Royal Blondin went straight from Nina to the tea table, which was almost deserted now. Harriet saw him coming, and she knew what hour had come. She stood up as he reached her, and they measured each other narrowly, with unsmiling eyes.
There was reason for her paleness to-day, and for the faint violet shadows about her beautiful eyes. Harriet had lain awake deep into the night, tossing and feverish. She had gotten up more than once, for a drink of water, for a look from her balcony at the solemn summer stars. And among all the troubled images and memories that had trooped and circled in sick confusion through her brain, the figure of this smiling, handsome man had predominated.
She had always thought that he must come back; for years the fear had haunted her at every street crossing, at every ring of Linda’s doorbell. At first it had been but a shivering apprehension of his claims, an anticipation of what he might expect or want from her. Then came a saner time, when she told herself that she was an independent human being as well as he, that she might meet his argument with argument, and his threat with threat.
But for the past year or two her lessening thoughts of him had taken new form. Harriet had hoped that when they met again she might be in a position to punish Royal Blondin, to look down at him from heights that even his audacity might not scale.
That time, she told herself in the fever of the night, had not yet come. Her pitiful achievements, her beauty, her French and Spanish, her sober book reading, and her little affectations of fine linen and careful speech, all seemed to crumple to nothing. She seemed again to be the furious, helpless, seventeen-year-old Harriet of the Watertown days, her armour ineffectual against that suave and self-confident presence.
“Oh, how I hate him!” whispered the dry lips in the silence of the night. And looking up at the wheeling grave procession of powdery jewels against the velvet of the sky, Harriet had mused on escape, on a disappearance as complete as her flight years ago had proved to be.
She had forced herself to unbind the wrappings, to look at the old wound. She had gone in spirit to that old, shabby parlour to which Linda and Fred had carried Josephine’s crib late every night, and where sheet music had cascaded from the upright piano. She saw, with the young husband and wife, a fiery, tumblehead girl of fifteen or sixteen, who helped with her sister’s cooking and housework, who adored the baby, who planned a future on the stage, or as a great painter, or as a great writer—the means mattered not so that the end was fame and wealth and happiness for Harriet.
Fred had brought Royal Blondin in to supper one night, and Royal had laughed with the others at the spirited little waitress who delivered herself of tremendous decisions while she came and went with plates, and forgot to take off her checked blue apron when she finally slipped into her place.