaned back and lit a cigarette.  "You know I'm going to get
myself divorced: it's all settled," he announced.

"Settled--with Aggie?"

"No: not yet.  But with the lady I'm going off with.  My word of
honour.  I am; next week."

Nona gave an incredulous laugh.  "So this is good-bye?"

"Very nearly."

"Poor Stan!"

"Nona . . . listen . . . look here. . ."

She took his hand.  "Stan, hang next week!"

"Nona--?"

She shook her head, but let her hand lie in his.

"No questions--no plans.  Just being together," she pleaded.

He held her in silence and their lips met.  "Then why not--?"

"No: the Housetop--the Housetop!" she cried, pulling herself out of
his arms.

"Why, you're crying!"

"I'm not!  It's the rain.  It's--"

"Nona!"

"Stan, you know it's no earthly use."

"Life's so rotten--"

"Not like this."

"This?  This--what?"

She struggled out of another enfolding, put her head out of the
window, and cried:  "The Housetop!"



They found a corner at the back of the crowded floor.  Nona blinked
a little in the dazzle of light-garlands, the fumes of smoke, the
clash of noise and colours.  But there he and she sat, close
together, hidden in their irresistible happiness, and though his
lips had their moody twist she knew the same softness was in his
veins as in hers, isolating them from the crowd as completely as if
they had still been in the darkness of the taxi.  That was the way
she must take her life, she supposed; piece-meal, a tiny scrap of
sweetness at a time, and never more than a scrap--never once!  Well--
it would be worse still if there were no moments like this, short
and cruel as they seemed when they came.

The Housetop was packed.  The low balcony crammed with fashionable
people overhung them like a wreath of ripe fruits, peachy and white
and golden, made of painted faces, bare arms, jewels, brocades and
fantastic furs.  It was the music-hall of the moment.

The curtain shot up, and the little auditorium was plunged in
shadow.  Nona could leave her hand in Heuston's.  On the stage--a
New Orleans cotton-market--black dancers tossed and capered.  They
were like ripe fruits too, black figs flung about in hot sunshine,
falling to earth with crimson bursts of laughter splitting open on
white teeth, and bounding up again into golden clouds of cotton-
dust.  It was all warm and jolly and inconsequent.  The audience
forgot to smoke and chatter: little murmurs of enjoyment rippled
over it.

The curtain descended, the light-garlands blossomed out, and once
more floor and balcony were all sound and movement.

"Why, there's Lita up there in the balcony," Nona exclaimed, "just
above the stage.  Don't you see--with Ardwin, and Jack Staley, and
Bee Lindon, and that awful Keiler woman?"

She had drawn her hand away at the sight of the box full.  "I don't
see Jim with them after all.  Oh, how I hate that crowd!"  All the
ugly and disquieting realities she had put from her swept back with
a rush.  If only she could have had her one evening away from them!
"I didn't think we should find them here--I thought Lita had been
last week."

"Well, don't that crowd always keep on going to the same shows over
and over again?  There's nothing they hate as much as novelty--
they're so fed up with it!  And besides, what on earth do you care?
They won't bother us."

She wavered a moment, and then said:  "You see, Lita always bothers
me."

"Why?  Anything new?"

"She says she's tired of everything, Jim included, and is going to
chuck it, and go in for the cinema."

"Oh, that--?"  He manifested no surprise.  "Well, isn't it where
she belongs?"

"Perhaps--but Jim!"

"Poor Jim.  We've all got to swallow our dose one day or another."

"Yes; but I can't bear it.  Not for Jim.  Look here, Stan--I'm
going up there to join them," she suddenly declared.

"Oh, nonsense, Nona; they don't want you.  And besides I hate that
crowd as much as you do. . .  I don't want you mixed up with it.
That cad Staley, and the Keiler woman. . ."

She gave a dry laugh.  "Afraid they'll compromise me?"

"Oh, rot!  But what's the use of their even knowing you're here?
They'll hate your butting in, Lita worst of all."

"Stan, I'm going up to them."

"Oh, damn it.  You always--"

She had got up and was pushing away the little table in front of
them.  But suddenly she stopped and sat down again.  For a moment
or two she did not speak, nor look at Heuston.  She had seen the
massive outline of a familiar figure rising from a seat near the
front and planting itself there for a slow gaze about the audience.

"Hallo--your father?  I didn't know he patronized this kind of
show," Heuston said.

Nona groped for a careless voice, and found it.  "Father?  So it
is!  Oh, he's really very frivolous--my influence, I'm afraid."
The voice sounded sharp and rattling in her own ears.  "How funny,
though!  You don't happen to see mother and Amalasuntha anywhere?
That would make the family party complete."

She could not take her eyes from her father.  How queer he looked--
how different!  Strained and vigilant; she didn't know how else to
put it.  And yet tired, inexpressibly tired, as if with some
profound inner fatigue which made him straighten himself a little
too rigidly, and throw back his head with a masterful young-mannish
air as he scanned the balcony just above him.  He stood there for a
few moments, letting the lights and the eyes concentrate on him, as
if lending himself to the display with a certain distant tolerance;
then he began to move toward one of the exits.  But half way he
stopped, turned with his dogged jerk of the shoulders, and made for
a gangway leading up to the balcony.

"Hullo," Heuston exclaimed.  "Is he going up to Lita?"

Nona gave a little laugh.  "I might have known it!  How like father--
when he undertakes anything!"

"Undertakes what?"

"Why, looking after Lita.  He probably found out at the last minute
that Jim couldn't come, and made up his mind to replace him.  Isn't
it splendid, how he's helping us?  I know he loathes this sort of
place--and the people she's with.  But he told me we oughtn't to
lose our influence on her, we ought to keep tight hold of her--"

"I see."

Nona had risen again and was beginning to move toward the
passageway.  Heuston followed her, and she smiled back at him over
her shoulder.  She felt as if she must cram every cranny in their
talk with more words.  The silence which had enclosed them as in a
crystal globe had been splintered to atoms, and had left them
stammering and exposed.

"Well, I needn't go up to Lita after all; she really doesn't
require two dragons.  Thank goodness, father has replaced me, and I
don't have to be with that crew . . . just this evening," she
whispered, slipping her arm through Heuston's.  "I should have
hated to have it end in that way."  By this time they were out in
the street.

On the wet pavement he detained her.  "Nona, how IS it going to
end?"

"Why, by your driving me home, I hope.  It's too wet to walk, worse
luck."

He gave a resigned shrug, called a taxi, wavered a moment, and
jumped in after her.  "I don't know why I come," he grumbled.

She kept a bright hold on herself, lit a cigarette at his lighter,
and chattered resolutely of the show till the motor turned the
corner of her street.

"Well, my child, it's really good-bye now.  I'm off next week with
the other lady," Heuston said as they stopped before the Manford
door.  He paid the taxi and helped her out, and she stood in the
rain in front of him.  "I don't come back till Aggie divorces me,
you understand," he continued.

"She won't!"

"She'll have to."

"It's hideous--doing it in that way."

"Not as hideous as the kind of life I'm leading."

She made no answer, and he followed her silently up the doorstep
while she fumbled for her latchkey.  She was trembling now with
weariness and disappointment, and a feverish thirst for the one
more kiss she was resolved he should not take.

"Other people get their freedom.  I don't see why I shouldn't have
mine," he insisted.

"Not in that way, Stan!  You mustn't.  It's too horrible."

"That way?  You know there's no other."

She turned the latchkey, and the ponderous vestibule door swung
inward.  "If you do, don't imagine I'll ever marry you!" she cried
out as she crossed the threshold; and he flung back furiously:
"Wait till I ask you!" and plunged away into the rain.



XIV


Pauline Manford left Mrs. Landish's door with the uncomfortable
sense of having swallowed a new frustration.  In this crowded life
of hers they were as difficult to avoid as germs--and there was not
always time to have them extirpated!

Manford had evidently found out about Lita's Dawnside frequentations;
found it out, no doubt, as Pauline had, by seeing her photograph in
that loathsome dancing group in the "Looker-on."  Well, perhaps it
was best that he should know; it would certainly confirm his resolve
to stop any action against the Mahatma.

Only--if he had induced the Lindons to drop the investigation, why
was he still preoccupied by it?  Why had he gone to Mrs. Landish to
make that particular inquiry about Lita?  Pauline would have liked
to shake off the memory of his voice, and of the barely disguised
impatience with which he had waited for her to go before putting
his question.  Confronted by this new riddle (when there were
already so many others in her path) she felt a reasonless
exasperation against the broken doorknob which had let her into the
secret.  If only Kitty Landish, instead of dreaming about
Mesopotamian embroideries, would send for a locksmith and keep her
house in repair!

All day Pauline was oppressed by the nervous apprehension that
Manford might have changed his mind about dropping the investigation.
If there had been time she would have gone to Alvah Loft for relief;
she had managed so far to squeeze in a daily sance, and had come
to depend on it as "addicts" do on their morphia.  The very brevity
of the treatment, and the blunt negative face and indifferent
monosyllables of the Healer, were subtly stimulating after the
verbiage and flummery of his predecessors.  Such stern economy of
means impressed Pauline in much the same way as a new labour-saving
device; she liked everything the better for being a short-cut to
something else, and even spiritual communion for resembling an
improved form of stenography.  As Mrs. Swoffer said, Alvah Loft was
really the Busy Man's Christ.

But that afternoon there was literally not time for a treatment.
Manford's decision to spend the Easter holidays at Cedarledge
necessitated one of those campaigns of intensive preparation in
which his wife and Maisie Bruss excelled.  Leading the simple life
at Cedarledge involved despatching there a part of the New York
domestic staff at least ten days in advance, testing and lighting
three complicated heating systems, going over all the bells and
electric wiring, and making sure that the elaborate sanitary
arrangements were in irreproachable order.

Nor was this all.  Pauline, who prided herself on the perfect
organization of every detail of both her establishments, had lately
been studying the estimate for a new and singularly complete system
of burglar-alarm at Cedarledge, and also going over the bills for
the picturesque engine-house and up-to-date fire-engine with which
she had just endowed the village patriarchally clustered below the
Cedarledge hill.  All these matters called for deep thought and
swift decision; and the fact gave her a sudden stimulus.  No rest-
cure in the world was as refreshing to her as a hurried demand on
her practical activity; she thrilled to it like a war-horse to a
trumpet, and compelled the fagged Maisie to thrill in unison.

In this case their energy was redoubled by the hope that, if
Manford found everything to his liking at Cedarledge, he might take
a fancy to spending more time there.  Pauline's passionate interest
in plumbing and electric wiring was suffused with a romantic glow
at the thought that they might lure her husband back to domestic
intimacy.  "The heating of the new swimming-pool must be finished
too, and the workmen all out of the way--you'll have to go there
next week, Maisie, and impress on everybody that there must not be
a workman visible anywhere when we arrive."

Breathless, exultant, Pauline hurried home for a late cup of tea in
her boudoir, and settled down, pencil in hand, with plans and
estimates, as eagerly as her husband, in the early days of his
legal career, used to study the documents of a new case.

Maisie, responding as she always did to the least touch of the
spur, yet lifted a perplexed brow to murmur:  "All right.  But I
don't see how I can very well leave before the Birth Control
dinner.  You know you haven't yet rewritten the opening passage
that you used by mistake at the--"

Pauline's colour rose.  Maisie's way of putting it was tactless;
but the fact remained that the opening of that unlucky speech had
to be rewritten, and that Pauline was never very sure of her syntax
unless Maisie's reinforced it.  She had always meant to be
cultivated--she still thought she was when she looked at her
bookshelves.  But when she had to compose a speech, though words
never failed her, the mysterious relations between them sometimes
did.  Wealth and extensive social activities were obviously
incompatible with a complete mastery of grammar, and secretaries
were made for such emergencies.  Yes; Maisie, fagged as she looked,
could certainly not be spared till the speech was remodelled.

The telephone, ringing from downstairs, announced that the Marchesa
was on her way up to the boudoir.  Pauline's pencil fell from her
hand.  On her way up!  It was really too inconsiderate. . .
Amalasuntha must be made to understand. . .  But there was the
undaunted lady.

"The footman swore you were out, dear; but I knew from his manner
that I should find you.  (With Powder, now, I never can tell.)  And
I simply HAD to rush in long enough to give you a good hug."  The
Marchesa glanced at Maisie, and the secretary effaced herself after
another glance, this time from her employer, which plainly warned
her:  "Wait in the next room; I won't let her stay."

To her visitor Pauline murmured somewhat coldly:  "I left word that
I was out because I'm desperately busy over the new plumbing and
burglar-alarm systems at Cedarledge.  Dexter wants to go there for
Easter, and of course everything must be in order before we
arrive. . ."

The Marchesa's eyes widened.  "Ah, this marvellous American
plumbing!  I believe you all treat yourselves to a new set of
bathrooms every year.  There's only one bath at San Fedele, and my
dear parents-in-law had it covered with a wooden lid so that it
could be used to do the boots on.  It's really rather convenient--
and out of family feeling Venturino has always reserved it for that
purpose.  But that's not what I came to talk about.  What I want is
to find words for my gratitude. . ."

Pauline leaned back, gazing wearily at Amalasuntha's small sharp
face, which seemed to glitter with a new and mysterious varnish of
prosperity.  "For what?  You've thanked me already more than my
little present deserved."

The Marchesa gave her a look of puzzled retrospection.  "Oh--that
lovely cheque the other day?  Of course my thanks include that too.
But I'm entirely overwhelmed by your new munificence."

"My new munificence?" Pauline echoed between narrowed lips.  Could
this be an adroit way of prefacing a fresh appeal?  With the huge
Cedarledge estimates at her elbow she stiffened herself for
refusal.  Amalasuntha must really be taught moderation.

"Well, Dexter's munificence, then--his royal promise!  I left him
only an hour ago," the Marchesa cried with rising exultation.

"You mean he's found a job for Michelangelo?  I'm very glad," said
Pauline, still without enthusiasm.

"No, no; something ever so much better than that.  At least," the
Marchesa hastily corrected herself, "something more immediately
helpful.  His debts, dear, my silly boy's debts!  Dexter has
promised . . . has authorized me to cable that he need not sail, as
everything will be paid.  It's more, far more, than I could have
hoped!"  The happy mother possessed herself of Mrs. Manford's
unresponsive hand.

Pauline freed the hand abruptly.  She felt the need of assimilating
and interpreting this news as rapidly as possible, without
betraying undue astonishment and yet without engaging her
responsibility; but the effort was beyond her, and she could only
sit and stare.  Dexter had promised to pay Michelangelo's debts--
but with whose money?  And why?

"I'm sure Dexter wants to do all he can to help you about
Michelangelo--we both do.  But--"

Pauline's brain was whirling; she found it impossible to go on.
She knew by heart the extent of Michelangelo's debts.  Amalasuntha
took care that everyone did.  She seemed to feel a sort of fatuous
pride in their enormity, and was always dinning it into her
cousin's ears.  Dexter, if he had really made such a promise, must
have made it in his wife's name; and to do so without consulting
her was so unlike him that the idea deepened her bewilderment.

"Are you sure?  I'm sorry, Amalasuntha--but this comes as a
surprise. . .  Dexter and I were to talk the matter over . . . to
see what could be done. . ."

"Darling, it's so like you to belittle your own generosity--you
always do!  And so does Dexter.  But in this case--well, the
cable's gone; so why deny it?" triumphed the Marchesa.



When Maisie Bruss returned, Pauline was still sitting with an idle
pencil before the pile of bills and estimates.  She fixed an
unseeing eye on her secretary.  "These things will have to wait.
I'm dreadfully tired, I don't know why.  But I'll go over them all
early tomorrow, before you come; and--Maisie--I hate to ask it; but
do you think you could get here by eight o'clock instead of nine?
There's so much to be done; and I want to get you off to Cedarledge
as soon as possible."

Maisie, a little paler and more drawn than usual, declared that of
course she would turn up at eight.

Even after she had gone Pauline did not move, or give another
glance to the papers.  For the first time in her life she had an
obscure sense of moving among incomprehensible and overpowering
forces.  She could not, to herself, have put it even as clearly as
that--she just dimly felt that, between her and her usual firm
mastery of facts, something nebulous and impenetrable was closing
in. . .  Nona--what if she were to consult Nona?  The girl
sometimes struck her as having an uncanny gift of divination, as
getting at certain mysteries of mood and character more quickly and
clearly than her mother. . .  "Though, when it comes to practical
things, poor child, she's not much more use than Jim. . ."

Jim!  His name called up the other associated with it.  Lita was
now another source of worry.  Whichever way Pauline looked, the
same choking obscurity enveloped her.  Even about Jim and Lita it
clung in a dense fog, darkening and distorting what, only a short
time ago, had seemed a daylight case of domestic harmony.  Money,
health, good looks, a beautiful baby . . . and now all this fuss
about having to express one's own personality.  Yes; Lita's
attitude was just as confusing as Dexter's.  Was Dexter trying to
express his own personality too?  If only they would all talk
things out with her--help her to understand, instead of moving
about her in the obscurity, like so many burglars with dark
lanterns!  This image jerked her attention back to the Cedarledge
estimates, and wearily she adjusted her eye-glasses and took up her
pencil. . .

Her maid rapped.  "What dress, please, madam?"  To be sure--they
were dining that evening with the Walter Rivingtons.  It was the
first time they had invited Pauline since her divorce from Wyant;
Mrs. Rivington's was the only house left in which the waning
traditions of old New York still obstinately held out, and divorce
was regarded as a social disadvantage.  But they had taken
Manford's advice successfully in a difficult case, and were too
punctilious not to reward him in the one way he would care about.
The Rivingtons were the last step of the Manford ladder.

"The silver moir, and my pearls."  That would be distinguished and
exclusive-looking.  Pauline was thankful Dexter had definitely
promised to go with her--he was getting so restive nowadays about
what he had taken to calling her dull dinners. . .

The telephone again--this time Dexter's voice.  Pauline listened
apprehensively, wondering if it would do to speak to him now about
Amalasuntha's extraordinary announcement, or whether it might be
more tactful to wait.  He was so likely to be nervous and irritable
at the end of the day.  Yes; it was in his eleventh-hour voice that
he was speaking.

"Pauline--look here; I shall be kept at the office rather late.
Please put off dinner, will you?  I'd like a quiet evening alone
with you--"

"A quiet. . .  But, Dexter, we're dining at the Rivingtons'.  Shall
I telephone to say you may be late?"

"The Rivingtons?"  His voice became remote and utterly indifferent.
"No; telephone we won't come.  Chuck them. . .  I want a talk with
you alone . . . can't we dine together quietly at home?"  He
repeated the phrases slowly, as if he thought she had not
understood him.

Chuck the Rivingtons?  It seemed like being asked to stand up in
church and deny her God.  She sat speechless and let the fatal
words go on vibrating on the wire.

"Don't you hear me, Pauline?  Why don't you answer?  Is there
something wrong with the line?"

"No, Dexter.  There's nothing wrong with the line."

"Well, then. . .  You can explain to them . . . say anything you
like."

Through the dressing-room door she saw the maid laying out the
silver moir, the chinchilla cloak, the pearls. . .

Explain to the Rivingtons!

"Very well, dear.  What time shall I order dinner here?" she
questioned heroically.

She heard him ring off, and sat again staring into the fog, which
his words had only made more impenetrable.




XV


Manford, the day after his daughter had caught sight of him at the
Housetop, started out early for one of his long tramps around the
Park.  He was not due at his office till ten, and he wanted first
to walk himself tired.

For some years after his marriage he had kept a horse in town, and
taken his morning constitutional in the saddle; but the daily
canter over the same bridle paths was too much like the circuit of
his wife's flower-garden.  He took to his feet to make it last
longer, and when there was no time to walk had in a masseur who
prepared him, in the same way as everybody else, for the long hours
of sedentary hurry known as "business."  The New York routine had
closed in on him, and he sometimes felt that, for intrinsic
interest, there was little to choose between Pauline's hurry and
his own.  They seemed, all of them--lawyers, bankers, brokers,
railway-directors and the rest--to be cheating their inner
emptiness with activities as futile as those of the women they went
home to.

It was all wrong--something about it was fundamentally wrong.  They
all had these colossal plans for acquiring power, and then, when it
was acquired, what came of it but bigger houses, more food, more
motors, more pearls, and a more self-righteous philanthropy?

The philanthropy was what he most hated: all these expensive plans
for moral forcible feeding, for compelling everybody to be cleaner,
stronger, healthier and happier than they would have been by the
unaided light of Nature.  The longing to get away into a world
where men and women sinned and begot, lived and died, as they
chose, without the perpetual intervention of optimistic
millionaires, had become so strong that he sometimes felt the chain
of habit would snap with his first jerk.

That was what had secretly drawn him to Jim's wife.  She was the
one person in his group to whom its catchwords meant absolutely
nothing.  The others, whatever their private omissions or
indulgences, dressed up their selfish cravings in the same wordy
altruism.  It used to be one's duty to one's neighbour; now it had
become one's duty to one's self.  Duty, duty--always duty!  But
when you spoke of duty to Lita she just widened her eyes and said:
"Is that out of the Marriage Service?  'Love, honour and obey'--
such a funny combination!  Who do you suppose invented it?  I
believe it must have been Pauline."  One could never fix her
attention on any subject beyond her own immediate satisfaction, and
that animal sincerity seemed to Manford her greatest charm.  Too
great a charm . . . a terrible danger.  He saw it now.  He thought
he had gone to her for relaxation, change--and he had just managed
to pull himself up on the edge of a precipice.  But for the
sickening scene of the other evening, when he had shown her the
photograph, he might, old fool that he was, have let himself slip
into sentiment; and God knows where that tumble would have landed
him.  Now a passionate pity had replaced his fatuous emotion, the
baleful siren was only a misguided child, and he was to help and
save her for Jim's sake and her own.

It was queer that such a mood of calm lucidity had come out of the
fury of hate with which he rushed from her house.  If it had not,
he would have gone mad--smashed something, done something
irretrievable.  And instead here he was, calmly contemplating his
own folly and hers!  He must go on seeing her, of course; there was
more reason than ever for seeing her; but there would be no danger
in it now, only help for her--and perhaps healing for him.  To this
new mood he clung as to an inviolable refuge.  The turmoil and
torment of the last months could never reach him again: he had
found a way out, an escape.  The relief of being quiet, of avoiding
a conflict, of settling everything without effusion of blood, stole
over him like the spell of the drug-taker's syringe.  Poor little
Lita . . . never again to be adored (thank heaven), but, oh, so
much the more to be helped and pitied. . .

This deceptive serenity had come to him during his call on Mrs.
Landish--come from her very insensibility to any of the standards
he lived by.  He had gone there--he saw it now--moved by the cruel
masculine desire to know the worst about a fallen idol.  What he
called the determination to "face things"--what was it but the
savage longing to accumulate all the evidence against poor Lita?
Give up the Mahatma investigation?  Never!  All the more reason now
for going on with it; for exposing the whole blackguardly business,
opening poor Jim's eyes to his wife's past (better now than later),
and helping him to get on his feet again, start fresh, and recover
his faith in life and happiness.  For of course poor Jim would be
the chief sufferer. . .  Damn the woman!  She wanted to get rid of
Jim, did she?  Well, here was her chance--only it would be the
other way round.  The tables would be turned on her.  She'd see--!
This in his first blind outbreak of rage; but by the time he
reached Mrs. Landish's door the old legal shrewdness had come to
his rescue, and he had understood that a public scandal was
unnecessary, and therefore to be avoided.  Easy enough to get rid
of Lita without that.  With such evidence as he would soon possess
they could make any conditions they chose.  Jim would keep the boy,
and the whole thing be settled quietly--but on their terms, not
hers!  She would be only too thankful to clear out bag and baggage--
clean out of all their lives.  Faugh--to think he had delegated
his own Nona; to look after her . . . the thought sickened him.

And then, in the end, it had all come out so differently.  He
needed his hard tramp around the Park to see just why.

It was Mrs. Landish's own attitude--her silly rambling
irresponsibility, so like an elderly parody of Lita's youthful
carelessness.  Mrs. Landish had met Manford's stern interrogations
by the vague reply that he mustn't ever come to HER for dates and
figures and statistics: that facts meant nothing to her, that the
only thing she cared for was Inspiration, Genius, the Divine Fire,
or whatever he chose to call it.  Perhaps she'd done wrong, but she
had sacrificed everything, all her life, to her worship of genius.
She was always hunting for it everywhere, and it was because, from
the first, she had felt a touch of it in Lita that she had been so
devoted to the child.  Didn't Manford feel it in Lita too?  Of
course she, Mrs. Landish, had dreamed of another sort of marriage
for her niece . . .  Oh, but Manford mustn't misunderstand!  Jim
was perfect--TOO perfect.  That was the trouble.  Manford surely
guessed the meaning of that "too"?  Such absolute reliability, such
complete devotion, were sometimes more of a strain to the artistic
temperament than scenes and infidelities.  And Lita was first and
foremost an artist, born to live in the world of art--in quite
other values--a fourth-dimensional world, as it were.  It wasn't
fair to judge her in her present surroundings, ideal as they
were in one way--a way that unfortunately didn't happen to be
hers!  Mrs. Landish persisted in assuming Manford's complete
comprehension . . .  "If Jim could only be made to understand as
you do; to see that ordinary standards don't apply to these rare
natures. . .  Why, has the child told you what Klawhammer has
offered her to turn ONE FILM for him, before even having seen her
dance, just on the strength of what Jack Staley and Ardwin had told
him?"

Ah--there it was!  The truth was out.  Mrs. Landish, always in
debt, and always full of crazy schemes for wasting more money, had
seen a gold mine in the exploitation of her niece's gifts.  The
divorce, instead of frightening her, delighted her.  Manford smiled
as he thought how little she would be moved by Pauline's threat to
cut off the young couple.  Pauline sometimes forgot that, even in
her own family, her authority was not absolute.  She could
certainly not compete financially with Hollywood, and Mrs.
Landish's eyes were on Hollywood.

"Dear Mr. Manford--but you look shocked!  Absolutely shocked!  Does
the screen really frighten you?  How funny!"  Mrs. Landish, drawing
her rambling eyebrows together, seemed trying to picture the inner
darkness of such a state.  "But surely you know the smartest people
are going in for it?  Why, the Marchesa di San Fedele was showing
me the other day a photograph of that beautiful son of hers--one of
those really GREEK beings in bathing tights--and telling me that
Klawhammer, who had seen it, had authorized her to cable him to
come out to Hollywood on trial, all expenses paid.  It seems they
can almost always recognize the eurythmic people at a glance.
Funny, wouldn't it be, if Michelangelo and Lita turned out to be
the future Valentino and--"

He didn't remember the rest of the rigmarole.  He could only recall
shouting out, with futile vehemence:  "My wife and I will do
everything to prevent a divorce--" and leaving his astonished
hostess on a threat of which he knew the uselessness as well as she
did.

That was the air in which Lita had grown up, those were the gods of
Viking Court!  Yet Manford had stormed instead of pitying, been
furious instead of tolerant, risked disaster for Lita and Jim
instead of taking calm control of the situation.  The vision of
Lita Wyant and Michelangelo as future film stars, "featured"
jointly on every hoarding from Maine to California, had sent the
blood to his head.  Through a mist of rage he had seen the
monstrous pictures and conjectured the loathsome letter-press.  And
no one would do more than look and laugh!  At the thought, he felt
the destructive ire of the man who finds his private desires pitted
against the tendencies of his age.  Well, they would see, that was
all: he would show them!

The resolve to act brought relief to his straining imagination.
Once again he felt himself seated at his office desk, all his
professional authority between him and his helpless interlocutors,
and impressive words and skilful arguments ordering themselves
automatically in his mind.  After all, he was the head of his
family--in some degree even of Wyant's family.



XVI


Pauline's nervousness had gradually subsided.  About the Rivingtons--
why, after all, it wasn't such a bad idea to show them that, with
a man of Manford's importance, one must take one's chance of
getting him, and make the best of it if he failed one at the last.
"Professional engagement; oh, yes, entirely unexpected; extremely
important; so dreadfully sorry, but you know lawyers are not their
own masters. . ."  It had been rather pleasant to say that to a
flustered Mrs. Rivington, stammering:  "Oh, but COULDN'T he . . . ?
But we'll wait . . . we'll dine at half-past nine. . ."  Pleasant
also to add:  "He must reserve his whole evening, I'm afraid," and
then hang up, and lean back at leisure, while Mrs. Rivington (how
Pauline pictured it!) dashed down in her dressing-gown and crimping
pins to re-arrange a table to which as much thought had been given
as if a feudal aristocracy were to sit at it.

To Pauline the fact that Manford wanted to be alone with her made
even such renunciations easy.  How many years had passed since he
had expressed such a wish?  And did she owe his tardy return to the
Mahatma and reduced hips, or the Inspirational Healer and renewed
optimism?  If only a woman could guess what inclined a man's heart
to her, what withdrew it!  Pauline, if she had had the standardizing
of life, would have begun with human hearts, and had them turned
out in series, all alike, rather than let them come into being
haphazard, cranky amateurish things that you couldn't count on, or
start up again if anything went wrong. . .

Just a touch of rouge?  Well, perhaps her maid was right.  She DID
look rather pale and drawn.  Mrs. Herman Toy put it on with a
trowel . . . apparently that was what men liked. . .  Pauline shed
a faint bloom on her cheeks and ran her clever fingers through her
prettily waved hair, wondering again, as she did so, if it wouldn't
be better to bob it.  Then the mauve tea-gown, the Chinese
amethysts, and those silver sandals that made her feet so slender.
She looked at herself with a sigh of pleasure.  Dinner was to be
served in the boudoir.

Manford was very late; it was ten o'clock before coffee and
liqueurs were put on the low stand by the fire, and the little
dinner-table was noiselessly removed.  The fire glowed invitingly,
and he sank into the armchair his wife pushed forward with a sound
like a murmur of content.

"Such a day--" he said, passing his hand across his forehead as if
to brush away a tangle of legal problems.

"You do too much, Dexter; you really do.  I know how wonderfully
young you are for your age, but still--."  She broke off, dimly
perceiving that, in spite of the flattering exordium, this allusion
to his age was not quite welcome.

"Nothing to do with age," he growled.  "Everybody who does anything
at all does too much."  (Did he mean to imply that she did
nothing?)

"The nervous strain--" she began, once more wondering if this were
not the moment to slip in a word of Alvah Loft.  But though Manford
had wished to be with her he had apparently no desire to listen to
her.  It was all her own fault, she felt.  If only she had known
how to reveal the secret tremors that were rippling through her!
There were women not half as clever and tactful--not younger,
either, nor even as good-looking--who would have known at once what
to say, or how to spell the mute syllables of soul-telegraphy.  If
her husband had wanted facts--a good confidential talk about the
new burglar-alarm, or a clear and careful analysis of the engine-
house bills, or the heating system for the swimming pool--she could
have found just the confidential and tender accent for such topics.
Intimacy, to her, meant the tireless discussion of facts, not
necessarily of a domestic order, but definite and palpable facts.
For her part she was ready for anything, from Birth Control to neo-
impressionism: she flattered herself that few women had a wider
range.  In confidential moments she preferred the homelier themes,
and would have enjoyed best of all being tender and gay about the
coal cellar, or reticent and brave about the leak in the boiler;
but she was ready to deal with anything as long as it was a fact,
something with substance and outline, as to which one could have an
opinion and a line of conduct.  What paralyzed her was the sense
that, apart from his profession, her husband didn't care for facts,
and that nothing was less likely to rouse his interest than burglar-
alarm wiring, or the last new thing in electric ranges.  Obviously,
one must take men as they were, wilful, moody and mysterious; but
she would have given the world to be told (since for all her
application she had never discovered) what those other women said
who could talk to a man about nothing.

Manford lit a cigar and stared into the fire.  "It's about that
fool Amalasuntha," he began at length, addressing his words to the
logs.

The name jerked Pauline back to reality.  Here was a fact--hard,
knobby and uncomfortable!  And she had actually forgotten it in the
confused pleasure of their tte--tte!  So he had only come home
to talk to her about Amalasuntha.  She tried to keep the flatness
out of her:  "Yes, dear?"

He continued, still fixed on the fire:  "You may not know that
we've had a narrow escape."

"A narrow escape?"

"That damned Michelangelo--his mother was importing him this very
week.  The cable had gone.  If I hadn't put a stop to it we'd have
been saddled with him for life."

Pauline's breath failed her.  She listened with straining ears.

"You haven't seen her, then--she hasn't told you?" Manford
continued.  "She was getting him out on her own responsibility to
turn a film for Klawhammer.  Simply that!  By the mercy of heaven I
headed her off--but we hadn't a minute to lose."

In her bewilderment at this outburst, and at what it revealed,
Pauline continued to sit speechless.  "Michelangelo--Klawhammer?  I
didn't know!  But wouldn't it have been the best solution,
perhaps?"

"Solution--of what?  Don't you think one member of the family on
the screen's enough at a time?  Or would it have looked prettier to
see him and Lita featured together on every hoarding in the
country?  My God--I thought I'd done the right thing in acting for
you . . . there was no time to consult you . . . but if YOU don't
care, why should I?  He's none of MY family . . . and she isn't
either, for that matter."

He had swung round from the hearth, and faced her for the first
time, his brows contracted, the veins swelling on his temples, his
hands grasping his knees as if to constrain himself not to start up
in righteous indignation.  He was evidently deeply disturbed, yet
his anger, she felt, was only the unconscious mask of another
emotion--an emotion she could not divine.  His vehemence, and the
sense of moving in complete obscurity, had an intimidating effect
on her.

"I don't quite understand, Dexter.  Amalasuntha was here today.
She said nothing about films, or Klawhammer; but she did say that
you'd made it unnecessary for Michelangelo to come to America."

"Didn't she say how?"

"She said something about--paying his debts."

Manford stood up and went to lean against the mantelpiece.  He
looked down on his wife, who in her turn kept her eyes on the
embers.

"Well--you didn't suppose I made that offer till I saw we were up
against it, did you?"

His voice rose again angrily, but a cautious glance at his face
showed her that its tormented lines were damp with perspiration.
Her immediate thought was that he must be ill, that she ought to
take his temperature--she always responded by first-aid impulses to
any contact with human distress.  But no, after all, it was not
that: he was unhappy, that was it, he was desperately unhappy.  But
why?  Was it because he feared he had exceeded his rights in
pledging her to such an extent, in acting for her when there was no
time to consult her?  Apparently the idea of the discord between
Lita and Jim, and Lita's thirst for scenic notoriety, had shocked
him deeply--much more, in reality, than they had Pauline.  If so,
his impulse had been a natural one, and eminently in keeping with
those Wyant traditions with which (at suitable moments) she
continued to identify herself.  Yes: she began to understand his
thinking it would be odious to her to see the names of her son's
wife and this worthless Italian cousin emblazoned over every
Picture Palace in the land.  She felt moved by his regard for her
feelings.  After all, as he said, Lita and Michelangelo were no
relations of his; he could easily have washed his hands of the
whole affair.

"I'm sure what you've done must be right, Dexter; you know I always
trust your judgment.  Only--I wish you'd explain. . ."

"Explain what?"  Her mild reply seemed to provoke a new wave of
exasperation.  "The only way to stop his coming was to pay his
debts.  They're very heavy.  I had no right to commit you; I
acknowledge it."

She took a deep breath, the figure of Michelangelo's liabilities
blazing out before her as on a giant blackboard.  Then:  "You had
every right, Dexter," she said.  "I'm glad you did it."

He stood silent, his head bent, twisting between his fingers the
cigar he had forgotten to relight.  It was as if he had been
startled out of speech by the promptness of her acquiescence, and
would have found it easier to go on arguing and justifying himself.

"That's--very handsome of you, Pauline," he said at length.

"Oh, no--why?  You did it out of regard for me, I know.  Only--
perhaps you won't mind our talking things over a little.  About
ways and means . . ." she added, seeing his forehead gloom again.

"Ways and means--oh, certainly.  But please understand that I don't
expect you to shoulder the whole sum.  I've had two big fees
lately; I've already arranged--"

She interrupted him quickly.  "It's not your affair, Dexter.
You're awfully generous, always; but I couldn't think of letting
you--"

"It IS my affair; it's all of our affair.  I don't want this nasty
notoriety any more than you do . . . and Jim's happiness wrecked
into the bargain. . ."

"You're awfully generous," she repeated.

"It's first of all a question of helping Jim and Lita.  If that
young ass came over here with a contract from Klawhammer in his
pocket there'd be no holding her.  And once that gang get hold of a
woman. . ."  He spoke with a kind of breathless irritation, as
though it were incredible that Pauline should still not understand.

"It's very fine of you, dear," she could only murmur.

A pause followed, during which, for the first time, she could
assemble her thoughts and try to take in the situation.  Dexter had
bought off Michelangelo to keep one more disturbing element out of
the family complication; perhaps also to relieve himself of the
bother of having on his hands, at close quarters, an idle and
mischief-making young man.  That was comprehensible.  But if his
first object had been the securing of Jim's peace of mind, might
not the same end have been achieved, more satisfactorily to every
one but Michelangelo, by his uniting with Pauline to increase Jim's
allowance, and thus giving Lita the amusement and distraction of
having a lot more money to spend?  Even at such a moment, Pauline's
practical sense of values made it hard for her to accept the idea
of putting so many good thousands into the pockets of Michelangelo's
creditors.  She was naturally generous; but no matter how she
disposed of her fortune, she could never forget that it had been
money--and how much money it had been--before it became something
else.  For her it was never transmuted, but only exchanged.

"You're not satisfied--you don't think I did right?" Manford began
again.

"I don't say that, Dexter.  I'm only wondering--.  Supposing we'd
given the money to Jim instead?  Lita could have done her house
over . . . or built a bungalow in Florida . . . or bought jewels
with it. . .  She's so easily amused."

"Easily amused!"  He broke into a hard laugh.  "Why, that amount of
money wouldn't amuse her for a week!"  His face took on a look of
grim introspection.  "She wants the universe--or her idea of it.  A
woman with an offer from Klawhammer dangling in front of her!  Mrs.
Landish told me the figure--those people could buy us all out and
not know it."

Pauline's heart sank.  Apparently he knew things about Lita of
which she was still ignorant.  "I hadn't heard the offer had
actually been made.  But if it has, and she wants to accept, how
can we stop her?"

Manford had thrown himself down into his armchair.  He got up
again, relit his cigar, and walked across the room and back before
answering.  "I don't know that we can.  And I don't know how we
can.  But I want to try. . .  I want TIME to try. . .  Don't you
see, Pauline?  The child--we mustn't be hard on her.  Her
beginnings were damnable. . .  Perhaps you know--yes?  That cursd
Mahatma place?"  Pauline winced, and looked away from him.  He had
seen the photograph, then!  And heaven knows what more he had
discovered in the course of his investigations for the Lindons. . .
A sudden light glared out at her.  It was for Jim's sake and Lita's
that he had dropped the case--sacrificed his convictions, his sense
of the duty of exposing a social evil!  She faltered:  "I do
know . . . a little. . ."

"Well, a little's enough.  Swine--!  And that's the rotten
atmosphere she was brought up in.  But she's not bad, Pauline . . .
there's something still to be done with her . . . give me time . . .
time. . ."  He stopped abruptly, as if the "me" had slipped out
by mistake.  "We must all stand shoulder to shoulder to put up this
fight for her," he corrected himself with a touch of forensic
emphasis.

"Of course, dear, of course," Pauline murmured.

"When we get her to ourselves at Cedarledge, you and Nona and I. . .
It's just as well Jim's going off, by the way.  He's got her
nerves on edge; Jim's a trifle dense at times, you know. . .  And,
above all, this whole business, Klawhammer and all, must be kept
from him.  We'll all hold our tongues till the thing blows over,
eh?"

"Of course," she again assented.  "But supposing Lita asks to speak
to me?"

"Well, let her speak--listen to what she has to say. . ."  He
stopped, and then added, in a rough unsteady voice:  "Only don't be
hard on her.  You won't, will you?  No matter what rot she talks.
The child's never had half a chance."

"How could you think I should, Dexter?"

"No; no; I don't."  He stood up, and sent a slow unseeing gaze
about the room.  The gaze took in his wife, and rested on her long
enough to make her feel that she was no more to him--mauve tea-
gown, Chinese amethysts, touch of rouge and silver sandals--than a
sheet of glass through which he was staring: staring at what?  She
had never before felt so inexistent.

"Well--I'm dog-tired--down and out," he said with one of his sudden
jerks, shaking his shoulders and turning toward the door.  He did
not remember to say goodnight to her: how should he have, when she
was no longer there for him?



After the door had closed, Pauline in her turn looked slowly about
the room.  It was as if she were taking stock of the havoc wrought
by an earthquake; but nothing about her showed any sign of disorder
except the armchair her husband had pushed back, the rug his
movement had displaced.

With instinctive precision she straightened the rug, and rolled the
armchair back into its proper corner.  Then she went up to a mirror
and attentively scrutinized herself.  The light was unbecoming,
perhaps . . . the shade of the adjacent wall-candle had slipped out
of place.  She readjusted it . . . yes, that was better!  But of
course, at nearly midnight--and after such a day!--a woman was
bound to look a little drawn.  Automatically her lips shaped the
familiar:  "Pauline, don't worry: there's nothing in the world to
worry about."  But the rouge had vanished from the lips, their thin
line looked blue and arid.  She turned from the unpleasing sight,
putting out one light after another on the way to her dressing-
room.

As she bent to extinguish the last lamp its light struck a tall
framed photograph: Lita's latest portrait.  Lita had the gift of
posing--the lines she fell into always had an unconscious
eloquence.  And that little round face, as sleek as the inside of a
shell; the slanting eyes, the budding mouth . . . men, no doubt,
would think it all enchanting.

Pauline, with slow steps, went on into the big shining dressing-
room, and to the bathroom beyond, all ablaze with white tiling and
silvered taps and tubes.  It was the hour of her evening uplift
exercises, the final relaxing of body and soul before she slept.
Sternly she addressed herself to relaxation.



XVII


What was the sense of it all?

Nona, sitting up in bed two days after her nocturnal visit to the
Housetop, swept the interval with a desolate eye.  She had made her
great, her final, refusal.  She had sacrificed herself, sacrificed
Heuston, to the stupid ideal of an obstinate woman who managed to
impress people by dressing up her egotism in formulas of
philanthropy and piety.  Because Aggie was forever going to church,
and bossing the committees of Old Women's Homes and Rest-cures for
Consumptives, she was allowed a license of cruelty which would have
damned the frivolous.

Destroying two lives to preserve her own ideal of purity!  It was
like the horrible ailing old men in history books, who used to
bathe in human blood to restore their vitality.  Every one agreed
that there was nothing such a clever sensitive fellow as Stanley
Heuston mightn't have made of his life if he'd married a different
kind of woman.  As it was, he had just drifted: tried the law,
dabbled in literary reviewing, taken a turn at municipal politics,
another at scientific farming, and dropped one experiment after
another to sink, at thirty-five, into a disillusioned idler who
killed time with cards and drink and motor-speeding.  She didn't
believe he ever opened a book nowadays: he was living on the
dwindling capital of his early enthusiasms.  But, as for what
people called his "fastness," she knew it was merely the inevitable
opposition to Aggie's virtues.  And it wasn't as if there had been
children.  Nona always ached for the bewildered progeny suddenly
bundled from one home to another when their parents embarked on a
new conjugal experiment; she could never have bought her happiness
by a massacre of innocents.  But to be sacrificed to a sterile
union--as sterile spiritually as physically--to miss youth and love
because of Agnes Heuston's notion of her duty to the elderly
clergyman she called God!

That woman he said he was going off with. . .  Nona had pretended
she didn't know, had opened incredulous eyes at the announcement.
But of course she knew; everybody knew; it was Cleo Merrick.  She
had been "after him" for the last two years, she hadn't a rag of
reputation to lose, and would jump at the idea of a few jolly weeks
with a man like Heuston, even if he got away from her afterward.
But he wouldn't--of course he never would!  Poor Stan--Cleo
Merrick's noise, her cheek, her vulgarity: how warm and life-giving
they would seem as a change from the frigidarium he called home!
She would hold him by her very cheapness: her recklessness would
seem like generosity, her glitter like heat.  Ah--how Nona could
have shown him the difference!  She shut her eyes and felt his lips
on her lids; and her lids became lips.  Wherever he touched her, a
mouth blossomed. . .  Did he know that?  Had he never guessed?

She jumped out of bed, ran into her dressing-room, began to bathe
and dress with feverish haste.  She wouldn't telephone him--Aggie
had long ears.  She wouldn't send a "special delivery"--Aggie had
sharp eyes.  She would just summon him by a telegram: a safe
anonymous telegram.  She would dash out of the house and get it off
herself, without even waiting for her cup of coffee to be brought.

"Come and see me any time today.  I was too stupid the other
night."  Yes; he would understand that.  She needn't even sign
it. . .

On the threshold of her room, the telegram crumpled in her hand,
the telephone bell arrested her.  Stanley, surely; he must have
felt the same need that she had!  She fumbled uncertainly with the
receiver; the tears were running down her cheeks.  She had waited
too long; she had exacted the impossible of herself.  "Yes--yes?
It's you, darling?"  She laughed it out through her weeping.

"What's that?  It's Jim.  That you, Nona?" a quiet voice came back.
When had Jim's voice ever been anything but quiet?

"Oh, Jim, dear!"  She gulped down tears and laughter.  "Yes--what
is it?  How awfully early you are!"

"Hope I didn't wake you?  Can I drop in on my way down town?"

"Of course.  When?  How soon?"

"Now.  In two minutes.  I've got to be at the office before nine."

"All right.  In two minutes.  Come straight up."

She hung up the receiver, and thrust the telegram aside.  No time
to rush out with it now.  She would see Jim first, and send off her
message when he left.  Now that her decision was taken she felt
tranquil and able to wait.  But anxiety about Jim rose and swelled
in her again.  She reproached herself for having given him so
little thought for the last two days.  Since her parting from Stan
on the doorstep in the rainy night everything but her fate and his
had grown remote and almost indifferent to her.  Well; it was
natural enough--only perhaps she had better not be so glib about
Aggie Heuston's selfishness!  Of course everybody who was in love
was selfish; and Aggie, according to her lights, was in love.  Her
love was bleak and cramped, like everything about her; a sort of
fleshless bony affair, like the repulsive plates in anatomical
manuals.  But in reality those barren arms were stretched toward
Stanley, though she imagined they were lifted to God. . .  What a
hideous mystery life was!  And yet Pauline and her friends
persisted in regarding it as a Sunday school picnic, with lemonade
and sponge cake as its supreme rewards. . .

Here was Jim at her sitting-room door.  Nona held out her arms, and
slanted a glance at him as he bent his cheek to her kiss.  Was the
cheek rather sallower than usual?  Well, that didn't mean much: he
and she were always a yellow pair when they were worried!

"What's up, old man?  No--this armchair's more comfortable.  Had
your coffee?"

He let her change the armchair, but declined the coffee.  He had
breakfasted before starting, he said--but she knew Lita's
household, and didn't believe him.

"Anything wrong with Exhibit A?"

"Wrong?  No.  That is. . ."  She had put the question at random, in
the vague hope of gaining time before Lita's name was introduced;
and now she had the sense of having unwittingly touched on another
problem.

"That is--well, he's nervous and fidgety again: you've noticed?"

"I've noticed."

"Imagining things--.  What a complicated world our ancestors lived
in, didn't they?"

"Well, I don't know.  Mother's world always seems to me alarmingly
simple."

He considered.  "Yes--that's pioneering and motor-building, I
suppose.  It's the old New York blood that's so clogged with
taboos.  Poor father always wants me to behave like a Knight of the
Round Table."

Nona lifted her eyebrows with an effort of memory.  "How did they
behave?"

"They were always hitting some other fellow over the head."

She felt a little catch in her throat.  "Who--particularly--does he
want you to hit over the head?"

"Oh, we haven't got as far as that yet.  It's just the general
principle.  Anybody who looks too hard at Lita."

"You WOULD have to be hitting about!  Everybody looks hard at Lita.
How in the world can she help it?"

"That's what I tell him.  But he says I haven't got the feelings of
a gentleman.  Guts, he means, I suppose."  He leaned back, crossing
his arms wearily behind his back, his sallow face with heavy-lidded
eyes tilted to the ceiling.  "Do you suppose Lita feels that too?"
he suddenly flung at his sister.

"That you ought to break people's heads for her?  She'd be the
first to laugh at you!"

"So I told him.  But he says women despise a man who isn't
jealous."

Nona sat silent, instinctively turning her eyes from his troubled
face.  "Why should you be jealous?" she asked at length.

He shifted his position, stretched his arms along his knees, and
brought his eyes down to a level with hers.  There was something
pathetic, she thought, in such youthful blueness blurred with
uncomprehended pain.

"I suppose it's never got much to do with reasons," he said, very
low.

"No; that's why it's so silly--and ungenerous."

"It doesn't matter what it is.  She doesn't care a hang if I'm
jealous or if I'm not.  She doesn't care anything about me.  I've
simply ceased to exist for her."

"Well, then you can't be in her way."

"It seems I am, though.  Because I DO exist, for the world; and as
the boy's father.  And the mere idea gets on her nerves."

Nona laughed a little bitterly.  "She wants a good deal of elbow-
room, doesn't she?  And how does she propose to eliminate you?"

"Oh, that's easy.  Divorce."

There was a silence between the two.  This was how it sounded--that
simple reasonable request--on the lips of the other partner, the
partner who still had a stake in the affair!  Lately she seemed to
have forgotten that side of the question; but how hideously it
grimaced at her now, behind the lines of this boyish face wrung
with a man's misery!

"Old Jim--it hurts such a lot?"

He jerked away from her outstretched hand.  "Hurt?  A fellow can
stand being hurt.  It can't hurt more than feeling her chained to
me.  But if she goes--what does she go to?"

Ah--that was it!  Through the scorch and cloud of his own suffering
he had seen it, it was the centre of his pain.  Nona glanced down
absently at her slim young hands--so helpless and inexperienced
looking.  All these tangled cross-threads of life, inextricably and
fatally interwoven; how were a girl's hands to unravel them?

"I suppose she's talked to you--told you her ideas?" he asked.

Nona nodded.

"Well, what's to be done: can you tell me?"

"She mustn't go--we mustn't let her."

"But if she stays--stays hating me?"

"Oh, Jim, not HATING--!"

"You know well enough that she gets to hate anything that doesn't
amuse her."

"But there's the baby.  The baby still amuses her."

He looked at her, surprised.  "Ah, that's what father says: he
calls the baby, poor old chap, my hostage.  What rot!  As if I'd
take her baby from her--and just because she cares for it.  If I
don't know how to keep her, I don't see that I've got any right to
keep her child."

That was the new idea of marriage, the view of Nona's
contemporaries; it had been her own a few hours since.  Now, seeing
it in operation, she wondered if it still were.  It was one thing
to theorize on the detachability of human beings, another to watch
them torn apart by the bleeding roots.  This botanist who had
recently discovered that plants were susceptible to pain, and that
transplanting was a major operation--might he not, if he turned his
attention to modern men and women, find the same thing to be still
true of a few of them?

"Oh Jim, how I wish you didn't care so!"  The words slipped out
unawares: they were the last she had meant to speak aloud.

Her brother turned to her; the ghost of his old smile drew up his
lip.  "Good old girl!" he mocked her--then his face dropped into
his hands, and he sat huddled against the armchair, his shaken
shoulder-blades warding off her touch.

It didn't last more than a minute; but it was the real, the only
answer.  He DID care so; nothing could alter it.  She looked on
stupidly, admitted for the first time to this world-old anguish
rooted under all the restless moods of man.

Jim got up, shook back his rumpled hair, and reached for a
cigarette.  "That's THAT.  And now, my child, what can I do?  What
I'd honestly like, if she wants her freedom, is to give it to her,
and yet be able to go on looking after her.  But I don't see how
that can be worked out.  Father says it's madness.  He says I'm a
morbid coward and talk like the people in the Russian novels.  He
wants to speak to her himself--"

"Oh, no!  He and she don't talk the same language. . ."

Jim paused, pulling absently at his cigarette, and measuring the
room with uncertain steps.  "That's what I feel.  But there's YOUR
father; he's been so awfully good to us; and his ideas are less
archaic. . ."

Nona had turned away and was looking unseeingly out of the window.
She moved back hastily.  "No!"

He looked surprised.  "You think he wouldn't understand either?"

"I don't mean that. . .  But, after all, it's not his job. . .
Have you spoken to mother?"

"Mother?  Oh, she always thinks everything's all right.  She'd give
me a cheque, and tell me to buy Lita a new motor or to let her do
over the drawing-room."

Nona pondered this answer, which was no more than the echo of her
own thoughts.  "All the same, Jim: mother's mother.  She's always
been awfully good to both of us, and you can't let this go on
without her knowing, without consulting her.  She has a right to
your confidence--she has a right to hear what Lita has to say."

He remained silent, as if indifferent.  His mother's glittering
optimism was a hard surface for grief and failure to fling
themselves on.  "What's the use?" he grumbled.

"Let me consult her, then: at least let me see how she takes it."

He threw away his cigarette and looked at his watch.  "I've got to
run; it's nearly nine."  He laid a hand on his sister's shoulder.
"Whatever you like, old girl.  But don't imagine it's going to be
any use."

She put her arms about him, and he submitted to her kiss.  "Give me
time," she said, not knowing what else to answer.

After he had gone she sat motionless, weighed down with half-
comprehended misery.  This business of living--how right she had
been to feel, in her ignorance, what a tortured tangle it was!
Where, for instance, did one's own self end and one's neighbour's
begin?  And how tell the locked tendrils apart in the delicate
process of disentanglement?  Her precocious half-knowledge of the
human dilemma was combined with a youthful belief that the duration
of pain was proportioned to its intensity.  And at that moment she
would have hated any one who had tried to persuade her of the
contrary.  The only honourable thing about suffering was that it
should not abdicate before indifference.

She got up, and her glance fell on the telegram which she had
pushed aside when her brother entered.  She still had her hat on,
her feet were turned toward the door.  But the door seemed to open
into a gray unpeopled world suddenly shorn of its magic.  She moved
back into the room and tore up the telegram.



XVIII


"Lita?  But of course I'll talk to Lita--"  Mrs. Manford, resting
one elbow on her littered desk, smiled up encouragingly at her
daughter.  On the desk lay the final version of the Birth Control
speech, mastered and canalized by the skilful Maisie.  The result
was so pleasing that Pauline would have liked to read it aloud to
Nona, had the latter not worn her look of concentrated care.  It
was a pity, Pauline thought, that Nona should let herself go at her
age to these moods of anxiety and discouragement.

Pauline herself, fortified by her morning exercises, and by a
"double treatment" ($50) from Alvah Loft, had soared once more
above her own perplexities.  She had not had time for a word alone
with her husband since their strange talk of the previous evening;
but already the doubts and uncertainties produced by that talk had
been dispelled.  Of course Dexter had been moody and irritable:
wasn't her family always piling up one worry on him after another?
He had always loved Jim as much as he did Nona; and now this menace
to Jim's happiness, and the unpleasantness about Lita, combined
with Amalasuntha's barefaced demands, and the threatened arrival of
the troublesome Michelangelo--such a weight of domestic problems
was enough to unnerve a man already overburdened with professional
cares.

"But of course I'll talk to Lita, dear; I always meant to.  The
silly goose!  I've waited only because your father--"

Nona's heavy eyebrows ran together like Manford's.  "Father?"

"Oh, he's helping us so splendidly about it.  And he asked me to
wait; to do nothing in a hurry. . ."

Nona seemed to turn this over.  "All the same--I think you ought to
hear what Lita has to say.  She's trying to persuade Jim to let her
divorce him; and he thinks he ought to, if he can't make her
happy."

"But he MUST make her happy!  I'll talk to Jim too," cried Pauline
with a gay determination.

"I'd try Lita first, mother.  Ask her to postpone her decision.  If
we can get her to come to Cedarledge for a few weeks' rest--"

"Yes; that's what your father says."

"But I don't think father ought to give up his fishing to join us.
Haven't you noticed how tired he looks?  He ought to get away from
all of us for a few weeks.  Why shouldn't you and I look after
Lita?"

Pauline's enthusiasm drooped.  It was really no business of Nona's
to give her mother advice about the management of her father.
These modern girls--pity Nona didn't marry, and try managing a
husband of her own!

"Your father loves Cedarledge.  It's quite his own idea to go
there.  He thinks Easter in the country with us all will be more
restful than California.  I haven't influenced him in the least to
give up his fishing."

"Oh, I didn't suppose you had."  Nona seemed to lose interest in
the discussion, and her mother took advantage of the fact to add,
with a gentle side-glance at her watch:  "Is there anything else,
dear?  Because I've got to go over my Birth Control speech, and at
eleven there's a delegation from--"

Nona's eyes had followed her glance to the scattered pages on the
desk.  "Are you really going to preside at that Birth Control
dinner, mother?"

"Preside?  Why not?  I happen to be chairman," Pauline answered
with a faint touch of acerbity.

"I know.  Only--the other day you were preaching unlimited
families.  Don't the two speeches come rather close together?  You
might expose yourself to some newspaper chaff if any one put you in
parallel columns."

Pauline felt herself turning pale.  Her lips tightened, and for a
moment she was conscious of a sort of blur in her brain.  This
girl . . . it was preposterous that she shouldn't understand!  And
always wanting reasons and explanations at a moment's notice!  To
be subjected, under one's own roof, to such a perpetual
inquisition. . .  There was nothing she disliked so much as
questions to which she had not had time to prepare the answers.

"I don't think you always grasp things, Nona."  The words were
feeble, but they were the first that came.

"I'm afraid I don't, mother."

"Then, perhaps--I just suggest it--you oughtn't to be quite so
ready to criticize.  You seem to imagine there is a contradiction
in my belonging to these two groups of . . . of thought. . ."

"They do seem to contradict each other."

"Not in reality.  The principles are different, of course; but, you
see, they are meant to apply to--to different categories of people.
It's all a little difficult to explain to any one as young as you
are . . . a girl naturally can't be expected to know. . ."

"Oh, what we girls don't know, mother!"

"Well, dear, I've always approved of outspokenness on such matters.
The real nastiness is in covering things up.  But all the same, age
and experience DO teach one. . .  You children mustn't hope to get
at all your elders' reasons. . ."  That sounded firm yet friendly,
and as she spoke she felt herself on safer ground.  "I wish there
were time to go into it all with you now; but if I'm to keep up
with today's engagements, and crowd in a talk with Lita besides--
Maisie!  Will you call up Mrs. Jim?"

Maisie answered from the other room:  "The delegation of the League
For Discovering Genius is waiting downstairs, Mrs. Manford--"

"Oh, to be sure!  This is rather an important movement, Nona; a new
thing.  I do believe there's something helpful to be done for
genius.  They're just organizing their first drive: I heard of it
through that wonderful Mrs. Swoffer.  You wouldn't care to come
down and see the delegation with me?  No . . .  I sometimes think
you'd be happier if you interested yourself a little more in other
people . . . in all the big humanitarian movements that make one so
proud to be an American.  Don't you think it's glorious to belong
to the only country where everybody is absolutely free, and yet
we're all made to do exactly what is best for us?  I say that
somewhere in my speech. . .  Well, I promise to have my talk with
Lita before dinner; whatever happens, I'll squeeze her in.  And you
and Jim needn't be afraid of my saying anything to set her against
us.  Your father has impressed that on me already.  After all, I've
always preached the respect of every one's personality; only Lita
must begin by respecting Jim's."



Fresh from a stimulating encounter with Mrs. Swoffer and the
encouragers of genius, Pauline was able to face with a smiling
composure her meeting with her daughter-in-law.  Every contact with
the humanitarian movements distinguishing her native country from
the selfish laissez faire and cynical indifference of Europe filled
her with a new optimism, and shed a reassuring light on all her
private cares.  America really seemed to have an immediate answer
for everything, from the treatment of the mentally deficient to the
elucidation of the profoundest religious mysteries.  In such an
atmosphere of universal simplification, how could one's personal
problems not be solved?  "The great thing is to believe that they
WILL be," as Mrs. Swoffer said,  propos of the finding of funds
for the new League For Discovering Genius.  The remark was so
stimulating to Pauline that she immediately drew a large cheque,
and accepted the chairmanship of the committee; and it was on the
favouring breeze of the League's applause that she sailed, at the
tea-hour, into Lita's boudoir.

"It seems simpler just to ask her for a cup of tea--as if I were
dropping in to see the baby," Pauline had reflected; and as Lita
was not yet at home, there was time to turn her pretext into a
reality.  Upstairs, in the blue and silver nursery, her sharp eye
detected many small negligences under the artistic surface: soiled
towels lying about, a half-empty glass of milk with a drowned fly
in it, dead and decaying flowers in the sthetic flowerpots, and
not a single ventilator open in the upper window-panes.  She made a
mental note of these items, but resolved not to touch on them in
her talk with Lita.  At Cedarledge, where the nurse would be under
her own eye, nursery hygiene could be more tactfully imparted. . .

The black boudoir was still empty when Pauline returned to it, but
she was armed with patience, and sat down to wait.  The armchairs
were much too low to be comfortable and she hated the semi-
obscurity of the veiled lamps.  How could one possibly occupy one's
time in a pitch-dark room with seats that one had to sprawl in as
if they were deck-chairs?  She thought the room so ugly and dreary
that she could hardly blame Lita for wanting to do it over.  "I'll
give her a cheque for it at once," she reflected indulgently.  "All
young people begin by making mistakes of this kind."  She
remembered with a little shiver the set of imitation tapestry
armchairs that she had insisted on buying for her drawing-room when
she had married Wyant.  Perhaps it would be a good move to greet
Lita with the offer of the cheque. . .

Somehow Lita's appearance, when she at length arrived, made the
idea seem less happy.  Lita had a way of looking as if she didn't
much care what one did to please her; for a young woman who spent
so much money she made very little effort to cajole it out of her
benefactors.  "Hullo," she said; "I didn't know you were here.  Am
I late, I wonder?"

Pauline greeted her with a light kiss.  "How can you ever tell if
you are?  I don't believe there's a clock in the house."

"Yes, there is; in the nursery," said Lita.

"Well, my dear, that one's stopped," rejoined her mother-in-law,
smiling.

"You've been seeing the boy?  Oh, then you haven't missed me," Lita
smiled back as she loosened her furs and tossed off her hat.  She
ran her hands through her goldfish-coloured hair, and flung herself
down on a pile of cushions.  "Tea's coming sooner or later, I
suppose.  Unless--a cocktail?  No?  Wouldn't you be more
comfortable on the floor?" she suggested to her mother-in-law.

Every whalebone in Pauline's perfectly fitting elastic girdle
contracted apprehensively.  "Thank you; I'm very well here."  She
assumed as willowy an attitude as the treacherous seat permitted,
and added:  "I'm so glad to have the chance of a little talk.  In
this rushing life we all tend to lose sight of each other, don't
we?  But I hear about you so constantly from Nona that I feel we're
very close even when we don't meet.  Nona's devoted to you--we all
are."

"That's awfully sweet of you," said Lita with her air of radiant
indifference.

"Well, my dear, we hope you reciprocate," Pauline sparkled,
stretching a maternal hand to the young shoulder at her knee.

Lita slanted her head backward with a slight laugh.  Mrs. Manford
had never thought her pretty, but today the mere freshness of her
parted lips, their rosy lining, the unspoilt curves of her cheek
and long white throat, stung the older woman to reluctant
admiration.

"Am I expected to be devoted to you ALL?" Lita questioned.

"No, dear; only to Jim."

"Oh--" said Jim's wife, her smile contracting to a faint grimace.

Pauline leaned forward earnestly.  "I won't pretend not to know
something of what's been happening.  I came here today to talk
things over with you, quietly and affectionately--like an older
sister.  Try not to think of me as a mother-in-law!"

Lita's slim eyebrows went up ironically.  "Oh, I'm not afraid of
mothers-in-law; they're not as permanent as they used to be."

Pauline took a quick breath; she caught the impertinence under the
banter, but she called her famous tact to the rescue.

"I'm glad you're not afraid of me, because I want you to tell me
perfectly frankly what it is that's bothering you . . . you and
Jim. . ."

"Nothing is bothering me particularly; but I suppose I'm bothering
Jim," said Lita lightly.

"You're doing more than that, dear; you're making him desperately
unhappy.  This talk of wanting to separate--"

Lita rose on her elbow among the cushions, and levelled her eyes on
Mrs. Manford.  They looked as clear and shallow as the most
expensive topazes.

"Separations are idiotic.  What I want is a hundred per cent New
York divorce.  And he could let me have it just as easily. . ."

"Lita!  You don't know how wretched it makes me to hear you say
such things."

"Does it?  Sorry!  But it's Jim's own fault.  Heaps of other girls
would jump at him if he was free.  And if I'm bored, what's the use
of trying to keep me?  What on earth can we do about it, either of
us?  You can't take out an insurance against boredom."

"But why should you be bored?  With everything on earth. . ."
Pauline waved a hand at the circumjacent luxuries.

"Well; that's it, I suppose.  Always the same old everything!"

The mother-in-law softened her voice to murmur temptingly:  "Of
course, if it's this house you're tired of. . .  Nona told me
something about your wanting to redecorate some of the rooms; and I
can understand, for instance, that this one. . ."

"Oh, this is the only one I don't utterly loathe.  But I'm not
divorcing Jim on account of the house," Lita answered, with a faint
smile which seemed perverse to Pauline.

"Then what is the reason?  I don't understand."

"I'm not much good at reasons.  I want a new deal, that's all."

Pauline struggled against her rising indignation.  To sit and hear
this chit of a Cliffe girl speak of husband and home as if it were
a matter of course to discard them like last year's fashions!  But
she was determined not to allow her feelings to master her.  "If
you had only yourself to think of, what should you do?" she asked.

"Do?  Be myself, I suppose!  I can't be, here.  I'm a sort of all-
round fake.  I--"

"We none of us want you to be that--Jim least of all.  He wants you
to feel perfectly free to express your personality."

"Here--in this house?"  Her contemptuous gesture seemed to tumble
it down like a pack of cards.  "And looking at him across the
dinner-table every night of my life?"

Pauline paused; then she said gently:  "And can you face giving up
your baby?"

"Baby?  Why should I?  You don't suppose I'd ever give up my baby?"

"Then you mean to ask Jim to give up his wife and child, and to
assume all the blame as well?"

"Oh, dear, no.  Where's the blame?  I don't see any!  All I want is
a new deal," repeated Lita doggedly.

"My dear, I'm sure you don't know what you're saying.  Your husband
has the misfortune to be passionately in love with you.  The
divorce you talk of so lightly would nearly kill him.  Even if he
doesn't interest you any longer, he did once.  Oughtn't you to take
that into account?"

Lita seemed to ponder.  Then she said:  "But oughtn't he to take
into account that he doesn't interest me any longer?"

Pauline made a final effort at self-control.  "Yes, dear; if it's
really so.  But if he goes away for a time. . .  You know he's to
have a long holiday soon, and my husband has arranged to have him
go down with Mr. Wyant to the island.  All I ask is that you
shouldn't decide anything till he comes back.  See how you feel
about him when he's been away for two or three weeks.  Perhaps
you've been too much together--perhaps New York has got too much on
both your nerves.  At any rate, do let him go off on his holiday
without the heartbreak of feeling it's good-bye. . .  My husband
begs you to do this.  You know he loves Jim as if he were his son--"

Lita was still leaning on her elbow.  "Well--isn't he?" she said in
her cool silvery voice, with innocently widened eyes.

For an instant the significance of the retort escaped Pauline.
When it reached her she felt as humiliated as if she had been
caught concealing a guilty secret.  She opened her lips, but no
sound came from them.  She sat wordless, torn between the desire to
box her daughter-in-law's ears, and to rush in tears from the
house.

"Lita . . ." she gasped . . . "this insult. . ."

Lita sat up, her eyes full of a slightly humorous compunction.
"Oh, no!  An insult!  Why?  I've always thought it would be so
wonderful to have a love-child.  I supposed that was why you both
worshipped Jim.  And now he isn't even that!"  She shrugged her
slim shoulders, and held her hands out penitently.  "I AM sorry to
have said the wrong thing--honestly I am!  But it just shows we can
never understand each other.  For me the real wickedness is to go
on living with a man you don't love.  And now I've offended you by
supposing you once felt in the same way yourself. . ."

Pauline slowly rose to her feet: she felt stiff and shrunken.  "You
haven't offended me--I'm not going to allow myself to be offended.
I'd rather think we don't understand each other, as you say.  But
surely it's not too late to try.  I don't want to discuss things
with you; I don't want to nag or argue; I only want you to wait, to
come with the baby to Cedarledge, and spend a few quiet weeks with
us.  Nona will be there, and my husband . . . there'll be no
reproaches, no questions . . . but we'll do our best to make you
happy. . ."

Lita, with her funny twisted smile, moved toward her mother-in-law.
"Why, you're actually crying!  I don't believe you do that often,
do you?"  She bent forward and put a light kiss on Pauline's
shrinking cheek.  "All right--I'll come to Cedarledge.  I AM dead-
beat and fed-up, and I daresay it'll do me a lot of good to lie up
for a while. . ."

Pauline, for a moment, made no answer: she merely laid her lips on
the girl's cheek, a little timidly, as if it had been made of
something excessively thin and brittle.

"We shall all be very glad," she said.



On the doorstep, in the motor, she continued to move in the
resonance of the outrageous question:  "WELL--ISN'T HE?"  The
violence of her recoil left her wondering what use there was in
trying to patch up a bond founded on such a notion of marriage.
Would not Jim, as his wife so lightly suggested, run more chance of
happiness if he could choose again?  Surely there must still be
some decent right-minded girls brought up in the old way . . . like
Aggie Heuston, say!  But Pauline's imagination shivered away from
that too. . .  Perhaps, after all, her own principles were really
obsolete to her children.  Only, what was to take their place?
Human nature had not changed as fast as social usage, and if Jim's
wife left him nothing could prevent his suffering in the same old
way.

It was all very baffling and disturbing, and Pauline did not feel
as sure as she usually did that the question could be disposed of
by ignoring it.  Still, on the drive home her thoughts cleared as
she reflected that she had gained her main point--for the time, at
any rate.  Manford had enjoined her not to estrange or frighten
Lita, and the two women had parted with a kiss.  Manford had
insisted that Lita should be induced to take no final decision till
after her stay at Cedarledge; and to this also she had acquiesced.
Pauline, on looking back, began to be struck by the promptness of
Lita's surrender, and correspondingly impressed by her own skill in
manoeuvring.  There WAS something, after all, in these exercises of
the will, these smiling resolves to ignore or dominate whatever was
obstructive or unpleasant!  She had gained with an almost startling
ease the point which Jim and Manford and Nona had vainly struggled
for.  And perhaps Lita's horrid insinuation had not been a
voluntary impertinence, but merely the unconscious avowal of new
standards.  The young people nowadays, for all their long words and
scientific realism, were really more like children than ever. . .

In Pauline's boudoir, Nona, curled up on the hearth, her chin in
her hands, raised her head at her mother's approach.  To Pauline
the knowledge that she was awaited, and that she brought with her
the secret of defeat or victory, gave back the healing sense of
authority.

"It's all right, darling," she announced; "just a little summer
shower; I always told you there was nothing to worry about."  And
she added with a smile:  "You see, Nona, some people DO still
listen when your old mother talks to them."



XIX


If only Aggie Heuston had changed those sour-apple curtains in the
front drawing-room, Nona thought--if she had substituted deep
upholstered armchairs for the hostile gilt seats, and put books
in the marqueterie cabinets in place of blue china dogs and
Dresden shepherdesses, everything in three lives might have been
different. . .

But Aggie had probably never noticed the colour of the curtains or
the angularity of the furniture.  She had certainly never missed
the books.  She had accepted the house as it came to her from her
parents, who in turn had taken it over, in all its dreary
frivolity, from their father and mother.  It embodied the New York
luxury of the 'seventies in every ponderous detail, from the huge
cabbage roses of the Aubusson carpet to the triple layer of
curtains designed to protect the aristocracy of the brown-stone age
from the plebeian intrusion of light and air.

"Funny," Nona thought again--"that all this ugliness should prick
me like nettles, and matter no more to Aggie than if it were in the
next street.  She's a saint, I know.  But what I want to find is a
saint who hates ugly furniture, and yet lives among it with a
smile.  What's the merit, if you never see it?"  She addressed
herself to a closer inspection of one of the cabinets, in which
Aggie's filial piety had preserved her mother's velvet and silver
spectacle-case, and her father's ivory opera-glasses, in
combination with an alabaster Leaning Tower and a miniature copy of
Carlo Dolci's Magdalen.

Queer dead rubbish--but queerer still that, at that moment and in
that house, Nona's uncanny detachment should permit her to smile at
it!  Where indeed--she wondered again--did one's own personality
end, and that of others, of people, landscapes, chairs or spectacle-
cases, begin?  Ever since she had received, the night before,
Aggie's stiff and agonized little note, which might have been
composed by a child with a tooth-ache, Nona had been apprehensively
asking herself if her personality didn't even include certain
shreds and fibres of Aggie.  It was all such an inextricable
tangle. . .

Here she came.  Nona heard the dry click of her steps on the stairs
and across the polished bareness of the hall.  She had written:
"If you could make it perfectly convenient to call--"  Aggie's
nearest approach to a friendly summons!  And as she opened the
door, and advanced over the cabbage roses, Nona saw that her narrow
face, with the eyes too close together, and the large pale pink
mouth with straight edges, was sharpened by a new distress.

"It's very kind of you to come, Nona--" she began in her clear
painstaking voice.

"Oh, nonsense, Aggie!  Do drop all that.  Of course I know what
it's about."

Aggie turned noticeably paler; but her training as a hostess
prevailing over her emotion, she pushed forward a gilt chair.  "Do
sit down."  She placed herself in an adjoining sofa corner.
Overhead, Aggie's grandmother, in a voluted gilt frame, held a
Brussels lace handkerchief in her hand, and leaned one ruffled
elbow on a velvet table-cover fringed with knobby tassels.

"You say you know--" Aggie began.

"Of course."

"Stanley--he's told you?"

Nona's nerves were beginning to jump and squirm like a bundle of
young vipers.  Was she going to be able to stand much more of these
paralyzing preliminaries?

"Oh, yes: he's told me."

Aggie dropped her lids and stared down at her narrow white hands.
Then a premonitory twitch ran along her lips and drew her forehead
into little wrinkles of perplexity.

"I don't want you to think I've any cause of complaint against
Stanley--none whatever.  There has never been a single unkind
word. . .  We've always lived together on the most perfect
terms. . ."

Feeling that some form of response was required of her, Nona
emitted a vague murmur.

"Only now--he's--he's left me," Aggie concluded, the words wrung
out of her in laboured syllables.  She raised one hand and smoothed
back a flat strand of hair which had strayed across her forehead.

Nona was silent.  She sat with her eyes fixed on that small
twitching mask--real face it could hardly be called, since it had
probably never before been suffered to express any emotion that was
radically and peculiarly Aggie's.

"You knew that too?" Aggie continued, in a studiously objective
tone.

Nona made a sign of assent.

"He has nothing to reproach me with--nothing whatever.  He
expressly told me so."

"Yes; I know.  That's the worst of it."

"The worst of it?"

"Why, if he had, you might have had a good row that would have
cleared the air."

Suddenly Nona felt Aggie's eyes fixed on her with a hungry
penetrating stare.  "Did you and he use to have good rows, as you
call it?"

"Oh, by the hour--whenever we met!"  Nona, for the life of her,
could not subdue the mocking triumph in her voice.

Aggie's lips narrowed.  "You've been very great friends, I know;
he's often told me so.  But if you were always quarrelling how
could you continue to respect each other?"

"I don't know that we did.  At any rate, there was no time to think
about it; because there was always the making-up, you see."

"The making-up?"

"Aggie," Nona burst out abruptly, "have you never known what it was
to have a man give you a jolly good hug, and feel full enough of
happiness to scent a whole garden with it?"

Aggie lifted her lids on a glance which was almost one of terror.
The image Nona had used seemed to convey nothing to her, but the
question evidently struck her with a deadly force.

"A man--what man?"

Nona laughed.  "Well, for the sake of argument--Stanley!"

"I can't imagine why you ask such queer questions, Nona.  How could
we make up when we never quarrelled?"

"Is it queer to ask you if you ever loved your husband?"

"It's queer of you to ask it," said the wife simply.  Nona's swift
retort died unspoken, and she felt one of her slow secret blushes
creeping up to the roots of her hair.

"I'm sorry, Aggie.  I'm horribly nervous--and I suppose you are.
Hadn't we better start fresh?  What was it you wanted to see me
about?"

Aggie was silent for a moment, as if gathering up all her strength;
then she answered:  "To tell you that if he wants to marry you I
shan't oppose a divorce any longer."

"Aggie!"

The two sat silent, opposite each other, as if they had reached a
point beyond which words could not carry their communion.  Nona's
mind, racing forward, touched the extreme limit of human bliss, and
then crawled back from it bowed and broken-winged.

"But ONLY on that condition," Aggie began again, with deliberate
emphasis.

"On condition--that he marries me?"

Aggie made a motion of assent.  "I have a right to impose my
conditions.  And what I want is"--she faltered suddenly--"what I
want is that you should save him from Cleo Merrick. . ."  Her level
voice broke and two tears forced their way through her lashes and
fell slowly down her cheeks.

"Save him from Cleo Merrick?"  Nona fancied she heard herself
laugh.  Her thoughts seemed to drag after her words as if she were
labouring up hill through a ploughed field.  "Isn't it rather late
in the day to make that attempt?  You say he's already gone off
with her."

"He's joined her somewhere--I don't know where.  He wrote from his
club before leaving.  But I know they don't sail till the day after
tomorrow; and you must get him back, Nona, you must save him.  It's
too awful.  He can't marry her; she has a husband somewhere who
refuses to divorce her."

"Like you and Stanley!"

Aggie drew back as if she had been struck.  "Oh, no, no!"  She
looked despairingly at Nona.  "When I tell you I don't refuse
now. . ."

"Well, perhaps Cleo Merrick's husband may not, either."

"It's different.  He's a Catholic, and his church won't let him
divorce.  And it can't be annulled.  Stanley's just going to live
with her . . . openly . . . and she'll go everywhere with him . . .
exactly as if they were husband and wife . . . and everybody will
know that they're not."

Nona sat silent, considering with set lips and ironic mind the
picture thus pitilessly evoked.  "Well, if she loves him. . ."

"Loves him?  A woman like that!"

"She's been willing to make a sacrifice for him, at any rate.
That's where she has a pull over both of us."

"But don't you see how awful it is for them to be living together
in that way?"

"I see it's the best thing that could happen to Stanley to have
found a woman plucky enough to give him the thing he wanted--the
thing you and I both refused him."

She saw Aggie's lifeless cheek redden.  "I don't know what you mean
by . . . refusing. . ."

"I mean his happiness--that's all!  You refused to divorce him,
didn't you?  And I refused to do--what Cleo Merrick's doing.  And
here we both are, sitting on the ruins; and that's the end of it,
as far as you and I are concerned."

"But it's not the end--it's not too late.  I tell you it's not too
late!  He'll leave her even now if you ask him to . . . I know he
will!"

Nona stood up with a dry laugh.  "Thank you, Aggie.  Perhaps he
would--only we shall never find out."

"Never find out?  When I keep telling you--"

"Because even if I've been a coward that's no reason why I should
be a cad."  Nona was buttoning her coat and clasping her fur about
her neck with quick precise movements, as if wrapping herself close
against the treacherous sweetness that was beginning to creep into
her veins.  Suddenly she felt she could not remain a moment longer
in that stifling room, face to face with that stifling misery.

"The better woman's got him--let her keep him," she said.

She put out her hand, and for a moment Aggie's cold damp fingers
lay in hers.  Then they were pulled away, and Aggie caught Nona by
the sleeve.  "But Nona, listen!  I don't understand you.  Isn't it
what you've always wanted?"

"Oh, more than anything in life!" the girl cried, turning
breathlessly away.

The outer door swung shut on her, and on the steps she stood still
and looked back at the ruins on which she had pictured herself
sitting with Aggie Heuston.

"I do believe," she murmured to herself, "I know most of the new
ways of being rotten; I only wish I was sure I knew the best new
way of being decent. . ."



BOOK III



XX


At the gates of Cedarledge Pauline lifted her head from a last
hurried study of the letters and papers Maisie Bruss had thrust
into the motor.

The departure from town had been tumultuous.  Up to the last minute
there had been the usual rush and trepidation, Maisie hanging on
the footboard, Powder and the maid hurrying down with final
messages and recommendations.

"Here's another batch of bills passed by the architect, Mrs.
Manford.  And he asks if you'd mind--"

"Yes, yes; draw another cheque for five thousand, Maisie, and send
it to me with the others to be signed."

"And the estimates for the new orchid-house.  The contractor says
building-materials are going up again next week, and he can't
guarantee, unless you telephone at once--"

"Has madame the jewel-box?  I put it under the rug myself, with
madame's motor-bag."

"Thank you, Ccile.  Yes, it's here."

"And is the Maison Herminie to deliver the green and gold teagown
here or--"

"Here are the proofs of the Birth Control speech, Mrs. Manford.  If
you could just glance over them in the motor, and let me have them
back tonight--"

"The Marchesa, madam, has called up to ask if you and Mr. Manford
can receive her at Cedarledge for the next week-end--"

"No, Powder; say no.  I'm dreadfully sorry. . ."

"Very good, madam.  I understand it was to bring a favourable
answer from the Cardinal--"

"Oh; very well.  I'll see.  I'll telephone from Cedarledge."

"Please, madam, Mr. Wyant's just telephoned--"

"Mr. Wyant, Powder?"

"Mr. Arthur Wyant, madam.  To ask--"

"But Mr. Wyant and Mr. James were to have started for Georgia last
night."

"Yes, madam; but Mr. James was detained by business, and now Mr.
Arthur Wyant asks if you'll please ring up before they leave
tonight."

"Very well.  (What can have happened, Nona?  You don't know?)  Say
I've started for Cedarledge, Powder; I'll ring up from there.  Yes;
that's all."

"Mrs. Manford, wait!  Here are two more telegrams, and a special--"

"Take care, Maisie; you'll slip and break your leg. . ."

"Yes; but Mrs. Manford!  The special is from Mrs. Swoffer.  She
says the committee have just discovered a new genius, and they're
calling an emergency meeting for tomorrow afternoon at three, and
couldn't you possibly--"

"No, no, Maisie--I can't!  Say I've LEFT--"



The waves of agitation were slow in subsiding.  A glimpse, down a
side street, of the Marchesa's cheap boarding-house-hotel, revived
them; and so did the flash past the inscrutable "Dawnside," aloof
on its height above the Hudson.  But as the motor slid over the
wide suburban Boulevards, and out into the budding country, with
the roar and menace of the city fading harmlessly away on the
horizon, Pauline's serenity gradually stole back.

Nona, at her side, sat silent; and the mother was grateful for that
silence.  She had noticed that the girl had looked pale and drawn
for the last fortnight; but that was just another proof of how much
they all needed the quiet of Cedarledge.

"You don't know why Jim and his father have put off starting,
Nona?"

"No idea, mother.  Probably business of Jim's, as Powder said."

"Do you know why his father wants to telephone me?"

"Not a bit.  Probably it's not important.  I'll call up this
evening."

"Oh, if you would, dear!  I'm really tired."

There was a pause, and then Nona questioned:  "Have you noticed
Maisie, mother?  She's pretty tired too."

"Yes; poor Maisie!  Preparing Cedarledge has been rather a rush for
her, I'm afraid--"

"It's not only that.  She's just been told that her mother has a
cancer."

"Oh, poor child!  How dreadful!  She never said a word to me--"

"No, she wouldn't."

"But, Nona, have you told her to see Disterman AT ONCE?  Perhaps an
immediate operation . . . you must call her up as soon as we
arrive.  Tell her, of course, that I'll bear all the expenses--"

After that they both relapsed into silence.

These domestic tragedies happened now and then.  One would have
given the world to avert them; but when one couldn't one was
always ready to foot the bill. . .  Pauline wished that she had
known . . . had had time to say a kindly word to poor Maisie. . .
Perhaps she would have to give her a week off; or at least a couple
of days, while she settled her mother in the hospital.  At least,
if Disterman advised an operation. . .

It was dreadful, how rushed one always was.  Pauline would have
liked to go and see poor Mrs. Bruss herself.  But there were Dexter
and Lita and the baby all arriving the day after tomorrow, and only
just time to put the last touches to Cedarledge before they came.
And Pauline herself was desperately tired, though she had taken a
"triple treatment" from Alvah Loft ($100) that very morning.

She always meant to be kind to every one dependent on her; it was
only time that lacked--always time!  Dependents and all, they were
swept away with her in the same ceaseless rush.  When now and then
one of them dropped by the way she was sorry, and sent back first
aid, and did all she could; but the rush never stopped; it couldn't
stop; when one did a kindness one could only fling it at its object
and whirl by.

The blessd peace of the country!  Pauline drew a deep breath of
content.  Never before had she approached Cedarledge with so
complete a sense of possessorship.  The place was really of her own
making, for though the house had been built and the grounds laid
out years before she had acquired the property, she had stamped her
will and her wealth on every feature.  Pauline was persuaded that
she was fond of the country--but what she was really fond of was
doing things to the country, and owning, with this object, as many
acres of it as possible.  And so it had come about that every year
the Cedarledge estate had pushed the encircling landscape farther
back, and substituted for its miles of golden-rod and birch and
maple more acres of glossy lawn, and more specimen limes and oaks
and cut-leaved beeches, domed over more and more windings of
expensive shrubbery.

From the farthest gate it was now a drive of two miles to the
house, and Pauline found even this too short for her minutely
detailed appreciation of what lay between her and her threshold.
In the village, the glint of the gilt weathercock on the new half-
timbered engine-house; under a rich slope of pasture-land the
recently enlarged dairy-farm; then woods of hemlock and dogwood;
acres of rhododendron, azalea and mountain laurel acclimatized
about a hidden lake; a glimpse of Japanese water-gardens fringed
with cherry bloom and catkins; open lawns, spreading trees, the
long brick house-front and its terraces, and through a sculptured
archway the Dutch garden with dwarf topiary work and endless files
of bulbs about the commander's baton of a stately sundial.

To Pauline each tree, shrub, water-course, herbaceous border, meant
not only itself, but the surveying of grades, transporting of soil,
tunnelling for drainage, conducting of water, the business
correspondence and paying of bills, which had preceded its
existence; and she would have cared for it far less--perhaps not at
all--had it sprung into being unassisted, like the random
shadbushes and wild cherry trees beyond the gates.

The faint spring loveliness reached her somehow, in long washes of
pale green, and the blurred mauve of budding vegetation; but her
eyes could not linger on any particular beauty without its
dissolving into soil, manure, nurserymen's catalogues, and bills
again--bills.  It had all cost a terrible lot of money; but she was
proud of that too--to her it was part of the beauty, part of the
exquisite order and suitability which reigned as much in the
simulated wildness of the rhododendron glen as in the geometrical
lines of the Dutch garden.

"Seventy-five thousand bulbs this year!" she thought, as the motor
swept by the sculptured gateway, just giving and withdrawing a
flash of turf sheeted with amber and lilac, in a setting of twisted
and scalloped evergreens.

Twenty-five thousand more bulbs than last year . . . that was how
she liked it to be.  It was exhilarating to spend more money each
year, to be always enlarging and improving, in small ways as well
as great, to face unexpected demands with promptness and energy,
beat down exorbitant charges, struggle through difficult moments,
and come out at the end of the year tired but victorious, with
improvements made, bills paid, and a reassuring balance in the
bank.  To Pauline that was "life."

And how her expenditure at Cedarledge was justifying itself!  Her
husband, drawn by its fresh loveliness, had voluntarily given up
his annual trip to California, the excitement of tarpon-fishing,
the independence of bachelorhood--all to spend a quiet month in the
country with his wife and children.  Pauline felt that even the
twenty-five thousand additional bulbs had had a part in shaping his
decision.  And what would he say when he saw the new bathrooms,
assisted at the village fire-drill, and plunged into the
artificially warmed waters of the new swimming pool?  A mist of
happiness rose to her eyes as she looked out on the spring-misted
landscape.



Nona had not followed her mother into the house.  Her dogs at her
heels, she plunged down hill to the woods and lake.  She knew
nothing of what Cedarledge had cost, but little of the labour of
its making.  It was simply the world of her childhood, and she
could see it from no other angle, nor imagine it as ever having
been different.  To her it had always worn the same enchantment,
stretched to the same remote distances.  At nineteen it was almost
the last illusion she had left.

In the path by the lake she felt herself drawn back under the old
spell.  Those budding branches, the smell of black peaty soil
quivering with life, the woodlands faintly starred with dogwood,
all were the setting of childish adventures, old games with Jim,
Indian camps on the willow-fringed island, and innocent descents
among the rhododendrons to boat or bathe by moonlight.

The old skiff had escaped Mrs. Manford's annual "doing-up" and
still leaked through the same rusty seams.  Pushing out upon the
lake, Nona leaned on the oars and let the great mockery of the
spring dilate her heart. . .



Manford questioned:  "All right, eh?  Warm enough?  Not going too
fast?  The air's still sharp up here in the hills;" and Lita
settled down beside him into one of the deep silences that enfolded
her as softly as her furs.  By turning his head a little he could
just see the tip of her nose and the curve of her upper lip between
hat-brim and silver fox; and the sense of her, so close and so
still, sunk in that warm animal hush which he always found so
restful, dispelled his last uneasiness, and made her presence at
his side seem as safe and natural as his own daughter's.

"Just as well you sent the boy by train, though--I foresaw I'd get
off too late to suit the young gentleman's hours."

She curled down more deeply at his side, with a contented laugh.

Manford, intent on the steering wheel, restrained the impulse to
lay a hand over hers, and kept his profile steadily turned to her.
It was wonderful, how successfully his plan was working out . . .
how reasonable she'd been about it in the end.  Poor child!  No
doubt she would always be reasonable with people who knew how to
treat her.  And he flattered himself that he did.  It hadn't been
easy, just at first--but now he'd struck the right note and meant
to hold it.  Not paternal, exactly: she would have been the first
to laugh at anything as old-fashioned as that.  Heavy fathers had
gone out with the rest of the tremolo effects.  No; but elder
brotherly.  That was it.  The same free and friendly relation which
existed, say, between Jim and Nona.  Why, he had actually tried
chaffing Lita, and she hadn't minded--he had made fun of that
ridiculous Ardwin, and she had just laughed and shrugged.  That
little shrug--when her white shoulder, as the dress slipped from
it, seemed to be pushing up into a wing!  There was something
birdlike and floating in all her motions. . .  Poor child, poor
little girl. . .  He really felt like her elder brother; and his
looking-glass told him that he didn't look much too old for the
part. . .

The sense of having just grazed something dark and lurid, which had
threatened to submerge them, gave him an added feeling of security,
a holiday feeling, as if life stretched before him as safe and open
as his coming fortnight at Cedarledge.  How glad he was that he had
given up his tarpon-fishing, managed to pack Jim and Wyant off to
Georgia, and secured this peaceful interval in which to look about
him and take stock of things before the grind began again!

The day before yesterday--just after Pauline's departure--it had
seemed as if all their plans would be wrecked by one of Wyant's
fits of crankiness.  Wyant always enjoyed changing his mind after
every one else's was made up; and at the last moment he had
telephoned to say that he wasn't well enough to go south.  He had
rung up Pauline first, and being told that she had left had
communicated with Jim; and Jim, distracted, had appealed to Manford.
It was one of his father's usual attacks of "nervousness"; cousin
Eleanor had seen it coming, and tried to cut down the whiskies-and-
sodas; finally Jim begged Manford to drop in and reason with his
predecessor.

These visits always produced a profound impression on Wyant;
Manford himself, for all his professional acuteness, couldn't quite
measure the degree or guess the nature of the effect, but he felt
his power, and preserved it by seeing Wyant as seldom as possible.
This time, however, it seemed as if things might not go as smoothly
as usual.  Wyant, who looked gaunt and excited, tried to carry off
the encounter with the jauntiness he always assumed in Manford's
presence.  "My dear fellow!  Sit down, do.  Cigar?  Always
delighted to see my successor.  Any little hints I can give about
the management of the concern--"

It was his usual note, but exaggerated, overemphasized, lacking the
Wyant touch--and he had gone on:  "Though why the man who has
failed should offer advice to the man who has succeeded, I don't
know.  Well, in this case it's about Jim. . .  Yes, you're as fond
of Jim as I am, I know. . .  Still, he's MY son, eh?  Well, I'm not
satisfied that it's a good thing to take him away from his wife at
this particular moment.  Know I'm old-fashioned, of course . . .
all the musty old traditions have been superseded.  You and
your set have seen to that--introduced the breezy code of the
prairies. . .  But my son's my son; he wasn't brought up in the new
way, and, damn it all, Manford, you understand; well, no--I suppose
there are some things you never WILL understand, no matter how
devilish clever you are, and how many millions you've made."

The apple-cart had been near upsetting; but if Manford didn't
understand poor Wyant's social code he did know how to keep his
temper when it was worth while, and how to talk to a weak
overexcited man who had been drinking too hard, and who took no
exercise.

"Worried about Jim, eh?  Yes--I don't wonder.  I am too.  Fact is,
Jim's worked himself to a standstill, and I feel partly responsible
for it, for I put him onto that job at the bank, and he's been
doing it too well--overdoing it.  That's the whole trouble, and
that's why I feel responsible to you all for getting him away as
soon as possible, and letting him have a complete holiday. . .
Jim's young--a fortnight off will straighten him out.  But you're
the only person who can get him away from his wife and baby, and
wherever Lita is there'll be jazz and nonsense, and bills and
bothers; that's why his mother and I have offered to take the lady
on for a while, and give him his chance.  As man to man, Wyant, I
think we two ought to stand together and see this thing through.
If we do, I guarantee everything will come out right.  Do you good
too--being off like that with your boy, in a good climate, loafing
on the beach and watching Jim recuperate.  Wish I could run down
and join you--and I don't say I won't make a dash for it, just for
a week-end, if I can break away from the family.  A-1 fishing at
the island--and I know you used to be a great fisherman.  As for
Lita, she'll be safe enough with Pauline and Nona."

The trick was done.

But why think of it as a trick, when at the time he had meant every
word he spoke?  Jim WAS dead-beat--DID need a change--and yet could
only have been got away on the pretext of having to take his father
south.  Queer, how in some inner fold of one's conscience a
collection of truths could suddenly seem to look like a tissue of
lies! . . .  Lord, but what morbid rubbish!  Manford was on his
honour to make the whole thing turn out as true as it sounded, and
he was going to.  And there was an end of it.  And here was
Cedarledge.  The drive hadn't lasted a minute. . .

How lovely the place looked in the twilight, a haze of tender tints
melting into shadow, the long dark house-front already gemmed with
orange panes!

"You'll like it, won't you, Lita?"  A purr of content at his elbow.

If only Pauline would have the sense to leave him alone, let him
enjoy it all in Lita's lazy inarticulate way, not cram him with
statistics and achievements, with expenditures and results.  He was
so tired of her perpetual stock-taking, her perpetual rendering of
accounts and reckoning up of interest.  He admired it all, of
course--he admired Pauline herself more than ever.  But he longed
to let himself sink into the spring sweetness as a man might sink
on a woman's breast, and just feel her quiet hands in his hair.

"There's the dogwood!  Look!  Never seen it in bloom here before,
have you?  It's one of our sights."  He had counted a good deal on
the effect of the dogwood.  "Well, here we are--Jove, but it's good
to be here!  Why, child, I believe you've been asleep. . ."  He
lifted her, still half-drowsing, from the motor--

And now, the illuminated threshold, Powder, the footmen, the
inevitable stack of letters--and Pauline.

But outside the spring dusk was secretly weaving its velvet spell.
He said to himself:  "Shouldn't wonder if I slept ten hours at a
stretch tonight."



XXI


The last day before her husband's arrival had been exhausting to
Pauline; but she could not deny that the results were worth the
effort.  When had she ever before heard Dexter say on such a full
note of satisfaction:  "Jove, but it's good to be back!  What have
you done to make the place look so jolly?", or seen his smiling
glance travel so observantly about the big hall with its lamps and
flowers and blazing hearth?  "Well, Lita, this is better than town,
eh?  You didn't know what a good place Cedarledge could be!  Don't
rush off upstairs--they're bringing the baby down.  Come over to
the fire and warm up; it's nipping here in the hills.  Hullo, Nona,
you quiet mouse--didn't even see you, curled up there in your
corner. . ."

Yes; the arrival had been perfect.  Even Lita's kiss had seemed
spontaneous.  And Dexter had praised everything, noticed all the
improvements; had voluntarily announced that he meant to inspect
the new heating system and the model chicken hatchery the next
morning.  "Wonderful, what a way you have of making things a
hundred per cent better when they seemed all right before!  I
suppose even the eggs at breakfast tomorrow will be twice their
normal size."

One such comment paid his wife for all she had done, and roused her
inventive faculty to fresh endeavour.  Wasn't there something else
she could devise to provoke his praise?  And the beauty of it was
that it all looked as if it had been done so easily.  The casual
observer would never have suspected that the simple life at
Cedarledge gave its smiling organizer more trouble than a season of
New York balls.

That also was part of Pauline's satisfaction.  She even succeeded
in persuading herself, as she passed through the hall with its
piled-up golf clubs and tennis rackets, its motor coats and capes
and scarves stacked on the long table, and the muddy terriers
comfortably rolled up on chintz-cushioned settles, that it was
really all as primitive and impromptu as it looked, and that she
herself had always shared her husband's passion for stamping about
in the mud in tweed and homespun.

"One of these days," she thought, "we'll give up New York
altogether, and live here all the year round, like an old-fashioned
couple, and Dexter can farm while I run the poultry-yard and
dairy."  Instantly her practical imagination outlined the plan of
an up-to-date chicken-farm on a big scale, and calculated the
revenues to be drawn from really scientific methods of cheese and
butter-making.  Spring broilers, she knew, were in ever-increasing
demand, and there was a great call in restaurants and hotels for
the little foreign-looking cream-cheeses in silver paper. . .



"The Marchesa has rung up again, madam," Powder reminded her, the
second morning at breakfast.  Everybody came down to breakfast at
Cedarledge; it was part of the simple life.  But it generally ended
in Pauline's throning alone behind the tea-urn, for her husband and
daughter revelled in unpunctuality when they were on a holiday, and
Lita's inability to appear before luncheon was tacitly taken for
granted.

"The Marchesa?"  Pauline was roused from the placid enjoyment of
her new-laid egg and dewy butter.  Why was it that one could never
completely protect one's self against bores and bothers?  They had
done everything they could for Amalasuntha, and were now
discovering that gratitude may take more troublesome forms than
neglect.

"The Marchesa would like to consult you about the date of the
Cardinal's reception."

Ah, then it was a fact--it was really settled!  A glow of
satisfaction swept away Pauline's indifference, and her sense of
fairness obliged her to admit that, for such a service, Amalasuntha
had a right to a Sunday at Cedarledge.  "It will bore her to death
to spend two days here alone with the family; but she will like to
be invited, and in the course of time she'll imagine it was a big
house-party," Pauline reflected.

"Very well, Powder.  Please telephone that I shall expect the
Marchesa next Saturday."

That gave them, at any rate, the inside of a week to themselves.
After six days alone with his women-kind perhaps even Dexter would
not be sorry for a little society; and if so, Pauline, with the
Marchesa as a bait, could easily drum up a country-neighbour
dinner.  The Toys, she happened to remember, were to be at the
Greystock Country Club over Easter.  She smiled at the thought that
this might have made Dexter decide to give up California for
Cedarledge.  She was not afraid of Mrs. Toy any longer, and even
recognized that her presence in the neighbourhood might be useful.
Pauline could never wholly believe--at least not for many hours
together--that people could be happy in the country without all
sorts of social alleviations; and six days of quiet seemed to her
measurable only in terms of prehistoric eras.  When had her mind
ever had such a perspective to range over?  Knowing it could be
shortened at will she sighed contentedly, and decided to devote the
morning to the study of a new refrigerating system she had recently
seen advertised.

Dexter had not yet made his tour of inspection with her; but that
was hardly surprising.  The first morning he had slept late, and
lounged about on the terrace in the balmy sunshine.  In the
afternoon they had all motored to Greystock for a round of golf;
and today, on coming down to breakfast, Pauline had learned with
surprise that her husband, Nona and Lita were already off for an
early canter, leaving word that they would breakfast on the road.
She did not know whether to marvel most at Lita's having been
coaxed out of bed before breakfast, or at Dexter's taking to the
saddle after so many years.  Certainly the Cedarledge air was
wonderfully bracing and rejuvenating; she herself was feeling its
effects.  And though she would have liked to show her husband all
the improvements she felt no impatience, but only a quiet
satisfaction in the success of her plans.  If they could give Jim
back a contented Lita the object of their holiday would be
attained; and in a glow of optimism she sat down at her writing-
table and dashed off a joyful letter to her son.

"Dexter is wonderful; he has already coaxed Lita out for a ride
before breakfast. . .  Isn't that a triumph?  When you get back you
won't know her. . .  I shouldn't have a worry left if I didn't
think Nona is looking too pale and drawn.  I shall persuade her to
take a course of Inspirational treatment as soon as we get back to
town.  By the way," her pen ran on, "have you heard the news about
Stan Heuston?  People say he's gone to Europe with that dreadful
Merrick woman, and that now Aggie will really have to divorce
him. . .  Nona, who has always been such a friend of Stan's, has of
course heard the report, but doesn't seem to know any more than the
rest of us. . ."

Nothing amused Arthur Wyant more than to be supplied with such tit-
bits of scandal before they became common property.  Pauline
couldn't help feeling that father and son must find the evenings
long in their island bungalow; and in the overflow of her own
satisfaction she wanted to do what she could to cheer them.



In spite of her manifold occupations the day seemed long.  She had
visited the baby, seen the cook, consulted with Powder about the
working of the new burglar-alarm, gone over the gardens, catalogues
in hand, with the head-gardener, walked down to the dairy and the
poultry yard to say that Mr. Manford would certainly inspect them
both the next day, and called up Maisie Bruss to ask news of her
mother, and tell her to prepare a careful list for the reception to
the Cardinal; yet an astonishing amount of time still remained.  It
was delightful to be in the country, to study the working-out of
her improvements, and do her daily exercises with windows open on
the fresh hill breezes; but already her real self was projected
forward into complicated plans for the Cardinal's entertainment.
She wondered if it would not be wise to run up to town the next
morning and consult Amalasuntha; and reluctantly decided that a
talk on the telephone would do.

The talk was long, and on the whole satisfactory; but if Maisie had
been within reach the arrangements for the party would have made
more progress.  It was most unlucky that the doctors thought Maisie
ought to stay with her mother till the latter could get a private
room at the hospital.  ("A ROOM, of course, Maisie dear; I won't
have her in a ward.  Not for the world!  Just put it down on your
account, please.  So glad to do it!")  She really was glad to do
all she could; but it was unfortunate (and no one would feel it
more than Maisie) that Mrs. Bruss should have been taken ill just
then.  To fill the time, Pauline decided to go for a walk with the
dogs.

When she returned she found Nona, still in her riding-habit,
settled in a sofa-corner in the library, and deep in a book.

"Why, child, where did you drop from?  I didn't know you were
back."

"The others are not.  Lita suddenly took it into her head that it
would be fun to motor over to Greenwich and dine at the Country
Club, and so father got a motor at Greystock and telephoned for one
of the grooms to fetch the horses.  It sounded rather jolly, but I
was tired, so I came home.  It's nearly full moon, and they'll have
a glorious run back."  Nona smiled up at her mother, as if to say
that the moon made all the difference.

"Oh, but that means dancing, and getting home at all hours!  And I
promised Jim to see that Lita kept quiet, and went to bed early.
What's the use of our having persuaded her to come here?  Your
father ought to have refused to go."

"If he had, there were plenty of people lunching at Greystock who
would have taken her on.  You know--the cocktail crowd.  That's why
father sacrificed himself."

Pauline reflected.  "I see.  Your father always has to sacrifice
himself.  I suppose there's no use trying to make Lita listen to
reason."

"Not unless one humours her a little.  Father sees that.  We
mustn't let her get bored here--she won't stay if we do."

Pauline felt a sudden weariness in all her bones.  It was as if the
laboriously built-up edifice of the simple life at Cedarledge had
already crumbled into dust at a kick of Lita's little foot.  The
engine-house, the poultry yard, the new burglar-alarm and the
heating of the swimming pool--when would Dexter ever have time to
inspect and admire them, if he was to waste his precious holiday in
scouring the country after Lita?

"Then I suppose you and I dine alone," Pauline said, turning a
pinched little smile on her daughter.



XXII


What a time of year it was--the freed earth suddenly breaking into
life from every frozen seam!  Manford wondered if he had ever
before had time to feel the impetuous loveliness of the American
spring.

In spite of his drive home in the small hours he had started out
early the next morning for a long tramp.  Sleep--how could a man
sleep with that April moonlight in his veins?  The moon that was
everywhere--caught in pearly puffs on the shadbush branches,
scattered in ivory drifts of wild plum bloom, tipping the grasses
of the wayside with pale pencillings, sheeting the recesses of the
woodland with pools of icy silver.  A freezing burning magic, into
which a man plunged, and came out cold and aglow, to find
everything about him as unreal and incredible as himself. . .

After the blatant club restaurant, noise, jazz, revolving couples,
Japanese lanterns, screaming laughter, tumultuous good-byes, this
white silence, the long road unwinding and twisting itself up
again, blind faces of shuttered farmhouses, black forests, misty
lakes--a cut through a world in sleep, all dumb and moon-bemused. . .

The contrast was beautiful, intolerable. . .

Sleep?  He hadn't even gone to bed.  Just plunged into a bath, and
stretched out on his lounge to see the dawn come.  A mysterious
sight that, too; the cold fingers of the light remaking a new
world, while men slept, unheeding, and imagined they would wake to
some familiar yesterday.  Fools!

He breakfasted--ravenously--before his wife was down, and swung off
with a couple of dogs on a long tramp, he didn't care where.

Even the daylight world seemed unimaginably strange: as if he had
never really looked at it before.  He walked on slowly for three or
four miles, vaguely directing himself toward Greystock.  His long
tramps as a boy, in his farming days, had given him the habit of
deliberate steady walking, and the unwonted movement refreshed
rather than tired him--or at least, while it tired his muscles, it
seemed to invigorate his brain.  Excited?  No--just pleasantly
stimulated. . .

He stretched himself out under a walnut tree on a sunny slope, lit
his pipe and gazed abroad over fields and woods.  All the land was
hazy with incipient life.  The dogs hunted and burrowed, and then
came back to doze at his feet with pleasant dreamings.  The sun on
his face felt warm and human, and gradually life began to settle
back into its old ruts--a comfortable routine, diversified by
pleasant episodes.  Could it ever be more, to a man past fifty?

But after a while a chill sank on his spirit.  He began to feel
cold and hungry, and set out to walk again.

Presently he found it was half-past eleven--time to be heading for
home.  Home; and the lunch-table; Pauline; and Nona; and Lita.  Oh,
God, no--not yet. . .  He trudged on, slowly and sullenly, deciding
to pick up a mouthful of lunch somewhere by the way.

At a turn of the road he caught sight of a woman's figure strolling
across a green slope above him.  Strong and erect in her trim
golfing skirt, she came down in his direction swinging a club in
her hand.  Why, sure enough, he was actually on the edge of the
Greystock course!  The woman was alone, without companions or
caddies--going around for a trial spin, or perhaps simply taking a
stroll, as he was, drinking in the intoxicating air. . .

"Hul-LO!" she called, and he found himself advancing toward Gladys
Toy.

Was this active erect woman in her nut-brown sweater and plaited
skirt the same as the bejewelled and redundant beauty of so many
wearisome dinners?  Something of his old interest--the short-lived
fancy of a week or two--revived in him as she swung along, treading
firmly but lightly on her broad easy shoes.

"Hul-LO!" he responded.  "Didn't know you were here."

"I wasn't.  I only came last night.  Isn't it glorious?"  Even her
slow-dripping voice moved faster and had a livelier ring.
Decidedly, he admired a well-made woman, a woman with curves and
volume--all the more after the stripped skeletons he had dined
among the night before.  Mrs. Toy had height enough to carry off
her pounds, and didn't look ashamed of them, either.

"Glorious?  Yes, YOU are!" he said.

"Oh, ME?"

"What else did you mean, then?"

"Don't be silly!  How did you get here?"

"On my feet."

"Gracious!  From Cedarledge?  You must be dead."

"Don't you believe it.  I walked over to lunch with you."

"You've just said you didn't know I was here."

"You mustn't believe everything I say."

"All right.  Then I won't believe you walked over to lunch with
me."

"Will you believe me when I tell you you're awfully beautiful?"

"Yes!" she challenged him.

"And that I want to kiss you?"

She smiled with the eyes of a tired swimmer, and he saw that her
slender stock of repartee was exhausted.  "Herman'll be here
tonight," she said.

"Then let's make the most of today."

"But I've asked some people to lunch at the club."

"Then you'll chuck them, and come off and lunch with me somewhere
else."

"Oh, will I--shall I?"  She laughed, and he saw her breast rise on
her shortened breath.  He caught her to him and planted a kiss in
the middle of her laughter.

"Now will you?"

She was a rich armful, and he remembered how splendid he had
thought plump rosy women in his youth, before money and fashion
imposed their artificial standards.



When he rentered the doors of Cedarledge the cold spring sunset
was slanting in through the library windows on the tea-table at
which his wife and Nona sat.  Of Lita there was no sign; Manford
heard with indolent amusement that she was reported to be just
getting up.  His sentiment about Lita had settled into fatherly
indulgence; he no longer thought the epithet inappropriate.  But
underneath the superficial kindliness he felt for her, as for all
the world, he was aware of a fundamental indifference to most
things but his own comfort and convenience.  Such was the salutary
result of fresh air and recovered leisure.  How absurd to work
one's self into a state of fluster about this or that--money or
business or women!  Especially women.  As he looked back on the
last weeks he saw what a fever of fatigue he must have been in to
take such an exaggerated view of his own emotions.  After three
days at Cedarledge serenity had descended on him like a
benediction.  Gladys Toy's cheeks were as smooth as nectarines; and
the keen morning light had shown him that she wasn't in the least
made up.  He recalled the fact with a certain pleasure, and then
dismissed her from his mind--or rather she dropped out of herself.
He wasn't in the humour to think long about anybody or anything . . .
he revelled in his own laziness and indifference.

"Tea?  Yes; and a buttered muffin by all means.  Several of them.
I'm as hungry as the devil.  Went for a long tramp this morning
before any of you were up.  Mrs. Toy ran across me, and brought me
back in her new two-seater.  A regular beauty--the car, I mean--
you'll have to have one like it, Nona. . .  Jove, how good the fire
feels . . . and what is it that smells so sweet?  Carnations--why,
they're giants!  We must go over the green-houses tomorrow,
Pauline; and all the rest of it.  I want to take stock of all your
innovations."

At that moment he felt able to face even the tour of inspection,
and all the facts and calculations it would evoke.  Everything
seemed easy now that he had found he could shake off his moonlight
obsession by spending a few hours with a pretty woman who didn't
mind being kissed.  He was to meet Mrs. Toy again the day after
tomorrow; and in the interval she would suffice to occupy his mind
when he had nothing more interesting to think of.

As he was putting a match to his pipe Lita came into the room with
her long glide.  Her boy was perched on her shoulder, and she
looked like one of Crivelli's enigmatic Madonnas carrying a little
red-haired Jesus.



"Gracious!  Is this breakfast or tea?  I seem to have overslept
myself after our joy-ride," she said, addressing a lazy smile to
Manford.

She dropped to her knees before the fire and held up the boy to
Pauline.  "Kiss his granny," she commanded in her faintly derisive
voice.

It was very pretty, very cleverly staged; but Manford said to
himself that she was too self-conscious, and that her lips were too
much painted.  Besides, he had always hated women with prominent
cheekbones and hollows under them.  He settled back comfortably
into the afternoon's reminiscences.



XXIII


Decidedly, there was a different time-measure for life in town and
in the country.

The dinner for Amalasuntha organized (and the Toys secured for it),
there were still two days left in that endless inside of a week
which was to have passed so rapidly.  Yet everything had gone
according to Pauline's wishes.  Dexter had really made the promised
round of house and grounds, and had extended his inspection to
dairy, poultry yard and engine-house.  And he had approved of
everything--approved almost too promptly and uncritically.  Was it
because he had not been sufficiently interested to note defects, or
at any rate to point them out?  The suspicion, which stirred in his
wife when she observed that he walked through the cow-stables
without making any comment on the defective working of the new
ventilating system, became a certainty when, on their return to the
house, she suggested their going over the accounts together.  "Oh,
as long as the architect has o.k'd them!  Besides, it's too late
now to do anything, isn't it?  And your results are so splendid
that I don't see how they could be overpaid.  Everything seems to
be perfect--"

"Not the ventilating system in the Alderneys' stable, Dexter."

"Oh, well; can't that be arranged?  If it can't, put it down to
profit and loss.  I never enjoyed anything more than my swim this
morning in the pool.  You've managed to get the water warmed to
exactly the right temperature."

He slipped out to join Nona on the putting green below the terrace.

Yes; everything was all right; he was evidently determined that
everything should be.  It had been the same about Michelangelo's
debts.  At first he had resisted his wife's suggestion that they
should help to pay them off, in order to escape the young man's
presence in New York; then he had suddenly promised the Marchesa to
settle the whole amount, without so much as a word to Pauline.  It
was as if he were engrossed in some deep and secret purpose, and
resolved to clear away whatever threatened to block his obstinate
advance.  She had seen him thus absorbed when a "big case"
possessed him.  But there were no signs now of professional
preoccupation; no telephoning, wiring, hurried arrivals of junior
members or confidential clerks.  He seemed to have shaken off "the
office" with all his other cares.  There was something about his
serene good humour that obscurely frightened her.

Once she might have ascribed it to an interest--an exaggerated
interest--in his step-son's wife.  That idea had already crossed
Pauline's mind: she remembered its cold brush on the evening when
her husband had come home unexpectedly to see her, and had talked
so earnestly and sensibly about bringing Lita and her boy to
Cedarledge.  The mere flit of a doubt--no more; and even then
Pauline had felt its preposterousness, and banished it in disgust
and fear.

Now she smiled at the fear.  Her husband's manner to Lita was
perfect--easy, good humoured but slightly ironic.  At the time of
Jim's marriage Dexter had had that same smile.  He had thought the
bride silly and pretentious, he had even questioned her good looks.
And now the first week at Cedarledge showed that, if his attitude
had grown kindlier, it was for Jim's sake, not Lita's.  Nona and
Lita were together all day long; when Manford joined them he
treated both in the same way, as a man treats two indulged and
amusing daughters.

What was he thinking of, then?  Gladys Toy again, perhaps?  Pauline
had imagined that was over.  Even if it were not, it no longer
worried her.  Dexter had had similar "flare-ups" before, and they
hadn't lasted.  Besides, Pauline had gradually acquired a certain
wifely philosophy, and was prepared to be more lenient to her
second husband than to the first.  As wives grew older they had to
realize that husbands didn't always keep pace with them. . .

Not that she felt herself too old for Manford's love; all her early
illusions had rushed back to her the night he had made her give up
the Rivington dinner.  But her dream had not survived that evening.
She had understood then that he meant they should be "only
friends"; that was all the future was to hold for her.  Well; for a
grandmother it ought to be enough.  She had no patience with the
silly old women who expected "that sort of nonsense" to last.
Still, she meant, on her return to town, to consult a new Russian
who had invented a radium treatment which absolutely wiped out
wrinkles.  He called himself a Scientific Initiate . . . the name
fascinated her.

From these perplexities she was luckily distracted by the urgent
business of the Cardinal's reception.  Even without Maisie she
could do a good deal of preparatory writing and telephoning; but
she was mortified to find how much her handwriting had suffered
from the long habit of dictation.  She never wrote a note in her
own hand nowadays--except to distinguished foreigners, since
Amalasuntha had explained that they thought typed communications
ill-bred.  And her unpractised script was so stiff and yet slovenly
that she decided she must have her hands "treated" as she did her
other unemployed muscles.  But how find time for this new and
indispensable cure?  Her spirits rose with the invigorating sense
of being once more in a hurry.



Nona sat on the south terrace in the sun.  The Cedarledge
experiment had lasted eight days now, and she had to own that it
had turned out better than she would have thought possible.

Lita was giving them wonderfully little trouble.  After the first
flight to Greenwich she had shown no desire for cabarets and night-
clubs, but had plunged into the alternative excitement of violent
outdoor sports; relapsing, after hours of hard exercise, into a
dreamy lassitude unruffled by outward events.  She never spoke of
her husband, and Nona did not know if Jim's frequent--too frequent--
letters, were answered, or even read.  Lita smiled vaguely when he
was mentioned, and merely remarked, when her mother-in-law once
risked an allusion to the future:  "I thought we were here to be
cured of plans."  And Pauline effaced her blunder with a smile.

Nona herself felt more and more like one of the trench-watchers
pictured in the war-time papers.  There she sat in the darkness on
her narrow perch, her eyes glued to the observation-slit which
looked out over seeming emptiness.  She had often wondered what
those men thought about during the endless hours of watching, the
days and weeks when nothing happened, when no faintest shadow of a
skulking enemy crossed their span of no-man's land.  What kept them
from falling asleep, or from losing themselves in waking dreams,
and failing to give warning when the attack impended?  She could
imagine a man led out to be shot in the Flanders mud because, at
such a moment, he had believed himself to be dozing on a daisy bank
at home. . .

Since her talk with Aggie Heuston a sort of curare had entered into
her veins.  She was sharply aware of everything that was going on
about her, but she felt unable to rouse herself.  Even if anything
that mattered ever did happen again, she questioned if she would be
able to shake off the weight of her indifference.  Was it really
ten days now since that talk with Aggie?  And had everything of
which she had then been warned fulfilled itself without her lifting
a finger?  She dimly remembered having acted in what seemed a mood
of heroic self-denial; now she felt only as if she had been numb.
What was the use of fine motives if, once the ardour fallen, even
they left one in the lurch?

She thought:  "I feel like the oldest person in the world, and yet
with the longest life ahead of me . . ." and a shiver of loneliness
ran over her.

Should she go and hunt up the others?  What difference would that
make?  She might offer to write notes for her mother, who was
upstairs plunged in her visiting-list; or look in on Lita, who was
probably asleep after her hard gallop of the morning; or find her
father, and suggest going for a walk.  She had not seen her father
since lunch; but she seemed to remember that he had ordered his new
Buick brought round.  Off again--he was as restless as the others.
All of them were restless nowadays.  Had he taken Lita with him,
perhaps?  Well--why not?  Wasn't he here to look after Lita?  A
sudden twitch of curiosity drew Nona to her feet, and sent her
slowly upstairs to her sister-in-law's room.  Why did she have to
drag one foot after the other, as if some hidden influence held her
back, signalled a mute warning not to go?  What nonsense!  Better
make a clean breast of it to herself once for all, and admit--

"I beg pardon, Miss."  It was the ubiquitous Powder at her heels.
"If you're going up to Mrs. Manford's sitting-room would you kindly
tell her that Mr. Manford has telephoned he won't be back from
Greystock till late, and she's please not to wait dinner?"  Powder
looked a little as if he would rather not give that particular
message himself.

"Greystock?  Oh, all right.  I'll tell her."

Golf again--golf and Gladys Toy.  Nona gave her clinging
preoccupations a last shake.  This was really a lesson to her!  To
be imagining horrible morbid things about her father while he was
engaged in a perfectly normal elderly man's flirtation with a
stupid woman he would forget as soon as he got back to town!  A
real Easter holiday diversion.  "After all, he gave up his tarpon-
fishing to come here, and Gladys isn't a bad substitute--as far as
weight goes.  But a good deal less exciting as sport."  A dreary
gleam of amusement crossed her mind.

Softly she pushed open the door of one of the perfectly appointed
spare-rooms: a room so studiously equipped with every practical
convenience--from the smoothly-hung window-ventilators to the
jointed dressing-table lights, from the little portable telephone,
and the bed-table with folding legs, to the tall threefold mirror
which lost no curve of the beauty it reflected--that even Lita's
careless ways seemed subdued to the prevailing order.

Lita was on the lounge, one long arm drooping, the other folded
behind her in the immemorial attitude of sleeping beauty.  Sleep
lay on her lightly, as it does on those who summon it at will.  It
was her habitual escape from the boredom between thrills, and in
such intervals of existence as she was now traversing she plunged
back into it after every bout of outdoor activity.

Nona tiptoed forward and looked down on her.  Who said that sleep
revealed people's true natures?  It only made them the more
enigmatic by the added veil of its own mystery.  Lita's head was
nested in the angle of a thin arm, her lids rounded heavily above
the sharp cheek-bones just swept by their golden fringe, the pale
bow of the mouth relaxed, the slight steel-strong body half shown
in the parting of a flowered dressing-gown.  Thus exposed, with
gaze extinct and loosened muscles, she seemed a mere bundle of
contradictory whims tied together by a frail thread of beauty.  The
hand of the downward arm hung open, palm up.  In its little hollow
lay the fate of three lives.  What would she do with them?  How
could one conceive of her knowing, or planning, or imagining--
conceive of her in any sort of durable human relations to any one
or anything?

Her eyes opened and a languid curiosity floated up through them.

"That you?  I must have fallen asleep.  I was trying to count up
the number of months we've been here, and numbers always make me go
to sleep."

Nona laughed and sat down at the foot of the lounge.  "Dear me--
just as I thought you were beginning to be happy!"

"Well, isn't this what you call being happy--in the country?"

"Lying on your back, and wondering how many months there are in a
week?"

"A week?  Is it only a week?  How on earth can you be sure, when
one day's so exactly like another?"

"Tomorrow won't be.  There's the blow-out for Amalasuntha, and
dancing afterward.  Mother's idea of the simple life."

"Well, all your mother's ideas ARE simple."  Lita yawned, her pale
pink mouth drooping like a faded flower.  "Besides, it's ages till
tomorrow.  Where's your father?  He was going to take me for a spin
in the new Buick."

"He's broken his promise, then.  Deserted us all and sneaked off to
Greystock on his lone."

A faint redness rose to Lita's cheek-bones.  "Greystock and Gladys
Toy?  Is that HIS idea of the simple life?  About on a par with
your mother's. . .  Did you ever notice the Toy ankles?"

Nona smiled.  "They're not unnoticeable.  But you forget that
father's getting to be an old gentleman. . .  Fathers mustn't be
choosers. . ."

Lita made a slight grimace.  "Oh, he could do better than that.
There's old Cosby, who looks heaps older--didn't he want to marry
you? . . .  Nona, you darling, let's take the Ford and run over to
Greenwich for dinner.  Would your mother so very much mind?  Does
she want us here the whole blessed time?"

"I'll go and ask her.  But on a Friday night the Country Club will
be as dead as the moon.  Only a few old ladies playing bridge."

"Well, then we'll have the floor to ourselves.  I want a good
practice, and it's a ripping floor.  We can dance with the waiters.
It'll be fun to shock the old ladies.  I noticed one of the waiters
the other day--must be an Italian--built rather like Tommy
Ardwin. . .  I'm sure he dances. . ."

That was all life meant to Lita--would ever mean.  Good floors to
practise new dance-steps on, men--any men--to dance with and be
flattered by, women--any women--to stare and envy one, dull people
to startle, stupid people to shock--but never any one, Nona
questioned, whom one wanted neither to startle nor shock, neither
to be envied nor flattered by, but just to lose one's self in for
good and all?  Lita lose herself--?  Why, all she wanted was to
keep on finding herself, immeasurably magnified, in every pair of
eyes she met!

And here were Nona and her father and mother fighting to preserve
this brittle plaything for Jim, when somewhere in the world there
might be a real human woman for him. . .  What was the sense of it
all?



XXIV


The Marchesa di San Fedele's ideas about the country were perfectly
simple; in fact she had only one.  She regarded it as a place in
which there was more time to play bridge than in town.  Thank God
for that!--and the rest one simply bore with. . .  Of course there
was the obligatory going the rounds with host or hostess: gardens,
glass, dairy, chicken-hatchery, and heaven knew what besides
(stables, thank goodness, were out of fashion--even if people rode
they no longer, unless they kept hounds, dragged one between those
dreary rows of box stalls, or made one admire the lustrous steel
and leather of the harness room, or the monograms stencilled in
blue and red on the coach-house floor).

The Marchesa's life had always been made up of doing things as dull
as going over model dairies in order to get the chance, or the
money, to do others as thrilling to her as dancing was to Lita.  It
was part of the game: one had to pay for what one got: the thing
was to try and get a great deal more than the strict equivalent.

"Not that I don't marvel at your results, Pauline; we all do.  But
they make me feel so useless and incapable.  All this wonderful
creation--baths and swimming-pools and hatcheries and fire-engines,
and everything so perfect, indoors and out!  Sometimes I'm glad
you've never been to our poor old San Fedele.  But of course
bathrooms will have to be put in at San Fedele if Michelangelo
finds an American bride when he comes over. . ."

Pauline laid down the pen she had taken up to record the exact
terms in which she was to address the Cardinal's secretary.  ("A
PERSONAL note, dear; yes, in your own writing; they don't yet
understand your new American ways at the Vatican. . .")

"When Michelangelo comes over?" Pauline echoed.

The Marchesa's face was sharper than a knife.  "It's my little
surprise.  I didn't mean you or Dexter to know till the contract
was signed. . ."

"What contract?"

"My boy's to do Csar Borgia in the new film.  Klawhammer cabled a
definite offer the day you left for the country.  And of course I
insisted on Michelangelo's sailing instantly, though he'd planned
to spend the spring in Paris and was rather cross at having to give
it up.  But as I told him, now is the moment to secure a lovely
American bride.  We all know what your rich papas-in-law over here
always ask:  'What debts?  What prospects?  What other women?'  The
woman matter can generally be arranged.  The debts ARE, in this
case--thanks to your generosity.  But the prospects--what were
THEY, I ask you?  Months of green mould at San Fedele for a
fortnight's splash in Rome . . . oh, I don't disguise it!  And what
American bride would accept THAT?  The San Fedele pearls, yes--but
where is the San Fedele plumbing?  But now, my dear, Michelangelo
presents himself as an equal . . . superior, I might say, if I
weren't afraid of being partial.  Csar Borgia in a Klawhammer film--
no one knows how many millions it may mean!  And of course
Michelangelo is the very type. . ."

"To do me the favour to transmit to his Eminence. . .  Yes; this
really is a surprise, Amalasuntha."  Inwardly Pauline was saying:
"After all, why not?  If his own mother doesn't mind seeing him all
over the place on film posters.  And perhaps now he may pay us back--
in common decency he'll have to!"

She saw no serious reason for displeasure, once she had dropped her
carefully cultivated Wyant attitude.  "If only it doesn't upset
Lita again, and make her restless!"  But they really couldn't hope
to keep all Lita's friends and relations off the screen.

"Arthur was amazed--and awfully pleased, after the first recoil.
Dear Arthur, you know, always recoils at first," the Marchesa
continued, with her shrewd deprecating smile, which insinuated that
Pauline of course wouldn't.  (It was odd, Pauline reflected; the
Marchesa always looked like a peasant when she was talking
business.)

"Arthur?  You've already written to him about it?"

"No, dear.  I ran across him yesterday in town.  You didn't know
Arthur'd come back?  I thought he said he'd telephoned to Nona, or
somebody.  A touch of gout--got fidgety because he couldn't see his
doctor.  But he looked remarkably well, I thought--so handsome
still, in his lanc Wyant way; only a little too flushed, perhaps.
Yes . . . poor Eleanor. . .  Oh, no; he said Jim was still on the
island.  Perfectly contented fishing.  Jim's the only person I know
who's always perfectly contented . . . such a lesson. . ."  The
Marchesa's sigh seemed to add:  "Very restful--but how I should
despise him if he were my Michelangelo!"

Pauline could hear--oh, how distinctly!--all that her former
husband would have to say about Michelangelo's projects.  They
would be food for an afternoon's irony.  But that did not greatly
trouble her--nor did Wyant's unexpected return.  He was always
miserable out of reach of his doctor.  And the fact that Jim hadn't
come back proved that there was nothing seriously wrong.  Pauline
thought:  "I'll write to Jim again, and tell him how perfect Dexter
has been about Lita and the baby, and that will convince him
there's no need to hurry back."

Complacency returned to her.  How should it not, with the list for
the Cardinal's reception nearly complete, and the telephonic
assurance of the Bishop of New York and the Chief Rabbi that both
these dignitaries would be present?  Socially also, though the
season was over, the occasion promised to be brilliant.  Lots of
people were coming back just to see how a Cardinal was received.
Even the Rivingtons were coming--she had it from the Bishop.  Yes,
the Rivingtons had certainly been more cordial since she and
Manford had thrown them over at the last minute.  That was the way
to treat people who thought themselves so awfully superior.  What
wouldn't the Rivingtons have given to capture the Cardinal?  But he
was sailing for Italy the day after Pauline's reception--that was
the beauty of it!  No one else could possibly have him.  Amalasuntha
had stage-managed the whole business very cleverly.  She had even
overcome the Cardinal's scruples when he heard that Mrs. Manford was
chairman of the Birth Control committee. . .  And tonight, at the
dinner, how pleasant everybody's congratulations would be!  Pauline
gloried in her achievement for Manford's sake. Despite his assurance
to the contrary she could never imagine, for more than a moment at a
time, that such successes were really indifferent to him.



Lita appeared in the drawing-room after almost everybody had
arrived.  She was always among the last; and in the country, as she
said, there was no way of knowing what time it was.  Even at
Cedarledge, where all the clocks agreed to a second, one could
never believe them, and always suspected they must have stopped
together, twelve hours before.

"Besides, what's the use of knowing what time it is in the country?
Time for WHAT?"

She came in quietly, almost unnoticeably, with the feathered gait
that was half-way between drifting and floating; and at once, in
spite of the twenty people assembled, had the shining parquet and
all the mirrors to herself.  That was her way: that knack of
clearing the floor no matter how quietly she entered.  And tonight--!

Well; perhaps, Manford thought, all the other women WERE a little
overdressed.  Women always had a tendency to overdress when they
dined with the Manfords; to wear too many jewels, and put on
clothes that glistened.  Even at Cedarledge Pauline's parties had a
New York atmosphere.  And Lita, in her straight white slip, slim
and unadorned as a Primitive angel, with that close coif of
goldfish-coloured hair, and not a spangle, a jewel, a pearl even,
made the other women's clothes look like upholstery.

Manford, by the hearth, slightly bored in anticipation, yet bound
to admit that, like all his wife's shows, it was effectively done--
Manford received the shock of that quiet entrance, that shimmer
widening into light, and then turned to Mrs. Herman Toy.  Full noon
there; the usual Rubensy redundance flushed by golfing in a high
wind, by a last cocktail before dressing, by the hurried wriggle
into one of those elastic sheaths the women--the redundant women--
wore.  Well; he liked ripeness in a fruit to be eaten as soon as
plucked.  And Gladys' corn-yellow hair was almost as springy and
full of coloured shadows as the other's red.  But the voice, the
dress, the jewels, the blatant jewels!  A Cartier show-case spilt
over a strawberry mousse. . .  And the quick possessive look, so
clumsily done--brazen, yet half-abashed!  When a woman's first
business was to make up her mind which it was to be. . .  Chances
were the man didn't care, as long as her ogling didn't make him
ridiculous. . .  Why couldn't some women always be in golf clothes--
if any?  Gala get-up wasn't in everybody's line. . .  There was
Lita speaking to Gladys now--with auburn eyebrows lifted just a
thread.  The contrast--!  And Gladys purpler and more self-
conscious--God, why did she have her clothes so tight?  And that
drawing-room drawl!  Why couldn't she just sing out:  "Hul-LO!" as
she did in the open?

The Marchesa--how many times more was he to hear Pauline say:
"Amalasuntha on your right, dear."  Oh, to get away to a world
where nobody gave dinners, and there were no Marchesas on one's
right!  He knew by heart the very look of the little cheese
souffls, light as cherubs' feathers, that were being handed around
before the soup on silver-gilt dishes with coats-of-arms.
Everything at Cedarledge was silver-gilt.  Pauline, as usual, had
managed to transplant the party to New York, when all he wanted was
to be quiet, smoke his pipe, and ride or tramp with Nona and Lita.
Why couldn't she see it?  Her vigilant eye sought his--was it for
approval or admonition?  What was she saying?  "The Cardinal?  Oh,
yes.  It's all settled.  So sweet of him!  Of course you must all
promise to come.  But I've got another little surprise for you
after dinner.  No; not a word beforehand; not if you were to put me
on the rack."  What on earth did she mean?

"A surprise?  Is this a surprise party?"  It was Amalasuntha now.
"Then I must produce mine.  But I daresay Pauline's told you.
About Michelangelo and Klawhammer. . .  Csar Borgia . . . such a
sum that I don't dare to mention it--you'd think I was mixing up
the figures.  But I've got them down in black and white.  Of
course, as the producers say, Michelangelo's so supremely the type--
it's more than they ever could have hoped for."  What was the
woman raving about?  "He sails tomorrow," she said.  Sailing again--
was that damned Michelangelo always sailing?  Hadn't his debts
been paid on the express condition--?  But no; there's been
nothing, as the Marchesa called it, "in black and white."  The
transaction had been based on the implicit understanding that
nothing but dire necessity would induce Michelangelo to waste his
charms on New York.  Dire necessity--or the chance to put himself
permanently beyond it!  A fortune from a Klawhammer film.  As
Amalasuntha said, it was incalculable. . .

"It's the type, you see: between ourselves, there's always been a
rumour of Borgia blood on the San Fedele side.  A naughty
ancestress!  Perhaps you've noticed the likeness?  You remember
that wonderful profile portrait of Csar Borgia in black velvet?
What gallery IS it in?  Oh, I know--it came out in 'Vogue'!"
Amalasuntha visibly bridled at her proficiency.  She was aware that
envious people said the Italians knew nothing of their own artistic
inheritance.  "I remember being so struck by it at the time--I said
to Venturino:  'But it's the image of our boy!'  Though
Michelangelo will have to grow a beard, which makes him furious. . .
But then the millions!"

Manford, looking up, caught a double gaze bent in his direction.
Gladys Toy's vast blue eyes had always been like searchlights; but
tonight they seemed actually to be writing her private history over
his head, like an advertising aeroplane.  The fool!  But was the
other look also meant for him?  That half-shaded glint of Lita's--
was it not rather attached to the Marchesa, strung like a telephone
wire to her lips?  Klawhammer . . . Michelangelo . . . a Borgia
film. . .  Those listening eyes missed not a syllable. . .

"The offers those fellows make--right and left--nobody takes much
account of them.  Wait till I see your contract, as you call it. . .
If you really think it's a job for a gentleman," Manford growled.

"But, my friend, gentlemen can't be choosers!  Who are the real
working-class today?  Our old aristocracies, alas!  And besides, is
it ever degrading to create a work of art?  I thought in America
you made so much of creativeness--constructiveness--what do you
call it?  Is it less creative to turn a film than to manufacture
bathtubs?  Can there be a nobler mission than to teach history to
the millions by means of beautiful pictures? . . .  Yes!  I see
Lita listening, and I know she agrees with me. . .  Lita!  What a
Lucrezia for his Csar!  But why look shocked, dear Dexter?  Of
course you know that Lucrezia Borgia has been entirely rehabilitated?
I saw that also in 'Vogue.'  She was a perfectly pure woman--and
her hair was exactly the colour of Lita's."



They were finishing coffee in the drawing-room, the doors standing
open into the tall library where the men always smoked--the library
which (as Stanley Heuston had once remarked) Pauline's incorruptible
honesty had actually caused her to fill with books.

"Oh, what IS it?  Not a fire? . . .  A chimney in the house? . . .
But it's actually here. . .  Not a . . ."

The women, a-flutter at the sudden siren-shriek, the hooting,
rushing and clattering up the drive, surged across the parquet,
flowed with startled little cries out into the hall, and saw the
unsurprisable Powder signalling to two perfectly matched footmen to
throw open the double doors.

"A fire?  The engine . . . the . . . oh, it's a FIRE-DRILL! . . .
A PARADE!  How realistic!  How lovely of you!  What a beauty the
engine is!"  Pauline stood smiling, watch in hand, as the hook-and-
ladder motor clattered up the drive and ranged itself behind the
engine.  The big lantern over the front door illuminated fresh
scarlet paint and super-polished brasses, the firemen's agitated
helmets and perspiring faces, the flashing hoods of the lamps.

"Just five minutes to the second!  Wonderful!"  She was shaking
hands with each member of the amateur brigade in turn.  "I can't
tell you how I congratulate you--every one of you!  Such an
achievement . . . you really manoeuvre like professionals.  No one
would have believed it was the first time!  Dexter, will you tell
them a hot supper has been prepared downstairs!"  To the guests she
was explaining in a triumphant undertone:  "I wanted to give them
the chance to show off their new toy . . .  Yes, I believe it's
absolutely the most perfected thing in fire-engines.  Dexter and I
thought it was time the village was properly equipped.  It's really
more on account of the farmers--such a sense of safety for the
neighbourhood. . .  Oh, Mr. Motts, I think you're simply wonderful,
all of you.  Mr. Manford and my daughter are going to show you the
way to supper. . .  Yes, yes, you MUST!  Just a sandwich and
something hot."

She dominated them all, grave and glittering as a goddess of
Velocity.  "She enjoys it as much as other women do love-making,"
Manford muttered to himself.



XXV


Manford didn't know what first gave him the sense that Lita had
slipped out among the departing guests; slipped out, and not come
back.  When the idea occurred to him it was already lodged in his
mind, hard and definite as a verified fact.  She had vanished from
among them into the darkness.

But only a moment ago; there was still time to dash round to the
shed in the service court, where motors were sometimes left for the
night, and where he had dropped his Buick just in time to rush in
and dress for dinner.  He would have no trouble in overtaking her.

The Buick was gone.

Hatless and coatless in the soft night air, he rushed down the
drive on its track.  No moon tonight, but a deceptive velvet
mildness, such as sometimes comes in spring before the wind hauls
round to a frosty quarter.  He hurried on, out of the open gate,
along the road toward the village; and there, at the turn of the
New York turnpike--just the road he had expected her to take--stood
his Buick, a figure stooping over it in the lamp-glare.  A furious
stab of jealousy shot through him--"There's a man with her; who?"
But the man was only his own overcoat, which he had left on the
seat of the car when he dashed home for dinner, and which was now
drawn over Lita's shoulders.  It was she who stood in the night,
bent over the mysteries of the car's insides.

She looked up and called out:  "Oh, look here--give me a hand, will
you?  The thing's stuck."  Manford moved around within lamp-range,
and she stared a moment, her little face springing out at him
uncannily from the darkness.  Then she broke into a laugh.  "You?"

"Were you asking a total stranger to repair your motor?  Rather
risky, on a country road in the middle of the night."

She shrugged and smiled.  "Not as risky as doing it myself.  The
chances are that even a total stranger would know more about the
inside of this car than I do."

"Lita, you're mad!  Damn the car.  What are you doing here anyhow?"

She paused, one hand on the bonnet, while with the other she pushed
back a tossed lock from her round forehead.  "Running away," she
said simply.

Manford took a quick breath.  The thing was, he admonished himself,
to take this lightly, as nearly as possible in her own key--above
all to avoid protesting and exclaiming.  But his heart was beating
like a trip-hammer.  She was more of a fool than he had thought.

"Running away from that dinner?  I don't blame you.  But it's over.
Still, if you want to wash out the memory of it, get into the motor
and we'll go for a good spin--like that one when we came back from
Greenwich."

Her lips parted in a faint smile.  "Oh, but that ended up at
Cedarledge."

"Well--?"

"Bless you; I'm not going back."

"Where ARE you going?"

"To New York first--after that I don't know. . .  Perhaps my
aunt's. . .  Perhaps Hollywood. . ."

The rage in him exploded.  "Perhaps Dawnside--eh?  Own up!"

She laughed and shrugged again.  "Own up?  Why not?  Anywhere where
I can dance and laugh and be hopelessly low-lived and irresponsible."

"And get that blackguard crew about you again, all those--.  Lita!
Listen to me.  Listen.  You've got to."

"Got to?"  She rounded on him in a quick flare of anger.  "I wonder
who you think you're talking to?  I'm not Gladys Toy."

The unexpectedness of the challenge struck him dumb.  For challenge
it was, unmistakably.  He felt a rush of mingled strength and fear--
fear at this inconceivable thing, and the strength her self-
betrayal gave him.  He returned with equal violence:  "No--you're
not.  You're something so utterly different. . ."

"Oh," she burst in, "don't tell me I'm too sacred, and all that.
I'm fed up with the sanctities--that's the trouble with me.  Just
own up you like 'em artificially fattened.  Why, that woman's
ankles are half a yard round.  Can't you SEE it?  Or is that really
the way you admire 'em?  I thought you wanted to be with me. . .  I
thought that was why you were here. . .  Do you suppose I'd have
come all this way just to be taught to love fresh air and family
life?  The hypocrisy--!"

Her little face was flashing on him furiously, red lips parted on a
glitter of bright teeth.  "She must have a sausage-machine, to cram
her into that tube she had on tonight.  No human maid could do
it. . .  'Utterly different'?  I should hope so!  I'd like to see
HER get a job with Klawhammer--unless he means to do a 'Barnum,'
and wants a Fat Woman . . .  I . . ."

"LITA!"

"You're STUPID . . . you're stupider than anything on God's earth!"

"Lita--"  He put his hand over hers.  Let the whole world crash,
after this. . .



Pauline sat in her upstairs sitting-room, full of that sense of
repose which comes of duties performed and rewards laid up.  How
could it be otherwise, at the close of a day so rich in moral
satisfactions?  She scanned it again, from the vantage of her
midnight vigil in the sleeping house, and saw that all was well in
the little world she had created.

Yes; all was well, from the fire-drill which had given a rather
languishing dinner its requisite wind-up of excitement to the
arrangements for the Cardinal's reception, Amalasuntha's skilful
turning of that Birth Control obstacle, and the fact that Jim
was philosophically remaining in the south in spite of his
father's unexpected return.  The only shadow on the horizon was 
Michelangelo's--Dexter would certainly be angry about that.  But
she was not going to let Michelangelo darken her holiday, when
everything else in life was so smooth and sunshiny.

She remembered her resolve to write to Jim, and took up her pen
with a smile.


"I can guess what heavenly weather you must be having from the
delicious taste of spring we're having here.  The baby is out in
the sunshine all day: he's gained nearly a pound, and is getting
almost as brown as if it were summer.  Lita looks ever so much
better too, though she'd never forgive my suggesting that she had
put on even an ounce.  But I don't believe she has, for she and
Nona and Dexter are riding or golfing or racing over the country
from morning to night like a pack of children.  You can't think how
jolly and hungry and sleepy they all are when they get home for
tea.  It was a wonderful invention of Dexter's to bring Lita and
the baby here while you were having your holiday, and you'll agree
that it has worked miracles when you see them.

"Amalasuntha tells me your father is back.  I expected to hear that
he had got restless away from his own quarters; but she says he's
looking very well.  Nona will go in and see him next week, and
report.  Meanwhile I'm so glad you're staying on and making the
most of your holiday.  Do get all the rest and sunshine you can,
and trust your treasures a little longer to your loving old

                                                   "MOTHER."


There--that would certainly reassure him.  It had reassured her
merely to write it: given her the feeling, to which she always
secretly inclined, that a thing was so if one said it was, and
doubly so if one wrote it down.

She sealed the letter, pushed back her chair, and glanced at the
little clock on her writing-table.  A quarter to two!  She had a
right to feel sleepy, and even to curtail her relaxing exercises.
The country stillness was so deep and soothing that she hardly
needed them. . .

She opened the window, and stood drinking in the hush.  The spring
night was full of an underlying rustle and murmur that was a part
of the silence.  But suddenly a sharp sound broke on her--the sound
of a motor coming up the drive.  In the stillness she caught it a
long way off, probably just after the car turned in at the gate.
The sound was so unnatural, breaking in on the deep nocturnal
dumbness of dim trees and starlit sky, that she drew back startled.
She was not a nervous woman, but she thought irritably of a
servants' escapade--something that the chauffeur would have to be
spoken to about the next day.  Queer, though--the motor did not
turn off toward the garage.  Standing in the window she followed
its continued approach; then heard it slow down and stop--somewhere
near the service court, she conjectured.

Could it be that Lita and Nona had been off on one of their crazy
trips since the guests had left?  She must really protest at such
imprudence. . .  She felt angry, nervous, uncertain.  It was
uncanny, hearing that invisible motor come so near the house and
stop. . .  She hesitated a moment, and then crossed to her own
room, opened the door of the little anteroom beyond, and stood
listening at her husband's bedroom door.  It was ajar, all dark
within.  She hesitated to speak, half fearing to wake him; but at
length she said in a low voice:  "Dexter--."

No answer.  She pronounced his name again, a little louder, and
then cautiously crossed the threshold and switched on the light.
The room was empty, the bed undisturbed.  It was evident that
Manford had not been up to his room since their guests had left.
It was he, then, who had come back in the motor. . .  She
extinguished the light and turned back into her own room.  On her
dressing-table stood the little telephone which communicated with
the servants' quarters, with Maisie Bruss's office, and with Nona's
room.  She stood wavering before the instrument.  Why shouldn't she
call up Nona, and ask--?  Ask what?  If the girls had been off on a
lark they would be sure to tell her in the morning.  And if it was
Dexter alone, then--

She turned from the telephone, and slowly began to undress.
Presently she heard steps in the hall, then in the anteroom; then
her husband moving softly about in his own room, and the
unmistakable sounds of his undressing. . .  She drew a long breath,
as if trying to free her lungs of some vague oppression. . .  It
was Dexter--well, yes, only Dexter . . . and he hadn't cared to
leave the motor at the garage at that hour. . .  Naturally. . .
How glad she was that she hadn't rung up Nona!  Suppose her doing
so had startled Lita or the baby. . .

After all, perhaps she'd better do her relaxing exercises.  She
felt suddenly staring wide awake.  But she was glad she'd written
that reassuring letter to Jim--she was glad, because it was
TRUE. . .



XXVI


When Nona told her mother that she wanted to go to town the next
day to see Mrs. Bruss and Maisie, Mrs. Manford said:  "It's only
what I expected of you, darling," and added after a moment:  "Do
you think I ought--?"

"No, of course not.  It would simply worry Maisie."

Nona knew it was the answer that her mother awaited.  She knew that
nothing frightened and disorganized Pauline as much as direct
contact with physical or moral suffering--especially physical.  Her
whole life (if one chose to look at it from a certain angle) had
been a long uninterrupted struggle against the encroachment of
every form of pain.  The first step, always, was to conjure it,
bribe it away, by every possible expenditure--except of one's self.
Cheques, surgeons, nurses, private rooms in hospitals, X-rays,
radium, whatever was most costly and up-to-date in the dreadful art
of healing--that was her first and strongest line of protection;
behind it came such lesser works as rest-cures, change of air, a
seaside holiday, a whole new set of teeth, pink silk bed-spreads,
lace cushions, stacks of picture papers, and hot-house grapes and
long-stemmed roses from Cedarledge.  Behind these again were the
final, the verbal defenses, made of such phrases as:  "If I thought
I could do the least good"--"If I didn't feel it might simply upset
her"--"SOME doctors still consider it contagious"--with the
inevitable summing-up:  "The fewer people she sees the better. . ."

Nona knew that this attitude was not caused by lack of physical
courage.  Had Pauline been a pioneer's wife, and seen her family
stricken down by disease in the wilderness, she would have nursed
them fearlessly; but all her life she had been used to buying off
suffering with money, or denying its existence with words, and her
moral muscles had become so atrophied that only some great shock
would restore their natural strength. . .

"Great shock!  People like mother never have great shocks," Nona
mused, looking at the dauntless profile, the crisply waving hair,
reflected in the toilet-mirror.  "Unless I were to give her
one . . ." she added with an inward smile.

Mrs. Manford restored her powder-puff to its crystal box.  "Do you
know, darling, I believe I'll go to town with you tomorrow.  It was
very brave of Maisie to make the effort of coming here the other
day, but of course, I didn't like to burden her with too many
details at such a time (when's the operation--tomorrow?), and there
are things I could perfectly well attend to myself, without
bothering her; without her even knowing.  Yes; I'll motor up with
you early."

"She'll always delegate her anxieties," Nona mused, not
unenviously, as Ccile slipped Mrs. Manford's spangled teagown over
her firm white shoulders.  Pauline turned a tender smile on her
daughter.  "It's so like you, Nona, to want to be with Maisie for
the operation--so FINE, dear."

Voice and smile were full of praise; yet behind the praise (Nona
also knew) lurked the unformulated apprehension:  "All this running
after sick people and unhappy people--is it going to turn into a
vocation?"  Nothing could have been more distasteful to Mrs.
Manford than the idea that her only daughter should be not only
good, but MERELY good: like poor Aggie Heuston, say. . .  Nona
could hear her mother murmuring:  "I can't imagine where on earth
she got it from," as if alluding to some physical defect
unaccountable in the offspring of two superbly sound progenitors.



They started early, for forty-eight hours of accumulated leisure
had reinforced Pauline's natural activity.  Amalasuntha,
mysteriously smiling and head-shaking over the incommunicable
figures of Klawhammer's offer, had bustled back to town early on
Monday, leaving the family to themselves--and a certain feeling of
flatness had ensued.  Dexter, his wife thought, seemed secretly
irritated, but determined to conceal his irritation from her.  It
was about Michelangelo, no doubt.  Lita was silent and sleepy.  No
one seemed to have anything particular to do.  Even in town Mondays
were always insipid.  But in the afternoon Manford "took Lita off
their hands," as his wife put it, by carrying her away for the long-
deferred spin in the Buick; and Pauline plunged back restfully into
visiting-lists and other domestic preoccupations.  She certainly
had nothing to worry about, and much to rejoice in, yet she felt
languid and vaguely apprehensive.  She began to wonder if Alvah
Loft's treatment were of the lasting sort, or if it lost its
efficacy, like an uncorked drug.  Perhaps the Scientific Initiate
she had been told about would have a new panacea for the mind as
well as for the epiderm.  She would telephone and make an
appointment; it always stimulated her to look forward to seeing a
new healer.  As Mrs. Swoffer said, one ought never to neglect a
spiritual opportunity; and one never knew on whom the Spirit might
have alighted.  Mrs. Swoffer's conversation was always soothing and
yet invigorating, and Pauline determined to see her too.  And there
was Arthur--poor Exhibit A!--on Jim's account it would be kind to
look him up if there were time; unless Nona could manage that too,
in the intervals of solacing Maisie.  It was so depressing--and so
useless--to sit in a hospital parlour, looking at old numbers of
picture papers, while those awful white-sleeved rites went on in
the secret sanctuary of tiles and nickel-plating.  It would do Nona
good to have an excuse for slipping away.

Pauline's list of things-to-be-done had risen like a spring tide as
soon as she decided to go to town for the day.  There was hair-
waving, manicuring, dressmaking--her dress for the Cardinal's
reception.  How was she ever to get through half the engagements on
her list?  And of course she must call at the hospital with a big
basket of grapes and flowers. . .



On the steps of the hospital Nona paused and looked about her.  The
operation was over--everything had "gone beautifully," as
beautifully as it almost always does on these occasions.  Maisie
had been immensely grateful for her coming, and as surprised as if
an angel from the seventh heaven had alighted to help her through.
The two girls had sat together, making jerky attempts at talk, till
the nurse came and said:  "All right--she's back in bed again"; and
then Maisie, after a burst of relieving tears, had tiptoed off to
sit in a corner of her mother's darkened room and await the first
sign of returning consciousness.  There was nothing more for Nona
to do, and she went out into the April freshness with the sense of
relief that the healthy feel when they escape back to life after a
glimpse of death.

On the hospital steps she ran into Arthur Wyant.

"Exhibit, dear!  What are you doing here?"

"Coming to inquire for poor Mrs. Bruss.  I heard from
Amalasuntha. . ."

"That's kind of you.  Maisie'll be so pleased."

She gave him the surgeon's report, saw that his card was entrusted
to the right hands, and turned back into the street with him.  He
looked better than when he had left for the south; his leg was less
stiff, and he carried his tall carefully dressed figure with a
rigid jauntiness.  But his face seemed sharper yet higher in
colour.  Fever or cocktails?  She wondered.  It was lucky that
their meeting would save her going to the other end of the town to
see him.

"Just like you, Exhibit, to remember poor Maisie. . ."

He raised ironic eyebrows.  "Is inquiring about ill people
obsolete?  I see you still keep up the tradition."

"Oh, I've been seeing it through with Maisie.  Some one had to."

"Exactly.  And your mother held aloof, but financed the whole
business?"

"Splendidly.  She always does."

He frowned, and stood hesitating, and tapping his long boot-tip
with his stick.  "I rather want to have a talk with your mother."

"With mother?"  Nona was on the point of saying:  "She's in town
today--" then, remembering Pauline's crowded list, she checked the
impulse.

"Won't I do as a proxy?  I was going to suggest your carrying me
off to lunch."

"No, my dear, you won't--as a proxy.  But I'll carry you off to
lunch."

The choice of a restaurant would have been laborious--for Wyant,
when taken out of his rut, became a mass of manias, prejudices and
inhibitions--but Nona luckily remembered a new Bachelor Girls' Club
("The Singleton") which she had lately joined, and packed him into
a taxi still protesting.

They found a quiet corner in a sociable low-studded dining-room,
and she leaned back, listening to his disconnected monologue and
smoking one cigarette after another in the nervous inability to
eat.

The ten days on the island?  Oh, glorious, of course--hot sunshine--
a good baking for his old joints.  Awfully kind of her father to
invite him . . . he'd appreciated it immensely . . . was going to
write a line of thanks. . .  Jim, too, had appreciated his father's
being included. . .  Only, no, really; he couldn't stay; in the
circumstances he couldn't. . .

"What circumstances, Exhibit?  Getting the morning papers twenty-
four hours late?"

Wyant frowned, looked at her sharply, and then laughed an uneasy
wrinkled laugh.  "Impertinent chit!"

"Own up, now; you were bored stiff.  Communion with Nature was too
much for you.  You couldn't stick it.  Few can."

"I don't say I'm as passive as Jim."

"Jim's just loving it down there, isn't he?  I'm so glad you
persuaded him to stay."

Wyant frowned again, and stared past her at some invisible
antagonist.  "It was about the only thing I COULD persuade him to
do."

Nona's hand hung back from the lighting of another cigarette.
"What else did you try to?"

"What else?  Why to ACT, damn it . . . take a line . . . face
things . . . face the music."  He stopped in a splutter of
metaphors, and dipped his bristling moustache toward his coffee.

"What things?"

"Why: is he going to keep his wife, or isn't he?"

"He thinks that's for Lita to decide."

"For Lita to decide!  A pretext for his damned sentimental
inertness.  A MAN--my son!  God, what's happened to the young men?
Sit by and see . . . see. . .  Nona, couldn't I manage to have a
talk with your mother?"

"You're having one with me.  Isn't that enough for the moment?"

He gave another vague laugh, and took a light from her extended
cigarette.  She knew that, though he found her mother's visits
oppressive, he kept a careful record of their number, and dimly
resented any appearance of being "crowded out" by Pauline's other
engagements.  "I suppose she comes up to town sometimes, doesn't
she?"

"Sometimes--but in such a rush!  And we'll be back soon now.  She's
got to get ready for the Cardinal's reception."

"Great doings, I hear.  Amalasuntha dropped in on me yesterday.
She says Lita's all agog again since that rotten Michelangelo's got
a film contract, and your father's in an awful state about it.  Is
he?"

"The family are not used yet to figuring on the posters.  Of course
it's only a question of time."

"I don't mean in a state about Michelangelo, but about Lita."

"Father's been a perfect brick about Lita."

"Oh, he has, has he?  Very magnanimous.--Thanks; no--no cigar. . .
Of course, if anybody's got to be a brick about Lita, I don't see
why it's not her husband's job; but then I suppose you'll tell
me. . ."

"Yes; I shall; please consider yourself told, won't you?  Because
I've got to get back to the hospital."

"The modern husband's job is a purely passive one, eh?  That's your
idea too?  If you go to him and say:  'How about that damned
scoundrel and your wife'--"

"What damned scoundrel?"

"Oh, I don't say . . . anybody in particular . . . and he answers:
'Well, what am I going to do about it?' and you say:  'Well, and
your honour, man; what about your honour?' and he says:  'What's my
honour got to do with it if my wife's sick of me?' and you say:
'God!  But THE OTHER MAN . . . aren't you going to break his bones
for him?' and he sits and looks at you and says:  'Get up a prize-
fight for her?'. . .  God!  I give it up.  My own son!  We don't
speak the same language, that's all."

He leaned back, his long legs stretched under the table, his tall
shambling body disjointed with the effort at a military tautness, a
kind of muscular demonstration of what his son's moral attitude
ought to be.

"Damn it--there was a good deal to be said for duelling."

"And to whom do you want Jim to send his seconds?  Michelangelo or
Klawhammer?"

He stared, and echoed her laugh.  "Ha!  Ha!  That's good.
Klawhammer!  Dirty Jew . . . the kind we used to horsewhip. . .
Well, I don't understand the new code."

"Why do you want to, Exhibit?  Come along.  You've got me to look
after in the meantime.  If you want to be chivalrous, tuck me under
your arm and see me back to the hospital."

"A prize-fight--get up a prize-fight for her!  God--I should
understand even that better than lying on the beach smoking a pipe
and saying:  'What can a fellow do about it?'  DO!"



Act--act--act!  How funny it was, Nona reflected, as she remounted
the hospital steps: the people who talked most of acting seldom did
more than talk.  Her father, for instance, so resolute and
purposeful, never discoursed about action, but quietly went about
what had to be done.  Whereas poor Exhibit, perpetually
inconsequent and hesitating, was never tired of formulating the
most truculent plans of action for others.  "Poor Exhibit indeed--
incorrigible amateur!" she thought, understanding how such wordy
dilettantism must have bewildered and irritated the young and
energetic Pauline, fresh from the buzzing motor works at Exploit.

Nona felt a sudden exasperation against Wyant for trying to poison
Jim's holiday by absurd insinuations and silly swagger.  It was
lucky that he had got bored and come back, leaving the poor boy to
bask on the sands with his pipe and his philosophy.  After all, it
was to be supposed that Jim knew what he wanted, and how to take
care of it, now he had it.

"At all events," Nona concluded, "I'm glad he didn't get hold of
mother and bother her with his foolish talk."  She shot up in the
lift to the white carbolic-breathing passage where, with a heavy
whiff of ether, Mrs. Bruss's door opened to receive her.



XXVII


The restorative effect of a day away from the country was visible
in Pauline's face and manner when she dawned on the breakfast-table
the next morning.  The mere tone in which she murmured:  "How
lovely it is to get back!" showed how lovely it had been to get
away--and she lingered over the new-laid eggs, the golden cream,
all the country freshnesses and succulences, with the sense of
having richly earned them by a long day spent in arduous and
agreeable labours.

"When there are tiresome things to be done the great thing is to do
them at once," she announced to Nona across the whole-wheat toast
and scrambled eggs.  "I simply hated to leave all this loveliness
yesterday; but how much more I'm going to enjoy it today because I
did!"

Her day in town had in truth been exceptionally satisfactory.  All
had gone well, from her encounter, at Amalasuntha's, with one of
the Cardinal's secretaries, to the belated glimpse of Maisie Bruss,
haggard but hopeful on the hospital steps, receiving the hamper of
fruit and flowers with grateful exclamations, and assurances that
the surgeon was "perfectly satisfied," and that there was "no
reason why the dreadful thing should ever reappear."  In a wave of
sympathetic emotion Pauline had leaned from the motor to kiss her
and say:  "Your mother must have a good rest at Atlantic City as
soon as she can be moved--I'll arrange it.  Sea air is such a
tonic . . ." and Maisie had thanked and wept again. . .  It was
pleasant to be able, in a few words, to make any one so happy. . .

She had found Mrs. Swoffer too; found her in a super-terrestrial
mood, beaming through inspired eye-glasses, and pouring out new
torrents of stimulation.

Yes: Alvah Loft was a great man, Mrs. Swoffer said.  She, for her
part, had never denied it for a moment.  How could Pauline have
imagined that her faith in Alvah Loft had failed her?  No--but
there were periods of spiritual aridity which the brightest souls
had to traverse, and she had lately had reason to suspect, from her
own experience and from Pauline's, that perhaps Alvah Loft was at
present engaged in such a desert.  Certainly to charge a hundred
dollars for a "triple treatment" (which was only three minutes
longer than the plain one), and then produce no more lasting
results--well, Mrs. Swoffer preferred not to say anything
uncharitable. . .  Then again, she sometimes suspected that Alvah
Loft's doctrine might be only for beginners.  That was what Sacha
Gobine, the new Russian Initiate, plainly intimated.  Of course
there were innumerable degrees in the spiritual life, and it might
be that sometimes Alvah Loft's patients got beyond his level--got
above it--without his being aware of the fact.  Frankly, that was
what Gobine thought (from Mrs. Swoffer's report) must have happened
in the case of Pauline.  "I believe your friend has reached a
higher plane"--that was the way the Initiate put it.  "She's been
at the gate" (he called the Mahatma and Alvah Loft "gatekeepers"),
"and now the gate has opened, and she has entered in--entered
into . . ."  But Mrs. Swoffer said she'd rather not try to quote
him because she couldn't put it as beautifully as he did, and she
wanted Pauline to hear it in his own mystical language.  "It's
eternal rejuvenation just to sit and listen to him," she breathed,
laying an electric touch on her visitor's hand.

Rejuvenation!  The word dashed itself like cool spray against
Pauline's strained nerves and parched complexion.  She could never
hear it without longing to plunge deep into its healing waters.
Between manicure and hair-waver she was determined to squeeze in a
moment with Gobine.

And the encounter, as she told Nona, had been like "a religious
experience"--apparently forgetful of the fact that every other
meeting with a new prophet had presented itself to her in identical
terms.

"You see, my dear, it's something so entirely new, so completely
different . . . so emotional; yes, emotional; that's the word.  The
Russians, of course, ARE emotional; it's their peculiar quality.
Alvah Loft--and you understand that I don't in the least suggest
any loss of faith in him; but Alvah Loft has a mind which speaks to
the MIND; there is no appeal to the feelings.  Whereas in Gobine's
teaching there is a mystic strain, a kind of Immediacy, as Mrs.
Swoffer calls it. . .  Immediacy. . ."  Pauline lingered on the
term.  It captivated her, as any word did when she first heard it
used in a new connection.  "I don't know how one could define the
sensation better.  'Soul-unveiling' is Gobine's expression. . .
But he insists on time, on plenty of time. . .  He says we are all
parching our souls by too much hurry.  Of course I always felt that
with Alvah Loft.  I felt like one of those cash-boxes they shoot
along over your head in the department stores.  Number one, number
two, and so on--always somebody treading on your heels.  Whereas
Gobine absolutely refuses to be hurried.  Sometimes he sees only
one patient a day.  When I left him he told me he thought he would
not see any one else till the next morning.  'I don't want to
mingle your soul with any other.'  Rather beautiful, wasn't it?
And he does give one a wonderful dreamy sense of rest. . ."

She closed her eyes and leaned back, evoking the gaunt bearded face
and heavy-lidded eyes of the new prophet, and the moist adhesive
palm he had laid in benediction on her forehead.  How different
from the thick-lipped oily Mahatma, and from the thin dry Alvah
Loft, who seemed more like an implement in a laboratory than a
human being!  "Perhaps one needs them all in turn," Pauline
murmured half-aloud, with the self-indulgence of the woman who has
never had to do over an out-of-fashion garment.

"One ought to be able to pass on last year's healers to one's poor
relations, oughtn't one, mother?" Nona softly mocked; but her
mother disarmed her with an unresentful smile.

"Darling!  I know you don't understand these things yet--only,
child, I do want you to be a little on your guard against becoming
BITTER, won't you?  There--you don't mind your old mother's just
suggesting it?"

Really Nona worried her at times--or would, if Gobine hadn't shed
over her this perfumed veil of Peace.  Yes--Peace: that was what
she had always needed.  Perfect confidence that everything would
always come right in the end.  Of course the other healers had
taught that too; some people might say that Gobine's evangel was
only the Mahatma's doctrine of the Higher Harmony.  But the
resemblance was merely superficial, as the Scientific Initiate had
been careful to explain to her.  Her previous guides had not been
Initiates, and had no scientific training; they could only guess,
whereas he KNEW.  That was the meaning of Immediacy: direct contact
with the Soul of the Invisible.  How clear and beautiful he made it
all!  How all the little daily problems shrivelled up and vanished
like a puff of smoke to eyes cleared by that initiation!  And he
had seen at once that Pauline was one of the few who COULD be
initiated; who were worthy to be drawn out of the senseless modern
rush and taken in Beyond the Veil.  She closed her eyes again, and
felt herself there with him. . .  "Of course he treats hardly
anybody," Mrs. Swoffer had assured her; "not one in a hundred.  He
says he'd rather starve than waste his time on the unmystical.  (He
saw at once that you were mystical.)  Because he takes time--he
must have it. . .  Days, weeks, if necessary.  Our crowded
engagements mean nothing to him.  He won't have a clock in the
house.  And he doesn't care whether he's paid or not; he says he's
paid in soul-growth.  Marvellous, isn't it?"

Marvellous indeed!  And how different from Alvah Loft's Taylorized
treatments, his rapidly rising scale of charges, and the unbroken
stream of patients succeeding each other under his bony touch!  And
how one came back from communion with the Invisible longing to help
others, to draw all one's dear ones with one Beyond the Veil.
Pauline had gone to town with an unavowed burden on her mind.  Jim,
Lita, her husband, that blundering Amalasuntha, that everlasting
Michelangelo; and Nona, too--Nona, who looked thinner and more
drawn every day, and whose tongue seemed to grow sharper and more
derisive; who seemed--at barely twenty--to be turning from a gay
mocking girl into a pinched fault-finding old maid. . .

All these things had weighed on Pauline more than she cared to
acknowledge; but now she felt strong enough to lift them, or rather
they had become as light as air.  "If only you Americans would
persuade yourselves of the utter unimportance of the Actual--of the
total non-existence of the Real."  That was what Gobine had said,
and the words had thrilled her like a revelation.  Her eyes
continued to rest with an absent smile on her daughter's ironic
face, but what she was really thinking of was:  "How on earth can I
possibly induce him to come to the Cardinal's reception?"

That was one of the things that Nona would never understand her
caring about.  She would credit--didn't Pauline know!--her mother
with the fatuous ambition to use her united celebrities for a
social "draw," as a selfish child might gather all its toys into
one heap; she would never see how important it was to bring
together the representatives of the conflicting creeds, the bearers
of the multiple messages, in the hope of drawing from their contact
the flash of revelation for which the whole creation groaned.  "If
only the Cardinal could have a quiet talk with Gobine," Pauline
thought; and, immediately dramatizing the possibility, saw herself
steering his Eminence toward the innermost recess of her long suite
of drawing-rooms, where the Scientific Initiate, shaggy but
inspired, would suddenly stand before the Prince of the Church
while she guarded the threshold from intruders.  What new life it
might put into the ossified Roman dogmas if the Cardinal could be
made to understand that beautiful new doctrine of Immediacy!  But
how could she ever persuade Gobine to kiss the ring?

"And Mrs. Bruss--any news?  I thought Maisie seemed really
hopeful."

"Yes; the night wasn't bad.  The doctors think she'll go on all
right--for the present."

Pauline frowned; it was distasteful to have the suggestion of
suffering and decay obtruded upon her beatific mood.  She was
living in a world where such things were not, and it seemed cruel--
and unnecessary--to suggest to her that perhaps all Mrs. Bruss had
already endured might not avail to spare her future misery.

"I'm sure we ought to try to resist looking ahead, and creating
imaginary suffering for ourselves or others.  Why should the
doctors say 'for the present'?  They can't possibly tell if the
disease will ever come back."

"No; but they know it generally does."

"Can't you see, Nona, that that's just what MAKES it?  Being
prepared to suffer is really the way to create suffering.  And
creating suffering is creating sin, because sin and suffering are
really one.  We ought to refuse ourselves to pain.  All the great
Healers have taught us that."

Nona lifted her eyebrows in the slightly disturbing way she had.
"Did Christ?"

Pauline felt her colour rise.  This habit of irrelevant and rather
impertinent retort was growing on Nona.  The idea of stirring up
the troublesome mysteries of Christian dogma at the breakfast-
table!  Pauline had no intention of attacking any religion.  But
Nona was really getting as querulous as a teething child.  Perhaps
that was what she was, morally; perhaps some new experience was
forcing its way through the tender flesh of her soul.  The
suggestion was disturbing to all Pauline's theories; yet confronted
with her daughter's face and voice she could only take refuge in
the idea that Nona, unable to attain the Higher Harmony, was
struggling in a crepuscular wretchedness from which she refused to
be freed.

"If you'd only come to Gobine with me, dear, these problems would
never trouble you any more."

"They don't now--not an atom.  What troubles me is the plain human
tangle, as it remains after we've done our best to straighten it
out.  Look at Mrs. Bruss!"

"But the doctors say there's every chance--"

"Did you ever know them not to, after a first operation for
cancer?"

"Of course, Nona, if you take sorrow and suffering for granted--"

"I don't, mother; but, apparently, Somebody does, judging from
their diffusion and persistency, as the natural history books say."

Pauline felt her smooth brows gather in an unwelcome frown.  The
child had succeeded in spoiling her breakfast and in unsettling the
happy equilibrium which she had imparted to her world.  She didn't
know what ailed Nona, unless she was fretting over Stan Heuston's
disgraceful behaviour; but if so, it was better that she should
learn in time what he was, and face her disillusionment.  She might
actually have ended by falling in love with him, Pauline reflected,
and that would have been very disagreeable on account of Aggie.
"What she needs is to marry," Pauline said to herself, struggling
back to serenity.

She glanced at her watch, wondered if it were worth while to wait
any longer for her husband, and decided to instruct Powder to keep
his breakfast hot, and produce fresh coffee and rice-cakes when he
rang.

Dexter, the day before, had taken Lita off on another long
excursion.  They had turned up so late that dinner had to be
postponed for them, and had been so silent and remote all the
evening that Pauline had ventured a jest on the soporific effects
of country air, and suggested that every one should go to bed
early.  This morning, though it was past ten o'clock, neither of
the two had appeared; and Nona declared herself ignorant of their
plans for the day.

"It's a mercy Lita is so satisfied here," Pauline sighed, resigning
herself to another dull day at the thought of the miracle Manford
was accomplishing.  She had felt rather nervous when Amalasuntha
had appeared with her incredible film stories, and her braggings
about the irresistible Michelangelo; but Lita did not seem to have
been unsettled by them.

"Jim will have a good deal to be grateful for when he gets home,"
Pauline smiled to her daughter.  "I do hope he'll appreciate what
your father has done.  His staying on the island seems to show that
he does.  By the way," she added, with another smile, "I didn't
tell you, did I, that I ran across Arthur yesterday?"

Nona hesitated a moment.  "So did I."

"Oh, did you?  He didn't mention it.  He looks better, don't you
think so?  But I found him excited and restless--almost as if
another attack of gout were coming on.  He was annoyed because I
wouldn't go and see him then and there, though it was after six,
and I should have had to dine in town."

"It's just as well you didn't, after such a tiring day."

"He was so persistent--you know how he is at times.  He insisted
that he must have a talk with me, though he wouldn't tell me about
what."

"I don't believe he knows.  As you say, he's always nervous when he
has an attack coming on."

"But he seemed so hurt at my refusing.  He wanted me to promise to
go back today.  And when I told him I couldn't he said that if I
didn't he'd come out here."

Nona gave an impatient shrug.  "How absurd!  But of course he
won't.  I don't exactly see dear old Exhibit walking up to the
front door of Cedarledge."

Pauline's colour rose again; she too had pictured the same
possibility, only to reject it.  Wyant had always refused to cross
her threshold in New York, though she lived in a house bought after
her second marriage; surely he would be still more reluctant to
enter Cedarledge, where he and she had spent their early life
together, and their son had been born.  There were certain things,
as he was always saying, that a man didn't do: that was all.

Nona was still pondering.  "I wouldn't go to town to see him,
mother; why should you?  He was excited, and rather cross,
yesterday, but he really hadn't anything to say.  He just wanted to
hear himself talk.  As long as we're here he'll never come, and
when this mood passes off he won't even remember what it was about.
If you like I'll write and tell him that you'll see him as soon as
we get back."

"Thank you, dear.  I wish you would."

How sensible the child could be when she chose!  Her answer chimed
exactly with her mother's secret inclination, and the latter,
rising from the breakfast-table, decided to slip away to a final
revision of the Cardinal's list.  It was pleasant, for once, to
have time to give so important a matter all the attention it
deserved.



XXVIII


When Nona came down the next morning it was raining--a cold
blustery rain, lashing the branches about and driving the startled
spring back into its secret recesses.

It was the first rain since their arrival at Cedarledge, and it
seemed to thrust them back also--back into the wintry world of
town, of dripping streets, early lamplight and crowded places of
amusement.

Mrs. Manford had already breakfasted and left the dining-room, but
her husband's plate was still untouched.  He came in as Nona was
finishing, and after an absent-minded nod and smile dropped
silently into his place.  He sat opposite the tall rain-striped
windows, and as he stared out into the grayness it seemed as if
some of it, penetrating into the room in spite of the red sparkle
of the fire, had tinged his face and hair.  Lately Nona had been
struck by his ruddiness, and the vigour of the dark waves crisping
about his yellow-brown temples; but now he had turned sallow and
autumnal.  "What people call looking one's age, I suppose--as if we
didn't have a dozen or a hundred ages, all of us!"

Her father had withdrawn his stare from the outer world and turned
it toward the morning paper on the book-stand beside his plate.
With lids lowered and fixed lips he looked strangely different
again--rather like his own memorial bust in bronze.  She shivered a
little. . .

"Father!  Your coffee's getting cold."

He pushed aside the paper, glanced at the letters piled by his
plate, and lifted his eyes to Nona's.  The twinkle she always woke
seemed to struggle up to her from a long way off.

"I missed my early tramp and don't feel particularly enthusiastic
about breakfast."

"It's not enthusiastic weather."

"No."  He had grown absent-minded again.  "Pity; when we've so few
days left."

"It may clear, though."

What stupid things they were saying!  Much either he or she cared
about the weather, when they were in the country and had the
prospect of a good tramp or a hard gallop together.  Not that they
had had many such lately; but then she had been busy with her
mother, trying to make up for Maisie's absence; and there had been
the interruption caused by the week-end party; and he had been
helping to keep Lita amused--with success, apparently.

"Yes. . .  I shouldn't wonder if it cleared."  He frowned out
toward the sky again.  "Round about midday."  He paused, and added:
"I thought of running Lita over to Greystock."

She nodded.  They would no doubt stay and dine, and Lita would get
her dance.  Probably Mrs. Manford wouldn't mind, though she was
beginning to show signs of wearying of tte--tte dinners with her
daughter.  But they could go over the reception list again; and
Pauline could talk about her new Messiah.

Nona glanced down at her own letters.  She often forgot to look at
them till the day was nearly over, now that she knew the one
writing her eyes thirsted for would not be on any of the envelopes.
Stanley Heuston had made no sign since they had parted that night
on the doorstep. . .

The door opened, and Lita came in.  It was the first time since
their arrival that she had appeared at breakfast.  She faced
Manford as she entered, and Nona saw her father's expression
change.  It was like those funny old portraits in the picture-
restorers' windows, with a veil of age and dust removed from one
half to show the real surface underneath.  Lita's entrance did not
make him look either younger or happier; it simply removed from
his face the soul-disguising veil which life interposes between a
man's daily world and himself.  He looked stripped--exposed . . .
exposed . . . that was it.  Nona glanced at Lita, not to surprise
her off her guard, but simply to look away from her father.

Lita's face was what it always was: something so complete and
accomplished that one could not imagine its being altered by any
interior disturbance.

It was like a delicate porcelain vase, or a smooth heavy flower,
that a shifting of light might affect, but nothing from within
would alter.  She smiled in her round-eyed unseeing way, as a
little gold-and-ivory goddess might smile down on her worshippers,
and said:  "I got up early because there wasn't any need to."

The reason was one completely satisfying to herself, but its effect
on her hearers was perhaps disappointing.  Nona made no comment,
and Manford merely laughed--a vague laugh addressed, one could see,
less to her words, which he appeared not to have noticed, than to
the mere luminous fact of her presence; the kind of laugh evoked by
the sight of a dazzling fringed fish or flower suddenly offered to
one's admiration.

"I think the rain will hold off before lunch," he said,
communicating the fact impartially to the room.

"Oh, what a pity--I wanted to get my hair thoroughly drenched.
It's beginning to uncurl with the long drought," Lita said, her
hand wavering uncertainly between the dishes Powder had placed in
front of her.  "Grape-fruit, I think--though it's so awfully ocean-
voyagy.  Promise me, Nona--!"  She turned to her sister-in-law.

"Promise you what?"

"Not to send me a basket of grape-fruit when I sail."

Manford looked up at her impenetrable porcelain face.  His lips
half parted on an unspoken word; then he pushed back his chair and
got up.

"I'll order the car at eleven," he said, in a tone of aimless
severity.

Lita was scooping a spoonful of juice out of the golden bowl of the
grape-fruit.  She seemed neither to heed nor to hear.  Manford laid
down his napkin and walked out of the room.

Lita threw back her head to let the liquid slip slowly down between
her lips.  Her gold-fringed lids fluttered a little, as if the
fruit-juice were a kiss.

"When are you sailing?" Nona asked, reaching for the cigarette-
lighter.

"Don't know.  Next week, I shouldn't wonder."

"For any particular part of the globe?"

Lita's head descended, and she turned her chestnut-coloured eyes
softly on her sister-in-law.  "Yes; but I can't remember what it's
called."

Nona was looking at her in silence.  It was simply that she was so
beautiful.  A vase?  No--a lamp now: there WAS a glow from the
interior.  As if her red corpuscles had turned into millions of
fairy lamps. . .

Her glance left Nona's and returned to her plate.  "Letters.  What
a bore!  Why on earth don't people telephone?"

She did not often receive letters, her congenital inability to
answer them having gradually cooled the zeal of her correspondents;
of all, that is, excepting her husband.  Almost every day Nona saw
one of Jim's gray-blue envelopes on the hall table.  That
particular colour had come to symbolize to her a state of patient
expectancy.

Lita was turning over some impersonal looking bills and
advertisements.  From beneath them the faithful gray-blue envelope
emerged.  Nona thought:  "If only he wouldn't--!" and her eyes
filled.

Lita looked pensively at the post-mark and then laid the envelope
down unopened.

"Aren't you going to read your letter?"

She raised her brows.  "Jim's?  I did--yesterday.  One just like
it."

"Lita!  You're--you're perfectly beastly!"

Lita's languid mouth rounded into a smile.  "Not to you, darling.
Do you want me to read it?"  She slipped a polished finger-tip
under the flap.

"Oh, no; no!  Don't--not like that!"  It made Nona wince.  "I wish
she HATED Jim--I wish she wanted to kill him!  I could bear it
better than this," the girl stormed inwardly.  She got up and
turned toward the door.

"Nona--wait!  What's the matter?  Don't you really want to hear
what he says?"  Lita stood up also, her eyes still on the open
letter.  "He--oh. . ."  She turned toward her sister-in-law a face
from which the inner glow had vanished.

"What is it?  Is he ill?  What's wrong?"

"He's coming home.  He wants me to go back the day after tomorrow."
She stood staring in front of her, her eyes fixed on something
invisible to Nona, and beyond her.

"Does he say why?"

"He doesn't say anything but that."

"When did you expect him?"

"I don't know.  Not for ages.  I never can remember about dates.
But I thought he liked it down there.  And your father said he'd
arranged--"

"Arranged what?" Nona interrupted.

Lita seemed to become aware of her again, and turned on her a
smooth inaccessible face.  "I don't know: arranged with the bank, I
suppose."

"To keep him there?"

"To let him have a good long holiday.  You all thought he needed it
so awfully, didn't you?"

Nona stood motionless, staring out of the window.  She saw her
father drive up in the Buick.  The rain had diminished to a silver
drizzle shot with bursts of sun, and through the open window she
heard him call:  "It's going to clear after all.  We'd better
start."

Lita went out of the door, humming a tune.

"Lita!" Nona called out, moved by some impulse to arrest, to warn--
she didn't know what.  But the door had closed, and Lita was
already out of hearing.



All through the day it kept on raining at uncomfortable intervals.
Uncomfortable, that is, for Pauline and Nona.  Whenever they tried
to get out for a walk a deluge descended; then, as soon as they had
splashed back to the house with the dripping dogs, the clouds broke
and mocked them with a blaze of sunshine.  But by that time they
were either revising the list again, or had settled down to Mah-
jongg in the library.

"Really, I can't go up and change into my walking shoes AGAIN!"
Pauline remonstrated to the weather; and a few minutes later the
streaming window-panes had justified her.

"April showers," she remarked with a slightly rigid smile.  She
looked deprecatingly at her daughter.  "It was selfish of me to
keep you here, dear.  You ought to have gone with your father and
Lita."

"But there were all those notes to do, mother.  And really I'm
rather fed-up with Greystock."

Pauline executed a repetition of her smile.  "Well, I fancy we
shall have them back for tea.  No golf this afternoon, I'm afraid,"
she said, glancing with a certain furtive satisfaction at the
increasing downpour.

"No; but Lita may want to stay and dance."

Pauline made no comment, but once more addressed her disciplined
attention to the game.

The fire, punctually replenished, continued to crackle and drowse.
The warmth drew out the strong scent of the carnations and rose-
geraniums, and made the room as languid as a summer garden.  Dusk
fell from the cloud-laden skies, and in due course the hand which
tended the fire drew the curtains on their noiseless rings and lit
the lamps.  Lastly Powder appeared, heading the processional
entrance of the tea-table.

Pauline roused herself from a languishing Mah-jongg to take her
expected part in the performance.  She and Nona grouped themselves
about the hearth, and Pauline lifted the lids of the little covered
dishes with a critical air.

"I ordered those muffins your father likes so much," she said, in a
tone of unwonted wistfulness.  "Perhaps we'd better send them out
to be kept hot."

Nona agreed that it would be better; but as she had her hand on the
bell the sound of an approaching motor checked her.  The dogs woke
with a happy growling and bustled out.  "There they are after all!"
Pauline said.

There was a minute or two of silence, unmarked by the usual yaps of
welcome; then a sound like the depositing of wraps and an umbrella;
then Powder on the threshold, for once embarrassed and at a loss.

"Mr. Wyant, madam."

"Mr. Wyant?"

"Mr. Arthur Wyant.  He seemed to think you were probably expecting
him," Powder continued, as if lengthening the communication in
order to give her time.

Mrs. Manford, seizing it, rose to the occasion with one of her
heroic wing-beats.  "Yes--I WAS.  Please show him in," she said,
without risking a glance at her daughter.

Arthur Wyant came in, tall and stooping in his shabby well-cut
clothes, a nervous flush on his cheekbones.  He paused, and sent a
half-bewildered stare about the room--a look which seemed to say
that when he had made up his mind that he must see Pauline he had
failed to allow for the familiarity of the setting in which he was
to find her.

"You've hardly changed anything here," he said abruptly, in the far-
off tone of a man slowly coming back to consciousness.

"How are you, Arthur?  I'm sorry you've had such a rainy day for
your trip," Mrs. Manford responded, with an easy intonation
intended to reach the retreating Powder.

Her former husband took no notice.  His eyes continued to travel
about the room in the same uncertain searching way.

"Hardly anything," he repeated, still seemingly unaware of any
presence in the room but his own.  "That Raeburn, though--yes.
That used to be in the dining-room, didn't it?"  He passed his hand
over his forehead, as if to brush away some haze of oblivion, and
walked up to the picture.

"Wait a bit.  It's in the place where the Sargent of Jim as a
youngster used to hang--Jim on his pony.  Just over my writing-
table, so that I saw it whenever I looked up. . ."  He turned to
Pauline.  "Jolly picture.  What have you done with it?  Why did you
take it away?"

Pauline coloured, but a smile of conciliation rode gallantly over
her blush.  "I didn't.  That is--Dexter wanted it.  It's in his
room; it's been there for years."  She paused, and then added:
"You know how devoted Dexter is to Jim."

Wyant had turned abruptly from the contemplation of the Raeburn.
The colour in Pauline's cheek was faintly reflected in his own.
"Stupid of me . . . of course. . .  Fact is, I was rather rattled
when I came in, seeing everything so much the same. . .  You must
excuse my turning up in this way; I had to see you about something
important. . .  Hullo, Nona--"

"Of course I excuse you, Arthur.  Do sit down--here by the fire.
You must be cold after your wet journey . . . so unseasonable,
after the weather we've been having.  Nona will ring for tea,"
Pauline said, with her accent of indomitable hospitality.



XXIX


Nona, that night, in her mother's doorway, wavered a moment and
then turned back.  "Well, then--goodnight, mother."

"Goodnight, child."

But Mrs. Manford seemed to waver too.  She stood there in her rich
dusky draperies, and absently lifted a hand to detach one after the
other of her long earrings.  It was one of Mrs. Manford's rules
never to keep up her maid to undress her.

"Can I unfasten you, mother?"

"Thanks, dear, no; this teagown slips off so easily.  You must be
tired. . ."

"No; I'm not tired.  But you. . ."

"I'm not either."  They stood irresolute on the threshold of the
warm shadowy room lit only by a waning sparkle from the hearth.
Pauline switched on the lamps.

"Come in then, dear."  Her strained smile relaxed, and she laid a
hand on her daughter's shoulder.  "Well, it's over," she said, in
the weary yet satisfied tone in which Nona had sometimes heard her
pronounce the epitaph of a difficult but successful dinner.

Nona followed her, and Pauline sank down in an armchair near the
fire.  In the shaded lamplight, with the glint of the fire playing
across her face, and her small head erect on still comely
shoulders, she had a sweet dignity of aspect which moved her
daughter incongruously.

"I'm so thankful you've never bobbed your hair, mother."

Mrs. Manford stared at this irrelevancy; her stare seemed to say
that she was resigned to her daughter's verbal leaps, but had long
since renounced the attempt to keep up with them.

"You're so handsome just as you are," Nona continued.  "I can
understand dear old Exhibit's being upset when he saw you here, in
the same surroundings, and looking, after all, so much as you must
have in his day. . .  And when he himself is so changed. . ."

Pauline lowered her lids over the vision.  "Yes.  Poor Arthur!"
Had she ever, for the last fifteen years, pronounced her former
husband's name without adding that depreciatory epithet?  Somehow
pity--an indulgent pity--was always the final feeling he evoked.
She leaned back against the cushions, and added:  "It was certainly
unfortunate, his taking it into his head to come out here.  I
didn't suppose he would have remembered so clearly how everything
looked. . .  The Sargent of Jim on the pony. . .  Do you think he
minded?"

"Its having been moved to father's room?  Yes; I think he did."

"But, Nona, he's always been so grateful to your father for what
he's done for Jim--and for Lita.  He ADMIRES your father.  He's
often told me so."

"Yes."

"At any rate, once he was here, I couldn't do less than ask him to
stay to dine."

"No; you couldn't.  Especially as there was no train back till
after dinner."

"And, after all, I don't, to this minute, know what he came for!"

Nona lifted her eyes from an absorbed contemplation of the fire.
"You don't?"

"Oh, of course, in a vague way, to talk about Jim and Lita.  The
same old things we've heard so many times.  But I quieted him very
soon about that.  I told him Lita had been perfectly happy here--
that the experiment had been a complete success.  He seemed
surprised that she had given up all her notions about Hollywood and
Klawhammer . . . apparently Amalasuntha has been talking a lot of
nonsense to him . . . but when I said that Lita had never once
spoken of Hollywood, and that she was going home the day after
tomorrow to join her husband, it seemed to tranquillize him
completely.  Didn't he seem to you much quieter when he drove off?"

"Yes; he was certainly quieter.  But he seemed to want particularly
to see Lita."

Pauline drew a quick breath.  "Yes.  On the whole I was glad she
wasn't here.  Lita has never known how to manage Arthur, and her
manner is sometimes so irritating.  She might have said something
that would have upset him again.  It was really a relief when your
father telephoned that they had decided to dine at Greystock--
though I could see that Arthur thought that funny too.  His ideas
have never progressed an inch; he's always remained as old-
fashioned as his mother."  She paused a moment, and then went on:
"I saw you were a little startled when I asked him if he wouldn't
like to spend the night.  But I didn't want to appear inhospitable."

"No; not in this house," Nona agreed with her quick smile.  "And of
course one knew he wouldn't--"

Pauline sighed.  "Poor Arthur!  He's always so punctilious."

"It wasn't only that.  He was suffering horribly."

"About Lita?  So foolish!  As if he couldn't trust her to us--"

"Not only about Lita.  But just from the fact of being here--of
having all his old life thrust back on him.  He seemed utterly
unprepared for it--as if he'd really succeeded in not thinking
about it at all for years.  And suddenly there it was: like the
drowning man's vision.  A drowning man--that's what he was like."

Pauline straightened herself slightly, and Nona saw her brows
gather in a faint frown.  "What dreadful ideas you have!  I thought
I'd never seen him looking better; and certainly he didn't take too
much wine at dinner."

"No; he was careful about that."

"And I was careful too.  I managed to give a hint to Powder."  Her
frown relaxed, and she leaned back with another sigh, this time of
appeasement.  After all, her look seemed to say, she was not going
to let herself be unsettled by Nona's mortuary images, now that the
whole business was over, and she had every reason to congratulate
herself on her own share in it.

Nona (but it was her habit!) appeared less sure.  She hung back a
moment, and then said:  "I haven't told you yet.  On the way down
to dinner. . ."

"What, dear?"

"I met him on the upper landing.  He asked to see the baby . . .
that was natural. . ."

Pauline drew her lips in nervously.  She had thought she had all
the wires in her hands; and here was one--She agreed with an
effort:  "Perfectly natural."

"The baby was asleep, looking red and jolly.  He stood over the
crib a long time.  Luckily it wasn't the old nursery."

"Really, Nona!  He could hardly expect--"

"No; of course not.  Then, just as we were going downstairs, he
said:  'Funny, how like Jim the child is growing.  Reminds me of
that old portrait.'  And he jerked out at me:  'Could I see it?'"

"What--the Sargent?"

Nona nodded.  "Could I refuse him?"

"I suppose that was natural too."

"So I took him into father's study.  He seemed to remember every
step of the way.  He stood and looked and looked at the picture.
He didn't say anything . . . didn't answer when I spoke. . .  I saw
that it went through and through him."

"Well, Nona, byegones are byegones.  But people do bring things
upon themselves, sometimes--"

"Oh, I know, mother."

"Some people might think it peculiar, his rambling about the house
like that--his coming here at all, with his ideas of delicacy!  But
I don't blame him; and I don't want you to," Pauline continued
firmly.  "After all, it's just as well he came.  He may have been a
little upset at the moment; but I managed to calm him down; and I
certainly proved to him that everything's all right, and that
Dexter and I can be trusted to know what's best for Lita."  She
paused, and then added:  "Do you know, I'm rather inclined not to
mention his visit to your father--or to Lita.  Now it's over, why
should they be bothered?"

"No reason at all."  Nona rose from her crouching attitude by the
fire, and stretched her arms above her head.  "I'll see that Powder
doesn't say anything.  And besides, he wouldn't.  He always seems
to know what needs explaining and what doesn't.  He ought to be
kept to avert cataclysms, like those fire-extinguishers in the
passages. . .  Goodnight, mother--I'm beginning to be sleepy."



Yes; it was all over and done with; and Pauline felt that she had a
right to congratulate herself.  She had not told Nona how
"difficult" Wyant had been for the first few minutes, when the girl
had slipped out of the library after tea and left them alone.  What
was the use of going into all that?  Pauline had been a little
nervous at first--worried, for instance, as to what might happen if
Dexter and Lita should walk in while Arthur was in that queer
excited state, stamping up and down the library floor, and
muttering, half to himself and half to her:  "Damn it, am I in my
own house or another man's?  Can anybody answer me that?"

But they had not walked in, and the phase of excitability had soon
been over.  Pauline had only had to answer:  "You're in MY house,
Arthur, where, as Jim's father, you're always welcome. . ."  That
had put a stop to his ravings, shamed him a little, and so brought
him back to his sense of what was due to the occasion, and to his
own dignity.

"My dear--you must excuse me.  I'm only an intruder here, I know--"

And when she had added:  "Never in my house, Arthur.  Sit down,
please, and tell me what you want to see me about--" why, at that
question, quietly and reasonably put, all his bluster had dropped,
and he had sat down as she bade him, and begun, in his ordinary
tone, to rehearse the old rigmarole about Jim and Lita, and Jim's
supineness, and Lita's philanderings, and what would the end of it
be, and did she realize that the woman was making a laughing-stock
of their son--yes, that they were talking about it at the clubs?

After that she had had no trouble.  It had been easy to throw a
little gentle ridicule over his apprehensions, and then to reassure
him by her report of her own talk with Lita (though she winced even
now at its conclusion), and the affirmation that the Cedarledge
experiment had been entirely successful.  Then, luckily, just as
his questions began to be pressing again--as he began to hint at
some particular man, she didn't know who--Powder had come in to
show him up to one of the spare-rooms to prepare for dinner; and
soon after dinner the motor was at the door, and Powder (again
acting for Providence) had ventured to suggest, sir, that in view
of the slippery state of the roads it would be well to get off as
promptly as possible.  And Nona had taken over the seeing-off, and
with a long sigh of relief Pauline had turned back into the
library, where Wyant's empty whisky-and-soda glass and ash-tray
stood, so uncannily, on the table by her husband's armchair.  Yes;
she had been thankful when it was over. . .

And now she was thankful that it had happened.  The encounter had
fortified her confidence in her own methods and given her a new
proof of her power to surmount obstacles by smiling them away.  She
had literally smiled Arthur out of the house, when some women, in a
similar emergency, would have made a scene, or stood on their
dignity.  Dignity!  Hers consisted, more than ever, in believing
the best of every one, in persuading herself and others that to
impute evil was to create it, and to disbelieve it was to prevent
its coming into being.  Those were the Scientific Initiate's very
words:  "We manufacture sorrow as we do all the other toxins."  How
grateful she was to him for that formula!  And how light and happy
it made her feel to know that she had borne it in mind, and proved
its truth, at so crucial a moment!  She looked back with pity at
her own past moods of distrust, her wretched impulses of jealousy
and suspicion, the moments when even those nearest her had not been
proof against her morbid apprehensions. . .

How absurd and far away it all seemed now!  Jim was coming back the
day after tomorrow.  Lita and the baby were going home to him.  And
the day after that they would all be going back to town; and then
the last touches would be put to the ceremonial of the Cardinal's
reception.  Oh, she and Powder would have their hands full!  All of
the big silver-gilt service would have to be got out of the safety
vaults and gone over. . .  Luckily the last reports of Mrs. Bruss's
state were favourable, and no doubt Maisie would be back as
usual. . .  Yes, life was really falling into its usual busy and
pleasurable routine.  Rest in the country was all very well; but
rest, if overdone, became fatiguing. . .

She found herself in bed, the lights turned off, and sleep
descending on her softly.

Before it held her, she caught, through misty distances, the sound
of her husband's footfall, the opening and shutting of his door,
and the muffled noises of his undressing.  Well . . . so he was
back . . . and Lita . . . silly Lita . . . no harm, really. . .
Just as well they hadn't met poor Arthur. . .  Everything was all
right . . . the Cardinal. . .



XXX


Pauline sat up suddenly in bed.  It was as if an invisible hand had
touched a spring in her spinal column, and set her upright in the
darkness before she was aware of any reason for it.

No doubt she had heard something through her sleep; but what?  She
listened for a repetition of the sound.

All was silence.  She stretched out her hand to an onyx knob on the
table by her bed, and instantly the face of a miniature clock was
illuminated, and the hour chimed softly; two strokes followed by
one.  Half-past two--the silentest hour of the night; and in the
vernal hush of Cedarledge!  Yet certainly there had been a sound--
a sharp explosive sound. . .  Again!  There it was: a revolver
shot . . . somewhere in the house. . .

Burglars?

Her feet were in her slippers, her hand on the electric light
switch.  All the while she continued to listen intently.  Dead
silence everywhere. . .

But how had burglars got in without starting the alarm?  Ah--she
remembered!  Powder had orders never to set it while any one was
out of the house; it was Dexter who should have seen that it was
connected when he got back from Greystock with Lita.  And naturally
he had forgotten to.

Pauline was on her feet, her hair smoothed back under her fillet-
shaped cap of silver lace, her "rest-gown" of silvery silk slipped
over her night-dress.  This emergency garb always lay at her
bedside in case of nocturnal alarms, and she was equipped in an
instant, and had already reconnected the burglar-alarm, and sounded
the general summons for Powder, the footmen, the gardeners and
chauffeurs.  Her hand played irresolutely over the complicated
knobs of the glittering switchboard which filled a panel of her
dressing-room; then she pressed the button marked "Engine-house."
Why not?  There had been a series of bad suburban burglaries
lately, and one never knew. . .  It was just as well to rouse the
neighbourhood. . .  Dexter was so careless.  Very likely he had
left the front door open.

Silence still--profounder than ever.  Not a sound since that second
shot, if shot it was.  Very softly she opened her door and paused
in the anteroom between her room and her husband's.  "Dexter!" she
called.

No answer; no responding flash of light.  Men slept so heavily.
She opened, lighted--"Dexter!"

The room was empty, her husband's bed unslept in.  But then--what?
Those sounds of his return?  Had she been dreaming when she thought
she heard them?  Or was it the burglars she had heard, looting his
room, a few feet off from where she lay?  In spite of her physical
courage a shiver ran over her. . .

But if Dexter and Lita were not yet back, whence had the sound of
the shot come, and who had fired it?  She trembled at the thought
of Nona--Nona and the baby!  They were alone with the baby's nurse
on the farther side of the house.  And the house seemed suddenly so
immense, so resonant, so empty. . .

In the shadowy corridor outside her room she paused again for a
second, straining her ears for a guiding sound; then she sped on,
pushing back the swinging door which divided the farther wing from
hers, turning on the lights with a flying hand as she ran. . .  On
the deeply carpeted floors her foot-fall made no sound, and she had
the sense of skimming over the ground inaudibly, like something
ghostly, disembodied, which had no power to break the hush and make
itself heard. . .

Half way down the passage she was startled to see the door of
Lita's bedroom open.  Sounds at last--sounds low, confused and
terrified--issued from it.  What kind of sounds?  Pauline could not
tell; they were rushing together in a vortex in her brain.  She
heard herself scream "Help!" with the strangled voice of a
nightmare, and was comforted to feel the rush of other feet behind
her: Powder, the men-servants, the maids.  Thank God the system
worked!  Whatever she was coming to, at least they would be there
to help. . .

She reached the door, pushed it--and it unexpectedly resisted.
Some one was clinging to it on the inner side, struggling to hold
it shut, to prevent her entering.  She threw herself against it
with all her strength, and saw her husband's arm and hand in the
gap.  "Dexter!"

"Oh, God."  He fell back, and the door with him.  Pauline went in.

All the lights were on--the room was a glare.  Another man stood
shivering and staring in a corner, but Pauline hardly noticed him,
for before her on the floor lay Lita's long body, in a loose
spangled robe, flung sobbing over another body.

"Nona--Nona!" the mother screamed, rushing forward to where they
lay.

She swept past her husband, dragged Lita back, was on her knees on
the floor, her child pressed to her, Nona's fallen head against her
breast, Nona's blood spattering the silvery folds of the rest-gown,
destroying it forever as a symbol of safety and repose.

"Nona--child!  What's happened?  Are you hurt?  Dexter--for pity's
sake!  Nona, look at me!  It's mother, darling, mother--"

Nona's eyes opened with a flutter.  Her face was ashen-white, and
empty as a baby's.  Slowly she met her mother's agonized stare.
"All right . . . only winged me."  Her gaze wavered about the
disordered room, lifting and dropping in a butterfly's bewildered
flight.  Lita lay huddled on the couch in her spangles, twisted and
emptied, like a festal garment flung off by its wearer.  Manford
stood between, his face a ruin.  In the corner stood that other
man, shrinking, motionless.  Pauline's eyes, following her child's,
travelled on to him.

"Arthur!" she gasped out, and felt Nona's feeble pressure on her
arm.

"Don't . . . don't. . .  It was an accident.  Father--an accident!
FATHER!"

The door of the room was wide now, and Powder stood there,
unnaturally thin and gaunt in his improvised collarless garb,
marshalling the gaping footmen, with gardeners, chauffeurs and
maids crowding the corridor behind them.  It was really marvellous,
how Pauline's system had worked.

Manford turned to Arthur Wyant, his stony face white with revenge.
Wyant still stood motionless, his arms hanging down, his body
emptied of all its strength, a broken word that sounded like
"honour" stumbling from his bedraggled lips.

"FATHER!"  At Nona's faint cry Manford's arm fell to his side also,
and he stood there as powerless and motionless as the other.

"All an accident . . ." breathed from the white lips against
Pauline.

Powder had stepped forward.  His staccato orders rang back over his
shoulder.  "Ring up the doctor.  Have a car ready.  Scour the
gardens. . .  One of the women here!  Madam's maid!"

Manford suddenly roused himself and swung about with dazed eyes on
the disheveled group in the doorway.  "Damn you, what are you doing
here, all of you?  Get out--get out, the lot of you!  Get out, I
say!  Can't you hear me?"

Powder bent a respectful but controlling eye on his employer.
"Yes, sir; certainly, sir.  I only wish to state that the burglar's
mode of entrance has already been discovered." Manford met this
with an unseeing stare, but the butler continued imperturbably:
"Thanks to the rain, sir.  He got in through the pantry window; the
latch was forced, and there's muddy footprints on my linoleum, sir.
A tramp was noticed hanging about this afternoon.  I can give
evidence--"

He darted swiftly between the two men, bent to the floor, and
picked up something which he slipped quickly and secretly into his
pocket.  A moment later he had cleared his underlings from the
threshold, and the door was shut on them and him.

"Dexter," Pauline cried, "help me to lift her to the bed."

Outside, through the watchful hush of the night, a rattle and roar
came up the drive.  It filled the silence with an unnatural
clamour, immense, mysterious and menacing.  It was the Cedarledge
fire-brigade, arriving double quick in answer to their benefactress's
summons.

Pauline, bending over her daughter's face, fancied she caught a wan
smile on it. . .



XXXI


Nona Manford's room was full of spring flowers.  They had poured
in, sent by sympathizing friends, ever since she had been brought
back to town from Cedarledge.

That was two weeks ago.  It was full spring now, and her windows
stood wide to the May sunset slanting across the room, and giving
back to the tall branches of blossoming plum and cherry something
of their native scent and freshness.

The reminder of Cedarledge would once have doubled their beauty;
now it made her shut her eyes sharply, in the inner recoil from all
the name brought back.

She was still confined to her room, for the shot which had
fractured her arm near the shoulder had also grazed her lung, and
her temperature remained obstinately high.  Shock, the doctors
said, chiefly . . . the appalling sight of a masked burglar in her
sister-in-law's bedroom; and being twice fired at--twice!

Lita corroborated the story.  She had been asleep when her door was
softly opened, and she had started up to see a man in a mask, with
a dark lantern. . .  Yes; she was almost sure he had a mask; at any
rate she couldn't see his face; the police had found the track of
muddy feet on the pantry linoleum, and up the back stairs.

Lita had screamed, and Nona had dashed to the rescue; yes, and Mr.
Manford--Lita thought Mr. Manford had perhaps got there before
Nona.  But then again, she wasn't sure. . .  The fact was that Lita
had been shattered by the night's experience, and her evidence, if
not self-contradictory, was at least incoherent.

The only really lucid witnesses were Powder, the butler, and Nona
Manford herself.  Their statements agreed exactly, or at least
dovetailed into each other with perfect precision, the one
completing the other.  Nona had been first on the scene: she had
seen the man in the room--she too thought that he was masked--and
he had turned on her and fired.  At that moment her father, hearing
the shots, had rushed in, half-dressed; and as he did so the
burglar fled.  Some one professed to have seen him running away
through the rain and darkness; but no one had seen his face, and
there was no way of identifying him.  The only positive proof of
his presence--except for the shot--was the discovery by Powder, of
those carefully guarded footprints on the pantry floor; and these,
of course, might eventually help to trace the criminal.  As for the
revolver, that also had disappeared; and the bullets, one of which
had been found lodged in the door, the other in the panelling of
the room, were of ordinary army calibre, and offered no clue.
Altogether it was an interesting problem for the police, who were
reported to be actively at work on it, though so far without
visible results.

Then, after three days of flaming headlines and journalistic
conjectures, another sensation crowded out the Cedarledge burglary.
The newspaper public, bored with the inability of the police to
provide fresh fuel for their curiosity, ceased to speculate on the
affair, and interest in it faded out as quickly as it had flared
up.

During the last few days Nona's temperature had gradually dropped,
and she had been allowed to see visitors; first one in the day,
then two or three, then four or five--so that by this time her jaws
were beginning to feel a little stiff with the continual rehearsal
of her story, embellished (at the visitors' request) with an
analysis of her own emotions.  She always repeated her narrative in
exactly the same terms, and presented the incidents in exactly the
same order; by now she had even learned to pause at the precise
point where she knew her sympathizing auditors would say:  "But, my
dear, how perfectly awful--what DID it feel like?"

"Like being shot in the arm."

"Oh, Nona, you're so cynical!  But before that--when you SAW THE
MAN--weren't you absolutely sick with terror?"

"He didn't give me time to be sick with anything but the pain in my
shoulder."

"You'll never get her to confess that she was frightened!"

And so the dialogue went on.  Did her listeners notice that she
recited her tale with the unvarying precision of a lesson learned
by heart?  Probably not; if they did, they made no sign.  The
papers had all been full of the burglary at Cedarledge: a masked
burglar--and of the shooting of Miss Manford, and the would-be
murderer's escape.  The account, blood-curdling and definite, had
imposed itself on the public credulity with all the authority of
heavy headlines and continual repetition.  Within twenty-four hours
the Cedarledge burglary was an established fact, and suburban
millionaires were doubling the number of their night watchmen, and
looking into the newest thing in burglar-alarms.  Nona, leaning
back wearily on her couch, wondered how soon she would be allowed
to travel and get away from it all.

The others were all going to travel.  Her mother and father were
off that very evening to the Rocky Mountains and Vancouver.  From
there they were going to Japan and, in the early autumn, to Ceylon
and India.  Pauline already had letters to all the foremost Native
Princes, and was regretting that there was not likely to be a
Durbar during their visit.  The Manfords did not expect to be back
till January or February; Manford's professional labours had become
so exhausting that the doctors, fearing his accumulated fatigue
might lead to a nervous break-down, had ordered a complete change
and prolonged absence from affairs.  Pauline hoped that Nona would
meet them in Egypt on their way home.  A sunny Christmas together
in Cairo would be so lovely. . .

Arthur Wyant had gone also--to Canada, it was said, with cousin
Eleanor in attendance.  Some insinuated that a private inebriate
asylum in Maine was the goal of his journey; but no one really
knew, and few cared.  His remaining cronies, when they heard that
he had been ill, and was to travel for a change, shrugged or
smiled, and said:  "Poor old Arthur--been going it too strong
again," and then forgot about him.  He had long since lost his
place in the scheme of things.

Even Lita and Jim Wyant were on a journey.  They had sailed the
previous week for Paris, where they would arrive in time for the
late spring season, and Lita would see the Grand Prix, the new
fashions and the new plays.  Jim's holiday had been extended to the
end of August: Manford, ever solicitous for his stepson, had
arranged the matter with the bank.  It was natural, every one
agreed, that Jim should have been dreadfully upset by the ghastly
episode at Cedarledge, in which his wife might have been a victim
as well as Nona; and his intimates knew how much he had worried
about his father's growing intemperance.  Altogether, both Wyants
and Manfords had been subjected to an unusual strain; and when rich
people's nerves are out of gear the pleasant remedy of travel is
the first prescribed.



Nona turned her head uneasily on the cushions.  She felt incurably
weary, and unable to rebound to the spring radiance which usually
set her blood in motion.  Her immobility had begun to wear on her.
At first it had been a relief to be quiescent, to be out of things,
to be offered up as the passive victim and the accepted evidence of
the Cedarledge burglary.  But now she was sick to nausea of the
part, and envious of the others who could escape by flight--by
perpetual evasion.

Not that she really wanted to be one of them; she was not sure that
she wanted to go away at all--at least in the body.  Spiritual
escape was what she craved; but by what means, and whither?
Perhaps it could best be attained by staying just where she was, by
sticking fast to her few square feet of obligations and
responsibilities.  But even this idea made no special appeal.  Her
obligations, her responsibilities--what were they?  Negative, at
best, like everything else in her life.  She had thought that
renunciation would mean freedom--would mean at least escape.  But
today it seemed to mean only a closer self-imprisonment.  She was
tired, no doubt. . .

There was a tap on the door, and her mother entered.  Nona raised
her listless eyes curiously.  She always looked at her mother with
curiosity now: curiosity not so much as to what had changed in her,
but as to what had remained the same.  And it was extraordinary how
Pauline, the old Pauline, was coming to the surface again through
the new one, the haggard and stricken apparition of the Cedarledge
midnight. . .

"My broken arm saved her," Nona thought, remembering, with a sort
of ironical admiration, how that dishevelled spectre had become
Pauline Manford again, in command of herself and the situation, as
soon as she could seize on its immediate, its practical, sides;
could grasp those handles of reality to which she always clung.

Now even that stern and disciplined figure had vanished, giving
way, as the days passed and reassurance grew, to the usual, the
everyday Pauline, smilingly confident in herself and in the general
security of things.  Had that dreadful night at Cedarledge ever
been a reality to her?  If it had, Nona was sure, it had already
faded into the realms of fable, since its one visible result had
been her daughter's injury, and that was on the way to healing.
Everything else connected with it had happened out of sight and
under ground, and for that reason was now as if it had never
existed for Pauline, who was more than ever resolutely two-
dimensional.

Physically, at least, the only difference Nona could detect was
that a skilful make-up had filled in the lines which, in spite of
all the arts of the face-restorers, were weaving their permanent
web about her mother's lips and eyes.  Under this delicate mask
Pauline's face looked younger and fresher than ever, and as smooth
and empty as if she had just been born again--"And she HAS, after
all," Nona concluded.

She sat down by the couch, and laid a light hand caressingly on her
daughter's.

"Darling!  Had your tea?  You feel really better, don't you?  The
doctor says the massage is to begin tomorrow.  By the way--" she
tossed a handful of newspaper cuttings onto the coverlet--"perhaps
some of these things about the reception may amuse you.  Maisie's
been saving them to show you.  Of course most of the foreign names
are wrong; but the description of the room is rather good.  I
believe Tommy Ardwin wrote the article for the 'Looker-on.'
Amalasuntha says the Cardinal will like it.  It seems he was
delighted with the idea of the flash-light photographs.  Altogether
he was very much pleased."

"Then you ought to be, mother."  Nona forced her pale lips into a
smile.

"I AM, dear.  If I do a thing at all I like to do it well.  That's
always been my theory, you know: the best or nothing.  And I do
believe it was a success.  But perhaps I'm tiring you--."  Pauline
stood up irresolutely.  She had never been good at bedsides unless
she could play some active and masterful part there.  Nona was
aware that her mother's moments alone with her had become
increasingly difficult as her strength had returned, and there was
nothing more to be done for her.  It was as well that the Manfords
were starting on their journey that evening.

"Don't stay, mother; I'm all right, really.  It's only that things
still tire me a little--"

Pauline lingered, looking down on the girl with an expression of
anxiety struggling through her smooth rejuvenation.

"I wish I felt happier about leaving you, darling.  I know you're
all right, of course; but the idea of your staying in this house
all by yourself--"

"It's just what I shall like.  And on father's account you ought to
get away."

"It's what I feel," Pauline assented, brightening.

"You must be awfully busy with all the last things to be done.  I'm
as comfortable as possible; I wish you'd just go off and forget
about me."

"Well, Maisie IS clamouring for me," Pauline confessed from the
threshold.

The door shut, and Nona closed her eyes with a sigh.  Tomorrow--
tomorrow she would be alone!  And in a week, perhaps, she would get
back to Cedarledge, and lie on the terrace with the dogs about her,
and no one to ask questions, to hint and sympathize, or be discreet
and evasive. . .

Yes, in spite of everything, the idea of returning to Cedarledge
now seemed more bearable than any other. . .

In a restless attempt to ease her position she stretched her hand
out, and it came in contact with the bundle of newspaper cuttings.
She shrank back with a little grimace; then she smiled.  After the
night at Cedarledge every one had supposed--even Maisie and Powder
had--that the Cardinal's reception would have to be given up,
since, owing to his Eminence's impending departure, it could not be
deferred.  But it had come off on the appointed day--only the
fourth after the burglary--and Pauline had made it a success.  The
girl really admired her mother for that.  Something in her own
composition responded to the energy with which the older woman
could meet an emergency when there was no way of turning it.  The
party had been not only brilliant but entertaining.  Every one had
been there, all the official and ecclesiastical dignitaries,
including the Bishop of New York and the Chief Rabbi--yes, even the
Scientific Initiate, looking colossal and Siberian in some half-
priestly dress that added its note to the general picturesqueness;
and yet there had been no crush, no confusion, nothing to detract
from the dignity and amenity of the evening.  Nona suspected her
mother of longing to invite the Mahatma, whose Oriental garb would
have been so effective, and who would have been so flattered, poor
man!  But she had not risked it, and her chief lion, after the
great ecclesiastics, had turned out to be Michelangelo, the newly
arrived, with the film-glamour enhancing his noble Roman beauty,
and his mother at his side, explaining and parading him.

"The pity is that dear Jim and Lita have sailed," the Marchesa
declared to all who would give ear.  "That's really a great
disappointment.  I did hope Lita would have been here tonight.  She
and my Michelangelo would have made such a glorious couple: the Old
World and the New.  Or as Antony and Cleopatra--only fancy!  My boy
tells me that Klawhammer is looking for a Cleopatra.  But dear Lita
will be back before long--."  And she mingled her hopes and regrets
with Mrs. Percy Landish's.



XXXII


Nona shut her eyes again.  Ever since that intolerable night she
had ached with the incessant weariness of not being able to sleep,
and of trying to hide from those about her how brief her intervals
of oblivion had been.  During the hours of darkness she seemed to
be forever toiling down perspectives of noise and glare, like a
wanderer in the labyrinth of an unknown city.  Even her snatches of
sleep were so crowded with light and noise, so dazzled with the
sense of exposure, that she was not conscious of the respite till
it was over.  It was only by day, alone in her room, that her lids,
in closing, sometimes shut things out. . .

Such a respite came to her now; and she started up out of
nothingness to find her father at her side.  She had not expected
to see him alone before they parted.  She had fancied that her
parents would contrive to postpone their joint farewells till after
dinner, just before driving off to their train.  For a moment she
lay and looked up at Manford without being clearly conscious that
he was there, and without knowing what to say if he were.

It appeared that he did not know either.  Perhaps he had been led
to her side, almost in spite of himself, by a vague craving to be
alone with her just once before they parted; or perhaps he had come
because he suspected she might think he was afraid to.  He sat down
without speaking in the chair which Pauline had left.

Dusk had fallen, and Nona was aware of the presence at her side
only as a shadowy bulk.  After a while her father put out his hand
and laid it on hers.

"Why, it's nearly dark," she said.  "You'll be off in an hour or so
now."

"Yes.  Your mother and I are dining early."

She wound her fingers into his, and they sat silent again.  She
liked to have him near her in this way, but she was glad, for his
sake and her own, that the twilight made his face indistinct.  She
hoped their silence might be unbroken.  As long as she neither saw
nor heard him there was an unaccountable comfort in feeling him
near--as if the living warmth he imparted were something they
shared indissolubly.

"In a couple of hours now--" he began, with an attempt at
briskness.  She was silent, and he went on:  "I wanted to be with
you alone for a minute like this.  I wanted to say--"

"Father--."

He turned suddenly in his chair, and bending down over her pressed
his forehead against the coverlet.  She freed her hand and passed
it through the thin hair on his temples.

"Don't.  There's nothing to say."

She felt a tremor of his shoulders as they pressed against her, and
the tremor ran through her own body and seemed to loosen the fibres
of her heart.

"Old dad."

"Nona."

After that they remained again without speaking till a clock chimed
out from somewhere in the shadows.  Manford got up.  He gave
himself one of his impatient shakes, and stooped to kiss his
daughter on the forehead.

"I don't believe I'll come up again before we go."

"No."

"It's no use--"

"No."

"I'll look after your mother--do all I can. . .  Goodbye, dear."

"Goodbye, father."

He groped for her forehead again, and went out of the room; and she
closed her eyes and lay in the darkness, her heart folded like two
hands around the thought of him.



"Nona, darling!"  There were still the goodbyes to her mother to be
gone through.  Well, that would be comparatively easy; and in a
lighted room too, with Pauline on the threshold, slim, erect and
consciously equipped for travel--complete and wonderful!  Yes; it
would be almost easy.

"Child, it's time; we're off in a few minutes.  But I think I've
left everything in order.  Maisie's downstairs; she has all my
directions, and the list of stations to which she's to wire how you
are while we're crossing the continent."

"But, mother, I'm all right; it's not a bit necessary--"

"Dear!  You can't help my wanting to hear about you."

"No; I know.  I only meant you're not to worry."

"Of course I won't worry; I wouldn't LET myself worry.  You know
how I feel about all that.  And besides," added Mrs. Manford
victoriously, "what in the world is there to worry about?"

"Nothing," Nona acquiesced with a smile.

Pauline bent down and placed a lingering kiss where Manford's lips
had just brushed his daughter's forehead.  Pauline played her part
better--and made it correspondingly easier for her fellow-actors to
play theirs.

"Goodbye, mother dear.  Have all sorts of a good time, won't you?"

"It will be a very interesting trip--with a man as clever and
cultivated as your father. . .  If only you could have come with
us!  But you'll promise to join us in Egypt?"

"Don't ask me to promise anything yet, mother."

Pauline raised herself to her full height and stood looking down
intently at her daughter.  Under her smooth new face Nona again
seemed to see the flicker of anxiety pass back and forward, like a
light moving from window to window in a long-uninhabited house.
The glimpse startled the girl and caught her by the heart.
Suddenly something within her broke up.  Her lips tightened like a
child's, and she felt the tears running down her cheeks.

"Nona!  You're not crying?"  Pauline was kneeling at her side.

"It's nothing, mother--nothing.  Go!  Please go!"

"Darling--if I could only see you happy one of these days."

"Happy?"

"Well, I mean like other people.  Married--" the mother hastily
ventured.

Nona had brushed away her tears.  She raised her head and looked
straight at Pauline.

"Married?  Do you suppose being married would make me happy?  I
wonder why you should!  I don't want to marry--there's nobody in
the world I would marry."  She continued to stare up at her mother
with hard unwavering eyes.  "Marry!  I'd a thousand times rather go
into a convent and have done with it," she exclaimed.

"A convent--Nona!  Not A CONVENT?"

Pauline had got to her feet and stood before her daughter with
distress and amazement breaking through every fissure of her paint.
"I never heard anything so horrible," she said.

Deeper than all her eclectic religiosity, deeper than her pride in
receiving the Cardinal, deeper than the superficial contradictions
and accommodations of a conscience grown elastic from too much use,
Nona watched, with a faint smile, the old Puritan terror of gliding
priests and incense and idolatry rise to the surface of her
mother's face.  Perhaps that terror was the only solid fibre left
in her.

"I sometimes think you want to break my heart, Nona.  To tell me
this now! . . .  Go into a convent . . ." the mother groaned.

The girl let her head drop back among the cushions.

"Oh, but I mean a convent where nobody believes in anything," she
said.



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Twilight Sleep by Edith Wharton





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