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- The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig - 4/47 -
"Don't frown that way. It makes wrinkles; and what's more unsightly than a wrinkled brow in a woman?"
"I don't in the least care," replied the girl. "I've made up my mind to stop fooling and marry."
"If I can't do better." She laughed a low, sweet laugh, like her voice; and her voice suggested a leisurely brook flitting among mossy stones. "You see, I've lost that first bloom of youth the wife-pickers prize so highly. I'm not unsophisticated enough to please them. And I haven't money enough to make them overlook such defects as maturity and intelligence--in fact, I've no money at all."
"You were never so good-looking in your life," said Grant. "I recall you were rather homely as a child and merely nice and fresh-looking when you came out. You're one of those that improve with time."
"Thanks," said the girl dryly. She was in no mood for the barren blossom of non-marrying men's compliments.
"The trouble with you is the same as with me," pursued he. "We've both spent our time with the young married set, where marriage is regarded as a rather stupid joke. You ought to have stuck to the market-place until your business was settled."
She nodded a thoughtful assent. "Yes, that was my sad mistake," said she. "However, I'm going to do my best to repair it."
He reflected. "You must marry money," he declared, as if it were a verdict.
"Either some one who's got it or some one who can get it."
"Some one who's got it, I'd advise."
"Bad advice," commented the girl, her hazel eyes gazing dreamily, languorously into the distance. She looked a woman on romance bent, a woman without a mercenary thought in her head. "Very bad advice," she went on. "Men who've got money may lose it and be unable to make any more. What a helpless thing YOU'D be but for what you have inherited and will inherit. Yet you're above the average of our sort."
"Humph!" said Arkwright, with an irritated laugh. Humor at his expense was a severe strain upon him. It always is to those whose sense of humor is keen; for they best appreciate the sting that lies in the pleasantest jest.
"It would be wiser--if one dared be wise," pursued the girl, "to marry a man who could get money. That kind of man is safest. Only death or insanity can make him a disappointment."
Arkwright eyed her curiously. "What a good head you've got on you, Rita," said he. "Like your grandmother."
The girl shivered slightly. "Don't SPEAK of her!" she exclaimed with an uneasy glance around. And Grant knew he was correct in his suspicion as to who was goading and lashing her to hasten into matrimony.
"Well--have you selected your--"
As Arkwright hesitated she supplied, "Victim." They laughed, she less enthusiastically than he. "Though," she added, "I assure you, I'll make him happy. It takes intelligence to make a man happy, even if he wants the most unintelligent kind of happiness. And you've just admitted I'm not stupid."
Arkwright was studying her. He had a sly instinct that there was a reason deeper than their old and intimate friendship for her reposing this extreme of confidence in him. No doubt she was not without a vague hope that possibly this talk might set him to thinking of her as a wife for himself. Well, why not? He ought to marry, and he could afford it. Where would he find a more ladylike person--or where one who was at the same time so attractive? He studied, with a certain personal interest, her delicate face, her figure, slim and gracefully curved, as her evening dress fully revealed it. Yes, a charming, most ladylike figure. And the skin of her face, of neck and shoulders, was beautifully white, and of the texture suggesting that it will rub if too impetuously caressed. Yes, a man would hesitate to kiss her unless he were well shaved. At the very thought of kissing her Grant felt a thrill and a glow she had never before roused in him. She had an abundance of blue-black hair, and it and her slender black brows and long lashes gave her hazel eyes a peculiar charm of mingled passion and languor. She had a thin nose, well shaped, its nostrils very sensitive; slightly, charmingly-puckered lips; a small, strong chin. Certainly she had improved greatly in the two years since he had seen her in evening dress. "Though, perhaps," reflected he, "I only think so because I used to see her too much, really to appreciate her."
"Well, why didn't you?" she was saying, idly waving her fan and gazing vaguely around the room.
"Why didn't I--what?"
"You were trying to decide why you never fell in love with me."
"So I was," admitted Arkwright.
"Now if I had had lots of cash," mocked she.
He reddened, winced. She had hit the exact reason. Having a great deal of money, he wanted more--enough to make the grandest kind of splurge in a puddle where splurge was everything. "Rather, because you are too intelligent," drawled he. "I want somebody who'd fit into my melting moods, not a woman who'd make me ashamed by seeming to sit in judgment on my folly."
"A man mustn't have too much respect for a woman if he's to fall utterly in love with her--must he?"
Arkwright smiled constrainedly. He liked cynical candor in men, but only pretended to like it in women because bald frankness in women was now the fashion. "See," said he, "how ridiculous I'd feel trying to say sentimental things to you. Besides, it's not easy to fall in love with a girl one has known since she was born, and with whom he's always been on terms of brotherly, quite unsentimental intimacy."
Rita gave him a look that put this suggestion out of countenance by setting him to thrilling again. He felt that her look was artful, was deliberate, but he could not help responding to it. He began to be a little afraid of her, a little nervous about her; but he managed to say indifferently, "And why haven't YOU fallen in love with ME?"
She smiled. "It isn't proper for a well-brought-up girl to love until she is loved, is it?" Her expression gave Grant a faint suggestion of a chill of apprehension lest she should be about to take advantage of their friendship by making a dead set for him. But she speedily tranquilized him by saying: "No, my reason was that I didn't want to spoil my one friendship. Even a business person craves the luxury of a friend--and marrying has been my business," this with a slight curl of her pretty, somewhat cruel mouth. "To be quite frank, I gave you up as a possibility years ago. I saw I wasn't your style. Your tastes in women are rather-- coarse."
Arkwright flushed. "I do like 'em a bit noisy and silly," he admitted. "That sort is so--so gemuthlich, as the Germans say."
"Who's the man you delivered over to old Patsy Raymond? I see he's still fast to her."
"Handsome, isn't he?"
"Of a sort."
"It's Craig--the Honorable Joshua Craig--Assistant TO the Attorney-General. He's from Minnesota. He's the real thing. But you'd not like him."
"He looks quite--tame, compared to what he was two years or so ago," said Rita, her voice as indolent as her slowly-moving eagle feathers.
"Oh, you've met him?"
"No--only saw him. When I went West with the Burkes, Gus and the husband took me to a political meeting--one of those silly, stuffy gatherings where some blatant politician bellows out a lot of lies, and a crowd of badly-dressed people listen and swallow and yelp. Your friend was one of the speakers. What he said sounded--" Rita paused for a word.
"Sounded true," suggested Grant.
"Not at all. Nobody really cares anything about the people, not even themselves. No, it sounded as if he had at least half- convinced himself, while the others showed they were lying outright. We rather liked him--at the safe distance of half the hall. He's the kind of man that suggests--menageries--lions-- danger if the bars break."
"How women do like that in a man!"
"Do you know him?"
"Through and through. He's a fraud, of course, like all politicians. But beneath the fraud there's a man--I think--a great, big man, strong and sure of himself--which is what can't be said of many of us who wear trousers and pose as lords of creation."
The girl seemed to have ceased to listen, was apparently watching the dancers, Arkwright continued to gaze at his friend, to admire the impressive, if obviously posed, effect of his handsome head and shoulders. He smiled with a tender expression, as one smiles at the weakness of those one loves. Suddenly he said: "By Jove, Rita--just the thing!"
"What?" asked the girl, resuming the languid waving of her eagle fan.
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