Part 2 out of 8
easily to answer: "Why, we called her after a hair-waver father put on
the market the week she was born--" and then to explain, as he remained
struck and silent: "It's from UNdoolay, you know, the French for
crimping; father always thought the name made it take. He was quite a
scholar, and had the greatest knack for finding names. I remember the
time he invented his Goliath Glue he sat up all night over the Bible to
get the name... No, father didn't start IN as a druggist," she went on,
expanding with the signs of Marvell's interest; "he was educated for an
undertaker, and built up a first-class business; but he was always
a beautiful speaker, and after a while he sorter drifted into the
ministry. Of course it didn't pay him anything like as well, so finally
he opened a drug-store, and he did first-rate at that too, though his
heart was always in the pulpit. But after he made such a success with
his hair-waver he got speculating in land out at Apex, and somehow
everything went--though Mr. Spragg did all he COULD--." Mrs. Spragg,
when she found herself embarked on a long sentence, always ballasted it
by italicizing the last word.
Her husband, she continued, could not, at the time, do much for his
father-in-law. Mr. Spragg had come to Apex as a poor boy, and their
early married life had been a protracted struggle, darkened by domestic
affliction. Two of their three children had died of typhoid in the
epidemic which devastated Apex before the new water-works were built;
and this calamity, by causing Mr. Spragg to resolve that thereafter
Apex should drink pure water, had led directly to the founding of his
"He had taken over some of poor father's land for a bad debt, and when
he got up the Pure Water move the company voted to buy the land and
build the new reservoir up there: and after that we began to be better
off, and it DID seem as if it had come out so to comfort us some about
Mr. Spragg, thereafter, had begun to be a power in Apex, and fat years
had followed on the lean. Ralph Marvell was too little versed in affairs
to read between the lines of Mrs. Spragg's untutored narrative, and he
understood no more than she the occult connection between Mr. Spragg's
domestic misfortunes and his business triumph. Mr. Spragg had "helped
out" his ruined father-in-law, and had vowed on his children's graves
that no Apex child should ever again drink poisoned water--and out
of those two disinterested impulses, by some impressive law of
compensation, material prosperity had come. What Ralph understood and
appreciated was Mrs. Spragg's unaffected frankness in talking of her
early life. Here was no retrospective pretense of an opulent past,
such as the other Invaders were given to parading before the bland but
undeceived subject race. The Spraggs had been "plain people" and had not
yet learned to be ashamed of it. The fact drew them much closer to the
Dagonet ideals than any sham elegance in the past tense. Ralph felt
that his mother, who shuddered away from Mrs. Harmon B. Driscoll, would
understand and esteem Mrs. Spragg.
But how long would their virgin innocence last? Popple's vulgar hands
were on it already--Popple's and the unspeakable Van Degen's! Once they
and theirs had begun the process of initiating Undine, there was no
knowing--or rather there was too easy knowing--how it would end! It was
incredible that she too should be destined to swell the ranks of the
cheaply fashionable; yet were not her very freshness, her malleability,
the mark of her fate? She was still at the age when the flexible soul
offers itself to the first grasp. That the grasp should chance to be Van
Degen's--that was what made Ralph's temples buzz, and swept away all his
plans for his own future like a beaver's dam in a spring flood. To
save her from Van Degen and Van Degenism: was that really to be his
mission--the "call" for which his life had obscurely waited? It was
not in the least what he had meant to do with the fugitive flash of
consciousness he called self; but all that he had purposed for that
transitory being sank into insignificance under the pressure of Undine's
Ralph Marvell's notion of women had been formed on the experiences
common to good-looking young men of his kind. Women were drawn to him as
much by his winning appealing quality, by the sense of a youthful warmth
behind his light ironic exterior, as by his charms of face and mind.
Except during Clare Dagonet's brief reign the depths in him had not been
stirred; but in taking what each sentimental episode had to give he had
preserved, through all his minor adventures, his faith in the great
adventure to come. It was this faith that made him so easy a victim
when love had at last appeared clad in the attributes of romance: the
imaginative man's indestructible dream of a rounded passion.
The clearness with which he judged the girl and himself seemed the
surest proof that his feeling was more than a surface thrill. He was not
blind to her crudity and her limitations, but they were a part of her
grace and her persuasion. Diverse et ondoyante--so he had seen her from
the first. But was not that merely the sign of a quicker response to the
world's manifold appeal? There was Harriet Ray, sealed up tight in the
vacuum of inherited opinion, where not a breath of fresh sensation could
get at her: there could be no call to rescue young ladies so
secured from the perils of reality! Undine had no such traditional
safeguards--Ralph guessed Mrs. Spragg's opinions to be as fluid as
her daughter's--and the girl's very sensitiveness to new impressions,
combined with her obvious lack of any sense of relative values, would
make her an easy prey to the powers of folly. He seemed to see her--as
he sat there, pressing his fists into his temples--he seemed to see her
like a lovely rock-bound Andromeda, with the devouring monster Society
careering up to make a mouthful of her; and himself whirling down on his
winged horse--just Pegasus turned Rosinante for the nonce--to cut her
bonds, snatch her up, and whirl her back into the blue...
Some two months later than the date of young Marvell's midnight vigil,
Mrs. Heeny, seated on a low chair at Undine's knee, gave the girl's left
hand an approving pat as she laid aside her lapful of polishers.
"There! I guess you can put your ring on again," she said with a laugh
of jovial significance; and Undine, echoing the laugh in a murmur of
complacency, slipped on the fourth finger of her recovered hand a band
of sapphires in an intricate setting.
Mrs. Heeny took up the hand again. "Them's old stones, Undine--they've
got a different look," she said, examining the ring while she rubbed her
cushioned palm over the girl's brilliant finger-tips. "And the setting's
quaint--I wouldn't wonder but what it was one of old Gran'ma Dagonet's."
Mrs. Spragg, hovering near in fond beatitude, looked up quickly.
"Why, don't you s'pose he BOUGHT it for her, Mrs. Heeny? It came in a
The manicure laughed again. "Of course he's had Tiff'ny rub it up.
Ain't you ever heard of ancestral jewels, Mrs. Spragg? In the Eu-ropean
aristocracy they never go out and BUY engagement-rings; and Undine's
marrying into our aristocracy."
Mrs. Spragg looked relieved. "Oh, I thought maybe they were trying to
scrimp on the ring--"
Mrs. Heeny, shrugging away this explanation, rose from her seat and
rolled back her shiny black sleeves.
"Look at here, Undine, if you really want me to do your hair it's time
we got to work."
The girl swung about in her seat so that she faced the mirror on the
dressing-table. Her shoulders shone through transparencies of lace
and muslin which slipped back as she lifted her arms to draw the
tortoise-shell pins from her hair.
"Of course you've got to do it--I want to look perfectly lovely!"
"Well--I dunno's my hand's in nowadays," said Mrs. Heeny in a tone that
belied the doubt she cast on her own ability.
"Oh, you're an ARTIST, Mrs. Heeny--and I just couldn't have had that
French maid 'round to-night," sighed Mrs. Spragg, sinking into a chair
near the dressing-table.
Undine, with a backward toss of her head, scattered her loose locks
about her. As they spread and sparkled under Mrs. Heeny's touch, Mrs.
Spragg leaned back, drinking in through half-closed lids her daughter's
loveliness. Some new quality seemed added to Undine's beauty: it had a
milder bloom, a kind of melting grace, which might have been lent to it
by the moisture in her mother's eyes.
"So you're to see the old gentleman for the first time at this dinner?"
Mrs. Heeny pursued, sweeping the live strands up into a loosely woven
"Yes. I'm frightened to death!" Undine, laughing confidently, took up a
hand-glass and scrutinized the small brown mole above the curve of her
"I guess she'll know how to talk to him," Mrs. Spragg averred with a
kind of quavering triumph.
"She'll know how to LOOK at him, anyhow," said Mrs. Heeny; and Undine
smiled at her own image.
"I hope he won't think I'm too awful!"
Mrs. Heeny laughed. "Did you read the description of yourself in the
Radiator this morning? I wish't I'd 'a had time to cut it out. I guess
I'll have to start a separate bag for YOUR clippings soon."
Undine stretched her arms luxuriously above her head and gazed through
lowered lids at the foreshortened reflection of her face.
"Mercy! Don't jerk about like that. Am I to put in this
rose?--There--you ARE lovely!" Mrs. Heeny sighed, as the pink petals
sank into the hair above the girl's forehead. Undine pushed her chair
back, and sat supporting her chin on her clasped hands while she studied
the result of Mrs. Heeny's manipulations.
"Yes--that's the way Mrs. Peter Van Degen's flower was put in the other
night; only hers was a camellia.--Do you think I'd look better with a
"I guess if Mrs. Van Degen looked like a rose she'd 'a worn a rose,"
Mrs. Heeny rejoined poetically. "Sit still a minute longer," she added.
"Your hair's so heavy I'd feel easier if I was to put in another pin."
Undine remained motionless, and the manicure, suddenly laying both hands
on the girl's shoulders, and bending over to peer at her reflection,
said playfully: "Ever been engaged before, Undine?"
A blush rose to the face in the mirror, spreading from chin to brow, and
running rosily over the white shoulders from which their covering had
"My! If he could see you now!" Mrs. Heeny jested.
Mrs. Spragg, rising noiselessly, glided across the room and became lost
in a minute examination of the dress laid out on the bed.
With a supple twist Undine slipped from Mrs. Heeny's hold.
"Engaged? Mercy, yes! Didn't you know? To the Prince of Wales. I broke
it off because I wouldn't live in the Tower."
Mrs. Spragg, lifting the dress cautiously over her arm, advanced with a
"I s'pose Undie'll go to Europe now," she said to Mrs. Heeny.
"I guess Undie WILL!" the young lady herself declared. "We're going to
sail right afterward.--Here, mother, do be careful of my hair!" She
ducked gracefully to slip into the lacy fabric which her mother held
above her head. As she rose Venus-like above its folds there was a tap
on the door, immediately followed by its tentative opening.
"Mabel!" Undine muttered, her brows lowering like her father's; and
Mrs. Spragg, wheeling about to screen her daughter, addressed herself
protestingly to the half-open door.
"Who's there? Oh, that YOU, Mrs. Lipscomb? Well, I don't know as you
CAN--Undie isn't half dressed yet--"
"Just like her--always pushing in!" Undine murmured as she slipped her
arms into their transparent sleeves.
"Oh, that don't matter--I'll help dress her!" Mrs. Lipscomb's large
blond person surged across the threshold. "Seems to me I ought to lend a
hand to-night, considering I was the one that introduced them!"
Undine forced a smile, but Mrs. Spragg, her soft wrinkles deepening with
resentment, muttered to Mrs. Heeny, as she bent down to shake out the
girl's train: "I guess my daughter's only got to show herself--"
The first meeting with old Mr. Dagonet was less formidable than Undine
had expected. She had been once before to the house in Washington
Square, when, with her mother, she had returned Mrs. Marvell's
ceremonial visit; but on that occasion Ralph's grandfather had not
been present. All the rites connected with her engagement were new and
mysterious to Undine, and none more so than the unaccountable necessity
of "dragging"--as she phrased it--Mrs. Spragg into the affair. It was an
accepted article of the Apex creed that parental detachment should be
completest at the moment when the filial fate was decided; and to find
that New York reversed this rule was as puzzling to Undine as to her
mother. Mrs. Spragg was so unprepared for the part she was to play
that on the occasion of her visit to Mrs. Marvell her helplessness had
infected Undine, and their half-hour in the sober faded drawing-room
remained among the girl's most unsatisfactory memories.
She re-entered it alone with more assurance. Her confidence in her
beauty had hitherto carried her through every ordeal; and it was
fortified now by the feeling of power that came with the sense of being
loved. If they would only leave her mother out she was sure, in her
own phrase, of being able to "run the thing"; and Mrs. Spragg had
providentially been left out of the Dagonet dinner.
It was to consist, it appeared, only of the small family group Undine
had already met; and, seated at old Mr. Dagonet's right, in the high
dark dining-room with mahogany doors and dim portraits of "Signers"
and their females, she felt a conscious joy in her ascendancy. Old Mr.
Dagonet--small, frail and softly sardonic--appeared to fall at once
under her spell. If she felt, beneath his amenity, a kind of delicate
dangerousness, like that of some fine surgical instrument, she ignored
it as unimportant; for she had as yet no clear perception of forces that
did not directly affect her.
Mrs. Marvell, low-voiced, faded, yet impressive, was less responsive
to her arts, and Undine divined in her the head of the opposition to
Ralph's marriage. Mrs. Heeny had reported that Mrs. Marvell had other
views for her son; and this was confirmed by such echoes of the short
sharp struggle as reached the throbbing listeners at the Stentorian. But
the conflict over, the air had immediately cleared, showing the enemy in
the act of unconditional surrender. It surprised Undine that there had
been no reprisals, no return on the points conceded. That was not her
idea of warfare, and she could ascribe the completeness of the victory
only to the effect of her charms.
Mrs. Marvell's manner did not express entire subjugation; yet she seemed
anxious to dispel any doubts of her good faith, and if she left the
burden of the talk to her lively daughter it might have been because
she felt more capable of showing indulgence by her silence than in her
As for Mrs. Fairford, she had never seemed more brilliantly bent
on fusing the various elements under her hand. Undine had already
discovered that she adored her brother, and had guessed that this
would make her either a strong ally or a determined enemy. The latter
alternative, however, did not alarm the girl. She thought Mrs. Fairford
"bright," and wanted to be liked by her; and she was in the state of
dizzy self-assurance when it seemed easy to win any sympathy she chose
For the only other guests--Mrs. Fairford's husband, and the elderly
Charles Bowen who seemed to be her special friend--Undine had no
attention to spare: they remained on a plane with the dim pictures
hanging at her back. She had expected a larger party; but she was
relieved, on the whole, that it was small enough to permit of her
dominating it. Not that she wished to do so by any loudness of
assertion. Her quickness in noting external differences had already
taught her to modulate and lower her voice, and to replace "The I-dea!"
and "I wouldn't wonder" by more polished locutions; and she had not been
ten minutes at table before she found that to seem very much in love,
and a little confused and subdued by the newness and intensity of the
sentiment, was, to the Dagonet mind, the becoming attitude for a young
lady in her situation. The part was not hard to play, for she WAS in
love, of course. It was pleasant, when she looked across the table, to
meet Ralph's grey eyes, with that new look in them, and to feel that she
had kindled it; but I it was only part of her larger pleasure in
the general homage to her beauty, in the sensations of interest and
curiosity excited by everything about her, from the family portraits
overhead to the old Dagonet silver on the table--which were to be hers
too, after all!
The talk, as at Mrs. Fairford's, confused her by its lack of the
personal allusion, its tendency to turn to books, pictures and politics.
"Politics," to Undine, had always been like a kind of back-kitchen to
business--the place where the refuse was thrown and the doubtful messes
were brewed. As a drawing-room topic, and one to provoke disinterested
sentiments, it had the hollowness of Fourth of July orations, and her
mind wandered in spite of the desire to appear informed and competent.
Old Mr. Dagonet, with his reedy staccato voice, that gave polish and
relief to every syllable, tried to come to her aid by questioning her
affably about her family and the friends she had made in New York.
But the caryatid-parent, who exists simply as a filial prop, is not a
fruitful theme, and Undine, called on for the first time to view her own
progenitors as a subject of conversation, was struck by their lack of
points. She had never paused to consider what her father and mother were
"interested" in, and, challenged to specify, could have named--with
sincerity--only herself. On the subject of her New York friends it was
not much easier to enlarge; for so far her circle had grown less rapidly
than she expected. She had fancied Ralph's wooing would at once admit
her to all his social privileges; but he had shown a puzzling reluctance
to introduce her to the Van Degen set, where he came and went with such
familiarity; and the persons he seemed anxious to have her know--a few
frumpy "clever women" of his sister's age, and one or two brisk
old ladies in shabby houses with mahogany furniture and Stuart
portraits--did not offer the opportunities she sought.
"Oh, I don't know many people yet--I tell Ralph he's got to hurry up and
take me round," she said to Mr. Dagonet, with a side-sparkle for Ralph,
whose gaze, between the flowers and lights, she was aware of perpetually
"My daughter will take you--you must know his mother's friends," the old
gentleman rejoined while Mrs. Marvell smiled noncommittally.
"But you have a great friend of your own--the lady who takes you into
society," Mr. Dagonet pursued; and Undine had the sense that the
irrepressible Mabel was again "pushing in."
"Oh, yes--Mabel Lipscomb. We were school-mates," she said indifferently.
"Lipscomb? Lipscomb? What is Mr. Lipscomb's occupation?"
"He's a broker," said Undine, glad to be able to place her friend's
husband in so handsome a light. The subtleties of a professional
classification unknown to Apex had already taught her that in New York
it is more distinguished to be a broker than a dentist; and she was
surprised at Mr. Dagonet's lack of enthusiasm.
"Ah? A broker?" He said it almost as Popple might have said "A
DENTIST?" and Undine found herself astray in a new labyrinth of social
distinctions. She felt a sudden contempt for Harry Lipscomb, who had
already struck her as too loud, and irrelevantly comic. "I guess
Mabel'll get a divorce pretty soon," she added, desiring, for personal
reasons, to present Mrs. Lipscomb as favourably as possible.
Mr. Dagonet's handsome eye-brows drew together. "A divorce? H'm--that's
bad. Has he been misbehaving himself?"
Undine looked innocently surprised. "Oh, I guess not. They like each
other well enough. But he's been a disappointment to her. He isn't
in the right set, and I think Mabel realizes she'll never really get
anywhere till she gets rid of him."
These words, uttered in the high fluting tone that she rose to when sure
of her subject, fell on a pause which prolonged and deepened itself to
receive them, while every face at the table, Ralph Marvell's excepted,
reflected in varying degree Mr. Dagonet's pained astonishment.
"But, my dear young lady--what would your friend's situation be if, as
you put it, she 'got rid' of her husband on so trivial a pretext?"
Undine, surprised at his dullness, tried to explain. "Oh that wouldn't
be the reason GIVEN, of course. Any lawyer could fix it up for them.
Don't they generally call it desertion?"
There was another, more palpitating, silence, broken by a laugh from
"RALPH!" his mother breathed; then, turning to Undine, she said with
a constrained smile: "I believe in certain parts of the country
such--unfortunate arrangements--are beginning to be tolerated. But in
New York, in spite of our growing indifference, a divorced woman is
still--thank heaven!--at a decided disadvantage."
Undine's eyes opened wide. Here at last was a topic that really
interested her, and one that gave another amazing glimpse into the
camera obscura of New York society. "Do you mean to say Mabel would be
worse off, then? Couldn't she even go round as much as she does now?"
Mrs. Marvell met this gravely. "It would depend, I should say, on the
kind of people she wished to see."
"Oh, the very best, of course! That would be her only object."
Ralph interposed with another laugh. "You see, Undine, you'd better
think twice before you divorce me!"
"RALPH!" his mother again breathed; but the girl, flushed and sparkling,
flung back: "Oh, it all depends on YOU! Out in Apex, if a girl marries a
man who don't come up to what she expected, people consider it's to her
credit to want to change. YOU'D better think twice of that!"
"If I were only sure of knowing what you expect!" he caught up her joke,
tossing it back at her across the fascinated silence of their listeners.
"Why, EVERYTHING!" she announced--and Mr. Dagonet, turning, laid an
intricately-veined old hand on, hers, and said, with a change of tone
that relaxed the tension of the listeners: "My child, if you look like
that you'll get it."
It was doubtless owing to Mrs. Fairford's foresight that such
possibilities of tension were curtailed, after dinner, by her carrying
off Ralph and his betrothed to the theatre.
Mr. Dagonet, it was understood, always went to bed after an hour's whist
with his daughter; and the silent Mr. Fairford gave his evenings to
bridge at his club. The party, therefore, consisted only of Undine and
Ralph, with Mrs. Fairford and her attendant friend. Undine vaguely
wondered why the grave and grey-haired Mr. Bowen formed so invariable a
part of that lady's train; but she concluded that it was the York custom
for married ladies to have gentlemen "'round" (as girls had in Apex),
and that Mr. Bowen was the sole survivor of Laura Fairford's earlier
She had, however, little time to give to such conjectures, for the
performance they were attending--the debut of a fashionable London
actress--had attracted a large audience in which Undine immediately
recognized a number of familiar faces. Her engagement had been announced
only the day before, and she had the delicious sense of being "in
all the papers," and of focussing countless glances of interest and
curiosity as she swept through the theatre in Mrs. Fairford's wake.
Their stalls were near the stage, and progress thither was slow enough
to permit of prolonged enjoyment of this sensation. Before passing to
her place she paused for Ralph to remove her cloak, and as he lifted it
from her shoulders she heard a lady say behind her: "There she is--the
one in white, with the lovely back--" and a man answer: "Gad! Where did
he find anything as good as that?"
Anonymous approval was sweet enough; but she was to taste a moment more
exquisite when, in the proscenium box across the house, she saw Clare
Van Degen seated beside the prim figure of Miss Harriet Ray. "They're
here to see me with him--they hate it, but they couldn't keep away!"
She turned and lifted a smile of possessorship to Ralph. Mrs. Fairford
seemed also struck by the presence Of the two ladies, and Undine heard
her whisper to Mr. Bowen: "Do you see Clare over there--and Harriet with
her? Harriet WOULD COME--I call it Spartan! And so like Clare to ask
Her companion laughed. "It's one of the deepest instincts in human
nature. The murdered are as much given as the murderer to haunting the
scene of the crime."
Doubtless guessing Ralph's desire to have Undine to himself, Mrs.
Fairford had sent the girl in first; and Undine, as she seated herself,
was aware that the occupant of the next stall half turned to her, as
with a vague gesture of recognition. But just then the curtain rose, and
she became absorbed in the development of the drama, especially as it
tended to display the remarkable toilets which succeeded each other on
the person of its leading lady. Undine, seated at Ralph Marvell's side,
and feeling the thrill of his proximity as a subtler element in
the general interest she was exciting, was at last repaid for the
disappointment of her evening at the opera. It was characteristic of her
that she remembered her failures as keenly as her triumphs, and that the
passionate desire to obliterate, to "get even" with them, was always
among the latent incentives of her conduct. Now at last she was having
what she wanted--she was in conscious possession of the "real thing";
and through her other, diffused, sensations Ralph's adoration gave her
such a last refinement of pleasure as might have come to some warrior
Queen borne in triumph by captive princes, and reading in the eyes of
one the passion he dared not speak. When the curtain fell this vague
enjoyment was heightened by various acts of recognition. All the people
she wanted to "go with," as they said in Apex, seemed to be about her
in the stalls and boxes; and her eyes continued to revert with special
satisfaction to the incongruous group formed by Mrs. Peter Van Degen and
Miss Ray. The sight made it irresistible to whisper to Ralph: "You ought
to go round and talk to your cousin. Have you told her we're engaged?"
"Clare? of course. She's going to call on you tomorrow."
"Oh, she needn't put herself out--she's never been yet," said Undine
He made no rejoinder, but presently asked: "Who's that you're waving
"Mr. Popple. He's coming round to see us. You know he wants to paint
me." Undine fluttered and beamed as the brilliant Popple made his way
across the stalls to the seat which her neighbour had momentarily left.
"First-rate chap next to you--whoever he is--to give me this chance,"
the artist declared. "Ha, Ralph, my boy, how did you pull it off? That's
what we're all of us wondering." He leaned over to give Marvell's hand
the ironic grasp of celibacy. "Well, you've left us lamenting: he has,
you know. Miss Spragg. But I've got one pull over the others--I can
paint you! He can't forbid that, can he? Not before marriage, anyhow!"
Undine divided her shining glances between the two. "I guess he isn't
going to treat me any different afterward," she proclaimed with joyous
"Ah, well, there's no telling, you know. Hadn't we better begin at once?
Seriously, I want awfully to get you into the spring show."
"Oh, really? That would be too lovely!"
"YOU would be, certainly--the way I mean to do you. But I see Ralph
getting glum. Cheer up, my dear fellow; I daresay you'll be invited to
some of the sittings--that's for Miss Spragg to say.--Ah, here comes
your neighbour back, confound him--You'll let me know when we can
As Popple moved away Undine turned eagerly to Marvell. "Do you suppose
there's time? I'd love to have him to do me!"
Ralph smiled. "My poor child--he WOULD 'do' you, with a vengeance.
Infernal cheek, his asking you to sit--"
She stared. "But why? He's painted your cousin, and all the smart
"Oh, if a 'smart' portrait's all you want!"
"I want what the others want," she answered, frowning and pouting a
little. She was already beginning to resent in Ralph the slightest sign
of resistance to her pleasure; and her resentment took the form--a
familiar one in Apex courtships--of turning on him, in the next
entr'acte, a deliberately averted shoulder. The result of this was to
bring her, for the first time, in more direct relation to her other
neighbour. As she turned he turned too, showing her, above a shining
shirt-front fastened with a large imitation pearl, a ruddy plump snub
face without an angle in it, which yet looked sharper than a razor.
Undine's eyes met his with a startled look, and for a long moment they
remained suspended on each other's stare.
Undine at length shrank back with an unrecognizing face; but her
movement made her opera-glass slip to the floor, and her neighbour bent
down and picked it up.
"Well--don't you know me yet?" he said with a slight smile, as he
restored the glass to her.
She had grown white to the lips, and when she tried to speak the effort
produced only a faint click in her throat. She felt that the change in
her appearance must be visible, and the dread of letting Marvell see it
made her continue to turn her ravaged face to her other neighbour.
The round black eyes set prominently in the latter's round glossy
countenance had expressed at first only an impersonal and slightly
ironic interest; but a look of surprise grew in them as Undine's silence
"What's the matter? Don't you want me to speak to you?"
She became aware that Marvell, as if unconscious of her slight show of
displeasure, had left his seat, and was making his way toward the aisle;
and this assertion of independence, which a moment before she would so
deeply have resented, now gave her a feeling of intense relief.
"No--don't speak to me, please. I'll tell you another time--I'll
write." Her neighbour continued to gaze at her, forming his lips into a
noiseless whistle under his small dark moustache.
"Well, I--That's about the stiffest," he murmured; and as she made no
answer he added: "Afraid I'll ask to be introduced to your friend?"
She made a faint movement of entreaty. "I can't explain. I promise to
see you; but I ASK you not to talk to me now."
He unfolded his programme, and went on speaking in a low tone while he
affected to study it. "Anything to oblige, of course. That's always been
my motto. But is it a bargain--fair and square? You'll see me?"
She receded farther from him. "I promise. I--I WANT to," she faltered.
"All right, then. Call me up in the morning at the Driscoll Building.
She nodded, and he added in a still lower tone: "I suppose I can
congratulate you, anyhow?" and then, without waiting for her reply,
turned to study Mrs. Van Degen's box through his opera-glass. Clare, as
if aware of the scrutiny fixed on her from below leaned back and threw a
question over her shoulder to Ralph Marvell, who had just seated himself
"Who's the funny man with the red face talking to Miss Spragg?"
Ralph bent forward. "The man next to her? Never saw him before. But I
think you're mistaken: she's not speaking to him."
"She WAS--Wasn't she, Harriet?"
Miss Ray pinched her lips together without speaking, and Mrs. Van Degen
paused for the fraction of a second. "Perhaps he's an Apex friend," she
"Very likely. Only I think she'd have introduced him if he had been."
His cousin faintly shrugged. "Shall you encourage that?"
Peter Van Degen, who had strayed into his wife's box for a moment,
caught the colloquy, and lifted his opera-glass.
"The fellow next to Miss Spragg? (By George, Ralph, she's ripping
to-night!) Wait a minute--I know his face. Saw him in old Harmon
Driscoll's office the day of the Eubaw Mine meeting. This chap's his
secretary, or something. Driscoll called him in to give some facts to
the directors, and he seemed a mighty wide-awake customer."
Clare Van Degen turned gaily to her cousin. "If he has anything to
do with the Driscolls you'd better cultivate him! That's the kind of
acquaintance the Dagonets have always needed. I married to set them an
Ralph rose with a laugh. "You're right. I'll hurry back and make
his acquaintance." He held out his hand to his cousin, avoiding her
Undine, on entering her bedroom late that evening, was startled by the
presence of a muffled figure which revealed itself, through the dimness,
as the ungirded midnight outline of Mrs. Spragg.
"MOTHER? What on earth--?" the girl exclaimed, as Mrs. Spragg pressed
the electric button and flooded the room with light. The idea of a
mother's sitting up for her daughter was so foreign to Apex customs
that it roused only mistrust and irritation in the object of the
Mrs. Spragg came forward deprecatingly to lift the cloak from her
"I just HAD to, Undie--I told father I HAD to. I wanted to hear all
Undine shrugged away from her. "Mercy! At this hour? You'll be as white
as a sheet to-morrow, sitting up all night like this."
She moved toward the toilet-table, and began to demolish with feverish
hands the structure which Mrs. Heeny, a few hours earlier, had so
lovingly raised. But the rose caught in a mesh of hair, and Mrs. Spragg,
venturing timidly to release it, had a full view of her daughter's face
in the glass.
"Why, Undie, YOU'RE as white as a sheet now! You look fairly sick.
What's the matter, daughter?"
The girl broke away from her.
"Oh, can't you leave me alone, mother? There--do I look white NOW?" she
cried, the blood flaming into her pale cheeks; and as Mrs. Spragg
shrank back, she added more mildly, in the tone of a parent rebuking a
persistent child: "It's enough to MAKE anybody sick to be stared at that
Mrs. Spragg overflowed with compunction. "I'm so sorry, Undie. I guess
it was just seeing you in this glare of light."
"Yes--the light's awful; do turn some off," ordered Undine, for whom,
ordinarily, no radiance was too strong; and Mrs. Spragg, grateful to
have commands laid upon her, hastened to obey.
Undine, after this, submitted in brooding silence to having her dress
unlaced, and her slippers and dressing-gown brought to her. Mrs. Spragg
visibly yearned to say more, but she restrained the impulse lest it
should provoke her dismissal.
"Won't you take just a sup of milk before you go to bed?" she suggested
at length, as Undine sank into an armchair.
"I've got some for you right here in the parlour."
Without looking up the girl answered: "No. I don't want anything. Do go
Her mother seemed to be struggling between the life-long instinct
of obedience and a swift unformulated fear. "I'm going, Undie." She
wavered. "Didn't they receive you right, daughter?" she asked with
"What nonsense! How should they receive me? Everybody was lovely to me."
Undine rose to her feet and went on with her undressing, tossing her
clothes on the floor and shaking her hair over her bare shoulders.
Mrs. Spragg stooped to gather up the scattered garments as they fell,
folding them with a wistful caressing touch, and laying them on the
lounge, without daring to raise her eyes to her daughter. It was not
till she heard Undine throw herself on the bed that she went toward her
and drew the coverlet up with deprecating hands.
"Oh, do put the light out--I'm dead tired," the girl grumbled, pressing
her face into the pillow.
Mrs. Spragg turned away obediently; then, gathering all her scattered
impulses into a passionate act of courage, she moved back to the
"Undie--you didn't see anybody--I mean at the theatre? ANYBODY YOU
DIDN'T WANT TO SEE?"
Undine, at the question, raised her head and started right against
the tossed pillows, her white exasperated face close to her mother's
twitching features. The two women examined each other a moment, fear
and anger in their crossed glances; then Undine answered: "No, nobody.
Undine, late the next day, waited alone under the leafless trellising of
a wistaria arbour on the west side of the Central Park. She had put on
her plainest dress, and wound a closely, patterned veil over her least
vivid hat; but even thus toned down to the situation she was conscious
of blazing out from it inconveniently.
The habit of meeting young men in sequestered spots was not unknown to
her: the novelty was in feeling any embarrassment about it. Even now
she--was disturbed not so much by the unlikely chance of an accidental
encounter with Ralph Marvell as by the remembrance of similar meetings,
far from accidental, with the romantic Aaronson. Could it be that the
hand now adorned with Ralph's engagement ring had once, in this very
spot, surrendered itself to the riding-master's pressure? At the thought
a wave of physical disgust passed over her, blotting out another memory
as distasteful but more remote.
It was revived by the appearance of a ruddy middle-sized young man, his
stoutish figure tightly buttoned into a square-shouldered over-coat, who
presently approached along the path that led to the arbour. Silhouetted
against the slope of the asphalt, the newcomer revealed an outline thick
yet compact, with a round head set on a neck in which, at the first
chance, prosperity would be likely to develop a red crease. His face,
with its rounded surfaces, and the sanguine innocence of a complexion
belied by prematurely astute black eyes, had a look of jovial cunning
which Undine had formerly thought "smart" but which now struck her as
merely vulgar. She felt that in the Marvell set Elmer Moffatt would have
been stamped as "not a gentleman." Nevertheless something in his look
seemed to promise the capacity to develop into any character he might
care to assume; though it did not seem probable that, for the present,
that of a gentleman would be among them. He had always had a brisk
swaggering step, and the faintly impudent tilt of the head that she had
once thought "dashing"; but whereas this look had formerly denoted
a somewhat desperate defiance of the world and its judgments it now
suggested an almost assured relation to these powers; and Undine's heart
sank at the thought of what the change implied.
As he drew nearer, the young man's air of assurance was replaced by an
expression of mildly humorous surprise.
"Well--this is white of you. Undine!" he said, taking her lifeless
fingers into his dapperly gloved hand.
Through her veil she formed the words: "I said I'd come."
He laughed. "That's so. And you see I believed you. Though I might not
"I don't see the use of beginning like this," she interrupted nervously.
"That's so too. Suppose we walk along a little ways? It's rather chilly
He turned down the path that descended toward the Ramble and the girl
moved on beside him with her long flowing steps.
When they had reached the comparative shelter of the interlacing trees
Moffatt paused again to say: "If we're going to talk I'd like to see
you. Undine;" and after a first moment of reluctance she submissively
threw back her veil.
He let his eyes rest on her in silence; then he said judicially: "You've
filled out some; but you're paler." After another appreciative scrutiny
he added: "There's mighty few women as well worth looking at, and I'm
obliged to you for letting me have the chance again."
Undine's brows drew together, but she softened her frown to a quivering
"I'm glad to see you too, Elmer--I am, REALLY!"
He returned her smile while his glance continued to study her
humorously. "You didn't betray the fact last night. Miss Spragg."
"I was so taken aback. I thought you were out in Alaska somewhere."
The young man shaped his lips into the mute whistle by which he
habitually vented his surprise. "You DID? Didn't Abner E. Spragg tell
you he'd seen me down town?"
Undine gave him a startled glance. "Father? Why, have you seen him? He
never said a word about it!"
Her companion's whistle became audible. "He's running yet!" he said
gaily. "I wish I could scare some people as easy as I can your father."
The girl hesitated. "I never felt toward you the way father did," she
hazarded at length; and he gave her another long look in return.
"Well, if they'd left you alone I don't believe you'd ever have acted
mean to me," was the conclusion he drew from it.
"I didn't mean to, Elmer ... I give you my word--but I was so young ...
I didn't know anything...."
His eyes had a twinkle of reminiscent pleasantry. "No--I don't suppose
it WOULD teach a girl much to be engaged two years to a stiff like
Millard Binch; and that was about all that had happened to you before I
Undine flushed to the forehead. "Oh, Elmer--I was only a child when I
was engaged to Millard--"
"That's a fact. And you went on being one a good while afterward. The
Apex Eagle always head-lined you 'The child-bride'--"
"I can't see what's the use--now--."
"That ruled out of court too? See here. Undine--what CAN we talk about?
I understood that was what we were here for."
"Of course." She made an effort at recovery. "I only meant to
say--what's the use of raking up things that are over?"
"Rake up? That's the idea, is it? Was that why you tried to cut me last
"I--oh, Elmer! I didn't mean to; only, you see, I'm engaged."
"Oh, I saw that fast enough. I'd have seen it even if I didn't read the
papers." He gave a short laugh. "He was feeling pretty good, sitting
there alongside of you, wasn't he? I don't wonder he was. I remember.
But I don't see that that was a reason for cold-shouldering me. I'm
a respectable member of society now--I'm one of Harmon B. Driscoll's
private secretaries." He brought out the fact with mock solemnity.
But to Undine, though undoubtedly impressive, the statement did not
immediately present itself as a subject for pleasantry.
"Elmer Moffatt--you ARE?"
He laughed again. "Guess you'd have remembered me last night if you'd
She was following her own train of thought with a look of pale
intensity. "You're LIVING in New York, then--you're going to live here
"Well, it looks that way; as long as I can hang on to this job. Great
men always gravitate to the metropolis. And I gravitated here just as
Uncle Harmon B. was looking round for somebody who could give him an
inside tip on the Eubaw mine deal--you know the Driscolls are
pretty deep in Eubaw. I happened to go out there after our little
unpleasantness at Apex, and it was just the time the deal went through.
So in one way your folks did me a good turn when they made Apex too hot
for me: funny to think of, ain't it?"
Undine, recovering herself, held out her hand impulsively.
"I'm real glad of it--I mean I'm real glad you've had such a stroke of
"Much obliged," he returned. "By the way, you might mention the fact to
Abner E. Spragg next time you run across him."
"Father'll be real glad too, Elmer." She hesitated, and then went on:
"You must see now that it was natural father and mother should have felt
the way they did--"
"Oh, the only thing that struck me as unnatural was their making you
feel so too. But I'm free to admit I wasn't a promising case in those
days." His glance played over her for a moment. "Say, Undine--it was
good while it lasted, though, wasn't it?"
She shrank back with a burning face and eyes of misery.
"Why, what's the matter? That ruled out too? Oh, all right. Look at
here, Undine, suppose you let me know what you ARE here to talk about,
She cast a helpless glance down the windings of the wooded glen in which
they had halted.
"Just to ask you--to beg you--not to say anything of this kind
"Anything about you and me?"
She nodded mutely.
"Why, what's wrong? Anybody been saying anything against me?"
"Oh, no. It's not that!"
"What on earth is it, then--except that you're ashamed of me, one way
or another?" She made no answer, and he stood digging the tip of his
walking-stick into a fissure of the asphalt. At length he went on in a
tone that showed a first faint trace of irritation: "I don't want to
break into your gilt-edged crowd, if it's that you're scared of."
His tone seemed to increase her distress. "No, no--you don't understand.
All I want is that nothing shall be known."
"Yes; but WHY? It was all straight enough, if you come to that."
"It doesn't matter ... whether it was straight ... or ... not ..." He
interpolated a whistle which made her add: "What I mean is that out here
in the East they don't even like it if a girl's been ENGAGED before."
This last strain on his credulity wrung a laugh from Moffatt. "Gee!
How'd they expect her fair young life to pass? Playing 'Holy City' on
the melodeon, and knitting tidies for church fairs?"
"Girls are looked after here. It's all different. Their mothers go round
This increased her companion's hilarity and he glanced about him with a
pretense of compunction. "Excuse ME! I ought to have remembered. Where's
your chaperon, Miss Spragg?" He crooked his arm with mock ceremony.
"Allow me to escort you to the bew-fay. You see I'm onto the New York
A sigh of discouragement escaped her. "Elmer--if you really believe I
never wanted to act mean to you, don't you act mean to me now!"
"Act mean?" He grew serious again and moved nearer to her. "What is it
you want, Undine? Why can't you say it right out?"
"What I told you. I don't want Ralph Marvell--or any of them--to know
anything. If any of his folks found out, they'd never let him marry
me--never! And he wouldn't want to: he'd be so horrified. And it would
KILL me, Elmer--it would just kill me!"
She pressed close to him, forgetful of her new reserves and repugnances,
and impelled by the passionate absorbing desire to wring from him some
definite pledge of safety.
"Oh, Elmer, if you ever liked me, help me now, and I'll help you if I
get the chance!"
He had recovered his coolness as hers forsook her, and stood his ground
steadily, though her entreating hands, her glowing face, were near
enough to have shaken less sturdy nerves.
"That so, Puss? You just ask me to pass the sponge over Elmer Moffatt of
Apex City? Cut the gentleman when we meet? That the size of it?"
"Oh, Elmer, it's my first chance--I can't lose it!" she broke out,
"Nonsense, child! Of course you shan't. Here, look up. Undine--why, I
never saw you cry before. Don't you be afraid of me--_I_ ain't going to
interrupt the wedding march." He began to whistle a bar of Lohengrin. "I
only just want one little promise in return."
She threw a startled look at him and he added reassuringly: "Oh, don't
mistake me. I don't want to butt into your set--not for social purposes,
anyhow; but if ever it should come handy to know any of 'em in a
business way, would you fix it up for me--AFTER YOU'RE MARRIED?'"
Their eyes met, and she remained silent for a tremulous moment or two;
then she held out her hand. "Afterward--yes. I promise. And YOU promise,
"Oh, to have and to hold!" he sang out, swinging about to follow her as
she hurriedly began to retrace her steps.
The March twilight had fallen, and the Stentorian facade was all aglow,
when Undine regained its monumental threshold. She slipped through the
marble vestibule and soared skyward in the mirror-lined lift, hardly
conscious of the direction she was taking. What she wanted was solitude,
and the time to put some order into her thoughts; and she hoped to steal
into her room without meeting her mother. Through her thick veil the
clusters of lights in the Spragg drawing-room dilated and flowed
together in a yellow blur, from which, as she entered, a figure detached
itself; and with a start of annoyance she saw Ralph Marvell rise from
the perusal of the "fiction number" of a magazine which had replaced
"The Hound of the Baskervilles" on the onyx table.
"Yes; you told me not to come--and here I am." He lifted her hand to his
lips as his eyes tried to find hers through the veil.
She drew back with a nervous gesture. "I told you I'd be awfully late."
"I know--trying on! And you're horribly tired, and wishing with all your
might I wasn't here."
"I'm not so sure I'm not!" she rejoined, trying to hide her vexation in
"What a tragic little voice! You really are done up. I couldn't help
dropping in for a minute; but of course if you say so I'll be off." She
was removing her long gloves and he took her hands and drew her close.
"Only take off your veil, and let me see you."
A quiver of resistance ran through her: he felt it and dropped her
"Please don't tease. I never could bear it," she stammered, drawing
"Till to-morrow, then; that is, if the dress-makers permit."
She forced a laugh. "If I showed myself now you might not come back
to-morrow. I look perfectly hideous--it was so hot and they kept me so
"All to make yourself more beautiful for a man who's blind with your
The words made her smile, and moving nearer she bent her head and stood
still while he undid her veil. As he put it back their lips met, and his
look of passionate tenderness was incense to her.
But the next moment his expression passed from worship to concern.
"Dear! Why, what's the matter? You've been crying!"
She put both hands to her hat in the instinctive effort to hide her
face. His persistence was as irritating as her mother's.
"I told you it was frightfully hot--and all my things were horrid; and
it made me so cross and nervous!" She turned to the looking-glass with a
feint of smoothing her hair.
Marvell laid his hand on her arm, "I can't bear to see you so done up.
Why can't we be married to-morrow, and escape all these ridiculous
preparations? I shall hate your fine clothes if they're going to make
you so miserable."
She dropped her hands, and swept about on him, her face lit up by a new
idea. He was extraordinarily handsome and appealing, and her heart began
to beat faster.
"I hate it all too! I wish we COULD be married right away!"
Marvell caught her to him joyously. "Dearest--dearest! Don't, if you
don't mean it! The thought's too glorious!"
Undine lingered in his arms, not with any intent of tenderness, but as
if too deeply lost in a new train of thought to be conscious of his
"I suppose most of the things COULD be got ready sooner--if I said they
MUST," she brooded, with a fixed gaze that travelled past him. "And the
rest--why shouldn't the rest be sent over to Europe after us? I want to
go straight off with you, away from everything--ever so far away,
where there'll be nobody but you and me alone!" She had a flash of
illumination which made her turn her lips to his.
"Oh, my darling--my darling!" Marvell whispered.
Mr. and Mrs. Spragg were both given to such long periods of ruminating
apathy that the student of inheritance might have wondered whence Undine
derived her overflowing activity. The answer would have been obtained
by observing her father's business life. From the moment he set foot
in Wall Street Mr. Spragg became another man. Physically the change
revealed itself only by the subtlest signs. As he steered his way to his
office through the jostling crowd of William Street his relaxed muscles
did not grow more taut or his lounging gait less desultory. His
shoulders were hollowed by the usual droop, and his rusty black
waistcoat showed the same creased concavity at the waist, the same
flabby prominence below. It was only in his face that the difference was
perceptible, though even here it rather lurked behind the features than
openly modified them: showing itself now and then in the cautious glint
of half-closed eyes, the forward thrust of black brows, or a tightening
of the lax lines of the mouth--as the gleam of a night-watchman's light
might flash across the darkness of a shuttered house-front. The shutters
were more tightly barred than usual, when, on a morning some two
weeks later than the date of the incidents last recorded, Mr. Spragg
approached the steel and concrete tower in which his office occupied a
lofty pigeon-hole. Events had moved rapidly and somewhat surprisingly in
the interval, and Mr. Spragg had already accustomed himself to the fact
that his daughter was to be married within the week, instead of awaiting
the traditional post-Lenten date. Conventionally the change meant little
to him; but on the practical side it presented unforeseen difficulties.
Mr. Spragg had learned within the last weeks that a New York marriage
involved material obligations unknown to Apex. Marvell, indeed, had
been loftily careless of such questions; but his grandfather, on the
announcement of the engagement, had called on Mr. Spragg and put before
him, with polished precision, the young man's financial situation.
Mr. Spragg, at the moment, had been inclined to deal with his visitor in
a spirit of indulgent irony. As he leaned back in his revolving chair,
with feet adroitly balanced against a tilted scrap basket, his air of
relaxed power made Mr. Dagonet's venerable elegance seem as harmless as
that of an ivory jack-straw--and his first replies to his visitor were
made with the mildness of a kindly giant.
"Ralph don't make a living out of the law, you say? No, it didn't strike
me he'd be likely to, from the talks I've had with him. Fact is, the
law's a business that wants--" Mr. Spragg broke off, checked by a
protest from Mr. Dagonet. "Oh, a PROFESSION, you call it? It ain't a
business?" His smile grew more indulgent as this novel distinction
dawned on him. "Why, I guess that's the whole trouble with Ralph. Nobody
expects to make money in a PROFESSION; and if you've taught him to
regard the law that way, he'd better go right into cooking-stoves and
done with it."
Mr. Dagonet, within a narrower range, had his own play of humour; and it
met Mr. Spragg's with a leap. "It's because I knew he would manage to
make cooking-stoves as unremunerative as a profession that I saved him
from so glaring a failure by putting him into the law."
The retort drew a grunt of amusement from Mr. Spragg; and the eyes of
the two men met in unexpected understanding.
"That so? What can he do, then?" the future father-in-law enquired.
"He can write poetry--at least he tells me he can." Mr. Dagonet
hesitated, as if aware of the inadequacy of the alternative, and then
added: "And he can count on three thousand a year from me."
Mr. Spragg tilted himself farther back without disturbing his
subtly-calculated relation to the scrap basket.
"Does it cost anything like that to print his poetry?"
Mr. Dagonet smiled again: he was clearly enjoying his visit. "Dear,
no--he doesn't go in for 'luxe' editions. And now and then he gets ten
dollars from a magazine."
Mr. Spragg mused. "Wasn't he ever TAUGHT to work?"
"No; I really couldn't have afforded that."
"I see. Then they've got to live on two hundred and fifty dollars a
Mr. Dagonet remained pleasantly unmoved. "Does it cost anything like
that to buy your daughter's dresses?"
A subterranean chuckle agitated the lower folds of Mr. Spragg's
"I might put him in the way of something--I guess he's smart enough."
Mr. Dagonet made a gesture of friendly warning. "It will pay us both in
the end to keep him out of business," he said, rising as if to show that
his mission was accomplished.
The results of this friendly conference had been more serious than
Mr. Spragg could have foreseen--and the victory remained with his
antagonist. It had not entered into Mr. Spragg's calculations that he
would have to give his daughter any fixed income on her marriage. He
meant that she should have the "handsomest" wedding the New York press
had ever celebrated, and her mother's fancy was already afloat on a sea
of luxuries--a motor, a Fifth Avenue house, and a tiara that should
out-blaze Mrs. Van Degen's; but these were movable benefits, to be
conferred whenever Mr. Spragg happened to be "on the right side" of the
market. It was a different matter to be called on, at such short notice,
to bridge the gap between young Marvell's allowance and Undine's
requirements; and her father's immediate conclusion was that the
engagement had better be broken off. Such scissions were almost painless
in Apex, and he had fancied it would be easy, by an appeal to the girl's
pride, to make her see that she owed it to herself to do better.
"You'd better wait awhile and look round again," was the way he had put
it to her at the opening of the talk of which, even now, he could not
recall the close without a tremor.
Undine, when she took his meaning, had been terrible. Everything had
gone down before her, as towns and villages went down before one of the
tornadoes of her native state. Wait awhile? Look round? Did he suppose
she was marrying for MONEY? Didn't he see it was all a question, now
and here, of the kind of people she wanted to "go with"? Did he want
to throw her straight back into the Lipscomb set, to have her marry a
dentist and live in a West Side flat? Why hadn't they stayed in Apex, if
that was all he thought she was fit for? She might as well have married
Millard Binch, instead of handing him over to Indiana Frusk! Couldn't
her father understand that nice girls, in New York, didn't regard
getting married like going on a buggy-ride? It was enough to ruin a
girl's chances if she broke her engagement to a man in Ralph Marvell's
set. All kinds of spiteful things would be said about her, and she would
never be able to go with the right people again. They had better go back
to Apex right off--it was they and not SHE who had wanted to leave Apex,
anyhow--she could call her mother to witness it. She had always, when it
came to that, done what her father and mother wanted, but she'd given
up trying to make out what they were after, unless it was to make her
miserable; and if that was it, hadn't they had enough of it by this
time? She had, anyhow. But after this she meant to lead her own life;
and they needn't ask her where she was going, or what she meant to do,
because this time she'd die before she told them--and they'd made life
so hateful to her that she only wished she was dead already.
Mr. Spragg heard her out in silence, pulling at his beard with one
sallow wrinkled hand, while the other dragged down the armhole of his
waistcoat. Suddenly he looked up and said: "Ain't you in love with the
The girl glared back at him, her splendid brows beetling like an
Amazon's. "Do you think I'd care a cent for all the rest of it if I
"Well, if you are, you and he won't mind beginning in a small way."
Her look poured contempt on his ignorance. "Do you s'pose I'd drag him
down?" With a magnificent gesture she tore Marvell's ring from her
finger. "I'll send this back this minute. I'll tell him I thought he
was a rich man, and now I see I'm mistaken--" She burst into shattering
sobs, rocking her beautiful body back and forward in all the abandonment
of young grief; and her father stood over her, stroking her shoulder and
saying helplessly: "I'll see what I can do, Undine--"
All his life, and at ever-diminishing intervals, Mr. Spragg had been
called on by his womenkind to "see what he could do"; and the seeing had
almost always resulted as they wished. Undine did not have to send back
her ring, and in her state of trance-like happiness she hardly asked by
what means her path had been smoothed, but merely accepted her mother's
assurance that "father had fixed everything all right."
Mr. Spragg accepted the situation also. A son-in-law who expected to
be pensioned like a Grand Army veteran was a phenomenon new to his
experience; but if that was what Undine wanted she should have it. Only
two days later, however, he was met by a new demand--the young people
had decided to be married "right off," instead of waiting till June.
This change of plan was made known to Mr. Spragg at a moment when he was
peculiarly unprepared for the financial readjustment it necessitated. He
had always declared himself able to cope with any crisis if Undine and
her mother would "go steady"; but he now warned them of his inability to
keep up with the new pace they had set. Undine, not deigning to return
to the charge, had commissioned her mother to speak for her; and Mr.
Spragg was surprised to meet in his wife a firmness as inflexible as his
"I can't do it, Loot--can't put my hand on the cash," he had protested;
but Mrs. Spragg fought him inch by inch, her back to the wall--flinging
out at last, as he pressed her closer: "Well, if you want to know, she's
The bolt reached its mark, and her husband turned an agitated face on
"Elmer? What on earth--he didn't come HERE?"
"No; but he sat next to her the other night at the theatre, and she's
wild with us for not having warned her."
Mr. Spragg's scowl drew his projecting brows together. "Warned her of
what? What's Elmer to her? Why's she afraid of Elmer Moffatt?"
"She's afraid of his talking."
"Talking? What on earth can he say that'll hurt HER?"
"Oh, I don't know," Mrs. Spragg wailed. "She's so nervous I can hardly
get a word out of her."
Mr. Spragg's whitening face showed the touch of a new fear. "Is she
afraid he'll get round her again--make up to her? Is that what she
means by 'talking'?" "I don't know, I don't know. I only know she is
afraid--she's afraid as death of him."
For a long interval they sat silently looking at each other while their
heavy eyes exchanged conjectures: then Mr. Spragg rose from his chair,
saying, as he took up his hat: "Don't you fret, Leota; I'll see what I
He had been "seeing" now for an arduous fortnight; and the strain on his
vision had resulted in a state of tension such as he had not undergone
since the epic days of the Pure Water Move at Apex. It was not his habit
to impart his fears to Mrs. Spragg and Undine, and they continued the
bridal preparations, secure in their invariable experience that, once
"father" had been convinced of the impossibility of evading their
demands, he might be trusted to satisfy them by means with which his
womenkind need not concern themselves. Mr. Spragg, as he approached his
office on the morning in question, felt reasonably sure of fulfilling
these expectations; but he reflected that a few more such victories
would mean disaster.
He entered the vast marble vestibule of the Ararat Trust Building and
walked toward the express elevator that was to carry him up to his
office. At the door of the elevator a man turned to him, and he
recognized Elmer Moffatt, who put out his hand with an easy gesture.
Mr. Spragg did not ignore the gesture: he did not even withhold his
hand. In his code the cut, as a conscious sign of disapproval, did not
exist. In the south, if you had a grudge against a man you tried to
shoot him; in the west, you tried to do him in a mean turn in business;
but in neither region was the cut among the social weapons of offense.
Mr. Spragg, therefore, seeing Moffatt in his path, extended a lifeless
hand while he faced the young man scowlingly. Moffatt met the hand and
the scowl with equal coolness.
"Going up to your office? I was on my way there."
The elevator door rolled back, and Mr. Spragg, entering it, found his
companion at his side. They remained silent during the ascent to Mr.
Spragg's threshold; but there the latter turned to enquire ironically of
Moffatt: "Anything left to say?"
Moffatt smiled. "Nothing LEFT--no; I'm carrying a whole new line of
Mr. Spragg pondered the reply; then he opened the door and suffered
Moffatt to follow him in. Behind an inner glazed enclosure, with its one
window dimmed by a sooty perspective barred with chimneys, he seated
himself at a dusty littered desk, and groped instinctively for the
support of the scrap basket. Moffatt, uninvited, dropped into the
nearest chair, and Mr. Spragg said, after another silence: "I'm pretty
busy this morning."
"I know you are: that's why I'm here," Moffatt serenely answered. He
leaned back, crossing his legs, and twisting his small stiff moustache
with a plump hand adorned by a cameo.
"Fact is," he went on, "this is a coals-of-fire call. You think I owe
you a grudge, and I'm going to show you I'm not that kind. I'm going
to put you onto a good thing--oh, not because I'm so fond of you; just
because it happens to hit my sense of a joke."
While Moffatt talked Mr. Spragg took up the pile of letters on his desk
and sat shuffling them like a pack of cards. He dealt them deliberately
to two imaginary players; then he pushed them aside and drew out his
"All right--I carry one too," said the young man easily. "But you'll
find it's time gained to hear what I've got to say."
Mr. Spragg considered the vista of chimneys without speaking, and
Moffatt continued: "I don't suppose you care to hear the story of my
life, so I won't refer you to the back numbers. You used to say out in
Apex that I spent too much time loafing round the bar of the Mealey
House; that was one of the things you had against me. Well, maybe I
did--but it taught me to talk, and to listen to the other fellows too.
Just at present I'm one of Harmon B. Driscoll's private secretaries, and
some of that Mealey House loafing has come in more useful than any job I
ever put my hand to. The old man happened to hear I knew something about
the inside of the Eubaw deal, and took me on to have the information
where he could get at it. I've given him good talk for his money;
but I've done some listening too. Eubaw ain't the only commodity the
Driscolls deal in."
Mr. Spragg restored his watch to his pocket and shifted his drowsy gaze
from the window to his visitor's face.
"Yes," said Moffatt, as if in reply to the movement, "the Driscolls are
getting busy out in Apex. Now they've got all the street railroads in
their pocket they want the water-supply too--but you know that as well
as I do. Fact is, they've got to have it; and there's where you and I
Mr. Spragg thrust his hands in his waistcoat arm-holes and turned his
eyes back to the window.
"I'm out of that long ago," he said indifferently.
"Sure," Moffatt acquiesced; "but you know what went on when you were in
"Well?" said Mr. Spragg, shifting one hand to the Masonic emblem on his
"Well, Representative James J. Rolliver, who was in it with you, ain't
out of it yet. He's the man the Driscolls are up against. What d'you
know about him?"
Mr. Spragg twirled the emblem thoughtfully. "Driscoll tell you to come
Moffatt laughed. "No, SIR--not by a good many miles."
Mr. Spragg removed his feet from the scrap basket and straightened
himself in his chair.
"Well--I didn't either; good morning, Mr. Moffatt."
The young man stared a moment, a humorous glint in his small black eyes;
but he made no motion to leave his seat. "Undine's to be married next
week, isn't she?" he asked in a conversational tone.
Mr. Spragg's face blackened and he swung about in his revolving chair.
"You go to--"
Moffatt raised a deprecating hand. "Oh, you needn't warn me off. I
don't want to be invited to the wedding. And I don't want to forbid the
There was a derisive sound in Mr. Spragg's throat.
"But I DO want to get out of Driscoll's office," Moffatt imperturbably
continued. "There's no future there for a fellow like me. I see things
big. That's the reason Apex was too tight a fit for me. It's only
the little fellows that succeed in little places. New York's my
size--without a single alteration. I could prove it to you to-morrow if
I could put my hand on fifty thousand dollars."
Mr. Spragg did not repeat his gesture of dismissal: he was once more
listening guardedly but intently. Moffatt saw it and continued.
"And I could put my hand on double that sum--yes, sir, DOUBLE--if you'd
just step round with me to old Driscoll's office before five P. M. See
the connection, Mr. Spragg?"
The older man remained silent while his visitor hummed a bar or two of
"In the Gloaming"; then he said: "You want me to tell Driscoll what I
know about James J. Rolliver?"
"I want you to tell the truth--I want you to stand for political purity
in your native state. A man of your prominence owes it to the community,
sir," cried Moffatt. Mr. Spragg was still tormenting his Masonic emblem.
"Rolliver and I always stood together," he said at last, with a tinge of
"Well, how much have you made out of it? Ain't he always been ahead of
"I can't do it--I can't do it," said Mr. Spragg, bringing his clenched
hand down on the desk, as if addressing an invisible throng of
Moffatt rose without any evidence of disappointment in his ruddy
countenance. "Well, so long," he said, moving toward the door. Near
the threshold he paused to add carelessly: "Excuse my referring to a
personal matter--but I understand Miss Spragg's wedding takes place next
Mr. Spragg was silent.
"How's that?" Moffatt continued unabashed. "I saw in the papers the date
was set for the end of June."
Mr. Spragg rose heavily from his seat. "I presume my daughter has her
reasons," he said, moving toward the door in Moffatt's wake.
"I guess she has--same as I have for wanting you to step round with me
to old Driscoll's. If Undine's reasons are as good as mine--"
"Stop right here, Elmer Moffatt!" the older man broke out with lifted
hand. Moffatt made a burlesque feint of evading a blow; then his face
grew serious, and he moved close to Mr. Spragg, whose arm had fallen to
"See here, I know Undine's reasons. I've had a talk with her--didn't
she tell you? SHE don't beat about the bush the way you do. She told me
straight out what was bothering her. She wants the Marvells to think
she's right out of Kindergarten. 'No goods sent out on approval from
this counter.' And I see her point--_I_ don't mean to publish my
meemo'rs. Only a deal's a deal." He paused a moment, twisting his
fingers about the heavy gold watch-chain that crossed his waistcoat.
"Tell you what, Mr. Spragg, I don't bear malice--not against Undine,
anyway--and if I could have afforded it I'd have been glad enough to
oblige her and forget old times. But you didn't hesitate to kick me when
I was down and it's taken me a day or two to get on my legs again after
that kicking. I see my way now to get there and keep there; and there's
a kinder poetic justice in your being the man to help me up. If I can
get hold of fifty thousand dollars within a day or so I don't care who's
got the start of me. I've got a dead sure thing in sight, and you're the
only man that can get it for me. Now do you see where we're coming out?"
Mr. Spragg, during this discourse, had remained motionless, his hands
in his pockets, his jaws moving mechanically, as though he mumbled a
tooth-pick under his beard. His sallow cheek had turned a shade paler,
and his brows hung threateningly over his half-closed eyes. But there
was no threat--there was scarcely more than a note of dull curiosity--in
the voice with which he said: "You mean to talk?"
Moffatt's rosy face grew as hard as a steel safe. "I mean YOU to
talk--to old Driscoll." He paused, and then added: "It's a hundred
thousand down, between us."
Mr. Spragg once more consulted his watch. "I'll see you again," he said
with an effort.
Moffatt struck one fist against the other. "No, SIR--you won't! You'll
only hear from me--through the Marvell family. Your news ain't worth a
dollar to Driscoll if he don't get it to-day."
He was checked by the sound of steps in the outer office, and Mr.
Spragg's stenographer appeared in the doorway.
"It's Mr. Marvell," she announced; and Ralph Marvell, glowing with haste
and happiness, stood between the two men, holding out his hand to Mr.
"Am I awfully in the way, sir? Turn me out if I am--but first let me
just say a word about this necklace I've ordered for Un--"
He broke off, made aware by Mr. Spragg's glance of the presence of Elmer
Moffatt, who, with unwonted discretion, had dropped back into the
shadow of the door. Marvell turned on Moffatt a bright gaze full of the
instinctive hospitality of youth; but Moffatt looked straight past him
at Mr. Spragg. The latter, as if in response to an imperceptible signal,
mechanically pronounced his visitor's name; and the two young men moved
toward each other.
"I beg your pardon most awfully--am I breaking up an important
conference?" Ralph asked as he shook hands.
"Why, no--I guess we're pretty nearly through. I'll step outside and woo
the blonde while you're talking," Moffatt rejoined in the same key.
"Thanks so much--I shan't take two seconds." Ralph broke off to
scrutinize him. "But haven't we met before? It seems to me I've seen
Moffatt seemed about to answer, but his reply was checked by an abrupt
movement on the part of Mr. Spragg. There was a perceptible pause,
during which Moffatt's bright black glance rested questioningly on
Ralph; then he looked again at the older man, and their eyes held each
other for a silent moment.
"Why, no--not as I'm aware of, Mr. Marvell," Moffatt said, addressing
himself amicably to Ralph. "Better late than never, though--and I hope
to have the pleasure soon again."
He divided a nod between the two men, and passed into the outer office,
where they heard him addressing the stenographer in a strain of
The July sun enclosed in a ring of fire the ilex grove of a villa in the
hills near Siena.
Below, by the roadside, the long yellow house seemed to waver and
palpitate in the glare; but steep by steep, behind it, the cool
ilex-dusk mounted to the ledge where Ralph Marvell, stretched on his
back in the grass, lay gazing up at a black reticulation of branches
between which bits of sky gleamed with the hardness and brilliancy of
Up there too the air was thick with heat; but compared with the white
fire below it was a dim and tempered warmth, like that of the churches
in which he and Undine sometimes took refuge at the height of the torrid
Ralph loved the heavy Italian summer, as he had loved the light spring
days leading up to it: the long line of dancing days that had drawn them
on and on ever since they had left their ship at Naples four months
earlier. Four months of beauty, changeful, inexhaustible, weaving itself
about him in shapes of softness and strength; and beside him, hand in
hand with him, embodying that spirit of shifting magic, the radiant
creature through whose eyes he saw it. This was what their hastened
marriage had blessed them with, giving them leisure, before summer came,
to penetrate to remote folds of the southern mountains, to linger in the
shade of Sicilian orange-groves, and finally, travelling by slow stages
to the Adriatic, to reach the central hill-country where even in July
they might hope for a breathable air.
To Ralph the Sienese air was not only breathable but intoxicating. The
sun, treading the earth like a vintager, drew from it heady fragrances,
crushed out of it new colours. All the values of the temperate landscape
were reversed: the noon high-lights were whiter but the shadows had
unimagined colour. On the blackness of cork and ilex and cypress lay the
green and purple lustres, the coppery iridescences, of old bronze; and
night after night the skies were wine-blue and bubbling with stars.
Ralph said to himself that no one who had not seen Italy thus prostrate
beneath the sun knew what secret treasures she could yield.
As he lay there, fragments of past states of emotion, fugitive
felicities of thought and sensation, rose and floated on the surface
of his thoughts. It was one of those moments when the accumulated
impressions of life converge on heart and brain, elucidating, enlacing
each other, in a mysterious confusion of beauty. He had had glimpses of
such a state before, of such mergings of the personal with the general
life that one felt one's self a mere wave on the wild stream of being,
yet thrilled with a sharper sense of individuality than can be known
within the mere bounds of the actual. But now he knew the sensation in
its fulness, and with it came the releasing power of language. Words
were flashing like brilliant birds through the boughs overhead; he had
but to wave his magic wand to have them flutter down to him. Only they
were so beautiful up there, weaving their fantastic flights against the
blue, that it was pleasanter, for the moment, to watch them and let the
He stared up at the pattern they made till his eyes ached with excess of
light; then he changed his position and looked at his wife.
Undine, near by, leaned against a gnarled tree with the slightly
constrained air of a person unused to sylvan abandonments. Her beautiful
back could not adapt itself to the irregularities of the tree-trunk,
and she moved a little now and then in the effort to find an easier
position. But her expression was serene, and Ralph, looking up at her
through drowsy lids, thought her face had never been more exquisite.
"You look as cool as a wave," he said, reaching out for the hand on her
knee. She let him have it, and he drew it closer, scrutinizing it as if
it had been a bit of precious porcelain or ivory. It was small and soft,
a mere featherweight, a puff-ball of a hand--not quick and thrilling,
not a speaking hand, but one to be fondled and dressed in rings, and to
leave a rosy blur in the brain. The fingers were short and tapering,
dimpled at the base, with nails as smooth as rose-leaves. Ralph lifted
them one by one, like a child playing with piano-keys, but they were
inelastic and did not spring back far--only far enough to show the
He turned the hand over and traced the course of its blue veins from the
wrist to the rounding of the palm below the fingers; then he put a kiss
in the warm hollow between. The upper world had vanished: his universe
had shrunk to the palm of a hand. But there was no sense of diminution.
In the mystic depths whence his passion sprang, earthly dimensions were
ignored and the curve of beauty was boundless enough to hold whatever
the imagination could pour into it. Ralph had never felt more convinced
of his power to write a great poem; but now it was Undine's hand which
held the magic wand of expression.
She stirred again uneasily, answering his last words with a faint accent
"I don't FEEL cool. You said there'd be a breeze up here.".
"You poor darling! Wasn't it ever as hot as this in Apex?"
She withdrew her hand with a slight grimace.
"Yes--but I didn't marry you to go back to Apex!"
Ralph laughed again; then he lifted himself on his elbow and regained
the hand. "I wonder what you DID marry me for?"
"Mercy! It's too hot for conundrums." She spoke without impatience, but
with a lassitude less joyous than his.
He roused himself. "Do you really mind the heat so much? We'll go, if
She sat up eagerly. "Go to Switzerland, you mean?"
"Well, I hadn't taken quite as long a leap. I only meant we might drive
back to Siena."
She relapsed listlessly against her tree-trunk. "Oh, Siena's hotter than
"We could go and sit in the cathedral--it's always cool there at
"We've sat in the cathedral at sunset every day for a week."
"Well, what do you say to stopping at Lecceto on the way? I haven't
shown you Lecceto yet; and the drive back by moonlight would be
This woke her to a slight show of interest. "It might be nice--but where
could we get anything to eat?"
Ralph laughed again. "I don't believe we could. You're too practical."
"Well, somebody's got to be. And the food in the hotel is too disgusting
if we're not on time."
"I admit that the best of it has usually been appropriated by the
extremely good-looking cavalry-officer who's so keen to know you."
Undine's face brightened. "You know he's not a Count; he's a Marquis.
His name's Roviano; his palace in Rome is in the guide-books, and
he speaks English beautifully. Celeste found out about him from the
headwaiter," she said, with the security of one who treats of recognized
Marvell, sitting upright, reached lazily across the grass for his hat.
"Then there's all the more reason for rushing back to defend our share."
He spoke in the bantering tone which had become the habitual expression
of his tenderness; but his eyes softened as they absorbed in a last
glance the glimmering submarine light of the ancient grove, through
which Undine's figure wavered nereid-like above him.
"You never looked your name more than you do now," he said, kneeling
at her side and putting his arm about her. She smiled back a little
vaguely, as if not seizing his allusion, and being content to let it
drop into the store of unexplained references which had once stimulated
her curiosity but now merely gave her leisure to think of other things.
But her smile was no less lovely for its vagueness, and indeed, to
Ralph, the loveliness was enhanced by the latent doubt. He remembered
afterward that at that moment the cup of life seemed to brim over.
"Come, dear--here or there--it's all divine!"
In the carriage, however, she remained insensible to the soft spell of
the evening, noticing only the heat and dust, and saying, as they passed
under the wooded cliff of Lecceto, that they might as well have stopped
there after all, since with such a headache as she felt coming on she
didn't care if she dined or not. Ralph looked up yearningly at the long
walls overhead; but Undine's mood was hardly favourable to communion
with such scenes, and he made no attempt to stop the carriage. Instead
he presently said: "If you're tired of Italy, we've got the world to
She did not speak for a moment; then she said: "It's the heat I'm tired
of. Don't people generally come here earlier?"
"Yes. That's why I chose the summer: so that we could have it all to
She tried to put a note of reasonableness into her voice. "If you'd told
me we were going everywhere at the wrong time, of course I could have
arranged about my clothes."
"You poor darling! Let us, by all means, go to the place where the
clothes will be right: they're too beautiful to be left out of our
scheme of life."
Her lips hardened. "I know you don't care how I look. But you didn't
give me time to order anything before we were married, and I've got
nothing but my last winter's things to wear."
Ralph smiled. Even his subjugated mind perceived the inconsistency
of Undine's taxing him with having hastened their marriage; but her
variations on the eternal feminine still enchanted him.
"We'll go wherever you please--you make every place the one place," he
said, as if he were humouring an irresistible child.
"To Switzerland, then? Celeste says St. Moritz is too heavenly,"
exclaimed Undine, who gathered her ideas of Europe chiefly from the
conversation of her experienced attendant.
"One can be cool short of the Engadine. Why not go south again--say to
"Capri? Is that the island we saw from Naples, where the artists go?"
She drew her brows together. "It would be simply awful getting there in
"Well, then, I know a little place in Switzerland where one can still
get away from the crowd, and we can sit and look at a green water-fall
while I lie in wait for adjectives."
Mr. Spragg's astonishment on learning that his son-in-law contemplated
maintaining a household on the earnings of his Muse was still matter for
pleasantry between the pair; and one of the humours of their first weeks
together had consisted in picturing themselves as a primeval couple
setting forth across a virgin continent and subsisting on the adjectives
which Ralph was to trap for his epic. On this occasion, however, his
wife did not take up the joke, and he remained silent while their
carriage climbed the long dusty hill to the Fontebranda gate. He had
seen her face droop as he suggested the possibility of an escape from
the crowds in Switzerland, and it came to him, with the sharpness of a
knife-thrust, that a crowd was what she wanted--that she was sick to
death of being alone with him.
He sat motionless, staring ahead at the red-brown walls and towers
on the steep above them. After all there was nothing sudden in his
discovery. For weeks it had hung on the edge of consciousness, but
he had turned from it with the heart's instinctive clinging to the
unrealities by which it lives. Even now a hundred qualifying reasons
rushed to his aid. They told him it was not of himself that Undine had
wearied, but only of their present way of life. He had said a moment
before, without conscious exaggeration, that her presence made any place
the one place; yet how willingly would he have consented to share in
such a life as she was leading before their marriage? And he had to
acknowledge their months of desultory wandering from one remote Italian
hill-top to another must have seemed as purposeless to her as balls and
dinners would have been to him. An imagination like his, peopled with
such varied images and associations, fed by so many currents from the
long stream of human experience, could hardly picture the bareness of
the small half-lit place in which his wife's spirit fluttered. Her mind
was as destitute of beauty and mystery as the prairie school-house in
which she had been educated; and her ideals seemed to Ralph as pathetic
as the ornaments made of corks and cigar-bands with which her infant
hands had been taught to adorn it. He was beginning to understand this,
and learning to adapt himself to the narrow compass of her experience.
The task of opening new windows in her mind was inspiring enough to give
him infinite patience; and he would not yet own to himself that her
pliancy and variety were imitative rather than spontaneous.
Meanwhile he had no desire to sacrifice her wishes to his, and it
distressed him that he dared not confess his real reason for avoiding
the Engadine. The truth was that their funds were shrinking faster than
he had expected. Mr. Spragg, after bluntly opposing their hastened
marriage on the ground that he was not prepared, at such short notice,
to make the necessary provision for his daughter, had shortly afterward
(probably, as Undine observed to Ralph, in consequence of a lucky "turn"
in the Street) met their wishes with all possible liberality, bestowing
on them a wedding in conformity with Mrs. Spragg's ideals and up to the
highest standard of Mrs. Heeny's clippings, and pledging himself to
provide Undine with an income adequate to so brilliant a beginning. It
was understood that Ralph, on their return, should renounce the law for
some more paying business; but this seemed the smallest of sacrifices to
make for the privilege of calling Undine his wife; and besides, he still
secretly hoped that, in the interval, his real vocation might declare
itself in some work which would justify his adopting the life of
He had assumed that Undine's allowance, with the addition of his own
small income, would be enough to satisfy their needs. His own were few,
and had always been within his means; but his wife's daily requirements,
combined with her intermittent outbreaks of extravagance, had thrown out
all his calculations, and they were already seriously exceeding their
If any one had prophesied before his marriage that he would find it
difficult to tell this to Undine he would have smiled at the suggestion;
and during their first days together it had seemed as though pecuniary
questions were the last likely to be raised between them. But his
marital education had since made strides, and he now knew that a
disregard for money may imply not the willingness to get on without
it but merely a blind confidence that it will somehow be provided. If
Undine, like the lilies of the field, took no care, it was not because
her wants were as few but because she assumed that care would be taken
for her by those whose privilege it was to enable her to unite floral
insouciance with Sheban elegance.
She had met Ralph's first note of warning with the assurance that she
"didn't mean to worry"; and her tone implied that it was his business to
do so for her. He certainly wanted to guard her from this as from all
other cares; he wanted also, and still more passionately after the topic
had once or twice recurred between them, to guard himself from the risk
of judging where he still adored. These restraints to frankness kept him
silent during the remainder of the drive, and when, after dinner, Undine
again complained of her headache, he let her go up to her room and
wandered out into the dimly lit streets to renewed communion with his
They hung on him insistently as darkness fell, and Siena grew vocal with
that shrill diversity of sounds that breaks, on summer nights, from
every cleft of the masonry in old Italian towns. Then the moon rose,
unfolding depth by depth the lines of the antique land; and Ralph,
leaning against an old brick parapet, and watching each silver-blue
remoteness disclose itself between the dark masses of the middle
distance, felt his spirit enlarged and pacified. For the first time, as
his senses thrilled to the deep touch of beauty, he asked himself if out
of these floating and fugitive vibrations he might not build something
concrete and stable, if even such dull common cares as now oppressed him
might not become the motive power of creation. If he could only, on
the spot, do something with all the accumulated spoils of the last
months--something that should both put money into his pocket and harmony
into the rich confusion of his spirit! "I'll write--I'll write: that
must be what the whole thing means," he said to himself, with a vague
clutch at some solution which should keep him a little longer hanging
half-way down the steep of disenchantment.
He would have stayed on, heedless of time, to trace the ramifications
of his idea in the complex beauty of the scene, but for the longing to
share his mood with Undine. For the last few months every thought and
sensation had been instantly transmuted into such emotional impulses
and, though the currents of communication between himself and Undine
were neither deep nor numerous, each fresh rush of feeling seemed
strong enough to clear a way to her heart. He hurried back, almost
breathlessly, to the inn; but even as he knocked at her door the subtle
emanation of other influences seemed to arrest and chill him.
She had put out the lamp, and sat by the window in the moonlight, her
head propped on a listless hand. As Marvell entered she turned; then,
without speaking, she looked away again.
He was used to this mute reception, and had learned that it had no
personal motive, but was the result of an extremely simplified social
code. Mr. and Mrs. Spragg seldom spoke to each other when they met, and
words of greeting seemed almost unknown to their domestic vocabulary.
Marvell, at first, had fancied that his own warmth would call forth a
response from his wife, who had been so quick to learn the forms of
worldly intercourse; but he soon saw that she regarded intimacy as a
pretext for escaping from such forms into a total absence of expression.
To-night, however, he felt another meaning in her silence, and perceived
that she intended him to feel it. He met it by silence, but of a
different kind; letting his nearness speak for him as he knelt beside
her and laid his cheek against hers. She seemed hardly aware of
the gesture; but to that he was also used. She had never shown any
repugnance to his tenderness, but such response as it evoked was remote
and Ariel-like, suggesting, from the first, not so much of the recoil of
ignorance as the coolness of the element from which she took her name.
As he pressed her to him she seemed to grow less impassive and he felt
her resign herself like a tired child. He held his breath, not daring to
break the spell.
At length he whispered: "I've just seen such a wonderful thing--I wish
you'd been with me!"
"What sort of a thing?" She turned her head with a faint show of
"A--I don't know--a vision.... It came to me out there just now with the
"A vision?" Her interest flagged. "I never cared much about spirits.
Mother used to try to drag me to seances--but they always made me
Ralph laughed. "I don't mean a dead spirit but a living one! I saw the
vision of a book I mean to do. It came to me suddenly, magnificently,
swooped down on me as that big white moon swooped down on the black
landscape, tore at me like a great white eagle-like the bird of Jove!
After all, imagination WAS the eagle that devoured Prometheus!"
She drew away abruptly, and the bright moonlight showed him the
apprehension in her face. "You're not going to write a book HERE?"
He stood up and wandered away a step or two; then he turned and came
back. "Of course not here. Wherever you want. The main point is that
it's come to me--no, that it's come BACK to me! For it's all these
months together, it's all our happiness--it's the meaning of life that
I've found, and it's you, dearest, you who've given it to me!"
He dropped down beside her again; but she disengaged herself and he
heard a little sob in her throat.
"Undine--what's the matter?"
"Nothing...I don't know...I suppose I'm homesick..."
"Homesick? You poor darling! You're tired of travelling? What is it?"
"I don't know...I don't like Europe...it's not what I expected, and I
think it's all too dreadfully dreary!" The words broke from her in a
long wail of rebellion.
Marvell gazed at her perplexedly. It seemed strange that such unguessed
thoughts should have been stirring in the heart pressed to his. "It's
less interesting than you expected--or less amusing? Is that it?"
"It's dirty and ugly--all the towns we've been to are disgustingly
dirty. I loathe the smells and the beggars. I'm sick and tired of the
stuffy rooms in the hotels. I thought it would all be so splendid--but
New York's ever so much nicer!"
"Not New York in July?"
"I don't care--there are the roof-gardens, anyway; and there are always
people round. All these places seem as if they were dead. It's all like
some awful cemetery."
A sense of compunction checked Marvell's laughter. "Don't cry,
dear--don't! I see, I understand. You're lonely and the heat has tired
you out. It IS dull here; awfully dull; I've been stupid not to feel it.
But we'll start at once--we'll get out of it."
She brightened instantly. "We'll go up to Switzerland?"
"We'll go up to Switzerland." He had a fleeting glimpse of the quiet
place with the green water-fall, where he might have made tryst with his
vision; then he turned his mind from it and said: "We'll go just where
you want. How soon can you be ready to start?"
"Oh, to-morrow--the first thing to-morrow! I'll make Celeste get out
of bed now and pack. Can we go right through to St. Moritz? I'd rather
sleep in the train than in another of these awful places."
She was on her feet in a flash, her face alight, her hair waving and
floating about her as though it rose on her happy heart-beats.
"Oh, Ralph, it's SWEET of you, and I love you!" she cried out, letting
him take her to his breast.
In the quiet place with the green water-fall Ralph's vision might
have kept faith with him; but how could he hope to surprise it in the
midsummer crowds of St. Moritz? Undine, at any rate, had found there
what she wanted; and when he was at her side, and her radiant smile
included him, every other question was in abeyance. But there were hours
of solitary striding over bare grassy slopes, face to face with the
ironic interrogation of sky and mountains, when his anxieties came back,
more persistent and importunate. Sometimes they took the form of merely
material difficulties. How, for instance, was he to meet the cost of
their ruinous suite at the Engadine Palace while he awaited Mr. Spragg's
next remittance? And once the hotel bills were paid, what would be left
for the journey back to Paris, the looming expenses there, the price
of the passage to America? These questions would fling him back on the
thought of his projected book, which was, after all, to be what the
masterpieces of literature had mostly been--a pot-boiler. Well! Why not?
Did not the worshipper always heap the rarest essences on the altar of
his divinity? Ralph still rejoiced in the thought of giving back to
Undine something of the beauty of their first months together. But even
on his solitary walks the vision eluded him; and he could spare so few
hours to its pursuit!
Undine's days were crowded, and it was still a matter of course that
where she went he should follow. He had risen visibly in her opinion
since they had been absorbed into the life of the big hotels, and she
had seen that his command of foreign tongues put him at an advantage
even in circles where English was generally spoken if not understood.
Undine herself, hampered by her lack of languages, was soon drawn into
the group of compatriots who struck the social pitch of their hotel.
Their types were familiar enough to Ralph, who had taken their measure
in former wanderings, and come across their duplicates in every scene