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   Chapter 4 THE YEAR OF DISCRETION

The Danger Mark By Robert W. Chambers Characters: 45232

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Her first winter resembled, more or less, the first winter of the average débutante.

Under the roof of the metropolitan social temple there was a niche into which her forefathers had fitted. Within the confines of this she expected, and was expected, to live and move and have her being, and ultimately wing upward to her God, leaving the consecrated cubby-hole reserved for her descendants.

She did what her sister débutantes did, and some things they did not do, was asked where they were asked, decorated the same tier of boxes at the opera, appeared in the same short-skirted entertainments of the Junior League, saw what they saw, was seen where they were seen, chattered, danced, and flirted with the same youths, was smitten by the popular "dancing" man, convalesced in average time, smoked her first cigarette, fell a victim to the handsome and horrid married destroyer, recovered with a shock when, as usual, he overdid it, played at being engaged, was kissed once or twice, adored Sembrich, listened ignorantly but with intuitive shudders to her first scandals, sent flowers to Ethel Barrymore, kept Lent with the pure fervour of a conscience troubled and untainted, drove four in the coaching parade, and lunched afterward at the Commonwealth Club, where her name was subsequently put up for election.

Spectacular charities lured her from the Plaza to Sherry's, from Sherry's to the St. Regis; church work beguiled her; women's suffrage, led daintily in a series of circles by Fashion and Wealth, enlisted her passive patronage. She even tried the slums, but the perfume was too much for her.

All the small talk and epigrams of the various petty impinging circles under the social dome passed into and out of her small ears-gossip, epigrams, aphorisms, rumours, apropos surmises, asides, and off-stage observations, subtle with double entendre, harmless and otherwise.

She met people of fashion, of wealth, and both; and now and then encountered one or two of those men and women of real distinction whose names and peregrinations are seldom chronicled in the papers.

She heard the great artists of the two operas sing in private; was regaled with information concerning the remarkable decency or indecency of their private careers. She saw fashionable plays which instructed the public about squalor, murder, and men's mistresses, which dissected very skilfully and artistically the ethics of moral degradation. And being as healthy and curious as the average girl, she found in the theatres material with which to inform herself about certain occult mysteries concerning which, heretofore, she had been left mercifully in doubt.

In spite of Kathleen, it was inevitable that she should acquire from the fashionable in literature, music, and the drama, that sorry and unnecessary wisdom which ages souls.

And if what she saw or heard ever puzzled her, there was always somebody, young or old, to enlighten her innocent perplexity; and with each illumination she shrank a little less aloof from this shabby wisdom gilded with "art," which she could not choose but accept as fact, but the depravity of which she never was entirely able to comprehend.

In March the Seagrave twins arrived at the alleged age of discretion. On their twenty-first birthday the Half Moon Trust Company went solemnly into court and rendered an accounting of its stewardship; the yearly reports which it had made during the term of its trusteeship were brought forward, examined by the court, and the great Half Moon Trust Company was given an honourable discharge. It had done its duty. The twins were masters of their financial and moral fate.

It was about that moribund period of the social solstice when the fag end of the season had fizzled out like a wet firecracker in the April rains; and Geraldine and Kathleen were tired, mentally and bodily. And Scott was buying polo ponies from a British friend and shotguns from a needy gentleman from Long Island.

It had been rather trying work to rid Geraldine of the aspirants for her fortune; during the winter she was proposed to under almost every conceivable condition and circumstance. Kathleen had been bored and badgered and bothered and importuned to the verge of exhaustion; Scott was used, shamelessly, without his suspecting it, and he generally had in tow a string of financially spavined aspirants who linked arms with him from club to club, from theatre to opera, from grille to grille, until he was pleasantly bewildered at his own popularity.

Geraldine was surprised, confused, shamed, irritated in turn with every new importunity. But she remained sensible enough to be quite frank and truthful with Kathleen, except for an exciting secret engagement with Bunbury Gray which lasted for two weeks. And Kathleen was given strength sufficient for each case as it presented itself; and now the fag end of the season died out; the last noble and indigent foreigner had been eluded; the last old beau foiled; the last squab-headed dancing man successfully circumvented. And now the gallinaceous half of the world was leaving town in noisy and glittering migration, headed for temporary roosts all over the globe, from Newport to Nova Scotia, from Kineo to Kara Dagh.

Country houses were opening throughout the Western Hemisphere; Long Island stirred from its long winter lethargy, stung into active life by the Oyster Bay mosquito; town houses closed; terrace, pillar, portico, and windows were already being boarded over; lace curtains came down; textiles went to the cleaners; the fresh scent of camphor and lavender lingered in the mellow half-light of rooms where furniture and pictures loomed linen-shrouded and the polished floor echoed every footstep.

In the sunny gloom of the Seagrave house Geraldine found a grateful retreat from the inspiring glare and confused racket of her first winter; ample time for rest, reverie, and reflection, with only a few intimates to break her meditations, only informality to reckon with, and plenty of leisure to plan for the summer.

Around the house, trees and rhododendrons were now in freshest bloom, flower-beds fragrant, grass tenderly emerald. The moving shadows of maple leaves patterned the white walls of her bedroom; wind-blown gusts of wistaria fragrance, from the long, grapelike, violet-tinted bunches swaying outside the window, puffed out her curtains every morning.

At night subtler perfumes stole upward from the dark garden; the roar of traffic from the avenues was softened; carriage lights in the purpling dusk of the Park moved like firebugs drifting through level wooded vistas. Across the reservoir lakes the jewelled night-zone of the West Side sparkled, reflected across the water in points of trembling flame; south, a gemmed bar of topaz light, upright against the sky, marked the Plaza; beyond, sprinkled into space like constellations dusting endless depths, the lights of the city receded far as the eye could see.

In the zenith the sky is always tinted with the strange, sinister night-glow of the metropolis, red as fire-licked smoke when fog from the bay settles, pallid as the very shadow of light when nights are clear; but it is always there-always will be there after the sun goes down into the western seas, and the eyes of the monstrous iron city burn on through the centuries.

One morning late in April Geraldine Seagrave rode up under the porte-cochère with her groom, dismounted, patted her horse sympathetically, and regarded with concern the limping animal as the groom led him away to the stables. Then she went upstairs.

To Kathleen, who was preparing to go out, she said:

"I had scarcely entered the Park, my dear, when poor Bibi pulled up lame. No, I told Redmond not to saddle another; I suppose Duane will be furious. Where are you going?"

"I don't know. Shall I wait for you? I've ordered a victoria."

"No, thanks. You look so pretty this morning, Kathleen. Sometimes you appear younger than I do. Scott was pig enough to say so the other day when I had a headache. It's true enough, too," she added, smiling.

Kathleen Severn laughed; she looked scarcely more than twenty-five and she knew it.

"You pretty thing!" exclaimed Geraldine, kissing her, "no wonder you attract the really interesting men and leave me the dreadful fledglings! It's bad of you; and I don't see why I'm stupid enough to have such an attractive woman for my closest"-a kiss-"dearest friend! Even Duane is villain enough to tell me that he finds you overwhelmingly attractive. Did you know it?"

Geraldine's careless gaiety seemed spontaneous enough; yet there was the slightest constraint in Kathleen's responsive smile:

"Duane isn't to be taken seriously," she said.

"Not by any means," nodded Geraldine, twirling her crop.

"I'm glad you understand him," observed Kathleen, gazing at the point of her sunshade. She looked up presently and met Geraldine's dark gaze. Again there came that almost imperceptible hesitation; then:

"I certainly do understand Duane Mallett," said Geraldine carelessly.

"Shall I wait for you?" asked Kathleen. "We can lunch out together and drive in the Park later."

"I'm too lazy even to take off my boots and habit. Where's that volume of Mendez you thought fit to hide from me, you wretch?"

"Why on earth did you buy it?"

"I bought it because Rosalie Dysart says Mendez is a great modern master of prose--"

"And Rosalie is a great modern mistress of pose. Don't read Mendez."

"Isn't it necessary for a girl to read--"

"No, it isn't!"

"I don't want to be ignorant. Besides, I'm-curious to know--"

"Be decently curious, dearest. There's a danger mark; don't cross it."

"I don't wish to."

She stretched out her arms, crop in hand, doubled them back, and head tipped on one side, yawned shamelessly at her own laziness.

"Scott is becoming very restless," she said.

"About going away?"

"Yes. I really do think, Kathleen, that we ought to have some respectable country place to go to. It would be nice for Scott and the servants and the horses; and you and I need not stay there if it bores us--"

"Is he still thinking of that Roya-Neh place? It's horridly expensive to keep up. Oh, I knew quite well that Scott would bully you into consenting--"

"Roya-Neh seems to suit us both," admitted the girl indifferently. "The shooting and fishing naturally attract Scott; they say it's secluded enough for you and me to recuperate in; and if we ever want any guests, it's big enough to entertain dozens in.... I really don't care one way or the other; you know I never was very crazy about the country-and poison ivy, and mosquitoes and oil-smelling roads, and hot nights, and the perfume of fertilisers--"

"You poor child!" laughed Kathleen; "you don't know anything about the country except where you've been on Long Island in the immediate vicinity of your grandfather's horrid old place."

"Is it any more agreeable up there near Canada?"

"Roya-Neh is very lovely-of course-but-it's certainly not a wise investment, dear."

"Well, if Scott and I buy it, we'd never wish to sell it--"

"Suppose you were obliged to?"

Geraldine's velvet eyes widened lazily:

"Obliged to? Oh-yes-you mean if we went to smash."

Then her gaze became remote as she stood slowly tapping her gloved palm with her riding-crop.

"I think I'll dress," she said absently.

"Good-bye, then," nodded Kathleen.

"Good-bye," said the girl, turning lightly away across the hall. Kathleen's eyes followed the slender retreating figure, so slimly compact in its buoyancy. There was always something fascinatingly boyish in Geraldine's light, free carriage-just a touch of carelessness in the poise-almost a swing at times to the step. Duane had once said: "She has a bully walk!" Kathleen thought of it as, passing a mirror, she caught sight of herself. And the sudden glimpse of her own warm, rich beauty in all its exquisite maturity startled her. Surely she seemed to be growing younger.

She was. Dark-violet eyes, ruddy hair, a superb figure, a skin so white that it looked fragrant, made Kathleen Severn amazingly attractive. Men found her, to their surprise, rather unresponsive. She was amiable enough, nicely formal, and perfectly bred, it is true, but inclined to that sort of aloofness which is marked by lapses of inattention and the smiling silences of preoccupation.

She had married, very young, an army officer convalescing from Texan fever. He died suddenly on the very eve of their postponed wedding-trip. This was enough to account for lapses of inattention in any woman.

But Kathleen Severn had never been demonstrative. She was slow to care for people. Besides, the responsibility of bringing up the Seagrave twins had been sufficient to subdue anybody's spirits. She was only nineteen and a widow of a month when her distant relative, Magnelius Grandcourt, found her the position as personal guardian of the twins, then aged nine. Now they were twenty-one and she thirty-one; twelve years of service, twelve years of steady fidelity, which long ago had become a changeless and passionate devotion, made up of all she might have given to the dead, and of the unborn happiness she had never known. What other sort of love, if there was any, lay within her undeveloped, nobody knew because nobody had ever aroused it.

Sunshine transformed into great golden transparencies the lowered shades in the living room where Geraldine stood, pensive, distraite, idly twirling her crop by the loop. Presently it flew off her gloved forefinger and fell clattering across the carpetless floor. She bathed and dressed leisurely; later, when luncheon was brought to her, she dropped into a low, wide chair and, ignoring everything except the strawberries, turned her face to the breeze which was softly rattling the southern curtains.

Errant thoughts, light as summer fleece, drifted across her mind. Often, in such moments, she strove to realise that she was now mistress of herself; but never could completely.

"For example: if I want to buy Roya-Neh," she mused, biting into an enormous strawberry, "I can do it.... All I have to do is to say that I'll buy it.... And I can live there if I choose-as long as I choose.... It's a very agreeable sensation.... I can have anything I fancy, without asking Mr. Tappan.... It's rather odd that I don't want anything."

She crossed her ankles and lay back watching the sun-moats floating.

"Suppose," she murmured with perverse humour, "that I wished to build a bungalow in Timbuctoo ... or stand on my head, now, this very moment! Nobody on earth could stop me.... I believe I will stand on my head for a change."

The sudden smile made the curve of her cheek delicious. She sprang to her feet, spread her napkin on the polished floor, then gravely bending double, placed both palms flat on the square of damask, balanced and raised her body until the straight, slim limbs were rigidly pointed toward heaven.

Down tumbled her hair; her cheeks crimsoned; then dainty as a lithe and spangled athlete, she turned clean over in the air, landing lightly on both feet breathing fast.

"It's disgraceful!" she murmured; "I am certainly out of condition. Late hours are my undoing. Also cigarettes. I wish I didn't like to smoke."

She lighted one and strolled about the room, knotting up her dark hair, heels clicking sharply over the bare, polished floor.

Lacking a hair-peg, she sauntered off to her own apartments to find one, where she remained, lolling in the chaise-longue, alternately blowing smoke rings into the sunshine and nibbling a bonbon soaked in cologne. Only a girl can accomplish such combinations. How she ever began this silly custom of hers she couldn't remember, except that, when a small child, somebody had forbidden her to taste brandied peach syrup, which she adored; and the odour of cologne being similarly pleasant, she had tried it on her palate and found that it produced agreeable sensations.

It had become a habit. She was conscious of it, but remained indifferent because she didn't know anything about habits.

So all that sunny afternoon she lay in the chaise-longue, alternately reading and dreaming, her scented bonbons at her elbow. Later a maid brought tea; and a little later Duane Mallett was announced. He sauntered in, a loosely knit, graceful figure, still wearing his riding-clothes and dusty boots of the morning.

Geraldine Seagrave had had time enough to discover, during the past winter, that her old playfellow was not at all the kind of man he appeared to be. Women liked him too easily and he liked them without effort. There was always some girl in love with him until he was found kissing another. His tastes were amiably catholic; his caress instinctively casual. Beauty when responsive touched him. No girl he knew needed to remain unconsoled.

The majority of women liked him; so did Geraldine Seagrave. The majority instinctively watched him; so did she. In close acquaintance the man was a disappointment. It seemed as though there ought to be something deeper in him than the lightly humourous mockery with which he seemed to regard his very great talent-a flippancy that veiled always what he said and did and thought until nobody could clearly understand what he really thought about anything; and some people doubted that he thought at all-particularly the thoughtless whom he had carelessly consoled.

Women were never entirely indifferent concerning him; there remained always a certain amount of curiosity, whether they found him attractive or otherwise.

His humourous indifference to public opinions, bordering on effrontery, was not entirely unattractive to women, but it always, sooner or later, aroused their distrust.

The main trouble with Duane Mallett seemed to be his gaily cynical willingness to respond to any advance, however slight, that any pretty woman offered. This responsive partiality was disconcerting enough to make him dreaded by ambitious mothers, and an object of uneasy interest to their decorative offspring who were inclined to believe that a rescue party of one might bring this derelict into port and render him seaworthy for the voyage of life under their own particular command.

Besides, he was a painter. Women like them when they are carefully washed and clothed.

As Duane Mallett strolled into the living-room, Geraldine felt again, as she so often did, a slight sense of insecurity mingle with her liking for the man, or what might have been liking if she could ever feel absolute confidence in him. She had been, at times, very close to caring a great deal for him, when now and again it flashed over her that there must be in him something serious under his brilliant talent and the idle perversity which mocked at it.

But now she recognised in his smile and manner everything that kept her from ever caring to understand him-the old sense of insecurity in his ironical formality; and her outstretched hand fell away from his with indifference.

"I didn't have the happiness of riding with you, after all," he said, serenely seating himself and dropping one lank knee over the other. "Promises wouldn't be valuable unless somebody broke a lot now and then."

"You probably had the happiness of riding with some other woman."

He nodded.

"Who, this time?"

"Rosalie Dysart."

Rumour had been busy with their names recently. The girl's face became expressionless.

"Sorry you didn't come," he said, looking out of the window where the flapping shade revealed a lilac in bloom.

"How long did you wait for me?"

"About a minute. Then Rosalie passed--"

"Rosalies will always continue to pass through your career, my omnivorous friend.... Did it even occur to you to ride over here and find out why I missed our appointment?"

"No; why didn't you come?"

"Bibi went lame. I'd have had another horse saddled if I hadn't seen you, over my shoulder, join Mrs. Dysart."

"Too bad," he commented listlessly.

"Why? You had a perfectly good time without me, didn't you?"

"Oh, yes, pretty good. Delancy Grandcourt was out after luncheon, and when Rosalie left he stuck to me and talked about you until I let my horse bolt, and it stirred up a few mounted policemen and riding-schools, I can tell you!"

"Oh, so you lunched with Mrs. Dysart?"

"Yes. Where is Kathleen?"

"Driving," said the girl briefly. "If you don't care for any tea, there is mineral water and a decanter over there."

He thanked her, rose and mixed himself what he wanted, and began to walk leisurely about, the ice tinkling in the glass which he held. At intervals he quenched his thirst, then resumed his aimless promenade, a slight smile on his face.

"Has anything particularly interesting happened to you, Duane?" she asked, and somehow thought of Rosalie Dysart.

"No."

"How are your pictures coming on?"

"The portrait?" he asked absently.

"Portrait? I thought all the very grand ladies you paint had left town. Whose portrait are you painting?"

Before he answered, before he even hesitated, she knew.

"Rosalie Dysart's," he said, gazing absently at the lilac-bush in flower as the wind-blown curtain revealed it for a moment.

She lifted her dark eyes curiously. He began to stir the ice in his glass with a silver paper-cutter.

"She is wonderfully beautiful, isn't she?" said the girl.

"Overwhelmingly."

Geraldine shrugged and gazed into space. She didn't exactly know why she had given that little hitch to her shoulders.

"I'd like to paint Kathleen," he observed.

A flush tinted the girl's cheeks. She said nervously:

"Why don't you ask her?"

"I've meant to. Somehow, one doesn't ask things lightly of Kathleen."

"One doesn't ask things of some women at all," she remarked.

He looked up; she was examining her empty teacup with fixed interest.

"Ask what sort of thing?" he inquired, walking over to the table and resting his glass on it.

"Oh, I don't know what I meant. Nothing. What is that in your glass? Let me taste it.... Ugh! It's Scotch!"

She set back the glass with a shudder. After a few moments she picked it up again and tasted it disdainfully.

"Do you like this?" she demanded with youthful contempt.

"Pretty well," he admitted.

"It tastes something like brandied peaches, doesn't it?"

"I never noticed that it did."

And as he remained smilingly aloof and silent, at intervals, tentatively, uncertain whether or not she exactly cared for it, she tasted the

iced contents of the tall, frosty glass and watched him where he sat loosely at ease flicking at sun-moats with the loop of his riding-crop.

"I'd like to see a typical studio," she said reflectively.

"I've asked you to mine often enough."

"Yes, to tea with other people. I don't mean that way. I'd like to see it when it's not all dusted and in order for feminine inspection. I'd like to see a man's studio when it's in shape for work-with the gr-r-reat painter in a fine frenzy painting, and the model posing madly--"

"Come on, then! If Kathleen lets you, and you can stand it, come down and knock some day unexpectedly."

"O Duane! I couldn't, could I?"

"Not with propriety. But come ahead."

"Naturally, impropriety appeals to you."

"Naturally. To you, too, doesn't it?"

"No. But wouldn't it astonish you if you heard a low, timid knocking some day when you and your Bohemian friends were carousing and having a riotous time there--"

"Yes, it would, but I'm afraid that low, timid knocking couldn't be heard in the infernal uproar of our usual revelry."

"Then I'd knock louder and louder, and perhaps kick once or twice if you didn't come to the door and let me in."

He laughed. After a moment she laughed, too; her dark eyes were very friendly now. Watching the amusement in his face, she continued to sip from his tall, frosted glass, quite unconscious of any distaste for it. On the contrary, she experienced a slight exhilaration which was gradually becoming delightful to her.

"Scotch-and-soda is rather nice, after all," she observed. "I had no idea-What is the matter with you, Duane?"

"You haven't swallowed all that, have you?"

"Yes, is it much?"

He stared, then with a shrug: "You'd better cut out that sort of thing."

"What?" she asked, surprised.

"What you're doing."

"Tasting your Scotch? Pooh!" she said, "it isn't strong. Do you think I'm a baby?"

"Go ahead," he said, "it's your funeral."

Legs crossed, chin resting on the butt of his riding-crop, he lay back in his chair watching her.

Women of her particular type had always fascinated him; Fifth Avenue is thronged with them in sunny winter mornings-tall, slender, faultlessly gowned girls, free-limbed, narrow of wrist and foot; cleanly built, engaging, fearless-eyed; and Geraldine was one of a type characteristic of that city and of the sunny Avenue where there pass more beautiful women on a December morning than one can see abroad in half a dozen years' residence.

How on earth this hemisphere has managed to evolve them out of its original material nobody can explain. And young Mallett, recently from the older hemisphere, was still in a happy trance of surprise at the discovery.

Lounging there, watching her where she sat warmly illumined by the golden light of the window-shade, he said lazily:

"Do you know that Fifth Avenue is always thronged with you, Geraldine? I've nearly twisted my head off trying not to miss the assorted visions of you which float past afoot or driving. Some day one of them will unbalance me. I'll leap into her victoria, ask her if she'd mind the temporary inconvenience of being adored by a stranger; and if she's a good sport she'll take a chance. Don't you think so?"

"It's more than I'd take with you," said the girl.

"You've said that several times."

He laughed, then looked up at her half humorously, half curiously.

"You would be taking no chances, Geraldine."

"I'd be taking chances of finding you holding some other girl's hands within twenty-four hours. And you know it."

"Hasn't anybody ever held yours?"

Displeasure tinted her cheeks a deeper red, but she merely shrugged her shoulders.

It was true that in the one evanescent and secret affair of her first winter she had not escaped the calf-like transports of Bunbury Gray. She had felt, if she had not returned them, the furtively significant pressure of men's hands in the gaiety and whirl of things; ardent and chuckle-headed youth had declared itself in conservatories and in corners; one impetuous mauling from a smitten Harvard boy of eighteen had left her furiously vexed with herself for her passive attitude while the tempest passed. True, she had vigorously reproved him later. She had, alas, occasion, during her first season, to reprove several demonstrative young men for their unconventionally athletic manner of declaring their suits. She had been far more severe with the humble, unattractive, and immobile, however, than with the audacious and ornamental who had attempted to take her by storm. A sudden if awkward kiss followed by the fiery declaration of the hot-headed disturbed her less than the persistent stare of an enamoured pair of eyes. As a child the description of an assault on a citadel always interested her, but she had neither sympathy nor interest in a siege.

Now, musing there in the sunlight on the events of her first winter, she became aware that she had been more or less instructed in the ways of men; and, remembering, she lifted her disturbed eyes to inspect this specimen of a sex which often perplexed but always interested her.

"What are you smiling about, Duane?" she asked defiantly.

"Your arraignment of me when half the men in town have been trying to marry you all winter. You've made a reputation for yourself, too, Geraldine."

"As what?" she asked angrily.

"A head-twister."

"Do you mean a flirt?"

"Oh, Lord! Only the French use that term now. But that's the idea, Geraldine. You are a born one. I fell for the first smile you let loose on me."

"You seem to have been a sort of general Humpty Dumpty for falls all your life, Duane," she said with dangerous sweetness.

"Like that immortal, I've had only one which permanently shattered me."

"Which was that, if you please?"

"The fall you took out of me."

"In other words," she said disdainfully, "you are beginning to make love to me again."

"No.... I was in love with you."

"You were in love with yourself, young man. You are on such excellent terms with yourself that you sympathise too ardently with any attractive woman who takes the least and most innocent notice of you."

He said, very much amused: "I was perfectly serious over you, Geraldine."

"The selfish always take themselves seriously."

It was she, however, who now sat there bright-eyed and unsmiling, and he was still laughing, deftly balancing his crop on one finger, and glancing at her from time to time with that glimmer of ever-latent mockery which always made her restive at first, then irritated her with an unreasoning desire to hurt him somehow. But she never seemed able to reach him.

"Sooner or later," she said, "women will find you out, thoroughly."

"And then, just think what a rush there will be to marry me!"

"There will be a rush to avoid you, Duane. And it will set in before you know it-" She thought of the recent gossip coupling his name with Rosalie's, reddened and bit her lip in silence. But somehow the thought irritated her into speech again:

"Fortunately, I was among the first to find you out-the first, I think."

"Heavens! when was that?" he asked in pretended concern, which infuriated her.

"You had better not ask me," she flashed back. "When a woman suddenly discovers that a man is untrustworthy, do you think she ever forgets it?"

"Because I once kissed you? What a dreadful deed!"

"You forget the circumstances under which you did it."

He flushed; she had managed to hurt him, after all. He began patiently:

"I've explained to you a dozen times that I didn't know--"

"But I told you!"

"And I couldn't believe you--"

"But you expect me to believe you?"

He could not exactly interpret her bright, smiling, steady gaze.

"The trouble with you is," she said, "that there is nothing to you but good looks and talent. There was once, but it died-over in Europe-somewhere. No woman trusts a man like you. Don't you know it?"

His smile did not seem to be very genuine, but he answered lightly:

"When I ask people to have confidence in me, it will be time for them to pitch into me."

"Didn't you once ask me for your confidence-and then abuse it?" she demanded.

"I told you I loved you-if that is what you mean. And you doubted it so strenuously that, perhaps I might be excused for doubting it myself.... What is the use of talking this way, Geraldine?"

There was a ring of exasperation in her laughter. She lifted his glass, sipped a little, and, looking over it at him:

"I drink to our doubts concerning each other: may nothing ever occur to disturb them."

Her cheeks had begun to burn, her eyes were too bright, her voice unmodulated.

"Whether or not you ever again take the trouble to ask me to trust you in that way," she said, "I'll tell you now why I don't and why I never could. It may amuse you. Shall I?"

"By all means," he replied amiably; "but it seems to me as though you are rather rough on me."

"You were rougher with me the first time I saw you, after all those years. I met you with perfect confidence, remembering what you once were. It was my first grown-up party. I was only a fool of a girl, merely ignorant, unfit to be trusted with a liberty I'd never before had.... And I took one glass of champagne and it-you know what it did.... And I was bewildered and frightened, and I told you; and-you perhaps remember how my confidence in my old play-fellow was requited. Do you?"

Reckless impulse urged her on. Heart and pulses were beating very fast with a persistent desire to hurt him. Her animation, brilliant colour, her laughter seemed to wing every word like an arrow. She knew he shrank from what she was saying, in spite of his polite attention, and her fresh, curved cheek and parted lips took on a brighter tint. Something was singing, seething in her veins. She lifted her glass, set it down, and suddenly pushed it from her so violently that it fell with a crash. A wave of tingling heat mounted to her face, receded, swept back again. Confused, she straightened up in her chair, breathing fast. What was coming over her? Again the wave surged back with a deafening rush; her senses struggled, the blood in her ran riot. Then terror clutched her. Neither lips nor tongue were very flexible when she spoke.

"Duane-if you don't mind-would you go away now? I've a wretched headache."

He shrugged and stood up.

"It's curious," he said reflectively, "how utterly determined we seem to be to misunderstand each other. If you would give me half a chance-well-never mind."

"I wish you would go," she murmured, "I really am not well." She could scarcely hear her own voice amid the deafening tumult of her pulses. Fright stiffened the fixed smile on her lips. Her plight paralysed her for a moment.

"Yes, I'll go," he answered, smiling. "I usually am going somewhere-most of the time."

He picked up hat, gloves, and crop, looked down at her, came and stood at the table, resting one hand on the edge.

"We're pretty young yet, Geraldine.... I never saw a girl I cared for as I might have cared for you. It's true, no matter what I have done, or may do.... But you're quite right, a man of that sort isn't to be considered"-he laughed and pulled on one glove-"only-I knew as soon as I saw you that it was to be you or-everybody. First, it was anybody; then it was you-now it's everybody. Good-bye."

"Good-bye," she managed to say. The dizzy waves swayed her; she rested her cheeks between both hands and, leaning there heavily, closed her eyes to fight against it. She had been seated on the side of a lounge; and now, feeling blindly behind her, she moved the cushions aside, turned and dropped among them, burying her blazing face. Over her the scorching vertigo swept, subsided, rose, and swept again. Oh, the horror of it!-the shame, the agonised surprise. What was this dreadful thing that, for the second time, she had unwittingly done? And this time it was so much more terrible. How could such an accident have happened to her? How could she face her own soul in the disgrace of it?

Fear, loathing, frightened incredulity that this could really be herself, stiffened her body and clinched her hands under her parted lips. On them her hot breath fell irregularly.

Rigid, motionless, she lay, breathing faster and more feverishly. Tears came after a long while, and with them relaxation and lassitude. She felt that the dreadful thing which had seized and held her was letting go its hold, was freeing her body and mind; and as it slowly released her and passed on its terrible silent way, she awoke and sat up with a frightened cry-to find herself lying on her own bed in utter darkness.

A moment later her bedroom door opened without a sound and the light from the hall streamed over Kathleen's bare shoulders and braided hair.

"Geraldine?"

The girl scarcely recognised Kathleen's altered voice. She lay listening, silent, motionless, staring at the white figure.

"Dearest, I thought you called me. May I come in?"

"I am not well."

But Kathleen entered and stood beside the bed, looking down at her in the dim light.

"Dearest," she began tremulously, "Duane told me you had a headache and had gone to your room to lie down, so I didn't disturb you--"

"Duane," faltered the girl, "is he here? What did he say?"

"He was in the library before dinner when I came in, and he warned me not to waken you. Do you know what time it is?"

"No."

"It is after midnight.... If you feel ill enough to lie here, you ought to be undressed. May I help you?"

There was no answer. For a moment Kathleen stood looking down at the girl in silence; then a sudden shivering seized her; she strove to control it, but her knees seemed to give way under it and she dropped down beside the bed, throwing both arms around Geraldine's neck.

"Oh, the horror of it!-the shame, the agonised surprise."

"Oh, don't, don't!" she whimpered. "It is too terrible! It ruined your father and your grandfather! Darling, I couldn't bear to tell you this before, but now I've got to tell you! It is in your blood. Seagraves die of it! Do you understand?"

"W-what?" stammered the girl.

"That all their lives they did what-what you have done to-day-that you have inherited their terrible inclinations. Even as a little child you frightened me. Have you forgotten what you and I talked over and cried over after your first party?"

The girl said slowly: "I don't know how-it-happened, Kathleen. Duane came in.... I tasted what he had in his glass.... I don't know why I did it. I wish I were dead!"

"There is only one thing to do-never to touch anything-anything--"

"Y-yes, I know that I must not. But how was I to know before? Will you tell me?"

"You understand now, thank God!"

"N-not exactly.... Other girls seem to do as they please without danger.... It is amazing that such a horrible thing should happen to me--"

"It is a shameful thing that it should happen to any woman. And the horror of it is that almost every hostess in town lets girls of your age run the risk. Darling, don't you know that the only chance a woman has with the world is in her self-control? When that goes, her chances go, every one of them! Dear-we have latent in us much the same vices that men have. We have within us the same possibilities of temptations, the same capacity for excesses, the same capabilities for resistance. Because you are a girl, you are not immune from unworthy desires."

"I know it. The-the dreadful thing about it is that I do desire such things. Perhaps I had better not even nibble sugar scented with cologne--"

"Do you do that?" faltered Kathleen.

"I did not know there was any danger in it," sobbed the girl. "You have scared me terribly, Kathleen."

"Is that true about the cologne?"

"Y-yes."

"You don't do it now, do you?"

"Yes."

"You don't do it every day, do you?"

"Yes, several times."

"How long"-Kathleen's lips almost refused to move-"how long have you done this?"

"For a long time. I've been ashamed of it. It's-it's the alcohol in it that I like, isn't it? I never thought of it in that way till now."

Kathleen, on her knees by the bedside, was crying silently. The girl slipped from her arms, turned partly over, and lying on her back, stared upward through the darkness.

So this was the secret reason that, unsuspected, had long been stirring her to instinctive uneasiness, which had made her half ashamed, half impatient with this silly habit which already inconvenienced her. Yet even now she could not feel any real alarm; she could not understand that the fangs of a habit can poison when plucked out. Of course there was now only one thing to do-keep aloof from everything. That would be easy. The tingling warmth of the perfume was certainly agreeable, but she must not risk even such a silly indulgence as that. Really, it was a very simple matter. She sat up, supporting her weight on one arm.

"Kathleen, darling," she whispered, bending forward and drawing the elder woman up onto the bed, "you mustn't be frightened about me. I've learned some things I didn't know. Do you think Duane-" In the darkness the blood scorched her face, the humiliation almost crushed her. But she went on: "Do you think Duane suspects that-that--"

"I don't think Duane suspects anything," said Kathleen, striving to steady her voice. "You came in here as soon as you felt-ill; didn't you?"

"I-yes--"

She could say no more. How she came to be on her bed in her own room she could not remember. It seemed to her as though she had fallen asleep on the lounge. Somehow, after Duane had gone, she must have waked and gone to her own room. But she could not recollect doing it.

Now she realised that she was tired, wretched, feverish. She suffered Kathleen to undress her, comb her hair, bathe her, and dry the white, slender body and limbs in which the veins still burned and throbbed.

When at length she lay between the cool sheets, silent, limp, heavy-lidded, Kathleen turned out the electric brackets and lighted the candle.

"Dear," she said, trying to speak cheerfully, "do you know what your brother has done?"

"What?" asked Geraldine drowsily.

"He has bought Roya-Neh, if you please, and he invites you to draw a check for half of it and to move there next week. As for me, I was furious with him. What do you think?"

Her voice softened to a whisper; she bent over the girl, looking closely at the closed lids. Under them a faint bluish tint faded into the whiteness of the cheek.

"Darling, darling!" whispered Kathleen, bending closer over the sleeping girl, "I love you so-I love you so!" And even as she said it, between the sleeper's features and her own floated the vision of Scott's youthfully earnest face; and she straightened suddenly to her full height and laid her hand on her breast in consternation. Under the fingers' soft pressure her heart beat faster. Again, with new dismay, this incredible sensation was stealing upon her, threatening to transform itself into something real, something definite, something not to be stifled or ignored.

She extinguished the candle; as she felt her way out of the darkness, arms extended, far away in the house she heard a door open and shut, and she bent over the balustrade to listen.

"Is that you, Scott?" she called softly.

"Yes; Duane and I did some billiards at the club." He looked up at her, the same slight pucker between his brows, boyishly slender in his evening dress. "You're not going to bed at once, are you, Kathleen, dear?"

"Yes, I am," she said briefly, backing into her own room, but holding the door ajar so that she could look out at him.

"Oh, come out and talk to a fellow," he urged; "I'm quite excited about this Roya-Neh business--"

"You're a perfect wretch, Scott. I don't want to talk about your unholy extravagance."

The boy laughed and stood at ease looking at the pretty face partly disclosed between door and wall with darkness for a velvety background.

"Just come out into the library while I smoke one cigarette," he began in his wheedling way. "I'm dying to talk to you about the game-preserve--"

"I can't; I'm not attired for a tête-à-tête with anything except my pillow."

"Then put on one of those fetching affairs you wear sometimes--"

"Oh, Scott, you are a nuisance!"

When, a few moments later, she came into the library in a delicate shimmering thing and little slippers of the same elusive tint, Scott jumped up and dragged a big chair forward.

"You certainly are stunning, Kathleen," he said frankly; "you look twenty with all the charm of thirty. Sit here; I've a map of the Roya-Neh forest to show you."

He drew up a chair for himself, lifted a big map from the table, and, unrolling it, laid it across her knees. Then he began to talk enthusiastically about lake and stream and mountain, and about wild boar and deer and keepers and lodges; and she bent her pretty head over the map, following his moving pencil with her eyes, sometimes asking a question, sometimes tracing a road with her own delicate finger.

Once or twice it happened that their hands touched en passant; and at the light contact, she was vaguely aware that somewhere, deep within her, the same faint dismay awoke; that in her, buried in depths unsuspected, something incredible existed, stirred, threatened.

"Scott, dear," she said quietly, "I am glad you are happy over Roya-Neh forest, but it was too expensive, and it troubles me; so I'm going to sleep to dream over it."

"You sweet little goose!" laughed the boy impulsively, passing his arm around her. He had done it so often to this nurse and mother.

They both rose abruptly; the map dropped; his arm fell away from her warm, yielding body.

He gazed at her flushed face rather stupidly, not realising yet that the mother and nurse and elder sister had vanished like a tinted bubble in that strange instant-that Kathleen was gone-that, in her calm, sweet, familiar guise stood a woman-a stranger, exquisite, youthful, with troubled violet eyes and vivid lips, looking at him as though for the first time she had met his gaze across the world.

She recovered her composure instantly.

"I'm sorry, Scott, but I'm too sleepy to talk any more. Besides, Geraldine isn't very well, and I'm going to doze with one eye open. Good-night, dear."

"Good-night," said the boy vacantly, not offering the dutiful embrace to which he and she had so long and so lightly been accustomed.

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