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BY EMMA LAWRENCE
LINDA MAINWARING awoke to consciousness on the morning of her thirtieth birthday rather reluctantly. It was a day she had dreaded; for although her twenties had been somewhat turbulent, she had, on the whole, enjoyed them; and they had been, at least, intensely interesting. She was a person with great zest for life; but now, as she lay in her bed, it seemed to her that she had passed through every emotional crisis, in the last ten years, that a woman is capable of; and that there was very little left that life could hold besides stodgy and comfortable existence.
It was a long time that she lay there, thinking, before she rang the bell which would summon her maid, her mail, and her breakfast. She rather wondered that, at the end of thirty years, she felt so tremendously fit, so interested and eager for whatever the future might hold for her, so fearful that it might contain nothing that would not prove an anti-climax to all she had already experienced. She was rather given to selfanalysis, and it interested her to compare the woman she was to-day with the girl who, ten years before, had married Harry Mainwaring. She told herself with some humor that, in spite of many lost illusions and the added years, she greatly preferred herself at thirty.
'What a horrible little thing I must have been,' she thought, ‘half-doll and half-animal; and if I had any brains, they were sound asleep. Yet how important and how confident I felt; how
convinced that no one else was capable of such ideals or of such love as Harry's and mine.'
This trend of thought brought her to considering another situation which the day held for her. To-day her divorce became absolute; from to-day on, she would be as free to plan her own life, dream her own dreams, think her own thoughts, as she had been before she married. Only the voices of her three little girls, whom she could faintly hear chattering at their schoolroom breakfast, could make her married life vivid to her. Financially she had always been less dependent on Harry than he on her; the house she lived in she had been born in and been married from. Yet she felt entirely free from bitterness for the experiences of the past ten years. Nothing could be entirely regretted that had helped to transform the sensual little doll that had been Linda Emmett into the clear-eyed, clean-witted Linda Mainwaring. There was no room for bitterness in her, no room for resentment for the forces that had tempered her, the fire that had left her pliable.
She marveled that Harry cared to use this glorious new freedom that she was reveling in, to form other bonds. He was to be married at noon to a woman in whom Linda, from a slight acquaintance, could discover nothing to equal this thrill of youth, recaptured through freedom. Passion was so dead in her that she was apt to forget it as a factor in other people's lives; and, as a
matter of fact, so distasteful was the memory of her own experience, she made a point of ignoring it. What could Harry possibly find in marriage with a commonplace little woman, she wondered, to compensate for this magnificent liberty?
While she wondered at his desire to reënter the holy state of matrimony, she resented it not at all. She was, in fact, rather grateful to the woman who, in making herself responsible for Harry's future, rendered Linda infinitely freer than the judge's decree alone could have done. But she was sorry on the children's account for the newspaper notoriety which the wedding would evoke. Philippa, aged eight, was too wise a child to be put off much longer with evasions; and in a house full of servants with careless tongues, an intelligent child could learn a good deal about her parents. The divorce itself had been very decently conducted, and the little arrangement which made Harry beneficiary for life of a trust fund created for the children, on condition that he gave up all claim to them, had never been made public. It had always been a quality of Harry's that Linda had despised, though it had worked times innumerable to her advantage,that money was an argument he could never resist; and when she had signed the check for the sum for which her lawyer was to be trustee, she realized gratefully that she fully compensated Harry for any loss he might sustain.
She was free, then. Thirty years old and free; not only from marital ties spinsters of thirty are free from those, but they are still prisoners in the house of life, peering with curious eyes into love's garden, trying surreptitiously to inhale the fragrance and see the colors of the flowers. Linda had lived in the garden the whole season, and watched the flowers from fresh bud to withered stalk; now the gate at the end was ajar,
and she stood gazing with eager eyes on a far horizon.
Thirty years old and free-when the power of youth and the wisdom which experience can give meet for a brief space. There was so much to do and so much to do with. Linda felt that, at this moment, the vitality of her body found its complement in the virility of her mind. The dark room suddenly seemed to stifle her; there was not time, with all she wanted to accomplish, for mornings in bed and breakfast on a tray; those had belonged to that half-numbed creature whom circumstance had so nearly wrecked. She would have to steer her boat clear from the sluggish current it had drifted into; she wanted to find the fast-flowing river where there were other boats to compete with; and of what use her certificate of pilot, if she could not avoid the rapids?
your intimates for a few years, you can't eschew the whole race of your contemporaries and expect to make very much of the time left you. It's rather ridiculous in you, Linda, to despise all motion because you could n't keep up with a fast set. So, unless you absolutely forbid me, I'm coming out to see you to-morrow. For one reason, it's your birthday; and for another, there are n't any rules in the etiquette book on how to behave on your husband's wedding-day; and at least you can talk to me, which you can't to Philippa or Tiny.
Linda digested this with her breakfast. She had long ago ceased to wonder that Leigh Vane rushed in upon ground where the most tactful of ministering angels could not have trodden; yet she knew he was as wholesome for her as are sun and air for a fever patient. Many times in the past few years he had opened windows letting in light to the sick-room of her almost morbid brain. In a way, his letter took the edge off the mood in which she found herself prepared to face life; only a short time ago she had felt that she was ready for whatever the future held for her; but she realized now that she had wanted nothing so disturbing to her tranquillity as this meeting with Vane to happen at once. She was quite willing to enjoy her peace superficially, without stirring any of the depths of thought which he invariably discovered in her; nor did she want to be scolded for the philosophy of little resistance upon which she planned to erect her life. Vane, who appreciated only what he gained by his own labor, was not always sympathetic to Linda's moods. She had once told him that he made accomplishment his God, and had lost all temperament in his mania for efficiency.
As she dressed for riding, she regarded herself very critically. In the past months she had been a bit slack about her personal appearance, but she realized that her physical attractiveness was no less an asset than her mentality. She certainly did not look thirty: she was still essentially young in the slimness of her figure and the contour of her face; the hair was bright and luxuriant; and if the light eyes were a little hard, the mouth was adorable. She was, moreover, lucky in that supreme gift of wearing her clothes well and in being blessed with a skin that every color became. She was considered a beauty, but in reality she was more dependent on a certain dramatic quality than on any perfection of line.
She had ordered her horse at ten, and there was much to be attended to now she was up and dressed. Her house, her servants, and the welfare of her children brought duties which she treated with serious consideration, though the result produced so smooth a mechanism that a casual critic might have failed to recognize the personality which lay behind it.
It was a delightful day. The sun beat down with the first radiance that everything alive must respond to; the fresh wind from the northwest seemed to be engaged in a gigantic housecleaning to remove any traces of the old tenant before spring took up her definite abode. Linda, mounted on a young chestnut thoroughbred, enjoyed her ride hugely. It made her feel even more enthusiastic about life in general and her own in particular, than she had in the confining walls of her house. In this riot of sun and air, face to face with this colossal transformation that the world undertook every year, her own immediate problems took on their relative proportions. Harry's marriage, her own birthday, her meeting with Leigh Vane, all proved themselves in Nature's
scheme of things as trivial as the dandelions that were beginning to star the fields she rode through. It was enough for the moment just to live and enjoy, to let the sun reawaken all that the winter of her discontent had felt die within her; enough to let this clean wind freshen the habitation of her mind and make it fit for the Linda Mainwaring who was preparing to abide there.
Her thoughts were distracted from herself by a chance meeting with a neighbor, a man too closely connected with the old order of her existence to render him entirely welcome. He was the husband of a woman who had once been a boon companion of the Mainwarings; and though Linda had often felt that he did not entirely endorse her, he apparently was making an effort to be cordial to-day, probably because he approved of Harry still less. As he was riding for exercise, he joined her, making civil remarks about the weather. It was obviously difficult for him to bring his conversation down to any local topic for fear of wounding her susceptibilities; but at last he ventured to mention a mutual friend who was not too closely connected with the somewhat unsavory memories they shared in common.
'I see that your friend Leigh Vane is slated for great things,' he said. 'If they run him for governor and he does pull it off, at his age, there's no telling where he'll end up.'
She was interested at once.
'Are they considering running him, then? I have n't seen Leigh for ages; and while I knew he was always dabbling in politics, I had no idea they really took him as seriously as that.'
'He is very well thought of in the state to-day,' the neighbor told her. 'He did a big thing in keeping out of the congressional election last year, and the powers that be are n't always ungrateful. He ought to have a chance, be
cause, if a good man is put up for our party, he'll poll a good many votes from the Democrats. Their man, you see, is a renegade from the Roman Church, and so Leigh has a hope of that vote.'
'I do hope he'll win out,' Linda said. 'He's exactly the type of man who ought to go in for politics in this country at a time like this. I must leave you here,' she added, 'as I'm going home through the woods. It's been awfully nice to see you.'
She nodded and turned her horse, starting off briskly through the sundappled path, glad to be alone again.
She had lunch with the little girls and their governess. When the clock struck twice, as they finished, it occurred to her that their father was already the husband of another woman. As the two younger girls left the dining-room with Mademoiselle, Philippa dawdled behind, apparently eager to converse with her mother. She waited, with the intuitive tact that children sometimes display, until they were alone in the room, before she put the question which had been troubling her ever since she had overhead a conversation between the servants that morning.
'Mother,' she said, 'how can Daddy marry somebody else? Caroline told Hermence this morning it was a wonder you felt like riding horseback at the very hour of your husband's wedding.'
Linda had been expecting some such question, but it found her with no ready answer. She was almost tempted to evade it, to chide Philippa for listening to the servants' gossip; but she knew that would in no way check the ideas forming in the busy little head.
'I am sorry you heard Caroline,' she said at last. 'I had hoped you need know nothing about it until you were older, when of course I should have explained it to you myself. You knew that Daddy did n't live here with us.
any more because Daddy and I are not married any longer.'
'Is n't he our father any more?' asked Philippa.
'Yes, he's your father still, and because he's your father you must always love him and believe the best of him. You see, when he and I were married, we loved each other very much, so it was right for us to be married and have you and Tiny and Nancy for children; but after we found we did n't care, it became wrong to live together the way people do who love each other.'
'Did you get unmarried?' queried Philippa.
'So we got unmarried,' answered her mother. Only it's called getting divorced, and that left Daddy free to marry again, someone whom he did love.'
'How do you get di-divorced?' the child asked. 'Is it like a wedding? Do you go to church and have music and flowers and wear a white dress like Aunt Tina's?'
'It is n't like a wedding at all, dear. When people are married, it is a very happy time; but there is nothing happy about a divorce. It is very sad when two people, who planned to live all their lives together, find they don't love each other enough to make it possible.'
'Are you very sad, mother?'
She wished she could answer truthfully that she was. It seemed so terrible to have to explain the sordid tragedy of divorce, and to admit that it had left her almost untouched. All the arguments which she had used a few months before in justifying the course she had determined to pursue appeared so futile in the face of Philippa's bewildered gaze.
'I'm not very sad any longer,' she answered at last. 'You see, I have you three girls to make me happy; and if I had never married Daddy, I should never have had you. And we will hope
that Daddy will be very happy, too, won't we?'
She tried to smile and started to rise from her chair, hoping that her rather lame explanation had satisfied the child; but Philippa had one more question. "Then will you marry somebody, too?'
This time Linda was able to laugh. 'Oh, dear, no,' she said. 'I don't want to marry anybody. We shall all be very contented here just as we always have been. Run along now, my darling, and remember that mother has been telling you things she does n't want you to talk about with anyone, not even Mademoiselle or the little girls. If there's anything you don't understand, you're to ask me.'
They left the dining-room together, Philippa to prepare for her afternoon drive in the pony-cart, and Linda to read up on any political news she could find before Vane should appear. She discovered, however, that it was almost impossible to keep her mind on the printed pages, so often did her thoughts revert to her conversation with Philippa. She had not meant to make light to the child of the sanctity of marriage; yet it seemed impossible to explain the enormity of the step she and Harry had taken, and she doubted whether Philippa's psychology would not be more affected if she found her parents in a position which they themselves questioned.
But her pleasure in the day had gone, and Vane found her as he very possibly expected to find her when he had chosen this particular time to prove his friendship. It would have surprised and probably shocked him had he discovered Linda in her mood of the morning. As it was, he had the satisfaction of drawing her out of herself by talking