“I thought he was in Washington: I did not expect to meet him.”
The judge puffed uneasily at his cigar. He was a family man, with a stout wife and married son. He did not meet Miss Fleming once a year, but he felt a vague jealousy of Neckart.
“By the way, you must be old acquaintances?” he said abruptly. “Both from Delaware? Kent county?”
“Oh yes,” with a shrill womanish laugh, very different from her usual sweet boyish ha! ha! “Many’s the day we rowed on the bay or dredged for oysters together, dirty and ragged and happy. There is not very much difference in our ages,” seeing his look of surprise. “I look younger than I am, and Bruce has grown old fast. At least, so I hear. I have not seen him for years.”
She was silent after that, and preoccupied as her admirers had never seen her, and presently, hearing Jane’s and Neckart’s steps on the path, she rose hastily and bade them good-night. They each shook hands with her, that being one of the sacred rites in the Platonic friendships so much in vogue now-a-days among clever men and women. Mr. Van Ness offered his hand last, and Cornelia smiled cordially as she took it. But it was clammy and soft. She rubbed her fingers with a shudder of disgust as she hurried up to her own room. There she walked straight to her glass and turned up the lamp beside it, looking long and fixedly at her face. She knew with exactness the extent of its ugliness and its power.
“It is too late now even if it ever could have been,” she said quietly, and put out the light. Then she went to the window. Mr. Neckart had left Jane inside, and, not joining the other men, turned back to the garden. She saw the bulky dark figure as it passed under her window.
She stretched out her hands as if for a caress, with the palms pressed close. “Oh, Bruce!” she said under her breath. “Bruce!”
After he had passed out of sight she stood thinking over all the men who had made a comrade of her since she saw him last—how they had handled her fingers and looked into her eyes; how her every thought and fancy had grown common and unclean through much usage; how she had dragged out whatever maidenly feeling she had in the old times, and made capital of it to bring these companions to her who were neither lovers nor friends.
“When I could not have the food which I wanted. I took the husks which the swine did eat,” she said, leaving the window, with a short laugh. “Well, I could not die of starvation.”
When Jane woke the next morning a bluebird was singing outside of the window: she tried to mimic him before she was out of bed, and sang scraps of songs to herself as she dressed. The captain heard her in his room below, but pretended to be asleep when she came down as usual to lay out his clothes, for, although she insisted that her father should have Dave as a valet, she left him but little to do.