Page images
PDF
EPUB

a

that vast refuge of the homeless, the modern hotel, where she sat until the small hours looking down upon the myriad lights of the shore front, and out beyond them on the black waters of an inland sea.

From Newport to Salomon City, in a state not far from the Pacific tier, is something of a transition in less than a week, though in modern life we should be surprised at nothing. Limited trains are wonderful enough; but what shall be said of the modern mind, that travels faster than light? and much too fast for the pages of a chronicle. Martha Washington and the good ladies of her acquaintance knew nothing about the upper waters of the Missouri, and the words “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer” were not merely literature to them.

Nous avons changé tout cela, although there are yet certain crudities to be eliminated. In these enlightened times, if in one week a lady is not entirely at home with husband number one, in the next week she may have travelled in comparative comfort some two-thirds across a continent, and be on the highroad to husband number two. Why travel? Why have to put up with all this useless expense and worry and waste of time? Why not have one's divorce sent, C.O.D., to one's door, or establish a new branch of the Post-office Department? American enterprise has surely lagged in this.

Seated in a plush-covered rocking-chair that rocked on a track of its own, and thus saved the yellow-and-red hotel carpet, the Honourable Dave Beckwith patiently explained the vexatious process demanded by his particular sovereign state before she should consent to cut the Gordian knot of marriage. And his state—the Honourable Dave remarkedwas in the very forefront of enlightenment in this respect: practically all that she demanded was that ladies in Mrs. Spence's predicament should become, pro tempore, her citizens. Married misery did not exist in the Honourable Dave's state, amongst her own bona fide citizens. And, by a wise provision in the Constitution of our glorious American Union, no one state could tie the nuptial knot so tight that another state could not cut it at a blow.

a

a

a

a

a

Six months' residence, and a whole year before the divorce could be granted! Honora looked at the plush rocking-chair, the yellow-and-red carpet, the inevitable ice-water on the marble-topped table, and the picture of a lady the shape of a liqueur bottle playing tennis in the late eighties, and sighed. For one who is sensitive to surroundings, that room was a torture chamber.

“But Mr. Beckwith,” she exclaimed, “I never could spend a year here! Isn't there a house I could get that is a—a little

- a little better furnished? And then there is a certain publicity about staying at a hotel.”

The Honourable Dave might have been justly called the friend of ladies in a temporary condition of loneliness. His mission in life was not merely that of a liberator, but his natural goodness led him to perform a hundred acts of kind. ness to make as comfortable as possible the purgatory of the unfortunates under his charge. He was a man of a remarkable appearance, and not to be lightly forgotten. His hair, above all, fascinated Honora, and she found her eyes continually returning to it. So incredibly short it was, and so incredibly stiff, that it reminded her of the needle points on the cylinder of an old-fashioned music-box; and she wondered, if it were properly inserted, what would be the resultant melody.

The Honourable Dave's head was like a cannon-ball painted white. Across the top of it (a blemish that would undoubtedly have spoiled the tune) was a long scar,--a relic of one of the gentleman's many personal difficulties. He who made the scar, Honora reflected, must have been a strong man. The Honourable Dave, indeed, had fought his way upward through life to the Congress of the United States; and many were the harrowing tales of frontier life he told Honora in the long winter evenings when the blizzards came down the river valley. They would fill a book; unfortunately, not this book. The growing responsibilities of taking care of the lonely ladies that came in increasing numbers to Salomon City from the effeter portions of the continent had at length compelled him to give up his con

a

gressional career. The Honourable Dave was unmarried; and, he told Honora, not likely to become so. He was thus at once human and invulnerable, a high priest dedicated to freedom.

It is needless to say that the plush rocking-chair and the picture of the liqueur-bottle lady did not jar on his sensibilities. Like an eminent physician who has never himself experienced neurosis, the Honourable Dave firmly believed that he understood the trouble from which his client was suffering. He had seen many cases of it in ladies from the Atlantic coast: the first had surprised him, no doubt: Salomon City, though it contained the great boon, was not æsthetic. Being a keen student of human nature, he rightly supposed that she would not care to join the colony, but he thought it his duty to mention that there was a colony.

Honora repeated the word.

“Out there,” he said, waving his cigar to the westward, "some of the ladies have ranches." Some of the gentle men, too, he added, for it appeared that exiles were not confined to one sex. “It's social-a little too social, I

guess, declared Mr. Beckwith, "for you.” A delicate compliment of differentiation that Honora accepted gravely. “They've got a casino, and they burn a good deal of electricity first and last. They don't bother Salomon City much. Once in a while, in the winter, they come in a bunch to the theatre. Soon as I looked at you I knew you wouldn't want to go there."

Her exclamation was sufficiently eloquent.

“I've got just the thing for you,” he said. “It looks a little as if I was reaching out into the sanitarium business. Are you acquainted by any chance with Mrs. Boutwell, who married a fellow named Waterford?” he asked, taking momentarily out of his mouth the cigar he was smoking by permission.

Honora confessed, with no great enthusiasm, that she knew the present Mrs. Waterford. Not the least of her tribulations had been to listen to a partial recapitulation, by the Honourable Dave, of the ladies he had assisted to a transfer of husbands. What, indeed, had these ladies to do with her?

99

9

а

She felt that the very mention of them tended to soil the pure garments of her martyrdom.

“What I was going to say was this,” the Honourable Dave continued. “Mrs. Boutwell—that is to say Mrs. Waterfordcouldn't stand this hotel any more than you, and she felt like

you do about the colony, so she rented a little house up on Wylie Street and furnished it from the East. I took the furniture off her hands: it's still in the house, by the way, which hasn't been rented. For I figured it out that another lady would be coming along with the same notions. Now you can look at the house

any
time
you

like.” Although she had to overcome the distaste of its antecedents, the house, or rather the furniture, was too much of a find in Salomon City to be resisted. It had but six rooms, and was of wood, and painted grey, like its twin beside it. But Mrs. Waterford had removed the stained-glass windowlights in the front door, deftly hidden the highly ornamental steam radiators, and made other eliminations and improvements, including the white book-shelves that still contained the lady's winter reading-fifty or more yellow-and-greenbacked French novels and plays. Honora's first care, after taking possession, was to order her maid to remove these from her sight: but it is to be feared that they found their way, directly, to Mathilde's room. Honora would have liked to fumigate the house; and yet, at the same time, she thanked her stars for it. Mr. Beckwith obligingly found her a cook, and on Thursday evening she sat down to supper in her tiny dining room. She had found a temporary haven, at last.

Suddenly she remembered that it was an anniversary, One week ago that day, in the old garden at Beaulieu, had occurred the momentous event that had changed the current of her life!

CHAPTER IX

THERE was

Wylie Street

a little spindle-supported porch before Honora's front door, and had she chosen she might have followed the example of her neighbours and sat there in the evenings. She preferred to watch the life about her from the window-seat in the little parlour. The word exile suggests, perhaps, to those who have never tried it, empty wastes, isolation, loneliness. She had been prepared for these things, and Wylie Street was a shock to her: in sending her there at this crisis in her life fate had perpetrated nothing less than a huge practical joke. Next door, for instance, in the twin house to hers, flaunted in the face of liberal divorce laws, was a young couple with five children. Honora counted them, from the eldest ones that ran over her little grass plot on their way to and from the public school, to the youngest that spent much of his time gazing skyward from a perambulator on the sidewalk. Six days of the week, about six o'clock in the evening, there was a celebration in the family. Father came home from work! He was a smoothfaced young man whom a fortnight in the woods might have helped wonderfully—a clerk in the big department store.

He radiated happiness. When opposite Honora's front door he would open his arms—the signal for a race across her lawn. Sometimes it was the little girl, with pigtails the colour of pulled molasses candy, who won the prize of the first kiss: again it was her brother, a year her junior; and when he was raised it was seen that the seat of his trousers was obviously double. But each of the five received a reward, and the baby was invariably lifted out of the perambulator. And finally there was a conjugal kiss on the spindled porch.

The wife was a roly-poly little body. In the mornings at the side windows, Honora heard her singing as she worked,

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »