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- The Little Lady of the Big House - 40/60 -
"Ah, the rascal," Terrence grinned.
"He said: 'I will make of you a dream and an illusion.' And he did. The Madonna was his heavenly woman, his highest conception of woman. He transferred all his idealized qualities of her to the earthly woman, to every woman, and he has fooled himself into believing in them and in her ever since... like Leo does."
"For an unmarried man you betray an amazing intimacy with the pestiferousness of woman," Dick commented. "Or is it all purely theoretical?" Terrence began to laugh.
"Dick, boy, it's Laura Marholm Aaron's been just reading. He can spout her chapter and verse."
"And with all this talk about woman we have not yet touched the hem of her garment," Graham said, winning a grateful look from Paula and Leo.
"There is love," Leo breathed. "No one has said one word about love."
"And marriage laws, and divorces, and polygamy, and monogamy, and free love," Hancock rattled off.
"And why, Leo," Dar Hyal queried, "is woman, in the game of love, always the pursuer, the huntress?"
"Oh, but she isn't," the boy answered quietly, with an air of superior knowledge. "That is just some of your Shaw nonsense."
"Bravo, Leo," Paula applauded.
"Then Wilde was wrong when he said woman attacks by sudden and strange surrenders?" Dar Hyal asked.
"But don't you see," protested Leo, "all such talk makes woman a monster, a creature of prey." As he turned to Dick, he stole a side glance at Paula and love welled in his eyes. "Is she a creature of prey, Dick?"
"No," Dick answered slowly, with a shake of head, and gentleness was in his voice for sake of what he had just seen in the boy's eyes. "I cannot say that woman is a creature of prey. Nor can I say she is a creature preyed upon. Nor will I say she is a creature of unfaltering joy to man. But I will say that she is a creature of much joy to man-- "
"And of much foolishness," Hancock added.
"Of much fine foolishness," Dick gravely amended.
"Let me ask Leo something," Dar Hyal said. "Leo, why is it that a woman loves the man who beats her?"
"And doesn't love the man who doesn't beat her?" Leo countered.
"Well, Dar, you are partly right and mostly wrong.--Oh, I have learned about definitions from you fellows. You've cunningly left them out of your two propositions. Now I'll put them in for you. A man who beats a woman he loves is a low type man. A woman who loves the man who beats her is a low type woman. No high type man beats the woman he loves. No high type woman," and all unconsciously Leo's eyes roved to Paula, "could love a man who beats her."
"No, Leo," Dick said, "I assure you I have never, never beaten Paula."
"So you see, Dar," Leo went on with flushing cheeks, "you are wrong. Paula loves Dick without being beaten."
With what seemed pleased amusement beaming on his face, Dick turned to Paula as if to ask her silent approval of the lad's words; but what Dick sought was the effect of the impact of such words under the circumstances he apprehended. In Paula's eyes he thought he detected a flicker of something he knew not what. Graham's face he found expressionless insofar as there was no apparent change of the expression of interest that had been there.
"Woman has certainly found her St. George tonight," Graham complimented. "Leo, you shame me. Here I sit quietly by while you fight three dragons."
"And such dragons," Paula joined in. "If they drove O'Hay to drink, what will they do to you, Leo?"
"No knight of love can ever be discomfited by all the dragons in the world," Dick said. "And the best of it, Leo, is in this case the dragons are more right than you think, and you are more right than they just the same."
"Here's a dragon that's a good dragon, Leo, lad," Terrence spoke up. "This dragon is going to desert his disreputable companions and come over on your side and be a Saint Terrence. And this Saint Terrence has a lovely question to ask you."
"Let this dragon roar first," Hancock interposed. "Leo, by all in love that is sweet and lovely, I ask you: why do lovers, out of jealousy, so often kill the woman they love?"
"Because they are hurt, because they are insane," came the answer, "and because they have been unfortunate enough to love a woman so low in type that she could be guilty of making them jealous."
"But, Leo, love will stray," Dick prompted. "You must give a more sufficient answer."
"True for Dick," Terrence supplemented. "And it's helping you I am to the full stroke of your sword. Love will stray among the highest types, and when it does in steps the green-eyed monster. Suppose the most perfect woman you can imagine should cease to love the man who does not beat her and come to love another man who loves her and will not beat her--what then? All highest types, mind you. Now up with your sword and slash into the dragons."
"The first man will not kill her nor injure her in any way," Leo asserted stoutly. "Because if he did he would not be the man you describe. He would not be high type, but low type."
"You mean, he would get out of the way?" Dick asked, at the same time busying himself with a cigarette so that he might glance at no one's face.
Leo nodded gravely.
"He would get out of the way, and he would make the way easy for her, and he would be very gentle with her."
"Let us bring the argument right home," Hancock said. "We'll suppose you're in love with Mrs. Forrest, and Mrs. Forrest is in love with you, and you run away together in the big limousine--"
"Oh, but I wouldn't," the boy blurted out, his cheeks burning.
"Leo, you are not complimentary," Paula encouraged.
"It's just supposing, Leo," Hancock urged.
The boy's embarrassment was pitiful, and his voice quivered, but he turned bravely to Dick and said:
"That is for Dick to answer."
"And I'll answer," Dick said. "I wouldn't kill Paula. Nor would I kill you, Leo. That wouldn't be playing the game. No matter what I felt at heart, I'd say, 'Bless you, my children.' But just the same--" He paused, and the laughter signals in the corners of his eyes advertised a whimsey--"I'd say to myself that Leo was making a sad mistake. You see, he doesn't know Paula."
"She would be for interrupting his meditations on the stars," Terrence smiled.
"Never, never, Leo, I promise you," Paula exclaimed.
"There do you belie yourself, Mrs. Forrest," Terrence assured her. "In the first place, you couldn't help doing it. Besides, it'd be your bounden duty to do it. And, finally, if I may say so, as somewhat of an authority, when I was a mad young lover of a man, with my heart full of a woman and my eyes full of the stars, 'twas ever the dearest delight to be loved away from them by the woman out of my heart."
"Terrence, if you keep on saying such lovely things," cried Paula," I'll run away with both you and Leo in the limousine."
"Hurry the day," said Terrence gallantly. "But leave space among your fripperies for a few books on the stars that Leo and I may be studying in odd moments."
The combat ebbed away from Leo, and Dar Hyal and Hancock beset Dick.
"What do you mean by 'playing the game'?" Dar Hyal asked.
"Just what I said, just what Leo said," Dick answered; and he knew that Paula's boredom and nervousness had been banished for some time and that she was listening with an interest almost eager. "In my way of thinking, and in accord with my temperament, the most horrible spiritual suffering I can imagine would be to kiss a woman who endured my kiss."
"Suppose she fooled you, say for old sake's sake, or through desire not to hurt you, or pity for you?" Hancock propounded.
"It would be, to me, the unforgivable sin," came Dick's reply. "It would not be playing the game--for her. I cannot conceive the fairness, nor the satisfaction, of holding the woman one loves a moment longer than she loves to be held. Leo is very right. The drunken artisan, with his fists, may arouse and keep love alive in the breast of his stupid mate. But the higher human males, the males with some shadow of rationality, some glimmer of spirituality, cannot lay rough hands on love. With Leo, I would make the way easy for the woman, and I would be very gentle with her."
"Then what becomes of your boasted monogamic marriage institution of Western civilization?" Dar Hyal asked.
And Hancock: "You argue for free love, then?"
"I can only answer with a hackneyed truism," Dick said. "There can be no love that is not free. Always, please, remember the point of view
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