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Mrs. Lidcote considered this. "The older set? Our contemporaries, you mean?"
"Why-yes." Miss Suffern paused as if to gather herself up for a leap. "The Ashton Gileses," she brought out.
"The Ashton Gileses? Really? I shall be glad to see Mary Giles again. It must be eighteen years," said Mrs. Lidcote, steadily.
the tea-things about, fingered her bugles with a flurried hand, and, looking at the clock, exclaimed amazedly: "Mercy! Is it seven already?"
"Not that it can make any difference, I suppose," Mrs. Lidcote musingly continued. "But did Leila tell them I was coming?"
Miss Suffern looked at her with pain.
"Yes," Miss Suffern gasped, precipi- "Why, you don't suppose, dearest, that tately refilling her cup.
"The Ashton Gileses; and who else?" "Well, the Sam Fresbies. But the most important person, of course, is Mrs. Lorin Boulger."
"Mrs. Boulger? Leila did n't tell me she was coming."
"Did n't she? I suppose she forgot everything when she saw you. But really the party was got up for Mrs. Boulger. You see, it's very important that she should-well, take a fancy to Leila and Wilbour: his being appointed to Rome virtually depends on it. And you know Leila insists on Rome in order to be near you. So she asked Mary Giles, who 's intimate with the Boulgers, if the visit could n't possibly be arranged; and Mary's cable caught Mrs. Boulger at Cherbourg. She's to be only a fortnight in America; and getting her to come directly here was rather a triumph."
"Yes; I see it was," said Mrs. Lidcote. "You know, she's rather-rather fussy; and Mary was a little doubtful if
"If she would, on account of Leila?" Mrs. Lidcote murmured.
"Well, yes. In her official position. But luckily she's a friend of the Barkleys. And finding the Gileses and Fresbies here will make it all right. The times have changed," Susy Suffern indulgently summed up.
Mrs. Lidcote smiled. "Yes; a few years ago it would have seemed improbable that I should ever again be dining with Mary Giles and Harriet Fresbie and Mrs. Lorin Boulger."
Miss Suffern did not at the moment seem disposed to enlarge upon this theme; and after an interval of silence Mrs. Lidcote suddenly resumed, "Do they know I'm here, by the way?"
The effect of her question was to produce in Miss Suffern an exaggerated access of peering and frowning. She twitched
Leila would do anything-"
Mrs. Lidcote went on: “For, of course, it's of the first importance, as you say, that Mrs. Lorin Boulger should be favorably impressed in order that Wilbour may have the best possible chance of getting Rome."
"I told Leila you'd feel that, dear. You see, it 's actually on your accountso that they may get a post near youthat Leila invited Mrs. Boulger."
"Yes, I see that, of course.' Mrs. Lidcote, abruptly rising from her seat, turned her eyes to the clock. "But, as you say, it 's getting late. Ought n't we to dress for dinner?"
Miss Suffern, at the suggestion, stood up also, an agitated hand among her bugles. bugles. "I do wish I could persuade you to stay up here this evening. I'm sure Leila 'd be happier if you would. Really, you 're much too tired to come down." "What nonsense, Susy!" Mrs. Lidcote spoke with a sudden sharpness, her hand stretched to the bell. "When do we dine? At half-past eight? Then I must really send you packing. At my age it takes time to dress."
Miss Suffern, thus decisively projected toward the threshold, lingered there to reiterate reproachfully: "Leila 'll never forgive herself if you make an effort you 're not up to." But Mrs. Lidcote smiled on her without answering, and the icy light-wave propelled her through the door.
MRS. LIDCOTE, though she had made the gesture of ringing for her maid, had not done so.
When the door closed, she stood a moment motionless in the middle of her soft, spacious room. The little fire which had been kindled at twilight danced on the brightness of silver and mirrors and sober gilding; and the sofa toward which Miss
Suffern had urged her heaped up its accumulated cushions in inviting proximity to a table laden with new books and papers. She could not recall having ever been more luxuriously housed, or having ever had so strange a sense of being out alone, under the night, in a wind-beaten plain without shelter. She sat down by the fire and thought.
A tap on the door made her lift her head, and she saw her daughter on the threshold. The intricate ordering of Leila's fair hair and the contrasted negligence of her draperies showed that she had interrupted her dressing to hasten to her mother; but once in the room, she paused a moment, smiling uncertainly, as though she had forgotten the object of her haste.
Mrs. Lidcote rose to her feet. "Time to dress, dearest? Don't scold! I sha'n't be late," she said.
"To dress?" Leila hung before her with a puzzled look. "Why, I thought, dear—I mean, I hoped you 'd decided just to stay here quietly and rest."
Her mother smiled. "But I've been resting all the afternoon!"
Leila shone on her apprehensively. “Yes, but—you know you do look tired. And when Susy told me just now that you meant to make the effort—”
"You came in to stop me?"
to reply. As she paused, the color stole over her bare neck, swept up to her throat, and burst into flame in her cheeks. Thence it sent its devastating crimson up to her very temples, to the lobes of her ears, to the edges of her eyelids, beating all over her in great waves of red, as if fanned by some imperceptible wind which blew back the words from her lips.
Mrs. Lidcote for a moment silently watched the conflagration; then she turned away her eyes with a slight laugh. only meant that I was afraid it might upset the arrangement of your dinner-table if I did n't, at the last, come down. If you can really assure me that it won't, I believe I'll take you at your word and go back to this irresistible sofa." She paused, as if waiting for her daughter to speak; then she held out her arms. "Run off and dress, dearest; and don't have me on your mind." She clasped Leila close, pressing a long kiss on the last afterglow of her subsiding blush. "I do feel the least bit overdone, and if it really won't inconvenience you to have me drop out of things, I believe I'll just basely take to my bed and stay there till your party scatters. And now run off, dear, or you 'll be late; and make my excuses to them all."
"I came in to tell you that you need n't THE Barkleys' visitors had dispersed, feel in the least obliged-"
There was a pause during which Leila, vaguely averting herself from her mother's scrutiny, drifted toward the dressing-table and began to disturb the symmetry of the toilet implements laid out on it.
"Do your visitors know that I'm here?" Mrs. Lidcote suddenly went on.
"Do they- Of course-why, naturally," Leila rejoined, absorbed in trying to turn the stopper of a salts-bottle.
"Then won't they think it odd if I don't appear at dinner?"
“Oh, not in the least, dearest. Really, I assure you they 'll all understand." Leila laid down the bottle and turned back to her mother, her face alight with reassur
Mrs. Lidcote stood motionless, her head erect, her smiling eyes on her daughter's. "Will they think it odd if I do?"
Leila stopped short, her lips half parted
and Mrs. Lidcote, completely restored by her two days' rest, found herself, on the following Monday, alone with her children and Miss Suffern.
There was a note of jubilation in the air, for the party had "gone off" so extraordinarily well, and so completely, as it appeared, to the satisfaction of Mrs. Lorin Boulger, that Wilbour's early appointment to Rome was almost to be counted on. So certain did this seem that the prospect of a prompt reunion mitigated the distress with which Leila learned of her mother's decision to return almost immediately to Italy. No one understood this decision: it seemed to Leila absolutely unintelligible that Mrs. Lidcote should not stay on with them till their own fate was fixed, and Wilbour handsomely echoed her astonishment.
"Why should n't you, as Leila says, wait here till we can all pack up and go together?"
Mrs. Lidcote smiled her gratitude with her refusal. "After all, it's not yet sure that you'll be packing up."
"Oh, you ought to have seen Wilbour with Mrs. Boulger," Leila triumphed.
"No, you ought to have seen Leila with her," Leila's husband exulted.
Miss Suffern enthusiastically appended, "I do think inviting Harriet Fresbie was a stroke of genius!"
"Oh, we'll be with you soon," Leila laughed. "So soon that it 's really foolish to separate."
But Mrs. Lidcote held out with the quiet firmness which her daughter knew it was useless to oppose. After her long months in India, it was really imperative, she declared, that she should get back to Florence and see what was happening to her little place there; and she had been so comfortable on the Utopia that she had a fancy to return by the same ship. There was nothing for it, therefore, but to acquiesce in her decision and keep her with them till the afternoon before the day of the Utopia's sailing. This arrangement fitted in with certain projects which, during her two days' seclusion, Mrs. Lidcote had silently matured. It had become to her of the first importance to get away as soon as she could, and the little place in Florence, which held her past in every fold of its curtains and between every page of its books, seemed now to her the one spot where that past would be endurable to look upon.
She was not unhappy during the intervening days. The sight of Leila's wellbeing, the sense of Leila's tenderness, were, after all, what she had come for; and of these she had full measure. Leila had never been happier or more tender; and the contemplation of her bliss, and the enjoyment of her affection, were an absorbing occupation for her mother. But they were also a sharp strain on certain overtightened chords, and Mrs. Lidcote, when at last she found herself alone in the New York hotel to which she had returned the night before embarking, had the feeling that she had just escaped with her life. from the clutch of a giant hand.
She had refused to let her daughter come to town with her; she had even rejected Susy Suffern's ministrations. She wanted no viaticum but that of her own thoughts; and she let these come to her
without shrinking from them as she sat in the same high-hung sitting-room in which, just a week before, she and Franklin Ide had had their memorable talk.
She had promised her friend to let him hear from her, but she had not done so. She knew that he had probably come back from Chicago, and that if he learned of her sudden decision to return to Italy it would be impossible for her not to see him before sailing; and as she wished above all things not to see him, she had kept silent, intending to send him a letter from the
There was no reason why she should wait till then to write it. The actual moment was more favorable, and the task, though not agreeable, would at least bridge over an hour of her lonely evening. She went up to the writing-table, drew out a sheet of paper, and began to write his name. And as she did so, the door opened, and he came in.
The words she met him with were the last she could have imagined herself saying when they had parted. "How in the world did you know that I was here?"
He caught her meaning in a flash. "You did n't want me to, then?" He stood looking at her. "I suppose I ought to have taken your silence as meaning that. But I happened to meet Mrs. Wynn, who is stopping here, and she asked me to dine. with her and Charlotte, and Charlotte's young man. They told me they'd seen you arriving this afternoon, and I could n't help. coming up."
There was a pause between them, which Mrs. Lidcote at last surprisingly broke with the exclamation, "Ah, she did recognize me, then!"
"Recognize you?" He stared. "Why-" "Oh, I saw she did, though she never moved an eyelid. I saw it by Charlotte's blush. blush. The child has the prettiest blush. I saw that her mother would n't let her speak to me."
Ide put down his hat with an impatient laugh. "Has n't Leila cured you of your delusions?"
She looked at him intently. "Then you don't think Margaret Wynn meant to cut me?"
"I think your ideas are absurd."
She paused for a perceptible moment without taking this up; then she said, at a tangent: "I'm sailing to-morrow early.
I meant to write to you- there's the let- minute, too. Susy Suffern brought her up ter I 'd begun.”
Ide followed her gesture, and then turned his eyes back to her face. "You did n't mean to see me, then, or even to let me know that you were going till you'd left?"
"I felt it would be easier to explain to you in a letter—"
"What in God's name is there to explain?" She made no reply, and he pressed on: "It can't be that you 're worried about Leila, for Charlotte Wynn told me she 'd been there last week, and there was a big party arriving when she left: Fresbies and Gileses, and Mrs. Lorin Boulger-all the board of examiners! If Leila has passed that, she 's got her degree."
Mrs. Lidcote had dropped down into a corner of the sofa where she had sat during their talk of the week before. "I was 'stupid," she began abruptly. "I ought to have gone to Ridgefield with Susy. I did n't see till afterward that I was expected to."
"You were expected to?"
"Yes. Oh, it was n't Leila's fault. She suffered-poor darling; she was distracted. But she 'd asked her party before she knew I was arriving."
"Oh, as to that-" Ide drew a deep breath of relief. "I can understand that it must have annoyed her dreadfully_not to have you to herself just at first. But, after all, you were among old friends or their children: the Gileses and Fresbiesand little Charlotte Wynn." He paused a moment before the last name, and scrutinized her hesitatingly. "Even if they came at the wrong time, you must have been glad to see them all at Leila's."
She gave him back his look with a faint smile. "I did n't see them," she replied. "You did n't see them?"
"No. That is, excepting little Charlotte Wynn. That child is exquisite. We had a little talk before luncheon the day I arrived. But when her mother found out that I was staying in the house, she telephoned her to leave immediately, and so I did n't see her again."
The blood rushed suddenly to Ide's sallow face. "I don't know where you get such ideas!"
She pursued, as if she had not heard him: "Oh, and I saw Mary Giles for a
to my room the last evening, after dinner, when all the others were at bridge. She meant it kindly-but it was n't much use." "But what were you doing in your room in the evening after dinner?"
"Why, you see, when I found out my mistake in coming,-how embarrassing it was for Leila, I mean,—I simply told her that I was very tired, and preferred to stay up-stairs till the party was over."
Ide, with a groan, struck his hand against the arm of his chair. "I wonder how much of all this you simply imagined!"
"I did n't imagine the fact of Harriet Fresbie's not even asking if she might see me when she knew I was in the house. Nor of Mary Giles's getting Susy, at the eleventh hour, to smuggle her up to my room when the others would n't know where she 'd gone; nor poor Leila's ghastly fear lest Mrs. Lorin Boulger, for whom the party was given, should guess I was in the house, and prevent her husband's giving Wilbour the second secretaryship because she 'd been obliged to spend a night under the same roof with his mother-in-law!"
Ide continued to drum on his chair-arm with exasperated fingers. "You don't know that any of the acts you describe are due to the causes you suppose.'
Mrs. Lidcote paused before replying, as if honestly trying to measure the weight of this argument. Then she said in a low tone: "I know that Leila was in an agony lest I should come down to dinner the first night. And it was for me she was afraid, not for herself. Leila is never afraid for herself."
"But the conclusions you draw are simply preposterous. There are narrowminded women everywhere, but the women who were at Leila's knew perfectly well that their going there would give her a sort of social sanction, and if they were willing that she should have it, why on earth should they want to withhold it from you?"
"That's what I told myself a week ago, in this very room, after my first talk with Susy Suffern." She lifted a misty smile to his anxious eyes. "That's why I listened to what you said to me the same evening, and why your arguments half convinced me, and made me think that
what had been possible for Leila might not be altogether impossible for me. If the new dispensation had come, why not for me as well as for the others? I can't tell you the flight my imagination took!"
Franklin Ide rose from his seat and crossed the room to a chair near her sofacorner. "All I cared about was that it seemed-for the moment-to be carrying you toward me," he said.
"I cared about that, too. That's why I meant to go away without seeing you.' They gave each other grave look for look. "Because, you see, I was mistaken," she went on. "We were both mistaken. You say it 's preposterous that the women who did n't object to accepting Leila's hospitality should have objected to meeting me under her roof. And so it is; but I begin to understand why. It 's simply that society is much too busy to revise its own judgments. Probably no one in the house with me stopped to consider that my case and Leila's were identical. They only remembered that I'd done something which, at the time I did it, was condemned by society. My case has been passed on and classified: I'm the woman who has been cut for nearly twenty years. The older people have half forgotten why, and the younger ones have never really known: it's simply become a tradition to cut me. And traditions that have lost their meaning are the hardest of all to destroy."
Ide had sat motionless while she spoke. As she ended, he stood up with a short laugh and walked across the room to the window. Outside, the immense, black prospect of New York, strung with myriads of lines of light, stretched away. into the smoky edges of the night. He showed it to her with a gesture.
"What do you suppose such words as you 've been using 'society,' 'tradition,' and the rest-mean to all the life out there?"
She came and stood by him, and looked out of the window. "Less than nothing, of course. But you and I are not out there. We're shut up in a little, tight round of habit and association, just as we 're shut up in this room. Remember, I thought I'd got out of it once; but what really happened was that the other people went out, and left me in the same little room. The only difference was that I was there alone. Oh, I 've made it habi
table now, I'm used to it; but I've lost any illusions I may have had as to an angel's opening the door."
Ide again laughed impatiently. "Well, if the door won't open, why not let another prisoner in? At least it would be less of a solitude—”
She turned from the dark window back into the vividly lighted room.
"It would be more of a prison. You forget that I know all about that. We're all imprisoned, of course-all of us middling people, who don't carry our freedom in our heads. But we 've accommodated ourselves to our different cells, and if we 're moved suddenly into new ones, we 're likely to find a stone wall where we thought there was thin air, and to knock ourselves senseless against it. I saw a man do that once."
Ide, leaning with folded arms against the window-frame, watched her in silence as she moved restlessly about the room, gathering together some scattered books and tossing a handful of torn letters into the paper-basket. When she ceased, he rejoined: "All you say is based on preconceived theories. Why did n't you put them to the test by coming down to meet your old friends? Don't you see the inference they would naturally draw from your hiding yourself when they arrived? It looked as though you were afraid of them or as though you had n't forgiven them. Either way, you put them in the wrong, instead of waiting to let them put you in the right. If Leila had buried herself in a desert, do you suppose society would have gone to fetch her out? You say you were afraid for Leila, and that she was afraid for you. Don't you see what all these complications of feeling mean? Simply that you were too nervous at the moment to let things happen naturally, just as you 're too nervous now to judge them rationally." He paused and turned his eyes to her face. "Don't try to just yet. Give yourself a little more time. Give me a little more time. I've always known it would take time."
He moved nearer, and she let him have her hand. With the grave kindness of his face so close above her she felt like a child roused out of frightened dreams and finding a light in the room.
"Perhaps you 're right-" she heard herself begin; then something within her