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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHis Second Wife - Chapter 2
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His Second Wife - Chapter 2 Post by :sesam Category :Long Stories Author :Ernest Poole Date :May 2012 Read :2312

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His Second Wife - Chapter 2

CHAPTER II

"Well, Ethel my love, we're here at last! . . . It must be after midnight. I wonder when I'll get to sleep? . . . Not that I care especially. What a quaint habit sleeping is."

She had formed the habit long ago of holding these inner conversations. Her father had been a silent man, and often as she faced him at meals Ethel had talked and talked to herself in quite as animated a way as though she were saying it all aloud. Now she sat up suddenly in bed and turned on the light just over her head, and amiably she surveyed her room. It was a pretty, fresh, little room with flowered curtains, a blue rug, a luxurious chaise longue and a small French dressing table. Very cheerful, very empty. "It looks," she decided, "just like the bed feels. I'm the first fellow who has been here.

"No," she corrected herself in a moment, "that's very ignorant of you, my dear. This is a New York apartment, you know. All kinds of other fellows have been in this room ahead of me; and they've lain awake by the hour here, planning how to get married or divorced, or getting ready to write a great book or make a million dollars, or sing in grand opera or murder their child. All the things in the newspapers have been arranged in this spot where I lie! Now I'll turn out the light," she added, "and sink quietly to rest!"

But in the dark she lay listening to the strange low hub-hub from outside. And it made her think of what she had seen an hour before, when at the open window, resting her elbows on the sill, she had begun to make her acquaintance with her backyard--a yawning abyss of brick and cement which went down and down to cement below, and up and up to a strip of blue sky, and to right and to left went stretching away with rows and rows of windows. And now as the murmurs and quick low cries, piano music, a baritone voice and a sudden burst of laughter, came to her ears, she gravely named her neighbours:

"Wives and husbands, divorcees, secret lovers, grafters, burglars, suffragettes, actresses and anarchists and millionaires and poor young things--all spending a quiet evening at home. And that's so sensible in you all. You'll need your strength for tomorrow."

From the city far and near came numberless other voices. From street cars, motors and the L, from boats far off on the river this calm and still October night, from Broadway and from Harlem and the many teeming slums, came the vast murmuring voice of the town. And she thought:

"I'm becoming a part of all this!" She listened a little and added, "It breathes, like something quite alive." She smiled and added approvingly, "Quite right, my dear, just breathe right on. But don't go and breathe as though you were sleeping. Keep me company tonight."

Suddenly she remembered how in their taxi from the train, as they had sped up Park Avenue all agleam with its cold blue lights and she had chattered gaily of anything that came into her head, twice she had caught in her sister's eyes that glimmer of expectancy. "Amy feels sure I will be a success!" Ethel thrilled at the recollection, and thought, "Oh, yes, you're quite a wag, my love; and as soon as you get over being so young you'll probably make a name for yourself. No dinner or suffrage party will ever again be quite complete without your droll dry humour. . . . I suppose I ought to be going to sleep!"

And she yawned excitedly. From somewhere far in the distance there came to her ears the dull bellowing roar of an ocean liner leaving dock at one o'clock to start the long journey over the sea.

"I'm going to Paris, too!" she resolved. Her fancy travelled over the ocean and roamed madly for awhile, with the help of many photographs which she had seen in magazines. But she wearied of that and soon returned.

"Well, what do I think of Amy's home?"

She went over in her memory her eager inspection of the apartment. The rooms had been dark when they arrived; for they had not been expected so soon, and a somewhat dishevelled Irish maid had opened the door and let them in. With a quick annoyed exclamation, Amy had switched on the lights; and room after room as it leaped into view had appeared to Ethel's eyes like parts of a suite in some rich hotel. And although as her sister went about moving chairs a bit this way and that and putting things on the table to rights, it took on a little more the semblance of somebody's home, still that first impression had remained in Ethel's mind.

"People have sat in this room," she had thought, "but they haven't lived here. They haven't sewed or read aloud or talked things out and out and out."

To her sister she had been loud in her praise. What a perfectly lovely room it was, what a wonderful lounge with the table behind it, and what lamps, what a heavenly rug and how well it went with the curtains! When Amy lighted the gas logs, Ethel had drawn a quick breath of dismay. But then she had sharply told herself:

"This isn't an old frame house in Ohio, this is a gay little place in New York! You're going to love it, living here! And you're pretty much of a kid, my dear, to be criticizing like an old maid!" She had gone into Amy's room, and there her mood had quickly changed. For the curtains and the deep soft rug, the broad low dressing table with its drop-light shaded in chintz, the curious gold lacquered chair, the powder boxes, brushes, trays, the faint delicious perfume of the place; and back in the shadow, softly curtained, the low wide luxurious bed--had given to her the feeling that this room at least was personal. Here two people had really lived--a man and a woman. There had come into Ethel's brown eyes a mingling of confused delight and awkward admiration. And her sister, with a quick look and a smile, had lost the slightly ruffled expression her face had worn in the other rooms. She had regained her ascendancy.

It had not been until Ethel was left in her own small room adjoining, that with an exclamation of remembrance and surprise she had stopped undressing, opened her door and listened in the silence. "How perfectly uncanny!" Frowning a moment, puzzled, her eye had gone to the only other room in the apartment, down at the end of the narrow hall. The door had been closed. She had stolen to it and listened, but at first she had not heard a sound. Then she had given a slight start, had knocked softly and asked, "May I come in?" A woman's voice with a hostile note had replied, "Yes, ma'am." She had entered. And a moment later, down on her knees before a grave little girl of two who sat at a tiny table soberly having her supper, Ethel had cried:

"Oh, you adorable baby!"

For a time she had tried to make friends with the child, but the voice of the nurse had soon cut in. And in the motherly Scotch face Ethel had detected again a feeling of hostility. "What for?" she had asked. And the answer had flashed into her mind. "She's angry because Amy hasn't been in to see Susette." And Ethel had frowned. "It's funny. If I had been away three days--"

She had gone back to her own room and began slowly to take off her things. And a few minutes after that, she had heard a gruff kindly voice, a man's heavy tread and a glad little cry from Amy's room.

"Joe has come home," she had told herself. "I wonder how he and I will get on."

And she had met him a little later with no slight uneasiness. But this had been at once dispelled. Rather tall and full of figure, with thick curling hair and close-cut moustache, Joe Lanier at thirty-five still gave to his young sister-in-law the impression of kindly friendliness she had had from him some years before. There was nothing to be afraid of in Joe. But she had noticed the change in his face, the slightly tightened harassed expression. And she had thought:

"You poor man. How hard you have been working."

And yet she could not say he looked tired, for at dinner his talk had been almost boyish in its welcoming good humour. Later he had drawn her aside and had said with a touch of awkwardness:

"No use in talking about it, of course. I just want you to know I'm so glad you're here." She had clutched his hand:

"That's nice of you, Joe." And then she had turned from him, and with a sudden quiver inside she had added quite inaudibly: "Oh, Dad, dearest! I'm so homesick! Just this minute--if I could be back!"

But she had liked Joe that evening.

She remembered the hungry light in his eyes. He and Amy had soon gone to their room. And as Ethel thought about them now, lying here alone in the dark she felt again that vague delight and confused expectancy.

"How much of all this is coming to me? . . Everything, I guess, but sleep!"

A wisp of her hair fell on her nose, and she blew it back with a vicious, "Pfew!"

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