A Far Country
However, thoughts of Maude continued to possess me. She still appeared the most desirable of beings, and a fortnight after my repulse, without any excuse at all, I telegraphed the George Hutchinses that I was coming to pay them a visit. Mrs. George, wearing a knowing smile, met me at the station in a light buck-board.
"I've asked Maude to dinner," she said....
Thus with masculine directness I returned to the charge, and Maude's continued resistance but increased my ardour; could not see why she continued to resist me.
"Because I don't love you," she said.
This was incredible. I suggested that she didn't know what love was, and she admitted it was possible: she liked me very, very much. I told her, sagely, that this was the best foundation for matrimony. That might be, but she had had other ideas. For one thing, she felt that she did not know me.... In short, she was charming and maddening in her defensive ruses, in her advances and retreats, for I pressed her hard during the four weeks which followed, and in them made four visits. Flinging caution to the winds, I did not even pretend to George that I was coming to see him on business. I had the Hutchins family on my side, for they had the sense to see that the match would be an advantageous one; I even summoned up enough courage to talk to Ezra Hutchins on the subject.
"I'll not attempt to influence Maude, Mr. Paret—I've always said I wouldn't interfere with her choice. But as you are a young man of sound habits, sir, successful in your profession, I should raise no objection. I suppose we can't keep her always."
To conceal his emotion, he pulled out the watch he lived by. "Why, it's church time!" he said.... I attended church regularly at Elkington....
On a Sunday night in June, following a day during which victory seemed more distant than ever, with startling unexpectedness Maude capitulated. She sat beside me on the bench, obscured, yet the warm night quivered with her presence. I felt her tremble.... I remember the first exquisite touch of her soft cheek. How strange it was that in conquest the tumult of my being should be stilled, that my passion should be transmuted into awe that thrilled yet disquieted! What had I done? It was as though I had suddenly entered an unimagined sanctuary filled with holy flame....
Presently, when we began to talk, I found myself seeking more familiar levels. I asked her why she had so long resisted me, accusing her of having loved me all the time.
"Yes, I think I did, Hugh. Only—I didn't know it."
"You must have felt something, that afternoon when I first proposed to you!"
"You didn't really want me, Hugh. Not then."
Surprised, and a little uncomfortable at this evidence of intuition, I started to protest. It seemed to me then as though I had always wanted her.
"No, no," she exclaimed, "you didn't. You were carried away by your feelings—you hadn't made up your mind. Indeed, I can't see why you want me now."
"You believe I do," I said, and drew her toward me.
"Yes, I—I believe it, now. But I can't see why. There must be so many attractive girls in the city, who know so much more than I do."
I sought fervidly to reassure her on this point.... At length when we went into the house she drew away from me at arm's length and gave me one long searching look, as though seeking to read my soul.
"Hugh, you will always love me—to the very end, won't you?"
"Yes," I whispered, "always."
In the library, one on each side of the table, under the lamp, Ezra Hutchins and his wife sat reading. Mrs. Hutchins looked up, and I saw that she had divined.
"Mother, I am engaged to Hugh," Maude said, and bent over and kissed her. Ezra and I stood gazing at them. Then he turned to me and pressed my hand.
"Well, I never saw the man who was good enough for her, Hugh. But God bless you, my son. I hope you will prize her as we prize her."
Mrs. Hutchins embraced me. And through her tears she, too, looked long into my face. When she had released me Ezra had his watch in his hand.
"If you're going on the ten o'clock train, Hugh—"
"Father!" Maude protested, laughing, "I must say I don't call that very polite."...
In the train I slept but fitfully, awakening again and again to recall the extraordinary fact that I was now engaged to be married, to go over the incidents of the evening. Indifferent to the backings and the bumpings of the car, the voices in the stations, the clanging of locomotive bells and all the incomprehensible startings and stoppings, exalted yet troubled I beheld Maude luminous with the love I had amazingly awakened, a love somewhere beyond my comprehension. For her indeed marriage was made in heaven. But for me? Could I rise now to the ideal that had once been mine, thrust henceforth evil out of my life? Love forever, live always in this sanctuary she had made for me? Would the time come when I should feel a sense of bondage?...
The wedding was set for the end of September. I continued to go every week to Elkington, and in August, Maude and I spent a fortnight at the sea. There could be no doubt as to my mother's happiness, as to her approval of Maude; they loved each other from the beginning. I can picture them now, sitting together with their sewing on the porch of the cottage at Mattapoisett. Out on the bay little white-caps danced in the sunlight, sail-boats tacked hither and thither, the strong cape breeze, laden with invigorating salt, stirred Maude's hair, and occasionally played havoc with my papers.
"She is just the wife for you, Hugh," my mother confided to me. "If I had chosen her myself I could not have done better," she added, with a smile.
I was inclined to believe it, but Maude would have none of this illusion.
"He just stumbled across me," she insisted....
We went on long sails together, towards Wood's Hole and the open sea, the sprays washing over us. Her cheeks grew tanned.... Sometimes, when I praised her and spoke confidently of our future, she wore a troubled expression.
"What are you thinking about?" I asked her once.
"You mustn't put me on a pedestal," she said gently. "I want you to see me as I am—I don't want you to wake up some day and be disappointed. I'll have to learn a lot of things, and you'll have to teach me. I can't get used to the fact that you, who are so practical and successful in business, should be such a dreamer where I am concerned."
I laughed, and told her, comfortably, that she was talking nonsense.
"What did you think of me, when you first knew me?" I inquired.
"Well," she answered, with the courage that characterized her, "I thought you were rather calculating, that you put too high a price on success. Of course you attracted me. I own it."
"You hid your opinions rather well," I retorted, somewhat discomfited.
"Have you changed them?" I demanded.
"I think you have that side, and I think it a weak side, Hugh. It's hard to tell you this, but it's better to say so now, since you ask me. I do think you set too high a value on success.'
"Well, now that I know what success really is, perhaps I shall reform," I told her.
"I don't like to think that you fool yourself," she replied, with a perspicacity I should have found extraordinary.
Throughout my life there have been days and incidents, some trivial, some important, that linger in my memory because they are saturated with "atmosphere." I recall, for instance, a gala occasion in youth when my mother gave one of her luncheon parties; on my return from school, the house and its surroundings wore a mysterious, exciting and unfamiliar look, somehow changed by the simple fact that guests sat decorously chatting in a dining-room shining with my mother's best linen and treasured family silver and china. The atmosphere of my wedding-day is no less vivid. The house of Ezra Hutchins was scarcely recognizable: its doors and windows were opened wide, and all the morning people were being escorted upstairs to an all-significant room that contained a collection like a jeweller's exhibit,—a bewildering display. There was a massive punch-bowl from which dangled the card of Mr. and Mrs. Adolf Scherer, a really wonderful tea set of old English silver given by Senator and Mrs. Watling, and Nancy Willett, with her certainty of good taste, had sent an old English tankard of the time of the second Charles. The secret was in that room. And it magically transformed for me (as I stood, momentarily alone, in the doorway where I had first beheld Maude) the accustomed scene, and charged with undivined significance the blue shadows under the heavy foliage of the maples. The September sunlight was heavy, tinged with gold....
So fragmentary and confused are the events of that day that a cubist literature were necessary to convey the impressions left upon me. I had something of the feeling of a recruit who for the first time is taking part in a brilliant and complicated manoeuvre. Tom and Susan Peters flit across the view, and Gene Hollister and Perry Blackwood and the Ewanses,—all of whom had come up in a special car; Ralph Hambleton was "best man," looking preternaturally tall in his frock-coat: and his manner, throughout the whole proceeding, was one of good-natured tolerance toward a folly none but he might escape.
"If you must do it, Hughie, I suppose you must," he had said to me. "I'll see you through, of course. But don't blame me afterwards."
Maude was a little afraid of him....
I dressed at George's; then, like one of those bewildering shifts of a cinematograph, comes the scene in church, the glimpse of my mother's wistful face in the front pew; and I found myself in front of the austere Mr. Doddridge standing beside Maude—or rather beside a woman I tried hard to believe was Maude—so veiled and generally encased was she. I was thinking of this all the time I was mechanically answering Mr. Doddridge, and even when the wedding march burst forth and I led her out of the church. It was as though they had done their best to disguise her, to put our union on the other-worldly plane that was deemed to be its only justification, to neutralize her sex at the very moment it should have been most enhanced. Well, they succeeded. If I had not been as conventional as the rest, I should have preferred to have run away with her in the lavender dress she wore when I first proposed to her. It was only when we had got into the carriage and started for the house and she turned to me her face from which the veil had been thrown back that I realized what a sublime meaning it all had for her. Her eyes were wet. Once more I was acutely conscious of my inability to feel deeply at supreme moments. For months I had looked forward with anticipation and impatience to my wedding-day.
I kissed her gently. But I felt as though she had gone to heaven, and that the face I beheld enshrouded were merely her effigy. Commonplace words were inappropriate, yet it was to these I resorted.
"Well—it wasn't so bad after all! Was it?"
She smiled at me.
"You don't want to take it back?"
She shook her head.
"I think it was a beautiful wedding, Hugh. I'm so glad we had a good day."...
She seemed shy, at once very near and very remote. I held her hand awkwardly until the carriage stopped.
A little later we were standing in a corner of the parlour, the atmosphere of which was heavy with the scent of flowers, submitting to the onslaught of relatives. Then came the wedding breakfast: croquettes, champagne, chicken salad, ice-cream, the wedding-cake, speeches and more kisses.... I remember Tom Peters holding on to both my hands.
"Good-bye, and God bless you, old boy," he was saying. Susan, in view of the occasion, had allowed him a little more champagne than usual—enough to betray his feelings, and I knew that these had not changed since our college days. I resolved to see more of him. I had neglected him and undervalued his loyalty.... He had followed me to my room in George's house where I was dressing for the journey, and he gave it as his deliberate judgment that in Maude I had "struck gold."
"She's just the girl for you, Hughie," he declared. "Susan thinks so, too."
Later in the afternoon, as we sat in the state-room of the car that was bearing us eastward, Maude began to cry. I sat looking at her helplessly, unable to enter into her emotion, resenting it a little. Yet I tried awkwardly to comfort her.
"I can't bear to leave them," she said.
"But you will see them often, when we come back," I reassured her. It was scarcely the moment for reminding her of what she was getting in return. This peculiar family affection she evinced was beyond me; I had never experienced it in any poignant degree since I had gone as a freshman to Harvard, and yet I was struck by the fact that her emotions were so rightly placed. It was natural to love one's family. I began to feel, vaguely, as I watched her, that the new relationship into which I had entered was to be much more complicated than I had imagined. Twilight was coming on, the train was winding through the mountain passes, crossing and re-crossing a swift little stream whose banks were massed with alder; here and there, on the steep hillsides, blazed the goldenrod.... Presently I turned, to surprise in her eyes a wide, questioning look,—the look of a child. Even in this irrevocable hour she sought to grasp what manner of being was this to whom she had confided her life, and with whom she was faring forth into the unknown. The experience was utterly unlike my anticipation. Yet I responded. The kiss I gave her had no passion in it.
"I'll take good care of you, Maude," I said.
Suddenly, in the fading light, she flung her arms around me, pressing me tightly, desperately.
"Oh, I know you will, Hugh, dear. And you'll forgive me, won't you, for being so horrid to-day, of all days? I do love you!"
Neither of us had ever been abroad. And although it was before the days of swimming-pools and gymnasiums and a la carte cafes on ocean liners, the Atlantic was imposing enough. Maude had a more lasting capacity for pleasure than I, a keener enjoyment of new experiences, and as she lay beside me in the steamer-chair where I had carefully tucked her she would exclaim:
"I simply can't believe it, Hugh! It seems so unreal. I'm sure I shall wake up and find myself back in Elkington."
"Don't speak so loud, my dear," I cautioned her. There were some very formal-looking New Yorkers next us.
"No, I won't," she whispered. "But I'm so happy I feel as though I should like to tell everyone."
"There's no need," I answered smiling.
"Oh, Hugh, I don't want to disgrace you!" she exclaimed, in real alarm. "Otherwise, so far as I am concerned, I shouldn't care who knew."
People smiled at her. Women came up and took her hands. And on the fourth day the formidable New Yorkers unexpectedly thawed.
I had once thought of Maude as plastic. Then I had discovered she had a mind and will of her own. Once more she seemed plastic; her love had made her so. Was it not what I had desired? I had only to express a wish, and it became her law. Nay, she appealed to me many times a day to know whether she had made any mistakes, and I began to drill her in my silly traditions,—gently, very gently.
"Well, I shouldn't be quite so familiar with people, quite so ready to make acquaintances, Maude. You have no idea who they may be. Some of them, of course, like the Sardells, I know by reputation."
The Sardells were the New Yorkers who sat next us.
"I'll try, Hugh, to be more reserved, more like the wife of an important man." She smiled.
"It isn't that you're not reserved," I replied, ignoring the latter half of her remark. "Nor that I want you to change," I said. "I only want to teach you what little of the world I know myself."
"And I want to learn, Hugh. You don't know how I want to learn!"
The sight of mist-ridden Liverpool is not a cheering one for the American who first puts foot on the mother country's soil, a Liverpool of yellow-browns and dingy blacks, of tilted funnels pouring out smoke into an atmosphere already charged with it. The long wharves and shed roofs glistened with moisture.
"Just think, Hugh, it's actually England!" she cried, as we stood on the wet deck. But I felt as though I'd been there before.
"No wonder they're addicted to cold baths," I replied. "They must feel perfectly at home in them, especially if they put a little lampblack in the water."
"You grumpy old thing!" she exclaimed.
Nothing could dampen her ardour, not the sight of the rain-soaked stone houses when we got ashore, nor even the frigid luncheon we ate in the lugubrious hotel. For her it was all quaint and new. Finally we found ourselves established in a compartment upholstered in light grey, with tassels and arm-supporters, on the window of which was pasted a poster with the word reserved in large, red letters. The guard inquired respectfully, as the porter put our new luggage in the racks, whether we had everything we wanted. The toy locomotive blew its toy whistle, and we were off for the north; past dingy, yellow tenements of the smoking factory towns, and stretches of orderly, hedge-spaced rain-swept country. The quaint cottages we glimpsed, the sight of distant, stately mansions on green slopes caused Maude to cry out with rapture:—"Oh, Hugh, there's a manor-house!"
More vivid than were the experiences themselves of that journey are the memories of them. We went to windswept, Sabbath-keeping Edinburgh, to high Stirling and dark Holyrood, and to Abbotsford. It was through Sir Walter's eyes we beheld Melrose bathed in autumn light, by his aid repeopled it with forgotten monks eating their fast-day kale.
And as we sat reading and dreaming in the still, sunny corners I forgot, that struggle for power in which I had been so furiously engaged since leaving Cambridge. Legislatures, politicians and capitalists receded into a dim background; and the gift I had possessed, in youth, of living in a realm of fancy showed astonishing signs of revival.
"Why, Hugh," Maude exclaimed, "you ought to have been a writer!"
"You've only just begun to fathom my talents," I replied laughingly. "Did you think you'd married just a dry old lawyer?"
"I believe you capable of anything," she said....
I grew more and more to depend on her for little things.
She was a born housewife. It was pleasant to have her do all the packing, while I read or sauntered in the queer streets about the inns. And she took complete charge of my wardrobe.
She had a talent for drawing, and as we went southward through England she made sketches of the various houses that took our fancy—suggestions for future home-building; we spent hours in the evenings in the inn sitting-rooms incorporating new features into our residence, continually modifying our plans. Now it was a Tudor house that carried us away, now a Jacobean, and again an early Georgian with enfolding wings and a wrought-iron grill. A stage of bewilderment succeeded.
Maude, I knew, loved the cottages best. She said they were more "homelike." But she yielded to my liking for grandeur.
"My, I should feel lost in a palace like that!" she cried, as we gazed at the Marquis of So-and-So's country-seat.
"Well, of course we should have to modify it," I admitted. "Perhaps—perhaps our family will be larger."
She put her hand on my lips, and blushed a fiery red....
We examined, with other tourists, at a shilling apiece historic mansions with endless drawing-rooms, halls, libraries, galleries filled with family portraits; elaborate, formal bedrooms where famous sovereigns had slept, all roped off and carpeted with canvas strips to protect the floors. Through mullioned windows we caught glimpses of gardens and geometrical parterres, lakes, fountains, statuary, fantastic topiary and distant stretches of park. Maude sighed with admiration, but did not covet. She had me. But I was often uncomfortable, resenting the vulgar, gaping tourists with whom we were herded and the easy familiarity of the guides. These did not trouble Maude, who often annoyed me by asking naive questions herself. I would nudge her.
One afternoon when, with other compatriots, we were being hurried through a famous castle, the guide unwittingly ushered us into a drawing-room where the owner and several guests were seated about a tea-table. I shall never forget the stares they gave us before we had time precipitately to retreat, nor the feeling of disgust and rebellion that came over me. This was heightened by the remark of a heavy, six-foot Ohioan with an infantile face and a genial manner.
"I notice that they didn't invite us to sit down and have a bite," he said. "I call that kind of inhospitable."
"It was 'is lordship himself!" exclaimed the guide, scandalized.
"You don't say!" drawled our fellow-countryman. "I guess I owe you another shilling, my friend."
The guide, utterly bewildered, accepted it. The transatlantic point of view towards the nobility was beyond him.
"His lordship could make a nice little income if he set up as a side show," added the Ohioan.
Maude giggled, but I was furious. And no sooner were we outside the gates than I declared I should never again enter a private residence by the back door.
"Why, Hugh, how queer you are sometimes," she said.
"I maybe queer, but I have a sense of fitness," I retorted.
She asserted herself.
"I can't see what difference it makes. They didn't know us. And if they admit people for money—"
"I can't help it. And as for the man from Ohio—"
"But he was so funny!" she interrupted. "And he was really very nice."
I was silent. Her point of view, eminently sensible as it was, exasperated me. We were leaning over the parapet of a little-stone bridge. Her face was turned away from me, but presently I realized that she was crying. Men and women, villagers, passing across the bridge, looked at us curiously. I was miserable, and somewhat appalled; resentful, yet striving to be gentle and conciliatory. I assured her that she was talking nonsense, that I loved her. But I did not really love her at that moment; nor did she relent as easily as usual. It was not until we were together in our sitting-room, a few hours later, that she gave in. I felt a tremendous sense of relief.
"Hugh, I'll try to be what you want. You know I am trying. But don't kill what is natural in me."
I was touched by the appeal, and repentant...
It is impossible to say when the little worries, annoyances and disagreements began, when I first felt a restlessness creeping over me. I tried to hide these moods from her, but always she divined them. And yet I was sure that I loved Maude; in a surprisingly short period I had become accustomed to her, dependent on her ministrations and the normal, cosy intimacy of our companionship. I did not like to think that the keen edge of the enjoyment of possession was wearing a little, while at the same time I philosophized that the divine fire, when legalized, settles down to a comfortable glow. The desire to go home that grew upon me I attributed to the irritation aroused by the spectacle of a fixed social order commanding such unquestioned deference from the many who were content to remain resignedly outside of it. Before the setting in of the Liberal movement and the "American invasion" England was a country in which (from my point of view) one must be "somebody" in order to be happy. I was "somebody" at home; or at least rapidly becoming so....
London was shrouded, parliament had risen, and the great houses were closed. Day after day we issued forth from a musty and highly respectable hotel near Piccadilly to a gloomy Tower, a soggy Hampton Court or a mournful British Museum. Our native longing for luxury—or rather my native longing—impelled me to abandon Smith's Hotel for a huge hostelry where our suite overlooked the Thames, where we ran across a man I had known slightly at Harvard, and other Americans with whom we made excursions and dined and went to the theatre. Maude liked these persons; I did not find them especially congenial. My life-long habit of unwillingness to accept what life sent in its ordinary course was asserting itself; but Maude took her friends as she found them, and I was secretly annoyed by her lack of discrimination. In addition to this, the sense of having been pulled up by the roots grew upon me.
"Suppose," Maude surprised me by suggesting one morning as we sat at breakfast watching the river craft flit like phantoms through the yellow-green fog—"suppose we don't go to France, after all, Hugh?"
"Not go to France!" I exclaimed. "Are you tired of the trip?"
"Oh, Hugh!" Her voice caught. "I could go on, always, if you were content."
"And—what makes you think that I'm not content?"
Her smile had in it just a touch of wistfulness.
"I understand you, Hugh, better than you think. You want to get back to your work, and—and I should be happier. I'm not so silly and so ignorant as to think that I can satisfy you always. And I'd like to get settled at home,—I really should."
There surged up within me a feeling of relief. I seized her hand as it lay on the table.
"We'll come abroad another time, and go to France," I said. "Maude, you're splendid!"
She shook her head.
"Oh, no, I'm not."
"You do satisfy me," I insisted. "It isn't that at all. But I think, perhaps, it would be wiser to go back. It's rather a crucial time with me, now that Mr. Watling's in Washington. I've just arrived at a position where I shall be able to make a good deal of money, and later on—"
"It isn't the money, Hugh," she cried, with a vehemence which struck me as a little odd. "I sometimes think we'd be a great deal happier without—without all you are going to make."
"Well, I haven't made it yet."
She possessed the frugality of the Hutchinses. And some times my lavishness had frightened her, as when we had taken the suite of rooms we now occupied.
"Are you sure you can afford them, Hugh?" she had asked when we first surveyed them.
I began married life, and carried it on without giving her any conception of the state of my finances. She had an allowance from the first.
As the steamer slipped westward my spirits rose, to reach a climax of exhilaration when I saw the towers of New York rise gleaming like huge stalagmites in the early winter sun. Maude likened them more happily—to gigantic ivory chessmen. Well, New York was America's chessboard, and the Great Players had already begun to make moves that astonished the world. As we sat at breakfast in a Fifth Avenue hotel I ran my eye eagerly over the stock-market reports and the financial news, and rallied Maude for a lack of spirits.
"Aren't you glad to be home?" I asked her, as we sat in a hansom.
"Of course I am, Hugh!" she protested. "But—I can't look upon New York as home, somehow. It frightens me."
I laughed indulgently.
"You'll get used to it," I said. "We'll be coming here a great deal, off and on."
She was silent. But later, when we took a hansom and entered the streams of traffic, she responded to the stimulus of the place: the movement, the colour, the sight of the well-appointed carriages, of the well-fed, well-groomed people who sat in them, the enticement of the shops in which we made our purchases had their effect, and she became cheerful again....
In the evening we took the "Limited" for home.
We lived for a month with my mother, and then moved into our own house. It was one which I had rented from Howard Ogilvy, and it stood on the corner of Baker and Clinton streets, near that fashionable neighbourhood called "the Heights." Ogilvy, who was some ten years older than I, and who belonged to one of our old families, had embarked on a career then becoming common, but which at first was regarded as somewhat meteoric: gradually abandoning the practice of law, and perceiving the possibilities of the city of his birth, he had "gambled" in real estate and other enterprises, such as our local water company, until he had quadrupled his inheritance. He had built a mansion on Grant Avenue, the wide thoroughfare bisecting the Heights. The house he had vacated was not large, but essentially distinctive; with the oddity characteristic of the revolt against the banal architecture of the 80's. The curves of the tiled roof enfolded the upper windows; the walls were thick, the note one of mystery. I remember Maude's naive delight when we inspected it.
"You'd never guess what the inside was like, would you, Hugh?" she cried.
From the panelled box of an entrance hall one went up a few steps to a drawing-room which had a bowed recess like an oriel, and window-seats. The dining-room was an odd shape, and was wainscoted in oak; it had a tiled fireplace and (according to Maude) the "sweetest" china closet built into the wall. There was a "den" for me, and an octagonal reception-room on the corner. Upstairs, the bedrooms were quite as unusual, the plumbing of the new pattern, heavy and imposing. Maude expressed the air of seclusion when she exclaimed that she could almost imagine herself in one of the mediaeval towns we had seen abroad.
"It's a dream, Hugh," she sighed. "But—do you think we can afford it?"...
"This house," I announced, smiling, "is only a stepping-stone to the palace I intend to build you some day."
"I don't want a palace!" she cried. "I'd rather live here, like this, always."
A certain vehemence in her manner troubled me. I was charmed by this disposition for domesticity, and yet I shrank from the contemplation of its permanency. I felt vaguely, at the time, the possibility of a future conflict of temperaments. Maude was docile, now. But would she remain docile? and was it in her nature to take ultimately the position that was desirable for my wife? Well, she must be moulded, before it were too late. Her ultra-domestic tendencies must be halted. As yet blissfully unaware of the inability of the masculine mind to fathom the subtleties of feminine relationships, I was particularly desirous that Maude and Nancy Durrett should be intimates. The very day after our arrival, and while we were still at my mother's, Nancy called on Maude, and took her out for a drive. Maude told me of it when I came home from the office.
"Dear old Nancy!" I said. "I know you liked her."
"Of course, Hugh. I should like her for your sake, anyway. She's—she's one of your oldest and best friends."
"But I want you to like her for her own sake."
"I think I shall," said Maude. She was so scrupulously truthful! "I was a little afraid of her, at first."
"Afraid of Nancy!" I exclaimed.
"Well, you know, she's much older than I. I think she is sweet. But she knows so much about the world—so much that she doesn't say. I can't describe it."
"It's only her manner. You'll get used to that, when you know what she really is."
"Oh, I hope so," answered Maude. "I'm very anxious to like her—I do like her. But it takes me such a lot of time to get to know people."
Nancy asked us to dinner.
"I want to help Maude all I can,—if she'll let me," Nancy said.
"Why shouldn't she let you?" I asked.
"She may not like me," Nancy replied.
"Nonsense!" I exclaimed.
"It won't be my fault, at any rate, if she doesn't," she said. "I wanted her to meet at first just the right people your old friends and a few others. It is hard for a woman—especially a young woman—coming among strangers." She glanced down the table to where Maude sat talking to Ham. "She has an air about her,—a great deal of self-possession."
I, too, had noticed this, with pride and relief. For I knew Maude had been nervous.
"You are luckier than you deserve to be," Nancy reminded me. "But I hope you realize that she has a mind of her own, that she will form her own opinions of people, independently of you."
I must have betrayed the fact that I was a little startled, for the remark came as a confirmation of what I had dimly felt.
"Of course she has," I agreed, somewhat lamely. "Every woman has, who is worth her salt."
Nancy's smile bespoke a knowledge that seemed to transcend my own.
"You do like her?" I demanded.
"I like her very much indeed," said Nancy, a little gravely. "She's simple, she's real, she has that which so few of us possess nowadays—character. But—I've got to be prepared for the possibility that she may not get along with me."
"Why not?" I demanded.
"There you are again, with your old unwillingness to analyze a situation and face it. For heaven's sake, now that you have married her, study her. Don't take her for granted. Can't you see that she doesn't care for the things that amuse me, that make my life?"
"Of course, if you insist on making yourself out a hardened, sophisticated woman—" I protested. But she shook her head.
"Her roots are deeper,—she is in touch, though she may not realize it, with the fundamentals. She is one of those women who are race-makers."
Though somewhat perturbed, I was struck by the phrase. And I lost sight of Nancy's generosity. She looked me full in the face.
"I wonder whether you can rise to her," she said. "If I were you, I should try. You will be happier—far happier than if you attempt to use her for your own ends, as a contributor to your comfort and an auxiliary to your career. I was afraid—I confess it—that you had married an aspiring, simpering and empty-headed provincial like that Mrs. George Hutchins' whom I met once, and who would sell her soul to be at my table. Well, you escaped that, and you may thank God for it. You've got a chance, think it over.
"A chance!" I repeated, though I gathered something of her meaning.
"Think it over, said Nancy again. And she smiled.
"But—do you want me to bury myself in domesticity?" I demanded, without grasping the significance of my words.
"You'll find her reasonable, I think. You've got a chance now, Hugh. Don't spoil it."
She turned to Leonard Dickinson, who sat on her other side....
When we got home I tried to conceal my anxiety as to Maude's impressions of the evening. I lit a cigarette, and remarked that the dinner had been a success.
"Do you know what I've been wondering all evening?" Maude asked. "Why you didn't marry Nancy instead of me."
"Well," I replied, "it just didn't come off. And Nancy was telling me at dinner how fortunate I was to have married you."
Maude passed this.
"I can't see why she accepted Hambleton Durrett. It seems horrible that such a woman as she is could have married—just for money.
"Nancy has an odd streak in her," I said. "But then we all have odd streaks. She's the best friend in the world, when she is your friend."
"I'm sure of it," Maude agreed, with a little note of penitence.
"You enjoyed it," I ventured cautiously.
"Oh, yes," she agreed. "And everyone was so nice to me—for your sake of course."
"Don't be ridiculous!" I said. "I shan't tell you what Nancy and the others said about you."
Maude had the gift of silence.
"What a beautiful house!" she sighed presently. "I know you'll think me silly, but so much luxury as that frightens me a little. In England, in those places we saw, it seemed natural enough, but in America—! And they all your friends—seem to take it as a matter of course."
"There's no reason why we shouldn't have beautiful things and well served dinners, too, if we have the money to pay for them."
"I suppose not," she agreed, absently.