Book III
Chapter XV
 

I

It was a week later. Alexina was changing her dress. Maria had asked a number of her girlhood friends in for luncheon, and they were to exchange reminiscences in the old house over a table laden as of yore with the massive Ballinger silver, English cutglass, and French china. Alexina was about to take refuge with Janet Maynard.

Her door opened unceremoniously and Gora entered.

Alexina caught her breath as she saw her sister-in-law's eyes. They looked like polar seas in a tropical storm.

"Why, Gora, dear," she said lightly. "I thought you were on an important case."

"Man died last night. I have just been to see Mortimer. When I got his note--just three lines--saying that he had received a cheque from Utica and deposited it to my account I knew at once--as soon as I had time to think--there was something wrong. The natural thing would have been to call me up--couldn't tell me the good news too soon....And there was a hollow ring about that note....Well, as soon as I woke up to-day I went straight down to his office. I had to wait an hour. When he came in and saw me he turned green. I marched him into a back room and corkscrewed the truth out of him--the whole truth. Then I blasted him. He knows exactly what one person in this world thinks of him, what everybody else would think of him if he were found out. I gathered that you had let him down easy. Your toploftical pride, I suppose. Well, I must have a good plebeian streak in me somewhere and for the first time I was glad of it. When I left him he looked shrunken to half his natural size. His eyes looked like a dead fish's and all the muscles of his face had given Way. He looked as if he were going to die and I wish he would. Faugh! A thief in the family. That at least we never had before."

"Don't be too sure. Remember nobody else knows about Morty, and everybody'll go on thinking he's honest. Half our friends may be thieves for all we know, and as for our ancestors--what are you doing?"

II

Gora had taken a roll of yellow bills from her purse. She counted them on the table; ten bills denominating a thousand dollars each.

"I won't take them." said Alexina stiffy. "I think you are horrid, simply horrid,"

"And do you imagine I would keep it? I What do you take me for?"

"I am in a way responsible for Mortimer's debts--his partner."

"That cuts no ice with me--nor with you. That is not the reason you sold your jewels and laces and those superb--Oh, you poor child! If I'm furious, it's more for you than on any other account. You don't deserve such a fate--"

"I don't deserve to have you treat me so ungratefully. I can't get my things back. I wanted you to have the money more than I eared for those things, anyhow. I have no use for the money. I don't owe anything and the rent Tom pays me for six months will help me to run the house for the rest of the year and pay taxes besides. So, you just keep it, Gora. It's yours and that's the end of it."

"This is the end of it as far as I'm concerned." She opened the secret drawer of the cabinet and stuffed in the bills. "They're safe from any sort of burglars there. But not from fire. Bank them to-morrow."

"I'll not touch them."

"Nor I either."

III

Gora threw her hat on the floor and sitting down before the table thrust her hands into her hair and tugged at the roots. "I always do this when I'm excited--which is oftener than you think. What dreams I had that first night--I got his note late and was too tired to reason, to suspect....I just dreamed until I fell asleep. I'd start for England a week later--for England!"

Goose flesh made Alexina's delicate body feel like a cold nutmeg grater. "England?"

"Yes!...ah...you see, it's the only place where literary recognition counts for anything."

"Oh? I rather thought the British authors looked upon Uncle Sam in the light of a fairy godfather. Our recognition counts for a good deal, I should say. I never thought you were snobbish."

"I'm not really. Only London is a sort of Mecca for writers just as Paris is for women of fashion....Just fancy being feted in London after you had written a successful novel."

"I'd far rather receive recognition in my own country," said Alexina, elevating her classic American profile. She was not feeling in the least patriotic, however. "You'd see your friend Gathbroke, though. That would be jolly. Do take the money, Gora, and don't be a goose."

"That subject's closed. Don't let me keep you. James told me that Maria is having a luncheon, and I suppose that means you are going out. I'll rest here for awhile if you don't mind."