Madame Greville’s final apothegm had suggested one of them. Was all she valued in the world just so much fairy gold that would change over night into dry leaves in her treasure chest because she had never earned it—paid the price for it that life relentlessly exacts for all we may be allowed to call ours?
Her tragi-comic scene with Rodney suggested another. What was her value to him? Was she something enormously desirable when he wanted his hand held and his eyes kissed, but an infernal nuisance when serious matters were concerned? A fine and luxurious dissipation, not dangerous unless recklessly indulged in, but to be kept strictly in her place? Before her talk with Randolph she’d have laughed at that.
But did the horrible plausibility of what he had said actually cover the truth? Did she owe that first golden hour with Rodney, his passionate thrilling avowal of his life’s philosophy, to nothing deeper in herself than her unconscious power of rousing in him an equally unconscious, primitive sex desire? Was the fine mutuality of understanding she had so proudly boasted to her mother clear illusion? Now that the short circuit had been established, would the lights never burn in the upper stories of their house again? Turned about conversely the question read like this: Was the thing that had, in Randolph himself, aroused his vivid interest in the subject—well, nothing more than the daring cut of her gown, the gleam of her jewels, the whiteness of her skin ...?
Those questions were waiting for her to come back to earth; and they wouldn’t get tired and go away. But for the present the knowledge that they were there only made the aeroplane ride the more exhilarating.
She was called to the telephone just as she was on the point of starting reluctantly for home, and found Rodney on the wire. He told her that he had got hold of the thing he was looking for, but that there were still hours of work ahead of him while he was fortifying himself with necessary authorities. He wouldn’t come home to-night at all, he said. When his work was finished, he’d go to the club and have a Turkish bath and all the sleep he had time for. When he got through in court to-morrow afternoon, he’d come home.
It was all perfectly reasonable—it was to her finely tuned ear just a shade too reasonable. It had been thought out as an excuse. Because it wasn’t for the Turkish bath nor the extra hour’s sleep that he was staying away from home. It was herself he was staying away from. He wanted his mind to stay cold and taut, and he was afraid to face the temptation of her eyes and her soft white arms. And in the mood of that hour, it pleased her that this should be so—that the ascetic in him should pay her the tribute of fear.
Afterward, of course, she felt like lashing herself for having felt like that and for having replied, in a spirit of pure coquetry, in a voice of studied, cool, indifferent good humor: