Part 7 out of 7
He rose abruptly almost overturning his fragile chair.
"Good-by, and as I guess it _is_ good-by I'll tell you something I wouldn't
if there was any chance of my seein' you like I used to. It's this: If I'm
more of a socialist than ever it's because of _you_! If my class hatred's
blacker than ever _you're_ the cause! _You'd_ have made me a socialist if
I wasn't one before. _Jesus Christ_! When I think what I might have had if
we'd all been born alike! Had the same chances! If you hadn't been born at
the top and I down at the bottom...common...not even educated except by
myself after I was too old to get what a boy gets that goes to school long
enough. I wouldn't mind bein' born ugly. There's plenty of men at the top
that's ugly enough, God knows. But just one generation with money irons out
the commonness. That's it! I'm common! Common! Common. _Democracy_! Oh,
He caught up his cap and rushed out of the room,
Alexina ran after him and caught him at the garden door. Like all beautiful
women who have listened to many declarations of love (or avoided them) she
was inclined to be cruel to men that roused no response in her. But she
felt only pity for Kirkpatrick.
She had intended merely to insist upon shaking hands with him, but when she
saw his contorted face she slipped her arm round his neck and kissed him
warmly on the cheek.
Then she pushed him gently through the door and locked it.
Alexina had finished giving tea to two officers, a surgeon and a medecin
major, and, enchanted almost as much by the sugar and the white bread as
by their hostess, refreshingly beautiful and elegant in her velvet gown of
pervenche blue, they had lingered until nearly six. As the concierge had
gone out on an errand of her own Alexina had opened the garden door for
them, and after they disappeared she stood looking at the street, which
always fascinated her.
It was very narrow and crooked and gray. Her house was the only one with a
garden in front; the others rose perpendicularly from the narrow pavement,
tall and close and rather imposing. Each was heavily shuttered, the
shutters as gray as the walls. The town had been evacuated during the
first Battle of the Marne and only the poor had returned. The well-to-do
provincials in this street had had homes elsewhere, perhaps a flat in
Paris; or they had established themselves in the south.
The street had an intensely secretive air, brooding, waiting. Soon all
these houses would be reopened, the dull calm life of a provincial town
would flow again, the only difference being that the women who went in and
out of those narrow doors and down this long and twisted street would
wear black; but for the most part they would sit in their gardens behind,
secluded from every eye, as indifferent to their neighbors as of old, with
that ingrained unchangeable bourgeois suspicion and exclusiveness; and the
facades, the street itself, would look little less secretive than now.
Nowhere could she find such seclusion if she wished for it. This house was
the only one in the street that belonged to a member of the noblesse, and
the bourgeoisie had as little "use" for the noblesse as the noblesse for
For the moment Alexina felt that the house was hers, and the street itself.
She was literally its only inhabitant. As she stood looking up and down
its misty grayness she felt more peaceful than she had felt for many days.
There were certain fierce terrible emotions that she never wanted to feel
again, and one of them was ruthlessness. She had done much good in the past
four years; she had been, for the most part, high-minded, self-sacrificing,
indifferent to the petty things of life, even to discomfort, and it had
given her a sense of elevation--when she had had time to think about it. It
was only certain extraordinary circumstances that brought other qualities
as inherent as life itself surging to the top. It was demoralizing even to
fight them, for that involved recognition. Better that she protect herself
from their assaults. True, she was young, but she had had her fill of
drama. All her old cravings, never satisfied in the old days of peace
without and insurgence within, had been surfeited by this close personal
contact with the greatest drama in history.
Why return to Paris at all? Why not settle down here at once, live a life
of thought and study, and give abundant help where help was needed? There
were villages within a few miles where the inhabitants were living in the
ruins. (The Germans in their first retreat had been too hard pressed to
linger long enough to set fire to this large town and they had not been
able to reach it during their second drive.)
That had been a last flicker of romance at the embassy...a last resurgence
of the evil the war had done her, as she sat in her cold room...a last
blaze of sheer femininity when she discovered that Gora had come to Paris
in search of Gathbroke....
She felt as if she had escaped from a bottomless pit....Assuredly she had
the will and the character to make herself now into whatever she chose to
be...let Gora have him if she could find him and keep him....Better that
than hating herself for the rest of her life...love, far from being
ennobling, seemed to her the most demoralizing of the passions...there had
been something ennobling, expanding, soul-stirring in hating the brutal
mediaeval race that had devastated France...but in the reaction from her
fierce registered vow to snatch a man from a forlorn unhappy woman no
matter what her claims and have him for her own, she had shrunk from this
new revelation of her depths in horror....One could not live with that....
A man in khaki was walking quickly down the long crooked street. As he
approached she saw the red on his collar. He was a British officer. In
another moment she was shaking hands with Gathbroke,
She was far more composed than he, although she felt as if the world had
turned over, and there was a roar in her ears like the sound of distant
guns. She had a vague impression that the war had begun again.
"You are the last person I should have expected to meet here. There is no
"I came here to see you. I got your address from Madaine de Morsigny. I saw
her last night at a reception and recognized her. She was at that ball in
San Francisco. I introduced myself at once and asked her if you were in
Paris. I was sure it was you...that night...."
"Will you come in!"
He followed her into the salon, softly lit by candles. She felt that
fate for once had been kind. It was difficult to imagine surroundings or
conditions in which she would look lovelier, be seen to greater advantage.
But her hands were cold.
"It is too late for tea but perhaps you will share my frugal supper."
"If it won't inconvenience you too much. Thanks."
She sat down in the wide brocaded chair with its tarnished back. He stood
looking at her for a moment, then took a turn up and down the long room.
Certainly she could not object to him to-day on the score of youth and
freshness. His hair had lost its brightness. His face was very brown and
thin and the lines if not deep were visible even in the candle light. His
nose and mouth had the hard determination that life, more especially life
in war time, develops; it was no casual trick of Nature with him. His eyes
were still the same bright golden hazel, but their expression was keen
and alert, and commanding. She fancied they could look as hard as those
features more susceptible to modeling.
"Smoke if you like."
"Thanks. I don't want to smoke."
Finally when Alexina was gripping the arms of the chair he began to speak.
"I feel rather an ass. I hardly know how to begin. I'm no longer
twenty-three. I've lived several lifetimes since this war began, and made
up my mind twice that I was going out. I should feel ninety. Somehow I
don't feel vastly different from that day when I grabbed you like a brute
because I wanted you more than anything on earth....
"I don't pretend that I've thought of you ever since. I've forgotten you
for years at a time. But there have been moments when you have simply
projected yourself into me and been closer than any mortal has ever been.
You were there!
"I felt there was some meaning in those sudden secret wonderful visits of
your soul to mine--I hate to say what sounds like sentimental rotting,
but that exactly expresses it. They belonged to some other plane of
consciousness. It takes war to shift a man over the border if only for a
moment. It kept me--lately--from...never mind that now. When I saw your
eyes above that tiny yellow flame...it wasn't only that your eyes are not
to be matched anywhere...it seemed to me that I saw myself in them, They
came as dose as that! Laugh if you like."
He stood defiantly in front of her.
"God! You look as if you never had had an emotion, never could have one.
But you had once, if only for a moment!"
"I have never had one since--for any one, that is. I hear the concierge.
I'll tell her to set a place for you."
She left the room and he stared after her. Her words had been full of
meaning but her voice had been even and cold.
She returned and asked: "Are you in any way committed to Gora Dwight?"
"No...yes...that is...why do you ask me that?"
"Are you engaged to her?"
"I am not. But I came very close--that is, of course if she would have had
me. She nursed me after I was wounded and gassed. She was a wonderful nurse
and there was something almost romantic in meeting her again...as if she
had come straight out of the past. We had an extraordinary experience as
you know. I was not in the least drawn to her at that time. You filled,
He hesitated. But it was a barrier he had not anticipated and it must go
down. Moreover, it was evident that she wouldn't talk, and he was too
excited for silence on his own part.
"She was there...when a man is weakest...when he values tenderness above
all things...when he does little thinking on either the past or the future.
"She has a queer odd kind of fascination too, and any man must admire a
woman so clever and capable and altogether fine. Several times I almost
proposed to her. But there is no privacy in wards. I was sent back to
England and went to my brother's house in Hertfordshire. It was then that
you began to haunt me. She had rejuvenated that California period in my
mind--resuscitated it...but both express what I am trying to say. We had
often talked about California and the fire. She alluded to you, casually,
of course, more than once; but as I looked back I gathered that your
marriage had been a mistake and that you had known it for a long time.
"She did not come to England until four months later, and then she was
in charge of a hospital. I took her out occasionally--she was very much
confined. I liked her as much as ever. But _I didn't want her_. It seemed
tragic. There was one chance in a million that I should ever meet you
again. Once I deliberately drew her on to talk of you and asked why you
did not divorce your husband. She commented satirically upon the intense
conservatism of your family and of your own inflexible pride. She added
that you were the only beautiful woman she had ever known who seemed to be
quite indifferent to men--sexless, she meant! But no woman knows anything
about other women. I knew better!
"As I said it was rather tragic. To be haunted by a chimera! I liked her so
much. Admired her. Who wouldn't? If she had been able to take me home, to
remain with me, there is no doubt in the world that I should have married
her if she would have had me....I prefer now to believe that she wouldn't.
Why should she, with a great career in front of her?
"No doubt I should have loved her--with what little love I had to give. But
those months had taught me that I could do without her, although I enjoyed
her letters. Even so...
"It was after she came to London that I felt I had to talk to some one and
I went down, to the country to see Lady Vick-Elton Gwynne's mother. She had
founded a hospital and run it, and was resting, worn out. She is a hard
nut, empty, withered, arid. Nothing left in her but noblesse oblige. But
there is little she doesn't know. She was smoking a black cigar that would
have knocked me down and looked like an old sibyl. I told her the whole
story--all of it, that is that was not too sacred. She puffed such, a cloud
of smoke that I could see nothing but her hard, bright, wise, old eyes. 'Go
after her,' she said. 'Find her. Divorce her. Marry her. That's where you
men have the advantage. You can stalk straight out into the open and demand
what you want point blank. No scheming, plotting, deceit, being one thing
and pretending another, in other words ice when you are fire. Beastly role,
woman's--' I interrupted to remind her that it was twelve years since I
had seen you; that you had thrown me down as hard as a man ever got it and
married another man. There was no more reason to believe that I could win
you now. Then she asked me what I had come to see her and bore her to death
for when she was trying to rest. 'If you want a thing go for it and get it,
or if you can't get it at least find out that you can't. Also see her again
and find out whether you want her or not, instead of mooning like a silly
"The upshot was I made tip my mind to go to California as soon as I could
obtain my discharge. It never occurred to me that you were in Paris. Then
I was sent to Paris with the Commission. I have certain expert
knowledge....For some reason I didn't tell Miss Dwight....I wrote her a
hurried note saying that I was obliged to go to Paris for a few weeks.
"The night after I arrived I saw you at the Embassy. That finished it. If I
hadn't been sent back to England for some papers--twice--I'd have found you
The concierge announced supper. Alexina had brought food with her and the
little meal was good if not abundant. The dining-room was very dreary,
although warmed by the petrol stove. It was a long dark room, paneled to
the ceiling, and the two candles on the table did little more to define
their lineaments to each other than the flames of briquet and match.
The concierge served and they talked of the Peace Conference and of
the general pessimism that prevailed. Same old diplomacy. Same old
diplomatists. Same old ambitions. Same old European policies. An idealist
had about as much chance with those astute conventionalized brains dyed in
the diplomatic wiles and methods of the centuries as an unarmed man on
foot with a pack of wolves....At the moment all the other Commissions were
cursing Italy....She might be the stumbling block to ultimate peace....As
for the League of Nations, as well ask for the millenium at once. Human,
nature probably inspired the creed: "As it was in the beginning, is now,
and ever shall be," etc. "What we want" (this, Gathbroke), "is an alliance
between Great Britain, and the United States. They could rule the world.
Let the rest of everlastingly snarling Europe go hang." Elton Gwynne would
work for that. He had already obtained his discharge and returned to
America. He, Gathbroke, 'd work for it too. So would anybody else in the
two countries that had any sense and no personal fish to fry.
When they returned to the salon he smoked. Alexina was thankful that it was
cigarettes. Mortimer had made her hate cigars. If, like most Englishmen, he
loved his pipe, he had the tact to keep it in his pocket.
It was she who reopened the subject that filled him.
"I feel sorry for Gora. Her life has been a tragedy in a way. Of course she
has had her successes, her compensations. But it isn't quite everything
to be the best of nurses, and I don't know that even writing could fill
a woman's life. Not unless she'd had the other thing first. I am afraid
she'll never be very popular anyhow. There are only small groups here and
there in America than can stand intellect in fiction....It seems to me that
she would make a great wife. I mean that. It is a great role and she could
fill it greatly. I don't know, of course, whether she cares for you or not.
I am not in her confidence. She is staying at my pension in Passy and I saw
her constantly for ten days before I came here, but she did not mention
your name....If she does she's the sort that would never marry any one else
and her life would be spoilt. I don't mean to say she would give up, but
she would just keep going. That seems to me the greatest tragedy of all....
"No! Why should there be any of this conventional subterfuge. I believe
that she does care for you. I believed so long ago. I was jealous of her.
I don't mean, to say that I was in love with you. I--perhaps forced myself
not to be. It seemed too silly. Too utterly hopeless....Besides I knew
even then the danger of letting myself go...of the unbridled imagination.
Probably love is all imagination anyhow. French marriages would seem to
prove it. But we--your race and mine--have fallen into a sublime sort of
error, and we'll no more reason ourselves out of it than out of the sex
tyranny itself....I don't see how I could be happy with the eternal
knowledge that Gora was miserable--that she would be happy if I had
remained in California...."
"I have just told you that I should have gone to California as soon as I
The air between them quivered and their eyes were almost one. But he
remained smoking in his chair and continued:
"I marry you or no one. A man well and a man ill are two different beings.
In illness sex is dormant. When a man is well he wants a woman or he
doesn't want her. It may be neither his fault nor hers. But if she hasn't
the sex pull for him, doesn't make a powerful insistent demand upon his
passion, there is nothing to build on. I haven't come out alive from that
shrieking hell to be satisfied with second-class emotions. I lay one night
under three dead bodies, not one over twenty-five. I knew them all. Each
was deeply in love with a woman....Well, I knew the value of life that
night if I never did before. And life was given to us, when we can hold on
to it, for the highest happiness of which we are individually capable, no
matter what else we are forced to put up with. Happiness at the highest
pitch, not makeshifts....The horrors, the obstacles, the very demons in our
own characters were second thoughts on the part of Life either to satisfy
her own spite or to throw her highest purpose into stronger relief. I'll
have the highest or nothing."
"But that is not everything. There must be other things to make it lasting.
Gora would make a great companion."
"Not half so great--to me--as you would and you know it. I hope you will
understand that I dislike extremely to speak of Miss Dwight at all. If you
had not brought her name into it I never should have done so. But now I
feel I must have a complete understanding with you at any cost."
He dropped his cigarette on the table. He left his chair swiftly and
snatched her from her own. His face was dark and he was trembling even more
than she was.
"I'll have you...have you...."
Gora entered her room at the pension, mechanically lit the oil stove that
Alexina had procured for her, threw her hat on the bed, sat down in the low
chair and thrust her hands info the thick coils of hair piled as always on
top of her head. As she did so she caught sight of herself in the mirror
and wondered absurdly why she should have kept all her hair and lost so
much of her face. She looked more top-heavy than ever. Her face was a small
oblong, her eyes out of all proportion. She thought herself hideous.
She had heard two hours before that Gathbroke was in Paris attached to
the British Commission. She had met an old acquaintance, a San Francisco
newspaper man, who had taken her to lunch and spoken of him casually.
Gathbroke had good-naturedly given him an Interview when other members of
the Commission had been inaccessible.
Gathbroke had told her nothing of a definite object when he wrote her that
he was off for Paris. Nor had he mentioned it in the note he had written
her after his arrival. This had been merely to tell her that he was feeling
as well as he ever had felt in his life and was enjoying himself. Polite
admonition not to tire herself out. He was always hers gratefully and her
He had written the note at the Rite Hotel, but when, assuming this was
his address, she had called him up on her arrival, she had received the
information that he was not stopping there, nor had been.
Gora was very proud. But she was also very much in love; and she had been
in love with Gathbroke for twelve years. For the greater part of that time
she had believed it to be hopeless, but it had always been with her, a sad
but not too painful undertone in her busy life. It had kept her from even
a passing interest in another man. She had even felt a Somewhat ironic
gratitude to him and his indifference, for all the forces of her nature,
deprived of their natural outlet, went into her literary work, informing it
with an arresting and a magnetic vitality. She had believed herself to be
without hope, but in the remote feminine fastnesses of her nature she had
hoped, even dreamed--when she had the time. That was not often. Her life,
except when at her desk with her literary faculty turned loose, had been
practical to excess.
She would have offered her services in any case to one of the warring
allies, no doubt of that; the tremendous adventure would have appealed to
her quite aside from the natural desire to place her high accomplishment as
a nurse at the disposal of tortured men. Nevertheless she was quite aware
that she went to the British Army with the distinct hope of meeting
Gathbroke again; quite as, under the cloak of travel, she would have gone
to England long since had she not been swindled by Mortimer.
Until she found him insensible, apparently at the point of death, after the
terrible disaster of March, nineteen-eighteen, she had only heard of him
once: when she read in the _Times_ he had been awarded the D.S.O.
She knew then where he was and maneuvered to get back to France. She found
him sooner than she had dared to hope. And she believed that she had saved
his life. Not only by her accomplished nursing. Her powerful will had
thrown out its grappling irons about his escaping ego and dragged it back
and held it in its exhausted tenement.
He had believed that also. He had an engaging spontaneity of nature and
he had felt and shown her a lively gratitude. He was restless and frankly
unhappy when she was out of his sight. He had a charming way of Baying
charming things to a woman and he said them to her. But he was also as full
of ironic humor as in his letters and "ragged" her. And he talked to her
eagerly when he was better and she had gone with him to a hospital far back
of the lines. There were intervals when they could talk, and the other men
would listen...and had taken things for granted.
So had she. He had not made love to her. There was no privacy. Moreover,
she guessed that his keen sense of the ridiculous would not permit him to
make love to any woman when helpless under her hands.
But how could there be other than one finale to such a story as theirs?
What was fiction but the reflection of life? if she had written a story
with these obvious materials there could have been but one logical
ending--unless, in a sudden spasm of reaction against romance, she had
killed him off.
But he would live; and not be strong enough to return to the front for
mouths...the war _must_ be over by then....As for romance, well, she was in
the romantic mood. It was a right of youth that she had missed, but a woman
may be quite as romantic at thirty-four as at eighteen, if she has sealed
her fountain instead of splashing it dry when she was too young to know
its preciousness. Once before she had surrendered to romance, fleetingly:
during the week that followed the night she had sat on Calvary with
Gathbroke and watched a sea of flames.
The mood descended upon her, possessed her. She had other patients. There
were the same old horrors, the same heart-rending duties; but the mood
stayed with her. And after he left, for England. She knew there could, be
but one ending. Her imagination had surrendered to tradition.
Moreover, she was tired of hard work. She wanted to settle down in a home.
She wanted children. She must always write, of course. Writing was as
natural to her as breathing. And she had already proved that a woman could
do two things equally well.
She never thought of trying to follow him back to England, to shirk the
increasing terrible duties behind the reorganized but harassed armies. The
wounded seemed to drop through the hospital roof like flies.
Nevertheless when she was abruptly transferred to London she went without
protest! It was then that she began to have misgivings. She was given
charge of a large hospital just outside of London and her duties were
constant and confining. But she managed to go out to lunch with him twice
and once to dine; after which they drove back to the hospital in a slow and
battered old hansom.
She returned a few weeks before the Armistice. She had not seen him for
four months. He was well and expecting to be sent back to the front any
day. At present they were making use of him in London.
If anything he appeared to admire her more than ever, to be more solicitous
for her health. He lamented personally her exacting duties. But it was the
almost exuberant friendliness of one man for another, for a comrade, a good
fellow; although he often paid her quick little diagnostic compliments. If
she hadn't loved him she would have enjoyed his companionship. He had read
and thought and lived. Before the war he had been in active public life. He
had far greater plans for the future.
He had been almost entirely impersonal. It had maddened her. Even the night
they had driven through the dark streets of London out to her hospital,
although he had talked more or less about himself, even encouraged her to
talk about herself, there had not been one instant of correlation.
But she had made excuses as women do, in self-defense. He assumed that
he might easily go back to the front just in time to get himself killed,
although the end of the war was in sight....Her utter lack of experience
with men in any sex relation had made her stiff, even in her letters;
afraid of "giving herself away." She had no coquetry. If she had,
pride would have forbidden her to use it. Her ideals were intensely
old-fashioned. She wanted to be pursued, won. The man must do it all. Her
writings had never been in the least romantic. Well, she was, if romance
meant having certain fixed ideals.
One thing puzzled her. When she wrote she manipulated her men and women in
their mutual relations with a master-hand. But she had not the least idea
how to manage her own affair. What was genius? A rotten spot in the brain,
a displacement of particles that operated independently of personality, of
the inherited ego? Possession? Ancestors come to life for an hour in the
subliminal depths? But what did she care for genius anyhow!
One thing she would have been willing to do as her part, aside from meeting
him mentally at all points and showing a brisk frank pleasure in his
society: give him every chance to woo and win her, to find her more and
more indispensable to his happiness. But she was no woman of leisure. She
could not receive him in charming toilettes in an equally seductive room.
She had nothing for evening wear but an old black satin gown. After her
arrival in London she had found time to buy a smart enough tailored coat
and skirt, and a hat, but nothing more.
And after the Armistice was declared she only saw him once.
Then came his abrupt departure for Paris. His noncommittal note. Even then
she refused to despair. It would be an utterly impossible end to such a
story...after twelve years...not for a moment would she accept that.
She applied for her discharge. During her long stay in the British service
she had made influential friends. She had also made a high record not only
for ability but for an untiring fidelity. Her vacations had been few and
brief. She obtained her discharge and went to Paris. Her pride would permit
her to telephone. What more natural? Nothing would have surprised him more
than if she had not. She had little doubt of his falling into the habit of
daily companionship. He knew Paris and she did not. He would have seen her
daily in London if she had been free.
Something, no doubt of that, held him back. He was discouraged...or not
sure of himself....She had assumed as a matter of course that he was at the
Ritz. When she found that he was not, had not been, she realized that he
had omitted to give her an address.
That might have been mere carelessness....But to find him in Paris! She had
not visualized such swarms of people. She might almost have passed him on
the street and not seen him. But not for a moment did she waver from her
purpose. She held passionately to the belief that were they together day
after day, hours on end....
She had telephoned an hour ago to the hotel where he was staying with other
members of the British Commission and been told that he was out of town,
but might return any moment.
There was nothing to do but write him a note and wait. She was not equal
to the humiliation of telephoning a third time. She wrote it at the hotel
where her English friends were staying and sent it by messenger, having
heard of the idiosyncracies of the Paris post.
Hastings, her newspaper friend, had been altogether a bird of ill omen. He
had told her that the American market was glutted with "war stuff." The
public was sick of it. Some of the magazines were advertising that
they would read no more of it. She had told him that her material was
magnificent and he had replied: "Can it. Maybe a year or two from
now--five, more likely. I'm told over here that the war fiction we've had
wished on us by the ton resembles the real thing just about as much as
maneuvers look like the first Battle of the Marne, say, when the Germans
didn't know where they were at; went out quail hunting and struck a jungle
full of tigers....Why not? When most of 'em were written by men of middle
age snug beside a library fire with mattresses on the roof--in America not
even a Zeppelin to warm up their blood. But that doesn't matter. The public
took it all as gospel. Ate it up. Now it is fed up and wants something
And what a future if he--but that she would not face.
She heard Janet Maynard, who had returned alone the day before from
Nice, enter the next, room. She kept very still; she had no desire for
conversation. But Janet tapped on her door in a moment and entered looking
"I've something to tell you," she announced. "You'd never guess in a
thousand years. Don't get up. 111 sit on the bed-used to any old place.
Only too thankful it isn't a box, or to sit down at all. Try one of mine?
Don't you feel well?"
"I've a rotten headache."
"Oh...mind my smoking?"
"Not a bit. What did you have to tell me?"
"Well, 'way back in ancient times, B.W., nineteen hundred and six, a young
Englishman named Gathbroke came to California after his sister, who was
ill." She was blowing rings and did not see Gora's face. When she leveled
her eyes Gora was unbuttoning her gaiters. "It seems she died some time
during the fire and he had a perfectly horrid experience getting the body
out to the cemetery. But that has nothing to do with the story. He met
Olive and the rest of us--_and Alexina_--the night of the Hofer ball. I had
forgotten the whole thing until Olive reminded me that we had joked Alex
afterward about the way she had bowled him over. His eyes simply followed
her, but Mortimer gave him no chance.
"Then. I remembered something else. Isabel Gwynne once told me that her
husband was sure Gathbroke had proposed to Alex one day when he took him
down to Eincona. He was in a simply awful state of nerves afterward. John
thought he was going out of his mind. Now, here's the point. Night before
last Olive was at a, ball and who should come up to her and introduce
himself but Gathbroke. He's changed a lot but she recognized him. Well, he
hardly waited to finish the usual amenities before he asked her plump out
if Alex was in Paris, said he was positive he had seen her at that embassy
ball where all the lights went out and they expected a riot. He turned
white when he did it, but he was as direct as chain lightning. He wanted
her address. Of course he got it. Olive was thrilled. It's safe to assume
that he's with Alex at the present moment. At any rate Olive called him up
this morning intending to ask him to dinner, and was told he was out of
town. Now, isn't that romance for you?"
"Twelve years! Fancy a man being faithful all that time. Hadn't got what he
wanted, that's probably why. Have you ever heard Alex speak of him? Think
she'll divorce Mortimer?"
"I asked her the other night why she didn't. She said it was against the
traditions of the family. But--I recall--she said--it seemed to me there
was a curious sort of meaning in her voice--that if she wanted to marry a
man nothing would stop her."
"And it wouldn't. Nothing would stop Alexina if anything started her. The
trouble always was to start her. She's indolent and unsusceptible and
fastidious. But deep and intense--Lord! Mark my words, she saw him at the
Embassy. If she did and the thing's mutual she'll give poor old Maria such
a shock that the war will look like ten cents."
"You look really ill, Gora. No wonder you have headaches with that hair.
It's magnificent--but! Go to bed and I'll send up your dinner. Got any
The day was fine and Alexina took advantage of the brief interval of grace
and went for a walk. Gathbroke was in Paris but might come out any moment.
She wore a coat and skirt of heavy white English tweed with a silk blouse
of periwinkle blue. The same soft shade lined her black velvet hat.
She had a number of notes changed at the bank and struck out for one of the
ruined villages. She was in a mood to distribute happiness, and only silver
coin could carry a ray of light into the dark stupefied recesses of those
miserable wretches living in the ruins of homes haunted by memories of
She felt a very torch of happiness herself. Her body and her brain glowed
with it. The currents of her blood seemed to have changed their pace and
their essence. The elixir of life was in them. She felt less woman than
She knew now why she had been born, why she had waited. As long as this
terrible war had to be she was thankful for her intimate contact with the
very martyrdom of suffering; never else could she have known to the full
the value of life and youth and health and the power to be triumphantly
happy in love. She would have liked to wave a wand and make all the world
happy, but as this was as little possible as to remake human nature itself
she soared into an ether of her own to revel in her astounding good
The village she approached was picturesque in its ruin for it climbed the
side of a hill, and although the Germans had set fire deliberately to every
house the shells for the most part remained. Along the low ridge was a row
of brick walls in various stages of gaunt and jagged transfiguration. They
looked less the victims of fire than of earthquake.
The narrow ascending street was filled with rubble. She picked her way and
peered into the ruins. At first she saw no one; the place seemed to be
deserted. Then some one moved in a dark cellar, and as she stood at the top
of the short flight of steps a very old woman came forward into the light.
There were two children at her heels.
Alexina suddenly felt very awkward. She had always thought the mere handing
out of money the most detestable part of charity. But there was nothing
here to buy. That was obvious.
The old woman however relieved her embarrassment. She extended a skinny
hand. The poor of France are not loquacious, but like all their compatriots
they know what they want, and no doubt feel that life is simplified when
they are in a position to ask for it.
Alexina gratefully handed her a coin and hurried on. Her next experience
was as simple but more delicate. A younger woman had fitted up a corner of
her ruin with a petticoat for roof and a plank supported by two piles of
brick for counter and had laid in a supply of the post cards that pictured
with terrible fidelity the ruins of her village. Alexina bought the entire
stock, "to scatter broadcast in the United States," and promised to send
her friends for more; assuring the woman that when the tourists came to
France once more these ruined villages would be magnets for gold.
She managed to get rid of her coins without much difficulty, although
comparatively few of the village's inhabitants had returned, and these by
stealth. Many of them had trekked far! Others were still detained at the
hostels in Paris and other cities where they could be looked after without
too much trouble.
Several had set up housekeeping in the cellars in a fashion not unlike that
of their cave dwelling ancestors, and a few had found a piece of roof above
ground to huddle under when it rained. Some talked to her pleasantly, some
were surly, others unutterably sad. None refused her largesse, and she was
amused to look back and see a little procession making for the town, no
doubt with intent to purchase.
In one side street less choked with rubbish small boys were playing at war.
But for the most part the children looked very sober. They had been spared
the horrors of occupation but they had suffered privations and been
surrounded by grief and despair.
When she had exhausted her supplies she took refuge in the church. It was
at the end of the long street on the ridge and after she had rested she
could leave the village by its farther end, and by making a long detour
avoid the painful necessity of refusing alms.
There was no roof on the church; otherwise it would have been the general
refuge. Part of it including the steeple was some distance away and looked
as if it had been blown off. The rest had gone down with one of the walls.
It was a charred unlovely ruin. Saints and virgins sometimes defied the
worst that war could do, but all had succumbed here. The paneless windows
in the walls that still remained precariously erect framed pictures of a
quiet and lovely landscape. The stone walls were intact about the farms in
which moved a few old men and women in faded cotton frocks that looked like
soft pastels. The oaks were majestic and serene. The hills were lavender in
the distance. But the farm houses were in ruins and so was a chateau on
a hill. Alexina could see its black gaping walls through the grove of
chestnut trees withered by the fire.
She wandered about looking for a seat however humble but could find nothing
more inviting than piles of brick and twisted iron. She noticed an open
place in the floor and went over to it and peered down. There was a flight
of steps ending in cimmerian darkness. Doubtless the vaults of the great
families of the neighborhood were down there. She wondered if the spite of
the Huns had driven them to demolish the very bones of the race they were
unable to conquer.
Suddenly she stiffened. A chill ran up her spine. She had an overwhelming
sense of impending danger and stepped swiftly away from the edge of the
aperture; then turned about, and faced Gora Dwight.
"Oh," she said calmly, although her nerves still shuddered. "You must walk
like a fairy. I didn't hear you."
"One must pick one's way through rubbish."
"Ghastly ruin, isn't it?"
"Life is ghastly."
Alexina made no reply lest she deny this assertion out of the wonder of her
own experience. She guessed what Gora had come for and that she was feeling
as elemental as she looked. She herself had recovered from that sudden
access of horror but she moved still further from, that black and waiting
"Are you going to marry Gathbroke?"
The gauntlet was down and Alexina felt a sharp sense of relief. She was in
no mood for the subtle evasion and she had not the least inclination to
turn up her eyes. She made up her mind however to save Gora's pride as far
"Yes," she said.
"You dare say that to me?"
Alexina raised her low curved eyebrows. She seldom raised them but when she
did she looked like all her grandmothers.
"Dare? Did you expect me to lie? Is that what you wish?"
Gora clutched her muff hard against her throat. (Alexina wondered if she
had a pistol in it.) Her eyes looked over it pale and terrible. Alexina had
the advantage of her in apparent calm, but there was no sign of confusion
in those wide baleful irises with their infinitesimal pupils.
"You knew that I loved him. That I had loved him for twelve years."
"I _knew_ nothing of the sort. You had his picture on your mantel and you
corresponded with him off and on but you never gave me a hint that you
loved him. Twelve years! Good heaven! A friendship extending over such a
period was conceivable; natural enough. But a romance! When such an idea
did cross my mind I dismissed it as fantastic. You always seemed to me the
embodiment of common sense."
"There is no such thing. It is true--that I hardly believed it
then--admitted it. But I knew we should meet again. He never had married.
It looked like destiny when I did meet him. I nursed him--"
She paused and her eyes grew sharp and watchful, Alexina's face showed no
understanding and she went on, still watching.
"I nursed him back to life. Through a part of his convalescence. A woman
_knows_ certain things. He almost loved me then. If we could have been
alone he would have found out--asked me to marry him. We should be married
to-day. If I could have seen him constantly in London it would have been
the same." She burst out violently: "I believe you wrote to him to come to
"My dear Gora! Keep your imagination for your fiction. I had forgotten his
existence until I saw him, for a few seconds, at a reception. Don't forget
that he came to Paris under orders from his Government."
"But you recognized him that night. You came down here to meet him, to get
away from me."
"Far from coming here to meet him I had given up all hope of ever seeing
him again. He found out my address and followed me. You also seem to forget
that you never mentioned his name to me in Paris. How was I to know that
you were still interested in him?"
"That first night...you guessed it...you threw down a sort of challenge.
Deny that if you can!"
"No! I'll not deny it. I wanted him as badly as you did if with less
reason. Nevertheless...believe it or not as you like...I came down here
as much to leave the field clear to you as for my own peace of mind. I
think...I fancy...I decided to leave the matter on the knees of the gods."
"Do you mean to tell me that if I had met him while we were together in
Paris, and you knew the truth, that you would not have tried to win him
away from me?"
"I wonder! I have asked myself that question several times. I like to
think that I should have been noble, and withdrawn. But I am not at all
sure....Yes, I do believe I should, not from noble unselfishness, oh, not
by a long sight, but from pride--if I saw that he was really in love with
you. I'd never descend to scheming and plotting and pitting my fascinations
against another woman--"
"Oh, damn your aristocratic highfalutin pride. I suppose you mean that
I have no such pride, having no inherited right to it. Perhaps not or I
wouldn't be here to-day. At least I wouldn't be talking to you," she added,
her voice hoarse with significance.
Once more Alexina eyed the muff. "Did you come here to kill me?"
"Yes, I did. No, I haven't a pistol. I couldn't get one. I trusted to
opportunity. When I saw you standing at the edge of that hole I thought I
Alexina found it impossible to repress a shiver but in spite of those
dreadful eyes she felt no recurrence of fear.
"What good would that have done you? Murderesses get short shrift in
France. There is none of that sickening sentimentalism here that we are
cursed with in our country."
"Murders are not always found out. If you were at the bottom of that hole
it would be long before you were found and there is no reason why I should
be suspected. I didn't come through the village. I didn't even inquire at
your house. I saw you leave it and followed at a distance. If I'd pushed
you down there I'd have followed and killed you if you were not dead
Alexina wondered if she intended to rush her. But she was sure of her
own strength. If one of them went down that hole it would not be she.
Nevertheless she was beginning to feel sorry for Gora. She had never
sensed, not during the most poignant of her contacts with the war,
such stark naked misery in any woman's soul. Its futile diabolism but
accentuated its appeal.
"Well, you missed your chance," she said coldly. Gora was in no mood to
receive sympathy! "And if you hadn't and escaped detection I don't fancy
you would have enjoyed carrying round with you for the next thirty or forty
years the memory of a cowardly murder. Too bad we aren't men so that we
could have it out in a fair fight. My ancestors were all duellists. No
doubt yours were too," she added politely.
"Perhaps you are right." For the first time there was a slight hesitation
in Gora's raucous tones. But she added in a swift access of anger: "I
suppose you mean that your code is higher than mine. That you are incapable
of killing from behind."
"Good heavens! I hope so!...Still...I will confess I have had my
black moods. It is possible that I might have let loose my own devil
if--if--things had turned out differently."
"Oh, no, you wouldn't! Not when it came to the point. You would have
elevated your aristocratic nose and walked off." She uttered this dictum
with a certain air of personal pride although her face was convulsed with
"Gora, you are really making an ass of yourself. If you had taken more
time to think it over you wouldn't have followed me up with any such
melodramatic intention as murder. Good God! Haven't you seen enough of
murder in the past four years? I could readily fancy you going in for some
sort of revenge but I should have expected something more original--"
"Murder's natural enough when you've seen nothing else as long as I have.
And as for human life--how much value do you suppose I place on it after
four years of war? I had almost reached the point where death seemed more
natural than life."
"Oh, yes...but later....There are tremendous reactions after war. Settled
down once more in our smiling land my ghost would be an extremely
unpleasant companion. You see, Gora, you are just now in that abnormal
state of mind known as inhibition. But, unfortunately, perhaps, in spite
of the fact that you have proved yourself to be possessed of a violence of
disposition--that I rather admire--you were not cut out to be the permanent
villain. You have great qualities. And for thirty-four years of your life
you have been a sane and reasonable member of society. For four of those
years you have been an angel of mercy....Oh, no. If you had killed me you
would have killed yourself later. You couldn't live with Gathbroke for you
couldn't live with yourself. Silly old tradition perhaps, but we are made
up of traditions....That was one reason I left Paris, gave up trying to
find him....I knew that I could have him. But I also knew that you had had
some sort of recent experience with him, that you had come to Paris to
find him, that possibly if left with a clear field you could win him. I
knew--Oh, yes, I knew!--that he would know instantly he was mine if we
met. But...well, I too have to live with myself. It might be that he was
committed to you, that if he married you, you would both be happy enough.
"When he did come nothing would have tempted me to accept him if I had
"Did he tell you? Tell you how close he came? Tell you that I was in love
"My dear Gora, I fancy that if he were capable of that you would not be
capable of loving him. I certainly should not." There was a slight movement
in her throat as if she were swallowing the rest of the truth whole. She
had adhered to it where she could but Gora's face must be saved. "Your name
was not mentioned. I asked him no questions about his past. I am not the
heroine of a novel, old style. He told me that he loved me, that he had
never loved any other woman, never asked any other woman to marry him.
That was enough for me. I had no place in my mind for you or any one else.
Perhaps you don't know--how could you--that years ago, when he was in
California, he asked me to marry him."
"Calf love! If you had not been here now--"
"He would have gone to California as soon as he could get away. He had made
up his mind to that before he came to Paris."
Gora's arms dropped to her sides and she stared at the floor. Then
she laughed, "O God, what irony! I talked of you more or Jess as was
natural...and he remembered...we had recalled the past vividly enough....
Why couldn't one of those instincts in which we are supposed to be prolific
have warned me?....Much fiction is like life!...Any heroine I could have
created would have had it...had more sense....I have botched the thing from
beginning to end."
She raised her head and stared at Alexina with somber eyes; the insane
light had died out of them. They took in every detail of that enhanced
beauty, of that inner flame, white hot, that made Alexina glow like a
She also recalled that she had watched her pack her bags...that pervenche
velvet gown...Alexina had described the quaint old salon....Her
imagination, flashed out that first interview with Gathbroke with a
tormenting conjuring of detail....
"Yon are one of the favorites of life," she admitted in her bitter despair.
"You have been given everything--"
"I drew Mortimer," Alexina reminded her.
"True. But you dusted him out of your life with an ease and a thoroughness
that has never been surpassed. Think what you might have drawn. No, you
are lucky, lucky! The prixes of life are for your sort. I am one of the
overlooked or the deliberately neglected. Not a fairy stood at my cradle.
All things have come to you unsought. Beauty. Birth. Position. Sufficient
wealth. Power over men and women. An enchanting personality. All the social
graces. You have had ups and downs merely because after all you are
a mortal; and as a matter of contrast--to heighten your powers of
appreciation. No doubt the worst is over for you. I have had to take life
by the throat and wring out of her what little I have. That is what makes
life so hopeless, so terrible. No genius for social reform will ever
eliminate the inequality of personality, of the inner inheritance. Nature
meant for her own sport that a few should live and the rest should die
while still alive."
"Gora, I don't want to sound like the well-meaning friends who tell a
mother when she loses her child that it is better off, but I can't help
reminding you that a very large and able-bodied fairy presided at your
cradle. You have a great gift that I'd give my two eyes for; and you know
perfectly well--or you will soon--that you will get over this and forget
that Gathbroke ever existed, while you are creating men to suit yourself."
Her incisive mind drove straight to the truth. "You will write better than
ever. Possibly the reason that you have not reached the great public is
because your work lacks humanity, sympathy. You never lived before. You
were all intellect. Now you have had a terrific upheaval and you seem to
have experienced about everything, including the impulse to murder. Most
writers would appear to live uneventful lives judging from their extremely
dull biographies. But they must have had the most tremendous inner
adventures and soul-racking experiences--the big ones--or they couldn't
have written as they did....This must be the more true in regard to women."
Gora continued to stare at her. The words sank in. Her clear intellect
appreciated the truth of them but they afforded her no consolation. All
emotion had died out of her. She felt beaten, helpless.
She was obliged to look up as she watched Alexina's subtly transfigured
face, fascinated. It made her feel even her physical insignificance; the
more as she had lost the flesh that had given her short stature a certain
"Oh, life is unjust, unjust." She no longer spoke with bitterness, merely
as one forced to state an inescapable fact. "Injustice! The root of all
"Life is a hard school but where she has strong characters to work on she
turns out masterpieces. You will be one of them, Gora. And I fancy that
women born with great gifts were meant to stand alone and to be trained in
that hard school. It is only when women of your sort have a passing attack
of the love germ that they imagine they could go through life as a half
instead of a whole. When you are in the full tide of your powers with
the public for a lover I fancy you will look back upon this episode with
gratitude, if you remember it at all."
"Perhaps. But that, is a long way off! I have just been told that the order
of fiction with which my mind is packed at present is not wanted. It has
been contemptuously rejected by the American public as 'war stuff.'"
"Good heaven! That _is_ a misfortune!"
For a moment Alexina was aghast. Here was the real tragedy. She almost
prayed for inspiration, for it lay with her to readjust Gora to life. To no
one else would Gora ever give her confidence.
"I don't believe for a moment," she said, "that the intelligent public
will ever reject a great novel or story dealing with the war. The masterly
treatment of any subject, the new point of view, the swift compelling
breathless drama that is your peculiar gift, must triumph over any mood of
the moment. Moreover, when you are back in California you will see these
last four years in a tremendous perspective. And no contrast under heaven
could be so great. You probably won't hear the war mentioned once a
month. No doubt much that crowds your mind now will cease to interest the
productive tract of your brain and you will write a book with the war as
a mere background for your new and infinitely more complete knowledge of
human psychology. No novel of any consequence for years to come will be
written without some relationship to the war. Stories long enough to be
printed in book form perhaps, but not the novel: which is a memoir of
contemporary life in the form of fiction. No writer with as great a gift as
yours could have anything but a great destiny. Go back to California and
bang your typewriter and find it out for yourself."
For the first time something like a smile flitted over Gora's drawn face.
"Perhaps. I hope you are right. I don't think I could ever really lose
faith in that star." She was thinking: Oh, yes! I'll go back to California
as quickly as I can get there--as a wounded animal crawls back to its lair.
She would have encircled the globe three times to get to it. _Her state_.
To her it was what family and friends and home and children were to
another. It was literally the only friend she had in the world. She would
have flown to it if she could, sure of its beneficence.
"I shall go as soon as I can get passage," she said. "And you?"
"I must go too unless I can get a divorce here. I shall know that in a few
"Well, we travel on different steamers if you do go! I shall stop off at
Truckee and go to Lake Tahoe. It will be a long while before I go to any
place that reminds me of you. I no longer want to kill you but I want to
forget you. Good-by."
When she reached the foot of the hill she turned and looked back. Alexina
was standing in one of the jagged window casements of the church. The
bright warm sun was overhead in a cloudless sky. Its liquid careless rays
flooded the ruin. Alexina's tall white figure, the soft blue of her hat
forming a halo about her face, was bathed in its light; a radiant vision in
that shattered town whose very stones cried out against the injustice of
Alexina, who was feeling like anything but a madonna in a stained glass
window, waved a questing hand.
"The fortunate of earth!" thought Gora.
She set her lips grimly and walked across the valley with a steady stride.
At least she could be one of the strong.