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Autres Temps…
by [?]

“Well, you see Leila did everything ‘regularly,’ as the French say,” Ide rejoined.

“Yes; but are these people in society? The people my neighbours talk about?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “It would take an arbitration commission a good many sittings to define the boundaries of society nowadays. But at any rate they’re in New York; and I assure you you’re not; you’re farther and farther from it.”

“But I’ve been back there several times to see Leila.” She hesitated and looked away from him. Then she brought out slowly: “And I’ve never noticed–the least change–in–in my own case–“

“Oh,” he sounded deprecatingly, and she trembled with the fear of having gone too far. But the hour was past when such scruples could restrain her. She must know where she was and where Leila was. “Mrs. Boulger still cuts me,” she brought out with an embarrassed laugh.

“Are you sure? You’ve probably cut her; if not now, at least in the past. And in a cut if you’re not first you’re nowhere. That’s what keeps up so many quarrels.”

The word roused Mrs. Lidcote to a renewed sense of realities. “But the Pursues,” she said–“the Pursues are so strong! There are so many of them, and they all back each other up, just as my husband’s family did. I know what it means to have a clan against one. They’re stronger than any number of separate friends. The Pursues will never forgive Leila for leaving Horace. Why, his mother opposed his marrying her because of–of me. She tried to get Leila to promise that she wouldn’t see me when they went to Europe on their honeymoon. And now she’ll say it was my example.”

Her companion, vaguely stroking his beard, mused a moment upon this; then he asked, with seeming irrelevance, “What did Leila say when you wrote that you were coming?”

“She said it wasn’t the least necessary, but that I’d better come, because it was the only way to convince me that it wasn’t.”

“Well, then, that proves she’s not afraid of the Purshes.”

She breathed a long sigh of remembrance. “Oh, just at first, you know–one never is.”

He laid his hand on hers with a gesture of intelligence and pity. “You’ll see, you’ll see,” he said.

A shadow lengthened down the deck before them, and a steward stood there, proffering a Marconigram.

“Oh, now I shall know!” she exclaimed.

She tore the message open, and then let it fall on her knees, dropping her hands on it in silence.

Ide’s enquiry roused her: “It’s all right?”

“Oh, quite right. Perfectly. She can’t come; but she’s sending Susy Suffern. She says Susy will explain.” After another silence she added, with a sudden gush of bitterness: “As if I needed any explanation!”

She felt Ide’s hesitating glance upon her. “She’s in the country?”

“Yes. ‘Prevented last moment. Longing for you, expecting you. Love from both.’ Don’t you see, the poor darling, that she couldn’t face it?”

“No, I don’t.” He waited. “Do you mean to go to her immediately?”

“It will be too late to catch a train this evening; but I shall take the first to-morrow morning.” She considered a moment. “‘Perhaps it’s better. I need a talk with Susy first. She’s to meet me at the dock, and I’ll take her straight back to the hotel with me.”

As she developed this plan, she had the sense that Ide was still thoughtfully, even gravely, considering her. When she ceased, he remained silent a moment; then he said almost ceremoniously: “If your talk with Miss Suffern doesn’t last too late, may I come and see you when it’s over? I shall be dining at my club, and I’ll call you up at about ten, if I may. I’m off to Chicago on business to-morrow morning, and it would be a satisfaction to know, before I start, that your cousin’s been able to reassure you, as I know she will.”

He spoke with a shy deliberateness that, even to Mrs. Lidcote’s troubled perceptions, sounded a long-silenced note of feeling. Perhaps the breaking down of the barrier of reticence between them had released unsuspected emotions in both. The tone of his appeal moved her curiously and loosened the tight strain of her fears.