“Rubbish!” I broke in. “Has he no face, no body?”
She smiled at my impetuousness. Strangely enough, we were both too interested to resent mere forms of intercourse.
“It’s true. She has a good mind, but badly trained. His innocence fascinates, tantalizes her. I’ve watched them—heard them. She toys with it, testing it in a hundred ways. It’s like nothing she has ever known before. But she isn’t the kind you think she is. I doubt even if Jerry has kissed her. To Marcia men are merely so much material for experimentation. She has a reputation for heartlessness. I’m not sure that she isn’t heartless. It’s a great pity. She’s very young, but she’s already devoured with hypercriticism. She’s cynical, a philanderer. You can’t tamper with a passion the way Marcia has done without doing it an injury. You see, I’m speaking frankly. I don’t quite understand why, but I’m not sorry.”
I bowed my head in appreciation of her confidence. This woman improved upon acquaintance.
“You care for her,” I said soberly. “I should have been more guarded.”
“Yes, I care for her. She has many virtues. She gets along with women and I can understand her attraction for men. But she has confessed to me that men both attract and repel her. Sex-antagonism, I think the moderns call it—a desire to tease, to attract, to excite, to destroy. She uses every art to play her game. It is her life. If any man conquered her she would be miserable. A strange creature, you will say, but—”
“Strange, unnatural, horrible!”
She smiled at my sober tone.
“And yet she is acting within her rights. She asks nothing that is not freely given.”
“Women are curiously tolerant of moral imperfections in those they care for. Your Marcia is dangerous. I shall warn Jerry.”
But she shook her dark head sagely.
“It will do no good. You will fail.”
We walked slowly toward the house and I tried to make her understand that I was grateful for her interest. She was not pretty, but, as I had discovered, had some beauties of the mind which made her physical attractions a matter of small importance.
As we neared the terrace, a thought came to me and I paused.
“You know who the girl Una is?” I asked.
“Yes,” she nodded, “but her name isn’t Smith.”
“I was aware of that. Would you mind telling me who and what she is?”
She remained thoughtful a moment, fingering the stem of a plant.
“I don’t see why I shouldn’t. Her name is Habberton, Una Habberton. She was visiting the Laidlaws here last summer. Her family, a mother and a lot of girls, live in the old house down in Washington Square. They’re fairly well off, but Una has gone in for social work—spends almost all of her time at it—slumming. I don’t know much about her, but I think she must be pretty fine to give up all her social opportunities for that.”