Part 5 out of 7
read polite literature their friendship was unimpaired.
He came to tea that afternoon in response to a telephone call from Alexina.
She had put on a tea gown of periwinkle blue chiffon and a silver fillet
about her head, and looked to Mr. Kirkpatrick's despairing gaze as she
intended to look--beautiful, of course, but less woman than goddess.
Exquisite but not tempting. She was quite aware of the young workman's
hopeless passion and she managed him as skillfully as she did the more
assured, sophisticated, and sometimes "illuminated" Jimmie Thorne and
She received him in the great drawing-room behind the tea-table, laden with
the massive silver of dead and gone Ballingers.
"I've only been home a week," she said gayly. "See what a good friend I am.
I've scarcely seen any one. Did you get my post cards?"
"I did and I've framed them, if you don't mind my saying so."
"I hoped you would. I picked out the prettiest I could find. They do have
such beauties in Europe. Just think, it was my first visit. I was wildly
excited. Wouldn't you like to go?"
"Naw. America's good enough for me. 'Fris--oh, Lord! San Francisco--for
that matter. I'd like to go to the next International Socialist Congress
all right--next year. Maybe I will. I guess that would give me enough of
Europe to last me the rest of my natural life."
"I met a good many Frenchmen, and I have a friend married to a very clever
one. He says they expect a war with Germany in a year two--"
"There'll never be another war. Not in Europe or anywhere else. The
socialists won't permit it."
"There are a good many socialists--and syndicalists--in France, and it's
quite true they're doing all they can to prevent any money being voted
for the army or expended if it is voted; but I happen to know that the
Government has asked the president of the Red Cross to train as many nurses
as she can induce to volunteer, and as quickly as possible. My friend
Madame Morsigny was to begin her training a few days after I left."
"Hm. So. I hadn't heard a word of it."
"We get so much European news out here! America first! Especially in the
matter of murders and hold-ups. Who cares for a possible war in Europe when
the headlines are as black as the local crimes they announce?"
"Sure thing. Great little old papers. But don't let any talk of war from
anywhere at all worry you. And I'll tell you why. At the last International
Congress all the socialists of all the nations were ready to agree that all
labor should lay down its tools--quit work--go on a colossal strike--the
moment those blood-sucking capitalists at the top, those sawdust kings and
kaisers and tsars--or any president for that matter--declared war for any
cause whatsoever. All, that is, but the German delegates. They couldn't see
the light. Now they have. When we meet next August the resolution will
be unanimous. Take it from me. You've read of your last war in some old
history book. Peace from now on, and thank the socialists."
"I should. But suppose Germany should declare war before next August?"
"She won't. She ain't ready. She'd have done it after that there 'Agadir
Incident' if she'd dared. That is to say been good and ready. Now she's got
to wait for another good excuse and there ain't one in sight."
"But you believe she'd like to precipitate a war in Europe for her own
"She'd like it all right." And he quoted freely from Treitschke and
Bernhardi, while Alexina as ever looked at him in wonder. He seemed to be
more deeply read every time she met him, and he remained exactly the same
James Kirkpatrick. "What an adventitious thing breeding was! Mortimer had
"Well, I am glad I spoke of it. You have relieved my mind, for you speak
as one with authority....There is something else I want to talk to you
about....A friend of mine is in a dilemma and I don't quite know how to
advise her....We're all such a silly set of moths--"
"No moth about you!" interrupted Mr. Kirkpatrick firmly. "Some of
them--those others, if you like. The only redeeming virtue I can see in
most of them is that they are what they are and don't give a damn. But
you--you've got more brains and common sense than the whole bunch of women
in this town put together."
"Oh, dear! Oh, dear! I'm afraid I've addled my brains trying to cultivate
them, and what I'm more afraid of is that I've addled my common sense." She
spoke with such gayety, with such a roguish twinkle, and curve of lip, that
neither then nor later did he suspect that she was the heroine of her own
"Well, fire away. No, thanks, no more. I only drink tea to please you
anyway. Tea is so much hot water to me."
"Well, smoke." She pushed the box of cigarettes toward him. "I know you
smoke a pipe, but I won't let my husband smoke one at home. It's bad for my
curtains....This is it--One of my friends, poor thing, has had a terrible
experience: discovered that her husband has stolen the part of her little
fortune whose income enabled them to do something more than keep alive. You
see, it's a sad case. She believed in him, and he had always been the most
honest creature in the world; and that's as much of a blow as the loss of
"What'd he do it for?"
"Oh, I know so little about business...he wanted to get rich too quickly I
suppose...speculated or something...perhaps got into a hole. This has been
a bad year."
"Poor chap!" said Kirkpatriek reflectively.
"You're not commiserating _him_?"
"Ain't I, just? He done it, didn't he? He's got to pay the piper, hasn't
he? Women don't know anything about the awful struggles and temptations of
the rotten business world. He didn't do it because he wanted to, you can
bet your life on that. He's just another poor victim of a vicious system.
A fly in the same old web; same old fat spider in the middle!. Not capital
enough. Hard times and the little man goes under, no matter if he's a darn
sight better fellow than the bloated beast on top--"
"You mean if we were living in the Socialistic Utopia no man could go
"I mean just that. It's a sin and a shame, A fine young fellow--"
"Remember, you don't know anything about him. He's not a bad sort and has
always been quite honest before; but he's not very clever. If he were he
wouldn't have got himself into a predicament. He had a good start, far
better than nine-tenths of the millionaires in this country had in their
"Oh, I don't care anything about that. If all men were equally clever in
chasing the almighty dollar there'd be no excuse for socialism. It's our
job to displace the present rotten system of government with one in which
the weak couldn't be crowded out, where all that are willing to work will
have an equal chance--and those that ain't willing will have to work anyhow
or starve....One of the thousand things the matter with the present system
is that the square man is so often in the round hole. In the socialized
state every man will he guided to the place which exactly fits his
abilities. No weaker to the wall there,"
"You think you can defy Nature to that extent!"
"Well. I'm too much distracted by my friend's predicament to discuss
socialism....I rather like the idea though of the strong man having the
opportunity to prove himself stronger than Life...find out what, he was put
on earth and endowed with certain characteristics for...rather a pity all
that should atrophy....However--what shall my friend do? Continue to live
with a man she despises?"
"She's no right to despise him or anybody. It's the system, I tell you. And
no doubt she's just as weak in some way herself. Every man jack of us is so
chuck full of faults and potential crime it's a wonder we don't break out
every day in the week, and if women are going to desert us when the
old Adam runs head on into some one of the devilish traps the present
civilization has set out all over the place, instead of being able to
sidestep it once more, well--she'd best divorce herself from the idea
of matrimony before she goes in for the thing itself. Would I desert my
brother if he got into trouble? Would you?"
"N--o, I suppose you are right, and I doubt if she would leave him anyway.
However...there's the other aspect. What can a woman in her position do to
help matters out? You have met a good many of her kind here. Fancy Miss
Lawton or Mrs. Bascom or Miss Maynard forced to work--"
"I can't. If I had imagination enough for that I'd be writin' novels like
"I believe they'd do better than you think. Well, this friend isn't quite
so much absorbed in society and poker and dress. She's more like--well,
there's Mrs. Ruyler, for instance. She was very much like the rest of us,
and now we never see her. She's as devoted to ranching as her husband."
"There was sound bourgeois French blood there," he said shrewdly. "And she
wasn't brought up like the rest of you. Don't you forget that."
"Then you think we're hopeless?"
"No, I don't. Three or four women of your crowd--a little older, that's
all--are doin' first-rate in business, and they were light-headed enough
in their time, I'll warrant. And you, for instance--if you came up against
"Yes? What could I do?" cried Alexina gayly. "But alas! you admit you have
"Don't need any. You'd be good for several things. You could go into
the insurance business like Mrs. Lake, or into real estate like Mrs.
Cole--people like to have a pretty and stylish young lady showin' 'em
round flats. Or you could buy an orchard like the Ruylers--that'd require
capital. If we had the socialistic state you'd be put on one of the
thinking boards, so to speak. That's the point. You've got no training, but
you've got a thinker. You'd soon learn. But I'm not so sure of your
friend. Somehow, you've given me the impression she's just one of these
"I'm afraid she is," said Alexina with a sigh. "But you're so good to take
an interest....Suppose you had the socialistic state now--to-morrow, what
would you do with all these--lady-birds?"
"I'd put 'em in a sanatorium until they got their nerves patched up, and
then I'd turn 'em over to a trainer who'd put them into a normal physical
condition; and then I'd put 'em at hard labor--every last one of 'em."
"Oh, dear, Mr. Kirkpatrick, would you?"
"Yes," he said grimly. "It 'ud be their turn."
She walked down the avenue with him, listening to his angry account of the
great coal strike in West Virginia, where the families of miners in their
beds had been fired on from armored motor cars, and both strikers and
civilians were armed to the teeth.
"That's the kind of war--civil war--we can't prevent--not yet. No wonder
some of us want quick action and turn into I.W.Ws. Of course they're fools,
just poor boobs, to think they can win out that way, but you can't blame
'em. Lord, if we only _could_ move a little faster. If Marx had been a
good prophet we'd have the socialized state to-day. Things didn't turn out
according to Hoyle. Lots of the proletariat ain't proletariat any longer,
instead of overrunning the earth; and in place of a handful of great
capitalists to fight we've a few hundred thousand little capitalists, or
good wage earners with white collars on, that have about as much use for
socialism as they have for man-eating tigers. I'm thinking about this
country principally. Too much chance for the individual. Trouble is, the
individual, like as not, don't know what's good for him and goes under,
like the man you've been telling me about."
"There's only one thing I apprehend in your socialistic state," said
Alexina, who always became frivolous when Kirkpatrick waxed serious, "and
that is universal dissolution from sheer ennui. Either that or we'll go on
eternally rowing about something else. Earth has never been free from war
since the beginning of history, and there is trouble of some sort going on
somewhere all the time--"
"All due to capitalism."
"Capitalism hasn't always existed."
"Human greed has, and the dominance of the strong over the weak."
"Exactly, and socialism if she ever gets her chance will dominate all she
knows how. Remember what you said just now about forcing the pampered women
to work when they were the underdog. But the point is that Nature made
Earthians a fighting breed. She must have had a good laugh when we named
another planet Mars."
"Well, we'll fight about worthier things."
"Don't be too sure. We fight about other things now. All the trouble in the
world isn't caused by money or the want of it. And what about the religious
It was at this inopportune moment that they met Mortimer. If Alexina had
remembered that this was his homing hour she would have parted from her
visitor at the drawing-room door; but in truth she had dismissed Mortimer
from her mind.
He halted some paces off and glared from his wife's diaphanous costume to
the workman in his rough clothes and flannel shirt. As the avenue sloped
abruptly he was at a disadvantage, and it was all he could do to keep from
grinding his teeth.
Alexina went forward and placed her hand within his arm, giving it a
"Now, at last, you and Mr. Kirkpatrick will meet. You've always so snubbed
our little attempts to understand some of the things that men know all
about, that you've never met any of our teachers. But no one has taught, me
as much as Mr. Kirkpatrick, so shake hands at once and be friends."
Mortimer extended a straight and wooden hand. Kirkpatrick touched, and
dropped it as if lie feared contamination, Mortimer ascended a few steps
and from this point of vantage looked down his unmitigated disapproval and
contempt. Kirkpatrick would have given his hopes of the speedy demise of
capitalism if Alexina had picked up her periwinkle skirts and fled up the
avenue. His big hands clenched, he thrust out his pugnacious jaw, his hard
little eyes glowed like poisonous coals. Mortimer, to do him justice, was
entirely without physical cowardice, and continued to look like a stage
lord dismissing a varlet.
Kirkpatrick caught Alexina's imploring eyes and turned abruptly on his
heel, "So long," he said. "Guess I'd better be getting on."
"I won't have that fellow in the house," said Mortimer, in a low tone of
white fury. "To think that my wife--my wife--"
"If you don't mind we won't talk about it."
Alexina was on the opposite side of the avenue and her head was in the air.
She had long since ceased to carry her spine in a tubercular droop and when
she chose she could draw her body up until it seemed to elongate like
the neck of a giraffe, and overtop Mortimer or whoever happened to have
incurred her wrath.
Mortimer glowered at her. He had many grievances. For the moment he forgot
that she might have any against him.
"And out here in broad daylight, almost on the street, in that tea gown--"
"I have often been quite on the street in similar ones. Going over to
Aileen's. You forget that the Western Addition is like a great park set
with the homes of people more or less intimate."
Mortimer made no further remarks. He had never pretended to be a match
for her in words. But the agitating incident seemed to have lifted him
temporarily at least out of the nether depths of his depression, for
although he talked little at dinner he appeared to eat with more relish.
As he settled himself to his cigar in a comfortable wicker chair on the
terrace and she was about to return to the house he spoke abruptly in a
faint firm voice.
"Will you stay here? I've got something to say to you."
She wheeled about. His face was a sickly greenish white in the heavy shade
of the trees.
"It's--it's--something I've been wanting to say--tell you...as well now as
"Oh, very well. I must write just one letter."
She ran into the house and up the stairs and shut herself in the library,
breathless, panic-stricken. He was going to confess! How awful! How awful!
How could she ever go through with it? Why, why, hadn't she spoken at once
and got it over?
She sat quite still until she had ceased trembling and her heart no longer
pounded and affected her breathing. Then she set her teeth and went
Mortimer was walking up and down the hall.
"Come in here," he said. He entered the drawing-room, and Alexina followed
like a culprit led to the bar. Nevertheless, it crossed her mind that he
wanted the moral support of a mantelpiece.
She almost stumbled into a chair. Mortimer did not avail himself of the
chimneypiece toward which he had unconsciously gravitated, but walked back
and forth. Two electric lights hidden under lamp shades were burning, but
the large room was rather somber.
Alexina composed herself once more with a violent effort and asked in a
crisp tone: "Well? What is this mystery? Are you in love with some one
else? Been, making love--"
He confronted her with stricken eyes. "You know that I am literally
incapable of such a thing. But of course you were jesting."
"Of course. But something is so manifestly wrong with you, and...well...of
course you would be justified."
"Not in my own eyes. Besides, I shall never give up the hope of winning
you back again. I live for that...although now!...that is the whole
trouble....How am I going to say it?"
"Well, let me help you out. You took the bonds."
"You've been to the bank! I wanted to tell you first...the day you came
"There is only one thing I am really curious about. How did you get in? Of
course you knew where I kept the key, but--"
"I--" His voice was so lifeless that if dead men could speak it must be in
the same flat faint tones. "I had the old power of attorney."
"But I revoked it."
"I mean the instrument--the paper. You did not ask for it. I did not think
of it either....I trusted to the keeper taking it on its face value, not
looking it up. He didn't. You see--" He gave a dreadful sort of laugh. "I
am well known and have a good reputation."
"Why didn't you cable and ask me to lend you the money?"
"There wasn't time. Besides, you might have refused. I was desperate--"
"I don't want to hear the particulars. I am not in the least curious. What
I must talk to you about--"
"I must tell you the whole thing. I can't go about with it any longer.
Then, perhaps, you will understand."
His voice was still flat and as he continued to walk he seemed to draw
half-paralyzed legs after him. Alexina set her lips and stared at the
floor. He meant to talk. No getting out of it.
"I--I--have only done well occasionally since the very first. It didn't
matter so long as your mother was alive, and for a little while after. But
when you took things into your own hands...after that it was capital I
turned over to you nearly every month--hardly ever profits."
"What? Why didn't you tell me?"
"I hadn't the courage. I was too anxious to stand well with you. And I
always hoped, believed, I would do better as times improved. I had great
hopes of myself and I had a pretty good start. But as time went on I grew
to understand that my abilities were third-rate. I should have done all
right with a large capital--say a hundred and fifty thousand dollars--but
only a man far cleverer than I am could have got anywhere in that business
with a paltry sixteen thousand to begin on. I got one or two connections
and did pretty well, off and on, for a time; but if I hadn't made one
or two lucky strikes in stocks my capital would simply have run away in
household expenses long ago."
"Then why did you join that expensive club?"
"It was good business," he said evasively. "I meet the right sort of men
there. That's where I got my stock pointers."
"Did you take the bonds to gamble with?"
"No. I'd never have done that. I gambled in another way, though. I thought
I saw a chance to sell a certain commodity at that particular time and
I plunged and sent for a large quantity of it. It looked sure. I have a
friend over there and got it on credit. I banked on an immediate sale and
a big profit. But something delayed the shipping in Hong Kong. When it
arrived the market was swamped. Some one else had had the same idea. I had
to pay for the goods, as well as other big outstanding bills, or go into
bankruptcy. So I took the bonds. It wasn't easy. But there was nothing else
to do....There were about ten thousand dollars left and I tried another
coup. That failed too."
"How is it possible to go on with the business?"
"It isn't. I have closed out. But I have escaped bankruptcy. People on
the street think that I wanted to get into the real estate business--with
Andrew Weston, a young man who has recently come here from Los Angeles.
He's doing fairly well and has a good office. He wanted a hustler and a
partner who had good connections. But it is slow work. There are the old
firms, again, to compete with. I wouldn't have looked at it if I'd had any
choice, but it was a case of a port in a storm."
"Well? Is that all? There is another matter to discuss. Our future mode of
"No, it isn't all. I wish you would tell Gora something. I can never go
through this again. While she was away--in Honolulu--that lawyer of my aunt
sent out ten thousand dollars' worth more of stock, that had been looked
upon as so much waste paper, but suddenly appreciated--some little railroad
that was abandoned half finished, but has since been completed. This had
been left to Gora alone. We had some correspondence and he sent it to me as
Gora was traveling. It came at the wrong time for me...on top of everything
else....I plunged in a new mine Bob Cheever and Baseom Luning were
interested in. It turned out to be no good. We lost every cent."
Alexina sat cold and rigid. Once she pinched her arm. She fancied it had
turned to stone.
He dropped into a chair and leaning forward twisted his hands together.
"If you knew...if you knew...what I have been through....At first it was
only the anxiety and excitement. But afterward, when it was over...when
there was nothing left to speculate with...then I realized what I had
done...I...a thief...a thief....I had been so proud of my honor, my
honesty. I never had believed that I could even be tempted. And I went to
pieces like a cheaply built schooner in its first storm. There's nothing,
it seems, in being well brought up, when circumstances are too strong for
Alexina forebore the obvious reply. "Of course you were a little mad," she
said, rather at a loss.
"No, I wasn't. I'd always been a cool speculator, and I'd never taken long
chances in business before. It all looked too good and I got in too deep.
But if I could have repaid it all I'd feel nearly as demoralized. That I
should have stolen...and from women...."
Again Alexina restrained herself. The dead monotonous voice went on.
"I thought once or twice of killing myself. It didn't seem to me that I had
the right to live. I had always had the best ideals, the strictest sense of
right and wrong...It does not seem possible even now."
Alexina could endure no more. Another moment and she felt that she should
be looking straight into a naked soul. She felt so sorry for him that she
quite forgot her own wrongs or her horror of his misdeeds. She wished that
she still loved him, he looked so forlorn and in need of the physical
demonstrations of sympathy; but although she was prepared to defend him if
need be, and help him as best she could, she felt that she would willingly
die rather than touch him....She wondered if souls in dissolution subtly
wafted their odors of corruption if you drew too close....
"Well, what is done is done," she said briskly. "I'll tell Gora and engage
that she will never mention it. You have suffered enough. Now let us
discuss ways and means. Does this new business permit you to contribute
anything to the household expenses?"
"I'm afraid not. It takes time to work up a business."
"Then we must live on what I have left, and you know what taxes are. I
suppose I had better look for a job."
"What?" He seemed to spring out of his apathy, and stared at her
"Yes. We must have more money. I could sell the flats and go into the
"And advertise to all San Francisco that I am a failure! Do you think I
could fool them then!"
"Are you sure you have fooled them now! They must know you would have stuck
to the old business if it had paid."
"It isn't the first time a man has changed his business. But if you go out
to earn money--why, I'd be a laughing stock."
"Then we shall have to give up the house. The city has long wanted this
"That would never do, either. Everybody knows how devoted you are to your
old home...and after fixing it up...."
"Well, what, do you suggest? You know perfectly well we can't go on."
"My brain seems to have stopped. I can't do much thinking. But...well...you
might sell the flats and we could go on as before until my business begins
"Sacrifice more of my capital? That I won't do. Why don't you see if you
can get back with Cheever Harrison and Cheever? I know that Bob--"
"I won't go back to being a salaried man. You can't go back like that when
you've been in the other class." He beat a fist into a palm. "Why couldn't
Bob Cheever have left me alone? So long as I didn't know anything about
Society I never thought about it. Why couldn't your family have let me stay
where I was? I should have been head clerk with a good salary by this time,
and we would have arranged our expenses accordingly when your mother
died. Why can't men give a young fellow a better chance when he goes into
business for himself? Every man trying to cut every other man's throat.
"What chance has a young fellow with a small capital?"
"Do you know that you have blamed everybody but yourself? However...perhaps
you are right....Mr. Kirkpatrick puts it down to the system. I feel more
inclined to trace it straight back to old Dame Nature--all the ancestral
inheritances down in our sub-cellars. We are as we are made and our
characters are certainly our fate. I suppose you will at least resign from
He set his lips in the hard line that made him look the man of character
his ancestor, John Dwight, had been when he legislated in the first
Congress. "No, I shall not resign. It would be bad business in two ways:
they would know I was hard up, and I should no longer meet in the same way
the men who can give me a leg up in business."
"Are you sure those are the only reasons?"
To this he did not deign to reply, and she asked: "Do you mean that you
shall go on speculating?"
"I've nothing to speculate with. I mean that the men I cultivate can help
me in business."
"They don't seem to have done much in the past. However...At least I'll
send in our resignations to the Golf Club. As we use it so seldom no one
will notice. Now I'm going upstairs to think it all over. To-morrow I shall
do something. I don't know what it will be, yet."
He stood up. "Promise me," he said with firm masculine insistence, "that
you will neither go into any sort of money-making scheme or sell this
house." His tones had distinctly more life in them and he had recovered his
usual bearing of the lordly but gallant male. His eyes were as stern as his
Alexina stared at him for a moment in amazement, then reflected that
apparently the stupider a man was the more difficult he was to understand.
She nodded amiably.
"No doubt I'll think of some other way out. Will let you know at dinner
time. Don't expect me at breakfast. Good-night."
Alexina was driving her little car up the avenue at Rincona on the
following morning when she saw Joan running toward her through the park and
signaling to her to stop.
"What is it?" she asked in some alarm as Joan arrived panting. "Any one
"Not so's you'd notice it. Leave your car here and come with me. Sneak
after me quietly and don't say a word."
Much mystified, Alexina ran her car off the road and followed her niece
by a devious route toward the house. Joan interested her mildly; she had
fulfilled some of her predictions but not all. She did not go with the
"fast set" even of the immediate neighborhood; that is to say the small
group called upon, as they indubitably "belonged," but wholly disapproved
of, who entertained in some form or other every day and every night, played
poker for staggering stakes, danced the wildest of the new dances, made up
brazenly, and found tea and coffee indifferent stimulants. Two of Joan's
former schoolmates belonged to this active set, but she was only permitted
to meet them at formal dinners and large parties. She had rebelled at
first, but her mother's firm hand was too much for her still undeveloped
will, and later she had concluded "there was nothing in it anyhow; just the
whole tiresome society game raised to the nth degree." Moreover, she
was socially as conventional as her mother and her good gray aunts, and
although full of the mischief of youth, and longing to "do something," no
prince having captured her fancy, enough of what Alexina called the sound
Ballinger instincts remained to make her disapprove of "fast lots," and she
had progressed from radical eighteen to critical twenty-one. She worked
off her superfluous spirits at the outdoor games which may be indulged in
California for eight months of the year, rode horseback every day, used
all her brothers' slang she could remember when in the society of such
uncritical friends as her young Aunt Alexina, and bided her time. Sooner
or later she was determined to "get out and hustle,"--"shake a leg." That
would be the only complete change from her present life, not matrimony and
running with fast sets. She wanted more money, she wanted to live alone,
and, while devoted to her family, she wanted interests they could not
furnish, "no, not in a thousand years."
Joan's slim boyish athletic figure darted on ahead and then approached the
rear of the house on tiptoe. Alexina followed in the same stealthy fashion,
feeling no older at the moment than her niece. The verandah did not extend
as far as the music room, which had been built a generation later, and the
windows were some eight feet from the ground. A ladder, however, abridged
the distance, and Alexina, obeying a gesture from Joan, climbed as hastily
as her narrow skirt would permit and peered through the outside shutters,
which had been carefully closed.
The room was not dark, however. The electricity had been turned on and
shone down upon an amazing sight.
Clad in black bloomers and stockings lay a row of six women flat on the
floor, while in front of them stood a woman thin to emaciation, who was
evidently talking rapidly. Alexina's mouth opened as widely as her eyes.
She had heard of Devil Worship, of strange and awful rites that took place
at midnight in wickedest Paris. Had an expurgated edition been brought to
chaste Alta--plus Menlo--plus Atherton, by Mrs. Hunter or Mrs. Thornton, or
any of those fortunate Californians who visited the headquarters of fashion
and sin once a year? They would do a good deal to vary the monotony of
life. But that they should have corrupted Maria...the impeccable, the
superior, the unreorientable Maria! Maria, with whom contentment
and conservatism were the first articles of the domestic and the
For there lay Maria, extended full length; and on her calm white face was
a look of unholy joy. Beside her, as flat as if glued to the inlaid floor,
were Mrs. Hunter, Mrs. Thornton, Coralie Geary, Mrs. Brannan, another old
friend of Maria, and--yes--Tom's sister, Susan Delling, austere in her
virtues, kind to all, conscientiously smart, and with a fine mahogany
complexion that made even a merely powdered woman feel not so much a harlot
as a social inferior.
What on earth...what on earth....
The thin loquacious stranger clapped her hands. Up went six pairs of legs.
Two remained in mid-air, Mrs. Geary's and Mrs. Brannan's having met an
immovable obstacle shortly above the hip-joints. Three bent backward slowly
but surely until they approached the region of the neck. Maria's flew
unerringly, effortlessly, up, back, until they tapped the floor behind her
head. Alexina almost shouted "Bravo." Maria was a real sport.
Six times they repeated this fascinating rite, and then, obeying another
peremptory command, they rolled over abruptly and balanced on all fours.
Alexina could stand no more. She dropped down the ladder and ran after
Joan, who was disappearing round the corner of the house.
"Well, I never!" she exclaimed. "Maria! Your mo--"
"She gained three pounds, for the first time in her life, and you know her
figure is her only vanity. This woman came along and the whole Peninsula is
crazy about her. She's taken the fat off every woman in New York, and came
out with letters to a lot of women. Mother fell for her hard. I nearly
passed away when I peeked through that shutter the first time. Mother!
She's the best of the bunch, though. But they're all having a perfectly
grand time. New interest for middle-age--what?"
"Don't be cruel. Heavens, how hot they all looked! I could hear them gasp.
Hope their arteries are all right. Are they going to stay to lunch?"
"No. There's a big one on in Burlingame. Mother's not going, though. It's
at that Mrs. Cutts', new Burlingame stormer, that Anne Montgomery coaches
and caters for and who gives wonderful entertainments. Mother and Aunt
Susan won't go, but nearly all the others do."
"Anne Montgomery. I haven't seen her since mother died."
"You look as if an idea had struck you. She's useful no end, they say; is
now a social secretary to a lot of new people, and sells the 'real lace'
and other superfluous luxuries of some of our old families for the cold
coin that buys comforts."
"Fine idea. But I'm glad your mother will be alone. I've come down to have
a talk with her."
"Thanks. I'll take the hint."
Alexina went up to Joan's room to remain until the gong sounded for
luncheon, when she drifted down innocently and kissed the somewhat
furtive-looking Maria, who was in chaste duck and fresh from a bath.
"So glad to see you, darling," she murmured almost effusively. "I hope you
haven't waited long. A number of my friends have a lesson every Thursday
morning, and meet at one house or another."
"Irregular French verbs, I suppose. So fascinating, and one does forget so.
I thought I'd never brush up my French."
Not for anything would she have forced Maria into the most innocent
equivocation, and she rattled on about her wonderful summer as people are
expected to do after their first visit to Europe.
No time could have been more propitious for this necessary understanding
with Maria, who was feeling amiable, apologetic, as limber as Joan, and
almost as warm. She had also lost two-thirds of a pound.
Alexina began as soon as Joan left them alone on the shady side of the wide
"I have a lot of things to tell you," she said nervously. "I have to make
certain economies and I want the benefit of your advice."
Mrs. Abbott looked up from her embroidery. "Of course, darling. I was
afraid you were going a little too fast for young people."
"That is not it. I always managed well enough....You know we've never gone
the limit: polo at Burlingame and Monterey, gambling, big parties and
all the rest of it. I've never run into debt or spent any of my capital.
Maria began to feel anxious and took off the large round shell-rimmed
spectacles that enlarged stitches and print. "Yes?"
"You know I had bonds--about forty thousand dollars' worth--those that
mother left: I spent those that Ballinger and Geary gave me on the house
and one thing and another."
"Yes?" Mrs. Abbott was now alarmed. She had a very keen sense of the value
of money, like most persons that have inherited it, and was extremely
conservative in its use.
"Well, you see, I thought I saw a chance to treble it--we never really had
enough--and I speculated and lost it."
Alexina was a passionate lover of the truth, but she could always lie like
Maria Abbott readjusted her spectacles and took a stitch or two in her
linen. She was aghast and did not care to speak for a moment. She was no
fool and Tom had told her that Mortimer had changed his business and might
bluff the street, but could never bluff him. She knew quite as well as if
Alexina had confessed it that Mortimer had lost the money, either in his
business or in stocks; although of course she was far from suspecting the
"That is dreadful," she said finally. "I wish you had consulted Tom. He
understands stocks as he does everything else."
"I thought I had the best tips. However--the thing is done, and the point
is that I must make great changes. Mortimer is not making as much as he
was, either; he came to the conclusion that he couldn't get anywhere in
that business on so small a capital, and has gone into real estate. It will
be some time before he makes enough to keep things going in the old way.
I made all my plans last night and came down to ask you if you could take
James. He has been with us so long; I can't let him go to strangers. Then I
shall turn out all those high-priced servants and get a woman to do general
housework. Alice says her aunt always gets green ones from an agency and
breaks them in. They are quite cheap. I shall help her, of course, and if
she doesn't know much about cooking I know a little and can learn more. I
shall shut up the big drawing-room, put everything into moth balls, and
give out that the doctor has ordered me to rest this winter, to go to bed
every night at eight. That will stop people coming up three or four times a
week to dance. And I can sell the new clothes I brought from Paris and New
York to Polly Roberts. She's just my height and weight. Of course I must
tell the girls the truth--that I'm economizing; but wild horses wouldn't
drag it out of them. I don't care tuppence, but Morty says it would hurt
his business. I rather like the idea of working. I'm tired of the old
round, and would like to get a job if Morty wasn't so opposed--says it
would ruin him."
"I should think so. At least let us wash our dirty linen at home....I have
been thinking while you talked. I've only spent two whole winters in town
since I married, end I've always thought I'd love to live in the old house.
I've rather envied you, Alexina, dear...it is so full of happy memories for
me. I did have such a good time as a girl...such a good, simple time....I'm
wondering if Tom wouldn't rent it for the winter and spring. He's been
doing splendidly these last two or three years, and he owned some of the
property west of Twin Peaks that is building up so fast. I know he sold it
for quite a lot....And I sometimes wonder if he doesn't get as tired of
living in the same place year after year as I do. He could play golf at
the Ingleside....I am sure he will....It would be the very best thing
all round. Then we could run the house, and you and Mortimer would pay
something--never mind what....People would think it was the other way, if
they thought anything about it. Families often double up in that fashion."
"Maria! I can't believe it. It would be too perfect a solution, provided of
course that we pay all we cost. I should insist upon keeping the slips as
usual. You are an angel."
"We Groomes and Ballingers always stand by one another, don't we? The
Abbotts, too. Besides, it will certainly be no sacrifice on any of our
parts. It will mean a great deal to me to spend six months in town, and I
know that Tom has grown as tired of motoring back and forth every day as be
used to be of the train."
"It will be heavenly just having you." Alexina spoke with perfect
sincerity. She had not faltered before the prospect of work, but that of
Mortimer's society unrelieved for an indefinite time had filled her with
something like panic. It had been the one test of her powers of endurance
of which she had not felt assured.
"That will give us time, too, to get on our feet again. Morty is very
hopeful of this new business. I shall go out very little, and as Joan will
be the natural center of attraction it will be understood that her friends,
not mine, have the run of the house."
Maria nodded. "It's just the thing for Joan. Really a godsend. She worries
me more than all three of the boys. They are east at school for the winter
and of course don't come home for the Christmas holidays. If you want to be
housekeeper you may. I don't know anything I should like better than a rest
from ordering dinner, after all these years."
"Perfect! I'll also take care of my room and Morty's. Then I'd be sure I
wasn't really imposing on you. You're a dead game sport, Maria, and I'd
like to drink your health."
Mortimer looked nonplussed when Alexina informed him at dinner of the
immediate solution of their difficulties. He detested Tom and Maria Abbott;
there were certain things he could forget in his aristocratic wife's
presence, far as she had withdrawn, but never in theirs. Moreover he feared
Abbott. He was as keen as a hawk; an unconsidered word and he might as well
have told the whole story. Well, he never talked much anyhow; he would
merely talk less.
When Alexina asked him if he had any better plan to propose he was forced
to shrug his shoulders and set his lips in a straight line of resignation.
When she told him what her original plan had been he was so appalled, so
humiliated at the bare thought of his wife in a servant's apron (to say
nothing of the culinary arrangements) that he almost warmed to the Abbotts.
Ten days later, on the eve of the Abbotts' arrival, the equanimity of
spirit he was striving to regain by the simple process of thinking of
something else when his late delinquencies obtruded themselves, received
a severe shock. Alexina handed him a cheque for ten thousand dollars and
asked him to place it to Gora's account in the bank where she kept her
"Where did you get it?" he asked stupidly, staring at the slip of paper so
"Anne Montgomery sold some of my things to a good-natured ignoramus whose
husband made a fortune in Tonopah. She doesn't know how to buy and Anne
"What did you sell? Your jewels?"
"Some. I never wear anything but the pearls anyhow; and it's bad taste to
wear jewels unless you're wealthy. I had some old lace that is hard to buy
now, and real lace isn't the fashion any more. New rich people always think
it's just the thing. I also sold her two of the biggest and clumsiest of
the Italian pieces. She is crazy about them. Anne told her that they were
as good as a passport."
Mortimer sprang to the only, the naive, the eternal masculine conclusion.
"You do love me still!" The dull eyes of his spirit flashed with the sudden
rejuvenation of his heavy body. "I never really believed you had ceased to
care....you were capricious like all women...a little spoilt. I knew that
if I had patience...Only a loving wife would do such a thing."
Alexina made a wry face at the banality of his climax, although the fatuous
outburst had barely amused her.
"No, I don't love you in the least, Mortimer, and never shall. Make up your
mind to that. Love some one else if you like....I did this for two reasons:
I did not have the courage to tell Gora the truth--and that I was too
unjust and penurious to restore the money you had taken; and as your wife
it would have hurt my pride unbearably."
"And you are not afraid to trust me with this money?" he asked, his voice
"Not in the least. There's no other way to manage it and I fancy you know
what would happen if you didn't hand it over. There is such a thing as the
It was a week later. Alexina was changing her dress. Maria had asked a
number of her girlhood friends in for luncheon, and they were to exchange
reminiscences in the old house over a table laden as of yore with the
massive Ballinger silver, English cutglass, and French china. Alexina was
about to take refuge with Janet Maynard.
Her door opened unceremoniously and Gora entered.
Alexina caught her breath as she saw her sister-in-law's eyes. They looked
like polar seas in a tropical storm.
"Why, Gora, dear," she said lightly. "I thought you were on an important
"Man died last night. I have just been to see Mortimer. When I got his
note--just three lines--saying that he had received a cheque from Utica
and deposited it to my account I knew at once--as soon as I had time to
think--there was something wrong. The natural thing would have been to call
me up--couldn't tell me the good news too soon....And there was a hollow
ring about that note....Well, as soon as I woke up to-day I went straight
down to his office. I had to wait an hour. When he came in and saw me he
turned green. I marched him into a back room and corkscrewed the truth out
of him--the whole truth. Then I blasted him. He knows exactly what one
person in this world thinks of him, what everybody else would think of
him if he were found out. I gathered that you had let him down easy. Your
toploftical pride, I suppose. Well, I must have a good plebeian streak in
me somewhere and for the first time I was glad of it. When I left him he
looked shrunken to half his natural size. His eyes looked like a dead
fish's and all the muscles of his face had given Way. He looked as if he
were going to die and I wish he would. Faugh! A thief in the family. That
at least we never had before."
"Don't be too sure. Remember nobody else knows about Morty, and
everybody'll go on thinking he's honest. Half our friends may be thieves
for all we know, and as for our ancestors--what are you doing?"
Gora had taken a roll of yellow bills from her purse. She counted them on
the table; ten bills denominating a thousand dollars each.
"I won't take them." said Alexina stiffy. "I think you are horrid, simply
"And do you imagine I would keep it? I What do you take me for?"
"I am in a way responsible for Mortimer's debts--his partner."
"That cuts no ice with me--nor with you. That is not the reason you sold
your jewels and laces and those superb--Oh, you poor child! If I'm furious,
it's more for you than on any other account. You don't deserve such a
"I don't deserve to have you treat me so ungratefully. I can't get my
things back. I wanted you to have the money more than I eared for those
things, anyhow. I have no use for the money. I don't owe anything and the
rent Tom pays me for six months will help me to run the house for the rest
of the year and pay taxes besides. So, you just keep it, Gora. It's yours
and that's the end of it."
"This is the end of it as far as I'm concerned." She opened the secret
drawer of the cabinet and stuffed in the bills. "They're safe from any sort
of burglars there. But not from fire. Bank them to-morrow."
"I'll not touch them."
"Nor I either."
Gora threw her hat on the floor and sitting down before the table thrust
her hands into her hair and tugged at the roots. "I always do this when
I'm excited--which is oftener than you think. What dreams I had that first
night--I got his note late and was too tired to reason, to suspect....I
just dreamed until I fell asleep. I'd start for England a week later--for
Goose flesh made Alexina's delicate body feel like a cold nutmeg grater.
"Yes!...ah...you see, it's the only place where literary recognition counts
"Oh? I rather thought the British authors looked upon Uncle Sam in the
light of a fairy godfather. Our recognition counts for a good deal, I
should say. I never thought you were snobbish."
"I'm not really. Only London is a sort of Mecca for writers just as Paris
is for women of fashion....Just fancy being feted in London after you had
written a successful novel."
"I'd far rather receive recognition in my own country," said Alexina,
elevating her classic American profile. She was not feeling in the least
patriotic, however. "You'd see your friend Gathbroke, though. That would be
jolly. Do take the money, Gora, and don't be a goose."
"That subject's closed. Don't let me keep you. James told me that Maria is
having a luncheon, and I suppose that means you are going out. I'll rest
here for awhile if you don't mind."
Mortimer went off that night and got drunk. It was the first time in his
life and possibly his last, but he made a thorough job of it. He took the
precaution to telephone to the house that he was going out of town, but
when he returned two days later he experienced a distinct pleasure in
telling Alexina what he had done. Alexina, who still hoped that she would
always be able to regard Life as God's good joke, rather sympathized with
him, and assured him that he would have nothing to apprehend from Gora in
the future: she had no more fervent wish than to keep out of his way.
He found himself on the whole very comfortable. Maria was always most kind,
Alexina polite and amiable, and Tom "decent." Joan liked him as well as
she liked anybody, and when the family spent a quiet evening at home he
undertook to improve her dancing and she was correspondingly grateful;
it had been her weak point. The fiction was carefully preserved that the
Dwights were conferring a favor on the Abbotts and that all expenses were
equally shared. In time he came to believe it, and his hours of deep
depression, when he had pondered over his inexplicable roguery, grew rarer
and finally ceased. After all he had had nothing to lose as far as Alexina
was concerned; one's sister hardly mattered (Did women matter much,
anyhow?); and his sense of security, which he hugged at this time as the
most precious thing he had ever possessed, at last made him a little
arrogant. He had done what he should not, of course, but it was over and
done with, ancient history; and where other men had gone to State's Prison
for less, he had been protected like an infant from a rude wind. He knew
that he would never do it again and that his position in life was as
assured as it ever had been.
He spent a good many evenings at the club, and Maria found him a willing
cavalier when Tom "drew the line" at dancing parties. Alexina, who had sold
her car to Janet and her new gowns to Polly, had announced that she was
bored with dancing and should devote the winter to study. She spent the
evenings either in her library upstairs or with her friends. Mortimer saw
her only at the table.
He wondered if Tom Abbott would rent the house every winter. A pleasant
feeling of irresponsibility was beginning to possess his jaded spirit. He
made a little money occasionally, but he was no longer expected to hand
anything over when the first of the month came round--a date that had
haunted him like a nightmare for four long years. Pie could spend it on
himself, and he felt an. increasing pleasure in doing so.
Gray naked trees; orchards of prune and peach and cherry, mile after mile.
Orange trees in small wayside gardens heavy-laden with golden fruit. Tall
accacias a mass of canary colored bloom. Opulent palms shivering against a
gray sky. Close mountains green and dense with forest trees, their crests
filagreed with redwoods. Far mountains lifting their bleak ridges above
bare brown hills thirsting for rain.
The heavy rains were due. It was late in January. Alexina and several of
her friends were motoring back to the city through the Santa Clara Valley,
after luncheon with the Price Ruylers at their home on the mountain above
Los Gatos. As it was Sunday there was an even number of men in the party,
and Alexina, maneuvered into Jimmie Thorne's roadster, was enduring with
none of the sweet womanly graciousness which was hers to summon at will,
one of those passionate declarations of love which no beautiful young woman
out of love with her husband may hope to escape; and not always when in.
Alexina had grown skillful in eluding the reckless verbalisms of love,
but when one is packed into a small motor car with a determined man,
desperately in love, one might as well try to wave aside the whirlwind.
Jimmie Thorne was a fine specimen of the college-bred young American of
good family and keen professional mind. He has no place in this biography
save in so far as he jarred the inner forces of Alexina's being, and he
fell at Chateau-Thierry.
Alexina lifted her delicate profile and gave it as sulky an expression as
she could assume. She really liked him, but was annoyed at being trapped.
"I don't in the least wish to marry you."
"Everybody knows you don't care a straw for Dwight. You could easily get a
"On what grounds! Besides, I don't want to. I'd have to be really off my
head about a man even to think of such a thing. Our family has kept out of
the divorce courts. And I don't care two twigs for you, Jimmie dear."
"I don't believe it. That is, I know I could make you care. You don't know
what love is--"
"I suppose you are about to say that you think I think I am cold, and that
if I labor under this delusion it is only because the right man hasn't come
along. Well, Jimmie dear, you would only be the sixteenth. I suppose men
will keep on saying it until I am forty--forty-five--what is the limit
these days? I know exactly what I am and you don't"
"I'm not going to be put off by words. Remember I'm a lawyer of sorts. God!
I wish I'd been here when you married that codfish, instead of studying law
at Columbia, Do you mean to tell me I couldn't have won you!"
"No. Almost any man can win a little goose of eighteen if circumstances
favor him. Twenty-five is another! matter. Oh, but vastly another! Even if
I'd never married before I'm not at all sure I should have fallen in love
"Yes, you would. You're frozen over, that's all."
Alexina sighed, and not with exasperation. He was very charming, magnetic,
companionable. He was handsome and clever and manly. She could feel the
warmth of his young virile body through their fur coats, and her own
trembled a little....It suddenly came to her that she no longer owed
Mortimer anything. Their "partnership" had been dissolved by his own act.
If she could have loved Jimmie Thorne with something beyond the agreeable
response of the mating-season (any season is the mating season in
California)...that was the trouble. He was not individual enough to hold
her. Life had been too kind to him. Save for this unsatisfied passion he
was perfectly content with life. Such men do not "live." They may have
charm, but not fascination....Perhaps it was as well after all that she
had married Mortimer. Another man might not have been so easily disposed
"Jimmie dear, if it were a question of a few months, and I made a cult of
men as some women do, it would be all right. But marry another man that I
am not sure--that I know I don't want to spend my life with. Oh, no."
He looked somewhat scandalized. Like many American men he was even more
conventional than most women are; he was, moreover, a man's man, spending
most of his leisure in their society, either at the club or in out-of-door
sports, and he divided women rigidly into two classes. Alexina was his
first love and his last; and as he went over the top and crumpled up he
thought of her.
"I wouldn't have a rotten affair with you. You're not made for that sort of
"Well, you're not going to have one, so don't bother to buckle on your
armor." She relented as she looked into his miserable eyes, and took his
hand impulsively. "I'm sorry...sorry....I wish...you are worth it...but
it's not on the map."
Gora's novel was published in February. Aileen Lawton, Sibyl Bascom, Alice
Thorndyke, Polly Roberts, and Janet Maynard organized a campaign to make it
the fashion. They went about with copies under their arms, on the street,
in the shops, at luncheons, even at the matinee, and "could talk of nothing
else." Sibyl and Janet bought a dozen copies each and sent them to friends
and acquaintances with the advice to read it at once unless they wished to
be hopelessly out of date: it was "all the rage in New York."
As a matter of fact, with the exception of Aileen and possibly Janet, the
book almost terrified them with its pounding vigor and grim relentless
logic, even its romantic realism, which made its tragedy more poignant and
sinister by contrast; and, again with the exception of Aileen, they were
little interested in Gora. But they were loyally devoted to Alexina and
obeyed, as a matter of course, her request to help her make the book a
success. They worked with the sterner determination as Alexina in her own
efforts was obliged to be extremely subtle.
Besides, it, was rather thrilling not only to know a real, author but
almost to have her in the family as it were. Their industrious sowing bore
an abundant harvest and Gora's novel became the fashion. Whether people
hated it or not, and most of them did, they discussed it continually, and
when a book meets with that happy fate personal opinions matter little.
Maria thought the book was "awful" and forbade Joan to read it. Joan
thought (to Alexina) that it was simply the most terribly fascinating book
she had ever read and made her despise society more than ever and more
determined to light out and see life for herself first chance she got. Tom
Abbott thought it a remarkable book for a woman to have written; a man
might have written it. Judge Lawton read it twice. Mortimer declined to
read it. He had not forgiven Gora; moreover, although his social position
was now planetary, it annoyed him excessively to hear his sister alluded to
continually as an author. Even the men at the club were reading the damned
Bohemia stood off for some time. It was only recently they had learned that
Gora Dwight was a Californian. They had read her stories, but as she had
been the subject of no publicity whatever they had inferred that, like many
another, she had dwelt in their midst only long enough to acquire material.
When they learned the truth, and particularly after her inescapable
novel appeared, they were indignant that she had not sought her muse at
Carmel-by-the-Sea, or some other center of mutual admiration; affiliated
herself; announced herself, at the very least. There was a very sincere
feeling among them that any attempt on the part of a rank outsider to
achieve literary distinction was impertinent as well as unjustifiable....It
was impossible that he or she could be the real thing.
When they discovered that she was affiliated more or less with fashionable
society, nurse though she might be, and that those frivolous and negligible
beings were not only buying her book by the ton but giving her luncheons
and dinners and teas, their disgust knew no bounds and they tacitly agreed
that she should be tabu in the only circles where recognition counted.
But Gora, who barely knew of their existence, little recked that she had
been weighed, judged, and condemned. Her old dream had come true. Society,
the society which should have been her birthright and was not, had thrown
open its doors to her at last and everybody was outdoing everybody else in
flattering and entertaining her.
Not that she was deceived for a moment as to the nature of her success with
the majority of the people whose names twinkled so brightly in the social
heavens. She more than suspected the "plot" but cared little for the
original impulse of the book's phenomenal success in San Francisco and
its distinguished faubourgs. She was square with her pride, her youthful
bitterness had its tardy solace, her family name was rescued from
obscurity. She knew that this belated triumph rang hollow, and that she
really cared very little about it; but the strength and tenacity of her
nature alone would have forced her to quaff every drop of the cup so long
withheld. Even if she had been desperately bored she would have accepted
these invitations to houses so long indifferent to her existence, and as a
matter of fact she welcomed the sudden lapse into frivolity after her years
of hard and almost unremitting work. She had played little in her life; and
a year later when she was working eighteen hours a day without rest, in
conditions that seemed to have leapt into life from the blackest pages of
history, she looked back upon her one brief interval of irresponsibility,
gratified vanity, and bodily indolence, as at a bright star low on the
horizon of a dark and terrible night.
There was one small group of women, Gora soon discovered, that stood for
something besides amusement, sharply as some of them were identified with
all that was brilliant in the social life of the city. They read all that
was best in serious literature and fiction as soon after it came out as
their treadmill would permit, and they gave somewhat more time to it than
to poker. It was this small group, led by Mrs. Hunter, that in common with
several wealthy and clever Jewish women, with intellectual members of old
families that had long since dropped out of a society that gave them too
little to be worth the drain on their limited means, and with one or two
presidents of women's clubs, made up the small attendance at the lectures
on literary and political subjects, delivered either by some local light,
or European specialist in the art of charming the higher intelligence of
American women without subjecting it to undue fatigue.
This small but distinguished band discussed Gora separately and
collectively and placed the seal of approval upon her. With them her
arrival was genuine and permanent.
It was hardly a step from their favor to the many women's clubs of the
city, and she was invited to be the luncheon or afternoon guest at one
after another until all had entertained the rising star and she had learned
to make the little speeches expected of her without turning to ice.
The local intelligenzia, those that assured one another how great were each
and all, and whose poems or stories found an occasional hospitality in the
eastern magazines, who toiled over "precious" paragraphs of criticism or
whose single achievement had been a play for the mid-summer jinks of the
Bohemian Club; these and their associates, the artists and sculptors, still
held aloof, more and more annoyed that Gora Dwight should have had the bad
taste to be discovered by the Philistines, and should be flying across the
high heavens in spite of their tabu.
Gora had gradually become aware of their existence, and their attitude,
which both amused and piqued her. She knew now that if she had been one of
them they would have beaten the big drum and proclaimed to the world (of
California) that she was "great," "a genius," the legitimate successor of
Ambrose Bierce, whom she remotely resembled, and Bret Harte, whom she
did not resemble at all. This they would have done if only to prove that
California no longer "knocked" as in the mordant nineties, nor waited for
the anile East to set the seal of its dry approval before discovering that
a new volcano was sending forth its fiery swords in their midst.
But it was extremely doubtful if society and upper club circles would have
taken any notice of her. Both had acquired the habit, however unjustly, of
regarding their local intelligenzia (with the exception of the few who kept
themselves wholly apart from all groups) as worshipers of small gods,
and preferred to take their cues from London or New York. They plumed
themselves upon having discovered Gora Dwight and sometimes wondered how it
But Bohemia is hardly a trades union; it is indeed anarchistic and knows
no boss. Gora might not be invited to Carmel this many a day, nor yet to
Berkeley, nor to sundry other parnassi, but there was one club in San
Francisco whose curiosity got the better of it, and she was invited to
be the guest of the evening at the home of the Seven Arts Club on the
twentieth of April in the fateful year of nineteen-fourteen.
The Seven Arts Club had been organized by a group of painters, architects,
authors, sculptors, musicians, actors and poets, most of whom had long
since found various degrees of fame and moved to New York, Europe, or the
It still had seventy times seven votaries of the seven arts on its list and
few had found fame as yet outside their hospitable state--where log-rolling
is as amiable as the climate--but all save the elders were expecting it and
many made a fair living. They met once a week, and a part of the evening
pleasure of the literary wing was to "place" authors. They were willing to
swallow the British authors whole (they did in fact "discover" one or
two of them, as the musical critics had discovered such a rara avis as
Tetrazzini, or the dramatic critics many a now famous player); but they
were excessively critical of all who owed their origin to the United States
of America, and particularly of those who had loved and lost the sovereign
state of California.
Naturally all were more or less radical (except the cynical and now
somewhat anaemic elders who gave up hope for a world that had ceased to
hold out hope to them). The artists were disturbed by futurism and cubism,
although as neither paid they were forced to devote the greater part of
their inspiration to the marketable California scenery.
But the writers: potential or locally arrived novelists, playwrights,
poets, essayists, were the real intelligenzia! They went about with the
radical weeklies of the East (or Berkeley) under their arms and discoursed
under their breath (when foregathered in small and ardent groups) upon The
Revolution, the day of Judgment for all but honest Labor, and hissed
their hatred of Capital. And if they had much in common with those
"intellectuals" to be found in every land who caress the chin of radicalism
with one hand and plunge the other into the pocket of capital as far as
permitted, who shall blame them? One must live and one must have something
to excite one's intellect when sex, the stand-by, takes its well-earned
Several of these ardent ladies and gentlemen, with the sanction of the
Club's President, a business man whose contributions were the financial
mainstay of the Seven Arts, and who sincerely envied the gifted members,
denying them nothing, invited James Kirkpatrick to be the guest of an
evening and deliver an address on Socialism and the Proletariat. He replied
that he would come and spit on them if they liked but that he had as much
use for parlor socialists as he had for damned fools and posers of any
sort. Life was too short. As for Labor it knew how to take care of itself
and had about as crying a need of their "support" as a healthy human body
had of lice and other parasites.
They were not discouraged however, merely pronouncing him a "creature,"
and were not at all flattered or surprised when Gora Dwight accepted their
invitation and asked permission to bring her friends, Mrs. Mortimer Dwight
and Miss Aileen Lawton.
The wildflowers were on the green hills: the flame-colored velvet skinned
poppy, the purple and yellow lupins, the pale blue "babyeyes," buttercups,
dandelions and sweetbrier, fields of yellow mustard. The gardens about
the Bay and down the Peninsula were almost licentious in their vehement
indulgence in color. Every flower that grows north, south, east, west, on
the western hemisphere and the eastern, was to be found in some one of
these gardens of Central California; the poinsettia cheek by jowl with
periwinkle and the hedges of marguerite; heavy-laden trees of magnolia
above beds of Russian violets. Pomegranate trees and sweet peas,
bridal wreath and camellia, begonia, fuchsias, heliotrope, hydrangea,
chrysanthemums, roses, roses, roses....Little orchards of almond trees,
their blossoms a pink mist against a clear blue sky....The mariposa lily
was awake in the forests; infinitesimal yellow pansies made a soft carpet
for the feet of the deer and the puma....In the old Spanish towns of the
south, the Castilian roses were in bloom and as sweet and pink and
poignant as when Rezanov sailed through the Golden Gate in the April of
eighteen-six, or Chonita Iturbi y Moncada, the doomswoman, danced on the
hearts of men in Monterey....From end to end of the great Santa Clara
Valley the fruit trees were in bloom, a hundred thousand acres and more of
pure white blossoms or delicate pink. Bascom Luning took Alexina over it
one day in his air-car, as she called it, and from above it looked like a
scented sea that was all foam.
But no such riot and glory had come to San Francisco. This was the season
for winds that seemed to blow from the four points of the compass at
once and of ghostly fogs that stole up and down the streets of the city,
abandoning the hills to bank in the valleys, as if seeking warmth; abruptly
deserting the lowlands to prowl along the heights, always searching,
searching, these pure white lovely fogs of San Francisco, for something
lost and never found.
"I hope they're not too artistic to keep their rooms warm," said Aileen,
as they drove from her house where Gora and Alexina had dined, down to
the Club of the Seven Arts. "I have smoked so much, intending to prove in
public how really virtuous a society girl is, in contrast to Bohemia, that
I'm nearly frozen."
"Keep your wrap on," said Alexina. "Who cares? I have always been wild to
get into real Bohemian circles, meet authors and artists. We do lead the
most provincial life. All circles should overlap--the best of all, anyhow.
That is the way I would remold society if I were rich and powerful--"
"Good heavens Alex, you are not idealizing this crowd we are going to meet
to-night? They're just a lot of second and third raters--"
"What do you know about them?"
"I keep my feet on the ground and my head out of the clouds. I know more or
less what it must be. Besides, the last time I was in New York I was taken
several times to the restaurants and studios of Greenwich Village. I could
only convey my opinion of it in many swear words. This must be a sort of
chromo of it....Gora, are you as wildly excited as Alex is? I know she is
because her spine is rigid; and she is probably colder than I am."
"Well, anyhow," said Alexina defiantly, "it will be something I never saw
"It will, darling. Well. Gora, what do you anticipate?"
Gora laughed. "I wonder? I don't think I've thought much about it. The
circumstances of my life have developed the habit of switching off my
imagination except when I am at my desk. I've also formed the habit of
taking things as they come. I'll manage to extract something from this, one
way or another."
The car stopped before a narrow house in the rebuilt portion of the city.
The door was opened immediately and the three guests of honor, apparently
very late, as a large room beyond the vestibule appeared to be crowded,
were marshaled up a narrow stair into a dressing-room under the eaves.
"Looks like the loft of a barn," grumbled Aileen. There was no attendant to
hear. "Well, I'm not going to leave my cloak, for several reasons--only one
of which is that if this room is a sample my ill-covered bones will rattle
She wore a gown of black chiffon with a green jade necklace and a band of
green in her fashionably done fair hair. Alexina's gown was a soft white
satin that fitted closely and made her look very tall and slim and round,
the corsage trimmed with the only color she ever wore. Her hair was done in
a classic knot and held with a comb--a present from Aileen--designed from
periwinkles and green leaves and sparkling dew-drops.
Gora shook out the skirt of her only evening-gown, a well-made black satin,
very severe, but always relieved by a flower of some sort. To-night she
wore a poinsettia, whose peculiarly vivid red brought out the warm browns
of her skin and hair. She had a superb neck and shoulders and bust, and the
skin of her body was a delicate honey color that melted imperceptibly into
the deeper tones of her throat and face.
"Alexina," she said, "let us perish but exhibit all our points. Your arms
and hands were modeled for some untraced Greek ancestress and born again.
Your neck is almost as good as mine, if not quite so solid...."
She had a spot of crimson on her high cheek bones and admitted to the
discerning Aileen that she was the least bit excited. After all, the
keenest brains of San Francisco might be down in that long raftered room
they had glimpsed, and in any case she was about to be judged by a new
"Oh, don't let that worry you," Aileen began.
A door at the end of the room opened abruptly and a small woman came
forward almost panting. "I just ran up those stairs," she cried. "But I was
bound to be the first. I used to go to school with your mother down on Bush
Street--dear Minnie Morrison!"
She was a woman of fifty or sixty, with a nose like an inflamed button,
eyes that watered freely, and a shabby black hat somewhat on one side.
"But my mother never went to school in San Francisco," said Gora stiffly,
and eyeing this first precipitate member of the intellectual world with
"Oh, yes, she did. We were the most intimate friends. To think that dear
"Her name was not Minnie Morrison--"
'Oh, yes, it was--"
"Don't mind her so much, Gora dear." Aileen did not trouble to lower her
voice. "She's drunk. Let's go down."
Another woman entered the same door almost as hastily, but she was a
stately and rather handsome woman of forty, who gave the intruder such a
withering look from her serene blue eyes that the unrefined member of the
Seven Arts slunk out and could be heard stumbling down the stairs.
"I followed as soon as some one told me that Miss Skeers had come up here,"
she said apologetically. "She is not always herself, poor thing. Once
she was quite distinguished as a local magazine writer, but...well, you
know...all people do not have the good fortune to have their genius
universally recognized, and the results are sometimes disastrous. We are
so proud to welcome you to-night, Miss Dwight, and--and--your charming
friends. I am Jane Upton Halsey." She appeared to think no further
"Oh, yes," murmured the bewildered Gora. "It was you who wrote to me."
"Exactly. I am chairman of the reception committee." She looked expectant,
then piqued, and added hastily: "Will you come downstairs? What lovely
gowns. I should like to paint you all."
She herself was a symphony in pink ("dago pink," whispered Aileen
wickedly), and she wore a small pink silk turban, apparently made from the
same bolt as the gown.
"Perhaps we should have worn hats," said Gora nervously. "I didn't know--I
"You are just all right. Anything goes here. We wear what's becoming,
what we can afford, and what is our own idea of the right thing. Nobody
criticizes anybody else."
"Now, this is life!" said Alexina to Aileen. "You will admit we never found
anything like that before."
"Just you watch and catch them criticizing us....Rather effective--what?"
They were descending a staircase that led directly into the crowded room
below, and they looked down upon a mass of upturned expectant faces, Gora
was ahead with Miss Halsey, and as she reached the floor the faces
changed their angle; it was apparent that they were not interested in her
"Let's stop here for a moment and watch," said Alexina. "It's too
interesting. They look as if they'd eat her alive."
The whole company seemed to be seething about Gora, and as they were
rapidly presented by Miss Halsey and passed on they produced the effect,
in the inner circles, of a maelstrom. On the outer edge the women frankly
stood on chairs to get a better look at the new lion, or pushed forward
with frenzied determination to the fixed center of the whirlpool, whose
gracious smile was becoming strained.
"Poor Gora!" said Aileen. "We do it better. A few picked souls at a time;
or, even when it's a tea, just casual introductions at decent intervals,
and not too many references to the immortal work."
"It's simply great for Gora, anyhow; for, big or little, they're her own
sort. And they're not snobs, They don't care tuppence for us."
"You're right there. I went to a big reception of all the arts in Paris
once and the only people any one kowtowed to were two disgustingly rich
New York women who had never done anything. But no one can be blamed for
national characteristics. Heavens! What an olla podrida!"
Some of the men were in evening dress, but the greater number were not.
They were of all ages, shaves, neckties and haircuts. The women wore every
variety of hat, from an immense sailor perched above an immense fat face,
above an immense shirtwaist bust, to minute turbans and waving plumes. They
wore tailored suits, high "one piece" frocks of any material from chiffon
to serge, symphonic confections like Miss Halsey's, and flowing robes
presumably artistic. None wore full evening dress except the guests of
honor. All, however, did not wear hats, and they arranged their hair as
individually as Alexina.
"This may be our chance to see the art exhibit," said Aileen. "They'll
remember us in time, or Gora will...."
They descended into the room but had waited too long. Miss Halsey, turning
the guest of honor over to the second in command, a woman of portentous
seriousness, made her way hastily to the mere butterflies; who endeavored
vainly to slink away under cover of the rotating crowd.
"You won't think me rude, I hope," she cried, "but I had to start things
going, and it is awkward for all to introduce three people at a time."
"You were most considerate," said Alexina amiably. "But we only came to
witness Gora's triumph, and we enjoy looking on, anyhow....We were about to
look at the pictures...."
"You must meet some of our more brilliant members," said Miss Halsey
firmly. "They would never forgive me, and have been almost as excited at
meeting two such distinguished members of society as at meeting Miss Dwight
herself. Now, if you...if you...that is..."
"Our names are Jane Boughton and Mamie Featherhurst," supplied Aileen,
transfixing the lady with her wicked green eyes.
"Oh, yes, to be sure...there has been so much to think of...but your names
are so often in the society columns...it seems to me I recall that one of
you is the daughter of a famous judge--"
"Boughton. He's under indictment, you know, for graft, bribery, and
"Oh...ah...how unfortunate," Miss Halsey's jaw fell. Even she had
heard--vaguely in her studio--of the scandal of Judge Boughton, and she
wondered how she had been so absent-minded as to invite a member of his
family to the club.
"You see," said Aileen coolly. "I am not fit to associate with your
members, and as Miss Featherhurst is still my loyal friend, we'll just go
over and sit in a corner--"
"Indeed you shall do nothing of the kind. You are our guests, and--please
for this evening forget everything else."
"You nasty little beast," hissed Alexina into Aileen's discomforted ear.
"She's worth two of you."
"So she is," said Aileen contritely, "I'll behave better."
Miss Halsey, who had been signaling several members and rounding up others,
returned, Alexina blazed her eyes at Aileen, who murmured hastily to the
hostess: "I was just joking. I am Judge Lawton's daughter, and this is Mrs.
Mortimer Dwight, Gora's sister-in-law. I'd never have told such a whopper
but I'm so nervous and shy. I didn't think I could go through the ordeal."
"Oh, you poor child. Well, you'll find we're not terrible in the least.
Now, don't try to remember names. They'll remember yours--better than I
Another small eddying circle formed about the luminaries from a lower
sphere. This proved to be much like similar performances in any stratum of
society. All murmured platitudes, or nothing. Nobody tried to be original
or witty. Alexina and Aileen gradually disengaged themselves and were
making their way toward the pictures that turned the four walls into a
harmonious mass of color, when an old man came tottering up. He had bright,
eyes and a pleasant face.
"Which is Mrs. Dwight?" he asked eagerly. Alexina bent her lofty head and
smiled down upon him.
"Of course. Little Alexina. I remember you when you were a dear little girl
and I used to see you playing about the house when I went up to have a
good powwow with that clever grandfather of yours, Alex Groome--one of the
ablest politicians this town ever had; and straight, damn straight."
"Alexander Groome was my father."
"Oh, no, he wasn't. He was your grandfather. You are the daughter...let me
see...there were two or three young ladies....I remember when they came out
in the eighties...and a boy or two...."
"I am sorry to be rude, but Alexander Groome was my father. I came along
"Impossible!...Well, I suppose you know best..." and he drifted off.
"This seems to be a home for incurables," said Aileen. "I am sure I don't
know how I shall get through the evening. Gora has a slight sense of humor,
you have quite a keen one, but mine is positively fiendish....Oh, Lord!"
Miss Halsey was trailing them, her hand resting lightly on the arm of
"Now this is something like," whispered Aileen. "Witch of Endor got up to
look like Carmen."
The oncoming luminary was a singular-looking woman who may have been
considerably less so in the privacy of her dressing-room; she had evidently
expended much thought upon supplementing the niggardliness of Nature. Her
unwashed-looking black hair was dressed very high and stuck with immense
pins. Large, circular, highly colored, imitation jade rings dangled in
tiers from her ear-lobes, and at least eight rows of colored beads covered
the front of her loose, fringed, embroidered, beaded gown. She had a
haggard face, deeply lined and badly painted, but something, an emanation
perhaps, seemed to proclaim that she was still young.
"This, dear Mrs. Dwight and Miss Lawton, is Alma De Quincey Smith, with
whose work you are of course familiar. She had her reception last week but
was only too glad to come to-night and extend the welcoming hand of the
east to our new daughter of the west."
Miss De Quincey Smith barely gave her time to finish. She darted forward
and grasped Aileen's hand. "Oh, you must let me tell you how wonderful I
think your unique green eyes go with that jade. I've been watching you!"
She spoke with the eager unthinking impulsiveness of a child, which, oddly,
made her look like a very old woman.
"Too nice of you," murmured Aileen, who was determined to behave.
"And you!" she cried, turning to Alexina. "Your eyes simply blaze. You look
like a long white arum lily. And dusky hair, not merely black. Oh, I do
think you are both too wonderful, and I am sure all these splendid artists
here will want to paint you."
Alexina and Aileen were not accustomed to such spontaneous and unbridled
admiration and they thought Miss Smith quite fascinating if rather queer.
But Miss Smith did not number tact among her gifts and rushed on.
"Gora Dwight is too wonderful looking for words. We are all crazy over
her. All the artists want to paint her already. Her coloring and style are
unique and she suggests tragedy--with those marvelous pale eyes in that
dark face--those heavy dark brows and heavy masses of hair. I have
suggested that Folkes--your greatest portrait painter, you know,--paint
her as Medea, or as the Genius of the Revolution, How proud you must be of
"So we are," murmured Aileen. "We think she is the only woman writer in
America worth mentioning. Why don't you paint her yourself?"
"I? I am not an artist--with the brush! I am an author, Alma De Quincey
"Oh!..." Aileen's voice trailed off vaguely, "What do you write? Plays?
"I--why, I'm one of the best--my stories appear constantly in the best
magazines." Miss Smith, who had been deserted some time since by Miss
Halsey, looked abject, helpless, and infuriated.
"Oh! We only read the worst. It must be wonderful to be famous. Come, Alex,
we must see the pictures. They're going to have music and supper later."
"Nevertheless," said Alexina, "they are real as far as they go, and they
really do things, good or bad. They work, they aspire; they dream, and
perhaps with reason, of a glorious future, when they will be as famous and
successful as the founders of the club. Even if they fail they will have
had the wonderful dream. Nothing can take that from them. I envy them--envy
They were standing in a far corner of the room, after having examined three
or four admirable and many passable paintings. Aileen looked at her in
surprise. They had both been remarking upon the comic aspects of the
intellectual life, and Alexina's outburst was unexpected. Aileen had
seldom seen her vehement since they had outgrown their youthful habit of
wrangling. She was still more astonished when she turned from a view of the
Latin-seeming roofs of San Francisco from Twin Peaks, to Alexina's face. It
looked drawn and desperate.
"Well, most of them will fail," she said lightly. "Look at these pictures!
That is what is the matter with California--too much talent. You must be as
individual as a talking monkey to get your head above the crowd. All these
poor devils are doomed to the local reputation."
"Even so they have something to live for, mean something, do something.
What do I mean to myself or anyone? What have I accomplished? The man I
married is a dummy-husband; means nothing to me nor I to him. I have no
children. Even my housekeeping for Maria is a farce; James really does it
all. I mean nothing to society now that I can no longer entertain it. I
haven't even a decent vice. I don't smoke and gamble like you, nor have
lovers like some of the others. I'm simply a nonentity--nothing!"
"You have personality...beauty...." Aileen was completely at a loss. "I
hate being banal like that Smith idiot...but you are the perfection of a
type. That is something. And you cultivate your mind--"
"My mind! What does it amount to? Anybody can pack a brain. I'd like one of
those that gives out something, however little. But I can't help that. The
point is I don't live. I don't care a hang about personality that doesn't
get anywhere, and I care still less about being a finished type--that's the
work of dead and gone ancestors, anyhow, not mine....I wish I could fall in
love with James Kirkpatrick. I'd feel more justified in my own eyes if I
were living with him over in the Mission--"
"His old mother would chase you out with a broom and use Biblical language.
Of course I know you must be bored, Alex dear. Can't you manage to go
abroad and live for a time?"
"No, I can't, and I don't see what difference that would make. But I'll
tell you what I shall do. If Tom and Maria want to rent the house next year
they can have it but I'll not live there. I'll not be 'held up' any longer.
I'll stand on my own feet--in other words get a job. No--I've some loose
money, I'll start in business."
"Good for you. Perhaps dad'll let me go in with you. Don't imagine I don't
get sick of my racketing life; and when I have a spasm of reform I nearly
take seriously to drink, I'm so bored. Would you have me for partner?"
"Wouldn't I? That is if you would be serious about it. I am, let me tell
you. The whole family can perform suttee for all I care. I'm going to do
something that will give me a place in the main stream of life."
"Trust me. I have been considering Bob's fifteenth proposal--Mr. Cheever
has promised him a full partnership the day he marries, and it wouldn't
be so bad. Bobby is a good sport, and we'd live the out-door life at
Burlingame instead of the in--sports...tournaments...polo...cut out
dissipation. We've both really had enough of it. But I believe business
would be more interesting. After all that's what you marry for unless you
want children--which I don't--to be interested. What'll we be? Decorators?"
"I suppose so. But all this has only just come to a head, although I know
now that it has been slowly gathering force in my deepest deeps. If we do
I'll take Alice on. She's sick of the game too and she has simply ripping
"Perfect. 'Dwight, Thorn--', no, 'Thorndyke, Lawton and Dwight.' I'm too
excited--convicts must feel like that when they tunnel a hole and get out.
It will be our real, our first adventure."
But two weeks later Aileen told Alexina that although she had cannily
waited for what she believed to be the propitious moment and told her
father about the great scheme, she had never seen him so upset. She
stormed, argued, wept, but he was adamant. He would give her neither a cent
nor his permission. When she accused him of inconsistency (he had supported
woman's suffrage) he replied that women forced to work needed the franchise
and no fair-minded man would withhold it; and if for no other reason he
would forbid his daughter to go out and compete with women who must work
whether they wanted to or not.
But that was only one point.
What did progress mean if women deliberately dropped from a higher plane
to a lower? What had their ancestors worked for, possibly died for? It was
their manifest duty to their class, to their family, to go up not down.
Moreover, when women had men to support them and insisted upon forcing
their way into the business world, they made men ridiculous and undermined
society. It was dangerous, damned dangerous. If he had his way not a woman
in any class, outside of nursing and domestic service, should work. He'd
tax every male in the land, according to his income or wage, to say nothing
of the rich women, and keep every last one of the unportioned in idleness
rather than risk the downfall of male supremacy in the world.
He hated every form of publicity for the women of his class. If he had his
way their names, much less photographs, should never appear in the public
press. Society should be sacrosanct. Its traditions should be handed on,
not lowered....Charity boards and settlement work, perhaps, but no further
exposure to the vulgar gaze...he was glad she had never gone in for the
Civilization would be meaningless without that small class at the top that
proved what Earth could accomplish in the way of breeding, the refinements
of life, the beauty of distinction, in making an art of leisure, of
pleasure--quite as much an art as writing books or painting pictures.
If the men in the younger nations had to work, at least they were able to
prove to the older that the exquisite creatures they bred and protected
were second to none on this planet, at least.
If women had genius that was another question. Let them give it to the
world, by all means. That was their personal gift to civilization....He was
not bigoted like some men, even young men, who thought it a disgrace for a
lady publicly to transfer herself to the artistic plane and compete with
men for laurels....But when it came to stripping off the delicate badges
that only the higher civilization could confer, and struggling tooth and
nail with the mob for no reason whatever--it was disloyal, ungrateful and
He was no snob. He thought himself better than no man. (Different, yes.)
But in regard to women, the women of his class, the class of his father
before him, and of his father's father, he had his ideals, his convictions.
That was all.
Back to Full Books