There are persons who seem to have their emotions under the control of push-buttons, as it were. They are capable of friendship and anger and love and jealousy, but they have been given the faculty of suppressing these emotions until it is their desire to allow them freedom. Maude Knox was one of these. It would be unfair to say that she was coldly calculating, but she was careful. Many of the minor inhibitions which rule American girls did not signify to her; she was broader of mind, capable of perceptions of which her sisters were incapable. But she did not fly into passions, nor was she given to headlong tumbles into love.
Her condition with respect to Kendall Ware was noncommittal. As a matter of fact, she was not in love with him, because he had not committed himself. If Ken had come frankly to her, declaring his love, and had asked her to be his wife she would by this time have been as much in love with him as he could have desired. Nobody could deny that they were suited to each other, and nature has seen to it that young people who are suited to each other, and enjoy propinquity with each other, do fall in love. It seems to be the law that everybody must love somebody; it also seems to be the law that propinquity is nine-tenths of the matter…. So Maude was in a receptive mood. She was ready to let go and be very much in love with Ken when a suitable moment arrived—if it ever did arrive.
Once she had released her controls she would be tender, faithful, a wife such as any man might boast of. His life would be her life. His concerns would be her concerns. Her career would be to make him happy and to make a success of the family of which he would be the head.
Just how much she realized of this condition it would be difficult to say. Just how much she desired Kendall to fall in love with her she herself did not know; but she did like him, liked him a great deal. He was on her mind, and perhaps she even schemed a little to have him near her frequently and so to give him the opportunity to love her if such a thing were to happen. But at the same time she held a serious doubt if she would marry him in any event—because of Andree.
True, she was of broad mind, and her life abroad had enabled her to perceive and to understand many matters which are obscure in America. These she could understand and condone or pronounce to be good and even virtuous—when they did not touch her directly. They were all right for others, but—but when they entered her own life that made of it another matter.
If she had been told that in a time past Kendall Ware had carried on an affair with a French girl—an affair that was wholly of the past—she might have dismissed it after small bitterness and have accepted him without more than a slight question. But this was present, going on under her eyes. She saw the workings of it, and saw that he actually loved this girl. That it was the sort of love he would one day give to his wife she did not believe. That did not seem possible to her…. On the other hand, there were many periods when she knew a fear that Kendall would marry Andree. She asked herself why he should not marry Andree. She had seen the girl, talked with her, found her beautiful and sweet—even good. Maude even felt a sympathy for Andree to the extent of warning Kendall against tampering with the girl’s happiness. Her sympathies were with Andree rather than with Kendall. She had never experienced the slightest aversion for Andree, none of that aversion which a woman safe in the possession of what she terms her virtue is entitled by ruthless custom to feel for the girl who is no longer a maid. She was able to conceive of a union such as Andree’s with Ken as possessing a sort of regularity, as being made more or less regular by the standards and conceptions of the society in which they were living…. But, nevertheless, when it came to marrying Ken her American prejudices and conceptions took on life and set themselves up as a barrier.
It was natural that she should be very curious about Andree and should wish the opportunity of meeting and studying the girl. She was rather frank and outspoken herself and could imagine herself discussing the situation with this girl and, perhaps, arriving at some determination. But the opportunity failed to present itself for days and weeks. Her brief chat with Andree on Bastille Day had proved nothing, and it was not until early August when a chance meeting in the Galeries Lafayette, where both girls happened to be shopping, gave her the opportunity she desired.
They met on one of the broad winding stairways of that enormous store, Andree descending, Maude ascending. Of the two Andree was the more self-possessed. She looked at Maude with that quaintly inquiring expression with which she seemed to greet all the world, but gave no other sign of recognition until Maude smiled and extended her hand.
“Bon jour, mademoiselle,” she said.
“Bon jour,” responded Andree.
“I’ve been hoping to see you for a long time. We hardly got acquainted in that little chat we had a month ago.”
“You are sure you wish to be acquainted?”
“Why? That’s difficult to put into words, isn’t it? But I know about you—and you must know about me. We just ought to be acquainted better.”
“Eet is possible. You will know me. Ver’ well. I also would know you.”
“Suppose we have déjeuner together, then. Have you finished your shopping?”
“Ever’thing—all is completed.”
Maude turned and walked down the stairs with Andree. They did not speak until they had traversed the crowded aisles and reached the street. Each was thinking about the other, but with this difference: Maude was wondering what Andree thought about her, while Andree was not concerned in the least with Maude’s opinion of herself. She thought of Maude only as some one in whom Ken was more interested than she liked, and wondered what this American girl would say to her…. Maude was impressed, not exactly in spite of herself, with Andree’s appearance and manner. The girl was so slender, so dainty, so appealing, so childlike and fragile! One could not help wanting to defend her and befriend her…. But it was not befriending her to wish to take away the man she loved and who loved her, which was the thing that could not but rest in the back of Maude’s mind. She had a feeling that Andree knew that desire was in her mind….
“Let us go to the Petrograd—it is only a few steps. I am living there now. A great many of us American girls live there.”
“Ver’ well,” said Andree, who, it seemed, had placed herself on the knees of the gods and was prepared to let events wait upon her at their will.
They made their way to the rue Caumartin and turned to the right. Presently they entered the courtyard of the Hôtel Petrograd and made their way to a dining-room well filled with American girls in the uniforms of the various war-service organizations. Selecting a table in a sheltered corner, they ordered luncheon, nor did they speak except of casual matters until they had finished. Andree addressed herself to her plate with that quaint absorption which always delighted Kendall. It touched Maude now, as everything about this appealing little girl touched her. She found herself actually growing fond of Andree as one might grow fond of a lovable child…. And yet she had a certainty that she would not find Andree altogether childlike; that in all matters appertaining to her love she would be all woman and amply potent to defend herself and her rights.
“Now we shall speak,” said Andree, looking into Maude’s face with directness, almost with challenge. Her own face, if it showed any expression at all, spoke of hesitation, diffidence.
“What shall we talk of?” Maude asked, experimentally.
“It is for you to say, mademoiselle. It is you who make the suggestion that we speak together….” Then, with disconcerting directness, “You wish to speak about Monsieur Ware, is it not?”
“Yes,” said Maude, “I should like to talk about him—and you.”
“It is ver’ well.”
Now that it reached the point of discussing Kendall, Maude was nonplussed for a moment. How should she open the discussion, if discussion there were to be? What could she say that would not be an impertinence to this girl, whom, somehow, she did not want to offend? Maude even respected her, perceived that about Andree which demanded respect and consideration. She hesitated. Andree smiled and leaned a bit forward.
“Mademoiselle,” she said, “perhaps it is that you are in love with thees yo’ng man also. Is it of that you wish to speak?”
“I am not in love with him, mademoiselle.”
“Ah … but that is not the ver’ truth—no. I have seen. I do not know—maybe you theenk you do not love him, but you do love him. That is why I am willing to speak weeth you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I am willing to speak weeth you about Monsieur Ware bicause I love him ver’ much and bicause you also love him. I theenk it mus’ be bicause I know we both wish ver’ much to have him always be happy. Is it not?”
“But I do not love him.”
“Then, mademoiselle, it is not of a necessity for us to speak at all. If you are merely his frien’, his acquaintance, you have no right to speak weeth me about him. It is so. Mais, if you love him”—she lifted her shoulders—“that is ver’ different.”
“He has not asked me to love him.”
“That is well. I theenk he loves me very fidèle. Yes. But also he theenk of you ver’ much. I have seen. You are of his country and are ver’ pretty. He theenk of you and compare you weeth me. I am French…. That is not American. He theenk about w’en he goes back to America, and then bicause I am ver’ French and not American he is troubled. He theenk I do not onderstan’, but I onderstan’ ver’ well. He say that he love Andree in Paris, and in Paris Andree is ver’ nice, but in America, where all is so different, then he does not know what to theenk.”
“And then he theenk of you, mademoiselle, of you who would not be foreign and strange and at whom his friends would not make to shrug their shoulder’ and lift the eyebrow’—bicause I do not know the manner and the custom.”
“Is that all that troubles you—not knowing the manners and the customs?”
“What else could there be, mademoiselle? I am not très-jolie—ver’ beautiful—but also I am not so hideous. I do not know.”
Maude shifted the subject because she was not ready to speak about the thing which would be troublesome more than manners and customs.
“Has he asked you to go to America with him?”
“No, mademoiselle. We have not speak of that.”
“But you would go? You would leave your France and your people and go to a strange land?”
“I theenk, mademoiselle, that I would leave the worl’ for Monsieur Ware.”
“As his wife?”
“As to that, I do not care. If he wish, then ver’ well. If he do not wish, then ver’ well, also. The marriage—makes nothing to us. It is only the love…. But you, mademoiselle, you make of marriage the necessity.”
“I would not marry him—I do not think I would marry him.”
“You would love him—as I do?”
“No…. No…. You misunderstand. Even if I loved him I do not think I would marry him.”
“And why? It is ver’ strange. Perhaps it is some American custom.”
“Of course I am American…. But the reason is yourself.”
“Myself!… Oh, I do not onderstan’.”
“I do not believe I could bring myself to marry him when he has loved you—as he has. When he has—been your lover.”
Andree’s eyes were wide with surprise. “It is ver’ strange,” she said. “What have I to make weeth it? Suppose one day he do not love me any more, but loves you ver’ much. Then you will not marry him bicause of me? Oh, that ees ver’—how do you say?—ver’ silly.”
“It is hard to explain. Something inside me rebels against it. I would always think about it…. It would seem to me that he was tainted … not clean as a husband should be.”
“Mademoiselle!” Andree sat very erect, her lips compressed.
“Don’t misunderstand me…. Please! I do not mean to offend. I expressed myself clumsily—and yet that was what I meant. It is nothing against you…. I have seen you, and I believe I can almost understand you. You are sweet and good—but you are different….”
“Much different, mademoiselle, for that if I love then nothing matters. I give, and I do not ask questions. I theenk not of myself, but of him. It is the truth. I say, can I make him ver’ happy…. But I do not ask if I am so ver’ good that he is not so good as I am?”
“I wish I could explain. I can never understand you wholly, and you—I’m afraid you will never be able to understand me at all. We have grown up in different worlds. You here, I in America…. Do you know that what you are doing is very bad in America? that a girl who does as you have done is an outcast? that no one will receive her in their homes nor have anything to do with her? … People would say you were bad….”
“Oh, thees America! It is ver’ sérieux. Is there not love in America, then?”
“Love is proper only when people marry.”
“And in America I would be a bad girl?”
“Bicause I love ver’ much and am fidèle?”
“Because you love without marriage.”
“And that makes Monsieur Ware bad also—bicause he love’ me?”
“It makes him—yes, people would say he was bad.”
“It is a lie. He is not bad, but ver’ good and kind. Do I make him bad? Oh, mademoiselle, that is a ver’ silly thing. I would only make him good and happy. It is the ver’ truth…. And bicause of me he is made bad and you must not marry him!… Regard me, mademoiselle, what harm do you theenk he has from me?”
“No harm from you. Oh, I mean it…. I—I don’t blame him. If I were a man I think—yes, I’m sure—I should love you as he does…. But—”
“But he is bad, and I have made him bad?”
“It isn’t you who make him bad….”
“Then he is not bad, for there is no other. I am ver’ sure. He is fidèle.”
“You don’t understand. It is not you who make him bad, but the thing he is doing … his relations with you. They are bad.”
“It is mos’ difficult—like some philosophy in a big book. I make him bad, but I do not make him bad, yet he is bad bicause of me….” Her eyes began to flash as she arose in Kendall’s defense. “It is not true. What you say is ver’ bad and wicked. For he is nevair bad…. As for me, I do not theenk I am bad. No. I do not theenk le bon Dieu believes I am bad. You yourself, mademoiselle, have seen me and speak weeth me. Do you theenk I am bad?”
“No, dear. I believe you are good…. I mean it. From the bottom of my heart, I believe you are good.”
“It is well. Then, can one take something bad from one who is good? See! To be bad is to offend the good God. Have I offended the good God who smiles when there is a great love? I do not theenk. Have I made Monsieur Ken to offend the good God?… I should not be happy as I am if it were so…. Have I made him to do a wickedness? Am I a woman of that sort? It is not true. All I have desire is for him to be good and to be ver’ happy…. That is not a sin, and it does not make a sin for him…. And you would not marry him even though you love him…. Mademoiselle, that is not a good love, not such a love as make the good God to smile…. It is a wickedness to love so….”
“No…. Let me speak. Suppose thees Monsieur Ware have love me and marry me—and I am no more. I am dead. Then you would not marry him?”
“That is different altogether. There would be no reason why I shouldn’t marry him then.”
“But I tell you, it is the same. Behol’! he loves me so ver’ much, and one day he does not love me bicause the war is done and he mus’ go home, and it is not possible for him to carry me weeth him…. The theeng is ended. It is as if I were dead—as I should desire it to be. The love was the same as if I have marry him…. He would then nevair be weeth me any more. I would be as if I were not…. And he would have taken no harm…. To say that he would be harmed is to say that to love a man more than any other theeng in the worl’ is to harm him, and to say that, mademoiselle, is impie—blasphématoire—to say a theeng which is an insult to God…. No!… No!… You make a wrong…. Because he have love’ then he is better—not more wicked…. I say to you, mademoiselle, that the love like I have for Monsieur Ware makes to keep him from a sin. I know.”
Maude’s eyes were not dry. She was listening to a thing that rang with truth and with goodness. She saw what she had never been able to perceive before, and it showed her that Kendall Ware could take no harm from Andree, let their relations be what they might, for Andree was good, with a simplicity and a faith and a purity greater and better than any she had ever known. American as she was, reared upon the traditions of Plymouth Rock, which are as unbending as the laws of the Medes and Persians, she perceived the truth, saw that to judge is a power withheld from mortals and jealously guarded by God….
“My dear!… My dear!…” she said, tremulously. “I—Can you forgive me?… You are right—right. Nobody could be harmed by you…. You are sweet and—and wonderfully good….”
Andree smiled wanly. “So we need speak no more. We have done. There remains but one little thing, mademoiselle. You love thees yo’ng man, and I love thees yo’ng man…. He loves me now, and until I am dead I shall keep him—keep him…. I shall make to fight for him as I can…. But I am sorry that it mus’ make you sad—if I can keep him. I am ver’, ver’ sorry…. Good-by, mademoiselle, we shall not be friend’—no, that ees not possible—and one of us mus’ be ver’ sad…. I mus’ pray that it shall not be myself….”
“Good-by,” said Maude, extending her hand.
Andree turned and walked with quaintly stiff tread and daintily erect body out of the dining-room. Maude ascended to her room to think, to readjust herself…. Her state of confusion was almost as great as Kendall Ware’s. She was conscious of her own inadequacy and of her inability to pierce to the true heart of events and see them as they would be seen by a mind at once perfect in logic and perfect in purity…. But, in spite of prejudices bred into her being from youth, she could not see Andree as otherwise than right, Andree as untainted by evil … and it seemed a thing impossible that Kendall Ware could have been made one whit unworthier by any contact with her….
Kendall Ware went to his office on September 1st just as he went to it on any other day, anticipating a day like a hundred of its predecessors had been. He enjoyed the walk through the clear sunny air of Paris and felt not the slightest foreboding of heavy events to come. Fifteen minutes after his arrival the day had taken upon itself the importance of marking the close of an epoch in his life…. He was ordered to report himself in Brest on the morning of September 4th to board the first returning transport for America.
The order partook of the essentials of a calamity. It came so unexpectedly, with such sudden shock, that he did not sense immediately the full meaning of it nor what it involved. In the beginning he saw only the misfortune of being sent home, of being removed from proximity to the war. That alone was enough to give him keenest distress, but as he returned to his desk and sat staring gloomily at the wall before him this first effect was swallowed up and lost forever by the inrush of cold dread of the major consequences of his enforced departure.
He was face to face with the inexorability of the postponed decision. There was no time to work matters out gradually now, to hope for some miraculous solution. He must decide; he must answer yes or no…. What should he do about Andree?… Within twenty-four hours he must determine if she was to remain in his life, or if they had reached a point in the journey where one must turn to the right and one to the left to follow roads that never joined again on earth. He must determine whether or not he should marry Andree and take her home. It would be possible. There was time. He felt sure he could obtain the necessary permission to have her accompany him on the transport because he knew women were constantly returning on transports. Even failing that, she could demand her passport as his wife as a newly made citizen of the United States and go to America by way of Bordeaux and the French line…. But only as his wife could she cross the ocean; in no other way could she obtain the essential passport….
So that became the one question—to marry or not to marry!
If he did not take her with him, then what? How could he tell her?… What would she do if she discovered that she had lost him? There came to him a vision of the bridges crossing the Seine … and it was harrowing!
The breaking of evil news is, perhaps, the most feared task that can fall to man. He fears it as he fears no other demand that can be made upon him…. It was inevitable that Ken should consider eluding such a black responsibility. Why not? It would be perfectly simple…. He was to see Andree to-morrow night. Well, there was no need to see her, and the night after that he would be on the train for Brest. He could step out of her life without a word, abandon her without farewell…. It would remove all complications—except the complication of conscience. It was a temptation which did not persist. Kendall Ware was no hero, but he was immeasurably above such an act of black cowardice. Besides, he could not bear to go without seeing her again … if the decision were to leave her.
He must decide….
It was a sentence from which there could be no reprieve, implacable, inevitable. He had arrived at the most critical, the most momentous crisis in his life … and nowhere could he turn for help. He stood alone, sole judge and executioner. There was no jury to pronounce verdict, no expert who could advise. He—Kendall Ware—must speak the word…. Never had he been so conscious of himself as an individual, of his existence as a distinct entity, of himself. It frightened him—that idea of himself as a responsible thing, of which life could require decisions. For the first time he realized the meaning of the words “free will” and he resented them. God had endowed him with the perilous gift of freedom to mold his own life, and he felt a cowardly resentment toward God…. But the stark fact was there. There was no avoiding it. There must be a choice, some choice … and the combined populations of the earth could not take it out of his hands….
He was thankful for some minor matters of routine which would demand his attention until noon. After that he would be relieved from duty, with no occupation but to make ready for his departure…. It was a trifling postponement and he welcomed it eagerly. At eleven-thirty he left the office and walked down the Champs Élysées, almost for the last time. He pretended that he was walking aimlessly, but it was not true. He had a destination, and that destination was 12 rue d’Aguesseau and Maude Knox.
It was not that he felt the necessity of seeing Maude Knox, but that he wanted to talk to somebody, to talk to somebody who might have some understanding of his plight. It was not advice he sought so much as sympathy. Maude was the sort of person he could talk to, and talk was necessary…. He waited in the archway of the building until she came down.
“Well?” she said, in some surprise.
“I’m waiting for you. Can you lunch with me?”
“What has happened?” she countered. “I can tell by your face that something has happened.”
“I’ve been ordered home.”
She did not reply for a moment, for his announcement brought her also face to face with a climax in her life. He was going home! The status quo which had been endurable, if difficult, was to be altered. While he was there and she was there their relations might go on as they were, somewhat anomalous, but requiring no immediate decisions or arrangements. They could drift and allow events to take care of themselves…. But now he was going, and she realized that she did not want him to go. She realized what she had repressed and concealed was now insisting upon recognition—that Kendall Ware was very important to her, that his presence was very important to her, and that for a time to which she was unable to set an exact limit she had been hoping that their relations would be determined in a manner satisfactory to herself…. She was bolder in facing the fact than Kendall had been. She faced it promptly and adjusted herself to it … and the fact was that she loved him….
“Where shall we lunch?” she asked, and it would have been impossible to tell from her tone that in the brief pause that came before her question she had withstood a shock and mastered a crisis.
“The Oasis is quiet and we can talk.”
“But they’re so slow!”
“That doesn’t matter to-day. There’s—there’s so much to say.”
He nodded. “I’ve got to talk it out with you … because you are the only person who can do any good. The same things are behind both of us. We know the same sort of people back home…. Don’t you see?”
“I think so. But, remember, I’ve been here as long as you have. I’m not the same. I’ve seen things, too…. I can’t judge anything the way I would have judged it back home. I’ll never be able to again.”
They walked to the rue St.-Honoré and presently turned up the rue Boissy-d’Anglas to the quaint, quiet little English tea-room with its soft lights and absurdly carved fireplace and decorations. That fireplace, Bert had once said, looked like the life-work of a lazy man who loved to whittle. There they found a table—there were but three or four—and gave their orders to the thin, very serious Englishwoman who was the only member of the staff of the place who ever became visible. Nobody knew if she were the proprietress or merely a waitress—and nobody cared especially.
“It’s rotten luck,” said Ken.
“I’ll be stuck at some desk job in Washington. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they had given me a few months at the front—”
“Or if they never had sent you to France at all.”
He looked at her a moment, then shook his head. “No. I wouldn’t have missed these months over here. I’ve really lived; really appreciated being alive. No…. Whatever happens now, nobody can take this away from me….”
“It has been wonderful,” she agreed.
“Just to see it—Paris, the people, the war going on—would be wonderful…. But I believe I’ve done more than merely see. I’ve felt.”
“You’ve seen and felt, Ken, but how much has it changed you?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, what has seeing and feeling done to you? Has it made any permanent changes in you? Your experiences here have impressed you a great deal—but how long will the effect last when you get home?… When Paris is just a memory—and a subject for conversation? In ten years will you be any different as a result of all this than you would have been if you had never come?”
He hesitated. “I don’t know,” he said, slowly. “What do you think?”
“I think,” she said, “that we will get back into the old environments and the old habits and will become just what we would have been. If we were to stay here, then we might change, broaden, really profit by our experiences. But we go home. We see the same faces, hear the same sort of talk, and are tied by the same sort of prejudices and theories and narrownesses that we used to accept without question. We will know better for a while, and then we will revert…. It takes something pretty big and startling to change a person forever.”
“Big and startling…. You mean something in his own life and experience—something personal to him—that is big and startling?”
“Oh, like committing a crime, or making some supreme decision or sacrifice…. Anything that strains the very soul of a person so that it can never get back into its former shape.”
“Not love itself, but something wonderful or terrible that comes as the result of a love.”
“Then you don’t think experiences change people, that it is—well, just making decisions that grow out of the experiences. It is reaching a crisis and then making a choice of which way you will go.”
“I think that is it. I don’t see how any event can change a person if he remains merely a spectator. I don’t think any sort of happening will really alter a person for good and all unless it has compelled him to use every bit of his will and courage and intelligence to make up his mind what he will do about it. If he chooses the right way, then he becomes stronger; if he chooses the wrong way or dodges the decision, he becomes weaker.”
“There’s no dodging the choice,” he said.
“And that is what’s the matter with you, isn’t it?”
“And the choice?” She knew very well what problem he was laboring over.
“Is Andree,” he said.
“She was bound to be the problem. Couldn’t you see that from the beginning?”
“That doesn’t matter now—what I saw at the beginning. All that has happened has happened”—he paused and stared down at the table-cloth—“and I’m glad it did happen…. But now I’ve got to settle the bill.”
“And you want my advice?” She looked at him queerly. “You have come to me for advice about this?”
“Not for advice. I just want to know what you think.”
“Whether I should marry Andree?”
“Why shouldn’t you?”
“So many reasons…. There’s my mother. There’s the vestibule of the Presbyterian church, if you know what I mean.” She nodded her understanding. “There are all the things that have come down from Plymouth Rock…. There is something in me, something I can’t get rid of, that is a result of all these things, which makes me hold back from marrying a girl who—with whom I have—who has been to me what Andree has been…. And there is you.” He uttered the last sentence defiantly.
“That isn’t fair—it isn’t fair! You have no business to say such a thing to me…. You’re the most tremendously selfish man I have ever met.”
“In this whole thing you are thinking of nobody but yourself. You haven’t thought of Andree—and then you—you say such things without—considering me.”
“I do think of Andree,” he said, quickly. “I’m afraid—for her. I can’t bear to think of making her unhappy…. And you—It’s a confused mess, Maude!…” He leaned across the table. “Maude, if there was no other woman in my life—if Andree were a thing of the past—would you marry me?”
She stared at him, biting her lips. “Ken Ware,” she said, “that is the most impertinent—and selfish—question a man ever asked…. Don’t ever do it again! Don’t ever mention such a thing again! The idea! You want to have your cake and eat it, too. You’re always at it—carrying on a sort of left-handed courtship with me…. Always hinting—and—and playing safe. If you decide you don’t want this other girl, then you want to have me all prepared to fall into your arms…. I won’t stand it. Never dare speak of it again—until you can come to me honestly and say that you love me—and that there is no other woman in your life—and that you want me to marry you. Then I’ll tell you whether I will or not…. Do you understand?”
“I’m sorry. I’ve been clumsy … and selfish.”
“But you’ll tell me what you think—how this whole thing over here affects you? Don’t think about my case in particular if that is offensive, but about the whole system, the whole idea of the relations between men and women as we see them here.”
“I will, because I would like to find out just how I have been affected….” Suddenly she laughed. “I used to have an uncle who spent his life arguing abstractions. I remember he took the stand once that there was no reason why women should not smoke as well as men, that there was nothing inherently masculine about smoking and nothing immoral. He declared that women had as much right to smoke as men. My aunt listened to it until she got tired, so one evening she waited until uncle lighted a cigar and then took out a cigarette and put it between her lips…. Uncle stared at her and roared. He fairly snatched that cigarette, and it looked as if he was going to put my aunt out of the house…. Smoking for women was all right as an abstract question, but when it touched him personally it was quite another matter…. I think I am a little like him. I can sit down and say that these girls are within their rights. I can even see that they are good…. I believe your Andree is wonderfully good…. I can even say that if so many Americans were killed in this war that I would never be able to find a husband I might do the same thing—and I believe it would be right and moral for me to do it … in the abstract. I can feel these things in Paris. But as soon as I come to a concrete instance and one which touches me personally—why, I’m Middle West and Plymouth Rock again…. One can never tell. Things can happen here—even to an American girl like me—that never could happen in America in normal conditions. With this war going on, with this horrible state of affairs, nothing else seems to matter much. Personal moral considerations seem to be so minute and unimportant as not to count at all…. There is something in the very air…. You see we don’t know France—only a small section of it that we see about the streets. We don’t know how the classes of France who stay in their homes and are never seen on the boulevards look at this matter. They may be as straitlaced as we are … and we’ve been judging all of Paris by the Champs Élysées….”
“That doesn’t decide the thing that’s worrying me…. It doesn’t even help…. I wonder if this war and everything connected with it won’t change people back home.”
“So that they would tolerate—Andree?”
“Never—if they found out that Andree had violated their laws.”
“But you—what do you think about her?”
“Is that fair?”
“I don’t see why it isn’t. You’ve met her and talked with her. What do you think of her?”
“Ken, she is one individual, and I can tell you what I think about her … but that doesn’t make her stand for the whole code of ethics. The other thousands of girls may not be like Andree at all—they may be bad. Don’t you see? It comes down to a matter of personal, concrete experience again…. But Andree….” She looked at him gravely. “I should hate to feel that I had broken faith with Andree or been unfair to her or caused her grief. She is very sweet and childlike—and good. She has no consciousness of having been other than virtuous because she has loved you…. I had lunch with her the other day. It was the first time I had ever lunched with a woman whom I knew to be violating our standard … and it didn’t hurt me in the least. I felt no repulsion or disgust … but that was because I couldn’t help feeling that she was good….”
“Then you think—”
“I think this: that all of us come to fit into our environment very readily. We come over here, and soon we are being absorbed by the things around us…. Presently we will go home, more or less in the frame of mind created by Paris … and then the environment of home will begin to work. In no time at all we will have adjusted ourselves again and Paris will be almost as if it never had been…. I believe that is exactly what will happen. If we stayed here we should become as nearly Parisian as we could be made, but, going home, Paris will very rapidly be eradicated.”
“And all that has happened here?”
“Will be part of a memory—something in a dream.”
He shook his head. “I can’t believe that. I know I shall never be just the same as I was before. I see your point of view, but it doesn’t help me … and I don’t believe you are right.”
“You don’t want to believe it.”
“I know—Andree makes all the difference. If you were a man and there had been an Andree you would have felt as I have. Somehow France means Andree to me. I never dreamed of any one like her. You don’t know her—what a quaint, childlike, womanly, fairy kind of a girl she is. When I think of her she doesn’t seem real, but like some mysterious being out of a magical country who has come to visit for a little while—to make me happy…. She does come from a mysterious country. Do you know that I don’t know her name—just Andree? I have never asked. I don’t know where she lives or how she lives. I don’t know anything about her except that she appears and is with me a little while—and then disappears again…. That has made a difference—that quality.”
“I would hardly have suspected you of being so romantic.”
“It isn’t sentimentality, at any rate…. And nobody can ever convince me that I’ve done wrong or that I’ve taken any harm from her…. Even if this should prove to be only an episode, it has been a beautiful episode with nothing but good in it…. But this mystery, this fairy element, has somehow kept the realities at a distance. I have simply gone along and lived…. Why, I have hardly thought of such a thing as marriage in connection with her. Possibly you won’t understand that, but I understand it perfectly…. To marry Andree would be to make her real, material. The mystery would be gone.”
“I think I understand.”
“But to marry her and take her to Detroit!… Suppose I should take her home and then this story should come out—and it would come out somehow. What then?… When I think of that smug, gossiping crowd in the church vestibule, and of their looking at her and pointing at her and whispering about her—it seems like a profanation. I couldn’t bear it…. And then—well, I’ve inherited some of it myself. I belong to that crowd. I’ve their ideas of marriage … and the vestibule doesn’t marry a girl who—has lived with a man….”
“You’re afraid of them.”
“I am,” he said, and flushed.
“But if you loved her—really loved her—”
“I do,” he said, quickly, “but can’t one love without wanting to marry? That is a thing that puzzles me.”
“I don’t believe anybody can love and be willing under any circumstances to part with the person one loves.”
“I don’t know…. Isn’t it, possibly, better to love and to be a part of a beautiful, rather mysterious, glowing episode and to have it end while it is beautiful and mysterious?… Then something always remains—something dreamlike and lovely. To come down to actualities, to marry, to take this mystery into the land of grocers’ bills and house-cleaning and the every-day problems of marriage—why, it wouldn’t be the same thing at all.”
“I don’t think you believe that. You’re arguing with yourself and trying to salve your conscience…. You’re afraid to marry Andree and take her home—”
“That is part of it. I admit it. But—and I am sincere when I say it—I don’t know whether I want to marry her. I love her and she loves me…. She would be a wonderful wife—and yet, love and all, I don’t know whether I want to marry her.”
“You are just trying to deceive yourself. Either you don’t love her at all….”
“Would you marry a woman who had done what Andree has done?”
“It would depend on the woman—and upon how much I loved her…. You can’t generalize about that. It is a matter that nobody can decide except for himself in a particular instance. I do think, if I were a man, that I could marry your Andree without a thought….”
“But to take her out of her world—away from Paris where she is as natural and unconscious as the birds in the trees—and set her down for life in Detroit … to be stared at and lied about and suspected … it would make her miserable.”
“Would it make her as miserable as to lose you altogether? If she had you and your love, no matter what unpleasant things were about, wouldn’t that be better than to be left behind here alone?”
“Yes,” he said, honestly. “Yes.”
She looked at him a moment, studying his face, which was set and anxious and overcast, his eyes, which were dull and brooding, and a wave of compassion surged up within her.
“It has made you miserable,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”
“I deserve to be miserable.”
“Possibly not. Nobody can judge, but—this affair has been almost inevitable. It wasn’t your fault and it wasn’t Andree’s fault…. The circumstances were here, and you two got tangled up in them….” She glanced at her watch. “I must go now. I’m sorry I haven’t helped you—for—I wish I might help you…. Shall I see you again before you go?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Then this is good-by.” She held out her hand steadily. “I hope matters turn out for—for your happiness…. Good-by.”
“I shall write you.”
She looked at him and smiled queerly, but made no rejoinder. “No, don’t come with me,” she said, as he walked to the door. “I’d rather go alone…. Good-by and a safe voyage.”
And so the first of the two women with whom his life had become involved stepped out of his life….
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