The Second Generation
By David Graham Phillips
Public Domain Books
Chapter VII - Jilted
Mrs. Ranger consented to a third girl, to do the additional heavy work; but a nurse–no! What had Hiram a wife for, and a daughter, and a son, if not to take care of him? What kind of heartlessness was this, to talk of permitting a stranger to do the most sacred offices of love? And only by being on the watch early and late did Adelaide and Arthur prevent her doing everything for him herself.
“Everybody, nowadays, has trained nurses in these cases,” said Dr. Schulze. “I don’t think you ought to object to the expense.”
But the crafty taunt left her as indifferent as did the argument from what “everybody does.”
“I don’t make rules for others,” replied she. “I only say that nobody shall touch Hiram but us of his own blood. I won’t hear to it, and the children won’t hear to it. They’re glad to have the chance to do a little something for him that has done everything for them.”
The children thus had no opportunity to say whether they would “hear to it” or not. But Arthur privately suggested to Adelaide that she ought to try to persuade her mother. “It will make her ill, all this extra work,” said he.
“Not so quickly as having some one about interfering with her," replied Adelaide.
“Then, too, it looks so bad–so stingy and–and–old-fashioned,” he persisted.
“Not from mother’s point of view,” said Adelaide quietly.
Arthur flushed. “Always putting me in the wrong,” he sneered. Then, instantly ashamed of this injustice, he went on in a different tone, “I suppose this sort of thing appeals to the romantic strain in you.”
“And in mother,” said Del.
Whereupon they both smiled. Romantic was about the last word anyone would think of in connection with frankly practical Ellen Ranger. She would have died without hesitation, or lived in torment, for those she loved; but she would have done it in the finest, most matter-of-fact way in the world, and without a gleam of self-conscious heroics, whether of boasting or of martyr-meekness or of any other device for signaling attention to oneself. Indeed, it would not have occurred to her that she was doing anything out of the ordinary. Nor, for that matter, would she have been; for, in this world the unheroic are, more often than not, heroes, and the heroic usually most unheroic. We pass heroism by to toss our silly caps at heroics.
“There are some things, Artie, our education has been taking out of us," continued Del, “that I don’t believe we’re the better for losing. I’ve been thinking of those things a good deal lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there really is a rotten streak in what we’ve been getting there in the East–you at Harvard, I at Mrs. Spenser’s Select School for Young Ladies. There are ways in which mother and father are better educated than we.”
“It does irritate me,” admitted Arthur, “to find myself caring so much about the looks of things.”
“Especially,” said Adelaide, “when the people whose opinion we are afraid of are so contemptibly selfish and snobbish.”
“Still mother and father are narrow-minded,” insisted her brother.
“Isn’t everybody, about people who don’t think as they do?”
“I’ve not the remotest objection to their having their own views,” said Arthur loftily, “so long as they don’t try to enforce those views on me.”
“But do they? Haven’t we been let do about as we please?”
Arthur shrugged his shoulders. The discussion had led up to property again–to whether or not his father had the right to do as he pleased with his own. And upon that discussion he did not wish to reenter. He had not a doubt of the justice of his own views; but, somehow, to state them made him seem sordid and mercenary, even to himself. Being really concerned for his mother’s health, as well as about “looks,” he strongly urged the doctor to issue orders on the subject of a nurse. “If you demand it, mother’ll yield,” he said.
“But I shan’t, young man,” replied Schulze curtly and with a conclusive squeezing together of his homely features. “Your mother is right. She gives your father what money can’t buy and skill can’t replace, what has often raised the as-good-as-dead. Some day, maybe, you’ll find out what that is. You think you know now, but you don’t.” And there the matter rested.
The large room adjoining Hiram and Ellen’s bedroom was made over into a sitting room. The first morning on which he could be taken from his bed and partially dressed, Mrs. Ranger called in both the children to assist her. The three tried to conceal their feelings as they, not without physical difficulty, lifted that helpless form to the invalid’s chair which Ellen wheeled close to the bedside. She herself wheeled him into the adjoining room, to the window, with strands of ivy waving in and out in the gentle breeze, with the sun bright and the birds singing, and all the world warm and vivid and gay. Hiram’s cheeks were wet with tears; they saw some tremendous emotion surging up in him. He looked at Arthur, at Adelaide, back to Arthur. Evidently he was trying to say something–something which he felt must be said. His right arm trembled, made several convulsive twitches, finally succeeded in lifting his right hand the few inches to the arm of the chair.
“What is it, father?” said Ellen.
“Yes–yes–yes,” burst from him in thick, straining utterances. “Yes–yes–yes.”
Mrs. Ranger wiped her eyes. “He is silent for hours,” she said; “then he seems to want to say something. But when he speaks, it’s only as just now. He says ’Yes–yes–yes’ over and over again until his strength gives out.”
The bursting of the blood vessels in his brain had torn out the nerve connection between the seat of power of speech and the vocal organs. He could think clearly, could put his thoughts into the necessary words; but when his will sent what he wished to say along his nerves toward the vocal organs, it encountered that gap, and could not cross it.
What did he wish to say? What was the message that could not get through, though he was putting his whole soul into it? At first he would begin again the struggle to speak, as soon as he had recovered from the last effort and failure; then the idea came to him that if he would hoard strength, he might gather enough to force a passage for the words–for he did not realize that the connection was broken, and broken forever. So, he would wait, at first for several hours, later for several days; and, when he thought himself strong enough or could no longer refrain, he would try to burst the bonds which seemed to be holding him. With his children, or his wife and children, watching him with agonized faces, he would make a struggle so violent, so resolute, that even that dead body was galvanized into a ghastly distortion of tortured life. Always in vain; always the same collapse of despair and exhaustion; the chasm between thought and speech could not be bridged. They brought everything they could think of his possibly wanting; they brought to his room everyone with whom he had ever had any sort of more than casual relations–Torrey, among scores of others. But he viewed each object and each person with the same awful despairing look, his immobile lips giving muffled passage to that eternal “Yes! Yes! Yes!” And at last they decided they were mistaken, that it was no particular thing he wanted, but only the natural fierce desire to break through those prison walls, invisible, translucent, intangible, worse than death.
Sorrow and anxiety and care pressed so heavily and so unceasingly upon that household for several weeks that there was no time for, no thought of, anything but Hiram. Finally, however, the law of routine mercifully reasserted itself; their lives, in habit and in thought, readjusted, conformed to the new conditions, as human lives will, however chaotic has been the havoc that demolished the old routine. Then Adelaide took from her writing desk Ross’s letters, which she had glanced at rather than read as they came; when she finished the rereading, or reading, she was not only as unsatisfied as when she began, but puzzled, to boot–and puzzled that she was puzzled. She read them again–it did not take long, for they were brief; even the first letter after he heard of her father’s illness filled only the four sides of one sheet, and was written large and loose. “He has sent short letters,” said she, “because he did not want to trouble me with long ones at this time.” But, though this excuse was as plausible as most of those we invent to assist us to believe what we want to believe, it did not quite banish a certain hollow, hungry feeling, a sense of distaste for such food as the letters did provide. She was not experienced enough to know that the expression of the countenance of a letter is telltale beyond the expression of the countenance of its writer; that the face may be controlled to lie, but never yet were satisfying and fully deceptive lies told upon paper. Without being conscious of the action of the sly, subconscious instinct which prompted it, she began to revolve her friend, Theresa Howland, whose house party Ross was honoring with such an extraordinarily long lingering. “I hope Theresa is seeing that he has a good time,” she said. “I suppose he thinks as he says–that he’d only be in the way here. That’s a man’s view! It’s selfish, but who isn’t selfish?”
Thus, without her being in the least aware of the process, her mind was preparing her for what was about to happen. It is a poor mind, or poorly served by its subconscious half, that is taken wholly by surprise by any blow. There are always forewarnings; and while the surface mind habitually refuses to note them, though they be clear as sunset silhouettes, the subconscious mind is not so stupid–so blind under the sweet spells of that arch-enchanter, vanity.
At last Ross came, but without sending Adelaide word. His telegram to his mother gave just time for a trap to meet him at the station. As he was ascending the broad, stone approaches of the main entrance to the house at Point Helen, she appeared in the doorway, her face really beautiful with mother-pride. For Janet she cared as it is the duty of parent to care for child; Ross she loved. It was not mere maternal imagination that made her so proud of him; he was a distinguished and attractive figure of the kind that dominates the crowds at football games, polo and tennis matches, summer resort dances, and all those events which gather together the youth of our prosperous classes. Of the medium height, with a strong look about the shoulders, with sufficiently, though not aggressively, positive features and a clear skin, with gray-green eyes, good teeth, and a pleasing expression, he had an excellent natural basis on which to build himself into a particularly engaging and plausible type of fashionable gentleman. He was in traveling tweeds of pronounced plaid which, however, he carried off without vulgarity. His trousers were rolled high, after the fashion of the day, to show dark red socks of the same color as his tie and of a shade harmonious to the stripe in the pattern of shirt and suit and to the stones in his cuff links. He looked clean, with the cleanness of a tree after the measureless drenching of a storm; he had a careless, easy air, which completely concealed his assiduous and self-complacent self-consciousness. He embraced his mother with enthusiasm.
“How well you look!” he exclaimed; then, with a glance round, “How well everything looks!”
His mother held tightly to his arm as they went into the house; she seemed elder sister rather than mother, and he delighted her by telling her so–omitting the qualifying adjective before the sister. “But you’re not a bit glad to see me,” he went on. “I believe you don’t want me to come.”
“I’m just a little cross with you for not answering my letters," replied she.
“How is Del?” he asked, and for an instant he looked embarrassed and curiously ashamed of himself.
“Adelaide is very well,” was her reply in a constrained voice.
“I couldn’t stay away any longer,” said he. “It was tiresome up at Windrift.”
He saw her disappointment, and a smile flitted over his face which returned and remained when she said: “I thought you were finding Theresa Howland interesting.”
“Oh, you did?” was his smiling reply. “And why?”
“Then you have come because you were bored?” she said, evading.
“And to see you and Adelaide. I must telephone her right away.”
It seemed to be secretly amusing him to note how downcast she was by this enthusiasm for Adelaide. “I shouldn’t be too eager,” counseled she. “A man ought never to show eagerness with a woman. Let the women make the advances, Ross. They’ll do it fast enough–when they find that they must.”
“Not the young ones,” said Ross. “Especially not those that have choice of many men.”
“But no woman has choice of many men,” replied she. “She wants the best, and when you’re in her horizon, you’re the best, always.”
Ross, being in the privacy of his own family, gave himself the pleasure of showing that he rather thought so himself. But he said: “Nonsense. If I listened to your partiality, I’d be making a fearful ass of myself most of the time.”
“Well–don’t let Adelaide see that you’re eager,” persisted his mother subtly. “She’s very good-looking and knows it and I’m afraid she’s getting an exaggerated notion of her own value. She feels socertain of you.”
“Of course she does,” said Ross, and his mother saw that he was unmoved by her adroit thrust at his vanity.
“It isn’t in human nature to value what one feels sure of.”
“But she is sure of me,” said Ross, and while he spoke with emphasis, neither his tone nor his look was quite sincere. “We’re engaged, you know.”
“A boy and girl affair. But nothing really settled.”
“I’ve given my word and so has she.”
Mrs. Whitney had difficulty in not looking as disapproving as she felt. A high sense of honor had been part of her wordy training of her children; but she had relied–she hoped, not in vain–upon their common sense to teach them to reconcile and adjust honor to the exigencies of practical life. “That’s right, dear,” said she. “A man or a woman can’t be too honorable. Still, I should not wish you to make her and yourself unhappy. And I know both of you would be unhappy if, by marrying, you were to spoil each other’s careers. And your father would not be able to allow or to leave you enough to maintain an establishment such as I’ve set my heart on seeing you have. Mr. Ranger has been acting very strange of late–almost insane, I’d say.” Her tone became constrained as if she were trying to convey more than she dared put into words. “I feel even surer than when I wrote you, that he’s leaving a large part of his fortune to Tecumseh College.” And she related–with judicious omissions and embroideries–her last talk with Hiram, and the events that centered about it.
Ross retained the impassive expression he had been cultivating ever since he read in English “high life” novels descriptions of the bearing of men of the ’haut monde.” “That’s of no consequence,” was his comment, in a tone of indifference. “I’m not marrying Del for her money.”
“Don’t throw yourself away, Ross,” said she, much disquieted. “I feel sure you’ve been brought up too sensibly to do anything reckless. At least, be careful how you commit yourself until you are sure. In our station people have to think of a great many things before they think of anything so uncertain and so more or less fanciful as love. Rest assured, Adelaide is thinking of those things. Don’t be less wise than she.”
He changed the subject, and would not go back to it; and after a few minutes he telephoned Adelaide, ordered a cart, and set out to take her for a drive. Mrs. Whitney watched him depart with a heavy heart and so piteous a face that Ross was moved almost to the point of confiding in her what he was pretending not to admit to himself. “Ross is sensible beyond his years,” she said to herself sadly, “but youth is soromantic. It never can see beyond the marriage ceremony.”
Adelaide, with as much haste as was compatible with the demands of so important an occasion, was getting into a suitable costume. Suddenly she laid aside the hat she had selected from among several that were what the Fifth Avenue milliners call the ’dernier cri.” “No, I’ll not go!” she exclaimed.
Ever since her father was stricken she had stayed near him. Ellen had his comfort and the household to look after, and besides was not good at initiating conversation and carrying it on alone; Arthur’s tongue was paralyzed in his father’s presence by his being unable for an instant to forget there what had occurred between them. So Del had borne practically the whole burden of filling the dreary, dragging hours for him–who could not speak, could not even show whether he understood or not. He had never been easy to talk to; now, when she could not tell but that what she said jarred upon a sick and inflamed soul, aggravating his torture by reminding him of things he longed to know yet could not inquire about, tantalizing him with suggestions–She dared not let her thoughts go far in that direction; it would soon have been impossible to send him any message beyond despairing looks.
Sometimes she kissed him. She knew he was separated from her as by a heavy, grated prison door, and was unable to feel the electric thrill of touch; yet she thought he must get some joy out of the sight of the dumb show of caress. Again, she would give up trying to look cheerful, and would weep–and let him see her weep, having an instinct that he understood what a relief tears were to her, and that she let him see them to make him feel her loving sympathy. Again, she would be so wrought upon by the steady agony of those fixed eyes that she would leave him abruptly to hide herself and shudder, tearless, at the utter misery and hopelessness of it all. She wondered at her mother’s calm until she noticed, after a few weeks, how the face was withering with that shriveling which comes from within when a living thing is dying at the core.
She read the Bible to him, selecting consolatory passage with the aid of a concordance, in the evenings after he had been lifted into bed for the night. She was filled with protest as she read; for it seemed to her that this good man, her best of fathers, thus savagely and causelessly stricken, was proof before her eyes that the sentences executed against men were not divine, but the devilish emanations of brute chance. “There may be a devil,” she said to herself, frightened at her own blasphemy, “but there certainly is no God.” Again, the Bible’s promises, so confident, so lofty, so marvelously responsive to the longings and cravings of every kind of desolation and woe, had a soothing effect upon her; and they helped to put her in the frame of mind to find for conversation–or, rather, for her monologues to him–subjects which her instinct told her would be welcome visitors in that prison.
She talked to him of how he was loved, of how noble his influence had been in their lives. She analyzed him to himself, saying things she would never have dared say had there been the slightest chance of so much response as the flutter of an eyelid. And as, so it seemed to her, the sympathetic relations and understanding between them grew, she became franker, talked of her aspirations–new-born aspirations in harmony with his life and belief. And, explaining herself for his benefit and bringing to light her inmost being to show to him, she saw it herself. And when she one day said to him, “Your illness has made a better woman of me, father, dear father,” she felt it with all her heart.
It was from this atmosphere, and enveloped in it, that she went out to greet Ross; and, as she went, she was surprised at her own calmness before the prospect of seeing him again, after six months’ separation–the longest in their lives.
His expression was scrupulously correct–joy at seeing her shadowed by sympathy for her calamity. When they were safely alone, he took her hand and was about to kiss her. Her beauty was of the kind that is different from, and beyond, memory’s best photograph. She never looked exactly the same twice; that morning she seemed to him far more tempting than he had been thinking, with his head for so many weeks full of worldly ideas. He was thrilled anew, and his resolve hesitated before the fine pallor of her face, the slim lines of her figure, and the glimpses of her smooth white skin through the openwork in the yoke and sleeves of her blouse. But, instead of responding she drew back, just a little. He instantly suspected her of being in the state of mind into which he had been trying to get himself. He dropped her hand. A trifling incident, but a trifle is enough to cut the communications between two human beings; it often accomplishes what the rudest shocks would not. They went to the far, secluded end of the garden, he asking and she answering questions about her father.
“What is it, Del?” he said abruptly, at length. “You act strained toward me.” He did not say this until she had been oppressed almost into silence by the height and the thickness of the barrier between them.
“I guess it’s because I’ve been shut in with father,” she suggested. “I’ve seen no one to talk to, except the family and the doctor, for weeks.” And she tried to fix her mind on how handsome and attractive he was. As a rebuke to her heart’s obstinate lukewarmness she forced herself to lay her hand in his.
He held it loosely. Her making this slight overture was enough to restore his sense of superiority; his resolve grew less unsteady. “It’s the first time,” he went on, “that we’ve really had the chance to judge how we actually feel toward each other–that’s what’s the matter.” His face–he was not looking at her–took on an expression of sad reproach. “Del, I don’t believe you–care. You’ve found it out, and don’t want to hurt my feelings by telling me.” And he believed what he was saying. It might have been–well, not quite right, for him to chill toward her and contemplate breaking the engagement, but that she should have been doing the same thing–his vanity was erect to the last feather. “It’s most kind of you to think so considerately of me,” he said satirically.
She took her hand away. “And you?” she replied coldly. “Are your feelings changed?”
“I–oh, you know I love you,” was his answer in a deliberately careless tone.
She laughed with an attempt at raillery. “You’ve been too long up at Windrift–you’ve been seeing too much of Theresa Howland,” said she, merely for something to say; for Theresa was neither clever nor pretty, and Del hadn’t it in her to suspect him of being mercenary.
He looked coldly at her. “I have never interfered with your many attentions from other men,” said he stiffly. “On the contrary, I have encouraged you to enjoy yourself, and I thought you left me free in the same way.”
The tears came to her eyes; and he saw, and proceeded to value still less highly that which was obviously so securely his.
“Whatever is the matter with you, Ross, this morning?” she cried. “Or is it I? Am I–”
“It certainly is not I,” he interrupted icily. “I see you again after six months, and I find you changed completely.”
A glance from her stopped him. “Oh!” she exclaimed, with a dangerous smile. “You are out of humor this morning and are seeking a quarrel.”
“That would be impossible,” he retorted. ’I never quarrel. Evidently you have forgotten all about me.”
Her pride would not let her refuse the challenge, convert in his words, frank in his eyes.
“Possibly,” mocked she, forcing herself to look amusedly at him. “I don’t bother much about people I don’t see.”
“You take a light view of our engagement,” was his instant move.
“I should take a still lighter view,” retorted she, “if I thought the way you’re acting was a fair specimen of your real self.”
This from Adelaide, who had always theretofore shared in his almost reverent respect for himself. Adelaide judging him, criticising him! All Ross’s male instinct for unquestioning approval from the female was astir. “You wish to break our engagement?” he inquired, with a glance of cold anger that stiffened her pride and suppressed her impulse to try to gain time.
“You’re free,” said she, and her manner so piqued him, that to nerve himself to persist he had to think hard on the magnificence of Windrift and the many Howland millions and the rumored Ranger will. She, in a series of jerks and pauses, took off the ring; with an expression and a gesture that gave no further hint of how she had valued it, both for its own beauty and for what it represented, she handed it to him. “If that’s all,” she went on, “I’ll go back to father.” To perfect her pretense, she should have risen, shaken hands cheerfully with him, and sent him carelessly away. She knew it; but she could not.
He was not the man to fail to note that she made no move to rise, or to fail to read the slightly strained expression in her eyes and about the corners of her mouth. That betrayal lost Adelaide a triumph; for, seeing her again, feeling her beauty and her charm in all his senses, reminded of her superiority in brains and in taste to the women from whom he might choose, he was making a losing fight for the worldly wise course. “Anyhow, I must tame her a bit,” he reflected, now that he was sure she would be his, should he find on further consideration that he wanted her rather than Theresa’s fortune. He accordingly took his hat, drew himself up, bowed coldly.
“Good morning,” he said. And he was off, down the drive–to the lower end where the stableboy was guarding his trap–he was seated–he was driving away–he was gone–gone!
She did not move until he was no longer in sight. Then she rushed into the house, darted up to her room, locked herself in and gave way. It was the first serious quarrel she had ever had with him; it was so little like a quarrel, so ominously like a–No; absurd! It could not be a finality. She rejected that instantly, so confident had beauty and position as a prospective heiress made her as to her powers over any man she chose to try to fascinate, so secure was she in the belief that Ross loved her and would not give her up in any circumstances. She went over their interview, recalled his every sentence and look–this with surprising coolness for a young woman as deeply in love as she fancied herself. And her anger rose against him–a curious kind of anger, to spring and flourish in a loving heart. “He has been flattered by Theresa until he has entirely lost his point of view,” she decided. “I’ll give him a lesson when he comes trying to make it up.”
He drove the part of his homeward way that was through streets with his wonted attention to “smartness.” True “man of the world,” he never for many consecutive minutes had himself out of his mind–how he was conducting himself, what people thought of him, what impression he had made or was making or was about to make. He estimated everybody and everything instinctively and solely from the standpoint of advantage to himself. Such people, if they have the intelligence to hide themselves under a pleasing surface, and the wisdom to plan, and the energy to execute, always get just about what they want; for intelligence and energy are invincible weapons, whether the end be worthy or not. As soon, however, as he was in the road up to the Bluffs, deserted at that hour, his body relaxed, his arms and hands dropped from the correct angle for driving, the reins lay loose upon the horse’s back, and he gave himself to dejection. He had thought–at Windrift–that, once he was free from the engagement which was no longer to his interest, he would feel buoyant, elated. Instead, he was mentally even more downcast a figure than his relaxed attitude and gloomy face made him physically. His mother’s and his “set’s” training had trimmed generous instincts close to the roots, and, also, such ideals as were not purely for material matters, especially for ostentation. But, being still a young man, those roots not only were alive, but also had an under-the-soil vigor; they even occasionally sent to the surface sprouts–that withered in the uncongenial air of his surroundings and came to nothing. Just now these sprouts were springing in the form of self-reproaches. Remembering with what thoughts he had gone to Adelaide, he felt wholly responsible for the broken engagement, felt that he had done a contemptible thing, had done it in a contemptible way; and he was almost despising himself, looking about the while for self-excuses. The longer he looked the worse off he was; for the more clearly he saw that he was what he called, and thought, in love with this fresh young beauty, so swiftly and alluringly developing. It exasperated him with the intensity of selfishness’s avarice that he could not have both Theresa Howland’s fortune and Adelaide. It seemed to him that he had a right to both. Not in the coldly selfish only is the fact of desire in itself the basis of right. By the time he reached home, he was angry through and through, and bent upon finding some one to be angry with. He threw the reins to a groom and, savagely sullen of face, went slowly up the terrace-like steps.
His mother, on the watch for his return, came to meet him. “How is Mr. Ranger this morning?” she asked.
“Just the same,” he answered curtly.
They went into the library; he lit a cigarette and seated himself at the writing table. She watched him anxiously but had far too keen insight to speak and give him the excuse to explode. Not until she turned to leave the room did he break his surly silence to say: “I might as well tell you. I’m engaged to Theresa Howland.”
“O Ross, I’m so glad!” she exclaimed, lighting up with pride and pleasure. Then, warned by his expression, she restrained herself. “I have felt certain for a long time that you would not throw yourself away on Adelaide. She is a nice girl–pretty, sweet, and all that. But women differ from each other only in unimportant details. A man ought to see to it that by marrying he strengthens his influence and position in the world and provides for the standing of his children. And I think Theresa has far more steadiness; and, besides, she has been about the world–she was presented at court last spring a year ago, wasn’t she? She is sucha lady. It will be so satisfactory to have her as the head of your establishment–probably Mr. Howland will give her Windrift. And her cousin–that Mr. Fanning she married–is connected with all the best families in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. They are at the top of our aristocracy.”
This recital was not to inform, but to inspire–to remind him what a wise and brilliant move he had made in the game of life. And it had precisely the effect she intended. Had she not herself created and fostered in him the nature that would welcome such stuff as a bat welcomes night?
“I’m going back to Windrift to-morrow,” he said, still sullen, but with the note of the quarrel-seeker gone from his voice.
“When do you wish me to write to her?”
“Whenever you like,” he said. The defiance in his tone was for Adelaide. “The engagement is to be announced as soon as I get back.”
Mrs. Whitney was called away, and Ross tried to write to Theresa. But the words wouldn’t come. He wandered restlessly about the room, ordered the electric, went to the Country Club. After an hour of bitterness, he called up his mother. “You needn’t send that note we were talking about just yet,” he said.
“But I’ve already sent it,” his mother answered. In fact, the note was just then lying on the table at her elbow.
“What were you in such a devil of a hurry for?” he stormed–an unnecessary question, for he knew his mother was the sort of person that loses no time in settling an important matter beyond possibility of change.
“I’m sorry, Ross,” she replied soothingly. “I thought I might as well send it, as you had told me everything was settled.”
“Oh–all right–no matter.” He could break with Theresa whenever he wished. Perhaps he would not wish to break with her; perhaps, after a few days he would find that his feeling for Adelaide was in reality no stronger than he had thought it at Windrift, when Theresa was tempting him with her huge fortune. There was plenty of time before it would be necessary to make final choice.
Nevertheless, he did not leave Saint X, but hung round, sour and morose, hoping for some sign from “tamed” Adelaide.
As soon as Theresa got Mrs. Whitney’s note, she wrote to Adelaide. “I’ve promised not to tell,” her letter began, “but I never count any promise of that kind as including you, dear, sweet Adelaide–”
Adelaide smiled as she read this; Theresa’s passion for intimate confession had been the joke of the school. “Besides,” Adelaide read on, “I think you’ll be especially interested as Ross tells me there was some sort of a boy-and-girl flirtation between you and him. I don’t see how you could get over it. Now–you’ve guessed. Yes–we’re engaged, and will probably be married up here in the fall–Windrift is simply divine then, you know. And I want you to be my ’best man.’ The others’ll be Edna and Clarice and Leila and Annette and perhaps Jessie and Anita. We’re to live in Chicago–father will give us a house, I’m sure. And you must come to visit us–”
It is hardly fair to eavesdrop upon a young woman in such an hour as this of Adelaide’s. Only those might do so who are willing freely to concede to others that same right to be human which they themselves exercise, whether they will or no, when things happen that smash the veneer of “gentleman” or “lady” like an eggshell under a plowboy’s heel, and penetrate to and roil that unlovely human nature which is in us all. Criticism is supercilious, even when it is just; so, without criticism, the fact is recorded that Adelaide paced the floor and literally raved in her fury at this double-distilled, double treachery. The sense that she had lost the man she believed she loved was drowned in the oceanic flood of infuriated vanity. She raged now against Ross and now against Theresa “She’s marrying him just because she’s full of envy, and can’t bear to see anybody else have anything,” she fumed. “Theresa couldn’t love anybody but herself. And he–he’s marrying her for her money. She isn’t good to look at; to be in the house with her is to find out how mean and small and vain she is. It serves me right for being snob enough to have such a friend. If she hadn’t been immensely rich and surrounded by such beautiful things I’d never have had anything to do with her. She’s buying him; he’s selling himself. How vile!”
But the reasons why they were betraying her did not change or mitigate the fact of betrayal; and that fact showed itself to proud, confident Adelaide Ranger in the form of the proposition that she had been jilted, and that all the world, all her world, would soon know it. Jilted! She–Adelaide Ranger–the all-conqueror–flung aside, flouted, jilted. She went back to that last word; it seemed to concentrate all the insult and treason and shame that were heaped upon her. And she never once thought of the wound to her heart; the fierce fire of vanity seemed to have cauterized it–if there was a wound.
What could she do to hide her disgrace from her mocking, sneering friends? For, hide it she must–must–must! And she had not a moment to lose.
A little thought, and she went to the telephone and called up her brother at the Country Club. When she heard his voice, in fear and fright, demanding what she wanted, she said:
“Will you bring Dory Hargrave to dinner to-night? And, of course, don’t let him know I wanted you to.”
“Is that all!” exclaimed Arthur in a tone of enormous relief, which she was too absorbed in her calamity to be conscious of.
“You will, won’t you? Really, Arthur, it’s very important; and don’t say a word of my having telephoned–not to anybody.”
“All right! I’ll bring him.” A pause, then. “Father’s just the same?”
“Yes,” she answered, in sudden confusion and shame.