Io Eyre was one of those women before whom Scandal seems to lose its teeth if not its tongue. She had always assumed the superb attitude toward the world in which she moved. “They say?—What do they say?—Let them say!” might have been her device, too genuinely expressive of her to be consciously contemptuous. Where another might have suffered in reputation by constant companionship with a man as brilliant, as conspicuous, as phenomenal of career as Errol Banneker, Io passed on her chosen way, serene and scatheless.
Tongues wagged, indeed; whispers spread; that was inevitable. But to this Io was impervious. When Banneker, troubled lest any breath should sully her reputation who was herself unsullied, in his mind, would have advocated caution, she refused to consent.
“Why should I skulk?” she said. “I’m not ashamed.”
So they met and lunched or dined at the most conspicuous restaurants, defying Scandal, whereupon Scandal began to wonder whether, all things considered, there were anything more to it than one of those flirtations which, after a time of faithful adherence, become standardized into respectability and a sort of tolerant recognition. What, after all, is respectability but the brand of the formalist upon standardization?
With the distaste and effort which Ban always felt in mentioning her husband’s name to Io, he asked her one day about any possible danger from Eyre.
“No,” she said with assurance. “I owe Del nothing. That is understood between us.”
“But if the tittle-tattle that must be going the rounds should come to his ears—”
“If the truth should come to his ears,” she replied tranquilly, “it would make no difference.”
Ban looked at her, hesitant to be convinced.
“Yes; it’s so,” she asseverated, nodding, “After his outbreak in Paris—it was on our wedding trip—I gave him a choice. I would either divorce him, or I would hold myself absolutely free of him so far as any claim, actual or moral, went. The one thing I undertook was that I would never involve his name in any open scandal.”
“He hasn’t been so particular,” said Ban gloomily.
“Of late he has. Since I had Cousin Billy Enderby go to him about the dancer. I won’t say he’s run absolutely straight since. Poor Del! He can’t, I suppose. But, at least, he’s respected the bargain to the extent of being prudent. I shall respect mine to the same extent.”
“Io,” he burst out passionately, “there’s only one thing in the world I really want; for you to be free of him absolutely.”
She shook her head. “Oh, Ban’ Can’t you be content—with me? I’ve told you I am free of him. I’m not really his wife.”
“No; you’re mine,” he declared with jealous intensity.
“Yes; I’m yours.” Her voice trembled, thrilled. “You don’t know yet how wholly I’m yours. Oh, it isn’t that alone, Ban. But in spirit and thought. In the world of shadowed and lovely things that we made for ourselves long ago.”