A NOVEL OF TODAY
HARPER & BROTHERS NEW YORK AND LONDON M.C.M.I.X
Copyright, 1908, 1909, by HARPER & BROTHERS.
All rights reserved.
Published May, 1909.
[Transcriber's note: The name of the author, Basil King, does not appear in the text.]
SHE STOOD WATCHING THE RISE AND DIP OF THE STEAMER'S BOW (See page 61) Frontispiece
THE BANKER TOOK A LONGER TIME THAN WAS NECESSARY TO SCAN THE POOR LITTLE LIST Facing p. 46
PRESENTLY ALL FOUR WERE ON THEIR WAY BACK TO THE DRAWING-ROOM " 78
DIANE PROPPED THE CABLEGRAM IN A CONSPICUOUS PLACE " 152
"I'VE NO ONE TO SPEAK A WORD FOR ME BUT YOU" " 202
IT WAS WHAT MRS. WAPPINGER CALLED AN "OFF-DAY" " 252
MRS. BAYFORD WAS PURRING TO HER GUESTS " 260
HAVING MADE A COPY OF THIS LETTER, SHE CALLED SIMMONS AND FULTON AND GAVE THEM THEIR INSTRUCTIONS " 264
"SINCE THE INNER SHRINE IS UNLOCKED—AT LAST—I'LL GO IN" " 354
THE INNER SHRINE
THE INNER SHRINE
Though she had counted the strokes of every hour since midnight, Mrs. Eveleth had no thought of going to bed. When she was not sitting bolt upright, indifferent to comfort, in one of the stiff-backed, gilded chairs, she was limping, with the aid of her cane, up and down the long suite of salons, listening for the sound of wheels. She knew that George and Diane would be surprised to find her waiting up for them, and that they might even be annoyed; but in her state of dread it was impossible to yield to small considerations.
She could hardly tell how this presentiment of disaster had taken hold upon her, for the beginning of it must have come as imperceptibly as the first flicker of dusk across the radiance of an afternoon. Looking back, she could almost make herself believe that she had seen its shadow over her early satisfaction in her son's marriage to Diane. Certainly she had felt it there before their honeymoon was over. The four years that had passed since then had been spent—or, at least, she would have said so now—in waiting for the peril to present itself.
And yet, had she been called on to explain why she saw it stalking through the darkness of this particular June night, she would have found it difficult to give coherent statement to her fear. Everything about her was pursuing its normally restless round, with scarcely a hint of the exceptional. If life in Paris was working up again to that feverish climax in which the season dies, it was only what she had witnessed every year since the last days of the Second Empire. If Diane's gayety was that of excitement rather than of youth, if George's depression was that of jaded effort rather than of satiated pleasure, it was no more than she had seen in them at other times. She acknowledged that she had few facts to go upon—that she had indeed little more than the terrified prescience which warns the animal of a storm.
There were moments of her vigil when she tried to reassure herself with the very tenuity of her reasons for alarm. It was a comfort to think how little there was that she could state with the definiteness of knowledge. In all that met the eye George's relation to Diane was not less happy than in the first days of their life together. If, on Diane's part, the spontaneity of wedded love had gradually become the adroitness of domestic tact, there was nothing to affirm it but Mrs. Eveleth's own power of divination. If George submitted with a blinder obedience than ever to each new extravagance of Diane's Parisian caprice, there was nothing to show that he lived beyond his means but Mrs. Eveleth's maternal apprehension. His income was undoubtedly large, and, for all she knew, it justified the sumptuous style Diane and he kept up. Where the purchasing power of money began and ended was something she had never known. Disorder was so frequent in her own affairs that when George grew up she had been glad to resign them to his keeping, taking what he told her was her income. As for Diane, her fortune was so small as to be a negligible quantity in such housekeeping as they maintained—a poverty of dot which had been the chief reason why her noble kinsfolk had consented to her marriage with an American. Looking round the splendid house, Mrs. Eveleth was aware that her husband could never have lived in it, still less have built it; while she wondered more than ever how George, who led the life of a Parisian man of fashion, could have found the means of doing both.
Not that her anxiety centred on material things; they were too remote from the general activities of her thought for that. She distilled her fear out of the living atmosphere around her. She was no novice in this brilliant, dissolute society, or in the meanings hidden behind its apparently trivial concerns. Hints that would have had slight significance for one less expert she found luminous with suggestion; and she read by signs as faint as those in which the redskin detects the passage of his foe across the grass. The odd smile with which Diane went out! The dull silence in which George came home! The manufactured conversation! The forced gayety! The startling pause! The effort to begin again, and keep the tone to one of common intercourse! The long defile of guests! The strangers who came, grew intimate, and disappeared! The glances that followed Diane when she crossed a room! The shrug, the whisper, the suggestive grimace, at the mention of her name! All these were as an alphabet in which Mrs. Eveleth, grown skilful by long years of observation, read what had become not less familiar than her mother-tongue.
The fact that her misgivings were not new made it the more difficult to understand why they had focussed themselves to-night into this great fear. There had been nothing unusual about the day, except that she had seen little of Diane, while George had remained shut up in his room, writing letters and arranging or destroying papers. There had been nothing out of the common in either of them—not even the frown of care on George's forehead, or the excited light in Diane's eyes—as they drove away in the evening, to dine at the Spanish Embassy. They had kissed her tenderly, but it was not till after they had gone that it seemed to her as if they had been taking a farewell. Then, too, other little tokens suddenly became ominous; while something within herself seemed to say, "The hour is at hand!"
The hour is at hand! Standing in the middle of one of the gorgeous rooms, she repeated the words softly, marking as she did so their incongruity to herself and her surroundings. The note of fatality jarred on the harmony of this well-ordered life. It was preposterous, that she, who had always been hedged round and sheltered by pomp and circumstance, should now in her middle age be menaced with calamity. She dragged herself over to one of the long mirrors and gazed at her reflection pityingly.
The twitter of birds startled her with the knowledge that it was dawn. From the Embassy George and Diane were to go on to two or three great houses, but surely they should be home by this time! The reflection meant the renewal of her fear. Where was her son? Was he really with his wife, or had the moment come when he must take the law into his own hands, after their French manner, to avenge himself or her? She knew nothing about duelling, but she had the Anglo-Saxon mother's dread of it. She had always hoped that, notwithstanding the social code under which he lived, George would keep clear of any such brutal senselessness; but lately she had begun to fear that the conventions of the world would prove the stronger, and that the time when they would do so was not far away.
Pulling back the curtains from one of the windows, she opened it and stepped out on a balcony, where the long strip of the Quai d'Orsay stretched below her, in gray and silent emptiness. On the swift, leaden-colored current of the Seine, spanned here and there by ghostly bridges, mysterious barges plied weirdly through the twilight. Up on the left the Arc de Triomphe began to emerge dimly out of night, while down on the right the line of the Louvre lay, black and sinister, beneath the towers and spires that faintly detached themselves against the growing saffron of the morning. High above all else, the domes of the Sacred Heart were white with the rays of the unrisen sun, like those of the City which came down from God.
It was so different from the cheerful Paris of broad daylight that she was drawing back with a shudder, when over the Pont de la Concorde she discerned the approach of a motor-brougham.
Closing the window, she hurried to the stairway. It was still night within the house, and the one electric light left burning drew forth dull gleams from the wrought-metal arabesques of the splendidly sweeping balustrades. When, on the ringing of the bell, the door opened and she went down, she had the strange sensation of entering on a new era in her life.
Though she recalled that impression in after years, for the moment she saw nothing but Diane, all in vivid red, in the act of letting the voluminous black cloak fall from her shoulders into the sleepy footman's hands.
"Bonjour, petite mere!" Diane called, with a nervous laugh, as Mrs. Eveleth paused on the lower steps of the stairs.
"Where is George?"
She could not keep the tone of anxiety out of her voice, but Diane answered, with ready briskness:
"George? I don't know. Hasn't he come home?"
"You must know he hasn't come home. Weren't you together?"
"We were together till—let me see!—whose house was it?—till after the cotillon at Madame de Vaudreuil's. He left me there and went to the Jockey Club with Monsieur de Melcourt, while I drove on to the Rochefoucaulds'."
She turned away toward the dining-room, but it was impossible not to catch the tremor in her voice over the last words. In her ready English there was a slight foreign intonation, as well as that trace of an Irish accent which quickly yields to emotion. Standing at the table in the dining-room where refreshments had been laid, she poured out a glass of wine, and Mrs. Eveleth could see from the threshold that she drank it thirstily, as one who before everything else needs a stimulant to keep her up. At the entrance of her mother-in-law she was on her guard again, and sank languidly into the nearest chair. "Oh, I'm so hungry!" she yawned, pulling off her gloves, and pretending to nibble at a sandwich. "Do sit down," she went on, as Mrs. Eveleth remained standing. "I should think you'd be hungry, too."
"Aren't you surprised to see me sitting up, Diane?"
"I wasn't, but I can be, if that's my cue," Diane laughed.
At the nonchalance of the reply Mrs. Eveleth was, for a second, half deceived. Was it possible that she had only conjured up a waking nightmare, and that there was nothing to be afraid of, after all? Possessing the French quality of frankness to an unusual degree, it was difficult for Diane to act a part at any time. With all her Parisian finesse her nature was as direct as lightning, while her glance had that fulness of candor which can never be assumed. Looking at her now, with her elbows on the table, and the sandwich daintily poised between the thumb and forefinger of her right hand, it was hard to connect her with tragic possibilities. There were pearls around her neck and diamonds in her hair; but to the wholesomeness of her personality jewels were no more than dew on the freshness of a summer morning.
"I thought you'd be surprised to find me sitting up," Mrs. Eveleth began again; "but the truth is, I couldn't go to bed while—"
"I'm glad you didn't," Diane broke in, with an evident intention to keep the conversation in her own hands. "I'm not in the least sleepy. I could sit here and talk till morning—though I suppose it's morning now. Really the time to live is between midnight and six o'clock. One has a whole set of emotions then that never come into play during the other eighteen hours of the day. They say it's the minute when the soul comes nearest to parting with the body, so I suppose that's the reason we can see things, during the wee sma' hours, by the light of the invisible spheres."
"I should be quite content with the light of this world—"
"Oh, I shouldn't," Diane broke in, with renewed eagerness to talk against time. "It's like being content with words, and having no need of music. It's like being satisfied with photographs, and never wanting real pictures."
"Diane," Mrs. Eveleth interrupted, "I insist that you let me speak."
"Speak, petite mere? What are you doing but speaking now? I'm scarcely saying a word. I'm too tired to talk. If you'd spent the last eight or ten hours trying to get yourself down to the conversational level of your partners, you'd know what I've been through. We women must be made of steel to stand it. If you had only seen me this evening—"
"Listen to me, Diane; don't joke. This is no time for that."
"Joke! I never felt less like joking in my life, and—"
She broke off with a little hysterical gasp, so that Mrs. Eveleth got another chance.
"I know you don't feel like joking, and still less do I. There's something wrong."
"Is there? What?" Diane made an effort to recover herself. "I hope it isn't indiscreet to ask, because I need the bracing effect of a little scandal."
"Isn't it for you to tell me? You're concealing something of which—"
"Oh, petite mere, is that quite honest? First, you say there's something wrong; and then, when I'm all agog to hear it, you saddle me with the secret. That's what you call in English a sell, isn't it? A sell! What a funny little word! I often wonder who invents the slang. Parrots pass it along, of course, but it must take some cleverness to start it. And isn't it curious," she went on, breathlessly, "how a new bit of slang always fills a vacant place in the language? The minute you hear it you know it's what you've always wanted. I suppose the reason we're obliged to use the current phrase is because it expresses the current need. When the hour passes, the need passes with it, and something new must be coined to meet the new situation. I should think a most interesting book might be written on the Psychology of Slang, and if I wasn't so busy with other things—"
"Diane, I entreat you to answer me. Where is George?"
"Why, I must have forgotten to tell you that he went to the Jockey Club with Monsieur de Melcourt—"
"You did tell me so; but that isn't all. Has he gone anywhere else?"
"How should I know, petite mere? Where should he go but come home?"
"Has he gone to fight a duel?"
The question surprised Diane into partially dropping her mask. For an instant she was puzzled for an answer.
"Men who fight duels," she said, at last, "don't generally tell their wives beforehand."
"But did George tell you?"
Again Diane hesitated before speaking.
"What a queer question!" was all she could find to say.
"It's a question I have a right to ask."
"But have I a right to answer?"
"If you don't answer, you leave me to infer that he has."
"Of course I can't keep you from inferring, but isn't that what they call meeting trouble half-way?"
"I must meet trouble as it comes to me."
"But not before it comes. That's my point."
"It has come. It's here. I'm sure of it. He's gone to fight. You know it. You've sent him. Oh, Diane, if he comes to harm his blood will be on your head."
Diane shrugged her shoulders, and took another sandwich.
"I don't see that. In the first place, it's quite unlikely there'll be any blood at all—or more than a very little. One of the things I admire in men—our men, especially—is the maximum of courage with which they avenge their honor, coupled with the minimum of damage they work in doing it. It must require a great deal of skill. I know I should never have the nerve for it. I should kill my man every time he didn't kill me. But they hardly ever do."
"How can you say that? Wasn't Monsieur de Cretteville killed? And Monsieur Lalanne?"
"That makes two cases. I implied that it happens sometimes—generally by inadvertence. But it isn't likely to do so in this instance—at least not to George. He's an excellent shot—and I believe it was to be pistols."
"Then it's true! Oh, my God, I know I shall lose him!"
Mrs. Eveleth flung her cane to the floor and dropped into a seat, leaning on the table and covering her face with her hands. For a minute she moaned harshly, but when she looked up her eyes were tearless.
"And this is my reward," she cried, "for the kindness I've shown you! After all, you are nothing but a wanton."
Diane kept her self-control, but she grew pale.
"That's odd," was all she permitted herself to say, delicately flicking the crumbs from her fingertips; "because it was to prove the contrary that George called Monsieur de Bienville out."
"Bienville! You've stooped to him?"
"Did I say so?" Diane asked, with a sudden significant lifting of the head.
"There's no need to say so. There must have been something—"
"There was something—something Monsieur de Bienville invented."
"Wasn't it a pity for him to go to the trouble of invention—?"
"When he could have found so much that was true," Diane finished, with dangerous quietness. "That's what you were going to say, isn't it?"
"You have no right to ascribe words to me that I haven't uttered. I never said so."
"No; that's true; I prefer to say it for you. It's safer, in that it leaves me nothing to resent."
"Oh, what shall I do! What shall I do!" Mrs. Eveleth moaned, wringing her hands. "My boy is gone from me. He will never come back. I've always been sure that if he ever did this, it would be the end. It's my fault for having brought him up among your foolish, hot-headed people. He will have thrown his life away—and for nothing!"
"No; not that," Diane corrected; "not even if the worst comes to the worst."
"What do you mean? If the worst comes to the worst, he will have sacrificed himself—"
"For my honor; and George himself would be the first to tell you that it's worth dying for."
Diane rose as she spoke, Mrs. Eveleth following her example. For a brief instant they stood as if measuring each other's strength, till they started with a simultaneous shock at the sharp call of the telephone from an adjoining room. With a smothered cry Diane sprang to answer it, while Mrs. Eveleth, helpless with dread, remained standing, as though frozen to the spot.
"Oui—oui—oui," came Diane's voice, speaking eagerly. "Oui, c'est bien Madame George Eveleth. Oui, oui. Non. Je comprends. C'est Monsieur de Melcourt. Oui—oui—Dites-le-moi tout de suite—j'insiste—Oui—oui. Ah-h-h!"
The last, prolonged, choking exclamation came as the cry of one who sinks, smitten to the heart. Mrs. Eveleth was able to move at last. When she reached the other room, Diane was crouched in a little heap on the floor.
"He's dead? He's dead?" the mother cried, in frenzied questioning.
But Diane, with glazed eyes and parted lips, could only nod her head in affirmation.
During the days immediately following George Eveleth's death the two women who loved him found themselves separated by the very quality of their grief. While Diane's heart was clamorous with remorse, the mother's was poignantly calm. It was generally remarked, in the Franco-American circles where the tragedy was talked of, that Mrs. Eveleth displayed unexpected strength of character. It was a matter of common knowledge that she shrank from none of the terrible details it was necessary to supervise, and that she was capable of giving her attention to her son's practical affairs.
It was not till a fortnight had passed that the two women came face to face alone. The few occasions on which they had met hitherto had been those of solemn public mourning, when the great questions between them necessarily remained untouched. The desire to keep apart was common to both, for neither was sufficiently mistress of herself to be ready for a meeting.
The first move came from Diane. During her long, speechless days of self-upbraiding certain thoughts had been slowly forming themselves into resolutions; but it was on impulse rather than reflection that, at last, she summoned up strength to knock at Mrs. Eveleth's door.
She entered timidly, expecting to find some manifestation of grief similar to her own. She was surprised, therefore, to see her mother-in-law sitting at her desk, with a number of businesslike papers before her. She held a pencil between her fingers, and was evidently in the act of adding up long rows of figures.
"Oh, come in," she said, briefly, as Diane appeared. "Excuse me a minute. Sit down."
Diane seated herself by an open window looking out on the garden. It was a hot morning toward the end of June, and from the neighboring streets came the dull rumble of Paris. Beyond the garden, through an opening, she could see a procession of carriages—probably a wedding on its way to Sainte-Clotilde. It was her first realizing glimpse of the outside world since that gray morning when she had driven home alone, and the very fact that it could be pursuing its round indifferent to her calamity impelled her to turn her gaze away.
It was then that she had time to note the changes wrought in Mrs. Eveleth; and it was like finding winter where she expected no more than the first genial touch of autumn. The softnesses of lingering youth had disappeared, stricken out by the hard, straight lines of gravity. Never having known her mother-in-law as other than a woman of fashion, Diane was awed by this dignified, sorrowing matron, who carried the sword of motherhood in her heart.
It was a long time before Mrs. Eveleth laid her pencil down and raised her head. For a few minutes neither had the power of words, but it was Diane who spoke at last.
"I can understand," she faltered, "that you don't want to see me; but I've come to tell you that I'm going away."
"You're going away? Where?"
The words were spoken gently and as if in some absence of mind. As a matter of fact, Mrs. Eveleth was scarcely thinking of Diane's words—she was so intent on the poor little, tear-worn face before her. She had always known that Diane's attractions were those of coloring and vivacity, and now that she had lost these she was like an extinguished lamp.
"I haven't made up my mind yet," Diane replied, "but I want you to know that you'll be freed from my presence."
"What makes you think I want to be—freed?"
"You must know that I killed George. You said that night that his blood would be on my head—and it is."
"If I said that, I spoke under the stress of terror and excitement—"
"You needn't try to take back the words; they were quite true."
"True in what sense?"
"In almost every sense; certainly in every sense that's vital. If it hadn't been for me, George would be here now."
"It's never wise to speculate on what might have happened if it hadn't been for us. There's no end to the useless torture we can inflict on ourselves in that way."
"I don't think there ought to be an end to it."
"Have you anything in particular to reproach yourself with?"
"That means, then, that there's no one incident—or person—I didn't know but—" She hesitated, and Diane took up the sentence.
"You didn't know but what I had given George specific reason for his act. I may as well tell you that I never did—at least not in the sense in which you mean it. George always knew that I loved him, and that I was true to him. He trusted me, and was justified in doing so. It wasn't that. It was the whole thing—the whole life. There was nothing worthy in it from the beginning to the end. I played with fire, and while George knew it was only playing, it was fire all the same."
"But you say you were never—burnt."
"If I wasn't, others were. I led men on till they thought—till they thought—I don't know how to say it—"
"Till they thought you should have led them further?"
"Precisely; and Bienville was one of them. It wasn't entirely his fault. I allowed him to think—to think—oh, all sorts of things!—and then when I was tired of him, I turned him into ridicule. I took advantage of his folly to make him the laughing-stock of Paris; and to avenge himself he lied. He said I had been his—No; I can't tell you."
"I understand. You needn't tell me. You needn't tell me any more."
"There isn't much more to tell that I can put into words. It was always—just like that—just as it was with Bienville. He wasn't the only one. I made coquetry a game—but a game in which I cheated. I was never fair to any of them. It's only the fact that the others were more honorable than Bienville that's kept what has happened now from having happened long ago. It might have come at any time. I thought it a fine thing to be able to trifle with passion. I didn't know I was only trifling with death. Oh, if I had been a good woman, George would have been with us still!"
"You mustn't blame yourself," the mother-in-law said, speaking with some difficulty, "for more than your own share of our troubles. I want to talk to you quite frankly, and tell you things you've never known. The beginning of the sorrows that have come to us dates very far back—back to a time before you were born."
Diane's brown eyes, swimming in tears, opened wide in a sort of mournful curiosity.
"I admit," Mrs. Eveleth continued, "that in the first hours of our—our bereavement I had some such thoughts about you as you've just expressed. It seemed to me that if you had lived differently, George might have been spared to us. It took reflection to show me that if you had lived differently, George himself wouldn't have been satisfied. The life you led was the one he cared for—the one I taught him to care for. The origin of the wrong has to be traced back to me."
"To you?" Diane uttered the words in increasing wonder. It was strange that a first role in the drama could be played by any one but herself.
"I've always thought it a little odd," Mrs. Eveleth observed, after a brief pause, "that you've never been interested to hear about our family."
"I didn't know there was anything to tell," Diane answered, innocently.
"I suppose there isn't, from your European point of view; but, as we Americans see things, there's a good deal that's significant. Foreigners care so little about who or what we are, so long as we have money."
Diane raised her hand in a gesture of deprecation, intimating that such was not her attitude of mind.
"And I've never wanted to bore you with what, after all, wasn't necessary for you to hear. I shouldn't do so now if it had not become important. There's a great deal to settle and arrange."
"I can understand that there must be business affairs," Diane murmured, for the sake of saying something.
"Exactly; and in order to make them clear to you, I must take you a little further back into our history than you've ever gone before. I want you to see how much more responsible I am than you for our calamity. You were born into this life of Paris, while I came into it of my own accord. You did nothing but yield naturally to the influences around you, while I accepted them after having been fully warned. If you knew a little more of our American ideals I should find it easier to explain."
"I should like to hear about them," Diane said, sympathetically. The new interest was beginning to take her out of herself.
"My husband and I," Mrs. Eveleth went on again, "belong to that New York element which dates back to the time when the city was New Amsterdam, and the State, the New Netherlands. To you that means nothing, but in America it tells much. I was Naomi de Ruyter; my husband, on his mother's side, was a Van Tromp."
"Really?" Diane murmured, feeling that Mrs. Eveleth's tone of pride required a response. "I know there's a Mr. van Tromp here—the American banker."
"He is of the same family as my husband's mother. For nearly three hundred years they've lived on the island of Manhattan, and seen their farms and pastures grow into the second city in the world. The world has poured in on them, literally in millions. It would have submerged them if there hadn't been something in that old stock that couldn't be kept down. However high the tide rose, they floated on the top. My people were thrifty and industrious. They worked hard, saved money, and lived in simple ways. They cared little for pleasure, for beauty, or for any of the forms of art; but, on the contrary, they lived for work, for religion, for learning, and all the other high and serious pursuits. It was fine; but I hated it."
"I longed to get away from it, and when I married I persuaded my husband to give up his profession and his home in order to establish himself here."
"But surely you can't regret that? You were free."
"Only the selfish and the useless are ever free. Those who are worth anything in this world are bound by a hundred claims upon them. They must either stay caught in the meshes of love and duty, or wrench themselves away—and that's what I did. Perhaps I suffered less than many people in doing the same thing; but I cannot say that I haven't suffered at all."
"But you've had a happy life—till now."
"I've had what I wanted—which may be happiness, or may not be."
"I've heard that you were very much admired. Madame de Nohant has told me that when you appeared at the Tuileries, no one was more graceful, not even the Empress herself."
"I had what I wanted," Mrs. Eveleth repeated, with a sigh. "I don't deny that I enjoyed it; and yet I question now if I did right. When my husband died, and George was a little boy, my friends made one last effort to induce me to take him back, and bring him up in his own country. I ignored their opinions, because all their views were so different from mine. I was young and independent, and enamoured of the life I had begun to lead. I had scruples of conscience from time to time; but when George grew up and developed the tastes I had bred in him, I let other considerations go. I was pleased with his success in the little world of Paris, just as I had been flattered by my own. When he fell in love with you I urged him to marry you, not because of anything in yourself, but because you were Mademoiselle de la Ferronaise, the last of an illustrious family. I looked upon the match as a useful alliance for him and for me. I encouraged George in extravagance. I encouraged him when he began to live in a style far more expensive than anything to which he had been accustomed. I encouraged him when he built this house. I wanted to impress you; I wanted you to see that the American could give you a more splendid home than any European you were likely to marry, however exalted his rank. I was not without fears that George was spending too much money; but we've always had plenty for whatever we wanted to do; and so I let him go on when I should have stopped him. It was my vanity. It wasn't his fault. He inherited a large fortune; and if I had only brought him up wisely, it would have been enough."
"And wasn't it enough?"
In spite of her growing dread, Diane brought out the question firmly. Mrs. Eveleth sat one long minute motionless, with hands clasped, with lips parted, and with suspended breath.
The monosyllable seemed to fill the room. It echoed and re-echoed in Diane's ears like the boom of a cannon. While her outward vision took in such details as the despair in Mrs. Eveleth's face, the folds of crape on her gown, the Watteau picture on the panel of moss-green and gold that formed the background, all the realities of life seemed to be dissolving into chaos, as the glories of the sunset sink into a black and formless mass. When Mrs. Eveleth spoke again, her voice sounded as though it came from far away.
"I want to take all the blame upon myself. If it hadn't been for me, George would never have gone to such extremes."
Diane spoke not so much from the desire to speak as from the necessity of forcing her reeling intelligence back to the world of fact.
"I'm afraid there's no other word for it."
"Do you mean that there are debts?"
"A great many debts."
"Can't they be paid?"
"Most of them can be paid—perhaps all; but when that is done I'm afraid there will be very little left."
"But surely we haven't lived so extravagantly as that. I know I've spent a great deal of money—"
"It hasn't been altogether the style of living. When my poor boy saw that he was going beyond his means he tried to recoup himself by speculation. Do you know what that is?"
"I know it's something by which people lose money."
"He had no experience of anything of the kind, and his men of business tell me he went into it wildly. He had that optimistic temperament which always believes that the next thing will be a success, even though the present one is a failure. Then, too, he fell into the hands of unscrupulous men, who made him think that great fortunes were to be made out of what they call wildcat schemes, when all the time they were leading him to ruin."
Ruin! The word appealed to Diane's memory and imagination alike. It came to her from her remotest childhood, when she could remember hearing it applied to her grandfather, the old Comte de la Ferronaise. After that she could recollect leaving the great chateau in which she was born, and living with her parents, first in one European capital, and then in another. Finally they settled for a few years in Ireland, her mother's country, where both her parents died. During all this time, as well as in the subsequent years in a convent at Auteuil, she was never free from the sense of ruin hanging over her. Though she understood well enough that her way of escape lay in making a rich marriage, it was impressed upon her that the meagreness of her dot would make her efforts in this direction difficult. When, within a few months of leaving the convent, she was asked by George Eveleth to become his wife, it seemed as if she had reached the end of her cares. She had the less scruple in accepting what he had to give in that she honestly liked the generous, easy-going man who lived but to gratify her whims. During the four years of her married life she had spent money, not merely for the love of spending, but from sheer joy in the sense that Poverty, the arch-enemy, had been defeated; and lo! he was springing at her again.
"Ruin!" she echoed, when Mrs. Eveleth had let fall the word. "Do you mean that we're—ruined?"
"It depends on how you look at it. You will always have your own small fortune, on which you can live with economy."
"But you will have yours, too."
Mrs. Eveleth smiled faintly.
"No; I'm afraid that's gone. It was in George's hands, and I can see he tried to increase it for me, by doing with it—as he did with his own. I'm not blaming him. The worst of which he can be accused is a lack of judgment."
"But there's this house!" Diane urged, "and all this furniture!—and these pictures!"
She glanced up at the Watteau, the Boucher, and the Fragonard, which gave the key to the decorations of the dainty boudoir. The faint smile still lingered on Mrs. Eveleth's lips, as it lingers on the face of the dead.
"There'll be very little left," she repeated.
"But I don't understand," Diane protested, with a perplexed movement of the hand across her brow. "I don't know much about business, but if it were explained to me I think I could follow."
"Come and sit beside me at the desk," Mrs. Eveleth suggested. "You will understand better if you see the figures just as they stand."
She went over the main points, one by one, using the same untechnical simplicity of language which George's men of business had employed with herself. The facts could be stated broadly but comprehensively. When all was settled the Eveleth estate would have disappeared. Diane would possess her small inheritance, which was a thing apart. Mrs. Eveleth would have a few jewels and other minor personal belongings, but nothing more. The very completeness of the story rendered it easy in the telling, though the largeness of the facts made it impossible for Diane to take them in. It was an almost unreasonable tax on credulity to attempt to think of the tall, fragile woman sitting before her, with luxurious nurture in every pose of the figure, in every habit of the mind, as penniless. It was trying to account for daylight without a sun.
"It can't be!" Diane cried, when she had done her best to weigh the facts just placed before her.
Mrs. Eveleth shook her head, the glimmering smile fixed on her lips as on a mask.
"It is so, dear, I'm afraid. We must do our best to get used to it."
"I shall never get used to it," Diane cried, springing to her feet—"never, never!"
"It will be hard for you to do without all you've had—when you've had so much—but—"
"Oh, it isn't that," Diane broke in, fiercely. "It isn't for me. I can do well enough. It's for you."
"Don't worry about me, dear. I can work."
The words were spoken in a matter-of-fact tone, but Diane recoiled at them as at a sword-thrust.
It was the last touch, not only of the horror of the situation, but of its ludicrous irony.
"I can work, dear," Mrs. Eveleth repeated, with the poignant tranquillity that smote Diane more cruelly than grief. "There are many things I could do—"
"Oh, don't!" Diane wailed, with pleading gestures of the hands. "Oh, don't! I can't bear it. Don't say such things. They kill me. There must be some mistake. All that money can't have gone. Even if it was only a few hundred thousand francs, it would be something. I will not believe it. It's too soon to judge. I've heard it took a long time to settle up estates. How can they have done it yet?"
"They haven't. They've only seen its possibilities—and impossibilities."
"I will never believe it," Diane burst out again. "I will see those men. I will tell them. I am positive that it cannot be. Such injustice would not be permitted. There must be laws—there must be something—to prevent such outrage—especially on you!" She spoke vehemently, striding to and fro in the little room, and brushing back from time to time the heavy brown hair that in her excitement fell in disordered locks on her forehead. "It's too wicked. It's too monstrous. It's intolerable. God doesn't allow such things to happen on earth, otherwise He wouldn't be God! No, no; you cannot make me think that such things happen. You work! The Mater Dolorosa herself was not called upon to bear such humiliation. If God reigns, as they say He does—"
"But, Diane dear," Mrs. Eveleth interrupted, gently, "isn't it true that we owe it to George's memory to bear our troubles bravely?"
"I'm ready to bear anything bravely—but this."
"But isn't this the case, above all others, in which you and I should be unflinching? Doesn't any lack of courage on our parts imply a reflection on him?"
"That's true," Diane said, stopping abruptly.
"I don't know how far you honor George's memory—?"
"George's memory? Why shouldn't I honor it?"
"I didn't know. Some women—after what you've just discovered—"
"I am not—some women! I am Diane Eveleth. Whatever George did I shared it, and I share it still."
"Then you forgive him?"
"Forgive him?—I?—forgive him? No! What have I to forgive? Anything he did he did for me and in order to have the more to give me—and I love him and honor him as I never did till now."
Mrs. Eveleth rose and stood unsteadily beside her desk.
"God bless you for saying that, Diane."
"There's no reason why He should bless me for saying anything so obvious."
"It isn't obvious to me, Diane; and you must let me bless you—bless you with the mother's blessing, which, I think, must be next to God's."
Then opening her arms wide, she sobbed the one word "Come!" and they had at last the comfort, dear to women, of weeping in each other's arms.
In the private office of the great Franco-American banking-house of Van Tromp & Co., the partners, having finished their conference, were about to separate.
"That's all, I think," said Mr. Grimston. He rose with a jerky movement, which gave him the appearance of a little figure shot out of a box.
Mr. van Tromp remained seated at the broad, flat-topped desk, his head bent at an angle which gave Mr. Grimston a view of the tips of shaggy eyebrows, a broad nose, and that peculiar kind of protruding lower lip before which timid people quail. As there was no response, Mr. Grimston looked round vaguely on the sombre, handsome furnishings, fixing his gaze at last on the lithographed portrait of Mr. van Tromp senior, the founder of the house, hanging above the mantelpiece.
"That's all, I think," Mr. Grimston repeated, raising his voice slightly in order to drown the rumble that came through the open windows from the rue Auber.
Suddenly Mr. van Tromp looked up.
"I've just had a letter," he said, in a tone indicating an entirely new order of discussion, "from a person who signs herself Diana—or is it Diane?—Eveleth."
"Oh, Diane! She's written to you, has she?" came from Mr. Grimston, as his partner searched with short-sighted eyes for the letter in question among the papers on the desk.
"You know her, then?"
"Of course I know her. You ought to know her, too. You would, if you didn't shut yourself up in the office, away from the world."
"N-no, I don't recall that I've ever met the lady. Ah, here's the note, just sit down a minute while I read it."
Mr. Grimston shot back into his seat again, while Mr. van Tromp wiped his large, circular glasses.
"'Dear Mr. van Tromp,' she begins, 'I am most anxious to talk to you on very important business, and would take it as a favor if you would let me call on Tuesday morning and see you very privately. Yours sincerely, Diane Eveleth.' That's all. Now, what do you make of it?"
The straight smile, which was all the facial expression Mr. Grimston ever allowed himself, became visible between the lines of his closely clipped mustache and beard. He took his time before speaking, enjoying the knowledge that this was one of those social junctures in which he had his senior partner so conspicuously at a disadvantage.
"It's a bad business, I'm afraid," he said, as though summing up rather than beginning.
"What does the woman want with me?"
"That, I fear, is painfully evident. You must have heard of the Eveleth smash a couple of months ago. Or—let me see!—I think it was just when you were in New York. No; you'd be likely not to hear of it. The Eveleths have so carefully cut their American acquaintance for so many years that they've created a kind of vacuum around themselves, out of which the noise of their doings doesn't easily penetrate. They belong to that class of American Parisians who pose for going only into French society."
"I know the kind."
"Mrs. Grimston could tell you all about them, of course. Equally at home as she is in the best French and American circles, she hears a great many things she'd rather not hear."
"She needn't listen to 'em."
"Unfortunately a woman in her position, with a daughter like Marion, is obliged to listen. But that's rather the end of the story—"
"And I want the beginning, Grimston, if you don't mind. I want to know why this Diane should be after me."
"She's after money," Mr. Grimston declared, bluntly. "She's after money, and you'd better let me manage her. It would save you the trouble of the refusal you'll be obliged to make."
"Well, tell me about her and I'll see."
Mr. Grimston stiffened himself in his chair and cleared his throat.
"Diane Eveleth," he stated, with slow, significant emphasis, "is an extremely fascinating woman. She has probably turned more men round her little finger than any other woman in Paris."
"Is that to her credit or her discredit?"
"I don't want to say anything against Mrs. Eveleth," Mr. Grimston protested. "I wish she hadn't come near us at all. As it is, you must be forewarned."
"I'm not particular about that, if you'll give me the facts."
"That's not so easy. Where facts are so deucedly disagreeable, a fellow finds it hard to trot out any poor little woman in her weaknesses. I must make it clear beforehand that I don't want to say anything against her."
"It's in confidence—privileged, as the lawyers say. I sha'n't think the worse of her—that is, not much."
"Poor Diane," Mr. Grimston began again, sententiously, "is one of the bits of human wreckage that have drifted down to us from the pre-revolutionary days of French society. Her grandfather, the old Comte de la Ferronaise, belonged to that order of irreconcilable royalists who persist in dashing themselves to pieces against the rising wall of democracy. I remember him perfectly—a handsome old fellow, who had lost an arm in the Crimea. He used to do business with us when I was with Hargous in the rue de Provence. Having impoverished himself in a plot in favor of the Comte de Chambord, somewhere about 1872, he came utterly to grief in raising funds for the Boulanger craze, in the train of the Duchesse d'Uzes. He died shortly afterward, one of the last to break his heart over the hopeless Bourbon cause."
"That, I understand you to say, was the grandfather of the young woman who is after money. She's a Frenchwoman, then?"
"She's half French. That was her grandfather. The father was of much the same type, but a lighter weight. He married an Irish beauty, a Miss O'Hara, as poor as himself. He died young, I believe, and I'd lost sight of the lot, till this Mademoiselle Diane de la Ferronaise floated into view, some five years ago, in the train of the Nohant family. Her marriage to George Eveleth, which took place almost at once, was looked upon as an excellent thing all round. It rid the Nohants of a poor relation, and helped to establish the Eveleths in the heart of the old aristocracy. Since then Diane has been going the pace."
"The pace the Eveleth money couldn't keep up with; the pace that made her the most-talked-of woman in a society where women are talked of more than enough; the pace that led George Eveleth to put a bullet through his head under pretence of fighting a duel."
"Dear me! Dear me! A most unusual young woman! Do you tell me that her husband actually put an end to himself?"
"So I understand. The affair was a curious one; but Bienville swears he fired into the air, and I believe him. Besides, George Eveleth was found shot through the temple, and no one but himself could have inflicted a wound like that. To make it conclusive, Melcourt and Vernois, who were seconds, testify to having seen the act, without having the time to prevent it. You can see that it is a relief to me to be able to take this view of the case—on poor Marion's account."
"Marion—your daughter! Was she mixed up in the affair?"
"Mixed up is a little to much to say. I don't mind telling you in confidence that there was something between her and Bienville. I don't know where it mightn't have ended; but of course when all this happened, and we got wind of Bienville's entanglement with Mrs. Eveleth, we had to put a stop to the thing, and pack her off to America. She'll stay there with her aunt, Mrs. Bayford, till it blows over."
"And your friend Bienville? Hasn't he brought himself within the clutches of the law?"
"George Eveleth was officially declared a suicide. He had every reason to be one—though I don't want to say anything against Mrs. Eveleth. When Bienville refused to put an end to him, he evidently decided to do it himself. His family know nothing about that, so please don't let it slip out if you see Diane. With her notions, the husband fallen in her cause has perished on the field of honor; and if that's any comfort to her, let her keep it. As for Bienville, he's joined young Persigny, the explorer, in South America. By the time he returns the affair will have been forgotten. He's a nice young fellow, and it's a thousand pities he should have fallen into the net of a woman like Mrs. Eveleth. I don't want to say anything against her, you understand—"
Mr. Grimston pronounced the word with a hard-drawn breath, and presented the appearance of a man who restrains himself. He was still endeavoring to maintain this attitude of repression when a discreet tap on the door called from Mr. van Tromp a gruff "Come in." A young man entered with a card.
"She's here," the banker grunted, reading the name.
Mr. Grimston shot up again.
"Better let me see her," he insisted, in a warning tone.
"No, no. I'll have a look at her myself. Bring the lady in," he added, to the young man in waiting.
"Then I'll skip," said Mr. Grimston, suiting the action to the word by disappearing in one direction as Diane entered from another.
Mr. van Tromp rose heavily, and surveyed her as she crossed the floor toward him. He had been expecting some such seductive French beauty as he had occasionally seen on the stage on the rare occasions when he went to a play; so that the trimness of this little figure in widow's dress, with white bands and cuffs, after the English fashion, somewhat disconcerted him. Unaccustomed to the ways of banks, Diane half offered her hand, but, as he was on his guard against taking it, she stood still before him.
"Mrs. Eveleth, I believe," he said, when he had surveyed her well. "Have the goodness to sit down, and tell me what I can do for you."
Diane took the seat he indicated, which left a discreet space between them. The heavy black satchel she carried she placed on the floor beside her. When she raised her veil, Mr. van Tromp observed to himself that the pale face, touching in expression, and the brown eyes, in which there seemed to lurk a gentle reproach against the world for having treated her so badly, were exactly what he would have expected in a woman coming to borrow money.
"I've come to you, Mr. van Tromp," Diane began, timidly, "because I thought that perhaps—you might know—who I am."
"I don't know anything at all about you," was the not encouraging response.
"Of course there's no reason why you should—" Diane hastened to say, apologetically.
"None whatever," he assured her.
"Only that a good many people do know us—"
"I dare say. I haven't the honor to be among the number."
"And I thought that possibly—just possibly—you might be predisposed in my favor."
"A banker is never predisposed in favor of any one—not even his own flesh and blood."
"I didn't know that," Diane persisted, bravely, "otherwise I might just as well have gone to anybody else."
"Just as well."
"Would you like me to go now?"
The question took him by surprise, and before replying he looked at her again with queer, bulgy eyes peering through big circular glasses, in a way that made Diane think of an ogre in a fairy tale.
"You're not here for what I like," he said at last, "but for what you want yourself."
"That's true," Diane admitted, ruefully, "but I might go away. I will go away, if you say so."
"You'll please yourself. I didn't send for you, and I'll not tell you to go. How old are you?"
It was Diane's turn to be surprised, but she brought out her age promptly.
"You look older."
"That's because I've had so much trouble, perhaps. It's because we're in trouble that I've come to you, Mr. van Tromp."
"I dare say. I didn't suppose you'd come to ask me to dinner. There are not many days go by without some one expecting me to pull him out of the scrape he would never have got into if it hadn't been for his own fault."
"I'm afraid that's very like my case."
"It's like a good many cases. You're no exception to the rule."
"And what do you do at such times, if I may ask?"
"You may ask, but I'll not tell you. You're here on your own business, I presume, and not on mine."
"I thought that perhaps you'd be good enough to make mine yours. Though we've never met, I have seen you at various times, and it always seemed to me that you looked kind; and so—"
"Stop right there, ma'am!" he cried, putting up a warning hand. "'Most important business,' was what you said in your note, otherwise I shouldn't have consented to see you. If you have any business, state it, and I'll say yes or no, as it strikes me. But I'll tell you beforehand that there isn't a chance in a thousand but what it'll be no."
"I did come because I thought you looked kind," Diane declared, indignantly, "and if you think it was for any other reason whatever, you're absolutely mistaken."
"Then we'll let it be. I can't help my looks, nor what you think about them. The point is that you're here for something; so let's know what it is."
"You make it very hard for me," Diane said, almost tearfully, "but I'll try. I must tell you, first of all, that we've lost a great deal of money."
"That's no new situation."
"It is to me; and it's even more so to my poor mother-in-law. I should think you must have heard of her at least. She is Mrs. Arthur Eveleth. Her maiden name was Naomi de Ruyter, of New York."
"Her husband was related, on his mother's side, to the Van Tromps—the same family as your own."
"That's more likely still. There are as many Van Tromps in New York as there are shrimps on the Breton coast, and they're all related to me, because I'm supposed to have a little money."
"I sha'n't let you offend me," Diane said, stoutly, "because I want your help."
"That's a very good reason."
"But since you take so little interest in us I will not attempt to explain how it is that we've come to such misfortune."
"I'll take that for granted."
"The blow has fallen more heavily on my mother-in-law than on me. She has lost everything she had in the world; while I have still my own money—my dot—and a little over from the sale of my jewels."
"If you'd ever seen her, you would know how terrible, how impossible, such a situation is for her. She's the sort of woman who ought to have money—who must have money. And so I thought if I came to you—"
"I'd give her some."
"No," Diane said, quickly, with a renewed touch of indignation, "but that you'd help me to do it."
He looked at her with an odd, upward glance under his shaggy, overhanging brows, while the protruding lower lip went a shade further out.
"Help you to do it? How?"
"By letting her have mine."
Again he looked at her, almost suspiciously.
"You've got plenty to give away, I suppose?"
"On the contrary, I've pitifully little; but such as it is, I want her to have it all. She could live on it—with economy; or at least she says I could."
"And can't you?"
"I don't want to. As there isn't enough for two, I wish to settle it on her. Isn't that the word?—settle?"
"It'll do as well as another. And what do you propose to do yourself?"
Diane forced the word in a little gasp of humiliation, but she got it out.
"And what'll you work at?"
"I don't know yet, exactly. I shall have to see. My mother-in-law is going to America; and when she does I'll join her."
"Humph! My good woman, you wouldn't do more than just keep ahead of starvation."
"Oh, I shouldn't expect to do more. If I succeeded in that—I should live."
"How much money have you got?"
"It's all here," she answered, picking up the black satchel and opening it. "These are my securities, and I'm told they're very good."
"And do you take them round with you every time you go shopping?"
"No," Diane smiled, somewhat wanly. "They've been in the hands of the Messrs. Hargous for a good many years past. They are entirely at my own disposal—not in trust, they said; so that I had a right to take them away. I thought I would just bring them to you."
"To keep them for my mother-in-law and pay her the interest, or whatever it is."
"Why didn't you leave them with Hargous?"
"I was afraid, from some things he said, he would object to what I wanted to do."
"And what made you think I wouldn't object to it, too?"
"Two or three reasons. First, Monsieur Hargous is not an American, and you are; and I'd been told that Americans always like to help one another—"
"I don't know who could have put that notion into your head."
"And, then, from the few glimpses I've had of you—I will say it!—I thought you looked kind."
"Well, now that you've had a better look, you see I don't. How much money have you got? You haven't told me that yet."
"Here's the memorandum. They said they were mostly bonds, and very good ones."
With the slip of paper in his hand the banker leaned back in the chair, and took a longer time than was necessary to scan the poor little list. In reality he was turning over in his mind the unexpected features of the case, venturing a peep at Diane as she sat meekly awaiting the end of his perusal.
"Hasn't it occurred to you," he asked, at last, "that you could leave your affairs in Hargous' hands, and still turn over to your mother-in-law whatever sums he paid you?"
"Yes; but she wouldn't take the money unless she thought it was her very own."
"But it isn't her very own. It's yours."
"I want to make it hers. I want to transfer it to her absolutely—so that no one else, not even I, shall have a claim upon it. There must be ways of doing that."
"There are ways of doing that, but as far as she's concerned it comes to the same thing. If she won't touch the income, she will refuse to accept the principal."
"I've thought of that, too; and it's among the reasons why I've come to you. I hoped you'd help me—"
"To tell a lie about it."
"I should think it might be done without that. My mother-in-law is a very simple woman in business affairs. She has been used all her life to having money paid into her account, when she had only the vaguest idea as to where it came from. If you should write to her now and say that some small funds in her name were in your hands, and that you would pay her the income at stated intervals, nothing would seem more natural to her. She would probably attribute it to some act of foresight on her son's part, and never think I had anything to do with it at all."
For three or four minutes he sat in meditation, still glancing at her furtively under his shaggy brows, while she waited for his decision.
"I don't approve of it at all," he said, at last.
"Don't say that," she pleaded. "I've hoped so much that you'd—"
"At the same time I won't say that the thing isn't feasible. I'll just verify these bonds and certificates, and—"
He took them, one by one, from the bag, and, having compared them with the list, replaced them.
"And," he continued, "you can come and see me again at this time to-morrow."
"Oh, thank you!"
"You can thank me when I've done something—not before. Very likely I sha'n't do anything at all. But in the mean while you may leave your satchel here, and not run the risk of being robbed in the street. If I refuse you to-morrow—as is probable I shall—I'll send a man with you to see you and your money safely back to Hargous."
He touched a bell, and a young man entered. On directions from the banker the clerk left the room, taking the bag with him; while Diane, feeling that her errand had been largely accomplished, rose to leave.
"You can't go without the receipt for your securities. How do you know I'm not stealing them from you? What right would you have to claim them when you came again? Sit down now and tell me something more about yourself."
Half smiling, half tearfully, Diane complied. Before the clerk returned she had given a brief outline of her life, agreeing in all but the tone of telling with much of what Mr. Grimston had stated half an hour earlier.
"It has been all my fault," she declared, as the young man re-entered. "There's been nobody to blame but me."
"I see that well enough," the old man agreed, and once more she prepared to depart.
"Look at your receipt. Compare it with the list there on the desk." Diane obeyed, though her eyes swam so that she could not tell one word from another. "Is it all right? Then so much the better. You'll find me at the same time to-morrow—if you're not late."
"Since you won't let me thank you, I must go without doing so," she began, tremulously, "but I assure you—"
"You needn't assure me of anything, but just come again to-morrow."
She smiled through the mist over her eyes, and bowed.
"I shall not be—late," was all she ventured to say, and turned to leave him.
She had reached the door, and half opened it, when she heard his voice behind her.
"Stay! Just a minute! I'd like to shake hands with you, young woman."
Diane turned and allowed him to take her hand in a grip that hurt her. She was so astounded by the suddenness of the act, as well as by the rapidity with which he closed the door behind her, that her tears did not actually fall until she found herself in the public department of the bank, outside.
On board the Picardie, steaming to New York, Mrs. Eveleth and Diane were beginning to realize the gravity of the step they had taken. As long as they remained in Paris, battling with the sordid details of financial downfall, America had seemed the land of hope and reconstruction, where the ruined would find to their hands the means with which to begin again. The illusion had sustained them all through the first months of living on little, and stood by them till the very hour of departure. It faded just when they had most need of it—when the last cliffs of France went suddenly out of sight in a thick fog-bank of nothingness; and the cold, empty void, through which the steamer crept cautiously, roaring from minute to minute like a leviathan in pain, seemed all that the universe henceforth had to offer them. They would have been astonished to know that, beyond the fog, Fate was getting the New World ready for their reception, by creating among the rich those misfortunes out of which not infrequently proceed the blessings of the poor.
When that excellent aged lady, Miss Regina van Tromp, sister to the well-known Paris banker, was felled by a stroke of apoplexy, the personal calamity might, by a mind taking all things into account, have been considered balanced by the circumstance that it was affording employment to some refined woman of reduced means, capable of taking care of the invalid. It had the further advantage that, coming suddenly as it did, it absorbed the attention of Miss Lucilla van Tromp, the sick lady's companion and niece, who became unable henceforth to give to the household of her cousin, Derek Pruyn, that general supervision which a kindly old maid can exercise in the home of a young and prosperous widower. Were Destiny on the lookout for still another opening, she could have found it in the fact that Miss Dorothea Pruyn, whose father's discipline came by fits and starts, while his indulgence was continuous, had reached a point in motherless maidenhood where, according to Miss Lucilla, "something ought to be done." There was thus unrest, and a straining after new conditions, in that very family toward which Mrs. Eveleth's imagination turned from this dreary, leaden sea as to a possible haven.
Since the wonderful morning when the banker had brought her the news of her little inheritance her thoughts had dwelt much on Van Tromps and Pruyns, as representatives of that old New York clan with which she deigned to claim alliance; and she found no small comfort in going over, again and again, the details of the interview which had brought her once more into contact with her kin. James van Tromp, she informed Diane, as they lay covered with rugs in their steamer-chairs, had been gruff in manner, but kind in heart, like all the Van Tromps she had ever heard of. He had not scrupled to dwell upon her past extravagance, but he had tempered his remarks by commending her resolution to return to her old home and friends. In the matter of friends, he assured her, she would find herself with very few. She would be forgotten by some and ignored by others; while those who still took an interest in her would resent the fact that in the days of her prosperity she had neglected them. In any case, she must have the meekness of the suppliant. As her means at most would be small, she must be grateful if any of her relatives would take her without wages, as a sort of superior lady's maid, and save her the expense of board and lodging.
"And so you see, dear," she finished, humbly, "it's going to be all right. George thought of me; and far more than any money, I value that. James van Tromp said that this sum had been placed in his hands some time ago to be specially used for me, and I couldn't help understanding what that meant. When my boy saw the disaster coming he did his best to protect me; and it will be my part now to show that he did enough."
If Diane listened to these familiar remarks, it was only to take a dull satisfaction in the working of her scheme; but Mrs. Eveleth's next words startled her into sudden attention.
"Haven't I heard you say that you knew James van Tromp's nephew, Derek Pruyn?"
"I did know him," Diane answered, with a trace of hesitation.
"You knew him well?"
"Not exactly; it was different from—well."
"Different? How? Did you meet him often?"
"Never often; but when we did meet—"
The possibilities implied in Diane's pause induced Mrs. Eveleth to turn in her chair and look at her.
"You've never told me about that."
"There wasn't much to tell. Don't you know what it is to have met, just a few times in your life, some one who leaves behind a memory out of proportion to the degree of the acquaintance? It was something like that with this Mr. Pruyn."
"Where was it? In Paris?"
"I met him first in Ireland. He was staying with some friends of ours the last year mamma and I lived at Kilrowan. What I remember about him was that he seemed so young to be a widower—scarcely more than a boy."
"Is that all?"
"It's very nearly all; but there is something more. He said one day when we were talking intimately—we always seemed to talk intimately when we were together—that if ever I was in trouble, I was to remember him."
"Yes, it was. I reminded him of it when we met again. That was the year I was going out with Marie de Nohant, just before George and I were married."
"And what did he say then?"
"That he repeated the request."
"Extraordinary!" Mrs. Eveleth commented again. "Are you going to do anything about it?"
"I've thought of it," Diane admitted, "but I don't believe I can."
"Wouldn't it be a pity to neglect so good an opportunity?"
"It might rather be a pity to avail one's self of it. There are things in life too pleasant to put to the test."
"He might like you to do it. After all, he's a connection."
Not caring to continue the subject, Diane murmured something about feeling cold, and rose for a little exercise. Having advanced as far forward as she could go, she turned her back upon her fellow-passengers, stretched in mute misery in their chairs or huddled in cheerful groups behind sheltering projections, and stood watching the dip and rise of the steamer's bow as it drove onward into the mist. Whither was she going, and to what? With a desperate sense of her ignorance and impotence, she strained her eyes into the white, dimly translucent bank, from which stray drops repeatedly lashed her face, as though its vaporous wall alone stood between her and the knowledge of her future.
* * * * *
If she could have seen beyond the fog and carried her vision over the intervening leagues of ocean, so as to look into a large, old-fashioned New York house in Gramercy Park, she would have found Derek Pruyn and Lucilla van Tromp discussing one of the cardinal points on which that future was to turn.
That it was not an amusing conversation would have been clear from the agitation of Derek's manner as he strode up and down the room, as well as from the rigidity with which his cousin, usually a limp person, held herself erect, in the attitude of a woman who has no intention of retiring from the stand she has taken.
"You force me to speak more plainly than I like, Derek," she was saying, "because you make yourself so obtuse. You seem to forget that years have a way of passing, and that Dorothea is no longer a very little girl."
"She's barely seventeen—no more than a child."
"But a motherless child, and one who has been allowed a great deal of liberty."
"Is there any reason why a girl shouldn't be a free creature?"
"Only the reason why a boy shouldn't be one."
"That's different. A boy would be getting into mischief."
"Even a girl isn't proof against that possibility. It mayn't be a boy's kind of mischief, but it's a kind of her own."
Unwilling to credit this statement, and yet unable to contradict it, Pruyn continued his march for a minute or two in silence, while Miss Lucilla waited nervously for him to speak again. It was one of the few points in the round of daily existence on which she was prepared to give him battle. It was part of the ridiculous irony of life that Derek, with the domestic incompetency natural to a banker and a club-man, should have a daughter to train, while she whose instinct was so passionately maternal must be doomed to spinsterhood. She had never made any secret of the fact that to watch Derek bringing up Dorothea made her as fidgety as if she had seen him trimming hats, though she recognized the futility of trying to snatch the task from his hands in order to do it properly. The utmost she had been able to accomplish was to be allowed to plod daily from Gramercy Park to Fifth Avenue, in the hope of keeping bad from becoming worse; and even this insufficient oversight must be discontinued now, since Aunt Regina would monopolize her care. If she took the matter to heart, it was no more, she thought, than she had a right to do, seeing that Derek was almost like a younger brother, and, with the exception of Uncle James in Paris, and Aunt Regina in New York, her nearest relative in the world.
As she glanced up at him from time to time she reflected, with some pride, that no one could have taken him for anything but what he was—a rising young New York banker of some hereditary line. As in certain English portraits there is an inborn aptitude for statesmanship, so in Derek Pruyn there was that air, almost inseparable from the Van Tromp kinship, of one accustomed to possess money, to make money, to spend money, and to support moneyed responsibilities. The face, slightly stern by nature, slightly grave by habit, and tanned by outdoor exercise, was that of a man who wields his special kind of power with a due sense of its importance, and yet wields it easily. Nature having endowed the Van Tromps with every excellence but that of good looks, it was Miss Lucilla's tendency to depreciate beauty; but she was too much a woman not to be sensible of the charms of six feet two, with proportionate width of shoulder, and a way of standing straight and looking straight, incompatible with anything but "acting straight," that was full of a fine dominance. That he should be carefully dressed was but a detail in the exactitude which was the main element in his character; while his daily custom of wearing in his button-hole a dark-red carnation, a token of some never-explained memory of his dead wife, indicated a capacity for sober romance which she did not find displeasing.
"Then what would you do about it?" he asked, at last, pausing abruptly in his walk and confronting her.
"There isn't much choice, Derek. Human society is so constituted as to leave us very little opportunity for striking into original paths. Aunt Regina has told you many a time what was possible, and you didn't like it; but I'll repeat it if you wish. You could send her to a good boarding-school—"
"Or you could have a lady to chaperon her properly."
"Well, there you are, Derek. You refuse the only means that could help you in your situation; and so you leave Dorothea a prey to a woman like Mrs. Wappinger. You'll excuse me for mentioning it; but—"
"I'd excuse you for mentioning anything; but even Mrs. Wappinger ought to have justice. You know as well as I do that Uncle James wanted to marry her, and that it was only her own common-sense that saved us from having her as an aunt. You may not admire her type, but you can't deny that it's one which has a legitimate place in American civilization. Ours isn't a society that can afford to exclude the self-made man, or his widow."
"That may be quite true, Derek; only in that case you have also to reckon with—his son."
Derek bounded away once more, making manifest efforts to control himself before he spoke again.
"You know this subject is most distasteful to me, Lucilla," he said, severely.
"I know it is; and it's equally so to me. But I see what's going on, and you don't—there's the difference. What should a young man like you know about bringing up a school-girl? To see you intrusted with her at all makes me very nearly doubt the wisdom of the ends of Providence. She's a good little girl by nature, but your indulgence would spoil an angel."
"I don't indulge her. I've forbidden her to do lots of things."
"Exactly; you come down on the poor thing when she's not doing any harm, and you put no restrictions on the things in which she's wilful. If there's a girl on earth who is being brought up backward, it's Dorothea Pruyn."
"She's my child. I presume I've got a right to do what I like with her."
"You'll find that you've done what you don't like with her, when you've allowed her to get into a ridiculous, unmaidenly flirtation with the young man Wappinger."
"I shouldn't let that distress me if I were you. As far as Dorothea is concerned, your young man Wappinger doesn't exist."
"That's as it may be," Miss Lucilla sniffed, now on the brink of tears.
"That's as it is," he insisted, picking up his hat.
"It's to be regretted," he added, with dignity, as he took his leave, "that on this subject you and I cannot see alike; but I think you may trust me not to endanger the happiness of my child."
* * * * *
Even if Diane could have transcended space to assist at this brief interview, she would probably have missed its bearing on herself; but had she transported her spirit at the same instant to still another scene, the effect would have been more enlightening. While she still stood watching the rise and dip of the steamer's bow, Mrs. Wappinger, in a larger and more elaborate mansion than the old-fashioned house in Gramercy Park, was reading to her son such portions of a letter from James van Tromp as she considered it discreet for him to hear. A stout, florid lady, in jovial middle age, her appearance as an agent in her affairs would certainly have surprised Diane, had the vision been vouchsafed to her.
Passing over those sentences in which the old man admitted the wisdom of her decision in rejecting his proposals, on the ground that he saw now that the married state would not have suited him, Mrs. Wappinger came to what was of common interest.
"'... You will remember, my good friend,'" she read, with a strong Western accent, "'that both at the time of, and since, your husband's death I have been helpful to you in your business affairs, and laid you under some obligation to me. I have, therefore, no scruple in asking you to fulfil a few wishes of mine, in token of such gratitude as I conceive you to feel. There will arrive in your city by the steamer Picardie, on the twenty-eighth day of this month, two foolish women, answering to the name of Eveleth—mother-in-law and daughter-in-law—both widows—and presenting the sorry spectacle of Naomi and Ruth returning to the Land of Promise, after a ruinous sojourn in a foreign country—with whose history you are familiar from your reading of the Scriptures.'"
"Is there a Bible in the house, mother?" Carli Wappinger asked, swinging himself on the piano-stool.
"I think there must be—somewhere. There used to be one. But, hush! Let me go on. 'They will descend,'" she continued to read, "'at a modest French hostelry in University Place, to which I have commended them, as being within their means. I desire, first, that you will make their acquaintance at your earliest possible convenience. I desire, next, that you will invite them to your house on some occasion, presumably in the afternoon, when you can also ask my nephew, Derek Pruyn, and Lucilla van Tromp, my niece, to meet them. I desire, furthermore, that though you may use my name to the Mesdames Eveleth, as a passport to their presence, you will in no wise speak of me to my relatives in question, or give them to understand that I have inspired the invitation you will accord them....'"
Mrs. Wappinger threw down the letter with the emphasis of gesture which was one of her characteristics.
"There!" she exclaimed, in a loud, hearty voice, not without a note of triumph; "that's what I call a chance."
"Chance for what, mother?"
"Chance for a good many things—and first of all for bearding Lucilla van Tromp right in her own den."
"I don't see—"
"No; but I do. We're on to a big thing. I've got to go right there; and she's got to come right here. She's held off, and she's kept me off; but now the ice'll be broken with a regular thaw."
"Still, I don't see. It's one thing to invite her, to oblige old man Van Tromp; but it's another thing to get her to come."
"She'll come fast enough—this time; she'll come as if she was shot here by a secret spring. There is a secret spring, you may take my word for it. I don't know what it is, and I don't care; it's enough for me to know that it's in good working order—which it is, if James van Tromp has got his hand on it. James van Tromp may look like a fool and talk like a fool, but he isn't a fool—No, sir!"
It is commonly believed that a woman never thinks otherwise than gently of the man who has wanted to marry her; and if this be the rule, Mrs. Wappinger was no exception to it. As she sat on the sofa in her son's room, the mere mention of the old man's name, attended by the kindly opinion she had just expressed, sent her off into sudden reverie. While it was quite true that, in her own phrase, she "would no more have married him than she would have married a mole," it was none the less flattering to have been desired. The onlooker, like Lucilla van Tromp or Derek Pruyn, might wonder what were those hidden forces of affinity which led a man to single Mrs. Wappinger out of all the women in the world; but to Mrs. Wappinger herself the circumstance could not be otherwise than pleasing.
Seeing her pensive, Carli swung himself back to the keyboard again, pounding out a few bars of the dance music in Strauss' Salome, of which the score lay open before him. He was a good-looking young man of twenty-two, of whom any mother, not too exacting, might be proud. Very blond—with well-chiselled features and waving hair—not so tall as to make his excessive slimness seem disproportionate—there was something in the perfection with which he was "turned out" that gave him the air of a "creation." Mrs. Wappinger's joy in him was the more satisfying because of the fact that, relative to herself, he was in the line of progress. He was the blossom of culture, travel, and sport, borne by her own strenuous generation of successful material effort. To the things to which he had attained she felt that in a certain sense she had attained herself, on the principle of facit per alium, facit per se. In the social position she had reached it was a pleasure to know that Harvard, Europe, and money had given Carli a refinement that made up in some measure for her own deficiencies.
"Well, what are you going to do about it?" he asked, breaking off in the midst of the cruel ecstasy of the daughter of Herodias, and swinging himself back, so as to confront her.
"I'm going to give a little tea," Mrs. Wappinger answered, with decision; "a tay antime, as the French say. I shall have these two Eveleths—or whatever their name is—Lucilla van Tromp, and Derek and Dorothea Pruyn."
"You may accomplish the first and the last. You'll find it difficult to fill in the middle. To say nothing of the old girl, Derek Pruyn is too busy for teas—intime, or otherwise."
"I'm going to have him," she stated, with energy.
"You go round and tell Dorothea she's got to bring him—she's just got to, that's all. He'll come—I know he will. There are forces at work here that you and I don't see, and if something doesn't happen, my name isn't Clara Wappinger."
With this mysterious saying she rose, to leave Carli to his music.
"How very occult!" he laughed.
"Nobody knows James van Tromp better than I do," she declared, with pride, turning on the threshold, "and he doesn't write that way unless he has a plan in mind. You tell Dorothea what I say. Let me see! To-day is Tuesday; the Picardie will get in on Saturday; you'll see Dorothea on Sunday; and we'll have the tea on Thursday next."
With her habitual air of triumphant decision Mrs. Wappinger departed, and the incident closed.
It must be admitted that Diane Eveleth found her entry into the Land of Promise rather disappointing. To outward things she paid comparatively little heed. The general aspect of New York was what she had seen in pictures and expected. That habits and customs should be strange to her she took as a matter of course; and she was too eager for a welcome to be critical. As a Frenchwoman, she was neither curious nor analytical regarding that which lay outside her immediate sphere of interest, and she instituted no comparisons between Broadway and the boulevards, or any of the tall buildings and Notre Dame. It may be confessed that her thoughts went scarcely beyond the human element, with its possible bearing on her fortunes.
In this respect she made the discovery that Mrs. Eveleth was not to be taken as an authority. She had given Diane to understand that the return of Naomi de Ruyter to New York would be a matter of civic interest, "especially among the old families," and that they would scarcely have landed before finding themselves amid people whom she knew. But forty years had made a difference, and Mrs. Eveleth recognized no familiar faces in the crowd congregated on the dock. When it became further evident that not only was Naomi de Ruyter forgotten in the city of her birth, but that the very landmarks she remembered had been swept away, there was a moment of disillusion, not free from tears.
To Diane the discovery meant only that, more than she had supposed, she would have to depend upon herself. This, to her, was the appalling fact that dwarfed all other considerations. To be alone, while the crowds surged hurriedly by her, was one thing; to be obliged to press in among them and make room for herself was another. As she walked aimlessly about the streets during the few days following her arrival she had the forlorn conviction that in these serried ranks there could be no place for one so insignificant as she. The knowledge that she must make such a place, or go without food and shelter, only served to paralyze her energies and reduce her to a state of nerveless inefficiency.
She had gone forth one day with the letters of introduction she hoped would help her, only to find that none of the persons to whom they were addressed had returned to town for the winter. Tired and discouraged, she was endeavoring on her return to cheer Mrs. Eveleth with such bits of forced humor as she could squeeze out of the commonplace happenings of the day, when cards were brought in, bearing the unknown name of Mrs. Wappinger.
That in this huge, overwhelming town any one could desire to make their acquaintance was in itself a surprise; but in the interview that followed Diane felt as though she had been caught up in a whirlwind and carried away. Mrs. Wappinger's autocratic breeziness was so novel in character that she had no more thought of resisting it than of resisting a summer storm. She could only let it blow over her and bear her whither it listed. In the end she felt like some wayfarer in the Arabian Nights, who has been wafted by kindly jinn across unknown miles of space, and set down again many leagues farther on in his career.
Never in her life did Diane receive in the same amount of time so much personal information as Mrs. Wappinger conveyed in the thirty minutes her visit lasted. She began by explaining that she was a friend of James van Tromp's—a very great friend. In fact, her husband had been at one time a partner in the Van Tromp banking-house; but it was an old business, and what they call conservative, while Mr. Wappinger was from the West. The West was a long way ahead of New York, though Mrs. Wappinger had "lived East" so long that she had dropped into walking pace like the rest. She traced her rise from a comparatively obscure position in Indiana to her present eminence, and gave details as to Mr. Wappinger's courtship and the number of children she had lost. Left now with one, she had spent a good deal of money on him, and was happy to say that he showed it. While she preferred not to name names, she made no secret of the fact that Carli was in love; though for her own part a feeling of wounded pride induced her to hope that he would never enter a family where he wasn't wanted. The transition of topic having thus become easy, the invitation to tea was given, and its acceptance taken as a matter of course.
"It'll only be a tay antime," she declared, in answer to Diane's faint protests, "so you needn't be afraid to come; and as I never do things by halves, I shall send one of my automobiles for the old lady and you at a little after four to-morrow." With these words and a hearty shake of the hand, she bustled away as suddenly as she had come, leaving Diane with a bewildering sense of having beheld an apparition.
* * * * *
It was not less surprising to Diane to find herself, on the following afternoon, face to face with Derek Pruyn. Though she had expected, in so far as she thought of him at all, that chance would one day throw them together, she had not supposed that the event would occur so soon. The lack of preparation, the change in her fortunes, and the necessity to explain, combined to bring about one of those rare moments in which she found herself at a loss.
On his side, Pruyn had come to the house with a very special purpose. In spite of the stoutness of his protest when young Wappinger's name was coupled with his child's, he was not without some inward misgivings, which he resolved to allay once and for all. He would dispel them by seeing with his own eyes that they had no force, while he would convict Miss Lucilla of groundless alarm by ocular demonstration. It would be enough, he was sure, to watch the young people together to prove beyond cavil that Dorothea was aware of the gulf between the son of Mrs. Wappinger, worthy woman though she might be, and a daughter of the Pruyns. He had, therefore, astonished every one not only by accepting the invitation himself, but by insisting that Miss Lucilla should do the same, forcing her thus to become a witness to the vindication of his wisdom.
Arrived on the spot, however, it vexed him to find that instead of being a mere spectator, permitted to take notes at his ease, he was passed from lady to lady—Mrs. Wappinger, Miss Lucilla, Mrs. Eveleth, in turn—only to find himself settled down at last with a strange young woman in widow's weeds, in a dim corner of the drawing-room. The meeting was the more abrupt owing to the circumstance that Diane, unaware of his arrival, had just emerged from the adjoining ball-room, which was decorated for a dance. Mrs. Wappinger, coming forward at that minute with a cup of tea for her, pronounced their names with hurried indistinctness, and left them together.
With her quick eye for small social indications, Diane saw that, owing to the dimness of the room and the nature of her dress, he did not know her, while he resented the necessity for talking to one person, when he was obviously looking about for another. With her tea-cup in her hand she slipped into a chair, so that he had no choice but to sit down beside her.
He was not what is called a lady's man, and in the most fluent of moods his supply of easy conversation was small. On the present occasion he felt the urgency of speech without inspiration to meet the need. With a furtive flutter of the eyelids, while she sipped her tea, she took in the salient changes the last five years had produced in him, noting in particular that though slightly older he had improved in looks, and that the dark-red carnation still held its place in his buttonhole.
"Very unseasonable weather for the time of year," he managed to stammer, at last.
"Is it? I hadn't noticed."
His manner took on a shade of dignity still more severe, as he wondered whether this reply was a snub or a mere ineptitude.
"You don't worry about such trifles as the weather," he struggled on.
"May I ask how you escape the necessity?"
"By having more pressing things to think about." With the finality of this reply the brief conversation dropped, though the perception on Derek's part that it was not from her inability to carry it on stirred him to an unusual feeling of pique. Most of the women he met were ready to entertain him without putting him to any exertion whatever. They even went so far as to manifest a disposition to be agreeable, before which he often found it necessary to retire. Without being fatuous on the point, he could not be unaware of the general conviction that a wealthy widower, who could still call himself young, must be in want of a wife; and as long as he was unconscious of the need himself, he judged it wise to be as little as possible in feminine society. On the rare occasions when he ventured therein he was not able to complain of a lack of welcome; nor could he remember an instance in which his hesitating, somewhat scornful, advances had not been cordially met, until to-day. The immediate effect was to cause him to look at Diane with a closer, if somewhat haughty, attention, their eyes meeting as he did so. Her voice, with its blending of French and Irish elements, had already made its appeal to his memory, so that the minute was one in which the presentiment of recognition came before the recognition itself. In his surprise he half arose from his chair, resuming his seat as he exclaimed:
"It's Mademoiselle de la Ferronaise!"
His astonished tone and awe-struck manner called to Diane's lips a little smile.
"It used to be," she said, trying to speak naturally; "it's Mrs. Eveleth now."
"Yes," he responded, with the absent air of a man getting his wits together; "I remember; that was the name."
"You knew, then, that I'd been married?"
"Yes; but I didn't know—"
His glance at her dress finished the sentence, and she hastened to reply.
"No; of course not. My husband died at the beginning of last summer—six months ago. I hoped some one would have told you before we met. But we have not many common acquaintances, have we?"
"I hope we may have more now—if you're making a visit to New York."
"I'm making more than a visit; I expect to stay."
"Oh! Do you think you'll like that?"
"It isn't a question of liking; it's a question of living. I may as well tell you at once that since my husband's death I have my own bread to earn."
To no Frenchwoman of her rank in life could this statement have been an easy one, but by making it with a certain quiet outspokenness she hoped to cover up her foolish sense of shame. The moment was not made less difficult for her by the astonishment, mingled with embarrassment, with which he took her remark.
"You!" he cried. "You!"
"It isn't anything very unusual, is it?" she smiled.
"I'm not the first person in the world to make the attempt."
"And may I ask if you're succeeding?"
"I haven't begun yet. I only arrived a few days ago.
"Oh, I see. You've come here—"
"In the hope of finding employment—just like the rest of the disinherited of the earth. I hope to give French lessons, and—"
"There's always an opening to any one who can," he interrupted, encouragingly. "I'm not without influence in one or two good schools that my daughter has attended—"
"Is that your daughter?" she asked, glad to escape from her subject, now that it was stated plainly—"the very pretty girl in red?"
The question gave Pruyn the excuse he wanted or looking about him.
"I believe she's in red—but I don't see her."
He searched the dimly lighted room, where Mrs. Wappinger sat, silent and satisfied, behind her tea-table, while Mrs. Eveleth was conversing with Lucilla on Knickerbocker genealogy; but neither of the young people was to be seen. His look of anxiety did not escape Diane, who responded to it with her usual straightforward promptness.
"I fancy she's still in the ball-room with young Mr. Wappinger," she explained. "We were all there a few minutes ago, looking at the decorations for the dance Mrs. Wappinger is giving to-night. It was before you came."
The shadow that shot across his face was a thing to be noticed only by one accustomed to read the most trivial signs in the social sky. In an instant she took in the main points of the case as accurately as if Mrs. Wappinger had named those names over which she had shown such laudable reserve.
"Wouldn't you like to see them?—the decorations? They're very pretty. It's just in here."
She rose as she spoke, with a gesture of the hand toward the ball-room. He followed, because she led the way, but without seeing the meaning of the move until they were actually on the polished dancing-floor. Owing to the darkness of the December afternoon, the large empty room was lit up as brilliantly as at night. For a minute they stood on the threshold, looking absently at the palms grouped in the corners and the garlands festooning the walls. It was only then that Pruyn saw the motive of her coming; and for an instant he forgot his worry in the perception that this woman had divined his thought.
"There's no one here," he said, at last, in a tone of relief, which betrayed him once more.
"No," Diane replied, half turning round. "Perhaps we had better go back to the drawing-room. My mother-in-law will be getting tired."
"Wait," he said, imperiously. "Isn't that—?"
He was again conscious of having admitted her into a sort of confidence; but he had scarcely time to regret it before there was a flash of red between the tall potted shrubs that screened an alcove. Dorothea sauntered into view, with Carli Wappinger, bending slightly over her, walking by her side. They were too deep in conversation to know themselves observed; but the earnestness with which the young man spoke became evident when he put out his hand and laid it gently on the muff Dorothea held before her. In the act, from which Dorothea did not draw back, there was nothing beyond the admission of a certain degree of intimacy; but Diane felt, through all her highly trained subconscious sensibilities, the shock it produced in Derek's mind.
The situation belonged too entirely to the classic repertoire of life to present any difficulties to a woman who knew that catastrophe is often averted by keeping close to the commonplace.
"Isn't she pretty!" she exclaimed, in a tone of polite enthusiasm. "Mayn't I speak to her? I haven't met her yet."
Before she had finished the concluding words, or Wappinger had withdrawn his hand from Dorothea's muff, she had glided across the floor, and disturbed the young people from their absorption in each other.
"Mr. Wappinger," Derek heard her say, as he approached, "I want you to introduce me to Miss Pruyn. I'm Mrs. Eveleth, Miss Pruyn," she continued, without waiting for Carli's intermediary offices. "I couldn't go away without saying just a word to you."
If she supposed she was coming to Dorothea's rescue in a moment which might be one of embarrassment, she found herself mistaken. No experienced dowager could have been more amiable to a nice governess than Dorothea Pruyn to a lady in reduced circumstances. A facility in adapting herself to other people's manners enabled Diane to accept her cue; and presently all four were on their way back to the drawing-room, where farewells were spoken.
While Miss Lucilla was making Mrs. Eveleth renew her promise to come and see her, and "bring young Mrs. Eveleth with her," Pruyn found an opportunity for another word with Diane.
"You must understand," he said, in a tone which he tried to make one of explanation for her enlightenment rather than of apology for Dorothea—"you must understand that girls have a good deal of liberty in America."
"They have everywhere," she rejoined. "Even in France, where they've been kept so strictly, the old law of Purdah has been more or less relaxed."
"If you take up teaching as a work, you'll naturally be thrown among our young people; and you may see things to which it will be difficult to adjust your mind."
"I've had a good deal of practice in adjusting my mind. It often seems to me as movable as if it was on a pivot. I'm rather ashamed of it."
"You needn't be. On the contrary, you'll find it especially useful in this country, where foreigners are often eager to convert us to their customs, while we are tenacious of our own."
"Thank you," she said, in the spirit of meekness his didactic attitude seemed to require. "I'll try to remember that, and not fall into the mistake."
"And if I can do anything for you," he went on, awkwardly, "in the way of schools—or—or—recommendations—you know I promised long ago that if you ever needed any one—"
"Thank you once more," she said, hurriedly, before he had time to go on. "I know I can count on your help; and if I require a good word, I shall not hesitate to ask you for it."
As she slipped away, Pruyn was left with the uncomfortable sense of having appeared to a disadvantage. He had been stilted and patronizing, when he had meant to be cordial and kind. On the other hand, he resented the quickness with which she had read his thoughts, as well as her perception that he had ground for uneasiness regarding his child. That she should penetrate the inner shrine of reserve he kept closed against those who stood nearest to him in the world gave him a sense of injury; and he turned this feeling to account during the next few hours in trying to deaden the echo of the French voice with the Irish intonation that haunted his inner hearing, as well as to banish the memory of the plaintive smile in which, as he feared, meekness was blended with amusement at his expense.