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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesVirginia - Book 3. The Adjustment - Chapter 4. Life's Cruelties
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Virginia - Book 3. The Adjustment - Chapter 4. Life's Cruelties Post by :cloudsifter Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :2097

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Virginia - Book 3. The Adjustment - Chapter 4. Life's Cruelties

BOOK III. THE ADJUSTMENT CHAPTER IV. LIFE'S CRUELTIES

There was a hard snowstorm on the day Oliver returned to Dinwiddie, and Virginia, who had watched from the window all the afternoon, saw him crossing the street through a whirl of feathery flakes. The wind drove violently against him, but he appeared almost unconscious of it, so buoyant, so full of physical energy was his walk. Never had he looked more desirable to her, never more lovable, than he did at that instant. Something, either a trick of imagination or an illusion produced by the flying whiteness of the storm, gave him back for a moment the glowing eyes and the eager lips of his youth. Then, as she turned towards the door, awaiting his step on the stairs, the mirror over the mantel showed her her own face, with its fallen lines, its soft pallor, its look of fading sweetness. She had laid her youth down on the altar of her love, while he had used love, as he had used life, merely to feed the flame of the unconquerable egoism which burned like genius within him.

He came in, brushing a few flakes of snow from his sleeve, and it seemed to her that the casual kindness of his kiss fell like ice on her cheek as he greeted her. It was almost three months since he had seen her, for he had been unable to come home for Christmas, but from his manner he might have parted from her only yesterday. He was kind--he had never been kinder--but she would have preferred that he should strike her.

"Are you all right?" he asked gently, turning to warm his hands at the fire. "Beastly cold, isn't it?"

"Oh, yes, I am all right, dear. The play is a great success, isn't it?"

His face clouded. "As such things go. It's awful rot, but it's made a hit--there's no doubt of that."

"And the other one, 'The Home'--when is the first night of that?"

"Next week. On Thursday. I must get back for it."

"And I am to go with you, am I not? I have looked forward to it all winter."

At the sound of her anxious question, a contraction of pain, the look of one who has been touched on the raw, crossed his face. Though she was not penetrating enough to discern it, there were times when his pity for her amounted almost to a passion, and at such moments he was conscious of a blind anger against Life, as against some implacable personal force, because it had robbed him of the hard and narrow morality on which his ancestors leaned. The scourge of a creed which had kept even Cyrus walking humbly in the straight and flinty road of Calvinism, appeared to him in such rare instants as one of the spiritual luxuries which a rationalistic age had destroyed; for it is not granted to man to look into the heart of another, and so he was ignorant alike of the sanctities and the passions of Cyrus's soul. What he felt was merely that the breaking of the iron bonds of the old faith had weakened his powers of resistance as inevitably as it had liberated his thought. The sound of his own rebellion was in his ears, and filled with the noise of it, he had not stopped to reflect that the rebellion of his ancestors had seemed less loud only because it was inarticulate. Was it really that his generation had lost the capacity for endurance, the spiritual grace of self-denial, or was it simply that it had lost its reticence and its secrecy with the passing of its inflexible dogmas?

"Why, certainly you must go if you would care to," he answered.

"Perhaps Jenny will come over from Bryn Mawr to join us. The dear child was so disappointed that she couldn't come home for Christmas."

"If I'd known in time that she wasn't coming, I'd have found a way of getting down just for dinner with you. I hope you weren't alone, Virginia."

"Oh, no, Miss Priscilla came to spend the day with me. You know she used to take dinner with us every Christmas at the rectory."

A troubled look clouded his face. "Jenny ought to have been here," he said, and asked suddenly, as if it were a relief to him to change the subject: "Have you had news of Harry?"

The light which the name of Harry always brought to her eyes shone there now, enriching their faded beauty. "He writes to me every week. You know he hasn't missed a single Sunday letter since he first went off to school. He is wild about Oxford, but I think he gets a little homesick sometimes, though of course he'd never say so."

"He'll do well, that boy. The stuff is in him."

"I'm sure he's a genius if there ever was one, Oliver. Only yesterday Professor Trimble was telling me that Harry was far and away the most brilliant pupil he had ever had."

"Well, he's something to be proud of. And now what about Lucy? Is she still satisfied with Craven?"

"She never writes about anything else except about her house. Her marriage seems to have turned out beautifully. You remember I wrote you that she was perfectly delighted with her stepchildren, and she really appears to be as happy as the day is long."

"You never can tell. I thought she'd be back again before two months were up."

"I know. We all prophesied dreadful things--even Susan."

"That reminds me--I came down on the train with John Henry, and he said that Uncle Cyrus was breaking rapidly."

"He has never been the same since his wife's death," replied Virginia, who was a victim of this sentimental fallacy. "It's strange--isn't it?--because we used to think they got on so badly."

"I wonder if it is really that? Well, is there any other news? Has anything else happened?"

With his back to the fire, he stood looking down on her with kindly, questioning eyes. He had done his best; from the moment when he had entered the room and met the touching brightness in her face, he had struggled to be as natural, to be as affectionate even, as she desired. At the moment, so softened, so self-reproachful was his mood, he would willingly have cut off his arm for her could the sacrifice in any manner have secured her happiness. But there were times when it seemed easier to give his life for her than to live it with her; when to shed his blood would have cost less than to make conversation. He yearned over Virginia, but he could not talk to her. Some impregnable barrier of personality separated them as if it were a wall. Already they belonged to different generations; they spoke in the language of different periods. At forty-seven, that second youth, the Indian summer of the emotions, which lingers like autumnal sunshine in the lives of most men and of a few women, was again enkindling his heart. And with this return of youth, he felt the awakening of infinite possibilities of feeling, of the ancient ineradicable belief that happiness lies in possession. Love, which had used up her spirit and body in its service, had left him untouched by its exactions. While she, having fulfilled her nature, was content to live anew not in herself, but in her children, the force of personal desire was sweeping over him again, with all the flame and splendour of adolescence. The "something missing" waited there, just a little beyond, as he had seen it waiting in that enchanted May when he fell in love with Virginia. And between him and his vision of happiness there interposed merely his undisciplined conscience, his variable, though honest, desire to do the thing that was right. Duty, which had controlled Virginia's every step, was as remote and aloof from his life as was the creed of his fathers. Like his age, he was adrift among disestablished beliefs, among floating wrecks of what had once been rules of conduct by which men had lived. And the widening responsibilities, the deepening consciousness of a force for good greater than creed or rules, all the awakening moral strength which would lend balance and power to his age, these things had been weakened in his character by the indomitable egoism which had ordered his life. There was nothing for him to fall back upon, nothing that he could place above the restless surge of his will.

Sitting there in the firelight, with her loving eyes following his movements, she told him, bit by bit, all the latest gossip of Dinwiddie. Susan's eldest girl had developed a beautiful voice and was beginning to take lessons; poor Miss Priscilla had had a bad fall in Old Street while she was on the way to market, and at first they feared she had broken her hip, but it turned out that she was only dreadfully bruised; Major Peachey had died very suddenly and she had felt obliged to go to his funeral; Abby Goode had been home on a visit and everybody said she didn't look a day over twenty-five, though she was every bit of forty-four. Then, taking a little pile of samples from her work basket which stood on the table, she showed him a piece of black brocaded satin. "Miss Willy is making me a dress out of this to wear in New York with you. I don't suppose you noticed whether or not they were wearing brocade."

No, he hadn't noticed, but the sample was very pretty, he thought. "Why don't you buy a dress there, Virginia? It would save you so much trouble."

"Poor little Miss Willy has set her heart on making it, Oliver. And, besides, I shan't have time if we go only the day before."

A flush had come to her face; at the corners of her mouth a tender little smile rippled; and her look of faded sweetness gave place for an instant to the warmth and the animation of girlhood. But the excitement of girlhood could not restore to her the freshness of youth. Her pleasure was the pleasure of middle-age; the wistful expectancy in her face was the expectancy of one whose interests are centred on little things. That inviolable quality of self-sacrifice, the quality which knit her soul to the enduring soul of her race, had enabled her to find happiness in the simple act of renouncement. The quiet years had kept undiminished the inordinate capacity for enjoyment, the exaggerated appreciation of trivial favours, which had filled Mrs. Pendleton's life with a flutter of thankfulness; and while Virginia smoothed the piece of black brocade on her knee, she might have been the re-arisen pensive spirit of her mother. Of the two, perhaps because she had ceased to wish for anything for herself, she was happier than Oliver.

All through dinner, while her soft anxious eyes dwelt on him over the bowl of pink roses in the centre of the table, he tried hard to throw himself into her narrow life, to talk only of things in which he felt that she was interested. Slight as the effort was, he could see her gratitude in her face, could hear it in the gentle silvery sound of her voice. When he praised the dinner, she blushed like a girl; when he made her describe the dress which Miss Willy was making, she grew as excited as if she had been speaking of the sacred white satin she had worn as a bride. So little was needed to make her happy--that was the pathos! She was satisfied with the crumbs of life, and yet they were denied her. Though she had been alone ever since Lucy's wedding, she accepted his belated visit as thankfully as if it were a gratuitous gift. "It is so good of you to come down, dear, when you are needed every minute in New York," she murmured, with a caressing touch on his arm, and, looking at her, he was reminded of Mrs. Pendleton's tremulous pleasure in the sweets that came to her on little trays from her neighbours. Once she had said eagerly, "It will be so nice to see Miss Oldcastle, Oliver," and he had answered in a constrained tone which he tried to make light and casual, "I am not sure that the part is going to suit her."

Then he had changed the subject abruptly by rising from the table and asking her to let him see her latest letter from Harry.

The next morning he went out after breakfast to consult Cyrus about some investments, while Virginia laid out the lengths of brocade on the bed in the spare room, and sat down to wait for the arrival of the dressmaker. Outside, the trees were still white from the storm, and the wind, blowing through them, made a dry crackling sound as if it were rattling thorns in a forest. Though it was intensely cold, the sunshine fell in golden bars over the pavement and filled the town with a dazzling brilliancy through which the little seamstress was seen presently making her way. Alert, bird-like, consumed with her insatiable interest in other people, she entered, after she had removed her bonnet and wraps, and began to spread out her patterns. It was twenty-odd years since she had made the white satin dress in which Virginia was married, yet she looked hardly a day older than she had done when she knelt at the girl's feet and envied her happiness while she pinned up the shining train. Failing love, she had filled her life with an inextinguishable curiosity; and this passion, being independent of the desires of others, was proof alike against disillusionment and the destructive processes of time.

"So Mr. Treadwell has come home," she remarked, with a tentative flourish of the scissors. "I declare he gets handsomer every day that he lives. It suits him somehow to fill out, or it may be that I'm partial to fat like my poor mother before me."

"He does look well, but I'd hardly call him fat, would you?"

"Well, he's stouter than he used to be, anyway. Did he say when he was going to take you back with him?"

"Next Wednesday. We'll have to hurry to get this dress ready in time."

"I'll start right in at it. Have you made up your mind whether you'll have it princess or a separate waist and skirt?"

"I'm a little too thin for a princess gown, don't you think? Hadn't I better have it made like that black poplin which everybody thought looked so well on me?"

"But it ain't half so stylish as the princess. You just let me put a few cambric ruffles inside the bust and you'll stand out a plenty. I was reading in a fashion sheet only yesterday that they are trying to look as flat as they can manage in Paris."

"Well, I'll try it," murmured Virginia uncertainly, for her standards of dress were so vague that she was thankful to be able to rely on Miss Willy's self-constituted authority.

"You just leave it to me," was the dressmaker's reply, while she thrust the point of the scissors into the gleaming brocade on the bed.

The morning passed so quickly amid cutting, basting, and gossip, that it came as a surprise to Virginia when she heard the front door open and shut and Oliver's rapid step mounting the stairs. Meeting him in the hall, she led the way into her bedroom, and asked with the caressing, slightly conciliatory manner which expressed so perfectly her attitude toward life:

"Did you see Uncle Cyrus?"

"Yes, and he was nicer than I have ever known him to be. By the way, Virginia, I've transferred enough property to you to bring you in a separate income. This was really what I went down about."

"But what is the matter, dear? Don't you feel well? Have you had any worries that you haven't told me?"

"Oh, I'm all right, but it's better so in case something should happen."

"But what could possibly happen? I never saw you look better. Miss Willy was just saying so."

He turned away, not impatiently, but as one who is seeking to hide an emotion which has become too strong. Then without replying to her question, he muttered something about "a number of letters to write before dinner," and hurried out of the room and downstairs to his study.

"I wonder if he has lost money," she thought, vaguely troubled, as she instinctively straightened the brushes he had disarranged on the bureau. "Poor Oliver! He seems to think about nothing but money now, and he used to be so romantic."

He used to be so romantic! She repeated this to Susan that evening when, after Miss Willy's departure for the night, she took her friend into the spare room to show her the first shapings of the princess gown.

"Do you remember that we used to call him an incurable Don Quixote?" she asked. "And now he has become so different that at times it makes me smile to think of him as he was when I first knew him. I suppose it's better so, it's more normal. He used to be what Uncle Cyrus called 'flighty,' bent on reforming the world and on improving people, you know, and now he doesn't seem to care whether outside things are good or bad, just as long as his plays go well and he can give us all the money we want."

"It's natural, isn't it?" asked Susan. "One can't stay young forever, you see."

"And yet in some ways he doesn't appear to be a bit older. I like his hair being grey, don't you? It makes his colour look even richer than before."

"Yes," said Susan, "I like his hair and I like him. Only I wish he didn't have to leave you by yourself so much of the time."

"He is going to take me back with him on Wednesday. Miss Willy is making this dress for me to wear. I want to look nice because, of course, everybody will be noticing Oliver."

"It's lovely, and I'm sure you'll look as sweet as the angel that you are, Jinny," answered Susan, stooping to kiss her.

By Tuesday night the dress was finished, and Virginia was stuffing the sleeves with tissue paper before packing it into her trunk, when Oliver came into the room and stood watching her in silence.

"I do hope it won't get crumpled," she said anxiously as she spread a towel over the tray. "Miss Willy is so proud of it, and I don't believe I could have got anything prettier in New York."

"Virginia," he said suddenly, "you've set your heart on going to-morrow, haven't you?"

Turning from the trunk, she looked up at him with a tender, inquiring smile. Above her head the electric light, with which Oliver and the girls had insisted on replacing the gas-jets that she preferred, cast a hard glitter over the hollowed lines of her face and over the thinning curls which she had striven to brush back from her temples. Her figure, unassisted as yet by Miss Willy's ruffles, looked so fragile in the pitiless glare that his heart melted in one of those waves of sentimentality which, because they were impotent to affect his conduct, cost him so little. As she stood there, he realized more acutely than he had ever done before how utterly stationary she had remained since he married her. With her sweetness, her humility, her old-fashioned courtesy and consideration for others, she belonged still in the honey-scented twilight of the eighties. While he had moved with the world, she, who was confirmed in the traditions of another age, had never altered in spirit since that ecstatic moment when he had first loved her. The charm, the grace, the virtues, even the look of gentle goodness which had won his heart, were all there just as they had been when she was twenty. Except for the fading flesh, the woman had not changed; only the needs and the desires of the man were different. Only the resurgent youth in him was again demanding youth for its mate.

"Why, my trunk is all packed," she replied. "Has anything happened?"

"Oh, no, I was only wondering how you would manage to amuse yourself. You know I shall be at the theatre most of the time."

"But you mustn't have me on your mind a minute, Oliver. I won't go a step unless you promise me not to worry about me a bit. It's all so new to me that I shall enjoy just sitting in the hotel and watching the people."

"Then we'd better go to the Waldorf. That might interest you more."

His eagerness to provide entertainment for her touched her as deeply as if it had been a proof of his love instead of his anxiety, and she determined in her heart that if she were lonesome a minute he must never suspect it. Ennui, having its roots in an egoism she did not possess, was unknown to her.

"That will be lovely, dear. Lucy wrote me when she was there on her wedding trip that she used to sit for hours in the corridor looking at the people that went by, and that it was as good as a play."

"That settles it. I'll telegraph for rooms," he said cheerfully, relieved to find that she fell in so readily with his suggestion.

She was giving a last caressing pat to the tray before closing the trunk, and the look of her thin hands, with their slightly swollen knuckles, caused him to lean forward suddenly and wrest the keys away from her.

"Let me do that. I hate to see you stooping," he said.

The telegram was sent, and late the next evening, as they rolled through the brilliant streets towards the hotel, Virginia's interest was as effervescent as if she were indeed the girl that she almost felt herself to have become. The sound of the streets excited her like martial music, and little gasps of surprise and pleasure broke from her lips as the taxicab turned into Broadway. It was all so different from her other visit when she had come alone to find Oliver, sick with failure, in the dismal bedroom of that hotel. Now it seemed to her that the city had grown younger, that it was more awake, that it was brighter, gayer, and that she herself had a part in its brightness and its gaiety. The crowds on Broadway seemed keeping step to some happy tune, and she felt that her heart was dancing with them, so elated, so girlishly irresponsible was her mood.

"Why, Oliver, there is a sign of your play with a picture of Miss Oldcastle on it!" she exclaimed delightedly, pointing to an advertisement before a theatre they were passing. Then, suddenly, it appeared to her that the whole city was waving this advertisement. Wherever she turned "The Home" stared back at her, an orgy of red and blue surrounding the smiling effigy of the actress. And this proof of Oliver's fame thrilled her as she had not been thrilled since the telegram had come announcing that Harry had won the scholarship which would take him to Oxford. The woman's power of sinking her ambition and even her identity into the activities of the man was deeply interwoven with all that was essential and permanent in her soul. Her keenest joys, as well as her sharpest sorrows, had never belonged to herself, but to others. It was doubtful, indeed, if, since the day of her marriage, she had been profoundly moved by any feeling which was centred merely in a personal desire. She had wanted things for Oliver and for the children, but for herself there had been no separate existence apart from them.

"Oliver, I never dreamed that it would be like this. The play will be a great success--even a greater one than the last, won't it, dear?" Her face, with its exquisite look of exaltation, of self-forgetfulness, was turned eagerly towards the crowd of feverish pleasure-seekers that passed on, pursuing its little joys, under the garish signs of the street.

"Well, it ought to be," he returned; "it's bad enough anyway."

His eyes, like hers, were fixed on the thronging streets, but, unlike hers, they reflected the restless animation, the pathetic hunger, which made each of those passing faces appear to be the plastic medium of an insatiable craving for life. Handsome, well-preserved, a little over-coloured, a little square of figure, with his look of worldly importance, of assured material success, he stood to-day, as Cyrus had stood a quarter of a century ago, as an imposing example of that Treadwell spirit from which his youth had revolted.

That night, when they had finished dinner, and Oliver, in response to a telephone message, had hurried down to the theatre, Virginia went upstairs to her room, and, after putting on the lavender silk dressing-gown which Miss Willy had made for the occasion, sat down to write her weekly letter to Harry.

MY DARLING BOY.

I know you will be surprised to see from this letter that I am really in New York at last--and at the Waldorf! It seems almost like a dream to me, and whenever I shut my eyes, I find myself forgetting that I am not in Dinwiddie--but, you remember, your father had always promised me that I should come for the first night of his new play, which will be acted to-morrow. You simply can't imagine till you get here how famous he is and how interested people are in everything about him, even the smallest trifles. Wherever you look you see advertisements of his plays (he has three running now) and coming up Broadway for only a block or two last night, I am sure that I saw Miss Oldcastle's picture a dozen times. I should think she would hate dreadfully to have to make herself so conspicuous--for she has a nice, refined face--but Oliver says all actresses have to do it if they want to get on. He takes all the fuss they make over him just as if he despised it, though I am sure that in his heart he can't help being pleased. While we were having dinner, everybody in the dining-room was turning to look at him, and if I hadn't known, of course, that not a soul was thinking of me, I should have felt badly because I hadn't time to change my dress after I got here. All the other women were beautifully dressed (I never dreamed that there were so many diamonds in the world. Miss Willy would simply go crazy over them), but I didn't mind a bit, and if anybody thought of me at all, of course, they knew that I had just stepped off the train. After dinner your father went to the theatre, and I sat downstairs alone in the corridor for a while and watched the people coming and going. It was perfectly fascinating at first. I never saw so many beautiful women, and their hair was arranged in such a lovely way, all just alike, that it must have taken hours to do each head. The fashions that are worn here are not in the least like those of Dinwiddie, though Miss Willy made my black brocade exactly like one in a fashion plate that came directly from Paris, but I know that you aren't as much interested in this as Lucy and Jenny would be. The dear girls are both well, and Lucy is carried away with her stepchildren. She says she doesn't see why every woman doesn't marry a widower. Isn't that exactly like Lucy? She is always so funny. If only one of you were here with me, I should enjoy every minute, but after I'd sat there for a while in the midst of all those strangers, I began to feel a little lonely, so I came upstairs to write you this letter. New York is a fascinating place to visit, but I am glad I live in Dinwiddie where everybody knows me.

And now, my dearest boy, I must tell you how perfectly overjoyed I was to get your last letter, and to know that you are so delighted with Oxford. I think of you every minute, and I pray for you the last thing at night before I get into bed. Try to keep well and strong, and if you get a cold, be sure not to let it run on till it turns to a hacking cough. Remember that Doctor Fraser always used to say that every cough, no matter how slight, is dangerous. I hope you aren't studying too hard or overdoing athletics. It is so easy to tax one's strength too much when one gets excited. I am sure I don't know what to think of the English students being "standoffish" with Americans. It seems very foolish of them not to be nice and friendly, especially to Virginians, who were really English in the beginning. But I am glad that you don't mind, and that you would rather be a countryman of George Washington than a countryman of George the Third. Of course England is the greatest country in the world--you remember your grandfather always said that--and we owe it everything that we have, but I think it very silly of English people to be stiff and ill-mannered.

I hope you still read your Bible, darling, and that you find time to go to church once every Sunday. Even if it seems a waste of time to you, it would have pleased your grandfather, and for his sake I hope you will go whenever you can possibly do so. It was so sweet of you to write in Addison's Walk because you did not want to miss my Sunday letter and yet the day was too beautiful not to be out of doors. God only knows, my boy, what a comfort you are to me. There was never a better son nor one who was loved more devotedly.

YOUR MOTHER.


In the morning, with the breakfast tray, there arrived a bunch of orchids from one of Oliver's theatrical friends, who had heard that his wife was in town; and while Virginia laid the box carefully in the bathtub, her eyes shone with the grateful light which came into them whenever some one did her a small kindness or courtesy.

"They will be lovely for me to wear to-night, Oliver. It was so nice of him to send them, wasn't it?"

"Yes, it was rather nice," Oliver replied, looking up from his paper at the pleased sound of her voice. Ever since his return at a late hour last night, she had noticed the nervousness in his manner and had sympathetically attributed it to his anxiety about the fate of his play. It was so like Oliver to be silent and self-absorbed when he was anxious.

Through the day he was absent, and when he returned, in the evening, to dress for the theatre, she was standing before the mirror fastening the bunch of orchids on the front of her gown. As he entered, she turned toward him with a look of eager interest, of pleasant yet anxious excitement. She had never in her life, except on the morning of her wedding day, taken so long to dress; but it seemed to her important that as Oliver's wife she should look as nice as she could.

"Am I all right?" she asked timidly, while she cast a doubtful glance in the mirror at the skirt of the black brocade.

"Yes, you're all right," he responded, without looking at her, and the suppressed pain in his voice caused her to move suddenly toward him with the question, "Aren't you well, Oliver?"

"Oh, I'm well, but I'm tired. I had a headache on the way up and I haven't been able to shake it off."

"Shall I get you something for it?"

"No, it will pass. I'd like a nap, but I suppose it's time for me to dress."

"Yes, it's half-past six, and we've ordered dinner for seven."

He went into the dressing-room, and turning again to the mirror, she changed the position of the bunch of orchids, and gave a little dissatisfied pat to the hair on her forehead. If only she could bring back some of the bloom and the freshness of youth! The glow had gone out of her eyes; the winged happiness, which had given her face the look as of one flying towards life, had passed, leaving her features a little wan and drawn, and fading her delicate skin to the colour of withered flowers. Yet the little smile, which lingered like autumn sunshine around her lips, was full of that sweetness which time could not destroy, because it belonged not to her flesh, but to an unalterable quality of her soul; and this sweetness, which she exhaled like a fragrance, would cause perhaps one of a hundred strangers to glance after her with the thought, "How lovely that woman must once have been!"

"Are you ready?" asked Oliver, coming out of his dressing-room, and again she started and turned quickly towards him, because it seemed to her that she was hearing his voice for the first time. So nervous, so irritable, so quivering with suppressed feeling, was the sound of it, that she hesitated between the longing to offer sympathy and the fear that her words might only add to his suffering.

"Yes, I am quite ready," she answered, without adding that she had been ready for more than an hour; and picking up her wrap from the bed, she passed ahead of him through the door which he had opened. As he stopped to draw the key from the lock, her eyes rested with pride on the gloss of his hair, which had gone grey in the last year, and on his figure, with its square shoulders and its look of obvious distinction, as of a man who had achieved results so emphatically that it was impossible either to overlook or to belittle them. How splendid he looked! And what a pity that, after all his triumphs, he should still be so nervous on the first night of a play!

In the elevator there was a woman in an ermine wrap, with Titian hair under a jewelled net; and Virginia's eyes were suffused with pleasure as she gazed at her. "I never saw any one so beautiful!" she exclaimed to Oliver, as they stepped out into the hall; but he merely replied indifferently: "Was she? I didn't notice." Then his tone lost its deadness. "If you'll wait here a minute, I'd like to speak to Cranston about something," he said, almost eagerly. "I shan't keep you a second."

"Don't worry about me," she answered cheerfully, pleased at the sudden change in his manner. "Stay as long as you like. I never get tired watching the people."

He hurried off, while, dazzled by the lights, she drew back behind a sheltering palm, and stood a little screened from the brilliant crowd in which she took such innocent pleasure. "How I wish Miss Willy could be here," she thought, for it was impossible for her to feel perfect enjoyment while there existed the knowledge that another person would have found even greater delight in the scene than she was finding herself. "How gay they all look--and there are not any old people. Everybody, even the white-haired women, dress as if they were girls. I wonder what it is that gives them all this gloss as if they had been polished, the same gloss that has come on Oliver since he has been so successful? What a short time he stayed. He is coming back already, and every single person is turning to look at him."

Then a voice beyond the palm spoke as distinctly as if the words were uttered into her ear. "That's Treadwell over there--a good-looking man, isn't he?--but have you seen the dowdy, middle-aged woman he is married to? It's a pity that all great men marry young--and now they say, you know, that he is madly in love with Margaret Oldcastle----"

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Virginia - Book 3. The Adjustment - Chapter 5. Bitterness Virginia - Book 3. The Adjustment - Chapter 5. Bitterness

Virginia - Book 3. The Adjustment - Chapter 5. Bitterness
BOOK III. THE ADJUSTMENT CHAPTER V. BITTERNESSIn the night, after a restless sleep, she awoke in terror. A hundred incidents, a hundred phrases, looks, gestures, which she had thought meaningless until last evening, flashed out of the darkness and hung there, blazing, against the background of the night. Yesterday these things had appeared purposeless; and now it seemed to her that only her incredible blindness, only her childish inability to face any painful fact until it struck her between the eyes, had kept her from discovering the truth before it was thrust on her by the idle chatter of strangers. A
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Virginia - Book 3. The Adjustment - Chapter 3. Middle-Age Virginia - Book 3. The Adjustment - Chapter 3. Middle-Age

Virginia - Book 3. The Adjustment - Chapter 3. Middle-Age
BOOK III. THE ADJUSTMENT CHAPTER III. MIDDLE-AGEJenny had promised to come home a week before Lucy's wedding, but at the last moment, while they waited supper for her, a telegram announced with serious brevity that she was "detained." Twenty-four hours later a second telegram informed them that she would not arrive until the evening before the marriage, and at six o'clock on that day, Virginia, who had been packing Lucy's trunks ever since breakfast, looked out of the window at the sound of the door-bell, and saw the cab which had contained her second daughter standing beside the curbstone. "Mother, have
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