Book III
Chapter XVII
 

I

Gray naked trees; orchards of prune and peach and cherry, mile after mile. Orange trees in small wayside gardens heavy-laden with golden fruit. Tall accacias a mass of canary colored bloom. Opulent palms shivering against a gray sky. Close mountains green and dense with forest trees, their crests filagreed with redwoods. Far mountains lifting their bleak ridges above bare brown hills thirsting for rain.

The heavy rains were due. It was late in January. Alexina and several of her friends were motoring back to the city through the Santa Clara Valley, after luncheon with the Price Ruylers at their home on the mountain above Los Gatos. As it was Sunday there was an even number of men in the party, and Alexina, maneuvered into Jimmie Thorne's roadster, was enduring with none of the sweet womanly graciousness which was hers to summon at will, one of those passionate declarations of love which no beautiful young woman out of love with her husband may hope to escape; and not always when in. Alexina had grown skillful in eluding the reckless verbalisms of love, but when one is packed into a small motor car with a determined man, desperately in love, one might as well try to wave aside the whirlwind.

Jimmie Thorne was a fine specimen of the college-bred young American of good family and keen professional mind. He has no place in this biography save in so far as he jarred the inner forces of Alexina's being, and he fell at Chateau-Thierry.

II

Alexina lifted her delicate profile and gave it as sulky an expression as she could assume. She really liked him, but was annoyed at being trapped.

"I don't in the least wish to marry you."

"Everybody knows you don't care a straw for Dwight. You could easily get a divorce--"

"On what grounds! Besides, I don't want to. I'd have to be really off my head about a man even to think of such a thing. Our family has kept out of the divorce courts. And I don't care two twigs for you, Jimmie dear."

"I don't believe it. That is, I know I could make you care. You don't know what love is--"

"I suppose you are about to say that you think I think I am cold, and that if I labor under this delusion it is only because the right man hasn't come along. Well, Jimmie dear, you would only be the sixteenth. I suppose men will keep on saying it until I am forty--forty-five--what is the limit these days? I know exactly what I am and you don't"

"I'm not going to be put off by words. Remember I'm a lawyer of sorts. God! I wish I'd been here when you married that codfish, instead of studying law at Columbia, Do you mean to tell me I couldn't have won you!"

"No. Almost any man can win a little goose of eighteen if circumstances favor him. Twenty-five is another! matter. Oh, but vastly another! Even if I'd never married before I'm not at all sure I should have fallen in love with you."

"Yes, you would. You're frozen over, that's all."

Alexina sighed, and not with exasperation. He was very charming, magnetic, companionable. He was handsome and clever and manly. She could feel the warmth of his young virile body through their fur coats, and her own trembled a little....It suddenly came to her that she no longer owed Mortimer anything. Their "partnership" had been dissolved by his own act. If she could have loved Jimmie Thorne with something beyond the agreeable response of the mating-season (any season is the mating season in California)...that was the trouble. He was not individual enough to hold her. Life had been too kind to him. Save for this unsatisfied passion he was perfectly content with life. Such men do not "live." They may have charm, but not fascination....Perhaps it was as well after all that she had married Mortimer. Another man might not have been so easily disposed of.

"Jimmie dear, if it were a question of a few months, and I made a cult of men as some women do, it would be all right. But marry another man that I am not sure--that I know I don't want to spend my life with. Oh, no."

He looked somewhat scandalized. Like many American men he was even more conventional than most women are; he was, moreover, a man's man, spending most of his leisure in their society, either at the club or in out-of-door sports, and he divided women rigidly into two classes. Alexina was his first love and his last; and as he went over the top and crumpled up he thought of her.

"I wouldn't have a rotten affair with you. You're not made for that sort of thing--"

"Well, you're not going to have one, so don't bother to buckle on your armor." She relented as she looked into his miserable eyes, and took his hand impulsively. "I'm sorry...sorry....I wish...you are worth it...but it's not on the map."