I agreed. A new and indescribable note had come into Mrs. Scherer’s voice, and I realized that she, too, was aware of that flaw in the redoubtable Mr. Scherer which none of his associates had guessed. It would have been strange if she had not discovered it. “She is beautiful, yes,” the lady continued critically, “but she is not to compare with your wife. She has not the heart,—it is so with all your people of society. For them it is not what you are, but what you have done, and what you have.”
The banality of this observation was mitigated by the feeling she threw into it.
“I think you misjudge Mrs. Durrett,” I said, incautiously. “She has never before had the opportunity of meeting Mr. Scherer of appreciating him.”
“Mrs. Durrett is an old friend of yours?” she asked.
“I was brought up with her.”
“Ah!” she exclaimed, and turned her penetrating glance upon me. I was startled. Could it be that she had discerned and interpreted those renascent feelings even then stirring within me, and of which I myself was as yet scarcely conscious? At this moment, fortunately for me, the women rose; the men remained to smoke; and Scherer, as they discussed matters of finance, became himself again. I joined in the conversation, but I was thinking of those instants when in flashes of understanding my eyes had met Nancy’s; instants in which I was lifted out of my humdrum, deadly serious self and was able to look down objectively upon the life I led, the life we all led—and Nancy herself; to see with her the comic irony of it all. Nancy had the power to give me this exquisite sense of detachment that must sustain her. And was it not just this sustenance she could give that I needed? For want of it I was hardening, crystallizing, growing blind to the joy and variety of existence. Nancy could have saved me; she brought it home to me that I needed salvation.... I was struck by another thought; in spite of our separation, in spite of her marriage and mine, she was still nearer to me—far nearer—than any other being.
Later, I sought her out. She looked up at me amusedly from the window-seat in our living-room, where she had been talking to the Scherer girls.
“Well, how did you get along with Hilda?” she asked. “I thought I saw you struggling.”
“She’s somewhat disconcerting,” I said. “I felt as if she were turning me inside out.”
“Hilda’s a discovery—a genius. I’m going to have them to dinner myself.”
“And Adolf?” I inquired. “I believe she thought you were preparing to run away with him. You seemed to have him hypnotized.”
“I’m afraid your great man won’t be able to stand—elevation,” she declared. “He’ll have vertigo. He’s even got it now, at this little height, and when he builds his palace on Grant Avenue, and later moves to New York, I’m afraid he’ll wobble even more.”
“Is he thinking of doing all that?” I asked.