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Decision is always a mental relief, hesitance a curse. Kitty, having shifted her burdens to the broad shoulders of Cutty, felt as she reached the lobby as if she had left storm and stress behind and entered calm. She would marry Cutty; she had published the fact, burned her bridges.
She had stepped into the car, her heart full of cold fury. Now she began to find excuses for Hawksley's conduct. A sick brain; he was not really accountable for his acts. Her own folly had opened the way. Of course she would never see him again. Why should she? Their lives were as far apart as the Volga and the Hudson.
Bernini met her in the lobby. "I've got a cab for you, Miss Conover," he said as if nothing at all had happened.
"Have you Cutty's address?"
"Then take me at once to a telegraph office. I have a very important message to send him."
"All right, Miss Conover."
"Say: 'Decision made. It is yes.' And sign it just Kitty."
Without being conscious of it her soul was still in the clouds, where it had been driven by the music of the fiddle; thus, what she assumed to be a normal sequence of a train of thought was only a sublime impulse. She would marry Cutty. More, she would be his wife, his true wife. For his tenderness, his generosity, his chivalry, she would pay him in kind. There would be no nonsense; love would not enter into the bargain; but there would be the fragrance of perfect understanding. That he was fifty-two and she was twenty-four no longer mattered. No more loneliness, no more genteel poverty; for such benefits she was ready to pay the score in full. A man she was genuinely fond of, a man she could look up to, always depend upon.
Was there such a thing as perfect love? She had her doubts. She reasoned that love was what a body decided was love, the psychological moment when the physical attraction became irresistible. Who could tell before the fact which was the true and which the false? Lived there a woman, herself excepted, who had not hesitated between two men - a man who had not doddered between two women - for better or for worse? What did the average woman know of the man, the average man know of the woman - until afterward? To stake all upon a guess!
She knew Cutty. Under her own eyes he had passed through certain proving fires. There would be no guessing the manner of man he was. He was fifty-two; that is to say, the grand passion had come and gone. There would be mutual affection and comradeship.
True, she had her dreams; but she could lay them away without any particular regret. She had never been touched by the fire of passion. Let it go. But she did know what perfect comradeship was, and she would grasp it and never loose her hold. Something out of life.
"A narrow squeak, Miss Conover," said Berumi, breaking the long silence.
"A miss is as good as a mile," replied Kitty, not at all grateful for the interruption.
"We've done everything we could to protect you. If you can't see now - why, the jig is up. A chain is as strong as its weakest link. And in a game like this a woman is always the weakest link."
"You're quite a philosopher."
"I have reason to be. I'm married."
"Am I expected to laugh?"
"Miss Conover, you're a wonder. You come through these affairs with a smile, when you ought to have hysterics. I'll bet a doughnut that when you see a mouse you go and get it a piece of cheese."
"Do you want the truth? Well, I'll tell it to you. You have all kept me on the outer edge of this affair, and I've been trying to find out why. I have the reportorial instinct, as they say. I inherited it from my father. You put a strange weapon in my hands, you tell me it is deadly, but you don't tell me which end is deadly. Do you know who this Russian is?"
"Honestly, I don't."
"I don't know that, either."
"Did you ever hear of a pair of emeralds called the drums of jeopardy?"
"Nope. But I do know if you continue these stunts you'll head the whole game into the ditch."
"You may set your mind at ease. I'm going to marry Cutty. I shall not go to the apartment again until Hawksley, as he is called, is gone."
"Well, well; that's good news! But let me put you wise to one fact, Miss Conover: you have picked some man! I'm not much of a scholar, but knowing him as I do I'm always wondering why they made Faith, Hope, and Charity in female form. But this night's work was bad business. They know where the Russian is now; and if the game lasts long enough they'll reach the chief, find out who he is; and that'll put the kibosh on his usefulness here and abroad. Well, here's home, and no more lecture from me."
"Sorry I've been so much trouble."
"Perhaps we ought to have shown you which end shoots."
If Kitty had any doubt as to the wisdom of her decision, the cold, gloomy rooms of her apartment dissipated them. She wandered through the rooms, musing, calling back animated scenes. What would the spirit of her mother say? Had she doddered between Conover and Cutty? Perhaps. But she had been one of the happy few who had guessed right. Singular thought: her mother would have been happy with Cutty, too.
Oh, the relief of knowing what the future was going to be! She took off her hat and tossed it upon the table. The good things of life, and a good comrade.
Food. The larder would be empty and there was her breakfast to consider. She passed out into the kitchen, wrote out a list of necessities, and put it on the dumb waiter. Now for the dishes she had so hurriedly left. She rolled up her sleeves, put on the apron, and fell to the task. After such a night - dish-washing! She laughed. It was a funny old world.
Pauses. Perhaps she should have gone to a hotel, away from all familiar objects. Those flatirons intermittently pulled her eyes round. Her fancy played tricks with her whenever her glance touched the window. Faces peering in. In a burst of impatience she dropped the dish towel, hurried to the window, and threw it up. Black emptiness! ... Cutty, crossing the platform with Hawksley on his shoulders. She saw that, and it comforted her.
She finished her work and started for bed. But first she entered the guest room and turned on the lights. Olga. She had intended to ask him who Olga was.
A great pity. They might have been friends. The back of her hand went to her lips but did not touch them. She could not rub away those burning kisses - that is, not with the back of her hand. Vividly she saw him fiddling bareheaded in front of the Metropolitan Opera House. It seemed, though, that it had happened years ago. A great pity. The charm of that frolic would abide with her as long as she lived. A brave man, too. Hadn't he left her with a gay wave of the hand, not knowing, for want of strength, if he could make the detour of the block? That took courage. His journey halfway across the world had taken courage. Yet he could so basely disillusion her. It was not the kiss; it was the smile. She had seen that smile before, born of evil. If only he had spoken!
The heavenly magic of that fiddle! It made her sad. Genius, the ability to play with souls, soothe, tantalize, lift up; and then to smile at her like that!
She shut down the curtain upon these cogitations and summoned Cutty, visualized his handsome head, shot with gray, the humour of his smile. She did care for him; no doubt of that. She couldn't have sent that telegram else. Cutty - name of a pipe, as the Frenchmen said! All at once she rocked with laughter. She was going to marry a man whose given name she could not recall! Henry, George, John, William? For the life of her she could not remember.
And with this laughter still bubbling in a softer note she got into bed, twisted about from side to side, from this pillow to that, the tired body seeking perfect relaxation.
A broken melody entered her head. Sleepily she sought one channel of thought after another to escape; still the melody persisted. As her consciousness dodged hither and thither the bars and measures joined.... She sat up, chilled, bewildered. That Tschaikowsky waltz! She could hear it as clearly as if Johnny Two-Hawks and the Amati were in the very room. She grew afraid. Of what? She did not know.
And while she sat there in bed threshing out this fear to find the grain, Cutty was tramping the streets of Washington, her telegram crumpled in his hand. From time to time he would open it and reread it under a street lamp.
To marry her and then to cheat her. It wasn't humanly possible to marry her and then to let her go. He thought of those warm, soft arms round his neck, the absolute trust of that embrace. Molly's girl. No, he could not do it. He would have to back down, tell her he could not put the bargain through, invent some other scheme.
The idea had been repugnant to her. It had taken her a week to fight it out. It was a little beyond his reach, however, why the idea should have been repugnant to her. It entailed nothing beyond a bit of mummery. The repugnance was not due to religious training. The Conover household, as he recalled it, had been rather lax in that respect. Why, then, should Kitty have hesitated?
He thought of Hawksley, and swore. But for Hawksley's suggestion no muddle like this would have occurred. Devil take him and his infernal green stones!
Cutty suddenly remembered his train. He looked at his watch and saw that his lower berth was well on the way to Baltimore. Always and eternally he was missing something.
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