Part V: Dr. Archie's Venture - IV

AT nine o'clock that evening our three friends were seated in the balcony of a French restaurant, much gayer and more intimate than any that exists in New York to-day. This old restaurant was built by a lover of pleasure, who knew that to dine gayly human beings must have the reassurance of certain limitations of space and of a certain definite style; that the walls must be near enough to suggest shelter, the ceiling high enough to give the chandeliers a setting. The place was crowded with the kind of people who dine late and well, and Dr. Archie, as he watched the animated groups in the long room below the balcony, found this much the most festive scene he had ever looked out upon. He said to himself, in a jovial mood somewhat sustained by the cheer of the board, that this evening alone was worth his long journey. He followed attentively the orchestra, ensconced at the farther end of the balcony, and told Thea it made him feel "quite musical" to recognize "The Invitation to the Dance" or "The Blue Danube," and that he could remember just what kind of day it was when he heard her practicing them at home, and lingered at the gate to listen.

For the first few moments, when he was introduced to young Ottenburg in the parlor of the Everett House, the doctor had been awkward and unbending. But Fred, as his father had often observed, "was not a good mixer for nothing." He had brought Dr. Archie around during the short cab ride, and in an hour they had become old friends.

From the moment when the doctor lifted his glass and, looking consciously at Thea, said, "To your success," Fred liked him. He felt his quality; understood his courage in some directions and what Thea called his timidity in others, his unspent and miraculously preserved youthfulness. Men could never impose upon the doctor, he guessed, but women always could. Fred liked, too, the doctor's manner with Thea, his bashful admiration and the little hesitancy by which he betrayed his consciousness of the change in her. It was just this change that, at present, interested Fred more than anything else. That, he felt, was his "created value," and it was his best chance for any peace of mind. If that were not real, obvious to an old friend like Archie, then he cut a very poor figure, indeed.

Fred got a good deal, too, out of their talk about Moonstone. From her questions and the doctor's answers he was able to form some conception of the little world that was almost the measure of Thea's experience, the one bit of the human drama that she had followed with sympathy and understanding. As the two ran over the list of their friends, the mere sound of a name seemed to recall volumes to each of them, to indicate mines of knowledge and observation they had in common. At some names they laughed delightedly, at some indulgently and even tenderly.

"You two young people must come out to Moonstone when Thea gets back," the doctor said hospitably.

"Oh, we shall!" Fred caught it up. "I'm keen to know all these people. It is very tantalizing to hear only their names."

"Would they interest an outsider very much, do you think, Dr. Archie?" Thea leaned toward him. "Isn't it only because we've known them since I was little?"

The doctor glanced at her deferentially. Fred had noticed that he seemed a little afraid to look at her squarely—perhaps a trifle embarrassed by a mode of dress to which he was unaccustomed. "Well, you are practically an outsider yourself, Thea, now," he observed smiling. "Oh, I know," he went on quickly in response to her gesture of protest,—"I know you don't change toward your old friends, but you can see us all from a distance now. It's all to your advantage that you can still take your old interest, isn't it, Mr. Ottenburg?"

"That's exactly one of her advantages, Dr. Archie. Nobody can ever take that away from her, and none of us who came later can ever hope to rival Moonstone in the impression we make. Her scale of values will always be the Moonstone scale. And, with an artist, that IS an advantage." Fred nodded.

Dr. Archie looked at him seriously. "You mean it keeps them from getting affected?"

"Yes; keeps them from getting off the track generally."

While the waiter filled the glasses, Fred pointed out to Thea a big black French barytone who was eating anchovies by their tails at one of the tables below, and the doctor looked about and studied his fellow diners.

"Do you know, Mr. Ottenburg," he said deeply, "these people all look happier to me than our Western people do. Is it simply good manners on their part, or do they get more out of life?"

Fred laughed to Thea above the glass he had just lifted. "Some of them are getting a good deal out of it now, doctor. This is the hour when bench-joy brightens."

Thea chuckled and darted him a quick glance. "Benchjoy! Where did you get that slang?"

"That happens to be very old slang, my dear. Older than Moonstone or the sovereign State of Colorado. Our old friend Mr. Nathanmeyer could tell us why it happens to hit you." He leaned forward and touched Thea's wrist, "See that fur coat just coming in, Thea. It's D'Albert. He's just back from his Western tour. Fine head, hasn't he?"

"To go back," said Dr. Archie; "I insist that people do look happier here. I've noticed it even on the street, and especially in the hotels."

Fred turned to him cheerfully. "New York people live a good deal in the fourth dimension, Dr. Archie. It's that you notice in their faces."

The doctor was interested. "The fourth dimension," he repeated slowly; "and is that slang, too?"

"No,"—Fred shook his head,—"that's merely a figure. I mean that life is not quite so personal here as it is in your part of the world. People are more taken up by hobbies, interests that are less subject to reverses than their personal affairs. If you're interested in Thea's voice, for instance, or in voices in general, that interest is just the same, even if your mining stocks go down."

The doctor looked at him narrowly. "You think that's about the principal difference between country people and city people, don't you?"

Fred was a little disconcerted at being followed up so resolutely, and he attempted to dismiss it with a pleasantry. "I've never thought much about it, doctor. But I should say, on the spur of the moment, that that is one of the principal differences between people anywhere. It's the consolation of fellows like me who don't accomplish much. The fourth dimension is not good for business, but we think we have a better time."

Dr. Archie leaned back in his chair. His heavy shoulders were contemplative. "And she," he said slowly; "should you say that she is one of the kind you refer to?" He inclined his head toward the shimmer of the pale-green dress beside him. Thea was leaning, just then, over the balcony rail, her head in the light from the chandeliers below.

"Never, never!" Fred protested. "She's as hard-headed as the worst of you—with a difference."

The doctor sighed. "Yes, with a difference; something that makes a good many revolutions to the second. When she was little I used to feel her head to try to locate it."

Fred laughed. "Did you, though? So you were on the track of it? Oh, it's there! We can't get round it, miss," as Thea looked back inquiringly. "Dr. Archie, there's a fellow townsman of yours I feel a real kinship for." He pressed a cigar upon Dr. Archie and struck a match for him. "Tell me about Spanish Johnny."

The doctor smiled benignantly through the first waves of smoke. "Well, Johnny's an old patient of mine, and he's an old admirer of Thea's. She was born a cosmopolitan, and I expect she learned a good deal from Johnny when she used to run away and go to Mexican Town. We thought it a queer freak then."

The doctor launched into a long story, in which he was often eagerly interrupted or joyously confirmed by Thea, who was drinking her coffee and forcing open the petals of the roses with an ardent and rather rude hand. Fred settled down into enjoying his comprehension of his guests. Thea, watching Dr. Archie and interested in his presentation, was unconsciously impersonating her suave, gold-tinted friend. It was delightful to see her so radiant and responsive again. She had kept her promise about looking her best; when one could so easily get together the colors of an apple branch in early spring, that was not hard to do. Even Dr. Archie felt, each time he looked at her, a fresh consciousness. He recognized the fine texture of her mother's skin, with the difference that, when she reached across the table to give him a bunch of grapes, her arm was not only white, but somehow a little dazzling. She seemed to him taller, and freer in all her movements. She had now a way of taking a deep breath when she was interested, that made her seem very strong, somehow, and brought her at one quite overpoweringly. If he seemed shy, it was not that he was intimidated by her worldly clothes, but that her greater positiveness, her whole augmented self, made him feel that his accustomed manner toward her was inadequate.

Fred, on his part, was reflecting that the awkward position in which he had placed her would not confine or chafe her long. She looked about at other people, at other women, curiously. She was not quite sure of herself, but she was not in the least afraid or apologetic. She seemed to sit there on the edge, emerging from one world into another, taking her bearings, getting an idea of the concerted movement about her, but with absolute self-confidence. So far from shrinking, she expanded. The mere kindly effort to please Dr. Archie was enough to bring her out.

There was much talk of aurae at that time, and Fred mused that every beautiful, every compellingly beautiful woman, had an aura, whether other people did or no. There was, certainly, about the woman he had brought up from Mexico, such an emanation. She existed in more space than she occupied by measurement. The enveloping air about her head and shoulders was subsidized—was more moving than she herself, for in it lived the awakenings, all the first sweetness that life kills in people. One felt in her such a wealth of JUGENDZEIT, all those flowers of the mind and the blood that bloom and perish by the myriad in the few exhaustless years when the imagination first kindles. It was in watching her as she emerged like this, in being near and not too near, that one got, for a moment, so much that one had lost; among other legendary things the legendary theme of the absolutely magical power of a beautiful woman.

After they had left Thea at her hotel, Dr. Archie admitted to Fred, as they walked up Broadway through the rapidly chilling air, that once before he had seen their young friend flash up into a more potent self, but in a darker mood. It was in his office one night, when she was at home the summer before last. "And then I got the idea," he added simply, "that she would not live like other people: that, for better or worse, she had uncommon gifts."

"Oh, we'll see that it's for better, you and I," Fred reassured him. "Won't you come up to my hotel with me? I think we ought to have a long talk."

"Yes, indeed," said Dr. Archie gratefully; "I think we ought."