“Yes, Jerry. I—I think he’s cured me—or at least Pm well on the road to recovery. Nobody could be mind-sick long with Jerry letting daylight in.”
“Daylight, yes. You found it startling?”
“A little, at first. I felt the way I look sometimes at dawn after dancing all night, my tinsel tarnished, my color faded. All my effects are planned for artificial light, you see.”
Her frankness disarmed me.
“I’m thanking you for Jerry,” she went on, “but I can’t help knowing that Jerry is what you’ve made him; that his ideals, his simplicity, his purity are yours also.”
If she had baited her hook with flattery there was no sign of premeditation in the gentleness of her accents or in the friendly look she gave me. Could it be possible that this was the person in whom I had seen such a menace to Jerry’s happiness?
“I have merely taught Jerry to be honest, Miss Van Wyck,” I replied. “I ask no credit of him or of you.”
“But if it pleases me to give it to you,” she said softly, “you surely can’t object.”
“No, but I don’t ask laurels I don’t deserve. Jerry is—merely himself.”
“Plus, Mr. Roger Canby—purist and pedagogue,” she laughed. “No, you can’t get out of it. Jerry reflects you; I think I actually recognize inflections of the voice. You ought to be very glad to have laid so strong an impress on so fine a thing.”
Just then I heard the raucous laugh of Channing Lloyd from the distant lawn, which reminded me with a startling suddenness that this slender creature who spoke softly of ideals and purity could choose a man like this fellow for an intimate. I noticed, too, the delicate odor which rose from her corsage of which Jack Ballard had spoken, something subtle and unfamiliar.
I straightened and looked out through the open window, steeling myself against her.
“I am glad you think him fine,” I said dryly. “No doubt he compares very favorably with other young men of your acquaintance.”
“You mean Mr. Lloyd, of course,” she said quickly.
I was silent, avoiding her gaze and her perfume.
“I’m afraid you don’t understand me, Mr. Canby,” she said softly. “I’m sorry. Any friend of Jerry’s ought to be a friend of mine.”
“I should like to be, of course, but—”
I paused. This woman, against my will, was making me lie to her.
“But what—? Am I so—so unpleasant to you? What have I done to earn your displeasure?”
“Nothing,” I stammered. “Nothing.”
“Is it that you fear the contamination of the kind of culture I’ve been bred and born in? Or the effect of my familiarity with doctrines with which you’re not in sympathy?”
Was she mocking? Her voice was still gentle, but I had a notion that inside of her she was laughing. It was as though, having failed to win me, she was beginning to unmask. I peered into her face. It was guileless and wore the appealing expression of a reproachful child.