“I hope that I shall hear from you soon,” he said, bowing over her hand.
“You may,” she answered, smiling, as she turned away.
MR. NORRIS VINE
Stella walked briskly down Fifth Avenue and turned into Broadway. Here she took a car down town, and presented herself in the space of twenty minutes or so before the offices of Mr. Norris Vine, at the top of a great flight of stairs in a building near Madison Square. Vine himself opened the door, and led her through the clerk’s office into his own small but luxurious apartment.
“You were just going out?” she asked.
“It is no matter,” he answered. “I have at least half an hour that I can spare.”
He led her to his easy-chair, and seated himself in the chair before his desk. The sunshine fell upon his thin, somewhat hard face, and she looked at him thoughtfully.
“Are you getting older, Norris?” she asked, “or are things going the wrong way with you just now?”
He raised his eyebrows.
“It is a very strenuous life this,” he remarked. “One has to crush all one’s nervous instincts, and when one has succeeded in doing that, one finds oneself a little aged.”
“You look like that,” she said. “You look as though a good many of the fires had burned out, and left you—well, something of a machine. Is it worth while?”
“I don’t know,” he answered listlessly.
“You ought to go to Europe more often,” she said softly. “I do not understand how men can make the slaves of themselves that you do here. Don’t you long sometimes to feel your feet off the treadmill?”
“Perhaps,” he answered; “but the life here becomes like one of those pernicious habits of cigarette smoking, or morphia taking. It grips hold of you—grips hold very tight,” he added in a lower tone.
“I wonder,” she said, “whether there is anything in the world which would tempt you to break away from it.”
He struck the desk at which he was sitting, suddenly, with his clenched fist. His face was still colourless, but his black eyes held a touch of fire.
“Don’t!” he said. “I am not such a slave, after all, as to love my chains; but don’t you understand that one gets into this morass, and one can keep a foothold only by struggling.”
“Is that how it is with you, Norris?” she asked.
“Yes!” he answered, with a sudden fierceness. “Six months ago I think that I might have freed myself. I shouldn’t have been a rich man, but over there in Europe, where people have learned how to live, wealth isn’t in the least necessary. I had enough for Italy, for a season in Paris, for a little sport in Hungary, even for a month or two at Melton. I hesitated, and while I hesitated the thing closed in upon me again. Then your father and I came up against one another once more, and I began it all over again.”