Chapter VI: Pacta Conventa
Guests arrived and guests departed from Adriutha, but the original gathering remained.
The people who came and went were about the kind that Edgerton had expected to encounter—people identified with nothing in particular except money, and not always with that.
For, into the social mess at Adriutha an author or two was occasionally stirred as seasoning; sometimes an artist became temporarily englutenized over a week-end, emerging on Monday well fed and satiated with hope of material results from cohabitation with wealth—which never materialized.
Edgerton was inclined to take them all as cheerfully as he found them—at their face value; and they were not always pretty.
Loyalty to obligation was inherent in his race, perhaps the strongest trait in him; and all his inclinations toward what was easiest, his content with the superficial, his tendency to drift, had not yet radically altered this trait, nor perhaps other qualities latent under the froth.
For a few days in the beginning, humorous curiosity, the novelty of his anomalous position, the very rawness of the experience, amused him; but the veneer of everything soon wore thin, revealing the duller surface underneath. Then came uneasiness and impatience; but loyalty to his bargain and to his kindred were matters of course, and he determined to find in these people something to interest him and render his sojourn among them at least endurable.
After that first stormy night in June, the splendor of a limpid, rain-washed morning had revealed to him the gross outward impossibility of this place of millions—the vast, new "villa," red-tiled and yellow-walled, hideous in its multiplicity of roofs, angles, terraces and bays, with outlying works of rubble, concrete, and railroad-station floral embellishment.
Scarring the green crypt of nature, staining the glass of the stream with painted reflections of its architectural deformities, Adriutha Lodge sprawled monsterlike and naked in the summer sunshine.
Garage, hothouses, stables, barns, a farm, a model dairy, like grewsome spawn of a common architectural dam, affronted the woods and meadows of this little valley set among the remote Berkshires.
There was no reticence left in that desecrated valley all vibrant with the scream of discordant color, texture, and design. Motor cars, too, were noisy along the road; all day the silver-mounted trappings of horses flashed in the sun. Staccato echoes from power boats on the artificial lake offended. The House of Rivett challenged the Eternal patience with a hundred lightning rods.
Edgerton, walking his horse beside Diana's, suddenly drew bridle with an uncontrollable gesture of disgust.
"Listen to me," he said; "where man's despoiling labor pollutes nature, sadness and resignation make heavy the hearts of her true lovers, but where man's abominable ignorance desecrates, reigns a more shocking desolation which no modest heart ever forgives!"
Diana, surprised by the sudden and unexpected outburst, drew bridle beside his standing horse.
A moment previous they had been amiably exchanging idle gossip from their saddles, gradually falling back behind the others—Silvette, Christine, Jack, and Colonel Curmew—who had cantered on forward; and now, suddenly out of a clear sky, not apropos of anything, Edgerton had flashed out the bolt of his contempt for the House of Rivett—for his ox, his ass, his servants, and all that was Rivett's.
"Jim," she remarked, "isn't it rather bad taste of you to say that?"
"Why? I am paid for being here." But he realized that she was right, and it made him sullen.
"His roof shelters you none the less," she said quietly.
"Yours is rather a fine-drawn sense of hospitality, it seems to me," he retorted.
"I can't snap at the hand that feeds me."
"Good Lord! May a man not have his own ideas?"
"Under lock and key, yes."
"All right," he said, reddening; "only I supposed I could be frank with you."
"Are we actually on any such footing?" she asked quietly.
"I thought so—even a footing on which I permit myself to accept such a rebuke from you."
She turned in her saddle.
"Permit yourself?" she repeated. "Do you mean condescend?"
"I mean what I say," he retorted sulkily, still smarting under her rebuke.
Her cheeks were bright with anger, her lips compressed as though silence had become an effort. Presently, however, she looked across at him with perfect sweetness and composure.
"No, you don't mean what you say, Jim. If you did, you would be at a disadvantage with me, and you don't want to be that; nor do I wish to be, ever."
He said obstinately: "I'm getting sick of this Adriutha business."
"I predicted you would."
"Well, I am.... It isn't false pride; I don't care what they think about me. If I chose to be a waiter in a Broadway café, their opinion wouldn't concern me.... I'm simply weary of the place, the majority of the people—what they think and do, their private life, their mere coming in and going out.... It isn't the pitiable absurdity of their offensive environment alone, the horror of the architecture, the gilded entrails of their abode—it's the whole bally combination! ... I'm sick—sick! And that's the truth, Diana."
"I think," she said, smiling, "that you are also a little bit bored with us."
He looked up at her, perplexed, already beginning to be very much ashamed of his outburst, already conscious of a painful reaction from his unrestraint.
"Diana," he said impulsively, "I'm just a plain brute, and rather a vulgar one; but, do you know, there isn't anybody else in the world I'd have permitted to hear that outburst—whether you take it as a compliment or not."
"You mean you don't care what I think of you?"
He thought for a moment. "I can't mean that, of course."
"You might, very easily."
"I couldn't; I do care what you think of me. Probably what I meant was that I—dare say things to you; that I've a sort of instinct that I can come to you in an emergency——"
"In other words, that I'll stand anything from you?" she said, smiling. "I don't know about that, my friend."
He looked at her curiously. "I believe you'll stand a good deal from me—and still like me. I, somehow, count on it."
She met his gaze directly, unsmiling now.
"A hair divides my sentiments concerning you," she said. "Extremes lie on either side."
"I think so. It would take very little to fix definitely my opinion of you."
Sobered, but still curious, he sat his saddle more firmly while the horses paced forward, shoulder against shoulder, along the forest road.
"I didn't suppose you had any very violent opinions concerning me one way or another," he said lightly.
"Or would ever develop them, either," he added, laughing.
"I probably never shall."
He said, after another silence: "What was it about a hair dividing your sentiments, and that extremes lay on either side?"
"I said that, Jim."
"Extremes of what?"
"Dislike—friendship—I suppose.... I'm a person addicted to extremes."
"Hatred is one extreme. Did you mean that, Japonette?"
"It is conceivable, fair sir."
"And—the other extreme?"
"The opposite extreme to hate.... Is that conceivable, too?"
"Do you mean love?" she asked coolly.
"Yes, love, for example."
"Well, for example, ask yourself how likely I am to entertain that sentimental extreme in your regard."
"Oh," he said; "then all you threaten me with is hatred!"
"Absolutely all, cousin James."
"Hobson's choice for mine. No matter how agreeable I may be, placid friendship is my only reward; and if I'm not agreeable, hatred. Is that it?"
"Are you not satisfied?" she asked, lifting her prettily shaped eyes.
He made no reply.
Yet, he had been satisfied, except at intervals during the first flush of their unconventional friendship, when she was still a fascinating novelty to him, when the charming memory of the surprise was still vivid.
But since then, recently in fact, other matters, somehow, had intervened—the dawning distaste for his own position, the apparent absence of any future prospect, the gradual conviction that he had no real capacity for decently earning a living, no ability—perhaps no character.
His silence seemed to be her answer now; she spurred forward, accepting it. He put his horse to a canter, to a gallop, and they raced away through the woods until they came in sight of the others. Colonel Curmew joined her; Edgerton rode forward with Christine Rivett.
That afternoon there was some tennis played; a number of commonplace and very rich people departed, leaving as residue the original house party which Edgerton and his cousins had found there on their arrival, and who now knew one another well enough to separate into sympathetic groups.
Thus, Judge Wicklow, Mrs. Rivett, and Mrs. Lorrimore played Chinese Kahn under the terrace awning; Colonel Follis Curmew, who had been rash enough to discard his coat and reveal an unlooked-for excess of abdomen, played tennis with Silvette against Jack Rivett and Mrs. Wemyss; Mr. Rivett and Mr. Snaith indulged in laborious clock golf and talked of oil; and Christine and Edgerton, down by the river's edge, continued a conversation begun the evening previous, and which was near enough to meaning something to stimulate their attention.
From his clock golf on the lawn above, Mr. Rivett turned his convex glasses on them occasionally; from one card table on the terrace, her mother, drawing the white wool shawl closer around her slight shoulders, watched her daughter from moment to moment.
Later, the game ended, Mrs. Lorrimore victorious, and his honor unusually peevish. Mrs. Rivett rose and, advancing to the terrace edge, gazed down at the river bank, where her daughter and Edgerton still sat in the floating canoe, holding it inshore by grasping willow branches overhead.
For a few moments the little old lady watched them, one hand gathering the fleece shawl over the magnificent sapphire at her breast; then she turned quietly away into the house, wandering through it from one gorgeous room to another, until at last she came to the high organ.
Here her husband found her in the semi-dusk, sitting motionless and silent under the tall pipes, hands folded in her lap.
"Well, mother?" he said in a voice which nobody else ever had the privilege of listening to.
She lifted her head, smiled, and laid one hand over his as he seated himself beside her in the demi-twilight.
"Are you happy?" he asked, patting the worn fingers.
"Yes, Jacob—when you and the children are."
"Does that damn Sims bother you?"
No, the housekeeper did not bother her; neither did Noonan, general superintendent.
"Are you sure you are feeling perfectly well?"
"And you are enjoying the people?"
"Yes.... The Tennant girls are so kind to me."
"Why the devil shouldn't they be?" he said harshly. "They never met a better woman!"
"Jacob, dear, don't speak that way."
"Well, then—don't be so eternally surprised if people are nice to you, mother. They'd better be!"
She smiled. "I am a rather plain and unattractive old woman to young people—to most people. I have little to say, but Diana Tennant and her sister are very sweet to me. Poor, motherless girls! I wonder—it troubles me—sometimes—a great deal——"
"What?" he asked grimly.
"Their being so entirely alone, and so unusually attractive.... And they're good girls, Jacob."
"I assume that they are," he said dryly.
"They are; a woman knows at once.... They've made everybody—all our guests—enjoy their visits so much. Don't you think so?"
"They've earned their salaries.... People seem to like 'em.... I'm wondering how much Jack likes the younger one—Silvette."
"Have you thought so, too?"
"I'm asking you, Sarah."
There was a silence; then she said timidly:
"Do you know anything more about them?"
"They're rather learned," he said grimly. "One, I understand, is entitled to practice medicine—the other law.... They scarcely look it."
"Certainly. Snaith was at Keno on business last winter; he heard of 'em there. Also—I've inquired."
"You have learned nothing to their discredit, I am sure," she said confidently.
"No; as the fast world wags, they're respectable enough——"
"Oh, Sarah, I didn't mean it in any sinister sense.... They're merely rather gay—into everything everywhere—dancing all night, riding, motoring all over the shop.... They're pretty girls, and good ones, too, I guess.... But the world has gone by us, mother. It's developed speed. That's what I mean by fast."
"If it were not for the children's sake, I would be glad to be left behind," she said, smiling.
"So would I. Damn this gim-crack fol-de-rol!"
"Excuse me.... We'll do what we ought to; the children want New York, and I'm going to give it to them if I can.... So I guess you'd better caution Jack about that girl."
"About Miss Tennant?"
"Silvette; yes. Tell him to keep away."
"But she is Mr. Edgerton's cousin."
"It's too far off to count; besides, it's not a good enough gamble. As far as that goes, I'm not satisfied that Jim Edgerton is good enough."
"Oh, Jacob! You said——"
"If I'd stuck to all I've said, you'd still be doing the family cooking, dear. Jim Edgerton does, or did, go everywhere in New York.... I wonder how far he could take our daughter with him? ... Wait, Sarah—I'm not reflecting on Christine; I'm only speculating. How do I know about the customs and habits of the New York fauna? I want to go slow. I don't care how little money he has, or even how much he might have had; I'll do that part. But, first, I want to know exactly where he can take Christine. The knot hole may be too big for her."
"They sent you a report from New York, dear. You have a full list of all his relatives."
"I know—I know. If he had none, I wouldn't be afraid. It's a man's relatives who act nasty, not his friends.... Does Christine seem to like him?"
"The child is frankly devoted to him.... I don't know if it means anything more than friendship. Christine is a strange girl. There was young Inwood——"
"Everybody's beau! Glad she shipped him.... But to return to Jack—what's your opinion?"
"I don't know. He is with Silvette so much; he is such a dear boy——"
"Tell him plainly we don't want her. I like her myself, but there's better material.... Other things aside, I don't want my boy to marry a girl who plays cards the way she does."
"Jacob! You don't mean——"
"No, no! She's as square as a die; but she wins too much, stakes too much—smokes too much, drinks too many cocktails—she and her sister, too. Why, they've won steadily at cards from the beginning. They've a genius for it. I never saw such playing. Poor cards don't worry them; and they never take the shadow of advantage, never whine, never ask questions; there's never an impatient word, a look of protest—and the judge and the colonel are beasts to play with!—and if there ever seems to be the slightest doubt or indication of a dispute over any point, those girls instantly concede it—cheerfully, too! They're clean-cut sports—thoroughbred.... But, by God! I don't want Jack to marry a gambler!"
He stood up, his glasses glistening, his little burned eyes fixed on space.
"No," he said; "I've done all the gambling that will be done in this family. I'll do a little more—enough to put the bits on one or two men in New York whose wives could make it easy for my children, if they cared to. Then I'm done, mother."
She bent her head, and her lips moved.
"What?" he said, hand to his ear.
"I was only thinking, Jacob, that I would be happy when you have finished with—business."
"Don't worry, dear." He put one arm around her—a thin arm in its loose coat sleeve, thin as a tempered steel rod. She laid her faded face against it, comforted by its inflexibility.
"Some day," she said, "when the children are happy—with their families——"
"Yes, yes," he nodded; "a smaller house for you and me—just a little one." He smiled; few people ever had seen him smile. "Just a little house for two little old people," he said; "only one horse to take us about, one servant to feed us—eh, Sarah?"
She looked around her, smiling vaguely at the magnificence.
"I like to dust," she said, coloring up prettily, "and to make jelly.... I've wanted to a long while."
"You shall do it; I swear you shall. By God! I'll be glad when that chef is fired!"
"You know, Jacob," she said timidly, "with knitting and dusting and—and a little kitchen work—and you—the day passes very nicely."
"Some day you'll make some more of those crullers!" he predicted; "mark my words!"
"And the cinnamon shells," she added, slightly excited.
"Oh, Lord! Why can't that fool of a chef make 'em!" he burst out. "Well, I'll wait.... It gives us something more to wait for, doesn't it?"
He laughed. Only his wife had ever heard the dry cackle which was his manifestation of mirth.
Contented, she lifted her face, and he kissed her.
He went to New York that evening to remain over Wednesday as usual.
In the small company remaining at Adriutha a certain intimacy had developed, enough to make any effort at entertainment superfluous. There was now a decided inclination to laziness in the evening, and a preference for the billiard room and its easy informality.
It was a big room with open fires and the inevitable trophies of somebody else's chase—the heads of big game mounted, staring at nothing out of their glass eyes; weapons of a vanished age on the oaken wainscoting, modern guns in racks as well as cues, and leather lounges and seats and wide-armed chairs everywhere.
Hither Mrs. Rivett now brought her embroidery or knitting; and around her, within a radius more or less distant, the others gathered or circled in temporary orbits, and games were played and music made and youth flirted and age gossiped much as they did when she was a young girl in Mills Corners, and her husband taught in the red schoolhouse next door.
Sometimes Diana came and sat beside her and knitted a tie destined, she admitted, for nobody in particular; sometimes Edgerton drew his chair beside hers and told her of student life in Paris—watching always for her delightfully timid smile, the shy laugh that she sometimes ventured, the curiously pretty flush that came at times into her cheeks, making them and the faded eyes almost beautiful.
Once or twice it happened that Christine settled herself on a footstool on the other side of her mother to listen, too; and the little old lady experienced a furtive content with the situation as Edgerton and her daughter exchanged pleasantries and volleys of gay badinage across her knitting.
But listen as demurely as she might, feign inattention and unconsciousness as she might, she could detect in neither her daughter nor in Edgerton any hint of a subtler understanding, any omen of anything for the future beyond a frank camaraderie and the undisguised pleasure in it.
And she sighed sometimes—not understanding, not venturing even to admit to herself the desire that was beginning to establish itself in her gentle breast.
As for Edgerton and Christine, they were now on terms of intimacy almost careless. With Diana he was different.
The day of his bitter outbreak when riding with Diana, Edgerton, terribly ashamed of himself, had gone once more to her and admitted that her rebuke was a just one; that he was an ungrateful dog, disloyal to the hand that fed him, and not worthy of Diana's regard.
And the girl had forgiven him very sweetly, not with much enthusiasm, for his rapidly advancing intimacy with Christine had begun to perplex her, nor could she exactly understand his apparently happy acquiescence in conditions lately so irritating.
Not that he neglected her; in his amiable way he was charming to her and to Silvette; was often with them; drove, rode, walked with them; and often, when the opportunity happened, met them in family conclave to discuss future prospects for business.
But his intimacy with Christine advanced very swiftly; so rapidly that Diana became fully aware of it only when it was already in complete flower.... And she wondered a little—and, looking at the girl, wondered less. Also, knowing Edgerton less than she supposed she did, the wonder as to his motive began to trouble her.
Whatever Diana really thought of Edgerton, she did not think him unusually strong in character; was not absolutely convinced of his sincerity—was not any too sure of his motives. Yet, to doubt him always hurt her, and to question his sincerity now made her ashamed of herself. But Christine Rivett was very, very rich, and the only thing she did not have was a name like Edgerton's to insure her future for all time. Thinking of this, the girl was ashamed to think it, and put it resolutely from her mind; but it returned at intervals, even when he was most charming to her sister and herself.
Meanwhile a silent but decisive little duel had been fought in her vicinity, and Jack Rivett definitely replaced Colonel Follis Curmew at Silvette's side; and that warrior, being unfamiliar with the fortunes of war, first sulked, then began to appear frequently in Diana's vicinity—sending out, as it were, pickets of observation and foraging parties, and finally appearing in superb force with warlike intentions not to be misunderstood, although Diana contrived entirely to misunderstand them.
"Do you know," she said to Silvette one night as they were preparing for bed, "I believe that he is actually falling in love with me."
He was; but, nevertheless, Diana entirely misunderstood him.
And so the early summer days passed at Adriutha, and Edgerton, always prone to accommodate himself to circumstances, found it easier and easier to keep his pact with Mr. Rivett.
Perhaps he was too easily colored by his surroundings; for this place and these people—toward whom, under other circumstances, his instinct would have been antagonistic—were becoming very agreeable to him, and he had handy no standards of comparison from his own world—merely memories, which are always inadequate.
He never became entirely reconciled to the architecture of Adriutha, but the interior magnificence disturbed him less and less; besides, he had very little real love for decoration, and knew little about its harmonies. All the art that was in him consisted in a cleverness and facility for expressing what was actually of slight importance.
So he became amiably reconciled to his surroundings, to his own position. Probably the lack of responsibility and the pleasant idleness had much to do with it.
Still, he really liked Jack Rivett and Christine. In prosperous days the chances would have been against his ever giving himself the opportunity of liking them. But chance had taken charge of his career for the moment; he had met them, and liked them—was inclined to like Rivett senior, too, and began to experience a certain tenderness toward his frail little hostess—something he had never noticed in himself since his mother's death many years ago.
For the others he had no particular feelings. He knew, without troubling himself to think about it, that Colonel Curmew was what his own friends would call a bounder; and the remaining guests were of no greater importance to him than strangers inclined to be civil.
As for Silvette and Diana, they were not only kindred, and so to be automatically cherished, but they also were very charming and delightful young girls; and Diana aroused his curiosity.
During the first days of their acquaintance, the circumstances of his encounter with Diana had inclined him to sentiment. Now that had been merged into a nice friendship—a friendship so frank and pleasant that, in his idea, it permitted privileges of an intimacy which at first perplexed and disturbed Diana, and which, presently, she began to silently resent without exactly knowing why.
What her ideas concerning Edgerton really were, she herself had not entirely decided. She had been as vividly conscious of the charm of their first encounter as had he; being a woman, she still remembered it vividly, whereas, with him, it had dissolved into the mistiest of dream-tinted memories—charming, but vague.
Too, she remembered his attitude toward her in those first three days in the studio—the golden magic of them, the little roof garden, the starlings, the sunset beyond the river. Under such circumstances, the things men say and look, men usually forget; but women remember longer.
Then she remembered, too, the first days of their arrival at Adriutha.... There was nothing in particular to recall—a note or two from her to him, from him to her.... Perhaps a something in his voice and eyes which, somehow, had died out since.... Yet, had it been anything in particular? And, granting that it had, what had she done to encourage it?
She had fallen into the habit of thinking about these things in her bedroom while preparing for the night. She often thought, too, about this new friendship of his for Christine Rivett. It perplexed her, saddened, irritated her by turns, and it distressed her to even question his motives.
But Silvette said one evening, after they had undressed and the maid had left:
"Wouldn't it be odd if Jim married that girl?"
"Married—her?" repeated Diana, startled out of a reverie not entirely happy.
"He's becoming very attentive to her. She is pretty, of course," Silvette smiled.
"Why shouldn't he marry her if he finds that he cares for her?" asked Diana with some heat.
"I was merely surprised that he should care for her in that way. She is not his sort."
"Sort! sort! What does that matter!" said Diana hotly. "It never stopped a thoroughbred from mating. He can afford to love where he chooses, I fancy."
"Or marry what he chooses, anyway."
"Silvie! Do you imagine he'd do a thing like that—not loving her!"
"I don't know," said Silvette coolly; "he's a dear boy, and nice to us, but I don't credit him with superhuman qualities.... And she inherits millions."
"It isn't in him to do it.... And there are plenty of his own sort who would be glad enough——"
"Why do you become so animated, Di? Have you noticed any particular strength of character in Jim Edgerton?"
"Yes.... He is as true as steel, underneath the amiable exterior of a drifter and dilettante.... He has ideals.... I am not one of them—I know that."
"Do you care particularly?"
"No.... I don't know whether I do or not.... I never seem to know what to say to him these days. We talk together like two men. I'd like to know what he thinks about me—the kind of woman I am, compared to others in his own set.... I'd like to know what he thinks about my gambling and cocktails and cigarettes, which you and I have got to stop! What he really thinks of our position in this house—in the world! I don't believe he thinks much of it."
"Does his position differ from ours?" asked Silvette gently; "why are you so excited, little sister?"
"I'm not excited.... Things—various matters have occurred to me—recently; and I've made up my mind that I don't like to see him here. This is no place for him, no position. He is capable of doing better things, more important things, nobler things. He slips into a life like this too easily; he is too easily reconciled, too quickly content."
Silvette seated herself on a rocking chair and, leaning back, sat rocking and inspecting her sister, who stood by the bed, her brown locks clustering against her cheeks.
"There is something to Jim," she insisted. "He can do things—respectable, dignified things—and make his living. It humiliates me to see him here in such a capacity——"
"As ours?" added Silvette, smiling.
"Yes, as ours. He is a man, and it does not become him."
"We are respectively physician and lawyer, but our talents and fortunes lie in this profession."
Diana flushed. "If we were anything except the frivolous, ease-loving, and pleasure-craving little beasts that we are, we wouldn't be here."
"No; we'd starve, respectably, in our several offices. Do you want Jim to starve?"
"I don't know," said Diana, almost fiercely; "I'd rather see him in want, I think, than doing this kind of thing."
"I don't believe he will do it very long—on a salary," laughed Silvette. "Christine evidently adores him."
Diana was silent; her sister laughed, and rose, putting one arm around her.
"Don't be sentimental over Jim Edgerton," she said; "he is a lightweight, Di."
"You are wrong; and I am not sentimental."
"Well, I believe you did get over it; but you're a loyal and generous little thing, Di, and you're worrying over a man who is entirely capable of looking out for himself."
"That's what I want him to do."
"He's doing it, very gracefully. Later, with equal and fetching grace he'll let some wealthy girl do it for him."
"That would be contemptible; he isn't."
"Now, does the world so consider an advantageous marriage, little sister? Besides, that is exactly what we have planned for ourselves, isn't it?"
"We? What are we, anyway, compared to a man who can count in the world!" flashed out Diana, surprised at her own vehemence, aware that her sister was even more astonished and chagrined.
"What on earth are you saying?" she exclaimed. "Are you in love with that man?"
"One might infer as much."
"You may infer it if you choose."
"Why do you speak to me that way?"
She turned and moved toward the bed, encountered the soft, open arms of her sister. They closed around her; she laid her head on Silvette's shoulder.
"Darling! Little Di!" whispered Silvette in sorrowful consternation. "Has this really happened to you?"
"I don't know—I don't know.... I am not happy; I don't understand.... At moments I cannot believe it.... He is not my ideal of a man; I am stronger in many ways—I am wiser than he. He is only a boy, Silvie—careless, ease loving, with nothing but smatterings—nothing but the social experience of a man of his class behind him. Nothing real has ever happened to him in life.... And, somehow, I know—I know that if it only did, he would become a man—a real man. I know it; I can't bear to see him waste his life—fall into easy ways of thinking—make no effort.... I want him to strive; I want him to fight life.... He ought to. The making of him is in a battle with circumstances. This life is ruin to him—this house, these people, any people who will employ him in such a capacity!"
She caught her breath, almost in a sob.
"I have cared for him—a little—from the very first.... I am not—fitted for him—in many ways."
"I am not! I care for him unselfishly. I don't know why I should, but I do; and he ought not to marry me even if he—ever—wished to."
"You are talking wildly, darling! You—not good enough for him! What a silly——"
"Not good enough, I tell you!" repeated the girl fiercely. "I care too much for what he finds agreeable—all this ease and relaxation.... I wish I were different. I wish I could arouse him; I'd do it. I'd do it somehow—I'd do it now if I could——"
She caught her breath, stood perfectly motionless a moment, then Silvette felt her tremble slightly.
After a while she lifted her head from her sister's shoulder.
"I am going to do what I can for him," she said excitedly. "I am going to see what can be done to arouse the man in him. All he needs is the initial shock—a—a stinging one."
"What do you mean? If there was anything in him, the shock of the firm's failure would have brought it out."
"It was not enough. It was only the loss of money! There are worse things——"
"Di! What are you going to do?"
Suddenly the girl's face grew radiant.
"I know now," she said breathlessly.
But Diana only kissed her sister, laughing, flushed, excited, and, extending her arm, turned off the light, plunging the room and her brilliant cheeks in darkness.