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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


"If you like," she conceded. Then, to Mrs. Clanranald, "How's Billy?" "Convalescent and fussy.

My son has been having mumps, Mr. 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.'

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"I thought you rather enjoyed a chance to say things," he said dryly.

"One tires of saying things. Sooner or later, everything worth saying has been said, and a good deal that isn't worth saying."

Miss Van Studdiford smiled hospitably as she saw Alicia approaching with him, though she felt like the fire-chief as he turns in the third alarm.

"How delightful you look!" said Alicia, and meant it; she didn't dare hope she would look so well at sixtyodd.

"The Ruins of the Parthenon," said Miss Van Studdiford. "Wasn't that what you called me once?" And, as Alicia grasped vainly for an

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.

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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.


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"Your friends can wait a little. longer," he stated.

"Let them wait," said Alicia. "Why don't you write a real play— what you think, not what Broadway expects of you and the road expects of Broadway?"

He sighed, shivering.

"I'm afraid to, Alicia. If you knew what I'm really like—” "What, for instance?"


Two hours and fifteen minutes by Holderness's watch. He whispered to a bell-boy and vanished into the coat-room. Whistling, the boy came up to the couch in the alcove, and Matthew Leashe let go of Alicia's hand.

"Mr. Holderness's apologies-he's been taken ill and has to go home."

"Ill?" said Leashe. "Too bad. Quite right of him to take care of himself. . . . Then, Alicia, you'll let me take you home?"

"Why-" She had called him Bluebeard, the Habitual Widower; he had said that if there ever was another world war it would be her fault.

"Why, yes," said Alicia. "If you wish."

"If I wish?" Truly this was like the old days in Memphis. "Where do you live? Absurd that I never knew."

"The Lysistrata. Rather like a convent, I suppose, or a barracks of a women's labor battalion, but-"

"It's a shame," he said vaguely. "What's a shame? If anything isn't as I like it, that's my own fault. I know that. And I'm contented—'

"Are you?" Leashe growled, and kissed her. She had known, of course, that he was going to kiss her;

but she hadn't known she was going to like it so much. She sat up, distracted.

"My dear Matthew! This is " "This is the life," said the great playwright, and felt that he had emitted his most brilliant line.

Wildly she avoided his eyes. She knew she looked pursued now; she felt pursued. It was time to end this nonsense, by one poisoned thrust -something about his habit of marriage. But the words wouldn't say themselves.

"You poor little girl," he said softly. "You pretend to be hard and bitter, but I know better now."

"I know you better too," Alicia heard herself saying.

She meant to say a great deal more than that, to explain that this had gone far enough; but his lips silenced hers.

"Matthew!" she said presently. "You'd better not take me home." "Why not?"

"I want to think."

"What do you have to think have to think about?" The dreadful Mrs. Rayleigh could manage no more than a rather helpless smile.

"Oh-about you."
"Let me help you."

"No, you go home alone and think about me." He saw she meant it. "All right. Then meet me at lunch."

"Can't, my dear. I'm working." "Then tea."

"I'm having tea at your aunt's." "That's so. Then I'll drop in.

Good old Aunt Regina! She brought me up, you know. She knows me. She must have seen this coming "

did. . . . You'd better not drop in, Matthew. Your aunt and I will want to talk."

"But you'll have dinner with me, of course. . . . Oh, Alicia!"

She expected, upon that, to be swept into his arms; but he stood eager and helpless, like a pitiable engaging little boy. Certainly it was not the technique of Bluebeard; Alicia couldn't help going into his arms of her own accord. Despairingly she recalled a phrase she had flung at Holderness: not love, but what it does to you; excitement.

There was no doubt about the excitement.


The next day, however, was the day after. Alicia lunched alone, in a daze; Leashe lunched with three men at the University Club, in rather worse than that.

"Alicia Rayleigh!" said somebody who had just been reading her column. "That woman is the Black Death. To think that all the taxicabs in this town keep on missing her, day after day. Dreadful woman!"

"Dreadful?" Leashe choked down his fury. "She's only more clearsighted than the rest of us; that's all. She sees what people really

are "

He felt the shakiness of his voice, for he had been wondering all morning what she would think of him, when she saw what he really was in the bright light of day.

"Well, who the devil are you to jump up and defend her? Considering what you've said about her-"

"I never said anything about her

"Oh!" said Alicia. "Perhaps she in my life."

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"But after all, Miss Van Studdiford, he knows everybody."

"He doesn't have to marry everybody. The Habitual Widower! You have such a talent for piercing through to the truth, Mrs. Rayleigh. You make us all squirm sometimes; Matthew was furious when he heard you'd called him that. But he had earned it."

"It was quite unpardonable, I'm afraid."

"It was perfectly true. . . . And the worst of it was, he never wanted to marry any of these women. . . . I couldn't say this to other people, of course, but you are so penetrating; and it's a relief to find some one with whom one need have no reserves."

"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 him— anybody-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."

"Oh, surely! He must be disillusioned-"

"What of it? The poor simpleton always makes this same automatic response when a woman makes love to him. A purring cat. . . Gwen

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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

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