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"What, pray, _are_ the circ.u.mstances? I tell you that I am to marry the man whom I choose to marry. You advised me--you nearly _forced_ me, once--to marry the man whom it was an outrage to make my husband!"
"What I tell you is true! He whom I select is not of your world! And, by the way, what is your world? A little throng of mannerists, sn.o.bs, and triflers! I care nothing for such a world! I want a larger and a better.
You say that I have failed in my effort to break down this barrier of conservatism which hedged me about from my birth.... Well, allow that I _have_ failed in that! I have not failed in finding some true gold from all that you sneer at as tawdry dross!... Tawdry! I did well to chance upon the word! What was that gentlemanly bit of vice whom you were so willing I should marry a few years ago? You've just aired your tenets to me; I'll air a few of mine to you now. We live in New York, you and I.
Do you know what New York means? It means what America means--or what America _ought_ to mean, from Canada to the Gulf! And that is--exemption from the hateful bonds of self-glorifying sn.o.bbery which have disgraced Europe for centuries! You call yourself an aristocrat. How dare you do so? You dwell in a land which was washed with the blood, less than a century ago, of men who died to kill just what you boast of and exalt!
Look more to your breeding and your brains, and less to your so-called caste! I come of your own race, and can speak with right about it. What was it, less than four generations ago? You call it Dutch, and with a grand air. It flowed in the veins of immigrant Dutchmen, who would have opened their eyes with wonder to see the mansion you dwell in, the silver forks you eat with! _They_ dwelt in wooden shanties and ate with pewter forks.... Your objection to my marriage with Ralph Kindelon is horrible--that and nothing more! He towers above the idiot whom you are glad to have Sallie marry! What do I care for the little 'lord'? You bow before it; I despise it. You call my project, my dream, my desire, a failure ... I grant that it is. But it is immeasurably above that petty worship of the Golden Calf, which _you_ name respectability and which _I_ denounce as only a pitiful sham! The world is growing older, but you don't grow old with it. You close your eyes to all progress. You get a modish milliner, you keep your pew in Grace Church, you drop a big coin into the plate when a millionaire hands it to you, and you are content.
Your contentment is a pitiful fraud. Your purse could do untold good, and yet you keep it clasped--or, if you loose the clasp, you do it with a flourish, a vogue, an _eclat_.... Mrs. Amsterdam has done the same for this or that asylum or hospital, and so you, with fashionable acquiescence, do likewise. And you--you, Cynthia Poughkeepsie, who tried to wreck my girlish life and almost succeeded--you, who read nothing of what great modern minds in their grandly helpful impulse toward humanity are trying to make humanity hear--you, who think the fit set of a patrician's gown above the big struggle of men and women to live--you, who immerse yourself in idle vanities and talk of everyone outside your paltry pale as you would talk of dogs--_you_ dare to upbraid me because I announce to you that I will marry a man whom power of mind makes your superior, and whom natural gifts of courtesy make far more than your equal!"
As Pauline hotly finished she saw her aunt recede many steps from her.
"Oh, this--this is frightful!" gasped Mrs. Poughkeepsie. "It--it is the _theatre_! You will go on the stage, I suppose. It seems to me you have done everything but go on the stage, already! That would be the crowning insult to yourself--to your family!"
"I shan't go on the stage," shot Pauline, "because I have no talent for it. If I had talent, perhaps I would go. I think it a far better life for an American woman than to prate triumphantly about marrying her daughter to a t.i.tled English fool!"
Mrs. Poughkeepsie uttered a cry, at this point. She pa.s.sed from the room, and Pauline, overcome with the excess of her disclaimer, soon afterward sank upon a chair....
An almost hysterical fit of weeping at once followed.... It must have been a half-hour later when she felt Kindelon's face lowered to her own.
He had nearly always come, since their engagement, at more or less unexpected hours.
"Some hateful thing has happened," he said very tenderly; "whom have you seen? Why do you sob so, Pauline? Have you seen _her_? Has Cora Dares been here?"
Pauline almost sprang from her chair, facing him. "Cora Dares," she cried, plaintively and with pa.s.sion. "Why do you mention her name now?"
Kindelon folded her in his strong arms. "Pauline," he expostulated, "be quiet! I merely thought of what you yourself had told me, and of what I myself had told _you_? What is it, then, since it is not she? Tell me, and I will listen as best I can."
She soon began to tell him, leaning her head upon his broad breast, falteringly and with occasional severe effort.
"I--I was wrong," she at length finished. "I should not have spoken so rashly, so madly.... But it was all because of you, Ralph--because of my love for you!"
He pressed her more closely within the arms that held her.
"I don't blame you!" he exclaimed. "You were wrong, as you admit that you were wrong ... but I don't blame you!"
That night was an almost sleepless one for Pauline, and during the next morning she was in straits of keen contrition. Theoretically she despised her aunt, but in reality she despised far more her own loss of control. Her self-humiliation was so pungent, indeed, that when, at twelve o'clock on this same day, Courtlandt's card was handed to her, she felt a strong desire to escape seeing him, through the facile little falsehood of a "not at home." But she concluded, presently, that it would be best to face the situation at once, since avoidance would be simply postponement. Courtlandt was as inevitable as death; he must be met sooner or later.
She met him. She did not expect that he would offer her his hand, and she made no sign of offering her own. He was standing near a small table, as she entered, and his attention seemed much occupied with some exquisitely lovely roses in a vase of aerial porcelain. He somehow contrived not wholly to disregard the roses while he regarded Pauline.
It was very cleverly done, and with that unconscious quiet which stamped all his clever doings.
"These are very nice," he said, referring to the roses. He had a pair of tawny gloves grasped in one hand, and he made an indolent, whipping gesture toward the vase while Pauline seated herself. But he still remained standing.
"Yes," she replied, as we speak words automatically. "They are rare here, but I know that kind of rose in Paris."
"Did your future husband send them?" asked Courtlandt. His composure was superb. He did not look at Pauline, but with apparent carelessness at the flowers.
"Yes," she said; and then, after a slight pause, she added: "Mr.
Kindelon sent them."
Courtlandt fixed his eyes upon her face, here. "Wasn't it rather sudden?" he questioned.
"Sudden? Well, I suppose so."
"I didn't expect it quite yet."
She gave a little laugh which sounded thin and paltry to her own ears.
"That means you were prepared for it, then?"
"Oh, I saw it coming."
"And Aunt Cynthia has told you, no doubt."
"Yes. Aunt Cynthia has told me. I felt that I ought to drop in with my congratulations."
Pauline rose now; her lips were trembling, and her voice likewise, as she said:--
"I do hope that you give them sincerely, Court."
"Oh, if you put it in that way, I don't give them at all."
"Then you came here to mock me?"
"I don't know why I came here. I think it would have been best for me not to come. I thought so when I decided to come. Probably you do not understand this. I can't help you, in that case, for I don't understand it myself."
"I choose to draw my own conclusions, and they are kindly and friendly ones. Never mind how or what I understand. You are here, and you have said nothing rude yet. I hope you are not going to say anything rude, for I haven't the heart to pick a quarrel with you--one of our old, funny, soon-healed quarrels, you know. I am too happy, in one way, and too repentant in another."
"Yes. I said frightful things yesterday to Aunt Cynthia. I dare say she has repeated them."
"Oh, yes, she repeated every one of them."
"And no doubt with a good deal of wrathful embellishment!" here exclaimed Pauline, bristling.
"Do you think they would bear decoration? Wouldn't it be like putting a cupola on the apex of the Trinity Church steeple?"
"Not at all!" cried Pauline. "I might have said a great deal worse!
Oceans and continents lie between Aunt Cynthia and myself! And I told her so!"