A Far Country
Making money in those days was so ridiculously easy! The trouble was to know how to spend it. One evening when I got home I told Maude I had a surprise for her.
"A surprise?" she asked, looking up from a little pink smock she was making for Chickabiddy.
"I've bought that lot on Grant Avenue, next to the Ogilvys'."
She dropped her sewing, and stared at me.
"Aren't you pleased?" I asked. "At last we are going to have a house of our very own. What's the matter?"
"I can't bear the thought of leaving here. I'm so used to it. I've grown to love it. It's part of me."
"But," I exclaimed, a little exasperated, "you didn't expect to live here always, did you? The house has been too small for us for years. I thought you'd be delighted." (This was not strictly true, for I had rather expected some such action on her part.) "Most women would. Of course, if it's going to make such a difference to you as that, I'll sell the lot. That won't be difficult."
I got up, and started to go into my study. She half rose, and her sewing fell to the floor.
"Oh, why are we always having misunderstandings? Do sit down a minute, Hugh. Don't think I'm not appreciative," she pleaded. "It was—such a shock."
I sat down rather reluctantly.
"I can't express what I think," she continued, rather breathlessly, "but sometimes I'm actually frightened, we're going through life so fast in these days, and it doesn't seem as if we were getting the real things out of it. I'm afraid of your success, and of all the money you're making."
"I'm not so rich yet, as riches go in these days, that you need be alarmed," I said.
She looked at me helplessly a moment.
"I feel that it isn't—right, somehow, that you'll pay for it, that we'll pay for it. Goodness knows, we have everything we want, and more too. This house—this house is real, and I'm afraid that won't be a home, won't be real. That we'll be overwhelmed with—with things!"...
She was interrupted by the entrance of the children. But after dinner, when she had seen them to bed, as was her custom, she came downstairs into my study and said quietly:—"I was wrong, Hugh. If you want to build a house, if you feel that you'd be happier, I have no right to object. Of course my sentiment for this house is natural, the children were born here, but I've realized we couldn't live here always."
"I'm glad you look at it that way," I replied. "Why, we're already getting cramped, Maude, and now you're going to have a governess I don't know where you'd put her."
"Not too large, a house," she pleaded. "I know you think I'm silly, but this extravagance we see everywhere does make me uneasy. Perhaps it's because I'm provincial, and always shall be."
"Well, we must have a house large enough to be comfortable in," I said. "There's no reason why we shouldn't be comfortable." I thought it as well not to confess my ambitions, and I was greatly relieved that she did not reproach me for buying the lot without consulting her. Indeed, I was grateful for this unanticipated acquiescence, I felt nearer to her, than I had for a long time. I drew up another chair to my desk.
"Sit down and we'll make a few sketches, just for fun," I urged.
"Hugh," she said presently, as we were blacking out prospective rooms, "do you remember all those drawings and plans we made in England, on our wedding trip, and how we knew just what we wanted, and changed our minds every few days? And now we're ready to build, and haven't any ideas at all!"
"Yes," I answered—but I did not look at her.
"I have the book still—it's in the attic somewhere, packed away in a box. I suppose those plans would seem ridiculous now."
It was quite true,—now that we were ready to build the home that had been deferred so long, now that I had the money to spend without stint on its construction, the irony of life had deprived me of those strong desires and predilections I had known on my wedding trip. What a joy it would have been to build then! But now I found myself: wholly lacking in definite ideas as to style and construction. Secretly, I looked forward to certain luxuries, such as a bedroom and dressing-room and warm tiled bathroom all to myself bachelor privacies for which I had longed. Two mornings later at the breakfast table Maude asked me if I had thought of an architect.
"Why, Archie Lammerton, I suppose. Who else is there? Have you anyone else in mind?"
"N-no," said Maude. "But I heard of such a clever man in Boston, who doesn't charge Mr. Lammerton's prices; and who designs such beautiful private houses."
"But we can afford to pay Lammerton's prices," I replied, smiling. "And why shouldn't we have the best?"
"Are you sure—he is the best, Hugh?"
"Everybody has him," I said.
Maude smiled in return.
"I suppose that's a good reason," she answered.
"Of course it's a good reason," I assured her. "These people—the people we know—wouldn't have had Lammerton unless he was satisfactory. What's the matter with his houses?"
"Well," said Maude, "they're not very original. I don't say they're not good, in away, but they lack a certain imagination. It's difficult for me to express what I mean, 'machine made' isn't precisely the idea, but there should be a certain irregularity in art—shouldn't there? I saw a reproduction in one of the architectural journals of a house in Boston by a man named Frey, that seemed to me to have great charm."
Here was Lucia, unmistakably.
"That's all very well," I said impatiently, "but when one has to live in a house, one wants something more than artistic irregularity. Lammerton knows how to build for everyday existence; he's a practical man, as well as a man of taste, he may not be a Christopher Wrenn, but he understands conveniences and comforts. His chimneys don't smoke, his windows are tight, he knows what systems of heating are the best, and whom to go to: he knows what good plumbing is. I'm rather surprised you don't appreciate that, Maude, you're so particular as to what kind of rooms the children shall have, and you want a schoolroom-nursery with all the latest devices, with sun and ventilation. The Berringers wouldn't have had him, the Hollisters and Dickinsons wouldn't have had him if his work lacked taste."
"And Nancy wouldn't have had him," added Maude, and she smiled once more.
"Well, I haven't consulted Nancy, or anyone else," I replied—a little tartly, perhaps. "You don't seem to realize that some fashions may have a basis of reason. They are not all silly, as Lucia seems to think. If Lammerton builds satisfactory houses, he ought to be forgiven for being the fashion, he ought to have a chance." I got up to leave. "Let's see what kind of a plan he'll draw up, at any rate."
Her glance was almost indulgent.
"Of course, Hugh. I want you to be satisfied, to be pleased," she said.
"And you?" I questioned, "you are to live in the house more than I."
"Oh, I'm sure it will turn out all right," she replied. "Now you'd better run along, I know you're late."
"I am late," I admitted, rather lamely. "If you don't care for Lammerton's drawings, we'll get another architect."
Several years before Mr. Lammerton had arrived among us with a Beaux Arts moustache and letters of introduction to Mrs. Durrett and others. We found him the most adaptable, the most accommodating of young men, always ready to donate his talents and his services to private theatricals, tableaux, and fancy-dress balls, to take a place at a table at the last moment. One of his most appealing attributes was his "belief" in our city,—a form of patriotism that culminated, in later years, in "million population" clubs. I have often heard him declare, when the ladies had left the dining-room, that there was positively no limit to our future growth; and, incidentally, to our future wealth. Such sentiments as these could not fail to add to any man's popularity, and his success was a foregone conclusion. Almost before we knew it he was building the new Union Station of which he had foreseen the need, to take care of the millions to which our population was to be swelled; building the new Post Office that the unceasing efforts of Theodore Watling finally procured for us: building, indeed, Nancy's new house, the largest of our private mansions save Mr. Scherer's, a commission that had immediately brought about others from the Dickinsons and the Berringers.... That very day I called on him in his offices at the top of one of our new buildings, where many young draftsmen were bending over their boards. I was ushered into his private studio.
"I suppose you want something handsome, Hugh," he said, looking at me over his cigarette, "something commensurate with these fees I hear you are getting."
"Well, I want to be comfortable," I admitted.
We lunched at the Club together, where we talked over the requirements.
When he came to dinner the next week and spread out his sketch on the living-room table Maude drew in her breath.
"Why, Hugh," she exclaimed in dismay, "it's as big as—as big as the White House!"
"Not quite," I answered, laughing with Archie. "We may as well take our ease in our old age."
"Take our ease!" echoed Maude. "We'll rattle 'round in it. I'll never get used to it."
"After a month, Mrs. Paret, I'll wager you'll be wondering how you ever got along without it," said Archie.
It was not as big as the White House, yet it could not be called small. I had seen, to that. The long facade was imposing, dignified, with a touch of conventionality and solidity in keeping with my standing in the city. It was Georgian, of plum-coloured brick with marble trimmings and marble wedges over the ample windows, some years later I saw the house by Ferguson, of New York, from which Archie had cribbed it. At one end, off the dining-room, was a semicircular conservatory. There was a small portico, with marble pillars, and in the ample, swift sloping roof many dormers; servants' rooms, Archie explained. The look of anxiety on Maude's face deepened as he went over the floor plans, the reception-room; dining room to seat thirty, the servants' hall; and upstairs Maude's room, boudoir and bath and dress closet, my "apartments" adjoining on one side and the children's on the other, and the guest-rooms with baths....
Maude surrendered, as one who gives way to the inevitable. When the actual building began we both of us experienced, I think; a certain mild excitement; and walked out there, sometimes with the children, in the spring evenings, and on Sunday afternoons. "Excitement" is, perhaps, too strong a word for my feelings: there was a pleasurable anticipation on my part, a looking forward to a more decorous, a more luxurious existence; a certain impatience at the delays inevitable in building. But a new legal commercial enterprise of magnitude began to absorb me at his time, and somehow the building of this home—the first that we possessed was not the event it should have been; there were moments when I felt cheated, when I wondered what had become of that capacity for enjoyment which in my youth had been so keen. I remember indeed, one grey evening when I went there alone, after the workmen had departed, and stood in the litter of mortar and bricks and boards gazing at the completed front of the house. It was even larger than I had imagined it from the plans; in the Summer twilight there was an air about it,—if not precisely menacing, at least portentous, with its gaping windows and towering roof. I was a little tired from a hard day; I had the odd feeding of having raised up something with which—momentarily at least—I doubted my ability to cope: something huge, impersonal; something that ought to have represented a fireside, a sanctuary, and yet was the embodiment of an element quite alien to the home; a restless element with which our American atmosphere had, by invisible degrees, become charged. As I stared at it, the odd fancy seized me that the building somehow typified my own career.... I had gained something, in truth, but had I not also missed something? something a different home would have embodied?
Maude and the children had gone, to the seaside.
With a vague uneasiness I turned away from the contemplation of those walls. The companion mansions were closed, their blinds tightly drawn; the neighbourhood was as quiet as the country, save for a slight but persistent noise that impressed itself on my consciousness. I walked around the house to spy in the back yard; a young girl rather stealthily gathering laths, and fragments of joists and flooring, and loading them into a child's express-wagon. She started when she saw me. She was little, more than a child, and the loose calico dress she wore seemed to emphasize her thinness. She stood stock-still, staring at me with frightened yet defiant eyes. I, too, felt a strange timidity in her presence.
"Why do you stop?" I asked at length.
"Say, is this your heap?" she demanded.
I acknowledged it. A hint of awe widened her eyes. Then site glanced at the half-filled wagon.
"This stuff ain't no use to you, is it?"
"No, I'm glad to have you take it."
She shifted to the other foot, but did not continue her gathering. An impulse seized me, I put down my walkingstick and began picking up pieces of wood, flinging them into the wagon. I looked at her again, rather furtively; she had not moved. Her attitude puzzled me, for it was one neither of surprise nor of protest. The spectacle of the "millionaire" owner of the house engaged in this menial occupation gave her no thrills. I finished the loading.
"There!" I said, and drew a dollar bill out of my pocket and gave it to her. Even then she did not thank me, but took up the wagon tongue and went off, leaving on me a disheartening impression of numbness, of life crushed out. I glanced up once more at the mansion I had built for myself looming in the dusk, and walked hurriedly away....
One afternoon some three weeks after we had moved into the new house, I came out of the Club, where I had been lunching in conference with Scherer and two capitalists from New York. It was after four o'clock, the day was fading, the street lamps were beginning to cast sickly streaks of jade-coloured light across the slush of the pavements. It was the sight of this slush (which for a brief half hour that morning had been pure snow, and had sent Matthew and Moreton and Biddy into ecstasies at the notion of a "real Christmas"), that brought to my mind the immanence of the festival, and the fact that I had as yet bought no presents. Such was the predicament in which I usually found myself on Christmas eve; and it was not without a certain sense of annoyance at the task thus abruptly confronting me that I got into my automobile and directed the chauffeur to the shopping district. The crowds surged along the wet sidewalks and overflowed into the street, and over the heads of the people I stared at the blazing shop-windows decked out in Christmas greens. My chauffeur, a bristly-haired Parisian, blew his horn insolently, men and women jostled each other to get out of the way, their holiday mood giving place to resentment as they stared into the windows of the limousine. With the American inability to sit still I shifted from one corner of the seat to another, impatient at the slow progress of the machine: and I felt a certain contempt for human beings, that they should make all this fuss, burden themselves with all these senseless purchases, for a tradition. The automobile stopped, and I fought my way across the sidewalk into the store of that time-honoured firm, Elgin, Yates and Garner, pausing uncertainly before the very counter where, some ten years before, I had bought an engagement ring. Young Mr. Garner himself spied me, and handing over a customer to a tired clerk, hurried forward to greet me, his manner implying that my entrance was in some sort an event. I had become used to this aroma of deference.
"What can I show you, Mr. Paret?" he asked.
"I don't know—I'm looking around," I said, vaguely, bewildered by the glittering baubles by which I was confronted. What did Maude want? While I was gazing into the case, Mr. Garner opened a safe behind him, laying before me a large sapphire set with diamonds in a platinum brooch; a beautiful stone, in the depths of it gleaming a fire like a star in an arctic sky. I had not given Maude anything of value of late. Decidedly, this was of value; Mr. Garner named the price glibly; if Mrs. Paret didn't care for it, it might be brought back or exchanged. I took it, with a sigh of relief. Leaving the store, I paused on the edge of the rushing stream of humanity, with the problem of the children's gifts still to be solved. I thought of my own childhood, when at Christmastide I had walked with my mother up and down this very street, so changed and modernized now; recalling that I had had definite desires, desperate ones; but my imagination failed me when I tried to summon up the emotions connected with them. I had no desires now: I could buy anything in reason in the whole street. What did Matthew and Moreton want? and little Biddy? Maude had not "spoiled" them; but they didn't seem to have any definite wants. The children made me think, with a sudden softening, of Tom Peters, and I went into a tobacconist's and bought him a box of expensive cigars. Then I told the chauffeur to take me to a toy-shop, where I stood staring through a plate-glass window at the elaborate playthings devised for the modern children of luxury. In the centre was a toy man-of-war, three feet in length, with turrets and guns, and propellers and a real steam-engine. As a boy I should have dreamed about it, schemed for it, bartered my immortal soul for it. But—if I gave it to Matthew, what was there for Moreton? A steam locomotive caught my eye, almost as elaborate. Forcing my way through the doors, I captured a salesman, and from a state bordering on nervous collapse he became galvanized into an intense alertness and respect when he understood my desires. He didn't know the price of the objects in question. He brought the proprietor, an obsequious little German who, on learning my name, repeated it in every sentence. For Biddy I chose a doll that was all but human; when held by a young woman for my inspection, it elicited murmurs of admiration from the women shoppers by whom we were surrounded. The proprietor promised to make a special delivery of the three articles before seven o'clock....
Presently the automobile, after speeding up the asphalt of Grant Avenue, stopped before the new house. In spite of the change that house had made in my life, in three weeks I had become amazingly used to it; yet I had an odd feeling that Christmas eve as I stood under the portico with my key in the door, the same feeling of the impersonality of the place which I had experienced before. Not that for one moment I would have exchanged it for the smaller house we had left. I opened the door. How often, in that other house, I had come in the evening seeking quiet, my brain occupied with a problem, only to be annoyed by the romping of the children on the landing above. A noise in one end of it echoed to the other. But here, as I entered the hall, all was quiet: a dignified, deep-carpeted stairway swept upward before me, and on either side were wide, empty rooms; and in the subdued light of one of them I saw a dark figure moving silently about—the butler. He came forward to relieve me, deftly, of my hat and overcoat. Well, I had it at last, this establishment to which I had for so long looked forward. And yet that evening, as I hesitated in the hall, I somehow was unable to grasp that it was real and permanent, the very solidity of the walls and doors paradoxically suggested transientness, the butler a flitting ghost. How still the place was! Almost oppressively still. I recalled oddly a story of a peasant who, yearning for the great life, had stumbled upon an empty palace, its tables set with food in golden dishes. Before two days had passed he had fled from it in horror back to his crowded cottage and his drudgery in the fields. Never once had the sense of possession of the palace been realized. Nor did I feel that I possessed this house, though I had the deeds of it in my safe and the receipted bills in my files. It eluded me; seemed, in my bizarre mood of that evening, almost to mock me. "You have built me," it seemed to say, "but I am stronger than you, because you have not earned me." Ridiculous, when the years of my labour and the size of my bank account were considered! Such, however, is the verbal expression of my feeling. Was the house empty, after all? Had something happened? With a slight panicky sensation I climbed the stairs, with their endless shallow treads, to hurry through the silent hallway to the schoolroom. Reassuring noises came faintly through the heavy door. I opened it. Little Biddy was careening round and round, crying out:—"To-morrow's Chris'mas! Santa Claus is coming tonight."
Matthew was regarding her indulgently, sympathetically, Moreton rather scornfully. The myth had been exploded for both, but Matthew still hugged it. That was the difference between them. Maude, seated on the floor, perceived me first, and glanced up at me with a smile.
"It's father!" she said.
Biddy stopped in the midst of a pirouette. At the age of seven she was still shy with me, and retreated towards Maude.
"Aren't we going to have a tree, father?" demanded Moreton, aggressively. "Mother won't tell us—neither will Miss Allsop."
Miss Allsop was their governess.
"Why do you want a tree?" I asked.
"Oh, for Biddy," he said.
"It wouldn't be Christmas without a tree," Matthew declared, "—and Santa Claus," he added, for his sister's benefit.
"Perhaps Santa Claus, when he sees we've got this big house, will think we don't need anything, and go on to some poorer children," said Maude. "You wouldn't blame him if he did that,—would you?"
The response to this appeal cannot be said to have been enthusiastic....
After dinner, when at last all of them were in bed, we dressed the tree; it might better be said that Maude and Miss Allsop dressed it, while I gave a perfunctory aid. Both the women took such a joy in the process, vying with each other in getting effects, and as I watched them eagerly draping the tinsel and pinning on the glittering ornaments I wondered why it was that I was unable to find the same joy as they. Thus it had been every Christmas eve. I was always tired when I got home, and after dinner relaxation set in.
An electrician had come while we were at the table, and had fastened on the little electric bulbs which did duty as candles.
"Oh," said Maude, as she stood off to survey the effect, "isn't it beautiful! Come, Miss Allsop, let's get the presents."
They flew out of the room, and presently hurried back with their arms full of the usual parcels: parcels from Maude's family in Elkington, from my own relatives, from the Blackwoods and the Peterses, from Nancy. In the meantime I had had my own contributions brought up, the man of war, the locomotive, the big doll. Maude stood staring.
"Hugh, they'll be utterly ruined!" she exclaimed.
"The boys might as well have something instructive," I replied, "and as for Biddy—nothing's too good for her."
"I might have known you wouldn't forget them, although you are so busy."....
We filled the three stockings hung by the great fireplace. Then, with a last lingering look at the brightness of the tree, she stood in the doorway and turned the electric switch.
"Not before seven to-morrow morning, Miss Allsop," she said. "Hugh, you will get up, won't you? You mustn't miss seeing them. You can go back to bed again."
Evidently, this was Reality to Maude. And had it not been one of my dreams of marriage, this preparing for the children's Christmas, remembering the fierce desires of my own childhood? It struck me, after I had kissed her good night and retired to my dressing-room, that fierce desires burned within me still, but the objects towards which their flames leaped out differed. That was all. Had I remained a child, since my idea of pleasure was still that of youth? The craving far excitement, adventure, was still unslaked; the craving far freedom as keen as ever. During the whole of my married life, I had been conscious of an inner protest against "settling down," as Tom Peters had settled down. The smaller house from which we had moved, with its enforced propinquity, hard emphasized the bondage of marriage. Now I had two rooms to myself, in the undisputed possession of which I had taken a puerile delight. On one side of my dressing-room Archie Lammerton had provided a huge closet containing the latest devices for the keeping of a multitudinous wardrobe; there was a reading-lamp, and the easiest of easy-chairs, imported from England, while between the windows were shelves of Italian walnut which I had filled with the books I had bought while at Cambridge, and had never since opened. As I sank down in my chair that odd feeling of uneasiness, of transience and unreality, of unsatisfaction I had had ever since we had moved suddenly became intensified, and at the very moment when I had gained everything I had once believed a man could desire! I was successful, I was rich, my health had not failed, I had a wife who catered to my wishes, lovable children who gave no trouble and yet—there was still the void to be filled, the old void I had felt as a boy, the longing for something beyond me, I knew not what; there was the strange inability to taste any of these things, the need at every turn for excitement, for a stimulus. My marriage had been a disappointment, though I strove to conceal this from myself; a disappointment because it had not filled the requirements of my category—excitement and mystery: I had provided the setting and lacked the happiness. Another woman Nancy—might have given me the needed stimulation; and yet my thoughts did not dwell on Nancy that night, my longings were not directed towards her, but towards the vision of a calm, contented married happiness I had looked forward to in youth,—a vision suddenly presented once more by the sight of Maude's simple pleasure in dressing the Christmas tree. What restless, fiendish element in me prevented my enjoying that? I had something of the fearful feeling of a ghost in my own house and among my own family, of a spirit doomed to wander, unable to share in what should have been my own, in what would have saved me were I able to partake of it. Was it too late to make that effort?... Presently the strains of music pervaded my consciousness, the chimes of Trinity ringing out in the damp night the Christmas hymn, Adeste Fideles. It was midnight it was Christmas. How clear the notes rang through the wet air that came in at my window! Back into the dim centuries that music led me, into candle-lit Gothic chapels of monasteries on wind-swept heights above the firs, and cathedrals in mediaeval cities. Twilight ages of war and scourge and stress and storm—and faith. "Oh, come, all ye Faithful!" What a strange thing, that faith whose flame so marvellously persisted, piercing the gloom; the Christmas myth, as I had heard someone once call it. Did it possess the power to save me? Save me from what? Ah, in this hour I knew. In the darkness the Danger loomed up before me, vague yet terrible, and I trembled. Why was not this Thing ever present, to chasten and sober me? The Thing was myself.
Into my remembrance, by what suggestion I know not, came that March evening when I had gone to Holder Chapel at Harvard to listen to a preacher, a personality whose fame and influence had since spread throughout the land. Some dim fear had possessed me then. I recalled vividly the man, and the face of Hermann Krebs as I drew back from the doorway....
When I awoke my disquieting, retrospective mood had disappeared, and yet there clung to me, minus the sanction of fear or reward or revealed truth, a certain determination to behave, on this day at least, more like a father and a husband: to make an effort to enter into the spirit of the festival, and see what happened. I dressed in cheerful haste, took the sapphire pendant from its velvet box, tiptoed into the still silent schoolroom and hung it on the tree, flooding on the electric light that set the tinsel and globes ablaze. No sooner had I done this than I heard the patter of feet in the hallway, and a high-pitched voice—Biddy's—crying out:—"It's Santa Claus!"
Three small, flannel-wrappered figures stood in the doorway.
"Why, it's father!" exclaimed Moreton.
"And he's all dressed!" said Matthew.
"Oh-h-h!" cried Biddy, staring at the blazing tree, "isn't it beautiful!"
Maude was close behind them. She gave an exclamation of delighted surprise when she saw me, and then stood gazing with shining eyes at the children, especially at Biddy, who stood dazzled by the glory of the constellation confronting her.... Matthew, too, wished to prolong the moment of mystery. It was the practical Moreton who cried:—"Let's see what we've got!"
The assault and the sacking began. I couldn't help thinking as I watched them of my own wildly riotous, Christmas-morning sensations, when all the gifts had worn the aura of the supernatural; but the arrival of these toys was looked upon by my children as a part of the natural order of the universe. At Maude's suggestion the night before we had placed my presents, pieces de resistance, at a distance from the tree, in the hope that they would not be spied at once, that they would be in some sort a climax. It was Matthew who first perceived the ship, and identified it, by the card, as his property. To him it was clearly wonderful, but no miracle. He did not cry out, or call the attention of the others to it, but stood with his feet apart, examining it, his first remark being a query as to why it didn't fly the American flag. It's ensign was British. Then Moreton saw the locomotive, was told that it was his, and took possession of it violently. Why wasn't there more track? Wouldn't I get more track? I explained that it would go by steam, and he began unscrewing the cap on the little boiler until he was distracted by the man-of-war, and with natural acquisitiveness started to take possession of that. Biddy was bewildered by the doll, which Maude had taken up and was holding in her lap. She had had talking dolls before, and dolls that closed their eyes; she recognized this one, indeed, as a sort of super-doll, but her little mind was modern, too, and set no limits on what might be accomplished. She patted it, but was more impressed by the raptures of Miss Allsop, who had come in and was admiring it with some extravagance. Suddenly the child caught sight of her stocking, until now forgotten, and darted for the fireplace.
I turned to Maude, who stood beside me, watching them.
"But you haven't looked on the tree yourself," I reminded her.
She gave me an odd, questioning glance, and got up and set down the doll. As she stood for a moment gazing at the lights, she seemed very girlish in her dressing-gown, with her hair in two long plaits down her back.
"Oh, Hugh!" She lifted the pendant from the branch and held it up. Her gratitude, her joy at receiving a present was deeper than the children's!
"You chose it for me?"
I felt something like a pang when I thought how little trouble it had been.
"If you don't like it," I said, "or wish to have it changed—"
"Changed!" she exclaimed reproachfully. "Do you think I'd change it? Only—it's much too valuable—"
I smiled.... Miss Allsop deftly undid the clasp and hung it around Maude's neck.
"How it suits you, Mrs. Paret!" she cried....
This pendant was by no means the only present I had given Maude in recent years, and though she cared as little for jewels as for dress she seemed to attach to it a peculiar value and significance that disturbed and smote me, for the incident had revealed a love unchanged and unchangeable. Had she taken my gift as a sign that my indifference was melting?
As I went downstairs and into the library to read the financial page of the morning newspaper I asked myself, with a certain disquiet, whether, in the formal, complicated, and luxurious conditions in which we now lived it might be possible to build up new ties and common interests. I reflected that this would involve confessions and confidences on my part, since there was a whole side of my life of which Maude knew nothing. I had convinced myself long ago that a man's business career was no affair of his wife's: I had justified that career to myself: yet I had always had a vague feeling that Maude, had she known the details, would not have approved of it. Impossible, indeed, for a woman to grasp these problems. They were outside of her experience.
Nevertheless, something might be done to improve our relationship, something which would relieve me of that uneasy lack of unity I felt when at home, of the lassitude and ennui I was wont to feel creeping over me on Sundays and holidays....