Chapter XXI
 

The time for the annual Firemen's Ball was now at hand. At this period the Firemen's Ball was an institution of the first social importance. As has been shown, the various organizations were voluntary associations, and in their ranks birds of a feather flocked together. On the common meeting ground of the big annual function all elements met, even--if they did not mingle as freely as they might.

In any case, the affair was very elaborate and very gorgeous. Preparations were in the hands of special committees months in advance. One company had charge of the refreshments, another of the music, a third of the floor arrangements, and so on. There was much jealous anxiety that each should do its part thoroughly and lavishly, for the honour of its organization. The members of each committee were distinguished by coloured ribbons, which they wore importantly everywhere. An air of preoccupied business was the proper thing for days before the event.

It was held this year in one of the armouries. The decoration committee had done its most desperate. Flags of all nations and strips of coloured bunting draped the rafters; greens from the Sausalito Hills framed the windows and doors; huge oiled Chinese lanterns swayed from the roofs. The floor shone like glass. At either end bowers of green half concealed the orchestras--two of them, that the music might never cease. The side rooms were set for refreshments. Many chairs lined the walls. Hundreds of lamps and reflectors had been nailed up in every conceivable place. It took a negro over an hour to light them all. Near the door stood a wide, flat table piled high with programs for the dancers. These were elaborate affairs, and had cost a mint of money--vellum folders, emblazoned in colour outside, with a sort of fireman heraldry and the motto: "We strive to save." Gilded pencils on short silken tasselled cords dangled from their corners.

At eight o'clock the lights were all blazing, the orchestras were tuning, and the floor fluttered with anxious labelled committeemen dashing to and fro. There was nothing for them to do, but they were nervous. By half-past eight the first arrivals could be seen hesitating at the outer door, as though reluctant to make a plunge; herded finally to the right and left of men's and women's dressing-rooms. After a long, chattering interval, encouraged by the slow accumulation of numbers, a little group debouched on the main, floor. Its members all talked and laughed feverishly, and tried with varying success to assume an accustomed ease they did not feel. Most of the women, somehow, seemed all white gloves and dancing slippers, and bore themselves rather like affable, slightly scared rabbits. The men suddenly became very facetious, swapping jokes in loud tones.

The orchestra at the far end immediately struck up, but nobody ventured on the huge and empty floor. Masters of ceremonies, much bebadged, rather conscious of white gloves, strove earnestly with hurried, ingratiating smiles to induce the younger members to break the ice. Ben Sansome, remarkable among them for his social ease and the unobtrusive correctness of his appointments, responsible head of the reception committee, masterfully seized a blushing, protesting damsel and whirled her away. This, however, was merely an informal sort of opening. The real bail could start only with the grand march; and the grand march was a pompous and intricate affair, possible only after the arrival of the city's elite. Partners for the grand march had been bespoken months before.

The Keiths arrived about half-past nine. Nan was looking particularly well in her girlish fashion. Her usual delicate colour was heightened by anticipation, for she intended ardently to "have a good time." For this occasion, too, she had put on the best of her new Eastern clothes, and was confident of the sensation they would create in the feminine breast. The gown was of silk the colour of pomegranate blossoms, light and filmy, with the wide skirts of the day, the short sleeves, the low neck. Over bodice and skirt had been gracefully trailed long sprays of blossoms. Similar flowers wreathed her head, on which the hair was done low and smooth, with a golden arrow securing it. A fine golden chain spanned her waist. From it dangled smaller chains at the ends of which depended little golden hands. These held up the front of the skirt artistically, at just the right height for dancing and to show flounces and ravishing petticoats beneath. It was an innovation of the sort the feminine heart delights in, a brand-new thing straight from Paris. Nan's gloves were of half length, the backs of the hands embroidered and displaying each several small sparkling jewels. The broad golden bracelets had been clasped outside the gloves. Around her little finger was a ring from which depended, on the end of a chain, a larger ring, and through this larger ring hung her dainty lace handkerchief. This was innovation number two. The men all stared at her proud, delicate, flowerlike effect of fresh beauty; but every woman present, and Nan knew it, noted first, the cut of her gown, second, the dangling little golden hands, and third, the handkerchief ring. She knew that not later than to-morrow at least a half-dozen urgent orders would be booked at Palmerston's; but she knew, also, that at least six months must elapse before those orders could be filled. As for the rest, her stockings were white, her slippers ribboned with cross-ties up the ankles, she carried a stiff and formal bouquet, as big around as a plate, composed of wired flowers ornamented with a "cape" of lace paper; but those things were common.

Altogether, Nan looked extraordinarily well, made a sensation. Keith was pleased and proud of her. He picked one of the blazoned vellum cards from the table and scrawled his initials opposite half a dozen dances.

"I'm going to hold you to those, you know," he said.

They proceeded, leisurely across the floor, and Keith established her in one of the chairs.

"I'll go get some of the men I want you to meet," said he. When he returned with Bernard Black he found Nan already surrounded, Ben Sansome was there, and Calhoun Bennett, and a half-dozen others, either acquaintances made on some of the Sundays, or young men brought up by Sansome in his capacity of Master of Ceremonies. She was having a good time laughing, her colour high, Keith looked about him with the intention of filling his own card.

Mrs, Morrell, surrounded by a hilarious group of the younger fry, was just entering the room. She was dressed in flame colour, and her gown was cut very low, plainly to reveal the swell of her ample bosom. Her evening gloves and slippers were golden, as was a broad metallic woven band around her waist. Altogether, striking, rather a conspicuous effort than an artistic success, any woman would have said; but there could be no doubt that she had provided a glittering bait for the attentions of the men.

Keith immediately made his way across to her.

"You are ravishing this evening," he said, reaching for her card. It was full. Keith was chopfallen.

"Take me to Mrs. Keith," asked Mrs. Morrell, taking the card again, "She looks charming to-night; that simple style just suits her wide-eyed innocence."

She placed her fingers lightly on Keith's arm and moved away, nodding over her shoulder at the rather nonplussed young men who had come in with her. Thus rid of them, she turned again to Keith.

"You didn't think I'd forget you!" she said, as though, reproachfully. "See, I kept you four dances. I put down those initials myself. Now don't you think I'm a pretty good sort?"

"Indeed I do! Which ones are they?" asked Keith, opening his own card.

"The third, seventh, ninth, and eleventh."

Keith hesitated for an appreciable instant. The seventh and eleventh he had put down for Nan. But somehow in the face of this smiling, cynical-looking, vivid creature, he rather shrank from saying that he had them with his wife. He swiftly reflected that, after all, he had four others with Nan, that she was so surrounded with admirers that she could not go partnerless, and that he would explain.

"Delightful!" he cried, pencilling his program.

Mrs. Morrell fluttered down alongside Mrs. Keith with much small talk. After a moment the music started for the grand march. Everybody took the floor.

"Where can Charley be!" cried Mrs. Morrell in apparent distress. "Don't wait here with me. I assure you I do not in the least mind sitting alone."

But she said it in a fashion that made it impossible, and in this manner Nan lost her first engagement with her husband. Not that it mattered particularly, she told herself, grand marches were rather silly things, and yet she could not avoid a feeling of thwarted pique at being so tied to the wall.

At the close of the march, and after the couples had pretty well resumed their seats, Mrs. Sherwood entered, unattended and very leisurely. She made, in her quieter manner, a greater sensation than had Mrs. Morrell. Quite self-possessed, carrying herself with her customary poise, dressed unobtrusively in black and gold, but with the distinction of an indubitable Parisian model, moving without self-consciousness in contrast to many of the other women, her small head high, her direct gaze a-smoulder with lazy amusement, she glided across the middle of the floor. The eyes of every woman in the ballroom were upon her. The "respectable" element stared shamelessly, making comments aside. Those a little declasse, on the fringe of society, or the "faster" women like Mrs. Morrell--who might in a way be considered her rivals--were apparently quite unaware of her. She made her unhasting way to a vacant chair, sat down, and looked calmly about her.

Immediately she was surrounded by a swarm of the unattached men. The attached men became very attentive to their partners.

"Hullo," remarked Keith cheerfully. "There's Mrs. Sherwood. I must go over and say good-evening to her."

On sudden impulse Nan rose with him. She instinctively disliked her present company and the situation; and a sudden pang of conscience had told her that not once since she had left the Bella Union had she laid eyes on the woman who had received her with so much kindness.

"Take me with you," she said to Keith.

"My dear!" cried Mrs. Morrell. "You wouldn't! Take my advice--you're young and innocent!"

She sought one of those exclusive, private-joke glances at Keith, but failed to catch his eye.

"She was very kind to me when I arrived," said Nan serenely. Keith, hesitated; then his impulsive, warm-hearted loyalty spoke.

"Good for you, Nan!" he cried.

They moved away, leaving Mrs. Morrell alone, biting her lip and planning revenges.

The group around Mrs. Sherwood fell away at their approach. Nan sat down next her, leaning forward with a pretty and girlish, impulsiveness.

"It's ages since I have seen you, and I have no excuse to offer," she said. "The days slip by."

"I know," said Mrs. Sherwood. "New house, new Chinaman, even new dog-- enough to drive the most important thoughts out of one's head. But you've come out to-night like a flower, my dear. Your gown is charming, and it suits you so well!"

She chatted on, speaking of the floor, the music, the decorations, the crowd.

"I love this sort of thing," she remarked. "People in the mass amuse me. Jack couldn't get away until midnight, but I wouldn't wait for him. I told him it didn't worry me a bit to come without an escort," smoothing away what little embarrassment might linger. The music started up again. The Keiths arose and made their adieux. Mrs, Sherwood looked after them, her bright eyes tender. Mrs. Keith was the only woman who had yet spoken to her.

"Isn't she simply stunning?" cried Keith. "She has something about her that makes most of these others look cheap."

"She's really wonderfully attractive and distinguished looking," agreed Nan.

"If she were only a little less practical--a little softer; more feminine-- she'd be a sure-enough man killer. As it is, she needs a little more--you know what I mean--"

"More after Mrs. Morrell's fashion," suggested Nan a trifle wickedly. It popped out on the impulse, and the next instant Nan would have given anything if the words had not been said. Keith was arrested in mid- enthusiasm as though by cold water. He checked himself, looked at her sharply, then accepted the pseudo-challenge.

"Well, Mrs. Morrell, for all her little vulgarities, impresses you as being a very human sort of person."

He felt a sudden and unreasoning anger, possibly because the shot had hit a tender place.

"Shall we dance?" he suggested formally.

"I'm sorry," replied Nan, "I have this with Mr. Sansome; there he comes."

For the first time Keith felt a little irritated at the ubiquitous Sansome; but his sense of justice, while it could not smooth his ruffled feelings, nevertheless made itself heard.

"What I need is a drink," he told himself.

At the buffet he found a crowd of the non-dancing men, or those who had failed to get the early numbers. Here were many of his acquaintances; among them, to his surprise, he recognized the grim features of Malcolm Neil. All were drinking champagne. Keith joined them. They chaffed him unmercifully about his purchases of clouded titles in water lots, and he answered them in kind, aware of Neil's sardonically humorous eye fixed on him. But at the first bars of the next dance he bolted in search of Mrs. Morrell, with whom, he remembered, he had this number.

Mrs. Morrell danced smoothly and lightly for a woman of her size, but was inclined to snuggle up too close, to permit undistracted guidance to her partner. It was almost impossible to avoid collisions with other couples, unless one possessed a Spartan mind and an iron will. In spite of himself, Keith became increasingly aware of her breast pressing against his chest; her smooth arm against his shoulder; the occasional passing contact of her, scarcely veiled from the sense of touch by the thin flame-coloured silk; the perfume she affected; the faint odour of her bright blond hair. In an attempt to break the spell he made some banal remark, but she shook her head impatiently. She danced with her eyes half closed. When the music stopped she drew a deep sighing breath.

"You dance--oh, divinely!" she cried. "I might have known it."

She moved away, and Keith followed her, a trifle intoxicated.

"Let me see your card," she demanded abruptly. "Why, you haven't done your duty; this is hardly a third filled!"

"I hadn't started to fill it--and then you came in," breathed Keith.

They were opposite the door leading into one of the numerous small rooms off the main floor of the armoury.

"Let's sit here--and you can get me a punch," she suggested.

He brought the punch, and she drank it slowly, leaning back in an easy chair. The place was dimly lighted, and her blond, full beauty was more effective than in the more brilliantly lighted ballroom. Mrs. Morrell exerted all her fascination. The next dance was half over before either Keith or--apparently--Mrs. Morrell became aware of the fact.

"Oh, you must run!" she cried, apparently greatly exercised. "Don't mind me; go and find your partner."

Keith replied, that he had this dance free, a fact of which her inspection of his card had perfectly informed her. In answer to his return solicitation as to her own partner, she shrugged her shoulders.

"Oh, he'll find me," she said indifferently. "This is very cozy here."

They resumed what had become an ardent flirtation. Toward the end of the dance Mrs. Morrell's partner came in, looking very flurried. Before he could say a word, Mrs. Morrell began reproachfully to chide him with lack of diligence.

"I've been waiting just rooted to this spot!" she said truthfully.

"Shall we dance?" suggested the unfortunate young man.

"It's nearly over," replied Mrs. Morrell carelessly. "Do sit down with us. Get yourself something to drink. Don't go!" she commanded Keith fiercely under her breath.

At the beginning of the fourth dance, however, her next partner found her and led her away. She "made a face" over her shoulder at Keith.

When a woman makes up her mind to monopolize a man who has not acquired the fine arts of rudeness and escape she generally succeeds. Keith's cordial nature was incapable of rudeness. Besides, being a perfectly normal man, and Mrs. Morrell experienced and attractive, he liked being monopolized. It crossed his mind once or twice that he might be in for a scolding when he got home. Nan might be absurd. But he was so secure in his essential loyalty to Nan that his present conduct was more in the nature of a delightfully naughty escapade than anything else. He stole the apples now, and later would go dutifully for his licking. Men of Keith's nature are easily held and managed by a wise woman, but the woman must be very wise. Keith loved celebrations. On the wings of an occasion he rose joyfully and readily to incredible altitudes of high-spirited but harmless recklessness. Birthdays, anniversaries, New Years, Christmas, arrivals, departures, he seized upon with rapture. Each had its appropriate ceremonial, its traditional drink, the painstaking brewing of which was a sacred rite. On such occasions he tossed aside the cloak of the everyday. A "celebration" meant that you were different. Humdrum life and habits must be relegated to the background. It was permitted that, unabashed, you be as silly, as frivolous, as inconsequential, as boisterous, as lighthearted, as delightfully irresponsible as your ordinary concealed boyishness pleased. Customary repressions had nothing to do here. This was a celebration! And in the aforementioned our very wise woman would have seen--a safety valve.

Keith was off on a celebration to-night: an unpremeditated, freakish, impish, essentially harmless celebration, with a faint flavour of mischief in it because he had Nan in the back of his head all the time. He played up to Mrs. Morrell with exuberance, with honestly no thought except that he was having a whacking good time, and that old Nan was being teased. It was characteristic that for the time being he fell completely under Mrs. Morrell's fascination. They were together fully half the time, appearing on the floor only occasionally, then disappearing in one or the other of the many nooks. Mrs. Morrell "bolted" her dances shamelessly. Keith thought her awfully amusing and ingenious in the way she managed this. Sometimes they hid in out-of-the-way places. Sometimes she pretended to have mistaken the dance. "The sixth, are you very sure? I'm convinced it is only the fifth." Keith's conscience troubled him a little concerning the few names on his own card.

"I have this with Mrs. Wilkins," said he. "I really ought to go and look her up."

She took his card from him and deliberately tore it to small bits which she blew from the palm of her gloved hand. He protested in real dismay, but she looked him challengingly, recklessly, in the eye, until he laughed, too.

All this was, of course, well noticed. Keith, again characteristically, had not taken into consideration the great public. Nan might have remained comparatively indifferent to Keith's philandering about for an evening with the Morrell creature--she had by now a dim but growing understanding of "celebrations"--but that he should deliberately neglect and insult her in the face of all San Francisco was too much. Her high, young enjoyment of the evening fell to ashes. She was furiously angry, but she was a thoroughbred. Only a heightened colour and a sparkling eye might have betrayed her to an astute woman. Observing her, Ben Sansome took heart. It was evident to him that the Keiths had long since reached an absolute indifference in their relations, that they lived the conventional, tolerant, separate lives of the majority of married couples in Ben Sansome's smart acquaintance. He ventured to apply himself more assiduously, and was by no means badly received.

Keith remembered the next dance with his wife. He could not find her, although, a trifle conscience stricken, he searched everywhere. After the music had finished, she emerged from the dressing-room; the next time she could not be found at all. Evidently she was avoiding him with intention.

Mrs. Sherwood, after each dance, returned invariably to the same chair near the middle of one wall. There, owing to the fact that the "respectables" withdrew from the chairs on either side, withdrew gradually and without open rudeness, she held centre of a little court of her own. This made of it a sort of post of observation from which she could review all that was going on. She had no lack of partners, for she danced wonderfully, and in looks was quite the most distinguished woman there. Keith's dance with her came and went, but no Keith appeared to claim it. Mrs. Sherwood smiled a little grimly, and her glance strayed down the wall opposite until it rested on Nan. She examined the girl speculatively. Nan was apparently completely absorbed in Ben Sansome; but there was in her manner something feverish, hectic, a mere nothing, which did not escape Mrs. Sherwood's keen eye.

About midnight Sherwood appeared, and at once made his way to his wife's side. He was punctiliously dressed in the mode: a "swallowtail," bright, soft silk tie of ample proportions, frilled linen, and sparkling studs. He bent with an old-world formality over his wife's hand. She swept away her skirts from the chair at her side, her eyes sparkling softly with pleasure.

"You won't mind," she said carelessly to the young men surrounding her, "I want to talk to Jack for a minute."

They arose, laughing a little.

"That is your one fault, Mrs. Sherwood," said one, "you are altogether too fond of your husband."

"Well, how are things going?" asked Sherwood, as they moved away.

"I'm having a good time. But you're very late, Jack,"

"I know--I wanted to come earlier. Everything all right?"

At the question a little frown sketched itself on her clear brow.

"In general, yes," she said. "But they've got that Lewis boy out in the bar filling him up on champagne."

"That's a pity."

"It's a burning shame!" said she, "And I'd like to shake young Keith. He's dangled after the Morrell woman from start to finish in a manner scandalous to behold."

Sherwood laughed.

"The 'Morrell woman' will do his education good," he remarked.

"Well, she isn't doing that poor little Mrs. Keith's education any good," returned Mrs. Sherwood rather tartly.

Sherwood surveyed Nan and Ben Sansome leisurely.

"I must say she doesn't look crushed," he said, after a moment.

"Do you expect her to weep violently?" asked Mrs. Sherwood.

He accepted good naturedly the customary feminine scorn for the customary masculine obtuseness.

"Well, I don't know that we can help it," said he, philosophically.

Mrs. Sherwood appeared to come to a sudden resolution. She arose.

"You go get that Lewis boy away from the bar," she commanded.

Deliberately she shook and arranged her full skirts. The man with whom she had this dance, and who had been waiting dutifully for the conference to close, darted forward. She shook her head at him smilingly.

"I'm going to let you off," she told him. "You won't mind. I have something extra special to do."

She swept quite alone across the middle of the ballroom, serene, self- possessed; and walked directly toward Keith and Mrs.

Morrell, who were seated together at the other end. A perceptible pause seemed to descend. The music kept on playing, couples kept on dancing, but, nevertheless, suddenly the air was charged with attention. Sherwood looked after her with mingled astonishment and fond pride.

"A frontal attack, egad!" said he to himself.

Keith and Mrs. Morrell pretended, as long as they decently could, not to see her. She swam leisurely toward them. Finally Keith arose hastily; Mrs. Morrell stared straight ahead.

"Young man," accused Mrs. Sherwood, with a faint amusement in her rich, low voice, "do you know that this is our dance?"

Keith excused his apparent lapse volubly, telling several times over that his program had been destroyed, that he was abject when he thought of the light this put him in.

"It is only when angels like yourself condescend to reach me a helping hand that I have even a chance to right myself," he added. He thought this rather a good touch.

Mrs. Sherwood stood before him easily, in perfect repose of manner, the half smile still sketching her lips. She said just nothing at all in response to his glib excuses; but when he had quite finished she laid her hand in his arm. Mrs. Morrell, her colour high, continued to stare straight ahead, immobile except for the tapping of one foot. To Keith's request to be excused she vouchsafed a stiff half nod, partly in his direction.

They danced. Mrs. Sherwood, like most people who have command enough of their muscles to be able to keep them in graceful repose, danced marvellously well. When she stopped after a single turn of the room, Keith expostulated vigorously.

"You are a perfect partner," he told her.

"Take me in here and get me a sherbet," she commanded, without replying to his protests. "That's good," she said, when she had tasted it. "Now sit down and listen to me. You are making a perfect spectacle of yourself. Don't you know it?"

Keith stiffened to an extreme formality.

"I beg your pardon!" said he freezingly.

"That may be your personal individual right"--went on Mrs. Sherwood's low, rich voice evenly. She was not even looking at him, but rather idly toward the open door into the ballroom. Her fan swung from one finger; every line of her body was relaxed. She might have been tossing him ordinary commonplaces from the surface of a detached mind--"making a spectacle of yourself," she explained; "but you're making a perfect spectacle of your wife as well--and in public. That is not your right at all."

Keith sprang to his feet, furious.

"You are meddling with what is really my own business, madam," said he.

For the first time she looked up at him, dearly and steadily. In the eyes.

"Very well. That is true. Stop a moment and think. Are you attending to your business yourself, even decently? Yes, I understand; you are angry with me. If I were a man, you would challenge me to a duel and all that sort of thing." She smiled indifferently. "Let's take that for granted and get on. Sweep it aside. You are man enough to do it, or I mistake you greatly. Look down into yourself for even one second. Are you playing fair all around? Aren't you a little ashamed?"

She held him with, her clear, level gaze. His own did not fall before it, and his head went back, but slowly his face and neck turned red. Thus they stared at each other for a full half minute, she smiling slightly, perfectly cool; he seething with a suppressed emotion of some sort. Then she turned indolently away.

"You're too fine to do things like that," she said, with a new softness in her voice; "we all have too much faith in you. The common tricks would not appeal to you, except in idleness; is it not so?"

She smiled up at him, a little sidewise. Keith caught his breath. For a fleeting instant this extraordinary woman deigned to exert her feminine charms for the first time the coquette looked from her eyes; for the first time he saw mysteriously deep in her veiled nature a depth of possibility, of rich possibility--he could not grasp it--it was gone. But in spite of himself his pulses leaped like a flame. But now she was gazing again at the ballroom door, cool, indolent, aloof, unapproachable. Yet just at that instant, somehow, the other woman looked shallow, superficial, cold. His glance fell on Mrs. Morrell still sitting where he had left her. Something was wrong with her effect----

Analysis was submerged in a blaze of anger. This anger was not now against the woman before him; his instinct prevented that. Nor against Mrs. Morrell nor his wife; reluctant justice prevented that. Nor against himself--where it really belonged. Things were out of joint; he felt cross-grained and ugly. Mrs. Sherwood rose.

"You may take me back now," said she.

As they glided across the floor together, her small sleek head came just above his shoulder. No embarrassment disturbed her manner. Keith could not find in him a spark of resentment against her. She moved by his side with an air of poise and detachment as a woman whose mind had long since weighed and settled the affairs of her own cosmos so that trifles could not disturb her.

Leaving her in her accustomed chair, where Sherwood waited, Keith loyally returned to Mrs. Morrell, who still sat alone. Subconsciously he noticed something wrong with Mrs. Morrell. Her gowning was indeed rather a conspicuous effort than an artistic success. She had badly torn her dress-- perhaps that was it.

Mrs. Morrell received him with every appearance of sympathy.

"You poor thing!" she cried. "What a fearful situation! Of course I know you couldn't help it."

But Keith was grumpy and monosyllabic. He refused to discuss the situation or Mrs. Sherwood, returning with an obvious effort to commonplaces. Mrs. Morrell exerted all her fascination to get him back to the former level. A little cold imp sat in the back of Keith's brain and criticised sardonically; Why will big women persist in being kittenish? Why doesn't she mend that awful rent, it's fairly sloppy! Suppose she thinks that kind of talk is funny! I do wish she wouldn't laugh in that shrill, cackling fashion! In short, the very tricks that an hour ago were jolly and amusing were now tiresome. Having been distrait, ungallant, masculinely put out for another fifteen minutes, he abruptly excused himself, sought out Nan, and went home.

From her point of observation, Mrs. Sherwood watched them go. Nan looked very tired, and every line of Keith's figure expressed a grumpy moroseness.

"Congratulations," said Sherwood.

"He certainly is a child of nature," returned his wife. "Look at him! He is cross, so he looks cross. That this is a ballroom and that all San Francisco is present is a mere detail."

"How did you break it up?" asked Sherwood curiously.

"Men are so utterly ridiculous! He had built up a lot of illusions for himself, but his instincts are true and good. It needed only a touch. It was absurdly simple."

"He'll go back to the Morrell to-morrow," asserted Sherwood confidently.

She shook her head.

"Not to her. He sees her now. And not to-morrow. But eventually to somebody, perhaps. He has curly hair."

Sherwood laughed.

"Shear him, like Sampson," he suggested. "But it strikes me he has about the most attractive woman--bar one--in town right at home."

"She'd have no trouble in holding him if she were only awake. But she's only a dear little child--and about as helpless. She has very little subtlety. I'm afraid she'll follow the instincts of her training. She'll be too proud to do anything herself to attract her husband, once his attentions to her seem to drop off. She'll just become cold and proud--and perhaps eventually turn elsewhere."

"I don't believe she's a bit that kind," asserted Sherwood positively.

"Nor do I. But, Jack, a woman lonely enough has fancies, that in the long run may become convictions."