Part 3 out of 7
"You know how hard Mortimer works, poor dear. And I do not feel in the
least like crying. I shall write telegrams to Ballinger and Geary: my
brothers, you know." (Gora ground her teeth.) "It was too sad they could
not get here, but Ballinger is in South America and Geary on a diet. I
must also write a cablegram to an old friend of mine who has married a
Frenchman, Olive de Morsigny. She was always so fond of mother. Would you
also mind telephoning to Rincona about seven?"
"I'll do all the telephoning. Go back to bed as soon as possible. It is
only a little after two." As Gora turned to leave the room Alexina put her
hand on her arm and summoned a faint sweet smile.
"I cannot tell you how grateful I am, Gora dear, how grateful we all are.
You have been simply wonderful--"
"I am a good nurse if I do say it myself," said Gora lightly. "But you must
remember there are others quite as good; and that I--".
"I know you would do your duty as devotedly by any stranger." Alexina
interrupted her with sweet insistence. "But it has been wonderful to be
able to have you, all the same. It has also given me the chance to know you
at last, and I shall never quite let you go again."
Gora, to her secret anger, had never accustomed herself to the unswerving
graciousness of these people, and all that it implied, but her sharp mind
had long since warned her that as she had neither the position nor the
training to emulate it, at least she must not betray a sense of social
inferiority by open resentment.
Her voice was deep and naturally abrupt but she achieved a fair imitation
of Alexina's sweet cordiality. "It has meant quite as much to me, Alexina,
I can assure you. And now that I am on my own and shall have a day or two
between cases I know where I shall spend them. I am only too thankful that
I graduated in time to take care of dear Mrs. Groome. Write your telegrams
and I will give them to the doctor when he comes. I must telephone to him
After she had gone Alexina wrote not only her telegrams and cablegrams, but
the "letters to follow." It was nearly four o'clock when she finished. Old
Dr. Maitland had not yet come and she put her bulletins on the table in the
She heard Gora moving about her mother's room and retreated into her own.
She did not want to go to her mother yet nor did she care particularly
to see Gora again, although she had certainly been very nice and a great
comfort to them all.
Alexina was quite unaware that her attitude to her sister-in-law was one of
unconsicous condescension, of a well-bred determination never to wound the
pride of a social inferior. She found Gora an "interesting personality" and
quite extraordinarily efficient.
It had been the greatest relief to all the family when that very capable
Miss Dwight--Gora, that is; one must remember--had been brought by Dr.
Maitland to take charge of the case after Mrs. Groome's cardiac trouble
became acute and she demanded constant attention.
Gora had slept in Mrs. Groome's bedroom for six weeks, relieved for several
hours of the afternoon by a member of the family or one of Mrs. Groome's
many anxious friends. It was her first case and it interested her
profoundly. Moreover, her personal devotion placed her for the moment on a
certain basis of equality with a family whose mental processes were quite
transparent to her contemptuous mind. She was excessively annoyed with
herself for still caring, but the roots were too deep, and there had been
nothing in her life during the past three years to diminish her fierce
sense of democracy as she interpreted it.
Alexina had never given a thought to her sister-in-law's psychology,
although the sensitive plates of her brain received an impression now and
again of a violent inner life behind that business-like exterior. But she
had seen little of her until lately, and during the past six weeks her mind
had been too concentrated upon her mother's sufferings and possible danger
to have any disposition for analysis.
She certainly did not feel the least need of her now. She wished, indeed,
that she had asked Aileen to remain in the house last night. Aileen was
her own age, they had been intimate since childhood, often without the
slightest regard for each other's feelings, and was more like a sister than
even dear Sally and Maria.
Suddenly she determined to go to her. She had her own latch key and would
disturb no one but Aileen. She dressed herself warmly and slipped down
stairs and out of the house.
The city below--the new solid city--was obliterated under a heavy fog,
pierced here and there by steeples and towers that looked like jagged dark
rocks in that white and tranquil sea.
On Angel Island and on the north shore of the bay the deep sad bells were
tolling their warning to moving craft; and from out at sea, beyond the
Golden Gate, the fog horn sent forth its long lugubrious groans. The bells
sounded muffled, so dense was the fog, and there was no other sound in the
Alexina wrapped her long cloak more closely about her and pulled the hood
over her head.
As she walked slowly down the steep avenue it came to her with something of
a shock that she had not thought of her husband since she had expressed to
Gora her reluctance to disturb him.
She was doing the least conventional thing possible in leaving the house at
four o'clock in the morning to seek the sympathy of a girl friend when any
other young wife she knew (unless getting a divorce) would have flown to
her husband and wept out her sorrow in his arms.
And she had been married only three years, and found Mortimer quite as
irreproachable as ever, always kind, thoughtful, and considerate. He
assuredly would have said just the right things to her and not have
resented in the least being deprived of a few hours of rest.
On the contrary, he would no doubt resent being ignored, for not only was
he devoted to his lovely young wife but such behavior was unorthodox, and
he disliked the unorthodox exceedingly.
Well, she didn't want him and that was the end of it. He didn't fill the
present bill. She had never regretted her marriage, for he had quite
measured up to the best feats of her maiden imagination. He made love
charmingly, he was manly chivalrous and honorable, and his eager
spontaneity of manner when he arrived home at six o'clock every evening
never varied; to whatever level of flatness he might drop immediately
afterward. When they entered a ballroom or a restaurant she knew that they
made a "stunning couple" and that people commented upon their good looks,
their harmonious slenderness and inches, and contrasts in nature's
Alexina, almost unconsciously, sat down on a bench under the trees. Her
mind sought the pleasant past as a brief respite from the present; she knew
that that part of her mind called heart was frozen by the suddenness of her
mother's death, and that her emotions would be fluid a few hours hence.
They had had a simply heavenly time together until her mother's illness.
As a clerk in the family was unthinkable Mrs. Groome had lent him the
insurance on one of her burned buildings and he had started a modest
exporting and importing house, that being the only business of which he had
any knowledge. Judge Lawton and Tom Abbott had suggested that he open an
insurance office, or start himself in any business where little capital
besides office furniture was needed; as Mrs. Groome's advisors they were
averse to launching any of her moderate fortune on a doubtful venture. But
Dwight had insisted that he was more likely to succeed in a business he
understood than in one of which he knew nothing, and Mrs. Groome had agreed
with him. Judge Lawton and Abbott paid over the insurance money with the
worst grace possible.
And then Mortimer had a piece of the most astounding good luck. His aunt
Eliza Goring had left stock in a mine which had run out of pay ore soon
after her investment, and shut down. It had recently been recapitalized
and a new vein discovered. Mrs. Goring's executor had sold her stock for
something under twenty thousand dollars, delivering the proceeds, as
directed in her will, to two of her amazed heirs, Mortimer and Gora Dwight.
Gora had been opposed to her brother leaving the firm of Cheever Harrison
and Cheever, where, beyond question, he would be head of a department in
time and safely anchored for life; but he had taken the step, and she
reasoned that he must have a considerable knowledge of a business with
which he had been associated for fourteen years, she knew his energy and
powers of application, and she resented the attitude of "the family."
Appreciating what his triumph would mean to him she had consented to
invest her inheritance in his business and enable him to make immediate
restitution to Mrs. Groome. As a matter of fact his "stock did go up"
with the family, particularly as he seemed to be doing well and had the
reputation of working harder than any young man on the street. As he had
anticipated, a good deal of business was thrown his way.
He had accepted as a matter of course Mrs. Groome's invitation to live with
her, paying, as he insisted upon it, a stipulated sum toward the current
expenses. He thought her offer quite natural; not only would she be lonely
without the child of her old age, but she must desire that Alexina continue
to live in the conditions to which she was accustomed; the sum Mrs. Groome
consented to accept would not have kept them in a fashionable family hotel,
much less an apartment with several servants.
Moreover, housing room was scarce; they might have been obliged to live
across the Bay; and, in his opinion, the duty of parents to their offspring
Alexina at that time thought every sentiment he expressed "simply great,"
and had continued to feed from her mother's hand even in the matter of pin
money. Mortimer felt it to be right, so he told her, to put his surplus
profits back in his business; all he could spare he needed for "front," to
say nothing of pleasant little dinners at restaurants to their hospitable
young friends; who thought it no adequate return to be asked to dine on
Moreover, he often gave her a far handsomer present than he should have
done, considering the "hard times;" or at least she would have preferred
that he give her the combined values in the form of a monthly allowance;
she would have enjoyed the sensation of being in a measure supported by her
However, she and her mother assured each other that he was bound to make a
fortune in time, and then she would have an allowance as large as that of
Sibyl Thorndyke, who had married Frank Bascom.
It had been like playing at marriage. Alexina put it into concrete
words. Subconsciously she had always known it. She had had no cares, no
responsibilities. She had merely continued to play, to keep her imagination
on that plane sometimes called the fool's paradise.
She realized abruptly that here was the secret of her longing for children.
They would have been the real thing, given a serious translation to life.
But she had enjoyed the gay life of her little world, nevertheless, and
with all the abandon of a youth which had just closed its first long
chapter in that silent room on top of the hill. And no one could have asked
for a more delightful companion to play with than Morty, when his working
hours were over.
Mortimer loved society. It had been simply delicious, poor darling, to
watch his secret delight, under his perfect repose, the first time they
spent a week-end in Mrs. Hunter's magnificent "villa" at Burlingame. Even
Aileen had treated his initiation as a matter of course; and they had spent
the afternoon at the club, where he drank whiskey and soda on equal terms
with many millionaires.
It was doubtful if he enjoyed similarly his first visit to Rincona during
their engagement: after all the powwow was over and the family had grimly
surrendered to avoid the scandal of an elopement.
Alexina recalled that dreadful day. They had all sat on the verandah on
the shady side of the house: her mother, Aunt Clara Groome, Maria, Susan
Belling and Grace Montgomery, Tom Abbott's sisters, whose homes were in
Alta, and Coralie Geary, born Brannan, of Fair Oaks (now Atherton) who had
married a nephew of Mrs. Groome. All these were as one united family. They
met every day, wandering in and out at all hours, and although they had
many healthy disagreements they agreed on all the fine old fundamentals,
and they stood by one another through thick and thin.
The hair of all looked freshly washed. Their complexions had perished
asking no quarter. Mrs. Montgomery and Mrs. Geary were as slim and smart as
Mrs. Abbott, but the others were expanding rapidly, and Aunt Clara, who was
only a year older than Mrs. Groome, was shamelessly fat, and her face
was so weather-beaten that the freckled skin hung as loosely as her old
All wore white, the simplest white, and all sewed quietly for the new
refugee babies; all except Alexina who talked feverishly to cover the awful
pauses, and young Joan, who had crawled under the table and stuffed an
infant's flannel petticoat into her mouth to muffle her giggles.
Tom had escaped to the golf links. Mortimer sat in the midst of the
Irregular circle and smoked three cigars. He smiled when he spoke, which
was seldom, and appeared appreciative of the determined efforts to be
"nice" of these ladies who had called him Mortimer as soon as he arrived,
and who made him fed more like a poor relation whose feelings must be
spared, every moment.
Finally Alexina, who was on the verge of hysteria, dragged Joan from under
the table, and the two carried him off to the tennis court.
In subsequent visits, now covering a period of three years, their gracious
civil "kind" attitude had never varied, save only when their consciences
hurt them for disliking him more than usual, and then they were not only
heroic but fairly effusive in their efforts to be nice.
Nevertheless, it was quite patent to Alexina that he enjoyed smoking his
after-dinner cigar on that old verandah whose sweet-scented vines had been
planted in the historic sixties; or under the ancient oaks of the park
where he dreamed aloud to her of sitting under similar oaks of England, the
guest of Lady Barnstable or Lady Arrowmount, belles of the eighties who
faithfully exchanged letters once a year with Maria Abbott and Coralie
From the family there was always the refuge of the tennis court and he
played an excellent game. He also seemed to enjoy those dinners given them
in certain other old Peninsula mansions, and if they were dull he was
Alexina had admitted to herself some time since (never to that wretch,
Aileen Lawton) that he _was_ rather dull, poor darling.
For a long time the aftermath of the earthquake and fire had supplied
topics for conversation. For quite two years there had been an acutely
painful interest in the Graft Prosecution, which, beginning with an attempt
merely to bring to justice the political boss, his henchman the mayor, and
his ignorant obedient board of supervisors, had unthinkably resolved itself
into a declaration of war, with State's Prison as its goal, upon some of
the most prominent capitalists in San Francisco.
The prosecution had been started by a small group of eminent citizens, bent
upon cleaning up their city, notorious for graft, misgovernment, and the
basest abuses of political power. They had assumed as a matter of course
that those of their own class, who for years had expressed in private
their bitter resentment against paying out small fortunes to the board of
supervisors every time they wanted a franchise, would be only too glad to
expose the malefactors.
But it immediately transpired that they had no intention whatever of
admitting to the world that they had been guilty of corruption and bribery.
They might have been "held up," forced to "come through," or renounce their
great enterprises; helpless, in other words; but the law had technical
terms for their part in the shameful transactions, and so had the public.
All solemnly vowed that they had neither been approached by the city
administration for bribe money, nor paid a cent for franchises, some of
which the prosecution knew had cost them no less than two hundred thousand
dollars. Therefore did the prosecutors change their tactics. Supervisors,
by various means, were induced to confess, and the Grand Jury indicted not
only the boss and the mayor, but a large number of eminent citizens.
Society was riven in twain. Life-long friends cut one another, and now and
again they burst into hysteria as they did it. Mrs. Ferdinand Thornton, at
a dinner party, left the room as Mrs. Hofer entered it, and Mrs. Hofer gave
a magnificent exhibition of Celtic temperament.
The editor who supported the prosecution with the full strength of his
historic sheet was kidnapped. The prosecuting attorney was shot in the
court room by a former convict who afterward was found dead in his cell.
There were moments when it looked as if excited mobs would reinstitute the
lynch law of the fifties.
Nothing came of it all but such a prolonged exposure of general vileness
that it was possible to effect a certain number of reforms later by popular
vote. The system remained inviolate, even during the mayorship of a fine
old citizen too estimable to build up a rival machine; and the men of the
prosecution, after many bitter harassed months, when they walked and slept
with their lives in their hands, resigned themselves to the fact that no
San Francisco jury would ever convict a man who had the money to bribe it.
All this had given Mortimer abundant material for conversation and he had
entertained Mrs. Groome and Alexina night after night with a report of the
day's events and the gossip of the street. Mrs. Groome had been intensely
interested, for this upheaval reminded her of personal episodes in the life
of her husband and father, the latter having been a member of the vigilance
committees of the fifties.
She had been so delighted with the efforts of the prosecuting group to
bring the boss and the mayor to justice that she had permitted Alexina to
invite the Hofers to dinner; but when men of her own proud circle were
accused of crimes against society and threatened with San Quentin, nothing
could convince her of their guilt; and she asked Alexina to follow the
example of Maria and cut that Mrs. Hofer.
Alexina had never been interested in the details of the prosecution; the
large moments of the drama and the social convulsions were enough for her.
She refused to cut Mrs. Hofer, although she ceased to call on her, as her
mother and her husband made such a point of it; but she gave little thought
to the sorrows of that ambitious young matron. She had other fish to fry.
Two great hotels whose interiors had been swept by the fire were renovated
and furnished and their restaurants and ballrooms eagerly patronized. The
Assembly balls were resumed. There were dinners and dances in the Western
Addition, where many of the finest homes in the city had been built during
the past ten or twenty years; and entertaining Down the Peninsula had not
paused for more than two months after the disaster.
Nevertheless, she had exulted in the fact that the husband of her choice
was able to please and entertain her mother-no easy feat. Moreover, as time
went on and interest in the Graft Prosecution wore thin, it was evident
that Mortimer had established himself firmly in his mother-in-law's graces.
He was not only the perfect husband but the son of her old age.
She had lost Ballinger and Geary in her comparative youth, and Tom was
rarely in the house when she visited Rincona. But Mortimer was as devoted
to her in the little ways so appreciated by women of any age as he was to
his wife, and he was noiseless in the house and as prompt as the clock.
During her illness his devotion touched even Mrs. Abbott, although Mrs.
Groome was the only member of the family he ever won over.
Poor Morty. In a way he was a failure, after all. The men of her set did
not seem to care any more for him than they did before her marriage,
although they were always polite and amiable; and the promise of those old
family friends to throw business in his way seemed to be forgotten as time
No doubt they had thought he was able to stand on his own feet after a
while, but he had often looked depressed during the panic of nineteen-seven
and the long period of business drought that had followed. Still, he had
managed to hold his own, and his constitutional optimism was unshaken. He
_knew_ that when times changed he would soon be a rich man, and Alexina
shared his faith. Not that she had ever cared particularly for great
wealth, but he talked so much about it that he had excited her imagination;
after all money was the thing these days, no doubt of that, and she had
heard "poor talk" all her life and was tired of it.
Moreover, nothing could be more positive than that if Morty's father had
made a fortune in his own day, and the son inherited and administered it
with the canny vigilance which distinguished the sons of rich men to-day
from the mad spendthrifts of a former generation, he would be as logically
intimate with those young capitalists who were the renewed pillars of San
Francisco society, as she was with the most aloof and important of her own
She had heard Judge Lawton and other men say that if a man were still a
clerk at thirty he was hopeless. The ruts were packed with the mediocre
whose destiny was the routine work of the world, whatever might be their
secret opinions of their unrecognized abilities and their resentment
against a system that anchored them.
The young man of brains and initiative, of energy, ambition, vision
and balance, provided he were honorable as well, and temperate in his
pleasures, was the man the eager world was always waiting for.
Alexina knew that the United States was almost as prolific in this fine
breed of young men as she still was in opportunities for the exceptional of
And it was possible that Mortimer was not one of them.
Once more she put a fact into bald words. She knew that her butterfly youth
had come to an end with her mother's death, and for a year she should be
very much alone, to say nothing of her new burden of responsibilities.
Thinking during that period was inevitable. She might as well begin now.
Mortimer had some of those gifts. He worked like a dog, he was ambitious
and temperate and he was the soul of honor. But although his brain was
clear enough, the blindest love would, perceive in time that it lacked
Did it also lack initiative, resource, that peculiar alertness and quick
pouncing quality of which she had heard? She wished she knew, but she had
never discussed her husband with any one. Certainly he had stood still.
Or was that merely the fault of the hard times? She had heard other men
complain as bitterly.
"Fate handed you a lemon, old girl."
Alexina could almost hear Aileen's mocking voice. She even gave a startled
glance down the quiet avenue. Well, she would never discuss him with Aileen
or any one else.
Did she love him any longer? Had she ever loved him? What was love? She had
been quite happy with him in her own little way. What did girls of eighteen
know of love? Deliberately in her youthful arrogance and unlicensed
imagination she had manufactured a fool's paradise; and, a hero being
indispensable, had dragged him in after her.
Perhaps she still loved him. She had read and seen enough to know that
love changed its character as the years went on. She respected his many
admirable qualities and she would never forget his devotion to her mother.
She certainly liked him. And the family attitude roused her obstinate
championship as much as ever. At least she would always remain his good
friend, helping him as far as lay in her power. She had deliberately
selected her life partner and she would keep her part of the contract.
He filled his to the letter, or as far as in him lay. If he were not the
masterful superman of her dreams, at least he was quite obstinate enough to
have his own way in many things, in spite of his unswerving devotion to
her charming self. He was whitely angry when she received Bob Cheever one
afternoon when she was alone, and had forbidden her ever to receive a man
in the daytime again. If men wanted to call on a married woman they could
do so in the evening. She no longer danced more than twice with any man at
a party, and he refused to read her favorite books, new or old, and chilled
any attempt to discuss them in his presence.
Well, after all, what did it matter? She had dreamed her dream and he was
better than most. She sprang to her feet and ran down the hill and across
the street to the house of Judge Lawton.
Gora waited until her brother had finished his bath and returned to his
room. When she was admitted he had a brush in either hand polishing his
pale brown immaculately cut hair. He turned to her, startled, his good
American gray eyes showing no trace of sleep. He always awoke with alert
mind and refreshed body.
"What is it? Not--"
Gora nodded. "At two this morning. Alexina wouldn't let me call you--"
His wide masculine eyebrows met. It was correct to be angry and he was. "I
never heard of such a thing--"
"She was not a bit overcome and wrote letters to her brothers and friends
for at least two hours. It really wouldn't have been worth while to disturb
you--I must say I was astonished; thought she'd go to pieces--but you never
"I'll go to her at once."
"I'd dress first. Aileen Lawton is with her."
Gora knew that Alexina had gone out at four in the morning and returned
half an hour since, but the cat in her was of the tiger variety and never
descended to small game.
"Oh, of course!" Mortimer gave a groan of resignation as he hunted out a
pair of black socks. "I like Aileen well enough, but she has altogether too
much influence over Alexina. She'd have more than myself if I didn't keep a
"I have an idea that no one will have much influence over Alexina as time
goes on. She hasn't that jaw and chin for nothing. They mean things in some
He gave her a quick suspicious glance, but her pale gray eyes were fixed on
the windmill beyond the window, that odd old landmark in a now fashionable
quarter of San Francisco.
"I shall always control her," he said, setting his large finely cut lips.
"I wish her to remain a child as long as possible, for she is quite
perfect as she is. She is bright and all that, but of course she has no
Gora forgot her message of death and laughed outright.
"Men--American men, anyhow--are really the funniest things in the world.
Even intellectual men are absurd in their patronizing attitude toward the
cleverest of women; but when it conies to mere masculine arrogance...don't
you really respect any woman's brains?"
"I never denied that some women were clever and all that, but the best of
them cannot compare with men. You must admit that."
"I admit nothing of the sort, but I know your type too well to waste any
time in argument--"
She longed to reply: "The smaller a man's brain the more enveloping his
mere male arrogance. Instinct of self-defense like the turtle's shell or
the porcupine's quills or the mephitic weasel's extravasations." But she
never quarreled with Morty, and to have shared with him her opinion of his
endowments would have been to deprive herself of a good deal of secret
"Oh, you're all alike," she said lightly, and added: "Don't be too sure
that Alexina hasn't intellect-the real thing. When she emerges from this
beatific dream of youth she has almost hugged to death for fear it might
escape her, and begins to think--"
"I'll do her thinking."
"All right, dear. You have my best wishes. But keep on the job....I'll
clear out; you want to dress--"
"Wait a moment." He sat down to draw on his socks. "I'm really cut up over
Mrs. Groome's death. She was my only friend in this damn family, and I
coveted her money so little that I wish she could have lived on for twenty
"I wondered how you liked them as time went on."
He brought his teeth together and thrust out his jaw. "I hate the whole
pack of superior patronizing condescending snobs, and it is all I can do to
keep it from Alexina, who thinks her tribe perfection. But, by God!"--he
brought down his fist on his knee--"I'll beat them at their own game yet. I
simply live to make a million and build a house at Burlingame. They really
respect money as much as they think they don't; I've got oil to that. When
I'm a rich roan they'll think of me as their equal and forget I was ever
"Well, don't speculate," said Gora uneasily. "Remember that luck was left
out of our family."
"My luck changed with that legacy. I am certain of it. I have only to wait
until this period of dry rot passes--"
"But you're not speculating?"
He looked at her with eyes as cold as her own.
"I answer questions about my private affairs to no one."
"They are my affairs to the extent of half your capital."
"You have received your interest regularly, have you not?"
"Then you have nothing to worry about. I understand business, as well as
the man's opportunities, and you do not."
"I did not ask out of curiosity, but because I shall be glad when you are
doing well enough to let me have my eight thousand--"
"What do you want of it? Where could you get more interest?"
"Nowhere, possibly. But some day I shall want to take a vacation, a fling.
I shall want to go to New York and Europe."
"And you would throw away your capital!"
"Why not? I have other capital in my profession; and, although you will
find this difficult to grasp, in my head. I have practiced fiction writing
for years. It is just ten months since I tried to get anything published,
and I have recently had three stories accepted by New York magazines: one
of the old group and two of the best of the popular magazines."
He looked at her with cold distaste, which deepened in a moment to alarm.
"I hope you will not use your own name. These people who think themselves
so much above us anyhow, look upon authors and artists and all that as
about on a level with the working class--"
"I shall use my own name and ram it down their throats. They worship
success like all the rest of the world. Their fancied distaste for people
engaged in any of the art careers--with whom they practically never come
in contact, by the way--is partly an instinctive distrust of anything they
cannot do themselves and partly because they have an Elizabethan idea that
all artists are common and have offensive manners."
"I don't like the idea of your using your own name. Ladies may
unfortunately be obliged to earn their own living--and that you shall never
do when I am rich--but they have no business putting their names up before
the public like men."
Gora looked at his rigid indomitable face; the face of the Pilgrim fathers,
of the revolutionary statesmen, which he had inherited intact from old John
Dwight who had sat in the first congress; the American classic face that is
passing but still crops out as unexpectedly as the last drop from a long
forgotten "tar brush," or the sly recurrent Biblical profile.
"We will make a bargain," she said calmly. "I will ask you no more
questions about your business for a year--when, if convenient, I should
like my money--and you will kindly ignore the literary career I mean to
have. It won't do you the least good in the world to formulate opinions
about anything I choose to do. Now, better concentrate on Alexina. You've
got your hands full there. See you at breakfast." And she shut the door on
an indignant worried and disgusted brother.
When Mortimer, after tapping on his wife's door, was bidden to enter he
found her sitting with Aileen over a breakfast tray, the belated tears
running down into her coffee. Aileen, promising to return after she had
given her father his breakfast, made a hasty retreat; and Dwight took his
wife in his arms and soothed the grief which grew almost hysterical in its
reaction from the insensibility of the morning.
"You won't leave me for a moment?" she sobbed, in this mood finding his
sympathy exquisite and necessary. "You'll stay home--until--until--"
"Of course. I'll telephone Wicksam after breakfast. He can run the office
for a day or two. By the way Maria will be here this evening; Sally is
better. Joan and Tom and the rest will be here in about an hour. Tom and I
will attend to everything. You are not to bother, not to think."
"Oh, you are too wonderful--always so strong--so strong--how I love it. But
I'll never get over this--poor old mommy!"
But the paroxysm passed, and just as Mortimer was on the verge of morning
starvation and too polite to mention it, she grew calm by degrees and sent
him down to breakfast. The emotional phase of her grief was over.
It was three months later that Aileen, once more sitting in Alexina's
bedroom, after her return from Santa Barbara, where she had gone with her
father for the summer, said abruptly: "Dad is terribly cut up, dear old
thing. He'd known your mother since they were both children, in the days
when there were wooden sidewalks on Montgomery Street, and Laurel Hill was
called Lone Mountain, and they had picnics in it. Odd they both should
have had young daughters. Another link--what? as the English say.
Well--anyhow--he told me to tell you that he was just as fond of your
father as of your mother, and that you must try to imagine that he is your
father from this time forth, and come to him when you are in doubt about
Alexina looked her straight in the eyes. "I have sometimes thought uncle
daddy didn't like Mortimer."
"On the contrary, he rather likes him. He respects a capacity for hard
work, and persistence, and a reputation for uncompromising honesty. But of
course Mortimer is young--in business, that is; and father thinks--but you
had better talk with him."
"No. Why should I? But I don't mind you. At least I could not discuss
Mortimer with any one else. I am furious with Tom Abbott. He wants me to
put my money in trust, with himself and uncle daddy as trustees--ignoring
Mortimer, whom he pretends to like. He says Maria's fortune has been kept
intact, that he has never touched a cent of it, but that men in business
are likely to get into tight places and use their wife's money. Nothing
would induce Mortimer to touch my money, but he would feel pretty badly cut
up if I let any one else look after my affairs. Of course I wouldn't even
discuss the matter with Tom. And if Morty does need money at any time I'll
lend it to him. Why not? What else would any one expect me to do?"
"Of course Tom Abbott went to work the wrong way, the blundering idiot.
No one doubts Mortimer's good faith, but the times are awful, money has
paresis; and when you are obliged to take any of your own out of the
stocking in order to keep business going, it is easily lost. Dad hopes you
will hang on like grim death to your inheritance. You see--the times are so
abnormal, Mortimer hasn't had time to prove his abilities yet; he's just
been able to hold on; and if things don't mend and he should lose out,
why--if you still have your own little fortune, at least you'll not be any
worse off than, you are now. Don't you see?"
"Yes, I see. But Mortimer has told me of other panics and bad times. They
always pass, and better times come again. And if he has been able to hold
on, that at least shows ability, for others have gone under. Of course we
shall live here and run the house--as mother did. I couldn't bear to live
anywhere else, and Morty adores it too."
"Oh, rather. I couldn't imagine you anywhere else."
"Geary and Ballinger sent me ten thousand dollars for a wedding present and
Morty bought some bonds for me, but I'm going to sell a few and refurnish
the lower rooms. I love the old house but I like cheerful modern things.
The poor old parlors and dining-room do look like sarcophagi."
"Good. I'll help. We'll have no end of fun."
There was a pause and then Alexina said: "Mortimer is so determined to be a
rich man and thinks of so little else and works so hard, that he is bound
to be. Otherwise, such gifts would be meaningless."
She made the statements with an unconscious rising inflection. Aileen did
not answer and turned her sharp revealing green eyes on the eucalyptus
grove which concealed Ballinger House from the vulgar gaze, and
incidentally shut off a magnificent view.
"I don't know whether I like Gora Dwight or not," she remarked.
"Neither do I. But I admire her. She is a wonder."
"Oh, yes, I admire her, and I've a notion she's got something big in her,
some sort of destiny. But those light eyes in that dark face give me the
creeps. It isn't that I don't trust her. I believe her to be insolently
honest and honorable--and just, if you like. But--perhaps it's only the
accident of her queer coloring--she gives me the impression that while she
might go to the stake for her pride, she'd murder you in cold blood if you
got in her way."
"Poor Gora! You make her all the more interesting."
"Did she ever tell you that she corresponds with that Englishman who was
out here at the time of the earthquake and fire and had that ghastly
adventure with his sister? We all met him at the Hofer ball--Gathbroke his
Alexina was staring at her with an amazed frown. "Correspond--Gora?...I
remember now he told me she helped him to carry his sister's body out to
the old cemetery. Is he interested in her?"
"I shouldn't wonder. They've corresponded off and on ever since. I
walked, home with her one afternoon before I went south--she interests me
frantically--and she invited me up to her quite artistic attic in Geary
Street, where she still lives, and gave me the most vivid description of
that night. It made me crawl. She stared straight before her as she told
it. Her eyes were just like gray oval mirrors in which it seemed to me I
saw the whole thing pass....
"Then she showed me a photograph he had recently sent her--stunning thing
he is, all right, and looks years older than when he was here. She also
alluded to things he had said in a letter or two. So my phenomenally quick
wits inferred that they correspond. Perhaps they are engaged. Pretty good
deal for her."
Alexina, to her surprise, felt intensely angry, although she had the
presence of mind to cast up her eyes until the white showed below the large
brilliant iris and she looked like a saint in a niche.
She had kept Gathbroke out of her thoughts for nearly four years,
deliberately. For a time she had hated him. Mortimer's love-making had
seemed tame in comparison with that primitive outburst, and never had she
felt any such fiery response to the man she had loved and chosen as during
those few moments when she had been in that impertinent, outrageous,
loathsome young Englishman's arms. At first she had wondered and resented,
loyally concluding that it was her own fault, or that of fate for endowing
her with such a slender emotional equipment that she used it all up at once
on the wrong man. Finally, she found it wise not to think about it at all
and to dismiss the intruder from her thoughts.
Now she felt outraged in her sense of possession....Unconsciously she had
enshrined him as the secret mate of her inmost secret self...a self she
was barely conscious of even yet...lurking in her subconsciousness, the
personal and peculiar blend of many and diverse ancestors....Sometimes
she had glimpsed it...wondered a little with a not unpleasant sense of
But for the most part Circumstance had decreed that she abide on the
abundant surface of her nature and enjoy a highly enjoyable life as it
came. Now, she had experienced her first grief, which at the same time was
her first set-back. She did not go out at all. She saw much of Mortimer and
little of any one else. It was the summer season and all her friends were
in the country or in Europe.
She had given Mortimer her power of attorney (largely a gesture of
defiance, this) and he had attended to all details connected with her new
fortune. Between the inheritance tax, small legacies, and depreciations,
she would have a little over six thousand dollars a year; which, however,
with Mortimer's contribution, would run the old house, and keep her
wardrobe up to mark after she went out of mourning. She knew nothing of the
value of money, and was accustomed to having little to spend and everything
provided. But her mind regarding finances was quite at rest. Even if
Mortimer remained a victim of the hard times, they would be quite
The cares of housekeeping were very light. She discussed the daily menus
with James, but he had run Ballinger House for years, little as Mrs. Groome
had suspected it. Mortimer, shortly after his mother-in-law's death, and
while Alexina was passing a fortnight at Rincona, had given James orders
to collect all bills on the first of every month and hand them to him,
together with a statement of the servants' wages. Mrs. Dwight was not to be
Alexina, when she returned, had made no protest. The details of
housekeeping did not appeal to her. But the arrangement left her without
occupation, and much time for thought. After a long walk morning and
afternoon she had little to do but read. She was an early riser and her
mind was active.
Dwight had not the least intention of using his wife's money, for he had
perfect confidence in his change of luck, and in his ability to do great
things with his business as soon as the period of depression had passed.
But he had no faith in any woman's ability to invest and take care of
money, he had fixed ideas in regard to a man being master in his own house,
and he had asked Alexina for her power of attorney more to flaunt her
confidence in him and to annoy her damnable relatives than because there
might possibly be a moment when he should have need of immediate resources.
Like many Americans he chose to keep his wife in ignorance of his business
life, and it would have annoyed him excessively to go to her with an
explanation of temporary difficulties and ask for a loan.
Moreover, he wished to keep Alexina young and superficial, ignorant of
money matters, indifferent to the sordid responsibilities of life. Not only
was the present Alexina no embarrassment whatever to a man full of schemes,
aside from the slow march of business, for getting rich, but she was
He detested business women, intellectual women, women with careers; they
tipped the even balance of the man's world; moreover, they had no accepted
place in the higher social scheme. For women wage-earners he had no
antipathy and much sympathy and consideration, although he underpaid them
cheerfully when circumstances would permit. It was an abiding canker that
his sister was obliged to support herself; he was not ashamed of it, for
nursing was an honorable (and altruistic) profession, and several young
women in his new circle bad taken it up; but he hated it as a man and a
brother. As for her turning herself into an authoress, however, he only
hoped he would make his million before she got herself talked about.
As for Alexina she was the perfect flower of a system lie worshiped and
nothing should mar or change her if his fond surveillance could prevent it.
On the whole he was quite happy at this time, despite his passionate desire
for wealth and his natural resentment, at the attitude of the Abbotts and
their intimate circle of old friends who were so like them that he always
included them in his mind when speaking of "the family." Although he was
making barely enough to pay his sister the monthly interest on her money,
the salaries of his employees, and, until recently, a monthly contribution
to the household expenses, he had a comfortable and delightful home with
not a few of the minor luxuries, an undisputed position in the best
society, an honorable one in the business world, and a beautiful wife.
Now that the conventions forced them to live the retired life, they could
economize without attracting attention; as he paid the bills Alexina would
not know whether he still contributed his share or not; (in time he meant
to pay the whole and give his wife, with the grand gesture, her entire
income for pin money) and, with Alexina's cordial assent, he had sold the
old carriage, and the horses, which were eating their heads off, dismissed
the coachman-gardener, and found a young Swede to take care of the garden
Later, they would have their car like other people, but there was no need
for it at present, and it was neither the time nor the occasion to exhibit
a tendency to extravagance. In the matter of "front" he knew precisely
where to leave off.
In a certain small anxious bag-of-tricks way he was clever. But not clever
enough. He knew nothing of Alexina beneath her shining surface. If he
had he would have sought to crowd her mind with the details of the home,
encouraged her to join in the frantic activities of some one of the women's
clubs he held in scorn, persuaded her to play golf daily at the fashionable
club of which they were members, even though she ran the risk of talking,
unchaperoned by himself, with other men.
He never would have left her to long hours of idleness, with only books for
companions (and Alexina cared little for novels lacking in psychology, or
in revelations of the many phases of life of which she was personally so
ignorant); and only his own companionship evening after evening.
But he had known all the Alexina he was ever to know. Such flashing
glimpses as he was destined to have later so bewildered him that he reacted
obstinately to his original estimate of her,...just a child under the
influence of her family or some of those friends of hers who had always
hated him...erratic and irresponsible like all women...a man never could
understand women because there was nothing to understand...merely a bundle
In some ways his mental equipment was an enviable one.
Some of all this Alexina guessed, and although she was nettled at times
that he took no note of her maturing mind and character, she was, on the
whole, more amused.
Indulgent by nature, and somewhat indolent, she had been more than willing
that Morty should enjoy his new authority, should even delude himself that
he was footing all the bills, poor dear; and she listened raptly to his
evening visions of their future life in Burlingame, alternated with visits
to New York and England, the while she puzzled over the intricacies of some
character portrayed by a master analyst.
Sometimes he did not talk at all, utterly fagged by a strenuous day in
which he had accomplished precisely nothing. But the more transparent and
truncated and dull he grew the more spontaneous the "niceness" and almost
effusive courtesy of his wife. Insensibly she was veering to the family
attitude, but he had tagged her once for all and never saw it.
Until this moment, however, when Gathbroke had been jerked from his deep
seclusion within her ivory tower by Aileen's unwelcome news, she had never
had a moment of complete self-revelation....She knew instantly that she had
never loved her husband: he was not her mate and Gathbroke was. She had had
three years of rippling content and light enjoyment with Mortimer, they had
never quarreled seriously, and they had never taken their parts in one
moment of real drama.
If she had married Gathbroke they would have quarreled furiously, they
would have thrown courtesy and behavior to the winds often enough,
particularly while they were young, for neither would have been in the
least apprehensive of wounding the rank-pride of the other, and such mutual
and passionate love as theirs naturally gave birth to a high state of
irritability; they would have loved and hated and made constant discoveries
about each other...there would have been depths never to be fully explored
but always luring them on...and the perfect companionship...the complete
How Alexina knew all this after less than three hours' association with
Gathbroke, let any woman answer. She was not so foolish as to imagine
herself the victim of a secret passion, or that she had ever loved the man,
or ever would. She had merely had her chance for the great duodrama, and
thrown it away for a callow dream. She had no passing wish, even in that
moment of visualizing him interlocked with her own wraith in that sacred
inner temple where even she had never intruded before, to meet him again.
She had no intention of passing any of her abundant leisure in dreaming
dreams of him and the perfect bliss. But he had been hers...and
utterly...he had loved her...he had wanted her...he had precipitately
begged her to marry him...he had offered her the homage of complete
Something of him would always be hers.
And even though she renounced all rights in him because she must, she did
not in the least relish that any one so close to her as Gora Dwight should
have him. She might have heard of his marriage to a girl of his own land
and class with only a passing spasm, but his continued and possibly tender
friendship with her sister-in-law shook her out of the last of her jejunity
and its illusions....She was not exactly a dog in the manger...she was a
maturing woman looking back with anger and dismay not only upon the fatal
mistake of her youth, but upon the inexorable realities of her present
The reaction was a more intense feeling of loyalty to Mortimer than ever.
She was entirely to blame. He not only had been innocent of conscious
rivalry, even of pursuit--for she could quite easily have discouraged him
in the earlier stages of his courtship--but he was dependent upon her in
every way: for his happiness, for the secure social position that meant so
much to him, for the greater number of his valuable connections, for even
his comfort and ease of living.
Something of this had passed through her stunned mind on the morning of her
mother's death. Now it was all as sharply outlined as the etching at which
she was raptly gazing, and she vowed anew that she would never desert him,
never deny him the assistance of the true partner. She had signed a life
contract with her eyes open and she would keep it to the letter.
Only she hoped to heaven that Gathbroke was not serious about Gora. She
wished never to be reminded of his existence again.
And, as Aileen talked of Santa Barbara, she wondered vaguely why there
was not a law forbidding girls to marry until they were well into their
twenties....until they had had a certain amount of experience....knew their
own minds....Maria had been right....
The darkness had come early with the high rolling fog that shut out the
stars. The fog horn and the bells were silent but the wind had a thin
anxious note as if lost, and the long creaking eucalyptus trees angrily
repelled it as if irritated beyond endurance by its eternal visitations.
Alexina, who had been reading in her bedroom, realized that it must be
quite half an hour since she had turned a page. She lifted her shoulders
impatiently. She was in no humor for reading.
It was only eight o'clock. Far too early for bed. Mortimer had gone to Los
Angeles on business. He had been gone a week, and she admitted to herself
with the new frankness she had determined to cultivate--that she might
meet, with the clearest possible vision, whatever three-cornered deals
Life might have in store for her--that she had not missed him at all. His
absence had been a heavenly interlude. She and Aileen had gone to the
moving pictures unescorted every night (a performance of which he would
have disapproved profoundly), and they had lunched downtown every day until
Alexina had suddenly discovered that she had no more money in her purse;
and, knowing nothing whatever even of minor finance, was under the
impression that having given Mortimer her power of attorney she would not
be able to draw from the bank.
Aileen had gone down to Burlingame to visit Sibyl Bascom for a few days.
Alexina had declined to go, although it was a quiet party; it would be
embarrassing not to tip the servants.
The wind gave a long angry shriek as it flew round the corner of the house
and fastened its teeth in its enemies, the eucalyptus trees; who shook
it off with a loud furious rattle of their leaves and slapped the window
severely for good measure.
Alexina was used to San Francisco in all her many moods, but to-night, the
wind and the high gray fog shutting out the stars, the silent house--silent
that is but for the mice playing innocently between the walls--her complete
solitude, made her restless and a little nervous.
What could she do?
She knew quite well that she had wanted to go to see Gora for a week. She
had not indulged in any silly dreams about Gathbroke but she was curious to
see his photograph. She remembered that it had crossed her mind that April
day under the oak tree that if he had been older, if he had outgrown his
hopelessly youthful curve of cheek, his fresh color, and the inability to
conceal the asinine condition to which she had immediately reduced him, she
might have given him an equal chance with Morty.
Aileen had said that he looked older. She had a quite natural curiosity to
decide for herself if, had he been born several years earlier, he would
have proved the successful rival in that foundational period of their
youth....Or perhaps she was the reason of his rather sudden maturity.
After all there was no great chasm between twenty-three and twenty-six and
three-quarters. She looked little if any older. Neither did Morty, nor any
one she knew.
This idea thrilled her, and, grimly determined upon no compromise or
evasion, she admitted it.
Moreover, she wanted to sound out Gora.
Somehow she had no real belief that he had transferred his affections to
her dissimilar sister-in-law, but her interest in Gora was growing. She
wanted to know her better.
Besides, although she had often invited her to tea on her free afternoons,
and to dinner whenever possible, and had occasionally dropped in to see her
while she was still in the hospital, she had never called on her in her
home. As Gora only slept there after a killing day's or night's work,
visitors were anything but welcome; nevertheless she felt that she had been
negligent, rude--three years!--and as Gora was not on a case for a day or
two, now was the time to atone.
Moreover, she had never been out quite alone at night, except to run down
the avenue and across the street to Aileen's. It was a long way down to
Geary Street, and Fillmore Street at night was "tough." Mortimer would be
She hastily changed her dinner gown to a plain walking suit of black tweed
and pinned on a close hat firmly, prepared to defy the wind and thoroughly
to enjoy her little adventure. Not since she had stolen out to go to
forbidden parties with Aileen had she felt such a sense of altogether
Fillmore Street, its low-browed shops dark, but with great arcs of white
lights spanning the streets that ran east and west, long shafts of yellow
light shining across the sidewalk from the restaurants, the candy stores
and the nicolodeons--where the pianola tinkled plaintively--was thronged
with saunterers. Alexina darted quick curious glances at them as she walked
rapidly along. In front of every saloon was a group of young men almost
fascinatingly common to Alexina's cloistered eyes, their hats tilted over
their foreheads at an indescribable angle, rank black cigars in the corners
of their mouths, or cigarettes hanging from their loose lips, leering at
"bunches" of girls that passed unattended, appraising them cynically,
making strident or stage-whispered comments.
A great many girls had cavaliers, and these walked with their heads tossed,
unless drooping toward a padded, shoulder; and they wore perhaps a coat or
two less of make-up than their still neglected sisters. These were vividly
earmined, although most of them were young enough to have relied on cold
water and a rough towel; their hair was arranged in enormous pompadours and
topped with "lingerie" or beflowered hats. Their blouses were "peek-a-boo"
and cut low, their skirts high; slender or plump, they wore exaggerated
straight front corsets, high heels and ventilated stockings. They practiced
the debutante slouch and their jaws worked automatically.
Not all of them were "bad" by any means. Fillmore Street was a promenade
at night for girls who were confined by day: waitresses, shop girls of the
humbler sort, servants, clerks, or younger daughters of poor parents, who
would see nothing of life at all if they sat virtuously in the kitchen
The best of them were not averse to being picked up and treated to
ice-cream-soda or the more delectable sundae. A few there were, and they
were not always to be distinguished by the kohl round their eyes, the dead
white of their cheeks, the magenta of their lips, who, ignoring the "bums"
and "cadets" lounging at the corners or before the saloons, directed intent
long glances at every passing man who looked as if he had the "roll" to
treat them handsomely in the back parlor of a saloon, or possibly stake
them at a gaming table. The town, still in its brief period of insufferable
virtue, was "closed," but the lid was not on as irremovably as the police
led the good mayor to believe; and these girls, who traveled not in
"bunches" but in pairs, if they had not already begun a career of
profitable vice, were anxious to start but did not exactly know how.
Fillmore Street was not the hunting ground of rich men; but men with a
night's money came there, and many "boobs" from the country.
Alexina had heard of Fillmore Street from Aileen, who investigated
everything, escorted by her uxorious parent, and had been informed that
many of these girls were "decent enough"; "much more decent than I would be
in the circumstances: work all day, coarse underclothes, no place to see a
beau but the street. I'd go straight to the devil and play the only game I
had for all it was worth."
But to Alexina they all looked appalling, abandoned, the last cry in
"badness." She was not afraid. The street was too brilliant and the great
juggernauts of trolley cars lumbered by every few moments. Moreover, she
could make herself look as cold and remote as the stars above the fog, and
she had drawn herself up to her full five feet seven, thrown her shoulders
back, lifted her chin and lowered her eyelids the merest trifle. She
fancied that the patrician-beauty type would have little or no attraction
for the men who frequented Fillmore Street. Certainly the bluntest of these
males could see that she was not painted, blackened, dyed, nor chewing gum.
Moreover she was in mourning.
But she had reckoned without her youth.
"Say, kid, what you doin' all alone?"
A hand passed familiarly through her arm.
Her brain turned somersaults, raced. Should she burst into tears? Turn upon
him with a frozen stare? Appeal for help?
Then she discovered that although astonished she was not at all terrified;
nor very much insulted. Why should she be? A casual remark of the
sophisticated Aileen flashed through her rallying mind: "When a man is even
half way drunk he doesn't know a lady from a trollop, and ten to one the
lady's a trollop anyhow."
She heartily wished that Aileen were in her predicament at the present
moment. What on earth was she to do with the creature?
She had accelerated her steps without speaking or making any foolish
attempts to shake him off; but she knew that her face was crimson, and one
girl tittered as they passed, while another, appreciating the situation,
laughed aloud and cried after her: "Don't be frightened, kid. He's not a
Irrepressible curiosity made her send him a swift glance from the corner of
her eye. He was a young man, thick set, with an aggressive nose set in a
round hard face. His small, hard, black eyes were steady, and so were his
feet. He did not look in the least drunk.
"I think you have made a mistake," she said quietly, and with no pretense
at immense dignity (she could hear Aileen say: "Cut it out. Nothing doing
in that line here"). "I, also, have made a mistake--in walking at night on
this street. Would you mind letting go my arm? I think I'll take a car."
"No, I think you'll stay just where you are," he said insolently. "You
don't belong here all right, but you've come and you can stand the
consequences. You're just the sort that needs a jolt and I like the idea of
Alexina gave him a coldly speculative glance. "I wonder why?"
"You would? Well, I'll tell you. Never been out alone at night before, I'll
bet, like these other girls, that ain't got no place on earth to have any
fun but the streets. Never even rubbed against the common herd? Generally
go about in a machine, don't you?"
"It is quite true that I have never been out alone at night before. I
certainly shall not go again."
"No, you don't have to! That's the point, all right. And if you weren't
such a beauty, damn you! I'd hate you this minute as I hate your whole
"Oh, you are a socialist!" Alexina looked at him with frank curiosity. "I
never saw one before."
He was obviously disconcerted. Then his face flushed with anger. "Yes, I'm
a socialist all right, and you'll see more of us before you're many years
"You might tell me about it if you _will_ walk with me. I am a long
way from my destination, and that would be far more interesting than
"I've got more personalities where those came from. It makes me sick to see
the difference between you and these poor kids--ready to sell their souls
for pretty clothes and a little fun. There's nothing that has done so much
to inflame class hatred as the pampered delicate satin-skinned women of
your class, who have expensive clothes and 'grooming' to take the place of
slathers of paint and cheap perfume. Raised in a hot house for the use
of the man on top. It's the crowning offense of capitalism, and when the
system goes, they'll all be like you, or you'll be more like them. You'll
come down about a thousand pegs, and the ones down below will be shoved up
to meet you."
Alexina stood still and faced him.
"Are you poor?" she asked.
"What a hell of a question. Have I been talkin' like a plutocrat?"
"Oh, there are, still, different grades. I was wondering if you would be so
inconsistent as to earn a little money from me and two friends of mine. We
have read socialism a bit, but, we don't understand it very well. I am in
mourning and it would interest me immensely."
He had dropped her arm and was staring at her.
"You are not afraid of me, then?" His voice was sulky but his eyes were
"Oh, not in the least. I fully appreciate that you merely wished to
humiliate me, not to be insulting, as some of these other men might have
been. My name is Mrs. Mortimer Dwight. I live on Ballinger Hill--do you
know it? That old house in the eucalyptus grove?"
"I know it, all right."
"Then you probably know, also, that I am not rich and never have been. My
husband is a struggling young business man."
"That cuts no ice. You train with that class, don't you? You're class
yourself, reek with it. You had rich ancestors or you wouldn't be what you
"Well, we can discuss that point another time. One of my friends is a
daughter of Judge Lawton--"
"Hand in glove with every rich grafter in 'Frisco."
Alexina shuddered. "Please say San Francisco. I am positive you never heard
a word against Judge Lawton's probity, nor that he ever rendered an unjust
"He's a wise old guy, all right. But it would be wastin' time tryin' to
make you understand why I have no use for him."
"Of course you would have no use for the husband of my other friend, Mrs.
She fully expected that the young millionaire's name would be the final red
rag and that her escort would roar his opinion of him for the benefit of
all Fillmore Street. But he surprised her by saying reluctantly:
"He's dead straight, all right. He's not a grafter. I've nothing against
him personally, but he's part of a damnable system and I'd clean him out
with the rest."
"Well, there you have three of us to your hand. Who knows but that you
might convert us? Why not give us the chance? If you will give me your
address I will write to you as soon as my friends come back to town."
"I don't know whether I want to do it or not. You may be makin' game of me
for all I know."
"I am quite sincere. You interest me immensely. And we might teach you
something too--what it means to have a sense of humor. I know enough of
socialism to know that no socialist can have it. May I ask what your
"I'm just a plain working-man--housebuilding line."
"Then you could only come in the evening?"
"Not at all; I get off at five. You don't have your dinner until eight in
your set, I believe," This with a sneer that curled his upper lip almost to
the septum of his nose.
"Seven. My husband works until nearly six. He rarely has time for lunch and
comes home very hungry."
Once more he looked puzzled and disconcerted, but his small steady eyes did
"My name's James Kirkpatrick." He found the stub of a pencil in his pocket
and wrote an address on the flap of an envelope. "I'll think it over. Maybe
I'll do it. I dunno, though."
"I do hope you will. I'm sure we can learn a good deal from each other.
Now, would you mind putting me on the next car? Or don't the socialist
tenets admit of gallantry to my sex?"
"Socialism admits the equality of the sexes, which is a long sight better,
but I guess there's nothing to prevent me seeing you onto your car."
He even lifted his hat as she turned to him from the high platform, and
as he smiled a little she inferred that he was congratulating himself on
having had the last word.
Gora, to whom she had telephoned before leaving home, was standing on
the steps of her house, looking anxiously up the street, as her young
sister-in-law left the car at the corner.
Gora walked up to meet her guest. "Where on earth have you, been?" she
demanded. "I supposed of course that you'd take a taxi. You should not go
out alone at night. Mortimer would be wild. He has the strictest ideas; and
"Haven't. Not, any more. I'm tired of being kept in a glass case--being
a parasite." She laughed gayly at Gora's look of amazement. "I've had an
adventure. Almost the first I ever had."
She related it as they walked slowly down the street and up the steps and
stairs to the attic.
Gora looked very thoughtful as she listened. "Shall you tell Mortimer?"
"Oh, I don't know. Possibly not. Why agitate him? The thing is done."
"But if you study with this man?"
"There is no necessity to explain where I met him. I look upon myself as
Morty's partner, not as his subject. We have never disputed over anything
yet, but of course as time goes on I shall wish to do many things whether
he happens to like it or not. Possibly without consulting him."
"You've had time to think these past three months for the first time in
your life," said Gora shrewdly. "Here we are. I hope you don't hate stairs.
I do when I come home dog-tired, but somehow I can't give up the old
place....And I've lit the candles in your honor."
"Oh, but it is pretty! Charming!"
Thought Gora: "I do hope she's not going to be gracious. I've never liked
her so well before."
But Alexina was too excited to have a firm grip on the Ballinger-Groome
tradition. She had had an adventure, an uncommon one, in a far from
respectable night district; she had done something that would cause the
impeccable Mortimer the acutest anguish if he knew of it; and she had
caught sight immediately of Gathbroke's picture framed and enthroned on the
She walked about the room admiring the hangings and prints, the old Chinese
lanterns that held the candles.
"I am going to refurnish our lower rooms," she said. "If you have time do
help me. Heavens! I wish I could work off some of that old furniture on
you. I like the Italian pieces well enough, but there are too many of them.
That rather low Florentine cabinet in the back parlor would just fit in
She gave a little girlish exclamation and ran forward.
"Isn't that young Gathbroke, who was out here at the time of the earthquake
and fire...or an older brother, perhaps?"
She had taken the photograph from the mantel and was examining it under one
of the lanterns. Her alert ear detected the deeper and less steady note in
Gora's always hoarse voice.
"It is the same. Did you meet him?...Oh, I remember he told me he met you
at the Hofer ball. He rather raved over you, in fact."
"Did he? How sweet of him. I met him again, I remember. Mr. Gwynne brought
him down to Rincona one day."
And Alexina, knew that he had never mentioned that visit.
"But he looks much much older."
"He did before he left. That horrible experience of his seemed to prey on
him more and more.
He had not looked a day over twenty-three on that afternoon at Eincona, two
weeks after the fire.
Alexina replaced the picture, then turned to her sister-in-law with a
coaxing smile. "Are you engaged? It would be too romantic. Do tell me."
"No," said Gora, shortly. "We are not engaged. Good friends, that is all,
and write occasionally."
"Well, he must be very much interested--and you must be a very interesting
correspondent, Gora dear! Is he? Interesting, I mean. What does he do,
anyhow? I have a vague remembrance that he said something about the army."
"He was in the army, the Grenadier Guards. But he has resigned and gone
into business with a cousin of his in Lancashire. He wrote me--oh, it must
be nearly two years ago--that if there should be a war he would enlist as a
matter of course, but as there was no prospect of any, and he was sick
of idleness--his good middle-class energetic blood asserting itself, he
said,--he was going to amuse himself with work, incidentally try to make
a fortune. His mother left a good deal of money, but there are several
children and I guess the present earl needs most of it to keep up his
estates, to say nothing of his position. Fotten law, that--entail, I mean."
Alexina came and sat down on the divan beside Gora, piling the cushions
behind her. "Are you a socialist?"
"I am not. I believe in sticking to your own class, whether you have a
grudge against it or not, or even if you think it far from perfection."
She shot a quick challenging glance at her admittedly aristocratic
sister-in-law, but Alexina had lifted the lower white of her eyes just
above their soft black fringe and looked more innocent than any new born
lamb. As she did not answer Gora continued:
"I remember that night I sat out with Gathbroke on Calvary he said
something about socialism...that it was a confession of failure. I may feel
so furious with destiny sometimes that I could go out and wave a red flag,
or even the darker red of anarchy, but what always sobers me is the thought
that if I had the good luck to inherit or make even a reasonable fortune
I'd have no more use for socialism than for a rattlesnake in my bed. Why
are you interested?"
"Only as in any subject that interests a few million people. I haven't the
least intention of being converted, but I don't want to be an ignoramus.
Aileen and Sibyl and I did start Marx's _Das Kapital_--in German! We nearly
died of it. But I felt sure that this man, Kirkpatrick, had studied his
subject, if only because his language changed so completely when he talked
about it. It was as if he were quoting, but intelligently. Of course the
poor man had little or no education to begin with. Somehow he struck me as
a pathetic figure. Perhaps when every one is educated--and there must be
many thousands of naturally intelligent men in the working class whose
brains if trained would be mighty useful in Washington--well, all having
had equal opportunities they would surely arrive at some way to improve
conditions without struggling for anything so hopeless as socialism. I
know enough to be sure that it is hopeless, because it antagonizes human
"Rather. The trend under all the talk is more and more toward
individualism, not self-effacing communism. As for myself I like the idea
of the fight--for public recognition, I mean; and I don't think I'd be
happy at all if things were made too smooth for me; if, for instance, in
a socialized state it were decided that I could devote all my time to
writing, and that the state would take care of me, publish my work, and
distribute it exactly where it was sure to be appreciated. I haven't any
of the old California gambling blood in me, but I guess the hardy ghost of
those old days still dominates the atmosphere, and I have not been one of
those to escape."
"It's in mine! Not that I care for gambling, really, like Aileen and Alice.
But I've always been fascinated by the idea of taking long chances, and I
have had inklings that I'll be rather more than less fascinated as I grow
older....When are your stories to be published? I am simply expiring to
Alexina had thrust her slim index finger unerringly through Gora's
bristling armor and tickled her weakest spot. The fledgling author smiled
into the dazzling eyes opposite and a deep flush rose to her high cheek
"Then..." Gora rose and took a magazine from the table beside her bed. She
spread it open on her lap, when she had resumed her seat, and handled it as
Alexina had seen young mothers fondle their first-born.
"It's here. Just out."
"Oh!" Alexina. gave a little shriek of genuine anticipation. "Read it to
me. Quick. I can't wait."
Gora led a lonely life outside of her work, a lonely inner life always. She
had never had an intimate friend, and she suddenly reflected that there had
been a certain measure of sadness in her joy both when her manuscripts were
accepted and to-day when for the first time she had gazed at herself in
print....She had had no one to rejoice with her....She felt an overwhelming
sense of gratitude to Alexina.
But she gave this young wife of her brother whom she knew as little as
Alexina knew her, another swift suspicious glance....No, there was nothing
of Alexina's usual high and careless courtesy in that eager almost excited
"I'd love to have your opinion....I read very badly....Make allowances...."
"Oh, fire away. If I'd written a story and had it accepted by that magazine
I'd read it from the housetops."
Gora read the story well enough, and Alexina's mind did not wander even to
Gathbroke. It was written in a pure direct vigorous English. A little less
self-consciousness and it would have been distinguished. The story itself
was built craftily; she had been coached by a clever instructor who was a
successful writer of short stories himself; and it worked up to a climax of
genuine drama. But this was merely the framework, the flexible technique
for the real Gora. The story had not only an original point of view but it
pulsed with the insurgent resentful passionate spirit of the writer.
Alexina gave a little gasp as Gora finished.
"Many people won't like that story," she said. "It shocks and jars and
gives one's smugness a pain in the middle. But those that do like it
will give you a great reputation, and after all there are a few thousand
intelligent readers in the United States. How on earth did that magazine
come to accept it?"
Gora was staring at Alexina with an uncommonly soft expression in her
opaque light eyes. She felt, indeed, as if her ego would leap through them
and make a fool of her.
"The editor wrote me something of what you have just said. He wanted
something new--to give his conservative old subscribers a shock. Thought
it would be good for them and for the magazine. You--you--have said what I
should have wanted you to say if I could have thought it out....I think I
should have hated you if you had said, 'How charming!' or 'How frantically
"Well, it's the last if not the first. Aileen will say that and mean it.
I'll telephone to the bookstore the first thing Monday morning and get a
copy. Now I must go. It's late."
"Let me telephone for a taxi."
Alexina laughed merrily. "You'll never believe it, but I've just thirty
cents in my purse. I forgot to ask Morty for something before he
left....You see, I happened to find quite a bit in mother's desk and so
I've never thought to ask him for an allowance. But I shall at once."
"An allowance? But you have your own money? Or is it because the estate
isn't settled? What has Morty to do with that?"
"I believe we get the income from the estate until it is settled. But I
gave my power of attorney to Morty."
"Oh! But if there is money on deposit in the bank you can draw on it."
"Could I? Well! I'll just draw a round hundred on Monday at ten A.M."
"Why did you give your power of attorney to Morty?"
"Oh...why...he asked me to...I know nothing about business, and he
naturally would attend to my affairs."
"But you are not going away. No one needs your power of attorney. And the
executors are Judge Lawton and Mr. Abbott. You are here to sign such papers
as they advise....Don't he angry, please. I am not insinuating anything
against Morty. He's never bad a dishonest thought in his life...has always
been, the squarest...but..."
Alexina's head was very high. It was quite bad enough for Tom Abbott and
Judge Lawton...but for his sister...
"It's this way, Alexina. People in this world, more particularly men, are
just about as honest as circumstances will permit them to be. Some are
stronger than Life in one way or another, no doubt of it; but they make up
for it by being weaker in others....I am talking particularly of the money
question, the struggle for existence, which the vast majority of men are
forced to make....
"Men fight Life from the hour they leave their homes, when they have any,
to force success--in one way or another--out of her until the hour they are
able to lay down the burden....Some are too strong and too firm in their
ideals ever to do wrong; they would prefer failure, and generally they are
strong enough to avoid it, even to succeed in their way against the
most overwhelming odds....Many are too clever not to find some way of
compromising and circumventing....Others just peg along and barely make
both ends meet....Others go under and down and out.
"Morty, like millions of other young Americans, had good principles and
high ideals inculcated from his earliest boyhood and took to them as a duck
takes to water. Nor is he weak. But although he is a hard and steady worker
he is also visionary. He speculated on the stock market before he was
married. Probably not now as the market is moribund. He is frantic to get
rich...for more reasons than one."
"But he never would do anything dishonorable."
"No. Nothing he couldn't square with his conscience if it turned out all
right. But the most honest man, when in a hole, finds little difficulty in
arriving at the conclusion that what is, illogically, the possession of the
women of his family, is his if he needs it.
"Moreover, no doubt you have discovered that Morty is the sort of man who
looks upon women as man's natural inferiors, that if there is any question
of sacrifice the woman is not to be considered for a moment...especially
where no public risk is involved. That sort of man only thinks he is too
honest to refrain from taking some unrelated woman's money, but as a matter
of fact it is because she would send him to State's Prison as readily as a
man would. One's own women are safe.
"I lent Morty my small inheritance with my eyes open. But he knows a good
deal of that particular business, and I did not dream the times were going
to be so bad....I doubt if I ever see it again....But you must not run the
risk of losing yours. I want you to promise me that on Monday morning you
will go down to the City Hall and revoke your power of attorney. And as
much for Morty's sake as for your own. He will lose your money if he keeps
it in his hands, and then he will suffer agonies of remorse. He will be
infinitely more miserable than if he merely failed in business. That is
honorable. It would only hurt his pride. Then he could get a position
again, and you would have your own income."
"But do you mean to say that if I did revoke my power of attorney and he
asked me later for money to save his business that I should not give it to
"Yes, I mean just that. Morty will never take any of the prizes in the
business world. He may hold on and make a living, that is all. He has
plenty to start with, and tells me he is doing fairly well, in spite of the
times. But he would do better in the long run as a clerk. In time he
might get a large salary as a sort of general director of all the routine
business of some large house--"
Alexina curled her lip. "I do not want him to be a clerk."
"No, of course you don't! But you'd like it still less if he cleaned you
out. You--would have to sell or rent your old home and live on a hundred
and fifty dollars a month in a flat in some out-of-the-way quarter. You
might have to go to work yourself,"
"I shouldn't mind that so much, except that I'm afraid I'd not be good for
much. Perhaps it was snobbish of me to object lo Morty's being a clerk.
But...well, I'm not so sure that it is snobbish to prefer what you have
always been accustomed to--I mean if it is a higher standard. And after all
I married him when he was only a clerk."
"You are surprisingly little of a snob, all things considered; but you are
a hopeless aristocrat."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I think the line between the aristocratic and the snobbish attitude of
mind is almost too fine to be put into words. But they are often confused
by the undiscriminating. Will you revoke that power of attorney on Monday?"
"Shouldn't I wait until Morty is home?...tell him first? It seems rather
taking an advantage...and he will be very angry."
"That doesn't matter."
"What excuse shall I give him?"
"Any one of a dozen. You are bored and want to take care of your
money...intend to learn something of business, as all women should,
and will in time....Ring in the feminist stuff...wife's economic
independence...woman's new position in the world....That will make Morty so
raving angry that he will forget about the other. Will you do it?"
"Yes, I will. I believe you are right. So were the others...there must be
something in it."
She told Gora of the advice of Tom Abbott and Judge Lawton. Gora nodded.
"They meant more than they said. And merely because they are men of the
world, not because they like and trust Morty any the less."
Alexina did not hear her. She was staring hard at the floor....A year
ago...three months ago...she couldn't have done this thing. She had been
still under the illusion that she loved her husband, that her marriage was
a complete success. She would have sacrificed her last penny rather than
hurt his feelings. Now she only cared that she didn't care....She had
admitted to herself that she did not love her husband but that was
different from committing an overt act that proved it....She felt something
crumbling within her....It was the last of the fairy edifice of her
romance...of her first, her real, youth....What was to take its place?
The future smugly secure on six thousand a year and an inviolate social
position...a good dull husband...not even the prospect of travel....
She sprang to her feet and turned away her head.
"Why don't you come and live with us?" she asked abruptly. "Why should you
keep this on? There are so many vacant bedrooms up there. You could have
one for your study. I'd love to have you. You'd have the most complete
Gora shook her head. "I've always this to fall back on."
"Fall back on?"
"Oh! I never meant to let that out. However....Perhaps it is as
well....Morty--you know his pride--everybody has his prime weakness and
that is his. Transpose it into snobbery if you like....We did not board
down here. I kept a lodging house for business women. It paid well, but
Morty, when he became engaged to you, insisted that I give it up. He was
afraid you'd be outraged in your finest sensibilities! Well, I did. One of
my lodgers resigned from her job and took it over. I entered the hospital,
but kept on my room as I had to have one somewhere. Eight months later she
married, and I took it back. I found I could run it as well as ever with
the aid of a treasure of a Chinaman she had discovered. But I never told
Alexina laughed. "Better not. But you could run it and live with us all the
"No. I have too little time. I'd waste it coming back and forth, for I must
be here some time every day....Besides..."
"Your own precious atmosphere?"
"You do understand!"
"Well, come to see me often. I shall need your advice."
"You bet. And now, I'll see you to your car; stay with you until you are
safely transferred to the Fillmore car. And don't assert your independence
in just this way again. All those loafers on Fillmore Street are not
As Gora put on her hat at the distant mirror Alexina turned to Gathbroke's
picture with a scowl. She even clenched her hands into fists.
"Oh...you...you....Why weren't you....Why didn't you...."
Mortimer arrived on Tuesday evening, looking immaculate in spite of his day
on the train, and with that air of beaming gallantry that he could always
summon at will, even when all was not well with him.
To-night, however, he was quite sincere. His visit to Los Angeles had been
a success; he had actually put through a deal that had translated itself
into a cheque for a thousand dollars. He had, through a mistaken order,
been overstocked with a certain commodity from the Orient that the retail
merchants of San Francisco bought very sparingly; but he had found in
Los Angeles a firm that did a large business with the swarming Japanese
population and was glad to take it over at a reasonable figure.
It was after dinner; his taut trim body was relaxed in evening luxury
before the wood fire of the back parlor, and he was half way through a
cigar when Alexina rose and extended one arm along the mantelpiece. She
looked like a long black poplar with her round narrow flexible figure and
her small head held with a lofty poise; as serene as a poplar in France on
a balmy day. But she quaked inside.
She glanced at her happy unsuspecting husband with an engaging smile. "I'm
afraid you will be rather cross with me," she said softly. "But I went down
to the City Hall yesterday and revoked my power of attorney to you."
"You did what?" The slow blood rose to Dwight's hair. He mechanically took
the cigar from his mouth. It lost its flavor. He had a sensation of falling
through space...out of somewhere....
Alexina repeated her statement.
He recovered himself. "Tom Abbott has been at you again, I suppose. Or
"Neither. Really, Morty, you must give me credit for a mind of my own. I
did it for several reasons. Sibyl was here Sunday. She motored up from
Burlingame with Aileen on purpose to talk to me. She has induced Mrs.
Hunter and some other of the more intelligent women down there--those that
read the serious new books and go to lectures when there are any worth
while--to join a class in economics. One of the professors at Stanford is
going to teach us. Aileen has lost frightfully at poker lately and wants a
new interest; she put Sibyl up to it--who was delighted with the suggestion
as she hasn't been intellectual for quite a while now, and really has a
practical streak; so that studying economics appealed to her.
"I jumped at the idea. It was a God-send. I have had so little to do. I
don't care for poker and one can't read all the time....But after they left
I reflected that I should cut a rather ridiculous figure studying economies
in the abstract if I didn't have sense and 'go' enough to manage my own
affairs. Why, I was so ignorant I thought I couldn't draw any money from
the bank because I had given you my power of attorney. Aileen has an
allowance and the Judge makes her keep books. She usually comes out about
even at poker in the course of the month, and if she doesn't she pawns
something. I've been with her to pawn shops and it's the greatest fun. I
don't mind telling you, as I know you never betray a confidence. The Judge
would lock poor dear Aileen up on bread and water.
"Sibyl manages those two great houses herself. Frank gives her some
stupendous sum a year and she is proud of the fact that she never runs over
it. You know how she entertains.
"I should never dare admit to them--or to the professor if he asked my
opinion on that sort of thing and it had to come out--that I was too lazy
and too incompetent to manage my own little fortune. So I went down first
thing Monday morning and revoked my power of attorney. I simply couldn't
wait. When the estate is settled and turned over to me I shall attend to
everything and not bother you, Morty dear."
Morty dear looked at her with a long hard suspicious stare. Alexina
thoughtfully turned up her eyes and changed promptly from a poplar into a
"I don't like it. I don't like it at all."
Words were never his strong point and he could find none now adequate to
express his feelings.
"I may be old-fashioned--"
"You are, Morty. That is your only fault. You belong to the old school of
"There are plenty of old-fashioned people left in the world."
"So there are, poor dears. It's going to be so hard for them--"
"Are you trying to be one of those infernal new women?"
"Well, you see, I just naturally am a child of my times, in spite of my
old-fashioned family. I'd be much the same if I'd never taken any interest
in all these wonderful modern movements."
"It's those chums of yours--Aileen, Sibyl, Janet. I never did wholly
approve of them."
"Neither did mother and Maria, but it never made any difference."
"Do you mean to say that you intend to ignore me...disobey me?"
"Oh, Morty, I never promised to obey you. You know the fun we all had at
the rehearsal. You haven't noticed, these three years, that I've had my
way, in pretty nearly everything, merely because it happened to be your way
too. We've been living in a sort of pleasure garden, just playing about,
with mother as the good old fairy. But everything has changed. We must
look out for ourselves now, and I cannot put the whole burden on your
"I do not mind in the least. That is where it belongs."
Alexina shook her wise little head. "Oh, no. It isn't done any more. No
woman who has learned to think is so unjust as to throw the whole burden
of life on her husband's shoulders. You have your own daily battle in the
business world. I will do the rest."
"What damned emancipated talk."
"What a funny old-fashioned word. We don't even say advanced or new any
"It's nonsense anyhow. You're nothing but a child."
"You may just bet your life I'm not a child. Nor have I awakened all of a
sudden. In one sense I have. But not in this particular branch of modern
science. I have read tons about it, and Aileen and I are always discussing
everything that interests the public; I have even read the newspapers for
"Much better you didn't. There is no reason whatever for a woman in your
position knowing anything about public affairs. It detracts from your
"Maybe, but we'll find more charm in Life as we grow older."
His memory ran back along a curved track and returned with something that
looked like a bogey.
"May I ask what your program is? Your household program? I had got
everything down to a fine point....It seems too bad you should bother...."
"Bother? I've been bored to death, and feeling like a silly little
good-for-nothing besides. The trouble is, it's too little bother. James and
I have had a long talk. Housekeeping will be reduced to its elements with
him, but at least I shall begin to feel really grown up when I pore over
monthly bills and 'slips' and sign cheques."
She hesitated. "You mustn't think for a minute that I want to make you
feel out of it, Morty. It. is only that I _must_. The time has come,...Of
course, you have been paying half the bills anyhow. We could simply go on
along those lines. I will tell you what it all amounts to, shortly after
the first of the month, and you'll give me half."
Dwight stared at the end of his cigar. His was not an agile brain but in
that moment it had an illuminating flash. He realized that this sheltered
Back to Full Books