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  • 1919
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Linda wondered, later, if she’d care to go to a party of Markue’s. There was a great deal of drinking at such affairs; and though she rather liked cordials, crême de thé and Grand Marnier, even stronger things flavored with limes and an occasional frigid cocktail, she disliked–from a slight experience–men affected by drink. Judith had called her a constitutional prude; this, she understood, was a term of reproach; and she wondered if, applied to her, it were just.

Usually it meant a religious person or one fussy about the edge of her skirt; neither of which she ever considered. She didn’t like to sit in a corner and be hugged–even that she could now assert with a degree of knowledge–but it wasn’t because she was shocked. Nothing, she told herself gravely, shocked her; only certain acts and moments annoyed her excessively. It was as if her mind were a crisp dress with ribbons which she hated to have mussed or disarranged.

Linda didn’t take the trouble to explain this. Now that her mother had withdrawn from her into a perpetual and uncomfortable politeness she confided in no one. She would have been at a loss to put her complicated sensations and thoughts into words. Mr. Moses Feldt, the only one to whom she could possibly talk intimately, would be upset by her feelings. He would give her a hug and the next day bring up a new present from his pocket.

Her clothes, with the entire support of Lorice, were all delicate in fabric, mostly white with black sashes, and plainly ruffled. She detested the gray crepe de Chine from which Judith’s undergarments were made and the colored embroidery of Pansy’s; while she ignored scented toilet-waters and extracts. Markue, in finally asking her to a party at his rooms, said that there she would resemble an Athenian marble, of the un-painted epoch, in the ballet of Scheherazade.

XIII

“There’s nothing special to say about Markue’s parties,” Judith, dressing, told Linda. “You will simply have to take what comes your way. There is always some one serious at them, if you insist, as usual, on dignity.” She stood slim and seductive, like a perverse pierrot, before the oppressive depths of a black mirror. Linda had finished her preparations for the evening. There was no departure from her customary blanched exactness. She studied her reflection across Judith’s shoulder; her intense blue eyes, under the level blot of her bang, were grave on the delicate pallor of her face.

In the taxi, slipping rapidly down-town, Linda was conscious of a slight unusual disturbance of her indifference. This had nothing to do with whether or not she’d be a success; her own social demands were so small that any considerable recognition of her was unimportant. Her present feeling came from the fact that to-night, practically, she was making her first grown-up appearance in the world, the world from which she must select the materials of her happiness and success. To-night she would have an opportunity to put into being all that–no matter how firmly held–until now had been but convictions.

Her interest was not in whom or what she might meet, but in herself. Judith, smoking a cigarette in a mist of silver fox, was plainly excited. “I like Markue awfully,” she admitted.

“Does he care for you?” Linda asked.

“That,” said Judith, “I can’t make out–if he likes me or if it’s just anonymous woman. I wish it were the first, Linda.” Her voice was shadowed; suddenly, in spite of her youth and exhilaration, she seemed haggard and spent. Linda recognized this in a cold scrutiny. Privately she decided that the other was a fool–she didn’t watch her complexion at all.

The motor turned west in the low Forties and stopped before a high narrow stone façade with a massive griffon-guarded door. Judith led the way directly into the elevator and designated Markue’s floor. It was at the top of the building, where he met them with his impenetrable courtesy and took them into a bare room evidently planned for a studio. There were an empty easel, the high blank dusty expanse of the skylight, and chairs with the somber hats and coats of men and women’s wraps like the glistening shed skins of brilliant snakes.

They turned through the hall to an interior more remarkable than anything Linda could have imagined; it seemed to her very high, without windows and peaked like a tent. Draperies of intricate Eastern color hung in long folds. There were no chairs, but low broad divans about the walls, a thick carpet with inlaid stands in the center laden with boxes of cigarettes, sugared exotic sweets and smoking incense. It was so dim and full of thick scent, the shut effect was so complete, that for a moment Linda felt painfully oppressed; it seemed impossible to breathe in the wavering bluish atmosphere.

Markue, who had appeared sufficiently familiar outside, now had a strange portentous air; the gleams of his quick black eyes, the dusky tone of his cheeks, his impassive grace, startled her. New York was utterly removed: the taxi that had brought Judith and her, the swirling traffic of Columbus Circle and smooth undulations of Fifth Avenue, were lost with a different life. She saw, however, the open door to another room full of clear light, and her self-possession rapidly returned. Judith–as she had threatened–at once deserted her; and Linda found an inconspicuous corner of a divan.

There were, perhaps, twenty people in the two rooms, and each one engaged her attention. A coffee-colored woman was sitting beyond her, clad in loose red draperies to which were sewed shining patterns of what she thought was gold. Markue was introducing Judith, and the seated figure smiled pleasantly with a flash of beautiful teeth and the supple gesture of a raised brown palm. That, Linda decided, was the way she shook hands. Two dark-skinned men, one in conventional evening dress, were with her; they had small fine features and hair like carved ebony.

Linda had never before been at an affair with what she was forced to call colored people; instinctively she was antagonistic and superior. She turned to a solemn masculine presence with a ruffled shirt and high black stock; he was talking in a resonant voice and with dramatic gestures to a woman with a white face and low-drawn hair. Linda was fascinated by the latter, dressed in a soft clinging dull garnet. It wasn’t her clothes, although they were remarkable, that held her attention, but the woman’s mouth. Apparently, it had no corners. Like a little band of crimson rubber, or a ring of vivid flame, it shifted and changed in the oddest shapes. It was an unhappy mouth, and made her think of pain; but perhaps not so much that as hunger … not for food, Linda was certain. What did she want?

There was a light appealing laugh from another seated on the floor in a floating black dinner dress with lovely ankles in delicate Spanish lace stockings; her head was thrown back for the whisper of a heavy man with ashen hair, a heavenly scarf and half-emptied glass.

Her bare shoulders, Linda saw, were as white as her own, as white but more sloping. The other’s hair, though, was the loveliest red possible. The entire woman, relaxed and laughing in the perfumery and swimming shadows, was irresistible. A man with a huge nose and blank eyes, his hands disfigured with extraordinary rings, momentarily engaged her. Then, at the moment when she saw an inviting and correctly conventional youth, he crossed and sat at her side.

“Quite a show,” he said in the manner she had expected and approved. The glow of his cigarette wavered over firmly cut lips. “We’ve just come to New York,” he continued. “I don’t know any one here but Markue, do you?” Linda explained her own limitations. “The Victory’s fine and familiar.”

She followed his gaze to where a winged statue with flying drapery was set on a stand. She had seen it before, but without interest. Now it held her attention. It wasn’t a large cast, not over three feet high, but suddenly Linda thought that it was the biggest thing in the room; it seemed to expand as she watched it.

Beside the Victory, in a glass case with an enclosed concealed light, was a statue, greenish gray, a few inches tall, with a sneering placidity of expression as notable as the sweep of the other white fragment. “That’s Chinese,” her companion decided; “it looks as old as lust.” There was the stir of new arrivals–a towering heavy man with a slight woman in emerald satin. “There’s Pleydon, the sculptor,” the youth told her animatedly. “I’ve seen him at the exhibitions. It must be Susanna Noda, the Russian singer, with him. He’s a tremendous swell.”

XIV

Linda watched Pleydon as he met Markue in the middle of the room. He was dressed carelessly, improperly for the evening; but she forgave that as the result of indifference. The informal flannels and soft collar, too, suited the largeness of his being and gestures. There was a murmur of meeting, Susanna Noda smiled appealingly; and then, as Pleydon found a place on a divan, she at once contentedly sat on his lap. Watching her, Linda thought of a brilliant parrot; but that was only the effect of her color; for her face, with a tilted nose and wide golden eyes, generous warm lips, was charming. She lighted a cigarette, turned her graceful back on the room and company, and chatted in French to the composed sculptor.

Linda divined that he was the most impressive figure she had encountered; the quality of his indifference was beautiful and could only have come in the security of being a “tremendous swell.” That phrase described all for which she had cared most. It included everything that her mother had indicated as desirable and a lot that she, Linda, had added. Money, certainly, was an absolute necessity; but there were other things now that vaguely she desired. She tried to decide what they were.

Only the old inner confusion resulted, the emotion that might have been born in music; however, it was sharper than usual, and bred a new dissatisfaction with the easier accomplishments. Really it was very disturbing, for the pressure of her entire experience, all she had been told, could be exactly weighed and held. The term luxury, too, was revealing; it covered everything–except her present unformed longing.

There were still newcomers, and Linda was aware of a sudden constraint. A woman volubly French had appeared with a long pinkish-white dog in a blanket, and the three Arabians–she had learned that much–had risen with a concerted expression of surprise and displeasure. Their anxiety, though, was no more dramatic than that of the dog’s proprietor. The gesture of her hands and lifted eyebrows were keenly expressive of her impatience with any one who couldn’t accept, with her, her dog.

“Markue ought to have it out,” some one murmured. “Dogs, to high caste Mohammedans, are unclean animals.” Another added, “Worse than that, if it should touch them, they would have to make the pilgrimage to Mecca.”

Without any knowledge of the situation of Mecca, Linda yet realized that it must be a very long journey to result from the mere touch of a dog. She didn’t wonder at the restrained excitement of the “colored” people. The situation was reduced to a sub-acid argument between the Frenchwoman and the Begum; Madame couldn’t exist without her “_p’tit_.” The Oriental lady could not breathe a common air with the beast. The former managed a qualified triumph–the “_p’tit_” was caged with a chair in a corner, and the episode, for the moment, dropped.

Soon, however, Linda saw that the dog had wriggled out of captivity. It made a cautious progress to where the candy stood on a low stand and ran an appreciative tongue over the exposed sweet surfaces. Rapidly a sugared fig was snapped up. Linda held her breath; no one had noticed the animal yet–perhaps it would reach one of the objectors and she would have the thrill of witnessing the departure for Mecca.

But, as always, nothing so romantic occurred; the dog was discovered, and the Mohammedans, with a hurried politeness, made their salaams. Instead, a man with a quizzical scrutiny through glasses that made him resemble an owl, stopped before her.

“‘Here we go ’round the mulberry-bush,'” he chanted. “Hello, Kate Greenaway. Have you had a drink?”

“Yes, thank you,” she replied sedately.

“Certified milk?”

“It was something with gin,” she particularized, “and too sweet.” He took the place beside her and solemnly recited a great many nursery rhymes. On the whole she liked him, deciding that he was very wicked. Soon he was holding her hand in both of his. “I know you’re not real,” he proceeded. “Verlaine wrote you–_’Les Ingenus’:_

“‘From which the sudden gleam of whiteness shed Met in our eyes a frolic welcoming.’

“What if I’d kiss you?”

“Nothing,” she returned coldly.

“You’re remarkable!” he exclaimed with enthusiasm. “If you are not already one of the celebrated beauties you’re about to be. As cool as a fish! Look–Pleydon is going to rise and spill little Russia. Have you heard her sing Scriabine?” Linda ignored him in a sharp return of her interest in the big carelessly-dressed man. He put Susanna Noda aside and moved to the dim middle of the room. His features, Linda saw, were rugged and pronounced; he was very strong.

For a moment he stood gazing at the Winged Victory, his brow gathered into a frown, while he made a caressing gesture with his whole hand. Then he swung about and, from the heavy shadows of his face, he looked down at her. He was still for a disconcerting length of time, but through which Linda steadily met his interrogation. Then he bent over and seriously removed the man beside her.

“Adieu, Louis,” he said.

The weight of Pleydon’s body depressed the entire divan. “An ordinary man,” he told her, “would ask how the devil you got here. Then he would take you to your home with some carefully chosen words for whatever parents you had. But I can see that all this is needless. You are an extremely immaculate person.

“That isn’t necessarily admirable,” he added.

“I don’t believe I am admirable at all,” Linda replied.

“How old are you?” he demanded abruptly.

She told him.

“Age doesn’t exist for some women, they are eternal,” he continued. “You see, I call you a woman, but you are not, and neither are you a child. You are Art–Art the deathless,” his gaze strayed back to the Victory.

As she, too, looked at it, it seemed to Linda that the cast filled all the room with a swirl of great white wings and heroic robes. In an instant the incense and the dark colors, the uncertain pallid faces and bare shoulders, were swept away into a space through which she was dizzily borne. The illusion was so overpowering that involuntarily she caught at the heavy arm by her.

XV

“Why did you do that?” he asked quickly, with a frowning regard. Linda replied easily and directly. “It seemed as if it were carrying me with it,” she specified; “on and on and on, without ever stopping. I felt as if I were up among the stars.” She paused, leaning forward, and gazed at the statue. Even now she was certain that she saw a slight flutter of its draperies. “It is beautiful, isn’t it? I think it’s the first thing I ever noticed like that. You know what I mean–the first thing that hadn’t a real use.”

“But it has,” he returned. “Do you think it is nothing to be swept into heaven? I suppose by ‘real’ you mean oatmeal and scented soap. Women usually do. But no one, it appears, has any conception of the practical side of great art. You might try to remember that it is simply permanence given to beauty. It’s like an amber in which beautiful and fragile things are kept forever in a lovely glow. That is all, and it is enough.

“When I said that you were Art I didn’t mean that you were skilfully painted and dressed, but that there was a quality in you which recalled all the charming women who had ever lived to draw men out of the mud–something, probably, of which you are entirely unconscious, and certainly beyond your control. You have it in a remarkable degree. It doesn’t belong to husbands but to those who create ‘Homer’s children.’

“That’s a dark saying of Plato’s, and it means that the _Alcestis_ is greater than any momentary offspring of the flesh.”

Linda admitted seriously, “Of course, I don’t understand, yet it seems quite familiar–“

“Don’t, for Heaven’s sake, repeat the old cant about reincarnation;” he interrupted, “and sitting together, smeared with antimony, on a roof of Babylon.”

She hadn’t intended to, she assured him. “Tell me about yourself,” he directed. It was as natural to talk with him as it was, with others, to keep still. Her frank speech flowed on and on, supported by the realization of his attention.

“There really isn’t much, besides hotels, all different; but you’d be surprised how alike they were, too. I mean the things to eat, and the people. I never realized how tired I was of them until mother married Mr. Moses Feldt. The children were simply dreadful, the children and the women; the men weren’t much better.” She said this in a tone of surprise, and he nodded. “I can see now–I am supposed to be too old for my age, and it was the hotels. You learn a great deal.”

“Do you like Mr. Moses Feldt?”

“Enormously; he is terribly sweet. I intend to marry a man just like him. Or, at least, he was the second kind I decided on: the first only had money, then I chose one with money who was kind, but now I don’t know. It’s very funny: kindness makes me impatient. I’m perfectly sure I’ll never care for babies, they are so mussy. I don’t read, and I can’t stand being–well, loved.

“Mother went to a great many parties; every one liked her and she liked every one back; so it was easy for her. I used to long for the time when I’d wear a lovely cloak and go out in a little shut motor with a man with pearls; but now that’s gone. They want to kiss you so much. I wish that satisfied me. Why doesn’t it? Is there anything the matter with me, do you think? I’ve been told that I haven’t any heart.”

As he laughed at her she noticed how absurdly small a cigarette seemed in his broad powerful hand. “What has happened to you is this,” he explained: “a combination of special circumstances has helped you in every way to be what, individually, you were. As a rule, children are brought up in a house of lies, like taking a fine naked body and binding it into hideous rigid clothes. You escaped the damnation of cheap ready-cut morals and education. Your mother ought to have a superb monument–the perfect parent. Of course you haven’t a ‘heart.’ From the standpoint of nature and society you’re as depraved as possible. You are worse than any one else here–than all of them rolled together.”

Curiously, she thought, this didn’t disturb her, which proved at once that he was right. Linda regarded herself with interest as a supremely reprehensible person, perhaps a vampire. The latter, though, was a rather stout woman who, dressed in frightful lingerie, occupied couches with her arms caught about the neck of a man bending over her. Every detail of this was distasteful.

What was she?

Her attention wandered to the squat Chinese god in the glass case. It was clear that he hadn’t stirred for ages. A difficult thought partly formed in her mind–the Chinese was the god of this room, of Markue’s party, of the women seated in the dim light on the floor and the divans; the low gurgle of their laughter, the dusky whiteness of their shoulders in the upcoiling incense, the smothered gleams of their hair, with the whispering men, were the world of the grayish-green image.

She explained this haltingly to Pleydon, who listened with a flattering interest. “I expect you’re laughing at me inside,” she ended impotently. “And the other, the Greek Victory,” he added, “is the goddess of the other world, of the spirit. It’s quaint a heathen woman should be that.”

Linda discovered that she liked Pleydon enormously. She continued daringly that he might be the sort of man she wanted to marry. But he wouldn’t be easy to manage; probably he could not be managed at all. Her mother had always insisted upon the presence of that possibility in any candidate for matrimony. And, until now, Linda’s philosophy had been in accord with her. But suddenly she entertained the idea of losing herself completely in–in love.

A struggle was set up within her: on one hand was everything that she had been, all her experience, all advice, and her innate detachment; on the other an obscure delicious thrill. Perhaps this was what she now wanted. Linda wondered if she could try it–just a little, let herself go experimentally. She glanced swiftly at Pleydon, and his bulk, his heavy features, the sullen mouth, appalled her.

Men usually filled her with an unaccountable shrinking into her remotest self. Pleydon was different; her liking for him had destroyed a large part of her reserve; but a surety of instinct told her that she couldn’t experiment there. It was characteristic that a lesser challenge left her cold. She had better marry as she had planned.

Susanna Noda came up petulantly and sank in a brilliant graceful swirl at his feet. Her golden eyes, half shut, studied Linda intently.

XVI

“I am fatigued,” she complained; “you know how weary I get when you ignore me.” He gazed down at her untouched. “I have left Lao-tze for Greece,” he replied. She found this stupid and said so. “Has he been no more amusing than this?” she asked Linda. “But then, you are a child, it all intrigues you. You listen with the flattery of your blue eyes and mouth, both open.”

“Don’t be rude, Susanna,” Pleydon commanded. “You are so feminine that you are foolish. I’m not the stupid one–look again at our ‘child.’ Tell me what you see.”

“I see Siberia,” she said finally. “I see the snow that seems so pure while it is as blank and cold as death. You are right, Dodge. I was the dull one. This girl will be immensely loved; perhaps by you. A calamity, I promise you. Men are pigs,” she turned again to Linda; “no–imbeciles, for only idiots destroy the beauty that is given to them. They take your reputation with a smile, they take your heart with iron fingers; your beauty they waste like a drunken Russian with gold.”

“Susanna, like all spendthrifts, is amazed by poverty.”

Even in the gloom Linda could see the pallor spreading over the other’s face; she was glad that Susanna Noda spoke in Russian. However, with a violent effort, she subdued her bitterness. “Go into your Siberia!” she cried. “I always thought you were capable of the last folly of marriage. If you do it will spoil everything. You are not great, you know, not really great, not in the first rank. You’ve only the slightest chance of that, too much money. You were never in the gutter as I was–“

“Chateaubriand,” he interrupted, “Dante, Velasquez.”

“No, not spiritually!” she cried again. “What do you know of the inferno! Married, you will get fat.” Pleydon turned lightly to Linda:

“As a supreme favor do not, when I ask you, marry me.”

This, for Linda, was horribly embarrassing. However, she gravely promised. The Russian lighted a cigarette; almost she was serene again. Linda said, “Fatness is awful, isn’t it?”

Pleydon replied, “Death should be the penalty. If women aren’t lovely–” he waved away every other consideration.

“And if men have fingers like carrots–” Susanna mimicked him. Judith, flushed, her hair loosened, approached. “Linda,” she demanded, “do you remember when we ordered the taxi? Was it two or three?” Markue, at her shoulder, begged her not to consider home.

“I’m going almost immediately,” Pleydon said, “and taking your Linda.” His height and determined manner scattered all objections.

Linda, at the entrance to the apartment, found to her great surprise–in place of the motor she had expected–a small graceful single-horse victoria, the driver buttoned into a sealskin rug. Deep in furs, beside Pleydon, she was remarkably comfortable, and she was soothed by the rhythmic beat of the hoofs, the even progress through the crystal night of Fifth Avenue.

Her companion flooded his being with the frozen air. They had, it seemed, lost all desire to talk. The memory of Markue’s party lingered like the last vanishing odor of his incense; there was a confused vision of the murmurous room against the lighted exterior where the drinks sparkled on a table. Linda made up her mind that she would not go to another. Then she wondered if she’d see Pleydon again. The Russian singer had been too silly for words.

It suddenly occurred to her that the man now with her had taken Susanna Noda, and that he had left her planted. He had preferred driving her, Linda Condon, home. He wasn’t very enthusiastic about it, though; his face was gloomy.

“The truth is,” he remarked at last, “that Susanna is right–I am not in the first rank. But that was all nonsense about the necessity of the gutter–sentimental lies.”

Linda was not interested in this, but it left her free to explore her own emotions. The night had been eventful because it had shaken all the foundation of what she intended. That single momentary delicious thrill had been enough to threaten the entire rest. At the same time her native contempt of the other women, of Judith with her tumbled hair, persisted. Was there no other way to capture such happiness? Was it all hopelessly messy with drinks and unpleasant familiarity?

What did Pleydon mean by spirit? Surely there must be more kinds of love than one–he had intimated that. She gathered that “Homer’s children,” those airs of Gluck that she liked so well, were works of art, sculpture, such as he did. Yet she had never thought of them as important, important as oatmeal or delicate soap. She made up her mind to ask him about it, when she saw that they had reached the Eighties; she was almost home.

“I am going away to-morrow,” he told her, “for the winter, to South America. When I come back we’ll see each other. If you should change address send me a line to the Harvard Club.” The carriage had stopped before the great arched entrance to the apartment-house, towering in its entire block. He got out and lifted her to the pavement as if she had been no more than a flower in his hands. Then he walked with her into the darkness of the garden.

The fountains were cased in boards; the hedged borders, the bushes and grass, were dead. High above them on the dark wall a window was bright. Linda’s heart began to pound loudly, she was trembling … from the cold. There was a faint sound in the air–the elevated trains, or stirring wings? It was nothing, then, to be lifted into heaven. There was the door to the hall and elevator. She turned, to thank Dodge Pleydon for all his goodness to her, when he lifted her–was it toward heaven?–and kissed her mouth.

She was still in his arms, with her eyes closed. “Linda Condon?” he said, in a tone of inquiry.

At the same breath in which she realized a kiss was of no importance a sharp icy pain cut at her heart. It hurt her so that she gasped. Then, and this was strange, she realized that–as a kiss–it hadn’t annoyed her. Suddenly she felt that it wasn’t just that, but something far more, a part of all her inner longing. He had put her down and was looking away, a face in shadow with an ugly protruding lip.

She saw him that way in her dreams–in the court under the massive somber walls, with a troubled frown over his eyes. It seemed to her that, reaching up, she smoothed it away as they stood together in a darkness with the fountains, the hedges, dead, the world with never a sound sleeping in the prison of winter.

XVII

Linda thought about Dodge Pleydon on a warm evening of the following May. At four o’clock, in a hotel, Pansy had been married; and the entire Feldt connection had risen to a greater height of clamorous cheer than ever before. Extravagant unseasonable dishes, wines and banked flowers were lavishly mingled with sentimental speeches, healths and tears. Linda had been acutely restless, impatient of all the loud good humor and stupid compliments. The sense of her isolation from their life was unbearably keen. She would have a very different wedding with a man in no particular like Pansy’s.

After dinner–an occasion, with Pansy absent, where Mr. Moses Feldt’s tears persisted in flowing–she had strayed into the formal chamber across from the dining-room and leaned out of a window, gazing into the darkening court. Directly below was where Pleydon had kissed her. She often re-examined her feelings about that; but only to find that they had dissolved into an indefinite sense of the inevitable. Not alone had it failed to shock her–she hadn’t even been surprised. Linda thought still further about kissing, with the discovery that if, while it was happening, she was conscious of the kiss, it was a failure; successful, it carried her as far as possible from the actuality.

Pleydon, of course, had not written to her; he had intimated nothing to the contrary, only asking her to let him know, at the Harvard Club, if she changed address. That wasn’t necessary, and now, probably, he was back from South America. Where, except by accident, might she see him? Markue, with his parties, had dropped from Judith’s world, his place taken by a serious older dealer in Dutch masters with an impressive gallery just off Fifth Avenue.

That she would see him Linda was convinced; this feeling absorbed any desire; it was no good wanting it or not wanting it; consequently she was undisturbed. She considered him gravely and in detail. Had there been any more Susanna Nodas in his stay south? She had heard somewhere that the women of Argentine were irresistible. Her life had taught her nothing if not the fact that a number of women figured in every man’s history. It was deplorable but couldn’t be avoided; and whether or not it continued after marriage depended on the cunning of any wife.

Now, however, Linda felt weary already at the prospect of a married life that rested on the constant play of her ingenuity. A great many things that, but a little before, she had willingly accepted, seemed to her probably not less necessary but distinctly tiresome. Linda began to think that she couldn’t really bother; the results weren’t sufficiently important.

Dodge Pleydon.

She slept in a composed order until the sun was well up. It was warmer than yesterday; and, going to an afternoon concert with Judith, she decided to walk. Linda strolled, in a short severe jacket and skirt, a black straw hat turned back with a cockade and a crisp flushed mass of sweet peas at her waist. The occasion, as it sometimes happened, found her in no mood for music. The warmth of the sunlight, the open city windows and beginning sounds of summer, had enveloped her in a mood in which the jangling sentimentality of a street organ was more potent than the legato of banked violins.

She was relieved when the concert was over, but lingered at her seat until the crowd had surged by; it made Linda furious to be shoved or indiscriminately touched. Judith had gone ahead, when Linda was conscious of the scrutiny of a pale well-dressed woman of middle age. It became evident that the other was debating whether or not to speak; clearly such an action was distasteful to her; and Linda had turned away before a restrained voice addressed her:

“You will have to forgive me if I ask your name … because of a certain resemblance. Seeing you I–I couldn’t let you go.”

“Linda Condon,” she replied.

The elder, Linda saw, grew even paler. She put out a gloved hand. “Then I was right,” she said in a slightly unsteady voice. “But perhaps, when I explain, you will think it even stranger, inexcusable. My dear child, I am your father’s sister.”

Linda was invaded by a surprise equally made up of interest and resentment. The first was her own and the second largely borrowed from her mother. Besides, why had her father’s family never made the slightest effort to see her. This evidently had simultaneously occurred to the other.

“Of course,” she added, quite properly, “we can’t undertake family questions here. I shouldn’t blame you a bit, either, if you went directly away. I had to speak, to risk that, because you were so unmistakably a Lowrie. It is not a common appearance. We–I–” she floundered for a painful moment; then she gathered herself with a considerable dignity. “Seeing you has affected me tremendously, changed everything. I have nothing to say in our defense, you must understand that. I am certain, too, that my sister will feel the same–we live together in Philadelphia. I hope you will give me your address and let us write to you. Elouise will join with me absolutely.”

Linda told her evenly where she lived, and then allowed Miss Lowrie to precede her toward the entrance. She said nothing of this to Judith, nor, momentarily, to her mother. She wanted to consider it undisturbed by a flood of talk and blame. It was evident to her that the Lowries had behaved very badly, but just how she couldn’t make out. She recalled her father’s sister–her aunt–minutely, forced to the realization that she was a person of entire superiority. Here, she suddenly saw, had been the cause of all their difficulties–the Lowries hadn’t approved of the marriage, they had objected to her mother.

Five years ago she would have been incensed at this; but now, essentially, she was without personal indignation. She wanted, for herself, to discover as much as possible about her father and his family. A need independent of maternal influences stirred her. Linda was reassured by the fact that her father had been gently born; while she realized that she had always taken this for granted. Her mother must know nothing about the meeting with Miss Lowrie until the latter had written.

That was Friday and the letter came the following Tuesday. Linda, alone at the breakfast-table, instantly aware of the source of the square envelope addressed in a delicate regular writing, opened it and read in an unusual mental disturbance:

“My dear Linda,

I hope you will not consider it peculiar for me to call you this, for nothing else seems possible. Meeting you in that abrupt manner upset me, as you must have noticed. Of course I knew of you, and even now I can not go into our long unhappy affair, but until I saw you, and so remarkably like the Lowries, I did not realize how wicked Elouise and I had been. But I am obliged to add only where you were concerned. We have no desire to be ambiguous in that.

However, I am writing to say that we should love to have you visit us here. It is possible under the circumstances that your mother will not wish you to come. Yet I know the Lowries, a very independent and decided family, and although it is my last intention to be the cause of difficulty with your mother, still I hope it may be arranged.

In closing I must add how happy I was at the evidence of your blood. But that, I now see, was a certainty. You will have to forgive us for a large measure of blindness. Affectionately,

AMELIA VIGNÉ LOWRIE.”

Almost instantaneously Linda was aware that she would visit the Lowries. She liked the letter extremely, as well as all that she remembered of its sender. At the same time she prepared for a scene with her mother, different from those of the past–with the recourse to the brandy flask–but no less unpleasant. They had very little to say to each other now; and, when she went into her mother’s room with an evident definite purpose, the latter showed a constrained surprise, a palpable annoyance that her daughter had found her at the daily renovation of her worn face.

XVIII

Linda said directly, “I met Miss Lowrie, father’s sister, at a concert last week, and this morning I had a letter asking me to stay with them in Philadelphia.”

Mrs. Feldt’s face suddenly had no need for the color she held poised on a cloth. Her voice, sharp at the beginning, rose to a shrill unrestrained wrath.

“I wonder at the brass of her speaking to you at all let alone writing here. Just you give me the letter and I’ll shut her up. The idea! I hope you were cool to her, the way they treated us. Stay with them–I guess not!”

“But I thought of going,” Linda replied. “It’s only natural. After all, you must see that he was my father.”

“A pretty father he was, too good for the girl he married. It’s my fault I didn’t tell you long ago, but I just couldn’t abide the mention of him. He deserted me, no, us, cold, without a word–walked out of the door one noon, taking his hat as quiet as natural, and never came back. I never saw him again nor heard except through lawyers. That was the kind of heart he had, and his sisters are worse. I hadn’t a decent speech of any kind out of them. The Lowries,” she managed to inject a surprising amount of contempt into her pronouncement of that name. “What it was all about you nor any sensible person would never believe:

“The house smelled a little of boiled cabbage. That’s why he left me, and you expected in a matter of a few months. He said in his dam’ frigid way that it had become quite impossible and took down his hat.”

“There must have been more,” Linda protested, suppressing a mad desire to laugh.

“Not an inch,” her mother asserted. “Nothing, after a little, suited him. He’d sit up like a poker, just as I’ve seen you, with his lips tight together in the Lowrie manner. It didn’t please him no matter what you’d do. He wouldn’t blow out at you like a Christian and I never knew where I was at. I’d come down in a matinée, the prettiest I could buy, and then see he didn’t like it. He would expect you to be dressed in the morning like it was afternoon and you going out. And as for loosening your corsets for a little comfort about the house, you might as well have slapped him direct.

“That wasn’t the worst, though; but his going away without as much as a flicker of his hand; and with me like I was. Nobody on earth but would blame him for that. I only got what was allowed me after we had changed back to my old name, me and you. He never asked one single question about you nor tried to see or serve you a scrap. For all he knew, at a place called Santa Margharita in Italy, you might have been born dead.”

She was unable, Linda recognized, to defend him in any way; he had acted frightfully. She acknowledged this logically with her power of reason, but somehow it didn’t touch her as it had her mother, and as, evidently, the latter expected. She was absorbed in the vision of her father sitting, in the Lowrie manner, rigid as a poker; she saw him quietly take up his hat and go away forever. Linda understood his process completely; she was capable of doing precisely the same thing. Whatever was the matter with her–in the heartlessness so often laid to her account–had been equally true of her father.

“You ought to know what to say to them,” Mrs. Moses Feldt cried, “or I’ll do it for you! If only I had seen her she would have heard a thing or two not easy forgotten.”

Linda’s determination to go to Philadelphia had not been shaken, and she made a vain effort to explain her attitude. “Of course, it was horrid for you,” she said. “I can understand how you’d never never forgive him. But I am different, and, I expect, not at all nice. It’s very possible, since he was my father, that we are alike. I wish you had told me this before–it explains so much and would have made things easier for me. I am afraid I must see them.”

She was aware of the bitterness and enmity that stiffened her mother into an unaccustomed adequate scorn:

“I might have expected nothing better of you, and me watching it coming all these years. You can go or stay. I had my life in spite of the both of you, as gay as I pleased and a good husband just the same. I don’t care if I never see you again, and if it wasn’t for the fuss it would make I’d take care I didn’t. You’ll have your father’s money now I’m married; I wonder you stay around here at all with your airs of being better than the rest. God’s truth is you ain’t near as good, even if I did bring you into the world.”

“I am willing to agree with you,” Linda answered. “No one could be sweeter than the Feldts. I sha’n’t do nearly as well. But that isn’t it, really. People don’t choose themselves; I’m certain father didn’t at that lonely Italian place. If you weren’t happy laced in the morning it wasn’t your fault. You see, I am trying to excuse myself, and that isn’t any good, either.”

“Unnatural,” Mrs. Moses Feldt pronounced. And Linda, weary and depressed, allowed her the last word.

XIX

Nothing further during the subsequent brief exchange of notes between Miss Lowrie and Linda was said of the latter’s intention to visit her father’s family. Mrs. Feldt, however, whose attitude toward Linda had been negatively polite, now displayed an animosity carefully hidden from her husband but evident to the two girls. The elder never neglected an opportunity to emphasize Linda’s selfishness or make her personality seem ridiculous. But this Linda ignored from her wide sense of the inconsequence of most things.

Yet she was relieved when, finally, she had actually left New York. She looked forward with an unusual hopeful curiosity to the Lowries. To her surprise their house–miles, it appeared, from the center of the city–was directly on a paved street with electric cars, unpretentious stores and very humble dwellings nearby. Back from the thoroughfare, however, there were spacious green lawns. The street itself, she saw at once, was old–a highway of gray stone with low aged stone façades, steep eaves and blackened chimney-pots reaching, dusty with years, into the farther hilly country.

A gable of the Lowrie house, with a dignified white door, a fanlight of faintly iridescent glass and polished brasses, faced the brick sidewalk, while to the left there was a high board fence and an entrance with a small grille open on a somber reach of garden. A maid in a stiff white cap answered the fall of the knocker; she took Linda’s bag; and, in a hall that impressed her by its bareness, Linda was greeted by the Miss Lowrie she had seen.

Her aunt was composed, but there was a perceptible flush on her cheeks, and she said in a rapid voice, after a conventional welcome, “You must meet Elouise at once, before you go up to your room.”

Elouise Lowrie was older than Amelia, but she, too, was slender and erect, with black hair startling in its density on her wasted countenance. Linda noticed a fine ruby on a crooked finger and beautiful rose point lace. “It was good of you,” the elder proceeded, “to come and see two old women. I don’t know whether we have more to say or to keep still about. But I, for one, am going to avoid explanations. You are here, a fool could see that you were Bartram’s girl, and that is enough for a Lowrie.”

The room was nearly as bare as the hall: in place of the deep carpets of the Feldts’ the floor, of dark uneven oak boards, was merely waxed and covered by a rough-looking oval rug. The walls were paneled in white, with white ruffled curtains at small windows; and the furniture, the dull mahogany ranged against the immaculate paint, the rocking-chairs of high slatted walnut and rush bottoms, the slender formality of tables with fluted legs, was dignified but austere. There were some portraits in heavy old gilt–men with florid faces and tied hair, and the delicate replicas of high-breasted women in brocades.

There was, plainly, an air of the exceptional in Amelia Lowrie’s conduction of Linda to her room. She waited at the door while the other moved forward to the center of a chamber empty of all the luxury Linda had grown to demand. There was a bed with tall graceful posts supporting a canopy like a frosting of sugar, a solemn set of drawers with a diminutive framed mirror in which she could barely see her shoulders, a small unenclosed brass clock with long exposed weights, and two uninviting painted wooden chairs. This was not, although very nearly, all. Linda’s attention was attracted by a framed and long-faded photograph of a young man, bareheaded, with a loosely knotted scarf, a striped blazer and white flannels. His face was thin and sensitive, his lips level, and his eyes gazed with a steady questioning at the observer.

“That was Bartram,” Amelia Lowrie told her; “your father. This was his room.”

She went down almost immediately and left Linda, in a maze of dim emotions, seated on one of the uncomfortable painted chairs. Her father! This was his room; nothing, she realized, had been disturbed. The mirror had held the vaguely unsteady reflection of his face; he had slept under the arched canopy of the bed. She rose and went to a window from which he, too, had looked.

Below her was the garden shut in on its front by the high fence. There was a magnolia-tree, now covered with thick smooth white flowers, and, at the back, low-massed rhododendron with fragile lavender blossoms on a dark glossy foliage. But the space was mainly green and shadowed in tone; while beyond were other gardens, other emerald lawns and magnolia-trees, an ordered succession of tranquillity with separate brick or stone or white dwellings in the lengthening afternoon shadows of vivid maples.

It was as different as possible from all that Linda had known, from the elaborate hotels and gigantic apartment houses, the tropical interiors, of her New York life. She unpacked her bag, putting her gold toilet things on the chest of drawers, precisely arranging in a shallow closet what clothes she had brought, and then, changing, went down to the Lowries.

They surveyed her with eminent approval at a dinner-table lighted only with candles, beside long windows open on a dusk with a glimmer of fireflies. Suddenly Linda felt amazingly at ease; it seemed to her that she had sat here before, with the night flowing gently in over the candle-flames. The conversation, she discovered, never strayed far from the concerns and importance of the Lowrie blood. “My grandmother, Natalie Vigné,” Elouise informed her, “came with her father to Philadelphia from France, in eighteen hundred and one, at the invitation of Stephen Girard, who was French as well. She married Hallet Lowrie whose mother was a Bartram.

“That, my dear, explains our black hair and good figgers. There never was a lumpy Lowrie. Well, Hallet built this house, or rather enlarged it, for his wife; and it has never been out of the family. Our nephew, Arnaud Hallet–Arnaud was old Vigné’s name–owns it now. Isaac Hallet, you may recall, was suspected of being a Tory; at any rate his brother’s descendants, Fanny Rodwell is the only one left, won’t speak.”

The placid conversation ran on unchanged throughout dinner and the evening. Linda was relieved by the absence of any questioning; indeed nothing contemporary, she realized, was held to be significant. “I thought Arnaud would be in to-night,” Elouise Lowrie said; “he knew Linda was expected.” No one, however, appeared; and Linda went up early to her room. There, too, were only candles, a pale wavering illumination in which the past, her father, were extraordinarily nearby. A sense of pride was communicated to her by so much that time had been unable to shake. The bed was steeped in the magic of serene traditions.

XX

Arnaud Hallet appeared for dinner the evening after Linda’s arrival; a quiet man with his youth lost, slightly stooped shoulders, crumpled shoes and a green cloth bag. But he had a memorable voice and an easy distinction of manner; in addition to these she discovered, at the table, a lighter amusing sense of the absurd. She watched him–as he poured the sherry from a decanter with a silver label hung on a chain–with a feeling of mild approbation. On the whole he was nice but uninteresting. What a different man from Pleydon!

The days passed in a pleasant deliberation, with Arnaud Hallet constantly about the house or garden, while Linda’s thoughts continually returned to the sculptor. He was clearer than the actuality of her mother and the Feldts or the recreated image of her father. At times she was thrilled by the familiar obscure sense of music, of longing slowly translated into happiness. Then more actual problems would envelop her in doubt. Mostly she was confused–in her cool material necessity for understanding–by the temper of her feeling for Dodge Pleydon. Linda wondered if this were love. Perhaps, when she saw him again, she’d be able to decide. Then she remembered promising to let him know if she changed her address. It was possible that already he had called at the Feldts’, or written, and that her mother had refused to inform him where she had gone.

Linda had been at the Lowries’ two weeks now, but they were acutely distressed when she suggested that her visit was unreasonably prolonged. “My dear,” they protested together, “we hoped you’d stay the summer. Bartram’s girl! Unless, of course, it is dull with us. Something brighter must be arranged. No doubt we have only thought of our own pleasure in having you.”

Linda replied honestly that she enjoyed being with them extremely. Her mother’s dislike, the heavy luxury of the Feldt apartment, held little attraction for her. Then, too, losing the sense of the bareness of the house Hallet Lowrie had built for his French wife, she began to find it surprisingly appealing.

Her mind returned to her promise to Pleydon. She told herself that probably he had forgotten her existence, but she had a strong unreasoning conviction that this was not so. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to write him and, almost before she was aware of the intention, she had put “Dear Mr. Pleydon” at the head of a sheet of note-paper.

I promised to let you know in the spring when you came back from South America where I was. I did not think I would have to do it, but here I am in Philadelphia with my father’s sisters. I do not know just how long for, but a month, anyhow. It is very quiet, but charming. I have the room that was my father’s when he was young, and look out of the window like he must have. If you should come to Philadelphia my aunts ask me to say that they would be glad to have you for dinner. This is how you get here….

Very sincerely,

LINDA CONDON.

She walked to a street crossing, where she dropped the envelope into a letter-box on a lamppost, and returned to find Arnaud Hallet waiting for her. He said:

“Everyone agrees I’m serious, but actually you are worse than the Assembly.” They went through the dining-room to the garden, and sat on the stone step of a deep window. It was quite late, perhaps eleven o’clock, and the fireflies, slowly rising into the night, had vanished. Linda was cool and remote and grave, silently repeating and weighing the phrases of her letter to Pleydon.

She realized that Arnaud Hallet was coming to like her a very great deal; but she gave this only the slightest attention. She liked him, really, and that dismissed him from serious consideration. Anyhow, in spite of the perfection of his manner, Arnaud’s careless dress displeased her: his shoes and the shoulders of his coat were perpetually dusty, and his hair, growing scant, was always ruffled. Linda understood that he was highly intellectual, and frequently contributed historical and genealogical papers to societies and bulletins, but compared with Dodge Pleydon’s brilliant personality and reputation, Pleydon surrounded by the Susanna Nodas of life, Arnaud was as dingy as his shoes.

She wondered idly when the latter would actually try to love her. He was holding her hand and it might well be to-night. Linda decided that he would do it delicately; and when, almost immediately, he kissed her, she was undisturbed. No, surprisingly, it had been quite pleasant. He hadn’t mussed her ribbons, nor her spirit, a particle. In addition he did not at once become impossible and urgently sentimental; there was even a shade of amusement on his heavy face.

“You appear to take a lot for granted,” he complained.

“I’d been wondering when it would happen,” she admitted coolly.

“It always does, then?”

“Usually I stop it,” she continued. “I don’t believe I’ll ever like being kissed. Can you tell me why? No one ever has; they all think they can bring me around to it.”

“And to them,” he added.

“But they end by being furious at me. I’ve been sworn at and called dreadful names. Sometimes they’re only silly. One cried; I hated that the most.”

“Do you mean that you were sorry for him?”

“Oh, dear, no. Why should I be? He looked so odious all smeared with tears.”

Arnaud Hallet returned promptly: “Linda, you’re a little beast.” To counteract his rude speech he kissed her again. “This,” he said with less security, “threatens to become a habit. I thought, at forty-five, that I was safely by the island of sirens, but I’ll be on the rocks before I know it.”

She laughed with the cool remoteness of running water.

“I wonder you haven’t been murdered,” he proceeded, “in a moonless garden by an elderly lawyer. Do you ever think of the lyric day when, preceded by a flock of bridesmaids and other flowery pagan truck, you’ll meet justice?”

“Marriage?” she asked. “But of course. I have everything perfectly planned–“

“Then, my dear Linda, describe him.”

“Very straight,” she said, “with beautiful polished shoes and brushed hair.”

“You ought to have no trouble finding that. Any number of my friends have one–to open the door and take your things. I might arrange a very satisfactory introduction for everybody concerned–a steady man well on his way to preside over the pantry and table.”

“You’re not as funny as usual,” Linda decided critically. “That, too, disturbs me,” he replied. “It looks even more unpromising for the near future.”

XXI

In her room Linda thought, momentarily, of Arnaud Hallet; whatever might have been serious in her attitude toward him dissolved by the lightness of his speech. Dodge Pleydon appealed irresistibly to her deepest feelings. Now her mental confusion was at least clear in that she knew what troubled her. It was not new, it extended even to times before Pleydon had entered her life–the difficulties presented by the term “love.”

In her mind it was divided into two or three widely different aspects, phases which she was unable to reconcile. Her mother, in the beginning, had informed her that love was a nuisance. To be happy, a man must love you without any corresponding return; this was necessary to his complete management, the securing of the greatest possible amount of new clothes. It was as far as love should be allowed to enter marriage. But that reality, with a complete expression in shopping, was distant from the immaterial and delicate emotions that in her responded to Pleydon.

Linda had been familiar with the materials, the processes, of what, she had been assured, was veritable love since early childhood. Her mother’s dressing, the irritable hours of fittings and at her mirror, the paint she put on her cheeks, the crimping of her hair were for the favor of men. These struggles had absorbed the elder, all the women Linda had encountered, to the exclusion of everything else. This, it seemed, must, from its overwhelming predominance, be the greatest thing in life.

There was nothing mysterious about it. You did certain things intelligently, if you had the figure to do them with, for a practical end. The latter, carefully controlled, like an essence of which a drop was delightful and more positively stifling, was as real as the methods of approach. Oatmeal or scented soap! The force of example and association combined to bathe such developments in the sanest light possible, and Linda had every intention of the successful grasping of an easy and necessary luxury. She had, until–vaguely–now, been entirely willing to accept the unescapable conditions of love used as a means or the element of pleasure at parties. Now, however, the unexpected element of Dodge Pleydon disturbed her philosophy.

Suddenly all the lacing and painting and crimping, the pretense and lies and carefully planned accidental effects, filled her with revolt. The insinuations of women, the bareness of their revelations, her mother returning unsteady and mussed from a dinner, were unutterably disgusting. Even to think of them hurt her fundamentally: so much of what she was, of what she had determined, had been destroyed by an emotion apparently as slight as echoed music.

Here was the real mystery and for which nothing in her experience had prepared her. She began to see why it was called a nuisance–if this were love–and wondered if she had better not suppress it at once. It wouldn’t be suppressed. Her thoughts continually came back to Pleydon, and the warmth, the disturbing thrill, always resulted. It led her away from herself, from Linda Condon; a sufficiently strange accomplishment. A concern for Dodge Pleydon, little schemes for his happiness and well-being, put aside her clothes and complexion and her future.

Until the present her acts had been the result of deliberation. She had been impressed by the necessity for planning with care; but, in the cool gloom of the covered bed, a sharp joy held her at the possibility of flinging caution away. Yet she couldn’t quite, no matter how much she desired it, lose herself. Linda was glad that Pleydon was rich; and there were, she remembered, moments for surrender.

As usual these problems, multiplying toward night, were fewer in the bright flood of morning. She laughed at the memory of Arnaud Hallet’s humor; and then, it was late afternoon, the maid told her that Pleydon was in the drawing room. Her appearance satisfactory she was able to see him at once. To her great pleasure neither Pleydon nor his clothes had changed. He was dressed in light-gray flannels; a big easy man with a crushing palm, large features and an expression of intolerance.

“Linda,” he said, “what a splendid place to find you. So much better than Markue’s.” He was, she realized, very glad to see her, and dropped at once, as if they had been uninterruptedly together, into intimate talk. “My work has been going badly,” he proceeded; “or rather not at all. I made a rather decent fountain at Newport; but–remember what Susanna said?–it’s not in the first rank. A happy balance and strong enough conception; yet it is like a Cellini ewer done in granite. The truth is, too much interests me; an artist ought to be the victim of a monomania. I’m a normal animal.” He studied her contentedly:

“How lovely you are. I came over–in an automobile at last–because I was certain you couldn’t exist as I remembered you. But you could and do. Lovely Linda! And what a gem of a letter. It might have been copied from ‘The Perfect Correspondent for Young Females.’ You’re not going to lose me again. When I was a little boy I had a passion for sherbets.”

She smiled at him with half-closed eyes and the conviction that, with Pleydon, she could easily be different. He leaned forward and his voice startled her with the impression that he had read her mind:

“If you could care for any one a lifetime would be short to get you. Look, you have never been out of my thoughts–or within my reach. It seems a myth that I kissed you; impossible … Linda.”

“But you did,” she told him, gaining happiness from the mere assurance. They were alone in the drawing-room, and he rose, sweeping her up into his arms. Yet the expected joy evaded her desire and the sudden determination to lose utterly her reserve. It was evident that he as well was conscious of this, for he released her and stood frowning, his protruding lower lip uglier than ever.

“A lifetime would be nothing,” he said again; “or it might be everything wasted. Which are you–all soul and spirit, or none?”

“I don’t know,” she replied, in her bitter disappointment, her heart pinched by the sharpest pain she remembered. There was the stir of skirts at the door; Linda turned with a sense of relief to Amelia Lowrie. However, dinner progressed very well indeed. “Then your aunt,” Elouise said to Pleydon, “was Carrie Dodge. I recall her perfectly.” That established, the Lowrie women talked with a gracious freedom, exploring the furthermost infiltrations of blood and marriages.

Linda was again serene. She watched Pleydon with an extraordinary formless conviction–each of them was a part of the other’s life; while in some way marriage and love were now hopelessly confused. It was beyond effort or planning. That was all she could grasp, but she was contented. Sometimes when he talked he made the familiar descriptive gesture with his hand, as if he were shaping the form of his speech: a sculptor’s gesture, Linda realized.

Later they wandered into the garden, a dark enclosure with the long ivy-covered façade of the house broken by the lighted spaces of windows. Beyond the fence at regular intervals an electric car passed with an increasing and diminishing clangor. The white petals of the magnolia-tree had fallen and been wheeled away; the blossoms of the rhododendron were dead on their stems. It was, Linda felt, a very old garden that had known many momentary emotions and lives.

Dodge Pleydon, standing before her, put his hands on her shoulders. “Would I have any success?” he asked. “Do you think you’d care for me?”

She smiled confidently up at his intent face. “Oh, yes.” Yet she hoped that he would not kiss her–just then. The delicacy of her longing and need were far removed from material expressions. This, of course, meant marriage; but marriage was money, comfort, the cold thing her mother had impressed on her. Love, her love, was a mistake here. But in a little it would all come straight and she would understand. She no longer had confidence in her mother’s wisdom.

In spite of her shrinking, of a half articulate appeal, he crushed her against his face. Whatever that had filled her with hope, she thought, was being torn from her. A sickening aversion over which she had no control made her stark in his arms. The memories of the painted coarse satiety of women and the sly hard men for which they schemed, the loose discussions of calculated advances and sordid surrenders, flooded her with a loathing for what she passionately needed to be beautiful.

Yet deep within her, surprising in its vitality, a fragile ardor persisted. If she could explain, not only might he understand, but be able to make her own longing clear and secure. But all she managed to say was, “If you kiss me again I think it will kill me.” Even that failed to stop him. “You were never alive,” he asserted. “I’ll put some feeling into you. It has been done before with marble.”

Linda, unresponsive, suffered inordinately.

Again on her feet she saw that Pleydon was angry, his face grim. He seemed changed, threatening and unfamiliar; it was exactly as if, in place of Dodge Pleydon, a secretive impersonal ugliness stood disclosed before her. He said harshly:

“When will you marry me?”

It was what, above all else, she had wanted; and Linda realized that to marry him was still the crown of whatever happiness she could imagine. But her horror of the past recreated by his beating down of her gossamer-like aspiration, the vision of him flushed and ruthless, an image of indiscriminate nameless man, made it impossible for her to reply. An abandon of shrinking fear numbed her heart and lips.

“You won’t get rid of me as you do the others about you,” he continued. “This time you made a mistake. I haven’t any pride that you can insult; but I have all that you–with your character–require. I have more money even than you can want.” She cried despairingly:

“It isn’t that now! I had forgotten everything to do with money and depended on you to take me away from it always.”

“When will you marry me?”

In a flash of blinding perception, leaving her as dazed as though it had been a physical actuality, she realized that marrying him had become an impossibility. At the barest thought of it the dread again closed about her like ice. She tried, with all the force of old valuations, with even an effort to summon back the vanquished thrill, to give herself to him. But a quality overpowering and instinctive, the response of her incalculable injury, made any contact with him hateful. It was utterly beyond her power to explain. A greater mystery still partly unfolded–whatever she had hoped from Pleydon belonged to the special emotion that had possessed her since earliest childhood.

In the immediate tragedy of her helplessness, with Dodge Pleydon impatient for an assurance, she paused involuntarily to wonder about that hidden imperative sense. There was a broken mental fantasy of–of a leopard bearing a woman in shining hair. This was succeeded by a bright thrust of happiness and, all about her, a surging like the imagined beat of the wings of the Victory in Markue’s room. Almost Pleydon had explained everything, almost he was everything; and then the other, putting him aside, had swept her back into the misery of doubt and loneliness.

“I can’t marry you,” she said in a flat and dragged voice. He demanded abruptly:

“Why not?”

“I don’t know.” She recognized his utter right to the temper that mastered him. For a moment Linda thought Pleydon would shake her. “You feel that way now,” he declared; “and perhaps next month; but you will change; in the end I’ll have you.”

“No,” she told him, with a certainty from a source outside her consciousness. “It has been spoiled.”

He replied, “Time will discover which of us is right. I’m almost willing to stay away till you send for me. But that would only make you more stubborn. What a strong little devil you are, Linda. I have no doubt I’d do better to marry a human being. Then I think we both forget how young you are–you can’t pretend to be definite yet.”

He captured her hands; too exhausted for any resentment or feeling she made no effort to evade him. “I’ll never say good-bye to you.”

His voice had the absolute quality of her own conviction. To her amazement her cheeks were suddenly wet with tears. “I want to go now,” she said unsteadily; “and–and thank you.”

His old easy formality returned as he made his departure. In reply to Pleydon’s demand she told him listlessly that she would be here for, perhaps, a week longer. Then he’d see her, he continued, in New York, at the Feldts’.

In her room all emotion faded. Pleydon had said that she was still young; but she was sure she could never, in experience or feeling, be older. She became sorry for herself; or rather for the illusions, the Linda, of a few hours ago. She examined her features in the limited uncertain mirror–strong sensations, she knew, were a charge on the appearance–but she was unable to find any difference in her regular pallor. Then, mechanically conducting her careful preparations for the night, her propitiation of the only omnipotence she knew, she put out the candles of her May.

XXII

What welcome Linda met in New York came from Mr. Moses Feldt, who embraced her warmly enough, but with an air slightly ill at ease. He begged her to kiss her mama, who was sometimes hurt by Linda’s coldness. She made no reply, and found the same influence and evidence of the power of suggestion in Judith. “We thought maybe you wouldn’t care to come back here,” the latter said pointedly, over her shoulder, while she was directing the packing of a trunk. The Feldts were preparing for their summer stay at the sea.

Her mother’s room resembled one of the sales of obvious and expensive attire conducted in the lower salons of pleasure hotels. There were airy piles of chiffon and satin, inappropriate hats and the inevitable confections of silk and lace. “It’s not necessary to ask if you were right at home with your father’s family,” Mrs. Condon observed with an assumed casual inattention. “I can see you sitting with those old women as dry and false as any. No one saved me in the clacking, I’m sure.”

“We didn’t speak of you,” Linda replied. She studied, unsparing, the loose flesh of the elder’s ravaged countenance. Her mother, she recognized, hated her, both because she was like Bartram Lowrie and still young, with everything unspent that the other valued and had lost. In support of herself Mrs. Feldt asserted again that she had “lived,” with stacks of friends and flowers, lavish parties and devoted attendance.

“You may be smarter than I was,” she went on, “but what good it does you who can say? And if you expect to get something for nothing you’re fooled before you start.” She shook out the airy breadths of a vivid echo of past daring. “From the way you act a person might think you were pretty, but you are too thin and pulled out. I’ve heard your looks called peculiar, and that was, in a manner of speaking, polite. You’re not even stylish any more–the line is full again and not suitable for bony shoulders and no bust.” She still cherished a complacency in her amplitude.

Linda turned away unmoved. Of all the world, she thought, only Dodge Pleydon had the power actually to hurt her. She knew that she would see him soon again and that again he would ask her to marry him. She considered, momentarily, the possibility of saying yes; and instantly the dread born with him in the Lowrie garden swept over her. Linda told herself that he was the only man for whom she could ever deeply care; that–for every conceivable reason–such a marriage was perfect. But the shrinking from its implications grew too painful for support.

Her mother’s bitterness increased hourly; she no longer hid her feelings from her husband and Judith; and dinner, accompanied by her elaborate sarcasm, was a difficult period in which, plainly, Mr. Moses Feldt suffered most and Linda was the least concerned. This condition, she admitted silently, couldn’t go on indefinitely; it was too vulgar if for no other reason. And she determined to ask the Lowries for another and more extended invitation.

Pleydon came, as she had expected, and they sat in the small reception-room with the high ceiling and dark velvet hangings, the piano at which, long ago it now seemed, Judith had played the airs of Gluck for her. He said little, but remained for a long while spread over the divan and watching her–in a formal chair–discontentedly. He rose suddenly and stood above her, a domineering bulk obliterating nearly everything else. In response to his demand she said, pale and composed, that she was not “reasonable”; she omitted the “yet” included in his question. Pleydon frowned. However, then, he insisted no further.

When he had gone Linda was as spent as though there had been a fresh brutal scene; and the following day she was enveloped in an unrelieved depression. Her mother mocked her silence as another evidence of ridiculous pretentiousness. Mr. Moses Feldt regarded her with a furtive concerned kindliness; while Judith followed her with countless small irritating complaints. It was the last day at the apartment before their departure for the summer. Linda was insuperably tired. She had gone to her room almost directly after dinner, and when a maid came to her door with a card, she exclaimed, before looking at it, that she was not in. It was, however, Arnaud Hallet; and, with a surprise tempered by a faint interest, she told the servant that she would see him.

There was, Linda observed at once, absolutely no difference in Arnaud’s clothing, no effort to make himself presentable for New York or her. In a way, it amused her–it was so characteristic of his forgetfulness, and it made him seem doubly familiar. He waved a hand toward the luxury of the interior. “This,” he declared, “is downright impressive, and lifted, I’m sure, out of a novel of Ouida’s.

“You will remember,” he continued, “complaining about my sense of humor one evening; and that, at the time, I warned you it might grow worse. It has. I am afraid, where you are concerned, that it has absolutely vanished. My dear, you’ll recognize this as a proposal. I thought my mind was made up, after forty, not to marry; and I specially tried not to bring you into it. You were too young, I felt. I doubted if I could make you happy, and did everything possible, exhausted all the arguments, but it was no good.

“Linda, dear, I adore you.”

She was glad, without the slightest answering emotion, that Arnaud, well–liked her. At the same time all her wisdom declared that she couldn’t marry him; and, with the unsparing frankness of youth and her individual detachment, she told him exactly why.

“I need a great deal of money,” she proceeded, “because I am frightfully extravagant. All I have is expensive; I hate cheap things–even what satisfies most rich girls. Why, just my satin slippers cost hundreds of dollars and I’ll pay unlimited amounts for a little fulling of lace or some rare flowers. You’d call it wicked, but I can’t help it–it’s me.

“I’ve always intended to marry a man with a hundred thousand dollars a year. Of course, that’s a lot–do you hate me for telling you?–but I wouldn’t think of any one with less than fifty–“

Arnaud Hallet interrupted quietly, “I have that.”

Linda gazed incredulously at his neglected shoes, the wrinkles of his inconsiderable coat and unstudied scarf. She saw that, actually, he had spoken apologetically of his possessions; and a stinging shame spread through her at the possibility that she had seemed common to an infinitely finer delicacy than hers.

XIII

Most of these circumstances Linda Hallet quietly recalled sitting with her husband in the house that had been occupied by the Lowries’. A letter from Pleydon had taken her into a past seven years gone by; while ordinarily her memory was indistinct; ordinarily she was fully occupied by the difficulties, or rather compromises, of the present. But, in the tranquil open glow of a Franklin stove and the withdrawn intentness of Arnaud reading, her mind had returned to the distressed period of her wedding.

Elouise Lowrie–Amelia was dead–sunk in a stupor of extreme old age, her bloodless hands folded in an irreproachable black surah silk lap, sat beyond the stove; and Lowrie, Linda’s elder child, five and a half, together with his sister Vigné, had been long asleep above. Linda was privately relieved by this: her children presented enormous obligations. The boy, already at a model school, appalled her inadequate preparations by his flashes of perceptive intelligence; while she was frankly abashed at the delicate rosy perfection of her daughter.

The present letter was the third she had received from Dodge Pleydon, whom she had not seen since her marriage. At first he had been enraged at the wrong, he had every reason to feel, she had done him. Then his anger had dissolved into a meager correspondence of outward and obvious facts. There was so much that she had been unable to explain. He had always been impatient, even contemptuous, of the emotion that made her surrender to him unthinkable–Linda realized now that it had been the strongest impulse of her life–and, of course, she had never accounted for the practically unbalanced enmity of her mother.

The latter had deepened to an incredible degree, so much so that Mr. Moses Feldt, though he had never taken an actual part in it–such bitterness was entirely outside his generous sentimentality–had become acutely uncomfortable in his own home, imploring Linda, with ready tears, to be kinder to her mama. Judith, too, had grown cutting, jealous of Linda’s serenity of youth, as her appearance showed the effect of her wasting emotions. Things quite extraordinary had happened: once Linda’s skin had been almost seriously affected by an irritation that immediately followed the trace of her powder-puff; and at several times she had had clumsily composed anonymous notes of a most distressing nature.

She had wondered, calmly enough, which of the two bitter women were responsible, and decided that it was her mother. At this the situation at the Feldts’, increasingly strained, had become an impossibility. Arnaud Hallet, after his first visit, had soon returned. There was no more mention of his money; but every time he saw her he asked her again, in his special manner–a formality flavored by a slight diffident humor–to marry him. Arnaud’s proposals had alternated with Pleydon’s utterly different demand.

Linda remembered agonized evenings when, in a return of his brutal manner of the unforgettable night in the Lowrie garden, he tried to force a recognition of his passion. It had left her cold, exhausted, the victim of a mingled disappointment at her failure to respond with a hatred of all essential existence. At last, on a particularly trying occasion, she had desperately agreed to marry him.

The aversion of her mother, becoming really dangerous, had finally appalled her; and a headache weighed on her with a leaden pain. Dodge, too, had been unusually considerate; he talked about the future–tied up, he asserted, in her–of his work; and suddenly, at the signal of her rare tears, Linda agreed to a wedding.

In the middle of the night she had wakened oppressed by a dread resulting in an uncontrollable chill. She thought first that her mother was bending a malignant face over her; and then realized that her feeling was caused by her promise to Dodge Pleydon. It had grown worse instead of vanishing, waves of nameless shrinking swept over her; and in the morning, further harrowed by the actualities of being, she had sent a telegram to Arnaud Hallet–to Arnaud’s kindness and affection, his detachment not unlike her own.

They were married immediately; and through the ceremony and the succeeding days she had been almost entirely absorbed in a sensation of escape. At the death of Amelia Lowrie, soon after, Arnaud had suggested a temporary period in the house she remembered with pleasure; and, making small alterations with the months and years, they had tacitly agreed to remain.

Linda often wondered, walking about the lower floor, why it seemed so familiar to her: she would stand in the dining-room, with its ceiling of darkened beams, and gaze absent-minded through the long windows at the close-cut walled greenery without. The formal drawing-room, at the right of the street entrance, equally held her–a cool interior with slatted wooden blinds, a white mantelpiece with delicately reeded supports and a bas-relief of Minerva on the center panel, a polished brass scuttle for cannel-coal and chairs with wide severely fretted backs upholstered in old pale damask.

The house seemed familiar, but she could never grow accustomed to the undeniable facts of her husband, the children and her completely changed atmosphere. She admitted to herself that her principal feeling in connection with Lowrie and Vigné was embarrassment. Here she always condemned herself as an indifferent, perhaps unnatural, mother. She couldn’t help it. In the same sense she must be an unsatisfactory wife. Linda was unable to shake off the conviction that it was like a play in which she had no more than a spectator’s part.

This was her old disability, the result of her habit of sitting, as a child, apart from the concerns and stir of living. She made every possible effort to overcome it, to surrender to her new conditions; but, if nothing else, an instinctive shyness prevented. It went back further, even, she thought, than her own experience, and she recalled all she had heard and reconstructed of her father–a man shut in on himself who had, one day, without a word walked out of the door and left his wife, never to return. These realizations, however, did little to clarify her vision; she was continually trying to adjust her being to circumstances that persistently remained a little distant and blurred.

In appearance, anyhow, Linda told herself with a measure of reassurance, she was practically unchanged. She still, with the support of Arnaud, disregarding current fashion, wore her hair in a straight bang across her brow and blue gaze. She was as slender as formerly, but more gracefully round, in spite of the faint characteristic stiffness that was the result of her mental hesitation. Her clothes, too, had hardly varied–she wore, whenever possible, white lawns ruffled about the throat and hem, with broad soft black sashes, while her more formal dresses were sheaths of dull unornamented satin extravagant in the perfection of their simplicity.

XXIV

Arnaud Hallet stirred, sharply closing his book. He had changed–except for a palpable settling down of grayness–as little as Linda. For a while she had tried to bring about an improvement in his appearance, and he had met her expressed wish whenever he remembered it; but this was not often. In the morning a servant polished his shoes, brushed and ironed his suits; yet by evening, somehow, he managed to look as though he hadn’t been attended to for days. She would have liked him to change for dinner; other men of his connection did, it was a part of his inheritance. Arnaud, however, in his slight scoffing disparagement, declined individually to annoy himself. He was, she learned, enormously absorbed in his historical studies and papers.

“Did you enjoy it?” she asked politely of his reading. “Extremely,” he replied. “The American Impressions of Tyrone Power, the English actor, through eighteen thirty-three and four. His account of a European packet with its handbells and Saratoga water and breakfast of spitch-cock is inimitable. I’d like to have sat at Cato’s then, with a julep or hail-storm, and watched the trotting races.”

Elouise Lowrie rose unsteadily, confused with dozing; but almost immediately she gathered herself into a relentless propriety and a formal goodnight.

“What has been running through that mysterious mind of yours?”

“I had a letter from Dodge,” she told him simply; “and I was thinking a little about the past.” He exhibited the nice unstrained interest of his admirable personality. “Is he still in France?” he queried. “Pleydon should be a strong man; I am sure we are both conscious of a little disappointment in him.” She said: “I’ll read you his letter, it’s on the table.

“‘You will see, my dear Linda, that I have not moved from the Rue de Penthièvre, although I have given up the place at Etretat, and I am not going to renew the lease here. Rodin insists, and I coming to agree with him, that I ought to be in America. But the serious attitude here toward art, how impossible that word has been made, is charming. And you will be glad to know that I have had some success in the French good opinion. A marble, Cotton Mather, that I cut from the stone, has been bought for the Luxembourg.

“‘I can hear you both exclaim at the subject, but it is very representative of me now. I am tired of mythological naiads in a constant state of pursuit. Get Hallet to tell you something about Mather. What a somber flame! I have a part Puritan ancestry, as any Lowrie will inform you. Well, I shall be back in a few months, very serious, and a politician–a sculptor has to be that if he means to land any public monuments in America.

“‘I hope to see you.'”

The letter ended abruptly, with the signature, “Pleydon.”

“Are you happy, Linda?” Arnaud Hallet asked unexpectedly after a short silence. So abruptly interrogated she was unable to respond. “What I mean is,” he explained, “do you think you would have been happier married to him? I knew, certainly, that it was the closest possible thing between us.” Now, however, she was able to satisfy him:

“I couldn’t marry Dodge.”

“Is it possible to tell me why?”

“He hurt me very much once. I tried to marry him, I tried to forget it, but it was useless. I was dreadfully unhappy, in a great many ways–“

“So you sent for me,” he put in as she paused reflectively. “I didn’t hurt you, at any rate.” It seemed to her that his tone was shadowed. “You have never hurt me, Arnaud,” she assured him, conscious of the inadequacy of her words. “You were everything I wanted.”

“Except for my hats,” he said in a brief flash of his saving humor. “It would be better for me, perhaps, if I could hurt you. That ability comes dangerously close to a constant of love. You mustn’t think I am complaining. I haven’t the slightest reason in the face of your devastating honesty. I didn’t distress you and I had the necessary minimum–the fifty thousand.” His manner was so even, so devoid of sting, that she could smile at the expression of her material ambitions. “I realize exactly your feeling for myself, but what puzzles me is your attitude toward the children.”

“I don’t understand it either,” she admitted, “except that I am quite afraid of them. They are so different from all my own childhood; often they are too much for me. Then I dread the time when they will discover how stupid and uneducated I am at bottom. I’m sure you already ask questions before them to amuse yourself at my doubt. What shall I do, Arnaud, when they are really at school and bring home their books?”

“Retreat behind your dignity as a parent,” he advised. “They are certain to display their knowledge and ask you to bound things or name the capital of Louisiana.” She cried, “Oh, but I know that, it’s New Orleans!” She saw at once, from his entertained expression, that she was wrong again, and became conscious of a faint flush of annoyance. “It will be even worse,” she continued, “when Vigné looks to me for advice; I mean when she is older and has lovers.”

“She won’t seriously; they never do. She’ll tell you when it’s all over. Lowrie will depend more on you. I may have my fun about the capital of Louisiana, Linda, but I have the greatest confidence in your wisdom. God knows what an unhappy experience your childhood was, but it has given you a superb worldly balance.”

“I suppose you’re saying that I am cold,” she told him. “It must be true, because it is repeated by every one. Yet, at times, I used to be very different–you’d never imagine what a romantic thrill or strange ideas were inside of me. Like a memory of a deep woods, and–and the loveliest adventure. Often I would hear music as clearly as possible, and it made me want I don’t know what terrifically.”

“An early experience,” he replied. Suddenly she saw that he was tired, his face was lined and dejected. “You read too much,” Linda declared. He said: “But only out of the printed book.” She wondered vainly what he meant. As he stood before the glimmering coals, in the room saturated in repose, she wished that she might give him more; she wanted to spend herself in a riot of feeling on Arnaud and their children. What a detestable character she had! Her desire, her efforts, were wasted.

He went about putting up the windows and closing the outside shutters, a confirmed habit. Linda rose with her invariable sense of separation, the feeling that, bound on a journey with a hidden destination, she was only temporarily in a place of little importance. It was like being always in her hat and jacket. Arnaud shook down the grate; then he gazed over the room; it was all, she was sure, as it had been a century ago, as it should be–all except herself.

XXV

Yet her marriage had realized in almost every particular what she had–so much younger–planned. The early suggestion, becoming through constant reiteration a part of her knowledge, had been followed and accomplished; and, as well, her later needs were served. Linda told herself that, in a world where a very great deal was muddled, she had been unusually fortunate. And this made her angry at her pervading lack of interest in whatever she had obtained.

Other women, she observed, obviously less fortunate than she, were volubly and warmly absorbed in any number of engagements and pleasures; she continually heard them, Arnaud’s connections–the whole superior society, eternally and vigorously discussing servants and bridge, family and cotillions, indiscretions and charities. These seemed enough for them; their lives were filled, satisfied, extraordinarily busy. Linda, for the most part, had but little to do. Her servants, managed with remote exactness, gave no trouble; she had an excellent woman for the children; her dress presented no new points of anxiety nor departure … she was, in short, Arnaud admitted, perfectly efficient. She disposed of such details mechanically, almost impatiently, and was contemptuous, no envious, of the women whose demands they contented.

At the dinners, the balls, to which Arnaud’s sense of obligation both to family and her took them against his inclination, it was the same–everyone, it appeared to Linda, was flushed with an intentness she could not share. Men, she found, some of them extremely pleasant, still made adroit and reassuring efforts for her favor; the air here, she discovered, was even freer than the bravado of her earlier surroundings. This love-making didn’t disturb her–it was, ultimately, the men who were fretted–indeed, she had rather hoped that it would bring her the relief she lacked.

But again the observations and speculation of her mature childhood, what she had heard revealed in the most skillful feminine dissections, had cleared her understanding to a point that made the advances of hopeful men quite entertainingly obvious. Their method was appallingly similar and monotonous. She liked, rather than not, the younger ones, whose confidence that their passion was something new on earth at times refreshed her; but the navigated materialism of greater experience finally became distasteful. She discussed this sharply with Arnaud:

“You simply can’t help believing that most women are complete idiots.”

“You haven’t said much more for men.”

“The whole thing is too silly! Why is it, Arnaud? It ought to be impressive and sweep you off your feet, up–“

“Instead of merely behind some rented palms,” he added. “But I must say, Linda, that you are not a very highly qualified judge of sentiment.” He pronounced this equably, but she was conscious of the presence of an injury in his voice. She was a little weary at being eternally condemned for what she couldn’t help. Any failure was as much Arnaud Hallet’s as hers; he had had his opportunity, all that for which he had implored her. Her thoughts returned to Dodge Pleydon. April was well advanced, and he had written that he’d be back and see them in the spring. Linda listened to her heart but it was unhastened by a beat. She would be very glad to have him at hand, in her life again, of course.

Then the direction of her mind veered–what did he still think of her? Probably he had altogether recovered from his love for her. It had been a warm day, and Arnaud had opened a window; but now she was aware of a cold air on her shoulder and she asked him abruptly to lower the sash. Linda remembered, with a lingering sense of triumph, the Susanna Noda whom Dodge had left at a party for her. There had been a great many Susannas in his life; the reason for this was the absence of any overwhelming single influence. It might be that now–he had written of the change in the subjects of his work–such a guide had come into his existence. She hoped she had. Yet, in view of the announced silliness of women, she didn’t want him to be cheaply deluded.

He was an extremely human man.

But she, Linda, it seemed, was an inhuman woman. The days ran into weeks that added another month to spring; a June advanced sultry with heat; and, suddenly as usual, a maid at the door of her room announced Pleydon. It was five o’clock in the afternoon, she had to dress, and she sent him a message that he mustn’t expect her in a hurry. She paused in her deliberate preparations for a long thoughtful gaze into a mirror; there was not yet a shadow on her face, the trace of a line at her eyes. The sharp smooth turning and absolute whiteness of her bare shoulders were flawless.

At first it appeared to Linda that he, too, had not changed. They were in the library opening into the dining-room, a space shut against the sun by the Venetian blinds, and faintly scented by a bowl of early tea roses. He appeared the same–large and informally clad in gray flannels, with aggressive features and sensitive strong hands. He was quiet but plainly happy to be with her again and sat leaning forward on his knees, watching her intently as she chose a seat.

Then it slowly dawned on her that he had changed, yes–tragically. Pleydon, in every way, was years older. His voice, less arbitrary, had new depths of questioning, his mouth was more repressed, his face notably sparer of flesh. He was immediately aware of the result of her scrutiny. “I have been working like a fool,” he explained. “A breath of sickness, too, four years ago in Soochow. One of the damnable Asiatic fevers that a European is supposed to be immune from. You are a miracle, Linda. How long has it been–nearly eight years; you have two children and Arnaud Hallet and yet you are the girl I met at Markue’s. I wanted to see you different, just a little, a trace of something that should have happened to you. It hasn’t. You’re the most remarkable mother alive.”

“If I am,” she returned, “it is not as a success, or at least for me. Lowrie and Vigné are healthy, and happy enough; but I can’t lose myself in them, Dodge; I can’t lose myself at all.”

He was quiet at this, the smoke of his cigarette climbing bluely in a space with the aqueous stillness of a lake’s depths. “The same,” he went on after a long pause; “nothing has touched you. I ought to be relieved but, do you know, it frightens me. You are relentless. You have no right, at the same time, to be beautiful. I have seen a great many celebrated women at their best moments, but you are lovelier than any. It isn’t a simple affair of proportion and features–I wish I could hold it in a phrase, the turn of a chisel. I can’t. It’s deathless romance in a bang cut blackly across heavenly blue.” He was silent again, and Linda glad that he still found her attractive. She discovered that the misery his presence once caused her had entirely vanished, its place taken by an eager interest in his affairs, a lightness of spirit at the realization that, while his love for her might have grown calm, no other woman possessed it.

At the dinner-table she listened–cool and fresh, Arnaud complained, in spite of the heat–to the talk of the two men. By her side Elouise Lowrie occasionally repeated, in a voice like the faint jangle of an old thin piano, the facts of a family connection or a commendation of the Dodges. Arnaud really knew a surprising lot, and his conversation with Pleydon was strung with terms completely unintelligible to her. It developed, finally, into an argument over the treatment of the acanthus motive in rococo ornament. France was summoned against Spain; the architectural degrading of Italy deplored…. It amazed her that any one could remember so much.

Linda without a conscious reason suddenly stopped the investigation of her feeling for Pleydon. Even in the privacy of her thoughts an added obscurity kept her from the customary clear reasoning. After dinner, out in the close gloom of the garden, she watched the flicker of the cigarettes. There was thunder, so distant and vague that for a long while Linda thought she was deceived. She had a keen rushing sensation of the strangeness of her situation here–Linda Hallet. The night was like a dream from which she would stir, sigh, to find herself back again in the past waiting for the return of her mother from one of her late parties.

But it was Arnaud who moved and, accompanying Elouise Lowrie, went into the house for his interminable reading. Pleydon’s voice began in a low remembering tone:

“What a fantastic place the Feldt apartment was, with that smothered room where you said you would marry me. You must have got hold of Hallet in the devil of a hurry. I’ve often tried to understand what happened; why, all the time, you were upset–why, why, why?”

“In a way it was because a ridiculous hairdresser burned out some of my mother’s front wave,” she explained.

“Of course,” he replied derisively, “nothing could be plainer.”

She agreed calmly. “It was very plain. If you want me to try to tell you don’t interrupt. It isn’t a happy memory, and I am only doing it because I was so rotten to you.

“Yes, I can see now that it was the hairdresser and a hundred other things exactly the same. My mother, all the women we knew, did nothing but lace and paint and frizzle for men. I used to think it was a game they played and wonder where the fun was. There were even hints about that and later they particularized and it made me as sick as possible. The men, too, were odious; mostly fat and bald; and after a while, when they pinched or kissed me, I wanted to die.

“That was all I knew about love, I had never heard of any other–men away from their families for what they called a good time and women plotting and planning to give it to them or not give it to them. Then mother, after her looks were spoiled, married Mr. Moses Feldt, and I met Judith, who only existed for men and men’s rooms and told me worse things, I’m sure, than mother ever dreamed; and, on top of that, I met you and you kissed me.

“But it was different from any other; it didn’t shock me, and it brought back a thrill I have always had. I wanted, then, to love you, and have you ask me to marry you, more than anything else in the world. I was sure, if you would only be patient, that I could change what had hurt me into a beautiful feeling. I couldn’t tell you because I didn’t understand myself.” She stopped, and Pleydon repeated, bitterly and slow:

“Fat old bald men; and I was one with them destroying your exquisite hope.” She heard the creak of the basket chair as he leaned forward, his face masked in darkness. “Perhaps you think I haven’t paid.

“You will never know what love is unless I can manage somehow to make you understand how much I love you. Hallet will have to endure your hearing it. This doesn’t belong to him; it has not touched the earth. Every one, more or less, talks about love; but not one in a thousand, not one in a million, has such an experience. If they did it would tear the world into shreds. It would tear them as it has me. I realize the other, the common thing–who experimented more! This has nothing to do with it. A boy lost in the idealism of his first worship has a faint reflection. Listen:

“I can always, with a wish, see you standing before me. You yourself–the folds of your sash, the sharp narrow print of your slippers on the pavement or the matting or the rug, the ruffles about your hands. I have the feeling of you near me with your breathing disturbing the delicacy of your breast. There is the odor and shimmer of your hair … your lips move … but without a sound.

“This vision is more real than reality, than an opera-house full of people or the Place Vendôme; and it, you, is all I care for, all I think about, all I want. I find quiet places and stay there for hours, with you; or, if that isn’t possible, I turn into a blind man, a dead man warm again at the bare thought of your face. Listen:

“I’ve been in shining heaven with you. I have been melted to nothing and made over again, in you, good. We have been walking together in a new world with rapture instead of air to breathe. A slow walk through dark trees–God knows why–like pines. And every time I think of you it is exactly as though I could never die, as though you had burned all the corruption out of me and I was made of silver fire. And listen:

“Nothing else is of any importance, now or afterward, you are now and the hereafter. I see people and people and hear words and words, and I forget them the moment they have gone, the second they are still. But I haven’t lost an inflection of your voice. When I work in clay or stone I model and cut you into every surface and fold. I see you looking back at me out of marble and bronze. And here, in