To a man like Pell, a wife was a necessity—but only a secondary consideration. Of course he must marry, keep up an expensive menage, and prove to the world that he was successful even where women were concerned. He must give his wife the proper background, do all the necessary things; furnish the right setting for his jewel. Children? Bah! They were not essential. He had no paternal instinct whatever. Enough that he should support in luxury and affluence the woman he deigned to make his wife, and entertain in his home the people who could and would be of use to him.
Every least act of his life was arranged, specifications written, plans drawn, and blueprints made. One day he decided that he wished a beautiful Italian villa on the north shore of Long Island. He pressed a button, ordered his secretary to get in touch immediately with his architect; and a half-hour later the latter was at his desk ready to talk of the nebulous house. Within twenty-four hours he had arranged everything—not a detail was forgotten.
That is how he did things. He set out to find a wife in the same matter-of-fact manner. He met many women; but Lucia Fennell was the only one who set his pulse beating a little faster. He felt it a shame that he should be so weak. They were at a dinner-party at the country home of a mutual friend.
It was her eyes that held him first. He had never seen quite such eyes—blue, with a curious depth that spoke of many things—the eyes of a girl who, had he been wiser, he would have known had been in love before. This was the type of woman who never loved but once, and then with all her strength beyond her own high dreams of what love should be. But though Pell could appraise men, judge them swiftly and surely, he was a fool where a girl was concerned. He had never spent much time on them. Frankly, they bored him. He liked far better the subtle game of finance. He had no finesse in a world of women, and he would have been the easiest possible prey of an adventuress.
But Lucia was far from that. Of the best family, with old traditions, she moved among the set she wished; but society, so called, did not appeal to her. She preferred people with brains rather than the idle rich; and she had traveled a great deal, and known the world in strange places. She was very young when she met the one man of all men for her. Like all women of great beauty she had known many men who were infatuated with her. Those gifts and attentions which are the rightful dower of every charming girl were hers in abundance; and she received them as a queen might have done from subjects hardly worthy to sit beside her. Then she met—one man.
It was during a trip she had made with her aunt through New England. He was poor. To her, that made no difference. She would have gone with him to the ends of the earth. The flame had touched her heart; she was a victim, like many another; and when her lover, too proud to ask her to share his poverty with her, stayed behind when she went back to New York, and failed to write to her, she almost died of grief. But life had to be faced. One word from her—she, too, was proud,—and there might have been a different story to tell. But with the foolish self-consciousness of lovers, each failed the other in the great moment that would have sealed their destinies.