« AnkstesnisTęsti »
leigh and the man Mrs. Rayleigh had called the Habitual Widower, but a lady who was trying to show Edward Holderness that he was not the last man on earth, and a playwright trying to get an angle on a character that must be made sympathetic.
So, as the Clanranalds left her box, Miss Van Studdiford remarked languidly:
"If you see Mattie Leashe, ask him to come up and talk to his old aunt a moment. I'm going home before long."
Mrs. Clanranald found them talking at the end of a dance. Across the room, Holderness stared blandly at them from an arm-chair. He didn't seem worried, Alicia noticed with regret; but perhaps she hadn't acquired that pursued look that he found becoming. After all, she had only been dancing with Matthew Leashe, and everybody knew what they thought of each other. To be pursued would be another matter, though not such an easy matter at thirty-eight. Still, she had made things happen at dances back in Memphis.
Time to get rid of Leashe, then; memories of what they had said about each other lay unquenchable between them. He had a simple wistful attraction, quite unlike the hard surface manner she had known before to-night; she could understand why so many women had married him. Still it was time to leave him-but just then Mrs. Clanranald appeared.
"All right," Leashe sighed. "Do you mind coming up with me, Mrs. Rayleigh? You're going to dance the next with me, aren't you?"
“Oh, I—” Alicia was about to say
that she must rejoin Holderness; but at that instant Holderness rose and started for the door-the door, the cloak-room, and the flask left in his overcoat.
"If you like," she conceded. Then, to Mrs. Clanranald, "How's Billy?" "Convalescent and fussy. My son has been having mumps, Leashe."
"Oh, too bad!" But as she left them he remarked to Alicia: "Lucky to have a son to have mumps, though. I wish- You have two children, haven't you?"
"I? None." She looked rather wistful, and Matthew Leashe didn't know that she was remembering gleefully how effective her wistfulness had been, back in Memphis.
"Oh! Too bad. I That is-' "Too bad in a way," said Alicia rather wearily. "But after all, when one supports one's self-I don't see how I could give children a schooling. There isn't much to be said for these jobs of mine."
antidote: "I've always prized that as the supreme compliment. Even in ruins the Parthenon is so much more sightly than some modern structures that are only a little past their prime.'
Again Alicia was helpless; but Matthew Leashe cut in abruptly: "I've just come to tell you goodby, Aunt Regina. I'm leaving." "Leaving before midnight? You are not sixty-eight."
"Have to get my second act straightened out. The thing's on my nerves; I can't amuse myself till it's finished."
"Heaven help the woman who tries to stop you in that mood," said his aunt. "I haven't seen you for so long, Mrs. Rayleigh. Can you come to tea to-morrow? . . . So nice of you. You know the houseon Seventy-fourth Street?"
Certainly she knew the house, Alicia reflected as she went down the stairs with Leashe, but she had never been in it. Why now? . . . Good Heavens! Alicia's eyes glinted; her cheeks were flushed. If not to Holderness, if not to herself, at least to Matthew Leashe's watchful aunt she looked pursued.
Half-way through the waltz that was to be the last before Leashe went home, he faltered, paled, and lost step.
"Dizzy," he stammered unconvincingly. "The air's bad in here. Do you mind? I believe there's a lounge down the corridor."
As they moved toward it she caught a glimpse of a splendid personage across the ball-room, surrounded by black-coated shoulders. Alicia knew Miss Dolores Duvetyne; she knew there were unkind rumors as to Miss Duvetyne's intentions on
Matthew Leashe. If Alicia hadn't started these rumors, she had at least embroidered them, and spread them zealously. . . . So, then, there was an element of competition in this, the emulous eagerness of sport. More and more it was like the old days in Memphis.
Miss Van Studdiford permitted a frown to crack her well landscaped face as she saw them strolling toward the lounge. She knew Matthew's distrait air; the Fatal Mood was on him. And that dreadful woman! Miss Van Studdiford, of course, was unaware that the dreadful woman was at the moment only a drooping flower reviving under unaccustomed attention; and that Leashe was merely seeking refuge, while the Fatal Mood was on him, from the pursuing Miss Duvetyne, a refuge that was perfectly safe since he was with the cynical Mrs. Rayleigh.
On a soft couch, out of sight of the ball-room, Alicia leaned her head back on the cushions while he held a match to her cigarette. She lay back limp and graceful-the figure of a girl of eighteen, he reflected; yet there was a trace of weariness that stirred him. . . . In fact there was considerably more than a trace, but a trace was all that Alicia felt like displaying. The couch was soft; she didn't want to dance, didn't want to see Holderness; she wanted to rest. But Leashe was nervous, jumpy.
"How about this play you spoke of?" she demanded. "What's the matter with the second act?"
That, she reasoned, should be good for at least half an hour.
An hour and twenty minutes later by the watch that Edward Holder
ness was consulting with mounting impatience, a strolling couple passed the alcove where a graceful woman in black leaned back on a couch while a man strode up and down, gesturing restlessly as he explained his conception of the third and last act.
"Good Heavens! Mattie Leashe and Alicia Rayleigh! Considering all that they've said about each other-"
"I never believed either of them could think up all those lines alone. I'll bet they've always collaborated, mapped out their campaigns-you say this, and I'll come back with that-"
This, however, was a slander. The new zest burning in Matthew Leashe was only-he was quite sure -the delight he always found in discovering the hidden virtues of unsympathetic characters. And the character that troubled him would be sympathetic now-too sympathetic to suit Miss Duvetyne. . . He sat down on the couch, limp and exhausted.
"Like it? Think it will get over?" "What?" Alicia came back from absent musings. "Oh, of course it will get over. Your plays always do. I only wish you'd let a little more of yourself get into them." "They're supposed to be very like me."
"But they're not. You let every one think you're hard-ruthless-" "It's what people expect. What they want."
"Oh, is it?" She was thinking of Ronnie, so pliant and genial on the surface, so utterly without tenderness within. . . . She looked up and saw Holderness impatiently passing the alcove. Leashe saw him too.
"He hasn't a reputation for reluctance," said Alicia.
"No, people think he's a Bluebeard. You started that too, didn't you? Well, for once, my dear, you were wrong. Matthew's too selfish to want to marry anybody, but he's like a cat; if anybody strokes himanybody-he purrs. The boy tries to avoid women in his feeble way; he puts on this mask of cynical hardness, and most women are such fools! But three of them saw through it and married him. No doubt it will happen again."
He must be dis
"Oh, surely! illusioned-"
"What of it? The poor simpleton always makes this same automatic response when a woman makes love to him. A purring cat. . . . Gwen
his first wife-well, I hardly blame her. She had heart-trouble and knew she couldn't live more than a year. They had been boy-and-girl sweethearts, and she virtually asked him to marry her. Of course he couldn't resist. couldn't resist. But I could have forgiven that if it hadn't given him. the habit.
"Then Phyllida-she played the lead in his first real success. Of course he identified her with his heroine-read into her everything he'd written into the part-'
Pensively Mrs. Rayleigh stirred her tea. Last night, as they talked over the new play together, she had watched him writing all kinds of virtues into the part of a Dreadful Woman.
“Phyllida was killed in an automobile wreck, wasn't she?" Alicia asked hastily when the silence began to be audible.
"On her way to Atlantic City with