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PAGE 5

Autres Temps…
by [?]

“Oh, yes, come–do come,” she said, rising. The huge threat of New York was imminent now, dwarfing, under long reaches of embattled masonry, the great deck she stood on and all the little specks of life it carried. One of them, drifting nearer, took the shape of her maid, followed by luggage-laden stewards, and signing to her that it was time to go below. As they descended to the main deck, the throng swept her against Mrs. Lorin Boulger’s shoulder, and she heard the ambassadress call out to some one, over the vexed sea of hats: “So sorry! I should have been delighted, but I’ve promised to spend Sunday with some friends at Lenox.”

II

Susy Suffern’s explanation did not end till after ten o’clock, and she had just gone when Franklin Ide, who, complying with an old New York tradition, had caused himself to be preceded by a long white box of roses, was shown into Mrs. Lidcote’s sitting-room.

He came forward with his shy half-humorous smile and, taking her hand, looked at her for a moment without speaking.

“It’s all right,” he then pronounced.

Mrs. Lidcote returned his smile. “It’s extraordinary. Everything’s changed. Even Susy has changed; and you know the extent to which Susy used to represent the old New York. There’s no old New York left, it seems. She talked in the most amazing way. She snaps her fingers at the Pursues. She told me–me, that every woman had a right to happiness and that self-expression was the highest duty. She accused me of misunderstanding Leila; she said my point of view was conventional! She was bursting with pride at having been in the secret, and wearing a brooch that Wilbour Barkley’d given her!” Franklin Ide had seated himself in the arm-chair she had pushed forward for him under the electric chandelier. He threw back his head and laughed. “What did I tell you?”

“Yes; but I can’t believe that Susy’s not mistaken. Poor dear, she has the habit of lost causes; and she may feel that, having stuck to me, she can do no less than stick to Leila.”

“But she didn’t–did she?–openly defy the world for you? She didn’t snap her fingers at the Lidcotes?”

Mrs. Lidcote shook her head, still smiling. “No. It was enough to defy my family. It was doubtful at one time if they would tolerate her seeing me, and she almost had to disinfect herself after each visit. I believe that at first my sister-in-law wouldn’t let the girls come down when Susy dined with her.”

“Well, isn’t your cousin’s present attitude the best possible proof that times have changed?”

“Yes, yes; I know.” She leaned forward from her sofa-corner, fixing her eyes on his thin kindly face, which gleamed on her indistinctly through her tears. “If it’s true, it’s–it’s dazzling. She says Leila’s perfectly happy. It’s as if an angel had gone about lifting gravestones, and the buried people walked again, and the living didn’t shrink from them.”

“That’s about it,” he assented.

She drew a deep breath, and sat looking away from him down the long perspective of lamp-fringed streets over which her windows hung.

“I can understand how happy you must be,” he began at length.

She turned to him impetuously. “Yes, yes; I’m happy. But I’m lonely, too–lonelier than ever. I didn’t take up much room in the world before; but now–where is there a corner for me? Oh. since I’ve begun to confess myself, why shouldn’t I go on? Telling you this lifts a gravestone from me! You see, before this, Leila needed me. She was unhappy, and I knew it, and though we hardly ever talked of it I felt that, in a way, the thought that I’d been through the same thing, and down to the dregs of it, helped her. And her needing me helped me. And when the news of her marriage came my first thought was that now she’d need me more than ever, that she’d have no one but me to turn to. Yes, under all my distress there was a fierce joy in that. It was so new and wonderful to feel again that there was one person who wouldn’t be able to get on without me! And now what you and Susy tell me seems to have taken my child from me; and just at first that’s all I can feel.”