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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLife And Gabriella: The Story Of A Woman's Courage - Book 2. The Age Of Knowledge - Chapter 1. Disenchantment
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Life And Gabriella: The Story Of A Woman's Courage - Book 2. The Age Of Knowledge - Chapter 1. Disenchantment Post by :mondd Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :3276

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Life And Gabriella: The Story Of A Woman's Courage - Book 2. The Age Of Knowledge - Chapter 1. Disenchantment

BOOK II. THE AGE OF KNOWLEDGE
CHAPTER I. DISENCHANTMENT

In July Gabriella joined her mother in the mountains of Virginia, and when she returned in the autumn, she found that the character of her home had changed perceptibly during her absence. Brightness had followed gloom; the fog of suspense had dissolved, and the hazy sunshine of an ambiguous optimism flooded the house. What the change implied she could not immediately discover; but before the first day was over she surmised that the financial prospects of her father-in-law had improved since the spring. If she had had any doubt of his rising fortunes, the sight of the diminished pile of bills on Mrs. Fowler's desk would have quickly dispelled it.

And even George had apparently altered for the better. His improved finances had sweetened his temper and cast the shining gloss of prosperity over his appearance; and, in a measure at least, time had revived in him the ardent, if fluctuating, emotions of the lover. For three months after her return, he evinced a fervent sentiment for Gabriella, which she, who was staunchly paying the price of her folly, received with an inner shrinking but an outward complaisance. Her feeling for George was quite dead--so dead that it was impossible for any artificial stimulus to revive it--but she had learned that marriage is founded upon a more substantial basis than the romantic emotions of either a wife or a husband. Though she had ceased to love George, she could still be amiable to him; and it occurred to her at times that if one had to choose between the two not necessarily inseparable qualities of love and amiability, George was not losing greatly by the exchange. When, however, at the end of three months, George's capricious symptoms disappeared as suddenly as they had come, and his attentions lapsed into casual expressions of a nonchalant kindness, she drew a breath of relief, and devoted her happiest days to the nursery. There at least she had found a stable refuge amid the turmoil of selfish human desires.

In the house, which like George, began presently to show the gloss of prosperity, the winter brought a continuous flashing stream of gaiety, in which Mrs. Fowler darted joyously about like some bright hungry minnow beneath the iridescent ripples of a brook. There were new rugs, new curtains, new gowns, new bonnets; and Gabriella was led compliantly from dressmaker to milliner, until she lost in the process her look of shabbiness and developed into the fashionable curving figure of the period. She had always liked clothes; her taste was naturally good; and as she followed eagerly from shop to shop, she recalled the three months she had spent in Brandywine's millinery department, and the rudiments of a trade she had learned there. "I'd rather design my next gown myself," she said one day to Mrs. Fowler, while they were looking at French models in the establishment of Madame Dinard, who had been born an O'Grady. "I know I can do better than these, and besides I shan't meet duplicates of myself every time I go out." That night she dreamed of hats and gowns, and the next morning she drew pictures of them in coloured chalk. "It's the only talent I ever had," she remarked gaily to her mother-in-law, "and it is running to waste."

Madame, who regarded the sketches with uncompromising disdain, showed great interest in the practical application of Gabriella's ideas to the dressing of Mrs. Fowler.

"Yes, you have undoubtedly ideas," she said, discarding in her enthusiasm the accent she had spent twenty years in acquiring, "and there is nothing so rare in any department--in any walk of life--as ideas. You have style, too," she pursued admiringly, turning her eyes on Gabriella's figure in one of her Parisian models. "It is very rare--such chic. You wear your clothes with a grace."

"That, also, is a marketable asset in a dressmaker," laughed Gabriella. "Do you know I ought to have been a dressmaker, Madame. Only I hate the very sight of a needle."

"But I never sew! I haven't had a needle in my hand for twenty years--no, not for thirty," protested Madame.

"Then I mustn't give up hope. If I ever have to earn my living, I'll come to you, Madame."

Then Madame bowed and smiled and shrugged as if at a gracious jest, and Mrs. Fowler observed in her crisp, matter-of-fact manner: "Yes, my daughter has a genuine instinct for dress, and, as you say, that is very rare. She carries her clothes well, doesn't she? It's such a blessing to be tall--though my husband insists that the women who have ruled the world have always been small ones. But I do love a fine figure, and she looks so distinguished in that cherry-coloured cloth, doesn't she?"

To all of which Madame agreed, as she bowed them out, with her ingratiating professional manner.

"It's so lovely to have clothes," said Gabriella, sinking back in the victoria, "money is one of the best gifts of the gods, isn't it?"

"It's hard to do without it," replied Mrs. Fowler, brisk and perfectly businesslike even in her generalizations. "I expect the worst suffering in the world comes from poverty."

Then, after a thoughtful pause, she added with the practical air of one who scorns to be abstract: "But do you know I sometimes think Archibald and I'd both be happier if we had never made any money at all--I mean, of course, except just enough to live simply somewhere in the South. When once you begin, you can't stop, and I wish sometimes we had never begun." Above the narrow black velvet strings of her bonnet, her round florid face, from which the fine tracery of lines had vanished, assumed the intent and preoccupied expression which Gabriella associated with the pile of unpaid bills on the little French desk. "I believe Archibald feels that way, too," she concluded after a minute, while her firm and unemotional lips closed together over the words.

"But you enjoy it so much when you have it."

"That's just the trouble. You have to enjoy it as quickly as you can because you never know when you are going to lose every bit of it without warning. It's been that way ever since I married--rich one year, poor the next, or poor for two years and then rich for three. Life has been a seesaw with prosperity at one end of the plank and poverty at the other. Of course I know," she pursued, with characteristic lucidity, "that you think me dreadfully extravagant, but we'd just as well spend it as lose it, and it's sure to be one thing or the other."

"But couldn't you save something? Couldn't you put by something for the future?" Saving for the future was one of the habits of Gabriella's frugal past which still clung to her.

"That would go, too. If we ever come to ruin--and heaven knows we've been on the brink of it before this--Archibald would not keep back a penny. That's his way, and that's one of the reasons I spend all we have--up to the very margin of his income."

The logic of this was so confusing that Gabriella was obliged to stop and puzzle it out. At the end she could only admit that Mrs. Fowler's reasoning processes, which were by nature singularly lucid and exact, showed at times a remarkable subtlety--as if some extraneous hybrid faculty had been grafted on the simple parent stock of her mind.

"I can't help feeling, though," resumed the practical little lady before Gabriella had reached the end of her analysis, "that I'd be a great deal happier at this minute if we'd been poor all our lives."

"It wouldn't have suited George," observed George's wife with an inflection of irony.

"He mightn't have liked it, but I believe it would have been a great deal better for him," replied Mrs. Fowler, while she bowed gravely to a woman in a passing victoria. "There are many things George can't be blamed for, and the way he was brought up is one of them. Of course, he's no good whatever as a business man--his father hardly ever sees him in the office--but it's useless to scold him about it, for it only exasperates him. But he might have been a sensible, steady boy, if he had been brought up in some small place in the South where there was nothing to tempt him."

That there was any place in the South small enough not to afford temptation to George seemed improbable to Gabriella; but she felt that Mrs. Fowler's earnest belief, supported as it was by the unshakable prop of maternal feeling, hardly justified the effort she must make to dispel it; and she had still no answer ready when the carriage turned into Fifty-seventh Street, and stopped beside the pavement where little Frances--they had already begun to call her Fanny--sat in a perambulator. Flushed and smiling, with her red mouth gurgling delightedly, and a white wool lamb clasped in her arms, the adorable child was certainly worth any seesaw of destiny, any disillusioning experience of marriage.

Before the beginning of the next winter Gabriella's second child was born--a brown, sturdy boy, who came into the world with a frowning forehead and crying lustily from rage (so the nurse said) not from fright. He was named Archibald after his grandfather, who developed immediately a passionate fondness for him. His eyes were brown like the eyes of the Carrs, though by the time he was two years old, he was discovered to be painfully near-sighted, a weakness which Mrs. Carr, when she heard of it, insisted he must have inherited from his father's side of the family. He was not nearly so beautiful a baby as little Fanny had been; but he was from the very beginning a child of much character, strong, mutinous, utterly uncompromising in his attitude toward life. When he was first put into shoes he fought with desperation, and surrendered at last, neither to persuasion nor to punishment, but to an exhaustion so profound that he slept for hours with his small protesting feet doubled under him and sobs of fury still bursting from his swollen lips. The next day the struggle began again, and Mrs. Fowler remarked sympathetically:

"You'll never be able to break his will, Gabriella. He is unmanageable."

"I don't want to break his will, mamma," replied Gabriella, for she belonged to a less Scriptural generation, "but he must be disciplined, if it kills me." Pale, gentle, resolute, she waited for Archibald to surrender. In the end she carried her point and won the adoring obedience of Archibald. There was a magnanimous strain in him even at that age, Gabriella used to say, and though he fought to the bitter end, he bore no malice after he was once soundly defeated.

Long afterwards, when Gabriella looked back on the next few years of her life, she could remember nothing of them except the tremendous difference that the children had made. All the rest was blotted out, a drab blur of what Mrs. Fowler described with dignity as "social duties," moving always against the variable atmosphere of the house, which was gay or sombre, light or gloomy, according to the fluctuating financial conditions in Wall Street. There were extravagant winters and frugal winters; winters of large entertainments and winters of "women's luncheons"; but always the summers shimmered green and peaceful against the blue background of the Virginia mountains. The summers she loved even in memory; but of the winters she could recall but one glowing vision, and that was of Patty. Though she had lost George, she had gained Patty, and it was impossible to deny that Patty might be compensation for almost any lack.

For the rest she made few friends, partly from reserve, partly from the shyness she always felt in the presence of strangers. It was difficult to establish fundamental relations at dinners or even at women's luncheons; social reforms were scarcely beginning to be fashionable; and apart from the reading which she did in order, as she said, "to keep her mind open," her life narrowed down gradually to a single vivid centre of activity. She lived in her children and in the few books she obtained from the library--(since the purchase of books, even in extravagant years, represented gross prodigality to Mrs. Fowler)--in Patty's friendship, and in the weekly gossiping letters she received from her mother.

Mrs. Carr had long ago given up her plan to live with Gabriella and George; and a failure of circumstances, which fitted so perfectly into the general scheme of her philosophy, had done much to fortify the natural melancholy of her soul. Since even so gentle a pessimist was not devoid of a saving trace of spiritual arrogance, she found consoling balm in the thought that she had refrained from reminding Gabriella how very badly the Carrs had all married. There was, for example, poor Gabriel's brother Tom, whose wife had "gone deranged" six months after her wedding, and poor Gabriel's sister Johanna, who had died (it was common gossip) of a broken heart; and besides these instances, nobody could possibly maintain that Jane had not made a disastrous choice when she had persisted, against the urgent advice of her mother, in marrying Charley. Yes, the Carrs had all married badly, reflected Mrs. Carr, with the grief of a mother and the pride of a philosopher whose favourite theory has been substantially verified--every one of them, with, of course, the solitary exception of poor Gabriel himself.

Her weekly letters, pious, gossipy, flowing, reached Gabriella regularly every Monday morning, and were read at breakfast while Mr. Fowler studied the financial columns of the newspaper, and his wife opened her invitations in the intervals between pouring out cups of coffee and inquiring solicitously if any one wanted cream and sugar.

"What's the news?" George would sometimes ask carelessly; and Gabriella would glance down the pages covered with the formless characters of Mrs. Carr's fine Italian handwriting (the ladylike hand of the 'sixties), and read out carefully selected bits of provincial gossip, to which a cosmopolitan dash was usually contributed by the adventures, matrimonial or merely amorous, of Florrie Caperton. Hard, dashing, brilliant on the surface at least, a frank hedonist by inclination, if not by philosophy, Florrie had triumphantly smashed her way through the conventions and the traditions of centuries.

"It's really dreadfully sad about Florrie," wrote Mrs. Carr. "I am so sorry for poor Bessie, who must feel it more than she lets any one see. While Algernon was alive we always hoped he would keep Florrie straight (you remember how everybody used to talk about her when she was a girl), but now he has been, dead only a year and a half, and she has already married again and gotten a divorce from her second husband. You know she ran away with a man named Tom Westcott--nobody ever heard of him, but she met him at the White Sulphur Springs, where he had something to do with the horses, I believe--and the marriage turned out very badly, though for my part I don't believe he was the least bit to blame. Florrie is so reckless that she would make any man unhappy, and two weeks after the wedding she was separated from him and was back here with Bessie, looking as well and pretty as I ever saw her. You know black was so becoming to her that she didn't take it off even when she eloped, and now after her divorce she always wears it, just as if she were still in mourning for poor Algernon. Nobody would believe, unless they had seen her in it, how very loud black can be. I used to think widows ought to wear it because it kept them from being noticed, but on Florrie it is the most conspicuous thing you ever imagined--as Cousin Jimmy says it simply makes her blaze, and you know how striking she always was anyway. I am sure I should think it would be embarrassing for her to go in the street in New York where nobody knows that she is really a lady--or at least that she was born a lady on her father's side--and this reminds me--(I declare I ramble on so I can never remember what I started to say)--but this reminds me that she has just been in to tell Jane that she is going to New York to take an apartment somewhere downtown; she told me the street and the number, but I have forgotten both of them. Jane says she looks more beautiful than ever after her last tragic experience (though she doesn't seem to think it tragic at all), but I was brought up to believe that a divorced woman, even if she is in the right, ought to live in a retired way and show that she feels her position. Now, I saw Florrie for a minute as she was going out and she ran on like a girl of sixteen--you would think from her talk that she is not a bit sensitive about the unfortunate situation she is in. She had on a huge bunch of violets, and Cousin Pussy tells me another man is paying her the most devoted attention. Please don't mention this to a soul--I hate so to spread gossip--but I felt that you ought to be prepared, for Florrie will certainly come to see you, and you must be kind and polite to her, though I do not think you ought ever to be intimate again. It is not as if she were merely unfortunate--many divorced women are that, and we sympathize with them because they show that they realize their position--but I cannot believe that Florrie is unfortunate if she allows another man to pay her such marked attention, and even accepts handsome presents from him. So do be careful, my child, and if you find yourself in an embarrassing situation, consult Mrs. Fowler and be guided by her advice."

"Florrie Spencer is coming to New York," said Gabriella on the morning she received Mrs. Carr's letter. "You know she has just been divorced from her second husband--somebody she met at the White Sulphur Springs."

George looked up interested, from his breakfast.

"Florrie coming, is she?" he remarked. "Well, she's great fun. I wonder if she has her eye on anybody now?"

"Not on you, I hope," observed his father, who joked mildly on the mornings when the news was good; "but she's a beautiful woman, and she'll doubtless be able to get whatever she has set either her heart or her eye on."

"She'll marry again within six months," prophesied Mrs. Fowler, with an anxious glance in the direction of her husband's coffee cup. "Poor Algy, I always thought he was a hundred times too good for her," she added, while she abstractedly buttered her toast. It was one of their extravagant years, and the butter was delicious.

"He adored her," said Gabriella. "I shall never forget the evening they spent here. He couldn't keep his eyes away from her. If she had been the most admirable character on earth he couldn't have loved her better."

"As if a man ever loved a woman because of her character!" remarked Mrs. Fowler, from the security of her experience.

Several months later Florrie arrived, gay, brilliant, and beautiful, with her waxlike complexion as unlined by care as if it had been on the face of a doll. Though she had lightened her mourning since Mrs. Carr had described her to Gabriella, she still wore black, and her flaring skirt, her inflexible collar, and her lace sleeves, narrow at the shoulder and full at the wrists, resembled a fashion plate. Perched at a daring angle above her wheaten-red pompadour, with its exaggerated Marcel wave, she wore a curiously distorted hat of black velvet, lavishly overtrimmed with ostrich feathers; and before this miracle of style, Gabriella became at once oppressively aware of her own lack of the quality which Florrie would have described as "dash." Already Florrie's figure was becoming slightly too protuberant for the style of the new century, and after kissing Gabriella effusively, she stood for a minute struggling for breath, in the attitude of her mother, with her hands pressed to the palpitating sides of her waist.

"I told mother I was certainly coming to see you right straight," began Florrie, while, with her recovered breath, her figure curved as suddenly as if it were moved by a spring into the fashionable bend of the period. "I've been perfectly crazy to come, but between dressmakers and theatres and I don't know what else, I simply haven't had a minute in which I could sit down and breathe. Mother says I ought to be downright ashamed of myself for being so frivolous when I've just got out of such a scrape--did you ever hear before of anybody getting married for two weeks, Gabriella? But I know you never did--you needn't trouble to tell me so. Well, mother says I oughtn't to look so pleased, and I tell her there might be some sense in that if I'd stayed in the scrape, but if I haven't a right to look pleased at getting out, I'd like to know who has. It was all too funny for words, now, wasn't it? Of course, I shouldn't dream of talking to everybody like this--even if I am a big talker, I reckon I know when to hold my tongue and when not to--but I've always told you everything, Gabriella, and I don't mind the least bit in the world telling you about this. It always relieves my mind to talk to somebody I can trust, and I know I can trust you. Don't you remember the way I used to run in on rainy afternoons when you lived way over in Hill Street, and tell you all about Fred Dudley and Barbour Willis? And then I used to come and talk about poor Algy by the hour. Wasn't it too distressing about poor Algy? I don't believe I'll ever get over it if I live to be a hundred, and even if I do run on like this, it doesn't mean that my heart isn't broken--simply broken--because it is. Mother used to say, after father died, that you couldn't measure a widow's grief by the length of her veil; and that's just exactly the way I feel about Algy. I know you'll understand, Gabriella, because you always understand everything--"

"He was so deeply in love with you," observed Gabriella sympathetically, while Florrie, diving amid the foam of her laces, brought out a tiny handkerchief, and delicately pecked at the corner of her eye, not near enough to redden the lid and not far enough away to disturb the rice powder on the side of her nose.

"He was crazy about me to the very last, you never saw anything like it. Of course we weren't a bit alike, I don't mind telling you so, Gabriella, because I know you'll never repeat it. We weren't really congenial, for Algy was just wrapped up in his law books, and there were whole days together when he wouldn't open his mouth, but that didn't seem to make any difference because, as he used to say, one of us had to listen sometimes. But, you know, mother says a pair of opposites makes the happiest marriage, and after being married to Algy, I feel how true that is. I got into the habit of talking so much when I used to run on about nothing to cheer him up--he was always so grave and glum even as a boy, you remember--and during his last illness--you know he died of Bright's disease, poor darling, and it came on just like that!--he used to make me talk to him for hours and hours just to keep him from thinking. Well, well, that's all over now, and I don't care what anybody says, my heart's buried with Algy. I don't believe you were ever in love but once either, were you, Gabriella?" she inquired cheerfully.

"Well, what about Mr. Westcott? Is that his name?" asked Gabriella, without malice. As a study Florrie had always interested her, for she regarded her less as an individual than as an awful example of the utter futility of moral maxims. Florrie was without intelligence, without feeling, without imagination, virtue, breeding, or good taste, yet possessing none of these qualities, she had by sheer beauty and "dash" achieved all the ends for which these qualities usually strive. Good humour she had as long as one did not get in her way; but, beyond this single redeeming grace, she was as empty of substance as a tinted shell filled with sea foam. If power and efficiency are the two supreme attributes of success, then by all the laws and principles of logic, Florrie ought to have been a failure. But she was not a failure. She was a fool whose incomparable foolishness had conferred not only prosperity, but happiness upon her. She shone, she scintillated, she diffused the glow of success. Though she was undeserving of admiration, she had been surfeited on it from her childhood; though she was devoid of the moral excellence which should command love, by a flashing glance or a waving curl, she could bring the most exalted love down from the heavens. There was no question that Algernon had really loved her to distraction, and Algernon was a man of sense, of breeding, of distinction. As for Florrie, she had, of course, as little capacity for loving as she had for thinking.

"Tom Westcott! I declare, Gabriella, I am almost ashamed to tell you about him. You've never been to a Virginia summer resort, so you couldn't understand that there is something about a Virginia summer resort that just seems to make any man better than none at all. You get so bored, you know, that you'd flirt with a lamp-post if there wasn't anything human around; and when you haven't laid eyes on a real sure enough man for several months, it's surprising how easy it is to take up with the imitation ones. Of course, I don't mean that Tom wasn't all right as far as family and all that goes; but he was simply no earthly account--he was just mean all through, and as soon as I found it out, I packed right straight up and left him. After Algy I couldn't have stood one of that sort, and there was no sense in my trying to. Life is too short, I always say, for experiments. There's no use sticking to a bad job when you can get away from it. That's the trouble with so many women, you know; they try and try to stand the wrong man when they know all the time that it isn't a particle of use, and that they are just bringing wrinkles into their faces; and then by the time they give up, they're all worn out and it's too late to look about for another chance. Now, I've seen too much of that kind of thing, and so I thought two weeks weren't long enough to bring wrinkles in my face, but they were plenty long for me to find out whether or not I could stand any man on earth. So here I am in little old New York instead of being stuck away in some God-forsaken Virginia town, where there isn't even a theatre, darning stockings for a family of children. But there's no use talking about that--" And Florrie, who had been born a lady on her father's side, adjusted her pompadour under the high bandeau of her hat, and rose with a dashing air from the sofa.

"I'd love to see the babies, darling," she said; "I'm just crazy about babies."

"They are out in the Park. I'm so sorry. Perhaps they are coming in now, I hear the door-bell."

But it was George instead of the children; and he entered presently with a moody look, which vanished quickly before the brilliant vision of Florrie.

"I thought I heard you," he observed with the casual intimacy of an old playmate, "so I came in. Have you got fixed yet? What about the apartment? You'd better let me help you hunt for it?"

"Oh, I'm not sure about the apartment. I may take a house--a teeny weeny one, you know," said Florrie, as she bent softly toward him, scented and blooming. If one didn't know there wasn't really a bit of harm in her, one would be puzzled just what to think of her, Gabriella reflected. Amid the perfect order of Gabriella's inner life, the controlled emotion, the serene efficiency, the balanced power, Florrie's noisy beauty produced a disturbing effect. She liked her because she had known her from childhood, and it was impossible to think any harm of a girl one had played with at school; but she could not deny that Florrie was vulgar. As a matter of fact, Florrie's mother had been vulgar before her, and the thin strain of refinement inherited from her father's stock had obviously been overborne by the torrential vulgarity of the maternal blood.

"A house? Well, that's even better," replied George. "I've no use for apartments, have I, Gabriella?"

His effrontery was incredible! That he should joke about his broken promise before Florrie amazed Gabriella even after her disillusioning experience with him.

"Then I'll get you to help me. Will you lend him to me, darling?" trilled Florrie piercingly from the door, where she stood in a striking pose which revealed her "fine figure" to the best advantage. The request was directed to Gabriella, but her blue eyes mocked a challenge to George while she spoke.

"Oh, I'll give him," answered Gabriella pleasantly. There was no harm in it, she told herself innocently again; but it was a pity that Florrie, with her remarkable beauty, should be quite so ill bred.

Five minutes later when George came back from putting Florrie into her hansom, he remarked carelessly:

"She's got a figure all right."

"Yes, she looks beautiful in black. No wonder she won't leave it off."

"By Jove, to think it's little Florrie! Why, I don't believe there's a finer figure in New York. When she passed by the club yesterday the men were breaking their necks to look out of the window." Then, as if struck by a sudden suspicion, he added quickly: "Where did she get her money from? I thought Algy died rather hard up."

"I never heard much about it. Mrs. Spencer must give her something."

"I don't believe the old lady has a penny over three thousand a year, and that won't do in New York. This Westcott didn't have anything, did he?"

"It never occurred to me to ask," replied Gabriella indifferently. What did it matter to George where Florrie got her money? But, then, George was always like that, and though he never made a penny himself, he was possessed of an insatiable curiosity about the amount and the sources of other people's incomes.

"Well, it looks queer," he observed with intense interest after a prolonged pause. "That short pearl necklace she had on couldn't have cost a cent under ten thousand dollars."

"It was lovely. I noticed how well the pearls matched," replied his wife. She was not in the least excited about the methods by which Florrie had obtained the necklace--all that was a part of the miraculous way she got everything she wanted in life--but she liked the pearls and she had envied Florrie while she looked at them.

A deep furrow had appeared between George's eyebrows, and his mouth sagged suddenly at the corners, giving his face the ugly look Gabriella distrusted and dreaded. While she watched him she recalled vaguely that she had once thought the latent brutality in his face an expression of power. How young she had been when she married him! How inconceivably ignorant! Yet at twenty years she had imagined herself wise enough to judge a man. She had deluded herself with the sanctified fallacy that mere instinct would guide her aright--that her marriage would be protected from disaster by the infallible impulse which she had mistaken for love.

"I wonder," said George with a suddenness that startled her out of her musing--"I wonder if it can be Winston Camp!"

And Gabriella, who had forgotten Florrie, looked up to remark absentmindedly: "Winston Camp? You mean the man who dined here last winter and couldn't eat anything but nuts?"

In the months that followed George did not mention Florrie again, and if he pursued his investigations into the obscure sources of her livelihood, his researches did not lead him back in the direction of Gabriella. But, from the day of Florrie's visit, it seemed to Gabriella, when she thought of it afterwards, his casual indifference began to develop into brutal neglect. Not that she regretted his affection, or even his politeness, not that she cared in the least what his manner was--this she made quite plain to herself--but her passion to see life clearly, to test experience, to weigh events, brought her almost breathlessly round again to the question, "What does it mean? Is there something hidden? Am I still the poor abject fool that Jane was or am I beginning really to be myself?"

"You aren't looking well, Gabriella," said Mrs. Fowler at breakfast one morning when George, as she confided afterwards to Patty, had behaved unspeakably to his wife before his father came down. "I want you to go about with me more, as you used to do before the children took up all your time."

Gabriella had just crossed George's will about something--a mere trifle, something about calling on Florrie--and he had turned to her with a look of hatred in his eyes, a kind of nervous, excitable hatred which she had never seen until then. "Why does he look at me like that?" she had thought quite coldly; "and why should he have begun all of a sudden to hate me? Why should my words, my voice, my gestures even, exasperate him so profoundly? Of course he has stopped loving me, but why should that make him hate me? I stopped loving him, too, long ago, yet there is only indifference, not hate, in my heart."

"You must go about with me more, dear," repeated Mrs. Fowler, in obedience to a vague but amiable instinct, which prompted her to shield George, to deceive Gabriella, to deny the truth of facts, to do anything on earth except acknowledge the actual situation in which she found herself. "Don't you think she ought to go about more, George?"

"I don't care what she does," returned George brutally, while his blue eyes squinted in the old charming way from which all charm had departed. "I don't care--I don't care--" He checked himself, snapping his words in two with a virulent outburst of temper, and then, rising hurriedly, as his father entered the room, he left the table with his breakfast uneaten.

"He's so nervous. I can't imagine what's the matter. I hope Burrows wasn't in the pantry. Did you say anything to hurt his feelings before you came down, Gabriella?" asked Mrs. Fowler, distractedly, with one eye on her daughter-in-law and the other on the pantry door, through which the discreet Burrows had disappeared at the opportune instant.

"No, I haven't said anything that I can remember," answered Gabriella with calmness. It occurred to her that George's behaviour was hardly that of a man whose "feelings" had been wounded, but she made no audible record of her reflection; "and of course I'll go out with you if you want me to," she added, for she felt sincerely sorry for her mother-in-law, even though she had ruined George in his infancy. "I am going to the library to return a book, and we might pay some calls afterwards."

"That's just what I was thinking," responded Mrs. Fowler, embarrassed, bewildered. Was it possible, she asked herself, that Gabriella had not noticed George's outrageous behaviour?

But Gabriella did not "go about" with her mother-in-law that season, for a higher will than Mrs. Fowler's frustrated that lady's benevolent intentions. To a casual glance it would have seemed the merest accident which disturbed these felicitous plans, but such accidents, when Gabriella looked back on them afterwards, appeared to her to be woven into the very web and pattern of life. It was plainly incredible that her whole existence should be changed merely because Archibald was naughty, as incredible as the idea that Destiny should have used so small a medium for the accomplishment of its tragic designs.

But Archibald had hardly reached the Park before he was brought home, resisting with all his strength, because he had given his shoes and stockings away; and the next ten minutes, while Gabriella gently reasoned with him on the pavement, were pregnant with consequences.

"He's fierce, that's what he is," declared the nurse, who was Irish and militant. "He kicked me so I'm black and blue, ma'am, all over the shins, and every bit because I wouldn't let him pull off his shoes and socks and give 'em to a barefooted boy in the Park. You tell her, darlin'"--to Frances, who stood, bright-eyed and indignant, in her white fur coat and little fur cap which she wore drawn down tight over her curls--"you tell your mamma, darlin', you tell her how fierce and bold he was, and how he kicked me about the shins because I wouldn't let him take off his shoes and socks."

"The poor boy wanted 'em! I won't wear 'em! I will give 'em to the poor boy!" screamed Archibald, furious, scowling, struggling in the restraining hold of his nurse. He was a robust, thick-set child of four years, with a thatch of dark-brown hair, and strange near-sighted brown eyes, behind spectacles which he had worn from the time he could walk.

"What is it, Archibald? Tell me about it. Tell mother," pleaded Gabriella while he struggled desperately to escape from her tender grasp. "Who was the poor boy and where did you see him?"

"He oughtn't to have been in the Park, ought he, mamma?" inquired Frances, who was guiltless of democratic tendencies. "Ragged people have no right to be in the Park, have they?"

"Hush, darling, I want to hear what Archibald has to say. Tell me about him, Archibald. Shall you and I go out to look for him?"

"If you do, he'll pull his shoes and socks right off again," insisted Frances emphatically. "He had got one quite off and had given it to the boy before we saw him, and Nanny was obliged to go and take it back, and I had to hold Archibald while she put it on him. He screamed very loud and everybody stopped to ask what was the matter, and one old gentleman with a long beard, like Moses in the Bible, gave Archibald a little box of candy--he took it out of his pocket--but Archibald threw it away, and kept on hollerin' louder than ever--"

"That's right, darlin', you tell her," urged nurse, a stout woman with a red face and three gold teeth in the front of her mouth.

"I understand now. Don't tell any more, Fanny," said Gabriella. "Now, Archibald dear, will you stop crying and be good?"

"Am," replied Archibald sullenly, twisting out of her hands.

"Am what, darling?"

"Am good."

"Well, will you stop crying?"

"Have."

"Then what do you want? Shall we go back and look for the poor boy?"

"Hadn't any shoes. Feet were red. Wanted to give him shoes, 'cause I had plenty more at home. Nanny jerked him back. Hated Nanny. Hoped she would die. Hoped bears would eat her. Hoped tigers would eat her. Hoped lions would eat her. Hoped robins would cover her with leaves in the Park--"

While he sobbed out his accusations against nurse, Gabriella, holding his hand tightly in hers, turned toward Fifth Avenue, and by the time he was pacified, they had walked several blocks together, with nurse and Fanny sedately bringing up the rear. Then, at last, having reasoned him alike out of his temper and his generosity, Gabriella retraced her steps, and entering the house with her latchkey, ran quickly up the stairs to the closed door of Mrs. Fowler's room. As she raised her hand to knock the sound of her own name reached her, and almost involuntarily she hesitated for an instant.

"Yes, Gabriella is out. I saw her a minute ago on her way to the Park with the children."

"Well, somebody ought to tell her, mother. I think it is perfectly outrageous to keep her in ignorance. Everybody is talking about it."

"Oh, Patty, you couldn't! How on earth could you tell her a thing like that?" wailed George's mother, and she went on with a plaintive sigh as Gabriella opened the door: "George was always so mad about beauty, and though Gabriella has a fine face, she isn't exactly--"

Then, at the startling apparition of Gabriella, with her face paling slowly above her black furs and her large indignant eyes fixed on them both, Mrs. Fowler wavered and broke off with a pathetic clutch at the pleasantness which had entirely departed from her manner. "Why, Gabriella, I didn't know you had come in! I was just saying to Patty--" It was, as she said afterwards to her husband, exactly as if her mind had become suddenly blank. She couldn't to save her life think of a single word to add to her sentence, and all the time Gabriella was standing there, as white as a ghost, with her accusing eyes turning slowly from one to the other of them. "Somehow I just couldn't lie to her when she looked like that, and the truth seemed too dreadful," Mrs. Fowler added that night to Archibald. "Damn George!" was Mr. Fowler's fervent retort. "And it took me so by surprise I almost fainted, for I'd never in my life heard him swear before," his wife had commented later. "But aren't men strange? To think he knew how all the time and kept it to himself! I declare they are entirely too secretive for anything!"

"I heard what you were saying when I knocked," began Gabriella, with perfect composure. "I don't quite know what it was about, but I think--I think--"

"It was nothing, dear; Patty and I were gossiping," replied Mrs. Fowler, with an eagerness that was almost violent. "Oh, Patty, you wouldn't!"--for Patty had broken in, conquering and merciless, with the declaration: "If you don't tell Gabriella, mamma, I'm going to. It's outrageous, anyhow, I've always said so, the way people keep things from women. Gabriella has a right to know what everybody is saying."

"Of course I've a right to know," rejoined Gabriella, with a firmness before which Mrs. Fowler felt herself gradually dissolving--"melting away" was the description she gave of her feeling. "If anybody has a right to know, I suppose I have. Of course, it's about George. I know that much, anyhow," she added quietly.

"I don't believe it's half so bad as they say," protested Mrs. Fowler feverishly. "I don't believe he really keeps her. His father says he couldn't possibly do it on the allowance he gives him, and, you know, George doesn't make a cent himself--not a cent. He never supported himself in his life--"

She paused breathlessly, with a bright and confident glance as if she had made a point--a minor one perhaps, but still a point--in George's favour. The jet fringe on her bosom, which had rattled furiously with her excited palpitations, became gradually quiet, and as she pressed her lips firmly with her handkerchief, which she had rolled into a ball, she appeared to be pressing her customary smile back into place.

"It won't last, Gabriella," she began again very suddenly with renewed assurance. "These things never last, and I think Patty is quite wrong to insist upon telling you. Of course it is humiliating for a time, but--but"--she hesitated, and then brought out triumphantly--"he married very young, you know, and men aren't like women--there's no use pretending they are. Now when a woman loves a man--"

"But, you see, I don't love George," answered Gabriella, and her awful words seemed to reverberate through the horrified silence that surrounded her.

"Not love him? O Gabriella! Of course, it's natural that you should feel angry and wounded, and that your pride should resent what looks like an affront to you; but you can't mean in your heart that you've got over caring. Women don't change so easily. Why, you're his wife--poor foolish boy that he is--and Florrie--"

"So it's Florrie?" observed Gabriella, with a strangely dispassionate interest. It was queer, she reflected afterwards, that she had not felt the faintest curiosity about the woman.

"I always suspected that there was something wrong about her," pursued Mrs. Fowler, reassured by the knowledge that she was placing the blame where it belonged according to all the laws of custom and tradition. "I must say I never liked her manner and her way of dressing, and she made eyes at every man she was introduced to--even at Archibald--"

"Well, I didn't believe there was any real harm in her," said Gabriella, in a tone she might have used at one of her mother-in-law's luncheons. She was still standing near the door, in the very spot where she had paused at her entrance, with her head held high above the black fur at her throat, and one gloved hand playing with a bit of cord on the end of her muff. She could not possibly have taken it better. Bad as the situation was, it might have been a hundred times worse except for Gabriella's composure, thought Mrs. Fowler discreetly, adding with an inexplicable regret, that in her youth women were different. Yes, they had shown more feeling then, though they had behaved perhaps less well in a crisis. In spite of her gratitude--and she was sincerely grateful to her daughter-in-law for not making a scene--she became conscious presently that she was beginning to cherish an emotion not unlike resentment on George's account. That the discovery of George's faithlessness should be received so coolly by George's wife appeared almost an affront to him. Mrs. Fowler liked Gabriella, she was fond of her--and nobody could look in the girl's face and not see that she was a fine woman--but there were times, and this was one of them, when she thought her a little hard. Had Gabriella wept, had she raged, had she threatened Florrie's life or happiness, it might have been painful, but at least it would have been human; and above all things Mrs. Fowler felt that she liked women to be human.

"Nothing that anybody says or does can excuse George," said Patty sternly. "He has behaved abominably, and if I were Gabriella, I'd simply wash my hands of him. I don't care if he is my brother, that doesn't make me blind, does it? If he were my husband," she concluded passionately, "I'd feel just the same way about it."

"Oh, you mustn't! Oh, Patty, hush, it's wicked! It's sinful!" moaned Mrs. Fowler, shutting her eyes, as if the sight of Patty's indignant loveliness gave her a headache. "Don't try to harden Gabriella's heart against him. Don't try to make her think she's really stopped loving him."

Gabriella's answer to this outburst was a look which, as poor Mrs. Fowler said afterwards, "cut her to the heart." Backing weakly to a chair, the valiant little lady sat down suddenly, because she felt that her legs were giving way beneath the weight of her body. And, though she was unaware of its significance, her action was deeply symbolical of the failure of the old order to withstand the devastating advance of the new spirit. She felt vaguely that she wished women and things were both what they used to be; but this, since she had little imagination, was as far as she penetrated into the psychology of Gabriella's behaviour.

"But, you see, you're making the mistake of thinking that I love George," said Gabriella, with a reasonableness which made Mrs. Fowler feel that she wanted to scream, "and I don't love him--I don't love him at all. I haven't loved him for a long time--not since the night I saw him drunk. How could I love a man I've seen drunk--disgustingly drunk--a man I couldn't respect? I'm not made that way, and I can't help it. Some women may be like that, but I'm not. I couldn't, even if I wanted to, love a man who has treated me as George has done. I don't see how any woman could--any woman with a particle of pride and self-respect. Of course I had to live with him after I married him," she finished abruptly. "Marriage isn't made for love. I used to think it was--but it isn't--"

"But, Gabriella, you don't mean--you can't--" Mrs. Fowler was really pitiable, for, after all, George was her son, and the ties of blood would not break so easily as the ties of marriage. In the depths of her humiliation she had almost convinced herself that she had never respected George, that she had never believed in him, forgetting the pride and adoration of her young motherhood. Whatever George did she could not change his relation to her--she could not shatter the one indissoluble bond that holds mankind together.

"Gabriella, you don't--you can't--" she repeated wildly.

Then, as Gabriella turned quickly and left the room, a scene--she became conscious presently that she was beginning to cherish an emotion not unlike resentment on George's account. That the discovery of George's faithlessness should be received so coolly by George's wife appeared almost an affront to him. Mrs. Fowler liked Gabriella, she was fond of her--and nobody could look in the girl's face and not see that she was a fine woman--but there were times, and this was one of them, when she thought her a little hard. Had Gabriella wept, had she raged, had she threatened Florrie's life or happiness, it might have been painful, but at least it would have been human; and above all things Mrs. Fowler felt that she liked women to be human.

"Nothing that anybody says or does can excuse George," said Patty sternly. "He has behaved abominably, and if I were Gabriella, I'd simply wash my hands of him. I don't care if he is my brother, that doesn't make me blind, does it? If he were my husband," she concluded passionately, "I'd feel just the same way about it."

"Oh, you mustn't! Oh, Patty, hush, it's wicked! It's sinful!" moaned Mrs. Fowler, shutting her eyes, as if the sight of Patty's indignant loveliness gave her a headache. "Don't try to harden Gabriella's heart against him. Don't try to make her think she's really stopped loving him."

Gabriella's answer to this outburst was a look which, as poor Mrs. Fowler said afterwards, "cut her to the heart." Backing weakly to a chair, the valiant little lady sat down suddenly, because she felt that her legs were giving way beneath the weight of her body. And, though she was unaware of its significance, her action was deeply symbolical of the failure of the old order to withstand the devastating advance of the new spirit. She felt vaguely that she wished women and things were both what they used to be; but this, since she had little imagination, was as far as she penetrated into the psychology of Gabriella's behaviour.

"But, you see, you're making the mistake of thinking that I love George," said Gabriella, with a reasonableness which made Mrs. Fowler feel that she wanted to scream, "and I don't love him--I don't love him at all. I haven't loved him for a long time--not since the night I saw him drunk. How could I love a man I've seen drunk--disgustingly drunk--a man I couldn't respect? I'm not made that way, and I can't help it. Some women may be like that, but I'm not. I couldn't, even if I wanted to, love a man who has treated me as George has done. I don't see how any woman could--any woman with a particle of pride and self-respect. Of course I had to live with him after I married him," she finished abruptly. "Marriage isn't made for love. I used to think it was--but it isn't--"

"But, Gabriella, you don't mean--you can't--" Mrs. Fowler was really pitiable, for, after all, George was her son, and the ties of blood would not break so easily as the ties of marriage. In the depths of her humiliation she had almost convinced herself that she had never respected George, that she had never believed in him, forgetting the pride and adoration of her young motherhood. Whatever George did she could not change his relation to her--she could not shatter the one indissoluble bond that holds mankind together.

"Gabriella, you don't--you can't--" she repeated wildly.

Then, as Gabriella turned quickly and left the room, Mrs. Fowler rose stoically to her feet, adjusted her belt with a tremulous movement of her hands, and smiled bravely as she went to the mirror to put on her hat. Heartbroken and distraught of mind though she was, she submitted instinctively to the lifelong tyranny of appearances.

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