Book III
Chapter XI
 

I

She walked down the avenue with him, listening to his angry account of the great coal strike in West Virginia, where the families of miners in their beds had been fired on from armored motor cars, and both strikers and civilians were armed to the teeth.

"That's the kind of war--civil war--we can't prevent--not yet. No wonder some of us want quick action and turn into I.W.Ws. Of course they're fools, just poor boobs, to think they can win out that way, but you can't blame 'em. Lord, if we only could move a little faster. If Marx had been a good prophet we'd have the socialized state to-day. Things didn't turn out according to Hoyle. Lots of the proletariat ain't proletariat any longer, instead of overrunning the earth; and in place of a handful of great capitalists to fight we've a few hundred thousand little capitalists, or good wage earners with white collars on, that have about as much use for socialism as they have for man-eating tigers. I'm thinking about this country principally. Too much chance for the individual. Trouble is, the individual, like as not, don't know what's good for him and goes under, like the man you've been telling me about."

"There's only one thing I apprehend in your socialistic state," said Alexina, who always became frivolous when Kirkpatrick waxed serious, "and that is universal dissolution from sheer ennui. Either that or we'll go on eternally rowing about something else. Earth has never been free from war since the beginning of history, and there is trouble of some sort going on somewhere all the time--"

"All due to capitalism."

"Capitalism hasn't always existed."

"Human greed has, and the dominance of the strong over the weak."

"Exactly, and socialism if she ever gets her chance will dominate all she knows how. Remember what you said just now about forcing the pampered women to work when they were the underdog. But the point is that Nature made Earthians a fighting breed. She must have had a good laugh when we named another planet Mars."

"Well, we'll fight about worthier things."

"Don't be too sure. We fight about other things now. All the trouble in the world isn't caused by money or the want of it. And what about the religious wars--"

III

It was at this inopportune moment that they met Mortimer. If Alexina had remembered that this was his homing hour she would have parted from her visitor at the drawing-room door; but in truth she had dismissed Mortimer from her mind.

He halted some paces off and glared from his wife's diaphanous costume to the workman in his rough clothes and flannel shirt. As the avenue sloped abruptly he was at a disadvantage, and it was all he could do to keep from grinding his teeth.

Alexina went forward and placed her hand within his arm, giving it a warning pressure.

"Now, at last, you and Mr. Kirkpatrick will meet. You've always so snubbed our little attempts to understand some of the things that men know all about, that you've never met any of our teachers. But no one has taught, me as much as Mr. Kirkpatrick, so shake hands at once and be friends."

Mortimer extended a straight and wooden hand. Kirkpatrick touched, and dropped it as if lie feared contamination, Mortimer ascended a few steps and from this point of vantage looked down his unmitigated disapproval and contempt. Kirkpatrick would have given his hopes of the speedy demise of capitalism if Alexina had picked up her periwinkle skirts and fled up the avenue. His big hands clenched, he thrust out his pugnacious jaw, his hard little eyes glowed like poisonous coals. Mortimer, to do him justice, was entirely without physical cowardice, and continued to look like a stage lord dismissing a varlet.

Kirkpatrick caught Alexina's imploring eyes and turned abruptly on his heel, "So long," he said. "Guess I'd better be getting on."

IV

"I won't have that fellow in the house," said Mortimer, in a low tone of white fury. "To think that my wife--my wife--"

"If you don't mind we won't talk about it."

Alexina was on the opposite side of the avenue and her head was in the air. She had long since ceased to carry her spine in a tubercular droop and when she chose she could draw her body up until it seemed to elongate like the neck of a giraffe, and overtop Mortimer or whoever happened to have incurred her wrath.

Mortimer glowered at her. He had many grievances. For the moment he forgot that she might have any against him.

"And out here in broad daylight, almost on the street, in that tea gown--"

"I have often been quite on the street in similar ones. Going over to Aileen's. You forget that the Western Addition is like a great park set with the homes of people more or less intimate."

Mortimer made no further remarks. He had never pretended to be a match for her in words. But the agitating incident seemed to have lifted him temporarily at least out of the nether depths of his depression, for although he talked little at dinner he appeared to eat with more relish. As he settled himself to his cigar in a comfortable wicker chair on the terrace and she was about to return to the house he spoke abruptly in a faint firm voice.

"Will you stay here? I've got something to say to you."

"Oh?"

She wheeled about. His face was a sickly greenish white in the heavy shade of the trees.

"It's--it's--something I've been wanting to say--tell you...as well now as any time."

"Oh, very well. I must write just one letter."

She ran into the house and up the stairs and shut herself in the library, breathless, panic-stricken. He was going to confess! How awful! How awful! How could she ever go through with it? Why, why, hadn't she spoken at once and got it over?

She sat quite still until she had ceased trembling and her heart no longer pounded and affected her breathing. Then she set her teeth and went downstairs.