Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 1. Sylvia As Wife - Part 3
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 1. Sylvia As Wife - Part 3 Post by :sidekick Category :Long Stories Author :Upton Sinclair Date :May 2012 Read :1369

Click below to download : Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 1. Sylvia As Wife - Part 3 (Format : PDF)

Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 1. Sylvia As Wife - Part 3

BOOK I. SYLVIA AS WIFE - PART III

23. Our intimacy progressed, and the time came when Sylvia told me about her marriage. She had accepted Douglas van Tuiver because she had lost Frank Shirley, and her heart was broken. She could never imagine herself loving any other man; and not knowing exactly what marriage meant, it had been easier for her to think of her family, and to follow their guidance. They had told her that love would come; Douglas had implored her to give him a chance to teach her to love him. She had considered what she could do with his money--both for her home-people and for those she spoke of vaguely as "the poor." But now she was making the discovery that she could not do very much for these "poor."

"It isn't that my husband is mean," she said. "On the contrary, the slightest hint will bring me any worldly thing I want. I have homes in half a dozen parts of America--I have _carte blanche to open accounts in two hemispheres. If any of my people need money I can get it; but if I want it for myself, he asks me what I'm doing with it--and so I run into the stone-wall of his ideas."

At first the colliding with this wall had merely pained and bewildered her. But now the combination of Veblen and myself had helped her to realize what it meant. Douglas van Tuiver spent his money upon a definite system: whatever went to the maintaining of his social position, whatever added to the glory, prestige and power of the van Tuiver name--that money was well-spent; while money spent to any other end was money wasted--and this included all ideas and "causes." And when the master of the house knew that his money was being wasted, it troubled him.

"It wasn't until after I married him that I realized how idle his life is," she remarked. "At home all the men have something to do, running their plantations, or getting elected to some office. But Douglas never does anything that I can possibly think is useful."

His fortune was invested in New York City real-estate, she went on to explain. There was an office, with a small army of clerks and agents to attend to it--a machine which had been built up and handed on to him by his ancestors. It sufficed if he dropped in for an hour or two once a week when he was in the city, and signed a batch of documents now and then when he was away. His life was spent in the company of people whom the social system had similarly deprived of duties; and they had, by generations of experiment, built up for themselves a new set of duties, a life which was wholly without relationship to reality. Into this unreal existence Sylvia had married, and it was like a current sweeping her in its course. So long as she went with it, all was well; but let her try to catch hold of something and stop, and it would tear her loose and almost strangle her.

As time went on, she gave me strange glimpses into this world. Her husband did not seem really to enjoy its life. As Sylvia put it, "He takes it for granted that he has to do all the proper things that the proper people do. He hates to be conspicuous, he says. I point out to him that the proper things are nearly always conspicuous, but he replies that to fail to do them would be even more conspicuous."

It took me a long time to get really acquainted with Sylvia, because of the extent to which this world was clamouring for her. I used to drop in when she 'phoned me she had half an hour. I would find her dressing for something, and she would send her maid away, and we would talk until she would be late for some function; and that might be a serious matter, because somebody would feel slighted. She was always "on pins and needles" over such questions of precedent; it seemed as if everybody in her world must be watching everybody else. There was a whole elaborate science of how to treat the people you met, so that they would not feel slighted--or so that they would feel slighted, according to circumstances.

To the enjoyment of such a life it was essential that the person should believe in it. Douglas van Tuiver did believe in it; it was his religion, the only one he had. (Churchman as he was, his church was a part of the social routine.) He was proud of Sylvia, and apparently satisfied when he could take her at his side; and Sylvia went, because she was his wife, and that was what wives were for. She had tried her best to be happy; she had told herself that she _was happy yet all the time realizing that a woman who is really happy does not have to tell herself.

Earlier in life she had quaffed and enjoyed the wine of applause. I recollect vividly her telling me of the lure her beauty had been to her--the most terrible temptation that could come to a woman. "I walk into a brilliant room, and I feel the thrill of admiration that goes through the crowd. I have a sudden sense of my own physical perfection--a glow all over me! I draw a deep breath--I feel a surge of exaltation. I say, 'I am victorious--I can command! I have this supreme crown of womanly grace--I am all-powerful with it--the world is mine!'"

As she spoke the rapture was in her voice, and I looked at her--and yes, she was beautiful! The supreme crown was hers!

"I see other beautiful women," she went on--and swift anger came into her voice. "I see what they are doing with this power! Gratifying their vanity--turning men into slaves of their whim! Squandering money upon empty pleasures--and with the dreadful plague of poverty spreading in the world! I used to go to my father, 'Oh, papa, why must there be so many poor people? Why should we have servants--why should they have to wait on me, and I do nothing for them?' He would try to explain to me that it was the way of Nature. Mamma would tell me it was the will of the Lord--'The poor ye have always with you'--'Servants, obey your masters'--and so on. But in spite of the Bible texts, I felt guilty. And now I come to Douglas with the same plea--and it only makes him angry! He has been to college and has a lot of scientific phrases--he tells me it's 'the struggle for existence,' 'the elimination of the unfit'--and so on. I say to him, 'First we make people unfit, and then we have to eliminate them.' He cannot see why I do not accept what learned people tell me--why I persist in questioning and suffering."

She paused, and then added, "It's as if he were afraid I might find out something he doesn't want me to! He's made me give him a promise that I won't see Mrs. Frothingham again!" And she laughed. "I haven't told him about you!"

I answered, needless to say, that I hoped she would keep the secret!

24. All this time I was busy with my child-labour work. We had an important bill before the legislature that session, and I was doing what I could to work up sentiment for it. I talked at every gathering where I could get a hearing; I wrote letters to newspapers; I sent literature to lists of names. I racked my mind for new schemes, and naturally, at such times, I could not help thinking of Sylvia. How much she could do, if only she would!

I spared no one, least of all myself, and so it was not easy to spare her. The fact that I had met her was the gossip of the office, and everybody was waiting for something to happen. "How about Mrs. van Tuiver?" my "chief" would ask, at intervals. "If she would _only go on our press committee" my stenographer would sigh.

The time came when our bill was in committee, a place of peril for bills. I went to Albany to see what could be done. I met half a hundred legislators, of whom perhaps half-a-dozen had some human interest in my subject; the rest, well, it was discouraging. Where was the force that would stir them, make them forget their own particular little grafts, and serve the public welfare in defiance to hostile interests?

Where was it? I came back to New York to look for it, and after a blue luncheon with the members of our committee, I came away with my mind made up--I would sacrifice my Sylvia to this desperate emergency.

I knew just what I had to do. So far she had heard speeches about social wrongs, or read books about them; she had never been face to face with the reality of them. Now I persuaded her to take a morning off, and see some of the sights of the underworld of toil. We foreswore the royal car, and likewise the royal furs and velvets; she garbed herself in plain appearing dark blue and went down town in the Subway like common mortals, visiting paper-box factories and flower factories, tenement homes where whole families sat pasting toys and gimcracks for fourteen or sixteen hours a day, and still could not buy enough food to make full-sized men and women of them.

She was Dante, and I was Virgil, our inferno was an endless procession of tortured faces--faces of women, haggard and mournful, faces of little children, starved and stunted, dulled and dumb. Several times we stopped to talk with these people--one little Jewess girl I knew whose three tiny sisters had been roasted alive in a sweatshop fire. This child had jumped from a fourth-story window, and been miraculously caught by a fireman. She said that some man had started the fire, and been caught, but the police had let him get away. So I had to explain to Sylvia that curious bye-product (sic) of the profit system known as the "Arson Trust." Authorities estimated that incendiarism was responsible for the destruction of a quarter of a billion dollars worth of property in America every year. So, of course, the business of starting fires was a paying one, and the "fire-bug," like the "cadet" and the dive-keeper, was a part of the "system." So it was quite a possible thing that the man who had burned up this little girl's three sisters might have been allowed to escape.

I happened to say this in the little girl's hearing, and I saw her pitiful strained eyes fixed upon Sylvia. Perhaps this lovely, soft-voiced lady was a fairy god-mother, come to free her sisters from an evil spell and to punish the wicked criminal! I saw Sylvia turn her head away, and search for her handkerchief; as we groped our way down the dark stairs, she caught my hand, whispering: "Oh, my God! my God!"

It had even more effect than I had intended; not only did she say that she would do something--anything that would be of use--but she told me as we rode back home that her mind was made up to stop the squandering of her husband's money. He had been planning a costume ball for a couple of months later, an event which would keep the van Tuiver name in condition, and would mean that he and other people would spend many hundreds of thousands of dollars. As we rode home in the roaring Subway, Sylvia sat beside me, erect and tense, saying that if the ball were given, it would be without the presence of the hostess.

I struck while the iron was hot, and got her permission to put her name upon our committee list. She said, moreover, that she would get some free time, and be more than a mere name to us. What were the duties of a member of our committee?

"First," I said, "to know the facts about child-labour, as you have seen them to-day, and second, to help other people to know."

"And how is that to be done?"

"Well, for instance, there is that hearing before the legislative committee. You remember I suggested that you appear."

"Yes," she said in a low voice. I could almost hear the words that were in her mind: "What would _he say?"

25. Sylvia's name went upon our letter-heads and other literature, and almost at once things began to happen. In a day or two there came a reporter, saying he had noticed her name. Was it true that she had become interested in our work? Would I please give him some particulars, as the public would naturally want to know.

I admitted that Mrs. van Tuiver had joined the committee; she approved of our work and desired to further it. That was all. He asked: Would she give an interview? And I answered that I was sure she would not. Then would I tell something about how she had come to be interested in the work? It was a chance to assist our propaganda, added the reporter, diplomatically.

I retired to another room, and got Sylvia upon the 'phone, "The time has come for you to take the plunge," I said.

"Oh, but I don't want to be in the papers!" she cried "Surely, you wouldn't advise it!"

"I don't see how you can avoid having something appear. Your name is given out, and if the man can't get anything else, he'll take our literature, and write up your doings out of his imagination."

"And they'll print my picture with it!" she exclaimed. I could not help laughing. "It's quite possible."

"Oh, what will my husband do? He'll say 'I told you so!'"

It is a hard thing to have one's husband say that, as I knew by bitter experience. But I did not think that reason enough for giving up.

"Let me have time to think it over," said Sylvia. "Get him to wait till to-morrow, and meantime I can see you."

So it was arranged. I think I told Sylvia the truth when I said that I had never before heard of a committee member who was unwilling to have his purposes discussed in the newspapers. To influence newspapers was one of the main purposes of committees, and I did not see how she could expect either editors or readers to take any other view.

"Let me tell the man about your trip down town," I suggested, "then I can go on to discuss the bill and how it bears on the evils you saw. Such a statement can't possibly do you harm."

She consented, but with the understanding that she was not to be quoted directly. "And don't let them make me picturesque!" she exclaimed. "That's what my husband seems most to dread."

I wondered if he didn't think she was picturesque, when she sat in a splendid, shining coach, and took part in a public parade through Central Park. But I did not say this. I went off, and swore my reporter to abstain from the "human touch," and he promised and kept his word. There appeared next morning a dignified "write-up" of Mrs. Douglas van Tuiver's interest in child-labour reform. Quoting me, it described some of the places she had visited, and some of the sights which had shocked her; it went on to tell about our committee and its work, the status of our bill in the legislature, the need of activity on the part of our friends if the measure was to be forced through at this session. It was a splendid "boost" for our work, and everyone in the office was in raptures over it. The social revolution was at hand! thought my young stenographer.

But the trouble with this business of publicity is that, however carefully you control your interviewer, you cannot control the others who use his material. The "afternoon men" came round for more details, and they made it clear that it was personal details they wanted. And when I side-stepped their questions, they went off and made up answers to suit themselves, and printed Sylvia's pictures, together with photographs of child-workers taken from our pamphlets.

I called Sylvia up while she was dressing for dinner, to explain that I was not responsible for any of this picturesqueness. "Oh, perhaps I am to blame myself!" she exclaimed. "I think I interviewed a reporter."

"How do you mean?"

"A woman sent up her card--she told the footman she was a friend of mine. And I thought--I couldn't be sure if I'd met her--so I went and saw her. She said she'd met me at Mrs. Harold Cliveden's, and she began to talk to me about child-labour, and this and that plan she had, and what did I think of them, and suddenly it flashed over me: 'Maybe this is a reporter playing a trick on me!'"

I hurried out before breakfast next morning and got all the papers, to see what this enterprising lady had done. There was nothing, so I reflected that probably she had been a "Sunday" lady.

But then, when I reached my office, the 'phone rang, and I heard the voice of Sylvia: "Mary, something perfectly dreadful has happened!"

"What?" I cried.

"I can't tell you over the 'phone, but a certain person is furiously angry. Can I see you if I come down right away?"

26. Such terrors as these were unguessed by me in the days of my obscurity. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, uneasy also, lies the wife of that head, and the best friend of the wife. I dismissed my stenographer, and spent ten or fifteen restless minutes until Sylvia appeared.

Her story was quickly told. A couple of hours ago the acting-manager of Mr. van Tuiver's office had telephoned to ask if he might call upon a matter of importance. He had come. Naturally, he had the most extreme reluctance to say anything which might seem to criticise the activities of Mr. van Tuiver's wife, but there was something in the account in the newspapers which should be brought to her husband's attention. The articles gave the names and locations of a number of firms in whose factories it was alleged that Mrs. van Tuiver had found unsatisfactory conditions, and it happened that two of these firms were located in premises which belonged to the van Tuiver estates!

A story coming very close to melodrama, I perceived. I sat dismayed at what I had done. "Of course, dear girl," I said, at last, "you understand that I had no idea who owned these buildings."

"Oh, don't say that!" exclaimed Sylvia. "I am the one who should have known!"

Then for a long time I sat still and let her suffer. "Tenement sweat-shops! Little children in factories!" I heard her whisper.

At last I put my hand on hers. "I tried to put it off for a while," I said. "But I knew it would have to come."

"Think of me!" she exclaimed, "going about scolding other people for the way they make their money! When I thought of my own, I had visions of palatial hotels and office-buildings--everything splendid and clean!"

"Well, my dear, you've learned now, and you will be able to do something--"

She turned upon me suddenly, and for the first time I saw in her face the passions of tragedy. "Do you believe I will be able to do anything? No! Don't have any such idea!"

I was struck dumb. She got up and began to pace the room. "Oh, don't make any mistake, I've paid for my great marriage in the last hour or two. To think that he cares about nothing save the possibility of being found out and made ridiculous! All his friends have been 'muckraked,' as he calls it, and he has sat aloft and smiled over their plight; he was the landed gentleman, the true aristrocrat, whom the worries of traders and money-changers didn't concern. Now perhaps he's caught, and his name is to be dragged in the mire, and it's my flightiness, my lack of commonsense that has done it!"

"I shouldn't let that trouble me," I said. "You could not know--"

"Oh, it's not that! It's that I hadn't a single courageous word to say to him--not a hint that he ought to refuse to wring blood-money from sweat-shops! I came away without having done it, because I couldn't face his anger, because it would have meant a quarrel!"

"My dear," I said gently, "it is possible to survive a quarrel."

"No, you don't understand! We should never make it up again, I know--I saw it in his words, in his face. He will never change to please me, no, not even a simple thing like the business-methods of the van Tuiver estates."

I could not help smiling. "My dear Sylvia! A simple thing!"

She came and sat beside me. "That's what I want to talk about. It is time I was growing up. It it time that I knew about these things. Tell me about them."

"What, my dear?"

"About the methods of the van Tuiver estates, that can't be changed to please me. I made out one thing, we had recently paid a fine for some infraction of the law in one of those buildings, and my husband said it was because we had refused to pay more money to a tenement-house inspector. I asked him: 'Why should we pay any money at all to a tenement-house inspector? Isn't it bribery?' He answered: 'It's a custom--the same as you give a tip to a hotel waiter.' Is that true?"

I could not help smiling. "Your husband ought to know, my dear," I said.

I saw her compress her lips. "What is the tip for?"

"I suppose it is to keep out of trouble with him."

"But why can't we keep out of trouble by obeying the law?"

"My dear, sometimes the law is inconvenient, and sometimes it is complicated and obscure. It might be that you are violating it without knowing the fact. It might be uncertain whether you are violating it or not, so that to settle the question would mean a lot of expense and publicity. It might even be that the law is impossible to obey--that it was not intended to be obeyed."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I mean, maybe it was passed to put you at the mercy of the politicians."

"But," she protested, "that would be blackmail."

"The phrase," I replied, "is 'strike-legislation.'"

"But at least, that wouldn't be our fault!"

"No, not unless you had begun it. It generally happens that the landlord discovers it's a good thing to have politicians who will work with him. Maybe he wants his assessments lowered; maybe he wants to know where new car lines are to go, so that he can buy intelligently; maybe he wants the city to improve his neighbourhood; maybe he wants influence at court when he has some heavy damage suit."

"So we bribe everyone!"

"Not necessarily. You may simply wait until campaign-time, and then make your contribution to the machine. That is the basis of the 'System.'."

"The 'System '?"

"A semi-criminal police-force, and everything that pays tribute to it; the saloon and the dive, the gambling hell the white-slave market, and the Arson trust."

I saw a wild look in her eyes. "Tell me, do you _know that all these things are true? Or are you only guessing about them?"

"My dear Sylvia," I answered, "you said it was time you grew up. For the present I will tell you this: Several months before I met you, I made a speech in which I named some of the organised forces of evil in the city. One was Tammany Hall, and another was the Traction Trust, and another was the Trinity Church Corporation, and yet another was the van Tuiver estates."

27. The following Sunday there appeared a "magazine story" of an interview with the infinitely beautiful young wife of the infinitely rich Mr. Douglas van Tuiver, in which the views of the wife on the subject of child-labour were liberally interlarded with descriptions of her reception-room and her morning-gown. But mere picturesqueness by that time had been pretty well discounted in our minds. So long as the article did not say anything about the ownership of child-labour tenements!

I did not see Sylvia for several weeks after that. I took it for granted that she would want some time to get herself together and make up her mind about the future. I did not feel anxious; the seed had sprouted, and I felt sure it would continue to grow.

Then one day she called me up, asking if I could come to see her. I suggested that afternoon, and she said she was having tea with some people at the Palace Hotel, and could I come there just after tea-time? I remember the place and the hour, because of the curious adventure into which I got myself. One hears the saying, when unexpected encounters take place, "How small the world is!" But I thought the world was growing really too small when I went into a hotel tea-room to wait for Sylvia, and found myself face to face with Claire Lepage!

The place appointed had been the "orange-room"; I stood in the door-way, sweeping the place with my eyes, and I saw Mrs. van Tuiver at the same moment that she saw me. She was sitting at a table with several other people and she nodded, and I took a seat to wait. From my position I could watch her, in animated conversation; and she could send me a smile now and then. So I was decidedly startled when I heard a voice, "Why, how do you do?" and looked up and saw Claire holding out her hand to me.

"Well, for heaven's sake!" I exclaimed.

"You don't come to see me any more," she said.

"Why, no--no, I've been busy of late." So much I managed to ejaculate, in spite of my confusion.

"You seem surprised to see me," she remarked--observant as usual, and sensitive to other people's attitude to her.

"Why, naturally," I said. And then, recollecting that it was not in the least natural--since she spent a good deal of her time in such places--I added, "I was looking for someone else."

"May I do in the meantime?" she inquired, taking a seat beside me. "What are you so busy about?"

"My child-labour work," I answered. Then, in an instant, I was sorry for the words, thinking she must have read about Sylvia's activities. I did not want her to know that I had met Sylvia, for it would mean a flood of questions, which I did not want to answer--nor yet to refuse to answer.

But my fear was needless. "I've been out of town," she said.

"Whereabouts?" I asked, making conversation.

"A little trip to Bermuda."

My mind was busy with the problem of getting rid of her. It would be intolerable to have Sylvia come up to us; it was intolerable to know that they were in sight of each other.

Even as the thought came to me, however, I saw Claire start. "Look!" she exclaimed.

"What is it?"

"That woman there--in the green velvet! The fourth table."

"I see her."

"Do you know who she is?"

"Who?" (I remembered Lady Dee's maxim about lying!)

"Sylvia Castleman!" whispered Claire. (She always referred to her thus--seeming to say, "I'm as much van Tuiver as she is!")

"Are you sure?" I asked--in order to say something.

"I've seen her a score of times. I seem to be always running into her. That's Freddie Atkins she's talking to."

"Indeed!" said I.

"I know most of the men I see her with. But I have to walk by as if I'd never seen them. A queer world we live in, isn't it?"

I could assent cordially to that proposition. "Listen," I broke in, quickly. "Have you got anything to do? If not, come down to the Royalty and have tea with me."

"Why not have it here?"

"I've been waiting for someone from there, and I have to leave a message. Then I'll be free."

She rose, to my vast relief, and we walked out. I could feel Sylvia's eyes following me; but I dared not try to send her a message--I would have to make up some explanation afterwards. "Who was your well-dressed friend?" I could imagine her asking; but my mind was more concerned with the vision of what would happen if, in full sight of her companion, Mr. Freddie Atkins, she were to rise and walk over to Claire and myself!

28. Seated in the palm-room of the other hotel, I sipped a cup of tea which I felt I had earned, while Claire had a little glass of the fancy-coloured liquids which the ladies in these places affect. The room was an aviary, with tropical plants and splashing fountains--and birds of many gorgeous hues; I gazed from one to another of the splendid creatures, wondering how many of them were paying for their plumage in the same way as my present companion. It would have taken a more practiced eye than mine to say which, for if I had been asked, I would have taken Claire for a diplomat's wife. She had not less than a thousand dollars' worth of raiment upon her, and its style made clear to all the world the fact that it had not been saved over from a previous season of prosperity. She was a fine creature, who could carry any amount of sail; with her bold, black eyes she looked thoroughly competent, and it was hard to believe in the fundamental softness of her character.

I sat, looking about me, annoyed at having missed Sylvia, and only half listening to Claire. But suddenly she brought me to attention. "Well," she said, "I've met him."

"Met whom?"

"Douglas."

I stared at her. "Douglas van Tuiver?"

She nodded; and I suppressed a cry.

"I told you he'd come back," she added, with a laugh.

"You mean he came to see you?"

I could not hide my concern. But there was no need to, for it flattered Claire's vanity. "No--not yet, but he will. I met him at Jack Taylor's--at a supper-party."

"Did he know you were to be there?"

"No. But he didn't leave when he saw me."

There was a pause. I could not trust myself to say anything. But Claire had no intention of leaving me curious. "I don't think he's happy with her," she remarked.

"What makes you say that?"

"Oh, several things. I know him, you know. He wouldn't say he was."

"Perhaps he didn't want to discuss it with you."

"Oh, no--not that. He isn't reserved with me."

"I should think it was dangerous to discuss one's wife under such circumstances," I laughed.

Claire laughed also. "You should have heard what Jack had to say about his wife! She's down at Palm Beach."

"She'd better come home," I ventured.

"He was telling what a dance she leads him; she raises Cain if a woman looks at him--and she damns every woman he meets before the woman has a chance to look. Jack said marriage was hell--just hell. Reggie Channing thought it was like a pair of old slippers that you got used to." Jack laughed and answered, "You're at the stage where you think you can solve the marriage problem by deceiving your wife!"

I made no comment. Claire sat for a while, busy with her thoughts; then she repeated, "He wouldn't say he was happy! And he misses me, too. When he was going, I held his hand, and said: 'Well, Douglas, how goes it?'"

"And then?" I asked; but she would not say any more.

I waited a while, and then began, "Claire, let him alone. Give them a chance to be happy."

"Why should I?" she demanded, in a voice of hostility.

"She never harmed you," I said. I knew I was being foolish, but I would do what I could.

"She took him away from me, didn't she?" And Claire's eyes were suddenly alight with the hatred of her outcast class. "Why did she get him? Why is she Mrs. van Tuiver, and I nobody? Because her father was rich, because she had power and position, while I had to scratch for myself in the world. Is that true, or isn't it?"

I could not deny that it might be part of the truth. "But they're married now," I said, "and he loves her."

"He loves me, too. And I love him still, in spite of the way he's treated me. He's the only man I ever really loved. Do you think I'm going off and hide in a hole, while she spends his money and plays the princess up and down the Avenue? Not much!"

I fell silent. Should I set out upon another effort at "moulding water"? Should I give Claire one more scolding--tell her, perhaps, how her very features were becoming hard and ugly, as a result of the feelings she was harbouring? Should I recall the pretences of generosity and dignity she had made when we first met? I might have attempted this--but something held me back. After all, the one person who could decide this issue was Douglas van Tuiver.

I rose. "Well, I have to be going. But I'll drop round now and then, and see what success you have."

She became suddenly important. "Maybe I won't tell!"

To which I answered, indifferently, "All right, it's your secret." But I went off without much worry over that part of it. Claire must have some one to whom to recount her troubles--or her triumphs, as the case might be.

29. I had my talk with Sylvia a day or two later, and made my excuse--a friend from the West who had been going out of town in a few hours later.

The seed had been growing, I found. Ever since we had last met, her life had consisted of arguments over the costume-ball on which her husband had set his heart, and at which she had refused to play the hostess.

"Of course, he's right about one thing," she remarked. "We can't stay in New York unless we give some big affair. Everyone expects it, and there is no explanation except one he could not offer."

"I've made a big breach in your life, Sylvia," I said.

"It wasn't all you. This unhappiness has been in me--it's been like a boil, and you've been the poultice." (She had four younger brothers and sisters, so these domestic similes came naturally.)

"Boils," I remarked, "are disfiguring, when they come to a head."

There was a pause. "How is your child-labour bill?" she asked, abruptly.

"Why, it's all right."

"Didn't I see a letter in the paper saying it had been referred to a sub-committee, some trick to suppress it for this session?"

I could not answer. I had been hoping she had not seen that letter.

"If I were to come forward now," she said, "I could possibly block that move, couldn't I?"

Still I said nothing.

"If I were to take a bold stand--I mean if I were to speak at a public meeting, and denounce the move."

"I suppose you could," I had to admit.

For a long time she sat with her head bowed. "The children will have to wait," she said, at last, half to herself.

"My dear," I answered (What else was there to answer?) "the children have waited a long time."

"I hate to turn back--to have you say I'm a coward--"

"I won't say that, Sylvia."

"You will be too kind, no doubt, but that will be the truth."

I tried to reassure her. But the acids I had used--intended for tougher skins than hers--had burned into the very bone, and now it was not possible to stop their action. "I must make you understand," she said, "how serious a thing it seems to me for a wife to stand out against her husband. I've been brought up to feel that it was the most terrible thing a woman could do."

She stopped, and when she went on again her face was set like one enduring pain. "So this is the decision to which I have come. If I do anything of a public nature now, I drive my husband from me; on the other hand, if I take a little time, I may be able to save the situation. I need to educate myself, and I'm hoping I may be able to educate him at the same time. If I can get him to read something--if it's only a few paragraphs everyday--I may gradually change his point of view, so that he will tolerate what I believe. At any rate, I ought to try; I am sure that is the wise and kind and fair thing to do."

"What will you do about the ball?" I asked.

"I am going to take him away, out of this rush and distraction, this dressing and undressing, hurrying about meeting people and chattering about nothing."

"He is willing?"

"Yes; in fact, he suggested it himself. He thinks my mind is turned, with all the things I've been reading, and with Mrs. Frothingham, and Mrs. Allison, and the rest. He hopes that if I go away, I may quiet down and come to my senses. We have a good excuse. I have to think of my health just now---"

She stopped, and looked away from my eyes. I saw the colour spreading in a slow wave over her cheeks; it was like those tints of early dawn that are so ravishing to the souls of poets. "In four or five months from now---" And she stopped again.

I put my big hand gently over her small one. "I have three children of my own," I said.

"So," she went on, "it won't seem so unreasonable. Some people know, and the rest will guess, and there won't be any talk--I mean, such as there would be if it was rumoured that Mrs. Douglas van Tuiver had got interested in Socialism, and refused to spend her husband's money."

"I understand," I replied. "It's quite the most sensible thing, and I'm glad you've found a way out. I shall miss you, of course, but we can write each other long letters. Where are you going?"

"I'm not absolutely sure. Douglas suggests a cruise in the West Indies, but I think I should rather be settled in one place. He has a lovely house in the mountains of North Carolina, and wants me to go there; but it's a show-place, with rich homes all round, and I know I'd soon be in a social whirl. I thought of the camp in the Adirondacks. It would be glorious to see the real woods in winter; but I lose my nerve when I think of the cold--I was brought up in a warm place."

"A 'camp' sounds rather primitive for one in your condition," I suggested.

"That's because you haven't been there. In reality it's a big house, with twenty-five rooms, and steam-heat and electric lights, and half a dozen men to take care of it when it's empty--as it has been for several years."

I smiled--for I could read her thought. "Are you going to be unhappy because you can't occupy all your husband's homes?"

"There's one other I prefer," she continued, unwilling to be made to smile. "They call it a 'fishing lodge,' and it's down in the Florida Keys. They're putting a railroad through there, but meantime you can only get to it by a launch. From the pictures, it's the most heavenly spot imaginable. Fancy running about those wonderful green waters in a motor-boat!"

"It sounds quite alluring," I replied. "But isn't it remote for you?"

"We're not so very far from Key West; and my husband means to have a physician with us in any case. The advantage of being in a small place is that we couldn't entertain if we wanted to. I can have my Aunt Varina come to stay with me, a dear, sweet soul who loves me devotedly; and then if I find I have to have some new ideas, perhaps you can come---"

"I don't think your husband would favour that," I said.

She put her hand out to me in a quick gesture. "I don't mean to give up our friendship! I want you to understand, I intend to go on studying and growing. I am doing what he asked me--it's right that I should think of his wishes, and of the health of my child. But the child will be growing up, and sooner or later my husband must grant me the right to think, to have a life of my own. You must stand by me and help me, whatever happens."

I gave her my hand on that, and so we parted--for some time, as it proved. I went up to Albany once more, in a last futile effort to save our precious bill; and while I was there I got a note from her, saying that she was leaving for the Florida Keys.

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 2. Sylvia As Mother - Part 1 Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 2. Sylvia As Mother - Part 1

Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 2. Sylvia As Mother - Part 1
BOOK II. SYLVIA AS MOTHER - PART IFor three months after this I had nothing but letters from Sylvia. She proved to be an excellent letter-writer, full of verve and colour. I would not say that she poured out her soul to me, but she gave me glimpses of her states of mind, and the progress of her domestic drama. First, she described the place to which she had come; a ravishing spot any woman ought to be happy. It was a little island, fringed with a border of cocoanut-palms, which rustled and whispered day and night in the breeze.
PREVIOUS BOOKS

Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 1. Sylvia As Wife - Part 2 Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 1. Sylvia As Wife - Part 2

Sylvia's Marriage: A Novel - Book 1. Sylvia As Wife - Part 2
BOOK I. SYLVIA AS WIFE - PART II10. For several days I waited upon the postman, and when the summons came I dodged a committee-meeting, and ascended the marble stairs with trepidation, and underwent the doubting scrutiny of an English lackey, sufficiently grave in deportment and habiliments to have waited upon a bishop in his own land. I have a vague memory of an entrance-hall with panelled paintings and a double-staircase with a snow-white carpet, about which I had read in the newspapers that it was woven in one piece, and had cost an incredible sum. One did not have to
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT