Part 4 out of 7
creature, with whom her mother had never discussed household economics, and
from whom he had purposely kept all knowledge of his business, took for
granted that he could pay his share of the monthly expenses, merely because
all the men she knew did twice as much, however they might grumble. For the
matter of that she never saw Tom Abbott that he did not curse the ascending
prices, but there was no change whatever in his bountiful fashion of
living. Alexina knew that the times were bad and that her husband was
having something of a struggle, and, as a dutiful wife, was anxious to
help him out for the present, but it was simply beyond her powers of
comprehension to grasp the fact that he was in no position to pay half the
expenses of their small establishment.
If he told her...tried to make her understand...even if she did, how would
he appear in her eyes?
Of all people in the world he wanted to stand high with Alexina...he had
never taken more pains to bluff the street when things were at their worst
than this girl who was the symbol of all he had aspired to and precariously
achieved. He had longed for riches, not because she craved luxury and pomp,
but because she would be forced to look up to him with admiration and a
lively gratitude. He had, in this spirit, given her; in the most casual
manner, handsome presents, or brilliant little dinners at fashionable
restaurants, in all of which she took a fervent young pleasure. He
had dipped into his slender capital, but of this she had not even a
suspicion...he had made some airy remark about celebrating a "good
deal"...no wonder...he had her too well bluffed.
For an instant he contemplated a plain and manly statement of fact. But he
did not have the courage. Anything rather than that she should curl that
short aristocratic upper lip of hers, stare at him with wide astonished
eyes that saw him a failure, even if a temporary one. He set his teeth and
vowed to go through with it, to make good. This thousand would last several
months, even if he made no more than his expenses meanwhile.
He shrugged his shoulders and lit another cigar. The first had died a
lingering and malodorous death.
"Have your own way," he said coldly. "I only wished to keep you young and
carefree. If you choose to bother with bills and investments it is your own
"Thank you, Morty dear."
She felt that it would be an act of wifely self-abnegation to defer the
announcement of her interest in socialism and Mr. Kirkpatrick. Aileen and
Sibyl had hailed her plan as even more exciting than the study of economics
with an exceedingly good-looking young professor (who had been tutoring
in Burlingame), and she had already dispatched a note to him whom Aileen
disreputably called her Fillmore Street mash.
Kirkpatrick sat before a crescent composed of Mrs. Mortimer Dwight, Mrs.
Francis Leslie Bascom and Miss Aileen Livingston Lawton.
His reasons for coming to Ballinger House--which even he knew was
inaccessible to the common herd--were separate and tabulated. Alexina had
fascinated him against his best class principles; but he not only jumped at
the chance of meeting her again, he was excessively curious to understand a
woman of her class, to watch her in different moods and situations. He was
equally curious to meet other women of the same breed; he had never brushed
their skirts before, but he had often stood and gazed at them hungrily as
they passed in their limousines or driving their smart little electric
He was also curious to see several of those "interiors" he had read so much
about, and hoped his pupils would meet in turn at their different homes. He
was a sincere and honest socialist, was Mr. Kirkpatrick, and he had a good
healthy class-consciousness and class-hatred. But he also had a large
measure of intelligent curiosity. He had never expected to have the
opportunity to gratify it in respect to "bourgeois" inner circles, and when
it came he had only hesitated long enough to search his soul and assure
himself that he was in no danger of growing compliant and soft. Moreover he
might possibly make converts, and in any case it was not a bad way, society
being still what it was, of turning an honest penny.
But in this the first lesson he was as disconcerted as a socialist serene
in his faith could be.
The three girls had curved their slender bodies forward, resting one elbow
on a knee. At the end of each of these feline arches was a pair of fixed
and glowing eyes. No doubt there were faces also, but he was only vaguely
aware of three white disks from which flowed forth lambent streams of
concentrated light. They looked like three little sea-monsters, slim,
flexible, malignant, ready to spring.
He exaggerated in his embarrassment, but he was not so very far wrong.
"The little devils!" he thought in his righteous wrath. "I'll teach 'em,
As it was necessary to break the farcical silence he said in a voice too
loud for the small library. "Well, what is it about socialism that you
don't just know? Mrs. Dwight told me you had read some."
"There is one thing I want to say before we begin," said Aileen in her high
light impertinent voice, "and that is that if there is one thing that makes
us more angry than another it is to be called _bourgeois_."
"And ain't you?"
"We are not. I suppose your Marx didn't know the difference, although he
is said to have married well, but _bourgeois_ for centuries in Europe
had meant middle-class. Just that and nothing more. Marx had no right to
pervert an honest historic old word into something so different and so
"To Marx all capitalists were in the same class. I suppose what you mean is
that you society folks call yourselves aristocrats, even when you have less
capital than some of them that can't get in."
"Sure thing. Take it from me."
He gazed at her astounded, and once more had recourse to his rather heavy
"Even when they use slang."
"Oh, we're never afraid to--like lots of the middle-class--bourgeois. Too
sure of ourselves to care a hang what any one thinks of us."
Alexina came hastily to the rescue, for a dull glow was kindling in Mr.
Kirkpatrick's small sharp eyes. She didn't mind baiting him a little, but
as he was in a way her guest he must be protected from the naughtiness of
Aileen and the insolence of Sibyl Bascom, who had taken a cigarette from a
gold bejeweled case that dangled from her wrist and was asking him for a
light. He gave her measure for measure, for he lifted his heavy boot and
struck a match on the sole.
"You must not be too hard on us, Mr. Kirkpatrick." Alexina upreared and
leaned against the high back of her chair with a sweet and gracious
dignity, "We are really a pack of ignoramuses, full of prejudices, which,
however, we would get rid of if we knew how. We are hoping everything from
"Do _you_ smoke?"
"No, I don't happen to like the taste of tobacco, but I quite approve of my
friends smoking--unless they smoke their nerves out by the roots, as Miss
Lawton does. Don't give her a light. But I'm sure you smoke. I'll get you a
She pinched Aileen, glared at Sibyl, and left the room.
Mortimer was smoking furiously, trying to concentrate his mind on the
"Give me a cigar, Morty dear."
"A cigar? What for?"
"It would be too mean of those girls to smoke unless Mr. Kirkpatrick did
too, and I am sure we couldn't stand his tobacco. Even a whiff of bad
tobacco makes me feel quite ill."
"I'll be hanged if I give my cigars to that bounder. The kitchen is the
place for him."
"But not for us. And our minds are quite made up, you know. We are going
to study with him just to find out what these strange animals called
socialists are like. He is queer enough, to begin, with. And the knowledge
may prove useful one of these days....If you won't give me one I'll send
Mortimer handed over one of his choice cigars with ill grace, and Alexina
returned to the library. Aileen was informing Mr. Kirkpatrick how intensely
she disliked Marx's beard, not only as she had seen it in a photograph, but
as she had smelt it in Spargo's too vivid description.
He rose awkwardly as she entered, but he rose. She handed him the cigar and
struck a match and held it to one end while he drew at the other. Their
faces were close and she gave him a smile of warm and spontaneous
Thought Mr. Kirkpatrick: "Oh, Lord, she's got me. I'd better make tracks
out of here. If she was a vamp like that Bascom woman she wouldn't get me
one little bit. Plenty of them where I come from. But she's plain goddess
with eyes like headlights on an engine."
Perturbed as he was, however, he resumed his seat and drew appreciatively
at the finest cigar that had ever come his way. It had the opportune effect
of causing his class-hatred to flame afresh. No fear that he would be made
soft by teaching in the homes of these pampered cats. For the moment he
hated Alexina, seated in a carved high-back Italian chair like a young
queen on a throne.
"Well," he growled. "Let's get to business. I've brought Spargo. Marx is
too much for me. He's terrible dull and involved. He was so taken up with
his subject, I guess, that he forgot to learn how to write about it so's
people without much time and education could understand without getting a
pain in their beans. Of course I've heard him expounded many times from the
platform, but there must have been about fifty Marxes, for I've heard--or
read--just about that many expounders of him and no two agree so's you'd
notice it. That, to my mind, is the only stumbling block for socialism
--that we have a prophet who's so hard to understand.
"So, I've settled on Spargo. He has the name of being about the best
student of Marx and of socialism generally--it's split up quite a bit--and
he's easy reading. I fetched him along."
He produced "Socialism" from his hat and hesitated. "I don't know noth--a
thing about teaching."
"Oh, don't let that worry you," drawled Sibyl Bascom in her low voluptuous
voice and transfixing him with narrow swimming eyes; then as he refused to
be overcome, she continued more humanly: "We've been to lots of classes,
you know. There are all sorts of methods. Suppose one of us reads the first
chapter aloud and then you expound. That is, we'll ask you questions."
"That's fine," said Mr. Kirkpatrick with immense relief. "Fire away."
And Alexina, who always read prefaces and introductions last, began with
"Robert Owen and the Utopian Spirit."
Mr. Kirkpatrick realized his ambition to see with his own sharp puncturing
little eyes (Aileen said they reminded her of a sewing-machine needle
playing staccato) several of the most flagrant examples of capitalistic
extravagance where parasitic femalehood idled away their useless lives
and servitors battened. In other words the extremely comfortable or the
shamelessly luxurious homes built for the most part by still active
business men whose first real period of rest would be in a small stone
residence in a certain silent city Down the Peninsula.
Several were already occupied by their widows. In a climate where a man can
work three hundred and sixty-five days of the year the temptation to do so
is strong, and not conducive to longevity.
The Ferdinand Thorntons, Trennahans, Hofers and others who had lost their
city homes on Nob Hill had not rebuilt, but lived the year round in their
country houses at Burlingame, San Mateo, Alta, Menlo Park, Atherton, or
"across the Bay," using the hotels when they came to town for dances, but
motoring home after the theater.
Fortunately the finest and all of the newest mansions had been built in the
Western Addition and escaped the fire. Sibyl Bascom's father-in-law had
erected, shortly before his death, a large square granite palace more or
less in the Italian style, and as his widow preferred to live in Santa
Barbara, Frank Bascom had taken it over for himself and his bride.
Olive had carried her millions to France and found her marquis. (As he
was wealthy himself they contributed little to the current gossip of San
Janet Maynard lived with her mother, another widow of unrestricted means,
in a large low Spanish house with a patio, built by a famous local
architect with such success that Rex Roberts when he married Polly Luning,
had bought the nearest vacant lot and ordered a romantic mansion as nearly
like that of his wife's intimate friend as possible. He would live in it as
soon as the idiosyncrasies of The Architect and Labor would permit,
Mrs. Clement Hunter had another pale gray stone palace, supported in front
by noble pillars and commanding a superb view of the Bay, the Golden Gate,
and Mount Tamalpais.
Aileen and her father lived in an old wooden house with a modern facade of
stucco, and surrounded by a garden filled with somewhat blighted
geraniums, fuchsias, sweet alicias, heliotrope, mignonette, and other
nineteenth-century posies beloved of Mrs. Lawton in her romantic and
Sibyl and Alice Thorndyke's father had left his girls a square bow-windowed
mansard-roofed double house, built in eighteen-seventy-eight, and
unreclaimed. With it went a moderate income, and Alice lived on under the
ugly old roof chaperoned by an aunt, who had been chosen from a liberal
assortment of relatives because she was almost deaf, quite myopic, and so
terrified of draughts that her absence when convenient could always be
All of these young women belonged to Alexina's personal set, and joined the
class in socialism, as they joined anything the stronger spirits among
them suggested; and they attended as regularly as could be expected of
"parasites" who were mainly interested in society, dress, poker, and some
absorbing creature of the other sex.
Mr. Kirkpatrick hated them all with the exception of Alexina, Aileen, Mrs.
Price Ruyler, the half-French wife of a New Yorker, recently adopted by
California, and Mrs. Hunter, who had joined out of curiosity, having read a
certain amount of socialism, but never met a socialist.
She confided to Mrs. Thornton that she was not acutely anxious to meet
another, and Mrs. Thornton replied tartly:
"What do you want to belong to such a class for? It's rank hyprocrisy to
pretend interest in a question we all hate the very name of, and to give
the creature money that he no doubt turns over to the 'cause' with his
tongue in his cheek. I'd never give one of them the satisfaction of knowing
that I recognized his existence."
Said Maria Abbott firmly: "Exactly. We should ignore them, just as we
ignore envious and spiteful and ill-bred outsiders of any sort."
"But we may not be able to ignore them," said Mrs. Hunter. "Their
organization is the best of any party even if their numbers are not
overwhelming. If they are content to advance slowly and by purely political
methods there is no knowing who will own this or any government fifty years
hence. For my part I'd rather they all turn raging anarchists; then we
could turn machine guns on them and clean 'em out. I hate them, for I was
too long getting where I am now, and I want to stay. But I don't make the
mistake of ignoring them, and I rather like having a squint at them at
close quarters. Kirkpatrick has taken us to several socialist meetings...we
borrow the servants' coats and mutilate our oldest hats....Socialism seems
to me rather more endurable than the socialists, and of these Kirkpatrick
is about the sanest I have heard. They rant and froth, contradict
themselves and one another, wander from the point and never get
anywhere....That would give me hope if it were not for the fact that poor
California is a magnet for the cranks of every fad as well as for the
riff-raff and derelicts....My other hope is that even they--that is to say
the least unbalanced of them--will come in time to realize that socialism
is economically unsound--"
"Do you mean to say," cried Mrs. Abbott, "that Alexina has gone to
"Rather. She's very keen--"
"Believes in it?"
"Rather not. But she is naturally thorough--has a really extraordinary
tendency, for a San Franciscan of her sex and status, to finish anything
she has begun. Sometimes when she is arguing with Kirkpatrick she sticks
out that chin of hers so far that you notice how square it is. She has him
pretty well tamed though. When he is ready to eat the rest of us alive she
can smooth him down like a regular lion tamer."
"Well, you're nothing but a lot of parlor socialists," said Mrs. Thornton
disgustedly. "And just as ridiculous as any other hybrids. But I'm relieved
that it hasn't spoiled your taste for the simpler pleasures of life. Maria,
as you don't play poker we'll have a game of bridge, Ladie, ring for
cocktails, will you--or would you rather have a gin fizz? Don't look so
horrified, Maria. We're better than socialists, anyhow; if they did win
out you'd have farther to fall than we, for you're a moss-backed old
conservative who hates change of any sort, while we not only love change of
all sorts but are regular anarchists: do as we please and snap our fingers
at the world. Here we are."
The three were in Mrs. Thornton's Moorish palace half way between San Mateo
and Burlingame, a situation that symbolized the connecting bridge between
the old and new order for Mrs. Abbott. Mrs. Thornton was a lineal
descendant of the Rincon Hill of the sixties and had made her debut with
Maria Groome in the eighties. But she had married an immoderately rich man
and had a barbaric taste for splendor that formed the proper setting for
her own somewhat barbaric beauty, and imperious temper. Her dark and
splendid beauty was waning, for in the matter of giving aid to nature with
secrecy or with art she was faithful to the old tradition. But she was
always an imposing figure and as close to being the first power in San
Francisco society as that happy-go-lucky independent class would ever
Kirkpatrick liked Mrs. Hunter, regarding her as "an honest plain-spoken
dame without any frills." This estimate applied not only to her temperament
but to her costumes. He admired her severe tailored suits (although he
sensed their cost) and her smart, plain, hard, little hats.
The "frills and furbelows" of the younger "spenders" irritated the group of
nerves appropriated by his class-consciousness almost beyond endurance; but
he managed to stand it by reminding himself that irritation of all such was
a healthy sign and vastly preferable to insidious tolerance.
Mrs. Hunter was also as regular in her attendance as Mrs. Dwight, Miss
Lawton and Mrs. Price Ruyler, and asked fairly intelligent questions. The
others floated in and out, and one by one dropped from the class, until
toward the middle of the second winter none remained but Alexina, Aileen,
Mrs. Hunter and Helene Ruyler, who, like Aileen, found in the "frantic
interest" of the materialistic creed which antagonized every instinct in
them, a distraction from the excessive gambling which had threatened to
wreck their nerves, purses, and peace of mind. They confided this artlessly
to Mr. Kirkpatrick, who replied dryly that they were the best argument he
had in stock.
But if the major part of his fashionable class deserted him in due course
he had meanwhile seen the inside of their homes; and in each case, Alexina,
who divined his interest, arranged to have him shown over the house from
the kitchens and pantries straight up to the servants' quarters.
These he found unexpectedly comfortable and complete. In fact, they were so
much more modern and adorned than the little cottage in the Mission where
he lived with his mother that he longed for the immediate installation of a
system that would teach these workers what real work was. What enraged him
further was their "airs." They too obviously looked upon him as an alien
intruder, whereas their mistresses, until socialism bored them, were, for
the most part, as charmingly courteous as his one reliable friend, Mrs.
During the first winter and spring while his pupils were still fairly
regular in their attendance, he was both incensed and grimly amused by
their various idiosyncrasies. He soon became accustomed to their vanity
boxes and their public application of powder and lip stick, the frank
crossing of their knees that exhibited more diaphanous silk than he had
ever seen in his life before, the polite excitement that any new article
of attire worn by one seemed to induce in all, the wicked but on the whole
good-natured baiting of Aileen Lawton and Polly Roberts, the alternate
insolence and Circean glances of Mrs. Bascom, who amused herself
"practicing on him," and the constant smoking of most of them.
But what he could neither understand nor accept was their attitude toward
one another. They would all rush at the hostess of the day as they entered,
or at late comers, with the excited enthusiasm of loved and loving
intimates who had not met for months; and Kirkpatrick, who missed nothing,
knew that they met once a day if not oftener.
In spite of their intimacy their warm enraptured greetings carried a patent
measure of admiration and even respect. It was always at least fifteen
minutes before they would settle down for "work" and meanwhile they
chattered about their common interests, but always with the air of relating
long-delayed information and a frank desire to give of their best. He could
have understood "gush," and sentimentalism, but this attitude of which he
had neither heard nor read bothered him until one day he had a sudden,
flash of enlightenment.
"Is it class-consciousness?"
He asked the question of Gora, who dropped in upon a class at Alexina's or
Aileen's sometimes on a free afternoon, and with whom he was walking down
to the trolley car.
"Something like that. Caste they would call it if they thought about it at
all, which to do them justice they don't....It used to be the fashion
in San Francisco for everybody to 'knock' everybody else. Then came a
revulsion and everybody began to praise and boost. You see it in all
circles, but the way it has taken that crowd is to show their intense
loyalty to one another by a constant reminder of it in manner, and in
refraining from criticism of one another, no matter how much they may
gossip about others outside of their particular set. Once, just to try my
sister-in-law, I told her that in my nursing I had stumbled across evidence
of an illicit love affair going on between one of her friends and a married
man, the husband of my patient. My sister became so remote that I had the
impression for a few moments that she really wasn't there. Once it would
have infuriated me, but I have improved my sense of humor and developed my
philosophy, so I merely turned the conversation, as she wouldn't speak at
all. She had quite withdrawn--still further into the sacred preserves, I
"They are not only loyal but really seem to have the most exalted
admiration for one another because they are all of the same heaven-born
stock....That is not all, however. The truth of the matter is that they get
so bored out here they would go frantic if they did not cultivate as many
kinds of excitement and indigenous admirations as their wits are equal to.
When they can, they vary the monotony of life with summers in Europe and
winters in New York--or Santa Barbara, where they meet many interesting
people from the East or England; but some of them won't leave their busy
husbands or the husbands won't be left; or parents are not amenable; so
they try to create an atmosphere of high spirits and sheer delight in youth
and one another, and the result is almost a work of art. I rather respect
them, but I envy them a good deal less than before I knew them so well."
"Oh, you envied them? They should envy you."
"Well, they don't! Yes, I envied them because it is my natural right to be
one of them and fate slammed the door before I was born. It embittered my
first youth, and it might have become an obsession after my brother married
into society if I had not found the right kind of work. That and the boring
Sundays I've spent at Rincona, and the experiences I have had with that
young set, who are always at Mrs. Dwight's more or less; besides a profound
satisfaction in accomplishing literary work that not one of them could do
to save their lives--all this has routed a good deal of my old bitterness
of spirit. I am not sorry that I had it and indulged it, however.
Discontent and resentment put spurs on the soul. Anything is better than
"It's made you different enough from these others, all right. Even
from Mrs. Dwight, who is different herself....I'd rather you'd stayed
discontented. The whole scheme's all wrong and you know it. You've suffered
from it. You should be the last to tolerate it. When they're jabbering away
about their ninny affairs they pay as little attention to you as they do to
me. They forget our existence. We don't belong, as they say. There isn't,
one of them except Mrs. Dwight that I wouldn't give my eye teeth to see
hanging out the wash or running a machine in a factory."'
Gora turned to him with a smile. At this time she was as nearly happy as
was possible for that insurgent too aspiring spirit.
"Nevertheless, they've made you over in a way--Oh, don't flame! I don't
mean your principles...other ways that won't hurt you in the least. You
cut your hair differently. You wear better shoes. You have your clothes
pressed--the suit you wear up here anyhow. You've reformed your speech
somewhat, and you know a good deal more about many things than you did
a few months ago. I am expecting any day to see you wearing a 'boiled'
"Oh, no, not that! It'd never do. It's true enough I got to feeling
self-conscious about my rough clothes and boots, especially after I met
that dude brother of yours one day in the hall and he gave me a once-over
that made me feel like a tramp."
"Oh!...But he was snubbed himself not so very long ago, and I suppose
it gives him a certain pleasure to snub some one else, I am ashamed of
him....But tell me, don't you like them rather better than you expected?
Find them rather a better sort? You must see that there is practically no
leisure class as far as the men are concerned--"
"They have time enough to go chicken chasing--"
"Well, aside from that? At least they do work. And the younger women? You
knew before that they were frivolous because they had too much money and
too few responsibilities. Many of the older women have a serious and useful
side, even if they do waste an unholy amount of time at cards."
"Well, if you ask me, their manners, when they remember to use 'em, are
better than I expected. Only that Miss Thorndyke is cold and haughty, but
perhaps that's because she's poor (for her), or is covering up something,
or is just plain stupid....Mrs. Dwight's manners are always perfect. She's
my idea of a lady--just! And in the new system there'll be a long sight
more ladies than is possible now, only no aristocrats....Yes, they're
decent enough considering they're rotten poisoned by money and thinkin'
themselves better'n the mass; and I like their affection for one another.
But they could be all that in the socialist state and more too. They'd have
to cut out drink and gambling, and a few other diversions some of 'em'll
drift into, if one or two of 'em haven't already--just through being bored
"Do you honestly think socialism means universal virtue?"
"No, I don't. I'm no such greenhorn; though there's some that does, or
pretends to....But I mean there'd be no _drifting_ into vice like there
is now, no indulgence of any old weakness because temptation was always
following them about or just round the corner. That's the trouble
now....But in the most perfect state some would be watching out for their
chance, just because the old Adam was too strong in spite of the fact that
all the old reminders had disappeared."
"More likely they'd all murder one another because they were some ten
thousand times more bored than that poor little group whose brains you are
"I don't like to hear you talk like that, Miss Gora. You ought to give
that pen of yours to socialism. There would be all the revenge you could
want--and it's what you're entitled to. Then I could call you Comrade
"Call me Comarade by all means if it hurts you to say Miss to a fellow
worker....You admit then that envy of a society you were not born into and
which refuses to acknowledge you as an equal, is the secret of your desire
to pull it down?"
"Partly that." he admitted cooly. "Not that I'd change places with any of
those fat millionaires I see shuffling down the steps of the Pacific-Union
Club--although I'll admit to you what I wouldn't to these young devils in
my class, that I know some socialists who would. I hate the sight of 'em.
But I want to do away with class-rights and class-distinctions, not only
because I just naturally have no use for them but because I want to put an
end to the misery of the world."
"You mean the material misery. What would you do with the other seven
hundred different varieties?"
"Well....I guess each case would have to take care of itself. Perhaps we'd
get round to it after a while. Get power and class-envy out of the world,
and some genius, like as not, would invent a post-graduate course of
colleges for human nature. All things are possible."
"You are an optimist! Here's our car. Come home with me and share the
supper that I pay for with the tainted money of a plutocrat. Only we
haven't any real plutocrats in San Francisco. Only modest millionaires.
"Yes." said Mr. Kirkpatrick. "And thank you kindly." He even smiled, for he
was developing a latent heavily overlain seed of humor; inherited from the
full bay tree that had flourished in his grandfather, born in County Clare,
where men sometimes indulged in rebellion but did not take themselves too
That winter and the following seasons for the next few years passed very
rapidly for Alexina. Besides her classes and the constant companionship of
her friends (to say nothing of the excitement of helping one or two of them
out of not infrequent scrapes), she had for a time the absorbing interest
of refurnishing the best part of her house.
The square lower hall which had been scantily furnished with the
grandfather's clock, a hat-rack, and a settee, and whose walls were covered
with "marble paper," was painted, walls and wood, a deep ivory white, and
refurnished with light wicker furniture, palms, and growing plants. The
hat-rack was abolished, and the small library on the left of the entrance
turned into a men's dressing-room. The folding doors were removed from the
great double parlors, the "body brussels" replaced by hardwood floors, the
walls tinted a pale gray as a background for the really valuable pictures
(including the proud and gracious and beautiful Alexina Ballinger, dust
long since in Lone Mountain), and the splendid pieces of Italian furniture
which had always seemed to sulk and bulge against the dull brown walls.
The rep and walnut sets were sent to the auction room and replaced by
comfortable chairs and sofas whose colors varied, but harmonized not only
with one another but with the rugs that Alexina under Gora's direction had
bought at auction. In fact she bought many of her new pieces at auction and
with Aileen found it vastly exciting to pore over the advertisements and
then go down to the crowded rooms and bid.
The billiard room behind the former library she left as it was. Her
mother's large bedroom upstairs she turned into a library with bookcases to
the ceiling on three sides, and one of the carved oaken tables against an
expanse of Pompeiian red relieved by one painting (a wedding gift from
Judge Lawton, who believed in patronizing local art) that had despoiled a
desert of its gorgeous yellow sunrise.
The carpet and curtains were red without pattern. The coal grate had been
removed and a fireplace built for logs. It was to be her own den for long
rainy winter afternoons, or the cold and foggy days of summer when she
remained in the city.
The dining-room was also given a hardwood floor and a Japanese red and gold
wall paper as a compliment to her martial ancestors; but as the sideboards
were built into the wails end could be replaced only at great cost;
they remained as a brooding reminder of the solid sixties, and no doubt
exchanged resentful reminiscences at night with the chairs which had been
As a matter of course modern bathtubs were installed and gas replaced by
All this made a "hole" in Alexina's bonds, the wedding-present of her
brothers, but Mortimer offered no objection, knowing as he did that to
achieve his ambition of being master of a house to which fashionable people
would come as a matter of course the outlay was imperative. Moreover,
entertaining at home would be far cheaper for him than at the restaurants.
He was doing fairly well at this time, for he had learned what commodities
the retail men were likely to buy of a firm as small as his, and he had got
into touch with one or two foreign markets not monopolized by the older
houses. Moreover, he had been speculating a little in the new Nevada mines,
and successfully. He presented Alexina with a Victrola which included the
music for all the new dances, and a long coat of baby lamb lined with her
favorite periwinkle blue. To his sister he returned a thousand dollars of
Alexina knew nothing of these speculations and felt that her original faith
in him was justified. He did not offer even yet to pay all the monthly
expenses of the house, explaining casually that the greater part of his
profits went back into the business; but he handed over his share promptly,
and such fleeting doubts and anxieties as may once have visited his still
inexperienced wife faded and finally disappeared.
They began to entertain a little during the second winter, Mrs. Groome
having been dead nearly two years. The new floor of the large drawing-room
had been laid for dancing, and their friends formed a habit, when there was
"nothing on" elsewhere, of telephoning and announcing they were coming up
to take a whirl. This led to more telephoning, and some twenty couples
would dance in the long-silent old house at least once and often three
times a week.
The new order delighted James, who felt young again, and his hastily
improvised suppers were models of unpretentious succulence. There were
always sherry and whiskey in the handsome old decanters on the sideboards;
and, at the equally perfect little dinners, for a time, two bottles of
Alexander Groome's favorite brand of champagne (which he had remembered
with satisfaction on his deathbed that he had not outlived) were brought up
from the cellar by the beaming James.
When, almost with tears, he informed his mistress' husband that the last
bottle had been served Mortimer could do no less than order up a case. He
had not the courage either to give his guests the excellent native claret
where they had formerly enjoyed imported champagne or to appear a "piker"
in the eyes of the far from democratic family butler.
He consoled himself with the reflection that it was "good business." Nearly
all the young men, married or otherwise, that came to his house (Alexina
subtly encouraged him to call it his house) were of more or less importance
or standing in the world of business and finance (two were lawyers in their
first flight, Bascom Luning and Jimmie Thorne), and the more prosperous he
appeared to be (they knew to a dollar the extent of Alexina's income) the
more apt would business be to flow his way, the less likely they would be
to suspect him of playing the stock market. At all events it enhanced his
standing and gave him intense pleasure.
Moreover, as time passed it became evident to his sensitive ego that he
was no longer looked upon as an outsider. He was accepted as a matter
of course. He was one of them. Neither men nor women (not even Aileen)
continued to ask themselves whether they liked him or not. He was there and
to stay and that was the end of it. They had always liked his manners; he
made a charming host, and, as ever, he danced like "a god with wings on his
Quite naturally in due course some one offered to put him up at the most
exclusive and the most expensive club west of New York, a club to which
every Californian with any pretence to fashion or importance belonged as a
matter of course. Old men whose names had once been potent in the great
banks or firms of the valleys below, sat and gazed with sad and rheumy eyes
down upon the new city in which there was barely a familiar landmark to
remind them of their youth or the years of their power and their pride.
They sat there all day long, day after day; and tourists went away with the
impression that the imposing brown stone mansion on the sacred crest of Nob
Mill was a sumptuously endowed retreat for the incurably aged.
But the majority of its members were very much alive and still well-padded;
and, far from being on a pale diet, were deeply appreciative of the famous
culinary resources of the chef, and showed it.
When the offer was made to Mortimer he accepted with a bright: "Oh, thanks,
old chap. I'd like it immensely," But when, on the first day of his
membership, he stood in one of the front windows and gazed out at the ruins
opposite--the Pacific Union Club and the Fairmont Hotel were still two
oases in the rubbled waste of Nob Hill--he felt so exultant and so happy
that he dared not open his lips lest he betray himself. He could mount no
higher socially. All that he had to strive for now was his million--or
millions. When he had half a million he would build a house at Burlingame
that could be enlarged from time to time.
Only with the "Rincona crowd" he had made no headway. Maria did not
hesitate to comment on the extravagance of doing the house over, the
membership at the club with all it entailed, Alexina's little electric
car, and above all the constant entertaining. A moderate amount was due
Alexina's position; but open house--nothing made money fly so quickly.
Prices were getting higher every day (there came a time, in the wake of the
great war, when she looked back with sad amazement at the morning of her
discontent) and rich people were getting richer while poor people like
themselves (she meant what Alexina still called the A. A.) were growing
Tom Abbott had not put Mortimer up at the club. He happened to know that
although his brother-in-law was doing fairly well he was not making a
fortune, and suspected that he dabbled in stocks. But he said nothing of
this to his wife, and as he knew that Alexina had long since revoked her
power of attorney (she had given him to understand that this was done at
Mortimer's suggestion) he believed that her money at least was safe.
Alexina, although she would have found it impossible, even if she had
so desired, to relapse into the incognitance of the years preceding her
mother's death, had nevertheless locked and sealed and cellared her ivory
tower, those depths of her nature where, she suspected, her true ego dwelt.
It was an ego she had forfeited the right to indulge, nor had she at this
time any desire to know more of herself than she did. Life after all was
very pleasant; she managed to fill it with many little and even a
few absorbing interests; and once she spent a month at Santa Barbara
chaperoning Janet Maynard, where her duties sat lightly upon her and she
would have responded naturally if addressed as Miss Groome, so completely
did Mortimer fade into the background. In the summer of nineteen-thirteen
Judge Lawton and Aileen overcame all protests and took her with them to
Europe, where, after a month in Paris, she visited Olive de Morsigny in her
renaissance chateau on the Loire. The memory of Gathbroke revisited her
and she half-wished the Judge would go to England, but the climate did not
agree with him, and after a few more enchanted weeks, in Italy and Spain,
she returned to Mortimer, who was distinctly duller than ever.
But she had reconciled herself long since to the dullness of her
life-partner; he could not help it and she had willfully married him in the
face of as imposing a phalanx of family and friendly opposition as ever
attempted to stand between a girl and her fate.
Nevertheless, immediately after her return from Santa Barbara in the late
autumn of nineteen-eleven, and wholly without, analysis or pondering, she
made a significant change in the order of her life. Mortimer, who had,
during her absence, occupied a large room at the back of the house visited
by the afternoon sun, found himself invited to retain it....They must avoid
the least possibility of a family until they were better off....She had
been hearing the subject discussed...the most economical baby cost fifty
dollars a month. With a permanent trained nurse, and of course they would
have one, the cost would easily be doubled...thousands were required for
the proper education of a child...even if she had girls she should wish
them to go to college; she was not half educated herself...and boys, with
their extravagances, their debts, they cost a mint; it was better for
children to be born outright in the humbler classes than to be born into a
rich set without riches themselves...it all put her in a panic every time
she thought of it....Morty was so sensible and had such a high sense of
responsibility, of course he understood...children, even when small, would
hamper him fearfully, especially as he had not even begun to make his
million....As for herself she would be more economical than ever and help
him like the good pal she was.
Mortimer had the sensation of being trussed up with invisible but
inflexible silken thongs. His thoughts need not be recorded.
Alexina refurnished her bedroom in her favorite periwinkle blue; a low
graceful day-bed with a screen before the stationary washstand helped to
create the atmosphere of a boudoir. It had an intensely personal atmosphere
in which man, more particularly a lawful husband, had no place.
When Alexina stood on the threshold and surveyed this room, chaste, cool,
proud, and exquisitely lovely, she lifted her hand and blew off a kiss, out
of the window, wafting away the memory of the room as it had been. She
had remarkable powers of obliteration, a sort of River of Lethe among the
backwaters of her mind, where she held below the surface all she wished to
forget until it ceased to struggle. She never again gave a thought to
her early relationship with her husband; not even to the indifference
or distaste which had followed so quickly upon her curiosity and her
determination to feel romantic at all costs.
Subtly she felt she was happier than she had ever been even in those first
weeks, when she had barred the gates of her fool's paradise behind her; she
felt as free and happy as the birds skimming over the beds of periwinkle
below her window, and (miraculously finding her second youth quite as
productive as her first) took no pains to conceive of anything better. She
looked neither forward nor back, and all was well.
She even flirted a little, that being the fashion, and, having had enough
of business men, encouraged the devotions of Bascom Luning and Jimmie
Thorne. She saw them when they chose to call in the daytime, and regaled
the glowering Mortimer at the dinner table with scraps of their sapience.
Mortimer had resigned himself long since to the sacrifice of several of his
bourgeois ambitions, among them to be master in his own house; but not an
iota of his convictions. Although it would not have occurred to him to
distrust his wife if she had chosen to sit up all night with a man, he made
frozen comments upon the impropriety of a woman having men in the house
when her husband was not there, sitting out dances with men, taking long
tramps through Marin County with three men and no one for chaperon but
Alice Thorndyke and Janet Maynard--shocking flirts--whole Sundays--with
lunch heaven knew where, and himself, who hated tramping, not included.
But these grim remonstrances were met in so gay a spirit of badinage that
he felt ridiculous, particularly as no powers of badinage or of repartee
had been included in his own mental equipment; and he usually relapsed into
a polite and bored silence.
He never had had much to say at the dinner table when they were alone, and,
as time went on, his comments on the day were exhausted before the soup had
given place to the entree, and Alexina fell into the habit of bringing her
Italian text-book to the table--the study of Italian just then being the
rage in her set--and whatever interesting book she had on hand. Mortimer
made no protest. His brain was fagged at night. It was a relief not to
be expected to talk when they dined alone; those long silences had been
oppresive even to him; he rather welcomed the books.
This complete new freedom, and personal privacy, entailed in time a result
which Alexina would have been the last to anticipate even if she had
disposed of her husband by death or divorce.
Owing to the thoroughness of her mental methods she was psychologically
free, the legal tie mattered as little as if Mortimer had been transposed
by some beneficent law to the status of a brother. The will when it is
strong enough can control acts, and, when favored by bias, thought; but it
has no command whatever over the sub-consciousness, and in that mysterious
region are the subtle inheritances of mind and character, the springs and
the direction, of all functional life; a fate with a thousand threads on
her wheel, filaments from the souls and the bodies, the minds and the
acts, of every ancestor straight back to that vast impersonal ocean where,
unthinkable millions of years ago proemial life awaited the call of the
This aged untiring fate at the wheel battles unceasingly with the conscious
mind above, for age is prone to live by law and rote. These fates, the
oldest daughters of the Earth-Mother, Nature, know nothing of morals or
manners, assume that men and women are as naive in their normality as the
denizens of forest and field. And so they are while children.
The eternal pull between civilizing Mind (Oh, centuries yet from being
civilized!) and the memoried but obstinate old lady at the wheel (who
laughs when a man of powerful will and too active mind "wills" sleep;
forcing him finally to choose between the horrors of insomnia, the
insidious tyranny of drugs, and the doubtful and wearisome alternative of
psychotherapeutics)--this pull, automatic in people of low estate, becomes
bitter and often appalling where the mind is highly developed and attuned
besides to the codes and customs of the best that civilization has so far
The most vital of all these functions, for without it Mother Earth would be
like an ant hill without ants, and all these ancient norms of daughters
as homeless as the rest of the fates, is what man in a spirit of social
compromise has labeled an instinct--the sex-instinct. It is no more
an instinct than recurring sleep, lymphatic action, hunger, thirst,
alimentation. It is a primal function for which Mind, wisely foreseeing the
consequences of too much Nature, long since created laws both civil and
social to curb. There are many impulses, Inherited, from ten thousand
ancestors and constantly jogged by Earth's busy agent, human nature, that
may logically be called instincts (their roots lying in the ancient social
groups and their struggle to exist) but not a function that governs the
law of reproduction, as appetite governs the law of renewing the vital
necessities of the body.
In the Latin races the conscious war between the brain above and the
sub-ego below, with the latter's constant reminders that mind is a mere
excrescence, often warped or ill-directed, at the apex of the perfect body,
is almost negligible. Even, when moral their lack of reticence, their
practical logic, their habit of facing every fact pertaining to life,
psychical and physical, as squarely as they face a simple question of
hunger and thirst, above all their almost complete lack of that modern,
development, called romance, which has given birth to a peculiar form of
personal imagination, too often without foundation or logic--all these
preclude that most active of all mental aids to the matter of fact needs of
But it is far otherwise with the English-speaking races--loosely called
Anglo-Saxon, They are powerfully sexed; their feelings and sentiments go
deeper than is possible to those of more ebullient temperament but fatal
clarity of vision; refinement of mind and habit and manner is perhaps the
most precious of their achievements, and they have established a code which
not only demands rectitude of act but suppression of thought and desire
where there is no lawful outlet.
Nothing, possibly, has more infuriated the old lady at the methodically
performing wheel than this. She takes her revenge and squirts poison into
the physical structure of the brain, obscures the soul with dark and
brooding clouds, and subtly reduces the blood system to such a state that
any germ is welcome.
Once more Mind uses its highest faculties and outwits her, having no
intention that civilization shall drop below the plane to which it has been
raised through long laborious centuries of time. Life becomes more diverse,
more complex. The middle classes work harder to live; they have little
leisure for thoughts, for introspection. Punishment is dire....Those that
have leisure and yet not enough to command the more brilliant and special
forms of distraction are supplied with public libraries, gymnasiums, free
medical advice regarding the laws of hygiene in places where they cannot
fail to see it, new forms of cheap amusement; they are subtly encouraged to
take up useful work or study; or there are increasing pressures which may
force even this semi-leisure class to work for luxuries if not for bread.
Tens of thousands of women are led into the passionate diversions of club
life. For them, too, politics with its fierce championships and hatreds
and frictions; the necessity of concentration of thought on the impersonal
plane if only in the matter of getting the best of rivals within the fold;
and if hair flies souls are saved.
Over the Oldest Profession Mind still scratches its head in vain. It is
ever hopeful, and hamstrings a sovereign patron, like alcohol, now and
again; but the lady at the wheel smiles, for here, in addition to the
unquenchable maternal instinct, the ignorance of the poor, and the glamour
that the men of certain races have learned to give to love, she has her
Aside from the women of commerce there are, of course, many secret
rebels--now and then only does one make her exit from society through the
courts. The vast majority of Anglo-Saxons in whatever clime or capital,
suppress their "unrefined" appetites or vagrant fancies--which are
vibrations from the wheel; sometimes hard jerks when the presiding genius
is more than commonly out of patience--and rise to serene heights or grow
morbid and irritable according to the strength or the meagerness of their
equipment; or the nature of their resources. A cultivated resource is a
persistent fiction that life is as it ought to be, not as it is, and it
is no plan of theirs to read books or witness plays that might carve and
populate a new groove in their brains.
Let no one imagine that this class will become more "enlightened,"
"broader," as time goes on. Not for a century at least. Mind has made too
great a success of this product; she has practically achieved a complete
triumph over the lady at the wheel. It is this class that has made
civilization progress, the solid thing it is to date. The excrescences, the
deserters from the normal, scintillating or subtle, may be tolerated for
the spice they give to life but they will never rule,
Possibly they do not mind. Life Is made up of compromises and
American women in youth, of the visibly reputable world, may be freely
divided into two classes, the oversexed and those that seem cold to
themselves and others until they are well into the period of their second
youth--between twenty-four and thirty; and a not inconsiderable number are
so and permanently. In the first case they either precipitate themselves
into matrimony or have one or more intrigues until they find the man they
wish to marry, when they settle down and make excellent wives. The others,
if they are imaginative and high-minded, fall in love romantically and
marry far too soon; or they capitalize their youth or beauty and marry to
the best advantage; or they elect to live a life of serene spinsterhood
like Alexina's Aunt Clara, and bring up the family children. A not
inconsiderable number take their fling late.
When the American girl of the super-refined class, and whose baleful norm
in the crypt was asleep at the wheel in her first blind youth, finds
herself disappointed in the most intimate partnership that exists, the
complaisance, voluntary at the beginning, drifts into habit, more and more
grimly endured. Some have the moral courage to put an end to it as they
would to any false situation, but if individuals were not rare in this
world we should have chaos, not a civilization of sorts which is a pleasant
place to plant the feet, however high into the clouds the head may poke its
It is natural that with such women during the period of endurance all love
should seem distasteful, and the mind dwell upon any other subject. But
remove the cause of sex-inertia and there is likely to be the stir and
awakening of spring after a long monotonous winter of hard frost and
blanketing snow. Or a homelier simile: remove the cause of chronic
indigestion and the appetite becomes fresh and normal.
San Francisco, commencing in September, has three or four months of perfect
weather. The cold fogs and winds cease to pay their daily visits, the rainy
season awaits the new year. The skies are a deep and cloudless blue, the
air is warm and soft and alluring, never too hot, although the overcoats of
summer are discarded.
The city lies bathed in golden sunlight or the sharp jeweled light of
stars, when the moon is not blazing like a crystal bonfire. Then Mount
Tamalpais and other mountains across the Bay and behind the city take on
a chiseled outline that, particularly at night, makes them look curiously
new, as if but yesterday heaved from the deep, and Nature too busy to
provide them with a background and the soft blurs of time for centuries to
come. This primeval look of bare California mountains on clear nights has
something sinister and menacing in its aspect as if at any moment they
might once more brood alone over the earth.
Alexina returned from abroad early in November and stood one morning
outside her eucalyptus grove, revolving slowly on one heel, schoolgirl
fashion, as she gazed up at the steep densely populated hill that rose from
the street below her own private little hill, and cut off her view of the
hills of Berkeley and the mountains beyond; at the broad crowded valleys
on the south; the range of hills that hid the Pacific Ocean, and included
Mount Calvary with its cross and the symmetrical mass of Twin Peaks; the
bare brown mountains of the north piling above the green sparkling bay with
its wooded and military islands.
Like a good and valiant Californian she was assuring herself that she had
seen nothing like this in Europe, and that she really preferred it to
art galleries and dilapidated old ruins. But as a matter of fact she had
returned to California with dragging feet and was merely staving off the
disheartening moment when her ruthless candor would force her to admit it.
San Francisco was all very well, and in this dazzling light that compact
mass of houses swarming over the city's hills and valleys, with sudden
palms in high gardens and a tree here and there, produced the impression
that all were white with red roofs, and looked not unlike Genoa. But it
seemed quite unromantic and uninspiring to a girl who had just paid her
first brief visit to the old world, an interval, moreover, that had been
without a responsibility, cut her off so completely from her general life
that when variously addressed "Mademoiselle," "Signorina," "Senorita," she
ceased almost at once to feel either surprised or flattered. If she had not
forbidden herself to dream she would still have been Alexina Groome with
a future to sketch with her own adventurous pencil; and to fill in at her
But although she was free in a sense she was not free to live in Europe.
She was a partner with a partner's obligations. To desert Mortimer would
not only be to banish him from Ballinger House to dreary bachelor quarters,
with none of the comforts and little luxuries he intensely loved, but it
would also deprive him of his surest social prop. People had accepted him
and liked him as well as they liked the totally uninteresting of the good
old stock; but many would drift into the habit of not inviting him to
anything but large dances, if his wife were absent. Alexina knew that her
invitations to all important and many small dinners, not avowedly bridge
or poker parties, were as inevitable as crab in season; but there were too
many young men whom girls would infinitely prefer to enliven the monotony
of crab a la poulette, to any married man, particularly one who had as
little to say as poor Morty. She had known debutantes who flatly refused to
dance with married men or even to be introduced to them.
California was her fate. No doubt of that. She might never see Europe
again, for while it was all very well to be a guest once it would be quite
impossible another time. She certainly could not afford it herself and keep
Ballinger House open, even for brief summer visits; as she might if her
home were in New York.
Of course Mortimer might make his million, but then again he might not.
Certainly there were no present signs of it and she had never seen him so
depressed, not even during the panic of nineteen-seven. His eyes were as
lifeless as slate, his voice was flat, although for that matter he was
almost dumb. When at home he sat brooding heavily by the open western
windows of the drawing-room, or moved restlessly about. To all her
questions he replied shortly that the times were bad again, worse than
ever; that he was holding his own, but was tired, tired out. As she had not
been there he had not cared to take a cottage by himself, and had paid few
week-end visits. He had nothing to talk to women about and the men talked
of nothing but the business depression....Alexina had shrugged her
shoulders and concluded that his attitude was a subtle reproach for leaving
him to the dull cares of business while she enjoyed herself in Europe.
She was not in the least sorry for Mortimer. He had been perfectly
comfortable; he had had his friends; she had left him a sum of money which
with the monthly rents from the flats would pay her share in the household
expenses; he could spend his free afternoons at the golf club by the ocean,
and his evenings, when not invited out, at the temple of his idolatry on
Nob Hill. James was a better housekeeper than she was and it was now two
years that Mortimer bad been living the life of a luxurious bachelor at the
back of the house with an always amiable companion at breakfast and dinner.
Alexina, as she stood shading her eyes from the brilliant sunlight and
watching a great liner drift through the Golden Gate, wondered if Morty had
consoled himself, and if his Puritanical conscience were flaying him. She
hoped that he had, for she was quite willing that he should be happy in
his own way, poor thing, so long as he secluded his divagations from the
world--and she could trust him to do that! Now that she had ceased to be
the complaisant bored wife with dull nerves and torpid imagination she
would be the last to condemn him. Human Nature was an ever opening book to
her these days, and she wondered what would happen to herself if any of
several men she liked were capable of making her love him, whipping up a
personal storm in those emotional gulfs which had slowly and inflexibly
intruded themselves upon her consciousness.
She had pondered long and deeply on this subject, particularly in the old
world where bonds seem looser to the mere observer whether they are or not,
and where life looks to the American the quintessence of romance....She
had concluded that the most satisfactory experience that could come to her
would be a mad love affair "in the air" with a man who possessed all the
requirements to induce it, but who would either be the unsuspecting object,
or, reciprocating, would continue to love her with the world between them.
For she shrank from the disillusionments of secret libertinage; she did
not, indeed, believe that love could survive it, although passion might for
a time. Passion was unthinkable to her without love, and when she recalled
the mean and sordid devices to which two of her friends were put to meet
their lovers she felt nothing but disgust for the whole drama of man and
Alexina had been reared on the soundest moral principles of church and
society, to say nothing of the law, but the norm at the wheel has often
laughed in her amiable way at church and society and law when circumstances
have conspired to help her. But against fastidiousness even the blind urge
of the race seldom has availed her; she can only go on sullenly feeding the
fires, heaping on the fuel, hoping grimly for the astrological moment.
Alexina shrugged her shoulders impatiently and went into the house. She
would go down to the bank and clip her coupons. She cultivated assiduously
the practical side of life, making the most of it, delighted when repairs
were needed on her flats, regretting that the greater part of her income
came from ground rents, collected, as ever, by Tom Abbott, and bonds, from
which she still experienced a childish pleasure in cutting the coupons. Her
flats, which were in a humbler part of the western division of the city,
she had never visited, but she received a call every month from the agent,
who brought her the rents and complaints.
She had made a heroic effort to turn herself into a business woman but
the material had been too slender; and she sometimes wished for a large
independent fortune that would tax her powers to the utmost. But she never
even had any surplus to invest. Her wardrobe was no inconsiderable item;
living prices rose steadily; there were repairs both on her own house and
the flats to be anticipated every year, to say nothing of the fiendish sum
that must be set aside for taxes. But she managed to save the necessary
amount; and if they lived somewhat extravagantly, at least she had never
disturbed her capital.
On the whole she knew they had managed very well for young people who lived
so much in the world, and she had no intention of economizing further. They
had no children. Her husband was young and energetic and healthy. Her own
little fortune was secure. She purposed to enjoy life as best she could;
and as she could not have done this quite selfishly and been happy, she
included among her yearly expenditures a certain admirable charity presided
over by her equally admirable sister, and even visited it occasionally with
her friends when a serious mood descended abruptly upon them....She was now
on the threshold of her second beautiful youth, and found herself and life
far more interesting than when, a silly girl of eighteen, she had believed
that all life and romance must be crowded into that callow period. She had
no idea of sacrificing this new era vibrating with unknown possibilities
(it was on the cards that she might resurrect Gathbroke from his ivory
tomb; lie would do admirably for her present needs, and when she found it
difficult to visualize him after so long a period, she could pay Gora a
sisterly visit) to a penurious attempt to increase her capital. At the same
time she had no intention of diminishing it. To quote Tom Abbott (when
Maria was elsewhere): She might be a fool, or even a----fool, but she was
She dressed herself in a black velvet suit made by her New York tailors.
She had spent, a fortnight with her brother Ballinger on her way home,
and he had given her a set of silver fox: a large muff and two of those
priceless animals head to head to keep a small section of her anatomy at
blood heat in a climate never cold enough for furs.
The day was hot. It was the sort of weather which on the opposite side of
the continent arrives when spring is melting into summer and fortunate
woman arrays herself in thin and dainty fabrics. But women everywhere with
a proper regard for fashion rush the season, and autumn is the time to
display the first smart habiliments of winter. No San Francisco woman of
fashion would be guilty of comfortable garments in the glorious spring
weather of November if she perished in her furs.
The coat, bound with silk braid, was lined with periwinkle blue, and there
was a touch of the same color in her large black velvet hat. Nothing could
make the great irises of her black-gray eyes look blue, but they shone out,
dazzling, under the drooping brim; and if she was, perchance, too warm
above, her scant skirt, her thin silk stockings and low patent leather
shoes struck the balance like a brilliant paradox.
Alexina nodded approvingly at her image in the pier glass, found the key of
her safe deposit box in the cabinet where she had left it, and went down to
the smart little electric car which the gardener had brought to the door.
Alexina stood alone in the strong room of the bank leaning heavily against
the wall with its endless rows of compartments from one of which she had
taken the dispatch box in which she had kept her bonds.
The box had fallen to the floor. If there had been any one in the room with
her he would have started and turned as the box clanged with a hollow echo
on the steel surface.
The box was empty.
It was a large box. It had contained forty thousand dollars' worth of
bonds, nearly a third of her fortune. The securities were among the
soundest the country afforded, for Alexander Groome, wild as he may have
been when relieving the monotony of life with too many diversions, not
the least of which was speculation, never made a mistake in his permanent
investments; and others had been bought with equal prudence by Judge Lawton
or Tom Abbott.
But the bonds had been negotiable. She recalled Tom Abbott's warning to
keep them always in her safe deposit box and the key hidden. They might be
traced if stolen, but State's Prison for the thief would be cold comfort if
the bonds had been cashed and the money spent.
She had always had one of the lighter Italian pieces in her bedroom, a
beautiful cabinet of carved and gilded oak nearly black with age. Like all
such it had a secret drawer and here she had kept her keys, and her jewels
during the winter.
Who knew of this secret drawer, which opened by pressing a certain little
gilded face on the panel?...All her friends, of course: Aileen, Sibyl,
Alice, Olive, Janet, Helene....Unthinkable to have a secret drawer in an
old Italian cabinet which had belonged to some Borgia or other, and not
exhibit it to one's chosen friends.
She had even shown it to Gora, but to no one else but Mortimer. She had
kept his love letters in it for a time, written while the family was
applying the polite methods of the modern inquisition at Rincona, They
had remained there, forgotten, until her mother's death, when she had
remembered the secret drawer as a safe hiding place for her keys and
jewels; which, with her mother's, had formerly reposed in the safe under
It was a deep drawer and when she was in town held the few valuable stones,
reset, that she had inherited from her mother, besides the fine pieces
she had received as wedding-gifts; when all the old friends of the family
out-did themselves, and not a few of the less distinguished but more
opulent, whose floors Alexina had graced while her mother slept. Her pearl
necklace had been the present of her more intimate group of friends.
Alexina was not a little proud of her collection of jewels, although she
seldom wore anything but her pearls. She had left it when she went abroad,
in the safe deposit vault, and she sent a quick terrified glance in the
coffer's direction like that of a cornered rat.
But her attention riveted itself once more on the empty box at her feet. A
third of her fortune, and gone beyond redemption. Her stunned mind grasped
that fact at once. No one stole bonds to keep them. But who was the thief?
Not any of her old friends. They might gamble, or drink, or deceive their
legal guardians, but they drew the line at stealing. Certain sins lie
within the social code and others do not. Women of her class, unless
kleptomaniac, did not steal. It wasn't done. With reason or unreason they
classed thieves of any sort with harlots, burglars, firebugs, embezzlers,
forgers, murderers, and common people who overdressed and drank too much in
public; and withdrew their skirts.
Moreover, Aileen had been with her in Europe. Olive lived there. Janet and
Sibyl had more money than they could spend. The Ruylers were ranching, and
Helene was in Adler's Sanatorium with a new baby. Alice had gone to Santa
Barbara before she left and had not returned.
It was insulting even to pass them in review, but the mind works in erratic
curves under shock.
Gora had taken the thousand dollars Mortimer had returned to her and gone
first to Lake Tahoe and then to Honolulu to write a novel. She would return
on the morrow.
It was incredible. Monstrous. She was outrageous even to link his name with
such a deed. He was the soul of honor. He might not be a genius but no man
had a cleaner reputation. She had lived with him now for over six years and
she had never...never...never...
And she knew, unconsentingly, infallibly, that Mortimer had stolen the
Alexina drew the jewel coffer from the depths of the compartment and opened
it with fingers that felt swollen and numb. But the jewels were there, and
she experienced a feeling of fleeting satisfaction. They were no part of
her fortune, for she believed that only want would ever induce her to sell
them, but at least they were her own personal treasure and a part of the
beauty of life.
She returned the fallen box to its place and locked the little cupboard,
then took herself in hand. Neither the keeper outside the door of the vault
nor those she met above must suspect that anything was wrong with her. What
she should do she had no idea at the moment, but at all events she must
have time to think.
She left the bank with her usual light step and her head high, and then she
motored down the Peninsula. As she passed the shipyards she saw crowds of
men standing about; some of them turned and scowled after her. They were on
strike and took her no doubt for the wife or daughter of a millionaire; and
in truth there was never any difference superficially in her appearance
from that of her wealthier friends. She had one ear instead of several hut
it was perfect of its kind. Her wardrobe was by no means as extensive as
Sibyl's or Janet's or a hundred others, but what she had came from the best
houses, that use only the costliest materials. Her face was composed and
proud. There was not a signal out, even from her brilliant expressive eyes,
of the storm within.
Her mind was no longer stunned. It was seething with disgust and fury. How
dared he? Her own, her exclusive property, inherited and separate....She
felt at this moment exactly as she would have felt if her jewel coffer
instead of the dispatch box had been rifled; it was the instinct of
possession that had been outraged. What was hers was hers as much as the
hair on her head or the thoughts in her mind...an instinct that harked back
to the oldest of the buried civilizations...she wondered if any socialist
really had cultivated the power to feel differently. She was quite certain
that if Kirkpatrick should see a thief fleeing with his purse he would
chase him, collar him, and either chastise him then and there or drag him
to the nearest police station.
And the thief was her husband, the man of her choice. Alexina felt that
possibly if a brother had stolen her money she would have been less bitter
because less humiliated; one did not select one's brothers....And if she
had still loved Mortimer it would have been bad enough, although no doubt
with the blindness of youthful passion she would immediately have begun to
make excuses for him, reeling a blow as it would have been. But the one
compensation she had found in her matrimonial wilderness was her pride in
the essential honor of her chosen partner, and her complete trust. If there
had been any necessity for giving a power of attorney when she went
to Europe she would have drawn it in his favor without hesitation, so
completely had she forgotten her earlier incitements to precaution....If
she had, no doubt she would have returned to find herself penniless.
Whether he had stolen the money to speculate with or to extricate himself
from some business muddle she did not pause to wonder. He had lost it; that
was sufficiently evident from his depression. When his powers of bluff
failed him matters were serious indeed.
He had stolen and lost. The first would have been unforgivable, but the
last was unpardonable.
And he had taken her money as he would have taken Gora's, or his parents'
had they been alive, because however they might lash him with their
contempt, his body was safe from prison, his precious position in society
unshaken. She knew him well enough to be sure that if he had had forty
thousand dollars of some outsider's money under his hand it would have been
safe no matter what his predicament. He would have accepted the alternative
of bankruptcy without hesitation.
But with the women of his family a man was always safe. She remembered
something that Gora had once said to the same effect....Yes, she could have
forgiven the theft of an outsider, for at least she would be spared this
sickening suffocating sensation of contempt. It was demoralizing. She hated
herself as much as she hated him. Moreover there would have been some
compensation in sending an outsider to San Quentin.
And there was the serious problem of readjusting her life. Two thousand
dollars out of a small income was a serious deficit. Simultaneously she was
visited by another horrid thought. Mortimer had heretofore paid half the
household expenses. No doubt he was no longer in a position to pay any.
They would have to live, keep up Ballinger House, dress, pay taxes,
subscribe to charities, maintain their position in society, pay the doctor
and the dentist...a hundred and one other incidentals...out of four
thousand dollars a year. Well, it couldn't be done. They would have to
change their mode of living.
However, that concerned her little at present. The ordeal loomed of a plain
talk with Mortimer. It was impossible to ignore the theft even had she
wished; which she did not, for it was her disposition to have things out
and over with. But it would be horrible...horribly intimate. She had always
deliberately lived on the surface with her family and friends, respected
their privacies as she held hers inviolate. As her mind flashed back over
her life she realized that this would be the first really serious personal
talk she would ever have held with any one. Or, if her family, and
occasionally, Mortimer, had insisted upon being serious she had maintained
her own attitude of airy humor or delicate insolence.
She had no shyness of manner but a deep and intense shyness of the soul.
Some day...perhaps...but never yet.
She turned her car after a time, for she feared that her batteries would
run down. The strikers were still lounging and scowling; and this time
having relaxed her mental girths she looked at them with sympathy. She
knew from the liberal education she had received at the hands of Mr. James
Kirkpatrick, and the admissions of Judge Lawton and other thoughtful men,
that the iniquities of employers and labor were pretty equally divided;
greed and lack of tact on the one hand, greed and class hatred and the itch
for power on the part of labor leaders; and a stupidity in the mass that
was more pardonable than the short-sighted stupidities of capital....But
what would you? A few centuries hence the world might be civilized, but not
in her time. Nothing gave her mind less exercise. One thing at least was
certain and that was that when strikes lasted too long the laborers and
their families went hungry, and the employers did not. That settled the
question for her and determined the course of her sympathy. (It was not yet
the fashion to recognize the unfortunate "public," squeezed and helpless
between these two louder demonstrators of sheer human nature.)
But her mind did not linger in the shipyards. She had problems of her
own....The chief of her compensations, having made a mess of her life, had
been taken from her: her pride and her faith in the man to whom she was
bound. The death of love had been so gradual that she had not noticed it in
time for decent obsequies; she had not sent a regret in its wake....She had
had enough left, more than many women who had made the same blind plunge
into the barbed wire maze of matrimony....And now she had nothing. She
would have liked to drive right out on to a liner about to sail through the
Golden Gate...but she would no doubt have to live on...and on...in changed,
possibly humble, conditions...despising the man she must meet sometime
every day....Yes, she did wish she never had been born.
She concluded, while she dressed for dinner, that she must be a coward.
Alexina was far from satisfied with herself as she was; she would have
liked to possess a great talent like Gora, or be an intellectual power in
the world of some sort. She was far from stultification by the national
gift of complacence, careless self-satisfaction--racial rather than
individual...qualities that have made the United States lag far behind the
greater European nations in all but material development and a certain
inventiveness; both of which in some cases are outclassed in the older
A California woman of her mother's generation had become a great and
renowned archaeologist and lived romantically in a castle in the City of
Mexico. She bad often wished, since her serious mental life had begun, that
this gift had descended upon her--the donee had also been a member of
the A. A., and this striking endowment might just as well have tarried a
generation and a half longer.
She was by no means avid of publicity--people seldom are until they have
tasted of it--but she would have enjoyed a rapid and brilliant development
of her mental faculties with productiveness of some sort either as a sequel
or an interim. It was impossible to advance much farther in her present
No, she was far from perfect, and willing to admit it; but she had always
assumed that courage, moral as well as physical, was an accompaniment of
race, like breeding and certain automatic impulses. But her hands were
trembling and her cheeks drained of every drop of color because she must
have a plain and serious talk with a guilty wretch. She had nothing to
fear, but she could not have felt worse if she had been the culprit
herself. What was human nature but a bundle of paradoxes?
At least she had the respite of the dinner hour. Only a fiend would spoil
a man's dinner--and cigar--no matter what he had done. That would make the
full time of her own respite about an hour and twenty minutes.
In a moment of panic she contemplated telephoning to Aileen and begging
her to come over to dinner. She also no doubt could get Bascom Luning and
Jimmie Thorne. Then it would not be possible to speak to Mortimer before
to-morrow as he always fell asleep at ten o'clock when there was no
dancing....To-morrow it would be easier, and wiser. One should never speak
But she was quite aware that her anger had burnt itself out. Her mind felt
as cold as her hands. Better have it over. She put on a severe black frock,
not only suitable to the occasion but as a protection from disarming
compliments. Mortimer, who dressed so well himself that it would have been
as impossible for him to overdress as to be rude to a woman, disliked dark
severity in woman's attire. He never criticized his wife's clothes, but
when they displeased him he ignored them with delicate ostentation.
Alexina had begun to feel that she should scream in the complete silence of
the dining-room when Mortimer unexpectedly made a remark.
"Gora arrives to-morrow. Will you meet her? I shall not have time."
"Of course. I shall be delighted to see her again. It would have been an
ideal arrangement if I could have left her here with you when I went to
"Yes. She was here for a week. I missed her when she left."
"W-h-at? When was she here? You never told me."
"I forgot. It was soon after you left. The ship was disabled--fire, I
think,--and put back. I asked her to stay here until the next sailing."
Again there was a complete silence. But Alexina did not notice it. Her
brain was whirling. After all, she might be mistaken! Mortimer! He might be
innocent....To think of Gora as a thief was fantastic...was it?...Was she
not Mortimer's sister?...Why he rather than she?...And what after all
did she know of Gora?...She inspired some people with distrust, even
fear....That might be the cause of Mortimer's depression....He knew it....
At all events it was a straw and she grasped it as if it had been a plank
in mid-ocean. With even a bare chance that Mortimer was innocent it would
be unpardonable to insult and wound him....Nor was it quite possible to ask
him if his sister were a thief. She must wait, of course.
And if Gora had taken the bonds they might be recovered. It would be like a
woman to secrete them in a reaction of terror after having nerved herself
up to the deed.
She wished that Gora had gone to Hong Kong. Bolted. Then she could be
certain. But at least she had a respite, and she felt so ebullient that she
almost forgot her loss, and swept Morty over to the Lawtons after dinner;
and the Judge took them all to the movies.
Alexina would listen to no remonstrance. Gora might send her trunks to
Geary Street if she liked, but she must come home to Ballinger House and
spend at least one night with her brother and sister, who had missed her
quite dreadfully. Gora wondered how Alexina could have missed her so
touchingly in Europe, but accepted the invitation, as a note from the
surgeon to whom she had written by the previous steamer asked her to hold
herself in readiness for an operation a week hence.
Gora was looking remarkably well, and Alexina assumed it was not only the
six months of mountain life and the three months in the tropics. She had an
air of assured power, rarely absent in a woman who has found herself and
achieved a definite place in life. Besides being one of the best nurses in
San Francisco, in constant demand by the leading doctors and surgeons,
her short stories had attracted considerable attention in the magazines,
although no publisher would risk bringing them out in book form. But they
were invariably mentioned in any summary of the year's best stories, one
had been included in a volume of selected short stories by modern authors,
and one in a recent text-book compiled for the benefit of aspirants in
the same difficult art. The remuneration had been insignificant, for her
stories were not of the popular order, and she had not yet the name that
alone commands the high reward; but she had advanced farther than many
another as severely handicapped, and she knew through her admiring
sister-in-law and Aileen Lawton that her stories were mentioned
occasionally at a San Francisco dinner table and even discussed! She was
"arriving." No doubt of that.
"When will the novel come out? I can't wait."
"Not until the spring."
They were sitting in Alexina's room and Gora had been placed directly in
front of the cabinet, which she did not appear even to see. She had taken
off her hat and coat and was holding the heavy masses of hair away from her
"Do you mind? I feel as if I had a twenty-pound weight...."
"What a question! Do what you want."
Gora took out the pins and let down her hair. It was not as fine as
Alexina's, but it was brown and warm and an unusual head of hair for these
days. It fell down both sides of her face, and her long cold unrevealing
eyes looked paler than ever between her sun-burned cheeks and her low heavy
Alexina knew that she had an antagonist far worthier of any weapons she
might find in her armory than poor Morty, but she believed she could trap
her if she were guilty....And she must be...she must....
"Didn't you find it too hot in the tropics for writing?"
"I only copied and revised. The book was finished before I left Lake
Tahoe-an ideal place for work. Some day I shall have a log cabin up there.
May I smoke?"
"It is almost a shame to desecrate a flower....I used to come in here
sometimes and look round...the week I spent here....The room is a
poem...like you....Or rather the binding of the prose poem that is
"I'd love it if you made me the heroine of one of your novels."
"You'll have much more fun living it yourself."
"Fine chance. I don't suppose I'll ever get out of California again....I am
afraid that Morty is doing quite badly."
Gora shrugged her strong square shoulders. "I never expected anything else.
I asked him for another thousand dollars of my money when I was here and he
looked as if he had forgotten he owed me any. Just like a man and Morty in
particular. Then he said he expected to make an immense profit on something
or other he had ordered from the Orient and would pay me off when I
returned. Has he condescended to tell you anything about his affairs?"
"Not a word. Did you need the money badly? If I had been here I could have
lent it to you."
"Thanks. I am sure you would. But I dislike the idea of borrowing. It must
be so depressing to pay back....I was in no particular need of it, for of
course I've saved quite a bit. I merely have a natural desire for my own
and thought it was a good opportunity to strike Morty....I suppose he's
been speculating. Fortunes have been made in Tonopah, but he would be sure
to buy at the wrong time or in the wrong mine....Has he ever asked you for
"Never. He knows, too, that I have quite a sum in bonds that I could
convert into cash at once."
"Well, take my advice and hold on to them--to every cent you have. Where do
you keep them?"
"In the bank...in a safe-deposit vault--Oh, how careless of me! I've left
the key out on the table! I usually keep it...you remember...in the secret
drawer of the cabinet."
"How I wish I had the courage to write a story about a secret drawer of
an old Italian cabinet!...I wouldn't leave it lying about; although, of
course, no one could use it without a pass also."
"They use every precaution. I know, because when I nursed old Mrs.
Beresford for eight months, I was sent down to the vault twice."
Alexina's head was whirling. The blood burned and beat in her face.
"Even with her signature I couldn't get by the keeper the first time
because he didn't know me. I had to be identified by her lawyer."
"I like to feel so well taken care of. What shall you do if your novel is a
great success? Of course it will be. You would never go on being a nurse."
"I am not so sure it will be a success. Neither is my publisher. He wrote
me a half-whimsical half-complimentary letter saying that I must remember
the average reader was utterly commonplace, with no education in the higher
sense, no imagination, had an extremely limited vocabulary and thought
and talked in ready-made phrases, composed for the most part of the
colloquialisms of the moment. Style, distinction of mind, erected an almost
visible wall between the ambitious writer and this predominant class. If
they found this sort of book interesting-which as a rule they did not--they
felt a sullen sense of inferiority; and if there were too many unfamiliar
words they pitched it across the room with the ultimate adjective of
their disapproval--'highbrow.' But it is more the general atmosphere they
resent--would resent if the book were purposely written with the most
limited vocabulary possible."
"Our national self-sufficiency, I suppose. Also the fetish of equality that
still persists. We are the greatest nation on earth, of course, but it
isn't democratic for any one of us to be greater than the other."
"Exactly. I don't say I wouldn't write for the mob if I could. Nice stories
about nice people. Intimate life histories of commonplace 'real Americans,'
touched with a bit of romance, or tragedy-somewhere about the middle--or
adventure, with a bad man or woman for good measure and to prove to the
highbrows that the author is advanced and knows the world as well as the
next, even if he or she prefers to treat of the more 'admirable aspects of
our American life.' Unluckily I cannot read such books nor write them. I
was born with a passion for English and the subtler psychology. I should be
hopeless from any editor's or publisher's standpoint if I didn't happen to
have been fitted out with a strong sense of drama. If I could only set my
stage with commonplace, people no doubt I'd make a roaring hit. But I
can't and I won't. Who has such a chance as an author to get away from
commonplace people? Fancy deliberately concocting new ones!"
"Not you! But you'll have some sort of success, all the same."
"Yes, there are publics. Perhaps I'll, hypnotize one of them. As for the
financial end what I hope is that the book will give me a position that
will raise my prices in the magazines."
"You could live abroad very cheaply." Alexina raised her eyes a trifle and
looked as guileless as her words.
"Oh, be sure I'll go to Europe and stay there for years as soon as I see my
way ahead. I should find color in the very stones or the village streets."
"I am told that you can find most comfortable quarters in some of those
English village inns, and for next to nothing. By the way, do you still
correspond with that Englishman who was here during the fire?"
"Gathbroke? Off and on. T send him my stories and he writes a humorous sort
of criticism of each; says that as I have no humor lie feels a sort of urge
to apply a little somewhere."
"How interesting. He didn't strike me as humorous."
"I fancy he wasn't more than about one-fifth developed when he was here.
Men like that, with his advantages, go ahead very rapidly when they get
into their stride. He has already developed from business into politics--he
is in Parliament--and that is the second long stride he has taken in the
past seven years."
"How interesting it will be for you two to meet, again." Alexina spoke with
Gora shrugged her shoulders, "If we do." She might not be able to show the
under-white of her eyes arid look like a seraph, but she had her voice, her
features, under perfect control, and she had never been quick to blush. She
did not suspect that Alexina was angling, but the very sound of Gathbroke's
name was enough to put up her guard.
"You must have had several proposals, Gora dear. Your profession is almost
as good as a matrimonial bureau. And you look too fetching for words in
that uniform and cap."
"I've had just two proposals. One was from an old rancher who liked the way
I turned him over in bed and rubbed his back. The other was--well, a nice
fellow, and quite well off. But I'm not keen on marrying any one."
"Still, if it gave you that much more independence and leisure...travel...a
"I'd only consider marrying for two reasons: If I met a man who had the
power to make me quite mad about him, or one who could give me a great
position in the world and was not wholly obnoxious. Otherwise, I prefer to
trot alone. Why not? At least I escape monotony; I have what after all
is the most precious thing in life, complete personal freedom; and if I
succeed with my writing I can see the world and attain to position without
the aid of any man. If I don't, I don't, and that is the end of it. I'm a
bit of a fatalist, I think, although to be sure when I want a thing badly
enough I forget all about that and fight like the devil."
Alexina looked at the square face of her strange sister-in-law, so unlike
her brother; at the high cheek bones, the heavy low brows over the cold
light eyes, the powerful jaw, the wide firm but mobile mouth.
"Have you any Eussian blood?"' she asked. "'Way back?"
"Not that I know of. But after all I know little about my family, outside
of the one ancestor that anchors us in the Revolutionary era. He or his son
or his son's son may have married a Russian or a Mongolian for all I know.
Perhaps some one of my old aunts may have worked out a family tree in
cross-stitch, but if so I never heard of it. Well, I'm off to clean up for
Alexina for the first time in their acquaintance flung her arms round
Gora's neck and kissed her warmly. Truth to tell her conscience was
smarting, although she was able to assure herself that not for a moment had
she really believed her sister-in-law to be guilty; she had merely grasped
at a straw. Gora returned the embrace gratefully and without suspicion. As
ever, she was a little sorry for Alexina.
Alexina felt only an intolerable ennui. Gora had gone in the morning;
she sat alone in her room. Of course she must have that explanation with
Mortimer, but any time before the first of the month would do. She was far
less concerned with that now than with the problem: what to do with her
life. How was she to continue to live in the same house with him? Perhaps
in far smaller quarters than these? For she could not leave him. She had
no visible excuse, and no desire to admit to the world that she had made
woman's superlative mistake.
She scowled at the lovely room in which she had expected to find
compensation in dreams, the setting for an unreal and enchanted world.
Dreams had died out of her. For the first time in her sheltered existence
she appreciated the grim reality of life. She was no longer sheltered,
secluded, one of the "fortunate class." Ways and means would occupy most of
her time henceforth. And it was not the privations she shrank from but
the contacts with the ugly facts of life; a side she had found extremely
picturesque in novels, but knew from, occasional glimpses to be merely
repulsive and demoralizing.
And of whom could she ask advice! She must make changes and make them
quickly. Four thousand dollars a year!...and taxes--besides the new income
tax--to be paid on the downtown property, the fiats, the land on which her
home stood, Ballinger House itself and all its contents.
She knew vaguely that many girls these days were given special training of
some sort even where their parents were well off; but more particularly
where the father was what is known as a high-salaried man; or even a
moderately successful professional or business man--all of whose expenses
arid incomes balanced too nicely for investments.
Not in her set! Joan, bored after her third season with dancing in winter
and "sitting round Alta" in summer, had asked permission to become a
trained nurse like Gora, or go into the decorating business, "any old
thing"; and Maria Abbott had simply stared at her in horror; even her
father had asked her angrily if she wished to disgrace him, advertise him
as unable to provide for his family. No self-respecting American, etc.
But something must be done. She wished to live on in Ballinger House if
possible, not only because she loved it, or to avoid the commiserations
of the world; she had no desire to live in narrow quarters with her
husband....And she knew nothing, was fit for nothing, belonged to a silly
class that still looked upon women workers as de-classed, although to be
sure two or three whose husbands had left them penniless had gone into
business and were loyally tolerated, if deeply deplored.
The day after her return from Europe Alice Thorndyke had come into this
room and thrown herself down on the couch, her long, languorous body
looking as if set on steel springs, her angelic blonde beauty distorted
with fury and disgust, and poured out her hatred of men and all their ways,
her loathing for society and gambling and all the stupid vicious round of
the life both public and secret she had elected to lead....She had had
enough of it....After all, she had some brains and she wanted to use them.
She wanted to go into the decorating business. There was an opening. She
had a natural flair for that sort of thing. See what she had managed to do
with that old ark she had inherited, and on five cents a year....When she
had asked her sister to advance the money Sibyl had flown into one of her
worst rages and thrown a gold hair brush through a Venetian mirror. Didn't
she give her clothes by the dozen that she hadn't worn a month? Did any
girl have a better time in society? Was any girl luckier at poker? Was any
girl more popular with men--too bad it was generally the married ones that
lost their heads....Better if she stopped fooling and married. By and by it
would be too late.
But she didn't want to marry. She was sick of men. She wanted to get out of
her old life altogether and cultivate a side of her mind and character
that had stagnated so far...also to enjoy the independent life of
a money-earner...life in an entirely different world...something
Alexina had offered to lend her the capital, for Alice had a hard cool
head. But she had refused, saying she could mortgage her old barrack if
it came to that...but she didn't know...it would he a break....Sib might
never speak to her again...people were such snobs...and she mightn't like
it...she wished she had been born of poor but honest parents and put to
work in a canning factory or married the plumber.
She had done nothing, and Alexina wondered if she would have the courage to
go into some sort of business with herself...they could give out they
were bored, seeking a new distraction...save the precious pride of their
She leaned forward and took her head in her hands. If she only had some one
to talk things over with. It was impossible to confide in Gora, in any
one. If she broached the subject to Tom Abbott, to Judge Lawton, even in a
roundabout way, they would suspect at once. Aileen and Janet and the other
girls did not know enough. They would suspect also. But her head would
burst if she didn't consult some one. She was too horribly alone. And
after all she was still very young. She had talked largely of her
responsibilities, but as a matter of fact until now she had never had one
worth the name.
Suddenly she thought of James Kirkpatrick.
The lessons in socialism had died a natural death long since. But Alexina
and Aileen and Janet had never quite let him go. Whenever there was a great
strike on, either in California or in any part of the nation, they invited
him to take tea with them at least once a week while it lasted and tell
them all the "ins." This he was nothing loath to do, and waived the
question of remuneration aside with a gesture. He was now a foreman, and
vice-president of his union, and it gave him a distinct satisfaction to
confer a favor upon these "lofty dames," whom, however, he liked better as
time went on. Alexina he had always worshiped and the only time he ceased
to be a socialist was when he ground his teeth and cursed fate for not
making him a gentleman and giving him a chance before she was corralled by
that sawdust dude.
He had also remained on friendly terms with Gora, who had cold-bloodedly
studied him and made him the hero of a grim strike story. But as he never
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