“She may have another idea of social opportunity,” I said.
“Yes—you’re quite right. I used the wrong words. One is not accustomed in Marcia’s set to find that sort of thing an opportunity.”
“Miss Van Wyck knows her?” I asked.
“Yes. Marcia is on a committee that provides money for this particular charity. They know each other. She came over to Briar Hills one night with Phil Laidlaw. Marcia saw her several times in our fields with her butterfly net. You see, her name is unusual. Marcia guessed the rest.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I hope you’ve forgiven me for my churlishness. I should like to know you better if you’ll let me.”
She turned her head toward me with a motherly smile.
“I don’t care for the society of men,” she said amusedly. “They annoy me exceedingly.”
Something went wrong with Jerry’s afternoon, for not long after lunch I heard his machine in the driveway. But I didn’t go out to meet him. I knew that if there was anything he wanted to say to me he would come to the study door. But I heard him pass and go upstairs. I hadn’t been able to do any work at my book since yesterday morning, and the prospect of going on with it seemed to be vanishing with the hours.
The astounding frankness of Miss Gore had set me thinking. As may be inferred, I did not understand women in the least and hadn’t cared to, for their ways had not been my ways, nor mine theirs. But the woman’s revelations as to the character of her cousin had confirmed me in the belief that Jerry had gotten beyond his depth. I think I understood her motives in telling me. I was Jerry’s guardian and friend. If Miss Gore was Marcia’s cousin she was also her paid companion, her creature, bound less by the ties of kinship than those of convention. I suppose it was Jerry’s helplessness that must have appealed to the mother in her, his youth, innocence and genuineness. Perhaps she was weary treading the mazes of deception and intrigue with which the girl Marcia surrounded herself. Jerry wasn’t fair game. All that was good in her had revolted at the maiming of a helpless animal.
For such, I am sure, Jerry already was. How much or how little the unconscious growth in the boy of the sexual impulse had to do with his sudden subjugation by the girl it was impossible for me to estimate. For if the impulse was newly born, it was born in innocence. This I knew from the nature of his comments on his experiences in the city. Knowledge of all sorts he was acquiring, but, like Adam, of the fruit of the tree he had not tasted. And yet, even I, stoic though I was, had been sensible of the animal in the girl. Her voice, her gestures, her gait, all proclaimed her. Miss Gore had spoken of a psychic attraction. Bah! There is but one kind of affinity of a woman of this sort for a beautiful animal like Jerry!