And then, perhaps, some amiable hostess in need of an extra man would send the launch to the Sea-Mew to bring Mr. Fenimer back to dine; and he would come on board, very civil, very neat, very punctilious on matters of yachting etiquette; and he and Christine having exchanged greeting, would find that they had really nothing whatsoever to say to each other.
Their only vital topic of conversation was money, and as this was always disagreeable, both of them instinctively tried to avoid it. Whenever Fenimer had money, he either speculated with it, or immediately spent it on himself. So that he was always able to say with perfect truth, whenever his daughter asked for it, that he had none. The result of this was that she had easily drifted into the simple custom of running up bills for whatever she needed, and allowing the tradesmen to fight it out with her father.
Such a system does not tend to economy. Christine’s idea of what was necessary, derived from the extravagant friends who offered her the most opportunity for amusing herself, enlarged year by year. Besides, she asked herself, why should she deny herself, in order that her father might lose more money in copper stocks?
Sometimes during one of their casual meetings, he would say to her under his breath: “Good Heavens, girl, do you know, I’ve just had a bill of almost three thousand dollars from your infernal dressmaker? How can I stop your running up such bills?” And she would answer coolly: “By paying them every year or so.”
She knew—she had always known since she was a little girl—that from this situation, only marriage could rescue her, and from the worse situation that would follow her father’s death; for she suspected that he was deeply in debt. Not having been brought up in a sentimental school she was prepared to do her share in arranging such a marriage. In the world in which she lived, competition was severe. Already she had seen a possible husband carried off under her nose by a little school-room mouse who had had the aid of an efficient mother.
But now for the first time in her life, she saw that the game was in her own hands. She had only to do the right thing—only perhaps to avoid doing the wrong one—and her future was safe.
She heard Riatt calling and she followed him into the laundry, where he had collected some candles: he was much engaged in lighting a fire in the stove.
“But wouldn’t the kitchen range be better?” she asked.
“No water turned on,” he answered.
To her this answer was utterly unintelligible. What, she wondered, was the connection between fire and water. But, rather characteristically, she was disinclined to ask. She walked to the sink, however, and turned the tap; a long husky cough came from it, but no water.
After this burst of energy she sank into a chair, amused to watch his arrangements. Thoroughly idle people—and there is not much question that Miss Fenimer was idle—learn a variety of methods for keeping other people at work, and probably the most effective of these is flattery. Christine may have been ignorant of the feminine arts of cooking and fire-making; but of the super-feminine art of flattery she was a thorough mistress.