Part 3 out of 5
pillowy divan, stretched out an arm, cried: "Fulmer! Fulmer!"
and, while Susy Lansing stood in the middle of the room with
widening eyes, a man emerged from the more deeply cushioned and
scented twilight of some inner apartment, and she saw with
surprise Nat Fulmer, the good Nat Fulmer of the New Hampshire
bungalow and the ubiquitous progeny, standing before her in
lordly ease, his hands in his pockets, a cigarette between his
lips, his feet solidly planted in the insidious depths of one of
Violet Melrose's white leopard skins.
"Susy!" he shouted with open arms; and Mrs. Melrose murmured:
"You didn't know, then? You hadn't heard of his masterpieces?"
In spite of herself, Susy burst into a laugh. "Is Nat your
Mrs. Melrose looked at her reproachfully.
Fulmer laughed. "No; I'm Grace's. But Mrs. Melrose has been
our Providence, and ...."
"Providence?" his hostess interrupted. "Don't talk as if you
were at a prayer-meeting! He had an exhibition in New York ...
it was the most fabulous success. He's come abroad to make
studies for the decoration of my music-room in New York. Ursula
Gillow has given him her garden-house at Roslyn to do. And Mrs.
Bockheimer's ball-room--oh, Fulmer, where are the cartoons?"
She sprang up, tossed about some fashion-papers heaped on a
lacquer table, and sank back exhausted by the effort. "I'd got
as far as Brindisi. I've travelled day and night to be here to
meet him," she declared. "But, you darling," and she held out a
caressing hand to Susy, "I'm forgetting to ask if you've had
An hour later, over the tea-table, Susy already felt herself
mysteriously reabsorbed into what had so long been her native
element. Ellie Vanderlyn had brought a breath of it to Venice;
but Susy was then nourished on another air, the air of Nick's
presence and personality; now that she was abandoned, left again
to her own devices, she felt herself suddenly at the mercy of
the influences from which she thought she had escaped.
In the queer social whirligig from which she had so lately fled,
it seemed natural enough that a shake of the box should have
tossed Nat Fulmer into celebrity, and sent Violet Melrose
chasing back from the ends of the earth to bask in his success.
Susy knew that Mrs. Melrose belonged to the class of moral
parasites; for in that strange world the parts were sometimes
reversed, and the wealthy preyed upon the pauper. Wherever
there was a reputation to batten on, there poor Violet appeared,
a harmless vampire in pearls who sought only to feed on the
notoriety which all her millions could not create for her. Any
one less versed than Susy in the shallow mysteries of her little
world would have seen in Violet Melrose a baleful enchantress,
in Nat Fulmer her helpless victim. Susy knew better. Violet,
poor Violet, was not even that. The insignificant Ellie
Vanderlyn, with her brief trivial passions, her artless mixture
of amorous and social interests, was a woman with a purpose, a
creature who fulfilled herself; but Violet was only a drifting
And what of Fulmer? Mustering with new eyes his short sturdily-
built figure, his nondescript bearded face, and the eyes that
dreamed and wandered, and then suddenly sank into you like
claws, Susy seemed to have found the key to all his years of
dogged toil, his indifference to neglect, indifference to
poverty, indifference to the needs of his growing family ....
Yes: for the first time she saw that he looked commonplace
enough to be a genius--was a genius, perhaps, even though it was
Violet Melrose who affirmed it! Susy looked steadily at Fulmer,
their eyes met, and he smiled at her faintly through his beard.
"Yes, I did discover him--I did," Mrs. Melrose was insisting,
from the depths of the black velvet divan in which she lay sunk
like a wan Nereid in a midnight sea. "You mustn't believe a
word that Ursula Gillow tells you about having pounced on his
'Spring Snow Storm' in a dark corner of the American Artists'
exhibition--skied, if you please! They skied him less than a
year ago! And naturally Ursula never in her life looked higher
than the first line at a picture-show. And now she actually
pretends ... oh, for pity's sake don't say it doesn't matter,
Fulmer! Your saying that just encourages her, and makes people
think she did. When, in reality, any one who saw me at the
exhibition on varnishing-day .... Who? Well, Eddy
Breckenridge, for instance. He was in Egypt, you say? Perhaps
he was! As if one could remember the people about one, when
suddenly one comes upon a great work of art, as St. Paul did--
didn't he?--and the scales fell from his eyes. Well ... that's
exactly what happened to me that day ... and Ursula, everybody
knows, was down at Roslyn at the time, and didn't come up for
the opening of the exhibition at all. And Fulmer sits there and
laughs, and says it doesn't matter, and that he'll paint another
picture any day for me to discover!"
Susy had rung the door-bell with a hand trembling with
eagerness--eagerness to be alone, to be quiet, to stare her
situation in the face, and collect herself before she came out
again among her kind. She had stood on the door-step, cowering
among her bags, counting the instants till a step sounded and
the door-knob turned, letting her in from the searching glare of
the outer world .... And now she had sat for an hour in
Violet's drawing-room, in the very house where her honey-moon
might have been spent; and no one had asked her where she had
come from, or why she was alone, or what was the key to the
tragedy written on her shrinking face ....
That was the way of the world they lived in. Nobody questioned,
nobody wondered any more-because nobody had time to remember.
The old risk of prying curiosity, of malicious gossip, was
virtually over: one was left with one's drama, one's disaster,
on one's hands, because there was nobody to stop and notice the
little shrouded object one was carrying. As Susy watched the
two people before her, each so frankly unaffected by her
presence, Violet Melrose so engrossed in her feverish pursuit of
notoriety, Fulmer so plunged in the golden sea of his success,
she felt like a ghost making inaudible and imperceptible appeals
to the grosser senses of the living.
"If I wanted to be alone," she thought, "I'm alone enough, in
all conscience." There was a deathly chill in such security.
She turned to Fulmer.
He beamed back without sign of embarrassment. "Oh, she's here,
naturally--we're in Paris, kids and all. In a pension, where we
can polish up the lingo. But I hardly ever lay eyes on her,
because she's as deep in music as I am in paint; it was as big a
chance for her as for me, you see, and she's making the most of
it, fiddling and listening to the fiddlers. Well, it's a
considerable change from New Hampshire." He looked at her
dreamily, as if making an intense effort to detach himself from
his dream, and situate her in the fading past. "Remember the
bungalow? And Nick--ah, how's Nick?" he brought out
"Oh, yes--darling Nick?" Mrs. Melrose chimed in; and Susy, her
head erect, her cheeks aflame, declared with resonance: "Most
"He's not here, though?" from Fulmer.
"No. He's off travelling--cruising."
Mrs. Melrose's attention was faintly roused. "With anybody
"No; you wouldn't know them. People we met ...." She did not
have to continue, for her hostess's gaze had again strayed.
"And you've come for your clothes, I suppose, darling? Don't
listen to people who say that skirts are to be wider. I've
discovered a new woman--a Genius--and she absolutely swathes
you.... Her name's my secret; but we'll go to her together."
Susy rose from her engulphing armchair. "Do you mind if I go up
to my room? I'm rather tired--coming straight through."
"Of course, dear. I think there are some people coming to
dinner ... Mrs. Match will tell you. She has such a memory ....
Fulmer, where on earth are those cartoons of the music-room?"
Their voices pursued Susy upstairs, as, in Mrs. Match's
perpendicular wake, she mounted to the white-panelled room with
its gay linen hangings and the low bed heaped with more
"If we'd come here," she thought, "everything might have been
different." And she shuddered at the sumptuous memories of the
Palazzo Vanderlyn, and the great painted bedroom where she had
met her doom.
Mrs. Match, hoping she would find everything, and mentioning
that dinner was not till nine, shut her softly in among her
"Find everything?" Susy echoed the phrase. Oh, yes, she would
always find everything: every time the door shut on her now,
and the sound of voices ceased, her memories would be there
waiting for her, every one of them, waiting quietly, patiently,
obstinately, like poor people in a doctor's office, the people
who are always last to be attended to, but whom nothing will
discourage or drive away, people to whom time is nothing,
fatigue nothing, hunger nothing, other engagements nothing: who
just wait .... Thank heaven, after all, that she had not found
the house empty, if, whenever she returned to her room, she was
to meet her memories there!
It was just a week since Nick had left her. During that week,
crammed with people, questions, packing, explaining, evading,
she had believed that in solitude lay her salvation. Now she
understood that there was nothing she was so unprepared for, so
unfitted for. When, in all her life, had she ever been alone?
And how was she to bear it now, with all these ravening memories
Dinner not till nine? What on earth was she to do till nine
o'clock? She knelt before her boxes, and feverishly began to
Gradually, imperceptibly, the subtle influences of her old life
were stealing into her. As she pulled out her tossed and
crumpled dresses she remembered Violet's emphatic warning:
"Don't believe the people who tell you that skirts are going to
be wider." Were hers, perhaps, too wide as it was? She looked
at her limp raiment, piling itself up on bed and sofa, and
understood that, according to Violet's standards, and that of
all her set, those dresses, which Nick had thought so original
and exquisite, were already commonplace and dowdy, fit only to
be passed on to poor relations or given to one's maid. And Susy
would have to go on wearing them till they fell to bits-or
else .... Well, or else begin the old life again in some new
She laughed aloud at the turn of her thoughts. Dresses? How
little they had mattered a few short weeks ago! And now,
perhaps, they would again be one of the foremost considerations
in her life. How could it be otherwise, if she were to return
again to her old dependence on Ellie Vanderlyn, Ursula Gillow,
Violet Melrose? And beyond that, only the Bockheimers and their
kind awaited her ....
A knock on the door--what a relief! It was Mrs. Match again,
with a telegram. To whom had Susy given her new address? With
a throbbing heart she tore open the envelope and read:
"Shall be in Paris Friday for twenty-four hours where can I see
you write Nouveau Luxe."
Ah, yes--she remembered now: she had written to Strefford! And
this was his answer: he was coming. She dropped into a chair,
and tried to think. What on earth had she said in her letter?
It had been mainly, of course, one of condolence; but now she
remembered having added, in a precipitate postscript: "I can't
give your message to Nick, for he's gone off with the Hickses-I
don't know where, or for how long. It's all right, of course:
it was in our bargain."
She had not meant to put in that last phrase; but as she sealed
her letter to Strefford her eye had fallen on Nick's missive,
which lay beside it. Nothing in her husband's brief lines had
embittered her as much as the allusion to Strefford. It seemed
to imply that Nick's own plans were made, that his own future
was secure, and that he could therefore freely and handsomely
take thought for hers, and give her a pointer in the right
direction. Sudden rage had possessed her at the thought: where
she had at first read jealousy she now saw only a cold
providence, and in a blur of tears she had scrawled her
postscript to Strefford. She remembered that she had not even
asked him to keep her secret. Well--after all, what would it
matter if people should already know that Nick had left her?
Their parting could not long remain a mystery, and the fact that
it was known might help her to keep up a presence of
"It was in the bargain--in the bargain," rang through her brain
as she re-read Strefford's telegram. She understood that he had
snatched the time for this hasty trip solely in the hope of
seeing her, and her eyes filled. The more bitterly she thought
of Nick the more this proof of Strefford's friendship moved her.
The clock, to her relief, reminded her that it was time to dress
for dinner. She would go down presently, chat with Violet and
Fulmer, and with Violet's other guests, who would probably be
odd and amusing, and too much out of her world to embarrass her
by awkward questions. She would sit at a softly-lit table,
breathe delicate scents, eat exquisite food (trust Mrs. Match!),
and be gradually drawn again under the spell of her old
associations. Anything, anything but to be alone ....
She dressed with even more than her habitual care, reddened her
lips attentively, brushed the faintest bloom of pink over her
drawn cheeks, and went down--to meet Mrs. Match coming up with a
"Oh, Madam, I thought you were too tired .... I was bringing it
up to you myself--just a little morsel of chicken."
Susy, glancing past her, saw, through the open door, that the
lamps were not lit in the drawing-room.
"Oh, no, I'm not tired, thank you. I thought Mrs. Melrose
expected friends at dinner!"
"Friends at dinner-to-night?" Mrs. Match heaved a despairing
sigh. Sometimes, the sigh seemed to say, her mistress put too
great a strain upon her. "Why, Mrs. Melrose and Mr. Fulmer were
engaged to dine in Paris. They left an hour ago. Mrs. Melrose
told me she'd told you," the house-keeper wailed.
Susy kept her little fixed smile. "I must have misunderstood.
In that case ... well, yes, if it's no trouble, I believe I will
have my tray upstairs. "
Slowly she turned, and followed the housekeeper up into the
dread solitude she had just left.
THE next day a lot of people turned up unannounced for luncheon.
They were not of the far-fetched and the exotic, in whom Mrs.
Melrose now specialized, but merely commonplace fashionable
people belonging to Susy's own group, people familiar with the
amusing romance of her penniless marriage, and to whom she had
to explain (though none of them really listened to the
explanation) that Nick was not with her just now but had gone
off cruising ... cruising in the AEgean with friends ... getting
up material for his book (this detail had occurred to her in the
It was the kind of encounter she had most dreaded; but it
proved, after all, easy enough to go through compared with those
endless hours of turning to and fro, the night before, in the
cage of her lonely room. Anything, anything, but to be
Gradually, from the force of habit, she found herself actually
in tune with the talk of the luncheon table, interested in the
references to absent friends, the light allusions to last year's
loves and quarrels, scandals and absurdities. The women, in
their pale summer dresses, were so graceful, indolent and sure
of themselves, the men so easy and good-humoured! Perhaps,
after all, Susy reflected, it was the world she was meant for,
since the other, the brief Paradise of her dreams, had already
shut its golden doors upon her. And then, as they sat on the
terrace after luncheon, looking across at the yellow tree-tops
of the park, one of the women said something--made just an
allusion--that Susy would have let pass unnoticed in the old
days, but that now filled her with a sudden deep disgust ....
She stood up and wandered away, away from them all through the
Two days later Susy and Strefford sat on the terrace of the
Tuileries above the Seine. She had asked him to meet her there,
with the desire to avoid the crowded halls and drawing-room of
the Nouveau Luxe where, even at that supposedly "dead" season,
people one knew were always drifting to and fro; and they sat on
a bench in the pale sunlight, the discoloured leaves heaped at
their feet, and no one to share their solitude but a lame
working-man and a haggard woman who were lunching together
mournfully at the other end of the majestic vista.
Strefford, in his new mourning, looked unnaturally prosperous
and well-valeted; but his ugly untidy features remained as
undisciplined, his smile as whimsical, as of old. He had been
on cool though friendly terms with the pompous uncle and the
poor sickly cousin whose joint disappearance had so abruptly
transformed his future; and it was his way to understate his
feelings rather than to pretend more than he felt.
Nevertheless, beneath his habitual bantering tone Susy discerned
a change. The disaster had shocked him profoundly; already, in
his brief sojourn among his people and among the great
possessions so tragically acquired, old instincts had awakened,
forgotten associations had spoken in him. Susy listened to him
wistfully, silenced by her imaginative perception of the
distance that these things had put between them.
"It was horrible ... seeing them both there together, laid out
in that hideous Pugin chapel at Altringham ... the poor boy
especially. I suppose that's really what's cutting me up now,"
he murmured, almost apologetically.
"Oh, it's more than that--more than you know," she insisted; but
he jerked back: "Now, my dear, don't be edifying, please," and
fumbled for a cigarette in the pocket which was already
beginning to bulge with his miscellaneous properties.
"And now about you--for that's what I came for," he continued,
turning to her with one of his sudden movements. "I couldn't
make head or tail of your letter."
She paused a moment to steady her voice. "Couldn't you? I
suppose you'd forgotten my bargain with Nick. He hadn't-and
he's asked me to fulfil it."
Strefford stared. "What--that nonsense about your setting each
other free if either of you had the chance to make a good
She signed "Yes."
"And he's actually asked you--?"
"Well: practically. He's gone off with the Hickses. Before
going he wrote me that we'd better both consider ourselves free.
And Coral sent me a postcard to say that she would take the best
of care of him."
Strefford mused, his eyes upon his cigarette. "But what the
deuce led up to all this? It can't have happened like that, out
of a clear sky."
Susy flushed, hesitated, looked away. She had meant to tell
Strefford the whole story; it had been one of her chief reasons
for wishing to see him again, and half-unconsciously, perhaps,
she had hoped, in his laxer atmosphere, to recover something of
her shattered self-esteem. But now she suddenly felt the
impossibility of confessing to anyone the depths to which Nick's
wife had stooped. She fancied that her companion guessed the
nature of her hesitation.
"Don't tell me anything you don't want to, you know, my dear."
"No; I do want to; only it's difficult. You see--we had so very
little money ...."
"And Nick--who was thinking of his book, and of all sorts of big
things, fine things--didn't realise ... left it all to me ... to
She stumbled over the word, remembering how Nick had always
winced at it. But Strefford did not seem to notice her, and she
hurried on, unfolding in short awkward sentences the avowal of
their pecuniary difficulties, and of Nick's inability to
understand that, to keep on with the kind of life they were
leading, one had to put up with things ... accept favours ....
"Borrow money, you mean?"
"Well--yes; and all the rest." No--decidedly she could not
reveal to Strefford the episode of Ellie's letters. "Nick
suddenly felt, I suppose, that he couldn't stand it," she
continued; "and instead of asking me to try--to try to live
differently, go off somewhere with him and live, like work-
people, in two rooms, without a servant, as I was ready to do;
well, instead he wrote me that it had all been a mistake from
the beginning, that we couldn't keep it up, and had better
recognize the fact; and he went off on the Hickses' yacht. The
last evening that you were in Venice--the day he didn't come
back to dinner--he had gone off to Genoa to meet them. I
suppose he intends to marry Coral."
Strefford received this in silence. "Well--it was your bargain,
wasn't it?" he said at length.
"Exactly: I always told you so. You weren't ready to have him
go yet--that's all."
She flushed to the forehead. "Oh, Streff--is it really all?"
"A question of time? If you doubt it, I'd like to see you try,
for a while, in those two rooms without a servant; and then let
me hear from you. Why, my dear, it's only a question of time in
a palace, with a steam yacht lying off the door-step, and a
flock of motors in the garage; look around you and see. And did
you ever imagine that you and Nick, of all people, were going to
escape the common doom, and survive like Mr. and Mrs. Tithonus,
while all about you the eternal passions were crumbling to
pieces, and your native Divorce-states piling up their
She sat with bent head, the weight of the long years to come
pressing like a leaden load on her shoulders.
"But I'm so young ... life's so long. What does last, then?"
"Ah, you're too young to believe me, if I were to tell you;
though you're intelligent enough to understand."
"What does, then?"
"Why, the hold of the things we all think we could do without.
Habits--they outstand the Pyramids. Comforts, luxuries, the
atmosphere of ease ... above all, the power to get away from
dulness and monotony, from constraints and uglinesses. You
chose that power, instinctively, before you were even grown up;
and so did Nick. And the only difference between you is that
he's had the sense to see sooner than you that those are the
things that last, the prime necessities."
"I don't believe it!"
"Of course you don't: at your age one doesn't reason one's
materialism. And besides you're mortally hurt that Nick has
found out sooner than you, and hasn't disguised his discovery
under any hypocritical phrases."
"But surely there are people--"
"Yes--saints and geniuses and heroes: all the fanatics! To
which of their categories do you suppose we soft people belong?
And the heroes and the geniuses--haven't they their enormous
frailties and their giant appetites? And how should we escape
being the victims of our little ones?"
She sat for a while without speaking. "But, Streff, how can you
say such things, when I know you care: care for me, for
"Care?" He put his hand on hers. "But, my dear, it's just the
fugitiveness of mortal caring that makes it so exquisite! It's
because we know we can't hold fast to it, or to each other, or
to anything ...."
"Yes ... yes ... but hush, please! Oh, don't say it!" She
stood up, the tears in her throat, and he rose also.
"Come along, then; where do we lunch?" he said with a smile,
slipping his hand through her arm.
"Oh, I don't know. Nowhere. I think I'm going back to
"Because I've disgusted you so deeply? Just my luck--when I
came over to ask you to marry me!"
She laughed, but he had become suddenly grave. "Upon my soul, I
"Dear Streff! As if--now--"
"Oh, not now--I know. I'm aware that even with your accelerated
"It's not that. I told you it was no use, Streff--I told you
long ago, in Venice."
He shrugged ironically. "It's not Streff who's asking you now.
Streff was not a marrying man: he was only trifling with you.
The present offer comes from an elderly peer of independent
means. Think it over, my dear: as many days out as you like, and
five footmen kept. There's not the least hurry, of course; but
I rather think Nick himself would advise it."
She flushed to the temples, remembering that Nick had; and the
remembrance made Strefford's sneering philosophy seem less
unbearable. Why should she not lunch with him, after all? In
the first days of his mourning he had come to Paris expressly to
see her, and to offer her one of the oldest names and one of the
greatest fortunes in England. She thought of Ursula Gillow,
Ellie Vanderlyn, Violet Melrose, of their condescending
kindnesses, their last year's dresses, their Christmas cheques,
and all the careless bounties that were so easy to bestow and so
hard to accept. "I should rather enjoy paying them back,"
something in her maliciously murmured.
She did not mean to marry Strefford--she had not even got as far
as contemplating the possibility of a divorce but it was
undeniable that this sudden prospect of wealth and freedom was
like fresh air in her lungs. She laughed again, but now without
"Very good, then; we'll lunch together. But it's Streff I want
to lunch with to-day."
"Ah, well," her companion agreed, "I rather think that for a
tete-a-tete he's better company."
During their repast in a little restaurant over the Seine, where
she insisted on the cheapest dishes because she was lunching
with "Streff," he became again his old whimsical companionable
self. Once or twice she tried to turn the talk to his altered
future, and the obligations and interests that lay before him;
but he shrugged away from the subject, questioning her instead
about the motley company at Violet Melrose's, and fitting a
droll or malicious anecdote to each of the people she named.
It was not till they had finished their coffee, and she was
glancing at her watch with a vague notion of taking the next
train, that he asked abruptly: "But what are you going to do?
You can't stay forever at Violet's."
"Oh, no!" she cried with a shiver.
"Well, then--you've got some plan, I suppose?"
"Have I?" she wondered, jerked back into grim reality from the
soothing interlude of their hour together.
"You can't drift indefinitely, can you? Unless you mean to go
back to the old sort of life once for all."
She reddened and her eyes filled. "I can't do that, Streff--I
know I can't!"
She hesitated, and brought out with lowered head: "Nick said he
would write again--in a few days. I must wait--"
"Oh, naturally. Don't do anything in a hurry." Strefford also
glanced at his watch. "Garcon, l'addition! I'm taking the
train back to-night, and I've a lot of things left to do. But
look here, my dear--when you come to a decision one way or the
other let me know, will you? Oh, I don't mean in the matter
I've most at heart; we'll consider that closed for the present.
But at least I can be of use in other ways--hang it, you know, I
can even lend you money. There's a new sensation for our jaded
"Oh, Streff ... Streff!" she could only falter; and he pressed
on gaily: "Try it, now do try it--I assure you there'll be no
interest to pay, and no conditions attached. And promise to let
me know when you've decided anything. "
She looked into his humorously puckered eyes, answering. Their
friendly smile with hers.
"I promise!" she said.
THAT hour with Strefford had altered her whole perspective.
Instead of possible dependence, an enforced return to the old
life of connivances and concessions, she saw before her--
whenever she chose to take them--freedom, power and dignity.
Dignity! It was odd what weight that word had come to have for
her. She had dimly felt its significance, felt the need of its
presence in her inmost soul, even in the young thoughtless days
when she had seemed to sacrifice so little to the austere
divinities. And since she had been Nick Lansing's wife she had
consciously acknowledged it, had suffered and agonized when she
fell beneath its standard. Yes: to marry Strefford would give
her that sense of self-respect which, in such a world as theirs,
only wealth and position could ensure. If she had not the
mental or moral training to attain independence in any other
way, was she to blame for seeking it on such terms?
Of course there was always the chance that Nick would come back,
would find life without her as intolerable as she was finding it
without him. If that happened--ah, if that happened! Then she
would cease to strain her eyes into the future, would seize upon
the present moment and plunge into it to the very bottom of
oblivion. Nothing on earth would matter then--money or freedom
or pride, or her precious moral dignity, if only she were in
Nick's arms again!
But there was Nick's icy letter, there was Coral Hicks's
insolent post-card, to show how little chance there was of such
a solution. Susy understood that, even before the discovery of
her transaction with Ellie Vanderlyn, Nick had secretly wearied,
if not of his wife, at least of the life that their marriage
compelled him to lead. His passion was not strong enough-had
never been strong enough--to outweigh his prejudices, scruples,
principles, or whatever one chose to call them. Susy's dignity
might go up like tinder in the blaze of her love; but his was
made of a less combustible substance. She had felt, in their
last talk together, that she had forever destroyed the inner
harmony between them.
Well--there it was, and the fault was doubtless neither hers nor
his, but that of the world they had grown up in, of their own
moral contempt for it and physical dependence on it, of his
half-talents and her half-principles, of the something in them
both that was not stout enough to resist nor yet pliant enough
to yield. She stared at the fact on the journey back to
Versailles, and all that sleepless night in her room; and the
next morning, when the housemaid came in with her breakfast
tray, she felt the factitious energy that comes from having
decided, however half-heartedly, on a definite course.
She had said to herself: "If there's no letter from Nick this
time next week I'll write to Streff--" and the week had passed,
and there was no letter.
It was now three weeks since he had left her, and she had had no
word but his note from Genoa. She had concluded that,
foreseeing the probability of her leaving Venice, he would write
to her in care of their Paris bank. But though she had
immediately notified the bank of her change of address no
communication from Nick had reached her; and she smiled with a
touch of bitterness at the difficulty he was doubtless finding
in the composition of the promised letter. Her own scrap-
basket, for the first days, had been heaped with the fragments
of the letters she had begun; and she told herself that, since
they both found it so hard to write, it was probably because
they had nothing left to say to each other.
Meanwhile the days at Mrs. Melrose's drifted by as they had been
wont to drift when, under the roofs of the rich, Susy Branch had
marked time between one episode and the next of her precarious
existence. Her experience of such sojourns was varied enough to
make her acutely conscious of their effect on her temporary
hosts; and in the present case she knew that Violet was hardly
aware of her presence. But if no more than tolerated she was at
least not felt to be an inconvenience; when your hostess forgot
about you it proved that at least you were not in her way.
Violet, as usual, was perpetually on the wing, for her profound
indolence expressed itself in a disordered activity. Nat Fulmer
had returned to Paris; but Susy guessed that his benefactress
was still constantly in his company, and that when Mrs. Melrose
was whirled away in her noiseless motor it was generally toward
the scene of some new encounter between Fulmer and the arts. On
these occasions she sometimes offered to carry Susy to Paris,
and they devoted several long and hectic mornings to the dress-
makers, where Susy felt herself gradually succumbing to the
familiar spell of heaped-up finery. It seemed impossible, as
furs and laces and brocades were tossed aside, brought back, and
at last carelessly selected from, that anything but the whim of
the moment need count in deciding whether one should take all or
none, or that any woman could be worth looking at who did not
possess the means to make her choice regardless of cost.
Once alone, and in the street again, the evil fumes would
evaporate, and daylight re-enter Susy's soul; yet she felt that
the old poison was slowly insinuating itself into her system.
To dispel it she decided one day to look up Grace Fulmer. She
was curious to know how the happy-go-lucky companion of Fulmer's
evil days was bearing the weight of his prosperity, and she
vaguely felt that it would be refreshing to see some one who had
never been afraid of poverty.
The airless pension sitting-room, where she waited while a
reluctant maid-servant screamed about the house for Mrs. Fulmer,
did not have the hoped-for effect. It was one thing for Grace
to put up with such quarters when she shared them with Fulmer;
but to live there while he basked in the lingering radiance of
Versailles, or rolled from chateau to picture gallery in Mrs.
Melrose's motor, showed a courage that Susy felt unable to
"My dear! I knew you'd look me up," Grace's joyous voice ran
down the stairway; and in another moment she was clasping Susy
to her tumbled person.
"Nat couldn't remember if he'd given you our address, though he
promised me he would, the last time he was here." She held Susy
at arms' length, beaming upon her with blinking short-sighted
eyes: the same old dishevelled Grace, so careless of her
neglected beauty and her squandered youth, so amused and absent-
minded and improvident, that the boisterous air of the New
Hampshire bungalow seemed to enter with her into the little air-
While she poured out the tale of Nat's sudden celebrity, and its
unexpected consequences, Susy marvelled and dreamed. Was the
secret of his triumph perhaps due to those long hard unrewarded
years, the steadfast scorn of popularity, the indifference to
every kind of material ease in which his wife had so gaily
abetted him? Had it been bought at the cost of her own
freshness and her own talent, of the children's "advantages," of
everything except the closeness of the tie between husband and
wife? Well--it was worth the price, no doubt; but what if, now
that honours and prosperity had come, the tie were snapped, and
Grace were left alone among the ruins?
There was nothing in her tone or words to suggest such a
possibility. Susy noticed that her ill-assorted raiment was
costlier in quality and more professional in cut than the home-
made garments which had draped her growing bulk at the bungalow:
it was clear that she was trying to dress up to Nat's new
situation. But, above all, she was rejoicing in it, filling her
hungry lungs with the strong air of his success. It had
evidently not occurred to her as yet that those who consent to
share the bread of adversity may want the whole cake of
prosperity for themselves.
"My dear, it's too wonderful! He's told me to take as many
concert and opera tickets as I like; he lets me take all the
children with me. The big concerts don't begin till later; but
of course the Opera is always going. And there are little
things--there's music in Paris at all seasons. And later it's
just possible we may get to Munich for a week--oh, Susy!" Her
hands clasped, her eyes brimming, she drank the new wine of life
"Do you remember, Susy, when you and Nick came to stay at the
bungalow? Nat said you'd be horrified by our primitiveness-but
I knew better! And I was right, wasn't I? Seeing us so happy
made you and Nick decide to follow our example, didn't it?" She
glowed with the remembrance. "And now, what are your plans? Is
Nick's book nearly done? I suppose you'll have to live very
economically till he finds a publisher. And the baby, darling-
when is that to be? If you're coming home soon I could let you
have a lot of the children's little old things."
"You're always so dear, Grace. But we haven't any special plans
as yet--not even for a baby. And I wish you'd tell me all of
Mrs. Fulmer asked nothing better: Susy perceived that, so far,
the greater part of her European experience had consisted in
talking about what it was to be. "Well, you see, Nat is so
taken up all day with sight-seeing and galleries and meeting
important people that he hasn't had time to go about with us;
and as so few theatres are open, and there's so little music,
I've taken the opportunity to catch up with my mending. Junie
helps me with it now--she's our eldest, you remember? She's
grown into a big girl since you saw her. And later, perhaps,
we're to travel. And the most wonderful thing of all--next to
Nat's recognition, I mean--is not having to contrive and skimp,
and give up something every single minute. Just think--Nat has
even made special arrangements here in the pension, so that the
children all have second helpings to everything. And when I go
up to bed I can think of my music, instead of lying awake
calculating and wondering how I can make things come out at the
end of the month. Oh, Susy, that's simply heaven!"
Susy's heart contracted. She had come to her friend to be
taught again the lesson of indifference to material things, and
instead she was hearing from Grace Fulmer's lips the long-
repressed avowal of their tyranny. After all, that battle with
poverty on the New Hampshire hillside had not been the easy
smiling business that Grace and Nat had made it appear. And yet
... and yet ....
Susy stood up abruptly, and straightened the expensive hat which
hung irresponsibly over Grace's left ear.
"What's wrong with it? Junie helped me choose it, and she
generally knows," Mrs. Fulmer wailed with helpless hands.
"It's the way you wear it, dearest--and the bow is rather top-
heavy. Let me have it a minute, please." Susy lifted the hat
from her friend's head and began to manipulate its trimming.
"This is the way Maria Guy or Suzanne would do it .... And now
go on about Nat ...."
She listened musingly while Grace poured forth the tale of her
husband's triumph, of the notices in the papers, the demand for
his work, the fine ladies' battles over their priority in
discovering him, and the multiplied orders that had resulted
from their rivalry.
"Of course they're simply furious with each other-Mrs. Melrose
and Mrs. Gillow especially--because each one pretends to have
been the first to notice his 'Spring Snow-Storm,' and in reality
it wasn't either of them, but only poor Bill Haslett, an art-
critic we've known for years, who chanced on the picture, and
rushed off to tell a dealer who was looking for a new painter to
push." Grace suddenly raised her soft myopic eyes to Susy's
face. "But, do you know, the funny thing is that I believe Nat
is beginning to forget this, and to believe that it was Mrs.
Melrose who stopped short in front of his picture on the opening
day, and screamed out: 'This is genius!' It seems funny he
should care so much, when I've always known he had genius-and
he has known it too. But they're all so kind to him; and Mrs.
Melrose especially. And I suppose it makes a thing sound new to
hear it said in a new voice."
Susy looked at her meditatively. "And how should you feel if
Nat liked too much to hear Mrs. Melrose say it? Too much, I
mean, to care any longer what you felt or thought?"
Her friend's worn face flushed quickly, and then paled: Susy
almost repented the question. But Mrs. Fulmer met it with a
tranquil dignity. "You haven't been married long enough, dear,
to understand ... how people like Nat and me feel about such
things ... or how trifling they seem, in the balance ... the
balance of one's memories."
Susy stood up again, and flung her arms about her friend. "Oh,
Grace," she laughed with wet eyes, "how can you be as wise as
that, and yet not have sense enough to buy a decent hat?" She
gave Mrs. Fulmer a quick embrace and hurried away. She had
learned her lesson after all; but it was not exactly the one she
had come to seek.
The week she had allowed herself had passed, and still there was
no word from Nick. She allowed herself yet another day, and
that too went by without a letter. She then decided on a step
from which her pride had hitherto recoiled; she would call at
the bank and ask for Nick's address. She called, embarrassed
and hesitating; and was told, after enquiries in the post-office
department, that Mr. Nicholas Lansing had given no address since
that of the Palazzo Vanderlyn, three months previously. She
went back to Versailles that afternoon with the definite
intention of writing to Strefford unless the next morning's post
brought a letter.
The next morning brought nothing from Nick, but a scribbled
message from Mrs. Melrose: would Susy, as soon as possible,
come into her room for a word, Susy jumped up, hurried through
her bath, and knocked at her hostess's door. In the immense low
bed that faced the rich umbrage of the park Mrs. Melrose lay
smoking cigarettes and glancing over her letters. She looked up
with her vague smile, and said dreamily: "Susy darling, have
you any particular plans--for the next few months, I mean?"
Susy coloured: she knew the intonation of old, and fancied she
understood what it implied.
"Plans, dearest? Any number ... I'm tearing myself away the day
after to-morrow ... to the Gillows' moor, very probably," she
hastened to announce.
Instead of the relief she had expected to read on Mrs. Melrose's
dramatic countenance she discovered there the blankest
"Oh, really? That's too bad. Is it absolutely settled--?"
"As far as I'm concerned," said Susy crisply.
The other sighed. "I'm too sorry. You see, dear, I'd meant to
ask you to stay on here quietly and look after the Fulmer
children. Fulmer and I are going to Spain next week--I want to
be with him when he makes his studies, receives his first
impressions; such a marvellous experience, to be there when he
and Velasquez meet!" She broke off, lost in prospective
ecstasy. "And, you see, as Grace Fulmer insists on coming with
"Ah, I see."
"Well, there are the five children--such a problem," sighed the
benefactress. "If you were at a loose end, you know, dear,
while Nick's away with his friends, I could really make it worth
your while ...."
"So awfully good of you, Violet; only I'm not, as it happens."
Oh the relief of being able to say that, gaily, firmly and even
truthfully! Take charge of the Fulmer children, indeed! Susy
remembered how Nick and she had fled from them that autumn
afternoon in New Hampshire. The offer gave her a salutary
glimpse of the way in which, as the years passed, and she lost
her freshness and novelty, she would more and more be used as a
convenience, a stop-gap, writer of notes, runner of errands,
nursery governess or companion. She called to mind several
elderly women of her acquaintance, pensioners of her own group,
who still wore its livery, struck its attitudes and chattered
its jargon, but had long since been ruthlessly relegated to
these slave-ant offices. Never in the world would she join
Mrs. Melrose's face fell, and she looked at Susy with the
plaintive bewilderment of the wielder of millions to whom
everything that cannot be bought is imperceptible.
"But I can't see why you can't change your plans," she murmured
with a soft persistency.
"Ah, well, you know"--Susy paused on a slow inward smile--
"they're not mine only, as it happens."
Mrs. Melrose's brow clouded. The unforeseen complication of
Mrs. Fulmer's presence on the journey had evidently tried her
nerves, and this new obstacle to her arrangements shook her
faith in the divine order of things.
"Your plans are not yours only? But surely you won't let Ursula
Gillow dictate to you? ... There's my jade pendant; the one you
said you liked the other day .... The Fulmers won't go with me,
you understand, unless they're satisfied about the children; the
whole plan will fall through. Susy darling, you were always too
unselfish; I hate to see you sacrificed to Ursula."
Susy's smile lingered. Time was when she might have been glad
to add the jade pendant to the collection already enriched by
Ellie Vanderlyn's sapphires; more recently, she would have
resented the offer as an insult to her newly-found principles.
But already the mere fact that she might henceforth, if she
chose, be utterly out of reach of such bribes, enabled her to
look down on them with tolerance. Oh, the blessed moral freedom
that wealth conferred! She recalled Mrs. Fulmer's
uncontrollable cry: "The most wonderful thing of all is not
having to contrive and skimp, and give up something every single
minute!" Yes; it was only on such terms that one could call
one's soul one's own. The sense of it gave Susy the grace to
answer amicably: "If I could possibly help you out, Violet, I
shouldn't want a present to persuade me. And, as you say,
there's no reason why I should sacrifice myself to Ursula--or to
anybody else. Only, as it happens"--she paused and took the
plunge--"I'm going to England because I've promised to see a
friend." That night she wrote to Strefford.
STRETCHED out under an awning on the deck of the Ibis, Nick
Lansing looked up for a moment at the vanishing cliffs of Malta
and then plunged again into his book.
He had had nearly three weeks of drug-taking on the Ibis. The
drugs he had absorbed were of two kinds: visions of fleeing
landscapes, looming up from the blue sea to vanish into it
again, and visions of study absorbed from the volumes piled up
day and night at his elbow. For the first time in months he was
in reach of a real library, just the kind of scholarly yet
miscellaneous library, that his restless and impatient spirit
craved. He was aware that the books he read, like the fugitive
scenes on which he gazed, were merely a form of anesthetic: he
swallowed them with the careless greed of the sufferer who seeks
only to still pain and deaden memory. But they were beginning
to produce in him a moral languor that was not disagreeable,
that, indeed, compared with the fierce pain of the first days,
was almost pleasurable. It was exactly the kind of drug that he
There is probably no point on which the average man has more
definite views than on the uselessness of writing a letter that
is hard to write. In the line he had sent to Susy from Genoa
Nick had told her that she would hear from him again in a few
days; but when the few days had passed, and he began to consider
setting himself to the task, he found fifty reasons for
Had there been any practical questions to write about it would
have been different; he could not have borne for twenty-four
hours the idea that she was in uncertainty as to money. But
that had all been settled long ago. From the first she had had
the administering of their modest fortune. On their marriage
Nick's own meagre income, paid in, none too regularly, by the
agent who had managed for years the dwindling family properties,
had been transferred to her: it was the only wedding present he
could make. And the wedding cheques had of course all been
deposited in her name. There were therefore no "business"
reasons for communicating with her; and when it came to reasons
of another order the mere thought of them benumbed him.
For the first few days he reproached himself for his inertia;
then he began to seek reasons for justifying it. After all, for
both their sakes a waiting policy might be the wisest he could
pursue. He had left Susy because he could not tolerate the
conditions on which he had discovered their life together to be
based; and he had told her so. What more was there to say?
Nothing was changed in their respective situations; if they came
together it could be only to resume the same life; and that, as
the days went by, seemed to him more and more impossible. He
had not yet reached the point of facing a definite separation;
but whenever his thoughts travelled back over their past life he
recoiled from any attempt to return to it. As long as this
state of mind continued there seemed nothing to add to the
letter he had already written, except indeed the statement that
he was cruising with the Hickses. And he saw no pressing reason
for communicating that.
To the Hickses he had given no hint of his situation. When
Coral Hicks, a fortnight earlier, had picked him up in the
broiling streets of Genoa, and carried him off to the Ibis, he
had thought only of a cool dinner and perhaps a moonlight sail.
Then, in reply to their friendly urging, he had confessed that
he had not been well--had indeed gone off hurriedly for a few
days' change of air--and that left him without defence against
the immediate proposal that he should take his change of air on
the Ibis. They were just off to Corsica and Sardinia, and from
there to Sicily: he could rejoin the railway at Naples, and be
back at Venice in ten days.
Ten days of respite--the temptation was irresistible. And he
really liked the kind uncomplicated Hickses. A wholesome
honesty and simplicity breathed through all their opulence, as
if the rich trappings of their present life still exhaled the
fragrance of their native prairies. The mere fact of being with
such people was like a purifying bath. When the yacht touched
at Naples he agreed since they were so awfully kind--to go on to
Sicily. And when the chief steward, going ashore at Naples for
the last time before they got up steam, said: "Any letters for
the post, sir?" he answered, as he had answered at each previous
halt: "No, thank you: none."
Now they were heading for Rhodes and Crete--Crete, where he had
never been, where he had so often longed to go. In spite of the
lateness of the season the weather was still miraculously fine:
the short waves danced ahead under a sky without a cloud, and
the strong bows of the Ibis hardly swayed as she flew forward
over the flying crests.
Only his hosts and their daughter were on the yacht-of course
with Eldorada Tooker and Mr. Beck in attendance. An eminent
archaeologist, who was to have joined them at Naples, had
telegraphed an excuse at the last moment; and Nick noticed that,
while Mrs. Hicks was perpetually apologizing for the great man's
absence, Coral merely smiled and said nothing.
As a matter of fact, Mr. and Mrs. Hicks were never as pleasant
as when one had them to one's self. In company, Mr. Hicks ran
the risk of appearing over-hospitable, and Mrs. Hicks confused
dates and names in the desire to embrace all culture in her
conversation. But alone with Nick, their old travelling-
companion, they shone out in their native simplicity, and Mr.
Hicks talked soundly of investments, and Mrs. Hicks recalled her
early married days in Apex City, when, on being brought home to
her new house in Aeschylus Avenue, her first thought had been:
"How on earth shall I get all those windows washed?"
The loss of Mr. Buttles had been as serious to them as Nick had
supposed: Mr. Beck could never hope to replace him. Apart from
his mysterious gift of languages, and his almost superhuman
faculty for knowing how to address letters to eminent people,
and in what terms to conclude them, he had a smattering of
archaeology and general culture on which Mrs. Hicks had learned
to depend--her own memory being, alas, so inadequate to the
range of her interests.
Her daughter might perhaps have helped her; but it was not Miss
Hicks's way to mother her parents. She was exceedingly kind to
them, but left them, as it were, to bring themselves up as best
they could, while she pursued her own course of self-
development. A sombre zeal for knowledge filled the mind of
this strange girl: she appeared interested only in fresh
opportunities of adding to her store of facts. They were
illuminated by little imagination and less poetry; but,
carefully catalogued and neatly sorted in her large cool brain,
they were always as accessible as the volumes in an up-to-date
To Nick there was something reposeful in this lucid intellectual
curiosity. He wanted above all things to get away from
sentiment, from seduction, from the moods and impulses and
flashing contradictions that were Susy. Susy was not a great
reader: her store of facts was small, and she had grown up
among people who dreaded ideas as much as if they had been a
contagious disease. But, in the early days especially, when
Nick had put a book in her hand, or read a poem to her, her
swift intelligence had instantly shed a new light on the
subject, and, penetrating to its depths, had extracted from them
whatever belonged to her. What a pity that this exquisite
insight, this intuitive discrimination, should for the most part
have been spent upon reading the thoughts of vulgar people, and
extracting a profit from them--should have been wasted, since
her childhood, on all the hideous intricacies of "managing"!
And visible beauty--how she cared for that too! He had not
guessed it, or rather he had not been sure of it, till the day
when, on their way through Paris, he had taken her to the
Louvre, and they had stood before the little Crucifixion of
Mantegna. He had not been looking at the picture, or watching
to see what impression it produced on Susy. His own momentary
mood was for Correggio and Fragonard, the laughter of the Music
Lesson and the bold pagan joys of the Antiope; and then he had
missed her from his side, and when he came to where she stood,
forgetting him, forgetting everything, had seen the glare of
that tragic sky in her face, her trembling lip, the tears on her
lashes. That was Susy ....
Closing his book he stole a glance at Coral Hicks's profile,
thrown back against the cushions of the deck-chair at his side.
There was something harsh and bracing in her blunt primitive
build, in the projection of the black eyebrows that nearly met
over her thick straight nose, and the faint barely visible black
down on her upper lip. Some miracle of will-power, combined
with all the artifices that wealth can buy, had turned the fat
sallow girl he remembered into this commanding young woman,
almost handsome at times indisputably handsome--in her big
authoritative way. Watching the arrogant lines of her profile
against the blue sea, he remembered, with a thrill that was
sweet to his vanity, how twice--under the dome of the Scalzi and
in the streets of Genoa--he had seen those same lines soften at
his approach, turn womanly, pleading and almost humble. That
was Coral ....
Suddenly she said, without turning toward him: "You've had no
letters since you've been on board."
He looked at her, surprised. "No--thank the Lord!" he laughed.
"And you haven't written one either," she continued in her hard
"No," he again agreed, with the same laugh.
"That means that you really are free--"
He saw the cheek nearest him redden. "Really off on a holiday,
I mean; not tied down." After a pause he rejoined: "No, I'm
not particularly tied down."
"And your book?"
"Oh, my book--" He stopped and considered. He had thrust The
Pageant of Alexander into his handbag on the night of his Bight
from Venice; but since then he had never looked at it. Too many
memories and illusions were pressed between its pages; and he
knew just at what page he had felt Ellie Vanderlyn bending over
him from behind, caught a whiff of her scent, and heard her
breathless "I had to thank you!"
"My book's hung up," he said impatiently, annoyed with Miss
Hicks's lack of tact. There was a girl who never put out
"Yes; I thought it was," she went on quietly, and he gave her a
startled glance. What the devil else did she think, he
wondered? He had never supposed her capable of getting far
enough out of her own thick carapace of self-sufficiency to
penetrate into any one else's feelings.
"The truth is," he continued, embarrassed, "I suppose I dug away
at it rather too continuously; that's probably why I felt the
need of a change. You see I'm only a beginner."
She still continued her relentless questioning. "But later--
you'll go on with it, of course?"
"Oh, I don't know." He paused, glanced down the glittering
deck, and then out across the glittering water. "I've been
dreaming dreams, you see. I rather think I shall have to drop
the book altogether, and try to look out for a job that will
pay. To indulge in my kind of literature one must first have an
He was instantly annoyed with himself for having spoken.
Hitherto in his relations with the Hickses he had carefully
avoided the least allusion that might make him feel the heavy
hand of their beneficence. But the idle procrastinating weeks
had weakened him and he had yielded to the need of putting into
words his vague intentions. To do so would perhaps help to make
them more definite.
To his relief Miss Hicks made no immediate reply; and when she
spoke it was in a softer voice and with an unwonted hesitation.
"It seems a shame that with gifts like yours you shouldn't find
some kind of employment that would leave you leisure enough to
do your real work ...."
He shrugged ironically. "Yes--there are a goodish number of us
hunting for that particular kind of employment."
Her tone became more business-like. "I know it's hard to
find--almost impossible. But would you take it, I wonder, if it
were offered to you--?"
She turned her head slightly, and their eyes met. For an
instant blank terror loomed upon him; but before he had time to
face it she continued, in the same untroubled voice: "Mr.
Buttles's place, I mean. My parents must absolutely have some
one they can count on. You know what an easy place it is ....
I think you would find the salary satisfactory."
Nick drew a deep breath of relief. For a moment her eyes had
looked as they had in the Scalzi--and he liked the girl too much
not to shrink from reawakening that look. But Mr. Buttles's
place: why not?
"Poor Buttles!" he murmured, to gain time.
"Oh," she said, "you won't find the same reasons as he did for
throwing up the job. He was the martyr of his artistic
He glanced at her sideways, wondering. After all she did not
know of his meeting with Mr. Buttles in Genoa, nor of the
latter's confidences; perhaps she did not even know of Mr.
Buttles's hopeless passion. At any rate her face remained calm.
"Why not consider it--at least just for a few months? Till
after our expedition to Mesopotamia?" she pressed on, a little
"You're awfully kind: but I don't know--"
She stood up with one of her abrupt movements. "You needn't,
all at once. Take time think it over. Father wanted me to ask
you," she appended.
He felt the inadequacy of his response. "It tempts me awfully,
of course. But I must wait, at any rate--wait for letters. The
fact is I shall have to wire from Rhodes to have them sent. I
had chucked everything, even letters, for a few weeks."
"Ah, you are tired," she murmured, giving him a last downward
glance as she turned away.
>From Rhodes Nick Lansing telegraphed to his Paris bank to send
his letters to Candia; but when the Ibis reached Candia, and the
mail was brought on board, the thick envelope handed to him
contained no letter from Susy.
Why should it, since he had not yet written to her?
He had not written, no: but in sending his address to the bank
he knew he had given her the opportunity of reaching him if she
wished to. And she had made no sign.
Late that afternoon, when they returned to the yacht from their
first expedition, a packet of newspapers lay on the deck-house
table. Nick picked up one of the London journals, and his eye
ran absently down the list of social events.
"Among the visitors expected next week at Ruan Castle (let for
the season to Mr. Frederick J. Gillow of New York) are Prince
Altineri of Rome, the Earl of Altringham and Mrs. Nicholas
Lansing, who arrived in London last week from Paris. "Nick threw
down the paper. It was just a month since he had left the
Palazzo Vanderlyn and flung himself into the night express for
Milan. A whole month--and Susy had not written. Only a month--
and Susy and Strefford were already together!
SUSY had decided to wait for Strefford in London.
The new Lord Altringham was with his family in the north, and
though she found a telegram on arriving, saying that he would
join her in town the following week, she had still an interval
of several days to fill.
London was a desert; the rain fell without ceasing, and alone in
the shabby family hotel which, even out of season, was the best
she could afford, she sat at last face to face with herself.
>From the moment when Violet Melrose had failed to carry out her
plan for the Fulmer children her interest in Susy had visibly
waned. Often before, in the old days, Susy Branch had felt the
same abrupt change of temperature in the manner of the hostess
of the moment; and often--how often--had yielded, and performed
the required service, rather than risk the consequences of
estrangement. To that, at least, thank heaven, she need never
But as she hurriedly packed her trunks at Versailles, scraped
together an adequate tip for Mrs. Match, and bade good-bye to
Violet (grown suddenly fond and demonstrative as she saw her
visitor safely headed for the station)--as Susy went through the
old familiar mummery of the enforced leave-taking, there rose in
her so deep a disgust for the life of makeshifts and
accommodations, that if at that moment Nick had reappeared and
held out his arms to her, she was not sure she would have had
the courage to return to them.
In her London solitude the thirst for independence grew fiercer.
Independence with ease, of course. Oh, her hateful useless love
of beauty ... the curse it had always been to her, the blessing
it might have been if only she had had the material means to
gratify and to express it! And instead, it only gave her a
morbid loathing of that hideous hotel bedroom drowned in yellow
rain-light, of the smell of soot and cabbage through the window,
the blistered wall-paper, the dusty wax bouquets under glass
globes, and the electric lighting so contrived that as you
turned on the feeble globe hanging from the middle of the
ceiling the feebler one beside the bed went out!
What a sham world she and Nick had lived in during their few
months together! What right had either of them to those
exquisite settings of the life of leisure: the long white house
hidden in camellias and cypresses above the lake, or the great
rooms on the Giudecca with the shimmer of the canal always
playing over their frescoed ceilings! Yet she had come to
imagine that these places really belonged to them, that they
would always go on living, fondly and irreproachably, in the
frame of other people's wealth .... That, again, was the curse
of her love of beauty, the way she always took to it as if it
belonged to her!
Well, the awakening was bound to come, and it was perhaps better
that it should have come so soon. At any rate there was no use
in letting her thoughts wander back to that shattered fool's
paradise of theirs. Only, as she sat there and reckoned up the
days till Strefford arrived, what else in the world was there to
Her future and his?
But she knew that future by heart already! She had not spent
her life among the rich and fashionable without having learned
every detail of the trappings of a rich and fashionable
marriage. She had calculated long ago just how many dinner-
dresses, how many tea-gowns and how much lacy lingerie would go
to make up the outfit of the future Countess of Altringham. She
had even decided to which dressmaker she would go for her
chinchilla cloak-for she meant to have one, and down to her
feet, and softer and more voluminous and more extravagantly
sumptuous than Violet's or Ursula's ... not to speak of silver
foxes and sables ... nor yet of the Altringham jewels.
She knew all this by heart; had always known it. It all
belonged to the make-up of the life of elegance: there was
nothing new about it. What had been new to her was just that
short interval with Nick--a life unreal indeed in its setting,
but so real in its essentials: the one reality she had ever
known. As she looked back on it she saw how much it had given
her besides the golden flush of her happiness, the sudden
flowering of sensuous joy in heart and body. Yes--there had
been the flowering too, in pain like birth-pangs, of something
graver, stronger, fuller of future power, something she had
hardly heeded in her first light rapture, but that always came
back and possessed her stilled soul when the rapture sank: the
deep disquieting sense of something that Nick and love had
taught her, but that reached out even beyond love and beyond
Her nerves were racked by the ceaseless swish, swish of the rain
on the dirty panes and the smell of cabbage and coal that came
in under the door when she shut the window. This nauseating
foretaste of the luncheon she must presently go down to was more
than she could bear. It brought with it a vision of the dank
coffee-room below, the sooty Smyrna rug, the rain on the sky-
light, the listless waitresses handing about food that tasted as
if it had been rained on too. There was really no reason why
she should let such material miseries add to her depression ....
She sprang up, put on her hat and jacket, and calling for a taxi
drove to the London branch of the Nouveau Luxe hotel. It was
just one o'clock and she was sure to pick up a luncheon, for
though London was empty that great establishment was not. It
never was. Along those sultry velvet-carpeted halls, in that
great flowered and scented dining-room, there was always a come-
and-go of rich aimless people, the busy people who, having
nothing to do, perpetually pursue their inexorable task from one
end of the earth to the other.
Oh, the monotony of those faces--the faces one always knew,
whether one knew the people they belonged to or not! A fresh
disgust seized her at the sight of them: she wavered, and then
turned and fled. But on the threshold a still more familiar
figure met her: that of a lady in exaggerated pearls and
sables, descending from an exaggerated motor, like the motors in
magazine advertisements, the huge arks in which jewelled
beauties and slender youths pause to gaze at snowpeaks from an
It was Ursula Gillow--dear old Ursula, on her way to Scotland--
and she and Susy fell on each other's necks. It appeared that
Ursula, detained till the next evening by a dress-maker's delay,
was also out of a job and killing time, and the two were soon
smiling at each other over the exquisite preliminaries of a
luncheon which the head-waiter had authoritatively asked Mrs.
Gillow to "leave to him, as usual."
Ursula was in a good humour. It did not often happen; but when
it did her benevolence knew no bounds.
Like Mrs. Melrose, like all her tribe in fact, she was too much
absorbed in her own affairs to give more than a passing thought
to any one else's; but she was delighted at the meeting with
Susy, as her wandering kind always were when they ran across
fellow-wanderers, unless the meeting happened to interfere with
choicer pleasures. Not to be alone was the urgent thing; and
Ursula, who had been forty-eight hours alone in London, at once
exacted from her friend a promise that they should spend the
rest of the day together. But once the bargain struck her mind
turned again to her own affairs, and she poured out her
confidences to Susy over a succession of dishes that manifested
the head-waiter's understanding of the case.
Ursula's confidences were always the same, though they were
usually about a different person. She demolished and rebuilt
her sentimental life with the same frequency and impetuosity as
that with which she changed her dress-makers, did over her
drawing-rooms, ordered new motors, altered the mounting of her
jewels, and generally renewed the setting of her life. Susy
knew in advance what the tale would be; but to listen to it over
perfect coffee, an amber-scented cigarette at her lips, was
pleasanter than consuming cold mutton alone in a mouldy coffee-
room. The contrast was so soothing that she even began to take
a languid interest in her friend's narrative.
After luncheon they got into the motor together and began a
systematic round of the West End shops: furriers, jewellers and
dealers in old furniture. Nothing could be more unlike Violet
Melrose's long hesitating sessions before the things she thought
she wanted till the moment came to decide. Ursula pounced on
silver foxes and old lacquer as promptly and decisively as on
the objects of her surplus sentimentality: she knew at once
what she wanted, and valued it more after it was hers.
"And now--I wonder if you couldn't help me choose a grand
piano?" she suggested, as the last antiquarian bowed them out.
"Yes: for Ruan. I'm sending one down for Grace Fulmer. She's
coming to stay ... did I tell you? I want people to hear her.
I want her to get engagements in London. My dear, she's a
"A Genius--Grace!" Susy gasped. "I thought it was Nat ...."
"Nat--Nat Fulmer? Ursula laughed derisively. "Ah, of course--
you've been staying with that silly Violet! The poor thing is
off her head about Nat--it's really pitiful. Of course he has
talent: I saw that long before Violet had ever heard of him.
Why, on the opening day of the American Artists' exhibition,
last winter, I stopped short before his 'Spring Snow-Storm'
(which nobody else had noticed till that moment), and said to
the Prince, who was with me: 'The man has talent.' But
genius--why, it's his wife who has genius! Have you never heard
Grace play the violin? Poor Violet, as usual, is off on the
wrong tack. I've given Fulmer my garden-house to do--no doubt
Violet told you--because I wanted to help him. But Grace is my
discovery, and I'm determined to make her known, and to have
every one understand that she is the genius of the two. I've
told her she simply must come to Ruan, and bring the best
accompanyist she can find. You know poor Nerone is dreadfully
bored by sport, though of course he goes out with the guns. And
if one didn't have a little art in the evening .... Oh, Susy,
do you mean to tell me you don't know how to choose a piano? I
thought you were so fond of music!"
"I am fond of it; but without knowing anything about it--in the
way we're all of us fond of the worthwhile things in our stupid
set," she added to herself--since it was obviously useless to
impart such reflections to Ursula.
"But are you sure Grace is coming?" she questioned aloud.
"Quite sure. Why shouldn't she? I wired to her yesterday. I'm
giving her a thousand dollars and all her expenses."
It was not till they were having tea in a Piccadilly tea-room
that Mrs. Gillow began to manifest some interest in her
companion's plans. The thought of losing Susy became suddenly
intolerable to her. The Prince, who did not see why he should
be expected to linger in London out of season, was already at
Ruan, and Ursula could not face the evening and the whole of the
next day by herself.
"But what are you doing in town, darling, I don't remember if
I've asked you," she said, resting her firm elbows on the tea-
table while she took a light from Susy's cigarette.
Susy hesitated. She had foreseen that the time must soon come
when she should have to give some account of herself; and why
should she not begin by telling Ursula?
But telling her what?
Her silence appeared to strike Mrs. Gillow as a reproach, and
she continued with compunction: "And Nick? Nick's with you?
How is he, I thought you and he still were in Venice with Ellie
"We were, for a few weeks." She steadied her voice. "It was
delightful. But now we're both on our own again--for a while."
Mrs. Gillow scrutinized her more searchingly. "Oh, you're alone
here, then; quite alone?"
"Yes: Nick's cruising with some friends in the Mediterranean."
Ursula's shallow gaze deepened singularly. "But, Susy darling,
then if you're alone--and out of a job, just for the moment?"
Susy smiled. "Well, I'm not sure."
"Oh, but if you are, darling, and you would come to Ruan! I
know Fred asked you didn't he? And he told me that both you and
Nick had refused. He was awfully huffed at your not coming; but
I suppose that was because Nick had other plans. We couldn't
have him now, because there's no room for another gun; but since
he's not here, and you're free, why you know, dearest, don't
you, how we'd love to have you? Fred would be too glad--too
outrageously glad--but you don't much mind Fred's love-making,
do you? And you'd be such a help to me--if that's any argument!
With that big house full of men, and people flocking over every
night to dine, and Fred caring only for sport, and Nerone simply
loathing it and ridiculing it, and not a minute to myself to try
to keep him in a good humour .... Oh, Susy darling, don't say
no, but let me telephone at once for a place in the train to
Susy leaned back, letting the ash lengthen on her cigarette.
How familiar, how hatefully familiar, was that old appeal!
Ursula felt the pressing need of someone to flirt with Fred for
a few weeks ... and here was the very person she needed. Susy
shivered at the thought. She had never really meant to go to
Ruan. She had simply used the moor as a pretext when Violet
Melrose had gently put her out of doors. Rather than do what
Ursula asked she would borrow a few hundred pounds of Strefford,
as he had suggested, and then look about for some temporary
Until she became Lady Altringham? Well, perhaps. At any rate,
she was not going back to slave for Ursula.
She shook her head with a faint smile. "I'm so sorry, Ursula:
of course I want awfully to oblige you--"
Mrs. Gillow's gaze grew reproachful. "I should have supposed
you would," she murmured. Susy, meeting her eyes, looked into
them down a long vista of favours bestowed, and perceived that
Ursula was not the woman to forget on which side the obligation
lay between them.
Susy hesitated: she remembered the weeks of ecstasy she had
owed to the Gillows' wedding cheque, and it hurt her to appear
"If I could, Ursula ... but really ... I'm not free at the
moment." She paused, and then took an abrupt decision. "The
fact is, I'm waiting here to see Strefford."
"Strefford' Lord Altringham?" Ursula stared. "Ah, yes-I
remember. You and he used to be great friends, didn't you?"
Her roving attention deepened .... But if Susy were waiting to
see Lord Altringham--one of the richest men in England!
Suddenly Ursula opened her gold-meshed bag and snatched a
miniature diary from it.
"But wait a moment--yes, it is next week! I knew it was next
week he's coming to Ruan! But, you darling, that makes
everything all right. You'll send him a wire at once, and come
with me tomorrow, and meet him there instead of in this nasty
sloppy desert .... Oh, Susy, if you knew how hard life is for
me in Scotland between the Prince and Fred you couldn't possibly
Susy still wavered; but, after all, if Strefford were really
bound for Ruan, why not see him there, agreeably and at leisure,
instead of spending a dreary day with him in roaming the wet
London streets, or screaming at him through the rattle of a
restaurant orchestra? She knew he would not be likely to
postpone his visit to Ruan in order to linger in London with
her: such concessions had never been his way, and were less
than ever likely to be, now that he could do so thoroughly and
completely as he pleased.
For the first time she fully understood how different his
destiny had become. Now of course all his days and hours were
mapped out in advance: invitations assailed him, opportunities
pressed on him, he had only to choose .... And the women! She
had never before thought of the women. All the girls in England
would be wanting to marry him, not to mention her own
enterprising compatriots. And there were the married women, who
were even more to be feared. Streff might, for the time, escape
marriage; though she could guess the power of persuasion, family
pressure, all the converging traditional influences he had so
often ridiculed, yet, as she knew, had never completely thrown
off .... Yes, those quiet invisible women at Altringham-his
uncle's widow, his mother, the spinster sisters--it was not
impossible that, with tact and patience--and the stupidest women
could be tactful and patient on such occasions--they might
eventually persuade him that it was his duty, they might put
just the right young loveliness in his way .... But meanwhile,
now, at once, there were the married women. Ah, they wouldn't
wait, they were doubtless laying their traps already! Susy
shivered at the thought. She knew too much about the way the
trick was done, had followed, too often, all the sinuosities of
such approaches. Not that they were very sinuous nowadays:
more often there was just a swoop and a pounce when the time
came; but she knew all the arts and the wiles that led up to it.
She knew them, oh, how she knew them--though with Streff, thank
heaven, she had never been called upon to exercise them! His
love was there for the asking: would she not be a fool to
Perhaps; though on that point her mind still wavered. But at
any rate she saw that, decidedly, it would be better to yield to
Ursula's pressure; better to meet him at Ruan, in a congenial
setting, where she would have time to get her bearings, observe
what dangers threatened him, and make up her mind whether, after
all, it was to be her mission to save him from the other women.
"Well, if you like, then, Ursula ...."
"Oh, you angel, you! I'm so glad! We'll go to the nearest post
office, and send off the wire ourselves."
As they got into the motor Mrs. Gillow seized Susy's arm with a
pleading pressure. "And you will let Fred make love to you a
little, won't you, darling?"
"BUT I can't think," said Ellie Vanderlyn earnestly, "why you
don't announce your engagement before waiting for your divorce.
People are beginning to do it, I assure you--it's so much
Mrs. Vanderlyn, on the way back from St. Moritz to England, had
paused in Paris to renew the depleted wardrobe which, only two
months earlier, had filled so many trunks to bursting. Other
ladies, flocking there from all points of the globe for the same
purpose, disputed with her the Louis XVI suites of the Nouveau
Luxe, the pink-candled tables in the restaurant, the hours for
trying-on at the dressmakers'; and just because they were so
many, and all feverishly fighting to get the same things at the
same time, they were all excited, happy and at ease. It was the
most momentous period of the year: the height of the "dress
Mrs. Vanderlyn had run across Susy Lansing at one of the Rue de
la Paix openings, where rows of ladies wan with heat and emotion
sat for hours in rapt attention while spectral apparitions in
incredible raiment tottered endlessly past them on aching feet.
Distracted from the regal splendours of a chinchilla cloak by
the sense that another lady was also examining it, Mrs.
Vanderlyn turned in surprise at sight of Susy, whose head was
critically bent above the fur.
"Susy! I'd no idea you were here! I saw in the papers that you
were with the Gillows." The customary embraces followed; then
Mrs. Vanderlyn, her eyes pursuing the matchless cloak as it
disappeared down a vista of receding mannequins, interrogated
sharply: "Are you shopping for Ursula? If you mean to order
that cloak for her I'd rather know."
Susy smiled, and paused a moment before answering. During the
pause she took in all the exquisite details of Ellie Vanderlyn's
perpetually youthful person, from the plumed crown of her head
to the perfect arch of her patent-leather shoes. At last she
said quietly: "No--to-day I'm shopping for myself."
"Yourself? Yourself?" Mrs. Vanderlyn echoed with a stare of
"Yes; just for a change," Susy serenely acknowledged.
"But the cloak--I meant the chinchilla cloak ... the one with
the ermine lining ...."
"Yes; it is awfully good, isn't it? But I mean to look
elsewhere before I decide."
Ah, how often she had heard her friends use that phrase; and how
amusing it was, now, to see Ellie's amazement as she heard it
tossed off in her own tone of contemptuous satiety! Susy was
becoming more and more dependent on such diversions; without
them her days, crowded as they were, would nevertheless have
dragged by heavily. But it still amused her to go to the big
dressmakers', watch the mannequins sweep by, and be seen by her
friends superciliously examining all the most expensive dresses
in the procession. She knew the rumour was abroad that she and
Nick were to be divorced, and that Lord Altringham was "devoted"
to her. She neither confirmed nor denied the report: she just
let herself be luxuriously carried forward on its easy tide.
But although it was now three months since Nick had left the
Palazzo Vanderlyn she had not yet written to him-nor he to her.
Meanwhile, in spite of all that she packed into them, the days
passed more and more slowly, and the excitements she had counted
on no longer excited her. Strefford was hers: she knew that he
would marry her as soon as she was free. They had been together
at Ruan for ten days, and after that she had motored south with
him, stopping on the way to see Altringham, from which, at the
moment, his mourning relatives were absent.
At Altringham they had parted; and after one or two more visits
in England she had come back to Paris, where he was now about to
join her. After her few hours at Altringham she had understood
that he would wait for her as long as was necessary: the fear
of the "other women" had ceased to trouble her. But, perhaps
for that very reason, the future seemed less exciting than she
had expected. Sometimes she thought it was the sight of that
great house which had overwhelmed her: it was too vast, too
venerable, too like a huge monument built of ancient territorial
traditions and obligations. Perhaps it had been lived in for
too long by too many serious-minded and conscientious women:
somehow she could not picture it invaded by bridge and debts and
adultery. And yet that was what would have to be, of course ...
she could hardly picture either Strefford or herself continuing
there the life of heavy county responsibilities, dull parties,
laborious duties, weekly church-going, and presiding over local
committees .... What a pity they couldn't sell it and have a
little house on the Thames!
Nevertheless she was not sorry to let it be known that
Altringham was hers when she chose to take it. At times she
wondered whether Nick knew ... whether rumours had reached him.
If they had, he had only his own letter to thank for it. He had
told her what course to pursue; and she was pursuing it.
For a moment the meeting with Ellie Vanderlyn had been a shock
to her; she had hoped never to see Ellie again. But now that
they were actually face to face Susy perceived how dulled her
sensibilities were. In a few moments she had grown used to
Ellie, as she was growing used to everybody and to everything in
the old life she had returned to. What was the use of making
such a fuss about things? She and Mrs. Vanderlyn left the
dress-maker's together, and after an absorbing session at a new
milliner's were now taking tea in Ellie's drawing-room at the
Ellie, with her spoiled child's persistency, had come back to
the question of the chinchilla cloak. It was the only one she
had seen that she fancied in the very least, and as she hadn't a
decent fur garment left to her name she was naturally in
somewhat of a hurry ... but, of course, if Susy had been
choosing that model for a friend ....
Susy, leaning back against her cushions, examined through half-
closed lids Mrs. Vanderlyn's small delicately-restored
countenance, which wore the same expression of childish
eagerness as when she discoursed of the young Davenant of the
moment. Once again Susy remarked that, in Ellie's agitated
existence, every interest appeared to be on exactly the same
"The poor shivering dear," she answered laughing, "of course it
shall have its nice warm winter cloak, and I'll choose another
"Oh, you darling, you! If you would! Of course, whoever you
were ordering it for need never know ...."
"Ah, you can't comfort yourself with that, I'm afraid. I've
already told you that I was ordering it for myself." Susy
paused to savour to the full Ellie's look of blank bewilderment;
then her amusement was checked by an indefinable change in her
"Oh, dearest--seriously? I didn't know there was someone ...."
Susy flushed to the forehead. A horror of humiliation
overwhelmed her. That Ellie should dare to think that of her--
that anyone should dare to!
"Someone buying chinchilla cloaks for me? Thanks!" she flared
out. "I suppose I ought to be glad that the idea didn't
immediately occur to you. At least there was a decent interval
of doubt ...." She stood up, laughing again, and began to
wander about the room. In the mirror above the mantel she
caught sight of her flushed angry face, and of Mrs. Vanderlyn's
disconcerted stare. She turned toward her friend.
"I suppose everybody else will think it if you do; so perhaps
I'd better explain." She paused, and drew a quick breath.
"Nick and I mean to part--have parted, in fact. He's decided
that the whole thing was a mistake. He will probably; marry
again soon--and so shall I."
She flung the avowal out breathlessly, in her nervous dread of
letting Ellie Vanderlyn think for an instant longer that any
other explanation was conceivable. She had not meant to be so
explicit; but once the words were spoken she was not altogether
sorry. Of course people would soon begin to wonder why she was
again straying about the world alone; and since it was by Nick's
choice, why should she not say so? Remembering the burning
anguish of those last hours in Venice she asked herself what
possible consideration she owed to the man who had so humbled
Ellie Vanderlyn glanced at her in astonishment. "You? You and
Nick--are going to part?" A light appeared to dawn on her.
"Ah--then that's why he sent me back my pin, I suppose?"
"Your pin?" Susy wondered, not at once remembering.
"The poor little scarf-pin I gave him before I left Venice. He
sent it back almost at once, with the oddest note--just: 'I
haven't earned it, really.' I couldn't think why he didn't care
for the pin. But, now I suppose it was because you and he had
quarrelled; though really, even so, I can't see why he should
bear me a grudge ...."
Susy's quick blood surged up. Nick had sent back the pin-the
fatal pin! And she, Susy, had kept the bracelet--locked it up
out of sight, shrunk away from the little packet whenever her
hand touched it in packing or unpacking--but never thought of
returning it, no, not once! Which of the two, she wondered, had
been right? Was it not an indirect slight to her that Nick
should fling back the gift to poor uncomprehending Ellie? Or
was it not rather another proof of his finer moral
sensitiveness! ... And how could one tell, in their bewildering
world, "It was not because we've quarrelled; we haven't
quarrelled," she said slowly, moved by the sudden desire to
defend her privacy and Nick's, to screen from every eye their
last bitter hour together. "We've simply decided that our
experiment was impossible-for two paupers."
"Ah, well--of course we all felt that at the time. And now
somebody else wants to marry you! And it's your trousseau you
were choosing that cloak for?" Ellie cried in incredulous
rapture; then she flung her arms about Susy's shrinking
shoulders. "You lucky lucky girl! You clever clever darling!
But who on earth can he be?"
And it was then that Susy, for the first time, had pronounced
the name of Lord Altringham.
"Streff--Streff? Our dear old Streff, You mean to say he wants
to marry you?" As the news took possession of her mind Ellie
became dithyrambic. "But, my dearest, what a miracle of luck!
Of course I always knew he was awfully gone on you: Fred
Davenant used to say so, I remember ... and even Nelson, who's
so stupid about such things, noticed it in Venice .... But then
it was so different. No one could possibly have thought of
marrying him then; whereas now of course every woman is trying
for him. Oh, Susy, whatever you do, don't miss your chance!
You can't conceive of the wicked plotting and intriguing there
will be to get him--on all sides, and even where one least
suspects it. You don't know what horrors women will do-and
even girls!" A shudder ran through her at the thought, and she
caught Susy's wrists in vehement fingers. "But I can't think,
my dear, why you don't announce your engagement at once. People
are beginning to do it, I assure you--it's so much safer!"
Susy looked at her, wondering. Not a word of sympathy for the
ruin of her brief bliss, not even a gleam of curiosity as to its
cause! No doubt Ellie Vanderlyn, like all Susy's other friends,
had long since "discounted" the brevity of her dream, and
perhaps planned a sequel to it before she herself had seen the
glory fading. She and Nick had spent the greater part of their
few weeks together under Ellie Vanderlyn's roof; but to Ellie,
obviously, the fact meant no more than her own escapade, at the
same moment, with young Davenant's supplanter--the "bounder"
whom Strefford had never named. Her one thought for her friend
was that Susy should at last secure her prize--her incredible
prize. And therein at any rate Ellie showed the kind of cold
disinterestedness that raised her above the smiling perfidy of
the majority of her kind. At least her advice was sincere; and
perhaps it was wise. Why should Susy not let every one know
that she meant to marry Strefford as soon as the "formalities"
She did not immediately answer Mrs. Vanderlyn's question; and
the latter, repeating it, added impatiently: "I don't
understand you; if Nick agrees-"
"Oh, he agrees," said Susy.
"Then what more do you want! Oh, Susy, if you'd only follow my
"Your example?" Susy paused, weighed the word, was struck by
something embarrassed, arch yet half-apologetic in her friend's
expression. "Your example?" she repeated. "Why, Ellie, what on
earth do you mean? Not that you're going to part from poor
Mrs. Vanderlyn met her reproachful gaze with a crystalline
glance. "I don't want to, heaven knows--poor dear Nelson! I
assure you I simply hate it. He's always such an angel to
Clarissa ... and then we're used to each other. But what in the
world am I to do? Algie's so rich, so appallingly rich, that I
have to be perpetually on the watch to keep other women away
from him--and it's too exhausting ...."
Mrs. Vanderlyn's lovely eyebrows rose. "Algie: Algie
Bockheimer. Didn't you know, I think he said you've dined with
his parents. Nobody else in the world is as rich as the
Bockheimers; and Algie's their only child. Yes, it was with
him ... with him I was so dreadfully happy last spring ... and
now I'm in mortal terror of losing him. And I do assure you
there's no other way of keeping them, when they're as hideously
rich as that!"
Susy rose to her feet. A little shudder ran over her. She
remembered, now, having seen Algie Bockheimer at one of his
parents' first entertainments, in their newly-inaugurated marble
halls in Fifth Avenue. She recalled his too faultless clothes
and his small glossy furtive countenance. She looked at Ellie
Vanderlyn with sudden scorn.
"I think you're abominable," she exclaimed.
The other's perfect little face collapsed. "A-bo-minable?
"Yes ... with Nelson ... and Clarissa ... and your past
together ... and all the money you can possibly want ... and
that man! Abominable."
Ellie stood up trembling: she was not used to scenes, and they
disarranged her thoughts as much as her complexion.
"You're very cruel, Susy--so cruel and dreadful that I hardly
know how to answer you," she stammered. "But you simply don't
know what you're talking about. As if anybody ever had all the
money they wanted!" She wiped her dark-rimmed eyes with a
cautious handkerchief, glanced at herself in the mirror, and
added magnanimously: "But I shall try to forget what you've
JUST such a revolt as she had felt as a girl, such a disgusted
recoil from the standards and ideals of everybody about her as
had flung her into her mad marriage with Nick, now flamed in
Susy Lansing's bosom.
How could she ever go back into that world again? How echo its
appraisals of life and bow down to its judgments? Alas, it was
only by marrying according to its standards that she could
escape such subjection. Perhaps the same thought had actuated
Nick: perhaps he had understood sooner than she that to attain
moral freedom they must both be above material cares.
Her talk with Ellie Vanderlyn had left Susy so oppressed and
humiliated that she almost shrank from her meeting with
Altringham the next day. She knew that he was coming to Paris
for his final answer; he would wait as long as was necessary if
only she would consent to take immediate steps for a divorce.
She was staying at a modest hotel in the Faubourg St. Germain,
and had once more refused his suggestion that they should lunch
at the Nouveau Luxe, or at some fashionable restaurant of the
Boulevards. As before, she insisted on going to an out-of-the-
way place near the Luxembourg, where the prices were moderate
enough for her own purse.
"I can't understand," Strefford objected, as they turned from
her hotel door toward this obscure retreat, "why you insist on
giving me bad food, and depriving me of the satisfaction of
being seen with you. Why must we be so dreadfully clandestine?
Don't people know by this time that we're to be married?"
Susy winced a little: she wondered if the word would always
sound so unnatural on his lips.
"No," she said, with a laugh, "they simply think, for the
present, that you're giving me pearls and chinchilla cloaks."