It was when Eugene was at the height of his success that a meeting took plac_etween himself and a certain Mrs. Emily Dale.
Mrs. Dale was a strikingly beautiful and intelligent widow of thirty-eight, the daughter of a well-to-do and somewhat famous New York family of Dutc_xtraction—the widow of an eminent banker of considerable wealth who had bee_illed in an automobile accident near Paris some years before. She was th_other of four children, Suzanne, eighteen; Kinroy, fifteen; Adele, twelve, and Ninette, nine, but the size of her family had in no way affected th_ubtlety of her social personality and the delicacy of her charm and manner.
She was tall, graceful, willowy, with a wealth of dark hair, which was used i_he most subtle manner to enhance the beauty of her face. She was calm, placi_pparently, while really running deep with emotion and fancies, with manner_hich were the perfection of kindly courtesy and good breeding and with thos_irs of superiority which come so naturally to those who are raised in _ortunate and exclusive atmosphere.
She did not consider herself passionate in a marked degree, but freel_dmitted to herself that she was vain and coquettish. She was keen an_bserving, with a single eye to the main chance socially, but with a genuin_ove for literature and art and a propensity to write. Eugene met her throug_olfax, who introduced him to her. He learned from the latter that she wa_ather unfortunate in her marriage except from a money point of view, and tha_er husband's death was no irreparable loss. He also learned from the sam_ource that she was a good mother, trying to bring up her children in th_anner most suitable to their station and opportunities. Her husband had bee_f a much poorer social origin than herself, but her own standing was of th_ery best. She was a gay social figure, being invited much, entertainin_reely, preferring the company of younger men to those of her own age or olde_nd being followed ardently by one fortune hunter and another, who saw in he_eauty, wealth and station, an easy door to the heaven of social supremacy.
The Dale home, or homes rather, were in several different places—one a_orristown, New Jersey, another on fashionable Grimes Hill on Staten Island, _hird—a city residence, which at the time Eugene met them, was leased for _erm of years—was in Sixty-seventh Street, near Fifth Avenue in New York City, and a fourth, a small lodge, at Lenox, Massachusetts, which was also rented.
Shortly after he met her the house at Morristown was closed and the lodge a_enox re-occupied.
For the most part Mrs. Dale preferred to dwell in her ancestral home on State_sland, which, because of its commanding position on what was known as Grime_ill, controlled a magnificent view of the bay and harbor of New York.
Manhattan, its lower wall of buildings, lay like a cloud at the north. Th_ocking floor of the sea, blue and gray and slate black by turn, spread to th_ast. In the west were visible the Kill von Kull with its mass of shipping an_he Orange Hills. In a boat club at Tompkinsville she had her motor boat, use_ostly by her boy; in her garage at Grimes Hill, several automobiles. Sh_wned several riding horses, retained four family servants permanently and i_ther ways possessed all those niceties of appointment which make up th_omfortable life of wealth and ease.
The two youngest of her girls were in a fashionable boarding school a_arrytown; the boy, Kinroy, was preparing for Harvard; Suzanne, the eldest, was at home, fresh from boarding school experiences, beginning to go ou_ocially. Her début had already been made. Suzanne was a peculiar girl, plump, beautiful, moody, with, at times, a dreamy air of indifference and a smil_hat ran like a breath of air over water. Her eyes were large, of a vagu_lue-gray, her lips rosy and arched; her cheeks full and pink. She had a crow_f light chestnut hair, a body at once innocent and voluptuous in it_utlines. When she laughed it was a rippling gurgle, and her sense of humo_as perfect, if not exaggerated. One of those naturally wise but as yet vagu_nd formless artistic types, which suspect without education, nearly all th_ubtleties of the world, and burst forth full winged and beautiful, but oh, s_ragile, like a butterfly from its chrysalis, the radiance of morning upon it_ody. Eugene did not see her for a long time after he met Mrs. Dale, but whe_e did, he was greatly impressed with her beauty.
Life sometimes builds an enigma out of common clay, and with a look from _welve-year-old girl, sets a Dante singing. It can make a god of a bull, _ivinity of an ibis, or a beetle, set up a golden calf to be worshipped of th_ultitude. Paradox! Paradox! In this case an immature and yet nearly perfec_ody held a seemingly poetic and yet utterly nebulous appreciation of life—_ody so youthful, a soul so fumbling that one would ask, How should traged_urk in form like this?
Not quite, yet so nebulous, so much a dreamer that difficulty might readil_ollow in the wake of any thoughtless deed.
As a matter of fact, favored as she was by nature and fortune, her ver_resence was dangerous—provocative, without thought of being so. If a tru_rtist had painted her, synthesizing her spirit with her body, he might hav_one so showing her standing erect on a mountain top, her limbs outline_midst fluttering draperies against the wind, her eyes fixed on distan_eights, or a falling star. Out of mystery into mystery again, so she came an_ent. Her mind was not unlike a cloud of mist through which the morning sun i_ndeavoring to break, irradiating all with its flushes of pink and gold. Agai_t was like those impearled shells of the South Sea, without design ye_uggestive of all perfections and all beauties. Dreams! dreams!—of clouds, sunsets, colors, sounds which a too articulate world would do its best late_o corrupt. What Dante saw in Beatrice, what Abélard saw in Héloïse, Romeo i_uliet, so some wondering swain could have seen in her—and suffered a lik_ate.
Eugene encountered Mrs. Dale at a house party on Long Island one Saturda_fternoon, and their friendship began at once. She was introduced to him b_olfax, and because of the latter's brusque, jesting spirit was under n_llusions as to his social state.
"You needn't look at him closely," he observed gaily, "he's married."
"That simply makes him all the more interesting," she rippled, and extende_er hand.
Eugene took it. "I'm glad a poor married man can find shelter somewhere," h_aid, smartly.
"You should rejoice," she replied. "It's at once your liberty and you_rotection. Think how safe you are!"
"I know, I know," he said. "All the slings and arrows of Miss Fortune hurtlin_y."
"And you in no danger of being hurt."
He offered her his arm, and they strolled through a window onto a veranda.
The day was just the least bit dull for Mrs. Dale. Bridge was in progress i_he card room, a company of women and girls gambling feverishly. Eugene wa_ot good at bridge, not quick enough mentally, and Mrs. Dale did not care muc_or it.
"I have been trying to stir up enough interest to bring to pass a motor ride, but it doesn't work," she said. "They all have the gambling fever today. Ar_ou as greedy as the others?"
"I'm greedy I assure you, but I can't play. The greediest thing I can do is t_tay away from the tables. I save most. That sharp Faraday has cleaned me an_wo others out of four hundred dollars. It's astonishing the way some peopl_an play. They just look at the cards or make mystic signs and the wretche_hings range themselves in serried ranks to suit them. It's a crime. It ough_o be a penitentiary offense, particularly to beat me. I'm such an inoffensiv_pecimen of the non-bridge playing family."
"A burnt child, you know. Stay away. Let's sit here. They can't come out her_nd rob you."
They sat down in green willow chairs, and after a time a servant offered the_offee. Mrs. Dale accepted. They drifted conversationally from bridge t_haracters in society—a certain climber by the name of Bristow, a man who ha_ade a fortune in trunks—and from him to travel and from travel to Mrs. Dale'_xperiences with fortune hunters. The automobile materialized through th_ntervention of others, but Eugene found great satisfaction in this woman'_ompany and sat beside her. They talked books, art, magazines, the making o_ortunes and reputations. Because he was or seemed to be in a position t_ssist her in a literary way she was particularly nice to him. When he wa_eaving she asked, "Where are you in New York?"
"Riverside Drive is our present abode," he said.
"Why don't you bring Mrs. Witla and come down to see us some week-end? _sually have a few people there, and the house is roomy. I'll name you _pecial day if you wish."
"Do. We'll be delighted. Mrs. Witla will enjoy it, I'm sure."
Mrs. Dale wrote to Angela ten days later as to a particular date, and in thi_ay the social intimacy began.
It was never of a very definite character, though. When Mrs. Dale met Angel_he liked her quite well as an individual, whatever she may have thought o_er as a social figure. Neither Eugene nor Angela saw Suzanne nor any of th_ther children on this occasion, all of them being away. Eugene admired th_iew tremendously and hinted at being invited again. Mrs. Dale was delighted.
She liked him as a man entirely apart from his position but particularl_ecause of his publishing station. She was ambitious to write. Others had tol_er that he was the most conspicuous of the rising figures in the publishin_orld. Being friendly with him would give her exceptional standing with al_is editors. She was only too pleased to be gracious to him. He was invite_gain and a third time, with Angela, and it seemed as though they wer_eaching, or might at least reach, something much more definite than a mer_ocial acquaintance.
It was about six months after Eugene had first met Mrs. Dale that Angela gav_ tea, and Eugene, in assisting her to prepare the list of invitations, ha_uggested that those who were to serve the tea and cakes should be tw_xceptionally pretty girls who were accustomed to come to the Witla apartment, Florence Reel, the daughter of a well-known author of that name and Marjori_ac Tennan, the daughter of a well-known editor, both beautiful and talented, one with singing and the other with art ambitions. Angela had seen a pictur_f Suzanne Dale in her mother's room at Daleview on Grimes Hill, and had bee_articularly taken with her girlish charm and beauty.
"I wonder," she said, "if Mrs. Dale would object to having Suzanne come an_elp serve that day. She would like it, I'm sure, there are going to be s_any clever people here. We haven't seen her, but that doesn't matter. I_ould be a nice way to introduce herself."
"That's a good idea, I should say," observed Eugene judicially. He had see_he photo of Suzanne and liked it, though he was not over-impressed. Photos t_im were usually gross deceivers. He accepted them always with reservations.
Angela forthwith wrote to Mrs. Dale, who agreed. She would be glad to com_erself. She had seen the Witla apartment, and had been very much pleased wit_t. The reception day came and Angela begged Eugene to come home early.
"I know you don't like to be alone with a whole roomful of people, but Mr.
Goodrich is coming, and Frederick Allen (one of their friends who had taken _ancy to Eugene), Arturo Scalchero is going to sing and Bonavita to play."
Scalchero was none other than Arthur Skalger, of Port Jervis, New Jersey, bu_e assumed this corruption of his name in Italy to help him to success.
Bonavita was truly a Spanish pianist of some repute who was flattered to b_nvited to Eugene's home.
"Well, I don't care much about it," replied Eugene. "But I will come."
He frequently felt that afternoon teas and receptions were ridiculous affairs, and that he had far better be in his office attending to his multitudinou_uties. Still he did leave early, and at five-thirty was ushered into a grea_oomful of chattering, gesticulating, laughing people. A song by Florence Ree_ad just been concluded. Like all girls of ambition, vivacity and imagination, she took an interest in Eugene, for in his smiling face she found a responsiv_leam.
"Oh, Mr. Witla!" she exclaimed. "Now here you are and you just missed my song.
And I wanted you to hear it, too."
"Don't grieve, Florrie," he said familiarly, holding her hand and lookin_omentarily in her eyes. "You're going to sing it again for me. I heard par_f it as I came up on the elevator." He relinquished her hand. "Why, Mrs.
Dale! Delighted, I'm sure. So nice of you. And Arturo Scalchero—hullo, Skalger, you old frost! Where'd you get the Italian name? Bonavita! Fine! Am _oing to hear you play? All over? Alas! Marjorie Mac Tennan! Gee, but you loo_weet! If Mrs. Witla weren't watching me, I'd kiss you. Oh, the pretty bonnet!
And Frederick Allen! My word! What are you trying to grab off, Allen? I'm o_o you. No bluffs! Nix! Nix! Why, Mrs. Schenck—delighted! Angela, why didn'_ou tell me Mrs. Schenck was coming? I'd have been home at three."
By this time he had reached the east end of the great studio room, farthes_rom the river. Here a tea table was spread with a silver tea service, an_ehind it a girl, oval-faced, radiantly healthy, her full lips parted in _ipe smile, her blue-gray eyes talking pleasure and satisfaction, her forehea_aid about by a silver filigree band, beneath which her brown chestnut curl_rotruded. Her hands, Eugene noted, were plump and fair. She stood erect, assured, with the least touch of quizzical light in her eye. A white, pink- bordered dress draped her girlish figure.
"I don't know," he said easily, "but I wager a guess that this is—that thi_s—this is Suzanne Dale—what?"
"Yes, this is," she replied laughingly. "Can I give you a cup of tea, Mr.
Witla? I know you are Mr. Witla from ma-ma´'s description and the way in whic_ou talk to everybody."
"And how do I talk to everybody, may I ask, pleasum?"
"Oh, I can't tell you so easily. I mean, I can't find the words, you know. _now how it is, though. Familiarly, I suppose I mean. Will you have one lum_r two?"
"Three an thou pleasest. Didn't your mother tell me you sang or played?"
"Oh, you mustn't believe anything ma-ma´ says about me! She's apt to sa_nything. Tee! Hee! It makes me laugh"—she pronounced it laaf—"to think of m_laying. My teacher says he would like to strike my knuckles. Oh, dear!" (Sh_ent into a gale of giggles.) "And sing! Oh, dear, dear! That is too good!"
Eugene watched her pretty face intently. Her mouth and nose and eye_ascinated him. She was so sweet! He noted the configuration of her lips an_heeks and chin. The nose was delicate, beautifully formed, fat, no_ensitive. The ears were small, the eyes large and wide set, the forehea_aturally high, but so concealed by curls that it seemed low. She had a fe_reckles and a very small dimple in her chin.
"Now you mustn't laugh like that," he said mock solemnly. "It's very seriou_usiness, this laughing. In the first place, it's against the rules of thi_partment. No one is ever, ever, ever supposed to laugh here, particularl_oung ladies who pour tea. Tea, Epictetus well says, involves the most seriou_onceptions of one's privileges and duties. It is the high-born prerogative o_ea servers to grin occasionally, but never, never, never under an_ircumstances whatsoever——" Suzanne's lips were beginning to part ravishingl_n anticipation of a burst of laughter.
"What's all the excitement about, Witla?" asked Skalger, who had drifted t_is side. "Why this sudden cessation of progress?"
"Tea, my son, tea!" said Eugene. "Have a cup with me?"
"He's trying to tell me, Mr. Skalger, that I should never laaf. I must onl_rin." Her lips parted and she laughed joyously. Eugene laughed with her. H_ould not help it. "Ma-ma´ says I giggle all the time. I wouldn't do very wel_ere, would I?"
She always pronounced it "ma-ma´."
She turned to Eugene again with big smiling eyes.
"Exceptions, exceptions. I might make exceptions—one exception—but not more."
"Why one?" she asked archly.
"Oh, just to hear a natural laugh," he said a little plaintively. "Just t_ear a real joyous laugh. Can you laugh joyously?"
She giggled again at this, and he was about to tell her how joyously she di_augh when Angela called him away to hear Florence Reel, who was going to sin_gain for his especial benefit. He parted from Miss Dale reluctantly, for sh_eemed some delicious figure as delicately colorful as Royal Dresden, a_erfect in her moods as a spring evening, as soft, soulful, enticing as _train of music heard through the night at a distance or over the water. H_ent over to where Florence Reel was standing, listening in a sympatheti_elancholy vein to a delightful rendering of "The Summer Winds Are Blowing, Blowing." All the while he could not help thinking of Suzanne—letting his eye_tray in that direction. He talked to Mrs. Dale, to Henrietta Tenmon, to Luk_everas, Mr. and Mrs. Dula, Payalei Stone, now a writer of special articles, and others, but he couldn't help longing to go back to her. How sweet she was!
How very delightful! If he could only, once more in his life, have the love o_ girl like that!
The guests began to depart. Angela and Eugene bustled about the farewells.
Because of the duties of her daughter, which continued to the end, Mrs. Dal_tayed, talking to Arthur Skalger. Eugene was in and out between the studi_nd cloak room off the entry way. Now and then he caught glimpses of Suzann_emurely standing by her tea cups and samovar. For years he had seen nothin_o fresh and young as her body. She was like a new grown wet white lily pod i_he dawn of the year. She seemed to have the texture of the water chestnut an_he lush, fat vegetables of the spring. Her eyes were as clear as water; he_kin as radiant new ivory. There was no sign of weariness about her, nor an_are, nor any thought of evil, nor anything except health and happiness. "Suc_ face!" he thought casually in passing. "She is as sweet as any girl coul_e. As radiant as light itself."
Incidentally the personality of Frieda Roth came back, and—long befor_er—Stella Appleton.
"Youth! Youth! What in this world could be finer—more acceptable! Where woul_ou find its equal? After all the dust of the streets and the spectacle of ag_nd weariness—the crow's feet about people's eyes, the wrinkles in thei_ecks, the make-believe of rouge and massage, and powder and cosmetics, to se_eal youth, not of the body but of the soul also—the eyes, the smile, th_oice, the movements—all young. Why try to imitate that miracle? Who could?
Who ever had?"
He went on shaking hands, bowing, smiling, laughing, jesting, making believ_imself, but all the while the miracle of the youth and beauty of Suzanne Dal_as running in his mind.
"What are you thinking about, Eugene?" asked Angela, coming to the windo_here he had drawn a rocking-chair and was sitting gazing out on the silve_nd lavender and gray of the river surface in the fading light. Some belate_ulls were still flying about. Across the river the great manufactory wa_ending off a spiral of black smoke from one of its tall chimneys. Lamps wer_eginning to twinkle in its hundred-windowed wall. A great siren cry brok_rom its whistle as six o'clock tolled from a neighboring clock tower. It wa_till late February and cold.
"Oh, I was thinking of the beauty of this scene," he said wearily.
Angela did not believe it. She was conscious of something, but they neve_uarreled about what he was thinking nowadays. They had come too far along i_omfort and solidity. What was it, though, she wondered, that he was thinkin_bout?
Suzanne Dale had no particular thought of him. He was nice—pleasant, good- looking. Mrs. Witla was quite nice and young.
"Ma-ma," she said, "did you look out of the window at Mr. Witla's?"
"Yes, my dear!"
"Wasn't that a beautiful view?"
"I should think you might like to live on the Drive sometime, ma-ma."
"We may sometime."
Mrs. Dale fell to musing. Certainly Eugene was an attractive man—young, brilliant, able. What a mistake all the young men made, marrying so early.
Here he was successful, introduced to society, attractive, the world reall_efore him, and he was married to someone who, though a charming little woman, was not up to his possibilities.
"Oh, well," she thought, "so goes the world. Why worry? Everyone must do th_est they can."
Then she thought of a story she might write along this line and get Eugene t_ublish it in one of his magazines.