“Let us make a compact,” he said with his quiet smile. “I may question without reserve. You may withhold what you will. That is fair?”
“Have you ever endured hardship of any kind?”
“I have hunted in the Arctics,” said Carl. “There was a time when food failed. We lived for weeks on reindeer moss and rock tripe. I have been in wild territory with naturalists and hunters. Probably I have known more adventurous hardship than most men.”
“I fancied so,” he said. “What is your favorite painting?” he asked unexpectedly.
The answer came without an instant’s hesitation.
“Paul Potter’s ‘Bull.’”
“A thing of inherent virility and vigor, intensely masculine!” said Mic-co with a smile, adding after an interval of thought, “but there is a danger in over-sexing—”
“I have sometimes thought so. The over-masculine man is too brutal.”
“And the over-feminine woman?”
“Kindly, sentimental, helpless and weak. I have lived with such an aunt since I was fifteen. No, I beg of you, do not misunderstand me! I blame nothing upon her. Like many good women whose minds are blocked off in conventional squares, she is very loyal and sympathetic—and very trying. The essence of her temperament is ineffectuality. My cousin and I were a wild, unmanageable pair who rode roughshod over protest. That Aunt Agatha was not in fault may be proved by my cousin. She is a fine, true, splendid woman.”
An ineffectual aunt in the critical years of adolescence! Mic-co did not suggest that his cousin’s sex had been her salvation.
So nights by the pool Mic-co plumbed the depths of his young guest with the fine, tired eyes.
“Tell me,” he said gently another night; “this inordinate sensitiveness of which you speak. To what do you attribute it?”
“My mother,” he said, “was courageous and unconventional. She recognized the fact that marriage and monogamy are not the ethical answers of the future—that though ideal unions sometimes result, it is not because of marriage, but in spite of it—that motherhood is the inalienable right of every woman with the divine spark in her heart, no matter what the disappointing lack of desirable marriage chances in her life may be. Therefore, when the years failed to produce her perfect and desirable human complement, she sought a eugenic mate and bore me, refusing to saddle herself to a meaningless, man-made partnership with infinite possibilities of domestic hell in it, merely as a sop to the world-Cerberus of convention. Marriage could have added nothing to her lofty conceptions of motherhood—but I—I have been keenly resentful and sensitive—for her. I think it has been the feeling that no one understood. Then, after she died, there was no one—only Philip. I saw him rarely.”
“And your cousin?”