The Bond/Part 1/Chapter 6

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VI

AUNT SOPHIA came into the dining-room—tall, handsome, imposing, in grey clothes that rustled—and peered through her eye-glasses at the limp person on the divan.

"Teresa, why don't you have a light? Can you give me a cup of tea, I've just come from our Friday meeting—why are you feasting by yourself in the dark?"

"Because I've been crying," said Teresa languidly, getting up to turn on the electric light.

"Crying? So you have. Have you been quarrelling with Basil?"

"Basil! Whenever I'm upset, Aunt Sophia, you jump to the conclusion that it's Basil."

"Well, I'm sure it generally is. Whenever I see a woman unhappy, I know a man's at the bottom of it."

Aunt Sophy poured out her tea and added liberal hot water with a firm hand.

"All I say is, don't cry over them—they're not worth it," she added.

Aunt Sophy was the one person to whom Teresa ever confided anything. This she did for two reasons: First, that Aunt Sophy invariably took her side with passion—if passion could be associated with that lady. And secondly, that Aunt Sophy's temperament and views of life being diametrically opposed to her own, this support always had the effect of making Teresa see the reason of the other side. Hence she never took any of Aunt Sophy's freely offered advice, but usually bore away from such an interview an increased tenderness for Basil, and a conviction that women in their own right were absurd. But Aunt Sophy's absurdity was amusing, and also it was a comfort occasionally to Teresa to hear her husband roundly abused under the general head of "men."

"It's more than Basil this time," she said gloomily, lighting another cigarette.

"More than Basil! You don't mean——"

"Oh, nothing shocking. It's only a friend of mine—of ours—who has gone off on a drunk."

"Teresa, what language!" Aunt Sophy dropped a spoon in her dismay.

"Well, it's what Basil calls it. It really is too awful, Aunt Sophy. I'm so fond of the poor fellow—he's just as dear and sweet as possible—and this thing is ruining him."

"Disgusting!" said Aunt Sophy.

"Yes, it is—it is, and that's the worst of it. I felt this afternoon, when I looked at his face and saw that fearful appetite in it, and imagined what he'd be like in a few hours—I thought I never wanted to see him again." Teresa half-sobbed as she said it.

"Well, why do you see him again? Such a man is unfit for decent society. If he can't or won't conquer his vile habit, surely it's too much to expect a woman to be his friend. And a young woman, too—really, Teresa. I don't think it's at all proper for you. I suppose he is one of Basil's friends?"

"Yes—but he is mine too, now. And yet he's slipping away from us. In just this year I've known him, I've seen him going down. And I did think—for three months now he's been quite straight—and now, to-night——"

Her voice faltered.

"It's a shame. You say you were with him this afternoon—and he actually told you?"

"Oh, I guessed—I couldn't help knowing, from his looks—and he confessed it."

"Teresa, you know too much of such things! Basil ought to shelter you from such knowledge as that—he ought not to allow——"

Teresa laughed. Aunt Sophy usually argued that the husband's authority was a relic of barbarism, not to be recognised by any woman of spirit.

"Basil doesn't believe in sheltering me," she said. "And you know you said only the other day, Aunt Sophy, that the day of the clinging vine was over, and that the pretence of keeping a strong right arm between us and the world——"

"I did say it, and it's true, it is only a pretence—but I referred particularly to material things," began Aunt Sophy.

"But you congratulated me on keeping my independence even in the thraldom of marriage, and——"

"I meant financial independence. Of course, I don't think any woman ought to be dependent on a man in that way—or in any way she can help. But what I say now is that there is no need for thrusting the ugly side of life on us more than is necessary. Let the men keep their weaknesses to themselves—as much as they can. That's what I mean, child. Heaven knows we see enough of them at their worst, anyhow, without unnecessary disclosures."

"I wonder," said Teresa musingly. "They don't seem to be able to keep anything to themselves, that's true."

"No, because they admire themselves in everything they do. As somebody or other says, a mirror tells the truth to a woman, but it always lies to a man. A man thinks his meanest actions are justifiable somehow, if only on the plea of necessity. I daresay your friend, as you call him, thinks it absolutely necessary for him to intoxicate himself once in so often."

"I suppose he does. And I suppose it is," said Teresa sorrowfully.

"Teresa, Teresa! You are taking the man's point of view! You will end by being sorry for that creature, because he makes a beast of himself! Don't lend yourself to such weakness, I implore you! Any person who wants to be decent can be so. … Teresa, I wish you had more women friends. You don't see enough of women. It would be a wholesome corrective to your ideas. It is a very bad thing to associate almost exclusively with men——"

"They are more interesting," said Teresa, in a melancholy minor.

"They seem so now, doubtless, because you are very young. I once thought so myself, before I married your uncle. But you will change your mind, Teresa, and perhaps you will find some day, as I have, the keenest interest in identifying yourself with the cause of Woman."

"Aunt Sophy, you've been making a speech at the club."

"Certainly I have. We had a very successful meeting—several enthusiastic speeches, and six new members joined. We appointed a delegation to go to Washington next month, to see our senators and congressmen, and interview the President."

"And are you one of them?"

"Yes, I was unanimously elected spokesman."

"That's because you're so handsome, Aunt Sophy. They depend on you to impress the flinty legislatorial bosom."

"Really, my dear, I prefer to believe it is because I have some powers of speech," said Mrs. Boulter.

However, she smiled. She was, in fact, a handsome woman, with remarkably little suggestion of the clinging vine. She was very erect, very stately, even sitting in a low chair, with large blue eyes, a broad forehead, thick grey hair, and a gracious white-toothed smile which had something glacial in it—a hint of her native New Hampshire rock.

"How nice to go up to Washington, and feel so important," said Teresa languidly. She leaned back against the cushions and sighed.

"Well, why don't you join us?" enquired Mrs. Boulter. "I'll propose your name, as you know, any time you like. And I'm sure you will find the work exceedingly interesting. With your intelligence you are sure to come round to us sooner or later. There's nothing like marriage, too, to make one see clearly the real position of woman. When you do see it, Teresa, you will want to stand up for your sex."

Teresa smiled rather wanly. She began to feel that she should have a headache as the result of her emotion about Gerald. At this moment Miss Pease came in, agitated and flushed.

"Oh, Mrs. Ransome," she cried, "what do you think has happened! The pearl pendant—Miss Carruthers——"

"What—not again!" said Teresa.

"Yes—you will think it my fault—I was showing it to someone else, and carelessly laid it down—and I meant to watch her every minute—but she slipped out. Of course I will—pay for it——"

"Annette Pease, you little idiot!" said Teresa, getting up and arranging her hair before a glass. "Pay for it, indeed! I know you're careful—don't worry about it. We put these things down to profit and loss."

"What is it? Miss Carruthers? Pearl pendant?" cried Mrs. Boulter.

"Yes, the Miss Carruthers—father's dear old friend, who takes such an interest in me! Didn't you know she was a kleptomaniac? She's run off with a seed-pearl and emerald thing, and I lose about eighty dollars. Never mind. Come along home with me, Aunt Sophy, come to dinner."

"Eighty dollars! But, surely, you can get it back."

"No, I can't, without—making trouble. She would just deny it. Poor old thing, she was actually arrested once for shoplifting, but they hushed it up. It's pure mania—she has money enough. I've heard of her taking the spoons off the table when she goes out to dine."

"Well, she ought to be locked up!" said Mrs. Boulter sternly. "Why don't her family attend to her? It's immoral to allow people to go on like that. Teresa, you ought to do something."

"I'm going to—I'm taking you home to dinner. Basil said he should probably dine out."

"Well—thank you—I shall be very happy," said Mrs. Boulter, after a moment's hesitation, which seemed to weigh the chances of Basil's dining out. Mrs. Boulter, in fact, was one of the few people who bored Basil, and she did not enjoy boring him, unless she could do it from the platform; and he would not let her mount the platform in his presence. Teresa bade an unusually cordial adieu to Miss Pease, and led her aunt, still protesting, downstairs and through the dark hall.

They turned into the avenue, jammed with the home-going crowd, where talk was an impossibility. Night had already fallen, between the rows of high buildings; but the lighted shop-fronts, the street lamps and the electric lights of the cars succeeding one another at momentary intervals, made it bright as day. They walked for a few blocks along the avenue, breasting the rustling throng, crossed between two clanging cars and a charging body of cabs and automobiles, and turned into a side street. Here it was quieter, though the roar of the avenue still pursued them, even into the palm-set hall of the apartment house.

While Mrs. Boulter was admiring the flowers in the drawing-room, Teresa changed her dress for a white, short-waisted one, put a necklace of green stones round her bare throat, braided her hair in two braids and coiled it round her head, and, returning, she took one of the Major's white roses and stuck it in the braid just over her left ear.

"All this just for me? " said Mrs. Boulter. "I must go and make myself pretty, too—or, at least, presentable."

She disappeared into Teresa's bedroom, down the hall. Teresa was poking up the fire when the sound of a key in the outer door made her turn and smile, her eyes suddenly bright and soft.

Basil came in with the slam that usually announced him, flinging his hat and coat on a seat in the hall.

"Hello!" called Teresa. "Thought you weren't coming back."

"Hello, kid," he responded cheerfully. He appeared, with two parcels, which he deposited on a table; then came over and kissed his wife ardently, touching the rose in her hair, and the curve of her neck.

"Changed my mind," he said. "In fact, I met a man and asked him to dinner here."

Teresa's pleased smile faded a little.

"Did you? I'm afraid there isn't much dinner," she said.

"Oh, well, you can send out for a steak, can't you? And I brought some bully old whisky and cigars."

"That's just like you—you think a steak, whisky, and cigars make a dinner, don't you?" said Teresa mockingly. "Who's the man?"

"Oh, an Englishman I met at the club. I knew him years ago in Cairo, just for a day or so—he's a nice fellow, you'll like him."

"What time is he coming?" enquired Teresa coolly.

"Seven. He's going to the theatre, so I made it early."

"Well, I must interview Mary." Teresa added reluctantly, "Aunt Sophy's here. I asked her to dinner."

It was now Basil's turn to look dashed, and he did so completely.

"Oh, hell!" he remarked, the gaiety of his face quite quenched; "what on earth did you do that for?"

"Why shouldn't I? You said you were going out."

"I said I might go out. … Well, that spoils everything. You can't have any talks with that old bore about. I wish I'd known, I'd have given him dinner at the club. If I had such boring relatives as you've got, I certainly wouldn't have them around."

"How about your stepmother? Didn't I ask her to lunch last week? Aunt Sophy's brilliant in comparison."

"That's different," growled Basil. "Lunch isn't dinner. One doesn't expect to be bored at dinner."

Teresa shrugged her shoulders, and went out to see the cook. When she returned Mrs. Boulter was in the drawing-room and Basil in his bedroom, whence he presently called to her, after fruitlessly ringing his bell.

"Teresa, there isn't one single clean shirt in my bureau, except some with the buttonholes torn!" he exclaimed. "Where on earth is my laundry?"

He stood in the middle of the floor, a brush in each hand, his hair fiercely rumpled. His broad shoulders contracted nervously; an irritable fire shot from his eyes.

"I don't know," said Teresa indifferently. "I suppose Mary forgot it."

"Yes, I suppose she did. Why doesn't she answer the bell? It's impossible to get anything done properly in this house."

Teresa, without replying, went down the hall, and returned after a few moments with a large paper bundle suspended by a string.

"There's your laundry, cross-patch," she observed loftily. "And all because of poor old Aunt Sophy," she said to herself as she went into the drawing-room. "It's odd how she puts him in a bad humour. If it hadn't been for her, he wouldn't have minded about the shirts. Really, his temper——!"