At the dinner-table she listened—cool and fresh, Arnaud complained, in spite of the heat—to the talk of the two men. By her side Elouise Lowrie occasionally repeated, in a voice like the faint jangle of an old thin piano, the facts of a family connection or a commendation of the Dodges. Arnaud really knew a surprising lot, and his conversation with Pleydon was strung with terms completely unintelligible to her. It developed, finally, into an argument over the treatment of the acanthus motive in rococo ornament. France was summoned against Spain; the architectural degrading of Italy deplored.... It amazed her that any one could remember so much.
Linda without a conscious reason suddenly stopped the investigation of her feeling for Pleydon. Even in the privacy of her thoughts an added obscurity kept her from the customary clear reasoning. After dinner, out in the close gloom of the garden, she watched the flicker of the cigarettes. There was thunder, so distant and vague that for a long while Linda thought she was deceived. She had a keen rushing sensation of the strangeness of her situation here—Linda Hallet. The night was like a dream from which she would stir, sigh, to find herself back again in the past waiting for the return of her mother from one of her late parties.
But it was Arnaud who moved and, accompanying Elouise Lowrie, went into the house for his interminable reading. Pleydon's voice began in a low remembering tone:
"What a fantastic place the Feldt apartment was, with that smothered room where you said you would marry me. You must have got hold of Hallet in the devil of a hurry. I've often tried to understand what happened; why, all the time, you were upset—why, why, why?"
"In a way it was because a ridiculous hairdresser burned out some of my mother's front wave," she explained.
"Of course," he replied derisively, "nothing could be plainer."
She agreed calmly. "It was very plain. If you want me to try to tell you don't interrupt. It isn't a happy memory, and I am only doing it because I was so rotten to you.
"Yes, I can see now that it was the hairdresser and a hundred other things exactly the same. My mother, all the women we knew, did nothing but lace and paint and frizzle for men. I used to think it was a game they played and wonder where the fun was. There were even hints about that and later they particularized and it made me as sick as possible. The men, too, were odious; mostly fat and bald; and after a while, when they pinched or kissed me, I wanted to die.
"That was all I knew about love, I had never heard of any other—men away from their families for what they called a good time and women plotting and planning to give it to them or not give it to them. Then mother, after her looks were spoiled, married Mr. Moses Feldt, and I met Judith, who only existed for men and men's rooms and told me worse things, I'm sure, than mother ever dreamed; and, on top of that, I met you and you kissed me.
"But it was different from any other; it didn't shock me, and it brought back a thrill I have always had. I wanted, then, to love you, and have you ask me to marry you, more than anything else in the world. I was sure, if you would only be patient, that I could change what had hurt me into a beautiful feeling. I couldn't tell you because I didn't understand myself." She stopped, and Pleydon repeated, bitterly and slow:
"Fat old bald men; and I was one with them destroying your exquisite hope." She heard the creak of the basket chair as he leaned forward, his face masked in darkness. "Perhaps you think I haven't paid.
"You will never know what love is unless I can manage somehow to make you understand how much I love you. Hallet will have to endure your hearing it. This doesn't belong to him; it has not touched the earth. Every one, more or less, talks about love; but not one in a thousand, not one in a million, has such an experience. If they did it would tear the world into shreds. It would tear them as it has me. I realize the other, the common thing—who experimented more! This has nothing to do with it. A boy lost in the idealism of his first worship has a faint reflection. Listen:
"I can always, with a wish, see you standing before me. You yourself—the folds of your sash, the sharp narrow print of your slippers on the pavement or the matting or the rug, the ruffles about your hands. I have the feeling of you near me with your breathing disturbing the delicacy of your breast. There is the odor and shimmer of your hair ... your lips move ... but without a sound.
"This vision is more real than reality, than an opera-house full of people or the Place Vendome; and it, you, is all I care for, all I think about, all I want. I find quiet places and stay there for hours, with you; or, if that isn't possible, I turn into a blind man, a dead man warm again at the bare thought of your face. Listen:
"I've been in shining heaven with you. I have been melted to nothing and made over again, in you, good. We have been walking together in a new world with rapture instead of air to breathe. A slow walk through dark trees—God knows why—like pines. And every time I think of you it is exactly as though I could never die, as though you had burned all the corruption out of me and I was made of silver fire. And listen:
"Nothing else is of any importance, now or afterward, you are now and the hereafter. I see people and people and hear words and words, and I forget them the moment they have gone, the second they are still. But I haven't lost an inflection of your voice. When I work in clay or stone I model and cut you into every surface and fold. I see you looking back at me out of marble and bronze. And here, in this garden, you tried to give me more—"
The infinitely removed thunder was like the continued echo of his voice. There was a stirring of the leaves above her head; and the light that had shone against the house in Elouise Lowrie's window was suddenly extinguished. All that she felt was weariness and a confused dejection, the weight of an insuperable disappointment. She could say nothing. Words, even Pleydon's, seemed to her vain. The solid fact of Arnaud, of what Dodge, more than seven years before, had robbed her, put everything else aside, crushed it.
She realized that she would never get from life what supremely repaid the suffering of other women, made up for them the failure of practically every vision. She was sorry for herself, yes, and for Dodge Pleydon. Yet he had his figures in metal and stone; his sense of the importance of his work had increased enormously; and, well, there were Lowrie and Vigne; it would be difficult, every one agreed, to find better or handsomer children. But they seemed no more than shadows or colored mist. This terrified her—what a hopelessly deficient woman she must be! But even in the profundity of her depression the old vibration of nameless joy reached her heart.
In the morning there was a telegram from Judith Feldt, saying that her mother was dangerously sick, and she had lunch on the train for New York. The apartment seemed stuffy; there was a trace of dinginess, neglect, about the black velvet rugs and hangings. Her mother, she found, had pneumonia; there was practically no chance of her recovering. Linda sat for a short while by the elder's bed, intent upon a totally strange woman, darkly flushed and ravished in an agonizing difficulty of breathing. Linda had a remembered vision of her gold-haired and gay in floating chiffons, and suddenly life seemed shockingly brief. A serious-visaged clergyman entered the room as she left and she heard the rich soothing murmur of a confident phrase.
The Stella Condon who had become Mrs. Moses Feldt had had little time for the support of the church; although Linda recalled that she had uniformly spoken well of its offices. To condemn Christianity, she had asserted, was to invite bad luck. She treated this in exactly the way she regarded walking under ladders or spilling salt or putting on a stocking wrong. Linda, however, had disregarded these possibilities of disaster and, with them, religion.
A great many people, she noticed, talked at length about it; women in their best wraps and with expensive little prayer books left the hotels for various Sunday morning services, and ministers came in later for tea. All this, she understood, was in preparation for heaven, where everybody, who was not in hell, was to be forever the same and yet radiantly different. It seemed very vague and far away to Linda, and, since there was such a number of immediate problems for her to consider, she had easily ignored the future. When now, with her mother dying, it was thrust most uncomfortably before her.
She half remembered sentences, admonitions, of the godly—a woman had once told her that dancing and low gowns were hateful in the sight of God, some one else that playing-cards were an instrument of the devil. Pleasure, she had gathered, was considered wrong, and she instinctively put these opinions, together with a great deal else, aside as envious.
That expressed her whole experience. She had never keenly associated the thought of death with herself before, and she was unutterably revolted by the impending destruction of her fine body, the delicate care of which formed her main preoccupation in life. Age was supremely distasteful, but this other ... she shuddered.
Linda wanted desperately to preserve the whiteness of her skin, the flexible black distinction of her hair, yes—her beauty. Here, again, with other women the vicarious immortality of children would be sufficient. But not for her. She was in the room that had been hers before marriage, with her infinite preparations for the night at an end; and, her hair loose across the blanched severity of her attire, her delicately full arms bare, she clasped her cold hands in stabbing apprehension.
She would do anything, anything, to escape that repulsive fatality to her lavished care. It was only to be accomplished by being good; and goodness was in the charge of the minister. She saw clearly and at once her difficulty—how could she go to a solemn man in a clerical vest and admit that she was solely concerned by the impending loss of her beauty. The promised splendor of heaven, in itself, failed to move her—it threatened to be monotonous; and she was honest in her recognition that charity, the ugliness of poverty, repelled her. Linda was certain that she could never change in these particulars; she could only pretend.
A surprising multiplication of such pretense occurred to her in people regarded as impressively religious. She had seen men like that—she vaguely thought of the name Jasper—going off with her mother in cabs to dinners that must have been "godless." She wondered if this mere attitude, the public show, were enough. And an instinctive response told her that it was not. If all she had been informed about the future were true she decided that her mother's chance was no worse than that of any false display of virtue.
She, Linda, could do nothing.
The funeral ceremony with its set form—so inappropriate to her mother's qualities—was even more remote from Linda's sympathies than was common in her encounters. But Mr. Moses Feldt's grief appeared to her actual and affecting. He invested every one with the purity of his own spirit.
She left New York at the first possible moment with the feeling that she was definitely older. The realization, she discovered, happened in that way—ordinarily giving the flight of time no consideration it was brought back to her at intervals of varying length. As she aged they would grow shorter.
The result of this experience was an added sense of failure; she tried more than ever to overcome her indifference, get a greater happiness from her surroundings and activity. Linda cultivated an attention to Lowrie and Vigne. They responded charmingly but her shyness with them persisted in the face of her inalienable right to their full possession. She insisted, too, on going about vigorously in spite of Arnaud's humorous groans and protests. She forced herself to talk more to the men attracted to her, and assumed, with disconcerting ease, an air of sympathetic interest. But, unfortunately, this brought on her a rapid increase of the love-making that she found so fatiguing.
She studied her husband thoughtfully through the evenings at home, before the Franklin stove, or, in summer, in the secluded garden. Absolutely nothing was wrong with him; he had, after several deaths, inherited even more money; and, in his deprecating manner where it was concerned, devoted it to her wishes. Except for books, and the clothes she was forced to remind him to get, he had no personal expenses. In addition to the money he never offended her, his relationships and manner were conducted with an inborn nice formality that preserved her highest self-opinion.
Yet she was never able to escape from the limitations of a calm admiration; she couldn't lose herself, disregard herself in a flood of generous emotion. When, desperately, she tried, he, too, was perceptibly ill at ease. Usually he was undisturbed, but once, when she stood beside him with her coffee cup at dinner, he disastrously lost his equanimity. Tensely putting the cup away he caught her with straining hands.
"Oh, Linda," he cried, "is it true that you love me! Do you really belong to us—to Vigne and Lowrie and me? I can't stand it if you won't ... some day."
She backed away into the opening of a window, against the night, from the justice of his desire; and she was cold with self-detestation as her fingers touched the glass. Linda tried to speak, to lie; but, miserably still, she was unable to deceive him. The animation, the fervor of his longing, swiftly perished. His arms dropped to his side. An unbearable constraint deepened with the silence in the room, and later he lightly said:
"You mustn't trifle with my ancient heart, Linda, folly and age—"
The only other quantity in her life was Dodge Pleydon. He wrote her again, perhaps three months after the explanation of his love; but his letter was devoted wholly to his work, and so technical that she had to ask Arnaud to interpret it. He added:
"That is the mind of an impressive man. He has developed enormously— curious, so late in life. Pleydon must be fully as old as myself. It's clear that he has dropped his women. I saw a photograph of the Cotton Mather reproduced in a weekly, and it was as gaunt as a Puritan Sunday. Brimmed with power. Why don't we see him oftener? Write and say I'd like to contradict him again about the Eastlake period."
He made no further reference to Pleydon then, and Linda failed to write as Arnaud suggested. Though she wasn't disturbed at the possibility of a continuation of his admissions of love she was weary of the thought of its uselessness. Linda was, she told herself, damned by practicability. Her husband used the familiar term of reproach, material. She didn't in the least want to be. Circumstance, she had a feeling, had forced it upon her.
Arnaud, however, who had met Dodge Pleydon in Philadelphia, brought him home. Linda saw with a strange constriction of the heart that Pleydon's hair was definitely gray. He had had a recurrence of the fever contracted in Soochow. The men at once entered on another discussion which she was unable to follow; but it was clear that her husband now listened with an increasing surrender of opinion to the sculptor. Pleydon, it was true, was correspondingly more impatient with minds that disagreed with his. He was at once thinner and bigger, his face deeply lined; but his eyes had a steady vital intensity difficult to encounter.
She considered him in detail as the talk left dinner, the glasses and candles spent. He drank, from a tall tumbler with a single piece of ice, the special whisky Arnaud kept. He had been neglecting himself, too—there were traces of clay about his finger-nails, and he ate hurriedly and insufficiently. When she had an opportunity, Linda decided, she would speak to him about these necessary trifles. Then, she had no chance; and it was not until the following winter, at a Thursday afternoon concert during the yearly exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts, that she could gently complain.
It was gloomy, with a promise of snow outside; and the great space of the stairway to the galleries was filled with shadow and the strains of Armide echoing from the orchestra playing at the railing above the entrance. Pleydon, together with a great many others, had spread an overcoat on the masonry of the steps, and they were seated in the obscurity of the balustrade.
"You look as though you hadn't had enough to eat," she observed. "You used to be almost thick but now you are a thing of terrifying grimness. You look like a monk. I wonder why you're like a monk, Dodge?"
"Linda Condon," he replied.
"That can't be it now; I haven't been Linda Condon for years, but Mrs. Arnaud Hallet. It's very pretty, of course, and I'd like to think you could keep a young love alive so long. Experience makes me doubt anything of the sort; but then I was always skeptical."
"You have never been anyone else," he asserted positively. "You were born Linda Condon and you'll die that, except for some extraordinary accident. I can't imagine what it would be—a miracle like quaker-ladies in the Antarctic."
"It sounds uncomplimentary, and I'm sick of being compared with polar places. What are quaker-ladies?"
"Fragile little flowers in the spring meadows."
"I'd rather listen to the music than you."
"That is why loving you is so eternal, why it doesn't fluctuate like a human emotion. You can't exhaust it and rest before a new tide sweeps back; the timeless ecstasy of a worship of God ... breeding madness."
She failed to understand and turned a troubled gaze to his bitter repression. "I don't like to make you unhappy, Dodge," she said in a low tone. "What can I do? I am a horrid disappointment to all of you, but most to myself. I can't go over it again."
"Beauty has nothing to do with happiness," he declared harshly. He rose, without consulting her wishes; and Linda followed him as he proceeded above, irresistibly drawn to the bronze he was showing in the Rotunda.
It was the head and part of the shoulders of a very old woman, infinitely worn, starved by want and spent in brutal labor. There was a thin wisp of hair pinned in a meager knot on her skull; her bones were mercilessly indicated, barely covered with drum-like skin; her mouth was stamped with timid humility; while her eyes peered weakly from their sunken depths.
"Well?" he demanded, interrogating her in the interest of his work.
"I—I suppose it's perfectly done," she replied, at a loss for a satisfactory appreciation. "It's true, certainly. But isn't it more unpleasant than necessary?" Pleydon smiled patiently. "Beauty," he said, with his mobile gesture. "Pity, Katharsis—the wringing out of all dross."
The helpless feeling of her overwhelming ignorance returned. She was like a woman held beyond the closed door of treasure. "Come over here." He unceremoniously led her to the modeling of a ruffled grouse, faithful in every diversified feather. Linda thought it admirable, really amazing; but he dismissed it with a passionate energy. "The dull figuriste!" he exclaimed. "Daguerre. Once I could have done that, yes, and been entertained by its adroitness and insolence—before you made me. Do you suppose I was able then to understand the sheer tragic fortitude to live of a scrubwoman! The head you thought unpleasant—haven't you seen her going home in the March slush of a city? Did you notice the gaps in her shoes, the ragged shawl about a body twisted with forty, fifty, sixty years of wet stone floors and steps? Did you wonder what she had for supper?"
"No, Dodge, I didn't. They always make me wretched."
"Well, to realize all that, to feel the degradation of her nature, to lie, sick with exhaustion, on the broken slats of her bed under a ravelled-out travesty of a quilt, and get up morning after morning in an iron winter dark—to experience that in your spirit and put it into durable metal, hard stone—is to hold beauty in your hands."
Her interest in his speech was mingled with the knowledge that, in order to dress comfortably for dinner, she must leave immediately. Pleydon helped her into the Hallet open motor landaulet. Linda demanded quantities of air. He was, he told her at the door, leaving in an hour for New York. "I wish you could be happier," she insisted. He reminded her that he had had the afternoon with her. It was so little, she thought, carried rapidly over a smooth wide street. His love for her increased rather than lessened. How wonderful it was.... The woman outside that barred door of treasure.
Linda thought frequently about Dodge and his feeling for her; memories of his words, his appearance, speculations, spread through her tranquil daily affairs like the rich subdued pattern of a fine carpet on the bare floor of her life. She was puzzled by the depth of a passion that, apparently, made no demands other than the occasional necessity to be with her and the knowledge that she existed. If she had been a very intelligent woman, and, of course, not quite bad-looking, she might have understood both Pleydon and Arnaud, the latter a man whose mind was practically absorbed in the pages of books. There could be no doubt, no question, of their love for her.
Then there had always been the others—the men at the parties, in her garden, through the old days of her childhood in hotels. It was very stupid, very annoying, but at the same time she became interested in what, with her candid indifference, affected them. She had never, really, even when she desired, succeeded in giving them anything, anything conscious or for which they moved. Judith Feldt, on the contrary, had been prodigal. And, while certainly numbers of men had been attracted to her, they all tired of her with marked rapidity. Men met Judith, Linda recalled, with eagerness, they came immediately and often to see her ... for, perhaps, a month. Then, temporarily deserted, she was submerged in depression and nervous tears.
But, while it was obviously impossible for all lovers to be constant, two extraordinary and superior men would be faithful to her as long as she lived, no—as long as they lived. This was beyond doubt. One was celebrated—she watched with a quiet pride Pleydon's fame penetrate the country—and the other, her husband, a person of the most exacting delicacy of habits, intellect and wit.
What was it, she wondered, that made the supreme importance of women to men worth consideration. Linda was thinking of this now in connection with her daughter. Vigne was fourteen; a larger girl than she had ever been, with her father's fine abundant cinnamon-brown hair, a shapely sensitive mouth, and a wide brown gaze with a habit of straying, at inappropriate moments, from things seen to the invisible. She was, Linda realized thankfully, transparently honest; her only affectation was the slight supercilious manner of her associations; and she read, ridiculously like her father, with increasing pleasure.
However, what engaged Linda most was the fact that Vigne already liked men; she had been at the fringe, as it were, of young dances, with a sparkling satisfaction to herself and the securely nice youths who "cut in" at her brief appearances.
The truth was that Linda saw that more than a trace of Stella Condon's warm generosity of emotion had been brought by herself to Arnaud's daughter. The faults of every life, every circumstance, were endlessly multiplied through all existence. At fourteen, it was Linda's frowning impression, her mother had very fully instructed her in the wiles and structure of admirable marriage, and she had never completely lost some hard pearls of the elder's wisdom. Should she, in turn, communicate them to Vigne?
The moment, the anxiety, she dreaded was arriving, and it found her no freer of doubt than had the other aspects of her own responses. Yet here she was possessed by the keenest need for absolute rectitude; and perhaps this, she thought, with an unusual pleasure, was an evidence of the affection she had seemed to lack. But in the end she said nothing.
She was still unable to disentangle the flesh from the spirit, love—the love that so amazingly illuminated Dodge Pleydon—from comfort. Dodge had disturbed all her sense of values, even to the point of unsettling her allegiance to the supremacy of a great deal of money. He had worked this without giving her anything definite, that she could explain to Vigne, in return. Linda preserved her demand for the actual. If she could only comprehend the force animating Dodge she felt life would be clear.
She was tempted to experiment—when had such a possibility occurred to her before?—and discover just how far in several directions Pleydon's devotion went. This would be easy now, she was unrestrained by the fact of Arnaud, and the old shrinking from the sculptor happily vanished. Yet with him before her, on one of his infrequent visits to their house, she realized that her courage was insufficient. Was it that or something deeper—a reluctance to turn herself like a knife in the source of the profoundest compliment a woman could be paid. Linda thought too highly of his love for that; the texture of the carpet had become too gratifying.
They were all three in the library, as customary; and Linda, restless, saw her reflection in a closed long window. She was wearing yellow, the color of the jonquils on a candle-stand; but with her familiar sash tied and the ends falling to the hem of her skirt. The pointed oval of her face was unchanged, her pallor, the straight line of her black bang, the blueness of her eyes, were as they had been a surprisingly long while ago. Arnaud, with a disconcerting comprehension, demanded, "Well, are you satisfied?" She replied coolly, "Entirely." Pleydon, seated for over an hour without moving, or even the trivial relief of a cigarette, followed her with his luminous uncomfortable gaze, his disembodied passion.
Linda heard Vigne's laugh, the expression of a sheer lightness of heart, following a low eager murmur of voices in her daughter's room, and she was startled by its resemblance to the gay pitch of Mrs. Moses Feldt's old merriment. Three of Vigne's friends were with her, all approximately eighteen, talking, Linda knew, men and—it was autumn—anticipating the excitements of their bow to formal society that winter. They had, she silently added, little enough to learn about the latter. Through the year past they had been to a dancing-class identical, except for an earlier hour and age, with mature affairs; but before that they had been practically introduced to the pleasures of their inheritance.
The men were really boys at the university, past the first year, receptacles of unlimited worldly knowledge and experience. They belonged to exclusive university societies and eating clubs, and Linda found their stiff similarity of correct bigoted pattern highly entertaining. She had no illusions about what might be called their morals; they were midway in the period of youthful unrestraint; but she recognized as well that their attitude toward, for example, Vigne was irreproachable. Such boys affected to disdain the girls of their associated families ... or imagined themselves incurably in love.
The girls, for their part, while insisting that forty was the ideal age for a lover—the terms changed with the seasons, last year "suitor" had been the common phrase—were occasionally swept in young company into a high irrational passion. Mostly, through skillful adult pressure or firm negation, such affairs came to nothing; but even these were sometimes overcome. And, when Linda had been disturbed by the echo of old days in her daughter's tones, she was considering exactly such a state.
One of the nicest youths imaginable, Bailey Sandby, had lost all trace of superior aloofness in a devotion to Vigne. He was short, squarely built, with clear pink cheeks, steady light blue eyes and crisp very fair hair. This was his last season of academic instruction, after which a number of years, at an absurdly low payment, awaited him in his father's bond brokerage concern. However, he was, Linda gathered, imperious in his urgent need for Vigne's favor.
Ridiculous, she thought, at the same time illogically rehearsing the resemblances of Vigne to her grandmother. She had no doubt that the parties Vigne shared on the terraces and wide lawns, in the informal dancing at country houses, were sufficiently sophisticated; there was on occasion champagne, and—for the masculine element anyhow—cocktails. The aroma of wine, lightly clinging to her young daughter's breath, filled her with an old instinctive sickness.
She had spoken to Arnaud who, in turn, severely addressed Vigne; but during this Linda had been oppressed by the familiar feeling of impotence. The girl, of course, had properly heard them; but she gave her mother the effect of slipping easily beyond their grasp. When she had gone to bed Arnaud repeated a story brought to him by the juvenile Lowrie, under the influence of a temporary indignation at his sister's unwarranted imposition of superiority. Arnaud went on:
"Actually they had this kissing contest, it was at Chestnut Hill, with a watch held; and Vigne, or so Lowrie insisted, won the prize for length of time—something like a minute. Now, when I was young—"
Submerged in apprehensive memory Linda lost most of his account of the Eden-like youth of his earlier day. When, at last, his assertions pierced her abstraction, it was only to bring her to the realization of how pathetically little he knew of either Vigne or her. She weighed the question of utter frankness here—the quality enhanced by universal obscurity—but she was obliged to check her desire for perfect understanding. A purely feminine need to hide, even from Arnaud, any detracting facts about women shut her into a diplomatic silence. In reality he could offer them no help; their problems—in a world created more objectively by the hand of man than God—were singular to themselves. Women were quite like spoiled captives to foreign princes, masking, in their apparent complacency, a necessarily secret but insidiously tyrannical control. It wouldn't do, in view of this, to expose too much.
The following morning it was Arnaud, rather than herself, who had a letter from Pleydon. "He wants us to come over to New York and his studio," the former explained. "He has some commission or other from a city in the Middle West, and a study to show us. I'd like it very much; we haven't seen this place, and his surroundings are not to be overlooked."
Pleydon's rooms were directly off Central Park West, in an apartment house obviously designed for prosperous creative arts, with a hall frescoed in the tones of Puvis de Chavannes and an elevator cage beautifully patterned in iron grilling. Dodge Pleydon met them in his narrow entry and conducted them into a pleasant reception-room. "It's a duplex," he explained of his quarters; "the dining-room you see and the kitchen's beyond, while the baths and all that are over our heads; the studio fills both floors."
There were low book cases with their continuous top used as a shelf for a hundred various objects, deep long chairs of caressing ease and chairs of coffee-colored wicker with amazingly high backs woven with designs of polished shells into the semblance of spread peacocks' tails. The yellow silk curtains at the windows, the rug with the intricate coloring of a cashmere shawl, the Russian tea service, were in a perfection of order; and Linda almost resentfully acknowledged the skilful efficiency of his maid. It was surprising that, without a wife, a man could manage such a degree of comfort!
Over tea far better than hers, in china of an infinitely finer fragility, she studied Pleydon thoughtfully. He looked still again perceptibly older, his face continued to grow sparer of flesh, emphasizing the aggressively bony structure of his head. When he shut his mouth after a decided statement she could see the projection of the jaw and the knotted sinews at the base of his cheeks. No, Dodge didn't seem well. She asked if there had been any return of the fever and he nodded in an impatient affirmative, returning at once to the temporarily suspended conversation with Arnaud. There was a vast difference, too, in the way in which he talked.
His attitude was as assertive as ever, but it had less expression in words; unaccountable periods of silence, almost ill-natured, overtook him, spaces of abstraction when it was plain that he had forgotten the presence of whoever might be by. Even direct questions sometimes failed to pierce immediately his consciousness. Dodge, Linda told herself, lived entirely too much alone. Then she said this aloud, thoughtlessly, and she was startled by the sudden intolerable flash of his gaze. An awkward pause followed, broken by the uprearing of Pleydon's considerable length.
"I must take you into the studio before it is too dark," he proceeded. "Every creative spirit knows when its great moment has come. Well, mine is here." The men stood aside as Linda, her head positively ringing with the thrill that was like a strain of Gluck, the happy sadness, entered the bare high spaciousness of Dodge Pleydon's workroom.
Everything she saw, the stripped floor, the white walls bare but for some casts like the dismembered fragments of flawless blanched bodies, the inclined plane of the wide skylight, bore an impalpable white dust of dried clay. In a corner, enclosed in low boards, a stooped individual with wood-soled shoes and a shovel was working a mass of clay over which at intervals he sprinkled water, and at intervals halted to make pliable lumps of a uniform size which he added to a pile wrapped in damp cloths. There were a number of modeling stands with twisted wires grotesquely resembling a child's line drawing of a human being; while a stand with some modeling tools on its edge bore an upright figure shapeless in its swathing of dampened cloths.
"The great moment," Pleydon said again, in a vibrant tone. "But you know nothing of all this," he directly addressed Linda. "Neither, probably, will you have heard of Simon Downige. He was born at Cottarsport, in Massachusetts, about eighteen forty; and, after—in the support of his hatred of any slavery—he fought through the Civil War, he came home and found that his town stifled him. He didn't marry at once, as so many returning soldiers did; instead he was wedded to a vision of freedom, freedom of opinion, of spirit, worship—any kind of spaciousness whatever. And, in the pursuit of that, he went West.
"He told them that he was going to find—but found was the word—a place where men could live together in a purity of motives and air. No more, you understand; he hadn't a personal fanatical belief to exploit and attract the hysteria of women and insufficient men. He was not a pathological messiah; but only Simon Downige, an individual who couldn't comfortably breathe the lies and injustice and hypocrisy of the ordinary community. No doubt he was unbalanced—his sensitiveness to a universal condition would prove that. Normally people remain undisturbed by such trivialities. If they didn't an end would come to one or the other, the lies or the world.
"He traveled part way in a Conestoga wagon—a flight out of Egypt; they were common then, slow canvas-covered processions with entire families drawn by the mysterious magnetism of the West. Then, leaving even such wayfarers, he walked, alone, until he came on a meadow by a little river and a grove of trees, probably cottonwoods.... That was Simon Downige, and that, too, was Hesperia. Yes, he was unbalanced—the old Greek name for beautiful lands. It is a city now, successful and corruptly administered—what always happens to such visions.
"It is necessary, Linda, as I've always told you, to understand the whole motive behind a creation in permanent form. A son of Simon's—yes, he finally married—a unique and very rich character, wife dead and no children, commissioned a monument to the founder of Hesperia, in Ohio, and of his fortune.
"They even have a civic body for the control of public building; and they came East to approve my statue, or rather the clay sketch for it. They were very solemn, and one, himself a sculptor, a graduate of the Beaux Arts, ran a suggestive thumb over Simon and did incredible damage. But, after a great deal of hesitation, and a description from the sculptor of what he thought excellently appropriate for such magnificence, they accepted my study. The present Downige, really—though I understand there is another pretentious branch in Hesperia—bullied them into it. He cursed the Beaux-Arts graduate with the most brutal and satisfactory freedom—the tyranny of his money; the crown, you see, of Simon's hope."
He unwrapped one by one the wet cloths; and Linda, in an eagerness sharp like anxiety, finally saw the statue, under life-size, of a seated man with a rough stick and bundle at his feet. A limp hat was in his hand, and, beneath a brow to which the hair was plastered by sweat, his eyes gazed fixed and aspiring into a hidden dream perfectly created by his desire. Here, she realized at last, she had a glimmer of the beauty, the creative force, that animated Dodge Pleydon. Simon Downige's shoes were clogged with mud, his entire body, she felt, ached with weariness; but his gaze—nothing Linda discovered but shadows over two depressions—was far away in the attainment of his place of justice and truth.
She found a stool and, careless of the film of dust, sat absorbed in the figure. Pleydon again had lost all consciousness of their presence; he stood, hands in pockets, his left foot slightly advanced, looking at his work from under drawn brows. Arnaud spoke first:
"It's impertinent to congratulate you, Pleydon. You know what you've done better than any one else could. You have all our admiration." Linda watched the tenderness with which the other covered Simon Downige's vision in clay. Later, returning home after dinner, Arnaud speculated about Pleydon's remarkable increase in power. "I had given him up," he went on; "I thought he was lost in those notorious debauches of esthetic emotions. Does he still speak of loving you?"
"Yes," Linda replied. "Are you annoyed by it?" He answered, "What good if I were?" She considered him, turned in his chair to face her, thoughtfully. "I haven't the slightest doubt of its quality, however—all in that Hesperia of old Downige's. To love you, my dear Linda, has certain well-defined resemblances to a calamity. If you ask me if I object to what you do give him, my answer must shock the gods of art. I would rather you didn't."
"What is it, Arnaud?" she demanded. "I haven't the slightest idea. I wish I had."
"Platonic," he told her shortly. "The term has been hopelessly ruined, yet the sense, the truth, I am forced to believe, remains."
"But you know how stupid I am and that I can't understand you."
"The woman in whom a man sees God," he proceeded irritably:
"'La figlia della sua mente, l'amorosa, idea.'"
"Oh," she cried, wrung with a sharp obscure hurt. "I know that, I've heard it before." Her excitement faded at her absolute inability to place the circumstances of her memory. The sound of the words vanished, leaving no more than the familiar deep trouble, the disappointing sensation of almost grasping—Linda was unable to think what.
"After all, you are my wife." He had recovered his normal shy humor. "I can prove it. You are the irreproachable mother of our unsurpassed children. You have a hopeless vision—like this Simon's—of seeing me polished and decently pressed; and I insist on your continuing with the whole show."
Her mind arbitrarily shifted to the thought of her father, who had walked out of his house, left—yes—his family, without any intimation. Then, erratically, it turned to Vigne, to Vigne and young Sandby with his fresh cheeks and impending penniless years acquiring a comprehension of the bond market. She said, "I wonder if she really likes Bailey?" Arnaud's energy of dismay was laughable, "What criminal folly! They haven't finished Mother Goose yet."
Linda, who expected to see Pleydon's statue of Simon Downige finished immediately in a national recognition of its splendor, was disappointed by his explanation that, probably, it would not be ready for casting within two years. He intended to model it again, life-size, before he was ready for the heroic. April, the vivifying, had returned; and, as always in the spring, Linda was mainly conscious of the mingled assuaging sounds of life newly admitted through open windows. A single shaded lamp was lighted by a far table, where Arnaud sat cutting the pages of The Living Age with an ivory blade; Dodge was blurred in the semi-obscurity.
He came over to see them more frequently now, through what he called the great moment—so tiresomely extended—of his life. Pleydon came oftener but he said infinitely less. It was his custom to arrive for dinner and suddenly depart early or late in the evening. At times she went up to her room and left the two almost morosely silent men to their own thoughts or pages; at others she complained—no other woman alive would stay with such uninteresting and thoroughly selfish creatures. They never made the pretense of an effort to consider or amuse her. At this Arnaud would put aside his book and begin an absurd social conversation in the manner of Vigne's associates. Pleydon, however, wouldn't speak; nothing broke the somberness of his passionate absorption in invisible tyrannies. She gave up, finally, a persistent effort to lighten his moods. Annoyed she told him that if he did not change he'd be sick, and then where would everything be.
All at once, through the open window, she heard Stella, her mother, laughing; the carelessly gay sound overwhelmed her with an instinctive unreasoning dread. Linda rose with a half gasp—but of course it was Vigne in the garden with Bailey Sandby.
She sank back angry because she had been startled; but her irritation perished in disturbing thought. It wasn't, she told herself, Vigne's actions that made her fear the future so much as her, Linda's, knowledge of the possibilities of the past. Her undying hatred of that existence choked in her throat; the chance of its least breath touching Vigne, Arnaud's daughter, roused her to any embittered hazard.
The girl, she was certain, returned a part at least of Bailey's feeling. Linda expected no confidences—what had she done to have them?—and Arnaud was right, affairs of the heart were never revealed until consummated. Her conclusion had been reached by indirect quiet deductions. Vigne, lately, was different; her attitude toward her mother had changed to the subtle reserve of feminine maturity. Her appearance, overnight, it seemed, had improved; her color was deeper, a delicate flush burned at any surprise in her cheeks, and the miracle of her body was perfected.
It wasn't, Linda continued silently, that Vigne could ever follow the example of Stella Condon through the hotels and lives of men partly bald, prodigal, and with distant families. Whatever happened to her would be in excellent surroundings and taste; but the result—the sordid havoc, inside and out, the satiety alternating with the points of brilliancy, and finally, inexorably, sweeping over them in a leaden tide—would be identical. She wondered a little at the strength of her detestation for such living; it wasn't moral in any sense with which she was familiar; in fact it appeared to have a vague connection with her own revolt from the destruction of death. She wanted Vigne as well to escape that catastrophe, to hold inviolate the beauty of her youth, her fineness and courage.
She was convinced, too, that if she loved Bailey, and was disappointed, some of the harm would be done immediately; Linda saw, in imagination, the pure flame of Vigne's passion fanned and then arbitrarily extinguished. She saw the resemblance of the dead woman, all those other painted shades, made stronger. A sentence formed so vividly in her mind that she looked up apprehensively, certain that she had spoken it aloud:
If Vigne does come to care for him they must marry.
Her thoughts left the girl for Arnaud—he would absolutely oppose her there, and she speculated about the probable length his opposition would reach. What would he say to her? It couldn't be helped, in particular it couldn't be explained, neither to him nor to the friendly correctness of Bailey Sandby's mother. She, alone, must accept any responsibility, all blame.
The threatened situation developed more quickly than she had anticipated. Linda met Bailey, obviously disturbed, in the portico, leaving their house; his manner, mechanically, was good; and then, with an irrepressible boyish rush of feeling, he stopped her:
"Vigne and I love each other and Mr. Hallet won't hear of it. He insulted us with the verse about the old woman who went to the cupboard to get a bone, and if he hadn't been her father—" he breathed a portentous and difficult self-repression. "Then he took a cowardly advantage of my having no money, just now; right after I explained how I was going to make wads—with Vigne."
An indefinable excitement possessed Linda, accompanied by a sudden acute fear of what Arnaud might say. She wanted more than anything else in life to go quickly, inattentively, past Bailey Sandby and up to her room. Nothing could be easier, more obvious, than her disapproval of a moneyless boy. She made a step forward with an assumed resolute ignoring of his disturbed presence. It was useless. A dread greater than her fright at Arnaud held her in the portico, her hand lifted to the polished knob of the inner door. Linda turned slowly, cold and white, "Wait," she said to his shoulder in an admirable coat; then she gazed steadily into his frank pained eyes.
"How do you know that you love Vigne?" she demanded. "You are so young to be certain it will last always. And Vigne—"
"How does any one know?" he replied. "How did you? Married people always forget their own experiences, the happy way things went with them. From all I see money hasn't much to do with loving each other. But, of course, I'm not going to be poor, not with Vigne. Nobody could. She'd inspire them. Mr. Hallet knows all about me, too; and he's the oldest kind of a friend of the family. I suppose when he sees father at the Rittenhouse Club they'll have a laugh—a laugh at Vigne and me." His hand, holding the brim of a soft brown hat, clenched tensely.
"No," Linda told him, "they won't do that." Her obscure excitement was communicated to him. "Why not?" he demanded.
"Because," she paused to steady her voice, "because I am going to take a very great responsibility. If it fails, if you let it fail, you'll ruin ever so much. Yes, Mr. Hallet, I am sure, will consent to your marrying Vigne." She escaped at the first opening from his incoherent gratitude. Arnaud was in the library, and she stopped in the hall, busy with the loosening of her veil. Perhaps it would be better to speak to him after dinner; she ought to question Vigne first; but, as she stood debating, her daughter passed her tempestuously, blurred with crying, and Arnaud angrily demanded her presence.
"You were quite right," he cried; "this young idiot Sandby has been telling Vigne that he loves her; and now Vigne assures me, with tears, that she likes it! They want to get married—next week, tomorrow, this evening." Linda stood by the window; soon the magnolia-tree would be again laden with flowers. She gathered her courage into a determined composure of tone. "I saw Bailey outside," she admitted. "He told me. It seems excellent to me."
Arnaud Hallet incredulously challenged her. "What do you mean—that you gave him a trace of encouragement!" Linda replied:
"I said that I was certain you would consent." She halted his exasperated gesture. "You think Vigne is nothing but a child, and yet she is as old as I was at our wedding. My mother was no older when Bartram Lowrie married her. I think Vigne is very fortunate, Bailey is as nice as possible; and, as he said, it isn't as if you knew nothing of the Sandbys; they are as dignified as the Lowries."
An expression she had never before seen hardened his countenance into a sarcasm that travestied his customary humor. "You realize, of course, that except for what his father gives him young Sandby is wretchedly poor. He's nice enough but what has that to do with it? And, in particular, how does it touch you, Linda Condon? Do you suppose I can ever forget your answer that time I first asked you to marry me? You wouldn't consider a poor man; you were worth, really, a hundred thousand a year; but, if nothing better came along, you might sacrifice yourself for fifty."
"I remember very well," she answered; "and, curiously enough, I am not ashamed. I was very sensible then, in a horrible position with extravagant habits. They were me. I couldn't change myself. Without money I should have made you, any man, entirely miserable. Arnaud, I hadn't—I haven't now—the ability to see everything important through the affections, like so many many women. You often told me that; who hasn't? I have always admitted it wasn't pleasant nor praiseworthy. But how, to use your own words, does all that affect Vigne? She isn't cold but very warm-hearted; and, instead of my experience, she has her own so much better feeling."
"I absolutely refuse to allow anything of the sort," he declared sharply. "I won't even discuss it—for three years. Tell this Sandby infant, if you like, to come back then."
"In three years, or in one year, Vigne may be quite different, yes-less lovable. Happiness, too, is queer, Arnaud; there isn't a great deal of it. Not an overwhelming amount. If it appears for an instant it must be held as tightly as possible. It doesn't come back, you know. Don't turn to your book yet—you can't get rid of us, of Vigne and me, like that; and then it's rude; the first time, I believe, you have ever been impolite to me."
"Forgive me," he spoke formally. "You seem to think that I am as indifferent as yourself. You might be asking the day of the week to judge from your calm appearance. The emotion of a father, or even of a mother, perhaps, you have never explored. On the whole you are fortunate. And you are always protected by your celebrated honesty." She said:
"I promised Bailey your consent."
"Why bother about that? It isn't necessary for your new romantic mood. An elopement, with you to steady the ladder, would be more appropriate."
She repeated the fact of her engagement. Her dread for him had vanished, its place now taken by a distrust of what, in her merged detachment and suffering, she might blunderingly do. At the back of this she realized that his case, his position, was hopeless. Without warning, keen and undimmed, his love for her flashed through his resentful misery. There was no spoken acknowledgement of surrender; he sank into his chair dejected and pitiable, infinitely gray. His shoes, on the brightness of the hooked rug, were dingy, his coat drawn and wrinkled.
Linda saw herself on her knees before him, before his patience and generosity, sobbing her contrition into his forgiving hands. She longed with every nerve—as she had so often before—to lose herself in passionate emotion. She had never been more erect or withdrawn, never essentially less touched. After a little, waiting for him to speak, she saw that he, too, had retreated into the profound depths of his own illusions and despairs.
For a surprising while—even in the face of Vigne's radiance—Arnaud was as still and shadowed as the inert surface of a dammed stream. Then slowly, the slenderest trickle at first, his wit revived his spirit; and he opened an unending mock-solemn attack on Bailey Sandby's eminently serious acceptance of the responsibilities of his allowed love.
The boy had left the university, and his father—a striking replica of Arnaud's prejudices, impatience and fundamental kindness—exchanged with Vigne's male parent the most dismal prophecies together with concrete plans for their children's future security. This, inevitably, resulted in Vigne's marriage; a ceremony unattended by Pleydon except by the presence of a very liberal check.
The life-size version of his Simon Downige was again under way—it had been torn down, Linda knew, more than once—and he was in a fever of composition. Nor was this, she decided with Arnaud, his only oppression: the Asiatic fever clung to him with disquieting persistence. Pleydon himself admitted he had a degree or two in the evening.
Linda was seated in his studio near Central Park West, perhaps a year later, and she observed aloud that so much wet clay around was bad for him. He laughed: nothing now could happen to him, he was forever beyond accident, sickness, death—his statue for the monument in Hesperia was finished. It stood revealed before them, practically as Linda had first seen it, but enlarged, towering, as if the vision it portrayed had grown, would continue to grow eternally, because of the dignity of its hope, the necessity of its realization.
"Now," she said, "it will go to the foundry and be cast." He corrected her. "You will go to the foundry and be cast ... in bronze." A distinct graceful happiness possessed her at the knowledge that his love for her was as constant as though it, too, were metal. Not flesh but bronze, spirit, he insisted.
The multiplying years made that no more comprehensible than when, a child, she had thrilled in a waking dream. Love, spirit, death. Three mysteries. But only one, she thought, was inevitably hers, the last. To be loved was not love itself, but only the edge of its cloak; response was an indivisible part of realization. No, sterility was the measure—of its absence. And she was, Linda felt, in spite of Vigne and Lowrie, the latter a specially vigorous contradiction, the most sterile woman alive. There were always Dodge's assurances, but clay, stone, metal, were cold for a belief to embrace. And she was, she knew, lovelier now than she had ever been before, than she would ever be again.
The faint ringing of the bell from outside that probably announced Arnaud sounded unreal, futile, to Linda. He came into the studio, and at once a discussion began between the two men of the difference in the surfaces of clay and bronze. The talk then shifted to the pictorial sources of the heroic Simon Downige before them, and Linda declared, "Dodge, you have never made a head of me. How very unflattering!"
"You're an affair for a painter," he replied; "Goya or Alfred Stevens. No one but Goya could have found a white for you, with the quality of flower petals; and Stevens would have fixed you in an immortality of delicate color, surrounded by your Philadelphia garden." He stood quite close to her, with his jacket dragged forward by hands thrust into its pockets, and he added at the end of a somber interrogation, "But if you would really like to know why—"
In a moment more, she recognized, Dodge would explain his feeling for her—to Arnaud, to any one who might be present. The gleam in his eyes, his remoteness from earthly concern, were definitely not normal. Pleydon, his love, terrified her. "No," she said with an assumed hurried lightness, "don't try to explain. I must manage to survive the injury to my vanity."
They left New York almost immediately, Pleydon suddenly determining to go with them; and later were scattered through the Hallet household. Vigne and her husband were temporarily living there; with their heads close together they were making endless computations, numerous floor plans and elevations. Linda, at the piano in the drawing-room, could hear them through the hall. Pleydon was lounging in a chair beyond her. She couldn't play but she was able, slowly, to pick out the notes of simple and familiar airs—echoes of Gluck and blurred motives of Scarlatti. It was for herself, she explained; the sounds, however crude and disconnected, brought things back to her. What things, she replied to Pleydon's query, she didn't in the least know; but pleasant.
The fact that she understood so little depressed her with increasing frequency. It was well enough to be ignorant as a girl, or even as a young woman newly married; but she had left all that behind; she had lost her youth without any compensating gain of knowledge. Linda could not assure herself that life was clearer than it had been to her serious childhood. It had always been easily measured on the surface; she had had a very complete grasp of its material aspects almost at once, accomplishing exactly what she had planned. Perhaps this was all; and her trouble an evidence of weakness—the indecision, she saw with contempt, that kept so many people in a constant agitation of disappointment.
Perhaps this was enough; more than the majority had or accomplished. She made, again, a resolute effort to be contented, at rest. Her straying fingers clumsily wrought a fragmentary refrain that mocked her determination. It wasn't new, this—this dissatisfaction; but it had grown sharper. As she was older her restlessness increased at the realization that life, opportunity, were slipping from her. Soon she would be forty.
The conviction seized her that most lives reflected hers in that their questioning was never answered. The fortunate, then, were the incurious and the hearts undisturbed by a maddening thrill. She said aloud, "The ones who never heard music." Pleydon was without a sign that she had spoken. Her emotions were very delicate, very fragile, and enormously difficult to perceive. They were like plants in stony ground. Where had she heard that—out of the Bible? Then she thought of her failure to get anything from religion—a part of her inability to drink at the springs which others declared so refreshing. Linda pressed her hands more sharply on the keys and the answering discord had the effect of waking her to reality.
Pleydon remained until the following afternoon, and then was lost—in the foundry casting his statue—for six months. Arnaud went over to view the completion of the bronze and returned filled with enthusiasm. "Its simplicity is the surprising part," he told her. "The barest statement possible. But Pleydon himself is in a disturbing condition; I can't decide if it is mental or physical. The fever of course; yet that doesn't account for his distance from ordinary living. The truth is, I suppose, that men weren't designed for great arts, and nature, like the jealous God of the Hebrews, retaliates. It is absurd, but Pleydon reminds me of you; you're totally different. I suppose it's because of the detachment you have in common." He veered to a detail of Lowrie's first year at a university, and exhibited, against a decent endeavor to the contrary, his boundless pride in their son.
The boy was, Linda acknowledged, more than commonly dependable and able. He was heavy, like his father, and so diffident that he almost stuttered; but his mental processes flashed in quick intuitive perceptions. Lowrie was an easy and brilliant student; and, perhaps because of this, of his mental certainty, he was not intimate with her as Arnaud had hoped and predicted. It seemed to Linda that he instinctively penetrated her inner doubt and regarded it without sympathy. In this he was her son. Lowrie was a confident and unsympathetic critic of humanity.
Even now, so soon, there was no question of his success in the law his fitness had elected. The springs of his being were purely intellectual, reasoning. In him Linda saw magnified her own coldness; and, turned on herself, she viewed it with an arbitrary feminine resentment. He was actually courteous to her; but under all their intercourse there was a perceptible impatience. His scorn of other women, girls, however, was openly expressed and honest; it had no trace of the mere affectation of pessimism natural to his age. Arnaud, less thoughtful than she, was vastly entertained by this, and drew Lowrie out in countless sly sallies and contradictions.
Yes, he would succeed, but, after all, what would his success be worth—placed, that was, against Vigne's radiant happiness, Bailey Sandby's quiet eyes and the quality of his return home each evening?
Her thoughts came back to Pleydon—she had before her a New York paper describing the ceremony of unveiling his Simon Downige at Hesperia. There was a long learned article praising its beauty and emphasizing Pleydon's eminence. He was, it proceeded, an anomaly in an age of momentary experimental talents—a humanized Greek force. He didn't belong to to-day but to yesterday and to-morrow. This gave her an uncomfortable vision of Dodge in space, with no warm points of contact. She, too, was suspended in that vague emptiness. Linda had the sensation of grasping at streamers, forms, of sparkling mist. A strange position in view of her undeniable common sense, the solid foundations of her temperament and experience. She saw from the paper, further, that the Downige who had commissioned the monument was dead.
In the middle of the festive period that connected Christmas with the new year Arnaud turned animatedly from his breakfast scanning of the news. "It seems," he told her, "that a big rumpus has developed in Hesperia over the Pleydon statue—the present Downige omnipotence, never friendly with our old gentleman, has condemned its bronze founder. You know what I mean. It's an insult to their pride, their money and position, to see him perpetuated as a tramp. On the contrary he was a very respectable individual from a prominent family and town.
"They have been moving the local heavens, ever since the monument was placed, to have it set aside. I suppose they would have succeeded, too, if a large amount given to the city were not contingent on its preservation. But then they can always donate more money in the cause of their sacred respectability."
Linda had never, she exclaimed, heard of anything more disgusting. It was plain that Hesperia knew nothing of art. "Every one," she ran on in the heat of her resentment, "every one, that is, who should decide, agrees it's magnificent. They were frightfully lucky to get it—Dodge's finest work." She wrote at once to Pleydon commanding his presence and expressing her contempt of such depravity of opinion. To her surprise he was undisturbed, apparently, by the condemnation of his monument.
He even laughed at her energy of scorn. She was hurt, perceptibly silenced, with a feeling of having been misunderstood or rather undervalued. Her disturbance at any blame attached to the statue of Simon Downige was extremely acute. But, she thought, if it failed to worry Dodge why should she bother. She did, in spite of this philosophy; Simon was tremendously important to her.
He stood for things: she had watched his evolution from the clay sketch, and in Pleydon's mind, to the final heroic proportions; and she had taken for granted that a grateful world would see him in her light. A woman, she decided, had made the trouble; and she hated her with a personal vigor. Pleydon said:
"I told you that old Simon was unbalanced; now you can see it by his reception in a successful city. The sculptor—do you remember him, a Beaux-Arts graduate?—admits that he had always opposed it, but that political motives overbore his pure protest. There is a scheme now to build a pavilion, for babies, and shut out the monument from open view. They may do that but time will sweep away their walls. If I had modeled Simon Downige, yes, he would go; but I modeled his vision, his aspiration—the hope of all men for release and purity.
"Downige and the individual babies are unimportant compared to a vision of perfection, of escape. As long as men live, if they live, they'll reach up; and that gesture in itself is heaven. Not accomplishment. The spirit dragging the flesh higher; but spirit alone—empty balloons. A dream in bronze, harder even than men's heads, more durable than their prejudices, so permanent that it will wear out their ignorance; and in the end—always in the end—they'll bring their wreath.
"A replica has gone to Cottarsport, from me; and you ought to see it there, on a block of New England granite. It's in the Common, a windswept reach with low houses and a white steeple and the sea. It might have been there from the beginning, rising on rock against the pale salt day. They can go to hell in Hesperia."
Still Linda's hurt persisted; she saw the unfortunate occurrence as a direct blow at her pride. Arnaud, too, failed her; he was splendid in his assault upon such rapacious stupidity; but it was only an impersonal concern. His manner expressed the conviction that it might have been expected. He was blind to her special enthusiasm, her long intimate connection with the statue. Exasperated she almost told him that it was more real to her than their house, than Vigne and Lowrie, than he. She was stopped, fortunately, by the perception that, amazingly, the statue was more actual than Dodge Pleydon. It touched the center of her life more nearly.
Why, she didn't know.
If her mental confusion increased by as much as a feeling, Linda thought, she would be close to madness. It was unbearable at practically forty.
Lowrie said, at the worst possible moment, that he found the entire episode ridiculously overemphasized. A statue more or less was of small importance. If the Downige family were upset why didn't they employ an able lawyer to dispose of it? There were many ways for such a proceeding—
"I have no desire to hear them," she interrupted. "You seem to know a tremendous lot, but what good it will do you in the end who can say! And, with all your cleverness, you haven't an ounce of appreciation for art. Besides, I hate to see any one as young as you so sure of himself. Often I suspect you are patronizing your father and me. It's not pretty nor polite."
Lowrie was obviously embarrassed by her attack, and managed the abrupt semblance of an apology. Arnaud, who had put down his eternal book, said nothing until the boy had vanished. "Wasn't that rather sharp?" he asked mildly. "Perhaps," she replied in a tone without warmth or regret. "Somehow I am never comfortable with Lowrie."
"You are too much alike," he shrewdly observed. "It is laughable at times. Did you expect your children to be fountains of sentiment? And, look here—if I can get along in comfort with you for life you in particular ought to put up peacefully with Lowrie. He is a damned sight more human than, at bottom, you are; a woman of alabaster."
"I loathe quarrels," she admitted; "they are so vulgar. You know that they are not like me and just said so. Oh, Arnaud, why does life get harder instead of easier?"
He put his book aside completely and gazed at her in patient thought. "Linda," he said finally, "I have never heard anything that stirred me so much; not what you said, my dear, but the recognition in your voice." A wistfulness of love for her enveloped him; an ineffable desire as vain as the passion she struggled to give him in return. She smiled in an unhappiness of apology.
"Perhaps—" he stopped, waiting any assurance whatever, his face eager like a dusty lamp in which the light had been turned sharply up. She was unable to stir, to move her gaze from his hopeful eyes, to mitigate by a breath her slender white aloofness. A smile different from hers, tender with remission, lingered in his fading irradiation. The dusk was gathering, adding its melancholy to his age—sixty-five now. Why that was an old man! Her sympathy vanished in her shrinking from the twilight that was, as well, slowly, inevitably, deepening about her.
It was laughable that, as she approached an age whose only resource was tranquillity, she grew more restless. Her present vague agitation belonged ridiculously to youth. The philosophy of the evident that had supported her so firmly was breaking at the most inopportune time. And it was, she told herself, too late for anything new; the years for that had been spent insensibly with Arnaud. Linda was very angry with herself, for, in all her shifting state of mind, she preserved an inner necessity for the quality of exactness expressed in her clothes. There were literally no neglected spaces in her conscious living.
Her thoughts finally centered about the statue in Hesperia—it presented an actual mark for her fleeting resentments. She wondered why it so largely occupied her thoughts, moved her so personally. She watched the papers for the scattered reports of the progress of the contention it had roused, some ill-natured, others supposedly humorous, and nearly all uninformed. She became, Arnaud said, the champion of the esthetic against Dagon. He elaborated this picture until she was forced to smile against her inclination, her profound seriousness. Linda had the feeling that she, too, was on the pedestal that held the bronze effigy of Simon Downige challenging the fog that obscured men. Its fate was hers. She didn't pretend to explain how.
As time passed it seemed to her that it took her longer and longer to dress in the morning, while her preparations couldn't be simpler; her habit of deliberation had become nearly a vice, the precision of her ruffles, her hair, a tyranny. She never quite lost the satisfaction of her mirror's faultless reflection; and stopped, now, for a moment's calm interrogation of the being—hardly more silvery cool than the reality—before her.
Arnaud was at the table, and the gaze with which he met her was troubled. The morning paper, she saw, was, against custom, at her place, and she picked it up with an instinctive sense of calamity. The blackly printed sensational headline that immediately established her fear sank vivid and entire into her brain: an anonymous inflamed mob in Hesperia had pulled down and destroyed Pleydon's statue. Their act was described as a tribute to the liberality of the present Downige family in the light of its objection to the monument.
As if in the development of her feeling Linda had a sensation of crashing with a sickening violence from a pedestal to the ground. Actually, it seemed, the catastrophe had happened to her. She heard, with a sense of inutility, Arnaud denouncing the outrage; he had a pencil in his hand for the composition of a telegram to Dodge. He paid—but perhaps only naturally—no attention to her, suffering dully from her fall. She shuddered before the recreated lawless approaching voice of the mob; the naked ugly violence froze her with terror; she felt the gross hurried hands winding ropes about her, the rending brutality of force—
She sat and automatically took a small carved glass of orange-juice from a bed of ice, and her chilled fingers recalled a dim image of her mother. Arnaud was speaking, "I'm afraid this will cut through Pleydon's security, it was such a wanton destruction of his unique power. You see, he worked lovingly over the cast with little files and countless finite improvements. The mold, I think, was broken. What a piece of luck the thing's at Cottarsport." He paused, obviously expecting her to comment; but suddenly phrases failed her.
In place of herself she should be considering Dodge; her sympathy even for him was submerged in her own extraordinary injury. However, she recovered from her first gasping shock, and made an utterly commonplace remark. Never had her sense of isolation been stronger. "I must admit," her husband continued, "that I looked for some small display of concern. I give you my word there are moments when I think Pleydon himself cut you out of stone. He isn't great enough for that, though; in the way of perfection you successfully gild the lily. A thing held to be impossible."
Linda told him with amazing inanity that his opinion of her was unreliable; and, contented, he lightly pursued his admiration of what he called her boreal charm. At intervals she responded appropriately and proceeded with breakfast. She had entered a region of dispassionate consideration, her characteristic detachment, she thought, regained. She mentally, calmly, reconstructed the motives and events that had led to the destruction of the statue; they, at least, were evident to her. She reaffirmed silently her conviction that it had resulted from the stupidity, the vanity, of a woman. The limitations of men, fully as narrow, operated in other directions.
Then, with an incredulous surprise, she was aware that the clear space of her reason was filling with anger. Never before had such a flood of emotion possessed her; and she surrendered herself, in an enormous relief, to the novelty of its obliterating tide. It deepened immeasurably, sweeping her far from the security of old positions of indifference and critical self-possession. Linda became enraged at a world that had concentrated all its degraded vulgarity in one unspeakable act.
It was fall, October, and the day was a space of pale gold foliage wreathed in blue garlands of mist. The gardener was busy with a wooden rake and wheelbarrow in which he carted away dead leaves for burning. The fire was back of the low fence, in the rear, and Linda, at the dining-room window, could hear the fierce small crackle of flames; the drifting pungent smoke was like a faint breath of ammonia. Arnaud had left for the day, Lowrie was at the university, while Vigne and her husband—moving toward their ultimate colonial threshold—had taken a small house. She was alone.
However, in her present state her solitude had lost its inevitability; she failed to see why it must continue until the end of time. She could no longer discover a sufficient reason for her limitless endurance, her placid acceptance of all that chance, or any inconsiderable person, happened to dictate. She wasn't like that in the least. Her temper had solidified as though it were ice, taking everywhere the form in which it was held. It was a reality. She determined, as well, that her feeling should not melt back into the familiar acceptance of a routine that had led her blindfolded across such an extent of life.
She understood now, in a large part, her disturbance at the indignity to Dodge's monument—he had assured her that she was its inspiration; except for her it would never have been realized, he would have kept on modeling those Newport fountains, continued with the Susanna Nodas, spending himself ignobly. He loved her, and that love had resulted in a statue the world of art, of taste, honored. But it was she all the while they were approving, discussing, writing about, Linda Condon.
She had always been that, Pleydon had informed her, never Linda Hallet—in spite of Arnaud and their children. It sounded like nonsense; but, at the bottom, it was truth. Of course it couldn't be explained, for example, to the man who had every right, every evidence, to consider himself her husband. Nothing was susceptible of explanation. Absolutely nothing! There was the earth, which appeared to be everything, the houses you entered, the streets you passed over, the people among whom you lived, yet that wasn't all. Heavens, no! It was quite unimportant compared with—with other facts latent in the mind and blood.
Dodge Pleydon's love was one of those other facts; it was simply impossible to deny its existence, its power. Dodge had been totally changed by it, born over again. But she, who had been the source, had had no good from it, nothing except the thrill that had always been hers. No one knew of it, counted it as her achievement, paid the slightest attention to her. Arnaud smiled indulgently, Lowrie scoffed. When the statue had been thrown down they thought of it merely as a deplorable part of the day's news. They hadn't seen that she, Linda Condon, was unspeakably insulted.
She doubted if she could bring them to comprehend what had happened—to her. Or if Arnaud understood, if she made it plain, what good would be done! That wouldn't save her, put her back again on the pedestal. The latter was necessary. Linda recognized that a great deal of her feeling was based on pride; but it was a pride entirely justified. She had no intention of submitting to the coarse hands and ropes of public affront. Throughout her life she had rebelled against any profanation of her person, she had hated to be touched.
Every instinct, she found, every delicate self-opinion, was bound into Pleydon's success; the latter had kept her alive. Without it existence would have been intolerable. It was unbearable now.
She discharged the small daily duties of her efficient housekeeping with a contemptuous exactness; for years she had accomplished, in herself, nothing more. But at last a break had come. Linda recognized this without any knowledge of what reparation it would find. She wasn't concerned with that, a small detail. It would be apparent. Arnaud was silent through dinner; tired, it seemed. She saw him as if at the distant end of a dull corridor—as she looked back. There was no change in her liking for him. Mechanically she noticed the disorder of his scant hair and rumpled sleeves.
Not until, waking sharply, in the middle of the night, did she have a glimpse of a possible course—she might live with Dodge and perfectly express both her retaliation and her accomplishment. In that way she would reestablish herself beside him and place their vision in bronze on an elevation beyond the spite of the envious and the blind.
It was so directly simple that she was surprised it hadn't occurred to her before. The possibility had always been a part, unsuspected and valuable, of her special being; the largely condemned faults of her character and experience had at least brought her this—a not inconsiderable freedom in a world everywhere barred by the necessity for upholding a hypocritical show of superiority to honest desire. The detachment that deprived her of life's conventional joys released her from its common obligations. That conviction, however, was too intimately connected with all her inheritance to bring her any conscious dramatic sense of rebellion or high feeling of justified indignation.
Sleep had deserted her, and she waited for the dawn in the windows that would bring her escape. It was very slow coming; the blackness took on a grayer tone, like ink with added faint infusions of water. Slowly the blackness dissolved and she heard the stir of the sparrows in the ivy. There was the passing rumble of an early electric car on the paved aged street, the blurred hurried shuffle of a workman's clumsy shoes. The brightening morning was cool with a premonitory touch of frost; at the window she saw a vanishing silver sheen on the lawn and board fence.
A sensation of youth pervaded her; and while, perhaps, it was out of keeping with her years, she had still her vitality unspent; she was without a trace of the momentary frost on the grass. She was tranquil, leisurely; her heart evenly sent its life through her unflushed body. Piece by piece she put on her web-like garments, black and white; brushing the heavy stream of her hair and tying the inevitable sash about her supple waist.
Below she met Arnaud with an unpleasant shock—she hadn't given him a thought. Her feeling now was hardly more than annoyance at her forgetfulness. He would be terribly distressed at her going, and she was genuinely sorry for this, poised at the edge of an explanation of her purpose. Arnaud was putting butter and salt into his egg-cup, after that he would grind the pepper from a French mill—pure spices were a precision of his—and she waited until the operation was completed.
Then it occurred to her that all she could hope to accomplish by admitting her intention was the ruin of his last hour alone with her. He was happier, gayer, than usual. But his age was evident in his voice, his gestures. Linda marveled at her coldness, her ruthless disregard of Arnaud's claim on her, of his affection as deep as Pleydon's, perhaps no less fine but not so imperative. Yet Arnaud had had over twenty years of her life, the best; and she had never deceived him about the quality of her gift. It was right, now, for Dodge to have the remainder. But whether it were right or wrong, there was no failure of her determination to go to Pleydon in the vindication of her existence.
She delayed speaking to Arnaud until, suddenly, breakfast was over. He seldom went to the law office where he had been a partner, but stayed about the lower floor of his house, in the library or directing small outside undertakings. Either that or he left, late, for the Historical Society, with which his connection and interest were uninterrupted. As Linda passed him in the hall he was fumbling in the green bag that accompanied all his journeyings into the city; and she gathered that he intended to make one of his occasional sallies. She proceeded above, to her room, where with steady hands she pinned on her hat. It would be impossible to take any additional clothes, and she'd have to content herself with something ready-made until she could order others in the establishment of her living with Dodge. Her close-fitting jacket, gloves, and a short cape of sables were collected; she gazed finally, thoughtfully, about the room, and then, with a subdued whisper of skirts, descended the stair. Arnaud was in the library, bending over the table that bore his accumulation of papers and serious journals. A lingering impulse to speak was overborne by the memory of what, lately, she had endured—she saw him at the dusty end of that long corridor through which she had monotonously journeyed, denied of her one triumph, lost in inconsequential shadows—and she continued firmly to the door which closed behind her with a normal mute smoothness, an inanimate silence.
The maid who admitted Linda to Pleydon's apartment, first replying, "Yes, Mrs. Hallet. No, Mrs. Hallet," to her questions, continued in fuller sentences expressing a triumph of sympathy over mere correctness. She lingered at the door of the informal drawing-room, imparting the information that Mr. Pleydon had become very irregular indeed about his meals, and that his return for lunch was uncertain. Something, however, would be prepared for her. Linda acknowledged this briefly. Often, with Mr. Pleydon at home, he wouldn't so much as look at his dinner. Times, too, it seemed as though he had been in the studio all night. He went out but seldom now, and rarely remained away for more than an hour or two. Linda heard this without an indication of responsive interest, and the servant, returning abruptly from the excursion into humanity, disappeared.
She was glad to have this opportunity alone to accustom herself to a novel position. But she was once more annoyingly calm. Annoyingly, she reiterated; the fervor of her anger, which at the same time had been bitterly cold, had lessened. She was practically normal. She regarded this, the loss of her unprecedented emotion, in the light of a fraud on her sanguine decision. Linda had counted on its support, its generous irresistible tide, to carry her through the remainder of her life with the exhilaration she had so largely missed.
Here in Dodge's room she was as placid, almost, as though she were in the library at home. That customary term took its place in her thoughts before she recognized that, with her, it had shifted. However, it was unimportant—home had never been a magical word to her; it belonged in the vast category which, of such universal weight, left her unstirred. She resembled those Eastern people restlessly and perpetually moving across sandy deserts as they exhausted, one after another, widely separated scanty oases.
She studied the objects around her with the pleased recognition that they were unique, valuable, and in faultless taste. Then she fell to wondering at the difference had Dodge been poor: she would have come to him, Linda knew, just the same. But, she admitted frankly, it would have been uncomfortable. Perhaps that—actual poverty, actual deprivation—was what her character needed. A popular sentiment upheld such a view; she decided it was without foundation. There was no reason why beauty, finely appropriate surroundings, should damage the spirit.
Her mind turned to an examination of her desertion of Arnaud, but she could find no trace of conventional regret; of what, she felt, her sensation ought to be. The instinctive revolt from oblivion was an infinitely stronger reality than any allegiance to abstract duty. She was consumed by the passionate need to preserve the integrity of being herself. The word selfish occurred to her but to be met unabashed by the query, why not? Selfishness was a reproach applied by those who failed to get what they wanted to all who succeeded. Linda wasn't afraid of public opinion, censure; she didn't shrink even from the injury to her husband. What Dodge would think, however, was hidden from her.
She had no doubt of his complete acceptance of all she offered; ordinary obligations to society bound him as little as they held her. It would be enough that she wanted to come to him.
She would bother him, change his habit of living, very little. Long years of loneliness had taught her to be self-sufficient. Linda would be too wise to insist on distasteful regularity in the interest of a comparatively unimportant well-being. In short, she wouldn't bother him. That must be made clear at once.
More than anything else he would be inexpressibly delighted to have her with him, to find—at last—his love. Little intimacies of satin mules, glimpses, charming to an artist! He'd be faultless, too, in the relationships where Arnaud as well had never for a moment deviated from beautiful consideration. Two remarkable men. While her deficiency in humor was admitted, she saw a glimmer of the absurd in her attitude and present situation. The combination, at least, was uncommon. There had been no change in her feeling for either Arnaud or Dodge, their places in her being were undisturbed; she liked her husband no less, Dodge no better.
Lunch was announced, a small ceremony of covered silver dishes, heavy crystal, Nankin china, and flowers. The linen, which was old, bore a monogram unfamiliar to her—that of Dodge's mother, probably. When she had finished, but was still lingering at the narrow refectory table, she heard Pleydon enter the hall and the explanatory voice of the servant. An unexpected embarrassment pervaded her, but she overcame it by the realization that there was no need for an immediate announcement of her purpose. Dodge would naturally suppose that she was in New York shopping.
He did, to her intense relief, with a moving pleasure that she had lunched with him. "It's seldom," he went on, "that you are so sensible. I hope you haven't any plans or concerts to drag you away immediately. I owe you a million strawberries; but, aside from that, I'd like you to stay as long as possible."
"Very well," she replied quietly; "I will."
She hadn't seen him since the statue at Hesperia had been destroyed, and she tried faintly to tell him how much that outrage had hurt her. It had injured him too, she realized; just as Arnaud predicted. He showed his age more gauntly, more absolutely, than the other. His skin was dry as though the vitality of his countenance had been burned out by the flame visible in his eyes.
"The drunken fools!" he exclaimed of the mob that had torn Simon Downige from his eminence; "they came by way of all the saloons in the city. Free drinks! That is the disturbing thing about what the optimistic call civilization—the fact that it is always at the mercy of the ignorant and the brutal. There is no security; none, that is, except in the individual spirit. And they, mostly, are the victims of a singular insane resentment—Savonarola and there were greater.
"But you mustn't think, you mustn't suppose, that I mean it's hopeless. How could I? Who has had more from living? Love and complete self-expression. That exhausts every possibility. Three words. Remember Cottarsport. But the love—ah," he smiled, but not directly at her. Linda was at once reassured and disturbed; and she rose, proceeding into the drawing-room.
There she sat gracefully composed and with still hands; she never embroidered or employed her leisure with trivial useful tasks. Pleydon was extended on a chair, his fingers caught beyond his head and his long legs thrust out and crossed at the ankles. His gaze was fixed on her unwaveringly; and yet, when she tried to meet its focus, it went behind her as though it pierced the solidity of her body and the walls in the contemplation of a far-removed shining image. Her disturbance grew to the inclusion of a degree of fretfulness at his unbroken silence, his apparent absorption in whatever his meditation projected or found.
Now, she decided, was the moment for her revelation; or rather, it couldn't very well be further deferred, for it promised to be halting. But, with her lips forming the words, he abruptly spoke:
"I have lived so long with your spirit, it has become so familiar—I mean the ability of completely making you out of my heart—that when you are here the difference isn't staggering. You see, you are never away. I have that ability; it came out of the other wreck. But you know about it—from years back. Time has only managed a greater power. Lately, and I have nothing to do with it, I have been seeing you again as a girl; as young as at Markue's party; younger. Not more than ten. I don't mean that there is anything—isn't the present fashionable word subliminal?—esoteric. God forbid. You'll remember my hatred of that brutal deception.
"No, it's only a part of my ability to create the shape of feeling, of Simon's hope. I see things as realities capable of exact statement; and, naturally, more than all the rest, you come to me that way. But as a child—who knows why?" he relinquished the answer with an opened palm. "And young like that, perhaps ten, I love you more sharply, more unutterably, than at any other age. What is it I love? Not your adorable plastic body, not that. It isn't necessary to understand.
"You have, as a child, a quality of blinding loveliness in a world I absolutely distrust. An Elysian flower. Is it possible, do you suppose, to worship an abstract idea? It's not important to insist on my sanity."
The question of that had occurred independently to Linda; his hurried voice and lost gaze filled her with apprehension. A dull reddish patch, she saw, burned in either thin cheek; and she told herself that the fever had revived in him. Pleydon continued:
"Yet it is a timeless vision, because you never get old. I see Hallet failing year by year, and your children, only yesterday dabs of soft flesh, grow up and pass through college and marry. I hear myself in the studio with an old man's cough; the chisels slip under the mall and I can't move the clay about without help—all fading, decaying, but you. Candles burn out, hundreds of them, while your whiteness, your flame—
"Strange, too, how you light a world, a sky, eternity. A word we have no business with; a high-sounding word for a penny purpose. Look, we try to keep alive because it's necessary to life, to nature; and the effort, the struggle, breeds the dream. You can understand that. Men who ought to know say that love is nothing more." He rose and stood over her, towering and portentous against the curtained light. "I don't pretend to guess. I'm a creative artist—Simon Downige at Cottarsport—I have you. If it's God so much the better."
What principally swept over Linda was the knowledge that his possession of her must keep them always apart. The reality, all realities, were veils to Pleydon. Her momentary vision of things beyond brick and earth was magnified in him until everything else was obliterated. The fever! Oh, yes, that and his passion for work merged in his passion for her. She could bring him nothing; and she had a curious picture of two Lindas visible to him here—the Linda that was actual and the other, the child. And of them it was the latter he cared most for, recreated out of his desire to defraud his loneliness, to repay the damage to his spirit realized in bronze.
She was, suddenly, too weary to stir or lift her hand; a depression as absolute as her flare of rage enveloped her. Now the reason for her coming seemed inexplicable, as if, for the while, her mind had failed. She repressed a shudder at the thought of being, through the long nights of his restlessness and wandering voice, alone with Pleydon. She hadn't, Linda discovered, any of the transmuting feeling for him which alone made surrender possible. She calculated mentally how long it would take her to reach the station, what train would be available.
Linda accepted dumbly the fatality to her own hope; for a few hours she had thought it possible to break out of the prison of circumstance, to walk free from all hindrance; but it had been vain. She gazed at Dodge Pleydon intensely—a comprehensive view of the man she had so nearly married, and who, more than any other force, dominated her being. It was already too late for anything but memory; she saw—filled with pity for them both—hardly more than a strange old man with deadened hair and a yellow parchment-like skin. His suit of loose gray flannel gave her a feeling that it had been borrowed from some one she lovingly knew. The gesture of his hand, too, had been copied from a brilliant personage with a consuming impatience at all impotence.