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with Mr. Dagonet for their usual two months on the Maine coast, where Ralph was to join them with his boy…. The blinds were all drawn down, and the freshness and silence of the marble-paved hall laid soothing hands on him…. He said to himself: “I’ll jump into a cab presently, and go and lunch at the club–” He laid down his hat and stick and climbed the carpetless stairs to his room. When he entered it he had the shock of feeling himself in a strange place: it did not seem like anything he had ever seen before. Then, one by one, all the old stale usual things in it confronted him, and he longed with a sick intensity to be in a place that was really strange.

“How on earth can I go on living here?” he wondered.

A careless servant had left the outer shutters open, and the sun was beating on the window-panes. Ralph pushed open the windows, shut the shutters, and wandered toward his arm-chair. Beads of perspiration stood on his forehead: the temperature of the room reminded him of the heat under the ilexes of the Sienese villa where he and Undine had sat through a long July afternoon. He saw her before him, leaning against the tree-trunk in her white dress, limpid and inscrutable…. “We were made one at Opake, Nebraska….” Had she been thinking of it that afternoon at Siena, he wondered? Did she ever think of it at all?… It was she who had asked Moffatt to dine. She had said: “Father brought him home one day at Apex…. I don’t remember ever having seen him since”–and the man she spoke of had had her in his arms … and perhaps it was really all she remembered!

She had lied to him–lied to him from the first … there hadn’t been a moment when she hadn’t lied to him, deliberately, ingeniously and inventively. As he thought of it, there came to him, for the first time in months, that overwhelming sense of her physical nearness which had once so haunted and tortured him. Her freshness, her fragrance, the luminous haze of her youth, filled the room with a mocking glory; and he dropped his head on his hands to shut it out….

The vision was swept away by another wave of hurrying thoughts. He felt it was intensely important that he should keep the thread of every one of them, that they all represented things to be said or done, or guarded against; and his mind, with the unwondering versatility and tireless haste of the dreamer’s brain, seemed to be pursuing them all simultaneously. Then they became as unreal and meaningless as the red specks dancing behind the lids against which he had pressed his fists clenched, and he had the feeling that if he opened his eyes they would vanish, and the familiar daylight look in on him….

A knock disturbed him. The old parlour-maid who was always left in charge of the house had come up to ask if he wasn’t well, and if there was anything she could do for him. He told her no … he was perfectly well … or, rather, no, he wasn’t … he supposed it must be the heat; and he began to scold her for having forgotten to close the shutters.

It wasn’t her fault, it appeared, but Eliza’s: her tone implied that he knew what one had to expect of Eliza … and wouldn’t he go down to the nice cool shady dining-room, and let her make him an iced drink and a few sandwiches?

“I’ve always told Mrs. Marvell I couldn’t turn my back for a second but what Eliza’d find a way to make trouble,” the old woman continued, evidently glad of the chance to air a perennial grievance. “It’s not only the things she FORGETS to do,” she added significantly; and it dawned on Ralph that she was making an appeal to him, expecting him to take sides with her in the chronic conflict between herself and Eliza. He said to himself that perhaps she was right … that perhaps there was something he ought to do … that his mother was old, and didn’t always see things; and for a while his mind revolved this problem with feverish intensity….

“Then you’ll come down, sir?”

“Yes.”

The door closed, and he heard her heavy heels along the passage.

“But the money–where’s the money to come from?” The question sprang out from some denser fold of the fog in his brain. The money–how on earth was he to pay it back? How could he have wasted his time in thinking of anything else while that central difficulty existed?

“But I can’t … I can’t … it’s gone … and even if it weren’t….” He dropped back in his chair and took his head between his hands. He had forgotten what he wanted the money for. He made a great effort to regain hold of the idea, but all the whirring, shuttling, flying had abruptly ceased in his brain, and he sat with his eyes shut, staring straight into darkness…. The clock struck, and he remembered that he had said he would go down to the dining-room. “If I don’t she’ll come up–” He raised his head and sat listening for the sound of the old woman’s step: it seemed to him perfectly intolerable that any one should cross the threshold of the room again.

“Why can’t they leave me alone?” he groaned…. At length through the silence of the empty house, he fancied he heard a door opening and closing far below; and he said to himself: “She’s coming.”

He got to his feet and went to the door. He didn’t feel anything now except the insane dread of hearing the woman’s steps come nearer. He bolted the door and stood looking about the room. For a moment he was conscious of seeing it in every detail with a distinctness he had never before known; then everything in it vanished but the single narrow panel of a drawer under one of the bookcases. He went up to the drawer, knelt down and slipped his hand into it.

As he raised himself he listened again, and this time he distinctly heard the old servant’s steps on the stairs. He passed his left hand over the side of his head, and down the curve of the skull behind the ear. He said to himself: “My wife … this will make it all right for her….” and a last flash of irony twitched through him. Then he felt again, more deliberately, for the spot he wanted, and put the muzzle of his revolver against it.

XXXVII

In a drawing-room hung with portraits of high-nosed personages in perukes and orders, a circle of ladies and gentlemen, looking not unlike every-day versions of the official figures above their heads, sat examining with friendly interest a little boy in mourning.

The boy was slim, fair and shy, and his small black figure, islanded in the middle of the wide lustrous floor, looked curiously lonely and remote. This effect of remoteness seemed to strike his mother as something intentional, and almost naughty, for after having launched him from the door, and waited to judge of the impression he produced, she came forward and, giving him a slight push, said impatiently: “Paul! Why don’t you go and kiss your new granny?”

The boy, without turning to her, or moving, sent his blue glance gravely about the circle. “Does she want me to?” he asked, in a tone of evident apprehension; and on his mother’s answering: “Of course, you silly!” he added earnestly: “How many more do you think there’ll be?”

Undine blushed to the ripples of her brilliant hair. “I never knew such a child! They’ve turned him into a perfect little savage!”

Raymond de Chelles advanced from behind his mother’s chair.

“He won’t be a savage long with me,” he said, stooping down so that his fatigued finely-drawn face was close to Paul’s. Their eyes met and the boy smiled. “Come along, old chap,” Chelles continued in English, drawing the little boy after him.

“Il est bien beau,” the Marquise de Chelles observed, her eyes turning from Paul’s grave face to her daughter-in-law’s vivid countenance.

“Do be nice, darling! Say, ‘bonjour, Madame,'” Undine urged.

An odd mingling of emotions stirred in her while she stood watching Paul make the round of the family group under her husband’s guidance. It was “lovely” to have the child back, and to find him, after their three years’ separation, grown into so endearing a figure: her first glimpse of him when, in Mrs. Heeny’s arms, he had emerged that morning from the steamer train, had shown what an acquisition he would be. If she had had any lingering doubts on the point, the impression produced on her husband would have dispelled them. Chelles had been instantly charmed, and Paul, in a shy confused way, was already responding to his advances. The Count and Countess Raymond had returned but a few weeks before from their protracted wedding journey, and were staying–as they were apparently to do whenever they came to Paris–with the old Marquis, Raymond’s father, who had amicably proposed that little Paul Marvell should also share the hospitality of the Hotel de Chelles. Undine, at first, was somewhat dismayed to find that she was expected to fit the boy and his nurse into a corner of her contracted entresol. But the possibility of a mother’s not finding room for her son, however cramped her own quarters, seemed not to have occurred to her new relations, and the preparing of her dressing-room and boudoir for Paul’s occupancy was carried on by the household with a zeal which obliged her to dissemble her lukewarmness.

Undine had supposed that on her marriage one of the great suites of the Hotel de Chelles would be emptied of its tenants and put at her husband’s disposal; but she had since learned that, even had such a plan occurred to her parents-in-law, considerations of economy would have hindered it. The old Marquis and his wife, who were content, when they came up from Burgundy in the spring, with a modest set of rooms looking out on the court of their ancestral residence, expected their son and his wife to fit themselves into the still smaller apartment which had served as Raymond’s bachelor lodging. The rest of the fine old mouldering house–the tall-windowed premier on the garden, and the whole of the floor above–had been let for years to old fashioned tenants who would have been more surprised than their landlord had he suddenly proposed to dispossess them. Undine, at first, had regarded these arrangements as merely provisional. She was persuaded that, under her influence, Raymond would soon convert his parents to more modern ideas, and meanwhile she was still in the flush of a completer well-being than she had ever known, and disposed, for the moment, to make light of any inconveniences connected with it. The three months since her marriage had been more nearly like what she had dreamed of than any of her previous experiments in happiness. At last she had what she wanted, and for the first time the glow of triumph was warmed by a deeper feeling. Her husband was really charming (it was odd how he reminded her of Ralph!), and after her bitter two years of loneliness and humiliation it was delicious to find herself once more adored and protected.

The very fact that Raymond was more jealous of her than Ralph had ever been–or at any rate less reluctant to show it–gave her a keener sense of recovered power. None of the men who had been in love with her before had been so frankly possessive, or so eager for reciprocal assurances of constancy. She knew that Ralph had suffered deeply from her intimacy with Van Degen, but he had betrayed his feeling only by a more studied detachment; and Van Degen, from the first, had been contemptuously indifferent to what she did or felt when she was out of his sight. As to her earlier experiences, she had frankly forgotten them: her sentimental memories went back no farther than the beginning of her New York career.

Raymond seemed to attach more importance to love, in all its manifestations, than was usual or convenient in a husband; and she gradually began to be aware that her domination over him involved a corresponding loss of independence. Since their return to Paris she had found that she was expected to give a circumstantial report of every hour she spent away from him. She had nothing to hide, and no designs against his peace of mind except those connected with her frequent and costly sessions at the dress-makers’; but she had never before been called upon to account to any one for the use of her time, and after the first amused surprise at Raymond’s always wanting to know where she had been and whom she had seen she began to be oppressed by so exacting a devotion. Her parents, from her tenderest youth, had tacitly recognized her inalienable right to “go round,” and Ralph–though from motives which she divined to be different–had shown the same respect for her freedom. It was therefore disconcerting to find that Raymond expected her to choose her friends, and even her acquaintances, in conformity not only with his personal tastes but with a definite and complicated code of family prejudices and traditions; and she was especially surprised to discover that he viewed with disapproval her intimacy with the Princess Estradina.

“My cousin’s extremely amusing, of course, but utterly mad and very mal entouree. Most of the people she has about her ought to be in prison or Bedlam: especially that unspeakable Madame Adelschein, who’s a candidate for both. My aunt’s an angel, but she’s been weak enough to let Lili turn the Hotel de Dordogne into an annex of Montmartre. Of course you’ll have to show yourself there now and then: in these days families like ours must hold together. But go to the reunions de famille rather than to Lili’s intimate parties; go with me, or with my mother; don’t let yourself be seen there alone. You’re too young and good-looking to be mixed up with that crew. A woman’s classed–or rather unclassed–by being known as one of Lili’s set.”

Agreeable as it was to Undine that an appeal to her discretion should be based on the ground of her youth and good-looks, she was dismayed to find herself cut off from the very circle she had meant them to establish her in. Before she had become Raymond’s wife there had been a moment of sharp tension in her relations with the Princess Estradina and the old Duchess. They had done their best to prevent her marrying their cousin, and had gone so far as openly to accuse her of being the cause of a breach between themselves and his parents. But Ralph Marvell’s death had brought about a sudden change in her situation. She was now no longer a divorced woman struggling to obtain ecclesiastical sanction for her remarriage, but a widow whose conspicuous beauty and independent situation made her the object of lawful aspirations. The first person to seize on this distinction and make the most of it was her old enemy the Marquise de Trezac. The latter, who had been loudly charged by the house of Chelles with furthering her beautiful compatriot’s designs, had instantly seen a chance of vindicating herself by taking the widowed Mrs. Marvell under her wing and favouring the attentions of other suitors. These were not lacking, and the expected result had followed. Raymond de Chelles, more than ever infatuated as attainment became less certain, had claimed a definite promise from Undine, and his family, discouraged by his persistent bachelorhood, and their failure to fix his attention on any of the amiable maidens obviously designed to continue the race, had ended by withdrawing their opposition and discovering in Mrs. Marvell the moral and financial merits necessary to justify their change of front.

“A good match? If she isn’t, I should like to know what the Chelles call one!” Madame de Trezac went about indefatigably proclaiming. “Related to the best people in New York–well, by marriage, that is; and her husband left much more money than was expected. It goes to the boy, of course; but as the boy is with his mother she naturally enjoys the income. And her father’s a rich man–much richer than is generally known; I mean what WE call rich in America, you understand!”

Madame de Trezac had lately discovered that the proper attitude for the American married abroad was that of a militant patriotism; and she flaunted Undine Marvell in the face of the Faubourg like a particularly showy specimen of her national banner. The success of the experiment emboldened her to throw off the most sacred observances of her past. She took up Madame Adelschein, she entertained the James J. Rollivers, she resuscitated Creole dishes, she patronized negro melodists, she abandoned her weekly teas for impromptu afternoon dances, and the prim drawing-room in which dowagers had droned echoed with a cosmopolitan hubbub.

Even when the period of tension was over, and Undine had been officially received into the family of her betrothed, Madame de Trezac did not at once surrender. She laughingly professed to have had enough of the proprieties, and declared herself bored by the social rites she had hitherto so piously performed. “You’ll always find a corner of home here, dearest, when you get tired of their ceremonies and solemnities,” she said as she embraced the bride after the wedding breakfast; and Undine hoped that the devoted Nettie would in fact provide a refuge from the extreme domesticity of her new state. But since her return to Paris, and her taking up her domicile in the Hotel de Chelles, she had found Madame de Trezac less and less disposed to abet her in any assertion of independence.

“My dear, a woman must adopt her husband’s nationality whether she wants to or not. It’s the law, and it’s the custom besides. If you wanted to amuse yourself with your Nouveau Luxe friends you oughtn’t to have married Raymond–but of course I say that only in joke. As if any woman would have hesitated who’d had your chance! Take my advice–keep out of Lili’s set just at first. Later … well, perhaps Raymond won’t be so particular; but meanwhile you’d make a great mistake to go against his people–” and Madame de Trezac, with a “Chere Madame,” swept forward from her tea-table to receive the first of the returning dowagers.

It was about this time that Mrs. Heeny arrived with Paul; and for a while Undine was pleasantly absorbed in her boy. She kept Mrs. Heeny in Paris for a fortnight, and between her more pressing occupations it amused her to listen to the masseuse’s New York gossip and her comments on the social organization of the old world. It was Mrs. Heeny’s first visit to Europe, and she confessed to Undine that she had always wanted to “see something of the aristocracy”–using the phrase as a naturalist might, with no hint of personal pretensions. Mrs. Heeny’s democratic ease was combined with the strictest professional discretion, and it would never have occurred to her to regard herself, or to wish others to regard her, as anything but a manipulator of muscles; but in that character she felt herself entitled to admission to the highest circles.

“They certainly do things with style over here–but it’s kinder one-horse after New York, ain’t it? Is this what they call their season? Why, you dined home two nights last week. They ought to come over to New York and see!” And she poured into Undine’s half-envious ear a list of the entertainments which had illuminated the last weeks of the New York winter. “I suppose you’ll begin to give parties as soon as ever you get into a house of your own. You’re not going to have one? Oh, well, then you’ll give a lot of big week-ends at your place down in the Shatter-country–that’s where the swells all go to in the summer time, ain’t it? But I dunno what your ma would say if she knew you were going to live on with HIS folks after you’re done honey-mooning. Why, we read in the papers you were going to live in some grand hotel or other–oh, they call their houses HOTELS, do they? That’s funny: I suppose it’s because they let out part of ’em. Well, you look handsomer than ever. Undine; I’ll take THAT back to your mother, anyhow. And he’s dead in love, I can see that; reminds me of the way–” but she broke off suddenly, as if something in Undine’s look had silenced her.

Even to herself. Undine did not like to call up the image of Ralph Marvell; and any mention of his name gave her a vague sense of distress. His death had released her, had given her what she wanted; yet she could honestly say to herself that she had not wanted him to die–at least not to die like that…. People said at the time that it was the hot weather–his own family had said so: he had never quite got over his attack of pneumonia, and the sudden rise of temperature–one of the fierce “heat-waves” that devastate New York in summer–had probably affected his brain: the doctors said such cases were not uncommon…. She had worn black for a few weeks–not quite mourning, but something decently regretful (the dress-makers were beginning to provide a special garb for such cases); and even since her remarriage, and the lapse of a year, she continued to wish that she could have got what she wanted without having had to pay that particular price for it.

This feeling was intensified by an incident–in itself far from unwelcome–which had occurred about three months after Ralph’s death. Her lawyers had written to say that the sum of a hundred thousand dollars had been paid over to Marvell’s estate by the Apex Consolidation Company; and as Marvell had left a will bequeathing everything he possessed to his son, this unexpected windfall handsomely increased Paul’s patrimony. Undine had never relinquished her claim on her child; she had merely, by the advice of her lawyers, waived the assertion of her right for a few months after Marvell’s death, with the express stipulation that her doing so was only a temporary concession to the feelings of her husband’s family; and she had held out against all attempts to induce her to surrender Paul permanently. Before her marriage she had somewhat conspicuously adopted her husband’s creed, and the Dagonets, picturing Paul as the prey of the Jesuits, had made the mistake of appealing to the courts for his custody. This had confirmed Undine’s resistance, and her determination to keep the child. The case had been decided in her favour, and she had thereupon demanded, and obtained, an allowance of five thousand dollars, to be devoted to the bringing up and education of her son. This sum, added to what Mr. Spragg had agreed to give her, made up an income which had appreciably bettered her position, and justified Madame de Trezac’s discreet allusions to her wealth. Nevertheless, it was one of the facts about which she least liked to think when any chance allusion evoked Ralph’s image. The money was hers, of course; she had a right to it, and she was an ardent believer in “rights.” But she wished she could have got it in some other way–she hated the thought of it as one more instance of the perverseness with which things she was entitled to always came to her as if they had been stolen.

The approach of summer, and the culmination of the Paris season, swept aside such thoughts. The Countess Raymond de Chelles, contrasting her situation with that of Mrs. Undine Marvell, and the fulness and animation of her new life with the vacant dissatisfied days which had followed on her return from Dakota, forgot the smallness of her apartment, the inconvenient proximity of Paul and his nurse, the interminable round of visits with her mother-in-law, and the long dinners in the solemn hotels of all the family connection. The world was radiant, the lights were lit, the music playing; she was still young, and better-looking than ever, with a Countess’s coronet, a famous chateau and a handsome and popular husband who adored her. And then suddenly the lights went out and the music stopped when one day Raymond, putting his arm about her, said in his tenderest tones: “And now, my dear, the world’s had you long enough and it’s my turn. What do you say to going down to Saint Desert?”

XXXVIII

In a window of the long gallery of the chateau de Saint Desert the new Marquise de Chelles stood looking down the poplar avenue into the November rain. It had been raining heavily and persistently for a longer time than she could remember. Day after day the hills beyond the park had been curtained by motionless clouds, the gutters of the long steep roofs had gurgled with a perpetual overflow, the opaque surface of the moat been peppered by a continuous pelting of big drops. The water lay in glassy stretches under the trees and along the sodden edges of the garden-paths, it rose in a white mist from the fields beyond, it exuded in a chill moisture from the brick flooring of the passages and from the walls of the rooms on the lower floor. Everything in the great empty house smelt of dampness: the stuffing of the chairs, the threadbare folds of the faded curtains, the splendid tapestries, that were fading too, on the walls of the room in which Undine stood, and the wide bands of crape which her husband had insisted on her keeping on her black dresses till the last hour of her mourning for the old Marquis.

The summer had been more than usually inclement, and since her first coming to the country Undine had lived through many periods of rainy weather; but none which had gone before had so completely epitomized, so summed up in one vast monotonous blur, the image of her long months at Saint Desert.

When, the year before, she had reluctantly suffered herself to be torn from the joys of Paris, she had been sustained by the belief that her exile would not be of long duration. Once Paris was out of sight, she had even found a certain lazy charm in the long warm days at Saint Desert. Her parents-in-law had remained in town, and she enjoyed being alone with her husband, exploring and appraising the treasures of the great half abandoned house, and watching her boy scamper over the June meadows or trot about the gardens on the poney his stepfather had given him. Paul, after Mrs. Heeny’s departure, had grown fretful and restive, and Undine had found it more and more difficult to fit his small exacting personality into her cramped rooms and crowded life. He irritated her by pining for his Aunt Laura, his Marvell granny, and old Mr. Dagonet’s funny stories about gods and fairies; and his wistful allusions to his games with Clare’s children sounded like a lesson he might have been drilled in to make her feel how little he belonged to her. But once released from Paris, and blessed with rabbits, a poney and the freedom of the fields, he became again all that a charming child should be, and for a time it amused her to share in his romps and rambles. Raymond seemed enchanted at the picture they made, and the quiet weeks of fresh air and outdoor activity gave her back a bloom that reflected itself in her tranquillized mood. She was the more resigned to this interlude because she was so sure of its not lasting. Before they left Paris a doctor had been found to say that Paul–who was certainly looking pale and pulled-down–was in urgent need of sea air, and Undine had nearly convinced her husband of the expediency of hiring a chalet at Deauville for July and August, when this plan, and with it every other prospect of escape, was dashed by the sudden death of the old Marquis.

Undine, at first, had supposed that the resulting change could not be other than favourable. She had been on too formal terms with her father-in-law–a remote and ceremonious old gentleman to whom her own personality was evidently an insoluble enigma–to feel more than the merest conventional pang at his death; and it was certainly “more fun” to be a marchioness than a countess, and to know that one’s husband was the head of the house. Besides, now they would have the chateau to themselves–or at least the old Marquise, when she came, would be there as a guest and not a ruler–and visions of smart house-parties and big shoots lit up the first weeks of Undine’s enforced seclusion. Then, by degrees, the inexorable conditions of French mourning closed in on her. Immediately after the long-drawn funeral observances the bereaved family–mother, daughters, sons and sons-in-law–came down to seclude themselves at Saint Desert; and Undine, through the slow hot crape-smelling months, lived encircled by shrouded images of woe in which the only live points were the eyes constantly fixed on her least movements. The hope of escaping to the seaside with Paul vanished in the pained stare with which her mother-in-law received the suggestion. Undine learned the next day that it had cost the old Marquise a sleepless night, and might have had more distressing results had it not been explained as a harmless instance of transatlantic oddness. Raymond entreated his wife to atone for her involuntary legerete by submitting with a good grace to the usages of her adopted country; and he seemed to regard the remaining months of the summer as hardly long enough for this act of expiation. As Undine looked back on them, they appeared to have been composed of an interminable succession of identical days, in which attendance at early mass (in the coroneted gallery she had once so glowingly depicted to Van Degen) was followed by a great deal of conversational sitting about, a great deal of excellent eating, an occasional drive to the nearest town behind a pair of heavy draft horses, and long evenings in a lamp-heated drawing-room with all the windows shut, and the stout cure making an asthmatic fourth at the Marquise’s card-table.

Still, even these conditions were not permanent, and the discipline of the last years had trained Undine to wait and dissemble. The summer over, it was decided–after a protracted family conclave–that the state of the old Marquise’s health made it advisable for her to spend the winter with the married daughter who lived near Pau. The other members of the family returned to their respective estates, and Undine once more found herself alone with her husband. But she knew by this time that there was to be no thought of Paris that winter, or even the next spring. Worse still, she was presently to discover that Raymond’s accession of rank brought with it no financial advantages.

Having but the vaguest notion of French testamentary law, she was dismayed to learn that the compulsory division of property made it impossible for a father to benefit his eldest son at the expense of the others. Raymond was therefore little richer than before, and with the debts of honour of a troublesome younger brother to settle, and Saint Desert to keep up, his available income was actually reduced. He held out, indeed, the hope of eventual improvement, since the old Marquis had managed his estates with a lofty contempt for modern methods, and the application of new principles of agriculture and forestry were certain to yield profitable results. But for a year or two, at any rate, this very change of treatment would necessitate the owner’s continual supervision, and would not in the meanwhile produce any increase of income.

To faire valoir the family acres had always, it appeared, been Raymond’s deepest-seated purpose, and all his frivolities dropped from him with the prospect of putting his hand to the plough. He was not, indeed, inhuman enough to condemn his wife to perpetual exile. He meant, he assured her, that she should have her annual spring visit to Paris–but he stared in dismay at her suggestion that they should take possession of the coveted premier of the Hotel de Chelles. He was gallant enough to express the wish that it were in his power to house her on such a scale; but he could not conceal his surprise that she had ever seriously expected it. She was beginning to see that he felt her constitutional inability to understand anything about money as the deepest difference between them. It was a proficiency no one had ever expected her to acquire, and the lack of which she had even been encouraged to regard as a grace and to use as a pretext. During the interval between her divorce and her remarriage she had learned what things cost, but not how to do without them; and money still seemed to her like some mysterious and uncertain stream which occasionally vanished underground but was sure to bubble up again at one’s feet. Now, however, she found herself in a world where it represented not the means of individual gratification but the substance binding together whole groups of interests, and where the uses to which it might be put in twenty years were considered before the reasons for spending it on the spot. At first she was sure she could laugh Raymond out of his prudence or coax him round to her point of view. She did not understand how a man so romantically in love could be so unpersuadable on certain points. Hitherto she had had to contend with personal moods, now she was arguing against a policy; and she was gradually to learn that it was as natural to Raymond de Chelles to adore her and resist her as it had been to Ralph Marvell to adore her and let her have her way. At first, indeed, he appealed to her good sense, using arguments evidently drawn from accumulations of hereditary experience. But his economic plea was as unintelligible to her as the silly problems about pen-knives and apples in the “Mental Arithmetic” of her infancy; and when he struck a tenderer note and spoke of the duty of providing for the son he hoped for, she put her arms about him to whisper: “But then I oughtn’t to be worried…”

After that, she noticed, though he was as charming as ever, he behaved as if the case were closed. He had apparently decided that his arguments were unintelligible to her, and under all his ardour she felt the difference made by the discovery. It did not make him less kind, but it evidently made her less important; and she had the half-frightened sense that the day she ceased to please him she would cease to exist for him. That day was a long way off, of course, but the chill of it had brushed her face; and she was no longer heedless of such signs. She resolved to cultivate all the arts of patience and compliance, and habit might have helped them to take root if they had not been nipped by a new cataclysm.

It was barely a week ago that her husband had been called to Paris to straighten out a fresh tangle in the affairs of the troublesome brother whose difficulties were apparently a part of the family tradition. Raymond’s letters had been hurried, his telegrams brief and contradictory, and now, as Undine stood watching for the brougham that was to bring him from the station, she had the sense that with his arrival all her vague fears would be confirmed. There would be more money to pay out, of course–since the funds that could not be found for her just needs were apparently always forthcoming to settle Hubert’s scandalous prodigalities–and that meant a longer perspective of solitude at Saint Desert, and a fresh pretext for postponing the hospitalities that were to follow on their period of mourning. The brougham–a vehicle as massive and lumbering as the pair that drew it– presently rolled into the court, and Raymond’s sable figure (she had never before seen a man travel in such black clothes) sprang up the steps to the door. Whenever Undine saw him after an absence she had a curious sense of his coming back from unknown distances and not belonging to her or to any state of things she understood. Then habit reasserted itself, and she began to think of him again with a querulous familiarity. But she had learned to hide her feelings, and as he came in she put up her face for a kiss.

“Yes–everything’s settled–” his embrace expressed the satisfaction of the man returning from an accomplished task to the joys of his fireside.

“Settled?” Her face kindled. “Without your having to pay?”

He looked at her with a shrug. “Of course I’ve had to pay. Did you suppose Hubert’s creditors would be put off with vanilla eclairs?”

“Oh, if THAT’S what you mean–if Hubert has only to wire you at any time to be sure of his affairs being settled–!”

She saw his lips narrow and a line come out between his eyes. “Wouldn’t it be a happy thought to tell them to bring tea?” he suggested.

“In the library, then. It’s so cold here–and the tapestries smell so of rain.”

He paused a moment to scrutinize the long walls, on which the fabulous blues and pinks of the great Boucher series looked as livid as withered roses. “I suppose they ought to be taken down and aired,” he said.

She thought: “In THIS air–much good it would do them!” But she had already repented her outbreak about Hubert, and she followed her husband into the library with the resolve not to let him see her annoyance. Compared with the long grey gallery the library, with its brown walls of books, looked warm and home-like, and Raymond seemed to feel the influence of the softer atmosphere. He turned to his wife and put his arm about her.

“I know it’s been a trial to you, dearest; but this is the last time I shall have to pull the poor boy out.”

In spite of herself she laughed incredulously: Hubert’s “last times” were a household word.

But when tea had been brought, and they were alone over the fire, Raymond unfolded the amazing sequel. Hubert had found an heiress, Hubert was to be married, and henceforth the business of paying his debts (which might be counted on to recur as inevitably as the changes of the seasons) would devolve on his American bride–the charming Miss Looty Arlington, whom Raymond had remained over in Paris to meet.

“An American? He’s marrying an American?” Undine wavered between wrath and satisfaction. She felt a flash of resentment at any other intruder’s venturing upon her territory–(“Looty Arlington? Who is she? What a name!”)–but it was quickly superseded by the relief of knowing that henceforth, as Raymond said, Hubert’s debts would be some one else’s business. Then a third consideration prevailed. “But if he’s engaged to a rich girl, why on earth do WE have to pull him out?”

Her husband explained that no other course was possible. Though General Arlington was immensely wealthy, (“her father’s a general–a General Manager, whatever that may be,”) he had exacted what he called “a clean slate” from his future son-in-law, and Hubert’s creditors (the boy was such a donkey!) had in their possession certain papers that made it possible for them to press for immediate payment.

“Your compatriots’ views on such matters are so rigid–and it’s all to their credit–that the marriage would have fallen through at once if the least hint of Hubert’s mess had got out–and then we should have had him on our hands for life.”

Yes–from that point of view it was doubtless best to pay up; but Undine obscurely wished that their doing so had not incidentally helped an unknown compatriot to what the American papers were no doubt already announcing as “another brilliant foreign alliance.”

“Where on earth did your brother pick up anybody respectable? Do you know where her people come from? I suppose she’s perfectly awful,” she broke out with a sudden escape of irritation.

“I believe Hubert made her acquaintance at a skating rink. They come from some new state–the general apologized for its not yet being on the map, but seemed surprised I hadn’t heard of it. He said it was already known as one of ‘the divorce states,’ and the principal city had, in consequence, a very agreeable society. La petite n’est vraiment pas trop mal.”

“I daresay not! We’re all good-looking. But she must be horribly common.”

Raymond seemed sincerely unable to formulate a judgment. “My dear, you have your own customs…”

“Oh, I know we’re all alike to you!” It was one of her grievances that he never attempted to discriminate between Americans. “You see no difference between me and a girl one gets engaged to at a skating rink!”

He evaded the challenge by rejoining: “Miss Arlington’s burning to know you. She says she’s heard a great deal about you, and Hubert wants to bring her down next week. I think we’d better do what we can.”

“Of course.” But Undine was still absorbed in the economic aspect of the case. “If they’re as rich as you say, I suppose Hubert means to pay you back by and bye?”

“Naturally. It’s all arranged. He’s given me a paper.” He drew her hands into his. “You see we’ve every reason to be kind to Miss Arlington.”

“Oh, I’ll be as kind as you like!” She brightened at the prospect of repayment. Yes, they would ask the girl down… She leaned a little nearer to her husband. “But then after a while we shall be a good deal better off–especially, as you say, with no more of Hubert’s debts to worry us.” And leaning back far enough to give her upward smile, she renewed her plea for the premier in the Hotel de Chelles: “Because, really, you know, as the head of the house you ought to–“

“Ah, my dear, as the head of the house I’ve so many obligations; and one of them is not to miss a good stroke of business when it comes my way.”

Her hands slipped from his shoulders and she drew back. “What do you mean by a good stroke of business?

“Why, an incredible piece of luck–it’s what kept me on so long in Paris. Miss Arlington’s father was looking for an apartment for the young couple, and I’ve let him the premier for twelve years on the understanding that he puts electric light and heating into the whole hotel. It’s a wonderful chance, for of course we all benefit by it as much as Hubert.”

“A wonderful chance… benefit by it as much as Hubert!” He seemed to be speaking a strange language in which familiar-sounding syllables meant something totally unknown. Did he really think she was going to coop herself up again in their cramped quarters while Hubert and his skating-rink bride luxuriated overhead in the coveted premier? All the resentments that had been accumulating in her during the long baffled months since her marriage broke into speech. “It’s extraordinary of you to do such a thing without consulting me!”

“Without consulting you? But, my dear child, you’ve always professed the most complete indifference to business matters–you’ve frequently begged me not to bore you with them. You may be sure I’ve acted on the best advice; and my mother, whose head is as good as a man’s, thinks I’ve made a remarkably good arrangement.”

“I daresay–but I’m not always thinking about money, as you are.”

As she spoke she had an ominous sense of impending peril; but she was too angry to avoid even the risks she saw. To her surprise Raymond put his arm about her with a smile. “There are many reasons why I have to think about money. One is that YOU don’t; and another is that I must look out for the future of our son.”

Undine flushed to the forehead. She had grown accustomed to such allusions and the thought of having a child no longer filled her with the resentful terror she had felt before Paul’s birth. She had been insensibly influenced by a different point of view, perhaps also by a difference in her own feeling; and the vision of herself as the mother of the future Marquis de Chelles was softened to happiness by the thought of giving Raymond a son. But all these lightly-rooted sentiments went down in the rush of her resentment, and she freed herself with a petulant movement. “Oh, my dear, you’d better leave it to your brother to perpetuate the race. There’ll be more room for nurseries in their apartment!”

She waited a moment, quivering with the expectation of her husband’s answer; then, as none came except the silent darkening of his face, she walked to the door and turned round to fling back: “Of course you can do what you like with your own house, and make any arrangements that suit your family, without consulting me; but you needn’t think I’m ever going back to live in that stuffy little hole, with Hubert and his wife splurging round on top of our heads!”

“Ah–” said Raymond de Chelles in a low voice.

XXXIX

Undine did not fulfil her threat. The month of May saw her back in the rooms she had declared she would never set foot in, and after her long sojourn among the echoing vistas of Saint Desert the exiguity of her Paris quarters seemed like cosiness.

In the interval many things had happened. Hubert, permitted by his anxious relatives to anticipate the term of the family mourning, had been showily and expensively united to his heiress; the Hotel de Chelles had been piped, heated and illuminated in accordance with the bride’s requirements; and the young couple, not content with these utilitarian changes had moved doors, opened windows, torn down partitions, and given over the great trophied and pilastered dining-room to a decorative painter with a new theory of the human anatomy. Undine had silently assisted at this spectacle, and at the sight of the old Marquise’s abject acquiescence; she had seen the Duchesse de Dordogne and the Princesse Estradina go past her door to visit Hubert’s premier and marvel at the American bath-tubs and the Annamite bric-a-brac; and she had been present, with her husband, at the banquet at which Hubert had revealed to the astonished Faubourg the prehistoric episodes depicted on his dining-room walls. She had accepted all these necessities with the stoicism which the last months had developed in her; for more and more, as the days passed, she felt herself in the grasp of circumstances stronger than any effort she could oppose to them. The very absence of external pressure, of any tactless assertion of authority on her husband’s part, intensified the sense of her helplessness. He simply left it to her to infer that, important as she might be to him in certain ways, there were others in which she did not weigh a feather.

Their outward relations had not changed since her outburst on the subject of Hubert’s marriage. That incident had left her half-ashamed, half-frightened at her behaviour, and she had tried to atone for it by the indirect arts that were her nearest approach to acknowledging herself in the wrong. Raymond met her advances with a good grace, and they lived through the rest of the winter on terms of apparent understanding. When the spring approached it was he who suggested that, since his mother had consented to Hubert’s marrying before the year of mourning was over, there was really no reason why they should not go up to Paris as usual; and she was surprised at the readiness with which he prepared to accompany her.

A year earlier she would have regarded this as another proof of her power; but she now drew her inferences less quickly. Raymond was as “lovely” to her as ever; but more than once, during their months in the country, she had had a startled sense of not giving him all he expected of her. She had admired him, before their marriage, as a model of social distinction; during the honeymoon he had been the most ardent of lovers; and with their settling down at Saint Desert she had prepared to resign herself to the society of a country gentleman absorbed in sport and agriculture. But Raymond, to her surprise, had again developed a disturbing resemblance to his predecessor. During the long winter afternoons, after he had gone over his accounts with the bailiff, or written his business letters, he took to dabbling with a paint-box, or picking out new scores at the piano; after dinner, when they went to the library, he seemed to expect to read aloud to her from the reviews and papers he was always receiving; and when he had discovered her inability to fix her attention he fell into the way of absorbing himself in one of the old brown books with which the room was lined. At first he tried–as Ralph had done–to tell her about what he was reading or what was happening in the world; but her sense of inadequacy made her slip away to other subjects, and little by little their talk died down to monosyllables. Was it possible that, in spite of his books, the evenings seemed as long to Raymond as to her, and that he had suggested going back to Paris because he was bored at Saint Desert? Bored as she was herself, she resented his not finding her company all-sufficient, and was mortified by the discovery that there were regions of his life she could not enter.

But once back in Paris she had less time for introspection, and Raymond less for books. They resumed their dispersed and busy life, and in spite of Hubert’s ostentatious vicinity, of the perpetual lack of money, and of Paul’s innocent encroachments on her freedom, Undine, once more in her element, ceased to brood upon her grievances. She enjoyed going about with her husband, whose presence at her side was distinctly ornamental. He seemed to have grown suddenly younger and more animated, and when she saw other women looking at him she remembered how distinguished he was. It amused her to have him in her train, and driving about with him to dinners and dances, waiting for him on flower-decked landings, or pushing at his side through blazing theatre-lobbies, answered to her inmost ideal of domestic intimacy.

He seemed disposed to allow her more liberty than before, and it was only now and then that he let drop a brief reminder of the conditions on which it was accorded. She was to keep certain people at a distance, she was not to cheapen herself by being seen at vulgar restaurants and tea-rooms, she was to join with him in fulfilling certain family obligations (going to a good many dull dinners among the number); but in other respects she was free to fill her days as she pleased.

“Not that it leaves me much time,” she admitted to Madame de Trezac; “what with going to see his mother every day, and never missing one of his sisters’ jours, and showing myself at the Hotel de Dordogne whenever the Duchess gives a pay-up party to the stuffy people Lili Estradina won’t be bothered with, there are days when I never lay eyes on Paul, and barely have time to be waved and manicured; but, apart from that, Raymond’s really much nicer and less fussy than he was.”

Undine, as she grew older, had developed her mother’s craving for a confidante, and Madame de Trezac had succeeded in that capacity to Mabel Lipscomb and Bertha Shallum.

“Less fussy?” Madame de Trezac’s long nose lengthened thoughtfully. “H’m–are you sure that’s a good sign?”

Undine stared and laughed. “Oh, my dear, you’re so quaint! Why, nobody’s jealous any more.”

“No; that’s the worst of it.” Madame de Trezac pondered. “It’s a thousand pities you haven’t got a son.”

“Yes; I wish we had.” Undine stood up, impatient to end the conversation. Since she had learned that her continued childlessness was regarded by every one about her as not only unfortunate but somehow vaguely derogatory to her, she had genuinely begun to regret it; and any allusion to the subject disturbed her.

“Especially,” Madame de Trezac continued, “as Hubert’s wife–“

“Oh, if THAT’S all they want, it’s a pity Raymond didn’t marry Hubert’s wife,” Undine flung back; and on the stairs she murmured to herself: “Nettie has been talking to my mother-in-law.”

But this explanation did not quiet her, and that evening, as she and Raymond drove back together from a party, she felt a sudden impulse to speak. Sitting close to him in the darkness of the carriage, it ought to have been easy for her to find the needed word; but the barrier of his indifference hung between them, and street after street slipped by, and the spangled blackness of the river unrolled itself beneath their wheels, before she leaned over to touch his hand.

“What is it, my dear?”

She had not yet found the word, and already his tone told her she was too late. A year ago, if she had slipped her hand in his, she would not have had that answer.

“Your mother blames me for our not having a child. Everybody thinks it’s my fault.”

He paused before answering, and she sat watching his shadowy profile against the passing lamps.

“My mother’s ideas are old-fashioned; and I don’t know that it’s anybody’s business but yours and mine.”

“Yes, but–“

“Here we are.” The brougham was turning under the archway of the hotel, and the light of Hubert’s tall windows fell across the dusky court. Raymond helped her out, and they mounted to their door by the stairs which Hubert had recarpeted in velvet, with a marble nymph lurking in the azaleas on the landing.

In the antechamber Raymond paused to take her cloak from her shoulders, and his eyes rested on her with a faint smile of approval.

“You never looked better; your dress is extremely becoming. Good-night, my dear,” he said, kissing her hand as he turned away.

Undine kept this incident to herself: her wounded pride made her shrink from confessing it even to Madame de Trezac. She was sure Raymond would “come back”; Ralph always had, to the last. During their remaining weeks in Paris she reassured herself with the thought that once they were back at Saint Desert she would easily regain her lost hold; and when Raymond suggested their leaving Paris she acquiesced without a protest. But at Saint Desert she seemed no nearer to him than in Paris. He continued to treat her with unvarying amiability, but he seemed wholly absorbed in the management of the estate, in his books, his sketching and his music. He had begun to interest himself in politics and had been urged to stand for his department. This necessitated frequent displacements: trips to Beaune or Dijon and occasional absences in Paris. Undine, when he was away, was not left alone, for the dowager Marquise had established herself at Saint Desert for the summer, and relays of brothers and sisters-in-law, aunts, cousins and ecclesiastical friends and connections succeeded each other under its capacious roof. Only Hubert and his wife were absent. They had taken a villa at Deauville, and in the morning papers Undine followed the chronicle of Hubert’s polo scores and of the Countess Hubert’s racing toilets.

The days crawled on with a benumbing sameness. The old Marquise and the other ladies of the party sat on the terrace with their needle-work, the cure or one of the visiting uncles read aloud the Journal des Debats and prognosticated dark things of the Republic, Paul scoured the park and despoiled the kitchen-garden with the other children of the family, the inhabitants of the adjacent chateaux drove over to call, and occasionally the ponderous pair were harnessed to a landau as lumbering as the brougham, and the ladies of Saint Desert measured the dusty kilometres between themselves and their neighbours.

It was the first time that Undine had seriously paused to consider the conditions of her new life, and as the days passed she began to understand that so they would continue to succeed each other till the end. Every one about her took it for granted that as long as she lived she would spend ten months of every year at Saint Desert and the remaining two in Paris. Of course, if health required it, she might go to les eaux with her husband; but the old Marquise was very doubtful as to the benefit of a course of waters, and her uncle the Duke and her cousin the Canon shared her view. In the case of young married women, especially, the unwholesome excitement of the modern watering-place was more than likely to do away with the possible benefit of the treatment. As to travel–had not Raymond and his wife been to Egypt and Asia Minor on their wedding-journey? Such reckless enterprise was unheard of in the annals of the house! Had they not spent days and days in the saddle, and slept in tents among the Arabs? (Who could tell, indeed, whether these imprudences were not the cause of the disappointment which it had pleased heaven to inflict on the young couple?) No one in the family had ever taken so long a wedding-journey. One bride had gone to England (even that was considered extreme), and another–the artistic daughter–had spent a week in Venice; which certainly showed that they were not behind the times, and had no old-fashioned prejudices. Since wedding-journeys were the fashion, they had taken them; but who had ever heard of travelling afterward?

What could be the possible object of leaving one’s family, one’s habits, one’s friends? It was natural that the Americans, who had no homes, who were born and died in hotels, should have contracted nomadic habits: but the new Marquise de Chelles was no longer an American, and she had Saint Desert and the Hotel de Chelles to live in, as generations of ladies of her name had done before her. Thus Undine beheld her future laid out for her, not directly and in blunt words, but obliquely and affably, in the allusions, the assumptions, the insinuations of the amiable women among whom her days were spent. Their interminable conversations were carried on to the click of knitting-needles and the rise and fall of industrious fingers above embroidery-frames; and as Undine sat staring at the lustrous nails of her idle hands she felt that her inability to occupy them was regarded as one of the chief causes of her restlessness. The innumerable rooms of Saint Desert were furnished with the embroidered hangings and tapestry chairs produced by generations of diligent chatelaines, and the untiring needles of the old Marquise, her daughters and dependents were still steadily increasing the provision.

It struck Undine as curious that they should be willing to go on making chair-coverings and bed-curtains for a house that didn’t really belong to them, and that she had a right to pull about and rearrange as she chose; but then that was only a part of their whole incomprehensible way of regarding themselves (in spite of their acute personal and parochial absorptions) as minor members of a powerful and indivisible whole, the huge voracious fetish they called The Family.

Notwithstanding their very definite theories as to what Americans were and were not, they were evidently bewildered at finding no corresponding sense of solidarity in Undine; and little Paul’s rootlessness, his lack of all local and linear ties, made them (for all the charm he exercised) regard him with something of the shyness of pious Christians toward an elfin child. But though mother and child gave them a sense of insuperable strangeness, it plainly never occurred to them that both would not be gradually subdued to the customs of Saint Desert. Dynasties had fallen, institutions changed, manners and morals, alas, deplorably declined; but as far back as memory went, the ladies of the line of Chelles had always sat at their needle-work on the terrace of Saint Desert, while the men of the house lamented the corruption of the government and the cure ascribed the unhappy state of the country to the decline of religious feeling and the rise in the cost of living. It was inevitable that, in the course of time, the new Marquise should come to understand the fundamental necessity of these things being as they were; and meanwhile the forbearance of her husband’s family exercised itself, with the smiling discretion of their race, through the long succession of uneventful days.

Once, in September, this routine was broken in upon by the unannounced descent of a flock of motors bearing the Princess Estradina and a chosen band from one watering-place to another. Raymond was away at the time, but family loyalty constrained the old Marquise to welcome her kinswoman and the latter’s friends; and Undine once more found herself immersed in the world from which her marriage had removed her.

The Princess, at first, seemed totally to have forgotten their former intimacy, and Undine was made to feel that in a life so variously agitated the episode could hardly have left a trace. But the night before her departure the incalculable Lili, with one of her sudden changes of humour, drew her former friend into her bedroom and plunged into an exchange of confidences. She naturally unfolded her own history first, and it was so packed with incident that the courtyard clock had struck two before she turned her attention to Undine.

“My dear, you’re handsomer than ever; only perhaps a shade too stout. Domestic bliss, I suppose? Take care! You need an emotion, a drama… You Americans are really extraordinary. You appear to live on change and excitement; and then suddenly a man comes along and claps a ring on your finger, and you never look through it to see what’s going on outside. Aren’t you ever the least bit bored? Why do I never see anything of you any more? I suppose it’s the fault of my venerable aunt–she’s never forgiven me for having a better time than her daughters. How can I help it if I don’t look like the cure’s umbrella? I daresay she owes you the same grudge. But why do you let her coop you up here? It’s a thousand pities you haven’t had a child. They’d all treat you differently if you had.”

It was the same perpetually reiterated condolence; and Undine flushed with anger as she listened. Why indeed had she let herself be cooped up? She could not have answered the Princess’s question: she merely felt the impossibility of breaking through the mysterious web of traditions, conventions, prohibitions that enclosed her in their impenetrable net-work. But her vanity suggested the obvious pretext, and she murmured with a laugh: “I didn’t know Raymond was going to be so jealous–“

The Princess stared. “Is it Raymond who keeps you shut up here? And what about his trips to Dijon? And what do you suppose he does with himself when he runs up to Paris? Politics?” She shrugged ironically. “Politics don’t occupy a man after midnight. Raymond jealous of you? Ah, merci! My dear, it’s what I always say when people talk to me about fast Americans: you’re the only innocent women left in the world…”

XL

After the Princess Estradina’s departure, the days at Saint Desert succeeded each other indistinguishably; and more and more, as they passed, Undine felt herself drawn into the slow strong current already fed by so many tributary lives. Some spell she could not have named seemed to emanate from the old house which had so long been the custodian of an unbroken tradition: things had happened there in the same way for so many generations that to try to alter them seemed as vain as to contend with the elements.

Winter came and went, and once more the calendar marked the first days of spring; but though the horse-chestnuts of the Champs Elysees were budding snow still lingered in the grass drives of Saint Desert and along the ridges of the hills beyond the park. Sometimes, as Undine looked out of the windows of the Boucher gallery, she felt as if her eyes had never rested on any other scene. Even her occasional brief trips to Paris left no lasting trace: the life of the vivid streets faded to a shadow as soon as the black and white horizon of Saint Desert closed in on her again.

Though the afternoons were still cold she had lately taken to sitting in the gallery. The smiling scenes on its walls and the tall screens which broke its length made it more habitable than the drawing-rooms beyond; but her chief reason for preferring it was the satisfaction she found in having fires lit in both the monumental chimneys that faced each other down its long perspective. This satisfaction had its source in the old Marquise’s disapproval. Never before in the history of Saint Desert had the consumption of firewood exceeded a certain carefully-calculated measure; but since Undine had been in authority this allowance had been doubled. If any one had told her, a year earlier, that one of the chief distractions of her new life would be to invent ways of annoying her mother-in-law, she would have laughed at the idea of wasting her time on such trifles. But she found herself with a great deal of time to waste, and with a fierce desire to spend it in upsetting the immemorial customs of Saint Desert. Her husband had mastered her in essentials, but she had discovered innumerable small ways of irritating and hurting him, and one–and not the least effectual–was to do anything that went counter to his mother’s prejudices. It was not that he always shared her views, or was a particularly subservient son; but it seemed to be one of his fundamental principles that a man should respect his mother’s wishes, and see to it that his household respected them. All Frenchmen of his class appeared to share this view, and to regard it as beyond discussion: it was based on something so much more Immutable than personal feeling that one might even hate one’s mother and yet insist that her ideas as to the consumption of fire-wood should be regarded.

The old Marquise, during the cold weather, always sat in her bedroom; and there, between the tapestried four-poster and the fireplace, the family grouped itself around the ground-glass of her single carcel lamp. In the evening, if there were visitors, a fire was lit in the library; otherwise the family again sat about the Marquise’s lamp till the footman came in at ten with tisane and biscuits de Reims; after which every one bade the dowager good night and scattered down the corridors to chill distances marked by tapers floating in cups of oil.

Since Undine’s coming the library fire had never been allowed to go out; and of late, after experimenting with the two drawing-rooms and the so-called “study” where Raymond kept his guns and saw the bailiff, she had selected the gallery as the most suitable place for the new and unfamiliar ceremony of afternoon tea. Afternoon refreshments had never before been served at Saint Desert except when company was expected; when they had invariably consisted in a decanter of sweet port and a plate of small dry cakes–the kind that kept. That the complicated rites of the tea-urn, with its offering-up of perishable delicacies, should be enacted for the sole enjoyment of the family, was a thing so unheard of that for a while Undine found sufficient amusement in elaborating the ceremonial, and in making the ancestral plate groan under more varied viands; and when this palled she devised the plan of performing the office in the gallery and lighting sacrificial fires in both chimneys.

She had said to Raymond, at first: “It’s ridiculous that your mother should sit in her bedroom all day. She says she does it to save fires; but if we have a fire downstairs why can’t she let hers go out, and come down? I don’t see why I should spend my life in your mother’s bedroom.”

Raymond made no answer, and the Marquise did, in fact, let her fire go out. But she did not come down–she simply continued to sit upstairs without a fire.

At first this also amused Undine; then the tacit criticism implied began to irritate her. She hoped Raymond would speak of his mother’s attitude: she had her answer ready if he did! But he made no comment, he took no notice; her impulses of retaliation spent themselves against the blank surface of his indifference. He was as amiable, as considerate as ever; as ready, within reason, to accede to her wishes and gratify her whims. Once or twice, when she suggested running up to Paris to take Paul to the dentist, or to look for a servant, he agreed to the necessity and went up with her. But instead of going to an hotel they went to their apartment, where carpets were up and curtains down, and a care-taker prepared primitive food at uncertain hours; and Undine’s first glimpse of Hubert’s illuminated windows deepened her rancour and her sense of helplessness.

As Madame de Trezac had predicted, Raymond’s vigilance gradually relaxed, and during their excursions to the capital Undine came and went as she pleased. But her visits were too short to permit of her falling in with the social pace, and when she showed herself among her friends she felt countrified and out-of-place, as if even her clothes had come from Saint Desert. Nevertheless her dresses were more than ever her chief preoccupation: in Paris she spent hours at the dressmaker’s, and in the country the arrival of a box of new gowns was the chief event of the vacant days. But there was more bitterness than joy in the unpacking, and the dresses hung in her wardrobe like so many unfulfilled promises of pleasure, reminding her of the days at the Stentorian when she had reviewed other finery with the same cheated eyes. In spite of this, she multiplied her orders, writing up to the dress-makers for patterns, and to the milliners for boxes of hats which she tried on, and kept for days, without being able to make a choice. Now and then she even sent her maid up to Paris to bring back great assortments of veils, gloves, flowers and laces; and after periods of painful indecision she ended by keeping the greater number, lest those she sent back should turn out to be the ones that were worn in Paris. She knew she was spending too much money, and she had lost her youthful faith in providential solutions; but she had always had the habit of going out to buy something when she was bored, and never had she been in greater need of such solace.

The dulness of her life seemed to have passed into her blood: her complexion was less animated, her hair less shining. The change in her looks alarmed her, and she scanned the fashion-papers for new scents and powders, and experimented in facial bandaging, electric massage and other processes of renovation. Odd atavisms woke in her, and she began to pore over patent medicine advertisements, to send stamped envelopes to beauty doctors and professors of physical development, and to brood on the advantage of consulting faith-healers, mind-readers and their kindred adepts. She even wrote to her mother for the receipts of some of her grandfather’s forgotten nostrums, and modified her daily life, and her hours of sleeping, eating and exercise, in accordance with each new experiment.

Her constitutional restlessness lapsed into an apathy like Mrs. Spragg’s, and the least demand on her activity irritated her. But she was beset by endless annoyances: bickerings with discontented maids, the difficulty of finding a tutor for Paul, and the problem of keeping him amused and occupied without having him too much on her hands. A great liking had sprung up between Raymond and the little boy, and during the summer Paul was perpetually at his step-father’s side in the stables and the park. But with the coming of winter Raymond was oftener away, and Paul developed a persistent cold that kept him frequently indoors. The confinement made him fretful and exacting, and the old Marquise ascribed the change in his behaviour to the deplorable influence of his tutor, a “laic” recommended by one of Raymond’s old professors. Raymond himself would have preferred an abbe: it was in the tradition of the house, and though Paul was not of the house it seemed fitting that he should conform to its ways. Moreover, when the married sisters came to stay they objected to having their children exposed to the tutor’s influence, and even implied that Paul’s society might be contaminating. But Undine, though she had so readily embraced her husband’s faith, stubbornly resisted the suggestion that she should hand over her son to the Church. The tutor therefore remained; but the friction caused by his presence was so irritating to Undine that she began to consider the alternative of sending Paul to school. He was still small and tender for the experiment; but she persuaded herself that what he needed was “hardening,” and having heard of a school where fashionable infancy was subjected to this process, she entered into correspondence with the master. His first letter convinced her that his establishment was just the place for Paul; but the second contained the price-list, and after comparing it with the tutor’s keep and salary she wrote to say that she feared her little boy was too young to be sent away from home.

Her husband, for some time past, had ceased to make any comment on her expenditure. She knew he thought her too extravagant, and felt sure he was minutely aware of what she spent; for Saint Desert projected on economic details a light as different as might be from the haze that veiled them in West End Avenue. She therefore concluded that Raymond’s silence was intentional, and ascribed it to his having shortcomings of his own to conceal. The Princess Estradina’s pleasantry had reached its mark. Undine did not believe that her husband was seriously in love with another woman–she could not conceive that any one could tire of her of whom she had not first tired–but she was humiliated by his indifference, and it was easier to ascribe it to the arts of a rival than to any deficiency in herself. It exasperated her to think that he might have consolations for the outward monotony of his life, and she resolved that when they returned to Paris he should see that she was not without similar opportunities.

March, meanwhile, was verging on April, and still he did not speak of leaving. Undine had learned that he expected to have such decisions left to him, and she hid her impatience lest her showing it should incline him to delay. But one day, as she sat at tea in the gallery, he came in in his riding-clothes and said: “I’ve been over to the other side of the mountain. The February rains have weakened the dam of the Alette, and the vineyards will be in danger if we don’t rebuild at once.”

She suppressed a yawn, thinking, as she did so, how dull he always looked when he talked of agriculture. It made him seem years older, and she reflected with a shiver that listening to him probably gave her the same look.

He went on, as she handed him his tea: “I’m sorry it should happen just now. I’m afraid I shall have to ask you to give up your spring in Paris.” “Oh, no–no!” she broke out. A throng of half-subdued grievances choked in her: she wanted to burst into sobs like a child.

“I know it’s a disappointment. But our expenses have been unusually heavy this year.”

“It seems to me they always are. I don’t see why we should give up Paris because you’ve got to make repairs to a dam. Isn’t Hubert ever going to pay back that money?”

He looked at her with a mild surprise. “But surely you understood at the time that it won’t be possible till his wife inherits?”

“Till General Arlington dies, you mean? He doesn’t look much older than you!”

“You may remember that I showed you Hubert’s note. He has paid the interest quite regularly.”

“That’s kind of him!” She stood up, flaming with rebellion. “You can do as you please; but I mean to go to Paris.”

“My mother is not going. I didn’t intend to open our apartment.”

“I understand. But I shall open it–that’s all!”

He had risen too, and she saw his face whiten. “I prefer that you shouldn’t go without me.”

“Then I shall go and stay at the Nouveau Luxe with my American friends.”

“That never!”

“Why not?”

“I consider it unsuitable.”

“Your considering it so doesn’t prove it.”

They stood facing each other, quivering with an equal anger; then he controlled himself and said in a more conciliatory tone: “You never seem to see that there are necessities–“

“Oh, neither do you–that’s the trouble. You can’t keep me shut up here all my life, and interfere with everything I want to do, just by saying it’s unsuitable.”

“I’ve never interfered with your spending your money as you please.”

It was her turn to stare, sincerely wondering. “Mercy, I should hope not, when you’ve always grudged me every penny of yours!”

“You know it’s not because I grudge it. I would gladly take you to Paris if I had the money.”

“You can always find the money to spend on this place. Why don’t you sell it if it’s so fearfully expensive?”

“Sell it? Sell Saint Desert?”

The suggestion seemed to strike him as something monstrously, almost fiendishly significant: as if her random word had at last thrust into his hand the clue to their whole unhappy difference. Without understanding this, she guessed it from the change in his face: it was as if a deadly solvent had suddenly decomposed its familiar lines.

“Well, why not?” His horror spurred her on. “You might sell some of the things in it anyhow. In America we’re not ashamed to sell what we can’t afford to keep.” Her eyes fell on the storied hangings at his back. “Why, there’s a fortune in this one room: you could get anything you chose for those tapestries. And you stand here and tell me you’re a pauper!”

His glance followed hers to the tapestries, and then returned to her face. “Ah, you don’t understand,” he said.

“I understand that you care for all this old stuff more than you do for me, and that you’d rather see me unhappy and miserable than touch one of your great-grandfather’s arm-chairs.”

The colour came slowly back to his face, but it hardened into lines she had never seen. He looked at her as though the place where she stood were empty. “You don’t understand,” he said again.

XLI

The incident left Undine with the baffled feeling of not being able to count on any of her old weapons of aggression. In all her struggles for authority her sense of the rightfulness of her cause had been measured by her power of making people do as she pleased. Raymond’s firmness shook her faith in her own claims, and a blind desire to wound and destroy replaced her usual business-like intentness on gaining her end. But her ironies were as ineffectual as her arguments, and his imperviousness was the more exasperating because she divined that some of the things she said would have hurt him if any one else had said them: it was the fact of their coming from her that made them innocuous. Even when, at the close of their talk, she had burst out: “If you grudge me everything I care about we’d better separate,” he had merely answered with a shrug: “It’s one of the things we don’t do–” and the answer had been like the slamming of an iron door in her face.

An interval of silent brooding had resulted in a reaction of rebellion. She dared not carry out her threat of joining her compatriots at the Nouveau Luxe: she had too clear a memory of the results of her former revolt. But neither could she submit to her present fate without attempting to make Raymond understand his selfish folly. She had failed to prove it by argument, but she had an inherited faith in the value of practical demonstration. If he could be made to see how easily he could give her what she wanted perhaps he might come round to her view.

With this idea in mind, she had gone up to Paris for twenty-four hours, on the pretext of finding a new nurse for Paul; and the steps then taken had enabled her, on the first occasion, to set her plan in motion. The occasion was furnished by Raymond’s next trip to Beaune. He went off early one morning, leaving word that he should not be back till night; and on the afternoon of the same day she stood at her usual post in the gallery, scanning the long perspective of the poplar avenue.

She had not stood there long before a black speck at the end of the avenue expanded into a motor that was presently throbbing at the entrance. Undine, at its approach, turned from the window, and as she moved down the gallery her glance rested on the great tapestries, with their ineffable minglings of blue and rose, as complacently as though they had been mirrors reflecting her own image.

She was still looking at them when the door opened and a servant ushered in a small swarthy man who, in spite of his conspicuously London-made clothes, had an odd exotic air, as if he had worn rings in his ears or left a bale of spices at the door.

He bowed to Undine, cast a rapid eye up and down the room, and then, with his back to the windows, stood intensely contemplating the wall that faced them.

Undine’s heart was beating excitedly. She knew the old Marquise was taking her afternoon nap in her room, yet each sound in the silent house seemed to be that of her heels on the stairs.

“Ah–” said the visitor.

He had begun to pace slowly down the gallery, keeping his face to the tapestries, like an actor playing to the footlights.

“AH–” he said again.

To ease the tension of her nerves Undine began: “They were given by Louis the Fifteenth to the Marquis de Chelles who–“

“Their history has been published,” the visitor briefly interposed; and she coloured at her blunder.

The swarthy stranger, fitting a pair of eye-glasses to a nose that was like an instrument of precision, had begun a closer and more detailed inspection of the tapestries. He seemed totally unmindful of her presence, and his air of lofty indifference was beginning to make her wish she had not sent for him. His manner in Paris had been so different!

Suddenly he turned and took off the glasses, which sprang back into a fold of his clothing like retracted feelers.

“Yes.” He stood and looked at her without seeing her. “Very well. I have brought down a gentleman.”

“A gentleman–?”

“The greatest American collector–he buys only the best. He will not be long in Paris, and it was his only chance of coming down.”

Undine drew herself up. “I don’t understand–I never said the tapestries were for sale.”

“Precisely. But this gentleman buys only this that are not for sale.”

It sounded dazzling and she wavered. “I don’t know–you were only to put a price on them–“

“Let me see him look at them first; then I’ll put a price on them,” he chuckled; and without waiting for her answer he went to the door and opened it. The gesture revealed the fur-coated back of a gentleman who stood at the opposite end of the hall examining the bust of a seventeenth century field-marshal.

The dealer addressed the back respectfully. “Mr. Moffatt!”

Moffatt, who appeared to be interested in the bust, glanced over his shoulder without moving. “See here–“

His glance took in Undine, widened to astonishment and passed into apostrophe. “Well, if this ain’t the damnedest–!” He came forward and took her by both hands. “Why, what on earth are you doing down here?”

She laughed and blushed, in a tremor at the odd turn of the adventure. “I live here. Didn’t you know?”

“Not a word–never thought of asking the party’s name.” He turned jovially to the bowing dealer. “Say–I told you those tapestries’d have to be out and outers to make up for the trip; but now I see I was mistaken.”

Undine looked at him curiously. His physical appearance was unchanged: he was as compact and ruddy as ever, with the same astute eyes under the same guileless brow; but his self-confidence had become less aggressive, and she had never seen him so gallantly at ease.

“I didn’t know you’d become a great collector.”

“The greatest! Didn’t he tell you so? I thought that was why I was allowed to come.”

She hesitated. “Of course, you know, the tapestries are not for sale–“

“That so? I thought that was only his dodge to get me down. Well, I’m glad they ain’t: it’ll give us more time to talk.”

Watch in hand, the dealer intervened. “If, nevertheless, you would first take a glance. Our train–“

“It ain’t mine!” Moffatt interrupted; “at least not if there’s a later one.”

Undine’s presence of mind had returned. “Of course there is,” she said gaily. She led the way back into the gallery, half hoping the dealer would allege a pressing reason for departure. She was excited and amused at Moffatt’s unexpected appearance, but humiliated that he should suspect her of being in financial straits. She never wanted to see Moffatt except when she was happy and triumphant.

The dealer had followed the other two into the gallery, and there was a moment’s pause while they all stood silently before the tapestries. “By George!” Moffatt finally brought out.

“They’re historical, you know: the King gave them to Raymond’s great-great-grandfather. The other day when I was in Paris,” Undine hurried on, “I asked Mr. Fleischhauer to come down some time and tell us what they’re worth … and he seems to have misunderstood … to have thought we meant to sell them.” She addressed herself more pointedly to the dealer. “I’m sorry you’ve had the trip for nothing.”

Mr. Fleischhauer inclined himself eloquently. “It is not nothing to have seen such beauty.”

Moffatt gave him a humorous look. “I’d hate to see Mr. Fleischhauer miss his train–“

“I shall not miss it: I miss nothing,” said Mr. Fleischhauer. He bowed to Undine and backed toward the door.

“See here,” Moffatt called to him as he reached the threshold, “you let the motor take you to the station, and charge up this trip to me.”

When the door closed he turned to Undine with a laugh. “Well, this beats the band. I thought of course you were living up in Paris.”

Again she felt a twinge of embarrassment. “Oh, French people–I mean my husband’s kind–always spend a part of the year on their estates.”

“But not this part, do they? Why, everything’s humming up there now. I was dining at the Nouveau Luxe last night with the Driscolls and Shallums and Mrs. Rolliver, and all your old crowd were there whooping things up.”

The Driscolls and Shallums and Mrs. Rolliver! How carelessly he reeled off their names! One could see from his tone that he was one of them and wanted her to know it. And nothing could have given her a completer sense of his achievement–of the number of millions he must be worth. It must have come about very recently, yet he was already at ease in his new honours–he had the metropolitan tone. While she examined him with these thoughts in her mind she was aware of his giving her as close a scrutiny. “But I suppose you’ve got your own crowd now,” he continued; “you always WERE a lap ahead of me.” He sent his glance down the lordly length of the room. “It’s sorter funny to see you in this kind of place; but you look it–you always DO look it!”

She laughed. “So do you–I was just thinking it!” Their eyes met. “I suppose you must be awfully rich.”

He laughed too, holding her eyes. “Oh, out of sight! The Consolidation set me on my feet. I own pretty near the whole of Apex. I came down to buy these tapestries for my private car.”

The familiar accent of hyperbole exhilarated her. “I don’t suppose I could stop you if you really wanted them!”

“Nobody can stop me now if I want anything.”

They were looking at each other with challenge and complicity in their eyes. His voice, his look, all the loud confident vigorous things he embodied and expressed, set her blood beating with curiosity. “I didn’t know you and Rolliver were friends,” she said.

“Oh JIM–” his accent verged on the protective. “Old Jim’s all right. He’s in Congress now. I’ve got to have somebody up in Washington.” He had thrust his hands in his pockets, and with his head thrown back and his lips shaped to the familiar noiseless whistle, was looking slowly and discerningly about him.

Presently his eyes reverted to her face. “So this is what I helped you to get,” he said. “I’ve always meant to run over some day and take a look. What is it they call you–a Marquise?”

She paled a little, and then flushed again. “What made you do it?” she broke out abruptly. “I’ve often wondered.”

He laughed. “What–lend you a hand? Why, my business instinct, I suppose. I saw you were in a tight place that time I ran across you in Paris–and I hadn’t any grudge against you. Fact is, I’ve never had the time to nurse old scores, and if you neglect ’em they die off like gold-fish.” He was still composedly regarding her. “It’s funny to think of your having settled down to this kind of life; I hope you’ve got what you wanted. This is a great place you live in.”

“Yes; but I see a little too much of it. We live here most of the year.” She had meant to give him the illusion of success, but some underlying community of instinct drew the confession from her lips.

“That so? Why on earth don’t you cut it and come up to Paris?”

“Oh, Raymond’s absorbed in the estates–and we haven’t got the money. This place eats it all up.”

“Well, that sounds aristocratic; but ain’t it rather out of date? When the swells are hard-up nowadays they generally chip off an heirloom.” He wheeled round again to the tapestries. “There are a good many Paris seasons hanging right here on this wall.”

“Yes–I know.” She tried to check herself, to summon up a glittering equivocation; but his face, his voice, the very words he used, were like so many hammer-strokes demolishing the unrealities that imprisoned her. Here was some one who spoke her language, who knew her meanings, who understood instinctively all the deep-seated wants for which her acquired vocabulary had no terms; and as she talked she once more seemed to herself intelligent, eloquent and interesting.

“Of course it’s frightfully lonely down here,” she began; and through the opening made by the admission the whole flood of her grievances poured forth. She tried to let him see that she had not sacrificed herself for nothing; she touched on the superiorities of her situation, she gilded the circumstances of which she called herself the victim, and let titles, offices and attributes shed their utmost lustre on her tale; but what she had to boast of seemed small and tinkling compared with the evidences of his power.

“Well, it’s a downright shame you don’t go round more,” he kept saying; and she felt ashamed of her tame acceptance of her fate.

When she had told her story she asked for his; and for the first time she listened to it with interest. He had what he wanted at last. The Apex Consolidation scheme, after a long interval of suspense, had obtained its charter and shot out huge ramifications. Rolliver had “stood in” with him at the critical moment, and between them they had “chucked out” old Harmon B. Driscoll bag and baggage, and got the whole town in their control. Absorbed in his theme, and forgetting her inability to follow him, Moffatt launched out on an epic recital of plot and counterplot, and she hung, a new Desdemona, on his conflict with the new anthropophagi. It was of no consequence that the details and the technicalities escaped her: she knew their meaningless syllables stood for success, and what that meant was as clear as day to her. Every Wall Street term had its equivalent in the language of Fifth Avenue, and while he talked of building up railways she was building up palaces, and picturing all the multiple lives he would lead in them. To have things had always seemed to her the first essential of existence, and as she listened to him the vision of the things he could have unrolled itself before her like the long triumph of an Asiatic conqueror.

“And what are you going to do next?” she asked, almost breathlessly, when he had ended.

“Oh, there’s always a lot to do next. Business never goes to sleep.”

“Yes; but I mean besides business.”

“Why–everything I can, I guess.” He leaned back in his chair with an air of placid power, as if he were so sure of getting what he wanted that there was no longer any use in hurrying, huge as his vistas had become.

She continued to question him, and he began to talk of his growing passion for pictures and furniture, and of his desire to form a collection which should be a great representative assemblage of unmatched specimens. As he spoke she saw his expression change, and his eyes grow younger, almost boyish, with a concentrated look in them that reminded her of long-forgotten things.

“I mean to have the best, you know; not just to get ahead of the other fellows, but because I know it when I see it. I guess that’s the only good reason,” he concluded; and he added, looking at her with a smile: “It was what you were always after, wasn’t it?”

XLII

Undine had gained her point, and the entresol of the Hotel de Chelles reopened its doors for the season.

Hubert and his wife, in expectation of the birth of an heir, had withdrawn to the sumptuous chateau which General Arlington had hired for them near Compiegne, and Undine was at least spared the sight of their bright windows and animated stairway. But she had to take her share of the felicitations which the whole far-reaching circle of friends and relations distributed to every member of Hubert’s family on the approach of the happy event. Nor was this the hardest of her trials. Raymond had done what she asked–he had stood out against his mother’s protests, set aside considerations of prudence, and consented to go up to Paris for two months; but he had done so on the understanding that during their stay they should exercise the most unremitting economy. As dinner-giving put the heaviest strain on their budget, all hospitality was suspended; and when Undine attempted to invite a few friends informally she was warned that she could not do so without causing the gravest offense to the many others genealogically entitled to the same attention.

Raymond’s insistence on this rule was simply part of an elaborate and inveterate system of “relations” (the whole of French social life seemed to depend on the exact interpretation of that word), and Undine felt the uselessness of struggling against such mysterious inhibitions. He reminded her, however, that their inability to receive would give them all the more opportunity for going out, and he showed himself more socially disposed than in the past. But his concession did not result as she had hoped. They were asked out as much as ever, but they were asked to big dinners, to impersonal crushes, to the kind of entertainment it is a slight to be omitted from but no compliment to be included in. Nothing could have been more galling to Undine, and she frankly bewailed the fact to Madame de Trezac.

“Of course it’s what was sure to come of being mewed up for months and months in the country. We’re out of everything, and the people who are having a good time are simply too busy to remember us. We’re only asked to the things that are made up from visiting-lists.”

Madame de Trezac listened sympathetically, but did not suppress a candid answer.

“It’s not altogether that, my dear; Raymond’s not a man his friends forget. It’s rather more, if you’ll excuse my saying so, the fact of your being–you personally–in the wrong set.”

“The wrong set? Why, I’m in HIS set–the one that thinks itself too good for all the others. That’s what you’ve always told me when I’ve said it bored me.”

“Well, that’s what I mean–” Madame de Trezac took the plunge. “It’s not a question of your being bored.”

Undine coloured; but she could take the hardest thrusts where her personal interest was involved. “You mean that I’M the bore, then?”

“Well, you don’t work hard enough–you don’t keep up. It’s not that they don’t admire you–your looks, I mean; they think you beautiful; they’re delighted to bring you out at their big dinners, with the Sevres and the plate. But a woman has got to be something more than good-looking to have a chance to be intimate with them: she’s got to know what’s being said about things. I watched you the other night at the Duchess’s, and half the time you hadn’t an idea what they were talking about. I haven’t always, either; but then I have to put up with the big dinners.”

Undine winced under the criticism; but she had never lacked insight into the cause of her own failures, and she had already had premonitions of what Madame de Trezac so bluntly phrased. When Raymond ceased to be interested in her conversation she had concluded it was the way of husbands; but since then it had been slowly dawning on her that she produced the same effect on others. Her entrances were always triumphs; but they had no sequel. As soon as people began to talk they ceased to see her. Any sense of insufficiency exasperated her, and she had vague thoughts of cultivating herself, and went so far as to spend a morning in the Louvre and go to one or two lectures by a fashionable philosopher. But though she returned from these expeditions charged with opinions, their expression did not excite the interest she had hoped. Her views, if abundant, were confused, and the more she said the more nebulous they seemed to grow. She was disconcerted, moreover, by finding that everybody appeared to know about the things she thought she had discovered, and her comments clearly produced more bewilderment than interest.

Remembering the attention she had attracted on her first appearance in Raymond’s world she concluded that she had “gone off” or grown dowdy, and instead of wasting more time in museums and lecture-halls she prolonged her hours at the dress-maker’s and gave up the rest of the day to the scientific cultivation of her beauty.

“I suppose I’ve turned into a perfect frump down there in that wilderness,” she lamented to Madame de Trezac, who replied inexorably: “Oh, no, you’re as handsome as ever; but people here don’t go on looking at each other forever as they do in London.”

Meanwhile financial cares became more pressing. A dunning letter from one of her tradesmen fell into Raymond’s hands, and the talk it led to ended in his making it clear to her that she must settle her personal debts without his aid. All the “scenes” about money which had disturbed her past had ended in some mysterious solution of her difficulty. Disagreeable as they were, she had always, vulgarly speaking, found they paid; but now it was she who was expected to pay. Raymond took his stand without ill-temper or apology: he simply argued from inveterate precedent. But it was impossible for Undine to understand a social organization which did not regard the indulging of woman as its first purpose, or to believe that any one taking another view was not moved by avarice or malice; and the discussion ended in mutual acrimony.

The morning afterward, Raymond came into her room with a letter in his hand.

“Is this your doing?” he asked. His look and voice expressed something she had never known before: the disciplined anger of a man trained to keep his emotions in fixed channels, but knowing how to fill them to the brim.

The letter was from Mr. Fleischhauer, who begged to transmit to the Marquis de Chelles an offer for his Boucher tapestries from a client prepared to pay the large sum named on condition that it was accepted before his approaching departure for America.

“What does it mean?” Raymond continued, as she did not speak.

“How should I know? It’s a lot of money,” she stammered, shaken out of her self-possession. She had not expected so prompt a sequel to the dealer’s visit, and she was vexed with him for writing to Raymond without consulting her. But she recognized Moffatt’s high-handed way, and her fears faded in the great blaze of the sum he offered.

Her husband was still looking at her. “It was Fleischhauer who brought a man down to see the tapestries one day when I was away at Beaune?”

He had known, then–everything was known at Saint Desert!

She wavered a moment and then gave him back his look.

“Yes–it was Fleischhauer; and I sent for him.”

“You sent for him?”

He spoke in a voice so veiled and repressed that he seemed to be consciously saving it for some premeditated outbreak. Undine felt its menace, but the thought of Moffatt sent a flame through her, and the words he would have spoken seemed to fly to her lips.

“Why shouldn’t I? Something had to be done. We can’t go on as we are. I’ve tried my best to economize–I’ve scraped and scrimped, and gone without heaps of things I’ve always had. I’ve moped for months and months at Saint Desert, and given up sending Paul to school because it was too expensive, and asking my friends to dine because we couldn’t afford it. And you expect me to go on living like this for the rest of my life, when all you’ve got to do is to hold out your hand and have two million francs drop into it!”

Her husband stood looking at her coldly and curiously, as though she were some alien apparition his eyes had never before beheld.

“Ah, that’s your answer–that’s all you feel when you lay hands on things that are sacred to us!” He stopped a moment, and then let his voice break out with the volume she had felt it to be gathering. “And you’re all alike,” he exclaimed, “every one of you. You come among us from a country we don’t know, and can’t imagine, a country you care for so little that before you’ve been a day in ours you’ve forgotten the very house you were born in–if it wasn’t torn down before you knew it! You come among us speaking our language and not knowing what we mean; wanting the things we want, and not knowing why we want them; aping our weaknesses, exaggerating our follies, ignoring or ridiculing all we care about–you come from hotels as big as towns, and from towns as flimsy as paper, where the streets haven’t had time to be named, and the buildings are demolished before they’re dry, and the people are as proud of changing as we are of holding to what we have–and we’re fools enough to imagine that because you copy our ways and pick up our slang you understand anything about the things that make life decent and honourable for us!”

He stopped again, his white face and drawn nostrils giving him so much the look of an extremely distinguished actor in a fine part that, in spite of the vehemence of his emotion, his silence might have been the deliberate pause for a replique. Undine kept him waiting long enough to give the effect of having lost her cue–then she brought out, with a little soft stare of incredulity: “Do you mean to say you’re going to refuse such an offer?”

“Ah–!” He turned back from the door, and picking up the letter that lay on the table between them, tore it in pieces and tossed the pieces on the floor. “That’s how I refuse it!”

The violence of his tone and gesture made her feel as though the fluttering strips were so many lashes laid across her face, and a rage that was half fear possessed her.

“How dare you speak to me like that? Nobody’s ever dared to before. Is talking to a woman in that way one of the things you call decent and honourable? Now that I know what you feel about me I don’t want to stay in your house another day. And I don’t mean to–I mean to walk out of it this very hour!”

For a moment they stood face to face, the depths of their mutual incomprehension at last bared to each other’s angry eyes; then Raymond, his glance travelling past her, pointed to the fragments of paper on the floor.

“If you’re capable of that you’re capable of anything!” he said as he went out of the room.

XLIII

She watched him go in a kind of stupour, knowing that when they next met he would be as courteous and self-possessed as if nothing had happened, but that everything would nevertheless go on in the same way–in HIS way–and that there was no more hope of shaking his resolve or altering his point of view than there would have been of transporting the deep-rooted masonry of Saint Desert by means of the wheeled supports on which Apex architecture performed its easy transits.

One of her childish rages possessed her, sweeping away every feeling save the primitive impulse to hurt and destroy; but search as she would she could not find a crack in the strong armour of her husband’s habits and prejudices. For a long time she continued to sit where he had left her, staring at the portraits on the walls as though they had joined hands to imprison her. Hitherto she had almost always felt herself a match for circumstances, but now the very dead were leagued to defeat her: people she had never seen and whose names she couldn’t even remember seemed to be plotting and contriving against her under the escutcheoned grave-stones of Saint Desert.

Her eyes turned to the old warm-toned furniture beneath the pictures, and to her own idle image in the mirror above the mantelpiece. Even in that one small room there were enough things of price to buy a release from her most pressing cares; and the great house, in which the room was a mere cell, and the other greater house in Burgundy, held treasures to deplete even such a purse as Moffatt’s. She liked to see such things about her–without any real sense of their meaning she felt them to be the appropriate setting of a pretty woman, to embody something of the rareness and distinction she had always considered she possessed; and she reflected that if she had still been Moffatt’s wife he would have given her just such a setting, and the power to live in it as became her.

The thought sent her memory flying back to things she had turned it from for years. For the first time since their far-off weeks together she let herself relive the brief adventure. She had been drawn to Elmer Moffatt from the first–from the day when Ben Frusk, Indiana’s brother, had brought him to a church picnic at Mulvey’s Grove, and he had taken instant possession of Undine, sitting in the big “stage” beside her on the “ride” to the grove, supplanting Millard Binch (to whom she was still, though intermittently and incompletely, engaged), swinging her between the trees, rowing her on the lake, catching and kissing her in “forfeits,” awarding her the first prize in the Beauty Show he hilariously organized and gallantly carried out, and finally (no one knew how) contriving to borrow a buggy and a fast colt from old Mulvey, and driving off with her at a two-forty gait while Millard and the others took their dust in the crawling stage.

No one in Apex knew where young Moffatt had come from, and he offered no information on the subject. He simply appeared one day behind the counter in Luckaback’s Dollar Shoe-store, drifted thence to the office of Semple and Binch, the coal-merchants, reappeared as the stenographer of the Police Court, and finally edged his way into the power-house of the Apex Water-Works. He boarded with old Mrs. Flynn, down in North Fifth Street, on the edge of the red-light slum, he never went to church or attended lectures, or showed any desire to improve or refine himself; but he managed to get himself invited to all the picnics and lodge sociables, and at a supper of the Phi Upsilon Society, to which he had contrived to affiliate himself, he made the best speech that had been heard there since young Jim Rolliver’s first flights. The brothers of Undine’s friends all pronounced him “great,” though he had fits of uncouthness that made the young women slower in admitting him to favour. But at the Mulvey’s Grove picnic he suddenly seemed to dominate them all, and Undine, as she drove away with him, tasted the public triumph which was necessary to her personal enjoyment.

After that he became a leading figure in the youthful world of Apex, and no one was surprised when the Sons of Jonadab, (the local Temperance Society) invited him to deliver their Fourth of July oration. The ceremony took place, as usual, in the Baptist church, and Undine, all in white, with a red rose in her breast, sat just beneath the platform, with Indiana jealously glaring at her from a less privileged seat, and poor Millard’s long neck craning over the row of prominent citizens behind the orator.

Elmer Moffatt had been magnificent, rolling out his alternating effects of humour and pathos, stirring his audience by moving references to the Blue and the Gray, convulsing them by a new version of Washington and the Cherry Tree (in which the infant patriot was depicted as having cut down the tree to check the deleterious spread of cherry bounce), dazzling them by his erudite allusions and apt quotations (he confessed to Undine that he had sat up half the night over Bartlett), and winding up with a peroration that drew tears from the Grand Army pensioners in the front row and caused the minister’s wife to say that many a sermon from that platform had been less uplifting.

An ice-cream supper always followed the “exercises,” and as repairs were being made in the church basement, which was the usual scene of the festivity, the minister had offered the use of his house. The long table ran through the doorway between parlour and study, and another was set in the passage outside, with one end under the stairs. The stair-rail was wreathed in fire-weed and early golden-rod, and Temperance texts in smilax decked the walls. When the first course had been despatched the young ladies, gallantly seconded by the younger of the “Sons,” helped to ladle out and carry in the ice-cream, which stood in great pails on the larder floor, and to replenish the jugs of lemonade and coffee. Elmer Moffatt was indefatigable in performing these services, and when the minister’s wife pressed him to sit down and take a mouthful himself he modestly declined the place reserved for him among the dignitaries of the evening, and withdrew with a few chosen spirits to the dim table-end beneath the stairs. Explosions of hilarity came from this corner with increasing frequency, and now and then tumultuous rappings and howls of “Song! Song!” followed by adjurations to “Cough it up” and “Let her go,” drowned the conversational efforts at the other table.

At length the noise subsided, and the group was ceasing to attract attention when, toward the end of the evening, the upper table, drooping under the lengthy elucubrations of the minister and the President of the Temperance Society, called on the orator of the day for a few remarks. There was an interval of scuffling and laughter beneath the stairs, and then the minister’s lifted hand enjoined silence and Elmer Moffatt got to his feet.

“Step out where the ladies can hear you better, Mr. Moffatt!” the minister called. Moffatt did so, steadying himself against the table and twisting his head about as if his collar had grown too tight. But if his bearing was vacillating his smile was unabashed, and there was no lack of confidence in the glance he threw at Undine Spragg as he began: “Ladies and Gentlemen, if there’s one thing I like better than another about getting drunk–and I like most everything about it except the next morning–it’s the opportunity you’ve given me of doing it right here, in the presence of this Society, which, as I gather from its literature, knows more about the subject than anybody else. Ladies and Gentlemen”–he straightened himself, and the table-cloth slid toward him–“ever since you honoured me with an invitation to address you from the temperance platform I’ve been assiduously studying that literature; and I’ve gathered from your own evidence–what I’d strongly suspected before–that all your converted drunkards had a hell of a good time before you got at ’em, and that… and that a good many of ’em have gone on having it since…”

At this point he broke off, swept the audience with his confident smile, and then, collapsing, tried to sit down on a chair that didn’t happen to be there, and disappeared among his agitated supporters.

There was a night-mare moment during which Undine, through the doorway, saw Ben Frusk and the others close about the fallen orator to the crash of crockery and tumbling chairs; then some one jumped up and shut the parlour door, and a long-necked Sunday school teacher, who had been nervously waiting his chance, and had almost given it up, rose from his feet and recited High Tide at Gettysburg amid hysterical applause.

The scandal was considerable, but Moffatt, though he vanished from the social horizon, managed to keep his place in the power-house till he went off for a week and turned up again without being able to give a satisfactory reason for his absence. After that he drifted from one job to another, now extolled for his “smartness” and business capacity, now dismissed in disgrace as an irresponsible loafer. His head was always full of immense nebulous schemes for the enlargement and development of any business he happened to be employed in. Sometimes his suggestions interested his employers, but proved unpractical and inapplicable; sometimes he wore out their patience or was thought to be a dangerous dreamer. Whenever he found there was no hope of his ideas being adopted he lost interest in his work, came late and left early, or disappeared for two or three days at a time without troubling himself to account for his absences. At last even those who had been cynical enough to smile