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The "Genius"

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CHAPTER XX

The flaw in this situation was that Eugene, after getting Suzanne in his arms once more, had no particular solution to offer. Instead of at once outlining an open or secret scheme of escape, or taking her by main force and walking off with her, as she more than half expected him to do, here he was repeating to her what her mother had told him, and instead of saying "Come!" he was asking her advice.

"This is what your mother proposed to me just now, Suzanne," he began, and entered upon a full explanation. It was a vision of empire to him.

"I said to her," he said, speaking of her mother, who was near by, "that I would decide nothing. She wanted me to say that I would do this, but I insisted that it must be left to you. If you want to go back to New York, we will go, tonight or tomorrow. If you want to accept this plan of your mother's, it's all right, so far as I am concerned. I would rather have you now, but if I can see you, I am willing to wait."

He was calm now, logical, foolishly speculative. Suzanne wondered at this. She had no advice to offer. She had expected some dramatic climax, but since it had not come about, she had to be content. The truth was that she had been swept along by her desire to be with Eugene. It had seemed to her in the beginning that it was not possible for him to get a divorce. It had seemed also from her reading and youthful philosophizing that it was really not necessary. She did not want to be mean to Angela. She did not want Eugene to mortify her by openly leaving her. She had fancied since Eugene had said that Angela was not satisfactory to him and that there was no real love between them, that Angela really did not care she had practically admitted as much in her letter – that it would not make so much difference if she shared him with her. What was he explaining now – a new theory as to what they were to do? She thought he was coming for her to take her away like a god, whereas here he was presenting a new theory to her in anything but a god-like way. It was confusing. She did not know how it was that Eugene did not want to leave at once.

"Well, I don't know whatever you think," she said. "If you want me to stay here another month – "

"No, no!" exclaimed Eugene quickly, conscious of a flaw in the arrangement, and anxious to make it seem right. "I didn't mean that. Not that. I want you to come back with me now, if possible, tonight, only I wanted to tell you this. Your mother seems sincere. It seems a shame if we can keep friends with her and still have our way, not to do so. I don't want to do any greater harm than I can help unless you are perfectly willing and – " He hesitated over his own thoughts.

At this moment Suzanne could scarcely have told what she felt. The crux of the situation was being put to her for her decision, and it should not be. She was not strong enough, not experienced enough. Eugene should decide, and whatever he decided would be right.

The truth was that after getting her in his arms again, and that in the presence of her mother, Eugene did not feel that he was quite so much the victor as he had imagined, or that the whole problem of his life was solved. He could not very well ignore, he thought, what Mrs. Dale had to offer, if she was offering it seriously. She had said to him just before he came into the presence of Suzanne that unless he accepted these terms she would go on fighting – that she would telegraph to Colfax and ask him to come up here. Although Eugene had drawn his money and was ready to fly if he could, still the thought of Colfax and the desire to keep his present state of social security and gain all Mrs. Dale had to offer besides were deterrents. He hesitated. Wasn't there some way to smooth everything out?

"I don't want you to decide finally," he said, "but what do you think?"

Suzanne was in a simmering, nebulous state, and could not think. Eugene was here. This was Arcady and the moon was high.

It was beautiful to have him with her again. It was wonderful to feel his caresses. But he was not flying with her. They were not defying the world; they were not doing what she fancied they would be doing, rushing to victory, and that was what she had sent for him for. Mrs. Dale was going to help Eugene get a divorce, so she said. She was going to help subsidize Angela, if necessary. Suzanne was going to get married, and actually settle down after a time. What a curious thought. Why that was not what she had wanted to do. She had wanted to flout convention in some way; to do original things as she had planned, as she had dreamed. It might be disastrous, but she did not think so. Her mother would have yielded. Why was Eugene compromising? It was curious. Such thoughts as these formulated in her mind at this time were the most disastrous things that could happen to their romance. Union should have followed his presence. Flight should have been a portion of it. As it was she was in his arms, but she was turning over vague, nebulous thoughts. Something – a pale mist before an otherwise brilliant moon; a bit of spindrift; a speck of cloud, no bigger than a man's hand that might possibly portend something and might not, had come over the situation. Eugene was as desirable as ever, but he was not flying with her. They were talking about going back to New York afterwards, but they were not going together at once. How was that?

"Do you think mama can really damage you with Mr. Colfax?" she asked curiously at one point, after Eugene had mentioned her mother's threat.

"I don't know," he replied solemnly. "Yes, I think she could. I don't know what he'd do, though. It doesn't matter much one way or the other," he added. Suzanne puzzled.

"Well, if you want to wait, it's all right," she said. "I want to do whatever you think best. I don't want you to lose your position. If you think we ought to wait, we will."

"Not if I'm not to be with you regularly," replied Eugene, who was wavering. He was not your true champion of victory – your administrative leader. Foolishly he was spelling over an arrangement whereby he could eat his cake and have it – see Suzanne, drive with her, dance with her, all but live with her in New York until such time as the actual union could be arranged secretly or openly. Mrs. Dale was promising to receive him as a son, but she was merely plotting for time – time to think, act, permit Suzanne, under argument, to come to her senses. Time would solve everything, she thought, and tonight as she hung about, keeping close and overhearing some of Eugene's remarks, she felt relieved. Either he was coming to his senses and beginning to regret his folly or he was being deluded by her lies. If she could keep him and Suzanne apart one more week, and get to New York herself, she would go to Colfax now, and to Winfield, and see if they could not be induced to use their good offices. Eugene must be broken. He was erratic, insane. Her lies were apparently plausible enough to gain her this delay, and that was all she wanted.

"Well, I don't know. Whatever you think," said Suzanne again, after a time between embraces and kisses, "do you want me to come back with you tomorrow, or – "

"Yes, yes," he replied quickly and vigorously, "tomorrow, only we must try and argue your mother into the right frame of mind. She feels that she has lost now since we are together, and we must keep her in that mind. She talks compromise and that's just what we want. If she is willing to have us make some arrangement, why not? I would be willing to let things rest for a week or so, just to give her a chance if she wishes. If she doesn't change then we can act. You could come as far as Lenox for a week, and then come on."

He talked like one who had won a great victory, whereas he had really suffered a great defeat. He was not taking Suzanne.

Suzanne brooded. It was not what she expected – but —

"Yes," she said, after a time.

"Will you return with me tomorrow?"

"Yes."

"As far as Lenox or New York?"

"We'll see what mama says. If you can agree with her – anything you want – I am willing."

After a time Eugene and Suzanne parted for the night. It was agreed that they should see each other in the morning, that they should go back as far as Lenox together. Mrs. Dale was to help Eugene get a divorce. It was a delightfully affectionate and satisfactory situation, but somehow Eugene felt that he was not handling it right. He went to bed in one part of the house – Suzanne in another – Mrs. Dale, fearful and watchful, staying near by, but there was no need. He was not desperate. He went to sleep thinking that the near future was going to adjust everything for him nicely, and that he and Suzanne were eventually going to get married.

CHAPTER XXI

The next day, after wavering whether they would not spend a few days here in billing and cooing and listening to Mrs. Dale's veiled pleas as to what the servants might think, or what they might know already or suspect from what the station master at Three Rivers might say, they decided to return, Eugene to New York, Suzanne to Lenox. All the way back to Albany, Eugene and Suzanne sat together in one seat in the Pullman like two children rejoicing in each other's company. Mrs. Dale sat one seat away, turning over her promises and pondering whether, after all, she had not yet better go at once and try to end all by an appeal to Colfax, or whether she had better wait a little while and see if the affair might not die down of its own accord.

At Albany the following morning, Suzanne and Mrs. Dale transferred to the Boston and Albany, Eugene going on to New York. He went to the office feeling much relieved, and later in the day to his apartment. Angela, who had been under a terrific strain, stared at him as if he were a ghost, or one come back to life from the dead. She had not known where he had gone. She had not known whether he would ever come back. There was no use in reproaching him – she had realized that long since. The best she could do was to make an appeal. She waited until after dinner, at which they had discussed the mere commonplaces of life, and then came to his room, where he was unpacking.

 

"Did you go to find Suzanne?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Is she with you?"

"No."

"Oh, Eugene, do you know where I have spent the last three days?" she asked.

He did not answer.

"On my knees. On my knees," she declared, "asking God to save you from yourself."

"Don't talk rot, Angela," he returned coldly. "You know how I feel about this thing. How much worse am I now than I was before? I tried to get you on the phone to tell you. I went to find her and bring her back, and I did as far as Lenox. I am going to win this fight. I am going to get Suzanne, either legally or otherwise. If you want to give me a divorce, you can. I will provide amply for you. If you don't I'm going to take her, anyhow. That's understood between me and her. Now what's the use of hysterics?"

Angela looked at him tearfully. Could this be the Eugene she had known? In each scene with him, after each plea, or through it, she came to this adamantine wall. Was he really so frantic about this girl? Was he going to do what he said? He outlined to her quite calmly his plans as recently revised, and at one point Angela, speaking of Mrs. Dale, interrupted him – "she will never give her up to you – you will see. You think she will. She says she will. She is only fooling you. She is fighting for time. Think what you are doing. You can't win."

"Oh, yes, I can," said Eugene, "I practically have already. She will come to me."

"She may, she may, but at what a cost. Look at me, Eugene. Am I not enough? I am still good looking. You have declared to me time and again that I have a beautiful form. See, see" – she tore open her dressing gown and the robe de nuit, in which she had come in. She had arranged this scene, especially thought it out, and hoped it would move him. "Am I not enough? Am I not still all that you desire?"

Eugene turned his head away in disgust – wearily – sick of their melodramatic appeals. This was the last rôle Angela should have played. It was the most ineffectual, the least appropriate at the moment. It was dramatic, striking, but totally ineffective under the circumstances.

"It's useless acting in that way to me, Angela," he said. "I'm no longer to be moved in that way by you. All marital affection between us is dead – terribly so. Why plead to me with something that has no appeal. I can't help it. It's dead. Now what are we going to do about it?"

Once more Angela turned wearily. Although she was nerve worn and despairing, she was still fascinated by the tragedy which was being played out under her eyes. Would nothing make him see?

They went their separate ways for the night, and the next day he was at his desk again. Word came from Suzanne that she was still in Lenox, and then that her mother had gone to Boston for a day or two on a visit. The fifth day Colfax stepped into his office, and, hailing him pleasantly, sat down.

"Well, how are things with you, old man?" he asked.

"Oh, about the same," said Eugene. "I can't complain."

"Everything going all right with you?"

"Yes, moderately so."

"People don't usually butt in on you here when I'm here, do they?" he asked curiously.

"I've given orders against anything like that, but I'll make it doubly sure in this case," said Eugene, alert at once. Could Colfax be going to talk to him about anything in connection with his case? He paled a little.

Colfax looked out of the window at the distant panorama of the Hudson. He took out a cigar, and cut the end, but did not light it.

"I asked you about not being interrupted," he began thoughtfully, "because I have a little something I want to talk to you about, which I would rather no one else heard. Mrs. Dale came to me the other day," he said quietly. Eugene started at the mention of her name and paled still more, but gave no other outward sign. "And she told me a long story about something that you were trying to do in connection with her daughter – run away with her, or go and live with her without a license or a divorce, or desert your wife, or something to that effect, which I didn't pay much attention to, but which I have to talk to you about just the same. Now, I never like to meddle with a man's personal affairs. I don't think that they concern me. I don't think they concern this business, except in so far as they may affect it unfavorably, but I would like to know if it is true. Is it?"

"Yes," said Eugene.

"Mrs. Dale is an old friend of mine. I've known her for years. I know Mrs. Witla, of course, but not quite in the same way. I haven't seen as much of her as I have of you. I didn't know that you were unhappily married, but that is neither here nor there. The point is, that she seems to be on the verge of making a great scandal out of this – she seems a little distracted to me – and I thought I'd better come up and have a little talk with you before anything serious really happened. You know it would be a rather damaging thing to this business if any scandal were started in connection with you just at present."

He paused, expecting some protest or explanation, but Eugene merely held his peace. He was tense, pale, harried. So she had gone to Colfax, after all. Instead of going to Boston; instead of keeping her word, she had come down here to New York and gone to Colfax. Had she told him the full story? Very likely Colfax, in spite of all his smooth words, would be inclined to sympathize with her. What must he think of him? He was rather conservative in a social way. Mrs. Dale could be of service to him in her world in one way and another. He had never seen Colfax quite so cool and deliberate as he was now. He seemed to be trying to maintain an exceedingly judicial and impartial tone, which was not characteristic.

"You have always been an interesting study to me, Witla, ever since I first met you," he went on, after a time. "You're a genius, I fancy, if there ever was one, but like all geniuses you are afflicted with tendencies which are erratic. I used to think for a little while that maybe you sat down and planned the things which you have carried through so successfully, but I have since concluded that you don't. You attract some forms of force and order. Also, I think you have various other faculties – it would be hard for me to say just what they are. One is vision. I know you have that. Another is appreciation of ability. I know you have that. I have seen you pick some exceptional people. You plan in a way, but you don't plan logically or deliberately, unless I am greatly mistaken. The matter of this Dale girl now is an interesting case in point, I think."

"Let's not talk of her," said Eugene frigidly and bridling slightly. Suzanne was a sore point with him. A dangerous subject. Colfax saw it. "That's something I can't talk about very well."

"Well, we won't," put in the other calmly, "but the point can be established in other ways. You'll admit, I think, that you haven't been planning very well in connection with this present situation, for if you had been, you would see that in doing what you have been doing you have been riding straight for a fall. If you were going to take the girl, and she was willing, as she appears to be, you should have taken her without her mother's knowledge, old man. She might have been able to adjust things afterward. If not, you would have had her, and I suppose you would have been willing to suffer the consequences, if you had been caught. As it is, you have let Mrs. Dale in on it, and she has powerful friends. You can't ignore her. I can't. She is in a fighting mood, and it looks as though she were going to bring considerable pressure to bear to make you let go."

He paused again, waiting to see if Eugene would say something, but the latter made no comment.

"I want to ask one question, and I don't want you to take any offense at it, for I don't mean anything by it, but it will help to clear this matter up in my own mind, and probably in yours later, if you will. Have you had anything to do in a compromising way with Miss – ?"

"No," said Eugene before he could finish.

"How long has this fight been going on?"

"Oh, about four weeks, or a little less."

Colfax bit at the end of his cigar.

"You have powerful enemies here, you know, Witla. Your rule hasn't been very lenient. One of the things I have noticed about you is your utter inability to play politics. You have picked men who would be very glad to have your shoes, if they could. If they could get the details of this predicament, your situation wouldn't be tenable more than fifteen minutes. You know that, of course. In spite of anything I might do you would have to resign. You couldn't maintain yourself here. I couldn't let you. You haven't thought of that in this connection, I suppose. No man in love does. I know just how you feel. From having seen Mrs. Witla, I can tell in a way just what the trouble is. You have been reined in too close. You haven't been master in your own home. It's irritated you. Life has appeared to be a failure. You have lost your chance, or thought you had on this matrimonial game, and it's made you restless. I know this girl. She's beautiful. But just as I say, old man, you haven't counted the cost – you haven't calculated right – you haven't planned. If anything could prove to me what I have always faintly suspected about you, it is this: You don't plan carefully enough – " and he looked out of the window.

Eugene sat staring at the floor. He couldn't make out just what it was that Colfax intended to do about it. He was calmer in his thinking than he had ever seen him before – less dramatic. As a rule, Colfax yelled things – demonstrated, performed – made excited motions. This morning, he was slow, thoughtful, possibly emotional.

"In spite of the fact that I like you personally, Witla – and every man owes a little something to friendship – it can't be worked out in business, though – I have been slowly coming to the conclusion that perhaps, after all, you aren't just the ideal man for this place. You're too emotional, I fancy – too erratic. White has been trying to tell me that for a long time, but I wouldn't believe it. I'm not taking his judgment now. I don't know that I would ever have acted on that feeling or idea, if this thing hadn't come up. I don't know that I am going to do so finally, but it strikes me that you are in a very ticklish position – one rather dangerous to this house, and you know that this house could never brook a scandal. Why the newspapers would never get over it. It would do us infinite harm. I think, viewing it all in all, that you had better take a year off and see if you can't straighten this out quietly. I don't think you had better try to take this girl unless you can get a divorce and marry her, and I don't think you had better try to get a divorce unless you can do it quietly. I mean so far as your position here is concerned only. Apart from that, you can do what you please. But remember! a scandal would affect your usefulness here. If things can be patched up, well and good. If not, well then they can't. If this thing gets talked about much, you know that there will be no hope of your coming back here. I don't suppose you would be willing to give her up?"

"No," said Eugene.

"I thought as much. I know just how you take a thing of this kind. It hits your type hard. Can you get a divorce from Mrs. Witla?"

"I'm not so sure," said Eugene. "I haven't any suitable grounds. We simply don't agree, that's all – my life has been a hollow shell."

"Well," said Colfax, "it's a bad mix up all around. I know how you feel about the girl. She's very beautiful. She's just the sort to bring about a situation of this kind. I don't want to tell you what to do. You are your own best judge, but if you will take my advice, you won't try to live with her without first marrying her. A man in your position can't afford to do it. You're too much in the public eye. You know you have become fairly conspicuous in New York during the last few years, don't you?"

"Yes," said Eugene. "I thought I had arranged that matter with Mrs. Dale."

"It appears not. She tells me that you are trying to persuade her daughter to live with you; that you have no means of obtaining a divorce within a reasonable time; that your wife is in a – pardon me, and that you insist on associating with her daughter, meanwhile, which isn't possible, according to her. I'm inclined to think she's right. It's hard, but it can't be helped. She says that you say that if you are not allowed to do that, you will take her and live with her."

 

He paused again. "Will you?"

"Yes," said Eugene.

Colfax twisted slowly in his chair and looked out of the window. What a man! What a curious thing love was! "When is it," he asked finally, "that you think you might do this?"

"Oh, I don't know. I'm all tangled up now. I'll have to think."

Colfax meditated.

"It's a peculiar business. Few people would understand this as well as I do. Few people would understand you, Witla, as I do. You haven't calculated right, old man, and you'll have to pay the price. We all do. I can't let you stay here. I wish I could, but I can't. You'll have to take a year off and think this thing out. If nothing happens – if no scandal arises – well, I won't say what I'll do. I might make a berth for you here somewhere – not exactly in the same position, perhaps, but somewhere. I'll have to think about that. Meanwhile" – he stopped and thought again.

Eugene was seeing clearly how it was with him. All this talk about coming back meant nothing. The thing that was apparent in Colfax's mind was that he would have to go, and the reason that he would have to go was not Mrs. Dale or Suzanne, or the moral issue involved, but the fact that he had lost Colfax's confidence in him. Somehow, through White, through Mrs. Dale, through his own actions day in and day out, Colfax had come to the conclusion that he was erratic, uncertain, and, for that reason, nothing else, he was being dispensed with now. It was Suzanne – it was fate, his own unfortunate temperament. He brooded pathetically, and then he said: "When do you want this to happen?"

"Oh, any time, the quicker, the better, if a public scandal is to grow out of it. If you want you can take your time, three weeks, a month, six weeks. You had better make it a matter of health and resign for your own good. – I mean the looks of the thing. That won't make any difference in my subsequent conclusions. This place is arranged so well now, that it can run nicely for a year without much trouble. We might fix this up again – it depends – "

Eugene wished he had not added the last hypocritical phrase.

He shook hands and went to the door and Eugene strolled to the window. Here was all the solid foundation knocked from under him at one fell stroke, as if by a cannon. He had lost this truly magnificent position, $25,000 a year. Where would he get another like it? Who else – what other company could pay any such salary? How could he maintain the Riverside Drive apartment now, unless he married Suzanne? How could he have his automobile – his valet? Colfax said nothing about continuing his income – why should he? He really owed him nothing. He had been exceedingly well paid – better paid than he would have been anywhere else.

He regretted his fanciful dreams about Blue Sea – his silly enthusiasm in tying up all his money in that. Would Mrs. Dale go to Winfield? Would her talk do him any real harm there? Winfield had always been a good friend to him, had manifested a high regard. This charge, this talk of abduction. What a pity it all was. It might change Winfield's attitude, and still why should it? He had women; no wife, however. He hadn't, as Colfax said, planned this thing quite right. That was plain now. His shimmering world of dreams was beginning to fade like an evening sky. It might be that he had been chasing a will-o'-the-wisp, after all. Could this really be possible? Could it be?