Book III
Chapter III
 

I

Alexina, although she would have found it impossible, even if she had so desired, to relapse into the incognitance of the years preceding her mother's death, had nevertheless locked and sealed and cellared her ivory tower, those depths of her nature where, she suspected, her true ego dwelt. It was an ego she had forfeited the right to indulge, nor had she at this time any desire to know more of herself than she did. Life after all was very pleasant; she managed to fill it with many little and even a few absorbing interests; and once she spent a month at Santa Barbara chaperoning Janet Maynard, where her duties sat lightly upon her and she would have responded naturally if addressed as Miss Groome, so completely did Mortimer fade into the background. In the summer of nineteen-thirteen Judge Lawton and Aileen overcame all protests and took her with them to Europe, where, after a month in Paris, she visited Olive de Morsigny in her renaissance chateau on the Loire. The memory of Gathbroke revisited her and she half-wished the Judge would go to England, but the climate did not agree with him, and after a few more enchanted weeks, in Italy and Spain, she returned to Mortimer, who was distinctly duller than ever.

But she had reconciled herself long since to the dullness of her life-partner; he could not help it and she had willfully married him in the face of as imposing a phalanx of family and friendly opposition as ever attempted to stand between a girl and her fate.

Nevertheless, immediately after her return from Santa Barbara in the late autumn of nineteen-eleven, and wholly without, analysis or pondering, she made a significant change in the order of her life. Mortimer, who had, during her absence, occupied a large room at the back of the house visited by the afternoon sun, found himself invited to retain it....They must avoid the least possibility of a family until they were better off....She had been hearing the subject discussed...the most economical baby cost fifty dollars a month. With a permanent trained nurse, and of course they would have one, the cost would easily be doubled...thousands were required for the proper education of a child...even if she had girls she should wish them to go to college; she was not half educated herself...and boys, with their extravagances, their debts, they cost a mint; it was better for children to be born outright in the humbler classes than to be born into a rich set without riches themselves...it all put her in a panic every time she thought of it....Morty was so sensible and had such a high sense of responsibility, of course he understood...children, even when small, would hamper him fearfully, especially as he had not even begun to make his million....As for herself she would be more economical than ever and help him like the good pal she was.

Mortimer had the sensation of being trussed up with invisible but inflexible silken thongs. His thoughts need not be recorded.

II

Alexina refurnished her bedroom in her favorite periwinkle blue; a low graceful day-bed with a screen before the stationary washstand helped to create the atmosphere of a boudoir. It had an intensely personal atmosphere in which man, more particularly a lawful husband, had no place.

When Alexina stood on the threshold and surveyed this room, chaste, cool, proud, and exquisitely lovely, she lifted her hand and blew off a kiss, out of the window, wafting away the memory of the room as it had been. She had remarkable powers of obliteration, a sort of River of Lethe among the backwaters of her mind, where she held below the surface all she wished to forget until it ceased to struggle. She never again gave a thought to her early relationship with her husband; not even to the indifference or distaste which had followed so quickly upon her curiosity and her determination to feel romantic at all costs.

III

Subtly she felt she was happier than she had ever been even in those first weeks, when she had barred the gates of her fool's paradise behind her; she felt as free and happy as the birds skimming over the beds of periwinkle below her window, and (miraculously finding her second youth quite as productive as her first) took no pains to conceive of anything better. She looked neither forward nor back, and all was well.

She even flirted a little, that being the fashion, and, having had enough of business men, encouraged the devotions of Bascom Luning and Jimmie Thorne. She saw them when they chose to call in the daytime, and regaled the glowering Mortimer at the dinner table with scraps of their sapience.

Mortimer had resigned himself long since to the sacrifice of several of his bourgeois ambitions, among them to be master in his own house; but not an iota of his convictions. Although it would not have occurred to him to distrust his wife if she had chosen to sit up all night with a man, he made frozen comments upon the impropriety of a woman having men in the house when her husband was not there, sitting out dances with men, taking long tramps through Marin County with three men and no one for chaperon but Alice Thorndyke and Janet Maynard--shocking flirts--whole Sundays--with lunch heaven knew where, and himself, who hated tramping, not included.

But these grim remonstrances were met in so gay a spirit of badinage that he felt ridiculous, particularly as no powers of badinage or of repartee had been included in his own mental equipment; and he usually relapsed into a polite and bored silence.

He never had had much to say at the dinner table when they were alone, and, as time went on, his comments on the day were exhausted before the soup had given place to the entree, and Alexina fell into the habit of bringing her Italian text-book to the table--the study of Italian just then being the rage in her set--and whatever interesting book she had on hand. Mortimer made no protest. His brain was fagged at night. It was a relief not to be expected to talk when they dined alone; those long silences had been oppresive even to him; he rather welcomed the books.