Having involved himself thus far, seized upon and made his own this perfec_lower of life, Eugene had but one thought, and that was to retain it. Now, o_ sudden, had fallen from him all the weariness of years. To be in love again.
To be involved in such a love, so wonderful, so perfect, so exquisite, it di_ot seem that life could really be so gracious as to have yielded him so much.
What did it all mean, his upward rise during all these years? There had bee_eemingly but one triumph after another since the bitter days in Riverwood an_fter. The _World_ , Summerfield's, The Kalvin Company, The United Magazin_orporation, Winfield, his beautiful apartment on the drive. Surely the god_ere good. What did they mean? To give him fame, fortune and Suzanne into th_argain? Could such a thing really be? How could it be worked out? Would fat_onspire and assist him so that he could be free of Angela—or——
The thought of Angela to him in these days was a great pain. At bottom Eugen_eally did not dislike her, he never had. Years of living with her ha_roduced an understanding and a relationship as strong and as keen as it migh_ell be in some respects. Angela had always fancied since the Riverwood day_hat she really did not love Eugene truly any more—could not, that he was to_elf-centered and selfish; but this on her part was more of an illusion than _eality. She did care for him in an unselfish way from one point of view, i_hat she would sacrifice everything to his interests. From another point o_iew it was wholly selfish, for she wanted him to sacrifice everything for he_n return. This he was not willing to do and had never been. He considere_hat his life was a larger thing than could be encompassed by any singl_atrimonial relationship. He wanted freedom of action and companionship, bu_e was afraid of Angela, afraid of society, in a way afraid of himself an_hat positive liberty might do to him. He felt sorry for Angela—for th_ntense suffering she would endure if he forced her in some way to releas_im—and at the same time he felt sorry for himself. The lure of beauty ha_ever for one moment during all these years of upward mounting effort bee_tilled.
It is curious how things seem to conspire at times to produce a climax. On_ould think that tragedies like plants and flowers are planted as seeds an_row by various means and aids to a terrible maturity. Roses of hell are som_ives, and they shine with all the lustre of infernal fires.
In the first place Eugene now began to neglect his office work thoroughly, fo_e could not fix his mind upon it any more than he could upon the affairs o_he Sea Island Company, or upon his own home and Angela's illness. The mornin_fter his South Beach experience with Suzanne and her curious reticence, h_aw her for a little while upon the veranda of Daleview. She was not seemingl_epressed, or at least, not noticeably so, and yet there was a gravity abou_er which indicated that a marked impression of some kind had been made upo_er soul. She looked at him with wide frank eyes as she came out to hi_urposely to tell him that she was going with her mother and some friends t_arrytown for the day.
"I have to go," she said. "Mamma has arranged it by phone."
"Then I won't see you any more here?"
"Do you love me, Suzanne?"
"Oh, yes, yes," she declared, and walked wearily to an angle of the wall wher_hey could not be seen.
He followed her quickly, cautiously.
"Kiss me," he said, and she put her lips to his in a distraught frightene_ay. Then she turned and walked briskly off and he admired the robust swingin_f her body. She was not tall, like himself, or small like Angela, but middl_ized, full bodied, vigorous. He imagined now that she had a powerful soul i_er, capable of great things, full of courage and strength. Once she was _ittle older, she would be very forceful and full of strong, direct thought.
He did not see her again for nearly ten days, and by that time he was nearl_esperate. He was wondering all the time how he was to arrange this. He coul_ot go on in this haphazard way, seeing her occasionally. Why she might leav_own for the fall a little later and then what would he do? If her mothe_eard she would take her off to Europe and then would Suzanne forget? What _ragedy that would be! No, before that should happen, he would run away wit_er. He would realize all his investments and get away. He could not liv_ithout her. He must have her at any cost. What did the United Magazin_orporation amount to, anyway? He was tired of that work. Angela might hav_he Sea Island Realty Company's stock, if he could not dispose of i_dvantageously, or if he could, he would make provision for her out of what h_hould receive. He had some ready money—a few thousand dollars. This and hi_rt—he could still paint—would sustain them. He would go to England wit_uzanne, or to France. They would be happy if she really loved him and h_hought she did. All this old life could go its way. It was a dreary thing, anyhow, without love. These were his first thoughts.
Later, he came to have different ones, but this was after he had talked t_uzanne again. It was a difficult matter to arrange. In a fit of desperatio_e called up Daleview one day, and asked if Miss Suzanne Dale was there. _ervant answered, and in answer to the "who shall I say" he gave the name of _oung man that he knew Suzanne knew. When she answered he said: "Listen, Suzanne! Can you hear very well?"
"Do you recognize my voice?"
"Please don't pronounce my name, will you?"
"Suzanne, I am crazy to see you. It has been ten days now. Are you going to b_n town long?"
"I don't know. I think so."
"If anyone comes near you, Suzanne, simply hang up the receiver, and I wil_nderstand."
"If I came anywhere near your house in a car, could you come out and see me?"
"I don't know."
"I'm not sure. I'll try. What time?"
"Do you know where the old fort road is, at Crystal Lake, just below you?"
"Do you know where the ice house is near the road there?"
"Could you come there?"
"At eleven tomorrow morning or two this afternoon or three."
"I might at two today."
"Oh, thank you for that. I'll wait for you, anyhow."
"All right. Good-bye."
And she hung up the receiver.
Eugene rejoiced at the fortunate outcome of this effort without thinking a_irst of the capable manner in which she had handled the situation. Truly h_aid afterwards she must be very courageous to think so directly and act s_uickly, for it must have been very trying to her. This love of his was s_ew. Her position was so very difficult. And yet, on this first call when sh_ad been suddenly put in touch with him, she had shown no signs o_repidation. Her voice had been firm and even, much more so than his, for h_as nervously excited. She had taken in the situation at once and fallen int_he ruse quite readily. Was she as simple as she seemed? Yes and no. She wa_imply capable, he thought and her capability had acted through her simplicit_nstantly.
At two the same day Eugene was there. He gave as an excuse to his secretar_hat he was going out for a business conference with a well-known author whos_ook he wished to obtain, and, calling a closed auto, but one not his own, journeyed to the rendezvous. He asked the man to drive down the road, makin_uns of half a mile to and fro while he sat in the shade of a clump of tree_ut of view of the road. Presently Suzanne came, bright and fresh as th_orning, beautiful in a light purple walking costume of masterly design. Sh_ad on a large soft brimmed hat with long feathers of the same shade whic_ecame her exquisitely. She walked with an air of grace and freedom, and ye_hen he looked into her eyes, he saw a touch of trouble there.
"At last?" he said signaling her and smiling. "Come in here. My car is just u_he road. Don't you think we had better get in? It's closed. We might be seen.
How long can you stay?"
He took her in his arms and kissed her eagerly while she explained that sh_ould not stay long. She had said she was going to the library, which he_other had endowed, for a book. She must be there by half past three or fou_t the least.
"Oh, we can talk a great deal by then," he said gaily. "Here comes the car.
Let's get in."
He looked cautiously about, hailed it, and they stepped in quickly as it dre_p.
"Perth Amboy," said Eugene, and they were off at high speed.
Once in the car all was perfect, for they could not be seen. He drew th_hades partially and took her in his arms.
"Oh, Suzanne," he said, "how long it has seemed. How very long. Do you lov_e?"
"Yes, you know I do."
"Suzanne, how shall we arrange this? Are you going away soon? I must see yo_ftener."
"I don't know," she said. "I don't know what mama is thinking of doing. I kno_he wants to go up to Lenox in the fall."
"Oh, Pshaw!" commented Eugene wearily.
"Listen, Mr. Witla," said Suzanne thoughtfully. "You know we are running _errible risk. What if Mrs. Witla should find out, or mama? It would b_errible."
"I know it," said Eugene. "I suppose I ought not to be acting in this way.
But, oh, Suzanne, I am wild about you. I am not myself any longer. I don'_now what I am. I only know that I love you, love you, love you!"
He gathered her in his arms and kissed her ecstatically. "How sweet you look.
How beautiful you are. Oh, flower face! Myrtle Bloom! Angel Eyes! Divin_ire!" He hugged her in a long silent embrace, the while the car sped on.
"But what about us?" she asked, wide-eyed. "You know we are running a terribl_isk. I was just thinking this morning when you called me up. It's dangerous, you know."
"Are you becoming sorry, Suzanne?"
"Do you love me?"
"You know I do."
"Then you will help me figure this out?"
"I want to. But listen, Mr. Witla, now listen to me. I want to tell yo_omething." She was very solemn and quaint and sweet in this mood.
"I will listen to anything, baby mine, but don't call me Mr. Witla. Call m_ugene, will you?"
"Well, now, listen to me, Mr.—Mr.—Eugene."
"Not Mr. Eugene, just Eugene. Now say it. Eugene," he quoted his own name t_er.
"Now listen to me, Mr.—now, listen to me, Eugene," she at last forced hersel_o say, and Eugene stopped her lips with his mouth.
"There," he said.
"Now listen to me," she went on urgently, "you know I am afraid mama will b_erribly angry if she finds this out."
"Oh, will she?" interrupted Eugene jocosely.
Suzanne paid no attention to him.
"We have to be very careful. She likes you so much now that if she doesn'_ome across anything direct, she will never think of anything. She was talkin_bout you only this morning."
"What was she saying?"
"Oh, what a nice man you are, and how able you are."
"Oh, nothing like that," replied Eugene jestingly.
"Yes, she did. And I think Mrs. Witla likes me. I can meet you sometimes whe_'m there, but we must be so careful. I mustn't stay out long today. I want t_hink things out, too. You know I'm having a real hard time thinking abou_his."
Eugene smiled. Her innocence was so delightful to him, so naïve.
"What do you mean by thinking things out, Suzanne?" asked Eugene curiously. H_as interested in the workings of her young mind, which seemed so fresh an_onderful to him. It was so delightful to find this paragon of beauty s_esponsive, so affectionate and helpful and withal so thoughtful. She wa_omewhat like a delightful toy to him, and he held her as reverently in awe a_hough she were a priceless vase.
"You know I want to think what I'm doing. I have to. It seems so terrible t_e at times and yet you know, you know——"
"I know what?" he asked, when she paused.
"I don't know why I shouldn't if I want to—if I love you."
Eugene looked at her curiously. This attempt at analysis of life, particularl_n relation to so trying and daring a situation as this, astonished him. H_ad fancied Suzanne more or less thoughtless and harmless as yet, bi_otentially, but uncertain and vague. Here she was thinking about this mos_ifficult problem almost more directly than he was and apparently with mor_ourage. He was astounded, but more than that, intensely interested. What ha_ecome of her terrific fright of ten days before? What was it she was thinkin_bout exactly?
"What a curious girl you are," he said.
"Why am I?" she asked.
"Because you are. I didn't think you could think so keenly yet. I thought yo_ould some day. But, how have you reasoned this out?"
"Did you ever read 'Anna Karénina'?" she asked him meditatively.
"Yes," he said, wondering that she should have read it at her age.
"What did you think of that?"
"Oh, it shows what happens, as a rule, when you fly in the face o_onvention," he said easily, wondering at the ability of her brain.
"Do you think things must happen that way?"
"No, I don't think they must happen that way. There are lots of cases wher_eople do go against the conventions and succeed. I don't know. It appears t_e all a matter of time and chance. Some do and some don't. If you are stron_nough or clever enough to 'get away with it,' as they say, you will. If yo_ren't, you won't. What makes you ask?"
"Well," she said, pausing, her lips parted, her eyes fixed on the floor, "_as thinking that it needn't necessarily be like that, do you think? It coul_e different?"
"Yes, it could be," he said thoughtfully, wondering if it really could.
"Because if it couldn't," she went on, "the price would be too high. It isn'_orth while."
"You mean, you mean," he said, looking at her, "that you would." He wa_hinking that she was deliberately contemplating making a sacrifice of hersel_or him. Something in her thoughtful, self-debating, meditative manner mad_im think so.
Suzanne looked out of the window and slowly nodded her head. "Yes," she said, solemnly, "if it could be arranged. Why not? I don't see why."
Her face was a perfect blossom of beauty, as she spoke. Eugene wondere_hether he was waking or sleeping. Suzanne reasoning so! Suzanne reading "Ann_arénina" and philosophizing so! Basing a course of action on theorizing i_onnection with books and life, and in the face of such terrible evidence as
"Anna Karénina" presented to the contrary of this proposition. Would wonder_ver cease?
"You know," she said after a time, "I think mama wouldn't mind, Eugene. Sh_ikes you. I've heard her say so lots of times. Besides I've heard her tal_his way about other people. She thinks people oughtn't to marry unless the_ove each other very much. I don't think she thinks it's necessary for peopl_o marry at all unless they want to. We might live together if we wished, yo_now."
Eugene himself had heard Mrs. Dale question the marriage system, but only in _hilosophic way. He did not take much stock in her social maunderings. He di_ot know what she might be privately saying to Suzanne, but he did not believ_t could be very radical, or at least seriously so.
"Don't you take any stock in what your mother says, Suzanne," he observed, studying her pretty face. "She doesn't mean it, at least, she doesn't mean i_s far as you are concerned. She's merely talking. If she thought anythin_ere going to happen to you, she'd change her mind pretty quick."
"No, I don't think so," replied Suzanne thoughtfully. "You know, I think _now mama better than she knows herself. She always talks of me as a littl_irl, but I can rule her in lots of things. I've done it."
Eugene stared at Suzanne in amazement. He could scarcely believe his ears. Sh_as beginning so early to think so deeply on the social and executive sides o_ife. Why should her mind be trying to dominate her mother's?
"Suzanne," he observed, "you must be careful what you do or say. Don't rus_nto talking of this pellmell. It's dangerous. I love you, but we shall hav_o go slow. If Mrs. Witla should learn of this, she would be crazy. If you_other should suspect, she would take you away to Europe somewhere, ver_ikely. Then I wouldn't get to see you at all."
"Oh, no, she wouldn't," replied Suzanne determinedly. "You know, I know mam_etter than you think I do. I can rule her, I tell you. I know I can. I'v_one it."
She tossed her head in an exquisitely pretty way which upset Eugene'_easoning faculties. He could not think and look at her.
"Suzanne," he said, drawing her to him. "You are exquisite, extreme, the las_ord in womanhood for me. To think of your reasoning so—you, Suzanne."
"Why, why," she asked, with pretty parted lips and uplifted eyebrows, "wh_houldn't I think?"
"Oh, yes, certainly, we all do, but not so deeply, necessarily, Flower Face."
"Well, we must think now," she said simply.
"Yes, we must think now," he replied; "would you really share a studio with m_f I were to take one? I don't know of any other way quite at present."
"I would, if I knew how to manage it," she replied. "Mama is queer. She's s_atchful. She thinks I'm a child and you know I am not at all. I don'_nderstand mama. She talks one thing and does another. I would rather do an_ot talk. Don't you think so?" He stared. "Still, I think I can fix it. Leav_t to me."
"And if you can you'll come to me?"
"Oh, yes, yes," exclaimed Suzanne ecstatically, turning to him all at once an_atching his face between her hands. "Oh!"—she looked into his eyes an_reamed.
"But we must be careful," he cautioned. "We musn't do anything rash."
"I won't," said Suzanne.
"And I won't, of course," he replied.
They paused again while he watched her.
"I might make friends with Mrs. Witla," she observed, after a time. "She like_e, doesn't she?"
"Yes," said Eugene.
"Mama doesn't object to my going up there, and I could let you know."
"That's all right. Do that," said Eugene. "Oh, please do, if you can. Did yo_otice whose name I used today?"
"Yes," she said. "You know Mr. Witla, Eugene, I thought you might call me up?"
"Did you?" he asked, smiling.
"You give me courage, Suzanne," he said, drawing close to her. "You're s_onfident, so apparently carefree. The world hasn't touched your spirit."
"When I'm away from you, though, I'm not so courageous," she replied. "I'v_een thinking terrible things. I get frightened sometimes."
"But you mustn't, sweet, I need you so. Oh, how I need you."
She looked at him, and for the first time smoothed his hair with her hand.
"You know, Eugene, you're just like a boy to me."
"Do I seem so?" he asked, comforted greatly.
"I couldn't love you as I do if you weren't."
He drew her to him again and kissed her anew.
"Can't we repeat these rides every few days?" he asked.
"Yes, if I'm here, maybe."
"It's all right to call you up if I use another name?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Let's choose new names for each, so that we'll know who's calling. You shal_e Jenny Lind and I Allan Poe." Then they fell to ardent love-making until th_ime came when they had to return. For him, so far as work was concerned, th_fternoon was gone.