Isabelle was always breezily civil to her husband; he had long ago vanished as completely from among the vital elements of her life as if he were dead, perhaps more than if he were dead. She thought—if she thought about him at all—that he never saw her little affairs; she supposed him perfectly satisfied with his home and children and club and business, and incidentally with his beautiful figurehead of a wife. They had quarrelled distressingly, several years ago, when he had bored her with references to her “duty,” and her influence over Nina, and her obligations to her true self. But that had all stopped long since, and now Isabelle was free to sleep late, to dress at leisure, to make what engagements she pleased, to see the persons who interested her. Richard never interfered; never was there a more perfectly discreet and generous husband. Half the women Isabelle knew were attempting to live exactly as she did, to cultivate “suitors,” and drift about in an atmosphere of new gowns and adulation and orchids and softly lighted drawing rooms, and incessant playing with fire; it was the accepted thing, in Isabelle’s circle, and that she was more successful in it than other women was not at all to her discredit.
Even Harriet, who was in her secrets, who saw maid and masseuse and hair-dresser in desperate defence of Isabelle’s beauty every morning, who knew just what scenes there were over gowns and cosmetics, and the tilt of hats—even Harriet admired her.
“Why not?” said Harriet sometimes to her sister, when she went to visit Linda, and the subject of the beautiful Mrs. Carter was under discussion. “She has a boy and a girl, her house runs perfectly, her husband adores her—”
“Oh, he can’t adore her, Harriet!” Linda would protest. “No man could adore that sort of—of shallowness, and selfishness, and vanity—”
“Well, I assure you he does! I think that sort of thing keeps a man admiring a woman,” the younger sister would maintain, airily. “He sees her looking like a picture all the time, he sees other men crazy about her—”
“Too much money!” Linda usually summarized, disapprovingly. But this was always fuel to Harriet’s flame.
“Too much money? You can’t have too much money! I’ve seen both sides-don’t ever say that to me! There’s nothing in this world but money, right down at the bottom. If you haven’t any, you can’t live, and the more you have the more decently and prettily—yes, and generously, too—you can live! Look at Madame Carter, she was doing her own work when she was my age—not that she ever mentions that, now! Can you tell me that she isn’t a thousand times happier now, with her maids and her car and her dresses? And money did it--and if you and Fred had two thousand, or twenty thousand, a month, instead of two hundred, do you mean to tell me your lives wouldn’t be fuller, and richer, and happier? You shake your head, Linda, but that’s just to make me furious, for you know it’s true! I admire Mrs. Carter, and I assure you that if ever I do marry— which as you know I won’t—you may be very sure that money is the first thing I shall think about!”