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Haldane was all of that. He could give his wife everything there was to be given in England provided she could take it. He was so placed that this side of a misalliance his wife could hurt him but little, while the right kind of woman could help him as can the wives of public men in Europe. I don't think he considered that side of it at all, for he seemed to me in a deep, still sort of way to be very much in love.
It was at that moment McAndrew appeared on the scene.
"I've come up here to meet Vivian Nevers," he told me. "I heard she was here, and since I was so near I came." Chance and purpose had always walked hand in hand with McAndrew. "The cool way she managed that affair of hers always interested me," he explained.
I looked at him, and it struck me, as it always had with him, that his air of power was too obvious to be pleasant. It gave him the effect of being some force of nature. It emphasized itself in his heavy neck, in the quick intensity of his glance, in his expression, slightly lowering and heavy despite its look of easy humor. It showed itself in the carriage of his head, bent forward a little as though he were about to charge, and in the snapping-turtle quality of his mouth.
The second day after he came, he said: "I'm going to marry Vivian Nevers." "Has she said so?" I inquired. "Not yet, but I think she must know she's going to."
"She's as good as engaged to Haldane," I remonstrated.
"I'm the better man," he announced"the better man for her purpose, I mean; there will be further horizons with me," he added.
Indeed, beside the power McAndrew might hope to have,-the almost limitless power of money,- Haldane's position seemed as circumscribed as an ornamental garden.
"The wives of the great business me have had very little to do in the great games their husbands are playing. I don't think Vivian's interested in money."
"By God, no!" said McAndrew, "she 's interested in the game, just as I am."
Then I saw that Vivian's beauty had not deceived McAndrew. He admired it, desired it, if you like, but for him as for her it was a means to an end. What had arrested his attention was the inner quality of her spirit. He knew her to be as unconquerable as he was himself, and as ruthless. Indeed, in the phrase of the day, they had each other's number from the first hour of their acquaintance. Their spirits had arisen and said to each other, "Brother, I salute you!" There was something almost sinister in the way in which they had penetrated the desire. of each other's hearts.
Mrs. Nevers came to me one evening nervous and disquieted; she had aged in the last six years. There was something pathetic about the way she blindly played a game the meaning of which she only half realized, and she had played it now to the limit of endurance. What she wanted was peace, which to her meant Vivian married.
"I thought everything was all settled," she told me, "and now Haldane has declared himself, and Vivian has asked for time to think it over."
"Well," I said, "that 's not unreasonable."
"Not unreasonable!" her mother echoed. "It would be the height of unreason if Vivian ever did anything that had n't a reason behind it. Why won't she tell Haldane at once that she 'll marry him? You see, Vivian 's placed in rather a peculiar position; there aren't many people she she can marry after what 's happened." Thus her mother indicated. that having almost been the wife of a royal prince there were not many proper alliances that such a woman could make. I would n't allow her this vagueness. Remember that I was a very old friend of Marion Nevers and that she irritated me as profoundly as she held my affection for her. So I said brutally:
"You mean there are n't many marriages that Vivian can make without an anticlimax."
"Put it any way you like," she answered wearily. "Why has n't she accepted Haldane?"
It was rather a dark question that Mrs. Nevers put to me, and her tone was fraught with distrust. It was as though I was given a glimpse into the depths of Vivian's unscrupulous heart seen through the medium of her mother's troubled vision. I had my answer to the riddle, and the answer pointed to a rather murky transaction. Haldane had proposed marriage, and Vivian had asked for time, and the time she wanted was not to make up her mind concerning him, as he trustingly thought, but concerning McAndrew. She had her one bird well in the hand while she quietly stalked the other in the bush. "She 'll never marry if she goes on this way," Mrs. Nevers said irritably. "Every one, literally every one, said she might have married the prince if she had only had patience. But no! From one day to another she insisted on leaving in spite of everything I could say or do."
Well, after this I could only take off my hat to Vivian, now that I realized that she had had to play her game worse than single-handed. The only comforting thing I had to offer was:
"You can only trust that Vivian knows what she's doing."
Mrs. Nevers shook her head disconsolately; plainly she indicated that since "the affair of the prince" she did n't think so any more.
That evening I had a little talk with Vivian. She talked about McAndrew tranquilly and speculatively enough, but there was an undercurrent of excitement in her mood.
virtues and ideals she found no need of excusing herself to herself.
McAndrew joined us, and as I stood there I wondered if in the hinterland of Vivian's mind there lurked the thought that they were more like two conspirators than like potential lovers. There was already something fixed and stable in their relations. Two splendid and predatory creatures were what they were, who, if they formed an alliance, would join it for the despoiling of mankind. As I stood with them and perceived the perfect understanding of the situation that lay beneath their conventional talk, I realized that there was going on between them a voiceless battle, Vivian taking the attitude that she was a free and dispassionate agent, while McAndrew assumed calmly that the victory was his. I had never seen her as she was with him. This understanding of her was a new and poignant experience. She had never asked any one to understand her, and had had a cynical enjoyment of her mask. As she was as considerate in small things as she was ruthless in large, not even women penetrated her disguise. Now for the first time, before me and before McAndrew, the two men who knew her best, she was spiritually at her ease, as though dressed in well-worn clothes. He would stop at nothing, just as she would stop at nothing. There was no way in which she could shock him. He accepted her absolutely as she was, even in this cold-blooded balancing of him and Haldane in the scales. He did more than accept; he had a sardonic approval of her thirst for power.
Talking with them, I saw indeed he knew "everything." I had a moment of deep discomfort. Their understanding, unspoken as it was, was unseemly. There simply were no decent pretenses between them.
Vivian calmly defied McAndrew to move the hour of her decision one instant, and McAndrew let her know that he had already decided. Outside the battle was Haldane, unsuspecting, awaiting Vivian's word. I looked at her to see if there was a hint of this hardness and cynicism in
her beauty, and there was n't, not an atom, not a hint. She was extraordinarily lovely, a nature as fine and flexible as a tempered sword, and there was even a hint of austerity in her expression. Very perfect she was, and I understood better Mrs. Nevers's statement that there were n't many possible marriages for a girl like Vivian. Ordinary men don't want goddesses as wives.
For half an hour I stood with them, held by a gesture of Vivian, while McAndrew conveyed to her in voice and manner that her freedom of choice was an illusion, and Vivian understood this assumption with a certainty even more arrogant. I would have been willing to stake my money on either of their certainties. This was how matters stood that evening. They had sat through the dance absorbed in their skirmishing. The music stopped, and the dancers sought their places. It was really Haldane's cue, I considered, as I followed Vivian's glance across the ballroom; but instead of at Haldane, I found myself looking at a boy standing alone in the middle of the ball-room floor.
Though there was no outward thing in his dress that distinguished him from the other men, there was something arresting about him, as if he had worn a tunic and sandals. There was nothing immature in his face, and yet he breathed forth an atmosphere of youth and complete innocence. He carried himself with the unconscious strength of youth; there was something untouched about him, as though he had never known evil; something unhurt about him, as though his youth and beauty had disarmed even life; something at once so gentle and so wild that one had a moment of instinctive pity for him. Vivian felt this too, for, as if thinking aloud, she said:
"Why 'poor boy'?" McAndrew asked. "He looks very fortunate, I think."
"He can't keep that look long; no one's strong enough to keep the look that he has long, and it must hurt to lose it."
"I don't know," McAndrew answered, "for I've never had such innocence to
lose." Then he smiled at Vivian, and his smile said, "And neither have you."
The boy was searching for some one among the dancers with absorbed earnestness, as though his seeking was of weightiest importance. Then his eyes fell on Vivian, and he advanced toward her quietly. He moved with a silent, springy stride, as though he was used to walking in wide, open spaces. He advanced upon her, and with the perfect manners of extreme simplicity he said to her:
"I'm Sydney Grayson. Gainsborough was going to bring me to you, and now I 've lost him. May I have your next dance?"
He was both shy and wistful. He seemed unaware that he was doing something unusual; he had come to her with the directness of a child.
"Let's go outside; I want to talk to you,” he said next.
His voice was soft and insistent, and there was a note of appeal in it. The talk seemed so important to him that Vivian's curiosity was aroused, and she left McAndrew and me together. Much later I
came on McAndrew again. We smoked outside in silence for a while. Then McAndrew said reflectively:
"I've placed young Grayson. A visionary young scientist, very talented if only he were practical, but he 's forever fussing with some windy theory or other about a new kind of ray." Thus McAndrew, whose wide-flung imaginative vision had made him what he was.
Mrs. Nevers bustled up to us. "Have you seen Vivian?" she asked nervously.
"She's in the garden, I think," McAndrew replied.
"Could you find her for me, please?" Her glance included us both.
As we came upon them in the far stretch of the rose-garden they looked like. a white moth and a gray one; they were not speaking. It was as though the boy had taken her at once past the outposts of friendship to the place where people know each other so well that words are not needed.
Vivian's voice came to us:
It was as though she were trying in vain to break through the lyrical beauty of the night and of Grayson's mood, it was as though it hung about her like some heavy enchantment. He held her there, it seemed, without entreaty. It may be my imagination, but I felt as if for the first time some force outside herself determined her acts. I heard Grayson's voice in answer. He only said to her, "It 's sweet here," as if that were a supreme argument.
We loomed dark in the path before them, and McAndrew said apologetically:
"Your mother sent us for you." Vivian turned to Grayson.
"Good night," she said.
"You'll walk with me to-morrow at two?" he asked her in a tone as though they always walked at two. It was as though he bathed in a contentment that was as vast as the sea.
"Yes," Vivian answered; then said, "Good night."
She did not speak to us, but walked along lost in a sea of thought. At last McAndrew said:
"Haldane 's been looking for you all the evening."
"Yes?" Vivian replied indifferently.
"I did n't tell him where you were." Vivian did not answer; she seemed removed from us as by some vast interstellar space.
McAndrew looked at her with grave scrutiny. There was a note in her voice of unsuspected softness. And since he knew that the personalities of people are strange and shifting things, he studied Vivian with a sudden gravity.
The weight of his look and his gravity made their impression on her. McAndrew's whole manner showed a realization on his part that this boy had spoken to some depth of Vivian's nature of which they were both ignorant, and that it held its element of danger for all of them. There was a mute warning in his glance, even a certain judgment of her that to
allow a third element to enter into the already complicated situation would make her seem almost trivial in his eyes. She had been as open with him, he knew, as she had been disingenuous with Haldane. She met the questioning interrogation of his eyes unflinchingly, and, ignoring my presence, said:
"I'm going to decide everything tomorrow."
"I think it would be wise," McAndrew agreed; and then, "still, I don't quite understand the walk," he told her gravely.
"I don't myself," Vivian answered; "it just happened."
They parted, each one engulfed in his own thoughts; each of them knew that in life few things "just happened" with Vivian.
I SAW them go chugging off the next afternoon in Grayson's absurd little car. They were going to drive to the mountain and walk there afterward. When very late that afternoon Grayson returned alone, McAndrew and I were both on the terrace, and his glance met mine questioningly.
It seemed that Vivian had preferred to stay at a cousin's for the night; but it was n't that that had made McAndrew flash me the unspoken question: it was the look of still exaltation on Grayson's face. Again Mrs. Nevers fluttered up to me.
"Vivian 's just telephoned me. She wants to know if you can make it convenient to go over there-she's at Cousin Leonora's after dinner. Do go; I can't stand it much longer. She 's inexplicable! There's something amiss, and I have n't. the slightest idea what it can be."
If Mrs. Nevers was upset, Vivian, when I found her at "Cousin Leonora's,' was composed enough. She greeted me as though nothing whatever was the matter, then on the piazza she let a long silence fall between us. The purposefulness of her pose, her whole absorbed expression, reminded me of the night when I had first come to know her; again she seemed to me like the priestess of some
radiant and austere religion, as though she cherished in her heart a sacred flame. "I want to tell it to you just as it happened," she said at last, "step by step, so you can understand and so I can."
She told it at length with careful detail and many deeply reflective pauses.
It seems that from the first things had n't gone as she had planned them. She had met Sydney Grayson with a hard matter-of-factness that discouragingly denied the evening before. She was, her manner had implied, a young lady whom he scarcely knew punctiliously and in rather a bored way keeping an engagement she regretted having made. But there was a contagion in his happiness that could not be checked or denied.
"It was then it first came to me that I was leaving my other self behind and that I was going on a great adventure into a new life and a new land," was her comment. She strove against it, she told me, but the feeling of glamourous enchantment rose ever higher about her, an unescapable golden tide.
They found a farm-house where they left the car, and in silence, as if they had planned it all out before, they started off over the mountain.
After a steep ascent they found themselves on a rocky table. Far over at the other side of the valley the Connecticut wove its shining, dilatory path through the meadows. Just below them was the bare space of shaly rock up which they had scrambled. They looked down on the tops of trees that had tried to climb to the top of the mountain and had been stopped by the spur of rock.
Then suddenly Vivian's attention was arrested by a great mass of flowering white far down the slope of the mountain. It stood out a little apart from the rest of the forest, a great mass of bloom. They could n't guess from where they were what sort of tree it could be. It seemed to stand a bit apart from the other trees, and threw out its branches, covered with white bloom, like some giant bouquet.
Moved by a common impulse, they
started down the mountain-side to find it. Hand in hand they plunged down the sheer side of the mountain, knee-deep in soft, rotting leaves that had lain there. from one season to another.
No sooner were they in the woods than they lost the tree. The smell of the earth rose to them. Little wandering airs brought them the smell of the fresh Northern woods in spring.
They went down the mountain to a little valley, with a golden-brown thread of brook running at the bottom of it. Down at the other side, through an opening, they saw their tree waving a white hand at them.
Suddenly the breeze brought them, distinct and definite, the smell of apple-blossoms. They turned, and followed the wind; then through a little clearing in the trees they saw smiling at them an apple-tree in full bloom. It stood apart from the other trees in a soft bit of clearing. It was an old tree, wide-branched, hospitable.
"I wanted to ask it," she told me, "What are you doing here so far from any house? How did you stray away like this?" It seemed it was the kind of tree that one associates with a wide farm-house, a tree that children would have delighted to climb, and of which they would have made a playmate. She explained that, standing there, with the young forest growing up all about it, it looked as though it had started out for the day to take a walk, perhaps to follow the children who had played among its branches and had moved away, and in its search had got lost in the woods and taken root there.
I make a great deal of this incident because she did. She told it as though it explained something.
"I had the absurd feeling that I had been here with him before; that I had come home at last after having lived an exile in strange and uncomfortable countries," was how she put it.
It was the most unlikely place in the world to tell him what she had promised herself she would tell him. She put it