Part 6 out of 7
"In short, he's modern but not too modern. My twentieth-century arguments
were brushed aside as mere fads. And yet there's probably not an important
case tried in any court in either hemisphere that he doesn't read--learn
something from if he can. He takes in the leading newspapers and reviews of
America and Europe and even reads the best modern novels as carefully as he
ever read Thackeray and Dickens--says they are the real social chronicles.
He's a profound student of history, and the history of the present
interests him just as much--he has those Balkans under a microscope; and
collects all the data on every important strike here and elsewhere. And yet
where women are concerned he is a fossil. An American fossil--worst sort.
Some of the young ones are just as bad...I'll have to give in. I can't
break his heart. I suppose I'll marry Bobby."
Alice Thorndyke also shook her head. "I'd like to, Alex, but frankly I
haven't the courage. Your friends all stick to you like perfect dears when
you step down and out and set up shop, and are so kind you feel like a
street walker in a house of refuge. But secretly they hate it and they
don't feel toward you in the same way at all. They may not know enough
to express it, but what they really feel is that you have threatened the
solidity of the order and lowered yourself as well as them. One day they
may have more sense but not in our time, I am afraid."
Nevertheless, Alexina persisted in her determination. One could succeed
alone. She would not be the first. She was by no means sure, however, what
she wanted to do, and made up her mind to take no step before the following
winter. When the Abbotts returned to Rincona in May they took James with
them. Alexina closed Ballinger House, although Mortimer slept there and a
Filipino came in every morning to make his breakfast and bed; and took a
cottage in Ross with Janet Maynard whose mother had gone south to visit old
lady Bascom, and who craved the wild peace of Marin County after too much
San Francisco and Burlingame.
Marin, with its magnificent redwood forests on the coast, fed by the fogs
of the Pacific, its ancient sunlit woods of oak and madrono and manzanita,
its mountains and rocky hills and peaceful fertile valleys, is perhaps the
most beautiful county in California, and its towns and villages are still
almost primitive in spite of the many fashionable residents whose homes are
close to or in them. The ocean pounds its western base, Mount Tamalpais is
its proudest possession, it has a haunted looking lake; and a part of it
embraces one of the many ramifications of the Bay of San Francisco, and
commands a superb view of city and island and mountain. But it has a heavy
brooding peace that seems to relax the social conscience. Entertaining is
intermittent, and its inhabitants return to their winter in San Francisco
deeply refreshed. It has its paradoxes like the rest of California. On a
stark little peninsula, jutting out from bare hills into the Bay, is San
Quentin, one of the State's Prisons, and along the edges of the marsh are
Chinese hamlets and shrimp fisheries.
Alexina and Janet purposed to spend the summer reading, idling in the
sweet-scented garden, walking in the early morning, riding horseback in the
late afternoon, taking tea at the club house at San Rafael, or Belvedere,
perhaps, but "cutting out" all social dissipations. Janet was now
twenty-six and beginning to feel the strain as well as seriously to
consider what she should do with the rest of her life. She had great
wealth, she was blasee as a result of doing everything she chose to do, in
public or in private, and she was nearly two generations younger than Judge
Lawton. Nevertheless, she perceived no allurement in the business world,
and the only alternative seemed marriage. Not in California, however. No
surprises there. She might take her fortune to London and become a peeress
of the realm. When change became imperative better go up than down.
Alexina had never felt the attractions of dissipation and was not afflicted
with moral ennui; but she was tired from much thinking and brooding and
intimate personal contacts. She wanted the deep refreshment of the summer
before girding up for the winter--before making her plunge into the world
of business and toil.
But she was soon to discover that she had girded up her loins, or at all
events brightened up her corpuscles and reposed her brain cells, for a far
It is possible that only two people in California, barring German spies,
leapt instantly to the conclusion that the Sarajevo bomb meant a European
War. The Judge, because he had the historical background and knew his
modern Europe as he knew his chessboard; and Alexina because she recalled
conversations she had had in France the summer before with people close to
the Government, to say nothing of mysterious allusions in the letters of
Olive de Morsigny; who may have thought it wise not to trust all she knew
to the post, or may have been too busy with her intensive nursing course to
enter into particulars.
Janet shrugged her large statuesque shoulders when Alexina communicated her
fears. What was war to her? England at least would have sense enough to
keep out of it. Aileen came over after a convincing talk with her father
looking as worried as if some nation or other were training their guns on
the Golden Gate.
"Dad says it's the world war...that we'll be dragged in...that Germany
has had it up her sleeve for years...believes that bomb was made in
Berlin...nothing under heaven could have averted this impending war but a
huge standing army in Great Britain...hasn't Lord Roberts been crying out
for it?....Dad and I dined at his house one night in London and the only
picture in the dining-room was an oil painting of the Kaiser in a red
uniform, done expressly for Lord Roberts...funny world...and now Britain's
got a civil war on her hands and mutinous officers who won't go over
and shoot men of their own class in Ulster....Russia hasn't built her
strategic railways--all the money used up in graft....Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!
who'd have thought it?...Twentieth century and all the rest of it."
"Twentieth century...war...how utterly absurd....I don't wish to be
This from every one to whom Alexina and Aileen, or even Judge Lawton,
communicated their fears.
One day Alexina and Aileen met in San Francisco by appointment and
telephoned to James Kirkpatrick, asking him to lunch with them at the
California Market. He accepted with alacrity, and laughed genially at their
apprehensions. War? War? Not on your life. There'll never be another war.
Socialists won't permit it. The kaiser? To hell with the kaiser. (Excuse
me.) He, James Kirkpatrick, was in frequent correspondence with
certain German socialists. They would declare themselves in the coming
International Congress for the general strike if any sovereign--or
President--dared to try to put over a war on the millions of determined
socialists, syndicalists, internationalists, and communists in Great
Britain and Europe; he'd get the surprise of his life. Socialism was
determined there should never be another war--the burden and life-toll of
which was always borne by the poor man. He didn't believe any of those fool
sovereigns, not even the crazy kaiser, would attempt it, knowing what they
did; but if they turned out to be deaf and blind, well, just watch out for
the Great Strike. That would be the most portentous, the most awe-inspiring
event in history,
And then he dismissed a prospective European war as unworthy of further
attention and held forth with extreme acrimony on the subject of the Great
Colorado Strike; which rose to passionate denunciation of the miserable
make-shift called civilization which, would permit such a horror in the
very heart of a great and prosperous nation. But with the new system...the
new system...there would not be even these abominable little civil
wars...for that was what we had right here in our own country...no need to
use up your gray matter bothering about European states....
He was so convincing that Alexina and Aileen thanked him warmly and went to
their respective destinations lulled and comforted.
Nevertheless, the war made its grand debut on August first, and Mr.
Kirkpatrick, who had started on one of the passenger ships leaving New York
for the International Socialist Congress, climbed ignominiously over the
side and returned to the great ironic city on a tug.
Two letters came from Olive to Alexina and one to each of her other old
friends, imploring them to come over and help. They could nurse. They could
run canteens. Oeuvres. She wanted to show France what her friends, her
countrywomen, could do.
But the war would be over in three months....Only Judge Lawton believed
it would be a long war. Others hardly comprehended there was a war at
all....Such things don't happen in these days. (Who in that wondrous
smiling land could think upon war anywhere?)...It would be too funny if
it were not for those dreadful pictures of the Belgian refugees....Poor
things....Maria and other good women immediately began knitting
for them...sat for hours on the verandahs, all in white, knitting,
knitting...but talking of anything of war....It simply was a horrid
dream and soon would be over....Their husbands all said so...three
months....German army irresistible...modern implements of war must
annihilate whole armies very quickly, and the Germans had the most and
the best....Rotten shame (said Burlingame) and the Germans not even good
James Kirkpatrick, who avoided his former pupils, consoled himself with the
thought that at least Britain would be licked...she'd get what was coming
to her, all right, and Ireland would be free....Anyhow it would soon be
over....When April nineteen-seventeen came he damned the socialist party
for its attitude and enlisted: "I was a man and an American first, wasn't
I?" he wrote to Alexina. "I guess your flag...oh, hell! (Excuse me.)"
In December, nineteen-fourteen, Alexina and Alice Thorndyke (who grasped
the entering wedge with both ruthless white little hands) went to France.
Aileen was not strong enough to nurse so she bade a passionate good-by
to her friends and engaged herself to Bob Cheever. Jimmie Thorne went to
France as an ambulance driver, and Bascom Luning to join the Lafayette
Escadrille. Gora sailed six months later to offer her services to England.
In the case of a nurse there was much red tape to unravel.
A fair proportion of the women left behind continued to knit. As time went
on branches of certain French war-relief organizations were formed, and
run by such capable women as Mrs. Thornton and Mrs. Hunter, who had many
friends among the American women living in France; now toiling day and
night at their oeuvres.
Alexina and Olive de Morsigny, after a year of nursing, when what little
flesh they had left could stand no more, founded an oeuvre of their own,
and Sibyl Bascom and Aileen Cheever did fairly well with a branch in San
Francisco, Alexina's relatives quite wonderfully in New York and Boston;
although they were already interested in many others.
Certain interests in California, notably the orchards and canneries, were
violently anti-British during the first years of the war, as the blockade
shut off their immense exports to Germany, and those that failed, or closed
temporarily, realized the incredible: that a war in Europe could affect
California, even as the Civil War affected the textile factories of
England. To them it was a matter of indifference, until nineteen-seventeen,
who won the war so long as one side smashed the other and was quick about
Owners and directors of copper mines--but let us draw a veil over the
sincere robust instincts of human nature.
The Club of Seven Arts was proudly and vociferously pro-German. Not that
they cared a ha'penny damn really for Germany, but it was a far more
original attitude than all this sobbing over France...and then there was
Reinhardt, the Secessionist School, the adorable jugendstyl. And the
atrocity stories were all lies anyway. The bourgeois president resigned,
but no one else paid any attention to them.
In nineteen-seventeen a few declared themselves pacifists and conscientious
objectors, and, little recking what they were in for, marched off
triumphantly to a military prison, feeling like Christ and longing for a
The others, those that were young enough, shouldered a gun and went to the
front with high hearts and hardened muscles. Democracy ueber alles. The
women enlisted in the Red Cross and the Y.W.C.A., and worked with grim
enthusiasm, either at home or in France.
By this time California, almost on another planet as she was, with her
abundance unchecked, and her skies smiling for at least three-fourths of
the year, admitted there was a real war in the world, as bad (or worse) as
any you could read about in history. The war films in the motion picture
houses were quite wonderful, but too terrible.
They also discussed it, especially on those days when the streets echoed
with the march of departing regiments in khaki, or one's own son, or one's
friend's son enlisted or was drafted, or it was their day at Red Cross
All the older women were at work now, and all but the most irreclaimably
frivolous of the young ones. Even Tom and Maria Abbott made no protest
against Joan's joining the Woman's Motor Corps; and, dressed in a smart,
gray, boyish uniform, she drove her car at all hours of the day and night.
She was not only sincerely anxious to serve, but she knew, and sheltered
girls all over the land knew,--to say nothing of the younger married
women--that this was the beginning of their real independence, the knell of
the old order. They were freed. Even the reenforced concrete minds of the
last generation imperceptibly crumbled and were as imperceptibly modernized
in the rebuilding.
A good many of the women, old and young, continued to gamble furiously out
of their hours of work; but the majority of the girls did not. Those with
naturally serious minds were absorbed, uplifted, keen, calculating. They
did not even dance. They realized that they had wonderful futures in a
changing world. It was "up to them."
Mortimer was beyond the draft age, but, possibly owing to his gallant
fearless appearance, it was rather expected that he would enlist. He did
not, however, nor did he join the Red Cross or the Y.M.C.A., nor volunteer
for some Government work, as so many of the men of his age and class were
doing as a matter of course.
War news bored him excessively. He was making two or three hundred dollars
a month; he lived at the Club when Maria Abbott occupied Ballinger
House--Tom went to Washington--and he was extremely comfortable. In the
Club he always felt like a blood, forgot for the time being that he was not
a rich man, like the majority of its members, and there was always a group
of nice quiet contented fellows, glad to play bridge with him in the
evening. On the whole, he congratulated himself, he had not done so badly,
although he had resigned all hope of being a millionaire--unless he made a
lucky strike....But it did not make so much difference in California...and
when Alexina had had enough of horrors they would settle down again
very comfortably to the old life....There was very good dancing at the
restaurants (upstairs) where one met nice girls of sorts who didn't care
a hang about this infernal war...one of them...but he was extremely
careful...he would never be divorced; that was positive...as for society he
did not miss it particularly...the dancing at the restaurants was better
and he didn't have to talk...whether people stopped asking him or not, now
that his wife was away, or whether they entertained or not, didn't so much
matter. He had the Club. That was the all important pivot of his life, his
altar, his fetish...a lot he cared what went so long as he had that.
The Embassy was a blinding glare of light from the ground floor to the
upper story, visible above the wide staircase. After four years of legal
tenebration it was obvious that the ambassador's intention was to celebrate
the Armistice as well as the visit of his King to Paris with an almost
impish demonstration of the recaptured right to extravagance, obliterate
the dry economical past. The ambassador's country might be intolerably poor
after the war, but like many other prudent nobles he had invested money in
North and South America, and was able to entertain his sovereign out of his
private purse. He had made up his mind to give the first brilliant function
following the sudden end of La Grande Guerre and one that it would be
difficult for even Paris to eclipse.
All Paris had burst forth into illumination of street and shop after
nightfall, but Alexina had seen no such concentrated blaze as this; and her
eyes, long accustomed to a solitary globe high in the ceiling of her room,
blinked a little, strong as they were. She had come with the Marquis and
Marquise de Morsigny, and after they had passed the long receiving line
where the King in his simple worn uniform stood beside the resplendent
ambassador, her friends' attention had been diverted to a group of
acquaintances chattering excitedly over the startling munificence that
seemed to them prophetic of a swift renaissance.
They moved off unconsciously, and Alexina remained alone near one of
the long windows behind the receiving line; but she felt secure in her
insignificance and quite content to gaze uninterruptedly at the greatest
function she had ever seen. After the bitter hard work, the long
monotonies, the brief terrible excitements, of the past four years, and
the depressed febrile atmosphere of Paris during the last year when avions
dropped their bombs nearly every night, and Big Bertha struck terror to
each quarter in turn, this gay and gorgeous scene recalled one's most
extravagant dreams of fairy-land and Arabia; and Alexina felt like a very
young girl. Even the almost constant sensation of fatigue, mental and
bodily, fell from her as she forgot that she had worked from nine until
six for three years in her oeuvre, often walking the miles to and from her
hotel or pension to avoid the crowded trains; the distasteful food; the
tremors that had shaken even her tempered soul when the flashing of the
German guns, drawing ever nearer, could be seen at night on the horizon.
And Paris had been so dark!
She reveled almost sensuously in the excessiveness of the contrast, quite
unconcerned that her white gown was several years out of date. For that
matter there were few gowns, in these vast rooms, of this year's fashion.
Although Paris had begun to dance wildly the day the Armistice was
declared, not only in sheer reaction from a long devotion to its ideal
of duty, but that the American officers should have the opportunity to
discover the loveliness and charm of the French maiden, the women had not
yet found time to renew their wardrobes, and the only gowns in the room
less than four years old were worn by the newly arrived Americans of the
Peace Commission and the ladies of the Embassy. The most striking figures
were the French Generals in their horizon blue uniforms and rows of orders
on their hardy chests.
Of jewels there were few. When the German drive in March seemed
irresistible, jewels had been sent to distant estates, or to banks in
Marseilles and Lyons, and there had been no time to retrieve them after the
ambassador sent out his sudden invitations. Alexina smiled as she recalled
Olive de Morsigny's lament over the absence of her tiara. European women of
society take their jewels very seriously, and there was not a Frenchwoman
present who did not possess a tiara, however old-fashioned.
But the cold luminosity of jewels would have been extinguished to-night
under this really terrific down-pour of light. The tall candelabra against
the tapestried or the white and gold walls were relieved of duty; Paris had
had enough of candlelight; the four immense chandeliers of this reception
room, either of which would have illuminated a restaurant, had been rewired
and blazed like suns. Suspended from the ceiling, festooned between the
candelabra and the chandeliers, were clusters and loops of glass tupils and
roses, each concealing an electric bulb. Alexina reflected that the soft
haze of candles might be more artistic and becoming, but was grateful
nevertheless for this rather tasteless fury of light, symptomatic as it
was; and understood the ambassador's revolt against the enforced economies
of a long war, his desire to do honor to his unassuming little sovereign.
The room, whose lofty ceiling was supported along the center by three
massive pillars, was already crowded, and people entered constantly. Every
embassy was represented, all the grande noblesse of Paris and even a stray
Bourbon and Bonaparte. A few of the guests were the more distinguished
American residents of Paris and their gowns were as out of date if as
inimitably cut as the Frenchwomen's, for they had worked as hard. But
Alexina ceased to notice them. She had become aware that two American
officers, standing still closer to the window, were talking. One of them
had parted the curtains and was looking out.
"By Jove," he said. "Strikes me this is rather risky. Six long windows
opening on the garden, and the King standing directly in front of one of
them. Fine chance for some filthy Bolshevik or anarchist."
"Oh, nonsense," said the other absently; his eyes were roving over the
room. "Wish I could take to one of these French girls...feel it a sort of
duty to increase the rapport and all that...but although the married women
and the other sort of girls are a long sight more fascinating than ours,
"American girls for me. But I'm still jumpy, and this sort of carelessness
makes me nervous, particularly as the story is going about that the King
came near being assassinated in the station of his home town when he was
leaving. Man fired point blank at his face, but gun didn't go off or some
one knocked up the man's arm. Did you notice that he looked about rather
apprehensively when he arrived, at the station yesterday? No wonder, poor
Alexina moved off, making her way slowly, but finally was forced to halt
near the row of pillars. She was looking through the opposite door at the
fantastic illuminations of the hall and reception rooms beyond, when,
without a second's warning flicker, every light in the house went out.
Simultaneously the high clatter of voices ceased as if the old familiar cry
of "_Alerte_" had sounded in the street. Involuntarily, as people in real
life do act, her hands clutched her heart, her mouth opened to relieve her
lungs. A Frenchman whispered beside her. "The King! A plot!"
She waited to hear screams from the women, wild ejaculations from the men.
But the years of war and danger had extinguished the weak and exalted the
strong. Beyond the almost inaudible gasp of her neighbor Alexina heard
nothing. The silence was as profound as the darkness and that was abysmal;
she could not see the white of her gown.
All, she knew, were waiting for the sound of a pistol shot, or of a groan
as the King fell with a knife in his back.
Then she became aware that men were forcing their way through the crowd;
she was almost flung into the arms of a man behind her. Later she knew that
a group of officers had surrounded their King and rushed him up the room to
place him in front of the central pillar, but at the moment she believed
that they were either carrying out his body, or that a group of anarchists
Then one man lit a match. She saw a pale strained face, the eyes roving
excitedly above the flickering flame. Then another match was struck, then
another. Those that had no matches struck their briquets, and these burned
with a tiny yellow flame. One or two took down candles and lit them. All
over the room, in little groups, or widely separated, Alexina saw face
after face, white and anxious, appear. The bodies were invisible. The faces
hung, pallid disks, in the dark.
Her attention was suddenly arrested by a face above the small steady flame
of a briquet. It was a thin worn face, probably that of an officer recently
discharged from hospital. His expression was ironic and unperturbed and his
eyes flashed about the room exhibiting a lively curiosity. An Englishman,
probably; nothing there of the severity of the American military
countenance; although, to be sure, that had relaxed somewhat these last
weeks under the blandishments of Paris. Nevertheless...quite apart from
the military, there was the curious unanalyzable difference between the
extremely well-bred American face and the extremely well-bred English
face. It might be that the older civilization did not take itself quite so
Obeying an impulse, which, she assured herself later, was but the sudden
reaction to frivolity from the horror that had possessed her, she took a
match unceremoniously from the hand of a neighbor, lit it and held it below
her own face. The man's eyes met hers instantly, opened a little wider,
She looked at him steadily...interested...something...somewhere...stirring.
The match burnt her fingers and was hastily extinguished. At the same time
she became aware of a fuller effulgence just beyond the pillars and that
people were moving on, some retreating toward the hall. She was carried
forward and a little later turned her head, forgetting for a moment the
humorous face that still had seemed to beckon above the white disks that
inspired her with no interest whatever.
Against the central pillar stood the King, and on either side of him two
officers of his suite, as rigid as men in armor, held aloft each a great
candelabra taken from the wall. All the candles in the branches had been
lit and shone down on the composed and somewhat expressionless face of the
King. The strange group looked like a picture in some old cathedral window.
The scene lasted only a moment. Then the King, bowing courteously, left the
room, still between the candelabra; and, followed by his ambassador, whose
face was far paler than his, ascended the staircase.
A Frenchman beside Alexina cursed softly and she learned the meaning of the
dramatic finale to a superb but rather dull function. There had been no
attempt at assassination. A lead fuse had melted; the ambassador, who had
taxed his imagination to honor his King, had forgotten to give the order
that electricians remain on guard to avert just such a calamity as this.
As the explanation ran round the room people began to laugh and chatter
rapidly as if they feared the sudden reaction might end in hysteria. But
although all the candles had now been lit, the effort to revive the mild
exhilaration of the evening was fruitless. They wanted to get away. Many
still believed that a plot had been balked, and that the assassins were
lurking in one of the many rooms of the hotel.
Alexina met Olive de Morsigny in the dressing-room, and found her white and
shaking, although for four years she had proved herself a woman of strong
nerves as well as of untiring effort.
"Great heaven!" she whispered, as she helped Alexina on with her wrap. "If
he had been assassinated! In Paris! I thought Andre would faint. His last
wound is barely healed. Come, let us get out of this. Who knows?...In
Their car had to wait its turn. As Alexina stood with her silent friends in
the porte cochere the certainty grew that some one was watching her. That
officer! Who else? She flashed her eyes over the crowd about her, then into
the densely packed hall behind. But she encountered no pair of eyes even
remotely humorous, no face in any degree familiar....Later she whirled
about again....There was a pillar...easy to dodge behind it....At this
moment Andre took her elbow and gently piloted her into the car.
Alexina in the weariness of reaction climbed the long stairs of her pension
Sibyl Bascom, whose husband being on government duty in Washington left her
free to go to France, and who rolled bandages all day long in the great
hospital in Neuilly; Janet Maynard and Alice Thorndyke, who ran a canteen
in the environs of Paris, and herself, had lived until the Armistice in a
comfortable hotel not far from the house of Olive de Morsigny, and found
much solace together. But their hotel had been commandeered for one of the
Commissions; Sibyl had taken refuge with her sister-in-law, and Alexina,
Janet, and Alice had found with no little difficulty vacant rooms in a
second-rate pension in Passy. The food was even worse than at the hotel,
the rooms were barely heated, and as trams at Alexina's hours were airless
and jammed, and taxicabs in swarming Paris as scarce as tiaras, with
drivers of an unsurpassable effrontery, she was forced to walk three miles
a day in all weathers. It is true that she could have rented a limousine
for a thousand francs a month, but it was almost a religion with workers of
her class to economize rigorously and give all their surplus to the oeuvre
of their devotion. Janet and Alice went back and forth in one of the supply
camions of the Y.M.C.A.
Alexina passed Janet's room softly. She saw a light under the door
and inferred that she and Alice were playing poker and consuming many
cigarettes, that being their idea of recuperation between one hard day's
work and the next. She was in no mood for talking.
Her room was stuffy as well as cold; the furniture and curtains had
probably not been changed since the second empire. She opened one of the
long windows and stepped out on the balcony. The Seine was nearly in flood
after the heavy rains, but it reflected the stars to-night and many long
banners of light from the almost festive banks.
It was bitterly cold and she closed her window in a moment and moved about
her room. It was too cold to undress. She was inured to discomforts and
thankful that she had been brought up in San Francisco, which is seldom
warm; but she longed for a few creature comforts nevertheless. During the
war she had sustained herself with the thought of the men in the trenches,
but now that their lot was ameliorated she felt that she had a right to
what comforts she could find. The difficulty was to find them. With Paris
overflowing. Generals sleeping in servants' rooms under the roof, soldiers,
even officers, picking up women on the streets if only to have a bed for
the night, and hotel after hotel being requisitioned for the various Peace
Commissions and their illimitable suites, conditions were likely to grow
worse. Olive de Morsigny had repeatedly offered hospitality, but she
preferred her independence.
To leave was impossible. Her oeuvre must continue for several months.
Sick and wounded men do not recover miraculously with the cessation of
hostilities. No doubt she should be grateful for this refuge, and now that
the war was over it might be possible to buy petrol for an oil stove.
Then she became aware that it was not only the cold that made her restless.
The rigidly enforced calm of her inner life had received a shock to-night
and not from the imagined assassination of a king.
She went suddenly to her mirror and looked at herself intently...shook her
head with a frown. She had always been slim; she was now very thin. The
roundness and color had left her cheeks. They were pale--almost hollow.
Janet and Alice had rejoiced in the lack of fats and sweets, both having
a tendency to plumpness had achieved without effort the most fashionable
slenderness that anxious woman could wish. But she had not had a pound to
lose. It seemed to her that she was almost plain. Her eyes retained their
dazzling brilliancy, a trick of nature that old age alone no doubt could
conquer, but there were dark stains beneath the lower lashes.
She let down her hair. It was the same soft dusky mass as ever. Her teeth
were as even and bright; her lips had not lost their curves, but they were
pink, not red. She was anaemic, no doubt. Why, in heaven's name, shouldn't
she be? Even Olive, whose major domo, driving a Ford, had paid daily visits
to the farms and brought back what eggs, chickens and other succulences the
peasants would part with for coin, had lost her brilliant color and the
full lines of her beautiful figure. She had rouged to-night and looked as
lovely as when Morsigny had captured her, but her magnificent gown had been
too hastily taken in by an elderly inefficient maid--her young one having
patriotically deserted her for munitions long since, and sagged on her
bones as she expressed it. Sibyl, who was in bed with the flu, had offered
to lend her one of the new ones she had had the forethought to buy in New
York before sailing, and was only a year old, but Olive had feared the
critical eyes of French women who had not replenished their evening
wardrobe since nineteen-fourteen.
Alexina did not feel particularly consoled because others had looked no
better than she. Until to-night she had given little thought to her looks,
but she now felt a renewed interest in herself, and the frown was as much
for this revival as for her wilted beauty.
Her evening wrap was very warm and she sat down in the hard arm-chair and
huddled into its folds, covering the lower part of her body with a hideous
brown quilt. No doubt the sheets were damp, and she knew that she could not
sleep. Why shiver in bed?
Was it Gathbroke? It was long since she had thought of him. She had not
even seen his photograph for four or five years. If it were, he had changed
even more since that photograph had been taken than after she had dismissed
him at Rincona.
She was by no means sore that it was he. The light of a briquet was not
precisely searching, and for the most part he had looked like more than
one war-worn British officer she had seen during her long residence in
Paris....It was something in the eyes...she could have vowed they were
hazel...their expression had altered; it was that of a somewhat ironic
man of the world, which had changed as she watched them to the piercing
alertness of a man of action...but after...was it perhaps an emanation of
the personality that had so impressed her angry young soul and refused to
But what of it? He might be married. Love another woman. All officers and
soldiers during the war had looked about eagerly for love, when not already
supplied, and given themselves up to it, indifferent as they may have been
before....Life seemed shorter every time they went back to the front.
And if not why should he be attracted to her again! He had loved her for a
moment when she had been in the first flush of her exquisite youth. That
was twelve years ago. She was now thirty. True, thirty, to-day, was but
the beginning of a woman's third youth, and a few weeks in the California
sunshine and nourished by the California abundance would restore her looks,
no doubt of that. But she would look no better as long as she remained in
Paris....Nor did she wish to return to California...and beyond all question
he must have forgotten, lost all interest in her long since.
Still--there had been an eager upspringing light in his eyes...was it
recognition?...merely the passing impulse of flirtation over a match and a
briquet?...No doubt she would never see him again.
Did she want to?
She had gone through many and extraordinary phases during these years of
close personal contact with the martial history of Europe, as precisely
different from the first twenty-six years of her life as peace from war.
During those months of nineteen-fifteen when she had worked in hospitals
close to the front as auxiliary nurse, all the high courage of her nature
which she had inherited from a long line of men who had fought in the Civil
War, the Revolution, and in the colonial wars before that, and the tribal
wars that came after, and all that she had inherited from those foremothers
whose courage, as severely tested, had never failed either their men or
their country; in short, the inheritance of the best American tradition;
had risen automatically to sustain her during that period of incessant
danger and horror. She had been firm and smiling for the consolation of
wounded men when under direct shell fire. She had felt so profound a pity
for the mutilated patient men that it had seemed to cleanse her of every
selfish impulse fostered by a too sheltered life. She had bathed so many
helpless bodies that she lost all sense of sex and felt herself a part of
the eternal motherhood of the world. She had once thrown herself over the
bed of a politely protesting poilu, covering his helpless body with her
own, as a shell from a taube came through the roof.
That had been a wonderful, a noble and exalted (not to say exhilarating)
period; a period that made her almost grateful for a war that revealed to
her such undreamed of possibilities in her soul. She might smile at it in
satiric wonder in the retrospect, but at least it was ineradicable in her
If it could but have lasted! But it had not. Insensibly she accepted
suffering, sacrifice, pity, as a matter of course, even as danger and
death. It had been the romance of war she had experienced in spite of its
horrors, and no romance lives after novelty has fled. For months nothing
seemed to affect her bodily resistance to fatigue, and as exaltation
dropped, as the monotony of nursing, even of danger, left her mind more and
more free, as war grew more and more to seem, the normal condition of life,
more and more she became conscious of herself.
Life at the front is very primitive. Social relations as the world knows
them cease to exist. The habits of the past are almost forgotten. It is
death and blood; shells shrieking, screaming, whining, jangling; the boom
of great guns as if Nature herself were in a constant electrical orgasm;
hideous stench; torn bodies, groans, cries, still more terrible silences of
brave men in torment; incessant unintermittent danger. Above all, blood,
blood, blood. She believed she should smell it as long as she lived. She
knew it in every stage from the fresh dripping blood of men rushed from the
field to the evacuation hospitals, to the black caked and stinking blood
of men rescued from No Man's Land endless days and nights after they had
All that was elementary in her strong nature, inherited from strong,
full-blooded, often reckless and ruthless men, gradually welled to the
surface. She was possessed by a savage desire for life, a bitter inordinate
passion for life. Why not, when life might be extinguished at any moment?
What was there in life but life? Farcical that anything else could ever
Civilization--by which men meant the varied and pleasant times of
peace--seemed incredibly insipid and out of date. It had no more relation
to this war-zone than her youth to this swift and terrible maturity.
She was in many hospitals--rushed where an indomitable and tireless
auxiliary nurse was most in demand--some under the direction of the
noblesse division of the Red Cross, others under the bourgeois; and in more
than one were English and American girls, long resident in France, or, in
the latter case, come from America like herself to serve the country
for which they had a romantic passion. The majority, of course, were
Frenchwomen, young (in their first freedom), middle-aged, elderly.
Of these some were placid, emotionless, extinguished, consistently noble,
selfless, profoundly and simply religious, as correct in every thought and
deed as the best bourgeois peace society of any land.
But others! Alexina had been horrified at first at the wanderings off
after nightfall of women who had nursed like scientific angels by day,
accompanied by men who were never more men than when any moment might
turn them into carrion. But with her mental suppleness she had quickly
readjusted her point of view. There is nothing as sensual as war. It is
the quintessential carnality. Renan once wrote a story of the French
Revolution, "The Abbess Juarre," in which his thesis was that if warning
were given that the world would end in three days the entire population of
the globe would give itself over to an orgy of sex; sex being life itself.
It is the obsession of the doomed consumptive, the doomed spinster, the
last thought of a man with the rope round his neck.
How much more under the terrific stimulation of war, the constant heedless
annihilation of life in its flower and its maturity? Man's inveterate
enemy, death, shrieking its derision in the very shells of man's one
inviolable right, the right to drift into eternity through the peaceful
corridors of old age. War is a monstrous anachronism and a monstrous
miscarriage of justice. The ignorant feel it less. It is the enlightened,
the intelligent, accustomed to the higher delights of civilization, to the
perfecting of such endowments, however modest, as their ancestors have
transmitted and peace has encouraged, with ambitions and hopes and dreams,
that resent however sub-consciously the constant snarling of death at their
heels. All the forces of mind and body and spirit become formidable in a
reckless hatred of the gross injustice of a fate that individually not one
of them has deserved.
But the moment remains. They compress into it the desires of a lifetime.
After years of proud individualism they have learned that they are atoms,
cogs, helpless, the sport of iron and steel and powder and the ambitions
and stupidities of men whose lives are never risked. Very well, turn the
ego loose to find what it can. If all they have learned from civilization
is as useless in this shrieking hell, as impotent as the dumb resentment of
the clod, they can at least be animals.
To talk of the ennobling influences of war is one of the lies of the
conventionalized mind anxious to avoid the truths of life and to extract
good from all evil--worthy but unintelligent. How can men in the trenches,
foul with dirt and vermin, stench forever in their nostrils, callous to
death and suffering, wallowing like pigs in a trough, compulsorily obscene,
be ennobled? Courage is the commonest attribute of man, a universal gift of
Nature that he may exist in a world bristling with dangers to frail human
life; never to be commended, only to be remarked when absent. If men lose
it in the city, the sedentary life, they recover it quickly in the camp.
The exceptions, the congenital cowards, slink out of war on any pretext,
but if drafted are likely to acquit themselves decently unless neurotic.
The cases of cowardice in active warfare are extremely rare; a mechanical
chattering of teeth, or shaking of limbs, but practically never a refusal
to obey the command to advance. But it is this very courage which breeds
callousness, and, combined with bestial conditions, inevitably brutalizes.
When good people (far, oh far, from the zones of danger) can no longer in
the face of accumulating evidence, cling to their sentimental theory that
war ennobles, they take refuge in the vague but plausible substitute that
at least it makes the good better and the bad worse. Possibly, but it is to
be remembered that there is bad in the best even where there is no good in
Indubitably it leaves its indelible mark in a collection of hideous
memories, on the just and the unjust, alike; as it is more difficult
(Nature having made human nature in an ironical mood) to recall the
pleasant moments of life than the poignantly unpleasant, so is it far more
difficult to recall the moments of exaltation, of that intense spiritual
desire which visits the high and low alike, to give their all for the
safety of their country and the honor of their flag. Moreover, the sublime
indifference in the face of certain death often has its origin in a still
deeper necessity to relieve the insufferable strain on scarified nerves,
and forever. As for the much vaunted recrudescence of the religious spirit
which is one of the recurring phenomena of war, it is merely an instinct
of the subtle mind, in its subtlest depths called soul, to indulge in the
cowardice of dependence since the body must know no fear.
If men who have been temperate and moral all their lives, or at the worst
indulging in moderation, spend their leaves of absence from the front like
swine, it is not a reaction from the monotony of trench life, or from
the nerve-racking din of war, but merely an extension of the fearful
stimulation of a purely carnal existence, even where the directing mind is
ever on the alert.
The aggressors of war should be pilloried in life and in history. Men must
defend their country if attacked; to do less would be to sink lower than
the beasts that defend their lairs; and for that reason all pacifists, and
conscientious objectors, are abject, mean, and shabby. In times of national
danger no man has a right to indulge his own conscience; it merges, if he
be a normal courageous man, into the national conscience. But that very
fact lowers the deliberate seekers of war so far below the high plane of
civilization as we know it, that they should be blotted out of existence.
As regards women Alexina was not likely to remain shocked for long at any
erratic manifestations of temperament. Pride and fastidiousness and the
steel armor fused by circumstances had protected her heretofore from any
divagations of her own; nor had crystallized temptation ever approached
But her education had been liberal. Several of her intimate friends and
more that she associated with daily made what she euphemistically termed a
cult of men. The naive deliberate immorality of young things not only in
the best society but in all walks of life is far more prevalent than the
good people of this world will ever believe. Those with much to lose
seldom lose it; the instinct of self-protection envelops them as a mantle;
although in small towns, where concealments are less simple, the majority
of scandals are not about married women as in a less sophisticated era, but
Alexina had possessed numerous confidences, helped more than once to throw
dust, amiably replaced the post. She had never approved, but she was
philosophical. She took life as she found it; although the fact stood out
that Aileen, who was indifferent to men, remained always her favorite
An individualist, she felt it no part of her philosophy to criticize the
acts of women with different desires, weaknesses, temptations, equipment
from her own; all other things being equal. That was the point. These girls
who made use of their most secret and personal possession as they saw fit
were as well-bred as herself, honorable in all their dealings with one
another and with society at large, generous, tolerant, exquisite in their
habits, often highly intelligent and studious. Sex was an incident.
With the peccadillos of married women who were wives she had little
tolerance as they were a breach of faith, a deliberate violation of
contract, and indecent to boot. She was quite aware that Sibyl for all her
posturings, and avidness for sex admiration, and "acting oriental" as the
phrase went, was entirely devoted to Frank. Such of her married friends as
had severed all but the nominal and public bond with their legal husbands,
she placed in the same category as girls as far as her personal attitude
toward them went.
Therefore not only did she understand these young women driven by the
horrid stimulus of war; women (or girls) heretofore sheltered, virtuous,
romantic, sentimental, now merely filled with the lust of life. They were,
like herself, devoted and meticulous nurses, brave, high-minded, tender;
practically all, if not from the upper, at least from the educated ranks of
life. But they lived under the daily shadow of death. Even when safe from
the shells of the big guns, the murderous aircraft paid them daily visits,
singling out hospitals with diabolical precision. They were in daily
contact with young torn human bodies from which had gone forever the
purpose for which one generation precedes another. Life was horror. Blood
and death and shattered bodies were their daily portion. No matter how
brave, they heard death scream in every shell. The world beyond existed as
a mirage. No wonder they became primeval.
Alexina had met Alice Thorndyke in one of these hospitals and observed her
with some curiosity. But Alice was, to use her own vernacular, the best
little bourgeoise of them all. She had had her fling. Men repelled her. She
never meant to marry, even for substance. When the war was over she should
live the completely independent life. Nobody would care what economic
liberties a woman took in the new era. The war had liberalized the most
conservative old bunch of relatives a girl was ever inflicted with.
As Alexina sat huddled in her warm coat--the periwinkle blue to which she
was still faithful--her dark fine hair, hanging about her, a mantle in
itself, she recalled those days when she, too, had vibrated to that savage
lust for life; those days of concentrated egoism, of deep and powerful
passions whose existence she had only dimly begun to suspect after she
dismissed her husband.
What had held her back? She had had a no more fastidious inheritance than
most of those women, a no more cultivated intelligence, nor proud instinct
of selection, nor ingrained habit of self-control.
She had put it down at first to fastidiousness, possibly a still lurking
desire to be able to give all to one man; that hope of the complete mating
which no woman relinquishes until toothless, certainly not in the mere zone
She had concluded that it was neither of these, or at least that they had
but played a part, and alone would never have won. It was a furious
mental revolt at the terrific power of the body, the mind, frightened and
cornered, determined to dominate; a fierce delight in the battle raging
behind her serene and smiling mask to the accompaniment of that vulgar
blare of war where mind over matter was as powerless in the death throe as
incantations during an eruption of Vesuvius.
This internal silent warfare between her long reed-like body as little
sensible to fatigue as if made of flexible steel and her extremely cold
proud chaste-looking head had grown to be of such absorbing interest that
the knowledge of its cessation was almost a shock. It was after a prolonged
experience in a hospital where they were short of nurses and rest was
almost unknown and the inroads upon her vitality so severe and menacing
that she was finally ordered to Paris to rest, and there found a complete
change of habit in an oeuvre founded by the equally exhausted but always
valiant Olive de Morsigny, that she suddenly realized that somewhere
sometime the battle had finished and mind and body were acting in complete
To-night she wondered if her imagination, turned loose, stimulated, had
not missed the whole point. There had been no man who had made the direct
irresistible appeal. No concrete temptation....She had after all been a
degree too civilized...or...romantic idealism?
There had been little to stimulate and excite since she had settled down to
office work in the summer of nineteen-sixteen. Her nerves, always strong,
had become too case-hardened to be affected by avions or the immense
uncertainties of Big Bertha; although the light on the horizon at night
during the last German Drive and the bellow of the guns had shaken her with
a sort of reminiscent excitement.
But for the most part she had felt frozen, torpid, a cog in the vast
military machine of France, dedicating herself like hundreds of other
women to the succor of men she never saw. That extraordinary abominable
experience at the front was overlaid, almost forgotten. And such news as
one had in Paris was quite enough to exercise the mind....There had been
the downfall of the Russian dynasty...the still more sinister downfall of
the true revolutionists...the Bolshevik monster projecting its murderous
shadow over all Europe, exposing the instability of the entire social
Was it? Could such an experience ever be forgotten? The grass might grow
over the dead on the battlefields, but the corruption fed the wheat, and
the peogle of France ate the bread. This uninvited thought had intruded
itself the first time she had driven by the Marne battlefields and seen the
numberless crosses in the rich abundant fields.
She smiled, a small, secret, ruthless smile....That was her residue:
ruthlessness. She may have left behind her in the turbulent war-zone the
savage elementary lust for living at any cost, but she had ineradicably
learned the value of life, its brevity at best, the still more tragic
brevity of youth; she had a store of hideous memories which could only be
submerged first in the performance of duty if duty were imperative; then,
duty discharged and finished, in the one thing that during its brief time
gave life any meaning, made this earthly sojourn bearable. If she met the
man she wanted she would have him if she had to fight for him tooth and
It was four o 'clock. She went to bed.
The next day Alexina found herself suddenly free of office duty, A very
handsome and wealthy American woman who had not been able to visit her
beloved Paris since the beginning of the World's War, and finding the
State Department obdurate to the whims of pretty women, had induced Mrs.
Ballinger Groome, on one of whose committees she had worked faithfully, to
ask her sister-in-law to inform the Department of State that her services
at the oeuvre in Paris were indispensable.
Alexina had passed the letter on to the President, Madame de Morsigny, and
forgotten the incident. Olive wrote the necessary letter promptly. Not only
did she believe that the time had come for Alexina to rest, but she longed
for a fresh access of energy in the office that would in a measure relieve
herself. Moreover, Mrs. Wallack was wealthy and had many wealthy friends.
That meant more money for the oeuvre, always in need of money. Olive had
given large sums herself, but the president of a charity is yet to be found
who will not permit its constant demands to be relieved by the generous
public. Mrs. Wallack had not only promised a substantial donation at once,
but a monthly contribution. This had not been named, but Madame de Morsigny
meant that it should be something more than nominal. She could do so much
for Mrs. Wallack socially, now that it was possible to entertain again,
that she felt reasonably confident of rousing the enthusiasm of any
ambitious New Yorker. Moreover, Olive had a very insinuating way with her.
Mrs. Wallack presented herself at the imposing headquarters of the oeuvre,
radiant, fresh, energetic, beautifully dressed. The war had interested her
and commanded her sympathies to some purpose, but nothing short of personal
affliction could subdue that inexhaustible vitality, and she seemed to
bring into the dark and solemn rooms something of the atmospheric gayety
and sunshine of a land that had done much but suffered little.
By no one was she received with more warmth of welcome than by Alexina. The
sudden release made her realize sharply her lowered vitality. Moreover, the
semi-yearly income which had just arrived from California was her own now
and she could replenish her wardrobe and feel feminine and irresponsible
once more. The reaction was so violent that after inducting Mrs. Wallack
into the mysteries of her desk she remained in bed, prostrate, for two
days. Then, feeling several years younger, she sallied forth in search of
There is no such antidote to the migraines of the woman soul as clothes.
Their only rival is travel and there are cases where they know none.
Sometimes women remember to pity men, that have no such happy playground.
Alexina for all her ramifications, some of them too deep, had a light and
feminine side. During the following fortnight she gave it full rein; she
was absorbed, almost happy. She spent quite recklessly and after the years
of economy and self-denial this alone gave her an intense satisfaction. In
addition to her income forwarded by Judge Lawton, who had charge of her
affairs, her brother Ballinger, who was as fond of her as of his own
children, and very proud of her--she had received two decorations--sent her
a large check with the mandate to spend it on herself.
Even so, she was not always in the shops and the dressmakers' ateliers. She
found much amusement in strolling up and down the arcades of the Rue de
Rivoli, watching the odd throngs at which Paris herself seemed, to bend her
head and stare.
Some poet had called Paris the mistress of Europe. She looked like an old
trollop. She was dirty and dreary, unpainted and unwashed. The rain
was almost incessant and the shop windows were soon denuded of the few
attractive novelties scrambled together to meet the sudden demand after the
But under the long arcades the curious sauntering throngs were sheltered
from the rain and found all things in Paris novel. Men in the American
khaki, from generals to striplings, were there by the hundred; endless
streams of young women in the uniform of the Red Cross, the Y.M.C.A., the
Salvation Army; British and American nurses; members of the fashionable
oeuvres artlessly watching this novel phase of Paris; the beautiful violet
uniform of Le Bien-Etre du Blesse; girls with worn faces and relaxed bodies
fresh from the front, hundreds of them, arriving daily in camions and cars,
thanking heaven for the sudden cessation of work, sleeping heaven knew
where. The American women of the Commission, and others who, like Mrs.
Wallack, had invented a plausible excuse to get to Paris and looked almost
anachronistic in their smart gowns, their fresh faces, their bright,
curious, glancing eyes.
There were also officers in the uniform of Britain, and Alexina regarded
them frankly, with no effort to deceive herself. The spirit of adventure
was awake in her, now that the dark mood had passed, or slept. She hoped to
meet the man of the embassy again, whether he were Gathbroke or another.
She had liked his eyes.
She had met many charming and interesting men during the last two and
a half years at Olive de Morsigny's table, especially when Andre,
convalescent, was at home. But their eyes had said nothing to her whatever,
if not for the want of trying. Alexina's imagination, torpid for many
months, ran riot. This man might disappoint her, might have nothing in him
for her, but she refused for more than a moment to contemplate anything so
flat. Something must come of that adventure, that vital intensely personal
moment when their eyes had met above flames so tiny the wonder was they
could see anything but a white blur on the dark. She was as sure of meeting
him again as that she trod on air after she had ordered a new gown or
brought an inordinately becoming hat. She had forgotten Mortimer's
One day at the Hotel Crillon she thought she had found him.
She had passed the portals of that fortress with some delay, for the
American Commission protected itself as if it dwelt under the shadow of
imminent assassination and theft; whereas it was merely exclusive. The
sentries at the door demanded her permit, and passed her in with intense
suspicion to the inner guard. This was composed of three polite but very
young lieutenants in smart new uniforms with no blight of war on them, and
flagrantly of the American aristocracy.
With these she had less trouble, for they recognized her social status and
accepted her explanation that she had been invited for tea with one of the
ladies of the Commission. Nevertheless, they knew their duty and Alexina
was followed up to the door of her hostess' suite by another young guardian
who watched her entrance through the sacred door as carefully as if he
suspected her of carrying a bomb in her muff.
The party numbered about thirty, and Alexina, after chatting with the few
she knew, was standing apart by a small table drinking a cup of tea
with three lumps of sugar in it and consuming cakes like a greedy
boarding-school girl home for the holidays, when she caught sight of a
man in the British khaki, a major by his insignia, a tall man, thin and
straight, standing with his back to her at the opposite end of the room. He
was talking to the host and a small group of men. She glimpsed something
like half of his profile when he turned from the host for a moment. Like
all men in khaki, when not pronounced brunettes, his complexion and hair
looked the same color as his uniform.
Nevertheless...if she could only see his eyes...he turned his full
profile...she had never glanced at Gathbroke's profile; he had given her no
opportunity!...Certainly she had not the faintest idea whether the man of
the embassy had had a snub nose or the thin straight feature of this man
who would have attracted her attention in any ease if only because he did
not carry his shoulders with the disillusioning obliquity of the British
Army...why did he not turn round? Alexina felt an impulse to throw her cup
straight across the room at the back of that well-shaped head.
Suddenly he shook hands with his host, nodded to the others and left the
Alexina set her cup and saucer down on the table, forebore to interrupt her
hostess, who was known to talk steadily in order to avoid questions, and
walked quickly and deliberately out after him. It is a primitive instinct
in woman to chase the male; but civilization having initiated her into the
art of permitting him to chase her, Alexina was merely bent upon giving
this man his chance if the interest had been mutual and existed beyond the
One lift was descending as she reached the outer corridor and the other
was closed. She ran down the wide staircase as rapidly as a woman in
fashionable skirts may. There was no British uniform in the hall below.
She stood for a quarter of an hour under the arcade before the Crillon
waiting for a taxi, staring out into the dreary mist of rain, at the round
soft blurs of light in the Place de la Concorde, but in no wise depressed.
What did it matter if she had not met him to-day? The conviction that she
should meet him before long was as strong as if she were ever hopeful
sixteen....That was the real secret of her elation. She felt very young and
entirely carefree. She reflected that if she had met Gathbroke, or whoever
he might be, during the last three years of the war she would have felt
neither joy nor elation, however interested she might have been. To love
and dream and enjoy when men were falling every minute, writhing in agony,
gasping out their life, would have seemed to her grossly unaesthetic if
nothing worse. It was not in the picture. The primal impulses she had
experienced at the front to that harsh music of Death's orchestra were
natural enough; but safe (comparatively!) in Paris, certainly quiet, the
romance of love would have been as incongruous and heartless as to go out
to the great hospital at Neuilly and tango through a ward of dying men.
But now! She had done her part. She could do no more. Men still must die,
but in every comfort, with every consolation. And there would be no more
She was free. She was young, young, young again.
And at this moment her heart emptied itself of song and sank like lead
in her breast. She pressed her muff against her face to hide the sudden
grimace she was sure contorted it; there had been few moments in her life
when she had not been mistress of her features, but this was one of them.
Gora Dwight was walking rapidly toward her.
Gora did not see her sister-in-law for a moment and Alexina had time to
recover her poise and make sharp swift observations. She had not seen Gora
for four years, nor exchanged a line with her. She had almost forgotten
her. The changes were more striking than in herself, who had been always
slight. Gora's superb bust had disappeared; her face was gaunt, throwing
into prominence its width and the high cheek bones. Her eyes were enormous
in her thin brown face; to Alexina's excited imagination they looked like
polar seas under a gray sky brooding above innumerable dead. There were
lines about her handsome mouth, closer and firmer than ever. How she must
have worked, poor thing! What sights, what suffering, what despair...four
long years of it. But she had evidently had her discharge. She wore an
extremely well-cut brown tailored suit, good furs, and a small turban with
a red wing.
What was she in Paris for?...What...what...
Gora saw her and almost ran forward, that brilliant inner light that had
always been her chief attraction breaking through her cold face...sunlight
sparkling on polar seas...oh, yes, Gora had her charm!
"Alexina! It isn't possible! I was going to ask at the American Embassy for
your address. I only arrived last night."
Alexina had lowered her muff and her face expressed only the warmest
surprise and welcome. "Gora! It's too wonderful! But I suppose you couldn't
go home without seeing Paris?"
"Rather not! It's the first chance I've had, too. Where can we have a
"It's too late for tea. Come out to my pension and spend the night. Janet
and Alice have gone to Nice for a few days' rest. You'll be hideously
"Not any more than where I am--sharing a room with three others. Where can
I telephone? In here?"
"Good heavens, no. Take a liberty with a duke, but with the American
aristocracy, never. Come down to the Meurice. Perhaps we can find a cab
there. This seems to be hopeless. Everybody comes to the Crillon in a
private car or a military automobile. Taxis appear to avoid it."
It only took half an hour to get the telephone connection and another to
seize by force a taxi, which, however, deposited them at the Etoile. The
driver explained unamiably that he wanted his dinner; and a bribe, unless
unthinkable, would have been useless. In these days taxi drivers made fifty
francs a day in tips, and, as a Frenchman knows exactly what he wants and
calculates to a nicety when he has enough, valuing rest and nutriment above
even the delights of gouging foolish Americans, Alexina knew that it would
be useless to argue and did not even waste energy in announcing her opinion
of him for taking a fare under false pretenses. There was no other cab
in sight and they walked the rest of the way. But both were inured to
hardships and took their mishap good-naturedly, trudging the long distance
under their umbrellas.
After a very bad dinner in an airless room as frugally lighted they made
themselves comfortable in Alexina's room over the oil stove she had bought,
and supplied through Olive's influence with the higher powers. She took
off her street clothes and put on a thick dressing gown, giving her
sister-in-law a quilted red wrapper of Janet's, which threw some warmth
into Gora's pale cheeks. She looked comfortable, almost happy, as she
smoked her cigarette in the arm-chair.
Alexina curled up on the bed.
"Now, Gora," she said brightly, "give an account of yourself."
Gora did not reply for a moment and Alexina examining her again came to the
conclusion that she had been spared some of the horrors of the front. As a
head nurse her responsibilities had been too heavy for philanderings, and
having the literary imagination rather than the personal she had no doubt
consigned it to a water-tight compartment and converted herself into a
"I don't know that I can talk about it," she said. "I feel much like the
men. It is too close. I am thankful that I Had the experience: not only to
have been of actual service, indispensable, as every good nurse was, but to
have been a part of that colossal drama. But I am even more thankful that
it is over and if I can possibly avoid it I'll never nurse again."
"I suppose you have had no time to write?"
"I should think not! During the brief leaves of absence I spent most of the
time in bed. But I have an immense amount of material. I have no idea how
much fiction has been written about the war; there might have been none, so
far as I have had time to discover. I've barely read a newspaper."
"The only reason I want to go back to America is to hear the news. I see a
New York newspaper once in a while, and it is plain they have it all. We
have next to none in Europe, in France at all events. Shall you write your
stories here or go back to California? That would give you the necessary
perspective, I should think."
Alexina's eyes were fixed upon an execrable print many inches above the
footboard, and Gora, glancing at her, reflected that she was as beautiful
as ever in spite of her loss of flesh and color. Any one would be with eyes
that were like stars when they looked at you and a Murillo madonna's when
she lifted them the fraction of an inch. Astute as she was she had never
penetrated below the surface of Alexina, nor suspected the use she made of
those pliable orbs. Alexina had such an abundance of surface it occurred to
few people that she might be both subtle and deep.
"I...don't know....I rather fear losing the atmosphere...the immediate
stimulation. Shall you go home, now that you are free?"
"I wonder. Could I stand it? I have longed for a rest--ached would be a
better word....This last year has been full of both nervous strain and
desperate monotony. Nineteen-seventeen was bad enough in another way: the
internal defeatist campaign, the constant menace of mutiny, soviets in the
army, strikes in the munition towns,--all the rest of it....But could one
stand California after such an experience? I know they have done splendid
work since we entered the war, but I know also that they will immediately
subside into exactly what they were before, settle down with a long sigh
of relief to enjoy life and forget that war ever was. It could not be
otherwise in that climate. With that abundance. That remoteness....There
seems no place out there for me. A decorator after this! What funny little
resources we thought out in those days....I do not see myself fitting in
anywhere. Tom wants to buy Ballinger House for Maria and I fancy I'll let
him have it. I can't keep it up unaided and I might as well sell as rent
it. He and Judge Lawton would invest the money and I should have quite a
decent income. As for Mortimer I never want to see him again. He has not
done one thing for this war--he is utterly contemptible--
"I've long since given up criticizing Mortimer. My father once sized him
up. He hasn't an ounce of brain. He'd like to be quite different, but you
can stretch Nature's equipment so far and no farther. He stretched his
until it suddenly snapped back and found itself shrunken to less than half
its natural size. Vale Mortimer. Let him rest. Why don't you divorce him?
No doubt he has found some one else--
"I couldn't divorce him on that count, for I told him repeatedly to console
himself. It wouldn't be playing the game. Of course there are other
grounds. It would be easy enough. But our family has a strong aversion to
divorce. And a unique record....Not that that would stop me if I found any
one I really wanted to marry. Nothing would stop me, in fact."
Gora glanced at her quickly, arrested by something in her voice. She had
already noticed that Alexina's limpid musical tones had deepened. Just now
they rang with something of the menace of a deep-toned bell.
"Have you found him?" she asked smiling. "If there are obstacles, so much
the more interesting. I don't fancy that romantic streak in your nature
which permitted you to idealize Mortimer has quite dried up. Once romantic
always romantic--I deduce from human nature as I have studied it,"
"Well...I am rather afraid of romance. Certainly I'd never be blinded
again. A man might be nine parts demi-god and if I knew--and I should
know--that there was no companionship in him for me I wouldn't marry him."
"That I believe." Alexina was once more regarding the print. Gora wondered
if sex would influence her at all.
"But have you met him? You were always an interesting child and you've
roused my curiosity."
"No...yes...I don't know...later perhaps I'll tell you something. But I'm
far more interested in you. Have you been in France all this time?"
"Oh, no. I was in Rouen for a year. Then I was in hospitals in England
until the German Drive began in. March when I was sent over again. Oh, God!
what sights! what sounds! what smells!" She huddled into her chair and
stared at the dull flame behind the little door of the stove.
"Oh, I know them all. Think of something else. Surely you met--but
literally--hundreds of officers, and some must have interested you. The
British officer at best is a superb creature--if he would only stand up
straight. I saw one at the Crillon to-day whose good American shoulders
made me stare at him quite rudely."
"Who was he?"
"Haven't the faintest idea. I only saw his back, anyway. Surely you must
have been more than passing interested in one or two."
"I am not susceptible. And nursing is not conducive to romance."
"But you never were romantic, Gora dear. And you are good-looking in your
odd way. And that was your great, chance."
"Well, I'm afraid I was too busy or too tired to take it.
Now...perhaps...but I'm afraid I don't inspire men with either romance
or passion. They like me and are grateful--that is, as grateful as an
Englishman can be; they take most things for granted."
"The French are so grateful, poor dears. I loved them all. After
all...Frenchmen...." Her voice grew dreamy.
Again Gora threw her an amused glance. "You must have met many of them at
your friend, Madame de Morsigny's, and under far more attractive conditions
than any man can hope for in a sick bed....I can't imagine any more
appropriate destiny for you...you should be Madame la duchesse at the very
"Not money enough, and besides they've all grown so religious, or think
they have, they wouldn't stand for divorce. Anyhow it would be so hard on
'The Family'!...Still....But why, Gora dear, do you depreciate yourself?
It seems to me that you are just the type that a certain sort of man would
appreciate--fall in love with. I've heard even American men who play about
in society comment on your looks, different as you are from sport and fluff
and come-hitherness; and you only need a few months' rest to look like your
old self. I should think that a highly intelligent Englishman would find
you irresistible, especially if you had shown your womanly side when he had
holes in him. I've always had an idea that Englishmen weren't nearly as
afraid of intellectual women as American men are."
"That's true enough. But I doubt if there are any men more susceptible to
beauty, or quite as lustful after it, no matter how romantic they may think
they are feeling. I've talked to a good many of them in the past four
years, and for six months I was in charge of a convalescent hospital in
Kent. I think I've pretty thoroughly plumbed the Englishman. They found me
sympathetic all right, forgot their racial shyness and inadvertently gave
me much valuable material. But I saw no indication that I made any sex
appeal to them whatever."
"Not one? Not ever?"
Gora gave a slight withdrawing movement as if something sacred had been
touched. But she answered: "Oh...some day I may have something to tell
you....You said much the same thing to me a little while ago. Tell me
Alexina turned over on her elbow to beat up her pillows. Then she answered
lightly but firmly: "Not unless you promise to do likewise. Mine is such a
little thing anyhow. I know by the expression of your face--just now--that,
yours is the real thing. Is he in Paris?"
"I'm...not sure....Yes, there is something...the conditions are very
peculiar...not at all what you think...there is so much more to it....No, I
don't think I can tell you."
A fortnight ago Alexina could have lifted her eyes and uttered Gathbroke's
name as if groping through a jungle of memories. But she could no more
force his name through her lips now than she could have laid bare all that
was in her tumultuous soul. It was, in fact, all she could do to keep from
screaming. For a moment her excitement was so intense that she jumped from
the bed and ran over and opened the window.
"This room gets intolerably stuffy. That is the worst of it--freeze or
"Oh, I have been cold so long! Please don't leave it open. That's a
Alexina closed it with an amiable smile. "What would you do, Gora, if you
were really mad about a man? Have him at any cost? Annihilate anything that
stood in your way? Anybody, I mean."
An appalling light came into Gora's pale eyes as she turned them, at first
in some surprise, on her sister-in-law: "Yes, if I thought he cared...could
be made to care if I had the chance...if another woman tried to get him
away...yes, I don't fancy I'd stop at anything....Even if I finally were
forced to believe that he never could care for me in that way, the only way
that counts with men--at first, anyway...well, I believe I'd fight to the
death just the same. When you've waited for thirty-four years...well, you
know what you want! Better die fighting than live on interminably for
nothing...less than nothing....I can't tell you any more. Please don't ask
"Of course not. I'll tell you my little story." And she gave a rapid vivid
account of the remarkable scene at the Embassy. She concluded abruptly: "Do
you think one could tell that a man's eyes were hazel--the golden-brown
hazel--across a pitch dark room above the flame of a briquet?"
"Hazel?" Alexina was standing behind Gora. She saw her body stiffen.
"I could have vowed they were hazel. And that he was English. He also
reminded me of some one I must have met somewhere or other...one meets so
many...possibly it was only a fancy."
"You didn't see him after the lights went on again?"
"They didn't. Only candles. We were all too anxious to get away, anyhow. I
fancy the King was in a hurry to get the ambassador upstairs and tell him
what he thought of him--"
"Don't be flippant. You always did have a maddening habit of being flippant
at the wrong time. Haven't you seen him again anywhere?"
"I've walked the Rue de Rivoli and lunched at the Ritz looking for him;
but I've never had even a glimpse--unless that was his back I saw at the
Crillon to-day. If I saw his eyes I'd know in a minute."
"Why should you think it was his back?"
"Some men have expression in the back of their head. And I just had
an idea--fantastic, no doubt--that my particular Englishman stands up
"Yes, I'm feeling quite too fearfully romantic. I'm sure he's looking for
me as hard as I am for him. And if I find him I'll keep him."
She saw Gora's long brown hands slowly clench until they looked like steel.
She glanced at her own slim white hands. They were quite as strong if more
ornamental. She yawned politely.
"I'm not so romantic as sleepy. I know that you must be dead after your
journey. They say it's more trouble to travel to Paris from London than
from New York. The girls won't be back for a week. You must get your
things to-morrow and come out here. I won't hear of your living in Paris
discomfort with three two empty rooms."
"That is good of you. Yes, I'll come. And perhaps your landlady, or
whatever they call them here, could put me up later. Now that I have come
to Paris I intend to see it. I believe some of the great galleries and
museums are to be reopened."
"Andre will arrange it if they're not. How you will enjoy it with your
sensitiveness to all the arts. Take this candle in ease the bulb is burnt
out. It usually is."
Gora had risen. Her face wore an expression both puzzled and grim; but she
and Alexina as they said good-night looked full into each other's eyes
without faltering. And Alexina had never looked more ingenuous.
Perhaps that dim idea...that she had thrown down a challenge...had come
out in the open for a moment...insolently?...honestly?...She _must_ be
completely fagged out after that abominable trip to have such absurd
fancies. She took her candle; and disposed herself in Janet's bed, between
four walls that gave her an unexpected and heavenly privacy, with a deep
sigh of gratitude, dismissing fantasies.
During the next ten days Alexina kept as close to Gora as was possible in
the circumstances. She had made many engagements and not all of them were
social; there were still gowns to be fitted, committee meetings to attend.
Twice Gora appeared to have risen with the dawn, and she vanished for the
day. Nevertheless, it grew increasingly evident to Alexina's alert and
penetrating vision that Gora was neither peaceful nor happy; therefore it
was safe to assume that she had not found Gathbroke. For some reason she
had not inquired at the British Embassy. Or a letter to its care had failed
to reach him. Possibly he was enjoying himself without formalities.
She took Gora twice to the Ritz to luncheon and on several afternoons to
tea. But it was a mob of Americans and members of the various Commissions.
A brilliant sight, but not in the least satisfactory. It was quite patent
from Gora's ever traveling eyes that she sought and never found.
Therefore when Olive asked Alexina to go to one of the towns where the
oeuvre had a branch and attend to an important matter that Mrs. Wallack
was far too much of a novice to be entrusted with, she agreed at once. She
experienced a growing desire to get away by herself--away from Paris--away
from Gora. She wanted to think. What if Gora did meet him first? She
would be but the more certain to meet him herself. Moreover...give Gora a
Janet and Alice had written from Nice that they might be detained for some
time. Gora unpacked her trunk and settled down in the pension with that air
of indestrucible patience that had always made her formidable. She was not
one of Life's favorites, but she had wrung prizes from that unamiable deity
more than once.
Alexina speculated. Gora had all the brains that Mortimer lacked and
commanding traits of character. She was so striking in appearance even now
that people often turned and stared at her. But unless she possessed the
potent spell of woman for man all her gifts would avail her nothing in this
tragic crisis of her life. Did she possess it I No woman could answer.
Certainly Alexina had never seen evidence of it even in Gora's youth;
although to be sure her opportunities had been few. Still...when a woman
possesses the most subtle and powerful of all the fascinations men are
drawn to it, no matter how dark the sky or high the barriers. Nothing is
keener than the animal essence. Still...she had heard that some women
developed it later than others. Alexina feared nothing else.
She fancied that Gora took leave of her with a little indrawn sigh of
relief. It was with difficulty that she repressed her own.
"Can this be Lieutenant James Kirkpatrick?"
Kirkpatrick wheeled about and snatched off his cap.
"Mrs. Dwight, by all that's holy! I never expected any such luck as this!"
They shook hands warmly in the deserted square which had been a shambles
during the first battle of the Marne, and in the days of Caesar and Attila,
of Napoleon the Great and Napoleon the Little. To-day it was as gray and
peaceful, its houses as aloof and haughty as if war had never been. It was
a false impression, however, for it was the paralysis of war it expressed,
not even the normal peace of a dull provincial town.
"I've often wondered about you," said Alexina. "But I've been working with
the French Army and had no way of finding out. You don't look as if you had
"Nary scratch, and in the thick of it. My, but it's good to sec you again."
He stared at her, his face flushed and his breath short. Then he asked
abruptly: "When do you think we're goin' home?"
Alexina laughed merrily. "That is the first question every officer or
private I have met since the Armistice has asked me. I should feel greatly
flattered, but I fancy the question, being always on the top of your minds,
simply babbles off."
"You bet. But--Jimminy! I'm glad to see you. You're lookin' thin, though.
Been workin', too, I'll bet."
"Oh, yes--and all your old class has worked; most of them over here. Mrs.
Cheever couldn't come, as her husband is in the army. But she's worked hard
"I believe you. The women have come up to the scratch, no doubt of that.
Although some of them! Good Lord! This isn't my usual language when
speaking of them. But if some came over to do just about as they damn
please, the others strike the balance, and on the whole I think more of
women than I did."
"That's good news. But you mustn't blame them too severely. I mean those
that really came over with a single purpose and were not proof against the
forcing house of war. As for the others...well, a good many followed their
men over, others came after excitement, others, as you say, to do as
they pleased, with no questions asked--possibly! I shouldn't take enough
interest in them to criticize them if they hadn't used the war-relief
organizations, from the Red Cross down to the smallest oeuvre, as a pretext
to get over, and then calmly throw us down--the oeuvres, I mean. Mine was
'done' several times. But let us be good healthy optimists such as
our country loves and remind ourselves that the worthy outnumber the
unworthy--and that the really bad would have gone the same way sooner or
"It goes. Optimism for me for ever more once I get out of France."
They had crossed the square and were walking down a narrow crooked street
as gray as if the dust of ages were in its old walls. Alexina looked at
him curiously. He had never had what might be called a soft and tender
countenance, but now it looked like cast-iron covered with red rust, and
his eyes were more like bits of the same metal, blackened and polished,
than ever. His youth had gone. There were deep vertical lines in his face.
His mouth was cynical. His bullet head, shaved until only a cap of black
stiff hair remained on top, and presumably safe from assault, by no means
added to the general attractiveness of his style. He was straighter, more
compact, than before, however, and his uniform at least did not have the
truly abominable cut of the private.
"What do you think of war as war?" she asked.
"Sherman for me. Not that I didn't enjoy sticking Germans with the best of
'em when my blood was up. But the rest of it--God Almighty!"
They stopped before a solid double door in a high wall. "Will you come and
take tea with me this afternoon? I am staying here for a few days. I'm
afraid I can't offer you sugar, or cakes--"
"I'll bring the sugar along. I'm in barracks just outside and solid with,
"Heavens, what a windfall! You'll be sure to come?"
"Won't I, just? Expect me at four-thirty." He lifted his cap from his
comical head, then sainted, swung on his heel and marched off, swinging
both arms from the shoulders and looking a fine martial figure of a man.
"But still the same old Kirkpatrick," thought Alexina. "I wonder if he will
Her ring was answered by the old woman who toot care of the house and
Alexina entered the wild garden. There was an acre of it, but it had been
so long uncared for that it looked like a jungle caught between four high
gray walls. It was the property of one of the French members of the oeuvre
and was used as a storehouse for hospital supplies and as headquarters for
Alexina when business brought her to this part of the Marne valley. She had
been here several times during the siege of Verdun in nineteen-sixteen when
her bed had quivered all night, and once a big gun had been trained on the
city and a shell had fallen near the headquarters of the staff. Last night
she had lain awake wondering if she did not miss the sound of the distant
guns, as she had in Passy where there was no noisy traffic to take their
place. There is a certain amount of morbidity in all highly strung
imaginative minds, and although she had developed no love for Big Bertha
nor for the sound of high firing guns attacking avions in the middle of the
night, there had been something in that steady boom of cannon whose glare
stained the horizon that had thrilled and excited her.
On the right of the main hall of the house was the room she used as an
office; the dining-room was opposite; the salon ran the whole length at the
back. This was quite a beautiful room furnished in the style of the last
Bourbons, and its long windows opened upon a stone terrace leading down
into what was still a picturesque garden in spite of its neglect. There
were three fine oaks, and the chestnut trees along the wall shut off the
town from even the upper windows.
The oeuvre always managed to keep a load of wood in the cave and to-day the
concierge had raised the temperature of the salon to sixty-five degrees
Fahrenheit Alexina cleared a table and told the woman to set it for tea,
then went upstairs to change her dress. As she had made her trip in one
of the automobiles belonging to the oeuvre she had been able to bring her
little stove, and her bedroom was also warm.
She had also brought one of her new gowns, knowing that she should receive
visits from several French officers, and she concluded to put it on for
Kirkpatrick. He was worth the delicate compliment; moreover it almost
obliterated the ravages of war, for it was of periwinkle blue velvet edged
with fur about the high square of the neck and at the wrists of the long
sleeves: in these days it was wise to revert to the fashions of the
centuries when palaces and houses alike were cold and gowns were made for
comfort as well as fashion. To complete the proportions it had a train and
the sleeves were slightly puffed. Alexina was quite aware that she "looked
like a picture" in it.
She still wore her hair brushed softly back and coiled low at the base of
her beautiful curved head. Her pearls were the only jewels she had brought
to France and she always wore them. She sighed as she looked at the vision
in the mirror. For Kirkpatrick! But she was used to the irony of life.
He arrived promptly at half-past four and in his capacious hands were three
packages which arrested her eyes at once. He presented them one by one.
"Sugar. Loaf of white bread. Candy--I'm also solid with one of the
"I feel like pinching myself. White bread!--I've only tasted it twice in
two years-both times at the Crillon. And candy--not a sight of it for more
than that. I don't like the heavy French chocolates, which were all one
could get when one could get anything. I shall eat at least half and take
the other half back to Gora."
"Miss Dwight? She's done good work, I'll bet. Just in her line. Somehow, I
don't see you--What did you do?"
He watched her hungrily as she made the tea, sitting in a gilt and brocaded
chair, whose high tarnished back seemed to frame her dark head.
"Oh, Lord!" he sighed.
"What is it?"
"Don't ask me. What've you been doing? Yes, I'll drink tea to please you."
"I nursed at first--as an auxiliary, of course--what is the matter?"
"Can't bear to think of it. I hope you've not been doin' that for four
"Oh, no. I've been at work with a war-relief organization in Paris most of
the time. That was too monotonous to talk about, and, thank heaven, this
will probably end my connection with it. I am much more interested to know
how the war has affected you. Are you still a socialist?"
"Not going Bolshevik, I hope."
"Not so's you'd notice it. I want changes all right and more'n ever,
but I've had enough of blood and fury and mix-ups without copying them
murdering skally-wags. That's all they are. Just out for loot and revenge
and not sense enough to know that to-morrow there'll be no loot, and
revenge'll come from the opposite direction. I may have been in hell but my
head's screwed on in the same place,"
"I wondered...I've heard so many stories about the grievances of the
"Every last one of 'em got a grievance. Hate their officers, and often
reason enough. Hate the discipline. Hate the food. Hate the neglect in
hospital when the flu is raging. Hate gettin' no letters, and as like as
not no pay and no tobacco. Hate bein' gouged by the French like they were
by the good Americans when they were in camp on the other side. Hate every
last thing a man just naturally would hate when he is livin' in a
filthy trench, or even camp, and homesick in the bargain....But as for
mass-dissatisfaction--not a bit of it. Loyal as they make 'em. Laugh at
Bolshevik propaganda just like they laughed at Hun propaganda. They just
naturally seem to hate every other race, allied or enemy, and that makes
them so all-fired American they're fit to bust. Of course there's plenty
of skallywags--caught in the draft--and just waitin' to get home and turn
loose on the community. But in the good old style: burglars, highwaymen,
yeggs. Not a new frill. Europe hasn't a thing on the good old American
criminal brand. They fought well, too. Any man does who's a man at all. But
Lord! they'll cut loose when they get back. Every wild bad trait they was
born with multiplied by one hundred and fifty...before I go any further I
want to warn you that I'm liable to break out into bad language any minute.
It gets to be a kind of habit in the army to swear every other word like."
"Don't mind me," said Alexina dryly. "After I was put out of my hotel I
managed to get a room in one of the hotels on the Rue de Rivoli for two
nights before I found my pension in Passy. The walls were thin. The room
next to mine was occupied by two American officers and the one beyond by
two more. They talked back and forth with apparently no thought of
the possibility of being overheard. Such language! And not only swear
words--although one of these to two of any. Such adventures as they
related! Such frankness! Such plain undiluted Anglo-Saxon! Fancy a girl
with all her illusions fresh, and worshiping some heroic figure in khaki,
listening to such a revelation of the nether side of man's life!"
"Men are hogs, all right. I don't like the idea of your having heard such
things." Kirkpatrick scowled heavily.
"Nor did I. But I had no cotton to put in my ears. I couldn't sleep in the
street. Nor could I ask them to keep quiet and admit I had heard them."
"Well, I guess you can forget anything you have a mind to. You couldn't
look like you do--a kind of princess out of a fairy tale and an angel
mixed, if you couldn't."
"A black-haired angel! And all the princesses of legend had golden hair."
"Well, that's just another way you're different." He changed the subject
abruptly. "What you goin' to do now!"
"I wish I knew."
"Goin' back to California?"
"If I knew I would tell you. But I don't. You see....Well, I shall not live
with Mr. Dwight again. We had been really separated a long while before I
left--and then he has done nothing for the war. That is only one reason.
What should I do there? I had thought of going into business before I left.
But I shall have a good income, and what right have I to go into business
and use my large connection to get customers away from those that need the
money for their actual bread?"
"Not the ghost of an excuse. Farce, I call it. As long as the present
system lasts women of your class better be ornamental and satisfied with
that than take the bread out of mouths that need it."
"I could not settle down to the old life. It isn't that I'm in love with
work. For that matter I'm only too grateful to be able to rest. But I must
fill in, some way. Possibly I could do that better in France or England,
where vita! subjects are always being discussed--and happening!--where I
would not only be interested but possibly useful in many ways. I should
feel rather a brute, knowing the conditions of Europe as I do, to go back
and settle down on the smiling abundance of California. And bored to
"Then you think you'll stay?...You'd be wasted there--at present--sure
"Sometimes I think I'll buy this house. I could for a song. Heavens! _How_
I have longed for solitude in the last four years! I could have it here
with my books, and go to Paris as often as I wished. It would be an ideal
life. I could afford a car, and to make this house very livable. And that
garden...between those gray high walls...in there...that would...."
She had forgotten Kirkpatrick and was staring through the long windows at
the dripping trees and the riot of green. "There is something about the old
world...in its byways like this...not in its hateful capitals...."
"Do you mean there's something you want to forget? That this place would be
She met Kirkpatrick's sharp dilated eyes with smiling composure. "This war,
and much that has happened--incidental to it; yes."
"You could forget it easier in California."
"I should forget too much."
"It's awful to think of you not comin' back, though I understand well
enough. Europe suits you all right. But...but...."
Back to Full Books