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ad of coming from my millionaire bridegroom, Oh, I haven’tany; in that respect I’m as free as you.””Well, then–? Haven’t we only got to stay”Susy drew her brows together anxiously. It was going to berather more difficult than she had supposed.
“I said I was as free in that respect. I’m not going tomarry–and I don’t suppose you are?””God, no!” he ejaculated fervently.
“But that doesn’t always imply complete freedom ….”He stood just above her, leaning his elbow against the hideousblack marble arch that framed his fireless grate. As sheglanced up she saw his face harden, and the colour flew to hers.
“Was that what you came to tell me?” he asked.
“Oh, you don’t understand–and I don’t see why you don’t, sincewe’ve knocked about so long among exactly the same kind ofpeople.” She stood up impulsively and laid her hand on his arm.
“I do wish you’d help me–!”He remained motionless, letting the hand lie untouched.
“Help you to tell me that poor Ursula was a pretext, but thatthere IS someone who–for one reason or another–really has aright to object to your seeing me too often?”Susy laughed impatiently. “You talk like the hero of a novel–the kind my governess used to read. In the first place I shouldnever recognize that kind of right, as you call it–never!””Then what kind do you?” he asked with a clearing brow.
“Why–the kind I suppose you recognize on the part of yourpublisher.” This evoked a hollow laugh from him. “A businessclaim, call it,” she pursued. “Ursula does a lot for me: Ilive on her for half the year. This dress I’ve got on now isone she gave me. Her motor is going to take me to a dinnerto-night. I’m going to spend next summer with her atNewport …. If I don’t, I’ve got to go to California with theBockheimers-so good-bye.”Suddenly in tears, she was out of the door and down his steepthree flights before he could stop her–though, in thinking itover, she didn’t even remember if he had tried to. She onlyrecalled having stood a long time on the corner of Fifth Avenue,in the harsh winter radiance, waiting till a break in thetorrent of motors laden with fashionable women should let hercross, and saying to herself: “After all, I might have promisedUrsula … and kept on seeing him ….”Instead of which, when Lansing wrote the next day entreating aword with her, she had sent back a friendly but firm refusal;and had managed soon afterward to get taken to Canada for afortnight’s ski-ing, and then to Florida for six weeks in ahouse-boat ….
As she reached this point in her retrospect the remembrance ofFlorida called up a vision of moonlit waters, magnolia fragranceand balmy airs; merging with the circumambient sweetness, itlaid a drowsy spell upon her lids. Yes, there had been a badmoment: but it was over; and she was here, safe and blissful,and with Nick; and this was his knee her head rested on, andthey had a year ahead of them … a whole year …. “Notcounting the pearls,” she murmured, shutting her eyes ….
Chapter 2
LANSING threw the end of Strefford’s expensive cigar into thelake, and bent over his wife. Poor child! She had fallenasleep …. He leaned back and stared up again at thesilver-flooded sky. How queer–how inexpressibly queer–it wasto think that that light was shed by his honey-moon! A yearago, if anyone had predicted his risking such an adventure, hewould have replied by asking to be locked up at the firstsymptoms ….
There was still no doubt in his mind that the adventure was amad one. It was all very well for Susy to remind him twentytimes a day that they had pulled it off–and so why should heworry? Even in the light of her far-seeing cleverness, and ofhis own present bliss, he knew the future would not bear theexamination of sober thought. And as he sat there in the summermoonlight, with her head on his knee, he tried to recapitulatethe successive steps that had landed them on Streffy’slake-front.
On Lansing’s side, no doubt, it dated back to his leavingHarvard with the large resolve not to miss anything. Therestood the evergreen Tree of Life, the Four Rivers flowing fromits foot; and on every one of the four currents he meant tolaunch his little skiff. On two of them he had not gone veryfar, on the third he had nearly stuck in the mud; but the fourthhad carried him to the very heart of wonder. It was the streamof his lively imagination, of his inexhaustible interest inevery form of beauty and strangeness and folly. On this stream,sitting in the stout little craft of his poverty, hisinsignificance and his independence, he had made some notablevoyages …. And so, when Susy Branch, whom he had sought outthrough a New York season as the prettiest and most amusing girlin sight, had surprised him with the contradictory revelation ofher modern sense of expediency and her old-fashioned standard ofgood faith, he had felt an irresistible desire to put off on onemore cruise into the unknown.
It was of the essence of the adventure that, after her one briefvisit to his lodgings, he should have kept his promise and nottried to see her again. Even if her straightforwardness had notroused his emulation, his understanding of her difficultieswould have moved his pity. He knew on how frail a thread thepopularity of the penniless hangs, and how miserably a girl likeSusy was the sport of other people’s moods and whims. It was apart of his difficulty and of hers that to get what they likedthey so often had to do what they disliked. But the keeping ofhis promise was a greater bore than he had expected. SusyBranch had become a delightful habit in a life where most of thefixed things were dull, and her disappearance had made itsuddenly clear to him that his resources were growing more andmore limited. Much that had once amused him hugely now amusedhim less, or not at all: a good part of his world of wonder hadshrunk to a village peep-show. And the things which had kepttheir stimulating power–distant journeys, the enjoyment of art,the contact with new scenes and strange societies–were becomingless and less attainable. Lansing had never had more than apittance; he had spent rather too much of it in his first plungeinto life, and the best he could look forward to was a middle-age of poorly-paid hack-work, mitigated by brief and frugalholidays. He knew that he was more intelligent than theaverage, but he had long since concluded that his talents werenot marketable. Of the thin volume of sonnets which a friendlypublisher had launched for him, just seventy copies had beensold; and though his essay on “Chinese Influences in Greek Art”had created a passing stir, it had resulted in controversialcorrespondence and dinner invitations rather than in moresubstantial benefits. There seemed, in short, no prospect ofhis ever earning money, and his restricted future made himattach an increasing value to the kind of friendship that SusyBranch had given him. Apart from the pleasure of looking at herand listening to her–of enjoying in her what others lessdiscriminatingly but as liberally appreciated–he had the sense,between himself and her, of a kind of free-masonry of precocioustolerance and irony. They had both, in early youth, taken themeasure of the world they happened to live in: they knew justwhat it was worth to them and for what reasons, and thecommunity of these reasons lent to their intimacy its lastexquisite touch. And now, because of some jealous whim of adissatisfied fool of a woman, as to whom he felt himself no moreto blame than any young man who has paid for good dinners bygood manners, he was to be deprived of the one completecompanionship he had ever known ….
His thoughts travelled on. He recalled the long dull spring inNew York after his break with Susy, the weary grind on his lastarticles, his listless speculations as to the cheapest and leastboring way of disposing of the summer; and then the amazing luckof going, reluctantly and at the last minute, to spend a Sundaywith the poor Nat Fulmers, in the wilds of New Hampshire, and offinding Susy there–Susy, whom he had never even suspected ofknowing anybody in the Fulmers’ set!
She had behaved perfectly–and so had he–but they wereobviously much too glad to see each other. And then it wasunsettling to be with her in such a house as the Fulmers’, awayfrom the large setting of luxury they were both used to, in thecramped cottage where their host had his studio in the verandah,their hostess practiced her violin in the dining-room, and fiveubiquitous children sprawled and shouted and blew trumpets andput tadpoles in the water-jugs, and the mid-day dinner was twohours late-and proportionately bad–because the Italian cookwas posing for Fulmer.

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