Guide Rich Boy

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When she finished speaking, Anson spoke in turn, very soberly. Then Paula said she'd have to think it over; she wouldn't decide to-night; she was not angry but she was terribly sorry.

Nor would she let him come into the hotel with her, but just before she got out of the car she leaned and kissed him unhappily on the cheek. The next afternoon Anson had a long talk with Mrs. Legendre while Paula sat listening in silence. It was agreed that Paula was to brood over the incident for a proper period and then, if mother and daughter thought it best, they would follow Anson to Pensacola.

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On his part he apologized with sincerity and dignity--that was all; with every card in her hand Mrs. Legendre was unable to establish any advantage over him. He made no promises, showed no humility, only delivered a few serious comments on life which brought him off with rather a moral superiority at the end. When they came South three weeks later, neither Anson in his satisfaction nor Paula in her relief at the reunion realized that the psychological moment had passed forever.

He dominated and attracted her, and at the same time filled her with anxiety. Confused by his mixture of solidity and self-indulgence, of sentiment and cynicism--incongruities which her gentle mind was unable to resolve--Paula grew to think of him as two alternating personalities.

When she saw him alone, or at a formal party, or with his casual inferiors, she felt a tremendous pride in his strong, attractive presence, the paternal, understanding stature of his mind. In other company she became uneasy when what had been a fine imperviousness to mere gentility showed its other face.

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  8. The other face was gross, humorous, reckless of everything but pleasure. In July he was ordered abroad, and their tenderness and desire reached a crescendo. Paula considered a last-minute marriage--decided against it only because there were always cocktails on his breath now, but the parting itself made her physically ill with grief. After his departure she wrote him long letters of regret for the days of love they had missed by waiting. In August Anson's plane slipped down into the North Sea. He was pulled onto a destroyer after a night in the water and sent to hospital with pneumonia; the armistice was signed before he was finally sent home.

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    Then, with every opportunity given back to them, with no material obstacle to overcome, the secret weavings of their temperaments came between them, drying up their kisses and their tears, making their voices less loud to one another, muffling the intimate chatter of their hearts until the old communication was only possible by letters, from far away. One afternoon a society reporter waited for two hours in the Hunters' house for a confirmation of their engagement.

    Anson denied it; nevertheless an early issue carried the report as a leading paragraph--they were "constantly seen together at Southampton, Hot Springs, and Tuxedo Park. Anson got drunk flagrantly and missed an engagement with her, whereupon Paula made certain behavioristic demands. His despair was helpless before his pride and his knowledge of himself: the engagement was definitely broken.

    I can't go on living any more. Perhaps when we meet this summer we may talk things over and decide differently--we were so excited and sad that day, and I don't feel that I can live all my life without you. You speak of other people. Don't you know there are no other people for me, but only you. But as Paula drifted here and there around the East she would sometimes mention her gaieties to make him wonder.

    Anson was too acute to wonder. When he saw a man's name in her letters he felt more sure of her and a little disdainful--he was always superior to such things. But he still hoped that they would some day marry. Meanwhile he plunged vigorously into all the movement and glitter of post-bellum New York, entering a brokerage house, joining half a dozen clubs, dancing late, and moving in three worlds--his own world, the world of young Yale graduates, and that section of the half-world which rests one end on Broadway. But there was always a thorough and infractible eight hours devoted to his work in Wall Street, where the combination of his influential family connection, his sharp intelligence, and his abundance of sheer physical energy brought him almost immediately forward.

    He had one of those invaluable minds with partitions in it; sometimes he appeared at his office refreshed by less than an hour's sleep, but such occurrences were rare. So early as his income in salary and commissions exceeded twelve thousand dollars. As the Yale tradition slipped into the past he became more and more of a popular figure among his classmates in New York, more popular than he had ever been in college.

    He lived in a great house, and had the means of introducing young men into other great houses.

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    Moreover, his life already seemed secure, while theirs, for the most part, had arrived again at precarious beginnings. They commenced to turn to him for amusement and escape, and Anson responded readily, taking pleasure in helping people and arranging their affairs. There were no men in Paula's letters now, but a note of tenderness ran through them that had not been there before.

    From several sources he heard that she had "a heavy beau," Lowell Thayer, a Bostonian of wealth and position, and though he was sure she still loved him, it made him uneasy to think that he might lose her, after all. Save for one unsatisfactory day she had not been in New York for almost five months, and as the rumors multiplied he became increasingly anxious to see her. In February he took his vacation and went down to Florida. Palm Beach sprawled plump and opulent between the sparkling sapphire of Lake Worth, flawed here and there by house-boats at anchor, and the great turquoise bar of the Atlantic Ocean.

    The huge bulks of the Breakers and the Royal Poinciana rose as twin paunches from the bright level of the sand, and around them clustered the Dancing Glade, Bradley's House of Chance, and a dozen modistes and milliners with goods at triple prices from New York. Upon the trellissed veranda of the Breakers two hundred women stepped right, stepped left, wheeled, and slid in that then celebrated calisthenic known as the double-shuffle, while in half-time to the music two thousand bracelets clicked up and down on two hundred arms. It seemed to Anson that her kind, serious face was wan and tired--she had been around now for four, five, years.

    He had known her for three. There were a dozen tables of bridge in the room, which was filling up with smoke.

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    Anson's eyes met Paula's, held them persistently even when Thayer's glance fell between them. The smoke banked like fog, and the opening of a door filled the room with blown swirls of ectoplasm.

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    Little Bright Eyes streaked past the tables seeking Mr. Conan Doyle among the Englishmen who were posing as Englishmen about the lobby. At the end of the rubber Paula suddenly got up and spoke to Anson in a tense, low voice.

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    With scarcely a glance at Lowell Thayer, they walked out the door and descended a long flight of stone steps--in a moment they were walking hand in hand along the moonlit beach. Then Paula drew back her face to let his lips say what she wanted to hear--she could feel the words forming as they kissed again. Again she broke away, listening, but as he pulled her close once more she realized that he had said nothing--only " Darling!

    Humbly, obediently, her emotions yielded to him and the tears streamed down her face, but her heart kept on crying: "Ask me--oh, Anson, dearest, ask me! The words wrung her heart like hands, and Anson, feeling her tremble, knew that emotion was enough. He need say no more, commit their destinies to no practical enigma. Why should he, when he might hold her so, biding his own time, for another year--forever? He was considering them both, her more than himself.

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    For a moment, when she said suddenly that she must go back to her hotel, he hesitated, thinking, first, "This is the moment, after all," and then: "No, let it wait--she is mine. He had forgotten that Paula too was worn away inside with the strain of three years. Her mood passed forever in the night. He went back to New York next morning filled with a certain restless dissatisfaction. At first he told her a little about Paula and invented an esoteric incompatibility that was keeping them apart. The girl was of a wild, impulsive nature, and she was flattered by Anson's confidences.

    Like Kipling's soldier, he might have possessed himself of most of her before he reached New York, but luckily he was sober and kept control. Late in April, without warning, he received a telegram from Bar Harbor in which Paula told him that she was engaged to Lowell Thayer, and that they would be married immediately in Boston. What he never really believed could happen had happened at last. Anson filled himself with whiskey that morning, and going to the office, carried on his work without a break--rather with a fear of what would happen if he stopped. In the evening he went out as usual, saying nothing of what had occurred; he was cordial, humorous, unabstracted.