The Gray Dawn by Stewart Edward White
In this eager, fast-living, nervous, high-strung man's world Keith took to himself a prominent part. He was so fully-occupied in other directions that his practice did not lead him into criminal law, so he missed an influence that must have either ended by blunting or repelling him. He corresponded to what nowadays would be called a corporation lawyer. His clients were few, but wealthy, powerful, and remunerative; his cases were subtle and hard fought, He enjoyed the intricate game for its own sake, and he enjoyed his success in it. In the inevitable give and take of a complicated world he knew, of course, of shady doings beneath; but he was not personally involved; he accepted them as part of the make-up of society, human nature, the medium--of work.
But Nan was necessarily left more and more to her own devices. And, further, she was left alone without even the preoccupation furnished her domestic side by such an affair as that with Mrs. Morrell. She knew that Keith was wholly absorbed in his business. She was loyal to his unexpressed idea that in these propitious beginnings he must devote all his energies to his career. She was loyal to his preoccupation. It was the only way in which she could help. And yet, without being given cause for grievance, she was temporarily thrust outside his life, put in cold storage, as it were, until she should be wanted. He bolted immediately after breakfast; often he did not come home to lunch; was quite likely to go out again in the evening.
It followed that Nan had to make her own life out of the materials at hand. This was at first difficult, for all the materials were novel to her. Gradually, however, she fitted herself into the social transformation that was taking place.
Heretofore, society had not existed. Now, vaguely, it was beginning to take coherence and form. A transition period was on. The "nobs" were evolving from chaos. People of the fast Morrell type were losing their influence and ascendency, were being pushed aside to the fringes by the more "solid" elements. Wealth and arrogant dignity were coming into their innings. Formal functions, often on an elaborate scale, were taking the place of the harum-scarum informal parties. There came up some questions of social leadership. In short, social life was developing into the usual game. Lacking other interests, Nan found it amused her to play at it, to contend with the leaders, to form alliances, to declare war, to assume by right and talent her place among the best.
This pleased Keith. Social standing helped him in business; and he enjoyed the sight of his beautiful young wife queening it serenely over the city's best. He was always eager to advance money for new gowns or expensive parties. At first he went out with her, but soon found that three o'clock in the morning meant a next day's brain dulled of its keenest edge. But he would not hear of her staying at home on his account.
"I'm tired, and I'm going to bed right away," he told her. "You go and uphold the splendour of the family. Get Ben to take you."
Ben Sansome was to Keith a tremendous convenience. He was the only idle man in town, always on tap, ready to stay out any and every night until the cocks crowed. Why shouldn't he? He had nothing to do all next day, except, perhaps, to decide which stick he should carry! With a busy man's good- humoured contempt for the mere idler, Keith looked upon Sansome as a harmless household-pet sort of person; good natured, accommodating, pleasant to talk to, good looking, foppish in dress, but beneath any serious human being's notice. Sansome was on easy terms of intimacy with the Keiths. It was mighty good of him to look out for Nan. If he did not, Keith would have to.
In this formative period Ben Sansome was, however, a very important figure in the woman's world. Social construction was a ticklish matter. There were so many things to be decided; small items of etiquette, the "proper thing" --procedure, decorations, good form, larger matters as to whether so-and-so should be received, and if so, how extensively. Ben Sansome was past master of such things. He was the only man in town who knew--or cared--how to "draw lines." He became truly a modern arbiter elegantiarum. For San Francisco had begun in real earnest to "draw lines."
They were rather strange lines at times. Of course such people as the Brannans, Montgomerys, Terrys, Bushs, Bakers, Caldwells, and other "old families" (three or four years old), went without saying. Also were included the greater merchants and their feminine representatives, such as Palmer, Cook, Adams, Wilkins, and the like. Also there seemed to be a solid foundation of those respectable and powerful with plenty of wealth--"but hopeless, my dear, absolutely hopeless!" groaned some of the livelier members.
Lightning struck capriciously at those on whom this new society might frown, on those who as lately as last year had ridden the crest of the wave. For example, it spared Sally Warner, with her spotted veils drawn close around her face, her red belts, and her red tufts on her small toques, but it blasted the Morrells. Mrs. Morrell clung tenaciously to the outskirts, but she knew only too well that she did not "belong." In her heart she ascribed this fact to Mrs. Keith. This was unjust, but it added to her bitterness against her neighbours.
Perhaps her suspicions were not unnatural, for Nan won easily in this game. She was undoubtedly the social leader. It seemed eminently fitting that, lacking her husband, she should go out much with Ben Sansome. Most women thought her lucky to have acquired so valuable a social acquisition. Some people, like fat, coarse, sensible Mrs. Dick Blatchford, were a little doubtful.
"Shucks!" snorted Sally Warner, slapping her little riding boot dashingly with her latest novelty, an English hunting crop, "Nan Keith impresses me as one who knows her way about. And, anyway, as long as Mr. Keith is satisfied, I'm sure we should be!"