Chapter LXII

Nan's high exaltation of spirit, which still soared at the altitude to which the events of the afternoon had lifted it, next expressed itself in a characteristically feminine manner: she picked flowers in the garden, arranged them, placed them effectively, set the table herself, lighted the lamps, touched a match to the wood fire always comfortable in San Francisco evenings, slightly altered the position of the chairs, visited Wing Sam with fresh instructions. Gringo, who looked on all this as for his especial benefit, took his place luxuriously before the grate. It was a cozy, homelike scene. Then she dressed slowly and carefully in her most becoming gown--the only gown Keith had ever definitely singled out for individual praise--took especial pains with her hair, and finally descended to join Gringo. The latter, as a greeting intended to show his entire confidence, promptly rolled over to expose his vitals to her should it be her pleasure to hurt a poor defenceless dog. He was a ridiculous sight, upside down, his tongue lolling out, his eye rolled up at her adoringly. She laughed at him a little, then leaned swiftly over to confide something in his ear.

But that evening Keith was late. The clock on the mantel chimed clearly the hour, then the quarter and the half. Wing Sam came to protest aggreivedly that "him glub catchum cold--you no wait!" Nan was severe with Wing Sam and his suggestion--so unwontedly severe that Wing Sam returned to the kitchen muttering darkly. He had caught the atmosphere of celebration, somehow, and on his own-initiative had frosted with wonderful white a cake not yet cut, and on the cake had carefully traced pink legends in Chinese and English characters. The former was one of those conventional mottoes seen on every laundry, club, and temple which would have translated "Health, long life, and happiness"; the other Wing Sam had copied from a lithograph he much admired. It read "Use Rising Sun Stove Polish." Glowering with resentment, Wing Sam scraped the frosting from the cake.

At eight o'clock a small boy delivered a note at the door and scuttled back to the centre of excitement. It was a scrawl from Keith, saying that he was detained, would not be home to dinner, might not be in at all. Nan sat down to a cold, belated meal served by a loftily disapproving Chinaman. She tried to think of her pride in Keith, and the work he, in company with his fellows, was doing for the city; to recall some of her exaltation of the afternoon; but it was very difficult. Her little preparations were so much nearer. The table, the flowers, the shaded lamps, the fire on the hearth, her gown, the twist of her hair, all mocked her anticipations. In spite of herself her spirits went down to zero. She could not eat, she could not even sit at the table through the service of the various courses. Midway in the meal she threw aside her napkin and returned abruptly to the drawing- room. The fire was snapping merrily on the hearth. Gringo opened his eyes at her entrance, recognized his beloved mistress, and rolled over as usual, all four legs in the air, his tender stomach confidingly exposed, for Who could be so brutal as to hurt a poor, defenceless dog? Nan kicked him pettishly in the ribs. Gringo stopped panting, and drew in his tongue, but otherwise did not shift his posture. This was, of course, a mistake. Nan kicked him again. Gringo rose deliberately and retired with dignity to the coldest, darkest, most cheerless corner he could find, where he sat and looked dejected.

"You look such a silly fool!" Nan told him relentlessly.

Thus passed the moment of exaltation and expansion. If Keith had come home to dine, it is probable that the barrier between them--of which he was only dimly conscious--would have been broken. But by midnight Nan had, as she imagined, "thought out" the situation. She was able to see him now through eyes purged of self-pity or self-thought. She came to full realization, which she formulated to herself, that she was not now the central point of his interest--that she was "no longer" the central point, as she expressed it. She was right also in her conclusion that all day long he hardly gave her more than a perfunctory thought. So far, her facts were absolutely correct. But Nan was, in spite of her natural good mind and married experience, too ignorant of man psychology to draw the true conclusion. Indeed, very few women ever realize man's possibilities of single-minded purpose and concentration to the temporary exclusion of other things. Keith's whole being was carried by this moral movement in which he was involved. He simply took Nan for granted; and that is something a woman never gets used to, and always misinterprets.

"He no longer loves me!" she said to herself, in this hour of plain thinking. She faced it squarely; and her heart sank to the depths; for she still loved him, and the sight of him that afternoon amid the guns had told her how much.

But her next thought was not of herself, but of him, and the situation in which, he was working out his destiny. "How can I best help?" she asked herself, which showed that the spirit aroused in her that afternoon had not in reality died. And her intellect relentlessly pointed out to her that her only aid would come from her self-effacement, her standing one side. When the great work was done, then, perhaps--

So affairs in the Keith household went on exactly as before. Nobody but Gringo knew that anything had happened; and he only realized that the universe had suffered an upheaval, so that now mistresses might kick their poor defenceless dogs in the stomach.