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Chapter 18

Undine stood alone on the landing outside her father's office.

Only once before had she failed to gain her end with him--and there
was a peculiar irony in the fact that Moffatt's intrusion should have
brought before her the providential result of her previous failure. Not
that she confessed to any real resemblance between the two situations.
In the present case she knew well enough what she wanted, and how to
get it. But the analogy had served her father's purpose, and Moffatt's
unlucky entrance had visibly strengthened his resistance.

The worst of it was that the obstacles in the way were real enough. Mr.
Spragg had not put her off with vague asseverations--somewhat against
her will he had forced his proofs on her, showing her how much above his
promised allowance he had contributed in the last three years to
the support of her household. Since she could not accuse herself of
extravagance--having still full faith in her gift of "managing"--she
could only conclude that it was impossible to live on what her father
and Ralph could provide; and this seemed a practical reason for desiring
her freedom. If she and Ralph parted he would of course return to his
family, and Mr. Spragg would no longer be burdened with a helpless
son-in-law. But even this argument did not move him. Undine, as soon as
she had risked Van Degen's name, found herself face to face with a code
of domestic conduct as rigid as its exponent's business principles were
elastic. Mr. Spragg did not regard divorce as intrinsically wrong or
even inexpedient; and of its social disadvantages he had never even
heard. Lots of women did it, as Undine said, and if their reasons were
adequate they were justified. If Ralph Marvell had been a drunkard or
"unfaithful" Mr. Spragg would have approved Undine's desire to divorce
him; but that it should be prompted by her inclination for another
man--and a man with a wife of his own--was as shocking to him as it
would have been to the most uncompromising of the Dagonets and Marvells.
Such things happened, as Mr. Spragg knew, but they should not happen to
any woman of his name while he had the power to prevent it; and Undine
recognized that for the moment he had that power.

As she emerged from the elevator she was surprised to see Moffatt in the
vestibule. His presence was an irritating reminder of her failure, and
she walked past him with a rapid bow; but he overtook her.

"Mrs. Marvell--I've been waiting to say a word to you."

If it had been any one else she would have passed on; but Moffatt's
voice had always a detaining power. Even now that she knew him to be
defeated and negligible, the power asserted itself, and she paused to
say: "I'm afraid I can't stop--I'm late for an engagement."

"I shan't make you much later; but if you'd rather have me call round at
your house--"

"Oh, I'm so seldom in." She turned a wondering look on him. "What is it
you wanted to say?"

"Just two words. I've got an office in this building and the shortest
way would be to come up there for a minute." As her look grew distant he
added: "I think what I've got to say is worth the trip."

His face was serious, without underlying irony: the face he wore when he
wanted to be trusted.

"Very well," she said, turning back.

Undine, glancing at her watch as she came out of Moffatt's office, saw
that he had been true to his promise of not keeping her more than ten
minutes. The fact was characteristic. Under all his incalculableness
there had always been a hard foundation of reliability: it seemed to be
a matter of choice with him whether he let one feel that solid bottom
or not. And in specific matters the same quality showed itself in an
accuracy of statement, a precision of conduct, that contrasted curiously
with his usual hyperbolic banter and his loose lounging manner. No one
could be more elusive yet no one could be firmer to the touch. Her
face had cleared and she moved more lightly as she left the building.
Moffatt's communication had not been completely clear to her, but she
understood the outline of the plan he had laid before her, and was
satisfied with the bargain they had struck. He had begun by reminding
her of her promise to introduce him to any friend of hers who might be
useful in the way of business. Over three years had passed since they
had made the pact, and Moffatt had kept loyally to his side of it. With
the lapse of time the whole matter had become less important to her,
but she wanted to prove her good faith, and when he reminded her of her
promise she at once admitted it.

"Well, then--I want you to introduce me to your husband."

Undine was surprised; but beneath her surprise she felt a quick sense of
relief. Ralph was easier to manage than so many of her friends--and it
was a mark of his present indifference to acquiesce in anything she
suggested.

"My husband? Why, what can he do for you?"

Moffatt explained at once, in the fewest words, as his way was when it
came to business. He was interested in a big "deal" which involved the
purchase of a piece of real estate held by a number of wrangling
heirs. The real-estate broker with whom Ralph Marvell was associated
represented these heirs, but Moffatt had his reasons for not approaching
him directly. And he didn't want to go to Marvell with a "business
proposition"--it would be better to be thrown with him socially as if by
accident. It was with that object that Moffatt had just appealed to Mr.
Spragg, but Mr. Spragg, as usual, had "turned him down," without even
consenting to look into the case.

"He'd rather have you miss a good thing than have it come to you through
me. I don't know what on earth he thinks it's in my power to do to
you--or ever was, for that matter," he added. "Anyhow," he went on to
explain, "the power's all on your side now; and I'll show you how little
the doing will hurt you as soon as I can have a quiet chat with
your husband." He branched off again into technicalities, nebulous
projections of capital and interest, taxes and rents, from which she
finally extracted, and clung to, the central fact that if the "deal
went through" it would mean a commission of forty thousand dollars to
Marvell's firm, of which something over a fourth would come to Ralph.

"By Jove, that's an amazing fellow!" Ralph Marvell exclaimed, turning
back into the drawing-room, a few evenings later, at the conclusion of
one of their little dinners. Undine looked up from her seat by the fire.
She had had the inspired thought of inviting Moffatt to meet Clare Van
Degen, Mrs. Fairford and Charles Bowen. It had occurred to her that
the simplest way of explaining Moffatt was to tell Ralph that she had
unexpectedly discovered an old Apex acquaintance in the protagonist of
the great Ararat Trust fight. Moffatt's defeat had not wholly divested
him of interest. As a factor in affairs he no longer inspired
apprehension, but as the man who had dared to defy Harmon B. Driscoll he
was a conspicuous and, to some minds, almost an heroic figure.

Undine remembered that Clare and Mrs. Fairford had once expressed a wish
to see this braver of the Olympians, and her suggestion that he should
be asked meet them gave Ralph evident pleasure. It was long since she
had made any conciliatory sign to his family.

Moffatt's social gifts were hardly of a kind to please the two ladies:
he would have shone more brightly in Peter Van Degen's set than in
his wife's. But neither Clare nor Mrs. Fairford had expected a man
of conventional cut, and Moffatt's loud easiness was obviously less
disturbing to them than to their hostess. Undine felt only his
crudeness, and the tacit criticism passed on it by the mere presence of
such men as her husband and Bowen; but Mrs. Fairford' seemed to enjoy
provoking him to fresh excesses of slang and hyperbole. Gradually she
drew him into talking of the Driscoll campaign, and he became recklessly
explicit. He seemed to have nothing to hold back: all the details of the
prodigious exploit poured from him with Homeric volume. Then he broke
off abruptly, thrusting his hands into his trouser-pockets and shaping
his red lips to a whistle which he checked as his glance met Undine's.
To conceal his embarrassment he leaned back in his chair, looked about
the table with complacency, and said "I don't mind if I do" to the
servant who approached to re-fill his champagne glass.

The men sat long over their cigars; but after an interval Undine called
Charles Bowen into the drawing-room to settle some question in dispute
between Clare and Mrs. Fairford, and thus gave Moffatt a chance to be
alone with her husband. Now that their guests had gone she was throbbing
with anxiety to know what had passed between the two; but when Ralph
rejoined her in the drawing-room she continued to keep her eyes on the
fire and twirl her fan listlessly.

"That's an amazing chap," Ralph repeated, looking down at her. "Where
was it you ran across him--out at Apex?"

As he leaned against the chimney-piece, lighting his cigarette, it
struck Undine that he looked less fagged and lifeless than usual, and
she felt more and more sure that something important had happened during
the moment of isolation she had contrived.

She opened and shut her fan reflectively. "Yes--years ago; father had
some business with him and brought him home to dinner one day."

"And you've never seen him since?"

She waited, as if trying to piece her recollections together. "I suppose
I must have; but all that seems so long ago," she said sighing. She had
been given, of late, to such plaintive glances toward her happy girlhood
but Ralph seemed not to notice the allusion.

"Do you know," he exclaimed after a moment, "I don't believe the
fellow's beaten yet."

She looked up quickly. "Don't you?"

"No; and I could see that Bowen didn't either. He strikes me as the kind
of man who develops slowly, needs a big field, and perhaps makes some
big mistakes, but gets where he wants to in the end. Jove, I wish I
could put him in a book! There's something epic about him--a kind of
epic effrontery."

Undine's pulses beat faster as she listened. Was it not what Moffatt had
always said of himself--that all he needed was time and elbow-room? How
odd that Ralph, who seemed so dreamy and unobservant, should instantly
have reached the same conclusion! But what she wanted to know was the
practical result of their meeting.

"What did you and he talk about when you were smoking?"

"Oh, he got on the Driscoll fight again--gave us some extraordinary
details. The man's a thundering brute, but he's full of observation and
humour. Then, after Bowen joined you, he told me about a new deal he's
gone into--rather a promising scheme, but on the same Titanic scale.
It's just possible, by the way, that we may be able to do something for
him: part of the property he's after is held in our office." He paused,
knowing Undine's indifference to business matters; but the face she
turned to him was alive with interest.

"You mean you might sell the property to him?"

"Well, if the thing comes off. There would be a big commission if we
did." He glanced down on her half ironically. "You'd like that, wouldn't
you?"

She answered with a shade of reproach: "Why do you say that? I haven't
complained."

"Oh, no; but I know I've been a disappointment as a money-maker."

She leaned back in her chair, closing her eyes as if in utter weariness
and indifference, and in a moment she felt him bending over her. "What's
the matter? Don't you feel well?"

"I'm a little tired. It's nothing." She pulled her hand away and burst
into tears.

Ralph knelt down by her chair and put his arm about her. It was the
first time he had touched her since the night of the boy's birthday, and
the sense of her softness woke a momentary warmth in his veins.

"What is it, dear? What is it?"

Without turning her head she sobbed out: "You seem to think I'm too
selfish and odious--that I'm just pretending to be ill."

"No, no," he assured her, smoothing back her hair. But she continued
to sob on in a gradual crescendo of despair, till the vehemence of her
weeping began to frighten him, and he drew her to her feet and tried to
persuade her to let herself be led upstairs. She yielded to his arm,
sobbing in short exhausted gasps, and leaning her whole weight on him as
he guided her along the passage to her bedroom. On the lounge to which
he lowered her she lay white and still, tears trickling through her
lashes and her handkerchief pressed against her lips. He recognized the
symptoms with a sinking heart: she was on the verge of a nervous attack
such as she had had in the winter, and he foresaw with dismay the
disastrous train of consequences, the doctors' and nurses' bills, and
all the attendant confusion and expense. If only Moffatt's project might
be realized--if for once he could feel a round sum in his pocket, and be
freed from the perpetual daily strain!

The next morning Undine, though calmer, was too weak to leave her bed,
and her doctor prescribed rest and absence of worry--later, perhaps, a
change of scene. He explained to Ralph that nothing was so wearing to
a high-strung nature as monotony, and that if Mrs. Marvell were
contemplating a Newport season it was necessary that she should be
fortified to meet it. In such cases he often recommended a dash to Paris
or London, just to tone up the nervous system.

Undine regained her strength slowly, and as the days dragged on the
suggestion of the European trip recurred with increasing frequency. But
it came always from her medical adviser: she herself had grown strangely
passive and indifferent. She continued to remain upstairs on her lounge,
seeing no one but Mrs. Heeny, whose daily ministrations had once more
been prescribed, and asking only that the noise of Paul's play should be
kept from her. His scamperings overhead disturbed her sleep, and his bed
was moved into the day nursery, above his father's room. The child's
early romping did not trouble Ralph, since he himself was always awake
before daylight. The days were not long enough to hold his cares, and
they came and stood by him through the silent hours, when there was no
other sound to drown their voices.

Ralph had not made a success of his business. The real-estate brokers
who had taken him into partnership had done so only with the hope of
profiting by his social connections; and in this respect the alliance
had been a failure. It was in such directions that he most lacked
facility, and so far he had been of use to his partners only as an
office-drudge. He was resigned to the continuance of such drudgery,
though all his powers cried out against it; but even for the routine of
business his aptitude was small, and he began to feel that he was not
considered an addition to the firm. The difficulty of finding another
opening made him fear a break; and his thoughts turned hopefully to
Elmer Moffatt's hint of a "deal." The success of the negotiation might
bring advantages beyond the immediate pecuniary profit; and that, at the
present juncture, was important enough in itself.

Moffatt reappeared two days after the dinner, presenting himself in West
End Avenue in the late afternoon with the explanation that the business
in hand necessitated discretion, and that he preferred not to be seen in
Ralph's office. It was a question of negotiating with the utmost privacy
for the purchase of a small strip of land between two large plots
already acquired by purchasers cautiously designated by Moffatt as his
"parties." How far he "stood in" with the parties he left it to Ralph
to conjecture; but it was plain that he had a large stake in the
transaction, and that it offered him his first chance of recovering
himself since Driscoll had "thrown" him. The owners of the coveted
plot did not seem anxious to sell, and there were personal reasons for
Moffatt's not approaching them through Ralph's partners, who were the
regular agents of the estate: so that Ralph's acquaintance with the
conditions, combined with his detachments from the case, marked him out
as a useful intermediary.

Their first talk left Ralph with a dazzled sense of Moffatt's strength
and keenness, but with a vague doubt as to the "straightness" of the
proposed transaction. Ralph had never seen his way clearly in that dim
underworld of affairs where men of the Moffatt and Driscoll type moved
like shadowy destructive monsters beneath the darting small fry of the
surface. He knew that "business" has created its own special morality;
and his musings on man's relation to his self imposed laws had shown him
how little human conduct is generally troubled about its own sanctions.
He had a vivid sense of the things a man of his kind didn't do; but his
inability to get a mental grasp on large financial problems made it hard
to apply to them so simple a measure as this inherited standard. He only
knew, as Moffatt's plan developed, that it seemed all right while he
talked of it with its originator, but vaguely wrong when he thought it
over afterward. It occurred to him to consult his grandfather; and if he
renounced the idea for the obvious reason that Mr. Dagonet's ignorance
of business was as fathomless as his own, this was not his sole motive.
Finally it occurred to him to put the case hypothetically to Mr.
Spragg. As far as Ralph knew, his father-in-law's business record was
unblemished; yet one felt in him an elasticity of adjustment not allowed
for in the Dagonet code.

Mr. Spragg listened thoughtfully to Ralph's statement of the case,
growling out here and there a tentative correction, and turning his
cigar between his lips as he seemed to turn the problem over in the
loose grasp of his mind.

"Well, what's the trouble with it?" he asked at length, stretching his
big square-toed shoes against the grate of his son-in-law's dining-room,
where, in the after-dinner privacy of a family evening, Ralph had seized
the occasion to consult him.

"The trouble?" Ralph considered. "Why, that's just what I should like
you to explain to me."

Mr. Spragg threw back his head and stared at the garlanded French clock
on the chimney-piece. Mrs. Spragg was sitting upstairs in her daughter's
bedroom, and the silence of the house seemed to hang about the two men
like a listening presence.

"Well, I dunno but what I agree with the doctor who said there warn't
any diseases, but only sick people. Every case is different, I guess."
Mr. Spragg, munching his cigar, turned a ruminating glance on Ralph.
"Seems to me it all boils down to one thing. Was this fellow we're
supposing about under any obligation to the other party--the one he was
trying to buy the property from?"

Ralph hesitated. "Only the obligation recognized between decent men to
deal with each other decently." Mr. Spragg listened to this with the
suffering air of a teacher compelled to simplify upon his simplest
questions.

"Any personal obligation, I meant. Had the other fellow done him a good
turn any time?"

"No--I don't imagine them to have had any previous relations at all."

His father-in-law stared. "Where's your trouble, then?" He sat for a
moment frowning at the embers. "Even when it's the other way round it
ain't always so easy to decide how far that kind of thing's binding...
and they say shipwrecked fellows'll make a meal of friend as quick as
they would of a total stranger." He drew himself together with a shake
of his shoulders and pulled back his feet from the grate. "But I don't
see the conundrum in your case, I guess it's up to both parties to take
care of their own skins."

He rose from his chair and wandered upstairs to Undine.

That was the Wall Street code: it all "boiled down" to the personal
obligation, to the salt eaten in the enemy's tent. Ralph's fancy
wandered off on a long trail of speculation from which he was pulled
back with a jerk by the need of immediate action. Moffatt's "deal"
could not wait: quick decisions were essential to effective action, and
brooding over ethical shades of difference might work more ill than
good in a world committed to swift adjustments. The arrival of several
unforeseen bills confirmed this view, and once Ralph had adopted it he
began to take a detached interest in the affair.

In Paris, in his younger days, he had once attended a lesson in acting
given at the Conservatoire by one of the great lights of the theatre,
and had seen an apparently uncomplicated role of the classic repertory,
familiar to him through repeated performances, taken to pieces before
his eyes, dissolved into its component elements, and built up again with
a minuteness of elucidation and a range of reference that made him feel
as though he had been let into the secret of some age-long natural
process. As he listened to Moffatt the remembrance of that lesson came
back to him. At the outset the "deal," and his own share in it, had
seemed simple enough: he would have put on his hat and gone out on the
spot in the full assurance of being able to transact the affair. But as
Moffatt talked he began to feel as blank and blundering as the class of
dramatic students before whom the great actor had analyzed his part. The
affair was in fact difficult and complex, and Moffatt saw at once just
where the difficulties lay and how the personal idiosyncrasies of "the
parties" affected them. Such insight fascinated Ralph, and he strayed
off into wondering why it did not qualify every financier to be a
novelist, and what intrinsic barrier divided the two arts.

Both men had strong incentives for hastening the affair; and within a
fortnight after Moffatt's first advance Ralph was able to tell him that
his offer was accepted. Over and above his personal satisfaction he felt
the thrill of the agent whom some powerful negotiator has charged with
a delicate mission: he might have been an eager young Jesuit carrying
compromising papers to his superior. It had been stimulating to work
with Moffatt, and to study at close range the large powerful instrument
of his intelligence.

As he came out of Moffatt's office at the conclusion of this visit
Ralph met Mr. Spragg descending from his eyrie. He stopped short with a
backward glance at Moffatt's door.

"Hallo--what were you doing in there with those cut-throats?"

Ralph judged discretion to be essential. "Oh, just a little business for
the firm."

Mr. Spragg said no more, but resorted to the soothing labial motion of
revolving his phantom toothpick.

"How's Undie getting along?" he merely asked, as he and his son-in-law
descended together in the elevator.

"She doesn't seem to feel much stronger. The doctor wants her to run
over to Europe for a few weeks. She thinks of joining her friends the
Shallums in Paris."

Mr. Spragg was again silent, but he left the building at Ralph's side,
and the two walked along together toward Wall Street.

Presently the older man asked: "How did you get acquainted with
Moffatt?"

"Why, by chance--Undine ran across him somewhere and asked him to dine
the other night."

"Undine asked him to dine?"

"Yes: she told me you used to know him out at Apex."

Mr. Spragg appeared to search his memory for confirmation of the fact.
"I believe he used to be round there at one time. I've never heard any
good of him yet." He paused at a crossing and looked probingly at his
son-in-law. "Is she terribly set on this trip to Europe?"

Ralph smiled. "You know how it is when she takes a fancy to do
anything--"

Mr. Spragg, by a slight lift of his brooding brows, seemed to convey a
deep if unspoken response.

"Well, I'd let her do it this time--I'd let her do it," he said as he
turned down the steps of the Subway.

Ralph was surprised, for he had gathered from some frightened references
of Mrs. Spragg's that Undine's parents had wind of her European plan and
were strongly opposed to it. He concluded that Mr. Spragg had long since
measured the extent of profitable resistance, and knew just when it
became vain to hold out against his daughter or advise others to do so.

Ralph, for his own part, had no inclination to resist. As he left
Moffatt's office his inmost feeling was one of relief. He had reached
the point of recognizing that it was best for both that his wife should
go. When she returned perhaps their lives would readjust themselves--but
for the moment he longed for some kind of benumbing influence, something
that should give relief to the dull daily ache of feeling her so near
and yet so inaccessible. Certainly there were more urgent uses for their
brilliant wind-fall: heavy arrears of household debts had to be met, and
the summer would bring its own burden. But perhaps another stroke of
luck might befall him: he was getting to have the drifting dependence
on "luck" of the man conscious of his inability to direct his life. And
meanwhile it seemed easier to let Undine have what she wanted.

Undine, on the whole, behaved with discretion. She received the good
news languidly and showed no unseemly haste to profit by it. But it was
as hard to hide the light in her eyes as to dissemble the fact that she
had not only thought out every detail of the trip in advance, but had
decided exactly how her husband and son were to be disposed of in her
absence. Her suggestion that Ralph should take Paul to his grandparents,
and that the West End Avenue house should be let for the summer, was too
practical not to be acted on; and Ralph found she had already put her
hand on the Harry Lipscombs, who, after three years of neglect, were to
be dragged back to favour and made to feel, as the first step in their
reinstatement, the necessity of hiring for the summer months a cool airy
house on the West Side. On her return from Europe, Undine explained, she
would of course go straight to Ralph and the boy in the Adirondacks; and
it seemed a foolish extravagance to let the house stand empty when the
Lipscombs were so eager to take it.

As the day of departure approached it became harder for her to temper
her beams; but her pleasure showed itself so amiably that Ralph began
to think she might, after all, miss the boy and himself more than she
imagined. She was tenderly preoccupied with Paul's welfare, and, to
prepare for his translation to his grandparents' she gave the household
in Washington Square more of her time than she had accorded it since her
marriage. She explained that she wanted Paul to grow used to his new
surroundings; and with that object she took him frequently to his
grandmother's, and won her way into old Mr. Dagonet's sympathies by her
devotion to the child and her pretty way of joining in his games.

Undine was not consciously acting a part: this new phase was as natural
to her as the other. In the joy of her gratified desires she wanted to
make everybody about her happy. If only everyone would do as she wished
she would never be unreasonable. She much preferred to see smiling faces
about her, and her dread of the reproachful and dissatisfied countenance
gave the measure of what she would do to avoid it.

These thoughts were in her mind when, a day or two before sailing, she
came out of the Washington Square house with her boy. It was a late
spring afternoon, and she and Paul had lingered on till long past the
hour sacred to his grandfather's nap. Now, as she came out into the
square she saw that, however well Mr. Dagonet had borne their protracted
romp, it had left his playmate flushed and sleepy; and she lifted Paul
in her arms to carry him to the nearest cab-stand.

As she raised herself she saw a thick-set figure approaching her across
the square; and a moment later she was shaking hands with Elmer Moffatt.
In the bright spring air he looked seasonably glossy and prosperous; and
she noticed that he wore a bunch of violets in his buttonhole. His small
black eyes twinkled with approval as they rested on her, and Undine
reflected that, with Paul's arms about her neck, and his little flushed
face against her own, she must present a not unpleasing image of young
motherhood.

"That the heir apparent?" Moffatt asked; adding "Happy to make your
acquaintance, sir," as the boy, at Undine's bidding, held out a fist
sticky with sugarplums.

"He's been spending the afternoon with his grandfather, and they played
so hard that he's sleepy," she explained. Little Paul, at that stage in
his career, had a peculiar grace of wide-gazing deep-lashed eyes and
arched cherubic lips, and Undine saw that Moffatt was not insensible
to the picture she and her son composed. She did not dislike his
admiration, for she no longer felt any shrinking from him--she would
even have been glad to thank him for the service he had done her husband
if she had known how to allude to it without awkwardness. Moffatt seemed
equally pleased at the meeting, and they looked at each other almost
intimately over Paul's tumbled curls.

"He's a mighty fine fellow and no mistake--but isn't he rather an armful
for you?" Moffatt asked, his eyes lingering with real kindliness on the
child's face.

"Oh, we haven't far to go. I'll pick up a cab at the corner."

"Well, let me carry him that far anyhow," said Moffatt.

Undine was glad to be relieved of her burden, for she was unused to the
child's weight, and disliked to feel that her skirt was dragging on
the pavement. "Go to the gentleman, Pauly--he'll carry you better than
mother," she said.

The little boy's first movement was one of recoil from the ruddy
sharp-eyed countenance that was so unlike his father's delicate face;
but he was an obedient child, and after a moment's hesitation he wound
his arms trustfully about the red gentleman's neck.

"That's a good fellow--sit tight and I'll give you a ride," Moffatt
cried, hoisting the boy to his shoulder.

Paul was not used to being perched at such a height, and his nature was
hospitable to new impressions. "Oh, I like it up here--you're higher
than father!" he exclaimed; and Moffatt hugged him with a laugh.

"It must feel mighty good to come uptown to a fellow like you in the
evenings," he said, addressing the child but looking at Undine, who also
laughed a little.

"Oh, they're a dreadful nuisance, you know; but Paul's a very good boy."

"I wonder if he knows what a friend I've been to him lately," Moffatt
went on, as they turned into Fifth Avenue.

Undine smiled: she was glad he should have given her an opening. "He
shall be told as soon as he's old enough to thank you. I'm so glad you
came to Ralph about that business."

"Oh I gave him a leg up, and I guess he's given me one too. Queer the
way things come round--he's fairly put me in the way of a fresh start."

Their eyes met in a silence which Undine was the first to break. "It's
been awfully nice of you to do what you've done--right along. And this
last thing has made a lot of difference to us."

"Well, I'm glad you feel that way. I never wanted to be anything but
'nice,' as you call it." Moffatt paused a moment and then added: "If
you're less scared of me than your father is I'd be glad to call round
and see you once in a while."

The quick blood rushed to her cheeks. There was nothing challenging,
demanding in his tone--she guessed at once that if he made the request
it was simply for the pleasure of being with her, and she liked the
magnanimity implied. Nevertheless she was not sorry to have to answer:
"Of course I'll always be glad to see you--only, as it happens, I'm just
sailing for Europe."

"For Europe?" The word brought Moffatt to a stand so abruptly that
little Paul lurched on his shoulder.

"For Europe?" he repeated. "Why, I thought you said the other evening
you expected to stay on in town till July. Didn't you think of going to
the Adirondacks?"

Flattered by his evident disappointment, she became high and careless in
her triumph. "Oh, yes,--but that's all changed. Ralph and the boy are
going, but I sail on Saturday to join some friends in Paris--and later I
may do some motoring in Switzerland an Italy."

She laughed a little in the mere enjoyment of putting her plans into
words and Moffatt laughed too, but with an edge of sarcasm.

"I see--I see: everything's changed, as you say, and your husband can
blow you off to the trip. Well, I hope you'll have a first-class time."

Their glances crossed again, and something in his cool scrutiny impelled
Undine to say, with a burst of candour: "If I do, you know, I shall owe
it all to you!"

"Well, I always told you I meant to act white by you," he answered.

They walked on in silence, and presently he began again in his usual
joking strain: "See what one of the Apex girls has been up to?"

Apex was too remote for her to understand the reference, and he went on:
"Why, Millard Binch's wife--Indiana Frusk that was. Didn't you see in
the papers that Indiana'd fixed it up with James J. Rolliver to marry
her? They say it was easy enough squaring Millard Binch--you'd know it
WOULD be--but it cost Roliver near a million to mislay Mrs. R. and the
children. Well, Indiana's pulled it off, anyhow; she always WAS a bright
girl. But she never came up to you."

"Oh--" she stammered with a laugh, astonished and agitated by his news.
Indiana Frusk and Rolliver! It showed how easily the thing could be
done. If only her father had listened to her! If a girl like Indiana
Frusk could gain her end so easily, what might not Undine have
accomplished? She knew Moffatt was right in saying that Indiana had
never come up to her...She wondered how the marriage would strike Van
Degen...

She signalled to a cab and they walked toward it without speaking.
Undine was recalling with intensity that one of Indiana's shoulders was
higher than the other, and that people in Apex had thought her lucky to
catch Millard Binch, the druggist's clerk, when Undine herself had cast
him off after a lingering engagement. And now Indiana Frusk was to be
Mrs. James J. Rolliver!

Undine got into the cab and bent forward to take little Paul.

Moffatt lowered his charge with exaggerated care, and a "Steady there,
steady," that made the child laugh; then, stooping over, he put a kiss
on Paul's lips before handing him over to his mother.

Edith Wharton