Part 18 out of 19
harmony, a decrease of discord, between the internal man and
his environment--truth is a product, usually a byproduct, of
a ferment of action.
Gourdain--chiefly, no doubt, because Susan's beauty of face
and figure and dress fascinated him--was more eager to bring
out her individuality than to show off his own talents. He
took endless pains with her, taught her the technical
knowledge and vocabulary that would enable her to express
herself, then carried out her ideas religiously. "You are
right, _mon ami_," said he to Brent. "She is an orchid, and of
a rare species. She has a glorious imagination, like a bird
of paradise balancing itself into an azure sky, with every
plume raining color and brilliancy."
"Somewhat exaggerated," was Susan's pleased, laughing comment
when Brent told her.
"Somewhat," said Brent. "But my friend Gourdain is stark mad
about women's dressing well. That lilac dress you had on
yesterday did for him. He _was_ your servant; he _is_ your slave."
Abruptly--for no apparent cause, as was often the case--Susan
had that sickening sense of the unreality of her luxurious
present, of being about to awaken in Vine Street with Etta--or
in the filthy bed with old Mrs. Tucker. Absently she glanced
down at her foot, holding it out as if for inspection. She
saw Brent's look of amusement at her seeming vanity.
"I was looking to see if my shoes were leaky," she explained.
A subtle change came over his face. He understood instantly.
"Have you ever been--cold?" she asked, looking at him strangely.
"One cold February--cold and damp--I had no underclothes--and
"And dirty beds--filthy rooms--filthy people?"
"A ten-cent lodging house with a tramp for bedfellow."
They were looking at each other, with the perfect understanding
and sympathy that can come only to two people of the same fiber
who have braved the same storms. Each glanced hastily away.
Her enthusiasm for doing the apartment was due full as much to
the fact that it gave her definitely directed occupation as to
its congeniality. That early training of hers from Aunt Fanny
Warham had made it forever impossible for her in any
circumstances to become the typical luxuriously sheltered
woman, whether legally or illegally kept--the lie-abed woman,
the woman who dresses only to go out and show off, the woman
who wastes her life in petty, piffling trifles--without
purpose, without order or system, without morals or personal
self-respect. She had never lost the systematic instinct--the
instinct to use time instead of wasting it--that Fanny Warham
had implanted in her during the years that determine
character. Not for a moment, even without distinctly definite
aim, was she in danger of the creeping paralysis that is
epidemic among the rich, enfeebling and slowing down mental
and physical activity. She had a regular life; she read, she
walked in the Bois; she made the best of each day. And when
this definite thing to accomplish offered, she did not have to
learn how to work before she could begin the work itself.
All this was nothing new to Gourdain. He was born and bred in
a country where intelligent discipline is the rule and the
lack of it the rare exception--among all classes--even among
the women of the well-to-do classes.
The finished apartment was a disappointment to Palmer. Its
effects were too quiet, too restrained. Within certain small
limits, those of the man of unusual intelligence but no marked
originality, he had excellent taste--or, perhaps, excellent
ability to recognize good taste. But in the large he yearned
for the grandiose. He loved the gaudy with which the rich
surround themselves because good taste forbids them to talk of
their wealth and such surroundings do the talking for them and
do it more effectively. He would have preferred even a vulgar
glitter to the unobtrusiveness of those rooms. But he knew
that Susan was right, and he was a very human arrant coward
about admitting that he had bad taste.
"This is beautiful--exquisite," said he, with feigned
enthusiasm. "I'm afraid, though, it'll be above their heads."
"What do you mean?" inquired Susan.
Palmer felt her restrained irritation, hastened to explain.
"I mean the people who'll come here. They can't appreciate
it. You have to look twice to appreciate this--and people,
the best of 'em, look only once and a mighty blind look it is."
But Susan was not deceived. "You must tell me what changes
you want," said she. Her momentary irritation had vanished.
Since Freddie was paying, Freddie must have what suited him.
"Oh, I've got nothing to suggest. Now that I've been studying
it out, I couldn't allow you to make any changes. It does
grow on one, doesn't it, Brent?"
"It will be the talk of Paris," replied Brent.
The playwright's tone settled the matter for Palmer. He was
content. Said he:
"Thank God she hasn't put in any of those dirty old tapestry
rags--and the banged up, broken furniture and the patched crockery."
At the same time she had produced an effect of long tenancy.
There was nothing that glittered, nothing with the offensive
sheen of the brand new. There was in that delicately toned
atmosphere one suggestion which gave the same impression as
the artificial crimson of her lips in contrast with the pallor
of her skin and the sweet thoughtful melancholy of her eyes.
This suggestion came from an all-pervading odor of a heavy,
languorously sweet, sensuous perfume--the same that Susan
herself used. She had it made at a perfumer's in the faubourg
St. Honore by mixing in a certain proportion several of the
heaviest and most clinging of the familiar perfumes.
"You don't like my perfume?" she said to Brent one day.
He was in the library, was inspecting her _selections_ of
books. Instead of answering her question, he said:
"How did you find out so much about books? How did you find
time to read so many?"
"One always finds time for what one likes."
"Not always," said he. "I had a hard stretch once--just after
I struck New York. I was a waiter for two months. Working
people don't find time for reading--and such things."
"That was one reason why I gave up work," said she.
"That--and the dirt--and the poor wages--and the
hopelessness--and a few other reasons," said he.
"Why don't you like the perfume I use?"
"Why do you say that?"
"You made a queer face as you came into the drawing-room."
"Do _you_ like it?"
"What a queer question!" she said. "No other man would have
"The obvious," said he, shrugging his shoulders.
"I couldn't help knowing you didn't like it."
"Then why should I use it?"
His glance drifted slowly away from hers. He lit a cigarette
with much attention to detail.
"Why should I use perfume I don't like?" persisted she.
"What's the use of going into that?" said he.
"But I do like it--in a way," she went on after a pause. "It
is--it seems to me the odor of myself."
"Yes--it is," he admitted.
She laughed. "Yet you made a wry face."
"At the odor?"
"At the odor."
"Do you think I ought to change to another perfume?"
"You know I do not. It's the odor of your soul. It is
different at different times--sometimes inspiringly sweet as
the incense of heaven, as my metaphoric friend Gourdain would
say--sometimes as deadly sweet as the odors of the drugs men
take to drag them to hell--sometimes repulsively sweet, making
one heart sick for pure, clean smell-less air yet without the
courage to seek it. Your perfume is many things, but
always--always strong and tenacious and individual."
A flush had overspread the pallor of her skin; her long dark
lashes hid her eyes.
"You have never been in love," he went on.
"So you told me once before." It was the first time either
had referred to their New York acquaintance.
"You did not believe me then. But you do now?"
"For me there is no such thing as love," replied she. "I
understand affection--I have felt it. I understand passion.
It is a strong force in my life--perhaps the strongest."
"No," said he, quiet but positive.
"Perhaps not," replied she carelessly, and went on, with her
more than manlike candor, and in her manner of saying the most
startling things in the calmest way:
"I understand what is called love--feebleness looking up to
strength or strength pitying feebleness. I understand because
I've felt both those things. But love--two equal people united
perfectly, merged into a third person who is neither yet is
both--that I have not felt. I've dreamed it. I've imagined
it--in some moments of passion. But"--she laughed and
shrugged her shoulders and waved the hand with the cigarette
between its fingers--"I have not felt it and I shall not feel
it. I remain I." She paused, considered, added, "And I
"You are strong," said he, absent and reflective. "Yes, you
"I don't know," replied she. "Sometimes I think so.
Again----" She shook her head doubtfully.
"You would be dead if you were not. As strong in soul as in body."
"Probably," admitted she. "Anyhow, I am sure I shall always
be--alone. I shall visit--I shall linger on my threshold and
talk. Perhaps I shall wander in perfumed gardens and dream of
comradeship. But I shall return _chez moi_."
He rose--sighed--laughed--at her and at himself. "Don't delay
too long," said he.
"My career? Why, I am in the full swing of it. I'm at work
in the only profession I'm fit for."
"The profession of woman?"
"Yes--the profession of female."
He winced--and at this sign, if she did not ask herself what
pleased her, she did not ask herself why. He said sharply, "I
don't like that."
"But _you_ have only to _hear_ it. Think of poor me who have to
"Have to? No," said he.
"Surely you're not suggesting that I drop back into the
laboring classes! No, thank you. If you knew, you'd not say
anything so stupid."
"I do know, and I was not suggesting that. Under this
capitalistic system the whole working class is degraded.
They call what they do `work,' but that word ought to be
reserved for what a man does when he exercises mind and body
usefully. What the working class is condemned to by
capitalism is not work but toil."
"The toil of a slave," said Susan.
"It's shallow twaddle or sheer want to talk about the dignity
and beauty of labor under this system," he went on. "It is
ugly and degrading. The fools or hypocrites who talk that way
ought to be forced to join the gangs of slaves at their tasks
in factory and mine and shop, in the fields and the streets.
And even the easier and better paid tasks, even what the
capitalists themselves do--those things aren't dignified and
beautiful. Capitalism divides all men except those of one
class--the class to which I luckily belong--divides all other
men into three unlovely classes--slave owners, slave drivers
and slaves. But you're not interested in those questions."
"In wage slavery? No. I wish to forget about it. Any
alternative to being a wage slave or a slave driver--or a
slave owner. Any alternative."
"You don't appreciate your own good fortune," said he. "Most
human beings--all but a very few--have to be in the slave
classes, in one way or another. They have to submit to the
repulsive drudgery, with no advancement except to slave
driver. As for women--if they have to work, what can they do
but sell themselves into slavery to the machines, to the
capitalists? But you--you needn't do that. Nature endowed
you with talent--unusual talent, I believe. How lucky you
are! How superior to the great mass of your fellow beings who
must slave or starve, because they have no talent!"
"Talent?--I?" said Susan. "For what, pray?"
"For the stage."
She looked amused. "You evidently don't think me vain--or
you'd not venture that jest."
"For the stage," he repeated.
"Thanks," said she drily, "but I'll not appeal from your verdict."
"My verdict? What do you mean?"
"I prefer to talk of something else," said she coldly,
offended by his unaccountable disregard of her feelings.
"This is bewildering," said he. And his manner certainly
fitted the words.
"That I should have understood? Perhaps I shouldn't--at
least, not so quickly--if I hadn't heard how often you have
been disappointed, and how hard it has been for you to get rid
of some of those you tried and found wanting."
"Believe me--I was not disappointed in you." He spoke
earnestly, apparently with sincerity. "The contrary. Your
throwing it all up was one of the shocks of my life."
She laughed mockingly--to hide her sensitiveness.
"One of the shocks of my life," he repeated.
She was looking at him curiously--wondering why he was thus uncandid.
"It puzzled me," he went on. "I've been lingering on here,
trying to solve the puzzle. And the more I've seen of you the
less I understand. Why did you do it? How could _you_ do it?"
He was walking up and down the room in a characteristic pose--
hands clasped behind his back as if to keep them quiet, body
erect, head powerfully thrust forward. He halted abruptly and
wheeled to face her. "Do you mean to tell me you didn't get
tired of work and drop it for--" he waved his arm to indicate
her luxurious surroundings--"for this?"
No sign of her agitation showed at the surface. But she felt
she was not concealing herself from him.
He resumed his march, presently to halt and wheel again upon
her. But before he could speak, she stopped him.
"I don't wish to hear any more," said she, the strange look in
her eyes. It was all she could do to hide the wild burst of
emotion that had followed her discovery. Then she had not
been without a chance for a real career! She might have been
free, might have belonged to herself----
"It is not too late," cried he. "That's why I'm here."
"It is too late," she said.
"It is not too late," repeated he, harshly, in his way that
swept aside opposition. "I shall get you back."
Triumphantly, "The puzzle is solved!"
She faced him with a look of defiant negation. "That ocean I
crossed--it's as narrow as the East River into which I thought
of throwing myself many a time--it's as narrow as the East
River beside the ocean between what I am and what I was. And
I'll never go back. Never!"
She repeated the "never" quietly, under her breath. His eyes
looked as if they, without missing an essential detail, had swept
the whole of that to which she would never go back. He said:
"Go back? No, indeed. Who's asking you to go back? Not I.
I'm not _asking_ you to go anywhere. I'm simply saying that
you will--_must_--go forward. If you were in love, perhaps
not. But you aren't in love. I know from experience how men
and women care for each other--how they form these
relationships. They find each other convenient and
comfortable. But they care only for themselves. Especially
young people. One must live quite a while to discover that
thinking about oneself is living in a stuffy little cage with
only a little light, through slats in the top that give no
view. . . . It's an unnatural life for you. It can't last.
You--centering upon yourself--upon comfort and convenience.
"I have chosen," said she.
"No--you can't do it," he went on, as if she had not spoken.
"_You_ can't spend your life at dresses and millinery, at
chattering about art, at thinking about eating and
drinking--at being passively amused--at attending to your hair
and skin and figure. You may think so, but in reality you are
getting ready for _me_ . . . for your career. You are simply
educating yourself. I shall have you back."
She held the cigarette to her lips, inhaled the smoke deeply,
exhaled it slowly.
"I will tell you why," he went on, as if he were answering a
protest. "Every one of us has an individuality of some sort.
And in spite of everything and anything, except death or
hopeless disease, that individuality will insist upon
"Mine is expressing itself," said she with a light smile--the
smile of a light woman.
"You can't rest in this present life of yours. Your
individuality is too strong. It will have its way--and for all
your mocking smiling, you know I am right. I understand how
you were tempted into it----"
She opened her lips--changed her mind and stopped her lips
with her cigarette.
"I don't blame you--and it was just as well. This life has
taught you--will teach you--will advance you in your
career. . . . Tell me, what gave you the idea that I was
She tossed her cigarette into the big ash tray. "As I told
you, it is too late." She rose and looked at him with a
strange, sweet smile. "I've got any quantity of faults," said
she. "But there's one I haven't got. I don't whine."
"You don't whine," assented he, "and you don't lie--and you
don't shirk. Men and women have been canonized for less.
I understand that for some reason you can't talk about----"
"Then why do you continue to press me?" said she, a little coldly.
He accepted the rebuke with a bow. "Nevertheless," said he,
with raillery to carry off his persistence, "I shall get you.
If not sooner, then when the specter of an obscure--perhaps
poor--old age begins to agitate the rich hangings of youth's
"That'll be a good many years yet," mocked she. And from her
lovely young face flashed the radiant defiance of her perfect
youth and health.
"Years that pass quickly," retorted he, unmoved.
She was still radiant, still smiling, but once more she was
seeing the hideous old women of the tenements. Into her
nostrils stole the stench of the foul den in which she had
slept with Mrs. Tucker and Mrs. Reardon--and she was hearing
the hunchback of the dive playing for the drunken dancing old
cronies, with their tin cups of whiskey.
No danger of that now? How little she was saving of her
salary from Palmer! She could not "work" men--she simply
could not. She would never put by enough to be independent
and every day her tastes for luxury had firmer hold upon her.
No danger? As much danger as ever--a danger postponed but
certain to threaten some day--and then, a fall from a greater
height--a certain fall. She was hearing the battered,
shattered piano of the dive.
"For pity's sake Mrs. Palmer!" cried Brent, in a low voice.
She started. The beautiful room, the environment of luxury
and taste and comfort came back.
Gourdain interrupted and then Palmer.
The four went to the Cafe Anglais for dinner. Brent announced
that he was going to the Riviera soon to join a party of
friends. "I wish you would visit me later," said he, with a
glance that included them all and rested, as courtesy
required, upon Susan. "There's room in my villa--barely room."
"We've not really settled here," said Susan. "And we've taken
up French seriously."
"The weather's frightful," said Palmer, with a meaning glance
at her. "I think we ought to go."
But her expression showed that she had no intention of going,
no sympathy with Palmer's desire to use this excellent, easy
ladder of Brent's offering to make the ascent into secure
"Next winter, then," said Brent, who was observing her.
"Or--in the early spring, perhaps."
"Oh, we may change our minds and come," Palmer suggested
eagerly. "I'm going to try to persuade my wife."
"Come if you can," said Brent cordially. "I'll have no one
stopping with me."
When they were alone, Palmer sent his valet away and fussed
about impatiently until Susan's maid had unhooked her dress
and had got her ready for bed. As the maid began the long
process of giving her hair a thorough brushing, he said,
"Please let her go, Susan. I want to tell you something."
"She does not know a word of English."
"But these French are so clever that they understand perfectly
with their eyes."
Susan sent the maid to bed and sat in a dressing gown brushing
her hair. It was long enough to reach to the middle of her
back and to cover her bosom. It was very thick and wavy. Now
that the scarlet was washed from her lips for the night, her
eyes shone soft and clear with no relief for their almost
tragic melancholy. He was looking at her in profile. Her
expression was stern as well as sad--the soul of a woman who
has suffered and has been made strong, if not hard.
"I got a letter from my lawyers today," he began. "It was
about that marriage. I'll read."
At the word "marriage," she halted the regular stroke of the
brush. Her eyes gazed into the mirror of the dressing table
through her reflection deep into her life, deep into the
vistas of memory. As he unfolded the letter, she leaned back
in the low chair, let her hands drop to her lap.
"`As the inclosed documents show,'" he read, "`we have learned
and have legally verified that Jeb--not James--Ferguson
divorced his wife Susan Lenox about a year after their
marriage, on the ground of desertion; and two years later he
fell through the floor of an old bridge near Brooksburg and
The old bridge--she was feeling its loose flooring sag and
shift under the cautious hoofs of the horse. She was seeing
Rod Spenser on the horse, behind him a girl, hardly more than
a child--under the starry sky exchanging confidences--talking
of their futures.
"So, you see, you are free," said Palmer. "I went round to an
American lawyer's office this afternoon, and borrowed an old
legal form book. And I've copied out this form----"
She was hardly conscious of his laying papers on the table
"It's valid, as I've fixed things. The lawyer gave me some
paper. It has a watermark five years old. I've dated back
two years--quite enough. So when we've signed, the marriage
never could be contested--not even by ourselves."
He took the papers from the table, laid them in her lap. She
started. "What were you saying?" she asked. "What's this?"
"What were you thinking about?" said he.
"I wasn't thinking," she answered, with her slow sweet smile
of self-concealment. "I was feeling--living--the past. I was
watching the procession."
He nodded understandingly. "That's a kind of time-wasting
that can easily be overdone."
"Easily," she agreed. "Still, there's the lesson. I have to
remind myself of it often--always, when there's anything that
has to be decided."
"I've written out two of the forms," said he. "We sign both.
You keep one, I the other. Why not sign now?"
She read the form--the agreement to take each other as lawful
husband and wife and to regard the contract as in all respects
binding and legal.
"Do you understand it?" laughed he nervously, for her manner
"You stared at the paper as if it were a puzzle."
"It is," said she.
"Come into the library and we'll sign and have it over with."
She laid the papers on the dressing table, took up her brush,
drew it slowly over her hair several times.
"Wake up," cried he, good humoredly. "Come on into the
library." And he went to the threshold.
She continued brushing her hair. "I can't sign," said she.
There was the complete absence of emotion that caused her to
be misunderstood always by those who did not know her
peculiarities. No one could have suspected the vision of the
old women of the dive before her eyes, the sound of the
hunchback's piano in her ears, the smell of foul liquors and
foul bodies and foul breaths in her nostrils. Yet she repeated:
"No--I can't sign."
He returned to his chair, seated himself, a slight cloud on his
brow, a wicked smile on his lips. "Now what the devil!" said he
gently, a jeer in his quiet voice. "What's all this about?"
"I can't marry you," said she. "I wish to live on as we are."
"But if we do that we can't get up where we want to go."
"I don't wish to know anyone but interesting men of the sort
that does things--and women of my own sort. Those people have
no interest in conventionalities."
"That's not the crowd we set out to conquer," said he. "You
seem to have forgotten."
"It's you who have forgotten," replied she.
"Yes--yes--I know," he hastened to say. "I wasn't accusing
you of breaking your agreement. You've lived up to it--and
more. But, Susan, the people you care about don't especially
interest me. Brent--yes. He's a man of the world as well as
one of the artistic chaps. But the others--they're beyond me.
I admit it's all fine, and I'm glad you go in for it. But the
only crowd that's congenial to me is the crowd that we've got
to be married to get in with."
She saw his point--saw it more clearly than did he. To him
the world of fashion and luxurious amusement seemed the only
world worth while. He accepted the scheme of things as he
found it, had the conventional ambitions--to make in
succession the familiar goals of the conventional human
success--power, wealth, social position. It was impossible
for him to get any other idea of a successful life, of
ambitions worthy a man's labor. It was evidence of the
excellence of his mind that he was able to tolerate the idea
of the possibility of there being another mode of success
"I'm helping you in your ambitions--in doing what you think is
worth while," said he. "Don't you think you owe it to me to
help me in mine?"
He saw the slight change of expression that told him how
deeply he had touched her.
"If I don't go in for the high society game," he went on,
"I'll have nothing to do. I'll be adrift--gambling, drinking,
yawning about and going to pieces. A man's got to have
something to work for--and he can't work unless it seems to
him worth doing."
She was staring into the mirror, her elbows on the table, her
chin upon her interlaced fingers. It would be difficult to
say how much of his gentleness to her was due to her physical
charm for him, and how much to his respect for her mind and
her character. He himself would have said that his weakness
was altogether the result of the spell her physical charm
cast over him. But it is probable that the other element was
"You'll not be selfish, Susan?" urged he. "You'll give me a
"Yes--I see that it does look selfish," said she. "A little
while ago I'd not have been able to see any deeper than the
looks of it. Freddie, there are some things no one has a
right to ask of another, and no one has a right to grant."
The ugliness of his character was becoming less easy to
control. This girl whom he had picked up, practically out of
the gutter, and had heaped generosities upon, was trying his
patience too far. But he said, rather amiably:
"Certainly I'm not asking any such thing of you in asking you
to become a respectable married woman, the wife of a rich man."
"Yes--you are, Freddie," replied she gently. "If I married
you, I'd be signing an agreement to lead your life, to give up
my own--an agreement to become a sort of woman I've no desire
to be and no interest in being; to give up trying to become
the only sort of woman I think is worth while. When we were
discussing my coming with you, you made this same proposal in
another form. I refused it then. And I refuse it now. It's
harder to refuse now, but I'm stronger."
"Stronger, thanks to the money you've got from me--the money
and the rest of it," sneered he.
"Haven't I earned all I've got?" said she, so calmly that he
did not realize how the charge of ingratitude, unjust though
it was, had struck into her.
"You have changed!" said he. "You're getting as hard as the
rest of us. So it's all a matter of money, of give and
take--is it? None of the generosity and sentiment you used to
be full of? You've simply been using me."
"It can be put that way," replied she. "And no doubt you
honestly see it that way. But I've got to see my own interest
and my own right, Freddie. I've learned at last that I
mustn't trust to anyone else to look after them for me."
"Are you riding for a fall--Queenie?"
At "Queenie" she smiled faintly. "I'm riding the way I always
have," answered she. "It has carried me down. But--it has
brought me up again." She looked at him with eyes that
appealed, without yielding. "And I'll ride that way to the
end--up or down," said she. "I can't help it."
"Then you want to break with me?" he asked--and he began to
"No," replied she. "I want to go on as we are. . . . I'll not
be interfering in your social ambitions, in any way. Over
here it'll help you to have a mistress who--" she saw her
image in the glass, threw him an arch glance--"who isn't
altogether unattractive won't it? And if you found you could
go higher by marrying some woman of the grand world--why,
you'd be free to do it."
He had a way of looking at her that gave her--and himself--the
sense of a delirious embrace. He looked at her so, now. He said:
"You take advantage of my being crazy about you--_damn_ you!"
"Heaven knows," laughed she, "I need every advantage I can find."
He touched her--the lightest kind of touch. It carried the
sense of embrace in his look still more giddily upward.
"Queenie!" he said softly.
She smiled at him through half closed eyes that with a gentle
and shy frankness confessed the secret of his attraction for
her. There was, however, more of strength than of passion in
her face as a whole. Said she:
"We're getting on well--as we are aren't we? I can meet the
most amusing and interesting people--my sort of people. You
can go with the people and to the places you like and you'll
not be bound. If you should take a notion to marry some woman
with a big position--you'd not have to regret being tied
"But--I want you--I want you," said he. "I've got to have you."
"As long as you like," said she. "But on terms I can
accept--always on terms I can accept. Never on any
others--never! I can't help it. I can yield everything
Where she was concerned he was the primitive man only. The
higher his passion rose, the stronger became his desire for
absolute possession. When she spoke of terms--of the
limitations upon his possession of her--she transformed his
passion into fury. He eyed her wickedly, abruptly demanded:
"When did you decide to make this kick-up?"
"I don't know. Simply--when you asked me to sign, I found I
"You don't expect _me_ to believe that."
"It's the truth." She resumed brushing her hair.
"Look at me!"
She turned her face toward him, met his gaze.
"Have you fallen in love with that young Jew?"
"Have you a crazy notion that your looks'll get you a better
husband? A big fortune or a title?"
"I haven't thought about a husband. Haven't I told you I wish
to be free?"
"But that doesn't mean anything."
"It might," said she absently.
"I don't know. If one is always free--one is ready
for--whatever comes. Anyhow, I must be free--no matter what
"I see you're bent on dropping back into the dirt I picked you
"Even that," she said. "I must be free."
"Haven't you any desire to be respectable--decent?"
"I guess not," confessed she. "What is there in that
direction for me?"
"A woman doesn't stay young and good-looking long."
"No." She smiled faintly. "But does she get old and ugly any
slower for being married?"
He rose and stood over her, looked smiling danger down at her.
She leaned back in her chair to meet his eyes without
constraint. "You're trying to play me a trick," said he.
"But you're not going to get away with the goods. I'm
astonished that you are so rotten ungrateful."
"Because I'm not for sale?"
"Queenie balking at selling herself," he jeered. "And what's
the least you ever did sell for?"
"A half-dollar, I think. No--two drinks of whiskey one cold
night. But what I sold was no more myself than--than the coat
I'd pawned and drunk up before I did it."
The plain calm way in which she said this made it so terrible
that he winced and turned away. "We have seen hell--haven't
we?" he muttered. He turned toward her with genuine passion
of feeling. "Susan," he cried, "don't be a fool. Let's push
our luck, now that things are coming our way. We need each
other--we want to stay together--don't we?"
"__I__ want to stay. I'm happy."
"Then--let's put the record straight."
"Let's keep it straight," replied she earnestly. "Don't ask
me to go where I don't belong. For I can't,
Freddie--honestly, I can't."
A pause. Then, "You will!" said he, not in blustering fury,
but in that cool and smiling malevolence which had made him
the terror of his associates from his boyhood days among the
petty thieves and pickpockets of Grand Street. He laid his
hand gently on her shoulder. "You hear me. I say you will."
She looked straight at him. "Not if you kill me," she said.
She rose to face him at his own height. "I've bought my
freedom with my body and with my heart and with my soul. It's
all I've got. I shall keep it."
He measured her strength with an expert eye. He knew that he
was beaten. He laughed lightly and went into his dressing-room. XXII
THEY met the next morning with no sign in the manner of either
that there had been a drawn battle, that there was an armed
truce. She knew that he, like herself, was thinking of
nothing else. But until he had devised some way of certainly
conquering her he would wait, and watch, and pretend that he
was satisfied with matters as they were. The longer she
reflected the less uneasy she became--as to immediate danger.
In Paris the methods of violence he might have been tempted to
try in New York were out of the question. What remained? He
must realize that threats to expose her would be futile; also,
he must feel vulnerable, himself, to that kind of attack--a
feeling that would act as a restraint, even though he might
appreciate that she was the sort of person who could not in
any circumstances resort to it. He had not upon her a single
one of the holds a husband has upon a wife. True, he could
break with her. But she must appreciate how easy it would now
be for her in this capital of the idle rich to find some other
man glad to "protect" a woman so expert at gratifying man's
vanity of being known as the proprietor of a beautiful and
fashionable woman. She had discovered how, in the aristocracy
of European wealth, an admired mistress was as much a
necessary part of the grandeur of great nobles, great
financiers, great manufacturers, or merchants, as wife, as
heir, as palace, as equipage, as chef, as train of secretaries
and courtiers. She knew how deeply it would cut, to find
himself without his show piece that made him the envied of men
and the desired of women. Also, she knew that she had an even
stronger hold upon him--that she appealed to him as no other
woman ever had, that she had become for him a tenacious habit.
She was not afraid that he would break with her. But she
could not feel secure; in former days she had seen too far
into the mazes of that Italian mind of his, she knew too well
how patient, how relentless, how unforgetting he was. She
would have taken murder into account as more than a
possibility but for his intense and intelligent selfishness;
he would not risk his life or his liberty; he would not
deprive himself of his keenest pleasure. He was resourceful;
but in the circumstances what resources were there for him to
When he began to press upon her more money than ever, and to
buy her costly jewelry, she felt still further reassured.
Evidently he had been unable to think out any practicable
scheme; evidently he was, for the time, taking the course of
appeal to her generous instincts, of making her more and more
dependent upon his liberality.
Well--was he not right? Love might fail; passion might wane;
conscience, aiding self-interest with its usual servility,
might overcome the instincts of gratitude. But what power
could overcome the loyalty resting upon money interest? No
power but that of a longer purse than his. As she was not in
the mood to make pretenses about herself to herself, she
smiled at this cynical self-measuring. "But I shan't despise
myself for being so material," said she to herself, "until I
find a _genuine_ case of a woman, respectable or otherwise, who
has known poverty and escaped from it, and has then
voluntarily given up wealth to go back to it. I should not
stay on with him if he were distasteful to me. And that's
more than most women can honestly say. Perhaps even I should
not stay on if it were not for a silly, weak feeling of
obligation--but I can't be sure of that." She had seen too
much of men and women preening upon noble disinterested
motives when in fact their real motives were the most
calculatingly selfish; she preferred doing herself less than
justice rather than more.
She had fifty-five thousand francs on deposit at Munroe's--all
her very own. She had almost two hundred thousand francs'
worth of jewels, which she would be justified in keeping--at
least, she hoped she would think so--should there come a break
with Freddie. Yet in spite of this substantial prosperity--or
was it because of this prosperity?--she abruptly began again
to be haunted by the old visions, by warnings of the dangers
that beset any human being who has not that paying trade or
profession which makes him or her independent--gives him or
her the only unassailable independence.
The end with Freddie might be far away. But end, she saw,
there would be the day when he would somehow get her in his
power and so would drive her to leave him. For she could not
again become a slave. Extreme youth, utter inexperience, no
knowledge of real freedom--these had enabled her to endure in
former days. But she was wholly different now. She could not
sink back. Steadily she was growing less and less able to
take orders from anyone. This full-grown passion for freedom,
this intolerance of the least restraint--how dangerous, if she
should find herself in a position where she would have to put
up with the caprices of some man or drop down and down!
What real, secure support had she? None. Her building was
without solid foundations. Her struggle with Freddie was a
revelation and a warning. There were days when, driving about
in her luxurious car, she could do nothing but search among
the crowds in the streets for the lonely old women in rags,
picking and peering along the refuse of the cafes--weazened,
warped figures swathed in rags, creeping along, mumbling to
themselves, lips folded in and in over toothless gums.
One day Brent saw again the look she often could not keep from
her face when that vision of the dance hall in the slums was
horrifying her. He said impulsively:
"What is it? Tell me--what is it, Susan?"
It was the first and the last time he ever called her by her
only personal name. He flushed deeply. To cover his
confusion--and her own--she said in her most frivolous way:
"I was thinking that if I am ever rich I shall have more pairs
of shoes and stockings and take care of more orphans than
anyone else in the world."
"A purpose! At last a purpose!" laughed he. "Now you will go
Through Gourdain she got a French teacher--and her first woman friend.
The young widow he recommended, a Madame Clelie Deliere, was
the most attractive woman she had ever known. She had all the
best French characteristics--a good heart, a lively mind, was
imaginative yet sensible, had good taste in all things. Like
most of the attractive French women, she was not beautiful,
but had that which is of far greater importance--charm. She
knew not a word of English, and it was perhaps Susan's chief
incentive toward working hard at French that she could not
really be friends with this fascinating person until she
learned to speak her language. Palmer--partly by nature,
partly through early experience in the polyglot tenement
district of New York--had more aptitude for language than had
Susan. But he had been lazy about acquiring French in a city
where English is spoken almost universally. With the coming of
young Madame Deliere to live in the apartment, he became interested.
It was not a month after her coming when you might have seen
at one of the fashionable gay restaurants any evening a party
of four--Gourdain was the fourth--talking French almost
volubly. Palmer's accent was better than Susan's. She could
not--and felt she never could--get the accent of the
trans-Alleghany region out of her voice--and so long as that
remained she would not speak good French. "But don't let that
trouble you," said Clelie. "Your voice is your greatest
charm. It is so honest and so human. Of the Americans I have
met, I have liked only those with that same tone in their voices."
"But __I__ haven't that accent," said Freddie with raillery.
Madame Clelie laughed. "No--and I do not like you," retorted
she. "No one ever did. You do not wish to be liked. You
wish to be feared." Her lively brown eyes sparkled and the
big white teeth in her generous mouth glistened. "You wish to
be feared--and you _are_ feared, Monsieur Freddie."
"It takes a clever woman to know how to flatter with the
truth," said he. "Everybody always has been afraid of me--and
is--except, of course, my wife."
He was always talking of "my wife" now. The subject so
completely possessed his mind that he aired it unconsciously.
When she was not around he boasted of "my wife's" skill in the
art of dress, of "my wife's" taste, of "my wife's" shrewdness
in getting her money's worth. When she was there, he was
using the favorite phrase "my wife" this--"my wife" that--"my
wife" the other--until it so got on her nerves that she began
to wait for it and to wince whenever it came--never a wait of
many minutes. At first she thought he was doing this
deliberately either to annoy her or in pursuance of some
secret deep design. But she soon saw that he was not aware of
his inability to keep off the subject or of his obsession for
that phrase representing the thing he was intensely wishing
and willing--"chiefly," she thought, "because it is something
he cannot have." She was amazed at his display of such a
weakness. It gave her the chance to learn an important truth
about human nature--that self-indulgence soon destroys the
strongest nature--and she was witness to how rapidly an
inflexible will disintegrates if incessantly applied to an
impossibility. When a strong arrogant man, unbalanced by long
and successful self-indulgence, hurls himself at an obstruction,
either the obstruction yields or the man is destroyed.
One morning early in February, as she was descending from her
auto in front of the apartment house, she saw Brent in the
doorway. Never had he looked so young or so well. His color
was fine, his face had become almost boyish; upon his skin and
in his eyes was that gloss of perfect health which until these
latter days of scientific hygiene was rarely seen after
twenty-five in a woman or after thirty in a man. She gathered
in all, to the smallest detail--such as the color of his
shirt--with a single quick glance. She knew that he had seen
her before she saw him--that he had been observing her. Her
happiest friendliest smile made her small face bewitching as
she advanced with outstretched hand.
"When did you come?" she asked.
"About an hour ago."
"From the Riviera?"
"No, indeed. From St. Moritz--and skating and skiing and
tobogganing. I rather hoped I looked it. Doing those things
in that air--it's being born again."
"I felt well till I saw you," said she. "Now I feel dingy and
He laughed, his glance sweeping her from hat to boots.
Certainly his eyes could not have found a more entrancing
sight. She was wearing a beautiful dress of golden brown
cloth, sable hat, short coat and muff, brown suede boots laced
high upon her long slender calves. And when she had descended
from the perfect little limousine made to order for her, he
had seen a ravishing flutter of lingerie of pale violet silk.
The sharp air had brought no color to her cheeks to interfere
with the abrupt and fascinating contrast of their pallor with
the long crimson bow of her mouth. But her skin seemed
transparent and had the clearness of health itself. Everything
about her, every least detail, was of Parisian perfection.
"Probably there are not in the world," said he, "so many as a
dozen women so well put together as you are. No, not half a
dozen. Few women carry the art of dress to the point of genius."
"I see they had only frumps at St. Moritz this season,"
But he would not be turned aside. "Most of the well dressed
women stop short with being simply frivolous in spending so
much time at less than perfection--like the army of poets who
write pretty good verse, or the swarm of singers who sing
pretty well. I've heard of you many times this winter. You
are the talk of Paris."
She laughed with frank delight. It was indeed a pleasure to
discover that her pains had not been in vain.
"It is always the outsider who comes to the great city to show
it its own resources," he went on. "I knew you were going to
do this. Still happy?"
But he had taken her by surprise. A faint shadow flitted
across her face. "Not so happy, I see."
"You see too much. Won't you lunch with us? We'll have it in
about half an hour."
He accepted promptly and they went up together. His glance
traveled round the drawing-room; and she knew he had noted all
the changes she had made on better acquaintance with her
surroundings and wider knowledge of interior furnishing. She
saw that he approved, and it increased her good humor. "Are you
hurrying through Paris on your way to somewhere else?" she asked.
"No, I stop here--I think--until I sail for America."
"And that will be soon?"
"Perhaps not until July. I have no plans. I've finished a
play a woman suggested to me some time ago. And I'm waiting."
A gleam of understanding came into her eyes. There was
controlled interest in her voice as she inquired:
"When is it to be produced?"
"When the woman who suggested it is ready to act in it."
"Do I by any chance know her?"
"You used to know her. You will know her again."
She shook her head slowly, a pensive smile hovering about her
eyes and lips. "No--not again. I have changed."
"We do not change," said he. "We move, but we do not change.
You are the same character you were when you came into the
world. And what you were then, that you will be when the
curtain falls on the climax of your last act. Your
circumstances will change--and your clothes--and your face,
hair, figure--but not _you_."
"Do you believe that?"
"I _know_ it."
She nodded slowly, the violet-gray eyes pensive. "Birds in
the strong wind--that's what we are. Driven this way or
that--or quite beaten down. But the wind doesn't change
sparrow to eagle--or eagle to gull--does it?"
She had removed her coat and was seated on an oval lounge
gazing into the open fire. He was standing before it, looking
taller and stronger than ever, in a gray lounging suit. A
cigarette depended loosely from the corner of his mouth. He
"How are you getting on with your acting?"
She glanced in surprise.
"Gourdain," Brent explained. "He had to talk to somebody
about how wonderful you are. So he took to writing me--two
huge letters a week--all about you."
"I'm fond of him. And he's fond of Clelie. She's my----"
"I know all," he interrupted. "The tie between them is their
fondness for you. Tell me about the acting."
"Oh--Clelie and I have been going to the theater every few
days--to help me with French. She is mad about acting, and
there's nothing I like better."
"Also, _you_ simply have to have occupation."
She nodded. "I wasn't brought up to fit me for an idler.
When I was a child I was taught to keep busy--not at nothing,
but at something. Freddie's a lot better at it than I."
"Naturally," said Brent. "You had a home, with order and a
system--an old-fashioned American home. He--well, he hadn't."
"Clelie and I go at our make-believe acting quite seriously.
We have to--if we're to fool ourselves that it's an occupation."
"Why this anxiety to prove to me that you're not really serious?"
Susan laughed mockingly for answer, and went on:
"You should see us do the two wives in `L'Enigme'--or mother
and daughter in that diary scene in `L'Autre Danger'!"
"I must. . . . When are you going to resume your career?"
She rose, strolled toward an open door at one end of the
salon, closed it--strolled toward the door into the hall,
glanced out, returned without having closed it. She then said:
"Could I study here in Paris?"
Triumph gleamed in his eyes. "Yes. Boudrin--a splendid
teacher--speaks English. He--and I--can teach you."
"Tell me what I'd have to do."
"We would coach you for a small part in some play that's to be
"I'll have an American girl written into a farce. Enough to
get you used to the stage--to give you practice in what he'll
teach you--the trade side of the art."
"And then we shall spend the summer learning your part in my
play. Two or three weeks of company rehearsals in New York in
September. In October--your name out over the Long Acre
Theater in letters of fire."
"Could that be done?"
"Even if you had little talent, less intelligence, and no
experience. Properly taught, the trade part of every art is
easy. Teachers make it hard partly because they're dull,
chiefly because there'd be small money for them if they taught
quickly, and only the essentials. No, journeyman acting's no
harder to learn than bricklaying or carpentering. And in
America--everywhere in the world but a few theaters in Paris
and Vienna--there is nothing seen but journeyman acting. The
art is in its infancy as an art. It even has not yet been
emancipated from the swaddling clothes of declamation. Yes,
you can do well by the autumn. And if you develop what I
think you have in you, you can leap with one bound into fame.
In America or England, mind you--because there the acting is
all poor to `pretty good'."
"You are sure it could be done? No--I don't mean that.
I mean, is there really a chance--any chance--for me to
make my own living? A real living?"
"I guarantee," said Brent.
She changed from seriousness to a mocking kind of gayety--that
is, to a seriousness so profound that she would not show it.
And she said:
"You see I simply must banish my old women--and that hunchback
and his piano. They get on my nerves."
He smiled humorously at her. But behind the smile his
gaze--grave, sympathetic--pierced into her soul, seeking the
meaning he knew she would never put into words.
At the sound of voices in the hall she said:
"We'll talk of this again."
At lunch that day she, for the first time in many a week,
listened without irritation while Freddie poured forth his
unending praise of "my wife." As Brent knew them intimately,
Freddie felt free to expatiate upon all the details of
domestic economy that chanced to be his theme, with the
exquisite lunch as a text. He told Brent how Susan had made
a study of that branch of the art of living; how she had
explored the unrivaled Parisian markets and groceries and
shops that dealt in specialties; how she had developed their
breakfasts, dinners, and lunches to works of art. It is
impossible for anyone, however stupid, to stop long in Paris
without beginning to idealize the material side of life--for
the French, who build solidly, first idealize food, clothing,
and shelter, before going on to take up the higher side of
life--as a sane man builds his foundation before his first
story, and so on, putting the observation tower on last of
all, instead of making an ass of himself trying to hang his
tower to the stars. Our idealization goes forward haltingly
and hypocritically because we try to build from the stars
down, instead of from the ground up. The place to seek the
ideal is in the homely, the commonplace, and the necessary.
An ideal that does not spring deep-rooted from the soil of
practical life may be a topic for a sermon or a novel or for
idle conversation among silly and pretentious people. But
what use has it in a world that must _live_, and must be taught
Freddie was unaware that he was describing a further
development of Susan--a course she was taking in the
university of experience--she who had passed through its
common school, its high school, its college. To him her
clever housekeeping offered simply another instance of her
cleverness in general. His discourse was in bad taste. But
its bad taste was tolerable because he was interesting--food,
like sex, being one of those universal subjects that command
and hold the attention of all mankind. He rose to no mean
height of eloquence in describing their dinner of the evening
before--the game soup that brought to him visions of a hunting
excursion he had once made into the wilds of Canada; the way
the _barbue_ was cooked and served; the incredible duck--and
the salad! Clelie interrupted to describe that salad as like
a breath of summer air from fields and limpid brooks. He
declared that the cheese--which Susan had found in a shop in
the Marche St. Honore--was more wonderful than the most
wonderful _petit Suisse_. "And the coffee!" he exclaimed.
"But you'll see in a few minutes. We have _coffee_ here."
"_Quelle histoire!_" exclaimed Brent, when Freddie had
concluded. And he looked at Susan with the ironic, quizzical
gleam in his eyes.
She colored. "I am learning to live," said she. "That's what
we're on earth for--isn't it?"
"To learn to live--and then, to live," replied he.
She laughed. "Ah, that comes a little later."
"Not much later," rejoined he, "or there's no time left for it."
It was Freddie who, after lunch, urged Susan and Clelie to
"show Brent what you can do at acting."
"Yes--by all means," said Brent with enthusiasm.
And they gave--in one end of the salon which was well suited
for it--the scene between mother and daughter over the stolen
diary, in "L'Autre Danger." Brent said little when they
finished, so little that Palmer was visibly annoyed. But
Susan, who was acquainted with his modes of expression, felt
a deep glow of satisfaction. She had no delusions about her
attempts; she understood perfectly that they were simply crude
attempts. She knew she had done well--for her--and she knew
he appreciated her improvement.
"That would have gone fine--with costumes and scenery--eh?"
demanded Freddie of Brent.
"Yes," said Brent absently. "Yes--that is--Yes."
Freddie was dissatisfied with this lack of enthusiasm. He
went on insistently:
"I think she ought to go on the stage--she and Madame Clelie, too."
"Yes," said Brent, between inquiry and reflection.
"What do _you_ think?"
"I don't think she ought," replied Brent. "I think she
_must_." He turned to Susan. "Would you like it?"
Susan hesitated. Freddie said--rather lamely, "Of course she
would. For my part, I wish she would."
"Then I will," said Susan quietly.
Palmer looked astounded. He had not dreamed she would assent.
He knew her tones--knew that the particular tone meant
finality. "You're joking," cried he, with an uneasy laugh.
"Why, you wouldn't stand the work for a week. It's hard
work--isn't it, Brent?"
"About the hardest," said Brent. "And she's got practically
everything still to learn."
"Shall we try, Clelie?" said Susan.
Young Madame Deliere was pale with eagerness. "Ah--but that
would be worth while!" cried she.
"Then it's settled," said Susan. To Brent: "We'll make the
arrangements at once--today."
Freddie was looking at her with a dazed expression. His
glance presently drifted from her face to the fire, to rest
there thoughtfully as he smoked his cigar. He took no part in
the conversation that followed. Presently he left the room
without excusing himself. When Clelie seated herself at the
piano to wander vaguely from one piece of music to another,
Brent joined Susan at the fire and said in English:
"Palmer is furious."
"I saw," said she.
"I am afraid. For--I know him."
She looked calmly at him. "But I am not."
"Then you do not know him."
The strangest smile flitted across her face.
After a pause Brent said: "Are you married to him?"
Again the calm steady look. Then: "That is none of your business."
"I thought you were not," said Brent, as if she had answered
his question with a clear negative. He added, "You know I'd
not have asked if it had been `none of my business.'"
"What do you mean?"
"If you had been his wife, I could not have gone on. I've all
the reverence for a home of the man who has never had one.
I'd not take part in a home-breaking. But--since you are free----"
"I shall never be anything else but free. It's because I wish
to make sure of my freedom that I'm going into this."
Palmer appeared in the doorway.
That night the four and Gourdain dined together, went to the
theater and afterward to supper at the Cafe de Paris.
Gourdain and young Madame Deliere formed an interesting,
unusually attractive exhibit of the parasitism that is as
inevitable to the rich as fleas to a dog. Gourdain was a
superior man, Clelie a superior woman. There was nothing of
the sycophant, or even of the courtier, about either. Yet
they already had in their faces that subtle indication of the
dependent that is found in all professional people who
habitually work for and associate with the rich only. They
had no sense of dependence; they were not dependents, for they
gave more than value received. Yet so corrupting is the
atmosphere about rich people that Gourdain, who had other rich
clients, no less than Clelie who got her whole living from
Palmer, was at a glance in the flea class and not in the dog
class. Brent looked for signs of the same thing in Susan's
face. The signs should have been there; but they were not.
"Not yet," thought he. "And never will be now."
Palmer's abstraction and constraint were in sharp contrast to
the gayety of the others. Susan drank almost nothing. Her
spirits were soaring so high that she did not dare stimulate
them with champagne. The Cafe de Paris is one of the places
where the respectable go to watch _les autres_ and to catch a
real gayety by contagion of a gayety that is mechanical and
altogether as unreal as play-acting. There is something
fantastic about the official temples of Venus; the
pleasure-makers are so serious under their masks and the
pleasure-getters so quaintly dazzled and deluded. That is,
Venus's temples are like those of so many other religions in
reverence among men--disbelief and solemn humbuggery at the
altar; belief that would rather die than be undeceived, in the
pews. Palmer scarcely took his eyes from Susan's face. It
amused and pleased her to see how uneasy this made Brent--and
how her own laughter and jests aggravated his uneasiness to
the point where he was almost showing it. She glanced round
that brilliant room filled with men and women, each of them
carrying underneath the placidity of stiff evening shirt or
the scantiness of audacious evening gown the most
fascinating emotions and secrets--love and hate and jealousy,
cold and monstrous habits and desires, ruin impending or
stealthily advancing, fortune giddying to a gorgeous climax,
disease and shame and fear--yet only signs of love and
laughter and lightness of heart visible. And she wondered
whether at any other table there was gathered so curious an
assemblage of pasts and presents and futures as at the one
over which Freddie Palmer was presiding somberly. . . . Then her
thoughts took another turn. She fell to noting how each man
was accompanied by a woman--a gorgeously dressed woman, a
woman revealing, proclaiming, in every line, in every
movement, that she was thus elaborately and beautifully
toiletted to please man, to appeal to his senses, to gain his
gracious approval. It was the world in miniature; it was an
illustration of the position of woman--of her own position.
Favorite; pet. Not the equal of man, but an appetizer, a
dessert. She glanced at herself in the glass, mocked her own
radiant beauty of face and form and dress. Not really a full
human being; merely a decoration. No more; and no worse off
than most of the women everywhere, the favorites licensed or
unlicensed of law and religion. But just as badly off, and
just as insecure. Free! No rest, no full breath until
freedom had been won! At any cost, by straight way or
"Let's go home," said she abruptly. "I've had enough of this."
She was in a dressing gown, all ready for bed and reading,
when Palmer came into her sitting-room. She was smoking, her
gaze upon her book. Her thick dark hair was braided close to
her small head. There was delicate lace on her nightgown,
showing above the wadded satin collar of the dressing gown.
He dropped heavily into a chair.
If anyone had told me a year ago that a skirt could make a
damn fool of me," said he bitterly, "I'd have laughed in his
face. Yet--here I am! How nicely I did drop into your trap
today--about the acting!"
"Oh, I admit I built and baited and set it, myself--ass that I
was! But it was your trap--yours and Brent's, all the
same. . . . A skirt--and not a clean one, at that."
She lowered the book to her lap, took the cigarette from
between her lips, looked at him. "Why not be reasonable,
Freddie?" said she calmly. Language had long since lost its
power to impress her. "Why irritate yourself and annoy me
simply because I won't let you tyrannize over me? You know
you can't treat me as if I were your property. I'm not your
wife, and I don't have to be your mistress."
"Getting ready to break with me eh?"
"If I wished to go, I'd tell you--and go."
"You'd give me the shake, would you?--without the slightest
regard for all I've done for you!"
She refused to argue that again. "I hope I've outgrown doing
weak gentle things through cowardice and pretending it's
through goodness of heart."
"You've gotten hard--like stone."
"Like you--somewhat." And after a moment she added, "Anything
that's strong is hard--isn't it? Can a man or a woman get
anywhere without being able to be what you call `hard' and
what I call `strong'?"
"Where do _you_ want to get?" demanded he.
She disregarded his question, to finish saying what was in her
mind--what she was saying rather to give herself a clear look
at her own thoughts and purposes than to enlighten him about
them. "I'm not a sheltered woman," pursued she. "I've got no
one to save me from the consequences of doing nice, sweet,
"You've got me," said he angrily.
"But why lean if I'm strong enough to stand alone? Why weaken
myself just to gratify your mania for owning and bossing? But
let me finish what I was saying. I never got any quarter
because I was a woman. No woman does, as a matter of fact;
and in the end, the more she uses her sex to help her shirk,
the worse her punishment is. But in my case----
"I was brought up to play the weak female, to use my sex as my
shield. And that was taken from me and--I needn't tell _you_
how I was taught to give and take like a man--no, not like a
man--for no man ever has to endure what a woman goes through
if she is thrown on the world. Still, I'm not whining. Now
that it's all over I'm the better for what I've been through.
I've learned to use all a man's weapons and in addition I've
got a woman's."
"As long as your looks last," sneered he.
"That will be longer than yours," said she pleasantly, "if you
keep on with the automobiles and the champagne. And when my
looks are gone, my woman's weapons. . .
"Why, I'll still have the man's weapons left--shan't
I?--knowledge, and the ability to use it."
His expression of impotent fury mingled with compelled
admiration and respect made his face about as unpleasant to
look at as she had ever seen it. But she liked to look. His
confession of her strength made her feel stronger. The sense
of strength was a new sensation with her--new and delicious.
Nor could the feeling that she was being somewhat cruel
restrain her from enjoying it.
"I have never asked quarter," she went on. "I never shall.
If fate gets me down, as it has many a time, why I'll he able
to take my medicine without weeping or whining. I've never
asked pity. I've never asked charity. That's why I'm here,
Freddie--in this apartment, instead of in a filthy tenement
attic--and in these clothes instead of in rags--and with you
respecting me, instead of kicking me toward the gutter. Isn't
He was silent.
"Isn't it so?" she insisted.
"Yes," he admitted. And his handsome eyes looked the love so
near to hate that fills a strong man for a strong woman when
they clash and he cannot conquer. "No wonder I'm a fool about
you," he muttered.
"I don't purpose that any man or woman shall use me," she went
on, "in exchange for merely a few flatteries. I insist that
if they use me, they must let me use them. I shan't be mean
about it, but I shan't be altogether a fool, either. And what
is a woman but a fool when she lets men use her for nothing
but being called sweet and loving and womanly? Unless that's
the best she can do, poor thing!"
"You needn't sneer at respectable women."
"I don't," replied she. "I've no sneers for anybody. I've
discovered a great truth, Freddie the deep-down equality of
all human beings--all of them birds in the same wind and
battling with it each as best he can. As for myself--with
money, with a career that interests me, with position that'll
give me any acquaintances and friends that are congenial, I
don't care what is said of me."
As her plan unfolded itself fully to his understanding, which
needed only a hint to enable it to grasp all, he forgot his
rage for a moment in his interest and admiration. Said he:
"You've used me. Now you're going to use Brent--eh?
Well--what will you give _him_ in exchange?"
"He wants someone to act certain parts in certain plays."
"Is that _all_ he wants?"
"He hasn't asked anything else."
"And if he did?"
"Don't be absurd. You know Brent."
"He's not in love with you," assented Palmer. "He doesn't
want you that way. There's some woman somewhere, I've
heard--and he doesn't care about anybody but her."
He was speaking in a careless, casual way, watching her out of
the corner of his eye. And she, taken off guard, betrayed in
her features the secret that was a secret even from herself.
He sprang up with a bound, sprang at her, caught her up out of
her chair, the fingers of one hand clasping her throat.
"I thought so!" he hissed. "You love him--damn you! You love
him! You'd better look out, both of you!"
There came a knock at the door between her bedroom and that of
Madame Clelie. Palmer released her, stood panting, with
furious eyes on the door from which the sound had come. Susan
called, "It's all right, Clelie, for the present." Then she
said to Palmer, "I told Clelie to knock if she ever heard
voices in this room--or any sound she didn't understand." She
reseated herself, began to massage her throat where his
fingers had clutched it. "It's fortunate my skin doesn't mar
easily," she went on. "What were you saying?"
"I know the truth now. You love Brent. That's the milk in
She reflected on this, apparently with perfect tranquillity,
apparently with no memory of his furious threat against her
and against Brent. She said:
"Perhaps I was simply piqued because there's another woman."
"You are jealous."
"I guess I was--a little."
"You admit that you love him, you----"
He checked himself on the first hissing breath of the foul
epithet. She said tranquilly:
"Jealousy doesn't mean love. We're jealous in all sorts of
ways--and of all sorts of things."
"Well--_he_ cares nothing about _you_."
"And never will. He'd despise a woman who had been----"
"Don't hesitate. Say it. I'm used to hearing it,
Freddie--and to being it. And not `had been' but `is.' I
still am, you know."
"You're not!" he cried. "And never were--and never could
be--for some unknown reason, God knows why."
She shrugged her shoulders, lit another cigarette. He went on:
"You can't get it out of your head that because he's
interested in you he's more or less stuck on you. That's the
way with women. The truth is, he wants you merely to act in
"And I want that, too."
"You think I'm going to stand quietly by and let this thing go
She showed not the faintest sign of nervousness at this
repetition, more carefully veiled, of his threat against
her--and against Brent. She chose the only hopeful course;
she went at him boldly and directly. Said she with amused
"Why not? He doesn't want me. Even if I love him, I'm not
giving him anything you want."
"How do you know what I want?" cried he, confused by this
unexpected way of meeting his attack. "You think I'm simply
a brute--with no fine instincts or feelings----"
She interrupted him with a laugh. "Don't be absurd, Freddie,"
said she. "You know perfectly well you and I don't call out the
finer feelings in each other. If either of us wanted that
sort of thing, we'd have to look elsewhere."
"You mean Brent--eh?"
She laughed with convincing derision. "What nonsense!" She
put her arms round his neck, and her lips close to his. The
violet-gray eyes were half closed, the perfume of the smooth
amber-white skin, of the thick, wavy, dark hair, was in his
nostrils. And in a languorous murmur she soothed his
subjection to a deep sleep with, "As long as you give me what
I want from you, and I give you what you want from me why
should we wrangle?"
And with a smile he acquiesced. She felt that she had ended
the frightful danger--to Brent rather than to herself--that
suddenly threatened from those wicked eyes of Palmer's. But
it might easily come again. She did not dare relax her
efforts, for in the succeeding days she saw that he was like
one annoyed by a constant pricking from a pin hidden in the
clothing and searched for in vain. He was no longer jealous
of Brent. But while he didn't know what was troubling him, he
did know that he was uncomfortable. XXIII
IN but one important respect was Brent's original plan
modified. Instead of getting her stage experience in France,
Susan joined a London company making one of those dreary,
weary, cheap and trashy tours of the smaller cities of the
provinces with half a dozen plays by Jones, Pinero, and Shaw.
Clelie stayed in London, toiling at the language, determined
to be ready to take the small part of French maid in Brent's
play in the fall. Brent and Palmer accompanied Susan; and
every day for several hours Brent and the stage manager--his
real name was Thomas Boil and his professional name was
Herbert Streathern--coached the patient but most unhappy Susan
line by line, word by word, gesture by gesture, in the little
parts she was playing. Palmer traveled with them, making a
pretense of interest that ill concealed his boredom and
irritation. This for three weeks; then he began to make trips
to London to amuse himself with the sports, amateur and
professional, with whom he easily made friends--some of them
men in a position to be useful to him socially later on. He
had not spoken of those social ambitions of his since Susan
refused to go that way with him--but she knew he had them in
mind as strongly as ever. He was the sort of man who must
have an objective, and what other objective could there be for
him who cared for and believed in the conventional ambitions
and triumphs only--the successes that made the respectable
world gape and grovel and envy?
"You'll not stick at this long," he said to Susan.
"I'm frightfully depressed," she admitted. "It's
tiresome--and hard--and so hideously uncomfortable! And I've
lost all sense of art or profession. Acting seems to be
nothing but a trade, and a poor, cheap one at that."
He was not surprised, but was much encouraged by this candid
account of her state of mind. Said he:
"It's my private opinion that only your obstinacy keeps you
from giving it up straight off. Surely you must see it's
nonsense. Drop it and come along--and be comfortable and
happy. Why be obstinate? There's nothing in it."
"Perhaps it _is_ obstinacy," said she. "I like to think it's
"Drop it. You want to. You know you do."
"I want to, but I can't," replied she.
He recognized the tone, the expression of the eyes, the sudden
showing of strength through the soft, young contour. And he desisted.
Never again could there be comfort, much less happiness, until
she had tried out her reawakened ambition. She had given up
all that had been occupying her since she left America with
Freddie; she had abandoned herself to a life of toil.
Certainly nothing could have been more tedious, more
tormenting to sensitive nerves, than the schooling through
which Brent was putting her. Its childishness revolted her
and angered her. Experience had long since lowered very
considerably the point at which her naturally sweet
disposition ceased to be sweet--a process through which every
good-tempered person must pass unless he or she is to be
crushed and cast aside as a failure. There were days, many of
them, when it took all her good sense, all her fundamental
faith in Brent, to restrain her from an outbreak. Streathern
regarded Brent as a crank, and had to call into service all
his humility as a poor Englishman toward a rich man to keep
from showing his contempt. And Brent seemed to be--indeed
was--testing her forbearance to the uttermost. He offered not
the slightest explanation of his method. He simply ordered
her blindly to pursue the course he marked out. She was
sorely tempted to ask, to demand, explanations. But there
stood out a quality in Brent that made her resolve ooze away,
as soon as she faced him. Of one thing she was confident.
Any lingering suspicions Freddie might have had of Brent's
interest in her as a woman, or even of her being interested
in him as a man, must have been killed beyond resurrection.
Freddie showed that he would have hated Brent, would have
burst out against him, for the unhuman, inhuman way he was
treating her, had it not been that Brent was so admirably
serving his design to have her finally and forever disgusted
and done with the stage.
Finally there came a performance in which the audience--the
gallery part of it--"booed" her--not the play, not the other
players, but her and no other. Brent came along, apparently
by accident, as she made her exit. He halted before her and
scanned her countenance with those all-seeing eyes of his.
"You heard them?"
"Of course," replied she.
"That was for you," said he and he said it with an absence of
sympathy that made it brutal.
"For only me," said she--frivolously.
"You seem not to mind."
"Certainly I mind. I'm not made of wood or stone."
"Don't you think you'd better give it up?"
She looked at him with a steely light from the violet eyes,
a light that had never been there before.
"Give up?" said she. "Not even if you give me up. This thing
has got to be put through."
He simply nodded. "All right," he said. "It will be."
"That booing--it almost struck me dead. When it didn't, I for
the first time felt sure I was going to win."
He nodded again, gave her one of his quick expressive,
fleeting glances that somehow made her forget and forgive
everything and feel fresh and eager to start in again. He said:
"When the booing began and you didn't break down and run off the
stage, I knew that what I hoped and believed about you was true."
Streathern joined them. His large, soft eyes were full of
sympathetic tears. He was so moved that he braved Brent. He
said to Susan:
"It wasn't your fault, Miss Lenox. You were doing exactly as
Mr. Brent ordered, when the booing broke out."
"Exactly," said Brent.
Streathern regarded him with a certain nervousness and veiled
pity. Streathern had been brought into contact with many
great men. He had found them, each and every one, with this
same streak of wild folly, this habit of doing things that
were to him obviously useless and ridiculous. It was a
profound mystery to him why such men succeeded while he
himself who never did such things remained in obscurity. The
only explanation was the abysmal stupidity, ignorance, and
folly of the masses of mankind. What a harbor of refuge that
reflection has ever been for mediocrity's shattered and
sinking vanity! Yet the one indisputable fact about the great
geniuses of long ago is that in their own country and age "the
common people heard them gladly." Streathern could not now
close his mouth upon one last appeal on behalf of the clever
and lovely and so amiable victim of Brent's mania.
"I say, Mr. Brent," pleaded he, "don't you think--Really now,
if you'll permit a chap not without experience to say
so--Don't you think that by drilling her so much and so--so
_beastly_ minutely--you're making her wooden--machine-like?"
"I hope so," said Brent, in a tone that sent Streathern
scurrying away to a place where he could express himself
unseen and unheard.
In her fifth week she began to improve. She felt at home on
the stage; she felt at home in her part, whatever it happened
to be. She was giving what could really be called a
performance. Streathern, when he was sure Brent could not
hear, congratulated her. "It's wonderfully plucky of you, my
dear," said he, "quite amazingly plucky--to get yourself
together and go straight ahead, in spite of what your American
friend has been doing to you."
"In spite of it." cried Susan. "Why, don't you see that it's
because of what he's been doing? I felt it, all the time. I
see it now."
"Oh, really--do you think so?" said Streathern.
His tone made it a polite and extremely discreet way of
telling her he thought she had become as mad as Brent. She
did not try to explain to him why she was improving. In that
week she advanced by long strides, and Brent was radiant.
"Now we'll teach you scales," said he. "We'll teach you the
mechanics of expressing every variety of emotion. Then we'll
be ready to study a strong part."
She had known in the broad from the outset what Brent was
trying to accomplish--that he was giving her the trade side of
the art, was giving it to her quickly and systematically. But
she did not appreciate how profoundly right he was until she
was "learning scales." Then she understood why most so called
"professional" performances are amateurish, haphazard, without
any precision. She was learning to posture, and to utter
every emotion so accurately that any spectator would recognize
it at once.
"And in time your voice and your body," said Brent, "will
become as much your servants as are Paderewski's ten fingers.
He doesn't rely upon any such rot as inspiration. Nor does
any master of any art. A mind can be inspired but not a body.
It must be taught. You must first have a perfect instrument.
Then, if you are a genius, your genius, having a perfect
instrument to work with, will produce perfect results. To
ignore or to neglect the mechanics of an art is to hamper or
to kill inspiration. Geniuses--a few--and they not the
greatest--have been too lazy to train their instruments. But
anyone who is merely talented dares not take the risk. And
you--we'd better assume--are merely talented."
Streathern, who had a deserved reputation as a coach, was
disgusted with Brent's degradation of an art. As openly as he
dared, he warned Susan against the danger of becoming a mere
machine--a puppet, responding stiffly to the pulling of
strings. But Susan had got over her momentary irritation
against Brent, her doubt of his judgment in her particular
case. She ignored Streathern's advice that she should be
natural, that she should let her own temperament dictate
variations on his cut and dried formulae for expression. She
continued to do as she was bid.
"If you are _not_ a natural born actress," said Brent," at
least you will be a good one--so good that most critics will
call you great. And if you _are_ a natural born genius at
acting, you will soon put color in the cheeks of these dolls
I'm giving you--and ease into their bodies--and nerves and
muscles and blood in place of the strings."
In the seventh week he abruptly took her out of the company
and up to London to have each day an hour of singing, an hour
of dancing, and an hour of fencing. "You'll ruin her health,"
protested Freddie. "You're making her work like a ditch digger."
Brent replied, "If she hasn't the health, she's got to abandon
the career. If she has health, this training will give it
steadiness and solidity. If there's a weakness anywhere,
it'll show itself and can be remedied."
And he piled the work on her, dictated her hours of sleep, her
hours for rest and for walking, her diet--and little he gave
her to eat. When he had her thoroughly broken to his regimen,
he announced that business compelled his going immediately to
America. "I shall be back in a month," said he.
"I think I'll run over with you," said Palmer. "Do you mind, Susan?"
"Clelie and I shall get on very well," she replied. She would
be glad to have both out of the way that she might give her
whole mind to the only thing that now interested her. For the
first time she was experiencing the highest joy that comes to
mortals, the only joy that endures and grows and defies all the
calamities of circumstances--the joy of work congenial and developing.
"Yes--come along," said Brent to Palmer. "Here you'll be
tempting her to break the rules." He added, "Not that you
would succeed. She understands what it all means, now--and
nothing could stop her. That's why I feel free to leave her."
"Yes, I understand," said Susan. She was gazing away into
space; at sight of her expression Freddie turned hastily away.
On a Saturday morning Susan and Clelie, after waiting on the
platform at Euston Station until the long, crowded train for
Liverpool and the _Lusitania_ disappeared, went back to the
lodgings in Half Moon Street with a sudden sense of the
vastness of London, of its loneliness and dreariness, of its
awkward inhospitality to the stranger under its pall of foggy
smoke. Susan was thinking of Brent's last words:
She had said, "I'll try to deserve all the pains you've taken,
"Yes, I have done a lot for you," he had replied. "I've put
you beyond the reach of any of the calamities of life--beyond
the need of any of its consolations. Don't forget that if the
steamer goes down with all on board."
And then she had looked at him--and as Freddie's back was half
turned, she hoped he had not seen--in fact, she was sure he
had not, or she would not have dared. And Brent--had returned
her look with his usual quizzical smile; but she had learned
how to see through that mask. Then--she had submitted to
Freddie's energetic embrace--had given her hand to
Brent--"Good-by," she had said; and "Good luck," he.
Beyond the reach of _any_ of the calamities? Beyond the need
of _any_ of the consolations? Yes--it was almost literally