The Breath of Scandal/Chapter 27

CHAPTER XXIX

HALE, telephoning, learned from Martin that Miss Hale was having her guest for dinner; consequently, he dined at his club and returned home about nine o'clock and went almost immediately to his room. Marjorie kept Clara for the night and—know together they arose early in the morning, breakfasted while Hale was still in his room, and then set out for the city by the elevated train about the time that he was sitting down at the table.

Clara went on to the south side where she was demonstrating in a beauty parlor that week, and Marjorie, as Miss Conway for the last time, called at the dingy, Wells Street office of Herman Bostrock, where she turned in her celluloid elephants and other samples and thanked Mr. Bostrock for the opportunity he had given her; she resigned her territory and drew her last commissions. On Dearborn Street, fifteen minutes later, Marjorie Hale made her first business call and obtained another position, starting at once on work which kept her in town until five o'clock.

When, in the next morning, Gregg telephoned to Evanston, Martin said that Miss Hale had left word for Mr. Mowbry that she would be home about six o'clock; and Marjorie, calling up Martin at noon, learned that Mr. Mowbry had 'phoned, had asked where he could find her and, after being told that Martin did not know, Mr. Mowbry had said he would be out about eight o'clock.

Marjorie was home at six and her father arrived a few minutes later; she bathed, rested, dressed in white, and went downstairs to find that her father also had changed from his business attire and was in white flannels, for it was warm this evening. The summer hum and drone of insects marked the heat, and the sunset rays lay yellow across the white walks and cast sharp, clear shadows of the motionless boughs on the lawn where the sprinklers were spinning gleaming drops of water over the gardens and grass.

It was a week when Canterbury bells were in their blue and white blooms, when hollyhocks were spreading their red and yellow clusters up the tall, straight, pale green stems, and larkspur stood, deep blue and stiff-looking, against the white garage fence.

Midsummer was a beautiful but, to Marjorie Hale, almost a strange season in Evanston; for the women and children of fashionable Evanston long ago have affected the summer hegira to other, and not always cooler places. They merely "shut" their homes, if they can afford it, leaving a servant or two to keep up the house and lawn; or they rent their abodes, furnished, to women and children from other cities who look upon the comfortable, modern little city on the shore of the great lake as a most desirable summer resort.

So most of the Hales' neighbors were away; the Chadens, or at least Mrs. Chaden and Ethel, were at Mackinac; Mrs. Sedgwick and Clara and Elsie were in Colorado; the Cleves at Harbour Point, at the northern end of the lake; Mrs. Vane was traveling in Norway.

Marjorie dropped into a chair in the drawing-room, where an electric fan was maintaining a current of cool air, and picked up the Evanston News-Index for the day's record of departures and the doings of Evanstonians abroad. Her mother's name was not in tonight; but Marjorie knew that often it was and her own had been with it; and, glancing across the room to her father, she imagined him here alone, on some previous hot, quiet evening like this, reading, "Mrs. Charles Hale and her daughter are now in London, stopping at Claridge's where they entertained——"

He was seated in range of the fan, smoking a cigarette and reading; or at least holding a newspaper before him.

"Gregg's coming up to-night, father," she said.

"Hmhm; all right," he looked around the paper at her. "That's good, if you want to see him."

"I do," she replied, and returned to the Index while he watched her.

Martin announced dinner and her father formally stood back for her to precede him into the dining room.

No more than three usually made the family table here in this large, quiet room, yet two seemed extraordinarily lonely at the table this evening. It was supper, really, not dinner; mostly cold things and iced coffee in tall, tinkling glasses. Marjorie drank her coffee but cared little about eating; she was restless, sitting there across the table from her father, but she particularly tried to control herself; for what kept her on edge was expectancy and impatience for an hour to come; for eight o'clock; and there was a dullness about her father to-night which was a denial of, almost the antithesis of, her own feeling.

She thought at first, "It's because I feel this way so much that he seems different." Then she knew that the change in him was not wholly, or even mostly, in her feeling. Always, even when he was weak following his wound from Russell's bullet, he had kept himself "on edge"; you felt him always possessed of a certain impatience or of an expectancy for something ahead, of an hour to come. That was gone from him now; here he was at the table with her; and she thought, "He's taking things as they happen." And she did not like something about this; it was not him. She thought, "He's been hit awfully hard by Billy's death and by his fright about me."

But this did not satisfactorily explain her feeling of the absence of an attitude which previously had characterized him. She thought, "It's because he has given up something." When she set herself to selecting what that was, she could come upon but one adequate answer; it was because he had given up Mrs. Russell. And when Marjorie thought this, there ought to have been more gratification in it for her than there was.

Only now—and only with slowness, now that it was established and she could observe it—did she discern that what she had brought about by all she had done, and what had been brought about by Billy's death, was a negation for her father; they had imposed simply a shalt not when, for the companionship forbidden, he could turn to—what?