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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHis Second Wife - Chapter 23
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His Second Wife - Chapter 23 Post by :seasoned Category :Long Stories Author :Ernest Poole Date :May 2012 Read :2162

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His Second Wife - Chapter 23

CHAPTER XXIII

In reply to her note, Dwight had telephoned that Sally would be there at five. Mrs. Crothers arrived at a quarter past. She was a small alert looking woman of thirty-five, slender, almost wiry, dark, with black hair worn over her temples. Her small mouth was strong and willful, but she had nice pleasant eyes. She was wearing a pretty tan hat and grey furs that she put back on her shoulders as she smiled and held out her hand.

"I'm so glad to meet you at last, my dear."

"Oh, thank you," said Ethel quickly. And then, because that sounded too grateful, she added, "Won't you sit down?" in rather a stilted little voice. This woman made her feel so young. "Now don't act like a school-girl!" With an appearance of lazy ease she turned and poked the small logs in the fire. "I do so love wood fires. Don't you?" she said, in carefully easy tones, but she did not hear the answer.

Mrs. Crothers was wearing a trim street suit of brown and dark green. "She dresses as I do, so _that's all right," thought Ethel. "She's taking me in. So much the better. I'll do the same." And as they talked, she kept throwing glances at the dark face, rather narrow, the small and rather mischievous mouth, amid the grey eyes which looked as though they could be so very good-humoured and friendly. But with a little pang of dismay Ethel saw that these eyes were preoccupied and only half attending. "She has a hundred things on her mind, and she's asking, 'Now let's try to see if there's really anything here worth while.'" The preliminaries were already over. That part at least had gone smoothly enough. "We're off!" thought Ethel excitedly.

"How will you have your tea?" she asked.

"Clear with lemon."

"One lump or two?"

"Three or four."

"Oh, how funny," Ethel laughed. And then she reddened. "You little goose," she exclaimed to herself, "why did you say, 'how funny'?" She poured the tea with a trembling hand and proffered it with a plate of cakes and small toasted crumpets, dainties she had purchased with care at a smart little shop in the neighbourhood. And meanwhile she was answering the questions, pleasant but searching, though thrown out in a casual voice.

"Yes, my home was in Ohio. Such a dear old town," she said. But the next moment she bit her lips, for she had come so near to adding, "I wish I were back this very minute!" What was her visitor saying? She frowned and leaned forward attentively. Something about a small town in Vermont and the funny local politics there. "Where is she leading by that remark?" Oh, yes, suffrage! That was all right!

"Yes, indeed," declared Ethel eagerly, "I'm for suffrage heart and soul! I marched in the parade last Fall! Wasn't it glorious? Were you there?"

"Yes, I marched--"

"With the gardeners?" Ethel blushed again. "Landscape, I mean!" And her visitor smiled.

"Yes, with the gardeners," she said. "There were only four of us, but we felt like the Four Hundred." Ethel giggled excitedly.

"Wasn't it glorious?" she exclaimed. "You ninny!" she thought. "You said that once!" And she hastened to add, "And isn't it perfectly silly for men to try to keep us from marching?"

"You mean your husband doesn't approve?"

"Approve!" Ethel echoed with a sniff. "I'd like to see him disapprove. I have him in fair control, I think." And she knitted her brows in an eager way, for this was a chance to tell how she had done it.

"How long have you been married!" her visitor was asking.

"Let me see. Four years? No, two," she replied, with a quick smile. "Time does so fly along in this town!"

"It does indeed. It seems hardly any time at all since the days when your husband and I were friends."

"Oh, yes, he has often told me about you!" And Ethel shot a swift anxious look. "I know you don't like him," she wanted to add. "But if you'll only give me a chance I'll show you what I have made of this man--or was making, at least, till all of a sudden right out of the clouds there dropped a fat detective!" She laughed at the thought and then grew rigid. How silly and pointless to laugh like that! Mrs. Crothers was telling now of the old group down about Washington Square, and Ethel was listening hungrily.

"What gorgeous times you must have had," she exclaimed, "in those old days!" The next moment she turned crimson. "I've said it now. 'Old'! I knew I should!" She caught Sally's good-natured smile and felt again like a mere child.

From this moment on she would take care! She avoided personal topics, and growing grave and dignified she turned the conversation from Joe to music, concerts, the opera, "Salome," "Louise." She carefully showed she was up to date, not only in music but in other things, books she had discussed years ago in the club of the little history "prof," and others she had been reading since--Montessori, "Jean Christophe." Hiding her tense anxiety under a manner smooth as oil, she talked politely on and on, and she felt she was doing better now. So much better! No more stupid breaks or girlish gush, but a modern intelligent woman of parts. And a glow of hope rose in her breast. A little more of this, she thought, and she would be ready to break off, and with a sudden appealing smile take her new friend into her confidence, tell of her trouble and ask for advice.

But the smile came from her visitor. Mrs. Crothers had risen and was holding out her hand. And as Ethel stared in dismay at that smile, which displayed such an easy indifference to her and all her view of life, her only woman friend in New York said:

"I'm so sorry I've got to run. I hope you'll come and see me."

From the door in the hallway Ethel came back in a sort of a daze--till her eye lit on the blue china clock on the mantel.

"Seventeen minutes!" she exclaimed. And then after one quick look around, she flung herself on the sofa in tears. "I bored her! How I bored her! How stupid I was, and comic--a child! And then solemn--too solemn--all music and art--and education and--how in the world do I know what I said? Or care! I hate the woman! I hate them all! Seventeen minutes! Isn't that just like New York?"

But from this little storm she soon emerged. Grimly sitting up on the sofa, she reached out a hand icy cold, took the tea-pot and poured out a cup. It was strong now, thank Heaven! And frowning gravely into space, Ethel sat and drank her tea.

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