The Open Question: A Tale of Two Temperaments by Elizabeth Robins (1898)
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CHAPTER XXXV

     THEY were still discussing plans of travel, or, rather, as the days went on, plans of avoiding travel.

     "Italy is a long way off," Ethan had said; "we'll go there another year."

     Val fought hard and long against abandoning her darling scheme of spending the winter abroad, not giving her persistency its right name. To Ethan's "Why?" she would answer, coaxingly, "I am so amused abroad."

     "Dear child, you're amused everywhere."

     "It's unfair to take advantage of that."

     He did not say so, but he dreaded for her the fatigues of protracted travel. Still, he saw it was imperative they should winter in some warm place. Val's series of colds and threatened delicacy were instinctively avoided in their discussion of plans; but these considerations were seldom out of her husband's mind. As he visualized the coming months, Ethan thought, man-like and naturally enough, "Val will have plenty to occupy her, but I--I must find work to help me through the time." He cast about for the saving grace of hard labor. "I will write my Political Confessions," he said to himself; "just my case has never been put." And he set about sifting his books and notes; ordering government and party reports; indulging freely in the beguiling pastime of "collecting material." About this time he was deep in correspondence with a group of young men who had formerly rallied round him in Boston and New York, but whom, as he now saw, he had too much neglected since his marriage. He felt anew that these men, organized, led, supplied with the sinews of war, had it in them to render America a sorely needed service.


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     "Val," he said, one day, "how many people can we put up comfortably here?"

     She opened her eyes.

     "Guests?"

     "Yes."

     "I thought we were going away ourselves."

     "So we are in a fortnight or so, if we can decide where. I should like to have some men here for a few days, if you don't mind."

     She turned her head, and looked out of the window.

     "Who are the men you want to ask--relations?"

     "Relations! No. What made you think-- Besides, you know I haven't any but De Poincy."

     "Y--yes. Still, I couldn't imagine, just at first, that you'd want a lot of strangers here--now."

     "Not if you object, of course. But, since you seemed quite ready to set off to Persia or China at any moment, I couldn't be expected to know you objected to strangers."

     "Whom did you want?"

     "Oh, it doesn't matter. I was thinking of the two Careys, and Williams and Dunbar."

     "The men who are trying to make you get up a Labor paper?"

     "The men that I'm trying to make devote their great talents, their lives, to saving the country."

     There was reproach in his tone, even a kind of hardness that had come into his manner more than once of late. His usually quick-following fit of remorseful tenderness never quite healed the hurt.

     "Of course, ask your friends if you like."

     She got up and went out of the room. Back and forth under the big tulip-tree she walked in the crisp October air, commanding her face to a pale incommunicativeness, but clinching and unclinching her hands.

     A deep discouragement had been growing upon her at Ethan's feverish eagerness to get to work. "You don't seem to have any time at all for play nowadays," she had said to him, half laughing, more than once. He sat over


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his writing-table all day, and he read late into the night. For days and days they had not been alone in the old idle blessed way of lovers, and never had she needed him so much. "How shall I be able to go on," she said to herself, "unless he keeps close beside me?"

     It was at a garden-party at Julia's that Val went across the lawn to Ethan at the end of a game of tennis, and said:

     "I'd like to give a party at the Fort before we go. What do you think?"

     "What kind of a party?"

     "A ball. We could light up the grounds and make it look lovely. There's never been a big party at the Fort."

     "Well, I don't mind. But you haven't much time now to get it up."

     "Let's go and find Julia and Mr. Scherer, and talk it over."

     Mrs. Otway told them that Julia had gone into the house for an ice, and they must do likewise. As they passed through the parlor they noticed a group about a portrait of Mrs. Otway, taken in her youth. Some of her neighbors were discussing in discreet undertones whether it was credible that their rotund hostess ever looked like this daughter of the gods.

     "I"m sure she did," said Val; "my father has often told me."

     "She ought to have died young," said a stranger standing by. "To have looked like that was a great achievement, but the dear lady has cancelled it."

     As they moved away Val tried to throw off the impression the speech had made upon her by whispering to Ethan:

     "Men seem to forget women have any reason for living except to please the masculine eye." Winning no response, she looked up, laughing. "One comfort of not being a beauty is that people aren't forever remarking how you change."


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     "Oh, we can do wonders in the way of change without being beauties."

     They found Julia, and arranged that she and Tom Scherer should come over in the evening and discuss the ball. The rumor of it went abroad, and little else was talked of in New Plymouth for the intervening days.

      Val and Julia sat on the veranda at the Fort the evening after, making out lists of invitations. After all, some of Ethan's friends had been telegraphed to, and were coming from a distance. Mrs. Ball was expected, with all hr circle. Val was asking even Baby Whittaker, of abhorred memory.

     Ethan, with Scherer and Harry Wilbur, was walking up and down the gravel-path, smoking and talking. Ethan suddenly called out:

     "You'd better go in-doors, Val."

     "Go in! Why?"

     "The dew is falling. You'll take cold."

     "Oh no."

     He urged the point.

     "Don't drive me in this heavenly Indian-summer night!" she pleaded.

     They all exclaimed against his barbarity, and he went to get her a shawl. There was nothing in the hall. He rang; no one answered. He went up-stairs.

     In vain Val called after him: "I've got my scarf."

     Scherer was teasing Julia for not being able to think of anything but the ball.

     "You're just as bad."

     He protested.

     "You men were talking about it, I'll be bound," Julia said.

     "No, we weren't, feather-brain," replied Scherer, with a patronizing air.

     "Something very far removed from balls," Harry Wilbur put in, with a laugh.

     "What?"


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     "Oh, we were cheerfully considering the ethics of suicide," said Scherer, stretching himself comfortably in a long wicker-chair.

     Val started, but no one observed her.

     "Pleasant topic," said Julia.

     "Quite, if looked at rightly," responded Scherer. "Gano was saying how curiously illogical people are. We've all heard Christian people who shudder at the word 'suicide'--tender women, mothers--who hasn't heard them say, looking back to the early death of a child, 'I've come to thank God for taking him unspotted from the world.'"

     "Yes," remarked Julia, "I'm sick of hearing the saying that's always trotted out, 'Our loss, but his gain.'"

     "Ah, but don't think it's insincere," said Scherer. "Even the simple-minded may appreciate the safety and dignity of death when the deliverer is introduced by cold, or fever, or ghastly accident, by inherited weakness, even by neglect--in any way but by the calm and steadfast will of the one chiefly concerned."

     Val sat up and stared. Ethan's very intonation had got into Scherer's voice.

     "If a fellow's trapped into death," he went on, "it's a blessing; if he goes voluntarily, a disgrace."

     "Disgrace or not, it's on the increase," said Wilbur, "and fellows like you had better be careful how you go about advocating--"

     "No; I agree with Gano about that. Even when public opinion is more civilized, natural cowardice will keep the death-rate down. Certain to, if social conditions are improved. But even if the number who go that way should be much greater, are you so certain that a voluntary exit is such a mistake? Isn't it the great question that each man should answer for himself?"

     "No!" roared Wilbur, excitedly; "he should satisfy a public functionary that he's paid his debts and provided for those who are dependent on him."

     "Accepted!" cried Scherer, delighted, "although we'd be establishing an aristocracy of the dead. But, seriously,


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isn't it for social reformers first to make life less of an indecency for the masses before they insist that each man should hold his life as sacred? Society degrades and brutalizes a man, and yet, forsooth, for the sake of society he is to hold his insulted life as sacred."

     Val leaned back in her chair, wondering if Julia was annoyed at Scherer's aping of Ethan. Was it conceivable that the others didn't see it--didn't hear it?

     "Why, the world is overrun," he was saying, in a travesty of Ethan's manner--"overrun with superfluous myriads who are freely allowed to groan, travail, starve. Only, society insists, they must die slowly, and not shock our sensibilities. Or they may turn over a new leaf, and live prosperously by selling their bodies and their souls--anything rather than reproach us and arraign life by taking themselves off. But cheer up, Wilbur; we can always bring in the usual verdict. Oh, more blessed than Mesopotamia are the words 'temporarily insane'!"

     "That's what such people usually are," said Harry, unmoved.

     "Of course; don't we read it in every paper?" jeered Scherer--"this woman, that man, starved to death, a paragraph of sentimentality. A suicide gets his column of calumny. The same society that cheerfully permits a man to starve, that supports the system under which he must starve, is outraged if the victim doesn't die with decent slowness. Starvation is 'a sad case,' suicide is 'punishable crime.'"

     "I used to hear my father," said Val, in a low voice, "wondering at the great sums devoted to the use of hospitals full of idiots, cripples, incurables, and people who want to die, while the streets of all the cities of the world are full of the young and strong and poverty-stricken who need bread, and are filled only with a passionate desire for life on almost any terms."

     Ethan came out with a shawl and a rug. As he was putting the wraps round his wife, he chanced to touch her hand.


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     "You are cold as ice!" he exclaimed.

     "No, no; this is lovely!"

     "You mustn't stay out another minute." As he saw she was about to protest again, he cut her short. "If you want to argue, come inside and argue. If you don't, I'll have to carry you."

     After their friends had gone, Ethan said something half jocular about Scherer and his new political enthusiasms. "But Scherer will rise. You'll see, he will help to accomplish some of the reforms I've only talked about."

     "I dare say; still, I think I prefer your theories at first hand."

     "What theories?"

     "He kindly continued your conversation after you went to hunt for a shawl."

     "Damn him!"

     He damned him to his face the next morning.

     "What!" said poor Scherer, with open mouth, "not a subject for conversation?"

     "Certainly not; the world's not ready for it."

     "No, no," said Scherer, rapidly reconstructing; "perhaps not. If the theory were widely accepted it would bring about many avoidable disasters."

     "How so?" demanded Ethan, ready in a minute to defend his faith against all comers.

     "It might," said Scherer--"might sap the energy and courage of people who, but for its teaching, would go on bravely to the end."

     "It is itself 'the brave end.'"

     Three days before the ball, Val, coming in from a drive with the Otways, found that Ethan had had a Mexican hammock put up between one of the locust-trees and the giant tulip.

     "What a good plan! People who are tired dancing will be glad to find this."


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     "I wasn't thinking of the ball, oddly enough. What a horrible racket those men have been making all day putting up the pavilion!"

     He leaned his head on his hand. His face looked worn.

     "I'm so sorry they disturbed you, but I'm glad the hammock's just for me." She ran out as soon as supper was over to contemplate her new toy. "Ethan!" she called, presently.

     He came on to the veranda wearing a hat and carrying a walking-stick.

     Her countenance fell.

     "Aren't you coming to have a swing?"

     He laughed.

     "Not for me, thank you!"

     "Where are you going?"

     "Just for a little walk. It's not good for you to be out after sundown!" he called back as he went off.

     She lay in the hammock very still a long while. The frogs far off were iterating their hoarse melancholy. Was it a belated firefly that flickered dejectedly in the chill air? An oppression settled down on her chest, but she never felt it for the greater weight on her heart. She pressed her two hands tight over her face, that the servants might not hear her crying.

     "To think that this should be me," she said to herself, in a kind of excitement, "when I meant to be so happy! After all"--she sat up and steadied herself as she swayed--"it's very wonderful to have found life so much better, and so much worse, than anybody ever said. If only Ethan and I could go through the hard places by ourselves, if only there were no one else--oh, God, if only there were no one else!"

     She lay back again in the hammock. By-and-by a noise in the house: Ethan putting quick questions, several servants speaking at once, then Ethan's voice, sharp with anxiety, calling:

     "Val! Val!"

     "Yes, out here."


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     Hastily she dried her face.

     He came out.

     "You surely have not been out here ever since--"

     "Yes; ever since you went away and left me."

     But she spoke almost brightly.

     "Well, I must say I think you might have remembered--"

     "Can't remember but one thing at a time. I was thinking about something else."

     "You're not to be trusted," he said, gravely.

     "Not a bit," she agreed. "I'm an eye-servant. The minute your back's turned-- Oh, I require a great deal of looking after--and"--with a laugh that broke suspiciously--"I don't get it."

     She had stood up, holding fast to him, as she freed herself from the hammock and the rug. He drew her hand through his arm and went with her to the house.

     "No, no," she said, stopping at the veranda, "I want a little walk, too."

     Demurring, he put the rug round her and they went on.

     "I've been thinking it would be a good idea to go to California for the winter," he said, presently.

     "You've seen California."

     "But you haven't."

     "No, and I don't want to."

     "Is that true?"

     "Well, it's true that I want to see other places more--queerer places, farther off, that I can't imagine for myself."

     "Don't flatter yourself that you can imagine California. I was thinking I ought to look after my ranch there. And, besides, the place in Oakland is really beautiful. I could make you very comfortable there."

     "Could you?" she said, wistfully. "But, after all, 'comfortable' is for ninety."

     "It is curious that I should have to remind you we mustn't think now only of ourselves."

     How stern the eyes could look--the mouth, how hard! They walked on in silence, down the first terrace, and along the second. No wilderness rioted below, all was


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pruned and trimmed and primly smiling. In the middle of what Mrs. Gano had been used to call "the Lower Plateau" stood the dancing pavilion, finished that day, all but the outward trappings of flags and lanterns.

     "I believe you'd like the house at Oakland." He spoke more gently than before. "There's a garden and a little orange-grove, and the land slopes down to the sea."

     "Do you look out on the Golden Gate?" she asked, quickly, and then added, involuntarily: "But, after all, what do I care about that? I want to see people in other lands, and find out what life looks like to them."

     "You can do something of the sort later, if you like."

     "Oh, later! later! Everybody's said 'later' to me ever since I was born. Who knows whether I'll ever go at all if I don't go now?"

     "Ha!" he said, with a flash, "now we have the real reason."

     She lowered her eyes and was dumb.

     "Will you tell me why, just lately, when you have greater incentive than you ever had before, you seem to have less hope, a weaker hold on life?"

     "All imagination," she said, evasively. "Listen to that woodpecker." Her head drooped, dreamily. How pale she looked in the gray light! "He's tapping the old locust-tree under my window, just as he used to--hundreds of years ago--when I was a little girl."

     "Val," he said, "you are not like yourself."

     "No," she answered, vaguely.

     He took her face between his hands as if to catch and concentrate the wandering spirit.

     "Where is the old Val gone? I want her back."

     The slow tears filled her eyes. "You mustn't mind, dear; she went away, I think, one of those days--"

     "What days?"

     "When, with all that pain, everything was made ready."

     He dropped his hands, but she caught them. "I wish we could go away, too. But far, very far from here, where everything is new and strange."


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     "Oh, my dearest," he said, brokenly, "surely, surely, with so mich at stake, we can readjust ourselves to the changed conditions."

     She drew one hand across her eyes. "You call yourself weak," she said, "but it's no surprise to me to find how much stronger you are than I. You can make yourself face about, manfully enough."

     "Well, and so can you." He searched the sensitive white face that gave no sign. What strange and unsuspected enemy had that not unvaliant spirit encountered in her path? As he looked at her, something born of their nearness--terrible offspring of true marriage--spoke to him out of the silence, telling him how each time this woman went straying in thought along that way of promise that is wont to smile so benignly upon young expectant wives, each time, before she could taste any of the natural joy and pride in her estate, came crushing back upon her the dead weight of their long fear, the gathered momentum of all their long terror-stricken fleeing.

     The sudden change in his face showed her that her secret was no longer her own.

     "Oh, what is it like?" she cried out, suddenly. "What is it like to have hoped and longed all these months, instead of dreaded?"

     "Hush! hush!" he said, shrinking.

     "I, who was so eager to know all that women can know, I shall never know that."

     He sank down on the terrace-steps in the twilight, and buried his face in his hands.

     "Did I ever tell you"--her voice sounded faint and far above him, like the voice of some disembodied spirit--"did I ever tell you how proud I used to be to know my father once said that I was the symbol of my parents' single year of perfect happiness, the inheritor of the best moments life had brought them? Ethan"--she bent over him, whispering hurriedly and panting a little like one pursued--"the thought clutches at me in the night, it won't let me go--"

     "What thought?" said the muffled voice.


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     "That for a child of fear and shrinking there isn't much place in this world."

     No answer.

     She sat down beside him. Like a frightened child she crouched up against him. "All those times of dread come back, their evil faces frowning. Bad fairies! they wait for--for the new-comer with sinister gifts in their hands."

     "Don't think such thoughts." He seized her arm roughly.

     "No, no; help me not to," she said, shuddering. "But I wish I knew what it had been like to my mother--that first knowledge."

     "You may be sure she was glad."

     "Yes, yes; not like that hour in the long room, not as we welcomed our--"

     "You shall not talk so! to think of it so is a crime." He leaped to his feet. "Do you hear?--a crime."

     She seemed to cower there below him on the step.

     "And yet," she whispered, "whenever we look at the child we shall remember that hour. He'll wear my shrinking in his poor little face. Oh, what shall I do? In that hour, it may be, I branded my child!"

     He sat beside her all night long while she tossed and dozed, and in her sleep pressed both hands to her breast, moaning faintly now and then. The doctor had been sent for at midnight, and came again in the early morning.

     "He's frightened!" said Val, watching the door as he went out after the second visit. "So are you." She smiled. "You're forgetting how hard we Ganos are to kill."

     "You'll soon be all right."

     She studied him. "You're only frightened on top." He wondered if she were wandering. "Underneath," she went on, "you're thinking this would be a solution."

     "Hush, hush!" He put his arms round her. "You must remember me, dear."

     She nestled in his arms. "She used to say we Ganos were dreadfully hard to kill. We have to face that."


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     "Don't think of having to face things; forget it all."

     She scanned his face eagerly. "Where shall I begin?"

     "Begin?"

     "Yes--to forget."

     Did she mean to ask whether she was to forget the old compact, or its new annulment?

     "Begin to forget where the pain begins," he said, evasively.

     "That would carry us back a long way. But anyhow, I won't do it. Pain or no pain, I don't mean to forget."

     "Yes, yes," he said, soothingly.

     "But I don't want to."

     He looked down at her perplexed.

     "I don't mean to forget anything, not even the sad things. I don't want to let anything go."

     "Well, well." He smoothed the wild brown hair.

     "To forget is to lose a bit of your life," she said, catching at his hand. "What was is you said once? it was a first victory for that spectre Annihilation that dogs us all. I didn't believe in your Annihilation then. Not very sure I do now."

     She laid his hand, for comfort, over the ache in her breast.

     Worn out towards morning, and yet afraid to undress lest the doctor might have suddenly to be brought, Ethan stretched himself on the sofa under the east window. He was scarcely comfortably relaxed, when Val, who had not spoken for hours, said:

     "Why do you stay so far off?"

     He was up in a moment.

     "Do you want something?"

     "Yes; I want you near."

     "Oh, very well; I was afraid of waking you."

     Heavy with sleep, he threw himself across the foot of the big four-poster. She pushed herself down in the bed till her feet under the covers felt his body through all the clothes, then she lay quite still. Ethan dozed and dreamed.


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He awoke suddenly with the impression Val had called him. He raised himself on his elbow. She seemed to be asleep. He leaned his tired head against the bedpost, turning his face to the cast. The gray dawn was coming in faintly at the window. The things in the room looked spectral.

     Dimly through the window he thought he could see the shadow of the encircling hills. As he lay looking out, a little voice, so faint and far it might have come with the dawn from behind the hills:

     "It is no superstition that oaths are binding."

     He held his breath to listen.

     "If we deny them with our lips, our nerves are loyal still."

     Then silence. The light grew clearer.

     "Our lives were set to the key of our oath," said the little voice. "When we denied it, discord came."

     He tried to speak; a kind of paralysis held the muscles of his throat.

     "It's like the one lie that calls for a thousand, for a life of lies. We don't lie well, we Ganos."

     Another longer silence; then a fluttering sigh as of one cased from a mighty burden.

     "Oh, I'm so glad the morning's come! You haven't kissed me, Ethan."

     He rose up without a word, kissed her, and went out."

     Of course, the ball had been postponed--"only for a week," Val insisted, and Ethan had agreed. Later this same day, he, still sitting there in the blue room, wondering against his will at her recovered spirits, refusing to understand, asked her if the pain was gone. She made the motion "No," moving the brown head from side to side on the pillow.

     "You are suffering a great deal?" he faltered, as he bent above her.

     She was evidently not thinking of the kind of pain he meant.

     "If I were partly paralyzed, as lots of people are," she


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said, with something of the old defiance, "it would hurt less, I suppose. When I feel like shrinking, I just remember it's a sign none of me is dead yet, that I can suffer from my head to my feet as horribly as this."

     "Val!" He sank down on his knees and buried his head in the coverlet.

     "But I'll have all eternity for being free of pain. When I remember that"--she pulled herself up and spoke in a clear, practical tone--"it brings me to my senses."

     "What can I do for you, dear--what can I do?"

     "Don't go away."

     "I won't."

     "I'm afraid you will."

     "Don't be afraid."

     "Not to collect material for 'Confessions'?"

     "No," he said, smiling dimly.

     "Not even to write to the Saviours of America?"

     "No."

     "I hate the Saviours! America doesn't need 'em."

     "She has only to say so," he said, his old sensitive vanity a little stung.

     "Oh, America is all right."

     "Very well, America."

     He drew up the chair again and sat closer to the bedside.

     "I shall love being ill, if you don't go away," she said, smiling.

     "I sha'n't go away any more, even when you're well."

     "Really?"

     "Yes."

     "You sure you're an honest Injun?"

     "Injun of flawless integrity."

     "Then I shall be well to-morrow."

     And to all appearance she was well two days afterwards. When she came down-stairs she was protesting gayly that she was really quite ill, and must have all an invalid's privileges.

     "Is it a bargain?" she stopped half-way down the stair. "If it isn't, I'm going back to bed."


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     "Yes, all the privileges," he agreed.

     "And you won't go away and write for the 'Saviours'?"

     He laughed, took her down, and established her in the long room.

     "I shall be very particular, or else what's the fun of being an invalid? And I know what to expect. I was ill once before. Grandma gave me a delicious glass of sangaree."

     "You shall have sangaree." He made it himself. "Now, what else did she do for you?" he demanded, like one put upon his mettle.

     Val glanced up at him slyly.

     "Grandma used to read suitable selections from the Bible."

     He leaned against her chair, looking down into her face, smiling as she hadn't seen him smile for many a day.

     "I can give you suitable selections," he said, with shining eyes. "'Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from Mount Gilead.' 'Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet--'"

     The voice that to her was different from all the voices of earth went thrilling along her nerves as it had done the first night she heard it at the gate, when in ignorant girl-fashion she had known no more than, "I must follow, follow, follow, wherever it may lead."

     That night she whispered passionately, "You are loving me more than ever you did."

     "Yes," he said, holding her close; "the old Val has come back to me."

     "There's another reason," she said in her heart.

     Val had at last agreed to go to California.

     "Are we sure to be ready to leave the Fort on Thursday?" she asked.

     "Why Thursday?"

     "Because of the ball."


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     "I should think we would be quite ready; but does it matter?"

     "Very much."

     "Why?"

     "Oh--a--there'll be a kind of lull after the ball, and I'd rather--a--"

     "Go out with flags flying? I understand."

     She had laid even New York under tribute for her fête. With the help of a chef, a florist, and a decorator, a good deal of money had been spent to astonishingly effective ends, considering the smallness of the space at command. It was hard, even with tons of flowers, to make the old Fort anything but simple and grim; but the more gracious garden, and above all the terraces, lent themselves kindly to flower aisles and arches, and a fairyland scheme of lighting.

     The maid was putting the last touch to her mistress's ball-dress.

     "That's enough. Now go and ask Mr. Gano to come here a moment."

     Val turned a moment later and saw him at the door. The dead black and white of his evening dress gave the fine ivory of his face an added pallor. She looked at him with quickening pulse. No wonder women had found the haunting beauty of that face a troubling memory. As he leaned against the door, fastening a flower in his coat, smiling in at her in the old enigmatic way, she felt suddenly what it would be to her to lose her empire over that restless, homeless spirit. If they were meaning to go on and on, as other people did, how could they hope to escape other people's ending? And she smiled back at him suddenly in a fierce, triumphant fashion. He came forward into the room.

     "What is it? Why do you look like that?"

     "How do I look?"

     "As if--as if--well, I should keep out of your way if I'd done you any wrong."


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     She laughed as she pulled on her long white glove.

     "Am I such a gorgon in my new gown?"

     His eyes went slowly over her with a kind of worship in them. She trembled slightly. "Not one pretty word for all my pains?"

     He knelt down before her, bent the dark head, and kissed her little white shoes.

     As they met a moment in the lancers, Val said: "I wish she could have seen the old Fort to-night. She loved splendor, too." She laughed up at him like a delighted child.

     "I've been amused," he whispered back, "to hear people saying it's the most beautiful ball that's ever been given in the State."

     "Well, of course, I meant it to be"; and she was whirled away.

     It was about two o'clock in the morning that Ethan made his way out of the pavilion, with a feeling of unsupportable weariness. He must get away from all those noisy, irrelevant people; above all, he must get away from the sight of Val's unthinking joy. He walked on to the far corner of the osage-orange thicket, and stood there in the deepest part of the shadow. Down below the terraces the music clanged and jarred. The round Japanese lanterns, festooned from tree to tree, were like strings of giant gems, yellow topaz, rose and scarlet coral, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and opal. The late Indian summer night was not cold; every one had been saying, "What wonderful weather!" but to Ethan there was more than a hint of winter in the pungent air. There was that obscure menace, that sense of melancholy lying behind all, and round all, like the sea. Autumn had brought this message to him since his childhood. It was the time when Nature seemed to pause a while in her ceaseless masque of the seasons to whisper her one honest word into the ear of man. "Be warned!" she seemed to say; "be warned!"


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     Then he remembered--without reassurement, rather with displeasure--that Val's pulses beat time to a brisker measure. To her the mysterious message had translated itself into a breathless sense of something new and strange on its way to her, "something wonderful going to happen, that never happened in the world before." Fresh realization of this "difference" that spread through all their life made to his harassed sense a clear line of cleavage down between their souls; and he felt himself alone. He remembered her merry look as he passed her and Wilbur on the way up the terrace, her mocking whisper, "Not one of the 'Saviours' can dance. Oh, poor America!" Even while he smiled at the remembrance, he was saying in his heart, "At this moment she can laugh and jest, and give a ball!" Then he reproached himself. Bah! woman is a grown-up child. How should she realize existence! She has no system of faith or of philosophy. Her life is a string of moods--white pearls and black upon a thread of hazard.


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