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Chapter 22

  • It was while he was mooning along in this mood, working, dreaming, wishing, that there came, one day to her mother's house at Riverwood, Carlott_ilson—Mrs. Norman Wilson, in the world in which she moved—a tall brunette o_hirty-two, handsome after the English fashion, shapely, graceful, with _nowledge of the world which was not only compounded of natural intelligenc_nd a sense of humor, but experiences fortunate and unfortunate which ha_hown her both the showy and the seamy sides of life. To begin with she wa_he wife of a gambler—a professional gambler—of that peculiar order whic_ssays the rôle of a gentleman, looks the part, and fleeces unmercifully th_nwary partakers of their companionship. Carlotta Hibberdell, living with he_other at that time in Springfield, Massachusetts, had met him at a loca_eries of races, which she was attending with her father and mother, wher_ilson happened to be accidentally upon another mission. Her father, a rea_state dealer, and fairly successful at one time, was very much interested i_acing horses, and owned several of worthy records though of no great fame.
  • Norman Wilson had posed as a real estate speculator himself, and had handle_everal fairly successful deals in land, but his principal skill and relianc_as in gambling. He was familiar with all the gambling opportunities of th_ity, knew a large circle of those who liked to gamble, men and women in Ne_ork and elsewhere, and his luck or skill at times was phenomenal. At othe_imes it was very bad. There were periods when he could afford to live in th_ost expensive apartment houses, dine at the best restaurants, visit the mos_xpensive country pleasure resorts and otherwise disport himself in th_ompanionship of friends. At other times, because of bad luck, he could no_fford any of these things and though he held to his estate grimly had t_orrow money to do it. He was somewhat of a fatalist in his interpretation o_ffairs and would hang on with the faith that his luck would turn. It did tur_nvariably, of course, for when difficulties began to swarm thick and fast h_ould think vigorously and would usually evolve some idea which served to hel_im out. His plan was always to spin a web like a spider and await th_lundering flight of some unwary fly.
  • At the time she married him Carlotta Hibberdell did not know of the peculia_endencies and subtle obsession of her ardent lover. Like all men of his typ_e was suave, persuasive, passionate, eager. There was a certain cat-lik_agnetism about him also which fascinated her. She could not understand him a_hat time and she never did afterwards. The license which he subsequentl_anifested not only with her but with others astonished and disgusted her. Sh_ound him selfish, domineering, outside his own particular field shallow, no_t all artistic, emotional, or poetic. He was inclined to insist on the las_ouch of material refinement in surroundings (so far as he understood them) when he had money, but she found to her regret that he did not understan_hem. In his manner with her and everyone else he was top-lofty, superior, condescending. His stilted language at times enraged and at other times amuse_er, and when her original passion passed and she began to see through hi_retence to his motives and actions she became indifferent and then weary. Sh_as too big a woman mentally to quarrel with him much. She was too indifferen_o life in its totality to really care. Her one passion was for an ideal love_f some type, and having been thoroughly mistaken in him she looked abroa_ondering whether there were any ideal men.
  • Various individuals came to their apartments. There were gamblers, blasé society men, mining experts, speculators, sometimes with, sometimes without _ife. From these and from her husband and her own observation she learned o_ll sorts of scoundrels, mes-alliances, [ _sic_ ] queer manifestations o_ncompatibility of temper, queer freaks of sex desire. Because she was goo_ooking, graceful, easy in her manners, there were no end of proposals, overtures, hints and luring innuendos cast in her direction. She had long bee_ccustomed to them. Because her husband deserted her openly for other wome_nd confessed it in a blasé way she saw no valid reason for keeping hersel_rom other men. She chose her lovers guardedly and with subtle taste, beginning after mature deliberation with one who pleased her greatly. She wa_eeking refinement, emotion, understanding coupled with some ability and the_ere not so easy to find. The long record of her liaisons is not for thi_tory, but their impress on her character was important.
  • She was indifferent in her manner at most times and to most people. A goo_est or story drew from her a hearty laugh. She was not interested in book_xcept those of a very exceptional character—the realistic school—and thes_he thought ought not to be permitted except to private subscribers, nevertheless she cared for no others. Art was fascinating—really great art.
  • She loved the pictures of Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Correggio, Titian. And wit_ess discrimination, and more from a sensual point of view the nudes o_abanel, Bouguereau and Gerome. To her there was reality in the works of thes_en, lightened by great imagination. Mostly people interested her, th_agaries of their minds, the idiosyncrasies of their characters, their lies, their subterfuges, their pretences, their fears. She knew that she was _angerous woman and went softly, like a cat, wearing a half-smile not unlik_hat seen on the lips of Monna Lisa, but she did not worry about herself. Sh_ad too much courage. At the same time she was tolerant, generous to a fault, charitable. When someone suggested that she overdid the tolerance, sh_eplied, "Why shouldn't I? I live in such a magnificent glass house."
  • The reason for her visit home on this occasion was that her husband ha_ractically deserted her for the time being. He was in Chicago for some reaso_rincipally because the atmosphere in New York was getting too hot for him, a_he suspected. Because she hated Chicago and was weary of his company sh_efused to go with him. He was furious for he suspected her of liaisons, bu_e could not help himself. She was indifferent. Besides she had othe_esources than those he represented, or could get them.
  • A certain wealthy Jew had been importuning her for years to get a divorce i_rder that he might marry her. His car and his resources were at her comman_ut she condescended only the vaguest courtesies. It was within the ordinar_ossibilities of the day for him to call her up and ask if he could not com_ith his car. He had three. She waved most of this aside indifferently.
  • "What's the use?" was her pet inquiry. Her husband was not without his car a_imes. She had means to drive when she pleased, dress as she liked, and wa_nvited to many interesting outings. Her mother knew well of her peculia_ttitude, her marital troubles, her quarrels and her tendency to flirt. Sh_id her best to keep her in check, for she wanted to retain for her th_rivilege of obtaining a divorce and marrying again, the next tim_uccessfully. Norman Wilson, however, would not readily give her a lega_eparation even though the preponderance of evidence was against him and, i_he compromised herself, there would be no hope. She half suspected that he_aughter might already have compromised herself, but she could not be sure.
  • Carlotta was too subtle. Norman made open charges in their family quarrels, but they were based largely on jealousy. He did not know for sure.
  • Carlotta Wilson had heard of Eugene. She did not know of him by reputation, but her mother's guarded remarks in regard to him and his presence, the fac_hat he was an artist, that he was sick and working as a laborer for hi_ealth aroused her interest. She had intended to spend the period of he_usband's absence at Narragansett with some friends, but before doing so sh_ecided to come home for a few days just to see for herself. Instinctively he_other suspected curiosity on her part in regard to Eugene. She threw out th_emark that he might not stay long, in the hope that her daughter might los_nterest. His wife was coming back. Carlotta discerned this opposition—thi_esire to keep her away. She decided that she would come.
  • "I don't know that I want to go to Narragansett just now," she told he_other. "I'm tired. Norman has just worn my nerves to a frazzle. I think I'l_ome up home for a week or so."
  • "All right," said her mother, "but do be careful how you act now. This Mr.
  • Witla appears to be a very nice man and he's happily married. Don't you g_asting any looks in his direction. If you do I won't let him stay here a_ll."
  • "Oh, how you talk," replied Carlotta irritably. "Do give me a little credi_or something. I'm not going up there to see him. I'm tired, I tell you. I_ou don't want me to come I won't."
  • "It isn't that, I do want you. But you know how you are. How do you eve_xpect to get free if you don't conduct yourself circumspectly? You know tha_ou—"
  • "Oh, for heaven's sake, I hope you're not going to start that old argumen_gain," exclaimed Carlotta defensively. "What's the use beginning on that?
  • We've been all over it a thousand times. I can't go anywhere or do anythin_ut what you want to fuss. Now I'm not coming up there to do anything bu_est. Why will you always start in to spoil everything?"
  • "Well now, you know well enough, Carlotta—" reiterated her mother.
  • "Oh, chuck it. I'll not come. To hell with the house. I'll go to Narragansett.
  • You make me tired!"
  • Her mother looked at her tall daughter, graceful, handsome, her black hai_arted in rich folds, irritated and yet pleased with her force and ability. I_he would only be prudent and careful, what a figure she might yet become! He_omplexion was like old rose-tinted ivory, her lips the color of dar_aspberries, her eyes bluish grey, wide set, large, sympathetic, kindly. Wha_ pity she had not married some big, worthy man to begin with. To be tied u_o this gambler, even though they did live in Central Park West and had _omparatively sumptuous apartment, was a wretched thing. Still it was bette_han poverty or scandal, though if she did not take care of herself both migh_nsue. She wanted her to come to Riverwood for she liked her company, but sh_anted her to behave herself. Perhaps Eugene would save the day. He wa_ertainly restrained enough in his manner and remarks. She went back t_iverwood, and Carlotta, the quarrel smoothed over, followed her.
  • Eugene did not see her during the day she arrived, for he was at work; and sh_id not see him as he came in at night. He had on his old peaked hat an_arried his handsome leather lunch box jauntily in one hand. He went to hi_oom, bathed, dressed and then out on the porch to await the call of th_inner gong. Mrs. Hibberdell was in her room on the second floor and "Cousi_ave," as Carlotta called Simpson, was in the back yard. It was a lovel_wilight. He was in the midst of deep thoughts about the beauty of the scene, his own loneliness, the characters at the shop-work, Angela and what not, whe_he screen door opened and she stepped out. She had on a short-sleeved hous_ress of spotted blue silk with yellow lace set about the neck and the ends o_he sleeves. Her shapely figure, beautifully proportioned to her height, wa_et in a smooth, close fitting corset. Her hair, laid in great braids at th_ack, was caught in a brown spangled net. She carried herself wit_houghtfulness and simplicity, seeming naturally indifferent.
  • Eugene rose. "I'm in your way, I think. Won't you have this chair?"
  • "No, thanks. The one in the corner will do. But I might as well introduc_yself, since there isn't anyone here to do it. I'm Mrs. Wilson, Mrs.
  • Hibberdell's daughter. You're Mr. Witla?"
  • "Yes, I answer to that," said Eugene, smiling. He was not very much impresse_t first. She seemed nice and he fancied intelligent—a little older than h_ould have preferred any woman to be who was to interest him. She sat down an_ooked at the water. He took his chair and held his peace. He was not eve_nterested to talk to her. She was nice to look at, however. Her presenc_ightened the scene for him.
  • "I always like to come up here," she volunteered finally. "It's so warm in th_ity these days. I don't think many people know of this place. It's out of th_eaten track."
  • "I enjoy it," said Eugene. "It's such a rest for me. I don't know what I woul_ave done if your mother hadn't taken me in. It's rather hard to find an_lace, doing what I am."
  • "You've taken a pretty strenuous way to get health, I should say," sh_bserved. "Day labor sounds rough to me. Do you mind it?"
  • "Not at all. I like it. The work is interesting and not so very hard. It's al_o new to me, that's what makes it easy. I like the idea of being a da_aborer and associating with laborers. It's only because I'm run down i_ealth that I worry. I don't like to be sick."
  • "It is bad," she replied, "but this will probably put you on your feet. _hink we're always inclined to look on our present troubles as the worst. _now I am."
  • "Thanks for the consolation," he said.
  • She did not look at him and he rocked to and fro silently. Finally the dinne_ong struck. Mrs. Hibberdell came down stairs and they went in.
  • The conversation at dinner turned on his work for a few moments and h_escribed accurately the personalities of John and Bill and Big John th_ngineer, and little Suddsy and Harry Fornes, the blacksmith. Carlott_istened attentively without appearing to, for everything about Eugene seeme_ingular and exceptional to her. She liked his tall, spare body, his lea_ands, his dark hair and eyes. She liked the idea of his dressing as _aboring man in the morning, working all day in the shop, and yet appearing s_eat and trim at dinner. He was easy in his manner, apparently lethargic i_is movements and yet she could feel a certain swift force that filled th_oom. It was richer for his presence. She understood at a glance that he wa_n artist, in all probability a good one. He said nothing of that, avoide_arefully all reference to his art, and listened attentively. She felt thoug_s if he were studying her and everyone else, and it made her gayer. At th_ame time she had a strong leaning toward him. "What an ideal man to b_ssociated with," was one of her repeated thoughts.
  • Although she was about the house for ten days and he met her after the thir_orning not only at dinner, which was natural enough, but at breakfast (whic_urprised him a little), he paid not so very much attention to her. She wa_ice, very, but Eugene was thinking of another type. He thought she wa_ncommonly pleasant and considerate and he admired her style of dressing an_er beauty, studying her with interest, wondering what sort of a life she led, for from various bits of conversation he overheard not only at table but a_ther times he judged she was fairly well to do. There was an apartment i_entral Park West, card parties, automobile parties, theatre parties and _eneral sense of people—acquaintances anyhow, who were making money. He hear_er tell of a mining engineer, Dr. Rowland; of a successful coal-minin_peculator, Gerald Woods; of a Mrs. Hale who was heavily interested in coppe_ines and apparently very wealthy. "It's a pity Norman couldn't connect wit_omething like that and make some real money," he heard her say to her mothe_ne evening. He understood that Norman was her husband and that he probabl_ould be back soon. So he kept his distance—interested and curious but hardl_ore.
  • Mrs. Wilson was not so easily baffled, however. A car appeared one evening a_he door immediately after dinner, a great red touring car, and Mrs. Wilso_nnounced easily, "We're going for a little spin after dinner, Mr. Witla.
  • Don't you want to come along?"
  • Eugene had never ridden in an automobile at that time. "I'd be very pleased,"
  • he said, for the thought of a lonely evening in an empty house had sprung u_hen he saw it appear.
  • There was a chauffeur in charge—a gallant figure in a brown straw cap and ta_uster, but Mrs. Wilson manœuvred for place.
  • "You sit with the driver, coz," she said to Simpson, and when her mothe_tepped in she followed after, leaving Eugene the place to the right of her.
  • "There must be a coat and cap in the locker," she said to the chauffeur; "le_r. Witla have it."
  • The latter extracted a spare linen coat and straw cap which Eugene put on.
  • "I like automobiling, don't you?" she said to Eugene good-naturedly. "It's s_efreshing. If there is any rest from care on this earth it's in travelin_ast."
  • "I've never ridden before," replied Eugene simply. Something about the way h_aid it touched her. She felt sorry for him because he appeared lonely an_loomy. His indifference to her piqued her curiosity and irritated her pride.
  • Why shouldn't he take an interest in her? As they sped under leafy lanes, u_ill and down dale, she made out his face in the starlight. It was pale, reflective, indifferent. "These deep thinkers!" she chided him. "It's terribl_o be a philosopher." Eugene smiled.
  • When they reached home he went to his room as did all the others to theirs. H_tepped out into the hall a few minutes later to go to the library for a book, and found that her door which he had to pass was wide open. She was sittin_ack in a Morris chair, her feet upon another chair, her skirts slightly draw_p revealing a trim foot and ankle. She did not stir but looked up and smile_inningly.
  • "Aren't you tired enough to sleep?" he asked.
  • "Not quite yet," she smiled.
  • He went down stairs and turning on a light in the library stood looking at _ow of books reading the titles. He heard a step and there she was looking a_he books also.
  • "Don't you want a bottle of beer?" she asked. "I think there is some in th_ce box. I forgot that you might be thirsty."
  • "I really don't care," he said. "I'm not much for drinks of any kind."
  • "That's not very sociable," she laughed.
  • "Let's have the beer then," he said.
  • She threw herself back languidly in one of the big dining room chairs when sh_ad brought the drinks and some Swiss cheese and crackers, and said: "I thin_ou'll find some cigarettes on the table in the corner if you like."
  • He struck her a match and she puffed her cigarette comfortably. "I suppose yo_ind it lonely up here away from all your friends and companions," sh_olunteered.
  • "Oh, I've been sick so long I scarcely know whether I have any."
  • He described some of his imaginary ailments and experiences and she listene_o him attentively. When the beer was gone she asked him if he would have mor_ut he said no. After a time because he stirred wearily, she got up.
  • "Your mother will think we're running some sort of a midnight game down here,"
  • he volunteered.
  • "Mother can't hear," she said. "Her room is on the third floor and besides sh_oesn't hear very well. Dave don't mind. He knows me well enough by now t_now that I do as I please."
  • She stood closer to Eugene but still he did not see. When he moved away sh_ut out the lights and followed him to the stairs.
  • "He's either the most bashful or the most indifferent of men," she thought, but she said softly, "Good-night. Pleasant dreams to you," and went her way.
  • Eugene thought of her now as a good fellow, a little gay for a married woman, but probably circumspect withal. She was simply being nice to him. All thi_as simply because, as yet, he was not very much interested.
  • There were other incidents. One morning he passed her door. Her mother ha_lready gone down to breakfast and there was the spectacle of a smooth, shapely arm and shoulder quite bare to his gaze as she lay on her pillo_pparently unconscious that her door was open. It thrilled him as somethin_ensuously beautiful for it was a perfect arm. Another time he saw her of a_vening just before dinner buttoning her shoes. Her dress was pulled three- quarters of the way to her knees and her shoulders and arms were bare, for sh_as still in her corset and short skirts. She seemed not to know that he wa_ear. One night after dinner he started to whistle something and she went t_he piano to keep him company. Another time he hummed on the porch and sh_tarted the same song, singing with him. He drew his chair near the windo_here there was a couch after her mother had retired for the night, and sh_ame and threw herself on it. "You don't mind if I lie here?" she said, "I'_ired tonight."
  • "Not at all. I'm glad of your company. I'm lonely."
  • She lay and stared at him, smiling. He hummed and she sang. "Let me see you_alm," she said, "I want to learn something." He held it out. She fingered i_emptingly. Even this did not wake him.
  • She left for five days because of some necessity in connection with he_ngagements and when she returned he was glad to see her. He had bee_onesome, and he knew now that she made the house gayer. He greeted he_enially.
  • "I'm glad to see you back," he said.
  • "Are you really?" she replied. "I don't believe it."
  • "Why not?" he asked.
  • "Oh, signs, omens and portents. You don't like women very well I fancy."
  • "Don't I!"
  • "No, I think not," she replied.
  • She was charming in a soft grayish green satin. He noticed that her neck wa_eautiful and that her hair looped itself gracefully upon the back of it. He_ose was straight and fine, sensitive because of its thin partitioning walls.
  • He followed her into the library and they went out on the porch. Presently h_eturned—it was ten o'clock—and she came also. Davis had gone to his room, Mrs. Hibberdell to hers.
  • "I think I'll read," he said, aimlessly.
  • "Why anything like that?" she jested. "Never read when you can do anythin_lse."
  • "What else can I do?"
  • "Oh, lots of things. Play cards, tell fortunes, read palms, drink beer—" Sh_ooked at him wilfully.
  • He went to his favorite chair near the window, side by side with the window- seat couch. She came and threw herself on it.
  • "Be gallant and fix my pillows for me, will you?" she asked.
  • "Of course I will," he said.
  • He took a pillow and raised her head, for she did not deign to move.
  • "Is that enough?" he inquired.
  • "One more."
  • He put his hand under the first pillow and lifted it up. She took hold of hi_ree hand to raise herself. When she had it she held it and laughed a curiou_xcited laugh. It came over him all at once, the full meaning of all th_hings she had been doing. He dropped the pillow he was holding and looked a_er steadfastly. She relaxed her hold and leaned back, languorous, smiling. H_ook her left hand, then her right and sat down beside her. In a moment h_lipped one arm under her waist and bending over put his lips to hers. Sh_wined her arms about his neck tightly and hugged him close; then looking i_is eyes she heaved a great sigh.
  • "You love me, don't you?" he asked.
  • "I thought you never would," she sighed, and clasped him to her again.