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"No," she said, "only banks." She looked up, startled; that had popped out before she thought. One of the high points in Holderness's career had been the breaking of a bank, not at Monte Carlo. (The jury, fortunately, had disagreed.)
"See?" he said. "You're utterly incurable. Nobody else in the world would stand for that sort of thing, but I can. We'd get along." "Perhaps, but-give me a little more time."
"If you like; but don't take too much time. Your charms won't keep."
"Then I'd better freshen them up before the dance," she said lightly. "Shall I meet you in the lounge?" "I want another cup of coffee. I'll wait for you here."
"And I," she promised, "shall try to acquire that pursued look.”
In the mirror of the dressing-room she stared at her face with the beginnings of desperation. She had no active desire to marry anybodycertainly not Holderness. But there were mornings when she felt very lonely, in her barrack room in a women's hotel. They would come more often with each year. Perhaps in another decade
But long before then, it would be too late. She knew the tricky quality of what most people still called her beauty. Analyzed, it was hardly beauty at all-a dark brooding face, black brooding eyes; large arresting features; coarse black bobbed hair that curled about the big synthetic pearls on her ears. The effect of the The effect of the composition was still beauty, for
most observers, but the type of beauty that is only a hair's breadth from downright ugliness. Before breakfast it was apt to be ugliness now; to people who hated her—and there were more of them every year -it was perilously near ugliness even when animated by her restless fire.
The fire was growing fitful; there were patches of gray in the dull black hair-hair so notoriously black that she didn't dare turn it coppery with henna. The figure was still satisfactory, but the face was going. Rest and luxury and expert care could preserve it for another decade; but it might go to pieces in three years more of work and worry and this constant alertness against everpresent animosity.
The animosity was her own creation, but it was too late to help that now. When she was young and merry, people had liked her biting wit; they had spoiled her like a playfully scratching kitten. And now the kitten had become a somewhat mature pussy who was expected to purr on the hearth-rug and had never learned how.
One by one her admirers had dropped off-all but Holderness. She had always felt obscurely that to marry a rich man would be disloyal to Ronnie, who might have been rich but for her; but she couldn't marry a poor man. (Not that, rich or poor, she would marry another man like Ronnie-soft on the surface, smooth and hard within.)
There were of course special reasons for not marrying Holderness. When he said he had no reputation, he praised himself too highly. The reputation, and the traits that had
made it, were amusing in a dinnerpartner but might become a trifle onerous in a husband. But who else was there? Marriageable men whom a sophisticated lady of thirtyeight might endure are appallingly few, and more appallingly cautious. With her face going, Holderness might be her last suitable chance. He knew that; he could afford to play his hand face up on the table. He was sure. . . .
"No!" Alicia said it aloud, startling the maid out of a doze; then flushed slowly at the girl's hasty: "Did you ask for something, madame?"
They were saying, perhaps, that he looked sad; that he must be thinking of the beautiful women who had loved him, and married him, and left him.
Mr. Leashe's sadness, in fact, had nothing to do with beautiful women; he was thinking about the poor business on the road this season and the troublesome second act of the play he was writing. He had wanted to forget that play at dinner, and at the Wade Settlement Ball; but Alicia Rayleigh, crossing his line of vision, had brought it back to mind. There was a woman in the play rather like Alicia Rayleigh, a dreadful woman;
"Nothing I can get. . . . Think I and it was his business to make her look fit to go to a dance?"
"Madame is very distinguished-" Distinguished! thought Alicia. My God! Even the maids see it.
A dance . . . Back home in Memphis, twenty years ago, something had always happened at dances. If it didn't happen of its own accord, Alicia could make it happen. But that had been twenty years ago. . . . With her evening-cape drawn about her so as to make the best of her admirable figure, she swept back to Holderness's table. "Ready, Edward?”
Not too sympathetic, of course; she mustn't detract from the heroine. Miss Dolores Duvetyne, who was to create the heroine, would never tolerate that. Miss Duvetyne had been rather troublesome about the play already; unduly troublesome, considering that she wasn't married to him.
Matthew Leashe bit through his cigar with a nervous start. Till this moment it had never occurred to him that Miss Duvetyne might intend to become the fourth Mrs.
"Always, my dear-if you don't Leashe; but now that the horrid make me wait too long.'
Matthew Leashe, frowning over his cigar, knew that people around the dining-room were pointing him out. Leashe the great playwrighttwo Pulitzer Prizes, four year-long runs on Broadway, two unsuccessful prosecutions by the Vice Society. Perhaps, he mused bitterly, they talked of his tragic life; for that too was a matter of public record.
suspicion had come to mind there rushed in a whole swarm of corroborative details that had only been waiting their cue. Beyond doubt, the woman meant to marry him; and if she meant to of course she would.
For Matthew Leashe-this was his guarded secret-had always been helpless with women. He never knew what to say to them, and so he always ended by saying what they wanted to hear. His brusque man
ner, the hard cynical brilliance of his comedies, had been erected as a fortress to cover his weakness, a fortress apparently so impregnable that it usually discouraged attack. Only three women had ventured close enough to discover that the formidable stonework of the fortress was nothing but papier-mâché; and these women had all married him.
He knew what people thought of those three marriages. Bluebeard, that damned woman had called him, and the name had stuck. But Dolores Duvetyne knew better. She was extravagant and could find use for a rich husband. She was a clever woman; she knew him. And Dolores, after the play, was coming to the Wade Settlement Ball. He had meant to go late and meet her. He would have to go; Aunt Regina expected him. But Mr. Leashe decided to go early and leave before Miss Duvetyne arrived.
For his Fatal Mood was on him, the mood that recurred like an eclipse and almost as exactly calculable, when the great playwright felt lonesome and helpless, desperately afraid of the world he seemed to bestride. In that mood, three times, he had been married. Quite often enough.
He withdrew from thoughts of Miss Duvetyne, back to this part that must be made sympathetic. The discovery of good in the worst characters was a feature of Mr. Leashe's plays which always went big on Broadway, where perhaps most people needed some reassurance that they were not so bad after all. This dreadful woman in his play was to be at least devoted to her husband and her children. Two children-that
was the right number. Alicia Rayleigh crossed his field of vision again, passing out with Holderness. Dreadful woman-yet Holderness was worse. The Mrs. Rayleighs, Leashe reflected comfortably, make their own hell. That point, astutely brought out
He wished he knew how she feltabout her work, about the assorted hells she made for herself and others. That was the thing; first-hand information, the stuff of life. If he knew how she felt, it might give him an angle; and an angle was the thing, when you were trying to win sympathy for a dreadful woman.
Miss Regina Van Studdiford, stately and serene in her box, looked down at the soft-lit dancing-floor. Silver hair and silver gown, throat and shoulders revealed where possible, hidden where necessary under pearls and diamonds, made her a point of cool icy brilliance in the bright-hued ball-room. The dancers swayed and clustered, moved slowly on, each pair repeating the same pattern-black and white, ivory and a brilliant color-coat and shirt-front, shoulders and gown. Patterns, Miss Van Studdiford reflected, had such a way of repeating themselves.
One pattern in particular. This was the third time she had seen her nephew Matthew Leashe dancing with this dark woman in black. Incredible; the whole town knew what Matthew thought and had often said about Mrs. Rayleigh. Yet undeniably he had danced with her three times, and it was not yet midnight. . . . Miss Van Studdiford could not know that the pair beneath her were not the dreadful Mrs. Ray
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."
"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.
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