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,"
"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."
"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.
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.