Book III
Chapter VIII
 

I

She concluded, while she dressed for dinner, that she must be a coward.

Alexina was far from satisfied with herself as she was; she would have liked to possess a great talent like Gora, or be an intellectual power in the world of some sort. She was far from stultification by the national gift of complacence, careless self-satisfaction--racial rather than individual...qualities that have made the United States lag far behind the greater European nations in all but material development and a certain inventiveness; both of which in some cases are outclassed in the older world.

A California woman of her mother's generation had become a great and renowned archaeologist and lived romantically in a castle in the City of Mexico. She bad often wished, since her serious mental life had begun, that this gift had descended upon her--the donee had also been a member of the A. A., and this striking endowment might just as well have tarried a generation and a half longer.

She was by no means avid of publicity--people seldom are until they have tasted of it--but she would have enjoyed a rapid and brilliant development of her mental faculties with productiveness of some sort either as a sequel or an interim. It was impossible to advance much farther in her present circumstances.

No, she was far from perfect, and willing to admit it; but she had always assumed that courage, moral as well as physical, was an accompaniment of race, like breeding and certain automatic impulses. But her hands were trembling and her cheeks drained of every drop of color because she must have a plain and serious talk with a guilty wretch. She had nothing to fear, but she could not have felt worse if she had been the culprit herself. What was human nature but a bundle of paradoxes?

At least she had the respite of the dinner hour. Only a fiend would spoil a man's dinner--and cigar--no matter what he had done. That would make the full time of her own respite about an hour and twenty minutes.

In a moment of panic she contemplated telephoning to Aileen and begging her to come over to dinner. She also no doubt could get Bascom Luning and Jimmie Thorne. Then it would not be possible to speak to Mortimer before to-morrow as he always fell asleep at ten o'clock when there was no dancing....To-morrow it would be easier, and wiser. One should never speak in anger....

But she was quite aware that her anger had burnt itself out. Her mind felt as cold as her hands. Better have it over. She put on a severe black frock, not only suitable to the occasion but as a protection from disarming compliments. Mortimer, who dressed so well himself that it would have been as impossible for him to overdress as to be rude to a woman, disliked dark severity in woman's attire. He never criticized his wife's clothes, but when they displeased him he ignored them with delicate ostentation.

II

Alexina had begun to feel that she should scream in the complete silence of the dining-room when Mortimer unexpectedly made a remark.

"Gora arrives to-morrow. Will you meet her? I shall not have time."

"Of course. I shall be delighted to see her again. It would have been an ideal arrangement if I could have left her here with you when I went to Europe."

"Yes. She was here for a week. I missed her when she left."

"W-h-at? When was she here? You never told me."

"I forgot. It was soon after you left. The ship was disabled--fire, I think,--and put back. I asked her to stay here until the next sailing."

"How jolly."

Again there was a complete silence. But Alexina did not notice it. Her brain was whirling. After all, she might be mistaken! Mortimer! He might be innocent....To think of Gora as a thief was fantastic...was it?...Was she not Mortimer's sister?...Why he rather than she?...And what after all did she know of Gora?...She inspired some people with distrust, even fear....That might be the cause of Mortimer's depression....He knew it....

At all events it was a straw and she grasped it as if it had been a plank in mid-ocean. With even a bare chance that Mortimer was innocent it would be unpardonable to insult and wound him....Nor was it quite possible to ask him if his sister were a thief. She must wait, of course.

And if Gora had taken the bonds they might be recovered. It would be like a woman to secrete them in a reaction of terror after having nerved herself up to the deed.

She wished that Gora had gone to Hong Kong. Bolted. Then she could be certain. But at least she had a respite, and she felt so ebullient that she almost forgot her loss, and swept Morty over to the Lawtons after dinner; and the Judge took them all to the movies.