A Far Country
"The good old days of the Watling campaign," as Colonel Paul Varney is wont to call them, are gone forever. And the Colonel himself, who stuck to his gods, has been through the burning, fiery furnace of Investigation, and has come out unscathed and unrepentant. The flames of investigation, as a matter of fact, passed over his head in their vain attempt to reach the "man higher up," whose feet they licked; but him they did not devour, either. A veteran in retirement, the Colonel is living under his vine and fig tree on the lake at Rossiter; the vine bears Catawba grapes, of which he is passionately fond; the fig tree, the Bartlett pears he gives to his friends. He has saved something from the spoils of war, but other veterans I could mention are not so fortunate. The old warriors have retired, and many are dead; the good old methods are becoming obsolete. We never bothered about those mischievous things called primaries. Our county committees, our state committees chose the candidates for the conventions, which turned around and chose the committees. Both the committees and the conventions—under advice—chose the candidates. Why, pray, should the people complain, when they had everything done for them? The benevolent parties, both Democratic and Republican, even undertook the expense of printing the ballots! And generous ballots they were (twenty inches long and five wide!), distributed before election, in order that the voters might have the opportunity of studying and preparing them: in order that Democrats of delicate feelings might take the pains to scratch out all the Democratic candidates, and write in the names of the Republican candidates. Patriotism could go no farther than this....
I spent the week before election in the city, where I had the opportunity of observing what may be called the charitable side of politics. For a whole month, or more, the burden of existence had been lifted from the shoulders of the homeless. No church or organization, looked out for these frowsy, blear-eyed and ragged wanderers who had failed to find a place in the scale of efficiency. For a whole month, I say, Mr. Judd Jason and his lieutenants made them their especial care; supported them in lodging-houses, induced the night clerks to give them attention; took the greatest pains to ensure them the birth-right which, as American citizens, was theirs,—that of voting. They were not only given homes for a period, but they were registered; and in the abundance of good feeling that reigned during this time of cheer, even the foreigners were registered! On election day they were driven, like visiting notables, in carryalls and carriages to the polls! Some of them, as though in compensation for ills endured between elections, voted not once, but many times; exercising judicial functions for which they should be given credit. For instance, they were convinced that the Hon. W. W. Trulease had made a good governor; and they were Watling enthusiasts,—intent on sending men to the legislature who would vote for him for senator; yet there were cases in which, for the minor offices, the democrat was the better man!
It was a memorable day. In spite of Mr. Lawler's Pilot, which was as a voice crying in the wilderness, citizens who had wives and homes and responsibilities, business men and clerks went to the voting booths and recorded their choice for Trulease, Watling and Prosperity: and working-men followed suit. Victory was in the air. Even the policemen wore happy smiles, and in some instances the election officers themselves in absent-minded exuberance thrust bunches of ballots into the boxes!
In response to an insistent demand from his fellow-citizens Mr. Watling, the Saturday evening before, had made a speech in the Auditorium, decked with bunting and filled with people. For once the Morning Era did not exaggerate when it declared that the ovation had lasted fully ten minutes. "A remarkable proof" it went on to say, "of the esteem and confidence in which our fellow-citizen is held by those who know him best, his neighbours in the city where he has given so many instances of his public spirit, where he has achieved such distinction in the practice of the law. He holds the sound American conviction that the office should seek the man. His address is printed in another column, and we believe it will appeal to the intelligence and sober judgment of the state. It is replete with modesty and wisdom."
Mr. Watling was introduced by Mr. Bering of the State Supreme Court (a candidate for re-election), who spoke with deliberation, with owl-like impressiveness. He didn't believe in judges meddling in politics, but this was an unusual occasion. (Loud applause.) Most unusual. He had come here as a man, as an American, to pay his tribute to another man, a long-time friend, whom he thought to stand somewhat aside and above mere party strife, to represent values not merely political.... So accommodating and flexible is the human mind, so "practical" may it become through dealing with men and affairs, that in listening to Judge Bering I was able to ignore the little anomalies such a situation might have suggested to the theorist, to the mere student of the institutions of democracy. The friendly glasses of rye and water Mr. Bering had taken in Monahan's saloon, the cases he had "arranged" for the firm of Watling, Fowndes and Ripon were forgotten. Forgotten, too, when Theodore Watling stood up and men began, to throw their hats in the air,—were the cavilling charges of Mr. Lawler's Pilot that, far from the office seeking the man, our candidate had spent over a hundred thousand dollars of his own money, to say nothing of the contributions of Mr. Scherer, Mr. Dickinson and the Railroad! If I had been troubled with any weak, ethical doubts, Mr. Watling would have dispelled them; he had red blood in his veins, a creed in which he believed, a rare power of expressing himself in plain, everyday language that was often colloquial, but never—as the saying goes—"cheap." The dinner-pail predicament was real to him. He would present a policy of our opponents charmingly, even persuasively, and then add, after a moment's pause: "There is only one objection to this, my friends—that it doesn't work." It was all in the way he said it, of course. The audience would go wild with approval, and shouts of "that's right" could be heard here and there. Then he proceeded to show why it didn't work. He had the faculty of bringing his lessons home, the imagination to put himself into the daily life of those who listened to him,—the life of the storekeeper, the clerk, of the labourer and of the house-wife. The effect of this can scarcely be overestimated. For the American hugs the delusion that there are no class distinctions, even though his whole existence may be an effort to rise out of once class into another. "Your wife," he told them once, "needs a dress. Let us admit that the material for the dress is a little cheaper than it was four years ago, but when she comes to look into the family stocking—" (Laughter.) "I needn't go on. If we could have things cheaper, and more money to buy them with, we should all be happy, and the Republican party could retire from business."
He did not once refer to the United States Senatorship.
It was appropriate, perhaps, that many of us dined on the evening of election day at the Boyne Club. There was early evidence of a Republican land-slide. And when, at ten o'clock, it was announced that Mr. Trulease was re-elected by a majority which exceeded Mr. Grunewald's most hopeful estimate, that the legislature was "safe," that Theodore Watling would be the next United States Senator, a scene of jubilation ensued within those hallowed walls which was unprecedented. Chairs were pushed back, rugs taken up, Gene Hollister played the piano and a Virginia reel started; in a burst of enthusiasm Leonard Dickinson ordered champagne for every member present. The country was returning to its senses. Theodore Watling had preferred, on this eventful night, to remain quietly at home. But presently carriages were ordered, and a "delegation" of enthusiastic friends departed to congratulate him; Dickinson, of course, Grierson, Fowndes, Ogilvy, and Grunewald. We found Judah B. Tallant there,—in spite of the fact that it was a busy night for the Era; and Adolf Scherer himself, in expansive mood, was filling the largest of the library chairs. Mr. Watling was the least excited of them all; remarkably calm, I thought, for a man on the verge of realizing his life's high ambition. He had some old brandy, and a box of cigars he had been saving for an occasion. He managed to convey to everyone his appreciation of the value of their cooperation....
It was midnight before Mr. Scherer arose to take his departure. He seized Mr. Watling's hand, warmly, in both of his own.
"I have never," he said, with a relapse into the German f's, "I have never had a happier moment in my life, my friend, than when I congratulate you on your success." His voice shook with emotion. "Alas, we shall not see so much of you now."
"He'll be on guard, Scherer," said Leonard Dickinson, putting his arm around my chief.
"Good night, Senator," said Tallant, and all echoed the word, which struck me as peculiarly appropriate. Much as I had admired Mr. Watling before, it seemed indeed as if he had undergone some subtle change in the last few hours, gained in dignity and greatness by the action of the people that day. When it came my turn to bid him good night, he retained my hand in his.
"Don't go yet, Hugh," he said.
"But you must be tired," I objected.
"This sort of thing doesn't make a man tired," he laughed, leading me back to the library, where he began to poke the fire into a blaze. "Sit down awhile. You must be tired, I think,—you've worked hard in this campaign, a good deal harder than I have. I haven't said much about it, but I appreciate it, my boy." Mr. Watling had the gift of expressing his feelings naturally, without sentimentality. I would have given much for that gift.
"Oh, I liked it," I replied awkwardly.
I read a gentle amusement in his eyes, and also the expression of something else, difficult to define. He had seated himself, and was absently thrusting at the logs with the poker.
"You've never regretted going into law?" he asked suddenly, to my surprise.
"Why, no, sir," I said.
"I'm glad to hear that. I feel, to a considerable extent, responsible for your choice of a profession."
"My father intended me to be a lawyer," I told him. "But it's true that you gave me my—my first enthusiasm."
He looked up at me at the word.
"I admired your father. He seemed to me to be everything that a lawyer should be. And years ago, when I came to this city a raw country boy from upstate, he represented and embodied for me all the fine traditions of the profession. But the practice of law isn't what it was in his day, Hugh."
"No," I agreed, "that could scarcely be expected."
"Yes, I believe you realize that," he said. "I've watched you, I've taken a personal pride in you, and I have an idea that eventually you will succeed me here—neither Fowndes nor Ripon have the peculiar ability you have shown. You and I are alike in a great many respects, and I am inclined to think we are rather rare, as men go. We are able to keep one object vividly in view, so vividly as to be able to work for it day and night. I could mention dozens who had and have more natural talent for the law than I, more talent for politics than I. The same thing may be said about you. I don't regard either of us as natural lawyers, such as your father was. He couldn't help being a lawyer."
Here was new evidence of his perspicacity.
"But surely," I ventured, "you don't feel any regrets concerning your career, Mr. Watling?"
"No," he said, "that's just the point. But no two of us are made wholly alike. I hadn't practised law very long before I began to realize that conditions were changing, that the new forces at work in our industrial life made the older legal ideals impracticable. It was a case of choosing between efficiency and inefficiency, and I chose efficiency. Well, that was my own affair, but when it comes to influencing others—" He paused. "I want you to see this as I do, not for the sake of justifying myself, but because I honestly believe there is more to it than expediency,—a good deal more. There's a weak way of looking at it, and a strong way. And if I feel sure you understand it, I shall be satisfied.
"Because things are going to change in this country, Hugh. They are changing, but they are going to change more. A man has got to make up his mind what he believes in, and be ready to fight for it. We'll have to fight for it, sooner perhaps than we realize. We are a nation divided against ourselves; democracy—Jacksonian democracy, at all events, is a flat failure, and we may as well acknowledge it. We have a political system we have outgrown, and which, therefore, we have had to nullify. There are certain needs, certain tendencies of development in nations as well as in individuals,—needs stronger than the state, stronger than the law or constitution. In order to make our resources effective, combinations of capital are more and more necessary, and no more to be denied than a chemical process, given the proper ingredients, can be thwarted. The men who control capital must have a free hand, or the structure will be destroyed. This compels us to do many things which we would rather not do, which we might accomplish openly and unopposed if conditions were frankly recognized, and met by wise statesmanship which sought to bring about harmony by the reshaping of laws and policies. Do you follow me?"
"Yes," I answered. "But I have never heard the situation stated so clearly. Do you think the day will come when statesmanship will recognize this need?"
"Ah," he said, "I'm afraid not—in my time, at least. But we shall have to develop that kind of statesmen or go on the rocks. Public opinion in the old democratic sense is a myth; it must be made by strong individuals who recognize and represent evolutionary needs, otherwise it's at the mercy of demagogues who play fast and loose with the prejudice and ignorance of the mob. The people don't value the vote, they know nothing about the real problems. So far as I can see, they are as easily swayed to-day as the crowd that listened to Mark Antony's oration about Caesar. You've seen how we have to handle them, in this election and—in other matters. It isn't a pleasant practice, something we'd indulge in out of choice, but the alternative is unthinkable. We'd have chaos in no time. We've just got to keep hold, you understand—we can't leave it to the irresponsible."
"Yes," I said. In this mood he was more impressive than I had ever known him, and his confidence flattered and thrilled me.
"In the meantime, we're criminals," he continued. "From now on we'll have to stand more and more denunciation from the visionaries, the dissatisfied, the trouble makers. We may as well make up our minds to it. But we've got something on our side worth fighting for, and the man who is able to make that clear will be great."
"But you—you are going to the Senate," I reminded him.
He shook his head.
"The time has not yet come," he said. "Confusion and misunderstanding must increase before they can diminish. But I have hopes of you, Hugh, or I shouldn't have spoken. I shan't be here now—of course I'll keep in touch with you. I wanted to be sure that you had the right view of this thing."
"I see it now," I said. "I had thought of it, but never—never as a whole—not in the large sense in which you have expressed it." To attempt to acknowledge or deprecate the compliment he had paid me was impossible; I felt that he must have read my gratitude and appreciation in my manner.
"I mustn't keep you up until morning." He glanced at the clock, and went with me through the hall into the open air. A meteor darted through the November night. "We're like that," he observed, staring after it, a "flash across the darkness, and we're gone."
"Only—there are many who haven't the satisfaction of a flash," I was moved to reply.
He laughed and put his hand on my shoulder as he bade me good night.
"Hugh, you ought to get married. I'll have to find a nice girl for you," he said. With an elation not unmingled with awe I made my way homeward.
Theodore Watling had given me a creed.
A week or so after the election I received a letter from George Hutchins asking me to come to Elkington. I shall not enter into the details of the legal matter involved. Many times that winter I was a guest at the yellow-brick house, and I have to confess, as spring came on, that I made several trips to Elkington which business necessity did not absolutely demand.
I considered Maude Hutchins, and found the consideration rather a delightful process. As became an eligible and successful young man, I was careful not to betray too much interest; and I occupied myself at first with a review of what I deemed her shortcomings. Not that I was thinking of marriage—but I had imagined the future Mrs. Paret as tall; Maude was up to my chin: again, the hair of the fortunate lady was to be dark, and Maude's was golden red: my ideal had esprit, lightness of touch, the faculty of seizing just the aspect of a subject that delighted me, and a knowledge of the world; Maude was simple, direct, and in a word provincial. Her provinciality, however, was negative rather than positive, she had no disagreeable mannerisms, her voice was not nasal; her plasticity appealed to me. I suppose I was lost without knowing it when I began to think of moulding her.
All of this went on at frequent intervals during the winter, and while I was organizing the Elkington Power and Traction Company for George I found time to dine and sup at Maude's house, and to take walks with her. I thought I detected an incense deliciously sweet; by no means overpowering, like the lily's, but more like the shy fragrance of the wood flower. I recall her kind welcomes, the faint deepening of colour in her cheeks when she greeted me, and while I suspected that she looked up to me she had a surprising and tantalizing self-command.
There came moments when I grew slightly alarmed, as, for instance, one Sunday in the early spring when I was dining at the Ezra Hutchins's house and surprised Mrs. Hutchins's glance on me, suspecting her of seeking to divine what manner of man I was. I became self-conscious; I dared not look at Maude, who sat across the table; thereafter I began to feel that the Hutchins connection regarded me as a suitor. I had grown intimate with George and his wife, who did not refrain from sly allusions; and George himself once remarked, with characteristic tact, that I was most conscientious in my attention to the traction affair; I have reason to believe they were even less delicate with Maude. This was the logical time to withdraw—but I dallied. The experience was becoming more engrossing,—if I may so describe it,—and spring was approaching. The stars in their courses were conspiring. I was by no means as yet a self-acknowledged wooer, and we discussed love in its lighter phases through the medium of literature. Heaven forgive me for calling it so! About that period, it will be remembered, a mushroom growth of volumes of a certain kind sprang into existence; little books with "artistic" bindings and wide margins, sweetened essays, some of them written in beautiful English by dilettante authors for drawing-room consumption; and collections of short stories, no doubt chiefly bought by philanderers like myself, who were thus enabled to skate on thin ice over deep water. It was a most delightful relationship that these helped to support, and I fondly believed I could reach shore again whenever I chose.
There came a Sunday in early May, one of those days when the feminine assumes a large importance. I had been to the Hutchinses' church; and Maude, as she sat and prayed decorously in the pew beside me, suddenly increased in attractiveness and desirability. Her voice was very sweet, and I felt a delicious and languorous thrill which I identified not only with love, but also with a reviving spirituality. How often the two seem to go hand in hand!
She wore a dress of a filmy material, mauve, with a design in gold thread running through it. Of late, it seemed, she had had more new dresses: and their modes seemed more cosmopolitan; at least to the masculine eye. How delicately her hair grew, in little, shining wisps, around her white neck! I could have reached out my hand and touched her. And it was this desire,—although by no means overwhelming,—that startled me. Did I really want her? The consideration of this vital question occupied the whole time of the sermon; made me distrait at dinner,—a large family gathering. Later I found myself alone with heron a bench in the Hutchinses' garden where we had walked the day of my arrival, during the campaign.
The gardens were very different, now. The trees had burst forth again into leaf, the spiraea bushes seemed weighted down with snow, and with a note like that of the quivering bass string of a 'cello the bees hummed among the fruit blossoms. And there beside me in her filmy dress was Maude, a part of it all—the meaning of all that set my being clamouring. She was like some ripened, delicious flower ready to be picked.... One of those pernicious, make-believe volumes had fallen on the bench between us, for I could not read any more; I could not think; I touched her hand, and when she drew it gently away I glanced at her. Reason made a valiant but hopeless effort to assert itself. Was I sure that I wanted her—for life? No use! I wanted her now, no matter what price that future might demand. An awkward silence fell between us—awkward to me, at least—and I, her guide and mentor, became banal, apologetic, confused. I made some idiotic remark about being together in the Garden of Eden.
"I remember Mr. Doddridge saying in Bible class that it was supposed to be on the Euphrates," she replied. "But it's been destroyed by the flood."
"Let's make another—one of our own," I suggested.
"Why, how silly you are this afternoon."
"What's to prevent us—Maude?" I demanded, with a dry throat.
"Nonsense!" she laughed. In proportion as I lost poise she seemed to gain it.
"It's not nonsense," I faltered. "If we were married."
At last the fateful words were pronounced—irrevocably. And, instead of qualms, I felt nothing but relief, joy that I had been swept along by the flood of feeling. She did not look at me, but gazed straight ahead of her.
"If I love you, Maude?" I stammered, after a moment.
"But I don't love you," she replied, steadily.
Never in my life had I been so utterly taken aback.
"Do you mean," I managed to say, "that after all these months you don't like me a little?"
"'Liking' isn't loving." She looked me full in the face. "I like you very much."
"But—" there I stopped, paralyzed by what appeared to me the quintessence of feminine inconsistency and caprice. Yet, as I stared at her, she certainly did not appear capricious. It is not too much to say that I was fairly astounded at this evidence of self-command and decision, of the strength of mind to refuse me. Was it possible that she had felt nothing and I all? I got to my feet.
"I hate to hurt your feelings," I heard her say. "I'm very sorry."... She looked up at me. Afterwards, when reflecting on the scene, I seemed to remember that there were tears in her eyes. I was not in a condition to appreciate her splendid sincerity. I was overwhelmed and inarticulate. I left her there, on the bench, and went back to George's, announcing my intention of taking the five o'clock train....
Maude Hutchins had become, at a stroke, the most desirable of women. I have often wondered how I should have felt on that five-hour journey back to the city if she had fallen into my arms! I should have persuaded myself, no doubt, that I had not done a foolish thing in yielding to an impulse and proposing to an inexperienced and provincial young woman, yet there would have been regrets in the background. Too deeply chagrined to see any humour in the situation, I settled down in a Pullman seat and went over and over again the event of that afternoon until the train reached the city.
As the days wore on, and I attended to my cases, I thought of Maude a great deal, and in those moments when the pressure of business was relaxed, she obsessed me. She must love me,—only she did not realize it. That was the secret! Her value had risen amazingly, become supreme; the very act of refusing me had emphasized her qualifications as a wife, and I now desired her with all the intensity of a nature which had been permitted always to achieve its objects. The inevitable process of idealization began. In dusty offices I recalled her freshness as she had sat beside me in the garden,—the freshness of a flower; with Berkeleyan subjectivism I clothed the flower with colour, bestowed it with fragrance. I conferred on Maude all the gifts and graces that woman had possessed since the creation. And I recalled, with mingled bitterness and tenderness, the turn of her head, the down on her neck, the half-revealed curve of her arm.... In spite of the growing sordidness of Lyme Street, my mother and I still lived in the old house, for which she very naturally had a sentiment. In vain I had urged her from time to time to move out into a brighter and fresher neighbourhood. It would be time enough, she said, when I was married.
"If you wait for that, mother," I answered, "we shall spend the rest of our lives here."
"I shall spend the rest of my life here," she would declare. "But you—you have your life before you, my dear. You would be so much more contented if—if you could find some nice girl. I think you live—too feverishly."
I do not know whether or not she suspected me of being in love, nor indeed how much she read of me in other ways. I did not confide in her, nor did it strike me that she might have yearned for confidences; though sometimes, when I dined at home, I surprised her gentle face—framed now with white hair—lifted wistfully toward me across the table. Our relationship, indeed, was a pathetic projection of that which had existed in my childhood; we had never been confidants then. The world in which I lived and fought, of great transactions and merciless consequences frightened her; her own world was more limited than ever. She heard disquieting things, I am sure, from Cousin Robert Breck, who had become more and more querulous since the time-honoured firm of Breck and Company had been forced to close its doors and the home at Claremore had been sold. My mother often spent the day in the scrolled suburban cottage with the coloured glass front door where he lived with the Kinleys and Helen....
If my mother suspected that I was anticipating marriage, and said nothing, Nancy Durrett suspected and spoke out.
Life is such a curious succession of contradictions and surprises that I record here without comment the fact that I was seeing much more of Nancy since her marriage than I had in the years preceding it. A comradeship existed between us. I often dined at her house and had fallen into the habit of stopping there frequently on my way home in the evening. Ham did not seem to mind. What was clear, at any rate, was that Nancy, before marriage, had exacted some sort of an understanding by which her "freedom" was not to be interfered with. She was the first among us of the "modern wives."
Ham, whose heartstrings and purse-strings were oddly intertwined, had stipulated that they were to occupy the old Durrett mansion; but when Nancy had made it "livable," as she expressed it, he is said to have remarked that he might as well have built a new house and been done with it. Not even old Nathaniel himself would have recognized his home when Nancy finished what she termed furnishing: out went the horsehair, the hideous chandeliers, the stuffy books, the Recamier statuary, and an army of upholsterers, wood-workers, etc., from Boston and New York invaded the place. The old mahogany doors were spared, but matched now by Chippendale and Sheraton; the new, polished floors were covered with Oriental rugs, the dreary Durrett pictures replaced by good canvases and tapestries. Nancy had what amounted to a genius for interior effects, and she was the first to introduce among us the luxury that was to grow more and more prevalent as our wealth increased by leaps and bounds. Only Nancy's luxury, though lavish, was never vulgar, and her house when completed had rather marvellously the fine distinction of some old London mansion filled with the best that generations could contribute. It left Mrs. Frederick Grierson—whose residence on the Heights had hitherto been our "grandest"—breathless with despair.
With characteristic audacity Nancy had chosen old Nathaniel's sanctum for her particular salon, into which Ham himself did not dare to venture without invitation. It was hung in Pompeiian red and had a little wrought-iron balcony projecting over the yard, now transformed by an expert into a garden. When I had first entered this room after the metamorphosis had taken place I inquired after the tombstone mantel.
"Oh, I've pulled it up by the roots," she said.
"Aren't you afraid of ghosts?" I inquired.
"Do I look it?" she asked. And I confessed that she didn't. Indeed, all ghosts were laid, nor was there about her the slightest evidence of mourning or regret. One was forced to acknowledge her perfection in the part she had chosen as the arbitress of social honours. The candidates were rapidly increasing; almost every month, it seemed, someone turned up with a fortune and the aspirations that go with it, and it was Mrs. Durrett who decided the delicate question of fitness. With these, and with the world at large, her manner might best be described as difficult; and I was often amused at the way in which she contrived to keep them at arm's length and make them uncomfortable. With her intimates—of whom there were few—she was frank.
"I suppose you enjoy it," I said to her once.
"Of course I enjoy it, or I shouldn't do it," she retorted. "It isn't the real thing, as I told you once. But none of us gets the real thing. It's power.... Just as you enjoy what you're doing—sorting out the unfit. It's a game, it keeps us from brooding over things we can't help. And after all, when we have good appetites and are fairly happy, why should we complain?"
"I'm not complaining," I said, taking up a cigarette, "since I still enjoy your favour."
She regarded me curiously.
"And when you get married, Hugh?"
"Sufficient unto the day," I replied.
"How shall I get along, I wonder, with that simple and unsophisticated lady when she appears?"
"Well," I said, "you wouldn't marry me."
She shook her head at me, and smiled....
"No," she corrected me, "you like me better as Hams' wife than you would have as your own."
I merely laughed at this remark.... It would indeed have been difficult to analyze the new relationship that had sprung up between us, to say what elements composed it. The roots of it went back to the beginning of our lives; and there was much of sentiment in it, no doubt. She understood me as no one else in the world understood me, and she was fond of me in spite of it.
Hence, when I became infatuated with Maude Hutchins, after that Sunday when she so unexpectedly had refused me, I might have known that Nancy's suspicions would be aroused. She startled me by accusing me, out of a clear sky, of being in love. I denied it a little too emphatically.
"Why shouldn't you tell me, Hugh, if it's so?" she asked. "I didn't hesitate to tell you."
It was just before her departure for the East to spend the summer. We were on the balcony, shaded by the big maple that grew at the end of the garden.
"But there's nothing to tell," I insisted.
She lay back in her chair, regarding me.
"Did you think that I'd be jealous?"
"There's nothing to be jealous about."
"I've always expected you to get married, Hugh. I've even predicted the type."
She had, in truth, with an accuracy almost uncanny.
"The only thing I'm afraid of is that she won't like me. She lives in that place you've been going to so much, lately,—doesn't she?"
Of course she had put two and two together, my visits to Elkington and my manner, which I had flattered myself had not been distrait. On the chance that she knew more, from some source, I changed my tactics.
"I suppose you mean Maude Hutchins," I said.
"So that's her name!"
"It's the name of a girl in Elkington. I've been doing legal work for the Hutchinses, and I imagine some idiot has been gossiping. She's just a young girl—much too young for me."
"Men are queer creatures," she declared. "Did you think I should be jealous?"
It was exactly what I had thought, but I denied it.
"Why should you be—even if there were anything to be jealous about? You didn't consult me when you got married. You merely announced an irrevocable decision."
Nancy leaned forward and laid her hand on my arm.
"My dear," she said, "strange as it may seem, I want you to be happy. I don't want you to make a mistake, Hugh, too great a mistake."
I was surprised and moved. Once more I had a momentary glimpse of the real Nancy....
Our conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Ralph Hambleton....