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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHis Second Wife - Chapter 10
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His Second Wife - Chapter 10 Post by :bizmom Category :Long Stories Author :Ernest Poole Date :May 2012 Read :1519

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His Second Wife - Chapter 10

CHAPTER X

One evening about two months later Ethel was dressing for dinner. As usual they were dining alone, but long ago she had taken the habit of dressing each night as though there were people coming. Amy had taught her to do that; and after the death of her sister she had always made a point of "keeping up" for Joe's sake, although often it had been an effort. But it was no effort now. She had been here for nearly an hour, absorbed in this pleasant, leisurely art that had such a new meaning and delight. To keep being different, revealing her beauty in new ways, to see if he'd notice, to laugh in his arms and feel her power over Joe, had brought back her old zest for pretty clothes, and she had been wearing all the things she had bought when she first came to town. Last year's clothes, for they still smilingly called themselves "poor," although Joe was doing much better now. Last year's clothes, and the styles had changed, but in ways which Joe, poor dear, was too blind to notice.

The room in which she was dressing had somehow assumed a different air. Although in the main it was the same as when Amy had been here, and her picture was still on Joe's chiffonier--still subtly by degrees it had changed. Some of Ethel's clothes were lying about, her work-bag and a book or two; the dressing table at which she was sitting had been covered in fresh chintz, and Ethel's things were on it. Joe's picture and Susette's were here, and a droll little painted bird was perched above the mirror.

As she glanced into the glass, gaily she thanked herself for the charms which she was deftly enhancing--in the glossy black hair, smooth and sleek, in the flushed cheeks and the red of her lips and the gleaming lights in her brown eyes. She nodded approvingly at herself. "You're a great help to me, Mrs. Lanier."

In the glass she could see her husband; she felt his glances from time to time. This evening after dinner they were going out somewhere. To what, he would not tell her. There had been many of these small surprises. . . . Now her pulse beat faster, for he had come behind her. A sudden bending, a quick laugh, a murmur and a silence. Then at last he let her go; but as she drew a deep, full breath and shot a side look up at him, he laughed again, low, tensely, and bent over as before.

Left alone, she smiled again into the glass. It was hard to believe--too wonderful--this amazingly intimate feeling, this living with somebody, body and soul. And what a child she had been before, a child in that solemn young resolve to marry Joe, this good, safe man, and raise a large family carefully. It had been like a small girl thinking of dolls. And like a small girl she had been in her panic on the night of her wedding, she thought. How silly, ignorant, funny! No--she frowned--it had been real, pretty ugly while it lasted. But like a bug-a-boo it had gone. And this good, safe man had become transformed in this amazing intimacy and had become a wild delight: a man to laugh at, tease, provoke, and cling to, silent, in a flame; a man to mother, study out, probe into deep with questions; a man to plan and plan with.

"This love is to be the love of his life! It's to make us work and grow, make us fine and awake and alive to everything worth living for! No laziness for you, my dear, no soft, cosy kitten life! You're to be a woman, a real one! Don't let there be any mistake about that!"

In the other room Joe was at his piano, and the music he was playing had nothing to do with--any one else. She did not say, "with Amy." She frowned a little and cut herself short, as she so often did in her thinking, these days, when it touched upon her sister. She could feel Amy here at so many points, and she did not want to be jealous.

"I wonder where we're going tonight."

What was it Joe was playing? Music she had heard before. She did not like to ask him and so betray her ignorance. "I ought to know this! What is it?" she asked herself impatiently. "Why, of course! It's from 'Boheme'!" She smiled as she felt he was playing to her. With the thrill now so familiar, she felt her power over him. She remembered little tussles in which she had been victorious. They had all been over his business. Joe, the poor darling, had formed the idea (she did not say from his first wife) that if a man is in love with a woman he must express it by loading her down with things which cost a lot of money, that he must work for her, slave for her! But Ethel was putting an end to that. They had taken back Susette's old nurse, for it was unfair to one's husband to be a child's slave if there was no need. But she had refused to get other servants. Emily Giles was still in charge, and though Emily of her own accord had gone to a shop on Fifth Avenue and purchased caps and aprons, "the nattiest things this side of France," she wore them with a genial air and spoke of them as "my uniform." Ethel took care of her own room and helped Emily with the cleaning. She had kept expenses firmly down, and she had refused to be loaded with gifts. When Joe had urged that his affairs were going so much better now, she had said in her new decisive voice:

"I'm so glad to hear it, my love, for it simply means you've no earthly excuse for staying late at your office. I don't mean I want you to loaf, you know," she had gone on more earnestly. "I want you to work and do, oh, so much, all the things you dreamed of doing--over there in Paris. But I'm not going to have you make your business a mere rush for a lot of money we don't need!" She had gone to him suddenly. "And just now I want you so."

By these talks she had already worked a change. No more hasty breakfasts to let him be off by eight o'clock. They had breakfasted later and later each day; she had made an affair of breakfast. And as at last he kissed her and tore himself away from his home, she had smiled to herself delightedly at the guilty look in his eyes. This kind of thing would cause a decided coolness, no doubt, between Joe and his partner. So much the better, she had thought, for she detested that man Nourse, and in his case she could quite openly admit, "I'm jealous of you and your business devotion! Your time is coming soon, friend Bill!" The office was half way uptown, and several times in the last few weeks she had gone there for Joe at five o'clock, and once at four-thirty, as though by appointment. She chuckled now as she recalled the black look of his partner that day. Yes, four-thirty had been a blow!

"Where are we going this evening?"

It was delightful to be so free, she told herself repeatedly. Friends? They didn't need any friends. For the present they had each other--enough! "Yes, and for some time to come!" But there always came to her a little qualm of uneasiness when her thinking reached this point. How were friends to be found in this city?

"Oh, later--later--later!"

And rising impatiently with a shrug, she went into the nursery. The nurse had been so glad to get back that most of her old hostility toward Ethel had vanished. Still there were signs now and then of a sneer which said, "You'll soon be paying no more attention to this poor bairn than her mother did before you." And it was as well to show the woman how blind and ignorant she was--to make her see the difference.


"Boheme" was the surprise that night. It was Ethel's first night at the opera. And looking up at the boxes, at the women she had read about, the gorgeous gowns and the jewels they wore, and watching them laugh and chatter; or looking far above them to the dim tiers of galleries reaching up into the dark; or again with eyes glued on the stage feasting upon Paris, art, "Bohemia," youth and romance; squeezing her companion's hand and in flashes recollecting dazzling little incidents of the fortnight just gone by--her mind went roving into the future, finding friends and wide rich lives shimmering and sparkling like the sunlight on the sea. As that Italian music rose, all at once she wanted to give herself, "To give and give and give him all!" The tears welled up in her happy eyes.

"However! To be very gay!"

Later that evening in a cafe she leaned across the table and asked excited questions about "Boheme" and Paris. What was Paris really like? The Latin Quarter, the Beaux Arts? What did he do there, how did he live? In what queer and funny old rooms? Did he live alone or with somebody else? Something was clutching now at her breast. (Farrar had sung "Mimi" that night). "Don't be silly!" she told herself. "Oh, Joe!" she said, and she looked down at the fork in her hand which she was fingering nervously. Then she looked quickly up and smiled. "What man did you room with? Any one?" He was smiling across the table still. "You inquisitive woman," said his eyes.

"No, I lived alone," he replied. "And I sat at a drafting board--with a sweater on--it used to be cold."

"Oh, you poor dear!"

"And I worked," he continued, "like a bull pup. And along toward morning I tied a wet towel around my head--"

"Oh, Joe!" Ethel's foot pressed his, and they laughed at each other. "But there must have been," she cried, "so much besides! Joe Lanier, you are lying! There were cafes--and student balls and fancy dress--and singing--and queer streets at night!"

"That's so," he answered solemnly, "the city of Paris did have streets. You walked on them--from place to place."

"Joe Lanier--"

"First you put the right foot forward, then the left--you moved along."

"Joe! For goodness sakes!"

"Look here. Do you know what I want to do with you?"

"No." And Ethel shook her head. She did know, precisely, and it was her motive for all this talk.

"Take you there--and get rooms in the Quarter--not too far from the Luxembourg--"

"Oh, Joe, you perfect darling!"

He went on describing all they would do, in the cafes and on the streets, in old churches and at plays and at the Opera Comique, where she must surely see "Louise." They began excitedly planning ways and means, expenses, his business and when he could get away. He sobered at that, and she cried to herself, "Now he's thinking of his friend Bill! Oh, what a detestable, tiresome worm!"


Then a man who was passing their table stopped in surprise as he recognized Joe, bowed, smiled and said something and went on, and joined a hilarious group down the room. And Ethel saw him speak to them and she felt their glances turned her way. Joe had grown suddenly awkward, his face wore a forced, unnatural smile, and he was talking rapidly--but she heard nothing that he said. The whole atmosphere had changed in an instant.


For those people over there were some of Amy's friends, no doubt, amused at Joe and his young second wife, amused that Joe had not had the nerve to ask them to his wedding. Ethel could feel herself burning inside. A mistake not to have asked them? No! What had they to do with it? What right had they, what hold on Joe? They had been a mighty poor lot of friends, with empty minds and money hearts, just clothes and food, late hours and wine! They had been decidedly bad for him, had drawn him off from his real work and plunged him into the rush to be rich! A voice within her, from underneath, was asking, "Or was it Amy?" But she paid no heed to that. It asked, "Are you sure they are all so bad? Have you taken the trouble to find out?" But angrily she answered that she wanted friends of her own, that she couldn't be just a second wife. "I've got to be all different, new! I've got to be--and I will, I will!" She swallowed fiercely. Besides, it was what Joe needed, exactly! He showed already what it had meant to be rid of such friends! Had he ever talked of Paris before, or his dreams and ambitions or anything real? But the voice retorted sharp and clear:

"Why hide it then? Why let this foolish dangerous habit of never mentioning Amy's name keep growing up between you and your husband? It may do a lot of harm, you know. What are you afraid of?"

Nothing whatever, she replied. She decided to speak of it then and there. She would be perfectly natural, and ask him, "Who are your friends over there? Some people Amy used to know?" And she grew rigid all at once. Her throat contracted and felt dry. Angrily she bit her lip . . . But the habit of silence was too strong. . . . Soon, with a carefully pleasant smile, she was attending to his talk and by her questions drawing out more and more of his life abroad.

"His work," she thought, "that's the strongest thing to hold his mind away from those people." And soon she had him talking of the Beaux Arts, architecture, plans and "periods" and "styles," things she was quite vague about, but she did not have to listen now. That was always so safe, she told herself. She was even a little jealous of this puzzling, engrossing work, which could so hold her husband's mind. She frowned. That was as it should be; a man's work was his own concern. But his living, his home, what he did at night?

"This can't go on," she decided. "There will have to be friends for both of us. I need them, too. Oh, how I need one woman friend! And where shall I find her? Somewhere in this city there must be just the people I want--if only I could reach them!"

And presently she was saying aloud in a lazy careless tone of voice:

"Sometimes I get wondering, Joe, if there isn't a Paris in New York."

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