作者：Webster, Henry Kitchell
格式: AZW3, DOCX, EPUB, MOBI, PDF, TXT
版权信息书名：Mary Wollaston作者：Webster, Henry Kitchell排版：skip出版时间：2017-11-28本书由当当数字商店（公版书）授权北京当当科文电子商务有限公司制作与发行。— · 版权所有 侵权必究 · —CHAPTER ITHE CIRCASSIAN GRAND
Miss Lucile Wollaston was set to exude sympathy, like an aphid waiting for an overworked ant to come down to breakfast. But there was no sympathizing with the man who came in from a doctor's all-night vigil like a boy from a ball-game, gave her a hard brisk kiss on the cheek-bone, and then, before taking his place at the table, unfolded the morning paper for a glance at the head-lines.
If there was something rigorous about the way she lighted the alcohol lamp under the silver urn and rang for Nathaniel, the old colored butler, it was from a determination not to let this younger brother of hers put her into a flurry again as he so often did. A very much younger brother indeed, he seemed when this mood was on him.
Miss Wollaston was born on the election day that made James Buchanan president of the United States and Doctor John within a few days of Appomattox. But one would have said, looking at them here at the breakfast table on a morning in March in the year 1919, that there was a good deal more than those ten years between them. He folded his paper and sat down when the butler suggestively pulled out his chair for him and his manner became, for the moment, absent, as his eye fell upon a letter beside his plate addressed in his daughter, Mary's, handwriting.
"I want a big platter of ham and eggs, Nat, sliced thick. And a few of Lucartha's wheat cakes." He made some sort of good-humored, half articulate acknowledgment of the old servitor's pleasure in getting such an order, but one might have seen that his mind was a little out of focus, for it was not exactly dealing with the letter either. He sliced it open with a table knife with the precise movement one would have expected from a surgeon and disengaged it in the same neat way from its envelope. But he read it as if he weren't very sharply aware of what, particularly, it had to say and he laid it beside his plate again without any comment.
"Did you have any sleep last night, at all?" Miss Wollaston asked.
It brought him back like a flash. "Not a wink," he said jovially.
This was a challenge and the look that went with it, one of clear boyish mischief, was one that none of John Wollaston's other intimates—and among these I include his beautiful young wife and his two grown-up children by an earlier marriage—ever saw. It was a special thing for this sister who had been a stately young lady of twenty when he was a bad little boy of ten. She had watched him, admiring yet rather aghast, ever since then.
To the world at large his social charm lay in—or was at least inseparable from—his really exquisite manners, his considerateness, the touch of old-fashioned punctilio there was about him. His first wife would have agreed with her successor about his possession of this quality though they would have appraised it rather differently. Only this elderly unmarried sister of his felt the fascination of the horrible about him.
This was to some extent inherent in his profession. He had a reputation that was growing to amount to fame as a specialist in the very wide field of gynecology, obstetrics and abdominal surgery. The words themselves made Miss Wollaston shudder.
When he replied to her question, whether or not he had had any sleep at all, with an open grin and that triumphant "Not a wink," she had a prophetic sense of what was going to happen. She was going to ask him more questions and he was going to tell her something perfectly ghastly.
She felt herself slipping, but she pulled up. "What's in Mary's letter?" she asked.
She knew that this was not quite fair, and the look that it brought to his face—a twinge of pain like neuralgia—awakened a sharp compunction in her. She did not know why—at least not exactly why—his relation with his daughter should be a sore spot in his emotional life, but she knew quite well that this was true. There was on the surface, nothing, or nowhere near enough, to account for it.
He had always been, Miss Wollaston felt, an adorer to the verge of folly of this lovely pale-blonde daughter of his. He had indulged her outrageously but without any evident bad results. Upon her mother's death, in 1912 that was, when Mary was seventeen years old, she had, to the utmost limit that a daughter could compass, taken her mother's place in the bereaved man's life. She had foregone the college course she was prepared for and had taken over very skillfully the management of her father's household; even, in a surprisingly successful way, too, the motherly guidance of her two-years-younger brother, Rush. Miss Wollaston's testimony on these two points was unbiased as it was ungrudging. She had offered herself for that job and had not then been wanted.
Two years later there had been a quarrel between John and his daughter. She fell in love, or thought she did—for indeed, how could a child of nineteen know?—with a man to whom her father decisively and almost violently objected. Just how well founded this objection was Miss Wollaston had no means of deciding for herself. There was nothing flagrantly wrong with the man's manners, position or prospects; but she attributed to her brother a wisdom altogether beyond her own in matters of that sort and sided with him against the girl without misgiving. And the fact that the man himself married another girl within a month or two of Mary's submission to her father's will, might be taken as a demonstration that he was right.
John had done certainly all he could to make it up with the girl. He tried to get her to go with him on what was really a junket to Vienna—there was no better place to play than the Vienna of those days—though there was also some sort of surgical congress there that spring that served him as an excuse, and Mary, Miss Wollaston felt, had only herself to blame for what happened.
She had elected to be tragic; preferred the Catskills with a dull old aunt to Vienna with a gay young father. John went alone, sore from the quarrel and rather adrift. In Vienna, he met Paula Carresford, an American opera singer, young, extraordinarily beautiful, and of unimpeachable respectability. They were in Vienna together the first week in August, 1914. They got out together, sailed on the same ship for America and in the autumn of that year, here in Chicago, in the most decorous manner in the world, John married her.
There was a room in Miss Wollaston's well ordered mind which she had always guarded as an old-fashioned New England village housewife used to guard the best parlor, no light, no air, no dust, Holland covers on all the furniture. Rigorously she forbore to speculate upon the attraction which had drawn John and Paula together—upon what had happened between them—upon how the thing had looked and felt to either of them. She covered the whole episode with one blanket observation: she supposed it was natural in the circumstances.
And there was much to be thankful for. Paula was well-bred; she was amiable; she was "nice"; nice to an amazing degree, considering. She had made a genuine social success. She had given John a new lease on life, turned back the clock for him, oh—years.
Mary, Miss Wollaston felt, had taken it surprisingly well. At the wedding she had played her difficult part admirably and during the few months she had stayed at home after the wedding, she had not only kept on good terms with Paula but had seemed genuinely to like her. In the spring of the next year, 1915, she had, indeed, left home and had not been back since except for infrequent visits. But then there was reason enough—excuse enough, anyhow—for that. The war was enveloping them all. Rush had left his freshman year at Harvard uncompleted to go to France and drive an ambulance (he enlisted a little later in the French Army). Mary had gone to New York to work on the Belgian War Relief Fund, and she had been working away at it ever since.
There was then no valid reason—no reason at all unless she were willing to go rummaging in that dark room of her mind for it—why John should always wince like that when one reminded him of Mary. It was a fact, though, that he did, and his sister was too honest-minded to pretend she did not know it.
He answered her question now evenly enough. "She's working harder than ever, she says, closing up her office. She wants some more money, of course. And she's heard from Rush. He's coming home. He may be turning up almost any day now. She hopes to get a wire from him so that she can meet him in New York and have a little visit with him, she says, before he comes on here."
It was on Miss Wollaston's tongue to ask crisply, "Why doesn't she come home herself now that her Fund is shutting up shop?" But that would have been to state in so many words the naked question they tacitly left unasked. There was another idea in her brother's mind that she thought she could deal with. He had betrayed it by the emphasis he put on the fact that it was to Mary and not to himself that Rush had written the news that he was coming home. Certainly there was nothing in that.
"Why," she asked brightly, "don't you go to New York yourself and meet him?"
He answered instantly, almost sharply, "I can't do that." Then not liking the way it sounded in his own ear, he gave her a reason. "If you knew the number of babies that are coming along within the next month…."
"You need a rest," she said, "badly. I don't see how you live through horrors like that. But there must be other people—somebody who can take your work for you for a while. It can't make all that difference."
"It wouldn't," he admitted, "nine times out of ten. That call I got last evening that broke up the dinner party,—an intern at the County Hospital would have done just as well as I. There was nothing to it at all. Oh, it was a sort of satisfaction to the husband's feelings, I suppose, to pay me a thousand dollars and be satisfied that nobody in town could have paid more and got anything better. But you see, you never can tell. The case I was called in on at four o'clock this morning was another thing altogether." A gleam had come into his eyes again as over the memory of some brilliantly successful audacity. The gray old look had gone out of his face.
"I don't altogether wonder that Pollard blew up," he added, "except that a man in that profession has got no business to—ever."
The coffee urn offered Miss Wollaston her only means of escape but she didn't avail herself of it. She let herself go on looking for a breathless minute into her brother's face. Then she asked weakly, "What was it?"
"Why, Pollard…." John Wollaston began but then he stopped short and listened. "I thought I heard Paula coming," he explained.
"Paula won't be down for hours," Miss Wollaston said, "but I do not see why she shouldn't hear, since she is a married woman and your own wife…."
Her brother's "Precisely" cut across that sentence with a snick like a pair of shears and left a little silence behind it.
"I think she'll be along in a minute," he went on. "She always does come to breakfast. Why did you think she wouldn't to-day?"
This was one of Miss Wollaston's minor crosses. The fact was that on the comparatively rare occasions when Doctor John himself was present for the family breakfast at the custom-consecrated hour, Paula managed about two times in five to put in a last-minute appearance. This was not what annoyed Miss Wollaston. She was broad-minded enough to be aware that to an opera singer, the marshaling of one's whole family in the dining-room at eight o'clock in the morning might seem a barbarous and revolting practise and even occasional submissions to it, acts of real devotion. She was not really bitterly annoyed either by Paula's oft repeated assertion that she always came to breakfast. Paula was one of those temperamental persons who have to be forgiven for treating their facts—atmospherically. But that John, a man of science, enlisted under the banner of truth, should back this assertion of his wife's, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, really required resignation to put up with; argued a blindness, an infatuation, which seemed to his sister hardly decent. Because after all, facts were facts, and you didn't alter them by pretending that they did not exist.
So instead of answering her brother's question, she sat a little straighter in her chair, and compressed her lips.
He smiled faintly at that and added, "Anyhow she said she'd be along in a minute or two."
"Oh," said Miss Wollaston, "you have wakened her then. I would have suggested that the poor child be left asleep this morning."
Now he saw that she had something to tell him. "Nothing went wrong last night after I left, I hope."
"Oh, not wrong," Miss Wollaston conceded, "only the Whitneys went of course, when you did and the Byrnes, and Wallace Hood, but Portia Stanton and that new husband of hers stayed. It was his doing, I suppose. You might have thought he was waiting all the evening for just that thing to happen. They went up to Paula's studio—Paula invited me, of course, but I excused myself—and they played and sang until nearly two o'clock this morning. It was all perfectly natural, I suppose. And still I did think that Paula might have sung earlier, down in the drawing-room when you asked her to."
"She was perfectly right to refuse." He caught his sister up rather short on that, "I shouldn't have asked her. It was very soon after dinner. They weren't a musical crowd anyway, except Novelli. It's utterly unfair to expect a person like Paula to perform unless she happens to be in the mood for it. At that she's extremely amiable about it; never refuses unless she has some real reason. What her reason was last night, I don't know, but you may be perfectly sure it was sufficient."
He would have realized that he was protesting too much even if he had not read that comment in his sister's face. But somehow he couldn't have pulled himself up but for old Nat's appearance with the platter of ham and eggs and the first installment of the wheat cakes. He was really hungry and he settled down to them in silence.
And, watching him between the little bites of dry toast and sips of coffee, Miss Wollaston talked about Portia Stanton. Everybody, indeed, was talking about Portia these days but Miss Wollaston had a special privilege. She had known Portia's mother rather well,—Naomi Rutledge Stanton, the suffrage leader, she was—and she had always liked and admired Portia; liked her better than the younger and more sensational daughter, Rose.
Miss Wollaston hoped, hoped with all her heart that Portia had not made a tragic mistake in this matter of her marriage. She couldn't herself quite see how a sensible girl like Portia could have done anything so reckless as to marry a romantic young Italian pianist, ten years at least her junior. It couldn't be denied that the experiment seemed to have worked well so far. Portia certainly seemed happy enough last night; contented. There was a sort of glow about her there never was before. But the question was how long would it last. How long would it be before those big brown Italian eyes began looking soulfully at somebody else; somebody more….
It was here that Miss Wollaston chopped herself off short, hearing—this time it was no false alarm—Paula's step in the hall. She'd have been amazed, scandalized, profoundly indignant, dear good-hearted lady that she was, had some expert in the psychology of the unconscious pointed out to her that the reason she had begun talking about Portia was that it gave her an outlet for expressing her misgivings about her own brother's marriage. Paula, of course, was a different thing altogether.
What a beautiful creature she was, even at eight o'clock in the morning at the end of an abruptly terminated night's sleep. She looked lovelier than ever as she came in through the shadowy doorway. She wasn't a true blonde like Mary. Her thick strong hair was a sort of golden glorification of brown, her skin a warm tone of ivory. Her eyes, set wide apart, were brown, and the lashes, darker than her hair, enhanced the size of them. The look of power about Paula, inseparable from her beauty, was not one of Miss Wollaston's feminine ideals. It spoke in every line of her figure as well as in the lineaments of her face; in the short, rather broad, yet cleanly defined nose; in the generous width of her mouth; in the sculpturesque poise of her neck upon her shoulders.
Paula's clothes, too, worried her elderly sister-in-law a little, especially the house-dresses that she affected. They were beautiful, heaven knew; more simply beautiful perhaps than it was right that clothes should be. There was nothing indecent about them. Dear Paula was almost surprisingly nice in those ways. But that thing she had on now, for instance;—a tunic of ecru colored silk that she had pulled on over her head, with a little over-dress of corn colored tulle, weighted artfully here and there that it mightn't fly away. And a string of big lumpish amber beads. She could have got into that costume in about two minutes and there was probably next to nothing under it. From the on-looker's point of view, it mightn't violate decorum at all; indeed, clearly did not. But Miss Wollaston herself, if she hadn't been more or less rigidly laced, stayed, gartered, pinched, pried and pulled about; if she could have moved freely in any direction without an admonitory—"take care"—from some bit of whalebone somewhere, wouldn't have felt dressed at all. There ought to be something perpetually penitential about clothes. The biblical story of the fall of man made that clear, didn't it?
John sprang up as his wife came into the room; went around the table and held her chair for her. "My dear, I didn't know I was robbing you of half a night's sleep," he said. "You should have turned me out."
She reached up her strong white arms (the tulle sleeves did fall away from them rather alarmingly, and Miss Wollaston concentrated her attention on the spiggot of the coffee urn) for his head as he bent over her and pulled it down for a kiss.
"I didn't need any more sleep. I had such a joyous time last night. I sang the whole of Maliela, and a lot of Thais. I don't know what all. Novelli's a marvel; the best accompanist I've found yet. But, oh, my darling, I did feel such a pig about it."
He was back in his own chair by now and his sister breathed a little more freely.
"Pig?" he asked.
"Oh, because you weren't there," said Paula. "Because I didn't sing before, when you asked me to."
"Dearest!" John remonstrated,—pleased though with the apology, you could see with half an eye,—"it was inexcusable of me to have asked you. It was a dull crowd from a musical point of view. The only thing I minded was having, myself, put you into a position where you had to refuse. I am glad you were able to make it up to yourself after."
"That was not why I didn't," Paula said. She always spoke rather deliberately and never interrupted any one. "I mean it wasn't because the others weren't especially musical. But I couldn't have sung without asking Novelli to play. And he couldn't have refused—being new and a little on trial you know. And that drawing-room piano, so badly out of tune, would have been terrible for him. There's no knowing what he mightn't have done."
John's face beamed triumph. "I might have known you had an unselfish reason for it," he said. He didn't look at his sister but, of course, the words slanted her way.
It was perfectly characteristic of Miss Wollaston that she did not, however, make any immediate attempt to set herself right. She attended first very competently to all of Paula's wants in the way of breakfast and saw her fairly launched on her chilled grapefruit. Then she said, "A man is coming to tune the piano this morning."
It was more than a statement of fact. Indeed I despair of conveying to you all the implications and moral reflections which Miss Wollaston contrived to pack into that simple sentence.
The drawing-room piano was what an artillerist would speak of as one of the sensitive points along the family front. It had been a present to the Wollaston household from the eldest of John's brothers, the unmarried one Miss Wollaston had kept house for so many years before he died; the last present, it turned out, he ever made to