"Oh, well, he gets what he asks for," retorted George indifferently, "and that's more than the rest of us can say."
George was in a bad humour; he had been in a bad humour for weeks; and for this reason Gabriella had put off from day to day telling him that she expected a child in the autumn. All her efforts to soothe had merely exasperated him; and there were days when her presence worked him into a fit of nervous irritability. After four months of marriage prolonged boredom had replaced the passionate tenderness of their honeymoon. Why this should be so she was too well-balanced emotionally to understand. She saw only the outward evidences of change, of gradual disillusionment; and though at first she wept a little while she wondered, she ended by drying her tears and attributing his casual indifference and his explosive violence alike to some obscure disturbing condition of health. Every evening, except when there were guests, he spent at his club; he came to bed late, and his waking hour was filled with complaint about the number and the size of his bills. He treated these bills as if they had been gratuitous insults, as if they had leaped, without reason for being, out of a malign world to assail him. As yet Gabriella had bought nothing; and she dreaded the time when her clothes would wear out beyond the hope of repairing, and she should be obliged to add another bill to the growing pile under the silver paper weight on the little white and gold desk.
But in the last few weeks even this anxiety had faded from her mind, for the miracle of life which stirred in her body had diffused its golden halo around every trivial incident of her existence. After days of physical wretchedness, which she had hidden from George, she sat one evening, utterly at peace, in front of the fire in the room which had been Patty's before her marriage. It was past midnight, and she was waiting for George to come home because she felt that she could not sleep until she had told him. In the morning he had been unusually gentle, and as he left the house, she had said to herself a little sternly that he must know about the child before the day was over. A secret consultation with her mother-in-law had strengthened her resolution. "Don't keep it from him another day, Gabriella," Mrs. Fowler had urged. "It will make such a difference. I shall never forget Archibald's joy when I told him George was coming. Men are like that about children, you know."
"Yes, I'll tell him to-night," Gabriella had answered; and sitting now in the rocking-chair by the fire, she began to wonder if George would be exactly like other men about children.
The house was very still, but even in its stillness it exhaled the nervous apprehension which she felt to be its living character—as if George's parents, sleeping two doors away, had dropped their guard for the night, and allowed their anxious thoughts the freedom of the halls until daybreak. And these thoughts, which had become like invisible presences to the girl, wandered up and down the dim staircase, where the lowered lights awaited George's return, invaded the drawing-room, filled with stuffy red velvet chairs, so like crouching human beings in the darkness, and even thronged about her threshold, ready to spring inside at the instant when George should open the door. While her fire burned brightly on the andirons, and rosy shadows danced on the white rug beside her bed, on the lace coverlet turned back for the night, on the deep pillows with their azure lining showing through the delicate linen of the slips, on her simple nightdress, in which the buttonholes were so beautifully worked by her mother,—while she looked at these things it was easy for her to shut out the apprehensions of yesterday. But these apprehensions would come with George and they would not go until George left her again. The house with its heavy late-Victorian furniture, its velvet carpets which muffled footsteps, its thick curtains which hid doorways, its red walls, its bevelled mirrors, its substantial and costly ornaments, its solid paintings in solid frames—the house and all that it contained diffused for Gabriella an inescapable atmosphere, and this atmosphere was like the one in which she had waited expectantly in her childhood for the roof to be sold over her head. Now, as then, she waited for something to happen, and this something was a fact of dread, a shape of terror, which must be ignored as long as its impending presence was not directly before one's eyes. But with the look she was familiar, for she had seen it in her mother's face as far back as she could remember. It was associated in her mind with the need of money, with scant food, with scant fires, with a brooding and sinister hush in the house. With the knowledge of these things in her mind how could she hope that George would be glad of the child that was coming to them in the autumn?
And yet to Mrs. Fowler the news had appeared to bring no additional anxiety. She had seemed pleased rather than otherwise, mildly interested, animatedly sympathetic.
"I am afraid it will be very expensive," Gabriella had reminded her a little timidly, feeling frankly apologetic when she thought of all the trouble she must bring to the harassed and over-burdened little woman.
But into Mrs. Fowler's face there had come the look with which she was accustomed to receive the suggestion that her dinner parties were an extravagance. That economy which she practised so rigidly, which was so elastic to cover little pleasures and the minor comforts of life, broke like a cobweb when she tried to stretch it over larger needs and desires. The severity of her self-denial was directed entirely against the trivial and the unessential. With regard to the indispensable materials for happiness, she seemed to feel that she possessed an unquestionable right to enjoy them at any cost; and she had reassured Gabriella with an optimism which appeared perfectly genuine. After talking to her the girl had felt that she might allow herself to be happy if only George would change back into his old way.
Four months ago, at the beginning of her marriage, she had told herself that she needed only the daily intimacy of life to make her understand him. Now, after living with him, she felt that she was growing to understand him less every hour—that the relation which ought to have brought them spiritually closer, had ended by thrusting them to an incalculable distance from each other. Of the nervous reactions which he had suffered she knew nothing. All she saw clearly was that the widening breach between them would soon become impassable unless it could be filled by their new love for the child. The power to hold him must slip from her hands to the child's, and she was more than ready, she was even eager, to relinquish it. In the last few months her feeling for George had altered, and, though she was hardly conscious of the change in herself, her love for him had become less passionate and more maternal. The tenderness was there, but the yearning, the delight in his mere physical presence was gone. Like every other emotion that she had felt in the past, her love for her husband had become absorbed in the passion, the longing, the delight with which she enfolded the thought of her child.
"I wonder if mother felt like this about me," she would say to herself, and the wonder was like a cord drawing her back to her mother and to her own babyhood. Then George would become strangely vague, strangely remote in her thoughts; and her mother would seem nearer to her than everything except the child under her heart.
But since her talk with Mrs. Fowler, who had shown her photographs of George as a baby, some in long clothes, some in his first short frock, with a woolly lamb in his hands, some in a velvet suit, with his lustrous curls falling over a lace collar, Gabriella had felt that she possessed a new understanding of her husband and of the imperative needs of his nature. The child quality in him, the eternal boy that he betrayed sometimes by accident, appeared to her now to be the salient attribute of his character. After all, because of this quality, which was at once his charm and his weakness, she could not judge him as harshly as she might judge another man, she could not demand of him the gravity and the restraint of his father, who had never been young.
"I ought not to have kept it from him. His mother is right. She understands him better than I do," she thought, as she looked at the clock. "If I had told him sooner he might be with me now."
Through the muffled stillness of the house the sound of the opening front door stole up to her, and she heard George come in and stop for a minute to take off his hat and coat in the lower hail. Then she heard his footsteps move to the staircase; and while she listened she had a curious intuitive sense that it was not George at all, but a stranger who was coming to her, and that this stranger walked like a very old man. She heard him reach the bend in the stairs, and without stopping to put out the light, pass on to her door, which was the first on the landing. As he reached the top of the stairs, he stumbled once; then she heard his hand on the knob and a fumbling sound as if the knob would not turn. The door seemed to take an eternity to open, and while she sprang up with the clutch of terror at her heart, she felt again the sharp, agonizing premonition that a stranger was approaching her.
"George!" she called in a strangled voice, and waited, standing, for him to enter.
At noon the next day Mrs. Fowler came into Gabriella's room and found her sewing beside the window which looked on a gray expanse of sky and street, where a few snowflakes were falling.
"Did you tell him, dear?" she asked, arranging a handful of red roses in a little alabaster vase on the desk.
No, Gabriella had not told him. She felt now that she should never be able to tell him, but all she said was:
"I didn't get a chance. How lovely those roses are."
Mrs. Fowler set the vase where the gray light fell on it, and then turning with empty hands from the desk, asked gently:
"Aren't you making a mistake, dear?" Her movements were like those of a character in a play who is made to fill in an awkward pause with some mechanical action.
"I couldn't tell him last night," replied Gabriella; "he was sick all night."
She was very pale, even her lips had lost their rich colour, and her eyes had a drawn and heavy look as if she had not slept. Without looking at her mother-in-law, she went on with her sewing, working buttonholes of exquisite fineness in a small white garment. In her lap there was a little wicker basket filled with spools of thread and odd bits of lace and cambric; and every now and then she stopped her work and gazed thoughtfully down on it as if she were trying to decide how she might use the jumble of scraps that it contained.
"Gabriella," said Mrs. Fowler suddenly, after she had watched her a moment, "did anything happen last night?"
"Happen? No, what could have happened?"
"At what time did George come in?"
"About one o'clock. I sat up for him."
"Was—was anything the matter with him? Was he in any way different?"
"He was sick. He was sick all night." A look of disgust crossed her face while she stopped to wipe away a drop of blood from her finger. "I don't remember pricking my finger since I was a child," she remarked.
"You are keeping something from me," said Mrs. Fowler; and sitting down in the small chair by the desk, she leaned her elbow, in her full sleeve of violet cashmere, on the edge of the blotting-pad. She was wearing a morning gown made, as all her house gowns were made, after the princess style, and Gabriella could see the tight expanse of her bosom rising and falling under a garniture of purple and silver passementerie. Her hair, fresh from the crimping pins, rose in stiff ridges from her forehead, and her bright red lips were so badly chapped from cold that they cracked a little when she smiled. She looked as hard as granite though in reality her heart was breaking with pity.
"I want to help you," she said, "and I can't if you keep things back."
"I told you George was sick. I was up all night with him." Again a look of disgust, which she could not control, flickered and died in her face.
"But you oughtn't to have let him keep you awake. You need all the sleep you can get. When he comes in late he must sleep in the spare room across the hall."
"His things are all in here and he would come in to get them; that would wake me."
For a moment Mrs. Fowler hesitated while the struggling breath grew more irregular under the passementerie on her bosom. The ripe colour faded from her cheeks and her lips looked blue in the harsh light from the window.
"I think I'd better speak to George," she said. "He is spoiled and he always thinks first of his own comfort. I suppose it's the way we brought him up—but when he understands, he will be more considerate."
For the first time Gabriella laid down her sewing and, leaning forward in her chair, fixed her eyes, with their look of deep stillness, of wistful expectancy, on the face of her mother-in-law.
"Would you mind telling me if George was ever—ever wild about women?" she asked, and though her voice was very low and quiet, her words seemed to echo loudly through the hushed suspense in her brain. It was as if every piece of furniture, every vacant wall, every picture, and every pane of glass, repeated the sound.
The pleasant smile on Mrs. Fowler's lips became suddenly painful. As if she were suffering a physical hurt, she put her handkerchief to her mouth while she answered:
"He was once—but that was before he fell in love with you. We hoped that you would be able to steady him—that marriage would make him settle down."
"Did he drink then?"
"A little—not enough to make him show it. I never saw him really show it but once, and then he was dreadfully sick. Was—was he like that last night?"
For a long minute, while she looked out of the window at the falling snowflakes, Gabriella did not reply. Then she spoke in a voice that was sternly accusing.
"You ought to have told me. I ought to have known." Her own wild passion for George was forgotten. She felt only a sense of outrage, of wounded and stunned resentment, They had treated her as if she were a child or a fool. That she had been a fool she was not prepared to admit at the instant—and yet it was less than a year ago, that June night when she had watched George over the clove pinks while her heart melted with happiness. She had had her way, and she was already regretting her madness. "Is this what love comes to?" she asked herself bitterly as she watched the white flakes whirling out of the gray sky. "Is this what it all comes to in the end, or am I different from other women?"
Moistening her dry lips with the tip of her tongue, Mrs. Fowler smiled bravely, though there were tears in her eyes. "Archibald wanted to, but I wouldn't let him," she replied; "I hoped that you would make everything different. He was so much in love with you. I thought you could do anything with him."
Though her reasoning failed to convince Gabriella, it was sufficiently forcible to justify her in her own judgment, and with an easier conscience, she settled comfortably behind the impregnable defences of the maternal instinct. After all, she had only done what she believed to be best for her boy. She had not been selfish, she had not even been thoughtless, she had been merely a mother.
"I wish you would tell me what really happened last night, Gabriella," she said, and her tone showed that she had recovered her shaken confidence in the righteousness of her cause.
"I can't tell you," answered Gabriella. "What good would it do? George was disgusting, that was all." She spoke sternly, for no lingering tenderness softened the judgment of her youth and her injured pride. How could she possibly have tenderness for a man who had tired of her in four months, who had become so lost to common decency that he could let her see him revoltingly drunk? And she had held her head so high, she had so despised Jane for her weakness and folly! At the moment she knew that she was helpless, but deep down within her she felt that this helplessness would not last—that the wings of her soul were still strong, still free, still untouched by the shame her body had suffered. With a single effort she could break the net of passion, and escape into the wonderful world which surrounded her. Like Jane, she had been a fool, but, unlike Jane, she would not stay a fool always.
"You seem so hard, Gabriella," said Mrs. Fowler. "Is it because you are young? Young people never make allowances."
The taste of bitterness rose to Gabriella's lips.
"I suppose I am hard," she answered, "and I am going to stay so. There is safety in hardness."
Remembering Jane, remembering the hereditary weakness of the Carrs, who had all married badly, she told herself that in hardness lay her solitary refuge from despair. After all, it was better to be hard than to break.
"You can't judge George quite as you would other men," began George's mother, and she was aware after a minute that the maternal instinct had in this instance led her to defeat.
"I am not judging other men," replied George's wife coldly; "I am judging George." Against men as men she had never even thought of cherishing a grievance. All her life she had looked to some man as to the saviour of the family fortunes, and her vision was still true enough to perceive that, as a human being, Archibald Fowler was finer and bigger than his wife, that Billy was finer and bigger than Patty. She had found men less the servants of mere instinct than she had found women, less the passive and unresisting vehicles of the elemental impulses. Then, too, they were so seldom the victims of life, and there was in her nature a fierce contempt for a victim. She despised people who submitted to circumstances, who resigned themselves to necessity, as if resignation were a virtue instead of a vice.
"Well, you must try not to worry, dear; worry is so bad for you. I am so sorry it happened. You won't mind my speaking to George, will you?"
Gabriella shook her head. "I don't care what you say to him."
"Do you feel able to come down to lunch?"
"Oh, yes, perfectly. I am simply dying for a cup of tea, and afterwards I think I'll go out for a walk. One gets so stuffy and dull when one stays in the house."
Her manner had changed as if by magic. In putting the thought of George out of her mind she seemed to have put aside her resentment and despondency.
In the evening George came home, looking a little yellow, with a box of gardenias in his hand; but the scent of the flowers sickened Gabriella, and she put them out of the room while she dressed for dinner. The attention, instead of pleasing her, brought an ironic twist to her lips, though she thanked George quite as courteously as if he had been a stranger to her. At dinner when Mr. Fowler abruptly asked his son why he had not been to the office, she kept her eyes fixed on her plate, in which she seemed to see palely reflected the anxious pleasantness of her mother-in-law's smile. It hardly occurred to her to wonder where George had spent his day, though, when she met Mr. Fowler's kind and tired look, a pang shot through her heart. She was sorrier for George's father than she was for herself. He looked so lonely, yet so patient. He so obviously needed help, and no one appeared to notice it, not even his wife, who began planning a dinner party in the futile effort to come to George's assistance. It was by coming to George's assistance in every difficulty, Gabriella surmised, that his mother had made George what he was; and the girl saw in imagination an endless line of subterfuges, of pitiful excuses and feeble justifications, all hidden in the tortuous labyrinthine windings of the maternal instinct. She saw, with the relentless vision of a Hebrew prophet, the inevitable ruin of the love that does not submit to wisdom as its law.
More than seven months afterwards, when she lay in her room with her child in the crook of her arm, she prayed passionately that some supreme Power would grant her the strength not of emotion, but of reason. All her life she had suffered from an unrestrained indulgence of the virtues—from love running to waste through excess, from the self-sacrifice that is capable of everything but self-discipline, from the intemperate devotion to duty that is as morbid as sin. Balance, moderation, restraint—these seemed to her, lying there with her child on her arm, to be the things most worth striving for. She saw her mother, worn to a shadow by the unnecessary deaths she had died, by the useless crucifixions she had endured; she saw Jane, haggard, wan, with her sweetness turning to bitterness because it was wasted; and again she found herself asking for balance, moderation, restraint. The child, a little girl, with George's eyes and hair like gauze, had liberated Gabriella from the last illusions of her girlhood.
And yet, though Gabriella prayed for moderation, she found after a few months that motherhood was absorbing the full strength of her nature. George hardly existed for her; he came and went like the passing of a shadow, and she began gradually to sink her life into the life of her child. Not until the winter was she brought back to a sharp realization of her neglected duty to her mother; and this came with a letter from Mrs. Carr during the last week in January. Mrs. Carr was still living with Jane, and though she had accepted mildly Gabriella's reasons for postponing her coming to New York, she was beginning somewhat plaintively to question. She had made little effort to hide her disappointment at not being with her daughter when her grandchild was born, for, in spite of the fact that she had tragically assisted at the entrance of Jane's six children into the world, she still possessed an insatiable appetite for the perpetually recurring scenes of birth and death. Then only did her natural bent of mind appear to be justified by universal phenomena.
And now on this morning in January, when Frances Evelyn, the baby, lay good and quiet in her crib, Gabriella read over again the disturbing letter she had just received from her mother.
MY DEAR DAUGHTER:
Jane wrote you that I had had a slight attack of pneumonia, so you understood why I was obliged to let so long a time go by without sending you a letter. Though I have been out of bed now for more than a fortnight, I still feel so weak and good for nothing that I am hardly equal to the exertion of writing. Then, too, I have had some trouble with my wrist—the right one—and this has made it really painful for me to hold a pen or even a fork. The doctor thinks it is a nervous affection and that it will pass away as soon as I get back my strength, and I am sure I hope and pray that it will. But sometimes I feel as if I should never get any stronger, and of course while my wrist is crippled I am unable to do any sewing. This has depressed me very much, for poor Jane has so many worries of her own that I dread being dependent on her, and Charley has not been at all well this winter, though kinder and more considerate than I have ever known him to be. He has his faults, but I have always felt that he was not entirely responsible and that we ought to pity rather than blame him. Women can never be too thankful that they are spared by a merciful Providence the temptations which seem to beset men. When we consider how much more sheltered our lives are, we ought to be lenient in our judgment, and I cannot help feeling that God meant us to be so when he gave us more spiritual natures than those of men. Dr. Preston gave a very instructive and impressive talk on that subject before the Ladies' Aid Society of our church the week before I was taken sick. Indeed, I am afraid I caught the cold that led to pneumonia sitting in Charley's pew, which gets a bad draught from the door of the Sunday-school room.
I must apologize for this dull letter, as I haven't been able to get out even to market. Before I was taken ill I used to do all of Jane's marketing, and you know what a place the market is for meeting people and hearing all the latest news. There are, however, two things to tell you, and you'll never be able to guess them. First, poor Miss Amelia Peterborough is dead. She was stricken with paralysis a week ago when she was all alone in the house—Miss Jemima was at a funeral—and she never regained consciousness until the end, which came at three o'clock Sunday night. Poor Miss Jemima, I feel so sorry for her. She keeps up beautifully and is very pious and resigned. They say she will go into the Old Ladies' Home as soon as the arrangements can be made.
The other piece of news is more cheerful, though, for my part, life seems so short and so uncertain that I can't see much cheerfulness anywhere. So many people are dying that you can't help wondering who will be next, and as Dr. Preston said when he called on me during my illness, our only substantial hope is in a blessed hereafter. My one regret will be leaving my children and grandchildren, and especially my precious little Frances Evelyn, whom I have never seen. I have no doubt that Mrs. Fowler was far more useful than I could have been at the time of your trial, but it was a great disappointment to me not to be able to receive the little darling into the world.
But I had entirely forgotten that I started to tell you about Florrie Spencer's marriage to Algernon Caperton. Of course I couldn't go, but Jane says the wedding was lovely and that Florrie looked really beautiful. Bessie had on rose-coloured brocade. Did you ever hear of such a thing at her age? She was just as gay and flirtatious as a girl, Charley said, and she sent me some of the cake and a bottle of champagne, which, of course, I didn't touch. It is a pity she is so loud, for there isn't a kinder heart in the world. Florrie and Algernon are going to New York on their wedding trip. Isn't it exactly like Florrie to want to go to all the theatres? They send you word, by the way, that they are certainly coming to see you and the baby.
And now that I have told all my news, I must write a little about myself, though I am afraid you will be upset by what I am obliged to tell you. I put it off as long as I could—for I do hate to worry you—but the doctor has just been to see me and he says I must go to Florida immediately to stay until the bad weather is over. I told him I couldn't possibly afford it—the trip would take a great deal of money—but he insisted that I should write and tell you exactly what he said. He said my lungs were very weak and that he ordered the change—you know they never seem to consider expense—and when he was leaving, he stopped in the hall to speak to Jane about it. Poor Jane, she is so worried that she has almost gone deranged over my health, but as far as I am concerned I feel that I would rather pass away than cause so much trouble and upset everybody. Jane, as you know, hasn't a cent to her name, and it is out of the question her asking Charley, because he has had a very bad winter financially. Even Cousin Jimmy stopped sending me the rent of the house since I moved to Jane's, and as for Uncle Meriweather, he has been obliged to give up his business and go to live with his niece in the country. So, much as I hate to ask you, my dear child, I feel that you would rather I did so—and that I ought to be perfectly frank about the situation, particularly since poor Jane feels so deeply her inability to help me. I am afraid I should need about four hundred dollars, as I have bought nothing to wear for years. Bessie Spencer has told me of a very reasonable place where I could board, and it is just possible that she will be going herself by the time I am ready. If for any reason you are unable to let me have the money, just destroy this letter and don't think about it again. I wouldn't cause you a moment's worry for anything in the world.
With love to George and a dozen kisses for my precious little grandchild,
Your devoted mother, FANNY CARR.
Did I remember to tell you that Miss Polly Hatch has gone to New York to look after her nephew's children? He lost his wife a few months ago, and was left with four little children, the youngest only a year old.
So her punishment had come! As Gabriella dropped the letter into her lap, and looked at little Frances, so good and happy in her crib, she felt that she was punished not only for her reckless marriage, but for all the subterfuge, all the deceit which had followed it. She had not told her mother the truth, for she, also, had been chiefly concerned with "keeping up an appearance." For the purpose of shielding George, who was blandly indifferent to her shielding, she had lied to her mother, if not in words, yet in an evasion of the truth, and the result was that her lies and her evasions had recoiled not on George's head, but on her own. For George wouldn't care. So little value did he place upon Mrs. Carr's good opinion, that he would not care even if Gabriella were to tell her the truth. And if she had only been honest! If she had only refused to lie because custom exacted that a wife should be willing to lie in defense of her husband. Some obscure strain of dogmatic piety struggled in the convulsed depths of her being, as if she had been suddenly brought up against the vein of iron in her soul—against the moral law, stripped bare of clustering delusions, which her ancestors had known and fought for as "the Berkeley conscience." The Berkeley conscience, bred for centuries on a militant faith, told her now that she was punished because she had lied to her mother.
Then, as if this reversion to primitive theology had been merely an automatic reaction of certain nerve cells, she saw and condemned the childlike superstition. No, she was not punished so quickly; but she had been a fool, and she was paying the price of her incredible folly. How little, how pitifully little she knew of the world, after all! A year ago, on that horrible night, she had thought that her lesson was finished, but it was only beginning. Her immense, confiding ignorance would lead her into other abysses. And again, as on the morning after that night of revelation, she resolved passionately that she would not stay a fool always—that she would not become a victim of life.
The empty bottle had slipped to one side of the crib, and little Frances lay smiling at the friendly universe, with her wet mouth wide open and her blue eyes, so like George's, sparkling with laughter. The down on her head, as fine and soft as spun silk, made tiny rings over her pink skull, which was as clear and delicate as an eggshell; and these golden rings filled Gabriella with a tenderness so poignant that it brought tears to her eyes. Whatever her mother may have thought about the world, it was perfectly obvious that Frances Evelyn considered her part in it remarkably jolly. To be a well baby in an amiable universe was her ideal of felicity.
When George came up to luncheon, which he did sometimes now, he went straight to the nursery for a glimpse of his daughter. Ever since little Frances had lost her first hair and gained her golden down, he had taken an interest in the rapid stages of her development; and, though he never "wasted time," as he said, in the nursery, he liked to look in once a day and see whether or not she had changed in the night. On her side the baby treated her father as if he were an inexhaustible family joke, to be enjoyed not too seriously, but with a polite recognition of its humorous points. If she were sucking her bottle when he entered, she immediately stopped and laughed at him while the rubber nipple dropped from her toothless gums; if she awoke and discovered him at the side of her crib, she greeted him with subdued but inappeasable merriment; if he lifted her in his arms, her crocheted shoes could barely contain the kicks of her ecstatic feet. And because she was a jolly little beggar, George grew, after a time, to cherish a certain fondness for her. There was some use in a laughing baby, but he hated anything, child, woman, or animal, that cried.
On this particular day the baby happened to be asleep when he entered, so, without stopping, he went into Gabriella's bedroom, where the perfume of roses mingled with the scent of the burning logs on the andirons.
"That's a good fire," he observed, stopping on the hearth-rug. "I don't wonder you hate to go out."
"Yes, the room was a little chilly, so I lit the fire for the baby's bath. I don't usually have one," replied Gabriella, explaining her apparent extravagance.
"Has she been well?"
"She is always well. I haven't had a day's anxiety about her since she was born."
"But she isn't very old yet." Already little Frances was supplying conversational material to her parents.
"I wish you would sit down, George," said Gabriella, with a change of tone. "I want to read you a part of a letter from mother."
"Can't you tell me instead?"
"If you'd rather. You know I never told mother why we couldn't have her to live with us. I never told her anything. I simply made excuses."
"That was all right, wasn't it?" He was plainly nervous.
"At the time I thought I couldn't do differently, but now—"
She gave him the letter, and while he unfolded it awkwardly, she watched him anxiously and yet without interrupting his reading. Beyond the simple facts, she had told him nothing, and it was characteristic of her that she did not embellish these facts with picturesque phrases. She herself was so insensible to the appeal of rhetoric that she hardly thought of it as likely to influence anybody. Then, too, in moments of intense feeling she had always a sensation of dumbness.
"I'm awfully sorry about her illness," he said, "but when you think of it, the best thing that could have happened to her was not to come to New York. This climate would have been the end of her."
"Will you let me have the money, George? I will try to save in every way that I can. I've made all the baby's clothes, as it is, and I can easily make the few things I need, also. Since the baby came I have stopped calling with your mother."
A flush rose to his face. "I know you've been a regular brick about money, Gabriella. I never saw a woman buy as little as you do, and you always manage to look well dressed."
She smiled with faint irony. Her clothes were dowdy, for she had turned the broadcloth dress she had had at her marriage and was wearing it in the street; but if he thought her well dressed, it seemed hardly fair to undeceive him. Had she been any other woman, she reflected, he would probably have looked at her long enough to discover that she had grown decidedly shabby.
Since the baby's birth, as she told him, she had stopped calling with her mother-in-law, and a black net dress, given her by Mrs. Fowler because it had grown too small in the waist, was still presentable enough for the family dinners. But she never worried about her appearance, and it was a relief to find that George was quite as indifferent on the subject as she was. In the days of their honeymoon he had been so particular that she had spent hours each day before the mirror.
"Will you let me have the money, George?" she asked again. The form of the request had not changed, but there was a deeper note in her voice: the irony, which had been at first only a glancing edge to her smile, a subdued flash in her eyes, had passed now into her speech. George, looking sideways at the slightly austere charm of her profile, thought suddenly, "Gabriella is growing hard." He noticed, too, for the first time, that she looked older since the birth of the baby, that her bosom was fuller and that her figure, which had always been good, was now lovely in its long flowing lines. She was handsomer than she had been before her marriage, for her complexion had become clearer since she had lived in the North, and though she was still pale, her skin was losing its sallow tone.
Yet, though he thought her more attractive than she had been as a girl, she had ceased to make the faintest appeal to his senses. There were times even when he wondered how she had ever appealed to him, for she had not been beautiful, and beauty had always seemed to him to be essential in the women with whom one fell in love. But, however it had happened, still it had happened, and she was now his wife and the mother of the adorable Frances Evelyn.
"I'm awfully cut up about it, Gabriella," he said, "but honestly I am out of the money. I couldn't lay my hands on it just now to save my life."
His excuses convinced him while he uttered them, but he had barely paused before Gabriella demolished them with a single blow of her merciless logic.
"You were talking last night about buying a horse," she replied.
He frowned resentfully, and she immediately regretted her words. By speaking the truth she had defeated her purpose.
"It isn't as if I were buying a horse for pleasure," he answered doggedly; "I am dependent on exercise—you can see for yourself how I've gone off in the last two or three months. Of course if the horse were simply for enjoyment, like a carriage, it would be different. But mother has given up her carriage," he concluded triumphantly.
He was a spendthrift, she realized, but he was a spendthrift with a streak of stinginess in his nature. Though he enjoyed gratifying his own desires, which were many, it pained him inexpressibly to witness extravagance on the part of others, and by a curious twist of the imagination, all money spent by Gabriella appeared to him to be an extravagance. To be sure, he had just told her that she was a brick about money, but that had been intended as a warning to virtue rather than as an encouragement to weakness. There was, to be sure, a vague understanding that she might make bills when they were unavoidable; but so in want of spending money had she been since her marriage, that several times she had been obliged to borrow car fare from her mother-in-law. When she had asked George for an allowance, however small, he had put her off with the permission to charge whatever she bought in the shops. As the bills apparently never lessened, and her conscience revolted from debt, she had gone without things she needed rather than accept the barren generosity of his promises. At Christmas her father-in-law had given her fifty dollars in gold, and with this she had bought presents for her mother and Jane and the servants.
In the old days in Hill Street she had had little enough, but at least that little had really belonged to her; and since her marriage she had learned that when one is poor, it is better to live surrounded by want. To be poor in the midst of wealth—to be obliged to support a fictitious affluence on one's secret poverty—this was after all to know the supreme mortification of spirit. There were days when she almost prayed that the brooding suspense would assume a definite shape, that the blow would fall, the crash come, and ruin envelop them all. Any visible fact would be better than this impending horror of the imagination—this silent dread so much worse than any reality of failure—which encompassed them with the impalpable thickness and darkness of a cloud.
"Then I can't help my mother even if it's a matter of life and death?" she asked.
"I don't believe it's as bad as that, Gabriella. Ten chances to one the rest of the winter will be mild, and she would find Florida too depressing. You never can tell about doctors, you know. It's their business to make trouble. Now you mustn't let yourself worry—there's anxiety enough without that, heaven knows. Why, just look at father! He has lost almost all he ever had—he is simply staving off failure for I don't know how long, and yet from mother's manner who on earth would suspect that there is anything wrong? Now that's what I call pluck. By Jove—"
Again her impetuous spirit—dangerous gift!—flashed out recklessly in defence of the truth.
"Then why don't you try to help your father, George?" she asked. "He tells me that you rarely go down to the office." Her voice vibrated, but the stern lines of her mouth, which had lost its rich softness under the stress of her anger, hardly quivered.
His frown darkened to a scowl. The calm disdain in her manner made him feel that he hated her, and he told himself stubbornly that if she had been gentler, if she had been more womanly, he would have done what she asked of him, forgetting in his rage that, if she had been these things, he would have found even less difficulty in refusing her.
"You know as well as I do that I can't stand office work when I'm not fit," he returned sullenly. "It plays the devil with my nerves."
Her case was hopeless. If it had not been so in the beginning, she had ruined it by her irrefutable arguments, and while he rambled on moodily, making excuses for his neglect of business, she sat silently planning ways by which she might get the money for her mother. To ask her father-in-law was, of course, out of the question; and Mrs. Fowler, beyond a miraculously extended credit, due probably to the shining bubble of her husband's financial security, was as penniless as Gabriella. Unless she could find something to sell there seemed little likelihood of securing four hundred dollars in a day. It was imperative, then, that she should find something to sell; and remembering her mother's tragic visits to old Mr. Camberwell, she ran hastily over her few personal possessions. As her wedding gifts had been entirely in the form of clothes—the donors doubtless surmising that the wife of a rich man's son would have other gifts in abundance—there remained only the trinkets George and George's parents had given her. All through luncheon, while Mrs. Fowler, with an assumed frivolity which Gabriella found more than usually depressing, rippled on over the warmed-over salmon, the girl mentally arranged and sorted in their cases a diamond brooch, an amethyst necklace, a bracelet set with pearls, and a topaz heart she occasionally wore on a gold chain, which she valued because it had belonged to her grandmother. Once she stopped, and lifting her hand, looked appraisingly at her engagement ring for an instant, while Mrs. Fowler, observing her long gaze, remarked caressingly:
"I always thought it an unusually pretty stone, my dear. George knows a good deal about stones." Then, as if inspired by an impulse, she added quickly:
"Wasn't George upstairs before lunch? I thought I heard his voice."
"Yes, but he said he had an engagement at the club."
"I wonder if he knows I have asked the Capertons to dinner to-night? You know I got Florrie's card the other day. She is here on her wedding journey, but even then she doesn't like to be quiet, for she is her mother all over again. I used to know Bessie very well. Kind hearted, but a little vulgar."
"I didn't tell George. Perhaps you had better telephone him."
"Oh, well, he usually comes up to dinner because of the baby. I've asked one or two people to meet Florrie, for I remember that Bessie's one idea of enjoyment was to be in a crowd. The Crowboroughs are coming and the Thorntons and the Blantons."
"I'll be dressed in time," responded Gabriella, but she was thinking rapidly, "I can sell the diamond brooch and the bracelet and, if it is necessary, the amethyst necklace. The brooch must have cost at least three hundred dollars."
The meal was finished in silence, for even Mrs. Fowler's cheerfulness would flag now and then without a spur; and Gabriella made no effort to keep up the strained conversation. As soon as they had risen from the table, she ran upstairs to dress for the street, and then, before going out, she sat down at her desk, and wrapped up the brooch and the bracelet in tissue paper. For a minute she gazed, undecided, at the amethyst necklace. Mr. Fowler had given it to her, and she hated to part with it. George's gifts meant nothing to her now, but she felt a singular fondness for the amethyst necklace.
"I'd better take it with me," she thought; and wrapping it with the others, she put the package into her little bag, and went out of the room. It was her habit to stop for a last look at little Frances before she left the house, but to-day she hurried past the nursery, and ran downstairs and out of doors, where Mrs. Fowler was getting into a hansom with the assistance of Burrows, the English butler.
"May I drop you somewhere, Gabriella?" inquired Mrs. Fowler, while Burrows arranged the parcels on the seat of the hansom. In the strong sunshine all the little lines which were imperceptible in the shadow of the house—lines of sleeplessness, of anxiety, of prolonged aching suspense—appeared to start out as if by magic in her face. And over this underlying network of anxious thoughts there dropped suddenly, like a veil, that look of artificial pleasantness. She would have died sooner than lift it before one of the servants.
"No, thank you. I need the walk," answered Gabriella, stopping beside the hansom. "You will be tired if you do all those errands. May I help you?"
"No, no, dear, take your walk. I am so glad the storm is over. It will be a lovely afternoon."
Then the hansom drove off; Burrows, after a longing glance at the blue sky, slowly ascended the brownstone steps; and Gabriella, closing her furs at the throat, for the wind was high, hurried in the direction of Fifth Avenue.
The streets were still white after the storm; piles of new-fallen snow lay in the gutters; and when Gabriella crossed Madison Avenue, the wind was so strong that it almost lifted her from the ground. Above the shining whiteness of the streets there was a sky of spring; and spring was blossoming in the little cart of a flower vendor, which had stopped to let the traffic pass at the corner. There were few people out of doors, and these few appeared remote and strangely unreal between the wintry earth and the April sky. Beside the gutters, where the street cleaners were already at work, wagons drawn by large, heavy horses moved slowly from crossing to crossing. At Forty-second Street the traffic was blocked by one of these wagons; and from the windows of the stage, which had stopped by the sidewalk, the eyes of the passengers stared with moody resignation at the hurrying pedestrians. And it seemed to Gabriella that these faces wore, one and all, the look of secret anxiety, the faint network of lines which she had seen in the face of her mother-in-law. "I wonder if I have it, too," she thought, pausing before a shop window. But her reflection flashed back at her from the glass, smooth, stern, unsmiling, as if her features had been sculptured in marble.
Below Fortieth Street there was the shop of a jeweller she sometimes went to with Mrs. Fowler in that lady's despairing quest for suitable wedding presents at moderate prices; and something in the kindly, sympathetic face of the clerk who waited on them made Gabriella decide suddenly to trust him. As she unwrapped the tissue paper rather nervously, and keeping back the necklace, laid the brooch and the bracelet on the square of purple velvet he spread out on the counter, she raised her eyes to his with a look that was childlike in its appeal. Again she thought of the morning on which they had surreptitiously taken her silver mug, hidden in Mrs. Carr's gray and black shawl, to the shop of old Mr. Camberwell.
"How much might I get for these? I have worn them only a few times. They do not suit me," she said.
For a minute the clerk looked at her reflectively, but without curiosity; then lifting the trinkets from the square of velvet, he passed behind a green curtain into an adjoining room. After a short absence, in which she nervously examined an assortment of travelling clocks, he came back and told her that they would give her four hundred and fifty dollars for the two pieces.
"The stones alone are worth that," he added, "and, of course, they will have to be reset before we can sell them."
"May I have the check now?"
"Shall we send it to you by mail?"
"No, I must have it now. I want it this afternoon—immediately."
He yielded, still with his reflective but incurious manner; and when she left the shop a quarter of an hour later the check was in her little bag beside the amethyst necklace. "I am glad I didn't have to sell the necklace," she thought. "Now I'll find a hotel and write to mother, and it will all be settled. It will all be settled," she repeated in a joyous tone; and this joyousness, overflowing her breast, showed in her eyes, in the little quivering smile on her lips, and in her light and buoyant step over the snow. A weight had been lifted from her heart, and she felt at peace with the world, at peace with the shivering passers-by, at peace even with George. The wind, hastening her walk, stung her face till it flushed through its pallor, and sent the warm blood bounding with happiness through her veins. Under the stainless blue of the sky, it seemed to her that the winter's earth was suddenly quickening with the seeds of the spring.
In the Waldorf she found a corner which was deserted, except for an elderly man with a dried face and a girl in a green hat, who appeared to be writing to her lover; and sitting down at a little desk behind a lamp, she wrote to her mother without mentioning George, without explaining anything, without even making excuses for her failure to keep her promise. She knew now that George had never meant that her mother should live with them, that he had never meant that they should take an apartment, that he had lied to her, without compunction, from the beginning. She knew this as surely as she knew that he was faithless and selfish, as surely as she knew that he had ceased to love her and would never love her again. And this knowledge, which had once caused her such poignant agony, seemed now as detached and remote as any tragedy in ancient history. She was barely twenty-two, and her love story had already dwindled to an impersonal biographical interest in her mind.
When she had finished her letter, she placed the check inside of it, and then sat for a minute pensively watching the girl in the green hat, whose face paled and reddened while she wrote to her lover.
"It seems a hundred years ago since I felt like that," she thought, "and now it is all over." Then because melancholy had no part in her nature, and she was too practical to waste time in useless regrets, she rose quickly from the desk, and went out, while the exhilaration of her mood was still proof against the dangerous weakness of self-pity. "It's life I'm living, not a fairy tale," she told herself sternly as she posted the letter and left the hotel. "It's life I'm living, and life is hard, however you take it." For a few blocks she walked on briskly, thinking of the shop windows and of the brightness and gaiety of the crowd in Fifth Avenue; but in spite of her efforts, her thoughts fluttered back presently to herself and her own problems. "After all, you can't become a victim unless you give in," she said grimly; "and I'll die rather than become a victim."
Her walk kept her out until five o'clock, and when she entered the house at that hour she found her mother-in-law in the front hall giving directions to Burrows. At sight of Gabriella she paused breathlessly, and said with undisguised nervousness:
"A very queer-looking person who says she was sent by your mother has just come to see you, dear—a seamstress of some kind, I fancy. As she looked quite clean, I let her go upstairs to the nursery to wait for you. I hope you don't mind. She was so eager to see the baby."
"Oh, it's Miss Polly!" cried Gabriella; and without stopping to explain, she ran upstairs and into the nursery, where little Frances was cooing with delight in Miss Polly's arms.
The seamstress' small birdlike face, framed by the silk quilling of her old lady's bonnet, broke into a hundred cheerful wrinkles at the sight of Gabriella. Even the grotesqueness of her appearance—of her fantastic mantle trimmed with bugles, made from her best wrap in the 'seventies, of her full alpaca skirt, with its wide hem stiffened by buckram, of her black cotton gloves, and her enormous black broadcloth bag—even these things could not extinguish the pleasure Gabriella felt in the meeting. If Miss Polly was ridiculous at home, she was twice as ridiculous in New York, but somehow it did not seem to matter. The sight of her brought happy tears to the girl's eyes, and in the attempt to hide them, she buried her face in the warm, flower-scented neck of little Frances.
"She's the peartest baby I ever saw," remarked Miss Polly with pride. "Wouldn't yo' ma dote on her?"
"Wouldn't she? But how did you leave mother and Jane and the children? The baby must be a big boy now."
"He's runnin' around all the time, and never out of mischief. I never saw such a child for mischief. I was tellin' yo' ma so last week. There's another baby on the way with Jane, you know."
"How in the world will she take care of it? I suppose Charley is just the same?"
"Well, if you ask me, Gabriella, I never was so dead set against Mr. Charley as the rest of you. I helped raise Jane from the time she was no higher than that—and I ain't sayin' nothin' against her except that Mr. Charley ain't half as bad to my mind as she makes him out. Some men respond to naggin' and some don't—that's what I said to her one day when she broke down and cried on my shoulder—and you've got to be mighty particular when you begin to nag that you're naggin' the right sort. But she won't listen, not she. 'If I don't tell Charley of his faults, who's goin' to?' she asks. You know Jane always did talk pretty free to me ever since she was a little girl. Well, there are some people that simply can't stand bein' told of their faults, and Mr. Charley is one of 'em. It ain't the kind of treatment that agrees with him, and if I'd been in Jane's place, I reckon I'd have found it out long ago. But it ain't her way to learn anything—you know that as well as I do. She's obliged to make the world over even if it drops to pieces in her hands."
"She doesn't seem to have done much with Charley."
"Well, you mark my words, Mr. Charley ain't bad, but he's full of natur', and Jane, is the kind of woman that's never happy unless she's gettin' the better of natur'. Whatever's natural is plum wrong, that's the way she looks at it; but mind you, I ain't sayin' she's all in the right. Naggin' ain't a virtue to my mind any mo' than drink is, but Jane, she can't see it that way, and there ain't a bit of use tryin' to make her. She's soft, but she's mulish, and the hardest thing on earth to push is a mule that looks soft."
"It's such a pity, but I suppose nothing will change her. Tell me about mother."
"Yo' ma looks downright po'ly. What with her sickness and her bother about Jane and the bad weather, she ain't managin' to keep as spry as I'd like to see her. From the stitch in her back she has most of the time it wouldn't surprise me any day to hear that she'd come down with kidney trouble, and she breathes so short that consumption has crossed my mind mo' than once when I was talkin' to her."
Miss Polly, having, as she expressed it, "an eye for symptoms," possessed an artistic rather than a scientific interest in disease; and the vivid realism of her descriptions had often, on her "sewing days" at home, reduced Gabriella to faintness, though Mrs. Carr, with her more delicate sensibilities, was able to listen with apparent enjoyment to the ghastly recitals. Not only had Miss Polly achieved in her youth a local fame as a "sick nurse," but, in the days when nursing was neither sanitary nor professional, she was often summoned hastily from her sewing machine to assist at a birth or a burial in one of the families for whom she worked. And happy always, as befits one whose life, stripped bare of ephemeral blessings, is centred upon the basic realities, she was never happier than when she put down her sewing, took off her spectacles, exchanged her apron for a mantle, and after carefully tying her bonnet strings, departed for a triumphant encounter with the Eternal Issues.
"I am so anxious about mother," said Gabriella. "Did she tell you she was going to Florida?"
"She cert'ny did. She was real full of it, and she talked a lot about you all up here—the baby and you and Mr. George. You know I ain't laid my eyes on Mr. George mo' than three times in my life. Well, I reckon I'd better be gettin' along back, or the children will miss me. I've got four children to do for now, and one of 'em ain't any bigger than Frances. It does seem funny—don't it, for an old maid to have her hands full of children? But, you know, I always did dote on children. There wouldn't be half so much fun in this world if it wan't for children and men, and there ain't a mite of difference between them under their skins. Yes, I can find my way back real easy. I always was good at finding my way about, and all I've got to do is to set out and walk in that direction till I come to a car over yonder by that high building, and as soon as I get on I'll ask the conductor to put me off right at my do'."
When she had gone, Gabriella went back into the nursery, and stood looking down at little Frances, who had fallen asleep, with the smile of an angel on her face. "I wonder if I can be the least bit like Jane?" she said aloud while she watched the sleeping child.
George did not come home to dinner; and the wonder was still in Gabriella's mind when she dressed herself in her black net gown, and went downstairs to meet Florrie, who looked younger and more brilliant than ever in a dress of white and silver brocade. Florrie's husband, a dreamy, quiet man,—the safe kind of man, Gabriella reflected, who inevitably marries a dangerous woman—regarded his noisy wife with a guileless admiration which was triumphantly surviving a complete submergence in the sparkling shallows of Florrie's personality. He was a man of sense and of breeding. He possessed the ordinary culture of a gentleman as well as the trained mind of a lawyer, yet he appeared impervious alike to the cheapness of Florrie's wit and the vulgarity of her taste. Her beauty had not only blinded him to her mental deficiencies; it had actually deluded him into a belief in her intelligence. He treated her slangy sallies as if they were an original species of humour; he accepted the sweeping comment of her ignorance as if it had been an inspired criticism of life. While she chattered, parrotlike, to the judge, who was obviously impressed by her appearance, Algernon listened to her ejaculatory conversation with a mixture of admiration and awe.
"How do you think Florrie is looking?" he asked in a low tone of Gabriella, while his wife's laugh, high, shrill, penetrating in its dry soprano quality, fluted loudly on the opposite side of the table. Beside Patty's patrician loveliness, as serene and flawless as that of a marble goddess, Florrie appeared cheap, common, and merely pretty to Gabriella. The hard brilliancy of her surface was like a shining polish which would wear off with sleep and have to be replenished each morning; and while she watched her, Gabriella saw, in imagination, a vaguely ominous outline surrounding her which might have been the uncertain edge of her mother's shadow. In twenty-five years Florrie would be the image of her mother—protuberant hips, pinched waist, mottled complexion, and hopelessly tarnished hair; yet, with this awful prospect before him, Algernon could appear not only tolerant, but positively adoring. He had seen Bessie—he had known her for years—and he could marry her daughter!
"I never saw her look handsomer," said Gabriella, "that white and silver gown is very becoming."
"That's what I told her, but she wouldn't believe me. She thought it was too plain for her style. Your sister-in-law is something of Florrie's type, isn't she? Not quite so striking a figure, perhaps, but the same sort of colouring."
Was it possible that for the first time in his life the simple Algernon was speaking in irony? Turning in her chair, she looked questioningly into his kind, grave face, so empty of humour, into his serious gray eyes, which followed each movement of his wife's with admiring attention. No, he was not ironic; he was perfectly solemn. It was a miracle—a miracle not of piety, but of passion—that she was witnessing.
"Yes, Patty is lovely," she answered, thinking, as she reflected upon the eccentricities of love, how much too good he was for his wife.
Across the table Florrie's voice was heard exclaiming: "Now, you don't mean it! Well, I'm just as flattered as I can be!" and Gabriella surmised that she was completing her conquest of the judge.
"It's wonderful how well she gets on with everybody," observed Algernon. "She's never at a loss for a word, and I tell her if I had her ready wit, I'd be the greatest lawyer in Virginia to-day. Have you noticed the way she is managing Judge Crowborough?"
"She always gets on well with men," acquiesced Gabriella, though without the enthusiasm of Algernon. "Do you remember what a belle she always was at the germans?" Though she was willing to admit that love was the ruling principle of life, it occurred to her that Algernon would be more amusing if he were less abundantly supplied with that virtue.
They talked of nothing but Florrie until the women went into the drawing-room; and there, from the safe haven of a window, Gabriella listened to Florrie's ceaseless prattle about herself. She was as egotistical, as effervescent, as she had been as a schoolgirl; and it seemed to Gabriella that she was hardly a day older. Her eyes, of a grayish blue, like pale periwinkles, were as bold, as careless, as conquering in their glances; her hair was still as dazzling; her face, with its curious resemblance in shape to the face of a pretty cat, was still as frank, as nave, as confiding in its innocence. If she had changed at all, it was that, since her marriage to the silent Algernon, she had become even more talkative than she had been in her girlhood. Her vivacity was as disturbing as the incessant buzzing of a June beetle.
"Well, you need never tell me again that you wouldn't rather live in New York, Gabriella," she fluted at parting, "because I shan't believe a single word of it. Why, we've been to the theatre every night for a fortnight, and we haven't seen half the good plays that are going on. Algy wanted to stay at Niagara Falls—you know we went to Niagara Falls first—but it was so deadly quiet I couldn't stand it. 'I don't care if I am married,' I said to Algy, 'what I want is the theatre.'"
After she had gone, adoringly wrapped up by Algernon, Patty turned to her mother with a little malicious grimace:
"I know it's horrid to say she's dreadful, mamma, but she really is."
"Don't, Patty, it isn't kind, and, besides, she's a friend of Gabriella's. What I can't understand," she added, "is how Bessie ever came out of Virginia, yet there were always a few like her. You don't remember Pussy Prime, do you? Of course you don't, she died long before your day, but she was just that loud, boisterous kind, and all the men were in love with her."
"Well, if I'm ever born again," remarked Gabriella, as she kissed Patty good-night, "I hope I'll be born a fat blonde. They always get taken care of."
She ascended the stairs wearily to her room. Yes, she was barely twenty-two and love was over forever. "I couldn't hold a man six months," she thought dejectedly, "and yet Florrie, who is a fool and vulgar, will be adored all her life."
THE AGE OF KNOWLEDGE
In July Gabriella joined her mother in the mountains of Virginia, and when she returned in the autumn, she found that the character of her home had changed perceptibly during her absence. Brightness had followed gloom; the fog of suspense had dissolved, and the hazy sunshine of an ambiguous optimism flooded the house. What the change implied she could not immediately discover; but before the first day was over she surmised that the financial prospects of her father-in-law had improved since the spring. If she had had any doubt of his rising fortunes, the sight of the diminished pile of bills on Mrs. Fowler's desk would have quickly dispelled it.
And even George had apparently altered for the better. His improved finances had sweetened his temper and cast the shining gloss of prosperity over his appearance; and, in a measure at least, time had revived in him the ardent, if fluctuating, emotions of the lover. For three months after her return, he evinced a fervent sentiment for Gabriella, which she, who was staunchly paying the price of her folly, received with an inner shrinking but an outward complaisance. Her feeling for George was quite dead—so dead that it was impossible for any artificial stimulus to revive it—but she had learned that marriage is founded upon a more substantial basis than the romantic emotions of either a wife or a husband. Though she had ceased to love George, she could still be amiable to him; and it occurred to her at times that if one had to choose between the two not necessarily inseparable qualities of love and amiability, George was not losing greatly by the exchange. When, however, at the end of three months, George's capricious symptoms disappeared as suddenly as they had come, and his attentions lapsed into casual expressions of a nonchalant kindness, she drew a breath of relief, and devoted her happiest days to the nursery. There at least she had found a stable refuge amid the turmoil of selfish human desires.
In the house, which like George, began presently to show the gloss of prosperity, the winter brought a continuous flashing stream of gaiety, in which Mrs. Fowler darted joyously about like some bright hungry minnow beneath the iridescent ripples of a brook. There were new rugs, new curtains, new gowns, new bonnets; and Gabriella was led compliantly from dressmaker to milliner, until she lost in the process her look of shabbiness and developed into the fashionable curving figure of the period. She had always liked clothes; her taste was naturally good; and as she followed eagerly from shop to shop, she recalled the three months she had spent in Brandywine's millinery department, and the rudiments of a trade she had learned there. "I'd rather design my next gown myself," she said one day to Mrs. Fowler, while they were looking at French models in the establishment of Madame Dinard, who had been born an O'Grady. "I know I can do better than these, and besides I shan't meet duplicates of myself every time I go out." That night she dreamed of hats and gowns, and the next morning she drew pictures of them in coloured chalk. "It's the only talent I ever had," she remarked gaily to her mother-in-law, "and it is running to waste."
Madame, who regarded the sketches with uncompromising disdain, showed great interest in the practical application of Gabriella's ideas to the dressing of Mrs. Fowler.
"Yes, you have undoubtedly ideas," she said, discarding in her enthusiasm the accent she had spent twenty years in acquiring, "and there is nothing so rare in any department—in any walk of life—as ideas. You have style, too," she pursued admiringly, turning her eyes on Gabriella's figure in one of her Parisian models. "It is very rare—such chic. You wear your clothes with a grace."
"That, also, is a marketable asset in a dressmaker," laughed Gabriella. "Do you know I ought to have been a dressmaker, Madame. Only I hate the very sight of a needle."
"But I never sew! I haven't had a needle in my hand for twenty years—no, not for thirty," protested Madame.
"Then I mustn't give up hope. If I ever have to earn my living, I'll come to you, Madame."
Then Madame bowed and smiled and shrugged as if at a gracious jest, and Mrs. Fowler observed in her crisp, matter-of-fact manner: "Yes, my daughter has a genuine instinct for dress, and, as you say, that is very rare. She carries her clothes well, doesn't she? It's such a blessing to be tall—though my husband insists that the women who have ruled the world have always been small ones. But I do love a fine figure, and she looks so distinguished in that cherry-coloured cloth, doesn't she?"
To all of which Madame agreed, as she bowed them out, with her ingratiating professional manner.
"It's so lovely to have clothes," said Gabriella, sinking back in the victoria, "money is one of the best gifts of the gods, isn't it?"
"It's hard to do without it," replied Mrs. Fowler, brisk and perfectly businesslike even in her generalizations. "I expect the worst suffering in the world comes from poverty."
Then, after a thoughtful pause, she added with the practical air of one who scorns to be abstract: "But do you know I sometimes think Archibald and I'd both be happier if we had never made any money at all—I mean, of course, except just enough to live simply somewhere in the South. When once you begin, you can't stop, and I wish sometimes we had never begun." Above the narrow black velvet strings of her bonnet, her round florid face, from which the fine tracery of lines had vanished, assumed the intent and preoccupied expression which Gabriella associated with the pile of unpaid bills on the little French desk. "I believe Archibald feels that way, too," she concluded after a minute, while her firm and unemotional lips closed together over the words.
"But you enjoy it so much when you have it."
"That's just the trouble. You have to enjoy it as quickly as you can because you never know when you are going to lose every bit of it without warning. It's been that way ever since I married—rich one year, poor the next, or poor for two years and then rich for three. Life has been a seesaw with prosperity at one end of the plank and poverty at the other. Of course I know," she pursued, with characteristic lucidity, "that you think me dreadfully extravagant, but we'd just as well spend it as lose it, and it's sure to be one thing or the other."
"But couldn't you save something? Couldn't you put by something for the future?" Saving for the future was one of the habits of Gabriella's frugal past which still clung to her.
"That would go, too. If we ever come to ruin—and heaven knows we've been on the brink of it before this—Archibald would not keep back a penny. That's his way, and that's one of the reasons I spend all we have—up to the very margin of his income."
The logic of this was so confusing that Gabriella was obliged to stop and puzzle it out. At the end she could only admit that Mrs. Fowler's reasoning processes, which were by nature singularly lucid and exact, showed at times a remarkable subtlety—as if some extraneous hybrid faculty had been grafted on the simple parent stock of her mind.
"I can't help feeling, though," resumed the practical little lady before Gabriella had reached the end of her analysis, "that I'd be a great deal happier at this minute if we'd been poor all our lives."
"It wouldn't have suited George," observed George's wife with an inflection of irony.
"He mightn't have liked it, but I believe it would have been a great deal better for him," replied Mrs. Fowler, while she bowed gravely to a woman in a passing victoria. "There are many things George can't be blamed for, and the way he was brought up is one of them. Of course, he's no good whatever as a business man—his father hardly ever sees him in the office—but it's useless to scold him about it, for it only exasperates him. But he might have been a sensible, steady boy, if he had been brought up in some small place in the South where there was nothing to tempt him."
That there was any place in the South small enough not to afford temptation to George seemed improbable to Gabriella; but she felt that Mrs. Fowler's earnest belief, supported as it was by the unshakable prop of maternal feeling, hardly justified the effort she must make to dispel it; and she had still no answer ready when the carriage turned into Fifty-seventh Street, and stopped beside the pavement where little Frances—they had already begun to call her Fanny—sat in a perambulator. Flushed and smiling, with her red mouth gurgling delightedly, and a white wool lamb clasped in her arms, the adorable child was certainly worth any seesaw of destiny, any disillusioning experience of marriage.
Before the beginning of the next winter Gabriella's second child was born—a brown, sturdy boy, who came into the world with a frowning forehead and crying lustily from rage (so the nurse said) not from fright. He was named Archibald after his grandfather, who developed immediately a passionate fondness for him. His eyes were brown like the eyes of the Carrs, though by the time he was two years old, he was discovered to be painfully near-sighted, a weakness which Mrs. Carr, when she heard of it, insisted he must have inherited from his father's side of the family. He was not nearly so beautiful a baby as little Fanny had been; but he was from the very beginning a child of much character, strong, mutinous, utterly uncompromising in his attitude toward life. When he was first put into shoes he fought with desperation, and surrendered at last, neither to persuasion nor to punishment, but to an exhaustion so profound that he slept for hours with his small protesting feet doubled under him and sobs of fury still bursting from his swollen lips. The next day the struggle began again, and Mrs. Fowler remarked sympathetically:
"You'll never be able to break his will, Gabriella. He is unmanageable."
"I don't want to break his will, mamma," replied Gabriella, for she belonged to a less Scriptural generation, "but he must be disciplined, if it kills me." Pale, gentle, resolute, she waited for Archibald to surrender. In the end she carried her point and won the adoring obedience of Archibald. There was a magnanimous strain in him even at that age, Gabriella used to say, and though he fought to the bitter end, he bore no malice after he was once soundly defeated.
Long afterwards, when Gabriella looked back on the next few years of her life, she could remember nothing of them except the tremendous difference that the children had made. All the rest was blotted out, a drab blur of what Mrs. Fowler described with dignity as "social duties," moving always against the variable atmosphere of the house, which was gay or sombre, light or gloomy, according to the fluctuating financial conditions in Wall Street. There were extravagant winters and frugal winters; winters of large entertainments and winters of "women's luncheons"; but always the summers shimmered green and peaceful against the blue background of the Virginia mountains. The summers she loved even in memory; but of the winters she could recall but one glowing vision, and that was of Patty. Though she had lost George, she had gained Patty, and it was impossible to deny that Patty might be compensation for almost any lack.
For the rest she made few friends, partly from reserve, partly from the shyness she always felt in the presence of strangers. It was difficult to establish fundamental relations at dinners or even at women's luncheons; social reforms were scarcely beginning to be fashionable; and apart from the reading which she did in order, as she said, "to keep her mind open," her life narrowed down gradually to a single vivid centre of activity. She lived in her children and in the few books she obtained from the library—(since the purchase of books, even in extravagant years, represented gross prodigality to Mrs. Fowler)—in Patty's friendship, and in the weekly gossiping letters she received from her mother.
Mrs. Carr had long ago given up her plan to live with Gabriella and George; and a failure of circumstances, which fitted so perfectly into the general scheme of her philosophy, had done much to fortify the natural melancholy of her soul. Since even so gentle a pessimist was not devoid of a saving trace of spiritual arrogance, she found consoling balm in the thought that she had refrained from reminding Gabriella how very badly the Carrs had all married. There was, for example, poor Gabriel's brother Tom, whose wife had "gone deranged" six months after her wedding, and poor Gabriel's sister Johanna, who had died (it was common gossip) of a broken heart; and besides these instances, nobody could possibly maintain that Jane had not made a disastrous choice when she had persisted, against the urgent advice of her mother, in marrying Charley. Yes, the Carrs had all married badly, reflected Mrs. Carr, with the grief of a mother and the pride of a philosopher whose favourite theory has been substantially verified—every one of them, with, of course, the solitary exception of poor Gabriel himself.
Her weekly letters, pious, gossipy, flowing, reached Gabriella regularly every Monday morning, and were read at breakfast while Mr. Fowler studied the financial columns of the newspaper, and his wife opened her invitations in the intervals between pouring out cups of coffee and inquiring solicitously if any one wanted cream and sugar.
"What's the news?" George would sometimes ask carelessly; and Gabriella would glance down the pages covered with the formless characters of Mrs. Carr's fine Italian handwriting (the ladylike hand of the 'sixties), and read out carefully selected bits of provincial gossip, to which a cosmopolitan dash was usually contributed by the adventures, matrimonial or merely amorous, of Florrie Caperton. Hard, dashing, brilliant on the surface at least, a frank hedonist by inclination, if not by philosophy, Florrie had triumphantly smashed her way through the conventions and the traditions of centuries.
"It's really dreadfully sad about Florrie," wrote Mrs. Carr. "I am so sorry for poor Bessie, who must feel it more than she lets any one see. While Algernon was alive we always hoped he would keep Florrie straight (you remember how everybody used to talk about her when she was a girl), but now he has been, dead only a year and a half, and she has already married again and gotten a divorce from her second husband. You know she ran away with a man named Tom Westcott—nobody ever heard of him, but she met him at the White Sulphur Springs, where he had something to do with the horses, I believe—and the marriage turned out very badly, though for my part I don't believe he was the least bit to blame. Florrie is so reckless that she would make any man unhappy, and two weeks after the wedding she was separated from him and was back here with Bessie, looking as well and pretty as I ever saw her. You know black was so becoming to her that she didn't take it off even when she eloped, and now after her divorce she always wears it, just as if she were still in mourning for poor Algernon. Nobody would believe, unless they had seen her in it, how very loud black can be. I used to think widows ought to wear it because it kept them from being noticed, but on Florrie it is the most conspicuous thing you ever imagined—as Cousin Jimmy says it simply makes her blaze, and you know how striking she always was anyway. I am sure I should think it would be embarrassing for her to go in the street in New York where nobody knows that she is really a lady—or at least that she was born a lady on her father's side—and this reminds me—(I declare I ramble on so I can never remember what I started to say)—but this reminds me that she has just been in to tell Jane that she is going to New York to take an apartment somewhere downtown; she told me the street and the number, but I have forgotten both of them. Jane says she looks more beautiful than ever after her last tragic experience (though she doesn't seem to think it tragic at all), but I was brought up to believe that a divorced woman, even if she is in the right, ought to live in a retired way and show that she feels her position. Now, I saw Florrie for a minute as she was going out and she ran on like a girl of sixteen—you would think from her talk that she is not a bit sensitive about the unfortunate situation she is in. She had on a huge bunch of violets, and Cousin Pussy tells me another man is paying her the most devoted attention. Please don't mention this to a soul—I hate so to spread gossip—but I felt that you ought to be prepared, for Florrie will certainly come to see you, and you must be kind and polite to her, though I do not think you ought ever to be intimate again. It is not as if she were merely unfortunate—many divorced women are that, and we sympathize with them because they show that they realize their position—but I cannot believe that Florrie is unfortunate if she allows another man to pay her such marked attention, and even accepts handsome presents from him. So do be careful, my child, and if you find yourself in an embarrassing situation, consult Mrs. Fowler and be guided by her advice."
"Florrie Spencer is coming to New York," said Gabriella on the morning she received Mrs. Carr's letter. "You know she has just been divorced from her second husband—somebody she met at the White Sulphur Springs."
George looked up interested, from his breakfast.
"Florrie coming, is she?" he remarked. "Well, she's great fun. I wonder if she has her eye on anybody now?"
"Not on you, I hope," observed his father, who joked mildly on the mornings when the news was good; "but she's a beautiful woman, and she'll doubtless be able to get whatever she has set either her heart or her eye on."
"She'll marry again within six months," prophesied Mrs. Fowler, with an anxious glance in the direction of her husband's coffee cup. "Poor Algy, I always thought he was a hundred times too good for her," she added, while she abstractedly buttered her toast. It was one of their extravagant years, and the butter was delicious.
"He adored her," said Gabriella. "I shall never forget the evening they spent here. He couldn't keep his eyes away from her. If she had been the most admirable character on earth he couldn't have loved her better."
"As if a man ever loved a woman because of her character!" remarked Mrs. Fowler, from the security of her experience.
Several months later Florrie arrived, gay, brilliant, and beautiful, with her waxlike complexion as unlined by care as if it had been on the face of a doll. Though she had lightened her mourning since Mrs. Carr had described her to Gabriella, she still wore black, and her flaring skirt, her inflexible collar, and her lace sleeves, narrow at the shoulder and full at the wrists, resembled a fashion plate. Perched at a daring angle above her wheaten-red pompadour, with its exaggerated Marcel wave, she wore a curiously distorted hat of black velvet, lavishly overtrimmed with ostrich feathers; and before this miracle of style, Gabriella became at once oppressively aware of her own lack of the quality which Florrie would have described as "dash." Already Florrie's figure was becoming slightly too protuberant for the style of the new century, and after kissing Gabriella effusively, she stood for a minute struggling for breath, in the attitude of her mother, with her hands pressed to the palpitating sides of her waist.
"I told mother I was certainly coming to see you right straight," began Florrie, while, with her recovered breath, her figure curved as suddenly as if it were moved by a spring into the fashionable bend of the period. "I've been perfectly crazy to come, but between dressmakers and theatres and I don't know what else, I simply haven't had a minute in which I could sit down and breathe. Mother says I ought to be downright ashamed of myself for being so frivolous when I've just got out of such a scrape—did you ever hear before of anybody getting married for two weeks, Gabriella? But I know you never did—you needn't trouble to tell me so. Well, mother says I oughtn't to look so pleased, and I tell her there might be some sense in that if I'd stayed in the scrape, but if I haven't a right to look pleased at getting out, I'd like to know who has. It was all too funny for words, now, wasn't it? Of course, I shouldn't dream of talking to everybody like this—even if I am a big talker, I reckon I know when to hold my tongue and when not to—but I've always told you everything, Gabriella, and I don't mind the least bit in the world telling you about this. It always relieves my mind to talk to somebody I can trust, and I know I can trust you. Don't you remember the way I used to run in on rainy afternoons when you lived way over in Hill Street, and tell you all about Fred Dudley and Barbour Willis? And then I used to come and talk about poor Algy by the hour. Wasn't it too distressing about poor Algy? I don't believe I'll ever get over it if I live to be a hundred, and even if I do run on like this, it doesn't mean that my heart isn't broken—simply broken—because it is. Mother used to say, after father died, that you couldn't measure a widow's grief by the length of her veil; and that's just exactly the way I feel about Algy. I know you'll understand, Gabriella, because you always understand everything—"
"He was so deeply in love with you," observed Gabriella sympathetically, while Florrie, diving amid the foam of her laces, brought out a tiny handkerchief, and delicately pecked at the corner of her eye, not near enough to redden the lid and not far enough away to disturb the rice powder on the side of her nose.
"He was crazy about me to the very last, you never saw anything like it. Of course we weren't a bit alike, I don't mind telling you so, Gabriella, because I know you'll never repeat it. We weren't really congenial, for Algy was just wrapped up in his law books, and there were whole days together when he wouldn't open his mouth, but that didn't seem to make any difference because, as he used to say, one of us had to listen sometimes. But, you know, mother says a pair of opposites makes the happiest marriage, and after being married to Algy, I feel how true that is. I got into the habit of talking so much when I used to run on about nothing to cheer him up—he was always so grave and glum even as a boy, you remember—and during his last illness—you know he died of Bright's disease, poor darling, and it came on just like that!—he used to make me talk to him for hours and hours just to keep him from thinking. Well, well, that's all over now, and I don't care what anybody says, my heart's buried with Algy. I don't believe you were ever in love but once either, were you, Gabriella?" she inquired cheerfully.
"Well, what about Mr. Westcott? Is that his name?" asked Gabriella, without malice. As a study Florrie had always interested her, for she regarded her less as an individual than as an awful example of the utter futility of moral maxims. Florrie was without intelligence, without feeling, without imagination, virtue, breeding, or good taste, yet possessing none of these qualities, she had by sheer beauty and "dash" achieved all the ends for which these qualities usually strive. Good humour she had as long as one did not get in her way; but, beyond this single redeeming grace, she was as empty of substance as a tinted shell filled with sea foam. If power and efficiency are the two supreme attributes of success, then by all the laws and principles of logic, Florrie ought to have been a failure. But she was not a failure. She was a fool whose incomparable foolishness had conferred not only prosperity, but happiness upon her. She shone, she scintillated, she diffused the glow of success. Though she was undeserving of admiration, she had been surfeited on it from her childhood; though she was devoid of the moral excellence which should command love, by a flashing glance or a waving curl, she could bring the most exalted love down from the heavens. There was no question that Algernon had really loved her to distraction, and Algernon was a man of sense, of breeding, of distinction. As for Florrie, she had, of course, as little capacity for loving as she had for thinking.
"Tom Westcott! I declare, Gabriella, I am almost ashamed to tell you about him. You've never been to a Virginia summer resort, so you couldn't understand that there is something about a Virginia summer resort that just seems to make any man better than none at all. You get so bored, you know, that you'd flirt with a lamp-post if there wasn't anything human around; and when you haven't laid eyes on a real sure enough man for several months, it's surprising how easy it is to take up with the imitation ones. Of course, I don't mean that Tom wasn't all right as far as family and all that goes; but he was simply no earthly account—he was just mean all through, and as soon as I found it out, I packed right straight up and left him. After Algy I couldn't have stood one of that sort, and there was no sense in my trying to. Life is too short, I always say, for experiments. There's no use sticking to a bad job when you can get away from it. That's the trouble with so many women, you know; they try and try to stand the wrong man when they know all the time that it isn't a particle of use, and that they are just bringing wrinkles into their faces; and then by the time they give up, they're all worn out and it's too late to look about for another chance. Now, I've seen too much of that kind of thing, and so I thought two weeks weren't long enough to bring wrinkles in my face, but they were plenty long for me to find out whether or not I could stand any man on earth. So here I am in little old New York instead of being stuck away in some God-forsaken Virginia town, where there isn't even a theatre, darning stockings for a family of children. But there's no use talking about that—" And Florrie, who had been born a lady on her father's side, adjusted her pompadour under the high bandeau of her hat, and rose with a dashing air from the sofa.
"I'd love to see the babies, darling," she said; "I'm just crazy about babies."
"They are out in the Park. I'm so sorry. Perhaps they are coming in now, I hear the door-bell."
But it was George instead of the children; and he entered presently with a moody look, which vanished quickly before the brilliant vision of Florrie.
"I thought I heard you," he observed with the casual intimacy of an old playmate, "so I came in. Have you got fixed yet? What about the apartment? You'd better let me help you hunt for it?"
"Oh, I'm not sure about the apartment. I may take a house—a teeny weeny one, you know," said Florrie, as she bent softly toward him, scented and blooming. If one didn't know there wasn't really a bit of harm in her, one would be puzzled just what to think of her, Gabriella reflected. Amid the perfect order of Gabriella's inner life, the controlled emotion, the serene efficiency, the balanced power, Florrie's noisy beauty produced a disturbing effect. She liked her because she had known her from childhood, and it was impossible to think any harm of a girl one had played with at school; but she could not deny that Florrie was vulgar. As a matter of fact, Florrie's mother had been vulgar before her, and the thin strain of refinement inherited from her father's stock had obviously been overborne by the torrential vulgarity of the maternal blood.
"A house? Well, that's even better," replied George. "I've no use for apartments, have I, Gabriella?"
His effrontery was incredible! That he should joke about his broken promise before Florrie amazed Gabriella even after her disillusioning experience with him.
"Then I'll get you to help me. Will you lend him to me, darling?" trilled Florrie piercingly from the door, where she stood in a striking pose which revealed her "fine figure" to the best advantage. The request was directed to Gabriella, but her blue eyes mocked a challenge to George while she spoke.
"Oh, I'll give him," answered Gabriella pleasantly. There was no harm in it, she told herself innocently again; but it was a pity that Florrie, with her remarkable beauty, should be quite so ill bred.
Five minutes later when George came back from putting Florrie into her hansom, he remarked carelessly:
"She's got a figure all right."
"Yes, she looks beautiful in black. No wonder she won't leave it off."
"By Jove, to think it's little Florrie! Why, I don't believe there's a finer figure in New York. When she passed by the club yesterday the men were breaking their necks to look out of the window." Then, as if struck by a sudden suspicion, he added quickly: "Where did she get her money from? I thought Algy died rather hard up."
"I never heard much about it. Mrs. Spencer must give her something."
"I don't believe the old lady has a penny over three thousand a year, and that won't do in New York. This Westcott didn't have anything, did he?"
"It never occurred to me to ask," replied Gabriella indifferently. What did it matter to George where Florrie got her money? But, then, George was always like that, and though he never made a penny himself, he was possessed of an insatiable curiosity about the amount and the sources of other people's incomes.
"Well, it looks queer," he observed with intense interest after a prolonged pause. "That short pearl necklace she had on couldn't have cost a cent under ten thousand dollars."
"It was lovely. I noticed how well the pearls matched," replied his wife. She was not in the least excited about the methods by which Florrie had obtained the necklace—all that was a part of the miraculous way she got everything she wanted in life—but she liked the pearls and she had envied Florrie while she looked at them.
A deep furrow had appeared between George's eyebrows, and his mouth sagged suddenly at the corners, giving his face the ugly look Gabriella distrusted and dreaded. While she watched him she recalled vaguely that she had once thought the latent brutality in his face an expression of power. How young she had been when she married him! How inconceivably ignorant! Yet at twenty years she had imagined herself wise enough to judge a man. She had deluded herself with the sanctified fallacy that mere instinct would guide her aright—that her marriage would be protected from disaster by the infallible impulse which she had mistaken for love.
"I wonder," said George with a suddenness that startled her out of her musing—"I wonder if it can be Winston Camp!"
And Gabriella, who had forgotten Florrie, looked up to remark absentmindedly: "Winston Camp? You mean the man who dined here last winter and couldn't eat anything but nuts?"