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- The Moneychangers - 1/43 -
By Upton Sinclair
To Jack London
"I am," said Reggie Mann, "quite beside myself to meet this Lucy Dupree."
"Who told you about her?" asked Allan Montague.
"Ollie's been telling everybody about her," said Reggie. "It sounds really wonderful. But I fear he must have exaggerated."
"People seem to develop a tendency to exaggeration," said Montague, "when they talk about Lucy."
"I am in quite a state about her," said Reggie.
Allan Montague looked at him and smiled. There were no visible signs of agitation about Reggie. He had come to take Alice to church, and he was exquisitely groomed and perfumed, and wore a wonderful scarlet orchid in his buttonhole. Montague, lounging back in a big leather chair and watching him, smiled to himself at the thought that Reggie regarded Lucy as a new kind of flower, with which he might parade down the Avenue and attract attention.
"Is she large or small?" asked Reggie.
"She is about your size," said Montague,--which was very small indeed.
Alice entered at this moment in a new spring costume. Reggie sprang to his feet, and greeted her with his inevitable effusiveness.
When he asked, "Do you know her, too?"
"Who? Lucy?" asked Alice. "I went to school with her."
"Judge Dupree's plantation was next to ours," said Montague. "We all grew up together."
"There was hardly a day that I did not see her until she was married," said Alice. "She was married at seventeen, you know--to a man much older than herself."
"We have never seen her since that," added the other. "She has lived in New Orleans."
"And only twenty-two now," exclaimed Reggie. "All the wisdom of a widow and the graces of an ingénue!" And he raised his hands with a gesture of admiration.
"Has she got money?" he asked.
"She had enough for New Orleans," was the reply. "I don't know about New York."
"Ah well," he said meditatively, "there's plenty of money lying about."
He took Alice away to her devotions, leaving Montague to the memories which the mention of Lucy Dupree awakened.
Allan Montague had been in love with Lucy a half a dozen times in his life; it had begun when she was a babe in arms, and continued intermittently until her marriage. Lucy was a beauty of the creole type, with raven-black hair and gorgeous colouring; and Allan carried with him everywhere the face of joy, with the quick, mobile features across which tears and laughter chased like April showers across the sky.
Lucy was a tiny creature, as he had said, but she was a well-spring of abounding energy. She had been the life of a lonely household from the first hour, and all who came near her yielded to her spell. Allan remembered one occasion when he had entered the house and seen the grave and venerable chief justice of the State down upon his hands and knees, with Lucy on his back.
She was a born actress, everybody said. When she was no more than four, she would lie in bed when she should have been asleep, and tell herself tragic stories to make her weep. Before long she had discovered several chests full of the clothes which her mother had worn in the days when she was a belle of the old plantation society; and then Lucy would have tableaus and theatricals, and would astonish all beholders in the role of an Oriental princess or a Queen of the Night.
Her mother had died when she was very young, and she had grown up with only her father for a companion. Judge Dupree was one of the rich men of the neighbourhood, and he lavished everything upon his daughter; but people had said that Lucy would suffer for the lack of a woman's care, and the prophecy had been tragically fulfilled. There had come a man, much older than herself, but with a glamour of romance about him; and the wonder of love had suddenly revealed itself to Lucy, and swept her away as no emotion had ever done before.
One day she disappeared, and Montague had never seen her again. He knew that she had gone to New Orleans to live, and he heard rumours that she was very unhappy, that her husband was a spendthrift and a rake. Scarcely a year after her marriage Montague heard the story of his death by an accident while driving.
He had heard no more until a short time after his coming to New York, when the home papers had reported the death of Judge Dupree. And then a week or so ago had come a letter from Lucy, to his brother, Oliver Montague, saying that she was coming to New York, perhaps to live permanently, and asking him to meet her and to engage accommodations for her in some hotel.
Montague wondered what she would be like when he saw her again. He wondered what five years of suffering and experience would have done for her; whether it would have weakened her enthusiasm and dried up her springs of joy. Lucy grown serious was something that was difficult for him to imagine.
And then again would come a mood of doubt, when he distrusted the thrill which the memory of her brought. Would she be able to maintain her spell in competition with what life had brought him since?
His revery was broken by Oliver, who came in to ask him if he wished to go to meet her. "Those Southern trains are always several hours late," he said. "I told my man to go over and 'phone me."
"You are to have her in charge," said Montague; "you had better see her first. Tell her I will come in the evening." And so he went to the great apartment hotel--the same to which Oliver had originally introduced him. And there was Lucy.
She was just the same. He could see it in an instant; there was the same joyfulness, the same eagerness; there was the same beauty, which had made men's hearts leap up. There was not a line of care upon her features--she was like a perfect flower come to its fulness.
She came to him with both her hands outstretched. "Allan!" she cried, "Allan! I am so glad to see you!" And she caught his hands in hers and stood and gazed at him. "My, how big you have grown, and how serious! Isn't he splendid, Ollie?"
Oliver stood by, watching. He smiled drily. "He is a trifle too epic for me," he said.
"Oh, my, how wonderful it seems to see you!" she exclaimed. "It makes me think of fifty things at once. We must sit down and have a long talk. It will take me all night to ask you all the questions I have to."
Lucy was in mourning for her father, but she had contrived to make her costume serve as a frame for her beauty. She seemed like a flaming ruby against a background of black velvet. "Tell me how you have been," she rushed on. "And what has happened to you up here? How is your mother?"
"Just the same," said Montague; "she wants you to come around to-morrow morning."
"I will," said Lucy,--"the first thing, before I go anywhere. And Mammy Lucy! How is Mammy Lucy?"
"She is well," he replied. "She's beside herself to see you."
"Tell her I am coming!" said she. "I would rather see Mammy Lucy than the Brooklyn Bridge!"
She led him to a seat, placed herself opposite him, devouring him with her eyes. "It makes me seem like a girl again to see you," she said.
"Do you count yourself aged?" asked Montague, laughing.
"Oh, I feel old," said Lucy, with a sudden look of fear,--"you have no idea, Allan. But I don't want anybody to know about it!" And then she cried, eagerly, "Do you remember the swing in the orchard? And do you remember the pool where the big alligator lived? And the persimmons? And Old Joe?"
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