Everybody seemed to be there, either
splashing about in the Atlantic or playing ball on
the beach or congregated along the sands observant
of the jolly, riotous scene sparkling under the magnificence
of a cloudless sky.
Hamil nodded to a few people as he
sauntered toward the surf; he stopped and spoke to
his aunt and Colonel Vetchen, who informed him that
Virginia and Cuyp were somewhere together chastely
embracing the ocean; he nodded to old Classon who
was toddling along the wet sands in a costume which
revealed considerable stomach; he saw Malcourt, knee-deep,
hovering around Shiela, yet missing nothing of what
went on around him, particularly wherever the swing
of a bathing-skirt caught his quick, handsome eyes.
Then Cecile stretched out an inviting
hand to him from the water and he caught it, and together
they hurled themselves head first into the surf, swimming
side by side out to the raft.
“It’s nice to see you
again,” said the girl. “Are you going
to be agreeable now and go about with us? There’s
a luncheon at two your fair friend Virginia
Suydam has asked us, much to our surprise but
after that I’m quite free if you’ve anything
She looked up at him, pink and fresh
as a wet rose, balanced there on the edge of the rocking
“Anything to propose?”
he repeated; “I don’t know; there’s
scarcely anything I wouldn’t propose to you.
So you’re going to Virginia’s luncheon?”
“I am; Shiela won’t.”
She frowned. “It’s just as it was
two years ago when Louis Malcourt tagged after her
every second. It’s stupid, but we can’t
count on them any more.”
“Does does Malcourt ”
“Tag after Shiela? Haven’t
you seen it? You’ve been too busy to notice.
I wish you wouldn’t work every minute. There
was the jolliest sort of a dance at the O’Haras’
last night while you were fast asleep.
I know you were because old Jonas told mother you
had fallen asleep in your chair with your head among
a pile of blue-prints. On my way to the dance
I wanted to go in and tie one of Shiela’s cunning
little lace morning caps under your chin, but Jessie
wouldn’t go with me. They’re perfectly
sweet and madly fashionable these little
Louis XVI caps. I’ll show you one some
For a few moments the girl rattled
on capriciously, swinging her stockinged legs in the
smooth green swells that rose above her knees along
the raft’s edge; and he sat silent beside her,
half-listening, half-preoccupied, his eyes instinctively
searching the water’s edge beyond.
“I hadn’t noticed
that Louis Malcourt was so devoted to your sister,”
Cecile looked up quickly, but detected
only amiable indifference in the young fellow’s
elle s’affiche a la fin!” she said
impatiently. “Shiela was only eighteen before;
she’s twenty now, and old enough to know whether
she wants to marry a man like that or not.”
Hamil glanced around at her incredulously.
But Cecile went on headlong in the wake of her own
“He’s a sort of a relative;
we’ve always known him. He and Gray used
to go camping in Maine and he often spent months in
our house. But for two years now, he’s
been comparatively busy he’s Mr. Portlaw’s
manager, you know, and we’ve seen nothing of
him which was quite agreeable to me.”
Hamil rose, unquiet. “I
thought you were rather impressed by Shiela,”
continued the girl. “I really did think
so, Mr. Hamil.”
“Your sister predicted that
I’d lose my heart and senses to you”
said Hamil, laughing and reseating himself beside
“Of course I have. Who could help it?”
The girl considered him smilingly.
“You’re the nicest of
men,” she said. “If you hadn’t
been so busy I’m certain we’d have had
a desperate affair. But as it is and
it makes me perfectly furious I have only
the most ridiculously commonplace and comfortable
affection for you the sort which prompts
mother to send you quinine and talcum powder ”
Balanced there side by side they fell to laughing.
she said; “but oh! it’s the kind that offers
witch-hazel and hot-water bottles to the best beloved!
Mr. Hamil, why can’t we flirt comfortably like
sensibly frivolous people!”
“I wish we could, Cecile.”
“I wish so, too, Garret.
No, that’s too formal Garry!
There, that ends our chances!”
“You’re the jolliest family
I ever knew,” he said. “You can scarcely
understand how pleasant it has been for me to camp
on the edges of your fireside and feel the home-warmth
a little now and then ”
“Why do you remain so aloof then?”
“I don’t mean to.
But my heart is in this business of your father’s the
more deeply in because of his kindness and
your mother’s and for all your sakes.
You know I can scarcely realise it I’ve
been with you only a month, and yet you’ve done
so much for me received me so simply, so
cordially that the friendship seems to be
of years instead of hours.”
“That is the trouble,”
sighed Cecile; “you and I never had a chance
to be frivolous; I’m no more self-conscious
with you than I am with Gray. Tell me, why was
Virginia Suydam so horrid to us at first?”
Hamil reddened. “You mustn’t
ask me to criticise my own kin,” he said.
“No,” she said, “you
couldn’t do that.... And Miss Suydam has
been more civil recently. It’s a mean,
low, and suspicious thing to say, but I suppose it’s
because but I don’t think I’ll
say it after all.”
“It’s nicer not to,”
said Hamil. They both knew perfectly well that
Virginia’s advances were anything but disinterested.
For, alas! even the men of her own entourage were
now gravitating toward the Cardross family; Van Tassel
Cuyp was continually wrinkling his nose and fixing
his dead-blue eyes in that direction; little Colonel
Vetchen circled busily round and round that centre
of attraction, even Courtlandt Classon evinced an
inclination to toddle that way. Besides Louis
Malcourt had arrived; and Virginia had never quite
forgotten Malcourt who had made one at a house party
in the Adirondacks some years since, although even
when he again encountered her, Malcourt had retained
no memory of the slim, pallid girl who had for a week
been his fellow-guest at Portlaw’s huge camp
on Luckless Lake.
“Virginia Suydam is rather an
isolated girl,” said Hamil thoughtfully.
“She lives alone; and it is not very gay for
a woman alone in the world; not the happiest sort
of life.... Virginia has always been very friendly
to me always. I hope you will find
“I’m going to her luncheon,”
said Cecile calmly. “It’s quite too
absurd for her to feel any more doubt about us socially
than we feel about her. That is why I am going.
Shall we swim?”
He rose; she clasped his offered hand
and sprang to her feet, ready for the water again.
But at that instant Malcourt’s dark, handsome
head appeared on the crest of a surge close by, and
the next moment that young gentleman scrambled aboard
the raft, breathing heavily.
“Hello, Cecile!” he gasped;
“Hello, Hamil! Shiela thought it must be
you, but I was sceptical. Whew! That isn’t
much of a swim; I must be out of condition ”
“Late hours, cards, and highballs,”
observed Cecile scornfully. “You’re
horridly smooth and fat, Louis.”
Malcourt turned to Hamil.
“Glad to see you’ve emerged
from your shell at last. The rumour is that you’re
working too hard.”
“There’s no similar rumour
concerning you,” observed Cecile, who had never
made any pretence of liking Malcourt. “Please
swim out to sea, if you’ve nothing more interesting
to tell us. I’ve just managed to decoy
Mr. Hamil here and I’d like to converse with
him in peace.”
Malcourt, arms folded, balanced himself
easily on the raft’s pitching edge and glanced
at her with that amiably bored expression characteristic
of him when rebuffed by a woman. On such occasions
his eyes resembled the half-closed orbs of a teased
but patient cat; and Cecile had once told him so.
“There’s a pretty rumour
afloat concerning your last night’s performance
at the Beach Club,” said the girl disdainfully.
“A boy like you, making himself conspicuous
by his gambling!”
Malcourt winced, but as the girl had
apparently heard nothing to his discredit except about
his gambling, he ventured an intelligent sidelong
glance at Hamil.
The latter looked at him inquiringly; Malcourt laughed.
“You haven’t been to the
Beach Club yet, have you, Hamil? I’ll get
you a card if you like.”
Cecile, furious, turned her back and
went head first into the sea.
“Come on,” said Hamil
briefly, and followed her. Malcourt took to the
water leisurely, going out of his way to jeer at and
splash Portlaw, who was labouring like a grampus inshore;
then he circled within observation distance of several
pretty girls, displayed his qualities as a swimmer
for their benefit, and finally struck out shoreward.
When he emerged from the surf he looked
about for Shiela. She was already half-way to
the beach, walking with Cecile and Hamil toward the
pavilion; and, starting across the shallows to overtake
her, he suddenly came face to face with Virginia Suydam.
She was moving hip-deep out through
the seething tide, slim, graceful, a slight flush
tinting the usual delicate pallor of her cheeks.
Gussie Vetchen bobbed nimbly about in the vicinity,
very busy trying to look at everybody and keep his
balance at the same time. Miss Palliser was talking
As Malcourt waded past, he and Miss
Suydam exchanged a pleasantly formal greeting; and,
for the second time, something in her casual gaze the
steadiness of her pretty green-tinted eyes, perhaps perhaps
their singular colour interested him.
“You did not ask me to
your luncheon,” he said gaily, as he passed her
through the foam.
“No, only petticoats, Mr. Malcourt.
I am sorry that your fiancee isn’t
He halted, perfectly aware of the
deliberate and insolent indiscretion of her reply.
Every line of her supple figure accented the listless,
disdainful intention. As he remained motionless
she turned, bent gracefully and laid her palms flat
on the surface of the water, then looked idly over
her shoulder at him.
He waded back close to her, she watching
him advance without apparent interest but
watching him nevertheless.
“Have you heard that anybody
and myself are supposed to be engaged?” he asked.
“No,” she replied coolly; “have
A dark flush mantled his face and he choked.
For a moment they stood so; her brows were raised
“Well?” she asked at last.
“Have I made you very angry, Mr. Malcourt?”
She waded out a step or two toward the surf, facing
it. The rollers breaking just beyond made her
foothold precarious; twice she nearly lost her balance;
the third time he caught her hand to steady her and
held it as they faced the surges, swaying together.
She did not look again at him.
They stood for a while unsteadily, her hand in his
“Why on earth did you say such a thing to me?”
“I don’t know,” she said
simply; “I really don’t, Mr. Malcourt.”
And it was true; for their slight
acquaintance warranted neither badinage nor effrontery;
and she did not understand the sudden impulse toward
provocation, unless it might be her contempt for Shiela
Cardross. And that was the doing of Mrs. Van
“I’m sorry,” she
said, looking up at him, and after a moment, down at
their clasped hands. “Are we going to swim
out, Mr. Malcourt? or shall we continue
to pose as newly married for the benefit of the East
“We’ll sit in the sands,”
he said. “We’ll probably find a lot
of things to say to each other.” But he
dropped her fingers gently.
“Unless you care to join your care
to join Miss Cardross.”
Even while she spoke she remained
calmly amazed at the commonness of her own speech,
the astonishing surface streak of unsuspected vulgarity
which she was naively exhibiting to this man.
Vetchen came noisily splashing up
to join them, but he found neither of them very attentive
to him as they walked slowly to the beach and up to
the dry, hot sand.
Virginia curled up in the sand; Malcourt
extended himself full length at her feet, clasped
fingers supporting his head, smooth, sun-browned legs
crossed behind him; and he looked like a handsome and
rather sulky boy lying there, kicking up his heels
insouciantly or stretching luxuriously in the sun.
Vetchen, who had followed, began an
interminable story on the usual theme of his daughter,
Mrs. Tom O’Hara, illustrating her beauty, her
importance, and the incidental importance of himself;
and it was with profound surprise and deep offence
that he discovered that neither Malcourt nor Miss
Suydam were listening. Indeed, in brief undertones,
they had been carrying on a guarded conversation of
their own all the while; and presently little Vetchen
took his leave with a hauteur quite lost on those
who had so unconsciously affronted him.
“Of course it is very civil
of you to say you remember me,” Virginia was
saying, “but I am perfectly aware you do not.”
Malcourt insisted that he recalled
their meeting at Portlaw’s Adirondack camp on
Luckless Lake two years before, cudgelling his brains
at the same time to recollect seeing Virginia there
and striving to remember some corroborative incident.
But all he could really recall was a young and unhappily
married woman to whom he had made violent love and
it was even an effort for him to remember her name.
“How desperately you try!”
observed Virginia, leisurely constructing a little
rampart of sand between them. “Listen to
me, Mr. Malcourt” she raised her
eyes, and again the hint of provocation in them preoccupied
him “I remembered you, and I have
sometimes hoped we might meet again. Is that
amends for the very bad taste I displayed in speaking
of your engagement before it has been announced?”
“I am not engaged to be married,”
he said deliberately.
She looked at him steadily, and he
sustained the strain of the gaze in his own untroubled
“You are not engaged?”
She straightened up, resting her weight
on one bare arm, then leisurely laid her length on
the burning sands and, face framed between her fingers,
considered him in silence.
In her attitude, in her very conversation
with this man there was, for her, a certain sense
of abandonment; a mental renouncing of all that had
hitherto characterised her in her relations with an
always formal world; as though that were necessary
to meet him on his own level.
Never before had she encountered the
temptation, the opportunity, or the person where the
impulse to discard convention, conviction, training,
had so irresistibly presented itself. Nor could
she understand it now; yet she was aware, instinctively,
that she was on the verge of the temptation and the
opportunity; that there existed a subtle something
in this man, in herself, that tempted to conventional
relaxation. In all her repressed, regulated,
and self-suppressed career, all that had ever been
in her of latent daring, of feminine audacity, of caprice,
of perverse provocation, stirred in her now, quickening
with the slightest acceleration of her pulses.
Apparently a man of her own caste,
yet she had never been so obscurely stirred by a man
of her own caste had never instinctively
divined in other men the streak which this man, from
the first interchange of words, had brought out in
Aware of his attraction, hazily convinced
that she had no confidence in him, the curious temptation
persisted and grew; and she felt very young and very
guilty like a small child consenting to parley with
another child whose society has been forbidden.
And it seemed to her that somehow she had already
demeaned herself by the tentative toward a common
understanding with an intellect and principles of a
grade inferior to her own.
“That was a very pretty woman
you were so devoted to in the Adirondacks,”
He recalled the incident with a pleasant
frankness which left her unconvinced.
Suddenly it came over her that she
had had enough of him more than was good
for her, and she sat up straight, primly retying her
“To-morrow?” he was saying,
too civilly; but on her way to the pavilion she could
not remember what she had replied, or how she had rid
herself of him.
Inside the pavilion she saw Hamil
and Shiela Cardross, already dressed, watching the
lively occupants of the swimming-pool; and she exchanged
a handshake with the former and a formal nod with
“Garret, your aunt is worrying
because somebody told her that there are snakes in
the district where you are at work. Come in some
evening and reassure her.” And to Shiela:
“So sorry you cannot come to my luncheon, Miss
Cardross. You are Miss Cardross,
aren’t you? I’ve been told otherwise.”
Hamil looked up, pale and astounded;
but Shiela answered, undisturbed:
“My sister Cecile is the younger;
yes, I am Miss Cardross.”
And Hamil realised there had been
two ways of interpreting Virginia’s question,
and he reddened, suddenly appalled at his own knowledge
and at his hasty and gross conclusions.
If Shiela noticed the quick changes
in his face she did not appear to, nor the curious
glance that Virginia cast at him.
“So sorry,” said
Miss Suydam again, “for if you are going to be
so much engaged to-day you will no doubt also miss
the tea for that pretty Mrs. Ascott.”
“No,” said Shiela, “I
wouldn’t think of missing that.” And
carelessly to Hamil: “As you and I have
nothing on hand to-day, I’ll take you over to
meet Mrs. Ascott if you like.”
Which was a notice to Virginia that
Miss Cardross had declined her luncheon from deliberate
Hamil, vaguely conscious that all
was not as agreeable as the surface of things indicated,
said cordially that he’d be very glad to go anywhere
with Shiela to meet anybody, adding to Virginia that
he’d heard of Mrs. Ascott but could not remember
when or where.
“Probably you’ve heard
of her often enough from Louis Malcourt,” said
Virginia. “He and I were just recalling
his frenzied devotion to her in the Adirondacks; that,”
she added smilingly to Shiela, “was before Mrs.
Ascott got her divorce from her miserable little French
count and resumed her own name. She was the most
engaging creature when Mr. Malcourt and I met her
two years ago.”
Shiela, who had been listening with
head partly averted and grave eyes following the antics
of the divers in the pool, turned slowly and encountered
Virginia’s smile with a straight, cold gaze of
Nothing was said for a moment; then
Virginia spoke smilingly again to Hamil concerning
his aunt’s uneasiness, turned toward Shiela,
exchanged formal adieux with her, and walked on toward
her dressing-room and shower. Hamil and Miss
Cardross turned the other way.
When Shiela was seated in her double
wheel-chair with Hamil beside her, she looked up through
her veil unsmiling into his serious face.
“Did you notice anything particularly
impertinent in Miss Suydam’s question?”
she asked quietly.
“When she asked me whether I was Miss Cardross.”
The slow colour again burned his bronzed
skin. He made no reply, nor did she await any
after a silent consideration of his troubled face.
“Where did you hear about me?” she asked.
She had partly turned in her seat,
resting both gloved hands on the crook of her folded
sunshade, and leaning a little toward him.
“Don’t ask me,” he said; “whatever
I heard I heard unwillingly ”
“You have heard?”
He did not answer.
The remainder of the journey was passed
in silence. On the road they met Mrs. Cardross
and Jessie Carrick driving to a luncheon; later, Gray
passed in his motor with his father.
“I have an idea that you and
I are to lunch alone,” said Hamil as they reached
the house; and so it turned out, for Malcourt was going
off with Portlaw somewhere and Cecile was dressing
for Virginia’s luncheon.
“Did you care to go with me
to the Ascott-O’Hara function?” asked
Shiela, pausing on the terrace. Her voice was
listless, her face devoid of animation.
“I don’t care where I
go if I may go with you,” he said, with a new
accent of intention in his voice which did not escape
She went slowly up the stairs untying
her long veil as she mounted. Cecile in a bewildering
hat and gown emerged upon the terrace before Shiela
reappeared, and found Hamil perched upon the coquina
balustrade, poring over a pocketful of blue-prints;
and she said very sweetly: “Good-bye, my
elder brother. Will you promise to take the best
of care of our little sister Shiela while I’m
“The very best,” he said,
sliding feet foremost to the terrace. “Heavens,
Cecile, you certainly are bewitching in those clothes!”
“It is what they were built
for, brother,” she said serenely. “Good-bye;
we won’t shake hands on account of my gloves....
Do be nice to Shiela. She isn’t very gay
these days I don’t know why.
I believe she has rather missed you.”
Hamil tucked her into her chair, the
darky pedalled off; then the young man returned to
the terrace where presently a table for two was brought
and luncheon announced as Shiela Cardross appeared.
Hamil displayed the healthy and undiscriminating
appetite of a man who is too busy mentally and physically
to notice what he eats and drinks; Shiela touched
nothing except fruit. She lighted his cigarette
for him before the coffee, and took one herself, turning
it thoughtfully over and over between her delicately
shaped fingers; but at a glance of inquiry from him:
“No, I don’t,” she
said; “it burns my tongue. Besides I may
some day require it as a novelty to distract me so
She rose a moment later, and stood,
distrait, looking out across the sunlit world.
He at her elbow, head bent, idly watched the smoke
curling upward from his cigarette.
Presently, as though moved by a common
impulse, they turned together, slowly traversed the
terrace and the long pergola all crimson and white
with bougainvillia and jasmine, and entered the jungle
road beyond the courts where carved seats of coquina
glimmered at intervals along the avenue of oaks and
palmettos and where stone-edged pools reflected the
golden green dusk of the semi-tropical foliage above.
On the edge of one of these basins
the girl seated herself; without her hat and gloves
and in a gown which exposed throat and neck she always
looked younger and more slender to him, the delicate
modelling of the neck and its whiteness was accentuated
by the silky growth of the brown hair which close
to the nape and brow was softly blond like a child’s.
The frail, amber-tinted little dragon-flies
of the South came hovering over the lotus bloom that
edged the basin; long, narrow-shaped butterflies whose
velvet-black wings were barred with brilliant stripes
of canary yellow fluttered across the forest aisle;
now and then a giant papilio sailed high under
the arched foliage on tiger-striped wings of chrome
and black, or a superb butterfly in pearl white and
malachite green came flitting about the sparkle-berry
The girl nodded toward it. “That
is a scarce butterfly here,” she said.
“Gray would be excited. I wish we had his
“It is the Victorina,
isn’t it?” he asked, watching the handsome,
nervous-winged creature which did not seem inclined
to settle on the white flowers.
“Yes, the Victorina steneles. Are
“The generation I grew up with
collected,” he said. “I remember my
cabinet, and some of the names. But I never saw
any fellows of this sort in the North.”
“Your memory is good?”
“Yes,” he said, “for
what I care about” he looked up at
her “for those I care about my memory
is good, I never forget kindness nor confidence
given nor a fault forgiven.”
She bent forward, elbows on knees,
chin propped on both linked hands.
“Do you understand now,”
she said, “why I could not afford the informality
of our first meeting? What you have heard about
me explains why I can scarcely afford to discard convention,
does it not, Mr. Hamil?”
She went on, her white fingers now
framing her face and softly indenting the flushed
“I don’t know who has
talked to you, or what you have heard; but I knew
by your expression there at the swimming-pool that
you had heard enough to embarrass you and and
hurt me very, very keenly.”
“Calypso!” he broke out
impulsively; but she shook her head. “Let
me tell you if it must be told, Mr. Hamil....
Father and mother are dreadfully sensitive; I have
only known about it for two years; two years ago they
told me had to tell me.... Well it
still seems hazy and incredible.... I was educated
in a French convent if you know what that
means. All my life I have been guarded sheltered
from knowledge of evil; I am still unprepared to comprehend ...
And I am still very ignorant; I know that....
So you see how it was with me; a girl awakened to
such self-knowledge cannot grasp it entirely cannot
wholly convince herself except at moments at
night. Sometimes when a crisis threatens and
one has lain awake long in the dark ”
She gathered her knees in her arms
and stared at the patch of sunlight that lay across
the hem of her gown, leaving her feet shod in gold.
“I don’t know how much
difference it really makes to the world. I suppose
I shall learn if people are to discuss me.
How much difference does it make, Mr. Hamil?”
“It makes none to me ”
“The world extends beyond your
pleasant comradeship,” she said. “How
does the world regard a woman of no origin whose
very name is a charity ”
“W-what?” she said, trying
to smile; and then slowly laid her head in her hands,
covering her face.
She had given way, very silently,
for as he bent close to her he felt the tearful aroma
of her uneven breath the feverish flush
on cheek and hand, the almost imperceptible tremor
of her slender body rather close to him
When she had regained her composure,
and her voice was under command, she straightened
up, face averted.
“You are quite perfect, Mr.
Hamil; you have not hurt me with one misguided and
well-intended word. That is exactly as it should
be between us must always be.”
“Of course,” he said slowly.
She nodded, still looking away from
him. “Let us each enjoy our own griefs
unmolested. You have yours?”
“No, Shiela, I haven’t any griefs.”
“Come to me when you have; I
shall not humiliate you with words to shame your intelligence
and my own. If you suffer you suffer; but it is
well to be near a friend not too
near, Mr. Hamil.”
“Not too near,” he repeated.
“No; that is unendurable.
The counter-irritant to grief is sanity, not emotion.
When a woman is a little frightened the presence of
the unafraid is what steadies her.”
She looked over her shoulder into
the water, reached down, broke off a blossom of wild
hyacinth, and, turning, drew it through the button-hole
of his coat.
“You certainly are very sweet
to me,” she said quietly. And, laughing
a little: “The entire family adores you
with pills and I’ve now decorated
you with the lovely curse of our Southern rivers.
But there are no such things as weeds;
a weed is only a miracle in the wrong place....
Well shall we walk and moralise or remain
here and make cat-cradle conversation?... You
are looking at me very solemnly.”
“I was thinking ”
“That, perhaps, I never before knew a girl as
well as I know you.”
“Not even Miss Suydam?”
“Lord, no! I never dreamed
of knowing her I mean her real self.
You understand, she and I have always taken each other
for granted never with any genuine intimacy.”
“Oh! And this ours is
“Is it not?”
For a moment her teeth worried the
bright velvet of her lip, then meeting his gaze:
“I mean to be honest with
you,” she said with a tremor in her voice; but
her regard wavered under his. “I mean to
be,” she repeated so low he scarcely heard her.
Then with a sudden animation a little strained:
“When this winter has become a memory let it
be a happy one for you and me. And by the same
token you and I had better think about dressing.
You don’t mind, do you, if I take you to meet
Mrs. Ascott? she was Countess de Caldelis;
it’s taken her years to secure her divorce.”
Hamil remembered the little dough-faced,
shrimp-limbed count when he first came over with the
object of permitting somebody to support him indefinitely
so that later, in France, he could in turn support
his mistresses in the style to which they earnestly
desired to become accustomed.
And now the American girl who had
been a countess was back, a little wiser, a little
harder, and more cynical, with some of the bloom rubbed
off, yet much of her superficial beauty remaining.
“Alida Ascott,” murmured
Shiela. “Jessie was a bridesmaid. Poor
little girl! I’m glad she’s
free. There were no children,” she said,
looking up at Hamil; “in that case a decent
girl is justified! Don’t you think so?”
“Yes, I do,” he said,
smiling; “I’m not one of those who believe
that such separations threaten us with social disintegration.”
“Nor I. Almost every normal
woman desires to live decently. She has a right
to. All young girls are ignorant. If they
begin with a dreadful but innocent mistake does the
safety of society require of them the horror of lifelong
degradation? Then the safety of such a society
is not worth the sacrifice. That is my opinion.”
“That settles a long-vexed problem,”
he said, laughing at her earnestness.
But she looked at him, unsmiling,
while he spoke, hands clasped in her lap, the fingers
twisting and tightening till the rose-tinted nails
Men have only a vague idea of women’s
ignorance; how naturally they are inclined to respond
to a man; how the dominating egotism of a man and
his confident professions and his demands confuse them;
how deeply his appeals for his own happiness stir
them to pity.... They have heard of love and
they do not know. If they ever dream of it it
is not what they have imagined when a man suddenly
comes crashing through the barriers of friendship
and stuns them with an incoherent recital of his own
desires. And yet, in spite of the shock, it is
with them instinctive to be kind. No woman can
endure an appeal unmoved; except for them there would
be no beggars; their charity is not a creed:
it is the essence of them, the beginning of all things
for them and the end.
The bantering smile had died out in
Hamil’s face; he sat very still, interested,
disturbed, and then wondering when his eyes caught
the restless manoeuvres of the little hands, constantly
in motion, interlacing, eloquent of the tension of
He thought: “It is a cowardly
thing for an egotist with an egotist’s early
and lively knowledge of the world and of himself to
come clamouring to a girl for charity. It is
true that almost any man can make a young girl think
she loves him if he is selfish enough to do it.
Is her ignorance a fault? All her training deprecates
any acquisition of worldly knowledge: it is not
for her: her value is in her ignorance.
Then when she naturally makes some revolting mistake
and attempts to escape to decency and freedom once
more there is a hue and a cry from good folk and clergy.
Divorce? It is a good thing as the
last resort. And a woman need feel no responsibility
for the sort of society that would deprive a woman
of the last refuge she has!”
He raised his eyes, curiously, in time to intercept
“So you did not know
me after all, it seems,” she said with a faint
smile. “You never suspected in me a Vierge
Rouge, militant, champion of her downtrodden sex,
haranguing whomsoever would pay her the fee of his
attention. Did you?”
And as he made no reply: “Your
inference is that I have had some unhappy love affair some
perilously close escape from unhappy matrimony.”
She shrugged. “As though a girl could plead
only a cause which concerned herself.... Tell
me what you are thinking?”
She had risen, and he stood up before her, fascinated.
“Tell me!” she insisted; “I shall
not let you go until you do!”
“I was thinking about you.”
Are you doing it yet?” closely confronting him,
hands behind her.
“Yes, I am,” he said,
unable to keep his eyes from her, all her beauty and
youth and freshness troubling him, closing in upon
him like subtle fragrance in the golden forest dusk.
“Are you still thinking about me?”
The rare sweet laughter edged her
lips, for an instant; then something in his eyes checked
her. Colour and laughter died out, leaving a pale
confused smile; and the straight gaze wavered, grew
less direct, yet lost not a shade of his expression
which also had changed.
Neither spoke; and after a moment
they turned away, walking not very near together toward
The sunshine and the open somehow
brought relief and the delicate constraint between
them relaxed as they sauntered slowly into the house
where Shiela presently went away to dress for the Ascott
function, and Hamil sat down on the veranda for a
while, then retired to undertake the embellishment
of his own person.