Book II
Chapter VI
 

I

The darkness had come early with the high rolling fog that shut out the stars. The fog horn and the bells were silent but the wind had a thin anxious note as if lost, and the long creaking eucalyptus trees angrily repelled it as if irritated beyond endurance by its eternal visitations.

Alexina, who had been reading in her bedroom, realized that it must be quite half an hour since she had turned a page. She lifted her shoulders impatiently. She was in no humor for reading.

It was only eight o'clock. Far too early for bed. Mortimer had gone to Los Angeles on business. He had been gone a week, and she admitted to herself with the new frankness she had determined to cultivate--that she might meet, with the clearest possible vision, whatever three-cornered deals Life might have in store for her--that she had not missed him at all. His absence had been a heavenly interlude. She and Aileen had gone to the moving pictures unescorted every night (a performance of which he would have disapproved profoundly), and they had lunched downtown every day until Alexina had suddenly discovered that she had no more money in her purse; and, knowing nothing whatever even of minor finance, was under the impression that having given Mortimer her power of attorney she would not be able to draw from the bank.

Aileen had gone down to Burlingame to visit Sibyl Bascom for a few days. Alexina had declined to go, although it was a quiet party; it would be embarrassing not to tip the servants.

The wind gave a long angry shriek as it flew round the corner of the house and fastened its teeth in its enemies, the eucalyptus trees; who shook it off with a loud furious rattle of their leaves and slapped the window severely for good measure.

Alexina was used to San Francisco in all her many moods, but to-night, the wind and the high gray fog shutting out the stars, the silent house--silent that is but for the mice playing innocently between the walls--her complete solitude, made her restless and a little nervous.

What could she do?

She knew quite well that she had wanted to go to see Gora for a week. She had not indulged in any silly dreams about Gathbroke but she was curious to see his photograph. She remembered that it had crossed her mind that April day under the oak tree that if he had been older, if he had outgrown his hopelessly youthful curve of cheek, his fresh color, and the inability to conceal the asinine condition to which she had immediately reduced him, she might have given him an equal chance with Morty.

Aileen had said that he looked older. She had a quite natural curiosity to decide for herself if, had he been born several years earlier, he would have proved the successful rival in that foundational period of their youth....Or perhaps she was the reason of his rather sudden maturity. After all there was no great chasm between twenty-three and twenty-six and three-quarters. She looked little if any older. Neither did Morty, nor any one she knew.

This idea thrilled her, and, grimly determined upon no compromise or evasion, she admitted it.

Moreover, she wanted to sound out Gora.

Somehow she had no real belief that he had transferred his affections to her dissimilar sister-in-law, but her interest in Gora was growing. She wanted to know her better.

Besides, although she had often invited her to tea on her free afternoons, and to dinner whenever possible, and had occasionally dropped in to see her while she was still in the hospital, she had never called on her in her home. As Gora only slept there after a killing day's or night's work, visitors were anything but welcome; nevertheless she felt that she had been negligent, rude--three years!--and as Gora was not on a case for a day or two, now was the time to atone.

Moreover, she had never been out quite alone at night, except to run down the avenue and across the street to Aileen's. It was a long way down to Geary Street, and Fillmore Street at night was "tough." Mortimer would be furious.

She hastily changed her dinner gown to a plain walking suit of black tweed and pinned on a close hat firmly, prepared to defy the wind and thoroughly to enjoy her little adventure. Not since she had stolen out to go to forbidden parties with Aileen had she felt such a sense of altogether reprehensible elation.