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THE VISION SPLENDID (chapter11,part2)

2006-08-28 23:39

    PART 2

    It was a great relief to James, in these days when the complacency of his self-satisfaction was a little ruffled, to call often on Valencia Van Tyle and let himself drift pleasantly with her along primrose paths where moral obligations never obtruded. Under the near-Venetian ceiling of her den, with its pink Cupids and plump dimpled cherubs smiling down, he was never troubled about his relation to Hardy's defeat. Here he got at life from another slant and could always find justification to himself for his course.

    She had a silent divination of his moods and knew how to minister indolently to them. The subtle incense of luxury that she diffused banished responsibility. In her soft sensuous blood the lusty beat of duty had small play.

    But even while he yielded to the allure of Valencia Van Tyle, admitting a finish of beauty to which mere youth could not aspire, all that was idealistic in him went out to the younger cousin whose admiration and shy swift friendship he was losing. His vanity refused to accept this at first. She was a little piqued at him because of the growing intimacy with Valencia. That was all. Why, it had been only a month or two ago that her

    gaze had been warm for him, that her playful irony had mocked sweetly his ambition for service to the community. Their spirits had touched in comradeship. Almost he had caught in her eyes the look they would hold for only one man on earth. The best in him had responded to the call. But now he did not often meet her at The Brakes. When he did a cool little nod and an indifferent word sufficed for him. How much this hurt only James himself knew.

    One of the visible signs of his increasing prosperity was a motor car, in which he might frequently be seen driving with the daughter of Joe Powers, to the gratification of its owner and the envy of Verden. The cool indifference with which Mrs. Van Tyle ignored the city's social elite had aroused bitter criticism. Since she did not care a rap for this her escapades were frankly indiscreet. James could not really afford a machine, but he justified it on the ground that it was an investment. A man who appears to be prosperous becomes prosperous. A good front is a part of the bluff of twentieth century success. He did not follow his argument so far as to admit that the purchase of the car was an item in the expenses of a campaign by which he meant to make capital out of a woman's favor to him, even though his imagination toyed with the possibilities it might offer to build a sure foundation of fortune.

    "You should go to New York," she told him once after he had sketched, with the touch of eloquence so native to him, a plan for a line of steamers between Verden and the Orient.

    "To be submerged in the huddle of humanity. No, thank you."

    "But the opportunities are so much greater there for a man of ability."

    "Oh, ability!" he derided. "New York is loaded to the water line with ability in garrets living on crusts. To win out there a man must have a pull, or he must have the instinct for making money breed, for taking what other men earn."

    She studied him, a good-looking, alert American, sheet-armored in the twentieth century polish of selfishness, with an inordinate appetite for success. Certainly he looked every inch a winner.

    "I believe you could do it. You're not too scrupulous to look out for yourself." Her daring impudence mocked him lightly.

    "I'm not so sure about that." James liked to look his conscience in the face occasionally. "I respect the rights of my fellows. In the money centers you can't do that and win. And you've got to win. It doesn't matter how. Make good—— make good! Get money——any way you can. People will soon forget how you got it, if you have it."

    "Dear me! I didn't know you were so given to moral reflections." To Alice, who had just come into the room to settle where they should spend their Sunday, Valencia explained with mock demureness the subject of their talk. "Mr. Farnum and I are deploring the immoral money madness of New York and the debilitating effects of modern civilization. Will you deplore with us, my dear?"

    The younger woman's glance included the cigarette James had thrown away and the one her cousin was still smoking. "Why go as far as New York?" she asked quietly.

    Farnum flushed. She was right, he silently agreed. He had no business futtering away his time in a pink boudoir. Nor could he explain that he hoped his time was not being wasted.

    "I must be going," he said as casually as he could.

    "Don't let me drive you away, Mr. Farnum. I dropped in only for a moment."

    "Not at all. I have an appointment with my cousin."

    "With Mr. Jefferson Farnum?" Alice asked in awakened interest. "I've just been reading a magazine article about him. Is he really a remarkable man?"

    "I don't think you would call him remarkable. He gets things done, in spite of being an idealist."

    "Why, in spite of it?"

    "Aren't reformers usually unpractical?"

    "Are they? I don't know. I have never met one." She looked straight at Farnum with the directness characteristic of her. "Is the article in Stetson's Magazine true?"

    "Substantially, I think."

    Alice hesitated. She would have liked to pursue the subject, but she could not very well do that with his cousin. For years she had been hearing

    of this man as a crank agitator who had set himself in opposition to her father and his friends for selfish reasons. Her father had dropped vague hints about his unsavory life. The Stetson write-up had given a very different story. If it told the truth, many things she had been brought up to accept without question would bear study.

    James suavely explained. "The facts are true, but not the inferences from the facts. Jeff takes rather a one-sided view of a very complex situation. But he's perfectly honest in it, so far as that goes."

    "You voted for his bill, didn't you?" Alice asked.

    "Yes, I voted for it. But I said on the floor I didn't believe in it. My feeling was that the people ought to have a chance to express an opinion in regard to it."

    "Why don't you believe in it?"

    Valencia lifted her perfect eyebrows. "Really, my dear, I didn't know you were so interested in politics."

    Alice waited for the young man's answer.

    "It would take me some time to give my reasons in full. But I can give you the text of them in a sentence. Our government is a representative one by deliberate choice of its founders. This bill would tend to make it a pure democracy, which would be far too cumbersome for so large a country."

    "So you'll vote against it next time to save the country," Alice suggested lightly. "Thank you for explaining it." She turned to her cousin with an air of dismissing the subject. "Well, Val. What about the yacht trip to Kloochet Island for Sunday? Shall we go? I have to 'phone the captain to let him know at once."

    "If you'll promise not to have it rain all the time," the young widow shrugged with a little move. "Perhaps Mr. Farnum could join us? I'm sure uncle would be pleased."

    Alice seconded her cousin's invitation tepidly, without any enthusiasm. James, with a face which did not reflect his disappointment, took his cue promptly. "Awfully sorry, but I'll be out of the city. Otherwise I should be delighted."

    Valencia showed a row of dainty teeth in a low ripple of amusement. Alice flashed her cousin one look of resentment and with a sentence of

    conventional regret left the room to telephone the sailing master.

    Farnum, seeking permission to leave, waited for his hostess to rise from the divan where she nestled.

    But Valencia, her fingers laced in characteristic fashion back of her neck, leaned back and mocked his defeat with indolent amused eyes.

    "My engagement," he suggested as a reminder.

    "Poor boy! Are you hard hit?"

    "Your flights of fancy leave me behind. I can't follow," he evaded with an angry flush.

    "No, but you wish you could follow," she laughed, glancing at the door through which her cousin had departed. Then, with a demure impudent little cast of her head, she let him have it straight from the shoulder. "How long have you been in love with Alice? And how will you like to see Ned Merrill win?"

    "Am I in love with Miss Frome?"

    "Aren't you?"

    "If you say so. It happens to be news to me."

    "As if I believed that, as if you believed it yourself," she scoffed.

    Her pretty pouting lips, the long supple unbroken lines of the soft sinuous body, were an invitation to forget all charms but hers. He understood that she was throwing out her wiles, consciously or unconsciously, to strike out from him a denial that would convince her. His mounting vanity drove away his anger. He forgot everything but her sheathed loveliness, the enticement of this lovely creature whose smoldering eyes invited. Crossing the room, he stood behind her divan and looked down at her with his hands on the back of it.

    "Can a man care much for two women at the same time?" he asked in a low voice.

    She laughed with slow mockery.

    Her faint perfume was wafted to his brain. He knew a besieging of the blood. Slowly he leaned forward, holding her eyes till the mockery faded from them. Then, very deliberately, he kissed her.

    "How dare you!" she voiced softly in a kind of wonder not free from resentment. For with all her sensuous appeal the daughter of Joe Powers

    was not a woman with whom men took liberties.

    "By the gods, why shouldn't I dare? We played a game and both of us have lost. You were to beckon and coolly flit, while I followed safely at a distance. Do you think me a marble statue? Do you think me too wooden for the strings of my heart to pulsate? By heaven, my royal Hebe, you have blown the fire in me to life. You must pay forfeit."

    "Pay forfeit?"

    "Yes. I'm your servant no longer, but your lover and your master—— and I intend to marry you."

    "How ridiculous," she derided. "Have you forgotten Alice?"

    "I have forgotten everything but you——and that I'm going to marry you."

    She laughed a little tremulously. "You had better forget that too. I'm like Alice. My answer is, 'No, thank you, kind sir.'"

    "And my answer, royal Hebe, is this." His hot lips met hers again in abandonment to the racing passion in him.

    "You——barbarian," she gasped, pushing him away.

    "Perhaps. But the man who is going to marry you."

    She looked at him with a flash of almost shy curiosity that had the charm of an untasted sensation. "Would you beat me?"

    "I don't know." He still breathed unevenly. "I'd teach you how to live."

    "And love?" She was beginning to recover her lightness of tone, though the warm color still dabbed her cheeks.

    "Why not?" His eyes were diamond bright. "Why not? You have never known the great moments, the buoyant zest of living in the land that belongs only to the Heirs o Life."

    "And can you guide me there?" The irony in her voice was not untouched with wistfulness.

    "Try me."

    She laughed softly, stepped to the table, and chose a cigarette. "My friend, you promise impossibilities. I was not born to that incomparable company. To be frank, neither were you. Alice, grant you, belongs there. And that mad cousin of yours. But not we two earth creepers. We're neither of us star dwellers. In the meantime"——she lit her Egyptian and

    stopped to make sure of her light every moment escaping more definitely from the glamor of his passion——"you mentioned an engagement that was imperative. Don't let me keep you from it."

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